Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat – 1/16/17

12:01
Travis Sawchik: Greetings, everyone. Welcome to Episode No. 2 of the Sawchik Chat…. Long way to go to catch up to EW podcast.

12:01
mtsw: Are we, savvy baseball fans, really meant to believe Jose Bautista is turning down bigger offers to return to Toronto? These “better offers” seem about as real as your middle school buddy’s Canadian girlfriend.

12:02
Travis Sawchik: Players, of course, generally take the best offer, so I doubt Bautista would take a lesser offer to remain in TOR. As Dave Cameron wrote last week, it appears the market for Bautista-types has over-corrected

12:03
Justino: What can you tell me about Trevor Clifton?

12:04
Travis Sawchik: If the Cubs begin to develop pitching, if more arms take jumps like Clifton did in ’16, then the rich get a whole lot richer. The Cubs have not developed much of their own pitching to date, one of the few weak areas

12:04
Travis Sawchik: I can also tell you it appears Clifton had his number retired:

Reigning #Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year Trevor Clifton gets his No. 25 retired at Heritage.
17 Dec 2016

12:05
Justino: Schwarber hasn’t had much success vs LHP in his professional career so far. Is this likely being discussed and/or worked on, or are the Cubs not worried whatsoever about a little platoonin’?

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Schwarber performed very well against LHPs in his relatively brief minor league career so let’s get a larger sample. I wouldn’t be too concerned at this point

12:06
Ice: If you could start a franchise with Trout, Harper, Kershaw, or Markakis, who would you choose?

12:06
Travis Sawchik: Dan’s chat has moved to Wednesdays!

12:06
Asabin: Considering that Theo Epstein is paid like a major league average player, and lower level front office personnel are paid much less, do you think front offices could gain more marginal value by investing in more analysts, scouts, etc.

12:07
Travis Sawchik: Short answer: Yes. It’s a $10 billion industry and FO and scouting staff is relatively cheap

12:08
Bab: Is the Bautista deal (as expected) worth it? Do the Blue Jays have a chance to compete with the addition of Bautista?

12:09
Travis Sawchik: I like Bautista to have a mild bounce-back in 2017 so I like the reported terms … Blue Jays certainly have a chance

12:10
D Nice: are buying Porcello as an “ace” again in 2017?

12:11
Travis Sawchik: ‘Ace’ for me is received for the elite of the elite .. so no. But he’s certainly a quality arm and no reason why that shouldn’t continue with health

12:11
jda: Hi Travis. It’s seemed to me for a while now that A.I./machine learning is a potentially useful way of evaluating scouts internally, so your mention of modeling scouts in your Pacific scouting article set off alarm bells. Do you know if teams are currently using AIML to evaluate their own scouts? And if so, do you have a sense of how successful a tool it is?

12:13
Travis Sawchik: Good question. I’m sure AI will become more and more a part of MLB front offices and that could be a useful way to incorporate some aspects of it

12:14
Daniel: Can you give a quick overview of what topic you will cover most in your chats, or which you prefer to cover? For example, some chats are heavily prospect-based, some avoid fantasy, etc.

12:17
Travis Sawchik: I’m pretty open to anything. I will try to answer interesting questions that I feel I can answer or add something to. Disclaimer: I’m not Eric Longenhagen on prospects, and while I play in a dynasty league I’ve never been invited to play in LABR.

12:17
Joe Don: Any thoughts re the risk/reward curve in the Rangers’ gamble on Tyson Ross?

12:17
Travis Sawchik: Seems like a pretty good gamble to me, especially in this offseason’s sparse market for pitching

12:18
mtsw: If clubs should be looking to Korea more (I agree) why not also to the NPB? The NPB is a better overall league than the KBO by a lot and Japan has a larger and richer history of baseball than Korea. Why is KBO talent so in demand and NPB talent (for position players) isn’t? Is it just because the posting system makes NPB players a worse value?

12:21
Travis Sawchik: I think clubs should be looking everywhere for talent. It’s surprising to me how few MLB clubs have full-time scouts in Asia. I just focused on the KBO in part because it was in the news with the Thames signing. … The Park and Kang signings the previous two offseason make it kind of a trendy emerging market, but any available, quality NPB position player talent is going to have plenty of demand

12:22
Eric: Hi! I absolutely love your work so far and look forward to what you have in store for us. Do you think it is a possibility that the market is undervaluing outfield defense and that’s why teams like the Rays and Mariners are stocking up on the best fielders?

12:23
Travis Sawchik: Thanks, Eric! Thanks for reading … The Rays and Mariners certainly seem driven to improve outfield defense. I’m not sure if it’s undervalued. I think defense in general is of course much more appreciated. OF defense is also perhaps more valued by teams in certain parks with certain types of pitching staffs

12:24
Joshua: What do you expect from Billy Hamilton? His baserunning and defense are so great he’s been worth almost 4 WAR. Is 5-6 WAR realistic if he can hit literally league average?

12:25
Travis Sawchik: He’s probably never going to hit … but he’s still valuable as you mentioned. I wonder if there are more creative ways to employ him. Like, say, bringing him off the bench as a pinch-runner as early in the game as possible

12:25
SDinSEA: Do you have any parts of the game you’re most interested in? Prospects, analytics, etc?

12:26
Travis Sawchik: Almost everything about the game can be interesting, so I’m pretty open to any type of question here.

12:27
jon: Are the White Sox bluffing with respect to holding Quintana into the season? Increase in return is probably small and the risk is obviously asymmetric and concentrated.

12:28
Travis Sawchik: If only we were privy to the offers … That contract allows the White Sox to be patient. They could also find more suitors at the deadline, potentially

12:28
Regginald Spade: Why don’t teams hire each other’s analysts more often? They might not come with source code, but any sharp one should be able to recreate a lot of the old system.

12:29
Travis Sawchik: Well, we see some of that. I know the Diamondbacks just hired the Pirates’ No. 2 quant in Mike Fitzgerald.

12:29
Moltar: Do you think Gary Sanchez gets the full workload this season? Do the Yankees stay patient if he’s cold out of the gate?

12:29
Travis Sawchik: I’d want to see a full season of Gary Sanchez

12:31
Sonny: Would Pitt hold onto Cutch and sell off other pieces to bridge to the next wave of high-end talent? Move Marte, Cole, Watson while value is high and bet on Taillon, Meadows, Bell, Glasnow and co leading a division winning team in 2019?

12:32
Travis Sawchik: Every player has a trade value, but regardless of whether or not McCutchen is moved in 2017 he’s not going to be in Pgh beyond 2018 (which is a club option)

12:32
JT: I was arbitrarily checking out pages for various players and I had somehow forgotten about early career Ryan brauns odd combination of way above average baserunning and atrocious defense

12:33
Travis Sawchik: Interesting but beyond the speed component they are much different skill sets…. Outfield defense requires route efficiency, first-step quickness, ball skills, etc

12:34
Blue Morpho: Bradley Zimmer’s age and k rate are giving me Tyler Naquin vibes. What are your expectations for Zimmer this season?

12:34
Travis Sawchik: It’s my understanding Zimmer is a much more natural OF defender … as for the bat, 2017 might tell us a lot more

12:35
Regginald Spade: How much does Toronto want to unsign Morales given the 1bish slugger market now?

12:36
Travis Sawchik: Very much, I would imagine. Toronto seemed to not foresee this over-correction in the market in regard to bat-centric position players

12:36
Chuncey Wiggins: Do you think that MLB should sign a deal with a tablet manufacturer so that managers can use tablets instead of crumbled up bubble gum wrappers to organize lineups?

12:36
Travis Sawchik: The print product is in jeopardy everywhere

12:36
Eric: Who’s the best pitcher in the NL Central? Arrieta, Lester, or Hendricks?

12:37
Travis Sawchik: It’s certainly a Cub. Can Hendricks do that again? Curious to see if Arrieta makes some adjustments in 2017

12:38
Chris: What’s the next analytics trend in baseball?

12:38
Travis Sawchik: I think it’s tied to understanding player efficiency/injury prevention

12:39
Guest: Think Benintendi is already up to the rumored challenge of the Sox #2 hitter?

12:39
Travis Sawchik: He was SO impressive last season and into the postseason. I think he can meet most challenges tossed his way

12:39
Mariner’s fan: How much did the Drew Smyly acquisition improve the Mariner’s chances of making the playoffs?

12:40
Travis Sawchik: It certainly helped. Eno had an interesting deep dive on Smyly the other day. The park and the OF defense is going to help him

12:41
mtsw: Is Bautista’s arm cooked? Without a cannon, he’s a Mark Trumbo-level butcher in RF. Is he the DH in Toronto by the end of 2017?

12:41
Travis Sawchik: His defensive decline certainly didn’t help his market. He could be headed for a DH role

12:41
Matt: Hi Travis, I’ll miss reading your work in the Trib but congrats on the new gig! At the end of Big Data Baseball you mention Mike Fitzgerald saying that things like framing and shifting will be copied throughout the industry, which we’ve seen happen. Will there come a point when all the market inefficiencies have been copied and if so how will small markets stay competitive?

12:43
Travis Sawchik: Thanks, Matt. It’s an endless copy-cat game, but I think there will always be new breakthroughs and undervalued skills/tactics. I do think, right now, it’s a bit tougher to be a small-market club as some of the recent big breakthroughs, like framing, are being adopted everywhere

12:43
Andrew : Can Boston compete with Cleveland?

12:44
Travis Sawchik: Sale-Price should allow a team to compete with anyone in the postseason (assuming Price really doesn’t have a thing with pitching in the postseason)

12:44
SDinSEA: As a Padres fan, just how bad was the Grandal trade? I mean, we gave him up for the honor of paying Olivera’s bloated mistake. With some crappy D and decent O thrown in.

12:44
Travis Sawchik: It looks pretty bad. As you might know, I voted for Grandal at No. 7 on my MVP ballot

12:45
Spicy Boy: Why do the Rays like Mallex Smith so much? I get that the speed is good and probably makes him at least a fourth outfielder, but I just don’t see much more upside outside of that

12:46
Travis Sawchik: He could be a Michael Bourn type player, which is pretty valuable. The Rays might also be really trying to create an advantage in regard to OF defense. Was the return for Smyly good enough? That’s another debate. Rays do have some SP depth

12:47
Rex: Buying or selling 2017 Mets?

12:47
Travis Sawchik: With pitching health (big disclaimer), I’m buying

12:48
5 Run Homer: Next guy not named Mike Trout to lead the AL in WAR and when?

12:48
Travis Sawchik: I’ll play. Carlos Correa in 2020

12:49
Sonny: How important was Russell Martin’s ‘buy-in’ to the wearable tech experiment in Pitt? Can programs like that thrive without veteran leaders embracing them?

12:50
Travis Sawchik: Great question. It’s tough to quantify clubhouse presence, etc. But I saw Martin make an impact with the wearable technology. Players respected him and followed him. And that had to have some influence on diet/rest and overall efficiency.

12:50
E: I knew it wasnt going to happen but it would have been really fun if Bautista signed with Cleveland

12:50
Travis Sawchik: The idea made some sense with Carlos Santana nearing free agency

12:51
mtsw: Doesn’t it kind of feel like the Cardinals should do something? Or are they comfortable where they’re at right now even though they’re not really competitive with the Cubs?

12:52
Travis Sawchik: Well, Fowler was something … but I don’t think the Cardinals have made a 40-man roster transaction since Dec. 12. Give Mozeliak credit for not acting irrationally. The Cardinals, as composed right now, look like a pretty solid club even without any other additions

12:52
mtsw: Do we have any idea how the new Braves stadium is going to play, park factors wise? Presuambly, the Braves have done some studies on it but is there any public info?

12:53
Travis Sawchik: I’m not sure. I do know that all the clubs that built pitching-friendly, spacious parks (Citi Field, Safeco, Comerica) have brought their outfield fences in several times. So hopefully the Braves considered that fans like run scoring

12:53
Moltar: Is there any momentum to improve the replay system? Seems to me like a full booth review in place of the “challenge” system would speed up the game and eliminate all the pointless arguing that takes up so much time.

12:55
Travis Sawchik: It’s certainly not a perfect system. I’m not sure why managers get the benefit of calling into the clubhouse to have the video guy take a look at the replay. Shouldn’t a challenge be based upon what the manager sees vs. the umpire? I’m pretty sure college and NFL coaches don’t have the benefit of looking at replays before issuing a challenge. They have to hurry before the next play is snapped

12:57
Jimbo: Wil Myers is rumored to be signed soon to a 6 year, $80 extension. It would buy out 3 years of arbitration and 3 years of free agency. Worth it?

12:57
Travis Sawchik: Generally I love these deals for clubs, but Myers has been so up-and-down that there’s much more risk involved. I like this one for the player

12:58
Moltar: Other than reducing commercials (I work in TV – never gonna happen), what are some reasonable ways baseball can speed up games? I love a slow, lazy afternoon game, but as tough as it is to remember in January, the games can become a long slog sometimes.

12:58
Travis Sawchik: Enforce rules like keeping batters in the box … I think MLB got away from this in 2016.

12:59
GERB: Which AL favorite (CLE,BOS,HOU) has the highest chance of missing the playoffs this year?

12:59
Travis Sawchik: I love what CLE and BOS have done in the short term, so I’ll say Houston

1:00
Andrew : Trade Urias/Desclafani/Judge for Lester in a dynasty? Win now mode

1:00
Travis Sawchik: Lester’s great but that seems pretty steep

1:01
Kevin: Re: replay system – I feel like knowing who the umps are and seeing their faces all year makes me think of them as, you know, human beings. Meanwhile, the ‘guys in the booth’ who do the replay reviews are anonymous suits that seem disconnected from the game, the sport, the pastime. Why doesn’t baseball let us know who’s working the booth on a given day?

1:02
Travis Sawchik: If you believe that home-field advantage is tied largely to borderline calls (I do!) then having replay decided by anonymous people in NYC should reduce home-field adv to a slight degree. I’d like to see a replay official at the ballpark

1:02
Mike: Any thoughts on how quiet the Twins have been with a new regime? I didn’t expect them to be super active, but it is curious that so far they have been so quiet considering the obvious needs of the franchise.

1:03
Travis Sawchik: They are going to move, Dozier, right?

1:04
mtsw: Followup to the Braves’ stadium question: how do you resolve supposed fan preference for higher run scoring with supposed fan preference for shorter games? Fans, in my experience, like higher-than-average scoring games, but if you move fences in, you just increase the average and fans adjust to the new normal fairly quickly.

1:04
Travis Sawchik: Those two issues do oppose each other … I think there is probably a smart balance in designing an interesting park that plays near league average scoring environment.

1:05
Jason: Cardinals have said that improved baserunning is a top org priority going into 2017. How easy is this to improve without a substantial change to the roster?

1:06
Travis Sawchik: I think that’s pretty difficult. I know the Pirates tried to improve base running while I was on the beat netting no real significant gains … I suspect it’s much more tied to player skills

1:07
mtsw: I live in NYC and may be relocating to California soon. I want to take a tour of east coast ballparks before I do. Besides the obvious (Fenway, OPACY, PNC) any must-sees? Any places I can feel okay skipping (I’m debating whether to do Cleveland or Cinci, for instance).

1:08
Travis Sawchik: I think you have the top three correct, especially since OPACY started the new ballpark revolution. CLE and Philly are worth visiting. I’m not a huge fan of GreatAmerican

1:09
Henry: Do you think the Red Sox have put too many “Eggs in the basket” this year, or do you think they have enough young talent that they will remain contenders for the next few years?

1:10
Travis Sawchik: I thought the Sale trade was reasonably fair for both sides. I don’t think they’ve traded too much tomorrow for today …at least not yet

1:10
Daniel: What will look the most different about the game in 5 years?

1:11
Travis Sawchik: Good question. I think we’re going to see fewer and fewer players participating in 150-plus games as rest and recovery becomes more of an industry-wide focus

1:11
Franklin Comes Alive: Should the Braves consider jumping into the Quintana sweepstakes? Would Markakis and a lower level prospect get it done?

1:11
Travis Sawchik: Seems premature .. And Dan’s chat has been moved to Wednesday!

1:12
Asabin: Major league front offices are filled with people of extremely high education levels, yet they are paid quite poorly compared to similarly situated people. It is very difficult for a front office person to move between organizations, so in that way teams are able to control their employees by not having to compete with other offers. Do you see these as likely to change?

1:13
Travis Sawchik: I believe there’s always a market for talented people….But there’s a ton of people who want to work in baseball that could make money doing something else so perhaps the supply can reduce leverage and mobility

1:13
SouthSider: Who do you think will have a better MLB career: Tyler Glasnow or Lucas Giolito?

1:13
Travis Sawchik: Giolito’s 2016 was concerning … but so was Glasnow’s. Push

1:14
GERB: What do you think about Cleveland batting order… Ramirez, Lindor, Kipnis, Encarnacion, Santana best top of the order combination? (assuming Brantley doesn’t get all the way back to 2014 numbers)

1:14
Travis Sawchik: I like Santana’s OBP nearer the top of the lineup

1:16
Sonny: Any local knowledge on Starlin Marte’s back issues? Something to be concerned about long term?

1:16
Travis Sawchik: Something to watch in 2017 … But I don’t believe it’s become a chronic issue

1:18
SDinSEA: What’s your take on Hunter Renfroe? Must be pretty good to moonlight as a Clemson wide receiver 😉

1:18
Travis Sawchik: Not bad for a zero-star recruit

1:19
mtsw: Is there a swap out there where the Orioles trade high-upside-lottery ticket Dylan Bundy for a better SP with less team control? For a team operating on an effective 2 year window and no pitching depth, Bundy seems like a guy who’d be more valuable to a rebuilding team than to them. Drew Smyly, for example, would’ve been a sensible fit before he was traded.

1:19
Travis Sawchik: Bundy seems like he’s been in limbo/between roles forever in Baltimore. I wonder if he’s a guy that would benefit from a change of scenery

1:21
Kiote: AI/ML are buzz words and far from being implemented in any broad manner. It will likely be more than 15/20 years before its used in baseball.

1:23
Travis Sawchik: Water Isaacson’s “The Innovators” was a really great read and in particular on the concepts of AI. Predictions of AI replacing human functions/tasks always seem to be wrong or at least overly optimistic …. I think teams/companies are served in having human element and cpu power complement each other. Humans are going to have the creativity edge for a long time

1:24
Pedro Is The Future: What would you expect a deal between the Pirates and White Sox for Quintana to look like?

1:24
Travis Sawchik: I think it probably begins with Meadows or Bell and includes Glasnow

1:26
biffyclyro: I’ve been really impressed with your work, both the quality and the quantity. When you signed on at FG, did you have a list of ideas that you’re now churning through? Or are you just really good at brainstorming topics?

1:27
Travis Sawchik: Thanks! I entered with a list, and I’ve written off some of those ideas. The key is asking good questions and good questions usually lead to more questions.

1:27
Stevil: First of all, congratulations on an excellent start to your tenure here at fangraphs. Diggin’ your work already. Second, I’m curious which of the current teams that you feel are interesting/strong enough to compete will be the first to sell. Thanks!

1:29
Travis Sawchik: Thanks! Pirates are interesting but in a tough neighborhood. Are the Orioles going to keep overachieving every year? Curious to see where the Tigers are this year, too. Mariners made a lot of offseason moves, would they be similarly aggressive in season if out of the race?

1:29
Blue Morpho: At first the reported extension for Wil Myers felt too long for a player with his injury history. But now that he’s playing first and the dollars will be fairly spread out, did San Diego make a good deal?

1:31
Travis Sawchik: I don’t think it’s an awful deal. Myers has legit offensive skills. But the offensive benchmark is higher at first, and he has a history of inconsistency. I think it’s a better deal for Myers.

1:31
Rex: Thoughts on the Rockies chances to make the wild card this year? Are they wasting their window by committing early or will their wave of young talent make up for some *questionable* transactions?

1:32
Travis Sawchik: Winning in Colorado is probably the toughest thing to do in MLB given the pitching challenge. So I don’t think they’re a great wild card bet. I am curious to see what Desmond does there.

1:34
Kristen: ’17 projection for Nomar Mazara? And how high is his ceiling?

1:35
Travis Sawchik: Steamer is curbing its ’17 expectations … but the ceiling is very, very high

1:35
FANTHEAD: Mr. Sawchik: I like your surname. I guess there’s a stage magician in your family tree–or a male who simply liked to look at beautiful examples of humanity.

For the purposes of a forever league, do you value any of these Middle Relievers as potential closers: Addison Reed, Shawn Kelley, Trevor Rosenthal, or Daniel Hudson?

Closers are prized and gobbled up in my league so having patience with Middle Arms is the least expensive way I know to get them.

Thank you so much!

1:36
Travis Sawchik: Pittsburgh’s closer situation could be fluid. Hudson could get a shot there. Rosenthal has a history in that role in StL. Not sure what the Cardinals plans are for him by stretching him out

1:38
Craig in CHI: Any thoughts on Carson Fulmer? Thanks

1:38
Travis Sawchik: Future late-inning reliever

1:38
Guest: Is the Milw. Brewer’s recent youth movement on pace to help them to be a competitive team in say 2019-2020?

1:39
Travis Sawchik: I’m not sure about timeframes for contention but I like many of the things the Brewers are doing including the Thames and Broxton adds.

1:40
kevinthecomic: Can the analytics community stop slagging on Mike Trout for signing his contract? I know he’s hugely underpaid, but it has to be awfully hard to have a $144.5-million contract slid under your nose and not sign it.

1:41
Travis Sawchik: I’m not bashing Mike Trout. Tough to turn away $144 million. Teams have more leverage in these pre-arb, early-arb negotiations given that they don’t have to worry about one injury or mishap or performance decline ruining a franchise

1:42
Joe: Any thoughts on a Brian Dozier move? Is De Leon not enough for you?

1:42
Travis Sawchik: De Leon would be a nice get for MIN

1:42
Moltar: Are the days of 7-10 year contracts gone for all but the elite of the elite? I haven’t seen a lot of Jason Werth type deals lately, and I think after the Greinke deals even pitchers will be pressed to take higher AAV/shorter term deals.

1:43
Travis Sawchik: Those FA deals are almost always losing bets for the clubs … So I think we’ll see less of them unless we’re talking about elite, under 30 free agents like Harper

1:44
Travis Sawchik: Assuming Harper becomes a free agent … And then signs a 10-year deal with NYY

1:44
Jim Lonborg: Do you think trades of the kind Cherington attempted in 2014–veterans for younger major-leaguers–are harder to pull off than the standard veterans-for-prospects type? Should teams avoid them?

1:45
Travis Sawchik: I think there’s some though that young pre-arb guys are discounted to a degree compared to prospects.

1:45
Travis Sawchik: Thanks for the questions, everyone! I will be back here at 12 p.m. next Monday.

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Joe Don
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Joe Don

Hat Tip to Mr. Sawchik for a 1 hour, 45 minute chat! Watch and learn, Messrs. Sullivan and Cameron.

Brians Sticky Sock
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Brians Sticky Sock

I bet you’re fun at parties!