17 April 2014

The Orioles Avoid Much of the High Level International Amateur Market

One of the areas where we have been critical about the Orioles for years and year and years is there essential inaction when it comes to top flight international amateur talent.  Simply put, the Orioles basically avoid all first and second tier talent while selectively engaging the third tier.  Where this might be seen as a perfectly valid way for a shrewd and progressive team to operate, assuming that the club is going full on grass roots to find talent and mingle with the buscons and families, it is somewhat of a stretch to really believe that is the case.

Furthermore, it appears the team is using old school scouting perspectives (i.e., big man on the island) where having a well known and established scout would result in talent flocking to perform for you.  Much attention was given for the team signing Fred Ferreira, the Shark of the Caribbean.  He was one of the trailblazing scouts in Latin America and is known for signing several excellent talents (e.g., Vladimir Guerrero).  Ferreira would be a great manager and caretaker of the international program by teaching younger scouts how to ply their trade, assuming Ferreira has moved with the times and is not banking off his stature.  That said, the few sources I do have said that the Orioles are one of the least represented teams in the Dominican.  My sources do not extend beyond that country, but the team has sat out on top level Venezuelan talent as well and trade journals like Baseball America have expressed that it would be in the Orioles' best interest to engage more fully in Venezuela.

Perhaps, the team is trying to find value on fringe markets.  They have seemed to be dabbling in markets like Guatemala, Taiwan, New Zealand, and their tumultuous efforts in South Korea.  Again though, outside of the failed Seung-min Kim attempted signing with a 550k bonus which fell apart because the team did not follow well established rules and because the scouting reports handed to them by their famed Pacific Rim scout did not match the player that wound up in the United States for the team to get a second look on.  In fact, that is actually one of the elements that appears to be part of the Orioles strategy.  Acting fast on few looks.  More recently, the team dropped 800k on Dariel Alvarez even though no other club appeared faintly interested in him at that price.  If that is what is happening, it is an interesting mode of operation.  Find guys who come up nuts in their tryouts for teams and be willing to spend twice as much before the player can get in shape.  Maybe it will work.  That said, I have my doubts that Alvarez or Henry Urrutia will make any noticeable impact on the future of this franchise.  Perhaps that 1.6 MM could have been spent better on elite young talent.

Over the past few years, the Orioles spending has been rather pathetic in relation to the rest of baseball (numbers are procured from Ben Badler's reporting at Baseball America).



Bonuses Rank GM High Bonus Player


2010 1.18 MM 25 MacPhail .3 MM Hector Veloz


2011 1.02 MM 27 MacPhail .15 MM Elvis Duran


2012 Est. 1.1 MM* Est. 27 Duquette .15 MM Yi-Hsiang Lin


2013 1.23 MM** 30 Duquette .325 MM Ofelky Peralta











* - Team signed Henry Urrutia for 778k, which would increase total to 1.9 MM and a ranking of 20th.
** - Team signed Dariel Alvarez for 800k, which would increase total to 2.0 MM and a ranking of 29th.

Perhaps the above is unfair as the team did dive into Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.  That would have put the 2012 numbers into the top ten.  Of course, those signings were not what most teams are doing with their international signings.  What Duquette did with Chen and Wada, other General Managers do with Nolascos and Washburns.  I would argue that finding talent for your active roster is a bit different from finding talent for your minor leagues.  If you agree with that assessment, the Orioles have been quite negligent in putting up the money and relations required to sign elite Latin talent.

Below are the totals expressed by Baseball America for three of the past four years.  I do not have the data for 2012, but from what was mentioned above we expect the Orioles to be ranked pretty close to the bottom.



2010 2011 2012 2013 Total
Rangers 3.57 12.83
8.42 24.82
Cubs 4.16 4.54
8.22 16.92
Mariners 6.47 6.67
3.58 16.72
Jays 4.18 7.57
2.95 14.70
Royals 2.70 6.80
3.61 13.11
Pirates 5.00 4.09
2.58 11.67
Astros 5.13 2.12
3.86 11.11
Yankees 5.27 2.93
2.45 10.65
Indians 2.47 3.58
4.25 10.30
Padres 2.75 3.48
2.73 8.96
Red Sox 1.64 3.25
3.98 8.87
Twins 2.54 2.31
3.49 8.34
Braves 3.28 2.49
2.40 8.17
Athletics 4.73 1.22
2.10 8.05
Tigers 2.53 3.03
2.28 7.84
Mets 1.69 2.86
3.13 7.68
Cardinals 2.47 2.63
2.30 7.40
Reds 1.56 1.98
3.47 7.01
Rockies 1.96 1.45
3.38 6.79
Rays 1.73 1.79
2.83 6.35
Phillies 1.49 2.05
2.46 6.00
Giants 0.85 1.81
3.00 5.66
Brewers 1.39 1.63
2.54 5.56
Diamondbacks 1.42 0.88
3.18 5.48
Marlins 1.19 1.38
2.53 5.10
Dodgers 0.31 0.18
4.48 4.97
Nationals 1.12 1.12
2.64 4.88
Angels 0.62 1.45
1.83 3.90
White Sox 0.35 0.78
2.65 3.78
Orioles 1.18 1.02
1.23 3.43

As you can see, the Orioles ignored elite talent during the unrestrained MacPhail era and willfully ships out signing bonus allotments during the signing bonus limits in place during the Duquette era.  As it stands, ignoring the minimal investment in 2012, the Orioles spent the least money in baseball for young international talent over recent history.  Keep in mind a top tier international talent costs over a million and that there are about a dozen or two players each year who are treated as such.  The Orioles top signings receive a third of that.  The rather clearly suggests that the club simply ignores that level of the market.  A market portion that is not ignored by low revenue teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Perhaps you have faith in Duquette in that he is mindful of the market and is instead finding where value is.  You may point to the lofty-ish minor league talent rankings that were built on first round picks and under the market signings from the previous regime as evidence of the current regime's ability to find and procure talent.  Perhaps you look to Suk-min Yoon and Wei-Yin Chen and find solace there.  Where you won't find solace are in the low minors.  Those teams differ from others around baseball because those teams have a minimal number of raw, hard throwing arms from Latin America.  Perhaps the high failure rate mitigates the money spent in this market.  Perhaps the Orioles are the only team in baseball that knows this.  To me, that is a lot of faith to have.

16 April 2014

Contemplating the 2016 Orioles

With the offseason signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon, the Orioles have three players (along with Adam Jones) who are signed beyond 2015. Jones's contract runs through 2018, Jimenez's runs through 2017, and Yoon's through 2016. Also, because of MLB's qualifying offer system, the Orioles will forfeit their first- and second-round picks in the upcoming draft because they signed Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. So they will be without those two picks in the 2014 draft, and obviously they currently have all of their draft selections for 2015.

Jones will make $16M in 2016 (photo: Keith Allison)
Nick Markakis (2015 club option of $17.5 million with a $2 million buyout), currently the highest paid O's player, could depart after the 2014 season. The same goes for J.J. Hardy, who is in the last year of a three-year, $22.25 million contract. And Chris Davis and Matt Wieters are scheduled to be free agents in 2016, along with Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Ryan Webb, and Nolan Reimold.

But the Orioles will have a decent amount of cost-controlled talent. That group currently includes Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Brian Matusz, Ryan Flaherty, David Lough, Henry Urrutia, Troy Patton, Steve Lombardozzi, T.J. McFarland, Zach Britton, and Steve Clevenger along with skilled prospects Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Hunter Harvey, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jonathan Schoop, Mike Wright, and others. Bundy, Gausman, and Harvey finished in the top 100 of most, if not all, noteworthy top prospects lists, and Rodriguez and Schoop were included in a few of them.

In February, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs tackled the Orioles' apparent "short-term window." He noted how losing Davis, Wieters, and Markakis would hurt, but that the Orioles would also gain financial flexibility:
Unless Markakis turns things around, the Orioles will happily clear that money, and then they’ll be able to re-invest it, probably better. Between Markakis, Wieters, and Davis, the Orioles could lose a lot of talent over two years, but that talent would've come at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, and dollars are basically wins without a corporeal form. Even if they can’t totally make up the gap in lost wins, they can get a lot of the way there.
If the O's do lose those three, they will have to find suitable replacements at catcher, first base, and right field. If Hardy leaves, that also means finding a new shortstop (unless that new shortstop is Machado, which then means a new third baseman). It's not unreasonable (though unlikely) that Jones could move to a corner outfield position by then. They will also find out soon enough if Flaherty (at second), Lough (in left field), and Urrutia (corner outfield/DH) are everyday players or are more part-time guys (likely the latter).

The O's farm system is rich in pitching that's relatively close to the majors, but they do not have a strong collection of position players. According to some in-depth work from Matt Perez, position prospects are still safer than pitching prospects, though that gap does seem to be shrinking. (You can find more prospect data analysis from Matt here and here.) Obviously having a solid core of young pitching talent is great, but the organization's dearth of young position players is concerning. Schoop is the highest ranked of a group that also includes Michael Ohlman, Chance Sisco, Adrian Marin, Christian Walker, Josh Hart, and Dariel Alvarez. That is not a high-ceiling list, and the Orioles would be lucky if even one developed into a major league regular. (For more on O's prospects, see Jon's 2014 rankings.) It will certainly be possible to improve the organization's position player depth in the next couple of years, but it will be a little tougher without those two high picks in the next draft.

If, say, only one or two of Bundy, Gausman, Harvey, Rodriguez, Wright, etc. turn into good or very good pitchers, then that will still amount to a solid collection of starters along with Tillman and Jimenez. (Tillman won't be eligible for free agency until 2018.) Bundy and Gausman (and perhaps Harvey) all have the potential to become outstanding starters -- obviously there's immense value in having very good and very cheap starting pitching. But Harvey is just 19 years old, and Bundy and Rodriguez are 21. They are not sure things. Neither is Gausman, who's 23. Still, the Orioles could conceivably have a 2016 rotation that consists of Bundy, Gausman, Tillman, Jimenez, and Rodriguez, with Harvey waiting in the wings and Wright and Gonzalez (or any other draft picks) providing depth.

So, in 2016, if the Orioles don't have to focus much on improving their starting rotation, they could then focus on position players, and possibly upgrading the bullpen (if needed). Without the "big three" listed above, the O's would have more than $30 million to plug holes on a young roster. They could have even more than that depending on which veterans they let walk. It won't be easy to find solutions to all of those potential areas of need, but that's also a significant chunk of money to work with.

As the Orioles have demonstrated this past offseason, they are not that interested in chasing the cream of the crop in free agency. They will re-sign their own guys to long-term deals -- Markakis, Jones, etc. -- if they deem it necessary, so it's possible that they could reach agreements with Wieters and/or Davis, depending on the price. It's also possible that they negotiate some kind of extension with Machado that buys out his remaining arbitration years -- something that's becoming increasingly popular because it benefits both the player (guaranteed millions) and the team (saves some money). But in free agency, they will generally go after mid-priced players. They may not go after them with the same apparent strategy used this offseason, but they'll target some and sign some.

Some rambling thoughts:

- Jones will probably still be in center field in 2016.
- Whether the O's eventually want to move Machado to shortstop will affect how aggressively they try to re-sign Hardy. That may also depend on how Machado looks after he returns from the disabled list.
- If the O's don't re-sign Hardy, then offering him the qualifying offer would be a good idea. That may also be a worthwhile option for Cruz (especially if he has a strong year). Those may be two ways to offset the loss of the two 2014 draft picks. The same goes for Wieters and Davis after the 2015 season, if they are still around.
- If Schoop proves that he can hit at the major league level but struggles at second base, he will probably need to play third base. So then what happens at second?
- I'd be surprised if the O's picked up Markakis's option after this season. Perhaps they could bring him back on a smaller deal, but it might be time to move on.
- I don't think the O's will re-sign both Wieters and Davis. I'd be surprised if they brought Davis back over Wieters. Then again, I wouldn't be shocked if they both left, either. (It's worth noting that they are both Scott Boras clients.) Depending on how this season goes, trading one may also be an option to help restock the farm system with some position players (or pitching, which a team can never have enough of). If the season starts to go south and the O's know they won't re-sign one of them, it might not be a bad idea.
- Depending on how Gausman and some of the other young starters eventually look, the O's may be able to deal some of their young pitching down the road for a bat or two. That may end up filling a potential hole at first base, or second, or in the outfield.

-----

There are worse things than having to build a team, position wise, around Jones, Machado, and probably Schoop (and maybe one or two of Wieters, Davis, and Hardy). But that also leaves a lot of questions at other positions. The good news is that the O's have a handful of high-ceiling pitching prospects in the minors. But the bad news is that, barring a trade or two or some miraculous position-player development, they're going to need to spend some serious money on some position players in the near future.

15 April 2014

Reviewing the Devil Snake's Curve

Josh Ostergaard's The Devil's Snake Curve is constructed of short vignettes ranging from svelte paragraphs to short essays of a couple pages in length with sources in case anyone wishes to delve deeper.  This work is a dark commemoration of America's pastime.  One that tries to tie in the author's own concepts of personal disappointment or failure with America's through the shared fascination with baseball.  The book connects many of those vignettes to show interconnectedness on unimagined levels.  For instance, three separate vignettes connect construction company and Yankees owner Del Webb as he constructs internment camps for Japanese (many have been part of diplomat baseball groups) to Webb's 1955 New York Yankee tour of Japan (including a passage on the atomic bombs) to the closing of Yankee stadium and it being attended by Babe Ruth's grand daughter who now resides in an Arizona retirement community built by Webb's company on the design he perfected from the internment camps.

Ostergaard haphazardly follows these threads of this pastime with the quilt of America.  At no time are you fully aware of where he is or what he is going to do other than a loose adherence to a logical chronology.  To those who are unfamiliar with the history of this country or how baseball has sat front and a little to the right of center, this is a fascinating book.  To others, it may be frustrating to resolve that baseball has always been part of the muck as most things are to some degree.  As you can imagine, these short wanderings can be wonderful challenges to your perspective, but partaking in too many can leave you with a literary hangover.  My suggestion would be to read a few and let those few stories linger for the rest of the day.

To some who frequent this site, it may be irritating that so little of this work considers the history of the Baltimore Orioles (or maybe we should be thankful).  The only inclusion of our storied franchise is a connection to 9/11 that Ostergaard includes in a very brief paragraph titled "Intentional Walk".  It mentions that a few days before 9/11, the extended Bin Laden family chartered a private plane and left America.  The previous group who chartered the plane was the Baltimore Orioles who were in the midst of a dreary season perked up by Cal Ripken Jr.'s farewell tour.  There is no commentary attached to that occurrence.  There is no artistic embellishment imagining any association between the two other than both groups chartered the same plane.  At times, he playfully tugs at the American Weave and toyingly suggests unlikely connections, but nothing here.

The Devil's Snake Curve reads, to me, like a more sophisticated version of meandering history that my friends and I engaged in back during my undergraduate.  We would try to tie connected events into a greater mechanistic hypothesis of how the world has worked.  One of the more common elements to riff on was religion, which is perhaps something all good Methodist teenagers do when opened up to college outside of your elder's view.  As young minds were trying to sound worldly and cocksure that riff on religion tried to offer a proof that religion is the bane of all existence. 

It is both an easy argument to make as well as one that is wrought with great error.  First off, it is easy because religion has been so intertwined with the existence of our species and likely before we ever were a species distinct from our ancestors.  You name an awful thing happening (i.e., expulsions, massacres, century long wars) and, well, religion is not too far away from it.  However, the ever presence of religion can make many a young mind falsely conclude that religion is the mechanism by which bad things happen.  Basically, societies do bad things because societies do bad things.  The trappings of that society may give the flavor of the unseemliness, but it is not the cause.

Like religion, baseball has been very much involved in the working of America.  Baseball has been on the front lines of the Monroe Doctrine.  Baseball has been taken with our country as we send our soliders and diplomats to foreign lands.  Baseball has been ever present as our own country makes sense of how we treat women and non-whites.  It has benefited from government corruption from the 1860s until now.  It has been pulled into musicals, movies, comics, and Sunday sermons.  With that level of presence in our society, those with a very liberal treatment of mathematics just might be encouraged to suggest that:
Baseball = America
I would not, but maybe you would.  Either way, The Devil's Snake Curve is an interesting foray into that equation.

-----

The Devil's Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press
256 pages

14 April 2014

Reviewing Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice

The core of business is profitability.  The art of business is achieving that profitability.  As with all art, its legitimacy is highly dependent on the point of view.  The United States has increasingly become a consumer culture that has been progressively been removed from seeing how exactly their sausage, banana, or iPhone are made.  The further that distance is, the more reality becomes distorted.  We do not exactly lose our sense of humanity and environmental stewardship as we grow distant from creation.  However, we do tend to grow selective in the set of facts, notions, and misgivings that we surround ourselves to sustain our world view.

It is in this complex board of emotions, facts, and rationalization where Alan Klein's Dominican Baseball is found.  The book intends to fill a void in how the Dominican is discussed by sports columnists in the United States.  It does note that the system in place does have a number of corrupt buscones or amateur trainers (a topic that is heavily over publicized in our media), but that the corruption of a few does not represent the rest.  That this group (perhaps a 1,000 strong) is very well predominantly upright, moral, and filled with good intentions and support.  That this group is contrasted by the large monstrosity of Major League Baseball and how that entity tries to control talent on the island and artificially decrease money flowing into the island (currently around 75 MM per year).  A monstrosity that ignores most aspects of a player (even ignoring the vitally important need for integration into American culture) while simply focusing on baseball and a somewhat authoritarian control.  These topics are rarely discussed and quickly forgotten (how many remember the Mother Jones piece last year showing evidence of disregard for health issues at baseball academies?).

In doing so, the book is one of contemplative advocacy, but very much firmly planted in advocacy.  It is also very much firmly planted in the world of socio-economics to the point where you really need to pay attention in the first couple chapters to truly appreciate what the author is bringing forward: a rather damning appraisal of how Major League Baseball treats the Dominican Republic.  As such, one does notice obvious flaws in the discussion.  For instance:
In 2002, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Jonathan Corporan, a seventeen year old Domincan pitcher, for $930,000...What the Dodgers saw in Corporan was a wonderful combination of size (he is six foot two) and velocity (he threw regularly in the low 90s). ...increased vigilance stirred questions about his identity, and soon the U.S. Embassy had enough evidence to determine fraud had been committed.  Overnight, seventeen year old Corporan turned into twenty one year old Reyes Soto. ...the Dodgers decided to resign him for $150,000. ...Jeff Shugal, the Dodgers' head of international scouting wryly commented, "He was the same guy we thought was Jonathan Corporan. He just wasn't Jonathan Corporan." ...
Why, if his skills remained the same, would a seventeen year old be so much more valuable than a twenty one year old?
Being followers of this site, perhaps baseball in general, you should immediately see how absurd that conclusion is.  Soto was not docked almost 800k for lying, he was docked that amount because he turned into a rather mundane prospect overnight.  A seventeen year old kid has promise.  At 6'2", Soto had good size, but not prototypical size.  One could imagine that a teenager getting better nutrition might be able to add a couple inches and be more prototypical in stature.  A low 90s fastball for a right hander will simply get you through the door and the hope is that maybe a few more ticks will be added to that ball or perhaps his secondary offerings will become better with more experience.  At twenty one year old, you expect a player has reached his known physical shape and that his secondary offerings are highly unlikely to improve a considerable degree.  There is simply less to project and that is why a prospect can go from an elite 1.8 MM bonus (in 2013 money) to a third/fourth tier 290k bonus (in 2013 money).

That misunderstanding of baseball should not sully the central thesis of this book.  That central thesis, at least to this reader, is that the Dominican Republic was a minimally diverse economy that was somewhat self reliant and had an element of baseball associated with it.  Now, the country is much less diverse with fewer people growing their own food and the population largely depending on a highly competitive tourist trade (my own inference) and Major League Baseball (the book's discussion).  With a humanistic view, the book suggests that the country should have say over their own natural resource (prospects) without being overly heavy handed by the United States' Sphere of Influence.

However, my view on the book in general is one that is somewhat lying in wait for a tragedy amongst all the tragedies within.  The preface opens the book with a victory.  Astin Jacobo Jr., one of the preminent buscons and one you should be familiar with through Pelotero, is expressing a great deal of jubilation.  He and a rag tag group of like minded Dominicans (the language adorned to them carries a hint of romanticism) are able to convince 153 out of 154 Dominican players to sign a protest over the international draft.  The issue for these players is not a monetary one, but one of National pride.  Jacobo exclaims, "We beat them!"  However, as the reader, we have the gift of being removed from the situation and the emotions that are stirred for those deeply entrenched in this as a livelihood.  We know the power baseball has.  We know baseball players eventually care more for their own wallet than they do for the kids back home experiencing something they think they had to deal with in making it to the Majors.  We know that the draft is coming and that international amateurs will be increasingly exploited without the safety nets afforded to the also exploited domestic amateurs.

Well, maybe we do not know this.  It is a generally good assumption.  The powerful tend to obliterate the downtrodden few.  Successful revolutions tend to revolve around the powerful being upended by the downtrodden many.  As such, it is hard to see how the Dominican can take control over their home grown resource.  As such, it is hard to see how the Dominican economy can be made more robust to prevent this incredibly difficult pass/fail economic program revolving around baseball.  Of course, if MLB ever bothered to think about it, economic prosperity in the Domincan would not be good for them.  As the book on Venezuelan baseball so succinctly titled its book, Venezuela Bust, Baseball Boom, a low probability ticket to the Majors is worth a lot more when so many are in poverty.

In summary, do not take Dominican Baseball as the end all in the discussion on this issue.  It is part of the discussion and it is a part that is often overlooked.  The book is not without its prejudices, which is something that should be noted.  However, their presence really should not prevent you from fully considering what is presented here and realizing that monopolies and capitalism have dark sides.  As such, it is one of the several volumes that should grace your book shelf in order to make you competent in discussing international baseball.

-----

Dominican Baseball by Alan Klein
Temple University Press
200 pages

13 April 2014

O's Starters Put Up Consecutive 7+ IP, 0 ER Performances

Last night, in the Orioles' eventual 2-1 win over the Blue Jays in 12 innings, Bud Norris pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball. On Friday night, Chris Tillman also pitched well, lasting eight innings and allowing zero earned runs. Two runs did score against Tillman, though, thanks to a couple of Jonathan Schoop errors.

So I decided to use the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index to find out how many times Orioles' starters last season had outings of at least seven innings and zero earned runs. Here are the results (sorted by innings pitched):

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP ▾ H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Scott Feldman 2013-09-06 BAL CHW W 4-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 5 0 0 1 3 0 106 74 79
2 Freddy Garcia 2013-05-30 BAL WSN W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 0 0 6 0 113 72 82
3 Wei-Yin Chen 2013-04-26 BAL OAK W 3-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 2 0 0 2 5 0 106 68 81
4 Chris Tillman 2013-05-02 BAL LAA W 5-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 0 2 3 0 114 73 77
5 Chris Tillman 2013-07-26 BAL BOS W 6-0 GS-7 ,W 7.0 2 0 0 3 8 0 115 72 78
6 Miguel Gonzalez 2013-09-26 BAL TOR W 3-2 GS-7 ,W 7.0 2 1 0 1 5 0 106 70 75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/13/2014.


Scott Feldman was the only O's starter to throw a complete game shutout last season. I also briefly discussed that random, fantastic Freddy Garcia performance against the Nationals from last May.

So now the Orioles have put together two such performances. It doesn't necessarily mean anything, especially since we're not even to mid-April yet, but it's interesting nonetheless. And Tillman, through three starts, may be pitching the best he ever has with the Orioles.

11 April 2014

Orioles Still Have a Problem Getting on Base


Last week, Matt took a look at how the flaws of the Baltimore rotation were already showing in the first week of the season.  Issues that plagued the starting pitchers last year, such as low strikeout totals, high home run totals, and not pitching deep into games were prominently on display. This reinforces the fact that despite the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez, some of the core issues that limited the rotation’s effectiveness in 2013 had not necessarily been addressed.  This week, we’ll turn our attention to the offense.

The Orioles offense was not short on power in 2013, however they had trouble consistently getting on base.  This was evident in their 6.8% walk rate (tied for last in the AL) and their .313 OBP (10th in the AL).  Just for reference, in the 2013 season, the average BB% and OBP in the American League was 8.1% and .320, respectively.  While that may not seem like a lot, the difference between a 6.8% and 8.1% walk rate over the course of 6,184 plate appearances (the average number of plate appearances per AL team in 2013) is approximately 80 walks.  Based on the results of linear weights calculations (which can be found here at Fangraphs), a walk in 2013 was worth 0.69 runs.  This would mean that accumulating an extra 80 walks would result in a team scoring approximately 55 additional runs over the course of the season, which is not insignificant when you consider that 10 runs is approximately equal to one win.  The bottom line is that over the course of a season, a team can realize great benefits by putting an extra fraction of a runner on base per game.

Looking at the first two weeks of the 2014 season, we see that not much has changed for the Orioles.  Here is a graph showing the Orioles BB% compared to the rest of the league (click the figure to enlarge).


What you see in this graph really shouldn’t be all that surprising, especially considering the position players the Orioles added to the team during the offseason (minimum of 400 major league PA’s).


Nelson Cruz has the career best OBP, and is tied for the best walk rate of the group.  This isn’t surprising as he was easily the highest profile offensive acquisition during the offseason.  While he made the Orioles better overall, he gave them more of what they already had (power), while failing to significantly improve the team with a vital skill they currently lack (getting on base).  The current average OBP for all of baseball is .317.  So while Cruz is slightly better in that regard, he and Jemile Weeks (who probably won’t see much action in Baltimore this year) are the only ones who can make that claim.

It’s true that Baltimore hasn’t been at full strength yet, with Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy currently missing time. While there’s no doubt that each of them will make the Orioles a much better team when they return to the lineup, neither counts an above average walk rate as one of their many baseball skills (Hardy has a career walk rate of 7.0% while Machado’s is at 4.2%).

Admittedly, this analysis has been performed over a very small sample.  However, that small sample size caveat applies to the individual players as well.  For example, Nelson Cruz currently leads the team with a 13.5% walk rate.  Based on what has occurred over his more than 3,000 career major league PA’s, that number will likely come down as the season progresses.  On the other end of the spectrum, Nick Markakis’ walk rate is currently at 2.4% (career 9.3%), so you’d just as easily expect that to come back up.  It’s definitely early in the season, so there is plenty of time for the Orioles to improve their overall walk rate and team OBP, but based on the 2013 roster carry over and the players added in the offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s walk rate (in relation to the rest of the league) doesn’t change much over the course of the year.

The fact that the Orioles don’t walk much as a team doesn’t necessarily mean they have a bad offense.  It just means their offense isn’t nearly as good as it could be.