13 September 2011

Is a draft pick worth the mean or median value?

A topic that has long be gnawing on me is whether or not it makes sense to value draft picks as many who connect a dollar sign to picks do.  To me there is an argument between using the mean (which is common) versus using median (which I have not seen).  Both are ways to measure central tendency.  Mean is often the best to use in order to either describe the population as a whole or to determine typical value if value are normally distributed.  Medians are used often when you want to determine what is a typical result when the population is distributed asymmetrically.

The following graph shows the difference between how we assign draft picks value either by mean or median.

click to make larger

In the first 30 selections from 1991-2000, there were only four instances where the median was higher than the mean.  Seventeen median values within the 30 picks were worth zero WAR or less.  In other words, a team is not likely to receive mean value for a pick.  Picks tend to be overvalued because a few individuals increase the worth of the pick within the population.

What is interesting here is how do you exactly come to a specific value for a pick?  Does a 33% chance of getting a useful MLB player mean that it is permissible to overvalue the population as a whole?  It is easy to see how many MLB teams deplore spending money in the draft because much of the money spent on individuals is wasted.  The question is whether or not the money spent on the entire portfolio is beneficial to the team.  I would say that if you are evaluating a single player, the median makes sense.  If you are evaluating the population, then the mean makes sense.  To look at it differently, it is like a lottery that benefits the buyer of the tickets.  Most likely, most of your tickets are worthless, but a couple might wind up bringing back a great deal of value.

12 September 2011

Expanded Roster: Why This Year Hurts More Than Usual

During the month of September, Camden Depot will expand our rosters beyond Nick Faleris and Jon Shepherd.  This will enable our audience to speak directly outside of the comment box as well as shine a light on other Orioles writers.  The second up in this series is Kevin Williams.  Previously, Ben Feldman wrote a piece on Matt Wieters.

When I meet fellow Orioles fans through work or on the golf course, the conversation usually goes about like this - I ask if they follow baseball, and they say something like, “Yeah, I’m an Orioles fan, but I usually stop following them by the all-star break.” Pretty understandable, given the team’s results over the past decade. And this year is no exception – even ignoring the record, all you have to do is glance at the pitching stats. They’re eerily similar to the numbers from just about every season since 2000. Every year you can pull out about 3-4 guys who might have a shot to pitch for a contender, and then you have about 20 players who between them didn’t even perform at replacement level. My new golf buddy, of course, wouldn’t be surprised. “Business as usual,” he might say. Unfortunately, I think this year’s results are quite a bit worse than business as usual.

Why? First of all, the 2011 season started with a lot of promise. Multiple national writers ranked the Orioles’ offseason as one of the best in baseball. Every win projection system I saw gave the team a pretty fair chance at finishing .500 for the first time since 1997. And the success of the young pitching staff at the end of 2010 gave fans reason to believe that even better days might lie in the future. I personally hoped that a .500 season plus another offseason splash might push that projected win total into the upper 80s, territory that could realistically yield a playoff team.

Unfortunately, here we are in August on pace to lose close to 100 games once again. How, exactly, did that happen? Much has been made about the lack of progress of the Orioles’ young pitchers, particularly Matusz and Tillman – that’s part of the problem, and it certainly explains some of the ugly pitching numbers. But the problem doesn’t end there. Without getting into the nitty gritty of who met their WAR projection and who didn’t, and without even mentioning any names, I’m pretty sure the Orioles got far less production than expected out of four other positions: LF, 2B, 1B, and DH. Add that to some lousy relief pitching and I think you can explain the difference between .500 ball and the 64-66 wins we sit at now. 

So, the question is, where do we go from here? And why is this season a bigger disaster than usual? Sadly, I don’t think there’s anywhere near enough talent on the current roster to project for 2012 the 80 wins I thought realistic for 2011. Just covering the positions I listed above – you’d need Luke Scott and Brian Roberts healthy and productive, Brian Matusz rediscovering himself, Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold turning into productive every-day players, a replacement for Koji Uehara… and some substantially better middle relief. Pretty unlikely to happen all at once. Even if you sign Prince Fielder and a middle of the rotation starter (my April dream), I still think you’re looking at a .500 club, not a playoff contender in the AL East.

So… we probably can’t compete in 2012 or even 2013. Again, not a shock to my new golf friend. But here’s where it gets really bad. The current roster is basically the result of the rebuilding effort Andy McPhail started in late 2007 with the Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard trades. And by 2014, the core of that roster will be gone. Markakis, Jones, Roberts, Guthrie, Scott, Johnson - all above average players at one time or another - all gone. So, that effort, though it looked promising at the time, has likely failed to produce a winner. If I were an outside observer (or a candidate for new GM), I’d probably conclude that it’s time to start another rebuilding effort. We had some hope in 2011 – it didn’t work out, so let’s cut our losses and shoot for 2014. Listen to trade offers for everyone not named Britton or Wieters. Markakis, Jones, Roberts, Guthrie, Scott, Johnson – the players I just mentioned – all should have some value. In under a year the Orioles could have a top ten or even top five farm system. The 2014-2016 teams would feature a core including Machado, Bundy, Wieters, Britton, and hopefully some young talent infused into the system over the next year. Even next year’s team wouldn’t be a complete waste. The pitching staff would feature Britton, Arrieta, Hunter, and Simon, quite a bit better than Burres, Olson, Liz, and Trachsel. And you’d have the opportunity to give an extended look to players like Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold, Chris Tillman, and even Felix Pie.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the organization as it stands now has about as much chance of blowing up the roster as Rick Perry does of devoting his presidential campaign to warning voters about the perils of global warming. The team just has too much invested, both financially and from a marketing perspective, in Jones, Markakis, Roberts, Guthrie, and now J.J. Hardy. And, speaking as a fan, I understand why the organization would want to continue to build around those players. It’s hard to part with young, charismatic, and likeable talent. But from a business perspective, I can’t help but think that an overhaul starting this off season would prove over time to be the right move. I just can’t see the current organization, still led by Peter Angelos, making that kind of a decision.

So what will the team do this offseason? There’s a saying that goes, when you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. So I suspect next year’s roster will look a lot like this year’s – the organization will hold out hope that the young pitching will develop while Markakis, Jones, Roberts, and Hardy are still on the team. If we do sign free agents, I’d recommend players that either don’t cost too much (perhaps Mike Gonzalez in an incentive laden deal), or players that might help both over the next two years and in 2015 when the next wave of talent is ready. Does signing Prince Fielder to a 100 million plus contract make sense? If we sat at .500 now, I’d say definitely yes. Find a window to compete and go for it hard, even if you have to overpay. But looking at the next five years… I’d say no. For comparison’s sake, Prince’s father Cecil only had 500 at-bats once after age 29. And Ryan Howard, another easy comparison, has seen his production decline this year at age 31. Signing Mark Buehrle, age 32, to a long term deal? I’ll pass.

So why is this season such a disaster? For me, it points the organization squarely towards another five years of mediocrity. We probably won’t win in 2012 or 2013, and by the time Machado, Bundy, and Schoop are hopefully ready, we’ll have a whole new set of major holes to fill. Sadly, that might set up the worst outlook for the future we’ve had in some time. Even over the past decade, we’ve had a few bright spots. 2005 saw Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora lead the team to contention in July. In 2008 a new general manager made widely applauded personnel moves. Early in 2011 we filled several long standing holes through free agency – just not enough to make us a contender. If it went my way, 2014 would usher in a new wave of talent with the potential to make a playoff run. But without a serious overhaul, and without 2012 or 2013 turning into one of those magical seasons that happens only once a generation, we might be headed for another decade of losing. Maybe the players will prove me wrong – maybe Matusz and Tillman will hold down spots in the rotation, maybe Bergesen and Patton turn out to be solutions in the bullpen. But if I had to make a prediction today, I’d say we’re headed for more years of frustration, and an entire generation of fans might not see .500 baseball at Camden Yards.

11 September 2011

Buck Supposedly Has the Option of Being GM and Manager Concurrently

Manager and GM Paul Richards
Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal reported that Buck Showalter will be given a free hand to turn the Orioles into a competitor.  This includes the option that Buck could serve as both the GM and manager.  This was a topic I brought up several weeks ago.  I could see this working out, but Buck would have to be more of GM that sets the general tone and direction for the franchise while someone else does the day-to-day activities that take up quite a bit of time.  In today's game, it is just impractical and largely impossible to do both jobs.  A GM's perspective is often broader and more forward thinking than the manager.  Second, it gives more opportunity for a player to be upset with his manager because the same guy is also determining things like salary.

Buck would be the first person to occupy this position since Paul Richards who was the Orioles GM and manager from 1955 to 1958 when Lee MacPhail took over the GM role, leaving Richards as only the manager of the team.  Even back in the 50s this was considered a unique situation.  There are just too many reasons for this not to be a good idea and it is why few have ever tried to do it.  The following is a list of individuals who I have found who have recently occupied both positions since 1980.

Whitey Herzog
1981-1982 St. Louis Cardinals
In the beginning of the 1980 season, Herzog took over as manager from Bobby Winkles.  In August, Herzog left the dugout to go to the front office as General Manager.  He assigned Red Schoendeist to take the helm.  However, during the offseason, Herzog felt that no one could manage better than he could, deciding to occupy both GM and manager positions.  In 1981, Herzog had the most wins in the NL East, but failed to win the division due to funky strike-shortened season rules.  In 1982, the Cardinals downed the Brewers in the World Series.  Herzog is one of the few (maybe only) person to win a World Series as both manager and General Manager in the same season.  It should be noted though that he did resign from his GM duties in April of 1982, so it may not be wholly accurate to refer to him as holding both titles for a championship team.

Gene Michael
1981 New York Yankees
The Yankees of the 70s and 80s were a dysfunctional mess.  This became readily apparent during the merry go round of coaching that Michael oversaw during his tenure as GM.  He performed poorly and Bob Lemon took over and took the Yankees to the World Series.  The Yankees lost and Michael was no longer the GM.

Paul Owens
1983 Philadelphia Phillies
Paul Owens thought the Phillies were underperforming and that he could bring more out of the team.  He helped them finished 47-30 and took them to the World Series where Rick Dempsey and the Orioles were waiting for him.  Encouraged by his performance as manager, he resigned from his front office position to dedicate himself to the dugout.  He finished the year 81-81 and was removed as manager.  From 1985 until his death, he was assigned as a senior adviser to the Phillies.

Jack McKeon
1988-1990 San Diego Padres
Year two of the Larry Bowa tenure went just as poorly as the first and McKeon brought down the ax.  He decided to take the reins himself and the team went 67-48 over the rest of the season, finishing in third place.  McKeon retained both titles in 1989 and the Padres went 89-73, second in the NL West.  1990 though was not as successful and McKeon resigned as manager after going 37-43.  After the season, he also had his GM duties taken away.

Bobby Cox
1990 Atlanta Braves
Bobby Cox oversaw several poor Atlanta Braves teams managed by Chuck Tanner and Russ Nixon.  As a fairly successful manager with the Toronto Blue Jays, it made sense for Cox to be rather critical of how the managers under him performed.  Cox decided to take matters into his own hands 66 games into 1990.  His presence did not remarkably improve the team's performance in 1990, but he felt he could do more to help the young players he had been accumulating of the past five years in the dugout as opposed to in the front office.  After the season, John Schuerholtz was lured from the Kansas City Royals to serve as the Braves GM with Bobby Cox remaining in the dugout.

I think it says a lot that 1990 was the last time a manager doubled as a GM.  Whitey Herzog and Jack McKeon were the only two who have ever done this over a whole season in the past 32 years.  They were both successful, but found it to be overwhelming and thought it best to concentrate on one position.  To me, it is inconceivable that one person could do both jobs adequately.  If Angelos does allow Buck to serve in both roles and Buck chooses that route, I do not think this team will be best served under that scenario.

10 September 2011

Reviewing Joe Jordan's Drafts (Second through Fifth Rounds)

Rounds two through five often offer a bevy of talent that was slated for first round consideration, but dropped due to poor performance during the season.  This gives a scouting director a great deal more leeway in choosing where he feels there is the greatest value.  I think these are the rounds where you see what he actually thinks.  It is where draft boards begin to greatly diverge and where many a casual observer grows restless as his or her team repeatedly passes over individuals deemed as having superior talent by the board devised by the writers at Baseball America.  Sometimes players are passed over due to signability issues, but also because the scouting directors prefer others.  It is even more difficult to assess success in these rounds because there are so few individuals who will ever play in a meaningful fashion in the Majors.

Below we will once again compare Joe Jordan's selections to those selected in the following three selections.

Joe Jordan was up against a collection of scouting directors from the Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins (from where Jordan had been hired), Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees (ChiSox's 2nd round pick).  Of these groups, the Marlins and Indians, to some extent, were the more respected groups at this time.  Only three really notable picks in rounds two through five for all of these teams.  Those would be the Orioles' Nolan Reimold, the White Sox's Chris Getz, and the Marlins' Gaby Sanchez.  That qualifies as average for this year.

Based on the round, the Orioles were up against the Giants, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Nationals, Brewers, or Padres.  The four most notable players in this grouping of sixteen selections were the Padres' Wade LeBlanc, the Rangers' (now Orioles') Chris Davis, the Orioles' Ryan Adams, and the Orioles' Zach Britton. If all the team had to claim was Ryan Adams, this would be an average showing.  Britton's selection makes this above average.  Imagine how good this draft would look if the team had selected someone other than Billy Rowell in the first round.

With the Flanagan and Duquette investment in relief pitchers, Jordan was without a second or third round pick in exchange for signing Jaime Walker and Danys Baez.  The others teams involved were the Nationals, Brewers, and Rockies.  Jordan came out of those two picks with Jake Arrieta who profiles as a solid bullpen arm or a mid to back end rotation arm.  The only other player taken of consequence is the Brewers Caleb Grindl who is looking more and more like a quad-A guy, but there is still hope for him.  With Prince Fielder heading to other pastures, Grindl will likely be given more opportunities at the MLB level.  As such, at worst you can say that Jordan was average, but it appears he once again scored a decently valuable MLB piece as he did the prior year.

Where the first three years look average to above average, it is these next four years that are more questionable and more difficult to measure.  The 2008 draft has some interesting players in Xavier Avery, LJ Hoes, and Greg Miclat.  None of them appear exceptional talents.  Likewise, the non-Orioles selections include guys like Anthony Gose and Brandon Crawford.  Perhaps the most valuable piece is Zach Stewart who likely is more reliever than starter.  Likewise, the 2009 draft has some interesting names such as the perpetually injured Tyler Townsend as well as players like Mychal Jones and Chris Dominguez.  However, the Giants' selection of Brandon Belt blows everyone else away.  Nothing looks particularly interesting to me from the 2010 draft and the 2011 draft is a bit too difficult to get a current read on (though I love Dillon Howard).

During this time I count four interesting pieces: Zach Britton, Brandon Belt, Zach Stewart, and Chris Dominguez.  I hesitate including Jake Arrieta in that grouping.  Joe Jordan actually performs about averagely.  As many things that may be wrong about the Orioles in general, it does not seem Jordan is a major issue here.  He has not done anything remarkable, but that is a good record to have.

07 September 2011

Brian Matusz has had a better season than Roy Halladay

Matusz' third year in Baltimore has been relatively an unmitigated disaster.  He came to camp without proper conditioning.  Some tinkering with his mechanics reduced his velocity that already teeters on MLB quality without his typical perfect command, placement, and consistency.  He next suffered a freak injury and has been shelled ever since he returned.  Even his bouts in Norfolk have not been as clean and effective as he should be. 

This is not a sophomore slump, it is a third year flop.  Neither truly exist.  However, the former is waxed upon far more often because it is simply more common to pull off a single good year and then never be any much good thereafter.  Think about all the players who have had one solid year in the midst of a career of mediocrity or worse.  True, it can be an issue of a 'book' being written on a guy and batteries being well prepared and disciplined with the batter never have the ability to do anything to counter that approach.  It may also be true that fate smiled kindly for an extended amount of time.  Those things are much more easily accomplished over the course of successive seasons.  It is far more difficult to have two promising seasons followed by a pitifully, miserable one.

This brings us to the inexplicable title and, soon, the meat of this post.  If the season ended today, Brian Matusz' third year as a pro would in fact have resulted in a better stat line than Roy Halladay's third year as a pro.  However, it cannot be ignored how truly awful their feats have been, respectively (Matusz now and Halladay then).  I researched just how many players have logged at a minimum Matusz' innings pitched (43) and his ERA (9.84).  Besides Halladay, have there been other instances where a pitcher has done worse than Matusz in as many or more innings pitched?  Yes.  Three others in fact.

Steve Blass - 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates
This is a famous example.  Whenever you hear about a pitcher losing all control, Steve Blass' name comes up.  Blass entered into the 1972 season as one of the major pieces of the Pirates starting rotation.  Over the previous five years, Blass had turn in three seasons that were of ace or second slot quality for a first division team.  In 1972, that all went to pot.  Blass, for the times, had never be a great control artist and hovered around three walks per nine innings.  That sky rocketed up to over eight per nine.  The Pirates, remembering how very good of a pitcher he was, let him try to work it out.  They had a lot depending on him and no readily apparent successor that could give them what he used to give.  That wishful thinking led Blass to start 18 games and relieve in five, amounting to 88.2 IP.  His ERA settled in at 9.85 before the Pirates decided to go in a different direction.  He lasted one game the next season, walking 7 over 5 innings, and never appeared in the Majors again.

Micah Bowie - 1999 Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs
Bowie is a case of another pitcher whose team had sunk in a good deal of interest.  He came up through the Braves system as a name to keep track of, but not exactly a top tier prospect.  Bowie, along with Bruce Chen, became part of Atlanta's interesting collection of successful minor league arms that simply did not have the pure stuff to make it at the big league level.  However, this was not entirely realized then and the Braves mystique often led many teams to overvalue players groomed in Atlanta's system.  Bowie made his debut as a reliever in late July for the Braves and gave them three relatively inconsistent appearances.  Presumably, this was an audition for other teams to gauge hime for inclusion in a trade at the deadline, something that just does not happen anymore.  The Cubs were intrigued by what they saw and sent over Terry Mulholland for a package that included Bowie.  Not worrying about any possibility of the playoffs and having sent away a somewhat valuable trade piece, the Cubs ran out Bowie to show how well he could pitch in the Bigs.  With quite a large amount of rope, he proceeded to show the Cubs that what was not hittable in AAA was incredibly hittable in the big leagues and that it was hit hard.  Bowie gave up over fourteen hits per nine innings along with nearly two home runs per nine.  With his stuff not playing up to the competition, he worked on the corners with ineffective control and walked six every nine innings.  The Cubs were disheartened and had other arms with more promise (or hope) to evaluate.  He logged 51 innings and notched a 10.24 ERA.  Bowie bounced around the minors for the next few years with periodic success with the Athletics and Nationals in small stints, but these were fleeting and he would be hit hard with longer exposure.

Roy Halladay - 2000 Toronto Blue Jays
Halladay was coming off a very promising 1999 and the Jays had high hopes for him in their rotation.  The 2000 campaign did not go as anticipated, the 23 year old compiled a 10.64 ERA and was hit hard in 67.2 innings.  He was demoted to the Jays' AAA team in Syracuse and was wholly ineffective at that level as well.  This is a pattern that we have seen with the former two and we will see with the next example.  The only way you are going to have a pitcher log this many innings and throw so poorly is if there is considerable investment by management.  Halladay earned a great deal of credit on his earlier success and it took a while before the Jays' brain trust decided that the rust was just not going to come off.  Halladay simply was not a good pitcher.  In turn, he strove to get better and worked with Mel Queen to revamp his delivery.  The conclusion was that Halladay was throwing a flat mid 90s fastball that was easily picked up out of the hand.  Their attempted solution was to lower the arm angle, reduce speed, and use more deception in the delivery.  He was then given half a season in the minors to more consistency utilize his new mechanics.  When he returned in mid-2001, he showed up with a different delivery and a ball that had a lot more movement on it.  He quickly proved himself to be successful with his reimagined pitching mechanics and returned to the Majors for good in the middle of the season. 

Aaron Myette - 2002 Texas Rangers
Myette has a similar story to that of Bowie in that both were considered quite valuable prospects.  Myette in fact garnered two top 100 rankings from Baseball America while he was in the Chicago White Sox system.  A shaky 2000 erased that ranking for the 2001 list and he was shipped off to Texas in a deal for Royce Clayton with the Rangers hoping that he would get back that glamour.  The Rangers were not in the hunt, enabling them to give Myette an extended look with the big league club.  It did not go well.  He started the next season in the minors and once again did well at AAA.  They promoted him and gave him another extended look.  Myette threw 48.1 innings with a 10.06 ERA.  He proved to be incredibly httable and the Rangers lost patience.  His career afterward included short stints with the Indians and Reds; nothing more.

One in four.  If you want to take a generalized perspective here, Matusz might stand a one in four chance in redeeming himself.  However, each scenario presents a situation that is different from Matusz.  Bowie and Myette were highly invested prospects whose organizations wanted badly for them to succeed.  However, neither of them had the success that Matusz showed before this season.  Blass also is different as he suffered Steve Blass syndrome and was incapable of throwing a strike.  Roy Halladay was a hard thrower who had to learn how to pitch.  Matusz might be the other way.  He is a pitcher who needs to throw harder.  I am not sure if he is capable of that or if he can further improve the command of his pitches.

The take home should be that if you are someone who has written him off, you should not.  His stuff has flashed with success before.  He has the skill.  The key is whether he can harness that skill, regaining a couple needed miles per hour, or developing new ways to cope with newfound struggle.

06 September 2011

More Info on Replacing MacPhail

Tony Lacava
Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal reported on who Angelos might replace as Andy MacPhail's replacement.  I've noticed over the years that Rosenthal's stellar reporting on Baltimore's future has become more and more hit or miss.  I think many of his connections from his days in town are no longer tight with the team.  That said, I do think his reporting should be noted.  In his column, he cited the Marlins' Dan Jennings and the Jays' Tony LaCava.  Both would be fine choices.  I have written earlier on Jennings in this column.  Specifically, I wrote:
Jennings has been rumored for GM positions for about ten years now.  Last year he was a finalist in the Mets opening before losing out to Sandy Alderson.  Jennings is known as being skilled at scouting and would probably complement Buck Showalter quite well.  As a long time Florida employee, he is also well aware of Joe Jordan.  If the Orioles want more continuity along with revamping the organization to be more efficient, Jennings might be that guy and Jordan might be a great help to him.  The weakness here though is that this leaves no one in the front office in control who has experience running the day-to-day operations of the team.  Buck would need someone who is well skilled to be able to turn deals that Buck cannot do while sitting in the dugout.  I do think Jennings would be an interesting choice.
I do think Jordan and Jennings would make a good team, but seven years have passed between them and the word is that Jordan will not seek a continuation of his service with Baltimore.  I have had my disagreements with how Jordan chooses to spend his money, but am wholly sincere when I say that I find him to be an average to above average scouting director.  Jennings knows his scouting though and would find someone suitable to work with him in forging a solid front office built on a strong foundation of amateur assessment.  Of course, this group will need to figure out what the developmental hangups are in this organization.

The second person mentioned, Tony LaCava, was not mentioned before in this blog.  LaCava would be a great pick up.  He has been toiling with the Blue Jays for several seasons and had been retained by Alex Anthopoulos.  He has been a runner up for several positions including the Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, and Pittsburgh Pirates.  LaCava is someone who everyone seems to know in baseball.  This also may be a problem.  LaCava might be a MacPhail without track record of relative success.  Like MacPhail, everyone seems to know LaCava and everyone seems to think he has a great baseball mind.  LaCava, now in his 50s, has been on the threshold of being a GM, so it makes one wonder why he continually is passed over.  The Orioles may also provide a situation where the best of the interview worn bunch may not be a ticket for the World Series.  LaCava may have been unjustly overlooked several times in his career (perhaps due to some lack of involvement in player development), but this Orioles' franchise in this division may need someone who is willing to think unconventionally.  Maybe LaCava is that person.  Maybe he is the guy who has had a heavy hand in transforming the Jays.  He just might be.  If he is, I think it would arguably be the best acquisition since Pat Gillick was inked.  However, I have my doubts.

That said, both of these candidates would give the Orioles General Managers who will likely be average to above average in performing their duties.  Neither would be an out and out mistake.  I recognize my own personal bias in wanting to find an untested genius, but it may be that these somewhat well-traveled careers have been voyaged by individuals who have incredibly creative minds to take the current relatively stable and somewhat under performing Baltimore Orioles and act in a successful, unconventional way.  It has been too long that other teams have mimicked the Rays and Jays or wished they had the revenue to mimic the BoSox or Yanks.  Let others wish they had the brain power of the Orioles or at least fail extraordinarily trying.

05 September 2011

Review of Joe Jordan's Drafts (First Round Selections)

There has been uncertainty as to whether Joe Jordan would continue as the Orioles scouting director for the amateur draft.  His tenure began in 2004 under Flanagan's regime and he has overseen seven drafts for the Orioles.  During his time, the Orioles have not developed into a year in and year out top tier team with minor league talent.  His GMs often left him with lost picks and did not plan well to give him extra picks in the compensation rounds.  It is also difficult to separate responsibility between Jordan's scouting group and the organization's developmental staff.  It does appear as though the team has not done will with targeting or developing the right raw, toolsy position players and the team also appears to have a knack selecting or acquiring pitchers who quickly break down and/or lose velocity.  This all may be chance and the responsibility of development, but some aspect of it likely lies at Jordan's feet.  In this post, we will begin to assess how Jordan performed over the past seven years by focusing solely on the first round.

Jordan walked into the organization from the Florida Marlins in November of 2004 under Mike Flanagan.  He was considered a well respected scout in the Marlins system who could not be promoted beyond his immediate boss Dan Jennings.  In his first draft, Jordan selected an offensive minded high school catcher named Brandon Snyder.  It was a somewhat controversial pick as Snyder was a slight reach, questionable as to whether could remain as a catcher, and he did not profile as an elite bat.  His bat has actually come along as well as can be respected.  He has a smooth solid swing and hits the ball hard.  He has a line drive swing with moderate power.  This would be considered a success if he was able to remain as a catcher, but shoulder injuries pushed him to first base where his offense does not profile him as a starter at the MLB level.  Only 24, he has spun his wheels in Norfolk the past two and a half seasons.  Snyder is unlikely to provide any significant value for the Orioles.

The following selection in that draft was Trevor Crowe by the Cleveland Indians.  Crowe has also experienced periods of success in the minors, a couple injuries, and an inability to transfer it to the Majors.  As a 27 year old, he appears unlikely to show anything new.  The White Sox then selected Lance Broadway whose progress slowed once he reached AAA.  He has now bounced to the Mets system and has shown no ability to succeed as a reliever in the Majors.  Jordan's old team, the Marlins, then took Chris Volstad.  Volstad, as a prospect, has been the most heralded and has seen the most success.  After a solid half season to begin his career, he has gone backwards with an ERA+ in the low 80s over 450 innings.  2005 was a difficult year for players taken at the Orioles selection and the three that followed.

For those who have been frustrated by Jordan's tenure, Billy Rowell's name comes up often.  It should be remembered that Rowell was not a reach.  He was a decent athlete with an incredible arm and a bat capable of light tower displays of power.  The only fear was that as a New Jersey baseball player he had not had the reps or played against high level competition.  These two aspects can hurt a scout in evaluating a player and being sure what he sees is real.  Rowell showed good ability to hit and decent enough defense in rookie ball, but began to struggle as he began to see more advanced off speed pitches in Delmarva and Frederick.  He could still show off his light tower power in batting practice, but it could not transfer over to the game with pitchers actively trying to get him out.  At 22, he could not handle AA pitching at all in Bowie and finished his season with a few at bats in the Gulf Coast League where it had become apparent to all involved that he would not longer be with the Orioles' franchise in the future.

What makes this selection burn more than the Snyder pick is that the toolsy Rowell was selected just in front of Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, potential top tier pitcher Max Scherzer, and heralded Kasey Kiker.  Only Kiker has sputtered out after getting injured.  To provide context, Lincecum was avoided by many because of his thin frame and unconventional pitching mechanics.  Scherzer was avoided due to some concern with his mechanics, but a lot of concern over his price tag.  As it stands, Jordan was trumped here by two of the three teams.  His hands may have been tied due to financial considerations, but that is not readily apparent.  Again, it should be recognized that Rowell was not a reach.

Jordan had Matt Wieters fall into his lap as the new defunct regime in Pittsburgh took Daniel Moskos the pick before.  There was some concern that Angelos would overrule the Orioles brain trust as he did in 2004 and not allow them to select a player with a large price tag.  However, they did.  More concern followed as Andy MacPhail was hired and indirectly shared sentiment that he would not have selected Wieters.  All that came to naught as a contract was inked and Wieters became one of the best catchers in baseball.  This selection was an unqualified success and Jordan should be congratulated for recognizing that money spent here was better than spreading it out in later rounds.

The following three picks have been a mixed bag.  Ross Detwiler (who many thought the Orioles would select) has been a high quality prospect, but has had his share of injury woes.  Matt LaPorta is a valuable commodity that has yet to effectively display his power potential.  Casey Weathers is an example as to why top draft picks should not be used for relief pitchers.  The upside was limited and he hurt his arm.  His career is now uncertain.  Three years in and Jordan's record has been a push--not bad or good.

This draft was another strong draft for Jordan to select a quality prospect.  This was also the first year that MacPhail publicly announced that the team's philosophy would be to acquire pitching talent in the draft and sign hitters.  The reasoning behind it was that pitchers are less likely to come to Baltimore because wins would be scarce facing the stacked lineups of Boston and New York.  A perfect pitcher was available for the Orioles when Brian Matusz was available.  He was a polished lefty who had a wide range of offerings enabling him to pitch backwards.  Matusz quickly made his way through the minors, but has seen his career derail in 2011.  His velocity has decreased and, always prone to be hit hard, has been hit hard more often.  Only recently has this looked like a poor pick.  At the time, I thought it was the right one.  In fact, Matusz was also selected in our shadow draft.  Hopefully an off season will help correct whatever issue Matusz is dealing with whether it is proper conditioning or something else.

Buster Posey was taken next.  The Orioles shied away from him due to his excessive demands and that the team already had Matt Wieters in the fold.  In hindsight, drafting Posey and sticking him at third base probably would have been the smartest move, but it made since at the time given what we all knew not to select him.  Kyle Skipworth was selected by the Marlins and has had a great deal of trouble developing into something more.  Yonder Alonso went after him and is trying to wiggle into a Reds' lineup where he has no position and his hitting is essentially Ryan Howard light.  All in all, Jordan's work here has been a push.  I think it will be difficult to ever really fail him here.  Matusz undeniably has talent.

This year was the year I began having doubts on the direction Joe Jordan was taking in the draft.  According to various reports, he was faced with a decision between Tyler Matzek, Zack Wheeler, and Matt Hobgood.  Hobgood was a pitcher with little projection, but great performance.  He was rushing up boards with a hard, heavy fastball and a hammer curve.  Jordan was also impressed with Hobgood's makeup.  Tyler Matzek was considered the consensus best player, but his demands and the manner in which he carried himself turned many teams off.  Zack Wheeler was in between it all in terms of potential and makeup.  In the end, Hobgood's character, allegedly, influenced the pick.  From that point onward, Matzek has been shaky, but appears to have lately resurrected his young career.  Zack Wheeler has been astounding and is now in the Mets organization arguably as their top pitching prospect.  Hobgood's character has not exactly transferred over to baseball.  He was not well developed in understanding how to take care of himself physically and then has suffered potentially serious shoulder issues.  Things do not look good for him.

Following his selection, the Giants took the aforementioned Zack Wheeler who has done nothing but succeed in the minors.  The next two picks were safe, polished selections in Mike Minor and Mike Leake.  Both have been useful to their MLB organizations, but more time is needed to get a better handle on how well they will pitch.  Regardless, all three of the following pitchers look vastly better than Hobgood has.  Also, all three were rated on average higher than Hobgood.  I think Jordan may have gotten carried away with a lackluster draft year and trying to look for something that stood out among the draftees.  Instead, he became overly enamored with an aspect of a player (e.g. makeup) that should almost never be the primary reason for selecting someone.  To be clear, much of this is conjecture rooted with a couple sources from the media and a few others with hearsay and a couple more from the horse's mouth.

From my perspective, the 2010 draft was similar to the 2009 draft.  I thought there were two elite talents (Jameson Taillon, Bryce Harper) and a bunched group clearly below.  Most others disagreed and saw Manny Machado also in that group.  Jordan selected Machado and so far has shown that his choice was likely better than our own, Karsten Whitson (Whitson is doing quite well at Florida though).  There is only a season of data to lean on, but it is fair to say that Machado will be a top ten talent next year.  I still fear that he will be pushed to third, but many think he will maintain his ability to play shortstop.

The next three taken were Christian Colon, Drew Pomeranz, and Barrett Loux.  Loux was found to have some structural damage in his shoulder, but has looked good so far.  Drew Pomeranz was looking good and pulled back Ubaldo Jimenez for the Indians before getting hurt.  Christian Colon has looked like an an eventual Major Leaguer, but not exceptional.  As such, I think Joe Jordan did a solid job in last year's draft even with my doubts

At this point, we do not know what this year has brought.  Dylan Bundy is certainly in the conversation for the most valuable player.  So were Bubba Starling and Anthony Rendon, the players taken after Bundy.  It is just too early.

In the seven years Joe Jordan has been leading the draft effort, he has taken a community defensible player every year except his first year in 2005 and in 2009.  Two out of seven years, Jordan went in a direction different from the mainstream.  Claims of signability and peculiar assessments just do not hold water for first round selections.  He appears as above average as a scouting director considering only these picks.

Next...rounds 2-5.

03 September 2011

Expanded Roster: Can Wieters Put it Together

During the month of September, Camden Depot will expand our rosters beyond Nick Faleris and Jon Shepherd.  This will enable our audience to speak directly outside of the comment box as well as shine a light on other Orioles writers.  The first up in this series is Ben Feldman who writes for OsWARhouse.blogspot.com

Can Wieters put it together?


That slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) is what PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’s Projection system declared Matt Wieters would bat as a rookie in 2009; the best catcher in baseball, Mark Texeira as a backstop. Of course, not all projections were so optimistic, ZIPS (available at FanGraphs) projected that Wieters would hit .274/.352/.439. That was the low end of the range of projection.  It was offered that by many that Matt Wieters would be the best offensive catcher in baseball the day he stepped onto the field in the Major Leagues. As Ryan Glass at Fangraphs wrote, “at worst, it seems like he will be a top 5 offensive catcher next year”.

Matt Wieters has not lived up to that lofty offensive expectation. The christened “Joe Mauer with power” has grown to be excellent behind the plate, but merely average beside it.

His rookie year, he hit .288/.340/.412; well below PECOTA’s lofty forecast, but a league average line from a rookie catcher in the AL East; facing the pitching staffs of Boston and New York was still quite impressive. His overall line was brought down quite a bit by his struggles from the right side of the plate. Wieters’s overall batting lines, as well his numbers from each side of the plate in his first three seasons (see the figure below). Note OPS+ is adjusted for park effects and league averages to show how a hitter’s line is relative to league average (100 = average; >100 is above average; <100 is below average). 
In 2009 and 2010, Wieters performed as a league average hitter, or slightly above from the left side of the plate, and he produced a line equivalent to former Oriole Brandon Fahey from the right side. This year, those splits have been reversed. Could the turn around from the right side of the plate be for real? Could the decline from the left be a mirage?

Let’s look at Wieters’s line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates for the last three years. Line drives are the most likely to turn into hits (and specifically into extra base hits), fly balls are more likely to go for extra bases and ground balls tend to end up as hits more, but not for power. I’ve also included the percentage of fly balls that go for homeruns, and batting average on balls in play. A normal batting average on balls in play is .300, but can vary quite a bit for hitters (less so for pitchers).
A couple things seem clear from the above chart. In 2011, Wieters has been unusually lucky from the right side of the plate, and unusually unlucky from the left side. His rates in 2011 from the left compare favorably with those from 2010, yet his Batting Average on Balls in Play is 41 points lower.  His line drive rate from the right is the highest of his career, and while his HR/FB and Babip both seem unsustainable, some of the improvement could be genuine.

Hardball Times has a tool that calculates Expected Batting Average on Balls in Play (xBABIP). Using this tool, gives Wieters an expected .315 BABIP from the left, and a .321 BABIP from the right side.

If Wieters had hit in normal luck, his individual, and cumulative lines, would be as follows:

Wieters’s adjusted OBP of .361 would be 5th among MLB catchers with at leat 300 plate appearances (he is currently 9th) and his adjusted SLG would be 3rd (currently 7th). Still not quite to the level expected of him, but a much closer approximation. Adjusted for luck, Wieters quickly becomes the third most productive offensive catcher in baseball, after only Alex Avila and Brian McCann in 2011.

Of course, offense is only part of the story. The aspect of Wieters’s game that has not disappointed is his exceptional defense. Even with his middle offensive numbers, Wieters’s defense has contributed to him rankings as the third most valuable catcher in the game according to total WAR.  He has been worth 3.1 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs (behind 3.5 for Brian McCann and 4.9! for Alex Avila). Wieters has been the best defensive catcher in the game according to Fangraphs, worth 9 runs above an average catcher, and Beyond the Box Score (5.7 runs). It isn’t only advanced statistical analysis that rates Wieters’s defense so highly, a recent Baseball America of all 30 managers declared Matt the best defensive catcher in the sport.

Even if Wieters never becomes the offensive force many of us thought he would, his gold glove defense makes him one of the most valuable properties in the game. If Wieters’s gains are legitimate adjustments – rather than chance – 2011 could be something of a breakout year, just one clouded in poor luck. He may never be Joe Mauer with power, but he may yet become the best catcher in Major League Baseball.

Footnote - fun with WAR (or, the Orioles have been how bad for HOW long!?)

The best single seasons the Orioles have gotten from centerfielders in the last ten years belong to Corey Patterson and Luis Matos (3.6 and 3.5 WAR – although Adam Jones may eclipse them both this year with 3.3 through August 24th).  Every other team in baseball has gotten at least one 3.6+ year out of centerfield. Corey Patterson. It says quite a bit when the best performer at a position is also a symbol (one of many) for what is wrong with the team. 

01 September 2011

Scouting the O's: Pedro Strop (rhp)

Yesterday the Orioles and the Rangers consummated a trade deadline deal that swapped-out strong-armed relievers, sending Mike Gonzalez (lhp) down to Arlington and Pedro Strop (rhp) up to Baltimore. Here's an introduction to Strop in scouting report form, based on six looks from this year (ML and AAA). Photo from Wikipedia.com creative commons files: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Pedro_Strop.jpg

Pedro Strop
Position: Relief Pitcher (rhp)
Born: June 13, 1985
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 175
B/T: R/R

Grading Out:

Current (Future)
Mechanics: 35/40 (45)
Fastball: 50/55 (60)
Splitter: 50 (55/60)
Slider: 40 (45)
Control: 35 (40)
Command: 30 (35/40)
Feel: 35 (40)
Overall: 45 (50)
OFP Range: 47-53 (potential 7th or 8th inning arm)

Physical Description:

Strop has a strong, athletic build, with a sturdy trunk from years as an infielder. He shows clean actions off the mound and moves around well on it.


Strop began his pro career as a shortstop, converting to the mound in 2006 while in the Rockies organization. It is not surprising that the hard-throwing righty lacks a "classic" set of mechanics. It is interesting, however, that the former infielder utilizes such a long and whippy arm action out of a high three-quarters slot -- the opposite of what you would see coming from the six-spot. Strop's primary mechanical issues come from this arm action/slot combination, and are exacerbated by a high effort lower-half and periodic stiff landing. All of this leads to great inconsistency in his release, affecting the consistency of his slider and his control over the whole arsenal. When he lands stiff on his front leg (usually failing to get over top) he cuts off his motion and causes his arm to come across his body, which in turn causes him to push the ball up in the zone and also leads to first base fall-off. He can also overthrow -- especially when ahead in the count -- though this is tied more to his mental approach, as it isn't a mainstay in his motion. Finally, he flashes high and early, giving the batter a clear look at the ball for an extended period of time.


Fastball - Strop uses both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, capable of dialing-up to 97/98 mph with the four-seamer. He will get solid armside life on the two-seamer around 92-93 mph, and creates good downhill plane with both variations. He struggles to command his fastball, but when in the zone it is a legit plus pitch that will miss bats.

Splitter - Strop's splitter is a mid- to upper-80s vanisher when he hits his release. It's a bury pitch that loses effectiveness when he tries to drop it into the zone, so it is almost exclusively a chase weapon to be utilized ahead in the count. The velocity and break qualify it as a potential plus pitch, but the limited utility drops a half step for me.

Slider - The breaker is the biggest victim of Strop's failure to consistently hit his release point. When he does, he snaps off a nice solid average low- to mid-80s slider with excellent tilt and good deception. Unfortunately, his inability to repeatedly execute the pitch leaves too many spinners out over the plate, making it a questionable ML offering at this point.


Strop has a special arm, and should be commended for reinventing himself as a power arm in the pen after struggling with the stick earlier in his professional career. Ideally, he can rein in his mechanics enough over short spurts to provide valuable innings in the 7th and 8th. The heavy downhill plane on his pitches, high slot and diving fastball and splitter will produce plenty of grounders if Strop can find a way to catch the strike zone more consistently. It is unlikely he will produce many sub-10 pitch innings, and baserunners are going to be mainstays. But the raw stuff is good enough to miss bats and help Strop carveout a solid career in a Major League pen. He just needs to push the control dial a little further from "where is it going" and a little closer to the strikezone with more frequency. With in-and-out mechanics, he'll also need to maintain a steady head on the mound and create a mental rhythm to assist him in hitting his mechanical checkpoints. It will be on the Orioles developmental staff to help him to create that internal routine.

29 August 2011

Adam Dunn Might Edge Mark Reynolds

A little known record Mark Reynolds hold is one that is exceptionally difficult to do.  He has the greatest number of strike outs over hits in the history of baseball.  He set it last year with 112 by striking out 211 times and getting a hit 99 times.  Before this year, the next closet would be the immortal Rob Deer at 175 Ks and 80 hits in 1991 as a Detroit Tiger.  Behind him was Melvin Nieves at 75 with 157 Ks and 82 hits.  The difference between first and third is 37.  That is a pretty incredibly difference.  You need to be quite an unusual player to accomplish this feat.  You need to be a three true outcome hitter.  That is what you call a player who can do three things: hit home runs, walk, and strikeout.  Those first two outcomes typically need to be good enough for clubs to stomach the last outcome.

Coming into 2011, it looked as though Reynolds record would be safe.  Only Carlos Pena and Chris Davis showed any proclivity to accomplish such things.  However, Adam Dunn's collapse has given Reynolds a true contender.  This year Dunn has 96 differential with 156 Ks and 60 hits.  He is on pace to finish with a differential of about 108, so he is going to have to pick it up a bit.  Dunn though is more of a two true outcome hitter, he strikes out and he earns a lot of money.  His salary is what gets him in the lineup.

We'll see.

28 August 2011

What is the Value of a Compensation Draft Pick?

This past season Tyler Beede decided not to take a signing bonus north of 2MM with the Blue Jays and instead committed himself to college.  He was the 21st selection in the first round.  As compensation, the Jays will receive an unprotected pick in next year's draft, which is the 22nd selection in the first round.  A question quite a few asked was: what, if anything, have the Blue Jays lost in terms of value?  There are several considerations.

A pick being delayed a year.

A team often relies on waves of highly talented, cost-controlled players graduating to the Majors each year.  If these players are not available, the team has to utilize the free agent market where costs are significantly higher.  For instance, if a team loses it's 21st round pick it will have to supplement it's lineup roughly the cost of what that pick would have provided.  The 21st round pick is worth about 10MM on average over the course of his career.  If that first year needs to be covered, then it will cost the team arguably 1.7 MM.  This value is not uniform for all selections, of course.  The higher up in the draft a player is selected, the greater the expected value of a player as players with greater value are typically chosen earlier.  If it was a first round pick being lost, the expected loss of one year of value would be around 13.3 MM.  The graph below shows the relationship between cost-controlled (first six years) WAR and draft pick selection.  The drafts used for this graph are from 1991-2000.

click to enlarge

It may be argued that in the grand scheme, a one year delay on receiving value is largely inconsequential.  This is likely to be a rather accurate assessment.  The difficulty in projecting players into the future and when they may be able to help the Major League team means that teams largely are not relying on these players to develop.  In a general sense, they need these draftees to develop and contribute, but few teams will set their watches to players producing except at the front end of the draft.  Only there do you find truly remarkable talents that teams will expect to advance quickly and be productive members of the organization at the highest level.

Draft Budget and the Unprotected Nature of Draft Pick Compensation

In practice, the greater concern in practice is how having multiple draft picks in the first round affects the quality of talent being selected.  Additionally, compensation picks are unprotected, which has tended to cause teams to select players more conservatively and reach a little bit.  In 2009, the Nationals selected Drew Storen for 200k less than slot.  Storen has been incredibly successful in the Majors as a reliever.  However, one wonders how important it was for the Nationals, a team in need of impact players, to select a pitcher who throws an inning every few days.  This, however, is not a uniform strategy as this year the Diamondbacks drafted and signed top ten pitchers Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley.  Both required significant investment and the Diamondbacks accomplished that.

So, how much more useful is one approach than the other?  In the graph below, picks are grouped in fives over the course of the first thirty picks in the draft from 1991-2000.  Those players' control year WAR is compared to players selected the following year a selection behind them or a more conservative ten places later.

click to enlarge

The graph shows that there is a negligible difference between the value of the initial selection vs a selection a year later and a pick later.  However, there appears to be a sizable difference if a team with a compensation pick in the first 20 selections decides to be conservative and draft a signable player (defined in this study as a player taken 10 slots later).  A conservative approach for a top 5 pick would result in a loss of about 4 WAR (~20 MM) while picks 6-20 result in a loss of about 2 WAR (~10 MM).  It appears to be a rather large misfire if a team does not fully utilize their picks.  A simple investment of an extra 1-3 MM results in a several fold return.  Even if an unprotected draftee recognizes his signing team is in a position where they need to sign him, it is highly unlikely the pick would ever receive more money than what the average pick would give back to the team.

Differences in Talent Between Draft Classes

However, this brings us back to the Blue Jays.  Are they worse off for not signing Tyler Beede?  According to this quick study, no they are not worse off.  In an average year, players available at pick 21 are typically equally available the following year at pick 22.  The assumption is though that this year is an average year and next year will also be an average year.  The following graph shows differences in total six year WAR for the first 30 picks in each first round from 1991-2000.

Click to enlarge

This past year's draft was considered one that was quite full with talent.  The majority opinion would find that this year's draft is likely to be similar, in total value, to those in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1998.  The early opinion for next year is that it will be an average class which would be similar to 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998, or 1999.  The difference between this and next year is about 30% if these opinions are accurate.  That assumed difference in draft classes between this year and next is illustrated on the following graph which takes the values in the second figure and adjusts them according to general draft worth.

click to enlarge

In general, if the talent level in the current draft appears to be significantly greater than the following draft then it makes sense to aggressively sign those players.  However, if the following draft appears to be more talented then it might make sense to be not so giving during negotiations and to feel free to utilize a compensatory pick the following draft. 

25 August 2011

Flanny, in their words....

This will be an open post where we will provide links to some of our favorite remembrances of Mr. Flanagan. Please feel free to add to the thoughts/links in the comment section.


Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal speaks about Flanny (Video) -- a player of substance and a representation of The Oriole Way.

MLB.com's Jon Star and Jordan Schelling provide quotes and comments on Flanagan, including video of MASN's post-game coverage last night (video of Jim Palmer, Buck Showalter, Cal Ripken and Joe Jordan sharing heartfelt thoughts).

ESPN's Tim Kurkjian shares fond thoughts regarding a memorable man. If you're going to read one piece today, Kurkjian's is the one to read. Some quotes:

In 1980, as another Orioles pitcher, Steve Stone, was on his way to winning the Cy Young, Flanagan determined the different stages of Cy: He was the reigning Cy Young. "[Jim] Palmer is Cy Old," he said. "Stone is Cy Present and Storm [Davis] is Cy Future. When you get hurt, you become Cy-bex. When you're done, you become Cy-onara."

I covered a game in 1991 in which Orioles DH/first baseman Sam Horn struck out six times consecutively, the first non-pitcher in AL history to do that. After the game, I went to Flanagan. "Three strikeouts is a hat trick," he said, "four is a sombrero, five is a golden sombrero and from now on, six will be known as a Horn. Seven will be a Horn-A-Plenty."

Flanagan played in his high school alumni game one year, and scored 63 points. He played freshman basketball at UMass with Rick Pitino. Flanagan tried out for the varsity the next year. "I pulled up for a jumper on the break from the top of the key, and Julius Erving blocked it, then swoop-jammed on the other end,'' he said. "I knew then it was time to work on my slider."

Some quotes from MASN's Roch Kubatko on Flanny:

[Former pitcher and current MASN analyst Dave] Johnson watched from the dugout on Oct. 6, 1991 when Flanagan, as the last Oriole to throw a pitch at Memorial Stadium, struck out the only two batters he faced in the top of the ninth inning and walked off the mound to a rousing ovation.

"I remember thinking, 'I wish that was me,' " said Johnson, who started the previous day. "I meant that I wish I had that type of career where I was the guy out there to close that ballpark. It was neat and fitting that it was him doing it because he had that type of career and he deserved to be out there."

Chron.com's Richard Justice -- "If you were lucky enough to know Mike Flanagan, you were better off for it." Some fun stories in Justice's piece here:

Did you hear the one about the Orioles mascot falling from the roof into the dugout onto the concrete floor below? Yeah, unfortunately he landed at Flanagan’s feet.

His head was turned completely around, and from inside the costume, groaning could be heard.

“Listen,” Flanagan told the guy, “take two bird seed and call me in the morning.”

Peter Gammons with more Flanny stories at MLB.com. Select quotes:

If you've ever seen the famous video of the argument between Weaver and umpire Bill Haller in Oakland (in which Earl correctly predicted he would go to the Hall of Fame), it began because Haller called a balk on Flanagan. The obscenity-laded argument lasted a dozen minutes, and, finally, as Earl passed the mound en route to the third-base dugout and the clubhouse, Earl told Flanny, "You got [hosed]."

"Actually," Flanagan replied, "I balked."

There have been few greater baseball humorists in the last 50 years than
Flanagan, a New England iconoclast as well as a brilliant pitching mind. He
threw the last inning at Memorial Stadium because he was so revered in
Baltimore, where he won the American League Cy Young Award in 1979 and helped win the O's the World Series in 1983.

24 August 2011

Peter Angelos Releases Statement on the Passing of Mike Flanagan

It is with deep sadness that I learned of the death of my friend Mike Flanagan earlier this evening. In over a quarter century with the organization, Flanny became an integral part of the Orioles family, for his accomplishments both on and off the field. His loss will be felt deeply and profoundly by all of us with the ballclub and by Orioles fans everywhere who admired him. On behalf of the club I extend my condolences to his wife, Alex; and daughters Kerry, Kathryn and Kendall.

-Peter Angelos

I met Mike Flanagan a couple times as part of my duties here with Camden Depot this past season.  In those brief interactions I came to think of him as a smart, insightful, and interesting person.  It saddens me to learn of his passing and my thoughts go out to his family and friends.

23 August 2011

Camden Depot Wants You!: September Call Ups

In the spirit of September call ups, Camden Depot is offering to expand the writing staff for a cup of coffee.  As you know, the Depot is a member of ESPN's Sweetspot Network and we can provide a rather decent size platform for aspiring writers with a bent on the Baltimore Orioles.

Who is eligible?
Everyone is eligible.  If you already have a site, that is fine.  We can tastefully tag your article with that information.

What kind of article do you want?
We don't have any guidelines other than we want good writing.

What is the process?
1. Send your article to camdendepot@gmail.com
2. Nick or I review your article and decide whether: a) it is good as is, b) requires editing, or c) outright rejected.
3. The article is published on the Depot.

We promise nothing.  It could be what we receive is just not of our particular taste.  We truly hope you surprise us.

21 August 2011

The Science of Baseball: August 21, 2011

This week's Science of Baseball will consider two articles: one on using sling exercises in lieu of throwing to warm up pitchers and another on the effects of caffeinated gum on the performance of cyclists.

Sling exercise and traditional warm-up have similar effects the velocity and accuracy of throwing.
Huang et al. 2011 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25:1673-1679

A growing number of athletes have begun using sling exercises to work out or warm up for competitive play.  There has been some discussion whether or not these exercises might be useful for pitchers.  The idea is two fold: (1) sling exercises involve whole body action which may help a pitcher and (2) it reduces the number of throws a pitcher makes in total.  This study used collegiate pitchers from DI schools.  I'm not sure which schools because the mean pitch was about 75 mph. 

I doubt this study has anything conclusive to say.  The study claims they found no difference between the two techniques and suggest either would be useful.  I don't agree with that.  It is an interesting concept though that one could use alternative ways to warm up muscles needed for pitching without overtaxing tendons and ligaments used for pitching.  It might be a good idea to redo this study a few times.  It is also probably a good time to recognize just how little we know about how pitching impacts the health of an arm short-term and seasonally.  It is a field of study where teams and players both have great reasons not to participate in any studies.  More information is not always something that benefits or, at least, it can be perceived that way.  In the autumn, I will be reviewing several articles on pitching.

Caffeinated chewing gum increases repeated sprint performance and augments increases in testosterone in competitive cyclists
Paton et al. 2010 European Journal of Applied Physiology 110:1243-1250

This article was published last year, but it deals with an issue in which I have a lot of interest (case in point).  Since sports began, players have tried to get advantages outside the spirit by which the rules are written.  The research described in this paper look at how chewing gum impregnated with affects fatigue and hormone responses during cycling sprints.  The study included nine male cyclists (age 24 +/- 7 years) who completed four high-intensity exercises that consisted of four sets of 30 second sprints (five sprints each set).  The cyclists were given the caffeinated gum after the second set.  They found the caffeine reduced fatigue and increased performance by 5.4% as measured by power output.  Testosterone (measured in saliva) increased with the addition of caffeine.  Cortisol levels also were decreased.

Baseball is a game of repeated sprints.  For those of us who have played, we are generally aware of many players who drink copious amounts of drinks like Fuel or other highly caffeinated drinks.  While cognitive function has been shown to not rebound greatly with caffeine, other functions are shown to be boosted by the chemical.  I can see how caffeinated gum could be quite useful to pitchers and, perhaps, fielders later in the game.  The question then becomes: what is cheating?  We tend to think of illegal drugs (e.g. steroids, hGH, amphetamines), but ignore the drugs that are effective but over the counter (e.g. caffeine, aspirin).  Where does that line stand?

15 August 2011

Napkin Scratch: To Overslot or Spend on International Free Agents

After Zach Davies signed today, I asked myself a question.  I have always been a proponent of overslotting several players in drafts and I have also been heavily supportive of dedicating money to sign international free agents.  So, this question was simply...what is a more efficient use of funds: spending more than 500k for players after the tenth round or 500k for an international free agent.

1) Reed MacPhail wrote a solid piece on the value of overslotting players later in the draft.  His basic conclusion was that it costs about 400k to sign a third round talent in the third round.  To sign the same quality player after the tenth round, it costs about 600k.  Quality of player is defined by Wang's work using prospect rankings and resulting performances in the Majors.

2) Various sources have looked into how much the draft depresses the amount of money a player can earn if he was able to sell his services in the free market.  Jim Callis suggested that the draft reduces a player's value by a factor of four to five.

3) When I looked at the differences between IFAs and Rule 4 Draftees, I came up with with a 400k draft talent as costing 570k internationally.

Based on these pieces we have a couple things we are sure of: it is cheaper to get third round talent in the third round and that overslotting players past the third round is not more expensive than signing international free agent talent.  What becomes a bit more confusing is to what degree are overslots a good deal?  If you go by Callis a third round talent may be worth up to 2 MM.  My calculations placed that IFAs and overslots were basically equivalent.  This may mean that if you believe in your scouting, feel free to go crazy with overslots because these domestic players are just as valuable as IFAs.

It also makes it look more reasonable to hand Josh Bell a 6MM deal.  He would cost that much if he was Dominican or Venezuelan.  Does it really matter that he is an American?  Value is value and hard slotting is likely around the corner.