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Chat: Derek Zumsteg

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday March 22, 2004 3:00 PM ET chat session with Derek Zumsteg.

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Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Derek Zumsteg: I'm here, taking a break from pouring money into the old rambler I just bought (if anyone knows good drywallers in Bellevue, drop me a line). To the questions!

Lenny Dee (Portland): Hi Derek, Last year at the Portland feed you guaranteed Tampa would fail to win 65. Will they win 70 this season? Any other guarantees you want to offer?

Derek Zumsteg: Ahhh, the Portland feed. That was a good time. I don't think they will best 70, but it is hard to keep a team that far under .500. Tampa's a flat wretched franchise, and when they do things like bring Tino in, they're capping their upside, if that makes much sense.

Corey (Chicago): Your comments about Ozzie Guillen seem about right to me; meanwhile, I notice BP authors have a lot of strong opinions on the good/bad tendencies of managers. I'm not convinced that there aren't good statistical tools out there for evaluating managers, especially when it comes to in-game strategy (waiting to be discovered by Wolverton or somebody), but at the very least could we have some sort of "BP Roundtable" rankings, or something?

Derek Zumsteg: Manager evaluation is like what defensive statistics were years ago, before Fielding Runs, or Davenport started working on his stuff, UZR, and so forth: everyone knows that something's out there, but no one really knows how to look at it or how significant the things we can look at are. There are obvious ones: does the team get thrown out running all the time?

But the more subtle questions defy easy answers: Does deviation from expected win-loss consistently tell us anything about manager ability?

I agree with Stephen Goldman, who wrote at length about this: the most important decisions a manager makes is who to put in the lineup every day, because the difference between recognizing a great player and giving them a chance over an established scrub is far more than whether the team stole at a 66% success rate or a 75% ... but how do you measure that, and how much blame goest to the manager versus the GM?

I suspect that you're right, though, and someone's going to Voros us with some kind of previously unthought-of manager evaluation metric eventually.

Ted McInerney (Baltimore): What do you think of the Orioles' chances to be in the wild card race?

Derek Zumsteg: I don't think much of their chances at all, sorry. I don't think they've improved enough to run with Toronto, even, much less whoever drops out of the AL West race.

Tom Gisriel (Baltimore): In a recent BP article, the park effect of Dodger Stadium was broken down into components. Is that data available for all parks, and will it be posted on BP online? Also with regard to park effects - To what degree should a team tailor itself to take advantage of the peculiaritites of their park? My impression is that teams sometimes lose their way seeking to maximize a benefit from their park effects, rather than simply getting the best player available. The Dodgers emphasize pitching because their park favors pitching, but don't have enough offense. The Rockies come up with a new thoery every month on how to build around their park, but they simply need better players. The Red Sox historically seem to do the best when their pitching is strong, which goes against their park's historic trend to increase offense. Any thoughts?

Derek Zumsteg: The data Dayn Perry cited is available for all parks, and published by STATS, Inc in one of their books.

As to whether it's available here... we do have plans to roll out some crazy stuff soon, but more than that I can't say.

A team should take park effects into consideration when assembling a roster, so in comparing free agent possibilities, for instance, you certainly want to think about how your new acquisition's going to fare in the transition. But because you play half your games in what is, essentially, a neutral park, you can't skew your staff so far that you're hopeless on the road.

And to go on a limb: I think that teams should build against their park tendencies. Building a pitching and defense team if you're the Dodgers strikes me as having a pretty limited return on your investment, and historically teams that play in extreme hitters parks have competed more when they're top-of-the-league in pitching (park-adjusted, of course).

That's all without any evidence citations. You may begin emailing me with counter arguments now.

Robert (Fort Detrick): Hello Derek. I'm a big fan of your writing. You're obviously a Mariner fan, and I wanted to get your opinion on whether or not the Dodgers would have been better off had they hired Pat Gillick instead of Paul DiPodesta. Thank you.

Derek Zumsteg: The Mariners would have been better off if the Dodgers had hired Pat Gillick, that's for sure.

DePodesta was a great choice. If only the M's had hired him instead of Bavasi, the AL West might be even more interesting this year.

Steve K. (Mariner Fan Hell WI): Derek, is there any hope for the Mariners keeping up with Oakland and Anaheim this year? Any at all?

Derek Zumsteg: There's always hope. The last batch o' projections from the PECOTA-tron 2000 showed about a five-game gap between Oakland to Seattle to Anahiem, and that's well within luck, much less fluky performances, and so on.

We should also consider that Edgar Martinez defies projections that say he'll age every year, and there's no reason to think he'll stop hitting this year.

So there is hope.

Jack Baker (Bradenton): Do you think other teams will follow the Marlins' lead in trying to negotiate deals contingent upon new stadium deals as a way to reduce costs and put pressure on local voters or cities/counties?

Derek Zumsteg: Oooooooooh yeah. The only real issue I see is that there are so few cases where teams can do this and it might make any difference at all. With the Expos situation, nearly every team in nice old stadiums, new stadiums, or... Comiskey Park... it can't become that widespread because there are so few opportunities.

Oliver Stone (New Orleans, LA): I'm beginning to think there's a conspiracy among major league owners. How come we've not heard anything new about the potential sale of the Expos? The other owners have to be tired of dealing with the added expense. The players have to be sick of having two home fields. No one likes the current circumstance, and there's a bunch of buyer lined up, so why the delay? Is the asking price just too high?

Derek Zumsteg: Speaking of the Expos....

You haven't heard anything because MLB doesn't really want a solution. The thing to do is clear: you put 'em in DC, you play in RFK if you have to, and if baseball has to pick up some enormous piece of the tab to get a new stadium built, so be it.

29 teams have subsidized the entire operations of a major league for years now. That money could have put them in a shiny new house... but baseball seems tied to having someone build it for them, even if it's not a location that can support baseball long-term, and to getting their investment + expenses back, and that's an increasingly tall order. Especailly since that # is only going to go up every year.

If I was a team owner, I'd be livid, and I'm sure they must be.

Trent (Boston MA): What do you think about a system that has a salary cap averaged over a period of years, where teams could go very high one year at the expense of the next two? Everyone could have a shot, or teams could make long term plans and save up their cap space.

Derek Zumsteg: I think all caps are bad, first. They have unintended side effects (see this year's Yankee adventures in the mystical "Land Beyond the Cap").

Second, does anyone really want to see baseball get into the NFL-type cap business where success means almost immediate tear-down projects ala the Ravens? Shouldn't teams be free to capitalize on their success and continue to invest in their teams?

I say "no" and "yes" respectively.

Baseball economic parity will only come as the result of fewer market restrictions, not more.

Sylvius (Vancouver, BC): How do you feel about being compared to Hunter S. Thompson?

Derek Zumsteg: That's a reference to Will's aside in the Seattle Team Health Report.

I feel pretty good about it, but having seen HST... boy, I hope I don't follow his career path. I'm surprised he's still alive, frankly.

Paul Covert (Lynnwood, WA): With the Rose reinstatement apparently derailed after the public reaction to his admissions, is your source from last summer still standing by the story that an agreement was reached?

Derek Zumsteg: A couple Rose questions, so --

Yup. I think the statements, particularly from Rose and Schmidt, from our story through today, indicate there was an agreement between the camps. Will Carroll's reported that the deal's off, that Rose completely blew it between the book and everything else. I don't have any independent information, so what I know about the current status is what everyone knows: he managed to alienate almost everyone in a couple of weeks:

Many people who believed him felt betrayed and hurt. Many people who didn't believe him were unswayed by his admission and didn't see repentence, so they took offense... others found that his half-true admission galling, and didn't come around either.

I don't know what happens now.

Count Chocula (Battle Creek, MI): Hello, Derrek. I was hoping you could explain to me how the Orioles rationalize the signing of Miguel Tejada. I can't come up with a rational financial or on-field explanation for it. They finish fourth with or without him, and instead of trying to rebuild as a proper team, they stovepipe a 28-year old going on 31 into a long term deal during which they're unlikely to contend. How is this possibly worth the money?

Derek Zumsteg: I wrote a little about this in the 2004 annual, but I there's value in investing in quality free agents even in down times for a team. The Orioles have struggled for years, they're not drawing well, and there's a possibility they'll have a new franchise competing with them soon. There's a difference to fans between fielding a 75 win and a 81-win team, both in goodwill and in attendence and marketability. If you figure a win is worth $1m to a team (and that's a wild guess, subject to great variability), then investing in a guy who doesn't block anyone and will still be an asset if your youth develops is worthwhile.

That said, I think Tejeda's deal is a bit high to make that point.

Eric Gladdell (Ottumwa): Mr. Zumsteg, you obviously keep very busy between your writing outside of BP and the large amount of very good stuff you write for BP. How do you decide what to write for each place? Do you put on a different hat depending on what kind of audience you're expecting? Also, how do I go about getting a job with BP?

Derek Zumsteg: Couple of questions like this, so I'm going to group them, and cross-apply my answers (yeah, I debated):

BP's a wide audience, so I try to do my best work there: some kind of insight or, barring that, something I think is funny. Every BP column is the result of 3-4 ideas I work on until one pans out, then that gets re-written...

The off-the-cuff Mariners venting isn't really suited to BP, though -- who outside Seattle wants to hear me rant about the Mariners every day for a couple hundred words? So that kind of stuff goes elsewhere.

And then there's the other stuff, which is totally assignment-specific. So yeah, there are different hats, but this is where I wear the really nice one.

Getting a job at BP... my advice to everyone is pretty simple: write. Write stuff in your own voice that's unique and insightful, and people will find you. Don't rehash every great Neyer column for 3,000 words, or write about how much you agree with the announcers calling the game last night.

Write until you find something you can do that's unique and you, whether it's through a blog on your own, submitting articles to us here at BP (we run guest pieces all the time). If your work gets good enough, you'll be picking from different dream employment offers.

Erik Myhre (Seattle): Will Billy Beane be lost without DePodesta? Some of the A's recent moves seem a little questionable.

Derek Zumsteg: No, he's got a good map. They're a deep front office that knows the questions to ask. I don't doubt that even if they didn't have DePodesta, they'd be making the same interesting choices.

As to their recent moves... the problem with the A's is that while they're smart and all, I always have this reaction where I go "and yet..."

Hatteberg's signing, for instance-- the line was that they didn't think there'd be a cheaper alternative available over the life of that deal, and it was a part of an organizational commitment to that kind of player... you hear these reasons and you can agree with them, but you want to say "and yet, if you found him once, couldn't you find Hatteberg 2 for $1 again? Couldn't you..."

The A's are a smart team, but they have never been infallible. I expect that to continue. The weight of expectation on them for being smart is perhaps too great.

Dex (Indianapolis): How long will it take for the Yankees to realize that Jeter's awful at shortstop and move ARod over there? It looks like they're actually going to keep Jeter at short, which is one of the only ways they could miss the postseason.

Derek Zumsteg: Is it that they don't realize it? Or is it that they know that that's the case but decided that it's not worth it?

("Imply, Lisa? Or implode..")

It's also possible they made the best decision they thought they could -- that Jeter's limitations would be even more exposed at third, while Alex could adapt more readily.

I'm a little surprised that Jeter, for all his team leadership and sacrifice-for-the-team-osity, didn't step up and volunteer to take one for the team and move to 2b/CF.

Bootylicious (Funkytown, USA): Bootylicious wants to know. Who wins the NL West?

Derek Zumsteg: I like the Padres, Bootylicious.

Anthony (NY): Now that Ramon Castro has apparently been liberated, who is next in BP's "Free ______!" campaign?

Derek Zumsteg: I'm nominating Rafael Soriano, who should be in the rotation this year... but won't be, on account of the team not wanting to move him out of the spot where he came up and made an impact.

No joke, that's what they said.

Mrs. Krabappel (Springfield, NT): Why is everyone so high on Joe Mauer? Yes, he's a catcher, at least for now. He really hasn't been that amazing with the bat, and he's so big that there's no way he's going to stay a catcher. Is it really a cut and dried thing that he's a better prospect than Justin Morneau?

Derek Zumsteg: It's never that cut and dried in cases like this, you're right. I haven't been convinced that tall catchers absolutely must move out from behind the plate, but the health arguments as to why seem entirely valid. I still think Mauer has star potential, but he's probably going to take a couple years to get there.

The Nitpicker (The Ether): Another error! Neyer hasn't written a great column in years! Your errors continue!

Derek Zumsteg: (Nitpicker submitted another question about Chocula's true origin, which I skipped)

I know it's fashionable to say Rob Neyer's off his game, and maybe in that way he's a victim of having educated his own audience in a way few writers ever get to -- he can't write the same columns now and blow people's hair back, because all of the Neyer-inspired guys like us read those already.

But compare Neyer to any other national baseball columnist writing for ESPN, or who's syndicated, or writing for a metro paper -- he's far, far better than any of those columnists, and that's his competition, not some ghostly Neyer of Columns Past.

colebridge@aol.com (Wheaton): Why are the RBI and Run projections for the Expos hitters so high .What is it you know that I do not know

Derek Zumsteg: That offense should be hugely upgraded, which means guys will have more runners to drive in and more bats behind them to help them score.

Nick Johnson's going to hit the stitches off the ball this year, too. I'm a big fan, I look forward to great things.

Twins Fan (St. Cloud): Why is everyone so excited about the Royals? They look precisely like a team that's going to regress to the mean after some big performances and a lot of luck. Do you really think they've got more than a 15% chance to win the AL Central?

Derek Zumsteg: 15% chance... yeah, that's about what I figured. But what a division -- it's wiiiiiiiiide open for anyone to self-destruct and let the Royals (or anyone) waltz in and take a pennant.

Before they take a playoff beating.

J. Palmer and R. Jackson (Grumpyoldmanville): So are we the spiritual heis of Frankie Frisch or what? This steroid thing is so great! It gives us a reason to denigrate the modern player. Now if we could just figure out something nasty to impugn for Greg Maddux....

Derek Zumsteg: Maddux doesn't give you much to work with, does he? Uhhh... let's see... he had laser eye surgery, which wasn't available back in the day, when you were lucky to have one eye...

The desire to see yesterday, when they competed, as better and cleaner than today is natural, but we should remember that it wasn't so long ago that illegal drug use in clubhouses was rampant, and the kind of drug testing some ex-players advocate might have kept entire teams off the field.

"Paths to Glory" is a really good book, btw, and touches on some of that.

Gweemus (3000 mi E of where I want to be): I love Edgar Martinez, and you do too (in that manly hetero way, of course). I'm sorta sad that his last years were (and will) be spent toiling for a team interested in 'being (just) competitive' rather than really reaching for the playoffs. Gut feeling: will he ever get in the Hall where he deserves to be? If so, what will it take this year to make it?

Derek Zumsteg: Okay, I'm outta time... so I'll take a couple quick ones.

I think he will. The debate over whether Edgar belongs in the Hall is pretty ridiculous, IMO anyway -- the real argument is that a DH doesn't belong, but the Hall of Fame is about greatness, not about whether the DH exists or not, any more than we should argue Alex Rodriguez stinks because the shortstop is nothing more than a fourth outfielder.

JD Arney (Columbus): Do you think the Reds should stick with Wily Mo Pena, even though he may rot on the bench? Or do you think they should waive(attempting to send him to AAA) or trade him?

Derek Zumsteg: Okay, last couple --

Wily's such a weird player, I don't know what you do with him. If you're the Reds, I think maybe you see if you can't sneak him down at the end of spring training, maybe bribe away the waiver claims... or you wash your hands of your mistake in giving him a major league contract and if the Tigers (say) give him a full season to struggle and he turns out well, you shrug and move on.

I say Pena play at the Futures game and dude was the strangest hitter I've ever seen. Ball in the dirt: awful swing. Then he'd drive one into the upper left-field stands at Safeco, just a towering blast... and then he looked like he should be in T-ball again.

Premium Customer (Tampa, FL): Thanks for BP Premium. It's great, worth every cent, and it's a highlight of my day. What's the next thing you're adding?

Derek Zumsteg: Wanted to end on the high note.

I'm putting in new windows, but I'm probably going to run out of money before I get to the kitc-- oooooh, BP. Sorry, long weekend working with the prybar.

I don't know which of our new features is rolling out first, but I'll say that from what I've seen they're all Spectacularly Great and you'll be impressed.

Derek Zumsteg: Thanks everyone for the fine questions, and I'm sorry I didn't get to them all... I was a little long-winded this time, but I did 33% more chat time free, so I hope that's cool. As always, feel free to drop me a line at dzumsteg@baseballprospectus.com if you've got more questions.


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