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Chat: Gary Huckabay

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday March 05, 2004 2:00 PM ET chat session with Gary Huckabay.

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Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Gary Huckabay: Happy Friday, all. Thanks for stopping by and filling the question bin. I won't get to everything, but if you really desperately need an answer, email me here at BP, and I promise you I'll get back to you. Diet coke in hand, constant reminder in the background that I will never be the guitarist Alex Lifeson is, so let's dive in...

Jeff Brainard (Denver): Hi Gary, It's been awhile since you have had a chat, nice to have you back. Rockies question: The farm is developing reasonable pitching depth and a lot of 1b/dh guys on the hitting front. What can the Rockies do with that hitting/lack of defense depth to bring in some multi-dimensional talent? Can you trade a Brad Hawpe or Garrett Atkins or Ryan Shealy and get a reasonable prospect in the OF, C, or middle infield? Thanks!

Gary Huckabay: Hi, Jeff, and thanks for the kind words. I doubt the Rockies could make that kind of move. The market for pretty good offensive prospects with very serious defensive concerns has never really been that strong. It's unlikely that another club would be willing to part with a reasonable prospect at a more scarce defensive position for someone in the Jack Cust mold.

Daniel (New York): Gary, do you find the backlash against Moneyball and the Oakland/Toronto/LA Dodgers way surprising? Shouldn't the evolution of decision making in front offices have advanced further by now?

Gary Huckabay: No, I think it's completely predictable. And I don't think we've seen the peak of the backlash yet. For most BP readers, the basic tenets of baseball analysis are kind of second nature, even the ones that don't necessarily jibe with personal observation or experience. Furthermore, outside of baseball, people's career prospects aren't negatively affected by a massive change in the way MLB front offices are run. Within baseball, these ideas can be very threatening. In many ways, MLB's business practices have been in stasis for a very long time, and the changes that have transformed American industry over the last three decades are kind of slamming baseball all at once. That's uncomfortable. There's going to be a lot of people who don't like it, and who are displaced by this kind of change. It's only natural that they're not going to accept it quietly, and the change isn't going to be evenly spread out.

Mark P. (Baton Rouge, LA): Hello Gary. Wanted to get your opinion on Derrick Turnbow. Will he make the Angel bullpen, and if so, will he be effective? Thank you.

Gary Huckabay: I think Turnbow will likely be sent down, come back up at the first sign of an injury to someone else, (he picked up a fourth option last week), and then be effective in the pen.

Tom Gisriel (Baltimore): Recently in one of the Baseball Prospectus Basics discussing stolen bases the 2003 run expectations table was run. It, of course, shows that one-run strategies are poor risks. Is there a comparable table of at least one-run expectations (it could, by definition never be above 1.00). Such a table would be useful in evaluating one-run strategies where only one run is needed (such as the bottom of an inning in an extra inning game). We know from the run expectations table that bunting to go from first and second no outs to second and third one out reduces run expectations, but how much of that is reducing the possiblity of the big inning? Does it reduce expectations of getting one run?

Gary Huckabay: Hi, Tom. Yes, there is a comparable table, but a thorough exploration of your question isn't really conducive to a chat session, so thanks for giving me a topic for next week's 6-4-3. The writer's blocks lately have been Everestesque.

lemongello (houston): Does the MLBPA leadership have a responsibility to players' physical health? I ask because many sports columnists have said the MLBPA is failing its members by not supporting stringent steroid testing.

Gary Huckabay: I think the MLBPA leadership has a dual responsibility. Yes, they have a responsibility to pursue the "greater good" of their membership, and that includes acting in the best long term interest of the membership's health. They also have to "lead" by serving as an informed delegate; that is, serve the desires of the rank and file even if they disagree with them. I think it's a very tough issue, and I expect the MLBPA to be remarkably resistant to perceived public opinion. They've got some experience in that area. Steroids and MLB are a volatile mixture; I don't think I really know enough about all the issues involved to really have a strong opinion on the matter, which is why I'm kind of skirting the issue. It's ignorance on my part, not necessarily fear.

Josh (San Diego): Is there any chance in the next 5-10 years of a team using the "four" man rotation imployed by the Oakland farm system, in which 8 pitchers are split in groups of two and take turns starting in a four-man rotation, with the partner who doesn't start relieving him?

Gary Huckabay: Absolutely. I wrote a column several years back about the evolution of pitcher usage, and I believe that 20 years from now, pitching staffs and pitcher usage will be dramatically different from what we see today. And I don't think we'll see that much orthodoxy from team to team, either. But hey, I always underestimate how long it takes for changes like that to occur, so perhaps I'm best ignored on the issue. And many others. But to me, it comes down to this: If there's a guy who can throw 2-3 innings of just kick-ass stuff for 50 times a year (Rafael Soriano? Juan Cruz?), isn't it silly to just use him for 80 innings over 55 games or something, or to put him in a five man rotation where he'll be less effective or get hurt? Eventually, teams will get it. Either that, or Rany will go all creepy-stalker on them.

Mex (Dallas TX): Hello from the land of really bad pitching staffs. I'm wondering what you think is going to happen next offseason with the free agents and arbitration.

Gary Huckabay: I expect the entire process will get lengthier, more clubs will look at timing the market, and the middle class will continue to shrink. People ask me what I think is the most important piece of published research done in baseball in recent years, and my answer doesn't change -- Keith Woolner's study on replacement level in the back of BP 2002. It's directly actionable, and has a direct, profound effect on the business decisions in front office. Broaden the possibility set of potential replacements, and the price of goods goes down. More and more people are learning that, some more aggressively than others. Baseball decisions can't take place in an economic/real world vacuum.

Bill Johnson (New Mexico): Congrats on a lot of nice new site features, Gary! A Q on one of our favorite subjects: do you think pitching in the NL and having to bat will make any difference in the way guys like Clemens and Pettite pitch? Those who accuse Clemens of throwing at people think he'll become less aggressive as a potential target himself. I don't see it, but what do you think?

Gary Huckabay: Hi, Bill, and thanks. My personal thoughts specifically on the issue of Roger Clemens, beanballs, and his machismo on the field is that I hope he gets brushed back repeatedly. I have a lot of respect for what Clemens has accomplished, but I personally think he's been something like the kid that hits another kid on the playground, then runs behind mommy. And he's kind of dodged the Swirlie Justice [tm] that has long been his due. (Cue music from The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly.) Then again, I also enjoy watching the footage of Clemens getting jacked from the '89 LCS. Clemens is a great pitcher, but I don't have to like him.

Michael (San Jose, CA): Tigers, Brewers, or Devil Rays. Which team will be first to make the playoffs? And when will it be?

Gary Huckabay: Not the D-Rays. The Centrals are considerably more fertile ground. I'd say Milwaukee, and probably not until 2006 at the earliest. Their farm system's coming together nicely, and if they get sold to someone aggressive, that could end up a very nice club for some time.

Gordy (Durham, NC): Can we expect to see you writing more this year?

Gary Huckabay: Due to popular demand, I'll be writing slightly less this year. (That, and I expect my available time will be dropping dramatically about opening day or so. It's the Rany Jazayerli/Keith Woolner BP career path.)

Warren (Boise ID): Gary, loved your piece on the arbitration process and Eric Gagne. Do you think the Dodgers made a mistake by going to arbitration in the first place, and do you think it's going to make it tougher for them to sign him long term?

Gary Huckabay: Thanks for the kind words. I don't know if the Dodgers made a mistake in going to arb. I know that the wheels were spinning towards that under Dan Evans, and given that enough other changes were going on in the Dodger front office that it probably was only the primary thing in a couple of people's minds. Will it make it tougher to sign him long term? Well, if he were making the decision right now, probably, but a lot of time and events will pass before that decision's made. The whole "buying of goodwill" concept, on the part of either the player or the club, doesn't really pass the sniff test when you take a look at the data, so maybe saving the $2 million or so that could have avoided the hearing is the best thing the Dodgers could have done.

Ben Oglivie Fan (JAX, FL): Complete this analogy: Ben Oglivie: LF :: __________:Rock Music

Gary Huckabay: Steve Miller.

M. Prior (Chicago, IL): Gary, How long did it take you guys to put together the Fantasy Forecaster? It's just about the coolest thing I've ever seen. And how long until I'm the #1 rated pitcher on it? Thanks for chatting.

Gary Huckabay: Thanks, M. Like most projects, it took longer than expected. Glad you enjoy it. I hope you do make it to the top of the list, because it'll mean you stayed healthy, something that concerns me deeply.

Eric (Torrance CA): How did the Dodgers actually win the case against Gagne? How many times do you think Boras used the word "Isringhausen" during the proceedings.

Gary Huckabay: One thing I found out after I wrote the piece on Gagne's case is one of the very effective tactics used by the Dodgers during the proceedings. Instead of running away and trying to defend against Gagne's "special accomplishments", which allow comparison to players outside of Gagne's service cohort, the Dodgers embraced Gagne's special accomplishment. And they also embraced the dozens of special accomplishments of lower-priced comparable players. You know, special accomplishments like running off 10 saves in a row, receiving down-ballot MVP or Cy Votes, making a lanyard at camp, etc. They devalued the special accomplishment by lumping it with dozens of other accomplishments that were also labelled as special. The man who taught me how to prepare and present arbitration cases repeatedly said "Don't overestimate the arbitrator." He's a very wise man.

esteban german (sacramento): Hi Gary, Could I be a better leadoff hitter/2B than Mark Ellis? And could my buddy here Graham Koonce be Oakland's new 1B in 2004?

Gary Huckabay: I don't think so. I think that if things break your way, you'll have a nice career as a 24th man somewhere, pinch running, and playing a little infield. Ellis has some upside, fields better than you do, and doesn't have to hit the ball twice to hit it 375 feet. Punchless infielders belong on the bench for NL East teams. Get thee to Pittsburgh. I dub thee the "Gene Kingsale of Infielders."

Robert (Phoenix, AZ): Wanted to thank you for your advice to draft Albert Pujols in the Spring of 2001, and ask you if there's other players I should be looking to snarf up early in my draft this year. I only ask because my book still hasn't arrived.

Gary Huckabay: You're welcome, and Felix Hernandez, SP, Sea, if you're in a keeper league. In response to the many questions which include commentary on my parentage, intellect, hygiene, and right to continue breathing because people haven't received their book in the mail yet -- my apologies. But some of you should really not know where I live.

Justin (NYU): Can managers trick opponents about who they will start? For example, imagine Brenly had announced Randy was pitching. The Unit pitches to one batter and his replaced by Schilling. The opponent's lineup is out of whack. Has this ever been tried?

Gary Huckabay: Given the respective contractual situations of all concerned, I will admit that this would be a completely surprising and unexpected move. Let's go to the speed round.....

Jim-Beau (Redwood City, CA): Gary, thanks for the chat. I was wondering where you see the pivot point for offense/defense at the premium defensive positions? How good of a bat will override an average or slightly below glove and visa-versa. As a reference point, Cleveland has a number of young of players/prospects that have played at least some cf and they all profile differently for both the bat and the glove - Bradley, Gerut, Crisp Sizemore, Taveras (if he comes back from Houson), Francisco, Snyder and even Ludwick. How would you rank them in each category? If they all hit their ceilings, which would be the better off/def mix for cf?

Gary Huckabay: The only REALLY interesting players in this bunch are Bradley, Sizemore, and to a dramatically lesser extent, Gerut. Bradley's the CF of the bunch, and might well have the higher ceiling, in a kind of Snelling/Fred Lynn/Super Dave Osborne kind of way.

Alex Sims (Houston): Shoot straight - Cubs or Stros for NL Central Champs?

Gary Huckabay: Cubs.

SOW (in your face): Name five rookies that will contribute that are worth a pick in a Scoresheet draft this season.

Gary Huckabay: Um....Jeff Bittiger, Ryan Anderson, Pete Rose Jr., Robert Blake, and David Gest. See you Saturday at the draft, Sherrett.

John M. Perkins (Macon, GA): To me, the most interesting ST stats are the PA and IP given to borderline players. For instance, yesterday Mike Lamb played all day at 3B for the Yankees as did Justin Leone at DH for the Mariners. Ignoring that we are just one game into ST, but is it reasonable to assume that the Yankees and Mariners consider Lamb and Leone their toughest decisions for 25th man, with the assumption growing if they still lead the teams in PA later in ST?

Gary Huckabay: I don't know that you can read too much into any spring training stats, even when it comes to playing time. Little tweaks and cramps can lead to some unusual PT distributions, and it's just an entirely different milieu. I do think that in this specific case, you're probably right, though. I don't know necessarily about Leone, though....

I've gotta run. Thanks to everyone for stopping by. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all the questions. Again, if you really desperately want an answer, feel free to drop me a note, and I promise to get back to you ASAP. Also, happy upcoming season, and thanks to all of you for your very generous support of Baseball Prospectus. And, to jeff from Brampton: I won't even dignify that question with an answer until you get the song titles right.

Gary Huckabay: Bye and thanks, all.


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