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Chat: James Click

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday October 24, 2005 3:00 PM ET chat session with James Click.

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James Click is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

James Click: Good afternoon everyone. Taking a cue from Fox, we'll get things going a little late today. Sorry for the delay.

jnewmark (Toledo,Oh): This is sort of an odd question,but I can't find the answer to it even at the official MLB website. In 1994,were the teams who were in first place in their various divisions (when the strike began) officialy given the title of division champs for that year?

James Click: The consensus answer to this question appears to be "No," but I cannot find official confirmation anywhere. Given the way the Braves continue to talk about their 14 consecutive division titles, I'd say they're fairly convinced 1994 just didn't happen. As Christina Kahrl put it: "As exercises go, it's about as lame as the Stuarts pretending that Oliver
Cromwell didn't happen." That's funnier than anything I had to say about it.

Joe (Townville): Two questions on defense. 1.) Do players peak defensively at 27? Is it different by positions, corner players peak later on defense, and SS, 2B, CF, where the player relies more on speed peak earlier? 2.) Player A has a RATE1 of 95, the other (player B) has the same, and both play 140 games. Player A's team has a K/9 of 10.00, player B's team is 5.00. Does player B rate lower in FRAA, b/c more balls were in play? (assume same positions, only diff in pitchers is K rate)

James Click: Joe, Your first question is one of baseball's better unanswered questions and something I'd like to take a look at this winter. There's probably a simple answer that they do, but there's also the complex answer of players shifting down the defensive spectrum and the average age of players at a particular position.

The answer to your second question is one better left to individual defense guru Clay Davenport. Shoot him an email and I'm sure he'd be happy to help you out.

jabrch (Chicago): In your last chat, when talking about Scott Podsednik, you said, "Kenny Williams would be wise to move him as fast as possible." I understand all the arguements against him, and that the sample size of 1 AB is clearly not sufficient to evaluate him. But White Sox fans are thrilled to have Scott in the lineup. I know you don't value the things he does very highly, but this team feeds off of having Pods on base. His line for the post-season is .289/.426/.579/1.004. We know that's not sustainable long term. But given what we know now, do you still believe that there is no room on a championship calibre team for a guy like Scott (.290/.351/.349/.700 59 SBs while earning about $400K on the regular season)to be the starting LF and leadoff hitter? Where do you rank him amongst leadoff hitters?

James Click: I still think Williams would do well to trade Podsednik. He's the kind of player who's going to get a nice raise in arbitration because he steals such a high number of bases. Rarely do you get to talk about how many innings Pods uselessly ran your team out of before Konerko could get up and hit a dinger, so he's going to get more expensive.

The flip side is that this kind of player can be very useful to a team. He has good range and the steals are very useful if leveraged correctly, but with so many of the ChiSox's runs coming on HRs, he needs to put on the brakes more often. The bottom line is he's all batting average and, as we all saw in 2004, if that goes, Podsednik can be a drag on the offense. If he can keep that OBP above .350, he's a very useful leadoff man, but that's a large if.

Jay (Madison): Do you expect real 06 improvement in Bedard and Cabrera et. al with Mazzone's hiring. If so, how much and why was he so cheap -- 500k/yr isn't much to pay to protect a much bigger investment in a team's pitching staff. If not, why do we care about pitching coaches.

James Click: The impact of coaches is one aspect of baseball about which we know very little. The Red Sox have done some extensive work in this area and there have been studies online about them, mostly focusing on Mazzone.

That said, there is considerable optimism about both Cabrera and Bedard here at BP and it's not based entirely on Mazzone. Both have posted decent ratios and peripheral numbers and are young enough that if they stay healthy, they should continue to improve. I'd like to see Cabrera cut his BB/9 a bit, but that's nitpicking. With Mazzone on board, there's little reason not to be optimistic about these two.

brad motl (chicago (north side)): Must we now admit the White Sox are good? I'm still clinging to the belief that they have 87 win talent. This offends White Sox fans and makes me very happy. Please let me know I can still sleep at night.

James Click: That depends. Do people think the '03 Marlins were good? What about the '98 Padres? Does making the World Series make you a good team?

Most of us are going to say that the answer to that is yes and it's time to give the White Sox their due. Like most good teams, they've overachieved and they've gotten lucky, but they've also won ballgames.

The other point to consider is that a lot of the projections about team records and mapping runs to wins are going to be on the conservative side just because of regression to the mean. Very rarely to teams post the kind of R/RA ratios necessary for 105 or 60 win seasons, but those seasons happen all the time. The Sox were definitely better than their run differential, but in the end, we measure things by wins and they've won a lot of games.

coneway (austin, tx): Are the distributions of the major statistical measures used by BP similar? That is, if you were to plot the frequencies of each level of VORP, WARP, EQA, etc., would the curves look about the same? If so, is that by design or is it evidence of mulitcollinearity?

James Click: Most of them would look very similar, but that's because they've very closely related and based on the same underlying numbers. For example, EqR (the counting stat associated with EqA) is very similar to MLV (the initial run calculation used in VORP) and they're both based on hits, walks, at-bats, etc. It's not necessarily multicollinearity but more like having a common ancestor. In this case, homo erectus is played by batting average and stolen bases are Cro-magnan man.

russadams (St. Cloud, MN): Do you think Larry Walker has a legitimate shot at making the HoF?

James Click: Walker's Hall chances are slim at best and they likely depend more on the public understanding of park factors than anything else. He's got all the right numbers -- 383 dingers, a .313 career batting average -- but he's also the very definition of Coors Field hitter. Unfortunately for Walker, given the home run totals we've seen over the bulk of his career, it's unlikely that 383 is going to be enough to get him in, even with that batting average and a nice base running reputation.

Buck Joe (reality): If you're taking a cue from Fox, will the first line of every comment be overlaid with an ad? (sometime I'd like to see the first pitch of a post-season inning)

James Click: Mind Game is in stores now. While you're there, be sure to check out Forging Genius, Football Prospectus, and an upcoming, to-be-named project due out this spring. Oh, and some guy named Perry wrote a book he won't shut up about.

2White (Washington): I know he was the hero last night, but should more attention be given to the fact that Podsednik couldn't throw out Burke at home even though Podsednik got to the ball in shallow left as Burke had just rounded third? I thought Burke was going to be out by 30 feet. Is Podsednik's arm really that weak?

James Click: When he's playing center -- as he was in Milwaukee -- his arm isn't going to get tested or exposed as it was last night, so it's probably a combination of that and the terrible playing conditions late in the game. (Will Carroll mentions the credit the ground crew deserved in his report on Game 2 and that should be echoed.) Podsednik's arm doesn't have much of a reputation either way from what I've heard, but if he's doing it to look more like Johnny Damon to get himself in line for a big free agent contract down the road, there are other parts of Damon's game he should be trying to copy.

Dennis (Newark): Dale Sveum was recently quoted as saying that he felt like he "couldn't make the right decision" as a third base coach b/c the fans would boo him either way. Is it unreasonable to expect professionals to base their decisions on something other than popular opinion? Does Lidge come in to pitch the 7th (with the bases loaded) if the manager isn't so worried about being second guessed?

James Click: If I'm running a baseball team -- other than a local little league squad -- the first thing I want from my coaches and managers is a thick skin. Sveum's right, especially in Boston, but you have to ignore all the junk that hits the airwaves and papers criticizing the results of your decision making. If things don't work out, go back and examine the decision making process and see if there were errors. If so, change. If not, ignore the critics.

On a side note, this might not be a bad spot for a GM or other front office official to take some of the heat off the coaches. If the GM is smart enough to hire coaches who buy into the organizational philosophy and make well thought out decisions, they he should be the one to take the flak when they fail from time to time. That's not just good baseball, it's good business.

As far as bringing in Lidge in the seventh, we're all for it. And Keith Woolner has some research coming out in that aforementioned project that we're working on that shows just how valuable that kind of bullpen management can be. It's fascinating.

coneway (austin, tx): Can a world series game be called after 5 full innings due to rain? What happens if they get 6 innings into a game and a 8-hour monsoon starts? Do they continue another day, or just call it over after 5 full innings?

James Click: World Series games follow the same rules as any other game -- despite what some commentators will tell you -- and so the answer is, yes, they can be called. Of course, the umpire who calls it is going to have a rough walk to his car in the parking lot if the home team is losing and he'll probably get some nasty phone calls from Rupert Murdoch, so the likelihood of that ever happening is miniscule.

Steve (Manalapan): When you are neutral to both teams, do you try to find a reason to root for one, or do you just enjoy the game on an objective level? Personally, I think it's easier to find reasons to root against a team. This year is a bit unusual, b/c i'm indirectly rooting against the cubs. If the whitesox win, the cubs franchise will look even more pathetic!

James Click: I'm pretty sure I answered a question similar to this in my last chat, but usually I just watch the game and I'll find myself rooting for one team or another for no good reason.

This time, I'm rooting hard for the Astros, but that's only because I'd like to see an exciting series and because I picked them to win the series in seven, a prediction that's looking about as solid as Roger Clemens' hamstring.

TGisriel (Baltimore): Does the hiring of Mazzone justify the retention of Perlozzo?

James Click: If Perlozzo fits with the organizational philosphy, then yes, absolutely. There's no evidence of which I'm aware that shows that players play better under particular managers or that teams consistently exceed their projected performance under some managers and not under others. If having Perlozzo around keeps Mazzone happy and rocking and he agrees with management's opinions on how to run a team, then there's little reason not to retain him.

mike (DC): It seems that few players stratify the BP office like Big Walter Young. Where do you stand on him and do you think he'll get a shot at 250 ABs or so next year?

James Click: The triumph of Ryan Howard in Philly is going to give players like Young more of a shot in the next few years because they're reputed to be so similar. Young is certainly larger, but his defense doesn't get as bad a rap as you'd expect from a player who should be on an NFL offensive line. I'm not a buyer -- he was a bit old for AAA this year and struggled -- but he could be a useful bat off the bench on an AL team willing to work a power-speed platoon. Of course, the DH job is open in Baltimore, so the door is ajar.

mike (DC): How much work has been done to study specific home advantages? ie the White Sox probably like to keep their field easy to run on (opposite for the A's). Any studies on opponents sb/cs ratios in these parks, etc.?

James Click: Some, but not enough. I did a little work looking at baserunning numbers, seeing if players ran the bases better at home than on the road. There was a look at some other aspects over at the Hard Ball Times a few months ago as well, but no one's nailed it down yet.

That said, I've got an article about this half-written that I hope will hit the site soon, so keep an eye out this offseason.

Peter (Long Valley): Do you cringe everytime a smallball team does well? Or when a sac bunt happens to work? Can you seperate the part of you that is a fan of baseball and the part of you that is trying to enlighten other fans with progressive thinking?

James Click: Absolutely not. As I've said before and I'll say again, sacrificing has its place in baseball. The real problem is teams using it all the time when they would do much better letting their hitters swing away. Joe Sheehan has done a great job highlighting many of these instances this postseason in his great recaps of the action on the field.

Plus, every time a perceived "smallball" team does well, the market advantage for those team's who know when to use those tactics and when not to use them increases. And I happen to be fan of one of those teams.

Tommy (North Carolina): Are you surprised by the "high scoring" of the World Series, so far? Steve Phillips said that no team would score 5 or more runs in any game. So far, it's been done three times!

James Click: Yes, but again, we've only seen two games so far and -- everyone say it with me -- anything can happen in a short series. Clemens' injury and the presence of the bottom half of the Houston bullpen has certainly helped that along and if Roger can't pitch Game 5 -- as it appears he can't -- there's going to be a lot more scoring down the road. Of course, now that I've said that, I'm sure the rest of the games will all be 1-0.

PJ (Parsippany): Speaking of football prospectus, they have a caption on the cover that says Kevin Jones will lead the league in rushing. Since he has about 300 yards total this season, should we expect the greatest 2nd half in nfl history?

James Click: If the Raiders would ever sell out a home game so that the local broadcasts wouldn't be blacked out every Sunday, I'd probably have a better answer for you. But Aaron Schatz and those guys at Football Prospectus know their stuff.

Maria (Caldwell): Torre said that Girardi was "don zimmer, with stats". Should Yankee fans cower in fear now that Torre's going to be making his decisions with even less of a statistical understanding?

James Click: I'd be more worried about what happens when the Mets play the Marlins.... Does Girardi get thrown the ground by his head by Pedro and then throw stat sheets back at him?

Seriously, Torre has to make so few decisions with the rosters he's given that it's of little consequence.

La fan (LA): I read in the paper that Mccourt fight fire Depo. Persoanll I think 2 years is way too short. However the article said that Mccourt was considering JIM Bowden over Depodesta. Please convince me there is no truth to it

James Click: If Bill Plaschke wrote the article, I'd put about as much stock into it as I would into Enron. The LA media has some odd grudge against DePodesta and I have a hard time believing anything coming out of the LA media when it comes to that kind of thing.

Peter (Long Valley): I know that studies have shown that lineup construction has little impact on runs scored. But, that being said, it just doesn't "feel right". Do you agree with the studies? And if not, how would you improve lineups? I think that teams should eliminate the 2nd place hitter if he's not a OBP machine. Get your heavy hitters up as quickly as possible.

James Click: I've explored it myself a few times on the site here and I fall into the "it's not a big deal, but you can squeeze a win or two out of it each season" camp. (The signs outside our camp are long and verbose.) From what I've seen, sorting in descending on-base percentage is the best way to do things, but there's some movement to be done when considering high-SLG, low-OBP type players. It'll never happen, but if a good OBP guy is put in the #2 spot and then the traditional lineup is moved up one spot (so the new #2 is leading off and the old leadoff guy is batting ninth, etc) there are a few more runs to be gained. But, again, it'll never happen.

Ross (England): Much has been said about Fox's coverage of the playoffs. Without getting into all the details, let's assume that it's below average. Can MLB step in? Would they ever want to?

James Click: This has been covered on the site here as well (that darn Joe Sheehan getting to all the important topics), but as long as Fox is writing the checks, MLB seems happy to cash them without watching the broadcasts themselves. It's a sad comment on the state of Selig's "best interests of the game" interpretations, but regardless of whether they want to or not, MLB needs to step in and demand a few changes. Showing the first pitch of every inning would be a nice first step. Shooting Scooter in the head would be a close second.

Handol (Fort Lee): Are yankee fans (such as myself) getting a little too worked up over Cano's rookie year? All of a sudden, he's essentially become the most untouchable player in terms of trades. If we can flip him for a CF, and then get Furcal as a free agent, should we? What are the chances that Cano is the real deal?

James Click: There's little doubt that Cano played well above his established level of performance this year, mostly in the power department. That said, he's also still very young and already in the major leagues, so while there will likely be some regression next year, he's got a good shot to be an average major leaguer if the power he showed this year was real.

But 16 walks?! 16? Red flags should be flying over that if nothing else. If that batting average drops 20-25 points and he regresses on his power, suddenly he looks a lot like... Tony Womack.

Elaine (San Diego): If you had to give the Padres' season a grade, what would it be? Should I view the glass as half full, in that we made the playoffs, or half empty, in that we were the laughing stock of the league during the regular season, and then somehow UNDERPERFORMED those expectations in the playoffs.

James Click: Flags fly forever, even if they're only division flags. The Padres have some major questions going forward -- How do you replace Giles? Can anybody besides Peavy pitch? -- but from now until the ending of the world, they are the 2005 NL West Champions. Given what Nate Silver's found about playoff revenue increases, that's a good enough reason to rate their season a success.

Tommy (North Carolina): What's the future of baseball telecasts? The NFL Ticket on Direct TV now has a channel that shows an entire game in 30 minutes. Could this ever be an attractive option for baseball? or is the excitment in the anticipation?

James Click: MLB.com has these for baseball and there's little reason to think that we can't them on DirecTV soon. I'm all for it; I'd love to watch a few more games in the same amount of time without having to see those same Fox Sports Net "Rally Cap" commericals digitally edited for each team another 1,000 times.

Steve (Manalapan): It's recently been learned that YES hired a reporter to specfically plant "anti-torre" questions during post game conferences. What are your thoughts on this, both on the George vs. Torre level, and in terms of journalistic integrity.

James Click: I'd be surprised if this is the first time George has used this tactic. I don't think those of us outside of New York care too much. It's hilarious, it's underhanded, and it's petty, but if George really wanted to turn the public against Torre before he fired him, he could have just made him play Womack more.

Jay (Madison): BP and others have done a lot of work on pitch counts, etc. Has it done much work on the stress on relievers from warming up, sitting, warming up. I'm thinking about the Lidge in the 7th inning issue. If he gets up to come in, the inning fizzles behind Wheeler, Springer or whoever and then Lidge blows it in the 9th, aren't we all criticising Garner?

James Click: We would love to do work on this kind of thing and I think that Keith Woolner and Rany Jazayerli have discussed reliever fatigue before, but the problem is we just don't have the data. If we had warm-up pitch counts, sequences, etc, it could certainly be done, but it will be years before we get that data. If ever.

coneway (austin, tx): Do you think the next CBA negotiations will be as difficult as usual? MLB couldn't possibly claim that teams are losing money, anyone can see that's not true, thanks to strong attendance, online revenue, new TV contracts, and increased revenue sharing. And he can't possibly claim competitive balance is a problem - the last 5 WS have had 9 different teams. Could it be - a quick, happy resolution after 2006?

James Click: It should be, but it won't. The steroid issues and the fact that the last CBA was actually changed as a result of that will likely be a large issue. Plus, the problem isn't when there isn't any money, it's when they're too much. Nothing makes players and owners fight more than than excess money that they all think they deserve.

Steven (Montreal): I don't know why people are so down on fox telecasts. Don't you enjoy the extreme closeups of individual fans (usually attractive young women) who have their hands clenched together? That tells me that the game is improtant and i should care. It's very comforting.

James Click: What about the talking baseball? That tells me I'm crazy.

Jessica (New Brunswick): I understand the idea that increasing ticket prices to "scalper levels" would be bad PR, but it seems like teams are just throwing away money. Couldn't the problem be solved if they sold the good seats at those outrageous rates and then keep the bleachers and upperdecks at current prices?

James Click: There are a lot of very smart people working on ticket price optimization both in baseball and elsewhere and I won't do their research any justice, but I'll try. Scalper level prices only work when there's an extreme scarcity of tickets: a Cubs game, the World Series, etc. People will only pay that much if they feel there aren't that many seats left. Interestingly, the newest proposal for an A's stadium calls for dramatically fewer seats than most stadiums to create an articial ticket scarcity. That's about the limit of my understanding of economics, so I'll stop there and hope that no one in the ticketing offices is reading your question.

Handol (Fort Lee): How do you see Jeter's career going from here on out. Not so much from a statistical standpoint, but rather from his role on the team and the PR surrounding him. Will he ever move out of SS? Will fans ever turn on him when his contract completely outweighs his value?

James Click: He will be given a horse and allowed to ride off into the sunset as a conquering hero. Then he'll shoot the horse because the horse was a better defensive shortstop than he was and was threatening to take his job.

Velez (Miami): Could the last year of Pedro's contract turn into overpaying for a dominant closer? As he ages, his skill set seems to really fit into that role.

James Click: The last year of Pedro's contract is going to be overpaying for something, whether it's a four-inning starter or a relief pitcher. If the Mets dumped the idea of the modern bullpen and moved back into the ace-reliever role, can you imagine a more dominant pitcher than Pedro for 2-3 innings at a time in crucial game situations? If the Mets could actually identify starting pitchers instead of saying "Let's just sign Steve Trachsel again," Pedro might be more valuable in that role than as a 4-5 inning starter.

Bryan (Rockville, MD): Can you at BP please explain to me why on Bill James' defensive spectrum RF is considered harder than LF. 'Conventional baseball wisdom' might say that because most guys are righties, they'll pull the ball to the left more, thus LF is harder. Clearly though, teams don't really think this except for ballpark exceptions: Ichiro and Vlad in RF, Manny and Dunn in LF. Do spray charts suggest this, or is there anything I don't know about RF in general is the tougher defensive position? Thanks.

James Click: I believe it's mostly because of the outfielder's arm and the idea that RFs can throw out guys on the basepaths. I certainly agree that LF appears more difficult than RF, but James' spectrum was based on watching guys move around the field as they age. Again I shall plug the as-yet-unnamed project in the works and say that this is discussed in detail. Check your bookshelves in March.

Velez (Miami): What's a 1st base coach's job? Other than spotting a pick off move, i don't think he has much to do.

James Click: He's the first guy to congratulate a guy for getting on base and then smacks him in the butt. It's very similar to what you can pay for in Vegas.

Dennis (Newark): For all the complaining about the Yankees payroll, i think there are elements of this spending that is good for baseball. Someone like Mazzone, who has been underpaid his entire career, can "use" the yankees to drive up his market value, and then get it from a different team. Do you agree?

James Click: The presence of a Goliath like the Yankees is obviously great for the game's elite talent, be they coaches or players. It may be bad for competitive balance, but MLB and Fox never seem to complain about the Yanks always reaching the post-season.

Ross (England): I just read that Minute Maid Park plays as a neutral park with an increase in homers but decrease in doubles. Come on! Take a look at left field for crying out loud!

James Click: If you're referring to David Leonhardt's piece in the NY Times, he's absolutely correct. There's a lot we don't know about PFs, mainly what causes them specifically. I explored the connection between outfield distance and wall height and found almost no correlation to park factors. There are so many variables in play -- hitter's background, foul territory, playing surface, altitude, air density, prevailing winds -- that we don't know what causes what when it comes to park factors. It's an understudied area that an enterprising team would do well to explore in detail.

Liam (Herert K): Whats the book about? Just a bunch of research or do you disguise it as a book about Boston again (though i did like the last time you did that)

James Click: No, this time we disguise it as a book about the White Sox or Astros, depending on who wins.

Ross (England): Yeah....but if you admit that there are a lot of things that we don't know about...shouldn't we just trust our gut?

James Click: Not knowing why the park factors are what they are is different than not knowing what they are. The fact is that Minute Maid is a home run park that comes back down to average overall park factors by reducing other kinds of offense. It's very similar to Dodger Stadium in that way, but at a league average level rather than a 1960s-offense level.

mike (DC): Estimate Leo Mazzone's value in salary form, please (without the 'please', it seemed harsh)

James Click: Quick and dirty: If we assume Mazzone lowers everyone's ERA by half a run, that's about 81 runs on the season or about 8 wins. Very few players contribute 8 wins, so if he pulls that off, he's worth a lot of money. In reality, he's probably worth a lot less than that, say 3 wins. I think we're using $2 million per marginal win these days, so say $6 million. Again, very quick and very dirty. Please don't put any actual stock in this answer.

oskithebear (nyu): Do the Braves perform even better next year with their rookies beginning to grow up? Or does Smoltz age and Leo's departure spell the end of their NL East domination?

James Click: The rookies should all improve, Marte is on the way, and Mike Hampton is done. Those are the good things. The bad things are that Smoltz is likely to regress with Andruw Jones and we'll get to see just how valuable Mazzone really was. That's a tough, though division, but the Braves have made people smarter than I look foolish for picking against them, so until they lose it, they're my pick.

Maria (Caldwell): What impact has fantasy sports had on baseball? Have fans gained an appreciation for players/teams outside of their home town? Or can the forrest not be seen from the trees?

James Click: It's certainly helped all those bars with 50 television screens on one wall so you can calculate how your fantasy team is doing second by second. It's also increased some great things to cheer for -- I want the Sox to lose, but I have Garland, so I want it to be a low-scoring game. I think they're great for sports -- the increase viewers and fans willing to pay to information on both their players and others -- but at the same time, it takes something away too. It's not money that's taken away, though, so MLB won't care.

James Click: Okay, folks, I've got to wrap things up. There are still quite a few good questions in the queue, so if you like, feel free to email them to me at jclick@... and I'll get to them as soon as I can. Enjoy the rest of the season.


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