09 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 3): Building Major League Depth And A Minor League System

On the surface, things look bleak for the Baltimore Orioles. The team finished a disappointing 81-81 one year following a trip to the ALCS. To make matters worse, there is a well-reported free agent exodus looming and the farm system is devoid of any impact talent ready to help the major league team in 2016. The challenge is to find a way to keep the major league team competitive, while rebuilding the farm system with impact talent. With that in mind, I’m proposing to fill the major league team with depth by signing productive, yet unspectacular free agents that do not have draft pick compensation attached to them.

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Orioles are committed to spending $41.83 million in 2016, $43.83 million in 2017, $19.33 million in 2018, and nothing after that. These figures don’t include arbitration raises and minimum salary requirements, but assuming a $120 million payroll in 2016 (and subsequent increases to keep up with inflation), the Orioles do have money to spend, but they’ll need to spend it wisely.

Non-Tendered Players

Of the arbitration eligible players on the current roster, I would not tender Nolan Reimold or Paul Janish a contract (MLB Trade Rumors estimates their arbitration figures to be at $1 million and $700K, respectively). Their skill sets can typically be found on cheaper (minor league) deals.

Qualifying Offers

Qualifying offers (estimated to be $16.4 million in 2016) should be given to Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, and Matt Wieters. I’d expect all three to decline, although I suppose there is a possibility that Wieters accepts, which could throw a wrench into my plans. Worst-case scenario, the Orioles have a catcher who provides league average offense (100 wRC+ in 2015) with above average defense (even with a weakened throwing arm) for one year at $16.4 million. That’s not a bad thing.

2016 Roster

Using Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors assumptions on arbitration and minimum salaries, here’s who I believe should return in 2016 and how much money they’ll be making in 2016.

What we’re left with are vacancies at starting pitcher, first base, both corner outfield spots, a bullpen spot, and two bench spots. Oh, and approximately $44.7 million to fill them.


Manny Machado is awesome and now that he’s entering his arbitration years, he’s a prime candidate to sign to a long-term deal. However, according to this tidbit earlier this week, it doesn’t seem to be on the offseason agenda, so we'll stick with the MLBTR arbitration number for now.
If J.J. Hardy can physically play shortstop, he needs to be there. His trade value is non-existent at the moment, so the Orioles can only play him (and hope he produces, which helps the team AND his trade value) or package him with every tradeable draft pick they have for someone to take his contract off their hands. Having said that, Baltimore may want to add some minor league depth at SS in case Hardy is injured, ineffective, or both.

As for first base, I’m with both Ryan P. and Ryan R. that Chris Davis should be allowed to seek employment elsewhere. I’d fill that hole with Mike Napoli on a 1 year, $5.25 million contract. Napoli had a slow start to his year, but finished with a .224/.324/.410 batting line in 2015 and a 98 wRC+ (which looks a lot like Chris Davis’ 2014 line). For someone who doesn’t do anything well but hit, that’s not great, but with a career low BABIP, there is a good chance he returns to his career numbers (125 wRC+) with some better luck. If he falters, the Orioles can call up Christian Walker or put in Steve Pearce (more on him later).


Obviously, the two corner outfield spots were a problem last year. Jason Heyward would be the ideal fit (and worth giving up a draft pick), but a 26 year old free agent outfielder who has been worth more than 11 fWAR the past two years is an ideal fit for 30 teams, so I’m going to assume the Orioles engage him, but get outbid. With that in mind, I’m hopping on board the Denard Span bandwagon and signing him to a 3 year, $42 million contract with a 4th year team option ($14 million annually). As both Ryan’s previously pointed out, his outstanding defense is an asset to a starting rotation that is not overpowering and he’s been about 20% better than the league average hitter over the last two years according to wRC+. He also provides center-field insurance for an Adam Jones injury and gives the lineup a much-needed left-handed bat. His injury filled 2015 does cause some concern, but it should also keep him from receiving a qualifying offer.

As for the other outfield corner, I’d suggest a platoon between Gerardo Parra and the aforementioned Pearce. I’d re-sign Pearce to a 2 year, $12 million contract to play left field against left-handed pitching and anywhere else when the matchup is favorable. I like Pearce’s versatility (he even showed competency at second base in 2015), and while the proposed offer may end up being light, I think that could get it done considering the opportunity for playing time. Bringing back Gerardo Parra on a 3 year, $24 million contract would fill the strong side of the platoon. He had a strange 2015, where his power spiked and his defense cratered, and I’d expect both to return closer to his career norms moving forward. Although 2015 was an outlier for Parra, he’s always been a decent hitter against right-handers (career 102 wRC+), which is the only type of pitcher he should be facing.

Pitching Staff

The Orioles finished the 2015 season with the best bullpen in the majors according to fWAR. I agree that Baltimore should move on from O’Day, but I’m not giving him a qualifying offer. I’m also tendering Brian Matusz a contract, but looking to deal him, although the return may not be worth it. One thing you’ll see in the first figure is the inclusion of Dylan Bundy in the bullpen. It’s important to note that Bundy is out of options and unless he’s on the DL, he WILL be on the roster in some capacity or the team will absolutely lose him to waivers. A role as the long man in the bullpen will allow him to keep his innings in check, while getting him prepared for a starting job late 2016 and/or 2017. I’m not one to pay free agent dollars for bullpen help, so the final vacancy can be filled with any combination of players making minimum salary such as Chaz Roe, Oliver Drake, Jason Garcia, etc.

As for the starting rotation, I’d go with those 4 above to start the season, even if (barring a breakout year from Gausman) there isn’t an ace in there. The Orioles have a number of options to fill out the number 5 spot (Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Tim Berry, or even Bundy), but I’d rather bring in a free agent and let those 3 or 4 be my emergency starters once one (or more) of the starting pitchers becomes injured or ineffective. I’ll keep with the theme of looking for someone who isn’t attached to a draft pick and sign…

J.A. Happ. Here me out. I assumed the same thing for David Price as I did for Jason Heyward: great fit, worth a draft pick, is not coming to Baltimore. I also heavily considered Johnny Cueto, but became nervous about the contract required to get him (even a probable low estimate of 6 years and $133 million gave me pause), the health of his elbow, and the fact that he throws a cutter nearly 20% of the time (a current “no-no” in the organization).

Happ may not be a sexy addition to the starting rotation, but he’s dependable, left-handed (something the starting rotation lacks), and he’s been better lately. Happ finished the year with a 3.61 ERA and a 3.41 FIP, which was worth 3.3 fWAR. Amazingly, 2.1 of those wins came with the Pirates in only 63.1 innings. His 2015 results don’t appear to be smoke and mirrors, as his LOB% is in line with his career and his BABIP was actually 20 points higher. Additionally, Happ’s throwing his fastball harder and he’s getting more groundballs than he did earlier in his career.

Happ isn’t the ace that most people want, but he’s a quality and consistent starter. A good comp for Happ’s contract is Jason Vargas’ 4 year, $32 million contract with Kansas City. Since Happ will be 2 years older than Vargas at the time he hits free agency, I think a 2 year, $16 million contract with a 3rd year team option is reasonable.


There were originally two bench spots to fill, but one of those spots will be occupied by Pearce or Parra (depending on the pitching matchup). Let’s fill the other bench spot by taking a flyer on Matt Joyce for 1 year and $2 million. Joyce is coming off a terrible season, but has a career 112 wRC+ and has surprisingly been an average defender in left over the course of his career (3 DRS in 2,259.2 innings) if he’s needed. Having said that, he should NEVER face a left-handed pitcher and shouldn’t see time anywhere else in the field (other than DH).

Final Tally
  • LHP J.A. Happ – 3 years, $24 million ($8 million annually, 3rd year an option) 
  • OF Denard Span – 4 years, $56 million ($14 million annually, 4th year an option) 
  • OF Gerardo Parra – 3 years, $24 million ($8 million annually) 
  • UTIL Steve Pearce – 2 years, $12 million ($6 million annually) 
  • 1B/DH Mike Napoli – 1 year, $5.25 million 
  • OF/DH Matt Joyce – 1 year, $2 million
This gives the Orioles a full roster and a total salary commitment of $119.56 million. Despite only the original $41 million committed in 2016 and a $120 million budget, the Orioles don’t have the finances to pay for superstar level players due to the number of roster holes and arbitration eligible players. This strategy allows them to build depth in the field and on the mound with productive, if unspectacular players, while also keeping their early round draft picks while adding 3 additional selections due to the departures of Davis, Chen, and Wieters. A mid-market team like Baltimore needs to have a strong farm system in order to compete annually. Signing players without draft pick compensation attached to them helps accomplish that.
Links to Previously Published Options
Option 1: Seeking A Cornerstone
Option 2: Building A Rotation

08 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 2): Building A Rotation

Over the next week, Camden Depot will be offering a series of offseason blueprints for the Orioles to follow from our stable of writers (attn: Dan Duquette, these are free to use).  At the end of the series, Jon Shepherd will put on the Great Decider hat, run through the plans, and choose what makes most sense to him given the current structure of the franchise.  Under consideration are choices in handing out Qualifying Offers, releasing players, free agent targets, and finding a way to fit within what is a realistic, slightly generous budget of 120 MM.  If any of our readers feel the urge to write in a plan, send it to CamdenDepot@gmail.com.  Do it well and we just might consider your plan as well.

Option 2: Building A Rotation
Ryan Romano

Photo — Arturo Pardavila III

Qualifying Offers

Like Ryan P. (as well as any sane person), I would give Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen qualifying offers; I'd also agree with him on Matt Wieters warranting one. However, I'd also extend the QO to Darren O'Day, whose dominance I really can't understate. Since he came to Baltimore in 2012, he's accrued more RA9-WAR than any other American League reliever — a skill that tends to net sizable rewards on the open market. O'Day will likely sign for David Robertson money, or at the very least Andrew Miller money. Faced with $30+ million guaranteed or $16 million, he should decline the QO. Meanwhile, I wouldn't deem Steve Pearce worthy of a QO, although I would try to bring him back (as I explain below).


Before the Orioles look for free-agent solutions for 2016, it will need to think about the years beyond that. Manny Machado, the club's best player who should regularly contend for the MVP, has only three seasons of team control left. While the Orioles have tried to extend him before, they can't focus on anything else until they resolve this. I foresee a six-year, $90 million extension, around the level of Kyle Seager. The Orioles will backload the contract, like many clubs do for players this young, so that Machado will make more by the end but will remain cheap in the short term. For 2016, I'll thus give him a $5 million salary.

Free Agent/Trade Philosophy

I'll begin by noting the set costs for the 2016 Orioles. Between their pre-arbitration players (each of whom will take home $508,000), their arbitration players (whose salaries MLB Trade Rumors has conveniently projected), and their players on contracts (J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Jones, and Machado), they'll have about $77 million tied up. That gives us $43 million to play around with.

Firstly, I'll let Davis, Chen, Wieters, and O'Day walk. Any contract for Davis would go above $150 million at the very least, which my first base-averse tastes will not tolerate. Chen has a decent shot at $100 million, and he'll approach that level even if he falls short. While bidding on him might not be a bad idea, he'll ultimately sign elsewhere. Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger should post average results at least, and at a fraction of Wieters' price. And multi-year, multi-million deals for relievers will always be a no-go for me, especially for a team with a plethora of bullpen options. Together with the Orioles' sparse farm system — which four extra draft picks would help rejuvenate — this makes for an easy decision.

Ryan P. noted that better defense can help a pitching staff improve and planned his free agency accordingly. While I certainly don't disagree with that idea, I strongly dislike the current Oriole pitchers, especially the rotation. Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez can certainly hold their own, but their effectiveness pretty much stands alone. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez regressed horribly in 2015; after topping their peripherals for so many years, they may have just run out of luck. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson could help the club in the years to come, or they could wash out. And lord only knows what'll happen with Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. If the Orioles want to return to contention in 2016, they'll need starting pitching.

To address this, I'll start with a controversial trade: Zach Britton to the Red Sox for Wade Miley and a minor leaguer or two. Britton has three years of team control left, and as one of the best relievers in baseball, he'll receive the pay of such a pitcher. MLB Trade Rumors foresees a $6.9 million (nice) salary for 2016, a figure that will likely rise for the years beyond that. With Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, Jason Garcia, Brian Matusz, and T.J. McFarland, the Orioles have relief options of all calibers — none of whom will carry that hefty a price tag. I wouldn't worry too much about the bullpen suffering in his absence.

On the flipside, the team will get Miley. He's a solid left-handed starter with a career ERA- and FIP- of 99, who gets ground balls and who improved in the later part of 2015 after a rocky beginning. The Red Sox inked him to a three-year extension (with a fourth-year club option) after trading for him last offseason, so the Orioles could have him for a couple extra seasons beyond the next one. $6 million dollars in 2016, for an average-ish starter, sounds like a bargain to me. Losing Britton will hurt, but phasing out one of the aforementioned scrubs will ease that pain.

Then we turn to the free agent market. Among the pitchers whom the Orioles can select, Mike Leake appeals the most to me. His hamstring strain from this August notwithstanding, he's managed to consistently avoid injury, and his age — he'll turn 28 in December — means he stands a greater chance of sustaining that durability. Like Miley, he keeps the ball on the ground, while limiting free passes as well; Leake's 107 career FIP- doesn't entice me, but his 100 ERA- makes a more convincing case.

Contracts for satisfactory pitchers like Leake can vary. I expect him to top out at four years and $50 million — Ubaldo money, in other words. Leake's deal will have a slight backload in it, similar that of Jimenez, such that he'll receive $12 million in 2016 and 2017 and $13 million in 2018 and 2019. Leake has said he wants to stay with San Francisco, but if the Orioles can pry him away, he'll likely reward their efforts.

And, because you can never have too many starting pitchers, I'll take a one-year, $10 million flyer on Ian Kennedy. Although he struggled for 2015 as a whole, he progressed significantly in the year's second half. Like Leake, he strained a hamstring this year, a rare blemish on his generally spotless injury record. His fly ball tendencies may not play well in Camden Yards, but he showed as a Diamondback that he can succeed in stadiums that favor hitters. Kennedy has the potential to pitch at an above-average level; for me, that potential outweighs the risk that he'll fall back again.

So Jimenez, Gausman, Miley, Leake, Kennedy, and a cast of thousands should make for an acceptable rotation. Now we turn to the offensive side of things. With the remaining $15 million in our treasure chest, I'll bring in two position players, starting with someone Ryan P. recommended: Denard Span. His solid defense — which will help those hurlers turn balls in play into outs — will combine with solid offense to make him a solid overall player. The hip ailment that sidelined him for much of 2015 concerns me, but it also means he'll come cheaper than he would otherwise. At, say, three years and $36 million ($12 million of which will go toward 2016), he should produce enough value to help the team.

Because I'll have a few bucks left over, I'll re-up Pearce for $3 million. He hit much better in the second half of 2015, and overall his struggles seemed kind of flukish (a topic that I'll write more about in the weeks to come). With Jones in center, Span in right, and a combination of Nolan Reimold and David Lough in left, Pearce will see the majority of his time at first base, where he's displayed an outstanding glove in limited action. If he can come remotely close to his 2014 form again, he'll make this contract a bargain.

Now that I've made all of these moves, we have a regular with respectable hitters and fielders, to accompany a decent and deep rotation and a bullpen with some upside. It'll cost the Orioles a full $120 million — a slight upgrade from their 2015 spending — but another prosperous season, and possibly a playoff run, would reward any expenditure.

  • Manny Machado: $90 million / six years ($5 million 2016)
  • Wade Miley: $14.8 million / two year ($6 million 2016)
  • Mike Leake: $50 million / four years ($12 million 2016)
  • Ian Kennedy: $10 million / one year ($10 million 2016)
  • Denard Span: $36 million / three years ($12 million 2016)
  • Steve Pearce: $3 million / one year ($3 million 2016)

07 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 1): Seeking A Cornerstone

Over the next week, Camden Depot will be offering a series of offseason blueprints for the Orioles to follow from our stable of writers (attn: Dan Duquette, these are free to use).  At the end of the series, Jon Shepherd will put on the Great Decider hat, run through the plans, and choose what makes most sense to him given the current structure of the franchise.  Under consideration are choices in handing out Qualifying Offers, releasing players, free agent targets, and finding a way to fit within what is a realistic, slightly generous budget of 120 MM.  If any of our readers feel the urge to write in a plan, send it to CamdenDepot@gmail.com.  Do it well and we just might consider your plan as well.

Option 1: Seeking a Cornerstone
Ryan Pollack

Qualifying Offers

Before free agency comes the qualifying offers (QO). Assuming the QO this year is about $16.4 million, I would offer them to Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, and Matt Wieters, each of them can be effectively argued as above average or better non-relievers. If history is any guide, none will accept because no one has ever accepted one. (Wieters may think long and hard about it, though.) Steve Pearce and Darren O’Day worth the offer far less than $16.4 million and the goal here is not to earn the honor of being the first team to have their QO accepted.

Free Agent Philosophy

The Orioles have several mediocre starting pitchers already under contract to provide respectable pitching. Although defense is becoming more appreciated each year, defense appears to be undervalue in relation to pitching. With that in mind, a focus on defense will help make the current motley rotation by turning the large number of balls in play into outs and to prevent walks from turning into runs scored. With the infield defense locked down for the next few years, and with Adam Jones still patrolling center field, the focus should be on the outfield corners and that focus should be on better defensive help than was seen in 2015.

The top priority should be securing Jason Heyward to play right field. Heyward’s young, an above-average hitter and a great defender. Having him on base will boost the offense, and having his glove means the team can use untested rookies and scrap-heap free agents on the mound instead of springing for elite pitchers. Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, et al. may actually pitch better knowing their ground balls will be scooped up and their fly balls will be pulled down in the outfield. Plus, Heyward can spell Jones in center field when the latter needs a turn at DH and perhaps replace him there altogether during the 2017-2018.

Whatever the offer to Heyward, I don’t think it can be higher at a higher annual salary than what Adam Jones is making ($16.3 million in 2016), at least not until 2018. Logic aside, it would not look right to snub the face of the franchise that way when he’s still producing on a daily basis. Fortunately, teams do not value defense in the same way they do offense, so we can get away with a lower offer to Heyward than some projections might indicate. I would offer him $157 million over 10 years, an average annual value of $15.7 million. This is potentially less annual money than what other teams would give him, so I’m hoping the 10-year deal length will sweeten the offer.

Now the team needs an everyday left fielder. Let’s offer Denard Span for $40 million over three years, or $13.3 million/year. He is coming off an injury-plagued 2015 so may have to take a bit less money than he’d otherwise have gotten. He is another center fielder in disguise, an above-average hitter with a history of a good glove.

The last free agent move will be to re-sign Matt Wieters for $36 million over three years or $12 million/year. He should be amenable to such an offer with his last full season (2013) being so bad and after missing so much time in 2014 and 2015. He knows the organization and, in particular, the pitching staff that he’ll have to work with every day. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a known quantity and that’s good enough for me. The short-ish length is a hedge against further injuries/ineffectiveness.

Let Wei-Yin Chen walk. We’ll replace his southpaw innings with T.J. McFarland, a serviceable long relief pitcher with a high groundball rate that fits a Machado/Hardy/Schoop defense. He’ll do even better with Heyward and Span running down the occasional fly ball he allows.

Let Chris Davis walk, too. We’ll 'replace' him with Christian Walker, who’s hit well at AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk. We’ll let O’Day and Pearce walk as well. Mychal Givens will slot in as the setup guy.

Finally, let’s pay Manny Machado. He’s entering his first year of arbitration on the heels of a legitimately improved offensive season. $7 million should do the trick. I am projecting 20% raises in arbitration for all the other players on the staff and for pre-arb players to make the same as they did the year before.

If we make these moves we come in around $114 million for the 2016 season, short of the $120 million budget. I would use the remaining $6 million to sign some backups like Paul Janish to spell Hardy when he gets injured, another reliever to add to the bullpen, and maybe to bring back Nolan Reimold for $1.5 million or so. Summary of major moves:
  • Jason Heyward: $157 million / 10 years
  • Denard Span: $40 million / 3 years
  • Matt Wieters: $36 million / 3 years
  • Manny Machado: $7 million / 1 year

06 October 2015

Arrivals And Departures (10/6): Andy Wilkins, Guys. Andy Wilkins.

Your Lone Acquisition of September and October: Andy Wilkins

This time of the year nothing much happens with players coming in or out of an organization.  In the Majors, teams can make moves in September and October, but those players are not able to appear on a post-season roster.  In the Minors, the leagues have all ended, so there is no need for depth.  Most often, the kinds of moves you see are ones where a team wants to bring someone to the expanded active roster and needs to designate for assignment a player in order to open a spot on the 40 man roster.  Such a situation led to the Orioles' lone September acquisition Andy Wilkins.

In 2014, Wilkins played first for the Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate in Charlotte, mashing 30 home runs and slashing 293/338/558.  He was two years younger than the average player in the International League.  The following Spring the team waived him after no finding anyone willing to trade for Wilkins.  For those who fall in love with players with big seasons like Trey Mancini, Christian Walker, Lou Montanez, etc., performance scouting can be misleading.  Wilkins' issues are largely two items: (1) his poor athleticism results in rather shoddy defense among other things and (2) his bat speed is below average which limits him when facing plus fastballs as well as makes him into a bit of a platoon player.  You may wonder how a 30 home run bat could have poor bat speed.  If you wait on a specific pitch and time it, then you can hit it well.  At the MLB level, it is more difficult to succeed with that approach.

Anyway, Wilkins was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays and then optioned (yes, he had options and was waived, he has two more option years) to Buffalo where he proceeded to put up no home runs over 85 plate appearances.  Ready to move on to different options, the Jays traded him to the Dodgers for cash considerations.  After being reasonably productive for the Dodgers, he was waived to open up the 40 man roster.  Wilkins passed through the National League and about halfway up the American League before the Orioles decided to use a 40 man slot on him.  He has yet to play for the club on any level.

At the moment, Wilkins looks like insurance.  This offseason is a poor one for clubs looking to find serviceable first basemen on the free agent market.  The Orioles have Christian Walker and, maybe, Trey Mancini as possible solutions.  Wilkins adds another bat to the mix of likely at best fringe Major League talent.  His value, as evidenced by the Orioles being his fourth club this season without any team getting a single player in return, is rather minimal and it would not be surprising if Wilkins is one of the first people to be waived if the club needs to open up room on the roster in order to acquire a player in the off season.

What to Do with Matt Wieters

One of the blights on the season has been Wieters' walk year.  Effectively, Wieters has been in the shadow of his injured self of last year when he required Tommy John surgery.  During the Spring and Early summer, his arm responded poorly to throwing and the club resorted to having him catch on non-consecutive days beginning in June.  The hope was for him to develop enough of a track record this season to help the club reach the playoffs, but also perhaps be enticing enough to other teams for a Qualifying Offer to be safely placed upon him.  That has not worked out as Wieters has stumbled a bit at the plate and is now playing intermittently with a sore wrist, which explains his power outage.  All this makes one wonder if another club would be willing to invest a draft pick in order to sign Wieters.

With this slow recovery, the club has been able to gain confidence in Caleb Joseph as well as test out Steve Clevenger as a backup catcher.  That is the silver lining.  As we suggested last year, Joseph is a starting catcher capable of an All Star performance level.  This season has solidified that suggestion and the team should feel confidant that catcher is not a hole that needs filling this off season.  In fact, the club would be enjoying a major luxury if they also retained Matt Wieters.  A luxury that the club can ill afford with several other holes that need filling.

All that said, it seems a Qualifying Offer makes a great deal of sense.  As much as his arm has been maligned as not being as strong this year (and it hasn't been), his caught stealing rate is league average and he still blocks well.  Pitch handling metrics are uneven on him, but none rate him atrocious.  In other words, he is a solid MLB quality catcher based on defense, which is a rare commodity.  Even rarer, Wieters, assuming the offseason heals his wrist, is a catcher who is capable of .200 ISO power and should be regarded as a 2.5 to 3.5 WAR quality player.

With injury in 2014 and another injury-filled 2015, a reasonable team would error on the side of caution and consider Wieters a 2.5 WAR value.  As such, a contract of 3/54 with an option year would be appropriate.  A Qualifying Offer would probably take that down to 3/42, which Wieters would probably prefer over a 1/16 deal by accepting the offer from the Orioles.

Orioles Blueprint for 2016

Over the next week and a half, Camden Depot will be running a 2016 blueprint series.  Several of our writers will take part in putting forward their vision of what the team should do in the offseason.  The discussion is rooted by Baseball Reference's Payroll estimation, a variation of Dave Cameron's salary computation that we have used before, and the assumption that the payroll would be at most 120 MM.  Each writer will decide on Qualifying Offers, releases, and free agent targets.  We will not predict the trade market because that seems to go a bit too far from our certainty on cost and availability.

If you have any interest in taking part in the series, feel free to email us your plan at CamdenDepot@gmail.com.  We do not promise to publicize your solution to the club's needs, but we just might.

05 October 2015

How Horizontal Trajectory Affects BABIP

Batting average on balls in play has long been used as a yardstick for batters. Players whose BABIP is higher than the league average and their historic stats are said to be fortunate and likely to see a major drop in production when their luck runs out.

It occurred me that BABIP could be used as a defensive metric when Ben Lindbergh used it, calculated in groups by horizontal hit trajectory, to illustrate the improvement in the quality of Major League fielders over many decades. Considering an emphasis on defense (it’s said that it’s cheaper to prevent a run than to score one), the rise of the infield shift, and more athletic and able players, it’s certainly conceivable that defenses today are better than they were in the 1970s.

However, that’s not particularly useful for the task of roster construction today. Sure, Manny Machado may be a better third baseman than most of the professionals 50 years ago, but how much better than his active peers is he? And how much is he worth to the Orioles in run prevention and ultimately revenue generation (i.e., as the General Manager, how much I should pay him)?

To begin to answer these questions in a new way - good but volatile defensive metrics exist, remember - I sought to categorize balls in play by horizontal angle as Ben and partner Rob Arthur did, but also to build in the ability to separate fielding teams from one another. This would allow me to strip out BABIP against the Orioles (or any team) by horizontal angle - absolving Manny of balls hit to areas of the field that he isn’t responsible for, and better indicating which hits came in his domain - and compare it to other teams or the league generally. As such, we are able to see which teams are best at fielding in which locations around the diamond, and better ascribe that to specific players.

The wonderful and regularly-updated PITCHf/x database produced by Baseball Heat Maps was my primary source of information, as it included coordinates for the location of every ball in play since PITCHf/x was introduced in 2007. One thing to note - the coordinates are for where the ball was played by a fielder, not where the ball first hit the ground. A liner that hits the grass and reaches the outfield wall before being picked up in the warning track is shown as having a y-coordinate of the warning track, not of the grass. That’s a big issue if you’re measuring hit distances, but not so much if you’re measuring hit angle; rarely do balls take sharp turns in the field of play before being played.

The other critical source that needs recognition is this Hardball Times article by Peter Jensen from 2009. The PITCHf/x data contains no information to put hit coordinates into context, and the coordinates make little sense to someone used to the normal four-quadrant coordinate plane. Home runs typically have a y-coordinate of less than 20, while bunts have a y-coordinate of around 200. Peter Jensen answered a ton of questions by publishing his normalized estimates of home plate coordinates in each stadium, which allowed me to manipulate the data to orient the field of play in a way that made sense with a regular plane - and to calculate the horizontal angle of each ball in play.
If you visit that Hardball Times link, you’ll notice that the home plate coordinates were from 2008, before the Marlins, Yankees, and Mets began playing in their new stadiums. To avoid complicating things even further, I elected to use the 2008 context for all of the PITCHf/x information. The home plate in most stadiums is just about at the y-coordinate 200.0, so I can’t imagine the MLB Gameday scorekeepers would deviate much from that in three parks.

With all of this information (plus hits and outs) properly paired and grouped, we can see how well the Orioles do in the field against balls batted to different parts of the park:

They are, in this case, very much average. In fact, most teams are:

There just isn’t much variation in BABIP by hit angle across Major League Baseball, likely because certain balls in play are going to be hits nearlyall of the time. It doesn’t matter who’s on your team; a grounder to the shortstop is always going to be an out (or an error, which isn’t counted here), and a liner to shallow left center is always going to be out of reach of everyone running towards it.

Since Manny Machado’s call-up, we might expect to see the Orioles leading Major League Baseball in BABIP allowed by hit angle. He is, after all, one of the best fielding third basemen in baseball, with stellar range and a cannon for an arm - all while playing shortstop throughout the minors. Surely a player of Manny’s caliber in the field would hurt the ability of a batter to reach base safely if he were to put the ball into play, right?

Actually, Manny’s call up hasn’t materially affected the Orioles’ ability to prevent hits once the ball is in play.

To get a better sense of the Orioles’ ability to prevent hits when a ball in play might be expected to be played by their third baseman, I pared down the data to only include a hit distance inside or just out of the infield - ones that are played by the third baseman or by the outfielder rushing in to back up the third baseman once a ball gets through his area - and balls hit between -55 degrees (which is just foul) and -22.5 degrees (which is halfway between the foul line and second base). This seems like a good set of balls in play to assign as the responsibility of the third baseman. I included balls past -45 degrees because MLB’s data tracks where the ball is played, not where it lands, so a live ball that gets picked up in foul territory would be played at a less than -45 degree angle.

I calculated the league average BABIP using this set of data that could reasonably considered specific to third basemen, as well as the BABIP of each of the thirty teams in order to determine the standard deviation from that average. The data follows a roughly normal distribution, although Toronto is apparently so bad at third base as to be a significant outlier that made me think I had very heavy skewed data.

League average BABIP on balls to third base and in the infield is 0.117 - very low! Which is to be expected, given that those are balls played in the infield and therefore did not get past the third baseman. The Orioles, since Manny’s callup, have allowed a batting average of 0.122 on similar balls, or about 0.41 standard deviations above average. This is well within the range of possibilities via random chance, meaning that there might not be any cause for alarm regarding infield defense.
Rather, what this means to me is that the dazzling, rangy plays that it seems like Manny makes on a regular basis might not have a material affect on outcomes. Even though Manny can field a bunt on the grass and fire to first from an impossible angle to garner a putput, he doesn’t do so with enough regularity to dramatically affect the Orioles’ ability to suppress batting average on balls hit to him - and really, nobody in Major League Baseball does.

But wait - that was only on balls fielded in the infield. Perhaps Manny is unusually good at stopping balls hit towards him from reaching the outfield, and makes more outs on those than normal. In fact, the Orioles fare slightly worse in this category, with a BABIP allowed of 0.335, a full standard deviation above the league average of 0.322. Here, again, I have to consider the possibility that despite his incredible range, Manny doesn’t have supernatural talent at preventing an unusually high number of balls in play hit towards him from becoming hits.

There is one final way to slice the data that might shed a more optimistic light on Machado’s fielding. Since his callup on August 9, 2012, Manny has missed large chunks of time for two separate knee injuries. By limiting the sample further to include not only games since Manny’s callup but also only games in which Manny was an active player, we see exactly how his presence on the field has affected the Orioles’ defense. At the same time, this limits the sample size significantly, the information is far more prone to drastic swings, and our conclusions should be couched to recognize that our understanding of Manny’s defensive ability is still developing.

The first thing I notice is that the Orioles are about as adept at preventing balls in play from becoming hits with and without Machado on the field - and they’re about league average at it. Minor fluctuations visible in this chart are more than likely the result of small samples rather than Manny being better or worse than fielding balls in play than average.

Remember, this is not to say that Machado is somehow overrated or that we should reevaluate our understanding of defensive ability. Not one team was noticeably well above average in preventing hits on balls in play - but some were noticeably worse, particularly at first base. Manny’s greatness comes from many things, and although he can snag a hard grounder up the third base line arguably better than most players, those web gems are few and far between for a reason: they’re incredibly difficult plays to make. Turning them once in a while is awesome, and proves that the ability is there, but doesn’t materially affect how often a player who hits them gets on base against the Orioles. Some balls in play are just impossible to turn into outs.

* * *

In addition to slicing this data up by pitching team, it’s possible to examine in-play occurrences in each park. The results of doing so are expected to be pretty similar to splitting the data up by pitching team - after all, nobody plays at Camden Yards without the Orioles, so roughly half of the balls in play in Camden Yards occur with Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and J.J. Hardy on the field.

Where this is interesting is on the margins. All Major League infields are identical in shape and size, but outfield corners can be in any variety of shapes and any distance from home plate.

For instance, the right field corner in Fenway Park, where the outfield continues past the foul pole, seems to cause fielders some trouble. There’s even evidence that BABIP is unusually high when the ball is hit at a 20- to 30- degree angle, which for alignment is about where the second baseman would usually play. Whether that abnormality is due to liners over the second baseman’s head dropping in because the right fielder is in position to cover Pesky’s Pole, or due to teams rarely shifting at Fenway (doubtful, seeing as how the Red Sox are among league leaders in runs saved via the shift, the Orioles and Yankees are two of the teams that most commonly employ the shift and play in Fenway often, and because the Red Sox employ David Ortiz, one of the most shiftable players in baseball).

Unlike Fenway, Yankee Stadium features a below-average BABIP on balls hit sharply to right field. Perhaps the very plain dimensions of Yankee Stadium are easier to play than the quirky ones of Fenway - or perhaps long fly balls that would fall on the grass or hit the wall in most stadiums carry into the right field bleachers in the Bronx, lowing the number of hits and at bats considered in the BABIP calculation while leaving the balls in play that are easily fielded.

02 October 2015

J.J. Hardy And His Ailing Shoulder

Yesterday, the Orioles released information on J.J. Hardy's shoulder.  It is now apparent that along with his back spasms, strained groin, and sore oblique muscle, he played the entire season with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.  It is the same injury that required surgery when he was a minor leaguer. The treatment plan is not surgery, but to let the shoulder rest and heal as much as possible. Then Hardy would work to strengthen his shoulder.  He let it be known that he had no interest in seeking out surgery and that the medical advice he was given was that surgery was not an option.

The good news is that this injury does not greatly impact Hardy.  His throwing arm is fine and his game is largely one of proper positioning with utilization of that arm.  Hardy likely is slightly limited going to his glove side and back, but he should still perform as a plus defensive shortstop.  The problem is hitting. Dealing with the pain, Hardy slashed 213/246/306 (46 RC+).  His hitting was so awful that it has canceled out his defensive performance, leaving him with an fWAR of 0.0.  That is concerning because Hardy has two years left on his deal and a commitment of 28.5 MM.

Do we have any idea as to whether Hardy's bat can bounce back?  Labrum tears are consider a near death sentence for pitchers, but not as bad for position players.  That said, there appears to be a few caveats.  A recent study looked at pitchers and position players with labrum tears with comparison between nonsurgical and surgical approaches.  For injuries where surgery is possible, pitchers returned to form 7% of the time (48% returned to throw a pitch professionally).  Surgery for position players resulted in a return to form 54% of the time (85% return for at least a plate appearance.  Hardy was in the latter group back in 2004.

In 2015, Hardy is in the non-surgical group.  This is not as optimistic.  For pitchers who took a non-surgical approach, 22% returned to form (40% returned).  For position players, 26% returned to form (39% returned).  Again, we do not know the exact specifics of Hardy's injury.  We simply know that he is a position player and he is treating himself nonsurgically, so there are assumptions.  That said, it appears that Hardy might have a one in four shot being a useful shortstop and a much greater chance that he is simply a major league quality glove with a HiA ball bat.  A Paul Janish, but making twenty times more.

The question now stands as to what can the Orioles do?  A trade seems unlikely. Hardy would probably require the club to send about 20 MM with him to make a deal work.  As such, he is either on the active roster or on the disabled list. It would not be surprising to see him open the season on the 60 day DL.  Maybe after making themselves sure he can no longer play, he might be released at some point in 2016.  Needless to say, the club has now sunk about 12% of their roster into a player who is likely a fringe Major Leaguer.

30 September 2015

Comparing Machado's And Schoop's Plate Discipline

After a poor offensive 2014 season in which Jonathan Schoop had a wRC+ of 64, he now boasts a wRC+ of 111 (as of games occurring after Wed Sept 23rd) in 2015. This year, Schoop has shown good power with a HR/FB of 19.2% (32nd out of 291 batters with 250 or more PAs and second highest for all middle infielders) and has improved his BABIP from .249 to .333. His weakness is that he has a BB% of 3.1%, a K% of 25.8% and would be better offensively with better plate discipline.  Schoop’s teammate, Manny Machado, has improved significantly in this regard in 2015 and therefore it makes sense to compare their performances to see where Machado improved and the areas where Schoop is weak.

The way I want to do this is by downloading data (this data is from ESPN Stats and Information) and using it to determine the likelihood of a called ball, strike, miss, foul ball or ball put into play for Machado, Schoop and the 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th quantiles in 2015 for all batters with at least fifty starts. I define these stats by taking the parameter (called balls for example) and dividing by total pitches which is different than how some sites aggregate this data. 

This first chart shows how they have performed overall. Machado has improved at racking up called balls as his numbers have increased from the 25th quantile to between the 75th and 90th quantile. Machado’s called strike percentage also increased, but his swinging strike rate decreased and has resulted in Machado being less likely to have a pitch result in a strike in 2015 than in 2014. Machado is a bit less likely to put the ball into play in 2015 than in 2014 but by a minimal amount and dropped from the 75th quantile to slightly above the median. This explains why his walk rate has significantly increased without other adverse consequences.

In contrast, Schoop was below the 10th quantile in called balls in both 2014 and 2015. He had a low called strike rate in 2014 and has the lowest called strike rate in the majors in 2015 (the player with the second lowest is Adam Jones with Paredes at #7). Unfortunately, he also has the second highest swinging strike rate in the majors in 2015 (the player with the highest is Jimmy Paredes). It suggests that Schoop is swinging at too many pitches without a significant increase in his likelihood at putting the ball into play.


This next chart shows their performance with three balls. Machado has been consistent in these situations in both 2014 and 2015. This is surprising because in most other situations his plate discipline has improved in 2015 from 2014. Provided that he can continue to improve and become less aggressive in these situations, it would make sense that his walk rate should increase in the future to above 11%.

Schoop has a higher swinging strike rate than called ball rate in both 2014 and 2015 in these situations indicating that he is swinging at too many pitches he can’t hit which suggests he has a poor plan of attack. Infuriatingly, being swing happy hasn’t helped him actually put balls into play. All of those extra swings are merely turning into swinging strikes in these situations.

This next chart shows their performance with two strikes. In these situations, Machado has done a solid job at being sure that he can hit the pitches that he swings at and simply laying off the ones that are hard to hit making it hard to strike him out. This has resulted in Machado having a 40% chance of having a ball while getting a third strike less than 14% of the time. 

In contrast, Schoop is missing more than 20% of the time. Such a high swinging strike rate results in a lot of strikeouts. Interestingly, Machado is more likely to put the ball into play than Schoop in these situations despite the fact that Schoop swings more often. It’s pretty clear that swinging at bad pitches isn’t helping Schoop in the slightest. 

This basic pattern remains the same for other indicators. In situations when batters should swing, like when a pitch is in the strike zone or against a fastball, Machado doesn’t swing as often as Schoop does and this does result in a higher probability of a called strike. But because he chooses his spots better, he also has a lower probability of a swinging strike and puts the ball into play a similar percentage of the time as Schoop. 
This causes Machado to receive a higher called ball percentage and a similar percentage of actual strikes. 

In situations when batters shouldn’t swing, like when the pitch is out of the strike zone, Machado has a considerably higher called ball percentage and a lower actual strike/foul percentage. Schoop is more likely to put the ball into play in these situations which isn’t a good thing being as batters usually do better when putting pitches in the strike zone into play rather than putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. 

Schoop is struggling to reach his full potential because he swings too often at pitches that he is unable to put into play. The reason why he is doing this is that he’s actually had a lot of success this year if he can just put the ball into play regardless of whether the pitch is in the strike zone or not.  In 2015, Schoop has a .468 wOBA when putting pitches in the strike zone into play, which is about the 90th quantile. For a middle infielder, those are excellent results. He also has a .401 wOBA when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play and that’s well above the 90th quantile. In addition, his wOBA of .401 is above the average result for pitches in the strike zone. Schoop is swinging at a lot of pitches because he’s been successful when putting the ball into play. 

It doesn’t matter much whether he’s facing “hard” pitches (fastballs, cutters, splitters) or “soft” pitches (curveballs, sliders, changeups). Schoop has a .441 wOBA against hard pitches which is between the 75th and 90th quartile and a .459 wOBA against soft pitches which is well above the 90th quantile. The bottom line is that Schoop is able to hit the ball when he puts the ball into play and therefore is overly enthusiastic.

The problem with this is that Schoop had a wOBA of .380 against pitches in the strike zone in 2014 or slightly below the mean result and a wOBA of .212 against pitches out of the strike zone or between the 10th and 25th quantile. If Schoop is able to continue crushing pitches put into play in 2016 like he did in 2015, then he can be aggressive and still be successful. If, however, his 2016 numbers regress to something between his 2014 and 2015 results, then he’ll only be able to be successful when putting pitches in the strike zone into play but not when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. It would be possible for Schoop to be above average against pitches out of the strike zone while still having terrible numbers compared to average offensive performance against pitches in the strike zone.

In contrast, Machado was pretty consistent in 2014 and 2015 when putting balls into play. In both 2014 and 2015, his wOBA when putting pitches in the strike zone into play was around the 75th quantile and about average when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. His wOBA when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play was below the 10th quantile of putting pitches in the strike zone into play. One reason why he may have become less aggressive at the plate is because he saw that he wasn’t having much success even when putting bad pitches into play.

Going forward, Machado improved significantly offensively in 2015 because he was able to improve his plate discipline. In contrast, Schoop improved significantly because he was able to crush opposing pitching when he was able to make contact. Schoop can make an even better improvement in 2016 by simply being more patient and waiting for his pitches rather than swinging at everything he can possibly hit.