16 October 2017

Blueprint for the 2018 Orioles (Option #1): So Yu Think Yu Can Pitch

Well, we’re finally here. The 2018 season has long been considered the likely last year that the Orioles will have a legitimate chance at competing for a playoff spot with their core players for the foreseeable future. Maybe “core players” casts too large of a net. This idea largely centers around the fact that, as of now, Manny Machado and Adam Jones will be free agents at this time next year, and those are two players that are difficult to replace. Though with several players in the minors taking big steps forward this past season, the post 2018 landscape may not be as bleak as it once seemed.

With that being said, having a (mostly) consistent 6+ WAR third baseman and an All-Star centerfielder on your roster doesn’t happen very often. So with the two of them possibly departing after the upcoming season, it’s extremely important to pull out all of the stops and make the 2018 Orioles as competitive as possible. And that’s what the Camden Depot writers (and some of our readers) will be trying to accomplish over the next week or two in our annual “Orioles Blueprint” series. I’m up first, but before we get to my proposal, let’s go over a couple of things.

Jon laid out the rules last week (along with Camden Depot's BORAS salary projections for pitchers and hitters). Here’s a quick recap:
  1. No trades
  2. Camden Depot’s BORAS salary projection model will be used to sign free agents
  3. MLB Trade Rumor arbitration projections are used for arbitration eligible players
  4. All team-controlled non-arbitration eligible players are assumed to have a salary $550,000
Budget: $155 million

Between Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Darren O’Day, the Orioles have a total of $53.33 million in salary committed for the 2018 season.

Remaining Funds: $101.67 million

Team Options


First thing is first; there are some decisions to be made on a couple of options. One of the assumptions we made was that Welington Castillo would decline his player option, making him a free agent. If anyone wants him on the 2018 Orioles, they’ll need to pay him market price.

J.J. Hardy has a $14 million team option that would have vested if he received 600 PA’s in 2017 or 1,150 PA’s combined between 2016 and 2017. He reached neither. Hardy has had a great career in Baltimore, but there is no chance I’m picking up that option. Declining the option means I buy him out for $2 million.

Wade Miley also has a team option for $12 million. With the free agent market for starters the way it is, I did not think Miley would have to perform all that well for me to pick up his option. He ended up not even meeting the low bar I set. Fortunately, his buy out of $500,000 is cheap, so declining his option was a relatively easy decision for me.

Remaining Funds: $99.17 million

Arbitration Eligible Players

Seven Orioles players are eligible for arbitration. I’ll be tendering contracts to all of them in 2018 except…Zach Britton. I know, it sounds crazy, and I actually can’t believe that I am typing these words right now. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Zach Britton is a good pitcher, but there are a lot of reasons why I decided to not tender him a contract this offseason. I am planning to explain this decision in more detail in a follow up post. In short, it boiled down to my opinion that his trade value has been greatly diminished coupled with the thought that the extra $12.2 million saved can be put to better use.

Remaining Funds: $56.27 million

Qualifying Offers

None of the impending free agents are even close to being in consideration for a qualifying offer. This is the easiest decision of this entire exercise.

2018 Roster

The figure below will be the starting point for my Orioles blueprint.
As you can see, there are quite a lot of positions to fill (3 SP’s, 5 RP’s, 2 corner OF’s, 1 catcher, and 3 bench spots). Of course, some of them will be filled with players who are under team control and are not yet eligible for arbitration. I’ll outline that in the upcoming sections.

Before moving on, let's factor in Dylan Bundy's assumed $1.50 million salary for 2018.

Remaining Funds: $54.77 million

Infield

With the (pretty great) acquisition of Tim Beckham before the 2017 trade deadline, the 2018 infield was pretty much set. While I think Chance Sisco (probably) showed enough to make the opening day roster as the second catcher, I wouldn’t be opposed to sending him down to AAA to start the season. In the event of that, I would sign a strong framer/defender (someone like Rene Rivera) on a non-roster invite to spring training for a low base salary (< $1 million) if they make the major league club. For now, though, we’ll pencil in Caleb Joseph as the starting catcher to begin the season, with Sisco ($550,000) getting semi-regular playing time as the backup until at some point their roles hopefully reverse.

You can swap Davis and Trumbo between 1B and DH. While Davis grades out as the better defender there over his career, Jon will occasionally mention on Twitter that Trumbo hits much better when he’s playing the field (Matt K. also posted about it).

Remaining Funds: $54.22 million

Outfield

Trey Mancini had a great year offensively and did not embarrass himself out in left field. At an assumed cost of $550,000, he’s going to be the starting left-fielder.

Austin Hays had a much better 2017 season than anyone probably thought he would have. Putting aside his small sample size struggles during his brief cup of coffee in the majors last year, I think it would be asking too much for him to come up and be the team’s everyday right fielder. I think he needs to spend a little bit of time in AAA before he’s ready to be in Baltimore full time. With that in mind, I would fill the right field position with Jon Jay. I actually advocated for the Orioles to sign Jay in my blueprint for 2017. Here’s what I said:
“…Jay is essentially your league average hitter (career 106 wRC+) and fielder (career -1 Defensive Run Saved), can play all 3 outfield positions adequately…”
Jay ended up signing a 1-year deal with the Cubs last offseason and put up another average season (this is a reminder that average is good). Jay’s going to play the 2018 season at age 33, so his defense is going to start trending slightly below average, but BORAS only sees a 1-year deal for $9.2 million for him, so there is limited risk in signing him. And if Hays plays well enough to get called up early in the season, Jay can easily shift into a supporting role, where his league average bat can adequately fill in at any outfield position.

Remaining Funds: $44.47 million

Pitching Staff

I may be publishing my blueprint first, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone’s blueprint will be focusing mainly on starting pitching. And that’s not just a coincidence, as the Baltimore rotation was absolutely dismal in 2017, ranking 27th in fWAR (29th in bWAR), 30th in ERA, 28th in FIP, 28th in innings pitched, etc, etc, etc. After declining Miley’s option, I’m left with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy as my only 2 starters. There are (in my opinion, very questionable) internal options to fill those slots, and while at least one of them may emerge as a decent end of the rotation starter, I don’t want to go into the 2017 season depending on any of them. I’m ideally looking for an ace, a mid-rotation starter, and a flyer on a high risk starter.

Yu Darvish (photo via Keith Allison)
There are 2 pitchers on the free agent market that come close to being called an ace. One is Jake Arrieta, who is in no way coming back to Baltimore. The other is Yu Darvish, and he is my main target. BORAS projects Darvish to land a contract of 4 years and $69.26 million ($17.31 million per year)*. Darvish had a rough second half of 2017, which (as Jon noted in the BORAS projection for pitchers), significantly hurt his free agent standing in our projection system’s eyes. Other than a spike in his BABIP and HR rate in July and August, the rest of his peripherals appear to be in line with the more successful months of his season, so I’m not too worried.

For a mid-rotation starter, I would target Alex Cobb, who, according to BORAS, can be signed for 3 years and $31.14 million ($10.38 million per year)*. Performance wise, Cobb has been a really dependable middle of the rotation starter since coming into the big leagues in 2011. Outside of an injury shortened 2016 where he pitched only 22 innings (he also missed all of 2015 due to a torn UCL requiring Tommy John surgery), Cobb has averaged 2.8 fWAR per 180 innings pitched. The problem is, Cobb’s never reached 180 innings in a season, so there is some risk in this signing (he had a career high of 179.1 IP in 2017). Cobb is not a high strikeout pitcher, but he doesn’t walk many either and for the most part keeps the ball on the ground, which is good when one pitches half their games at Camden Yards.

I’m going to fill out the starting rotation by taking a flyer on Derek Holland for a BORAS projected 1 year deal for $1.5 million. Holland has been both injured and mostly ineffective since 2014. A spike in his home run rate and an inability to find the striekzone (leading to a 2017 walk rate of 12%) led to a 2017 where he was nearly an entire win worse than replacement level. However, I’m hoping I can get a little bit of productiveness out of the 32-year-old left-hander. I’m not expecting him to return to his 2013 form, but it’s not crazy to think he could provide some production as a 5th starter. During the 2016 season, he was worth 0.9 fWAR in 107.1 innings pitched when his walk and home run rates were more in line with his career levels. He doesn’t have to be great, and even if he’s terrible, the $1.5 million guaranteed will easily allow the team to cut their losses if needed. In that event, Baltimore can use one of Gabriel Ynoa, Jayson Aquino, Alec Asher, or Miguel Castro to fill the 5th spot in the rotation.

In the bullpen, I’ve got Brad Brach closing and Darren O’Day setting up. As in years past, I’m filling in the remainder of the relief corps with internal options making the league minimum. Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, and Richard Bleier have certainly earned spots in the bullpen based on their 2017 performance (although Castro and Bleier’s peripherals do worry me). I’ll go with Donnie Hart as my second left-handed pitcher. Gabriel Ynoa is out of options, so he’ll likely get the last spot in the bullpen as a long man (I’d rather keep him as starting pitching depth than risk losing him to waivers). Other internal options such as Tanner Scott, Alec Asher, and Chris Long can be in the mix as well. I’ll admit, that group does not inspire a lot of confidence, but bullpens can be fickle and it’s the one place where you can find something that sticks if you throw enough at the wall. With that in mind, I’m also handing out a bunch of non-roster invites to spring training to flawed relievers.

Remaining Funds: $12.53 million

Bench

We need 3 players to round out the bench. There is no real infield depth, so finding an infielder will be a priority. Furthermore, unless you want to count Mark Trumbo, there isn’t really much outfield depth either. I’m going to use the bulk of my remaining dollars to sign Howie Kendrick, who BORAS projects can be acquired for 1 year and $10.6 million. Kendrick solves some of the depth problem by being able to adequately play both infield and outfield corner positions, as well as his natural position of second base. Additionally, he’s a career 107 wRC+ hitter, who just finished up a very productive season at the plate, hitting .315/.368/.475. Of course, that came in only 334 plate appearances, as Kendrick has been somewhat of injury prone the last couple of seasons. Hopefully playing the role of part-time super utility player (something he’s done the last 2 year) will help keep him healthy.

The next bench spot goes to Anthony Santander over Joey Rickard. While I think Rickard can be a useful player, I think Santander has more promise, and I’d be interested to see if he can fulfill some of that. Plus, as a Rule 5 draft pick who spent most of the 2017 season on the 60-day DL, Santander needs to be on the active roster in 2018 for 44 days before he can be optioned to the minor leagues. The Orioles have stuck with him this long, I think it makes sense to get to the finish line.

The last bench spot should go to someone who can play shortstop, as currently, the backup shortstop options are moving Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop off of their positions. I don’t think there is an internal option here, and without much money left, I’ll need to take the cheap route. I’ll sign Cliff Pennington, who will get a 1 year contract for $800,000 if he makes the team out of spring training. Pennington isn’t much of a hitter (career 79 wRC+), but not only can he play an average shortstop (career +3 DRS in nearly 5,000 innings), but can also play an average or better 3B and 2B as well, giving Buck Showalter a little more flexibility when giving guys some extra rest.

Remaining Funds: $580,000

Conclusion

Here’s the final tally:
OF Jon Jay – 1 year, $9.20 million
SP Yu Darvish – 4 years, $69.26 million
SP Alex Cobb – 3 years, $31.14 million
SP Derek Holland – 1 year, $1.50 million
UTIL Howie Kendrick – 1 year, $10.60 million
INF Cliff Pennington – NRI (1 year, $800,000 if makes team)

I always love doing this exercise because it demonstrates just how difficult it can be to try and build a winning team while sticking to a realistic budget. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made. It was a difficult decision to non-tender Zach Britton, but with the starting pitching being as bad as it was, I felt that reallocating the $12.2 million owed to Britton was needed in order for me to adequately address the holes in the starting rotation and outfield/bench.

*Author's Note: The original version of this post used incorrect/outdated BORAS projected contracts for Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb. Their projected salaries have been updated. As a result of this change,  there was not enough money remaining to sign SP Francisco Liriano. Instead, Derek Holland was signed as the starting pitcher characterized as a high risk flyer. The paragraph on Liriano has been replaced by one discussing Holland.

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Postscript: I realize that my blueprint this year is not as realistic as some of the blueprints I have completed prior to previous seasons. I am under no sort of impression that the Orioles would even dream of non-tendering Zach Britton this offseason. I also think that Darvish may get more than what BORAS projects for him (possibly Cobb as well), which likely puts him out of range for the Orioles, considering the other holes they need to fill.

Having said that, a more realistic option of my blueprint would be to tender Britton a contract ($12.2 million) and not sign Darvish. The extra $5+ million would then be used to sign someone more dependable than Holland, possibly Clayton Richard (2 years, $17.50 million) or Jason Vargas (2 years, $17.20 million)...or it can be used for a more attractive offer for Alex Cobb. In this scenario, the 5th spot in the rotation is open for someone in the Asher, Aquino, Ynoa, Castro group to win out of spring training.

13 October 2017

2017/18 Baltimore Orioles Blueprint Series

Just like every other offseason, the Depot will kick things off with our long running annual blueprint series.  A subset of our writers will tackle the club and try to do what they think is best for the Orioles while staying under the budget.  Additionally, we are asking you, our dear readers, to feel free to submit your own plans using our rules to CamdenDepot@gmail.com for me to consider.  Once everyone has posted or emailed their ideas, I will act as Lord Supreme GM and make my final determination.

Some rules:

1) No trades. Trades are hard to predict and these exercises seem to be a bit optimistic about returns.  We have recently had someone state that Mark Trumbo and Zach Britton could be dealt for Julio Teheran and Matt Kemp.  I am unsure how exactly that works for the Braves in any way.  That said, whoever would have imagined that the Orioles would have been able to deal Yovanni Gallardo for Seth Smith.  Now that did not exactly work, but it was at least a better fit for the club than Gallardo was.

2) 155 MM payroll.  Payrolls are hard to figure out.  Sources I have vary from 152 to 185.  The reason why those numbers fluctuate so much is due to bonus clauses, buyouts, deferred money, partial payments in trades, and roster bonuses from veteran MiL signings.  From my terribly incomplete count, I found about 5 MM in potential roster bonuses from MiL signings last year, which is somewhat astounding.  So, we decided to go on the lean side of the payroll tallies and choose an aesthetically clean 155 MM.

3) Contracted Money (53.33 MM)

  • Chris Davis 17 MM (ignoring 6 MM deferred)
  • Adam Jones 17.33 MM (ignoring performance bonuses)
  • Mark Trumbo 11 MM (ignoring 1.5 MM deferred)
  • Darren O'Day 8 MM (ignoring 1 MM deferred)

4) Choose Your Options (2.5 MM to 26 MM)

  • J.J. Hardy 2 MM buyout (or 14 MM club option; ignoring performance bonuses)
  • Wade Miley 0.5 MM buyout (or 12 MM club option)
  • Welington Castillo PLAYER OPTION (7 MM 2018 salary, assume he declines)

5) Arbitration Tender or Not (0 MM to 55.1 MM)

  • Manny Machado (17.3 MM)
  • Zach Britton (12.2 MM)
  • Jonathan Schoop (9.1 MM)
  • Kevin Gausman (6.8 MM)
  • Brad Brach (5.2 MM)
  • Tim Beckham (3.1 MM)
  • Caleb Joseph (1.4 MM)

6) Peculiarities (1.5 MM)

  • Dylan Bundy (est. 1.5 MM, non-arbitration inflated salary)
  • Chris Johnson's 1 MM buyout is from an old contract, not current one.

7) Assume all other non-arbitration players at 0.55 MM.

8) Fill up only the 25 man roster.

9) Use BORAS contract projections for pitchers and position players even though some look unrealistic in our eyes.  If a player is not listed, comment on this post and I will run the numbers.

10) Contract money cannot be deferred and must be evenly distributed by years.

Let me know if you all who wish to contribute have any questions.

12 October 2017

2017/18 BORAS Position Player Contract Projections: I Tried

As much as I have been impressed by the performance of my BORAS pitcher contract projections, I have been pretty equally unimpressed with last year's position player projection.  To be clear, the models are different.  Different inputs, obviously, which for pitchers track well, but is still a mess for position players.  One of the major issues is that fielding ability is measured differently by each team and can vary significantly over the years even within one club.  There may also be some deviation in what kind of skills are appreciated over the years being more dynamic than it is for pitchers.

Long story short, we will be using these contract projections, but the model is not the strongest.  Anyway, we will still be using these figures to inform our 2017/18 Blueprint series.  Tomorrow, I will post more information about that and invite our readers to provide their own blueprints in addition to the ones our writers are developing.  At the end, I will review them and choose what I think makes the most sense moving forward.

Here are the position player projections:

AGE YR 2017 AAV
Alex Avila 31 3 34.1
Welington Castillo 31 2 24.4
Nick Hundley 34 1 8.9
Chris Ianetta 35 1 8.7
Jonathan Lucroy 32 1 10.9
Yonder Alonso 31 2 18.7
Lucas Duda 32 2 19.6
Eric Hosmer 28 4 61.2
Adam Lind 34 1 7.9
Mitch Moreland 32 2 21.4
Logan Morison 30 3 34.8
Mark Reynolds 34 1 9.5
Carlos Santana 32 3 45.2
Howie Kendrick 34 1 10.6
Neil Walker 32 2 22.3
Zack Cozart 32 4 59.3
Todd Frazier 32 3 50.6
Mike Moustakas 29 3 34.2
Eduardo Nunez 31 2 20.8
Jarrod Dyson 33 2 25.2
Curtis Granderson 37 1 12.7
Jonathan Jay 33 1 9.2
JD Martinez 30 4 64.8
Cameron  Maybin 31 2 21.8
Justin Upton 30 5 83.9
Lorenzo Cain 32 5 92.2
Carlos Gomez 32 2 21.2
Austin Jackson 31 2 21.8
Jay Bruce 31 3 30.1
Carlos Gonzalez 32 1 8.6



10 October 2017

How Much is That Pitcher in the Window?: 2017/18 FA SP BORAS Projections

After the 2015 season, the Depot decided to get more organized with our off season blueprint series.  To make things more standardized, I developed a model, BORAS (Ballplayer Observation-based Remuneration Assumption System).  There are actually two models, a pitcher model and a position player model.  The models use a variety of data and considers player performance against the 2017/18 adjusted contract money.  Players are limited to those who pay reflected a value of 1 WAR or more.  In the first year, both models outperformed other projection estimates (e.g., Bowden, Heyman, MLBTR, Cameron, FG Fan Model).  Last year, the pitching model performed second best of that group and the position player model was the second worst.  This year,my sniff test is telling me that the pitcher model might be a little conservative, but will be much more on the nose than the position player model.  In my next article, I will discuss my concerns with the position player model, but this post is about the pitchers.

This pitching post is likely of particular interest to Orioles fans.  With about 50 MM in spending room after arbitration and assuming that payroll will remain steady, the club has the opportunity to revamp their starting rotation.  As the Orioles enter into this offseason, they effectively have Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in the rotation.  Some have suggested that Gabriel Ynoa or Miguel Castro should be given a 5th slot competition, but when you have 50 MM on hand you probably should aim higher.

BORAS Projected Contract Terms (updated 10/16)


Age Years Total
High
Jake Arrieta 32 3 51.8
Yu Darvish 31 4 69.3
Andrew Cashner 31 3 33.9
Jhoulys Chacin 30 3 37.4
Moderate
Jaime Garcia 31 2 22.9
CC Sabathia 37 2 23
Alex Cobb 30 3 31.1
Miguel Gonzalez 34 2 20.9
Lance Lynn 31 2 18.4
Tyler Chatwood 28 4 41.9
Low
Wade Miley 31 2 15.8
Jeremy Hellickson 31 2 15.7
Jason Vargas 35 2 17.2
Extrapolated - Poor
Clayton Richard 34 2 17.5
Ricky Nolasco 35 2 15.8
Francisco Liriano 34 1 5.8
Hisashi Iwakuma 37 NRI
Scott Feldman 35 1 5
Trevor Cahill 30 2 8.4
Yovani Gallardo 32 1 4.6
Brett Anderson 30 2 10.2
Hector Santiago 30 1 4
Chris Tillman 30 2 6.8
Tyson Ross 31 1 3.4
Matt Cain 33 1 2.4
Derek Holland 31 1 1.5


The strength of the model has really been driven by accuracy in players with three or more years projected.  Additionally, there is more strength in the model when players are projected to earn between 10-25 MM in 2017/18 dollars.  With that in mind, the model expresses a high level of certainty for Arrieta, Darvish, Cashner, and Chacin.  One wrench is that Marco Estrada also fell into this sweet spot and wound up get two years less on his extension, but for the same average annual value.

Several players seemed to drop off from their midseason expectations with less than stellar second halfs.  Yu Darvish went from a projected 6/118 deal to 4/59 as he scuttled.  It will be interested to see if his struggles in the second half will put a major damper on his value.  Jason Vargas, as I was expected, had his value collapse as he came back down to earth.  He dropped from a stunning 4/80 (man, that first half was good) to 2/16.  Jake Arrieta delivered a stronger second half and saw a modest increase from 3/45 to 3/53.

Below are the changes from midseason (which projected a continuation of first half performance throughout the season) and the end of year projection.


AAV
ASB End %
Miguel Gonzalez 6 10.1 68
Jhoulys Chacin 9.3 11.5 24
Alex Cobb 13.3 10.2 23
Jake Arrieta 15 17.6 17
Wade Miley 8 9.3 16
Andrew Cashner 12.7 11.8 -7
Jeremy Hellickson 10.3 8.9 -14
CC Sabathia 12.5 10.5 -16
Francisco Liriano 7 5.4 -23
Brett Anderson 6 4.6 -23
Jaime Garcia 14 10.7 -24
Yu Darvish 19.7 14.8 -25
Hector Santiago 5.5 4.1 -26
Lance Lynn 14 9.9 -29
Clayton Richard 11 7.7 -30
Tyler Chatwood 14.3 9.9 -31
Yovani Gallardo 7 4.8 -31
Chris Tillman 6 4 -32
Tyson Ross 6.5 3.4 -48
Scott Feldman 11 5 -55
Trevor Cahill 15.7 5 -68
Jason Vargas 20 8.2 -69
Derek Holland 5 1.5 -70

It certainly amazing how much a second half can change the trajectory of overall performance. Anyway, based on these figures, the Orioles should be able to acquire three new starting pitchers. No, not much looks to be available which is similar to last year.  With each free agent season, it appears that incredibly enticing free agents are typically locked into deals before they hit the market.  Maybe without a top tier of pitching available yet there still being a need for pitchers, we might see these contracts wind up being on the low end.

We shall see.

05 October 2017

Can The Orioles Rely On Richard Bleier?

The Orioles are no stranger to roster churn, and this past season was no different. But although they were not able to unearth any legitimate starting rotation help for 2017, they did add a couple of arms for very little that helped them get through some rough times.

Miguel Castro received the most attention of the group of productive (and cheap) acquisitions that also includes Gabriel Ynoa and Richard Bleier, mostly because he's younger (22 years old) and will almost certainly be a candidate for the No. 5 starter role next spring. Alec Asher found some success early but quickly fell off. Ynoa received a bit more attention at the end of the year when he received a few starts, and he'll also be mentioned as a rotation option. But Bleier mostly flew under the radar despite being one of the team's most effective pitchers.

The Orioles acquired Bleier from the Yankees in February for the infamous player to be named later/cash considerations. Bleier didn't make his Orioles debut until May 3, when he was summoned from the bullpen to replace Kevin Gausman, who was foolishly ejected in the second inning against the Red Sox after hitting Xander Bogaerts with a breaking ball. Remember, that occurred during the Orioles/Red Sox feud that stemmed from Manny Machado's hard slide into Dustin Pedroia, a silly beef that seemed like it would never end.

Anyway, without Gausman for the rest of that day, the Orioles needed innings from someone. Bleier ended up tossing four innings and giving up one earned run (three overall), and then Ubaldo Jimenez was able to come in and throw three scoreless innings to finish the game. The O's lost, 4-2, but Bleier and Jimenez helped save the bullpen. I promise, it seemed like a bigger deal at the time.

Needing a fresh arm, the Orioles optioned Bleier the next day, but 10 days later he was recalled for good. He ended up throwing 63 1/3 innings in 2017 despite not appearing in April, which still placed him in the top 60 among major league relievers. And not only was he used plenty, but he was effective. His 1.99 ERA tied for 12th among all qualified relievers -- not bad for a 30-year-old who had only thrown 23 prior major league innings.

Bleier will, of course, take the results, and the Orioles desperately needed them. But now the question is: Can he do it again? If you just look at Bleier's ERA, you might think so. But he also posted a minuscule K/9 of 3.69. That was the lowest among all qualified relievers by more than a full strikeout. In fact, old friend T.J. McFarland was next with a K/9 of 4.86. (And at 5.00, Castro finished fourth lowest.) That's one reason why Bleier's FIP was 4.37 and he finished with a bWAR of 1.3 but an fWAR of only 0.2. He had the largest ERA-FIP discrepancy among relievers at -2.38.

It's hard to get past the low amount of strikeouts and feel overly confident about future success, but as you'd imagine, Bleier does a handful of positive things. He doesn't give out many free passes (1.85 BB/9 this season), generates a lot of ground balls (68.8 GB% was second-highest among all relievers), and is able to fill in in both short and long relief. Plus, after being more effective against left-handed batters in 2016, Bleier was slightly better against righties than lefties in 2017. Perhaps that's just a one-year blip, but it allowed him to not be pigeon-holed into a LOOGY role (not that the O's could have that type of luxury with such an awful rotation).


Bleier is mostly a sinker/slider pitcher, and he even traded in more changeups for sliders this past season (throwing them much more often against right-handed batters). And while the velocity on his sinker dipped slightly (91.3 mph to 89.5), he threw his slider more than 3 mph faster in 2017 (making it more of a cutter). He also got more vertical movement from the pitch and threw it a bit higher in the zone.

Bleier's sinker, though, was his bread-and-butter pitch, and many opposing batters simply bashed it into the ground. Per Baseball Savant, 10.9% of Bleier's sinkers led to ground balls, which was sixth-highest among pitchers who threw at least 100 sinkers or two-seamers (up from 7.2% (rank of t-42nd) in 2016). You'll again notice McFarland on this list, at the top, followed by sinker/ground ball specialist Zach Britton.

Buck Showalter seemed to love having both a right-handed and left-handed long reliever last year, and Bleier filled that McFarland-like role. That's mostly because, when you put together the kinds of starting rotations that the Orioles do, you really need to do your best to beef up that next level of pitching for innings four through six or seven.

The name McFarland keeps coming up for a reason, though. Like Bleier, he's tall, left-handed, doesn't get many strikeouts, and induces lots of ground balls. He's also not that good. He had a couple of decent seasons in Baltimore when his career started, but thanks to ineffectiveness and a run of poor health, he eventually pitched his way out of favor and then off the roster. The O's released McFarland in February, and he was scooped up by the Diamondbacks. Still, even after moving to the National League and continuing his low strikeout/high ground ball ways, he posted an ERA of 5.33 and a FIP of 4.10 this season.

The point is it's extremely difficult to maintain Bleier's level of success while not missing a ton of bats, but then again, maybe he's figured something out. He does walk fewer batters than McFarland, and while posting an ERA below 2 again will be extremely tough, maybe he can sit somewhere in the upper-2s or low-3s. The Orioles need as much good pitching as they can get, and for one season, at least, Bleier was a nice addition.

03 October 2017

Wade Miley Couldn't Finish Off Hitters in 2017

The Orioles finished the 2017 season with a record of 75-87, the team’s first losing season since 2011. The end of the season was almost spectacularly disappointing, as the Orioles went 7-21 over the month of September (and October). While the bad month finally torpedoed what little chances the team had of making the playoffs, losing 19 of the last 23 games probably doesn’t leave fans with to much hope for the 2018 season, at least in the first few days following the end of the season. And while the 2017 season was extremely frustrating at times (especially on the pitching side of the ball), there are definitely some positives that can be taken into next year. As our own Jon Shepherd tweeted following yesterday’s game…
And it’s true! The 2018 season looks like it’s going to be extremely exciting! Unfortunately, this post won’t be looking at the positives of the 2017 season or what to look forward to in the 2018 season. I’m sure someone will do that post either here or somewhere else in the coming days (and if no one does, I promise I will write one in two weeks).

No, this post brings us back to the worst part of the 2017 season, the starting pitching. Now that the season is finished, I feel like it’s a good time to make a confession: I don’t watch many Orioles baseball games. For that matter, I don’t watch many other baseball games either. I wish I could watch more, but other life responsibilities (mainly kids) take up a lot of my free time these days. Fortunately, I am able to keep up with what is going on from the local beat writers, twitter, other Camden Depot bloggers, and the many excellent Orioles blogs out there on the internet.

Despite not getting to sit down and watch too many games, I do catch snippets here and there. And I happened to catch Wade Miley’s 5th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. Like much of Wade Miley’s 2017 season, it didn’t go well. He faced two batters, giving up a solo home run to Evan Longoria on an 0-2 fastball, and giving up a double to Logan Morrison on…an 0-2 fastball.

Wade Miley vs Evan Longoria

Wade Miley vs Logan Morrison

I thought it odd (or at least unusual) that Miley not only gave up back to back hits on 0-2 pitches, but that those hits were smoked. I decided to look into it a little further, and as a result, I found that it appeared that Miley had a lot of trouble finishing off hitters in 2017.

Other than his Zone% and F-Strike%, Miley’s Plate Discipline numbers at Fangraphs don’t look all that different than his career levels. Miley’s never been a strikeout pitcher, so the fact that he had an 8.1% swinging strike rate (and that it was the 9th lowest in all of baseball for pitchers with a minimum of 150 IP) didn’t strike me as all that surprising. However, generally when a pitcher gets to an 0-2 count, the odds shift greatly in his favor. While Miley has been a better pitcher when he gets the count to 0-2 (as he should), he’s been well worse than the league average in 2017.

Wade Miley in 2017 in 0-2 counts vs the league average

I don’t how necessary it is, but let’s take a look at some slightly different numbers for the same situation.

Wade Miley in 2017 in 0-2 counts vs the league average

That’s really not good. It’s also the worst Miley has ever done in those situations throughout his career. Is some of it luck based? Possibly. The sample size is obviously pretty small, and Miley’s BABIP in those situations is decidedly on the wrong side of the luck scale. At the same time, Miley hasn’t been doing himself any favors either. The figure below shows the location of his pitches against right-handed batters and left-handed batters in 0-2 counts.


As you can see, there are some pitches that catch way too much of the plate. At the same time, Miley is all over the place. And that’s really been one of the main reasons for Miley’s struggles in the 2017 season overall. It’s difficult to be effective if you’re walking nearly 13% of the batters you face. Major League hitters are really good. And if you don’t have the stuff to get swinging strikes, you need to do a good job locating your pitches, even when you’re ahead in the count 0-2. Miley did not locate his pitches well in 2017*, and that hurt him even if he had the batter at a huge advantage.

I realize that this post isn’t probably what most people would want to read about the first day after the end of a disappointing season, and if you’ve made it this far, then congratulations. Since it appears that Wade Miley will not be back in Baltimore for the 2018 season, so you can probably just file this post under either the “depressing, yet somewhat interesting” or “who cares, the season is over” folder. Regardless of Miley’s status with the team next year (or lack thereof), the Orioles can begin to look forward to the 2018 season, which (I’ll repeat), is going to be exciting.

*To his credit, Miley located the fastball almost exactly where Welington Castillo asked for it in the Longoria plate appearance.

27 September 2017

Will Chris Davis Keep Declining?

We already know the Orioles have a Mark Trumbo problem. He's about to complete the worst offensive season of his career, and while it's not impossible that the O's are able to move him and the two years left on his contract, it won't be easy and will require them to take on at least one bad contract in return.

Still, unlike Chris Davis (who was fine), Trumbo was very good offensively just last season (125 wRC+). When you look at the Statcast data for Trumbo, this season looks truly awful.

Batted ball data for Mark Trumbo (via Baseball Savant):
2015: 92.1 avg. EV, 183 avg. distance, 6.8 barrels/PA
2016: 92.7 avg. EV, 196 avg. distance, 10.5 barrels/PA
2017: 89.7 avg. EV, 171 avg. distance, 4.7 barrels/PA

(The above numbers are average exit velocity, average distance (in feet), and barreled batted balls divided by plate appearances. Barrels, for reference, are "batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage." A barreled ball must be hit at least 98 mph.)

Even if it doesn't feel like it right now, there's still some hope that Trumbo will hit again next season. That doesn't mean he fits well on the O's roster - it's tough to deploy a bad outfielder who doesn't hit well at DH, and it's not like the O's would ever platoon Davis and Trumbo - but at worst, Trumbo will be around for just the next two seasons. Davis's issues, however, are even more concerning because he's under contract through 2022. He's supposed to be the star.

Davis has always been a streaky, up-and-down hitter, but this will be the first time he's had consecutive, full-time seasons in which his numbers have gone down.

wRC+ data for Chris Davis (via FanGraphs)
2012: 121 wRC+
2013: 168
2014: 94
2015: 149
2016: 112
2017: 93

You don't ever want to count out someone who's just 31 years old, but the Statcast data doesn't paint a rosy picture, either.

Batted ball data for Chris Davis (via Baseball Savant):
2015: 91.9 avg. EV, 217 avg. distance, 9.9 barrels/PA
2016: 90.8 avg. EV, 213 avg. distance, 9.0 barrels/PA
2017: 89.9 avg. EV, 204 avg. distance, 6.5 barrels/PA

The excuse for the production dip in 2016 was an injured hand that Davis dealt with for nearly the entire season. Davis never went on the disabled list and toughed it out the whole year. His hand seems fine now, but Davis did spend about a month on the disabled list from mid-June to mid-July with an oblique injury. Regardless, even with a couple of decent stretches, he never seemed quite right. What is there to really say about his pitch recognition skills when he misses a month of the season and still leads the majors in strikeouts looking by a comfortable margin?

You don't need me to tell you that the Davis deal, which already seemed questionable at best when it was announced, is looking catastrophic right now. Davis could bounce back, but how much? The Orioles weren't hoping for him to land somewhere in the 100-110 wRC+ range for the first few years of his deal, and he's managed to be even worse than that in 2017. You don't ever want to discount all of what a player brings to the table, and Davis is pretty good with the glove and has become excellent at scooping bad throws. But his glove does not add nearly enough for what his bat is subtracting (that goes for every defender at first), and the O's didn't sign him to such a huge deal because he saves infielders some errors.

As a first baseman, Davis is at a stage in his career when he could start looking old very fast. You knew it was coming, but just maybe not this quickly.

(I didn't see it until yesterday evening, but Camden Chat also wrote about the Davis/Trumbo conundrum. Give it a read.)

26 September 2017

Austin Hays, 20th OF Taken in the 2016 Draft

Ever since Nick Markakis took a mid-winter train to Georgia, the Orioles have struggled to figure out what to do with right field.  A motley crew of Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, Nolan Reimold, Travis Snider, Joey Rickard, Alejandro de Aza, Gerardo Parra, and some other guys have been able to put up a fWAR of 0.6 while Nick plugs along delivering a cumulative 3.3 fWAR for just a couple million more per season.  It, sadly, was not one of the better outcomes for the Orioles in that they failed so completely in finding a replacement as opposed to Markakis really doing much of anything down in Atlanta.

However, now the Orioles have experienced some measure of hope.  Austin Hays was selected in the third round of the 2016 and has been on a rocket ride to the majors.  It has been a stunningly quick development and one that could greatly aid the franchise in maintaining it recent winning ways.  However, what we are seeing right now was in no way foreseen last year.

At the time of the draft, Austin Hays was considered a true five tool player, but not someone you think about when you think about five tools.  In JuCo, he showed the ability to hit, have power, run well, cover ground in the outfield, and show a decent arm.  Everything was there, but none of the tools could carry him forward alone.  The concern was that he would need each tool to carry over to the next level and beyond.  Generally, when you see a five tool player, you see one tool having the potential to break out and dominate.  You may look for light tower power, incredible plate coverage, or excellent defense at a prime position.  Hays had none of this and that is why he dropped to the third round.

When you look at the 19 outfielders taken before him, you see several guys who have some loud tools.  A guy like Mickey Moniak has incredible bat control. Corey Ray has power and great athleticism.  Deeper down you see similar things.  Jake Fraley looks to be an excellent defensive center fielder.  That is generally what you see, guys with a carrying tool as opposed to Hays who was an all around JuCo player.  Those guys tend not to break out.

Pick Name School Team Class YrAA
1 Mickey Moniak HS Phillies A -2.5
5 Corey Ray 4Yr Brewers A+ -0.6
11 Kyle Lewis 4Yr Mariners A+ -1.6
14 Will Benson HS Indians A- -2
15 Alex Kirilloff HS Twins Rk(Inj) -1.5
18 Blake Rutherford HS Yankees A -1.5
33 Dylan Carlson HS Cardinals A -3.2
35 Taylor Trammell HS Reds A -2.2
39 Anfernee Grier 4Yr Dbacks A -0.2
48 Buddy Reed 4Yr Padres A 0.8
53 Ryan Boldt 4Yr Rays A+ -0.7
57 J.B. Woodman 4Yr Blue Jays A 0.8
59 Bryan Reynolds 4Yr Giants A+ -0.6
60 Brandon Marsh HS Angels Rk -1.7
61 Ronnie Dawson 4Yr Astros A+ -0.6
74 Akil Baddoo HS Twins Rk -2.4
77 Jake Fraley 4Yr Rays A+ -0.7
84 Thomas Jones HS Marlins A- -2
86 Alex Call 4Yr White Sox A+ -0.6
91 Austin Hays 4Yr Orioles MLB -7.7

Well, Hays broke out in an incredibly interesting way.  In general, evaluation models view each rung of the professional ladder to be increasingly difficult.  This is quantified by looking at players playing at one level who then move up.  As a population, performance decreases as you move up.  Hays began at A+, did well, and then moved up to AA.  You tend to expect a decrease in performance of about 20% in general.  A jump to AAA would result typically in a drop of 10%.  The move from AAA to MLB also is about a 10% reduction.

Now, those are generic values of a highly encapsulated metric.  You certainly can have a player who can dominate AA or AAA, who lacks the ability to succeed at an MLB level.  A player may well be able to feast on lower quality talent at those rungs while just getting by against true MLB quality players.  Or a player can fly under the radar for longer as scouting reports take longer to catch up with MiL players than MLB players.  So what did Hays do?

Register Batting
Tm Lev PA BA OBP SLG
BALMLB32.290.313.452
BowieAA283.330.367.594
FrederickA+280.328.364.592

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/22/2017.

Hays dominated A+.  He experienced zero decrease in performance at AA, outperforming the expectation by around 20%.  In a handful of at bats, Hays has shown some ability in the majors, performing about 23% better than expected.  To be obvious and succinct, Hays has had an impressive year.

Based on my discussions with scouts, it appears that what was missed on Hays was how good his hit tool actually was.  Coming out of JuCo, he did have a more polished approach than most draftees selected in the top three rounds, but it was still a swing that would require some adjustment to a wood bat.  That adjustment went without any growing pains and with all his batting attributes translating over.  It was unexpected and something the Orioles did not expect either or else they would have selected him much higher.

That said, if his hit tool is more on the 60-65 end than on the 50 end, he looks much more like a MLB player than he did before.  The only lingering issue we see if that he appears to be relatively unable to walk.  Typically, MLB quality pitchers are able to paint outside the corners well enough where batters either die swinging or learn to sit back and earn some walks.  So there is some concern that Hays could turn into a Jeff Francoeur without the arm.

Looking ahead to 2018, it would be a shock if Austin Hays is not handed the right field position at the start of Spring Training.  However, it would be aggressively foolish for the club to have no suitable Plan B waiting in the wings.  Hays has been tearing through the leagues, but he is a hitter who depends heavily on being able to cover the entire strike zone without holding back to earn walks.  That is a profile that is uncommon and, when seen, tends to lead to failure.  It would benefit the club to find a fourth or fifth outfield option to hedge their bets.

Internally, Cedric Mullins might be able to fill that role.  He was the guy before the year who the front office name dropped repeatedly to local writers as being one of the best prospects in the system.  We noted him two years ago with a ceiling of league average centerfielder, but more likely as a 4th or 5th outfielder type.  To be a dependable second option would have required a strong season and a promotion to Norfolk, but injuries and a downturn in performance kept Mullins in Bowie.

Beyond Mullins, the free agent market could provide some opportunities.  A player like Jarrod Dyson could be an option.  He is a heavy strong side platoon option who is capable of playing all three outfield positions well.  He would be able to take over the lion's share of Hays' innings if Hays struggles as well as giving the club a very strong late inning defensive outfield.  If Hays succeeds, Dyson could be pushed around the outfield to provide rest to Mancini, Jones, and Hays.

A tighter fit would be a player like Curtis Granderson.  Granderson is in the decline phase of his career.  He can capably play left and right field as well as being able to still hit the ball a ton.  However, he is used to holding a starter's share of innings and plate appearances.  It would prove to be harder to find him innings if the entire outfield hits the ground running.

Regardless, the Orioles are in a better looking position now than they were at the beginning of the season with respect to right field in 2018 and beyond.  Hays may well be a solution for a position that has been difficult for the club to solve since Markakis departed.  Perhaps Hays will succeed.  Perhaps Hays can be the club's next Nick Markakis.

25 September 2017

What to Make of Gabriel Ynoa

Joe Reisel's Archives

While the play of Austin Hays and Chance Sisco have provided Orioles' fans some hope for the future, the past couple of Gabriel Ynoa's starts have also been positive. On September 15, at Yankee Stadium, Ynoa pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up 3 runs (2 earned) - which doesn't seem all that impressive until you compare it to some of the other Orioles' starts in that series. And on September 21, Ynoa pitched eight innings against Tampa Bay and gave up only 1 run; an impressive outing by any standard.

People who follow the Norfolk Tides are quite likely stunned by Ynoa's performances, because Ynoa spent much of the 2017 season at Norfolk and, for much of the season, was on the pace for a memorable season. Unfortunately, it was going to be a memorably awful season, a season we share with interns when they note that a starting pitcher is having a bad year. (The gold standard for those seasons in the Orioles' Era is Brandon Erbe's 2010, in which he went 0-10 with a 5.73 ERA. In my first year as a Tides' datacaster, the Tides were still affiliated with the New York Mets, and Jason Scobie went 1-11, 7.91.) After Ynoa's July 7 start, his record was 1-8, 7.64; and I was wondering how Ynoa could have been a Top Ten prospect in the Mets' organization.

However, following his July 7 start - which was his last AAA start before the all-star break, for what that's worth - Ynoa pitched much better. He went 5-1, 2.87; which was enough to bring his final season line to 6-9, 5.25. That's not a good year by any means, but it's not memorably awful. This saga, and his late-season major-league performance, brings up several questions, the biggest one being "Can Gabriel Ynoa be a useful starting pitcher for the Orioles in 2018?"

Of the 45 Tides games I saw in 2017, Gabriel Ynoa was the starting pitcher in six - four in his "bad" first part and two in his "good" second part. In the rest of this article, I will look at some of the details of those six starts.

First, the basic "box score" pitching lines:

Date
Opp
IP
H
R
ER
BB
K
BFP
Apr 29
Syracuse
6 1/3
6
2
2
1
4
25
May 31
Pawtucket
4 1/3
7
3
3
0
2
20
Jun 27
Louisville
3 2/3
5
5
5
2
2
18
Jul 2
Durham
6 2/3
7
6
4
2
3
27
Jul 28
Columbus
6 2/3
8
5
5
0
4
28
Aug 19
Toledo
7
5
3
3
0
5
26

All of the column headers should be self-explanatory except the last, which is "Batters Faced Pitcher" - the number of batters he faced. The April 29 start was his only good start before the all-star break, and the July 28 start was really his only bad start after the all-star break. The two most interesting things are (1) he had good control with only five walks in these six starts and (2) when he pitched well, he was able to work into the seventh inning and go through the lineup three times with consistency. The Tides rarely let a starting pitcher throw 100 pitches, and Ynoa threw that many pitches only in the April 29 start. So, when Ynoa's pitching well, he's efficient.

Next, I'll take a look at the results of the plate appearances against Ynoa. I don't differentiate between batters reaching base and batters being retired on batted balls here. Also, there are a couple of bunt ground balls that I arbitrarily lumped in with other ground balls, and the distinction between "fly balls" and "line drives" is somewhat arbitrary.

Date
Ground
Ball
Line
Drive
Fly
Ball
Walk
Strikeout
Apr 24
6
4
10
1
4
May 31
11
2
5
0
2
Jun 27
6
2
6
2
2
Jul 2
8
4
12
2
3
Jul 28
11
1
12
0
4
Aug 19
6
3
12
0
5

We can see that Ynoa is not a ground-ball pitcher; more balls are are hit in the air than on the ground. To the extent that we can draw any conclusions from six starts, it appears that he might be more effective when balls are hit in the air than on the ground. That works well in Harbor Park with its expansive power alleys, but may be less likely to work in Camden Yards.

Finally, I'll look at Ynoa's pitch results:

Date
Ball
Called
Strike
Swinging
Strike
Foul
In Play
Apr 24
37
19
9
15
20
May 31
21
14
5
11
18
Jun 27
25
14
5
22
14
Jul 2
31
17
7
12
25
Jul 28
32
17
8
16
24
Aug 19
27
14
16
10
22

The striking thing here is that, with the exception of August 19, Ynoa got few swinging strikes and many foul balls. This is consistent with his reputation as a pitcher with okay but not great stuff. Batters are able to make contact with his pitches, even if by fouling them off. But, on the other hand, as we noted above, he's able to go deep into games with fewer than 100 pitches. Give that, he's unlikely that the batters are fouling off good pitches, lengthening at-bats and running up pitch counts. Rather, it appears that Ynoa is pitching to contact, relying on his defense to get outs.

It's almost impossible for Ynoa to be as bad as he was in the first half of 2017. From 2012 through 2016, Baseball America ranked Ynoa among the top 20 prospects in the Mets' organization. That's more in line with his post All-Star break performance. If we assume that his first half was the aberration, then Gabriel Ynoa would be reasonable candidate for a fifth starter job. He's got a chance to hold that job, but he'd have to pitch well our of the gate and it's rare for pitchers like him to do so.