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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Hot Stove at Altitude


The Rocky Mountain Chapter of SABR held its annual “Hot Stove” meeting on January 26th at Jackson’s All-American Grill located across the street from Coors Field in Denver. Being the Secretary of the chapter, yours truly took some notes and what follows is the synopsis.

President Paul Parker called the meeting to order a little past 10AM and after a few brief remarks introduced trivia-master Dave Wallack. Dave lead-off the festivities by distributing a quiz loaded with Rockies and other trivia to the 32 assembled members and guests. After 10 minutes of contemplation and confused looks the quizzes were scored with the top three finishers receiving their choice of copies of Baseball Between The Numbers or a wall poster of vintage baseball cards from the 1920s. It happened that three members tied for second place and so what turned out to be a not-so-fast “lightening round” moderated by Parker and Wallack (whose questions were a little tough to say the least) was held to determine the two who would take home the remaining door prizes.

Parker then continued the meeting by reminding members of the upcoming Denver Bears/New York Yankees Reunion fundraiser event now scheduled for May 3rd at the Denver Athletic Club. As of now the event will feature Ralph Terry, Johnny Blanchard, Ryne Duran, and Woody Held and consist of research presentations, a panel discussion, and autograph session. Later in the meeting member Matt Repplinger discussed the availability of Rockies/Dodgers tickets for that evening’s game, which will be sold at the event with a part of the proceeds benefiting the chapter. The face value of the ticket will be $38 for an Outfield Box seat down the right field line in section 116. The chapter will be selling the $38 ticket for $28, ten dollars off the face value. The group’s planned summer trips to Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, and Casper, Wyoming were also discussed.

The meeting then continued with a research presentation by myself and Neal Williams where we presented our article “The Traffic Directors”, which will appear in the upcoming volume 36 of The Baseball Research Journal. The study focused on the attempt to quantify the contributions of third base coaches and to determine if there is a detectable skill component that can be measured. We used a subset of the base running metrics I developed for Baseball Prospectus but are augmented with the additional context of the personnel the coach had to work with. You can read the details in the BRJ or the two-part version online, but we conclude that if there is a skill component (or rather a skill difference between coaches if you prefer), it is too subtle to measure given the combination of play by play data and other influences. Attendees engaged in a short question and answer period before taking a brief break.

After the break Parker introduced the keynote speaker, Jeff Bridich, the Rockies Director of Baseball Operations. After giving a brief rundown of his career in baseball and his opportunity to join the Rockies in 2004 as the Director of Minor League Operations, Jeff began by asking the crowd how they would grade the Rockies off-season moves thus far which included the signings of Matt Holliday, Willy Taveras, and the record-breaking contract of Troy Tulowitzki. With that opening the attendees grabbed the bull by the horns and peppered Bridich with questions ranging from the arbitration cases of Brian Fuentes, Brad Hawpe, and Garrett Atkins to this spring’s competition at second base involving Jayson Nix and Marcus Giles among others, to the health of pitcher Jason Hirsch and the prospects of catcher Chris Iannetta. As you might imagine, much time was spent dissecting the options at second base for the upcoming season and Bridich provided some interesting background on the development of Nix as he went from an offensive prospect after being drafted in 2001 to the player most likely to hurt the team defensively at second. He also indicated that the loss of Carney Lansford as a minor league hitting coach was a big blow to their organization.

Being closely involved with the arbitration process, Bridich was able to provide excellent insight into the dynamics of the interaction between the two sides and with the three-member panel in what he characterized as often “not a friendly exchange of information”. Further, he discussed approaches to preparing arbitration cases from the club perspective including their use of some advanced metrics such as Zone Rating for measuring defense. Interestingly, he indicated that while the use of advanced metrics was certainly a part of their strategy, those metrics needed to be published and proven in the industry to the extent that they can show the panel that the metrics have some legs.

I found particularly interesting his comments on the baserunning of Willy Taveras where he noted that the Rockies are encouraging Taveras to be more liberal in his stolen base attempts, especially of third. Bridich related that when asked how many times he could have stolen third in 2007, Taveras indicated that he could have swiped third 30 or so times. While that's certainly an optimistic assessment even for a competitve player, it's certainly true that Taveras seems to have a fear of stealing third. Overall, in my baserunning framework I have him for 138 events at second base and just 3 at third over the course of his career and one of those three was actually a pickoff at second base and one came as his only stolen base attempt of 2004 (perhaps that's what instilled the fear?). Now if they could just teach him to bunt towards first base...

If Bridich had prepared remarks, the steady stream of questions from the attendees and his thoughtful and articulate answers prevented him from getting to them. After over an hour of discussion many in the group, including Bridich, enjoyed lunch at the restaurant while the discussion continued.

Thanks to all members and guests who participated in this stimulating morning of baseball discussion.

10 comments:

Mitchiapet said...

Dan,

Wonderful recap of the meeting. As one of those attendees, I'll complement yourself and Neal your presentation was a very interesting look at the job in baseball that goes unnoticed except when plays at the plate go awry.

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