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Chat: James Click

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday August 22, 2005 3:00 PM ET chat session with James Click.

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James Click is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

James Click: It looks like the room is starting to fill up, so let's get things going.

maxexpos (Montreal): Part of the moneyball philosophy is that bunting is a waste of an out, and that playing small ball is bad. Now I love Moneyball which is why I subscripe to this site, but if you were to play for one run every inning, minimum 85% (probably more) of the time, wouldn't nine runs be enough to win?

James Click: There are a lot of issues wrapped up your question. The first is the idea that if a team is playing for one run, they’ll score that one run all the time. Earl Weaver said “If you play for one run, that’s all you’re gonna get,” but even that statement – true as it may be – assumes that teams will score that one run. The problem is, teams score 0 runs in an inning nearly 72% of the time. Let’s say that they play for one run and that goes down to 60% (a huge drop), that’s still only 3.6 R/G.

The second question involves intent. It’s the same idea that can cloud analysis of clutch hitting because we change the definition of success: did the batter mean to hit that sac fly or was he trying to get on base?

We just don't know how the odds of a team scoring just one run would change if we knew they were all actively playing for that one run. We might be able to determine it based on obvious one-run situations, but much of the time, even playing for one run means you get nothing.

We Miss our Expos (Montreal): Dear James, In a recent Crooked Numbers, you talked about comparing the numbers of people who DH and play the field. What about those who switch positions in the field. Like Brad Wilkerson who keeps going back and forth between OF and 1B. Or A-Rod SS to 3B or even OF/P Brooks Kieshnick?

James Click: That study grouped all players by the position at which they had the post PAs, so Wilkerson would be considered a CF and his performance while playing center would be compared to his performance playing all other positions. Rather than simply seeing if players hit better while DHing, it was more about if players hit better in their normal defensive positions. When players split their time almost evenly between two or more positions, the study can break down a bit because the player may be just as comfortable at both positions. To answer your question, I don't know how utility players or players with very even position splits did compared to the rest, but it's an interesting question that I'll try to look into in a future column.

KJohnson (Fort Collins, CO): Has anyone studied the propensity of some batters to reach base by error more or less often than others? I looked at how often players on the 16 and under team I coach reached base by error over a full season. Though not a huge sample, I found a strong correlation between hitters who hit the ball hardest and run fastest reaching base by error more often than other hitters. The tennis concept of creating "forced errors" comes to mind. Has such a study been conducted for major league hitters? If so, was any such correlation found? And if so, has there been any attempt to value an "adjusted" on base or slugging percentage?

James Click: There was my article last year plus two earlier pieces by Keith Woolner that found at best a weak correlation at the major league level. Plus, you’ve got the problem that official scorers at the major league level seem as averse to calling a play an error as Tara Reid does of showing the slightest flash of class or restraint, not that I’m complaining.

It’s important to note that some of the statistical research we do here at BP may not apply to 16 and under teams. We’re dealing with the best players in the world and when we reach conclusions like “pitchers don’t have as much control over balls in play as we think they do” and “few players show any propensity to reach base via errors more than others”, it’s as much to do with the fact that the range of skills at the major league level is much, much smaller than at your local high school or community college. I would not be at all surprised if there was a stronger correlation at lower levels where the talent level of the hitters is vastly more disparate.

Peter (Long Valley): I'm terrified of planes...has there ever been a baseball player who never made it to the majors based soley on his refusal to fly?

James Click: This is not my area of expertise, so Steve Goldman will pinch hit this question:

"No, or at least none of which I've heard, but there have been a number of
major league players who were reluctant to fly. The most famous was former
MVP Jackie Jensen of the Red Sox, who retired early because he hated flying
so. He staged an abortive comeback, then retired for good. Gordon "Babe"
Phelps, who was one of the best hitting catchers you've ever heard of,
refused to fly. He was called "The Blimp" because he was a big guy. After
the flying thing, he was called "The Grounded Blimp."

I believe the Yankees had a few players that refused to fly after some close
calls in 1947, but no one was forced to quit or anything."

He's here all week, people. And tip your servers.

Kelly (Kalamazoo): In the historically bad NL West, even a team as miserable as the Giants could sneak into the playoffs, if they can put together a strong September. Not likely, I know, but with the Dodgers, DBacks and Giants all theoretically in contention, due to the inability of the Padres to play above .500, it's possible. Can you see any of the Padres challengers "rising" to the occasion?

James Click: If I'm not mistaken, the Rockies have been the best team in that division over the last month or two which tells us about all we need to know.

If the Dodgers entire roster hadn't tripped over itself trying to get onto the DL first, they'd probably be running away with the division. If they can get a few healthy bodies back -- not particularly likely -- they could chase the Padres down. But with five games to make up (and they're losing the Marlins as we speak), it's not likely to happen.

The real story of this division is the injuries. It's unbelievable how many days that division has lost to the DL. If David Halberstam can whip up books on the great divisional races in the past, Will Carroll should be able to fill a thome about the lost season that is the NL West.

DrLivy (Charleston (WV)): James, The Cardinals, as of Sunday morning, have played .629 baseball since the All Star break. All that without Rolen, Walker, Sanders, Molina, and largely with Edmonds having a slightly down year, and Eckstein going in the tank. They've done this with So Taguchi, Abraham Nunez, John Mabry, J-Rod, and Hector Luna! Is the pitching just that good, or does Tony LaRussa deserve manager of the year?

James Click: Sticking with the NL West and injuries theme for another one... It’s amazing what getting to play the NL West 12 times since the break will do for you, huh? There are two things going on. First, the Cardinals’ offense hasn’t missed a beat which is a tribute to Walt Jocketty’s ability to find spare parts in case things like this happen. Second, the pitching has been that good. Whether it’s the level of competition or actual talent, the Cards’ staff is allowing fewer than 4 R/G and it’s tough to lose when you get that pitching and Albert Pujols.

As for LaRussa, evaluating managers is something we’re working on, but as of now, we don’t have a good way to objectively credit managers with a certain percentage of a team’s performance. Given the Nationals’ recent dropoff, it’s hard to find another candidate besides LaRussa. Whatever team runs off a hot September will likely net their skipper the hardware.

endries (syracuse): James - Can anyone please explain what happened on the Zack Greinke PECOTA projection relative to his current year performance? I bought the forecast hook, line, and stinker. His collapse rate was only .8%! Are we witnessing the worst miss in PECOTA history. The PECOTA 50th percentile had him pegged with a VORP of 27.1. The PECOTA 10th percentile had him with a VORP of 13.2. At present, his VORP is -6.1!!!!

James Click: You mean other than because resident BP Royals fan Rany Jazayerli hacked into the system to change his PECOTA projections?

People like Greinke are the players that a system like PECOTA is going to have the most trouble with. Nate Silver can explain this much better than I can, but when you’re looking for comparable pitchers to a 20 year old performing well in the major leagues, you’re not going to find many, so his projection is going to be made with less data at hand than nearly all players.

If you’re looking for Greinke-specific issues, he’s a soft tossing right hander that gets applause for his mental game more than his physical. He’s gotten by so far on a low walk rate, low strikeout rate, and low BABIP. This year the Royals’ defense has let him down, allowing a BABIP closer to .350 than .250 and it’s showing up in his ERA. From all accounts, Greinke’s a smart kid, but he’s going to have to make some adjustments to the league because the league is adjusting to him. He should still be one of the better pitchers in the league down the road, but learning to pitch to major league hitters is a long process for all but a select few.

Bobby Cox (Atlanta): Ehem, ehem... Excuse me, Mr. Click - with apologies to Mr. Larussa for the fine job he's done managing his core to a comfortable lead, the job I've done with my teeny-boppers deserves a bit of kudos. I, not Tony, am your Manager of the Year. No?

James Click: Ah, Mr. Cox, glad you stop by. Yes, excellent work you've done there in Atlanta and you're right, you deserve a lot of kudos for your work. However, if the Cardinals' injuries got as much press as the Braves' rookies, you'd likely find a great deal more competition for the award. You're lucky that, with managers, the truth about their abilities is so hard to discern that the perception and storylines become the truth.

Steve (Manalapan): What’s your take on Finley’s recent complaints about being booed at home? Yes, he hustles, but don’t fans have a right to boo poor play? I’m a Yankee fan, and when I boo Womack, it’s not because I dislike Womack, but because I dislike Torre playing Womack. Since I don’t have Joe’s email address, this is the best way I know how to communicate with him.

James Click: You have a right to do whatever the rules of the ballpark allow; they’re usually clearly written on the back of your ticket in 2-point font. I’m sure Finley’s just frustrated with his poor performance this year and you can’t blame him for not wanting to get booed, but the fact of the matter is that he hasn’t justified his contract and many fans will see that as a reason to boo a player. I make a rule not to boo my own players when I’m at the ballpark, but not everybody’s as nice as I am. Umpires, managers, Roger Clemens, and the mascot, however, are all fair game.

bbowden (georgia): Is there any justification for Bobby Cox leaving Double-A closer Joey Devine in for two innings in his major league debut so he can blow it for the big club his first time out. I say you let call-ups get a small tast of success and build on it. Where does Devine go from here?

James Click: Quite a few Braves questions today...

The Braves have, for quite some time and without the press that the Angels get, smartly assembled their bullpen from spare parts, castoffs, and guys that they ran into on hunting trips in the offseason. When you do that, you’re going to save a lot of money, but you’re also going to end up in situations where not enough guys pan out and you’re forced to make some changes (see Farnsworth, Kyle).

The Braves haven’t been shy about the fact that they were going to bring Devine up quickly, but two months from draft to debut is still very quick. He looked great in the minors – 35 K in 25.0 IP, though his walks are high and his ERA deceptively low because of a lot of unearned runs – and in the 12th inning the other night. As for leaving him in, blame Mike Hampton. His short outing the night before stressed the pen and an extra inning game the next day was the last thing the Bravos needed. I imagine Cox would have liked to coddle Devine a bit, but they’re chasing a division title and at that point, it was either Devine or see if Rafael Furcal knows how to pitch.

They’ve already bought his contract so there’s little incentive to send him down; besides, he’s probably better than Danny Kolb right now and should be able to hold his own in the majors right now. The rapid ascent of college closers is only the newest unappreciated talent base to be turned into respectable bullpen arms and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue to be abused by the smarter teams in the league.

Peter Bean (Washington, D.C.): The Boston Globe reported a rumor that Joe Sheehan used two No-Doz to stay up late enough to meet his deadline for yesterday’s Prospectus Today. Can you comment on the truth of that rumor, and what kind of suspension can we expect? One week of no columns, without pay? Or two? Yep, pretty ridiculous, kind of like all this insane rumor-mongering about steroids. Are you as sick of it as some of us are? And what, briefly, do you hope to see emerge as an MLB policy on all this steroid business?

James Click: I cannot say this any more clearly than this: Joe Sheehan has never used No-Doz.

If you're not sick of the steroid coverage in the mainstream media, you haven't been paying attention. Ideally, MLB implements a useful and effective testing program -- assuming one exists -- and points to it rather than the players. Then we all ride out the storm until people being to have some faith in said testing program. More likely, the testing continues, improves, and eventually we're the NFL: everyone uses, a few people are publicly caught and bring their Sudafed to their press conference, and we all go about our business.

Armchair RHP (New York,NY): Hi James, Mike Jacobs, prospect for NY Mets is a very good offensive player but his defence is not that good. With Mike Piazza on DL Jacobs was called up (already hit a 3 run homer) does he have a future with the Mets THIS year or NEXT year? Some say he is a bad defender, how bad is he?

James Click: It's nice to see Jacobs has recovered from the surgery that cost him most of last year, but he's unlikely to remain at catcher. Only the abismal defensive standards set by Mike Piazza are allowing Mets faithful convince themselves that he's an option behind the plate. He's not a good enough hitter to last at first, so it's tough to see where he fits in over the long haul.

anthony (long island): I understand its tough to objectively evaluate managers. How about pitching coaches? I know it wouldn't be perfect, but don't you think you could get a general picture of who the better ones are compared to others. Has anyone tried this?

James Click: There has been work done on this in the past, but it's very difficult to distinguish between the talent of the player and the skill of the coach. It's certainly more ripe for some good solid analysis than managers and we may have to be content with that for now, getting to managers when we have some better data. The problem is that when people look at this kind of thing, they usually just want to know if Leo Mazzone is a genius and they're not checking any other coaches.

Guillermo (Montevideo, Uruguay): James, can you tell me what happens ina ballgame in between innings? I´ve always wondered. (yeah, I´ve never been to one, big deal, I´m the über-stathead).

James Click: That fans sit around, mouths agape, watching whatever stupid game the stadium puts on the scoreboard and then proclaiming their superiority to their friends for guessing correctly. Look, computer generated dots moving around a circle! Oooh, a baseball version of three card monte! That’s right, I knew it was under the middle hat. I’m smarter than you.

Seriously, the real answer is that we have to wait for the players to change sides and the pitcher to warm up. The outfielders throw to warm up their arms, the first baseman tosses weak grounders to the infielders so that everyone can make sure no one has drilled a hole in their gloves. The pitcher warming up may be the only part of the act that makes sense.

Santa C. (Laplandia, Sweden): Is there such thing as leaving players in minors for too long? Aside from David Wright and Mr. Reyes most Mets players that come up are usually 25-26 years old? Have they been cooking in in minors for too long?

James Click: This is one of those great questions that requires an immense amount of data and a lot of time to answer. I'm not aware of anyone answering it yet, but I'm sure quite a few teams are working on it. There's a lot of work to be done to take some of the randomness out of player development patterns and assessing the results of playing at different levels for different amounts of time is one of them. If a team could figure out the best way to move players through the system to increase their chances for development and success -- the Twins have been very good at this lately -- they would have a significant leg up on the rest of the league.

Handol (Fort Lee): How come "experts" in the mainstream media couldn't foresee the collapse of the O's and Nationals, but parady sites like thebrushback were calling it months ago?

James Click: It might not be that they can't foresee them, but that they're reporting the story of the moment and getting people to read their columns and watch their shows. It does nobody any good to ignore the feel good story of the Nationals moving to DC and playing well just because they're not likely to keep it up. We encourage restraint when looking at teams like that, but we still spend good bandwidth talking about them.

PJ (Parsippany): Seriously, what is the fascination with the Lo Duca trade from last year? Anytime I flip on a game involving EITHER the Dodgers or Marlins, one of the announcers mentions it. Does Lo Duca have the “face” of a great baseball player or something?

James Click: Much of the time, I think that people focus too much on press that we feel counters our viewpoints, so those of us at BP who feel that Paul DePodesta is a smart guy and knows what he’s doing will focus too much on stories bad-mouthing him for what he’s done so far with the Dodgers. This is one of those times when this isn’t the case. The stubborn refusal of the Dodger press core to compliment DePodesta for anything or to let this trade go is one of the more interesting subplots to watch for the next few seasons.

I would think that Lo Duca holds a special place in the hearts of the media because he wasn’t a prospect; he was a guy who scraped his way to the majors before exploding for .320/.374/.543 in 2001. More likely, he was the kind of player who was nice to the media after the game, granted interviews, had good quotes, and made the press feel like part of the team. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I wonder how much of our perception of players is driven by that kind of situation.

Avi Zeev (Kfar Darom, Israel): James, MLB is planning to make changes to draft, do you think that the changes will allow teams to better evaluate players so teams will have fewer first round busts?

James Click: The only change that I hear floated around is the idea of being able to trade draft picks. This may increase the chances that a first round pick pans out because teams that know what they're doing in the draft will be encouraged to obtain those picks while teams that have a bad history with them will trade them away. But as Rany Jazayerli's 50-part draft series showed us, predicting the future is a messy business.

Eagles (Phily): What about Santa?

James Click: No, you can't boo Santa. But all ex-Yankees are fair game.

Peter Bean (Washington, D.C.): Congratulations! MLB has inexplicably allowed you to buy the Nationals! What are your top 3-4 priorities. I'll give you a head start: #1 Don't re-hire Jim Bowden. What next?

James Click: Convince the new ownership group to increase the payroll. Winning on a shoestring budget makes for good books and stories, but the Red Sox have shown that if you know what you're doing AND you have tons of cash, it gets a lot easier to win. GMs have to be good at acquiring talent, but they also have to be good at getting the owners to open their pockets a little wider when the time is right. It's debatable what's the more important skill.

anthony (long island): I'm trying to figure out the exact meaning of SNLVA. It seems to be the best pitcher stat out there. Am I to take it that a pitcher with a .1 SNLVA would make a .500 team a .600 team?

James Click: All the SNLVA-brand stats are done in wins. Thus, a SNLVAR (Support-Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Above Replacement) of .1 means a pitcher was worth .1 wins more than a replacement level pitcher.

Velez (Miami): Will the Whitesox coming back down to earth around the same time that Podnesick got hurt further people overvaluing him? Obviously, I know the answer to this, but I would like you to comment on it regardless.

James Click: Probably. People love to evaluate players by a team's record with and without the player in question. It's a terrible method of evaulation and if any of that perceived value rubs off on the players, Kenny Williams would be wise to move him as fast as possible.

Bobby Mugaby (Zimbabwe): So many teams are competatives without big money, why should money be the factor in Nationals case, or any other team?

James Click: It's not that it's a factor in their particular case, but that money makes it much easier to compete. When you've got the cash reserves, you can make a lot more mistakes and correct for them more easily. When you're a small-market team, a lot of times you get one or two shots at locking up undervalued players and seeing if they pan out. Even if you're 25% better at it than the rest of the league, a big market team can just take more chances than you can.

Also, I think you might have misspelled your name there, Mr. President.

Liam (Toms River): I calculate the Yankee bench, and back end of the bullpen at -40.2 VORP, including May, Redding, Henn, Brown, and Wright, it becomes -79 (almost 8 wins). That has to be the worst in baseball over the past few years

James Click: As Joe Sheehan says, $200 million should buy more than this. I'm not sure if it's the worst in baseball over the past few years, but the Yankees' refusal to understand the likely attrition rate of their preferred style of player has led them to neglect their bench for quite some time. It may well be their downfall this year.

shall14 (Boston): Has Gary Huckaby been struck by an errant chair thrown by Billy Beane yet?

James Click: No, but one from Frank Francisco just missed.

Nick Punto (MN): Will I ever develop into a decent major leaguer, or am I destined to mediocrity for the rest of my career?

James Click: Given the Twins’ recent record of ignoring the fact that they actually have to put their middle infielders in the batting order, I’d say you have as good a chance at keeping a job there as anywhere. But if you suddenly develop some of the power that you need to turn into a decent major leaguer, well, it’s rumored that they’re testing for that now.

rhanscom1 (Annandale, VA): I have Hafner @$4, Morneau @$1, Baldelli @$1, and Delmon Young @$3 for next year among other keepers. I expect to keep two or three and sell one or two of those. Which do I keep, and if I can't get much for them, which do I leave on the table. I expect to keep Young and Hafner. My question really is evaluation of Morneau and Baldelli for next year.

James Click: Morneau is four years younger than Hafner and while his average is down a little this year, he should be significantly more valuable than Hafner very soon. Hafner’s value is likely as high as it’s going to get, so I’d move him and Baldelli and keep Morneau and Young.

Slim Cognito (Aquatos): Hi, James? When Randy Johnson goes to Hall of Fame, what cap will he wear?

James Click: I'm a big fan of Bill Simmons' hat with the dollar sign idea.

Matt Stairs (KC): Please, someone trade for me!

James Click: Well, you’ve cleared waivers, so it certainly could happen, but given Baird’s record for obtaining useful pieces when swapping out deadline fodder, don’t be insulted if you get traded for a sack of balls and a few extra gloves.

Also know that I'll always remember you for the fan who yelled from the Yankee bleachers: "Hey Matt, mix in a salad!"

Steve (Manalapan): Speaking of Roger Clemens....cough cough, wink wink, nudge nudge.

James Click: Say no more, say no more.

Please, we've got enough ridiculous McCarthyists running around.

Arathorn (Chicago area): Since the White Sox wins over their predicted W3 percent has climbed steadily over the season, is it an indication that something is inherently missing from W3? Might that something be an additive differential for speed on the bases that leads to more runs scored than models might suggest, as speed will encourage hits to clump, leading to more runs than a random distribution?

James Click: We're constantly trying to improve our predictive models and W3 has been examined from the aspect of superior bullpens before with little result. Also, Sean Ehrlich had an interesting column on whether small-ball teams score more consistently than higher scoring teams. (They don't). It's something to look into, but we may have to be content to say that W3 is as close as the numbers can get us and after that, it's all luck.

brianjamesoak (Alameda, CA): You got me. I know you must have heard me shouting obnoxciously about how I won dot racing at an A's game. But, come on, man. We play for a buck.

James Click: Here's a hint: it's always whatever dot is losing at the end of the third lap.

Girlyman (Whereelsebut, CA): James, when you watch a ball game on TV between two teams you do not really care about, which team do you root for. The one with smaller payroll or one that has younger picher on the mound, what is your cretaria to choose a team to root for?

James Click: I have no idea, but I do usually find myself rooting for one team more than another. Usually I find that it's some complicated version of how that team's victory will help my team in the standings, but I really have no idea. I can say that I am rooting for the Dodgers right now, but that's only because I don't like the Giants.

Allan Baird (KC): Should I be packing my things? And maybe Royals fans Rany/Rob/ and Bill could replace me in a triumvirate

James Click: Maybe, but your brother Allard should be even more worried.

The multiple-GM model in Baltimore is an interesting case to watch, but it's tough to say whether three guys could run a team as well as one. At least the Royals would have the best in house dermatologist.

Mark Belhorn (DL): It looks like I am going to be released, should a team pick me up, hoping I revert to 2004 form?

James Click: Your 2002 and 2004 seasons should keep you employed for a few more years, but your future is likely in a backup or platoon role. You’ve never shown the ability to hit for average – something that, while overrated, is still a handy skill to have – and your power comes and goes. The best we can say about you is that you’re not as bad as people think you are, but undervalued doesn’t mean good.

Stay at home husband (Whereelsebut, CA): I am surpriced by how good the Brewers are this season, how do you think they'll play next year? What are the chances that they will be in playoff run next year?

James Click: I picked the Brewers to finish third this year in BP's preseason predictions. They've got a lot of major league-ready talent in the high minors and should be set at several positions for the next few years. They've got two top quality pitchers, good young hitters... A few pieces in the right places and they could be in contention this time next year.

James Click: Thanks for all the questions, everybody. Enjoy your pennant races and be sure to stop by for Joe Sheehan's chat later this week.


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