11 July 2011

Cups of jO's: MacPhail on O's International Spending (Part I of II)

Enjoy it.  Today is the beginning of our three day respite from the tiresome burden this season has become.  There have been some interesting developments this season:
  • Matt Wieters has become a full fledged, accredited All Star (and primarily for his defense)
  • J.J. Hardy has said everything and done everything right in wanting to become a well paid Oriole
  • Adam Jones has established himself as a worthy center fielder (who might be better off playing left field)
  • Mark Reynolds has displayed an amazing amount of plus power over the past six weeks.
  • The bullpen has a tight core of Uehara, Johnson, and Gregg
  • The Orioles arguably drafted the best arm in the 2011 draft and the guy has Oriole roots.
Read those again.  They are six good things that have happened for this team.  You cannot ignore them.  Not only are they six good things.  They are six things that should benefit the team next year as well.  Hardy is the only one who might benefit the team in whatever free agent compensation becomes.  Remember . . . good things have happened.

---

Of Interest...

Steve Melewski asks some pertinent questions of Andy MacPhail in a part I  of a two part interview today.  The focus is on the Orioles' approach to international free agency.  Steve does a good job reporting what MacPhail says, but does zero commenting.  I'll provide the commenting.

  • MacPhail states he is unwilling to dedicate 4 or 5MM to prospects who have never play competitive games.  He says that the efforts they have put forth have resulted in solid upswings of velocity for international players they have signed who are playing in the Dominican Summer League and in the Gulf Coast League.
MacPhail is putting forward the message that international talent is pretty much a crapshoot.  That a player who can sign a 4MM bonus is not worth that amount because we have no idea what he will become.  I do not agree with this.  Fellow talent evaluators are determining these amateurs are good enough to compete with each other and drive the price to those levels.  These fellow talent evaluators come from Ivy League front offices ranging to the very rich (e.g. Yankees, Red Sox) to the not so very rich (e.g. Athletics).  That these teams of varying backgrounds and high analytical effort are into a talent source has to tell you that these amateur talents are likely worth that much money.  To me, insisting on this perspective seems incredibly aloof.  It makes me wonder whether he believes this or that he is refraining from a secondary issue that makes them decide against spending money for high profile talent.

Second, you do have to recognize that there is a growing international presence in the Orioles lower minor league system.  However, we have to remember sample size.  Jonathan Schoop is a name most Oriole fans have become familiar with and hopefully many watched him last night in the MLB Futures game.  Another name in GCL that everyone should write a mental note on is Eduardo Rodriguez.  I have received several positive reviews on him.  Solid 18yo lefty with a good breaking ball and a 90mph fastball with movement.  Beyond that it is difficult to know what is there long term.  When money is spent on the Garrett Atkins and Vladimir Guerreros, but not on the Miguel Sanos, you know there is misevaluation in the organization.  Think about it like this.  What is worth more?  A 3 MM investment on a commodity that might return MLB value for six years at a low cost or spending 5-8 MM for a declining player in hopes the team can reach .500 ball?
  • MacPhail says it makes no sense to spend big money on amateurs who only work out and not play games.
What I found interesting here and the way I read it is that the team is recognizing that the best players are not playing in the Dominican Prospect League.  I agree with that.  Furthermore, this shows that MacPhail acknowledges that the best prospects are indeed getting the big money.  It reads somewhat contradictory.  Although he may not have felt like mentioning it, it seems that the DPL is still a low priority for the team.  It is interesting for a team to say they want to see guys play in games and then goes and largely ignores the only organized league in the country.
  • MacPhail mentions the team was about 17th in spending for amateur talent last year.
This was a slightly confusing statement.  This has to mean 17th in spending when adding together the rule 4 draft and international free agency.  They are around 25th in spending for international free agency.
  • MacPhail thinks Melewski should do an analysis on how many big money IFAs wind up becoming solid prospects.  MacPhail must be unaware that Melewski does not do analysis.
A couple things that are kind of amusing here. (1) The Orioles have done a study on this!  Why is MacPhail saying they have not done one?  Matt Klentak specifically stated they did this.  They hired an outside consultant and did the study.  They found the IFA market was not as cost efficient as the rule 4 draft. (2) The rate for high cost prospects is about 30-40%, which is higher than multi-year declining veterans outperforming their preceding three year average.

There is not to like in MacPhail's answer there.  He cannot be truly unaware of the study because that front office is knit tight from every indication.  Why would he explicitly say he did not do a study, but others should do it?  No idea.  That said, teams who like to do studies (e.g. Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, Athletics) are spending freely on talent south of the Great 48.

07 July 2011

Cup of jO's (July 7, 2011): Jim Callis Chat (Baseball America)

Game Summary
Orioles 5, Rangers 13
Box Score / Play-by-Play / AP Recap

The Rangers completed the sweep of Baltimore, and the O's now find themselves with just two wins over their last ten games, and just six over their last twenty-three. Staff ace Jeremy Guthrie was slapped around The Ballpark at Arlington, allowing nine hits, three walks and six runs (all earned) in just five innings. Things don't get any easier for Baltimore, as the Birds head to Fenway for a four game series to close out the first half of the season. You can read the STATS LLC preview of game one of the Boston series here.

Of interest...
Of interest this morning is a chat wrap from Baseball America's executive editor Jim Callis. After another O's loss, I wasn't interested in focusing on Baltimore this morning, so I turned to some general prospect info. Dropped into the middle of the chat was a reference to the top player in the O's Minor League system -- Manny Machado (ss, Advanced-A Frederick):



Matt (NJ): Jim, where does profar rank now among current prospects with his surprise power so far this year? Is he the best SS prospect in the minors besides Machado?

Jim Callis: Profar continues to impress and he has grown into more of his offensive potential this year. I have him ranked 14th overall, second among shortstops behind Machado, who I have at No. 7.
That's right. Even with the uber slump since returning from his knee injury, the executive editor at the most widely referenced media source covering baseball prospects still views Machado as the top shortstop prospect in the game, and the seventh best prospect in all of baseball. A little good news for O's fans is always welcome.

Then, scrolling down further, I found a reference to this year's first round selection, and the fourth pick overall, Dylan Bundy (rhp, Owasso HS, Owasso, Okla.):



Ryan (Baltimore): What tier of pitching prospects does Dylan Bundy fit with? A notch below the Teheran/Miller/Moore group?

Jim Callis: Those are the three best pitching prospects in the minors right now, and I'd give them credit for performing in Double-A or higher. I'd put Bundy, who I'd take over all of the 2011 draft pitchers, right behind them.
Call me crazy, it sounds like Mr. Callis considers both Machado and Bundy to be top ten talents, or in Bundy's case at least pretty darn close to that. Granted, each or likely two seasons away from the Majors at minimum. But at least the Orioles are back to adding highly regarded amateur talent to their system.

In our shadow draft, Camden Depot ended-up with Anthony Rendon (3b, Rice Univ.) and Derek "Bubba" Starling (of, Gardner Edgerton HS, Gardner, Kan.) as our top selections for the past two years. Callis had this to say about the Rice standout:



Steve (Seattle): Am I crazy to think that Anthony Rendon might not sign with Washington? Seems like his stocked dropped a lot and he could be a potential #1 pick next year with improved power and health.

Jim Callis: I'd be shocked if Rendon doesn't sign. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Scott Boras cut big draft deals all the time, and Rendon will be paid handsomely. I still would take him over anyone in the 2011 draft.

So, at least for now, Camden Depot gets the nod with regards to Rendon over Bundy -- even if only by the slimist of margins. Callis is a huge backer of Machado, so I have no doubt he would prefer Manny to Bubba. Should be an interesting group of pairings to follow. However it ultimately shakes out, O's fans should be thrilled to have Machado (and hopefully Bundy) in the system. Let's enjoy the bright spots when we can. After all, the Birds have Boston up next...

06 July 2011

Cup of jO's (July 6, 2011): Introducing Yonder Alonso and Zack Cozart

Game Summary
Orioles 2, Rangers 4
Box Score / Play-by-Play / AP Recap

The Birds smacked eleven hits off of Rangers's starter Matt Harrison in just six innings but were only able to plate two runs as the O's fell again to the Rangers. In his first start for the O's, Mitch Atkins went six strong, allowing eight hits and no walks while striking out four. J.J. Hardy and All-Star selection Matt Wieters each hit solo shots, accounting for the only two runs of the game for Baltimore. Staff ace Jeremy Guthrie tries to help Baltimore avoid the sweep today -- you can read the STATS LLC preview here.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning is a pair of trade targets to add to our list of potential trade deadline targets. Yonder Alonso and Zack Cozart are members of the Reds's AAA affiliate, the Louisville Bats. Each were selected to the International League All-Star team, a brief player summary from the team's official blog:


OF Yonder Alonso will be appearing in his first career Triple-A All-Star Game. This will be his second career All-Star selection in his minor league career. The other was in 2009 as a member of the Sarasota Reds when he was selected to the Florida State League All-Star Game. In 2011, Alonso has a .299avg with 9hr and 42rbi. His .299 batting average is good for fourth best on the team with a minimum of 200 at-bats.



SS Zack Cozart has been selected to his third career minor league All-Star Game and it will be the first time he has played in the annual IL – PCL showdown. He was a 2009 Southern League All-Star while with Carolina and a 2008 Midwest League All-Star while a member of the Dayton Dragons. In 2011, Cozart has a .321 avg. with 7hr and 30rbi. He also is second on the team and third in the International League with 26 doubles.


Both Alonso and Cozart fill potential holes for Baltimore -- long term shortstop and long term first baseman -- and Alonso is clearly blocked at first by slugger Joey Votto. As with Blanks, we will go more in depth with Alonso and Cozart in our full scouting report. For now, here are links to their respective stat pages:

Yonder Alonso: Fangraphs Baseball-reference
Zack Cozart: Fangraphs Baseball-reference

05 July 2011

Cup of jO's (July 5, 2011): Introducing Kyle Blanks

Game Summary
Box Score / Play-by-Play / AP Recap

It was a typical evening for the 2011 Orioles. The offense sputtered through nine innings, notching just six hits -- two of them homeruns off the bat of Mark Reynolds, who now sits at 20 on the year. Reynolds's homeruns are becoming almost a nightly occurrence, but unfortunately so too are his errors. He booted a grounder to earn an E yesterday -- also his 20th on the year. Chris Jakubauskas and Alfredo Simon were slapped around the Ballpark at Arlington to the tune of 12 R, 11 ER, 16 H and just 2 SO over 6.1 IP. The battered Birds will send Mitch Atkins to the mound tonight -- click here for the STATS LLC preview of his match-up against Matt Harrison and the Rangers.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning is our first proposed trade target for this July's trade deadline -- San Diego 1b/of Kyle Blanks. We will provide a full scouting report on Blanks, but for now I simply want to introduce you to a talent I believe could fill Baltimore's first base hole for the foreseeable future. Blanks missed a chunk of 2010 and the start of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery. While he was out, the Padres traded their All-Star first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, to Boston this past winter in exchange for a package that included Anthony Rizzo -- a highly regarded first base prospect. Rizzo has quickly risen through the Minors and currently finds himself at first for the Padres, potentially making Blanks available.

While Blanks has logged some time in the outfield corners while blocked by Gonzalez, he is a plodder and not well suited to the spacious outfield of Petco. It seems unlikely the Padres would turn around and move one of the primary pieces in the AGon deal, which means Blanks should be available for the right price. Is he worth pursuing?

This past week the Padre slugger earned Pacific Coast League (AAA) player of the week honors, after posting a seven day triple slash line of .520/.586/1.240, going 13-for-25. He profiles as a corner bat with above average hit and power tools, and a ceiling somewhere around a .390 wOBA, 30-35 homerun pop and an ability to draw 65-75 walks a year. We'll dig into Banks in more detail with our scouting report -- for now, we just wanted to introduce you to him. Here are his relevant stat pages: Fangraphs | Baseball-reference

04 July 2011

Scouting the Trade Deadline: Introducing O's as Sellers

It would be fun to entertain trade targets for a playoff push, or even to be close enough to Wild Card contention that there is a question as to whether the O's should push all in or wait things out a week or two before making a decision. Sadly, as with a vast majority of the past 14 months of July, Baltimore is clearly in "look to the future" mode (or should be). There is some interesting discussion to be had, however, as to whether "the future" means 2012 or more the Machado/Bundy years. For at least one more season, I remain convinced that Baltimore has time to build around this core for a solid three year push and a chance to build some sustained success if things break right. I also remain convinced that in order for Baltimore to make use of this young core they need dramatic action and they need it now.

The 2012 off-season may be the last real chance to add needed talent to make a push for contention in the brutal AL East. The realist in me looks at the holes in the Baltimore 25-man roster and finds it difficult to imagine a scenario wherein Baltimore fills those holes adequately in a single off-season. That means, if I'm sitting in the Warehouse, my focus in July is to find some long term pieces at the trade deadline. We'll spend the next four weeks batting around ideas and providing scouting reports on some potential trade targets for the Birds. Hopefully Jon will chime in with some scouting and statistical analysis, as well, and in the end we will wind-up with some interesting discussion at the least.

As a disclaimer, I realize that "proposing trades" is a cliche sports message board pastime, often plagued with inaccurate assessments of other teams' needs and inflation of the value of the home team's assets. We will do our best to remain as objective and reasonable as possible. That said, if you are a fan of one of the other 29 teams that happens to find your way to The Depot and you see us making flawed arguments that relate to your team, please call us on it.

So, as an intro piece let's take this space to identify the most useful assets for Baltimore to peddle on the trade market:

Big Chips
Adam Jones, of, Orioles

2nd Tier Primary Pieces
J.J. Hardy, ss, Orioles
Jeremy Guthrie, rhp, Orioles

Secondary Pieces or 3rd Tier Primary Pieces
Kevin Gregg, rhp, Orioles
Koji Uehara, rhp, Orioles

Throw-ins or Salary Dumps
Vlad Guerrero, dh, Orioles
Derrek Lee, 1b, Orioles

It may shock some fans to see Adam Jones on our shop list, but he is the one premium chip available that will start to get expensive in the near future. He has the national recognition and enough of a track record to make this year's step forward an opportunity to bring back a large haul. It could be that he is not quite established enough to entice an org to part with a monster package, but one potential elite talent and two more strong pieces are not out of the question. Baltimore will otherwise look to extend Jones, and as impressive as he has been at the plate I have to question whether it makes sense for an organization like Baltimore to invest heavily in a corner outfielder playing center field. If you can get a team to pay an All-Star center fielder's price, I think you have to take it. That also may be the quickest way for Baltimore to fill multiple holes with long term solutions.

Hardy and Guthrie are not top tier trade pieces, but each could bring back a strong B/B+ prospect and a useful secondary piece. Hardy is the more valuable of the two right now due to positional scarcity and 2011 performance, though he is only a three month rental. Guthrie gives a National League team a possible #2 starter for a reasonable price over the next 1.5 seasons.

Gregg and Uehara each have closing experience and could bring back something around the George Sherrill package in 2009 -- that is, one solid B prospect and a throw in. In Gregg's case it would also free Baltimore of an unnecessary portion of payroll devoted to the bullpen.

Both Guerrero and Lee could be pieces of interest to teams looking for a bat off the bench during the playoff push. Unfortunately, their sub-par performance in 2011 means Baltimore would probably have to choose between salary relief or paying a chunk of their due cost in exchange for an upgrade to a B-/C+ type prospect.

For the time being I have excluded some of the Minor League pieces that could be added in a larger deal. I think it is more realistic that Baltimore would get creative with these pieces at the conclusion of the season when looking to add a big piece in the off-season. Let me know who we missed and what you'd want to get back for the trade pieces listed above.

2011 IFA Signing Period: IFA vs Rule 4 Draft

Orioles' prospect Curacao's Jonathan Schoop at 13
This article first appeared on our partner ESPN's Sweetspot Network and is being reprinted here with minor corrections for our IFA signing period piece.

The rule 4 draft occurred over a three day period earlier this week. It is one of the two primary ways a team can acquire amateur talent. The other path is to sign international free agents (IFAs). On July 2nd, teams will be allowed to sign players who are 16 years old. Some teams have been shown to focus on Caribbean and Latin American talent. In 2010, the Mariners, Yankees, Athletics, Braves, and Cubs all spent more on acquiring international amateurs than they did in the rule 4 draft. In contrast, the Nationals, Angels, White Sox, and Dodgers spent at least ten times more on the rule 4 draft than they did on IFAs.

This begs the question: How do rule 4 picks differ in value from IFAs? During a recent exchange with local bloggers, Matt Klentak (Orioles Director of Baseball Operations) mentioned that the Orioles contracted for a study to be done on the cost efficiency of IFAs and found that investing in rule 4 talent made more sense. The study is proprietary, so we do not know exactly what this difference is. It also seems that other teams disagree. This seems especially true with the small market Oakland Athletics being one of those teams highly involved in signing IFAs. In this column, I will try to answer to determine how much different is the value between rule 4 and IFA talent.

Using Baseball America's numbers for signing bonuses of rule 4 draftee signing bonuses in the first ten rounds of the 2010 draft, MLB spent 166MM total on 299 players.* The average players earned a bonus of 560k. Baseball America's numbers for 2010 international bonuses (not including Cuban free agents) accounted for roughly 75.5MM. I do not have any specific number of international free agents (IFA) signed, but I will try to estimate. There are 33 Dominican Summer League teams with about 30 players on each team. Players tend to stay at the academies for at most three years, so a rough estimate would be that each team requires 9-10 additional players each year which means 300 new players each season. Using this number, the average Dominican Summer League prospect would cost 250k.

The difference in cost per prospect suggests that every dollar spent on foreign talent, $2.24 must be spent for an American prospect. However, we have more math to do because this ratio assumes that the two types of prospects are equal in their likelihood to become Major Leaguers. Using Keith Law's top 100 minor league prospects list, I count 23 IFAs (I did not count 3 Cubans) and 74 rule 4 talents. Remember that we started out with essentially 300 new prospects from the draft and IFAs. This means that a rule 4 talent is about 3.2 times more likely to become a top 100 prospect. This passes the sniff test as IFAs are often signed at a younger age and without good competition to gauge the skills of a player. With less ability to define ability, a team must act in the spirit of Branch Rickey and acquire quality through quantity. The idea being to grab as many prospective talents as possible and wait for the true talent to rise. Factoring in the likelihood of being a top 100 prospect, we now find that a dollar abroad now equal 70 cents at home. It does appear that talent costs considerably less through the rule 4 draft than it does through international talent signings.

However, a team like the Athletics appear to insist that IFAs are a useful talent pool to exploit. Although it may be cheaper to develop home-grown talent, it is not an infinite resource. Each draft contains about 80-100 players who are going to earn more than a cup of coffee in the Majors. This does not leave much to go around. IFAs provide an additional pool to supplement what is available in the MLB draft. The league contains about 27.7% foreign born players (the overwheming majority of these players were never eligible for the rule 4 draft), so we can imagine that each year about 20-25 IFAs are signed who will make the Majors and play for at least a little while. Based on those numbers, we can say it takes about 15 IFA signings (~3.75MM) to produce a single player who generates a WAR of 1. The market value for a win these days is about 4.5MM on the MLB free agent market. If this numbers based on a length sequence of assumptions are reasonably accurate, we find that our initial query may not be the one by which teams, like the A's, are making their decision to invest in IFAs. It may well be that teams invest in IFAs because it is a better way to invest your money than by signing free agent veterans.

*I did not include signing bonuses for players signed after the first ten rounds. This number in recent years ranges from 20 to 30 MM. This is value is likely less or equal to the money it takes to run the various academies for IFAs. Jorge Arangure Jr reported that the Tampa Bay Rays' facility in Brazil will cost 0.5 to 1 MM per year to run. They did not have to build that facility themselves, but those who do have to build their own academy typically spend more than 1MM initially just to construct the field and buildings that are need. With this in mind, I decided to conveniently cross off the extra costs from the draft and the extra costs from running facilities outside of the United States.

Cup of jO's (July 4, 2011): All-Star Matt Wieters

Game Recap
Box Score / Play-by-Play / AP Summary

Mark Reynolds homered again and the O's were able to rally past the Braves after coughing up a three run lead in the sixth inning. Zach Britton put together a solid start, and even chipped in with the bat, homering in the third inning. The Birds travel west to Arlington for a 4th of July showdown with Colby Lewis and the Rangers.

Of interest to me...
Of interest to me this morning is Jeff Zrebiec's article in the Baltimore Sun on Matt Wieters's selection to the All-Star game -- what I am sure is to be the first of several future appearances. According to Zrebiec's piece, Wieters leads the Majors in runners caught stealing (22) and is the only backstop yet to allow a pass ball. Wieters's defensive work has been a joy to watch in an otherwise disappointing year for the Birds, and has even made its way to YouTube in highlight real form:




I've clocked Wieters sub-1.9 seconds on pop times to second base throughout the year -- well below the generally accepted average for Major League catchers (around 2.0 seconds). Always in possession of a plus to plus plus arm (he even served as a closer at Georgia Tech, touching the mid-90s off the mound), it is the improvement his footwork and transfer that has allowed him to step up for good catch-and-throw backstop to among the best in the league.

While the Minor League hype surrounding Wieters was centered on his bat, it is his glove and his arm that have helped the young phenom secure his first selection to an American League All-Star squad. Also encouraging is Wieters .315 wOBA, which places him seventh in the Majors among catchers, and his fWAR of 2.0 making him the fourth most valuable catcher in the Majors according to Fangraphs.

I have little doubt that Wieters will continue to grow, offensively. The larger question is how many years the Orioles will be able to pencil him in at the 2-spot before his 6-foot-5 230-pound body starts to react negatively to the grind of a Major League season. The Twins's Joe Mauer is the only comparably sized talent we have with whom to compare Wieters. If his career arc is any indication, the news is good for Baltimore as Mauer was able to stay healthy enough to produce 33.9 fWAR over his under-control years in the Twin Cities. Wieters, of course, has further development to come before he can be counted on as a 6+ fWAR player, year-in and year-out. But 2011 has been a terrific step forward for the former top O's prospect, and his presence as a nightly member of the Baltimore battery can only have positive effects on the young arms on whom the O's depending to shut down the powerful bats of the AL East.

Congrats on the All-Star selection, Matt. Here's to your emergence as one of the top catchers in the game.

03 July 2011

2011 IFA Signing Period: July 2nd

Each year the International Free Agent signing period begins on July 2nd, and is generally highlighted by a handful of the "big fish" being scooped up early. The remaining bonus babies tend to come off the shelf over the course of the following few weeks, with the lower-priced talents signed anywhere from July 2nd through completion of the Dominican Prospect League in the winter. Historically, Baltimore has not been a large player in Latin America. With the arrival of Andy MacPhail, however, came hope that the O's would begin to ramp up their presence in acquiring talent from a region that produces roughly 30% of the Major Leaguers in the game today.

Four years into Mr. MacPhail's tenure as the President of Baseball Operations in Baltimore, and the Birds have a new Dominican facility, but little to no increase in scouting presence and what has been referred to by those involved as a "limited" interest in the Dominican Prospect League (a winter league set-up to showcase eligible Dominican teenage baseball talent in game settings). Heading into Saturday's start to the 2011 IFA signing season, Orioles fans had little to look forward to.

Perhaps the most connected analyst to follow the international market, Baseball America's Ben Badler previewed all thirty teams and the rumors surrounding them as relates to the IFA crop. Badler presented his summaries by breaking the teams down into several categories -- High Rollers, Sleepers, Opportunity Knocks, Price is Right, and Bargain Hunters. Baltimore was one of six teams to fall into the final category, including tw0 0rganizations recently stung with scandals and not yet ramping-up again in the region, one team in financial distress, one working to rebuild their international scouting department after losing their director in 2009 and one limited year-in and year-out in available finances for amateur acquisitions. This is what Badler had to say about the O's:
Baltimore Orioles: Orioles management has talked for years about wanting to get more involved internationally, but so far those efforts have been limited. Venezuelan lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez was a good 2010 signing who pitched well last year in the Dominican Summer League and is off to a nice start in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but their actions in Latin America figure to be on the lower end again this year.
There were around $20 million worth of signings on Saturday, with no AL East team reporting any acquisitions. The Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays are all being linked to several highly touted prospects, with the Rays and Orioles still lurking in the shadows (according to the internet rumor mill). Might the O's swoop in to grab one of this year's high profile prospects? Don't bet on it.

Andy MacPhail has noted in multiple interviews/speaking events this year that high priced talent in the Dominican Republic is not a focus of Baltimore's, primarily because of the limited in-game action available for viewing and evaluating these players. One might wonder, if in-game looks are what the Orioles need to be sold on a prospect, why not partake in the Prospect League set up for this very purpose?

Snark aside, Mr. MacPhail has some legitimate gripes with the current system. Buscones (trainers) run the show when it comes to showcasing Dominican talent, which usually means limited looks in controlled showcase settings. Batting practice, infield/outfield workouts, bullpen sessions, timed running, and the like are common place. Structured multi-look game action, not so much. The result is a possibility that you could be ponying up seven figures to sign a talent that lights up a gun or puts on impressive BP displays but who has not been asked to show his talents in game action over the course of a structured season. Further, anecdotally, the hit rate on these seven-figure signings is uneven, to be kind. So what is the solution?

If you ask the Rays, they would tell you that the solution to the problem of high priced/high risk talent in the DR is to pick your spots on the island and to blaze your own trail in other Latin American markets. The Rays negotiated a deal with Brazil to open up the first MLB academy there, and even found a way to get their host country to pick up a large chunk of the tab. Whether or not this endeavor produces results of course remains to be seen, but no one can fault Tampa for waiting it out on the sidelines while the rest of the AL East throws money around.

Other like-market organizations have already made big moves, with Kansas City, Cleveland, Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Minnesota handing out a combined $7+ million in international signing bonuses on Saturday. Is Baltimore ahead of the curve, avoiding this spending? Have these other organizations not run the research that Baltimore has run on Latin American spending? Or do they simply disagree on the conclusions that can be drawn from such research?

The hope is that Baltimore has something interesting and innovative up their sleeve. Is it a structured focus in Venezuela? Poaching some experienced Dominican scouts to improve the number of eyes they get on the talent, and therefore the likelihood that they can uncover some of the hidden gems knocking around each year? Increased attendance and participation in the Dominican Prospect League? Any of these courses of action would be a welcome change, but seem equally unlikely.

For better or worse, it seems the Orioles are content to wait this battle out on the sidelines, focusing on calculated low cost investments. It could be that this ultimately results in a higher hit rate than that experienced by teams targeting the seven-figure signings. I'm not at all sold that this will be the case, but am hopeful that Mr. MacPhail and his colleagues will prove me wrong. In the meantime, all that Orioles fans can do is show patience and confidence in leadership -- two asks that are getting more and more difficult with each passing month.

Cup of jO's (July 3, 2011): While we were out...

Catching up with the birds...

Baltimore is mired in a five game losing streak, dropping to ten below .500 for the first time this season and likely ending any outlandish fantasies about miracles runs at a Wild Card. Through these five losses, Baltimore has not led at the end of an inning, and has only grabbed the lead once -- yesterday in the top of the fourth inning the O's took a 2-0 lead after a Mark Reynolds before losing that lead as soon as the Braves stepped up to bat in the bottom half.

Baltimore now has the third worst run differential in all of baseball (-62) behind just the Cubs (-76) and the Astros (-91). They are 14.5 games behind the first place Yankees and five games behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card. With the 2011 season all but officially over for The Birds, it's time to consider the future. While looking ahead to the next season is not a novel occurrence for O's fans, the sheer weight of 14 straight years of meaningless second half games has a way of grinding the interest out of a fan base (and rightfully so). In order to try and keep our readers excited, or at least interested, over the next month, I will be posting scouting reports on trade targets -- both rumored and suggested.

Hopefully that will keep stimulating conversation among Orioles fans, and as a group Orioles fans can continue to try and hold out hope that a turnaround is somewhere in the not-to-distant future. This is still a core that can be built around, but as Jon and I have written numerous times this upcoming off-season may be the last significant opportunity for that building to produce a meaningful effect. To the extent Baltimore can find solutions in the trade market over the next 28 days, the pressure of checking everything off a long "to do" list in the off-season could be considerably lessened.

I'll be at the field this afternoon for game one of the USA Collegiate National Team's series against their counterparts from Japan. This evening I'll post some thoughts on the start of the International Free Agent signing period and yesterday's somewhat surprising barrage of bonuses.

Zach Britton is taking on the Braves this afternoon -- you can read a preview of the match-up from STATS LLC here.

02 July 2011

Delay in Content

Sorry for the delay in content. Jon was pulled away on business and I am down in Durham, N.C. for USA Baseball scouting events, including the Prospect Classic (pitting the USA 18U squad against the Collegiate National Team). I'll post a quick recap of O's action the last two days later tonight, and this weekend we'll look at the start of the International Free Agent signing period (which is today, July 2nd).

Thanks for your patience!
Nick

30 June 2011

Mark Reynolds needs to step down to be a 30/-30 player

After 74 games, Mark Reynolds has given us what we have expected.  He hits well . . . or, to be more specific, he makes enough solid contact and walks enough to make up for all the times he does not make contact.  He has also been incredibly rough at third base.  Both of these were expected and he is roughly the exact player we knew was coming here.  For the season, Reynolds is on pace to be 41 batting runs above replacement and -20 fielding run above average (from Baseball Reference).  If he ends up with those he will have had his second best offensive season and his worst defensive season.  There have been 5 players in the history of baseball who have had 41 BRAR or more and -20 FRAA or less. 
Dick Deitz 1970 42 batting runs -20 fielding runs
Joe Torre 1971 62 batting runs -25 fielding runs
Jeff Burroughs 1974 48 batting runs -21 fielding runs
Dale Murphy 1985 44 batting runs -21 fielding runs
Bernie Williams 2002 42 batting runs -22 fielding runs
If Reynolds is able to keep this up, he will be in select company.  Dietz was a strong hitter for a few seasons and likely would have been in the Majors longer if he had the benefit of a DH.  Torre is arguably a HoFer as a result of his playing days.  Burroughs had a somewhat uneven career with really only three solid offensive seasons.  Dale Murphy was a bat in search of a position and was likely going to be a sure fire HoFer until his knees quit on him.  Bernie Williams is a slightly better version of Dale Murphy.  Just as bad of a defender, but a tad better bat and a tad longer career.  Although he does have that Yankee glow while Murphy has that pre-Atlanta Dynasty patina.

A 40/-20 club may be a good way to measure a usable player (this is not position weighted though).  However, I think there is a certain special something to a 30/-30 club.  Mark Reynolds should easily get the offensive side of that equation.  He is in the midst of a career offensive year.  His defense is just not bad enough at this point.  He manages to get to a good number of balls, so that he saves a number of doubles by stabbing the ball even if it is followed by a poor throw.  This is especially true with the Orioles defense behind him in left.  Anyway, the 30/-30 club is quite small:
Ryan Braun 2007 33 batting runs -35 fielding runs
Jason Bay 2008 31 batting runs -35 fielding runs
Adam Dunn 2009 34 batting runs -33 fielding runs
Ryan Braun's 2007 season is quite remarkable in that he accomplished this while playing only 113 games.  If he had played his normal 155 games he would have had a 45/-48 season.  That would have been quite remarkable.  The Brewers feared those defensive numbers and shifted him to the outfield where he has shown more aptitude.  Jason Bay is not a good defensive outfielder, but his 2008 season may have been a bit of an abnormality.  It was somewhat of a surprise when the Mets signed him to play left field for them.  Even more of a surprise is that his defense has been passable while the bottom dropped out of his bat.  Some thought it had to do with his fly balls not finding enough room in the spacious confines of Citi Field.  However, he has been a much much better hitter at home than on the road.  Adam Dunn's defense was ignored for a season in Washington, shifted to first, and is now where he belongs as a DH for the White Sox.

Mark Reynolds may be a butcher at third, but his bat covers for him.  He may be worth more in left field or at first base.  Reynolds played a little bit of left in the minors and does not seem exceptionally bad out there.  His first base time in the Majors for Arizona looked quite poor.  It might make most sense for the former shortstop to play some outfield.  Of course, this means we need a new third baseman and I do not see that available in the system for next year.  Perhaps the best course of action is to put up with his poor defense as long as he is getting his walks and hitting home runs.

28 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Platoon Advantages' Expansion Draft

The folks over at the Platoon Advantage decided it would be fun to do a thought exercise where they would come up with an expansion draft with each blogger taking a team.  The rest of us in ESPN's Sweetspot Network cooperated by providing protected lists and pull back lists.  How did it work?  I'll let them explain:
1997 Expansion Draft, were as follows:

A) Players who were drafted in the last two amateur drafts (2010 and 2011) were not eligible to be selected in the Expansion draft. Also, players selected in the 2009 amateur draft who were under the age of 19 at the time they were selected are also exempt. Teams do not have to protect these players. These same rules apply to amateur free agents who signed in the same timeframe. Therefore, neither expansion club could pick Mike Trout from the Angels.

B) Any player who is going to be a free agent, obviously, will not need to be protected in this draft, since they will not be on their team’s roster at the time of the draft. Therefore, the Mets do not have to burn a spot on Jose Reyes, unless they happen to sign him to an extension before then.

C) Teams are required to submit a list of 15 eligible players who will be “protected” for the first round, meaning that neither expansion team can select them. The Marlins, for instance, protected Mike Stanton, recognizing that he was an incredible young talent with a low salary that any expansion team would pounce on.

D) The expansion teams are only allowed to select one player from any organization per round. For instance, if one club selected Adrian Beltre from the Texas Rangers, the Rangers couldn’t lose anyone else for the rest of that round.

E) After each expansion team has picked 15 players (which would mean that every MLB club has had one players selected), each club is allowed to protect three additional players for Round 2. At that point, the process repeats itself, with 15 more picks, and three more protected players, for Round 3. This continues until each expansion team has selected 35 players.
So, who did we protect?  Who did we not protect?

First 15 . . .
C Matt Wieters - Is currently one of the best catchers in baseball.  Really.  He is.
RF Nick Markakis - He has to be better than this and he is signed to a reasonable contract.
CF Adam Jones - Reasonable salary and near All Star performance.
SP Jeremy Guthrie - Veteran pitcher, quality pitcher, cheap pitcher.
SP Brian Matusz - Lots of promise even with his recent setbacks.
SP Chris Tillman - This might surprise people, but Tillman has youth and ability.  He is still mighty young.
SP Jake Arrieta - Young, solid thrower...as you can tell, we are hoarding our pitching.
SP Zach Britton - Same thing.
SP Brad Bergesen - This might also surprise people, but he could be a cheap valuable back end starter.
SS J.J. Hardy - One of the better players on the team and a valuable trade piece.
OF Felix Pie - This list was made about eight weeks ago, I would now leave Pie off of it.
LF Luke Scott - Reasonable contract and potential value on the market.
OF Xavier Avery - Raw, toolsy outfielder.  Even with continued poor performance, I would still protect him.
UTL LJ Hoes - He has also had a rough season, but the O's system does not have many have to protect guys.
SP Bobby Bundy - We have always been high on him here at the Depot and think he can be a solid mid rotation starter.

Who did we leave available?
We left many of our high priced relievers and older veterans for the taking.  We have long thought poorly of the Roberts extension and wished for some intervention.  We also were not very high on Vlad and the multiple millions spent on fringe relievers.

Who was taken in the first round?
3B Josh Bell - We are fine with this.  Bell showed a lot of promise when he came over from the Dodgers organization.  However, his improving defense stopped improving and he has largely lost his ability to take a walk.  Without a glove, you need a big bat to succeed.  He has that potential, but I severely doubt he can fulfill that potential.

We were then allowed to pull back three players:
LF Nolan Reimold - Part of us still believes there is an above average bat here.  Reimold is getting older, but that ability is still there for him to emerge as a late bloomer.
1B Brandon Snyder - He has a good swing and not much else.  However, that might be enough.
1B Tyler Townsend - He has ability and there just is not much for us to protect on this squad.

Who was taken in the second round?
3B Mark Reynolds - We are also fine with this.  The way we see things is that Reynolds is being paid as a 2 win player.  When everything is working, he is exactly that.  Past attempts to have him play first base were dreadful and we are not sure how well he can play left field.  This might have been a poor decision on our part to pull back Snyder and not Reynolds, but we also enjoy the increased payroll flexibility.  Unfortunately, say hello to new third baseman Robert Andino!

We were then allowed to pull three more back:
C Caleb Joseph - Potentially a useful backup offensive oriented catcher.
SP Ryan Berry - I think this was before we knew the extent of his injuries, but he is a fine pitching prospect.
RP Koji Uehara - Reasonably priced, solid reliever who may be useful in trade.

No one else was selected from the organization.

We were pretty happy with how we came out in the end.  We really did not lose much and we really did not have much to lose.  Sadly, we really we not able to get rid of any of the sillier contracts we have on the books, but we knew coming in that these guys kind of knew what they were doing (outside of not taking James Shields--what?).  Anyway, anyone have any better suggestions how we should have gone about it?

27 June 2011

Predicted Wins and Playoff Probability: Week 12

It has been awhile since I last posted the Orioles predicted wins and playoff probability.  All of the systems were sliding between 76 and 80 wins.  That just did not seem an incredibly exciting thing to update every week.  So where has a month later left us?  Between 76 and 80.  Perhaps it is slightly exciting to note that the Camden Depot and PECOTA predictions are beginning to move away from the Pythagorean.

A few more detailed notes:
  • The Orioles took four wins against Seattle during the six games in which they will face each other this year.  My system predicted 3.43 wins, so this was a good outcome for the team.
  • They split even with the Nationals three games a piece.  3.42 wins were expected.
  • Against Cincinnati they took two of three while the expectation was 1.47 wins.
  • They dropped two of their three to the Pirates where they were expected to win 1.67.
Out of these four finished series, they are +0.01 wins based on my initial projection.  This is practically breaking even.  Series against the Yankees, Jays, and Indians are not going so well and the team is likely to under-perform against those teams.

Before we get to the updated graph, here are some solid posts over the past month:
They Lathe Bats, Don't They?  An interview with a guy who makes bats for some of the Orioles
Science of Baseball Always a crowd pleaser
Revisiting MLB Reallignment

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Dempsey's Army Presents: Last Week in Chats (June 20-26)

Monday afternoons Heath from Dempsey's Army will recount all things Baltimore Orioles from the previous week's chats. It is a convenient way to learn what national writers think about specific issues that relate to the Orioles.
Where we distill all the week's baseball chats down to their Oriole essence...

Jerry Crasnik, ESPN

Charlie milwaukee [via mobile]
Where do you see prince fielder playing next season? The teams that need and can pay fielder already have a high profile name at that position.

Jerry Crasnick (1:06 PM)
Charlie, Yep, with Boston, the Yankees and others already spoken for at first base, that puts a bit of a crimp in Prince's market. At the moment, you hear the Cubs and O's floating around as potential candidates. And as much as you hear that the Brewers are "priced out" on Prince, I wouldn't write them off entirely. Scott Boras needs to keep them in the mix as a potential landing spot.


Derek Carty, Baseball Prospectus

Ralph (Arlington):
Rank em please: Brantly, Markakis, Pagan, Torres

Derek Carty:
I think you've got the order right there. Michael Brantley, Nick Markakis, Angel Pagan, Andres Torres. Brantley and Markakis are close, but I'd probably go Brantley first.

Yatchisin (Santa Barbara):
Do you think Brian Matusz will get right this year? Opens on DL, comes off, pitches mediocre at best, tweaks hammy.... I had high hopes for him, and now am at the point of cutting him for free agent Bud Norris.

Derek Carty:
I wouldn't give up on Matusz, but if you can drop him for Norris, I'd definitely do it.


Dave Cameron, FanGraphs.com

12:57 Comment From Mark
Hi everyone. Dave, what do you think Guthrie's trade value is and would he be an upgrade for the Reds rotation? Also do you think the Marlins would trade Sanchez?

12:57 Dave Cameron:
I don't think he'll be seen as a premium guy, since he's more good command than great stuff. And no, I don't think Anibal goes anywhere.

Keith Law, ESPN

JP (DC)
I know this isn't a fantasy specific chat, but I am stuck with Ike Davis and Brian Roberts on my DL. Which player is more likely to return this season and contribute?

Klaw (2:10 PM)
Sounds like Davis might be done for the year.

Peter (Los Angeles)
Another Futures Game Question: Do you think Manny Machado & Jameson Taillon get invites this year or are they too young?

Klaw (2:19 PM)
Figured I'd answer these together. I'd say Perez and Profar or Perez and Martin. And I think both Machado and Taillon should be invited - they belong on ability.

Mike Morse (Washington DC)
*crossing Keith Law off Christmas card list*

Klaw (2:20 PM)
That's OK, Matt Wieters still sends me three every year.

Brian (AZ)
Which players from the draft do you think will get major league contracts?

Klaw (2:27 PM)
Cole, Bauer, Hultzen, Rendon. Maybe Bundy.

Norman (San Jose)
do you think Johnathan Schoop has enough bat for 3B?

Klaw (3:16 PM)
Yesp.

Klaw (3:16 PM)
Yes, and yep.


Matt Klaassen, FanGraphs.com

1:14 Comment From Rick
How do you feel about Adam Jones sustaining this level of production to a potential 25/100/15 season?

1:15 Matt Klaassen:
I was actually looking at Jones earlier. He's always had potential, but his plate approach has been so bad... this season, he's not getting lucky with BABIP or anything, and he's walking a bit more, yet he's still swinging (and missing) at about the same rate. Some guys are able to defy those peripherals. I really have no idea what's up with him. He's a special athlete, I'll give him that.






Jayson Stark, ESPN

Cole (Baltimore)
Do you think the Orioles trade Jeremy Guthrie? What would a team have to give up to get him

Jayson Stark (1:17 PM)
I continue to hear they're not anxious to trade him. And even though it isn't his fault he's 2-9, it isn't helping his value. He's one of those guys whose value to his current team is probably greater than his value on the market, but that could change.

Pete (Maryland)
Jayson - Rank of Prince Fielder's most likely destinations in 2012? Cubs, Orioles, Brewers, Angels, Rangers?

Jayson Stark (1:20 PM)
He should really go to the American League, shouldn't he? Nevertheless, I'd make the Orioles No. 1 and the Cubs No. 2. Very dubious he'd wind up with any of the other teams on your list.

Cup of jO's: Putting Reynolds Fielding into Perspective

The Orioles beat the Reds yesterday 7-5.  The game was a bit of a nail biter as Oriole pitching kept allowing the Reds get back in.  In addition there was about a one or two inning stretch where home plate umpire Al Porter seemed to be incredibly confused by his strike zone.  Regardless, the three home runs the Orioles hit proved to be too much for the Reds.  It also hurt the Reds that they left 14 men on base in comparison to the Orioles leaving seven.  Those differences are going to hurt you.

---

Mark Reynolds made two more throwing errors yesterday as well as making a few good plays.  This made me want to know just how bad historically has his defense been amongst third basemen?  The most recent update for baseball reference is that he is sitting at -10 runs.  This places him in a tie with the 103rd worst defense.  Two Orioles also share that feat: 1989 Craig Worthington and 1983 Leo Hernandez.  The last I calculated, Reynolds is on pace to be -21 runs above average for his fielding.  That would tie him for ninth worst ever with 1990 Jim Presley.

Here are the bottom ten:
1. Ryan Braun 2007 -35
2. Gary Sheffield 1993 -32
3. Ty Wigginton 2003 -28
4. Joe Torre 1971 -25
5. Mark Teahan 2005 -24
6. Edwin Encarnacion 2007 -22
--. Fernando Tatis 1999
--. Greg Norton 1999
9. Jim Preseley 1990 -21
10. Dave Hollins 1998 -19
It certainly is a good thing Mark Reynolds mashes.  A good number of poor defenders are often "rested" at DH, shifted to first, or sometimes hidden in Left Field.  However, Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and Luke Scott are preventing him to move to those locations.  It surely will be interesting to see how far he climbs up this list.

26 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Eye Color and Circadian Rhythm

Backbone Mountain
Garrett County's Backbone Mountain has the highest point of altitude in the Great State of Maryland.  The point, Hoye Crest, 3,360 feet high.  Last night in the Orioles' 10-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the nine home runs added up to 3,633 feet.  I'm not sure that helps you appreciate the way runs were scored last night, but it certainly was an impressive hitting feat.  Unfortunately, the Reds had the better end of it.  The Reds had one more home run and more instances of having men on base.  Also it is unfortunate that the Reds offensive explosion came against Brian Matusz.  On average he is giving up almost three home runs per nine innings, which will not get it done.

I also found it a concern how Matusz' fastball changed as the night went on.  He peaked in the first inning with an 89.3 mph fastball.  The pitches hung around 88.3 during that inning.  In the second inning, it dropped to 87.5 mph.  In the third, 87 mph.  In the fourth, 86 mph.  In the fifth, a shade under 86.  That difference of a little over 3 mph is something you do not see in a starting pitcher.  That is serious fatiguing.  I imagine the 26 pitch third inning was tiring, but the trend was in place before that inning.  I do not think this bodes well for him.  You could tell that him and Wieters knew it was not good as they steadily shifted over to throwing his change up almost exclusively toward the end of the outing.  The final home run he gave up was a four pitch at bat and each pitch was a change up.  Showalter and Matusz both claim there is no injury, but I am at a loss to explain how a starter is not showing any ability to maintain velocity over the course of a couple innings.

---

In light of me not posting a Science of Baseball tonight, I thought I would write a few things about Josh Hamilton's assertion that blue eyes are bad for hitting.  I figure if we wait another week or two we will wind up finding someone posting on eye color and hitting based on ESPN profiles.  I hope I don't have to do it.  Other studies that might be similar are ones where pitching performance was compared between sunny and cloudy days.  Hitters did better on cloudy days.  As well as this recent preliminary one where player specific circadian rhythms appear to dictate how well a player performs.  In other words, night owls do better when playing at night because they are capable of staying alert.

I think it makes sense that lighter eye colors would relate to light sensitivity and this could affect the ability of a player to recognize pitches and speed.  A player basically decides when and where to swing by the time the ball has traveled about ten feet from the pitchers hand.  (side-note: I think it was the other day when an announcer or journalist wrote how pitchers had the advantage in a Reds-Giants game because the stadium shadow had moved from behind the catcher to right in front of the plate.  That makes no sense.  You can blindfold a batter for the majority of the ball's flight path because hitting it has nothing to do with last moment reactions.  Your eyes, brain, and muscles just cannot process and respond to a projectile that quickly.  So, the shadow would have had to have been about 50 feet in front of home plate to make any difference).  Anyway, Hamilton may be suffering from two things: light sensitivity and having a circadian rhythm that helps him more at night.  It should be noted that blue eyes are not blue eyes are not blue eyes.  Not every blue eyed person shows light sensitivity.  Even using baseball statistics, I am pretty sure J.J. Hardy has blue eyes and his hitting is the same day or night.

Understanding light sensitivity and circadian rhythms might prove to be beneficial for a team.  If you are looking for a time to sit a batter or how to utilize a platoon.  It might be a good idea to look at a players day/night splits and probably normalize it with dome play data.  The dome is basically your light controlled data set while non-dome is affected by light and time.  For instance, Luke Scott hits 775 OPS in the day and 875 OPS at night with an 829 OPS in a dome.  What this may tell us is that Luke is not particularly affected by light, but he does appear to have better focus for night games.  It may be that if Buck wants to give Luke a day off, he should target games in the afternoon.  When looking at MLB in general, there typically not much of a difference between OPS in day and night games.  This might be a real effect and it might be an area in which a manager could exploit.

25 June 2011

Cup of jO's: What to do with J.J. Hardy?

The Orioles took last night away from the Reds in 12 innings with the 5-4 final score.  In the top of the twelfth, Adam Jones did not play Jay Bruce double well.  The encourage the Reds to send Joey Votto home, but the relay and Wieters at home were solid, preventing the run to score.  A few moments later, lineup protector Derrek Lee lifted a shot into the left field stands for a walk off home run.  It was his first home run in a little over a month and a half.  It was not an incredibly pretty win, but it was against a team that has a solid offense and decent pitching.

One more note...Blake Davis earned his first major league hit with a two run triple.  Congratulations to him.

---

I was reading the Sun's Matt Vensel's interview with Heath Blintiff of Dempsey's Army (and our Last Week in Chat post on Mondays that we host for him).  Toward the end of the interview, Heath mentions that one of the primary things the Orioles need to do is sign J.J. Hardy to an extension.  I'm not sure I entirely agree with that.  J.J. Hardy is experiencing a career year at 28 years old for a shortstop.  These kind of performances warrant contracts of about 5-6 years in length and north of 10MM.  With Hardy's background, he will not make the killing Jose Reyes will make this off season, but he will be a far more reasonable options for someone willing to squint their eyes and massage over the injuries as well as an uneven history.  I think much of the glamor on him comes from his impressive 2007 and 2008 seasons where he was able to show good contact and a very good glove.  I'm not sure we can completely trust that 2009 and 2010 were abnormalities.  However, those seasons might melt away with his 390 wOBA which is just 2 points away from the leader, Jose Reyes.  This season, J.J. Hardy is an elite shortstop again. 

Earlier this season, I was in full favor of extending Hardy.  Keeping him under contract for 2-3 additional years would enable the Orioles to have a good hitting and fielding shortstop while we wait for Manny Machado.  Additionally, Hardy could slide over to third if needed.  I think at the beginning of this year, the team could have extended Hardy for about 7 or so MM a year.  This off season will consist of basically him and Reyes at shortstop with several shortstop hungry teams.  I think it has made extending Hardy misguided and may largely be impractical with the Orioles apparent budget.  Hardy is a bit of a risk that I would be fine with at 7MM, but not 14MM.  I also think we need to consider how much longer he will be capable of playing shortstop as he is not particularly quick.  A five year extension with Hardy might be similar to what we are seeing with Brian Roberts.

This leaves us with the best solution when handed a position player who is having a career year at a shallow league wide talent position and is only being paid a few million over the rest of the season . . . a trade.  I think a decent comparison could be drawn to the Athletics and Cardinals trade that sent Matt Holliday to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortenson, and Shane Petersen.  This was a trade for a player who was struggling in Oakland, but had a history of success and a somewhat sizable remaining contract.  Hardy is someone who has had success in the past, recent injuries, recent incredible performance, and a cheap contract (~2.5MM left) at a premium position.  Where the A's were able to receive a first tier and two third tier prospects.  I think the Orioles could must a low first tier and two low second tier prospects.

So who is in need?

San Francisco Giants
The Giants thought they were solving their shortstop problems by installing Miguel Tejada at shortstop.  Unfortunately, they apparently had only a highlight reel of him to use to gauge his defense.  As much as I love Tejada, this season is likely to be his last.  He has no defensive value at shortstop and he has none at the plate.  In the past, poor performance has been explained away as being the product of him being an emotional player and not being in a playoff situation.  With a tight NL West, it just is not much of an excuse.  His replacement has been Camden Depot shadow draftee Brandon Crawford whose glove plays excellently in the majors.  However, he hits as well as the starting rotation and the Giants need more offense if they truly want to compete.

The key in a deal to the Giants would be Brandon Belt.  He is a legitimate top 25 bat at first base.  The Giants did not immediately find success with him this season and if they want to play for now . . . they may be willing to sell off part of the future.  Belt would be the Orioles Brett Wallace in this scenario.  I think he is a better prospect than Wallace was, but there really is not another high level prospect available in the Giants organization except for lower level pitcher and Camden Depot shadow draftee Zach Wheeler.  The second player I would target would be 3B Adam Duvall a 22 year old in low A ball.  He is a fringe C level prospect who has shown more power and plate discipline this year, which may convince some to push him up to a B level prospect.  He does have issues with contact and not much of a track record of success.  I would also go with Jason Stoffel for the third piece.  I have always liked him.  He does not do anything particularly spectacular, but he can pitch.  He could be a middle relief arm in 2012 or 2013.

Milwaukee Brewers
Yuniesky Betancourt is killing them up the middle and three teams are within three games of them.  The Brewers need some help and would be much better off with their ex-SS J.J. Hardy in their lineup.  This might be Prince's last year in Milwaukee, so it might be their last shot.  However, J.J. and the Brewers did not exactly leave on the best terms possible as they demoted him which tacked on an extra arbitration year.  Another stumbling block is that the Brewers system does not contain any readily identifiable gems.  You could go with a quantity trade with Taylor Green, Khristopher Davis, and Matt Gamel.  Maybe throw in a couple pitchers like Thornburg or Peralta.  I don't think this is something that the Orioles should do though.  It made sense when our system was thin on depth, but we have depth now.  What the system lacks are top tier prospects.  I don't see any in the Brewers system.  They have several guys who have a chance of being MLB players, but we already have too many players like them.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are also hurting with Paul Janish and Edar Renteria at shortstop.  Only three games out, they are in prime position to take the NL Central.  The clear target here would be Yonder Alonso.  The Reds are playing him in left field with the idea that him and Joey Votto can co-exist on the field.  He is not taking well to left field.  Another issue is that he is a bit of a platoon type hitter.  He may be a poor man's version of Ryan Howard.  However, he is a very good first base talent.  He is a high second tier type player.  Another player I would target as a top third tier guy with high upside is 2B Henry Rodriguez.  At 21, he has earned himself a promotion to AA and shows good contact and batspeed.  If he continues his progression, a solid infield of the future could be Alonso, Rodriguez, Machado, and Schoop.  That could be an optimist's dream.  Todd Frazier's ability to play anywhere on the field would also make him a decent target.

Conclusion
I think we can all agree that the Brewers should not be considered.  They just do not have the right pieces.  The Giants are known to value immediate contribution over long term value, so they may be the easiest to deal with.  They certainly have the best piece available in Brandon Belt.  The Reds are slightly more averse to selling away the future, but they have several upper tier prospects.  No one is as highly regarded as Belt, but both of their catching prospects have high marks.  The Orioles would not be interested in the catchers, but in positions for which the Reds already have occupants.  If I was in charge, I would be targeting Belt first, then Alonso, and then shrugging and paying Hardy for 4-5 years recognizing I'd probably be fired before it becomes obvious that the extension was a bad idea.

24 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Jonathan Schoop is from Curacao

No MLB game yesterday for the O's

---

The rosters for the XM All Star Futures Game were released yesterday.  The Orioles placed Manny Machado on the US team and Jonathan Schoop on the World team.  Most teams have two representatives with Brewers, Yankees, Athletics, Giants, Cubs, Angels, Blue Jays, Marlins, Astros, and Dodgers only having one.  These are great accomplishments for the players selected, but we should not view these rosters as being full of the top 60 or so talents in the minors.  That said, Manny Machado has been proclaimed by Baseball America as the best SS prospect in the minors and has made a few mid-season top ten lists even with time lost for a dislocated kneecap.  Jonathan Schoop has also be lauded by Keith Law and others as a top 50 prospect with an outside shot at the top 25.

Schoop is of particular interest because he is an international signee.  The Orioles are notorious for being late to the international free agent market and for preferring to spend resources on domestic talent through the draft.  They are continually in the bottom five for international signing bonuses and that is with a considerable increase in money spent the past couple years.  Still, they seem to have hit on a player from Curacao.  It is well known that there is a lot of talent that is signed for less than 100k in other countries.  Teams like the Rockies and Rangers have invested into ties to foreign countries and showing that they are dependable organizations that help players develop.  Prospects who are not elite level prospects often will wind up signing deals that are sometimes half of what other teams are offering.  For instance, if you read Venezuela Bust, Baseball Boom you find a dozen or so examples of players who signed with the Astros at lower prices (e.g. $30,000) than what other organizations are offering (e.g. $75,000).  This is not truly remarkable when you consider life before the draft in the US.  If you read Dollar Sign on the Muscle, you find that old time scouts often mention how a particular scout being in with the family for years could often persuade them to sign for less than what other organizations could offer.

What is remarkable about Schoop and the Orioles is that my guess is that the Orioles are not well established in Curacao.  Although, for an organization like the Orioles who spend so little in the international free agent agent, a small side talent pool like Curacao is likely to bring them more success than competing with more established and better funded groups in the Dominican.  This may also be a reason for the Orioles continued apparent reluctance to more forcefully enter the Venezuelan market for players.  Instead, we see the Orioles push money into Curacao, Nicaragua, Panama, and other locations where MLB scouting may not be as intense.  It is exciting to have Schoop in the fold though.

I first heard of Schoop as a player to watch before the 2010 season when he played in the rookie leagues as an 18 year old.  Talent evaluators within the Orioles were known to be quite impressed with him and that sentiment rapidly spread out before spring training.  He proceeded to hit for good power, have a high contact rate, and managed to walk at a decent rate.  As a result he popped up on a number of top ten prospect sheets for the Orioles.  He started the year off with Delmarva primarily at third base, but also filling in for an injured Manny Machado at third.  Schoop managed an impressive 316/376/514 line, which pushed him up to Frederick.  At Frederick, he has played all around the infield and has had initial struggles.  He has shown power though and after an adjustment period he should do fine.  Schoop is good enough for his bat to play at that level and it is his bat that is pushing him upwards.

With Machado now at Frederick, you are going to see some exciting play there.  I advise anyone within close proximity of the Keys to go and watch these two as often as possible.

23 June 2011

They lathe bats, don't they?: Making Bats for Orioles (Part II)

In part II, Allan Donato (DS Wood Bats (twitter)) and I discuss more on how bats are made.  This will include some information on what players ask for when ordering a bat and even a little bit on issues with bats breaking into splinters.


Jon Shepherd: When a player comes to you and asks for bats what specifications do they typically ask for? 

Allan Donato: When I speak to a player about their order, the important things are what wood type (ash, maple or birch), what bat model (a set model or custom model), length, weight, cup or no cup, finish, and engraving they would like.  There are a lot more variables than most people think.

JS: From your own experience, what makes for a good bat?

AD: Not only does the quality of the wood make a bat good, but making it exactly like the client wants makes it a good bat.  I see bats a lot of times that are not made exactly as the player asks and they are disappointed.  Majority of the time, this has to do with the bat being heavier than they would like.  Feel is a big thing in baseball.  Players want the bat to feel a certain way, and you must duplicate that feeling. 

JS: There has been a great deal of talk about wood types and the danger of shattering bats.  Is this something that has to be accepted as part of the game or not?  Have you looked into ways for making bats safer and what would they be?

AD: There definitely has been a great deal of talk about the shattering of maple bats lately.  I think it has been accepted as part of the game for a while now, but as of late I believe they are trying to educate the players and public more and show them this should not happen to the extent it has.  The testing done by a third party company through MLB has done a great job of showing what is causing the breakages and helping to educate and resolve the problem. 
 
JS: Not being a maker of bats, I imagine I am missing things that might be important with respect to making an excellent bat.  Is there anything you would like to add?
 
AD: I think one thing that gets over looked about the smaller companies like ourselves is the amount of handcrafting that goes into every bat.  We aren't the type of large company with numerous lathes and automatic sanders that has machines doing the vast majority of the work.  Every bat has hands touching it from the mill, to the lathe, to the finishing room.  Every aspect is done by hand in some fashion.  There is a lot of time and effort that goes into every single bat.
 
JS: Finally, this may be too technical for some, but what pieces of equipment do you use to make a bat and how long does it take to make one?
 
AD: We have three lathes that we use to cut and sand the bats.  One of our lathes is a Centauro which is used to duplicate and model that we turn by hand.  We also have a Jet lathe that is much smaller and used to turn our models by hand and make templates, along with a Delta that we use to sand our bats by hand.  For finishing the bats we also use a laser engraver to engrave the model, name and team into the bat.

Cup of jO's (June 23, 2011): 3-6 against the Blue Jays, Nationals and Pirates...

Game Wrap
Pirates 5, Baltimore 4
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

Zach Britton pitched well enough to keep the O's in the game, but is still drastically lacking in command -- particularly in the zone. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds each squared a few, continuing to swing the bat well. But in the end, Baltimore once again fell short -- drop the series to the Pirates and finishing a disappointing road trip at 3-6. All the details in the recap linked above.

Of interest...
Of interest to me today is Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec's wrap of a disappointing roadtrip. The piece includes some interesting comments from a number of Orioles, including skipper Buck Showalter. All the typical "rough times in baseball" responses are covered, including this "can't dwell on the bad" from Buck:


"If you dwell on it between here and the plane, you can't live in that world...I can come back on some games that didn't look like they presented a good option for us but we ended up winning those games. We won one game in each city that we went into, and we'll try to learn from it. If you stay in that 'woe is me' mentality, nobody feels sorry for you. You've got to pick yourself up. We had some good things happen on this trip. We swung the bats well. Some guys are giving us a chance. We're fighting through some health things." -Buck Showalter, Manager


a sentiment echoed by last year's most potent offensive O's weapon:


"We're a much better team than what we're showing on the field. The only thing we can do is keep working hard and try to get to the point where we can maximize our potential. We haven't done that yet." -Luke Scott, DH/OF


There is truth to each of these statements. Baltimore has had to deal with some tough luck and some injuries. Another stark truth, unfortunately, is that until Baltimore shows the rest of baseball -- in the win column -- that the organization has turned a corner, it won't matter how much promising talent is on the roster or how many ESPN and Baseball America articles cite changes for the better in the front office and on the farm. The Orioles are, once again, in last. They are among the five worst teams in all of MLB in run differential, and they just dropped six of nine to three teams with plenty of their own struggles.

Does anyone honestly believe a free agent like Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes would look at this situation from the outside and feel confident that they will be part of a winning organization in Baltimore? Heck, how confident do you feel that J.J. Hardy will be willing to stick around if he continues with his impressive production in 2011?

The Andy MacPhail era started with a bang. The Bedard and Tejada trades brought in a solid collection of young talent, and Baltimore nabbed Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz in an 18-month span. Since then, the additions to the farm have dwindled, and the Birds have remained firmly in the bottom third of baseball at the end of each season.

Within the next couple of years the young talent is going to start hitting arbitration and Baltimore will accordingly need to consider which kids they can afford to extend and which will need to be moved for more young talent. This off-season is of paramount importance. Either Baltimore figures out a way to bring in the right pieces to supplement this core and build a competitive 25-man roster, or we could once again be pointing ahead to the next collection of prospects that will turn things around -- this time Machado, Bundy, Bundy and Schoop.

This organization needs to put behind it the days of struggling with the other teams in the bottom third of baseball. Until they do, the idea of sticking with the likes of New York, Boston and Tampa will remain a pipedream...