Interview with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus

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One of my favorite signs of spring is when the Baseball Prospectus Annual comes out. My wife makes fun of me reading phone books. The book is 500+ pages, with essays on each major league team and short comments with PECOTA projections for every player likely to be in or near the majors this season. Buy the book, it is great.

Baseball Prospectus kindly offered to let us talk to Kevin Goldstein who wrote the Blue Jays section of the book. It is pretty long, I was going break it up into two parts, but lets just have a long read on an off day.

Questions are in bold.

Getting the book is my favorite thing of the whole spring.

I'm glad to hear that.

Yep, I look forward to it. What year did it start coming out, the book?

Oh my God, there's been so many of them. I mean it was in the 90's and it started out as a self published thing and it took off from there. You know, I mean there's been a lot of generations of this thing. And it started off as just a self published thing you know and it's been over 15 years really. Obviously it only in the newer times that it's become a thing that you know has a publisher and got to be a New York Times best seller list and all that good stuff. The product itself has been around a long, long, time, longer than Twitter even.

Everythings been around longer than Twitter.

Well you'd be surprised how many people don't think that. The funny thing is that everyone got their book before I did.

Really?

Yep. Part of life.

I liked (in the book) you talking about the bizzaro universe where the can Jays compete. What year do you think the Blue Jays will be able to compete in real life?

I don't think next year's out of the question, you know. I think this year's a little silly. I don't think next year's crazy at all. I think they've got a lot of young talent, they got guys coming, they got things that you can say this will make them better and as long as the existing players are on the upswing. I mean look, they're in the American League East, it's a nightmare scenario. The extra wild card certainly will help their chances and their future.

Yeah, I kind of look at that extra wild card as kind of a false hope thing because then you have to play one game and you might, you know, it's a 50-50 chance, and then you've wrecked your rotation going into the playoffs, but that's a whole different...

Well not necessarily, there are plenty of teams that will have one thing that will wreck their rotations trying to get that. I mean you'd rather have that 50-50 chance than none at all now.

That's true. The PECOTA projection for Jose Bautista is .259/.370/.501 with 31 home runs. Do you take the over or the under?

I'll take the over. You've got to understand how any projection system works. No projection system ever, ever is going to tell you that someone is going to hit 50 home runs. They just don't work like that. Any projection system works on a regression to the mean and so it's just no one is ever going to say this guy is going to be able to do that consistently. Now I don't think he's going to hit 50 home runs either. I'm uncomfortable with how regressive that one is. At the same time Bautista is also the kind of guy who breaks projection systems because he's so unique. He's the guy who didn't become good until he was 29, and so projection systems, the smart ones, are based on what do we know about other players who are like this. There's just not a lot of players like this. If you look at Jose Bautista, his uniqueness factor if you will is pretty off the charts.

More after the jump.

I guess that probably would have been the same for any Hall of Fame or any guy that's off the charts.

But he's actually more unique than a lot of Hall of Famers, you know, in the sense that just when it happened and the fact that he was able to do it for two years. It is really weird.

You talked about J.P Arencebia and Travis d'Arnaud, which one catches for the Jays in 2013?

You know, it's a good question, it's obviously a nice problem to have. You'd rather have too many of something than not enough. There's a good chance that both are around and one DH's. I think if that would be the case it would be Arencebia who would DH because d'Arnaud will be the better defensive catcher. It gives him the opportunity to move a guy if they get the right thing in return. Remember you're not forced to move a guy because you have the DH in play. It's never a bad thing to have too many players.

I'm not sure that JP bat is good enough for DH, although maybe by next year he will be.

Right, right, I think he's better than what we've seen on the batting average level and I think his power is for real and there are certainly scenarios in which he could.

Pecota has a .264/.318/.452 line for Brett Lawrie. You'd probably get chased out of Canada for saying that right now.

(Laughs) Well, that's another guy that takes you over, and at the same time if there's anyone out there who really thinks that over the course of the whole season, Brett Lawrie's going to have a 950 something OPS. I think they're out of their minds too. Brett Lawrie's going to be a star for this team, there's no question about it, but if you think he's going to slug 580 this year I'll take the under. If you think he's going to be a good third baseman I'm going to take the under on that too.

I had the argument with somebody, this off season, with them saying that Brett Lawrie should have got the rookie of the year because his WAR numbers were more than any of the other rookies of the year but he was only in 30 some odd games or how ever many games it was. And if he played the full season it would have been 3 times that.

Yeah, but that's not true. We need to get off of thinking that we need to just vote for awards based on some kind of single statistic. If that's where we've gotten, if that's where sabermetrics are where we just kind of look at some single statistic and we say that's what the MVP is then we've lost. We've failed. As sabermetricians, we've failed the world if that's how we think we should do everything.

Which prospect would you rather have, Jake Marisnick or Anthony Gose?

When I ranked the Blue Jays prospects I had d'Arnaud 1 and Marisnick 2, and actually Daniel Norris 3 and Gose 4. Gose is incredibly toolsy and also there's still a lot of holes in his game whereas Marisnick is the better athlete. Marsinick's more upside and Marsinick has also looked great this spring by the way. Of course I like Gose, he's still a strike out machine and I think if everything comes together for Gose I think he's going to be a lot like, if we're talking about other Blue Jays, like Devon White, which is a damn good player obviously. But there are some real holes in his game and beyond the tools that need to get addressed but he does have power, he does have speed, he does have an arm, he does play a hell of a center field.

That's what I thought watching Gose. He's easily the best defensive centre fielder we've had since Devon White.

Yeah, for sure. He's really good.

I liked your comments about the Arizona pitching staff getting better than Jeff Mathis, I thought that was hilarious. Is there any real reason to think that he would be that much better than someone like Brian Jeroloman would be as far as the back up catcher?

Yeah, sure, absolutely. I mean, I don't know, we have no reason whatsoever to think Jeroloman would do anything better than what Mathis does, I mean, Brian Jeroloman can't hit in Las Vegas, I mean that's a horrible thing. And so Jeroloman is the guy who, I know he gets attention from some people because he walks a lot but that's not enough. I mean he hit 240 in Las Vegas last year. Las Vegas. There's no reason to think he'd be some better answer and Mathis was a good defender and I think he could be a decent backup for him.

You said that Colby Rasmus still has truck loads of potential. Do you think we'll get to see that potential this year?

Probably not. That's a guy I'm not really high on and is there potential still there? Absolutely, but the further we're removed from it the lesser the chances we have of him reaching it. I think that's important. This is a player who was really good in 2010. I'm talking about a guy who had .276 with 23 home runs and nearly slug .500 and it all went backwards last year and it got even worse when he got to Toronto. We can make a million excuses for him or we can be concerned and I'd rather be in the concerned pile, rather than someone just making excuses about stuff I don't know about.

There's lots of stories, when he came to camp, about how much of a better attitude he had and all that. Do you think that plays anything to it?

No. Is there an attitude aspect to Colby Rasmus' game? Yes. But did you ever read any spring stories about anyone in baseball coming to camp with a worse attitude? Did you read any spring stories about any player on any team coming to camp in the worse shape of his life? It's that kind of thing. Spring training is all about stories about optimism. This guy looks good, this guy's got a new attitude and all that stuff. Players are players. There is of course this sort of non-zero chance that he turns it around and he becomes the guy that we thought he'd be all along when he was coming in the minors and he turns it around and is the guy we saw even 2 years ago in 2010. I just think it's dangerous to act like it's going to happen because he has a new attitude or because he's a Blue Jay and Alex is the GM and Tony's not his manager any more. You get stuck in these very dangerous kind of causal relationship traps.

Would you have still made that trade?

They didn't give much away. So yeah, if you look at that list, if you look at every player in that list, which is a lot of guys, about 7 players total, when you add it all up he certainly is the position player with the most upside and probably has the more upside than any player there. Throw Edwin Jackson in an argument at least. As far as guys with potential that's the guy who has the most potential. He's 25 years old so it's not like he's over the hill or anything. So yeah, I think he'd made the trade again. There seems to be a lot of people who act like he's going to figure it all out, like it's a known commodity when its anything but.

Would you take Eric Thames or Travis Snider?

(Laughs) Well, I mean that's another, that's a safe bet versus upside thing again there. I'm the guy who's been holding onto Travis Snider as a guy I believe can really, really, hit and not make outs and all that good stuff, for a long time and I'm still somewhat on that bandwagon. I still think there's a chance he could be a well above average offensive player, but this is the last year I'm willing to stay on that bandwagon. So for now, I'll certainly take Snider and I think Thames what you see is what you get from him, upside beyond what you saw last year which wasn't bad but not amazing either.

Well he had a .313 on base percentage so....

Yeah exactly. He's obviously got some juice in the bat and he can do some things.

Which two of Bret Cecil, Dustin McGowan or Kyle Drabek would you take?

(Laughs)

Or none of the above.

Well, that's a tough one man. That's a really tough one. You know, all those guys have questions. Obviously with McGowan you have a guy who's never stayed healthy, with Drabek you have a guy who just completely fell off the cliff last year and Cecil is the bafflingly inconsistent pitcher. To go back to it, this kind of relates to the Rasmus thing where, which of those three guys has the most upside. It's Drabek, so I would take him. I think if Colby Rasmus deserves a shot to figure things out, and he certainly does, then so does Kyle Drabek.

I have a feeling that's not the way it's going to turn out, but I think Drabek. You mentioned Adam Lind was a little better in 2011 then 2010 but is there any real reason to believe that he can be useful again?

Well, probably not. This is the thing, you look at him and Lind career and you have that 2009 season is simply an outlier, you know, every other year is very similar. Every other year he's slugged somewhere between 400 and 440. Every other year he's done on base, if you're lucky, it's a 300 and then there's that one crazy 2009 season. So we have these 5 seasons to look at and 4 which are exactly the same and one which is crazy. Which one are you going to believe? I think it's actually kind of simple.

Yeah, but I'm a Jays fan and I want to be the optimist, but ...

But you can be a realistic Jays fan.

I could, but I don't really want to. I'll ask about Brandon Morrow too. He's one that his ERA never matches the other numbers. Do you think there's a chance that this year it will?

I think there's a good chance it will actually. He's a really good pitcher. He's finally kind of , I think there were some advances last year. I think he could actually be the Blue Jays best pitcher this year. I think you'll see the ERA go down even as much as a run with the other peripherals staying the same. He's got the best stuff on the staff and he's entering his prime. I think everything's kind of lined up for this to be Brandon Morrow's year. If I was to pick a break out guy for the Blue Jays this year I would pick Brandon Morrow.

You think he could be better than Ricky Romero?

I do. Absolutely think he could be better than Ricky Romero.

I'll ask about John Farrell. You said that "he gets it", and I like that line. He seems to understand things. Other than he hit and run a lot, I thought he did things much the way they should be done last year.

Yeah, and we're talking really just kind of tactically. Which is frankly maybe 15 to 20% of a managers job at most. That's probably high. The other 80 plus % are things that unless you're a player on that team or someone who is there and inside every day 24/7 you can't judge. That's the other part of the job. Managers are very easy to go off on and get excited about but we don't see what they're doing for the 80% of their job. That's what they're really there for. Which is kind of helming a team and getting the best possible performances out of players. That's far more important than when they bring in a reliever or bring a pinch hitter or bunt or hit and run or steal or anything like that.

That's always the thing that, Cito Gaston would drive me crazy during the games, but then I have to remind myself that in reality it seems like the players liked him and that they seemed to try their best for him.

Yeah and that stuff matters. We can all make fun of Dusty Baker who tactically is a really bad manager, but Dusty Baker has a great track record for in short bursts, getting really outstanding performances out of guys. That matters. That stuff really matters. Just because we can't measure it perfectly doesn't mean it doesn't.

Which, of course, always drives me crazy because I want to be able to say this guys good or this guys bad and be able to hold a number up beside it but with managers you can't really.

Right.

Thanks for this. I love the book and really enjoyed the Blue Jays section.

Well thank you. I'm glad to hear that

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