19 July 2018

Something New

At the end of 2012, Jon invited me to write for Camden Depot. It was the first time anyone had invited me to post anywhere other than my own bare-bones sports blog, and I jumped at the chance. Considering my affinity for fringe outfielders, utility players, and mysterious relievers, it seems fitting that my first post on Camden Depot was about Nolan Reimold. Maybe this one, my last, should have been about Steve Pearce.

Over the years, contributing to Camden Depot allowed me the opportunity to do some things I never thought possible. I wrote about Kevin Gausman's major league debut on ESPN SweetSpot, and about Manny Machado the year after that. I helped with write-ups for ESPN.com's weekly MLB power rankings. I contributed to MASNsports.com. I've also appeared on a few podcasts and managed to not completely embarrass myself.

Most importantly, I was able to talk baseball with other talented writers on a daily basis and find my voice. Jon, in particular, pushed me to think about the game in different ways and challenged me to do better work. He was available to answer questions, even simple ones, and offer ideas and direction. There's no question that he's been a tremendous help, and I'm extremely thankful.

By now, you may be aware that Camden Depot will be shutting things down soon and that Jon is moving on from analytical baseball writing. While I'm not sure if the other Depot writers will be continuing on elsewhere, starting today, I'm happy to announce that I'll be contributing to The Athletic Baltimore and writing about the Orioles. The plan, for now, is for me to contribute weekly, and it may grow into something more. You can read my first article, on Mark Trumbo, here.

Writing for Camden Depot has been a rewarding experience, but it’s time for something new. I’m thrilled that Jon provided the larger stage for more people to read what I had to offer, and I’m appreciative to anyone who read my work over the years - especially those of you who enjoyed it. I hope you continue to do so.

The Next 1,000 Wins After Machado

The Orioles finally found their franchise player that they had been long waiting for.  In his short time in Baltimore, he dazzled.  People literally would tune in to see what sort of feats he could accomplish next.  Yes, there were injuries.  Yes, his demeanor and contribution was less than some of the other players on the team, but he was in his team control years and, typically, a player waits for his first long term contract before setting down roots.  And, yeah, the trade process was excruciatingly long with a great deal of frustration on whether or not it would ever happen, whether he would just walk, or maybe, just maybe, the Orioles would offer a real long term contract.  In the end, Erik Bedard was traded for centerfield prospect Adam Jones, fringe MLB reliever George Sherrill, promising Chris Tillman, fireballer Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler, a pitcher who was defying the odds.

Adam Jones is the face of the that trade that launched 1,000 wins.  He became the franchise as he grew more settled into Baltimore and as the franchise dedicated themselves to him.  That deal led to the opportunity for the Orioles to go deep into the post-season and almost bring back that great prize.  Although the first few years looked a bit rough, it is hard to say anything other than that trade was a smashing success.  In fact, the main opinion outside of Baltimore was that the Mariners absolutely blew that trade.  The Orioles fleeced them.

Ten years later, well, things are different and, yet, still, kind of the same.  Erik Bedard looked (and was at times) otherworldly, but Manny Machado literally is.  No, Machado has not reached the heights of someone like Mike Trout, but Machado is at worst the second coming of Scott Rolen which is a very good thing.  But, I am more interested in the prospect packages.  Let us take a look.\

Adam of San Diego, 2006
Adam Jones vs. Yusniel Diaz
Coming into their age 21 seasons, Adam Jones was seen as a fringe-y centerfielder.  He had begun his career at shortstop, but he had difficulty fitting in there.  The Mariners instead put him out into centerfield the year before and you could see that his pure athleticism was making up for a lot of mistakes.  Baseball Prospectus had him then as the 44th best prospect before he lost his prospect status that year with the Mariners.  Baseball America was a little rosier, calling him the 28th best prospect.  Jones had very good speed, obvious power, and an arm that would let him settle into right field if center field did not work out.  Jones wound up hitting his ceiling projection as a multiple All Star centerfielder.

Yusniel Diaz strangely looks similar.  While Jones trumps him in pure athleticism, what happens between the lines is roughly the same.  Diaz has been a bit shaky in the field at times, but looks like he can probably handle centerfield.  If that fails, then he should easily settle into right field.  FanGraphs is the lone publication who claims he is a definitive left fielder, but that seems to be a minority opinion not only among the media but also among the actual scouts I talk to.  He also has good speed and power, but those do not play all that well in-game.  That was also a knock on Jones who was able to translate his power eventually, but never could figure out how to get his speed to work on the basepaths.  Diaz gets more out of his skills, but has a more limited upside here.  To see a frequent 20+ home run bat, he would need to make major changes to his swing and for those changes to actually work, which is unlikely because his approach already works well.

When you look to how the industry at large sees him, it is one where there is a mixed view.  Diaz, a Cuban defector, has had a magnifying glass on him since the Dodgers signed him for 31 MM.  That magnifying glass usually means that teams know him well and that his troubles are highly magnified.  Diaz came into this season, his age 21 season, as the 73rd best prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, which is a fairly common placement from that part of the season.  Helium has attached to Diaz as he has begun to actual work well at the plate.  Mid-season rankings put him at 47th for Baseball America, 31st for Baseball Prospectus, and 43rd for 2080 Baseball.

I think if you want to think of things on a 20-80 scale.  Jones seemed to be someone who would fall into a 50-65 range.  With Diaz, he looks much more like a 45-60.  Diaz will get his cup of coffee.  He will get several hundred plate appearances.  He might settled into being a backup outfielder at all three positions or he could well be a first division centerfielder who finds himself once or twice as a representative of Baltimore in the All Star game.

Chris Tillman vs. Dean Kremer
Tillman was an attractive player going into his draft class, which is shown by his second round selection.  Kremer, not so much, as he was not taken until 14th round, but it should be noted he was an overslot signing there.  Still, he was not given all that much attention as he seemed to be a fastball pitcher with some poor secondary offerings.  Tillman on the other hand could touch the upper 90s and had a dizzying curveball that he could not control for the life of him.  Tillman's first two years saw him hit very, very hard, but he handled it well and his stuff flashed great potential.  It earned him a 67th ranking by Baseball America before he was dealt to the Orioles.

Kremer is several years older than Tillman was at the time, but Kremer is finding himself.  The Dodgers analytics team reconfigured Kremer and turned him from being a sinker/slider mix pitcher to a four seam/curve mix due to some indications provided by spin rates and other metrics.  he has taken off with 13.1 k/9 strikeout rate over hiA and AA competition.  He works in the mid to low 90s, but can reach up to a high 90s fastball.  That reach gives him some projection as a reliever if things fall apart.  As it stands, he looks to me to be a fringe top 100 arm depending on how his season plays out at Bowie.  He certainly does not have that 2 slot potential Tillman had as a prospect, but he could reach Tillman's actual height as a 3 slot starter.

As you can see, there seems to be a bit of a similarity where the players kind of match each other, but the Bedard package had more upside so far.

George Sherrill vs. Breyvic Valera
Let us take a breather for a moment and discuss the throw in pieces.  These guys both had value, but not exceptionally so.  Sherrill was a guy to scratched and clawed his way up from the Indy leagues.  He eeked out a few seasons with the Mariners as a decent middle reliever.  Nothing particularly special and the Orioles wanted him to beef up their relief core and letting him challenge for the closer position.  Meanwhile, Breyvic Valera is a utility infielder type whose advanced approach in the minors has taken a beating at the MLB level where pitchers can more effectively nibble corners and challenge his hitting.  Valera could potentially become a regular, but he and, really, Sherrill too are more about collecting bodies than finding diamonds.

Kam Mickolio vs. Zach Pop
Mickolio was an after thought in his draft. No one paid much attention to him coming out of Montana and he went through his college career without much fanfare.  The Mariners drafted him in the 18th round and minor league hitters could not figure him out.  As he went to Baltimore, he had finished up at AAA Tacoma on a high note and was ready to battle it out in the Orioles' pen.  Pop is similar, yet different.  Pop also has an awesome name for a baseball player.  Pop comes with a bit more prestige.  Pop got a bonus similar to Kremer's.  What Pop has done is show a style and performance quite similar to Mychal Givens with almost as much ease.  It took Givens three seasons to really break out with his pitching, maybe Pop has another gear.  That all said, I think these two pieces come across as similar, but I think Pop has the higher upside here.

Tony Butler vs. Rylan Bannon
Butler was a 19yo pitcher with low 90s fastbal and curveball pitcher.  There was hope that he would mature and would grow into his projection.  The performance was not their and before their last seasons together in the Mariners system, some thought Butler might be the better pitcher.  However, Butler continued to struggle and Tillman flashed some incredible work in his last year there before being dealt to the Orioles.

Bannon is not your typical infield prospect.  The undersized infielder uses an extreme uppercut to tap into all the power he can muster, which has flourished into a 20 home run first half this year.  However, that uppercut swing tends to mean you have to have your timing just right, so he also has put up a strikeout rate of about 30% in high A ball.  That is a little alarming for a player who should be fairly polished in his approach as a 22 year old who went through college.  That said, he has positional flexibility at 2B and 3B and, if any of his offensive productivity survives as he is challenged against better competition, he might well be a solid second division starter in Baltimore.  That was also the hope with Butler, a second division-ish starter ceiling (read: 4th/5th slot starter).

Overall
The primary take away should be this: Bill Bavasi and the Mariners made a terrible deal that was not comparable to the talent they were acquiring while the Dodgers made a deal that was more in line with what one should expect when you are acquiring a difference maker.  In comparison, I think the deals are similar.  Jones is a slight upgrade as a prospect from Diaz.  Tillman is an upgrade from Diaz in that he possessed obvious carrying tools at a younger age.  The rest are all pushes.  Perhaps what was most stunning about that Bedard deal was that Jones hit his ceiling and Tillman almost did.  That rarely happens.

There is about a 22% chance that someone with Jones' or Diaz' ranking would turn into a player with star quality seasons.  There is an 18% chance that Tillman turned out to be a solid starting pitcher.  The odds of both things happening were 5%.  In other words, the outcome that the Orioles saw from the Bedard trade would have been expected to occur one out of 20 times.  The Mariners got fleeced, yes, but that obvious fleecing still faced a 95% chance of something worse happening than what happened.

This is sobering.  The deal that launched a 1,000 wins should have wound up dashed upon a rocky outcropping not far from where the deal was made.  Likewise, as solid as this current deal looks, it probably will end in failure.  For the Orioles to see something similar, they are probably looking at a 1 in 50 opportunity just looking at Diaz and Kremer.

18 July 2018

A Farewell to Machado

There was a time, last December, when it felt as if the time was near for Manny Machado's departure.  Matt Kremnitzer at the time compiled some amazing defensive highlights over Machado's career.  Given how his time at shortstop has gone this year, we do not need to update that.  You should give it a view. Maybe play Sarah McLaughlin's I Will Remember You in the background.

What I want to discuss here is not the best of Machado or the end of Machado.  Not yet, do I wish to talk about the prospects the Orioles are seeing coming back to the team.  What I wish to ponder on for a moment was about the excitement we felt when Machado came up to the majors and was shifted to third base in the wake of Wilson Betemit.

A concern at the time was that not only was Machado being rushed from Bowie, but that he was also being pushed into a new position.  The shift from shortstop to third base was not to be taken likely as Cal Ripken Jr. famously said that it took him a year to re-learn third base after spending him MLB career almost entirely at shortstop.

Manny's first game on August 9, 2012 was decent, but uneventful.  He managed to sneak in a couple singles.  He seemed to have some trouble at third base, but did manage to make two assists and a putout.  In all honesty, it was not all that great.  He looked a little overmatched, but it was better than what Betemit or Mark Reynolds had showed.  The bat looked far more promising than what Robert Andino had become.

August 10, 2012 was otherworldly.  Machado looked like he belonged.  He had four putouts and three assists.  He made several difficult plays.  And the bat?  The bat.  Below is the box score from that night.

Baltimore Orioles Table
Batting AB R H RBI BB SO A Details
Nick Markakis RF4000100
J.J. Hardy SS4010002
Chris Davis DH400003
Adam Jones CF3010011CS,HBP
Matt Wieters C3100101
Wilson Betemit 1B32100002B,HBP
Nate McLouth LF41210002B
Manny Machado 3B42240042·HR
Omar Quintanilla 2B4132012HR
Team Totals3371072511
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2018.

I can still remember his first home run in an Orioles uniform.  It happened in the bottom of the fifth on a 3-2, 83 mph slider from Luke Hochevar.  That is old school baseball.  In the minors, an offspeed 3-2 pitch is a rarity, so the Royals probably thought that Machado would be aggressive on an expected fastball.  He was not.  The ball hung inside at belt level and Machado lifted the solo shot out over the left field fence about six rows deep.


The next inning, Hochevar was in a bit of trouble.  The score was now 4-1 after Nate McLouth doubled, leaving him at second and Betemit at third base.  Hochevar came at Machado with three 94 mph fastballs to earn himself a 1-2 count.  He then mixed it up with a 78 mph curveball right over the plate.


The game was 7-1. Joy spread over the stadium and the Orioles had their second coming.  It was a remarkable time and there was so much hope.

That September, I lucked into a couple of tickets for Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees.  Machado struggled against much better pitching that the Yankees offered.  A couple days later, the Orioles 2012 would end.  Yet, it felt like it was the beginning of so much more.  It felt as if Machado would be seeing a few more post-seasons in an Orioles uniform and provide the fan base with such joy as he developed into one of the best baseball players of our generation.

One of those happened. Machado displayed amazing defense at third base.  His performance there was truly the most impressive play I have ever seen.  His bat required more seasoning, but has become one of the top twenty bats in the game and he probably still has another gear or two left.  With respect to the playoffs, a knee injury ended the dream 2014 season and severely hurt the Orioles chances of making the World Series that year.  His only other taste of the playoffs was a poorly managed play in game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will be missed and, hopefully, it will not hurt too much seeing him in another uniform.

17 July 2018

The Manny Machado Sadness Extravaganza

Well, here we are. Based on all of the different reports flying around the Web, it sure sounds like Manny Machado has played his final game for the Baltimore Orioles. The latest news indicates that Philadelphia is the likely landing spot as the Phillies have upped their offer to include their number two overall prospect, and one of the top 100 youngsters in the game, 21-year-old pitcher Adonis Medina.

Nothing is final, but the finish line is rapidly approaching. Now what? Should we be happy? Are we relieved? Or is this all just so, so terrible? Perhaps it is a cop-out to say that it is a mix of everything, but that is the most honest answer.

A full reaction to Machado's exit won't be possible until after the trade is completed. That is when the analysis of who the Orioles have acquired can truly begin. Even then, we won't know who "won" the deal until several years down the road.

For now, let's enjoy watching Machado pull on the Orioles uniform one last time at tonight's All-Star Game and see where all the chips fall. Unfortunately, we don't have any other options.

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16 July 2018

Book Review: Play Ball (Baseball Medical Injury Guide)

A couple years ago, I reviewed Jeff Passan's The Arm.  It is written in a style similar to Michael Lewis' Moneyball with similar aims.  Passan had noted that he wished for the book to serve as a wakeup call and tool for parents to inform them about arm injuries.  The book was fairly popular within the baseball writing circles, but those with a more keen eye for the science found it to be underwhelming.  It was entertaining, but was also a convoluted mess that was often internally conflicting in the message (e.g. Trevor Bauer vs. overthrowing, Kyle Boddy vs. actual science).  In short, the book was about a journey through the muck of arm injuries in baseball, but was somehow presented as a step forward.

This summer comes Play Ball by New York Yankees Head Team Physician Christopher Ahmad and Major League Soccer's Medical Coordinator John Gallucci Jr.  What Play ball aims to do is to familiarize the reader with some of the most common injuries that amateurs and professionals face in baseball, including arm injuries.  The book presents the underlying issues thought to be the cause for these ailments, what symptoms arise, treatment options, and rehabilitation time frames.  The text is dense, but this is really an overview that helps, at least, to direct parents and players to proper information and to convey a message to not get too worked up about some things.

The book conveys similar information, especially about arm injuries, that The Arm does, but does so in a more clinical and, obviously, less entertaining way.  Ahmad and Gallucci are not trying to bro up their language to appear as belonging to the locker room as Passan is wont to do, but present themselves as professionals in the field.  Their writing is straight forward, but some will certainly need to have Wikipedia nearby to understand some of the terminology.

Where the book fails though is that even though the authors try to properly convey certainty in their writing, it falls a little short at times.  For instance, a passing comment about the inverted W, which refers to how a pitcher's arms may look when about to move forward in his throw (why is this not simply called an M, by the way?), suggests this likely increases injury without really any evidence of this.  Other parts of the book where a point is being made, the author provides some specifics about studies he has done or others have done that back up the point.  It makes other statements that are orphaned from scientific evaluation seem like unimportant or meaningless tangents.

Another failure is that while the book regularly mentions studies that have been done, they really should have provided an appendix or footnotes to identify what studies the authors are actually referring to.  For instance, there is a passage in the book about the use of platelet-rich plasma therapy.  Providing substance to the recommendation of this treatment is the mention of a study and how the participants were significantly helped by the therapy.  It should be noted that once tracking down this study that the methodology is poor.  It simply is a case study.  With the handful of individuals in the study, one would want there to be case controls and confounders to be addressed.  The study did not do it, so it really does not back up the recommendation.

The is found throughout the literature with platelet-rich plasma therapy studies.  Very few studies are worthy to be considered. Those studies have poor methodologies. The research base is fairly mixed in how effective it is and that uncertain effectiveness also appears to be highly contingent on the type of injury and severity.  The therapy is also presented as fairly complication free, which it is if you compare it to more substantial surgical approaches.  In reality, this therapy is extensively used in sports medicine and beyond.  With the volume of this work, one would figure there would be a fairly decent approach to evaluate the effectiveness of this therapy and it simply remains an unknown to my knowledge.

So...while this book has some well evidenced perspectives, it does provide a halo to other less evidenced advice.  The authors do a poor job distinguishing that and seemingly obscure it when they, in their expert opinion, truly belief in a therapy.  I see that as problematic, but certainly this is a step up from how The Arm presented the subject and flailed at providing solutions to the subject.  This book provides solutions and potential solutions as well as tries to explain how to prevent, detect, and resolve issues.

Sports injuries, arm injuries particularly, can be complicated.  Therapies sometimes take a long time and a lot of repetition before they establish definitive success.  Life is not always so clear cut.  That said, this book is a great complement to The Arm and, well, if you read one of them you should certainly read the other.

-----

Play Ball: Don't Let Injuries Sideline You This Season
by Christopher Ahmad and John Gallucci, Jr.
Post Hill Press
238 pg

13 July 2018

Worst Season Ever? Chris Davis, 2018

The Orioles are the St. Louis Browns.  No one really embraces that.  The Orioles consider their franchise beginning in 1954 and disavow their roots.  St. Louis also disavows the Browns as the forgotten, less popular sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Browns were originally a power play by Ban Johnson to put the American League in direct competition with the National League Cardinals.  It worked and the Browns were fairly competitive until they simply were no longer needed to legitimize the American League.  Sold off to a failed Federal League owner they spiraled down into nothingness.

However, that nothingness was interesting for a few reasons and one was the curious career of shortstop Jim Levey.  In 1930, Levey was a young A ball shortstop playing for Wichita Falls Spudders.  He showed some power and an ability to get on base, but this was not a very competitive league and he had six teammates whose offensive performance was considerably better.  The front office was impressed through by the Spudders and broke 1931 with much of the team as their starting nine.  They were terrible.

Of particular, Levey was atrocious. He could not hit and, to the best of our ability to measure, he was one of the worst fielding shortstops in the league.  He put up the second worst fWAR in history behind only Tommy Thevenow who accomplished a slightly worse performance a year earlier for the Phillies.  Thevenow, also a shortstop, was a stupendous defensive shortstop without a bat and actually enjoyed a long playing career. However, he was dinged up a bit in 1930 and his defense suffered terrible.

After a merely awful 1932 season, Levey came charging back and secured the top spot with a -4 fWAR.  It would be the last year he ever played in the bigs. He then bounced around the Pacific Coast League with the Hollywood Star before settling in with the White Sox A affiliate in Dallas for nearly a decade before enjoying one season as a player/manager for the Jamestown Falcons where, at 38, he was on average 18 years older than his teammates.  All the while, he was known for being a true baseball professional with a solid glove with likely the former being more accurate than the latter.


Season Name Team fWAR
1 1933 Jim Levey Browns -4
2 1930 Tommy Thevenow Phillies -3.6
3 1931 Jim Levey Browns -3.3
4 1997 Jose Guillen Pirates -3.1
5 2002 Neifi Perez Royals -2.9
6 1920 Ivy Griffin Athletics -2.8
7 1930 Fresco Thompson Phillies -2.7
and 3 others
11 1993 Ruben Sierra Athletics -2.6
and 3 others
15 1977 Mike Champion Padres -2.5
2009 Yuniesky Betancourt - - -
17 1973 Lou Piniella Royals -2.4
and 3 others
21 2005 Bernie Williams Yankees -2.3
and 5 others
27 1902 Pete Childs Phillies -2.2
1960 Ken Hamlin Athletics
29 2018 Chris Davis Orioles -2.1
and 6 others

Over 80 years later, Levey may well lose his perch on top of this list.  Sitting at 29 is Chris Davis.  He currently is tied with six others for 29th worst, including the 2009 Aubrey Huff who split his time between Baltimore and Detroit.

But really, what is the likelihood of Chris Davis reaching that threshold of -4?

Seventy games remain as I write this.  I think it is fair to say that if he continues belting a home run once in a while that he will see about 60 more games.  If he does better than that, I would also reckon he gets about 60 games.  No one really is pushing him out and as some players may depart for playoff races, he will unlikely face more competition for his time.  Now, if he reverts to his pre-June 22 production, then I would imagine that 60 would turn to 40 as the club tries to figure out what to do with him while giving him multiple opportunities to succeed.

The Optimistic View
The optimistic view is one that I think is represented by ZiPS.  ZiPS looks into the players past and compares said player with historical trends.  That view of Chris Davis would be that his recent play is not a true indication of his current talent level and a rebound is expected.  That rebound would see him perform as a 204/293/406 hitter (well above his current 160/234/284 line) and net him with a 0.1 fWAR result.  That would drop Davis down a rung to 36th place with a -2.0 fWAR.  To be clear, the fortunate result is that Davis would produce a full season that would be the 36th lowest out of about 18,000 hitters who managed to play at least 100 games.  Let that sink in.

Post June 22nd World
A "rejuvenated" Chris Davis is slashing 191/253/456.  This .295 wOBA is still well below average for a first baseman and he is projected to cost his team about three runs over the rest of the season as his loss of athleticism also has meant a reduced ability to actually play first base in the field.  The scenario, over 60 games, would present him with a further decrease about 1.1 fWAR.  He would be sitting at -3.2 fWAR, good for fourth place.  He would only be beaten by the two Levey seasons and the Thevenow season.

Pre June 22nd World
Things were tough early in the season as Davis suffered a 150/227/227 line.  It would be hard to think that he could do this poorly moving on and still enjoy having his name penciled in the lineup.  I would project him as see maybe playing time in 40 games.  My calculations would have this worth about -1.6 fWAR, bringing him to -3.7 fWAR.  This would fall just short of Levey's previusly thought insurmountable -4 fWAR.

But What if Davis Now Pitched in Relief
Back in January, I looked at exactly how poorly a position player would be if he pitched regularly.  The conclusion was that an average position player would put up an ERA of 6.84.  It appears that position players with multiple outings tend to do much better than that, but lets just assume that Davis is an average relief pitcher.  At a 6.84 ERA and 70 games left, we could probably imagine Davis put in about 15 mop up innings for the rest of the season.  That would be worth about -0.2 fWAR.

Now, what if he could manage a 6.84 ERA starting.  That probably sees him put in about 10 starts and generously estimating six innings a start.  At 60 IP, he would see something around a -0.7 fWAR.  So with half a season at -2.1 fWAR while batting, what would it take to achieve that as a pitcher with a 6.84 ERA? About 250 IP.

That gives you an idea how terribly Chris Davis has done.  If Chris Davis was permitted to get clobbered for eight innings a night over 32 starts for a whole year, then he would find himself at -2.1 fWAR for the whole season, which would just barely pass the worst fWAR since 1900: -1.9 by the Senators Phil Ortega in 1965.

12 July 2018

Pedro Alvarez is Living My Dream



One of the biggest surprises of the Norfolk Tides 2017 season – last season – was that Pedro Alvarez didn't exercise his contractual opt-out to become a free agent. Alvarez is a power hitter, whose best position was designated hitter, in a system loaded with defensively-limited power hitters. It seemed obvious to us in Norfolk that Baltimore may have been his worst opportunity for major-league time, so why not try to move elsewhere? But he chose to stay in Noforlk

Flash-forward to 2018. Pedro Alvarez re-signed with the Orioles, and made the opening-day roster. He played in 45 games. At that point, the Orioles realized that he wasn't helping the team win now and, at age 31, wasn't likely to help the team win in the future. So, on June 19, the Orioles designated him for assignment and the following day outrighted him to Norfolk.

We would like to think that every team has nothing but major-league prospects at every level of its farm system. But in reality that's the exception. Almost every AAA team has a player like Pedro Alvarez – well, not all that much like Pedro Alvarez, a one-time all-star and #2 overall draft pick – but a 30+ year old with no real chance to play in the major leages (again). Gwinnett (Braves) has Sean Kazmar; Charlotte (White Sox) Jake Elmore; Durham (Rays) Brandon Snyder; Louisville (Reds) Hernan Irribarren, So while we in Norfolk are disappointed that Pedro Alvarez may be taking a Norfolk roster spot from a promising player, his presence with the Tides has virtually no effect on the Orioles' future.

The more surprising thing is that Alvarez accepted his minor-league assignment. At least last season the Orioles were a pretender; there was a chance that they would need his power in the chase for a wild-card berth. But this year, the Orioles are a non-contender; they're unlikely to (be able to) trade a veteran whose spot Alvarez could fill. Again he could have become a free agent with the chance of finding a better organizational fit. He didn't do it and again, it made no sense.

Until I learned a few things about Pedro Alvarez, the specifics of which I am choosing not to share to respect his privacy (other than to say that none of these things are negative.) I can state some generalities. According to baseball-reference.com, Alvarez has made over $21 million in his baseball career. I do not know if he has squandered his money, but I have reason to believe that he has not; if he has been even moderately prudent with his earnings he should have enough to live on for the rest of his life. The Norfolk – Williamsburg – Virginia Beach area is a nice place to retire to – reasonably nice weather, a fairly low cost of living. I don't know Alvarez' interests, but there's the Virginia Beach waterfront, a thriving local music scene, lots of golf courses nearby.

So now I see Pedro Alvarez as someone who might be truly living the dream. Ideally, he's got no money worries. He's living in a congenial environment. He gets to do what he wants – play baseball – and gets to hang out with friends. He even gets paid for his hobby! He's performed at the highest level of his profession. He's almost living my dream, anyway – although instead of playing baseball almost every day I'd settle for datacasting baseball.

Pedro Alvarez, I'm rooting for you. Enjoy.

11 July 2018

Letting Machado Walk

I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who works in an MLB front office for a team other than the Baltimore Orioles.  He said to not put any weight into the media reports.  He thought that, yes, many teams are talking with the Orioles about Manny Machado, but that the reported players involved are all asks from the Orioles and not actual names bandied about in a near to completion deal.  He said that the window for Machado helping another club is closing and, if the Orioles refuse to take on money for whatever reason, that the actual worth would be similar to what the Tigers got for J.D. Martinez last year.

At the time, Martinez was carrying a 1.6 bWAR as a corner outfielder and, for comparison, Manny Machado is carrying a 2.4 bWAR as a shortstop with a half dozen extra games.  The offensive powerhouse in J.D. Martinez netted the Tigers three Arizona Diamondbacks minor leaguers: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantera, and Jose King.  It was somewhat of a surprising deal because Martinez was/is a strong bat and that trio of position players is underwhelming.  None of the position prospects were considered top ten organizational prospects for the Diamondbacks and currently are not considered top ten guys for the Tigers. Neither system is particularly strong and Jose King, in fact, is considered something of a non-prospect.

So, the Martinez deal would suggest that the Orioles getting a fringe top 100 prospect might be a bit of a fantasy.  If this is the case, then it would make sense to play Machado out for the rest of the year and take the draft pick compensation.

Yes, I recognize that sounds astounding.  A year and a half ago, I was noting how Machado was worth a major haul.  Times have changed.  Salaries have changed.  And it is possible that the smartest move is to let Machado walk.

Why?
Let us talk about value.
Rank Position Pitcher
1 to 10 81 MM 73 MM
11 to 25 66 46
26 to 50 38 32
51 to 75 24 20
76 to 100 20 15
When we talk about surplus value, we are discussing the average production historically from players like this against the average cost in salary through the final year of arbitration.  What the Tigers got for Martinez is far less than what this table assesses.  What we would think for the Tigers get would be something akin to a trip of C/C+ level prospects with a total value of about 10 MM.  You can see comparables with respect to how much similar prospects are worth in trades for international bonus money.  That all said, 15 MM is probably a fair assessment.

Now, what could the Tigers have expected for Martinez.  He was performing at a 1.6 bWAR clip on a 11.75 MM deal.  He had about 5.5 MM left and would have been expected, if he maintained his WAR pace to be worth about 1.2 WAR the rest of the season, which is worth about 10 MM.  Take away his salary and you have a 4.5 MM surplus player.  The club netted about 10 MM.

Compare that to Manny Machado.  Machado is working on a 16 MM deal with about 7 MM left.  At his current 2.4 bWAR pace, you could expect him to offer another 1.5 bWAR for the remainder of the season.  That is worth about 12 MM.  Split the difference and we are talking about 5 MM in surplus value.  That expected value would put Machado on par with getting a return of only Sergio Alcantera.

That exercise feels incredibly low, but the front office person I was talking too suggested that really is not an off base assessment.  Machado is a great player, but he is not a shortstop and he has money left on his contract that teams will need to find ways to squeeze in.  On top of that, draft pick compensation might be a better path to take at this point.
Draft Selection Surplus Value
26 to 30 17
31 to 35 14
36 to 40 12
If the Orioles would hold onto Machado and let him walk at the end of the year, they would be expected to pick somewhere between 26 and 35 in next year's draft when another club signs Machado.  Minus the 7 MM left to him and you have a 7-10 MM value, which is more than getting a fringe top 10 organizational prospect.  Additionally, this avenue would enable the next General Manager of the Orioles to better dictate how to appropriate resources as opposed to relying on the current decision makers deciding what is the best way for their allocation.

One hopes this is not the scenario that is unfolding.  While the expected performances seem accurate, the hope is that the value of Machado is much higher.  The hope is that the promise of playoff games increases not only the value of a win, but also the opportunity to get value from Machado.  The hope is that being able to tie all that performance into one player would also bring back a premium.  The hope is that the uncertainty in JD Martinez not being able to competently play the field depressed his value and that Machado's insistence on playing shortstop is not a true limiting of his positional flexibility to a team playing competitive baseball.

That all said, I think it is important to recognize that the trade market might be a lot drier than what the media may be presenting it to be.  It could very well be that the offers on the table for Machado are underwhelming and could potentially be so underwhelming that the Orioles might be better off keeping him on the team and letting him walking, pulling back only the value of a compensation draft pick.

Everybody Loves Manny

It's going to happen. Manny Machado will not be an Oriole by the time August 1 rolls around. We have avoided it for as long as possible, but here we are. The O's are bad, and it makes no sense to hold onto one of the most talented players in baseball with a contract that will be expiring at the end of the season.

I'm not crying! You're crying!

If you have been paying attention, you know that the rumors right now are as follows:

1. Seven teams have made offers to the Orioles.
2. All of the offers are said to be similar in value.
3. The Dodgers and Brewers seem to be the most serious, although that could change.
4. The Yankees have a stocked farm system and have re-engaged in trade talks about Machado.

Please, Orioles, do not screw this up. It's going to hurt no matter what. It's not fun to see your best player walk out the door. But they need to make this one count. It is not going to be a huge return as it would have been a year or two ago. But the front office should be able to nab a decent prospect or two during this process.

Do we really "want" Manny to be a Yankee? Of course not. But if they offer the best package, the Orioles shouldn't turn away just because of a perceived rivalry. Be selfish and get the highest return on Machado.

We get into all of that on this week's episode of the podcast in addition to some All-Star Game and Home Run Derby talk, Colby Rasmus leaving, Drake's new music, and Adam Jones's clever plan to help Baltimore win in the future.

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10 July 2018

Trumbo, Designated Hitter: Definition of Insanity

Same Thing Year After Year
Mark Trumbo fascinates me.  As he stands out in right field, I sit on the edge of my seat knowing anything can happen.  And, what can happen typically is never anything good.  The possibilities seem endless.  It may take him a whole second to figure out where he should be running.  Where a decent route might be a distance of 50 feet on the ground to cover, he may take a whole 60 or 70 to finally make it to where the balls lands.  If he actually gets to where the ball is, invisible forces sometimes appear to tug at him, leaving him a clear foot or two away from where the ball lands even though he had set up underneath where he thought it would land.

What is clear is that Trumbo is terrible out there.  He may well be one of the worst right fielders in recent play who has appeared out there on a semi-regular basis.  It is something that often defies explanation.  It is something that led to me look deeper into the subject years ago and what I found surprised me. Nay, shocked me.  Indeed Trumbo was terrible in right field, but he was even worse as a designated hitter.  I have revisited this often.

Last Friday, I tweeted an update. Not much has changed since.

You might look at this and think it to be an anomaly.  You might look at this and think, well, maybe that really only captures that excellent 2016 season.  You might look at this and think that there is no way he is actually that worse of a hitter when he sits on the bench for most of the game.

Well, lets look at it season by season since 2015 when he began DHing a decent amount of the time.
as DH as RF
wOBA wRC+ wOBA wRC+
2015 .285 81 .317 98
2016 .335 109 .373 135
2017 .275 66 .374 134
2018 .308 93 .389 149
As a population, players tend to decrease about .014 points in wOBA between the field and designated hitter.  Trumbo's difference of .077 is quite the outlier, but seasonal differences of .032, .038, .099, and .081 begin to shift this from being a wild idea to one where we must consider that Trumbo is on the far end of the designated hitter penalty.  Whatever the field offers him, maybe improved concentration or warmed up muscles, that it enables him to be effectively a completely different player in the field, a player any team would be excited to have on their team.

That said, to the best of my knowledge, teams do not want Mark Trumbo.  He may be a boon in RF, but the idea of such an extreme designated hitter penalty may seem too fantastic to be believed.  Or maybe teams are concerned about what a wretched right fielder would meant to their pitching staff as an extra few pitches here or there and an extra run here or there might cause some cratering, I do not know.

What we do know is that if the field means also first base, that Trumbo would be an All Star quality player.  With Chris Davis exploring the depths of the worst season in the history of baseball, it seems that maybe there is an opportunity to provide Trumbo with more time at first.  However, the Orioles have not done that.  When Davis sits, Trey Mancini takes over first base.

It is somewhat inexplicable.  Trumbo has repeatedly shown that he is unable to be a productive designated hitter.  The team has newfound opportunity with another player's collapse to see if Trumbo could be valuable, which could then translate to shedding salary and welcoming a useful prospect into the franchise.  The Orioles have not taken advantage of this.  They stick to their old ways.

Maybe this repetition of performance is misleading, but generally a repeated line of performance indicates underlying skill.  Similarly, a repeated approach that results in failure is the definition of--well, maybe not insanity--incompetence.