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Chat: Jim Baker

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday June 30, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Jim Baker.

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Jim Baker is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Jim Baker: Good afternoon. I'd like to bring in the Reverend Billy Brisket to say the Opening Benediction. Reverend?

Rev. B. Brisket: Please don't let this here baseball writer say nothing stupid or slander anyone in this a-here chat so that he may be sued in a court of law and lose his dignity and financial toehold on reality. Amen.

Thank you, Reverend Brisket. I think we'll get an early jump here...

Mclaren203 (Chicago): Is there an explanation for Derrek Lee's red-hot performance this year?

Jim Baker: I think it's a case of a decent ballplayer having the three months of his life. I would like to find some comps on him Ė a player with a .280-something career EqA boosting that by 100 points for a season. I've got to imagine thatís a very short list. Guys like Roger Maris and Cy Seymour donít even compare.

Homer2931 (New Jersey): As a Yankee fan, I've seen many people talking about Chien Ming Wang and Cano as players with great futures in front of them. I am worried by Wang's incredibly low K rates this year and Cano's OBP. Am I justified in feeling this way?

Jim Baker: Yes and sort of. Low strikeout rates are not usually a good sign but with pitchers, you should never allot too much of your brain time thinking about their long-range futures. So few of them get through the funnel. Think about what he'll do for you and your team in the short term. Cano, and his cross-town youngster counterpart Jose Reyes, could do well to improve the patience part of their games. They can go on to have successful careers if they donít, they will just never be all they can be. As with the low strikeout totals for pitchers, the list of players who can swing at anything and be great is pretty small.

Tim (Boston): Thanks for the chat... Andruw Jones has 21 homers (as of 6/23). Assuming he continues more or less on this clip, at age 28 the odds seem to favor this being a career year and not a repeatable level of performance. But just how likely is it that he would hold on to some significant amount of this improved power? His BA and OBP this year so far are almost exactly at his career levels, and they have been quite consistent from year to year. At 259 AB, are we still in the "small sample size warning" part of the season, or is it reasonable to ask this sort of question now?

Jim Baker: The one smart thing Iíve done all year Ė aside from investing in this up-and-coming Texas energy company called ďEnronĒ -- is trade for Andruw Jones for my fantasy team. I think itís reasonable of you to ask, but I donít think itís that unreasonable that a player who has been popping 29 to 36 homers for the past five years ups and hits 46 a couple of times.

Colon City Bomber (Jax, FL): If you were to write a biography of Ben Oglivie, what would the subtitle be?

Jim Baker: "41 homers in 1980 is nothing to sneeze at"

Getting back to the Jones question, Oglivie was a guy whose norm was much lower than Jones' and he spiked to 41 and 34 in '80 and '82. We've all been waiting for Jones to really bust out a big year sometime, so this could be it -- at least in terms of homers. And there's no reason to think he won't do it again before he turns 35.

Greg (Boulder, CO): In your old mailing list columns, you sometimes mentioned baseball trivia that would make a good "prison game." What's your alltime favorite, you know, just in case the need arises?

Jim Baker: Well, it depends on the strictness of the warden. If I'm a warden, I wouldn't let anybody have a copy of Total Baseball. There's enough paper in that thing so that a guy could build a catapult from it and chuck himself over a wall. I'm sure a smart guy with plenty of time could figure out a way to make an explosive device out of it, too. No, the prisoners would have to go from memory and that would lead to disagreements and fights and shivs (fashioned from Total Baseball, too) stuck in eyeballs. Messy business.

metsRok (NYc): Has there ever been a pitcher who called his own pitches, ie pitcher puts down the signs instead of catcher?

Jim Baker: Elmer "The Human Hupmobile" Snarkus of the 1923 Reds.

No, actually, I don't know of one off the top of my head. I can't imagine Satchel Paige listening to any catcher on earth, can you? If someone knows of one, please let us know.

DrLivy (Charleston, WV): What's going to happen with Austin Kearns? I cannot for the life of me figure out that franchise. I guess I should have had a clue when they gave Eric Milton, and his 7+ ERA, all that money last winter.

Jim Baker: Man, if I'm a GM in need of an outfielder, I'm calling Porkopolis straight away. If the Reds were in the thick of the soup, I could see why they'd want to get Kearns playing time at AAA, but they're not, so why not let him get his groove back against the big fellas? And yes, in an offseason filled with more insanity than the movie The Snake Pit, the Milton deal might have been the craziest.

calcar (Boston): Will the A's be sellers or buyers at the deadline?

Jim Baker: Buyers -- if they're smart and we know that they are. I still don't think they're going to get there this year, but the AL West is the kind of division where they should be planning for 2006 right now. I can see them loading up or, at worst, standing pat, for the run next year. I stand by my prediction that they'll make .500, though.

dangor (new york): I really disagree with you about interleague play. I love it. Maybe I watch too much baseball but I get tired of watching the Mets and Braves play each other over and over again. Variety is the spice of life!!

Jim Baker: I will tolerate no dissent on this chat!!! Actually, that's OK with me. While variety is nice, it comes at a terrible price: strength of scheduling imbalances. That doesn't belong in baseball.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): Prediction - AL Rookie of the Year. I like Aaron Hill.

Jim Baker: I like Chris Young of Texas.

KoopaTroopa (Montevideo, Uruguay): Hey Jim, can you please tell me when are the White Sox coming back to earth? This Ozzie guy is getting on my nerves.

Jim Baker: Soon, Koopa, soon. The A's will take two of three this weekend. Here's the thing, though: the White Sox are on pace to win 111 games. We know they won't do that, so what constitutes "down to earth?" 100 wins? 95? I know this contradicts something I said in a column earlier this year, but they created for themselves an unscreable pooch.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): Zumsteg insists that Moyer calls his own pitches with a complex code consisting of shaking off pitches meaning different things based on what the count on the hitter is.

Jim Baker: So, Elmer Snarkus was not the only one, then.

Chris Hartjes (Toronto): Hey Jim, if you could go and work for any MLB organization at the major-league level and be able to report on what you see going on, what team would you want to work for?

Jim Baker: It would be cool to work for a team that is in transition so that you could have a hand in their rise to greatness. Going to a team like the Yankees or the Red Sox -- one that's already arrived and has countless resources -- wouldn't do much for the ego. At the same time, you wouldn't want to go to a club that can't get out of its own way, like KC, Cincy or Tampa Bay. Somewhere in between the extremes would be good.

DavidCrowe (Canada): Who is your pick for Career wins leader once Maddux & Clemens retire?

Jim Baker: I'd sure like Mark Prior to get his body on straight. If that were to happen, he'd have a good shot. How about Brandon Webb -- provided he gets traded to the Yankees at this year's deadline.

Lion (Narnia): What should the Giants do about the mess they're in?

Jim Baker: Here's a question back: is any team -- other than Colorado -- in the NL West ever truly in a "mess?" In this division, you're never that far from the top since its members seem to collapse on a rotating basis.

If SF is going to trade Jason Schmidt, make it count! Two blue chippers. Maybe three. Don't settle for the first offer that comes down the pike just to make something happen. I'd start phasing out the old guys (except for Bonds) and come back reloaded for 2006.

dempseer (Boston): What's the difference between calling your own pitches, and shaking off pitches until you get the one you like? I mean, really?

Jim Baker: Returning to an earlier question...good point, dempseer of Boston. This becomes even more pronounced when a pitcher has a limited pitch vocabulary. Another thing a pitcher can do is ignore the location the catcher calls for -- although if he does that enough, the catcher will charge the mound and have to be restrained by the batter.

ameer (new york): You're looking to win the World Series in 3 years. What roster would you rather start with: the Yankees or the Mets?

Jim Baker: I think this all comes down to David Wright, the best young player on either team. I'd still like to have Alex Rodriguez three years from now, though. Edgar Diaz? He's pretty cool. I don't know, it's probably a toss-up, given the starting pitching on both teams.

Vander has hippie hair (like okeefe's): Stupider move? Reyes leading off, or Neifi and Patterson batting 1st and 2nd?

Jim Baker: I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for every bad thing I ever said about Neifi Perez. Due to an adminstrative error between my co-owner and I, Perez ended up on our fantasy team. When Bobby Crosby went down, we sucked it up and put him in. There were weeks when he actually carried the team! Bless Neifi! Bless him truly! Just as reality caught up to him, Crosby returned. Such beautiful synchronicity.

Here's what I don't get about the Reyes thing: Wille Randolph was a smart ballplayer! How can he keep writing Reyes' name into the top slot every day? Randolph knew how to get on base and belonged at the top of very good lineups. Reyes is a number eight guy. In fact, I think it says that on his H-1 Visa: "8th Place Hitter."

I'm going to go with Reyes on this one, but I could be wrong -- or blinded by gratitude.

Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang (Bronx, NY): So, should we rent or buy?

Jim Baker: You should get a two-man tent and pitch it in Central Park.

Natan (Los Angeles): What's your reaction to Gary Sheffield going off about the possibility of being traded?

Jim Baker: Whenever a player reacts emotionally, I try to equate it with my own experiences in the workplace -- however far removed from the spotlight of MLB those may be. All of us have experienced uncertainty at work. A possible layoff, a transfer, a new boss coming in with a new set of priorities. What we often see in the press are ballplayers' reactions to those types of situations. Sheffield is known for admitting he played poorly to get traded early in his career. That's pretty reprehensible but he was younger then. This is a little different, but he does seem to be saying, "If you trade me, I won't bring my bat with me." I don't blame him for not wanting to move and, perhaps, the strategy of mouthing off about it is a good one for him.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): It's an evil plot. The unbalanced schedule makes fans long for interleague play because it breaks the monotony of intradivision games.

Jim Baker: We're jumping back to previous themes here, stay on for the ride! As much as I hate to admit it, there is something routine about the 18/19 games versus the same team thing. I know that when I'm writing the Matchups, it seems like the Reds are always playing the Cardinals. The answer is not interleague, though, it's more inter-division games. I don't know that I'd ever call for a completely balanced schedule because I think teams should play their direct rivals more than a team in another division, but a 14/8 or 14/9 breakdown would be OK with me.

chuckmotl (chicago): Is Barry Zito making a comeback? His record and ERA are bad, but his OPS is ranked 23rd out of all qualified pitchers. Can he keep this "improvement" up?

Jim Baker: It just so happens that his K:BB ratio is darn near exactly what it was two years ago when he had an ERA of 3.30. He's giving up fewer hits per inning than last year. How about this: he'll never be as good as he was in 2002, but he's probably pretty close to where he was in 2003? That's not half-bad.

Chris (London UK): Morgan Ensberg had an excellent 2003 hitting 25 homers, then in 2004 had a poor year. This year he is on fire. Is Ensberg the player we are seeing now and saw in 2003, or is he more like the player we saw in 2004?

Jim Baker: He's 29, so what that probably means is that the up seasons will stop coming in a couple of years and he'll level off at the down level. If somebody likes him, he'll hang on until he's 36 playing third and first as a reserve.

KoopaTroopa (Montevideo, Uruguay): Hi Jim, as you may remember, I asked you at the beginning of the season when (if ever) would the Yankees go the young route, and you said it wasn't a posibilitty. Well, now they are playing some young players (even if they are not performing) and dropping veterans left and right. I don't know much about the Yankees scouting efforts outside the US but wouldn't it be a good idea for them to try to get some young talent abroad? They will never have amateur picks low enough to get the talent they need, but they do have the money. Also, what is Tony Womack doing in centerfield??? He has already said he doesnīt feel comfortable there. I guess the batter's box ain't that better either.

Jim Baker: The problem with things like "scouting" and "development" is that they take "time." "Time" is not something George Steinbrenner has. He's already named a successor. He could go any day now, right? (Steinbrenner will outlive us all, I predict -- and by all, I mean everyone on this chat over the age of 30. He will someday be the world's oldest baseball owner and second-oldest man.) As for Womack -- what is he doing on the Yankees, period?

Ryan Howard (Castle): First my sister Rapunzel, and now me! Will I ever be set free? Who will rescue me, and will it happen by the trading deadline?

Jim Baker: The time to have traded Howard was before he got directly behind Jim Thome. Now other teams know the Phils are stuck and might be less likely to throw some real good talent their way for him. If someone throws a nice one their way at the deadline, they should snap it up. I'd council patience, but he's 25, so the "big future" prospect tag doesn't have much of a shelf life.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): In 1948, when Yogi was a young catcher without clue, Reynolds, Lopat and Raschi used to call the pitches from the mound with hat/belt/etc signs until they trusted him. Halborstam gets into it in "Summer of 49".

Jim Baker: Thanks for continuing the thread, Cris. See what happened? The Yankees finished second for the only time in the 1947-1953 period. Just kidding. They actually brought Berra along pretty slowly in his early 20s, splitting his time with Aaron Robinson and Gus Niarhos.

bctowns (Chicago, IL): Jim, What's your favorite story of the 2005 season so far? Story you're most looking forward to in the second half? Thanks for chatting.

Jim Baker: And thanks for submitting a great question. If the Nationals went all the way, or even made it to the Series or won the division -- that would have to be the story of the year. That's one huge if, though. A guy winning the Triple Crown -- as outdated as two of the three points on the crown may be -- is a very big story, too. Something tells me the biggest story of 2005 has not yet revealed itself.

Jim Baker: Thanks to everybody for hanging out. I had a great time. Now, we need to settle up the bar tab. Who had the 14 Shirley Temples?


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