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Chat: Joe Sheehan

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday June 29, 2006 12:00 PM ET chat session with Joe Sheehan.

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Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Joe Sheehan: Good morning, everyone. Just finished up with Louie at KZNE and ready to start taking some questions.

Bryan (Maryland): Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher?

Joe Sheehan: Granderson because of the positional value. For all the attention being paid to the Tigers, he's really getting overlooked. You could argue that he's been their best player.

RJ (Pittsburgh): Given that the Braves' ownership situation is up in the air and that they may be in for several rebuilding years, what are the chances that Cox and/or Schuerholz choose to leave Atlanta in the not too distant future?

Joe Sheehan: I think Dayton Moore's decision to leave for baseball's version of "Joey" is an indication that John Schuerholz will be around for a few more seasons. I'm less certain about Bobby Cox, who just turned 65 and is, for the first time in a very long time, dealing with a losing team.

There's a decent amount of talent in Atlanta, so I don't think it's going to take a full rebuild. That could influence Cox's decision.

RJ (Pittsburgh): If both Papelbon and Liriano continue to perform at something close to their current levels for the rest of the year, which one will be ROY? Which should be ROY?

Joe Sheehan: Liriano. I appreciate the concept of leverage, but if Liriano pitches like this the rest of the year, he'll be one of the top three pitchers in the league behind Santana and Halladay. Heck, he might pass those two guys and be the top guy for Cy Young.

There's such a disparity between how Ryan and Gardenhire have handled their pitchers and how they've handled their position players. It's really something.

bigpapi34 (My Cubicle): The Minnesota Twins will finish _________ games behind the ___________ in the AL wild card race.

Joe Sheehan: Seven. Tigers.

Bill Johnson (New Mexico): The last I checked, the AL is running up a winning percentage of somewhere around .650 against the NL in interleague play. There have been enough interleague games now that that doesn't look like a small sample size effect. Where did this gigantic gap come from? Things weren't this lopsided in recent years -- were they?

Joe Sheehan: There are a ton of questions in this vein.

I'm not convinced there's a systemic reason for the AL's edge this year, nor do I see it as global. I touched on this yesterday and will revisit it once IL play ends, but I think if one league was entirely superior to the other, we'd see that edge throughout the leagues. In this case, we seem to have a handful of teams dominating IL play--including four of the AL's best--and then no pattern beyond that.

It's very clear that the AL's top teams are superior to the NL's top teams. Only the Mets and Cardinals would show up in a ranking of the top, oh, eight MLB teams. But I don't see why that edge would be permanent or why it would exist at all. This isn't the 1960s, where the NL was much, much better than the AL in part because of their quicker embrace of non-white talent.

This isn't scientific, but one possible reason for a gap like this, IF you insist the gap is significant, is that the higher standard for contention in the AL, set by the two AL East teams, forces AL teams to build for 94 wins, whereas the threshold in the NL has been lower. That's probably not testable, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it.

I'd like to see Clay Davenport apply his methodologies for determining league quality to this year's AL and NL, because those are the best way to determine relative strength. Not IL results, ASG results ("My Mark Grudzielanek can beat up your Chad Cordero!") or WS results.


AndyWright (Boston): What is up with Hee Seop Choi? Does he still have a chance at a successful major league career?

Joe Sheehan: As someone who's believe Choi can play, and play well, in the majors, I'm getting concerned. Not that he'd have much of a chance with Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell playing so well, but he's only hitting .210 at Pawtucket with a .150 ISO. I don't think it means he can't play, but it is the kind of performance that will push him off of the few radars he was on.

No one likes to hear this, but there are players who really were good enough to play and who were completely screwed up by their organizations. Willie Greene always comes to mind. Maybe Todd Van Poppel, although his case isn't as good. I think Choi falls into that category.

mwball75 (Cincinnati, OH): What's up with Pettitte? He's giving up a lot of home runs. Is that park catching up to him or something else?

Joe Sheehan: A little bit of everything is going wrong. He's doubled his walk rate from last year, which is the big thing. His home-run rate is up, but both at home and on the road, so it's not just the park. He's also seeing a lot more balls fall in, especially fly balls: he's already given up nearly as many doubles as he did all last year.

There hasn't been much change in his GB/FB numbers, though.

I'd peg the difference between this year and last year as 40% Pettitte, 60% variance. Remember, his BABIP and XBH rate were pretty low last season.

Ed (Chicago): Which organization are you referring to in Choi's case? The Cubs, Dodgers or both?

Joe Sheehan: Yes.

Ben (NYC): Do you think the Yankees have a chance to catch the Sox in the East or is it a lost cause with all the injuries and porous pitching?

Joe Sheehan: I think anything is possible when you start with the core talent the Yankees have. It's extremely difficult, though, to suffer five-win falloffs at multiple positions and contend. That's what the Yankees have in the outfield corners now.

The real problem the Yankees face is that the wild card may not be a fallback option. It's first or bust, and bust looks more likely given the two teams' rosters.

John (N YC): Is it fair to speculate that players with large production drop offs may have been on amphetamines? (eg, Jhonny Peralta).

Joe Sheehan: No, it's really not. Baseball players see their numbers go up and down for lots of reasons, have for 130 years. A change in performance can't be tied to a specific factor in absence of actual evidence.

Summerfest (Milwaukee): Is one explanation to the AL dominance the way teams are built? AL teams have to have an extra hitter in the lineup each day so they acquire one...NL teams are more likley to employ a 4th outfielder or their best pinch hitter. The quality of having Gabe Gross as your 9th hitter to Travis Hafner must account for something?

Joe Sheehan: And in National League parks, AL teams often have to sit one of their best hitters to accomodate the lack of a DH. It washes out.

I think a bigger factor in AL-park games is that NL managers lose the crutch of removing their pitchers when their spot comes up. They have to actually decide based on his pitching or the matchups.

A lot of what gets labeled "strategy" in the non-DH league is actually done by rote, with no thought involved. Strategy != movement.

Wow, Zach Duke looks for all the world like Jimmy Anderson right now.

Rob (Middletown, CT): If you're Brian Cashman, and Hughes continues to pitch well, do you call him up soon? Maybe even use him out of the bullpen while trying to package a bunch of B-grade players or prospects (like Proctor) for a small upgrade in the outfield?

Joe Sheehan: There's been enough degradation in Hughes' walk rate since the jump to Double-A that I think moving him to New York would be a mistake. Let's not forget that he was in A ball two months ago.

I love the idea of using him out of the bullpen first, however. Stick a pin in that for next May.

Scott Proctor has no trade value. Very few Yankees that aren't mission-critical have any trade value.

Fredo (Motown): If you're Dave Dombrowski, Would you take the call from Atlanta regarding a Smoltz - Zumaya deal or tell your assistant to say that you're unavailable?

Joe Sheehan: I can do better for Zumaya, if I decide that's the way I want to go. (Dombrowski won't, I might.) The difference between Smoltz and Zumaya over 15 starts is 1-2 wins, and that's not enough, even if you consider postseason effects.

If I was going to trade Zumaya, it would be for a #2 or #3 hitter with a high OBP. The comparisons between the Tigers and last year's White Sox extends to the potential for a long batting slump driven by the overall OBP issues.

Say, when is the Pirates' major-league affiliate going to call up Jason Bay?

whoopie (macon): Any thoughts on how long Chipper Jones will hold on to the third base job in Atlanta? Any chance of a straight hand-off to Eric Campbell?

Joe Sheehan: If it were me, I'd push Jones to first and get Wilson Betemit on the field. Betemit is a better hitter than Adam LaRoche, and my sense is that the switch would be a positive defensively, although Jones-at-1B is a big unknown.

I'm possibly too attached to Betemit.

shamah (DC): Your Kansas City all star representative is___. (Feel free to discuss this stupid rule if you like.)

Joe Sheehan: The usual defaults are "best hitting regular" and "saves leader" in the absence of a legit All-Star. The Royals' best hitters are DeJesus and German, but both have missed time. Their saves leader, Burgos, has an ERA higher than my credit score.

The 12-pitcher thing, coupled with the Goldberg contraption that passes for AS roster assembly, makes this hard to parse. I think Grudzielanek is the most likely pick, followed by Brown, Burgos and Elarton. Grudz would challenge for worst All-Star ever, and the others would all claim the label easily.

Simon LeBon (London): Your answer to the above fill in the blank question should have been: "Seven. Ragged Tigers"

Joe Sheehan: My reflex wasn't quick enough.

(Top 40 radio was awesome in the '80s.)

Phil (Boston): Mike Williams was the worst All-Star ever hands down. In 2003, he had a 6.29 ERA for the Pirates upon his selection. Honorable mention goes to Joe Girardi in 2000.

Joe Sheehan: My question queue is now a listing of really, really bad All-Stars. Could we maybe stop this? I haven't eaten yet.

shamah (DC): Speaking of the Yankees, what do you think of Steve Goldman's idea of trading Farnsworth for an outfielder (Denorfia, Drew, or even packaging for Abreu if you can really sucker Gillick). At first I thought it was ludicrous because who would want Farnsworth? But the more I think about it, this may be the perfect deal: league-wide obssession with getting middle relievers + guy who throws 100 with an outsized reputation = really stealing a good corner outfielder. Your thoughts?

Joe Sheehan: I think it's a wonderful idea, this notion that Kyle Farnsworth has trade value, and in fact, so much that he could return a starting corner outfielder. Unfortunately, I disagree with it, as much as I wish it were true. I don't think there's a market for him at all.

Couple of admin notes...I've been pulled away a couple of times to work on site stuff. The day's content is up and the newsletter should be out shortly. Also, my Thursday column will hit very late today...Cards' fans will want to take a peek.

ScottBehson (Nyack, NY): In an interview last year, Willie Randolph said that, "I'm working on Jose Reyes to be a major league hitter this year, and next year, I'll work on him to be a leadoff batter". Willie must be doing a good job, now that Jose has a .350 OB%- that rate and his speed make him one of the best leadoff options, right? He's come a long way from DiSarcina-land. OK, now the question... In you opinion, does Willie's philosophy- learn to hit, then learn plate discipline- the way to go for young players? or is Jose just that good of a talent?

Joe Sheehan: This question has just been sitting there and I keep skipping it...it's very tempting to look at a quote like that, consider Reyes' performance and decide that the two are related. I honestly don't know for sure whether they are or they are not.

But...when you consider the kind of hitter Randolph was, the way he approached the game, it's easy to believe that he has a significant hand in Reyes' improved plate discipline, AND in helping Reyes' meld that with the rest of his skills.

I think Jose Reyes' development this season is a fascinating topic, and I'm curious--edge-of-my-seat, wide-eyed, chin-in-hand curious--as to what happens next.

As far as the broader question...it seems to me that that's the way it happens, regardless of intent. No one gets drafted or signed because of their plate discipline. They get picked because of their raw physical skills, for the most part, and for hitters, those show up as hard contact and hitting the ball. No one tells a high-school kid tearing up his league to be more selective.


Bill Stoneman (Anaheim): How much worse does Jeff Weaver have to pitch before I send him to the pen and call up his little brother?

Joe Sheehan: Yeah, he was pretty lousy the other night. I defended the decision to keep him because 1) he's better than he's looked; 2) he could pick up some trade value by pitching well; and 3) Jered isn't quite as good as he'd looked in his first few starts.

With each passing blowout, though, 2 looks less and less likely. At that, I'd rather have him than, oh, Mark Hendrickson.

denny187 (WI): True or False: Bill Hall = Miguel Tejada.

Joe Sheehan: False. Tejada was better defensively, better at making contact and a better player at every age.

Try this one: Bill Hall:2006::Dale Sveum:1987.

the mick (Winnipeg): The Jays need a fourth pitcher. They're flouting McGowan again. Any thoughts as to an arm they might be able to pluck elsewhere?

Joe Sheehan: Pitchers who could be available at the trade deadline and who are good enough to bother acquiring: Kris Benson, Jeff Weaver, Cory Lidle, John Smoltz. The sheer number of NL teams with a shot at the playoffs keeps the market tight.

Tamdrik (Colorado Springs): Given that their next 8 games are against the top three teams in the Hit List, what do you figure the odds are that the Pirates end up with a 20+ game losing streak (currently at 13)?

Joe Sheehan: We went through this last year when the Royals had lost a bunch of games in a row and were staring at an A's/Red Sox/Yankees stretch. They ended up beating the A's two out of three.

Baseball's just wired differently; the best teams lose to the worst ones all the time. Pitchers show up with nothing. A fifth infielder jacks two balls out. An ump goes Eric Gregg for a day.

The Pirates could win this game today and render the point moot. (Down 4-3 in the third.)

Mike (Chicago): With all these rookies doing so well this season; Uggla, Hermida, Eithier, Kemp, Verlander to name a few. Are teams like the Diamondbacks(Quentin/Drew/Young) and Angels(Kendrick/Weaver/Aybar) letting their prospects rot in AAA? When is the right time to bring up a prospect? Is there a right time? I couldn't tell you, but it doesn't take a genius to see Jered is better than Jeff(Weaver)......

Joe Sheehan: The best time to bring up a prospect, from a prospect's standpoint, is when he's more or less mastered his level.

The best time to bring up a prospect, from a team's standpoint, is when the prospect is the better player than the guy he's replacing.

The Venn diagram of those two situations isn't as friendly as you'd hope. And that's before business considerations--service time questions, guaranteed contracts--come into play.

I would say that one of the biggest differences between a BP mindset and an MLB one is in the value placed on experience and the perceived gap between the majors and the minors. MLB decisionmakers value experience and believe that gap is wide. BPers think experience is less valuable and believe that if you can play at Triple-A, or Double-A, you can play in the majors.

That's a thesis whittled down to a paragraph, but where an organization lies on those axes determines its willingness to call up and play rookies.

ND (pdx): I noticed that the Padres scored almost all their runs of successive singles last night with a couple solo home runs. They're second to last in the league in slugging. Can they win the west with that little pop?

Joe Sheehan: Some of that shortage of power is the park, of course, I would estimate that their power is a little below average, but not among the worst in the league. I see more OBP problems than I do power ones.

The West consists of five flawed teams trying to get to 86 wins. I still say the Dodgers are the best of the bunch, and the Diamondbacks could threaten if they'd just turn over the roster. The Padres fall in behind those two.

Pads fans looking to debate this can come out to tomorrow night's BP event at Petco Park. Hope to see you there!

Summerfest (Milwaukee): Corey Hart vs. Carlos Lee -- Discuss...

Joe Sheehan: Lee's the better hitter right now, and still probably a better player overall. At that, the difference between them isn't all that much and it gets smaller by the day. I think the Brewers absolutely have to trade Lee, get good value for him and plug Hart in. If they make the right deal, they could be instantly better, and at worst, they should be better for it in 2007 and beyond.

Seriously, this isn't a tough call. Lee isn't someone you want to have through his decline, and Hart's a very good baseball player.

Koby Clemens (Philadelphia): I just landed my dad in my fantasy league (woo-hoo!, but bye bye free agent dollars). Who is least likely to be useful or most harmful in terms of ERA the rest of the season (and so should be dropped), among Carlos Marmol, Eric Milton, Claudio Vargas and Taylor Tankersley? Strikeouts count. Thanks.

Joe Sheehan: I just want to mention that I really like Taylor Tankersley a lot. I think he's going to be a very good reliever for a number of years.

To actually answer the question...I'd drop Milton and Vargas. If I had to keep one, probably Milton, who might get wins and will certainly keep his job.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): Toronto's taken to deploying a gutted infield defense behind Ted Lilly (Troy Glaus at short? What?). Is this more a recognition that Lilly doesn't use his infield much, or a desire to cram as many bats into the game as possible in case he blows?

Joe Sheehan: I think Glaus at third was just an interleague play thing, where Gibbons had to do something weird to play all the guys he wanted to play.

That said, I've argued for years that teams should tailor their lineups more towards their own starting pitcher. There's a ton of range in GB/FB numbers even in one rotation, and if you can get an extra bat in the lineup and minimize your exposure (Glaus at short behind Lilly, or maybe Broussard in left field when Westbrook pitches), you should do it.

Of course, managers are much more fearful of losing a game on defense than on offense, so this won't happen much. Outs made at the plate are invisible, whereas outs not made in the field are highly visible.

Peter (NYC): Please bash the Dodgers-D'Rays recent trade. How the hell do they justify trading a young switch-hitting catcher and a potential #3-#5 starter (if Seo ever gets his act together) for two pieces of scrap?

Joe Sheehan: Man, I was hoping someone would ask.

I'll be curious to see what Christina's take is, but I see this a a steal for the Devil Rays. Navarro is a very good player, a average defensive catcher with a .363 career OBP at age 22. I'll take two, thanks.

Mark Hendrickson is just a guy, a back-rotation innings-muncher who shouldn't even start Game 3 of a playoff series. He's not indisputably better than Jae Seo, and a couple months' work with an ERA under 4.00 doesn't change any of that.

Ned Colletti worked under Brian Sabean for a long time. Sabean sees the farm system as the producer of trade value, and has always been active in-season. This deal is right out of his playbook.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): It's sounding like Barry Bonds is in his last year in SF. If he doesn't retire, which AL team might take a chance on him?

Joe Sheehan: As much as I wish this was a baseball question, it's not. DHing Barry Bonds, who even with negative baserunning is one of the top 30 hitters in the game, would be a no-brainer for most teams.

But it's not about baseball with Bonds anymore, it's about all the other stuff. I'd want my team to sign him, but I would understand the argument that it creates unmanageable headaches.

hannibal (NYC): Hi Joe, thanks for the chat! If you're the Mets, do you trade Floyd/Nady for pitching, or do you stand pat and hope the rotation sorts itself out by October? Any chance Loduca becomes a backup? Do you bank on Valentin or try to find another option at 2B?

Joe Sheehan: Well, earlier I listed the pitchers who might be available, and there's really no one who would make an impact.

Moreover, the Mets are nearly certain to reach the playoffs, because their competition is that bad. So they have to concern themselves less with the regular season and more with the postseason. They have #1 and #2 starters for that; they could use a #3, but is the difference between Trachsel and, say, Kris Benson worth making a deal?

Tell you what I would do: I'd look for any reason to shut El Duque down, tell him to rest up for October. That could give them the extra starter they need.

As far as position players go...Lo Duca is bulletproof as a "gamer" guy. Valentin has played well, and unless you can get a significant upgrade, you might as well stick with him. Durham, Belliard, Walker...these guys don't add all that much over him.

tphoskin (Phoeniz, AZ): Has the new Braves ownership stated that they will increase revenues, or can we expect the same line-item management that Time-Warner has given Braves fans over these past years. It seems like the Braves team is the only 1 to stick to a true 80 mil budget when it has 4 pre-collusion contracts on the roster (Andruw, Chipper, Hampton, Smoltz).

Joe Sheehan: I think Maury Brown did a great job deconstructing the sale of the Braves, and in doing so, he answered the question: this deal is about money, not baseball, and as such, I don't think it bodes well for Braves fans.

You can't run baseball teams like the corner grocery store, or for that matter, the grocery store division of your conglomerate.

treacrest (huntington, ny): Poorly worded question to follow... How would you rate the following abilities for a pitcher in terms of importance: Making hitters miss, throwing strikes, keeping the ball on the ground?

Joe Sheehan: I want to say that Nate Silver discovered that GB rates correlated better with ERA than ERA did, but I could be messing that up.

Anyway, I'd take missing bats, groundballers then strike throwers. Nothing bad can happen if the hitter swings and misses.

Mike O (Woburn, MA): Where does Trot Nixon end up next year and what kind of contract does he get? Right now I see a huge variety or possible outcomes.

Joe Sheehan: Nixon looks great to guys like us who see the walks and doubles, but he's not going to have the kind of sexy primary numbers that make you money in the marketplace.

Aside from that, there's no way I'd make a significant commitment to a player in his thirties with a back problem. It's just bad business. If I could get him for two years and a vesting option, I'd do it.

lorenbr (Colmar, France): This question is short and sweet, if I do say so myself: what is up with Teixeira?

Joe Sheehan: You got me. His GB/FB ratio, which is often the problem, is exactly the same as it was last year. His homers have become doubles, which could just be a fluke. IIRC, he didn't hit for much power in the second half last year.

I honestly don't know, but it's a curious thing.

I thought I was going to make a charge at the chat record today, but I'm hungry and I need to get my column up. We'll go the bottom of the hour.

Lightning round...

bowie (austin, tx): ask Brian Kenny about Jeff Brantley and "programmed" closers.

Joe Sheehan: I should probably do a whole column on this, but since you asked...

For those of you who don't know, apparently BK and Brantley got into it about using closers outside of ninth-inning save situations, with Brantley saying that these guys were conditioned to be used in specific situations and should not be used outside of that role.

So here's my question, which isn't directed at Brantley specifically but at the closer myth in general: if being a closer requires a specific strength of character, a fortitude, a mental toughness...whatever it is that "some guys have and some guys don't"...is it actually possible to have this fortitude, this ability, while at the same time being so delicate that using you outside of the closer role causes you to fall apart like Jessica Simpson on "Jeopardy"?

If someone can square that dissonance for me, I'd appreciate it. To me, that's the killer question for the closer myth.

Bryan (MD): Sabermetric challenge re-visted: Bobby Abreu or Carlos Beltran?

Joe Sheehan: Beltran. Abreu's hardware aside, the defensive difference between the two, positional value and performance, makes Beltran the clear winner.

And I say that as one of Abreu's biggest fans.

BrewPilot (SeaMil): Weeks v. Lopez?

Joe Sheehan: Weeks. Lopez is going to be good, a .340/.475 guy, but Weeks is going to put up a number of .400 OBPs before it's over. Even with -5, -10 defense, he's better.

radm605 (boston): Mauer hits 25Hrs in 07, 08, 09, never?

Joe Sheehan: Three times, twice in his peak years, and then a random power years in his mid-30s.

I'm not sure what his offensive ceiling is, to be honest. I just know I'd like to see him out from behind the plate by 2008, so that we can find out. He's like a taller George Brett.

Pete (New York): What kind of player will Lastings Milledge become?

Joe Sheehan: I'm just not sold on him as an everyday guy. I know enough people that love his skills to respect that, and he does have good power. I can't help but think he's going to end up as a tweener, a fourth outfielder who plays a bit too much. A good parallel escapes me right now.

radm605 (boston): Papelbon's future- closer or starter?

Joe Sheehan: The more success he has as a closer, the harder it wil be to move him out of that role.

Last three...

Larry (CA): When are the Reds going to try to upgrade the bullpen? These guys are killin me!

Joe Sheehan: Bullpen help is generally the easiest thing to find in July, so keep your hopes up. Wayne Krivsky has done a hell of a job so far--Arroyo, Ross, Phillips--so this seems right up his alley.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): A dozen teams looking for pitching and no one wants Kyle Lohse? He's impetuous, but he's got some skills.

Joe Sheehan: Raw stuff that doesn't translate into any performance at all, a reputation as a pain and a salary that far outstrips his performance. Hey, I know you'd love to see him gone, but there's just no market.

lpiklor (Chicago): If you were in charge of the Cubs - and assume that Dusty is fired - what TYPE of manager would you hire? Any one person in particular come to mind?

Joe Sheehan: I think it's time for co-managers to become a thing. Have one guy for the Bobby Bowden role--good with the media and leader-of-men stuff--and another to do the actual thinking. (Hell, you could have two of the latter, one for offense and one for pitching.)

Baseball is kind of hard. It's no crime to concede that there aren't 30 guys with both of those skill sets.

Joe Sheehan: Christina's record lives on, although like a marathoner, I'm stretching myself out in training. Thanks for all the great questions, and we'll do it again next month!


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