25 February 2009

Platelet Injections

Doping is wrong unless it is the good kind.
From NYT. As many know it is considered against the rules to use any chemical to stimulate red blood cell creation or to undergo transfusions with primed blood. However, it seems that no one is complaining about platelet injections. Blood is taken from a person, centrifuged down to isolate the platelets, and then it is injected into injured tissue. Though not scientifically validated, it appears to enhance ligament and tendon repair. By injecting this fraction into poorly vascularized tissues in the body, platelets can signal for other repair factors to activate and/or migrate to the site of damage.

Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ team physician, used platelet-rich plasma therapy in July on a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in the throwing elbow of pitcher Takashi Saito. Surgery would have ended Mr. Saito’s season and shelved him for about 10 to 14 months; he instead returned to pitch in the September pennant race without pain. Dr. ElAttrache said he could not be certain that the procedure caused the pitcher’s recovery — about 25 percent of such cases heal on their own, he said — but it was another encouraging sign for the nascent technique, which doctors in the field said could help not just injuries to professional athletes but the tendinitis and similar ailments found in the general population.
The jury is definitely still out on this technique. With several studies coming in the next year or so, we will have a better idea. At that point, I wonder if anyone will have a problem with this technique . . . I doubt it. It probably is not based too much on a chemical or too bizarre.

22 February 2009

Different Kind of Ball

A Different Kind of Ball
Some may remember a post I wrote on the old Camden Depot site about how much of the Steroid Era was actually caused by steroids. I cited this article which put it quite well:
The URI study showed that baseballs from two well-separated years in the post-1993 era (1995 and 2000) were very like each other, yet very different from balls from pre-1993 years; it also showed significant categorical differences between the older Spalding and newer Rawlings balls. The Penn State study showed a marked increase in zip from 1977 on. All that agrees with the stats-indicated and common-sense indicated belief in a big jump when the ball maker was changed between 1976 and 1977, as well as the belief that there was a subsequent jump starting in 1993 and in full force in 1994.

Essentially, the ball changed in 1993 and everything changed at that point. Power rose significantly and team composition changed with it.

A second article came out recently, which falls in line with the studies on baseball density. They focuses on slugging percentage on contact and presented this convenient chart:

It is pretty impressive how all of this information keeps on validating each other. One of the problems with this belief in steroids is that the power change came with such an immediate effect. That just does not follow drug use patterns. Baseball players simply did not all start taking steroids prior to the 1993 season. It then makes sense that a comprehensive event has to happen. That typically means expansion or perhaps a new baseball. I also find it hard to believe that most ball players knew exactly how to use steroids in order to increase their performance. It is not like there is a lot of scientific information sharing regarding steroid use and baseball performance to go about. It seems most of the usage and planning was based on word of mouth and a few gym rats.

Slap Hitters Are Thrown Fastballs
FanGraphs put out an interesting little exercise comparing isolated power with the percentage of fastballs a player will see. Though the data is noisy, there seems to be a direct relationship between a lack of power and the number of fastballs thrown to a player. Slap hitters are challenged often, which makes sense as you will reduce the number of pitches thrown for that at bat and the probable outcome is a ground ball. The noise is probably explained by variables, such as scouting reports that indicate a hitter may be particularly good or bad at hitting off speed pitches.

21 February 2009

Projecting the Next Five Years with Brian Roberts

This past week, the Orioles signed Brian Roberts to a 4 year, 40MM extension. Add this on to the current contract which pays him 8MM for 2009. I think it would be unfair to think of this as a 5 year, 48MM dollar deal as I would regard this year as a sunk cost that we would have been unable to relinquish given the current trade market. This post will focus on projecting Roberts' performance over the life of the extension and trying to determine whether this was a good deal to make.


Predicting Offensive Performance
The offensive projections for Brian Roberts were taken from the CHONE projections. I believe that this is an optimistic system to use given Roberts age and position. CHONE is quite useful for short-term projections, but is not really geared to predict long-term performance. PECOTA may be slightly better determining long term performance as it makes predictions based on similarity scores. I will be using the CHONE numbers though as they are publicly available and allow for a bit more transparency in this exercise. Performance is converted into LW runs and related to replacement level value after accounting for projected playing time. For second basemen, replacement level was considered 62 runs while average production was considered as 85 runs.

Predicting Defensive Performance
Last year, Roberts was rated as below average at 2B by UZR/150. We actually rated him slightly above average. We think over the course of the next 5 years, he will probably miss about 5-8 plays more with each following season. That might seem aggressive, but that follows the path of typical players at this position. With this in mind, it was simply assumed that he will give up an extra 4 runs each season. This makes him a slightly below average fielder this year (-5 FRAA) and a poor one in 2013 (-21 FRAA). It should also be acknowledged that in this work average fielding ability is considered on par with replacement fielding ability. There are arguments for and against this approach, but we feel it is a pretty accurate description of what is truly available at the replacement level.

Predicting the Value of a Win
Offensive and defensive production expressed as runs above replacement value were than added. The total runs value was then divided by 10 to determine WARP, which was then multiplied by assumed market value. It is generally accepted that a win over replacement production is worth about 4.5MM. There is growing sentiment that the economic crisis may put that in doubt, but I think a correction will occur and it will remain at about that level. That being so, I have attached the 4.5MM value to 2009 and increased the value by 10% each year. In 2013, the value of a win is projected to reach 6.6MM.

In the table below, I have listed Roberts' offensive production over the four years of the extension as well as his total production.

What you will notice is that over the course of the four year extension, he rates above average for two of those seasons and below average for two of those seasons. His lowest mark with regard to replacement value is being worth 0.9 WARP in 2013. Overall, he produces 7.7 WARP over the course of the extension. This could also be expressed as 0.5 wins above average. This potentially becomes problematic as the second half of his contract has his as -0.9 wins above average. Particularly in his final season, it may serve the team best if Roberts is on the bench.

The following table shows Roberts' actual contract against his projected worth over the course of the extension.

The projected value of his performance is worth 42.5MM with 63% of that worth coming in the first two seasons. Overall, the Orioles pay below the predicted going rate of cost per win. Although in the final two seasons they pay above.

The contract is fair, but may not be in sync with the Orioles development plan. Roberts' career path is not in line with the young arms in AA and AAA that this team is relying on to make it competitive. If the team is viable in the playoff race in 2013, it will most likely see Roberts losing time to L.J. Hoes or another second baseman. At this point, we assume that the Orioles should be able to stow away a moderately poor contract this year. In the end, the open question is whether or not the 40MM spent here could have been better applied on future free agents, international talent, or the draft?

Personally, I would not have extended such a deal, but it is understandable why Andy MacPhail chose to do so. Actually, a reason why I would offer Roberts an extension is if I was not planning to depend heavily on the young arms for plus performance. He is probably the best option we can obtain to bat lead off and he is a fine player for the next few years. If this is the plan, then I would expect major acquisitions in the next offseason cycle. The holes the Orioles will need to fill are most likely 1B, 3B, DH, and a top tier starting pitcher.

Although I doubt Ty Wigginton will actually produce well for the Orioles, he is an option at first base (his defense at third is incredibly bad). Next year's market is awfully thin at first and he is projected to hit 268/338/466. Though, he probably should be protected against excellent right handed pitchers. This might mean that this would be a good role for Luke Scott to platoon part time at first. A more expensive option would be to extend Aubrey Huff's contract. He most likely will not repeat last season's amazing performance, so he might be an option. Outside the organization, they could sign Nick Johnson and have him face all right handers and Wigginton play against lefties and backup other positions. It may be a situation where we look to find a left handed platoon player at first. Again, Luke Scott might be that guy.

As mentioned earlier, third base should not be left for Wigginton. They could resign Melvin Mora to a one year deal, but I think that would not be ideal. His defense is dipping to below average, he has trouble charging the ball, and he is at an age where batting performance could evaporate and be left way below average. In fact, the two seasons prior to last year were not good and it will be unlikely that he will play a solid third in 2010. The FA market will offer Troy Glaus and Adrian Beltre. Glaus projects as a fine hitter and a decent glove at third base. His age (33) and his previous back issues make him a dicey acquisition. I view Adrian Beltre as a better choice. He is 2 years younger than Glaus and will probably offer a level of play that is not commensurate with his actual performance. Many underestimate Beltre's glove and SafeCo's effect on his offensive performance. He will never be an offensive star, but, if he continues to provide a win to a win and a half with the glove, he is easily worth a four or five year deal at 13MM. He is someone the Orioles should target.

DH is another position with in house options. Those include Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Luis Montanez, Ty Wigginton, and Nolan Reimold. Outside the organization, the list includes Jason Bay, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui. If they do not expect Huff to play 1B for them, then they should probably play the market. This past year saw player value plunge for DH type outfielders. With the market so limited to AL only teams and with many teams already filled at the DH slot, it may make sense to roll the dice and see what is out there. At worst, the in house options should perform at a high enough level to provide average production.

Finally, a starting pitcher would have to be acquired. I think it is doubtful that the inevitable parade though the middle and lower rotation this year will produce much in terms of dependable pitching. In reality, we will probably have Guthrie (a solid middle order pitcher on a competitive team) and two lower order guys emerging from this season. Next year, we can probably slot one of the young guys (i.e., Matusz) at the five slot. This leaves us with a front line pitcher. Next year's market may potentially carry John Lackey, Eric Bedard, and Rich Harden. Signing one of these guys will make the team far more competitive.

A potential lineup would look like this:
2B Brian Roberts
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
1B Aubrey Huff
C Matt Wieters
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Luke Scott/Ty Wigginton
LF Felix Pie
SS Cesar Izturis

To go along with a top tier starter and a collection of third and fourth pitchers. This team rates in a highly competitive division as a 91 win team. Adding Beltre and a pitcher like Harden or Lackey is all that is needed in this scenario. If ways can be found to upgrade other positions, it should make the team more capable of reaching that level. I guess we will know a year from now.

19 February 2009

On the links . . .

Another National screw up.
Esmailyn Gonzalez is not the 19 year old who broke out in his second year of the GCL. He is actually Carlos Lugo who at 23, repeated the GCL and tore it up pretty well. He was, on average, 5 years older than his competition. It is unclear who perpetuated this fraud. Jim Bowden was adament to Stan Karsten back in 2006 to sign this kid/adult to make a cannon shot letting baseball talent in the Latin America know that the Nationals meant business. They gave him 1.4MM as a signing bonus (twice what rival Rangers were offering) and he immediately became one of their best minor leaguers. We had him rated 8th this past offseason. With this new knowledge . . . he is off our top 30. Bear in mind the Nats also have a thin farm system. A 23 year old repeating GCL just is not that impressive. This fraud case may have a deeper story coming out as the top brass of the Nationals were investigated for embezzling last year though nothing concrete has come out of that. Add that to the Aaron Crow debacle and senseless recharacterization of that ordeal . . . Washington does not seem to be the place to be at the moment.

Pitching Injury
This one slipped through the cracks a few weeks back, but I thought it was interesting enough to hit it. The guy at Razzball has developed criteria to identify pitchers at risk:
1. % of Curves+Sliders. The idea being that the more you rely on your breaking balls, the more strain you put on your arm. A third of pitchers who threw more than 27% C+S wound up pitching less than 2000 pitches the following year. A fourth of them saw an increase in their FIP (defense independent ERA) by 0.50.
2. An increase of 700 or more pitches from 2007 to 2008. This is a variation of the 30 inning increase rule. Pitchers over this level rated the same as those who threw more than 27% breaking balls.
3. Rookies throwing more than 2,700 pitches in their first year. The idea behind this is that extensive throwing at a higher level of competition could tax an arm. The numbers from 2007 and 2008 show that a third pitch less than 2,000 pitches their second season and that a fifth see their FIP rise 0.50.
Razzball IDs these as the top 5 guys to worry about:
1. Armando Galarraga - the reason why I hope we let Chris Tillman take his time to reach the majors.
2. Ricky Nolasco
3. Gavin Floyd
4. Brett Myers
5. Ryan Dempster

Baseball Prospectus' Baserunning Indices
The Orioles best base runner last season was Jay Payton. He was ranked 67th in the league. Overall . . . the team was pretty awful on the basepaths. In fact, we only had four starters who were above average:
Adam Jones (0.83 runs; pretty average at everything)
Brian Roberts (0.7; slightly above average at making most of his stolen base opportunities, his other baserunning skills actually produce a negative value)
Melvin Mora (0.47; awful at stealing bases to the tune of over 3 runs a season . . . decent with regard to advancing on base hits)
Luke Scott (0.2; OK at all things)
Markakis (52nd worst), Millar (13th worst in baseball), and Hernandez (23rd worst) were in total responsible for wasting about 15 runs or 1.5 wins last year. Markakis' probably is that he seems to get caught stealing at a decent clip.

Top three baserunners?
1. Ichiro 12.7 runs (a gain of over a run per season due to his base running skills)
2. Willy Tavares 11.9 runs
3. Ian Kinsler 9.2 runs

Bottom three?
Dionnar Navarro -8.0 runs
Magglio Ordonez -8.0 runs
Prince Fielder -7.1 runs

17 February 2009

Using Wang's Approach to Look at Drafting

Prospect Evaluation
Victor Wang did a short piece for THT a day or so back pitting Matt Wieters and David Price against each other. Based on his work, he states that a top ten hitting prospect is worth about twice as much as a top ten pitching prospect. In older articles he had written, he has determined that elite hitting prospects are worth significantly more than elite pitching prospects. That this difference narrows, but stays throughout the top 100 listed prospects (i.e. BA; not draft position). He has mentioned that his most recent work, in the THT annual, that he now finds a shift in the 50-100 range in that pitchers are now favored. What remains the same though is the greater projectability of top 50 positional talent. Now, the short piece he wrote states that Wieters is by far the more valuable prospect, but the questions as it pertains to the Orioles is greater. Andy MacPhail has stated that his organizational philosophy is to grow arms and buy bats. Some have pointed to this thought process as to why we selected Brian Matusz over Justin Smoak. It may make more sense to focus on bats at the top end of the draft and arms later. Of course, this ignores the evaluation of the market for free agents. It also ignores to a certain extent positional worth. So, yeah, there are a lot of questions, but it does make some sense. Matusz, as we have mentioned here, is a pitcher with decent mechanics and very good secondary pitches. We have written that we would have selected him . . . and we maintain that opinion. The key, draft-wise, is determining what value the player has. Is he a top tier pitcher or is he a top tier fielder? If you have a choice between them . . . it may make sense to lean toward the hitter while making up for this in the second and third rounds with pitching focused drafting. Comparing this perspective with the Orioles' selections and Camden Depot's selections:

1. Brian Matusz, LHP
2. Xavier Avery, OF
3. LJ Hoes, 2B/OF

Camden Depot
1. Brian Matusz, LHP
2. Tim Melville, RHP
3. Roger Kieschnick, OF

1. Justin Smoak, 1B
2. Tim Melville, RHP
3. Tim Murphey, LHP

It might be interesting to keep track of these separate top 3s.

Sackman evaluates Division 2 strength.
This is a follow up of a previous link I mentioned. His approach shows that there may have been 12 teams last year who could have held their own against D1 teams. The following list includes those teams who had a player selected in last year's draft:
Mount Olive (Daniel Hodges, Braves, round 23)
Delta State (Ken Smalley, A's, round 24; Eli Whiteside's alma mater)
Columbus State (Rodney Rutherford, A's, round 20)
Franklin Pierce (Scott Savastano, Mariners, round 28)
Catawba (David Thomas, A's, round 14)
Sonoma State (Travis Babin, Mets, round 16)
Tusculum (Maikol Gonzalez, Rockies, round 35)
Anyone else notice the A's being somewhat aggressive in division 2? I'm not sure it will play out for them, but it will be interesting to see if they really know what they are doing.

15 February 2009

Weekend Links . . . Money and Stats

Typical weekend post . . . somewhat lazy and waiting for the day to begin.

Evil Oriole Empire
The Orioles outspent the Red Sox by about 16% on free agents this off season. Southies are gnashing their teeth and screaming about the injustice of it all. In other news, the Yanks outspent the Orioles by 1600%. The end play of it all suggests that the BoSox had few holes to fill and are keeping some sense of payroll control in anticipation of the trade deadline this year when other teams may be dealing out big contacts on a short end cost in order to evacuate some expenditures and be able to make payroll. Perchance, the O's might do the same.

OK, we just need a sample size of 3500 ball in play.
Esteemed statistician Pizza Cutter has determined that you can determine with general certainty a pitcher's personal BABIP after about 3500 BIP. Mt. Cutter found an r-squared of 0.696, which is pretty good. So, you only need to wait for seven years of 180 inning per year ball before you strip the uncertainty from the statistic. Of course, this statement assumes that a pitcher's BABIP is a static skill over the course of his early career and maybe his lifetime. I think we all can assume that to be false. So . . . why did I link this again?

Actually it leads to this: Weighted BABIP, essentially.
What the previous link lacked was any sense of the components of BABIP, which are the types of a hits a pitcher produces with his repertoire. This method needs some more tweaking as the r-squared is a mere 0.26, but I think it is a fine step in the right direction. Basically, they broke down the types of hit balls that resulted for each pitcher and related that to expected BABIP. They found that certain pitchers do have a tendency to procure poorly hit balls, while others get mashed. On his list of pitchers who produce the hardest balls to field we find: CC Sabathia and Garrett Olson. It might be the only list that will ever have these two, just a name apart from each other. Turkenkopf's next work will supposedly include park factors, handedness, and pitch f/x data. Looking forward to that.