Where better to address your questions about sabermetrics than an evening chat with Colin Wyers?
Colin Wyers: So... I'm gonna level with you. I'm not really prepared for this. See - and I'm not pointing fingers here, this is probably my fault - I thought this was going to be a rap battle between me and Tommy Bennett. So I stayed up and watched 8 Mile last night like five times to get me in the mood.
And, as it turns out... no. No this isn't a rap battle between me and Tommy. So, instead, we're chatting about baseball.
Alright, let's Radio Shack this - you've got questions, hopefully I've got answers.
Winston (Churchill): I know the Padres have good pitching, but seriously, how are they still in first place with that offense? Top three OPS (as of Sunday 6/20) AGon .914. Hundley .808. S Hairston .714. The rest of the offense is all below a .700 OPS. How is the team even above .500?
Colin Wyers: They've scored more runs than they've allowed? And I think looking at raw OPS underrates them on offense (Petco is still death to offense, after all). They've got a .262 TAv as a team, which is wholly average. And they've pitched well (although, again, not as well as their non-park adjusted numbers would suggest). I mean, who knows if it will continue, but someone has to win the NL West and it's hard to build a strong case that anyone else is a powerhouse.
paulbellows (Calgary): What becomes of Pagan once Beltran comes back? Will Beltran even last more than a few weeks beore hurting himself again anyways.
Colin Wyers: Everyone wants to talk about "what will happen to Pagan," and I mean I guess I get that, but I think the real question is - what happens to Jeff Francoeur? Because if you declare that Beltran is your center fielder and Jason Bay is your left fielder (and you should), then deciding who your right fielder is settles all else. And Pagan may end up being a victim of his own versatility and Jeff Francoeur's Reality Distortion Field. Because let's face it - Pagan was ALWAYS the better choice to be the starting right fielder. And you start to wonder if any amount of evidence will convince the Mets of that.
Charlie (Bethesda): Is it just me or is it insane that Adam Dunn has been to only 1 All Star game? Are people just undervaluing his production?
Colin Wyers: I think it's good to ask - what's the point of the All-Star Game? And what I keep coming back to - it's a chance for fans to see the players they like watching. Now, I like watching Adam Dunn. And I do think fans underrate his bat. But it's hard to say he's one of the three most exciting outfielders to watch in the NL most years. And I mean - as an analyst it's one thing to say, "so-and-so is the player who helps you win the most." And when you call an award "Most Valuable Player" you're talking about value. But for an All-Star? I don't know that I would or should tell fans who they want to see play in a meaningless exhibition.
john (ct): Why is the O's Zach Britton going unnoticed by most? He's pitching very well with great stats
Colin Wyers: He's in the Futures Game. Seems like someone is noticing him.
frank (vegas): Hi Colin,
Do the Bucs have any vets left to trade? Seems like only Mahom, Doumit, or Dotel may get back anything in return? And would they even get back a mid-level prospect?
Colin Wyers: If Zach Duke was pitching better he'd be a useful trade piece, I think, although I don't know if that would make sense for the Pirates. But no, I think they're at a point where most anyone they have that's desirable is desirable to keep for them as well.
Ed (Cranford, NJ): Hi Colin
Do you see Sam Demel getting any saves for Arizona this year? Also, I was offered Jose Contreras for Trevor Hoffman. Accept? Thanks
Colin Wyers: Heilman looks set to get the lion's share of the saves in Arizona, and let's be honest - they're not good on offense and they're not good at pitching, so there's probably not a whole lot of save chances to go around. As for Hoffman - is there any reason to hold onto him, except for Macha's bizarre insistence that he'd like to use him as the closer again? And is there any reason to expect a better return than Contreras? But there's so much variance (or "luck," if you prefer) in relief pitching performance over a half season, and that's likely to make a much bigger difference than the gap in talent between them.
Jquinton82 (NY): Colin hoping for a little round of injury update. Whats the latest on Kyle Blanks & Nick Johnson? I keep hearing elbow stiffness for Blanks but for it to be going on this long it sounds like there's more to it than that.
Colin Wyers: Honestly? I don't know. And I'm afraid that if I were to try and answer this question I'd do more harm than good. I mean, I know where the elbow IS, but that's about the extent of my medical expertise.
Devin (The Lounge): So, to combine 2 of your interests, if you had 1 of every D&D character class (fighter, ranger, paladin, barbarian, cleric, druid, wizard, sorcerer, rogue, bard and monk) and had to make a baseball team out of them (including DH and closer), who would play where?
Colin Wyers: Spellcasters are presumed to be using the appropriate buffs - Cat's Grace for positions that emphasize defense, Bull's Strength for hitting. (The rogue will be taking Weapon Finesse so that Dex becomes his primary batting stat.) Non-pitchers are presented in batting order: CF Monk, SS Rogue, DH Cleric, 1B Druid, C Paladin, RF Barbarian, LF Fighter, 3B Bard, 2B Sorcerer; SP Ranger, CL Wizard
frank (vegas): who will prove to be the toughest sign from this year's amateur draft?
Colin Wyers: Zach Lee, the Dodger's first round pick, is probably going to LSU. So... him? There may be someone I'm missing here.
Andres (California): Hi, Colin...
If you were to create an index of the accuracy (ability to measure reality comprehensively and accurately) of different sets of stats, and the baseline was offensive metrics = 100, where are we now with defensive metrics, and how far can we progress? (You can choose the flavor of metric...)
Colin Wyers: This is a really, really good question, and it deserves a really, really good answer. I, uh, don't have one. I mean, I could throw a number on it, for the sake of conversation. The trick is, I don't actually know - which is really the problem we have. Because, well, I don't know that anyone else knows the answer. Unfortunately, conversations like this tend to be dominated by people who claim to have answers - certainty is a more popular position than uncertainty.
Dennis (LA): Hi Colin, thank you for the chat. I'm having a hard time figuring out Conor Jackson. Do you think he will be a productive player going forward and get back to his solid OBP ways, or do you think his Valley fever affliction and move to a bigger ballpark and the AL make him a risky pickup?
Colin Wyers: He looks to me like a decent but unspectacular guy who put up a bad season and a half immediately prior to his trade to Oakland. I expect him to get better (and so far he has, although that's probably due for a correction the other way). But sadly, you don't get to use his park-adjusted stats in most fantasy leagues, and that doesn't help his value.
Ben L (NYC): Do you count and classify batted balls when you're trying to fall asleep? And if so, have you detected any scorer bias?
Colin Wyers: This is the sabermetrician's version of "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep," innit? Honestly, this is going to make me sound sad and pathetic (perhaps deservedly), but I actually have lost sleep thinking about this before.
Dennis (LA): Thoughts on Cole Gillespie? Seems to me that if he can sustain his ability to get on base at the major league level, he'll be pretty similar to Conor Jackson. I suppose he'll have to put up good OBPs to get playing time given his reputedly poor defense and lack of power.
Colin Wyers: PECOTA sees him as a below average hitter, especially for a corner outfielder. That said, it's probably not hurting the Diamondbacks any to try him out.
BWV1129 (Los Angeles): Colin, assume for the moment that zombies had an interest in playing baseball. Who would make a better baseball player, a zombie or a vampire? Would one be a better pitcher and one a better hitter? Would the Cubs, in their infinite wisdom, fill their roster with vampires, and thus see their team literally go up in flames during most home games?
Colin Wyers: This is rooted in a common misconception - the idea of vampires going up in flames in daylight can be traced directly to F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu," back in 1922. If you read the original novel of Dracula, there are scenes where he is out in broad daylight. And as everyone knows, zombies are incapable of the higher level thought processes required to play baseball. I can't even say that the vampires would win, except by default - zombies couldn't even be convinced to try and throw the ball.
Ben L (NYC): I think you just outed yourself as a replicant.
Colin Wyers: That happens to me sometimes.
Zeke (The Great White North): So Colin, what approach should the Nats take with Strasburg? How much usage is too much for him?
Colin Wyers: I have no idea. Every pitcher is different, of course, so it really depends on what he's capable of and comfortable with. The tricky part is, there's an awful lot of pressure on Strasburg right now and professional athletes tend to come from a "rub some dirt on it" culture when it comes to pain and stress. So you have to be careful that when he says he can handle it, he's being truthful and not just saying what he thinks you want to hear.
Mark (Springfield): Is there a more underrated everyday player out there than Colby Rasmus? I feel embarrassed when I open Cardinals emails saying "Holliday needs your help getting to the ASG," as it should be Rasmus...
Colin Wyers: I mean, there may be. Shin-Soo Choo is probably the guy I'd nominate as most underrated, but the trick about this sort of question is that there could be someone who because he's even more underrated than Choo that I'm not even aware of him. I dunno, where I'm at there's plenty of Cards fans (we have their single-A team in town, which encourages it) so I hear plenty about Rasmus. Maybe I'm wrong here.
Juglub (Basement): So if zombies are incapable of playing baseball how do they manage to play rugby? Too, what sort of unholy creature is Jamie Moyer?
Colin Wyers: Rugby exists as a selection mechanism against higher brain function, as far as I can tell. Jamie Moyer is the eldritch terror known as the "crafty lefty."
Bud Selig (NYC): How much and what type of instant replay would you support? Ump in the booth? Challenges? Automated balls and strikes? See any downside?
Colin Wyers: I think if you do instant replay (and I think my distrust of human observation of anything is well documented) it has to be as unobtrusive as possible, which suggests a booth umpire. Challenges... that gives me shudders just thinking about it. There's some stuff you can't use instant replay for. And right now, there's no way to get good live replay on balls and strikes, either from a replay booth or from automated pitch tracking. So for now, that's a task for the umps.
Voigt-Kampff (2019): Itís your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Colin Wyers: I report it to the police.
SouthSideJohnny (SouthSide): Now that the White Sox have pitched their way back into contention, what should they do about their gaping lineup holes?
Also, Jamie Moyer is clearly a Bard.
Colin Wyers: A left fielder that's more of an offensive threat would probably help, as would a DH that's at least replacement level. You could maybe even solve both problems at once - pick up a legit DH bat, and push your Jones/Kotsay platoon out to left field. I'd probably leave Beckham where he is and hope for an improvement there.
JD (Curiousville): How/when did you develop your interest in/passion for/obsession with sabermetrics? Was it a gradual thing, or did you have some externally-driven moment of clarity?
Colin Wyers: I think I started paying attention to baseball stats (I mean, more than usual) during the Iraq War - no, seriously! I spent two tours over there and it turns out that they don't get WGN in Iraq, so I'd follow the box scores to get my Cubs fix. Then I got a gift subscription to BP for Christmas and it snowballed from there.
David Geiser (State College, PA): Hey Colin! Is Starlin Castro going to be the first homegrown legitimate star position player for the Cubs since Appetite for Destruction was topping the charts?
Colin Wyers: He has a real chance at being the first one that isn't for some baffling reason stuck being the short side of a platoon with Koyie Hill.
Edgar Fan (Walla Walla): Why do you think caused this spring's irrational exuberance for the Mariners? Or wasn't it irrational?
Colin Wyers: Spring is a time for irrational exuberance for baseball fans. It's just that the Mariners are one of those fanbases, like the Royals, that for some reason churns out a number of really good baseball writers on the Internet. So their irrational exuberance tends to be more noticeable.
Dan Turkenkopf (Albany): Colin, you've been openly questioning of a lot of the ball in play classifications that are used all over the place. Assuming you're right (and I'll say the evidence is strong), what's the proper reaction?
Colin Wyers: The first thing to do is just to walk into things with your eyes open, and be asking questions. I mean, I don't think it's impossible to work with the data - but it's impossible to work with the data and come up with the right answers if you're not thinking about how the data is collected and what effects that can have.
Lord (Kitchener): If you ran the Blue Jays, would you lobby to be moved to another division? Which other divisions do you think they'd have a good shot to win right now?
Colin Wyers: I might, but I don't see as it would help. They'd probably be the best team in any division in the NL, though, I'd think. Just roughly windaging it, they're .535 so far this year, and say the AL is a .550 division to the NL's .450. (That's a rough guess.) So, back of the envelope, they'd have a .585 record in the NL? Again, that's a REAL rough guess.
Keith (Villa Park): Do you buy the scouting line that Josh Vitters has such incredible plate coverage that we shouldn't be concerned about his inability to draw walks? The same was said about Hanley back in the day, and that turned out okay.
Colin Wyers: I dunno. I saw him play when he was with Peoria. Swung the stick real nice. The trick with drawing walks is that they're valuable in and of themselves, but they're also indicative of being able to pick which pitches you can really do something with, and which you should just let go by you. As he goes up the ranks he's going to eventually find pitchers who can challenge him; the trick is to see how he adjusts.
Gold Star (Tempe, Ariz.): What do you expect the Dodgers to do - or NOT do - at the trade deadline? Also, what do you make of the outfield's horrendous defensive stats?
Colin Wyers: Well, the Dodgers won't have a lot of money at the deadline, and looking at their roster it's hard to see something that looks like an obvious hole. Maybe a fifth starter? As for their outfield's defensive showing - first I'd want to see if it was showing up in the macro team defensive stats (like DER or PADE).
Leutnor (Los Angeles): If you could become the general manager of one of the AL West franchises based on the existing talent at the major league and minor league level, how would you rank them in order?
Colin Wyers: Probably in rank order of wins and losses right now. Maybe flip Oakland and Seattle around.
OTSgamer (Dallas, TX): Given the obvious inherent uncertain nature of this whole ordeal, what do you really expect of Carlos Beltran when he returns in three weeks?
Colin Wyers: He's still Carlos Beltran. I mean, you're hoping that if he's cleared to play that he'll be close to 100% as far as physical ability goes. He's another one you can throw on the pile for "most underrated ballplayers." Which is weird to say - obviously everyone knows he's good, but he's REALLY good. Apparently the Mets expect to rest him a bit more than they usually would, and hopefully they don't use this as reason to bench Pagan on the days Beltran IS playing. (Well, I guess "hopefully" is a subjective term here. Braves, Phillies and Reds fans probably would be happy with that.)
Ken (NY): Am I the only one who noticed that Manuel let Niese return to pitching after an hour rain delay and another half an hour of his team batting? Why aren't more people calling for his head for that alone?
Colin Wyers: You're not the only one that noticed. And admittedly my Twitter feed isn't representative of the baseball public, but as far as I can tell, anyone who cares enough to express an opinion on the matter has suggested that Manuel get fired. Well, except for John Heyman.
Ben L (NYC): Would someone with Strasburg's stuff be A) Better, B) Worse, or C) the same if equipped with the brain of Brian Bannister?
Colin Wyers: It's a real question - how much does thinking about what you're doing help a ballplayer? Moneyball spent a lot of time examining the question, and didn't really come to a good answer. I think it's rather scary to think of Strasburg getting better, though.
dcoonce (bloomington indiana): With regards to Ben L's question, I remember in the '80s the Padres had a smart, cerebral pitcher named Eric Show, and they always believed he overthought on the mound and that's why he was never more successful. (He was nuts, too, so that may have had some impact.) Just a thought.
Colin Wyers: It's possible. Of course, people are always looking for reasons to explain things, so maybe that's the convenient narrative that got hung on to explain the results. As for the broader question - I mean, at the end of the day, I'm just a guy that runs numbers. I can tell you what the numbers mean, within a certain bound of uncertainty. I think that kind of information is useful in putting a team together and such, but I have no clue if it's helpful to ballplayers.
tina (miami): why did the marlons fire freddi gonzelaz? he was good manager for the team and now is worse he is going to manager for the milwaukee braves. so he deals with nahey ramirez liek a manager would. so buttons he did the write thing. just like joe maddon did with bossman upton when he wouldn't hustle and that worked out for everyone. so i support freddi gonzalez. where will marlons do now? what are we the fans supposed to dow with this aimless mess of a franchise?
Colin Wyers: Look around the majors right now and ask yourself - how many of these players could make a decent manager after they retire? Now multiply that by all the guys right now coaching and playing in the minors. And then multiply by a decade or so. It's not that managing isn't tough - it probably is - or that it's not important - it's probably very important. But there's only 30 gigs or so in MLB, and you have a large talent pool, so you don't get a lot of separation in ability between managers. Realistically, firing a manager is a totemic act - you don't do it because you think it will do any good, but because of the message you think it will send.
Joe Bivens (Massachusetts): Hey.
Colin Wyers: Hey!
Dan Turkenkopf (Albany): Where do you think the next big breakthrough in understanding baseball will come from?
Colin Wyers: I still think there's a lot of work to be done in separating pitching and fielding. And it tends to be that what you see is very incremental change for a while, and then suddenly you have a paradigm shift. The last big paradigm shift was probably DIPS - it's really, really hard to see those coming until after they've already happened.
Alan (Chicago): In a bit of a twist, my girlfriend loves these games and Zombies you're all talking about, but I find them nausiating. They last forever. How do I get out of playing them?
Colin Wyers: Zombies are not a game. They are a flesh-eating menace that threatens our very way of life.
Randall (Boise): Are you the biggest idiot ever?
Colin Wyers: Recently declassified research by the Department of Defense's Negative Cognition Recognition Program from back in the 60s suggests that the biggest idiot ever was actually Phillip Baker of Poughkeepsie, NY. Unfortunately they were never able to weaponize their findings and so the DoD cut funding during the reduction in force following the war in Vietnam.
Colin Wyers: Alright, folks, it's been fun but I think it's time to draw this to a close. Thanks to all of you for coming, and I hope to do this again sometime. In the meantime, if you have a question you can fit into 132 characters, you can find me on Twitter as @cwyers. Have a great evening, folks.