19 March 2010

The 1st Rd of the 2009 Draft by John Sickels and Baseball Prospectus

The following graphic is a summation of the John Sickels and Baseball Prospectus lists. Be sure to click on the image to get a larger picture that is quite a bit more legible.

As Orioles fans may note, it appears that neither of these sources think very well of the Hobgood pick. Hopefully, he proves them wrong.

Nothing after the jump.

17 March 2010

Five to Watch in Frederick

As many who watched Delmarva would know, the Shorebirds lacked the talent that their opponents had. Much of this group is promoted up to Frederick, where fans there may get to see a large dose of mediocrity. That said, there are a few prospects in this bunch who could really break out. Ronnie Welty is certainly someone who has the tools needed, but has not yet been completely able to combine them with the needed skills. Xavier Avery is another who has a lot of raw ability, but needs to start translating that into actual performance.

After the jump, top five guys to keep a tab on.

1. Ronnie Welty RF Delmarva
291/373/427 over 426 AB; TZ: +1 run over 150

Welty's strikeout rate was a concern his first year in pro ball with Bluefield as he struck out 23% and walked 4% of the time. In 2009, he spent the entire season in Delmarva, which is usually the first place draftees see well polished off speed offerings. He k'd 25% and bb'd 10%. The walk rate was quite promising, but the inability to reduce strikeouts is tempering expectations. He stands right now as a fringe bat. There is good reason to think he can retain those rates and should build on the ISO as Delmarva is not a forgiving place for hitters. For this season to be a success, he needs to retain his walk rate and his ISO if not build on them. He also needs to start whittling down his strikeouts. Another aspect he needs to build on is his performance against right handed pitchers. Much of his offensive output last year was caused by him mashing lefties. Defensively, he is a solid outfielder in right and should be able to take his tool set quite easily to left field. Right now, he looks like he might be a poor man's Nick Markakis in terms of production and skills. That would be a fringe 4th outfielder type.

2. Xavier Avery CF Delmarva
264/309/343 over 469 AB; TZ: -3 runs over 150

Avery was a second round selection in the 2008 draft. He was a raw talent having spent a significant portion of his high school developmental time as a very talented football player. He flashes plus plus speed and is toolsy. His swing does not suggest power and his build indicates that he will most likely not acquire that. His success offensively has been mainly a product of utilizing his speed by hitting groundballs and beating them out. However, he has shown that when he is able to pull the ball he is capable of hitting low liners into right field at a rather successful rate. If he is able to build upon that and produce some marginal gap power, it might translate into greater success at the plate as it appears few pitchers are afraid to challenge him. His defense is equally raw. His missteps are often covered by his shear speed. Right now, he has the look of a marginal fourth outfielder. It is rare for someone who was so challenged in loA to become a top prospect even when they were aggressively promoted like Avery was. What would be good to see would be a batting average above .280 and an ISO over .100. If these two things happen, we can start looking forward to Avery as a potential solution for the Orioles. Most troubling would be a decrease in his contact rate and an increase in strikeouts. This really isn't "the" year for Avery to make or break, but he needs to start showing baseball skills as opposed to athletic ability.

3. LJ Hoes 2B Delmarva
263/303/322 over 429 AB; TZ: -6 runs over 150

Hoes was selected in the third round of the 2008 draft. A local guy who was selected for his polished bat and pitch recognition. He was largely without a position, so the Orioles slated him for second base as it meets his tool set and is an area of organizational need. His rookie year in Bluefield was very promising as he showed great pitch recognition and marginal gap power. His adjustment to playing second was somewhat difficult though. In Delmarva, off speed pitches ate him up and he saw his walk rate drop from 15% to 5%. For his age, it was an aggressive push. One could argue that extended spring training and a stop in Aberdeen would have suited Hoes better. Understanding that, it has been mentioned that scouts were pleased with his progression. I was unable to see him last season, so I am not sure what exactly they were impressed by. He did increase his contact rate as the seaosn progressed and was able to work deeper into the counts. He still appeared quite overmatched at the plate. His defense also continues to be a need area where he must improve. For this season to be a success, he'll never to improve his batting average past 280 and get his walk rate above 10% again. If he stumbles, he will probably see himself back in Frederick again next year.

4. Brandon Cooney
60.3 IP 3.28 FIP 7.2 k/9 2.8 bb/9 2.45 GB:FB +37 FIP(L)

Not to take anything away from Brandon Cooney, but when the fourth most interesting prospect on your team is a reliever . . . that really is not a very positive thing. Minor league relievers are pretty much a dime a dozen as their worth is directly related to the development of two pitches. At the MiL level, a reliever can often be quite successful with one good pitch and another average one. Similar to how a MiL starter can get by with two solid pitches. Trouble is that does not play well on a MLB scale. That MiL starter becomes a middle reliever and the MiL pitcher goes back to AAA. The margin of error just is quite tight for relievers in the minors and is a major reason why you typically do not see their names on any prospect list. That said, he throws hard and lives over a 2 seamer. From what I hear, he needs to command it a little better and develop a second offering. He may spend half a year in Frederick and should be the first in the bullpen to be promoted if a need arises in Bowie.

5. Oliver Drake RHSP Delmarva
134.7 IP 3.64 FIP 7.0 k/9 2.8 bb/9 1.59 GD:FB +17 FIP(L)

Drake was a surprise pick in the 2008 draft as it seems many teams did not realize he was draftable. His performance was what was largely expected last year as he succeeded against LoA hitters in a pitchers park. That success should translate to HiA as much of it was the result of inducing groundballs. As he stands right now, Drake looks to be a middle reliever when he reaches the Majors, but as a starter he probably won't face exceptional trouble until he reaches AAA. He is probably the Keys' best starter in 2010.

Others to watch:
Joe Mahoney 1B - Confused season as potential power hitter became more of a gap hitting base stealer. Need to see some power development.
Tyler Kolodny 3B - Good power, but very poor contact skills. Might stall out in Frederick.
Cole McCurry RHSP - Promising, but his fly ball tendencies will not play well as he moves up.
Patrick Kantakevich RHRP - Long road ahead as he looks to be an MiL RHRP. Not overpowering.

15 March 2010

Comparison of Project Prospect and Baseball America Prospect Lists

Just a simple post here as I have not really found anything interesting with this data so far.

Project Prospect has been incredibly focused lately on similarities and differences between their list and others. For instance, PP makes an effort to put more positional talent in theirs as pitching has a higher attrition rate. I find it to be a rather arbitrary adjustment as it is applied across the board as no one really knows which pitchers are likely to get hurt, so what does it mean in terms of their value being compromised. There probably is a better qualitative concept in there somewhere, but I have yet to see it really eloquently put. It certainly makes sense to devalue a more volatile commodity, but there is an aspect of apples and oranges here. Certainly apples are better than rotten oranges or vice versa depending on your preference, so there is a correlation there. The issue is figuring out how they relate.

So, what simple things have I found comparing the two lists? Well, I focused on changes between 2009 and 2010 lists.

For Baseball America, I found that 30 graduated to the Majors and no longer qualify. 32 dropped off the list. 38 stayed. Of the new entries onto the list, 23 were draftees and 39 were professionals. For Project Prospect, 36% graduated to the majors. This is greater than BA's and is probably a characteristic that PP's lists with hold true on. They value floor more than they value ceiling and such a priority in criteria will result in a higher graduation rate and perhaps delayed value on prospects until they have proven themselves. 31 were dropped from the list, which is similar to BA. 33 remained on the list, which is less than BA . . . but is due more to PP graduating more players. PP also seems to have a wait and see approach with draftees as 16 were on the new top 100 list. The rest were made up with professionals.

Really nothing very interesting here. As PP has said themselves, they value the floor more than the ceiling and their goal is to predict future hard value. That more often than not means a track record. A track record will likely indicate more advanced players with professional history. I figure that PP will likely miss some less experienced players on the fringe that BA would pick up. I also think BA will ignore highly skilled players on the fringe and that PP would pick them up.

Which is better? Eh, it is apples and oranges.

12 March 2010

Five Guys to Watch in Delmarva

This will be the first of a four part series focusing on players of interest in several levels of the Orioles minor league system. Today, the first part of this series will focus on players we assume will be playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds. At this level there are a number of young players who are going to be thrown into the fire and challenged (i.e. Mychal Givens, Matt Hobgood) or are trying to make good on solid short seasons or rookie ball (i.e. Vito Frabizio, Jake Cowan).

After the jump, top five guys to keep a tab on.

1. Matt Hobgood RHSP Bluefield
27.2 IP 3.18 FIP 5.2 k/9 2.6 bb/9 2.21 GB:FB -21 FIP(L)

Matt Hobgood probably has had one of the worst looking professional debuts from those who signed last year, but it really was not that bad. He came in throwing about five miles per hour slower than he did in mid-season form as a prep, so a month of buffets probably did not help him. When he finally showed up at Bluefield, he did one thing well and another not so well. He induced groundballs, which is good. His 2 seamer will be what gets him to the Majors. At this level, though, groundballs wind up for hits at a much greater rate than they do at higher levels with better fielding. What Hobgood did not do so well at was missing bats. 5.2 k/9 is not going to get you anywhere near Norfolk much less Baltimore.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Hobgood has devoted himself to conditioning and is in better shape now than he was when he was pitching last year. He also claims to now be back past 90 mph with his fastball, which he will need. With a pitcher's palace like Delmarva's stadium (though it is more helpful for flyball pitchers like Cole McCurry), Hobgood should see a great change in his fortune and how Baltimore fans regard his selection in the 2009 draft. Although the general consensus among the national publications has him as the 8th best prep arm in last year's draft behind Chad James . . . I think some opinions might change. He is a great pitcher to look for when you are thinking about attending a Shorebird game.

2. Jake Cowan RHSP Aberdeen
25 IP 3.41 FIP 9.7 k/9 4.0 bb/9 1.16 GB:FB -30 FIP(L)

Cowan was another pitcher selected in last year's draft. Somewhat overlooked by many casual fans, several of us were actually quite pleased with the selection. In Aberdeen, Cowan threw a few innings and showed that he is capable of missing bats and inducing some ground balls, which are both hallmarks of successful pitching. His main problem in that short amount of innings was command of his fastball. It should be an offering that develops significantly as his body fills out. He also has a pretty remarkable slider. If he can develop more consistency, he and Hobgood could make for a pretty devastating 1-2 tandem at Delmarva.

3. Mychal Givens SS
Did not play

Givens signing was a little tumultuous with him demanding more money than he has previously indicated to Jordan and some confusing words he sent out to the media. Joe Jordan at one time publicly announce that Givens was not signing and that the money budgeted for him would be spent elsewhere. Eventually, Givens relented and Jordan asked Andy MacPhail for a budget extension (as he had spent the money on other talents). By the time this happened, it was said that Givens was not in game shape (having not played all summer) and would be shelved until next season.

Here at Camden Depot, we have seen Givens more as a solid backend bullpen arm. The Orioles view him differently. As a SS, his form at short is a bit rough. His footwork is not ideal and that often leaves him slightly out of position with him swiping at the ball. We also feel that his lower body is going to thicken out and hurt his range. His bat is also a work in progress. He showed poor contact skills at the high school level and not much power. In short, the Orioles will need to teach him how to play short and how to hit. This is not a typical second round selection. As a power arm, he would be much better suited to reach the Majors at an earlier date.

So, this makes it very interesting to see how he does at Delmarva. With a great deal of instruction on his fielding and hitting, we should be able to either see some amazing progression as the season unfolds . . . or we may see the beginnings of doubt and a few omens that call him to put away the glove and break out his mid-90s heat. I hope I am wrong about him at short. The Orioles future is a bit simpler if he does belong there.

4. Vito Frabizio RHSP Bluefield
76 IP 3.61 FIP 8.2 k/9 2.1 bb/9 1.38 GB:FB +39 FIP(L)

Frabizio is another player that is very intriguing. He is a player who the Orioles signed as an undrafted free agent, largely overlooked because he had dropped out of high school. In his second year of pro ball, he showed he was able to miss bats, not give up walks, and induce more ground balls than flies. It was very impressive. If he is able to continue that in Delmarva, he may establish himself as a solid top 10/15 prospect in the Orioles system. He is certainly someone you should remember.

5. Aaron Wirsch LHSP
18 IP 3.10 FIP 9.0 k/9 5.0 bb/9 3.37 GD:FB +62 FIP(L)

Some think it might be aggressive to put him in Delmarva. The other option would be extended spring training and then slotting him into the Aberdeen rotation. I think though that Wirsh, a 7th round pick last year out of El Toro HS, is advanced enough that he would be able to pitch in LoA. He needs to fill out and when he does that his fastball should break into the low 90s. He also has two secondary pitches which show some promise. If the Orioles do aggressively promote Wirsch, his development this year will be quite exciting.

Others to watch:
Tyler Townsend 1B - disappointing season last year, needs to establish his hit tools
Gery Helmick 2B - showed remarkable patience at the plate and could stick at second
Enrico Jimenez RHSP - never heard of him, but his peripherals in DSL are very promising
Jesse Beal RHSP - local amateur scouts love him, great GB:FB, does not miss a bat though

Reminder: Evaluations of these players are composites of public chats as well as consensus data collected from multiple trade journals. Specific evaluations by me or others at Camden Depot is typically mentioned specifically.

11 March 2010

Options if Brian Roberts Cannot Play

Just a short post here. I really disagree with the names that Tim Dierkes and Dan Moroz have brought out as potential replacements for Brian Roberts. I think they rely a bit too much on salaried lists. I think the focus should be more on potential no option players who could be had for cheap or nearly nothing. On the O's options we agree.

Robert Andino
Ty Wigginton
Scott Moore
Justin Turner

Via Trade
Eric Patterson - A's
Joe Inglett - Brewers
Hernan Iribarren - Brewers
Jeff Baker - Cubs
Eugenio Velez - Giants
Clint Barmes - Rockies
Ramon Santiago - Tigers
Sergio Santos - White Sox

10 March 2010

What happens if the Nationals don't select Bryce Harper?

This will be the first of perhaps many posts looking at the Orioles option in the draft. Today's exercise is to try to determine who might be available and who might the Orioles select in the draft . . . and, more specifically here, at 1:3.

It has been long supposed that JuCo phenom Bryce Harper will be selected by the Washington Nationals. That he and Strasburg will provide the Nationals with a solid 2009 and 2010 draft value and, hopefully, lead to a renaissance or, more apt, a beginning for the Nationals franchise. Lately though, there has been some backlash against Harper's value, which was to be expected. The Sports Illustrated article took to hyperbole and created a "Bryce Harper" for everyone to focus on. Also, if the world is dedicated to him as being a phenom then scouts and journalists can zero in and magnify any imperfections. To a lesser extent, I think this happened to both Tyler Matzek and Grant Green.

Jonathan Mayo, prospect analyst for MLBlogs.com, rated Harper as the 4th overall prospect to begin the amateur season. He placed Anthony Renaudo, Drew Pomeranz, and Jameson Taillon ahead of Harper. I can understand Renaudo (seems like a sure thing) and Taillon (great potential), but think Pomeranz might be given too much credit. We'll see about that. BP's Kevin Goldstein said in a chat, "I've talked to a lot of scouts, scouting directors and front office people who have seen Harper. His power is absolutely friggin' unreal, no doubt about it, but there are questions about his barrel control, the length of his swing, and his ability to be anything more than a 1B down the road." That concern was later repeated by Buster Olney who mentioned that many scouts doubt that when Harper finishes growing that he may not have the quickness to catch up to MLB quality fastball.

That said, I still think he goes number one. Why might he not and how does that affect the Orioles? After the jump.

Here is what goes against Harper being drafted by the Nationals.

Drafting Harper does not fit the M.O. of the Nationals front office.
Mike Rizzo and Kris Kline seem unlikely to draft expensive "prep" players. Harper may be a JuCo, but age-wise he is a Junior in high school. He is also likely to see something in the neighborhood of 7.5MM dollars (about a 20% increase from Donovan Tate's bonus). With potential changes to draft bonus structure, I think Harper would not press too much for money similar to Strasburg's. Rizzo/Kline are more likely to select a solid/elite college prospect, an established JuCo, or a slot prep. Who are those guys?

College Prospect?
Anthony Renaudo . . . the right hander will cost about 8MM or so with Boras calling the shots. He should be a fast riser and be a solid arm to slot right next to Strasburg. I think he rates out more as a workhorse number 3 pitcher. I am assuming his arm discomfort is not a long term issue. If the injury does become an issue, then the next closest ones fitting this mold are Drew Pomeranz and Deck McGwire. Neither of those profile quite the same way as a healthy Renaudo.

Established JuCo?
LeVon Washington . . . Washington just is not a quality number 1 pick and would be something Washington would do if it focused on being slot. Two things stand out against Washington: a severe arm injury (some say he currently rates as a 20, but that is sure to improve though not certain to what degree) and that he is largely without a position (most likely profiles as a LF, but some may try to shoehorn him in as a 2B). If the Nationals do go slot, I could see something more like Zach Cox or Chris Sale from the college ranks or a prep.

Prep for slot?
AJ Cole . . . he would be the signing here if the Nationals wanted to go for slot here. I don't think they do. Cole is a solid arm with projection left in his frame and offerings. As a pro, he profiles as having a great fastball and a potentially plus curve.

So, the only potential pick I see for them outside of Bryce Harper is Anthony Renaudo. For this to happen, Renaudo needs to bounce back from his elbow discomfort and show it is of no concern.

What does Pittsburgh do?
Pittsburgh has shown two styles with their draft: spend big on a polished, elite college player or go slot. Thinking this, I cannot see Bryce Harper being drafted by the Pirate brain trust. He has enough chinks in the armor for the small market Pirates to shift cost elsewhere. I'm sure a lot of gnashing of teeth will happen in lazy writers' columns across America, but it makes some sense and is a logical perspective.

Renaudo would be the obvious elite, polished prospect that the Pirates would attach themselves to. In his absence, I could see them pursuing Deck McGwire (RHP, Junior, Georgia Tech), Drew Pomeranz (LHP, Junior, University of Mississippi), or Christian Colon (SS, Junior, Cal State - Fullerton). I could also see LeVon Washington going here if the Pirates believe his arm is sound.

Now what do the Orioles do?
At this point, Bryce Harper has passed by the Nationals and the Pirates who probably both fear that he commands more in a signing bonus than what he is worth. Industry sources seem to think that the Orioles are willing to spend top dollar on an elite prospect, but there is some concern over the Matusz and, particularly, Hobgood picks that there may be some cost restraint. I can see this going three ways with the third way being a bit hard to determine.

Scenario 1: Fans Rejoice
Bryce Harper is selected by the Orioles and given a MLB contract in exchange for accepting a 6.5MM signing bonus. This leaves the Orioles with about 2.5MM left in their budget and they go slot for the rest of the draft with one or two moderate overslots. There would be nothing similar to the deals handed to Michael Ohlman and Cameron Coffey. If not selected here, I have a hard time seeing him get past the Royals.

Scenario 2: Fans Grumble
Jameson Taillon is selected and signs for 6.5MM to a MiL contract. Again, the rest of the way the Orioles choose to go slot. Taillon is a big, tall righty who is certainly an elite talent. He is current the player who most analysts assume the Orioles will select (with Harper going first). If not selected here, Taillon will probably go to either the Royals or may slip all the way down to 15 to the Rangers. He will demand a big pay day or else will go off to college.

Scenario 3: Fans Froth and Take to the Streets
The Orioles think that Harper's worth is severely limited if he is stuck at first base. They may also think that paying north of 6MM for Taillon is a poor use of their budget. In this case, they may go slot just like the Pirates. I can see them also being interested in McGwire, Pomeranz, and Colon. I could also see them being interested in AJ Cole or Stetson Allie (RHP, Senior, St. Edward HS OH). In this scenario, they would pay about 3MM to sign their player and then aggressively pursue several overslot prospects. Most of those this year will again be pitchers. In general, the talent level in this draft class is not considered as deep as last year's.

What do I think right now about this course of events?
I think they select whoever Joe Jordan can get for less in order to be able to sign one or two overslots later in the draft. There just will not be enough viable overslots in my opinion for that route to be taken. I think the Orioles will rate Harper and Taillon as 1A and 1B. Jordan leans toward pitching in his evaluation, so I think Taillon has the edge here. Jordan also seems to really focus on personal interaction with draftees. If Taillon players up his commitment, it might turn Jordan off even though it would be obvious that it would be a ploy. Taillon cannot earn more money by going to college. In part, I wonder if that is why the Orioles downgraded Matzek to such an extent. So, I haven't answered the question . . . Bryce Harper. He wants to sign. Though, he wants to sign for a lot of money.

08 March 2010

Japanese Baseball Blog: Yakyu Baka (interview)

To many in the United States, Japanese baseball is a rather vague concept. We are aware every once in a while of an impressive player like Yu Darvish, but often only pay attention when an individual is being posted or is an unrestricted free agent. It is rare for most MLB fans to pay attention to any player's career as it unfolds. Difficulties include finding comprehensive analysis packaged for a reader of English as well as just a basic understanding in the differences between the game in Japan and in the United States.

The past few years, we have seen more interest in international baseball as MLB teams are reaching into Europe, India, and with a rapid influx of Cuban talent after Dayan Viciendo signed. Greater awareness has also turned to Japan where youth (Junichi Tazawa) is beginning to trickle into the States. This has created a much broader and informed group of fans that actively search out information about baseball in these regions.

Earlier we discussed the game in Cuba with Cubano and today we are interviewing Gen, the author of the Japanese Baseball Blog Yakyu Baka. This web site is a great source of information for those of us who are taking more of an interest in the Japanese game. I suggest everyone to check it out.

After the jump, Gen answers several questions quite extensively. It is a great read.

Camden Depot: Can you introduce yourself, your background, and explain what you do with your website?

Gen: My name is Gen. I was born and raised by Japanese parents in New York. I was a huge Yankee fan (since the 1980s) before moving to Japan 6 years ago. I now find that I'm spending less time following the Yankees / MLB and more time following Japanese baseball.

I started providing daily coverage on as much as I can about Japanese baseball (or yakyu) about a year ago, beginning with the WBC. It wasn't until later that I started doing it under the Yakyubaka title. I'm just a one man show so there are obviously limits in what I can do, but I try my best. I'm also not a professional analyst, just a really big fan of baseball.

CD: When the Orioles' Koji Uehara was signed, it was mentioned that he threw a shuuto. It was roughly explained to me that a shuuto is similar to a screwball. It also appears that any Japanese pitcher that throws one, abandons the pitch when he moves over to Major League Baseball. Is this accurate? Why do you think the pitch is more effective in Japan?

G: The shuto (or shuuto) is a tough pitch to put your finger on. Mostly because different people have different opinions on it. If you talk to baseball people in the US, they'll probably say that the shuto looks like a sinker or a two-seam fastball. If you talk to baseball people in Japan, some will probably say there is no US equivalent, while others might agree that it's similar to a two-seamer. You'd figure by now that there would be some sort of general consensus, but that doesn't really appear to be the case. To make things even more complicated is that not every pitcher throws it the same exact way.

I found this video that might help explain the shuto a bit more. It's in Japanese, but I think you can get a feel for what they're saying just by watching. This particular video explains the shuto as being something opposite to the slider. Incidentally, during the graphic where they show the grips, they also mentions that some pitchers don't use the seems at all.

As for why pitchers might abandon the pitch... There's a difference in the style of play between the MLB and the NPB. Perhaps the following will help illustrate the point a little better.

Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham Fighters), Hideaki Wakui (Seibu Lions), and Masahiro Tanaka (Rakuten Eagles) are likely in the top for pitchers in the NPB right now. They're also all under 25. I suppose it should also be noted that they pitch in the Pacific League.

Now, as for why I bring them up, it's because of the following stat (from the 2009 season):

Darvish threw his fastball 34% of the time. Wakui 36%. Tanaka 38%.

While there are pitchers in Japan that throw a lot of fastballs, the fact that three of Japan's top pitchers throw the fastball less than 40% of the time shows a different trend than in the US.

To extend the thought further, according to data posted at Data Stadium's blog [ http://www.plus-blog.sportsnavi.com/input/article/70 ], the fastball was thrown 46% of the time (the data is for 2009 and only through to July 1). In comparison, based on what I could gather at Fangraphs [ http://www.fangraphs.com/teams.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&&type=4&season=2009&month=0 ], the fastball was thrown close to 60% of the time in the Majors in 2009. It seems pitchers in the NPB also throw a lot more sliders as well: 25% vs the MLB's 14% or so.

Of course, this is over just one year. And not even a complete year for the NPB, but I think its a good start in terms of showing how differently the game is played in Japan.

One other thing: I wonder if it might be possible that the shuto is getting "lost in translation" when it hits the Majors. In other words, how do we know if Japanese pitchers are abandoning their shutos if they're throwing two-seamers and sinkers? Couldn't it be possible that those pitches are just re-packaged shutos?

Incidentally, that Baseball Stadium chart also lists the shuto at 6%.

* for those that don't know, Baseball Stadium is the company that records / stores baseball data for the NPB.

CD: It has been mentioned (most recently with Dice-K) that rest between starts, pitches thrown per game, and pitching loads differ between Japan and the US. Could you elaborate on the differences that a pitcher might face?

G: Most teams in Japan tend to go with a 6-man rotation. And with at least one day off each week, that means pitchers usually have one start per week. There's also usually no such thing as a pitch limit, unless there's concern for an injury. For example, during Spring camp this year, there were pitchers that threw 200+ pitches in one bullpen session. I'm guessing that's something you would never see happen in the US. But in Japan, it shows fighting spirit and is considered one of the best way to improve stamina.

There are other things to take into consideration like longer travel times, longer seasons, different timezones, different diets, different training programs, different cultures, language barriers... All of these things can add up and create fluctuations in a pitcher's stamina.

I think there's also something to be said of the size of the balls and the mounds as well.

While the basic requirements for baseballs between the two countries are basically the same, Japanese baseball makers (ZETT, Mizuno, ASICS, Kubota) tend to make baseballs based on the minimum values while the US baseball maker (Rawlings) tend to make them based on the maximum values. This is why you hear lot about MLB baseball being bigger than Japanese baseballs. MLB baseballs also tend to have smoother surfaces with stitching that more pronounced. Depending on the pitcher, they may abandon certain pitchers based on whether or not they can comfortably throw it.

For a comparison, take a look here:



As for the mounds, based on things I've read, Japanese mounds tend to be softer than their MLB counterparts. I have no idea which is actually better for the leg, but it would seem a softer landing surface would be better suited to absorbing shock. I wouldn't be surprised if the harder mounds were causing more strain (or at least different kinds of strain) which could maybe explain why Japanese pitchers get tired more quickly.

These are just guesses though. Someone that knows more about muscles and surfaces would be better suited to diving further into this topic.

And to take all of this further, I think I might go so far as to say that NPB pitchers will never have pro-longed success AS STARTERS in the Majors. Age will of course determine length -- the older player is when they get to the Majors, the fewer years they'll have, in general, to have good years. But more than that, I think that by the time an NPB pitcher gets to the Majors, it's almost too late to re-program their bodies.

Maybe that's an extreme view to take. The jury is still out on Daisuke Matsuzaka. He could certainly break the mold.

A couple of players I'll be watching this season, with keen interest, will be Colby Lewis and Junichi Tazawa.

Lewis played under Marty Brown so there might not be much different with him (in terms of conditioning), but he did have success in Japan. I'm interested in seeing how that translates in the Majors. As for Tazawa, I hear the Red Sox might give him a look as a reliever. That could actually work out in favor of Tazawa. Let him get used to the rigors of the MLB as a reliever and once he does, shift him into the rotation when a spot opens up.

In fact, just on a whim, I think it might make more sense to start Japanese pitchers as relievers and then move them out once they get a hang of pitching in the Majors. It would take more time, but it would give them the prep time to make the conversion. Tazawa may be young, but he grew up playing baseball in Japan. If you think NPB practices can be tough, high school practices can sometimes be even tougher.

CD: What are your thoughts on the Gentleman's Agreement between the leagues in which MLB has agreed not to sign Japanese amateurs? From what I have seen (particularly with Junichi Tazawa) that teams will eventually ignore the agreement. What would that mean for Japanese baseball?

G: This is a tough one for me because I really love watching Japanese baseball. The last thing I want to see is the domestic talent pool drained because of the MLB. I don't know think that will necessarily happen, for a number of reasons which I won't get into here, but the fact that it can does bother me a little.

At the same time, I also understand why players would want to go the MLB -- more money, more security, better competition.

The biggest problem with the NPB faces right now is the 4 player limit on foreign players (you can also never have all four spots taken up by just pitchers or just position position players). If the NPB can either increase that number or get rid of the limit entirely, it would like boost the level of play across the board.

While I can't ever imagine the NPB removing the limit completely, I think even a slight increase, to say 6 players, could change things drastically.

CD: Long-term, what do you think will be the state of Japanese baseball? Some have compared it to the Pacific League in the 1940s and 1950s, which rivaled MLB until MLB relocated and established franchises on the West Coast of the United States.

G: This is a tough question. I think if nothing changes, the NPB will be in serious trouble (financially, it already sort of is). I tend to see the glass half-empty in these kinds of situations, so maybe things aren't quite as dark as I think they are, but I honestly do feel that what happens over the next 3-5 years will help determine which direction the NPB is really going. After all, there's only so many years a league can operate in the red. The NPB is hoping international tournaments can help bring in some extra revenue, just like the WBC did in 2009, but I think that's just a temporary solution to a much larger problem.

CD: Thanks again for your time, Gen.

Gen is the author behind the blog Yakyu Baka.

06 March 2010

Kiley McDaniel is Part of the Orioles Front Office

Kiley McDaniel is now with the Orioles. His responsibilities have not been announced to the public, but the gist most likely has something to do with amateur talent acquisition. Most recently, McDaniel was writing for Baseball Prospectus with a slant on the Latin American market. Before then, he was co-founder of SaberScouting.

His partner in crime there, Frankie Piliere, is now a writer with AOL Fanhouse and focusing on minor league prospects. We have linked to him before.

Anyway, we wish McDaniel the best and hope this is something that help boosts our amateur talent coming into the system.

03 March 2010

A somewhat blind stab at revenue sharing . . .

In a recent article at Baseball America, Maury Brown discusses revenue sharing. He wrote:

Revenue-sharing money comes from two pools. One is central fund revenue, which comes from national television and radio deals, Major League Baseball Advanced Media, merchandise sales and the newly formed MLB Network. Each of the 30 clubs got a check for about $30 million in 2009 through this arrangement.

The other pool is the one that has created tension between small- and large-revenue clubs, as it is the one that transfers money between franchises. This pool is made up of net local revenues, such as ticket sales, concessions and media deals that each club negotiates for television and radio.

What is uncertain is how the second pool is dispersed. The following numbers are based on the total of 433MM of revenue sharing reported in the Biz of Baseball. I then merely assumed the money was paid out similarly to the 2005 scheme, but that is probably a rather large assumption.

Tampa Bay Rays 45.9MM
Marlins 43.1MM
Blue Jays 43.1MM
Royals 41.7MM
Pirates 34.8MM
Tigers 34.8MM
Brewers 33.4MM
Twins 31.6MM
Athletics 26.4MM
Reds 22.3MM
Rangers 22.3MM
Diamondbacks 18.1MM
Indians 8.3MM
Phillies 8.3MM
Padres 8.3MM
Nationals 5.6MM
Orioles 2.8MM

This method would suggest that Scott Boras was correct in his assertations earlier this offseason. It also suggests that MLB cuts a check for the Orioles at the tune of 32.8MM.

There is no text after the jump.

Projected Season Wins: Vegas vs Diamond Mind Projections . . . Part II

Last week I compared actual season wins against projected seasons wins using projections systems and the Vegas Line. In general, what we found was that each system was pretty accurate. We also found that teams do not overperform considerably (exceeding one standard deviation) if either system predicts the team to win more than 90 games, but that there are several instances of underperformance for these teams (particularly with the projection-based system). Two interesting and most likely non-applicable observations were that Vegas lines tended to under estimate teams they predict to win 85-90 games while the Projection systems tend to underestimate teams in the 73-78 win range. I do not know why in either instance and think it may just be a statistical abnormality.

Today, after the jump, we will be comparing the Vegas line to the Projection system. Again, I have little to no clue about gambling, so I am not sure what it all means related to that . . . if someone wishes to guest blog something about that would be swell. For me, it has more to do with differences between the wisdom of the crowd and the wisdom of a carefully optimized set of algorithms as well as how that might apply to betting . . . which again is something I do not well understand. In this set of analysis, I will be looking for instances where the crowd wisdom would prevail in an over/under bet against the projection system.

The way I chose to compare the Vegas line against the Projection system is to look at instances where they differed against each other by a standard deviation (~8 wins) and then by an arbitrary number that sounds nice (5 wins).

There are 11 instances in which the two system disagreed by 8 or more wins. In three of these instances, siding in agreement with the projection system would win up with losses against the crowd line. I cannot find much in agreement with these three data points other than all three have Projection estimates of under .500 winning percentage. Limiting it to that criteria, we would get a 4-3 betting scenario. The data here is limited, but that might be a decent working hypothesis: trust the projection systems when there is an 8 game spread between the two and the projection system guesses a winning season. Another working hypothesis is to go with the projection system when the spread is 8 games and the projection system predicts fewer wins (5-1) as opposed to more wins (3-2) than the Vegas line. Still, the amount of data is not very great.

There are 27 instances in which the two systems disagreed by 5 or more wins and again the rate at which the Vegas line wins is about 25%. Using the working hypothesis generated above with 5 game or greater spread and a winning Projection-based record, 9-2 is slightly better than the entire data set. The second working hypothesis (5 or more spread with projection predicting less) winds up with a 10-2 result, which is better than the alternative 11-5). Again, the power of this study is pretty limited, but it is something that we will tease apart more so in the future.

When all of the projections come in, we'll comment on who fits into these classifications and follow how well the working hypotheses work.

02 March 2010

The Giants and Steve Johnson

Last December we explained why it made complete sense why Steve Johnson was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft and why he was likely to return to the Orioles. Today, I'd like to explore Johnson's potential for sticking with the Giants this season. First off, the Giants will carry seven arms in their pen. Five are essentially locks to being the season. They include the closer Brian Wilson, whom many compare favorably to Jonathan Broxton. He has a live arm and was successful in the role last year for the Giants. Their set up also return. Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo also had solid years and are definites. In middle relief, Brandon Medders solidified his role last year and Dan Runzler emerged as the minor league Giants pitcher of the year as well as being fairly unhittable in his short time in the Majors last year.

This leaves two slots open for Steve Johnson to fill: middle relief or long relief. With both Runzler and Affeldt as southpaws, Johnson's righthandedness should not impede him. It also helps that his role is one in which very little is expected. Merkin Valdez and Joe Martinez/Ryan Sandowski held down the middle relief and long relief/swingman roles, respectively. Of those players, only Joe Martinez remains. What also works for Johnson is that Giants personnel are very positive about Johnson after watching him for several seasons in the Dodgers' system.

After the jump, Johnson's competition for these two positions and what this may mean for the Orioles.

Todd Wellemeyer, RHRP (has started in the past)
Wellemeyer is a non-roster invite to the Giants camp. He came up as a reliever in the Cubs system. After winding up in St. Louis in midway through 2007, he proceeded to pitch quite effectively as a starter for a year and a half. He kept his strikeouts above 6 per 9 and did well to limit walks. That fell apart last year as he missed awfully few bats. Wellemeyer is something that the Giants brass are known to love . . . veterans. He has pitched for many years and has shown a great degree of competence. Todd Wellemeyer is basically Steve Johnson seven or so years from now.

Joe Martinez, RHRP (has started in the past)
Martinez filled the role of swingman and long relief last year. He did not do well posting a 7.50 ERA over 30 innings. Unless he shows some promise, he most likely will be sent down to AAA and be the first brought up. Based on my math, he should have 2 options left.

Kevin Pucetas, LHP (starter in minors)
Pucetas has rather average pitches, but was shown to pitch quite effectively in low and hi A ball. Last year, the Giants chose to skip him over AA and he proceeded to be rather ineffective at AAA Fresno. A conservative organization would allow him another year to start at Fresno. If the Giants think they are close to the playoffs, they might prefer having another left handed option in the pen. I'd be doubtful that he could start in the Majors with his repertoire.

Waldis Joaquin, RHRP
Joaquin threw 10.2 innings at the Major league level and showed that he could miss bats (10.1 k/9) and strike zones (5.9 bb/9). He tasted the Majors last year after dominating AAA for 8 innings. That may have been an aberration.

Guillermo Mota, RHRP
Mota just signed as an NRI and would be considered for the middle relief position. He is a veteran who has pitched as a closer and setup man. It is the typical M.O. for the Giants organization to employ a player like Mota in the pen. His peripherals have been slightly shaky the past two seasons, but he has been an integral part for the Dodgers and Brewers bullpens. I would be surprised if he did not wind up being the 6th man in the pen.

I doubt any of the non-roster invites will put up much competition to these guys. NRIs: Denny Bautista, Santiago Casilla, Rafael Cova, Steven Edlefsen, Eric Hacker, Osiris Matos, Tony Pena Jr., Felix Romero, Dan Turpen, Craig Whitaker, Craig Clark, and Clayton Tanner.

Who is likely to get the middle relief role?
1. Mota
2. Joaquin
3. Wellemeyer
4. Johnson

Who is likely to get the long relief role?
1. Wellemeyer
2. Martinez
3. Johnson
4. Bautista

I find it near impossible for him to win the last middle relief slot. I find there to be some chance he could stick on in the long relief role. My bet is that Mota and Wellemeyer wind up in these two slots. The Giants tend to embrace veterans and might be reluctant in giving slots for a rookie to hide and take his lumps. I do think the Giants value him and believe they will be looking to trade for him.

What is Steve Johnson worth and what do the Orioles need?
John Sickels rates Steve Johnson as a C+ prospect (all Sickels grades links here AL - NL). In return the Orioles would probably receive a prospect with a similar grade. Areas of organizational need for the Orioles would be second base, short stop, and left-handed relief. The following players fit that criteria:

2B Nick Noonan (C+) - Noonan has his supporters and is thought to be more valued in the Giants front office than elsewhere in baseball. It remains to be seen if they would entertain a straight trade for Johnson. Last season saw Noonan as a 20yo in HiA. Poor contact skills, good plate discipline, average power, below average speed, and very good base running. He seems to be a very smart player. He is a kind of prospect who could break out in the next season or two. He would slot in at AA and compete with Ryan Adams. Both profile as offensive 2B, but Noonan has much more speed. Noonan is an NRI this year.

LHSP Aaron King (C+) - King has a powerful arm and would be shoehorned into a tight starting rotation in Frederick. It might be more realistic though to begin shifting him toward being a potential dominant bullpen arm. The hope would be that pitching from the stretch and focusing on his low 90s sinker. His mechanics are a bit of a mess, so I doubt he will be valued by many as a starter.

LHSP Clayton Tanner (C+) - Tanner is similar to Johnson in that he is a lefty that is better known for pitchability than how impressive his actual pitches are. After repeating HiA and getting hit much harder the second time through (1hr in 2008 vs 18hr in 2009), he still managed to do pretty well. His soft spot was right handers hitting him hard. His FIP against lefties was 3.04, while it was 5.11 against righties. Only one lefties hit a home run off him. He will probably start in AA, but is beginning to look like someone who will eventually be shifted to a LOOGY role.

SS Ehire Adrianza (C) - His raw tools are very solid. His glove is excellent. He has an athletic body that can probably put on another 10-15 pounds. He also has shown very good plate discipline. At 19, he held his own quite well in loA with a 258/333/327 line. His contact rate is not good and I doubt he will develop much power. That said, a young SS with a solid glove and good discipline is a rare find.

SS Brandon Crawford (C) - Crawford, as you many remember, was our 4th round selection in the 2008 shadow draft we ran in real time. His glove is solid and compares rather well with Adrianza's. Both should be MLB quality in their defense. His bat? Back in 2008 we wrote this:

Dating back to the Cape, he has been pressing rather than letting his game flow naturally. As his struggled continued, he pressed harder -- regularly lunging at pitches and frequently showing signs of frustration. He has demonstrated a potential for plus-power, but he'll have to improve his contact rate to realize it.

In HiA, Crawford was either excellent or was no match for the pitching at that level. He broke out with a 371/445/600 line in 105 at bats showing off very good power. He was then promoted to AA and struggled. He struck out 25% of the time. Had difficulty earning walks. He did show some gap power (ISO - .107), but nothing very extraordinary. It would probably benefit him repeating AA. He needs to show better plate discipline and a better contact rate. In the Baltimore system, he will be having to share time with Pedro Florimon, Jr., whom the Orioles seem to favor.

Who would I want?
1. Ehire Adrianza
2. Nick Noonan
3. Brandon Crawford
4. Aaron King
5. Clayton Tanner

I think the Giants would probably look to move Crawford or King from that group.

01 March 2010

Beyond Batting Average and interview with author Lee Panas

As many of us who discuss sabermetrics and statistics in general and how they relate to baseball; it is a subject that carries a broad range of awareness and acceptance in conversations about the game. The most recent statistical discussions have occurred over the past decade and taken place on the internet. As conducive as the internet is to share information and quickly acclimate to new truths and create or discover new applications, it has some problems as it is a very ephemeral library. Little is written down and much is carried on in a digitalized form similar to Homer. Web sites close shop, people get hired and their work gets scrubbed, and many baseball critics do not follow rules of citation very well. It makes it difficult to get caught up to speed on the conversation even if you are interested in how to use metrics in baseball.

A problem I have often seen when a book is written about sabermetrics is that they are often grooved for those in the mid- to hi- level of competency in the field. Introductory level works are hard to find and are a major reason why many web sites are beginning to post running SABR 101 FAQ's on their sites. It has also led to SABR series on Yahoo! and other online publications. Thankfully, I think I have found an actual book that is somehow both a handy introduction to what statistics mean and their utility in baseball as well as a resource for more advanced users of metrics (which is quite needed as metrics are often used incorrectly). Lee Panas' Beyond Batting Average is this book.

Panas does well to present the historical time line of statistics from Chadwick's original descriptive statistics to Branch Rickey and his usage of ISO to present day concepts like linear and nonlinear metrics. One amusing side note indicates how folks complained about new metrics in the late 1800s just as people do now with stats like WAR or xFIP. Panas does well to give you the formulas for advanced stats if you wish to play around with them, but moreso they act as an illustration letting you know what each statistic accounts for and how they are weighted. In the text, he simply and straight-forwardly explains what the formulas mean and how that effects statistical outputs. He informs the reader what each stat does well and their limitations.

As you have noticed I rarely review a book, but this is one that I think merited that. It is a solid addition to anyone's library. The introductory baseball statistics reader who wants to learn more and be able to start engaging in conversations about metrics would find this most useful. More advanced readers will see this as being useful at times for the quick to grab metrics and have a solid citation when making a claim about repeatability for a certain statistic and how that might relate to a skill.

Lee was kind enough to take part in an interview with Camden Depot. It is shown in full after the jump.

Camden Depot: I often find it important when reading a book to understand who the author is and from where personal experience is he/she writing. I was hoping you could give us your background, information about the blog you write, and other items you think potential readers of your book would be interested in.

Lee Panas: I have been interested in sabermetrics since the early 1980s. Bill James was writing his Baseball Abstracts at the time and he was a big influence on me. In addition, I was studying mathematics and statistics in college and some of my classes required me to apply statistical methods to real data. So, I used baseball statistics in a few of my projects. This gave me the opportunity to prepare for my career as a research analyst while learning more about baseball at the same time.
I have been writing at DetroitTigerTales.com since 2005. I discuss a lot of topics besides statistics there - Tigers history, prospects, transactions, etc - but sabermetrics has always been the overriding theme. I have written a lot about baserunning and fielding statistics in particular. In addition to my blog , I am currently writing about the Tigers for John Burnson's Heater Magazine. I have also contributed to books such as Tigers Corner, Graphical Player and How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball.

CD: From experience, I have found that taking on a large endeavor (i.e. a book) often comes from a moment of transcending excitement and then several months of trying to pay dues to that initial moment of inspiration. Was there a singular moment that convinced you that you had to write this book? If not, where do you think this urge originated?

LP: There was not really a single moment where I decided to write a book. It's something that has been building for a long time. I have avidly been discussing baseball on message boards and blogs for a couple of decades. Much of my time has involved explaining sabermetrics to people. In the early years, there wasn't a great deal of interest in the subject. However, I have noticed a lot more people getting curious about it in recent years. Blogging has been a good way to educate more people about the field but I can only give small does in that format. Thus, it became increasingly clear that I wanted to write a book where I could tie all the information together into a complete story.

CD: The sabermetric field has seemed to me that it is moving toward a goal that is to evaluate the true talent of a player. That is, a progression from simple descriptive statistics to predictive/evaluative ones. From what I have read in your book as well as the outline, it seems to me that you very much support this perspective on moving toward predictive statistics. Do you think anything (i.e. blind luck, MVPs) is lost or being lost (or devalued) in terms of appreciation by doing this and is that bad?

LP: For the most part, I think trying to evaluate a player with predictive statistics is a good thing. As you know, some of the more traditional statistics are based on things that are largely beyond a player's influence. It makes sense to eliminate as many outside factors as possible and to evaluate a player on things he can control most easily. I think that we are getting increasingly better at finding statistics which more accurately define a player's true talent.
There is, however, the potential for skills to get lost in this approach if we are not careful. I'll use ERA as an example. Statistics such as a strikeout rate, walk rate, ground ball percentage and FIP are more predictive than ERA for most pitchers. However, they don't take into account the ability of a pitcher to pump up his fastball or to induce a double play ball with runners on base. It has been shown that this has more to do with overall pitcher quality than clutch pitching ability. However, I think more work needs to be done to identify pitchers who may have more ability to pitch in high impact situations than others. For these pitchers, ERA might be telling us something that the so called true talent stats are missing.

CD: One of the more fearsome aspects of writing a book on baseball statistics is that the community is internet based and the level of information progresses so quickly. I think you have done a great job is writing something that is rather resilient in light of that. How did your recognition of the blinding pace of statistical innovation direct you in writing this book?

LP: First, I think the fast pace of sabermetrics has left some people frustrated because they can't keep up. That is one of the reasons I wrote the book. By organizing all the information in one place, I think it helps people catch up. I also hope through reading the book, fans will understand more about the reasoning behind the statistics. This should help readers make sense of future measures more quickly.

One thing I have done throughout the book is to include a bit of history showing the evolution from simple traditional measures to the more advanced measures of today. I think this better prepares readers for the future advances in statistics than if I just dove into the present and talked about the statistics developed in the last two years.

CD: You have mentioned before that you largely relied on peer review for this book. Can you tell us some of the people you consulted in writing this book?

LP: I think peer review is essential in this kind of effort. It's a complex subject and I wanted make sure I got everything right. There are a couple of important sections of the book that might have been left out if it were not for the suggestions of others. There was also a matter of educating myself in certain areas. I had a good handle on most of the statistics coming in but there were a couple of instances where I was not interpreting statistics as accurately as I could. So, I was glad to have the developers of the statistics correct me. Finally, I think peer review helped me write the book in a way that would make it accessible to as many people as possible. For example, there were some sections in early drafts which reviewers felt were a little too mathematical for my target audience. I either eliminated those sections or wrote them more simply.

The reviewers ranged anywhere from very talented sabermetricians who know the field better than I do to intelligent baseball fans who are relatively new to sabermetrics. Some of the key contributors in alphabetical order are John Dewan, Brandon Heipp (aka U.S. Patriot), Chuck Hildebrandt, Justin Inaz, Mitchel Lichtman, Kurt Mensching, Pete Palmer, Samara Pearlstein, Tom Tango and Geoff Young. There were many others but I think this gets the point across that I got input from a lot of different kinds of people.

CD: Thanks again Lee. Very well done.

LP: Thanks very much for the interview.

Lee Panas' blog is Tiger Tales and has recently written, Beyond Batting Average.

26 February 2010

Interview with agent Joshua Kusnick

In the past few weeks we have interviewed Jon Paley (one of the creative minds behind the baseball documentary Pelotero) and a local blog that focuses on amateur talent emerging from Cuba. Today, we are talking with Joshua Kusnick an agent who represents three players in the Baltimore Orioles organization: Jonathan Tucker, Vito Frabizio, and Joshua Bell. His approach is considered somewhat non-traditional in comparison to other agents. He is quite accessible. Kusnick runs a blog and even appears on message boards drumming up questions from fans. It is a style that appears to resonate well with many of the younger professional athletes including Bobby Cassevah, David Herndon, Zack Kroenke, Trayvon Robinson, Kenley Jansen, Michael Brantley, Darren Ford, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Periard and Phillippe Valiquette. Kusnick has also just signed on to write a column for Baseball Prospectus, which is quite exciting.

Tigers Prospect Scott Drucker and Joshua Kusnick at the Moves Magazine Super Bowl Party.

Camden Depot, among other blogs, often overlooks the contribution made by sports agents and their effect on the game. In response to that common oversight, we invited Joshua Kusnick here today to discuss the path he took in becoming an agent for baseball players, discuss Frabizio and Bell, and his beliefs in how an agent should represent his clients.

Entire interview after the jump.

Camden Depot: I have read that your start in scouting was rather unique in comparison to other agents. Could you introduce the reader to your background and how you think that helps you secure and well represent your clients?

Joshua Kusnick: My career in sports started when I was around 10 years old. I had the opportunity to be the batboy for the Orioles during spring training a couple of times when I was a kid so that was really my first exposure being around a big league club house. During my teenage years, actually when I was 14 years old, I began getting autographs of minor league baseball players. Most of the games I attended were in West Palm Beach watching Florida State League baseball, so I had the good fortune of watching guys like Vlad Guerrero, Brad Fullmer, Roy Halladay, Matt Morris, Freddy Garcia, Ramon Castro etc….

During one of these games, I believe it was my last year of getting autographs so that had to be the year 2000, I was sitting next to a scout who basically changed my life forever. We chatted the entire game, he gave me his card and over the course of several months we developed a pretty good friendship. He told me if I ever wanted a job in scouting to let him know so in time that’s exactly what I did. Back before everything was readily available on the internet I crunched all the draft figures for this scout every year in addition to doing some very low level unofficial bird dog work. After a couple of years of part time work I decided to start my company with my father and the rest is history.

I feel one of the advantages I have in this field is my ability to independently evaluate talent. Some agents rely on scouts and some even hire scouts to find players for them because they lack the ability to determine a player’s ultimate value. I am beyond fortunate that I don’t have to rely on anyone other than myself to scout players. The fact that I can scout does not mean I don’t talk to other people in the game to get their input on certain players and it doesn’t mean that I’m right far more than I’m wrong but what it does do for me is provide a slight edge on some of the competition. When you represent a player you have to know what you’re selling. You have to know your product better than anyone else because you’re making a long term commitment that will cost you ample time and money, so you better be damn sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and lucky for me, I usually do.

CD: Vito Frabizio is a client of yours who has also taken a unique route to the professional ranks. We here at Camden Depot first took note of Frabizio in Perfect Game's 2008 World Showcase. How did you come to represent him and how would you describe his current talent and his progression as a ball player since you can to represent him?

JK: I met Vito through a mutual friend during the 2008 off season. Vito was working out at my old high school American Heritage in plantation Florida, a school where I represented two players who were drafted that year (JC Sulbaran and Adrian Nieto). Vito is like a brother to me and we clicked instantly. Our personalities are quite similar and we’ve shared a lot of the same experiences in life so getting hired wasn’t terribly difficult fortunately. Vito has added some weight to his frame since we signed him which has made a world of difference on the field. His ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes has improved in addition to adding velocity to his fastball since we’ve represented him. Vito is a very special young man and the sky is the limit when it comes to his potential. It’s all going to come down to his attitude and his health.

CD: Your client, Josh Bell, has always been on the periphery of scouting lists, but really established himself as a prime prospect this past year by making great progress in his defense at third and his development from the left side of the plate. Keith Law mentioned that Bell has a promising career in front of him, but is still a work in progress. It was also mentioned that the Orioles have a better development program than the Dodgers, which took me by surprise. From your perspective, what new opportunities or benefits opened up for Bell when he was traded to the Orioles?

JK: I think very highly of both organizations with respect to player development. We have several Dodgers prospects in our company (Trayvon Robinson, Kenley Jansen, Justin Sellers) as well as several Orioles prospects (Josh Bell, Jonathan Tucker, and Vito Frabizio). I feel that all these kids have been given every chance to succeed in their respective organizations. The Dodgers always viewed Josh as a very special prospect and I know it was difficult for guys like [Assistant General Manager (Player Development)] De Jon Watson and [Assistant General Manager (Amateur/International)] Logan White to give up Josh in the Sherrill trade last season. I think Josh had a great chance to make an impact with the Dodgers over time but it seems he’s on the fast track to some extent now that he is with the Orioles. Baltimore seems to have a clear plan in place for Josh and I think this trade was the best thing to happen to Josh since signing his first contract out of high school.

CD: Another question about development . . . to what extent do you think an agent should encourage his client to disagree with his organization? For instance, in the Orioles system there have been alleged instances where a player's individual trainer/coach has provided contradictory instruction in comparison to the team's instructors. Do you think an agent should encourage third party instruction or evaluation? How do you handle such a situation as I imagine the organization likes to act with as few people in the decision making process as possible?

JK: My responsibility always is to the player. Obviously it is mutually beneficial for the player, the agent and the team to all be on the same page because ultimately all three parties are working towards the same goal but at the end of the day I will always side with my client. I think an agent should always work towards the best interests of his clients no matter what. I also think a player should always do what he feels is in his best interests regarding his career. An agent is the player’s voice to his organization and that comes with a great deal of responsibility. Do players and the teams see eye to eye on every issue? No, but that’s what an agent is there for, to bridge the gap and hopefully come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

CD: A week or so ago on your personal blog you commented on the Tiger Woods apology press release. I thought it to be a very interesting and informative look behind the scenes in what an agent does for the player and how each partner in this relationship is dependent on the other for success. I was hoping that you could elaborate on how you, as an agent, are involved with a player and his family beyond the contracts and interviews with the press?

JK: I literally am on call 24 hours a day for all of my players regardless of what I am doing. The long term goals of my career are directly dependent on my clients and how they perform on and off the field. Personally, I try to get as involved as I can with a player and his family. I get to know players wives, girlfriends, mothers and fathers. I’ve been in fantasy baseball leagues with some clients and their families, I go to dinner with many clients’ parents, I stay in touch with the players wives, girlfriends and families as much as they allow me to. Every relationship is up to the player. Some guys prefer to keep it business only and other players appreciate how involved I am willing to get in their lives and careers. I’ve had several players live with me and I take great pride in being as hands on as I am with respect to my clients lives off the field.

CD: I would like to thank Joshua Kusnick for taking time to discuss his practice and some of the players he represents.

25 February 2010

Two More Top 100 List: Project Prospect and Baseball America

Project prospects list can be found here. They are very, very tough on pitchers. I think too tough. A method like this seems too aware of Wang's work and ignores the effect of free agency on the worth of prospects.

Where do the Orioles fall?

7. Brian Matusz (2nd best pitcher)
16. Josh Bell (2nd best 3B)
46. Brandon Snyder (6th best 1B)
51. Zach Britton (13th best pitcher)
58. Jake Arrieta (16th best pitcher)

Baseball America's List?
5. Brian Matusz
37. Josh Bell
63. Zach Britton
99. Jake Arrieta
Jim Callis also mentioned that Brandon Snyder would be in the 101-105 range.

24 February 2010

Article Retro: Brian Roberts Extension

Sometimes a past article we wrote deserves another look back.

This time it is the Brian Roberts Contract extension, which we commented on last year on February 21st. We were non-plussed, to say the least. Recently, we have learned that Roberts has a herniated disc. Not too good. The signing flew in the face of a rather strong historical trend of second basemen precipitously decreasing in worth in their early 30s. Hopefully, Roberts can right the ship.

What I put forth last year was that Roberts should be worth his contract for the next 3 years given the market rate for a win. I estimated a value of 4.5MM and that seems like an overestimate by 10%. Additionally, his defense decreased at a greater rate than I imagined . . . though to be fair one year of UZR is just not enough of a sample size. That said, if he continues to perform the way I predicted . . . he should be worth his contract for 2 more seasons with the market adjustment. If not, he may be worth it for one season or less.

After the jump the article in full.

Projecting the Next Five Years with Brian Roberts

February 21, 2009
by Jon Shepherd

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 off-season 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.

23 February 2010

hGH Test Claimed Successful; Rugby Player Banned

A rugby player was found to have hGH in his system and will now serve a two year ban from the sport. Here is a quote from the article:

Both the United Kingdom Anti-Doping agency (UKAD) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) trumpeted the positive HGH test of British professional rugby player Terry Newton as "proof positive" that the drug can be detected in blood tests. Newton, who was tested in November, did not contest the result and yesterday was banned from the sport for two years by UKAD. Newton's rugby club, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, also canceled his contract. Newton is believed to be the first case of a professional athlete testing positive for HGH using a blood sample.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/2010/02/23/2010-02-23_hgh_positive_in_rugby_puts_mlb_on_deck.html#ixzz0gO14EjBK

What does this mean for baseball players?

They should immediately demand that they be tested for it. After all, there is no evidence, despite years and millions spent, that any hGH treatment (alone or in conjunction) improves athletic performance.

Making Baseball an Olympic Sport

As you all probably know baseball is not an Olympic sport. It was removed for several reasons:

1. The best players were not involved as they were in professional leagues.
2. Baseball prowess is basically limited to the Northwestern Quadrisphere (is that a word?) and the Pacific Rim.

Baseball though is no different than other sports in the Winter Games. Hockey is ruled by only a few countries. Same is true about curling, biathlon, and even figure skating to a degree. Baseball is just as diverse country-wise as these other games . . . so I think Baseball should be welcomed as a Winter Olympic sport for these reasons:

1. No competition from the Major professional leagues, so the best players will be available.
2. Most winter destinations have domed stadiums available for use or modification that could house a baseball facility. For instance, Vancouver has the BC Place Stadium which was designed as a multi-use stadium to attract a MLB club.
3. It will help diversify the Winter Olympics and bring more countries to the plate, which is good for the sports and good for the IOC making money.

I digress.

Projected Season Wins: Vegas vs Diamond Mind Projections . . . Part I

Each year we get bombarded with projections, predictions, and betting lines about season win totals. Such an endeavor is often foolhardy because injuries and depth charts are exceptionally difficult to estimate. Nonetheless, we try year in and year out. I think it is useful in that it gives us the chance to temper our expectations each year. The problem often is though that we utilize the projections/predictions at the beginning of the year and then promptly forget them and never assess how well they fit the actual result. Also, one thing I want to make clear . . . I know nothing about betting. I just grabbed the over/under. In no way am I suggesting that the Vegas line is the only line or that any differences in accuracy between the systems results in you making any money. None of that is my concern. I am more focused on the Vegas line as being representative of a generic mob of people model.

One thing to recognize is the usage of the terms prediction and projection. A projection in this exercise is an estimation of what would happen given a set of assumptions. When you read about games won using the PECOTA, CHONE, or CAIRO projections . . . it is not a prediction. No one is saying that the Orioles will win 79 games. They are saying they are projected to win 79 games. A prediction is an estimate of the actual outcome, a foretelling of a future event or series of events. Does that make sense? Projections are often used within the framework of a prediction, but they really are not synonymous. Anyway, I digress.

I will be using the current Vegas over/under for season wins as a sort of crowd model, while using a composite of ZiPS, CHONE, CAIRO, MARCEL, and PECOTA from the Replacement Level Yankees Blog to represent an projection-based model. First, I will present the current Vegas projections and the current model projections (only CAIRO, so far). After the jump, a few graphs and analysis discussing how 2006-2009 performed for each model.

In parentheses are the current projected wins based on CAIRO (this will be adjusted when all projection systems are incorporated)

AL East
YANKEES 95.5 (99)
RED SOX 94.5 (95)
RAYS 90 (95)
ORIOLES 76 (71)
BLUE JAYS 72.5 (70)

AL Central
TWINS 84.5 (82)
WHITE SOX 82.5 (87)
TIGERS 78.5 (72)
INDIANS 75.5 (77)
ROYALS 72 (70)

AL West
ANGELS 85 (80)
RANGERS 83.5 (82)
MARINERS 82.5 (80)
A'S 79 (78)

NL East
PHILLIES 92.5 (90)
BRAVES 85.5 (85)
MARLINS 81 (72)
METS 81 (80)
NATIONALS 70.5 (71)

NL Central
CARDINALS 87.5 (91)
CUBS 83.5 (86)
BREWERS 80.5 (81)
REDS 79.5 (84)
ASTROS 73.5 (66)
PIRATES 69 (73)

NL West
DODGERS 85.5 (91)
ROCKIES 84 (83)
GIANTS 82.5 (77)
PADRES 72.5 (78)

The first graph shows the predictive ability of both the Vegas and Projection systems for every data point generated from 2006 to 2009. As you can see the R2 for either the Vegas (0.28) or Projection (0.30) systems are pretty much equivalent. In a raw sense, they predict equally well. As most projection systems can predict about 75% of performance, it is understandable that quantitative systems and qualitative systems would be pretty similar.

The next graphic is a table of the standard deviation of the difference between the Vegas/Projection systems against the actual value. It varied from around 6 to 11 during these three years with the Projection system being narrowly more accurate for three of the four year, but not significantly so. A rough estimate is that 95% of all teams will fall within two standard deviations of the mean. So, using the composite standard deviation, a team with 79 wins would range between 64 and 94 wins. That is the realm of possibility. Since 2001, only the 2007 Yankees were able to get the Wild Card with as few as 94 wins. A 79 win team effectively is out of the post season based on these numbers although there is a 1 in 40 chance for a team to defy those odds and win more than 94 games. The only example of this would be the Vegas prediction for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

Another way to evaluate this data in order to evaluate the potential for teams to outproduce their expected wins is to see when systems incorrectly project wins by a large amount. The second graph shows all data points that are greater than one standard deviation off the actual value. As one would expect, there is a line where predicted and actual values cannot exceed. In other words, if your team is predicted to win 90 games then it is very difficult to win more than one standard deviation above that. In fact, the highest prediction on this graph that ever resulted in a somewhat significant underestimation was it has ever happened was 89 wins. Once you hit that level, there really is not much room to break out. It is exceptionally difficult to win more than 97 games. The opposite end is not as much of a hard line as team predicted to win as few as 68 games still underperformed. This may be a result of a dispersal of assets at the trade deadline or an influx of substandard talent that is permitted to play more often in September.

Part II will go a bit more into the data looking at situation where the Vegas and Projection system disagree and whether this disagreement isolates one system as being more accurate than the other.