This week, the roundtable is pleased to welcome Mr. Jayson Stark who writes about baseball for an a small, Connecticut-based media organization called E-espian. Jayson’s written a few books here and there, and even wrote the foreword to Eric’s book. (Eric’s cool like that. He knows everyone.) He joins us to discuss Nick Swisher, Dice-K vs. Jon Lester, free agents, and our early favorites for Rookie of the Year Why is the Roundtable on Friday? Because sometimes schedules explode. Look for next week’s roundtable at it’s usual Wednesday time.
Question #1: Why did Kenny Williams sell low on Nick Swisher? Did Kenny Williams sell low on Nick Swisher?
Brian Cartwright: I think Williams was disappointed with what he got, and was more willing to dump Swisher now for what he could get than wait for Swisher’s value to go up. Swisher did have a terrible year – his wOBAs for his years in the majors were .365, .341, .377 and .368, all above average for outfield, but then .317 in 2008. Williams is trying to put a winning team on the field, and didn’t think Swisher would be part of it.
Colin Wyers: I’ll be honest. As a Cubs fan I tend to read a lot of the Chicago sporting press and I continually wonder how the White Sox hover near contention at pretty much any time. About the nicest thing I can say about Williams without lying is that he’s smarter than Hawk Harrelson, which is kind of like being wetter than sand.
The White Sox apparently decided that Swisher wasn’t a center fielder, and given a choice of Quentin, Dye, Konerko and Swisher at the corner spots it’s pretty clear who Ozzie Guillen will play. And the White Sox have always been ones to put on airs about being a small-ball team despite having their greatest sucess with the longball, so some room needed to be made for some speedy, ineffectual hitting in the Podsednik mold. Hence the Swisher deal.
Eric Seidman: Statistically, the hot topic involving Swisher is that he was unlucky in 2008, and it is hard to debate that his actual BABIP was MUCH lower than where it was expected to be at. There is no real way he will repeat what he did last year, and his true talent level is projected at around an .800 OPS with 23 HR. That isn’t really isn’t tremendous for a first baseman, but Swisher is still a nice piece for a team. Williams apparently clashed with Swisher’s attitude problems, and that, coupled with his disappointing 2008 season, was enough of a reason for him. I don’t agree with it, but who knows, maybe these three prospects will help the White Sox in the long run.
Pizza Cutter: Kenny Williams got three magic beans for Swisher. They might grow into beanstalks to the sky, but probably not. (Jack at least got six.) I took a look at Swisher’s FanGraphs page and I’m really rather confused. To look at Swisher’s peripherals, it looks like his numbers are kinda vibrating around a talent level. But take a look at his swing numbers. Swing diagnostics are usually pretty stable from year to year, but Swisher’s aren’t. In 2006, he had a sudden upsurge in swinging (and a downward slump in making contact). In 2007, he started swinging less at pitches in the zone, but then made contact with a lot of pitches outside the zone. Sounds to me like he re-engineered his approach and what he was looking for at the plate. Then in 2008, he started swinging at even more pitches out of the strike zone (and making contact with many of them), while swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone. It seems like Swisher is consciously trying a new approach. It might be that Swisher has become a tinkerer.
He also was victimized by a low BABIP, despite raising his line drive rate. Kenny Williams probably bought high on Swisher and sold low. His 2008 batting average was abysmal (.219), but his OBP was still a coomparatively healthy (.332). I wonder if Kenny Williams just got scared by .219. Maybe Swisher’s newfound approach doesn’t jive with what the White Sox are trying to teach. In any case, Swisher is a decent player who is willing to stand either in the outfield or near first base. The White Sox have holes in both places…
Question #2: Who are your favorite rookies for 2009?
Jayson Stark: Can’t say I’ve thought about this a lot. I might even name a couple of guys who aren’t technically rookies. But here’s a list of five: Matt Wieters (Orioles), David Price (Rays), Max Scherzer (Dbacks), Tommy Hanson (Braves), Cameron Maybin (Marlins). And here’s a sleeper: Bobby Parnell (Mets). Lit up the gun in the Arizona Fall League.
Brian Cartwright: The Cardinals selected 3b Brett Wallace from Arizone State with the 13th pick in the 2008 draft. He hit over .400 his last two seasons in college, then .337 in the minors. I project him at 303/369/503, the best of any minor league player this year. There’s debate whether he can stay at 3b with his stocky body, but he can be as good a hitter as Troy Glaus and ten years younger. I expect him to be in the bigs before the end of the year. Matt Wieters would be my runner up. He’s going to be a very good hitter as well, I project 294/373/487
Colin Wyers: If you’ll forgive me a homer choice just this once, I’ll say Jeff Samardzija. The guy’s numbers seemed to keep getting better as he was promoted (one could say rushed) through the minors. Damnedest thing. He’s still very raw and could use work on his breaking stuff (okay, a lot of work), but it’s electrifying to watch him throw the ball.
Eric Seidman: For a legit rookie, Matt Wieters of the Orioles and Lou Marson of the Phillies. As a non-rookie about to partake in his first full season, my boy Max Scherzer of the Diamondbacks is primed for a very solid campaign.
Pizza Cutter: I could take the easy way out and say David Price. You do have to appreciate lefties like J.A. Happ (if only for the retro-sounding name) and David Purcey for the 9+ K/9 IP at AAA and sub .700 OPS allowed at AAA. Should be interesting to see what happens with them over the 2009 season.
Question #3: Since Daisuke received plenty of Cy Young Votes and Jon Lester received NONE, PLEASE make a case for me why Daisuke had a better season.
Jayson Stark: Hey, Dice-K wasn’t exactly Adam Eaton, you know. These voters can be a traditional group, and he did go 18-3, with one of those losses on the last day of the season in a 4-inning tuneup. He had the better strikeout rate. The Red Sox had a better record when he pitched. He made nine starts in which he gave up three hits or fewer. He allowed a lower opponent batting average. And he had a better ERA and ERA-plus. Do I think Dice-K clearly had a better year than Lester? No. But the Cy Young voting is different than MVP voting because the ballot only gives you a chance to vote for three pitchers. And clearly, some of these voters base too much of their vote on W-L record. But if there were more slots on the ballot, Lester would have gotten plenty of votes himself. And deservedly.
Brian Cartwright: Well, of course, Daisuke is much more famous. Everyone knew his name before he ever threw a pitch in North America, then he goes 18-3. Destiny fulfilled. This was only Lester’s first full season in the majors, so most of the BBRAA probably don’t know who he is yet. According to Baseball Prospectus’ pitching runs above average and above replacement, the two were virtually identical, Daisuke 26 & 75, Lester 25 & 79.
Colin Wyers: According to tRA and FIP, Josh Beckett outpiched both of them. I dunno, they don’t ask me to vote.
I just want to take this opportunity to note that this is way too much attention paid to balloting whose results are released on the LIME GREEN PAGE OF DOOM.
Eric Seidman: Only legit way to make a case for Daisuke over Lester involves ERA, but Lester’s advantage in just about every other category, including FIP, is more significant. It is understandable for him to receive votes based on wins, but Lester went 16-6 as well, so it isn’t as if Daisuke’s 18-3 is THAT much better. Lester likely would have finished fourth on most ballots, but he should have been ahead of Daisuke as he was clearly the Red Sox ace this season.
Pizza Cutter: Dice-K is Japanese. He also had a lot of wins. He’s also short. It’s important to be short when going for a major award. Just ask that gritty, plucky, 5’9″ Red Sox guy Dustin Pedroia. For what it’s worth, Dice-K’s ERA was lower than Lester’s (but Lester had the lower FIP). They were almost even up in WPA, although Lester beat Dice-K in WPA/LI. Dice-K struck more gentlemen out, but Lester had the better K/BB ratio. In other words, Dice-K, won all the stats that make you look good if you ignore context. And he’s Japanese.
Question #4: Which under-the-radar free agent would best indicate that the team signing him has a clue as to what they’re doing?
Jayson Stark: Great question. It might be easier to pick the ones who indicate teams have NO idea what they’re doing (Oliver Perez, for instance). But to answer your actual question, I think it’s smart to look at those little moves, because in the end, they do as much to help good teams win as the big splashes. (Does the team that “wins” the offseason EVER win the World Series?) I guess in terms of bats, I’d go with Raul Ibanez. Total pro who almost slugged .500 in a pitchers’ park last year. And if I had to pick an arm, I’m going to pick a name you probably won’t hear anywhere else – Russ Springer. Only reliever in baseball to rip off three straight seasons of 70 games or more while allowing fewer than seven hits per nine innings.
Brian Cartwright: Ha! That’s assuming that once you get past Manny and Teix that there’s anyone on the list I’d want to sign. Honestly, I think I’d have better luck with the minor league free agents. Last year Pittsburgh picked up Doug Mientkiewicz, and I think they’d do well to sign him again. He hits about league average, has a good glove at first, filled in at 3b and rf, and is a good ph. Not many dollars, won’t play everyday, but will contribute.
Colin Wyers: Barry Bonds.
Or if for some reason that doesn’t work out for you, I’ll say Jason Varitek. “But OMGZROFLCOPTER, he batted .220 with only 42 RBIs!” I can hear you say. “Get him to the glue factory!”
First of all, we don’t put people in glue factories. Second, Tek was below-average this year but probably a win or so above replacement level. And unless we overweight one year of performance, we should expect him to improve a little next season.
Eric Seidman: Well, Jeremy Affeldt was mighty nice on the Giants behalf given his vast improvements this past season. The Phillies signing Doug Brocail to a small deal would show promise as well, especially with Tom Gordon’s departure. Additionally, re-signing Scott Eyre was a good move for the Phillies. Joe Beimel would also be a nice lefty specialist for several teams currently serving as his suitor.
Pizza Cutter: I was going to say Jeremy Affeldt, but then he signed with the Giants. I’ll still say Jeremy Affeldt, so apparently, the Giants have a clue. Affeldt strikes a lot of guys out, and while he’s left armed, he’s not horrible against righties. He’s the best non-closer reliever on the market (or was) so teams (er, team) won’t have to pay him “closer” money. I could also see the team that passes up Manny Ramirez and instead invests in Pat Burrell being a good candidate for “has a clue.”