World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: November 5

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World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: November 5

America might have a new President-elect, but America still has the same old StatSpeak roundtable.  After all, the stuff that we say makes a lot more sense than anything either of the two guys who were running for President said.  Today we welcome to the table Mr. Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, better known as the proprietor of Vegas Watch, and also a writer at MLB Fan House.  Jacob joins us to talk about Jake Peavy, Mike Jacobs, Javy Vazquez vs. Derek Lowe, and the best statistical story line of 2008.

Question #1: What do you think of KC's acquisition of Mike Jacobs?  Harmless move, or a sign that the team that was last in the majors in walks last year isn't going to turn that around anytime soon?

Jacob Wheatley-Schaller: Good question.  I'd have to side with the latter; it's not a franchise crippling move or anything, but I just don't see the point.  Not being able to hit lefties or play the field competently is kind of a problem.  Jacobs would probably be best employed as a platoon guy who could likely post an average OBP and a SLG of about 100 points above average against righties.  Then you have the opportunity of either letting him butcher balls at first, or DH.  That's just not really good player, and with his upcoming raises in arbitration (32 HRs!), I really don't get it.

Brian Cartwright: Clueless. Jacobs' BABIP has fallen each of his four years in the majors.  At 27, Jacobs is only a year younger than Ryan Shealy, and they have extremely similar profiles. Shealy walks a little more, Jacob has a little more HR power. The average wOBA for a MLB firstbaseman is .357, Shealy currently projects at .348, Jacobs at .344. Then the Royals also have Kila Ka'aihue, who projects at .346. Kila's 24, and had a breakout minor league season that saw him hit 38 combined HR's. So not only is Jacobs below average, but he's also redundant for the Royals, a team that doesn't have much.

Colin Wyers: On the one hand, it's a very blah trade - fungible middle relief for replacement-level first sacker. Yawn.

On the other hand, it says something about Kansas City as an organization. But it doesn't really say anything new about Kansas City as an organization - they've been this bad for while.

Eric Seidman: As we saw from Dave Cameron's post at my home away from home, Fangraphs, Royals fans seemed very animated about this trade.  Some felt Jacobs was just what the Royals needed (wrong) while others strongly felt it was an idiotic move (right).  Look, Jacobs is not a terrible baseball player.  He has some power, but that's about it, and even that is on its way down.  He is a bad fielder who cannot get on base, and is the type of guy that, quite frankly, the Royals already are stockpiled with.  The fact that they gave up a reliever who doesn't strike anyone out and whose shiny ERA won't be sustained gets them off the hook a little bit, but they clearly are showing no sense of being able to identify problems and fix their team.

Pizza Cutter: This was one of the most astoundingly stupid moves I've seen in a while.  Much has been made of the fact that KC has a few 1B/DH types already, but few of them noted that Jacobs also suffers from not being a very good hitter and he appears to be getting worse.  He started swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and at fewer pitches that were inside the strike zone.  His HR/FB number this year looks like a spike in comparison to his numbers in 2006 and 2007, and he'll be 29 next year.  It's a little late for that kind of power development to appear out of nowhere.  Leo Nunez isn't much to crow about, but why did KC actually feel the need to go out and get this guy, when they probably have his clone sitting in their system already?  At least they didn't finish last in 2008.

Question #2: The Padres have put Jake Peavy on the trading block. What are potential suitors looking at - an ace pitcher or a very good pitcher made great by his home park?

Jacob Wheatley-Schaller: I'd be more worried about his '08 peripherals than anything else.  His K rate was right at 9.5 for almost 800 innings from '04-'07, and then dropped all the way to 8.6 this year.  He had a career high walk rate as well, although the difference from previous years wasn't as dramatic.

A lot has been made of how Peavy is an attractive asset because he's signed to a below-market contract.  And he is, with $60MM remaining on the last four years of his deal.  But I think that's probably been overblown; sure it's a good deal next year, but I can't get too excited about paying him $17MM in 2012, when he could be a shell of the pitcher he currently is.  He's a better option than the FA starters, but not that much better; I think if he's traded, the team getting him will probably come out on the short end because of the prospects they give up.

Brian Cartwright: Four of the last five years he's had better than a strikeout an inning, and
that will help regardless of his home ballpark. Even if his HR rate goes up, everything else in his stat line is very good. A guy like Dan Haren can put up excellent numbers in Phoenix, so I don't see why Peavy wouldn't still be one of the top 5 starters.

Colin Wyers: Peavy strikes me as the sort of guy who's a good player mistaken for a great player because of his circumstances. I don't think he's the sort of pitcher Santana or even Haren were last offseason. The big question is whether the Padres can convince some team that he is.

Eric Seidman: They are looking at a 27-year old ace, who should continue to be very effective for at least two more seasons.  Yes, 2008 was his worst season, but if the starters of the suitors had produced a Peavy-worst season, they would still be pretty damn good.  His success is largely built on his strikeouts, which is why his shiny ERA was a tad misleading this year, but Peavy is still an upper echelon pitcher.  His home park definitely aided him, but he's not suddenly going to become Adam Eaton or Kyle Kendrick elsewhere.

Pizza Cutter: As cavernous as Petco supposedly is, why is it that Peavy's HR/FB has been league average in 3 out of the past 4 years?  Jake is a 9 K per 9 IP guy, keeps the walks relatively low, and has some good off-speed stuff to go with his 91 mph fastball.  But, caveat emptor, consider that over the past four years, his LOB% has been well into the high 70 or low 80% range.  That's a luck indicator right there.  Part of it is the high strikeout rate, but when Peavy had his "collapse" season in 2006, it was only at 72.7%, and there was nothing wrong with his K rate that year.  Peavy's a very very good pitcher who looks like a great one due to a little bit of luck in getting out of jams, not because of his home park.

Question #3: How much value is there in sending prospects to winter ball, especially the
US based Hawaii and Arizona leagues? Are teams going to learn anything about
the players that they shouldn't have already been able to know?

Jacob Wheatley-Schaller: I think there's certainly value in some cases, like with the Mets trying Daniel Murphy out at 2B.  It's good to have a place to try something new out, rather than having to wait until spring training.  Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn't, but at least you know.  Also, it doesn't always have to be about player evaluation--maybe you just want to get a guy some extra innings, or a few more ABs. 

Brian Cartwright: In designing a projection system for all current professional players, I have a bias towards a longer term view of player performance. At least 800 plate appearances are necessary to get a reliable batting profile. I've also found that even for players in A or AA, with enough career PAs you can get a good idea of power and plate discipline. I can see getting late sigining college players or players who time while injured some off-season game experience, but I don't see how watching a player for 150 to 200 PAs in Arizona is going to show management anything they shouldn't have been able to know by then.

Colin Wyers: Realistically, not much - it's a very uneven level of competition, and so far as I can discern baseball played in the Arizona Fall League bears little resemblance to baseball played in places where pitchers are treated with basic human decency.

But for guys on the bubble, who you need to make real, tough decisions on come next year, it certainly can't hurt, especially if you want to see a guy play a new position or see how he comes back from an injury. I just think too much gets made of it because right now its all the baseball there is and some of us are junkies (I myself am guilty as charged).

Eric Seidman: For me the real value is being able to try players out at different positions or see how they react in different circumstances.  I remember the Phillies had an idea of trying Ryan Howard in LF in order to keep Jim Thome at 1B, and the fall league or winter league basically showed them how dumb of an idea it would be. In that regard, it's like tryouts in a sense.

Pizza Cutter: I think there's a lot to be gained actually, if you know how to look at it right.  AFL experience means that there's a bigger sample size from which to draw conclusions about a player.  The problem is that people look at a minor league season and AFL stats as two separate entities and then see "trend lines" in performance.  You may have to adjust for league effects, but you have to consider the two seasons as a coherent whole.

Question #4: The Mets have been linked with possibly going after Derek Lowe via free agency, or Javy Vazquez via a trade.  I recently did work on Vazquez to find that one major reason his FIP is always better than his ERA is due to ALWAYS playing in front of pretty terrible defenses.  The Mets have been one of the best defensive teams in the past few years.  With that in mind, and Vazquez having a couple more seasons at 11.5 mil owed each year, would you go after him or opt to sign the aging Lowe to a potential 3-yr, 40 mil deal or whatever he will end up getting?

Jacob Wheatley-Schaller: I think going after Vazquez will be an excellent idea.  One guy dominated over the last two months and then had a solid postseason; the other struggled in big games, and was called out by his manager.  It seems like there would be more value in the Mets in going after Vazquez when he's coming off a down year than going after Lowe, who had his lowest ERA since '02.

Brian Cartwright: Vazquez looks attractive. He has good walk and strikeouts rates, and his
high HRs should come down getting out of Chicago, one of the three easiest current parks to homer in. Put a good defense behind him, and yes, I could see at least a run coming off his ERA. And at 31, he's 4 years younger than Lowe.

Colin Wyers:  As a general rule, I'd rather spend money than give up prospects - you can get more money, prospects are harder to find. With the market the Mets are in, I'd try to sign Lowe first.

Eric Seidman: There are six players this decade with at least 190 GS, a K/9 above 8.0, and a BB/9 below 3.0: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jake Peavy, Josh Beckett, Pedro Martinez... and Javy Vazquez.  Vazquez has, by far, the highest ERA of the group.  He seems to have all of the tools to be an ace pitcher, but has never been able to put it together.  Lowe will likely net a deal worth 13-14 mil per season for 2-3 years, while Vazquez is under contract until 2010 at 11.5 mil per year.  Their statistics are pretty similar, except Lowe is much better at preventing home runs, which seems to be Javy's achilles heel.  Given that the Mets new park is supposedly more of a hitter's park, and they will want to win right away since the Phillies just won the World Series, I wouldn't be surprised if they sprung for Lowe, even though Javy is likely the better long-term option.  Knowing the Mets, though, I wouldn't be surprised if they landed BOTH.

Pizza Cutter: Vazquez has been a pretty stable 20-40-40 guy for LD-GB-FB, so we're not talking about the type of guy who's going to benefit from an amazing infield or an amazing outfield disproportionately.  Lowe has been much more of an extreme GB pitcher and is less likely to issue a strikeout and to issue a walk, so he'd benefit from that infield defense quite a bit.  The Mets have had good infield and outfield defense, although in the development of my OPA! system, I found that infield defensive performance is much more stable than outfield defense.  But the thing is that Vazquez's FIP and Lowe's have been roughly equal (Lowe's been a little bit better) over the past few years, and Vazquez is a little younger.  In essence, Lowe has probably been the slightly better pitcher and would be in better shape to capitalize on the Mets defense, but Vazquez is probably the safer bet from the standpoint of age.  The Mets have already gotten burned by signing over-the-hill former Red Sox pitchers to long contracts.  This is a bit of a coin flip.

Question #5: What was the best statistical story line of the 2008 baseball season?

Jacob Wheatley-Schaller: Cliff Lee.  Anytime you have a guy whose final ERA ends up being about 50% what it was expected to be, something pretty ridiculous must have happened.  And the progression was interesting, as it started with people seeing the great peripherals, but also the small sample size and the low BABiP.  The BABiP did regress to a very reasonable .305, but those peripherals never went back to what we expected them to.  And wins may be a terrible way to value pitchers, but it was pretty cool to see "22-2" next to his name in mid-September.

Brian Cartwright: Ryan Ludwick. He's always shown very good power, but high strikeout rates and low BABIP kept his MLE batting avrage in the 240-250 range. His best projected wOBA was .330 after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, still below the .347 average of a corner outfielder. Ludwick's projection entering this season was 254/318/462, but after hitting 299/375/591 with 37 HRs, his projection is now up to 270/337/506, good for a .360 wOBA. I'd expect his BA to drop, but he should still be good for 30 HRs.

Colin Wyers: I think it has to be the Tampa Bay Rays. I don't think anyone would consider them a stereotypical "Moneyball" team, and they'd probably just accuse me of they'd probably just call it useless trivia destroying the game, but projection systems like CHONE and PECOTA saw the Rays coming long before anyone else did. 

Eric Seidman: For me, it's a tale of two Indians, or one and a half (Pizza Cutter is smiling right now): Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia.  We all know how great of a season Lee had, but I really love how CC Sabathia's first four starts netted a 13.50 ERA and 32 ER in 18 IP, but from Start #5-#35, he produced a K/BB over 5.0 and an ERA of 1.88.

Pizza Cutter: For me, it was this year's reminder of how hard it is to hit .400, brought to us by Mr. Larry Wayne Jones.  Chipper's run at .400 early in the season was based on an incredible hot streak, but he did manage to hold a .400 AVG until June 18th.  He finished with "only" a .364 mark, but taught us again the lesson that it's hard to sustain that level of performance.  Chipper is a good hitter, no doubt, but there's a reason that .400 hasn't been seen since Ted Williams did it.  Consider that even given some very generous assumptions about Chipper, even when he was at the height of the chase, he really had less than a 5% chance of getting it done.  The DiMaggio streak gets all the press, but has anyone stopped to think that even given the perfect storm of circumstances, the best shot at .400 to come along in a while wasn't even a 1 in 20 shot to get there.

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