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Chat: Jim Baker

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday March 18, 2008 5:00 PM ET chat session with Jim Baker.

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Jim Baker writes "Prospectus Matchups" for Baseball Prospectus, and checks in with his thoughts about the upcoming season.

Jim Baker: Good afternoon. Those in the press seem to be taking a certain amount of joy in foretelling doom for the American economy. The good news for us is this: baseball survived the last Depression and it will survive the next one, too. So, your lifestyle might crash on the rocks of reality, but you'll always have the box scores to turn to - even if you're living in a box and reading them in a week-old USA Today you found blowing down an alley. So cheer up! To the question machine!

kevindamp (Seattle, WA): How worried should Angels fans be with Escobar and Lackey out for at least a month? Are the Angels still the clear favorite to win the west?

Jim Baker: Let's start out west. To answer the second question first: Yes, the Angels are still the clear favorites to win the division. I believe the A's are going to be better than expected, but not THAT much better. As far as the first question goes, it is a fan's right -- nay, duty -- to be worried at all times. It's one of the sick joys of fanhood; fretting. So fret away.

Greg P (China, Maine): Jim - again with the 5 PM chat? I am sending this question at 2 PM Eastern (when I need to be goofing off and not helping my kids with an indoor baseball clinic at school at 5 PM). Is there any possible way that the Royals make the playoffs this season? Do the other four teams need to forfeit to make this happen?

Jim Baker: I can't have a chat without hearing from Greg about the starting time. It's a tradition we have. We used to call this Pacific Prime back when I worked for the Major Indoor Soccer League. During the playoffs one year, we landed a couple of games on ESPN (no, not the Ocho)and they started at midnight Eastern Time. The spin we put on it was that they would be showing in prime time on the West Coast.

As for the Royals, we can always point to 2003, when they played way ahead of their RS/RA projections and actually finished over .500. That could happen again this year, but I honestly don't think there were teams in the Central in 2003 that were as strong as the Tigers and Indians are this year. So, yes, foreits would help. Weeks and weeks of them.

brooks (third): Any hope the O's surprise the experts and do better than the predictions. Aside from a season ending slide they had some good days last summer. Jones and the others picked up in trades could surprise, yes?

Jim Baker: Staying among the teams with less-optimistic prospects...The O's always have good days, don't they? I think a number of writers, myself included, have run charts of their downfall dates over the last several seasons. I don't think this is the year for a surprise, but the future could be brighter because of the youngsters you mentioned. Unfortunately, the Rays and, to a lesser extent, Red Sox, have even better fountains of youth burbling up, so it's going to take more than that for the O's to return to prominence, alas.

mike (Utica,NY): Colby Rasmus was sent down. Do you think he could start off strong like Hunter Pence or Ryan Braun last year in the PCL. Also what's your thoughts on Jurrijens strong spring and the Braves.

Jim Baker: I don't get this move at all. If Rasmus rates the way everyone says he does, don't you make room for him sooner rather than later? According to the depth charts, Skip Schumaker is going to get some time in the outfield now. Realizing he's just a placeholder, why not get Rasmus in there now? The Cardinals are not destined for great things this year, so it's a perfect time to get a rookie into it from the start. Failing that, I think it will end up as Mike foretells, with Rasmus coming along a little later. I'm not saying we're going to see a Pence/Braun-type debut, but it will be good news for St. Louis when he comes.

joe (mich): Jim, What does your crystal ball see in 2008 for Manny, Abreu and Andruw Jones ? Thanks.

Jim Baker: I think Manny Ramirez will have a better year in 2008 than he did last year. I think Abreu will be about the same, perhaps a little worse, as he is getting into the decline phase of his career, and I think Jones will look better on paper but that we have seen the best he has to offer. Jones should hit more homers because Dodger Stadium treats folks that way, but the extra weight is troubling. All of these players are in the 2008 Prospectus Matchups Contest I'm currently running, which leads me to this next question....

Ameer (Bloomington, IN): Thanks for the chat, Jim. Also, the new contest idea is great. Speaking of that....would you be willing to reveal your picks after the submission deadline?

Jim Baker: Thanks, Ameer. The response has been nothing short of overwhelming. In fact, I'm going to have to put a halt to requests for ballots and soon. It's getting to the point where there will be so many players, there might be too much tightness in the results. By that I mean, the range of outcomes is fairly small and a huge contestant population could result in many ties. I might end up having to slice the prize BP polo shirt into many different pieces. I'll post an Unfiltered later announcing an end to the requests for ballots. The submissions will still be due on March 28, but there will be no more new requests taken after midnight tonight.

As for my picks, Ameer, why would you want to see those? My job is to create contests, not win them. I invented the Predictatron and I am always middle-of-the-pack in it. It's like Henry Ford not being able to drive.

Andy (New York, NY): Well, if the Cards aren't going to have a good year anyway, what's the harm in sending him down for a while to delay the start of his arbitration clock? 72 wins is just as good as 73, really, right? Is there any developmental advantage to getting an extra month or two in the majors?

Jim Baker: Getting back to Rasmus for a moment...It's not to get more wins, it's to get him big league experience when the pressure is off. I've always felt that high-level players like Rasmus should be in the bigs by 22. If you look at history, that's usually the case. There have been some late entries, like Wade Boggs, but the greats are usually there early unless their path was blocked by another great. (Boggs was blocked, in part, because Yaz was still hanging around.) Andy makes a good point about arbitration clocks, but the Cards can always do what the Mets did with David Wright and Jose Reyes, lock him up early and long.

Keith (Naugatuck, CT): Im not sure if a fantasy question is up your alley, but im in a 5x5 head to head 12 team mixed league and am lacking in pitching, i have offered Joe Nathan J.J. Hardy, and Joey Votto(1b and OF eligiable), along with either Khalil Greene or Mike Napoli (Soto is my starter) for Chris Young, Derek Jeter, and Kosuke Fukudome; would this deal be beneficial to me?

Jim Baker: It's been a long time since I played in a 5x5 league, but I guess I would have to see who you have at the positions you're giving up in order to be able to fully answer your question. It sounds OK, but I would have to know more.

Having said that, making deals in fantasy is part of the fun. All ofyou: Roll the dice! Get on the phone! Play Trader Lane in the privacy of your tool shed. You're there to have fun.

rawagman (Work, for a few more minutes yet): Jim, Thanks for answering. It seems to me that depth is really critical in sperating the strong starting lineups from the great (and successful) teams. So when it comes to depth, who can hang with the Red Sox?

Jim Baker: It's funny you should mention the Red Sox and depth because, when they won the division in 2003, they had nine players qualify for the batting title. This is a very rare feat, and it shows that a team can succeed using just their regulars. Having said that, the Sox do seem like the most depthful (if that is, in fact, a word) team out there. I keep thinking the Rays have depth, but that's organizational at this point. The Reds certainly have depth, don't they? I mean, at least in that they have better players on the bench than they do starting.

gustavo (jax,fl): looking like the reds may actually go with patterson over jay bruce..is there any good reason you see for this?

Jim Baker: As I've written -- and others have said as well -- Dusty Baker is the wrong man at the wrong time for the Reds job. If I had a gun to my head and my life depended on finding Baker a big league managing job, I would put him on a team with a strong veteran presence and no tough choices to make lineup wise. The only good that could come from it is that the Reds get off to such a horrendous start that he gets fired and the team hires someone who is ready to usher them into the next phase. That won't happen, though. They'll win just enough to keep Baker employed. (And Patterson does deserve a big league job -- just not at the expense of the likes of Jay Bruce.)

Bender (New New York): What will baseball look like a hundred years from now?

Jim Baker: Well, it won't be Blernsball http://www.gotfuturama.com/Information/Encyc-3-Blernsball/

if that's what you're wondering, Bender. I think the game will be recognizable to us. The equipment will do more to protect against injury in subtle ways and there will be electonic support for the umpires, but baseball's demand for adherence to tradition will keep it looking like something we're used to. I recently watched a tape of the 1946 NFL Championship and there were more similarities to modern football than I expected. So, don't look for anything too radical.

BL (Bozeman): Should KC tinker around with moving Soria into the rotation, or just leave well enough alone?

Jim Baker: Great question. If a team is not going to be competitive, should it be too obsessed with locking down the leads it manages to get? Wouldn't the big picture be better served by developing another talented starter? I would put my vote on the rotation.

Dave R (Quakertown, PA): Hi Jim: great knowing 2008 season about to start! As a Mets fan, I'm looking at the entire team but always most focused on pitching. The 1st 4 starters all look good. I'm less concerned about the 5th starter, whether Pelfrey or El Duque, as I feel the spot will be manned adequately. I would like your guess on #'s 1 and 2: please give me a projected stat line for Santana and Pedro. Thanks, Dave

Jim Baker: I don't think anyone should worry too much about who their fifth starter is. If the guy is good, he'll rise in the ranks through attrition. If he's not, he'll be replaced soon enough. Please do not write down these off-the-cuff predictions:

Santana: 17-8/3.06 ERA
Martinez: 13-9/3.88 ERA

ssteadman (Washington, DC): Based on the Depth Charts, could Barry Bonds signing with Tampa Bay be enough to swing them into the Wild Card this year (assuming he DHs for them)?

Jim Baker: Bonds makes them much better (he had a .352 EqA last year, let's not forget), but insinuation into the WC race would require depression in two of four places: New York, Boston, Detroit or Cleveland. Let's say they're already a .500 team. With some luck against RS/RA projections of say, three games, and a what?, six-game boost from a healthy Bonds, that would put them at 90 wins. Do two of the four top teams in the Central and East win less than 90? I wouldn't want to predict that. So, short answer: Bonds makes them better, but still a tough road to the wildcard owing to external forces.

Or (Dallas): There are very few questions about Josh Hamilton's ability and production. However, every Rangers fan finds himself posing this query; can the man stay healthy and out of trouble?

Jim Baker: Out of trouble? Yes. Healthy? A much less definite yes.

SC (Philly): Jim- I'm going to the book signing tonight. Which of the panelists, Joe/Jay/Steven are full of it and whom can I believe?

Jim Baker: We BP types are many things, but we are none of us "full of it." There are too many people looking at the stats generated by our site for us to get away with being "full of it." Our readers are too intelligent and perceptive for us to get away with being "full of it." So, SC, go forth and enjoy and know that you are being told the truth as best as we know it at all times.

Otocinclus (NYC): Hey Jim, who's more likely to produce a better year, Alex Gordon or Stephen Drew?

Jim Baker: Propositions like this are at the very root of my 2008 Prospectus Matchups contest. Going by EqA, independent of position, I'm going with Gordon on this one. By the time all was said and done at the end of 2007, he had climbed to about league average. Drew might get there this year (about .260), but .285 sounds more like Gordon's level in 2008.

Jonathan W. (Iowa City, IA): The PECOTAs for Second and Center look fine for the Cubs at 20+ each. Isn't the real hole at Shortstop?

Jim Baker: Well, you can't have a juggernaut at every position. See Dahlgren, Babe -- 1939 Yankees and Santana, Rafael, 1986 Mets. The Cubs have assembled a pretty nice lineup. If The Riot isn't up to the same speed as the rest of them, it's OK.

JAX66 (Capital City): Whay kind of impact will Kosuke Fukudome have and will the Cubs ever get Brian Roberts?

Jim Baker: Fukodome will be a nice addition to a team that has struggled in the outfield of late. I don't think he'll be an All-Star, but the Cubs will be happy to have him. At some point, the Cubs might have to start asking themselves if they really need Roberts. If they can pry him loose without giving up too much, then fine, get him. If he costs them real prospects, though, what's the point of the exercise if they're already the favorites to win the division? Please don't say, "for the playoffs," because trading for improvement in a crapshoot is problematic.

roguerouge (jp, ma): I'm in a 10 team AL-only league (regular 5x5 plus walks and quality starts) and I'm facing a draft decision on Brian Roberts. If he gets traded to the NL, none of his stats after the trade will count in our league. Given that, how likely is it he'll be dealt this year to an NL club? And when? And what round should I draft him in?

Jim Baker: It's been a long time since I was not in a mixed league and I had forgotten how frustrating it can be to see your guy sail out of the picture like this. I hope, at least, you have first right of refusal on anyone who comes to the Orioles from the other league in exchange for Roberts.

I have griped about the process, but haven't answered your question. Are you drafting by defensive position? If so, I think it would depend on your position in the draft. In the league I'm in, if there wasn't a lot of talent behind Roberts, I'd gamble that half a year of him would be better than a full year of many other guys still available.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): What are the moves to make for the playoffs "crapshoot"? Big starters/short relief/pinch runners?

Jim Baker: A lot of ink is spilled every year about the moves teams make on the fringes of their rosters heading into the playoffs. Does it really matter? Well, we have seen a manager have no idea what to do with his bench in the playoffs (Bobby Cox), so the fringes CAN matter.

The life lesson the 2006 Cardinals taught us should still resonate, I think. There are examples of teams landing the various components Tony mentions and those teams have both succeeded and failed. I don't know that there is one thing a team needs to get that would ensure success.

Charlie (Philadelphia): What are your top 3 supergroups? And what's the minimum number of bands that can form a 'supergroup'? Can it just be two or do you need more?

Jim Baker: I'm still waiting for the remaining members of The Who and The Beatles to form a supergroup. (The Whotles?) The components fit well: Roger Daltrey in front, Pete Townshend on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass and Ringo Starr on drums. I think there's a funny movie in that, actually, where the four of them star as a band that never made it in the early '60s and are playing for fun in pubs.

Tim W. (Austin): What sort of numbers do you think Pujols will put up this year? Who will challenge him among National League hitters?

Jim Baker: I see no reason why his EqA won't be in the high .320s/low .330s, regardless of his troubles. One of the men most capable of challenging him is now in Detroit. The departure of Miguel Cabrera to Detroit makes him a bit safer, but Ryan Braun can challenge. If Chipper Jones approximates his 2007 and stays healthy, he's right there in MLVr with Pujols. Ditto Matt Holliday and Chase Utley.

fireorlime (Baltimore, MD): Everybody likes a 2008 Lincecum prediction. Ready...go!

Jim Baker: Leads the league in ERA and strikeouts, but has a 4-17 won-loss record. Have you looked at the Giants lineup lately? Wargh!

BeplerP (NYC): The miost fascinating question about this season to me is: Who has the guts to sign Bonds? My money's on Kenny Williams? What do you think?

Jim Baker: I can't vouch for the moisture content, but that's an intriguing answer as any. Buster Olney suggested the Mets should sign him and that was intriguing. In fact, what is there about adding this kind of offensive productivity to ANY team that isn't intriguing? How about the Yankees sign him and make him a first baseman? How about they sign him and put him in left and move Hideki Matsui to first? We can play this all day and it will still be fun three hours from now.

ashitaka (long beach, ca): Let's say hypothetically Bobby Crosby plays in 140+ games....more specifically, a healthy 140+ games. What kind of numbers can he post at this stage?

Jim Baker: I think a healthy Crosby is a league average hitter -- just like he was in his one full season back in 2004. A shortstop who hits league average is more valuable than a first baseman who does, of course, so this is sort of a compliment.

ashitaka (long beach, ca): Let's say hypothetically Bobby Crosby plays in 140+ games....more specifically, a healthy 140+ games. What kind of numbers can he post at this stage?

Jim Baker: I think a healthy Crosby is a league average hitter -- just like he was in his one full season back in 2004. A shortstop who hits league average is more valuable than a first baseman who does, of course, so this is sort of a compliment.

ejohnson (hell): What's your impression of Rickie Weeks? Is this going to be a breakout year? Or are we going to see another 230 Avg?

Jim Baker: I woudln't worry about Weeks batting average too much. He had a .292 EqA last year. You'll take a second baseman with a .292 EqA right? In fact, you'd probably want to put that second baseman in Cooperstown if he did that every year. To answer your question, I don't think he'll "breakout" but it might look like he is by traditional measurements.

themcneills (Denver Westin): Akinori Iwamura has a 95% Improve and a 95% Breakout rate... what in the world could that mean? "Super-Aki?"

Jim Baker: Yes, a man who destroys planets merely with his thoughts.

Brandon (College Station, TX): Jim, how much will the Twins lose (offensively and defensively) with Delmon Young in CF instead of Torii Hunter thsi year?

Jim Baker: I'm afraid this is going to be the last question. I have to get to the gym and stand around looking like a give a damn about my health.

There will be some dropoff, but not as much as you would expect. I won't say this is Young's breakout season, but he's going to be vastly improved. I think his WARP3 will climb to the 5.0 range while Hunter was in the mid-7.0s last year. The Twins could have done a lot worse!

Jim Baker: As always, thanks for all the great questions. If we don't speak before Opening Day, enjoy the season!


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