Jonah Keri has covered baseball, college basketball and other sports for a number of publications, including ESPN.com, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Penthouse, and Baseball Prospectus. He also writes the flagship stock market column for Investor's Business Daily, called "The Big Picture". He's writing a book about the Tampa Bay Rays and the AL East race, slated for publication in 2010.
RJK: You play in some pretty exotic fantasy leagues with some pretty exotic people. Which league do you derive the most pleasure from?
JK: Strat-O-Matic leagues. You get to manage every game for an entire season, considering every factor from bullpen usage to platoons to defensive value. Strat crushes traditional roto.
RJK: What peripheral stats do you look at to forecast breakout/undervalued players?
JK: Same as everyone else. I do really like groundball pitchers, especially in Strat leagues, where I tailor my parks to be home run-friendly, making the Derek Lowes of the league that much more valuable. I like to look for Isolated Power in hitting prospects too. Often times a prospect gets overrated based on high batting averages in the minors, when in fact we know that batting average is a highly variable stat. But if the ISO is there year after year, a lot of good things often follow, including increased walk rates.
RJK: You're currently writing a book about the Tampa Bay Rays. They appear to be a unique team in baseball history given their current ownership, management, and homegrown talent. Is this a formula that can be duplicated or were the '08 Rays a perfect storm that are impossible to replicate?
JK: They have more talent this year than last. They added Pat Burrell, fortified their bullpen, and will get a lot more innings out of David Price. They might win fewer games than last year and still be better overall, since their Pythag record suggested only 92 wins last season. I expect the Rays to be very good again in '09. I'm picking them to win the division, again.
RJK: We'll get to Pat Burrell a little later. Are there any fantasy tips you can give about the '09 Rays given your backstage pass to the club?
JK: If Aki Iwamura ever gets hurt, trample your leaguemates to get Willy Aybar.
RJK: As an Expos fan, tell me your favorite fantasy-specific seasons for Expos players. Most of us remember Vlad coming close to 40-40 and Pedro's first CY season but, what other seasons fly under the radar in terms of fantasy greatness? Somewhere Ken Hill and Wil Cordero are praying for a passing mention.
JK: Ken Hill and Wil Cordero don't come close. Tim Raines in 1987 missing all of May but still hitting .330 with 123 runs scored, 18 homers and 50 steals is a gem. Raines ion '83 hitting .298 with 133 runs scored, 11 homers and 90 steals was pretty sweet too. Raines may have been the best player in the NL from 1983 through 1987, and almost certainly was from '84 through '87. The fact that he's getting so little Hall of Fame support shows that voters have no idea what they're doing.
Oh and Pedro Martinez's Cy Young year in Montreal (1997) featured a 17-8 record, 305 strikeouts, a 1.90 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, in the heart of the steroids era (213 ERA+).
RJK: What did it feel like to have Montreal lose the Expos? Are you a Nationals fan or did your allegiance to the franchise die on Oct. 3, 2004?
JK: It broke my heart. I wrote about it at the time, those feelings still linger.
And no, I'm not a fan of the Nats or any other major league team now. I am a baseball orphan.
RJK: What was the strike shortened 1994 Expos season like for you? It appeared the Expos were on their way to the World Series, a World Series that may have sparked enough interest to get a new stadium built, thus keeping the team in Montreal long term. I'd lay out more of the potential consequences the strike had for the Expos but it just gets more depressing . . . What are your thoughts as you look back?
JK: I actually quit following baseball. Totally. Cold turkey. As of Labor Day 1994, when it was obvious there would be no World Series, I decided I couldn't live with the owners and players stealing my one chance to see the team I loved with all my heart play for a championship. The only reason I came back to the game is because my then-girlfriend bought me a 1958 Felipe Alou rookie card. We'd only been dating a few months, but she knew how much I loved the Expos and how important they were in my life, so much so that she went out of her way to find me an awesome gift that would rekindle my fandom for the team, and for the game. If not for that gesture, I probably wouldn't have written a single published word about baseball, ever.
PS That girl and I have now been married 11 years. She's the best.
RJK: How is the screenplay for the IMAX baseball movie you've been working on?
JK: The movie's on hold, due to lack of financing. The steroids scandal struck at the worst time for us. There's still a strong desire on IMAX's part to eventually get the movie made. But it's going to take time.
RJK: Your interests and expertise (Stock Market, Baseball, College Basketball, Hockey, Poker, Politics, Movies) appear to run wide and deep. If you had to focus on only one of your current passions, what would you choose and why?
JK: Impossible to choose. I'm leaving this weekend for Spain to write a story about Bullfighting. That kind of variety is what makes my job(s) so much fun. I can't imagine what kind of offer it would take to get me to focus on one full-time gig, covering just one topic. You'd need a lot of Brinks trucks.
RJK: What fascinates you that you've yet to write about in detail?
JK: Travel. I've blogged a bit about my travels over at JonahKeri.com, and some of the stuff I've written, such as a soon to released story on Japanese baseball for Penthouse and the bullfighting/Spain story I'm now writing for Penthouse, deal with travel. But I'd like a shot at doing some more traditional travel journalism. Who doesn't love subsidized junkets?
RJK: Do you use Twitter? Where do you see Social Networking in 5 years?
JK: I'm on Twitter, yes. I have a group of slightly younger buddies who got me into Google Reader, then Twitter. They're solely responsible for me picking up interest in some newer bands. I might be communicating by carrier pigeon if not for them. On social networking in 5 years...no idea. I'd guess even more niches than we have now, social networking for carpenters only, or parrot enthusiasts only. Maybe these things already exist, I don't know.
(RJK: You can follow Jonah on Twitter here. Come to think of it, you can follow me on Twitter here. I know . . .shameless Twitterplug.)
RJK: What type of stock market strategies translate best to fantasy? Many like "Buy Low, Sell High" have become cliche but, which seem to be the most applicable?
JK: Actually forget buy low, sell high. A big part of the IBD investing philosophy is to buy on strength, NOT weakness. I think too many fantasy players, like too many investors, become hung up on bargains. I bought Cliff Lee a few starts into last season, because I felt his start was for real (while others apparently did not). Acquiring him was one of the biggest reasons I won the champioship in the AL-LABR experts league last year.
RJK: Will you do your Q&A series for ESPN.com from spring training again this year?
JK: Not happening this year. My new gig writing for the Wall Street Journal is keeping me busy, as is a piece I've got coming up for Baseball America on their prospect rankings from past years, as is an insane travel stretch still in progress.
RJK: Best ESPN show of the bunch - PTI, Sports Reporters, or OTL?
JK: I don't watch any of them. The Wire is the best show ever, though.
RJK: Best Sports Writer of the bunch - Jim Murray, Tony Kornheiser, Bill Simmons, or Rick Reilly?
JK: Jim Murray. When my then-GF/now-wife and I started dating, I'd go to visit her in Southern California in the summertime. Murray and Mike Downey were both writing for the LA Times at the time, and I was smitten. Couldn't wait to crack open the paper every day. Murray was phenomenal, one of a few people who really influenced me as a journalist coming up. That was a key time for me too, as I was smack in the middle of journalism school.
This is not a knock on Bill Simmons, by the way. He's just terrific at what he does. I've been reading him since his old Boston Sports Guy days, well before he started at ESPN.com.
RJK: Favorite Expos player?
JK: Tim Raines
RJK: Best College Basketball player this decade? 90's? 80's?
JK: Oh, geez. Off the top of my head...Kevin Durant, Shaquille O'Neal and Ralph Sampson maybe?
RJK: Best Movie this decade?
JK: Hmmm...probably one of the Lord of the Rings movies, most likely The Fellowship of the Ring. I'm in the process of counting down my 20 favorite movies of all-time at JonahKeri.com actually. If I can find some free time, I may even get beyond #19.
RJK: Favorite book you read in '08?
JK: I'm going to cheat and include my favorite book of '07, because it was just so good, and ultimately something of a life-changer. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.
RJK: Stock Market in '09. . . Are we screwed or really screwed?
JK: At IBD we don't make predictions about the stock market. We follow the daily action and react accordingly. So I've got nothing for you. Only investing advice I can give is to ALWAYS cut your losses short. If you buy a stock and it falls 8% from your buy price, sell immediately, no questions asked. That alone has kept me safe in every bad market, both the 2000-2002 crash, and the current one.
RJK: Favorite baseball card growing up?
JK: Biff Pocoroba!
RJK: Favorite current Sports Center anchor? All-time?
JK: I don't watch much SportsCenter anymore. I like Van Pelt, though. All-time, Kenny Mayne is way up there for me. "Everybody throws your hands in the air and wave them around as if there were no repercussions" was basically making fun of other people's catchphrases. So I loved it.
RJK: Best baseball name ever? Can you beat Candy Maldanado or Bip Roberts?
JK: Biff Pocoroba! Also Rusty Kuntz and Dick Pole, obviously.
RJK: Pat Burrell's YouTube Video - Awesome or Epic?
JK: Yes and yes.
RJK: How's Team Canada shaping up?
JK: Stubby Clapp's on the roster, so that's awesome. More seriously, Bay, Morneau, Martin, Votto...there's some talent there, just not the same depth that other nations have.
-Fantasy Lightning Round-
RJK: This year's Nate McLouth?
JK: Ummm...does B.J. Upton count after his 9-homer season? Because I love B.J. Upton this year. Also Justin Upton, for that matter.
RJK: This year's Victor Martinez?
JK: Mike Lowell
RJK: This year's Ricky Nolasco?
JK: Give Trevor Cahill 25 starts and he could be really good really fast.
RJK: Is Matt Weiter's omniscient and omnipresent or just the next Joe Mauer with power?
JK: The comparison I've heard more often is Mark Teixeira with power, since he's both a big switch-hitter and a Scott Boras client. He's also a catcher. If he hits like Teixeira from behind the dish and plays defense the way scouts say he can, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. No pressure there.
RJK: Which top 15 closer will lose his job because of ineffectiveness first?
JK: The easy answer is Kerry Wood, because he's already feeling twinges and we're in early March. But I'd avoid Bobby Jenks too. Closers with falling strikeout rates make me nervous.
RJK: What will Johnny Cueto's year end statline look like?
JK: 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, doesn't top 175 innings. Lots of Ks, maybe a few fewer HRs allowed.
RJK: K-Rod's whip in '09, +/- 1.30?
JK: Less than. He's in the little boys' league now.
RJK: Give me Justin Upton's ceiling in the form of a comp?
JK: Roberto Clemente. Or Darryl Strawberry at his peak.
RJK: Same question for David Price?
JK: Pitchers are always tougher to predict with confidence. I could see Greg Swindell, and I could also see David Cone.
RJK: Best personal fantasy baseball moment?
JK: Going back-to-back in one of my two Strat leagues, then winning the other the following year.
RJK: Worst personal fantasy baseball moment?
JK: Lost a home league on the last day of the season. By one strikeout. I still finished in the money, but lost the bragging rights.