03 July 2008

Upgrading Camden Depot

UPDATE (7/15): We've moved! Please update your bookmarks:


Hope to see you there soon!

01 July 2008

Updated Postseason Odds

Well, every projection system was a little bearish with the exception of the Pythagorean method. PECOTA odds for reaching the playoffs have decreased from 1:79 to 1:182 over the past week. ELO has decreased from 1:18 to 1:29. I also reckon that the wisdom of the crowds has also taken a downturn as Sherrill is providing another round of evidence that when you elicit a 25% groundball rate . . . you get hit. Sometimes, you get hit hard. He is a lot like Chris Ray in many ways, but that is something to rabbit on about at a later date. The link will take you to the updated season projection graph.

30 June 2008

Bowie Baysox: Pink in the Park

I would just like to congratulate and thank all those who took part in yesterday's annual Pink in the Park event at the Bowie Baysox stadium. All told, over $9,000 was raised to benefit the Holy Cross Hospital Cancer Institute Fund. In case you are unaware, each of the past three seasons the Baysox wear pink uniforms and then auction them off at the game. Chris Tillman's and Matt Wieter's jerseys apparently set new records. Not sure what they were. Anyway, it was a good cause and a pleasant evening.

28 June 2008

Viagra and Baseball Player Performance

Over the past few weeks a few articles have mentioned that many athletes have begun using Viagara to help with their endurance. Although Viagra has become as well known as the Pill, it is probably about as well understood in the mainstream. Players claim that this drug helps transport oxygen, nutrients, and other performance enhancing drugs to muscle. There is some biological basis for this to work, but much of it is part of the pseudoscience that permeates many a gym. Gym science has a tendency to be 1 part science, 1 part wishful thinking, and quite often a dash to scam to give it some flavor.

To understand Viagra, you need to understand erectile dysfunction. To start simply, erectile dysfunction is when a male is unable to develop or sustain an erection. This failure to launch is very much a bio-engineer process. At first thought, you might think that the penis is like any of your other appendages. By that, I mean, when you move your arm, you do so by employing muscle contractions. Erections do not work this way. An erection is the result of a hydraulic process that controls blood flow in the penis and, specifically, the corpora cavernosa.

How Does an Erection Work
When the penis is flaccid, arterial blood flow is constricted preventing the corpora cavernosa from becoming engorged with blood. An erection occurs when the a neurological signal activates a non-androgenic, non-chlorinergic nerve cell ending. This particular nerve cell is able to release nitric oxide into the blood. This chemical stimulates guanylate cyclase, which in turns upregulates cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Now, cGMP targets smooth muscle, which is what arteries are made of. This chemical causes the arteries to vasodilate, causing an increase in blood flow. Having a permanent erection is not ideal, so the body is designed to eventually degrade cGMP and cause vasoconstriction. This is accomplished by the enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE).

How does Viagra Work
Erectile dysfunction is often caused by too low a concentration of cGMP. This biological process has three easily identifiable parts for us to manipulate:
1) Increase nitric oxide;
2) Accelerate cGMP production in response to nitric oxide presense; or
3) Inhibit PDE activity in order to allow cGMP to reach a high enough concentration to sustain an erection.
Viagra's function utilizes the third part of this process. It targets PDE.

PDE is an enzyme. An enzyme is essentially a protein that assumes a specific shape. The shape is able to latch onto cGMP and then metabolize it to a form that no longer dilates smooth muscle. The key to prevent cGMP metabolism is to inhibit or inactivate PDE. Viagra is the trade name for sildenafil citrate. Sildenafil is able to latch onto PDE, but it does not get metabolized and PDE does not readily release the compound. This limits the amount of free PDE to act upon cGMP. Eventually, the free compound is processed by other metabolic processes in the liver and is depurated from the body.

PDE Isozyme (Different Shapes for Different Function)
Now what makes this mechanism work to fix erectile dysfunction is that the corpora cavernosa contains PDE isozyme 5. PDEs have several shapes and each are rather specific to a certain function. This is quite important physiologically and pharmacologically. For instance, biologically it is important that erectile function (PDE 5) is not regulated concurrently with heart contractility (PDE 3). Otherwise, reproduction would have a high rate of lethality. Likewise, for pharmacological use, it allows us to focus on inactivating or inhibiting a specific PDE isozyme. Viagra has a 10,000 times greater affinity to binding with PDE 5 than PDE 3. This is actually why Viagra was originally a failed drug. It was developed to help with hypertension, but the compound had little effect on PDE 3. By accident, they found it worked on erectile dysfunction.

Problem With PDE 5 as a Baseball Performance Enhancer
The specificity of Viagra makes it initially out to be an unlikely PED. Studies have shown that this compound can help with pulmonary vasodilation in newborns and patients with severe heart conditions. Furthermore, in 2006 Hsu et al. found that Viagra could improve athletic performance by 40% at 10,000 ft. No dose dependant relationship was observed. Nor was this effect observable at lower altitudes. Experiments at lower elevations were followed up using Cialis (another PDE 5 inhibitor, but certainly different) by Di Luigi et al (2008) and found that under these conditions there were no observable effects. It appears that Viagra's vasodilatory effect works, but only in cases of severe hypoxia. Arguably, baseball players may experience this at Coor's field (5200 ft). I doubt it. If anyone has hiked at 10k, you can tell it is far different from hiking at 5k. With baseball being a game of short-lived moments of exertion, I doubt that the body will ever come under hypoxic conditions. Although I doubt it would work, maybe it would be more useful for cyclists, track and field, basketball players, or football players. Guys who you actually see physically drained after games. Of course, this comes with the caveat of high altitude hypoxia where oxygen diffusion rates are significantly depressed.

At sea level, I just wonder what the effect will be. Upping the concentration may have some serious pulmonary and vision effects would actually decrease performance while offering nothing beneficial to the user. I think the reason why high altitude performance, infants, and patients with poor arteries may benefit from Viagra is because this population actually suffers from reduced blood access from vasoconstriction. A healthy person at sea level just will not have a situation where his blood flow is limiting oxygen transfer to the skeletal muscle. The diffusion rate is not the issue. It is the consumption rate of the muscle.

As I have mentioned before, athletes are a desperate and superstitious bunch. In fact, we all are. We tend to look for any and every advantage in difficult and trying circumstances. I think trying to stay in the majors and earn millions of dollars is a pretty stressful life. You all may laugh at the concept of a ball player having a tough life, but it is true. He has a short career length and each year is basically equivalent to 10% of his lifetime earnings. In response to that, ball players do weird things. Cap Anson never spoke to his starting pitcher on the day of the start. In the 1890s, the Baltimore Orioles were known to do shots of Turkey gravy an hour before game time in the midst of one of their memorable runs. Wade Boggs ate fried chicken and always had a can of beer in his hand. Guys don't step on the foul line between innings. Players wear the same unwashed clothes during a streak. Giambi and the Yanks share a gold thong when one of them gets into a slump.

Unlike those, the use of Viagra is based in some scientific fact. It is a vasodilator . . . though an incredibly specific vasodilator. It reminds me of Ivan Rodriguez and countless other ball players. They piss on their hands to prevent blistering. This actually makes scientific sense, but it is misapplied. Check your hand moisterizer and you'll find uryl sulfonate or some version of that. That is basically urea. Piss. The lack of understanding exhibited by ball players, but not by chemists, is that urea has to be on your hands for several minutes for it to keep your hands soft. So, if you want to be cheap about it . . . soak your hands in a bucket of urine for 20 minutes and you'll beat the system. hGH is another PED that is similarly rooted in science, but is misapplied. Players took hGH thinking it would help them develop muscle when all it did for them was cause acromegaly. The list goes on and on and on. The key is to remain skeptical when any drug emerges from the gym. Most often, it does not do much of anything but be a drain on your wallet and your liver.

25 June 2008

Draft Recap: Kyle Hudson, CF, University of Illinois

Introducing Kyle Hudson

5’11” – 165 lbs. – Bats/Throws (L/L)

In Round 4, Baltimore went with their second two-way D-I player (granted, Avery had not yet started his career at Georgia). Hudson spent three seasons as a wide receiver for the University of Illinois, as well as center-fielder for the baseball team. He leaves Illinois second in career batting (.376) and tied for first in stolen bases in a single-season (40). With this pick, Baltimore hopes to shape this elite athlete into a future lead-off hitter and plus-defender. Let's see what they have to work with...

The Statistics
AVG – .398
SLG – .482
AB – 191
H – 76
2B – 11
3B – 1
HR – 1
RBI – 26
R – 61
SB – 40

Two numbers jump out. First, the 40 stolen bases. As mentioned above, this ties the Illinois single-season record (he broke the conference record for stolen bases in conference play -- 25 SB -- as well). Hudson is a true burner with game-changing speed on Avery's level (I believe he's actually a slight step above). Second, the slugging percentage is a mere 84-points higher than his average. While the .398 AVG looks impressive, one has to take into account the fact that he was facing uninspired Big 10 pitching. To that point, the SLG is a bit troubling, as you'd expect the doubles and triples to pile up given his speed and the competition of a weaker conference. I think you'll see some power develop as he cleans-up his swing mechanics (see below), but it will likely be in the form of gap-to-gap rather than home run. He also lead the Big Ten in walks, with 39 -- another "plus" for an Orioles organization looking for its future lead-off hitter.

Grading Out
Hitting - 35
Power - 30
Fielding - 50
Arm - 30
Speed - 80

If Jordan and the Orioles were looking to get athletic this year, picks 2:5 through 4:5 is an incredible start. While Hudson is still a ways away from being a good hitter from the standpoint of mechanics and approach, keep in mind he has never devoted all of his attention to baseball. He posted a solid AVG and OBP in spite of his mechanics, and could be an exponential improver once he submerses himself in the baseball world. The development of his offensive game should dictate his ultimate ceiling -- either slap-hitting speedster with moderate success or solid candidate for a lead-off hitter. His speed easily plays in CF, though his arm strength summons visions of Juan Pierre.

Swing Mechanics
Scouting video available on the Orioles's Draft Tracker page at MLB.com

Load - Hudson begins with an open stance and closes with a leg raise (similar to Hoes's) as he loads. His hands start off in fine position, but he adds some extra movement and pulls them back towards the catcher as he lifts his leg, adding some length to his swing. As noted in our Hoes breakdown, the leg lift can be a good timing mechanism, but it requires attention to be paid to weight transfer.

Stride - His stride comes right from the leg lift, which is cleaner than Hoes's approach of tap and step/pivot. His timing is adequate and his hips do a decent job of staying closed (though he'll occasionally get a little lazy, especially on pitches he has given up on). His hands are too far back due to the extra motion at the end of his load, which greatly extends the length of the path from bat head to ball.

Swing - Hudson profiles as a bit of a slap hitter. He tends to come in too strongly with his top hand, which elevates his front shoulder and dirties his swing plane (at minimum flattening it), along with sapping some power. When he leads with his bottom hand, his swing is much more fluid and he is better positioned to make more consistent hard contact. There should be more emphasis on torque in his lower half, as his upper body has a tendency to throw him off balance. This results in less bat control and will affect his ability to stay on advanced pitching in the future.

Contact - He is inconsistent in his contact, sometimes coming in with too much weight up front and hitting off his lead foot. Other times, his upper body comes through too quickly (maybe over-swinging?) and his weight gets way back in his body. Rather than a perpendicular line from helmet to knee, Hudson is closer to 60-degrees. When coupled with a leading top hand, this could again be an obstacle to consistent hard contact against advanced pitching. Still other times, Hudson reverts more of a "slap" approach, throwing the bat head at the ball rather than attacking with a forceful plane. The Orioles will work to normalize his approach and get him into a more consistent routine from load to contact. This may be as simple as getting Hudson to do the reps in BP -- something that was likely cut into by the demands of his football commitment. Though he's a bit all over the place right now, there are enough "adequate" swings to give hope that a consistent professional hitter is buried in there.

Follow-Through - Again, Hudson is inconsistent. He finishes way up when he leads with his top hand. His flat swing lifts almost right at contact, taking force off of the swing and preventing him from maximizing his potential to drive the ball. The follow-through on his "slap" swings is short and tight in the upper body. Occasionally, he finishes with a nice clean stroke -- both one-handed and two-handed. As the rest of his mechanics are ironed out, his follow-through should fall into place.

Swing Grade - C-

As you might expect from a wide receiver, Hudson tracks the ball very well. He takes solid routes and his plus-plus speed is an incredible asset in the field. He is capable of covering ground from gap-to-gap, and his ability to close quickly on base hits helps to prevent base runners from taking advantage of his below-average arm strength. Though his arm leaves something to be desired, his speed and reads would likely be wasted in LF. He should be a solid option in CF with the potential to save a fair number of extra-base hits in the gap.

Fielding Grade - B

Stotle's Notes
Hudson does not have the raw talent of Xavier Avery, and he is closer to fully-baked, limiting his ceiling a bit. Still, it will be interesting to see what happens now that he is devoting himself exclusively to baseball. His first 18 months in the organization will be telling. If everything starts to fall into place, Baltimore could have the makings of a future lead-off hitter with solid defense in the 8-spot. Even if his batting does not fully develop, he has the potential to carve out a 4th or 5th outfield spot on the merits of his defense and base running, alone. This is a decent high-upside pick, again heavily dependant on the ability of the Orioles low-minors system to lay the groundwork and begin the development of a player currently more athlete than baseball player.

Prospect Grade - C+
ETA - 2012

Next Up:
FRI 6/27 - Rick Zagone

New Site Design Feature

In order to help with site navigation, we are going to start doing these jump cuts. Too often someone is interested in a story and then has a hard time finding it.

Hope this makes it easier on you all.

1B Aging Curve

Last week, I posted about how age affects fielding performance for second basemen and shortstops. These are positions where teams often place some of their more athletic players. Today, we focus on first basemen, which is a position where teams do not regard athleticism much. First base is an offensive position and being adequate is often enough for the manager to keep slotting a mashing, poor fielder in at first base. A particular interesting sidelight is that Mark Teixeira is coming into free agency this year. A significant portion of Teixeira's value comes from his defensive abilities. He is a streaky hitter, but his defense is supposedly constant. Just looking at RZR for Teixeira we see this (for what it is worth .750 is about average for a first baseman):

24 .799
25 .815
26 .840
27 .752
28 .798

Teixeira is a very good defensive 1B, but the question is how do defensive abilities of 1B age?

The main fielding considerations for generating outs are the ability to field efficiently and range. Fielding cleanly or fielding efficiency is a skill that should maximize when the player accrues experience that assists in coordination, but then tapers off when age affects reaction time. This includes being able to field balls straight from the bat and the ability to catch balls thrown to first. Range typically has a shorter learning curve (i.e., first step), but more rapidly deteriorates due to age. Range typically is not well considered for 1B. Regardless, both of these general assumptions should apply to the defensive capability of firstbasemen.

Revised Zone Rating (RZR) will be used as a surrogate for fielding efficiency. This metric assumes there is a given territory that a defender should be expected to cover. Of all the balls that pass through this zone, outs are recorded and compared to the number of chances. This is not ideal as RZR will be effected eventually by decreased range, but it should be rather representative because players are typically moved off positions if they are so unable to defend this standardized area. This is also hampered by the fact that it does not consider the ability to catch errant throws. I imagine that this skill may increase at a later date and that this graph may actually shift a year back, but I could be wrong with that thought.

Out of Zone (OOZ) Plays represent range. These plays are those that are made outside of the zone designated to the position. Again, there are potential issues. If a defender is playing next to a player who has great range then the number of OOZ plays he can accrue will probably be reduced. The resulting effect may not be great because several players seasons will be used to determine the aging curve line.

The data was collected from the Hardball Times fielding statistics. Fielding performance was recorded from 2004-2007. Out of Zone plays for each player was divided by the number of innings played and normalized over 162 9 inning games. Ages were then determined and applied to the seasons. Ages with less than three data points were removed from consideration. Only full time players with more than one season at 1B during this time period were considered. Due to the lack of players at the outer age classes, this graph covers years 24 to 32 only.

Firstbase Fielding Age Curves
The curves depicted to the right show the effect of age on fielding efficiency (orange) and range (black). Each horizontal mark represents five plays for both axises. The RZR line has been normalized for the average number of chances encountered at 1B for a full 162 game 9 inning season. For instance, if a player moves from one horizontal line to the next over the course of two seasons then the player has improved or declined by five plays. A single play is worth about 0.6 runs, so each line represents 3 runs saved or lost. Three lines roughly represent a win gained or given.

Based on the age classes we have on hand (at least three data points had to be available for each age included), we see absolutely no acclimation for range from 24 onward. Range basically plateaus between age 30 and 31 seasons. This differs from 2B and SS curves that actually seemed to require an increase in experience to maximize range. Fielding efficiency follows a similar pattern to that of second basemen and shortstops. Players peak between 26 and 27 age years. This actually goes along with Teixeira's performance so far.

For first basemen, fielding range is maximized in the early 20s and immediately declines until about age 30. First base is not considered a defensive position, so when a 1B ages it is typically met with a shrug. Fielding efficiency maxes out at 26 or 27 years of age and then goes into decline. It could be argued that the decline is fueled largely by the decline in range. It should be noted that efficiency, for a short period, does increase as range decreases. The reduced ability to field effectively is most likely due to age and range. A simple regression found correlation between range and RZR to be an order of magnitude greater than age and RZR.

With regard to Teixeira, his better defensive days are behind him. Although, it should be noted that only once in the past five years has he been anything close to average. He is an excellent defender. I imagine, based on the curve, that he won't being average in the field until he is about 34. Whoever signs him should do quite well with him manning 1B. 20MM per year well? That is another story.

24 June 2008

Draft Recap: L.J. Hoes, 2B, St. Johns HS (Washington D.C.)

Introducing L.J. Hoes

6’0” – 190 lbs. – Bats/Throws (R/R)

With Baltimore’s pick at 3:5, we get some insight into this year’s draft approach. By selecting their second “toolsy” high schooler in three picks, the Orioles signal they are confident in their ability to develop their own talent and would like to grab the best tool sets with which to work. Hoes is an athletic ballplayer with the skill set to play almost any position in the field. Baltimore announced him as a second baseman, and it looks like that’s where the O’s will try to shape him (though he’ll likely bounce around the infield a bit in the rookie leagues to ensure he gets his at bats while others are working out at the four-spot). While the Matusz pick was probably the most heavily debated by Baltimore fans, the Hoes pick is the most significant – Jordan and the Orioles are stating in no uncertain terms that the organization will be looking to develop this year’s infusion of talent at the low-minor levels, and they are confident that the likes of Hoes and Avery will ultimately outshine the likes of more developed college players such as Kieschnick, Darnell and Danks. Let's take a look at what Jordan and Co. will be working with over the next 4+ seasons.

The Statistics
AVG – .524
SLG – .964
AB – 84
H – 44
2B – 9
3B – 2
HR – 8
RBI – 29
R – 44
SB – 32

As was the case with Avery, it looks like Baltimore was targeting athleticism with this pick -- primarily speed, with some semblance of raw power. Hoes enjoyed a successful career at St. John's and was an impact player right from the jump-off, batting third as a freshman for a team ranked in the top 25 nationally by four separate publications. Had he not signed with Baltimore, he would have continued his baseball career with national powerhouse University of North Carolina. St. John's is a member of the Washington Catholic League, which is competitive enough to add some legitimacy to his stats (though one has to keep in mind that even the most competitive of high school leagues is plagued with inconsistency in competition).

Grading Out
Hitting - 60
Power - 55
Fielding - 55
Arm - 60
Speed - 55

Hoes is a solid all-around ballplayer that doesn't dominate any one facet of the game. He's solidly above-average across the board and has earned a reputation as a clutch player capable of helping a team in all areas -- defense, throwing out runners, stealing bases and timely hitting with occasional pop. He doesn't have a huge frame, but he is already well on his way to filling it out. His power could grade as high as a 60 on the 80 point scale, but there probably isn't a ton of room for growth. His speed plays well in the outfield, but he probably isn't fast enough to profile as a Major League center-fielder. Likewise, his speed is fringe-plus on the offensive side -- he is quicker on the base paths once underway than he is out of the box. His arm should play across the diamond.

Swing Mechanics
Scouting video available on the Orioles's Draft Tracker page at MLB.com

Video Posted from LJ's Gallery on Takkle.com

Load - Hoes has an effective load. His hands are optimally placed slightly above and behind his back shoulder. His elbow is angled slightly below 90 degrees, with his bat head pointed towards third base and moving towards perpendicular as he completes the first stage of his swing. His weight distribution is close to 60/40 and he lifts his front leg through the load. There are schools of thought that regard this as a good timing mechanism, though it carries with it the requirement that the hitter keep his weight-shift in mind during his stride so as to avoid getting his lower half out in front of the ball as he brings his leg down.

Stride - Starting with a closed stance, Hoes's stride takes him slightly open, towards third base. This leads to his hips occasionally opening early, and accordingly, pull-side tendencies. This also opens up a hole on the outside of the plate that might be exploited at the professional level. Because he utilizes a raised front leg during his load, his weight transfer is occasionally uneven. He tends to shift his weight forward a little prematurely, which may lead to difficulties with offspeed stuff down the road. His hands and upper body are excellent. His hands stay tied to their position relative to his shoulders, keeping a short path to the ball. He has a still head and keeps his front shoulder closed and driving towards the pitch.

Swing - Hoes's calling card is his quick bat speed. Strong wrists, forearms and upper body, together with good upper body mechanics lead to a firm, compact swing that produces solid contact on a regular basis. While Hoes stride limits his ability to spray line drives from pole-to-pole as effectively as one would like, he has shown an adequate power to the opposite field -- this is likely due to his ability to let the ball deep into stance before beginning his swing (a huge benefit of above-average bat speed). It will also benefit his pitch identification as he works through the minors.

Contact - Mechanics at contact are sound. Hoes squares up on the ball regularly, and his body is in good power position at contact. His weight is centered and a straight line runs close to perpendicular to the ground from head to back knee (though he is generally a little too far out in front with his upper body). On those occasions where his weight transfers forward too quickly and he hits off of his front foot, he does a respectable job of rotating through his core and not lunging.

Follow-Through - Hoes has a clean, one-handed follow-through. As he works on hitting to the opposite field with authority, he may consider a two-handed follow-through to try and maintain a little more bat control towards the end of his swing, but this will largely depend on the hitting philosophy of his minor league instructors.

Swing Grade - B

Hoes is impressive in the field. He has enough arm to play anywhere on the diamond and is direct to the ball in the outfield. He tracks the ball well and shows good instincts while in pursuit. Baltimore will look to mold him as an infielder, which is certainly possible giving his above-average athleticism and body control. Though he was an above average outfielder in high school, he isn't likely to have the speed to man center field at the Major League level or the bat to hold down a corner outfield spot. His above average arm and fringe-plus speed play well, defensively.

Fielding Grade - B

Stotle's Notes
The gamble here is that Hoes will hit enough to be an everyday infielder. The Orioles seem to be confident that he will be able to pick-up second base, and it would appear the target production will be somewhere around a Brian Roberts-lite. There is plus-power potential in his swing, but it is unlikely he'll add enough bulk for it to translate to much above low-double-digit home run output. With Hoes, Jordan grabs his second solid tool set and hopes to mold him into a late first round talent over the course of the next three seasons. He has the advantage of being quite versatile in the field already and fairly sound mechanically with his swing. His development will likely center around fine-tuning his game and working to get the most out of his body.

Prospect Grade - B-
ETA - 2013

Next Up:
WED 6/25 - Kyle Hudson (Pick 4:5)
THU 6/26 - Rick Zagone (Pick 6:5)
FRI 6/27 - Caleb Joseph (Pick 7:5)

2008 Trade Deadline News

This will be a recurring item to focus conversation whenever news comes up regarding the O's and the trade market.

Brian Roberts

Indications are that Roberts is not going anywhere. The team is playing well and not many teams are in need of a second baseman. That being said, I think he will be dealt at the 2009 deadline or we will receive a couple draft picks in 2010. It seems unlikely that we will extend him for the number of years he will most likely desire.

Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker
Ken Rosenthal reports that the Orioles are listening to any and all offers for these two relievers.
The Orioles would love to move two of their veteran relievers, lefty Jamie Walker and righty Chad Bradford. Walker and Bradford are specialists whose inability to work multiple innings forces manager Dave Trembley to overuse younger pitchers such as Jim Johnson and Matt Albers.

The main deterrent is that they are on the books for 2009, but I imagine there will be a market for both of these players. Bradford will probably be a little bit easer to part with as he is having a great pedestrian season. Peripherals suggest differently, but he is doing well. Walker is not doing so hot, but is not awful. Being a southpaw, we may be able to get a high C level prospect. Bradford is probably worth a low B and a C.

Unknown Shortstop
Recent reports have pegged Andy MacPhail as being quite driven to find a new shortstop.
"We're on an APB right now, trying to find a shortstop as a front office," MacPhail said. "We've sent the word out to our scouts. We're going to continue to evaluate our internal options and we're going to continue to look outside the organization as well to see if we can find something. We're not really satisfied with the productivity we've gotten out of that position to this point. We've got to keep working to try to make it better."

Brandon Fahey, Luis Hernandez, and Freddie Bynum have all failed in the role. Alex Cintron's hitting streak is bound to subside and his popgun arm impresses no one. Potential SS candidates may include:

Braves - Brent Lillibridge, Diory Hernandez
Lillibridge is suffering mightily in AAA Richmond at the moment. His stock has plummeted, but the Braves are known for somehow figuring out to sell high. He seems like someone who will be kept on unless the Braves think they are getting his true value. With Tex sure to leave this offseason and the Braves within striking distance of first place, they may decide to go all in again this year. The Braves' infield is set for years up the middle, so Lillibridge could be considered excess. Diory Hernandez is in the same boat as Lillibridge, but is putting together a better season. He is a high contact guy with speed, but horrible base running skills. Diory may be more available.

Marlins - Robert Andino
Andino is enjoying his last option year. I believe at the moment he is a little used bench player for the Marlins, who may be interested in beefing up their relief. He displays good speed and base running decisions. He also has some secondary power. His main drawback is that he is a pure contact hitter who walks little and strikes out a lot. He is most likely available though he may be considered Ugula's replacement if they decide not to offer him arbitration.

Mets - Jose Coronado
Coronado's defense is ready, but not his bat. He is currently swinging and missing at AA Binghamton. In hiA, his bat was so futile, the coach instructed him to basically sacrifice bunt whenever anyone was on base with less than 2 outs. He was able to muster 30 sacrific hits that year. He probably has no place in the Mets' future, but I am not sure why we would want to collect everyone's Luis Hernandez.

Cubs - Andres Blanco
Blanco is another Coronado/Hernandez. He was signed by the Royals and actually let go as a minor league free agent last fall. The Cubs picked him up and he is fielding well in Iowa, but not really hitting in a hitters' ballpark.

Brewers - Ozzie Chavez
Ozzie Chavez is in his 8th year in the Brewers system. He has shown the ability to take a pitch somewhat well, but has no power. His defense is sound, but he has really struggled in AAA for two years. As a 24 year old, he still has a chance to turn it, but it doesn't look much better than what we currently have.

Twins - Sergio Santos
Over the past four years, Santos has shown he can hold his own offensive at AA, but not AAA. He has power and is a contact oriented hitter. Those skills have yet to advance to be competent at the AAA level. He certainly has much more upside than any of our immediate alternatives within the Orioles system. The Twins may be interested in one of our excess relievers, but we may have to foot some of the bill to get them to take Bradford or Walker.

A's - Donnie Murphey, Gregorio Petit
Donnie Murphy is another marginal middle infielder. He is playing backup second base for the Athletics, but could switch over to his natural position, SS. He has shown some secondary power, but is basically a poor contact hitter. His value is such that the A's acquired him from the Royals for cash. His worth is a bit more these days. Petit is similar to Murphy, but he is a bit more of an accomplished defensive SS and seems to have higher potential power. He is most likely worth more to them than Murphy and may be a difficult take.

Of these guys who would I want?
I think Brent Lillibridge is the best. I'd follow that by Diory Hernandez and then maybe Robert Andino. I don't think Murphy and Petit are much different from Andino. I neglected to mention other guys like Jack Wilson, Uribe, Ronny Cedeno, and others as I question what use they have to the Orioles at this moment. If these more established guys are essential for this team to be competitive in the short term, they could be acquired in the offseason.

Season Total Update

The last week has infused some enthusiasm in the playoff odds. The range of predicted season outcomes is still roughly within 3 games of each other, but has shifted upward by a game and a half. Much of this is the result of improved play by Huff. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts. The odds also increased to 1:79 for the PECOTA line and 1:18 for the ELO line. One thing I do not believe I have mentioned is that I have been using xFIP for bullpen ERA in place of league average. This occurred about a month ago.

23 June 2008

Draft Recap: Xavier Avery, CF, Cedar Grove HS (Georgia)

Introducing Xavier Avery

5’11” – 180 lbs. – Bats/Throws (L/L)

Avery was one of the top overall athletes in the 2008 Draft and was recruited heavily on both the baseball diamond and football field (ranking as the 31st best football prospect in the state of Georgia and signing this Spring with the University of Georgia). As a baseball player, Avery has only begun to tap into that athleticism. Though a bit raw in the field, and more so in the batter’s box, Avery presents an enticing package of speed, raw power and athletic instincts.

The Statistics
AVG – .561
SLG – 1.136
AB – 66
H – 37
2B – 6
3B – 4
HR – 8
RBI – 24
R – 42
SB – 35

Avery's gaudy numbers are a bit deceiving (like many high school stats) because of the inconsistent talent he faced. To his credit, he had solid showings last summer and was a pre-season Aflac All-American. While scouts may not be in agreement as to what the finished product will be, all are confident that Avery possess an impressive trove of raw materials with which to build.

Grading Out
Hitting - 30
Power - 60
Fielding - 50
Arm - 40
Speed - 70

Avery's best tool is his plus-plus speed (6.4 60-yard and clocked as low as 3.95 from home to first), but his raw power is not far behind. Right now, the focus of the organization will be to increase his contact rate and try to work to have him square up on pitches with more regularity. Keeping in mind that he has 4+ years of development ahead of him before he starts to shape into the ML player he could eventually become, the closest comp would be Carl Crawford. Game-changing speed, plus defense and an adequate arm best suited for LF. If he is able to progress as a hitter, he could profile as an above-average #2, in the .280/20 HR to .290/25 HR ballpark. His speed should put a ton of pressure on the defense and help him reach base on infield hits as he progresses through the minors.

Swing Mechanics
Scouting video available on the Orioles's Draft Tracker page at MLB.com

Load - Avery starts with an open stance than closes a bit as he loads his hands -- the lower half of his body actually resembling a stride. His hands are too low and bit too far forward. His elbow is angled nicely around 45 degrees and his bat is nearly perpendicular to the ground, each helping along his impressive bat speed. His weight distribution is acceptable, though he can be a bit uneven at times as he transfers to the next part of his swing.

Stride - He varies in a stride from nothing (just a pivot as he swings) to almost a stutter-step directly after his load. More consistency in his load through his stride would help his timing and his ability to make solid contact more frequently. His hips open a bit early, which means he's leaving some power on the table. His hands actually drop back a bit, which normally would add length to a swing. However, since he starts with his hands a little too far forward, this doesn't adversely affect his line to the ball.

Swing - Avery has tremendous bat speed and quick hands and wrists. This allows him to generate above-average raw power, despite losing energy with his hand position in load and his open hips. He has a slight uppercut to his swing (though this doesn't appear in every swing) which allows him to generate good backspin and potential carry off of solid contact.

Contact - This is the best aspect of Avery's swing. Though he is inconsistent in his load and stride his quick bat and solid form at contact allow him to drive the ball when he does square-up. He is in good power position with his arms extended, head down hips turned through the pitch and a balanced and centered body (a line perpendicular to the ground can be drawn from his head, through his core, through the thigh and knee of his back leg). He rotates well through his core. Given the loss of power in his hips opening a bit too early, a few tweaks and repetitions through minor league ball could yield plus-power as a professional.

Follow-Through - Avery tends to finish up. Generally, he is pretty clean, though he wanders in and out of finishing with a tight upper body, shortening the end of his swing. He also has a tendency to fall-off of his swing when he tenses up in his upper-half.

Swing Grade - C

Avery is deliberate and confident in the field. He gets solid carry on his throws, and has enough of an arm to project as a center fielder, though left field is probably a better fit. He utilizes his strength and athleticism by positioning himself well on balls-in-play and getting his entire body into his throws. As you might expect from a running back, his footwork is an asset, and he has plus-plus speed along good routes to the ball. He'll improve his routes and fine-tune his baseball instincts in the outfield, though he is an above-average fielder already.

Fielding Grade - B+

Stotle's Notes
Avery is an exciting player because he gives an organization so much to work with. On top of an above-average tool set, Avery has a passion for the game and a strong baseball IQ. Perhaps just as important, he was a fine student at Cedar Grove, posting a 3.8 GPA and 1420 SAT score. Any time you have a raw player with great tools, it's encouraging to see a strong work ethic and mental approach. Avery will be faced with may challenges as he matures as a ballplayer, and as a person. The Orioles invested a lot in a pick at 2:5, and could be handsomely rewarded if the organization is able to harness his ability.

Prospect Grade - B
ETA - 2013

Next Up:
TUE 6/24 - Jerome "L.J." Hoes
WED 6/25 - Kyle Hudson
THU 6/26 - Greg Miclat
FRI 6/27 - Rick Zagone