12 October 2018

BORAS Blowout 2018/19: Third Base

Alright, after being leveled by some respiratory disease for a week, we are back on with the third base installment of the BORAS model.  Some long time readers of the site still think that I call up Scott Boras and get his take, but no.  I have already mentioned it a few times in this series and have gone through some messy bits in years past, but the BORAS model stands for Ballplayer Observation-based Renumeration Assumption System.  The name is a very stretched out attempted to make it BORAS.  So there you go.  Again, I look at the historical relationship between several different performance variables for years prior to signing a contract and the contract itself.  The current model is now a collection of really six models that are split by position and age.  I hope this clears things up.  Go back to the older introduction articles to get more of a history.

The third base batch below contains projections for those who retired as well as a few who have been covered in previous positions.
Years Total (MM)
Adrian Beltre 1 9.7
Asdrubal Cabrera 3 30.9
Josh Donaldson 3 54
Logan Forsythe 1 7.6
David Freese 2 20.6
Marwin Gonzalez 1 13.4
Chase Headley 1 7.4
Jung-ho Kang 2 17.4
Jed Lowrie 4 56.8
Manny Machado 10 250
Mike Moustakas 2 28.6
Eduardo Nunez 1 6.6
Jose Reyes Invite
Andrew Romine 1 5.3
Pabl0 Sandoval 1 6.5
Luis Valbuena Invite
David Freese looks a little bizarre, but he is one of those guys who when skillfully deployed really helps to boost an offense.  For instance, he only netted himself about 300 PA for the Pirates and Dodgers this season, yet he was able to have a 2.1 bWAR.  That kind of quality usually comes with some investment in years and total money from a club.  However, Freese is considered a platoon bat against left handers, which usually limits the market.  Plus, he may now be more of a first baseman than a third baseman, which also limits the market.  A 1/6 or 1.7 deal would be my expectation instead of a 2/20.6.

Some might think Josh Donaldson's 3/54 deal is a bit light.  From 2013-2016, Donaldson was a golden god with an average bWAR of 6.6.  However, 2017 and 2018 were mired with injuries.  That said, he has had a very late season boost since becoming an Indian and could see a team take a chance.  If you completely ignore last season and have him repeat a modest 4 WAR season, then BORAS would change the expectation to 5/115.  Third base, however, is a fairly bountiful position right now in the Majors, but I could see a club tossing out a 4/100 deal to him.

I think the Headley, Kang, Sandoval, and Romine deals are overly kind.  They exist in this little bubble of the model where they it has a hard time discerning whether a player is really worth a contract and it feels fine putting down a 6 or 7 or 8 MM cost to it.  I think all of these guys are more or less invite quality players.

Anyway, this is the third base group.  Come Monday I will be posting left fielders.

05 October 2018

BORAS Blowout 2018/19: Shortstops

As I have marched through the model projections, today was one that quite a few folks had circled with some anticipation.  I mentioned the projection on twitter, but here it is in its full glory. Shortstops (aka Manny Machado and some other guys).
Years Total (MM)
Elvis Andrus p58 1 10.5
Asdrubal Cabrera 3 30.9
Alcides Escobar Invite
Eduardo Escobar 1 15.4
Freddy Galvis 2 14
Marwin Gonzalez 1 11
A. Hechavarria Invite
Jose Iglesias 2 22.6
Manny Machado 10 250
Jordy Mercer 2 13
Eduardo Nunez p5 1 6.6
Jose Reyes Invite
Eric Sogard 1 5.9
Machado's value of 10/250 is an astoundingly large contract.  With whispers of a 400 MM deal being considered by the Depot just a year and a half ago, the total value might feel lean.  It is good to remember though that 2017 was a rough offensive year for Manny and this year was a fairly unspectacular defensive one with a shift to Shortstop.  With that in mind, it makes sense that the model is not saying that Machado should be handed a deal that results in the air being sucked out of the industry.

But is the model unable to value machado properly because he is an exceptional talent?  Well, lets consider that by looking at two exceptional players: Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.  I think we can all agree that these guys are stunningly good baseball players.  What does BORAS think about them?
Mike Trout 12/407
Mookie Betts 12/417
That seems to sink that argument for Machado.  Again, one of the murmurs that has followed Machado for years has been when will he go from being one of the 20 best players in baseball to one of the all time greats.  He simply has not gotten there, but he seems to have that potential.  Will a club pay him like an all time great or will they pay him like a current great?

Once you get past Manny Machado, the shortstop position opens up to Asdrubal Cabrera, Eduardo Escobar, and Jose Iglesias.  Cabrera has put in a few good seasons and looks to benefit from those.  Escobar has rebounded nicely from his 2016 season and will probably squeaked out a three or four year deal around 10 MM per instead of the BORAS estimate of 1/15.4 (but who knows?).  Iglesias is fully converting his glove into money, which may or may not pan out.

All in all, looks like a decent set of projections.

04 October 2018

BORAS Blowout 2018/19: Second Base

So far, we have looked at catchers and first basemen.  Today is second base.  Again, the BORAS model looks at historical performance and regresses it against contract values.  It is a multivariable, multistep approach.  We have been running the models for several years and they are one of the best projection tools for contract terms for regular players.  Things tend to drop off the table for role players or extreme platoon players.
Years Total (MM)
Asdrubal Cabrera 3 30.9
Daniel Descalso 2 18.8
Brian Dozier 2 28.4
Logan Forsythe 1 7.6
Marwin Gonzalez 1 11
Josh Harrison 2 18
Ian Kinsler 1 8.9
DJ LeMahieu 4 47.2
Jed Lowrie 4 56.4
Daniel Murphy 2 34.4
Eduardo Nunez 1 6.6
Jose Reyes Invite
Sean Rodriguez 1 6.5
Eric Sogard 1 5.9
Neil Walker 2 18.2
For fun, I also ran former Orioles Jonathan Schoop through the model.  He is currently under contract with the Brewers and has one more arbitration year left if the Brewers wish to hold onto him.  BORAS thinks holding onto Schoop a bit of a wash and probably worth it.  If Schoop was a free agent, BORAS pegs him as a 5/52.5 player.  This past year undercut his projection by about 30 MM.

Overall, the numbers suggested here are not all that surprising.  Jed Lowrie would be signing through his age 38 year, but he has shown decent versatility and a good bat.  He is not exactly in the same class as when Ben Zobrist signed with the Cubs, but he is not far off.  My guess is that he gets three years and an option.

Daniel Murphy sees his years dwindle due to his acceptable, but not great year this past season.  The model still thinks he can garner something around 17 MM, which would surprise me.  However, he really is not all that far away from his offensive years.  Neil Walker is often thrown in the same bucket as Murphy, but Walker has taken more of a progressive nose dive.  The model can forgive a one year drop, but it finds trends harder to ignore.

Shortstops are next.

03 October 2018

BORAS Blowout 2018/19: First Base

Yesterday, I wrote about catchers and a bit about the new BORAS model system this year.  Today, we move on to first basemen.  While catchers had a potentially big name in Yasmani Grandal, the big name here (Justin Smoak) has a club option for eight million, which seems like an easy decision for the Blue Jays to pick up as Smoak has accounted for quite a bit of offense these past few years in Toronto.

Here is the BORAS projection for first base.
Years Total (MM)
Matt Adams 1 11.1
Lucas Duda 2 18.2
Marwin Gonzalez 1 11
Joe Mauer 1 10
Logan Morrison m8 2 22.6
Steve Pearce 2 21.8
Hanley Ramirez 1 7.2
Mark Reynolds 1 8.5
Justin Smoak c8 3 44.1
Danny Valencia 1 7
Chris Davis Invite
Mark Trumbo 1 8.3
As this is an Orioles site, I added two players who are not free agents, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Neither live up to their current deals, but Davis is the hard one to take for Orioles fans.  BORAS is so unimpressed with Davis that the invite status is an incredibly kind designation.  For Trumbo, there is an upside there.  He notoriously underperforms as a designated hitter, but if he had put up his on field batting numbers while at first base then he would be looking at something more in the neighborhood of 3/40 or even more.

All in all, the numbers above look about right with a few issues.  BORAS does not know that Valencia is a weakside platoon bat, that will drop his value in the open market (not to mention the mumbling of clubhouse concerns).  Reynolds and Ramirez also feel a bit high as they are uneven veterans with younger talent undermining their value.

BORAS loves it some Steve Pearce.  It always has and it really has always been correct about his value, if not his contract terms.  Teams seem to be concerned about his injuries, streaky bat, and positional concerns, but he always seems to do well as a strong role player.  His arm may not be what it was, but he should be a highly sought after bench/role bat.

BORAS seems a little confused by Marwin Gonzalez and his 1/11 deal seems a little rough.  I see Gonzalez as a healthier Steve Pearce.  These are the kind of guys teams really need.  Their bat can be surprisingly good and they positional flexibility enables a team to use the best player available in the minors when an injury arises instead of the best available player at a given position.  My best is that teams are willing to hand over a greater commitment to Gonzalez.

All in all, I think the projections are roughly about where they should be given that this system does well with 2+ year commitments and AAVs over 8 MM.

02 October 2018

BORAS Blowout 2018/19: Intro and Catchers

For the past several Octobers (give or take an extended playoff appearance), the writers here at Camden Depot would put together organizational blueprints for the off season to suggest what the Orioles should do to improve the squad.  That will not happen this year.  However, a major component of that work was our contract projection model: BORAS.

In case you forgot or never knew, BORAS takes into consideration several characteristics of a player (e.g., age, offensive performance, defensive performance, historical contract comparisons) and uses that information to project what the new contract will look like.  Each year, we add on another season of data and try to tinker with the model to improve upon it.  This year, the primary model improvement comes from using a batch age model to weight things differently. 

Our first series of posts will consider BORAS(po), the position player contract model.  What we found was that younger players and older players were really being valued differently beyond their age.  For instance, our analysis suggests that older players are sought after for their offense with considerably less value placed on their defense.  If we look at encapsulated metrics, defense was valued about half as much on a per run basis as offense was in the 31 and older player set.  For 30 year olds and younger, the value gap shrank from 52% to 17%.  Differences like these can really impact the quality of a model.  By taking these into consideration, we improved the performance of our model internally by about 15%.

In the past, I would just drop the whole player list and then run away.  This year, we will try to be more comprehensive and cover a large swath of the player market as well as putting in some arbitration eligible Orioles because...eh, why not?  Again the caveats remain as they have in the past.  This model does not know about injuries or suspensions.  This model is based on a data set that largely ignores players who get bench level playing time.  Those can be two major blindspots at times.  Finally, our first post here deals with catchers and this model has always struggled with catchers.  In my opinion, this will probably be the worst performing projection group.

BORAS(po) 2018/19 Catcher contract projections
Years Total (MM)
Drew Butera Invite
Robinson Chirinos 1 9.9
AJ Ellis 1 6
Yasmani Grandal 3 45.3
Nick Hundley 1 5.6
Jonathan Lucroy 1 4.4
Martin Maldonado 1 4.6
Jeff Mathis Invite
Brian McCann 1 7.7
Devin Mesoraco 2 14.9
Wilson Ramos 3 26.3
Rene Rivera 1 7
Kurt Suzuki 2 20
Matt Wieters 1 4.1
Caleb Joseph 1 3.9
The adjustments made this year have resulted in a much more competent model at first look, but there are a couple peculiar projections.  I have a hard time seeing Suzuki making 2/20 even though he has experienced a bit of a late career bloom.  Second, I think the model might be a bit too hard on Wilson Ramos who has had to deal with some misfortune with respect to his health.  I also think Ramos gets dinged a bit due to his poor base running, which I think in general does not impact catchers all that much when it comes to signing a contract.

As this is an Orioles blog, I added arbitration eligible Caleb Joseph.  He should be looking at 1.5 to 2 MM in arbitration while BORAS projects Joseph to be worth slightly more in the open market.  With the Orioles organization in possession of a few decent catchers that would come in under the 1.5 MM mark, it may well make sense to non-tender Joseph even though his arbitration value might be a slight bargain.

Tomorrow, I will post first basemen.

28 September 2018

Cavalry Is Here, But They Are a Little Irregular

The Orioles have had a few calls for the cavalry.  The first utterance was under the Andy MacPhail regime and it spoke of talents like Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Radhames Liz, Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe, Troy Patton and those are just the arms that appeared on Baseball America's top 100 lists.  The idea behind it all was about buying bats and not spending a great amount of money on pitching, to simply grow the arms.  It did not work.  Of those starters, the Orioles only saw starting pitching success with Tillman.  The others failed to provide the club with what the club was anticipating.  The cavalry was called, it showed up, and they mainly rode donkeys.

A softer bugle was called a few years later as Kevin Gausman was cutting his teeth and experiencing flashes of extreme success.  High upside arms appeared in the form of Dylan Bundy, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Hunter Harvey.  Gausman could never sustain his highs, but was solid rotation arm before being dealt to the Braves this past deadline.  Bundy, after experiencing injury woes, looks like a top shelf pitcher when his fastball sits in the mid 90s and then a shell of himself if it dips below that.  It has dipped often below that.  Harvey no longer looks like a starting pitcher and some question whether he can stay healthy enough to experience long term success in any role in the majors.  And, of course, Eduardo Rodriguez was traded off to help the Orioles better manage their bullpen in the 2014 playoffs, a short term benefit with long term consequences.  The deadening of the starting rotation these past three years has been a product of this cavalry not being able to beef up the rotation (though not as unspectacularly as the previous incarnation of the cavalry).

However, past drafts and a few deadline trades rejuvenated the minors with arms.  So much so, that the club probably has some concerns about how exactly to get those arms the right number of innings against the right kind of competition.  The only certainty the Orioles face is their top three slot in their rotation.  Dylan Bundy, who again fatigued along the way with terrible effect, will be top arm in the rotation.  Andrew Cashner, who did his secret Wade Miley impersonation in eating innings while getting roughed up, is the second sure feature of the rotation.  Alex Cobb, who habitually is unable to complete 30 starts a year, rounds out the top three.

Behind those guys is a bit of a free-for-all.  The Orioles might seek stability or upside and go after a free agent starter this off-season.  However, the more arms you sign to be in the rotation, the more you depend on injuries to give the younger arms a chance to showcase their talents on the MLB stage.  At the moment, the competition for the last two slots appears to be one between Yefry Ramirez and David Hess against Josh Rogers, John Means, and perhaps Keegan Akin.  One also figures that Luis Ortiz, Dillon Tate, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Hunter Harvey might also get a shot.

Whoever shakes free from that group would fill out Norfolk.  If you assume that Hess and Ramirez start in Baltimore, then you probably have Ortiz, Akin, Rogers, Means, and Dean Kremer in Norfolk.  Again, you have some other arms up in the air like Yacabonis, Harvey, Gabriel Ynoa, and Jordan Kipper.  Bowie likely fills out with Tate, Michael Baumann, Bruce Zimmerman, Brian Gonzalez, and Cristian Alvarado.  Lucas Humpal and Ofelky Peralta should also get a mention here.

Down to Frederick, Brenan Hanifee, Luis Perez, Cody Sedlock, Jhon Peluffo, and D.L. Hall look slated to compete there.  Matthias Dietz may be finding himself in the pen.  Delmarva may bring out Grayson Rodriguez, Blaine Knight, Hector Guance, Jake Zebron, and maybe Jimmy Murphy.  Really, you can get down to Delmarva and really not see any obvious holes opening up to bring in veteran pitching.  This is a problem that the club has not had to deal with in a while.

It should also be noted that while there is a cavalry, a deep cavalry.  It does not speak to the quality of those arms.  As you go through the system, you find a lot of fringey talent.  You can imagine arms like Ortiz, Tate, Harvey, and Akin to make meaningful contributions in the Majors.  You might even be able to imagine Kremer, Baumann, Zimmerman, and Hanifee to swoop in as well.  But, really, Grayson Rodriguez is the lone arm that is truly seen as special.  He has a couple years to go before he can see Baltimore if he advances quickly.

So, all in all, the depth is there for Baltimore.  It is depth that they have not seen since the late 2000s.  It is a collection of pitchers whose profile is not as well considered compared to those cavalry classes a decade ago though.  This cavalry is a bit irregular.  But, the hope is there that perhaps a few of them will emerge and beat the odds.  If they do, then the Orioles rebuild will be quicker than anticipated.

26 September 2018

September has been an Organizational Car Wreck

A day ago, Jon Meoli wrote this:
They have 19 pitchers on the active roster; seven of them — Alex Cobb (finger), Andrew Cashner (knee), Miguel Castro (knee), Josh Rogers (shut down), Evan Phillips (shut down), Ortiz and Ramírez — are dealing with injuries or otherwise unavailable. That gives them the numbers of a pre-roster expansion pitching staff with a minor league call-up quality to it. September baseball is a manager’s nightmare, but this is a level unto itself.
Injuries happen.  For some clubs injuries and fatigue can coincide in a way where the bullpen and starting rotation is obliterated.  The pitching staff thins out and a manager has to ask the remaining healthy arms to shoulder the burden.  This happens before September.  This happens before the roster expansion.  What the Orioles are experiencing now is something they should not be experiencing.

Not only are the Orioles are experiencing an arms crunch with an expanded roster, but there is no solution.  The club last offseason curiously decided against filling up their AAA roster with fringe starting arms.  I wrote about the problem with that last Spring.  A club needs about three viable starting pitchers in AAA.  A club like the Orioles, who had a measure of breakdown and trading out arms, needs more.

Jhan Marinez, Tim Melville, David Hess, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Jayson Aquino were the Tides starting rotation in April.  Marinez and Melville are relievers.  Yacabonis and Aquino effectively were relievers from their minor league careers.  Hess is a fringe starter.  He, really, was the only one who set out with the Tides who fit the role that the club was apparently going to need.  The perennially short-armed Orioles decided from the get go to be short-armed.  It led to issues earlier in the season and it is how the club finds itself now.

It is a mess.  It is an organizational failure that was foreseeable.

25 September 2018

The Orioles are limping to the finish line

All good things must come to an end. In the case of my podcast, mediocre things have to end too. Since you are reading this post on Camden Depot, you are well aware that the site will be shutting down at the conclusion of MLB's regular season, which is rapidly approaching. That means that these weekly-ish posts of the podcast episodes must also end. However, another well-known Orioles website has been kind enough to step in and offer us a new place to publish our show, and we are incredibly grateful.

Bookmark it now! Going forward, you can expect our new episodes to be featured on...(drum roll)(dramatic pause) Eutaw Street Report! You can follow along at EutawStreetReport.com or on Twitter and Facebook. If you subscribe to the podcast through Google Play, Apple Podcasts or some other app, nothing will be changing! Keep doing what you do to support the show. But if you are more into browsing the web, then head over to ESR's site, read their other O's content and give us some love. We are very excited about the new partnership!

Of course, I cannot end this post without thanking the Camden Depot community and Jon Shepherd for giving me a weekly platform to post about this podcast. It has helped us grow in significant ways by exposing us to a new audience. It's much easier to create something when you know other people are appreciating it as well. We could not have accomplished 26 episodes without the driving force that came as part of being featured of the Depot once a week throughout what was an otherwise miserable season to be an Orioles fan. I just cannot say it enough; thank you!

You can subscribe or listen to the podcast on iTunes/Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPodbeanTuneIn and a few other places as well. If you are into social media, we can be found on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube. Wherever you go, give us a five-star review or a "Like". It helps us out a ton! Thanks for the support!

21 September 2018

Former MLB DOI Agent Eddie Dominguez' Baseball Cop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-----

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

19 September 2018

Moving Away from Buck: The Orioles Next Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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