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Chat: Gary Huckabay

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday October 13, 2003 1:00 PM ET chat session with Gary Huckabay.

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Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Gary Huckabay: Hi. Thanks for joining us. For those of you extending your lunch on the East Coast and finally waking up after your third cup of coffee on the West Coast, thanks for sacrificing your productivity and stopping by to chat. I won't be able to get to all your questions, but I'll do what I can. I've got the new Living Colour CD playing (CollideOScope), some reference materials, and a lack of sleep. Let's roll.

Amos (Madison, Wisconsin): The interview with Kevin Towers was a great read, but it raises two questions with me. First, at what point does saying the right things stop mattering for a GM who hasn't fielded a winning team recently, sort of like an inverse Brian Sabean? Also, do you think it may be unwise of Towers to speak so openly about his own players and about trades he has made or would like to make? Thanks in advance for responding and for all the great work on BP.

Gary Huckabay: At some point, yes, it all comes down to results. However, I don’t think it’s really that simple, if the implication is that Kevin Towers has run out of time in San Diego. (And I’m not just saying that because he’s joining us for a chat here on Wednesday.) Personnel decisions of all varieties should be evaluated on performance, and Towers has made a series of very good decisions, and built a quality organization. They have some significant financial limitations, have had some bad luck with injuries (and not “Dallas Green” bad luck), and have had the guts to identify and correct their own mistakes.

On balance, I think Towers has done a plus job in San Diego, and he’ll continue to stack the percentages in his favor. Brian Sabean’s underrated, particularly by the likes of us, but I guess as often as we call him underrated, well... my brain’s going all circular now.

Derek Martin (Montreal): I've asked this question a million times to BP with no response. Why evaluate relief pitchers, in a large part, by their inherited runners scored, while eschewing batters success with RISP? Seems like a direct contradiction. Cheers.

Gary Huckabay: This answer comes from one of the new interns at Baseball Prospectus, Adam Katz...

It seems contradictory to judge relievers based on situations and ignore RBI and other team-dependent stats for hitters or wins for starting pitchers, but it does make intuitive sense, at least to me. There is no way to control when a hitter comes up. Sure you can maximize Manny's RBI totals by batting him 4th behind 3 high-OBP guys, but there's no guarantee that he'll be up with RISP. But you can select when a reliever is brought into the game - and though the reliever isn't the one making the decisions, you can have Chad Bradford come in when you need him. You can't have Manny Ramirez bat when you need him.

RBI is a team-dependent stat. Stranding inherited runners is not.

cds (Brooklyn): Jason Bay had a great finish. Oliver Perez did not. And Jason Kendall is going to be a financial drain. What do the Pirates need to get for JK to make it worthwhile to trade him? And what PTBNL would get Kahrl off of Littlefield's back for the Giles deal?

Gary Huckabay: I would think that any reasonable offer that free the Bucs of Kendall’s contract would be enough. Yes, he had something of a renaissance in 2003, but he’s still being paid a fortune, and he’s had one good year in the last three. As for getting Kahrl off Littlefield’s back, I would think that getting a couple players with some potential to be really good who are below the age of 25 would do it. Don’t bet on that happening.

rlladd1 (cape cod,ma): the red sox have failed to hit at home, except for one game, since the illegal tv was removed from their bullpen. sandy alderson seems to be the chief red sox enabler in that fiasco and in the present one where he says security was excellent for game three when clearly it wasn't. isnt his bias so clear that he should be removed so that the series can be played fairly on the field ?

Gary Huckabay: Do you realize the sheer lunacy of your implication? Go outside. Get some fresh air. Stop watching 'JFK' repeatedly each day.

Suraj (NY): Which of these current cellar dwellers has the best chance to get back into contention and why: Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, or the Padres?

Gary Huckabay: Milwaukee, probably. First off, they have the advantage of inhabiting the NL Central, where you don’t exactly have to be a juggernaut to be on the fringes of the race. Second, the new regime’s done an admirable job of acquiring and developing young players. The Brewer farm system’s gone from resembling Al Harazin’s Absinthe Dreams to looking like a real pipeline. Most orgs would love to have J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder as their farm system jewels.

The DRays are definitely interested in getting better, but I think they’ve got tougher circumstances, and I think they mistimed things a bit with the young players they’ve already got. They started the clock on a lot of money before they had to. As for the Padres, ask Kevin Towers in this space on Wednesday.

Thomas (New Haven CT): Hi Gary! You had mentioned before that you were working on a revision of your old Vladimir forecasting system. Are you still planning to do that, and why do you want to, given that BP has invested so heavily in PECOTA?

Gary Huckabay: Vlad and PECOTA are different beasts. I am just about finished with the software for a new version of Vladimir, using similar but updated algorithms from the previous two incarnations. It’s not going to be something featured heavily at BP, but I do expect to make the forecasts available to Premium subscribers. (That’s not a promise; I may not finish in time.)

Vlad is strictly focused on identifying breakout and collapse candidates, and uses decision trees rather than probability density functions. It’s more alarmist than PECOTA, probably less useful, but interesting to me.

Tim McCarver (Boston): Why do people have to put up with me in the postseason?

Gary Huckabay: Tragically, our nation’s draconian laws against private imprisonment make it difficult to keep you from the broadcast booth. I look forward to the eventual teaming up of you, David Justice, and Steve Lyons, in the same sort of way I look forward to the creation of PAX TV family dramas, or the new Dick Wolf project, “Joggers”, which examines the lives of the people who are traumatized by finding corpses on 13 “Law & Order” series.

Tim Schultz (Washington, DC): Gary- Let's play "Sabean For a Day." 1) Given their stated 75 million target for next year, what should they do? 2) What will they do? And please, please tell me it doesn't involve promoting Feliz, Perez, or Hammonds. Tim

Gary Huckabay: Ok; first off, let’s remember that in the last offseason, Sabean went out and got Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo, and both suffered injuries that left them either absent or suboptimal for much of the year. Both are signed to deals that make financial sense for the Giants, and both are likely to play either better or more. I think Alfonzo’s going to be 30 and Durham’s 32, so a massive dropoff isn’t a major concern. Bonds is at $16M for next year, Durham’s at $6M, Alfonzo’s at $6M(?), so that’s $28M right there. Nen, Rueter, Grissom and Schmidt bring that to $51M(?), leaving a bunch of spots to fill with around $17M after Perez and the youngsters. What would I do? Bargain shopping for the middle of the pen, 1B, platooning from either the sides or offense/defense. With that budget, a #1 starter already in house, and Durham, Barry, and Alfonzo, I’d probably go for a minor league vet or two for 400 PA each in RF or something, perhaps in the Billy McMillon class.

Depending on how the market plays out, I might be willing to break the bank to bring in a top hitter to work with Bonds, then scramble budgetwise to fill the rest with veterans returning from an injury that want the playing time, or perhaps a couple of 30 year olds who hit 20 HR and drew 100 walks while wearing the minor league slugger label.

This all assumes I can’t find a market for my bad contracts.

Joshua (Seattle): What is the release date for BP 2004?

Gary Huckabay: We don't have a hard date yet, but my expectation is early to mid-February. It's a perfect Valentine's gift if you're in a relationship you want to get out of.

Casey (Baltimore): Do you think there's any credibility to McCarver or William Rhoden's contention that the DH is what allows beanball wars to get out of control (because pitchers know they won't have to face the music)? I certainly haven't noticed pitchers retaliating directly at each other in the NL.

Gary Huckabay: It's an interesting question. I've always thought that Roger Clemens has been something of a wuss in that regard, but my perception there is probably off base. Not that your question is really answerable, but I find it hard to believe that Pedro Martinez would be pointing into the dugout and gesturing to his head if he had to go out the following inning and get in the box.

Everett (College Station TX): I heard you this morning on Louis Belina's show! It was great! I want to know which organizations have the best farm systems. Thank you.

Gary Huckabay: I haven't gone over each system with a fine tooth comb yet, but Minnesota and Milwaukee kind of pop into my head. Then again, I'm a sucker for middle-of-the-diamond prospects. The Seattle system's got some oomph as well. Maybe Chris Snelling will finally get and stay healthy. Let's hope, anyway.

Adam J. Morris (Houston, Texas): Are there any (realistic) moves that Texas could make to get back into at least the fringes of the playoff hunt in 2004? Or should us Rangers fans just resolve ourselves to another sub-.500 season?

Gary Huckabay: I think that’d be a fairly tough order. Texas is going to have a tremendous offensive core, but they’ve got kind of a mini-Rockies thing going on, where they need to figure out how to approach the problem of pitching 1500 innings per year in an environment where runs (and life) are cheap. I’m not sure that they’re ready to undertake any grand experiment, and I really didn’t much care for their approach to their pitching staff the previous couple of years. Throwing a lot of dough at relievers coming off of a few good innings doesn’t seem wise.

As much attention as is paid to ARod’s contract, and the various “no team wins with X% of their salary spent on one player” statements, I really don’t think that’s the problem. Texas’ payroll without ARod was considerably more than a couple of playoff teams. I’m not certain, but I expect Billy Beane would be fairly pleased if the new mandate from Hofmann, Schott, and whoever the next owner of the A’s is were to say “Billy, you can only spend $50 Million on salary – after Alex Rodriguez at $25 Million.” The Rangers have a tall order, but it’s getting easier, because they’re getting collectively close to their prime, while the Mariners are aging fast. If the A’s suffer a major pitching injury, then yes, I think Texas could contend, defining contention as “in the wild card discussion after the all-star break.”

But they need some chaffable arms that don’t totally suck to throw 400-500 league average innings.

strong silence (goleta): Can't the A's afford a baserunning coach who can teach their guys to 1) keeping running until the ump declares a play is over, 2) slide; and 3)don't forget to touch the plate?

Gary Huckabay: They might well be able to afford that. It’s true the A’s have been snakebit by baserunning anomalies more visibly than any other team over the last three postseasons. I do think the most illustrative play was Tejada’s. Most players don’t know the fine points of the rules down to the ruling clarifications, but when you think about it, it probably makes sense to spend a little more time and money on that.

You think the A’s don’t wish that Tejada had kept running, scored easily as the throw to Varitek was offline, and their concerns were who was going to start against the Yankees in Game 5, rather than what the player personnel and front office exec turnover is going to be?

Jason (Atlanta): Why haven't the Braves been more successful in the postseason? Logically, I understand the axioms "anything can happen in a short series," best teams don't always win, luck plays a huge role, etc. -- but 1 for 12? What more can they do?

Gary Huckabay: It's not really one for 12.... the Braves have won a fair number of their individual series in the playoffs, but they've only brought home one title. Under the current system, teams have somewhere around a 1 in 8 shot at winning the WS once they even get to the postseason. 1 out of 12 isn't really that far out of line.

Benjamin (University of Maryland, Baltimore County): The local sports press clamors for Vlad and Millwood, but the O's most critical needs are around the infield. Should Beattie try to con Littlefield into eating some of Kendall's contract, and how should they address the 3B situation? Thanks.

Gary Huckabay: The O's Critical Needs are to figure out what they want to do. They need to build a player development system, and picking up stopgap free agents probably isn't the answer to building a team that will compete in the long term. I don't see a player on the current roster that's likely to be a player with a significant role on a championship team. They've got to build the infrastructure before they start patching things up.

Quiroz, Rios, Hill, Adams (soon to be Toronto, ON): So you like middle-of-the-diamond prospects. What are we, chopped liver?

Gary Huckabay: What, no Gabe Gross?

Casey (Baltimore): Any teams going with a 4-man rotation in 2004? Toronto and Cincinnati dabbled with it in 2003, right?

Gary Huckabay: At this time, I don't know of any that are definitely planning to do it. It's interesting. In 2003, the experiment was tried in Cincinnati briefly, and the "closers are artificial" experiment was tried in Boston. The patience and resolve of both orgs was pretty small, in large part because the press is so well versed in orthodoxy, and anything that veers from it is an easy story to write.

The four man rotation may return, but it's going to happen in conjunction with a new approach to handling pitchers in general.

Michael (Boston, MA.): Can you explain the Red Sox impending trouble of attempting to sign their free agents after the 2004 season ? And their opening day lineup for the 2005 season ?

Gary Huckabay: Well, that's kind of borrowing trouble, isn't it? The Sox are down 2-1 in the 2003 ALCS. I wouldn't worry about potential contractual problems over a year from now, at least until such time as this year's postseason's complete. Theo may find that personnel decisions become either much easier or downright moot 13 months from now, depending on what happens over the course of the 200+ games between now and then.

And it's not like they're the Orioles in terms of reputation.

Sean (Philadelphia, PA): Gary, quick question. I know it's easy to look back now and question the call, but can you tell me why Little had Manny running on a 3-2 count, Clemens pitching, Ortiz hitting, w/ less than 2 outs? It seems to me that w/ one of the best strikeout pitchers throwing to Ortiz (someone not all that difficult to K) the outcome w/ the highest probability of happening was a K (or a BB). Why did Little have Manny run? thanks -s

Gary Huckabay: Good question. Wish I had a good answer for it.

Ed (Atlanta, GA): You've been a big advocate of the Brooks Kieschnick experiment. Do you think it'll spread around baseball?

Gary Huckabay: I expect other teams will at least consider it, and kudos to the Brewers for executing on it. The last pitcher on the roster really doesn't have to be all that amazing; they're in there in low leverage situations anyway, so why not have another skill? Maybe that's how Rick Ankiel eventually has a career. Versatility's highly valuable in any circumstance. For example, California's new first lady can multitask by slicing enormous panes of glass with her cheekbones. You never know when you're going to need that.

Jason (Atlanta): Any other music recommendations besides the new Living Colour? FM radio is a wasteland of disposable pop and joyless rock...

Gary Huckabay: Yes. You can never go wrong with King's X, and Brand New Immortals is another band worth the time and effort. Thanks....

Gary Huckabay: Thanks, all. Sorry I couldn't get to all your questions, particularly the last one from Cliff Clavin. Come by on Wednesday to join San Diego Padre General Manager Kevin Towers, and enjoy the rest of the postseason. Pray for Mark Prior's shoulder.


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