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Chat: R.J. Anderson

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday March 15, 2012 12:00 PM ET chat session with R.J. Anderson.

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Transaction Analyst and "Painting the Black" columnist R.J. Anderson drops in to take your questions about spring position battles, Opening Day rosters, and any other baseball topic bouncing around your brain.

R.J. Anderson: Welcome to those of you who'd rather chat about baseball than indulge yourselves in March Madness, Dwight Howard Madness, or any other brand of madness out there. Let's get started.

RJ (Palm Harbor): Are you optimistic that Casey Kotchman will continue the success he had with the Rays now that he's an Indian?

R.J. Anderson: Not particularly. Last year's success was due to an increase in singles driven by an increase in infield hits. Kotchman is still going to hit plenty of groundballs, but I don't think he'll beat as many out for hits going forward.

will.I.ain't (roaming): Who are your sleeper NL only pitchers this year?

R.J. Anderson: I chose Jon Niese for the recent Lineup Card on breakout players. Otherwise, I might roll the dice on Chris Volstad with the hopes that he does break out this season.

Cy Young (The Beyond): Who wins my award this year in each league?

R.J. Anderson: Let's say CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay--original, I know.

Hannah (Montana): Matt Moore or Yu Darvish in 2012?

R.J. Anderson: This is a tough one. I'll go with Darvish because of the division.

Marc (Internet): Favorite/least favorite type of transaction to cover? There must be some theme that you're particularly enthused with.

R.J. Anderson: Waiver claims are my favorite. To be into transactions analysis you have to like learning about fringe players and trying to identify which of those players can help a team if used right. Least favorite is extensions. You have to defer to the team a lot and I'm not certain that makes for an interesting read.

Ryan Glass (The District): Who do you think breaks camp in the Red Sox rotation?

R.J. Anderson: Barring injury or trade I think Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Bard are locks. Felix Doubront is out of options and I think they'll try him in the rotation to start the year--just to see if it works.

will.I.ain't (roaming): Is Chris Carpenter's injury cause for concern or are the Cardinals just playing it safe?

R.J. Anderson: A little of both? Peter Gammons tweeted that the team isn't too concerned privately. Still, the longer this drags on the more you start to worry.

Ryan Glass (The District): What's your take on the 2012 Royals?

R.J. Anderson: It comes down to their pitching. I can see their young position players taking steps forward, but that rotation needs to carry its weight, too. If Luke Hochevar and Danny Duffy can improve and Felipe Paulino continues to pitch like he did with KC last season then that team looks a lot better than it does now.

Tom K (Seminole, FL): Rank the following big FA acquisition 1B in your projected WARP for 2012: Prince Fielder Albert Pujols Casey Kotchman Carlos Pena Michael cuddyer

R.J. Anderson: Cuddyer's not really a first baseman, is he? I'd go Pujols-Fielder-Pena-Kotchman in that order, with gaps in between Pujols and Fielder and Fielder and Pena.

Dave O'Brien (Disney): Who do you see in the Braves rotation on opening day? Any surprises in the pen?

R.J. Anderson: I consider this to be like Boston's situation in a way. I think Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy, and Minor are entrenched. That means it's between Teheran and Delgado for that fifth spot--at least until Hudson returns--and I'm guessing it'll be Delgado (though Teheran will be the better pitcher in the long run).

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): With M. Cabrera at 3b those infield hits for Kotchman might remain.

R.J. Anderson: Let's all root for Kotchman to bunt towards Cabrera at least once or twice this season.

Barry O (1600 Pennsylvania Ave.): How do you think MY Nationals much improved pitching staff compares to the pitching staffs in the rest of the division?

R.J. Anderson: The National League East has four solid rotations. I could be persuaded, but right now I think the Nats rank third for me, behind the Phillies and Braves.

Marc (Internet): Everyone is all excited about Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and the rest of the young pitchers in Tampa Bay, but let's flip that coin and think negatively for a moment: Hellickson didn't punch out hitters last year, Davis hasn't developed as expected, etc. Are you concerned at all about this, or is it just part of their development curve in a tough AL East?

R.J. Anderson: I’m more concerned with Davis than Hellickson.

Everyone knows about Hellickson’s shaky peripherals and shiny earned run average, and every local writer seems to be waging war with BABIP. Here’s the three things you (and they) may not know:

1) Hellickson’s walk rate was inflated by eight intentional passes.
2) PITCHf/x data shows that Hellickson missed a ton of bats within the zone, yet held a strikeout rate lower than the other non-knuckleballers with similar whiff rates.
3) He got infield flies by the bushel.

Will all of that continue? Hard to say, but I’m confident he’ll be fine.

Davis is more of an enigma to me. He has command issues and he lacked an outpitch for most of last season. He also didn’t have his best velocity until he went on the disabled list. He has not developed into the physical power pitcher we all thought he would become, but he did seem to develop confidence in using his curveball against righties as the year went on, and if he can improve on his cutter—in place of a changeup—he could become an okay middle-of-the-rotation starter.

It doesn't help that both of those guys have had to grow up in the AL East.

Jeremy Hellickson (Port Charlotte): Will my ERA be closer to my ERA from 2011 or my FIP in 2011 this year?

R.J. Anderson: Apparently Hellickson is a popular guy. For those who don't know Hellickson's numbers by memory, he posted a 2.95 ERA and a 4.47 FIP last season. It's hard to post consecutive sub-3.00 ERA seasons in the East no matter who you are. I'm guessing he'll finish somewhere around 3.50 (PECOTA says 3.38). So closer to last year's ERA.

Nick (NJ): Any thoughts on the A. Escobar extension? Probably not much risk involved but seems unnecessary. Are they really going to save much on this opposed to going the arbitration route?

R.J. Anderson: It's an okay move. The sum isn't large enough to prevent the Royals from doing other things. Is this false hustle or a sign of confidence in his development? Hard to say. That second part is the big question. It's nice to lock guys like Escobar and Salvador Perez up, but how much are defensive-first backstops and shortstops going to make going the usual route?

Also, is Escobar ever going to hit? I'm not so sure. I'll express more thoughts in a TA to be written later.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Who should win the Indians LF carousel? Who has the best chance to stick?

R.J. Anderson: My unofficial survey of who is fighting for the job: Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Spilborghs, Felix Pie, Fred Lewis, and Russ Canzler.

I cannot envision Canzler playing a tolerable corner outfield, so I’ll say not him. Same result with Pie for different reasons. From there, you have Lewis and three righty bats, but Duncan and Cunningham are both out of options. So I guess the Indians might keep those two and store Lewis and Spilborghs in Triple-A for depth. I might opt for a platoon between Lewis and whichever of the two righties you’re higher on.

Bill (New Mexico): Who wins at 2B in St. Louis?

R.J. Anderson: Tyler Greene will get the first crack at it.

Ryan Glass (The District): What team do you think will surprise people the most this year (this could be a good or bad surprise)?

R.J. Anderson: The Mets. They won't contend, and they'll probably wind up with a bottom-10 record, but I don't think they're as bad as people think.

Christopher (Tennessee): Surely Matusz, Tillman, and Arrieta can't all be below replacement again. Right? Theoretically they are all (at least) potential #2 starters. Right?

R.J. Anderson: The early reports on Matusz are encouraging, though it's unclear if he'll get back to what he was entering the 2011 season. It's hard to say on the other two. Arrieta barely has more than 200 major-league innings and Tillman has fewer than that. I wouldn't bet on them all becoming number two starters, but I also wouldn't bet on all of them looking like replacement level starters this season.

David R. (CT): Kind of a fantasy question, but I'll phrase it in real-world(ish) terms. You're an owner. You get to pick either Andrew McCutchen or Desmond Jennings to play for you next year. Money's not an issue. Who do you choose? (Kinda inspired by learning that, to my surprise, both AM & DJ are 25.)

R.J. Anderson: McCutchen.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): What were the best and worst moves this off-season?

R.J. Anderson: If extensions count I might go with Matt Moore. Locking up potential impact players to affordable long-term deals is vital for the Rays. If they don’t count, then I can see the case being mode for a range of deals. For instance, the Hiroki Kuroda signing. Not only did New York get a quality pitcher, but they got him on a one-year deal. I know the money involved there is a more than you’d like to hear about the best deal of the offseason, but it’s one that sticks out in my mind as a deal we’ll look back at fondly.

As for the worst deal. I’m sure an obvious one is slipping my mind. I might go with the Dodgers signing of Mark Ellis because I don’t understand why you’d give him the years and the money like they did.

Marc (Internet): How excited are you that Los is back in Tampa Bay? Express your answer in a measurement of Kotchmans Above Replacement.

R.J. Anderson: Five KAR. I'm as fond of Pena as any player, but I am worried about how his skill set and the possibility that he craters.

On a related note: I do like Joe Maddon's idea of batting Pena second so as to help beat the shift by having a runner on in front of Pena.

Miggy Cab (Motown): I eat up bunts like ice cream sandies and pizza bites.

R.J. Anderson: And like batting practice fastballs.

Ben (Boston): What do you make of David Wright at this point?

R.J. Anderson: It depends on what you think about his defense. The guy hits well enough to be just outside of that Longoria-Beltre-Zimmerman trio as is. To me, he's still one of the better third basemen in baseball.

Kyran (Malone, NY): When will the Braves tweak their organizational philosophy. They are always overflowing with young arms, but they refuse to trade any of them for bats, which they usually lack. Today comes word that Arodys Vizcaino might need Tommy John. They missed the boat again.

R.J. Anderson: To be fair, it appears Atlanta did try to trade Jair Jurrjens this offseason.

Catsondbs (Hong Kong): What do you think is the future of David Price on the Rays Team? Assuming no extension could be done, will he be traded as early as next year?

R.J. Anderson: It's possible. Price has made overtures about wanting to sign an extension, but the money involved might be too rich for Tampa Bay's budget. I could see the Rays fishing around to see what they could get as soon as this offseason if that is the case.

mdthomp (ILSTU): R.J, Which team do you expect to post the largest improvement on wins from last season? Also, who is going to be the opposite? My money is on the D-Backs to fall and the Nats to improve the most? What you think?

R.J. Anderson: I could see that on both ends. In fact I might say Arizona, too. I think Cincinnati is another team to watch for to improve their record by the most.

Mark Fidrych (The Nest): What frontline starter that changed teams this year do you think will most impress his new team? Most depress them?

R.J. Anderson: Impress: Pineda. I think we're ignoring that he entered last season with 25 starts above A-ball and fared well in the majors.

Depress: I still worry about what the Rangers know (or don't know) regarding C.J. Wilson. If Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez count I could see their teams being a little disappointed too. Oh, and Jonathan Sanchez. But I don't think anyone actually thinks of him as a frontline starter.

GEO (lunch): The Braves may have tried to trade Jurrjens, but the whole world knew that they were asking way too much for the wrong pitcher.

R.J. Anderson: Fair point.

will.I.ain't (roaming): With the movement of 1B out of the NL, which of the young NL 1B's do you see moving to the top of the position?

R.J. Anderson: Ike Davis if he stays healthy--particularly with the fences moving in. I'm not sure what to make of Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, or Anthony Rizzo just yet.

bradleyankrom (TPAFLA): Jeff Niemann loves you and wants to know why you won't return his calls.

R.J. Anderson: I'm afraid he'd break if we shook hands.

Robert (DC): What's the best team of Berts of all time? Rules: You can have anyone with a "bert" in his name -- Albert Pujols, Robin Roberts, David Robertson, Wilbert Robinson....

R.J. Anderson: Without spending too much time on this one, I'd go with these as my obvious picks:

1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Bert Campaneris
OF:Roberto Clemente
SP: Bert Blyleven
CP: Roberto Hernandez

draysbay (Palm Harbor): Of the following who do you see with the most offensive success as a MLBer, Hak Ju Lee, Bortnick, Dietrich or Beckham

R.J. Anderson: Four different players, four different skill sets. Bortnick isn't a starter to me and Dietrich's contact issues concern me. Of Beckham/Lee, I'd go with Beckham because I think his power advantage will wipe out Lee's edge in hitting for average.

Andy (Chicago): Is Alex Cora really going to make the Cardinals? I'm starting to get worried.

R.J. Anderson: He might. Cora supposedly had offers to begin a coaching career this offseason, so presumably teams value what he brings to the clubhouse and dugout quite a bit. That shouldn't give him a pass to make a roster for as long as he wants to play--and it doesn't: ask Gabe Kapler--but those qualities are something teams value more than outsiders.

will.I.ain't (roaming): Thanks for the great chat today. Do you see Melky Cabrera having a season closer to last year or the previous years? Looking at his information, we is still younger than I remembered.

R.J. Anderson: Good point about Cabrera’s age—he’s not even a full two years older than Lorenzo Cain. That being said, I doubt Cabrera replicates last season. He has put together some solid seasons in the past—not good, but solid—so his biggest problem is just doing that year in and year out. Even if he’s just a one-to-two-win player, that has value.

Carl Crawdaddy (The bottom of the BAY): What do you think the Red Sox outfield looks like in opening day? On August 1st?

R.J. Anderson: If you're out? Ross, Ellsbury, Sweeney on opening day. August is a tough one. I suppose you could throw the Red Sox into the Andre Ethier pool, but I'm not convinced the Dodgers will trade him, nor that the Red Sox will look to acquire him.

bradleyankrom (TPAFLA): Top "bert" players by position (according to WARP): SP - Bert Blyleven, RP - Roberto Hernandez, C - Mike Lieberthal, 1B - Albert Pujols, 2B - Roberto Alomar, SS - Bert Campaneris, 3B - Alberto Callaspo, LF - Albert Belle, CF - Roberto Kelly, RF - Roberto Clemente, DH - Butch Alberts.

R.J. Anderson: Bradley Ankrom, folks. He does it all. Transactions browsers, prospects number-crunching, and All-Bert team stat queries.

Catsondbs (Hong Kong): Price or Shields will get trade sooner?

R.J. Anderson: I'd still guess Shields goes first. Had Price gotten a higher arb figure than he did I may have changed my answer.

Bert (Sesame St): 3 of my name brothers were former Devil Rays. I always was a big Cuck LaMar fan!

R.J. Anderson: The Count was too. Count the replacement-level starting pitchers. One ... two ... three ... four ... four replacement-level starting pitchers! A ha ha.

R.J. Anderson: And on that note , I think we'll call it a chat. Thanks for the questions. We'll do it again soon.


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