The author of "Prospectus Toolbox" and "Stupid Lawyer Tricks" chats about the pennant races today.
Derek Jacques: Hey, everybody! It's been a while since my last chat, so I might be a bit rusty. Nonetheless, the next couple of hours are blocked off, so let's chat.
Steve (ND): Even if you have to lie to me, can you tell me the Twins still have a chance in the Central?
Derek Jacques: Oh, Steve, never ask me to lie to you. Luckily, despite a brutal first week of September, the Twins still have three games left against Chicago—at home—and are only two and a half back, so if they can keep pace their fate is still in their hands. Plus, half Minnesota's remaining games are against the Royals and O's, so the weighted record of their remaining opponents is just shy of .500. It's a puncher's chance.
Since last year with the Rockies, I try to wait till the body's cold before I declare any team dead.
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): Since starting out this season 1-32, Elijah Dukes has hit .305/.402/.540. Is he going to be a superstar?
Derek Jacques: Has the problem with Dukes ever been his ability? I don't think he quite turns into Albert Belle if he gets his life in order, but it's pretty hard to have a career if you don't.
arfdolph (Antioch (Calif.)): How would you rate the job Girardi has done so far this year? Does he get a pass due to all the injuries? Or is he not the right fit for this team regardless. Some of my Yankee friends say the team is underachieving regardless because he's just too uptight a personality for a veteran club.
Derek Jacques: I can't say that he's done an impressive job—his on-field decisions often leave something to be desired—but there's plenty of blame to go around, where the Yankees are concerned. I'd be less worried about Girardi being too uptight for the veteran players, than about the way youngsters like Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera have played under him.
George W. (Mount Vernon, VA): Just a puncher's chance for the Twins? They get to play 6 against the Kansas City Forfeits, 3 against the Baltimore NeverWeres and 3 against the Cleveland DisabledList in addition to the 3 AT HOME they play against the White Sox...while the White Sox have to play 4 against the Toronto Eight-Wins-In-A-Row-With-Lind-And-Sniders, 4 in Yankee Stadium, in addition to the 3 played in the HumpDomeOfHorrors.
I think the Twins are even money to 6-5 favorites, especially with THE Carlos Quentin sidelined.
Derek Jacques: I might have undersold there, but I'd still rather be the team that has two and a half games in hand, than the one that's behind and pretty far back in the Wild Card.
Considering how low the expectations were for the post-Santana Twins, they've done a great job and are a great story.
Tim K (VA): Any idea how New Yankee and City Field will play?
Derek Jacques: You have absolutely no way of knowing until these ballparks arrive--even small changes to an existing ballpark or its environs can change the way it plays (see Fenway after the luxury boxes).
Jeff P (Vegas): Pete Rose said recently that the "first 3000 are easy" in reference to Derek Jeter. While Jeter is clearly in decline, isn't it reasonable to think that he could play well into his deep decline years due to the love he gets in NY?
Derek Jacques: The real question will be how long the Yankees can deal with his defense. Unlike the era in which Rose played, it's pretty hard to justify a singles hitter in decline at first base in the 21st Century.
Aaron (YYZ): Any idea whether the Angels have officially moved Hank Conger off of Catcher this year? He seems to have been DH'ing a lot this season, although he was also returning from some shoulder injuries.
Derek Jacques: This one's a better question for Kevin Goldstein. I was under the impression that the shoulder injury was the main driving force there. I wish someone did what Will Carroll does, just covering the minors.
Dax (Omaha): You're a lawyer, KG is not (I think) -- can we get YOUR thoughts on the Alvarez situation?
Derek Jacques: Particularly for a non-lawyer, Kevin has done an amazing job on the Alvarez story, along with Dejan Kovacevic in Pittsburgh, the best coverage around of the story. There are separate issues here given the interaction between the MLBPA and MLB, which is the subject of the grievance, and the interaction between Alvarez/Boras and the Pirates. While it looks like MLB's in the wrong in the first instance, the blame seems pretty spread out in the second.
Kevin R (SF): Will BP2009 be on Kindle?
Derek Jacques: We wouldn't want to be responsible for busting people's Kindles. It's a big book, in a hard format for electronic. Still, as someone who's entire library is currently in boxes, I'd welcome the change.
Taylor (Toronto): Are the Jays the third best team in baseball right now?
Derek Jacques: ELO thinks so. Nate Silver's ELO baseball ratings—which you can find in their own iteration of the Playoff Odds report—indicate that the Jays are, at this moment in time, the third-mightiest of them all.
A number of people seem to have questions about the three versions of Playoff Odds we have on the Statistics page. I wrote a short guide to them last year that might be of help:
Paranoid (Chicago): Ozzie Guillen was once called "The Smartest Player in Baseball." Why do so many people think he's a dumb manager? Didn't he win a World Series, and isn't this year's team far surpassing expectations?
Derek Jacques: I don't know that people think he's a "dumb" manager. He has a certain...florid quotability that makes for people underrating one's intelligence. But he manages a bullpen well, and keeps the attention on himself and off his players--kind of a profane Joe Torre, if you will.
Dan H (Manhattan): Dan Uggla. Josh Hamilton. Who's the next Rule V stud?
Derek Jacques: Too early. We need to know who's protected before we can make any bold predictions there.
TheDumbSmartGuy (Cambridge, MA): How do you handicap the Red Sox chances in the postseason this year? It would seem they're lacking some of that Secret Sauce that made them so formidable in the past...
Derek Jacques: Funny you should mention Secret Sauce, since the Red Sox are leading the majors in those rankings:
Steve (Brooklyn): If MLB or Pedro Alvarez or Scott Bora$ doesn't like what happens in arbitration, what are their options after the ruling? Can they take the issue to court?
Derek Jacques: They could take the issue to court; but it's unlikely they'd get much traction there. If the arbitrator voids the contract, and doesn't give an opportunity for Alvarez to re-sign by declaring him a free agent (unlikely given the Drew precedent) or extending the signing deadline (unlikely, it's too creative), then Alvarez is looking at a year as a St. Paul Saint before re-entering next year's draft.
Danni (Denver): Besides Seattle, are there going to be any open jobs for GMs or managers this offseason?
Derek Jacques: The Yankees could open up. I'm pretty sure Cashman's contract is up, and he might not want to keep on working for the new Boss (same as the old Boss?).
paulbellows (Calgary): Most unmovable contract in the non-Zito division? Luis Castillo? Johjima?
Derek Jacques: Since Mike Hampton got traded a few years back, I don't consider anything unmovable, except maybe Prince Fielder in front of a platter of veggie burgers. It's all a matter of how many years you can wait and/or how much money the team can swallow. Helton's owed $57M on his contract through 2011 so that would be pretty difficult to move. The Yankees have a trio that they'd be hard-pressed to trade (Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez) although in the cases of Jeter and Posada, that's as much for non-baseball reasons as for baseball reasons.
But if there's a will, I think anyone could be traded, even Zito. It'd take a ton of creativity and probably a few teams collaborating to disperse the cash (or maybe one big team, like the Yankees, getting something of value along with Zito). But it can be done.
Dave (Staten Island): Why can't Alvarez just go back to Vandy and get more sloppy Buster Olney lovin?
Derek Jacques: The prevailing thought is that the NCAA doesn't care if your professional contract is voided on a technicality--once you've agreed to play as a professional, you're no longer eligible. This could also be the subject of litigation, but it's likely that if Alvarez returns to Vandy, it's for the love of education and college-age girls, not for the beisbol.
Matt (Queens): I'm not clear on the trade rules, but remember some trades made in September before. The Mets are so desperate for pitching and with teams out of it, why would they not try to pick up someone like Kenny Rogers or Jarrod Washburn?
Derek Jacques: I'm not sure they're not trying. Either acquisition would be ineligible for the postseason, but they could definitely use the help to stave off the Phils...
Tony (Albuquerque): Jose Guillen has to be pretty unmovable, for baseball and non-baseball reasons, right?
Derek Jacques: The freight is awful, but after this season, it's only a two-year contract. Since people kept signing Raul Mondesi even after he'd apparently burned every bridge in the baseball universe, doesn't it come down to how much money the Royals would be willing to eat of Guillen's contract?
Tony (Albuquerque): Does the apply to Hosmer if all things fall apart in the Boras situation? Or is it different because he is a HS player?
Derek Jacques: As I understand it, the PA's argument is that Hosmer was signed on time, and that the official time of the contract was delayed either unintentionally by the Alvarez deal, or intentionally to give the Pirates cover. So Hosmer's fate could be different than Alvarez, depending on the facts. But if he's thrown back into the draft pool, he won't be able to play college baseball--he has, after all, already played as a professional and received a paycheck.
Sawx Fan (Rockville, MD): Any ideas what we can expect from the Baseball Network next year, in terms of programming, black outs, etc.?
Derek Jacques: Baseball Network has been pretty quiet, so I don't have any details yet. There were rumors that it might be delayed, which were exacerbated by the fact that the only ad for it during the ASG came in extra innings, after midnight (IIRC).
Steven Goldman (The Batcave): You grew up with Joe Sheehan. What's your best Sheehan anecdote?
Derek Jacques: My best Sheehan anecdote isn't printable in a family chat... We did get out to Yankee Stadium during the last homestand, which reminded me what a great experience it is to be at the ballpark with Joe. If you ever get the chance to talk to him during a game, at one of our Ballpark Feeds, for example, take it.
rod (cincinnati): Any chance Dusty Baker gets fired after the season?
Derek Jacques: I'd hope not. That would be monstrously fickle, although I can't particularly endorse Dusty's regime in Cincy, yet.
Aaron (YYZ): Any thoughts on what, if anything, can be done to level the playing field against the rest of baseball for the teams stuck playing in the punishing AL East? It's kind of frustrating that a reasonable argument can be made for 4 of the 8 best teams in baseball being in the same division, especially when you see other terrible divisions like the AL West and NL West...
Derek Jacques: That's a few years late, and many dollars short. Any punishment against the AL East now would be like murdering the Rays franchise.
I just read the Lords of the Realm, so competitive balance has been on my mind, a bit. I don't have any answers, except to say that resolution of those issues is unlikely--even if the owners could get together on this issue, baseball's broadcast partners have an active interest in big-market teams remaining competitive.
Now that we have comments on the article pages, I wonder if we could do a baseball book club.
Joba (The Hutt): What do you think of the decision to send me back to the bullpen to start '09?
Derek Jacques: I think it's either written in pencil, or an indication that there's something we're not being told about your medical condition. I hope it's the former.
Jeff P (Vegas): They've dealt with that defense for a long time. What if they swapped him and ARod? DH? Jeter as player-manager?
Derek Jacques: I don't know that we'll ever see a player-manager again, or that, given the way he deals with the media, Jeter-as-manager would be a good idea. There's a certain candor that makes a good New York manager that Jeter has never shown as a player--not that he couldn't, but it seems unlikely.
While they've dealt with Jeter's D for a long time, he's getting older, and more banged up with the years. I don't know that Jeter's game would adjust to being a DH, just as it's a bit dicey at first base.
Shea Bronxton (South Wrigley): If you consolidated the rosters of the two New York teams, and did the same with the two Chicago teams, which is better? And who manages each squad?
Derek Jacques: Great, if somewhat wacky question. The Chicago team would have an amazing bullpen. Manuel probably manages the New Yorkers, with Ozzie taking the Chicagoans in an All-Mouth managerial battle.
Speaking of Ozzie's mouth, I forgot to mention that David Laurila will have a Q&A with the Ozzeroo up sometime in the next week. David had a great Q&A with Cito Gaston last week, so I'm really looking forward to what he gets from Guillen.
chris (bklyn, NY): Hey, Derek. Question for you about the reports - do you have any plans to make the DT metrics available for use as part of the Custom Stat Reports, specifically WARP1-3? It's frustrating that users can't run comparisons of position players across a league using a metric that incorporates defense.
Derek Jacques: We're always working on improving the site, and sortable Davenport Translations is one of the things I'd most like to see around here. No idea on a timetable, however.
Rob (Brighton): You grew up with Sheehan? Is it just me or do his last few articles sound a little...I dunno...bitter. Maybe it's just the proper tone for injecting a some baseball realism into conversations about bad to mediocre teams masquearading as contenders. Even so, I'd give the guy a call.
Derek Jacques: Joe and I have been friends since High School. As much as we're taken to task for our tone sometimes, it's really no fun saying negative things about baseball teams or players, even though you have to if you're giving an honest account. It's much easier to talk about the teams that are surprising successes than the ones that are predictable disappointments.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): (1) Competitive balance is cyclical.
(2) What looks true today is not necessarily going to be true tomorrow. Prior to April, people were touting the AL Central as the power division.
(3) In no way are the Yankees one of the top 8 teams in baseball. They're barely top 8 in the AL.
Derek Jacques: True. Amen. Sadly, true.
Evan (Vancouver, BC): Carlos Silva is owed $36 million over the next three seasons. That's an unmovable contract.
Derek Jacques: It's pretty heavy (heavier, in my opinion than Johjima or Castillo). But how much do you have to take out before he gets down to innings-eater price? Eat $12 million, and you can't find someone to take him? 16?
As long as you accept that Silva is very unlikely to pitch on the next good Mariners team, and that the player you get in return will be proportional to the amount of salary you pay out in the deal, nothing's impossible.
Rich (Columbus, OH): The same Cito Gaston who said Shawn Green would never cut it as a major league ballplayer?
Derek Jacques: You don't have to agree with all of someone's decisions to have a good conversation with them.
Tony (Albuquerque): Is Alex Gordon not playing up to his potentional or is this in potential?
Derek Jacques: It would be very disappointing if this were the full extent of Alex Gordon's potential. He's improved from last year, and at 24, it's hard to say that we should start revising our expectations, but he has to step up soon, or it would be a huge disappointment.
Billy B. (Fremont, CA): Are there any AL teams with a structural advantage going into the playoffs (3 dominant starters, short-sequence offense, etc.)? Or is it looking like a crap shoot?
Derek Jacques: The AL Special Sauce leader, Boston, has some health questions (as does the NL leader, the Cubs), so I'm not sure that we have a clear favorite in either league.
James Cole (Boston): With Quentin and Kinsler out for the year, who gets the AL MVP? (I know, I know, awards are dumb) Sizemore and A-Rod seem like decent choices, but the neither plays for a contender. Pedroia? K-Rod? Longoria?
Derek Jacques: The recent Jockey love makes me think that Pedroia has a leg up in the race, although I'll admit that I haven't done a Sheehan-style analysis.
Reed (Des Moines): What kind of law do you practice? I'm a 3L at Drake with no idea what I want to do.
Derek Jacques: I was a litigator in a small general-practice firm, although now I mainly write and edit for a living. Drop me an email for a more in-depth discussion.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): The combined LA team would have the best bullpen.
Derek Jacques: Combined LA would be a monster. Who manages, though?
Dan H (Manhattan): Why doesn't MLB have a draft slotting system like the NBA where each player gets a certain amount? It would be good for the Players Union because there would be more money for the players rather than ridiculous bonuses.
Derek Jacques: Slotting is a giveback that I suspect the MLBPA is saving for a rainy day. I don't like it, not because I dislike teams saving money, but because I dislike the idea of people (in this case, the current MLB players) giving away other people's money (that of the future draftees). Still, I suspect it'll get here eventually.
Jim (Hyde Park, MA): Everyone's always asking you guys how to get a job in baseball. How about a job that doesn't suck, in general?
Derek Jacques: There's no easy answer, although I think the key is self-awareness. Note the aspects you like of any job you have, then try to find or create a position where you get to do those things more often.
ChuckR (Addison, IL): Do you think the Soriano contract will be Zito-esque in a few years? I think he's only on board for like another 14 years at $20-30 million per, or something.
Derek Jacques: Soriano's a weird case because he combines a skill that ages well (power) with one unlikely to age well (speed). I'm not sure what player he'll be in three years, with three more years remaining on his contract.
James Cole (Boston, MA): Okay, who wins a combined round robin tournament? Here are my picks
Combined Chicago (Cubs + Sox)
Combined Florida (Rays + Marlins)
Combined LA (Dodgers + Angels)
Combined NY (Mets + Yankees)
Combined Bay Area (Oakland + San Fran... probably couldn't even beat one of the other non-combined teams)
Derek Jacques: This sounds like a great project for the off-season...
J.P. (Hartford): Is any closer, let alone K-Rod, worth 15 million a year? Isn't everyone not named Rivera and Nathan basically fungible? And even in those cases, what is the marginal value of those wins?
Derek Jacques: Rivera distorts the market, since that contract (like Jeter's, and like Posada's) is about more than just what value he brings on the field. Still, I wonder how many teams would trade for Rivera, with no money in the deal, if he were on the market? And if the answer is "any" K-Rod's likely to find someone who'll give him a like package.
Tim (Sonoma, CA): I think the Giants have to hope Zito is having a good relative-to-age first half and hope someone will take him by the trade deadline. Sabean is savvy enough to make a move like that. That being said, could we just have the Jays take the place of whatever team wins the AL Central? The way they've played this year, they deserve a shot.
Derek Jacques: It's likely going to take more than just hoping to get someone to take Zito's contract--maneuvering that kind of cash takes effort.
I'm coming down the stretch, so the answers are going to get shorter.
blaseta (Calgary): What about Jeter in center? Don't the stats show that he is actually a good fielder on pop-ups?
Derek Jacques: The key to Jeter's game is his legs, so the question is, once his wheels are diminished enough to convince the Yanks to take him off shortstop, will he still have enough speed left to be a passable CF?
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): You never really answered my question. Most guys in the majors have ability, and obviously his success depends on him not threatening to murder people. But if he stays out of trouble, what kind of player is Dukes going to be?
Derek Jacques: His profile looks a bit like Tim Salmon--good player, knack for walks, not a superstar.
Evan (Vancouver, BC): Joe has a great Unfiltered post up right now comparing the strength of schedule for individual pitchers. Any chance we'll see stats that take that into account in the next couple of years?
Derek Jacques: I haven't gotten the chance to read Joe's Unfiltered, but the pitcher's quality of batters faced report does help with strength of schedule issues, as do the lineup-adjusted metrics like SNLVAR and WXRL.
mhixpgh (Pittsburgh): 16 Seasons in a row! Will the Pirates make it 17? Will they set a new record for futility next season?
Derek Jacques: Heavens, I hope not. Still, I don't see anything on the horizon to project them as a team likely to make The Leap next year.
Aaron (YYZ): For James: Combined Detroit/Toronto mops the floor with pretty much all those teams.
Derek Jacques: Are they really that close? I always sucked at geography...
Aaron (YYZ): I wasn't thinking so much punishing the good teams, as finding some way to make it a more rewarding experience for lesser but awesome teams in the division.
Hmm..could you implement something like crossover playoff spots? (They do that in the CFL up here where if one division is loaded with good teams, and the other division sucks, the good division takes one of the playoff spots from the bad division)
Derek Jacques: While I wouldn't object to Toronto representing the NL West in the playoffs, I think that a CFL-type system would be a hard sell.
Dan H (Manhattan): It looks like Mark Cuban is getting the Cubs using the same leveraged techniques that Zell used to sell Newsday. Since it's not a sale, does that mean that Bad Hair Bud might not get a chance to veto it or shunt it off to Fred "Puppy" Malek?
Derek Jacques: This is a great question--you'd have to think that the Lords are protected from this kind of stealth purchase.
Cindy Sandberg (Chicago): I'm a Cubs fan. I don't believe in curses and I'm not worried about Zambrano. This is their year and to any Cubs fan that is offended or scared by this proclimation... get over it, the team on the field is the only thing that matters.
Derek Jacques: Submitted without comment.
Rich (Columbus, OH): In today's modern game of baseball, managers really don't do too much, especially compared to their football and b-ball counterparts. I was reading a book on the Dodgers, and it was talking about what strategies their managers would do in the Dead Ball Era to score more runs, since the homer was virtually non-existent. Do you think a manager back in the Dead Ball Era was worth more wins than a modern manager because a Dead Ball Era manager had to do more than just putting out the best lineup possible and managing the 'pen?
Derek Jacques: You don't even have to go back to the Dead Ball Era--I think managers were more valuable in the low-run environments of the late 60s and early 70s too.
shamah (NYC): What do the Yankees do with Melky in the offseason? This season was a disaster! Do they keep Damon there next year to keep it warm for Austin Jackson? Give Melky anoter chance?
Derek Jacques: I suspect Melky gets another chance. Damon already talks about how much he'd like to remain a DH, and his play in center seems to bear that out.
AL (NYC): I know it likely won't happen, but if the Dodgers and Brewers both make the playoffs, how much consideration should Manny and CC get in the MVP and CY Young races respectively?
Derek Jacques: Manny--not much. CC--more than Manny, but not enough to take the award.
Derek Jacques: I'm going to wrap up now. I want to thank everyone for the great questions, and apologize to those of you I didn't get to. Some of the material you provided will definitely make it into future columns, and you can always drop me a line through BP's feedback system or through the links at the bottom of my articles.