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Chat: Keith Woolner

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday May 09, 2006 6:30 PM ET chat session with Keith Woolner.

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Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Keith Woolner: Hi everyone, I'm going to start the chat a few minutes early, as I have a hard stop at (or slightly before) 7:30pm Eastern. Let's get chatting!

Michael (Colorado): What do you think of the 50 game suspension Delmon Young received? And do you know if that 50 is being measured from the incident date or the penalty date? And, finally, what are the odds of him getting a call-up this year? I gotta believe that the Rays' reluctance to "rush anyone" coupled with the potential PR disaster in promoting someone who did this (although, when have pr issues truly changed the way mlb clubs are run, much less the Rays) delays his call-up until next year.

Keith Woolner: 50 games seems about right to me. It's comparable to the first steroid infraction, which is the unforgiveable sin du jour. But whereas steroid use is done with forethought, planned, and executed with deception over a lengthy period of time, hurling a bat at an ump, while a heinous act itself, it at least one of reaction in the heat of the moment.

The suspension is backdated from the first game he missed (basically the day after the incident). And I don't see the Rays rewarding Young with a callup this year, having missed two months, and not hitting all that well at AAA beforehand anyways.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): What's the marginal run value of the Hidden Ball Trick? And, given that the only player to have performed it successfully since 1999 is Mike Lowell (twice), any chance we'll see it play a significant role in a pennant race?

Keith Woolner: The marginal run value of the HBT is about the same as caught stealing or a pickoff, maybe slightly less since it can be done more readily against a trailing runner (who may be more prone to being caught off guard) than a leading runner.

It's entertainment value, and embarassment quotient are far higher though. Will we see it again? Undoubtedly, and if it happens in a pennant race, or a post-season game, the victim will likely be Bucknerized as a result.

Raz (NYC): Keith, after winning Cy Young few years ago Zito has basicaly been a .500 pitcher, do you think it is justifiable to trade couple of top prospects for him? Also what teams do you expect to make a push for Zito?

Keith Woolner: Zito's been better than a .500 pitcher from 2003-2006, albeit not a perennial Cy contender. His reputation exceeds his performance, but I still expect him to be worth a couple of top prospects on the trade market. Pitching is always a prized commodity.

While the Mets have been rumored to be pursuing Zito, we'll have to see which hopeful team loses a key starting pitcher in June or July to see who's most desperate.

Peter (Waterloo): Shoot me, but I'm not aware of what the Hidden Ball Trickę is... short description?

Keith Woolner: The Hidden Ball Trick is when an infielder hides the ball in his glove, and the pitcher (without balking) makes it look like he's preparing for the next pitch. The unwary runner takes his lead too early and...

buddaley (Clearwater): I reread your March "Aim for the Head" about new relief categories. I wonder whether it approaches the issue wrong. I do not think it is the situation that matters (i.e. lead or not, tying run on deck or not) but the effectiveness of the pitcher in not allowing runs to score regardless of who is winning. Is it possible to develop an effectiveness measure based on the baserunner situation, number of outs, number of innings pitched and possibly number of baserunners put on base before leaving the game during an inning.

Keith Woolner: You've just described WXRL -- the win expectation based method for determining a reliever's impact on his team's chances of winning, based on the situation he faced entering the game and how well he pitched.

The whole point of the new relief categories (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=4900) was to capture something about the contexts the pitcher was used in, much like the save (and to a lesser extent, the hold) attempt to capture something about the pitcher's impact on a specific game.

kriscolic (Pittsburgh): Best solution to Mets rotation shortage:a) Lima Time!; b) Heilman to rotation, Heath Bell (20 k,3 bb,0 hr, 13 ip at Norfolk) to NY; c) Jeremi Gonzalez (30,9,1,35.6 at Norfolk) to NY; d) construct a time machine in order to prevent the trades of Benson and Seo (not to mention Kazmir). Thanks Keith!

Keith Woolner: d) would be most beneficial (particularly w.r.t. Kazmir)

but

b) would be the most practical.

(Is there a question out there today for which the best answer actually is "Lima Time!"??)

CXD (New York, NY): Run expectancy question: How do solo HRs affect the tables? In other words, if every inning featured a leadoff HR and no other scoring, would the run expectancy at the base out state 0-000 be 1 run (since an average of 1 run scored in every inning with that state?) or 0.5 runs (since 1 run scored half the time we had a 0-000 state?) Thanks.

Keith Woolner: As we compute it at Baseball Prospectus, the expected runs in the situations you describe would be 0.500 runs -- if we looked at all states that were 0-000, and looked at how many runs went on to score after that point, half the time one run would score.

However, the universe you describe is not one where the expected runs matrix is particularly useful. One implicit assumption is that the number of expected runs has no "memory" or state -- that knowing how many runs have already scored in addition to the baserunners and # of outs doesn't add important information to our estimate. In your case, telling me that a run has already scored during the inning allows me to update my expectation to 100% accuracy.

GBSimons (Seymour, IN): Keith, any idea when the DHMU (Daily HACKING MASS UPDATES) will begin? Thanks.

Keith Woolner: Dave Pease tells me they may be up as soon as this evening.

Aaron (Marlborough): Please help settle a debate. Is there a correlation between walks and batting average? If so, what is it?

Keith Woolner: Instant analysis -- I checked the correlation between batting average and walks per plate appearance for all batters with 300+ PA between 1995 and 2005.

The correlation was +0.121, which isn't all that strong, with variability in batting average explaining less than 1.5% of the variability in walk rate.

joe mays (omaha): w/r/t Lima Time: What pitcher could replace me in the Royals rotation and match my to date performance?

Keith Woolner: Touche, sir.

Raz (NYC): and the pitcher (without balking) makes it look like he's preparing for the next pitch. The unwary runner takes his lead too early and...------------Shouldn't the Pitcher be OFF the mound for infilder to tag the runner?

Keith Woolner: I don't recall the specifics of the rule. I was going to say that he just couldn't be touching the rubber. Either way, the deception is that play is about to resume normally, and the runner is caught leaving the base too early, before he confirms that the pitcher indeed has the ball.

ChuckR (Addison, IL): One of the local sports radio knuckleheads suggested that the Cubs plight is even worse than it seems because they are a total of 15 games back (6 games behind the Reds, 4.5-Cards, 3-Astros and 1.5-Brewers). Obviously, chasing 4 teams is harder than chasing one, and not that the Cubs have a chance of catching anyone this year, but is there any way to truly measure the difficulty in moving from 5th to 1st as opposed to 2nd to 1st?

Keith Woolner: Yes, it is harder, even assuming you're the same number of game behind 1st in each situation. Suppose you are team E, in fifth place 8 games behind.

T GB
A --
B 2
C 4
D 6
E 8

To move into first place, you have to gain not only 8 games on A, but 6 games on B, 4 games on C, and 2 games on D. If any one of those teams as much as matches your W-L, you won't catch them.

If you're 8 games behind in 2nd place, you need only to gain 8 games on A, but don't need to gain on any other teams (although you obviously have to not lose a lot of ground to someone behind you). You have more breathing room with respect to the other teams chasing you.

edanddom (Toledo): Is it too early to view this weekend's Tigers/Tribe series as a "pivitol" one for the playoff hopes of each? (go pistons!)

Keith Woolner: Yes. If we liken the season to a single game, we're only in the 2nd inning or so. Using the concept of leverage (how much does a win now change the probability of winning the pennant vs. at the start of the season), there's simply too much uncertainty about what happens in the next hundred games to declare the context of a series played in mid-May to be pivotal.

Efrem Zimablist, Jr. (Quantico, VA): Hi Keith! Have you looked at VORP/Win Expectancy/Any Performance measure of your choice versus service time, age, and compensation, to kind of determine "buckets" of best investment players, and identify where teams should pay a premium, and where they shouldn't? Could you share that with us, your loyal readers?

Keith Woolner: The most economically efficient players to own are those performing at or above major league average but who have no negotiating leverage -- the pre-arbitration-eligibles. Which is why a strong farm system and development program is an important long-term competitive advantage for most teams.

Beyond pre-arb/arb/free agent designations, grouping players by service time doesn't necessarily tell us a whole lot about their future value. Age does, of course, and is factored into projection systems like PECOTA.

OldBean (Boston): It was pointed out in this week's hit list that Jon Papelbon is leading the league in WXRL (1.802)... what are the odds that's still true at the end of the season?

Keith Woolner: Keeping in mind that WXRL is limited to relievers, it's entirely possible that Papelbon would lead the league, assuming he holds onto the closer job all year. The Red Sox will win enough games to get a closer lots of opportunities, and even though we at BP complain about the 1-inning, 3-run-lead save, most closers are used in pretty high leverage siutations on average. Papelbon has the ability to pitch at a high level all season. The biggest challenge might be the temptation to move him into the rotation if Keith Foulke continues to right himself.

Raz (NYC): Keith, Mike Jacobs is hitting below .200 for the season and was benched for a couple of games, do you expect he will rebound?

Keith Woolner: Yes, I do. The guy has had full season EqA's of .276 and .283 in the minors, and a .342 EqA in a short stint with the Mets last year. Every indication is that he will hit, if given the chance to work through the inevitable slumps.

carlosrubi (Mexico): What statistic would you save with you in a shelter below Earth surface if the world were to end soon?

Keith Woolner: VORP = Value Over Radiation Poisoning

Raz (NYC): Keith are you in the mood for a CRAZY trade proposal? Delmon Young + a Prospect for Zito, who trade Zito to Yanks for Huges and Duncan.

Keith Woolner: Delmon Young's stock is probably at an all-time low. Why would the Rays trade move him him and another prospect NOW for a admittedly great pitching prospect and a guy wuth a sub-.600 OPS at AAA? The Rays have a fair number of good arms in their system already.

Darin (Houston, TX): In your mind, what should be the pitch count for a pitcher in April or May? What about as the season wears on? I've been shocked by the number of 100+ pitch counts in the first month of the season.

Keith Woolner: One of greatest misconceptions about Pitcher Abuse Points is that is sets an absolute rule for usage patterns.

How old is the pitcher? What's his history like? Does he acclimate to the cold well? What's his health history? What's the weather like for tonight's game? All of these affect the decision of how long to let him throw.

In the aggregate, we know something about pitchers respond to varying workloads, as reflected in PAP. Collectively, managerial pitching decisions should reflect that knowledge. But there can be wide variation in individual usages.

That being said, when we talk about pitch counts we sometimes lose track of the fact that a pitcher's job is to give the team innings. Protecting a pitcher's arm is a tradeoff between current value and future value.

But that's all kind of a non-answer. 100-110 pitch outings, in general don't bother me, even early in the season, unless you have a pitcher with some risk factors. When you get above 120 or so, I start to scratch my head.

mike (DC): Jon Papelbon or Chris Ray?

Keith Woolner: You're asking a Red Sox fan that?

Seriously, I have Ray on one of my fantasy league teams, and I'm thrilled with his performance, but if I could trade him straight up for Papelbon, I'd do it in an instant.

rjl1247 (SoCal): i'm confused by the lob stat, individual and team. if a team was shut out but has one hit and one walk and the other team committed no errors, how can they have a 9 men left on base?

Keith Woolner: It depends on whether you are measuring LOB based on the situation at the end of an inning (i.e. did the team strand runners) or looking at runners left on base for each individual batter on a team (i.e. a runner on first, and I strike out, so I get 1 LOB).

Suppose the leadoff batter gets a hit, then the next three batters strike out. 3 LOB as individuals, 1 LOB from the end-of-inning perspective.

Same thing happens with the walk the next inning. Then someone reaches some other way (HBP, error) the following inning. You can end up with 9 LOB that way.

Alternately, from the end-of-inning perspective, you could have 1 hit, 1 walk, and 7 other runners from errors, HBP and the like stranded, although that is an unlikely scenario.

Mcscolo (Colorado): Keith, Thanks for the chat. I just finished BBTN and was interested in looking at specific DIPS numbers discussed in one of the chapters. But I couldn't find that stat on BP's site. Am I missing something or don't you guys track it.

Keith Woolner: You'll find it as BABIP (batting average on balls in play), on the Miscellaneous Pitching Stats report, on on the custom sortable stats for pitchers.

fred (Oakland): Is Bronson Arroyo pitching over his head?

Keith Woolner: Yes.



Oh, you probably want more of a response than that, don't you?

Arroyo's pitching over his head, but I've always thought he was better than some analysts (including some at BP) have given him credit for. Take his 2004 for example. 7.1 SO/9, 3.01 SO/BB ratio, 0.86 HR/9. A bit more of a flyball pitcher than I'd like, but if strikeout rate looks more like 2004 than 2005, I like his as a solid #2/#3 for a few years.

Raz (NYC): In BP 2006 it says that Shea is a Slight pitchers park: Park Factor of 0.975 and for Yankees,Slight pitchers park Park Factor of 0.981---the difference is 0.006------Can you explain that number in English, what does this slight difference of 0.006 means?

Keith Woolner: 0.975 means that teams scored about 2.5% fewer runs in Mets games at Shea than at Mets game on the road (and likewise for the Yankees).

The 0.006 difference isn't significant, you could say the parks are about equal in effect relative to their league.

But that last clause is key -- park factors are relative to a particular set of parks. Yankee Stadium is compared to other AL parks. Shea to other NL parks. The fact that they are both pitchers parks doesn't mean anything in an absolute sense. It's conceivable that if the Yankees were moved to the NL, that Yankee Stadium could be an extreme hitters park.

Similarly, if they ever started the Colorado League with teams in Boulder, Aspen, Colorado Springs, etc., Coors Field would be neutral rather than the hitters' paradise we think of it today.

Raz (NYC): Speaking of Bronson---what pitcher in NL will HIT most HRs this season? It looks like Adam Dunn tought Arroyo a thing or two about hitting.

Keith Woolner: Despite Bronson's HR heroics thus far, he's not the leading pitcher in batting VORP or in SLG. Mark Mulder are Livan Hernandez are #1/#2 in batting VORP, and both are slugging over .600!

NL pitchers get few enough plate appearances, and homers from pitchers are rare enough that predicting the leader in that category is particularly pointless. Especially with Mike Hampton missing the entire season.

Keith Woolner: That's all I have time for tonight. My apologies if I didn't get to your question. The next BP chat is with Rany Jazayerli on Thursday, so be sure to send him some really tough questions!


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