PnP Conversations: Minding the Gap

Optimism.

Eric: Less than one month until Pitchers & Catchers report. Let’s start it this way. What non-roster invitee/subradar acquisition do you think will have the biggest impact in the majors this year?

Ted: That’s a great question, Eric. Unfortunately, I am in the process of memorizing each non-roster invitee for every team in the AL. I’m playing catch-up for when I move into full-on Mariners bandwagon mode. I don’t want to interrupt this intensive exercise by pointing out any particular player. Besides, all I’ve got is radar, so if they’re subradar then I don’t know about them anyway. Let’s just say that my full support is behind any non-roster invitee who is still older than I am. The list shrivels each year.

Maybe I’m getting old and cynical, but I have a hard time feeling optimistic about the old guys in camp. The systems are too good these days to let a player slip through the cracks. I mean, I’m sitting here amazed that nobody has signed Johnny Damon yet, but he’ll probably suck next year. The computers already know it, even if the American people don’t. I think it’s also still a result of the long steroids hangover. Ah, the Steroids Era! When careers never had to end! The cold hard truth of entropy was suspended and we all frolicked in a NeverNeverLand of home runs and swollen heads.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away. Even if a biblical snowstorm is ravaging the mid-Atlantic, spring is approaching, and that’s no time for cynicism and nostalgia. It’s time to think about new, young things. I bet Kevin Millar bought himself a new pair of ostrich skin boots when the Cubs signed him!

So I’ve gone on about the hard truths. Give us some bunny rabbits and Skittles, Eric. Who do you think will shine this year?

Eric: You mean besides Kevin Millar’s gleaming, winning smile? The obvious answer is that the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers will shine this year. Right? Right? Yeah.

In all seriousness, I have high expectations for the math-powered Mariners.I share your creeping feeling that the fans are just a little too optimistic, but you know what? It’s been a helluva sunny winter here in Seattle. So why not?  And keeping things semi-Pacific, I have very optimistic notions about the AL West this year. The Mariners are obviously and (especially if they bring Bedard) significantly improved. The A’s are doing something interesting by signing all these old guys, the Angels lost stuff but probably not enough to make them a below-average team, and the Rangers enter year two of the great Nolan Ryan badassery experiment.

Speaking of which, there won’t be any skittles in the Rangers clubhouse for them this year. As a Texas-native, how do you feel about the rise of Nolan Ryan The Executive? He’s proving to be a pretty fascinating dude, ditching conventional wisdom (pitch counts)  in favor old conventional wisdom (suck it up). I almost see it as a Finley or Veeckesque maneuver. Thoughts?

Nolan Ryan only pretended he knew what pain was for this ad.

Ted: Nolan Ryan judging pitchers’ durability is like Brian Cashman complaining that other teams aren’t spending enough money. The Ryan Express had the most rubbery wing in history, making him the worst possible judge of human arms other than his own. That said, I think he may be tapping into what has long been stewing: a desire for pitchers and pitching coaches to stop being such babies. I have a bit of this in me myself, though I temper this attitude with the mental image of some poor second-year guy sweating bullets and lobbing hand grenades towards the plate while Nolan Ryan grins down from the luxury box in his cowboy hat with his arms crossed.

Suddenly, the “old guy market gap” is gathering steam, which is great because it took the baseball public like ten years to catch up with Billy Beane and his OBP gap. Nowadays, a market gap lasts about fifteen minutes, and that’s before it proves to have any value. I think we can say that Nolan Ryan will probably own the “blow out guys’ arms” market gap for some time. This article here has a good little recap. (editor’s note: No pitcher on the Rangers threw 200 innings in 2009. I don’t know what that means.)

In this era, everybody notices what nobody is noticing really quickly, in what feels like the length of The Sandblast. The amazing thing as that some people still regularly blunder through the process, and seem to ignore all available insight. I’m a fan of one of those teams, the Astros, and the most popular blogger in the hemisphere, JoePos, chronicles the pratfalls of another. In this age of excellence, where there’s so much information and so much insight, there are a few shining lights that tip the balance back to the mediocre. And that is why they play the games.

Here’s a challenge, Eric: I’ve ended with a cliche. I challenge you to start your reply with a cliche, and build off of that like Dayton Moore has built a dynamo off of Billy Butler.

Eric: How about two? They play the games to win and there’s more than one way to skin a cat. What I mean to say is that there’s no right or wrong way to build a roster; there is only winning and losing. These market gaps, whether age, defense, or OBP-based, are only a small part of what goes into assembling each lineup and pitching staff and bench. Take the Twins, whose success seems to be the result of existing in a vacuum, apart from all the hype and all the trends.

When it comes to what goes into each transaction, we are still very much in the dark. Baseball moves slower than politics and the stakes are different. The narrative cycle — is the bottoming out of the veteran market really “news”? — exists more for the sake of the fans than for the sake of the executives. For all we know, for all the tweeting and info-sharing, they are probably still a good seven steps ahead of us. After all, they make the market. We only react to it.

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