I can relate to Bill Baer, he and I like to keep it ubiquitous. Bill covers the Phillies for Heater Magazine, writes the must-read Phillies blog Crashburn Alley, and then drops his non-Phillies baseball expertise at places like Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Daily Digest. You can also follow him on twitter.

In time for the upcoming four-game series between heavy weights in their respective divisions, Bill was nice enough to answer my questions three. (Yeah, I’m using a bad joke from Monty Python. Look, I’m stereotyped as a basement dwelling dork, I got to work hard to live up it. Ni!)

Erik: Is Ruben Amaro trying to make us (Cardinal fans) hate him? Ryan Howard, the $125 million dollar man. What do you think of the deal for your beloved Phillies, and how does it impact teams looking to sign or re-sign potential free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder?

Bill: I’m not a fan of the Howard extension. It’s not due to his body type or his comparables on Baseball Reference; it’s because he plays at the least important position on a National League baseball diamond, he’s already 30 years old, he’s a one-dimensional player, and he’s already on the decline. As I wrote here last week:

Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in 2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since 2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate (swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.

I think the Howard deal sets the baseline for players like Fielder. I don’t think it affects Pujols all that much as I had previously thought he would become a $30 million dollar man anyway. He is in his own stratosphere. However, generally speaking, because there will be fewer first basemen on the market, the prices should go up slightly. It will be interesting to see what happens if the economy fully recovers as well.

Erik: Roy Halladay has been pitching incredibly well since coming over the Phillies. Is this a matter of the National League being that much easier than the American League, or is there some other underlying reason for Doc’s improvement?

Bill: You may be surprised when you hear this: #9 hitters, typically the opposing pitchers, have the fourth-highest OPS (.563) against Roy Halladay behind #8 (.922), #3 (.783), and #5 (.736). However, the NL East is definitely not the AL East in terms of offense. Four of his six starts have come against the NL East, one against each team. His results: two complete game shut-outs (@ ATL and vs. NYM) and a 0.81 ERA with 26 K and 4 BB in 33 innings.

Overall, he has been slightly lucky. His BABIP is about 30 points lower than normal and his HR/FB% is about half of what it should be. His 2.85 SIERA is higher than his 1.47 ERA which essentially validates that he’s been lucky, but it also indicated that he has still pitched extremely well. The NL Cy Young race will be interesting between him and Tim Lincecum (2.08 SIERA). Your guys Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter may want to exact some revenge and get their name on the list as well.

Erik: Ryan Madson just landed on the DL with a broken toe, and one of the Cardinals’ favorite punching bags – Brad Lidge – just was activated. Who closes games for Philadelphia, and how sizable of a lead do you feel safe with? 4 runs? 7? In all seriousness, assess Philly’s bullpen situation for us.

Bill: Phillies fans haven’t been on the Ryan Madson bandwagon because they think he lacks the mental capability to pitch the ninth, but that is a patently bogus claim. As I wrote here, Madson has actually been better in the ninth inning — in a very limited sample — than in the eighth inning. He has the best stuff of anyone not named Roy Halladay on the Phillies’ pitching staff. I would argue he has the best change-up in all of baseball, in fact. And Phillies fans don’t want him anywhere near the ninth inning. Now that he’s on the DL, it doesn’t matter.

The Phillies’ bullpen is even more of a problem than it was going into the season. J.C. Romero hasn’t looked sharp in his one and two-thirds innings of work and it’s unlikely that he and Lidge can handle a serious workload at this point. I won’t feel comfortable with these guys until the 27th out is recorded.

Update: I returned the favor for Bill at his blog.

Sig Mejdal, Senior Quantitative Analyst for the Cards, was kind enough to answer a few questions that I sent him via email that  deal with his daily responsibilities / activities in his role with the Cardinals.  For a little more background on Sig here’s a short bio as posted for his appearance at the JMP Innovators’ Summit.

Sig Mejdal has been working as a Senior Quantitative Analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals since opening day of 2005. He provides analysis, player projections and data-driven decision making for the General Manager’s office. Mejdal’s work is used for the amateur draft, and both the minor and major leagues. While his baseball playing career ended in Little League, he has had an almost unhealthy interest in baseball research ever since. This led him on a quest to become one of the few “quants” within baseball’s front offices. Mejdal has degrees in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, and Masters in Industrial Engineering and Human Factors Engineering, and has worked both as a Travel Writer and a NASA sleep researcher.

Basically he has the job that most of us amateur saberists would love to have a chance to do.

Anyhow, on to the exchange, my questions and comments in bold.

How is the analysis time / effort broken out between the Major League side of the house (Free Agent valuations/projections, defensive metrics etc.) versus the player development side of the house (prospect (both draft and internal) valuation, etc.)?

The entire quantitative team here does their best to have all that you ask about covered. Of course, as the season progresses, we throttle up our attention or analysis on different areas. But what you describe are all areas that we analyze.

How much do you leverage the freely available information (I’m thinking specifically of stats sites like fangraphs, and analytical studies like MGLs aging study, the work that Jeremy Greenhouse is doing, Victor Wangs research on prospect valuation, etc.)?

We are on those sites daily. Moreover, I’d say in general we are pretty aggressive about trying to build on research and ideas generated by people outside our club and even outside our industry, so our reading extends beyond the sabermetric community.  We don’t leverage their results specifically, but instead are taking a look at their processes, their ideas, their conclusions in order to occasionally spark work of our own. Many of those sites that you mention do very good work, however, you can imagine that the decision makers are going to have to know each and every step of the process that led to the statistical evaluation.

Somewhat related, how much time are you able to spend keeping up with the ”amateur” sabermetric community?

Not as much as I like – others in the group spend more time. I have my google reader directed at many of those sites and I try to take a look at that daily. To some degree, those in the front office rely on each other to forward that which we think others will find useful or at least interesting. We would be foolish not to. There is a tremendous amount of brainpower and energy out there thinking of all sorts of things. To not expose ourselves to that would be missing a very good opportunity to brainstorm and/or learn.  To me the answers to those two questions are fairly important and clearly Sig gave favorable answers.  There’s a whole community of subject matter experts out there doing quality work.  It’d be foolish to ignore it.

As more and more sabermetric related news/viewpoints are entering the mainstream have you experienced an increase in people looking for work/internships?

We have experienced an increase in those looking for work. Not sure if it is because more of the research has entered the mainstream as you mention, but yes, we get more letters than ever from very qualified
persons looking to get their foot in the door.

How much do you interact with the “traditional scouting” people and try and use their information to inform/improve the quantitative things you do?

As much as possible.  John Mozeliak, our GM, has always been a strong advocate for breaking down the artificial walls between traditional scouting and analytical analysis.  So blending those two approaches is something we take very seriously.  In the analytic group, we talk to our scouts frequently, often on a daily basis. The conversations with the scouts or the opportunities to go to games with them has led to many hypothesis about how best to combine  the on-field performance and the expert ratings. And yes, you are exactly right, we do use their information to improve upon our models.  This is unquestionably the right answer.  It only makes sense to put ALL of the data you have to use, even if some of it is subjective in nature.

Many thanks to Sig for taking the time to answer a few question.  The Cards appear to be in good hands with him running the analytical shop.


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