16 September 2014

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The Orioles are expected to clinch the AL East any day now so it makes sense to focus on the playoffs. One of the concerns about the Orioles in the playoffs is how our offense is reliant on the home run. Patrick Dougherty from Baltimore Sports and Life argued that this isn't a problem in this article. I figure it makes sense to write what seems to be an annual article taking a closer look.

A team that hits a home run is more likely to win a game than a team that doesn't. After all, runs scored via home run are just as valuable as runs scored via a different method. And if you score enough runs then you will win. One would expect a team that hits a home run in a game to win more often than a team that doesn't hit a home run. One way to see whether the Orioles are reliant on the home run is to compare their winning percentage when they don't hit a home run to the league average. Here's a chart.

2005-2014 2014   Orioles 2014
W 6,511 706 15
L 12,326 1,196 29

0.346 0.371 0.341

The average team from 2005 to 2014 won about 34.6% of the time when they didn't hit a home run. In 2014, the average team won 37.1% of the time while the Orioles only won 34.1% of the time. The Orioles have won about 1.5 fewer games than expected when haven't hit a home run. Given that our sample size is only 44 games this could be nothing more than a coincidence.

In contrast, the Orioles seemingly do very well in comparison to other teams when they hit at least one home run. As the graph shows, the average team wins nearly 60% of the time but the 2014 Orioles have won over 70% of the time.

2005-2014 2014   Orioles 2014
W 17,561 1,498 73
L 11,746 1,008 31

0.599 0.598 0.702

It seems clear that the Orioles do better than the average team when they hit a home run and do worse than the average team when they don't. It gets better because the 2014 Orioles have hit a home run in 70.3% of their games compared to the 2014 league average of 56.9%. The 2014 Orioles hit home runs more frequently than other teams and have a higher winning percentage when they do so.

The Orioles have a  .595 winning percentage and it may make sense to compare them to similar teams rather than the average team. This is complicated because the Orioles have hit a home run in 70.3% of their games while the average team hits a home run in 56.9%. It makes sense that teams with a higher winning percentage hit home runs in more of their games than the average team. It also makes sense that teams with a higher winning percentage would win a larger percentage of their games when they do or do not hit a home run compared to the average team. In order to compare them to a similar team it makes sense to account for both variables. The problem is that it's extremely difficult to do this using the Baseball Reference play index.

What is possible to do is determine how a team that has a .595 winning percentage would be expected to perform if it hit a home run in 57% of its games, if it hit a home run in 63% of its games and if hit a home run in 70% of its games. I can do that by determining how a team that wins an average amount of games would perform if it hit a home run for each of these three percentages and then simply multiplying by .595/the new winning percentage. So for example, a team that hit a home run in 70% of its games and won 60% of the games where it hit a home run and 37.1% where it didn't would win 53% of the time. So, I could figure out how a team that hit a home run in 70% of its games plus had a winning percentage does by multiplying the average win percentage by .595/.530. Here's a graph.

57% 2014 63% 2014 70% 2014 Actual 2014
No HR 0.441 0.43 0.416 0.341
HR > 0 0.711 0.692 0.67 0.702

This indicates that the Orioles win more often when they hit a home run than the average team with a .595 winning percentage and that the Orioles win considerably less often when they don't hit a home run. The average .595 team would probably go around 19-25 when they didn't hit a home run while the Orioles went 15-29. It seems that the Orioles are more dependent on the home run than the average team with a .595 winning percentage.

It seems that the Orioles do better than expected when they hit a home run and worse than expected when they do not. How does this translate to the post season?  The graph below shows how teams have performed from 2005 to 2014 when hitting a home run and not hitting a home run in both the regular season and post season.

No HR HR > 0 Chances of Hitting a HR
Regular Season 0.346 0.599 0.609
Post Season 0.36 0.586 0.619

Teams that do not hit a home run are slightly more likely to win in a post season game than in a regular season game. Teams that do hit a home run are slightly less likely to win in a post season game than in a regular season game. But the difference is minor. A team that hits a home run in either a regular season or post season game is likely to win and a team that doesn't is likely to lose.

It seems that the Orioles are likely to win the AL East and should be expected to face the winner of the AL Central in the first round of the playoffs. The following charts show how the Royals, Tigers, Orioles, and the average wins for each pitching staff when they allow at least one home run and when they don't.

Royals HR = 0 HR > 0
Orioles HR = 0 HR > 0
W 47 34
W 36 52
L 26 41
L 20 40

0.644 0.453

0.643 0.565

Tigers HR = 0 HR > 0
All HR = 0 HR > 0
W 44 38
W 1202 1018
L 20 46
L 711 1509

0.688 0.452

0.628 0.402

The Royals and Tigers are slightly above average when allowing a home run but lose the majority of their games. But the Orioles seem to have a secret ingredient that allows their pitching staff to give up home runs and still win.

Hitting home runs is a good thing and are even more likely to happen in the post season than in the regular season. Teams that can't hit home runs in the postseason are going to be in trouble. And if you're facing the Orioles then hitting home runs simply isn't enough. The Orioles overachieve when hitting home runs and underachieve when they don't. So, worrying about whether the Orioles are overly dependent on hitting home runs is a mistake. I recommend not to worry about whether this team hits too many home runs and just learn to love the bomb.

(Stats are accurate as of Sunday 9/14)

15 September 2014

Postseason Roster Crunch: On Chris Davis, Kelly Johnson, Jimmy Paredes, and Expanded Roles

Photo by Keith Allison
This is not how this post was supposed to go. I was planning on looking at whether Kelly Johnson or Jimmy Paredes would grab the final postseason roster spot as a bench player that would receive little playing time. And then, the Chris Davis suspension happened. The purpose of this post isn’t to offer thoughts on Davis' character, of which there’s already plenty of out there (many of them awful). Jayson Stark has written the most thoughtful piece I’ve seen.  

Over the weekend, Nate touched on the fact that the Davis suspension will mean more playing time for Kelly Johnson. Without being redundant, I wanted to look at how the suspension impacts the postseason roster, including Johnson, but also Jimmy Paredes and others in the path of this ripple effect.

To start, here’s a look at the offensive production, via wRC+, of Davis, Johnson, and Paredes.

Sample sizes: Davis 525/2842, Johnson 270/4444, Paredes 36/432. Obviously Parades' seemingly impressive production this year is from just 36 plate appearances, a pretty meaningless sample size.

Chris Davis, even with his struggles at the plate this year, is still the best option at 3B in terms of offense. While Johnson had a decent year last season for the Rays, he has provided below average offensive production 4 of the last 6 season. Paredes, while still just 25, has been 34% below league average offensive production in his 432 PA's. Paredes, the Astros 7th ranked prospect in 2011, has shown decent offensive promise  in the minors that he's yet to translate to big league success. So, the Orioles lost their best offensive option at 3B, but as Matt pointed out, it's not as devastating a loss for the lineup as it would have been last season.

The good news is that no loss at 3B could be as devastating defensively as the loss of Manny Machado. Here's how each player stacks up in terms of career UZR/150 at 3B as well as overall defensively. 

Sample sizes: Davis 734.2, Johnson 454.0, Paredes 464.2. None of these guys have enough innings at 3B to make definitive statements based off of their UZR. However, aside from scouting all 3, it's still the best metric to use.

No one who has watched Chris Davis play 3B is surprised by his miserable UZR/150 numbers. There's a reason the Orioles only played him there when it became a necessity. Johnson is a versatile fielder but not remarkable at any one position. While his defense isn't going to remind you of Machado, he's far from a liability at the hot corner. Paredes is a bit of a wild card in the field, as he's spent his career being tried at different positions, particularly during his time in the Astros organization. Scouting wise, his arm and instincts are considered fine for 3B, but his footwork has been questioned and he's inconsistent with the glove. Paredes' glove is likely an upgrade over Davis, but Johnson provides the steadiest option for the Orioles. 

So, like Nate, I expect Johnson to receive most of the playing time at 3B. The suspension likely allows room for Paredes to make the postseason roster. The Orioles do have other options, such as Alexi Casilla, but seeing as he's not on the current roster, I find it hard to believe he's being seriously considered. Buster Olney tweeted about Christian Walker possibly grabbing a roster spot as a result of the Davis suspension. I don't see this as a realistic possibility. Steve Pearce will play 1B and Flaherty will serve as the backup there. Adding Walker would limit roster flexibility and also ensure that the Orioles would have to burn one of his options next Spring if he doesn't make the team out of camp. 

Losing Chris Davis, especially the way in which it happened, is unfortunate. But it's not devastating. This team has overcome so much. Matt Wieters and Manny Machado were lost to injury. Ubaldo Jimenez is just lost. But this season has shown that, as one guy goes down, production can arise from the most unexpected places. Let us not forget that Zach Britton only made the roster because he was out of options. Steve Pearce has gone from a man designated for assignment earlier in the year to a key part of the lineup. While I don't necessarily expect heroics from Johnson or Paredes, the loss of Chris Davis is not a devastating blow to the Orioles postseason chances.

14 September 2014

Orioles Renew With Full-Season Affiliates

To the surprise of almost no one, the Orioles announced that they have renewed affiliations with AAA Norfolk, AA Bowie, High-A Frederick, and Low-A Delmarva. From the Orioles perspective, Bowie, Frederick, and Delmarva are an ideal set; they're close to each other and close to Baltimore. And Bowie, Frederick, and Delmarva have a long history with the Orioles. Bowie has been an Orioles affiliate since its creation; Frederick has been an Orioles affiliate since its creation; Delmarva has been an Orioles affiliate since its second season (it was an Expos affiliate for one season after it moved from Albany, GA.) There's no obvious advantage to either the Orioles or the teams separating.

In contrast, Norfolk entered into its first affiliation with the Orioles in 2007, eight years ago. Norfolk had been an affiliate of the New York Mets for thirty-eight years, ever since it had become an AAA team in 1969. Many observers and local fans were stunned when the Tides left the Mets. These past eight seasons - two four-year affiliation agreements - were a test; would the Orioles and Tides prove to be mutually-beneficial partners?

It may be hard to remember, but nine seasons ago the Orioles were not considered a desirable partner for an AAA team. After the 2002 season, their long-time AAA affiliate, Rochester, informed the Orioles that Rochester no longer wanted to affiliate with the Orioles. The Orioles ended up settling for the lame-duck Ottawa Lynx, considered at the time to be the least-desirable AAA affiliate. When Norfolk became so frustrated with their affiliation with the Mets that they made themselves available, the Orioles put the all-out press to become the Tides' partner. Three franchises vied for the Norfolk affiliation - the Orioles, the Mets, and the Nationals. The Mets had completely alienated the Tides; the Nationals then had an uncertain ownership; so the Tides agreed to affiliate with the Orioles. It's safe to say that if the Orioles had blown this opportunity, they'd now be affiliated with Las Vegas. And in a positive sign for the Orioles front office, they haven't blown it. Both the Tides and the Orioles were eager to continue their affiliation because it's mutually beneficial.

The biggest advantage to the Orioles is that Norfolk is currently the third-closest AAA team, behind Lehigh Valley and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Lehigh Valley is so closely tied to the Phillies that they won't become available, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre until recently had ownership and facility issues made it a less-desirable affiliation. Keeping Norfolk as their AAA affiliate is important because the alternatives are much worse. MASN, on which Orioles games are televised, is available on Hampton Roads-area cable systems. This helps the Orioles as well because fans attending Tides games are reminded that they can see former Tides playing for the Orioles on MASN. Finally, Norfolk has a good reputation among minor-league teams; owner Ken Young (who also owns Bowie and Frederick) is very well-respected and the front office is experienced and skilled.

From the Tides' standpoint, while there have been some negatives with the Orioles' affiliation, there have been more positives. The biggest negative is that the Tides have been generally uncompetitive with the players the Orioles provide; they have not qualified for the postseason in any of the seasons of their affiliation. The Orioles, especially in the Showalter Era, have called up players from Norfolk for even the smallest possible potential advantage. While this may mean that the Tides may get an attendance boost if a temporarily-optioned major leaguer plays for them (Miguel Gonzalez made a start around the all-star break when he was sent down briefly), it also means that a key player may be unavailable when he's held back for a potential callup. Second, when signing minor league free agents, the Orioles have preferred potential role players to players with more diversified skills. Third, the Orioles have been willing to give chances to once-good major league veterans such as Miguel Tejada, Jamie Moyer, Randy Wolf, and Joe Saunders. Those players are assigned to Norfolk, which forces Norfolk to adjust its roster. And those players must play, which is fine if they have something left but not so good if they don't. And, perhaps most significantly, the Orioles minor-league system hasn't been very deep, especially in position players.

On the other hand, the Orioles have communicated well with the Tides; gone are the days (as with the tail end of the Mets' affiliation) when the Tides' staff found out about player moves by reading about them in the newspaper. Orioles telecasts on MASN gives the team some indirect publicity and occasional mentions by the broadcasters. By far the biggest advantage is that the Orioles have played four exhibition games in Norfolk in the eight years. These games are a bonus for season-ticket holders and are a good payday for the team. And the Orioles showed their appreciation for Norfolk in 2014, playing the exhibition game even though the weather wasn't good.

There are still some Hampton Roads residents who want Norfolk to re-affiliate with the Mets. Some prefer ational League (no DH) rules; others are native New Yorkers; Still others became Mets fans while the Tides were the Mets AAA affiliate. When the Tides' affiliation became open, I personally was hoping they'd affiliate with the Nationals, because I thought it would be interesting to watch the Nationals organization develop from the beginning and because, frankly, I thought the Orioles were a badly-run team. However, in these eight years, I've watched the Orioles improve and even grown to appreciate the DH.

And, if the Tides hadn't affiliated with the Orioles, I wouldn't be writing here now.

13 September 2014

How the Chris Davis Suspension Affects the Rest of the Season

Yesterday it was announced that Chris Davis will be suspended for 25 games for the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs.  The suspension is extended to the playoffs as well, so after missing the final 17 regular season games, Davis would also miss the first 8 playoff games, should the team make it that far.  The failed drug test was due to the use of amphetamines, and Davis admitted to taking Adderall during a press conference following MLB’s announcement of his suspension.  This is actually the second positive amphetamine test for Davis, as the first positive test only triggers follow-up testing, and isn’t publicly reported.

Chris Davis (photo courtesy of Keith Allison)
Davis was a key contributor to the team’s playoff run in 2012 and a revelation in 2013, as he enjoyed a career year in basically every single offensive category, hitting .286/.370/.634 (AVG/OBP/SLG), with 53 home runs.  The performance was good enough to finish 3rd in the AL MVP voting behind Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.  This year has been a different story though, as Davis has struggled, hitting just .196/.300/.404.

So how will his absence affect the remainder of the Orioles’ season?  Well, if you’re talking about the regular season, the answer is not much, if at all.  The team currently holds a very comfortable 10 game lead in the AL East with 17 games to go, so the loss of Davis won’t change their chances of making the playoffs.  The Zips projection system at Fangraphs expects Davis to be worth 0.3 wins above replacement the rest of the year.  Kelly Johnson (who I expect to be the primary third baseman moving forward) is projected at 0.2 fWAR, but with approximately 20 fewer plate appearances.  Add those 20 extra plate appearances for Johnson, and he’s projected to produce about 0.3 wins as well.  Anything can happen over a 17 game span, but it’s unlikely that there will be much of a difference.

As for the playoffs, the situation is generally similar, as there are so few games that are played, literally anything can happen.  At a maximum, the Orioles would play 12 playoff games without Chris Davis (Davis would be eligible to play in the ALCS, but the Orioles would have to play with a 24 man roster until his suspension is over).  With Kelly Johnson assumed to get the majority of Davis’ playing time, let’s do a quick comparison at how we could expect each player to perform at third base for the first 12 games of the playoffs (we’re going to assume that Chris Davis would have played third base exclusively for the sake of simplicity).

Offensively, Davis has produced 1.15 runs above average for every 12 games played (according to wRAA), whereas Johnson has produced 0.40 runs above average over the same time.  When accounting for hitting alone, Johnson will be worth about 0.75 runs less than Davis over a 12 game span. On the defensive side of things, UZR has Davis’ glove work at third as 1.85 runs below average for every 12 games.  In contrast, Johnson would be worth 0.95 runs above average.  Add it all up, and according to this back of the envelope exercise, Johnson is actually expected to be worth 2.05 runs more than Chris Davis during that 12 game span.  As Matt alluded to on Thursday, these defensive values should not be viewed with a lot of confidence, especially since the amount of time each player has spent at third base combined doesn’t add up to a season’s worth of data.  What this exercise does show is that perhaps an argument could be made that the Orioles may not miss Chris Davis at all.

But I’m not trying to make that argument.  The above assumes that Chris Davis would be playing every inning of every playoff game at third base, which in reality, would not be the case.  No, the loss of Chris Davis won’t necessarily be felt over the course of 12 playoff games that he could miss, it will be felt during key moments of those 12 games that he could miss.  The loss of Chris Davis means an infield (which has already suffered the loss of Manny Machado) will lack even more depth than it already did.  It means that Baltimore will have one less defensive replacement to use near the end of a close game.  It means the Orioles will have one less competent pinch hitter to send up in a crucial moment with men in scoring position.   This wouldn’t be a big deal over a course of 12 games during a 162 games season.  But those little things become extremely vital in the playoffs, where the importance of every game is magnified, because there may not be another game tomorrow.