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Chat: Keith Woolner

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday August 21, 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!

Artie (Flushing): You have a choice between Jose Reyes and Sean Burroughs, who do you go with and why?

Keith Woolner: I'm not the prospect maven some of the other BPers are, but I'd say Reyes. Younger, plays a more important defensive position, comparable production this year. Burroughs lack of a major step forward the past couple of years concerns me.

Brien (Burlington, VT): Long time reader of BP, yadda, yadda.....One thing that has bothered me about replacement level is the number of major league players actively below it. It would seem to me that if it were a true replacement level fewer players would be under that level of production. It also seems to me that replacement level may be a team-dependent variable, rather than a league dependent one (for example, perhaps Boston has a higher "replacement level" than say, the Brewers). I have no actual foundation for this theory, and I am wondering if it is something that you looked into or have any comments on.

Keith Woolner: That's a question I get asked often -- why are there so many "below replacement level players". The answer is complex, but the primary thing to remember is that replacement level is an *expected* level of production

Anyone can have a bad 100 AB or so, and if benched will appear to be below replacement level. But that's just a sample -- if you expect him to hit better over the next 100 AB, then his expected production going forward is not what he's hit so far.

At the team level, teams have to evaluate decisions based on the personnel they have. Having a better than rep-level player at AAA doesn't change replacement level, it means that you have an asset that some clubs don't.

Paul Covert (Lynnwood, WA): Any plans for further updates to your VORP techniques-- perhaps to include defense?

Keith Woolner: My VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) metric was designed in a way that it can be used with any intrapositional run-based defensive system you like, whether that's Clay Davenports, something based on Zone Rating, or what have you. Just add a player's fielding runs to his VORP to get an overall assessment of his value.

Eitan (Tel Aviv): The stat pages and updates are very useful. What do you and everyone else at BP have planned next?

Keith Woolner: There's a lot going on at BP, and not all of it something I can share just yet.

I can say that there are a few more stat reports under development, but what's most likely to get done is what we get the most demand for. Some of our most popular features were created in response to reader suggestions. The response to the reliever usage charts in a Prospectus Triple Play the other day got a great response, and we're looking at how we could make that a permanent part of our stat offerings.

Larry (Tampa, FL): Hello Keith! Aim For The Head is great, and you should have a pizza feed here in Tampa! Bring Huckabay and Sheehan down with you. Who do you think is deserving of the major awards right now? Thank you.

Keith Woolner: Let's see...

NL MVP: Bonds

AL MVP: ARod

Shouldn't be any surprises there.

NL Cy: Jason Schmidt, but there are lots of close candidates

AL Cy: Loaiza today, but I expect Hudson or Halladay to catch him by years end.

AL RoY: Rafael Soriano, if he keeps it up. Matsui, if I had to pick today.

NL RoY: Brandon Webb (and I'm not forgetting Dontrelle Willis)

As for a Tampa pizza feed, sorry, but we try to have them in cities that have major league teams.

Gerrit (San Jose, CA): Keith I talked to Gary after one of the pizza feeds in Menlo Park about the prevalance of the use of linear modeling in sabermetrics and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the issue. I dont think linear methods work very well for baseball because the nature of offense is nonlinear and the assumption that the data meets the criteria for tools like linear regression to be effective has never been tested. What do you think?

Keith Woolner: I prefer a nonlinear model of run scoring, but that's as much for aesthetic reasons as anything else. Linear models work quite well in the ranges where real baseball teams perform.

Paul Covert (Lynnwood, WA): Follow-up to my first question (thanks for the answer): When you say "add a player's fielding runs to his VORP," I assume you mean fielding runs *above league average*, based on the assumption that the replacement levels used are for an average defender at that position-- correct?

Keith Woolner: Yes, that's correct. My definition of replacement level assumes an average defender who hits like a typical backup at the position.

Carrot Top (Las Vegas, NV): Precisely what drugs must be ingested before Albert Pujols starts to look better than Barry Bonds?

Keith Woolner: I'll assume that you mean look better as a productive baseball player. :-)

Powerful hallucinogens would be a start. Pujols is having a monster season by any normal standard, and he does have more playing time than Bonds.

But the gap between Bonds and Pujols in in rates of offense is comparable to that of Frank Thomas or Andruw Jones to a league average hitter. Even in just 75% of the playing time, Bonds is worth more on the field.

Nate Silver (Chicago): What is this BP author swimsuit calendar I keep hearing so much about?

Keith Woolner: A cross between weapons of mass destruction and a sign of the apocalypse.

Scott (Seattle): I just read that all the ESPN guys picked Ichiro to be MVP Over Giambi, Delgado, Boone, & Rodriguez? So Ichiro will have 2 MVP awards while A-Rod has 0. Should I just stop paying attention to these awards. Will they go away if I do?

Keith Woolner: If an award is given in the forest, and SportsCenter isn't there to cover it, does it still confer honor?

I don't really get worked up about the awards as much these days since I started considering the MVP to be the player most "valuable" to the game of baseball as a whole, rather than to a specific team, or based on personal performance. The game of baseball is enriched by "intangible" factors beyond the outcomes of the game: narrative, dramatics, character, heroes, villains, surprises, stories, etc. And there's nothing wrong with recognizing the combination of these along with excellence in performance in giving an MVP.

It also has the benefit of being able to be completely subjective, which it seems is what the voters really want anyways.

Michael Byrnes (Palo Alto, CA): Hi Keith! How is it that even with all of your new responsibilities over the past year or so, you still manage to dominate your fantasy league?

Keith Woolner: My overwhelming advantage in market size, a gigantic payroll, and trading Danys Baez just before he lost the closer's job.

Gianni (Sunnyvale, CA): Hope to see you at the Pizza Feed in Menlo Park tonight. If you could have five minor leaguers to build a team around, who would they be?

Keith Woolner: Well, as I cautioned before, I'm not the prospect maven around here, so make sure you're not drinking anything as you read this: Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Zach Greinke, Khalil Greene, and since this BP, I'll take the OBP poster boy, Kevin Youkilis.

Gary Huckabay (Concord, CA): How can you answer an awards question and not pimp the BP IBAs? I sentence you to diaper changing.

Keith Woolner: Uh... remember to vote after the season in Baseball Prospectus' own Internet Baseball Awards, and you'll be more attractive to the opposite sex!

(honey, we're out of Luvs...)

Camille Paglia (Santa Fe, NM): >>The game of baseball is enriched by "intangible" factors beyond the outcomes of the game: narrative, dramatics, character, heroes, villains, surprises, stories, etc. I know you're a family man now, Keith, but are you getting soft on us?

Keith Woolner: No, but I have to console myself with that line of reasoning, otherwise I couldn't sleep at night wondering how the AL's best player still doesn't have an MVP.

Gabriel (Denver, CO): This year's SABR spotlight was on winning at altitude. What do you think the Rockies need to do to win like they did in the mid-90s with that great offense?

Keith Woolner: Score more runs than their opponents more often?

(this is the official smart-aleck response of this chat session)

Kirby (Seattle, WA): With the Dustification of the Cubs now in full swing, what do the long-term chances of the franchise look like? They've still got the best young rotation East of Oakland, and a ton of quality prospects - but will the arms be slagged? Will the kids ever get a chance to play? Or have the Cubs found themselves a new, more lovable, way to lose?

Keith Woolner: The breakdowns from overuse will probably take some time, and not happen all at once, so the Cubs will probably look like overachievers for a season or two, Dusty will get the accolades, which will insulate him from criticism when the pitchers start dropping.

Of course, if they want to overachieve now, it would help if they didn't spot the other team an entire infield worth of production.

Angelo Grasso (New York, NY): Hey Keith...great job by you and everyone else at BP. My question: while you guys have developed a plethora of stats about the players, there is nary an objective measuring tool out there to assess the performance of a manager or GM. Is one in the works, or is that seen as too complicated an endeavor to go beyond the Transaction Analysis, etc.?

Keith Woolner: Assessing the job of a GM or manager is difficult because they don't directly create the events on the field that lead to scoring or preventing runs.

GM's and field managers make decisions about how to allocate resources, or what strategies to execute. To evaluate them fairly, particularly GM's, you need to assess the decisions they make based on the state of information at the time the decision was made.

If you give up a middling prospect for a superstar at a key position you need down the stretch, but the star gets hurt 2 days after the trade, and the prospect turns out to be the next Mike Piazza, that doesn't mean the *decision* to trade was bad, even the outcome was. Recreating the state of information at the time of a decision, without relying on future revealed results, is counter to what a lot of people want to do, but it's the right way to do it.

Quetzalcoatl (Chalchuithue, MX): The Pinstriped Raven-Demons have disemboweled the Effeminate Men With Stockings of Lifeblood once more. When the Pinstriped Abomination begin the Tournament of Death after the Equinox, can you see the Explorers of the Ocean, Those of Regal Bearing, or Men-Children of Athletic Prowess defeating them?

Keith Woolner: YANKEEZ ROOL DOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Evan (Las Vegas, NV): How do you see the division results and postseason ending up?

Keith Woolner: AL: Yankees/Twins/Mariners, with the A's as the wildcard.

NL: Braves/Cubs/Giants, with the Phillies as the wildcard

But since those picks were so boring, I'll take the Phillies to go all the way, over the Mariners in the World Series.

Tom Gisriel (Baltimore): As an Orioles fan, I have been encouraged by the emergence of some of the O's young players, but I hardly ever see any mention of them. I'd be interested in your thoughts on Luis Matos (surely one the the best unheralded breakthroughs this season), Brian Roberts, and Jay Gibbons. Is Matos for real or is he a fluke?

Keith Woolner: Matos is playing at about his 90% percentile PECOTA forecast in the majors so far. You'd almost have to expect some decline from that. I see a solid player, but not a star.

Gibbons I've been watching for a couple of years, and like that he's been able to continue improving even as his playing time has increased.

Wayland (Boise, ID): What sort of things do you focus on when you're watching a game?

Keith Woolner: I usually watch games as a fan, not an analyst, so I focus on the batter-pitcher confrontation. I also tend to notice odd things, like which players are on the steps watching from the dugout, the base coaches between pitches routines. And, of course, how good the peanut vendor's aim is tossing bags into the stands.

Bud (New York, NY): Dear Mr. Woolner: You are hereby notified that your so-called "VORP" measurements for pitchers are downright libelous, something which your organization knows more than a little about. The implication that our...Milwaukee's pitching staff could be replaced by randomly grabbing pitchers from either AAA, (either the minors level or the American Automobile Association) and we'd be better off is appalling. You clearly know nothing about baseball, don't love baseball, and wouldn't recognize a diamond if you were forced to mow it hundreds of times. If you don't see the value in the heart demonstrated by Glendon Rusch, the terrorists have already won. You communist.

Keith Woolner: I am shamed into submission. Rusch for MVP!

Brett (Philadelphia): I enjoy your work on replacement level, but I have a hard time applying it in the way a GM would. Could you analyze any of the teams still in contention--doesn't matter which one--and say which players should be replaced and by which players that are more or less freely available? Assuming the team was able to make "challenge trades" for each substitute you'd recommend, how many games' difference would you expect to see in the team's final record?

Keith Woolner: Teams in contention usually don't have major below-replacement level holes to fill. But suppose you're the A's, and think that Jermaine Dye (who has been terrible this year) was either finished, or out for the year.

A replacement level performing right fielder, along the lines of a Roger Cedeno or Ryan Ludwick would be available cheaply, and would be worth 10-15 runs over half a season, if you picked him up for the stretch run. A game or two.

Keith Woolner: We're out of time, thanks for all the questions, and be sure to check the BP web site for the the time of next week's chats.


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