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Chat: Colin Wyers

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday June 13, 2012 12:00 PM ET chat session with Colin Wyers.

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BP's Director of Research and resident sabermagician stops by to field your questions (though he probably won't try to classify them).

Colin Wyers: As I was going to St Ives I met a man with seven wives Every wife had seven sacks Every sack had seven cats Every cat had seven kits Kits, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St Ives?

mike (cambridge): what do you think will eventually happen with daniel bard?

Colin Wyers: It's hard to say - he's clearly got talent, but that's not always enough. I'm reminded of Rich Hill, who had one amazing season and then utterly lost it the season after that. Now, Bard being another Rich Hill is unlikely, but it is possible. We'll have to wait to see how it plays out.

@iantist (Chicago): There is a big advantage in baseball if you can recognize when a player's long term past performance is no longer very useful in predicting future performance. In other words, we believe something has changed about the player (maybe a new pitch, life change, etc) such that if we model getting a hit as a Bernoulli process, p has changed. How many plate appearances do you think one needs to be pretty sure its not luck and that were dealing with a fundamentally better/worse player?

Colin Wyers: I don't know if there's any sort of binary point where you can say a player is different - I think it's a much more gradual process, where with small n we think we're somewhat confident, but with larger n we're more confident, until with very large n we're very confident. But that depends on what kind of changes you see a player make as well - some skill sets are "noisier" than others.

Mike (LA): The Braves' pitching rotation has much promise this year. What's your evaluation of the future Braves pitchers: Delgado, Tehran, Minor, Vizcaino? And Fredi Gonzalez the best manager for such a young group of pitchers, seeing what happened with Venters and O'Flaherty this year ?

Colin Wyers: Predicting young pitching is always difficult, not just in terms of talent but in terms of things like injury risk. And the pitcher aging curve isn't like the batter aging curve, where you have a long incline up to peak - it's much more like the fielding aging curve, which is just a straight drop. (It is NOT quite a straight drop, and pitchers who survive the early years are more likely to show improvement, I think.)

Mr Mister (Chicago): Colin, I know you're not a fan of UZR and other defensive metrics, and also not a fan of the 'in zone'/'out of zone' location metrics...but I don't know why. Did you ever discuss that in a post, or is it more just comments through blogs/twitter?

Colin Wyers: I wrote this article a while back that summarizes some of my issues: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=11476

oira79 (San Francisco): I asked this of Kevin Goldstein but he never answered. The whine from him (and, to be fair, Keith Law also) about what seems like a great new draft system is that baseball will lose multi-sport athletes to other sports. Is there some way to quantify this potential loss?

Colin Wyers: A great new draft system for who, is the question. It seems to be great for the league as a whole, in terms of keeping draft bonuses down. There's really only two other parties that can benefit from that money - owners and players, in other words the people who negotiated the CBA that in essence colludes against amateurs. (Some will suggest that the fans will get this money in terms of lower ticket prices, but that doesn't seem to be how it works out in reality - teams charge what the market will carry in terms of ticket pricing, or at least they try to.) As far as how much talent this will cost MLB, I couldn't say - there's too many variables. I think it'll have a bigger impact in the international market, in that teams will invest less in curating and developing international talent to begin with.

Silv (NY, NY): Starting Catcher A has a .907 OPS (playing in a pitcher's park), RF/9 and RF/G well above that of the league and has thrown out 40% of runners attempting to steal; thus, AJ Ellis is currently the best catcher in the NL, no? As an aside, there are currently SIX starting catchers with an OPS above .900 (and neither Joe Mauer nor Carlos Santana is one of them). What the heck is going on here?

Colin Wyers: He's having a good season, to be sure, and while I doubt that he'll keep up his current pace PECOTA likes him a fair amount as a hitter. In terms of his caught stealing rate - I'm uncomfortable attributing all of that to him. There are certainly pitchers who are better or worse at holding runners on to begin with, and I think one of the woefully unexamined areas of baseball study is trying to untangle that interaction, rather than attributing the whole of it to the catcher.

Sky (The Roc, NY): What are some good ways to incorporate scouting information into performance analysis, either existing or potentially?

Colin Wyers: Outsider of pseduo-scouting information like Pitch F/X, the availability of scouting information in a form that's useful for quantitative analysis is really quite limited. There have been some efforts to crowdsource scouting info, but I'm dubious as to how useful it is - you have something like the Fan Scouting Report that measures "first step," and I'm not really sure what the typical fan (who watches most of his baseball on TV) is even using to come up with a rating for this. I think using scouting information to supplement quantitative analysis is going to be largely the providence of teams for the near future. With Pitch F/X, I think there's two things - one, it's very new, and two, teams keep poaching the best analysts. So advancements come in fits and starts at best.

Oliver (Boston, MA): 9 human beings (7 wives) 49 sacks 2744 felines (343 cats, 2401 kits)

Colin Wyers: The traditional answer to the riddle is zero - I'm heading to Saint Ives, and thus met someone going the other way. The kittens, cats, sacks and wives are all going somewhere else.

Matt (Chicago): As a long suffering Cub fan, what is your sense about Jedstein's ability to restock the farm with their sale items this summer? Do you think the focus will be exclusively on young arms?

Colin Wyers: It takes two to tango, so it's not just about what the Cubs want, it's about what the teams that are buying have and are willing to offer. I think it's far more important to extract maximum value than to try and fill need. If you get some good chips back and they develop, then even if they don't fill the role you need you can trade them for something that does fill the role you need. More than anything, the need the Cubs have is "talented baseball players," and WHAT they're talented at is a secondary concern.

Silv (NY, NY): The traditional answer is "one", no? You're going to St. Ives.

Colin Wyers: But you're not a kitten, cat, sack or wife. (Well, maybe you are - in order of probability, I'd say wife is more likely than cat, cat is more likely than kitten, and kitten is more likely than sack. But I am not any of those.)

Mr Mister (Chicago): I don't know anything about databases and programming language. But I would like to know how to run queries, to figure out lame stuff like % of time a #3 hitter come up in his first PA in the various base/out states. Any advice on places to learn on my own?

Colin Wyers: I wrote a tutorial on databases a while back that might be a good place to start: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/databases-for-sabermetricians-part-one/

oira79 (San Francisco): It's a great new draft system for fans, as it looks like we won't have to put up with months of posturing from players who have never even used a wooden bat. It seems better for the teams, as draftees are already signing and will spend this summer playing baseball instead of video games. It's better for college baseball. It might even be better for many of the draftees, as lower bonuses will eliminate some of that "big league attitude" complacency. It's not better for agents and for players who never make the majors, for sure. But I'm curious about your comment regarding the international market. Won't a more rigid draft lead teams to spend more time, effort and money on international players, since it will be one of the few areas where they can achieve differentiation?

Colin Wyers: I fundamentally don't get this attitude - why should any of us care when "players who have never even used a wood bat" make? Yes, many draft picks flame out. It's not like teams don't know this, and they were willing to pay those bonuses before. It's teams using their greater leverage to save money at the expense of talented young players, nothing more or less.

ekanenh (Capitol City): Should the Astros sell high on Jed Lowrie? Or, if this version is "real," is he a cornerstone of some succesful future Astros team?

Colin Wyers: I always wonder about the notion of selling "high" or "low" on a player - it's not like potential trading partners don't know about the whole of Lowrie's career, for instance, and while you may find a team that values his more recent performance than you do, it seems to me a much more limited form of arbitrage than it's made out to be. The short answer is that the Astros should trade Lowrie if they get an offer for him that they think is more valuable to them long-term than Lowrie is.

Oliver (Boston, MA): Hold on now. How do we know you didn't meet the man and his wives on the bus? This reminds me of the riddle posed to Caspar Hauser, something to the effect of what question would you ask a man to distinguish if he was from the town where people always tell the truth or always lie. Caspar Hauser replies, "Are you a toad?"

Colin Wyers: The riddle dates back to the 1730s, and public busing services date back to the early 1800s. So it's unlikely.

SkyKalkman's Twitter (Internet): how can you figure out which side of the plate a switch-hitter should bat against a knuckler/handed-neutral pitcher?

Colin Wyers: You can ask him -- I don't think most switch-hitters are truly ambidextrous, so if the pitcher really is neutral in terms of handedness, have him bat from his dominant side. (If you can't ask him, throwing arm may be a good hint.)

oira79 (San Francisco): It's not about the money draftees make, it's about their attitude and the summer-long negotiations. I wouldn't care if Stephen Strasburg HAD actually signed for $50 million. I just didn't want to spend all summer reading about it. But again -- why wouldn't teams now spend MORE time and money in international negotiations?

Colin Wyers: Because there's a draft signing bonus cap as well. And why does it affect you in the least if Strasburg has an "attitude" that he's worth a significant sum of money and holds out in negotiations in order to get it?

lionstar1964 (Philly burbs): On the riddle: What if you met where two roads, both going to St. Ives, intersected? What if you both stopped for the night at an inn on the way? What if you overtook the the other party on the road (with so many of them, and especially the difficulty in herding cats, you are likely moving faster)?

Colin Wyers: I have no response to any of this, other than that I admire the ingenuity on display.

Bob (Seattle): So, let's make a deal. There are three doors, one with a car, and two with a booby prize. You select your door, and Monte Hall opens a door showing a booby prize but offers you the chance to switch doors. Do you stick with your original pick, or do you switch? Show your reasoning.

Colin Wyers: When you originally pick, you have a one in three chance of picking the car. So switching only decreases your probability of success if you originally picked the car. In the new scenario, though, you're always shown a booby prize because Monte Hall knows the door the car is behind. So for the 66% of the time that you didn't pick the car the first time, switching will always win you the car.

Bob (Seattle): At what point does Jose Molina's (lack of) bat render his glove moot? The Rays are still doing well, but other than walks, he offers nothing on offense.

Colin Wyers: As long as the Rays lack batter options, pretty much.

Matt (Chicago): How much stock do you put in the "aging curve" research that is out there? If you put any stock in it, you cant be excited about PHI's medium term outlook.

Colin Wyers: I think there's two kinds of people: ones who saw this coming (although maybe not quite this soon), and people who didn't. Howard still hasn't had a plate appearance under his new deal. They still have the front-line pitching, but that isn't getting any younger, and some team that doesn't have gobs of money owed to what's left of Ryan Howard may well be able to lure away Cole Hamels. They may try and retrench to try and keep the window open a bit longer, but they look like a team in need of a rebuild.

@iantist (Chicago): Court of the owls or batman r.i.p.?

Colin Wyers: Court of the Owls, hands down. (For those who don't know - these are comic book series about Batman. Court of the Owls is still ongoing, Batman R.I.P. was several years ago.) I just picked up Batman #10 this morning, and it delivers on everything you'd want. The first collection of the Court of Owls story arc (I think it goes through issue six or seven) is on the New York Times bestseller list, not just the one for graphic novels but the main one. It's well worth picking up if you enjoy comic books.

oira79 (San Francisco): Do you think Boras will be able to pull something off in the Appel signing?

Colin Wyers: It depends on what the Astros do with their other picks, but there is not a lot of wiggle room in the draft. And while some "loopholes" have been found (the college senior thing some teams are doing is rather clever, at least) I think the overarching goal of holding down draft bonuses and making the first few rounds a "pure talent" ranking have mostly been accomplished.

Ian (Chicago): Bayesian, Frequentist or both?

Colin Wyers: I'd say more Bayesian than anything.

Colin Wyers: Okay, everyone, thanks for joining me, and hopefully we do this again soon.


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