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July 5, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Funck Interview Transcript

by Ken Funck

Mike Ferrin speaks with Ken Funck in this edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio. Click to download the mp3.

Mike Ferrin: It's our weekly chat on "On Deck" with the folks from Baseball Prospectus, and joining us this week is Ken Funck. And Ken, it's I think an especially appropriate time to talk to you because I know you've written a great deal recently about the Detroit Tigers, and as they kind of make their run to the top of the American League Central. I think the way that most people have seen them do it has been shocking. I know you followed them a little closely last week. Can they really keep this up with the starting pitching that they've gotten to this point?

Ken Funck: Well I'm not sure that the starting pitching can keep pitching at the level that they have but definitely can be good enough to win this division. When you look at the AL Central, you... I don't really see any other teams that jump out at me as being the sort of team that would be able to have both the offense and the defense that the Tigers have. The White Sox have a good rotation currently with Buehrle, Floyd, and Danks and Contreras pitching well recently, but they've really had a lot of trouble scoring runs, and I'm not sure how much of that's going to turn around for them. But the Tigers have been getting, as you know, incredible starting pitching from Edwin Jackson particularly, you know, with his 2.49 ERA. Rick Porcello has been just a revelation in his rookie season. It's going to be interesting to see how they handle him down the stretch to try and keep his pitch count low, but he's been pitching very well. And Verlander, of course, has pitched extremely well as well and currently sitting at eight and three. So... while I I'm not sure that Edwin Jackson is going to be able to pitch at that incredible level as he has so far, I don't see any reason why they won't have enough pitching at least to be able to carry them to the head of the division.

MF: You you talked about defense in there, and I think that that's one of the things that maybe we've ignored in this Tigers' story for 2009 a bit is maybe the addition of a guy like Adam Everett and moving Brandon Inge back to third base has helped to solidify this team as much as anything because they were not a good defensive club a year ago.

KF: That's very true, that's very true. When you look, when you look out currently at some of the defensive rankings and a lot a lot of the different defensive metrics don't always agree but I looked at today at the the Tigers' Ultimate Zone Rating, Mr. Lichtman's defensive rating, and the Tigers are still number two in the American League, and a lot of that I think does have to do with the improvement in their defense.

MF: Explain...

KF: Um.

MF: Explain for folks who don't understand what UZR is. What Ultimate Zone rating means.

KF: Um, Ultimate Zone Rating is basically a metric that was devised by Mr. Lichman to be able, Mr. Lichtman I should say, to be able to look at where a ball goes, and determine which, whether a fielder should have been able to get to that ball or not, and the more likely that a player, you know, if a ball goes into a zone where they ought to be able to field it. It looks at the percentage of the times that they're able to field that. That's a really high-level overview of it. There's a lot of different events and metrics but that's one of the ones that I think is one of the, one of the most effective. And the Tigers have been able to turn a lot more of the batted balls into outs this year as compared to last year. Where they started last year was really a mess defensively with Carlos Guillen at shortstop, probably beyond the point at which he was able to capably play shortstop in the major league. They went with the idea of having Cabrera at third base and became apparent very quickly that he was not a third baseman. They've reshuffled the deck to a certain extent now with Cabrera at first base who's probably never going to be a great defensive player, but at least he's he's not much of a detriment over there. And as you say, bring in Adam Everett to play at shortstop and platooning him somewhat with Ramon Santiago. They've definitely improved their their infield different defense and bringing Inge in to third base who's always been a good defensive third basemen, especially for the young pitchers its got to be very... very easy for them to want to throw the ball over the plate and put it in play knowing that there are guys behind them that can go get it. Out in the outfield, they've got Curtis Granderson out in center who has, over time, become one of the better defensive center fielders in in baseball. He's got a lot of ground to cover out there and really plays Comerica particularly well. So I think you're right, a big part of the pitching story in Detroit has been the defense.

MF: Talking to Ken Funck from Baseball Prospectus. You mentioned Inge in there, I want to get back to him. We know that Cabrera's going to make the All-Star team from Detroit, that Verlander most likely will, that Curtis Granderson most likely will. But I think that at this point you have to make a case for Brandon Inge. I mean, he leads the team in home runs, right? I mean, he's had a a remarkable season so far. Is there anything in Brandon Inge's history that maybe prove pointed to a season like this coming for him?

KF: Well, one of the articles I wrote for for BP several weeks ago looked a little bit at his history as far as how well he hit depending on when he was catching or was playing in the field. He started his career at catcher, and as everyone knows, playing catcher is a physically demanding position. You get beat up during the season, you get tired, and Inge really did not hit very well when he was a catcher. As soon as they moved him out from behind the plate, starting with the 2004 season, he started hitting much better. Not really to the level that he's hitting this year, which might be a little bit off the line with whether what you might expect from him going forward. But the fact that he's no longer catching and is playing third base, especially when you value, you know, how well he's played defensively at third base, I think you can really make a good case for him being being an All-Star this year at third. And to me perfectly honest, to be perfectly honest it sort of expected, it surprised me. I expected him to have a better year with the bat but nothing to the level that we've seen of him this far.

MF: Does it, does Brandon Inge have the look of a good player?

KF: [Laughs.] Yeah, I would say he does has a good face. As a matter of fact, he reminds me of a guy that I went to high school with who was a good ballplayer, so I've always sort of have a fondness for Brandon Inge.

MF: [Laughs.] I didn't realize that you were the president of the Brandon Inge Fan Club. I, you know, I kind of said that facetiously, but you actually have done some research on on the look of ballplayers, and I guess we should qualify this, by you know, there's never been a real harmonious marriage between statistical analysis and scouting. Yet, there are plenty of sabremetricians that will laugh at the idea of a guy having "the look," as scouts would describe it, but you may have found that there there is some correlation?

KF: [Laughs.] Right, and I'd like to put the word research in quotes.

MF: [Laughs.]

KF: It wasn't exactly what you would call a hardcore statistical study, but I did write a piece in which I was trying to determine whether there really was any correlation between some of the biometrics of players and their statistical profile. Specifically what I looked at was width to height ratios for faces. I had happened to have read a few studies that have found that a wider face compared to the height of the face tended in the study about hockey players to show that those players were more aggressive. And it made me curious as to whether, you know, that might be true for baseball players. So I went and-I don't have access to major league players obviously, I'm just some random guy, so I, what I had to do is crop a number of photographs of of players in Major League Baseball. And I did see that, with the the small study that I did, that yeah, there did seem to be a small amount of correlation, and again I put the word correlation in quotes. But there seemed to be a a certain amount of truth to the fact that that sort of physiogomy, that narrower face would be a less productive hitter, and the wider face would be a more productive hitter.

MF: I wonder if that has to do with the placement of the eyes on the face. But I mean think I think it's certainly worth worth looking into. ... There was another part part of that article I found very interesting-the idea that these guys who were aggressive hitters, we certainly we certainly think of aggressive hitters in the mold, and I think you even mentioned in the article, of a Vladimir Guerrero. A guy who goes up there and just swings the bat, he's swinging for the fences, or just swinging at just about anything that comes up to the plate. But the idea that an aggressive hitter is actually one who is more selective but is able to drive their pitch.

KF: Yeah, that that's exactly what it seems to be. The the players that fit the profile as having the narrower face which the hockey study would have said were more aggressive hitters. Actually their numbers, even though Vlad Guerrero did fit into that profile, their numbers really weren't as good, especially their plate discipline numbers. They... it seemed as though it was exactly the opposite of what you would have expected. So it seemed that the aggressive players were the ones that weren't the... I was looking at pitches per plate appearance.

MF: Uh huh.

KF: And it seemed that the more aggressive players were the ones that were waiting out the pitcher more and had the confidence to be able to wait for a pitch that they could drive. So it wasn't just the fact of going up there and aggressively swinging at any pitch, it was having the confidence to sit and wait for their pitch, and the confidence to wait to have two strikes and know that they have the ability to hit in that situation.

MF: And that level of patience, as you know, to bring it full circle, is something that that Brandon Inge has had shown at the minor league level, and is doing a much better job with this year too.

KF: Yeah, yeah, very much so, very much so. And he's hitting a lot of his home runs, are... a lot of his flyballs are turning into home runs, moreso as a percentage then, it's way out of line with what he's done with the rest of his career. So I don't expect that necessarily to continue, but the home runs he has already hit, he has those in the bank for the rest of the year. You know, so he's definitely gonna outperform projections.

MF: And they call them career years for a reason, right?

KF: Exactly, exactly.

MF: [Laughs.]

KF: And I'm very happy for him although I have to admit that at the Baseball Prospectus website they have a fantasy game called Hacking Mass, where you are supposed to select players for specific positions that are going to get a lot of at-bats but not provide a lot of production.

MF: Right.

KF: My third baseman's Brandon Inge.

MF: [Laughs.] Well, so you're not doing very well at Hacking Mass this year?

KF: No, he's... I'm doing OK, but he's keeping me out of the Top 100. He's definitely tanking my team. You know, so I don't hold it against him though.

MF: I thought I was going to win that contest one year, and then Jacques Jones hit twenty-seven homers.

KF: [Laughs.] Oh yeah that stuff just happens.

MF: [Laughs.] So hey, Ken, I appreciate the time. Best of luck. You can read Ken's stuff at Baseball Prospectus.com. Ken Funck from BP. Back with more after this on "On Deck."

Mike talks with Ken in this special edition of BP Radio:

Click to download mp3

Ken Funck is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ken's other articles. You can contact Ken by clicking here

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BP staff member Mike Ferrin
Guest Commenter

Obviously self-editing isn't my strength. That should read, "You also handle the stuff on the tigers defense very well, considering you didn't..." have any notice we'd delve into that.

Jul 05, 2009 12:05 PM
Richard Bergstrom

Echoing other threads, I spent a lot of time focusing on the audio. That being said, I think Ken's was my second favorite of this week. When he got analytical, he pulled it off well. When he discussed obscure concepts like TGF, you can tell he is a bit more uncertain, but that is saved by the fact that, to me, he made it sound interesting and fun.

I was a bit curious why Placido Polanco wasn't mentioned much in the scheme of team defense. Overall I thought this was a good interview that would show people new to baseball analysis how fun and un-dry it can be.

Thumbs up.

Jul 05, 2009 13:39 PM
rating: -1

I, too, am in the "positive" camp here. (I don't know why, in this forum, I find myself disagreeing so often with Will, whose column I enjoy. It isn't personal, Will.) Ken's genial personality shined through. He sounded both knowledgeable and affable. That the "good face" bit didn't completely die is a small miracle, and also a testament to Ken's performance (and an important lesson: be careful what you choose to write about, because it could come up on national radio). Mike Ferrin's note that Ken was not prepped on the Tiger's defense question makes this even more impressive. The long-answer criticisms are legitimate, but I also found Ken did the least interrupting and crowding out of the host.

Jul 05, 2009 14:09 PM
rating: 2

Will rips Ken. I vote for Ken. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Jul 05, 2009 16:25 PM
rating: 3

Reading the transcripts (I only care about the written material BP produces, so listening to the audio here seemed counterproductive), I think Ken's interview is the one that works best.

The answers were detailed and complete, and then the interview got light and entertaining with The Good Face and HACKING MASS stuff.

Easily my favourite of the week.

Jul 06, 2009 09:39 AM
rating: -2
Ken Funck

Pretty serious stuff in the various comment threads this week -- the relative importance of media presence, how to weigh the value of six weeks of writing vs. one radio interview, the possibility of transcription bias and the difference in how an interview reads vs. sounds -- all within the context of the increasingly difficult task of having to vote someone off.

Sounds to me like we need a pointless little metric to help lighten things up somewhat. So here are the values for WIPS (Words in Interview Per Second) for each of the four interviews, calculated by dividing the total number of words in the transcription (both the contestant and Mike, including labels) by the interview length in seconds. The results:

Tim: 2,019 words/637 seconds = 3.17 WIPS

Brian: 2,179 words/684 seconds = 3.19 WIPS

Matt: 2,477 words/730 seconds = 3.39 WIPS

Ken: 2,199 words/600 seconds = 3.67 WIPS

Beware the small sample size, since this is based on only one plate appearance, but it looks to me like the "sometimes talks too fast" scouting report on Ken Funck is supported by the numbers. -- he'll have to learn to shorten his swing.

Jul 06, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 5
Tim Kniker

Thanks for the statistic. This is good to know as I have always been told that I talk to fast in presentations, but I've been able to conquer that bugaboo at least relative to the other contestants.

Jul 06, 2009 13:48 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

ROTFL! Thanks Ken. After a plane flight and a two hour traffic jam, I needed that bit of witty levity :)

Jul 06, 2009 20:21 PM
rating: 0

I found the face dimension discussion useless and somewhat awkward (as was the original article on the subject), but to be fair, the host really forced the conversation in that direction. The first half was solid, except for: "Rick Porcello has been just a revelation in his rookie season." The guy has 47 K, 31 BB, 96 H and 13 HR in 87 IP (4.14 ERA, 1.46 WHIP). By any advanced metric, that's bad. With neutral luck, he'd probably be in the bullpen or Toledo by now. Certainly a case could be made that he will improve on those numbers, but when a host specifically asks if a starting rotation can continue its outstanding performance, and rather than pointing out Porcello's bad peripherals, you simply call him a "revelation," it instantly erodes credibility.

Jul 07, 2009 01:23 AM
rating: 0
Ken Funck

Point taken. But the interview took place last Tuesday. At that point Porcello hadn't yet gotten shelled on July 5th -- his numbers before that start were 3.90 ERA, 1.42 WHIP. He had just been hit hard the night before at a late game in Oakland, so before that start (about 18 hours before I talked to Mike Ferrin) Porcello had been sitting at a 3.55 ERA with a 1.36 WHIP. He's not striking out a lot of guys, but since he's an extreme groundball pitcher (leading all AL pitchers with 60+ IP with a 1.39 G/F ratio, even after his two bad starts) I'm not as worried about that as I might otherwise be. He did the same thing last year -- leading the Hi-A FSL in ERA as a 19-year-old with a comparitively low K-rate for a prospect. And ... he's doing all this as a 20-year-old pitching in the AL. There are definitely things in the interview I wish I had said better or differently, but calling Rick Porcello a "revelation" isn't one of them.

Jul 07, 2009 06:42 AM
rating: 0

Ken attributes Detroits 2008 bad defense to Carlos Guillen being a mess at SS. Carlos Guillen didn't play SS last year, not a single game. I think he confused him with Edgar Renteria. Renteria was the fatal mistake of 2008 and he is not mentioned at all in the piece.

I would have also liked to hear something about the corner outfielders, with Magglio not hitting, maybe Clete Thomas, Josh Anderson, and Ryan Raburn are doing something good defensively out there.

Gerald Laird was completely missing from the discussion but I would think you would have to mention the catcher when talking about improved pitching and defense.

The central theme was a great choice, improved pitching/defense has turned the Tigers in a strong team in the AL central. But the discussion confused Guillen with Renteria, didn't mention 2b, c, lf, and rf, or the bullpen and then drifted off into Hacking Mass and facial features. It started out great but turned out to be very disappointing.

Jul 07, 2009 05:09 AM
rating: 0

We want the Funck!

Jul 07, 2009 07:09 AM
rating: -1
G. Guest

This seemed a bit wandering for me. I liked a lot of the bit about the Tigers, but it felt like several small interviews. Maybe that's the fault of the host, or the fault of both during the pre-interview sessions, but it didn't flow very well for me while listening.

Jul 07, 2009 12:46 PM
rating: 0
Ken Funck

Hard for me to fault Mike at all -- he did a great job, I thought, and as I think Matt S. mentioned in his comment thread it was impressive (and somewhat flattering) how much Mike researched our writing in the competition so far.

As for pre-interview sessions: I can't speak for all the contestants, but I believe we all received the same prep, which was a brief e-mail from Mike defining a few of the things he wanted to talk about. In my case: "Let's talk about Brandon Inge: All-Star, and the Tigers a bit since you've done some work on that. And maybe a bit on TGF...found that interesting & quirky." The other contestants likely received similar prep -- and it was explained to us that this is the standard prep BP authors receive.

I know there's been a lot of discussion about whether this was a valid "topic" for this week of the competition -- but for my part, having never done anything quite like this before, I know I learned a lot from it and was glad for the experience.

Jul 07, 2009 13:59 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Hey Ken, something silly I thought about today... if steroids increase aggressiveness, and aggressive is a good quality for baseball players, then could steroids have more than just an impact on a player's body but also their mental approach? I was reading Baseball Beyond the Numbers today and they suggested also a very very minor (and maybe insignificant) correlation that pitchers that used steroids issued less walks and struck out more batters... in other words, they aggressively attacked the zone.

Just a personal musing of mine.

Jul 09, 2009 20:19 PM
rating: 0
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