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Chat: Keith Woolner

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday November 05, 2003 6:00 PM ET chat session with Keith Woolner.

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Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Keith Woolner: Hi everyone. Let's get chatting.

Hawkeye (Grafton, ND): If Soriano moves to the OF, who will be the AL All Star 2b next season? (I know, I couldn't think of one, either.) Hawkeye

Keith Woolner: hmmm.. How about Bret Boone, who was better than Soriano this year?

Knaeble (New Haven, CT): Keith, what is the predictive value of SNWL, VORP, EqA, and all the other stats you create at Baseball Prospectus? What's the variance from year to year?

Keith Woolner: SNWL, VORP, and EqA aren't meant to be predictive, but are instead evaluating the value or quality of a player's performance in the past. PECOTA is intended for predictions, though the raw stat predictions it makes can be turned into something like an estimated VORP or EqA.

The variance is highly dependent on the sample (number of plate appearances or batters faced).

Andrew (New York): I'd like to get your take on the Astros - Phillies deal. Also, do you there is a chance that Pettitte would sign for a "hometown discount" with the Stros? Thx much.

Keith Woolner: Not a bad deal either way. Wagner was almost as good as Gagne last year, and though closers as overvalued in general, they do make a contribution larger than the number of innings they pitch would suggest.

The Astros had depth in the bullpen to spare, and were able to reduce salary, and get some promising young players in return.

Ben Oglivie Fan (JAX, FL): Who is the Ben Oglivie of the 21st Century?

Keith Woolner: Statistically speaking, I assume...

Is Jeromy Burnitz too 1990's?

Jay Gibbons?
Raul Ibanez?
Juan Encarnacion?

Oscar (Boston, MA): VORP is f'ed up! How can you defend a system that rates Milton Bradley, who missed a third of the season, higher than Johnny Damon, who played almost the whole season and led his team to the playoffs?

Keith Woolner: Because in order to make up the difference between the stats Bradley put up in 2/3 of a season, and Damon's full season, you'd have to find a replacement who could hit all of .193/.197/.246. I think there are people in a persistent vegitative state in your local hospital that could put up a 450 OPS.

Thndrstm (VA): Whats the latest on the Expos. Will they be here in 2005?

Keith Woolner: Your guess is as good as mine as to where they'll be. But with former contraction targets Florida, Minnesota, and Oakland somehow managing to scrape by in 2003, a companion team for contraction might be hard to come by. And I don't think they'd contract a single team due to scheduling logistics.

Chad (San Jose, CA): How do you arrive at replacement level for calculating VORP, and why use replacement level as an abstract when it's really a different level for each position and each team, depending on who's available in that organization?

Keith Woolner: Baseball Prospectus 2002 included an article where I explained my concept of replacement level in detail. Basically, I looked at the aggregate performance by all backups at a position over time, and looked at the difference between that and the average for the position.

But replacement level is not organization specific. Using the recent Astros trade as an example, the fact that Houston had Octavio Dotel as a replacement almost equal in ability to Billy Wagner didn't make Wagner replacement level.

There are two kinds of values -- value in use (how you use a player on the field to win games), and value in trade (what that player can bring in exchange to fill holes in your team).

Yancy (Los Angeles, CA): Hi Keith! If you were George Steinbrenner, would you have claimed Manny Ramirez off waivers? And where do you think it makes sense for the free agents like Colon, Guerrero, and Tejada to end up?

Keith Woolner: No, I wouldn't have claimed Ramirez. The market correction in baseball salaries has left Manny's contract significantly overpriced. Why pay $17.5M/year for Manny when you could get Vlad for $13-15M?

Will Young (DC (GWU)): Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Mr. Woolner. What do you think the Twins should do with their bullpen next season?

Keith Woolner: Put on a new coat of paint, bring in a feng-shui consultant, and keep Joe Mays out of important game situations.

Bunnygrunt (San Diego): What did you think of the AL Gold Glove winners? All in all I didn't think there were any glaring mistakes, although Boone might be slowing down at 2B where Mark Ellis looks like he deserved the award. Do you think the attention to defensive statistics in recent years is having any impact on the Gold Glove?

Keith Woolner: No, I don't think defensive stats are having an impact. As Joe Sheehan commented when the awards were announced:

"Number of first-time winners: zero.

The best way to win a Gold Glove remains to have won a Gold Glove."

Henry (Katy, TX): Keith - the statistical reports at BP are the best anywhere. Thanks to all of you for making them available. My question is about VORP for pitchers and hitters. Shouldn't the RP for pitchers be much lower because of the increased variance in expected performance? Everybody knows that you can get pretty good performance out of a guy like Marcos Scutaro, Graham Koonce, or other replacement hitters, but pitchers of the same quality are much harder to reliably find. Doesn't your system overestimate the quality of a replacement level pitcher?

Keith Woolner: Glad you like the reports.

As I discussed in BP2002, I calculated replacement level separately for relievers and starters, so there's some acknowledgement of the differences in roles.

However, variability is a two way street. You might end up with a disastrous set of outings or you might stumble across the next Brendan Donnelly.

If I flip a coin, and win a dollar for heads, and lose a dollar for tails, my expected value is zero.

If I flip a coin, and win $100 for heads, and lose $100 for tails, my expected value is still zero, even though the variability is much higher.

Replacement level, as I use it, is an expected level of performance at the time the decision is made.

Amos (Madison, Wisconsin): Who would win in a fight: you or Clay Davenport?

Keith Woolner: The terrorists.

Which is, incidentally, why super-patriot Gary Huckabay never lets Clay and I in the same room. Remember, liberty is the only way to preserve our freedom.

Paul Covert (Lynnwood, WA): Have you considered implementing into your VORP the notion that "replacement level for DH can't be any lower than for any other position"?

Keith Woolner: Yes, and different iterations of VORP have implemented such a rule. I don't recall offhand whether that's in the current VORP reports.

There are two sides to the argument. One the one hand, since a DH has no defensive responsibility, any player can DH, so the replacement level should be at least as high as any position. And actually it should be somewhat higher, since you have a larger pool of talent to draw from.

On the other hand, if being the DH, and sitting on the bench during the team's defensive innings makes it harder to bat (muscles cooling down/stiffening up, lack of the concentration associated with being in the field, or whatever), then there is an actual offensive penalty to being listed as DH, even though it isn't a "defensive" restriction.

I'm not aware of any conclusive evidence that the latter effect exists, however.

Randall Cunningham (Los Angeles): So we're at 5 years of interleague play? What are the chances of some minor re-alignment in MLB so they can go to a 72/30/30/30 shedule? It would require at least one swing team at all times and is possible. It's time to either embrace Inter-League play and do it right or go back to the old way. It's only fair for a team to have the chance to balance their books in their own yard.

Keith Woolner: Actually, I'd rather see MLB expand, add two more teams to get to 32, and have 2 leagues with four 4-team divisions and no wildcard. But I'm in the minority, I suspect.

John Pontoon (Chicago): Say, if Johnny Damon led the Red Sox to the playoffs, does that mean that Ichiro Suzuki led the Mariners away from there? Will I have to reevaluate Itchy's MVP?

Keith Woolner: Don't blame Ichiro. He tried to lead them to the playoffs, but is still having trouble reading the road signs.

Sean (San Antonio, TX): Any last comments on A-Rod winning the AL Hank Aaron award for the third consecutive year despite being left off the fan ballot (30% of vote)? Also, any plans for a San Antonio pizza feed? Seems like I heard someone (Will Carroll?) allude to a possible one several months ago, but nothing since.

Keith Woolner: However they're doing the vote, the Hank Aaron people are doing a better job that the AL MVP voters.

Don't know about a San Antonio feed, but will pass it along to Will.

Jordan (Chicago): Is there any evidence that players with a high OBP, but a relatively low batting average(e.g. Jose Cruz Jr., Hee Seop Choi, etc.), fare disproportionately worse against pitchers with very low walk totals?

Keith Woolner: I'm not aware of any studies on the topic, but it would make for some interesting research. It makes some intuitive sense, since pitchers with better control should be able to get ahead of a patient hitter, and a hitter who relies on patience more than others would be at a disadvantage.

However, the intuitive explanation is often the wrong one.

Jonathan Adelman (Laramie, WY): 2004 BP Coverboys - Cabrera, Teixeira, or both?

Keith Woolner: Neither. Given the woes the Curse of the BP Cover has inflicted on previous features subjects, we've decided using active players on the cover is unfortunate and irresponsible.

We might put a GM on the cover instead. No bonus points for guessing who's on the short list.

BobD (Boise): I'm a little surprised that border-line HOF pitchers don't sign with the Dodgers and hitters with Colorado. Can you see this making a difference for any of this years FA's?

Keith Woolner: I think it's too early to say how playing in Colorado will affect a player's HOF chances. There is some awareness of the massive park boost hitters gets there (even if pitchers aren't given the same consideration), and some voters will probably mentally discount numbers accumulated there.

I see more of a benefit for pitchers going to pitching parks, not only for HOF chances, but to possibly extend their careers by not having to pitch to as many batters.

Baked Beaneater (Boston): Who's the next manager of the Olde Town Team? And is Manny Ramirez as awful defensively as he appears?

Keith Woolner: Manny's never been stellar defensively, but I think he's better than some people give him credit for. Clay Davenport's defensive system has him about 3 runs below average in LF this year, comparable to 2002.

I'd like to say Larry Dierker as the next manager, but that's wishcasting on my part.

echalek (Portsmouth, NH): How high will the BoSox opening day payroll be?

Keith Woolner: Just high enough to break your heart. Same as it is every year. (sigh)

Landon Q (Spring Training, USA): With the baseball news slowing down to a trickle much of what we've been hearing has been an update on which potention FA's have filed. What advantage would their be for a potential FA not to file?

Keith Woolner: I'm not aware of any disadvantage to a potential free agent that would keep him from filing. Unless a player is either considering retiring, or is very close to an agreement with his current club, I don't see why they wouldn't. Might be a good question for Doug Pappas, or someone more up on the contract rules.

edrboxer (phoenix): will the diamondbacks be a contender this year?

Keith Woolner: Hard to see it, given their mediocre offense and affinity for over-seasoned veterans. But with Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and now Brandon Webb in the rotation, they might not need that many runs. Early guess -- slightly over .500, not a serious contender.

Keith Woolner: That's all the time I have today. Thanks for all the questions, and hold on just a little longer -- pitchers and catchers will report before you know it!


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