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An Interview With Sky Kalkman

You all know Sky from his time as Manager of BeyondTheBoxScore and as a leader in the Sabermetric community.  Today, Sky brings his vast baseball knowledge, and wit, to our little website.  Enjoy.

Erik:  If all stats were being eliminated from planet Earth and you had to choose one stat or metric to save that you feel best evaluates a player's skills/value, what would it be and why?

Sky Kalkman:  Definitely depends if the question is about skills or value, past or future.  Do I need to know who was more productive last year?  Do I need to know who will be better next year?  Do I need to know which AA prospect will grow into the better major leaguer?  And -- sorry to be obnoxious -- you can fine tune each of those questions in a variety of ways.  In other words, and this goes beyond baseball analysis, you really do have to figure out exactly what question you're asking before trying to answer it.

To respond to the intent of your question, I'd cheat and pick some implementation of WAR, because it's all the stuff I'd want to know rolled up under one umbrella.  For pitchers, I'm extremely fond of the K%, BB%, GB% trifecta.  Lately Harry Pavlidis and Bryan Smith have written some really cool stuff in that arena.  Bryan's observation that successful low-level ground ball pitching prospects who allow lots of contact climb the ladder well because they benefit from better and better fielding is one of those awesome, ah-hah! revelations.

E.H.:  Matt Garza avoided arbitration by signing a one year deal for a little over $3 million, which is good value for the production he brings.  If Garza continues to improve do you foresee the Rays trading him at some point in the near future while his value is at its peak?

S.K.: Over the past few years I've argued that the Rays should have traded Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir as they came off trade-value-maximizing seasons.  And I thought Bartlett was going to be traded this off-season.  With a $60M payroll, you need to average something like $1.25M per WAR to make the playoffs.  That's hard enough, but when you start paying players near the free agent rate (more towards $4M per WAR) you have to do even better with everyone else.  The trick here is to keep the Durham express rolling.  Unfortunately, re-stocking the farm system requires selling off the high-priced pieces.  That's tough on fans, and at some point it will probably piss off some players, but if consistent seasons of 90+ wins isn't enough to keep both those camps 90% happy, tough.  The other option is keeping the popular names and winning 75 games per year.  I didn't follow the Rays closely before 2007, but I'm pretty sure that option was embraced far less than the current high-turnover option.

E.H.:  Would signing Crawford to a one year extension make sense for the team as well as the player?

S.K.: Crawford won't and shouldn't take anything near what the Rays can afford to pay him.  Tampa just can't spend $15M -- a quarter of their payroll -- on one player and that's what he'll make every season, guaranteed, for the next 4-5 years.  There are home town discounts and then there are pipe dreams.  This is the latter.

But again, while it won't be fun watching Crawford play for another team, the Rays will actually be a better off letting him walk.  There will be more exciting players to root for, both because a starting position becomes available and because the previous "Crawford" (Huff) brought exciting players in return (Zobrist). 

E.H.:  You are one of the leading voices in the sabermetric community.  How do you see the community progressing over the next 10 years?

S.K.:  Sabermetrics overall is going to become a lot more mainstream.  It's just really tough to argue with the findings, and so more and more fans will come to buy into it.  I also think there will (should?) become more of a dichotomy between the crunchers and the writers.  With traditional baseball writers, you've got the reporters and the analysts.  Many try to wear both hats, but we all know when someone is outside their element.  As sports media changes -- and the changes are only accelerating -- I think we're going to see specialized roles become more rewarding (TMZ does just fine without any ability to write, for example.)  Saber crunchers will provide the substance (think Fangraphs or Colin Wyers) and the writers will take that stuff and entertain us (think Joe Posnanski or Dave Cameron).  Not that saber writing has to be numbers based.  It's really about the concepts.

Another advancement will be the collaborative nature of research and data-based discussion.  All of these cool pieces of web software will interact with hyper-focused online communities to empower anyone to quickly and easily present information and allow others to pick up where they left off.  For example, think about Baseball Reference's Play Index tool.  You can save a query, send a link to someone else, and then they can tweak what you did.  Now integrate that PI functionality into the draysbay comments, make it more powerful, easier to manipulate, and allow users to add their own data.  Wow.

E.H.:  Jason Bartlett also avoided arbitration, signing a one year $4million deal.  How did you like that move, and do you feel this is Bartlett's last season as a Ray?

S.K.:  It's definitely a good deal for the Rays, but as you all have beaten to death here at DRB, Bartlett's first two months of 2009 were an aberration.  He's going to come back to earth this year (well, he already came back to earth, but because his stats now start fresh, it will be easier to notice) and his trade value will fall.  As such, I'd trade him now.  A $4M salary coming off a .389 wOBA season looks a lot nicer than a $6M salary coming off a .342 (via CHONE) wOBA season.

E.H.:  How do you see the signing of Johnson affecting the Rays bench?

S.K.:  I'm not the guy to ask about bench roles -- I think it's a highly overrated conversation.  Sure, adding DJ was a good move and it's not insignificant (an extra quarter of a win?) but I also don't care who the seventh guy out of the bullpen is (well, that's not true, I like Earl Weaver's strategy of breaking a young guy into the bigs via long relief).  Once you start worrying about bench roles, you start sounding like Mets fans who think their season hinges on whether or not they sign Bengie Molina.

E.H.:  We all love B.J. Upton so a little bias may seep out in our writing from time to time.  What is your honest projection for his 2010 season?

S.K.:  I'll admit it, I've taken long sips from the BJ Kool-Aid (in the metaphorical sense, not the euphemism sense).  Smart money says .370 OBP .430 SLG, but I have to go something more like .385 OBP .530 SLG and some down ballot MVP votes.

Saberists have long argued that intangibles, personality, and emotion aren't worth paying attention to.  I agree, but that's not because those things don't matter.  It's because our knowledge of those attributes is WAY less than most people think.  There's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into allowing a person to fulfill their potential and my guess is that those things will determine BJ's career path.  However, none of us have any idea what the specific challenges are, how he's approaching them, where he's failing, where he's succeeding, or what his 2009 stat line will look like.  We can come up with plausible story lines all day long, but plausibility is a long way from truth.  Not that we should give up trying to understand personality interactions, but we need new methods and more information before bringing the psychological effects into the dicsussion.

E.H.:  Who wll have the highest WAR on the team next season, and what will that number be?

S.K.:  Evan Longoria, 7 WAR.  He'll take a step forward with the bat and his UZR number will take a step back (because you just don't see back to back +18 fielding numbers.)  If things bounce his way, he could win the MVP.


A big thanks to Sky for joining us and be sure to check out Sky on Twitter @btb_Sky