07 November 2011

Free Agents - Third Base

This is the fourth of a series of posts on free agents.

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | SP | RHRP | LHRP

Nick Punto might be an option.
If Mark Reynolds is vacating the hot corner, the team will need to replace him.  In this post, we will look at available free agent options and who the Orioles have internally.

For the purpose of this post, we are using the following groupings:
Elite: Greater than 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Good: 3.5 to 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Above Average: 2.5 to 3.5 WAR / 600 PA
Average: 1.5 to 2.5 WAR / 600 PA
Poor Starter: 0.75 to 1.5 WAR / 600 PA
Backup: Below 0.75 WAR / 600 PA
No one below a projected 0.75 WAR should be offered anything more than a minor league contract with an invite to training camp.  The values were calculated by weighting performance of the past three seasons normalized each year to 600 PA.  This ranking does not consider injury status which will likely affect some players.

Good (3.5 to 4.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Nick Punto (4.2)
This projection surprised me.  Defensively, Punto looks very good at third.  Just as with second base, his 2011 year at the plate also inflated his value.  Otherwise, he would be sitting around a WAR of 2.
Aramis Ramirez (4.2)
Ramirez' bat still looks strong.  At 34, he has a high probability of a precipitous decline offensively and he has never been a good defender at third.  He is likely to be the most sought after third baseman on the market.

Above Average (2.5 to 3.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Casey Blake (3.4)
Blake's shoulder injury and his age puts 2012 into question.  When healthy, he is a solid option at third base.
Wilson Betemit (3.0)
Betemit is a poor defender at third base, but he has put together two good campaigns at the plate these last couple seasons.
Mark Reynolds (2.9)
If Reynolds is merely bad defensively at third base instead of being gut wrenchingly awful, then he would be very good option there.

Average (1.5 to 2.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Kevin Kouzmanoff (1.7)
Kouzmanoff was always more glove than bat, but his offense has progressively disappeared over the past couple seasons.

Poor Starter (0.75 to 1.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Robert Andino (1.4)
Andino's defense plays better at third base than second base.  Still, Andino at third means you have exceptional offense elsewhere on the team.
Eric Chavez (1.3)
A bad back might prevent Chavez to get anywhere near 600 PA.
Jerry Hairston Jr. (1.1)
Hairston is passable at third due to his bat.  His glove is awful.

The Rest (less than 0.75 WAR / 600 PA)
Jose Lopez (0.7), Andy LaRoche (0.7), Craig Counsell (0.5), Greg Dobbs (0.4), Mark DeRosa (0.3), Omar Vizquel (0.2), Felipe Lopez (0.2), Chris Davis (0.0), Jorge Cantu (-0.9), and Josh Bell (-3.0).

06 November 2011

Come on down, Dan Duquette!


Duquette at a Sabermetrics Seminar in 2011
Dan Duquette will be named the Orioles successor to Andy MacPhail as the head of all baseball operations for the team.  It has been a rough bumpy road.  Jerry DiPoto interviewed and quickly signed on to be the Angels General Manager.  Tony Lacava was offered a position and then declined.  DeJon Watson removed his named from consideration, which probably was not all that important as the Orioles appeared not to like what he had to say in his interview anyway.  Next, several potential candidates turned down interviews ranging from Andrew Freidman to Allard Baird.  It was not a good month for the team who essentially knew back in July that MacPhail was not returning.

Duquette has a tough assignment ahead of him.  He certainly knows a lot of folks, but he is dealing with a rather public shunning of Peter Angelos by many baseball professionals and that many teams have settled the market for scouts and managers.  That leaves the team in a bit of a lurch and may translate into a rather rough off season and, potentially, 2012 draft.  Even though I think the public piling on of professionals and media was a bit much, it is not like it was not deserved.  To some extent, maybe almost completely, it was a justified response to what has seemed like one of the worst episodes in hiring a GM.  Mind you, the worst episode was back in 2005 when Theo Epstein escaped Fenway Park in a Gorilla costume and the Red Sox interviewed five people (including Jim Beattie) before giving Epstein what he wanted.

Duquette has a rather uneven past.  As a director of player development and as a GM for the Montreal Expos, he oversaw that franchise turning into a power house through international signings and player development.  He took the rudderless Red Sox and rearranged them to consistently make the playoffs as well as create the foundation for Theo Epstein to succeed in 2004 with a World Series win.  He also had a rather unfortunate public spat with Roger Clemens and was known for being a bit too blunt at times when giving interviews with the media.  As far as he took the Red Sox, his teams were often a bit limited as well.  He signed players like Jose Canseco and dealt for players like Carl Everett.  The teams had awful clubhouse chemistry (as was reported) and that was associated with the team's collapses.

After being fired, Duquette has not had a lot of interaction with Major League baseball.  He quickly began to work in collegiate player development.  He was involved in owning the Dukes, a summer collegiate team from 2003 to 2009.  He also worked to establish the Israel Baseball League in 2007, which folded due to financial reasons after the season ended.  Also in 2007, he was a finalist to be the Pittsburgh Pirates CEO/President (it eventually went to Frank Coonally).  He is also a frequent guest during seminars about sabermetrics.

What does it all mean?

I am not sure.  Duquette is known to understand the value of international signings and player development.  He was big on that during his Montreal years.  With the Red Sox, he spent more time working on the free agent market.  He also showed during his time there an understanding of sabermetrics that was at most a step or two behind Billy Beane, but a good five to seven years in front of him in understanding the value of foreign players.

04 November 2011

Free Agents - First Base

This is the second of a series of posts on free agents.

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | SP | RHRP | LHRP


David Ortiz might be a good value at first base.
Another area for improvement for the Orioles would be to upgrade at first base.  In these listings, I have also included several internal options in addition to free agents.  For the purpose of this post, we are using the following groupings:
Elite: Greater than 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Good: 3.5 to 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Above Average: 2.5 to 3.5 WAR / 600 PA
Average: 1.5 to 2.5 WAR / 600 PA
Poor Starter: 0.75 to 1.5 WAR / 600 PA
Backup: Below 0.75 WAR / 600 PA
No one below a projected 0.75 WAR should be offered anything more than a minor league contract with an invite to training camp.  The values were calculated by weighting performance of the past three seasons normalized each year to 600 PA.  This ranking does not consider injury status which will likely affect some players.

Elite (greater than 4.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Albert Pujols (6.9)
Pujols is arguably the best player in the game and is likely to pull in an 8 year, 200 MM deal.  This is likely to be beyond what the Orioles could afford.  In the near term, his presence can completely change a team with his elite offense and good defense.
Prince Fielder (5.7)
We mentioned earlier that Fielder is likely to be the better deal of the two.  He does not have Pujols profile, but he is a decent bet to give back value on his contract.  There are some concerns about his body type as people remember Mo Vaughn, but David Ortiz has aged somewhat well.

Good (3.5 - 4.5 WAR / 600 PA)
David Ortiz (3.5)
Speaking of David Ortiz, this might seem a little peculiar.  Ortiz is not a first baseman, but he does have a solid bat.  If we assume he costs a team 15 runs as a first base man, he still projects as being worth 3.5 WAR / 600 PA.  At 36 years old, he certainly is a candidate to see his performance collapse.

Above Average (2.5 - 3.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Derrek Lee (2.9)
The Orioles were quite underwhelmed with Lee's performance last year.  However, in Pittsburgh his offense blew up and he finished the year strong.  He could reward someone who takes a chance on him.
Carlos Pena (2.8)
Pena seems to be underrated by many.  He has a solid bat and is a solid defender at first base.  Chicago will probably look in a different direction for first base this year.  A team might be able to sign him to a short term deal for under 10 MM.
Nick Markakis (2.6)
Markakis played first a few times last year and, according to this system, is currently the Orioles' best option at first base.  However, he is more valuable in right field.

Average (1.5 - 2.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Michael Cuddyer (2.2)
Cuddyer can play several positions while playing none of them particularly well.  That versatility is valuable, but it appears to me that he is somewhat overvalued for his versatility.
Mark Reynolds (2.1)
If Reynolds is truly a -30 run defender at third, then he has to move off the hot corner.  If he is more in line with his career line of -10, then he probably should head back to third base.  He would provide decent production here, but he would not be special.
Luke Scott (1.9)
Scott's year last year caused his value to take a dive.  If last year was the result of several injuries that do not affect his 2012 season, then he could potentially be the best option at first.
Eric Hinske (1.7)
Hinske followed two solid seasons with a poor one last year.  It is always difficult to expect a bounce back season from a 34 year old who is better utilized as a platoon player.
Casey Kotchman (1.6)
How much do you believe in Kotchman's awful 2010 season?  How much do you believe in his outstanding 2011 season?  A good bit of his worth is also tied up into his glove.

Poor Starter (0.75 - 1.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Russell Branyan (1.4)
Branyan had a poor season last year and is also a bit of a platoon player.  I would not be too sold on him.
Lyle Overbay (1.3)
Overbay has been on a downward trend the last few years.
Brad Hawpe (1.2)
Hawpe is not the guy he used to be.  His performance has collapsed.
Juan Rivera (1.2)
Rivera has some value for a team who wants a contact oriented power bat off the bench.  Beyond that, I don't see much value here.
Nolan Reimold (0.8)
Reimold's 2010 hurts his value here.  If you believe in what he did last year, then he looks like a 1.7 WAR player at first base.  He could be passable, but you need to get more production out of other positions if this is to be a first division team.


The Rest (less than 0.75 WAR)
Mark Kotsay (0.7), Ross Gload (0.4), Xavier Nady (-0.2), Chris Davis (-0.3), and Jorge Cantu (-1.3).

Conclusion
If the Orioles are to go big then putting money down on Fielder makes more sense to me than Pujols for the reasons I spelled out in a previous post.  If the next tier of talent is considered, I would target a one or two year deal for Pena or Ortiz.  Beyond that, I would place Mark Reynolds at first base.

03 November 2011

Prince over Pujols?

As I mentioned in a previous post, it seems that signing Prince Fielder would mark for a remarkable improvement for the Orioles assuming a place other than third base could be found for Mark Reynolds.  Cost was not considered for the most part in that evaluation.  A couple weeks ago, I posted what appeared to be an indication that teams have been paying players on average 76% of their weighted WAR worth from the previous three seasons.  Using that method, Prince Fielder would cost about 18.8 MM per year.  If that is the case, how many years would it make sense to go with Fielder at that price?  What if he is about to demand more?  At what point do you turn away?  Making matters bit more interesting is a recent article that questions how Prince's physique will factor into his age-dependent performance.  Also, what about Albert Pujols?

Performance
The following graph showing predicted performance measure for both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder with an additional projection of Prince Fielder with consideration for his body shape (from the FanGraphs post mentioned above).  Roughly put, players tend to peak around age 28 in their performance and plateau with a slight downward direction until about age 32.  Around age 32, they tend to decrease about 0.5 WAR per year until about 38 where the decrease is more like 1 WAR per year decrease.  There are certainly exceptions, but the population of players tends to go in that direction.  The FanGraphs body type prediction puts Fielder in a more extreme decline where he starts seeing a 1 WAR decline per year about 7 years earlier than the general population.  It should also be mentioned that, rather arguably, I have decided to ignore defensive performance at first base.  It could be argued that Pujols is worth about 5 to 10 runs more each year than Fielder.  However, I think the difference will be smaller with aging.  I think in about 5 years, neither will be suitable for the field.

A couple interesting things I find about these projections:
  • After ten years, Albert Pujols cumulative production appears equivalent to an average aging Prince Fielder.  Keep in mind, Pujols is five years older and is not seen as being able to play in the Majors ten years from now.
  • The body shape dependent aging Prince Fielder is done after eight seasons with a eighth one being a 1 WAR season.  He likely will be in the majors the following year (year nine), but should not be useful.
  • Again, differences in fielding are not taken into consideration here.  You could argue that there would actually be a 5-8 WAR difference between the two at the end of the contract.  It depends how you perceive their defense and how they will age affect their performance in the field.
How much is their performance worth?
In the following graph, I have taken the performance detailed in the section above and compared it with predicted contract inflation.  In other words, how much would it take a team to purchase the level of production Pujols or Fielder would provide if said team had to buy it each year in the free agent market.  I am assuming that a win is worth 5 MM this off season and that contracts will inflate 5% each year.


A couple points to take from this graph:
  • Pujols will be worth 200 MM over nine years and then be at or below replacement level.  An average aging Fielder will be worth 205 MM.
  • Over ten years, Fielders and Pujols production may have been predicted as equal, but Fielder is producing in the final year with a higher cost per win.  For this reason, he winds up with a greater overall predicted monetary value.
  • Fielder's accelerated aging curve flat lines him at 170 MM from eight years out onward.
Cost Savings: Predicted Worth vs Predicted Cost
Assuming that the previous few years contracts hold true in a 24% devaluing of weighted WAR production from the previous three seasons, we are looking at Fielder being worth about 18.8 MM per year and Albert Pujols worth 24.9 MM per year.  This yields the following graph on Cost Savings.

  • Albert Pujols at 25 MM would make sense through seven years.
  • An average aging Prince Fielder would make sense at 18.8 MM through ten years and would wind up breaking even after eleven years.
  • An advanced-aging Prince Fielder would make sense at 18.8 MM through nine years.
What if they receive greater per year deals?
Albert Pujols
The three scenarios I look at for Albert Pujols were his 25 MM predicted value, a 27.5 MM value (equivalent to Alex Rodriguez), and him hitting the 30 MM mark.

Where Pujols makes sense at 25 MM for seven years, a small shift to 27.5 MM cuts that down to a five year deal.  At no point is Pujols projected as a good value at 30 MM.  Due to players needing big money, Pujols may 'need' a big number like 200 MM.  In that case, the best deal out there would be eight years for 200 MM.  Perhaps you tack on an evergreen clause at the end at 25-30 MM per year if he hits certain performance marks in year seven and eight of this proposed contract.  Reaching that 200 MM level results in poor contract at anything above 25 MM.

Prince Fielder
The three scenarios I chose for Prince are 20 MM (simply because it is a benchmark numbers and 18.8 is not), 22.5 MM (it surpasses what Adrian Gonzalez is making and is equal to Mark Teixeira), and 25 MM (it is equal to Ryan Howard's silly contract extension).

At 20 MM per year, Fielder holds that value cumulatively through ten years of service while his aging counterpart keeps that value through eight years.  At 22.5 MM per year, he holds value through eight years with average decline and seven through advanced decline.  At 25 MM per year, he holds that value through six years no matter his aging curve.  With this knowledge, I see three potential contracts:
  • 8 years, 160 MM with a buyout of 10 MM on a 2 years, 60 MM extension,
  • 7 years, 160 MM with a buyout of 10 MM on a 2 years, 60 MM extension, or
  • 6 years, 150 MM with a buyout of 10 MM on a 2 years, 60 MM extension.
I would prefer those contracts in that order for Fielder.  I think you have to recognize that he does have a body type that is likely not to age well.  Some players, like David Ortiz, do manage to sustain performance, so if you are really in need of Fielder I could see an additional one or two million per year or an additional year or two on length.

Conclusion
If the Orioles are trying to win now, I could see it making sense to sign either Pujols or Fielder.  If the answer is right this very minute then Pujols makes sense, but if the win now window is over the next five years then Fielder makes more sense.  I do think the difference between the two is not as great over the long run as people think because of the significant age difference between the two.  When it is all said and done, Pujols will have the much better career, but they look somewhat similar in terms of production over the next ten years.

I think it is almost interesting to keep in mind the contract projection of 8 years and 200 MM for Pujols and 8 years and 150 MM for Fielder.  If those hold true, Fielder will be save his team 20-30 MM in terms of production while Pujols will cost his team 6 MM.  The resulting question is how much does that 26-36 MM difference mean to wins and losses.  From a free agent point of view, that might mean five wins total over those eight years.  If that money is instead used for signing amateur talent, it might be worth about ten to fifteen wins over those eight years.

02 November 2011

Orioles Year in Review and 2012: Outfield and Designated Hitter

Perennially neglected Nolan Reimold
In the previous review piece we identified defense at third base being a black whole in the infield.  A few days ago, we noted that the Orioles' OF defense in terms of range was a great hindrance to the team.  In our prediction here we think that the team is not 4 games below average bad, but more like 2 games below average.  That would still rate as one of the worst defensive outfields in the AL.

Left Field: Nolan Reimold (2.0 predicted 2012 WAR) and Matt Angle (-0.1)
First Third  >3.5 fWAR (Yankees, Rays)
Middle Third  1.6 - 3.5 fWAR (Red Sox)
Bottom Third  <1.6 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)

Here at Camden Depot, we have always believed in Nolan Reimold as being capable of average to above average play.  He has good athleticism and plus power potential that could transition into a solid option in left field.  In 2011, the O's chose to start with Luke Scott and Felix Pie in left field.  Scott used to be adequate in left field.  He never had much range, but he took good route, had soft hands, and knew where to throw with an accurate average-strength arm.  Add that average defense to an above average bat and you have a solid player.  The streaky Scott was consistently bad at the plate and finally fell below what would be adequate range in left field.  He had a horrible year.  Pie wound up earning more time in left than he really deserved.  All of the positives in defense and potential with his bat evaporated in 2011 with Pie earning -2.1 fWAR.  Reimold was the only positive producer in left with a 1.5 fWAR, but often appeared to be place in LF begrudgingly by Buck.  The O's have never seemed to like Reimold.  It would be surprising to me if they do not, again, try to prevent him from earning any significant time in the field.  As a team, the Orioles were ranked 29th in left field production with a -1.2 fWAR.

For 2012, we have Reimold and Matt Angle as being the bearers of opportunity here.  I think the O's will have Angle in left as a fourth outfielder in 2012, but Reimold is likely to be iffy as the front office plans for next year.  

A 1.9 fWAR would ranked as 19th overall for LF in 2011.


Center Field: Adam Jones (2.4 predicted 2012 WAR) and Matt Angle (0.1)
First Third  >4.8 fWAR (Red Sox, Yankees)
Middle Third  2.7 - 4.8 fWAR (Orioles, Rays)
Bottom Third  <2.7 fWAR (Blue Jays)

For 2011, centerfield was nothing special for the Orioles.  I think it is clear that Adam Jones is good, but he is not a star.  It s easy to remember Jones' big hits.  He has plus power for a centerfielder, but his on base percentage is rather unimpressive.  Jones' poor ability to earn walks (4.7% which is about half of what an average player earns) counters his impressive bat.  It is also easy to remember Jones chasing down a fly ball, stealing a home run, or his strong accurate arm.  It is so impressive that MLB managers were polled by Baseball America in 2011 and they declared that Jones is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game.  Now, defensive metrics are not perfect, but when every metric consistently tells you the same thing about Jones (that he is a below average defensive outfielder) then it just might be that the conventional wisdom is incorrect.  Over his career, he ranks as an average CF on the road and as a below average CF at Camden Yards.  It is our opinion that Jones could be a good left fielder (assuming the bat holds or improves) or an average centerfielder (for a couple years).  Angle is a solid defender, but he has no bat.  All of the players in centerfield in 2011 gave the team a 2.9 fWAR, which ranked as 20th overall in MLB.

In 2012, we think things will be slightly worse.  Our model prediction is that Jones will be a 320 OBP and 440 SLG hitter.  Basically, he will get on base about the same and show slightly less power.  We also think that Jones' defense will not be as poor as UZR and other metrics suggested this year.  We denoted him simply as a -5 run player in center field.  Angle's defense will hold out well in center, but his bat renders him a replacement level player.  Together we see them as a 2.5 WAR duo, which makes this a potential third tier pairing.

A 2.5 fWAR would rank as 23rd overall for CF in 2011. 

Right Field: Nick Markakis (3.2 predicted 2012 WAR) and Matt Angle (-0.1)
First Third  >4.1 fWAR (Blue Jays, Yankees)
Middle Third  2.4 - 4.1 fWAR (Rays)
Bottom Third  <2.4 fWAR (Orioles, Red Sox)

In 2011, the Orioles right fielders (basically just Nick) ranked as the 21st best right fielders in baseball with 2.2 WAR.  As we mentioned before, Camden Yards might underestimated Markakis' worth by about 5 runs.  With those added on, they would have ranked 19th.  What hurt most for the Orioles was that Markakis was stuck in a three month slump.  It was not until the second half when he began to show his old performance levels.

In 2012, we think that Markakis will bounce back and sustain the level of performance he showed in 2010 and the second half of 2011.  We see Markakis performing at a 360 OBP / 440 SLG level.  It is not a level that would be considered a first division right fielder, but it is solid performance for a second tier right fielder.  It is becoming more and more apparent that the Markakis we saw several years ago, the one in line to be the best right fielder in baseball, was not an accurate projection.  We will have to respect him as a good above average right fielder.

A 3.2 fWAR would rank as 17th overall for RF in 2011.


Designated Hitter: Luke Scott (2.6 predicted 2012 WAR), Chris Davis (0.1), and Nolan Reimold (0.3)
First Third  >1.8 fWAR (Red Sox)
Middle Third  1.0 - 1.8 fWAR (Rays, Blue Jays)
Bottom Third  <1.0 fWAR (Orioles, Yankees)

In 2011, the Orioles excited the fan base by signing Vladimir Guerrero to a 1 year deal worth 8 MM.  Shortly thereafter, Camden Depot was among several Orioles' blogs that were hammered by irate fans when we panned the move.  If I remember correctly, we projected Guerrero to be worth 0.9 WAR.  He wound up doing worse by achieving a 0.0 fWAR.  The Orioles essentially threw away 8 MM that could have gone to useful free agents or amateur talent.  As such, Vlad helped the team be the 13th best out of 14 American League teams for value produced by a DH.  The only AL team they beat were the Mariners (-0.2).

In 2012, the team probably is set.  Between Luke Scott (350 OPS / 500 SLG) and Nolan Reimold, the team is likely to get 3 WAR production.  There will be no reason whatsoever for the team to engage the free agent market paying big money.  The only argument I could see is letting Scott go to save money and pick up another lefty bat for 3 MM or so less. 

A 3.0 fWAR would rank as 3rd overall for DH in 2011.

Conclusion
2011 fWAR = 3.9 fWAR
2012 predicted fWAR = 11.5 fWAR

A target of 14.2 should be identified.

There needs to be more improvement somewhere along the line.  Left field might be the easiest area for improvement, but a major producer needs to found for there to be any sizable difference.

Next up . . . Starting pitchers . . . then relievers.

01 November 2011

The Problem with LaCava's Decision

Lots of things could have happened for Tony LaCava to decline signing with the Orioles.  Highly talented people sometimes don't take good jobs (see Rick Hahn or Billy Beane).  I think it might be presumptuous to say it had to do with limitations placed by Angelos on him.  Frankly, we do not know and it does not really matter.  If Angelos is a problem, he is a constant.  He will not change, so we must focus on the part of the team that can change.

So what is the problem with Tony LaCava's decision?

It resets the interview process with two days to free agency.  DeJon Watson and John Stockstill will not be given a fair shake by the press or the public as the best options.  Watson will likely be seen as the third choice and, perhaps unfairly, Stockstill might be seen as a placeholder.  In this light, the team has to interview at least two more people and that will set the clock back another week.  The organization was already going to go through some pains through transition and this delays that further.

At some point, it might actually be best for Buck to take a year off from the dugout and try being a General Manager.  I don't think that is best for the Orioles in the long run.  However, if they want to move quickly in free agency they need to start getting their plan in order.  That might mean continuity.

So again, the issue today is not that LaCava is not coming here.  There are several GM candidates in baseball who have as good potential as he does.  The issue is that the front office remains unsettled while everyone else is ready to enter the off season.

O's Targeting Other Japanese Pitchers?


Wei-Yin Chen in '08 Olympics
I was told the other day that the Orioles are more interested in three Japanese starting pitchers who are not named Yu Darvish and do not need to be posted.  I was not told the names of these players, but I think it is fair to assume they are the following: Hisashi Iwakuma (RHSP, Rakuten Golden Eagles), Wei-Yin Chen (LHSP, Chunichi Dragons), and Tsuyoshi Wada (LHSP, Softbank Hawks). 

Hishashi Iwakuma (31 years old)
You may remember Hisashi Iwakuma's name.  He was posted last year by the Golden Eagles and the Oakland Athletics won the right to negotiate with him for the conditional amount of 18 MM.  The Athletics failed to sign him after allegedly offering him a three year deal worth 10 MM total with the agreement that they could not use arbitration with him at the end of the deal.  Unsurprisingly, Iwakuma who had made 4 MM in 2010 as a member of the Golden Eagles did not see the point in locking himself in a multi-year contract at that amount.  By staying in Japan, he signed a one year deal at 4 MM, which was more than what the A's offered.  He now is able to enter the MLB market as a free agent without the restrictions imposed by the slotting system.

Iwakuma throws five pitches in the JPL: four seamer, two seamer, split finger, slider, and curve.  In 2010, his four seamer sat around 90-91 mph.  In 2011, he saw it lose some speed which might be connected to shoulder issues he suffered this past year.  Toward the end of the season, he was up in the high 80s.  His two-seamer is a typical shuuto in that there is not much difference in velocity between it and the four seamer.  I figure that will disappear stateside.  His split finger actually looked like a very good pitch last year, but has been less useful to him in 2011.  He throws it around 83 mph this year and the difference in speed between that pitch and his four seamer has narrowed.  I think that is why is now less useful.  Iwakuma's slider comes in the high 70s now and his curve in the low 70s.  Both look very hittable.

My guess is that a stateside Iwakuma will be a below average high eighties fastball, an above average split finger in the low eighties, and an average high 70s slider with a mix of a few curves.  This is likely to be someone who would be hit pretty hard as a starter.  Prior to his injury, he looked like a potential 4 or maybe 3 slot pitcher.  He has lost about 4-5 mph on that fastball and it completely changes the outlook on him.  I think he might be best suited as a relief pitcher where he might be able to get back into the 90s with his four seamer and may be able to live primarily off the four seamer and his split finger.  The more he has to depend on his other offerings, the more trouble he is likely to have.

The projection system I developed for Yu Darvish actually is very kind to Iwakuma.  In large part I think this is due to him probably being a different pitcher in years prior to 2011.  Over 200 IP, it projects Iwakuma to throw 137 strikeouts while giving up 77 walks and 17 home runs.  This would be good enough for a 4.12 FIP.  I think the current version of Iwakuma with his reduced velocity would be more of a 5.00 to 5.50 FIP pitcher.  If someone thinks he can regain his arm strength back, I could see someone putting down a 2 year, 10 MM deal on the table.  He might be able to get 3 MM on a one year deal as a relief pitcher.  The latter would probably result in him staying in Japan.

Wei-Yin Chen (27 years old)
Chen is a rather young to qualify as a free agent as he has finished his age 26 season.  He was paid 2.25 MM for Chunichi in 2011 and would be up for a significant raise in either side of the Pacific.  The lefty had been known for pitching in the low 90s and racking up strikeouts in Japan.  However, things seems to change in 2011.  Based on the information I have, it appears he has become a completely different pitcher.  His average velocity dropped from the low 90s into the high 80s and he wound up throwing 50 more innings this year.  This gives the appearance that he threw with less effort to go deeper into games.  With a new ball this year and power evaporating league-wide, it may have been a conscious effort on his part.  It concerns me slightly, but I have heard nothing of any injury.

Chen has a four seamer, two seamer, split finger, slider, and curve.  He primarily sticks to his four seamer, split finger, and slider.  He has similar offerings as Iwakuma, but has concentrated more on those three pitches than Iwakuma.  Chen also rarely throws his two seamer while Iwakuma has lately depended on it heavily.  The pre-2011 version of Chen threw around 91-92 mph often throwing mid 90s in the first couple innings and then dropping down to 88-90 after the third inning.  This season it stays and remains in the 88-90 range.  His split finger comes around in the mid 80s.  His slider used to be slightly faster than the split finger, but has appeared a tick slower this year.  Chin finished the season coming out of the bullpen for an important game.  He managed to add three mph to his fastball and stuck with his splitfinger with a couple sliders mixed in.

I think Chen has a better chance to stick as a starter than Iwakuma.  His decrease in velocity looks more like a conscious that will be quickly changed in the States.  At worst, I think his current repertoire will play as a below average to average starter.  As a relief pitcher, I think his increased velocity coming in from the left side could make him an incredibly valuable set up or left handed long reliever.  The projection system sees Chen in a negative light.  Over 200 IP, it projects him to strike out 150 while giving up 87 walks and 21 home runs for a 4.42 FIP.  That is five or maybe four slot pitcher in the Majors and could work well for a reliever.  I would be willing to give him a 2 year, 10 MM deal and see where it would lead while starting him out as a starter.  Of course, I would get my scouts to review him first. 

Tsuyoshi Wada (31 years old)
Wada will be entering his age 31 year in 2012 and has just made 4.35 MM for the Softbank Hawks.  He has been rather prolific at striking out batters and reminds me slightly of Koji Uehara in that he is a light tosser that relies on speed change and command to rack up Ks.  Like Uehara, he is also prone to giving up the occasional long ball.  I would not put him in the same caliber as Koji though.  I actually find it surprising if he can muster much more money out of American clubs than Japanese ones.

Wada lives off three pitches: a mid 80s fastball, a 80 mph changeup, and a 80 mph slider.  Based on the pitch f/x data, it looks like he works his fastball between 82 and 88 mph while coming in with a slider occasionally.  His changeup is a pitch he tosses in for good measure against righties.  Otherwise, you only see fastballs that vary widely in speed and his slider.  I imagine to be as successful as he is in Japan, he must utilize a pretty deceptive motion.

It will be difficult for Wada to be successful in the United States as a starter.  With his average velocity of 85 mph, he would have exceeded only four other starting pitchers last year: Livan Hernandez, Jeff Francis, Tim Wakefield, and RA Dickey.  Two of those guys are knuckleball pitchers.  No relievers throwing more than 50 IP would have used a lesser velocity.  However, when Wada has been used in relief he actually averages around 90 mph.  I think he could be a very useful middle reliever for someone.  As a starter, the system projects him over 200 IP with 128 strikeouts while giving up 77 walks and 16 home runs with a 4.55 FIP.

I cannot see Wada making more than five million on this side of the Pacific.  The receiving team would have to be overly optimistic about him being able to start.  I know we were fully behind acquiring Uehara here a few years back, but, even though he was right handed and showed similar speeds, he showed incredible command.  I just do not see that in Wada.  Wada's walk rate is more than twice was Uehara's was in Japan.  I just cannot see giving him more than what he made in Japan.

Conclusion
Compares to what they could earn in Japan, Wei-Yin Chen is the only pitcher who I think shows good value to the Orioles.  He has an outside chance of being a 4/5 slot pitcher working as a 90 mph left hander or he could come out from the bullpen with a little more heat.  His pitch f/x data just looks more like what I expect from MLB quality pitchers.  Iwakuma appears as if his shoulder is a problem.  I have severe reservations spending several million on someone who looks similar to several of our own right handers who were shuttled back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore.  Wada looks interesting as a reliever, but I just cannot see matching what he makes in Japan in the US.  What works there does not necessarily work here.  It should be noted though that I have not evaluated these pitchers on video.  I have seen Iwakuma and Yada pitch, but have not really focused on them.

31 October 2011

Free Agents - Backup Catcher

This is the second of a series of posts on free agents.

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | SP | RHRP | LHRP

Ramon Castro would be a fine backup catcher
A place where the Orioles could gain a minor improvement would be back up catcher.  John Hester (AAA - 674 OPS) and Caleb Joseph (AA - 692 OPS) do not look like options that would result is anything above replacement value.  Therefore, options have to come from outside the organization.  For the purpose of this post, we are considering anything above 0.6 WAR / 150 PA as starting catcher material and anything above 0.4 WAR / 150 PA as a good backup catcher.  We would not consider anything below 0.2 WAR / 150 PA.  The values were calculated by weighting performance of the past three seasons normalized each year to 150 PA.

Potential Starters (better than 0.6 WAR / 150 PA)
Ramon Hernandez (0.79)
Hernandez will want a situation where he will see 300 or more plate appearances.  That would not be with Baltimore.
Henry Blanco (0.98)
Blanco could be considered as a starting catcher option for a team in need.  However, he has never been used as a starter his last three years.
Ramon Castro (0.91)
Castro has also shown quite a lot of value in backup catcher time.  He could be seen as a starter by some teams.  He may also prefer to go to a situation with a weak starting catcher.
Jose Molina (0.71)
Molina has also not been considered a starter in his past three seasons even though he has performed quite well during that time.
Ryan Doumit (0.68)
A somewhat poor defensive catcher with a decent bat.  He would also be able to back up other positions on the field.  After a solid 2011 season, he may be looking for a situation to start.

Good Backups (between 0.4 and 0.6)
Chris Snyder (0.59)
Snyder has been seen as a starting catcher at times over the past three years.  He really is not one.  He might be looking for a situation to become a starter.
Kelly Shoppach (0.54)
Shoppach has been used as a part timer with Tampa.  He is a solid backup and may be an option.
Rod Barajas (0.45)
Barajas has been used as the primary starter in split catching squads.  He is likely to look for weak catching teams.

Poor Backups - MiL Contract with camp invite (between 0.2 and 0.4)
Jason Varitek (0.39)
He is not coming to Baltimore.
Ivan Rodriguez (0.36)
Teams will likely overpay for him and those teams will likely have a weak catching squad.
Jason Kendall (0.31)
Kendall will not go to a team with a strong starting catcher.  He has never been a backup.
Matt Treanor (0.22)
He could be a rather cheap option

AAA Signings
Rob Johnson, Josh Bard, Dioner Navarro, Brian Schneider, and Gerald Laird.


Conclusion
I would offer a 2.5 MM contract to any of the players in the first tier with a 0.5 MM buyout on a 3 MM option.  I would lean toward Ryan Doumit because of his offensive capabilities as a pinch hitter.  Doumit made 5.2 MM last year, so he may not be eager to take a 3 MM guaranteed.  Jose Molina, Ramon Castro, or Henry Blanco would also be good choices.  None of them were paid more than 1.2 MM last year.  The Orioles would be likely to grab any of them for far less than they are likely worth.

30 October 2011

Watch Yu Darvish's Last Start

Work on your Japanese and watch managerial moves that appear more questionable than what we saw during the World Series.  It is composed of two two-hour videos and a four minute video.  The last one does not include Darvish.  Keep in mind, this is the recording of the live feed.

MLB Players in the game:

Seibu Lions
Jose Fernandez
Fernandez is 36 years old and was an amateur signing of the Expos from the Dominican Republic.  He had a handful of at bats with Montreal in 1999 and a few more with the Angels in 2001.  Since then he has mainly jumped around the JPL as a power bat.  For this game, he is the Lions DH.
Alex Graman
Graman is a 33 year old reliever who was a third round selection for the Yankees in 1999.  He has had a rather uneven career in the JPL having only one impressive season in the five he has had with Seibu.  In 2004 and 2005 he put together 6.1 innings for the Yankees with an ERA of 18.47.  He was a decent starter in the minors though.

Nippon Ham Fighters
Micah Hoffpauir
Hoffpauir is a 31 corner outfielder and had played with the Cubs for 162 games over 2008-2010.  Last year he headed off to Japan.  He comes into this game as a pinch hitter.
Bobby Scales
The 34 year old appears as Nippon's DH in this game.  You may remember him from the 61 games he played for the Cubs over 2009 and 2010.


Watch live video from 為台灣選手加油 on Justin.tv


Watch live video from 為台灣選手加油 on Justin.tv


Watch live video from 為台灣選手加油 on Justin.tv

26 October 2011

An Interview with an Arm Injury Researcher, Part I


by Will Beaudouin
Will is a freelance writer who has written for Camden Depot previously.

Hayden Penn is now a Chiba Lotte Marines in JPL
Remember how we all used to pencil Chorye Spoone into future Orioles’ rotations? Can you recall the excitement surrounding Hayden Penn after he struck out 120 batters in 110 innings at Bowie? These were guys who were going to anchor the next great pitching staff in Baltimore. Unfortunately, both of their careers were hindered by various arm and shoulder injuries. Penn, along with falling down a set of stairs and being impaled by a broken bat, had elbow issues and went under the knife in 2007. Spoone suffered a labrum tear that appears to have ended any expectation of him becoming a Major League starter. If Penn and Spoone had stayed healthy, who knows what would have happened--it really can’t be over emphasized how important it is to keep your young pitchers healthy. Fortunately, there’s hope on the horizon that pitching injuries, as we know them, could be greatly diminished in the future.

Dr. Glenn Fleisig, research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, is considered an expert in the field of pitching biomechanics and was kind enough to grant us an interview. At ASMI, Dr. Fleisig works with various pitchers—both professional and amateur—to correct flaws in their pitching mechanics with the ultimate goal of reducing injury. It’s his work that’s giving baseball fans hope that their favorite pitchers may soon have longer, healthier careers. A world in which a pitching prospects future is defined solely by their ability, rather than hearing the constant refrain of TINSTAAP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect)? I’d take that.

In the past you’ve worked with pitchers from the Mets, A’s, and Red Sox. What sort of information are you able to provide them?  How prevalent is it that teams request services like yours?

Pitchers of all levels – from youth league to Major Leagues – come to ASMI for biomechanical evaluation.  The purpose of the visit is usually two-fold: to minimize the risk of injury and maximize performance.  The pitcher’s biomechanics are compared against elite pitchers previously tested at ASMI and then we use our biomechanics knowledge to identify areas for improvement.  We are pretty much measuring motions and forces such as those discussed in [scholarly research] papers, but explaining it to the pitcher in coach in a much clearer way, with videos, pictures, and descriptions.  You can see what the process looks like at this link.

Several professional teams send players to ASMI, but we do not disclose the names of the teams or players to protect their privacy.  The team or player is welcomed to disclose that they came to ASMI, if they wish.  This is our privacy policy for professionals and for amateurs.

The key to successful evaluation is the coach (pitching coach and strength coach).  The biomechanical analysis is simply an evaluation of what is wrong and what should be fixed.  The evaluation is a diagnostic tool for the coach, as the coach is the one who works with the athlete.  I view this as analogous to an MRI for an injury.  An MRI doesn’t fix an injury; an MRI gives information to the medical professional who is the one who treats the injury.


What’s the future for the field of baseball and biomechanics?

Behind the scenes, many professional teams are now trying to use biomechanics to keep their pitchers healthy and successful.  Some of the teams work with ASMI on this, and others work with our biomechanists.  Biomechanics is helping some teams and some players, and I predict that this effort will continue to grow.  Think of this as “Moneyball, Part 2.”  As you know Michael Lewis’ Moneyball showed how the science of statistical trends can improve the performance of players and teams.  The science of biomechanics is now being used to improve the performance of players and teams.  “Moneyball, Part 2” is actually a very appropriate name for this phenomenon, as the Oakland A’s were the first pro team is use biomechanics as part of their program.  The A’s pitching coach Rick Peterson started bringing pitchers like Barry Zito and Tim Hudson to ASMI in 2002 (the season featured in the Moneyball movie). For more details of how this started in pro baseball, read this old interview.

So, to answer your question, I think biomechanics is being used more by some MLB teams than people realize.  I think the impact will become even greater in the near future.  I think the success depends on the following three issues:

1. The ability of biomechanists to clearly explain findings to coaches.
2. The ability of coaches to make changes in the mechanics of pitchers.
        3. The convenience of biomechanical testing. 

Note: up until now, a pitcher had to come to ASMI for an evaluation.  Pitchers still come to ASMI from all across the country, but ASMI now also has the capability to bring its lab to a team’s spring training facility.

In Part II we’ll talk about specific types of injuries, along with a look into some of Dr. Fleisig’s—and colleagues’—published research.

25 October 2011

The New Moneyball: Paying Players Lots of Money?

Yu Darvish
An assumption I have made in the past may not exactly be completely accurate.  I was thinking last week about Yu Darvish and how much he would be worth on the open market.  I casually increased price per win because I think the economy is rebounding (arguable) and that scarcity causes elite players to be paid at a higher rate.  The first assumption is one that is beyond me.  If I was in tune enough to properly predict the market, I would probably own my own team by now.  The second assumption I can test in a slightly less casual way.

I decided to compare cost per win of free agents in general against cost per win of elite free agents.  I calculated average cost per win by back calculating fWAR and the value attributed to it.  I then produced a weighted average for the performance of elite free agents over the three years prior to free agency.  Elite players were defined as players who have received contracts in excess of 100MM in the free market from 2007 until now.  Here is the list:

2007 (average 4.09 MM / Win; elite 5.86 MM / Win)
Carlos Lee - 6/100MM (5.85 MM / Win; +43%)
Barry Zito - 7/126MM (6.97 MM / Win; +70%)
Alfonso Soriano - 8/138MM (4.77 MM / Win; +17%)

2008 (average 4.47 MM / Win)
Alex Rodriguez - 10/275MM (3.5 MM / Win; -22%)

2009 (average 4.42 MM / Win; elite 3.62 MM / Win)
Mark Teixeira - 8/180MM (3.99 MM / Win; -10%)
CC Sabathia - 7/161MM (3.25MM / Win; -27%)

2010 (4.10 MM / Win)
Matt Holliday - 7/120MM (2.79 MM / Win; -32%)

2011 (average 4.53 MM / Win; elite 3.39 MM / Win)
Cliff Lee - 5/120MM (3.43 MM / Win; -24%)
Carl Crawford - 7/142MM (3.25 MM / Win; -28%)
Jayson Werth - 7/127MM (3.5 MM / Win; -23%)

Based on this data and a quick overview of the years before 2007, it appears that prior to 2008 that elite players were paid about 30-40% above market rate for wins.  From 2008 and onward, elite players are now paid 24% less than market rate for wins.

Are elite players undervalued?
I don't think so.  I think what this list might show is that the thinking change for a large number of teams around 2007-2008.  Revenue streams were drying up which limited the number of teams able to spend top dollar for players, but also, I think, there is a greater understanding of player aging.

How does this affect the project value I threw out for Yu Darvish?
If his pitching the past three years translates as a 3.50 ERA over 200 IP / year, he is worth about 4.4 WAR per year.  With a 24% decrease in cost per win, we are looking at him being worth 75MM over five years if he was a free agent.  If you believe in the prediction from the translation model (2.97 ERA), then you are looking at a five year worth of 102MM with the elite reduction applied.

24 October 2011

Orioles Year in Review and 2012: C and Infield

As the Orioles off season drags along with fans waiting to see who is chosen as the new general manager and trying to enjoy truly compelling playoff baseball which is once again without the team from Baltimore, it is important to try and see where the team current is.  By only knowing where the team currently is in terms of talent, will we know what likely needs to be done to make them competitive in 2012.  Or, being more sober, realizing that this team stands no chance in competing next year and a longer perspective is required. In doing so, I try to use existing models to determine likely offensive and defensive production as well as how well that fares against league average.  I use a simple predictive model to arrive at production and use 2011 results to determine league average production for comparison.



Catcher: Matt Wieters (4.4 predicted 2012 WAR) and Craig Tatum (0.0)
First Third  >3.4 fWAR (Orioles)
Middle Third  2.2 - 3.4 fWAR (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays)
Bottom Third  <2.2 fWAR (Rays)

In 2011, Matt Wieters answered the critics who called him a bust.  He answered them by putting up arguably the best season by a catcher in either league.  However, being a great catcher does not mean you will wind up with the best play at catcher.  The Braves are a good comparison for showing off this idea.  Brian McCann put up a 3.7 fWAR while Matt Wieters had a 4.3 fWAR.  The difference between the two teams is that the Braves had Dave Ross rolling up a 1.3 fWAR from the bench while the Orioles had Jake Fox and Craig Tatum amount to -0.2 fWAR.  Yes, backups earning 150 plate appearances can have a small, yet meaningful, effect on your team's performance.  The Orioles may be set at catcher for the next few years, but they could stand an improvement in production from their backup.

For 2012, we see Wieters putting up offensive numbers almost as good as his better months in 2011 (March/April, August, and September) where he hit for a 800 OPS and above as opposed to his poor months (May, June, and July) where he hit below a 700 OPS.  Add in Wieters' defense and he winds up being worth about 4.4 WAR.  That translates into the expectation that he will have another all star level season.  It is a good start, but Craig Tatum still looks like a replacement level player.  His 150 plate appearances are likely to add nothing to the team.

A 4.4 WAR would have placed the team as 7th best in baseball at catcher in 2011.

First Base: Mark Reynolds (2.3) and Chris Davis (0.2)
First Third  >4 fWAR (Yankees, Red Sox)
Middle Third  1.5 - 4 fWAR (Rays)
Bottom Third  <1.5 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)

Last year was a difficult year for the Orioles at first base.  This is a common theme as the Orioles have not had any serious production there since the late 90s.  In 2011, the team ranked 26th in all of baseball according to fWAR with a motley crew of Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jake Fox, and Chris Davis.  So much was anticipated when Derrek Lee was signed in comparison to what was delivered.  Lee was assumed to be able to produce near an average level of performance just a shade north of 2 fWAR, but gave the team 0.5 fWAR before being spun to the Pirates where he wound up crushing the ball.  Fox and Davis accounted for -0.4 fWAR.

We think over a full season, Reynolds and Davis are likely to perform better than they did this season.  Reynolds would have more time to grow into first base.  If he maintains his production with the bat and he becomes merely below average at third, he is likely to be worth an average 1B.  Our system actually predicts better performance for Mark Reynolds (.330 OBP, .480 SLG) than I had assumed earlier.  this is primarily the result of factoring in a lower wOBA for league average (.320 vs .335), it increased Reynolds' batting worth at 1B by a whole win.  The previous value was based on league average production a few years ago.  Chris Davis (average defense, 95 plate appearances, 300/450) adds 0.2 wins to the total.

A 2.5 WAR would have placed the team as 16th best in baseball at first base in 2011.

Second Base: Robert Andino (1.1) and Ryan Adams (0.7)
First Third  >3.2 fWAR (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees)
Middle Third  1.8 - 3.2 fWAR
Bottom Third  <1.8 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)
2011 saw Brian Roberts try valiantly to play through a few ailments before he was shelved for the season with lingering effects from concussions.  He managed to play a quarter of a season and put up an unspectacular 0.2 fWAR.  Blake Davis and Ryan Adams provided replacement level production or worse.  Finally, Robert Andino was able to actually put up respectable defense and had some timely hitting for the team.  Already a favorite of Buck Showalter's, Andino probably sealed his place on the team based on an impressive string of hitting performance against the Red Sox in September during Boston's collapse.  The squad managed to put together production that ranked 21st in baseball.

2012 will be difficult.  Brian Roberts is likely to take up somewhere between 10 to 15 % of the payroll while likely not giving any meaningful production.  The team may misguidedly show Roberts respect by not attempting to resolve the situation at second.  If this is the case, then we are likely to see Robert Andino and Ryan Adams manning the position.  We have Andino with 400 plate appearances at second, but would get time at other positions as well.  We have Adams as his back up.  Andino pulling in a 330/345 slash and league average defense over that time period would be worth 1.1 WAR.  Adams filling in the rest of the way with below average defense and a 330/360 slash tacks on 0.8 wins.

A 1.8 WAR would have placed the team as 20th best in baseball at second base in 2011.

Third Base: Chris Davis (1.6) and Josh Bell (-1.1)
First Third  >3.4 fWAR (Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays)
Middle Third  0.6 - 3.4 fWAR (Yankees)
Bottom Third  <0.6 fWAR (Orioles)
Last year there existed a wide range of talent at third base around the league.  This is evidence by the middle tier starters being worth at least 0.6 fWAR.  The Orioles missed that by a comfortable margin with a -0.6 fWAR.  Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and Josh Bell did the Orioles no favors.  They each have rather shoddy defense at third base.  Davis and Bell showed little to no acumen when it came to figuring out how to get on base and send others home.  The Orioles ranked 27th overall in baseball for third base production.

Even with the expectation that Chris Davis' bat will return after surgery and that his defense would be merely bad, he is not a good solution for the hot corner.  His production is likely to be below average and the team has no useful depth.  Just as last off season, a solution needs to be found to properly fill out this position.

A 0.5 WAR would have placed the team as 28th best in baseball at third base in 2011.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy (3.6) and Robert Andino (0.1)

First Third  >3.8 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)
Middle Third  1.6 - 3.8 fWAR (Red Sox, Rays, Yankees)
Bottom Third  <1.6 fWAR
J.J. Hardy produced a season the Brewers dreamed of his first few season in Milwaukee.  For the Orioles, Hardy earned the highest fWAR (4.8) of his career while only playing 129 games.  Simply put, he had a career year and was given mid-season a three year contract extension.  Cesar Izturis, Robert Andino, and Pedro Florimon Jr. spelled Hardy when he was injured or resting.  As a group they provided only replacement level production.  The Orioles had the 6th best production at shortstop.

Our prediction system is not convinced that J.J. Hardy will likely duplicate his 2011 performance, putting up numbers more typical of his career (.320/.440; 500 plate appearances).  However, we do see him as a fringe first division shortstop with an outside chance of putting up similar numbers.  Hardy is a plus defender and has plus plus power for a shortstop.  The concern has always been over whether or not he can hit the ball as he has little ability to earn walks.  We have Andino filling in for 200 plate appearance at shortstop.

A 3.7 WAR would have placed the team as 11th best in baseball at third base in 2011.

Conclusion
2011 fWAR: 10.3
2012 predicted WAR: 12.9


A target of 15.8 WAR should be identified.  This would be an infield that would be straddling the line between first and second tier performance.  Third base is the most obvious position to upgrade with second base and first base also being potential targets for an upgrade.


Next - Outfield and DH . . . then Starting Pitchers . . . and then Relief Pitchers.

23 October 2011

Orioles Bullpen in 2011 was Not All that Bad or Good

Just a couple graphs today.

The Orioles bullpen logged the most innings of any team.  The following graph depicts the splits between starting and relief pitchers for team in the American League.

Click to Expand

A general feeling was that the bullpen did not perform well for the club.  To assess how well the team performed, I divided fWAR by innings pitched.
Click to Expand

The Orioles had the tenth most effective bullpen.  This is another area where improvement is needed.

20 October 2011

Translating Yu Darvish's Performance to MLB

As we showed earlier this week, the Orioles had by far the worst starting pitching in the American League.  This begs the question exactly how to improve such a poor area of the team.  John Stockstill has flown off to Japan to personally scout Darvish's final games in the Japanese Players League for the 2011 season.  The team also expressed interest last off season.  It is assumed that Darvish will be posted and will then enter into a contract with the winning team.  The Orioles, in fact, may be interested in making a splash.

Darvish has proven himself as a star in the Japan, but it remains a question as to how well he would play in North America.  In this post, I will be using his statistics in the JPPL as well as three other recent pitchers who made the transition to try to predict what Yu might do and how much he would be worth.  


Five straight seasons of sub 2.00 ERA ball is pretty amazing, but it is difficult to figure out what exactly it means in MLB.  The game is played a bit differently over in Japan, so direct transition of statistics may not be incredibly useful.  Jim Albright came up with a rather interesting way to do this several years ago and I plan on doing something similar.  I am not entirely sure that it is useful to convert Darvish's numbers using coefficients derived from player performance in the 1990s and early 2000s.  I do not assume that the leagues have maintained their differences in performance.  Because of this, I would want to use more recent performances.

I decided to take three recent transitions: Hiroki Kuroda, Daisake Matsuzaka, and Kenshin Kawakami.  Here are there numbers in the three years prior to leaving Japan and what they were able to accomplish in MLB.


To create the coefficients, I pooled the performance of each pitcher by league.  I then scaled each league to 1,000 IP.  This resulted in the following coefficients:
Strikeouts: 1.079
Walks: 0.553
Home Runs: 0.804
It should also be noted that by using three pitchers, park factors may play a large role in these numbers.  Averaged park factors for Turner Field, Dodger Stadium, and Fenway Park were 1.02 for walks and 0.92 for home runs.  This will need to be taken into account for Camden Yards that has a walk factor of 1.04 and home run factor of 1.14.  This results in the following table:

That is a very solid pitcher.  Over the course of the next three years (assuming the prior assumptions are valid), Darvish would be worth about 20 WAR.  That would be a succession of three Cy Young quality seasons.  To be conservative, I think it would be fair to assume Darvish could potentially produce 20 WAR over five years, which would be worth about 120MM.  That would be equivalent to a pitcher who would average as a 2/3 slot pitcher on a first division team.  If I was the Orioles, I would consider bidding somewhere between 60-80 MM with the understanding that a contract would amount to a 5 or 6 year deal in the neighborhood of another 70 MM.

Extra Pitch F/X info
Based on Pitch F/X, Darvish throws seven different pitches: four seamer, two seamer, cutter, curve, slider, forkball, and change up.  I think as a MLB pitcher his lesser offerings will be discarded.  In Japan, he relies primarily on his four seamer and slider.  Those will work well in MLB, particularly with right handed batters.  In Japan, he often relied on his forkball against lefties, but I doubt that will play well over here.  I think his primary pitches will be his four seamer, slider, and cutter will be the pitches that will likely make the transition, but I am not entirely confidant in my ability to say so.  His four seamer works in the 93-95 range, the cutter comes in at 89-91, and his slider appears to have a lot of snap and sits at 81-83.  However, it would not surprise me if he loses a few mph when he transitions because he will be pitching more often.  In that case, I would expect his velocity to drop to the 91-93 range.  That drop in velocity may make things look worse with an expected ERA of around 3.50, which would be right about what a 3 slot pitcher should be on a first division team.  Looks good to me.

19 October 2011

Orioles Starting Pitching in 2011 was worst in AL

Our last descriptive graph detailed how the offense performed according to different metrics used to calculate fWAR for offensive players.  In this post, we present runs saved above replacement level pitcher for starting pitchers.  What one can see is a major area for the team to improve.
  • The Orioles' starting pitching was 42.6 runs worse than the next team in the AL (Blue Jays).  
  • They were about 137.1 runs worse than the best team in the AL (White Sox).




18 October 2011

MiLB Year in Review: Frederick Keys

Interesting mix fuels Frederick playoff run

The Frederick Keys ended the season with a tie for the best record in the League (losing the tie-breaker to Potomac for regular season title), a playoff series win in the Northern Division Championship against Potomac, and a Mills Cup title over Kinston. The players constituting the 2011 Keys were a blend of young and old, including two of the youngest and most talented players in the high Class A Carolina League -- Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

There are a number of solid performers and potential Major League contributors, but as is the case throughout the Baltimore system, the impact talent is limited. At the plate, Machado and Schoop are the only two potential above-average Major Leaguers, though Trent Mummey, Tyler Townsend and Kyle Hudson have a chance to carveout roles off the bench at the highest level. LJ Hoes still has everyday potential, but spent more significant time in Class Double-A Bowie, and will accordingly be discussed in more detail in our review of the Baysox.

On the hill, Bobby Bundy took a nice step forward, rewarding Camden Depot's steadfast support of him as one of the top arms in the system. Clayton Schrader completed the second half of his dominating first pro year with a strong showing at Frederick, and both Oliver Drake and Sean Gleason showed potential as future bullpen arms.

Frederick By the Numbers:
Record: 39 - 31 (Northern Division Champions; Mills Cup Champion)
Top Arm: Bobby Bundy (2008 Draft, 8th Round)
Top Bat: Jonathan Schoop (2008, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Bobby Bundy (121 IP, 102 H, 43 R, 37 ER, 31 BB, 100 SO)

Camden Depot readers will recognize Bundy as a staple in the top half of our Prospect Rankigns for the past three seasons. After a breakout summer, Bundy will see his name climbing the rankings of blogs and national outlets, as well, and deservingly so. A workout nut, Bundy is a strong and durable body, listed at 6-foot-2, 215-pounds. He logged a total of 136 IP this year between Frederick and Bowie, and projects as a #3 or #4 starter capable of eating innings at the Major League level.

Mechanically, Bundy has seen some lengthening in his arm action over the past three seasons, but has utilized his athleticism and solid body control to repeat his mechanics and release without too much inconsistency. The result is solid control/command and, more importantly, increasing consistency in the execution of his offerings. He throws out of a true three-quarters slot and creates solid downhill plane on his fastball and a decent angle on his curve. His sturdy base provides good drive and a muscular core serves as a capable the generator while maintaining an easy arm action.

His fastball is a low-90s heater that can come with some bore. He spots it well to both sides and can elevate it when needed, touching 94/95 mph up in the zone. His best breaking ball is an upper-70s curve with downer action, though he still rolls it from time-to-time, causing it to lose bite and rendering it hittable. He throws a firm change-up that will improve as he continues to gain feel. He has flashed a slider, but remains generally a three pitch arm with mid-rotation upside and high marks for durability.

Players to know:

Oliver Drake has a compact, under-control delivery and maintains a good line to home. His 89-92 mph fastball has some life and can induce soft contact down in the zone. His slider is a solid average to above-average offering, and he has also flashed average throughout his pro career with both a change-up and a curve. Drake has the body and endurance to chew through innings, but his stuff may be better suited for the pen, where his fastball/slider combo could be solid in middle-inning work. Baltimore will give him a second run at Bowie next year. If he stumbles, he could shift to the pen prior to promotion to Norfolk.

Since transitioning to the pen in 2010, Sean Gleason has emerged as a potential future contributor with the big club, and a candidate for late-inning work if he can spot better in the zone. He is primarily a fastball/slider reliever, sitting 91-94 mph and touching 96 mph when he reaches back for it. One scout shared that, in his first appearance in this year's Arizona Fall League, Gleason topped out at 97 mph up in the zone. His slider is an average offering that can flash plus, but he can tip the pitch at times with arm slot, and needs to find a balance between throwing it as a case pitch and catching too much of the plate. He'll also mix in a change-up and a curve as a change of pace, though both are generally below average. He'll turn 27 next year, and Baltimore will need to decide whether to protect him on the 40-man or expose him to the Rule 5 Draft in December (where an opportunistic organization could roll the dice on Gleason's arm strength).

Nicholas Haughian started 21 games for the Keys, but projects at best as a situational lefty at the Major League level. He commands his upper-80s fastball fairly well, and could sit 88-92 mph when permitted to go all out iun a relief role. His slider is a solid breaker and he'll also mix in a fringy change-up, though he slows his arm too often when dealing the mid-70s offspeed. Baltimore may continue to run him out as part of a rotation until he stumbles, but his stuff, as well as his limited ability to miss bats, indicate a shift to the pen may be unavoidable.

LJ Hoes struggled offensively in a 41-game stay in Frederick before righting the ship in Bowie. Owner of a compact frame with increasing strength, Hoes should see some power starting to develop in his game over the next twelve months. This will be an important development to monitor, as without that added dimension to his game, Hoes could be cast as a 'tweener, with a solid stick for second base but not the glove, and a solid defensive profile in left with not quite enough offensive pop.

Speedster Kyle Hudson toured through four levels in 2011 (Frederick, Bowie, Norfolk and Balitmore), and will be discussed in more detail in our review of the Triple-A Norfolk. Hudon's game is dependent on speed, and he'll have to show a consistent ability to find ways to first base against Major League pitching in order to provide any value at the Major League level. The complete absence of any power in his offensive game will open him up to aggressive arms at the highest level, and will drastically cut into his ability to maintain a lofty on-base percentage as his ability to draw a walk is taken away from him.

Manny Machado was once again the highest-ceilinged player on his squad, though the on-field results were mixed during his second half stay in Frederick. Machado continued to show a solid understanding of the strikezone, but struggled some with pitch identification, leading to too much soft contact on "pitchers" pitches. At his best, he still showed an ability to punish fastballs and mistakes, and there is little doubt he will make the necessary adjustments to continue to grow, offensively. Whether he starts 2012 back in high Class A Frederick or at Class Double-A Bowie will likely be determined in the spring.

Nathan Moreau has a phone booth delivery with a "just below" three-quarters arm slot. He struggles to finish and will occasionally cut himself off, each of which can have a negative impact on his ability to throw strikes. His fastball is generally 88-91 mph and he pairs it with a sweeping breaking ball that shows depth but inconsistent bite. His change-up is a workable third pitch but projects merely as potentially average. Seen as an upside selection when selected out of the University of Georgia in 2008, Moreau has stagnated, failing to improve upon his command or his stuff over the past two seasons. He still has a chance to provide value as a lefty specialist if he can find more consistency in his breaking ball and command.

As noted in our low Class A Delmarva review, Trent Mummey has limited ceiling, but plays a good center field, runs well, and has a short swing capable of spraying the gaps. He's undersized, but strong, and likely fits best as a future 4th outfielder. He gets tied up on the inner half when faced with good velocity, and his ability to adjust to more advanced secondary stuff at Class Double-A Bowie will say a lot about his future potential.

Jonathan Schoop saw a dip in his in-game power once he was promoted to Frederick, but continued to show a solid approach and ability to barrel balls. Like many young players, Schoop needs to tighten-up his pitch-ID, and should see a nice jump in power production once he is more comfortable working for and identifying pitches he can drive. Already thickening in his core, Schoop's future power tool is his best asset. He could end-up at third base, second base or an outfield corner, depending on Baltimore's needs, and has the athleticism and arm to fit into any of those roles.

Clayton Schrader followed up 22 dominant innings at low Class A Delmarva (where he was Camden Depot's selection for top arm) with 24 dominant innings at high Class A Frederick, boasting 13.1 SO/9 and 3.0 H/9 as a Keys reliever. Unfortunately, he also walked 19 batters in those 24 innings, though those baserunners were largely negated by his ability to miss bats. Schrader's performance at Bowie will help to ground his projection, which could be as high as a true shut-down late-inning arm and as low as a Four-A arm. Camden Depot entered 2011 bullish on Schrader and remains so, projecting him as a solid late-inning contributor with a future plus fastball and plus slider. He could be ready for Baltimore by next summer.

Tyler Townsend produced a triple-slash line of .317/.358/.583, but once again failed to stay healthy, logging just 72 games this summer (67 of them with Frederick). When healthy, Townsend shows some raw power and a solid enough glove at first base. He has a deep hand load and a fair amount of length to his swing, which causes him to start his swing early and hampers his ability to properly identify more advanced breakign stuff. His hand-eye coordination is such that he has been able to square pitches, even when fooled, at the lower levels. But he will need to overhaul his aggressive approach, including tightening his swing mechanics, in order to succeed against the advanced arms he'll see in Bowie, Norfolk and Baltimore. Townsend doesn't yet project as a future Major League regular, but could greatly improve his stock by staying healthy through 2012 with a solid showing at Bowie.

Bad Outfield Defense or a Bad Fielding Metric?

When I decided to write that title I did not mean that fielding is unfair between teams.  Rather, I wonder whether the way fielding is measured is fair.  I was wondering this because there has been discussion about Carl Crawford's defense not translating well to Fenway Park.  It made me wonder whether there was anything peculiar about Camden Yards.  My only resource (FanGraphs) informs me about career UZR home and away, so I decided to use Oriole outfielders who have been nearly exclusively part of the Baltimore Orioles:
  • Nick Markakis has played 7874 innings for the Orioles in RF.
  • Adam Jones has played 3405 innings for the Orioles in CF and 227 for the Mariners.
  • Felix Pie has 852 inning for the Orioles in LF and 13 for the Cubs.
Now from this we can basically declare that all three of these Orioles have overwhelmingly played at these positions for the Orioles.  With these players, we can attempt to measure if there are any unaccounted park factors.

Here is a short description of UZR if you need to be refreshed on how it is calculated.
How to calculate UZR: The baseball field is divided into 78 zones, 64 of which are used in UZR calculation. (As Lichtman explains, infield line drives, infield pop flies, and outfield foul balls are ignored. Pitchers and catchers are not included.)
Here's what is calculated for each zone: the out rate and the percentage of balls in that zone that turn into outs. The league average out rate is then subtracted from the player's out rate — if this number is negative, it means the player is worse than league average. If it's positive, it means he's better than league average.
That rate is then multiplied by the number of balls that hit in that player's zone. This yields a Zone Rating. To obtain the run value, it's multiplied by the Zone Ratings that are calculated for each zone the fielder covers, and then summed. This sum is a simple, unadjusted UZR. It is then further adjusted for park factors, batted ball speed, which side of the plate the batter was hitting from, the pitcher's groundball/flyball ratio and the number of baserunners and outs at the time. The adjustments are made because each of these variables can significantly affect the average out rate in a particular zone. Using run expectancy charts, these rates can be converted to runs.

UZR / 150

Click to Enlarge
Each player does remarkably worse at home than on the road.  It is actually a pretty remarkable finding.  Pie has only about 135 games worth of innings in left field, which is not nearly enough to get a good idea of how dependable a fielder he is.  UZR typically requires 2-3 years of data to get a good read on a player.  Adam Jones has about 546 games worth of innings.  With that amount split between assumed home and road games, it is arguably just enough to be usable.  Markakis has about 875 games worth of innings and is perfectly fine as a data source.  It seems clear enough that this is a real effect.  Playing in Camden Yards in any position in the outfield decreases your defensive metrics.  This means that as useful as UZR might be, it appears to do a poor job characterizing what normal means for Camden Yards.  The alternative explanation is that the Orioles outfielders are actually rather poor defensive players at home.

The question now lies as to whether we can discern what part of UZR has the problem and whether it makes any sense.

Arm

 

 No pattern appears with arm values.  This makes sense as throws are contained within the playing field.  It would be unlikely if a stadium could play much havoc with throws outside of wind issues, which apparently is not the case with Camden Yards.

Incidence of Errors
Incidence of errors also does not appear to be greatly affected by Camden Yards.  This is also expected as grounds crews do a fairly good job ensuring that each stadium has an excellent field.

Range


Range is where we see the issue.  I am not entirely sure what the problem is.  Range is basically determined by how plays are in a players' area and how many he winds up catching.  Somehow, Camden Yards is a difficult place to track down baseballs.  I am not sure if there is an issue with see the ball come off the bat, if high flies are greatly affect by wind, or something else.  Unfortunately, I do not have any data for how visiting teams perform here.  UZR does account for park factors and one would think such a shift in fielding would be figured into the final number.

What if the numbers are correct?

It just might be that UZR is actually accurately measuring defensive ability at Camden Yards. The Orioles may be horribly position themselves and/or are inadequately instructed in how to play in their own ball park.  This reminds me of an article from a couple years ago, but I fail to remember who exactly wrote it.  Peter Gammons, I think, mentioned how the Red Sox did not care that Jacoby Ellsbury had a -9.7 UZR after the 2009 season.  They said that their internal metrics measured defense better at Fenway Park better than UZR did.  Ellsbury looks like a good centerfielder, so maybe they were correct.  Likewise, maybe UZR measures defense in Camden Yards as well as it does in Fenway Park.

Conclusion

I do not have a solid conclusion after looking at this data.  If the Orioles are doing this poorly at Camden Yards and UZR adequately adjusts for park factors then it would mean that every other team  on average is playing about 2 WAR better defensively.  While also meaning that when the Orioles are on the road, they outperform various home teams about the same.  I just have a hard time understanding how the numbers can be accurate here.  I inclination is to think there is a significant failing in UZR in the outfield at Camden Yards.