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Chat: Mike Fast

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday January 12, 2012 1:00 PM ET chat session with Mike Fast.


Mike Fast is Baseball Prospectus' resident PitchFX guru. He's found some interesting things about pitch framing, too.

Mike Fast: Let's get this puppy started. It's cold in Austin this morning, so I'm glad to be inside sitting in front of my computer. I hear other places have actual...(shiver)...snow.

yankeesbg13 (Indianapolis): Who you got as your breakout/surprise pitcher of the year?

Mike Fast: Can I answer Yu Darvish? He probably won't be as good as the highest expectations for him, but I do think he will outperform the median expectation given all the negative. comparisons to Dice-K and Igawa.

Probably more in line with the question you were asking, I'd say Jerome Williams. I really liked the improved command that he demonstrated in his short stint with the Angels last year.

Tim (reno): Could the Mariners sign Manny to a one year deal for $750,000 to be their DH? Should they?

Mike Fast: I wouldn't be surprised if his price is pretty low, probably not much above that range, but I'd guess he'll either get a slightly higher offer from somewhere or he won't get any offers at all, much like Barry Bonds.

As to whether they should, well they could certainly use some power hitters. Or really a hitter who knows how to create runs in any fashion. If it's Manny or Prince, well clearly Prince brings more to the team. I don't know enough of the specifics of their budget to know how much they have to worry about saving dollars in adding to their offense.

As for the PR aspects of a signing like that, I'll leave that to others with more capable insight.

HalfStreet (Fairfax VA): If Bud Selig honestly wanted to, couldn't he force the umpires to extend the strike zone above the belt as it should be? OK, perhaps that's too cynical, but too many pitches over the plate and below the bottom of the team name are called balls.

Mike Fast: In one sense, certainly so. My understanding is that the umpires are currently graded against Zone Evaluation, which is basically audited PITCHf/x data, that has the top of the strike zone set at four inches above the belt. Which of course is not the rulebook height. Umpires do fairly good calling to the zone top about four inches above the belt. Presumably if they were graded on a different zone, they could do just as well calling to the that zone, be it the rulebook zone or something else.

On the other hand, I'm sure it's not easy to mentally adjust years of practice on one zone to a new one, particularly since the zone is invisible, and they presumably have trained themselves using cues and references that would have to be adjusted and re-trained.

There's also the fact that the umpire grading is collectively bargained and can't just be changed by fiat, though in the longer term I doubt that's a significant obstacle to change.

johnsamo (Texas): Did we see the new Matt Harrison, or a career year?

Mike Fast: He added velocity from 2009 to 2010-11, and in 2011 he improved his command and thus cut his walk rate, and I believe both of those changes are likely to stick. But I don't necessarily expect a 3.39 ERA again.

He's a quality starter who has improved his ability to throw his fastball for strikes and has a good changeup as an out pitch. But I don't see him being a dominant front-of-rotation guy on a regular basis.

dianagram (NYC): True or false: Jeff Bagwell hasn't made the Hall (yet) because no one wants to believe that he didn't hit any homers in the minors cause New Britain was impossible to hit homers in.

Mike Fast: That might be true, at least in part. How many homers did Bill James project for him when he "projected" him to beat Tony Gwynn for the batting title in his rookie year? I'll have to go dig my Bill James Handbook out of the closet and find the answer, unless someone beats me to it.

johnsamo (Texas): What are your thoughts on Matt Moore in 2012.... and beyond?

Mike Fast: He's really good. He throws 95 and has pretty good ability to put the fastball where he wants. His slider is great pitch for whiffs, and though he didn't have to use his changeup much, it looks pretty strong, too.

There's nothing significant not to like about him as far as I'm concerned, though of course he'll have to mature and make adjustments just like every player does if he wants to continue to be a star.

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts ): What do you feel is the future of PITCHf/x? With the data we have at our disposal now, what kinds of things do you think we can still learn?

Mike Fast: Hi, Lucas! Everyone should read Lucas's stuff around the Interwebs if they don't already.

I expanded on some of my thoughts on your question in the introduction to the pitching section in Best of BP Volume 1. The nickel version of the areas I think there is still significant learning/research left: (1) starter/reliever roles and transitions, (2) better quantification of pitch effectiveness for various pitch types, (3) injury prevention and mechanical monitoring/improvements, (4) better understanding of the pitcher-batter confrontation in terms of things like pitch sequencing, game theory, and strength-weakness matchups.

LoyalRoyal (Kansas): Every spring rumors rise anew about the Royals dealing Soria. Is this the year it actually happens? Also, who do you see replacing him longterm? Holland, perhaps? PS: still snowing

Mike Fast: I'll answer your second question first. Btw, where in Kansas are you? My parents are in central Kansas north of Wichita. When I talked to them last night they weren't getting snow, but it sounds like that may have changed.

The Royals have Soria on a good contract, and he's a good pitcher. I personally don't root for them to trade him. Now, if they could get Montero, well sure, then maybe it's worth it. But my guess is maybe he sticks around another full year.

But if he doesn't, yes, I'm big on Holland's future.

dtwhite (Toronto): With d'Arnaud pushing hard, what kind of step forward do you see Arencibia taking? Which one would you want to trade, considering expected performance v. return?

Mike Fast: I always hesitate the most about the predict-the-future questions, because, unfortunately, I don't have any special window into the future. But understandably, that's what people want to know. The most realistic expectation for Arencibia is probably that he will continue doing what he's been doing in the past. Which isn't too shabby. What seem to be the most realistic aging curves for hitters don't show a lot of growth past age 25-26 (unless you bias your sample by only selecting the players who continued to improve enough to stay around in the majors for a while, but of course you don't know that about any particular player looking forward). Catchers might have a more specific aging curve that's different for them, but I don't know whether that would be more favorable due to the time it takes them to learn on the job and all the skills that are required of them defensively or more pessimistic due to the wear and tear on their bodies. I suspect this has actually been studied, but a specific piece of research is not coming to mind for me at the moment.

All of which is a long way of me avoiding answering your question. So there.

Ian (NYC): Are you excited about any of the other Asian imports?

Mike Fast: I'm not excited about Iwakuma. I think Mariners fans are overly optimistic about his potential. I think the M's paid him what he was worth, not got a great bargain on a league-average starter. I haven't spent enough time looking at the hitters to give a better answer about them.

johnsamo (Texas): Is it reasonable to think CJ might put up radically improved #s not pitching half his games in Texas? He was practically Cy Youngish outside of Arlington last year.

Mike Fast: Texas is a pretty good hitters park, but I tend to think that the effect of park factors in the majors are generally overrated, unless it's Coors Field. The early years of Coors got everyone to pay attention, and deservedly so, but IMO the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

Arlington inflates offense by about 10%. So half the games makes it a 5% effect. That's important to consider at the margins or between two players of roughly the same ability, but it doesn't turn a good player into a bad one, or vice versa.

CharlieWerner (York, PA): You gave us your breakout/surprise pitcher for this season. Give us some SP you think will regress this season

Mike Fast: The simple answer is the list of SP with the lowest BABIP last year. Now, if you've followed me for any length of time, you know I don't believe that DIPS is necessarily anywhere close to gospel truth. But if you want to go to Vegas and make bets, you'll pick a lot more winners than losers if you just go with DIPS.

So Jeremy Hellickson, say. Yeah, some of it's Rays defense and some of it's his changeup. But starting pitchers of any stripe, even in front of a good defense, don't regularly put up a BABIP lower than .270 or so.

dtwhite (Toronto): I'm not really sure what kind of answer I have in mind, but which position (non pitcher) do you think teams do the worst job in "managing", as in not optimizing the performance from the position, whether through not employing the correct (type of) players at the big-league level, scouting or otherwise?

Mike Fast: You took away my easy answer with pitchers, but I tend to think there's still value to be had in platooning outfielders, Earl Weaver style. I rather do that than carry a 16-man bullpen or whatever it is that teams do these days.

Pat (KC): Do the royals win the central with one key injury on the tigers?? Are the Indians for real or did they get lucky in 11?

Mike Fast: No, I don't think so, though I hope so, and the chance is more legitimate than it has been in a while. But I'm not convinced that the starting staff is really where it needs to be for a playoff run this year, and the offense is going to be pushed to be in the top half of the league in runs scored again, though I think the days of the Royals perennially being at or near the bottom should be behind us for a while.

I think the Indians are for real. Lots of good young talent, particularly on the hitting side. The pitching side still has some holes.

Tevla1 (Baltimore, MD): Are there any warning signs in the PITCHf/x data regarding Kerry Wood? I think many Cubs fans would be delighted to see him back for sentimental reasons, if not for performance and durability.

Mike Fast: I haven't looked at him mechanically. The other indicator would be a velocity drop. I don't notice anything like that standing out in his PITCHf/x data. The guy to ask on all Cubs-related PITCHf/x matters is, of course, Harry Pavlidis, who is on Twitter @harrypav.

PepeShady (St Paul): Okay, you're in Vegas. And you have to bet on the Brandon-Morrow-will-breakout-in-2012 prop. You going with "yes" or "no"?

Mike Fast: I'm betting no. Could be wrong, of course. But Doug Thorburn did a good piece that talked about Morrow's mechanical problems here: http://www.baseballdailydigest.com/2011/12/23/true-value-part-ii-press-your-luck/

LoyalRoyal (Kansas): Based upon your analysis, which pitchers would say are going to breakout this season and outperform their current projections/draft position? PS: Snow in Kansas...

Mike Fast: I think I mentioned Fautino de los Santos in my last chat. I've been a big fan of his, though he is a gamble with control. A safer pick, but less under the radar is Kenley Jansen.

I dunno, I'm bad at off-the-cuff recommendations like this. I'm better when I put in preparation by poring over lists. I found that out the hard way last year in my fantasy auction. I had a busy spring and didn't get much prep work, and my team was mediocre as a result. The previous few years when I had done dedicated prep work getting familiar with all the players on every roster, I did much better.

LoyalRoyal (Leavenworth, KS (insert prison joke here)): Guessing about an inch stuck so far. Nothin special. How about a shortlist of favorite pitchers currently in the minors? Thanks...

Mike Fast: Hey, we're not picky about subscribers here at BP. I think we even allow you to pay in cigarettes.

An inch of snow in Austin would be special. But yeah, in your territory that's nothing to write home about.

Currently in the minors...does Drew Pomeranz count? I'm eager to see more of his curveball in the majors, and particularly curious to see how he fares with it in the high altitude at Colorado.

Other than him, all the top guys on the prospect lists interest me, but we so rarely get more than a glimpse of them from PITCHf/x (Arizona Fall League, Futures Game, spring training in Arizona) prior to a major league debut that I don't typically "fall in love" with the prospect pitchers as much as I do with major leaguers.

Lindley (UK): Bayesian or Frequentist?

Mike Fast: Yes, absolutely.

dtwhite (Toronto): Thanks Mike - while as a lawyer I appreciate your non-answer, as a baseball fan I was hoping for a scheme to turn d'Arnaud into a legitimate ace - do you see any pitchers that might be available in a trade including one of the two?

Mike Fast: Both Arencibia (whose name I always have to double-check to make sure I didn't misspell it) and d'Arnaud are good catchers who ought to bring back good return. I don't know about a legitimate ace, though. That's seems high unless there's a contender with a real hole at catcher who just has to fill to make a run at the pennant (or whatever they give to those teams who win a playoff spot nowadays).

Ian (NYC): In terms of pitch mixing for pitchers who throw fastball-changeup-breaking ball, does the changeup/breaking ball ratio affects how well they do as much as fastball/changeup or fastball/breaking ball? What about different types of fastballs. How much affect do they assert on each other? Can you direct me to any good studies on optimizing pitch mix that break it down into the different relationships between types?

Mike Fast: Well, pitch mix is a secondary thing compared to pitch quality (velocity, movement, deception) and the ability of the pitcher to command each pitch type. But no, I'd say that's something we still need to learn a lot about.

Josh Kalk did some work on that back in his Hardball Times days. For example, this: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/pitch-sequencing/, and this: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/pitch-sequence-high-fastball-then-curveball/

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts): What young player(s) on the Royals are you most excited about?

Mike Fast: Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon (does he still count?), Greg Holland. I'm curious to see if Lorenzo Cain is the real deal. Now that the Royals have some legitimate hitting stars on the corners again, I'd really like to see them solidify the middle of the defense with players who can contribute on both sides of the ball. Obviously the Royals aren't going to have every position filled with a star, but if Cain can be a solid regular in the field and in the lineup, that helps a lot.

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts): Post-script to my last question - it's sleeting in Massachusetts. It's disgusting.

Mike Fast: I'm sorry. Times like these you need to be beside a roaring fire with some good music on. There aren't any good winter songs about sleet, are there?

PepeShady (St Paul): Thoughts on the Twins' organizational phobia against strikeout pitchers?

Mike Fast: On the whole, it doesn't help them. But they do a very good job of making the most of what they do, so I can't fault them on that account. I like guys like Brian Duensing, or going back farther, Brad Radke, but they always live on the edge between success and getting pummeled. It's a tough way to make a long career.

DJ BP (Mass.): Sleet Home Alabama ... ?

Mike Fast: I've been accused of being a fan of bad puns more than once in my life.

dtwhite (Toronto): OK, maybe you can solve this equation: d'Arnaud + X = Felix Hernandez

Mike Fast: X = Kyle Drabek? Probably depends on exactly how many years King Felix has till he hits free agency, which I am neglecting to look up at the moment.

Tyler Clippard's Specs (Washington, DC): With all of the hubbub over who will be playing 1B for the Nats, the future of La Roche has been forgotten. Will he be here, and if not, who would be potential suitors?

Mike Fast: Lyndon LaRoche will never make it in Washington, and he's certainly not going to lead the Nats to an October Surprise. (See, I told you I was a fan of bad puns.)

I'm actually kind of a fan of Adam LaRoche, but I don't know what happened to him last year. If I'm going to spend a moderate amount of dollars on a mediocre first baseman, I'd rather it be somebody like LaRoche with some power than someone like Daric Barton with an allegedly superior glove.

RMR (Chicago): Johnny CUeto seems to have reinvented himself as a ground-baller at the expense of his strikeout rate (and with the addition of a revamped, Tiantesque motion). What do the pitchFX data suggest about this shift?

Mike Fast: I've always liked left-handed starting pitchers like Cueto who can throw 93. What, you say? Cueto isn't a lefty? Oh.

For some reason, there is a contingent of RHP in baseball who seem like lefties to me and get filed in my head as such, no matter what the facts may be. Cueto must be one of those.

For starters, his BABIP isn't going to be .249 again. But that aside, his slider wasn't very good, and cutting back on it in favor of his sinker, which is good, seems like a plus. I haven't studied his new mechanics in any detail, so I can't comment much on that change. I don't know whether his deception improved, but it doesn't seem like it helped his command much (which was okay, so maybe that's not a problem).

johnsamo (Texas): Any guesses on how Feiz's move to the rotation goes. I'm hoping the regular routine will reduce his walk rate. He tends to walk the first batter, then find the srike zone out of the pen.

Mike Fast: I'm in favor of moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation, and I expect he will be a success. His fastball is just so good. None of his curveball, slider, and changeup are outstanding pitches, but I suspect he'll find enough from one or two of those to make a go of it. I am guessing, though, that he'll learn to throw his curveball for strikes, which he hasn't done in limited work with it the last couple years, so maybe that's too optimistic of a prediction.

Marissa (LA): Mike, besides baseball, what other sports do you follow?

Mike Fast: College football--I'm an Oklahoma Sooners fan, though I'm happily married to a Texas Longhorn, believe it or not.

And that's about it for anything I follow regularly. I like hockey in theory, and I've enjoyed the games I've gone to, but I don't follow it on any regular sort of basis.

I can't really stand the NFL, and I have no particular interest in the NBA. College basketball I'll watch on occasion, moreso if a Big 12 team is in the tournament or my Sooners have a good team.

I'm a fan of soccer in person, not so much on TV.

R.A Wagman (Toronto): Who would win in a MMA fight between Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein?

Mike Fast: I've never met Keith Law in person. But I'm worried about how the fedora would stand up to a blow from a skillet or a wok or whatever cooking tool Keith is likely to have sneaked into the cage.

PepeShady (St Paul): Which pitchers stand out as personal favorites that never panned out like you thought they would?

Mike Fast: Bret Saberhagen. Kevin Appier. I was sure both of them would be Hall of Famers. Though if Jack Morris gets in, I may start pushing their candidacies a little harder. Apparently you never know. They can get back on the ballot, right?

More recently, I had high hopes for Brett Anderson. I guess he may yet fulfill those. Erik Bedard...I sense a theme. I've been a big Gavin Floyd fan for a while, and though he's been good, he's never broken through to great. On a much lower tier, Chad Gaudin.

Not Keith Law (Late for my Chat): Why is it that baseball prospectus chatters so often want me to get my ass kicked by guys a foot taller than me? I'd rather know who would win a beauty accessory pageant on its own Jay Jaffe's mustache or Kevin's fedora?

Mike Fast: Um...hi, not Keith. If you're a foot shorter than Kevin, then you're roughly a foot shorter than me, and I'm not frequenting any Men's Big and Tall stores any time soon, if you know what I mean.

I'd the pleasure of meeting both Jay's mustache and Kevin's fedora in person for the first time at the winter meetings this year in Dallas. I haven't been the same since.

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts): Your answer about Drabek reminded me ... what do you think about a recovery after his awful season last year? I haven't studied him much, but when I looked at him early last year, I noticed that he was relying a lot on his cutter and stopped throwing so many curveballs (which looks like a really good pitch that he keeps down in the zone).

Mike Fast: I'll agree with your assessment. He looked like he had much better command of all his pitches in 2010 than in 2011. And the curveball was an incredible pitch for him 2010 that he got lots of chases down out of the zone on. Presumably, some of 2010 was batters getting a better report on him and knowing to lay off that pitch, but it also seems like he should have used it more. Plus, with him not being able to locate his other pitches (fastball, cutter) as well, it probably hurt the effectiveness of the curve, too.

Ian (NYC): Thanks for those Kalk articles. I had read them when they came out, enjoyed them, and since completely forgotten them. Who are some current pitch f/x writers I'm probably not aware of but should be following?

Mike Fast: The man with the question right above, for starters. Lucas writes at Hardball Times and FanGraphs and has salient thoughts on Twitter, too, at @DBITLefty.

Josh Weinstock is a new up-and-comer, also writing at THT and FG and starting his own blog on using R for analyzing PITCHf/x data, which is at http://pitchrx.blogspot.com/, if that's your sort of thing.

Of course, Harry Pavilidis at THT is an old veteran--you're probably aware of him. I'm trying to think of other regular writers and failing, so my apologies if I've left someone out that I should have thought of.

Bernie Fine (Syracuse): do you see Guyer getting 350 abs for the Rays this year?

Mike Fast: I think yes, and I gambled on him at the end of the year last year for my fantasy team with that hope, but I'll defer to RJ Anderson and Jason Collette and the other experts over at DRaysBay if they happen to disagree with me.

jhardman (Apex, NC): Regarding Neftali Feliz and the Rangers pitching - do you think Texas would send him to AAA at the beginning of the season to refine his starting arsenal because they have too many starters? Or is Alexi Ogando going to have a more permanent role in the bullpen?

Mike Fast: I don't know what the Rangers are going to do, and I haven't paid close attentions to the rumblings out of Arlington to know which way they are leaning. With Darvish slotting in for Wilson, do they still really have a surplus of starters? Darvish, Lewis, Holland, Harrison...okay so technically I suppose Ogando and Feliz don't both fit there, and maybe that means one of them has to start the year in the bullpen and thus can't easily be moved to the rotation mid-year. I don't have a strong opinion.

PepeShady (St Paul): So, what do you see Guyer doing in those 350 ABs?

Mike Fast: I dunno, 10 HR and 10 SB? PECOTA doesn't seem that high on him, though, looking at the preliminary 2012 numbers, he's projected to hit only .245, with a bit less power than I'm thinking.

Abe Froman (Chicago): More Ks this year...Morrow or Sale?

Mike Fast: They're both good at racking up strikeouts, but Morrow seems much more likely to pitch more innings, so I'll pick him.

Mike Fast: Thanks everyone for the questions and the entertainment. See you all next time!

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