17 July 2011

The Science of Baseball: July 17, 2011

After weeks of various activities (e.g. moving, wandering in Texas) we are back in order with another edition of the Science of Baseball.  This week we will consider the effect of beetroot juice on performance, the effect of nicotine on performance, and then finally whether or not a modified game of baseball can help blind people with their balance.  So...quite a mix today.

Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance.
K Lansley et al
Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 2011 43:1125-1131

A recent study by Andrew Jones' Exeter group found when cycling subjects are given beetroot juice with or without nitrates that it significantly affected finishing times.  On 2.5 and 10 mile distances, total time decreased by three percent when half a liter of beetroot juice still containing nitrates was consumed just prior to the beginning of the time trial.  Nitrates are known to affect blood flow in two ways: (1) nitrate can widen blood vessels which allows for a greater volume of blood to flow and (2) it is known to permit muscles to work more efficiently with respect to oxygen consumption.  Baseball to many extents is nothing like cycling, but I think we may be able to draw two different applications to baseball.  Beetroot juice may be useful to deal with season-long stamina issues and it might also be useful to starting pitchers.  That said, this information still requires quite a bit of testing, so do not expect beetroot juice to rapidly alter overall performance ability.

Keep this in mind though...there is now more evidence pointing to beetroot juice not only being an effective performance enhancing supplement than hGH, but also the end effect is greater than anything produced for hGH.  Think about that really hard.  Beetroot Juice.

Prompt but inefficient: nicotine differentially modulates discrete components of attention.
S. Vangkilde et al.
Psychopharmacology In Press

This study decided to put more focus on how nicotine affects information processing.  There have been several conflicting studies over to what extent nicotine improves or inhibits recognition and motor skills.  This study utilized 24 non-smokers who were dosed with nicotine by chewing nicotine gum.  They were then put through a regime of recognition and selection cognitive tests.  What they found was that reaction time did decrease when individuals were dosed with nicotine.  However, their ability to properly focus and select what was most important was inhibited.

What does this all mean?  Nicotine is probably not very helpful.

Can baseball improve balance in blind subjects?
Marini et al.
Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 51:227-232

Blind baseball is an interesting sport.  Both sighted and non-sighted people play this game with sighted players donning blind folds.  There are only two bases (first and third) and reaching base before a player gets to the ball (which beeps) then you score a run.  You can learn more here about the sport.  In this study, researchers looked at the ability of blind baseball to be a therapy tool for blind individuals.  They took a group of non-baseball players and split them into two groups: one that would play baseball and one that would continue doing what they normally did.  The study found that participants in blind baseball actually improved their balancing ability.  What I wonder is whether blind baseball would help sighted baseball players.  Sight is probably more useful in baseball than the sound as you can see things before you hear them, but there is likely to be a benefit to perceiving sound.  It might not be a balance issue for sighted individuals.  I don't know.  Things to think about.

Life After Andy MacPhail: Options Within the Organization

Andy MacPhail is in the last year of his contract.  Peter Angelos has mentioned that there will be no negotiations until the season is over.  This has led many to believe that one or the other is looking for more flexibility when it comes time to determine how Andy relates to this team in the future.  The two scenarios I have heard mentioned most often would have Andy MacPhail graduating to more of a directional presence at the top of the organization.  This would be similar to his capacity with the Cubs and somewhat similar to Nolan Ryan's role with the Rangers.  MacPhail would be involved in major issues and with the direction of the club, but would leave day to day operations to someone else.  Eventually, MacPhail would move over to a role with Major League Baseball and have Cal Ripken Jr. take over.  The second scenario is for MacPhail to immediately take a role with Major League Baseball and a new presence takes over in the same capacity MacPhail currently serves.

There are several candidates to take the reins of the day to day operations.  There are internal options, experienced external options, and inexperienced external options.  In a series of three posts, I will review some of those potential options.  This first post will consider internal options.

Matt Klentak
30 years old
Director of Baseball Operations

Matt graduated from Dartmouth in 2002.  While in school he managed an internship with Major League Baseball.  That spun into another internship with the Rockies focused on organizing scouting materials and financial issues.  That became a full time position with Major League Baseball.  In his four years with Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department he advised on all teams on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Klentak was also part of the Salary Arbitration Support Program and the Rule 4 Draft Support Program, providing economic and baseball analyses.  In his current capacity, Klentak is the director of baseball operations for the Orioles and is heavily involved in contract negotiations and how to work the 40 man and active rosters.  He certainly is a rising star in baseball and appears well regarded within the Organization.

I'm not sure if he will be a good or bad selection as a GM.  He seems to be a favorite of Andy MacPhail and that might mean something to Angelos.  The only time I have heard him speak extensively about baseball was on the organization pulling in a consultant to evaluate the cost of International talent.  The study is proprietary information, so I cannot say anything about it as he did not discuss it other than the outcome.  As such, I doubt the methodology.  That said, he might be good.

Joe Jordan
48 years old
Director of Amateur Scouting

Jordan started out with the Giants in the minors as a catcher in 1985.  When an injury ended his career, he returned to college to finish his degree and to serve as an assistant coach, a position he held for three years.  He then entered into the financial world before returning back to baseball in 1997 as a scout for the Montreal Expos.  He climbed up to the role of National Crosschecker with the Florida Marlins before he joined the Orioles in 2004 as their Scouting Director in the Flanagan GM era.  His time with the Orioles has been bittersweet.  He has managed to receive decent value for his draft picks and is highly regarded in the industry.  There may be some rivalry between his group and the developmental staff, so he may not be an easy choice.  Additionally, his selections have largely not been slam dunk talent grabs.  The 2009 draft might be a black eye from which Jordan will be remembered within the organization.  I doubt he will be considered for a promotion and think he will remain with the club only if a MacPhail disciple, like Klentak, takes over.

John Stockstill
Upper 40s (cannot find his birth date)
Director of Player Development

I have had difficulty researching Stockstill's early baseball background.  His main responsibilities began with MacPhail's Cubs orginally as a scouting coordinator for Minor League Operations within their organization.  After two years, he became the Cubs' scouting director.  He served in this capacity from 1999 to 2005.  These drafts were not particularly good ones for Stockstill.
1999 - Nothing
2000 - Dontrelle Willis
2001 - Mark Prior, Ryan Theriot, Ricky Nolasco, and Geovany Soto
2002 - Rich Hill, Taylor Teagarden, and Randy Wells
2003 - Sean Marshall and Casey McGehee
2004 - Sam Fuld
2005 - Nothing
He then joined the Orioles as an Assistant GM with a focus on evaluation.  This grew into an International Scouting Director position.  Before 2010, he switched places with his brother David Stockstill and is not the Director of Player Development.  Stockstill certainly is experienced, but I am not exactly sold on his performance.  As a scouting director, he often would target safe college players early and then go for hard to sign players in later rounds.  He did not target the right safe college players and was to able to sign the right overslots.  As the international scouting director for the Orioles, it is difficult to judge him as few resources were used.  Now as the director of player development, he has not had enough time to show any proficiency.

Cal Ripken Jr.
50 years old
President and CEO of Ripken Baseball

Cal is the obvious fan favorite and he has certainly shown an interest in being involved to a great degree at the top of the organization.  There has been some discussion over what responsibilities he would ultimately have and apparently him and Peter Angelos discuss baseball and business often.  He is likely the easiest and riskiest signing of everyone the Orioles could consider.  Cal has never been involved in player development and acquisition.  He was a great player, but playing the game requires a different skill set than evaluating and acting on evaluations as well as working within current and future monetary limits.  There is certainly a possibility that Cal could become the Joe Morgan of General Managers.  Making matters worse, Cal carries such weight around Baltimore he just might be almost unfireable.  The short of it for me is that there are far too many risks for me to hire him on the slim chance he actually can do this job.

Buck Showalter
55 years old
Manager

Showalter is known primarily for taking uneven, young teams and crafting winners out of them.  He is also known for directly and indirectly forcing player acquisition.  He teamed up with the Arizona Diamondbacks two years before their first game to help shape their roster.  In Texas, Showalter was known for pushing Alex Rodriguez out of Arlington and for trading Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for Adam Easton and Akinori Otsuka.  After Texas, Showalter acted to some capacity as a Senior Adviser to the Cleveland Indians before being snatched up by ESPN to be an analyst (a position he had prior to his Texas job).  To be kind, his efforts at moving players has been incredibly uneven if not horrible.  He does seem to have sway in the organization and is said to dine with Peter Angelos every week or two alone.  At the very least, I expect Showalter to be highly involved in the selection of the next General Manager.  It also would not surprise me if he pulls a Dick Cheney and recommends himself.

My Ranking of these Five?
1. Matt Klentak
2. Joe Jordan
3. Cal Ripken Jr.
4. Buck Showalter
5. John Stockstill

Of these five, I think Klentak might be the only one who might be good for the organization.  However, there is just a major lack of information on him.  Jordan has a good eye for talent and is fond of prospects, which might be good.  Cal is a wild card.  Buck has shown he makes poor decisions.  Stockstill has never been involved with any group that wound up being incredibly valuable  With all of his previous chances, I do not see the point of giving him further opportunities.

Next Up?
Five potential general managers outside of the organization who have experience.

16 July 2011

Cup of jO's: 2011 Trade Deadline and J.J. Hardy (PM Post)

Well...a few hours changes the world sometimes.  The Orioles have agreed in principle for a three year extension worth in the neighborhood of 22 MM with a limited no trade clause.  I find it surprising that he signed for that value.  I think he is underpaid given the market and what would have been possible for him.  This is definitely not a Brian Roberts-like deal which was overmarket in per year salary and overmarket in length.  Hardy's deal appears to me to be undermarket in salary and on par with length.

As with Roberts' deal, Hardy's deal increases the need to take advantage of his presence on the team.  Useful complementary pieces will need to be acquired to make any sense of this signing.  Hardy making a 70 win team into a 73 win team means little and likely is counterproductive.  Him being part of a larger effort to improve the team would make sense.  However, I think the only way this team becomes competitive is with about 30-40 MM extra in signings as the team does not have overwhelming sources of young talent.

What I was going to write about was the Reds and Yonder Alonso as well as the Giants and a long odds dream about Brandon Belt.  That conversation is now worth less in having.  As such, I will go on record being for trading J.J. Hardy for someone like Alonso and being quite mildly against an extension for J.J. Hardy.

I just have doubts when it comes to devoting resources in an oft-injured older shortstop who does not display amazing amounts of athleticism and is having a career year at the plate while the team is struggling to be within 10 games of five hundred ball.  I do not believe it is an efficient use of funds.  I hope I am wrong.

Cup of jO's: 2011 Trade Deadline and J.J. Hardy (AM Post)

We will be running through all of the possible ticket items that the Orioles have to give away and receive something useful in return.  The first for us to highlight, before he is signed to an extension, is J.J. Hardy.

J.J. Hardy
.356 wOBA, 275/333/490, 1.8 fWAR

Case to Keep
Ever since Miguel Tejada began rapidly aging, shortstop has been a black hole of offense for the Orioles.  Internal options never emerged, no one ever really trades a useful shortstop prospect, and free agency rarely yields good talent at that position.  Shortstops are hoarded and locked up by their teams.  However, the Twins were in a cash crunch and had doubts about J.J. Hardy.  He provided excellent defense, but is the epitome of "injury-prone" and showed an anemic bat two years running.  The Orioles jumped on Hardy and merely had to pay his salary (5.85 MM) and give up two somewhat inconsequential players (Jim Hoey with his blazing straight fastball and Aubrey Huff acquisition Brett Jacobson).

This year the Orioles are benefiting from Hardy's best offensive season of his career by rate.  The only mark on him so far has been that he has missed roughly 25 games to injury.  That is better attendance than his previous two years.  His defense has also shined and is just as good as our all glove shortstop Cesar Izturis.  The simple truth is that shortstop has been a great year for this team.  Even with Andino filling in for Hardy on several occasions, the Orioles ranked as the 10th most productive team at shortstop.  Last year, the team was 27th.  Of all of the troubles the Orioles have faced this season, shortstop has not been one of them and at 28, Hardy certainly has several years left in him.

Case to Trade
There are three major reasons to trade Hardy: he is injury-prone, he is having a career year, and you probably can trade him for useful prospects.

Injury prone.  In 2009, he barely played 100 games.  The same thing was true in 2010.  He, again, this year missed a quarter of the first half with an injury.  While it is true that none of these injuries were career threatening, the possibility lies that a future injury certainly could be career threatening.  This is probably more of a concern for a shortstop because even little dings here and there can turn into decreased ability to play third base effectively.  Injuries during his 2009 and 2010 campaigns likely had a lot to do with his issues at the plate.  Hardy's power evaporated those two years and injuries probably have some bearing on that.  If the three year extension does go through, I think it will be safe to say that Hardy will likely play 3B in 2014 with Manny Machado at shortstop.  If Machado rushes up for 2013, Hardy might make the switch earlier.  At 28, Hardy is at the point where players tend to slow down.

Career Year.  I am surprised by the 21-25 MM numbers being thrown about because J.J. Hardy is having a career year.  That is most assuredly a discount, if Hardy hits the open market...he will receive three or four years at 10+ MM.  The only way 21-25 MM makes sense to me would be if there are sizable incentives in there and a concrete no trade clause that could later turn into more money for him.  The shortstop market is incredibly thin in the upcoming year and you have several big money teams (e.g. San Francisco Giants) who will be looking to resolve issues they have at this position.  Jose Reyes might be the best option for shortstop this off season, but after Hardy there is nothing left at the position.  My guess for his value if he hit the market would be 3/36 or 4/44.  Teams close to the playoffs and in need of help will and should be willing to put up with the premium that is a career season and be tolerant of his injury issues.  The Orioles with holes a plenty, have little use for a shortstop going into his thirties with a dicey injury history.

Trade return.  Several teams are also struggling in season for an answer at shortstop.  This translates into teams being willing to give up prospects who are blocked within the team's playoff window or players in the low minors.  Trading Hardy and then overpaying him by several million may actually be cheaper than signing Hardy and then signing a free agent at a position.  The easiest scenario here would be the Reds where the Orioles could deal him for Yonder Alonso (1B) and then resign Hardy at 13-15MM a year for three years.  That would be cheaper and likely more useful than resigning Hardy and then signing Prince Fielder to a 150-200MM contract.  The point is that this team, the Orioles, is not a playoff team in the near term.  It is difficult to see how this organization can field a competitive squad in the next three years.  As such, a Hardy extension makes as much sense as Brian Roberts extension did.  Just because you are left with a hole does not mean you should spend whatever it takes to fill it because your yard may be full of holes.

Possible Trade Partners and Targets

The following teams are those who are having troubles with production from their shortstop position.  Most of these teams are producing wOBAs around .305 or less and the team is within striking distance of the divisional pennant.

AL

Tampa Bay Rays
To be kind, shortstop is killing the Rays.  They are getting decent defense there, but Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson are providing next to nothing at the plate.  The Rays could certainly use a short term fix and would make good use of any compensation picks Hardy would provide.  However, the Rays never just look at the current season and would be unlikely to drop a major piece to the Orioles, so nothing like Desmond Jennings.  What the team could expect would be a couple low B prospects or a low B and a soon to be expensive starting pitcher.  In the former scenario, I am thinking a tandem to target would be Nick Barnese (RHP) and Braulio Lara (LHP).  In the Rays' system those guys are probably in the 10-15 tange for their prospects.  In ours, they would be in the 3-7 range.  That said, only Barnese would be consequential for next season.  Something that might be more relevant for the near term would be pairing Barnese up with Jeff Niemann (RHP).  The Rays probably do not want him much long with the arms they have pushing up from AAA and with his arbitration figures coming in.  He is also their back end rotation arm.  He would be something similar for the Orioles.  Either trade scenario probably is not ideal for the Orioles.

NL

Atlanta Braves
Money will be tight for the Braves, but Alex Gonzalez is providing nothing at the plate for them.  Gonzalez has about 1.2 MM left on his deal this year.  I could see the Braves asking the Orioles to take Gonzalez back in the deal and maybe even through in a million or two with Hardy.  Similar to the Rays, I do not see anything of immediate need available in the Braves' system.  My target here would be Arodys Vizcaino (RHP).  He has a great arm, but his durability has been questioned.  As such, you will see him ranked anywhere from top 15 to top 50 when the off season prospect rankings emerge.  Getting an arm like that means you threw money in there and a second piece is likely to be a bit fringe because no one likes giving up that kind of arm.  A player who fits that bill would be someone like Todd Cunningham (CF).  He covers the plate well with good discipline and plays good defense.  His power though is a bit unimpressive.  He is likely to be a 4th outfielder.  That said, Vizcaino would be a huge piece to have in the Orioles system and I think the Braves would be more willing to give value than the Rays.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers made a big splash acquiring KRod.  However, they still have an issue at shortstop.  Ex-Brewer Hardy may not be an option the team wants as there may be bad blood between the two.  The Brewers notoriously dropped Hardy into the minors to add a year service time onto his contract preventing him from reaching free agency in 2011, which is why Hardy is an Oriole right now.  The Brewers system is also void of much talent after the Grienke trade this past off season.  I would not bother entering talks with them.  If I had to deal with them, I'd settle for nothing less than three of their top four or five arms...something like Heckathorn, Scarpetta, and Thornburg...it might be better just to take the draft picks for Hardy.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates do not have much money to throw around and I could see the Orioles being able to leverage that by offering to pay for Hardy's deal.  The two draft picks for Hardy would also look good to the Pirates who would not have to worry about him taking arbitration.  With that in mind, I would ask for two potentially big pieces: Starling Marte (CF), Rudy Owens (LHP), and Colton Cain (LHP).  Marte could spell Adam Jones in centerfield in a couple years allowing Jones to shift to a more natural left field or for the Orioles to deal him.  Owens looks like a promising lefty who has struggled this past year in AAA.  At the very least, he is more valuable fodder than Troy Patton or Jim Johnson in the rotation.  Colton Cain would be the Chris Tillman circa Erik Bedard deal.  Cain is young with a ton of projection, but I think he could be a top 50 guy in a year.  Again, this is another forward thinking deal.  Not many opportunities available for the here and now.

In the second post today, I will focus on two more likely destinations: the Cincinatti Reds and the San Francisco Giants.  I count these as more likely because (1) their shortstops are awful and (2) they have pieces the Orioles could use right now.

15 July 2011

Cup of jO's: Throwing in the towel for O's 2012 season?

I don't think we need to recount what happened the night before anymore unless something truly interesting happens, so for now on when I write these Cup of jO's...I am just going to jump in to whatever I want to write about.

In Brittany Ghiroli's article yesterday detailing what the Orioles are likely to do as the trade deadline comes up writes this little nugget:
Johnson has established himself as one of the best setup men in the American League, and the organization -- which has told several teams it's unwilling to discuss offers for the reliever -- continues to have internal discussions about moving Johnson into a starting role next season.
Um, what?  We have Mitch Atkins, Chris Jakubauskas, and Alfredo Simon in the starting rotation and we have to wait until next year to see if Jim Johnson can start?  This makes little sense to me.  This season, the team could stretch Johnson out 30-50 innings more than he is in line to get which would be a headstart on next season.  Plus, what is left for the team to play for this year?  If your goal is to see if Johnson can start then there is nothing preventing you from figuring that out in our current situation.

What I find more revelatory is that it seems to be an acknowledgement that the current front brass is planning on 2012 to be another lets wait and see type of season.  If the team planned on being competitive, they would be looking to next season as one where they fill in a spot or two with veteran pitchers and let the rest shake out.  Johnson should be quite far from the conversation in this regard.  He should not be held as an untouchable player due to his value as a setup man and potential (though unlikely) value as a starting pitcher.  How much value can a potential middle to backend rotation arm have?  It appears the modus operandi for the team, particularly with pitchers, is to run them into the ground and make them prove whether or not they can actually pitch.  It makes no sense to me.

It appears just as the team signed Brian Roberts to a long term deal and then squandered the front end of his deal which is where his value was actually . . . valuable (which was incredibly obvious and that extension has long been something we have railed against here in that we highly criticized it before the contract was even writtin).  It now looks like Nick Markakis' contract will also be exhuasted to no real use.  It also looks like Matt Wieters' cost-controlled years may also be squandered.  To be true, this is not an Oriole Little moment in time.  There are good things happening in the organization.  However, I have a hard time believing things are overall going in the right direction and every day it seems more and more evidence mounts illustrating how inadequate the organization might be in facing off against the superior payrolls of Boston and New York as well as against the superior innovation of Toronto, Tampa, and probably Boston, too.

Situations like these when doubt becomes feverish, I remind myself not to get too wrapped up in my own conclusions.  That I need to challenge my ideas instead of easing into a comfortable pre-formed answer.  One always needs to challenge their own beliefs and never grow complacent.  My belief is that this team although in better shape than it was three years ago is in worse shape when it comes to competing.  I'm trying to challenge that statement.  Maybe you all can help.

14 July 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 July 2011

Cup of jOs: The Second Part of MacPhail's Words on IFAs

Last night, Matt Wieters grounded out to the second baseman in the eigth inning of the American League's 5-1 loss to the National League.  Peculiar rules really need to shift this back to being a pure exhibition and not something that determines post season play.  What to make the All Star Game more important?  Get rid of interleague play.

---

Of interest...

A couple days ago, Steve Melewski posted the second part of his interview with Andy MacPhail and then reported his interview with Baseball America's Ben Badler.  What Melewski does well is interview often the right people.  He typically does a good job of this outside of last Winter's Keith Law interview.  What is painful to me though is that what is good about sharp, incisive interviewing is that you can ask thoughtful questions and mild criticisms while immediately recieving an answer.  In this collection of interviews, Badler provides a rebuttal of several of MacPhail's key statements.  To me, this is poor form in that MacPhail is no longer capable of responding.  If Melewski feels inadequate in questioning MacPhail's approach then he should call Badler, get his viewpoint, hone up his own research, and then ask more insightful questions and allow MacPhail to be more thoughtful in his answers.

I recognize what I am asking from Melewski is to be more of an investigative reporter.  To be more aware of what is actually out there and asking pertinent questions.  That Melewski was unaware of MacPhail's own brass speaking of studies comparing IFAs and rule 4 draft cost efficiency shows poor research.  Information is out there and it should be utilized.  Although, this may not be Melewski's game.  His game may be to be a straight interviewer who provides as little insight as possible.  It is very much a sort of Prime Directive perspective...that you remove any element of yourself in an interview in order to prevent any bias.  It certainly is something found favorable to the interviewee as their words are reported verbatim and are not scrutinized immediately by the interviewer.  Melewski does this seperation of self quite well and it certainly is a defendable manner of writing.  From my own perspective though...I think it wastes opportunity.  I mean, are we interested in MacPhail's speech on international talent or are we interested in his thoughts.  The two appear different to me.

The second part of the interview falls apart for me.  MacPhail answers questions about Miguel Sano, which were reported quite a long while back.  The Orioles were a finalist on him, but thought 3 MM was not workable as a bonus for the now top 100 prospect.  It is fair to say the jury is out on him.  He will likely be a left fielder and he will have home run power as well as a propensity to swing and miss.  MacPhail also talks about American scouts cross checking what the local scouts think, which is something almost every organization I am aware of does.  So, nothing new or different.  MacPhail also mentions the Orioles are in the Dominican, Curacao, and reentering Venezuela...which is something we already know.  There is just no new information here.  It may be that MacPhail stonewalled Melewski here or the intent was just to rehash background information and produce direct quotes from MacPhail.  These really are answers that require a paraphrase and more structure provided when writing.

Melewski then reports Ben Badler's perspective on the MacPhail interview.  His use of Badler to provide commentary results in some interesting statements that largely reflect my own opinions that were shared in the previous post.  Badler's view boils down to this:
  • There is a great deal of uncertainty in the Latin American market and it is understandable for a team to be conservative in that market.  Most teams are.
  • The Orioles appear to be not only conservative in that market, but tend to avoid it.
  • Talent is a rare thing, so avoiding any market is probably not advisable.
  • No one in this year's crop was worth more than 3MM from Badler's perspective, but you have to trust your own scouts.
  • It is not difficult to see these talents play in actual games.  Very few prospects are prevented by their trainers from appearing at academies and playing.
  • The Orioles are not middle of the road spenders on IFAs.
I think those are all viable perspectives.  What I put in italics are what I am reading into his words.  I should also note that Melewski also viewed MacPhail's 17th overall as a statement on IFAs, which does not make sense to Badler as well.

What do I take away from these posts?
  • Someone should be writing a blog where they take Melewski's zen interviewing style and write actual articles.
  • Andy MacPhail is not open-minded about IFAs and this is based on information he pretends he does not have (which may be inaccurate information) or is based on a potentially antiquated management approach.
  • The team is not maximizing its ability to cheaply accumulate talent, preferring to spend money on items like relievers and "proven veterans."
  • The team is probably the least progressive team in the AL East.
I think MacPhail is a competent and well respected GM, but the problem I have here is that in the AL East you need to be a trail blazing, intelligent front office (i.e., Tampa Bay Rays), have oodles of money (i.e., Yankees), have some of each (i.e., Toronto Blue Jays), or lots of each (i.e. Boston Red Sox).  In this divisional environment, how can we look at the makeup of these different teams and think that the Orioles will be a competitive team sometime in the near or slightly near future?  I am at a loss.  The Rays and Jays have top 5 talent in their minor leagues.  The Orioles appear to have Machado and Dylan Bundy, which puts them likely in the 15-20 range.  After that, the team has a lot of C+ talent. 

We are certainly better off as an organization than we were before MacPhail came here, but we are further away from competing.

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.