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Chat: Jonah Keri

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday October 12, 2004 7:00 PM ET chat session with Jonah Keri.

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Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Jonah Keri: Welcome to this hype-tastic BP Chat, where we'll have streaming video of Jason Varitek smashing A-Rod in the face and various shots of Sox and Yankees fans in knife fights. Or we can just kibbitz for 60 minutes leading up to game time, whatever...

GBSimons (Seymour, IN): Jonah, who do you think will win the NLCS? The ALCS? Why?

Jonah Keri: Cardinals in 5. Red Sox in 5. Why? Well partly because before the playoffs started I was saying Red Sox over Cards in 6 in the World Series, so I should probably be consistent. More informatively, though...

I think both these teams are clearly better. Many people talk about how much better the Cards are than the rest of the NL. I actually think the Astros' far inferior record in the regular season is a little decptive, much as it is for any team that acquires a superstar player mid-stream: You're dealing with a different team in the second half than you did in the first. Still, Phil Garner's decision to go Clemens-Oswalt on short rest in the LDS means Backe and Munro vs. Murderer's Row, which is trouble. And Oswalt looked pretty shaky yesterday too.

I think most people are reluctant to give the Sox a big edge though, even if they deserve it. I don't believe in billy goats, or curses or bird poop. No what I see is a team with the best pitcher by a mile in Schilling who'll give the Red Sox two wins right off the bat. They've got more balance up and down the lineup, with guys who can actually hurt you at the bottom. I think the Yankee pen is a mess, Javy Vazquez and Kevin Brown are huge question marks, Bronson Arroyo may be the second-best starter this series and Manny and Company are going to inflict a lot of pain.

Andy Vogel (Raleigh): Is there any way to defend Phil Garner's game four choices to take Biggio out and to remove Lidge after 7 pitches? Would it have been better or worse to leave Lidge in to hit for himself (a la Smoltz) in order to let him pitch the next inning?

Jonah Keri: Speaking of Phil Garner, lots of questions about his managing tactics. We'll start with this one: I can definitely see an argument for letting Lidge hit in that situation, or better yet pulling a double-switch. But Garner's moves weren't nearly as bad as Ron Gardenhire's, for one. And moreover, managers make tactical errors all the time, and even the best in the business mess up sometimes. As Joe Sheehan noted in his column today, Bobby Cox, widely considered one of the better managers around, goofed in not pulling Jaret Wright for a pinch-hitter in a key spot last night.

The upshot of using Lidge sparingly in Game 4 and not at all in Game 5 is that the Astros can defray some of the problems of not having Clemens and Oswalt available early in the series by having their best reliever ready to contribute a multi-ining appearance or two. (That may not have been intentional, but it worked out well regardless). Lidge was the best reliever in the NL this season, and I think he deserves some top-10 Cy Young votes, even in a league loaded with the likes of Unit, Clemens, Schmidt, Zambrano, Sheets, Peavy, Pavano et. al.

coneway (baltimore): if you were Phil Garner, how would you approach games 1 and 2 as far as pitchers? This seems like a good place to try something adventurous and no one will blame him if it fails, because no one expects Backe and Munro to win them any games anyway. I can't think of anything, maybe you can.

Jonah Keri: Maybe I'm just spoiled by being around smart, insightful people a lot, but I've been hearing nothing BUT adventurous suggestions for what the Astros should do. Jim Baker talks about going to an all-reliever-type set-up in one of the first two games, and I've heard similar suggestions from other people in the last 24 hours.

Me, I'd actually go the conventional route in this case. Brandon Backe actually looked quit good the last few weeks of the season, and deserves a shot to at least get Houston through 5-6 frames in decent shape. And Clemens may end up starting in lieu of Munro on short rest anyway for Game 2. If you had an all-world bullpen, you could try a committee starter approach in non-Clemens/Oswalt games. But the Astros for most of the season had mostly Lidge and little else in the pen--certainly not enough to be a good bet for nine innings of good work. If Backe can go 5, you could consider going Munro for 4, pinch-hit second time through the order for him, then get into the Chad Quallses of the world and hope Lidge can pitch in a tight game late.

jjcole (Houston): perhaps a topic for later, but, has this been the most bizarre off the field year ever? it started and ended with players shot, one fataly, one "somewhat amusingly" then a stars mother is kidnapped, a stars relatives get electrocuted in his swimming pool, a former MVP dies from what is most likely cardiac tissue damage caused by drugs. just strange.

Jonah Keri: Frightening really. A lot of the nasty stuff can be traced just to Venezuela, which is starting to rival Sierra Leone and similar places for insane levels of violence and corruption. The Twins alone had a whole whack of impact players from that country, and plenty of other teams felt the effects too. It's terribly sad that the awful way Dernell Stenson met his death months ago has actually been overshadowed by so many other mishaps and tragedies.

Mark (CT): Jonah: I have been hearing about the Yankees' 61 come from behind victories quite a bit in the last week, but am not sure if it is really as positive a statistic as implied. What's your take?

Jonah Keri: The Yankees can hit, so they'll always have a chance. That whole come-from-behind stat *is* a bit misleading though. Let's say you fall behind 1-0 in the top of the first to the Devil Rays. Doug Waechter is going for Tampa, Mussina for the Yanks, in a sold-out Yankee Stadium. You want to give me even odds at that point that the Yanks won't "pull it out"?

namtrahj (St Louis): Clemens admitted to being tired by the 5th in his game 4 DS start going on 3 days rest. Oswalt looked tired last night but was able to run his fastball in on batters and get k's and alot of flyouts though his curve was all over the place. In addition he is pitching with an oblique strain. Even with the coming 5 days rest will their be negative aftereffects from last week's heavy workload?

Jonah Keri: Ah, wishful thinking from a Cards fan. Of course we can all plainly see that namtrahj is a just daynperry, jumbled.

Anyway, Will Carroll has the skinny on related injury matters in today's LCS edition of Under The Knife. Both in the column and via internal e-mails, Will mentioned that the way Oswalt was holding his arm out looked worrisome, and that he figured to continue laboring with high pitch counts and struggles until he corrected the problem. I'm anything but a medical expert myself, but I thought Oswalt looked very sluggish yesterday too. Houston might be able to start a horse like Clemens on short resat once or twice and get away with it. But short-rest Oswalt to me is no better than full-rest Backe.

Roland (Ohio): I am curious about the possibility of the A's Justin Duchscherer becoming a starter in 2005. He was a starter in the minors, and started a few games with Texas. Tnx. Roland

Jonah Keri: Well he could start, Roland, but where would you put him? Even if the A's trade Mulder or Zito in the off-season, you've still got the other one of those two, plus Hudson, Harden, Redman and Blanton as rotation candidates, plus they've got some more pitching coming through the system. I do think Duke could have a future in the rotation, but I'd also love to see a pen with Duke, Jairo Garcia and a *healthy* Dotel slamming the door next year in The House That Al Davis Defaced.

gman (SF): Conventional BP wisdom would seem to dictate that Octavio Dotel is a great closer/fireman, even with his blown saves (which after all are a poor stat). He had a 3.69 ERA and 12.87 K/9 last year. I wonder what you think about the fact that lefties more or less mashed him last year (.503 SLG, 0.824 OPS in 159 AB). Just a small sample size? Injury? Assuming that this is real, can a "closer" be effective with such extreme lefty/righty discrepencies?

Jonah Keri: Speaking of Dotel...

He hasn't shown severe splits in the past. When something fluky or seemingly unexplainable happens to a player, I always figure it's one of two things:

1) A freakish statistical blip, likely to be corrected the next week, month or season (whatever the relevant timeframe may be)

or

2) An injury.

Dotel has had back and elbow problems on and off for the last two seasons, and the numbers tell me they've affected him more than he or his employers may have let on. If he can get his problems straightened out this off-season I think he can come back and be more effective. Keep in mind, though, that Dotel turns 31 in November. This isn't some Frankie Rodriguez kid with jaw-dropping stuff anymore, even if he is still a very good reliever.

GBSimons (Seymour, IN): Jonah, Very nice articles on the Expos. It's too bad MLB killed them slowly and painfully. Assuming you care in the least, what nickname would you like to see for D.C.'s new franchise?

Jonah Keri: GBSimons is referring to this article that I wrote last month, along with the follow-up of reader responses I got. Yup, it's a travesty what MLB, and Expos ownership and everyone else helped destroy a franchise that already needed some help and good luck to survive and succeed.

New D.C. name? How about the D.C. Vultures, in honor of those nice folks who descended on the team every season like ugly birds hovering over carrion.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Loved your farewell piece last week. You said you're not going to follow the Spiders just because they used to be the Expos, but do you expect to develop an affinity for any particular team? Who are you rooting for this post-season?

Jonah Keri: Follow-up question...

Answer is--probably the Padres. Always enjoyed talking to fans at Pads games, Petco is just two hours from my place, good management, some likable players, and they're the Expos expansion cousins to boot.

I'm not 100% sold yet though. While I don't plan to blackmail teams into sending me stuff the way that free-agent fan guy did a few years ago as he searched for a new rooting interest, I welcome any reader thoughts on why you think your team is most worth supporting. E-mail me at jkeri@baseballprospectus.com with your best reasons and I will send you--FORTY DOLLARS!







(checks will not be honored)

shamah (DC): Who are your AL and NL MVP's?

Jonah Keri: Bonds. No one's close, and Beltre ekes out second.

Santana in the AL. Love Vlad, but he falls just short of the guy whose 20-start stretch of dominance was like Hershiser in '88, only twice as long.

Will (Iowa City): NOw that we can discuss the dead... what the hell was the Expos logo supposed to be? Someone told me that it was a tri-color "M", but it still looks like a mysterious "elb" in script to me???

Jonah Keri: Amazingly, though I've been a ridiculously devoted Expos fan since just before Blue Monday, I always saw the ELB, but not the M. The ELB, as the story goes, refers to both Expos Limited Baseball and Bronfman family member Edgar Bronfman (the Bronfmans owned the team until 1991, when owner Charles Bronfman cashed out to a local consortium of morons).

I didn't see the M until my then-girlfriend, now-wife, said something off-hand about the M on my Expos cap a few years ago. I stared at the thing for something like 10 full minutes and STILL couldn't see it. I guess this is like the whole two faces/two vases thing, except I'm the total idiot who can only see one perspective, no matter how hard I look.

Now the old Brewers logo with the ball and glove and MB--THAT was cool.

tcfatone (New York): Can you think of a more underrated pitcher in all of baseball over the past 15 years than Mike Mussina? The media seems to be thinking Schilling is a slam dunk. It's incredible.

Jonah Keri: Mussina has definitely been underrated. But we're not talking total body of work here, we're talking who's going to win these games, right now. Schilling easily outperformed Mussina this season, he's continued to look good leading up to this series, and I think he'll continue to do so. I could see Mussina going 7, allowing 2 runs and striking out a bunch, sure. And I can also see Schilling topping that by going the distance in under 100 pitches. He's that good right now.

mbrittain (alabama): I have just read Moneyball(yeah, I know I am behind) and it has changed the way I have looked at the game, my question is: Is there any other books out there that can explain in detail the stats like SNWL, RRE, VORP, and any of those statistics that baseball theorists have devoloped?

Jonah Keri: Every edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual book has a glossary of some kind, as well as an intro essay explaining some of the key stats, including the VORP, SNWL etc. you mention. I'd make that my first stop, and I say that as someone who bought the book every year long before I was taught the secret BP handshake.

If you want a longer history of stats, Alan Schwarz's new book has some interesting bits, and people ranging from Bill James to Pete Palmer and others have done some great work over the years. Even though some of these books are 15, 20, 25 years old, I've found them to be interesting, informative and fun to read when I pull them off the shelf from time to time.

kerrigrr (Kew Gardens, NY): In the history of baseball, has there ever been such a show of postseason managerial incompetence akin to what we've seen from Gardenhire, Francona, and most especially Phil Garner this year? I can't recall a case where managers were literally losing games for their teams at this rate - The losses in Games 2 and 4 in the Stros series rest squarely on the manager's shoulders.

Jonah Keri: This is the one wild card that I think could swing the Boston-New York series. Torre's handicapped by having a quarter roster's worth of dead spots in guys like Heredia, Loaiza etc. But even with a lesser roster, he's shown a track record for making good decisions, whether in the playoffs or otherwise. Francona's track record is shorter, and what we've seen in this year's playoffs hasn't been encouraging. It says a lot about Francona when you hear so many Red Sox fans worrying about him COMING OFF A PLAYOFF SWEEP.

JeffRose (Moncton): 2005 will be the first year that J. P. Ricciardi doesn't have the Delgado contract hanging around his neck. How important is it for the Jays to re-sign him, and how much is too much within the confines of a $50M payroll?

Jonah Keri: He's gone. The Jays have escalating contracts to worry about in Halladay, Hinske and Wells to name three, and they'll get much better bang for their buck going after players who aren't Delgado. It's unfortunate that the Jays are in the division they are, because their drafts of the last couple years have been great, even though we haven't really seen the fruits of it on the big league level yet. I like what I've seen out of David Bush for one--wouldn't be hard to envision he and Halladay being a dominant 1-2 punch in the very near future.

andrewberg (DC): What moves can the Twins make in order to maintain groud against a maturing Cleveland team? How much growth potential can we expect for next year from Morneau, Kubel (assuming he replaces Jones), Tiffee, Mauer?

Jonah Keri: Geez, I'm not sure they need to make many moves. You just named four very promising young players, and that's on top of the best pitcher in the league in Santana, a top-10 guy in Radke, Hunter, Cuddyer, LeCroy, Nathan (what a trade that was), Crain, Balfour, Rincon and a bunch of others. I think Cleveland's farm system and core of young major league talent is very impressive, but frankly the onus is on the rest of the division to catch the Twins, given what we've seen in recent years.

It's time to seriously consider Terry Ryan and his player development and scouting staff as the best organization in baseball.

Bill Johnson (New Mexico): Any thoughts on Cincinnati using the media cover of the playoffs to give Barry Larkin his warm and compassionate sendoff?

Jonah Keri: I think the whole Larkin thing is provincial nonsense. Fans aren't going to stop going to games because a guy 8 years past his prime isn't around anymore. The three-year, $27 million deal that Carl Lindner gave Larkin--after several members of the front office insisted he be cut loose at the price he was asking--is one of the biggest contract screw-ups of the last decade, and a testament to Lindner's ability to be penny-foolish, pound-foolish. It's a shame too, because a team with the likes of Dunn, Kearns and some of the front-office talent they have could be dangerous, if not for lousy ownership.

pjfsks (morristown nj): I assume the Mets won't compete until 2006 at best. How do they get the most value from their aging vets (Glavine, Piazza, Floyd, Stanton), trade them in the offseason or wait until the 7/31 deadline? I figure the Mets have to eat major bucks either way but the benefit of dumping them sooner is I don't have to watch them for half a season and the Mets spend less on Geritol.

Jonah Keri: It's probably a good assumption that the Mets won't compete for a while, but try telling that to the Wilpons. We've hammered on the Benson and Zambrano trades already this year, but the fact is the team made them, and everything we've seen from the Mets suggests they're going to sign even more high-priced talent and try for an other un in '05. There's nothing wrong with spending money, mind you--the Mike Cameron deal was, I thought, well done.

It's just that this team hasn't shown an ability to devise a cohesive plan for building a winning roster. Or if it has, said plan seems to get chucked in the trash the minute the Wilpons decide they need to steal the back page of the Post from the Yankees and do something to make a splash. Trying to keep up with the Joneses is a terrible way to run any business, including a major league team, yet that's what they continue to do.

Youppi (La Belle Province): Any jobs over at BP?

Jonah Keri: Sure--we do need a new mascot, after that unfortunate incident involving Steve Goldman, a manatee costume and an ATV.

Actually, we're always looking for good talent. If nothing else, you can always e-mail cs@baseballprospectus.com and our Customer Service staff will point you in the right direction. Just specify the kind of skills you bring to the table and what you'd like to do.

OK, lightning round, I need to get home and watch the game...

GBSimons (Seymour, IN): Is it just me, or are there some unusually impressive #2 hitters in the playoffs this fall? Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Larry Walker, J.D. Drew before last night. These are the kind of hitters usually found in the 3-5 holes. Pretty powerful lineups, I'd say.

Jonah Keri: I'd like to think this is more a case of managers getting smart and putting good hitters higher in the order. It shouldn't be that hard to figure that your best players should bat more often, but managers get hung up on labels--leadoff skills, RBI bat, whatever--and often don't pay enough attention to pure production in compiling lineups. Dice rolls aren't the life as real life, obviously, but I always find it interesting that every team in my Strat league doesn't bat an eyelash about batting guys like Bonds and Berkman #2 to get maximum production out of them.

bobbailey (montreal): Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Vazquez vs Livan. Let's hear it.

Jonah Keri: Hey Bob, same to you. (Canadian harvest occurs earlier, so Thanksgiving is the 2nd Monday of October, for you Yanks scratching your heads)

Anyway, I've been convinced for going on two years now that Vazquez has been pitching through an injury. Everyone from Will Carroll to some people in the industry have whispered that his mechanics are out of whack, that his velocity has been sketchy at times, etc. Players can perform through injuries, and Vazquez has shown that he can be, at times, a great pitcher. But I think the effects may be piling up now. That Jeff Torborg and other managers piled heavy workloads on him probably didn't help either.

Meanwhile Livan remains vastly underrated. If you can give me 250 innings of just league average production, that's hugelly valuable to a team in terms of keeping them in games and saving the bullpen. That Livan has now thrown 480 innings over two seasons of near-elite baseball makes him a vlauable commodity. The mechanical adjustment he made last year has been gold, and the Expos/Vultures/Whatevers have themselves a good guy around whom to build a staff.

Jonah Keri: All right, gotta jet. Thanks for all the great questions, and apologies that I wasn't able to answer them all. Feel free to e-mail me at jkeri@baseballprospectus.com with other queries and comments. Oh and look for the BP2005 book, which we'll have available for pre-order on the Baseball Prospectus Web site in the coming weeks. Enjoy the playoffs!


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