World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: October 8

Wednesday at StatSpeak means roundtable.† And this week, the roundtable welcomes as its guest Bruce Miles, Cubs beat reporter for the Arlington Heights†Daily Herald.† This week, we’re all†pretty much playing GM for a number of teams.
Question #1: The Cubs have won their division the past two seasons. How do they get ‘over the hump,’ so to speak?
Bruce Miles: I don’t believe there are too many things wrong with a 97-win team. Sometimes, like the Braves of the ’90s and the early part of this decade, a team has great regular season and then falters in the playoffs. With this bunch of Cubs, I’d move Soriano out of the leadoff spot and put a higher-OBP guy there. The rest of it, it seems to†me, is “just baseball,” as they say. In†other words, I’m sure†most people don’t figure the Cubs to boot the ball around like they did in Game 2 or their†No. 1 starter to issue seven walks. In a five-game series, if some of the bounces and some of the luck don’t go your way, you’re done.†
Brian Cartwright: Nothing new. They are one of the elite teams in the NL, and should be for another couple years. They have simply been victims of a short series. Look back at the past two seasons and see how many times they have lost 3 out of 5 games. It probably happened quite a lot. They don’t really have to anything more special than making sure they don’t regress. They will still have weak spots, identify them and make improvements.
Colin Wyers: Probably not the answer a lot of Cubs fans are looking for, but I think the answer is to just keep winning the division. Every so often a team goes all-in on a season and makes the dream (the Marlins come to mind) but more often a team goes all-in and doesn’t. (Sometimes a team like the Astros go all-in and don’t even make the playoffs.)
The best plan to win the World Series is probably the hardest and most galling to fans: be patient. Build a dynasty. The Braves and Yankees of recent years, and the Red Sox now, are the model. Keep making the playoffs every year and eventually you’ll stumble into the World Series. It’s no coincidence that the Cubs just this year put up their first back-to-back playoff appearances since 1908 – and that, not any sort of curse, is the reason for the Cubs’ drought.
Eric Seidman: Next year, don’t run into a team that had a misleading record.† Seriously, in my estimation, the Dodgers with a full season of both Furcal and Manny finish within striking distance of the Cubs win total, if not more.† Basically, what I’m getting at, is that they were not any worse of a team right now than the Cubs were.† Same thing last year with the Phillies and Rockies.† The Phillies had a better team, but the Rockies were on fire and everything was clicking.† I thought it was dumb to start Ryan Dempster in game one based on home/road splits and I thought it was dumb to play Fukudome at all.† The playoffs are a crapshoot where anything can happen.† How do they get over the hump?† Get lucky.
Pizza Cutter: Steve Bartman must sacrifice a goat at the statue of Harry Caray in front of Wrigley Field while Leon Durham takes infield practice at the†Addison Red Line†Station.† That makes about as much sense as any of the other theories that I’ve heard.† The perception seems to be that because the Cubs didn’t win the series, there must be some horrendous flaw with this team.† Sure, they could use an upgrade in center field, and maybe if Kosuke Fukudome could figure himself out that would be nice too, and the whole Brian Roberts thing would have been an upgrade… but sometimes things happen.† This was a very strong Cubs team last year that will return intact.†† Yes, they lost to the Dodgers.††Cubs fans, before you go over-taking the GM’s office, have a couple of Old Styles and calm down.

Question #2: Pretend you’re the GM. (Of what is a rather nebulous†team – not necessarily the Yankees but not necessarily the Royals, either.) C.C. Sabathia’s agent has you on the line and wants to know your final offer. What do you tell him, years and dollars?
Bruce Miles: If Iím Jim Hendry, I say, ďI think Sam says Iím outta dough.Ē But seriously, I tell him five years and $100 million. But first I want to see pictures of that shoulder. If that checks out OK, Sabathia can help get the right franchise get to where it wants to go.
Brian Cartwright: Open at 5 years/$100m. Pitchers can break down at anytime, so it’s generally not a good idea to give too long of a contract, but Sabathia’s still only 27, so a 5 year deal would cover ages 28-32. I could go as high as $120m.
Colin Wyers: I’d tell him 5/110, and he’d tell me to go get bent. And I’d be fine with that, really.
Eric Seidman: Johan got 6/150, coming off a “down year.”† CC just had the stretch run of a lifetime, with some of the most impressive pitching in the last eight to ten years.† I don’t think he gets Johan money unless he signs with the Yankees, but if I had enough money, I would offer a 5-yr deal worth 115 mil, with an option for the sixth year.† Even though he may not be excellent in four years, I would likely then be able to use him as deadline bait at that time, unloading him to a desperate team in need of a #3-type starter.† If my team was very close, though, and could realistically “win it all” in the next one or two years, I might be willing to go even higher in order to win now, hoping I could unload him when he begins to lose effectiveness.† Winning costs money, unfortunately.
Pizza Cutter: One year, $500,000.† That’s what I’d tell him anyway.† Yes, I know that he wouldn’t take that.† That’s the point.† In order to sign C.C., it will probably take something on the order of 5 or 6 years at $20 million per year.† Maybe more.† I think that a smart team can do some research and find two $10 million dollar pitchers (to whom they would only have to commit to 2-3 years) who combined†could likely put up more value than C.C.† Although, Kyle Loshe is getting that kind of a contract now.† Hmmm… nevermind.† C.C. will probably get his 5/110 contact.††I would offer C.C. 3 years worth of that.† He’ll go somewhere else and get six.† That’s one more team I don’t have to worry about four years down the road.
Question #3: Since we’re playing GM to start the off-season, say your small-market team hasn’t had a winning season in 15 or so years, how do you go about rebuilding in a timely manner?
Bruce Miles: The first thing I do is beef up my scouting in Latin America and Asia. Since I’m probably drafting high, I look to the college ranks to see what players I can take who might have the quickest route to the big leagues. I also adhere to the spirit of revenue-sharing by not pocketing the money but by signing a younger quality free agent that I might be able to keep for a few years. I also take a look at the Cleveland model of the early 1990s, when they signed their younger players through their arbitration-eligible seasons.†
Brian Cartwright: First thing, fire yourself and get a new GM. You can’t be too smart to lose for that long. The Pirates made a great trade of Ricardo Rincon for Brian Giles, then tried to repeat it a few weeks later by swapping Jon Lieber for Brant Brown. The past few years, they passed over drafting Prince Fielder, David Wright, Jay Bruce and Tim Lincecum. This summer’s trades of Bay, Nady and Marte netted six major league ready players and two prospects. There was certainly quantity, but was there quality? I do believe that Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss were two of the better hitters in their respective organizations, but neither had standout stats in two months with the Pirates.
Two teams that impressed me with their rebuilding, but took different tracks, were Detroit and Florida. In the three years it took the Tigers to climb from a historically horrible season to the World Series they never traded a veteran for a prospect. Detroit did it with two big free agent signing in three years plus a couple mid-level free agents each year, smart trading of major leaguers for major leaguers, and promotion of a few minor leaguers. But then Florida, more than once, has traded every veteran for prospects, and succeeded in building the team back up. Again, that illustrates needing the smarts to be able to recognize Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Ricky Nolasco, as well as Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacobs and Cody Ross.
Colin Wyers: Honestly I’m rather impressed with the way Neal Huntington has handled the hypothetical small-market team’s situation so far. (Oh, did I give it away? I’m sorry.)† The†best answer for the†Pirates†is to put a real defense on the field. Only the Reds and Rangers had a worse showing in BP’s park-adjusted defensive efficency ratings.
Getting rid of Bay, Nady and Bautista†is a big first step in that direction. (Is it a†shock to anyone that the Pirates snatched up Dan Fox from†Baseball Prospectus?)†Now the Pirates need to find it in them to put McLouth in one of the vacated corner outfield spots, probably left field given his arm; he’s a miserable defensive center fielder according to ZR and RZR. Nyjer Morgan, while a poster child for the uselessness of batting average in evaluting hitters, is a real plus defensive outfielder and would do wonders for the team as a full-time center fielder.
Eric Seidman: Depends what your goals are.† For instance, the Marlins successfully rebuilt after their 1997 World Series victory, and based on their solid seasons in 2006 and 2008, I would say their rebuilding went quite nicely once more.† In their cases, they traded all their current stars for the top prospects of other teams, which is certainly one way to go about it.† The Athletics do the same, with a small market, and usually make out quite well.† Based on this, it would seem that you first need to have star-power in your system, so that when the time comes you can either use those stars to help your team win, or trade them away for the top prospects of other teams.† Unfortunately for a team like the Pirates, they are terrible at stocking their farm system, so they rarely have players good enough to win, or to trade to other teams for their young studs.† The key to rebuilding in the short term would then center around stocking your farm system well.
Pizza Cutter: Have a specific team in mind there?† First off, people have different versions of “timely.”† Do you mean next year?† Three years?† Five years?† It makes a difference.† It seems that there are a few blueprints on the matter, whether the Rays’ “stink for ten years and stockpile #1 overall picks” or the Rockies’ “pour everything into Latin American scouting” or the Yankees’†”who cares, we’ve got millions.”† Pick one of those.† I think the biggest issue though is telling the marketing department to shut up for a while.† The Pirates did the right thing in unloading Jason Bay for a shot on some decent prospects.† Yes, Bay was the “face” of the Pirates and the marketing department probably hated it and said things like “branding in the community.”† Sadly, in talent evaluation, there’s little room for sentimentality around one player.† One has to be ruthless, and when a player has outlived his usefulness to the team, he should be†dispatched.† And rebuilding is all about talent evaluation.† Thankfully for the marketing department, a winning team markets itself.
Question #4: Ben Sheets or Derek Lowe this off-season for your team, again playing the GM.
Bruce Miles: It may be because of what Iíve seen recently, but Iíll take Lowe. I like his durability since 2002, as well his groundout to flyball out ratio of 2.48. Sheets is always going to be a health risk.
Brian Cartwright: Lowe has had seven straight seasons of 32 or more starts, and the past four in LA he’s had an ERA below 4. But – he’ll be 36 next year, so how much longer can he keep this up? I wouldn’t offer any more than two years to Lowe. Sheets is only 29, and is more dominating than Lowe, but he can rbeakdown anytime he takes the mound. Despite the age difference, and if I have a good infield defense, I might go for Lowe first as there’s less risk.
Colin Wyers: Can’t be helpful if you can’t pitch. Sheets’ injuries are well known, and unless I have a team with a really deep but unimposing pitching staff I’d prefer to have Lowe.
Eric Seidman: I’ve always been a big fan of Derek Lowe’s because he seems like the perfect #2 pitcher.† Ben Sheets is very annoying because he will dominate for 15 starts and miss the rest of the season.† Honestly, if I am a GM going into next season and my team has a chance to compete and potentially do quite well, I sign Lowe to, hopefully, a 2-year deal with an option for year three, regardless of the age discrepancy of five years between the two.† Sheets’ injury history would scare me too much to pay the type of money he would command.
Pizza Cutter: I pulled up their FanGraphs pages and was struck by how scarily similar the two of them are.† Lowe will be 37 next year, and Sheets will be 32 (that shocks me… I still think of him as a guy who’s only been around 2-3 years) next year.† Lowe is a much more extreme ground ball pitcher, while Sheets puts up a more conventional 40-40-20 split.† If I’m playing for next year, I’d ask for Lowe, although Sheets is the better investment over the 3-4 year deal that they’d both want, if only for the fact that Sheets is younger.
Question #5: Which player who won’t get any MVP or Cy Young votes nonetheless deserves an honorable mention vote for this year.
Bruce Miles: Neither Derek Lowe nor Roy Oswalt will get Cy Young votes, but both pitched well for their teams. Both have similar WHIPs. Oswaltís 1.42 ERA in September and his WHIP of 0.68 tell me a lot. He did his best to keep the Astros in it, and started on three daysí rest late.† As far as MVP goes, I doubt Hanley Ramirez will get much consideration, but players Iíve surveyed consider him among the top, if not the top, player in the NL. Iíve always been a fan of Lance Berkmanís hitting. And I like what Ryan Ludwick did with St. Louis this year. Pat Burrell is another favorite of mine. He rarely has a bad at-bat. In the Cy Young, you get to vote for three candidates. With MVP, itís 10, so itís easier for pitchers to get overlooked.

Colin Wyers: It’s incredible how underrated Hanley Ramirez is. By incredible I mean incredible, derived from the root “credible” or believable. This guy should be on ceral boxes or something.
Eric Seidman: In the American League, I would have to say Scott Baker will not receive any votes despite a quite impressive 28-start season.† He posted a 3.45 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.36 K/BB, and 1.18 WHIP.† Additionally, via WPA/LI, he was worth over two wins this year above an average pitcher.† Suffice it to say, there is no way he receives any votes despite a solid year.† In the NL, I’ll go with Ricky Nolasco, who turned poor performance in April into performance down the stretch that rivaled Cole Hamels and Dan Haren, two pitchers who are likely to garner some form of votes.† Oddly enough, Nolasco’s numbers are similar to Baker’s: 3.52 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.10 WHIP… but his K/BB is higher at 4.43.
Pizza Cutter: Can you imagine what would happen if Joakim Soria pitched for a team that was not located in the state of misery… er, Missouri that it is.† Soria was a Rule 5 pick by the Royals out of the Padres organization and put up some top notch numbers this year, including a 1.60 ERA.† Now, that was partly the result of a .215 BABIP, and an astoundingly high 89.5% LOB rate, but even still, his FIP was a tidy 3.25 and he strikes out almost a batter an inning.† And no one noticed him because he wore Royal blue.† Also, while we’re on the subject of below-the-radar closers, a note of praise for Brian Wilson of the Giants.† He does have a walk problem (4 per 9 IP), but he’s in excess of a strikeout per inning, the majority of his batted balls are ground balls†and his 4.62 ERA was inflated by his .336 BABIP.


11 Responses to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: October 8

  1. dan says:

    Both Pizza and Brian are wrong–Sheets is 30, not 29 or 32. Although in fairness to Brian, his B-Ref page says he’s 29 since he just turned 30 a few months ago.
    And I think Mike Mussina deserves an honorable mention for Cy Young. He doesn’t get love from saber guys for whatever reason, but a 3.37 ERA and 3.32 FIP are pretty damn good, and come with his 4.84 K/BB ratio (which was 5th best in the majors).
    Fun Fact:
    Cliff Lee xFIP: 3.69
    Mike Mussina xFIP: 3.55 (behind only Halladay and Beckett in the AL)

  2. Colin Wyers says:

    There are two definitions of age for baseball purposes – one is your traditional definition of age measured from date of birth.
    The other is seasonal age, which is defined as a player’s age as of July 1st of that season. That’s the definition uses, along with most other outlets. Technically speaking, Sheets just finished his Age 29 season and will begin his Age 30 season next year.
    (Why July 1st? I have no earthly idea.)

  3. Eric Seidman says:

    Dan, I think Mussina will get some votes, which is the only reason I didn’t plug him.

  4. radiohix says:

    I think Grant Balfour won’t get Cy Young votes but the guy has benn lights out during the season and the playoffs so far!

  5. radiohix says:

    I think Grant Balfour won’t get Cy Young votes but the guy has been lights out during the season and the playoffs so far!

  6. Pizza Cutter says:

    This is why I shouldn’t do subtraction late at night… ayesh.

  7. Pizza Cutter says:

    July 1st is (roughly) in the middle of the calendar year and the baseball season (figure April, May June, then July, August, September). That’s why July 1st. That way half of the people who have birthdays during the season get rounded up and half get rounded down.

  8. Colin Wyers says:

    I’m not really up on the young Pirates outfielders, at least not as much as you, but my impression is that Pearce plays in right field curently. Pearce didn’t make it into my last round of defensive projections, but I’ll see how he shakes out next round.

  9. Brian Cartwright says:

    I got started doing stats for amateur leagues back in the 70’s, and all of them, Little League, Pony and AAABA used Aug 1. There it is important because they have age restrictions – 14-15 I played Little League, 16-19 AAABA, 20-21 Pony.

  10. Brian Cartwright says:

    Hey, I had an answer for question #5, either I forgot to put it in or Colin deleted it. I was going to say Nate McLouth, a very solid breakout season in his first full year as a starter, not too out of line with his MLEs, I expect he could put up Grady Sizemore type numbers for 3-4 years. He probably should be in a corner of spot.
    Even though Nyjer Morgan can catch the ball, can you justify starting him ahead of Steve Pearce?

  11. Brian Cartwright says:

    In 2007, Pearce was 2nd in minor league 1b, behind Daric Barton, in Dan Fox’s SFR. His rf ZR was avg in a month of playing time with the Pirates. He doesn’t embarass himself in the of.
    It’s like Juane Pierre or Matt Kemp? Morgan can run and catch, get some bunt singles, steal a few bases…while Pearce should hit just about the same as Adam LaRoche 270ish, 25 HRs. I’d like to think that after each has had four or more years in the minors the difference would be obvious, and that the evaluation chart doesn’t start when they get to The Show.

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