21 September 2018

Former MLB DOI Agent Eddie Dominguez' Baseball Cop

Primary sources require disciplined listening.  Individuals involved in an activity consciously and unconsciously tend to convey fact tinged with a little haze.  The haze can structure a narrative that is highly directed on the objectives and intent of the source.  If you are a proponent of enforcement then the truth you convey will be from that perspective and may miss details or perhaps orients details from an enforcement perspective.  The haze also tends to be an attempt to make the source appear more favorably to what he thinks you value.  Sometimes this takes the form of someone repeatedly trying to validate themselves in your eyes with name dropping, mentioning of extensive accomplishments, and favorable anecdotal asides.

Baseball Cop is a new book written by the former Major League Baseball Department of Investigations agent Eddie Dominguez, a law enforcement veteran with a long and diverse multi-decade long career that spans from the Boston streets in local investigations to FBI work and to international investigations.  This work is part a biography and part a thesis in how MLB's DoI (largely established as an outcome of the Mitchell PED report) has evolved from a somewhat independent investigative unit to an extension of MLB's executive push at controlling public relations.  While the book is certainly tinged by Dominguez' need to validate his own perspective and his whole-hearted support of enforcement approaches, one cannot deny that his charge against MLB and their DoI program appears valid and needs further assessment.  His book includes many specific details that have been published before in articles and other books, which puts credibility to what he states.

As troubling as Dominguez's allegations are, it is unsettling how little traction this book has gotten in the media, whether mainstream or on the fringes in sports blogging.  The book further carries on a fairly well established theme that Major League Baseball is less interested in the goals of enforcement of rules or establishing a truly useful and comprehensive health and safety drug program in comparison to their heavy handed approaches that appear to be more about making a public statement and suggesting a greater level of control than they actually have.  Some think the lack of attention is due to a greater conspiracy between sports media and MLB offices, but I question that.  However, I have no alternative suggestion.  Dominguez is not Jose Canseco.  From what I can see, his words should be considered.

Briefly, the book is largely about how the Department of Investigation for Major League Baseball was created out of MLB's public crisis in the 2000s from the Performance Enhancing Drugs hearings.  Mitchell's report found a need for developing an independent investigation unit that would be free from MLB or MLBPA oversight.  MLB appears to have gotten frustrated with DoI following up on their own leads and involving law enforcement, so MLB began to isolate DoI and secretly run parallel efforts.  In the end with much of the public outrage subsided, MLB transformed DoI from multiple employees with field experience to more of a court-based, stream-lined group who would contract out investigations.  That transformation led to refusal to further investigate what MLB appeared to gauge as sensitive subjects.

While several important aspects arise, the impact is somewhat mitigated by the author.  Dominguez' writing style is akin to that guy in the bar who speaks louder than is required because he wants people other than his buddy to hear him.  He wants you to know that he knows people, that he is connected.  He wants you to know that he has won awards.  He wants to ensure that you respect him and presents you with the rationale and logic required to come to that conclusion.  To me, it is reminiscent to how a friend of mine who is a Baltimore police detective communicates.  It feels like how someone would communicate to an informant or suspect in order to verbally overpower any hesitancy in accepting the person talking.  While this can be frustrating and ruin the reading experience a bit, if you can work through that as a reader then a great deal of interesting information is there to consume.

The author sometimes appears to not realize instances where he is being used by others.  For instance, there is a story conveyed where Theo Epstein calls Dominguez up to get him to investigate the White Sox behavior leading up to Dayan Viciedo's signing.  It seems, first off, wholly inappropriate that Epstein is pleading with Dominguez to investigate the White Sox and giving a reason being that the Cubs want to sign him instead.  It also is peculiar for Epstein to suggest something untoward is happening because it would be remarkable if Epstein was not involved in similar things.  The Cubs are allegedly one of many (almost every) clubs that pre-agrees to deals with international talent.  That notion is repeatedly made every single year by MLB writers when a new international period ramps up at the end of June and beginning of July.  From the outside and reading Dominguez' account, it looks like Epstein is simply brushing back the White Sox and trying to frustrate them.

It is also important to recognize what law enforcement does.  Law enforcement is not necessarily interested in the truth, but in facts that support a truth.  That is an important distinction.  For instance, Dominguez writes about his contacts and the degree to which they think PEDs are still used in baseball.  One piece of evidence suggested is that increase in home runs that have spiked up over the past couple seasons.  The section is written to put this forward as a primary driver of the increase in power.  What this does is establish the PED issue and enforcement need contained in the book.  The fact that several studies have shown a difference in the ball that results in it traveling further is not noted as it does not carry forward the desired law enforcement objective.  It is important when reading this that Dominguez is offering his best truth and his truth (all our truths are) is impacted by his perspective, how he sees the world.

Again, warts and all, this work is important.  The book declares that MLB values itself more than anything else.  It falls in with a line of evidence in an all too common tale that spans across industries: organizational human resource operations are not there to protect victims or establish truth, but to further the needs of the organization.  MLB likely does not see DoI as a group to enforce rules of law, but a group that enforces rules of law when it makes MLB look good.  Dominguez appears to have misunderstood that reality and it cost him his job.  It is a story that should resound with anyone who works for someone else.  It is a reminder that you may one day find yourself as a victim who is under the heel of your more powerful employer.

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Baseball Cop: the darkside of America's national pastime
by Eddie Dominguez
Hachette Books
pp. 304

19 September 2018

Moving Away from Buck: The Orioles Next Manager

One point five times.  That figure is burned into my head.  I cannot remember where I acquired that figure, but it has to do with the ideal age of a leader given the average age of his employees, followers, whatever.  Studies, ones I have actually found, tend to suggest age is a factor, but maybe not something that should be a primary focus.

Why does any of this matter?  Well, after years like this, people tend to be fired and a common target for getting fired in the manager.  To be precise, Buck Showalter only has a couple weeks left to be fired.  That is a highly unlikely occurance.  More likely is that Buck will not be offered another opportunity to manage the Orioles.  With that vacancy, the Orioles are in need of a new skipper.

The Orioles tend to focus on big names: Buck Showalter, Mike Hargrove, Leo Mazzone, and Davey Johnson.  Organizational favorites have also popped up like Dave Trembley, Sam Perlozzo, and Ray Miller.  You also have Lee Mazzilli.  Eh.

Recent trends have been pushing younger and younger managers.  In 2012, the Cardinals and White Sox seemed to welcome a new era when they respectively hired Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura.  Since then, twenty six first-time managers have been hired with over half of them without any managerial experience.  Last year, four of six managerial openings were filled with individuals 44 years old or younger: Alex Cora (42), Mickey Callaway (42), Gabe Kapler (42), and Aaron Boone (44).  Managers have become less the captain of the clubhouse and more a conduit to deliver front office interests to the field, to bring front office direction to the players.

The Orioles did not subscribe to that organizational structure these past several years.  Buck Showalter was hired against Andy MacPhail's wishes and was a major reason why he walked away from the Orioles.  The Orioles original offer to Tony LaCava to head the club was undermined by his lack of authority over Showalter and other employees in baseball operations.  Dan Duquette was able to weather it all, but the team was often referred to as a two-headed monster by opposing clubs who would often become confused as to who exactly made decisions.  The answer: both with ownership being a tie breaker, or whoever was more empowered by ownership at any one time.

If the Orioles want to modernize their franchise, then the first thing they need is a manager who is an extension of the front office instead of a foil.  Change appears to be best accepted by young, charismatic, transformational leaders.  However, with a multicoach setup, you can look at a couple of different leadership structures.  One would be an older, more stable manager with younger, more analytically inclined assistant coaches.  Another route would be a younger more analytically incline manager with more of a mix of older and similarly aged assistant coaches.  The problem with younger leadership though is with buy-in.  If you go too young, then the players may not accept the authority of their manager.  This can also be a problem with the assistant coaches and manager.

Given these ideas about management, approaches by other clubs modernizing their structure, and the talent that is currently out there, what options do the Orioles have?  The following is not a listing of various candidates, but solutions for each spot in the roster.

Manager - Joe Espada (Houston Astros, bench coach), Age 43
When Alex Cora was swiped by the Boston Red Sox as their manager, Joe Espada slid over to the bench coach position for the Astros from being the Yankees third base coach.  Espada is from Puerto Rico, is known as a communicator, and is well acquainted with the use of analytics from his time with the Yankees and the Astros.  He would be an asset to any front office.

He would be an asset in that he would likely be controllable where Buck Showalter enjoyed a more traditional sense of control, free of daily contributions from the front office if he decided their help was not needed.  Espada, used to structures with considerable input from up top, would be looking at his first big league gig, which would be helpful.  Also, as a younger manager he may well be a better communicator with the younger players who will now have a larger role.  Buck was never known as a great developer of talent, but as a maximizer of existing and accepted talent.

Pitching Coach - Brian Bannister (Boston Red Sox, assistant pitching coach), Age 37
The quickest way to getting back to respectability in the AL East will be to somehow be able to target and adjust the pitchers available within the Orioles' system.  Bannister might be that guy.  He is known to be one of the main drives behind the Red Sox pitching analytics push and is credited to being a player who was on the tip of the spear. He was Brandon McCarthy before Brandon McCarthy, if that helps.

Bannister is credited with finding the right mix and approach for Rich Hill, blossoming him at a very later stage in his career.  It is uncertain what his new responsibilities might be after the change over from Farrell, but he might wish to get into a position of more control to implement his ideas.  And while analytics are becoming more accepted in clubhouses (the Orioles are not one of those clubhouses), a young, former player with coach and communication experience makes Bannister a potentially ideal fit for Baltimore.

Hitting Coach - Jeff Livesay (Pittsburgh Pirates, assistant hitting coach), Age 52
To be honest, I do not know much about Livesay.  What I do know is that he has spent 15 years with the Pirates.  He has experienced the transition from a traditional operation to one that is very analytically focused.  That experience is something that I think would be useful.  He likely has experienced the rough spots and may be a useful coach who can understand obstacles in the transition.  At 52, he certainly is young enough to last a while.  He could also be paired with a younger voice like reupping Howie Clark.

If you want someone more on the tip of the spear, then you would probably want someone like Severna Park's own Mark Budzinski, a jack of all trades pre- and in- game coach for the Cleveland Indians.  He might be more on the nose if you want a wholesale change to a more modern operation.

First base Coach - Jerry Hairston, Jr. (SportsNet LA, First Base Coach), Age 41
You may better remember Hairston as the player the Orioles decided to send on and dedicate themselves to Brian Roberts and to bring in Sammy Sosa.  One of those worked out.  Hairston went on to have a long career as a role player until a hip injury ended it.  He then transitioned into the broadcast booth for SportsNet LA.  He has no coaching experience, but he has a whole lot of playing experience and communication skills.

It is uncertain if Hairston would consider a role like this, especially after he was a finalist for the New York Yankees manager gig a year ago.  Is a collaborative role acceptable when so close to a managerial position.  It may not hurt to ask.  If that does not work out there would be other names I would want to kick the tires on: Jose Hernandez, Brian Roberts, Tom Goodwin, Reggie Willits, or Mark Kotsay.

Third base Coach - Bobby Dickerson (Baltimore Orioles, Third Base coach), Age 53
I really like Bobby Dickerson.  He is not a make or break coach, but he is great at infield instruction and is a solid third base coach.  Fans often get upset when players get thrown out at home, but that is more or less an emotional reaction to a poor outcome.  If a third base coach was 100% successful when sending a guy, then you are talking about a whole lot of runs left at third base because that next guy to the plate is going to get out a lot.  Third base coaches tend to be very conservative because you do not look bad when holding a guy.  Dickerson feels alright looking bad and that increases run scoring.

If you would want to clean the slate (which I do not think is needed, but Dickerson may wish to go if he is the only mainstay), then I think the Red Sox's Tom Goodwin or the Dodger's George Lombard could be decent options.  I could also see the next guy I mention moving into this position, Will Venable.  In that case, I would probably look to someone like the Tides' Ron Johnson to be a familiar face as Bench Coach.

Bench Coach - Will Venable (Chicago Cubs, First Base Coach), Age 35
Venable was a bit of a leap when the Cubs transitioned him from a front office assistant last Fall to a first base and outfield coach this year.  He was brought on to freshen up the on field instruction with a younger voice.  By all accounts, it was a success.  The Cubs are a highly analytical group and Venable has been a useful way to communicate data to the players.  Espada could utilize that kind of coach on the bench and help provide Espada with information need for managing situations.

Conclusion
This is one path for the future.  It may not be a path for success, but it is a path with intent.  With the current multi-headed, multi-objective, multi-style environment the Orioles currently employ, maybe it is a better path forward.  It calls back to the Oriole Way that Paul Richards employed and that Earl Waever followed.  Maybe the Orioles, like in the 1950s, were in a dump with a poor farm system and not much at the major league level to shake a stick at.  However, being at the bottom means having opportunities to take risks and to try to be at the front of the next innovation.  Introducing management and coaches who are open to exploration and new ways of doing things may be able to get the Orioles out in front of the pack.

Maybe they take this track.  Maybe they find some success in a different one.

14 September 2018

Adam Jones' Potential Departure is the Greatest Loss Since Cal Ripken Jr.

There are many way to measure the importance, locally, of a player and the seismic impact of that player departing.  Perhaps one way to look at it would be to go through and see to what extent an individual contributed to a club career-wise.  Below is a year to year look at who was the reigning bWAR leader for time spent with the Orioles.

The list is a pleasant, sometimes hurtful, trip down memory lane.
Batter bWAR Pitcher bWAR
1954 Cal Abrams 4 Bob Turley 3.5
1955 Cal Abrams 5.8 Jim Wilson 3.5
1956 Gus Triandos 4.1 Bill Wight 4.3
1957 Gus Triandos 7 Connie Johnson 5.8
1958 Gus Triandos 10 Billy O'Dell 7.1
1959 Bob Nieman 11.6 Billy O'Dell 11.1
1960 Gus Triandos 12.9 Hoyt Wilhelm 10.1
1961 Gus Triandos 14 Hoyt Wilhelm 12.9
1962 Brooks Robinson 15.2 Hoyt Wilhelm 15.6
1963 Brooks Robinson 18 Milt Pappas 15.5
1964 Brooks Robinson 26 Milt Pappas 19
1965 Brooks Robinson 30.5 Milt Pappas 21.8
1966 Brooks Robinson 35.1 Steve Barber 17.5
1967 Brooks Robinson 42.8 Steve Barber 17
1968 Brooks Robinson 51.2 Dave McNally 10.2
1969 Brooks Robinson 55.4 Dick Hall 12.6
1970 Brooks Robinson 59.3 Dave McNally 16.4
1971 Brooks Robinson 65.2 Dave McNally 19.5
1972 Brooks Robinson 68.7 Jim Palmer 22.3
1973 Brooks Robinson 72.3 Jim Palmer 28.6
1974 Brooks Robinson 77.3 Jim Palmer 30
1975 Brooks Robinson 79.1 Jim Palmer 38.5
1976 Brooks Robinson 78.6 Jim Palmer 45
1977 Brooks Robinson 78.4 Jim Palmer 52.4
1978 Mark Belanger 40 Jim Palmer 58.8
1979 Mark Belanger 40.7 Jim Palmer 61
1980 Mark Belanger 41.1 Jim Palmer 62.7
1981 Mark Belanger 40.8 Jim Palmer 63.8
1982 Ken Singleton 30 Jim Palmer 68.6
1983 Eddie Murray 32.5 Jim Palmer 68.8
1984 Eddie Murray 39.6 Jim Palmer 68
1985 Eddie Murray 45.2 Mike Flanagan 18.9
1986 Eddie Murray 49.3 Mike Flanagan 20.2
1987 Eddie Murray 53.2 Mike Flanagan 20.7
1988 Eddie Murray 56.4 Scott McGregor 20.2
1989 Cal Ripken Jr. 50.2 Bob Milacki 4.5
1990 Cal Ripken Jr. 57.7 Mark Williamson 5.9
1991 Cal Ripken Jr. 69.3 Gregg Olson 7
1992 Cal Ripken Jr. 73.3 Mike Flanagan 21.9
1993 Cal Ripken Jr. 77.1 Mike Mussina 12
1994 Cal Ripken Jr. 81.1 Mike Mussina 17.5
1995 Cal Ripken Jr. 85 Mike Mussina 23.6
1996 Cal Ripken Jr. 88.8 Mike Mussina 27.2
1997 Cal Ripken Jr. 90.6 Mike Mussina 32.7
1998 Cal Ripken Jr. 92.5 Mike Mussina 37.7
1999 Cal Ripken Jr. 95.2 Mike Mussina 42.1
2000 Cal Ripken Jr. 96.5 Mike Mussina 47.8
2001 Cal Ripken Jr. 95.9 Scott Erickson 14
2002 Mike Bordick 14.5 Scott Erickson 13.2
2003 BJ Surhoff 16.4 Sidney Ponson 12
2004 Rafael Palmeiro 24.2 Sidney Ponson 13.4
2005 Rafael Palmeiro 24.4 Sidney Ponson 12.1
2006 Melvin Mora 25.1 Rodrigo Lopez 9.3
2007 Melvin Mora 27.2 Erik Bedard 12.8
2008 Melvin Mora 29.1 Jeremy Guthrie 8.1
2009 Melvin Mora 29.1 Jeremy Guthrie 10
2010 Brian Roberts 29.2 Jeremy Guthrie 14.5
2011 Brian Roberts 29.3 Jeremy Guthrie 16.2
2012 Brian Roberts 28.2 Jim Johnson 8.7
2013 Brian Roberts 29 Jim Johnson 10
2014 Nick Markakis 25.6 Chris Tillman 8.3
2015 Adam Jones 27.4 Wei-Yin Chen 9.8
2016 Adam Jones 28.8 Chris Tillman 12.7
2017 Adam Jones 31.4 Darren O'Day 11.1
2018 Adam Jones 31.7 Darren O'Day 11.5
 Adam Jones, sitting at 31.7 bWAR, would be the greatest departure of a player based on their Orioles career since Cal Ripken Jr.'s lofty 95.9 bWAR left the Yard.  Perhaps interesting is that if Manny Machado would have finished the season in Baltimore, he would be north of 33 bWAR and take the crown of accomplishment from Jones (based only on this metric).

Regardless, this is a passing of the torch.  As Jones departs, Chris Davis' 16.1 bWAR takes over and he is already a specter of years past.  Beyond Davis is another potential departure in Caleb Joseph with his 4.2 bWAR.  Beyond him? Tim Beckham's 2.4 bWAR.  On the pitching side, Darren O'Day has already departed and this leaves Mychal Givens' 5.3 bWAR reigning supreme.  Dylan Bundy at 4.9 is a shade behind him.

Anyway, Davis' 16.1 would be the lowest value for a leader since Mike Bordick's 14.5 bWAR in 2002.  To find someone who is below Givens' 5.3, you must travel back to 1989's Bob Milacki and his 4.5 value.  In the past, the Orioles have been a club with at least a name of a player who is ingrained in Baltimore.  Sometimes those names were deep, such as Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer, or Brooks Robinson.  Sometimes they were less deep, such as Melvin Mora, Milt Pappas, or Rafael Palmeiro.  Sometimes they were just a whisper in the Inner Harbor breeze, such as Jim Johnson, Mark Williamson, or Connie Johnson.

There might be some whispers next year.

12 September 2018

Book Review on Better Times: Something Magic

Something Magic: The Baltimore Orioles, 1979-1983 is a fairly straight forward accounting of the last hurrah of the original Orioles dynasty that lasted about 20 years.  The book largely depends on several hundred articles written at the time to piece together the more meaningful aspects leading up to that final run and throughout it.  For those who lived through these events, I would imagine that this work will unleash a flood of great memories.  For those like me born during this run or much later, it is a sober account of what transpired during a more jubilant time of baseball in Baltimore.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this work is that the first 78 pages describe the path that baseball took in Baltimore from 1858 to the threshold of the 1979 season.  It covers a lot of ground that I had picked up in other books.  Bill Veeck's tenure with the St. Louis Browns and being squeezed out in the sale of the franchise to Baltimore is covered here though not in the excruciating detail you get on the books whose focal point in Veeck and not providing background for the Orioles.

Likewise, the book draws from the Wizard of Waxahachie and a couple other sources to discuss Paul Richards.  Similar to Veeck, the book presents a more positive and less nuanced few of Richards when describing how the Oriole Way is the Richards Way.  For instance, while it notes how much of a tinkerer Richards was and how he was interested in streamlining/standardizing instruction, it fails to mention how his success in finding players largely had to do with having money to buy them because he was actually a fairly
poor evaluator.  He just used a great system.  That said, it probably is outside the scope of this work.

I may have missed it in the citations, but the work also appears to miss the work recently done on Brooks Robinson in the Brooks autobiography that was recently released.  That work would fill in some gaps in the discussion running up through the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  While that book is fairly white bread, it does seem to give the impression that Something Magic perhaps leans on period print articles a bit too much as being completely accurate depictions.

One element that comes up again and again are the depictions of fan programs being used as evidence to show that there was something special about Baltimore.  It is said, but not compared with what was going on around the league.  Therefore, it reads more like public relation work that would appear in newspapers and opinion pieces.  Maybe I am being too harsh, but it seems like a more critical eye and perhaps more first hand interviews could have contextualized these events more.

The final hundred or so pages describes the run noted in the title.  The writing meanders with the ebb and flow of seasonal sports writing.  Spring optimism gets grinded through the season and tid bits of information sprinkle through.  Again, I think for those who lived through the era it would be a great memory jogger as it discusses work stoppages, Jim Palmer acting on television shows, negotiations for what would become Camden Yards, failed attempts to sign Reggie Jackson and trade for Gary Templeton, and the pondering of who could actually replace Earl Weaver.

Perhaps with a longer format, these interesting tidbits could be expanded and something more interesting or profound could be elucidated.  As is, much of the information comes off in tangents off of the main slog which is a very newsprint push forward of this time.

The final chapter brings everything up to the present day.  Highlighting some aspects and quiet on others.  All in all, the book does well to set the tone for this five year period and wind down from it.  Where it fits in the works about the Orioles, I do not know.  I think for a more recent Orioles fan, it teases you with a great number of tidbits that leave you wanting more and, perhaps, searching out books mentioned in the citations and beyond.

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Something Magic: The Baltimore Orioles, 1979-1983
by Charles Kupfer
McFarland and Company, Inc.
212 pp.

11 September 2018

A new low in the Orioles nightmare season

Bad baseball seasons happen. In sports, and in life, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Between 2012 and 2016 the Orioles did a lot of winning. It was natural for the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. But the ferocity with which that pendulum has swung is what has caught many of us off guard.

The 2018 Orioles will go down as the worst team in franchise history and one of the worst teams in recent baseball history. But "worst" in this context refers to win-loss record. Wins, as many people say, is the most important stat. That's true in the standings, but there are many different ways to win a game. Just as teams can have fortunate seasons where they succeed in a high percentage of close contests, the opposite can happen as well. That is not what is occurring to these Orioles.

The entire season has been a disaster, but this past weekend in Tampa Bay may have been an all-time low. The Orioles were crushed, in every phase of the game, by a solid, above-average Rays team. There were weird wild pitches, numerous fielding miscues and seemingly an overall lack of execution on the fundamentals of the game. Caleb Joseph publicly made his opinion known, verbalizing what many had already known to be true.

What makes this season frustrating is not the number of losses, but rather the inability of the players and coaches to identify flaws in their game and implement a change for the better. There has been no indication that anyone involved at the club understands what's wrong. Dylan Bundy continues to implode on the mound, routine plays continue to be botched, and sometimes it feels like no one in the bullpen can get opposing hitters out. Instead it is rather, rinse, repeat.

Perhaps the sad truth is that there is just too little talent to work with on this roster. That feels like a poor and convenient excuse. If that is the reasoning for such poor baseball, then it should make for some easy personnel decisions in the offseason.

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07 September 2018

Who Will Lead the Orioles to the Land Flowing with Cold Beer and Pit Beef?

God promised Abraham that if he followed the righteous path that he would be led to a land flowing with milk and honey.  In Baltimore, perhaps we seek something more akin to a place with limitless beer and pit beef, a few World Series wins.  At the moment, publicly, we do not know who will be tasked with keeping the franchise on the right path toward success.  What public clues we have are few and far between.  We know Dan Duquette is talking as if he is in control of the future.  We know MASN is teasing about whether Buck Showalter will stick around for the rebuild.  We know that Brady Anderson is more interested in lawn care and free lifts than sitting in an office managing resources.

The MASN actions certainly feel like they have been told to focus on Buck Showalter as the season ends for whatever reason.  I would be surprised if they are teasing their audience with these tweets without knowing or being told that this is something to do and that Buck is fine with it.  It almost convinces me that he will be connected to the Orioles after this season is done, but it does make one wonder to what effect will he remain with the club.  At 62, he is coming to the end of his dugout years and there is a research base that suggests that managers are best suited for the tasks they must perform from ages 45-55.  Not all individuals fit that neat peak, but it is considered by those in management research field to be the ripe age for a MLB manager.  So, will he assume the reins of General Manager (or whatever the Angeloses prefer to call that) or maybe a mid-2000s Nolan Ryan figurehead position?

While Buck has carried with him the mantle of a team builder who cannot cross the final hurdle, there is some argument to be had whether he is a team builder.  His control over pieces with the Yankees was effectively nothing.  In Arizona, he was in charge of creating the organization and is credited to their eventual World Series success similar to how Dan Duquette is credited with Theo Epstein's Boston success.  His mode of operation in Arizona was to quickly evaluate young players.  Those that did not fit what he wanted, he dealt them out for solid veteran players.

Buck traded away talents such as Joe Randa, Jeff Suppan, Tony Batista, Brad Penny, Vincente Padilla, and Travis Lee to acquire older talents like Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez, Dan Plesac, Matt Mantei, Tony Womack, and Curt Schilling.  All in all it looks like a good batch, but it is really solely dependent on Curt Schilling's success.  Without his 35.4 bWAR for the Diamondbacks, the net effect of dealing out young players for proven veterans would have been a net loss of 24.4 wins.  Can you just excise Schilling from all this? No, but it shows that Buck was not making great trades left and right as the man behind the plan.

In Texas, John Hart's dominance as general manager was diminished when Buck was hired for the 2003 season and Buck's influence was high through Jon Daniels first season in 2006.  The deals during this 2003-2005 range though were interesting.  Travis Hafner was dealt out for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese (-24.1 bWAR).  traded away Ryan Ludwick for Ricardo Rodriguez and Shane Spencer (-9.8 bWAR).  Figured out with Hart and others that Alex Rodriguez was sinking the team with his contract and dealt him away (~42 bWAR).  Alphonso Soriano was then dealt a couple seasons later at a loss (-3.2 BWAR).  A monumentally terrible trade sent Adrian Gonzalez (who was stolen from the Marlins in a deal for Ugueth Urbina) and Chris Young dealt to the Padres for veteran pitcher Adam Eaton and veteran closer Akinori Otsuka (-24.6 bWAR, which doesn't include the value of the players the Padres got back in the Red Sox deal).  This looks like I am just picking terrible deals, but I am really just picking the main deals that involved players that wound up doing something.  The team that included Showalter had their best deal with acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, but were unable to figure out what they had in him over a couple seasons.

In Baltimore, it has been more difficult to see what exactly lays at Buck's or Duquette's feet.  Buck has been a major proponent in several acquisitions.  He was involved in re-signing Darren O'Day, wanted Matt Wieters back, wanted Chris Tillman back, was highly interested in Andrew Cashner, was aggressive with Colby Rasmus twice, and other veteran style acquisitions.  He tends to have his favorites, which usually are older players, and quickly dismisses young talent or tasks them with pointless activities like book reports.  The point of all this being that maybe he is not the best guy to be in charge of overseeing a finishing school for young talent or be heavily involved in evaluating that talent.

Again, I find it hard to believe that MASN would continue an advertisement tease about whether or not Buck will be around to see the rebuild without being told to do that.  It makes me think he will be around and maybe even higher up in the organization.  That said, I was told from someone outside of the organization that in their every dealing with Duquette or someone else in the front office that they are near certain that Duquette will remain in his position.  He told me that the front office is not acting like there is a change in regime happening, they are acting like they will have the ball come November and beyond.  Take that for what that is worth.

What does it mean if Dan Duquette remains?  It bears repeating that Dan Duquette literally took a joke of a franchise into the playoffs three times and was a series away from the World Series.  The organization he ran did this on a mid-level roster using a core his predecessor put together, but by effectively rebuilding and reconfiguring the pitching staff, the bench, and a couple role players.  It showed a combination of luck and skill along with the flexibility to utilize outside of the box thinking, such as making Manny Machado a third baseman, becoming one of the first teams to emphasize defensive shifts, utilizing alternative markets and options to find successful players, and creating the industry trend of waiting out free agents well into the off season.  All of that happened.  All of that is real.  So, while Duquette cuts a rather mixed path it is important to note that his team got a lot of things right and it led to the success he saw that was never supposed to happen.  Add that to his work with the Red Sox and Expos, you can see why he has had a long career in baseball and why the Blue Jays were so eager to have him run their organization a few years back.

Yes, there are also negatives.  Those negatives he widely has noted this past year.  They traded a lot of aspects of organizational health to maximize their on-field play during the past several years.  That meant taking a foolishly meager international budget that was unique in MLB operations and somehow finding new ways to gut it even further after the unexpected success of 2012 accelerated the clocks.  Infighting has also prevented the club from incorporating analytics into their developmental system.  When some analytics have been pushed into use, they were chosen poorly (i.e., Rick Peterson).  Trading away and sacrificing draft picks on conditional free agents thinned out the Orioles top end prospects and the club frequently dealt away fringe prospect talent for low ceiling veterans, a practice that eventually caught up with the club.

Needless to say it has been a tough time and fascinating in how it brought so much success.

Now, lets suggest that the indications mentioned above are wrong.  That both Duquette and Buck will not be in charge of the rebuild moving forward.  What kind of talent is out there?

Two Exciting Names that Must Be on the Interview List
Amiel Sawdaye
Maryland native who was named the Red Sox Scouting Director in 2010 at 33, then promoted to the Vice President of International and Amateur Scouting for the Red Sox at age 38, and then quickly off to the Arizona Diamondbacks as Assistant General Manager.  With the Red Sox he integrated analytics, video, and scouting to improve and streamline their system, something the Orioles drastically need improvement on.  He is a communicator who can quickly understand a wide range of ideas and locate people to implement them.  Sawdaye is effectively what Dan Duquette was seen as in the early 1990s.

Kyle Stark
The Pirates did it first.  That is a common response to any major change in baseball these past several years seen as successful enough to implement all around.  While the Orioles were quick to adapt defensive shifts, the Pirates were the standard bearer.  Stark came onto the scene with the Indians and did a decent amount of analytics work for them, but show interest and ability on the developmental side.  As the Pirates' farm director, he took an antiquated system and began to standardize it within the organizational, emphasizing not only the usage of analytics but how to communicate them.  As an Assistant General Manager, his duties have expanded as well as the number of people working under him.  Stark is similar to Sawdaye with perhaps one exception, Stark has had to face the realities of a small market club which narrows the room for error.

Two Names that are Found on the Rolodex
Ned Colletti
Colletti was reported to have interviewed with the Orioles earlier this season.  Some dispute that report.  Colletti fits more of the traditional Orioles perspective in finding an established and respected person who could immediately step into the position.  That was what led to Pat Gillick, Syd Thrift, Jim Beattie, Andy MacPhail, and Dan Duquette.  A firm resume was something that it always seemed like Peter Angelos looked for.  And, it makes sense.  If you do not really understand what is going on then you find people who have had success in the past.  Colletti has had success, but it was largely considered a product of inheriting a strong developmental system and having extra cash to throw around.  In the end, Colletti was dispatched for not being current with new approaches to baseball and repeatedly underwhelming on-field play.
Paul DePodesta
You may remember DePodesta from Superbad, 21 Jump Street, or Moneyball.  Oh wait, that is Jonah Hill.  You may remember DePodesta from the book Moneyball and how Beane greatly depended on him for those turn of the 2000s Athletics teams.  You may also remember how he took that perspective to the Dodgers, clashed with the media, and was loudly and ceremoniously fired.  You may also remember how he then was picked up by the Padres and then Mets before rocking the NFL when he was hired to helm the Browns franchise.  You may also remember how the Browns franchise has been repeatedly criticized for thinking itself to be the smartest team in the front office as well as how it all went to pot this past offseason.  Going to pot makes one wonder to what extent Paul DePodesta still runs things over there with a new General Manager in town with John Dorsey who turned over about 60% of the roster.  DePodesta, with his former baseball success and analytical prowess a couple decades back, looks like a fresher version of Duquette.

Looking Forward
Realistically, I think Duquette is the right path that the Orioles would be capable of making.  In terms of running an organization, I have more faith in him than I do with Showalter.  It also helps that Duquette has seen success over such a fractured franchise.  If wishes were horses, then moving forward with a young talent like Sawdaye or Stark would see obvious to me.  If they want to go over second hand tires again, then DePodesta might be able to run the team in a more modern fashion than I think Colletti would be able to do.

06 September 2018

The September Call-Ups Have Begun!

September call-ups can be such a mixed bag. Occasionally, an organization's next great player does make their debut in the fall after knocking on the door all summer. More often, that player has broken down the door by July and become a vital part of the everyday lineup by the season's final month.

Cedric Mullins is not the type of transcendent player that a franchise will build around for a decade, but he seems to have a pretty good chance at being a solid regular in the big leagues for a long time. For the 2018 Orioles, in all likelihood, that is going to be the most exciting promotion of this season. Don't panic. That's OK!

Getting placed on the 40-man roster and then the MLB roster is based on a combination of things. What it is not always the result of is being one of the 40 best players in a team's organization. Does someone want to make the argument that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is NOT one of the Blue Jays 40 best players? Probably not. And yet, he is not on their 40-man roster. Why? Because the Blue Jays don't have to place him there yet, and they aren't in a position, as a team, where they are ready to compete.

Mullins had to be placed on the 40-man roster at some point this offseason to avoid being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The same will be the case for D.J. Stewart and Dillon Tate among others. That fact, coupled with Mullins's performance in Norfolk, forced the Orioles hand. That doesn't mean that Mullins wasn't ready for Baltimore. He was. But if he had another year before the Rule 5 problem reared it's head, he may have stayed an additional year down on the farm. If he's on the 40-man, the team may as well find out what he's got at the highest level.

Some of the Orioles very top prospects won't be up this season because it buys them time. Ryan Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz won't be up because that would require putting them on the 40-man roster a year before the O's have any pressure to do so. Instead, we will see guys like Steve Wilkerson and Luis Ortiz. 

This is not a team in win-now mode. They need to learn about their players in a fashion that makes the most sense logistically. That's what they are doing. It's not always exciting, and sometimes it's frustrating, but in the end it is smarter than flooding the MLB roster with young standouts.

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05 September 2018

The Orioles are More than Just Mullins


The title, I did not ask for permission from the scout to use that statement, but as I wrote this it felt on the nose.  The last few days the concern over Cedric Mullins riding the pine when the opposing lineup card includes a starting southpaw has reached a fevered pitch.  Worries have arisen on whether the Orioles have firmly concluded that Mullins is a platoon hitter and are gaming their gameday lineup to try to win a game or two.  Others worry that by shielding him from left handed starters that his ability to hit them will not improve.  There are also declarations that Cedric Mullins is better and a more important future piece than either Joey Rickard or John Andreoli.  Therefore, he should not sit for them.

I think the outrage at Mullins sitting is understandable.  It is a frustrating season.  It is particularly hard on anyone who bludgeons themselves with watching every single game.  Mullins is perhaps an important piece of the Orioles future and there certainly is a desire to forget the now and embrace the future.  Play the kids.  We also see this in calls for the Orioles to bring up anyone arguably on their organizational top ten prospects from Norfolk or Bowie.  And, to be clear, this is not outrage from a few folks, but rather broad and consistent disapproval of sitting Mullins.

Buck has been repeatedly asked about Mullins sitting out.  He has noted that Mullins has a nagging hip injury that kept him out of a national game that Buck wanted him to have exposure in.  Buck has also noted that the hip really does not keep Mullins out of the lineup now.  That he wants to see different players in rotations.  Last night, Mullins pinch hit for Andreoli when the left handed starter was replaced by a right hander.  It is clear that the Orioles are putting their thumb down on the scale to expose Mullins to more right handers.  And it does bear a question about whether this is a problem?  Is it dumb as some have said?  Is it indicative of reasons why this club is the worst in baseball?

I think it is important to step back and really think functionally about player development and roster optimization.  I think we all can agree that this season no longer matters with respect to the wins and losses.  That ship sailed a long time ago with respect to the playoffs and more recently with respect to who will get to pick first overall.  Let us tackle the developmental perspective first.

One concern is that by shielding Mullins from starting left handers that it will hurt his ability to develop that skill.  Here is a crude look (i.e., OPS) of his minor league career.
OPS vs. Left vs. Right
2015 .549 .765
2016 .632 .831
2017 .604 .863
2018 .700 .847
Overall, Mullins has roughly 400 PA against left handers in the minors and has improved slightly on them, arguably.  It is pretty much the only real knock on him.  This season in the majors, Mullins has faced lefthanders 21 times, striking out 9 times and managing three hits.  It has not been pretty and it never really have been pretty for him with respect to that aspect of his game.

Functionally, if Showalter is sitting Mullins against left handed starters (not left handed reliever who have simpler pitch mixes) the rest of the month then that means that Mullins will likely miss out on about four or five left handed starting pitchers.  About 15 PA at most against lefties.  So, developmentally, does Mullins facing lefthanders in those 15 PA have a meaningful impact on his future performance against them?  I have a hard time seeing that it would have any meaningful impact.  Developmentally, I do not see the argument there as reasonable or certain in that Mullins must be in the lineup.

Developmentally, is there a benefit to putting Mullins in batting situations where he is more likely to hit off of a right hander?  There certainly is an argument in player development that when you expose a young prospect to the Majors that you want them to be in situations where success is more likely and to control adversity.  This is a long held notion and it was one that the Mariners used with Adam Jones in his two seasons there and something the Orioles emphasized with Jones at the beginning of his first season in Baltimore.  Really, it serves two purposes.  One, you are maximizing a player's confidence by having him experience success.  Two, the season is long and tiring, especially for a rookie who is acclimating and a breather here and there is thought of as a good thing to help keep the player from burning out.

This leads to another point.  This is the longest Cedric Mullins has ever played baseball.  He was done in August in 2015 with some time in the instructional league.  In 2016, his professional games doubles to 124 and he also had some instructional league time.  Injuries kept Mullins to 76 games in 2017 and he was left off the instructional roster as well as no ball in the Arizona Fall League.  This year, he has played in 131 games and is likely to play another 12-15 more.  This is his longest season and this last stretch is fairly demanding physically and emotionally on a rookie.  

The Orioles did not do this with Austin Hays last year with Showalter desperate for outfield help.  Hays played daily, logged 20 games in September and finished with a 217/238/317 split.  Most folks remember Hays at his highwater mark with a 316/350/526 split on September 18th, but he crashed.  He went for 7 for 41 to end the season with one walk and 11 strikeouts.  Some thought that he was rushed and over exposed too soon.  In turn, that it led to some problems coming into the season that took him all year to straighten out.  It should also be noted that Buck had repeatedly asked for Duquette to promote Hays since early August, but that Duquette refused for fear of overexposing Hays.  Maybe that perspective cemented and they are imposing that on Buck or Buck now agrees or that outside of a playoff race that it really does not matter anymore.

Besides needing a blow now and then, it should be restated that Mullins is getting treatment for his hip every day.  It is not healed.  The injury was severe enough that he was shelved in a game Buck wanted him to play and is something that is nagging Mullins.  That injury may notprevent Mullins from playing, but it certainly would be something a team would want to manage.  Holding him out against lefties and concentrating on right handed hitting is sensible if you have to maximize return on his experiences.

Now, is sitting on a bench of any value to a player?  Often you hear about a young player being sent down to get regular at bats, to stay sharp.  You also hear about veterans complaining about playing time and needing more plate appearances to stay sharp.  We also know that players who pinch hit tend to do worse doing that than when they play regularly.  Those are all true and it is also true that that reality is something used to pull a punch.  

On top of that, we also hear anecdotally about players learning about approach and other subtleties by sitting next to a veteran or a coach during a game.  Managers sometimes order players to watch a game with a specific person on the team in order to learn things.  Showalter did this with Dylan Bundy during his first taste of the Majors.  The Yankees did this with Derek Jeter when he broke in.  It is common and an accepted notion in development.  Does it actually work?  I do not know, but mentoring has been shown to be quite effective outside of baseball and some think that mentoring explains how some managers tend to outperform expectations regularly.

This gets me to my last point and what I noted earlier: the Orioles are more than just Cedric Mullins.  As I developed this article in my head, I talked to a scout who focuses on minor leaguers.  To paraphrase him, he said that there should not be a controversy here.  There are several balls in the air that the organization needs to sort out and in the process of doing that, they can give Mullins an ideal introduction to the Majors.  This introduction focuses on him building off his success in the minors, repeating what he did well down there, but not overly challenging him to make him question his approach.  On top of that, they are letting him taste adversity without letting that adversity dominate the narrative.

This, compared to the offseason, is the ideal time to get a few more looks on Joey Rickard and John Andreoli to figure out just what they have in them and whether they should be protected this winter on the forty man roster.  Rickard and Andreoli both fit a needed role, which is a fourth outfielder who can cover all three positions in a pinch.  They also complement Mullins if indeed he cannot improve upon his performance against left handers next year and needs some platooning.  This failed season provides the opportunity for the club to get a better look to better discern whether they have answers currently on the roster for positions that need to be filled beyond Mullins or whether they will need to explore the market for solutions.

The team is not Cedric Mullins.  Mullins' development is important, but there are other parts of this roster that need to be determined.  Having Mullins sit is reasonable and emphasizing his success is also reasonable.

This situation reminds me of Zach Britton sitting in the bullpen as the Orioles faced an elimination game against Toronto.  Buck failed.  Britton was rested.  He had one of the best seasons in MLB history.  Buck instead chose to send in a shaky Ubaldo Jimenez into extra innings in a tie game instead of tapping his left arm for Britton and the Orioles paid.  Buck had no explanation for his failure.  At least, nothing that made any sense.  Showalter was hammered for that decision and deserved it.

In this case, we have plentiful reasons why sitting Mullins against left handed starters makes sense.  We have established practices that are not easily disproven as the save rule practice is easily disproven with the above Britton scenario.  For me to step beyond all these reasons, to be audacious and contradict the organization's choice in this instance, I need proof.  I need evidence.  I do not have that.  In fact, all my evidence declares that the objections do not really hold water.  It is hard to see how this impairs Mullins' development and that is really what it comes down to.

Yes, I understand that this season has been terrible.  I understand that fans want to see the kids play.  They want to take solace in the future and forget the present in the form of easily identifiable pieces that will likely have importance in the future.  But, the organization is not Mullins.  They have other questions to answer and playing every day through the end of the season may not even be good for Mullins.

31 August 2018

Orioles State of First Base: 2019-2023

As 2015 wound down, Peter Angelos spoke openly to local reporters.  He noted how important it was to the Orioles to be able to retain their first baseman, Chris Davis.  At that point in time, Davis was coming off his second best season of his career.  It was the second year that put him in the discussion as being the Most Valuable Player.  He certainly provided a great deal of production that the 2016 Orioles would need to account for and the comfortable way to think you are doing that is simply to re-sign those that performed the year before.

However, at the Depot there was concern.  There was also hope as the Tigers were becoming more and more engaged with Davis.  Dan Duquette tried to cover the gap by trading for Mark Trumbo with plans to play him at first base and to seek either a starting pitcher or a corner outfielder.  While Davis was fairly exceptional in 2013 and 2015, his other seasons and 2014 were of concern.  His profile was unique in MLB history as his contact rate appeared to be barely adequate to maintain his value and his body type looked like one whose athleticism would leave in a hurry.

As you know, fate drifted Davis back to the Orioles on what was considered conventionally a great deal with significant deferred money.  Again, at the Depot and elsewhere there was more concern than celebration.  What then transpired was worse than what we imagined.  Davis, now with four years to go, is seemingly entrenched at first base and utterly terrible.

So what does it look like?

First Base Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Davis, Chris*32MAJ.163.241.3061B-102, DH-4
Trey Mancini26MAJ.235.299.386LF-96, DH-3, 1B-26
Rodriguez, Aderlin26AA.280.328.4681B-102, 3B-11, DH-2, LF-2
Garcia, Wilson#24H-A.304.334.5331B-54, DH-46, C-3
Woody, Collin23H-A.226.332.4391B-48, 3B-16, LF-6, DH-2, P-1
Curran, Seamus*20L-A,SS.243.314.4271B-65, DH-25
Escarra, J.C.*23SS,H-A.308.399.4831B-44, DH-4
Zoellner, Jack*23ROK.236.364.4221B-41, DH-6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/23/2018.

Absent from the list above is Mark Trumbo.  We have spoke at length about him here at the Depot, but the organization seems hell bent to provide Trey Mancini experience there when Davis takes a blow.  We think this has been a mistake as Trumbo repeatedly shows that he needs to be in the field to hit and that he is a hard negative in a corner outfield position, but it is what it is.

Mancini looks like a fringe first baseman, a fringe left fielder.  Left field is doubly fringe as his athleticism continues to leave him, making his defense a lingering issue.  Last year, we took a look at what could be expected of Mancini moving forward.  He did not meet expectations this year which does only to decrease expectations moving forward.  Those expectations were that of a fringe second division starter.  Mancini does not look like a true answer to first base if Davis is ever dislodged.

Once you step into the minors, the answers find themselves difficult to find.  On the surface, players like Aderlin Rodriguez, Wilson Garcia, and JC Escarra have performed well, but have done so at an advanced age.  Seamus Curran and Collin Woody have done well to hold their own, but have struggled with contact.  The margin of error for a first basemen is fairly small, so there are certainly doubts at their outcome.  A couple years younger and those performances would look different.

Finally, the newest first baseman in the system is Jack Zoellner.  Zoellner was a 10k senior sign in the ninth round by the Phillies a couple years ago.  Zoellner was an analytics pick, someone who the Phillies developmental staff to play with.  Apparently, the Phillies liked the launch angle and velocity his batted balls produced.  He has yet to escape a rookie league.  The Orioles now are taking on this 23 year old who has plenty of levels to move up.

Five Year Plan
The five year plan for first base appears largely to be crossing your fingers and hoping there is something left for Chris Davis to do.  Mancini could be a fringe solution, but not exactly a player who could overwhelmingly dispatch Chris Davis.  Beyond them, nothing is clear.