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Chat: Zachary Levine

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday July 02, 2013 1:00 PM ET chat session with Zachary Levine.

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You've got questions. There's an excellent chance that Zach has answers.

Zachary Levine: Live from the 518, home of the 11-3 and NYP League-leading Tri-City ValleyCats, let's chat.

John (Springfield): How has Bartolo Colon done what he's done? Is his jiggling almost hypnotic to hitters?

Zachary Levine: Love that this was the first question submitted, so while I may jump around, I'm totally fine starting here. The simple answer is that he doesn't walk anybody, but as Ben and Sam on the podcast pointed out, that's not always an automatic route to success. Joe Blanton was an example. The slightly more complicated answer is that his late-career evolution has brought him overwhelmingly toward the two-seamer, which is a great pitch for him and one that routinely gets strikes.

Or maybe it is the fat. I don't know. I feel like between him and my personal favorite, the delightfully out-of-shape Hyun-Jin Ryu, we're in a decent era of fat pitchers.

Seth (SF): In your WYNTK today, you talked about the Kershaw-CarGo matchup and how Kershaw has never thrown Gonzalez a curveball. Is that a decision that Kershaw makes, that the Dodgers' catchers make, or some combination of the two?

Zachary Levine: Thanks for the plug. If you haven't read it, it's true. From our data at Brooks Baseball, Kershaw has thrown Gonzalez 109 pitches and none have been curveballs despite the fact that it is a pitch he uses on lefty hitters.

To answer your question, there's a meeting every day about two hours before the game featuring the starting pitcher, catcher and pitching coach where they go over every hitter. I'm sure it's discussed in that setting and the fingers are never put down. I'd want to do some more research on what other Dodgers lefties have done to Gonzalez to isolate it to Kershaw or the pitching coach. I'd encourage you to click on the link where it says "Matchup of the Day" In the WYNTK and then play around with different matchups.

Nathan (Kansas City): Hi Zach thanks for the chat! Should I be getting excited at all about how Mike Moustakas is stringing along multi-hit games or is this just a fluke?

Zachary Levine: I think there's been a Moustaks question in every chat I've done, so think of this more as an update and updates are always dangerous. Players don't really change that much month to month. I'm going to say fluke in that any several-game sample from any player is a fluke.

OPS by month
April: .575
May: .545
June: .664

This still isn't telling me a lot of good news.

John (CT): Why is it that it seems someone is always ready to trade Matt Garza? He's a winning,reliable starter where ever he goes.

Zachary Levine: I've never heard of him as a superb clubhouse guy if that even means anything, but I don't really think it's that. It's mostly just a small sample of teams. Tampa Bay did it because that's what Tampa Bay does, and the Cubs did it because it's that time in their franchise trajectory. I'm not really sure what happened in Minnesota, but I think they just viewed Delmon Young as more of a player than he's become.

He'll command a good package of prospects, and I would ascribe it more to circumstance on a few occasions than anything about him.

maicunni (Indiana): How much of a factor do strikeout rates play when analyzing prospects?

Zachary Levine: Huge factor. I'm not sure if you're talking about hitters or pitchers, but it's important for both. For pitchers, where you probably see it more often, it's an important sign of stuff. The ability to generate swings and misses translates much better than getting results in other ways as a prospect climbs the ranks.

teaaker (Seattle): Cesar Puello is raking in AA. How come I haven't seen him on any mid-season rankings from any prospect website? Is it the BioGen link?

Zachary Levine: I don't want to speak for our prospect guys, but I would imagine it's lack of a track record. He's still a good age for that level but has never really done this before even in his repeat year in the FSL. I've never seen the player, so it's a better question to ask at a prospect chat.

Jay (Madison): Are we at the point where we should consider Travis Wood at least an above average starting or should we expect regression to hit so hard that he will return to the land of fringe starter?

Zachary Levine: A couple of Travis Wood questions, and I'm going to declare myself a fan. I know the strikeouts aren't elite, but I think he can get enough bad contact to be above average once regression ultimately hits. You can't sustain a .221 BABIP forever even though his career mark of .266 is pretty nice.

Also, badass hitter despite being one of those Throws Left, Bats Right weirdos. That's not something to neglect completely.

Brady (In the kitchen making pancakes): I don't know what your specialty is, Zachary. What is your specialty?

Zachary Levine: That's a fair question and one that I always feel a little weird about in these chats. Unlike a lot of the people at BP, I come from a beat writing background. I was never the guy to break a lot of stories though. I can also talk fluently in statistics but am not doing a lot of the high-end research that Colin and Russell and others give you on the site. And while I always follow and recognize the importance of the minors, if I'm skipping your prospect question, you're better off asking it to our prospect people.

I am more of a generalist and hope I can hold a conversation in any of those things and bring interesting and different angles to consuming the game.

Also, as you know, I am amused by fat players and fascinated with people's left-handedness.

George (L.A.): Will Matt Kemp ever be the Matt Kemp of old? Do I just need to be patient with that shoulder? Thanks!

Zachary Levine: I don't think he ever turns into the Matt Kemp of old. He was always high strikeout, and the walk rate is coming down. That the power is gone is the biggest problem, but even if that comes back to some degree, it's still a long way to MVP status and you don't age into better outfield play.

Eric (LA): Are the Angels turning it on at the right time? Or are they already out of contention. Can Josh Hamilton sustain his recent bump in production? Thanks.

Zachary Levine: They are hardly finished. They are 9 games out, and what makes the division difficult is that they're chasing two teams. Granted it's two teams they're going to play a lot, so anything can happen, but their best shot is one of the wild cards.

I don't really envision one coming out of the Central, and while the East is good top-to-bottom that doesn't make it conducive to producing good records. There could be two WCs coming out of the west, and if not, they have to catch the Texas-Oakland loser or Baltimore. It's not impossible.

Seth (SF): I did some quick research and basic reasearch, and found that Lilly (8% vs. 3%), Capuano (,.1% vs. 0), and Ryu (9% vs. 0%) all use their curves less against CarGo than they do against other lefties in general. Very interesting

Zachary Levine: Very cool. Then I'm guessing it's an organizational philosophy not to throw them. The Lilly numbers are interesting with more of an NL track record than a guy like Ryu. I would say the pitching coach (or maybe even a front office analyst - I don't know the Dodgers' organizational structure that well) has a lot to do with it if you're finding team-wide trends like that.

Jeff (Bay Area): Is Everth Cabrera officially an above average shortstop now?

Zachary Levine: Not official until it's notarized, but I would be comfortable putting him there, especially if you consider how much Petco suppresses offense. On a related note, I'm sad that my dreams of Juan Pierre winning another stolen base title as an old man appear to be dashed.

(http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=20481)

Seth (SF): Speaking of the Dodgers, how do you see the NL West playing out the rest of the season?

Zachary Levine: Picked the Dodgers on 4/1, picking the Dodgers on 7/2. I think it's a one-playoff-spot division. Giants second, Arizona third or vice versa.

It's funny that with all the talk of the Astros move leading to a lopsided division that could get three playoff berths, it's likelier to happen in the division that they left than the one in which they arrived.

Jay (Madison): The starting pitching is perceived to be the O's weakness. With Chen coming back this week, he will join Tillman and Gonzalez to form a solid, yet unspectacular three. Are the rumored likes of Feldman, Nolasco etc really much better than Hammel, Britton, Gausman, etc that they have? If not, how should they improve?

Zachary Levine: I don't think it's enough of an improvement to enter a bidding war with prospects on the line, and I agree with you on the unspectacular part. We thought going into the season that the best part of the Orioles' pitching was quantity and it appears to have turned out that way. I might even go the other way and get rid of a pitcher since they're so interchangable in terms of what they might bring you. (I was more confident of this before the Bundy injury, I will admit, as there will be less on the way immediately than once thought.)

If I'm going to upgrade and use an existing starting pitcher rather than prospects, I'd do it at 2B or get another "big bat" to DH. DH seems like a wasted spot sometimes on that team.

Jim (Seattle): Do you see Dustin Ackley as a quality MLB outfielder in the future? Even if he can field the position, will he ever hit enough?

Zachary Levine: Same thing as Jesus Montero. When you're not hitting enough for the difficult position you actually are playing, you're not hitting nearly enough for an easier position that requires more bat to provide the same value.

I never liked when teams talked about moving their struggling guys down the defensive spectrum to add versatility. That's just making it more difficult for the bat to carry the position.

Free Boosie (ATL): How come Goofy can talk and walk and live on his own but Pluto is someone's pet and can't talk or live on his own? Both are dogs.

Zachary Levine: So it looks like the Orioles in the last hour or so, per reports, have indeed traded from their quantity of starting pitching. Reports have them getting Scott Feldman as part of a deal sending Jake Arrietta and Pedro Strop to the Cubs. I think it's somewhat of an upgrade but I still think their lineup offers places for more predictable improvements.

Oh, and Free Boosie indeed.

Sandy Alderson (Not Shea Stadium): I'm proud of the Beltran/Wheeler trade. Wish I had another rabbit in the hat, but I don't think I have a marketable commodity to deal for a piece like that. Is there anybody I can flip at the deadline? Should I deal Parnell now?

Zachary Levine: You absolutely don't have anybody for a deal like that. And yes, the Mets should trade Parnell. LaTroy Hawkins for a lottery ticket too.

Mikey (NY): Given what we're reading about how bad attendance and ratings have been, how bad would ratings be if we had THIS set of playoff teams in there if the playoffs started today? Thinking about teams like Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cincinnati, Cleveland going against the NFL etc.

Zachary Levine: Playoffs now: Boston, Cleveland, Texas, Oakland/Baltimore. Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Arizona, StL/Cincinnati. No 2012 WS participants, no preseason favorite (WAS), no New York, no SoCal.

It's hardly the set of teams Fox (and by proxy, MLB) would like to see. My guess, though, is that the ratings weren't going to be all that stellar no matter what. Football is consistently huge, and baseball is coming off a disappointing number despite a recent champion and triple crown winner last year. Ratings might just be what they are now in a sport that doesn't do big events all that big, but no, this doesn't help.

Guancous (Silver Spring, MD): Thoughts on the Feldman/Arrieta trade?

Zachary Levine: First thought: I spelled Jake Arrieta wrong in my last answer about the deal. Still want hitting for Baltimore. Like it for the Cubs going younger and less predictable. With where they are as a team now and where their high-volatility assets lie, it's the right move to make. They have much more to do, but I really like what Chicago is building. They will have a very good end of the decade in Rosemont.

tullythomas ((Balt Memial Stadium Bleachers)): HOF-types Maddux, Glavine, Pedro, RJohnson and a few others all struggled in their first few major league seasons. How aberrant is to see the immediate success of recent young pitchers (such as Harvey, SMiller, and Fernandez this year and perhaps Kershaw, Lincecum, Felix, C.Sale and Straus in previous years)? Is it that "stuff" predominates, or the guys pick up sequencing earlier (whether on own or with team's "coaching")?

Zachary Levine: Very good point about stuff dominating this era of high strikeout rates. That said, we're looking at a snapshot. Dwight Gooden was really good when he came up, you just don't mention him because we have the hindsight now not to include him in the HOF crop. There's a chance that at Luke Hochevar's induction, we'll say that he struggled early in his career too.

(Snark aside, I think it's probably what you said about pitchers coming up now with such good stuff.)

Kirk Gibson (AZ): Zachary, how do you think the AZ outfield will shake out when Adam Eaton returns? Parra has done a great job. Eaton has seems a perfect fit for my "hard nosed" style of baseball. But we also have Cody Ross, Jason Kubel, and AJ Pollock. Something has to give, right?

Zachary Levine: Oh man, something definitely has to give. The easy answer would have been to trade Kubel because it's a final guaranteed year, but you'd be selling low on him. He's had a bad year. This was why I called Ross my least favorite move of the offseason. Not because he's a bad player, but because it's three years at high price and crippling to the state of the outfield. They traded Justin Upton after that and now are in a position where they're putting something useful on the bench.

Trade Parra at peak value? I'm not sure I would do it, but I'd always listen.

Ben (California): Thanks for chatting. On the topic of fat pitchers, Kevin Goldstein never made good on his offer to create his all-time "Team Fat." Care to take up the challenge?

Zachary Levine: A simple Google search will show that I've been beaten to it many times over. (Also, RIP Kevin.)

Chase (NYC): By the end of this month will Nick Castellanos be playing LF in Detroit or 3B on someone else's major league roster?

Zachary Levine: I find still with the Tigers organization much more likely, whether or not he'll be in the majors any time soon, I am not sure.

Roger (Cincinnati): What do you make of Mike Leake's performance thus far? I've kinda been waiting for him to blow up but he seems to be holding strong. Thanks Zach!

Zachary Levine: He's not this, but he came up awfully fast, and if there were a few years of learning on the job, I wouldn't begrudge him that. Don't walk people and there's always a chance good things can happen. One walk every five innings for Leake, best in his career, and if you're ever going to live as a low strikeout pitcher, that has to be part of the arrangement.

Andy (SF): What do you think the Yankees can/will do this season to boost attendance and TV viewing? Drop ticket prices, more promos, trade for talent?

Zachary Levine: Dropping ticket prices is the answer to the first part, although that's not a *this season* thing, that's a next season thing. If I were the Yankees, I wouldn't be parting with what prospects I have. You've seen the dangers of having little high minors talent when injuries happen, so I wouldn't go chasing 2013 talent just to have the chance to boost attendance.

Larry (Kansas City): How fast, and how far do Jose Iglesias' stats fall? Hitting out of this world.

Zachary Levine: Fast, given that he doesn't have a lot of plate appearances to buoy any rate stats, but not that far given that he may not get all that many more if the hits start falling. He hasn't beaten BABIP.

John Mozeliak (Embarassment of Riches): I have too much talent on this team. What should I do with my rotation for the future (2014+)? Wainwright, Miller, Lynn, Wacha, Martinez??? Is Westbrook a casualty?

Zachary Levine: You can keep Westbrook one more year (his mutual option year) and then let him go. The difference between his 2014 mutual option and buyout is $8.5M next year and if he declines his end of the $9.5M option, you're totally fine with that. That's an amazing list from the POV of two years ago considering there's no Carpenter or Garcia on it.

Matt (St. Paul): Not that he's setting the world on fire, but do you see Dozier keeping up with his performance so far?

Zachary Levine: Sure, I could see his keeping up this clip, but I don't find it to be that much get excited about.

Joe (San Fran): What do my Giants need to do to get back into contention? Our pitching is bleeding pretty badly but I don't think Ricky Nolasco is going to solve our problems. Thanks for the chat!

Zachary Levine: I've been baffled by this team all year, and the problem as I've said before is that they're in need of multiple upgrades. While I still expect Cain to be fine, Vogelsong isn't trust-worthy to me right now when healthy, Lincecum isn't the same, Zito is Zito and Kickham/assorted SP6 doesn't seem to be the answer.

They clearly need something in the rotation, but chasing 2013 too hard sets them up for some potential problems down the road given the lengths they went to in order to keep the band together and a farm system that's not regarded as wonderful.

BobcatBaseball (Athens, OH): Currently applying to short-season teams in NY for internships. Between Auburn, Batavia, Jamestown, Tri-City, and Hudson Valley which one is best?

Zachary Levine: I know Tri-City really well having covered the Astros and now living within minutes of that ballpark and can tell you it's a tremendous organization from the top down. I don't know much about the rest but may be able to tell you more after a little NYP League trip I have coming up.

Kevin (STL): Has Ervin Santana really turned a corner this year?

Zachary Levine: There are definitely some real improvements there, and I would say he's probably set himself up for a nice payday. Some of it is just that he had an absurd home run total last year that he was never going to equal in Kansas City or really anywhere. He's always been homerprone, but last year's total set him up for improvement no matter what.

JT (Michigan): Last I checked, Moustakas was over 20% LD during this recent hot streak. That's meaningful, right?

Zachary Levine: Line drive rate is definitely a meaningful stat, but I'd just like to see it longer.

RaysFan (Durham): How concerned are you about Matt Moore's peripherals. The results are there, but the walks and the reduced speed don't bode well for the future. What are your expectations for him moving forward (not just this season but beyond)?

Zachary Levine: No, I'd have some concern over that and some of the inconsistency where he mixes in a few terrible starts from time to time. The walk rate is the biggest red flag because if he can't trust himself in the strike zone at lower velocity, he's done.

jacob turner (hawaii): am i legit? can i pull a jose fernandez streak if im lucky?

Zachary Levine: I think that's two different questions. I think you've already had your lucky streak. I have adjusted my expectations a tick upward since he was sent down to start the year, but this was his streak. It doesn't get better than this.

Zachary Levine: Thanks very much for chatting, and thanks to Brooks Baseball, Baseball-Reference and our own statistics people for the numbers used within. Enjoy the All-Star Game, the trade deadline and everything else July brings. Hope to do this again next month. -Z


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