18 March 2011

Ten Players to Follow for the Orioles' 2011 MLB Draft

With the college season a few weeks in, some have been asking me who it is that I am following for the Orioles selection at 1:4 in the 2011 draft. First, I think it is good to recognize that there really are no draft boards right now in the scouting departments. There are pretty much lists, the ranking comes later . . . much later in the process. For this post, I'll throw up a list of my top ten players to follow, so you don't make weird comments like Harold Reynolds last year when he said he would draft Manny Machado over Bryce Harper. John Hart said he would prefer Taillon over Harper, which is slightly defensible.

Also, Nick Faleris (Stotle) typically takes these questions on. He is posting much of his work over at Diamondscape Scouting. You should check that out. He is far more accomplished at amateur scouting than I am. I watch far less baseball than he does and I rely on a wide range of scouting reports the deeper I go into the draft. Nick writes scouting reports. Anyway, here is my list:

Anthony Rendon, 3B
Rice University
Rendon is a rare occurrence. He is a true five tool college third baseman. If he was available last season, I think it would have been quite difficult to pick Harper over him. He is a plus defender with good speed, solid power, and is able to square up on the ball anywhere in the strike zone. His ankle injury last season does not appear to have any lingering affect on him. He should go first or second in the draft this year and quickly rise to the Majors.

Gerrit Cole, RHSP
Cole is the only player I could see taking the one spot from Rendon. Cole and Rendon make up what I consider to be the only elite talents in the draft. The next tier is very good as well, but Cole and Rendon look incredible to me. Cole rides a heavy fastball in the mid-90s, a 4-seamer that can rise to 98, and he also has a nasty slider. I had thought his change up needed some improvement, but reports are that it is a plus-plus offering. I may have been mistaken. His fastball and slider though are excellent pitches that could play consistently at the MLB level right now. I imagine he'll have a quick run through the minors and should see the Majors at the end of 2012 or beginning/middle of 2013. A similar comparison in terms of a path to the Majors would be something like Brian Matusz. You could see a few games at Frederick, a few at Bowie, and then some at Norfolk or Baltimore in 2012.

After the jump, the next tier of players.

17 March 2011

Orioles have the fewest IFAs in the AL East

As shown before, there is also a wide disparity in the amount organizations spend on these players.  The following graph was taken from the six part series highlighting international free agents (IFA) signed by MLB clubs over the past year.  It should be noted that Cuban players have not been included as I am using a list provided over at Baseball America.  If they were, the Orioles would not increase their number, but the other teams in the AL East would.  Also, keep in mind that money spent on big ticket items does not mean that money is well spent.  It often seems that the presence and ability to reel in players under the 100k mark are often the hallmark of successful organizations.  The Texas Rangers and the Colorado Rockies are examples of organizations who have a strong presence in international markets and their presence has created a lot of trust.  Money is king, but with these lower end no-cost-high-upside talents it is good to have the players' trust and the trainers' trust.  I think that is the hallmark of a successful international effort.

Be sure to click on the above image to see a larger version.  As you can see, the Orioles are once again one of the least active teams in baseball as well as being the least active one in the AL East.  For a team with a better market than at least the Tampa Rays, it is somewhat disconcerting to see them bringing in more talent not only with their obscene number of high round draft picks, but even with IFAs.

More after the jump.

15 March 2011

Lineup Protection and Mark Reynolds.

I think we can certainly all agree that as a population, lineup protection is a thing of fairy tales.  It does not seem to exist.  However, when viewing things from a population stand point, you might miss specific circumstances where batting order plays a significant role in what pitches you might see.  This post is about that.  I will not be doing an intensive scientific study, but will try to describe how Mark Reynolds' presence in the on-deck circle potentially affected the guys hitting directly in front of him.  For the purposes of this study, I will be assessing how Adam LaRoche's changed with and without Reynolds batting behind him.  As such, you will notice that this is not a scientific study in the least.

With Mark Reynolds batting behind Adam LaRoche, LaRoche had in 337 plate appearances:
7.4% BB
28.5% K
247 / 300 / 425

Without Mark Reynolds behind him, LaRoche had 272 plate appearances:
8.1% BB
27.2% K
275 / 331 / 522

The walk and strikeout rates do not seem to be particularly different, but the slash lines are two completely different players.  One is below replacement level for a 1B and the other is above average.  One instance is not a trend, but it does make one wonder if extreme strikeout players result in players batting ahead to not see as good of pitches because the following batter so rarely makes contact.  In such a scenario, the preceding batter would have to be a player with solid plate discipline.  If that is true, then having Reynolds behind Vladimir Guerrero or Adam Jones might not be the best thing to do.  However, again, this is not a data intense study.

14 March 2011

Why do baseball players use hGH: Part II, The Science

An unlikely way hGH improves performance.
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Last time, I wrote about how and why players use PEDs.  Included in that post was highlighting how sometimes players are ahead of the science (arguably steroids) and at other times behind the science (i.e. urinating on your hands, rubbing your bats with ham bones, and arguably steroids).  Somewhat blind assumptions, halo effects, and mob mentality tend to shape an uninformed perspective more so than what experts say is likely or know to be true.  I forget where I saw this and cannot seem to find it, but a study that surprised me was a study that consisted of telling participants various surprising facts.  These facts were differentiated in that some were attributed to "experts" and others were just given.  Participants were more likely to accept surprising facts from non-expert sources.  So . . . maybe there is a fourth effect, which is perhaps a societal suspicion of scientific literature, which I think would be largely due to a misunderstanding of the scientific method.  People often want definitive answers and there are awfully few laws in science.  Anyway, this is going on a tangent.

However, with all that being said . . . that players are using something to give them a competitive edge is a great reason to investigate on the efficacy of the treatment.  Sometimes lacking a full comprehension of something does not prevent someone from discovering something new.  What many baseball players have become are alchemists.  Alchemy had its usefulness as it encouraged the works of many, such as Isaac Newton and Paracelsus.  It also fostered some silly beliefs such as all things could be turned into gold.  So, it may be that baseball players and others have actually hit gold on hGH.

In today's article, I'll be reviewing (or, more aptly, summarizing) several articles about hGH and its effect on athletic performance.

Where did the hGH craze begin?
In 1990, an article was released by Rudman et al (New England Journal of Medicine) in which twelve elderly men ranging in age between 61 and 81 years old were injected with hGH at a concentration similar to what would be found in young adult males for six months.  The twelve subjects were found to have about a ten pound increase in lean muscle, a seven pound decrease in fat, and denser bones.  The conclusion stated that these effects were like a ten to twenty year reversal of aging.  An eager medical and pharmacological community aware of the future elderly care scenarios with baby boomers embraced the possibilities suggested by this article.  It also resulted in a boom of pseudoscience and pseudomedical claims and clinics advertising assumed benefits of hGH.  Claims have included that hGH improves eyesight, removes scars, renews interest in sex, resurgence of hair growth, increase in muscle strength, increase in stamina, and deepening of one's voice.  These benefits extended well beyond the boundaries of the scientific data, claiming that hGH could inhibit processes that lead to aging.  However, these claims tend to ignore several follow up studies that dispute their proclamations.

A good summary of follow up studies was provided by Mary Lee Vance in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003:

A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 27 women and 34 men, 68 to 88 years of age, who were given growth hormone or placebo for 6.5 months confirmed the effects of growth hormone on body composition; there was no change in muscle strength or maximal oxygen uptake during exercise in either group.3 This study corroborated the findings of a study by Papadakis et al. involving 52 healthy men, 70 to 85 years of age, who were given placebo or growth hormone for six months. Not mentioned on the “antiaging” Web sites is a study of 18 healthy men, 65 to 82 years of age, who underwent progressive strength training for 14 weeks, followed by an additional 10 weeks of strength training plus either growth hormone or placebo. In that study, resistance exercise training increased muscle strength significantly; the addition of growth hormone did not result in any further improvement. Going to the gym is beneficial and certainly cheaper than growth hormone.
 Ok, so it is fairly well shown that hGH does not seem to help the elderly increase functional strength, but we can probably agree that an elderly population may not be equal to a younger one.  After the jump, we'll review the literature highlighting studies on hGH use in athletes and young adults.  This short review will consist of an example of one of the many studies showing no difference, the only study showing a difference, a couple review papers, and expert testimony from the congressional hearing a couple years ago.  I could have written a far longer piece going over a couple dozen studies, but figured that excess would not convince anyone one way or the other more than the review papers do.  I also figure the review papers provide a stronger summary than I can at this moment.

13 March 2011

What Alternatives Are There to Brian Roberts: 2011 Edition

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There is more and more of a concern as Brian Roberts misses more days and logs more time in the MRI.  It may be time to think about alternatives at second base.  The following is a list with MARCEL slashes (ZiPS if MARCEL is not available; MiL players) and projected defense at second base:

In-House Options
Cesar Izturis, backup MIF, Orioles
     251/301/307 +10 runs
Robert Andino, backup MIF/AAA, Orioles
     251/308/372 +5 runs
Brendan Harris, AAA 2B/3B, Orioles
     244/304/356 -5 runs
Nick Green, AAA UTL, Orioles
     239/303/372 0 runs
Ryan Adams, AAA 2B/3B, Orioles
     269/317/380 -10 runs

Free Agent Options
Willy Aybar, UTL
     247/321/387 -5 runs
David Eckstein, 2B
     254/316/330 5 runs
Julio Lugo, UTL
     256/323/344 5 runs

Out of Options
Ryan Roberts, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
     248/321/385 0 runs
Jonathan Herrera, 2B, Colorado Rockies
     261/323/329 5 runs
Emilio Bonifacio, UTL, Florida Marlins
     256/313/344 5 runs
Angel Sanchez, UTL, Houston Astros
     271/323/373 0 runs
Luis Cruz, UTL, Milwaukee Brewers
     257/287/372 5 runs
Chin Lung-Hu, UTL, New York Mets
     254/284/340 5 runs
Luis Hernandez, UTL, New York Mets
     250/310/370 0 runs
Brent Lillibridge, UTL, Chicago White Sox
     228/292/359 0 runs
Jarrett Haufpauir, UTL, San Diego Padres
     243/316/365 0 runs

There does not seem to be anything on the market any better than what the Orioles already have.  I would probably try to give Ryan Adams every opportunity to take the job, but hand it to Robert Andino or maybe Cesar Izturis.

12 March 2011

Number of 2B Over the Age of 32 since 1971

Tom Verducci recently mentioned that the decrease in older 2B (32 and over with over 130 games at 2B) is due to drug testing.  I find that a bit presumptuous.  The data has not been entirely corrected and there is a greater focus on the value of defense over offense, so there are certainly several reasons why there may be a decrease in older 2B.  It should be noted four other players at the age of 32 had over 100 starts at second, so it might not be as big an issue as Verducci claims.  Then again, this would not be the first time Verducci makes a grand claim without actual evidence (i.e. the Verducci Effect).

11 March 2011

Brian Roberts and the Aging of Second Basemen

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Concern has been mounting over Brian Roberts' back as he has been held out of several practices.  He has downplayed the severity of this injury.  This typically would not be of much concern were it not for two issues:
  1. Historically, second basemen fall apart in their early thirties.
  2. Last year, Roberts was injured during Spring Training and similarly played down concerns over an injury that wound up shutting him down for the majority of the season.
In this post, I would like to establish what could be expected from a population of second basemen who performed similarly to Roberts over their Age 27 to 31 seasons and how that population performed from Age 32 to 36.  I took this population from players whose Age 27 to 31 seasons occurred from 1950 to 2005 and who generated a WAR of 12 to 22.  This group includes Bobby Grich, Davey Johnson, Robby Thompson, Chuck Knoblauch, Lou Whitaker, Dick McAuliffe, Ray Durham, Johnny Ray, Bill Doran, Willie Randolph, Ron Hunt, Damion Easley, Tom Herr, and Johnny Temple.  As a group they had an OPS+ of 109 +/- 8, a WAR of 16.6 +/- 3.3, an OBP of .360, and a SLG of .401.  Brian Roberts, during his age 27 to 31 years, had an OPS of 115, a WAR of 17.9, an OBP of .369, and a SLG of .451. 

After the jump, a run through of graphs showing what can be expected in terms of plate appearances, WAR, chance of being an average player, and chance of remaining in the Majors.

02 March 2011

Orioles 2010 Expenditures in International Free Agency

Baseball America reported their figures on what each team spent on international amateur talent during the 2010 fiscal year.  I have expressed it as a graph below.

Click on the graph to see it larger.  I have color-coded the teams in the AL East and provided a green line to mark the average amount spent on international talent.  The Orioles minor spending on this avenue of talent jives with what Andy MacPhail has said before during his University of Baltimore chat and in a conversation with Ken Rosenthal.  Based on those conversations and the Orioles habits procuring talent from international markets . . . it is fairly obvious that what resources the Orioles do have, they are not being spent on premier amateur talent.  Instead, their academy is being used to collect lower rung talent and bank on being successful at that rung.

Edit: It is also important to note that Cuban signings are not included in these figures.  Otherwise, you would see several teams jumping up by a few million (e.g. Red Sox) and the Orioles staying in place.

27 February 2011

2011 Homerun King Mark Reynolds?

A reader told me to look over at Pinnacle Sports, a betting site that bets on pretty much anything.  The interesting part to us (and is shown below) are the odds on who is the favorite in 2011 to win the home run title in all of baseball.  It goes through Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista, and Adrian Gonzalez before it finds its 7th most likely winner: our very own Mark Reynolds.  This might strike some as fanciful, but Reynolds does have the 3rd most homeruns over the past two seasons and 8th most over the past three seasons.  Based on last year, homeruns were ~15% easier to hit at Camden Yards than at Chase Field.  That might increase his total by about 2 home runs.

In case, you were unaware, the lower the number . . . the better the perceived chance.

In other bets on the site . . . the Orioles 2011 over/under is set at 76 wins, which is about where I have them.

note: I have about 5 articles in various states of completion and have been sick as a dog for a week . . . I should have a flurry of posts some point soon . . . God-willing.

23 February 2011

Simple Graph Comparing Cal Ripken Jr, Derek Jeter, and Chipper Jones

Eutaw Street Hooligans highlighted this atrocious use of statistics and colored spectacles suggesting somehow that Chipper Jones had a better career than Cal Ripken Jr.  Here is an amazing gem: "[Jones] might have been the better overall player [be]cause defensively; they are all about the same as well."

Here is a simple graph that communicates far more than that article.

All three look like great players.  One looks a bit better due to a higher peak.

21 February 2011

¡Dia de los Presidentes!

I think it is a good time to remember Dennis Martinez (aka El Presidente) on President's Day and to wish everyone well today.
Isn't that an old school picture of the Inner Harbor?
Pier 3 or Pier 6.  I would lean toward pier 6.

Any thoughts?  I was just four then.