18 September 2011

CDOBC: But Didn't We Have Fun? Chapter 2

For more about the book club and books on the agenda click here.

But Didn't We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era 1843-1870
by Peter Morris

Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | App 1

Chapter 2: The Knickerbockers' Game Becomes the New York Game

As I wrote in the previous entry, baseball was a great collections of different games that pitted batters against fielders and nothing really more.  The game was one where the rules changed frequently even when played by the same players from one day to the next.  The available fields dictated the play.  The number of people attending dictated the play.  It was largely the American game if one can allow for game to mean one of seemingly infinite manifestations.  Also, it was more commonly referred to as town ball.  Baseball was a named that arrived later when bases became commonly used.

On September 23, 1845, the Knickerbockers devised these rules:
1. Members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance.
2. When assembled for exercise, the President, of in his absence, the Vice-President, shall appoint an Umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the By-Laws and Rules during the time of exercise.
3. The presiding officer shall designate two members as Captains, who shall retire and make the match to be played, observing at the same time that the player's opposite to each other should be as nearly equal as possible, the choice of sides to be then tossed for, and the first in hand to be decided in like manner.
4. The bases shall be from "home" to second base, forty-two paces; from first to third base, forty-two paces, equidistant.
5. No stump match shall be played on a regular day of exercise.
6. If there should not be a sufficient number of members of the Club present at the time agreed upon to commence exercise, gentlemen not members may be chosen in to make up the match, which shall not be broken up to take in members that may afterwards appear; but in all cases, members shall have the preference, when present, at the making of the match.
7. If members appear after the game is commenced, they may be chosen in if mutually agreed upon.
8. The game to consist of twenty-one counts, or aces; but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be played.
9. The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.
10. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of the first and third base, is foul.
11. Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand-out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.
12. If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out.
13. A player running the bases shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.
14. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out.
15. Three hands out, all out.
16. Players must take their strike in regular turn.
17. All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal.
18. No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.
19. A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made on the pitcher.
20. But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.
Those are impressive rules and it is equally impressive that once these rules were made, the club basically was non-existent for about eight years.  It is an interesting aspect of history how unlikely it is that these rules became the core standardization for baseball.

The things I find interesting:

1. The rules are to prevent time consuming altercations.
From my view, these rules are not about defining a game, but rather restricting argument.  By entering into a contract (which is what this document is), everyone on the field agrees to these rules.  I find it fascinating that one of the elements of our current game arose because of adults bickering with each other.  Seven of the twenty rules are solely about how to administer the club.  Only the remaining thirteen have to do with the game.  It seems point of contention have been addressed.  The rules detail who is allowed to play, giving priority to those who came up with the game; the basic rules (e.g. how long the game is, what is fair, what is an out); and a way to diffuse arguments (e.g. presence of an umpire).  Major aspects of the game are not mentioned.  There is no indication of the proper way to pitch a ball or which way you are allowed to run or even how scoring occurs.  The negative space of these rules are just as interesting as what is explicit.

2. The elimination of soaking.
Most of the town ball games at the time used a somewhat softer ball (many report light tower shots as those going about 170 feet) that would be used to soak them (throw at them).  The game was one where a ball was hit and then you chased down runners to get close to them in order to improve your ability to hit them before they got to a safe area.  The game was built on speed and sure-handedness.  If you eliminate soaking, then you free yourself to use a harder baseball.  A harder baseball means that speed becomes less important as power can open up the field.

3. Establishing the concept of foul territory.
It is often interesting to hear about life in America in the early 1800s.  That the burroughs of New York City were in fact separate distinct towns.  Some things are just hard to envision.  I once was walking through the Maryland Historical Society in Mt. Vernon in Baltimore.  I was looking at a painting that was taken from an estate that was roughly where the Methodist church now stands in the square.  The painting depicted a craggy rock and a tree on an uncovered hill overlooking the quaint little town that was Baltimore.  Times have certainly changed as there are only a few places around there now where you can actually see the Harbor.

Those changing times also affected the game of baseball.  As the towns grew into cities, the commons and the undeveloped sand lots grew smaller and smaller.  Games like the Massachusetts game required a great deal of space as part of the strategy was to deflect a ball backwards away from the catcher in order to safely get to first.  As the free spaces closed, it meant that the playing field needed to be narrowed.  The creation of foul territory allowed baseball to be played in smaller open areas.  Players could place home plate flush up against a boundary and not worry about balls being in play where roads or buildings lie.  It permitted baseball to live on.  It permitted the game to be played within the town square for a while longer which enable men to play before work or immediately after as transportation was not easy nor fast.

Another unintended consequence was how this affected the catcher.  In the early days of the game, the two most athletic players where the pitcher and the catcher.  These two players had to cover ground immediately in front and behind of the batter.  With the creation of foul territory, the catcher no longer needed to quickly cover a great deal of range and be able to quickly get the ball near first or to prevent someone from going to second.  It was the beginning of making the catcher a largely stationary position.

Chapter 3 will be focusing on how the game according to the Knickerbocker rules began to spread and how that changed the game for much of America.

17 September 2011

A History of Moneyball

Scott Hatteberg
On ESPN's Baseball Today's podcast, Keith Law discussed Moneyball somewhat at length.  I found it interesting that his growth in his understanding of baseball mirrored my own.  Like most people in life, a set of ideals are often focused on in our youth and over time we recognize that such absolutism is misguided.  Absolutism is often kindled by a bit of truth and adherance is formed based on piecemeal evidence and ignoring things that disagree with our notions. 

Law talks about his first year in baseball with the Blue Jays.  He was a pure stats guy and an assistant to Ricciardi who was rather dismissive to scouts.  Often Law would be called into the GM's office and Ricciardi would go off on rants on evaluations, such as Eric Hinske.  He thought Hinske was a remarkable player who would be a major component of the future Jays' teams.  He deemed his scouts foolish for thinking Hinske was an organizational player.  At that time, the Jays' front office was a highly biased atmosphere toward scouting.  Unfortunately it was behind the curve of other organizations by a few years.  Over time Law recognized that their methods were unworkable and subsequently left.

Listen to the podcast, it is a very interesting response given by Law to an email by The Common Man, our friend over at one of our sister blogs on the Sweetspot.  What I am about to write are my thoughts on it and takes very,very little (almost nothing) from what Law said.

Unlike running for political office where it is a major hindrance on a career, successful people realize the folly of absolutism and begin to moderate their views.  Now, I think many ideas have to be chaotic and overly held onto in order to break through long held traditional views.  What winds up occurring is that the first line through is given some notice, but to have lasting power...it will also need a moment of success.  The A's success is what many sabermetric minded folks grabbed a hold of and, to their detriment, eschewed traditional approaches to assessing talent.  It is common to misunderstand how one single approach that succeeds often will succeed given a certain set of variables and that once that context is removed, the approach needs to be altered.  I think it is a major reason why many "Moneyball" teams have failed to equal what the A's did.

In the early to mid 90s, several important people began to see the importance of statistics in baseball and how some skills are being overlooked.  I do not know who were the first trailblazers, but most of the lines draw back to Sandy Alderson's crew in Oakland.  However, they were not alone.  Several clubhouses had elements of this minority held view.  The Indians come to mind for me as a front office who had one or two of these guys.  In the public sphere, you had guys like Bill James, Pete Palmer, and others who were pushing through the concept that statistics were useful and not being utilized.  It was an amazingly rich time where there was probably far more cutting edge information publicly available than proprietary within baseball.

The tide turned with the Oakland A's.  Their late 90s and early 00s benefited from some great amateur talent acquisition in the years before.  There were proto-Moneyball draftees like Jason Giambi and Ben Grieve who both did well for the A's.  There were traditional acquisitions like Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez.  Part of this was an amazing hit on three young pitchers with Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito.  This combination of recognizing the benefits of a statistical approach, utilizing traditional scouting, and hitting on three pitchers created a vital core whose presence would be felt over roughly a decade in Oakland.  This club was set up by the collection of incredible talent and somewhat open mindedness of Sandy Alderson.

When Billy Beane took over, he had some strong ideas as to how to improve upon Alderson's model.  He could have gone and hired more scouts and taken the talent competition to every other team or he could go with a statistical perspective and find ways to exploits talent that was not properly valued.  Now, I think I am rationalizing this in a backward sense.  I imagine what the early tenets of applying statistics in the front office saw this as extraordinary and that other teams were foolish for not seeing it.  In this perspective, scouts have "no value" because improved scouting is often a razor thin improvement in the talent you are bringing back.  It is monetarily inefficient.  Whereas if you cut expenses and turn it over to the sabermetric crowd, you are investing in a field that few teams were doing and even fewer were actually using.  In short, Beane read the wave, rode it, and many within that group likely forgot that others will do likewise with the following waves.  Beane saw this.  He saw others liking what he was doing and he saw that teams like the Blue Jays would commit to it more so than he would.

The A's emphasis on college players in the draft preceded the "Moneyball" draft of 2002 by several years.  In fact, it likely happened in 1997.  When the ownership changed hands before the 1997 season, the new ownership let it be known that they were no longer going to green light a great deal of money for large free agent contracts.  Alderson looked at his amazing collection of talent in scouting and development; and made a decision.  He recognized that to maintain a successful organization that he was not going to be able to compete with other organizations and that he had to implement more cutting edge ideas.  Alderson turned the A's into a more sabermetric focused franchise.  This gave more power to Billy Beane who was an early convert.  When Alderson left shortly after implementing this plan, the owners hired Beane to take his place.

What Alderson started, Beane finished and probably in a way that Alderson could not have done himself.  The A's drafts began to focus almost solely on college talent.  The A's 1997 draft (Alderson's last) included only one high schooler in the first ten rounds.  If not for Hudson in the sixth, it would have resulted in 12 picks who would not contribute in MLB.  Beane's first draft in '98 was better with Mulder being selected.  In '99, Barry Zito was pretty much the lone prize.  In '00, no one in the top ten amounted to much, but they did select Rich Harden in the 17th round.  The controversial '01 draft resulted in Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman (which supposedly infuriated Beane), and Dan Johnson.  Nothing exceptional, but really not much different from the draft before.  In fact, the whole thing about the '02 draft focusing solely on college talent is likely overblown.  From '97 to '01, the A's selected six high schoolers in the first ten rounds in total.  If anything, what they found out was that a polished college pitcher is a better investment in the first round than an exciting, hard throwing high school pitcher.  Outside of that, the returns were not different from any other club.

However, people who commit to ideas often over commit and the A's went all college in the next draft to take advantage of Beane's maneuvering to acquire seven of the first 39 picks.  It did not go well, they wound up with Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton.  Those two alone made the draft valuable and worthwhile, but the A's were certainly expecting more.  Jeremy Brown probably could have been a useful backup, but I think there was a lot of Moneyball pressure on him that he did not handle well.  Anyway, we can continue on going through all of these drafts, but the point is clear to me that statistics certainly have their place in the draft although the benefit gained is marginal.  A stat-alone approach will not result in drafts that are significantly different from what would be expected on average.  As the Blue Jays would find out later, these returns are likely to become more marginalized if more people start taking this approach.

So I never mentioned the second part that made those A's teams successful.  The first part again was the draft approach instituted by the previous regime and the unlikely hits on three elite young pitchers.  That strong core was supplemented by the second part of the A's success: utilizing statistics in free agency.  Part of that emphasis was on the idea that collecting spare parts with certain lines would result in a cheap and fairly successful bullpen.  Chad Bradford was the flag bearer for this idea in the novel, but someone like Jeff Tam makes just as much sense.  The A's focused on players who were successful at keeping the ball on the ground and they did this while few teams were concerned directly about that.  It was a concept that was largely built off of the work Voros McCracken did with DIPS.  The other part of his free agent approach was to acquire players who could get on base.  Scott Hatteberg was the main focus in the novel for this approach, but again there are others.  Guys like Mike Stanley, Randy Valverde, what they thought they had in Johnny Damon, David Justice, and Ray Durham among others.

Of course, the benefit of this approach was dying out too when the book came out.  Again teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Blue Jays, etc. all took notice and understood what was going on.  Statisticians were moving in droves to MLB teams with some teams knowing what to do with them and others not so sure.  Some GMs thought that a single stat guy "would replace 10 scouts."  At one time and in a limited context, that would be true.  However, with many of the teams understanding and using statistics, the margin of success became narrower and narrower.  As it showed at the end of the novel (as I remembered it or as I remember thinking after reading it) that Beane knew others were in on this approach and that he had to stay ahead of the curve.

Moneyball for Beane next became a focus on defense.  It has been only mildly successful.  The team has never gotten much help out of the minors and the returns they had on trading their three elite pitchers did not result in comparable value.  To say Moneyball led the MLB team to success is overselling that approach.  To say Moneyball did not amount to anything and was merely a product of the Big Three would be underselling it.  The truth, quite often most obviously, lies in the middle.

Beane also stepped back from his college only approach.  This saw major investment in 2005 in high school talent, but an easily seen direction is not apparent.  In 2007 and 2008, the team heavily focused on college players and the drafts since include a smattering of promising high school selections.  These selections typically are in the Max Stassi or Ian Krol variety.  They are highly talented prospects whose characteristics did not equal their asking price.  When you overslot players like that, you are betting that they will be worth that price with development or at least the whole portfolio of overslot talent you acquire will at least be equal to the amount you invested.  The new strategy might be one where they are still heavily scouting colleges while giving looks to overslot type talent in high school. 

This brings us back to the initial point I had which is that the idea of Moneyball is a fluid concept.  The most important number in baseball is cost efficiency.  Any team has there own set budget and it is the front office's job to determine how to effectively use that money to bring back wins for their teams and, to some extent, fans in the stands.  To do this, you need to be able to assess how talent is being valued in your market and determine if a certain aspect of talent is being undervalued.  If a competitor figures out what you figure out, your knowledge becomes somewhat marginalized.  If a competitor with significantly better resources finds out the same thing, you can be rest assured that you will be left with the scraps.

In that end, I think it becomes clear that way things work in baseball that it is grossly unfair for teams with revenue streams that pale in comparison to others.  This has always been the case.  It is a major reason why the Orioles were so successful in the 60s and 70s.  Pre-draft the team signed bonus babies left and right.  A front office needs luck and an elite level direction to be successful against these high revenue, intelligent clubs.  What the Rays have been able to do is incredibly remarkable.  What they have done though is being figured out by others and being exploited by teams with better cash streams (e.g. Blue Jays, BoSox).  The question then becomes where is the next innovation and is my sad sack team going to be ahead or behind the curve?  And, again, this is not anything new.

Moneyball is about one innovation and how a small player can become a big player by exploiting it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sometime this fall or winter, the book club will go back and reread this classic.

15 September 2011

CDOBC: But Didn't We Have Fun? Chapter 1

The first book I have chosen for this book club is one I am currently working my way through.  The way in which I plan to go through these chapters is one or two at a time with my general thoughts or ideas.  I am not necessarily doing a book report here, but providing a bit of a commentary.


But Didn't We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era 1843-1870
by Peter Morris

I chose this book as the new beginning for the book club because it gives light to a misconception of what baseball is or at least from where baseball emerged.  Originally, Earl Weaver's book was to be first, but I figured that might be a book more readers would want to be prepared to discuss.  Weaver is also a bit full of myth wrapped around a core truth.  Weaver and his success are in ways a lot like the beginnings of baseball.

Chapter 1: Before the Knickerbockers

This chapter is largely concerned with the games that preceded what we would have some inkling of recognition of baseball.  What struck me as interesting about these games in the 1830s or so is how populist they were.  Young and old adults would get together in the morning before work in the city square or find an open space on Sunday and play a game.  This game consisted of a ball, typically quite soft, a bat, and some number of stakes or bases.  There were no rule books, but the game took up a number of different iterations and braced against any standardization.  The game was the antithesis of a national game.  It was different everywhere.  Rounders was not popular.  Cricket was not popular.  Rather it was a highly localized ball and bat game that was influenced by the English fare and the necessities of local elements.  Sometimes the number of players available were few or incredibly numerous and therefore rules had to change depending on whatever needs had to be met that particular day.

It is incredibly difficult to write a history of something that was not considered with much seriousness.  People simply do not write these things down.  It has made researching the foundation of the game as quite a difficult endeavor.  The evidence at hand is often patchy and filled with colored memories.  It reminds me of the plethora of games I invented in my youth.  Even being squarely involved in a game I played with my friends that involved using a bat and a football to play a kind of golf, I would be hard pressed to remember the rules or the name we called it.  I am not even sure we had a name for it.  We certainly had fun and that was the point.

As the author presents it, the standardization of baseball appears to have had a lot to do with legitimizing adults playing a children's game.  The Olympics of Philadelphia played their games across the river in New Jersey due to ball games being illegal in Philly.  Apparently, the members of the club were given a great deal of flack for spending so much time on a frivolous activity.  The result was for the club to write a constitution in 1838 to try to make their endeavor more respectable.  I find it interesting that baseball may have become baseball in part due to simple shame.

However, what I take from this most is this: baseball in its infancy was an abstract thing.  The ball, the bat, points, and running were all important aspects of it, but it was molded.  It makes me think how untenable it is for people to be traditionalists in baseball preaching for it to remain authentic.  Has there ever been an authentic thing about baseball?  The history of the game suggests otherwise.  Rules change dramatically.  Players change dramatically.  Fields change dramatically.  Everything about the game changes.  It is why we have tried so hard to develop ways to measure baseball where players are compared within their era against their colleagues.  Face it, Babe Ruth would be Matt Stairs at best.  Jim Palmer would be quite normal.  The game changes and often it grows more difficult or, at least, it becomes more competitive.  Those wishing for the authentic game are merely pining for a specific type of baseball that may or may not have existed for a brief moment in time.

14 September 2011

Re-Introducing the Camden Depot Oriole Book Club

With a tail between my legs, I have to admit that the origination incarnation of the Book Club quickly went through round after round of delays with Nick and I deluding ourselves that we would be able to hollow out time in our lives where we could both be present to do podcasts.  I still believe it is a good idea and I have interested to have some permutation of it to take place.  The current form is not how I intended it, but I think is useful nonetheless.  I will be writing posts for every chapter or two of a baseball book I am reading at the time.  I invite you all to go to the library or grab a copy from a book store.

It will take me about two to three weeks to make it through a book.

Here is the book list I will be working on:

But Didn't We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era 1843-1870
by Peter Morris

Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team
by Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto

The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First
by Jonah Keri

Built to Win: Inside Stories and Leadership Strategies from Baseball's Winningest GM
by John Schuerholz, Bob Costas, and Larry Guest

Dollar Sign on the Muscle: the World of Baseball Scouting
by Kevin Kerrane

Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit
by Matthew McCarthy

Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom: Andres Reiner and Scouting on the New Frontier
by Milton Jamail

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.

Conclusion
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.

2005
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.

2006
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.

2007
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.

2008-2011
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).

Conclusion
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.

Conclusion
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.

2005
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.

2006
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.

2007
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.

2008
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.

2009
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.

2010
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

2011
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.

Conclusion
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?

.311/.395/.544

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.


Mechanics:

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.


Throws:

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.


Summary:

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.