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Chat: Jay Jaffe

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday April 13, 2009 2:00 PM ET chat session with Jay Jaffe.

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Jay Jaffe's checking out the early-season hits, whether he's conjuring up his "Hit List" and checking it twice, or having to "Hit and Run."

Jay Jaffe: Greetings and welcome to Monday afteroon's chat, my first of the 2009 regular season. Powered by the deluxe reissue of Red Red Meat's criminally underrated (until now) Bunny Gets Paid, we're onto the questions...

john (ct): Bedard, Davies, Perkins all had a very good first week. Think they can keep it up? There's something about these three that gives one the sense they may have turned a corner.

Jay Jaffe: That's a rather disparate group to lump together even over the course of 25 weeks, let alone one. Bedard's a guy with swing and miss stuff who had two very good years and then serious injury problems. He certainly looks healthy this year, at least in the box scores. Davies was a well-regarded prospect who took his lumps until last year, when he enjoyed a nice second half. Perkins is a serviceable back-of-staff lefty whose low K rate really makes me nervous. Unless he's added a strikeout pitch I'm wary of a big breakthrough.

Dave (Chicago): In his rookie season, Travis Buck did pretty well in limited time. Then he struggled to open the 2008 season and got sent down to the minors. Toward the end of the year, he got called up and started to hit again. He kept on hitting in Spring Training, but now that we're in the regular season, he can't hit again. I know a lot of those are small sample sizes, but I thought Buck would have established himself as an average to slightly above average corner outfielder by this point. What's the problem?

Jay Jaffe: It's too early to react to him going 1-for-11 or whatever. The real problem is that the expectations for him are inflated by his 2007 half season, and that he's never been in the lineup long enough for anyone to get a real feel for his true level of ability. He jumped from Double-A to the majors, and in a half season of work hit far better than his translations would have suggested. He got off to a lousy start last year where injuries played a major part, and he spent a good amount of time in Triple-A before having a hot September cup of coffee. Overall he's at .262/.344/.450 for his career of just over 500 PA. If he can't sustain that, he's a fourth outfielder, and even if he can, that's only borderline useful.

Steve (Clearwater, FL): Just saw a report that Harry Kalas collapsed and died in the booth while getting ready for today's Phillies game in Washington. Kalas was a fixture in these parts (Clearwater, FL where the Phillies train), and his son Todd is part of the Rays announcing crew. 2 weeks, 2 tragic baseball deaths.

Jay Jaffe: Wow. That's awful news. I never got to hear a great deal of his work, but I really loved Kalas' gravelly voice. Several years ago I came across an ESPN Classic broadcast of a baseball film done by NFL Films and narrated by Kalas, following a season in the life of pitching prospect Erskine Thomason, who got all of one game in the majors. I really wish I could see it again.

My condolences to the Phillies, their fans, and anyone else affected by his loss.

Ira (North Texas): No Hit list on friday?

Jay Jaffe: Hiding from Rangers fans, Ira.

Not really, though I'm always touched to know that it's missed. I really didn't have the time or the energy to crank one out based on three or four games per team. It will be back this Friday.

Chad (NYC): Braves look very good early. I loved their offseason, getting Lowe and Vazquez (and NOT getting Burnett/Furcal). Are they a legitimate threat, even with Bobby mismanaging the hell out of the pen so far? Or a mirage?

Jay Jaffe: I really liked both of those rotation acquisitions -- particularly Lowe, whom the Dodgers will really miss -- and I think they're a Wild Card threat. Chipper, McCann, and Johnson are among the league's most productive players at their positions, and I like the bold move of going with Jordan Schafer to start the year. I worry about their bullpen, too, particularly if Soriano isn't healthy. And I'm not ready to buy into the idea that Jeff Francouer has turned a corner (.240/.269/.520 with just one walk so far).

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Have we learned anything about Kawakami yet? Will Ks and BBs stay high rest of season? Thanks!

Jay Jaffe: Related to the previous question, I like the Kawakami move, but his translations don't suggest he'll miss that many bats. It was one start, and it was the Nationals.

Nick Stone (Poole, Dorset): Greetings from the town where people think nothing of walking through "Alum Chine". What has been the biggest surprise for you with regard to the hitlist calculations, so far this season?

Jay Jaffe: With regards to the preseason rankings, I'm surprised that the Yankees come out on top, because I think the quality of their defense is overrated by PECOTA, particularly on the right side of the infield. I'm just not sure they're the one that's going to survive another three-team AL East race.

I'm also surprised that the Marlins and Rockies come in so low, as I see both much closer to .500. The Marlins at least have the excuse of having the game's toughest schedule (article to follow later this week on that topic), not to mention a craptacular infield defense.

Mike (Queens): Just how good of a defensive outfield is Endy Chavez, Ichiro and Gutierrez? Is it better than the one the Mets fielded when they had Beltran, Chavez and Carlos Gomez at Shea?

Jay Jaffe: Certainly seems as though it should be very good, but I have my doubts that trio can hit enough to survive a significant portion of the season intact. The Mets' version didn't last long either. That configuration only started about half a dozen games together according to the Baseball-Reference.com lineups info.

Phil S. (NJ): Jay, did you hear/read any reason as to why Rivera didn't come into the game with 2 outs in the 8th yesterday? I hope I don't have to watch LaRussa-ball in the late innings of games all season. It seemed obvious to bring Mo in to get those last 4 outs.

Jay Jaffe: From what I heard, the gametime temperature was in the 40s, and that plus the fact that he's still working his way back from surgery contributed to the decision not to go more than three outs.

If this ignites another full-blown Joba-to-the-Bullpen controversy, I'm going to hold a contest among readers for the right to shoot me.

BL (Bozeman): Sheehan's silly little Opening Day screed notwithstanding, Hillman has managed KC's bullpen fairly well the past five games. How far can a strong pen (assuming Farnsworth isn't over-extended and HoRam is moved out of the rotation) and the trio of Meche-Greinke-Davies carry that team, given that scoring 500 runs this year seems like a pipe dream some days?

Jay Jaffe: Forget the bullpen for a moment. Given that Ramirez and Ponson are both in the rotation to start the year while a healthy Luke Hochevar rots in Triple-A, I question Hillman's qualifications to manage a major league club. That's malpractice right there.

Needless to say, i'm a take-the-under guy when it comes to the Royals.

strupp (madison): Too late. BBTN was all over Joba to the pen last night

Jay Jaffe: Knew that, and I've had editors bouncing Joba-related story ideas. Fifth caller gets the gun, though you'll have to supply your own ammo.

hotstatrat (Toronto): When you analyze the gains and losses of the teams each year towards making team predictions, how much do you factor in that some teams are much better at developing B prospects into solid MLB players when necessary? Wouldn't you agree the Blue Jays are just such a team - especially with their pitching?

Jay Jaffe: You're conflating two different exercises, the accounting I did for the Outside Help series and the PECOTA projections which feed into the preseason Hit List rankings. As such, there's no special "factoring" where I account for any team's ability to develop prospects. The Jays strike me as a fairly middle-of-the-road team in this department. They've done an excellent job of developing pitchers, but a poor one of keeping them healthy (Marcum, McGowan, Jansenn). I haven't been impressed with the recent hitters they've produced but if Snider and Lind can live up to the hype I'll be inclined to revisit that position.

Joe (Washington, DC): Jay: I couldn't care less either way, but why do you assume that Hochevar in AAA is Hillman's decision?

Jay Jaffe: Oh, Dayton Moore's competence is every bit in question too. Kyle Farnsworth at $9 million? Willie Bloomquist for any amount of money? He's guilty too.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Do you think that the writers for the Post and the Daily News really think that Joba should be a reliever, or are they feeding their audience?

Jay Jaffe: As Abe Simpson would say, a little from Column A, a little from Column B. I understand the need to compete for eyeballs by stirring the pot but I think there are people who make the mistake of thinking that returning Joba to the pen means a full season with a sub-1.00 ERA and the ability to poop rainbows between innings, and some of them have high-visibility jobs.

Horace Steenblatter (London, England, UK): Cheerio, I probably have the distinction of being the only Pittsburgh Pirates fan in the UK (began following baseball in 1990.) I thought we'd have to wait until the arrivals of Alvarez and McCutchen to have any hope, but the pitching's been great this year aside from one bad Ian Snell start where he was victimized by Albert Pujols, and the Bucs are already leading their home opener 4-0. Have Maholm and Duke turned the corner? I could see a (barely) winning season with some solid pitching.

Jay Jaffe: Wow, a Bucs fan in the UK? I suppose I can add it to my now-I've-seen-everything list.

Maholm had a pretty decent 2008 season camouflaged by a low win total (9). If I'm a Pirates fan I'd be happy with a repeat of that. The reports regarding Duke out of spring training said he had tweaked his delivery based upon reviewing video of his rookie season. I'd be optimistic for some improvement there. But with the erratic Snell, as well as Ohlendorf and Karstens at the back of the rotation, i'm afraid .500 is a pipe dream at the moment.

mattymatty (Philly, PA): If Joba can indeed poop rainbows from the bullpen the Yankees have an obligation to move him back there immediately.

Jay Jaffe: Who's to say he couldn't poop more rainbows between innings as a starter?

Daniel (Pinehurst, NC): Who wins more games this year: Smoltz, Penny, or Buchholz?

Jay Jaffe: I'll take Penny in that race, because the job is currently his to lose and the reports have been positive. I can see scenarios where Smoltz winds up working out of the bullpen and Buchholz spending most of the year biding his time at Triple-A.

Carl (Boston): How good is Eric Stults in the short-term? (I submitted this question before the chat, but I don't know if it disappeared or what)

Jay Jaffe: I think Stults would be an above-average #5 if left in place long enough. He's got 15 major league starts and a 3.92 ERA with 6.9 K/9 over the last four years, and he deserves a shot.

I can envision a scenario where he remains in the rotation once Kuroda returns, while McDonald is moved to the bullpen, where he's probably better off getting his feet wet.

Chad (NYC): What's the story with Justin Upton? He's been dropped in several of my fantasy leagues and I'm itching to pick him up, but are they really going to send him to AAA? There's no way he's not one of the 3 best OF on that team...

Jay Jaffe: Grab him. The Diamondbacks are letting Eric Byrnes' $10 million contract dictate his playing time, in part because he's healthy and they have to play him in order to restore some of his value on the trade market. Upton had an awful spring and is off to a bad start, but given how uneven the D-Backs' offense looks, I'd be surprised if he does more than a brief refresher course in Triple-A, if that. His talent level at the moment and his massive upside mean he won't be kept down long.

Tex Premium Lager (Hoboken, NJ): Am I crazy or are the Nationals pretty close to being a contender? Their lineup isn't bad, with a nice middle of Milledge/Zimmerman/Dukes/Dunn. With J. Zimmermann, Strasburg and maybe a FA starter signing, they'll have a good core of talent.

Jay Jaffe: They've got the makings of a promising nucelus, but they've got to undo the damage wrought by Ol' Leatherpants. First and foremost, they need to turn that absurd stockpile of outfielders into some other usable parts around the diamond by trading two players from the Nick Johnson/Josh Willingham/Austin Kearns group.

Rob in WI (Madison): Jay, if rickey henderson was born 10 years earlier or later, how different does his career look?

Jay Jaffe: Interesting question. If he were born 10 years earlier he'd certainly have been right at home in the speed-centric Seventies. Put him on those dynastic A's and he'd have a memorable mustache and a great nickname to go with his legacy. Born 10 years later he'd probably have topped 400 homers, making for a power-speed combo unmatched this side of Barry Bonds.

ashitaka (long beach, ca): What are your batter walk-up and closer run-out songs?

Jay Jaffe: Good question! I've been partial to Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" for the at-bat one for a long time. Having recently watched the Eastbound and Down series on HBO, i'd love to see if "Goin' Down" by Freddie King could work in either context.

BL (Bozeman): What're you reading these days? Baseball division and non-baseball division...

Jay Jaffe: Baseball: Crazy 'O8 by Cait Murphy and the Fielding Bible II, though I can't read too much of the latter at a time.

Non-baseball: Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds and the Blind Side by Michael Lewis. I can't get enough of Lewis' stuff lately - his recent articles on Cuban baseball, the financial crisis and the collapse of Iceland's economy have been as good as anything i've read lately.

aclaykearney (St. Pete, FL): With the Rays presently working to restrict the innings pitched of Price, Davis, and Hellickson, and all expected to be major league ready by 2010, which of these can be expected to play for the Rays in 2010. Which will be moved? Any chance that any present starters from the Rays will be moved in order to make room for multiple pitchers? Do the Rays upgrade at SS? Catcher? Or by getting a closer. Seems that their team only lacks a stud closer as Navarro and Bartlett are perfect role players.

Jay Jaffe: I was bowled over by the idea Joe Sheehan floated last week about trading Scott Kazmir, but it makes a good deal of sense, and I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the Rays front office is already one step ahead of that curve, and if it's that trio plus Shields and Garza as their front five in '10.

As to where else they upgrade, the middle infield seems like the place to start, especially if you're like me, unwilling to buy into Reid Brignac even as a bridge to Tim Beckham.

Chad (Northbrook): Carlos Quentin just went yard again. He is on pace to hit 100 HRs with that short LF porch at the Cell? But seriously, is he really this good?

Jay Jaffe: Once upon a time Quentin was #12 on our Top Prospect list, and last year he might have won the MVP if it weren't for him breaking his wrist. While playing in a homer-friendly park certainly pumps his stats a bit, he's a quality hitter who can play on my team.

ted ((the cubicle)): Are you a refresh-the-chat-as-it-happens, or read-it-all-after-it's-over kind of guy? I look forward to reading your answer an hour from now.

Jay Jaffe: I'm a read-after guy myself. Because I like to double-check my numbers and facts whenever possible, I'm slow enough with constructing my answers that I have a tough time imagining anyone could sit still through an entire chat of mine, but I'm deeply flattered that anyone would try.

alan (pomona): What are your thoughts on Ubaldo Jimeniz? Also, what can we expect this year from Joba (yes, more about Joba) as a starter this year?

Jay Jaffe: I love saying the name Ubaldo, and I like him a lot as a pitcher; he's on one of my fantasy teams. Though he could certainly stand to lower his walk rate, he's a high-K rate guy who gets plenty of groundballs - exactly what a pitcher needs to thrive with the Rockies.

Joba - I think he'll be excellent in the context of the 150 innings he throws, with an ERA below 3.50 and a strikeout per inning. And I wouldn't be surprised if he completes the year in the rotation but moves to the bullpen if they make the playoffs.

goraffe (nyc): Can C Guzman actually approach his PECTOA this year?

Jay Jaffe: If I had 15 minutes of Nate Silver's undivided attention, among the things I'd ask him would be to go back over that forecast to make sure something isn't broken. Needless to say, take the under.

AndyWright (Boston, MA): Hi Jay, In the Boston rotation question, might not Wakefield be more vulnerable than Penny to losing a role to Buchholz/Smoltz? (Assuming equal health all around, of course)

Jay Jaffe: Wakefield's the obvious choice to be dropped and has been regarding every single Sox rotation-related controversy that's arisen over the past few years. Yet he keeps showing up for work and pitching as a LAIM (league average inning muncher) or better. I'm much less willing to bet on the health of Penny or Smoltz than I am on the ability of the old knuckleballer to survive.

jimbeau (Left Coast): Hi Jay. Small-sample-size and all notewithstanding, should I at all pay attention to the fact that Hafner was able to go yard 3 times in the first week?

Jay Jaffe: That's one which is worth paying attention to, because Hafner's power has been so lacking over the last couple of years. He got off to a slow start this spring but said his shoulder was feeling better, and if the early indications are anything to go by, he may have been telling the truth rather than simply feeding the quote machine.

While I don't advocate jumping to conclusions based on small sample sizes, I certainly watch guys returning from injuries much more closely at this time of year.

stewbies (Rochester): Should I be worried about Jay Bruce?

Jay Jaffe: He certainly didn't have a great year last year except for those first couple weeks, but come onhe's 22 years old. He needs time to grow and to adjust before anyone should start worrying about him.

stewbies (Rochester): Washburn or Zito this year?

Jay Jaffe: I'd rather eat a fresh possum carcass off of Interstate 80 than entertain the notion of either of them in my rotation.

john (ct): How bad or good are the Orioles? I know we have a very small sampling so far but nobody in the American League east looked like worldbeaters. At least the O's can score runs. That said, CC did impress in his second start.

Jay Jaffe: The Orioles are moving in the right direction, but they have no chance this year, not in that division. Scoring won't be a problem, but a rotation that leaves the gate with Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson is an ugly sight to behold.

mikeduin (Seattle): I laughed when I saw CBSSports' player update that Emilio Bonifacio is currently the "front runner for the NL MVP." Seriously though -- what are the chances Bonifacio keeps hitting at a productive clip all season?

Jay Jaffe: Asymptotically approaching zero.

strupp (madison): Jay, I really enjoy your chats, because I like chatting HOF with you... that said, why is there ANY doubt that Bagwell and Thomas aren't first ballot, 90% of the vote HOFers?

Jay Jaffe: Thanks for the kind words. The doubt will come because a certain segment of BBWAA voters will insist upon regarding every slugger from the era as guilty until proven innocent with regards to using performance enhancing drugs. Even as thoughtful an observer as Rob Neyer got a bit squirrely when it came to the way Bagwell's late-career injury history fit into a stereotypical notion of a PED user's breakdown phase (see here for more)

dshugert (Ohio): In order for the Reds to be in the wildcard race come September, they need to __________?

Jay Jaffe: The short answer: They Aaron Harang to pitch like he did in 2006 and 2007 while Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto advance or at least hold their ground relative to last year while maintaining health. They also need Dusty to get Willy Taveras out of the leadoff spot, and preferably out of the lineup in favor of someone who can get on base regularly.

Joe (Tewksbury, MA): The Marlins have a tougher schedule than whoever is the worst of Orioles/Blue Jays? Really? Can we get that article sooner than later?

Jay Jaffe: Yes, worse by just a few points (.003 or .004 - less than a full game in the standings over the course of the year), at least in the way I've initially calculated it. Don't forget that they have the AL East beasts on their interleague schedule as well as regular joustings with the Mets, Phils and Braves, three teams forecast to win at least 87 games.

mattymatty (Philly, PA): Following up on your point on the O's, couldn't the same be said of the Phillies and their decision to have Chan Ho Park in their rotation?

Jay Jaffe: I like that move actually. Park did a nice job of generating groundballs last year, making him a better fit for Citizens than he might otherwise be. With J.A. Happ they have the depth to make a switch to moderate both pitchers' workloads, and we know that Park has the versatility to work out of the bullpen.

The Phils' real problem is the condition of Cole Hamels' elbow. If it's not in great shape, they're screwed.

I'll take just a few more questions.

dianagramr (NYC): Did you hear that DEVO is putting out a new album later this year. Their new song is "Don't Shoot".

Jay Jaffe: I had the pleasure of seeing DEVO at McCarren Pool last year and it was an amazing show, but as with most reunion acts, I'm not optimistic about the promise of a new album.

Rich (NJ): Brett Gardner's bat has cooled off considerably since spring training, but more alarming are the balls he's not getting to in the outfield. Great speed, but some bad routes. How long before the Mike Cameron rumors start again?

Jay Jaffe: In addition to losing perspective based on a few regular season games, I think you're making a big mistake to take his spring, particularly his early spring, at face value. He's a stopgap, and I'm on the more skeptical end of the spectrum when it comes to his ability to hold the job down.

While the rumor mill may start up, I don't think Cameron's headed the Yankees' way anytime soon. Maybe at the deadline if the Brewers are out of it, or if the Yankees dangle a nice pitcher.

MA (Athens, GA): Who wins more games this year: Smoltz, Glavine, or Hanson?

Jay Jaffe: I'd be surprised if any of them has more than about seven wins. I'll guess Hanson based solely on the fact that he'll presumably be healthy.

Clay (Sarasota, FL): I've heard rumblings that Kevin Millwood has developed a new pitch or that he has just greatly improved one. Are the first two starts of the season just Millwood being fresh and/or lucky, or is this a sign of things to come? Is this the potential that he was supposed to reach with the Braves? Also, what about Kyle Lohse? Is this an example of batters not catching up to pitchers yet too?

Jay Jaffe: Haven't heard anything about a new pitch. For his sake I hope it's a sinker to rival Derek Lowe's, because he needs all the help he can get pitching in that ballpark.

mglick0718 (Oakland): Who's a better lock for the HoF, CJones or Thome? Steroid suspicion aside (I know of no such suspicion for either one), how much will defensive butchery hurt either's chances?

Jay Jaffe: Chipper, because of his MVP award, his ring and his connection to the Braves' dynasty in general. He'll go in easily. Thome will get in, but it will take much more time even if he reaches 600 homers.

For what it's worth, the old FRAA numbers certainly didn't like Chipper's defense, but other methods (UZR, +/-, and our new pbp-based FRAA) regard him much more charitably.

George (Charlotte): Jay, most home runs in 2009: Cabrera, Hamilton, or Teixeira?

Jay Jaffe: Cabrera. Unless you mean Melky or Asdrubal.

This goes double if you mean Daniel and the number of homers he'll allow.

murphy654321 (Waltham): Jay, what's your take on the closer situations in St. Lou and Seattle? How much is the flux costing each team?

Jay Jaffe: Well, I can certainly see how TLR's fidgeting might quickly destroy Motte's confidence. He seems bent on having Ryan Franklin as his closer, and as somebody who's rooting for the Brewers in that division, I welcome that move.

As for Seattle, it seems quite likely Morrow didn't get enough innings in Arizona to be ready for the season. I know he wants to be the mariners' closer instead of a starter, but that doesn't mean he should be before he's physically ready.

cal (chicago): What do you do when one of your fantasy players is facing your favorite team.

Jay Jaffe: I root for the team unless the score isn't close or I have a clear idea that I actually need THIS WIN or THIS SAVE or THIS RBI to win a matchup.

Jay Jaffe: OK folks, thanks for spending part of your Monday afternoon with me. There weren't many questions in the queue when the chat began but enough of you showed up to make this another fun one, save for the sad news about Harry Kalas. Rest in peace, Harry.


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