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Chat: Matt Swartz

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday September 14, 2009 4:30 PM ET chat session with Matt Swartz.


If you're looking to get Ahead in the Count, you'll want to tune in to ask Matt Swartz your questions about the races, the Phillies, competing in BP Idol, and more.

Matt Swartz: Hi Everyone! Welcome to my chat. I'm looking forward to hearing your questions.

Jeremy (AZ): Who are you?

Matt Swartz: I'm not sure if this question was meant seriously, but I'll go ahead and answer it anyway. I'm Matt Swartz. I just started at BP earlier this summer after being a contestant in BP Idol. I'm thrilled to be working here. I'm an economist so I tend to take that perspective on things, and a lot of my baseball opinions are slanted that way.

Eliyahu (Elazar, Israel): I was stunned to find out that the structural strategic advantage of batting last accounts for very little of the baseball home field advantage. Were you?

Matt Swartz: I was pretty surprised, but someone pointed out that the defensive adjustments for a one-run game are probably more likely to actually change the probability of scoring than bunting or anything like that, so it makes some sense. Especially since other sports have larger HFAs, I wasn't expecting it to be too big, but I did expect a larger effect.

karn (Bon Temps): Anything wrong with letting Pedro put it all out there every fifth day? Big pitch count numbers the last two times out...

Matt Swartz: This is a good question. I guess a lot of it depends on whether the Phillies want to use him as a starter in the playoffs. If so, they need to be more careful. If not, then it's probably not the end of the world do leave him out there in a big game. The bullpen is pretty depleted and isn't really that strong this year, so it might be wise for Charlie Manuel to see if he can last deep into games to minimize the bullpen usage. For instance, Happ for 7 innings might not be as effective as Martinez for 7 innings, but he's probably more effective than Martinez for 6 innings, given the Phillies troubles getting good innings out of their bullpen.

Ira (North Texas): What helps the Rangers more, a Boston Sweep, an Angels Sweep, or some other combination of wins and losses? Considering that the Rangers host the Angels next weekend, a 3 game sweep by the Sox would certainly help demoralize them. And, if the Rangers swept the A's, it would also mean the the Rangers would be only 3 games out and could conceivably tie the Angels with 2 weeks to play by Sweeping them.

Matt Swartz: I think they should root for Red Sox to sweep the Angels. They are 6 behind the Angels and only 4 behind the Red Sox, but with 22 games left, they will have a lot of trouble catching both. Their 7 remaining games against the Angels give them the best shot to pull off a comeback. Gaining 4 games in 22 days against a good team that you don't play is very hard. If they take 6 of 7 against the Angels, they're right back there, and even 5 of 7 puts them in striking distance depending on how the other games go.

Vic (West Chester, PA): Scott Boras: good for baseball or bad for baseball?

Matt Swartz: It's tough to say whether he is good for baseball or bad for baseball. I don't think he's necessarily all that good for his clients though. He has a lot of money, and can afford to be much riskier with other people's money. By giving himself the credibility as a tough negotiator, he puts his current clients at risk of getting little money so that he can extract more money from teams down the line. Take the J.D. Drew thing as an example. J.D. Drew was major-league ready when the Phillies drafted him, but he waited a year without signing with Phillies to sign with the Cardinals for only a small amount more the following year. That extra money cost Drew a year of free agent salaries because he was major league ready and he probably lost him ten times what he gained in the process. Drew probably didn't want to play with the Phillies, but there are plenty of examples (Kyle Lohse, I think Jason Varitek) where Boras takes a hard stance that works a lot and fails occasionally, and it's not necessarily wise to be that risky if you're not already rich.

31cornucopia (Ewing, NJ): Where is the next location for a franchise to move? Would Northern NJ ever get its own team with the Yankees, Mets and Phillies so close by?

Matt Swartz: I don't know that those three times would like it, but I have to imagine the market could support another team there. All three of those teams draw an insane amount of fans, and it really doesn't seem all that hard to believe another team could fit in there and draw lots of fans if it succeeded-- certainly, I would expect it to be more than some small market clubs.

Marcus (Silver Spring): Welcome! What should the Nats do this offseason with all that money coming off the books?

Matt Swartz: I don't think they should spend it on free agents. The Nats are going to need a few years to build up their team, and they probably should invest some money in scouting. They might want to pick up a short term free agent contract that they could turn around and trade away at the trade deadline, but other than that, it's not wise for a team like that to invest much in free agents.

dsc250 (Philadelphia): Hi Matt - how awesome is the Good Phight? Amazing place you got your start! Anyway, what do you think of the Phillies using Pedro Martinez as their closer in the playoffs? Too old to work just the ninth inning with less rest? Or an amazing secret weapon come crunch time? Thanks, and keep up the great work.

Matt Swartz: Hi David! The Good Phight IS awesome, it's true-- I still have it as my home page. Also, thanks for reminding me that Peter says to say that he's good-looking. As to your question, I don't think Pedro would make a good closer only because he takes so long to get ready, even during the game. He seems to throw slower during the first inning, and gives up a lot of hits to the first few guys. I think that he tends to get stronger as the game goes on. Whether they should use him in their playoff rotation really depends on how he and Happ look in the next few weeks, but if not, he might be better in a long reliever role in the playoffs if he's on the roster at all.

BR (NYC): Thanks for the chat, Matt! Hoping you are not chatting while on a train between Washington, D.C. and Philly!

Matt Swartz: Nope! Finally moved down to the DC area a couple weeks ago, so the commute is much nicer. Six hours of commute for an eight hour job was pretty rough!

jromero (seattle): As an economist, how about a quick explanation of baseball's anti-trust exemption--why it was established to begin with, and how it's relevant today? I may be asking a bit much for a chat format, but seems worth a try. Thanks!

Matt Swartz: I actually was discussing this with my wife who just graduated law school last week. Apparently, it started in the '20s because the Supreme Court said baseball was a "state issue" and therefore shouldn't be covered under federal law (which can regulates only interstate commerce). Challenges were unsuccessful because of precedent, but other sports never got the same treatment. Curt Flood challenged it back in the '70s when he didn't want to be traded under the reserve clause, but that didn't work. It did open the door to free agency, though. That's the legal stuff, at least as far as I can remember. As an economist, I don't really see other baseball markets popping up if it were removed, and I'm actually pretty confident that removing the reserve clause itself might have disastrous consequences for players given baseball's playoff structure. Some kind of market restriction does help, though the current one is quite rough on players with short peaks.

glenihan (nyc): when you say you're an economist by trade, do you mean you're a professor? or do you work for some sort of think tank? i'm just curious

Matt Swartz: Well, I have a newly minted PhD in Economics. I work for the government, but I'm not really supposed to be more specific than that online because it's separate from my work at BP. I think my economics angle comes mostly from research in Search Theory in graduate school, which is more or less about studying labor markets with frictions (like baseball!).

mattymatty (Phillly, PA): Jon Lester: great pitcher or the greatest pitcher? But seriously, folks, how awesome has Lester been? I know that's terrible question, but I'm sending it in anyway. Thanks for the chat!

Matt Swartz: "I'll put you down for greatest."

In all honesty, his ridiculous jump in strikeout rate is insane! Without even dropping his walk rate too! It looks like he is throwing all the same pitches, and only a little bit faster than before, but just getting people to miss like crazy. It's a great story, and he's a great story in general.

Jack (NYC): Why have the Phillies been consistently rank lower in the BP Adjusted standings than their actual record? Does BP not like the Phillies?

Matt Swartz: BP certainly doesn't have a bias away from the Phillies in its numeric code! No one is moving decimal points around. Both Eric Seidman and I are fans, so probably not too often in the articles either.

As to the Adjusted Standings, it's different answers every year. Last year, the strong bullpen was particularly helpful in close games and that made the run-scoring in general misleading as to their true performance. This year, the Phillies are pretty close to their 1st order Pythagorean Record (based on RS/RA). The real dip comes in the jump between the RA and the unadjusted EqR against. The Phillies' opponents batting line seems to indicate they should have scored about 35 more runs than they did. That might be a bit of luck. In reality, any team 22 games over .500 is more likely than not to be lucky. The reason they are in second place is that the Braves are clearly ranked very high. Although the Braves RS/RA seems to imply that they should have a better record than they do, the Braves have 7.7% HR/FB in a stadium that doesn't really imply that. Given the low year-to-year correlation in that statistic, the Braves probably have some good luck that can't be accounted for in looking at their for/against batting lines. The Phillies 3rd order record is pretty good, but the Braves is probably what's out of line. 3rd order wins are a great way to adjust for luck in run distribution, hit/walk distribution, and difficulty of opponents. It obviously isn't built to try to discover subtleties in batted ball luck.

rawagman (Toronto): Matt - your work thus far has been very enlightening. This isn't a question for now as much as it is a potential avenue that could be explored. The Blue Jays have often claimed that they cannot compete with the Red Sox and/or the Yankees. As a matter of driving revenue, would they be better off building a new stadium (may be overdue anyway) or continuing to throw money (hopefully smartly) in team development? Thanks

Matt Swartz: Thanks. I don't know that a new stadium would necessarily do it. They need to put a better team on the field because even a stadium full of massage chairs probably wouldn't outdraw the revenue of the Red Sox or Yankees. The Rays clearly showed last year that they can compete without spending as much money. The Jays need to be aggressive and get ahead of the curve in areas like the Rays have. The Rays bring in very smart people and listen to them, and it's working. There aren't the same kind of market inefficiencies that there used to be, but there are still tons. The Jays and Orioles need to follow the Rays' model of gaining a comparative advantage in something that isn't generating revenue.

mattymatty (Phillly, PA): What are the chances that Charlie Manuel deep-sixes the Phils chances by insisting that Lidge is the closer in the post season? Surely someone in the front office will ask him to stop, right?

Matt Swartz: He did pull him out of the closer role in favor of Madson recently, though Lidge did get one of the two saves in the doubleheader yesterday. Manuel clearly doesn't have the confidence in his ability to turn it around that he did earlier this year, but I think he still wants him to succeed terribly. If he was willing to yank him in the 9th inning against the Nationals, I have to imagine he's not going put him out there against Manny Ramirez if he's not showing improvement. Eric Seidman's article the other week doesn't make it sound all that likely he will.

Peter (New Jersey): Thanks for the shout, Matt! I know you're interested in writing about the economics of the amateur draft, so I was wondering what effect, if any, you anticipate the league-wide attendance drop to have on signing bonuses next season, specifically with regard to slotting.

Matt Swartz: No problem! I am definitely interested in learning more about the draft. I'm not sure if a drop in attendance will have that strong an effect on adherence to slotting. I'm guessing that since many teams really haven't seen drops in attendance, the free agent market probably won't get too much weaker. There will probably be less teams that can compete for those players, though. In that sense, teams might have more incentive to deviate from the slotting rules. However, the slotting rules are really about long-term cooperation between teams, and unless the economic landscape changes significantly, I don't know that we will see much of a difference.

BallparkFan (Colorado): Do you think there is any situation in which 100% public financing of a new MLB ballpark makes *economic* sense for the community that is financing it?

Matt Swartz: Economic theory lets you come to any conclusion you want if you make ridiculous assumptions to start. The goal would be to start with smart assumptions. Doing so might make it particularly hard to come up with a situation where the externality of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a private industry is more beneficial than spending that money on schools or even letting people keep their tax money. If I had to make up a peculiar economic assumption to start with, I would start with assuming that a championship makes lots of people in a city happier, even those fans not attending the games. If I make up a ridiculous dollar value to attribute that happiness to, I could come up with a situation where 100% public financing makes sense. Otherwise, I doubt it, but that's still just a guess.

tommybones (brooklyn): Shameless fantasy question for you. Any clue why Jason Werth has simply stopped running? Twelve steals in the 1st half and only 1 in the 2nd, including only one (failed) ATTEMPT since June 6th! What gives?

Matt Swartz: I don't think he's hurt. I think he's more likely to run in games where he is batting sixth (behind Ibanez), rather than fifth (ahead of Ibanez). Ibanez has more power than Feliz and is less double-play prone, and is enough of a pull hitter that teams holding him on first will lead to a few extra singles. I don't know if he runs more in six-spot, but you might start with that. It seems like he was 5th for a lot of the early season too, though, so that might not be it.

Erisa (401 K Street): What fraction of Hall of Fame members had mustaches during their peak performance year?

Matt Swartz: I don't know about that, but I do know that you get out of the building by walking towards the picture of the guy with the biggest mustache ;-)

Jay (Princeton): Care to give odds for the 8 likely playoff teams of winning the World Series?

Matt Swartz: I tend to think they are all about 12.5% (1 in 8), conditional on making the playoffs. The playoffs are so inherently random that it's very hard to say anybody getting much higher than that. I see that the oddsmakers have the Yankees around 30% which seems ridiculous. I liked the research in BBTN on the topic of who succeeds in the playoffs. My opinion behind why some of those results came about is that I think what it shows is that teams that make the playoffs generally have above average hitters, and pitchers don't control batting average on contact very much. So I'd say strikeout pitchers are the key and power hitters do help in close games too. Probably best to assume 1 in 8 though.

Peter (New Jersey): Matt, I'd also like your thoughts on how the Phillies should attempt to line up their possible playoff rotation.

Matt Swartz: I'd be curious to see how Lee could do on three days rest. If so, I'd like to see how starting him in games 1 and 4 in the NLDS, and Hamels in games 2 and 5 might work. If not, definitely Hamels and Lee (in either order) up top, then Blanton in game 3. For the 4th starter, I'm bearish on Happ, but I'm not sold on Pedro yet. If Pedro keeps putting up ridiculous K/BB numbers, I think he's clearly the better bet.

lemppi (Ankeny, IA): Do you foresee as much caution this year in non-Yankee Free Agent signings as we saw last year on the FA Market? Or will a few clubs act more aggressively depending on what players make it to the market? Thanks.

Matt Swartz: I would guess they would be more aggressive for a few reasons. One factor that wasn't discussed enough in last year's market is that there was a surplus of corner outfielders on the market at once, which drove down their prices. Pitching markets tend to be a bit more predictable because everyone needs pitching. I think that last year seemed like the whole market dried up because of that. Also, many teams are not terribly good at maximizing profits but they want to ensure positive profits. The uncertainty in the recession made some teams hesitate. Since they know where they stand now, teams probably can spend more.

tommybones (brooklyn): Speaking of Lidge, did the Phils pass on Wagner when he was on waivers? Could Wagner ever play for the Phils again? Or has that ship sailed?

Matt Swartz: Since Lidge ended up in the AL, that means every NL team passed on him. Wagner has made a lot of negative comments about the Phillies in the media the past few years, so it really didn't seem like a great match on that front. That said, I wonder how the Phillies might have felt about using him as a LOOGY if they knew Romero and Eyre were both going to have such health problems. He probably would have vetoed it though.

Jay (NYC): What avenues are out there that you'd suggest for a team to differentiate itself economically from others? For instance, dynamic seat pricing is something of a new idea, whereas its own network is an old one that most teams have not pursued...

Matt Swartz: I think that dynamic seat pricing is absolutely an area where teams can make way more money. When you look at the difference between stubhub ticket prices and regular ticket prices, it's pretty clear that price discrimination would help a lot. Teams hesitate to deal with the PR issues of doing so, but they really are already doing a lot of this with their "two for one" emails. I doubt the PR fallout would hurt as much as getting that extra revenue would help, and I think that might be a way that a team could make a ton of money.

Sean (NJ): What is your opinion of Phillies' announcer Scott Franzke?

Matt Swartz: I really enjoy listening to him when I do listen to the radio. I got to hear him call the unassisted triple play a few weeks ago, and it was just incredible to hear. I don't listen to the radio much, but he really makes a good case for doing so.

mike (PHILLY): Who are your forntrunners and winner for AL ROY? Porcello Andrus Bailey Beckham Anderson Niemann

Matt Swartz: Tough call. No one really stands above the rest. I'd probably go with Andrus or Niemann, I guess, but you could make the case for any of them.

Chris Wheeler (Next to Sarge): That Pedro Martinez is some kind of pitcher, isn't he?

Matt Swartz: Chris Wheeler doesn't sit next to Sarge, does he? I thought Sarge did the 4th-6th innings with TMac. Either way, Pedro certainly has surprised me a lot. I was not expecting him to top 90mph so consistently and his K/BB numbers are amazing.

BR (NYC): What's your favorite food choice at the ballpark?

Matt Swartz: Hot dogs! Dollar dog night is like a ritual for me-- where else can you get hot dogs for a dollar (other than outside a baseball stadium)?

mattymatty (Phillly, PA): With the economic realities inherent in playing in the AL East, what would your prescription be for remaining competitive in Tampa?

Matt Swartz: They need to keep investing in smart minds and listening to them. They don't have the money of the Red Sox and Yankees, but there is still room to compete if they stay smart. There will always be little things that they can pick up on. I also think it's important for them to continue to invest in the future and trade good players when they are competitive, because holding onto players when they start to lose value is going to hurt them a lot.

D. Delaney (Lehigh Valley): Matt, your choices for the major awards in each league (MVP, CY, ROY, MOY). If you answer anyone other than Joe Mauer, I will cry.

Matt Swartz: Joe Mauer is an easy yes for AL MVP. NL MVP-- Pujols, AL Cy Young-- Greinke, NL Cy Young-- Lincecum. I mentioned earlier (probably after you submitted this question though) that the AL ROY was a toss up, but I'd probably go with Andrus or Niemann. The NL ROY should probably be Happ or Hanson. I think Hanson is clearly the better pitcher, but Happ's run prevention is probably a little better just on account of innings pitched. It's tough because the question is that if we know that Happ's peripherals indicate he's nowhere near as good as his ERA, does that mean we don't give him credit for it? I'd say no, because I don't think you take points off a hitter who is batting .350 on bloopers either. That said, I'd bet Hanson outperforms Happ enough in the next few weeks to make it moot.

joboggi (Maryland): Do you think the Nationals and Orioles are "cannibalizing" each other's fan bases? Or can the Balt/DC metroplex support two baseball teams?

Matt Swartz: A lot of Nationals fans used to be Orioles fans, so I'm sure that they are not helping the Orioles by being there. I'm somewhat curious to see how many fans the Nats can draw whenever they become competitive. DC is clearly a big market, but baseball fans really do tend to root for the team they grew up watching. Moreso than a lot of other cities, DC is full of people who didn't grow up in the city. I wonder if they have trouble drawing fans in the same way as other teams in similar markets because they probably won't have as many cradle-to-grave fans who are local.

lemppi (Ankeny, IA): Can you assess the impact of Detroit's local economy on the Tigers? They carry a large payroll and they let Magglio Ordonez' $18M deal for 2010 vest to the tune of an extra $15M ($3M buy out no matter what). They also added Washburn and Huff while paying over-slot to 4 picks at least. The only thing I can see is that they did lay low during the last off-season's Free Agent market. Thanks.

Matt Swartz: Well, sunk costs are sunk. Detroit's current payroll shouldn't factor into whether they spend money on free agents. That should be a question of whether they can add more revenue by adding a player than it will cost to outbid his other suitors.

The effect of their economy is not immediate. It should come down to whether a win becomes more valuable than before, rather than what their total revenue will do. If the market is such that people refuse to see a losing ballclub, but will go out and see a winning ballclub almost as much as in good economic times, then the Tigers should spend more money. I'd be curious about this topic in general.

BL (Bozeman): What would Zach Greinke's numbers look like if the Royals magically tranformed into a league-average team defensively?

Matt Swartz: I actually think that his ERA would be very similar. His BABIP is .314, but it's actually .277 with runners on base and a relatively average .295 in high leverage situations (according to B-R). I think the fact that his team has recorded outs in important situations is probably having an equal positive effect as the overall poor defense has had a negative effect.

Rob (Alaska): Aren't we heading for another corner outfielder surplus this offseason? Bay, Holliday, Abreu, Dye (presumably), Vlad, Damon.

Matt Swartz: Yeah, it certainly sounds like it. I think teams can really take advantage of this type of stuff if they anticipate where the surpluses will come in. Setting your team up to have a corner outfield opening in the 2009-10 offseason is probably very helpful. If you can time things somehow, you probably could save some money and put it towards other players by doing this.

Paul (Boston): Do you think that economists generally take more time when answering questions? Are they more interested in supporting answers than blindly throwing a response out?

Matt Swartz: I certainly might. I have a few windows open as I'm typing stuff in to make sure I'm not giving wrong information, so I do apologize if it has gone a bit slowly. I also keep having browser issues which isn't helping. I'll probably be a little quicker next time, but I still always try to cite facts as I go.

Christopher (Nashville): Now that the Yankees are letting in-market fans watch on MLB.tv, how soon until other teams (like the Braves) do the same? It's kind of ironic that in today's information age I am able to watch half the Braves games I could 30 years ago. For a team that built its fanbase on TV exposure it's weird that they make it so hard for fans to watch their games.

Matt Swartz: I'm not really sure. I do think teams tend to adjust to smart ideas more slowly than they would in freer markets. The fact that the general trend has been towards more exposure probably indicates it's smart, and that you'll get some Braves games soon enough.

TajAdib (Pasadena): Hi Matt - With San Jose recently coming out with an economic report that makes it seem like building a stadium for the A's in downtown San Jose would be a good thing for the city, where do you see the A's/Giants/Territorial Rights issue going from here on out? Do you think the owners will ever just let the A's migrate south without giving the Giants any type of compensation? Or will the A's/major league baseball need to give the Giants some sort of residuals/kickbacks for the foreseeable future to make everyone happy? Or, is it just too much of a headache and are my A's headed out of state or into contraction?

Matt Swartz: It's impossible to know if the league will give the Giants any kickbacks, but I do think that teams should be pretty grateful about the protection the league has given them in general. Baseball really is a growing business, and without new teams allowed to enter the market, it certainly must help teams in a significant way.

Matt Swartz: Thanks for the great chat, everyone! I really liked your questions, and I'm looking forward to doing another one some time soon.

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