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Chat: Keith Woolner

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday December 20, 2005 7:00 PM ET chat session with Keith Woolner.

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Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Keith Woolner: Since so many of these chats seem to start late, why not start a few minutes early today? I've got a raging head cold, am doped up on medication, and have to pack later tonight to start a vacation tomorrow, so this ought to be amusing...

Evan (Vancouver, BC): Do BP readers just not submit any good questions anymore? We haven't seen an AFTH column in 9 months.

Keith Woolner: Guilty as charged. My writing output has been downright pathetic this year. I haven't been idle, but it hasn't shown up on the web site. I've been doing a lot of writing, both for Mind Game, and for the upcoming "Baseball Between The Numbers" as well as BP2006, of course.

I've also been working on improvements to the database that powers our statistical reports. WIth a big assist from Ben Murphy, we were able to release the sortable stats feature earlier this year. And we're working on a more advanced version to debut before spring training.

lakesuperior (Duluth, MN): If Joel Zumaya remains a starter does he have the same type of upside as his teammate, Justin Verlander or a guy like Fransisco Liriano?

Keith Woolner: I'd have Zumaya slightly behind Verlander and Liriano at the moment, as his walk rate and HR rates aren't quite as impressive. But Zumaya is the youngest of the three (I think), and has could still improve. I'd be happy with any of the three in my farm system.

alappin (Boston): The Rangers get Akinori Otsuka and Adam Eaton (in the final year of his deal) for Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez and Termel Sledge. What do you think of it?

Keith Woolner: Lots of questions about this trade.

I think it's a good deal for San Diego. Young isn't that much difference from Eaton performance-wise, once you take parks into account. But Eaton is on the verge of free agency, and so Young's a better value. Otsuka is aging reliever, possibly in decline, while Adrian Gonzalez has a promising future.

Final judgement can't be passed until we know who the unnamed prospect in the deal is, though.

Matt (New York): Hey, Keith, I have a question about the expected runs matrix. Writers on the site tend to use it as a way to argue what strategies a team should use depending on the situation, a common example being that teams shouldn't bunt as often as they do, since the out is generally not worth the extra base. Doesn't this type of recommendation complicate the calculus? I mean, if managers looked at the matrix and only chose the optimal strategy, wouldn't this change the numbers in the matrix? For instance, if teams stopped bunting with a man on first and nobody out, then the expected runs from having a man on first and no one out would change. Have you considered whether this would impact the expected runs in a meaningful way? My instinct is that it would only reinforce the fact that the appropriate strategy has in fact been used, but I'm not really sure about that.

Keith Woolner: The expected runs matrix encapsulates how offenses are typically run. So it does include, for example, and bunt strategies that would be possible downstream from the current situation.

If strategies radically changed, and no one bunted anymore, then yes, the matrix would change, increasing across the board (since bunting is rarely a good player from an expected run perspective).

darkhorse (Haltom City, TX): Do the Rangers have a realistic shot at signing Roger Clemens for the 2006 season, and would this be a wise move?

Keith Woolner: They're in Texas, so I'd say they have a shot, though I expect him back in Houston (sitting out a month) if geography is the overriding consideration.

Is it wise? When is adding someone who is still arguably one of the five best starting pitchers in baseball a bad idea? Particularly when you're competing in a weak division, and making an overall strategic push to compete now?

ND (Quebec): There hasn't been anything about the Padres for the last two chats. Does the trade today make up for the way Kevin Towers has been getting fleeced all off season?

Keith Woolner: Jay Jaffe commented on this on the BP-internal list earlier today:

"Bowden fleeced Towers in the Lawrence/Castilla deal
Daniels fleeced Bowden in the Soriano/Wilkerson deal
Towers fleeced Daniels in the Young/Eaton deal


The circle is complete."

alappin (Boston): The Yankees signed Octavio Dotel today. Should we expect a great year of relief from the now-healthy Dotel?

Keith Woolner: Yes. In 2007.

knuckleball (Virginia): Keith, why doesn't anybody throw me anymore? Am I dieing out?

Keith Woolner: Has the knuckleball ever been common enough to not be an endangered species?

The sabermetric thinking has always seemed to have a soft side for knuckleballers -- ranging from Craig Wright in The Diamond Appraised to Charlie Zink's appearance in a BP top prospects list. If the trend towards more stat-knowledgeable GM's continues, the time would seem right for a revival of interest in the flutterball.

mike (DC): "Final judgement can't be passed until we know who the unnamed prospect in the deal is, though" If the remaining prospect is from the Padres, then I beg to differ. They don't have one prospect I would consider close to a deal-breaker.

Keith Woolner: Fair enough -- I was thinking of a specific name in the Padres system, just that we had incomplete information. Others have written in to say that the prospect is Billy Killian.

I still like the deal for the Padres, barring something physically wrong with Young.

Mario66 (Toronto): Thanks for taking my question about JJ Hardy. Coming back from a wasted 2004, he started slowly, but finished on a relative tear, and Dayn Perry said not to be surprised if he is the NL's best shortstop next year. Any thoughts?

Keith Woolner: Right now, "best NL shortstop" is about as impressive as this year's cinema box office.

Who's the competition? Felipe Lopez? Jimmy Rollins? Rafael Furcal? The return of Edgar Renteria?

Sure, he could be the best NL shortstop in 2006, but if so it's less likely to be a breakout from Hardy than from weak alternatives.

Desperado (Las Vegas): Im a big fan Keith. I went to a dinner where I saw a guy from the Indians and Gary Huckaby speak about how much player contracts are worth. Do you have a system for figuring out how much money one unit of VORP is worth?

Keith Woolner: Translating VORP to dollar value is essentiall a matter of determining what the marginal revenue value of a win is. And while it varies depending on a club's situation (going from 88 to 89 wins is worth more than going from 70 to 71), you can get a rough estimate of value by picking a number around $2-3 million/win.
Of course, that's for a known VORP. You have to discount for risk and injury going forward.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Keith, if (heaven forbid) you were Jim Bowden and you had already acquired Alfonso Soriano, how would you deal with his repeated offseason refusals to switch positions?

Keith Woolner: I'd fire whomever talked me into trading for a player under the presumption that he'd be amenable to shifting positions without having actually consulted with the player beforehand.

mike (DC): Who will take better to the AL east, Beckett or Burnett?

Keith Woolner: Beckett. But I'm a Red Sox fan.

Gene (Illinois): Who do you think is going to be the better rookie 3b- Marte or Zimmerman

Keith Woolner: Marte. See previous answer.

jgalt73 (Portland, Oregon): Is a Murton/Pierre/Jacque Jones outfield in the running for a worse outfield production than the Cubs v.2005 apathy?

Keith Woolner: When your most productive outfielder is a 36-year-old Jeromy Burnitz (17.5 VORP), just about anything is a step up.

mcscolo (Colorado): Keith, love the work. Quick question/thought. With all of Upton's fielding problems, have the DRays ever considered moving him to 1b? After all, that's always where we stuck the kid who couldn't field a lick but swung the big stick. I know they keep saying, "he's got too much natural ability not to play the field." But it seems like all those errors tell a different story.

Keith Woolner: The difference between average offense at 1B vs SS (or any other infield position) is so vast that I think you have to give every possible opportunity for a player with as much talent as Upton to succeed at the tougher defensive position. He's still only 21 next season.

Jake (Los Angeles): When evaluating players for the Hall of Fame or the All-Star game, or just ranking their usefulness generally, does it make sense to add to a player's WARP if he was forced to play a less demanding position than he was capable of (Mike Cameron) or was forced play a position he couldn't really handle (Frank Thomas in the early part of his career)?

Keith Woolner: That's actually closely related to question #6 of my "Baseball's Hilbert Problems" essay (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2551)

Positional flexibility, or a willingess to shift positions even without being totally comfortable there, has value beyond what a simple tally of games by position would tell you. Ultimately, this is because the roster size is a constraint, making it impossible to carry the ideal player for every possible situation. A player who can fill multiple strategic needs while taking up only one roster slot shouldn't be penalized versus a player who can't (or won't, Mr. Soriano) be used that way.

However, you get into a lot of "what-ifs" when you start talking about retroactively determining Hall of Fame worthiness "if he had played CF his whole career" and so on.

mike (DC): Am I missing something or is the baseball world collectively ignoring the fact that the Marlins fully intended trading Delgado after the first year of his contract from day one? For a measly $4 mill, they a huge bat for one last run at contention. Your thoughts?

Keith Woolner: It's a risky strategy. It's $4 million, plus the lost draft picks for signing a premium free agent, plus the chance that the player suffers an injury, or his production collapses, and becomes untradeable without picking up a large piece of his contract (see Renteria, Edgar).

sirmopar (Seattle): With Felix Hernandez looking like the real deal, the Mariners need to try to put together a winning team in the next six years but isn't the Washburn signing counter to that goal in just about every imaginable way?

Keith Woolner: Washburn was 8th in the AL in pitching VORP this year, with a nice looking 3.20 ERA, so you've got to figure that played in a role in setting his price.

But given his strikeout rate, homer rate, and prior history, it has all the hallmarks of being a signing Seattle will regret before the contract is over.

glgbeaver (Minot ND): Could you please give me some numbers to send to Terry Ryan that would let him know how terrible Tony Batista is? Where does this rank in terms of terrible signings?

Keith Woolner: Last time Batista posted a .500+ SLG: 2000
Last time Batista posted a .310+ OBP: 1999

At least it's a one year contract. I have to think some of the multiyear deals handed out to relievers this offseason will rank worse in the long run.

therocc99 (Manhattan): Keith - I feel like one of the biggest "sleepers" of this free-agent season is former Twin Matt LeCroy. This guy could be had for very little, and platooned vs. lefties, where he has a 1.025 OPS!!! In addition, he'd make a great pickup for an NL team because he can act as a 3rd catcher. Your thoughts? Why hasnt there been more talk about him?

Keith Woolner: He's mashed against lefties for years, but has been awful against righties at the same time. An OK bench player, and his ability to catch in an emergency is nice, but he's not going to be much more than a spare part with a narrowly-defined role.

jacksonreams (washington): Hey Keith, When do the book and pecotas come out? Can't wait. Also, who is the next Pena/Gomes? Thanks homeboy.

Keith Woolner: Baseball Prospectus 2006 and the PECOTA projections are both in the works now. The book should be on the shelves in February.

Though this stops short of a actual projection, some less familiar names that did pretty well this past year include Dante Brinkley, Russell Martin, and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

knuckleball (Virginia): Why isn't Walter Young of the Orioles in the major leagues? How many home runs must he hit before he get's called up?

Keith Woolner: The fact that he weighs as much as two David Ecksteins has to be part of it. How many real chances has Calvin Pickering gotten?

Keith Woolner: That's all the time I've got tonight. Thanks for all the questions. And since I have the honor of the last scheduled chat of the year, I wish all our readers a Merry Hot Stove Season, and a Happy 6-More-Weeks-Til-Spring-Training.


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