A Q&A With Carson Cistulli

Like we did last offseason, we'll once again be conducting Q&A's/interviews with various people around the baseball universe. Who better to start things off than Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs.com?

If you're a baseball fan and don't know Carson by now, and I mean mentally and physically, there's something terribly wrong. Along with being a new resident of Wisconsin, Carson is the only person I know with college degrees in Latin and Poetry, but not necessarily Latin poetry. So he has that going for him, which is nice. Let's get to the Q's and enjoy his A's, shall we?

Erik Hahmann: What was your opinion of the Rays' season? It's tough to be rational when you're so close to a team on a day-by-day basis, and I think the final slump in the ALDS left a bitter taste in people's mouths. We were the team that started off the season as the best team in baseball, but also got no-hit multiple times over the season. Should we be proud or frustrated, or what?

Carson Cistulli: I don't know that it's possible to adjudge the team on a season-by-season basis. What's better -- for the team, for the fans -- is that the Rays have awesome management. I mean, obviously win totals will fluctuate year to year, but with Andrew Friedman and Co. running the team, you can pretty much bet that it'll be run as well as possible within whatever financial constraints ownership mandates.

E.H.: Many Rays fans were deeply infatuated with Rafael Soriano this season, to the point where it reminded me of your overbearing love affair with Colby Lewis. Who's more badass, Soriano or Lewis? Similarly, if you had to pick one player on the Rays to fall madly in love with, who would it be? Or is deep infatuation not something that can be forced...it just has to happen?

CC: First of all, Hahmann, give a Cistulli a break: overbearing love affair? Whatever happened to just one man putting another, god-like man on a high, high pedestal?

So far as badassery goes, I'd assume that Soriano's among the league leaders. For however overrated closers are in terms of actual value, they're still generally exciting. Consider: closers generally have one or two plus pitches and they pitch (again, generally) in high-leverage situations. That's a recipe for what I like to call The Good Times.

As for Soriano, specifically, even if he wasn't as dominant per FIP or xFIP as last year, he very obviously has excellent stuff. Plus, I like how he gets that disgusted look when he does something well. I have a friend from Houston who used to talk about Tracy McGrady getting a similar look when he was dominating. I like the idea of an athlete being in disgusted by his excellence.

Actually, now I think of it, why limit it to athletes? Next time I bring it on FanGraphs, I'mma untuck my shirt real hard.

E.H.: Your NERD ranking system consistently ranked the Rays as one of the most exciting teams in baseball to watch. How come? For those that don't know about NERD, could you break down the rankings and explain why our team was so awesome?

C.C: Well, NERD for teams is an extension of NERD for pitchers, and both are part of an attempt to predict how compelling a game might be for the sabermetrically inclined fan.

For teams, the criteria are as follows: age (younger being better); batting production (per park-adjusted runs above average); park-adjusted home runs per fly ball; a running component composed of stolen base attempts, stolen base runs, and extra bases taken; bullpen xFIP; team UZR; payroll (cheaper being better); and luck (where a team receives a bonus if they've underperformed their BaseRuns record).

That list looks crowded, maybe, but there are also a number of factors that can and do draw us to watch one game and not another. In any case, the Rays do well by a number of those criteria, as you can imagine.

I say that, but would like to add at least one caveat, and it's this: there's something I don't like about watching Rays home games, and I think it has to do either with the stadium (which appears on television to be a kind of giant, cavernous basement) or, alternatively, attendance relative to the stadium's capacity. Maybe it's a combination of both.

In any case, I've considered adding a "park-adjustment," as it were, to each game. Tropicana Field is terrible on TV.

E.H.: The Rays have six capable Major League starters. However, most teams go with five. Jeremy Hellickson seems like a lock to be starting a bunch of games in 2011. Who do you think the odd man out will be between Shields, Price, Garza, Davis, Niemann, and Hellickson? And what do you think will be done with said odd man?

C.C: The odd man is either Garza or Niemann. Shields had a rough year per ERA, but is probably the same guy as ever. Price, duh. For, like, ten reasons. Hellickson is a PYT. And Davis -- well, he's not definitively better than either Garza or Niemann, but he has upside that those guys lack.

Between Garza and Niemann, Garza probably gets the benefit of the doubt, right? With his longer resume and everything?

All that said, I'm sure youprobably know better than me. You're setting me up to fail, Hahmann!

E.H.: Which free agent or trade target do you think would best fill the Rays DH role? It appears we need someone with: (a) DH experience and (b) some AL experience (ALE would be best).

C.C.: It seems like the market for DHs has changed pretty dramatically just within the past year or two, with a number of teams opting not sign a DH proper, but instead using the position more flexibly, to rest players and work match-ups..

He'd probably need a platoon partner, but I like the idea of doing a minor trade for Wladimir Balentien. CHONE has him as a .265/.328/.490 true-talent hitter, and he hit .360/.424/.640 in 114 AB versus lefties at Triple-A, walking almost as much as he struck out (15 BB, 17 K).

E.H.: Your writing at FanGraphs, while very good, is tough to categorize. It doesn't fit "the mold" as they say. Your style is so unique, what lured you into writing about baseball?

C.C.: In terms of the writing, why it's like that, I always start just with this one premise: "What would I like to read?" That's it. There's hardly any other motivation other than creating content which pleases me. And that works (hopefully) because, despite what my mother has told me, I'm not that special. If I enjoy it, some other nerdbone will probably enjoy it.

As for baseball, though, with the exception of a couple years in high school, I've always followed it really closely. I always played. I've always, always liked stats.

Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, Hahmann. If you know what I mean.

E.H.: The Rays are shedding millions and millions of dollars in salary this season. Despite the loss of Carl Crawford, Soriano, and a few other key players, the Rays should be able to field a competitive team. How do you see their 2011 season going?

C.C.: I don't know, but I'll say this: if the Rays were a movie, it's likely that Ken Jeong would be one of the characters.

Amirite?

E.H.: Lasty, can you sum up manager Joe Maddon in a traditional 5-7-5 haiku?

C.C.:

"Two roads diverged in
a yellow wood": like a boss,
Joe Maddon takes both.

Thanks again to Carson for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find Carson frequently destroying FanGraphs.com with both his articles and his dulcet tones on FanGraphs Audio.

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