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Chat: Rany Jazayerli

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday May 11, 2006 6:00 PM ET chat session with Rany Jazayerli.

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Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Rany Jazayerli: Hey everybody! Welcome to the Rany Jazayerli Hour, where your host - that's me - attempts to answer your questions despite an internet connection that has almost ground to a halt for the past few hours. Let's light this thing!

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Once Allaird is fired and you're named GM, what are the first handful of things you're going to do?

Rany Jazayerli: The chat queue is about 60% Royals questions, which is understandable...

What the Royals - under any General Manager - need to do is pretty straightforward:

1) Plow every available dollar into signing amateur talent. You can rip on Allard Baird's moves all you want, but ownership's refusal to open the checkbook in the draft or on the international market has done more harm than any three moves that Baird has made. The KC Star reported a few weeks ago that the front office had, in fact, convinced owner David Glass to devote more of the budget to scouting and development.

2) Fire Buddy Bell. This may be Baird's worst move of all. I have yet to understand what positives he brings to the table.

3) Take your lumps this season, and resist every impulse to rush Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, et al to the majors. The Royals are a case study in how things can go wrong when prospects are rushed. They really need to stop doing that.

As for me being named GM...I think I have a better chance of being named owner.

mackey2004 (Knoxville): BP folks' reaction to DePo's torpedo-ing in LA this offseason seemed to be a bit more muted than I expected. That prompts me to ask: To what extent is BP's role that of a public advocate for the sort of analytical thinking about baseball you practice? Should you folks be more strident in bringing the fight to the kneejerk sportswriters, etc.?

Rany Jazayerli: I think we are, and we have been. Every article that we write, every radio, magazine, and TV appearance that we make, is done with an agenda in mind - not the agenda that statistics are the be-all and end-all of baseball (as our critics would have you believe), but that objectivity, reason, and accountability are all good things in baseball as they are in life.

As for DePodesta, we certainly felt his firing was unjust and frankly absurd - look through Joe Sheehan's archives to see what he wrote at the time - but what's left to say once you've pointed out that this is what happens when you have a local press corps made of hacks with an axe to grind, and an owner who's a bit of a wuss?

tom (syracuse, ny): Hi Rany Going forward, should i deal Randy johnson for King Felix and Danny Haren. Johnson appears to have either an injury or real slippage.

Rany Jazayerli: Let this question be a reminder to all of you: if you're going to submit a fantasy question, it REALLY REALLY REALLY helps if you explain your league set-up. We're not mind-readers here; we don't know if you're playing 4X4 Roto, Scoresheet, or APBA, whether you're in a 10-team AL only league or a 20-team mixed league setup, whether you're in a keeper league or in a league that redrafts every year.

Having said that, King Felix is probably Johnson's equal in 2006, and should be the better pitcher from 2007 on. Toss in Danny Haren, and this is a no-brainer.

metsRok (NYC): Tell me why i shouldnt drop Millwood from my fantasy team after that hideous performance against the Twinkies of all teams....can he keep his era under 4 in tthat ballpark?

Rany Jazayerli: I've never understood the Millwood hype. Yeah, he led the league in ERA last year, but his peripherals didn't support his ERA, and it was only his second sub-4 ERA in the last six years. Toss in his home park, and I'd stay away.

Lamberty (MT, USA): Where does Buddy Bell fall on the list of Baseball's All-Time Worst Managers?

Rany Jazayerli: All-Time Worst? That's a loaded question, since the worst manager of all time might have managed one game. I'd probably rather have Buddy Bell managing my team than Ted Turner.

But I think Bell is pretty clearly the Royals' All-Time Worst Manager, which is a pretty scary thought. You know things are bad when I'm pining for the days of Tony Muser.

Raz (NYC): Rany, who is Andrew Miller? Scott Kazmir, Felix Hernandez, Verlander type of a guy or below them?

Rany Jazayerli: I'm not sure he is in the class of those guys, who are all potention #1 starters - Miller's upside has been described to me as more of a #2 guy. He certainly COULD put together a stretch of 200-inning, 3.20 ERA seasons, but the guys you've mentioned all throw a little harder.

Having said that, the rest of this draft is so weak that Miller is still a very clear #1 (as Kevin Goldstein wrote today), even though he might not have gone in the Top 3 last year.

One thing that hasn't received much attention yet: Miller is apparently a very strong groundball pitcher. That's never a bad thing.

mackey2004 (Knoxville): Leadoff hitters: Why aren't there more good ones? Why are there barely any decent ones? Ichiro, Damon, Furcal. Figgins? Podsednik? Heck, I'd almost take Hanley Ramirez or Youk at this point over any of those guys. What gives?

Rany Jazayerli: I used to complain about this a lot myself, but Nate Silver's excellent work in describing how PECOTA works has given me some insight into this. We've always understood that walk rate can drive power, but until Nate explained it, I didn't appreciate how much the reverse works - power drives walks.

Make a list of the most patient hitters in the game (i.e. the ones who walk the most) and almost all of them are power hitters. It is difficult to intimidate pitchers enough to draw 100 walks a year without at least some power, and the classic leadoff stereotype is a guy who hits about five homers a year.

I always wondered if Rickey Henderson, even though he was the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, might have been better utilized in the #2 or #3 hole, because his power was wasted in leadoff. But now I think that he *needed* to have that kind of power in order to run up his excellent walk rates.

The closest we've had to an "ideal" leadoff hitter in the last 10-15 years, who put up massive OBPs without much power, was probably Kenny Lofton in the mid-90s. And even Lofton (or Tim Raines, also in that caliber) owed his high OBPs to a good batting average - neither Lofton nor Raines ever walked 100 times in his career.

Historically, there have been players who could draw 100 walks a year without any power - Roy Thomas and Richie Ashburn come to mind. But guys that combine speed, walk rate, *and* no power are rarer than we think.

tbone (ny): most likely to make the playoffs: brewers or tigers?

Rany Jazayerli: Tigers. Love that offense, and Verlander and Zumaya have been everything advertised so far. When you've got two top pitching prospects, you're lucky if even one pans out, but right now the Tigers are getting contributions from both. The AL Central should be a barnburner all season.

KAZMIR (st pete): is the zambrano/kazmir mishap rick peterson's fault? or manaya? or just bad luck for the Mets?

Rany Jazayerli: Well, it's not the last one, that's for sure. Considering this was a trade which looked ridiculous the moment it was announced, and has never looked otherwise, there's a good chance this will go down as the most lopsided trade of the 2000s when Rob Neyer Jr. revises his dad's Big Book of Baseball Blunders.

And yes, Chuck LaMar was on the *good* side of the trade. Wonders never cease.

PBuEsq (St. Louis): Doctor, who would you like to see as the Royals manager? Personally, I'd like to see Frank White. With the lack of talent currently available to the club, it seems like it does not matter who signs the lineup card, and giving Mr. White the job would bring some much needed gratis to the club. At the very least, people in KC would speak favorably about the club for a news cycle or two.

Rany Jazayerli: Ownership's need to have the people in KC speak favorably about them for a news cycle or two is one of the reasons the team is in the shape it is. Why else would they have refused to trade Mike Sweeney when he still had value? Why else would they have ordered management to spend $20 million on a bunch of irrelevant free agents?

If the Royals want to win in the future, they first have to understand that "in the future" refers to a time horizon beyond next month.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): I know it's kind of a craps shoot, but what would you tell a team to do to improve their luck in rounds three to thirty? That is, once the obvious picks are gone what can new management in KC or WAS do to improve their yield and reestablish their farm systems?

Rany Jazayerli: This is based purely on intuition and not backed up by any data, but my late-round draft strategy would be to focus on:

- A bunch of "projectable" high school arms. Draft ten of these guys, and pure randomness would suggest that one of them will somehow put on 5 mph to his fastball in the next 2-3 years. See Zumaya, Joel.

- Short pitchers with solid track records of success.

- College hitters with great statistics but are disliked by scouts for their lack of athleticism. Not guys who the scouts say "he can't hit", but guys who scouts think can hit, but can't do anything else particularly well. Sometimes they can.

John Sinclair (Abbey Road): Is Brandon Phillips this good?

Rany Jazayerli: Depends on what you mean by "this good". He just reached the 100-PA mark, and his numbers are down to .301/.330/.473, which is good but not great. His value has been pretty dependent on batting average, which suggests a lot of regression is coming. In his defense, he has only 10 Ks in 93 ABs; if he can keep up that contact rate, he'll be a useful player. I see .280/.320/.410 for him this year, which isn't great, but it's not bad, and it's something to build on for a 25-year-old.

Kenny "The Hawk" (ChiTown): Is it fair to say that Buehrle is the most underrated player in baseball?

Rany Jazayerli: You're asking a guy who didn't believe in the White Sox last year, and didn't believe in them this year, so I may not be the guy to ask.

But I'm slowly coming around to the reality that this is a pretty damn good team, and that has as much to do with Buehrle as anyone. We're talking about a starting pitcher in the AL with a 3.63 career ERA, who is on his way to his fifth season of 7+ WARP in the last six years.

So to answer your question: yeah, he might well be.

Bill (KC): Rany, what do you make of David Glass' public statements that he will be making changes, and then 1 week later nothing happens? My opinion is that he felt he had found a replacement for Baird, but whoever that was then decided to turn the job down. What do you think?

Rany Jazayerli: The public perception is that the reason Glass is taking so long to bring the axe down on Baird is because he's having so much trouble finding a potential GM willing to take on the job.

It's not that the job of Royals GM is undesirable per se; I've had a few people in the game tell me that the job would be an interesting one to take, precisely because expectations are so low that a new GM could come in and try some innovative strategies with very little risk. You've got a team that has nowhere to go but up, and a press corps that is both polite and - in the case of Joe Posnanski - extraordinarily intelligent.

The problem with the job is that there is a perception within the game that the Glasses are a meddlesome bunch, particularly son Dan, and the Royals are going to have a hard time finding a qualified GM willing to take the job without assurances that the meddling will end.

Johnny (Chicago): What will Frank Thomas' season statistics look like? 40 HRS? .250 BA?

Rany Jazayerli: Take the Big Hurt's last two seasons, and he's hitting .199 with 18 HRs in 206 AB. In Mark McGwire's final year, he hit .187 with 29 HRs in 299 AB.

This is how it ends, folks. When a great hitter declines, he keeps his power and his patience to the end, but everything else goes. The question is whether Thomas has enough left to give the A's one final good season, and whether they'll give him the opportunity if he keeps hitting under .180.

redsox9 (Northern Virginia): When Coco Crisp comes back, do you think that the Sox should leave Youk as the leadoff hitter because of his hot start and better OBS?

Rany Jazayerli: This is my Stratomatic background showing, but when I've got two leadoff candidates like Youkilis and Crisp - the slow, patient right-handed hitter and the fast, line-drive switch-hitter - I'll actually put the Youkilis guy in the leadoff spot and bat the Crisp guy #2. Crisp will get more hits, which are more likely to advance Youkilis than Youkilis' walks are to advance Crisp. Plus, you'll avoid more double plays this way than if you reverse the two.

B. Beane (CALI): Who's better right now: Wright or Cabrera?

Rany Jazayerli: I've been staring at this question for the past five minutes, and I still don't have an answer.

Gun to my head, I'd go with Wright for the rest of 2006, if only because I suspect the lack of talent around Cabrera in Florida is eventually going to catch up to him.

In the long-term, both guys are among the first five players in baseball you'd want to build a franchise around.

Lightning round, people...

indiansfan5 (cleveland): True or false: the Indians will win the AL central

Rany Jazayerli: False. Not to read too much into early-season stats, but the Indians' pitching is killing them, and a seven-game deficit with 130 to play is nothing to sneeze out.

Besides, I have now seen the light, and realize that the White Sox will win every AL Central crown from now through eternity.

Rondell White (MN): Am I useful? If not, who should be taking my ABs?

Rany Jazayerli: No, and Jason Kubel.

The fact that I have Kubel on my AL-Kings Scoresheet roster, and my entire starting outfielder is currently on the DL, has no impact on my answer. None whatsoever.

alan (Japan): How quickly do you see Cole Hamels filling his #1 potential? Do you see him strugling a little bit at the Major League level or dominating hitters right away?

Rany Jazayerli: I could see Hamels dominating the NL from the start, maybe have a year not unlike Mark Prior's rookie season. That changeup is sick, and while you'd think that players would know when they're facing a top prospect as opposed to just some random pitcher up from Triple-A, I think Hamels is going to take advantage of a lot of hitters who aren't expecting a rookie to throw three above-average pitches for strikes.

henry, doug henry (cooperstown): is prince fielder/rickie weeks the next bagwell/biggio?

Rany Jazayerli: Not until they both sign 15-year contracts - what made Bagwell and Biggio the pair that they are isn't their talent, but the fact that they stayed teammates for so long.

Besides, I really don't think Weeks is going to stay at second base for very long.

Joey JoJo (NJ): Who would you rather have for the rest of the season: Chris Shelton or Jason Giambi?

Rany Jazayerli: Giambi. OBP is life, and Giambi's at .531, which makes him nearly immortal. Sure, he might get hurt, but Shelton might turn into a pumpkin too.

Pauly J. (RI): Is Papelbon overperforming to this point?

Rany Jazayerli: Well, he's not going to keep up a 0.47 ERA, if that's what you mean. But can he remain an excellent pitcher in relief? I see no reason why he can't.

I think we underestimate just how many starting pitchers could be dominant forces in the pen. Makes me wonder if there isn't some optimum pitching strategy that involves using every pitcher on your roster for 2-3 innings at a time. I'd settle for a four-man rotation as a first step.

Rany Jazayerli: Alright, I'm out, folks. Great questions today - hope to see y'all back here real soon.


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