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Chat: Russell A. Carleton

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday January 14, 2010 4:00 PM ET chat session with Russell A. Carleton.


You know him and love him by his nomme de net, "Pizza Cutter," but here for his first BP.com chat is new columnist Russell Carleton.

Russell A. Carleton: Live and indirect from Cleveland, I am the Pizza Cutter, and it's time for my first ever BP chat. Send in the questions. I'm literally shivering with antici---

paulbellows (Calgary): The Brian Giles meltdown from a .319 EQA to .201 last year has to be one of the largest ever doesn't it?

Russell A. Carleton: That's one for the database to ponder, but the number that sticks out is that .214 BABIP. In our "roundtable" this week on hitter BABIP, I pointed out that some things stay consistent for hitters, and some do not, but BABIP overall for hitters is somewhat stable. Giles fell so far so fast that I have to wonder if Giles's half-season (yes, I know about the bum knee) was partly the result of a run of bad luck over what ended up being a small-ish sample size. If he does retire, I can at least stop having bad flashbacks to the Ricardo Rincon era in Cleveland whenever I hear Giles's name mentioned.

The Fresh Prince's square cousin (Bel Air of course): What kind of website makes a guy ditch a cool nickname like pizza cutter for (no offense) Russell A Carleton?

Russell A. Carleton: BP did ask me to use my real name, but it's always been something of an open secret. I used Pizza Cutter because when I started writing about baseball, I was working as a psychotherapist. I needed to keep my professional life separate from my baseball life. Now, I'm not working as a therapist any more, so the issue isn't as important. At least my mother can stop calling me Pizza.

Matt Klaassen (Earth): Russell: what free data source do you use for research in-season in SQL? Obviously, after the season the Baseball Databank and Retrosheet are the go-to databanks, but is there free, csv-or-otherwise-easily imported data out there from, say, MLB Gameday? I've tried to find it, but can't...

Russell A. Carleton: I've never used SQL in my life, and it's rare that I do in-season research past quoting some of the basics. I'm almost exclusively a RS and BDB guy. I tried fooling around with Gameday once, but I don't have any programming skills.

Ira (North Texas): Since I don't know your area of expertise, I'll just ask a general question. What do you think of the Rangers Rotation for next year? Harden, Feldman, Holland, Hunter, and one of Feliz, Harrison, McCarthy, Wilson, Hurley, or whoever.

Russell A. Carleton: Everyone in that rotation has their tragic flaw. I don't know that me saying "Harden, if healthy..." adds anything to the discussion, but it's all I have to say about him. Feldman has the good sense to keep his batted balls on the ground and to let Elvis Andrus do the dirrrty work. He's the better of the bunch (assuming that Neftali Feliz is in the pen.) Holland caught some bad luck last year, but his peripherals still say "nothing special."

The Masses (Everywhere): Tell us a little bit about Russell Carleton. Also, why the "A."? Are there a lot of Russell Carleton's out there (or just one that has committed a bad crime that you don't want to be associated with)? :)

Russell A. Carleton: Very short, baseball-centric version of my life: I was born in Cleveland, went to my first baseball game in 1986 (Angels 8, Indians 2), and grew up an Indians fan. My mom learned about baseball so that she could have something to discuss with me. My first job was working at baseball card shows when I was 10. I'm a child psychologist by training, and just finished off my Ph.D. a few months ago. I lived in Chicago for six years about half a mile from Wrigley, so I became something of a Cubs fan. (My daughter's Godfather is a Cubs season tix holder.) Now I'm back in Cleveland.

From what I can tell there are six Russell Carletons in the USA (more than I expected!) and I even e-mailed one of them once. (It was a very odd conversation.) I use the "A." just out of habit. I've always signed my name like that. Plus, I get to be the only BP writer who uses his middle initial. I think.

Scrapper (Chicago): Sorry, but I don't know anything about you. Maybe an intro for the readers might be in order and some guidance regarding your particular areas of expertise. And also hobbies and other areas of interest that might be fair game for questions.

Russell A. Carleton: I just got out of an academic research program, so a lot of my work is pretty statistical methodology heavy. (I was a stats professor for a while... sorry...) Most of my stuff is pretty psychological in nature, I like to study the decision-making process. I'll take any questions. It's fun to just have the chance to talk about baseball.

Vernon Wells (Toronto?): Okay, so here's what I'm thinkin; people have had concerns with the Met's decision to sign Jason Bay, you know, with regards his defence. Now Beltran goes down. Shouldn't Omar Minaya make a deal for me...I like New York.

Russell A. Carleton: Vernon, I created a little toy defensive system (OPA!) a few years back, and it says that you were actually the worst defensive CF in baseball last year. Plus, that power you used to have is showing signs of fading. So yeah, you probably would do a pretty good imitation of an injured Carlos Beltran.

Benpav (Chicago): If you could have one of J.Upton, Mauer, or Tulo for your fantasy team over the next three seasons, which player would you choose and why?

Russell A. Carleton: In fantasy ball? Mauer. At catcher, there's him and there's everyone else. Half of Tulo's value is that he's amazing on defense, which unless you have a really enlightened fantasy league, is worthless. Upton is going to be very very good, but it's not like there's a shortage of good hitting outfielders.

JWR (Chicago): As a former psychotherapist, what current ML player would you say could most benefit from psychotherapy?

Russell A. Carleton: Actually, the people who could benefit most from therapy are the fans. A little anxiety control would help them not get so NERVOUS and start making calls for irrational behavior. Also, managers. For the same reason.

Pirates Fan (The home of the Steelers and Pens): Are the Pittsburgh Pirates akin to the French army post-Napoleon: Their primary function is to offer victory to their opponents?

Russell A. Carleton: Harsh! The Pirates will have their day. Eventually. They have former BPer Dan Fox in their front office. How bad can things be?

Rob (Alaska): So as a sabermetrically inclined baseball psychologist, I assume you're here to quantify grit and team chemistry and the like?

Russell A. Carleton: Oddly enough, if I was given the right kind of access, I could actually measure team chemistry. No team would actually grant me (or anyone) that kind of access, but it could be done. Actually, I prefer to look at how people make irrational choices due to emotion and how they process information.

Eric (Gainesville): If the Rays were in the NL East instead of the AL East, would there have been any incentive for them to develop into a top 5 team in the majors, or would they have continued their traditions established in the late 90s (losing 100 games a year)?

Russell A. Carleton: Why would a team want to lose 100 games a year? A baseball season has a binary outcome, and eventually you have to be better than all the other 29 teams. And eventually, fans don't show up for your 104th loss.

Who are you, redux. (Limbo): Who is your favorite baseball team? Do you dance well? As you step to the plate which band/song plays in the ballpark? Favorite Pop Tart flavor?

Russell A. Carleton: Fav team: I still mark 10/26/97 as one of the saddest days in my life (Game 7, 97 WS... my beloved Indians had their hearts ripped out.) My theory on dancing: I have arms. I have legs. I can move my hips like yeah. I have no shame. Yeah, I'm THAT guy at the wedding reception. My intro song: "Pizza Cutter" by Letters to Cleo, of course! I don't do Pop Tarts... Miley Cyrus reference notwithstanding.

Oopsie Dasie (Mistakeville, USA): Most current MLB GMs need to do ______ to improve their teams.

Russell A. Carleton: Worry less about having a "proven" option. If you have a kid whom you think is going to be good, let him play. He's probably cheap!

Greg House (The Dugout): Do MLB players really care what most fans think about the game?

Russell A. Carleton: Don't know. Never asked one.

Vandelay (NY): Do baseball prospects take psychological tests the way that NFL prospects do (i.e. the Wonderlic test I think is the name of the big NFL test)? Would psychological testing really help teams draft or would that be a waste of time? Why do they test in NFL and not other sports anyway?

Russell A. Carleton: I've heard that some teams do give tests, although they probably aren't developed specifically for baseball. I don't know if the people using them understand how they are properly interpreted. A full-on psych battery (at least the way I would design it) might take a few hours per person.

Jake (St. Louis): What should the Cardinals do with the 5th starter spot behind Carp/Wainwright/Lohse/Penny?

Russell A. Carleton: Mitchell Boggs likes ground balls (which is good, because he also likes walks). Brad Thompson likes GBs too, but doesn't like strikeouts. I don't see the point of signing a free agent to be your 5th starter, so put Boggs and Thompson in a cage, and whoever emerges with his arm still attached gets the ball on fifth day.

collins (greenville nc): Can you give an example of a way in which expertise in psych gives you an insight into why a baseball decision was made?

Russell A. Carleton: Consider the third base coach deciding whether to send a runner home from second on a single. He should send far more runners than he does. But looking at the decision, all his incentives are to be very conservative. If he sends the runner and he gets thrown out, the 3BC gets blamed. If the runner makes it, no one mentions the 3BC. Psych teaches you to look at the incentives present from the perspective of the others involved.

Matt (Chicago): Are the Cubs better off sticking with their internal setup options in the pen(Guzman, Caridad, Gray) and saving money for other things(4th OF, SP) or getting a veteran on the cheap(Calero,Dotel,Park,Smoltz)?

Russell A. Carleton: Kevin Goldstein recently pointed out that the Cubs are a financial nightmare right now, so they should be saving what money they can. Caridad and Guzman have decent numbers and I'd stick with them. I'm sure that Wrigleyville would feel better signing another "proven" guy, but that's why free agent relievers are so fattening. They feel better, but usually, you've got someone cheaper and just as good in your own system already.

collins (greenville nc): Do you think it would be wise for the Twins to push their fairly solid position in the AL Central, and pick up Washburn and O-Hudson (for $6M each or whatever)? Welcome to BP and thanks for chatting.

Russell A. Carleton: They have the benefit of playing in the AL Central, and a good push like that could significantly bump up their chances of making the playoffs. If anyone should make a deal like that, it would be them.

Scrapper (Chicago): Give us an example (in the baseball context) of how a person has made an irrational choice due to emotion.

Russell A. Carleton: You're on the road, it's tied, and in the bottom of the 10th, you don't bring in the closer. You wait until you have a lead. It makes no sense. In the bottom of the 10th, you have no margin for error (they score, you lose), so why not have your best pitcher out there now. It's because people have a stronger emotional reaction to having lost a lead than having a tie broken.

bobbailey (Canada): Stats and records have long been the backbone of baseball fandom. How can we reconcile that with the new age of "cheating" and potentially the whole record book being ambiguous? No cliched, "cheating in baseball has gone on forever" please. This stuff is different and will only progress. Sophisticated artificial body parts are a natural progression down the line.

Russell A. Carleton: I guess I come at this from a different angle. Mark McGwire* was anointed a cultural hero, and it turns out he's a cheat. Yes, this makes the record book ambiguous and messy, but no matter what, the numbers happened. My question is why is it only an outrage when a player in the record book or on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame cheats. There were a bunch of players named in the Mitchell Report and a good number of them were inconsequential. Where's the outrage over the allegations about Glenallen Hill* or Ricky Bones*? The steroid controversy isn't about the players or the records themselves. It's about the fact that our culture got caught with its pants down picking heroes by how many home runs he hit. And that's a stupid way to pick heroes.

Greg27 (Washington): If you're the GM of the Nationals, how do you handle Stephen Strasburg this year?

Russell A. Carleton: Slowly. It's tempting because the fans want to see him, but why start his service time clock ticking before you get a few other pieces in place?

Vic (San Diego): Russell, Welcome! What's your level of knowledge of minor leaguers? I know KG generally handles those questions, but are you up to date on who's making waves in the minors?

Russell A. Carleton: Very limited. I would generally defer to KG on that sort of stuff. It's one of my New Years resolutions to become more conversant in that subject. And in Russian too, but that's another story.

Minka Kelly (NYC): You aren't one of those stat guys who hates on Derek, are you?

Russell A. Carleton: Everytime I heard his name mentioned during the World Series, I looked at my wife and said "He's so clutch."

Mulraney (Downtown): Where will Conan end up?

Russell A. Carleton: He'll do a Rick Ankiel and come back as a country singer.

cptcarl (Ocean Springs, Mississippi): Woody Allen has one of his characters say in "Crimes and Misdemeanors"...(translated to your baseball analogy of the unwillingness to use closers in tie games in the bottom of extra innings)..."People will commit misdemeanors to get something they want, but they will commit felonies to keep what they already have."

Russell A. Carleton: There's experimental evidence to confirm that. People over-value what they already have. I recommend the book "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely.

Kay Hanley (Boston): Why didn't you do as you were told?

Russell A. Carleton: Hey, I was on your side. And I can't believe that it's coming back to haunt me.

Rasputin (Russia): Very tough language, good luck with that. As a Pirates fan, what do I have to look forward to this year? Prediction on who will be our rep in the All-Star game (yes we have to have at least one)?

Russell A. Carleton: Maya zhinna iz Moskvoe. Now that I have a daughter, I need to make sure she can't make plans behind my back.

Jacob348 (Pittsburgh): Welcome to BP's chat! What kind of years are you expecting from McCutchen and Jones this year?

Russell A. Carleton: About what you might expect. Jones is a high-risk swinger. McCutcheon is 22 and talented. I don't see anything that says that they'll do anything beyond what their track record suggests.

Pirates Fan (Pgh, PA): Harsh? Sheesh....you try being a baseball fan in this town. My kid's little league didn't even have a Pirates team in the league last season.

Russell A. Carleton: I survived the mid-80s and early-90s in Cleveland. Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain.

Vandelay (NY): What specific psychological characteristics, if any, do ML baseball players usually possess? In other words, we know that ML baseball players typically have superior strength, speed, etc., but do they typically possess super mental or psychological abilities?

Russell A. Carleton: I don't specifically know the answer to this one. My guess is that baseball players have a well-developed motor planning cortex and probably some good pattern recognition skills.

JWR (Chicago): I'm a little league travel baseball coach (12 year old boys). As a child psychologist, do you have any advice regarding how a youth coach can best connect with his players?

Russell A. Carleton: There's no magic three-word solution to connecting with kids. It's not that you need major developmental psychology knowledge. You just have to be willing to go through the process.

Bill (New Mexico): One would certainly think that a career as a psychotherapist, and an avocation as a Cubs fan, might cause you certain ... internal conflicts. :-) More seriously, do you have any plans to do anything on an "inside a baseball player's head" theme? Zack Greinke, Khalil Greene, etc., would suggest that as a fertile field of inquiry.

Russell A. Carleton: I've thought about it, although frankly, it's a little bit ethically weird for me. People have a right to their privacy, and while I can tell you what the diagnostic criteria are for social anxiety disorder are, I don't want to dig too deep into people's personal lives.

Matt Klaassen (earth): oh no, you're a convert, huh? Start reading your Bulgakov...

Russell A. Carleton: Master and Margarita... I started reading it in translation, then dropped it. I should pick it back up.

Axel Rose (Cold November Rain): Nothing lasts forever? Look no further than my career. Thoughts on the Giants off-season moves?

Russell A. Carleton: (Tries to think of clever linkage between GNR's "comeback" and the Giants. Not working.) Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa. They will all play where? I'm scratching my head.

RE: McGwire (Grey Cube, DC): 1. Is it cheating to take every available advantage not forbidden to you by the rules of the game you're playing? 2. As a psychologist, can you speak to why we like to pretend to be angry and anguished when our heroes fall nowadays -- irrespective of how obvious the naughty behavior in question has been to everyone for a long, long time -- whereas in the days of Babe Ruth and JFK we preferred to politely avert our gaze and maintain our idols' perfection at a comfortable distance from their flawed humanity?

Russell A. Carleton: 1. Dammit Jim, I'm a (fake) doctor, not a theologian. 2. I hardly think that indignation at a fallen idol is a new thing. As a therapist, something I often have to tell people is that there's no such thing as perfection in life and it's one of those things that people have to learn to live with.

oira61 (San Francisco): Russell: I think you're wrong that a 3rd base coach should send more runners than he does. Can you support that statistically? It seems to me that the double cost of an out AND a lost baserunner at 3rd makes the required success rate for trying it very high; higher than stealing 2nd, which is already about 75%.

Russell A. Carleton: Yes. If you do the break-even points for those decisions, they hover around 70-80%. But, success rates are in the mid-90% range. 3BCs should send those 80% chances. It's still a good bet!

Shane (Atlanta): Johnny Damon's going to sign for _____ with _____.

Russell A. Carleton: far too much, the team in NY whose name starts with Y.

BR (NYC): Russell - No question yet, just sayin' welcome!

Russell A. Carleton: Thanks.

Corey (Baltimore): How many years until the Orioles break .500? Can Markakis, Wieters and the young staff have this team contending in 3 years?

Russell A. Carleton: The offense promises to be high-scoring. The pitching staff... ummm... yeah... Then again, the Giants won 88 games last year with the exact opposite formula.

Mario66 (Toronto): Russell, your answer re incentives guiding decisions sounds to me like economic theory more than psych - am I off base?

Russell A. Carleton: Economic theory generally assumes that people are rational in their decision-making. It takes a psychologist to understand that people are sometimes a little bit irrational.

Gary (Also a pyschologist): In terms of perfection, isn't there a saying, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones? Who's your favorite past and current ML'er?

Russell A. Carleton: I'm taking it as a personal mission to get Chase Utley an MVP award at some point. I grew up thinking that Joe Carter was the greatest human being ever. Yay Cleveland!

Sacha (Toronto): Russell. I started lobbying KG and Christina to do a book signing, or promo event up here last year. Please get on board, BP has quite a few fans north of the border and it's a great city, minus the Jays recent performances.

Russell A. Carleton: I <3 Toronto. Before we all went off to grad school, my buddies and I did a road trip up there (saw Barenaked Ladies and the Jays...) Just don't ask my buddies about the helicopter ride. An excuse to go up there? I'm in.

Matt (SD, CA): What is it like to be a parent and be trained in child psychology?

Russell A. Carleton: There are days when I'll be sitting there thinking "is that normal?" and then realizing that I used to teach child psych and I should really know that. it was odd, because I used to give people advice on how to parent their kids before I became a parent.

BR (NYC): How would you craft a personal ad for Damon?

Russell A. Carleton: 30-something idiot (please sign me Yankees) seeks new home (Yankees, are you listening?) where they appreciate (NYC) my skills. Oh for crying out loud, Mr. Cashman, if you're reading this, just call my agent. Please? Oh, can I not play LF any more...

XXX (OOO): When in Cleveland, I should be sure to go to _______ and eat at _______ (fill in blanks).

Russell A. Carleton: the Rock Hall is worth going to once in your lifetime. (I've now been there 3-4 times.) The science center is cool if you have kids (next door).

Eat at Tommy's in Cleveland Heights.

Dennis (LA): Hi Russell, thanks for the chat and your fine work. Fantasy baseball question: who do you like better for 2010, Chris Davis or BJ Upton?

Russell A. Carleton: In fantasy ball, Chris Davis.

Jake (St. Louis, MO): Thanks for answering my question, but Brad Thompson is in the Royals' organization now. So, I guess you're going with Mitchell Boggs as the 5th starter in STL?

Russell A. Carleton: This is what happens when you read Dr. Sears rather than Christina Kahrl's transaction column.

JWR (Chicago): What are your expectations for Milton Bradley in Seattle? Games played? Flareups with teammates and the media? Is there anything that Seattle can or should do to prevent Bradley from melting down?

Russell A. Carleton: You can't help a patient who doesn't want the help. Seattle can offer to help him, but if he's not interested... At that point, it's just a matter of time before an incident happens. The problem with anger control issues is that htey are rather unpredictable. The one thing that might happen is that Bradley is at the age where his pre-frontal cortex is reaching the final stages of development. That's the area of the brain that handles impulse control.

Lemppi (Ankeny, IA): Your initial thoughts on Valverde signing w/Detroit?

Russell A. Carleton: I'm usually not a fan of signing free agent relievers, but Valverde has a nice combo of high-K, lowish-BB, good-GB rates. Not a bad signing for a team that has a good shot at the playoffs this year.

BR (NYC): Thanks for the chat, Russell! Do you play fantasy? What kind of leagues do you play in (roto, h-2-h, strat, etc.), and if you could create your own system, what stats would you use?

Russell A. Carleton: I don't play fantasy. Partly it's a time issue. Partly because as a Sabermetrician, I have a hard time dealing with anything that prioritizes wins, saves, RBIs, and batting average.

rowenbell (Chicago): For those of us who weren't familiar with "pizza cutter", which of your pre-BP writings would you suggest we should read in order to get a feel for your worldview, and where can they be found?

Russell A. Carleton: I used to work at Statistically Speaking (along with Colin Wyers, Eric Seidman, and Matt Swartz!), but those archives are currently down. I'm trying to get them posted back somewhere on the net. If only for the fact that I can refer to my own stuff when I write!

dtwhite (Toronto): I second the request for a BP event in Toronto Besides Chase Utley, what player(s) are people going to look at a generation from now and wonder why people didn't appreciate them more?

Russell A. Carleton: Joakim Soria, please report to somewhere other than KC.

Hades (Hell): Give us two breakout candidates, a hitter and a pitcher, for 2010?

Russell A. Carleton: I hate these types of questions, because no matter what you say, you can't win. Everyone guffaws at the pick. Usually, the answers turn out to be wrong. And then everyone is secretly made at you because you didn't pick the guy from their team.

Russell A. Carleton: That was fun, but 'tis time for me to go. Thanks all for the questions. Until next time, because this time was indeed better than last time, I am and will continue to be the Pizza Cutter, this has been the Pizza Cutter show, and I love you all. Buh-bye.

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