05 December 2011

Reviewing the 2011 Collegiate Diamonds By the Numbers

Last year I took a very simple approach to finding potentially undervalued talent.  This was my criteria:
Plate Discipline - Walk Rate (>15%) and BB:K ratio (>1.50)
Contact Rate - Batting Average (>.300)
Power - ISO (>.180)
For a player to be noted, they had to hit on each category.  Such a simple foundation will probably be fraught with error, but I will go on and evaluate how well it is working.  I won't discuss Anthony Rendon because...well... don't think we really need to follow someone who Baseball America ranked as the best prospect in last year's draft.

Rob Kral
C/1B, College of Charleston

Kral improved on his 16th round selection in 2010 by being taken by the San Diego Padres in the 10th round this past year.  He wound up playing 14 games in the Arizona Rookie League.  Twelve of those games were as a catcher.  I am unsure how well he caught, but teams were averaging about 2.5 stolen bases per game with him catching one out of nine base runners.  Although this is a very thin analysis, it appears his first taste of the pro game behind the plate has left him with a great margin for improvement if he wishes to stay there.  Otherwise, he did quite well with a 275/463/425 line.  It will be interesting to see how he fares against more accomplished players instead of the smattering of high school and college signees you find in Rookie ball these days.

Joe Panik
SS, St. John's

Panik was seen by many as a supplement round or second round talent.  He would up being selected by the San Francisco Giants with the 29th selection in the first round.  He signed relatively quickly and played short-season ball.  He did well at the plate with a line of 341/401/467.  Baseball America ranked him as the fourth best prospect in his league.  Although at a higher level than Kral, I think it is still important to note that these two players may be able to take advantage of pitchers at this level.  Having high plate discipline and a solid contact rate will often translate into good production at these lower levels where even the best pitchers have poor command of their offerings.  Regardless, it is nice to see the first two picks to have done well so far.

Dan Gamache
2B/3B, Auburn

Gamache was taken in the 6th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  That is likely before when I would have taken him as I am not completely sure about my criteria and none of the people I talk to had Gamache ranked in their top 300.  The Pirates did though.  He signed early and played 6 games in Rookie ball and 20 in short season A ball.  He appeared advanced for Rookie ball and overwhelmed at short season.  His line was 231/292/338.  I still have faith in him being a better player than this.

Taylor Dugas
OF, Alabama

Dugas was selected in the 8th round by the Chicago Cubs, but decided to go back to school for his senior year.

Matt Duffy
3B, Tennessee

Duffy was selected in the 20th round by the Houston Astros.  He wound up playing 63 games in short season ball with a final line of 298/370/417.  He showed good contact, an above average plate discipline, and the hope that his many doubles may turn into a few more home runs.  It was a very solid debut by a 20th round selection.

Matt Skole
3B, Georgia Tech

Matt Skole was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fifth round and wound up earn Baseball America's respect by ranking him as the 13th best prospect in the New York Penn League.  His final line was 290/382/438.  He showed good contact, discipline, and power.  None of which was great, but all were solid.

Players that just missed the criteria:

Levi Michael
MIF, North Carolina

The Twins selected Michael with the 30th pick in the 2011 draft.  He did not play as a professional last year.

David Chester
1B, Pittsburgh

Chester did not qualify under the criteria set above have barely missed the contact rate portion.  He was chosen by the Red Sox in the 33rd round and played rookie ball last year.  He has continued to show good power, but has not been able to earn walks and has been having issues with contact rate.  His line is 243/305/450.  If I ran a draft (which it is probably a good thing I do not), Chester would have been a pick for me in the 20s along with several non-draftees: Ross Heffley, Rob Lind, Mark Micowski.

Bobby Valentine Did Not Invent the Sandwich Wrap

Bobby Valentine claims he invented the sandwich wrap.  The story goes that Bobby decided to use a tortilla instead of bread on his menu for a restaurant he founded in 1980.  Of course, flatbread sandwiches long predate 1980 as tortillas and pitas have been used for sandwiches in Central America and the Mediterranean for decades if not centuries.  The distinction for the sandwich wrap though is that a sandwich traditionally made with slices of bread is instead made with a tortilla.

It is a statement that is too good to be true and it is.  In June 28, 1976's Desert News print a short blurb about pita bread and how you can use it to make regular sandwiches like cold cuts.  It also states that if you wish to give it a "taco-take off" to use a tortilla.  You can actually find earlier mentions of diet tips about replacing regular bread with pitas for sandwich's, but that 1976 column is the earliest I found mention of use a tortilla as a bread replacement.  You can also find earlier mentions of people using pitas for tuna sandwiches (1973) or lettuce to wrap their burgers.  Clearly the 70s were a time of extensive sandwich experimentation.

If one wishes to find an earlier functional incarnation of the sandwich wrap, we can look at this patent that was awarded in 1931.  The inventor was primarily concerned with creating a no mess sandwich and invented a tool to accomplish it.  It is a loaf hollower instead of a true wrap, but the basic idea is there for a wrap.  Combine the desire to create a sandwich that can contain juices and condiments with the increasing presence of tortillas in American restaurants and groceries...the idea that the sandwich wrap was invented in 1980 seems unlikely.  A better search feature than Google News would be able to find some mention of tortilla wrapped sandwiches that predate the 1976 column mentioned above.

I think we can silence Bobby Valentine's claim.  Someone might want to revise Wikipedia too as most organizations seemed to use that as their source to explore the claim.


I do believe that I invented the apple and cola drink back in 1985.  As a six year old I decided it to be a good idea to mix apple juice and coke on a 1:1 ratio that was imbibed by using a medicine dropper.  I remember it tasting fantastic.  After 20 years, I tried it again and it did not resurrect that fond memory.  I would like to see someone actually enjoy my invention because I certainly do not.

04 December 2011

Orioles' Payroll Flexibility

Over the past ten years, the Orioles team payroll has varied considerably.  It has been as high at 93.3MM in 2007 and as low as 51.6MM in 2004.  Last season, the club came in at 86.9MM and that is probably a good line for considering what the payroll could be next year and, perhaps, over the next few years.  That would be good for the 15th highest payroll in baseball.  The take home message there is that while the team is not poor, it is in no position to buy themselves into contention as long as we assume that there are no further streams of revenue to increase spending.

The Orioles have a bit of flexibility in their payroll.  In 2012, they are obligated to pay five players 42.4MM: Nick Markakis (12.35MM), Brian Roberts (10MM), Mark Reynolds (7.833MM), J.J. Hardy (7.417MM), and Kevin Gregg (5.8MM).  They also have several players in line for arbitration for 28MM: Luke Scott (3rd arb; est. 6.2MM), Jeremy Guthrie (3rd arb; est. 7MM), Adam Jones (2nd arb; est. 7MM), Darren O'Day (2nd arb; est. 1.2MM), Jim Johnson (2nd arb; est. 2MM), Jeremy Accardo (2nd arb; 1.1MM), JoJo Reyes (1st arb, est. 1MM), Brad Bergesen (1st arb., est. 1MM), and Robert Andino (1st arb., est. 1.5MM).  That commits roughly 70.4MM for the 2012 season and leaves around 17MM left to improve the team.

This tells us two things:
  1. There is supposedly not much money left over to improve the team.
  2. 70.4MM does not get you much to start with.
In the future, things are likely to get worse.  Markakis' salary increase another 3MM, Roberts is around through 2013, Mark Reynolds has an 11MM team option, Guthrie and Scott become free agents, and there are a number of arbitration cases.  Jones enters into his final arbitration day in 2013 where his salary may go as high as 10MM from the 3.25MM he saw last year.  Johnson and Andino may see their arbitration values rise significantly if they wind up with the increase in playing time as a starting pitcher and starting infielder, respectively.  Finally, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, and Tommy Hunter become arbitration eligible.  It would not be surprising if the Orioles are at 87MM before entertaining a single free agent.  It could be argued that the ability to bring on a high price free agent would not present itself until 2014 at the earliest.  Brian Roberts' contract would open up a great deal of money, but that cash might be flipped over to Adam Jones.

As Dan Duquette has mentioned, the Orioles are going t have to be able to make the most of the non-premier free agent market.  That includes finding potential players like Mike Antonelli.  However, this model is more and more difficult because other teams are doing and have done the same thing.  Somehow, Duquette has to make up for lost ground and then become an industry leader in finding what others are overlooking.

03 December 2011

How Much is Jeremy Guthrie Worth?

It has been mentioned by quite a few that Dan Duquette is entertaining offer for Jeremy Guthrie.  However, a major issue with Guthrie is that the team wants pitching to come back in return.  This sounds foolish and wrong headed, but this is exactly what happened when Koji Uehara was dealt.  A starting pitcher (depending on your definition of a starting pitcher) and a buy low corner infielder came back in return.  Guthrie is one face value worth more than Koji as he is a starter.  Guthrie will also cost more than Koji (~7MM vs 4MM).

What is Jeremy Guthrie worth?

From 2007-2011, Guthrie is the pitchers with the most losses in baseball with 65.  The top ten behind Guthrie is Derek Lowe (64), Paul Maholm (62), Bronson Arroyo/Barry Zito (61), Matt Cain (60), Livan Hernandez (59), and John Danks/Edwin Jackson/Fausto Carmona (56).  The next slot at 55 is James Shields and Wandy Rodriguez with Mark Buerhle at 53 behind them.  I think the basic point when looking at this is when the electronic and media furor questions the worth of Jeremy Guthrie, the losingest pitcher of the last half decade, it rings analytically lazy.

The bulk of Guthrie's losses have been over the past three years with 17, 14, and 17.  That looks bad, but you also have to consider his team.  The Baltimore Orioles have been an awful team.  They have been awful offensively and defensively.  During that stretch, only 2009 looks bad for Jeremy Guthrie when he earned a 1.3 fWAR.  It was the only time in his past five years that he had an fWAR under two. 

For all intents and purposes, let us say that Guthrie will have his second worst season ever and produce a 2 fWAR.  That would put his value around 10 MM.  He would also be worth a 12 MM offer next year and therefore could bring back a draft pick that would be worth about 2 MM.  With a 2012 cost of 7 MM, I see that as 3-5 MM in surplus value.

What does 5 MM get you?

Victor Wang determined the value for different prospects.  The numbers are a bit dated, but not by much as he did account for inflation that wound up not happening in baseball due to the economic stall out and drop.  I do not agree with his methods though as they take averages of value.  I think risk plays a greater role here and there should be a discount.  I would not go as far as to suggest using the median as that ignores the potential to have a player who achieves star status.  That said, I would probably take Wang's values, adjust them for today's market, and simply cut them in half.  It is not a very elegant method, but one that feels more in line with hypothetical value vs. more certain value.

With that in mind, I see Guthrie worth a back end top 100 pitching prospect or two second tier pitching prospects.  The Orioles could also look toward manipulating the value and bringing back an MLB ready arm that has unfulfilled upside and is a change of scenery player.  That is what Tommy Hunter was in the Uehara deal.  Hunter's unfulfilled upside though is that of maybe a 3 slot pitcher on a second division team if we are being kind.  That has use because teams need those kinds of players to round out the innings, but it was something the Rangers could afford to lose as they needed better performance out of the bull pen.

Potential Deals?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have been rumored to be in contact about Guthrie, but he appears to be Plan B or C.  Tyler Chatwood would have been a target, but he was deal in the Ianetta deal.  Other MLB ready arms to look at would be journeyman Jerome Williams or the potentially dependable Garrett Richards.  Michael Kohn could be an interesting arm in the pen if Jerome Williams was the MLB ready arm as Kohn can hold his own in a pen right now.

Texas Rangers
The Rangers need an MLB ready arm to fill in for the absence of CJ Wilson and they have built up a strong working relatonship with the Os.  Scott Feldman would be the MLB ready arm here.  He is at best a back end starter for second division team and really only has one good season to his name.  Feldman is also costing about 4 or 5 MM after arbitration.  I could see Feldman paired with Cody Buckel or Tanner Scheppers.  Both of those pitchers are prospects with a mid-rotation ceiling, but a strong middle relief floor.  Personally, I'd want Robbie Ross and Christian Villanueva as a good southpaw prospect and a corner infielder with some breakout potential.

Washington Nationals
The Nationals would be helped by being able to provide a veteran boost to their starting rotation and fill the role Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis have provided.  A problem though with this matchup is that the Nationals do not have many tweener starting pitchers that could be a buy low proposition for the Orioles.  It could also be argued that with Strasburg, Peacock, Zimmerman, Detwiler, and Lannan among other they already have enough depth.

St. Louis Cardinals
Cardinals have been rumored to be on Mark Buerhle, but the Albert Pujols sweepstakes is locking up a great deal of their ability to spend.  Jeremy Guthrie may prove to be a good secondary option for them.  Setup man Lance Lynn I would think would be the guy the Os would zero in on.  He works in the low 90s as a starter and mid 90s as a reliever.  He would provide the Os with a player with a solid base as they try to make a starter out of him.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have Yonder Alonso and no place to play him.  The Orioles could find him a place at first with Mark Reynolds returning to third or going to left field or even DHing.  They could also add another fringe piece like a Nolan Reimold and see if they could wedge Edinson Volquez out.  I think the Reds would be better off just making Volquez into a reliever.  I think Guthrie would be a great fit for the Reds.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a good number of older pieces and high upside young players.  The only pitcher I could see meeting the Orioles' needs is Nate Eovaldi.  He profiles more as a reliever, but the Dodgers are trying to use him to spell a rotation slot.  The Orioles could take back Juan Uribe to offset cash costs, but would likely get a prospect added.  Chris Withrow would be who I would want as the added prospect.  He has been passed by other arms in the system, but has a plus breaking ball and can produce high heat.

With the new CBA rules, Guthrie's value is at its highest now as any team who trades for him would not be able to pull back compensation draft picks.  If he is dealt now, the receiving team will receive that protection.  That single item has a value of about 2 MM attached to it.  As much as Guthrie means to the team with his mid rotation arm, he likely has more value being dealt out to another team.  The hope is the Orioles do not sell themselves short as they may have done in the Uehara deal by chase 'now' value as opposed to seeking 'future' value.

02 December 2011

Cup of jO's (December 2, 2011): O's and Yoenis Cespedes

Taking a break from the Orioles Top 25 Prospect list, this morning I wanted to give a quick write-up on Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes -- the top international free agent currently on the market (technically, he will not hit the market until his residency is officially established in the Dominican Republic). Baltimore was recently linked to Cespedes by Roch Kubatko at MASN, who wrote on Wednesday that the O's were "interested in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and will watch him work out in the Dominican Republic."

While Cespedes has been closely followed by international evaluators for the last five years, average baseball fans were made aware of his presence this November when his "publicity video" went viral on YouTube (a copy of the video available here), leading to drums of e-ink being spilled by sportswriters around the net. He has been a fixture on the Cuban National Team and was rated by Baseball America as the sixth best prospect at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Putting aside the likelihood of Cespedes electing to sign with Baltimore, is he a target Baltimore should consider? To answer that question as best we can we must look at two items: 1) his skillset and projection, and 2) his likely price.

Scouting Snippet

I haven't seen enough of Cespedes to stand firmly behind a full evaluation -- really my exposure has been limited to video feeds and television broadcasts from international tournaments. The following is my take based on about six or seven in-game views, so assign the requisite level of weight to these thoughts. Also, be sure to crosscheck this report with whatever you can find at BaseballAmerica.com, who routinely leads the pack in coverage of international talents.

Physical Description:
Listed 5-foot-10, 200-pounds. Thick, strong, athletic build. Broad chest and wide, strong hips and trunk. Agility and explosiveness to excess. Moves very well underway; can drag out of the box.

Cespedes's calling card is power and he has lots and lots of it. Because of his physical strength, particularly his monster core, he does not need much load or seperation to give his barrel time to accelerate. With a basic, fairly compact swing he is able to produce enough torque to drive the ball out from pole-to-pole. He doesn't need to sell out for homeruns, but his approach in the box can noticeably falter when he gets too focused on trying to force hard contact. This isn't evident in a loss of balance, head pull, or leak, but you will see some backside collapse at times and, more often, he'll extend early and come around the ball, creating holes and some lag in the barrel. There is significant bat wrap, but he seems to overcome it with his bat speed. Raw power grades at a 65, though his in-game realization could be closer to 55 against advanced MLB arms. Hitting could be anywhere from a 40 to a 55 depending on how capable he proves at making adjustments at the Major League level.

Cespedes has more than enough footspeed to cover gap-to-gap in center, and shows a very good drop-step back on balls. He isn't a natural fielder, but shows comfort in the outfield. He can try to do too much at times, and could possibly benefit from pro instruction as to how to play more within his tools -- not getting overly aggressive with his throws and setting up his routes a little better. His arm is an easy 60, though his accuracy can come and go due to his set-up and arm action. I would have no issue believing his glove can grade as a 60 if told so by someone who has spent more time sitting on him, but my limited views lead me to give a more conservative 50 grade.

Cespedes is a difficult assignment for evaluators. His physical tools are phenominal, and he has a track record of performing against high level competition (albeit inconsistent and varying talent levels from player to player) both in Cuba and through international tournaments. Still, there is a large degree of uncertainty as to how a player in his situation ultimately reacts to the change in culture, lifestyle, on-field pressure and media scrutiny when making the adjustment from life in Cuba to life as a professional baseball player in the United States.

The safest course of action is likely providing him the opportunity to spend at least half of a season at Triple-A, allowing him to adjust to the pro game outside of the national broadcasts and nightly highlight wraps that accompany MLB games. With limited looks, it is very difficult to wager a guess as to the likelihood that Cespedes is suited to make the transition to the Majors with his production intact. For purposes of this exercise, we'll slap a consertive grade report as follows:

Hit: 45
Power: 55/60
Speed: 60
Arm: 60
Fielding: 45/50
Feel: 45
OFP: 52-56

*Click here for primer on Grades

What we have, for purposes of this exercise, is a potential first division starting center fielder, with some risk that he will not make enough contact for his power to fully emerge at the highest level.

Price Tag

Aroldis Chapman currently holds the record for initial contract given to a Cuban defector, with the Reds handing him a deal $30.25 million over six years. Cespedes figures to easily eclipse that contract, and is rumored to be looking for more than $60 million over six years. At 26-years old, he is entering his physical prime, with his signing Major League team getting his best years for the term of their investment. Significant interest from some potentially big spending clubs (including the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies and Nationals) would seem to all but ensure a big pay day for the standout Cuban outfielder -- for purposes of this exercise we will use a conservative estimate of $60 million over six years. Keep in mind that if Cespedes ends-up at Triple-A for three months, you are eating away part of the value of that first year -- in effect driving the annual price up to around $11 million a year.


Our "scouty" report projects Cespedes to a solid to above-average first division starter, and his upside is that of a five-tooled multiple all-star talent. A 6/60 deal for that type of player would seem to be a steal, particularly for a player entering his best four or five years of production and physicality. The sixty-million dollar question, however, is one of probability.

While evaluators can find comfort in Cespedes's successful track record in Cuba and on the international scene, it is a tall order to ask that evaluator to stake $60 million dollars, maybe more, on that production translating against the best competition in the world. Add to that an inconsistent track record for Cuban defectors and the larger issue of cultural adjustments and the ability to perform under the weight of the media scrutiny and expectations that accompany a record-setting contract, and the evaluator's task of filing a suggested price starts to more closely resemble a game of darts (skilled darts, but darts nonetheless).

Ultimately, for Baltimore, the likelihood is that so long as the big spenders remain interested the price tag will be problematic when considering the risk you are taking on. Additionally, the Orioles may be looking at a situation where they are forced to overpay the market in order to convince Cespedes to turn down a better competitive and higher profile situation in New York, or perhaps a more Cubano-centric situation in a city like Miami.

Cespedes is worth a long look from Baltimore, and the return on investment has a chance to be the type of "hit" that the Orioles will need to have if the organization hopes to turn things around any time soon. Unfortunately, the potential of having $10 million or so tied-up in a fringe-average regular (if things don't break right for Cespedes in his transition), in addition to the combined approximately $47.5 million owed to Roberts and Markakis over the next two seasons, and escalating prices for Baltimore's arbitration-eligible youngsters, could severely limit spending in any other areas, including extending some of the younger Birds.

Were Baltimore a more complete team at the Major League level, or a more wealthy team in terms of prospects in their system, this may be a risk worth taking. But the Birds need to focus inward on systemic changes before a high risk/high reward investment like Cespedes makes sense.

30 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #10 Dan Klein

Follow us on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Player: Dan Klein
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-2/190
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 23y3m
2011 level(s): Advanced-A Frederick; Double-A Bowie
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Motion: 50 (50)
Fastball: 50 (50)
Curveball: 50 (55)
Change: 50 (50/55)
Slider: 40 (45)
Control: 50 (60)
Command: 50 (55)
Feel: 50/55 (55)
Overall Future Potential: 46-52
Prospect Grade: B-

*Click here for primer on Grades

Drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2010 Draft, out of UCLA, and signed for almost $499,900. Multi-sport athlete in high school and national level prospect in both baseball and football. Missed sophomore year at UCLA after shoulder surgery and pitched exclusively in relief thereafter.

Physical Description:
Broad upper-body, well developed and tapered to a medium waist. Athletic build. Durable physique but history of shoulder issues. Good athleticism and body control.

Klein utilizes a simple step-in motion, staying udner control and repeating well. He shows a quick arm with fairly easy action, though he comes close to a hard stab, dropping the ball low to his hip before entering a semi-short arm circle. There is potential for some shoulder strain with that pairing, and with his shoulder surgery in 2009, and now again in 2011, it is worth monitoring. He stays relatively quick to home, often clocking sub-1.3s on the watch.

Fastball - Klein gets good life on his fastball, running it in on righties with late action. It generally sits 91-93 mph and can come with good bore. He spots it well to each side and shows an understanding of how to use it to set-up his curve, change and slider, depending on the situation.

Curve - a 12-to-6 breaker, Klein's curve is at its best when he throws it in the 76-78 mph range, getting solid shape and depth. He can use it as a freeze pitch but is most effective at this point when he buries it. Klein shows a high level of comfort with wthe offering, and there is enough spin to project it as a potential above-average pitch.

Change-up - Klein's change is generally 85-86 mph, showing drop and even some late fade. It is most effective down in the zone and he has found some success working it under the hands against lefties. The pitch was inconsistent at UCLA, turning flat and hittable up in the zone, but he has since improved his execution. A feel pitch, he will need to demonstrate his latest trip to the surgeon has not set him back.

Slider - The least effective of his offerings, Klein's slider is an 84-86 mph breaker with below average depth and bite. It works well as a change of pace pitch with tilt, breaking opposite his change and inducing soft contact. Like his change, when he misses the pitch it is hittable, though that doesn't stop him from getting aggressive with it. His arm speed produces plenty of spin, so reps should help the pitch reach Major League average in time.

2011 started about as well as it could for Klein, as he breezed through Advanced-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie with little trouble. Throwing exclusively from the pen, Klein utilized his four pitch mix effectively in posting a SO/9 rate of 10.3 and SO/BB rate of 6.17 over 32.1 innings. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely in June due to tenderness in his shoulder. He was shut down and underwent surgery to repair a SLAP tear in his right labrum.

Regardless of Klein's timetable for return, this setback is a major blow to Baltimore's plans to transition the former UCLA closer to the rotation. Klein has yet to surpass 52 innings in a season since he did so between his high school junior spring and summer, back in 2006. He will pitch most of 2012 as a 24-year old, and it would likely be another three years before he builds up the arm strength and endurance necessary to log 150+ innings.

When healthy, Klein is essentially ready to tackle Major League hitters in a limited relief role. He lacks the putaway stuff to make him a viable shutdown arm, but his solid pitchability and stable of average or above offerings could make him an above-average reliever with 8th inning potential. His health will be the primary determinant in how Klein ultimately develops, and his setbacks in this department are the primary discounting factor in his OFP grade of 46-52.

Ceiling: Late-inning reliever
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Useful middle reliever

A second look at Yu Darvish

A few weeks back we looked at how to translate Yu Darvish's performance in the Japanese Player's League to Major League Baseball.  That projection system put Darvish as being capable of throwing an FIP of 2.82 in a league average environment.  That is rather exceptional and seemed unrealistic.  Instead, after looking at the limited data I had at hand...I suggested that he looked more like a 3.50 FIP pitcher.  A couple issue with the translation is that it was based on three data points and those three data points were awfully successful data points with greater weight being given to the pitchers who threw more innings.  In other words, there was a bit of a survivor bias.

To make a different and potential better system, I compared that model's prediction to the actual performance of six recent transitions from JPL to MLB: Hiroki Kuroda. Dice-K, Kenshin Kawakami, Colby Lewis, Koji Uehara, and Ryota Igarashi.  These six pitchers were given equal weight in the translation.  Last time, I present the coefficients as values to divide.  This time to make things less confusing in the future, these values are to be multiplied by the JPL numbers.
Original System Coefficients
K - 0.93
BB - 1.81
HR - 1.24

New System Coefficients
K - 0.98
BB - 2.6
HR - 1.93

15th Percentile Coefficients
K - 0.83
BB - 3.34
HR - 2.53

85th Percentile Coefficients
K - 1.13
BB - 1.83
HR - 1.33

One of the improvements here is that we now have a range that covers 70% of the possible outcomes.  Here is what Darvish's projections look like now over 200 IP:
15th percentile - 177 K, 137 BB, 15 HR, 4.49 FIP
50th percentile - 209 K, 106 BB, 12 HR, 3.47 FIP
85th percentile - 240 K, 75 BB, 8 HR, 2.43 FIP

If Darvish maintains this performance over five years, these are the following WARs and associated values he would be worth:
15th percentile - 5.9 WAR, 29.5 MM
50th percentile - 13.9 WAR, 69.5 MM
85th percentile - 24 WAR, 120 MM

It appears that my first approximation of Darvish's value may have been a bit bullish.  It was based on an aggressive projection and an aggressive assumption on contract inflation (about 10% as opposed to my normal 5% assumption).  That said, it was a pretty decent approximation of value given that I did not think long about it.  Now, I would say the a more reasonable approximation would be some a mix of 70 MM between the posting fee and a five year deal.

What will make it worth Yu Darvish's time?

Darvish made 6.6 MM last year for the Nippon Ham Fighters.  If he does not agree to a contract after this year or next, Darvish would be a free agent after the 2013 season.  If he was to stay in Japan, he could see 13 MM over the next two years and then come across the Pacific as a free agent.  If he maintains his play, he should be worth about 15 MM in the open market.  Over five years, he could earn 58 MM.  If I was his agent, I would be floating 12 MM per year as what to expect in order to sign a contract, but be willing to accept something as low as 45 MM.  There has to be some concern about getting injured in the next couple years.

Suggested move to get Darvish:
30 MM posting fee / 5 years, 40 MM

Likely move to get Darvish:
50 MM posting fee / 5 years, 50 MM

29 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #9 Clayton Schrader

Follow us on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Player: Clayton Schrader
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-0/200
B/T: L/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y7m
2011 level(s): Class A Delmarva; Advanced-A Frederick
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Motion: 35 (40/45)
Fastball: 50 (60)
Slider: 45 (55/60)
Curveball: 40 (45/50)
Change: Not scouted
Control: 25/30 (40)
Command: 20/25 (35/40)
Feel: 35/40 (45/50)
Overall Future Potential: 46-52
Prospect Grade: B-

*Click here for primer on Grades

Drafted in the 10th Round of the 2010 Draft, out of San Jacinto College(Texas), and signed for overslot bonus of $300,000.

Physical Description:
Broad build, wide hips. Strong, especially in core and trunk. Some room to firm up physique and improve conditioning.

Schrader throws from an elevated three-quarters arm slot and matches it well with his fastball and breaking balls. Because he doesn't pair the slot with a corresponding tilt, there is some concern for future shoulder injury (though that is off course dependent on the structural specifics of his joint). His delivery, which produces mid-90s velocity, comes with a lot of effort, including a rigid landing and extreme head whack and arm recoil to finish. The result is well below average control and a limited number of pitches in his arm per appearance. While he will be able to smooth out his landing some, much of his mechanics "are what they are," and Baltimore will likely take the good (loud stuff) with the bad (control and limited profile).

Fastball - Big plus offering that runs low- to mid-90s with some life. Schrader will spray the strikezone with the pitch, but has little command to spots.

Slider - Mid-80s offering with hard bite and tilt. Arm slot deception and true swing-and-miss ability. Potential plus offering down the line.

Curve - Downer 78 to 82 mph offering utilized more at San Jacinto than in 2011. Serves as a useful counter to his harder offerings due to velocity delta.

Change-up - Not scouted.

"Clay Shray" is a big arm with big control issues at present, though a slightly softer landing can help him keep his momentum more consistently to home and prevent some off his swing-around. While his arm angle raises some potential red flags from a biomechanical standpoint, it helps him to create a solid downhill plane, even with his listed 6-foot frame. He does an adequate job of hitting his slot consistently and just needs to find a way to stay in the zone with a little more frequency.

While the walk rate is the critique most likely to be touched upon in internet reports, he should be able to survive with 4+ BB/9 at the Major League level due to his ability to minimize baserunning threats by missing bats. That said, he will walk hitters and, like Fernando Rodney, may actually fit better in the closer role than as a 7th or 8th inning arm. This would allow him to enter the majority of his games with clean bases and would help to minimize the potential damage resulting from his inevitable base-on-balls.

Perhaps most important, Baltimore will need Schrader to work on his endurance. While the effort in his delivery causes control issues, the drain on his energy is perhaps more impactful. He is noticeably less effective the more pitches he hangs on his arm per appearance, and as a result Baltimore endeavored to keep him from appearing on back-to-back days. Double-A Bowie will represent his first true pro challenge and will help to ground his projection. If he is able to maintain his power stuff on back-to-back days, and can clean-up his mechanics enough to get his BB/9 down between 4 and 5, he could be a useful bullpen piece in Baltimore as early as the second half of next year. He has the upside profile of a Jorge Julio.

Ceiling: Late-inning reliever
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Useful middle reliever

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #8 Jason Esposito

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Player: Jason Esposito
Position: third base
Ht/Wt: 6-2/205
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y4m
2011 level(s): N/A
2011 statistics: N/A

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 35 (40/45)
Power: 40 (45/50)
Arm: 60 (60)
Defense: 55 (65)
Speed: 45 (40)
Feel: 50 (50/55)
Overall Future Potential: 46-52
Prospect Grade: B-

*Click here for primer on Grades

2nd Round selection in the 2011 draft, out of Vanderbilt University. Signed for overslot bonus of $600,000. Previously drafted and unsigned in 2008 by Kansas City.

Physical Description:
Solid, athletic build. Wide hips with strong trunk and core. Pro body with little projection left, but should be able to tighten physique as he finishes maturing.

Espo takes with him to the plate a solid approach, including a good feel for the strikezone. His swing is compact and he covers the quadrants fairly well. There is enough strength in his wrists to allow him to transfer power from his core to the bat, and he shows that pop by producing hard contact from pole-to-pole. Esposito's bat speed is the primary chink in his armor, and he has struggled mightily when armed with lumber against more advanced competition on the Cape and with Team USA. An issue tangential to his bat speed is pitch-ID. Because he needs to start his swing early to catch-up with better velocity, good off-speed offerings can give him trouble. Additionally, he utilizes a medium-high leg kick in his stride, which cuts into his ability to adjust his timing on the fly.

Esposito shows easy footwork and soft hands straight on, though his lower-half can drag some on the move. This makes third base the best fit for him, and the former Vandy infielder has enough arm to man the hot corner at the Major League level. There is enough athleticism in Espo's game to allow him to hold down second base if so required, and he could even play a passable shortstop in an emergency (though extended exposure there would like prove his range and footwork to be lacking at the outer reaches of his zone). He is a below-average runner but moves well enough to cover an outfielder corner, completing his profile as a potential utility talent.

Esposito was a highly touted high schooler and a high follow entering his junior year at Vanderbilt in spite of back-to-back uninspiring summers on the Cape and a half-summer with USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team. His stock took a hit when his spotty offensive performance with the new BBCOR bats (which have a smaller sweetspot and less trampoline than the previous composite bats) forced evaluators to consider more strongly his average bat speed, and whether his impressive sophomore year with the 'Dores would eventually resurface in pro ball.

Despite the questions surrounding his offensive game, Esposito boasts a reasonably high floor off the strength of his glove. He can get a little clunky when forced to operate on the move and at the edge of his range, but could be a true standout defender if allowed to focus his efforts at third base. His pivots and footwork around the bag are solid, and his hands and approach will allow him to provide value at second base, as well as shortstop in a limited capacity, should Baltimore need him to log innings across the infield.

Esposito's well documented struggles to perform with wood, as well as the not-insignificant decrease in OBP (.453 to .403), SLG (.599 to .530), and BB/SO rate (0.97 to 0.38) from his sophomore to junior year, all raise questions about whether or not he will hit enough at the upper-levels to justify an everyday spot on a first division team. The glove could be double-plus quality at third, but he will need to find a way to barrel more off-speed pitches. He has enough raw power that he could be a 15-20 homerun bat if he squares-up enough balls.

Ceiling: Average third baseman on first division team
Floor: Four-A placeholder or injury insurance
Projected: Utility infielder/outfielder

28 November 2011

The Orioles are a Small Market Team

That title probably brought a number of you here to read this column and tell me how I am wrong.  Not only wrong, I imagine some of you might call me blinded by Dan Duquette's words over the past few weeks that suggest he considers the team a small market ballclub ("I learned in a small market, I applied my skills in a small market, to put together a top-quality team").

Mind you, I did not feel that Baltimore was a small market town.  I have always bought into the idea of the Orioles being a sleeping baseball giant as Peter Gammons used to say.  However, my own personal journey challenging that thought emerged as I began as I began traveling around to other cities.  I began to realize how small Baltimore is and how much of the city is probably not all that interested in baseball or inclined to spend money on it.  Add that to some of the money from corporations, perhaps, being siphoned off to the Nationals who are trying hard to be a well liked team (to varying success).  At this point, I became comfortable with Baltimore being a mid-market town, which made sense with respect to information available on how money is dispersed in Major League Baseball.  However, they calculate these things, the Orioles (in the few years available) were right in the middle neither giving or receiving much of anything.  

Recently, Dan Duquette referred to the Orioles as a small market team in being introduced to the fan base and in several interviews thereafter.  Are these valid statements?  Have we been in a situation akin to the frog that sit in a pot of water slowly coming to boil?  Do we not realize we are being boiled...or fading as a city of importance.  It would seem to fit the motif of an old port and steel city that is being marginalized by outsourcing of materials and a trade deficit.  It is also something that was harped on with the Wire.

My methodology was simple.  I consulted four sources:
AL East Rankings

TV Market Rank: 27th
Radio Market Rank: 21st
Population Rank: 21st
GDP Rank: 19th

TV Market Rank: 7th
Radio Market Rank: 10th
Population Rank: 22nd
GDP Rank: 9th

New York
TV Market Rank: 1st
Radio Market Rank: 1st
Population Rank: 1st
GDP Rank: 1st

TV Market Rank: 14th
Radio Market Rank: 19th
Population Rank: 55th
GDP Rank: 23rd

(not in United States, so we have to use different sources)
TV Market Rank: Between 4th ranked Philadelphia and 5th ranked Dallas
Radio Market Rank: Between 14th ranked Seattle and 15th ranked Pheonix
Population Rank: Between 3rd ranked Chicago and 4th ranked Houston
GDP Rank: Between 11th ranked Miami and 12th ranked Seattle

The data tends to indicate that the Orioles are likely a low mid-market team or a high small market team.  Camden Yards, a greater population, and a history probably helps the Orioles sustain a higher revenue than the Rays have.  It also helps that the Orioles' regional market deal helps them siphon cash away from the potential gold mine of the Washington DC market.  Of course, DC has had issues with properly supporting the team.  The last time a DC team was dominant was probably back in the late 1860s and early 1870s when the Treasury Department bankrolled the team.

Back to Baltimore, we might have to get use to the idea that this team cannot spend as much money as teams in Arlington or Boston.  The Orioles are at a competitive disadvantage and it makes it difficult for the team to succeed.  It requires a top notch front office that is efficient with how it invests its money and that has not been the MO of the team over the past couple decades (or ever?).  Even the great teams of the 60s and 70s were built on a foundation of out spending teams for bonus babies prior to the implementation of the draft. 

The Orioles were big spenders back in the day, so how did their population size compare back then?

Baltimore does appear to have stabilized in population and one hopes the same is true about the amount of money the team is able to take in from the surrounding area.  During the 1990s Baltimore began successfully (to a degree) shifting from blue collar to white collar commerce and production.  The city is still well behind New York, Boston, and Toronto in terms of available money coming from media deals.  I boiled it down to two things: (1) the Orioles are a threshold middle/small market team and (2) they are in a worst potential revenue market than three of the five teams in the AL East.

25 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #7 Parker Bridwell

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Player: Parker Bridwell
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-4/190
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 20y3m
2011 level(s): SS-A Aberdeen; Class A Delmarva
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Motion: 40/45 (50)
Fastball: 50 (55/60)
Slider/Cutter: 45 (55)
Curveball: 40 (45/50)
Change: 40 (50)
Control: 40 (45/50)
Command: 35/40 (45/50)
Feel: 40 (50)
Overall Future Potential: 47-53
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

Drafted in the 9th Round of the 2010 Draft, out of Hereford High School (Hereford, Texas), and signed for overslot bonus of $625,000. Multi-sport athlete in high school and national level prospect in both baseball and football.

Physical Description:
Long, athletic build with projection. Broad shoulders to wide hips with medium-high waist. Long limbs; solid body control.

Bridwell begins with a simple step-in to his motion. He is long on the backside and there are some checkpoints that could point to periodic stress on the ulnar collateral ligament, though that is highly dependent on the specifics of his elbow structure. Bridwell throws from a three-quarters slot with some cross-fire and first base falloff. While Bridwell is an excellent athlete, he is still working to rein in his long limbs and make uniform his mechanics. His stride length varies, which combines with his long arm action to throw off his release point and, in turn, both his control and consistency in his secondaries (his curve, in particular). He is relatively quick to home, considering his size, but needs to vary his pacing in order to prevent runners from timing him.

Fastball - Heavy 90-92 sinker that bumped to the mid-90s at various points this summer. When he drives the pitch down in the zone he induces a lot of soft contact -- a trend that should continue through the lower levels. He will need to improve his command of the offering, as more discerning bats will learn to lay off the pitch as it bores.

Slider/Cutter - Good arm slot deception and late cut when he snaps off a good one. Good pairing with his sinker and makes it very difficult for batters to barrel balls when Bridwell has both offerings working.

Curve - Arm generates heavy spin and there is a potential for this to develop into an above-average pitch, as well, if he can find consistency in his release. 11-to-5 action and will flash big depth. 10-13 mph velocity delta and ability to hit his fastball arm slot also makes the pitch a viable off-speed offering.

Change-up - The rawest of his arsenal, Bridwell's change-up is better than the rudimentary version on display prior to being drafted. It is a feel pitch that will require continued reps, but he has shown enough growth to project it to average.

Bridwell's biggest challenge will be finding consistency in his stride and uniformity in his arm action. If he can improve in those departments, he is well suited to develop into a workhorse starter with a couple of above-average to plus offerings. It is unlikely he will ever be surgical with his pitches, but so long as he can spot his heavy fastball and slider he should be able to manage his pitch counts through soft contact.

There is also some ceiling here. With big arm strength and noticeable progress already being made with his change-up, Bridwell has the upside of a #3 starter. While his command may limit his ability to reach that upside, Bridwell is still young with plenty of time to smooth out the kinks. He struggled in his first taste of full season ball this past summer, but rebounded impressively at Aberdeen, where he threw with visably more confidence and comfort.

If command or a useful third pitch prove problematic long term, Bridwell could be well suited to step into a relief role as an 8th inning arm or closer. He will continue to add strength over the coming years, making it possible to project fringe plus-plus velocity for the Texan once matured and throwing in shorter stints. The thought of a durable power arm with a grounder-inducing sinker/slider combo, however, should keep him in a rotation as long as he continues to develop. He will likely tackle Delmarava in 2012 with a half-season in Advanced-A Frederick if things break right.

Ceiling: #2/#3 starter on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: #4 starter on first division team or late-inning arm

24 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from the Depot

One thing I am thankful for is this:

Download it for 99 cents (No, we do not get a kickback for this. Enjoy)

22 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #6 Nicky Delmonico

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Player: Nicky Delmonico
Position: third base/first base
Ht/Wt: 6-2/200
B/T: L/R
Age at 11/2011: 19y4m
2011 level(s): N/A
2011 statistics: N/A

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 35 (50)
Power: 35 (55/60)
Arm: 40/45 (45)
Defense: 35/40 (45/50)
Speed: 40/45 (40)
Feel: 40/45 (50/55)
Overall Future Potential: 47-53
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

6th Round selection in the 2011 draft, out of Farragut HS (Knoxville, Tenn.). Signed for mid-1st Round money, receiving a $1,525,000. Heavy bloodlines;.

Physical Description:
Strong, thick build. Broad shoulders and wide through hips with muscular core and trunk. Lacks projection but athletic and already looks the part.

When everything clicks, Delmonico shows an easy swing and generates good leverage and power. He takes an impressive BP and is capable of spraying balls from line-to-line. In-game, he shows a good approach for a prep talent, though he has yet to be challenged by advanced stuff on a day-to-day basis. On good days Delmonico shows balance and good whip in his barrel. On bad days, he creates too much length in his load, gets uphill with his swing plane and can extend early causing some drag in his barrel.

Delmonico spent his scouting circuit summer and senior spring behind the plate, but consistently struggled with his transfer, footwork and throws. Mechanics aside, Delmonico's throws show consistent bow and it is far from certain that he will have enough arm strength to make all the throws from the hot corner -- his announced position on draft day. Additionally, Delmonico's lower-half could give him trouble in the infield, though his hands should play well at either of the corners. Defense is an area that can develop quickly under pro instruction and a full-time baseball schedule yielding plenty of reps. He should get a couple of seasons to knock around the infield while Baltimore determines if there is a long-term fit at third. If not, his future success will ride entirely on the development of his bat.

Delmonico represents a significant draft investment, netting the largest ever bonus paid by the Orioles outside of the 1st Round. There is big offensive upside that could come by way of a solid average defensive third baseman, but that tantalizing package is spotted with risk. Delmonico has not been able to produce in-game showings indicative of his natural talent on a consistent basis since the first half of the summer before his senior year of high school, and it is worth considering whether his bonus will serve as a relieving influence on his game or added pressure to produce.

With the skillset to grow into a legit .285/.360/.525 bat, Delmonico could provide an impressive compliment to the Machado/Schoop pairing scheduled to reach Baltimore at some point in 2013 or 2014. Given his background, the expectation should be that his transition to the pro ball lifestyle should be a smooth one, though concerns over his uneven results under the draft scrutiny of his senior year have some evaluators convinced that Delmonico would be better off easing into his first pro season in extended spring training. He'll turn 20 next July, so there is some sense of urgency to get him going.

Were Delmonico a year younger or a better bet to stick at third base, he could easily have snuck into the Supplemental-1st Round, even with his rocky spring. But there are a number of potential pitfalls facing the Tennessee native and, given his limited defensive profile, an immense amount of pressure on both his hit and power tools developing into impact weapons. Outside of Dylan Bundy, he may have the highest ceiling in the 2011 draft class -- albeit with a weighty boom/bust profile.

Ceiling: Above-average third baseman on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Fringe-average first baseman on second division team

21 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #5 L.J. Hoes

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Player: L.J. Hoes
Position: left field/second base
Ht/Wt: 6-1/185
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y8m
2011 level(s): Advanced-A Frederick; Double-A Bowie
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 40/45 (55/60)
Power: 40 (45/50)
Arm: 50 (50)
Defense: 45 (50)
Speed: 50 (50)
Feel: 45 (50)
Overall Future Potential: 48-54
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

3rd Round selection in the 2008 Draft, drafted out of St. John's College HS (Chevy Chase, Md.).

Physical Description:
Medium frame but bloodlines and body type to project some strength. Solid athlete, though lower-half can drag at times. Average runner.

Hoes is a natural hitter, utilizing good balance, quick hands and a compact swing. Already in possession of a strong core, Hoes continues to firm-up his physique and could be capable of fringe-average to average power in the future, with 2012 standing out as a potential "jump" year in power production (setting aside the pitching-friendly confines of Norfolk). The only real knocks that prevent him from projecting to a true plus hit tool are some tendencies for defensive at bats and an inability to consistently match swing plane to pitch plane. He can improve in both areas, but even if he doesn't he should make plenty of contact, work walks and hit for enough pop to keep pitchers honest.

Hoes was shifted out to left field upon arriving at Bowie. While Baltimore staff has indicated that they still view second base as a viable option for him, he will project as an outfielder until the organization decides to commit time to him at second base. A center fielder as an amateur, Hoes could provide average or a tick above-average defense in left, with enough footspeed to cover the gap, an adequate arm and solid feel. Further, he is worth at least a look in center field come March.

While the overall ceiling is lower, Hoes' hit tool may rank with Machado and Schoop. He shows easy command of the strikezone and the high level of comfort in the box that often belies a successful Major Leaguer. While a shift to a corner position traditionally puts more evaluative emphasis on the power tool, Hoes could get on base enough to provide solid value without hitting 20+ homeruns a year. That notwithstanding, the developing strength in Hoes' core and hands combined with his ability to discern pitches to drive could help him to realize a jump in power production as early as next summer.

Defensively, Hoes would clearly be more valuable as an up-the-middle glove. If the switch to left field proves permanent, however, he could still be capable of providing solid defense out of the seven-spot. Aside from the additional pressure on the bat, Hoes may need to do the little things on the bases to ensure that the total value package adds up to starter-quality.

Hoes will likely get knocked by a number of prospectors due to the position switch, but he so long as he continues to hit he will continue to get the benefit of the doubt here. 2012 should show whether the organization is interested in returning to the experiment with second base, or if Hoes is in left field to stay. To the extent he is stuck in the corner, he will look to prove he has enough pop to keep Triple-A and Major League arms honest, and that his success at Bowie wasn't simply a product of his .354 BABIP. With minimal growth, you can squint and see a Gerardo Parra-esque profile.

Ceiling: Average left fielder on first division team
Floor: 4th or 5th outfielder; bench bat
Projected: Fringe-average left fielder on second division team

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #4 Bobby Bundy (rhp)

Follow us on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Player: Robert "Bobby" Bundy
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-2/215
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y11m
2011 level(s): Advanced-A Frederick; Double-A Bowie
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Motion: 45/50 (55)
Fastball: 45/50 (55)
Curveball: 40/45 (55/60)
Slider: 40/45 (50)
Change: 35/40 (50)
Control: 45/50 (50/55)
Command: 35/40 (50)
Feel: 40 (50)
Overall Future Potential: 51-56
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

Drafted in the 8th Round of the 2008 Draft, out of Sperry High School (Sperry, Okla.), and signed for overslot bonus of $600,000. Top 100 talent that dropped in the draft in large part due to knee injury during basketball season. Played his senior year with younger brother Dylan Bundy(rhp), who subsquently transfered to Owasso HS (Owasso, Okla.) and was the fourth overall selection in the 2011 Draft, also by Baltimore. Bobby spent 2011 as a starter for the Frederick Keys (Advanced-A, Baltimore system) before finishing the season at Bowie (Double-A, Baltimore system).

Physical Description:
Strong, workhorse build on broad, athletic frame. Thick throughout, with even distribution. Solid athleticism and body control. Moves reasonably well off of mound.

Long arm action on the backside creates an inconsistent launch point as Bundy begins to rotate through. It is possible this could be addressed through utilization of a straight drop arm to begin his arm circle, as opposed to his current approach of swinging into it. In any event, it is an issue that development staff will likely address. The rest of his mechanics are generally uniform and repeatable, with a smooth plant and follow. The result is solid control but an inability to consistently hit his spots within the zone. His three-quarters slot works well for all four of his offerings, and there is obvious athleticism in his actions.

Fastball - Upper-80s to low-90s heavy heater that can run in to righties, as well. Will flatten up in the zone some, and Bundy isn't as precise with the pitch as he will need to be in order to reach his mid-rotation ceiling.

Curve - Power breaker that will flash plus on a 12-to-6 trajectory, but can grade as low as below-average when he loses his release. The inconsistencies in this pitch are likely a direct result of his varying launch points.

Slider - Like his curve, Bundy's slider is plagued by inconsistencies due to his issues with repeating his release point. At it's best, it can be an average to slightly above-average pitch right now and pairs well with his sinking fastball when he is able to keep it down in the zone.

Change-up - While Bundy has grown his offspeed since his high school days, it still remains the weakest of his offerings and leaves him without a suitable weapon for handling lefties.

Bundy has made steady progress through the Orioles system, and 2011 served as a breakout year for the righty from a production standpoint. A likely unsustainably low BABIP against left-handed hitters (.267 against lefties; .313 against righties) kept his left/right splits more balanced than they should have been. Even then, lefites out OPSed righties to tune of the following slash lines: .221/.313/.392/.705 against lefties; .263/.317/.375/.692 against righties. Perhaps most telling, Bundy's SO/BB ratio against lefties (1.81) is less than half of that against righties (4.27).

The good news is that Bundy's issues appear to be fairly easy to identify. In order for his command in the zone to increase, and the consistency of his secondaries to increase, Bundy will need to find a way to hit is backside checkpoints more consistently. The second glaring weakness is his lack of a consistent weapon with which to attack lefties. His change-up is improving, and provided he is able to clean-up the backside of his arm action some, he should have little trouble growing it into at least an average offering. Further, improved command and execution of his secondaries will lead to more missed bats, as it will lead to fewer spots missed and more frequent effective showings of his power curve and slider.

As a 21-year old in Advanced-A ball, Bundy put together a very strong year. As encouraging as his final stat line was, the fact that he cruised through the season with very few issues until his late season promotion to Bowie is cause for great optimism. The only real hiccup was his June, which included five starts and an FIP of over 5 (as opposed to his April, May and July of 1.36, 3.59 and 3.11, respectively). He reached 136 innings pitched in 2011 and is poised to break the 150 innings threshold in 2012. He projects as a durable 200-plus innings eater with a chance for two above-average pitches and four usable Major League offerings. If his command and his secondaries do not improve over the next two seasons, he still has value as a swing man or a middle-reliever that could bump the mid-90s in shorter stints.

Ceiling: #3 starter on first division team
Floor: Middle-reliever/swingman
Projected: #4 starter on first division team

20 November 2011

Oriole Rule 5 Target: Thomas Pham

Lots of hay in the Rule 5
Yes, I am going to waste your time.  I am going to write about a player who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft.  There is a type of player who might be the best to focus on.  That type is the player who was injured the year before.  In the previous column, I mentioned Cody Satterwhite and his labrum tear that limited him to ten innings last year as he rehabbed in rookie ball.  Another player who was limited was the 23 year old Cardinals' center fielder Thomas Pham.

In 2006, Thomas Pham was a name everyone knew coming out of high school in Las Vegas.  His Baseball America scouting report at the time mentions him as a prospect who could be seen as either an infielder or a pitcher.  He threw in the low 90s and flashed a plus slider.  He was seen more as an offensive hitter, drawing comparisons to Scott Hairston.  He hit the ball solidly and used his plus speed on the base paths.  Baseball America's assumption was that he would go sometime in the top five rounds and be overslotted.  However, there were some doubts about his maturity.  Pham was considered lackadaisical on defense and walked back on a commitment to Arizona State.  In the end, Pham was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 16th round and signed for 325k (roughly 3rd/4th round money).

The Cardinals tried him out at shortstop, but that last only for rookie ball.  For 2007 and onward, Pham was positioned almost exclusively in center field.  By all accounts, he did not take naturally to the position, but has improved with time.  His plus speed and a better understanding of route running has made him passable in center field.  His plus arm helped him record an assist once every 7 games last year.  He would not look pretty in the majors in center field, but those two attributes should be passable.

Pham also had difficulty showing himself to be a bat first prospect.  He struggled with the Mendoza Line in rookie ball, low A, A, and high A ball.  In his second pass through A ball in Quad Cities, he mashed 17 home runs in 346 plate appearances as a 20 year old.  However, he batted .218 and struck out 36% of the time.  The Cardinals kept pushing him up the ladder though and everything seemed to click performance-wise in AA.  His K rate dropped to 22% over 2010 and 2011 which works nicely with a maintained walk rate of about 11%.  His AA line has been 314/398/527.  If he had not broken his wrist 40 games into the 2011 season while go after a potential home run ball, I think he would have been protected.

How could the Orioles hold onto him for a season?

The Orioles need a fourth outfielder.  Pham is likely not to be league average, but he has the tools to be adequate in any of the three outfield slots.  He has experience in center and left while Reimold has spent time in both left and right.  Pham also has plus speed and has shown some ability to use that speed on the base paths.  Those qualities could make him workable in a pinch if an outfielder goes down for a few weeks.  He 306 plate appearances at AA do not suggest he is ready to make the leap to MLB, but he has shown good gap power and improved contact.  Pham would be better served by spending the year in the minors, but it may be worth it for a bad team to try to use him.

The alternative to Pham is using Kyle Hudson or Matt Angle in the outfield.  Hudson has more talent than Angle and Angle has more skill than Hudson.  Neither are likely to be anything more than fringe fourth outfielders.  Angle has a better chance to stick because he can play plus defense in center.  Pham, though, has the ability to be useful in center and carry an average to above average bat if everything clicks.  Additionally, if his broken wrist is still a problem, the Orioles might be able to stash him on the DL for a while.

As I mentioned earlier, the Rule 5 is full of unfulfilled potential, broken bodies, and guys who have one moderately amazing tool.  Any player you select is highly unlikely to provide any value to your team.  That does not mean there are no players of value.  It means that the ability to discern potential talent and be blessed (cursed?) with the opportunity to hold onto that talent is miniscule.  Pham is likely to not be a contributor at the MLB level now or perhaps even in the future.  He is a fringe top 20 prospect.  That said, maybe he is worth a look.

19 November 2011

Assortment of Rule 5 Eligible Players

Cesar Cabral could be taken again in Rule 5.
The Rule 5 draft is one of those things that irritate me.  It is an event that has lost any meaning it use to have and is merely discussed because, simply, it takes place.  For instance, there has been concern that a Pedro Viola remains on the Orioles' 40 man roster while someone like Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year Tim Bascom was not protected (unprotected for the second year in a row).  There are a few things to be understood:
  1. Being left off the 40 man roster does not mean that the organization does not value you.  It can sometimes mean that the organization thinks you are just too raw to be able to stick with a MLB team through the entire season (Rule 5 players cannot be demoted, only play in the Majors for someone or be returned to the parent club's minor league system).  By not protecting him, you save a spot on the 40 man roster and you wind up having an extra year to keep said prospect in the minors.
  2. Players who are currently on the 40 man roster may not be planned to be there for long.  Many players, including guys like Pedro Viola, remain on the roster until free agents are signed and then are designated for assignment.  It is a good idea to take a step back before using a player occupying a 40 man roster spot as the lynchpin of an argument.  However, if you think Oliver Drake is less talented than someone else eligible for protection...type away.
  3. Drake leads us to this (and I like Drake)...we are talking about relatively worthless prospects.  Ever since the last collective bargaining agreement tacked on an additional year of protection before MLB teams had to keep a guy on the 40 man roster, the rule 5 is now full of incredibly uninteresting players.  Who of importance have the Orioles lost in the past five years?  Pedro Beato.  He was probably the best Rule 5 selection last year and he had an ERA+ of 87.  That is about 20% worse than the average relief pitcher in the NL.
What the above should impart upon you is that the Rule 5 is much ado about pretty much nothing.  The only truly interesting guys are those who are low minors with injuries that have prevented anyone from getting a good handle on the player.  This largely means relief pitchers and on rare occasions you have a utility player.  The only time you find a bonafide plus player in the Rule 5 now is if he is a reformed drug addict who had not played meaningful ball in four years.

However, I will provide a list of a few players who might be of interest to the Orioles.  This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but one that is merely a bit targeted.  I expect Baseball America will produce something more thorough in the next week or two.

Cody Satterwhite, RHRP
25 years old
Detroit Tigers
Rookie 10 IP, 9 k/9, 1.8 b/9, 45.2% GB, 60% contact, 3.08 SIERA

Satterwhite was a second round selection of the Tigers in 2008.  He was a reliever with a mid 90s fastball, a sharp slider, and control issues.  He was struck with a torn labrum, which is a death knell for most pitchers.  He missed all of 2010 and was limited to 10 innings for the rookie GCL Tigers team.  I do not have any notes on him from this summer, but he might be someone to take a flyer on.

Johan Yan, RHRP
23 years old
Texas Rangers
A+/AA 68 IP, 8.74 k/9, 2.9 b/9, 66% GB, 66% contact, 2.86 SIERA

Yan came into the Rangers organizations as a 16 year old signee with a plus arm.  He was considered a promising shortstop.  However, he had no ability to use a bat and was flipped to the mound after four difficult seasons.  After switch to a side arm release, he has had a great deal of success in the low minors.  His fastball sits in the high 80s and it is reported that his slider is about average.  He also showed particular aptitude to getting out right handed batters.  In AA, his stuff was a bit more hittable, but he still managed to induce a lot of poor contact.  A team could hide potentially hide a righty specialist in the pen.

Cesar Cabral, LHRP
22 years old
Boston Red Sox
A+/AA 53 IP, 11.4 k/9, 3.6 b/9, 52% GB, 56% Contact, 2.89 SIERA

In last year's Rule 5 draft, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Cesar Cabral.  He was placed on waivers, then claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays, and then reclaimed by the Rays.  The Rays tried and failed to work out a deal with Boston and was then returned to the Red Sox.  Based on the reports that I have, Cabral worth with a fastball around 90 mph, a slurve, and a changeup.

Terry Doyle, RHSP
26 years old
Chicago White Sox
A+/AA 173 IP, 6.4 k/9, 1.7 b/9, 48% GB, 76% contact, 3.85 SIERA

Doyle is your more typical player that mainstream press notices.  He is a minor league inning eater who gets by with solid control of the strike zone.  It is one of those things where performance does not exactly relate well to performance against higher caliber players.  This off season Doyle has been pitching in the Arizona Fall League and has permitted every team to get a good look-see on him.  As a starter, he sits in the upper 80s and sometimes gets it up to 91 or 92 mph.  According to Kevin Goldstein, he survives off a cutter and keeps pace with an average curveball and change up.  I could see someone taking a chance on him as a fastball/cutter/curve middle reliever who could rack up innings.

The players above fit pretty much the expected archetypes.  You have the once promising pitcher who has had severe injuries issues.  There is the young international signing who was switched from the field to the mound.  A lefty who has shown promise in the low minors, but lacks stuff.  You also have the low ceiling inning eating righty who is showing off his wares in the AFL.  On the batting side you have players like Jordan Danks who is a very athletic outfielder who has improved with his hitting from when he was drafted, but is likely at best a fourth outfielder.  If the Orioles lacked Matt Angle or Kyle Hudson, I could see Danks as a potential selection there.  I do think he has more upside than either.  There are also strong bats like Kody Hinze who is about a year away from being considered as potentially a useful backup player.

18 November 2011

Interview with an Arm Injury Researcher, Part II

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

Long Toss Mechanics (Picture from Dick Mills' site.)
During my discussion with Dr. Fleisig, I asked him for a few examples of compelling research in the field of biomechanics from the past year. Interestingly enough, he directed me towards two articles he had a hand in creaing—“Biomechanical Comparison of Baseball Pitching and Long-Toss: Implications for Training and Rehabilitation” (Fleisig, Bolt, et al, 2011; Ed. note: Camden Depot discussed this article briefly in a previous post) and “Risk of Serious Injury For Young Baseball Pitchers: A 10-Year Prospective Study” (Fleisig, Andrews, et al, 2011).

The first piece, concerning itself with the somewhat controversial training and rehabilitation practice known long-toss, Fleisig et al. (2011) set for the hypothesis that there are “kinetic…differences in the throwing shoulder and elbow” in long-toss when compared to pitching off a mound (p. 297). More than a dozen college-level pitchers were asked to long-toss from 37 meters, 55 meters, and from a “maximum distance”. For the 37 meter and 55 meter throws, the pitchers were required to throw with little to no arc, while no such restriction was placed on the “maximum distance” toss. Data from this session was collected using a motion capture device. On a separate occasion, the same pitchers were asked to throw their “standard” fastball from a mound, again whilst recorded by a motion capture device.

As Orioles fans, this is a study that should interest us considering the controversy surrounding Dylan Bundy’s own long-toss program around draft time and it’s potential long-term physical effects. While this particular study doesn’t provide any conclusive evidence in regard to long-term injury outlook, the study does show that both “shoulder and elbow torque increase with throwing distance” (p. 302). This leads the researchers to believe that long-toss, especially “maximum” distance long-toss may in fact be harmful to a pitcher—perhaps something to keep in mind when thinking about Bundy’s long-term health.

The article titled, “Risk of Serious Injury For Young Baseball Pitchers: a 10-Year Prospective Study”, focused on pitching injuries in young pitchers and seemingly dispels the widespread belief that youth pitchers shouldn’t throw breaking balls for fear of injury. A long-term study, the researchers monitored nearly 500 pitchers under the age of fourteen over a ten-year period. After hundreds and hundreds of interviews over the course of a decade, it was discovered that it wasn’t so much the pitch-type that led to injury, but rather the amount of pitches and innings thrown. Over the course of the study, Fleisig et al. discovered that pitchers who threw more than 100 innings in a single year “had about 3.5 times as much chance of serious injury as those who pitched less” while they couldn’t “determine whether pitchers who started throwing curveballs before age 13 years [had] a higher chance of injury” (p. 256). While not necessarily directly applicable to the major league level, research such as this only goes to show that so much of injury prevention lies within the rather simple philosophy of volume management.

I also had the chance to talk briefly with Will Carroll in regard to pitching injuries. Will, who got his start at Baseball Prospectus, now writes for Sports Illustrated, and has authored several books dealing with sports injuries, was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions.

A common theme when discussing pitching injuries on the Internet is the phrase “inverted w.”  Do you have any thoughts on the validity of inverted w's being dangerous to a pitcher's health?
I'm not a proponent of the Inverted W. Back when I was first learning about biomechanics, I talked to a lot of the top minds in the game and I felt like I knew enough to just look and see things. Well, as with umpires and the strike zone, sometimes our eyes lie. I want more than just observations - I want data. With biomechanics analysis, we can figure out how much stress a pitcher is actually putting on joints, how much force they're exerting, and then we need to move to fatigue and recovery. Few teams are doing the first part of this and fewer are doing the second. Should we wonder then why baseball has lost over a BILLION dollars to pitcher injuries in the last ten years? Moneyball talked about ASMI and their biomechanics lab, but you know how many teams use it now? Maybe two. 

Tommy John surgery has seemingly reached a point where we expect the pitcher to make a full recovery after 16-18 months. However, shoulder tears are still viewed as the boogey man of injuries. Will this always be the case? Can we expect to reach a point in the (relatively) near future in which pitchers who suffer labrum tears are expected to fully recover?
No. Dr. Neal ElAttrache was on a panel with me this summer and he's the guy for shoulders. (Once, Jim Andrews was asked what the first thing he does when he sees a torn labrum case and he said "call Neal for a consult.") Neal gave a great explanation which might still be up at the SABR site [Ed. Note: Audio of the panel can be found here] - the panel was at their annual convention - about how the shoulder is so complex, that its like putting together a puzzle without the box top. The elbow is a hinge. It moves one way. Look at how many things the shoulder can do and how many structures it takes to do it. Just move your shoulder around and pay attention to what it takes to move through various motions and you'll understand why it’s so tough to get it back to original condition.

16 November 2011

Orioles Up for Rule 5 Draft

Orioles' best Rule 5 selection: Paul Blair
The Rule 5 draft was implemented in 1959 as part of a roughly two decade effort to provide an equal footing to all teams.  The concern had been that clubs with a good deal of money were signing up high quality prospects and then letting them fester in the minor leagues.  The first major action against this practice was the bonus rule which 'prevented' teams from demoting signees who had received a large signing bonus.  The bonus rule proved unsatisfactory because teams figured ways around it and there were considered better ways to redistribute talent.  The Rule 5 draft was considered that mechanism.  It works similarly to the Rule 4 draft, but instead of amateurs being selected the teams choose from unprotected minor leaguers.

The current form of the Rule 5 draft was determined with the signing of the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  This year's may alter how the Rule 5 is carried out, but I have yet to hear about it.  In 2006, the major change was that an extra year of protection was provided and that enabled teams to evaluate their players for an extra year before exposing them.  In this scenario it would be unlikely to see guys like Johann Santana anymore because that extra year of evaluation will allow the team to see their player grow for another year and determine how he best fits into the organization.

If the CBA rules remain, player eligibility will be:
  • Players who were signed at age 19 or older and have been in professional baseball for three years or more (this means players who signed from the 2008 draft or IFA)
  • Players who were signed at age 18 or younger and have been in professional baseball for four years or more (this means players who signed from the 2007 draft or IFA)
  • All players on the 40 man roster as exempted from the Rule 5 draft
In the remainder of this post, I will touch on a selected few players who were eligible last year and again this year as well as list all of the individuals who are eligible for their first Rule 5 draft.

Previously Eligible
Pat Egan - Brewers selected him last year, but he failed to stick and was unimpressive this year.
Steve Johnson - He is a pitcher who has to learn at every step. Off hand chance he is selected.
Billy Rowell - He has yet to be released from the organization, so he is eligible again.
Wynn Pelzer - Someone might be intrigued, but he is incredibly wild.
Brandon Waring - No one will have space for a poor contact home run hitter who cannot field or walk well.
Tim Bascom - As a 26yo in Bowie, his PoTY season is not incredibly impressive, but he shows more value now than before.  He will likely need to be protected.
Joe Mahoney - Hard time believing he could stick a year in the majors.
Brandon Cooney - Had issues with control this year, but is on a few teams' radar.
John Hester - Good technical catcher with occasional pop.
Cole McCurry - Lefty dominated AA and held his own at AAA.

2007 Draft
Tyler Kolodny - not ready
Justin Moore - not ready

2008 Draft
Greg Miclat - could be useful utility player or fill in at second for a few weeks.

Richard Zagone - may be seen as a lefty reliever.
Caleb Joseph - may be seen as a backup catcher.
Nick Haughian - potential lefty reliever, but not overpowering.
Nathan Moreau - same as above.
Jason Gurka - intriguing lefty arm, possible selection.
Bobby Stevens - not ready
Ronnie Welty - intriguing athleticism, potential 4th outfielder.
Eddie Gamboa - not ready, good organizational arm.
Ryan O'Shea - not ready
Buck Britton - not ready
Oliver Drake - breakout in Frederick tempered by Bowie.

Players I think need to be protected:
Oliver Drake
Greg Miclat
Tim Bascom
Steve Johnson
Cole McCurry

That written, I do not really feel strongly about any of these players.