25 May 2015

The Camden Highball (Episode 11): Talkin' Bats with Juan Baret

Brian Matusz partakes in some "shenanigans"
This week, Pat and Nate talk to Juan Baret, the owner and operator of Baret Bats, which specializes in handcrafted custom made wood baseball bats.  We talk to him about his inspirations for beginning his business, the types of materials he uses, the Emerald Ash Borer, and more.  We also discuss the growing legend of Mike Wright and the shenanigans of Brian Matusz that will likely lead to his suspension.

As with our previous episode, we begin the podcast with a song by a local musician.  This week's show begins with "productivity" by Maryland artist p.zorito.  You can find his music on his Bandcamp website, and follow him on twitter at @diarrhea.

Camden Highball (Episode 11): Talkin' Bats with Juan Baret

0:00 - p.zorito - "productivity"
3:50 - Pat demonstrates his commitment to the podcast
6:04 - The amazing Mike Wright
14:15 - Brian Matusz prefers a high SPF for sun protection
20:00 - Juan Baret of Baret Bats joins the show
23:19 - Types of wood Juan uses to make bats
24:46 - Juan gives his thoughts on white ash and the Emerald Ash Borer
26:31 - Customizing Baret Bats
33:48 - Juan's thoughts on the AL East

22 May 2015

Two Starts by Zach Davies

Zach Davies. Photo courtesy of Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.
The Orioles' farm system is deepest in starting pitcher prospects. Three of these prospects have been or are at AAA Norfolk in 2015. Mike Wright struggled at Norfolk for the first three-quarters of 2014, but has since pitched well there - including six starts in 2015 - and earned his first major-league start. Tyler Wilson came up to Norfolk in July 2014 and pitched well; he returned to Norfolk for 2015 and, like Wright, has been promoted to the Orioles. And Zach Davies, the Orioles #6 prospect according to Baseball America, joined Norfolk this season.

Zach Davies was the Orioles' 26th-round draft pick in 2011. He was signed to an over-slot bonus and began his professional career in 2012. He has risen through the Orioles system, spending one full season at each minor-league level. As he rose through the Orioles' system, he rose on BA's prospect list, climbing from 31 to 20 to 11 to 6.

Davies is a smallish pitcher, listed at 6-foot, 150 pounds (although that was his weight before the 2013 season, and may not be accurate today.) As we would expect, he doesn't have a great fastball and succeeds with command and control. I've worked two Zach Davies starts, and I'll share my observations and conclusions.

First, I was fortunate and saw Davies pitch well in each start:

Date
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
GS
April 22
6
4
1
1
1
5
64
May 9
5
3
0
0
2
5
64

The following is the results of each pitch in the two games. 

Date
Ball
Called
Strike
Swinging
Strike
Foul
In-play
April 22
26
19
7
10
16
May 9
35
17
7
17
12

The April 22 game is very interesting. First, over 40% of the pitches batters didn't swing at were called strikes. Second, nearly half of the pitches batters did swing at were put in play. For whatever reason - perhaps batters didn't see the pitches well; perhaps Davies was doing a good job not throwing what the hitters were expecting; perhaps Davies was putting pitches on the corners where batters couldn't hit them anyway - the batters were not swinging at a lot of strikes. And the batters weren't "spoiling" good pitches by fouling them off. In that game, Davies impressed not only me but several other longtime baseball observers.

The May 9 game has a more typcial distribution of pitch results. The increased number of balls and fouls led to an increased pitch count, and Davies threw more pitches in five innings than he did in the six innings of the April 22 start. Again, I don't know why he threw more balls and more pitches were fouled off - but it is clear that Davies will have to consistently be very sharp if he will be a successful pitcher. He doesn't have much margin for error.

Finally, I broke down Davies' results according to whether the batter was on the 40-man roster of the opponent's parent club. I reasoned that players on the 40-man roster are more likely to be (eventually) promoted to the major-league team, and so are more likely to be the players Davies (and other pitchers) will eventually face in the major leagues. It's not clear that the players on the 40-man roster are better hitters than the players not on the 40-man roster, and so it's not clear what, if anything, the breakdown will reveal. I include it as food for thought and perhaps to stimulate more research.


BA
OB P
SP
April 22, On 40-man
.400
.455
.400
April 22, Not On 40-man
.000
.000
.000
May 9, On 40-man
.167
.286
.167
May 9, Not On 40-man
.182
.250
.182

On the whole, Zach Davies is a moderately interesting starting pitching prospect. Most pitchers like him, who rely on command and control to make up for average-at-best stuff - don't have long careers. There are two points in his favor. First, at his best he was such an extreme example of his type that he may be an exception. Second, if he moves to the bullpen he may pick up some more velocity in shorter stints. I think he's got a chance to be a fairly good major-league pitcher, but I don't think he's going to be a difference-maker.

20 May 2015

How to Solve the Orioles' Corner Outfield Problem

Matt Kremnitzer wrote an article yesterday for MASN about the Orioles' corner outfield problem. Matt noted that none of the five corner outfield options have been hitting the ball well and that they should really be categorized as "spare parts". Snider has been the best offensively but is inconsistent defensively. Lough has the best defense of the five but has only received 29 PAs and has received a huge offensive boost by being hit by two pitches. Take those out and he has an OBP of .270 with only one extra base hit. De Aza is adequate defensively but has struggled offensively despite minimal at bats against left-handed pitching. Young and Pearce have struggled offensively and aren't known for their defense. So far, the Orioles' plan of signing a whole bunch of outfielders and hoping that a few would have good years hasn't been successful and therefore the Orioles need to come up with a new plan.

The problem is that the Orioles seem to have their payroll maxed out. The Orioles recently traded away two international draft picks in return for a fringe prospect. They've also traded away a competitive balance pick in order to add a few fringe prospects and dump Ryan Webb's salary. It's possible that the Orioles are trying to clear money in order to have resources to make a huge splash at the trade deadline. It's also possible that the Orioles have spent all that they can on payroll and need to cut expenses.

The Orioles also have a mostly barren farm system. Baseball America ranked the O's system #29th this year with only two prospects ranked in the Top 100. The fact that one of them, Hunter Harvey, is currently injured just further limits the Orioles' options. It doesn't appear like the Orioles will be able to spend a lot of money or offer prospects in return for that outfielder that they need.

That is why I think the Orioles' best option may be to trade for Shane Victorino. Shane Victorino is in the last year of a three year contract and is earning $13 million this year. After an excellent 2013, Victorino was hurt for a large chunk of 2014 and has been unimpressive so far in 2015. He only is hitting for a .212/.339/.308 line with a wRC+ of 83. However, he also has three stolen bases and does have good defense in right field. If he can bounce back then he can be the leadoff hitter this club needs that allows Machado to bat second or he can be an excellent threat in the ninth spot in the order. With one year remaining on his contract, the Orioles wouldn't be taking on a huge risk by trading for him.

Even better, the Red Sox have a surplus of outfielders and could afford to let him go. They already have Ramirez in left field, Mookie Betts in center field as well as Holt and Nava as possible replacements in the majors while having Castillo, Bradley and Craig in the minors. Given that they already have Ortiz at DH, Napoli at 1B and Sandoval at 3B, the Red Sox simply have too many position players for too few spots and would probably be open to trading a player or two.

If the Red Sox have position players then what they lack is pitching. Their rotation has been terrible so far this year. Their best starter has an ERA of 4.26. Clay Buchholz has an FIP of 2.91 but an ERA of 4.93 and has always struggled to stay healthy. Their bullpen has arguably been even worse. Their closer, Uehara, has been solid. Tazawa has had good results so far with a 1.56 ERA but only a 4.48 FIP. They only have four relievers with positive fWAR and as a whole their bullpen has been worth negative WAR.

They do have a considerable amount of pitching depth in the minors but they have a lot of holes to fill and could use some major league talent. Meanwhile, the Orioles' pitching has struggled but has plenty of arms in the majors and minors. Trading a starter would simply open up a spot in the rotation for Gausman. The Orioles have a number of relief prospects in the minors and could therefore afford to consider trading a reliever.

A possible deal could be Shane Victorino for Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris. These players have similar salaries combined and therefore money shouldn't be an issue. All of these players have struggled so far this year but each could potentially bounce back.

Bud Norris has been terrible so far this year and is currently on the DL. But he is coming off of a year where he went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA and a 4.22 FIP. It is possible that once he's healthy he would be able to bounce back. More likely, the Red Sox could immediately slot him in the bullpen and see whether he can be another pitcher that sees success when moved from the rotation to the bullpen.

Tommy Hunter has also struggled so far this year but has been a good reliever the past two years. After having a rough April, he has put together a solid May with a 2.70 ERA over 6.2 innings and could potentially have turned a corner. He is a potential late inning reliever that could help the Red Sox bridge the gap to Uehara. However, the Orioles have a number of good relievers with Britton and O'Day and therefore could afford to trade Hunter.

Shane Victorino would be the player in this deal most likely to make an impact. However, it's unlikely that he could do so in Boston given that he's not one of their top outfielders. And as he'll be a free agent next year, the Red Sox would be well served to move on as quickly as possible given their other options. The thing is that even if Victorino does bounce back, it is questionable whether he can be better than the other outfielders that Boston has.

The interesting thing about this potential deal is that all three players are expendable and therefore this could happen relatively quickly. These two teams wouldn't need to wait until the trade deadline because these players have more use on the other team than their own.

The Orioles need to find a way to increase the production that they're receiving from corner outfielders without spending a lot of money or trading a lot of young talent. Trading for Shane Victorino is a good way to do just that.

19 May 2015

Reviewing Big Data Baseball

Travis Sawchik's Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-year Losing Streak is the next logical step in the Baseball Sabermetric non-fiction collection, preceded by Michael Lewis' Moneyball and Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%.  Those books took meandering walks through concepts devised by the front office and how those were applied in the clubhouse and on the field while noting it was the perfect collection of personnel at the right time to make it all work. With Big Data Baseball, the premise is largely how there is a great deal of data points out there now and the key is knowing not only what to do with them, but, also, how you communicate what you learn to the people who actually step out onto the field.  It is a story of how do you turn 10 million dollars into 10 additional wins...and having the right people just at the right time.

Perhaps the heart of this book is Clint Hurdle.  He is the Billy Beane of this story.  A man broken by the game and on his way who challenges his own convictions about the game.  Hurdle overcame his failure as a player (if you can call making the Major Leagues and burning out being a failure) and his difficulties winning as a manager to fully embrace a deeper application of what the Pirates' data analysis department was coming up with.  This not only included analytical scouting reports and frequent team meetings, but the actual inclusion of the data science team in the clubhouse and interacting with the players.  This is presented as quite revolutionary.

For the non-narrative readers, the pull is by and large the focus on defensive shifts as well as the player development, acquisition, and application of players who fit the style of defensive shifts they are incorporating.  After experimenting with minor league clubs, the organization decided to more fully adopt defensive shifting.  They are certainly not on an island as other clubs like the Orioles have dedicated themselves to the shift as well.  However, it is certainly true that the Pirates are one of the few teams on the tip of the shifting spear.  Through the use of shifting, they essentially gained the plurality of those added wins.

The rest of those added wins were made up by Russell Martin who was a Yankees castoff.  Martin's ability to pitch frame was able to give many runs back to the team simply by converting a few called balls to called strikes.  This helped keep starters longer in the game by keeping hitters in pitcher's counts.  It is a concept well-written about here at the Depot and elsewhere.  As with shifting, it is also a concept that has become largely mainstream within the game.  The part on Martin does get a little loose as the book tries to describe his pitch calling technique as being like Jazz even though Martin hates Jazz.  It describes his way of calling pitches as for the pitcher to throw what the batter is not expecting, which is actually quite ordered.

The other aspect of the book that I found a little off was that this was a book about data science, but it did not seem to be edited by anyone well-versed in data science.  For instance, a point was made of Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole and how Cole's father was well studied in baseball analysis.  The major point driven in this aside is how his dad instituted an application of the Verducci rule which largely centers on a gradual buildup of total innings year by year in order to prevent arm injuries.  What is interesting is that the Verducci effect was initially poorly studied with an apparent confirmation bias.  In the years past, it has been resoundingly discredited as being anything useful in application.

Perhaps truthing out the Verducci effect was not the place of this book, but I think it highlights something missing from the book as well as those written by Lewis and Keri.  That would be that Science Fails.  It fails a lot.  It certainly is better than going blind into something, but the marvelous thing about scientific endeavors is that we refine reality as we know it as times moves on.  While the book highlights how we have entered a new era of millions upon billions of data points to digest, it fails to note that having a lot of data points can also be problematic and wind up with a great deal of false positives.  It is that false positive story that is needed here.  Verducci's was a proto-big data false positive.

In the end, what this book does well is deliver a solid narrative with several interesting characters while also introducing many readers to more current thought of data analysis and market inefficiency opportunism.  Travis Sawchik is able to take some relatively complicated concepts and provide a soft, inviting touch for less data obsessed readers.  We are also quite pleased that former Camden Depot writer, Stuart Wallace, is name dropped in the book as a significant hire as the club moves forward.

Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-year Losing Streak
Travis Sawchik
Flatiron Books, 256 pg

15 May 2015

Reviewing The League of Outsider Baseball

Gary Cieradkowski's The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball's Forgotten Heroes is a collection of vignettes and vintage style illustrations that wanders through the depths of baseball to find some of the less known fascinating stories arising from our American pastime.  Baseball, like much of history, has narratives that can be hyper-local or transient in their importance.  These stories may be well known at the time, but generally fade away and become long forgotten.  For instance, I imagine many of you respond with a blank face when the phrase "Mystique and Aura" is mentioned.

Outsider Baseball tries to collect those peculiar twists on history in a way that is much warmer and largely lacking a thesis as a similar book we reviewed last year, the Devil Snake Curve.  In that work, baseball was used to illustrate the darker side of the game and how, coincidentally or not, it reflected American society.  In this work, the stated goal is to find those interesting and peculiar diamond-in-the-rough kind of stories that are tinged with colorful nostalgia.  Outsider Baseball fills one with the sense of the great wonder and bootstrap style American tales.

Of course, the focus is squarely placed on the narratives and less so on fine tuning the true reality of the sport.  Baltimore fans would find the story about Steve Dalkowski as quite familiar.  For the unknowing, Dalkowski is a storied figure in baseball for his absurd fastball and his absurd lack of control.  Accolades of his velocity were preached by such illuninaries as Pat Gillick, a former teammate, and Ted Williams, a Spring Training opponent.  After throwing a good hundred warm up pitches or so, the Orioles supposedly used a wind tunnel to measure his velocity with that tunnel set up at home plate.  It measured his fastball in the mid-90s, which means, using today's radar guns, a velocity out of the hand around 110.  An Aroldis Chapman without control.  Eventually, injury and alcohol destroyed his career and severely impaired the rest of his life.

There is an amazing story there and elements have been visited for movies like Bull Durham and The Rookie.  However, some of the stories are impossible.  In the book, it mentions Dalko's fastball as sinking and then rising due to the effect of his velocity.  This is not true.  Basically, it comes down to the Magnus effect.  The velocity in conjunction with the seams on a four seam fastball work together to provide an upward force.  This force does not cause the ball to rise, but for it to sink less rapidly.  An individual who is highly experienced in observing the trajectory of a baseball might confuse the less rapid descent as the ball lifting upward when it clearly is not.

The book though is able to outpace little missteps like this because stories are not exactly about reality, but of a misty remembered reality contributing to an emotional truth that fleshes out the kernels of fact.  The core of the short stories and nearly all of the trappings are amazingly well-researched and accurate.  It makes a great companion for an avid baseball fan who needs to find something to mention for the moments of needed small talk between innings or during a pitching change.

The League of Outsider Baseball
by Gary Cieradkowski
240 pages, Touchstone

14 May 2015

The Good and the Bad for Bud Norris

So far for the Orioles' pitching staff, not much has gone right. And no one has had more go wrong than Bud Norris. Coming off a year in which he posted a 93 ERA- and 105 xFIP- in 165.1 innings, he's melted down completely, with a 239 (!) ERA- and 132 xFIP- in 27.1 innings. A few trends — some encouraging, some discouraging — have emerged from this not good season.

The Good


His pitch velocity and usage have stayed the same from last year.

During his first campaign in Baltimore, Norris threw a four-seam fastball as his primary pitch, with a sinker, slider, and changeup to supplement it. None of those has vanished in year two, or changed its role significantly:

Year Fourseam% Sinker% Slider% Changeup%
2014 47.0% 13.6% 30.5% 9.0%
2015 45.2% 16.1% 30.8% 8.0%

Likewise, the velocity that he rediscovered last year (more on that in a moment) has remained:

Year Fourseam Sinker Slider Changeup
2014 94.4 94.4 86.6 87.6
2015 94.3 93.8 86.7 87.9

These peripherals haven't moved, suggesting the 2014 version of Norris doesn't differ much from the 2015 one — and thus, that the latter can recapture the former's competence.

His plate discipline metrics have stayed the same — or improved.

ERA doesn't reflect a pitcher's true talent level, it takes into account other mitigating factors, yada yada yada, let's talk about walks and strikeouts. In 2014, Norris accrued a roughly average K% (20.2%) and BB% (7.6%). In 2015, those numbers have declined significantly, to 13.5% and 9.8%, respectively, and have a large hand in his early-season struggles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the aforementioned repertoire stability, Norris's peripherals don't back up this depreciation. His 2015 SwStr% of 7.4% syncs up with the 7.6% mark he put up in 2014, so the whiffs haven't left. He's actually done better with looking strikes, as his PITCHf/x numbers suggest* his LoStr% should have risen to 19.6% this year from 17.6% last year. And the theoretical* increase in his ball rate (from 36.5% to 37.6%) doesn't make much of a difference.

*With framing, these can differ from the actual numbers, but Norris benefits from one of the game's better receiving catchers in Caleb Joseph.

The principle two ingredients for strikeouts, and the main one for avoiding walks, have all remained static for Norris. But perhaps the most impressive number comes with the other possible outcome for pitches: contact. When a batter hits a ball outside the strike zone, it'll be weaker than one that he hits from within it. Thus, this would seem to bode well:


Year Z-Contact%** O-Contact%**
2014 29.6% 8.6%
2015 24.6% 10.8%

**As a percentage of all pitches

While the recipe for weak contact obviously hasn't worked out well so far for Norris, this suggests that it may do so going forward.

The Bad

At his best, he still isn't a very good pitcher.

As I discussed in February, Norris's newfound velocity doesn't elevate his game. Even last year, his strikeout and walk rates hung around the MLB average, and those combined with a high fly ball rate to make him a subpar hurler (5% worse than average by xFIP).

How, then, did he own such a 2014 ERA 7% better than average? BABIP and LOB% magic, of course, from which he decidedly didn't benefit in the years prior. From 2009 to 2013, Norris saw 31.1% of the balls in play against him go for hits, and stranded 71.9% of the runners that reached base. For his successful 2014, he bettered those figures to 27.9% and 78.6%, respectively. Because these things tend to fluctuate over smaller samples, I feel more confident in the former numbers than I do in the latter.

Obviously, a .354 BABIP and 48.5% LOB% (Norris's current marks) won't stay that extreme over a full season. But I wouldn't expect them to fall to 2014 levels, and therefore cannot foresee another solid ERA in Norris's future.

His platoon split has only gotten worse.

Norris has never retired left-handed batters as well as one would like for a starting pitcher. Prior to 2015, they knocked him around for a .351 wOBA, compared to the .308 wOBA put up by right-handers against him. The current year, however, has seen the opposite-handed assault go to the next level: While righties have managed a .318 wOBA off Norris, southpaws have pummeled him to the tune of a .496 wOBA.

Like BABIP and strand rate, a platoon split must undergo heavy regression before one can use it to project future performance. So it's not fair (or accurate) to assume that lefties will continue to utterly dominate Norris. With that said, this deficiency in his game won't go away any time soon. His four-seamer, sinker, and slider all carry large platoon splits, meaning a right-handed pitcher who leans on them will get into trouble when he faces opposition batting from the left. The changeup helps to neutralize this to a degree, but it can't do everything.

Norris hasn't earned himself any favors with his shortcomings in 2015, and his horrid output against left-handed hitters won't inspire any confidence. If the disparity remains anywhere close to this large, he'll soon find himself in the bullpen — just as many feared.

Add it all up, and you get some positives, and some negatives. In other words, Bud Norris epitomizes the Orioles' 2015 season: A fair amount of evidence is there to give us hope, but we should probably temper our expectations.

12 May 2015

20 Questions About the MASN Dispute

On May 18th, MASN, the Nationals and MLB are expected to have a court hearing in which they offer their final arguments.  My understanding is that after this hearing the court will decide whether the RSDC decision should be vacated and another arbitral body should determine a judgement or whether the RSDC decision will be upheld. In the event that the court agrees to uphold the RSDC, the Orioles will still be allowed to challenge this decision at the American Arbitration Association (AAA) but it becomes highly likely that the RSDC decision will be the final decision.

I've written a number of previous blog posts attempting to discuss aspects of this dispute. This time, I'd like to share some of the questions that I keep in mind when I think about this case. It is worth noting that formulating these questions required reading hundreds of pages of court documentation. As an attempt to simplify things for the reader, at times I'll provide links that only have snippets of documents while providing another link that includes the entire document in question the first time that a given document is referenced. This way, the reader can view what I consider the relevant sections without having to read the equivalent of a book.


Questions about MASNs side of the dispute:

1)      The Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly signed a deal with Fox where they received $1.8 billion in return for their media rights from 2016-2035 and are one of a number of clubs (like the Rangers, Angels, Padres etc) that have received billion dollar media deals. How does MASNs’ proposal offer market value compared to these deals once the different terms (5 years vs 20 years, four resets versus zero resets, a 7.7% interest rate vs a 4% interest rate, demographic differences between markets, etc etc) are taken into account?

2)    MASNs expert has claimed (link to full document) that an 8.3% profit margin would leave it vulnerable to carriage disputes because it wouldn’t have enough money on hand to survive if an affiliate canceled its contract. However, MASN also claimed in August 2014 that they only had $3.5 million in the bank. Given that most of MASNs profits are distributed to the two clubs and not kept by MASN, why is it the case that a low profit margin will impact MASNs ability to function? (link to full document)

3)      Our understanding is that MASN wasn’t profitable until 2007 when its operating margin was roughly 6%. This is based partly on the fact that MASN wasn’t carried by Comcast until 2006 and wasn’t carried by Dish until 2007. If MASN was able to survive a two year period with no profits and a third year with only minimal profits then why would it go bankrupt if it was unable to come to future agreements with any of its affiliates for a short period of time?

4)      Former Commissioner Selig sent the Orioles and Nationals a letter stating his dismay that this case was taken to court and there has been conjecture that this lawsuit is one reason Baltimore wasn’t awarded the 2016 all-star game. Are the potential benefits from winning this lawsuit worth the risk of losing? 

5)      Allen and Co drafted at least three pro formas that have been released to the public that attempt to project future revenues, expenses and rights fees. Did MASN have any input in developing these pro formas and does MASN agree with Allen and Co’s assumptions?

6)      Time Warner has refused to carry MASN in North Carolina which has prevented MASN from taking full advantage of its broadcasting territory and therefore making it impossible to maximize total revenue. How can MASN turn this situation to its advantage? Is it possible for them to sell this territory to MLB or another MLB franchise like the Braves in order to gain some benefit?

7)      Despite the fact that MLB ranks the Orioles market as the 11th smallest and considers their revenue to be in the bottom ten, the Orioles have had a payroll in the top half of baseball for the past few years. How will a decision in this case impact the Orioles payroll?

Questions about MLBs side of the dispute:

8)      The RSDC decision asserted (full document here) that the margins of regional sports networks have decreased over the last few years. Yet the Nationals quoted an article by SNL Kagan in January 2015 that stated the average cash flow margin at cable networks has grown from less than 30% in 1995 to around 40% in 2014 (Note: To ensure the relevant section could be found easily, I bolded and underlined the relevant section on Page 3 and deleted a graph. You can find the original copy of the document here). How does MLB explain this discrepancy between the RSDC and SNL Kagan? 

9)      Allen and Co drafted a number of documents discussing the terms for either a possible sale or possible settlement. The final document created by Allen and Co. written in July 2013 contains a graph that contains projected total revenue, expenses, rights fees and pre-tax cash flow from 2012 to 2032 based on the RSDC Ruling Model. This document projects that MASNs average cash flow margin should increase from 8% in 2012 to roughly 23% in 2032. If an 8% average cash flow margin is reasonable for MASN now then why did MLB promote a pro forma that would increase MASNs operating margin to 23% in the future?

10)  Another pro forma written by Allen and Co. on behalf of MLB discussing a possible sale to a “MediaCo” presumes yearly cash flow margins between roughly 30 and 40%. In addition, Michael Haley (CFO of MASN) testified that he was told by MLB that MASN does deserve a 20% baseball profit margin and the RSDC was improperly instructed. Why do the MLB proposals presume that a fair cash flow margin for "MediaCo" should be between 30 and 40% while the RSDC argues that a fair cash flow margin for MASN is 10%? Did the RSDCs relationship with Proskauer Rose contribute to the possible confusion?

11)  Ed Cohen claimed in his affidavit on October 20th, 2014 (full document can be found here) that MLB told both parties that the RSDC Award would not be in their best interests. He further stated that he was given a presentation from MLB that claimed that the “RSDC decision is inefficient – hundreds of millions of lost value to both Clubs.” Does this mean that the MLB believes that the RSDC decision is not in the interest of either club?

12)  MLB receives revenue sharing money for media rights fees but not for equity distributions it seems fair to state that MLB has an interest in ensuring that MASN has to pay high media rights fees. In addition, MLB gave the Nationals $25 million before ultimately issuing the RSDCs position. How could the RSDC  write an impartial decision under those conditions? 

13)   Rob Manfred states in his affidavit (full document can be found here) that there was no question that MLB would be repaid its advance payments to the Nationals. He also states that given the lengthy tenure of Mr. Angelos’s ownership of the Orioles and his experience on the Executive Council, neither he, nor his Club, nor MASN could believe that MLB would simply give the Nationals $25 million and not expect any repayment. However, he also sent e-mails to MASN stating conditions in which MLB would agree to give up the $25 million. How should the reader reconcile these two facts?

14)  What happens next and how does MLB prevent this from happening again in 2017? 

Questions about the Nationals side of the dispute:

15)  The Nationals have consistently claimed that they will be at a disadvantage if they don’t receive the disputed amounts right away. However, they still have one of the highest payrolls in the majors and just signed Max Scherzer to a long term deal in free agency. Why do the Nationals claim that they need the money right away to sign players when they’ve shown that they’ve been able to do so without that money?

16)  The Nationals have claimed (full document can be found here) that the use of comparables is the best way to determine market value for their media rights. However, some of the deals that the Nationals felt were comparable were ultimately unsuccessful and not implemented. The Dodgers deal was never implemented and their current network is having trouble getting widespread carriage. The Astros network declared bankruptcy causing the Astros significant financial losses and forcing them to restructure the deal to their detriment. In fact, the amount that the Astros will actually receive in rights fees is less than the amount they were promised in 2012. How is it reasonable to use comparables to determine market value for media rights when their deals may fall through?

17)  The Nationals argue that the core DMAs of Baltimore and Washington DC should be combined to reflect the fact that the Orioles are based in one of the DMAs and the Nationals are based in the other DMA. How does the fact that the Nationals have lowratings in both Baltimore and Washington DC (the Nationals TV programming was only the fifth most popular in the Washington DC market) while the Orioles only having strong ratings in Baltimore impact this situation? Wouldn’t a cable provider take that into account when attempting to determine a reasonable subscriber’s fee?

18)  The contract between MASN, MLB and the Nationals states that every five years the parties involved can negotiate to establish the fair market value of their media rights and solely the fair market value of their media rights. The Nationals argue that "upfront cash considerations" should be considered in the same category as media rights fees and therefore included in these negotiations. Given that "upfront cash considerations" are not media rights fees and the contract makes no mention of an "aggregate cash consideration", what relevance do they have in these negotiations? 

19)   Chris Bevilacqua claims that the four comparable deals that he examined provided an average of $98.3 million in average annual value for the first five years of those deals in rights fees and signing bonuses alone. He claims that this average is itself conservative for amongst other reasons because it consisted of deals struck in 2010 and 2011. He also claims that MLB’s own expert, Ed Desser, testified in the Dodgers bankruptcy that the values of sports rights continue to escalate and that he expected that values would increase 10-20% from 2011 to 2013 and therefore argued that the Nationals rights should be worth 20% more than the $98.3 million annual value listed above. He further stated that he used the first five years of each of the recent deals regardless of when the new deal was scheduled to start because he was confident that he would receive the same values for the first five years of those deals regardless of whether they were available in 2012 as opposed to later years.

However, Mr. Bevilacqua was also the expert for the Texas Rangers when they negotiated their media deal in 2010 despite the fact that their previous deal didn’t expire until 2014. Is Mr. Bevilacqua stating that since he would have received the same amounts for year one of the Rangers deal regardless of whether it occurred in 2011 or 2015 AND that a team would have received at least 10-20% more by waiting to sign a deal that the Rangers (for whom he was the expert) lost hundreds of millions of dollars because they signed a deal in 2010 instead of 2014?

20)   The Nationals would have been recipients of revenue sharing in both 2012 and 2013 if the RSDC agreed that the Bortz numbers were fair value for their media rights. My understand is that the Nationals would have been recipients of revenue sharing in 2014 if the Bortz numbers were deemed to be fair value for their media rights. Yet despite earning about average revenue even if the RSDC decision is upheld, the Nationals payroll was roughly $20 million larger than the median in 2013, $30 million larger than the median in 2014 and $50 million larger than the median so far this year. 

If MASN does win this court case and the Bortz numbers are deemed to be fair then how will this impact their payroll?

These questions aren't necessarily the ones that the court will address. Rather, these questions are meant to look at some of the possible implications of this lawsuit and how any given decision could impact MASN, the Orioles, the Nationals and MLB.

The Camden Highball (Episode 10): "That's Not Good"

This week's episode of the Camden Highball clocks in at nearly 45 minutes (don't worry, Pat and Nate both got paid overtime).  In this installment of the podcast, we talk with Camden Depot and Beyond the Box Score's Ryan Romano about Bud Norris' 2015 season (hint, see the episode title) and we get his interesting thought on Chris Tillman, and why he may be potentially having trouble missing the strike zone.  We also discuss some thoughts on Steve Pearce as a super utility player and Jimmy Paredes (or as some have called him, the modern day Babe Ruth).  Plus some quick hits on Ryan Lavarnway and Kevin Gausman.

This week also marks the first time since the podcast has been rebooted that we will begin the show featuring a song from a local artist.  This week's artist is Brad Engler.  You can find his music on his website, Spotify, or purchase his 3-song EP, "From the Trees" on iTunes (search: "Brad Engler").  He also writes about baseball on the excellent Phillies blog, Crashburn Alley.

Camden Highball (Episode 10): "That's Not Good"

0:00 - Brad Engler - "Lean Into Me"
4:09 - Pat resists talking about the Washington Capitals
6:32 - Steve Pearce: Super Utility Player?
14:27 - Jimmy Paredes is a hitting machine
21:09 - Ryan Lavarnway instead of Steve Clevenger?
23:45 - Kevin Gausman to AAA
25:54 - Ryan Romano joins the show
27:25 - Ryan talks about Bud Norris' "interesting" start
33:16 - Ryan's thoughts on Chris Tillman
38:11 - Ryan gets positive with Jimmy Paredes and Steve Pearce

08 May 2015

Michael Almanzar, Whom the Orioles Really, Really Want

Michael Almanzar (most likely) waiting to swing. Photo courtesy of Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.
During the last home game of each Norfolk Tides season, the primary official scorer and I are challenged to name all the Tides' players in that season. In 2014, the last player we remembered was Michael Almanzar.

Michael Almanzar, an infielder, was drafted from the Red Sox organization in the Rule 5 draft before the 2014 season. He started the season on the disabled list, and played a handful of road games with Norfolk on a rehabilitation assignment. When that assignment was completed, there was no room on the 25-man roster and so Almanzar was returned to the Red Sox. However, the Orioles quickly reacquired Almanzar as part of the Kelly Johnson trade. The Orioles didn't protect him on their 40-man roster after the season, so he became a free agent. The Orioles re-signed him; for the 2015 season, he has been assigned to Norfolk. He's been the Tides' regular third baseman.

The Orioles obviously like Almanzar as they've acquired him three different times since the end of the 2013 season. Is their like justified? This season, I've seen him play third base in all six games I've seen. Although he is unpolished, he has the defensive tools to play third base. For some reason, he likes to play every ground ball off to the side, which leads to a number of do-or-die plays and perhaps more errors than otherwise. He has a strong-enough, accurate-enough arm to play third base.

The big question about Almanzar is his bat - will he be a good enough offensive player? My impression of the six games' worth of his offense - an admittedly small sample of 21 plate appearances - is that he is an aggressive hitter who may be trying too hard to hit home runs.

Here are the results of the 21 plate appearances I've seen:

Strikeout
  3
Walk
  1
Ground Ball
  3
Line Drive
  6 (4 hits)
Fly Ball
  8

Almanzar was successful when he hit a line drive (I'd like to think that I wasn't biased in my assessment - that I didn't automatically call his hits "line drives".) But he did hit many more fly balls than ground balls. I think he'd be more successful if he leveled his swing and made less of a conscious effort to hit the ball in the air.

Here are the results of each pitch he's seen:

Ball
19
Called Strike
4
Swinging Strike
8
Foul Ball
12
In Play
17
Almanzar is an aggressive hitter, as he swung at 62% of the pitches he's seen. And while I can't tell if he's swinging at pitches outside the strike zone - PitchTrack isn't available in the minor leagues - the pitches he's not swinging at are generally outside the zone. If it's in the strike zone, Almanar's going to swing at it.

The below table shows the number of pitches Almanzar received at each count:

0-0
21
1-0
5
0-1
10
2-0
1
1-1
5
0-2
5
3-0
0
2-1
1
1-2
5
3-1
0
2-2
5
3-2
3

Given his aggressiveness, it's not surprising that Almanzar doesn't see a lot of deep counts, nor that he rarely gets ahead in the count. It may not be obvious from the above data, but of these 21 plate appearances, Almanzar put the first pitch in play 6 times and the second pitch in play 5 times, so in over half his plate appearances he saw two or fewer pitches.

Michael Almanzar looks like an athlete; he's trim and strong. It's easy to dream that he'll develop into a good player. But he turns 25 in December and time is beginning to run out. The Orioles haven't had to give up much to get him - $25,000 (the Rule 5 draft), Jemile Weeks (hitting .155 at Pawtucket) and Ivan De Jesus Jr (a subsequent minor-league free agent) (those two brought Almanzar and Kelly Johnson), and a minor-league contract. So, in that sense, he's a good low-risk gamble. But it seems that the flaws in his game will prevent him from living up to his potential.