Jay Jaffe tracks the teams in "Prospectus Hit List" for Baseball Prospectus.
Jay Jaffe: Greetings and apologies for the brief delay. The tech gremlins appear to have temporarily seized control of my chat capabilities, but we may sneak this one in. Powered by Fizzy Lizzy Lone Star Grapefruit beverage, the newly remastered Replacements reissues, and the awesome upgrades to the team audit pages created by our staff...
Gray (Chicago): I promise I do not play the "no respect" card, but the Cubs are quietly dominating right now. With this lineup, maybe the best 7,8,9 innings bullpen, is it possible the Cubs actually run away with the Central? Milwaukee's bullpen is awful and St. Louis is going to slide shortly.
Jay Jaffe: Nothing quiet about the Cubs' domination so far. They're second on today's Hit List, atop the majors in scoring, and leading the league in OBP and SLG. I don't think they're going to have seven guys with .380 OBPs all year long, but with Kosuke Fukudome looking like the real deal, they're a stronger teeam than some of us thought at the outset of the year.
Dave (Chicago): Could the A's conceivably win the AL West with 85 wins or so or do the Angels pull away once they get healthy (since we know Rich Harden won't!)?
Jay Jaffe: Right now this is looking as though it might be your typical two-team AL West battle as it's been for most of the past few years. The A's appear to be playing above their heads, but it shouldn't be all that shocking that a few things have gone especially right given the bad luck that's befallen this team in recent years, things like Bobby Crosby's health and Dana Eveland's ability to pitch at a major league level. I think a lot depends on whether John Lackey can be John Lackey when he gets back, and how well guys like Harden and Duchscherer can withstand regular turns in the rotation.
jessehoffins (Kansas City): The Brian Bannister Train: Where is it gonna get off? How the h%ll is it happening again?
Jay Jaffe: Gotta love Bannister. His .222 BABIP isn't sustainable, and his strikeout rate (5.0 per nine) should keep you wary, but he's doing a great job of getting ahead of the hitters, a great job of keeping the ball on the ground, and a great job of thinking about situational pitching. It's clear that he has the smarts to push the envelope of what a guy with his relatively modest abilities can accomplish -- I'm going to assume he winds up somewhere between his 75th and 90th percentile PECOTA projections (3.86-4.47 ERA). And I'll be cheering when he does!
Jack (Minnesota): How long do we have to wait to see the fruits of the Santana trade? I mean, why is Hernandez pitching when Mulvey is dominating AAA?
Jay Jaffe: Well, Hernandez is pitching about as well as a guy with a 3.0 K/9 can pitch right now, and he's getting big help from his defense. He's not the problem; the Twins got him to eat innings, and eat innings he shall, even if his numbers take a turn for the worse. It's Francisco Liriano who shouldn't be in the rotation right now - the guy has been getting raked over the coals, and there's no sense in expecting him to straighten it out at a major league level. Hopefully, the Twins will figure out very soon that they shouldn't be playing Russian Roulette with an arm of that caliber, and send him back to Triple A to get it together, thus creating an opening for Mulvey.
In the meantime, enjoy Livan while he's on a roll. The guy is a ton of fun to watch when he's even remotely right, and it's not like he'll be even this good for much longer.
Jay Bruce (Louisville): When/how did Jerry Hairston Jr pass me on the depth charts? I probably won't be up until Griffey gets hurt, will I?
Jay Jaffe: Relax, Jay. You're tearing it up at Triple-A, but even so, you've only got about 350 PA above A-ball, and there were very good reasons for the Reds to start you in Triple-A if only to game your service time. I suspect with Krivsky's sacking you'll be up sooner rather than later, so just hang tight and continue to rake.
akachazz (DC): Hey Jay. I'm a fan of the hitlist. Have you thought about including each teams playoff odds?
Jay Jaffe: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoy the fruits of my labor. I've puttered around with making adjustments to the Hit List formula -- this is the first week where preseason PECOTAs weren't incorporated, by the way -- but every time I do, I just decide to go back to where the list has been since its inception. I have a hard time taking the playofff odds too seriously too early, and at the same time, love to use them as a point of entry for discussion late in the year. So I'm happy with the way things are.
Izzy (DC): White Sox: Fluke or for real?
Jay Jaffe: I'm not a huge believer in the White Sox, but it's clear that at least in the early going, two things are going very right. First, you've got the bouncebacks from Joe Crede and Carlos Quentin that have helped resurrect that offense while marginalizing some rather unproductive players. Second, them Gavin Floyd and John Danks appearing to have finally put it together. These were well-regarded pitching prospects who've taken a long time to live up to their billing, but with a good coach like Don Cooper it shouldn't be terribly surprising to see them make the kind of nonlinear jumps that pitchers do when they finally Get It Together.
Tommy (OPS,FL): Back when the Rays were shopping Delmon Young there appeared to be some talk of Young for Cliff Lee, but nothing came of it. Knowing what the Rays got in return and Lee's hot start which deal would have been better for the Rays?
Jay Jaffe: Long-term, I'd still take Matt Garza over Cliff Lee, and it wouldn't cost me a moment of sleep.
Rany Jazayerli has a great Unfiltered post about Lee's hot start, a post that includes a note form Joe Sheehan regarding the quality of competition Lee has faced: "A's twice, Twins, Royals. Ninth, 13th and 14th in the AL in EqA." Right now Lee is living off a .151 BABIP, and that's not going to last forever by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, sooner or later he's going to have to face some competent lineups, and when he does, you can expect his ERA to get fluffed up. The bottom line is that I don't expect him to be a significantly better pitcher than the mid-rotation inning eater who surprised us with his bellyflop last year.
akachazz (DC ): Do you think it's safe to conclude that in such a tough division, the Blue Jays will continue to be a long shot until there is a new front office? Or is Gibbons the problem? The reason I ask is because of all the 30 teams, the Frank Thomas denouement surprises me the least coming from the Blue Jays.
Jay Jaffe: Some good points on both sides of this... I'll answer after showing the next question.
rawagman (Work, TO): What are the odds that it turns out that Frank Thomas is really cooked, and JP is given a bit of credit for rectifying an error of yesteryear, as opposed to pulling a Colleti and making damn-well sure that last year's mistake remains on this year's books AND in this year's starting lineup?
In a related question, what are the odds that I am just a mildly delusional, less mildly paranoic, Canadian Jays hoper?
Jay Jaffe: Because of his past history and his failure to build the Jays, I'm rarely inclined to give J.P. Ricciardi the benefit of the doubt. He's had seven years to try to put the Jays in a position to overtake the Yankees and/or Red Sox, and while he's developed a pretty decent pitching staff, he's placed some pretty big long-term bets on a pair of outfielders who really aren't very special in Vernon Wells and Alex Rios.
As for Thomas, yes, it's possible he really is done, but 60 PA is in no way an adequate sample to judge that given Thomas' track record of hitting his way out of recent slow starts. Look, the real motivating factor wasn't his slump, it was the vesting option. Ricciardi realized he didn't want to pay it, and that's not entirely stupid, but he'd have done better to play this one down the middle and not try to disguise his motives. As it is, he's just given those of us who enjoy watching him do his Mark Penn act more ammunition.
JAN02000 (Bozeman): Is Ellsbury capable of keeping this sort of play up over the course of a season? What's he profile to for a career?
Jay Jaffe: Ellsbury's a good little player, but I don't see him going .420 OBP/.480 SLG all year. For one thing, he's got no track record of being able to sustain the 6/13 K/BB ratio he's put up so far. Even if the Sox hitting coach or whomever is encouraging him to change his approach and take more pitches, I suspect that Ellsbury's contact rate will decline a bit and his numbers will come back to earth a bit.
Johnny Damon has been the point of comparison for Ellsbury's career given the fact that the latter is the de facto long term replacement for the former in Boston, and in fact he shows up as Ellsbury's #2 PECOTA comp, so I'll stick with that comparison.
Fred (Houston): Is Sheffield headed for the Hall of Very Good? It doesn't seem like he's made many friends in the media over the years.
Jay Jaffe: Are you kidding? If there's been one consistent facet of Sheffield's career, its that he'll talk to the media and is almost guaranteed to say something that will stir the pot and give the writer some high profile attention. Writers bash Barry Bonds for not cooperating. They don't bash Gary Sheffield for speaking his mind, however ill-considered his words may sometimes be.
From a JAWS standpoint, Sheffield came into the year at 117.2 WARP career, 63.5 peak, 90.4 JAWS, with the average HOF right fielder at 125.0/68.7/96.8. I think he'll be a close call, because right now its not at all clear he can stay healthy enough to pass 500 homers (he's at 481), and there will be some who will hold his involvement in BALCO against him.
tommybones (new york): Is there a point in a borderline HOF career where the player is better off retiring than padding counting stats at the expense of pct. stats and reputation? I'm looking at Mike Mussina right now.
Jay Jaffe: Sheffield seems to be a better answer to this than the Moose, whose numbers are well over the JAWS threshold (117.8/64.3/91.1 compared to 105.7/67.5/86.6 for the average HOF P) even if the perception lags behind. To me, I think we've seen enough great pitchers dragged off the mound kicking and screaming, having milked every last ounce of their ability for anyone's perceptions to be damaged by those final, futile days.
Which reminds me, for some reason, of one of the classiest thing I ever saw on a diamond. When Orel Hershiser tried to eke one last year out of his career with the Dodgers, he got knocked around pretty consistently, culminating in an eight-run, 1.2-inning bombing. Rather than boo him, the Dodger Stadium crowd picked up on the fact that the end of the line had arrived for Hershiser, and gave him an incredible standing ovation.
I think I have something in my eye...
Rich (Columbus, OH): What are the odds of the Dodgers being able to trade Pierre in-season? This 4 man platoon OF is killing us. What's the point of naming Ethier, Jones, and Kemp starters if Torre is just going to play Pierre all the time (and Kemp's usually the one on the bench because of it)? Fantasy baseball implications aside, this just doesn't seem like a good situation for the Dodgers.
Jay Jaffe: I don't think the chances of Pierre being traded are very good at all, because that contract is an albatross, and it's abundantly clear he's no center fielder anymore. And yes, this is a pretty ridiculous situation, but the fact that Andruw Jones is stuck below the Mendoza Line isn't helping matters at all. Kemp got off to a slow start but has turned it around somewhat, and if all three outfielders can hit at a level approaching their capabilities there will be no room for little Juan.
akachazz (DC): Do you often get into barroom brawls after ordering a Fizzy Lizzy Lone Star Grapefruit beverage?
Jay Jaffe: Never ordered one in a bar, and never started drinking beer before I was at least halfway through a BP chat...
e-man (l-ville): So what has response been to your D-Rays story? What kind of reader e-mail did you get? I would have thought Nate Silver would have rebutted it.
Jay Jaffe: Surprisingly, it got very little response either internally or externally, which was a bit of a disappointment given that I felt pretty good about the way it came out. I'd love to see what Nate had to say, but I suspect he's got a ton on his plate right now; heck, for today's must-read piece he just wrote about something that made headlines three weeks ago.
In any event, it's something I'll be following throughout the season, so maybe it'll stir up more response once we've got more performance to evaluate.
nicopad (nyc): are you kidding? "some" will hold it against Sheffield? He ain't getting in if Bonds/McGwire/et al aren't.
Jay Jaffe: Don't be so sure; there seem to be a fair number of writers who are much more ready to vote for Bonds, warts and all, than McGwire, and I think the latter's appearance in front of Congress may have something to do with that.
Furthermore, Shef's spot on the ballot is at least half a decade away, which is a long time for tempers to cool and perspectives to be gained. The fact that his drug regimen hasn't been front page news as he's chased a record will probably work in his favor relative to the other two as well. He's just another guy who may have used something at some point in his career. Post-Mitchell, it's hard to get too worked up about it.
murphy654321 (Waltham, MA): Hi Jay, Why isn't anyone talking about Zimmerman's slow start? Is the hand injury sapping power? It sounds like he and Manny Atca are making excuses for his poor showing, but is there anything to worry about long term?
Jay Jaffe: Probably because nobody has been hitting for the Nats at all. Seriously, as I noted in this week's Hit List entry, only three Washington regulars have positive MLVrs, and one of them is Nick Johnson who's hitting .209/.365/.403. It's a slow start, and there are plenty of them to go around each year. I haven't heard anything about a hand injury, but if it is, well, that would make sense because those can really eat a guy's season.
The bottom line wouldn't throw myself off a bridge over it just yet, at least not until more info becomes available.
greg (toronto): Just curious, how good is Roberto Alomar's case for the HOF?
Jay Jaffe: A 12-time all-star, 10-time Gold Glover with over 200 homers at 2B? I think most voters will say yes.
I did an article about this a few years back (http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3844). His Bill James monitor numbers are great (55.9 on the Standards, 195.3 on the Monitor, where 50 and 100 are the respective averages), and while my system has changed a bit, the numbers are in his favor from a JAWS standpoint too: 134.7/75.3/105.0 for Alomar, 128.7/74.8/101.7 for the average HOF 2B.
Bank on him getting in there.
obscure author (Red Sox Nation): I have solid information that places a Yankees fan in NYC's very own Red Sox bar -- Professor Thom's -- a few weeks ago. Anything to say about that?
Jay Jaffe: That sounds like it must be our own David Laurila, who was in town to promote his book of Sox-flavored Q&As. I can't vouch for those, but David's done a great job with his Q&As for BP -- I can only wish I had the credentials to go where he goes and the stones not to be intimidated by asking players and execs the right questions.
Let the record show that I wasn't the only Yankee-flavored BPer at Thom's either. I left early to head up to that interminable 15-9 slugfest, but so far as I know, all three of us survived the experience.
Vlad (LA): What about me, am I a sure fire HoFamer?
Jay Jaffe: Sure-fire? Not yet, Vladi. You're at 82.2/59.9/71.1, which means you need another 38 or so career WARP to meet the average. The problem is that while you've got one 10+ WARP season, that 2004 MVP year, but you haven't reached 9 WARP any other time because you've been about 80 runs below average defensively. On the positive side, you're only 32 and coming off another great season, so I don't think there's any reason to rule you out.
squintsp34 (Chicago): Jay, I've watched a number of games involving NL West teams this year. If the Diamondbacks get something from Randy Johnson this year (say, 20 decent-to-good starts), aren't they going to be tough to catch. It seems like the Dodgers and Rockies are going to have a tough time putting up the pitching and the Padres bats just aren't anything to write home about.
Jay Jaffe: The Snakes are off to a great start, and as I onted atop this week's Hit List, the fact that Micah Owings has been pitching about as well as Brandon Webb and Dan Haren is a big reason why. They started the year with 13 consecutive quality starts between them, and as a whole, the rotation's ERA is still under 3.00. Whether it's Johnson or Doug Davis, if they can get a functional performance from their #4, they'll be very tough to beatn, particularly in a division where the other teams sem content to fall on their faces.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Is Giambi totally cooked? Doesn't seem to have enough left to succeed as a true outcomes guy. Is there a last gasp in there somewhere or will the end of his career mimic Bernie Williams'? Thanks!
Jay Jaffe: I'm not ready to go that far. The other night I watched him homer to left field, something he's done with increasing rarity the past four years. Since 2004, only about 6 percent of his homers have gone to left or left center, whereas in Oakland it was about 15 percent. The asymmetry of Yankee Stadium is one reason for that, but I think Giambi has become far too pull-happy for his own good. Going the other way more often -- hell, once a week -- would minimize the number of infield shifts he faces and dramatically improve his BABIP, which is down at about .140 right now. He's got to buy into that, though, and thus far he hasn't.
bam022 (Chicago): Do you see John Smoltz and/or David Ortiz making it to the Hall of Fame?
Jay Jaffe: Smoltz yes, and well he should. Even from a traditional stat standpoint, his 3000 Ks, 210 wins and 3.25 ERA are impressive numbers, particularly when one considers he missed an entire year due to Tommy John surgery and spent about 3.5 seasons as a closer. His JAWS numbers are excellent as well (122.8 /58.5/90.7).
Ortiz is a tougher case. He didn't have his first great year until Age 27, and he doesn't look like a guy who's built to shine in his late 30s. From a JAWS standpoint, he's at 49.6/45.7/47.7, pretty low because he's only got four years of even 6+ WARP under his belt. Now, if he helps the Sox win another World Championship or two before he retires, he may get a Puckett Exemption for his short, high-impact career, but I wouldn't want to bet on that.
jon (seattle): It is being reported that Seattle is going to extend Kenji Johjima for three more years despite his slow start (.200/.268/.246) and Jeff Clement raking in Tacoma (.375/.500/.688). What are your thoughts? Thanks.
Jay Jaffe: I am baffled in this day and age that we haven't come up with an emoticon that appropriately expresses one rolling his eyes back into his skull. If I had that weapon at my disposal, I'd deploy it here.
Numfar (Pylea): I do the dance of the man who drafted Zack Greinke and Edinson Volquez in the later rounds. Which do I package with one of my excess 3B's to make a move for Brandon Webb? I hate straight fantasy questions, but such joy can apparently inspire great hypocrisy.
Jay Jaffe: Normally I'd say keep the guy with the K rate, but Volquez is a flyball pitcher in a park that punishes same and a manager with a short leash for youngsters, so I'd probalby go with Greinke
TGisriel (Baltimore): I noticed that the Orioles lead MLB in defense efficiency ratio so far this year, as compared with 18th last year. Is there any reason to believe this is a real improvement?
Jay Jaffe: Don't underestimate the value of losing Miguel Tejada, about whom scouts were saying this spring that they couldn't see him making it through the season as a shortstop. That said, I'd expect some regression; PECOTA had them pegged at .692, one point above where they were last year (in the 1 - BABIP version as opposed to the Reached on Error version of DE).
dblatnik (Sunnyvale, CA): How do you like Chad Billingsley's luck so far this year--13.94 K/9 and a 9.1 LD% with a .449 BABIP? Also, when do you see the Dodgers calling up Clayton Kershaw?
Jay Jaffe: That's a very weird line. I was listening to last night's game while working on the Hit List; Billingsley had 12 Ks but allowed five runs in six innings.
I haven't actually seen much of him this year, but that kind of line makes me wonder if he's throwing too many strikes, trying to shoulder a bit too much of the load.
As for Kershaw, a lot of it probably depends on the Dodgers' play improving to the point where there's something to be gained by having him up at this tender young age. Maybe late July, barring any injuries to the Dodger staff, which is an impossibility.
OK, running out of time and gas here. I'll take one or two more...
Justin (Newport Beach): Can and will Chipper Jones reach the Hall of Fame?
On the "yes" side, his rate stats are excellent, he was the best position player on a near-Dynasty team, and he has an MVP award. On the "no" side, he is terrible defensively and his counting numbers don't jump out given the recent offensive explosion. Part of the homers-RBI-runs deficiency is his fault (injuries), part of that isn't (the Braves leadoff and #2 guys have historically been bad), and part of it is that counting stats don't reward Chipper's excellent patience.
Jay Jaffe: This one has been asked a few times, and it's worth a longer look - I'll tackle it in a Hit and Run next week.
bam022 (Chicago): Can you think of any analogue to Justin Upton's performance right now.
A-Rod was similarly dominant at age 20, but other than him, does this have any parallel?
Jay Jaffe: Tony Conigliaro hit 24 homers and .290/.354/.530 for the 1964 Red Sox as a 19 year old, which is pretty much the gold standard for teenage success for a hitter. Mel Ott (.322/.397/.524, 16 HR) also had a great Age 19 season. Those two would be a good start.
Homers aren't the only way to look at this obviously, but rather than worry about the number of plate appearances, I just did a quick list of the best single season hitter performances ranked by homers at B-Ref: http://www.bb-ref.com/pi/shareit/RmaC
Rich (Columbus, OH): Have you thought about writing a piece about cheating and the HOF? Given the reluctance of sportswriters to vote in guys who used steroids, have there been similar cases of cheating like that have happened before? Like maybe Gaylord Perry?
Jay Jaffe: Rich, I wrote about steroids and the Hall of Fame vote a few months ago. That was about as much fun as a rock fight, and I'm in no hurry to do it again, but since it's the beat I cover, I'm sure you haven't heard the last of me on this issue.
All three of your questions in the queue along these lines are good ones, by the way. Just not enough time to rev up into gear on that topic here.
Jay Jaffe: Ok folks, that's all I have time for today. If I didn't get to your question, rest assured I've stashed it away for a rainy day -- I don't always get to them, but once in awhile a good one makes its way into a column.
Anyway, thanks for stopping by to talk some baseball, and for continuing to read BP!