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Chat: Russell Carleton

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday December 27, 2012 1:00 PM ET chat session with Russell Carleton.


Resident staff sabermetrician/pyschologist Russell Carleton stops by to take your post-Christmas questions.

Russell Carleton: The world didn't end last week, so in an attempt to make up for that, it's time to begin my first chat since early 2010. (Sorry about that.)

Alex (Anaheim): Do I get to mourn Swisher's departure as a Yankee fan, or should I feel all right about the Yankee outfield with Gardner at full strength?

Russell Carleton: I'd personally mourn being a Yankee fan. In 10 years, Swisher will be inducted into the Hall of Yeah, He Was Pretty Good, I Remember Him. And that's a tough player to lose when the replacement is the faded glory of Ichiro. But Brett Gardner is still criminally under-appreciated. Here's to hoping that changes. By the way, there's a perfectly interesting team in your hometown there. Why not give them a whirl?

Brad Fulton (Giants Nation, CA): Is there a place any more for a human, an intangible "gut-feeling" element in the evaluation of player talent/potential in today's game?

Russell Carleton: Yes. (Surprise!) Actually, a lot of time, when you're talking about evaluating a 16 year old kid, "gut feeling" is about all you have to go on. If by that you mean someone who's spent a lot of time doing this sort of thing and can (sometimes unconsciously) pick up on things. The trick is to pair "gut feeling" with a healthy dose of knowing when to say "I have no idea either way." The societal pressure is to give some sort of answer, even if it's just an outright guess.

Brad Fulton (Giants Nation, CA): Is there a place any more for a human, an intangible "gut-feeling" element in the evaluation of player talent/potential in today's game?

Russell Carleton: Yes (Surprise!) Actually, a lot of time, when you're talking about evaluating a 16 year old kid, "gut feeling" is about all you have to go on. If by that you mean someone who's spent a lot of time doing this sort of thing and can (sometimes unconsciously) pick up on things. The trick is to pair "gut feeling" with a healthy dose of knowing when to say "I have no idea either way." The societal pressure is to give some sort of answer, even if it's just an outright guess.

Buster Posey (Holding a fungo bat): Explain yourself.

Russell Carleton: I love the word "fungo" Is this about my NL MVP vote? I can't say that I mind you winning. I'm just a believer in the thought that we truly don't fully appreciate catcher defense yet, and Yadier Molna is just that good at catching.

allangustafson (San Diego): So I picked up Carlos Gomez in a 12 team 12 keeper league. I read nothing good, but the kid could be 20/40 player next year. Could you give some advice on type of player he will be the next three years? Can he crack the top 144 next year?

Russell Carleton: Gomez went 19HR/37SB last year in 450 PA. He's the perfect example of a guy whom I'd much rather have in fantasy than reality (cf. sub-300 career OBP, mostly because he appears allergic to walking.) But, he plays a decent CF, and steals bases, and there always seems to be a place for that guy. I don't think 20 HR happens again. Last year, his HR/2B ratio deviated from his career norm, but 15/40 isn't a bad player to have. Warning though: The Brewers were batting him leadoff, and then later in the year, moved him down to 6/7 spot. I think they may be catching on.

jlarsen (Chicago): If you were Andrew Friedman and you had the 3 choices of Vernon Wells(with 80% of contract eaten), Alfonso Soriano(with 26 of the remaining 36 MIL eaten) or Jason Kubel to acquire, who would you pick between them and how much(prospects or players) would you risk to acquiring them?

Russell Carleton: Let's do this House Hunters style. Vernon Wells. No. Soriano is an interesting idea in this scenario. You're basically talking about a 2/10 commitment. For all his faults, he will stand in left field and hit 30 HR. (Scary thought, he's at 370ish HR... 4 more years of 30 HR, he has 500... Soriano for the HOF!) He's been just-above-replacement player alternating with a 2 win player the past few years. At a 5 mil commitment, that's about right given market rates. So, I'd be willing to send the Cubs a check and some org guy who always wanted to play for the Cubs. Then again, why pay market rate when you can try to squeeze that value out for less?

Ashitaka1110 (Houston, TX): What's your take on UZR and the other modern defensive metrics? They're not without problems, granted, but it seems like a growing portion of saber-minded individuals wish to throw them out the window altogether. While it does seem they fluctuate from year to year, perhaps making them poor tools for predictive purposes, aren't they still accurate representations of what DID happen on the field during a given time, and therefore useful in determining who actually DID play the field better during a said given time?

Russell Carleton: I don't see it as "throwing it out the window." They're just so divergent from one another. They don't hold up year to year. As the Sabersphere starts to think more like a team thinks (and they don't care what happened last year except in how it informs next year) it'll probably be a point of contention. There are two big problems: lack of really good publicly available data and the fact that when we talk about good vs. bad fielders, we're talking about a small number of plays that Brendan Ryan doesn't get to but go Pasta Diving Jeter. (I've fulfilled my poke at Derek Jeter's fielding quota.)

Keith (Manchester, CT): Thanks Russell. How likely Jason Heyward really breaks out in 2013, something with an OPS over .900?

Russell Carleton: I live in Atlanta, so I'm obligated to say yes. Heyward is 23. The tools are there. He had a bad year in 2011, but came back up to level in 2012. I'm bullish.

Fred (WI): How real was Chase Headley's season last year and do you see regression in 2013 or this to be the next step up in his progression? How much does Petco fences coming in affect that regression/progression answer?

Russell Carleton: If you look deep into Headley's numbers, his swing rate wasn't much changed, but his contact rate was down. That's an indicator of a guy who's using a "swing real hard in case you hit it" method. And for him, it worked, even in Petco. The fences coming in can't help but add a few HR to his ledger.

Ashitaka1110 (Houston, TX): While we're on the subject of defensive metrics, what's the latest on FieldFX? Will the information be available to the public at all?

Russell Carleton: I haven't heard anything about a public release. Even if it was, it would be a while before meaningful data could be extracted from it. Learning curve.

GBSimons (Under a foot of snow): Russell, have you heard any recent rumblings or rumors of where Kyle Lohse will end up and for how long and much? As a Cards fan who despised him in '09-'10, he became much more appealing in '11-'12, and St. Louis could use another competent starter. Of course, that doesn't mean the Redbirds should shell out crazy cash to re-sign Lohse.

Russell Carleton: Lohse has always been something of a BABIP buster, but I think the idea of a 15M salary is silly. The problem is that "decent starter" is the same sort of comfort food that "proven closer" is. Feels good going down, but you regret it in the morning.

Steve G. (STL): Hey Russell, I have noticed that most teams are now preferring SQL for internships in baseball ops. So per an article from Colin Wyers and THT, I downloaded it and went through the instructions. I am struggling on how to use it though even more, any suggestions or tips?

Russell Carleton: I tried using SQL a grand total of once. It didn't work. I went back to what I know. Sorry, I can't be of help.

Jacob (Kansas City): Francoeur is slated to start in RF opening day for the Royals. Do you like Frenchy as a bounceback player next year? Or should the Royals move Cain to RF and start Dyson in CF? Thanks for the chat.

Russell Carleton: In order: Hehe. No. Should they vs. will they -- two separate questions. You're welcome.

John (KC): Thanks for the chat, Russell! It seems Alcides Escobar had a breakout year last year while hitting .293 to go along with 35 stolen bases. Do you expect him to build on this next year? Has he finally figured it out?

Russell Carleton: The stolen bases will be there. The batting average is nice, but was fueled by a BABIP spike, and his walk rate didn't improve at all and there's little power. It was hardly a breakout year for him (0.8 WARP). Meh.

Bill (Norvolk): Do you like Josh Rutledge as a 20/20 candidate next year if he gets the AB's?

Russell Carleton: This is the kind of trap question that never ends well. He's 23, so yeah there's hope (and as my father told me, if you have hope in one hand...) He's never stolen 20 in the minors, and while he did hit 21 HR between AA and MLB, he's always tilted more toward doubles. Now, with that said, he will hit 60 HR next year.

Jim (San Francisco): Brandon Belt had an up and down year for the Giants but is expected to be our starting first baseman to start the year. Given his skill set and consistent playing time should we expect a big improvement in his game? Thanks for the chat!

Russell Carleton: I feel a lot of #wish in this question. I get the love for Brandon Belt and I feel it too. The wrist will hopefully be back to fully better and the power will turn more from doubles to HR. If the Giants actually do stick with him, that should have positive results.

Hector (Wichita): How many more wins did the Royals buy next year with adding Shields and Davis to the rotation? Are they potential contenders now?

Russell Carleton: There's probably an added bonus for the Royals in adding those guys (and re-signing Guthrie). They will vacuum up innings and make sure that the bullpen doesn't have to be stocked with prospect arms for "length." That said, after the Blue Jays-Marlins trade, there seems to be a shortage of teams willing to add several star players to another's roster in exchange for salary relief.

Travis (Cleveland): Any word on Grady Sizemore? Is he going to play in 2013?

Russell Carleton: My grandmother is obsessed with Grady Sizemore. For her sake, I hope he does play somewhere next year, but he's a straight up reclamation project.

aschauer (LA): Thank you for the chat sir! I have a new agey sort of question: do you think meditation could be helpful for players? If so, how hard would it be to convince them to try it?

Russell Carleton: Meditation probably would benefit certain players. But your second question hints at the problem. How to convince them to try something so... weird. I don't think they'd all say no, and maybe a couple guys would have success and the trend would spread.

Mike (Chicago): Will Alejandro De Aza continue to improve and build on a promising season last year? Or is he in store for some regression? Thanks!

Russell Carleton: Another where I see #wish. It's nice that he put it together at 28, and even with some regression, that's not a bad player to have. But for a guy who was a quad-A player for a long time and is now 29, that story doesn't usually end in the Hall of Fame.

Bobby (Chicago): What's your take on Cubs prospect Albert Almora? He seems to be pretty polished for an 18 year old. What kind of every day major leaguer do you expect him to be in the future? Carlos Beltran-like?

Russell Carleton: I'll use this to plead that I know very little on the prospect side, so I will plead the fifth on this. However, in general, as a developmentalist, may I say that I am astonished by how mis-understood development (in all senses of that word) is mis-undestood between the ages of 18-24.

Chuck (Allentown): Do you see a "out of nowhere" epic season that came from Edwin Encarcion coming from another under the radar current MLBer?

Russell Carleton: If I did, I would be a very wealthy man.

jlarsen (chicago): Since there's many different opinions on Wil Myers, what do you think of one of the most touted prospects whose upside ranges from slightly-above average to "stud"?

Russell Carleton: In one of my "Reading Lolita in Teheran" pieces, I profiled Myers. The knock on him was that he needed to be more aggressive and swing more. In 2012, he did so and it paid off big for him. That's a really good sign.

MetsFaithful5 (Upstate New York): What do you think of the R.A. Dickey trade? And can you explain to me if Travis D has a realistic chance to become a top 5 catcher in baseball.. And also, if you can, do you realistically think the mets can regain a top ten team form by 2015? Thanks

Russell Carleton: The Dickey trade was a classic "your future for our present" trade, and I get both sides of it. The reports on D'Arnaud are good. He can honestly catch and can honestly hit. That puts him way ahead of a lot of guys already in the bigs. Not a bad haul.

Wayner (Big Town): Good afternoon Russell. What kind of season do you anticipate from Torii Hunter in 2013? Will we see a sharp decline from last year?

Russell Carleton: I guess this would be the opposite of #wish? Hunter pretty much is what he is, an older player who's going to put up 2-3 wins. Not bad.

LoyalRoyal (Riverside): What's your take on Hochevar. All we keep hearing in KC is the tools are there, but he doesn't have it mentally to be and stay effective. Love to hear a psychologist opinion. Thanks and Happy New Year...

Russell Carleton: Maybe he just wasn't as good as everyone thought he was. Better answer: pitching is a really complicated process. It's not as simple as good fastball velo. It's sequencing and deception and mechanics, etc. It's hard to coordinate all those things. The problem is that people trot out characterological explanations for things to explain lack of results.

myshkin (Santa Clara, CA): If you don't use a database for statistical analysis, then is Excel your tool of choice? (If not, then what is?)

Russell Carleton: SPSS

myshkin (Santa Clara, CA): What are your thoughts on the effects of a particularly good or bad clubhouse atmosphere on performance levels on the field? The conventional sabermetric wisdom, of course, is that winning breeds chemistry rather than the other way around. Does your psychology background point you in a different direction?

Russell Carleton: I am (in the proper sense) skeptical on the matter. Academic studies of the workplace say that "chemistry" can make a difference. Winning probably does breed chemistry, and all the best friends in the world can't make you a better pitcher. My training in psychology shows me that things don't have to be all one-way. Effects can go two ways, and even if they are small, every little bit helps.

dianagram (VORGville): Who is going to win the 2010 World Series?

Russell Carleton: Same team that will win the 2012 World Series.

Anthony (Lebanon, PA): The Mets offseason has many left with mixed emotions. How do you see the rest of their offseason going?

Russell Carleton: The therapist in me would point out that it probably left _you_ with mixed emotions, or just sad that they're clearly punting 2013. I don't see them doing anything that changes their 2013 outlook. Welcome to more re-building.

Billy (Ocean): Let's say you're shrunk and placed in a blender next to Ray King. How do you escape?

Russell Carleton: Is Ray King also shrunk to roughly the same size (or scale of size) as me? In either case, I would probably treat it as a hostage negotiation, with the unfortunate property of me being the hostage.

MetsFaithful5 (Upstate New York): Maybe my first question was too long and I apologize. Answer this if you can. What, if any, do you see the mets doing for their outfield situation?

Russell Carleton: I assume you don't want to hear "Sign a re-tread" or "Try that kid from AAA."

mtgannon (Dublin, OH): Hey Russell - what do you think Carlos Santana will do this year? Will he ever hit for better average or is he really just a .250/.360 type guy? Also, how about Jordan Zimmerman? Moving towards elite status or just a good #2 or #3 pitcher?

Russell Carleton: Santana's got something that works. Why mess with a .360 OBP? It's OK to have a low batting average. On Zimmerman, I believe I will defer to the idea that if you have to ask the question about a guy being an ace/elite, then the answer is no. Really nice pitcher. And not being elite is not an insult.

myshkin (Santa Clara, CA): Measuring catcher framing skill was a somewhat surprising area for a big advance in how we (the public) think about player value. From the universe of plausible outcomes (e.g. assuming no huge changes in what data we expect teams to release), what do you think the next big idea in public baseball research will consider, if there is one? What would you like it to be?

Russell Carleton: Moving away from large-N database queries and beginning to look at each player as his own dataset.

Corey (Cincinnati): Thanks for the chat Russell! What do the Reds have in store for Devin Mesoraco this year? Do you expect him to have a significant spike in playing time?

Russell Carleton: Since Hanigan, who is nice and steady, is there, I don't see Mesoraco outright displacing him.

Russell Carleton: As always, thank you for the questions, and may your 2013 be awesome!

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