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Chat: Jay Jaffe

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday September 10, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Jay Jaffe.


Jay Jaffe counts them down on "Prospectus Hit List" and goes deeper in "Prospectus Hit and Run."

Jay Jaffe: Howdy folks, thanks for joining me on this lovely (at least in Brooklyn) Wednesday afternoon. There's a hint of fall in the air here, but that's nothing like the panic that seems to be in the air in some quarters. Allow me to assuage or exacerbate your fears about the playoff picture for a few moments...

James (Boston): I've got a bone to pick with Prospectus over the last few days. It seems like every day someone writes an article about how "this may seem like momentum, but it's not" or "this is just a player getting lucky, it's not a hot streak." While I realize that most people underestimate the amount of luck that goes into baseball, certainly the game is played by people, and people do get into grooves, start feeling good/bad about themselves, etc., etc.. Y'all wrote It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over and now you're going out of your way to remove narratives from baseball. What is the deal?

Jay Jaffe: So you're saying that maybe we at BP are on a cold streak, one that's gonna cost us the analytical pennant? There's no panic in this locker room, and my numbers say we'll pull out of it.

Baseball is a game of streaks and slumps, and fans and media tend to attach narratives to them with particular sensitivity to the time of year in which they occur. A slump that wouldn't be thought of as more than a hiccup if it happened in early June is suddenly read as evidence of imminent collapse with an accompanying lack of moral fibre: a choke. The Cubs losing eight of nine in late August/early September prompts everyone to conjure up stories of the black cat in 1969, despite the fact that Leo Durocher is in his grave and the likes of Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins have nothing to do with this team. The Rays losing six out of seven while the Red Sox win six out of seven is proof that the former is too young to win this thing while the latter just knows how to git-er-done... Yeesh. Might as well turn on the content hose and mail in the next half-dozen columns.

The streaks and slumps that make up a baseball season tend to cloud judgements, as though the most recent week is exponentially more important than the 20 or so which preceeded it. That's just not true unless you're talking about the final days of the season, and for the most part, teams' performances tend to even out. The narratives I tend to enjoy and employ in discussing pennant races do fascinate me, but they're narratives of a whole season or a much longer period than just a lost weekend at this point in time.

Mike (Chicago): Would the brewers missing the playoffs top the Mets as a bigger collapse? Would the Astros passing them top the Rockies as a shocker?

Jay Jaffe: Not at all. Just last year the Mets were at 99.8 percent on September 12, while the Brewers haven't been above 95 percent yet. The Padres went from 90 to zero in three days at the end of last year.

At this point, I do think the Astros could top the Rockies, but I'm not 100% sure because I don't hae the latter's day-by-day 2007 numbers in front of me. The Astros were as low as 0.15 percent on August 28 when they were 66-66, i.e., with 30 games to go. Nate Silver has the '34 Cardinals, at 1.67 percent, as mounting the longest-odds comeback from that vantage point.

Some good reading for you on the topic if you want to see more:

Blowing It
In Good Company - quickest collapses
Greatest Comebacks

glyons (vancouver, BC): Which three-month LA rental will work out better this year--Tex or Manny? It seems to be a wash right now (though Manny's contributions seem more relevant in-season).

Jay Jaffe: They're both working out just swimmingly for the two teams in the city of, um, Angels, aren't they? Teixeira has the benefit of being assured of making the playoffs, and probably a better shot of winning it all given the structure of the Halos' pitching staff. He may also be the one more likely to re-up with his current club. On the other hand, Manny may arguably be the differene-maker in a much tighter race, and let's face it, whether you love him or hate him, he's got some major style points going in his favor, not to mention a much larger place in baseball history.

If you had to pick one story over the other in terms of which is bigger, the fact that the Angels probably could have captured their flag without Teixeria is enough to tilt the balance in favor of Manny, because the Dodgers probably wouldn't have, but the Dodgers still have some heavy lifting to do in order to make that a reality.

James (Boston): "Arizona's flagging playoff hopes are a product of an introduction to a massive dose of reality." - So the recent losing streak by them means something, but the recent winning streak by the Dodgers... somehow doesn't? (In my opinion neither losing streak is LIKELY to mean anything, but it's certainly possible that *gasp* momentum or *double gasp* morale may have something to do with a team's chances. Do you really think the Rockies' run last year was just a statistical blip, as random as the location of a grain of sand on the beach?)

Jay Jaffe: James, a couple of notes. First, momentum and morale are nice stories, but they're nebulous intangibles instead of quantifiable, tangible concepts, and such intangibles are more a product of the mainstream media storytellers than we analytitical types are comfortable with. Does clubhouse chemistry exist? Probably, but if I can't attach some semblance of a number to it, I'm not going to try to account for it in my analysis beyond digging up one of my favorite Earl Weaver pearls: "Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher."

As for today's Arizona article, the teaser you quote was written by one of our editors, but the point they were trying to make is that there are fundamental flaws with this Diamondbacks team that mean something - a lousy bullpen and a weaker defense without Orlando Hudson. Webb and Haren may revert to form, but I don't think those other two things stand much chance of changing before the end of the year given the personnel on hand.

deadmonkeyhead (CA): Since being called up most recently, Brandon Wood is finally showing signs of being a legit major league bat with (to the naked eye) solid play at shortstop. Should this continue throughout the month, he just has to start in October, right? Or will the man-love for Aybar prevail regardless?

Jay Jaffe: It's certainly encouraging to see Wood finally hitting the way he's projected to hit after making some adjustments in the minors. If he keeps this up, he'll find his way into the lineup in October, though I'd expect some kind of offense/defense-based platoon, with Aybar playing the late innings and perhaps on days where the team has a more groundball-centric pitcher on the mound such as Saunders (though it's worth noting the Angels' rotation tends to skew more flyball than most).

Joe (Tewksbury, MA): As well as Toronto is playing and with 7 games still to go against the Red Sox am I (a Sox fan) crazy for being concerned. The next 10 days are tough for my club.

Jay Jaffe: Sorry, Joe, you won't get a ton of sympathy for the tough row the defending World Champs have to hoe in order to make the playoffs. They've just gotten Beckett and Lowell back in working order, and their schedule and run differential say they should overtake the Rays. Even if they don't there's still a wide margin (6 games I think) between them and the Twins in the Wild Card race. I can think of at least 25 teams who would take that hand if they were dealt it.

Odie (Portland): Can Andre Ethier get a little more attention for what he's been doing, please?

Jay Jaffe: Ethier has been tearing it up, no doubt, and I've been seeing quite a lot of his exploits lately. .390/.455/.820 over the past month, and .500/.582/.957 over the past two-ish weeks batting in front of Manny Ramirez. You had to know that the only way the whole Juan Pierre debacle could be put to rest was if Ethier went white-hot, and luckily, Little Peanuthead has one start since August 20.

Kevin (Chicago): So the Cubs missing the playoffs would be a bigger collapse than the Mets, right?

Jay Jaffe: Strictly speaking, I believe you have to go at least one more decimal place to determine that via our Playoff Odds reports, as the Cubs have been at 99.8 percent at times recently. Given the various assumptions invovled in modeling the remainder of the season, I'm not sure that kind of precision is merited.

Let's just say a Cubs collapse would certainly give the 2007 Mets a run for their money while tying into a "Century of Futility" story that we'd probably never hear the end of. Fortunately - from the standpoint of dead-horse-flogging fatigure as opposed to any feeling about the Cubs either way - I don't think that's gonna happen.

Ted (at the pool): Are the Jays contenders if they would have started the season with Gaston and giving Lind more playing time or is this just a nice looking winning streak that has happened late in the season?

Jay Jaffe: Lind's presence over the dessicated remains of Shannon Stewart or Kevin Mench/Brad Wilkerson certainly would have improved matters, but there's a lot of other factors that would have had to go right - better health (and fortune) from Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, B.J. Ryan, Vernon Wells, Scott Rolen... wow, that's a lot right there. A.J. Burnett avoiding his mid-season cold streak, too. Given some better luck in breaks like those, they coulda been contenders, but as it is, it's just a nice-looking winning streak. Their potential as spoilers (7 games vs. Boston as Joe from Tewksbury mentioned above) probably shouldn't be underestimated.

Sky (The Roc): With the Blue Jays recent winning streak bumping up their win total, their impressive season-long run-differential, and the fact that they're playing in the toughest division in baseball, don't you think JP Ricciardi is underrated as a GM these days? Sure, he's made some poor decisions, but he's also made many good ones (acquiring Rolen who's under contract for two more years than Glaus, Scutaro, Halladay's cheap extension, Rios' extension, and a spectacular no-name bullpen.)

Jay Jaffe: Ricciardi underrated? No, sorry. I wouldn't pay the balance of Rolen's contract ($22 M for his age 34 and 35 seasons) with your nephew's Monopoly money, let alone real cash, and I don't like the Ryan ($20 M for next two year), Wells (~$100 M over next six years) deals much either. And that's jut for starters.

dianagramr (NYC): Hiya Jay .... thanks for chatting ... If Ned Yost had a clue about managing a pitching staff, and didn't care so much about no-hitters, the Brew Crew might have a chance to go deep into October. Do you concur?

Jay Jaffe: It's not a chat until Diana shows up! Glad you could make it, as always.

I think Yost got a bit too carried away over Scorer-gate, but he's just standing up for his players and trying to take the pressure off them. I'm not crazy about the way he manages his bullpen, particularly with regards to his obsession for spot lefty matchups, and I wish he'd just lose Eric Gagne's phone number, but I don't have a problem with the way he's handled his rotation, particularly the two big guns. At this point, given what we know about the economics of making the postseason (Nate Silver's finding of a 10-year revenue bump for such teams, as noted in his chapter in Baseball Between the Numbers), I think it's far more important for the Brew Crew to simply make it to October and lift that 26-year-old monkey off their backs than it is to win the whole thing.

Not that I wouldn't love to see the latter. My wife and in-laws would go nuts.

mattymatty (Philly): Who is the youngest guaranteed Hall of Famer in baseball right now? A-Rod?

Jay Jaffe: Hmmm... Alex Rodriguez is 33, but Albert Pujols is just 28 and well on his way, though technically he'd need two more seasons to reach the 10 year minimum. Johan Santana is 29 and has two Cy Youngs under his belt; he might even slip in a third this year if the voters can overlook the fact that he's "only" got 13 wins (yeah, surrrrrrre). I don't have my JAWS spreadsheet open at the moment on this wheezing litle laptop but I think both of them have peak WARP scores equivalent to the average Hall of Famer at their positions. That's not a guarantee, but it's some food for thought.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Will BP ever publish players' dollar values i.e. how valuable they should be in trade relative to their current contract, arb eligibility, cost for comparable WARP players at their position, etc.?

Jay Jaffe: Well, we've got MORP (Marginal value Above Replacement Player) on the PECOTA player cards already, which is essentially the free market value of a player given his projected WARP production. You'd have to ask Nate Silver to try to account for more than that tells you. Let me know how that works out for ya, as he's got his hands quite full of political coverage at the moment.

collins (greenville nc): Jay, Do you think of the players on the new Veteran's Committee ballot belong in the HOF? Thanks for chatting.

Jay Jaffe: I think Bill Dahlen does, and I'd be willing to consider Joe Gordon given the impact of World War II service on his career, but I'm far more interested in seeing cases like Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and Dwight Evans come up for a vote than some of these oldtimers.

Marcus (Silver Spring): Is the Zimmerman of the past month or so the real Ryan Zimmerman or is this just a facade?

Jay Jaffe: .321/.386/.473 in 43 games since comign off the DL in late July for Young Zim - that's certainly a better indication of his talent than his injury-wracked early season performance. Nice to see him come around, most definitely.

joelefko (NJ): When do the Yanks abandon ship and get Kennedy and Hughes some big league starts. The fans know its over, and I literally have no interest whatsoever in watching another start by Sir Sidney. I-and hopefully many other fans-stayed up for the late west coast game last night to check out Aceves. (I don't even want to imagine the YES Network ratings for these past two series.) At least putting the youngsters in gives us something entertaining to watch..

Jay Jaffe: Isn't starting Aceves one of the signs that the ship has been abandoned? I missed his start last night to watch the Dodgers and scraps of the Diamondbacks and Brewers games, but I'm glad to see he did well. I'd bet that we'll see Hughes soon, and maybe Kennedy eventually - the latter's clearly fallen out of favor with the Yankee brass, but they're going to have to resuscitate his value if they want to think about trading him for anything worthwhile.

Charlie (Bethesda, MD): Who the heck is Alfredo Aceves?

Jay Jaffe: My favorite beat writer, Peter Abraham, has had lots of Aceves coverage over at his blog. He'll fill you in.

Louie (Chicago): Does Edmonds have anything left for this season or can we finally put a fork in him?

Jay Jaffe: He got up off the mat once already this year after people buried him, so I'm not about to bet against him without medical evidence that he's injured, particularly if the Cubs can find their way clear to giving him some rest down the stretch.

blaseta (Calgary): I'll be honest, I had no idea there was a ten year minimum for HOF induction until just recently. Has there ever been a player where this was an issue, by that I mean has there ever been a player whose career warrents at least a look from the HOF but who didn't qualify. Seems kind of arbitrary and unnecessary to me; if a player's career is great enough to be considered for the HOF based on less than 10 years of numbers than that should be good enough, don't you think. Can you imagine if something happend to Pujols (knocks on wood furiously) and he didn't reach two more seasons. He obviously already belongs, why should an arbitrary year total matter?

Jay Jaffe: There's precedent for surmounting the rule in the case of catastrophe. Addie Joss, who died of meningitis at age 30 after nine seasons in the majors, finally gained admission via the Vet Committee in 1978 thanks to an extended campaign by Fred Lieb, among others. Somebody would almost certainly have Phat Albert's back in case of the unthinkable.

Eric J (VA): No love for Deacon White?

Jay Jaffe: White's career is all 19th century, and to be honest I'm more than a little uncomfrotable with how high the last JAWS iteration has him - ahead of Johnny Bench et al as the top catcher of all time based on the degree of difficulty and schedule length adjustments. IIRC, I don't think he made Bill James' top 100 in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. But certainly his career merits a closer look given the circumstances.

Aaron (YYZ): With the Jays on the noggin, who's going to be the first player into the HoF with a Blue Jays cap?

Jay Jaffe: Rickey Henderson? Fred McGriff? Lyle Overbay? Maybe a successful VC campaign for Dave Stieb?

That's a stumper. I honestly don't know the answer.

Mike (Chicago): Is it possible that, with the teams' impending sale, the value of the cub franchise would actually be less if they were to win the world series this year? I know most teams see attendance/revenue spikes after winning, but isn't there an "I just want to be there when they finally win" faction of fans that might disappear when(ok, if) it happens?

Jay Jaffe: Historically speaking, teams enjoy much more profit the year AFTER winning than the year they win, and I don't see any reason to think that wouldn't be the case with the Cubs. Being World Champs has a huge value when it comes to ticket sales and other marketing revenues. As far back as 1920, during the Black Sox trial, this was recognized - when the prosecution tried to prove a conspiracy to injure Comiskey's business, attendance was actually up despite the absence of the infamous banned ballplayers. In 1999, the year after their 125-win season (including WS) the Yankees topped 3 million in attendance for the first time. Given that the Cubs are only fifth in the league in attendance, I think it's far more likely that they have yet to peak on this front.

Aaron (YYZ): My guesses would have been Alomar or Halladay. On the former, I'm guessing the general public doesn't view him as a Blue Jay quite as much as the people that lived and breathed 92/93 :)

Jay Jaffe: Agreed on the Alomar front, but I've argued before that he's a Hall of Famer and I'm prepared to defend that one again.

As for Halladay, he's only got 63.7 WARP to date, and that's for his career - he needs a peak that looks like that, which means about three more years that look like this one. Certainly not outside the realm of possibility but it's no slam dunk.

Frank (Vegas): will you weigh in on the Alvarez hearing today (uh, sorry, I mean the MLBPA vs MLB hearing), or are you wiffing and leaving it to KevinG?

Jay Jaffe: This one's going to drag on for awhile, and I think KG has his finger much closer to the pulse on the subject than I do. That said, I think the MLBPA has MLB dead to rights on this one, but I don't know what the remedy is.

BelongstotheReds (Seattle): I don't recall exactly when Eric Davis retired, and I have to acknowledge that his career numbers don't come close to HOF material. However, he stands out to this Reds fan as one of the most exciting players of his era, and I'll forever wonder what might have been had he stayed healthy. What's your top-5 list of "coulda shoulda" players?

Jay Jaffe: No joke, I got all verklempt when I wrote up Davis' blurb for a JAWS piece a couple years back. The man possessed the most electrifying speed/power combo to hit the majors between Willie Mays and Barry Bonds, period. What I wouldn't give to see him play at his peak again...

Davis and his childhood pal Darryl Strawberry make a good strat to a top five for the Hall of Should aWouldaCoulda, and you can't mention the straw without calling upon Dwight Gooden too. Add David Cone and Fernando Valenzuela and you've got an easy five from me, though I'm certain there are others I could include particularly from other eras.

TheBunk (Toronto): How can people say that Brandon Webb should win the NL Cy Young? Simple question, it's truly baffeling.

Jay Jaffe: Probably because he's got 19 wins and has been on the verge of 20 for a couple weeks, though Tim Lincecum (16-3 with an ERA more than a run better and an SNLVAR about 50% better) has probably closed the gap enough to have a pretty good shot. The kid would get my vote, for sure.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Weren't Negro League stats made more available recently? Is there enough quality data & players with overlapping experience to come up with an equalized ranking of all the players from that era?

Jay Jaffe: The funny thing is that those numbers were available to the Hall of Fame subcommittee but unless I've missed something haven't found their way into the general public's availability yet. If they ever do, it will take people smarter than me to determine their weight, though I'd settle just for being able to look at them on Baseball-Reference.com or our site. I mean, who wouldn't want to see what Satchel Paige's year by year numbers look like?

1995 Angels (Choketown): Nobody is going to top us anytime soon. So on to a different topic. The yankees post-season run is ending. The Braves post-season run ended a few years ago. Which teams are most likely to be the next dynasties? Redsox and ????

Jay Jaffe: The 1995 Angels got Nate's nod, sure enough.

The Rays are the square on which you should be putting your dynasty-betting savings, my friend. This year is likely only the beginning of a longer run of success.

Though I think a team like the Dodgers could have a shot if they ever had the right GM.

blaseta (Calgary): When mainstream writers contend that Carlos Delgado should be NL MVP, what do you think their thought process is. Do they really believe that he has been more valuable to the Mets than Wright, Reyes, Beltran, and Santana? Do they just want enrage the "Vorpies" out there that actually trust sophisticated stats over RBIs and naked eye observations? Are they blinded by his brilliant smile?

Jay Jaffe: I think for the most part, they're looking at RBI totals and the timing of those RBI. I think it has less to do with pissing statheads off than it does with the very understandable human tendency to apply narratives that simplify much more complicated series of events into a digestable form. "He got the big hits - just look at the numbers," is about as simple an MVP rubric as there is, and plenty of writers are content to let their "analysis" stop there.

dills (Chicago): Didn't Roberto Clemente get into the HOF without the 5 year wait?

Jay Jaffe: Yes, but he had reached the 10-year minimum in terms of career length. Different set of circumstances than Joss.

Razz (New York, NY): In the CouldaWouldaShoulda HOF, David Wells needs to be in the discussion, partially because of his own poor conditioning, but partially because he stupidly wasn't given a full-time spot in a rotation until he was 30 years old. I know sabermatricians devalue wins, but even given THAT, he still went 239-157 for his career. It's not hard to argue that with better managing and fewer cheeseburgers, he would have had a better career than Mike Mussina.

Jay Jaffe: Regarding his conditioning, it certainly hasn't been much of a detriment - the guy's stellar K/BB ratios testify to his ability to repeat his motion despite his ever-increasing girth, at least up to his age 42 season. I see no reason to make allowances one way or the other for his conditioning when considering his Hall of Fame case except to marvel at what he did accomplish.

You're on more solid ground regarding his use pattern, though it's also worth noting he had TJ surgery in 1985 and shoulder surgery in '86), so his durability wasn't exactly a known commodity early in his career. But he still can't come close to touching the Moose, value-wise, because of his put-it-in-play style of pitching versus Mussina's high strikeout rates. Mussina has about a 30-WARP edge because of that.

Tim (DC): No ShouldaWouldaCould HOF is complete without Tony C. in the top 5.

Jay Jaffe: Excellent candidate, though well before my time. Which is almost a relief given how heartbreaking his story was.

greg (toronto): Not as much a baseball question, but how can MLB claim to be fighting discrimination while Chief Wahoo reigns supreme as Cleveland's logo?

Jay Jaffe: Damn right. No argument here on the logo, though I actually have no beef given the origin of the team's name - as a tribute to the deceased outfelder Louis Sockalexis.

strupp (Madison): Jay, I've been having healthy debate RE: Rickey Henderson and the Hall... myh stance is that not only is he an inner circle HoF, but that he's one of the 10 best offensive players in the history of the game. Thoughts?

Jay Jaffe: I'm not sure I could make a case for top 10 - the heavy hitters do win out, according to EqA and most other metrics - but inner circle for sure.

greg (toronto): Is Pujols on pace to be one of the 10 best hitters ever? Which bats of these greats would you rather have at the same age over Pujols: Foxx, Mantle, Gehrig, Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Frank Thomas, Frank Robinson, Aaron, and Mays?

Jay Jaffe: Pujols may well be a top 10 guy. Manny Ramirez might be too, along with some of those other guys you list, plus a fella named Bonds.

I don't have enough time to get into the age-related argument at the moment, but I'll note that I've got an article in the pipeline that could look at the big-picture topic more closely.

OK folks, I've gone well past my pitch count, and my dance card for the rest of the day is full, starting with a Toledo radio hit at 4:05. So I'll take one more.

TGisriel (Baltimore): If you were the fan of a team that has, for all practical purposes, been eliminated from post-season play (e.g. the Orioles)what would you be looking for as they play in September? Continued development of a young star?(Adam Jones) Potential starters for the future? (Waters, Burress, Liz, Olson)Potential from late call ups? (Montanez) Statistical accomplishments from established players? (Huff, Roberts, Markakis, Mora) What are your thoughts? Or do you simply turn them off and got to the contenders?

Jay Jaffe: I don't think there's a wrong answer here. As a kid I always climbed aboard whatever contending bandwagon was available if the Dodgers were having a lousy year or met an early demise - the 1979 Pirates and 1982 Brewers were a couple of favorites, as were the 1995 Indians later in life. But I also enjoyed seeing the kids come up from the minors and get their cup of coffee.

These days with Extra Innings, MLB.tv, TiVo, Slingbox and the various other techologies available, who's to say you can't have it all?

Jay Jaffe: All right folks, thanks so much for spending some time with me this afternoon and for supplying a stream of great questions that just keeps growing. I'll save the ones I didn't get to and might get a chance to answer a few of them in the future. Until then, enjoy the races!

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