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Chat: Jonah Keri

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday September 26, 2005 8:00 PM ET chat session with Jonah Keri.

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Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Jonah Keri: Greetings from Seattle, where new residents are taught to lie about the weather (it's never sunny in the summer, nope), its natural beauty (this place is a hole) and its people (bunch of rude n'er-do-wells). Actually it's 70 degrees, I can see the lake if I crane out my window, and we have King Felix. Don't tell the Chamber of Commerce I told you that. Let's chat...

Kubilai Chan (Mongolia): Do you think that Mike Jacobs and Anderson Hernandez/Jeff Keppinger will be everyday 1st and 2nd basemen for the Mets next year? Will the team's entire infield be made up of players of 25 years of age and younger?

Jonah Keri: 0% chance of that happening. For one, Keppinger lacks the secondary skills to be an above-average major leaguer, given his track record. For another, the Mets would do well to kiss Piazza goodbye and put Jacobs behind the plate with Castro, giving them a cheap, potent offensive combo. This being New York, the Mets have the resources to go out and get an elite 1B on the open market. Would the Phillies trade within their own division if it meant dealing Thome to make room for Ryan Howard? That's a deal the Mets should consider if Thome's healthy the Phils are willing to pick up a big chunk of his contract.

Steve (Manalapan): The final weekend matchups have me drooling. Why doesn't baseball turn the entire month of September into exclusively intra-division games?

Jonah Keri: Well for one thing, some of the best matchups revolve around the Wild Card. Would you rather see Astros-Phillies this weekend for instance, or Astros-Cubs? This does promise to be an exciting week of baseball, but the pennant races have changed in shape, and it would now be impossible for MLB to anticipate all the possible marquee matchups in the last month of any given season.

Elaine (San Diego): Did the Giants season basically end a week ago when Alou failed to pinch hit Bonds with the bases loaded in the 7th against the Padres? Ok, so it was the dreaded “day game after a night game”, but, this was against the first place Padres! Isn’t a “slightly tired” Bonds still better than any other option?

Jonah Keri: The season ended when Bonds went down to injury, period. The idea of surrounding Bonds with "win-now" veteran players made sense in theory, given their star wouldn't have much left in the tank. But Mike Matheny wasn't the answer. Expecting another year like 2004 for J.T. Snow wasn't the answer. Deivi Cruz, Marquis Grissom etc.--these aren't the guys who are going to help any club toward a pennant. When Bonds went down, all the failures of Giants management to draft and develop good hitters (not to mention sign 'em, at least in the last couple years) came back to bite them.

Longer-term, this team does do a very good job of bringing pitchers up through their system, and they've made some astute trades in the past. It'll be interesting to see how the Giants handle a world without Bonds, or nearly without Bonds, assuming there's no regime change in SF.

Ross (England): Should Dontrelle Willis’ ability to hit help him in the Cy Young race? Joe Morgan recently said it shouldn’t. Then again, the week before, he said it should.

Jonah Keri: It should help if you want to discuss Willis for the MVP race because it's part of the value he brings to a club. If you haven't already, check out Caleb Peiffer's article on the Marlins using Willis as a #7 and #8 hitter recently. I wonder if the next frontier for elite-hitting starting pitchers is to have them become fully-minted regular pinch-hitters and viable options. In extra-inning affairs, it could even be worth a risk to put say a Jason Marquis out in right field if your other options are lacking.

Speaking of Marquis...

TLR (St. Louis and California): So how do I set up my pitching staff for the playoffs? I have seven relievers with ERAs under 4; I have room for six. Which one do I leave off the roster? Or do I dump a starter, and if so, which one? Remember, the Cardinals faithful will lynch me if I don't use Morris, plus I'm kinda intrigued by the gray in his beard.

Jonah Keri: If you'll indulge a bit of promotion, the work done this year by Baseball Prospectus' tech staff, from Keith Woolner to James Click, Ben Murphy and beyond, has been amazing. The new sortable stats allows lesser minds like myself to look smart in answering questions like these, with just a few clicks.

Anyway, Tony, if you had the guts, you should consider having Morris serve as clubhouse boy for the playoffs, salaries, politics and fan reaction be damned. According to BP's Support Neutral Report, Morris has been the 5th-best starter on the Cards' staff, the other 4 solidly ahead of him. I *know* I want Jason Marquis on my playoff roster, since he's not only been comparable or better than Morris and Jeff Suppan on the mound, he's a great pinch-hitting option in the playoffs, when you can play mathcups down to the nub to get that little extra edge.

If there would literally be a lynching, you could move Morris to the bullpen along with Izzy, the older A. Reyes, Thompson, Eldred and Ray King and be in pretty good shape.

Pete Wassel (Wilkes): John flaherty MLVr -.573 Derrek Lee MLVr .536 Thats right, you can fit Derrek Lee's production between Flaherty and an average player. Yet Joe Torre say flaherty will play in the playoffs

Jonah Keri: Given how awesome Randy Johnson has been all year under Flaherty's tutelage, I don't see why Torre *wouldn't* carry him.

Dennis (Newark): There continues to be a lot of debate regarding the durability of Pedro Martinez. Those in support of him point to the vast amount of innings he continues to pile up each year. Is it possible that his talent masks his lack of durability? In other words, it’s very rare that he gets knocked out early in a game. Thus, he’s getting more innings per start than other pitchers.

Jonah Keri: Pedro possesses one of the best combinations of power/strikeout ability and control/low-walk totals. Innings pitched doesn't tell the whole story in this case--actually IP doesn't tell the whole story no matter which pitcher you're talking about, but especially with Pedro. Being able to throw strikes, avoid high-stress innings with huge pitch counts and maximum effort exerted has been argued as an excellent way to avoid injuries and ineffectiveness among all pitchers.

Now of course few pitchers are like Pedro. Teams would do well, I think, to be more aggressive about yanking a pitcher early in the game--say if he's approaching pitch #35 in the 3rd inning--and on the flip side letting pitchers go longer if they're throwing well, it's a tight game, and their pitch counts and effort exerted have been low through say 7 or 8 innings.

Handol (Fort Lee): whoa, are you saying that Torre continues to bench Posada if/when Randy starts in the playoffs? Say it ain't so, Johan, say it ain't so.

Jonah Keri: Just being a bit cheeky, dude.

And I'd love to be Johan for a day just to see what it's like to throw a change that defies the laws of gravity or back-up fastball over the inside black at 95. Alas, I'm just one-year-of-Little-League-and-out Jonah.

Clown (France): Is it just me or King Felix looks like Pedro Martinez, and has similar body language?

Jonah Keri: Felix looks like he ATE Pedro--seriously, the guy's got to be pushing 250, and he's still a teenager. Of course this could be a good thing. There are plenty of biomechanical theories that hold that pitchers with errr...much back...may have the ability to better withstand the rigors of pitching. Given his build and the torque he generates with his arm, it's amazing that Pedro has stayed as healthy as he has over the course of his career, as much as his critics may consider him fragile now.

I envy Mariners fans btw, even while I'm trying to coax myself into becoming one. Felix is just electrifying to watch.

bobbailey (montreal): JJ, Now that the Washington National's collapse is official shouldn't we all be recognizing what Omar Minaya did to build the positive elements in the club? Livan and Patterson acquired in trades for nothing. Cordero drafted against conventional wisdom. Nick Johnson for a washed up Vaz. Church for nothing. Minaya, working with nothing, as the Expos GM is the only reason this team isn't horrid(er).

Jonah Keri: Bob, Minaya definitely assembled some top-flight talent.

I have to say, though, that some of the brighter bulbs caught on to Minaya's success a while ago. My esteemed colleague Joe Sheehan has praised such fleecings as Randy Choate(!) for John Patterson and other Minaya deals for a long time, both privately and publicly.

I do think Minaya deserves a portion of the blame for selling off some good farm talent, but even then you could argue extenauating circumstances. I remember stabbing myself in the eye when the Expos traded Jason Bay to the Mets for Lou Collier a few years ago, but while I liked Bay well enough, there's no way I thought he'd become a superstar--and neither did the Mets or Padres, given both teams flipped him not long afterwards.

The Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips trade looks pretty awful now, given how quickly Colon left the Expos and how Sizemore and Lee are now borderline stars. But as I wrote back in 2002, the Expos faced the specter of contraction/relocation/lethal injection at the time (or at least management felt that way), and this was a classic go-for-it trade. I think Minaya could have still "gone for it" and given up at least a little less talent, but c'est la vie.

WillyBoy (NY): Jonah, who should i star next year in RF, Victor Diaz or Make Cameron?

Jonah Keri: Fantasy leaguers everywhere will bid $30+ for Cliff Floyd, only to watch him revert to his Fragile Floyd mode and miss 2/3 of the season due to injury (and I'm a Floyd fan, so I really hope that doesn't happen). At that point the Mets will be happy that Minaya opted to keep both Cameron and Diaz, two good players with very different skill sets.

JJ (Pomerantz): What are you saying, the fatter the picher is the better are his chanse of being injury fee? Bortolo Colon must be all smiles right now.

Jonah Keri: Clemens and Colon are two of the biggest contenders for their league Cy Young awards. You'd be hard-pressed to find booties better suited to being shaken on the dance floor.

shamah (DC): What's your take on the Nats' season? Success or failure?

Jonah Keri: Lots of Nats and Mets questions...

Overall a success, as I liked the Zimmerman pick, am happy to see Esteban Loaiza, one of my favorites, find success again pitching in friendly RFK, and am also happy for John Patterson and Nick Johnson, both of whom showed a glimpse of what they can do when not injured (Patterson a lot more than a glimpse).

There's a lot of work to be done. I'd flat-out DFA Guzman and eat his contract, and try to trade Castilla for any kind of prospect with a pulse, then play Zimmerman every day and find a competent shortstop. I'd also trade Livan now, because his continued durability and his home park are masking a decline in his peripherals, and I think the Nats could gain a really good, young hitter for a guy perceived as an ace who isn't one anymore. Make one shrewd free agent signing on top of that, then just hope Wilkerson and Johnson stay healthy for 1200 plate appearances and you've got a potential contender.

TotheMax (San Francisco): I cant get this question answered by prospective types , but doesnt it make sense to put Bonds at 1b next year? Linden instead of snow in lineup, less wear and tear on bonds. Who cares about Def. at first anyway?

Jonah Keri: Works for me--the question is would Bonds go for it. If attendance/added Bonds-related revenue weren't an issue, a trade to an AL team would probably benefit all parties the most, but Major League Baseball isn't played on my computer...not yet anyway.

Should I be flattered to be called a "prospective type"?

russadams (St. Cloud, MN): A few articles in the local papers have mentioned that Lew Ford is competing for a roster spot on next year's Twins. Meanwhile, Juan Castro is a lock. Could the Twins actually be thinking of dropping Ford?

Jonah Keri: Ford is eligible for arbitration at the end of the 2006 season. Castro meanwhile is signed for another year as part of the shrewd 2-year, $2.05 million contract (plus $500,000 buyout) that the Twins gave him last winter. Thus it makes absolute sense to dump Ford, who's 29 and has a .365 career OBP, than Castro, who's 33 with a .271 career OBP. After all, with Ford you'll have to deal with the guilt of having him make near league minimum while producing in LF, where with Castro you'll be guilt-free, knowing you've rewarded him handsomely for all his non-contributions.

That's why you'll never be a front office type at the end of your career, russadams. You can't see what's obvious to everyone else.

Albert ((Topeka, KS)): Read any good baseball books lately? Thanks!

Jonah Keri: Thanks for asking, Albert!

This has been an exciting year for all of us here at Baseball Prospectus. First, the 2005 annual blew away our all-time sales record.

We then had the foresight to get Steven Goldman drunk enough to head up our latest book, Mind Game, with Steve only realizing the tremendous amount of time and hard work required when he'd already signed the contract and forfeited away any pretense of a life outside his keyboard. Seriously, if you're not familiar with Mind Game yet, it's a book that's both fun and informative, that uses the 2004 Red Sox as a springboard to engage in a bunch of lively discussions and debates over to how to build a winning ballclub. And it costs about the same as a ham sandwich and a venti latte. If you're not 100% satisfied, come to my house, we'll crack open some Anchor Steams and I'll let you beat me in poker.

But wait, there's more! While we haven't formally announced this yet, we're working on yet ANOTHER book project, which is close to completion. The tentative title of the book is "Baseball Between The Numbers", and I have the good fortune to be shepherding the project. The book basically looks at some of baseball's great debates--is this great player better than this one? Is this superstar overpaid? Etc. Only in this case the debates are taken on by some of the smartest people I know, from Keith Woolner to Nate Silver, James Click, Dayn Perry, Neil deMause, Clay Davenport and more.

It comes out in the spring. Like Mind Game, we couldn't be prouder of the work that's gone into it. If you don't like this one, I'll throw in T-bone steaks with the poker and Anchor Steam offer.

Uz (Nus): Speaking of Mets questions, Heath Bell and Royce Ring, will these two guys be a big part of Mets' bullpen next year? I don't remember who but someone on BA said that Heath will be better than Looper in 05. I wonder who was it.

Jonah Keri: Bell needs to prove he can get lefties out consistently. He's got an edge over Looper in that Looper proved years ago that he'd never get lefties out consistently, and Bell's younger, cheaper and has more time to learn.

The NL East could be even stronger next year, given all the young talent some of these teams have. Just depends on what transpires in the off-season.

Ray ((St. Louis, MO)): Who are some of the best baseball announcers who don't get the publicity like the network announcers do? Thank you.

Jonah Keri: Jon Sciambi headed this list a year ago, but then ESPN did the right thing and hired him to be one of their alternate guys--you may have seen him recently on the Deuce alongside Mark McLemore for a Indians-Royals game. Sciambi has a great understanding of stats, but also does an excellent job of describing the game in an unobtrusive yet interesting way, without resorting to gimmicks or homerism. Just a shame the network made him cut his burgeoning Bobby Kielty 'do.

Sciambi's former broadcast partner Dave Van Horne (Marlins) is a long-time favorite of mine. I really like Larry Dierker with the Astros--funny, but also very knowledgable. There are some others too.

Actually if you'll forgive even more promotion (I know, I'm terrible), check out the archive of Prospectus Game of the Week columns from this year.

...though this wasn't the intent, by virtue of covering all 30 teams this season, the column has become something of a broadcasters ranking tool. It's just impossible not to be affected by a team's broadcasters when you're watching every pitch of a game, no flipping channels, no doing anything else.

krock27 (Oxford, OH): About Mind Game, on the amazon.com webpage it is supposed to have been released by now - but amazon still says it is not available. Is there a delay we don't know about?

Jonah Keri: My bad for not mentioning this. For all of you that have asked:

Mind Game has already started shipping. IGNORE Amazon's "Not Yet Released" message if you're interested in buying the book, go ahead and order it and you'll have it within the next few days. Here's that link again, by the way.

Bravoatoc (Oklahoma City): Going with the Nats theme. Do you think the Nationals could have seriously contended had Bowden not made such awful decisions as their GM?

Jonah Keri: Well let's see. Cristian Guzman has been the worst player in all of the majors. His VORP is -14.7, meaning a readily-available Quadruple-A type could have been expected to win about a game and a half more for the Nats alone. If Jim Bowden could have found a league-average SS, now you're talking potentially 2-3 wins above replacement level, or 4 wins better than Guzman.

The Nats are 7 games out of the Wild Card, and contended for nearly the entire season while shackled with an absolute abomination in the lineup every day. The A's are considered to still have a shot, and they're 4 games out with a week to play.

So yes, even though baseball math isn't always as simple as all that, I do think they could have contended down to the last moments of the season.

russadams (St. Cloud, MN): What kind of numbers do you project for Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano over a full season in the rotation next year?

Jonah Keri: I don't know if we'll see both guys go the full season starting. Liriano, for one, is still really young, and the Twins do have 3 solid starters with Santana, Radke and Silva, plus they may go out and sign someone.

I think we'll see the two log 279.2 innings between them, with an aggregate ERA of 3.92. How's that for a precise prediction?

Tom Fratamico (Burlington, VT): How can the Sox minimize Damon's little league like arm? Is he worth 4/40+ to the Red Sox?

Jonah Keri: He's not worth that much to anyone given his age and likelihood of decline. It bugs me to no end how teams are determined to pay players for past deeds. At best you may see a little kick in season-ticket or merchandise sales because you're bringing in a name player. But past deeds mean bubkus once the team takes the field.

If I'm an owner, unless it's an A-Rod-type talent, I'm thinking long and hard before signing anyone over 30 to a contract of more than 3 years. If that means I get shut out of the bidding on some B+ type players, I'll live. The next team that signs a 30+, barrel-chested 1B type to a 4+-year contract should immediately be demoted to the Sally League for historical blindness.

Craig (Los Angeles): Hi Jonah: Rate the injuries that impacted their teams the most? 1. Bonds; 2. Gagne; 3. Crosby/Harden; Looking forward to King Felix sighting in SoCal next year...

Jonah Keri: This exercise isn't quite fair, since you're not mentioning some other top players injured for these teams. Benitez for the Giants, Drew/Odalis/Bradley et al for the Dodgers, Durazo for the A's.

I'd say on aggregate, Giants had it worse, followed by the Dodgers, then A's. I do think the A's overestimated how much offense they had to begin with, and the Dodgers had to know that Drew was a significant attrition risk. If we're going to blame the Giants for failing to have a viable Plan B when Bonds went down, we can't absolve the Dodgers and A's on the same grounds (with the Dodgers more blameworthy, as the A's are going to win close to 90 games despite all their losses).

Lightning round, got to get back to "Between The Numbers" writing...

Albert ((Kansas City, MO)): Any hope for the Royals in the next 5-7 years?

Jonah Keri: You should hear Rany talk about these guys. Even in my most depressed Expos days I can't imagine that I was as despondent as he is. And Rany's one of the most cheerful, optimistic guys I know.

They need to learn to develop pitching, or they're screwed indefinitely.

tylernu (Chicago): How in the hell can the Reds even think of contending now that they've confirmed they will have a lame duck GM next season? Hell, they have a lame duck OWNER. Is it possible for them to get fair value from one of the outfielders over the winter?

Jonah Keri: I think you'll see Dunn get traded, because he'll fetch the most in return and costs more than Kearns and Pena. The smart move would be to shop Griffey coming off a revival season--if I could short baseball players the way I short stocks, I'd sit back and watch Griffey and Floyd slice through their 50-day moving averages in heavy volume.

(This was the Investor's Business Daily chat, right?)

AJ (Anywhere): Phils or Stros for NL WC?

Jonah Keri: Phils! I've got $1000 riding on it, and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are the most exciting right side of an infield since Kevin Young and Tony Womack joined forces on the other side of Pennsylvania.

Patrick Kennedy (St. Petersburg, FL): How can there be any other AL ROY candidate more deserving than Jonny Gomes. Gomes' VORP is second among all ML rookies, with only Joe Mauer ahead of him, and Mauer has some 151 more plate appearences.

Jonah Keri: Mauer isn't really a rookie according to the letter of MLB law (and yes, I know he's in BP's rookie reports...feh, I say).

Joe Blanton's my pick. If you don't count Mauer, Blanton leads all MLB rookies, hitters or pitchers, in VORP (if you do count Mauer they're less than 1 run apart).

Chris Hartjes (Toronto): Hey Jonah, what are three things that have disappointed you about this MLB season?

Jonah Keri: 1) The steroids thing and the negative PR hit the game may be taking/could take. I want to see baseball grow and thrive, and while I'm pretty numb on the whole morality discussion of the subject, I don't like that other people may turn their backs on baseball because of it.

2) The startling number of teams that stodd pat at the trade deadline when they faced glaring needs and were in the thick of the pennant race. I'm nearly as big a fan of the wheeling and dealing as I am of the game itself. Widespread timidity/risk-aversive behavior makes the game less compelling to watch outside the lines, with the resulting lack of improvement on rosters preventing pennant races from heating up even more than they could have.

3) This hasn't happened, and I hope it won't, but I'll be really disappointed if the Indians don't make the playoffs. I'm rooting for them, big-time, having watched them go nuts in the last few weeks. What a great story, great team, great front office, great fans, great everything.

If you'd asked me this question 6 months ago, before the start of the season, I probably would have said "No Expos to root for." Surprisingly, I really haven't missed them all that much. I bled for them when they're around, but it's amazing how much reality takes over when you're an adult and not a nutty kid eating poutine with his koo-koo friends in the $1 right-field bleachers.

Jonah Keri: Thanks for stopping by to chat. There were literally dozens of questions I couldn't get to, and I'm grateful that you all took the time. Feel free to e-mail me anytime at jkeri@baseballprospectus.com and we can discuss best Canadians by VORP or any other burning topic. Be sure to pick up your copy of Mind Game, and let us know what you think!


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