World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: October 29

Unlike the World Series, the roundtable doesn’t care what the weather is like.  This week, the special chair has in it Chris Dial of Baseball Think Factory’s Dialed In.  Chris joins the StatSpeak crew mostly to talk about the World Series, which the Phillies are currently leading 3.5 games to 1.5 games (only in Philadelphia!).  Plus we talk about the new Mariners’ GM and that rascally Manny Ramirez.

Question #1: With his apparent attitude change in LA, and getting away from the Green Monster (most data indicates he was “just” somewhat below average), and averaging an OPS+ in the 150s the last four seasons, is Manny worth the money (4yr $80 mil)?

Chris Dial: Manny, to me, looks like he’s going to post a 160 OPS+.  Yes, if he posts a 130 OPS+ and plays his worst defense, he’ll only be an average LF, and not worth $20 mil, but I think he’s going to be worth it.  He also wasn’t a terrible fielder in Cleveland, and really saw his defensive numbers nosedive after his first few years in Boston.  There may well have been a larger psychological component to that than was originally thought.  His play in LA wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t many innings, but he wasn’t terrible.  If he stays in the NL, and Bonds doesn’t sign, I think he’ll be the best LF, and that’s worth $20 mil a year.  I also think he’ll age well enough to warrant that contract.

Brian Cartwright: I’ll give him two years with an option. Desppite the production, at his age I will not commit past age 38, although would probably have to give him just about $20m each for those seasons.

Colin Wyers: Due to the yeoman/apprenticeship setup of MLB, it’s impossible for teams to adequately compensate players during what is arguably their overall prime, once defense and baserunning are taken into account. Because of that – and the related fact that there’s a lot of money seeking a mate – teams will overpay players based upon future production in free agency; they’re paying for past production, essentially paying a player money he should have made years ago.

The problem for whoever signs Manny next is that Manny already got that compensatory money, and then some. They’re not even going to overpay for the elite Manny that the Red Sox got to overpay for; they’re going to get to overpay for the Manny who probably won’t even be very good in 2-3 years. (Yes, defense matters.)

Eric Seidman: Well, it depends how we phrase the question.  Is he worth 20 mil a year?  Probably, based on the merchandise and tickets that he adds to whatever teams he goes to as well as his ridiculous offense.  If he goes to an AL team and can be a DH then he is definitely worth the 20 mil in my eyes.  The four years is where I would draw the line, though.  Boras was on Jim Rome’s show today and spoke of how Barry Bonds got a 5-yr deal at age 37, and I kept thinking to myself that, well, they are not the same person.  Manny is one of the best offensive players of all time… Barry Bonds IS the best offensive player of all time.

Pizza Cutter: Someone will give it to him, because for some reason, contract value is determined by what Scott Boras says rather than some sort of logical calculation of what a player’s actual value will be.  This reminds me a lot of the Pedro Martinez situation a few years ago.  Pedro was coming off a fantastic run of years, but the contract he signed was excessive, especially going four years for an old pitcher, and sure enough, the Mets looked like fools in the last two years of the deal.  Manny is a really good player, but betting on a 36 year old is a really bad idea.

Question #2: The Mariners’ new GM, former Brewers special assistant Jack Zduriencik, is
said to be looking at bringing in Ned Yost as his manager. Shrewd move or big mistake?

Chris Dial: Ned Yost is a poor bullpen manager, and I don’t think he cares about defensive play at all.  If the Brewers don’t get Sabathia, who went the distance nearly every time out, the Brewers probably fall to .500.  If Sabathia leaves, they won’t be particularly strong.  Braun is a real star, and the others are good hitters, but that defense is just terrible. 

Brian Cartwright: Or somewhere in between. Yost made some bonehead moves, but so does every manager, and Yost still won a good amount of games in Milwaukee. Of course, he had some hitters there too. In Seattle, I think the first task will be to do identify if there is anyone in the lineup who shouldn’t be, and anyone not playing (bench, minors) who should be. Sometimes a team can fall in love with someone who’s just not productive, but it takes another team or new management to realize that.

Colin Wyers: I really don’t think Yost can be any worse than the usual parade of managerial retreads. (Right now the Brewers, for instance, are interviewing Ken Macha, Bob Brenly and Willie Randolph. All of them were unceremoniously sacked from their last jobs, if with perhaps a bit more tact than the Yost firing.) If Zduriencik thinks he works well with Yost for whatever reason, I don’t see it being a bad idea.

There is, however, the grand Ichiro question. Can Yost do anything to put a salve on the tension between Ichiro and the other Ms? I don’t think that plays to his strong suit (if he even has one.)

Eric Seidman: I’m not sure what the point would be of bringing Yost aboard.  He probably deserves another shot managing somewhere, but if you are trying to rebuild your team, is he really the absolute correct guy to bring in?  I mean, if he was being interviewed just like plenty of other candidates, I can understand it, but to specifically target him as a potential savior, is, well, just wrong.  I don’t think it’s a huge, huge mistake, but there have to be some better, more qualified candidates out there, even if they are from the minor league managerial ranks.

Pizza Cutter: I’m one of those “the manager doesn’t matter much” guys, at least from a statistical point of view.  The psychologist in me would love to know why he would go back to Yost.  Obviously they know each other and worked together in Milwaukee and clearly Zduriencik trusts Yost, so it makes sense from that angle.  But is he bringing in Yost because he and Yost “think the same way” or because he and Yost, despite the fact that they disagree a lot, challenge each other to see things in new and different ways and they can reach agreement through that.  If it’s the former, then it’s a stupid idea.  If it’s the latter, then Mr. Z is a genius.

Question #3: Next year, how many games will the Phillies and Rays win? Will they be in the playoffs?

Chris Dial: The Rays caught some lightning in a bottle, but they have good young players.  Upton was injured most of the year, even when he was playing. They will be close to 90 games.  The Phillies aren’t particularly good.  The Phils got much better starting pitching, outside of Hamels, and better bullpen support than they will get next year.  Having Rollins all year will help, but I expect them to finish about the same, maybe a little lower if they don’t make any changes, but still in position to pass the Mets when they collapse. 

Brian Cartwright: I think the Phillies could be in the neighborhood of 92 wins again. Burrell is leaving, 3b and C are OK, but otherwise they have a solid lineup returning. I can rely on the Mets to blow the lead in the final weekend, and I don’t think anyone else in their division is that good yet. I don’t think Tampa Bay will make it back to 97, but I think 90 is possible. They have some good young guys, but I still have more questions than the Phillies on the ability of some of their players to repeat at a good enough level.

Colin Wyers: I feel pretty confident that the answer is “Less than this year” for both teams. Most of the time, winning that many games requires overshooting your true talent level. Everyone is going to say that the Rays are a young team and stand to get better, but I don’t see that as being true – their true talent level will probably improve, just not as much as they overperformed this season.

To get more specific than that – ask me after the winter meetings at the earliest.

Eric Seidman: 

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I’m more optimistic about the Rays moving forward to next season, however I do not believe they will repeat as 97-game winners.  I would see them regressing a bit but still winning 89-92 games.  It’s too tough to tell without seeing how the off-season unfolds whether or not they will make the playoffs.  For all we know, the Yankees can sign Teixeira, Red Sox sign Sabathia, etc.  The NL East is much more wide open and so the Phillies will always have a shot to make the playoffs with this nucleus.  JA Happ will likely claim the #5 spot and he could not possibly be any worse than Kendrick or Eaton.  Pat Burrell is not going to be re-signed, so they will need to bring someone in to replace him, which could result in an offensive downgrade, but they will also be adding catching prospect Lou Marson to the mix, who was extremely solid on both offense and defense.  I’ll say the Rays go 89-73 and win the Wild Card, and the Phillies go 88-74 and win the division, Mets taking the Wild Card.

Pizza Cutter: The best predictor of the next year’s record is this year’s Pythagorean record (although it’s not a super-duper fantastic predictor).  The Phillies were a Pythagorean 93 win team this year, and the Rays were really a 92 win team if the formula is to be believed.  The Phillies might lose Pat Burrell to free agency, while the Rays seem poised to keep their core intact.  So, the two clubs will likely have the same basic players coming back.  Philly might have to fight the Mets, depending on how they re-load.  The Rays will have to fight the Red Sox again, and depending on what the Yankees do, it could get rather interesting the AL East.  There’s no reason to suspect that these teams would drop below 90 wins, although I said that about my beloved Indians last year.  But for what it’s worth, I’ll go out on a limb and say that they are both playing next October.

Question #4: Why oh why didn’t Charlie Manuel separate Utley and Howard in the lineup this series when you had several capable players batting between them to avoid having to automatically face Howell/Miller/Price?

Chris Dial: Manuel is an oddball.  He split them repeatedly during the season, batting Utley second for much of the last two weeks, and hitting Werth third, and also did it earlier in the year, hitting Burrell third.  That said, the type of LHP matters.  A fastball/changeup LHP just isn’t as effective against top tier LHBs.  However, he’s just “lessening the weakness”, instead of removing it altogether. 

Brian Cartwright: He either must not think it’s important enough, or just hadn’t thought of it. But hey, he’s in the World Series, so you know he must be a great manager. Although Howard is terrible against lefties, but Utley is still very productive against lefties, even if a little less than what he does against righties.

Colin Wyers: Who knows? Certainly it seems like an unproductive way to fill out his lineup card. Honestly I think that a mediocre manager (and I’m pretty sure that Manuel is one) can outsmart himself setting up his lineup.

Eric Seidman: No idea, and if the Phillies end up winning the World Series, I will definitely be happy, but it will only mask the absolute horrid strategic managing of Charlie Manuel.  The players love him, which is important to some degree, but failing to recognize that batting Utley and Howard back to back, especially with the lefty firepower out of the Rays bullpen was a big mistake.  You probably wouldn’t want Shane Victorino batting cleanup, but why not Jayson Werth?  Against lefties, Werth led all of baseball with 16 home runs and was essentially Pujols-esque.  Or even Pat Burrell.  Just someone to get in there and break up the duo of lefties.  Would Maddon bring in Howell, Price, or Miller when Utley and Howard were due up in a crucial situation?  Probably, but at least you have a righty in there to somewhat neutralize the threat.  Too many fans respond by saying, well, as long as they win, right?  Wrong.  Winning the WS would be sweet for a Phillies fan as devoted as myself, but it will only elevate Manuel to higher ground, ground he does not deserve to be on.

Pizza Cutter: Because Charlie Manuel subscribes to what I like to call the Ralph Macchio/Mark Hamill School of Baseball Managing.  Ryan Howard looks like a number four hitter and has been type-cast as such.  He’s only good for hitting home runs (but he is pretty good at that), and the home run hitter guy always hits fourth.  Chase Utley apparently looks like a 3-hole hitter.  Jimmy Rollins, who oddly enough has a lower OBP than Utley, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, apparently looks like a leadoff hitter, I suppose because he leads the team in SB, and the fast guy always hits leadoff.

Why not do a 1-Rollins, 2-Utley, 3-Burrell (who feasts on lefties), 4-Howard lineup?  Oddly enough, Manuel tried that in August (and then in September, put Jayson Werth in the 3-hole). The strategic advantage seems obvious to me, along with the advantage of getting Utley another PA or two.

Question #5: Joe Maddon was quoted as saying something like, “Yeah, that’s what we need
to work on next Spring Training.  Scoring runs when making outs.”  Huh?

Chris Dial: How sarcastic is Maddon?  Because if he were asked about “productive outs”, he could answer like that quite dryly.  Most of what I have seen of him is generally solid baseball work.  He splits his big left handed bats for instance.  OTOH, perhaps he meant they need to know when to try to score on an infield grounder or how deep of a flyball to tag up on – they are young players. 

Brian Cartwright: How about avoiding outs? I admit most players are what they are, so it would be hard to coach them not to strikeout of popup. I have a feeling Maddon’s method of scoring while making outs is to bunt, which almost assures you of making an out (at least, a lot higher rate than swinging away). It might be OK earlier in the game (but not much better than swinging) but late in the game outs are precious, don’t give them away freely.

Colin Wyers: Outs in baseball are like the clock in football as much as anything else – so in that sense it makes as much sense to hoard your outs as it does to manage the clock in football. That’s why on-base percentage is so important. And since you’re going to make those outs – by definition, in order to complete a baseball game you have to make outs – it’s pretty tempting to wonder if you could at least wring some benefit out of them. The out is destructive by its very nature, however – productive outs aren’t, not really.

Eric Seidman: I’m assuming Maddon is referring to the idea of productive outs, IE, moving runners over and in even when making outs.  The Phillies have struggled with this all throughout the World Series, where they routinely get runners on base, but then strikeout or popout, eliminating the chance for productive outs.  I’m not sure why this would be something they work on in Spring Training, though.  Personally, I’d rather them work on getting more hits than productive outs.

Pizza Cutter: I think Joe Maddon has gone a little too far with this whole “unconventional genius” thing.  (I’m reminded of the proverb that states that just because no one understands you, it doesn’t make you an artist.)  I can allow the thought that maybe he was saying it in jest or it was more a wry remark on the odd fact that his team had just won Game 2 on the strength of some grounders that drove in runs… but someone out there took him seriously.  Someone out there really believes that Tampa Bay or whatever team he roots for should find guys who score runs despite making outs.  There are two things to consider: 1) I did that study… that type of ability doesn’t really exist… kinda like clutch ability.  2) Perhaps Joe Maddon should focus on his hitters scoring runs by getting a lot of base hits?

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3 Responses to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: October 29

  1. Dan Novick says:

    Question #3 is what I thought you were asking in the roundtable two weeks ago. Speaking of that, I think the posts from that week are still missing because of the switch in platforms.

  2. Pizza Cutter says:

    They promised us that the posts from that week would be rescued and imported into the new format. We actually have the shell of that week’s roundtable (the questions without the answers that I leave up for everyone else to fill in) sitting in the non-completed entries… Perhaps we will just need to go in and manually re-enter things.

  3. DanC says:

    Colin, I never thought I’d hear someone say that a managerial firing was done with LESS tact than the Willie Randolph debacle. But, the Brewers sure made a stab at it with Yost, didn’t they?

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