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Chat: Steven Goldman

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday June 15, 2010 1:00 PM ET chat session with Steven Goldman.

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Come Tuesday, you can look it up: Steven Goldman's going to take your questions, talk about baseball history, and no doubt wander into a few other fun subjects.

Steven Goldman: Good afternoon, campers. Steven Goldman here for what will be a slightly less lengthy chat than is my usual standard--my father is back in the hospital, having had what is hopefully a minor setback in his recovery from the physical breakdown of, well, just about everything (the list of his problems could take up all of our time), and he's having minor surgery early this evening so I'll have to shuffle off a bit early. Having said that, we should still have plenty of time to talk about baseball in all of its varied forms, plus whatever else is on your mind. How are YOUR personal lives?

Tom (Madison): Where does the Gary Matthews, Jr. contract rank among the all-time worst?

Steven Goldman: It's up there because it was so first-guessable. You had a 31-year-old journeyman with six full seasons under his belt who had had a year way over his head in a hitter's park. There was almost no chance that he'd do it again. Somehow the Angels missed that, or relied on scouting information that said, "Yup, yup! It's for real!" When considering these contracts, I always think back to one of the first free agent deals, that between the Indians and pitcher Wayne Garland for 1977. He was a 25-year-old coming off a 20-7, 2.67 ERA season for the Orioles, but with weak peripherals. The Tribe gave him a 10-year deal. He went 28-48 with a 4.50 ERA over the five years before his arm quit.

krissbeth (watertown, ma): Jay said to ask you about the balata ball "next time you're sitting on his lap for story hour."

Steven Goldman: And a generous lap it is, too. Though, hey, I've been dieting and have been pretty committed for a change. It has been a month and I'm down about five pounds. I think it's five, because I have the world's most inaccurate scale. In fact, it's actually a clock. My official wait is ten 'til two. Anyway, during World War II the rubber used used in the cores of baseballs were taken by the government for the war effort, so in 1943 Baseball was forced to switch to a material called balata, which was primarily used for golf balls. Balata is kind of inflexible and didn't travel when struck. As such, there was a decline in offense, though the ball was tinkered with throughout the season and there probably wasn't a lot of consistency in balls from game to game. By 1944 we had figured out synthetic rubber and a more standard baseball was back in use.

NYmalcontent (Watkins Glen, NY): Hey, buddy! I love your blog. My only worry for this years team is the eighth inning. Joba gives me a cold chill every time he comes out and I don't see anyone else that has the stuff both in the head and the arm this year. What do you think about Trevor Hoffman setting up for Mo? The Brewers would be crazy not to try to dump his salary and it's hard to believe he can't turn it around.

Steven Goldman: On what do you base the expectation that Hoffman will get better? He's 42 and his fastball is slower than British Petroleum reacting to an oil spill. Seven home runs in 20 innings is a scary, scary number and not one I'd be eager to risk in a key situation in the DH league. I hope Hoffman DOES turn it around, but I think the chances are stronger that as the Beatles sang on "Sgt. Pepper's," he's getting very near the end... And I agree with you about Joba.

WilliamWilde (Boston, MA): What the holy-heck is Alex Gordon going in AAA!? And I mean besides raking. Isn't he too young and have a far superior prospect pedigree to be treated as if he's 4A?

Steven Goldman: We've been having a desultory discussion on our internal mailing list as to what the heck the Royals are thinking, though "thinking" may be setting the bar too high. It's not just Gordon, it's Ka'aihue (recall that Ken Phelps came up as a Royal and they refused him too), it's Chris Getz, it's Podsednik and Mitch Maier... There are so many areas where they might tinker around the edges and get a few more runs on the board. If it's obvious to us it's obvious to them, so the question is why don't they care?

dianagramr (NYC): Now that British Petroleum has soiled your site's acronym, how will you retaliate?

Steven Goldman: We will be engaging the same executives at GM who last week tried to convince the world that "Chevy" was a bad word to conduct a marketing campaign designed to remind people that it's not "BP," it's B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L P-R-O-S-P-E-C-T-U-S. Say it out loud, say it slowly, savor it's crunchy, petroleum-free goodness.

stately (atl): Why do you think there are so many players who absolutely crush AAA but can never seem to cut it at the major-league level?

Steven Goldman: Who are you thinking of? I really don't think there are "so many." That said, the quality of pitching at Triple-A ain't good, the pitchers with the stuff to excel there getting a fastpass to the majors.

workermonkey (CT): when does baseball catch up technologically? i can't help but notice that most managers still use binders full of paper and endless printed charts and graphs,whats it going to take to put laptops or ipads in the dugout? players still keep books on different pitchers and umpires. is baseball just old school that way?

Steven Goldman: I think it's a question of older guys and their comfort level with different technologies. Casey Stengel kept batter-pitcher matchups in his head. Earl Weaver had index cards. Later managers had what were quaintly called "print-outs." There is an evolution at work, it just advances slowly. It's also true that there are still some things that paper is better at, like displaying complete spray charts for the opposition on a poster-sized sheet. What always happens will happen with technology: some Joe, Terry, or Buck will win a World Series while clutching an iPad and then it will be socially acceptable for the other managers to do it.

Adam (NY): Steve, you've been pretty dismissive of Andrew Brackman (I can only assume you wrote the rather scathing comment in the book) but he has been outstanding lately with an incredible K/BB. Not a believer still?

Steven Goldman: I did write the scathing comment, and regardless of what happens I still think it's right--the first round is not the place for outright speculation, and even if Brackman eventually becomes something useful I disagree with the philosophy that made the pick possible in the first place. He has been good lately 46-6 strikeout walk ratio in his last 47 innings, and that he has found his command given his lack of experience is a heck of a thing. But he's also a 24-year-old pitching in High-A ball. Let's talk again when/as/if he moves up.

Jquinton82 (NY): KG any word on Alvarez and when they're planning on calling him up?

Steven Goldman: Every. Damn. Chat.

Manny (Cleveland, OH): Injuries asside..do you think we might have overrated Grady Sizemore a bit? He has been regressing and exposed (not the internet pics) over recent years.

Steven Goldman: Can you put the injuries aside? I don't think you can separate the pain from the production, or lack thereof. In any case, he hasn't been healthy since 2008, and he had a 30-30 season that year. His batting average was down a little from the ~.289 he hit from 2005-2006, but all things considered he was about as good in '08 as he had been in 2006 and 2007. I don't know if he'll be the same guy going forward, but I don't see the decline you're talking about prior to last season's elbow and abdominal problems.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Hi Steven, Very sorry to hear about your father being in the hospital again. My best to him and to you. My question: As a Red Sox fan, Cano can't be this good, right? Please say he isn't. You may chalk his production this season up to one or more of the following: 1) how his grandmother's magic beans ended up in his chili, 2) Cano's thievery of a pair of rabbit's feet underoos from Mark Teixeira's locker during spring training, 3) BABIP, LD%, Fly Ball %, or 4) actual skill. I'd prefer it was one of the first two, however. As always, thanks for the chat.

Steven Goldman: Thanks mm2000. I think he is kind of real. He's probably not a "real" .371 hitter, because Ty Cobb aside, no one is consistent at that level. When Cano slumped at the beginning of May, I thought (and wrote) "Aha, here comes one of his patented low-concentration/swing at anything cold streaks." Instead, he regrouped and hit .336 for the month. Since hitting eight home runs in April he's whacked only five, so the good news for you is that he's apparently not Rogers Hornsby. The really positive thing that has happened here is that you have a player with a tremendous ability to make contact and hit the ball hard who, while not becoming selective by any means, has upped his patience by just enough to eliminate the easy outs he used to make from time to time (or month to month, and in 2008 for a whole season. At 27 he's freakin' peakin'. If he doesn't regress, I see no reason why he can't give us a few more .320 or .330 seasons before he's done.

Silv (NY, NY): Steven, no specific question - just wanted to with you best of luck with your father. My Dad also battles health problems and I know how trying it can be.

Steven Goldman: I appreciate that. Y'know, I was in the emergency room with him all day yesterday, and across the corridor there was this mother and daughter. The mother was apparently on the senescent side and didn't understand what was going on, or maybe she did understand what was going on and just didn't want to be there. For hours, this woman did not stop haranguing her elderly mother about the way she was responding to treatment, the way she was refusing to accept treatment. "You'd better listen to me, mother. I am GOD here." Periodically, she would get on her cell phone and complain to someone that her mother thought this was all a game, that she thought that her daughter had nothing better to do than to come down to the emergency room for hours and drop thousands of dollars on her mother's care. She was always behind a curtain, so I never saw God, just heard her voice. On and on and on about what a crappy position her mother, with the congestive heart problems and the lungs filled with fluid had put HER in.

My father retains his mental faculties. His problems are all in other places, so you can talk to him in an adult manner. Still, I understand how frustrating it can be to talk to someone who is either unwilling or unable to understand you. Still, I would NEVER speak to my parents that way. I love and respect them too much. I'm not religious, but I kept thinking, "Lady, if 'respect thy father and mother' is rated an important commandment, you're going to hell, jiggety-jig."

What's trying for me is the worrying, the physical enervation that comes from sitting in the hospital, and the problem of trying to juggle work and taking care of my dad. Even so, it's something I gladly take on, because he has been good to me. I guess not everyone feels that way.

ripfan008 (Baltimore): Hi Steve, Thank you for chatting. Do you believe that any old baseball strategies now in disuse (4-man rotations, extensive platooning, 3-inning relievers, etc) will ever come back into vogue?

Steven Goldman: The Four-Man no, and part of that is just the way the schedule is constructed, with fewer off-days and such, as well as the more gentle care and feeding of pitchers. Three-inning relievers are also probably as dead as the dodo, and perhaps rightly so, but I wish we could go back to seeing two-inning closers. Platooning was and remains a very valuable strategy, but until Baseball adds a roster spot or limits the number of pitchers you can carry, there just isn't going to be room. I'd like to see a simulation done of this, actually. Given all other things being equal, which team does better, one that has a short relief staff with only one lefty but platoons as much as possible, or the team that carries three spot lefties, one good, one average, and one that's the 25th-best pitcher in the organization.

stately (ATL): True or False: Raul Ibanez will end the season with an .800+ OPS.

Steven Goldman: False, but I could see a hot streak getting him to 790.

JZirinsky (Washington, DC): Steven: I'm curious to hear your take on the BP oil spill (warning: politics!) and this administration's reaction to it. I guess I'm a little surprised that people assume that Obama should be able to plug the whole all by himself.

Steven Goldman: I just haven't been able to bring myself to write about this at Wholesome Reading, part of the reason for last week's slowdown (my father's illness now sustaining that). People keep asking, "Is this Obama's Katrina?" which is cheap given that the situations are not analogous. I do wonder, however, if this is America's Chernobyl and if the administration was too slow to accept that. No, Obama cannot plug the hole by himself; plugging the hole is obviously a complex technical problem. However, it does seem like he and his advisers did not initially grasp the magnitude of the problem and were too deferential to BP at the outset, when BP has unclean hands and motives that are more self-serving than anything else. All my complaints with Obama, from bank reform to health care reform to Afghanistan to this situation are beginning to coalesce under one heading, an apparent complex that says, "Must obey men in suits."

Zebs335 (Boston): Speaking of Teixeira, what the heck's going on? Why aren't people talking about it? Can you imagine the Yankaroos with a productive Tex?

Steven Goldman: All I know is that the 1939 Yankees were somehow one of the greatest teams of all time with Babe Dahlgren playing first and hitting .235/.312/.377. That said, Teixeira has hit .274/.370/.457 since April, which isn't great but is on the right track. I'm not terribly worried about him.

kcboomer (kc): Re: Alex Gordon. Mere mortals are not permitted to question "the process". In theory he is learning how to play LF/RF. Unfortunately for the moment those two positions are occupied. DeJesus is having a better season than we could expect Gordon to have and Pods is, well, Pods. GMDM doesn't admit to mistakes about players he acquires thru trade or free agency. Until the Royals cut bait on Jose Guillen there is no roster spot for Kila. And Mitch Maier is a much better option as a 4th OFer who can play all the positions as opposed to Rick Ankiel who can't play any of them.

Steven Goldman: See, that sounds like megalomania. I know things that Moore has said about "the process" sort of SOUND like that, but I doubt he really believes it inasmuch as he doesn't know what he really should say. Which means that what he's really thinking remains a mystery, or he's not confident enough in what he's thinking to tell us, or... Gee, maybe megalomania really is the simplest answer.

ddanyc (NYC): In an entertaining BBTF thread in memory of Oscar Azocar, someone wonders if the Mel Hall/Jim Leyritz/Pacual Perez Yankees will hold the prison "time-served" record for one team. Your thoughts as resident Yankee historian?

Steven Goldman: I wrote a little thing about Oscar for the Pinstriped Bible today, but I got it in just before we kicked off here and I'm not sure that it's up yet... He was a terrible player, albeit one with great ability to make contact. Ultimately that's ALL he could do. That said, he got hot when he first came up, before pitchers figured him out, and for two weeks he was part of a little flurry of hope that the 1990 team had, not that it would compete, but that the organization had a future. That feeling didn't last, but he was eager, he was trying, he was accomplishing something, however briefly, more than you could say for the rest of that team. Ironically, he became part of what was already killing that offense, a complete refusal to take a walk. ...And I see that the PB is now up, at http://www.myyesnetwork.com/12478/blog/2010/06/15/grander_plans. But don't go anywhere yet! I'm not done with you!

Steve (Stiltsville): How are the Padres winning with a AAA outfield?

Steven Goldman: Pitching, pitching, pitching; even away from Petco they've been pretty good. Bud Black has done a particularly good job with the bullpen, which leads baseball in WXRL by a country mile, 8.85 vs. 5.50 for the next-best club. That said, I doubt they can keep it up given just how poor the offense has been, and something like a big comeback from Kyle Blanks could be decisive. Not holding my breath somehow.

Joe V. (Pequannock, NJ): Good question on technology...but I wonder if there would be any restrictions against having an iPad or a laptop in the dugout? It wouldn't make any sense considering anyone in the dugout could walk into the clubhouse to access the same equipment but it's a thought.

Steven Goldman: There isn't any restriction that I know of short of equipping a coach with a sniper scope and having him shoot fly balls out of the air (aim up, Don Zimmer, UP!). I just wouldn't want to be the manager who has to tell Milton Bradley that he can't borrow it to listen to tunes between at-bats.

Dennis (LA): Thank you for the chat, Steven. What are some things you look for in trying to predict the future effectiveness of relievers? Anything other than maybe the ability to miss bats and not walk people? And what's on your summer reading list?

Steven Goldman: I meant borrow the iPad to listen to tunes, not the gun... You can't listen to MP3s on a gun, at least not any I'm familiar with. There probably is an iPod/machine gun combo out there for your easily bored mercenary. As to relievers, strikeout rate, mostly, and of course those that have already been consistent are more likely to be consistent again. There is no great insight here other than to be aware that so many relievers are flash-in-the-pan types. As for my summer reading list, I have a dozen half-read books open right now, some for research projects, some for fun. The most recent thing I've picked up: After Marc Normandin and Ben Lindbergh lectured me on some judgments on Isaac Asimov's "Foundation," I started reading "A Canticle for Leibowitz," another supposed science fiction classic that I had never gotten through.

kcboomer (kc): Nope, not magalomania. Paranoia driven by some serious insecurity.

Steven Goldman: I buy it. And hey, they ARE out to get him at this point.

Frank (Vegas): Hi Steven, The Bucs draft strategy seems to be to be a big spender this year (and again next year?), ie before the draft rules change. Does this make sense for a small-revenue team? and is this one of the only stragies for a small-market team to improve these days?

Steven Goldman: On the whole, it's still a cheaper way to go than the multi-year contracts due to free agents, whether retaining your own or someone else's, so I don't think a small-market team has much choice but to build through the draft. It's not the only strategy, but if you can get your team to the point of being interesting with young players and then you can drop one or two mercenaries into the mix without blowing the budget, you can compete. It seems like some small-market teams never take that second step, or they take it with mediocre second-tier free agents.

garethbluejays2 (Newcastle, UK): Interesting story about the hospital. My parents have seen a lot of the NHS service here in the UK and we thank our lucky starts for it. As an Englishman who has followed baseball since visiting Toronto in 1979, but doesn't have historical ties other than that, is there no serious discussion about changing any aspects of the schedule or the divisions in play? From an outside point of view, it is quite a bizarre system - 162 games and four teams in a division?

Steven Goldman: Five teams, sometimes six for some reason, but yes. Under Bud Selig, the system has been jiggered to make things just a little more basketball/hockey like in that four teams from each league compete for the title instead of the old two. I'm not sure if you'd like to see more or fewer teams, but I prefer the emphasis to remain on the marathon of the regular season and the teams that compete for the World Series really earn their way there.

Adam (NY): Despite occasionally lackluster performance, has the re-appearance of the number 97 whenever Joba throws the fastball consigned him to the bullpen for eternity?

Steven Goldman: No. Here's what will happen if he continues to mediocre along: As his services get more expensive, the Yankees will try to capitalize on what remains of his old buzz and deal him off. Depending on the acquiring team, they may choose to say, "Hey, the Yankees never properly exploited this guy--he's still only 26 and we believe he can be a starter." Then he'll likely go get batted around for awhile before ultimately being returned to the bullpen.

Steven Goldman: Friends, I've answered only 25 questions where usually I push towards 50, but I have to get myself up to a hospital to be with my father before they take him in for the procedure that I am hopeful will relieve some of the problems he's been having. I'll try to get back soon so we can talk some more. Enjoy the rest of the day and thank you for spending some time with me and Baseball Prospectus (the GOOD BP!).


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