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Chat: Gary Huckabay

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday August 18, 2003 4:00 PM ET chat session with Gary Huckabay.

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Gary Huckabay is a founder of Baseball Prospectus. He'll be by at 4:00PM Eastern (1:00PM PDT) to answer your questions.

Gary Huckabay: Hi, everybody....here with frosty beverage, and a little Follow For Now playing the background. Hope all's going well for all of you today....let's get started.

Sean McNally (Washington, DC): Gary, Now that the furor over the Rose story has slowed, what kind of impact has it had on BP since it broke? Was that story the beginning of a change at Prospectus to covering the game from strictly analyzing it? Thanks. SMM

Gary Huckabay: Uh, there’s a lot of Pete Rose questions...

I don’t want to spend a ton of time talking about Pete Rose, primarily because I personally have probably spent more time talking about Pete Rose in the past week than John Dowd ever did. If you’re looking for more information about our sourcing, I suggest you check out Allan Barra’s piece. We are very proud of the work Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg have done on this story, and remain confident about the accuracy of the story. I can’t comment on whether or not we were used as a trial balloon; I don’t believe so, but I don’t have enough information to make a good call.

And, to answer the several dozen other questions that are related to this – no, we don’t foresee changing our focus to include news gathering. This story fell into our laps within the course of our normal activities. Our focus will remain on trying to do excellent analysis and presenting it in an entertaining way.

Ira Blum (San Antonio, TX): Hey Gary, long time.... So, how do you see 2004 in the AL West shaking up? Any chance my Rangers might have solved some of their pitching problems to the point of doing some damage next year? Any chance we could have 3 Ranger infielders in the 2004 ASG? Ira

Gary Huckabay: Hi Ira!

I think the Rangers have played exceptionally well as of late, and their offense next year is going to be something to behold. For the next several years, a lot of time is going to be spent by opposing clubs coming up with a plan for how to deal with Blalock-ARod-Teixeira in the middle of the lineup.

Texas made some pretty bad moves in terms of bringing in bullpen talent, and they’ll definitely have to figure out how to approach that whole “pitching” thing. I’d like their odds considerably better if they weren’t in the AL West, where generic clubs go to get slaughtered.

No matter what Texas does, Oakland is going to start next year with Hudson/Zito/Harden/Mulder, and no matter how the A’s offense performs, that’s a nice start. Seattle’s rotation should be pretty solid, too, assuming Jamie Moyer can pitch until he’s 45, and Raffy Soriano moves into the rotation.

Tommybones (New York): Hi Gary, I'm just wondering if you get as irritated as I do when official scorers get the call wrong seemingly 75% of the time. Blatant errors are called hits, blatant hits are called errors, passed balls are called wild pitches. I estimated David Wells 2002 ERA was almost 50 points higher than it should have been if not for ridiculous biased official scoring. Isn't it time to take this responsibility out of the hands of blatant hometown scorers? Maybe have a 5th umpire in the scorers box?

Gary Huckabay: Official scoring is just part of the accounting system. Personally, I don’t care one way or the other. I think official scoring isn’t really very important. Would we be worse off if we just counted the number of times a hitter reached first, second, third, or home from the plate? Or lost the distinction about earned runs? Most of this stuff is a crock anyway, and doesn’t really matter very much, and can even obscure important information. A pitcher’s off the hook because of an error with two out? The next guy walks, followed by a bomb, and it’s three unearned runs? Who cares? Two of those three were obviously the pitchers’ responsibility. Official scoring is just kind of silly.

And Safe on Error should be added to the numerator for OBP. Just ask Ichiro.

Jason (Saskatoon): The Bluejays bullpen has been dismal for most of the season. (Despite the fact that J.P. rebuilt the whole thing)Was this just a case of overall bad luck or did J.P. goof up?

Gary Huckabay: Things haven't worked out perfectly by any means, but the moves haven't really been that bad. Given what Ricciardi and crew HAVE done in Toronto, Toronto fans should be ecstatic.

The Jays will be out from under everything next year, and the front office folks will have some flexibility. Look for them to take a few low-risk, high-reward gambles, integrate some of the talent coming up through the system, and put together a contending team very quickly. I think they can be the best team in the AL East by this time next season. Doesn't mean they'll win the division, but have faith.

Dr. Jugular, MD (Carotid, OH): I know it's against public opinion, but do you think MLB will expand any time soon? If not, do you think they should expand? 16 teams per league with 4 in each of 4 divisions makes more sense. I LOVE BP PREMIUM!!!

Gary Huckabay: I don’t think expansion’s coming any time soon. I do think MLB should expand, but I’m one of those freaks who believes that the US can support a far larger number of teams, and there’s more than enough talent to fill the rosters at an MLB quality level. (Dilution is either a lie or innumeracy, depending on its demagogue-of-the-moment.)

I like the 16 teams per league setup, presumably without a wild card, and presumably without interleague play. Mostly, I love reading whiny columns equating expansion with AIDS, SARS, Pestilence, Al Qaeda, and the California Gubernatorial Recall. Which would be the biggest byproduct of such a move.

Dan (Queens): Will another 10,000 baseball-years pass before someone exceeds his PECOTA by more than Javier Lopez did?

Gary Huckabay: I dunno. I think it's this epoch's Brady Anderson season. Pretty cool, though, yes? That's the very best thing about baseball, except grass stains -- the overwhelming positive surprise.

gpadgett (Boston, MA): Gary, a couple of A's questions: 1) How would you fix the outfield? Is Guillen a possible part of the long-term solution? How about bringing back Stairs and his .322 EqA? 2) Assuming Tejada's market value is lower than the ~$10-12M/year figure thrown around before the season, will Beane make a decent 1-year offer or just assume that Crosby will have a smooth adjustment?

Gary Huckabay: First, put Terrence Long in the position he’s best suited for – fourth outfielder. Second, make sure Billy McMillon starts five days a week. Other than that, the options aren’t really all that great. Probably platoon Singleton and Byrnes. But the Dye injury has really been catastrophic. The A’s have an internal defensive metric they lean on very heavily, and they like the defensive combo of Singleton and Long out there. I’d probably start McMillon over Long, with a platoon in CF, then bring in Long as a defensive replacement. But really, whatcha see is whatcha get.

As for Tejada, Crosby, and Guillen hanging around... I think Tejada’s going to be gone (Los Angeles?), and Crosby will get an opportunity to play SS, but there might be a stopgap solution for a transition, if there’s anyone on the market that looks good. I don’t think Guillen will be retained. I expect he’ll be allowed to walk, and the A’s will take the compensation.

Marshall (College Station, TX): G-Man! I catch you and Joe on The First Word every week. I want to know what you think of the Rangers' second half playy. Can they contend in the AL West next year?

Gary Huckabay: Ooops. Clicked the wrong link. Sorry about that. Marshall, please see the answer to Ira's question above.

littleball (Northampton, MA): Baseball, like many other sources of televised entertainment, has expressed dismay at its declining ratings over the past decade. Even if the game was marketed better and had a better commissioner, isn't a ratings decline inevitable, given the exponential growth in cable tv channels and alternative sources of entertaiment both on your television and elsewhere? Do you think that MLB is concentrating too much on television ratings, and if so, where would YOU place your emphasis in terms of growing league revenues?

Gary Huckabay: Wow. Excellent submission.

To some extent, I think you’re right – there’s a heckuva lot more entertainment products out there, competing for scarce dollars, and maintaining a market leadership position in that kind of environment isn’t easy. I don’t think they’re concentrating too much on TV ratings – that’s where the money still is, to a very large extent. I actually think that MLB has done a reasonable job of trying to find new sources of revenue.

It’s an unbelievably hard thing to make all the tradeoffs required to run a league. Adding more ad inventory means diluting the product. If you go “too modern”, you risk alienating a very loyal and lucrative fan base. You show too many sepia-toned highlights, you have people like me turning off the TV, rather than listen to wistful stories about noted players like Chet “Pickle Barrel” McGehee, who used a 65 ounce bat and also pitched 11 games a week, all while holding down a job in a mine and running the local chapter of the KKK.

Strategically, I think Commissioner Selig’s done a great job. He’s focusing on where a business that’s in the pinch that MLB’s in should – cutting costs.

Things will get very interesting once the current rights package expires, though. Attack of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, but with a dynamic payoff matrix. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for all of those talks.

This question deserves a lot more time. Hard to answer it in a chat.

John (Tampa): Hi Gary! I LOVE BP, and Premium's been amazing. I have a simple question -- what do you think are the most important advances in baseball analysis in recent years?

Gary Huckabay: Hmmm….Off the top of my head, and only the stuff that’s publicly available:

First, Keith Woolner’s study on defining replacement level. Gotta know that if you’re going to understand all your options. Second, quantifying the performance cost of abusing starting pitchers -- PAP3.

Above and beyond the studies, the creation of new and better metrics is important too, and they deserve more press. Our statistical reports, which people like Clay Davenport and Michael Wolverton have spent a lot of time creating and refining, are great tools. If you’re not checking those out, you should be, and when we launch our re-designed site, those tools and reports will be more prominent. (We know our site design is behind the times, and we’re working on a whole new setup. Thanks for your patience.)

Cris E (St Paul, MN): How's the move to premium gone for you guys? You're online and getting good press, but are things working out like you'd planned? Any surprises? Any good stories to share?

Gary Huckabay: I don’t want to get too meta-BP, but the move to Premium has been amazing. We’re all very grateful for the support you’ve so generously chosen to give. We had pretty high expectations to begin with, but even those have been exceeded. We’re also working very hard to provide material that’s worth your time and money.

The subscription model has allowed us to be more aggressive in terms of producing quality material, and it’s important to all of us that everyone be happy with their decision to subscribe. We’re also very fortunate to have received tremendous support from MLB clubs. It’s very humbling and we’re very grateful.

James Plath (New York, New York): Gary -- I'd be interested to know your thoughts on the direction the Mets are taking now that they've invested time in young players like Reyes, Philips, and Seo; do you think Duquette and the Wilpons have the patience to continuing building in '04 towards an '05 contending team?

Gary Huckabay: I don’t actually like the moves the Mets have made, at least specifically bringing up Reyes. Yes, he’s playing OK, but for what? He still has lessons he can learn in AAA, and starting his arbitration and free agency clocks early, for no real gain in the short term seems a bit strange to me. JDuq’s got the right idea in terms of shedding cash outlay, but that’s only part of the equation. Some cheap, risky talent with some financial and performance upside should probably be more prominent in the mix, and there’s still a lot of lumpy-ass contracts left.

I like the idea of Phillips and Piazza effectively sharing 1B and C duties to some extent. I’m not optimistic about the Mets’ ability to not go all Al Harazin and start signing bad free agents in an attempt for a quick fix, but maybe Duquette’s got enough clout to get the organization out of the vicious quick-fix cycle.

Kerry Haas (Sacramento): How much of an effect can a hitting coach have?...no, seriously. Everyone seems to be enjoying their share of schadenfreude with Eric Byrnes' out of control downward spiral. But, people seem to forget the A's changed hiitng coachs at just about the same time Byrnes went into the tank.

Gary Huckabay: Excellent question, Kerry. The real power of baseball analysis, and probably the biggest untapped area where a club can derive a real advantage, is the objective analysis of the effects of coaching. The short answer to your question is that we don’t really know how big of an effect coaching can have. We only have anecdotes, but nothing systematic like a controlled study.

BP is working on the creation of tools to examine those kinds of effects, but we’re still probably some time off before we finish. My expectation is that the evaluation of the effectiveness of hitting and pitching coaches will lead to (a) a higher pay rate for those positions, on average, even if the median doesn’t change much, and (b) more exposure for hitting and pitching coaches above and beyond Charlie Lau and Leo Mazzone.

Think about it – how valuable would a pitching coach be who could improve a staff’s ERA by 0.50 or so? If that’s the same effect of losing your #5 starter and replacing him with Pedro Martinez, that’s a Hell of a difference.

Jon (Burlington): Who's the best GM in the game who thinks you guys are a complete waste of time?

Gary Huckabay: There are an awful lot of front offices that don’t heavily rely on advanced analysis. I would think Brian Sabean and Ned Colletti in San Francisco. I think the Giants do a fantastic job of running their club, and not just on the Baseball Operations side. They’ve got a legion of very good people handling everything from guest services to media relations, to scouting and development. I don’t think there’s a single organization in baseball that couldn’t learn something from the Giants in terms of how to run a team.

They could do a better job with their minor league hitters, but when you look at the results at the major league level, that’s nitpicking. It’s obvious that strategically, they’re good at drafting arms, and good at acquiring hitters, sometimes using those arms as currency.

That being said, I still detest the Giants with a passion, and cherish every loss they put up. I was positively giddy after the recent Montreal game, and that’s usually Jonah Keri’s job. It's hard to be a rabid A's fan in the bay area and not detest those non-ring wearing, swept-their-asses-in-'89, $7.25 for a beer hacks.

Tony C (Florida): If there were a BP Staff Swimsuit Calendar, who would be on the cover?

Gary Huckabay: Jan Smithers, circa year 2 of WKRP. We’ve got SOME marketing chops.

Look forward to Jan's new column, "Photos of me in various ballparks", coming soon.

Jonathan Adelman (shrike22) (Laramie, Wyoming): Hi, Gary! Even if the superglue holding Kerry Wood's arm together fails, it seems that Dusty Baker won't be blamed by those whose job it is to assess what goes right/wrong with the franchise - Baker is about as golden as it gets, in the LaRussa vein, maybe (and what would a season be without TLR throwing a fit at J.D. Drew's lack of manliness?). So here's the question - do you still think that Mark Prior's chances of avoiding injury are slim when considering context? Are his picture-perfect mechanics shield enough against the excesses of Dusty? If you could trade Kearns back for him at this point, would you do it?

Gary Huckabay: I certainly hope Prior stays healthy. And yes, I did trade Prior for Kearns in my Scoresheet Baseball Combined League, although that was a decision on my part influenced by many factors, including literally feeling a knot in my stomach when Prior came back out for a late inning in a game that was already largely decided when he had already thrown something like 112 pitches. I don’t need that kind of stress. (Of course, Kearns got hurt immediately after I acquired him…)

I don’t believe anyone’s mechanics are perfect enough to avoid injury when the load is dangerously high. The very act of pitching is anathema to a healthy rotator cuff, and when you have a beloved manager who believes that pitchers need to develop the skill of finishing a tough 8th inning when they’re tired, and thinks too much attention is paid to pitch counts, the risk is just too high. I hope Prior’s healthy for a long time and wins 400 games. I just believe he’s going to have a shoulder injury given the current Cub regime, and after that, it’s a new pitcher – who will probably be pretty good, but without the dominant stuff.

Then again, maybe a new technique will come along, and cuffs will be more akin to elbows in terms of rehab and returning. Maybe 20 years from now, Mark Prior Surgery will be strikingly commonplace.

Casey (Baltimore): [I know this is a tired question.] Would you allow Pete Rose back in the game under any circumstances? Yes or No

Gary Huckabay: It's a tired question, but considering the number of people asking it, I probably should respond:

If I were named Leviathan of Major League Baseball tomorrow, I'd want to revisit the agreement between Rose and Giamatti. The agreement was simple -- MLB stops investigating, and doesn't say Rose bet on baseball.

If it's up to me, the investigation continues. If Rose bet on baseball, he's out. That's it. If he didn't, MLB should step up, clear his name, and welcome him with open arms.

Brandon (Albany, NY): I know Marcus Giles has been on the radar screen for a long time, and I believe his minor league stats were actually better than his brother's. But after this amazing season he's had, where does he go from here? Do you see him improving even more, or is it more likley that he settles in somewhere around .280/.350/.450?

Gary Huckabay: Heading into the home stretch...about ten minutes left, folks...

I think Giles will settle in as an excellent player, somewhere between Craig Biggio’s reputation and Ray Durham. (I love Durham, for the record.) Perhaps a peak in the .310/.420/.550 area, and someone who competes for a couple of MVPs.

JimmyAAA (Far Far Away): M. Cabera (Flo) Future MVP? 3B or OF?

Gary Huckabay: Don’t know about MVP, but should be a plus ballplayer for a long time. Positionally, I think he’s neutral enough so that he can be moved either place to fill a need.

Ibrahim (Reno): How often will we see these chats?

Gary Huckabay: Twice a week for now. The next one will be this Thursday, 6pm EDT, with Keith Woolner.

David Powell (Palo Alto): What kind of player do you see Adam Dunn turning into?

Gary Huckabay: I think people are far too down on Dunn. He's a very tough player to forecast, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a significant batting average rebound next year.

People have been quick to put a Rob Deer label on Dunn, and while Deer is certainly someone that all of us can strive to emulate, I think Dunn will be a better hitter than that, and wouldn't be surprised to see him top a .300 BA fairly soon. I think Kearns will probably be a better overall player, but it's not going to be a blowout.

Gary Huckabay: Thanks for the great questions and great turnout. Sorry I couldn't answer all your questions. If you have something you really want answered, email me at huckabay@baseballprospectus.com, and I promise I'll get back to you.

Thanks again for all the support. We're all very grateful. Hope to see some of you this Thursday evening in Menlo Park.


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