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Chat: Gary Huckabay

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday June 29, 2004 1:00 PM ET chat session with Gary Huckabay.

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Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Gary Huckabay: Good morning/afternoon, all. Thanks for taking the time to join us here at baseballprospectus.com, and thanks for the enormous number of questions. I won't be able to get to them all, and please forgive any typos or malaprops that may occur. Let's dive in....

Comic Book Guy (Springfield, USA): Given the choice, who would you take, long-term -- Hank Blalock or Mark Teixeira?

Gary Huckabay: I’d prefer Blalock. Plays a more difficult defensive position, and he’s performed better on the field to date, despite the astronomical expectations about Teixeira. I’d certainly prefer to have both.

Dirk Benedict (Galactica, CA): What are some of the biggest shortcomings of sabremetrics? Look out! Cylon!

Gary Huckabay: I think the biggest shortcomings of serious analysis are – (1) Necessarily retrospective. Can’t evaluate data from games that have yet to be played. (2) May not be doing the right thing. Lots of analysis out there that can’t reasonably be used to inform a decision, so it provides clutter without value. (3) Lots of implicit assumptions that aren’t properly addressed. Why are SB and CS, over which the offense has timing control, necessarily included in most runs metrics in the same fashion as component offense? Makes the assumption that teams will continue to use those options in a similar fashion. May or may not be true due to differing leverage in game situations. (May not have a big impact on runs scored modeling, but on iterative modeling.) That, and serious analysis can’t prevent Joe Morgan from continuing his various screeds on the air, nor can it keep Chris Berman from blustering around the set in Bristol, so what good is it really? Those nicknames never get old, Chris. Keep up the good work. He didn’t even have the guts to use Josias “Half A” Manzanillo (tm, Erik Brent) after that infamous Hans Moleman line drive. Step up or get out, CB.

John R. Mayne (Modesto, CA): Devil Rays, a brilliant organization, or an inspired group of geniuses? (No mentioning Antonio Perez for Jason Romano in your answer.) How many wins for them in 2005?

Gary Huckabay: Do I get a third choice? How about “Most recent incarnation of the 1997 Tigers”?

steve S (Davis, CA): Will the Giants continue on their current pace to 90 wins and an NL West title?

Gary Huckabay: I don’t think the Giants will make 90 wins, but I also don’t think it’ll take 90 to win that division. If Bonds and Schmidt stay healthy, and Rueter can extend his deal with Satan for a 3.50 ERA for the rest of the year, the Giants certainly have a chance. They always seem to get lightning in a bottle from somewhere. But tempting the fates with the likes Neifi, Deivi, and Meiki is asking an awful lot from a bottle.

Paul (Corte Madera): Great to see you and James Clik at Book Passage. My son was one of the many little leaguers there, and you both were very patient with the hundreds of questions even after everything was shut down. I want to get your opinion about the Freddy Garcia deal. It seems like the White Sox overpaid, and I wonder if this is a financial expensive deal for the Mariners because it waves a white flag. Thank you.

Gary Huckabay: Hi, Paul. Thanks for the kind words. That particular event was a blast because of those kids. I think it'll be interesting to track Seattle's attendance the rest of the year, and see whether or not there's a clear effect of waving the white flag so early. It is possible that there's a significant effect, and if it turns out that it costs a couple of million extra bucks to make a deal early, set the talent market, and get better prospects, it'll make future deals considerably more interesting. Probably see a little more creativity in the deals, which is probably a good thing.

Tom (Boston): Is there a particular charity where we may make donations on Doug Pappas's behalf? God bless.

Gary Huckabay: We're working on getting that information together. As for what people probably don't know or remember about Doug -- He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with. I’m convinced Doug’s taken up an interest in being a Muse in his new celestial location. If you haven’t been reading this series in the Washington Post, you should be. Steve Fainaru’s series has been outstanding. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7597-2004Jun26.html I miss Doug every day. We’re working on an appropriate tribute to Doug; thanks for all the inquiries about charitable donations. As soon as we find out something definitive, we’ll be sure to pass that information along to you.

Petrus (Torino): Who are you betting on to win Euro 2004? I say Czech Republic (although that defense of theirs scares me a bit).

Gary Huckabay: I'm pretty sure that whatever it is you're talking about will be won by a country with a staggering demographic/social expenditure problem staring them in the face. I also predict that an enormous field will have a round ball bounced around on it by a bunch of people who lack the good sense to (a) pick up the ball with their damn hands, and (b) focus on playing a sport that isn't mindbendingly turgid.

ndking (Woodmere): What's your read of the White Sox trade for Garcia? How good can we expect him to be, did they give up too much and do you think they can resign him?

Gary Huckabay: I think they did give up too much, but I’m lower on Freddy than most, and higher on Jeremy Reed than I probably should be. I think it’s very possible that Garcia will re-up with the White Sox, depending on how things unfold down the stretch. I think this offseason has the potential to be very unkind to players with high expectations of their worth. Some of the work clubs are doing now in the player evaluation arena is very advanced compared to what was SOTA a few years ago, and I think there’s going to be some hard downward pressure on salaries. It wouldn’t shock me if Garcia’s agent decides the best course of action is to avoid that situation all together, and sign in Chicago, where Garcia can join Mark Buehrle, his brother in really bad facial hair.

Ernst (Phoenix): Instead of spending your time doing a chat, shouldn't you be writing instead? Is one article a week too much too ask?

Gary Huckabay: Point taken. But don’t expect a major change. There are plenty of other BP duties keeping me busy, and I’m pretty sure this baby that’s been in my house for nearly three months now isn’t (a) planning on moving out any time soon, nor (b) going to become predominantly self-sufficient in the next 6-8 weeks. There’s definitely been less baseball writing, and more softly-playing Carole King CDs in the nursery. (That’s what puts him to sleep…could be worse…could be Raffi or something.)

Benjamin (University of Maryland, Baltimore County): The recent "Spider-Man" initiative seems to indicate that MLB may not recognize the core of baseball's fan base. In your view, what is the core demographic for MLB, and what should MLB do to best secure that demographic?

Gary Huckabay: I don’t believe that MLB should think about their marketing in such a way that they have a ‘core demographic.’ MLB has a wide variety of products, a wide variety of customers, and I think they’d be better served by thinking more about long-term profit maximization, rather than playing the captive audience game they currently do. I also think the choice to create a cognitive link between player payrolls and $7.25 beers in the mind of your patrons is extremely dangerous. I could ramble about this for hours, and it might be a better topic for a small pizza feed than a chat, because there’s lots of opportunities for MLB to improve their marketing, and lots of interesting links between the choices clubs make, and how they constrain each other. Or, put another way, marketing in MLB is where player evaluation was in the ‘30s. They’re in a challenging environment, and there’s tons of opportunities to build baseball’s customer base. Maybe there needs to be more of a threat from independent leagues to drive significant change in MLB. Wouldn’t be surprised to see that.

Buba (Tallahassee, FL): Who are some players who you like who are better than their numbers?

Gary Huckabay: I’m hoping there’s a missing B there…I like Mike Wood more than his numbers. Mike Cameron, Ichiro, Eric Byrnes, Jim Thome, Grant Balfour, Milton Bradley (who I will buy dinner for if he starts wearing a “Powered by Questec” label on his batting helmet during games), Victor Martinez, Barry Bonds.

collins (Greenville NC): How did Freddy Garcia fetch more than Beltran? Is a reassessment of Bavasi in order?

Gary Huckabay: I think part of that is Allard Baird’s infatuation with Teahen. As for Bill Bavasi, let’s let things calm down in the Seattle front office, then see what he does in terms of investing the club’s resources. I don’t think Bavasi’s been as thorough and circumspect as I’d like in terms of his player personnel moves since taking over the reins (as much as that’s been true; it’s still a little Gillicky in Seattle), and it’s not particularly hard to get some value for a guy who’s perceived as a pretty good starting pitcher. Seattle does have a nice cohort of minor league talent ready to replace the exodus of aging guys who’ve either faded or are about to. Do I think Bavasi’s the best possible guy for the job? No. But let’s see what happens. And, as someone who enjoys seeing the Mariners lose, if it takes them a couple years to iron things out before bringing in Al Harazin or something, what’s the harm?

John (Palo Alto, CA): Hello, Gary. I was one of the students in George Foster's class at Stanford Business School where you came to speak. Thanks for doing that. It was informative and a lot of fun. I wanted to ask you about player valuation and how the high school/college split in the first year player draft affects the expected value of a contract.

Gary Huckabay: Hi, John. I had a blast speaking to your class; thanks for inviting me. The college/high school camps have made their cases in more detail than I can go into here. In terms of changing the club’s valuation of the contract, you can empirically determine that to some extent based on historic data, but obviously, the basic concept is that a player/contract unit has some value $N to a team, based on the expected marginal gain in terms of dollars based on their on-field performance, and the costs associated with the contract. (And, in some very rare cases, intangibles, etc…) There are other factors, such as contract structure (major or minor league, etc), and, of course, risk. If high school picks are riskier, and there’s not a corresponding discount in the cost of those players, then you would expect those picks to have less value. This is kind of a vague answer, but spend 20 minutes and run the spreadsheet. With the data in hand, this is a fairly easy issue to resolve.

Jonathan (Baton Rouge): What other trade(s) would you like for Billy to make to improve the A's?

Gary Huckabay: Jim Mecir for Barry Bonds and cash.

collins (Greenville NC): Do you think maybe the Twins are leaving Morneau in Rochester so as not to interfere with his upcoming sojourn with the Canadian Olymic team? (he asks, grasping for straws)

Gary Huckabay: I think the Twins are leaving Morneau in Rochester because they overvalue Mientkiewicz's production, particularly on defense and "intangibles." That being said, I don't think it's an indefensible position on the part of the Twins. Mientkiewicz is realistically going to perform better than he has thus far. He is very good defensively, and in terms of Morneau, there's no point in running his serice time clock unless the marginal gain is enough to make up for the increased cost of his services near Justin's prime. The Twins have no shortage of OF/1B/DH guys who can contribute to a successful team. I understand your position and frustration, but I don't think it's completely cut and dried in the case of bringing up Morneau.

Hoobastank Sucks (Provo, UT): Order of finish for the AL West?

Gary Huckabay: Oakland
Anaheim
Texas
Seattle

Dick Gautier (Password, CA): Who's the next player to generate some buzz in terms of being traded to a contender?

Gary Huckabay: Ummm...possibly Kris Benson, I would guess. Time for the lightning round...

8 ball (Houston, TX): Ryan Drese... Legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starter, or fluke?

Gary Huckabay: *IF* he can hang onto his gains in terms of G/F ratio, he's a legitimate rotation guy. If not, he's...well, the same guy he's been. I think he'll have a pretty reasonable run for a couple-three years as a guy who won't kill you in the rotation.

MoonPie (Los Angeles, CA): I read your article on the winners curse, and I don't get it. How does it relate to baseball rather than drilling for oil?

Gary Huckabay: Just this -- some teams will overestimate the value of a player's performance, and will overbid for his services, in the same way that the oil company that wins an auction for drilling rights is probably the one that overestimated the amount of oil in the ground.

marlette (reno): dotel's impact in AL West?

Gary Huckabay: I think Bradford and Rhodes will start pitching better, but not *because* of Dotel, but that's the way it'll be described on the local news with Rick Kwan, the television incarnation of Les Nessman on sports. And in a major market, no less.

Frankenberry (Battle Creek, MI): What do you think of Joe Morgan calling the commissioner's office about minority hiring every time a position opens up anywhere in baseball? Do you think hiring practices in baseball are racist?

Gary Huckabay: Wow. I think that if that's actually happening (and I don't know that it is), I admire Mr. Morgan for making sure the issue is raised. As for the hiring practices in baseball being racist, I don't know that hiring practices can be racist -- people can be, and processes can end up that way because of networking and the way candidates are introduced into the process. Having hired a bunch of people in my career, I can say that the goal is to get the best person for the job, and I don't believe that anyone in MLB who's making those decisions has a different goal. I think that those who point to cases like Dave Stewart not being offered a job as a GM because of racism don't do their cause any good. I think that over time, as baseball's business practices improve, it will become more and more of a meritocracy.

Gary Huckabay: Thanks for all the questions, and for stopping by baseballprospectus.com. Sorry I couldn't get to most of them. Feel free to drop me an email, and I promise I'll get back to you. Take care, have a good week, and make sure to AT LEAST play catch once or twice this week.


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