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Chat: Jonah Keri

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday September 16, 2003 8:00 PM ET chat session with Jonah Keri.


Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Jonah Keri: Welcome everyone. As the Chatter following Billy Beane, I'd offer up some convoluted theory on the value of lineup protection, if not for the fact that you'd all see right through me. So let's get started...

John Collins (Greenville NC): Jonah, Enjoy your work on BP! Do you know whether the Expos requested that they be allowed to bring up extra players in September, and were denied, or they just didn't want to? Sledge should be in a big league uniform.

Jonah Keri: John, MLB made it abundantly clear from the get-go that the Expos' resources would be limited. I suspect that Omar Minaya and company were aware of the situation well before Sept. 1 came around. It's extremely unfortunate that Expos fans didn't get to see the likes of Terrmel Sledge and Val Pascucci, both of whom were performing well in Triple-A. Not only could they have helped the team while the Expos were still in contention, it would have also been a nice sneak preview of the players the team will need to lean on next season, when Vlad and others may not be back.

Scott (Indianapolis): How do you choose who to do a Q&A with? What percentage turn you down? How much do you cut out?

Jonah Keri: Scott,

The first Q&A I did for BP was Dr. Frank Jobe, almost a year ago to the day, as a matter of fact. After that one, I became extremely interested in the whole concept of pitching injuries/rehab/injury prevention etc. So that led to a spurt that included Tommy John and Dr. Mike Marshall. Once those were done, I drew up a rough list of people I'd like to Q&A. Some of them were also subjects related to the pitching topic, others were team executives, players, agents, and some peripheral baseball people. I've alternated between going down my list and picking up suggestions on the fly from BP readers and fellow authors.

I haven't been turned down too often actually. Most folks have been extremely forthcoming about my requests. Another reader asked me why people agree to do Q&As. I think many people just enjoy talking baseball, and I'd hope that the level of discourse I try to elicit in my interviews is refreshing for interviewees, who are probably used to more superficial lines of questioning. And hey, publicity is, generally speaking, a good thing.

As for what I cut out, depends on the subject. I chatted for a long time with Dr. Marshall for instance, as well as Reds interim GM Brad Kullman. There was no way I could put all the material collected during our talk into an article, so a lot of it was omitted, leaving (what I hope) was only the good stuff. With others, I may use the vast majority of the material. All depends.

Daniel (Montréal): Pitch counts, one of my favorite topics ... I read a quote from Mark Prior yesterday in which he says that the actual number of pitches is not the relevant factor, but rather the "pattern" behind the number is. E.g. he said something like if a guy throws 130 pitches "with no effort" it's fine, but if a guy struggles with 40-pitch, 15-pitch, and then another 40-pitch inning, he could get into trouble. I think that's an interesting unexplored area of research. Thought?

Jonah Keri: Hey Dan,

This was a topic that came up with Jobe, Tommy John, Mike Marshall, Rick Peterson...pretty much everyone with whom I talked pitching. They agree that high-stress innings can take a huge toll on a pitcher, and potentially put him at risk for injury and/or ineffectiveness. In other words: 40 pitches+5 pitches+5 pitches is worse than 17+17+16. Of course ideally we could empirically test for this. People like Peterson are already jumping ahead of the curve and doing this. His efforts to bring A's pitchers down to visit with Dr. James Andrews every year is part of that effort.

As Will Carroll often says, teams would be amazed at how much they can improve on the field by taking extra steps to keep their players healthy.

Bob (Thousand Oaks, CA): Bill Mueller has no shot at winning the MVP, but do you think he'll finish in the top 10? Top 5? Top 3?

Jonah Keri: Mueller's fifth in the AL in VORP. He fields his position well. Despite fears that his knees wouldn't hold up, he's stayed in the lineup, and showed no ill effects from getting the job to himself once Hillenbrand left. If it were my vote he'd be a shoo-in Top 10 guy, and Top 5 would certainly be a position I could defend too.

I'd pick Billy Koch to win it by the way, since the White Sox wouldn't be where they are without him...

OK, OK, A-Rod.

Scot (upstate NY): Hey Jonah. An Expos question for you: What happens to the team next year? 81 games in Montreal with a $40M payroll? ~60 games in Montreal and ~20 in San Juan or Monterrey with a $45-50M payroll? Or 81 games in San Juan or Monterrey with a $55-60M payroll? And where do you see Vlad ending up?

Jonah Keri: Scot, 81 games in Montreal with a $40M payroll is the most unlikely of those scenarios. MLB has already threatened the players that if they vote to play all their games in La Belle Province (Quebec, not the deliciously greasy fast food chain by the same name), they'll slash the payroll to $25M. I don't see the logic here, since San Juan/Monterrey/wherever wouldn't add $15M in revenue, or anything close to it, but hey, when you want to threaten someone, threaten broken legs, not paper cuts, I guess.

I think your second scenario is the most likely, about 60 in Montreal, 20 or so in San Juan or Monterrey, and a payroll close to the same as it was in 2003. You can lop off players like Tatis, Eischen, Barrett, and El Duque pretty easily. After that, it gets tough. And after the fiasco that was the Colon for Biddle n' Bits trade last off-season, you've got to be pretty concerned as an Expos fan that a trade of say, a Javy Vazquez trade will be tarnished by MLB eating into Minaya's leverage, meaning the Spos could then expect Luis Sojo and a three-day old scrapple sandwich in return.

Jim (San Francisco, CA): Why are so many BP authors in favor of Questec? Have any of you actually ever umpired?

Jonah Keri: Jason Grady, a BP intern and long-time umpire at several levels of organized baseball, says the following:

"I agree that seeing a 95-mph pitch, even one that is not breaking, crossing a distance of a mere 17 inches is beyond the capabilities of the human eye. Why shouldn't a person's performance be evaluated with the best possible technologies?"

Sounds about right to me.

strong silence (the world): Jonah, Has the level of talent been diluted by expansion? I am trying to determine which period in baseball history had the highest concentration of talent (or, the highest mean talent level) and think this question is relevant to my research.

Jonah Keri: I don't think it has. Yes, more teams means more jobs to fill. But one of the beauties of baseball is that while the traditions remain ingrained, the game itself constantly evolves. Watching players like Ichiro, Matsui, and Nomo is a nod toward the influence that Japanese baseball has had in this side of the world. Then you get into the aggressive scouting teams have done in the Dominican, Venezuela, Colombia, Australia...scads of countries, and you can see how those new jobs are getting filled by talented players.

Teams still need to do a better job of not handing over spots on the roster to creaky veterans simply because of name value or some nebulous idea of cost and performance certainty and start treating the game as a meritocracy. With that said, the quality of the game is infinitely better than it was 30 years ago, just as 1973 ball was that much better than 1943 ball, and so on.

thePTBNL (Chicago): Which Expo will be jettisoned this winter? And will Omar Minaya be running the Mets or Reds before he can do more damage in Montreal?

Jonah Keri: (Just a note here...whenever a group of BP authors discusses a topic and the subject suddenly gets changed to the Expos, the ritual is to chug. I'd imagine by the end of this chat we'll have a lot of slurring and stumbling going on.)

As mentioned earlier, plenty of B-level talent can be shed to prevent needless arbitration dates, with Tatis leaving as a free agent. Beyond that, one of Livan Hernandez or Javy Vazquez will have to go, given Livan will make $6.5 mil. this year after reaching his 217-inning incentive this week, while Vazquez will make at least $9 mil. in arbitration.

The key will be what Minaya can get in trade. The Expos, for years and years, have trotted out mediocre or worse offenses. The overemphasis on pitching in the Jim Beattie years was atrocious. It'd be great if Minaya could identify the multiple black holes in the lineup and fill one of them with a legitimate young hitter. A one-for-one trade, Vazquez for a guy who can hit and has several years to go before free agency would be swell.

As for where Minaya will go in the off-season, there has been noise about him going to the Mets, but we'll just have to see. It's not like the Expos have had a litany of great GMs since Dan Duquette--who was an excellent GM once upon a time--left.

Bryan Smith (Chicago): Jonah...please give me five names that will take big leaps next season. Thanks!

Jonah Keri: Mark Teixeira will have a similar leap to Hank Blalock v03 vs. v02. Brandon Phillips can't help but get better because he was Neifi-riffic this year...actually Neifi put him to shame. Adam Dunn will stay healthy next season, and cut down on his strikeouts just enough to trigger a healthy spike in production. Shawn Green will have a bounceback year after fixing his shoulder. Pat Burrell's 2003 season will look like a weird fluke five years from now.

Scot (Upstate NY): What one thing would you do to help improve the state of MLB today if you were given the power to do so?

Jonah Keri: I'd echo what Joe Sheehan's said all along: the game needs to market itself better. This means first and foremost ejecting all the awful owners that pocket revenue sharing money, lie about finances and do little to improve the teams fans care so deeply about. It means a new regime in MLB's head office, starting with a commissioner who won't badmouth any city that hasn't built a new, publicly financed ballpark in the last eight minutes. It means finding media partners who'll rave about the sport and promote it the way the NFL's partners do football.

Thirty aggressive owners who'll hire smart front offices to work toward winning pennants, in a league run by a commissioner who encourages those same steps, promoted by TV, radio, and Internet partners who do their damndest to restore baseball's luster. That'd be sweet.

Bart S ((Toledo. OH)): What's your honest assessment of how good a job Trammel has done as manager of the Tigers? What would be your 1 or 2 or 3-year plan that to move the Tigers to respectability?

Jonah Keri: Trammell's been handed a bum hand, of course. That said, I'd like to see the kind of collaborative set-up in Detroit that Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge have set up in Cleveland. Wedge shows up early every day to talk to Shapiro and other members of the Indians front office. How's this player coming along, when should we call up this prospect...more intelligent people offering more input, with the common goal of winning.

More specifically, I'd build through intelligent drafting and player development. Punt drafting high school pitchers, target hitters with plate discipline. Make player moves while always being aware of their service time clock, their trade value, and their actual value to the franchise. It'd take longer than a year or two, which could put Dave Dombrowski's job in jeopardy, but that kind of patient, measured approach could eventually turn the franchise around. Nice as it can be to rise up for a sudden charge at the playoffs, the goal with any team should be to build a perennial contender, and hopefully a winner.

Rex Little (Santa Ana, CA): I was doing a survey of fluke performances this year. It seems like several of them came from guys in their early thirties (Javy Lopez, Aaron Guiel) while only Podsednik was 27. (Also 27 was Konerko, whose year has been fluky-bad.) Do we need to re-think the age at which we can expect such performances?

Jonah Keri: Rex, fluke performances can come at any age. It's not as if 27 is this magical place at which you can bank on 20-homer hitters turning in Bondsian seasons. What I'd say about age 27 is that it's the rough midpoint of an age range around 25-29 wherein players who have successful careers most often peak.

I'd emphasize the point about successful players peaking around that age range. As a couple of smart Expos fans I know often note, most players actually peak before 27, if you look at the entire population of professional baseball players, from the minors through to the majors. The best prospects don't merely translate a year of solid performance into major league gold. Instead, they improve every step of the way, and very few players display that kind of steady improvement. Which is a big reason why prospecting can be so difficult.

Glenn (Seattle): Jonah, how many more seasons do you think MLB will kick the Expos around before they finally do the right thing and sell them to an owner who cares about the team?

Jonah Keri: Glenn, MLB has never been much for finding long-term solutions to problems. The typical course of action is to focus on the short term, and favor whatever method might bring a few more dollars into MLB's coffers. Baseball has talked about getting the Expos into the hands of strong, stable ownership for years, and every year it doesn't happen. Until we see such a deal signed, sealed, and delivered, the safest bet is to assume it'll never happen. The Expos have been set to move 4,866 times in the last decade or so, yet there they still are, playing the bulk of their games in Montreal with the threat of fire sales and general disorder constantly hanging over their heads.

It's actually amazing to me how the players can put all that nonsense aside and compete the way they did for most of this season. Kind of gives credence to the whole stat-generating robots theory going around BP's secret lair.

Cosmo (Montreal): Who's currently the Managing Editor of BP Online? Joe Sheehan used to inhabit the role, I know, but Will Carroll has implied a number of times this year that BP has a number of writers editing material for the site. Keep up the great work--I absolutely LOVE Premium.

Jonah Keri: The role has been passed on to Edit-O-Tron 2000, a highly-evolved editing and killing machi...er...just editing machine.

(though there's a rumor that they've asked some Canadian hoser to do it...editing-related inquiries and article submissions can be made to jkeri@baseballprospectus.com)

Jonah Keri: OK, that'll do it. Thanks for the chat everyone. If you have any suggestions for future Q&As, feel free to drop me an e-mail. Cheers.

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