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BCB Interview: Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll

Last week, I was given the opportunity to send questions about the Cubs to Will Carroll, who was going to forward them for responses to Christina Kahrl, who writes BP's Cubs chapter.

There's bad news and good news. The bad news is, Will lost the questions I originally sent him (the ones you all posted here last week). The good news is, when I re-sent them last night, he answered them himself. This isn't meant to diss Christina at all, but as you know, Will is greatly respected himself, and, as he described himself to me, "an ex-Cubs fan ... it's like a bad relationship. They could only hit me so many times before I had to leave."

Well... all of us have been hit in that way, I suppose. But we're still here, and here are Will's answers to our questions.

Q: We already know that Rich Hill has locked down a rotation spot, and that we know Wade Miller is still battling with Angel Guzman for one, and that Lou Piniella has been making a lot of encouraging OBP-like noises this spring training camp, does all of this mean that Lou may have "gotten religion" about modern statistics?

A: Well, let's look at this. We know now that Guzman's out of the starter chase. Hill is locked in, but do you feel like he's the #2, or is this so called "#5 slot" where Miller's really going to be? Piniella is tasked with winning now on a team where several young players are clearly better options. Felix Pie helps the team defensively and projects to be solid offensively. Matt Murton doesn't need a platoon partner. Ryan Theriot is better than Cesar Izturis in every category except "most Z's in name." Lou appears to have gotten some religion while he took a year off, but we haven't yet seen that he values it. It's a long season and we'll get more evidence as it moves along.

Q: Do we know any details about the specific injury (shoulder) that Oneri Fleita said affected Felix Pie's batting in Winter Ball this year? Should we discount his terrible Dominican League statistics, or be worried that there might be lingering effects?

A: There haven't been any effects this spring. Winter injuries are notoriously difficult to get a handle on since they can be both underreported and exaggerated, often at the same time. Looking good in spring training is enough to make me look past any winter problems.

Q: Who would be a good comparison player to Angel Guzman--hurt in the minors, but with good stuff, and trying to enter the league at age 25 or so?

A: PECOTA comes up with some interesting names. David Cone established himself at 25 by winning 20 for the Mets. Let's not expect that. Russ Ortiz won 18 at 25, his first as a full-time starter. Let's not expect that either. How about a guy who Chicago fans will know - Dustin Hermanson. Injury prone and only establishing himself at 24, he went 8-8 for a fading Expos team. He had a couple good years, some starting some in the pen. That's not a bad comp for Guzman.

Q: Do the Cubs need to acquire a different shortstop to reach the playoffs this year?

A: No, why not try Theriot there first? Theriot is predicted to nearly equal [Cesar] Izturis' VORP getting just over 200 ABs. Ronny Cedeno is a better option. Heck, Neifi Perez might be a better option. Is he available? Did I just throw up in my mouth?

Q: The Cubs were horribly shallow at first base last year. When Derrek Lee went down, we saw a lot of bad hitters in the lineup. At what positions are the Cubs weakest this year? Are there any minor league players (e.g., Scott Moore) who could surprise if thrown into action due to someone else's injury?

A: Any team should be able to come up with something at 1B. There are scads of players at Triple-A that could stand in for a couple weeks and succeed. Not having one in Iowa is just poor planning. Now, it's not likely that a devastating injury like Lee's can be overcome by some replacement level slugger, but it can be minimized. There's always someone out there like Ross Gload, Chris Coste, or Andy Abad, just looking for a chance.

Q: Will the Cubs get anything of value in return for their excess relievers, or will they just hang onto guys like Novoa and Wuertz long enough to lose them for nothing?

A: That's a tough market. You'd like to see [Jim] Hendry just waiting for someone to make a desperation move or to swap strengths with some organization that's heavy on something the Cubs need. No one's excited to get Novoa - remember how he came over, as a throwin for a throwaway.

Q: What's best for the Cubs line-up, to have Alfonso Soriano leading off, or in the middle of the line-up, where he can drive in more runs and perhaps allow an OBP guy like Matt Murton to lead off?

A: Lineups don't matter much and if Soriano feels more comfortable at the 1, so be it. He's the stolen base threat and maybe that helps Murton more than Murton being on base 36% of the time. The difference between .350 and .360 is actually pretty narrow, enough that I'll go with whatever Piniella decides there.

Q: Are solo home runs and low OBP skills at the top of the order offset by his stolen bases or does it make more sense to put him in a position to drive in more runs? It's not only Soriano's generally weak obp skills that need to be compensated for, we're also going to have a weaker bat than his in the middle of the lineup. Will 40 or so stolen bases make up for all that?

A: It would make sense to have him further back in absence of other power threats. The Cubs have [Aramis] Ramirez and Lee back there. Where it could hurt is with Izturis never being on base ahead of the pitcher, leaving Soriano hitting too many solo shots. I think if Jones gets a solid platoon partner or is pushed aside by Felix Pie (Soriano to LF, Murton to RF), then it's really moot.

Q: Will we lead the league in solo home runs this year?

A: Good question. Did the A's lead the league in years where Rickey Henderson was there, or the Yankees? That's one I'll sic the data guys on.

Q: How is jerking Soriano around the outfield going to affect him, if at all? Last year he played left and now he's going to be the center fielder. Yet we all know he's headed to right as soon as Jacque Jones leaves and Pie is going to take over in center.

A: He seems okay with it. There's been none of the drama of last year. We might get some if the wind really affects him or if he falters early.

Q: Would the Cubs have better spent their money filling a need rather than throwing money at a name player with relatively ordinary offensive numbers for a corner outfielder (Soriano)

A: What need? Pitching? They got who they wanted of what was available. SS? They weren't looking. The money's irrelevant - it certainly didn't stop them from spending on everyone else. It's not like the team had $20m dollars to fill everything. They spent just over a third of their offseason bounty on him. Was there a better free agent out there?

Q: Which, if any, of the Cub offseason acquisitions are most likely to retard the development of the team and do not help toward winning now?

A: Why anyone felt the need to give Jason Marquis more than an NRI is beyond me. Did they need to block Guzman? Did they feel he was a better option than ... anyone? I guess so. Larry Rothschild said he could fix him and seems to be trying to turn him into a sinkerballer. I'll believe that when I see it. To me, that move could be the Victor Zambrano move for Rothschild. At least they only gave up cash.

Q: Why does PECOTA seem to love Pie so much, calling for a 20 HR campaign this season if he were to play in the majors? He's yet to show that kind of power at any level previously, does he share any similarities with Hanley Ramirez with regards to potential vs. output in the minor leagues?

A: What's not to like? Speed, great defense, a projectable body.

Q: Assuming that Zambrano, Hill, Lilly and Marquis are the first four starters, who should be #5? Miller or Guzman or Prior?

A: I'd go with Guzman, but that's based on long-term, not "right now." Miller's pitched better in the spring, for what that's worth (not much.) I can't make any argument for Prior.

Q: Do you maintain any metrics that show how accurate or bad your preseason predictions are after the season is over?

A: No, we leave that to independent parties. Year after year, PECOTA has tracked as the most accurate tool out there. In one study, we were first in hitters, second in pitchers, but Nate Silver is always working to improve what happens in his magical laptop each offseason.