Over the weekend I had the opportunity to interview Geoff Young, a writer for Baseball Prospectus (the website) who focuses on the NL and AL Western divisions and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus 2013 (the book), the premier guide to the 2013 MLB season. Geoff is the founder of Duck Snorts, a prominent Padres blog, and he's the writer of the Rockies, Padres, and Reds chapters in the book.
In the interview, we spoke at length about the Rockies, the NL West, and more. As a result, I'll be posting excerpts of the interview, grouped thematically, over the coming days. The following is part 1, discussing outfield defense:
Jeff Aberle: Geoff, thanks for taking the time to talk with me! My first question to you is: did Matt Holliday touch home plate?
Geoff Young: (laughs) Uh, no comment.
JA: Yeah, that's really the big argument Padres and Rockies fans have.
GY: Don't remind me. It was a heck of a game though.
JA: No kidding! It was probably the best sports moment of my life. And you know, it wouldn't have ever gotten to that if they wouldn't have called Garrett Atkins' home run in the 7th inning a double.
GY: That's true, that's a good point. I really enjoyed it, especially the part where Scott Hairston was going to be the big hero for the Padres...and then the bottom half of the inning happened.
JA: Scott Hairston has been a thorn in the Rockies' side no matter what team he's played for. Actually, San Diego seems to grow those guys on trees - the guys that kill the Rockies despite not doing anything against anybody else.
I've always thought that the Padres were like the Bizarro Rockies in the sense that the Rockies have the most extreme offensive environment (in Coors Field) and the Padres have had the most extreme defensive environment (in Petco Park). They're working on trying to mitigate that somewhat this year by moving the fences in (at Petco). I wanted to know what your thoughts were on that.
GY: I think we're going to have to wait and see how it works out. I assume the team has done its share of studies to try and figure that out in terms of signaling outcomes without actual physical data. To me, when you've got a park that works to such extremes that it would be better to make that park work for you rather than leveling the playing field/changing the environment. It might not be the best idea to change an environment that plays so extreme - but I'm really fascinated to see how it works out.
My biggest concerns from a Padres standpoint is that with the pitching staff they're running out there it has the potential to backfire on them. Last year the Mets altered the dimensions at Citi Field and all of a sudden the Mets pitchers gave up a lot more home runs. The hitters hit more homers too, but not nearly as many as their pitchers gave up. So that's my concern, especially when the Padres will have Clayton Richard - a guy who led the NL in homers given up last year despite pitching half of his games at Petco - not to mention a number of other fringe guys in the rotation.
JA: The Devil's Advocate argument of course is that San Diego's real strength has been its hitting, which has been somewhat masked by the park. It might allow a guy like Chase Headley to really show that he's an elite offensive player. There's definitely an argument to be made that something like that could happen at Coors Field where dimensions get altered - it's really hard to say what would happen there.
GY: It's the great unknown - you take your hypotheticals and make your best guess based on what data you do have available and hopefully the result is pretty close. I actually think that the Padres have one of their best offensive teams in recent years, top to bottom a pretty decent lineup. The question is whether the gains they're going to see will off-set the losses from the pitching staff.
JA: And the other part of that is defense - you know, how's that going to affect your outfield defense?
GY: That's a good point, there will be less room to cover in the gaps, which will be good for (Carlos) Quentin in left. In right and center I don't think it will be as big a deal because (Cameron) Maybin can cover a lot of ground in center and (Will) Venable has played some center before too. I don't think it's going to have too much of an impact there, except maybe that Quentin will be able to play in a few more games.
JA: Speaking of outfield defense, let's just say that the Rockies seem to struggle in that area in pretty much any sabermetric website, whether it be Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, or Baseball Reference. The metrics really don't like the Rockies' outfield. How much do you think is that a function of Coors Field - given that the outfield dimensions are so large? How much is it that they're just terrible?
GY: Without having specifically studied that metric with respect to that question, my gut is that there's a ballpark factor at work here. No data to back that up, but my gut says that there's got to be an issue that's above and beyond the actual play of those guys, because (Dexter) Fowler looks to me when I see him like he can go get it.
JA: And he's a -11 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) player according to Baseball Prospectus - and (Carlos) Gonzalez is the same way, he's a negative left fielder.
GY: Exactly - and he's had experience playing center field before. The defensive metrics are always a challenge, they're a little bit behind in terms of sabermetric analysis in say, offense and pitching. My suspicion is that there is a ballpark effect at play. Nothing to back that up with, but I'll just say that you can't just play 3 lousy outfielders out there every day and get away with it. Yes, the Rockies lost a lot of games last year, but that's been true (poor OF defensive metrics) even when they've won games - there appears to be something more than meets the eye there.
JA: Well, it's an article idea, right?
GY: Yeah, somebody should definitely look into that, because with something like that, when there's smoke, there's fire.
JA: Obviously the Rockies have more problems than just outfield defense. When you look at their 3B rankings in defense, which are a little bit less variable (than OF defense), you see some pretty terrible defenders there...
Tune back tomorrow for Part 2, which will discuss the hot corner for the Rockies - particularly Nolan Arenado.