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An Interview With Carson Cistulli

Some may call it unusual.  Others may call it unorthodox.  I call Carson Cistulli's particular style of writing wild entertaining.  You can find his work in a variety of places across the web, including FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, and Rotosynthesis .  Today, you'll find him here answering a few questions in his own Cistullian way:


Erik: The obligatory leadoff question: What should the Rays do with Carl Crawford?


Carson Cistulli: You're killing me, Hahmann. You ask Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron this, and then me? You seem to have me confused with some sort of baseball analyst.

I will say this -- that whatever Friedmann and Co. do, I'll probably applaud it. Seriously. There's something entirely gratifying about smart people being in charge.

Oh, and the other thing I'll say is this -- that looking at his numbers right now, I'm kinda surprised at how good Crawford is. I think for a while the prevailing notion was that he was always a year away from a breakout. I became accustomed to thinking of him just as a really great fantasy player. (Which, he still is one. He finished 17th overall last year, per Baseball Monster.) But that's probably also before defensive metrics became more sophisticated. A win-and-a-half afield is significant, and that's what Crawford averages per 150 games.


E.H.: Although we've all grown tired of the story by this point, how do you think Milton Bradley would fit on this Rays team?


C.C.: Well, considering that the Rays are now in a position where they're non-tendering pretty talented players like Gabe Gross, I think it'd require something special to make the Bradley deal work. And the thing is, extracurriculars aside, Bradley just hasn't been that healthy. Last year represented only the third time ever that Bradley had reached even 124 GP. His next highest total after those three seasons is 101 GP. That's in 10 major league seasons. Sure, it's true: Guys can still provide value in limited PT. J.D. Drew, for example, has done just that for Boston -- at the same position. But Drew is an iron man relative to Bradley. And a better hitter. And fielder. Bradley would have to come cheap. Below $5MM/year, for sure. And he'd have to be fine with his role -- which, what would that be? DH, probably, if it's Burrell going Chicagoward. Maybe right field instead of the Joyce/Kapler platoon? Either way, it seems like a lot of hassle for what might constitute only a marginal improvement.


E.H.: The Rays recently traded for Kelly Shoppach and re-signed Dioner Navarro, which begs the question...What exactly are they going to do with Navarro?


C.C.: I assume they deploy him against tough right-handers. For his career, Navarro is .273/.336/.434 against righties, versus only .245/.302/.339 against lefties. Shoppach is .295/.386/.614 versus lefties and only .227/.307/.430 against righties. (Sample size warnings -- against lefties, in particular -- apply!) Plus, each represents a pretty good insurance policy in case of injury to the other.

WOAH! WOAH! WOAH! I read Navarro's split wrong. He's actually .245/.302/.339 versus righties, huh? Blurg. That's different. Let's see, if you regress that to league average for LHB v RHP (.268/.341/.430) -- using the 1000 PA weight that R.J. invoked just last week- you get something like .255/.315/370. Do the same for Shoppach versus righties (with 2200 PA, instead) and he comes out to like... .250/.315/.415. That's better, but not <i>way</i> better, I guess, considering that Navarro is four years younger and still on the right side of his peak.

Hmmm, why did the Rays re-sign Navarro again?



E.H.: On a scale of 1/11 how surprised were you by the signing of Rafael Soriano?


C.C.: Lowish. Around 3, maybe. I mean, I certainly wasn't predicting it, but I guess my reaction to the Soriano trade was a lot like my reaction to most of Tampa's personnel decisions: I start off by assuming it's a good move, and then I try and figure out how. Actually, strike that. What I do is, I assume it's a good move, and then I let Dave Cameron figure out how. (Or R.J. Anderson, obviously.) That's probably not the most intellectually responsible way of going about it, but it leaves more time for goofing off.


E.H.: Piggybacking on that last question, what do you expect to see out of Soriano this year?


C.C.: So long as he's healthy, a whole bunch of nasty, high-leverage pitching. The four seasons in which he's thrown at least 50 IP -- 2003, '06, '07, '09 -- he's posted excellent numbers (tRA*/xFIP): 2.58/2.63, 3.89/4.00, 3.61/3.80, 3.11/2.99. And it's good for the Rays that he's reached that milestone three of the last four years. The nice thing is, if he breaks down, it's only a year-long contract.

The real question, for me, is how this affects J.P. Howell. I've been the giantest Howell apologist for some time now. It seems like he could make a fantastic starter. From 2005 to 2007, Howell made 33 appearances (all starts) and posted xFIPs of 4.41, 4.08, and 4.12, respectively. His tRA*s (that is, regressed tRA, available at StatCorner) are less friendly over that time period (5.16, 5.21, and 5.24, respectively), so maybe I should just can it. Still, if he's down with it -- and I don't know, maybe he's not -- then I think it's worth a shot.


E.H.: It appears Desmond Jennings is ready to play at the big league level, and probably would be for most teams. The Rays, however, are deeper than most teams and don't have immediate room. Where do you see Jennings fitting in with the 2010 team?

C.C.:Ideally, from an organizational standpoint, not at all, right? I mean, certainly if this were my Hardball Dynasty team, I'd use up his options, leave him down there as long as I could, and get as much of his peak as possible at the lowest possible wage. Of course, if I'm Desmond Jennings, I'm thinking that plan is stupid. I'm thinking, gimme my money, you jerks. ZiPS has him at .264/.330/.371; CHONE is slightly more optimistic (.268/.339/.392). He probably adds 1 - 1.5 wins between his baserunning and defense, too. Hmm, that's pretty good. I think probably what you do is hope that Upton hits like a true Bossman Junior this season, and then you trade the frig out of him before he gets expensive. Then give center field to Jennings.


E.H.: The Rays are most likely not bringing back Carlos Pena in 2011. I know it's ridiculously early, but if you had to decide, who is the Rays starting first basemen in 2011? Willy Aybar? Ben Zobrist? Some undervalued free agent bargain?

C.C.:I think probably neither of those first two make a lot of sense. Aybar seems nice as a bench guy who, in the event of an injury to a corner, provides something better than replacement level (like with Shoppach/Navarro at catcher). For Zobrist, even if he's offensively adequate for first base, it seems like you're squandering his defensive abilities by putting him there. FanGraphs has him at 26.4 fielding runs above average in 2009. Now, it's unlikely that Zobrist reaches the same frenzied heights in 2010 (and beyond) as he did in 2009, but there's a chance he gets somewhere in the vicinity. The highest UZRs at first base -- with the exception of Pujols's bananas 18.8 in 2007 -- are routinely around 10 runs above average. I think maybe a win just evaporates if he moves to first.


E.H.: With the recent signing of Jason Kendall it appears the Royals are still as poorly run as ever. The Rays can surely call up Dayton Moore and get a Jason Bartlett for Billy Butler trade worked out, right?


C.C.: Remember how that Quebecois radio host fooled Sarah Palin into thinking he was Nicolas Sarkozy. Well, I have a question for you: How's your Andrew Friedman impression?


E.H.: You live in Portland. That is one of the cities rumored to be in the mix if the Rays ever leave town. That gives you motive. Promise me you're not going to sabotage any potential meetings for a new stadium in the Tampa/St. Pete area?


C.C.: I think this is the sort of thing that can only be settled by means of a ritual dance battle.


E.H.: You name the time and place, sir.


Again, a big thanks to Carson for joining us today.