21 October 2016

Drawing The Right Blueprint For The Orioles' 2017 Roster

Over the next couple weeks, Camden Depot will be offering a series of offseason acquisition blueprints for the Orioles to follow from our stable of writers (attn: Dan Duquette, these are free to use).  At the end of the series, Jon Shepherd will review the different plans and choose the direction that makes sense for the franchise (attn: Peter Angelos, I am available to be a General Manager, Major Domo, or whatever you wish to call that position these days).  Under consideration are choices in handing out Qualifying Offers, releasing players, free agent targets, and finding a way to fit within what a realistic, though a bit generous budget of 160 MM (counting deferred money just to make things easier). Readers, oh readers, if you feel the urge to write in a plan, send it to CamdenDepot@gmail.com.  Do it well and we just might highlight you as an outside consultant in a post.

Before I continue, please take a look at last year's offerings.

Option 1: Seeking A Cornerstone
Option 2: Building A Rotation
Option 3: Building Major League Depth And A Minor League System
Option 4: Well Rounded And Not Tied Down 
Option 5: Purchasing Innings In Bulk
Option 6: Trying To Make Chicken Salad
Options 7a/b/c: Shepherd Seeks A Few Outside Consultants
Our Camel: Shepherd Decides the Decision

Last year, the Orioles wound up with the following decisions:

1B: Chris Davis
LF: Hyun Soo Kim
RF: Mark Trumbo
DH: Pedro Alvarez
SP: Yovani Gallardo
RP: Darren O'Day

This batch of free agents surprised us at the Depot because it overshot our budget estimate by about 35 MM, which was partially absorbed by Matt Wieters saying yes to the QO.  It was the first major step up in payroll for the club in years.  With a much smaller budget, I went with 1B being an overlap of Steve Pearce and Byung Ho Park.  Compared to Davis, this decision at the moment looks pretty favorable for me.  Davis had an fWAR of 2.7, but Pearce/Park managed 2.1 on about 200 fewer PAs and at half cost.  Anyway, Park faded quickly and went to the minors while Pearce returned to form as a top notch hitter who was only undone by the Orioles forcing him to play the outfield with a bum arm.

For the corner outfield, things would have been interesting.  The Orioles chose to go with Kim and Trumbo, which was actually a rather modest success.  I think if the Joey Rickard experiment went better it would have been a solid option.  Instead, the corner outfield positions produced about 2.8 fWAR total, which means below average production.  My idea was to bring on Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce while also sprinkling in some Steve Pearce and maybe Jonathan Schoop.  Zobrist wound up supposedly ignoring teams that wanted to place him anywhere other than second base, so this might not have been the easiest thing to pull off.

For Joyce, the Pirates found that he and the outfield is like oil and water.  He was simply terrible out there even though his bat was pretty remarkable.  He got in 140 games, but averaged only two PA a game.  That is an old school professional hitter for you.  He would have slotted over to designated hitter once his fielding issues became more obvious.  Zobrist would have been a godsend for the club.  He would have been the second best player on the team with an fWAR of about 4.0.  Who knows if the club could have convinced him to play right field or if Jonathan Schoop could have adapted to that position.  But it bears saying that Zobrist alone significantly outperformed what the Orioles put together for the outfield.

Finally, pitching is where I screwed up.  I went with Mat Latos on a 1/9 deal.  He was terrible.  Though that was less terrible than giving up a draft pick and two years on a similar deal to Yovani Gallardo.  Additionally, the club got a forgettable season by Darren O'Day.  I consider this a win as well.

What is remarkable is that when you consider the positive contribution of Pedro Alvarez, the Orioles' offseason and this blueprint come in about the same.  I give the nudge to our blueprint because it was about 20 MM cheaper and did not burden the club with questionable long term or multiple year contracts.  In fact, our projection model put this club at an 89-73 record, which is exactly what the club finished up with.

If I knew the budget was another 20 MM above where we pegged it, what would I have done?  Easy, my thought process would have led me to signing J.A. Happ and Scott Kazmir in place of Mat Latos.  How would that have played out?  Happ was a Cy Young candidate and would have been in contention with Tillman as being the best pitcher on the team.  He would have made the club knocking on the Red Sox door for the title.  Scott Kazmir would have really been the most desirable option for me, but he did not perform as well as Happ did.  Still, he did better than what the Orioles often trotted out there.  I would contend that such a roster probably would have overtaken the Red Sox, but maybe not.

In the end, you can see the final outcome was one that was actually pretty realistic and on similar terms with what the Orioles wound up doing.  Surprising to me, I think the plan we came up with at Camden Depot was a better plan than what turned out as the Orioles' final club.  Certainly, some differences could have push the Orioles over, such as securing Dexter Fowler.  That move would have put our plan and the Orioles' actions on equal footing when you would consider our additions of Happ and Kazmir.

Who knows whether 2016 was just a lucky year for the Depot.  Over the next couple weeks, we shall see what the writers come up with and what I wind up deciding.

20 October 2016

Cup of jO's: Is Hyun Soo Kim Really A Platoon Hitter?

This past season there was a wealth of intrigue regarding the true talent level of Hyun Soo Kim and why he had been used in the way that Buck used him.  From the Depot's perspective, it was a season marked by bemusement.  Kim's Spring looked awful, but really what was the alternative? Some tried to get comfortable with the idea of Xavier Avery, but we knew who he was and he proceeded to show who he was in Norfolk.  Kim slowly established himself over the course of the first two months, but Joey Baseball Rickard somehow was favored for his baseballness even though Kim was quietly outperforming him.  That emerged into a forced platoon relationship between those two players, which worked as Rickard was becoming more entrenched as having issues with right handed pitching.  What was not established is why exactly would anyone think Hyun Soo Kim actually needs a platoon partner.

Hyun Soo Kim's 2016 Handed Splits
vs RHP 323 .321 .393 .446 .839
vs LHP 22 .000 .227 .000 .227
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/20/2016.

Kim's splits in the majors look terrible.  He was hitless in 22 plate appearances with four walks.  That said, what are 22 PA?  Why limit him to those appearances to begin with.  Certainly, it has nothing to do with Spring Training because then he could hit no one.  Well, what about his splits in Korea?

Hyun Soo Kim's 2014/2015 KBO Splits
Metric 2014-L 2014-R 2015-L 2015-R
PA 182 345 190 425
BB-K 22-17 31-28 27-16 72-44
AVG .374 .296 .331 .327
OBP .456 .365 .421 .449
SLG .497 .485 .510 .564
That actually looks pretty even.  Kim sacrifices power a little bit to increase contact when facing southpaws, but it all looks exceptional.  Well, what does the new KANG model think?

Against left handed pitching in the KBO, the KANG model thinks Kim should slash 278/333/408.
Against right handed pitching in the KBO, the KANG model thinks Kim should slash 276/342/468.

His season against right handed pitching in the Majors in general was well predicted by KANG, but not amongst the components.  Kim's hit tool wound up being louder and his power tool was quieter.  If that held true for hitting against left handers, then we would expect him to be more of singles hitter without the gap power he showed with righthanders.  That would probably make him a very unusual hitter if he was actually successful against lefties.  He would be a not-too-fast singles slapping corner outfielder who would notch a decent walk rate, which looks like late stage Markakis.

In the end, if you have a hitter like Joey Rickard who can hit left handers well and a full time right fielder, then it makes sense to platoon with Kim.  However, moving forward, the Orioles should consider that Kim can potentially be a full time player and should experience a greater share of southpaws.  The proof will be in the pudding and the Orioles are still at the grocery store making assumptions from the box.

(Thanks to Sung Min Kim of Today's Knuckleball for providing me with Kim's splits data in the KBO.)

18 October 2016

Did Chris Tillman Have A Comeback Year?

After a terrible 2015, traditional statistics suggest that Chris Tillman had a strong comeback year in 2016. He went 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA (34th out of 74 qualified starters) and threw 172 innings in 30 games started. That’s a strong record, a decent ERA and suggests that the Orioles wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs without him. However, for the fourth consecutive year, Tillman has an FIP over 4. In his best year, 2014, Tillman had an FIP of 4.01 while in his worst year he had an FIP of 4.45 and this year he had an FIP of 4.23 – pretty much right in the middle. Did Tillman have a breakthrough year, or did he roughly do the same as he’s done for the past three years straight?

Tillman’s overall stats don’t suggest a drastic change between 2016 and the rest of this four year sample. His strikeout rate at 19.2% was higher than every other year except for 2013, while his walk rate at 9.2% was the highest in the four year sample. Still, his K-BB% suggested a small improvement over 2014 and 2015 but not as good as he did in 2013. However, my model that I use to predict walk and strikeout rate seems to think that Tillman should have given up more walks and fewer strikeouts in 2016, and paints a consistent picture of decreased performance of strikeout and walk rate over the past four years. In fact, it suggests that Tillman has just about reached the end of his effective life as a major league starter. But it is unquestionable that Tillman’s increased strikeout rate was a reason for his improvement in 2016.

Tillmans’ 2016 BABIP was .283, which was better than his 2015 mark of .295 but worse than his 2013-2014 average of roughly .270. His HR% was 2.7% or roughly the same as he did in 2014 and 2015. However, it was much better than the 3.9% mark he gave up in 2013. As a result, his OPS against of .732 was better than his 2016 mark, about the same as his 2013 mark and worse than his 2014 mark. Like his FIP, this suggests small changes between each of these four seasons rather than drastic changes. It also suggests that his 2016 season was a lot closer to his 2015 season than his 2014 season.

His 2016 OPS allowed on balls put into play was .838 or roughly the equivalent of his rate in 2013 (.869) and 2015 (.847). His 2014 rate of .751 is the clear outlier and was sparked by his BABIP of .268. It seems pretty clear that his 2016 season was considerably closer to his 2015 numbers than his 2014 numbers. It also suggests that Tillman was successful in 2014 in part due to a low BABIP, which he hasn’t been able to replicate in 2013, 2015 or 2016.

Looking at his results with men on the base paths goes a long way to explaining Tillman’s success this season. When batters put the ball into play against him with nobody on base, they had a .898 OPS against him in 2016. This was the worst he’s done in his entire career.

However, with one man on base, batters putting the ball into play against Tillman only had a .760 OPS. That was the lowest allowed result in the four year sample. He gave up a high home run rate, but made up for it with a .233 BABIP.

Likewise, with two or more men on base, Tillman allowed batters putting the ball into play against him to put up only a .728 OPS, which is the second lowest of the four year sample. It’s reasonably close to his numbers in 2014, when opposing batters hit only .717 against him. But it’s far superior to his numbers in 2013 and 2015 when opposing batters had an OPS of roughly .870 in those situations. It would seem that part of the reason why he’s done so well is because he got a significant amount of luck with runners on the base paths. Not giving up a home run in those situations sure helped.

Indeed, in the three years that Tillman has been successful, he’s had an 81%, 76.7% and 77.2% LOB% but in 2015 he had a 68.2% LOB%. His best chance of being successful is if his defense can rally behind him and make sure that he strands a lot of runners.

Going forward, I think there are two ways to look at Tillman. The first way is to call him a proven winner because he’s gone 56-30 the past four years and has won at least ten games each season. Some may argue that the Orioles should keep him because he’s ultimately won the past three of four years and that’s all that matters. A number of teams would be interested in adding a pitcher with these stats.

The second way to look at him is to call him an overachiever that has been a bit more fortunate than his stuff suggests and is due for a collapse. If so, the Orioles certainly shouldn’t extend him and should even consider trading him this offseason. There is limited talent available via free agency this offseason and the Orioles may be able to convince a team to significantly overpay for a pitcher with a strong track record.

With an almost maxed-out budget, I’d lean towards the second route. I question whether Tillman can be effective and the Orioles already have six starters. Tillman is almost definitely one of the best starters that the Orioles have, but if he regresses then he won’t be able to help the club much. For a small market club, paying big bucks to Jimenez, Miley and Gallardo have consequences. The Orioles will need to find a way to save money somewhere if they’re going to fill their holes at corner outfield and catcher and trading away one of their six starters would help.

I don’t think that Tillman really improved much from 2015 to 2016 and suspect that his comeback year in 2016 is largely due to luck. Given the Orioles crowded rotation situation and their lack of resources, I’d look into trading Tillman to the Royals. The Royals need another starter and will have a number of high-profile players become free agents next year. Given their situation, they should be willing to trade prospects for the best starting pitcher they can get and I suspect that they’d be interested in adding a pitcher with Tillman’s traditional statistics.

17 October 2016

BORAS 2017 (Pitchers): If O's Starting Pitchers Were Free Agents...

Last week, I released the BORAS 2017 model for predicting the contracts of position players.  Today, here come the pitcher projections.  A theme holds, last year's very successful model is only tweaked slightly by the contracts signed last year (which makes sense because it was a successful model).  Another theme holds, no one seems to be worth all that much money.  A lingering feeling I have is that I think several teams are flush with cash and we may wind up seeing a great number of overpays similar to what we saw with NBA free agency last summer (of course, the lingering factor there was that star contracts were limited which allowed money to be thrown at mid-level guys.

Additionally, I decided to toss up what the model thinks of Orioles starting pitching because, after all, this is an Orioles site.  This is to give the local readership an idea of what the BORAS model thinks of the Orioles staff if they were free agents.

Brett Anderson 29 2 11.6 2 9.6
Andrew Cashner 30 2 17.7 2 18.9
Jhoulys Chacin 29 2 12.8 2 13.3
Jorge De La Rosa 36 1 8.1 1 7.4
Doug Fister 33 1 7.7 2 17.2
Jeremy Hellickson 30 3 44.0 4 58.1
Rich Hill 37 2 30.9 3 44.1
Mat Latos 29 2 14.3 2 14.5
Colby Lewis 37 1 9.7 1 8.3
Ivan Nova 30 3 32.4 3 30.6
Edinson Volquez 33 2 20.8 2 19.8
Minor League Invites
Bartolo Colon
RA Dickey
Jake Peavy
James Shields*
Orioles Rotation
Chris Tillman 29 4 63.7 5 76.2
Yovani Gallardo 31 2 18.5 2 15.6
Ubaldo Jimenez 33 2 23.0 2 20.5
Wade Miley 30 3 36.2 3 33.3

The difference in the modeling does not seem all that great.  Fister, Hellickson, and Hill all get an additional year, which actually makes sense to me.  The money all comes in about the same.  The Major League Invites are agreed on for each model, but I significantly doubt them.  Colon and Dickey are victims of age.  The BORAS model simply is geared to where we have a lot of data, so age impact is predicted largely by guys in their early to mid 30s.  It cannot fathom how these two can still be successful.  Peavy and Shields have age working against them slightly, but also have been mediocre to terrible recently.  Still, I think some team might dream on the past.  Well, not for Shields, he will not opt out.

I do think the projections above make sense for several pitchers, but are curious for a couple.  The first major exclamation mark is the thought that Mat Latos could get a two year deal.  That would be pretty shocking.  I also think Volquez is going to squeeze out a third year from someone.

Now, the shocker for many Orioles fans is how their guys stack up.  Tillman, according to BORAS, would be the jewel of the pitching offseason.  Last year's model wants to hand him a Wei-Yin Chen deal, while this years model wishes to be a little more conservative in years.  That is not all that amazing.

What is amazing is that Wade Miley is predicted as the third biggest free agent behind only Tillman and Hellickson.  Though, last year's model puts him fourth right behind Rich Hill.  Jimenez becomes the sixth most sought after starter.  Gallardo is the eighth or, for the 2016 model, ninth.  In other words, BORAS thinks the Orioles pitchers are somewhat desirable in this market.

With the Orioles currently in possession of a six man rotation, do these starters have value in trade?  Tillman obviously does in his last arbitration year looking at a 10+ MM deal.  Ignoring the 2.25 MM deferred, Jimenez makes 13.5 MM in 2017.  BORAS considers him a 11.5 MM pitcher.  That is on value with a little markup, which probably makes sense with only one year left on this deal while BORAS says he gets two.  I'd argue that this even value is worth a fringe B level prospect in a tight market like this.  Someone like D.J. Stewart.

Yovani Gallardo?  Gallardo is basically due 11 MM this year with a 2 MM buyout to avoid a 13 MM 2018.  In other words, the Orioles have a 1/13 deal with a 1/11 option.  BORAS sees him as a 2/18.5 commodity.  It is an overpay, but does not appear to be an exceptional overpay.  My best guess is that Gallardo is worth a low ceiling third level prospect.  Someone like Parker Bridwell.

Wade Miley? Wade Miley effectively has a 1/9.25 deal with a team option at 11.5 MM.  BORAS has him at 3/36.  This is a situation where BORAS thinks the Orioles probably have a surplus value of about five million.  Add in this market and that value might be pushed up to 10 MM or so.  If a team thinks like BORAS does, then Miley is worth a high level B prospect or a solid starting option in, lets say, right field.

If we assume that BORAS knows anything, then we would likely try to spin off Gallardo or Jimenez, take the minor prospect and use that cash for other holes.  If we think that BORAS is overvaluing Miley and someone else might too, then that would be a great area to bring back something of consequence without much of a cash outlay.

14 October 2016

Ranking O's Players Most Likely To Be Traded Away With A Competitive Balance Pick

For some reason, the Orioles have traded their competitive balance draft pick the last two years in order to dump a little bit of salary. The first instance came in 2015, when the O's shipped Ryan Webb and the $2.75 million left on his deal along with the No. 74 overall pick to the Dodgers in exchange for two minor leaguers. The Dodgers then released Webb, because they wanted the draft pick.

Then, this past season, the O's traded Brian Matusz and the about $3 million left on his contract, plus the No. 76 pick in the draft, to the Braves for two minor leaguers. The Braves designated Matusz for assignment quickly. Again, the trade for the Dodgers and Braves was all about paying for a draft pick, and the O's were happy to oblige.

There's no guarantee the O's will do the same thing this year, but it's a strategy Dan Duquette has used to shed a little payroll early in the year. It seems bizarre -- you'd figure it would make more sense to non-tender a player or two to make up that salary instead of sending away a top-75ish draft pick -- but the O's seem to think this is some kind of market inefficiency (along with targeting unwanted qualifying offer players late in the offseason).

So who are some possibilities to be attached to another competitive balance pick and sold away to the highest bidder? (It's worth noting MLB and the MLBPA have postponed the Competitive Balance Lottery until January, and that the format could be altered.) Let's explore the options quickly.

5. Ubaldo Jimenez/Yovani Gallardo/Wade Miley

Just kidding. They all make too much money (Ubaldo: $13.5 million; Gallardo: $11 million; Miley: $8.75 million). Let's look elsewhere.

4. Hyun Soo Kim ($4.2 million)

How good does that two-year, $7 million deal for Kim look now? You wouldn't think the Orioles would trade him away in this type of deal because Kim showed he can successfully hit major league pitching. Then again, Kim's playing time was sporadic at the beginning of the season, and it sure didn't seem like Buck Showalter wanted him on the team for a portion of the year.

I don't think the O's will trade Kim -- and they shouldn't -- but it's at least possible they try to attach him to the competitive balance pick in an effort to garner a somewhat better return of minor leaguers than the past two trades.

3. T.J. McFarland (MLBTR projection: $0.7 million)

McFarland might have run out of chances to stick with the Orioles. He's out of options, and he might also be out of a role. McFarland has always been more of a swingman type than a lefty specialist, but the O's might not need either one. Donnie Hart is the second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen to go along with Zach Britton. And for now, they have six starters to choose from, plus long relievers/spot starters Vance Worley, Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Parker Bridwell, and others.

McFarland is a clear non-tender candidate, and he doesn't make enough money anyway to be included as the only player sold in a potential comp. pick deal. However, he could be included with someone like...

2. Ryan Flaherty (MLBTR projection: $1.7 million)

Say what you will about Flaherty (I have), but it's clear what he brings to the table. He can play multiple positions competently, including middle and corner infield spots. But he's also not a very good hitter, and it's possible the Orioles seek someone else to fill this role for less money. He could be someone the O's keep at the beginning of the season and then dump to shed some salary. Or, you know, he could just be non-tendered. You could say the same thing for the next guy on this list.

1. Vance Worley (MLBTR projection: $3.3 million)

The Orioles' two competitive balance pick trades involved pitchers, and the O's could find themselves with six starters and no defined role for Worley. So why wouldn't the O's just non-tender him? Great question! Why didn't they non-tender Matusz last year? Why did they go out of their way to dump Webb and his reasonable salary the year before that? The Orioles clearly do some smart things, but they also do some really weird things. This could just be another one of those, and Worley's salary seems just about the right amount to dump on another team.

By the way, this whole thing is crazy. Shouldn't the Orioles be doing more to actually keep extra draft picks? At least with Webb, the O's had already signed him to a guaranteed deal. The O's didn't have to keep Matusz around. The same goes for Worley, Flaherty, and McFarland.

13 October 2016

BORAS (Position Players): 2017 Update

Eleven months ago, I published the first version of the model that bears a great acronym and a horrible name: BORAS (Ballplayer Observation-based Remuneration Assumption System).  What I found was that with only knowledge of age and performance over the past three years that it was able to be a front line predictor of salaries in comparison to experts and systems using crowd knowledge.  One more note, this model does not consider injury history at all. 

For this year, I updated the model by including the salaries from last year.  The model has shifted slightly.  Last year's model basically attached a 50% value to the most recent season, a 15% value to two seasons ago, and a 35% value for three seasons ago for the variables considered.  That has shifted slightly.  This year's version with last year's contracts added now put a greater emphasis on the most current year at around 55%, a slightly increase in year 2 at 19%, and a steep drop of year three to 26%.  This weighting suggests that front office may be moving toward placing greater value on more recent seasons than long term production, but, again, this shift is minor though significant.

Anyway, lets move on to the projected salaries.  I will split them up by position.  Let me know if you want other players and I will try to incorporate them in updates.

Matt Wieters 31 2 20.2
Jason Castro 30 2 20.4
Alex Avila 30 2 19.8
Kurt Suzuki 33 1 8.4
Wilson Ramos 29 3 40.1

Catcher is a position that I think BORAS will have trouble with in that it does not consider pitch framing skills to a great extent.  Still, it is remarkable that a superb pitch framer like Castro is viewed on par with someone like Wieters.  It is also remarkable that Avila comes across at such a high salary when the feeling in the market is that he is a poor catcher.  I also imagine Wilson Ramos' injury will have a dampening impact on his deal.

First Base
Edwin Encarnacion 34 4 67.5
Logan Morrison 29 2 16.7
Mitch Moreland 31 1 8.1
Brandon Moss 33 1 9.5
Adam Lind 33 1 7.8
Mike Napoli 35 1 9.7
Steve Pearce 34 3 39.6

The first takeaway I see is that my gut thought Encarnacion would be looking at a greater payday.  As a solid four WAR player these past three years, I would have assumed he is looking at something more like 20 MM.  BORAS disagrees and sees a very good, but aging, player.  Another interesting contract is the projection of Morrison getting a multi-year deal.  Age may be a big factor here, but he has been quite underwhelming at first.  Finally, poor Steve Pearce and his arm injury.  Without the arm injury and with a competent September, Pearce could have been looking at putting up about 10 WAR total over the past three seasons.  Instead, I think he might become one of the biggest bargains.  It would not be the worst thing if the Orioles try to pencil him in as a DH/Jack-of-all-Trades player.

Rest of the Infield
Neil  Walker 31 4 60.5
Chase Utley 38 1 11.3
Erick Aybar 33 2 21.5
Justin Turner 32 5 96.7

I am grouping the rest of the infield simply because the pickings look slim.  So slim that I wonder if I remembered everyone.  Anyway, it should be interesting to see how the injury impacts Walker.  Utley resurrected himself a bit this year with decent defense and a passable bat.  Justin Turner went from being an extra on a MacPhail Orioles' squad years ago to perhaps the Jewel of the Offseason, according to BORAS.

Yeonis Cespedes 31 4 69.8
Colby Rasmus 30 2 23.2
Dexter Fowler 31 4 64.3
Jose  Bautista 36 2 28.8
Jay Bruce 30 1 7.2
Josh Reddick 30 3 40.9
Mark Trumbo 31 2 18.3
Pedro Alvarez 30 1 8.3

BORAS thinks that Cespedes would be nuts to opt out of his deal.  Dexter Fowler's one season bet on himself has turned out monumentally well for him.  Jose Bautista's BORAS numbers seem awfully lower, but his rather unimpressive 2016 campaign makes it unlikely he will see the 100+ MM he was hoping for and completely unlikely for the 200+ MM he dreamed of.  Jay Bruce looks like his option will be turned down.

Trumbo.  Folks will look at all the home runs Trumbo hit.  They will likely look over his poor defense in right field and that his offense contributed little besides home runs.  The result is a rather middling player.  I think in the outfield or at designated hitter, a 2/18.3 deal makes complete sense to me.  However, I think Trumbo can actually play first base.  If you think Trumbo is a competent first baseman, like I think he is, then BORAS thinks he should see 3/39.5.  That will be the bet.  To the Orioles, Trumbo is not all that needed or exactly useful because first base is a taken position.  However, another club with a hole at first base should value him at a greater level.  The best play for the Orioles would be to offer the QO at around 18 MM with the belief that a team in dire need for a 1B will feel free to let go of their draft pick for Trumbo.

Alvarez.  Alvarez' value is quite minimal because he is restricted to DH.  There are claims that he has improved at first base, but it would be surprising to think he is anything more than poor there.  If someone actually thinks he can play there, then he is a 2/20 player.  Again though, the Orioles really do not have that as a need and would be better set with someone who can play a different position in a pinch.

11 October 2016

Cup of jO's: Orioles Arbitration Projections

Before last offseason, projecting the Orioles' payroll was an endeavor that you could easily get yourself into a 5 MM range of the actual final total.  Then the payroll rocketed up into the mid 140s (often reported higher due to deferred money), which was about 15 MM or so beyond was most optimistically expected by fans.  With such a large jump in payroll, it makes one a little cautious to think it will jump again and projected arbitration values make the payroll look pretty tight.  In this post we will run through the MLB Trade Rumor projections, which are rather close to what winds up happening.

Chis Tillman (10.6 MM) - When Tillman is playing well, he performs at an ace capacity.  When he is not, he is performing as a sub-5 arm.  In the past, we have seen more of the top end of his projection than the low end.  However, he dealt with reduced velocity and potential injury issues at the end of last season.  With six starting pitchers (arguably) on the roster and barely any on the open market, Tillman may be a valuable trade piece.  He only has a season left in Baltimore, so it might make sense to cash out now and use the returning pieces to fill some holes as well as the excess money.

Ryan Flaherty (1.7 MM) - As I noted last August, I hope fans enjoyed Flaherty's 2016 because I cannot see him staying on.  Flaherty arrived in Baltimore as a bat first, fringe corner infielder.  He became a glove first middle infielder.  It was a metamorphosis that I have rarely seen.  Anyway, the Orioles can probably find something similar to Flaherty for the league minimum and save a million.

Zach Britton (11.4 MM) - Britton is a Cy Young Candidate and this is probably the last year the Orioles will see any exceptional value for him if he is dealt as next year his arbitration value likely moves up to about 14-17 MM.  Yes, the Orioles would not have made the playoffs without him this year (something you could actually say about several players), but with their pen it seems that they could replace his value internally.  The Orioles probably would do better spending this money elsewhere and let Britton toss two years of innings elsewhere.  I think he stays though.

Vance Worley (3.3 MM) - Worley is capable of pitching well in relief and sometimes passing as a starting pitcher.  For a rotation that flames out quickly, that kind of arm to cushion innings in a pen is valuable.  His final line produced a well above average ERA (126 ERA+) that FIP (4.82) questions.  He is the kind of pitcher you really do not want to give big money to because you think he is going to implode any moment, but he is not all that expensive for the role he has.  That said, if you have great faith in Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright then it is best to save yourself about 2.8 MM by going with them.

Brad Brach (2.9 MM) - Brach is a solid middle inning reliever and this cost is a surplus value of about 3-5 MM, so he is a keeper.

Manny Machado (11.2 MM) - Next.

Jonathan Schoop (3.4 MM) - Schoop is a solid second baseman and another year has passed waiting on him to break out to the next level.  It has not happened.  That said, he is still a solid average second baseman at a low cost.

T.J. McFarland (0.7 MM) - Cheap arm, but he does not really solve a major issue for the Orioles anymore.  They have pitchers in the pen capable of multiple innings and McFarland does not take advantage of lefty matchups.  Like Flaherty, he seems like a non-tender.

Kevin Gausman (3.9 MM) - Next.

Caleb Joseph (1 MM) - Joseph had an awful year, but he is still a solid catcher who can be sent to the minors if needed.  You have to keep a guy like that on your roster.  If Wieters leaves, Joseph can perform as the weak half of a catcher platoon or be a usable backup catcher.

Potential Players to Target

Khris Davis (5.0 MM, Athletics) - Davis is the Mark Trumbo coming off a good year kind of player.  He is a mess in the outfield and his arm would be rather questionable in right field.  However, his sheer power makes him look like a better player than he really is.  At 5 MM, the Athletics can hold on to him and wait for the best offer, but they should be worried that this may be the last year that a team or two really believes in his talent.  A major question of fit for the Orioles is if he cannot play right field, then where does he go?  Does he join a platoon in left field and then is a DH when not platooned in the field?  Regardless, he could be a 35 home run bat with the Orioles and they tend to value that.

Chris Carter (8.1 MM, Brewers) - Like Davis, Carter also hit more than 40 home runs, but Carter's line is so dreadful that his production was on par with a bench player.  He is what Trumbo would have been if he had hit as poorly in the first half as he did the second half.  He might be the true Trumbo play at 8.1 MM, but it is hard to find much upside beyond hoping for a league average RH DH.  As such, he carries slightly more negatives than Trumbo did.

Charlie Blackmon (9.0 MM, Rockies) - Blackmon had a breakout season for the Rockies.  He has one season left under control, works a count better than Adam Jones, has speed, some power, and can play right field.  At 9 MM, the Rockies probably consider him a bargain.  In some realm, you might be able to see a Blackmon for Tillman deal.  That said, the Orioles probably would have to give up something big to get him now.

10 October 2016

How Zach Britton "Struggled" In 2016

Zach Britton, with a 0.54 ERA and a perfect 47 for 47 in save opportunities, had a pretty decent year in 2016. As noted by Steve Melewski, Britton is one of three pitchers in major league history to have at least 40 saves and an ERA below 1. At one point of the season, Britton went nearly four months without allowing an earned run. So, the obvious question is how much of his performance was luck and whether he can maintain these results in 2017.

Obviously, to do what Britton did in 2016, a pitcher needs to be dominant. But what’s interesting is that Britton held opposing left handed batters to a .495 OPS (.185/.254/.241) and right handed batters to a .410 OPS (.155/.211/.199). In addition, Britton had a K% of 26.7% and a BB% of 8.3% against left handed batters, but a 29.9% K% and a 6.7% BB% against right handed batters. This is surprising because normally a left handed reliever does better against left handed batters than right handed batters.

In fact, Britton easily had his worst year against left handed batters since he became a reliever. In 2015, he held batters to a .145/.181/.145 line with a 40.3% K-rate and a 4.2% BB-rate. In 2014, he held these batters to a .170/.215/.170 line with a 23.7% K-rate and a 5.4% BB-rate. And after not allowing a single extra base hit to a left handed batter in either 2014 or 2015, Britton allowed 3 doubles to lefties in 2016, 2 of which (including a ground-rule double) were hit by Brad Miller of the Rays.

Part of his problem against left handed hitters was his high walk rate. Left handed hitters struggle against him, even when putting the ball into play, so he doesn’t need to worry about giving up contact. But he still had a “poor year” in 2016 against lefties when they put the ball into play. Left handed hitters had a .267/.267/.333 line against him when putting pitches in the strike zone into play compared to an OPS of .452 in 2015 and .483 in 2014. His rank was 21st out of 216 relievers that appeared in 30 or more games. In 2015, he ranked 5th out of 218 and in 2014 ranked 6th out of 203.

He also had some poor luck against lefties when they put pitches out of the strike zone into play. Opposing batters went 2 for 8 against Britton with a single and a double in 2016 good for 93rd out of 215 relievers. Given Britton’s dominance against lefties, this is pretty surprising. Given the small sample size, this is almost certainly just random luck.

Some of the blame for Britton’s relatively high walk rate to left handed batters is due to his sinker. Britton only threw 45.7% of them in the zone in 2016 compared to 48.7% in 2015 and 64.1% in 2014. Opposing batters had a good eye when deciding not to swing at these sinkers as they had a called ball rate of 33.1% and a called strike rate of 14%. In 2014 and 2015, Britton’s sinker was a called ball 30% of the time and a called strike 21% of the time. This chart shows its results.

However, the bigger problem was his slider. Left handed batters only swung at 7 of his 31 sliders, missing 5 of them, fouling off another and putting only one into play. However, of the other 24, 17 resulted in called balls while 7 were called strikes. In 2015, batters swung at 14 of 29 sliders and missed 10 of them. Of the 15 they didn’t swing at, 8 resulted in called balls while 7 resulted in called strikes. Without a successful slider to keep batters honest, Britton wasn’t able to maintain his high strikeout rate of 2015. Britton’s slider is devastating, even when thrown inside the strike zone and perhaps he should consider trying to throw it in the strike zone more often. This graph shows the results.

If Britton had a “poor” year against lefties, he made up for it with his performance against right handed hitters. Right handed batters had a .250/.250/320 line when putting pitches in the strike zone into play in 2016, compared to a .350/.350/.510 in 2015 and a .250/.250/.426 in 2014. In addition, Britton allowed a .130/.130/.174 line to right handed batters when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play, compared to a .316/.316/.388 in 2015 and an .182/.182/.182 line in 2014. Right handed batters may have had success against Britton in 2015, but they sure struggled in 2014 and 2016.

Britton also had some improvement in his strikeout rates. In 2016, Britton had a 29.9% K-Rate and a 6.7% walk rate. In 2015, he had a 27.6% K-Rate and a 6.1% walk rate while in 2014 he had a 20.8% K-Rate and a 9.4% walk rate. Clearly, he’s showing some progression. Part of the reason for it is that Britton’s sinker against righties was a bit nastier this year than in years past. Batters put a lower percentage of his sinkers into play, and therefore gave Britton more chances to strike them out.

Going forward, Britton is very good against right handed batters. He’ll put up strong strikeout and walk percentages against right handed batters, but he’ll need to do an excellent job preventing damage on balls put into play in order to put up elite numbers against right handers. To be fair, it’s awfully hard for even right handed batters to do anything more than just ground out. However, he has it in him to be absolutely otherworldly against left handed batters. All he needs is a bit better luck on balls put into play, and the ability to either get them to swing at his slider or put a few more in the strike zone. It’s likely that we should expect some regression from Zach because I suspect right handed batters will have more luck against him next year. I’d expect to see him have an ERA in the low to mid 1s range next year.

The average pitcher had a .350 OPS last season when batting. If Britton can put together his 2016 season against right handed batters with his 2015 season against left handed batters, then opposing hitters might not break that .350 OPS mark. If so, he’ll almost certainly have another excellent season and might possibly improve on his 2016.