05 May 2008

Shortstops and 2009


As mentioned last week, Luis Hernandez has been awful. He was brought in to play defense and anything resembling offense would be appreciated. Well, according to RZR . . . he is the worst defensive SS in the AL. His offense 241/303/259 would inspire a Woody Guthrie tune about the collapse of production. It is not good and he cannot remain our shortstop. There is really no scrap of evidence that has been presented that shows he deserves to be above AAA, in my opinion. At AAA, he would be a league average hitter with decent defense. At the MLB level, he is one of the worst offensive players ever and a poor defensive shortstop this year. This entry will try to determine if there are any better in house options or players potentially available this offseason. If anyone wishes me to add anyone, let me know.

Method
Using Cyril Morong's run expectancy formulas, I compared each player as potential 7, 8, or 9 lineup position hitters. The algibraic mean of their expected run performance was used and related to Luis Hernandez'. Defense was based on RZR. If defensive statistics existed for SS, an approximation of expected RZR was used. If not, below average defense was determined to be 7% worse than the average. Performance data for players with less than a season of information was taken from their accumulated experience. Players with more than a year of experience used ZiPS projections for offensive performance and an average of their last three years of defensive performance at SS. Due to the ages of most of the players, the predicted defensive performance is most likely a liberal estimate as SS play deteriorates rapidly with age (more so than with any other position, including catching). As we had done before, these are converted into saved and given runs. It was assumed that SS face 400 chances over 162 games. These numbers are converted to wins/162 games based on dividing runs produced and runs saved by 10.

Results

Luis Hernandez and the Average SS
Luis Hernandez, based on his career, is a bottom of the latrine hitter and a good fielder. The average SS in 2007 had a batting line with a .330 OBP and .407 SLG. The average SS also had a .807 RZR. Luis' career .301 OBP and .315 SLG results in 21 less expected runs, which is divided by 10 to give -2.1 wins (compared to the average offensive production for a SS. His defense has been measured to be 0.842 RZR (we'll assume his career RZR is more accurate to his true production at SS than his 2008 .765 RZR). His defense is worth 0.8 runs above average or +0.8 runs. This reduces his cost to -1.2 wins (after rounding). This means that having Luis as our shortstop will cost us 1.2 wins in comparison to having an average SS in place. If he truly had the .930 RZR he showed in limited play last year, he would actually have been worth 0.9 wins . . . that is a difference of 2.1 wins. Using the same reason, this year's .765 RZR would mean his worth would be -3.1 wins. It should be noted that for the purpose of this study, we are using the "average" SS. Typically, replacement level performance is used. A player worth 2 wins below average is about what a replacement level player would be worth. Replacement level as I define it is your average AAA SS.

In-House Options
The in-house options are Eider Torres (.282 OBP/.314 SLG, 0.800 RZR; -2.1 bw, -0.2 fw), Alex Cintron (.291/.350, .765; -1.9, -1.0), Brandon Fahey (.316/.330, .800; -1.4, -0.2), Freddie Bynum (.307/.379, .750; -1.0, -1.4), and the improbable Scott Moore (.311/.409, .750; -0.5, -1.4). Of these five in-house options, none are better than what we project for Luis Hernandez. He seems to be our best SS option. We have no potential SS who are better than -1.2 wins.

2009 SS Options
Potential Free Agent Possibilities are as follows:
David Eckstein (336/344, .840; -0.7, 0.8)
Adam Everett (285/330, .860; -2.3, 1.3)
Orlando Cabrera (332/372, .800; -0.4, -0.2)
Rafael Furcal (347/387, .830; 0.2, 0.6)
Christian Guzman (302/342, .800; -1.7, -0.2)
Felipe Lopez (345/383, .780; 0.1, -0.6)
Cesar Izturis (296/318, .850; -2.2, 1.0)
Juan Uribe (304/427, .800; -0.5, -0.2)
Of these options, only Cristian Guzman comes off worse than Luis Hernandez and he does it by half a win (5 runs). Now, you may be shocked here, but we are using ZiPS as the measure of true performance. Guzman's recent play may be legit . . . if so, he will be worth 0.1 wins instead of -1.9 wins. The only free agent shortstops that are projected to be better than the average MLB SS are David Eckstein and Rafael Furcal. Eckstein is better by 0.1 wins and Furcal by 0.8 wins.

Discussion

How much does a win cost?

A rough figure of 4.5 MM has been mentioned as how much a win costs on the open market. This typically ignores the reality that improving by a win is more important for a 90 win team than it is a 100 or 80 win team. What I mean is that wins are worth more to teams near the Wild Card or pennant than those who are further from that dividing line. For instance, a 90 win team signing a player who improves them by 2 wins for 12MM makes more sense than a 70 win team signing the same player for the same price. Why? Because 2 more wins will not get a 70 win team into the playoffs. Some fans demand a team win as many games as possible, but it can be easily seen that sometimes . . . that money can be better spent for production at a later date (i.e. prospects, saving up for a difference making free agent). So where does this leave the Orioles? They are a 70 win team this year for all intents and purposes. They could go as high as 80 and as low as 60. Next year, they will probably be a 75 win team. To be a playoff team we have to improve this roster by 15 wins. Furcal (+2), Teixeira (+5 guess over Millar), Sabathia (+7 guess over Trachsel), and our own player improvement (i.e., Markakis, Jones). The is about 50-65MM in annual salaries . . . maybe 400 MM in total contract money.

The difference Furcal makes in improving the Orioles offense, really doesn't mean much unless we go out and throw money around this offseason. So remember that the next time you curse Hernandez. Unless we acquire Teixeira and Sabathia . . . it probably doesn't matter.

02 May 2008

Garrett Olson's 2008 Debut and Pitch f/x

Garrett Olson pitched last year in the majors and suffered a forgettable 32.1 IP. He logged in 28 Ks, which is respectable. He also wound up with 28 walks, which is not. He was also whacked with 42 hits. It was a rather forgettable first taste of the majors and he was chased with a lot of criticism about nibbling down and away.

In spring training this year, he was touted as the most likely fifth pitcher. Instead, the team signed Steve Trachsel and Olson was sent to the minors. The Orioles pitching coach informed him that he needed to learn how to go after hitters and not pitch "scared." At Norfolk he pulled in this line:

24.1 IP 1.85 ERA 18 K 9 BB 1.36 WHIP

Without knowing much about his starts . . . that WHIP suggests to me that he is quite hittable to AAA hitters. They seem not to be able to turn those hits into runs, which means there is a lot of luck or that Olson knows how to pitch and change speeds.

This past Wednesday, Olson was called up to face the Tampa Bay Rays. He came out with the win and had this line:

6.2 IP 2 R 4 H 6 K 5 BB

That walk rate is troublesome. Doubly so when that was one of the main issues with his poor performance last year. The hit rate is nice, but one game hit rates are notorious for being misleading. It was not a dominating performance, but at his age . . . he has room to grow. It looks, for the moment, to be good enough to give him five or so starts and then reevaluate. So let's get acquainted with Olson.

Pitch Selection:
Olson appears to use four pitches based on the f/x data. He throws a fastball, curve, slider, and change up.

Fastball
His fastball tails about 9.5 inches and remains 7.9 inches up in the air (due to backspin) from a motionless pitch. It ranges from 88-93 mph. He throws this pitch 57% of the time and equally to each batter. With the small sample size of the number of pitches he threw, fastballs can be expected the majority of the time on 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, 2-0, 2-1,2-2, 3-0, and 3-1 counts. He never threw one on two 1-2 pitches and rarely threw it on 0-2 and 3-2 counts.

Curveball/Slider
I thought Olson threw a mid-70s curveball, but it looks like the f/x system is a bit confused on this. It says he threw three curveballs and twenty seven sliders. He either threw a hard curve or a soft slider as the two groups look more like subsections than different pitches. I'm going to assume that he still uses his curve, but throws it slightly harder than I remember. Anyway, speed ranged from 79-83. The release point drops slightly in comparison with the fastball. It comes in 11.6 inches below the fastball or 2.1 inches below the trajectory of a spinless ball. The pitch breaks across 2.5 inches horizontally. This sure sounds like a weak slider. This pitch is thrown 38% of the time. 80% of these pitches were thrown to lefties and it is often used as his secondary strikeout pitch with the fastball being the primary one.

Changeup
His changeup has a very similar release point to his fastball, which it should as it has to look like a fastball. Speed ranged from 79-83. It tailed slightly more than the fastball at 11.39 inches and came in about the same height. He threw this pitch 10% of the time and only to right-handed batters. He preferred throwing it at 0-0 and 1-0 counts.






Location
This is probably the graph that needs the least amount of explanation. He throws inside and down toward the righties. This graph is not separated between righties and lefties, but it appears he never go low and outside to righties or low and inside on lefties. It would be nice if I had a better source for this data. Oh well.









Pitching Counts
A big knock on Olson last year was his inability to stay ahead in the count. I decided to break down his counts from last year and this year. First strikes were recorded 50% of the time (0-0 balls in play not included). This was up from last year when 44% were first strikes. To evaluate his progression through the counts, I created a graph. I did not include 0-0 counts in the calculations. Counts I included in the behind category were: 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1. These are situations where less pitches are required to result in a walk than a strikeout. I thought it more important to define counts on the endpoint as opposed to the progression. Even counts were: 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. Ahead counts were: 0-1, 0-2, 1-1, 1-2, and 2-2. The result is the bar chart to the right. He is actually getting behind more in the count than he did in 2007. This should be a concern. Of course, it may just be a single game event. I'm not sure. If this was his "issue" last year, then it seems like he has done little to correct it.

Hit Quality
Another part of the puzzle may be that somehow he is able to induce poorly hit balls. This may be a skill or it may just be luck. Here is a comparison of important hit categories:
Category........2007..........2008
LD%..............18%............6%
GB%..............34%...........53%
LOB%.............66%...........78%
Ok, so what can you tell me from that? If we think what Olson did on Wednesday will continue, then it seems we think he is going to keep these new rates. Well . . . there is no way he can keep a 5.9% line drive rate. His batting average against (BAA) would be about .180 and his stuff is not that good. Now, has he become a groundball pitcher? That is a large shift and I am inclined not to believe that is one. I think when the rates shift to something more reasonable, the number left on base will also decline. I am completely and totally confident that he cannot sustain that level of batted ball success. It has been mentioned that he is hiding the ball better this year and if that has anything to do with it . . . David Blaine is a chump. Olson would be the master illusionist.

Conclusion
Having only looked at the stats and not one second of video . . . take this for whatever you think it is worth. Olson is young and is bound to improve, but his rates suggest he just might get shelled in his next start. I hope I am wrong. One game is not much to base an opinion on. He needs to improve on the number of walks he gives up, his counts, and somehow retain a high enough groundball percentage (or else those eventual long balls are going to knock him out of games). He definitely has talent, but I doubt he has arrived. If we are able to acquire some of his pitching performance . . . Stotle will analyze it, put it up here, and tell me that I am wrong.

01 May 2008

Breaking Them Down: Daniel Cabrera (Part 2 of 2)

To recap our findings in Part 1, Cabrera's April 2 start was plagued with inconsistent motion at the end of his delivery. This seemed to cause a loss of command -- primarily up in the zone. We now turn to his April 23 start, the third of three very effective outings in which he went 20.2 IP allowing just 5 walks and 16 hits. Our supposition was that Cabrera's delivery would be a little more uniform in this start, leading to better command and fewer walks and hits (due to an increased ability to keep the ball down). Let's see how it went.


April 23





Hmmmm. Unfortunately, it looks like Cabrera hasn't slayed his mechanical demons just yet. While there is still a lot to be satisfied with, the conclusion of his weight transfer is still inconsistent, meaning any sort of long term success -- at least to the tune of his last three starts -- will be difficult. One positive to take away is that he seems to be gradually moving towards a comfort zone with his follow-through, which may indicate progress towards a more consistent motion down the road. Let's look at the start in a little more detail.

As with the April 2 start, the middle-innings seemed to be the trouble spot. If you look at the 5th inning of the April 23 game, you see the follow-through gets a little more exaggerated, at times mimicking a full step towards 1st. Ideally, Cabrera will sit in his motion where he does at 0:10 in the above clip. His momentum is primarily towards home, though he still finishes with a soft fall-off to the 1st base side (if you recall, we found his motion to be at its cleanest in the April 2 start when the right foot finished between the plant foot and home plate). So which motion should Cabrera focus on moving forward?

As opposed to the April 2 start, it looks like Cabrera has begun to find a sort of comfort zone when his finish falls-off a bit to the 1st base side of the mound (wrapping his hip and leg across his body). The key to success, should he keep with this as his target follow-through, will be keeping his momentum towards home as long as possible. The right leg will act as a counter-balance at the release point and should be moving forward towards home. As soon as the release point has passed, he can fall off softly to the 1st base side by continuing to "wrap" his leg, which as mentioned above seems to be where he is most comfortable right now. If Daniel can focus on hitting that motion on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he'll put himself in the best position to consistently hit his spots.

We'll revist D-Cab later in the season to check his progress. Hopefully, Crawdaddy can add some color with a look at the f/x data, as well.

*This was written prior to this week's White Sox game, in which Daniel regressed a bit in walking 7 hitters on a cold and dreary Chicago day. Perhaps we can write this one up to the weather, but let's all pay attention to his follow-through when he takes the mound this weekend.

30 April 2008

Is our defense saving our pitching?


Before this becomes a Terry Crowley fan site, I wanted to delve into how well our defense is performing. Of course, to Oriole fans, defense immediately brings to mind the exploits of Brooks Robinson. Here on this blog, I think of Luis Hernandez. In the offseason and spring training, it was emphasized that one of the major keys to this team was going to be defense in order to help our fledgling starting rotation grow. Luis Hernandez was handed the keys to SS from the much criticized Miguel Tejada (somewhat unfairly, I still think). Luis has never mastered any level of pitching. Some could say his progression through the minors was largely an issue of social promotion. Now, Dave Trembley did some shootin' from the hip and declared that Luis has twelve days to show his stuff or will, presumably, be designated. We'll see. Anyway, the rest of the personnel movements were replacing same with same. Corey Patterson, a fleet defensive CF, was replaced by Adam Jones, a fleet defensive CF. Jay Payton, a defensive LF who is really neither, was replaced by former platoon player Luke Scott.

Null
Defense is neither saving runs or giving up runs.

Method
I decided to use RZR as it calculates efficiency in terms of ball entering the player's defensive zone. For each position (except catcher, which is not included in these calculations) I used all qualifying American League players and determined a median of performance. I think took the difference between the Oriole fielder's RZR and the median AL RZR. This percentage difference was then multiplied by the number of balls in the Oriole player's zone. The resulting number is the number of plays the player has made above or below median. This number was then multiplied by 0.600 runs as that is roughly the amount of probable runs when comparing 1 out with no one on and 0 out with a man on first. So, in other words, the result of not making or making a play was considered the difference between a single and an out. Outfielders were given a little extra help for earning assists. A typical assist would be worth about 1 run (difference between a double and an out). To be conservative, I put the worth at 0.75 runs and assumed all players were equally efficient at throwing men out. Finally, the runs saved or given were added up to produce a total runs saved or given. This total was then divided by 10 to determine number of wins earned or lost.

Results
Mora has been the most efficient position player based on efficiency and opportunity. He has saved 2.46 runs (+4 plays). Jones' fielding is also above average with 0.95 runs saved (+1.5 plays). Scott and Markakis both cost the team runs with their fielding, but make up for it with their assists. They save the team 0.42 and 1.97 runs, respectively. Fielding-wise Scott is at -0.5 plays and Markakis is at -1.75 plays.

The other positions have cost runs. The most egregious offender is Mr. Defense himself, Luis Hernandez. He has cost the team 1.44 runs, missing 2.5 plays. Next worse is Kevin Millar with 0.53 runs given (-1 play). Roberts is almost the median player. He costs the team 0.13 runs (-0.25 plays).

When we total that up together (ignoring the backups who have logged time), we come to 3.69 runs saved. That comes to 0.369 wins earned based on defense. If we keep this level of play for the entire year . . . we will have earned 2.2 wins.

How much can we gain by replacing Luis Hernandez mean?
Well, let us assume that the next player is just as awful hitting the ball. This will be a conservative estimate. We'll assume that whoever replaces Luis has league median UZR. That would be worth an extra 0.9 wins to yield 3.1 wins. Add that to the probable fact that they are most likely worth a win or two more than Hernandez with the bat and it is conceivable the team would be 5 wins better with someone else at shortstop.

I'll take a look in a few days if such a ball player exists in the Orioles' system.

29 April 2008

Keep On Keepin' On

Well, we now have 5 data points, so I think it is now a good time to convert this over to a chart format. The chart details the total season wins predicted by PECOTA and ELO for each week. After every 40 games, I will readjust the ZiPS/Morong prediction that I arrived at. Finally, I am including the actual number of wins.

The prediction models now has as a 100:1 (PECOTA) and 8:1 (ELO) odds of making the playoffs. These are our best odds of the year. The two major questions we have as we stand at 14-11: 1) how representative are the player's performance in the first 25 games for the entire year? and 2) how representative has our schedule been in relation to the rest of the year?

28 April 2008

Breaking Them Down: Daniel Cabrera (Part 1 of 2)

If you're an Orioles fan, you've come to find lines like this familiar over the past few seasons:
Game A
5.0 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 7 BB, 4 SO

Game B
5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 7 BB, 6 SO

Can you guess the starting pitcher? Okay, it's a trick question. These were actually lines posted this past Thursday night by Tom Gorzelanny and Dustin McGowan, respectively. Of course, no one would hold it against you if Daniel Cabrera was the hurler that came to mind. In fact, Daniel started the season much like the Daniel Cabrera of old:

April 2 vs. TAM
4.0 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 2 SO

April 7 vs SEA
6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO

Since then, however, Cabrera has strung together three straight solid outings, with an impressive combined line:

20.2 IP, 16 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 12 SO

That is an incredible 2.23 ERA and 1.04 WHIP for the normally combustible D-Cab. To quote MJ, a good friend and co-owner of a fantasy team with both McGowan and Gorzelanny, "The only pitcher not pitching like Daniel Cabrera is Daniel Cabrera!" So what has been the secret? This 2 part piece breaks down two starts -- April 2 and April 23 -- taking a look at Daniel's mechanics to see if there are any clues as to the reason behind his apparent turnaround.

APRIL 2
Let's start by looking at April 2, a start in which Cabrera struggled to keep runners off base, allowing 6 hits and 5 walks in 4 innings.




Two things jump out. First, Cabrera was very consistent with his release. He's finding the same arm slot and release point in each of the pitches shown. Second, periodically he tends to slip into a little extra movement at the end of his motion -- essentially forcing his follow-through on his back leg all the way across his plant foot and to the left side of the mound. Let's take a look at each of these one at a time and talk about their significance.

One of the most difficult tasks for a tall pitcher is to find a consistent arm slot and release point. Often times, younger pitches will struggle to achieve consistency in this area, which is a huge reason why a "repeatable" delivery is one of the more important characteristics a pitcher can show a scout. Cabrera seems to be much more consistent this year in his motion, and as a result is finding a consistent arm slot and release point. Curiously, as you'll note in the video, the resulting pitches are not necessarily improved. That brings us to point number 2.

Ideally, a pitcher wants his motion focused towards home plate once he starts toward the catcher. Cabrera isn't bad in this regard. At the end of his release, however, his right leg will swing around and land anywhere from directly in front of his plant foot (left foot) to two to three feet to the left of his plant foot. These inconsistencies translate to erratic pitch location -- namely, in Cabrera's case, elevation in the strike zone. The 1st follow-through is generally less exaggerated than the 3rd inning follow-through, and likewise the 5th. Cabrera seemed a bit out of sync towards the end of his motion, and simply lost command as a result. This is still a large improvement from the more serious issues D-Cab has had with his mechanics in the past, but one would expect it to be difficult to find consistent results if Daniel can't work to conform the last bit of weight transfer towards home. It looks like his ideal motion drops his right foot almost directly in between the left foot and home plate (see 0:27 and compare with the two pitches following).

So, you might guess correcting this is the key to his success over the last three starts? Well, take a look in Part 2...

Eating Crow 2.2: Murray and Ripken


Before launching into this exercise, I'll recap the previous Crowley entries. In the first one we evaluated his patience and contact rate as a player. We found that his contact rate was higher than league average, but his patience was league average. In the second study, we tried to discern whether changes in pitching coaches altered patience and contact rate on the Orioles. It did appear that batting approach did change slightly toward being less patient during Crowley's stay. It also appeared that the talent level may not have been high enough to make that approach work as contact rate was somewhat below average.

A conservative way to go about determining if a hitting coach affects the hitting approach of his team may be to focus on the team's star players. It follows reason that star players are those who are the most likely to retain their previous approach because, in their mind, it is what made them a star in the first place. I would assume that these established players would probably not pay much attention to what their hitting coach would say. This is doubly true as both Murray and Ripken, the Orioles established stars, played with Crowley.

Null
The hitting coach does not affect plate patience in established stars (Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.).

Method
As used in the previous two exercises, we will use estimated pitches per plate appearance to measure plate patience. Contact rate will also be measured as it is a type of skill that works well for an aggressive approach. Murray and Ripken will be compared individually, to the team, and to MLB. The time frame we will use is from 1981 to 1991. This includes four seasons coached by Rowe, four by Crowley, and three by McCraw (except for Murray who was traded to the Dodgers for those final three seasons).

Eddie Murray
Eddie Murray was perhaps the best 1B in the game during this stretch. From 1981 to 1984, he was clearly the best 1B in MLB and perhaps the best player. He was never a prolific homerun hitter, but he had plus power, plus contact, and good patience at the plate. During this time, he scored 156OPS+ every year during this stretch. That is consistency. Crowley was hired for the '85 season and Murray's performance eroded. Murray was healthy and should have been in his prime (Age 29), but he may have just peaked early. His next four years were 149, 136, 120, and 136; which is still quite good. It is interesting to see his strikeouts and walks decreasing along with power. Typically, when walks and power decreases . . . strikeouts increase as pitchers are testing the batter. It is a sign of reduced bat speed. He would never regain that tendency to walk as he had during that amazing four year stretch.

Cal Ripken
Cal Ripken seems like a guy who has little faith in his hitting coaches or way too much. Going to a game was often to provide you with a myriad of batting stances. One thing I am not too sure of is whether this was true very early in his career. He second and third best offensive seasons were 1983 and 1984. He won the MVP in '83 and should have won it in '84. His best season came in '91 where he once again won the MVP. Cal was not like Eddie. He has always seemed to be a bit more aggressive at the plate. Anyway,you all should be well aware of his exploits, so I'll move on to the results.

Results

Pitches per Plate Appearance
Murray's numbers were above average in terms of plate patience prior to Crowley's arrival. After his arrival, Murray's patience was league average for the entirety of his remaining years with the Orioles. Cal's patience was somewhat below average, but decreased even further during his first two years under Crowley. His final two years under him shows a marked increase in patience. This trend would not continue into the McCraw years. It is interesting how plate patience decreased once Crowley began coaching. It also seems that in '87 and '88 Cal began taking a different approach. I can't really blame talent level on Cal's progression as he had Eddie performing above average behind him. I doubt people were pitching around Cal. Also, Cal typically did not come up with anyone on base. This is especially true in '88 when Frank Robinson was all hopped up on pills and let Billy "Gold Glove, Lead Bat" Ripken take in 540 PA, primarily, in the 2 hole. That is 207/260/258 for the year and we think Luis Hernandez is bad (sorry, that is another topic). Anyway, it looks like Cal changed his approach in '85 and '86 to be more aggressive.

Contact Rate

I at least don't see much of interest here. You can tell when guys are patient and when their skill levels increase. They are both players who could do well with an aggressive approach as they both do a good job with making contact. For Eddie, it looks like a change in his approach. For Cal, it looks like his growth as a hitter.

Conclusion
Well, like last time, the data is somewhat confusing, but it appears that Crowley's philosophy about aggressive hitting was embraced by Eddie all four years and by Cal for two years. I think that is more definite about Cal. Eddie may have just seen a regression in his abilities, but losing the ability to take a walk so soon after establishing it as a hitting trait seems unusual. That is why I think this data indicates that they listened to him. So, if established stars are listening to Crowley . . . I imagine the rookies and those desperate to stick on with the team are also listening to him. I think players probably stick with their approach until they think they are in a slump and then seek out advice. A hitting coach is supposed to know what he is doing, so they listen. I think Crowley's suggestions may work for some, but I don't know if we have found who yet.

24 April 2008

Eating Crow 2.1: Crowley's Affect on the Orioles '85-'88


Terry Crowley was the hitting coach during the dark stretch between the '83 World Series win and the '89 Why Not? season (of course the answer to that question was because after Bob Milacki and Jeff Ballard . . . we had awful, absolutely dreadful starting pitching). Anyway, Crowley, fresh out of retirement, plied his trade and tried to mold Oriole hitters. If he has influenced his teams, we should see a decrease in plate patience measured as pitches per plate appearance. We may also see an increase in contact rate as he teaches hitters to actively pursue pitches on the fringe of the zone, which are often poorly hit.

The null here would be:
There is no difference between Crowley-influenced Orioles and non-Crowley-influenced Orioles.




Methods

This section will be handled simply. Crowley's team hitting will be compared to Ralph Rowe's teams (81-84) and Tom McCraw's (89-91). The measures will be P/PA and contact rate. These measures are explained more in depth in the first entry on Terry Crowley. This study will assume that the player's are relatively uniform in quality and openness to be taught.

Results

Pitches Per Plate Appearance
Ralph Rowe's years with the Orioles are notable in that his teams we slightly above the league average in pitches per plate appearance. The differences are not great, but are significantly above the league average (Rowe = 3.71 +/- 0.02; MLB = 3.67 +/- 0.01). Crowley's team only had one year noticeably above the MLB average and it was his first season. I wonder to what extent Rowe's hitting concepts were still being applied as it was Crowley's first year coaching and hitters typically stick with what works until they struggle. It appears as if, under Crowley's watch, the hitters are getting less patient. It is also interesting to note that in 1986 and 1987, there is a weird blip in terms of P/PA. I have no explanation. I know 1987 was the year in which an uncharacteristic number of homeruns were hit. Finally, McCraw's first and second year were typified by a major correction in P/PA. His third and final year had the team back at league average. The main explanation here would be Mickey Tettleton leaving, Worthington replaced by Gomez, and Ripken changing his approach. It appears McCraw also professed being patient. I am actually quite surprised by what this data seems to say.

Contact Rate
The metric seems to relate well with P/PA. They should be inversely related to each other. As plate patience decreases, contact rate should increase. This is due to coaching encouraging the utilization of balls located on the boundary of the strike zone. Likewise, batted balls are more likely to become productive hits as plate patience increases. I have a feeling Rowe's results that are above average might be due to the team being more talented offensively during his strand. During Crowley's tenure, it is a bit all over the place. McCraw's time is characterized by below average contact rate. This all makes sense with what the data seems to be suggesting, but the data here is hard to parse.

Conclusion
These are in no way conclusive results, but strangely . . . it seems the Crowley might have an effect on team batting behavior. It appears, maybe superficially, that his teams are less patient than Rowe's or McCraw's and that his hitters go after pitches that may not best utilize their at bats. It seems that the head coach does not seem to affect these metrics as Weaver/Rowe did not have the same result as Weaver/Crowley. Although, Rowe's teams were superior and this may be affecting the data. I'm not sure how to normalize talent level.

Next Time
I am going to still keep at Crowley's first tenure with the Orioles. I will analyze his affect on hitters at different career points and see if there are any tendencies.

23 April 2008

Eating Crow: A Tendency for Aggression?

Terry Crowley is a name many Oriole fans despise. They complain about how he supposedly affects Oriole hitters. He preaches being aggressive at the plate. Others, myself included, think that hitting coaches do quite little at the Major League level beyond offering useless advice and acting as a guidance counselor . . . as in someone who is good to talk to, but doesn't really change things. In this piece I will try to determine if Crowley has a history of affecting his team's offensive production. This project will consist of four parts: Crowley as a player and Crowley's three stints as a MLB hitting coach.

Our working null hypothesis is that there is no difference between Crowley's performance and his team's performance against league performance as measured by pitch counts, a measurement of aggressiveness.

Part I: The Player

Terry Crowley was drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 1966 amateur draft. He progressed quickly through the Orioles farm system: 154 games at HiA Miami, 55 at AA Elmira, and 2007 at AAA Rochester. He really didn't show much statistically until his second go around at Rochester in 69 where he displayed plus power. Once he reached the majors, he showed that he just was pretty average as a hitter. He never developed into anything more than a pinch hitter.

Methods
First we need to convert his statistical line to pitches per plate appearance. I do not have that data and I doubt they kept track of pitch counts by batter back then, so we'll have to estimate this. The basic formula is as follows:
[3.3*(plate appearances) + 1.5*(SO) + 2.2*(BB) ] / (plate appearances)
We will then compare his P/PA against the league average. This should be a decent indication of his aggressiveness as a player. It should be noted that we are dealing with a small sample size. The years with more than 100 AB are 70, 72-74, 78, and 80-82. Other metrics will also be compared: contact rate. Contact rate will relate to success of aggressiveness.

Results
Based on the chart, Crowley was not a hacker. He was about league average. If you ignore the seasons where he had less than 100 PA, He excedes the league average his second year and toward the tail end of his career. During , his prime . . . league average. This somewhat backs up Bill James' often cited, but never conclusively evidenced theory of age and walk rates. Basically, it goes that as players realize their bat speed is gone, they compensate by taking more pitches and waiting for the right pitches to hit. The result is that a player will start walking at a higher rate until the opposition realizes that he can no longer hit. Then he will bottom out completely. That describes Crowley's tail end Oriole career and horrendous stint with the Les Expos.

Interestingly, Crowley's contact rate is predominantly better than league average. It typically decreases as the more patient he is, but not every year. His only years with over 100 PA, his contact rate was much better than average. Here is where the issue of his theory of aggressiveness may lie. His patience is somewhat fluctuating, but his contact rate is always exceptional during the seasons when he was given significant at bats. Even in his final year, he displays a very good contact rate, but he was unable to do anything with it.

Conclusion
So, let's revisit our null. Is there any difference between Crowley's and the league's P/PA? Crowley comes in with a 3.72 +/- 0.11 P/PA. The league comes in at 3.69 +/- 0.02 P/PA. Crowley's numbers are NOT different from the league over the course of his career and there seems to be no general pattern except that he seems more patient during the beginning and end of his career. When contact rate comes into play . . . things get a little hazier. The seasons in which he was rewarded with significant at bats were those that also we years where he was successfully aggressive. It seems as if, as a player, his approach was never based on plate patience, but looking for a pitch he could make contact with. Contact rates over the career also do not differ from league contact rates, but it appears that Crowley had focused on simply making contact.

Contrary to the current perception of Crowley, he was not an overly aggressive hitter, even though he had a notoriously violent swing. He was selective, but not overly aggressive. He was not a hacker. As we know from ex-players like Joe Morgan and Billy Beane, a lot of old ballplayers think quite differently about the game now than what they did back then. Joe Morgan is notorious for his stubbornly held views about run production and Billy Beane reached epiphany, realizing why he was such a horrible talent. It may be that Crowley has bought into the perception of himself being the free swinging buck who was very much aggressive at the plate. Why he would teach this to others? I have no clue as he was a pretty average ballplayer with a 104 lifetime OPS+.

Next Time
The next segment will analyze Crowley's affect during his first stint with the Orioles. This will include several sub-studies. The first one will be discerning whether the team as a whole was more or less aggressive than MLB as a whole. After that we will compare his affect on inexperienced players and experienced players as well as free agents. It will be interesting to see if he has designed his team to be selective, but target contact.

22 April 2008

Once in a . . .


The Orioles have played even ball going 3-3 in the past week to bring their season record to 11 and 8. The odds have not changed much since we last posted them. It will be interesting to see what the next three weeks hold for the team as they face extended road series. This week's odds.

PECOTA
67.1 wins (+0.7 since we began keeping track)
0.43% AL East Champions (-0.42%)
0.81% Wild Card (-0.44%)
1.24% Playoffs (-0.86%)

ELO
76.9 wins (-0.3)
5.11% AL East Champions (-2.15%)
5.45% Wild Card (-0.31%)
10.56% Playoffs (-2.46%)

21 April 2008

The Orioles' Conversion to a Five Man Rotation

Dave Studeman over at the Hardball Times sometimes writes a potpourri column with various new things he has learned. Last week, he tackled the point at which the 4 man rotation yield to the 5 man rotation. Looking at league-wide data, he found that 1976 brought on a sea change in terms of pitching use.
What caused the change? Well, I can tell you what else happened in 1975 and 1976: Peter Seitz struck down the reserve clause, the owners lost their appeal and then locked players out of spring training for 17 days while negotiating a new player contract, Catfish Hunter signed a $3.3 million contract and a couple of dozen players became free agents at the end of 1976. Baseball evolved from a pastoral game to a business nearly overnight; the Dodgers raised their ticket prices for the first time since 1958.

So, this made me think . . . what about the Orioles? Earl Weaver is known to be a man who stuck to his guns. To the point that in the late 60s and early 70s, the Oriole players chose to ignore Earl on many occasions and play small ball (also mentioned in the same column . . . ref to Vincent's new book). See, Earl loved the long ball and understood the game pretty well. Anyway, the Orioles were a winning organization with a lot of continuity. This is not the kind of time an organization changes much about how they will do things. They didn't change their operation prior to 1976 or after. They signed no free agents in 1975 and, after the 1976 season, they let their good new free agents go: HOF Reggie Jackson and should be HOF Bobby Grich. Before 1977, they indulged in the market enough to sign Billy Smith, a not too good utility guy with random pop. Two other guys who totaled 1 IP. This winning organization never bought free agents and decided it was too risky of a venture. In the graph below, you can see that pitching use kind of changes slightly after the reserve clause is struck down, but not really. The main change comes with Joe Altobelli.


Joe Altobelli was Weaver's surprise successor with the Orioles. This was actually supposed to happened. Altobelli was groomed in the system for 12 years under the unspoken assumption he would supplant Weaver. Weaver never left, so Altobelli left for San Francisco to manage them for three years. Upon being released, he joined up with the New York Yankees as their AAA coaching and then assuming assistant coach duties with the parent club. He oversaw the transition to a 5 man rotation there as his first season was evenly split between 3 and 4 days rest. In '78, he had a 2:1 4d to 3d rest pattern. His final season, rest was overwhelmingly 4d. The '81 and '82 Yanks exclusively used the 5 man rotation. So, when Weaver left, so did the 4 man rotation.

What will be interesting now is to see how pitching changes over the next decade or so. I can see one potential change that would benefit teams. Reintroduce the fifth stater as a swing man. Within the past decade, starts with 5 days of rest varied from 30 to 45% of the starts. This situation seems like the ideal time to skip your 5th starter. The way the schedule is written these days . . . it seems like it would be a good idea to implement that. Pitchers rarely exceed 33 or 34 starts, so I do not think this is happening at the moment. Anyway, this would enable you to get more innings out of your best pitchers without being forced to start them on three days rest or make them pitch foolishly high pitch counts. It would also make your bullpen deeper for a few games around the date when the fifth starter would normally pitch.

16 April 2008

What does Puerto Rico's inclusion in the draft mean?

For a long while, I have been thinking about the draft and what it means to domestic and international talent. As can be seen on a pedestrian level, domestic ball players are greatly restricted and must subject themselves to a draft where they have no real ability to determine who they will sign with and for how much. They can certainly demand a price, but they have only two options: go back into the draft (losing a year of earning potential) or come to some compromise with the drafting team. International talent is not subjected to this. They can sign with whomever they wish and, arguably, have more control over their own future. This seems grossly unfair for domestic talent. One idea is to incorporate international talent into the draft.

Another blog hit on this . . . Fantasy Baseball Generals (hat tip to Sabernomics). They mentioned how the talent pipeline from Puerto Rico was quite rich in the eighties. Several players were produced from that time period, including the Alomar Bros., Carlos Baerga, Wil Cordero, Carlos Delgado, Jose Hernandez, Javy Lopez, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago, Ruben Sierra, Jose Valentin, and Bernie Williams. Since 1990? Carlos Beltran, Jorge Posada, Javy Vazquez and Jose Vidro. Thirteen major players in the 80s and four in the nearly twenty years since. What happened? In 1990, Puerto Rico was incorporated into the amateur draft.

The basic reason?
But with the addition of Puerto Rico to the annual amateur draft, a team no longer had incentive to invest money in developing relationships in Puerto Rico because a player they spent money on could be drafted by any of the other teams in MLB. So money that might have gone to Puerto Rico now went elsewhere. Like Venezuela, which has sent Bobby Abreu, Edgardo Alfonzo, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Ramon Hernandez, Richard Hidalgo, Victor Martinez, Melvin Mora, Magglio Ordonez and Johan Santana, among others, to the majors since 1990. The Astros have been very active in Venezuela, signing Abreu, Guillen, Hidalgo and Santana from the above list.


There was no reason to spend any money on Puerto Rico. There was no reason to reach out and invest in 13 or 14 year olds. Talent evaluators and the academies no longer served a purpose because anyone could draft the players. The draft was devastating to Puerto Rican talent. It makes you pause for a moment and fully try to comprehend what it would mean to other Hispanic nations with similar per capita income. You would see talent dry up from those regions. The great Hispanic influx is, most likely, the result of MLB teams setting up a talent market. They get to Hispanic kids earlier and help them with development. This is not what American born talent receives.

This not only addresses a rather important and significant issue for the Carribbean, Latin American, and South American talent sources . . . but also the poorer regions of our country. More specifically, I am referring to the well-worn discussion about the decreasing participation of African Americans at the Major League level. Several teams do not have a single black player. This was brought up last year as the Astros donned Jackie Robinson's 42 to commemorate his breaking through the color line. Critics commented that it done because the team had no blacks on the squad. It was considered disgraceful by some. Though, maybe not as disgraceful as having Marlon Wayans are the key note speaker for the Dodgers celebration. Really, Marlon Wayans. Anyway, the question has boiled down to way are blacks not as well represented today as they were 30 or 40 years ago?



Well . . . the simple answer is that we developed better ways of scouting and developing talent. In the United States, this development is offered to those who can afford it. Elsewhere, this development is funded by individual MLB teams, so money is not important to the talent themselves. Based on the 2000 census, white households average nearly $50,000 as their per capita income. Blacks average about $30,000. This difference may explain why white ball players are able to afford, as youths, to play baseball year-round, attend clinics, participate in expensive highly competitive amateur leagues.

Income disparity also affects early youth development. Baseball is a much more complex game and difficult to practice. You need multiple players (you cannot play 2 on 2) and you need expensive equipment (glove, bat, and several balls as opposed to a single ball). Youth baseball does not incorporate shared equipment beyond bats and balls. I would also argue that baseball requires more oversight and adult supervision simply in terms of organization and umpiring games. This makes it difficult for youths to begin developing skills important for baseball. Add this in with the difficulty in participating in expensive, highly competitive amateur leagues as teenagers . . . and there isn't much positive feedback.

The final point is college. Income disparity also affects this. The quality and number of scholarships awarded to football dwarfs what baseball programs offer. Baseball scholarships are far more competitive than football scholarships. It is also an uphill climb if you did not develop skills as a youth and only have underfunded high school programs as your only significant source of instruction and maybe a few free instructional clinics, if you are invited. It is a losing proposition. I doubt many kids and families are consciously making this decision, but after a few decades . . . you'll eventually see the guys who made good and got a college education were not the average baseball players at your school, but the average football kids that were picked up. That unspoken positive feedback has to reach the community at some point. I think this is what happened.

So, the article that inspired this entry says that what needs to happen is for the draft to be eliminated. So what would happen? I imagine that international talent will get hurt badly. Not as badly as putting a draft in place, but the infrastructure that could be utilized in the US might be better to set up academies here. I imagine that the elimination of the draft would result in more American born black youths being involved in baseball because teams would scout out the 13 and 14 year olds and provide training and support. We will be exploiting talent in the US to a similar extent to our exploitation of talent internationally where there are far fewer regulations. It definitely is a tricky situation.

I may be wrong about many of my thoughts above. I try to keep an open mind, but I am fully a product of white bread suburbia. I think Stotle worked on programs with inner city kids, so hopefully he can enlighten me and correct any misguided assumptions I have.

15 April 2008

Updated Postseason Odds


The Orioles have gone 3-4 since the last time we posted their postseason odds. This brings them to an 8-5 record. Their predicted record hasn't changed much though.

PECOTA
66.6 wins (+0.02 since we began keeping track)
0.60% AL East Champions (-0.25%)
0.97% Wild Card (-0.28%)
1.57% Playoffs (-0.53%)

ELO
76.7 wins (-0.5)
6.33% AL East Champions (-0.93%)
5.15% Wild Card (-0.61%)
11.48% Playoffs (-1.54%)

14 April 2008

Reviewing the 2007 Steve Trachsel Trade


A celebrated past time of mine and other fans is to just to speak ill of bad moves by the front office. Rarely does anyone bother to fact check as tearing down the leader of a bad team is a good way to relieve tension and relish in dark humor. This piece is the first of many meant to concurrently evaluate all of Macphail's trades with Baltimore. Today we will look at the Trachsel trade of 2007 (the distinction is there for I hope there is a Trachsel trade of 2008):




August 31, 2007
Steve Trachsel, SP
for
Scott Moore, Inf
Rocky Cherry, RP
Jake Renshaw, SP

I imagine Jim Hendry hit the bottle and blacked out on August 31, 2007. Or maybe MacPhail knows how to forge his signature and still had some Cubs stationary. Typically, guys who have a 1.6 WHIP and a 45-69 k:bb ratio just do not get much attention. Still, the Cubs wanted him enough to ship a blocked and somewhat tarnished 3B prospect (Moore) and a dime a dozen fringe relief pitcher (Cherry). There was also a clause that stated if the Cubs made the playoffs, we would also recieve Jake Renshaw.

Trachsel bombed for the Cubs and was basically discarded unceremoniously after the September playoff race. He gave them an 8.31 line in 17.1 IP. We then signed him back. So, for a one month junk rental, we received three fringe prospects. Let's take a look:

Scott Moore
Moore was the 8th overall pick in the 2002 draft. He was a top flight SS from Long Beach with plus power. He debuted that year in the GCL and disappointed in the field, but showed promise offensively. He spent two more lackluster seasons in the Tiger system at A and HiA. During the 2004 offseason, he was traded to the Cubs with future Oriole Roberto Novoa and Bo Flowers for Kyle Farnsworth. That deal seems to have benefited the Tigers more. Anyway, Moore repeated HiA and put up 20 homeruns along with a higher contact rate. He repeated his numbers at AA at age 22 and saw some time with the Cubs. Last year, he improved his walk rate slightly at AAA and showed glimpses of power at Baltimore. This spring, he hit solidly and was left on the opening day roster. For a young guy, he needs reps and could not find enough even though he was used as a utility man. Currently, he is playing SS at Norfolk. It will take a few weeks to see if it is going to be long project or if he could come up immediately and take the job away from Luis Hernandez. I think keeping him at Norfolk and letting him learn SS and 2B would be beneficial. More so, than shuttling him around at the MLB level. When he can supplant Hernandez or replace Mora or Roberts, he should be welcomed back. Offensively, he doesn't have much left to learn at Norfolk.

Rocky Cherry
Rocky has had it tough. Before the 2002 draft, he suffered a partially torn rotator cuff, which caused him to take a below market deal. Drafted in the 14th round, he would have gone higher with his 90s fastball. After struggling for several seasons in the Cubs farm system, he has to have Tommy John surgery in 2005 and passed time working part-time in the paint section of Home Depot. At AA (age 26), he came back and completely owned the competition with his fastball topping off at 97mph. The next year, he struggled at AAA and was somewhat league average. In 2007, he looked good for the Cubs and was awful for the Orioles. He has the chance to be a righty specialist, but it remains to be seen if there is a place on the roster after he rehabs. He might have a good year or two somewhere, but it probably won't be here.

Jake Renshaw
Renshaw appears to be on his family's radar and no one else. He seems to be starting on a similar career path as Rocky Cherry. I think his potential, at best, would carry him as a righty out of the pen. Sickels ignored him among his C listings. He has logged in 2 years in the Cubs system as he was selected in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. He was wanted 2 years prior by the BoSox in the 26th round, so he wasn't a highly sought after guy. His minor league line at Rookie, A, and HiA, has shown he is decent at striking guys out, but gets hit way too much. I do not know what his hang up is. Maybe his material is flat or he needs another pitch. If he emerges to be something . . . it will be from out of nowhere. Right now, nowhere is Frederick, MD. So far, he is doing alright. He has appeared in two games, with one being a start, logging in 6 IP. He has only given up one hit, but it was a homerun. He has 5 k's and 3 bb's. Anyway, I have included a video showing two pitches. I know little about evaluating pitching mechanics, but I do not like how he opens himself up. It looks a little violent on the front.



Conclusion
It wasn't a bad trade, per se. No one the Cubs traded really will mean much to their success this year or in the future. Moore was blocked at third by a superior player. If he can play short or second and develop his bat . . . then this trade will look bad. Rocky Cherry will probably not last the 2009 season with the Orioles. He was of little loss to the Cubs. Renshaw? Maybe he gets a cup of coffee, but I doubt it. He may breakout and surprise everyone, but I doubt it. That being said, we did not get much, but the Cubs received nothing. Maybe we get lucky and someone breaks out. Or maybe not. I would call it a big win for MacPhail in principle, but it probably won't result in much of anything.

11 April 2008

Tylenol is a PED?


Ibupropherin appears to cause potential PED effect in geriatric patients:

Taking daily recommended dosages of ibuprofen and acetaminophen caused a substantially greater increase over placebo in the amount of quadriceps muscle mass and muscle strength gained during three months of regular weight lifting, in a study by physiologists at the Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University.

Thirty-six men and women, between 60 and 78 years of age (average age 65), were randomly assigned to daily dosages of either ibuprofen (such as that in Advil), acetaminophen (such as that in Tylenol), or a placebo. The dosages were identical to those recommended by the manufacturers and were selected to most closely mimic what chronic users of these medicines were likely to be taking . . . All subjects participated in three months of weight training, 15-20 minute sessions conducted in the Human Performance Laboratory three times per week. The researchers knew from their own and other studies that training at this intensity and for this time period would significantly increase muscle mass and strength. They expected the placebo group to show such increases, as its members did, but they were surprised to find that the groups using either ibuprofen or acetaminophen did even better . . . Over three months, says Dr. Trappe, the chronic consumption of ibuprofen or acetaminophen during resistance training appears to have induced intramuscular changes that enhance the metabolic response to resistance exercise, allowing the body to add substantially more new protein to muscle . . . One of the foci of Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory is the adaptation of the elderly to exercise. Another is the loss of muscle mass that takes place when astronauts are exposed to long-term weightlessness. This work has implications for both groups, says Dr. Trappe.


So where is the line?

What qualifies as a performance enhancing drug?

Now, we would all agree that steroids and hGH (though not enough evidence has come forward to show that hGH does anything to improve performance . . . really we have one, not repeated, study that is unpublished) belong on that list, but what about these:

amphetamines (many would say yes)
cortizone shots
any pain relief medication (tylenol to codeine)
sleeping pills
oxygen (hyperbolic chambers)
protein shakes
etc.

The truth is that everyday things would increase performance. Tylenol has been shown to increase muscle mass in one population (this is actually more evidence than we have for hGH) So what criteria should be used?

The only thing I can think of, and perhaps others will enlighten me, is that PEDs are pretty much a misnomer. In fact, what is meant is actually illegal and illegally-obtained drugs are what is illegal. This would mean that what is being referred to as "PEDs" are not cheating, rather they are punishable because the players are violating the common law. Of course, punishment is greater for using steroids instead of cocaine. The idea being that steroids help with performance and are illegal. So what with drugs that assist in performance, but are legal? Add to that that the powers that be make claims that certain substances are performance enhancing when there is no conclusive proof of it. A system that punishes based on the illegality of the drug would make more sense because we lack so much knowledge and have accumulated so much misinformation about "PEDs."

What we are left with is a punishment system in baseball that is just knee-jerky. There is no rhyme or reason to what is banned and how punishments are carried out except to court public and congressional opinion. This irritates me because it would be so simple to put forward consistent and stable drug abuse guidelines. Now, I am not writing that steroids should be legal and free for use. I am writing that though the system gets some things right, it uses haphazardly conditional statements that are often contradictory. This is a brave new world.

Scott Moore vs the Defensive Spectrum

Scott Moore officially began his attempt to swim against the current last night.
Moore fielded two ground balls cleanly but was unable to come up with Michael Young's hard grounder in the third inning.

Moore was pinch hit for at the top of the seventh in hope of pushing the game into the win column. All in all, not that bad of a first game at second base. He was fairly competent out there, but did not seem to field as well as Brian Roberts, who can be kindly said as being slightly above average as a defender. So, switching from third base to second base. What is Moore up against?

The venerable Bill James.

Back in the 80s, James devised the defensive spectrum. The defensive spectrum suggests that there is a hierarchy of skill associated to each position. The order is as follows from most skill to least skill:

Catcher
Shortstop
Second Base
Centerfield
Third Base
Rightfield
Leftfield
First Base

The thought is that it is quite difficult to move up. If a shift in defensive position occurs, then it will be downward. That is not to say that any shift downward will be successful. We can all remember Jay Gibbons and Javy Lopez. They shifted downward and could not be competent at 1B. Some skill sets that are advantageous for one position may not be useful to another and vice versa. For instance, I imagine it would be rare for a catcher to be able to successfully convert to being a centerfielder. It has been done (i.e., Biggio), but it is rare. I cannot think of a single instance where a centerfielder became a successful catcher (someone want to doublecheck that?).

There is something unspoken about the defensive spectrum. The indirect effects on offense. As defense becomes a premium, a lesser level of offense is tolerated. Luis Hernandez had a slight chance of being called to the majors as a light hitting defensive wiz at shortstop. If you shift him to first and have his glove anointed by St. Peter, yet keep his bat the same . . . he would be riding the pine in Quibor. To this extent, even if Javy and Jay could have played first base . . . they would have been relatively worthless as firstbasemen in terms of offensive production. In 2007, the defensive spectrum had OPS+ as follows:

Catcher (88 OPS+)
Shortstop (88 OPS+)
Second Base (99 OPS+)
Centerfield (98 OPS+)
Third Base (100 OPS+)
Rightfield (116 OPS+)
Leftfield (100 OPS+)
First Base (108 OPS+)

This line of thinking remains relatively true. I imagine if you combine several seasons together it would wash out that bottom end. Last year seems to have been an amazing success for right fielders. In 2006, that bottom three slots were 110, 105, and 111 collectively. I doubt that LF has become more difficult to defend and imagine that LF has now become a spot to just throw people who have no real position. Typically, these guys would be on the bench or at DH. It is becoming more and more common though to have a full time DH. It is also becoming more common to throw your mistake free agent purchases in LF (read: Jay Payton). Right field is so important defensively on extra base hits that you cannot simply hide people there and Magglio Ordonez and Vladimir Guerrero help push things up offensively. Another interesting thing is how second base has become more and more of an offensive position over recent years with the emergence of guys like Robinson Cano and Brian Roberts.

So what about Moore?

Traditionally, his bat would make him more valuable at second base than third base. However, more and more production is coming from that position. The question is it because traditional secondbasemen are developing more power OR defensive ability is now being downplayed at the position (did Soriano and the Yanks start this?). I would have to think it would be the latter. Fringe guys who should be in left field or third base are being put at second to get more production from that position. Moore's background as an amateur SS should help him somewhat, but playing middle infield several years ago at a lower competition level and learning second base in the majors is quite different. His body shape has also changed. He is still quite athletic and people tend to think he could be passable at second . . . he is a more natural thirdbaseman at this point in his career.

I figure as soon as Mora leaves, he will shift back. The only way he can stay at second base would be that his hitting develops to the point that his defense is not considered as much of a liability. In simple OPS+ terms, he needs to do about 115 . . . which is about where Brian Roberts is. At third base, he can be a viable major leaguer if he can hit consistently around 100-105. I would think if he dips below either of these, he is not helping the team. If he can hit these consistently, then he can probably be a fringe starter until age 30. In the former case (115 OPS+), he would need to be switched to a less demanding position. In the latter case (105 OPS+), he needs to find a comfortable place on the bench or in the stands. I like him. I wouldn't give up on him, but I would not expect him to ever be considered one of the best at his position. Someone like Todd Walker would be the best I would hope for.

And, I am heading out of Camden Depot for the weekend.

A Scott Moore Obsession?
Go here.

10 April 2008

24-Sided Die Determines Season


Batting performance is often simplified by people new to sabermetrics as OPS. Others take that a step further and define things by OBP and SLG. These numbers are used to describe the worth of a batter generically. They fail to recognize that batting position also plays a part in run production. Certain skills are often put to better use in certain positions. A simple analysis of this was done by Cyril Morong. He used raw data from 1988-2002 and determined the value of OBP and SLG by position in the batting order. It should be noted though that OBP and SLG are also rather generic, but it is the best data I have. Of course, hit-derived OBP is worth more than walk derived OBP except in extreme chances. Anyway, from these numbers we can determine how well the Orioles are likely to do based on their lineup and projections from ZiPS.

Assumptions
1. The starting nine players will play every inning of the entire season.
2. The starting pitchers will remain the starting pitchers over the course of the season and average 6 innings per start, equally.
3. The bullpen will be league average.
These are rather prominent assumptions, but I frankly do not care to go deeper into it.

We will compare two lineups. The most common one employed by Trembley along with the ideal lineup based on Morong's formula. Each lineup will be compared to the runs expected in the pitching performance. The run tallies will be converted into wins and losses by the pythagorean theorem.

Results

Pitching
ZiPS is not high on the Orioles pitching and assigns ERAs to them as such: Loewen 4.55, Cabrera 4.85, Guthrie 4.84, Traschel 5.20, and Burress 6.12. With each averaging 194.1 IP at an ERA of 5.11 and a bullpen with a 4.35 ERA, the team will give up 4.86 runs per game. That comes to 787 runs. I am ignoring unearned runs, which makes this an optimistic projection.

Trembley's Lineup

Trembley's typical lineup so far has been Roberts, Mora, Markakis, Millar, Huff, Scott, R Hernandez, Jones, and L Hernandez. This lineup should be weak with regard to underutilizing the top of the order by have Luis Hernandez bat last as well as having Millar and his lack of power in the 4 hole. This lineup is predicted to average 4.86 runs per game and a total of 788 runs scored. That results in a record of 81-81.

Ideal Lineup
The ideal lineup as defined by Morong's formula would be Roberts, Markakis, Huff, Jones, Scott, R Hernandez, Mora, L Hernandez, and Millar. Millar bats last to take advantage of his OBP as well as lessening the damage from his projected lack of power. This lineup brings in a predicted 5.07 runs per game and a total of 821 runs. This results in a 84-78 record.

Discussion
I'm not sure this exercise accomplished much, but it does kind of show what can be expected if many things broke our way offensively. It is likely that any backups to our starters would result in a significant decrease in offensive production (oh, wait, Luis, I didn't mean your projected offense). So, in a way . . . this projection should cover the event that several players outperform their expected production level. In a conservative sense, I would probably decrease offensive production by about 10% to account for days our main offensive players take off. Doing that would result in a Trembley lineup record of 71-91. This looks pretty accurate based on what most projection systems use with playing time considered.

I think the best case scenario would be if the offense improves 10% of what should be expected (787 runs) and the pitching improves 10% of what is expected (720 runs). In this scenario we would have an 88-74 record. I think expecting anything more than that would be tragically optimistic. I think to expect 88 wins is tragically optimistic. Probably expecting 81 wins would be inadvisable. Anyway, that is that. On the flip side, 10% decreased performance on each side would result in a 58-104 record. Expecting anything close to that would also be inadvisable.

Further Reading
Frost King Baseball did a quick study back in mid-March, apparently. It is a slightly more optimistic appraisal of the Orioles offense. The site uses a standard base runs method to determine runs scored.

09 April 2008

Is a Starting Pitcher more valuable than a Cleanup Hitter?


Yesterday and today, there was a conversation over at the Sun's Oriole message board. The issue was whether it was better to have an ace pitcher or a cleanup hitter. On of the courses of argument led to whether a pitcher or a batter had more opportunity to effect a game. A pitcher averages roughly 25 batters a game and pitches every fifth day while a cleanup hitter typically average about 22.5 at bats every 5 days. To do a rough estimate as to the value each has, I chose to look at Jeremy Guthrie's April, 6, 2008 start and Millar's starts from March 31 to April 6, 2008. Guthrie threw to 27 batters and Millar had 21 at bats, so compared to the average . . . Guthrie has roughly 3 more at bats than he should over Millar. I will also compare the two, if Guthrie did not have that advantage.

Methods
At Bat Valuation
I am using an expected runs table. I will add up each at bat and come up with a total expected runs number, which will roughly relate to the opportunity inherent in each at bat for production. I will also calculate expected runs per at bat. These calculations will be done for the raw data and the adjusted data (which removes the expected runs attributed to three average at bats). The raw data for the games can be found here.

Assumptions
Guthrie's total expected runs are normal and not a product of his pitching success during the game in question.
Millar's opportunities are also normal.
Neither of these assumptions have been tested.

Results
Raw Data
The raw data shows that Guthrie's 27 at bats resulted in 10.16 expected runs. Millar's 21 at bats resulted in 10.78 expected runs. Millar's numbers showed a 6.04% increase in value over Guthrie's. The average value of a Guthrie at bat was 0.376 expected runs, while our cleanup hitter's average at bat was worth 0.513 expected runs (36% greater in value).

Adjusted Data
If you remove three average at bats from Guthrie's totals, his total is reduced to 9.04 and Millar's value is now 19.3% more. If you shorten Guthrie's rest to four days and assume everything else stays the same . . . his adjusted four day production is 5% more valuable than Millar's opportunities over four days.

Discussion
Based on the results of this study, the Orioles cleanup hitter had a greater effect on the team's success over five days than their ace pitcher. When the at bats were adjusted to league averages, the cleanup hitter's worth was 19.3% more than the starting pitcher's worth. This would agree with final VORP totals for hitters and pitchers in years past. For instance, in 2007 Arod had a VORP of 96.6 and Jake Peavy had a VORP of 77. Arod's number is 25% higher. Now VORP is not going to correlate with expected runs on a 1 to 1 basis as they do not exactly measure the same thing, but it definately gives credence to the idea that hitters have more opportunities to help a team than a fifth day starter. Simply put, it is in the ballpark.

Conclusion
A star pitcher seems to be less valuable than a star hitter if the pitcher is on a five man pitching staff. He seems to be slightly more valuable than a star hitter, if he pitches on three days rest instead of four. This suggests that hitting may win division pennants and wild cards, but pitching wins in the playoffs. This might explain why teams so well suited for the regular season may flounder in the post-season. Who knows? When teams face each other in the post-season you typically have clubs that differ in winning percentage less than 0.02. You cannot figure out who is better in a five or seven game series when the difference you are trying to discern is so slight.

Discussion over at the Sun Orioles message board.

Jaffe predicts O's get Bonds


On Jay Jaffe's blog, he predicts that Barry Bonds will sign with the Orioles on July 1st. I guess the immediate question would be: why? What really would make Barry and the Orioles a good fit for a July 1st signing?

Now, Barry is a DH. He just isn't a left fielder anymore with his knees and hammies. So, with whom does he conflict?
Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff, Nolan Reimold, Scott Moore.

What needs to happen?
1. Millar and Huff would have to be dealt with Moore taking over 1st, Bonds at DH, and Reimold struggling in the minors.
2. Millar and/or Huff would need to be dealt with Bonds at DH, Moore as a utility man or at 2B, and Reimold struggling.

What will happen?
Millar is dealt. Huff and Moore share 1b. Huff and Scott share DH. Scott and Reimold share LF. Bonds signs with a team that is actually competing for a playoff spot.

Where does Bonds go?
Detroit. To share time with Sheffield at DH and to spell Jacque Jones in LF against left handed pitchers. Jones is so awful against southpaws that I can imagine Jim Leyland would put up with Barry and Cabrera killing their defense on the left side. Add in a healthy Granderson and you have some help out there for Barry.

08 April 2008

Performance Enhancing Drugs and Sports Illustrated


Over at CosellOut, they have done a great job of linking to all of the stories about PEDs in Sports Illustrated starting 1969. Bill Gilbert wrote a three part series on drug use in the summer of '69. The second part focuses on baseball and is a must read. The first hGH article is printed in 1984. This should not be considered a full history.

So you are saying there is still a chance?


The Orioles have put together a string of five thrilling, incredible, unlikely games. If their strategy is to win every game from behind and by one run, they might become disappointed really fast. The season, so far, has been characterized by an above average offense, a solid bullpen, and a poor starting rotation. We are 5-1 . . . so what are our postseason chances after 6 games according to the PECOTA and ELO projections?

PECOTA
66.4 wins
0.85% AL East Champions
1.25% Wild Card
2.10% Playoffs

ELO
77.2 wins
7.26% AL East Champions
5.76% Wild Card
12.02% Playoffs

Note: ELO is a ranking-based projection system.

07 April 2008

Today's Links

Pedro Alvarez Has Some Demands

Kiley McDaniel of SaberScouting (easily becoming one of my favorite sources) says that Boras is saying that he wants 9.5MM for Pedro and that this is about 3MM too much. It is basically Boras being Boras.

Bill Ordine Has Ideas About Building a Franchise


I'm not sure this concept of a erecting a mast really works for a baseball team. I am not sure how hockey teams function. My knowledge of that sport is rooted in EA Sports NHL '94 and, to this day, I am confused as to why players do not skate diagonally and then cross back 5 ft from the goals and shoot high and out. I scored like 40 goals with 5 minute periods once.

Anyway, can anyone think as to when a baseball team signed a single All Star and then became relevant? Sounds like the Rangers with Arod and that didn't help them out much. The point is that most team sports (and I assume hockey is more like baseball and football than basketball) depend on more than one guy. We all tend to love the single man theory of history. We like to attribute everything to one person. It makes for a more gripping as well as convenient narrative, but it is often not true.

So how do I think a baseball team has to be made (in order of importance)?
1. Deep farm system
2. Average player development
3. Retention of key personal
4. Supplement roster with free agents and trades

I think it is pointless to do the latter if you cannot accomplish what is listed before. If you do . . . you will not sustain your ability to compete.

A Tale of Two Pitchers


Weather permitting, today's matchup pits Daniel Cabrera against Carlos Silva. Both are international signings, who are merely 2 years apart. Both are amazingly average pitchers with Silva showing the extremes more on a season to season scale where Cabrera illustrates the extremes on a game to game scale. The main difference is that Cabrera strikes out quite a few batters and walks quite a few. Silva does neither. Case in point, Silva's 2005 season consisted of 188.1 major league innings and 9 walks. 9. On April 12, 2006, Cabrera walked 9 Devil Rays in 5 innings of work. These guys bookend the walk spectrum.

Cabrera was an international pickup backed in 1999 out of the Dominican Republic where he was once considered a good 1B prospect. When he signed with the Orioles, he focused exclusively on pitching. He spent two more seasons at our facilities in the DR until 2001 when he was added to the Gulf Coast roster. He walked nearly a batter per inning, but only had a 5.53 era. A combination of poor control and decent life to his pitches made him somewhat difficult to hit. In '02 he hung out with the fresh college draftees in Bluefield and dominated them with amazing control. In '03, his control lessened at Delmarva and he was knocked around in A ball. In '04 . . . he had 5 solid games and then was promoted to the bigs, which ,at the time and now, seems like a bad idea. The 2004 Orioles did not have a lot of depth and when Matt Riley, who was ineffective, got injured . . . Cabrera was their most competitive option. An inexperienced, large pitcher like Cabrera should have been left in the minors where he could experiment and learn at a slower rate. I assume they valued winning immediately more valuable than letting him develop. Although, he probably never would have been an exceptional pitcher, this started his arbitration clock and perhaps stunted his performance growth. Since then, he showed some promise and had solid outings in '05 and '06. Last year was arguably his worst although he did manage to reduce his pitch counts (almost 9 less per 9 innings) and walks . . . along with reducing his strikeout rate. He can be a frustrating pitcher. He has nasty stuff, but it doesn't translate into much success. Do we have cause for hope?

Hope:
Although his 2007 ERA was 5.55, his FIP was 5.06. That isn't too far from average. His ERA was probably inflated by a poor defense who could not handle his uptick in groundball percentage. He hit 50% groundballs, which is very good and means his slider is working well. Luis Hernandez should help shore up the left side of the infield and drop Cabrera's ERA to something closer to his actual performance. Hernandez' bat probably won't help getting those wins. It also seems that bad luck got to Cabrera as he gave up about 70% more homeruns than normal. That might be a blip and, if it is, he will register an ERA of about 4.50.

Lit Consulted:
Baseball Cube
Baseball Reference
The Hardball Times