Thursday, March 12, 2009

Deep-dish with Jonah Keri, Baseball Writer

Been a long-time of Jonah's work, especially from his work on Baseball Prospectus and ESPN. His site, Jonah Keri dot com is a personal favorite of mine and should be bookmarked for all those fans of Sabermetrically-inclined work.
Jake Larsen: For those not familiar, who is Jonah Keri?

Jonah Keri: I'm a Montreal-born and -raised goofball who's lucky enough to write about both the stock market (Investor's Business Daily) and sports (, Wall Street Journal, Penthouse, etc.) for a living. I'm also one of only 12 Montreal Expos fans left on the planet.

JL: Last year, unbelievable stuff happened. Multiple Rays in the All-star game and the Rays going from worst to first. With that said, is there more parity in baseball than 10 years ago? See anymore weird stuff happening this year?

JK: I think the Royals could make a run if things go right, though they shot themselves in the foot for no good reason by spending sizable chunks of cash on stiffs like Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Jacobs (not to mention the prior Jose Guillen contract abomination). I also think the Mets win the NL East, which to mainstream observers might seem weird, given they've been branded as can't-win chokers.

There's definitely more parity now. I mean, the Yankees had just finished a dynasty in 2000.

JL: The big-spending Yankees are back! With the signings of Teixiera, Sabathia and Burnett, have the Yankees surged past the Rays and Red Sox for supremacy of the AL East? Do you think the Yankees moved back the "Dooms day Clock," seeing as their roster still contains numerous aging key veterans, with this offseason? Also, did they overlook their weak bullpen in their spending?

JK: I was set to pick the Yankees second in the division, slightly behind the Rays and slightly ahead of the Red Sox, with all three teams winning 92 games or more. Teixeira and Sabathia figured to help a lot, even though Burnett's health and success was a question mark and questions remained in terms of age and defense at key positions. Now the A-Rod injury knocks them down a peg, such that I now have it Rays-Red Sox-Yankees (with all three teams still topping 90 wins).

JL: While the Red Sox didn't go nuts in the offseason with the top free agents, they locked up key youngsters and signed a lot of low-risk/high-reward signings?

JK: Well there wasn't anything to lock up per se, they just bought out some arbitration years, with a free agent year or two thrown in for good measure. Which can be a fine strategy of course, as any Rays fan would tell you re: Evan Longoria. I liked some of Boston's low-risk, high-reward signings, with Penny-Smoltz-Saito a nice trio on the pitching side. My biggest concerns for the Sox remain with their offense. I expect some bounceback for Ortiz, but catcher is still a hole, Drew's health is never a certainty, we don't know if Ellsbury's going to take the next step, Lowell's fading fast, Bay < Manny, etc..

JL: 2 scandals became more prevalent this spring, steroids and age descrepincies with latin players? The new testing policies seem to be working on the usage, but how does baseball fix "Age Gate", are suspensions and contract terminations the answer?

JK: The Nats story was pretty high-profile just because it was the killshot that finally forced to change its name. Other than that, though, I don't know that I'd agree on age discrepancies suddenly becoming a much bigger deal. That's been an issue for a while.

As for how to fix it, it just requires more diligence on the part of signing teams. The Nats case, and really a lot of what has embarrassed that franchise, can be placed at the feet of Jose Rijo. Penailizing the player in a sense lets teams off the hook for their gullibility.

JL: Its been 101 years for the Cubs, will Cubs fans get that release that Red Sox fans had when they broke "The Curse of the Bambino" anytime soon? Milton Bradley was an interesting pick-up, wasn't it?

JK: I liked the Bradley move, he's been one of my favorites since he was a Vermont Expo. And sure, the Cubs have a shot to win it all. I don't get too caught up in predicting World Series winners.. Eight teams make the playoffs every year, and short series give less talented teams the opportunity to win it all. The Cubs are the favorites in the NL Central. If they get into the postseason, anything's possible.

JL: Desribe a day in the life of Jonah Keri.

JK: There is no standard day. For example, I'm writing this just after finishing my daily column for Investor's Business Daily -- at 12:11 am Madrid time (I'm in Madrid partly for vacation and partly on assignment for a story I'm writing for Penthouse about bullfighting). Other than writing the flagship stock market column for IBD, "The Big Picture", at the market's close every day, anything else is possible on any given day. 2009's going to feature a lot more long-form work than I'm used to doing, which is certainly a challenge. I've always worked best on a tight deadline, not having 10 months to write 100,000 words.

JL: If you had to pick a team to go from worst-to-first, who would it be? Also, what team do you see having a grand fall from grace?

JK: Worst to first: I don't see any team doing it.. The team with the best shot at it is probably the Tigers. They still have plenty of offense, and Verlander and Bonderman could easily bounce back.  

Fall from grace: Brewers. They're going to take a step back with Sheets and Sabathia gone.

JL: What misconceptions do you think there are about sabermetrics and sabermetricians? Murray Chass, Bill Platchke and numerous other well-known writers seem to have in for those types and bloggers who seem to think along those lines.

JK: The biggest misconception, by far, is that numerically-inclined analysts don't love the game. That's not only bat-feces insane, it's completely illogical. Why would people like Tom Tango and others of that ilk spend so much time and effort devising new ways to look at the game, unless they were compleetly gaga for baseball? Some of the smarter analysts out there could be making piles of money if they devoted all their energy to something other than baseball, like...I don't know, software development, rocket science, finding a way into Fort Knox, whatever.

JL: What well-known and less-than-known blogs do you read, whenever you have the chance?

JK: My Google Reader is way too long. Some of my favorites: USSMariner, Squawking Baseball, DRays Bay, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, , Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, Ken Davidoff, Steven Goldman, McSweeney's, Freakonomics,, Basketball State,, FanGraphs, The Book, Baseball Analysts, Baseball Prospectus, The New Yorker, Tim Marchman, Baseball Think Factory, River Avenue Blues, BrewHoop, TrueHoop, John Hollinger,'s college hoops page, and RotoSynthesis. There are many others too. It's a wonder I ever get anything done.

JL: Jim Bowden or Paul DePodesta, who gets another GM shot next?

JK: DePodesta, though we have to hope that the baseless slams made by the L.A. media while DePo ran the ship don't stick.

JL: As a Rays fan, I couldn't go without asking any Rays-related queries. What do you foresee out of the Rays in the short-term and the long-term future? Will the addition of Pat Burrell make an impact in the young careers of hitting prodigies like Evan Longoria and BJ Upton? The Rays trade of Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett seems to have paid dividends for the Rays, is it still too early to call the Rays the winners of the trade?

JK: They're a better team on paper this year than last with the Burrell signing, more David Price, Joe Nelson and company added to the pen and more depth elsewhere. But that doesn't guarantee a repeat performance, of course. There is no evidence (that I know of) to suggest that lineup protection offers a team significant benefits, so no to the Burrell question. The Rays are the winners of that trade, yes. Young will improve, but Garza's best is yet to come too.

JL: There's a belief that a pitcher's arm has a limited amount of pitches in it and its best for a young pitcher to be slowly acclimated into their careers and that an increase of 30 or more has negative effects on a pitchers career and elbow ligaments. First, do you believe in "The Rule of 30" and do some pitchers get excluded from it(due to their pitching mechanics)? Tim Lincecum looks like he could throw complete games everyday and painlessly for years and CC Sabathia has thrown 512 innings in the last 2 seasons(including the playoffs) without looking like his arm is falling off.

JK: There are no hard and fast rules in baseball. Once you believe something with absolute certainty, there's a good chance you'll soon be proven wrong. So yes, there are certainly exceptions to that, just like any other. With that said, anyone who's willing to bet his life on Sabathia, Lincecum or anyone else staying healthy from now 'til age 40 better start digging his grave now.

JL: To throw your name in the great prospect debate, who would you choose between Matt Wieters or David Price?

JK: Wieters. Hitters are always a safer bet. 

JL: Who are your breakout hitters, pitchers and prospects for this upcoming season?

JK: The Upton brothers, Clayton Kershaw/James McDonald, David Price (duh), Alex Gordon, Chris Tillman, Gordon Beckham, Tim Beckham, Justin Smoak. 

JL: Michel Ynoa thinks he could be in the mix for the Oakland A's rotation in 2 years(at the age of 19) and has yet to throw a professional pitch? Cockiness on his part or is he just that good?

JK: Until age 14, I was convinced I could play in the NBA, and Inoa's just three years older than that. Teenagers are cocky jackasses. That's what makes them teenagers (myself back in the day very much included).

JL: Manny Ramirez took 4 months to finally sign the original offer of the Dodgers. What was his deal, did he honestly believe he was worth more or get talked into the thought that he could get 100 mil?

JK: I am not privy to Manny Ramirez's brain. If I were, I would have stolen his otherworldly strike zone judgment, signed with the Expos years ago, led them to World Series glory, and shoved it in Bud Selig's face.

JL: Should Scott Boras be given the disrespect that is thrown onto him? He's done plenty of underhanded things, but Drew Rosenhaus seems worse to me.

JK: He goes all out to get the most for his client by taking advantage of any loophole he can. If owners don't like it, they should work harder to close loopholes.

JL: Anything that baseball fans should be on the lookout for from you?

JK: I'll be contributing to the Wall Street Journal's new (nearly) daily analytical column, "The Count", throughout the baseball season. Of course I'm hopelessly outgunned by fantastic writers like Tim Marchman, Dave Cameron and Carl Bialik, but until WSJ Sports Editors Sam Walker and Geoff Foster can break into my house and steal the incriminating photos I have of them, I think I'm safe.

JL: Final thoughs?

JK: When it comes to the stock market, always cut your losses quickly. When it comes to your favorite team, forget cutting your losses. Always believe. 

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