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Chat: Joe Sheehan

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday February 07, 2006 3:00 PM ET chat session with Joe Sheehan.

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Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Joe Sheehan: Greetings and salutations...this is truly a dead period for the game, the last days of winter, but with spring training and the WBC just around the corner, I'm sure we can find some stuff to talk about.

Bill Johnson (New Mexico): Dave Duncan has something of a reputation for renovating broken-down, cast-off pitchers. What's the maximum value that you think he can extract from Sidney Ponson? (If ambitious, answer twice, if Anthony Reyes pans out and alternatively if he doesn't.)

Joe Sheehan: Even at his best, Ponson has never been a top-tier starter, which is consistent with the kind of guys Duncan has helped in the past. I think he can be a credible #5 guy, making 30 starts, throwing 180-190 innings with an ERA in the 4.40-4.75 range. I don't think he has much upside; he doesn't miss enough bats or throw enough strikes.

The key is the starts. One huge edge the Cards have had on the competition the last couple of seasons is a stable rotation. Ponson gives them a chance to continue that.

braves872 (New York): What do you think of Jeremy Bonderman? He's pitched like a middle-of-the-road guy the few years he's been in the league, but always with some numbers that make me wonder. Some of his stats that point to a great future - improved K rate, peripheral stats that always seem better than his actual numbers - seem to be outweighed by some negatives in his numbers. The guy will only be 23 this upcoming season, is having a year like Javier Vazquez's 2003 season asking too much for in the near future?

Joe Sheehan: It's something I fully expect from him. In my starry-eyed projections for Bonderman a year ago, I underestimated the volatility of pitcher career paths. What, say, Ben Sheets did was impressive, but unlike hitters, pitchers don't follow that kind of path very often. Expecting Bonderman to be great was a reach.

I think Bonderman has the skills and the body to be a durable and effective pitcher, with a peak that makes him a Cy Young contender. The Tigers have done a very good job of bringing him along. I wouldn't read too much into the gap between his ERAs and his peripherals. That can close in any given year.

Bob R. (Clearwater): You are the Devil Rays management. In spending your limited resources this year, what are your top 3 priorities? (based on the assumption you intend to build a contender and stimulate support for the team in the area) If your priorities include acquiring specific kinds of players, where (& when) is your best chance to find them this year? Trades? Free agents? Farm system? Other?

Joe Sheehan: 1) Determine which of our many offensive players are actually going to be with the team in 2008.

2) Leverage the remaining value in the trade market into pitchers with little to no MLB experience and some upside. (The Edwin Jackson deal, again and again and again.)

The Rays shouldn't be players in the FA market for another winter, at least. They have to build through the draft and trades.

3) Convince the people in the area that going to Devil Rays baseball game is a great way to spend a day or night, and that we're committed to making not only the experience a positive one, but putting a championship-caliber team on the field.

Adam Dunn (Cincinnati, OH): So is this as good as I get? Do you see me getting any better?

Joe Sheehan: I think your central skill set has peaked. You're not going to suddenly change your strikeout rate or add a lot of power or become a Gold Glover. You may have a year where you drop a few Ks, have some balls fall in and accidentally hit .310 or so.

BT (MD): In the PECOTAs that were just released to Premium subscribers, do the listed VORPs include defensive value over replacement, or are they strictly offensive predictions?

Joe Sheehan: VORP is always a measure of offense, only. Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), are what also include defensive value.

BT (MD): Aubrey Huff to the Mets for Victor Diaz/Xavier Nady and a prospect? When, and how?

Joe Sheehan: The Devil Rays have every reason to hope they can do better than that, especially if Huff can start the '06 season in a manner more like his 2003-04 work. They have no reason to deal him while his perceived value is at its lowest.

By the way, the last thing the Rays are looking to do in a trade is add outfielders. I don't think the Mets have the pitching to make any deal with the Rays.

ajc (brookline, ma): Hi Joe Why do you find Ande Marte's arm so much healthier in a Cleveland uniform than you did in a Red Sox uniform? You seemed to have a lot of doubts about him and injury "rumors" when Boston acquired him, but he seems back on track to being a future superstar with the tribe. Thanks!

Joe Sheehan: This is really a question for Will--or one of three medical staffs--rather than me. I would love to have a clean answer on the condition of Marte's elbow, and how much it will or won't affect him in the short and long terms.

As far as the difference in evaluations, you're probably right. I didn't bring that up in writing about the Crisp deal, and I should have. I think when the Braves traded him, it was more in the forefront because I was trying to address the idea that John Schuerholz has rarely traded away a player who became a star.

BT (MD): Joe, how stupid were the Phillies not to grab Russ Branyan (.943 OPS vs RHP in '05) to platoon with David Bell (.547 vs RHP)? He's now a Devil Ray -- which seems a bit premature in his career. Would you say "very stupid", "extraordinarily stupid", or "laying down in traffic stupid"? (Thanks for letting me vent.)

Joe Sheehan: David Bell has job security like you, me or anyone else would love to have. You could argue that had the Phillies chosen to keep Placido Polanco and play him and Chase Utley all year, while benching Bell, they would have won the wild card.

They simply aren't, and weren't, looking to replace or platoon him. Stupid? Maybe, but some guys play for reasons other than their performance. This is just symptomatic of the larger problem.

kmdarcy (San Juan, PR): Where do you see the Giants in 2008? (Come on now, let's not be TOO cynical.)

Joe Sheehan: The Giants are headed for a 2-4 year period of being one of the worst teams in baseball. They have an old roster and they haven't developed good position players in a decade. They have a few good young pitchers in the mix (Cain, Valdez if healthy) and some hitters you might be able to care about (Lewis, Martinez-Esteve, Sanders), but nothing that's going to save them from a few years of ugly.

There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, this has been a highly-competitive team for more than a decade, which is a damn sight more than many can say.


bluke1 (ky): What is James Click going to do now?

Joe Sheehan: He's going to be a fry cook on Venus.

I'll take this opportunity to say what a great and talented analyst James is, how much I've enjoyed working with him, and how much success I think he's going to have in the future. We'll miss him.

BT (MD): Why should Josh Byrnes hold off on trading Tony Clark till Conor Jackson proves himself in spring training? Seems like it makes sense to flip him for the first good package, while a surprising number of teams out there still have openings at 1B. And if Jackson "isn't ready", just plug the gap with one of the Daryl Wards of the world (or move one of their surplus OFs to 1B).

Joe Sheehan: It's kind of the reverse of the Huff situation. Huff isn't likely to see his trade value go down, and may well bump it up with a good start. Clark, on the other hand, is never going to play better than he did in 2005, and will only have less value as that becomes apparent.

There's some realpolitik here in that I don't think Clark signed a two-year deal thinking he'd be somewhere else by Opening Day, and he's by all accounts a popular and respected guy in that clubhouse. Tough situation for Byrnes, and the kind of thing that makes being a real GM a bit different from fantasy/Strat or what you might call a "sabermetrically optimal" process.

Dan (Illinois): Hi Joe What do you think of the job Kenny Williams has done in retooling the White Sox this off-season? Where does it compare to how the Indians and Twins have made changes this off-season? How to do you like their odds to win the division again? Thanks

Joe Sheehan: I have a lot of respect for Williams' willingness to change the roster dramatically. The biggest trap after winning is to attach excessive value to the players who were on the team, rather than evaluate the roster objectively.

I expect the Indians to regress somewhat, as they didn't solve their corner issues and can't expect that their up-the-middle players will continue to collectively make up for that. Their bullpen will likely fall back a bit as well. The Twins are going to keep runs off the board again like nobody's business, but their offense has problems.

Right now--it's February 6, OK?--I'd probably pick the White Sox to repeat.

pjfsks (Ne w Jersey): Please fill in the blank - If the Mets don't make the playoffs this year it will be because ___________. Also, if I look up "wasted roster spot" in the dictionary, will I find a picture of Endy Chavez?

Joe Sheehan: 1) They overestimated their starting pitching, and dumped 350-plus innings of league-average starter for very little.

1a) They continued to have a dysfunctional lineup, with low OBPs at the top costing them many, many runs.

Sean (Colorado Springs): So one sports book has Milwaukee at 25:1 odds against winning the division. Enough to be tempting?

Joe Sheehan: That would be a 4% chance, which is far lower than the reality. I don't think they will win--I see problems scoring runs, and the pen won't be as good as it was last year--but there's value in the wager.

Aunt Jemima (Atlanta): Who do you like better, Jeremy Hermida or Grady Sizemore?

Joe Sheehan: Love the question...I'd take Sizemore right now, because the value of being an average, or slightly-plus, center fielder for the next six or seven years is very high, probably enough to offset Hermida's edge at the plate.

While saying that, I should note that I love Jeremy Hermida like a chocolate-covered Cobie Smulders.

Phil (Boston): How do you see the Red Sox's shortstop situation shaking out? PECOTA indicated that Dustin Pedroia is the best option by far (33.6 VORP, +3 FRAA), but the Sox just signed Alex Gonzalez and there's still (frightening) talk around here of a return to Alex Cora.

Joe Sheehan: Gonzalez should be the starter on Opening Day, and I wouldn't be suprised to see him keep the job all season. Managers love defense, and to Gonzalez's credit, while his OBPs are bad, he is a very good defensive shortstop and he has some pop. If he's .270/.310/.400 in Fenway with +10 defense, that plays just fine.

OBP vs. defense is interesting, because the debate lies at the core of a lot of acquisitions this winter (Jones, Castilla, Molina) that were panned by me.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): It looks a lot like there are ging to be at least four or five really good races next year. And given the number of teams that will be making their first run at the playoffs in a while (TOR, MIL, CLE, etc) it should be a banner year for baseball in general. What hope do you hold for a clean CBA negotiation that would build on a year like this and not spiral into greed, vanity and depravity?

Joe Sheehan: None. It's funny, I saw a line somewhere the other day--wish I could remember where--in someone's column where they talked about how the last agreement was reached without much conflict or difficulty.

This is, of course, insane. The players were browbeaten into accepting a big step backwards by a media and fan environment hostile to their interests and unable to grasp the issues.

There's just as much stagnation in the standings as there was four years ago, only there's been no reason to point that out as a bargaining tool. I firmly believe that the next CBA negotiation is going to be nasty, with management out to "win" again and the MLBPA out to get back some lost ground.

Grady's mom (Gradyville): 70 extra-base hits as a 22 year-old suggests to me that he may a little bit more than average or slighty-plus. I suppose you could choose any metric you wanted, but Sizemore has a significant chance of being a "good" player. Discuss.

Joe Sheehan: On defense, mom, on defense.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Joe, who's currently the most underrated position player in baseball?

Joe Sheehan: Well, the Phillies spent the offseason trying to deal Bobby Abreu, so he's clearly a candidate. Jim Edmonds is a Hall of Famer, and no one talks about him that way. Orlando Hudson is a three-win defender, so he's in the mix.

Blakely (Australia): Hey Joe, thanks for your time. Pecota projects Brad Wilkerson for 643 AB's. Isn't that a bit generous considering Texas' glut at OF/1B already?

Joe Sheehan: Wilkerson isn't going to be affected by that glut. He'll play so long as he's healthy; he's arguably their best player if he's in that state.

Matt Morris (San Francisco): It looks like PECOTA thinks I'm going to have a nice bounceback in 2006 before making my return trip on the mediocrity train to early retirement from 2007-2010 ... what do you think, Joe?

Joe Sheehan: I think I'm shorting all Giants pitchers as long as the outfield's average age is higher than mine. Morris could give up 60 doubles and 15 triples this year; the dropoff from last year's outfield defense to this year's is staggering.

Case (Oakland): Hey Joe, You've hinted in the last couple weeks that the A's are your favorite in the AL West- does the possible acquisition of Jeff Weaver by the Angels solidify their rotation and increase their chances much? Or is their ready-to-collapse offense holding them back?

Joe Sheehan: Weaver helps the Angels, who needed to replace a lot of lost starts, and who still have the question of how much Kelvim Escobar can give them hanging over their heads.

He doesn't change the central problem, though, which is that this team simply can't hit-and-run its way to enough runs any longer. They don't have enough good hitters, and the OBP sinks they do have are going to play and play a lot. If anything were to happen to Vlad, they might not score 650 runs. Even with him, they only get to the 725 or so.


JRMayne (Riverbank): Joe, how many questions are you getting on when the Pecota cards are coming out? Also, Robinson Cano: Next Tony Lazzeri, or next Sandy Alomar Sr.?

Joe Sheehan: Unless I'm mistaken, the new PECOTA cards went live today. They're betterer than ever before.

Look!

Cano looks to me like a .280/.325/.420 guy over the long term, with big swings from year to year. How well that plays depends entirely on how he develops defensively.

Phil (Boston): Re: Alex Gonzalez Respectfully, I remind you that he projects to play -2 defense according to PECOTA and was -6 and -3 the last two years, respectively.

Joe Sheehan: I'll use this to answer another question about defense, as well.

There are a lot of systems out there to evaluate defense, and with UZR having gone behind the curtain, they're all fighting for mindshare and credibility.

In evaluating a player's defense, I don't just use Clay's DFTs. I try to look at all the data I can find, and that information leads me to the conclusion that Alex Gonzalez is a plus defender.

Internally, there are very smart people working the problem of how to develop a PBP-based defensive system. I don't know when or how BP might have something like that, but I do know that everyone, even Clay, would agree that a PBP-based system is closer to where you want to be than his formulas.

Jim Rice (Boston): Edmonds HOF material? Who do I need to talk to??

Joe Sheehan: Not me, that's for sure. Edmonds has out-hit and out-fielded you; you have 5-6 years' worth of playing time on him, and that gap is closing. You don't want this fight.

chuckmotl (Chicago): Who do you like better, Brad Radke or Javier Vazquez?

Joe Sheehan: Radke, if only for the better environment. Vazquez has both a higher upside and downside, in part because of US Cellular's HR effects.

Dave Littlefield (Pittsburgh): Have I learned anything in my tenure as GM? While not stellar, Burnitz is a better signing than Mondesi and Randa is better than Stynes; nor did I did suffer any Rule 5 losses this year? Is that significant progress?

Joe Sheehan: It's progress.

It's not significant.

The Pirates have drifted into a zone of irrelevance, and need a couple of big drafts, as well as some luck with the current crop of pitchers, to escape it.

Scott A. (Renton, WA): Joe, The Brewers - wild card sleeper darling of the year? Could they even contend for the Central, if they get big years from Prince and Weeks? Seems like that's a division that some upstart could make a run in.

Joe Sheehan: I think the Brewers are going to have to build a very big bandwagon this spring. Realistically, though, you have to see some regression in that pen, which was a huge part of last year's success.

Add in that Brady Clark isn't remotely as good as he looked, some serious defensive questions in the infield, and a reliance on some aging left-handed hitters, and I think the whole package is flawed.

I think it's a smart organization with a bright future, just not in '06.

jm010e (NY, NY): Joe, thanks for chatting! What should we expect out of Brandon Webb this year? He seemed to really take a step forward with his power groundball stuff last season and the 'Backs have dramatically improved their infield defense with the addition of Orlando Hudson; possibly 18-20 wins?

Joe Sheehan: It seems too simple, but when you consider that Brandon Webb is a groundball guy with problems against lefties, doesn't adding a 2B with excellent range have to mean good things for him? Shouldn't this save him a lot of singles?

I'm behind this plan. I see Webb with an ERA in the low 3.00s, making the All-Star team and being a fringe CYA candidate.


Brent (Raleigh, NC): Do you expect to see more, less, or about the same number of banned substance-related suspensions this season as we saw in 2005? Do you expect to see another high profile Rafael Palmeiro type suspension in 2006?

Joe Sheehan: Fewer, and that's with noting that we saw very, very few, as a percentage, in 2005. I don't expect any high-profile suspensions, although I would have said the same thing a year ago.

One frustrating element of this is that now that we have a major testing program in place with significant penalties, the lack of positives is being spun as evidence that the players are still cheating, just with things that can't be detected.

Is there any point at which people are going to be satisfied?

Gorman T. (Green Bay): What can we learn from the relative success of the Brewers' pen over the last few seasons? Even with PECOTA frowning on a Turnbow encore, it would seem that they've constructed a deep bullpen at minimal cost.

Joe Sheehan: Just that: effective bullpens can be had on the cheap by eschewing name value and not making the mistake of paying for the last 80 innings. The Angels started this, and the Twins have done it as well.

Virtually no category of contract returns as little value as multi-year deals for free-agent relievers.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Joe, each year somebody writes, "If Leo Mazzone can fix XXXXX, it'll be another reason to get him into the HoF," and each year Leo continues to work his magic. Does he have a chance of making the Hall? Who's XXXXX this year?

Joe Sheehan: Well, I would argue that the work Leo Mazzone has done over the past 17 seasons makes him a Hall of Fame pitching coach. It's not an easy argument to make, but I'd make it.

I want to see what kind of progress Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera make under Mazzone. Both pitchers have a lot of raw talent, and they're now being instructed by one of the best. You *might* get away with thinking of them as Glavine and Smoltz, circa 1988. (Maybe, maybe not, but it's an interesting notion.)

Johnny Tuttle (Battle Creek, Michigan): At what point does a return by A-Rod to SS look unrealistic? Have we already crossed that bridge? I know there was some talk that the Yanks could have acquired a 3B instead of a CF before Damon signed, but how unrealistic would it be for A-Rod to go back to SS full time even this season?

Joe Sheehan: We're already there. Jeter's never moving, and each year that Rodriguez ages and stays away from short makes it that much more unlikely he ever moves back.

Lightning round...I was hoping to chase Christina's record today, but it's not going to happen...

Sam (Seattle): Your pick for the 2006 world series?

Joe Sheehan: A's over Mets.

Ray DiPerna (NY): What do you see out of Giambi in 06?

Joe Sheehan: .245/.385/.510 in 450 PAs, with negative baserunning and defense, and some missed time with nagging injuries.

shamah (DC): Were the Jays' moves enough to compete for the AL East? I'll take their rotation over either the Yanks' or the Sox's at this point. The question to me is whether they can slug with either of those two.

Joe Sheehan: I'm working on this for next week. As bad as their signings were, it's time to evaluate the team on the field and see where they stand, independent of 2007-2010 and the money involved.

My sense is that they'll catch one of the two teams, and fight the other and the AL Central for the wild card.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Joe, for the lightning round: who will be this year's Jon Garland?

Joe Sheehan: This could be interpreted any number of ways, but the name that comes to mind in most of them is Brandon Webb.

doughk (DC): Over under for Nats wins in 06?

Joe Sheehan: 71 1/2.

Pythag (Win expectancy): White sox to repeat, arent you forgetting about something?

Joe Sheehan: That's completely irrelevant to the 2006 season. Evaluating the Sox roster heading into this season, their "lucky" 2005 just isn't a factor.

Will (Boston, MA): I think the D-Rays catch the Sox or Yanks before Toronto does.

Joe Sheehan: I don't know about that. I do think the notion that the Devil Rays and Blue Jays might be the best teams in this division in 2008 is an interesting one.

ccweinmann (Seattle): Liriano, Cain, Verlander, or Kazmir? In what order?

Joe Sheehan: For 2006: Liriano, Kazmir, Cain, Verlander

For career: Kazmir, Verlander, Liriano, Cain.

shamah (DC): Best offseason signing?

Joe Sheehan: For the cost, either Weaver or Piazza.

Michael (OH): Your pick for Reds GM and why?

Joe Sheehan: I wouldn't mind seeing Kullman get a chance to stay for a while. He gets both sides (performance analysis and skills analysis), he's smart, and he's a good face for the organization.

Will (Watertown, MA): Rank in order of descending terribleness for next year: 1)Randy Johnson, 2) Carl Pavano, 3) Mike Mussina.

Joe Sheehan: Johnson, Mussina, Pavano. Collectively, these guys are going to be all right, say 570 IP, 3.95 ERA.

Mario66 (Pittsburgh): For fantasy sim-leagues: Beckett or Burnett?

Joe Sheehan: Beckett, who has a higher upside.

sfbennett1 (Edmond, OK): Better in '06 ... Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka or Chris Young

Joe Sheehan: This is a trick question, right?

Eaton and Otsuka.

diperna (NYC): Could Clemens get to 400 wins? (If he wanted to?)

Joe Sheehan: I seriously doubt it. That's another five years at least. The outer edge of pitching effectiveness seems to be 43 or 44 years old, knuckleballers excepted.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Joe, a 3-bagger... What's the best-case scenario for the WBC? What's the worst? What are our chances of seeing it again in four years?

Joe Sheehan: 1) US/DR final, with some kind of drama in the semis and final. Big crowds.

2) Round-robin upsets that hurt the star value of the later rounds, even one significant injury, and low turnouts.

3) 95%, in at least some form.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Joe, would you take the over or under on Mike Piazza's PECOTA: 333 PA, .253/.329/.420?

Joe Sheehan: Over, even in PETCO.

Last few...

pjvent (Washington, DC): Joe: How about giving us a grade for the Yankees off-season...

Joe Sheehan: B+. They didn't have a lot of flexibility, and they made the one move they had to make, albeit overpaying to do so.

lennyd (Portland OR): Hi Joe, It's early but any surprise teams striking your fancy? Conversely any teams set to disappoint?

Joe Sheehan: I've set up camp on the roomy Diamondbacks bandwagon, while reserving space on the Twins' one.

The Angels, Red Sox and Cubs all strike me as candidates to disappoint.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Joe, you live in L.A. ... what's the buzz on the next great baseball movie?

Joe Sheehan: "Arrogance: The Baseball Prospectus Story," starring Carrot Top, Jason Alexander and Chloe Sevigny.

sfbennett1 (Edmond, OK): Better player right now ... Soriano or Ian Kinsler?

Joe Sheehan: Soriano, whose defense is probably not as bad as Clay's numbers had it last year.

Joe Sheehan: I set a personal record for time, and still have hundreds of leftover questions. Thanks for reading, and remember, just a week to pitchers and catchers!


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