21 June 2018

This Isn't The Alex Cobb The Orioles Hoped They Were Getting

It was a surprise when the Orioles signed Alex Cobb in late March, and it showed, in their own, weird way, they were still kinda/sorta trying to win even while dropping payroll. The O's offseason didn't qualify as reloading, but it wouldn't have been a huge stretch for them to finish the 2018 season with a record around .500. It's what the O's have done for years; they don't go all in or reload in any realistic sense.

Instead, well, the Orioles are terrible and almost nothing has gone according to plan (whatever that plan happened to be). There are many reasons why the O's are so bad, but one of them is that Cobb has not been any kind of solution.

Because he signed so late in the offseason, Cobb did not make his Orioles debut until April 14. He allowed seven earned runs that day. In his next two starts, he allowed five earned runs in each game. In the outings since, he's sprinkled in a handful of useful starts, but then again in his last two outings, he allowed 14 combined runs. In his final season in Baltimore, Ubaldo Jimenez posted a 6.81 ERA and a 5.54 FIP in 142-plus innings. In 63 innings this season, Cobb has an ERA of 7.14 and a FIP of 5.22.

It's not all bad for Cobb, but a lot of it is. He's not missing bats; his K% of 14.8% would be the lowest of his career. This would also be the third straight year in which his percentage of swinging strikes has dropped. His HR/FB rate of 18.8% would easily be a career high. On the other hand, Cobb's BB% of 5.5% would be the lowest of his career, but that isn't doing much to help him.

The Orioles surely hoped to get something close to the 2017 version of Cobb, when he threw almost 180 innings with a 3.66 ERA and a 4.16 FIP. Just glancing at Cobb's 2018 numbers, it's easy to focus on the .364 BABIP. For much of his career, he's finished somewhere between .279 and .295. He could be dealing with some bad luck, but not as much as you'd think. This season, Cobb has allowed harder contact to opposing batters:

2017: 87.8 avg. exit velocity
2018: 89.6 avg. exit velocity

That jump of about 2 mph is hardly insignificant. Cobb has been hit hard early and often:

2017: .304 wOBA, .328 xwOBA
2018: .405 wOBA, .368 xwOBA

Last year, Cobb's wOBA allowed was 101 points lower, and his expected wOBA was 40 points better. He's still probably not 7+ ERA bad (that's more like Chris Tillman territory), but it's not like he's some great pitcher who is having a few extra singles drop in. Even a .368 wOBA would put him near the bottom group of pitchers.

So what's going on? The hope at the time of the signing was that Cobb would be able to throw "The Thing," his nasty split-changeup, more often. Before his 2018 debut, he was excited about the pitch's potential:
"It was the best it has been this last start I had. I’m really feeling confident in it. Going through that phase early last year, I lost the confidence in it. That was a main reason I shied away from it. Once you start having that success with it and seeing the action you are looking for, that confidence builds up very quickly. That is key on all your pitches, but with a changeup, a feel pitch, you have to have that consistent arm speed and aggressiveness you have on the other pitches. Having that confidence come back is going to be huge."
Unfortunately, Cobb is still shying away from it. At his peak he was throwing the pitch more than a third of the time. Last season, he threw it 14.4%. This year, he's throwing it only slightly more: 16.5% of the time.

Now, many hitters are sitting back and looking for the two pitches Cobb throws most often: a low-90s sinker and a curveball. When they make contact, they're doing more damage:

2017: .174 ISO on sinkers; .084 ISO on curveballs
2018: .243 ISO on sinkers; .300 ISO on curveballs

Still, Cobb didn't throw the split-change much last season either, and he got away with it. So it's not surprising to discover that he hasn't located his pitches well this season. In 2017, he often stayed in on right-handers and away from lefties:

In 2018, he has often been where you don't want to be:

Opposing batters aren't chasing Cobb's out-of-zone pitches as much. He's never had a chase rate below 30%, and so far this season, it's 28.6%.

Before Cobb had Tommy John surgery in 2015, he was able to throw his split-change while getting very little vertical movement. The difference in vertical movement isn't that much different than his sinker, his fastball of choice. Since then, things just haven't been the same, and it's not surprising that he doesn't have much confidence in the pitch.

There's also very little chance that Cobb has much confidence in the defense behind him. As noted above, he has been far from great, but the Orioles have some awful defenders. The club's outfield defense is absolutely brutal, and the O's are rated the worst in both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. That's at least a part of the reason why opposing hitters have a .324 BABIP against the O's, the highest mark in the majors. (The next closest is the Rockies at .310.)

Like many of the team's players, all the Orioles can do with Cobb is hope he gets things together. No team would want him right now, but even if they did, Cobb could block a trade to any club this season. From 2019-2021, he can block trades to 10 teams per year. It's possible he could improve and then be shipped out of town in one of the next few years, but for now, the O's just need him to pitch better.

It may be a tall task for someone who essentially only has two pitches to be anything more than a back-end starter. The O's were hoping for much more, but an ERA below 6 doesn't sound so bad at the moment.

Photo: Keith Allison. Stats (as of June 19) via FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball. Contract info via Cot's.

20 June 2018

The Next Course: Anthony Bourdain and Moving On

In September of 2014, I bid farewell to Camden Depot.

I read the post now and I find little room to improve upon my intent there.  I wrote how my interests and drive led me to founding this site and writing so strenuously for it.  I find it now a lovely goodbye that, perhaps, is true to my feelings at the time.  Feelings that still remain true to a degree today. I advise you to give it a read because it tries to elucidate things that I still believe to my core and remains relevant.  In this post, though, I have no interest in going over that terrain again.

However, I do wish to bring up the last paragraph in that preemptive goodbye:
In the end, I hope my time here is one that gave some appreciation for Apollonian and Dionysian thought.  That is that logic and reason is woven into emotion and chaos.  Yes, we can explain and account for much of our world, but not everything.  What we cannot account for is meaningful.  That said, even though there are important things for which we cannot account, it does not render meaningless the things we know.  This is what empowers my methodology, what informs my journey in exploring this sport.  I am not done.  I am not there, yet.  I cannot even imagine what there looks like.
After that column, I left to Baseball Prospectus to continue my journey of exploration.  I hooked up with the scouting side and began learning R.  The intent was to develop a method that incorporated the qualitative metrics from the scouting side along with the quantitative metrics we had at our disposal in order to accomplish an end goal: a more accurate way to project the future performance of draft prospects.

It was a tumultuous time for Baseball Prospectus.  Unbeknownst to me, the scouting school that Jason Parks put together and left to run on its own was about to be replaced by a single evaluator who did not mesh well with the existing scouting personnel.  As quickly as my tenure began, the opportunity fell apart.  My main contact left to create another scouting group and I puttered through a couple bleh articles over the course of a year before I came back to Camden Depot.  A passive testament of my displeasure is the presence of my vote for the new Padre James Shield as my pick to win the Cy Young.

Anyway, I returned to Camden Depot and for the past four seasons and have been relatively productive.  I turned my BP idea into a much smaller venture called CRAP (collegiate regression analysis projections).  It utilizes qualitative, quantitative, and context dependent metrics to project future performance.  I know of one front office who has tinkered with it and another that apparently created a very similar approach convergently.  I also created a second generation lineup optimization tool, which was picked up by a couple teams with one actually messing around with their improved version in the minors.  These events were high points for me over the past few years.  Even though this writing is a hobby, it is nice to see an impact.  It is nice to know that the ideas you come up with hold some merit.

That said, my writing is of decreasing returns.  Not only in terms of the frequency of impact, but also in the joy that it produces for me.  In all honesty, my work over the past four years retained a measure of credibility that perhaps would have been lost without the site name underneath my own.  My forays into ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Huffington Post, and others have largely been about establishing myself as a serious writer in order to maintain a decent seat here at the table to enable me to have deeper public conversations about the processes of the game.

What I have found is that it is a conversation I am feeling less and less inclined to join, a seat at a dinner table I am feeling less inclined to eat at.  An interesting thing happened over the past dozen years.  Arguments that used to be fought on merit with others chiming in to defend or undermine that foundation now often seem to be about the sides more than the topic at hand.  I think the Branding element of the internet has altered the defense of arguments and resulted in the proliferation of tribalism.  This tribalism conflates issues and we see curious things emerge.

An example would be back when Jeff Passan published The Arm.  I think it is both a good book, but a confusing mess that poorly conveys the certainty in the underlying sciences as well as muddles the certainty in the case studies in comparison to the science.  I stated as much and had a lively, and ultimately respectful, conversation on Twitter with Passan on this topic.  However, me noting how I thought he misused the data caused a prominent editor with a previous publisher to get me fired from their site.  This was done without Passan's knowledge (and he expressed horror about it in our later email exchange), but was done by a cadre of fan boys who wished dearly to protect image as opposed to actually weigh in on the topic.  Of course, I was not fired as I no longer toiled for them, but was asked firmly to never note my previous work there.  This is but one example.

So, yes, I knew this years ago and still felt compelled to write.  We have actually been writing at quite a fevered pace at the Depot.  It is a level of production we have not seen in years and it has produced a lot of strong writing by me, Matt, and others.  However, I still had this rumbling bittersweetness just under the surface that refused every attempt I made to lay it to rest.

Two weeks ago, Anthony Bourdain succumbed in his life long battle with depression.  His passing was shocking, but not exactly a surprise.  He often noted his depression and wrote about his suicidal thoughts.  However, there always seemed to be an invincibility surrounding him with his projected cool demeanor and how he overcome life as a drug addict to achieve so much.  His voice was one I cherished and found similar to my own thoughts.  I do not share his past or his brain chemistry, but I was drawn to his desire to seek reality, the truth, no matter how ugly or nonconforming the truth may be to our own ideals.  I was drawn by his desire to restore humanity to all people, yet remain able to be critical of those people.

My connection to him came in the middle of 2011 and into 2012.  It all started with a pins and needles sensation in my arms as I went for a walk with my new wife.  I felt as if I had set a tourniquet above my left elbow.  The sensation did not stop until later that night.  I did not tell anyone.  Over the course of the next few weeks, the sensation became progressive.  I would lose feeling in my lower legs and come close to falling as I rose from bed each morning.  My wrist and back of the hands were covered in a smattering of bruises as I would pinch myself during the day to see if I could feel anything.  I then decided to undersell my symptoms to my wife to provide reason to go seek medical help.  I could watch my limbs and move them accordingly.  I could hide what I was actually experiencing.

I went to a barrage of doctors.  My grandfather died of ALS, but it was not that.  My aunt suffers from multiple sclerosis, but it was not that.  Lyme disease was a negative, repeatedly.  Nothing else was showing up in all the tests, scans, and procedures they could dream up.  My world grew smaller and smaller and much more inside my head.

While in the place, I began to immerse myself in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.  With over a hundred episodes, it provided an immense world with which I could gain a perspective beyond my kitchen table and see things that so strongly caught my interest.  He provided a coping mechanism for me to relieve myself of my emotional prison.  To move forward and beyond myself until the Spring of 2012 when my symptoms disappeared and, so far, have never returned.  I never met the man, but I am heavily indebted to Anthony Bourdain for giving me the solace that I so needed at that point in my life.

After Bourdain's Lebanon episode of No Reservations, his work changed.  He stopped being the guy who traveled the world, ate a lot of food, and did whatever he wanted.  Bourdain became the guy who recognized that he had a platform that could shine light on other people and cultures, to help secure their humanity in the eyes of the world.  He used his power time and time again to help humanize people.  Whether it was an octogenarian in the mid-West with genuine reviews of food that people genuinely eat, whether it was to break through the stereotypes and portray Palestinians as people, whether it was to highlight water access issues for poor Jamaicans, or whether it was to go into West Virginia and humanize them.  His advocacy these past couple years in the #MeToo movement provided a text book example of how a man can support and advocate a largely women's issue without making it about himself.  In many ways, he was a distant North Star for me.

Truth be told, I have only intermittently watched his CNN show, Parts Unknown (which has been astoundingly good in every episode I have watched).  My first kid was born almost five years ago and so Bourdain's run there has coincided with that.  The content is often of a kind that is inappropriate for kids, so I have only managed to sneak in a viewing here or there.  I have voraciously read his books and tried to seek out articles by or about him from time to time.  He was, for me, effectively a distant relation with whom I once was very close and looked forward to a time when I would be able to rekindle that engagement.  Someone who felt invincible based on everything he had survived.  I was not surprised he killed himself, but nonetheless was shocked.

I was not weepy over this.  It is not how I am.  My frequent searching his name intensified a bit.  It was a situation where a long held coping mechanism now sows sadness, yet somehow is still ingrained as a coping mechanism.  A downward spiral.  I literally perceived the light around me as more dim.  That perception was quite new to me: that light appeared to dim.  Nonetheless, it was a disruption to my life.

That disruption led me back to what has increasingly frustrated me about the current writing scene and what Bourdain once noted about having a beer in a bar.  He once told a story about how he was in need of a beer and went into what he assumed was a dive-ish bar in San Francisco (if I remember correctly).  He sat down with an extensive beer menu that was difficult to discern, which was fine.  He ordered a beer.  He looked around and saw everyone else had flights.  Everyone else was going into the merits of the beer.  Beer ceased to be beer and instead was simply an exercise.

Now, there is nothing wrong with figuring out the notes of a beer.  There is nothing wrong about going out with friends and taking a plunge into that aspect of culinary delight.  But at some point, flights lose their meaning and simply become a lifestyle accessory.  It reminds me of what a 12 course tasting menu used to be.  A tasting menu used to be about highlighting the mastery of a chef in definitive ways.  It has become more or less about increasing the courses and being flashy with it instead of showing true mastery.  The purpose becomes more questionable.

To some extent, baseball appreciation is like this.  Baseball is an incredible sport with a great deal of ways to appreciate it.  Baseball is baseball, but it can be something else, too.  You can dive deep on the mechanics of the game.  You can dive deep on value and resource allocation.  You can go deep into what it means to head the operations.  It is so impressive how the game has changed in the past twenty years.  It is impressive how empowered fans are now.  There was a great seismic shift, which was good, and now has laid its massive imprint on the surface, wiping out and making extinct so many of the old guard.

That was good.  It needed to happen.  That said, I have found myself stuck in gear and I do not think I am learning anymore.  When I left the Depot in 2014, it was to continue on with my journey.  To learn more.  What I have found is that I am largely right where I was.  It is neat to see ideas like my visual identification comparisons with a pitcher's repertoire become something so much more advanced with Baseball Prospectus (which my work predated their work but likely did not inform their work).  It was great to be a tiny part of these wonderful shifts.  But I am tired of the many course meals and the flights of alcohol.  They now bore me.  I respect them when done well, but I find much of it vapidly going over well tread terrain, offering little that is new, and simply garnished with Brand.

What Bourdain's unfortunate passing has informed me is that not only do I need to bid farewell to the Depot, but also to analytical baseball writing.  What moved me twelve seasons ago, what moved me five years ago, is not what moves me now.  What I need now is to move forward.

This journey is not yet finished here.  We still have some work to do.  Baltimore will likely go through some transactions this summer and I likely will have some thoughts on those.  However, come October, I will thank you all for accompanying me on this part of my life.  It has been a truly wonderful experience.  I have been taken into so many different places: press boxes, clubhouses, luxury boxes, out on the fields and back fields, and talking with those in and around the game.  I have been blessed.

And, now, onto my next course. I am still in search of that Apollonian and Dionysian interwoven world.  That world where logic and reason is entangled with emotion and chaos.  That world where my next place at a table is once again something I look forward to and provides me with nourishment.  Maybe I will see you all there.

19 June 2018

The Orioles Have Won Three Games in June, so Things Are Looking Up!

The Orioles won a game this week. Just one. It's tough out there, Birdland. Richard Bleier is out for the season with a lat tear. Andrew Cashner is in the infirmary. Chris Davis has been barred from the field by security. Chance Sisco has been bused out of town. As poor of a season as this has been, there always seem to be ways to make it worse.

The dysfunction around Camden Yards is reaching epic proportions. People (Ned Colletti) are being interviewed for positions in the front office, but the supposed head of the front office (Dan Duquette) says it isn't true. Why on earth would fans be concerned that this crew cannot adequately navigate a full-scale rebuild of the franchise? The mind wonders.

At least there's always Manny Mach-- oh god. I told myself I wouldn't cry over baseball. No, not again!

Happy belated Father's Day! We are back with a brand new episode of The Warehouse Podcast. Your support last week was immense. Thank you so much for the downloads, and the subscriptions, and the follows. It means a lot, and it makes doing this show that much more rewarding.

If you have not subscribed yet, please do so on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, PodbeanTuneIn or anywhere else that you get your podcasts. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Or you can email us (thewarehousepod@gmail.com). Also, we have a presence on YouTube and Twitch if you are into those things.

The more input, the better. If there is something we could be doing better, let us know. But like, you don't have to jerks about, OK? We would love to interact with listeners more often and get some feedback from the semi-sane people that download our inane babble every seven days. Not all heroes wear capes.

18 June 2018

Finally, The Orioles Earned Their 20th Win

It's not all bad in Birdland. I mean, it's almost entirely bad -- but it isn't 100% bad! That's because yesterday, with a 10-4 win over the Marlins, the Orioles earned their 20th win! That elusive 20th win, which the O's had been trying to earn for 10 days, means that now every major league team has at least 20 wins.

Every other team has 22 wins or more, but let's not focus on that for the moment. It's time to rejoice! The big hero was Jace Peterson, who knocked in four runs on two extra-base hits. In the second inning, he put the Orioles on the board with a pair of runs by crushing a two-run double:

At the end of this clip, a fan unfortunately misses the ball when it hops right to him off of the warning track. It's a shame, of course, but it also serves as a tip of the cap to how the Orioles have played defense this season. That's an impressive display of fan loyalty.

In the third inning, Mark Trumbo knocked in a run with a long "double" that Derek Dietrich clearly misplayed at the wall:

Nope, I can't imagine why that play should have been ruled an error, but the Orioles will obviously take any break they can get.

With the Orioles up 6-1 in the fifth inning, it was time for Peterson to again make his mark:

That no-doubter was Peterson's 16th career homer and his first in 2018. That put the O's up 8-1, and Trumbo would add a solo shot to right field in the seventh.

Still, before that Trumbo homer, the Marlins cut into the lead thanks to two home runs from Justin Bour off of Dylan Bundy. In the top of the seventh and the score 8-4, the Marlins loaded the bases with no outs against Miguel Castro (two singles and a walk). Mychal Givens took over for Castro, getting a strikeout and then a fly out to left field that did not advance the runners. With Bour due up again, Buck Showalter summoned Tanner Scott. Scott did the job, getting Bour looking on a nasty slider:

Bour had no chance, and the Marlins' best chance for a comeback was neutralized.

The Orioles' 10 runs were the most they've scored in a game since they somehow put up 17 on the Rays in mid-May. They put runs up on the board, pitched well enough, and played adequate defense. It was a welcome sight.

Who knows how many more times this season the Orioles are going to reach a multiple of 10 in the win column? Maybe two more times? Can the Orioles reach 50 wins? I sure hope so! But for now, one thing's for sure: The Orioles cannot win fewer than 20 games in 2018. Take a bow, fellas.

15 June 2018

What Happened To Jonathan Schoop?

In 2017, Jonathan Schoop had a career year at the plate. His numbers -- .293/.338/.503, .355 wOBA, 121 wRC+, 5.2 BB%, 3.8 fWAR, 5.2 bWAR -- were all career highs across the board. There were even some questions about whether Schoop had surpassed the offensive skills of superstar Manny Machado.

No one is asking those questions now. Schoop, who missed about a month with an oblique injury earlier in the season, has yet to get going. In 47 games and 208 plate appearances, he has posted a .209/.246/.347 line and a 57 wRC+. Schoop has typically been up and down from year to year -- his wRC+ each year from 2014-2017, respectively, is 64, 113, 99, and 121 -- but him being this far down is rather shocking.

So what's happening at the plate? Unlike some of the very best hitters in the game, Schoop doesn't routinely make hard contact. But he's made that work at times in the past, and he did improve slightly last year. So far in 2018, he's been noticeably worse:

2016: 87.3 avg EV (t-235), 4.9 barrels/PA (t-142)
2017: 87.8 avg EV (t-158), 5.0 barrels/PA (t-136)
2018: 85.0 avg EV (t-222), 3.0 barrels/PA (t-195)
Min. 100 batted ball events

Schoop is making less hard contact, and he's barreling the ball less. That means the ball isn't traveling as far:

2016: 163 feet (t-248)
2017: 169 feet (t-222)
2018: 155 feet (t-194)
Min. 100 batted ball events

More hitters will reach that 100 batted ball threshold, so if Schoop's struggles continue, his rank will continue to drop.

Schoop has a .241 BABIP at the moment, which is low for him (he's been over .305 in each of the last three seasons). But, again, he's not hitting the ball as hard or as far; he's not simply dealing with some bad luck. Based on expected wOBA, which focuses on a player's amount and quality of contact, Schoop may even be outperforming his already low .256 wOBA:

2016: .298 xwOBA
2017: .334 xwOBA
2018: .241 xwOBA
Min. 100 plate appearances

That is alarming. Schoop's xwOBA is fifth worst among all hitters with 100 plate appearances. Schoop is even just behind Craig Gentry, who's at .242, and Chris Davis, at .270.

Quickly, let's move to plate discipline. Schoop posting a BB% over 5% last year was stunning, but unfortunately, it hasn't continued. He's back down to 3.4%. After posting career lows in chase rate (35.9%) and swing rate (52.3%) last season, those numbers have jumped back up. He's swinging at pitches out of the zone 38.7% of the time and swinging 56.2% of the time overall. But as pitchers had been throwing him fewer pitches in the zone from 2015-2017 -- 47.9 Zone% to 45.5% to 43.4% -- he's being challenged more now: 45.3%. Opposing pitchers aren't as afraid, and rightfully so (and they're still throwing him plenty of fastballs).

When a player is struggling this much, usually there are questions about his health. Schoop didn't seem to rush back from his oblique injury in April, and from all accounts, he's not hurt. That doesn't mean he's 100%, of course, but many players rarely are during such a long season.

Because of Schoop's struggles, the Orioles are stuck in a difficult position. There is no question that the Orioles must rebuild, but as you'd expect, they are hesitant to trade anyone who is under team control beyond this season. Really, they're hesitant to trade anyone, so the odds of them trading someone like Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Mychal Givens, Schoop, etc. are minimal.

At the same time, is Schoop really someone the O's should extend and build around? He's not a star, but he has shown that he's a good, though inconsistent, player. But he also may have to move off of second base in the next couple years as his range gets worse. If you do think Schoop is someone to build around, maybe this isn't the worst time to talk extension. But things don't always work like that, and who knows if Schoop would be willing to make a deal or settle for less knowing that he's better than this. Maybe he'd rather hope for a bounce-back later this season and in 2019, right before becoming a free agent.

There's almost no way that Schoop is this bad now, but his incredibly slow start can't be attributed to being unfortunate. He'll never be in Chris Davis territory because he doesn't have that type of contract situation, but things don't always have to get better just because you think they should. Hopefully Schoop starts barreling the ball more and figuring things out. The Orioles really need him to.

Photo: Keith Allison. Stats via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

14 June 2018

Thoughts on the Orioles 2018 Draft

Baseball drafts tend to be difficult to assess because we tend to completely ignore amateur baseball and it is a challenge to project how a player will develop over the years it takes for them to be prepared for Major League level performance.  Often, people who follow one of the other sports, like football or baseball, get irritated when one makes this observation, but baseball is a sport that requires a rather prolonged developmental period.  You can find immediate contributors in those other sports, but, outside of the rare college pitcher with two plus plus pitches, no baseball draftee is ready to step into a big league box.

So post-draft, you get a swell of draft report cards and evaluations that mean very little.  Taking Grayson Rodriguez with the first pick, even though he was pretty far down the rankings devised by baseball scouting media sites, means very little.  Those rankings are created through a mix of writers knowing a few scouts and what they think plus their own direct and indirect observations.  Those rankings do not reflect any organization rankings and you see quite a difference between those and the real thing.  Some think that by showing the variance between the scouting site rankings will indicate the actual variance in the real scouting world.  It doesn't.  In the media world, you have an echo chamber effect, which increases likelihood of inadvertent copying, and you have the reality that the variance of averages is not the same as the variance of the actual data.

So, if your argument is ranking based, then you probably have a fairly weak argument.  Slightly stronger than that, we have more of a philosophical argument in terms of team approaches to drafts.  Before Dan Duquette and Gary Rajsich came on board, the Orioles under Andy MacPhail and Joe Jordan mainly were on the lookout for athletic players with great makeup as well as injured players.  That perspective has changed.  The club now tends to look at pitchers with a good fastball and slider mix and a professional ("quick to plate") approach to pitching.  Positional players tend to be evaluated bat first, except for middle infield college gloves.  An aspect of their strategy with college gloves at shortstop is to find players who can defensively keep the rhythm of the game.  Keep the flow, which helps prevent innings that implode from deflating defense.

 The club pretty much kept with that concept in 2018.  The went for pitchers with intriguing fastballs that moved as well as established or promising sliders.  Folks were surprised by Grayson Rodriguez.  He was considered a second day pick last Spring, but improved his conditioning and overall training.  That resulted him rocketing up the boards.  He wound up around mid-20s at the beginning of May, but then trended backwards.  Typically, it seems that players with helium tend to move backwards before publications issue their last ranking list as evaluators begin to focus on negative aspects of these kind of players a bit more.  Anyway, Rodriguez made sense where he was selected and was certainly a name some were actually pegging a few selections earlier than the Orioles.

Blaine Knight is another player who fits the mold.  He was knocked a bit for his thin body type.  There are concerns about his long term health and his college program insisted that he not play summer ball and instead work on developed size.  He did not develop any size.  Regardless, he has a great two pitch mix and could emerge as an elite backend bullpen arm.  J.J. Montgomery, Ryan Conroy, Kevin McGee, and Dallas Litscher to a lesser degree fit with this bucket.

On the pitchers with upside, you have lefty Drew Rom.  Some expected him to go to the college ranks and mature, but for the Orioles to select him here, you would think they full well intend to sign him.  He lives in the 90s, but has a good feel with his secondary pitches.  He flashes some mid-90s heat (rarely) and has some room for projection with the hope that the velocity emerges.  Yeancarlos Lleras is another player who has flashed mid-90s heat and is thought to have more projection.  The organization claims he has a secondary pitch, but my sources indicate that he really only has used his fastball without any need to explore other pitches.

Cadyn Grenier, in the second, and Cody Roberts, in the eleventh, are typical Orioles solid defense up the middle selections.  Grenier is an excellent college shortstop whose swing needs to be reconfigured, which is not exactly something the Orioles seem to do well.  Their batting perspective tends to be to encourage guys to be aggressive as opposed to a significant mechanical overhaul.  I am told those sort of things wind up on the player themselves to figure out.  Anyway, he will at the very least settle down the infields he appears on and help pitchers focus on their own development.  He may well arrive in the Majors as a cup of coffee defensive replacement in a few years.  Meanwhile, Roberts, is an excellent catcher who should provide stopping power at the plate, defensively.  Offensively, it will be a struggle to see him get any significant time above Delmarva.  We shall see.

Robert Neustrom was a selection in the fifth round, which was a bat first selection.  He has power and he showed off his bat on the Cape, so that certainly helps.  His defense is suspect and so is his arm, so he probably slots into left field as opposed to his announced right field.  Anyway, it seems the take with him will be to push him like they did with Austin Hays.  Tell him to go out there and dominate, be aggressive.  It kind of worked for Hays, for a bit.  Maybe it will work with Neustrom.

Each year, I follow the Orioles selections and come up with my own picks.  I often have one or two selections that the Orioles also make, but they went well off the established lists by the main scouting media services.  That meant that when I developed my own lists and asked questions about players, I simply did not think about asking about those guys.  I am unsure whether I would have drafted them, but my philosophy is similar to what the Orioles do.

However, I tend to go more toward low variance production up top and also utilize predictive models.  That led me to someone like Brady Singer who seems like his ceiling is less of that of Rodriguez, but is more of a certainty is producing MLB value.  Jake McCarthy, a college true center fielder, is an up the middle player whose bat seems far more accessible with wooden bats than what Grenier has to offer.  Beyond those guys, I went with middle infield and power arms.  Nico Decalati was a deviation, but I was surprised to see someone like that available in the sixth with such a loud bat.  Anyway, here were my preferences.

Shadow Draft
1. Brady Singer, RHP
Singer is a more baked version of Rodriguez, but with less upside.  Signer looks to be a strong mid-rotation ceiling arm with a fastball/slider mix.  Rodriguez may have better mechanics and upside to his pitches, but Singer already has a useful changeup which cements him as a more certain starting pitching prospect.

1s. Jake McCarthy, CF
Great range and a good enough arm for centerfield.  Plus speed, a good approach at the plate, and hard contact in wood leagues.  His stock dropped a bit with injuries, but I think his long term outlook is very solid.

3. Mike Siani, CF
William Penn Charter (HS)
Siani has fringe plus speed, some power, and a strong arm.  He fits more of the Adam Jones style of center fielder.  It may seem strange to see me draft two centerfielders in a row, but they should have different developmental time frames (i.e., high school versus college) and Siani's issues with contact make for a potentially slower development.  One positive as a floor for Siani is that he has shown some aptitude as a southpaw, so he could be tried out as a lefty bullpen arm if it all fell apart.

4. Nick Dunn, 2B
Dunn is a contact oriented bat with good gap power.  He has shown aptitude in wood bat leagues, which makes his offensive performance in college look a tad bit better. The concern is whether he can stay at second base because his profile looks a lot less interesting away from there.

5. Matt Mercer, RHP
Mercer has a good fastball that sometimes gets up into the high 90s.  However, as a starter it looks to be more of a low 90s pitch.  He also has established secondaries, but none of them look to be all that great at a MLB level.  I see him as a hard throwing reliever, but would let him start until that path looks done.

6. Niko Decalati, 3B
Loyola Marymount
Decalati has outstanding light tower power.  He gets a lot of hard contact.  However, he does not get much contact and the concern on him is that a shift to a more contact oriented approach would undermine his power.  That said, he is athletic and looks to be able to play third base professionally or right field, if needed.

7. Joey Gerber, RHP
Gerber shows a mid-to-high 90s fastball and whispers of a decent slider.  That looks good to me in the seventh round.

8. Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP
Montes de Oca can throw 100 mph and has a decent slider that should play as average.  He also was used sparingly the last half of the college season which provides concern when paired with several arm surgeries from his past.  That said, 100 mph.

9. Hunter Feduccia, C
Lefty catcher, which may have some platoon value.  Strong footwork behind the plate and a good approach at the plate. No power to speak of.

10. Jason Bilous, RHP
Coastal Carolina
Bilous wound up not going until past the 10th round, which probably means he is going back to school.  Last summer, he glanced 100 mph and has a solid slider.  He has also shown feel for a changeup.  That all said, it sounds better than it is as he has had terrible trouble with control and command.

13 June 2018

Current State Of The Orioles: Really Bad

The Orioles have so many problems that it's exhausting to think about. But, if you want to keep things simple, you can group them into two main categories (without even getting into anything coach or front office related). First, the major league team is in shambles. At 19-47, the Orioles have three fewer wins than any other team. Only one other team, the Royals, has been outscored by more runs (-114 vs. -112). The Orioles are a very bad baseball team that struggles across the board. It's hard to watch.

For reference, the 1988 Orioles (final record: 54-107) earned their 19th win on game 69 (to make them 19-50). They won their 20th game on game 72. This year's Orioles got their 19th win on game 60 (to make them 19-41). Through game 65, they're still sitting on 19 wins.

That leads to the second main issue: the future. The Orioles are not without promising talent in their farm system; however, many of their interesting prospects are not close to ready for the majors. The system also lacks high-end talent. In February, Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, and Ryan Mountcastle all landed somewhere on the notable national prospect lists. Hays was the only one of the three to be named on all five (MLB.com, Baseball America, Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, and FanGraphs).

Since then, Sisco has graduated to the majors, and while he's held his own in semi-regular work, it would be a stretch to say he looks like anything more than a decent player. He doesn't look like a star. That's not bad, of course; it's just not great.

On Monday, FanGraphs released their updated top 131 prospect list. In February, Hays placed 90th on the list, and that was it for the Orioles. There is not a single O's prospect on this new version. Hays has dropped off entirely because he's struggling this year at Double-A Bowie, with a batting line of .224/.259/.374 (72 wRC+).

Now, the FanGraphs list isn't everything. No prospect list is the end-all, be-all. Mountcastle and maybe another prospect could still land on one or more of the national lists (he was on three last time). But Hays falling back to earth is disappointing and untimely, yet it shows just how much more talent the Orioles need in their farm system. No single player is going to solve this mess. Some things that are happening in the lower levels of the O's system are encouraging -- with, for example, Ryan McKenna, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, and others -- but it's not enough.

Almost everyone on this current O's roster should be a trade chip. The Orioles need to do whatever they can to add youth and talent nearly everywhere in the minors. Players that are close to major league ready would be preferred, but teams aren't just giving those prospects away. The O's need high-ceiling talent. They should be able to get a couple of those types by dealing away Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and others. Every possibility should be explored.

In the meantime, enjoy everything Machado, Britton, Adam Jones, and others do in an Orioles uniform before they're gone. And don't take a competitive game, home run, or solid defensive game for granted. One day things will get better for the O's, but it might be a while. Settle in.

12 June 2018

Looking For A New Baltimore Orioles Podcast?

Hello, fellow watcher of bad Baltimore Orioles baseball. There is no way you could have stumbled upon this blog post without being a little bit loopy, right? This team is tough to watch every night, and yet you came here to endure even more. Impressive. You are among friends, and we have a special treat in store for your dedication.

My name is Tyler Young. If you are a frequent visitor to Camden Chat, you may be familiar with some of my "work". I'm a staff writer at CC, and have been since 2014. This year, because I'm a crazy person, I decided to take on a new challenge: a podcast. 

Starting back on the eve of Opening Day, I launched a weekly Orioles podcast with two of my buddies, Jesse and Marcus, called The Warehouse. In general, it is an hour-long radio show where the three of us discuss the latest news in Birdland and try to have a little fun while doing so. Please note: we are marked "explicit" on iTunes but this is not a raunchy experience. We said the "s-word" one time! I SWEAR! I mean, I don't swear. You know what I mean. We are family-friendly!

Last week, the Depot got in touch to ask if we would be interested in posting the podcast here every Tuesday morning and using the website as a portal for regular Depot readers to access our show. I have been a huge fan of the site for years and jumped at the chance. It truly is an honor to be brought into the community as a regular contributor.

Each week, the show will be embedded here, but don't forget to subscribe wherever it is that you get your podcasts, including iTunes/Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPodbean and TuneIn. Or you can watch the podcast on YouTube! You can also follow the podcast on TwitterFacebook and Instagram or send the show an email: TheWarehousePod@gmail.com.

On this week's episode, Jesse and I talk about Chris Davis' continued demise, #HugWatch2K18, the O's draft, Luke Heimlich, the rise of Ryan McKenna and Jesse's inability to use technology.

Thanks for the support!

11 June 2018

Mike Yastrzemski and the Orioles' Future

Joe Reisel's Archives

Mike Yastrzemski doing what he does best. Photo courtesy of Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides
So, Yastrzemski. Is this as good as it gets for him?

After I have finished datacasting a Tides game, I usually walk to the parking lot with Mike, the official scorer, and Paul, the gentleman who runs the pitch timing clock. Mike and Paul are former sportswriters, but they've nevertheless accepted me (I do not claim that my contributions to Camden Depot make me a "sportswriter") and we often talk about the game we've just seen, the Tides, or baseball in general as we make our way to our cars - and, occasionally, as we loiter in the parking lot.

Paul is a long-time Red Sox fan, with fond memories of Carl Yastrzemski. He's also interested in the career of Mike Yastrzemski - Carl's grandson - who has spent much of 2016 and 2017 with the Tides. Mike Yaz started 2018 at AA Bowie, but was eventually promoted to Norfolk when Alex Presley and Michael Saunders opted out of their Orioles contracts. He's made several spectacular defensive plays and is now second in the International League in triples, despite having played only 19 AAA games.

Twenty years ago, when teams carried one or two fewer pitchers, there would definitely be a major-league role, at least for a few years, for a Mike Yastrzemski. In those days, most teams kept a fifth outfielder-type player, a player who may not have been a good batter but was a good defensive player and baserunner. That's Mike Yastrzemski

Of course, that argument doesn't really apply to the 2018 Orioles, who are carrying Craig Gentry, who has the same basic skills as Yastrzemski but (1) hits right-handed, (2) is older, and (3) a few years ago had a couple of years in which he hit fairly well as a part-time player. I'm sure people would disagree, but I don't see any reason to think that Yastrzemski wouldn't outperform Gentry in 2018. That assumes that neither Yastrzemski nor Gentry would be anything more than a backup outfielder.

I replied to Paul that Yastrzemski is not likely to make the Orioles based on his own performance. Of course, he could always be promoted as an injury replacement if an outfielder went down. Or - and this is where things get controversial - if the Orioles do trade away outfielders, I think Yastzemski might get called up to help the Orioles get through the season.

I'm sure that if the Orioles do trade away many of their major-league players, fans want them to promote the future - outfielders like Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins. But, in my opinion, they'd be better off keeping Mullins, Hays, and even DJ Stewart in the minor leagues while playing out the major-league season with fringe minor-league veterans like Mike Yastrzemski. This isn't a wholly-cynical "let's win as few games as we can so we can get a better draft pick" play, although it certainly is relevant. But there's also a very real risk of negatively impacting a player's future career if he's promoted and playing in the major leagues before he's fully developed and ready.

This may be frustrating to Orioles fans, who naturally want the down time to be as short and as painless as possible. And it will no doubt be non-entertaining to watch the Orioles lose games playing the likes of Mike Yastrzemski, Drew Dosch, and Yefry Ramirez instead of players with exciting upside like Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and Keegan Akin. But the minor-league system exists so that players will be fully developed and ready. There's no point in promoting players to play on a bad team before they are ready. And there's a good reason not to promote them - they may feel pressure to be the "future of the franchise" and fail to perform as well as they should. It could be argued that Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and even Chris Tillman were promoted to the major-league team before they were fully developed; when they ran into problems, they weren't able to handle it until they had failed three times, found another role, or were traded away. If at all.

So, Mike Yastrzemski may indeed get a career in the major leagues. Even if he doesn't, he's about at the point where, if he wants to, he can make a little money as a minor-league free agent or in a foreign league. With his name, of course, he could probably have a job for life as a coach in the Red Sox' system. I have no idea what he wants to do with the rest of his life; but he can have a satisfying - if not set-for-life lucrative - career in professional baseball.

08 June 2018

The Orioles' Outfield Defense Is Brutal

If you've had a hard time watching the 19-42 Orioles this year, you're not alone. The starting pitching has been picking things up a bit as of late, but overall, the O's have been bad in nearly every phase of the game. That includes managing, with some weird bullpen decisions by Buck Showalter in last night's loss.

One thing that's been particularly frustrating is the total collapse of defense in the outfield. This post will focus on the outfield, but the team's defensive deficiencies in the infield shouldn't be ignored. There have been issues all around the diamond; even Manny Machado, who appears to be more comfortable at shortstop after an up-and-down April, still has a -9.8 UZR/150 and -8 DRS. I'm not sure how much stock you should put into less than a half season's worth of defensive data, but plenty of other O's defenders have been just as bad or worse than that.

Now, the Orioles haven't been good defensively in the outfield for a while. Let's look at the O's collective outfield defense the last three years (with MLB rank):

2016: -9.7 UZR/150 (30th), -51 DRS (30th), -18 OAA (27th)
2017: -6.6 UZR/150 (29th), -15 DRS (23rd), -15 OAA (28th)
2018: -9.3 UZR/150 (30th), -24 DRS (30th), -17 OAA (30th)

If you're not familiar with OAA, it stands for outs above average, which is a range-based metric that takes into account plays made and their catch probability. (For a more in-depth look, read this.)

The 2018 club's outfield defense looks very much like the 2016 version, and it could end up worse. It's not that surprising, though. Adam Jones has been the one outfield mainstay, and several underwhelming outfielders have filled in at the corners. In 2016, Mark Trumbo and Hyun Soo Kim played the second- and third-most innings in the O's outfield, respectively. In 2017, Trey Mancini had the second-most outfield innings, followed by Seth Smith. And so far in 2018, Mancini is again second, followed by Anthony Santander (now in the minors) and Craig Gentry. Unlike almost all the others, Gentry is a plus (or at least above-average) defender, with a +5 DRS and 8.8 UZR/150 this season (obligatory small sample mention).

Average-to-above-average outfielders like Gentry and Joey Rickard don't hit enough to find themselves in anything more than a fourth or fifth outfielder role, which means Mancini and Trumbo are still getting innings in the outfield. It's no secret that Trumbo is a terrible outfielder, but while Mancini was OK at times last year, he's been on a similar level of bad as Trumbo this year, and he finds himself in left field almost every game. But again, no one should be shocked when Mancini and Trumbo, both 1B/DH types, struggle in the outfield. What do you think would happen with Pedro Alvarez in the outfield? Oh, right.

Now... on to Adam Jones. If you're one of the fans who doesn't want anything negative to be said about Jones, no matter what, this is where you might want to stop reading. Jones has been great both on and off the field in his time in Baltimore, but he's not above criticism.

As you'd expect, Showalter is hesitant to rebuke Jones for frustrating outfield play. Nevertheless, his regression in center field is worth discussing. Here is how Jones has rated in outs above average the past few years:

2016: +3 OAA (t-35th among all OF)
2017: -7 OAA (t-110 among all OF)
2018: -6 OAA (t-46th among all OF out of 50)
Min. 100 opportunities

And here is how he rates in DRS and UZR data:

2016: -10 DRS, -5.6 UZR/150
2017: -12 DRS, -14.4 UZR/150
2018: -15 DRS, -19.0 UZR/150

If your eyes gloss over those numbers, then look at a couple of misplays from the O's recent series against the Yankees. Here is the first, a misread on a line drive hit in front of him:

And here is the second, which apparently had a catch probability of 90% (an O's reporter shared that figure at the time, but I can't seem to find it now):

I'll spare you from GIFs of Mancini and Trumbo running after fly balls.

As always, things are complicated. Except for a few seasons, Jones has never really fared well according to advanced defensive metrics. But Jones is almost always in the lineup, and he frequently plays hurt. And there's been some drama surrounding how deep Jones plays; Jim Palmer used to mention it every so often during telecasts. Jones finally acquiesced to playing a deeper center field before last season, though he wasn't thrilled about it. This Q&A with Jones by Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun gave fans some insight into Jones's stance on the whole thing and how a lack of communication between Jones and the front office played a large role.

One positive for Jones right now is that he has a 108 wRC+ and has been one of the O's better hitters (admittedly, a low bar). But, in a perfect world, he wouldn't still be in center field. He isn't as fast as he once was, and he doesn't always get great reads or take the best routes. But over the last several years, the O's have struggled to bring in outfielders who could both hit and field well. That's a big problem, and Jones has had to try and cover more ground because of that. Mancini and Trumbo playing so often in the outfield isn't Jones's fault, but miscues on plays like the ones above are.

The Orioles aren't awful because of just one thing; everything is a factor. Even if the O's had a wonderful collection of defensive wizards in the outfield, the team would still be bad. And yet, outfield defense and speed are two things the Orioles need more of, and they can't continue to rely on using first basemen in the outfield. These guys aren't good enough hitters to get away with that.

The hope is that the team's next wave of outfielders, led by Austin Hays in one corner, Cedric Mullins likely in center field, and perhaps DJ Stewart and/or Ryan Mountcastle in another corner, will become solid contributors with the glove and the bat, while providing much-needed youth and speed (the speed part referring to Mullins and Hays). Mullins, who's in Triple-A Norfolk after a recent promotion, is the closest to the majors and very well may take over for Jones if/when he departs. For now, O's fans will have to keep dealing with substandard play in the outfield.

Photo: Keith Allison. Stats via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.