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Chat: Michael Wolverton

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday May 07, 2004 3:00 PM ET chat session with Michael Wolverton.

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Michael Wolverton is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Michael Wolverton: Let's roll!

bparis85 (Irvine, CA): What are your thoughts on the A's early season struggles, specifically the meltdown of the bullpen and the struggling of Zito? Is this just their annual case of April jitters, or has the new catcher and new pitching coach messed with their minds?

Michael Wolverton: The A's will be fine. They've hit a rough patch in their schedule, with all the road games and the two series against the Yankees, but that'll even out. Yes, there are some toubling signs from Zito and Mulder, but I don't expect Chan Ho Park-style meltdowns from either of them. And the four and five spots in the rotation could be the strongest the A's have had in a while. The bullpen is a little more of a question mark -- I don't know what's going on with Chad Bradford -- but the A's have some options in the minors, and there's always the Master of the Deadline Deal as their ace in the hole.

Speaking of which...

Cal (Boston): 2 questions: Who do you think Billy Beane will target come July 31? What do you think of Pedro in pinstripes rumor?

Michael Wolverton: Speculating wildly: Maybe Jose Vidro to upgrade the second base situation, and/or a solid middle reliever like Felix Rodriguez from across the bay. Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson would certainly inspire more confidence in the middle of the lineup than the Hatteberg/Karros platoon, too.

On Pedro, I wonder how hot a commodity he'll even be by season's end. He looked better last night, but he was still barely cracking 90 with the fastball. I'm certainly not writing him off by any stretch, but do you want to give a three year, 50 million dollar deal to a fragile soft-tosser? The Yankees may be the only team that can assume that kind of risk.

Orel Hershiser (Arlington, Texas): Hmmmm...the Rangers are 2nd in baseball in SNVA, and 4th in ARP? Am I a miracle worker, or what? And how do you see my staff doing the rest of the way? Can the rotation and pen stay in the top 10, or do you expect them to crater?

Michael Wolverton: Let's spread the credit around a little bit. John Hart deserves some for bringing back Kenny Rogers -- the ace of the All-Underrated Team in my book -- and for signing Jeff Nelson. Buck Showalter deserves praise for showing a little patience with the young guys. Ryan Drese gets credit for learning a new pitch, a two-seam fastball that's been very successful in keeping the ball on the ground so far.

That said, I don't expect the magic to continue the rest of the year. I'm a believer in Rogers, Benoit, and some of the bullpen guys, but I'm a skeptic of Drese and Dickey.

brad (nyc): Thanks for the pieces about unearned runs. I've been arguing your gist for years, or should I say tilting at windmills. Usually I just argue that a pitcher gets credit for an outfielder pulling back a home run, but gets off free, ERA-wise, if he muffs a comebacker to the mound which would have been the third out, then gives up half a dozen runs. If a pitcher gets credit for all kinds of good defense, he should pay for all kinds of bad defense, especially his own. Keep up the fight.

Michael Wolverton: Thanks! Like I said in the first article, there are many different ways to argue against the earned run rule. Thinking about how to adjust for great defense -- analogous to the way ERA adjusts for bad defense -- is just another way to see how silly the idea is.

Tom (NY): Any comments on Harold Reynolds on "Baseball Tonight" saying that BB's and OBP were basically a waste of time and overrated stat categories?

Michael Wolverton: I believe Reynolds also picked the Devil Rays to finish third in the AL East. So at least he's consistent.

Otsuka Fan (San Diego): What do you make of the Art Howe-generated controversy over Aki Otsuka's motion to the plate, in which he briefly pulls the ball out of the glove in mid-windup? Howe protested, and Otsuka eliminated that aspect of his delivery in a subsequent appearance with a runner on base, presumably to avoid being charged with a balk. But would that move be illegal with the bases empty? Rob Dibble, on ESPN, said it was illegal because it deceives the hitter. But isn't that a pitcher's job? Is there any language in the rules suggesting a pitcher can't try to deceive the hitter?

Michael Wolverton: For those who haven't seen him, Otsuka starts his windup with a normal leg kick, bringing both hands together up in front of his face. But he pauses at the top of his kick, and briefly takes the ball out of the glove and shows it to the batter before sticking it back in the glove and getting the motion moving again. It's that mid-motion separation of the hands that Howe is objecting to. And he filed his protest (since denied) after the first pitch of an inning, so it's not just a runners-on thing with him.

I don't know of anything in the rules that prohibits Otsuka's motion, and nothing I've read about the case indicates what rule Howe has in mind. 8.01(a) does require a pitcher to complete his motion "without interruption or alteration." Maybe Howe thinks the pause and hand separation constitute an "interruption"? I don't know.

If anyone knows the rule that Howe based his protest on, send it in. Otherwise, I figure it's just a little gamesmanship by Howe.

Easton (Clayton CA): Do you think that HBP 1st base should be awarded only if the pitched ball goes over the batter's box. It seems that the pitcher should be able to use the area between the plate and the batter's box w/o the batter sticking his elbow out for a free pass.

Michael Wolverton: Everyone has a pet peeve or two about baseball, and the Take One For The Team move is one of mine. You've all seen it -- where the batter turns his back to an inside pitch, but actually ducks down toward the pitch in a transparent effort to get hit on the arm or shoulder. Obviously the umps could do something about it by enforcing the rule that requires the batter to try to avoid the pitch. But that means judging the batter's intent, so I understand why they steer clear of that.

I like your solution of an objective zone, and I pushed for that idea in an article a couple of years ago. I'm fully aware this is never going to happen.

Alex (Houston): Were the 1998 or 1986 Astros better?

Michael Wolverton: My head says 1998, but my heart says 1986, since I spent most of my free time that summer hanging out in the Astrodome. Mike Scott mowing down hitters with ... whatever that pitch was, Bill Doran, Glenn Davis, Kevin Bass...that was a great summer. Not to mention the classic NLCS. Damn that Fred Brocklander.

Objectively, though, it's hard to go against Bagwell and Biggio near their primes, plus that unbelievable half-season from Randy Johnson.

lukejazz (Madison, WI): Hey Michael, Great work. Isn't it time for the Marlins to let Choi play every day? Cordero is horrible, Choi is hitting for excellent power, and he'll have to learn to hit southpaws eventually. What do you think? Luke (a Cubs fan who misses Choi)

Michael Wolverton: There's no real reason to think that Choi can't hit lefties -- he crushed them in the minors. But Cordero has crushed major league lefties throughout his career, so for now I'm inclined to give the Marlins the benefit of the doubt with their aversion to on-the-job training.

wendtm (Chicago): Mike, any truth to the rumor that come June, BP.com will feature a spider-webbed border? Or that next year's cover boy will be Batman?

Michael Wolverton: All vicious lies. We at BP believe in the purity of baseball analysis, and we would never prostitute ourselves in that way. Next year's cover boy will be the GEICO Gecko. That's GEICO, where you can save 15% or more on your auto insurance.

DaveKavanagh (Dublin, Ireland): Hi, Michael. What do you think was the reason for the Spider-Man idea? For all their faults, those who run MLB are not stupid, and it was pretty obvious what the fan and media reaction would be. Was it an experiment to gauge the level of hostility to on-field advertising? Was it an attempt to get fans used to the possibility of this type of advertising? Was it a case of threatening to do something really awful so that nobody minds when they do something only mildly awful? Or was it really just being prepared to do anything for a few million dollars?

Michael Wolverton: I'm as mystified as you are. It isn't the fact that they were willing to sell out this way, it was the amount. They're going to put ads on the field for a little more than $100,000 per team? It may sound a little conspiratorial, but your middle two reasons make some sense to me. Now, when they want to put a patch on the uniforms or an corporate logo on the helmets, it won't be as much of a story.

Dave (Huntington Beach, CA): Is it me, or is there a glaring disconnect between the growing acceptance of sabermetrics in MLB front offices and the lack of same in the managerial ranks? Every time I see Cesar Izturis batting second I ask myself if there are any managers who really embrace your teachings. (Then I ask myself how long Jim Tracy can survive with DePo as his boss.) Are there any out there who would make Bill Jame proud?

Michael Wolverton: There have been some. Davey Johnson, Larry Dierker, Earl Weaver has the sabermetric stamp of approval even if he figured most of it out before Bill James.

You certainly don't hear many of today's managers touting their knowledge of baseball analysis in interviews. But keep in mind that one of the main jobs of the manager is to keep his players happy and performing their best. To do that, you have to have their respect, it'd be hard to earn the respect of a bunch of athletes by expressing devotion to the ideas of a bunch of number-crunchers.

And among managers who get the most out of their players, I'd have to put Tracy near the top of the list.

David (New Haven): Thanks for answering my question... Everytime column about Alfonso Soriano seems to include a line about how he is too wild to hit good pitching. Is there really such a thing as a "mistake hitter" who can't hit good pitching? Does Soriano fit the profile?

Michael Wolverton: It's a theory that sounds good on paper, but I don't know of anyone who's checked it out, and frankly I doubt it would stand up to scrutiny.

Colon City Bomber (Colon City, Panama): If you were to start a fan club for an obscure former player, other than Ben Oglivie, who would it be for?

Michael Wolverton: Hmm, a lot of the good ones are taken: Rob Deer, Dickie Thon, Jim Deshaies.

I'd have to say Mickey Lolich. He's not that obscure, but he isn't exactly a household name either. He was my favorite player as a kid, for about a year and a half (you're fickle at eight). With all the Jack-Morris-for-the-Hall campaigning you see, I wonder how many of the campaigners realize that Lolich has pretty much the same resume, right down to the World Series heroics.

Alex Sims (Houston): When will a team finally give Tim Purpura the GM opportunity he deserves? I would HATE to see him leave the Astros, but it seems silly to me that he's still an assistant in a role he could ostensibly dominate at. Or am I missing something?

Michael Wolverton: I don't think you're missing anything; he'd be on my short list if I owned a team. Bear in mind that risk aversion is one of the top motivations behind hiring practices in baseball; it's riskier give an upstart with new ideas a chance than it is to recycle a failed former GM.

Kevin (Los Altos): When will we acknowledge that, yes, Barry Bonds is the greatest player that has ever played the game? I mean seriously, what other reason would one need than, "Have you seen this guy play?"

Michael Wolverton: The baseball world is slowly coming around. I think nearly everyone now puts him in the top 3. I, for one, am not ready to proclaim him the greatest yet. Ruth has that "Pitched at Hall of Fame levels" bullet on his resume.

Bill Johnson (in the boonies of New Mexico): I've always been intrigued by your "flakiest starters" segment in the SNWL, not least because Matt Morris, basically one of my favorite pitchers, is such a regular there. Any idea *why* pitchers qualify for the flaky label with regularity the way Morris does?

Michael Wolverton: I haven't ever looked into it in detail. Two possibilities:


  • Pitchers who are just variable in the amount of stuff they bring to a game. Especially pitchers who are prone to bouts of wildness.
  • Pitchers who are much worse with runners on base than with bases empty (and so are prone to collapse in a game when more than a handful of guys reach).


Nolan Ryan was a regular on the flakiest list, and he fits both profiles. Randy Johnson has also made the list a bunch of times, and he might fit one or both. I don't know about Morris

Tom (NY): Does Selig ever think before opening his mouth? How insulting is it to A's fans (all baseball fans really) to hear him whine about how the A's can't compete without a new stadium? What rock has he been under the last 4 years?

Michael Wolverton: I'm with you. One small point I'll make in Selig's defense, though: While the A's attendance numbers aren't that bad, they seem to get a lot of their big crowds on "dollar nights", and with other kinds of discounts. In short, I can believe that their revenue is lower than some other teams with lower attendance numbers. I'm sure Doug Pappas will have things to say about this in his ongoing series.

All that is just to say don't be misled by the attendance figures. That still doesn't excuse Selig's ludicrous "Can't compete" statement.

fsherrar (Washington DC): Who would you rather have on your team: Pujols or Beltran?

Michael Wolverton: Beltran, for defense and baserunning if nothing else. Plus, I think he'll age better.

Dan (Vermont): Don't you think that runs created by errors by pitchers should count as an earned run? After all, they did earn it.

Michael Wolverton: I guess, but that's kind of like giving a band-aid to a gunshot victim. The problem with the earned run rule is much deeper than that.

Michael Wolverton: My lunch hour is over, so I'll have to end it here. Thanks for all the great questions, and sorry I couldn't get to more. See you next time!


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