The YFSF Interview With BP’s Jay Jaffe, Part I

Many of our readers know Jay Jaffe from his excellent Futility Infielder blog. Jay is also a member of the Baseball Prospectus team of experts; for this year’s annual, he was responsible for both the Yankee and Red Sox previews. Who better to talk shop about the state of the rivalry as the season approaches? Jay, who has never pulled a punch, was kind enough to answer some of our questions, and Part I of that interview appears here. Part II will be posted tomorrow over on Futility Infielder. So with no further ado, we give you Jay:

YFSF: Kei Igawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka: Who is the better relative value? What are you expecting from these two? How do you even project for them?

JJ: How do I project them? I don’t; I leave that to people smarter than me. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system, which translates Igawa’s performance into a major-league equivalent and then compares his career path to players of similar age, experience, and body type, has Igawa’s projection centered at a 4.42 ERA over 180 innings. That’s not terribly impressive, but at the cost of roughly $9/mil per year, it’s actually below what the open market is paying for that type of starter (see Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, etc.). PECOTA pegs Matsuzaka at a 3.83 ERA over 183 innings, which is certainly more valuable if not quite valuable enough to meet the cost of his contract, which is about $17.2 million a year. Dollar for dollar, Igawa’s the better deal, but he’s much more likely to be a League Average Inning Muncher (LAIM), where Matsuzaka has a better chance of being an ace, and that’s a big difference.

YFSF: Josh Beckett and Chien-Ming Wang: They are the sabermetric paradox. Do you expect a big turnaround from Beckett? Can we expect another big year from Wang?

JJ: Beckett’s more of an enigma than a paradox. It remains to be seen whether he can harness his curveball while at the same time keeping free of the blister problems that have plagued his career; last year he wore a band-aid between starts and it prevented him from tossing the curve in bullpen sessions. If Lester is healthy, the Sox might have enough depth in the rotation to cover for a 150-inning season from Beckett where he does throw the curve and deals with the consequences. But right now there are a lot of questions about Schilling, about Matsuzaka, about Wakefield, and about Papelbon, so that may be too risky.

Wang is certainly a paradox in that he succeeds while striking out only about 3.1 hitters per nine. But so long as he throws mid-90s heat with that great movement on his sinker, I expect him to throw a lot of innings and be pretty successful, if not quite so so much as last year. He’ll never be an ace, I don’t think, but especially at his current price, he’s a very valuable commodity and fun to watch as well.

If you’ll permit me to shill for a moment, I actually wrote an essay on the topic of Wang’s forecast for a Yankees-oriented book from Maple Street Press. The book is called Bombers Broadside and it includes contributions from a handful of writers who might be familiar to readers of this site, including Alex Belth, Derek Jacques, Mike Carminati and Cecilia Tan, who edited it. For those of you who swing from the other side of the plate, there’s also a Red Sox book from the same publishers.

YFSF: How would you evaluate the Minky acquisition? What’s your ideal scenario for the Yankee 1b/dh situation? Should Bernie have figured in this mix, given his strong splits against lefties?

It’s a lazy solution to a vexing problem; the only upside I can see is StinkyMinky’s relationship with Alex Rodriguez (they went to high school together). The Yanks could punt the roster spot if it guaranteed a happier, more productive A-Rod playing up to his potential, though I think having cleared his throat about the Jeter issue, Rodriguez is probably going to be a bit more at ease anyway.

I’d like to see what Josh Phelps can do, and I’d rather see the Yanks work something between Phelps and Giambi, with the option of using one of their outfielders to DH while Melky Cabrera gets to play. To me that’s far more valuable than having a glove-only player like Minky holding down the spot.

As for Bernie, no. Had he done the things that an aging ballplayer needs to do—learn to pinch-hit, break in that first baseman’s mitt—he might justify the roster spot, but the combination of how limited he is and how much Torre still trusts him anyway is a dangerous recipe for another 400 at-bats of flagging production. Anyone who’s trying to tell you that his .323/387/.549 versus southpaws in 150 PA last year is any more valid than the .231/.305/.286 he hit in 203 PA against them the year before is full of it. Look at a bigger sample size, the over 700 PA he drew against lefties the last four years while hitting .271/.369/.421. That’s nothing special, and easily replaced.

YFSF: Will JD Drew produce in Boston?

JJ: The one constant about J.D. Drew’s career is that he will produce when he plays. Other than 2002, when he dealt with tendonitis in both knees and hit .252/.349/.429, he’s put up an OPS of at least .880 in every years beyond his rookie campaign. He’s not a slugger like Manny Ramirez, but he’s a very efficient hitter who’s easily capable of a .300/.400/.500 season in a neutral park, and better than that in a hitter’s haven like Boston. The issue with Drew is keeping him healthy enough to play 130 or more games a year. If he plays that, his production will be fine.

YFSF: If Rocket returns to the AL East? Will he dominate or just be effective?

Merely effective, along the lines of his Yankee years. The dominance of Clemens in Houston is a product of the NL being an easier league to pitch in, and Houston probably a more comfortable environment for Clemens. The presence of what have been some lousy teams in the NL Central doesn’t hurt either.

That said, I don’t think he’s got it in him to return. Last year Clemens had the attraction of the WBC to keep him in shape, and the promise of playing at least once with his son in minor-league tune-up. he was able to parlay that into a hell of a contract and a nice return. I get the sense that without that kind of external driving force, he’s done.

YFSF: Carl Pavan will end the year on the ______________?

JJ: Trans-Siberian Railroad, unconscious in an unmarked trunk in which only a small breathing hole has been cut. That or the St. Louis Cardinals, in trade for the desiccated remains of Preston Wilson. Those two scenarios are pretty much a wash.

Okay. That’s Part I. Tune in tomorrow at Futility Infielder to see Jay’s thoughts on Willy Mo Pena, Phil Hughes, Moose’s HOF credentials, the Boston Bullpen situation fiasco, and his prediction for how the AL East will shake out in 2007.

9 comments… add one
  • Sweet! Thanks YFSF!

    tom yf March 8, 2007, 11:53 am
  • Great read…Thanks again!

    ToddSF March 8, 2007, 1:54 pm
  • That’s an interesting interview. Maybe Bostonians knew that about Beckett, but being a Yankee fan, I didn’t.
    Interesting website and links too. I think it was Jay Jaffe who wrote this for Baseball Prospectus during the season, when the Yanks were 50 and 33. Seems like a long time ago.

    A classic half-full/half-empty first half. In the first cup, you’ve got a team that’s four games ahead of last year’s sluggish pace, ranked fourth in the AL in scoring (5.57 R/G) despite big boppers Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui missing a combined 110 games, ranked fifth in the league in run prevention (4.72 R/G) despite a horrible first half from Randy Johnson, pumpkin chariot crashes from last year’s saviors Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, a no-show from Carl Pavano, and an expensive enigma in the bullpen in Kyle Farnsworth. In the second cup, you’ve got a team three games behind the Red Sox but six back in the Wild Card chase, no guarantee of useful returns from either Matsui or Sheffield (further exposing a catastropically lousy Plan B in the outfield, one that’s been reduced to scavenging the Royals), a shallow farm system ill-equipped for upgrade chits, a bullpen that already looks threadbare, and an overreliance on exploding Pinto Jaret Wright, their third-best starter. This may not be Cashman and Torre’s finest team, but if it can overcome such obvious flaws, well, what do you expect for $200 million?

    john March 8, 2007, 6:18 pm
  • john,
    Well, if it was Jaffe that had that rosy assessment of the Yanks around the break last year, somebody here should have pointed out these comments, asked how an expert like himself could end up being out in left field with how the rest of the 2006 season actually played out, and then asked him if he wanted some ice cream on his humble pie.

    Whatever March 8, 2007, 9:55 pm
  • I don’t understand the criticism here, if one is intended. That analysis was spot on at that time. Most writers had the Yanks dead and buried at that point, with Papi hitting walk-off game winners every other night. I don’t think anyone saw Melky coming on as he did, and no one could have known Abreu would be acquired for a song. At that time, the minors WERE bare in terms of providing serious use to the ML roster. And, um, Jaret Wright. How’d he do against the Tigers?

    YF March 9, 2007, 12:29 am
  • The Sox had a better record at the time, but Jaffe / Baseball Prospectus had the Yanks one place ahead of them in the power rankings, presumably saying that the Yanks would be overtaking the Sox.

    john March 9, 2007, 9:06 am
  • Hey all,
    First off, thanks to YF for inviting me to participate in this forum. I apologize for not having Part II up today; I just got back from Philadelphia for the start of Baseball Prospectus 2007’s promotional season and didn’t finish my homework. The remainder of the questions will be posted on Monday.
    Second, and contrary to YF’s intro, I did not cover the Yankees for Baseball Prospectus 2007; that job fell to editor and YES columnist Steven Goldman, while I covered the Dodgers and Red Sox.
    Finally, I did write the above first-half assesment of the Yankees in the July 9 (All-Star Break) Prospectus Hit List, and I don’t see what Whatever’s gripe is at all. Both YF and John have the right idea: the Yanks to that point were flawed but hardly out of any race despite stooping to the level of gainfully employing Terrence Long. The second half saw them capitalize on some nice developments such as the maturation of Melky Cabrera, the Abreu trade (for exactly none of those missing chits) and a Bosox collapse of biblical proportions that allowed them to overcome said flaws and take the division. I’m willing to eat humble pie when it’s deserved, but this particular slice is not mine.

    Jay Jaffe March 9, 2007, 2:58 pm
  • Thanks for the clarifications, Jay, and thanks a ton for contributing to the site.

    SF March 9, 2007, 3:35 pm
  • Part II is now up here for anyone who wants to keep this crazy train rolling…

    Jay Jaffe March 12, 2007, 1:23 pm

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