14 July 2011

Cup of jO's: Keith Law's Interview About the Future of the Orioles

Perhaps more eloquently than I rambled on yesterday, Keith Law was interviewed on The Fan in Baltimore yesterday about how the Orioles situation is indeed somewhat dire.  Long time followers of this blog can probably recall my preaching of patience over the first two years of the MacPhail regime in Baltimore.  I still think what he did during that period was correct.  The team jettisoned their useful pieces and acquired prospects in return.  The team stepped up their resources in international talent acquisition.  The team stepped up money dedicated in the draft.  Then it all sort of stopped and got derailed.  The team somewhat inexplicably locked in a 30s second baseman to an overmarket deal and then failed to aggressively pursue complementary pieces in trade or free agency.  The team signed short-term fill ins for position for relatively big money (4MM or more) on individual players when that money would be far better utilized in amateur markets.  The team's aggressive move into the international market ceased before they could call their effort average.

Whatever you think of MacPhail, it is difficult to explain away the state of this team as they begin the second half of this year and come up against the trade deadline.  For position players in the Majors, the Orioles have a long term solution at catcher (Matt Wieters).  They may have long term solutions in right field (Markakis) and left field (Jones).  They may have long term solutions in the starting rotation (Matusz, Arrieta, and Britton).  That is where the team is on the pro level.  In the minors, they have Manny Machado and likely Dylan Bundy as the only two high potential difference makers.  In comparison to every other team in the AL East, the Orioles trail behind them in organizational talent.  It is certainly a team currently cursed with difficult footing in their attempt to be meaningful.

This past week's interview with Steve Melewski comes back again and again in my memory.  MacPhail's "I'm an old baseball man schtick" is an amazingly antiquated character to be the head of baseball side of a front office.  He may play a bumpkin, good ol' boy in the media or maybe he really is, I do not know.  That kind of mentality though works against teams these days.  The application of economic theory to baseball is not some passing fad.  Teams that employ these methods are wildly successful and every team not named the Orioles do so in the AL East.  Yes, teams like the Twins and Phillies as far as I know put very little stock in Wall Streeting baseball, but I think it is fair to say exceptions do not fit the rule.  The ability to utilize well founded analysis and understanding what data gaps mean is likely an easier and perhaps more cost efficient way to create success as opposed to taking a talent bankrupt organization and trying to make them flow in old school methodology that is highly reliant on anecdotal evidence as well as a overly robust distrust of any new way of evaluation and acquisition.

This past winter we saw how the Rays when unable to earn enough revenue were thinking ahead and found ways to stay relevant.  They were able to identify relief pitching types that had a better liklihood to rebound and return free agency compensation.  They decided not to spend big money on their own free agents who showed high level performance on a few skills.  These measures netted them with a dozen or so picks in the first two rounds of this year's deep draft.  That did not happen by accident.  The Blue Jays literally spent 500k to deal for a player after last season who they immediately declined an extension just to garner themselves a compensation round selection in the draft.  THESE are examples of dynamic front offices operating on the front end of the operation wave.

This is not to say that numbers and slide rulers ensure success.  They do not.  The Mariners faith (and it was faith) in defensive metrics resulted in them fielding a team that relied on statistical variables that were incredibly elastic.  Of course, Milton Bradley's complete meltdown and Chone Figgins remembering he was Chone Figgins did nothing to help.  This shows that not all heavily analytical approaches are successful, but I would reckon that the more a team is able to rely on quantitative measures the more likely they are to find areas where they can leverage their resources to improve their chances of success more so than if they simply relied on well-experienced guts.  Again...qualitative ("gut") scouting is needed and highly valued, but where it can be replaced by numbers (that are well understood in how they can be applied) it needs to be replaced.

This leaves me more firm in my notion I wrote last winter that this team needs to be rebuilt.  At the beginning of MacPhail's tenure I said this and it again is how I feel.  I do not think it needs to be completely dismantled, but I think as fans we need to recognize that signing a Prince Fielder and resigning the career-year J.J. Hardy is not going to change this team's fortune.  Over the next two weeks, we will be going through our trade items and where may be the best destination for them.  I will also pepper in a few Life Without Andy posts.


Steve said...

This is an awesome column. Keep up the good work.

TheJbLounge said...

Yeah the O's have a general lack of creativity in everything they do player related. They don't trade players until they have worn out their welcome and are worth nothing, they don't gamble in the draft or in international signings, they don't gamble with FA signings and opt for worn out over 30 players, and they extend players right at or past their prime (Mora, Roberts, Hardy). They lack an organizational plan too whether it's a youth or veteran movement. It's just a treadmill to oblivion that worked for MacPhail in the Al and NL Central, but doesn't work in today's AL East.

mattymatty said...

Nice work. I found this link more helpful in listening to the Law interview: