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Chat: Matt Swartz

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday May 11, 2010 4:30 PM ET chat session with Matt Swartz.


Need to get ahead in life, or just the count? How about investing some well-spent time chatting about the great game with BP's Matt Swartz?

Matt Swartz: Hi, everyone! I got my coffee and I'm ready to talk baseball!

workermonkey (ct): nick johnson struggling... posada looking like he could end up on the DL... the yanks need a catcher and a DH... why isn't montero being called up?

Matt Swartz: Jesus Montero has a .656 OPS in AAA-- not exactly screaming MLB-ready. That said, even if he were, how expensive might it be to call him up now? Are you willing to surrender the money to buy a couple wins in the standings in 2013 to see how much better he makes them in the standings in 2010? I think the Super-2 rules are pretty ridiculous, but I can't see why the Yankees would compromise their financial flexibility so much with the Red Sox already burying themselves in such a hole early.

One Flap Down (SF): Have you seen "Wiffleball '79"? OMG.

Matt Swartz: I have no idea what this. Little help?

csatte1 (Baltimore, MD): So far it has been a rough fantasy season for me. I have had 5 players hit the DL already (Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill, Yunel Escobar, Carlos Beltran and Brad Hawpe). So I am playing with a lot of replacement level players. My main question is, should I keep Gordon Beckham and Jason Kubel? They have been in tremendous slumps. and if so, who should I replace them with? Is Ryan Ludwick a better option in the outfield? Please help.

Matt Swartz: Gordon Beckham really seems like a young hitter who is adjusting. His BABIP is low because if too many grounders and pop-ups, but he should work that out. Jason Kubel just isn't hitting the ball as hard as last year. Fewer balls hit to the outfield, fewer HR. He's probably working out kinks in his swing, but I can't imagine he's as valuable as Beckham, even though I don't do fantasy baseball so I don't really know league scarcity that well. Ryan Ludwick seems he's just a little less patient hitter with maybe a little more power. Not sure how that plays in here. I guess Ludwick is better especially with Kubel needing to work out some kinks.

Nasi Goreng (SE Asia): So, I have Chone Figgins, Hunter Pence, Aaron Hill, and Edwin Jackson on my fantasy team. My question: shouldn't I expect big bounce backs from everyone here or did I just select duds?

Matt Swartz: Chone Figgins-- His K-rate has shot up this year. The BABIP drop is small enough and it looks likely to fix itself, but the K-rate is just so high that he's not going to be effective when he's striking out like a power hitter. Even BABIP Superstars need to be make contact to keep their job-- you don't commit $45MM to Fred Lewis. Maybe a new hitting coach helps?

Aaron Hill-- His BABIP is .210 because he's not hitting line dirves-- it seems related to him swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone. Before he hit 32 HR, pitchers would challenge him more. Now he needs to be more patient.

Hunter Pence-- he isn't swinging any more often than he used to, but he can't seem to tell a ball from a strike anymore. Worse, he's actually making contact with those bad pitches and isn't hitting them hard.

Edwin Jackson is an average pitcher. He's not as good his 2009 or as bad as his early 2010.

OTSgamer (Dallas, TX): Given the strong starts by Hughes at the back end of the Yankees rotation, plus the solid contributions of Joba out of the pen, what is to become of Vasquez? Is his poor start just the season premiere of Sample Size Theater, and if not is it possible that his spot in the rotation may be in jeopardy with a few more bad weeks? If so, who would fill that role?

Matt Swartz: The reactions to Javier Vazquez's 2010 season seem to be mostly be confirmation bias. The fact is that Javier Vazquez is one of the very best pitchers in baseball. Now, Javier Vazquez has not pitched like the elite pitcher that he is this year. Everyone wants to talk about getting his head straight but his fastball is 2.2 mph slower. That's a big deal. Vazquez needs that, and that's why his whiff rate is way down. In terms of a replacement if he's hurt, I think they probably don't need to go crazy here. Probably a regular replacement level pitcher still wins a few games for them. They have 4 good starters already w/o Vazquez.

Matt (Chicago): Have the Cubs exhausted most of their internal options for tinkering with this team? It seems like the whole is much less than the sum of the parts.

Matt Swartz: The Cubs took some risks with contracts in recent years. If they won a World Series, no one would mind, but right now they have a lot of expensive players. I don't think that the team is even less than the sum of its parts so much as they have a lot of aging guys with big contracts. They've been fortunate to have Soriano, Silva, and Fukudome playing so much better than expected, but unfortunate where Derrek Lee, Ramirez, and Zambrano have been concerned. They just are a .500 club right now, and moving Zambrano to the pen makes no sense to me as a magic solution.

Drungo (SoMd): Is there any hope of solving the "what impact do coaches and managers have" question? Is it quantifiable, or will it always be completely by feel? If your team wins you stay, if it wins a lot you're a legend, if you lose you're gone - none of which may have anything to do with you.

Matt Swartz: I don't think that you can perfectly quantify it, but you can't perfectly quantify a lot of things you can learn about. You can at least start to figure out what managers do differently. In 10 years, I'd bet we know a lot more than we know now about this.

Drungo (SoMd): Thinking about Adam Jones, is there any research that supports/refutes the idea of sending a guy to the minors to work out of a deep slump? On the surface it seems to have worked for Jones comp Torii Hunter in 2000.

Matt Swartz: I'm not sure if research can support or refute this on the aggregate, but it must be a case by case basis kind of thing. For Jones, he's swinging at all types of pitches out of the zone-- 41%. For comparison, the league average is around 25% and Jeff Francoeur is at 43%. So, Jones needs to work on pitch recognition because he's not swinging that much overall. I don't know if demoting him to recognize inferior pitches builds him up to recognizing MLB quality pitches.

Susan (New York): How many more "Halladay like" seasons does Halladay need before he's a lock for the Hall Of Fame?

Matt Swartz: That's more of a Jay Jaffe question than a question for me, but I see he's just shy of 50 career WARP. I would think that's low, but I would also think Jack Morris' total is low. My best cop-out answer would be to say that if Halladay stays good enough that the Phillies pick up his 2014 option at $20 mill, he's probably getting close.

Matt (California): It seems that every time a player has an unsustainable level of babip (whether high or low) people will attribute it to luck (good or bad). Clearly if the babip is high because of a bunch of wind blown pop ups landing (like we saw in the mets/giants game recently) or if it's low because of several hard hit line drives right at people, there's a large element of luck. From some of the work you've done you've shown some of the elements players can actually control to affect their babip though. Is there any way to currently see when a player's babip is high (or low) because he's actually "in a groove" and doing things well (or poorly) as opposed to when it is just getting lucky?

Matt Swartz: This is a great question. Yes, there are definitely a bunch of things that you can do to get a sense of those things. I'll let you know what I do.

1) Compare to recent years' BABIPs.
2) See if the player has abnormal LD/GB/FB/PU% for his career.
3) Check BABIP on LD/GB/FB on B-R.
4) Check out HR/BB/SO rates to see if the hitter is doing something different in general.
5) Check swing and contact rates on pitches in and out of the zone-- pitches out of the zone are harder to hit squarely.
6) Check out fraction of balls hit to the infield vs. outfield on B-R and compare to previous years.

Those things normally can help find the problem if there's anything. If the batted ball rates are the same, the power and contact rates are the same, and all that's really happening is BABIP on certain batted ball types is freaky low or freaky high, it's probably more likely to be luck. Even if not, hitters make adjustments to fix the other issues all the time.

Matt (The Ether): Have you heard anything about how the revenue is going to be split for the Toronto - Philly series that has been moved due to the G20? I know the games will technically be home games for Toronto, but will Philly get to keep the gate revenue (presumably they will keep some share of it to cover costs)? Also, I would just like to say that you are my favorite of all the new additions to BP.

Matt Swartz: Thanks!

I think the home team always gets 2/3 and the road team gets 1/3 of gate revenue. I have to imagine Toronto keeps 2/3 of the gate revenue, at least after they pay stadium employees and everything. That's only fair. I could be wrong but it seems particularly cruel otherwise.

R.A.Wagman (Toronto): 3 Extra Home games - are you happy now? In what possible way can an economist spin this as being good for the Blue Jays?

Matt Swartz: Hmmm...how to spin this for the Jays...well, the home-field advantage is particularly strong in interleague games, largely because of stadium familiarity...so the Jays are more likely to get a higher draft spot in 2011. Does that help?

mattymatty2000 (Portland): I just wanted to say that I'm very disappointed in you guys for spilling all that oil into the Gulf. If you do it again I'll have to reconsider my subscription.

Matt Swartz: I'm just disappointed that I still suck at hitting after all this BP.

Sophist (Chicago): Perfect day for a chat from you. Selig announced that the Phils-Jays series will be moved to CBP. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the fairness to the rest of the AL and NL teams on this decision, given your studies.

Matt Swartz: Interleague games see around 10% swings in odds of winning (55% for home team, 45% for road team). Take out the DH effect, and I'd still say it's a 9% swing. It's probably going to help the Phillies, and could change the outcome of a game (I guess 0.27 wins difference on average for a 3-game series). I'd be angry if I were a fan of any other team in the NL East.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Hey Matt, What do you think of San Diego and Boston as the two teams that are over-performing and under-performing respectively the most so far this season? Thanks for the chat.

Matt Swartz: That makes sense to me. Boston seems like a very obvious answer. Colorado and Seattle could make pretty good cases, but I still think the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays are the three best teams in the game. The Padres are probably a good bet for the most overperforming team, though the Nationals can't be far behind. I'm still not sold on the Giants at all either.

formersd (San Diego): Can the Padres pitching keep it up? I'm skeptical, but hope I'm wrong.

Matt Swartz: They have a defensive efficiency of .719 so far, which is really the main cause for their pitching strengths I'd say. The whole rotation seems to be over-performing across the board, though some guys more than others. I think Mat Latos is good, and he's probably not pitching over his head at least. Jon Garland seems particularly lucky with 25/21 K/BB and a 1.17 ERA. That's not gonna last.

OTSgamer (Dallas, TX): During my fantasy draft I felt like a Billy Beane prodigy when I grabbed both Grady Sizemore and Nate McLouth with mid-round picks. Since then, of course, their terrible starts in the first five weeks has gotten me to channel my inner Jim Bowden. What's the thought on these two moving forward? More Sample Size Theater with an inevitable rebound, or did everyone else just wisely stay away from these two in the first place?

Matt Swartz: Grady Sizemore is a great young baseball player. I can't figure out why, but he just doesn't seem to be showing the amazing eye he's shown for several years. He's also swinging and missing a lot more than he used to. I'm guessing he should bounce back, but he must be doing something wrong in his approach to be getting these results, maybe not seeing the ball well or something. Nate McLouth's line drive rate is pretty low this year, but not low enough to explain his atrocious BABIP. I have to imagine that bounces back, because nothing else seems crazily out of line. I wouldn't give up on either player at all.

Joe (Pa): What do you see the trade value of a healthy Ryan Doumit being?

Matt Swartz: Doumit has pretty good value. He's a pretty average hitter overall and he's a catcher. That's worth 2-3 wins and he's signed for 2010-11 for $8.65MM with options in 2012 & 2013 effectively for $7.75MM each. I think that's pretty much $20MM worth of trade value. If they tried to trade him for a Top 25-50 prospect, maybe that would work well.

Mike (Utica,NY): Andrew McCutchen is quietly having a good start of the season. Is he the Pirates all star this year how much power upside you see in his bat?

Matt Swartz: Seems like McCutchen would have to be the Pirates all-star. He's by far outperforming the rest of the team. Tough to say about how much power upside he has because I'm not a scout or anything, but he's 23 so there's some time. Regardless, he's already a great player. This is the kind of guy already that begins the steps to make the Pirates relevant again.

Jmast7 (NYC): Setting any "can't pitch in NY" psychological factors aside, you really don't think going from the NL to the AL East (and the new Coors Field) has had an effect on Javy at all?

Matt Swartz: I'm sure that can have a large effect on his ERA. About 0.50 runs, absolutely. So his SIERA last year was in the mid 2's, figure in some regression, and he'd be in the mid-3's range. Unless something makes you throw 2mph slower in the AL East, I don't see this as the main issue.

Bryan (Los Angeles, CA): Brian Sabean's recent line, “Triple-A baseball isn’t very good,” is a) just a drunk guy at the end of a trip to New York, b) overly negative but has a lot of truth to it, c) another example of Sabean's stunning incompetence, d) none of the above. Do we start calling him Bust Poser now, too?

Matt Swartz: I think it's indicative of the fact that the Super-2 rule is getting ridiculous. Everyone knows why players aren't getting called up until June, but there's no way to prove it. I know there's sometimes a lot more talent in AA than AAA, but ignoring his AAA numbers is just flaunting the fact that the Super-2 rule is holding back Posey and others.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Mauer and the Twins chose to structure his deal as a flat $23m per rather than piling dollars to the front or back. Does this reflect a fine Wall Street sophistication that frees money to replace Joe's declining production on the back end, or a rube-ish simpicity that makes the checkbook easier to balance?

Matt Swartz: I think there's no reason to match dollars to production as it happens. There is a certain amount of value that Mauer provides over the course of the deal and the present value of it should be the same either way. Of course, the "interest rate" for players is bound to be lower than for teams, because teams can use money right away and players are going to still be using it when they've long retired. So the money often gets restructured to be back-loaded. I guess that with the Twins opening up a new stadium, they have less of a liquidity issue so there's less incentive to come up with a back-loaded deal where they have to pay higher AAV to compensate him.

Teraxx (NY): Boston is one of the three best teams in baseball? Don't the Cardinals and Phillies have a more legit claim than Boston right now?

Matt Swartz: The Cardinals and Phillies are probably the 4th and 5th best teams in no particular order. The Red Sox, to me, are still in the top three even if a few games didn't go their way. We're not dealing with a crazy sample size for 2010 and the rotation and defense they have just seem to be too good for me to change who I think is better when I compare them with other elite teams outside of the AL East Top 3 teams. If the Sox aren't playing much better in a month or so, I'll start to change my mind then, but it's only May 11.

Carl (Boston): 3 NL only guys - Matt Diaz, Seth Smith, Mark DeRosa. Should I cut bait on them?

Matt Swartz: I don't play fantasy baseball, so I'm not really sure that I have a good sense of what replacement level is in NL only leagues. Matt Diaz seems like he is in a BABIP funk. His other numbers seem pretty much okay, and he's usually the type to have a very high BABIP, so I'd expect him to be the most likely to bounce back. DeRosa hasn't really shown any power this year, so I'm inclined to think that could be a problem. His BABIP should rebound a bit, but I'd be concerned. Seth Smith isn't walking this year, which I'm guessing is his main problem. His BABIP is low too. All three of these guys seem to be partly unlucky and all have low BABIPs which are drawing your attention. I think DeRosa is the one to be most concerned about if I had to guess.

Not Quite Todd, But... (SoCal): Question about Nick Hundley. Dude posted a park-adjusted (per BP annual) .266/.333/.449 line last season while playing through and around various power-sapping injuries (wrist, hernia). Do you think he can maintain at that level over the next 3-4 seasons?

Matt Swartz: Catchers age pretty rapidly. Lots of wear and tear goes into playing the position. So I don't think you can pencil him in for that level of production, especially since he might have been a little over his head last year. He's still off to a pretty decent start this year at holding up some value, but I'm just careful about assuming catchers hold value very long.

OTSgamer (Dallas, TX): I swear, you try a free oil giveaway after years of people whining over high gas prices and where does it get you? Anyway, back to other man-made disasters... the Chicago Cubs. The bulk of the team's core with Lee, Soriano, Ramirez, and Zambrano seems to largely (and in some cases definitely) have their best baseball behind them, and the farm system is relatively bare. This is Lou's final year under contract, and despite an easy early-season schedule they find themselves 6.5 games back of the Cardinals and 5 games under .500. That said, is this a team that is probably just in for a rough haul over the next few years where he see the traditionally bad Cubs? Do you think that Ricketts fires Jim Hendry, blows up the whole organization, and attempts an almost complete rebuild, or do you expect them to try to move a couple of the bad contracts they have now and go after another big-name free agent for 2011 in an attempt to win in the next couple of years?

Matt Swartz: I think the smart thing is to consider the current problems a sunk cost and realize that they should rebuild. The big contract guys aren't getting younger. I have no idea what the Cubs actually do, but they shouldn't try the patchwork route at all.

Mike (Philly): It's good for the Blue Jays because they're being treated as the home team, and all games in Philly are sell outs. Should be a pretty decent revenue hit for them.

Matt Swartz: It's good for the Blue Jays ownership. But extra revenue doesn't affect spending unless it's extra marginal revenue. In other words, it doesn't matter unless it increases the value to spending. The Blue Jays don't really have any reason to expect G-20 summits to regularly push them into Philadelphia in future seasons, so it seems like a bunch of revenue that's good for ownership and doesn't affect their spending. Think the Florida Marlins and revenue sharing-- if it's not marginal revenue, it won't change behavior.

choms57 (philadelphia): Go Phils. I have an abundance of pitchers and a need for outfielders in a 16 team mixed league. Should I try to trade Wade Davis for Jay Bruce or Jason Kubel? These teams just can't put up a good phight against the Phils these days.

Matt Swartz: Go Phils.

It's kind of hard for me to evaluate a fantasy trade because I don't have a sense of how valuable these guys are in a given league. I do think Wade Davis is playing over his head. If he doesn't stop issuing walks, he's going to start allowing a lot more runs when his share of hits starting falling in. Jay Bruce finally has hit BABIP up to normal, but he's probably got a little more power than this. I think his numbers are starting to look normal again, though. Kubel like I said earlier just isn't hitting the ball as hard as he should, so he might need a little time to work out kinks.

brian206 (brooklyn): Did nobody in the schedule maker's office know about the G-20 last winter?

Matt Swartz: That would be quite a story if they did, and did this anyway, huh?

Stump (Columbia, MO): Mike Aviles and Kila Kaaihue... Building blocks, or handy patchwork?

Matt Swartz: Aviles is already 29, so I definitely wouldn't call him a building block. Ka'aihue is younger, but my impression was that his upside isn't all that high. Still, he's useful to have around for sure.

jb (IL): Who would have guessed that the players with the three biggest albatrosses for contracts (Wells, Sorianao, and Zito) would be performing this well?

Matt Swartz: It does seem like a surprise that all three of them are doing better. I'd probably expect regression from all three, though.

Joe (Pa): If Jose Tabata hits 20 home runs a year, to go with his other stats, what do the Pirates have on their hands?

Matt Swartz: I guess that's the real question here-- how much power will he have? The lack of power would certainly be a problem, but if he does turn into 20-HR guy, he's gotta be an average corner outfielder.

Richie (Washington): I'd think it'd be the Blue Jays responsibility to let the schedule makers' know about the G-20. So given how this'll work out for them $$$$$-wise, I'm guessing they asked for a Phillies home stand specifically for those dates.

Matt Swartz: That would certainly be an uncool thing to do. I don't really have a sense of how these decisions get made, so I'm not going to make any accusations. I think that the Blue Jays could have expected a little attendance help for at least a Hallday reunion game in Toronto, but it's certainly not the attendance that they'd see in Philadelphia. It seems like schedules involve a whole lot of moving parts though.

Sophist (Chicago): Do those percentages re the switch to CBP take into account the Jays getting to bat last? I know you weren't trying to be (and probably couldn't be) precise. Just wondering. A Mets' fan might be mad, but how much of an unfairness does this add up to compared to the lack of balance already in the schedule (ie, how mad should I tell my Mets fan friends to be)? I think the G20 location was announced after the MLB schedule came out.

Matt Swartz: Your Mets fan friend should be mad. The percentages just don't seem to be based on this issue. The argument would say that last-ups give teams the ability to play one-run strategies on offense, but the one-run strategies on defense seem a lot more employable anyway. The real different in scoring between home and road teams happens in the early innings rather than the later innings. This is true in each game of the series. It seems like it has a lot to do with hitters and pitchers adjusting to the batter's eye and the mound. Last ups is pretty overrated as a source of HFA.

Matt Swartz: Alright, thanks for a great chat, everyone! This was a lot of fun. I'll be looking forward to the next one.

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