19 December 2011

O's Scouting: Shake-up and fallout, follow-up

On Friday we discussed news of Baltimore gutting its pro scouting department. As not much information was available at the time the story broke, we wanted to make sure we followed-up Friday's discussion in order 1) to fairly portray the moves that were made, and 2) to provide a useful commentary on the impact of these moves. That is what we will do this morning. If you have not read Friday's piece, it might make sense to do so before diving into this piece. It contains a couple of longer threads regarding the shift from pro to amateur scouting that are not rehashed here, and it also touches on a couple of assumptions (both here at the Depot and in the media at large) that have proven incorrect with further digging.

What has changed?
Entering 2011, Baltimore's roster of non-amateur scouts included one advance scout (scouting future Orioles opponents), two Major League scouts (primarily responsible for evaluation of talent on other Major League teams), and seven pro scouts (primarily responsible for evaluation of talent in the Minor Leagues). These evaluators were not limited to their primary scouting responsibilities, and might be assigned to assist in other areas as needed. Because the primary amateur scouting season runs February through May, leading up to the draft (spring training through the first third of the season on the pro side), it is generally uncommon for pro scouts to regularly participate on the amateur side.

Upon Dan Duquette's taking over as President of Baseball Operations this November, filling the office vacated by Andy MacPhail, the Orioles began an overhaul of the pro scouting department. Late November, the Director of pro scouting (Lee MacPhail IV) was demoted to pro scout, with the position of "Director" rumored to be removed altogether. At the end of last week, word came down that the Orioles were reassigning five pro scouts and their MLB advance scout to the amateur side. The specifics are as follows:

Advance scout, Jim Thrift (new assignment, area scout in western Fla.)
Pro scout, Lee MacPhail IV (new assignment, area scout in Mich./Ohio/W.V.)
Pro scout, Jim Howard (new assignment, area scout in N.Y./N.J./Penn.)
Pro scout, Ted Lekas (new assignment, area scout in New England)
Pro scout, James Keller (new assignment, rover/area scout in California)
Pro scout, Todd Frohwirth (new assignment, area scout in Wisc./Minn./N.D./S.D.)

By my count, this leaves the remaining pro scouting department as follows:

MLB scout, Dave Engle
MLB scout, Bruce Kison
Pro scout, Chris Bourjos (based out of Arizona)
Pro scout, Gary Roenicke (based out of California)
Pro scout, Fred Uhlman, St. (based out of Baltimore)

Brady Anderson will apparently be joining the organization in some official capacity, though it is unclear what his role will be.

Argument for restructuring
The removal of a full-time advance scout is probably fine. Statistical analysis is highly effective at the Major League level, due to the relative stability in year-to-year output and overall predictability of player performance. That is not to say that the advanced metrics used by front offices (versions of which can be found at sites like BaseballProspectus.com, BillJamesOnline.com, TangoTiger.com, and Fangraphs.com) are infallible. But for the most part you can get a good idea of players' relative strengths and weaknesses in various situations by giving the right numbers to the right people and letting them go to work. Additionally, HD video is publicly available for every inning of every game, so to the extent you need to see game tape, it's there. It isn't perfect, but if you want to rely on stats and video at the Major League level when it comes to advance scouting, you can probably get by.

The number of MLB scouts has not changed, it is around the typical number of evaluators that you will see an organization devote primarily to the MLB-level. Many organizations do not have an official "advance scout" position, instead opting to divide the duties of an advance scout between the MLB scouts on payroll and perhaps a pro scout or two, depending on timing.

Argument against restructuring
The biggest argument against the restructuring is that Baltimore is gutting the group of scouts listed as "pro scouts", which are primarily responsible for Minor League evaluation. Stats and video are much less useful tools when evaluating players from other organizations at the Minor League level, and become increasingly less useful the further away you get from the Majors. Totaling three pro scouts at this point, the Orioles would be significant outgunned in this department should they opt to proceed without filling the void with new hires. Toronto and New York (A), for example, each boasted double-digit pro scouting positions in 2011. Tampa had fewer listed pro scouts in 2011, but also mix-in "special assignment" scouts and one or two dual role international/pro scouts.

The loss of manpower means fewer eyes on Minor Leaguers and less information for the front office when trade talks take place. As free agent bargains become fewer and fewer, and with modifications to the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA removing teams' ability to spend without ramification on amateur talent, the trade market is quickly becoming one of the most important avenues for talent acquisition. Accordingly, Baltimore needs to be a leading organization in talent evaluation to maximize their efforts on the trade front.

One of the largest questions currently facing the Orioles is whether or not they will extend Adam Jones. If they elect, instead, to trade him, it will likely be for a package of players. Making sure Baltimore gets the most out of that package is of the utmost importance. Will the three remaining pro scouts have enough opportunity to cover five or six levels of Minor League baseball such that the Orioles will be able to not only accurately gauge the value of a proposed package of players, but to also compare that package against other possible packages in order to determine which of two or three deals is preferable? Perhaps more important, will Baltimore be able to spot that struggling prospect that an organization might undervalue and add as a piece to close a deal?

In a world where knowledge is power, it makes little sense to limit your avenues of information gathering. No stat line/video combination will tell you what you need to know about an Advanced-A arm when trying to project whether he will be able to improve his command, or whether he will work hard enough on his change-up to make it the third Major League average-or-better offering he needs to stick in a rotation long term. You need eyes on the field before the game and after the game. You need to be able to talk up the people at the field and around the team. A player's make-up is an important factor in determining whether he will be able to weather the challenges of rising through the Minors and transitioning to playing the game at the highest level in the world. While not tangible, make-up is real, it is important, and it needs to be evaluated.

The importance of timing
This issue was touched on in last week's post, but should be reiterated. There is negligible positive value for Baltimore in adding these five evaluators to the amateur side, as they are starting out a good deal behind their competitors when it comes to identifying the draft-eligible follows and getting multiple looks at those talents. Additionally, these evaluators will need to make inroads in creating contacts with the high school, JuCo, 4-year college, travel team and showcase coaches and personnel in order to stay on top of pop-up talents (e.g. arms that see a big bump in velocity during the spring). It is simply a large ask and places these evaluators in a difficult spot when trying to make judgments on volatile assets such as amateur players, and doing so with limited views and potentially limited access to info from third party coaches and evaluators.

There is some danger that shuffling scouts around outside of the general "hiring/firing/assignment" period for scouts -- generally the fall -- will make outside evaluators wary of joining the Orioles organization for fear that a similar restructuring could take place in the future. Baltimore can explain some of this away by pointing to the late hiring of Duquette, and the accordingly late ripple of moves in restructuring the scouting department. One evaluator from another organization commented, "Definitely weird [timing to shuffle things up]; somewhat understandable with [the late GM hiring]."

Unfortunately, while this reasoning makes sense it still reflects poorly on the organization as a whole. The fact that Andy MacPhail was unlikely to stay after October was the worst kept secret in Baltimore, starting around early-July. The long hiring process for MacPhail's replacement, highlighted by a handful of very public rejections from would-be candidates, did not sit well with those watching from afar in other organizations, and reinforced a stereotype that the Orioles, as an organization, lack focus and professionalism.

The fact that issues at the top have rippled down to effectuate reassignment of scouts well after they could reasonably be expected to find work elsewhere is not the end of the world, but it is another reminder to the industry that Baltimore continues to struggle putting together any sort of coherent plan for the future. Now, with Duquette apparently set to turnover larger chunks of the organization over the next ten months, some of the talented up-and-comers throughout the ranks of Major League baseball may be more inclined to wait out the upheaval to see what the organization looks like before signing-on as part of the rebuild.

Ultimately, the restructuring is not a huge deal, provided that Baltimore brings in additional evaluators at the pro ranks to help more thoroughly cover the Minors. Assuming that is the case, the Orioles have still weakened their pro scouting for at least four or five months (some of the area scouts can assist in pro scouting post-draft, based on several other variables which we can discuss in another post if the reader interest in there) and will be getting additional help at the amateur level, though the evaluators will be operating at a handicap.

One has to question the wisdom behind removing these evaluators from positions in which they were comfortable, and thrusting them into a world in which they will (at least initially) be out of their depth. The addition of amateur scouts is a great strategy, and one already employed by the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, each of whom outmanned Baltimore in this department. Baltimore also handled the assignment well, placing each of Frohworth, MacPhail, Howard, Lekas and Keller in areas tied to their home, cutting down some on travel. As luck would have it, the addition of scouting eyes in California, Florida and Ohio will be useful in at least cross-checking some of the top talents in this year's draft, with each state boasting multiple early-round talents (and potentially multiple first round talents in each state).

While the ultimate goal of more amateur scouts and less in-person focus on MLB advance scouting is potentially a solid direction for the organization, doing so at the expense of Minor League scouting is dangerous. Further, while their pay may remain the same (word is that it will), it's tough to not view this as a demotion when you are moving from covering pro ball to covering high school and college ball -- the general "starting point" for many evaluators in the game and a job that usually requires a great deal more travel and inconvenience.

Baltimore could have lessened the immediate impact on Minor League scouting, and potentially avoided any hard feelings on the part of the evaluators, had they opted to rename the position as "special assignment" scout, or even allow the evaluators to keep their titles and simply asked them to chip in on the amateur side for the February to June time period. It's a small point, but one that other evaluators in other organizations have noticed. No one expects that these former pro scouts are going to jump in and be able to operate as seasoned area scouts right off the bat, so their utility is limited for 2012 already. By allowing them to cover their region on the pro side, while dipping over to cross-check the amateurs in their region, all parties would have gotten what they wanted out of the situation.

Finally, and delving into the world of conjecture, it is slightly troubling to hear that the position of Director of Pro Scouting might not be filled -- particularly if the organization is not planning on hiring more pro scouts and, instead, decides to pull eyes from the amateur side as needed. For organizations that opt to assign their area scouts to pro coverage periodically throughout the year, the task of coming up with those assignments is a difficult one. The organization must consider the responsibilities of the area scout in covering their draft-and-follows (players selected and then watched over the summer before deciding upon a signing bonus offer), covering amateur showcases, tournaments and summer leagues in their area, and the distribution of talent across Minor League levels and the teams at those levels. Almost every Major League team has a Director of Pro Scouting, and there is a reason for it -- there is simply a lot to keep track of and a strong need for the creation and implementation of an organization-wide plan.

The situation is not as dire as it appeared on Friday, but the decision to unnecessarily forfeit short-term gains in pro scouting for minimum benefits of handicapped additional eyes on the amateur side is a head-scratcher. If those pro vacancies are not filled in the coming months, the whole issue can be summed up with a very simple question: For an organization struggling to keep pace with the four other organizations in the American League East, what is the likelihood that the key to bridging that gap is putting fewer assets into the evaluation and acquisition of talent at any level?

16 December 2011

O's Scouting: Shake-up and fall-out

UPDATE -- 1:40pm -- I received word that the scouts being shifted to the amateur side were responsible for Minor League coverage as well as MLB advance work. If this is true than the impact is even worse for Baltimore. While statistical analysis can work wonders on the advance level, and more broadly when evaluating Major League players with track records, it is limited in usefulness at the Minor League level. Certain statistical work can aid in evaluating and projecting developing Minor Leaguers, but eyes-on scouting is still an intregal aspect of the process. Gutting that side of your scouting department would be a highly questionable move. Hopefully, the initial reports are true and the evaluators removed were limited to pro scouts at the MLB level, only.

UPDATE -- 2:05 -- More word that Minor League scouting is tied into the pro scout gutting. We will have a reaction to that news in a second piece later this evening. The main takeaways are 1) Baltimore is seriously hindering its ability to maximize value in trades, and 2) scouts from other organization, if ever asked to come over to Baltimore, will note the timing of these moves and the manner in which they were handled.

The shake-up
Jen Royle passed along word of unrest in the Orioles' scouting department this morning via Twitter:

Consensus amongst sources is that #Orioles scouts are not happy with new assignments. Another source: "They thought it was a joke." -@Jen_Royle

Fox Sport's Ken Rosenthal shed further light on the situation with a morning snippet explaining the nature of the "new assignments":

[Dan] Duquette, the team’s new general manager, essentially dissolved the Orioles’ professional scouting department Thursday, reassigning six pro scouts to the amateur side.

Dave Engle and Bruce Kison will remain major-league scouts, and the Orioles will make greater use of video and statistical analysis in scouting the majors, Duquette said.

Rosenthal went on to provide a quote from Duquette, explaining the shift:

It’s a more efficient way to structure the Orioles, better for identifying talent and utilizing people’s strengths to help the team.

So what is the fallout, here? Is this something that should excite Orioles fans? Well, there is some good and some bad...

The fallout: Good
For an organization who has put limited resources into staffing its scouting department, it's odd to think that six of the professional scout positions were being utilized for advance scouting.

As Duquette touches on in his comments, technology has limited the utility of advance scouts. Statistical analysis has matured to the point that batter and pitcher data is available and accessible such that managers can be armed with an iPad full of splits to access for nearly every in-game situation you can think of. Further, anyone with $119 and a computer, PlayStation 3, tablet or smart phone can watch every inning of MLB baseball, including archived games, in HD quality. In short, stats can tell you most of what you need to know about MLB players you will be facing. For everything else, there's HD video.

That's not to say that there is no need for advance scouting. But for an organization who has utilized a limited fund for scouting endeavors, there is little need for an abundance of advance scouts. The thinning of these ranks is probably something that should have occurred much sooner, which segues us to "the bad".

The fallout: Bad
This move, and particularly the timing, should have Orioles fans concerned in that it removes scouts from an area in which they are familiar and comfortable and drops them into an area from which they are years removed and in which they will be operating at a severe disadvantage.

Talent is talent, and there is little reason to believe that a pro scout is not capable of evaluating amateur talent. That is, the former advance scouts turned amateur scouts, I'm sure, have the evaluative tools to do the job of an amateur scout. However, the process itself is different for an amateur scout than it is for a pro scout.

Amateur scouts are tasked with two goals: 1) identify the current talent of an amateur talent (someone who has yet to sign with a MLB organization), and 2) accurately project the type of player that this amateur will be at the Major League level. To achieve these goals, amateur scouts must weigh numerous factors, including physical aspects of the player, athleticism, baseball tools, baseball skills, coachability, dedication to the game, as well as the player's interest in and willingness to make baseball the sole focus of his life.

Pro scouts looking at Minor League players are in a similar situation to amateur scouts in that they are appraising a player now, projecting him, and determining whether his organization should try and acquire him, though much of the static in evaluation has been removed with the Minor League players more refined and closer to the Majors than are the amateur kids.

Pro scouts doing advance work are concerned with one thing: how does my team beat this player when we face him. They will be consulted in trade and free agent situations, and may be assigned to watch a player considered to be a trade target, but much of the projection element has been removed by that time, as the player generally "is what he is".

The switch from pro to amateur scouting will require the O's evaluators to rewire their thinking some, and it requires them to do this while operating at a competitive disadvantage.

It is late in the game for amateur scouts. Most, if not all, organizations have completed compilation of their follow lists for each region, noting (and in some form ranking) the various talents in each area that need to be seen during the spring. Area scouts, since last June, have spent time at high school travel team tournaments, showcases, workouts, college summer league games, and college fall workouts, enjoying multiple looks at the players eligible for the June Draft.

Multiple looks are particularly important at the amateur level, as players at this stage of development can log erratic performances from day-to-day. The more looks you can get of a kid, the more confident you can be in your appraisal. This group of converted amateur scouts will likely be getting their first looks at players in their region, starting this January and February, while their competition is checking-in for a fourth, fifth or sixth look. Further, while the converted amateur scouts are potentially hustling to get eyes on the top talents in the area, their competition, already comfortable in their appraisal of those talents, will be able to focus elsewhere. For example, a scout from a competing organization might skip his fourth look at an arm in order to check in on the projectable righty that was only 86-89 mph in October, but might be sitting 88-91 mph now six months later.

The converted scouts will also need to familiarize themselves with a landscape that is likely now foreign to them. While many may have started as amateur evaluators, these scouts will need to revist their process and slide back into the day-to-day frame of mind of an amateur evaluator. Which factors are most important to projecting out this particular player's skillset? Who does he remind me of and was that player successful? What's the best way to go about scheduling my spring to make sure I can hit all the players I need to see? Can I catch the power arm at XYZ University during a mid-week game, or does Coach ABC prefer to limit his workload to relief on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays?

That final question touches on another issue -- these converted scouts don't have the network that established area scouts can tap into. As important as evaluation itself is, it's sometimes even more important to have that JuCo coach that texts you about the arm his team faced today, or the high school coach that sends you the scheduled start dates for a pitcher in which you are interested. These are relationships that can take some time to grow, and the converted scouts will likely be operating without them for now.

Finally, no matter how Baltimore spins it, it is a demotion for these guys. Moving from watching elite-level MLB baseball each night and having a place at the table in discussing strategy at the MLB team level is a better gig than traveling all over your region, watching mostly bad baseball and sending a player report up the ladder. Amateur scouting is a wonderful experience, and a personal passion, but taking someone with the more regimented, and more comfortable, job of pro scouting and thrusting them into the world of lots of travel, lots of uncertainty and little prestige is quite simply a big ask.

End game
Most fans might say, "Suck it up and deal with it -- at least you have a job in baseball." To a certain extent, that's true. The utility of advance scouts has changed over the last five years, and it is understandable that the organization might want to reshuffle their scouting assets to adjust to these changes. But one has to wonder if the timing of this move makes sense. Regardless of how talented these evaluators are, are you going to be getting the most you can out of them by dropping them into a job in which they aren't mentally or emotionally invested? By making the move now, you've essentially taken away from them the opportunity to consider work elsewhere, as Major League teams tend to fill their scouting positions in October and November. Is a discontented evaluator the guy you want chiming-in on your draft targets?

The big picture says the move indicates that the Baltimore front office is attempting to be proactive and adjusting to a more efficient model for its scouting department. A closer look reveals that Baltimore might be alienating their evaluators and setting them up for failure -- at least in 2012 -- essentially pushing them out the door once they have the opportunity next fall. It seems like a gradual shift, involving periodic assignments to cross-check on the amateur side and at the Minor League level, could have accomplished the same thing by this time next year, without alienating the evaluators involved in the process. In short, there is relatively little gained in Baltimore making this move right now and in this manner, and it could likely cause them to lose these evaluators to other orgs. Time will tell if such a loss is impactful.

Non-tendered Relievers on the Market

Saunders could be an excellent reliever.
This post will focus on potential finds for relievers who were non-tendered this week.

Doug Slaten, LHP
32 yo
Washington Nationals

Slaten only managed 16 appearances this past season due to issues with ulnar neuritis.  When healthy, he is an effective LOOGY (lefty one-out guy).  Over his career, lefties have OPS'd .666 with righties smacking him at .864.  He uses a 90 mph two seamer and an effective slider.  Against righties he uses a changeup as a show me pitch.

Dan Cortes, RHP
25 yo
Seattle Mariners

Cortes was a top 100 prospect in 2008 and 2009 for Baseball America.  He uses a mid to high 90s fastball, a slider, and a curve ball.  The curve is impressive, but has shows little control of it.  It is a pitch that seems to be left alone by batters who instead sit on fastballs.  It is uncertain what he will bring to the table in the future.  He had an unspecified off field injury that resulted in surgery on his shoulder and his bicep.  He also apparently suffered a fractured hand as well.  If he does heal and if he gains just a little bit more command and control then he could be an excellent reliever.  He could be work a MiL deal.

Jose Mijares, LHP
27 yo
Minnesota Twins

From 2008 to 2010, Mijares was a dependable arm out of the Twins bullpen.  He was roughly a 3 ERA pitcher with 8 k/9 and 3 b/9.  In 2011, injuries finally took their toll on Mijares and he let the opposition get on base.  His fastball dropped from 91.3 to 89.8 and he lost the ability to effectively use his slider.  If he proves himself healthy, he could be a solid option.

Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP
30 yo
Los Angeles Dodgers

From 2008-2010, Kuo was one of the best relievers in the National League.  A lefty who was effective against both right handed and left handed batters.  He often suffered minor injuries, but his 2011 season was marred by them.  Of most concern was his tweaked elbow and the resulting loss of velocity in his fastball (from 94.2 to 92.5).  If a team thinks he can be healthy, then he deserves a Major League deal.

Aaron Laffey, LHP
27 yo
Kansas City Royals

Laffey is a Cumberland, MD native.  Dan Duquette speaks about investing locally, but Laffey may not be exactly what he has in mind.  He is a groundball pitcher who nibbles on the edge.  He walks 3.6 b/9 and manages 4.5 k/9.  Those are difficult percentages to live by.  He could be useful in the pen or as AAA starting depth.  He could be the Orioles new Mark Hendrickson.  He could wind up with a Major League deal for someone in dire need of rotational depth.

Clay Hensley, RHP
32 yo
Miami Marlins

Hensley surprised everyone in 2010 as he helped anchor the Marlin bullpen.  He came into the season with a refined curve and more effective usage of his changeup.  In 2011, his curve left him and he resorted to throwing his slider.  It did not work.  These issues probably result from him cracking his ribs in May and then suffering a shoulder injury in June.  If you ignore his horrific August, he actually had a pretty good year.  He could be a good pickup.

Micah Owings, RHP
29 yo
Arizona Diamondbacks

Owings eats up right handed batters.  They manage a .647 OPS while a .912 OPS is what lefties enjoy.  If protected, he can be a useful member of a bullpen.

Joe Saunders, LHP
31 yo
Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona did not offer Saunders a contract after paying him 5.5 MM last year.  It would be unlikely to convince him to come out of the pen, but he destroys lefties.  Last year he had a .581/.810 left/right split.  A few years after winning 17 and 16 games as well as putting up a 3.69 ERA.  A possibility would be to throw a 5 MM deal under the expectation that he would shift to being a relief pitcher.

15 December 2011

Analyzing Dana Eveland's Fastball

After some time away from the confusion and hysteria that the Winter Meeting can impart, I thought it might be good to go back and focus on the Orioles' acquisition of Dana Eveland.  There was some disappointment when the trade went down as the Orioles acquired a player who has an uneven career that has been entirely unimpressive at the Major League level for two minor league players who some refer to as prospects.  The merits of Jarret Martin's prospect-dom can be somewhat argued.  He is likely at best a middle relief arm if he ever makes it to the majors.  Tyler Henson's prospect status unfortunately left him long ago.  It appears to be a not much for not much kind of deal.

Dan Duquette spoke highly of Dana Eveland after the deal.  Duquette mentioned that Albuquerque (where Eveland pitched 150 innings last year) and that is true.  Albuquerque is the least friendly ball park for pitchers in all of the minors.  It increases run production by about 18%.  Eveland's ERA was 5.40 at home and 3.33 on the road.  However, as well as he pitched in AAA it must be said that he was a 28yo in AAA.  Duquette also mentioned that Eveland had some bone chips cleaned out from his elbow in 2010 and that he likes Eveland's fastball.  In this post, I wanted to dive into the Pitch f/x data a little bit and look at Eveland's fastball and how it has looked over the years.

Velocity and Movement

With his elbow cleaned up, one might expect that his fastball would look a little different.  The graph below shows some of the highlights.

You can see that in the data available, fastball velocity has decreased over the last three years.  Movement has also changed where his fastball has more run to it than it used to have by about half an inch.  Vertical movement actually is about half an inch more than it used to be.  To some extent, this is a function of decreasing speed.  It may be with this greater horizontal movement along with slightly more drop results in a fastball that is more difficult to square up on, inducing poor contact.

Fastball Events

To see how the above change in movement has affected batted balls, I have compiled fastball events below.

The first thing to notice is that Eveland was throwing more strikes last year (remember that this is a pretty small sample size).  The increase in strike throwing correlates with an equal increase in the batter swinging at his pitches, so it seems like the batters are responding to an increase in strikes.  Even though they swing more and the swing and miss rate has not increased, balls put into play (fair territory) has not increased.  What has increased has been the number of balls hit into foul territory.

Is inducing foul balls a skill?

I would think it would be, but it is not something that seems to have been specifically assessed.  Mike Fast published two pieces on how pitchers can affect batted balls.  However, it appears that the main variable he focused on (horizontal velocity of a ball coming off a bat) is related to strikeout rate.  Eveland is not a high strikeout pitcher, but it may be that groundball pitchers may affect contact differently than your average pitcher.  It would follow reason that a pitcher who is able to induce a great deal of foul balls is messing with the batters' timing a great deal.


None of this is definitive.  The data is on the thin side, but it appears to depend on a slight difference in how Eveland's fastball moves and whether or not a pitcher can hone a skill that significantly increases foul ball rates.  I think it is prudent to be more conservative about this and attribute last year's success more to luck than skill.

13 December 2011

Science of Baseball: Best Way to Warm Up on Deck

Effects of Various Warm-Up Devices and Rest Period Lengths on Batting Velocity and Acceleration of Intercollegiate Baseball Players
Wilson et al.
published ahead of printing Nov 2011
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

The basis of this research was to determine how to improve a hitter's ability to make contact on a pitch.  The acknowledge that a batter needs 0.3 seconds to process a pitch and swing at it and leaves only 0.1 seconds for a bat to choose to swing at a pitch or not.  The human body cannot improve upon recognition to a greater degree, so the only way to improve hitting in terms of time is to increase bat speed.  The idea is that by reducing bat speed, you increase the time a time can choose whether to swing or not.

Previous study have looked at warm up devices/approaches and their impact on an individual's batspeed.  A study using high school players tested warm up devices that range in weight from 23 to 51 oz with the greatest bat speed resulting from warming up with bats weighing between 26 and 34 oz (Derenne et al. 1992).  Another study looked at the effect using a doughnut weighing 28 oz on a 34 oz bat.  It result in the change in swing mechanics and a decrease in bat speed (Southard and Groomer, 2003).  A third study found that using a 55 oz bat to warm up resulted in decreased bat speed when using a 31.5 oz. (Montoya et al. 2009).  A final study using different bat devices (a study we discussed earlier this year) found that collegiate baseball players did not have their bat speed altered with any tested approach (Szymanski et al. 2011).

What those previous studies did not investigate was what effect the rest period had between warming up and swinging at a pitch.  They used 16 Division II baseball players.  Players practiced with one of five warm up bats on successive days.  The weights were 23, 30, 34, 38, and 50 oz.  The individuals then swung a 30 oz bat one, two, four, and eight minutes after warming up.  Four metrics were measured: peak velocity, peak acceleration, peak velocity at peak acceleration, and time to reach peak acceleration.  Players would warm up and swing the 30 oz bat.  Have ten minutes of rest.  Then they would warm up with a specific experimental warm up bat and then swing the 30 oz bat.

The results were interesting.  None of the warm up bats affected the players ability to generate bat speed.  This agrees with the other study using collegiate athletes.  It may be that once a player reaches a certain level that warm up devices do not improve or impair bat speed.  However, they did find that the more time the player spent resting between his warm up swings and hitting resulted in greater bat speed.  For example, the lowest bat speed was measured during the warm up period.  The greatest bat speed was measured eight minutes after warming up.  No time period after eight minutes was measured, so it is uncertain when this effect tapers off.  Bat speed increased by 8% between warm up and eight minutes.  Peak velocity at peak acceleration increased by 6%.  Peak acceleration increased by 8%.

This seems to suggest a couple things.  First off, a batter might be more susceptible to higher velocity pitches earlier in the count.  Second, a batter might be best off warming up in the tunnel when he is in the hole.  It may well be that all a batter should be doing on deck is watching the pitcher and lightly stretching.

12 December 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospect Chat

Here is a link to all of our Winter 2012 Orioles Prospects pieces, including our "Minor League Year in Review" series and write-ups for each of the Top 25 prospects in the system. Our coverage concludes with our Top 25 Prospect chat below.

Top 25 Prospects:
Chat and all player write-ups together here.
*Primer for scouting grades here.

MiLB Year in Review:
Double-A Bowie / Triple-A Norfolk
Advanced-A Frederick
Class A Delmarva
DSL Orioles / Rookie GCL Orioles / Short-season A Aberdeen

10 December 2011

Tempest in a Teapot: Teagarden and Eveland

The one thing the Orioles' fan base has is hope.  Hope that with intelligent moves and a slight increase in spending, the Orioles could compete in the American League East.  There is certainly a good core of players in Baltimore with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters.  However, most successful teams win with several players who maximize production...otherwise known as superstars.  Of those four, Matt Wieters is the only one who you could make that argument.  Markakis needs to walk more, Jones needs to get more contact, and Hardy needs to stay healthy.  This is not a combination of guys like Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustrin Pedroia, and Jacoby Elsbury.  It is not a combination of guys like CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixiera, and the rest in New York.  Nor is it like David Price, James Shields, Evan Longoria, and Ben Zobrist.  The Orioles need some complementary pieces and it wouldn't hurt if a couple of them were superstar quality players.

One avenue to get that type of player is free agency.  Premier players are becoming more and more a rarity on the free agent market.  The Orioles are a middle market team (perhaps barely small market).  Teams like the Yankees pull in about 180 MM in profit from their regional network.  The Angels just signed a deal with their yearly income being at least 100 MM.  From what we know about Baltimore, the base pay is about 30 MM and we do not know how much gets thrown on top of that.  The revenue of MASN as a whole is about 170 MM.  The point simply being that when the higher revenue teams want someone like Albert Pujols, the Orioles simply cannot compete with them.  Teams with higher revenue streams will be willing to hand out inflated deals because they have a greater margin of safety with which to play.  Think about AJ Burnett.  Some of the fan base was upset that the Orioles did not outbid the Yankees and AJ Burnett has shown that he is clearly not an elite pitcher.  He consists of about eight percent of the Yankees payroll.  For the Orioles it would be more like twenty percent of the payroll.  There is just no good reason to leverage your team to that degree.  I am not saying that a team should never invest twenty percent of their payroll in a player, I am saying that when two teams go after the same player that the richer team will force an inflation of cost where it becomes untenable for the lower revenue team to invest in that player.

This leaves trades as a more suitable option for a lower revenue team.  Unfortunately, the Orioles do not have a great abundance of minor league talent.  The team should not let go of their top three: Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy (who really cannot be practically traded until this summer), and Jonathan Schoop.  Beyond those three are a short collection of players who have a solid, but not elite ceiling.  The value drops away rapidly after that.  It is not a strong footing to deal from.

Two deals have been made.  Neither of them are for superstars.  They are minor deals and ones that the baseball world in general has not paid much attention.  This was to be expected as many of the local Baltimore reporters mentioned that trades were going to happen and that no one should get too excited.  The aftermath of these trades illustrates a few things: (1) fan bases pay attention to prospects these days, (2) fan bases understand the abstract value of prospects, and (3) fan bases significantly overvalue their prospects.  If you go back twenty years, these deals would have been met with a decent amount of fanfare.  Taylor Teagarden was a top prospect and Dana Eveland ate people up in the minors earlier in his career and threw a one hitter against the Orioles a couple years back.  I want to dive a little more into the two deals.

Taylor Teagarden (C) for Randy Henry (RHRP) and Greg Miclat (INF)

This is not a very interesting trade.  The Orioles acquired a defense oriented back up catcher with some pop (not much else).  He displays good technique behind the plate which makes his above average arm play better.  He is a strong pull hitter who waits for his pitches when he is at the plate.  Based on the Pitch F/X numbers, it appears that he tries to sit back on fastballs and change ups.  s back up catchers go, he is a solid one.  It  has been reported that Buck Showalter wanted Teagarden, which leaves one hoping that Buck realizes that Teagarden's ceiling is not what it was thought to be when Buck was in Texas.

Randy Henry has been a pitcher that has been brought along slowly in the Orioles system.  He was one of the injury upside selections in the 2009 draft.  He has a plus fastball and throws strikes with it.  It is a pitch that works in the low minors, but his limited repertoire will prove to be a challenge as he advances through the minors.  I had him about 30 deep in my list and the last list I saw from Nick had him outside of his top 25.  For me to have him rated higher, I would have to see him locate his fastball better and, more importantly, develop his breaking ball.

Greg Miclat was taken the year before in the 2008 draft out of Virginia.  He was a slap hitter that had a wrist injury.  The hope was that with a change in mechanics and getting healthy would allow Miclat to show more gap power.  The power never truly arrived and at 24 he will likely make his debut in AAA.  He has shown the ability to handle second base and can fill in elsewhere in a pinch.  He shows good base running instincts.  I had him as the Orioles' 9th prospect and, according to my last conversation with Nick, he had Miclat in the 12-15 range.  We both saw him as a future utility infielder who would have several years in the Majors on the bench.

The argument against this trade is that you can go out and sign a back up catcher and then you do not have to give up prospects.  Some focus on Henry's ceiling as a late inning fireball reliever or Miclat's ceiling of being an average second baseman.  It is ignored how unlikely it is that either event will occur.  Henry lacks pitches and needs to improvement his placement.  That just does not automatically happen.  Miclat's lack of power and lack of top end speed typically means that it is difficult for a player like that to succeed against more advanced pitchers found in the Majors.  Teagarden provides the team with a solid defensive catcher with some power.  Those are not found littered upon the ground.  The value of that profile is not great, but it certainly is not easy to find.  To put it another way, Teagarden has 392 plate appearances and a career WAR of 1.7.  Guys like that pretend they are starters and typically do not sign to catch behind a player like Matt Wieters.  They typically sign where they can start and then show why they have never started extensively over their career.

Dana Eveland (LHSP) for Jarret Martin (LHP) and Tyler Henson (OF)

Dana Eveland has been given lots of chances.  Milwaukee, Arizona, Oakland, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and the Dodgers have all had him in their organizations.  He is a lefty that shows promise with a somewhat sterling minor league record and a MLB career with moments where it looked like everything clicked.  Last summer, Eveland threw 154 innings for the Albuquerque Isotopes with a 4.38 ERA that looks better when it is recognized that the league average ERA was 5.11.  In a handful of innings for the Dodgers (29.2), Eveland struck few, walked fewer, and induced grounders at a rate of 55%.  His xFIP in that stint was 3.60.  I would be hard pressed to say he can do that in 2012 because he just does not have the track record and that he was acquired for not much in return.

Jarret Martin was a 2008 19th round selection and a 2009 18th round selection by the Orioles.  During to injuries, he was not able to entire professional ball until 2010 with 59.2 IP in Bluefield.  He had 110.2 IP for Delmarva last year with a 4.96 ERA (league average was 4.11).  He sports a low 90s fastball and has some touch for a curve and change.  His mechanics need help as he tends to throw across his body which is a major reason why his walk totals are so high.  Neither Nick or myself had him as a top 20 prospect.

Tyler Henson was a 5th round selection in the 2006 draft.  Next year if he is not placed on the Dodgers' 40 man roster, he will be a MiL free agent.  This should be informative with respect to his value.  Henson came into the organization as an athletic player with good power upside.  However, he has not been able to generate a high enough contact rate and he did not show himself to be adept in the infield.  In the history of Camden Depot, we have written about him once.  He is still young at 24 going into next year...I just do not see a great improvement happening.  Henson will provide good AAA filler for several more years and may even see a cup of coffee or two.  I have a hard time seeing anything more than that.

The argument against this trade is that you can Minor League invite players like Eveland as he was invited to the Dodgers' camp last year.  As with the former deal discussed, the argument is really about signing these abstract nebulous players that exist everywhere instead of dealing out lower level prospects.  Some people love Martin's look and that he has the foundation for a good repertoire.  There is just a lot for him to overcome.  It just does not happen.  I have not heard anyone lament Henson's movement, so I think people understand his worth.  So why Eveland and not player X?  Orioles' scouts apparently like him as many teams' scouts have before.  He has been a part of three deals where decent pieces have moved.  Maybe the Orioles' scouts think Eveland has finally put it together and has a higher upside than your typical minor league invite opportunities.  The point being, if he is your guy and you do not have to give up much value to get him, then get him.


Teagarden and Eveland are not big pieces.  They are not going to change the direction of this franchise.  They are not star players.  They are additional pieces likely to be worth less than two wins for the team in 2012.  Eveland may not even make the club.  For a team that will struggle to reach .500, these are inconsequential moves.  However, young pitchers benefit from good defensive catchers and rotations always need arm for innings.  That are useful pieces, but not particularly valuable.

Henry, Miclat, Martin, and Henson are not big pieces.  None of them have superstar ceilings.  Their presence in the organization does not change the future of this organization.  Players like them are needed in every organization, but these players specifically are not needed.  Does that make sense?  A C level or lower prospect alone has little value, but your organization should have a bunch of C level prospects.  Likewise, one lottery ticket is near worthless while ten lottery tickets have value.  It is an odds game.  What differs between lottery tickets and players is that it is possible to differentiate value between players.  They are not the same.  The key here is that the organization needs to trust its scouts in determining that these four players are not likely to provide any meaningful production for the Orioles.  That holding onto them will do little to improve the standing of the team.

That level of sensitivity...the ability to discern between quality C level prospects and non-quality C level prospects is difficult.  People get paid to do that and spend years and years getting better and better.  That is not to say that they are always right, but it should give us all pause when we decide whether or not to so completely and aggressively dismiss any merit to the two above trades.  How much do we actually know?  How comfortable do we feel extrapolating beyond what we know?

Personally, I find the trades to be somewhat pointless.  I do not really appreciate what they both have to offer.  I would prefer John Hester backing up Wieters and keeping both Henry and Miclat.  I am not particularly impressed with Eveland and find it rare that players all of a sudden break out.  That said, the value being exchanged here between these teams is minimal.  I may disagree with the deals, but it is not worth making much fuss over.

09 December 2011

2012 Top 25 prospects: #16-20

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For prospects 11-25 on our Top 25, write-ups will be abbreviated, with five prospects examined in each of the next three pieces. Prospects 16-20 rank as follows:

#16 Gabriel Lino
#17 Oliver Drake
#18 Matt Angle
#19 Ryan Berry
#20 Trent Mummey

Player: Gabriel Lino
Position: catcher
Ht/Wt: 6-3/195
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 18y6m
2011 level(s): Rookie GCL Orioles
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 41-45
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Backstop Gabriel Lino has some offensive upside and a strong arm behind the dish, but may lack the lateral quickness needed to stick at catcher long term, particularly if he gets any bigger. He has soft hands but lets his glove float a little too often when receiving, which he'll need to tighten. The power is still raw, and does not project particularly well to a corner infield spot. Just 18-years old this year, he has time to work on his problem areas. Should his power tool emerge, he could shift to first base in order to allow more developmental focus on his bat. He is on the large side for a catcher, and it still remains to be seen how he will hold up physically over the stress of a long full season ball season.

Ceiling: Starting catcher on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Fringe back-up catcher


Player: Oliver Drake
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-4/210
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y11m
2011 level(s): Advanced-A Frederick; Double-A Bowie; Triple-A Norfolk
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 41-45
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

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 cut slider is a solid average to above-average offering, and he has also flashed average throughout his pro career with both his off-speed and 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.

Ceiling: #4 starter on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Middle-reliever


Player: Matt Angle
Position: center field
Ht/Wt: 5-10/175
B/T: L/R
Age at 11/2011: 26y2m
2011 level(s): Triple-A Norfolk; MLB Baltimore
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 38-43
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Matt Angle arrived in Baltimore this summer with largely the profile expected of him since he entered the system in 2007. Devoid of power, the former Buckeye center fielder fits best as a 4th outfielder capable of plus defense and solid value as a pinch runner. He could slot in as a placeholder in a starting lineup, but it is unlikely he will be able to handle Major League velocity on the inner-half to the point that he maintains even a passable on-base percentage. He should have the inside track on the 4th outfield spot this spring, depending on what transpires over the remainder of this off-season, and could see significant innings as a late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner and Sunday starter.

Ceiling: 4th or 5th outfielder on first division team
Floor: Four-A
Projected: 4th or 5th outfielder on first division team


Player: Ryan Berry
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-1/195
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 23y2m
2011 level(s): Rookie GCL Orioles; Short-season A Aberdeen; Advanced-A Frederick
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 38-43
Prospect Grade: C

*Click here for primer on Grades

Berry eased back into baseball activities in 2011, following off-season shoulder surgery. Originally projected as a potential mid-rotation starter, the resurfacing of shoulder issues may move Baltimore to shift the former Rice ace to the pen. When healthy, Berry boasts two curves, with a hard spike (or knuckle) curve being his best offering. His fastball is generally fringe-average velocity, sitting upper-80s to low-90s, but he could see a slight bump in velo if he shifts to shorter stints in the pen. 2011 was very much about building shoulder strength back-up; it will be interesting to see if Baltimore gives him another shot in a rotation or bumps him to relief to get him moving.

Ceiling: #4/#5 starter on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Middle-reliever


Player: Trent Mummey
Position: outfield
Ht/Wt: 5-10/185
B/T: L/L
Age at 11/2011: 22y11m
2011 level(s): Class A Delmarva; Advanced-A Frederick
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 38-43
Prospect Grade: C

*Click here for primer on Grades

Trent Mummey missed time after crashing into an outfield wall in May, then again due to hamstring issues later in the summer. While he only logged 29 games and 134 plate appearances this summer (14 and 69 in Delmarva and Frederick, respectively), he showed a good feel for the game and solidified his status as a prospect. 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 Double-A Bowie will say a lot about his future potential.

Ceiling: 4th outfielder on a first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Fringe bench

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #11 - 15

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For prospects 11-25 on our Top 25, write-ups will be abbreviated, with five prospects examined in each of the next three pieces. Prospects 11-15 rank as follows:

#11 Xavier Avery
#12 Ryan Adams
#13 Glynn Davis
#14 Eduardo Rodriguez
#15 Michael Wright

Player: Xavier Avery
Position: center field/left field
Ht/Wt: 5-11/180
B/T: L/L
Age at 11/2011: 21y11m
2011 level(s): Double-A Bowie
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 46-50
Prospect Grade: B-

*Click here for primer on Grades

Xavier Avery remains an upside prospect with promise, despite completing his third full season with strikeouts in over 20% of his plate appearances. The reason for optimism is simple -- he continues to keep his head above water while being promoted by the O's and remaining one of the youngest players in the league, year-in and year-out. He will start 2012 at age 22, and could get a bump to Norfolk following a solid AFL campaign and provided he shows well in the Spring. A speed-first talent, Avery is among the fastest prospects in the system (along with Kyle Hudson and Glynn Davis -- all "80" runners on the 20/80 scouting scale). His heavy left/right split could spell a future as part of a platoon. If he can tighten-up his routes in center field, he should have easy value as a fourth outfielder. His ability to improve against lefties and to learn to more consistently ID off-speed will determine if he can become a regular at the highest level.

Ceiling: Average starting center fielder on first division team
Floor: Four-A
Projected: 4th or 5th outfielder on first division team


Player: Ryan Adams
Position: second base/third base
Ht/Wt: 5-11/185
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 24y7m
2011 level(s): Triple-A Norfolk; MLB Baltimore
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 44-48
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Offensively, Adams will swing and miss a fair amount due to average bat speed, and top velocity will likely always give him trouble. But he keeps his swing simple and tight, and finds ways to get the barrel to the ball. His raw power is above-average, with potential average in-game applicability. He could carveout a spot as a 6 or 7 hitter in a first division line-up if he finds enough gaps and is able to produce 15 or so homeruns per year. Defensively, Adams still struggles with his footwork, though he has made strides in cleaning-up the set-up on his throws (which in turn has improved his play-to-play accuracy). He is the type of player that will always need to work to maintain an adequate defensive disposition, but could be making enough progress to be passable at either third base or second base. Adams could be adequate as an inexpensive bridge to Miclat, Hoes or Schoop, but probably profiles best as a bench bat and occasional starter at either second or third.

Ceiling: Fringe-average second baseman on first division team
Floor: Four-A
Projected: Useful bench player


Player: Glynn Davis
Position: center field
Ht/Wt: 6-3/170
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 19y11m
2011 level(s): Rookie GCL Orioles; Short-season A Aberdeen; Advanced-A Frederick
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 44-48
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Glynn Davis ranked as the 16th best prospect in O's system this time last year -- a lofty spot considering he signed as an undrafted free agent out of Catonsville CC (Md.) earlier that summer. In his first full year of pro ball the center fielder made solid progress, showing well in the Gulf Coast and Aberdeen before making a one-game appearance with the Keys. The speedy Davis is a true "80" runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and shows enough feel to project as an average to above-average defender. He has begun to improved his approach this summer both offensively and defensively, but remains very much a work in progress. Davis is similar in body type to Hunter Pence, though he lacks Pence's current physicality. Offensively he good develop an average hit tool with fringe-average power, provided he continues to add strength. If he can develop an on-base approach, he could be useful as a #1 or #2 hitter capable of reaching base via infield hit and stretching extra bases as he works out the gaps. He'll need to mature, physically, but has time to do so. He should get the gig as starting center fielder in Delmarva next summer.

Ceiling: Average center fielder on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: 4th or 5th outfielder on 1st division team


Player: Eduardo Rodriguez
Position: left-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-2/175
B/T: L/L
Age at 11/2011: 18y7m
2011 level(s): Rookie GCL Orioles; Short-season A Aberdeen
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central
Overall Future Potential: 44-48
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Eduardo Rodriguez does not have putaway stuff, but there is a chance for three workable pitches and he had them all on display through his ten starts and one relief appearance in the 2011 GCL Orioles season. The 18-year old has a broad frame and thickening physique, which bodes well for his future physicality. His motion is generally loose and easy, coming with a clean three-quarters release and staying under control throughout. He frequently fails to get on top of his breaking ball -- a pitch that will flash some bite but for now looks like a future average offering due to rotation and plane. His fastball is an upper-80s offering that bumps 91/92 mph, and he can spot it to both sides of the plate. His change-up has the potential to outdistance his breaker as his go-to secondary offering, and he shows feel for it at an early stage. Rodriguez likely tops out as a mid-rotation arm, more likely to fall somewhere in the back-end of a rotation. None of his offerings project to plus right now, but his fastball and off-speed could grade out as above-average as he continues to refine

Ceiling: #3 starter on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: #4/#5 starter on first division team

Player: Michael Wright
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-5/195
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y10m
2011 level(s): Rookie GCL Orioles; Short-season Aberdeen; Class A Delmarva
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference
Overall Future Potential: 44-48
Prospect Grade: C+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Mike Wright started seven games for Aberdeen but may fit better as a sinker/slider reliever, long term, in spite of his workhorse build. He has a short arm circle on the back side and low arm slot, creating a tough angle for hitters to try and square his sinker/slider combo. His sinker is a low-90s offering that can bump mid-90s in short stints, and his slider compliments it well. He spots both pitches to both sides of the plate. His offspeed lags behind in development, and will likely be a focus for 2012. If he can develop a useful change to go with a solid sinker/slider combo, he could top out as a mid-rotation innings-eater.

Ceiling: #3/#4 starter on a first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Middle-relief arm

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.