07 May 2012

Buying or Selling?: Matt Wieters

Still in shock after watching the Orioles take five of six from the Yankees and Sox, I figure it's time to start digging into the particulars of the 2012 season. It's still about four weeks too early, in my mind, to get too attached to a narrative, but let's be honest -- O's fans haven't had excitement like this in a long time and there is no shame in basking in the wins a little prematurely.

Over the next two weeks we hope to tick through some of the key components to Baltimore's hot start (certain players and stats) in order to make a determination as to whether these are trends are likely to continue.  We start with the player Camden Depot highlighted as the contributor fans should be most excited about entering 2012: Matt Wieters.

Who:  Matt Wieters
What:  fWAR and rWAR both on pace for approximately 9.25
Buying or selling:  Buying

Discussion:  Let's clear-up right away that it is highly unlikely Wieters hits the 9.25 WAR mark this season (only nine position players in all of baseball topped the 7.0 rWAR mark in 2011, none topping 8.4).  So "buying" isn't buying the 9.25 pace, but Wieters can absolutely be one of the ten most valuable position players in baseball this year.  For comparison's sake, in 2011 Wieters was worth 4.6 wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference.com (rWAR) and 5.0 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs.com (fWAR). For purposes of this discussion, we will focus on rWAR, as that presents us with the largest discrepancy between current pace and last year's performance.

Defensively, Wieters continues to shine.  He displays soft hands, quick feet side-to-side, and works well to gameplan, calling an effective game much more often than not.  His catch-and-throw skill set remains among the best in game, showing easy plus-plus arm strength with accuracy.  With 37% of would-be basestealers caught in 2011, Wieters was second to only Diamondback's backstop Miguel Montero (40%) among catchers logging more than 82 games.  Thus far in 2012, Wieters continues to mow down runners, currently at a 44% clip.  Additionally, he fields his position well, particular receiving throws from the outfield, handling your typical 'tweener hops with ease while blocking the plate. 

The big jump in value this year has been at the plate.  From a scouting perspective, the biggest change has been Wieters patience.  His approach was advanced, even as a prospect, but has really shone through over the Birds' first 28 games.  Wieters has better tapped into a selectively aggressive approach at plate, laying-off more borderline pitches, and charging into the ball with more violence during hitter's counts. While the statistical sample size is too small to provide us adequate ammo for a decisive report, a cursory glance generally matches-up my scouting observations.

According to pitch f/x, as compared to 2011, Wieters has generally maintained his contact rate on pitches in zone (85.4% against 87.9%) and out of the zone (81.6% against 82.2%), and has maintained his swing rate on pitches in the zone (66.9% against 65.3%).  Where pitch f/x shows the greatest change is on swing rate on pitches out the zone, where Wieters has cut down to 22.2% from 32.3%.  Again, the sample size is small, just 28 games into the season, but this matches with my scouting observations.

On batted balls his LD%, FB%, GB% and IFH% are all within 1% of his 2011 rates, and his GB/FB rate in 2012 is 1.10 versus 1.12 in 2011.  His BABIP has climbed to .309 from .276 in 2011, which on the surface might indicate that Wieters has been a little lucky.  Keeping in mind the backdrop that batters can more directly impact their own BABIP than can pitchers, and noting the improvement in selection of pitches to attack, it could very well be that we are witnessing Wieters identifying a BABIP baseline more in line with his natural talent. It would not surprise me to see Wieters maintain a BABIP around .300 for the remainder of the season -- no small feet considering his "20" speed on the scouting scale (bottom of the barrel) all but eliminates infield hits from the equation.

Where I'd expect to see the biggest drop-off is in the homeruns. Right now Wieters is on pace to hit around 40 homeruns over the course of the 2012 season, assuming health and rest on par with the first 28 games.  That is dramatically higher than what you would expect from a player with his power tool (I graded as a "60" as a prospect, estimating around 25+ homerun potential).  Again, in a small sample size, the numbers seem to back-up the scouting.  Thus far, Wieters has a HR/FB rate of 24.1% -- an incredibly high number.  For comparison, the 2011 homerun champion Jose Bautista hit 43 dingers with a HR/FB rate of 22.5% and a FB rate of 47% (compaired to Wieters' FB rate of around 38% throughout his entire MLB career).  Wieters isn't going to hit 40 homeruns, but that HR/FB rate could stay up around 17-18%, considering the improved selective aggression he is showing in 2012, which could lead to around 20 to 23 more big flies over the remainder of the season.

Summary: Matt Wieters is for real, and if Baltimore can stay in contention in 2012 he is the AL MVP without question.  He is among the best defensive catchers in the game, and is now establishing himself as not only one of the best offensive catchers, but one of the best middle-of-the-order bats in all of baseball.  Expect some backslide as the season takes it's toll on Matt's big body, but make no mistake -- this is what the beginning of a 7.0-7.5 rWAR season looks like.

02 May 2012

What Effect Moving the Fences at Camden Yards Would Have?

I have been wondering how fence distance affects home runs.  I thought I had read somewhere that a ten foot difference results in a 20% difference in home runs.  However, I can not find that article, so I decided to figure it out myself.  I used Hit Tracker and simply graphed a section of the wall at Camden Yards with ten foot sections marked off.

In this section 138 home runs were hit from 2009-2011.  In the graph above, if the fence was at line 1 (the bottom most line), then 138 home runs would be hit.  If the fence is set ten feet back at line 2, then 108 home runs would have been hit.  That is a reduction of 30 home runs that were hit in that 10 foot space along this section of the wall.

The following graph shows the relationship between moving the fence back and home runs:

You can then use this information to predict the effect of moving a fence.

The graph above is a bit confusing.  Somehow my tired brain could not figure out how to do it.  Anyway, the way the x-axis works is that you go out to the furthest distance the fence could stand with no home runs and move back in.  The stretch of wall I looked at had a distance of 340 to 395 and correlates to the 80 mark.  Knowing that, we then can produce the following table showing how distance affects home runs over the course of three seasons:
Beginning End Projected Home Runs Actual Home Runs Percetage
260 315 469
270 325 417
280 335 367
290 345 321
300 355 278
310 365 238
320 375 201
330 385 167
340 395 137 138 100
350 405 109 108 80
360 415 85 83 62
370 425 63 62 46
380 435 45 47 33
390 445 30 31 22
400 455 18 17 13
410 465 9 12 7
420 475 4 2 3
430 485 1

01 May 2012

Revising the Season Projection: May 1st

With a month in the books, Camden Depot's projections have not exactly panned out in the short term.  Projections rarely line up over the short term, but tend to do a decent job with a greater data set.  Much of this is about finding true talent levels of players.  The Orioles are a team I think performance projections have difficulty because so many pieces have a poor amount of data.  For instance, WeiYin Chen's performance is difficult to project because the NPB is a completely different environment than MLB.  Or, projection models are unable to predict that Jason Hammel will find amazing success with a 2 seamer.

The revisions I present for the AL East over the course of the season will give the teams credit for what they have accomplished, but that they will perform according to their predicted talent level in the future.

Current Preseason May 1st Change
New York 13 97 97 0
Boston 11 92 90 -2
Tampa Bay 15 83 87 4
Toronto 12 79 79 0
Baltimore 14 68 72 4

If the Orioles can keep their pace of pulling in four more wins than they were projected for each month, they will finish with 92 wins.  That would put them in very good position for a Wild Card.

25 April 2012

Is Dylan Bundy Being Mishandled?

Recently there has been some discussion on how the Orioles are handling Dylan Bundy.  Baseball Prospectus' podcast Up and In discussed it, Keith Law mentioned it on Baseball Today, and Steve Melewski has responded peculiarly as he seems to derisively mention that Law has a podcast (Does Melewski have podcast want?). 

My personal thought on it is that I found the supposed Orioles perspective as half way defensible.  I disagree with Keith Law in that I think it can be argued that with Bundy's inning limit, which is also defensible, that it is good to ease into 5-whatever inning starts as the season progresses.  I do agree with him that Delmarva is simply too low of a level. 

Melewski mentioned that the staggered process of giving Bundy a few starts in Delmarva, a few more in Bowie, and then getting him to Bowie was in part:
... getting acclimated to the pro game, the bus rides, new teammates and many other things away from the field. To me, letting him settle in to his surroundings and ease into the games makes sense.
This is just a silly statement to me.  If you want a guy to settle into being a pro, then do you (A) shuttle him around through three affiliates over the summer or (B) keep him basically sitting in one affiliate all year?  If you want a guy to have stability, don't you want him to have the same teammates and coaches to give him some stability over the season?  It is not like he is working on skills to socialize and develop support structures on a rung by rung move. 

This whole discussion does beg the question: how have other elite high school pitchers been handled over the past few years?

Dylan Bundy
6'1 195
20yo in 2012
Bundy is starting out in A ball in Delmarva.  Melewski wrote in the above article that this will be the Orioles' plan:
Three starts at three innings, for a total of nine.
Three starts at four innings, for a total of 12.
Around 10 starts at five innings, for a total of 50.
That leaves around 50-60 innings for his last eight or so starts beginning around mid July.
That will result in about 120-130 innings pitched at Delmarva, HiA Frederick, and maybe some time in Bowie.

Archie Bradley
6'4 225
20yo in 2012
Bradley has an amazing fastball and curveball that has resulted in a lot of swing and misses.  His has a changeup in progress and has spent less time pitching than other prospects because he was also a quarterback in high school.  I do not know what the long term plan is for Bradley this season, but they are letting him make full starts and he has been dominant.  They may keep him in low A to work on the change up, but I think they could promote him right now.

Jameson Taillon
6'6 225
20yo in 2011
The Pirates were criticized a bit last year for their handling of Taillon.  The team is notorious for putting their pitchers through a strict fastball diet their first year in order to work on fastball command.  As elite a selection Taillon was, it appears they did the same with him.  He spent the entire season at A ball West Virginia and was about 30% better than league average. 

This year in HiA Bradenton, he has been eliciting a miss rate of 62%.

Zack Wheeler
6'4 185
20yo in 2010
Wheeler also started out in A ball Augusta and put in 58.2 innings.  This was largely the result of a fingernail injury that kept him off the mound.  In 2011, he spent the entire season at HiA and put in 115 IP.

Jacob Turner
6'5 210
19yo in 2010
Turner split his first full season as a pro divided relatively equally between A ball West Michigan and HiA Lakeland.  In 2011, he moved through AA and AAA to hit the MLB level.

Tyler Matzek
6'3 210
20yo in 2010
Majority opinion had Matzek as the top high school pitcher in the draft back in 2009 and he slipped due to his perceived asking price.  The Rockies started him out in A ball Asheville where he showed he had amazing swing and miss stuff, but that he had difficulty hitting the strike zone.  Add in some issues with the Rockies tinkering his mechanics and he has had a rough couple years.  In 2012, he is making another run at HiA ball and is still experiencing issues getting strikes.

Every single elite high school pitcher wound up throwing at A ball to begin their first full season.  Some teams (e.g., Pirates) were conservative and left the player there while other teams (e.g., Tigers) pushed their guy to HiA.  None of the four pitchers from the 2009 and 2010 draft classes made it to AA.

There is a thought that Bundy is so polished that he should not be treated like other high school pitchers.  If you look at the pitchers drafted before him; first selection Gerrit Cole is at HiA, Danny Hultzen is at AA, and Trevor Bauer is at AA.  I think you could make the argument that Bundy would be better challenged at HiA.  That said, although I think having him throw at Delmarva is wasting an opportunity for him to pitch against higher competition and have more stability off the field over the course of a season...it is doubtful to have any long standing effect on him one way or the other.

24 April 2012

All or Nothing: Oriole Long Balls

The Orioles are sitting here today, 16 games into the season, with a 9-7 record (still above .500 - w00!). They have hit 23 home runs already (lead by Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nolan Reimold with 5 each), which is the third most in the majors (behind the Yankees' 27 and the Rangers' 26) and puts them on pace for 230 on the season. Despite the power display, the O's have scored just 68 runs - their 4.25 runs per game is barely above the Major League average, and a quarter of a run below the AL average. That is, well, not so great.

The Birds have scored just under 3* runs per home run they've hit. That is not only lower than average (not surprisingly), but easily the worst in baseball - the Yankees would need to have their next 6 runs all come on solo home runs to pass the O's. They've gone deep 18 times in their 9 wins (scoring 5.4 runs per game), and only 5 times in their 7 losses (and never more than once a game, 2.7 runs on average).

* Last year the teams who "got the least" out of their homers were the Braves and... the Orioles (3.71 R/HR).

Obviously teams win more when they score more, and home runs should lead to more runs overall, but the gist of it is the offense is home run dependent, and when they don't go deep there are some struggles. With runners in scoring position, the team has just a .682 OPS (with only 3 home runs in 128 PA) - compared to .732 in general (and teams tend to hit better than normal with RISP) - and they've done a poor job of turning base-runners into points on the scoreboard.

Overall, the Orioles are hitting .244/.301/.430 - that's a bit below average (95 wRC+). And that line is partially carried by the home runs, which means that if other things don't pick up as the team's power drops off - a 15% home run to flyball ratio is not going to be sustainable (no team has maintained that for a full season since the '05 Reds) - the offensive production could be a bit ugly. So far this season they haven't walked much (6.5% walk rate is 4th worst in baseball), have struck out a fair bit (22.1% K rate is 2nd worst), and have a slightly below BABIP (.281).

It still very early. The offense is likely to improve, and has a good chance of being above average on the season. As long as things continue on as they've been going though, it'll be a bit of a schizophrenic* team to watch - one day they'll hit 3 homers and win 6-4, and the next they'll be kept in the yard and lose 4-1.

* Commonly incorrect usage noted.

23 April 2012

Arrivals and Departures: 4/23/12

Sorry, this has been overdue for a couple months.  We should be firing on all cylinders from here on out.

Orioles' 40 man roster and options.  You can find more information on options here (e.g., what they are, how they are used).

  • March 11, 2012 - Dylan Bundy and Ryan Adams optioned.
  • March 15, 2012 - Oliver Drake and Joe Mahoney optioned.
  • March 26, 2012 - Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Zach Phillips, Chris Tillman,  and Matt Antonelli are optioned.
  • March 29, 2012 - LHP Dana Eveland was designated for assignment in conjunction with the Orioles claiming INF Zelous Wheeler off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.  Eveland was not claimed and accepted assignment to Norfolk.
  • April 3, 2012 - RHP Alfredo Simon was designated for assignment and was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds.  OF Jai Miller was designated for assignment and passed on to Norfolk.  These two moves opened 40 man roster spots for 1B Nick Johnson and C Ronny Paulino.
  • April 17, 2012 - Orioles claimed C Luis Exposito off waivers from the Boston Red Sox and designated 3B Josh Bell who subsequently was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named later who is not expected to be anyone significant.
40 Man Roster

Jake Arrieta 3/3
Luis Ayala 0/3
signed as free agent; no options
Brad Bergesen 0/3
#1: 4/20/2010
#2: 4/9/2011
#3: 3/26/2012
Jason Berken 1/3 (serving his second one)
#1: 5/20/2011
#2: 3/26/2012
Zach Britton 3/3
Dylan Bundy 3/4
Four options as he was signed to a MLB deal when drafted
#1: 3/11/2012
Wei-Yin Chen 3/3
May be unable to use options due to contract, unsure
Oliver Drake 2/3 (serving first option)
#1: 3/15/2012
Kevin Greg
Signed as free agent; no options
Jason Hammel 0/3
Tampa used all of his options a long time ago.
Tommy Hunter 0/3
#1: 8/16/2008
#2: 4/1/2009
#3: 4/28/2010
Jim Johnson 0/3
#1: 3/12/2006
#2: 3/12/2007
#3: 5/1/2010
Matt Lindstrom
No longer qualifies
Brian Matusz 2/4
#1: 3/14/2009
#2: 6/30/2011
Darren O'Day 1/3
#1: 5/13/2008
#2: 7/14/2011
Troy Patton 0/3
#1: 3/14/2009
#2: 3/15/2010
#3: 3/11/2011
Zach Phillips 0/3 (serving last one)
#1: 3/17/2010
#2: 3/12/2011
#3: 3/26/2012
Pedro Strop 0/3
 All used prior to joining team
Chris Tillman 0/3 (serving last one)
#1: 3/17/2010
#2: 5/29/2011
#3: 3/26/2012
Tsuyoshi Wada 3/3
Unsure if options can be used.

Luis Exposito 1/3 (serving second one)
#1: 3/17/2011
#2: 3/23/2012
Ronny Paulino
No longer qualifies for options.
Taylor Teagarden 0/3
 #1: 7/21/2008
#2: 4/7/2010
#3: 3/29/2011
Matt Wieters 3/3

Ryan Adams 1/3 (serving second one)
#1: 6/18/2011
#2: 3/11/2012
Robert Andino 0/3
#1: 3/25/2006
#2: 3/23/2007
#3: 5/25/2008
Matt Antonelli 0/3 (serving last one)
#1: 3/23/2009
#2: 3/28/2010
#3: 3/26/2012
Wilson Betemit
signed as free agent; no options
Chris Davis 0/3
#1: 7/6/2009
#2: 4/23/2010
#3: 3/29/2011
Ryan Flaherty 3/3
Rule 5 player; cannot be sent to minors in 2012
J.J. Hardy
No longer qualifies for options
Nick Johnson
No longer qualifies for options
Joe Mahoney 1/3 (serving second one)
#1: 3/14/2011
#2: 3/14/2012
Mark Reynolds
No longer qualifies for options
Brian Roberts
No longer qualifies for options
Zelous Wheeler 2/3 (serving first option)
#1: 3/29/2012

Endy Chavez
Signed as free agent; no options
Adam Jones 1/3
#1: 7/14/2006
#2: 4/1/2007
Nick Markakis
No longer qualifies
Nolan Reimold
#1: 3/20/2009
#2: 5/12/2010
#3: 3/28/2011 

22 April 2012

What does April's Pennant Mean?

The Orioles have been atop the AL East for much of April.  The Orioles' success has been largely due to the performances of Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Jake Arrieta, and Jason Hammel.  This is not exactly a new thing for the team.  Last year, the Orioles stayed above .500 for 11 games with 151 at or below that mark.  This year the team has been able to go 15 strong so far with their heads above water.  These games obviously are not meaningless.  They count in the record book, but with such low expectations coming into the season one has to wonder how meaningful they are.  Six of the eight wins so far have come against two of the least talented teams in the American League (i.e., Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox).  The other two have come against a very solid mid-level team (i.e., Toronto Blue Jays).  Games against teams with more elite expectations (i.e., New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) have been highly contested.  The end result being that this has been a rather pleasant beginning to the year.

The difficulty is trying to figure out what these 15 games mean to the future.  As an analyst who is somewhat statistically inclined, this is the part of the year where I am a bit uncertain what I can actually write about.  I was discussing baseball with one of my friends at lunch on Friday in front of the Capitol and discussing how everything I have begun writing so far has not inspired me to finish any of the pieces.  She, a peripheral Red Sox fan who enjoys the Fenway experience, replied how it is nice people write critical pieces, but so little has actually happened and so much is left to occur.  In other words, the famed words: Small Sample Size.  SSS has been an often used and often overused term for those of us who engage statistics with more vigor than most.  This means often that in moments like this when our counting stats are minimal in power, we need to lean more on qualitative analysis.

But what does winning April mean?  The Orioles have a shot at it being one game behind the Yankees with a little over a week left to play.

To try to answer this question, I looked at all fourteen American League teams last year.  Specifically, I took their monthly winning percentages and ran some R2s comparing a single month's winning percentage against the average winning percentage of the other months.  By doing this, we can see to how each month's performance was able to relate to the final total.  

Month R2
April 0.05
May 0.11
June 0.05
July 0.07
August 0.59
September 0.05
First off, we see there is an amazing correlation between a team's August record in 2011 and what that team's record was in every month excluding August.  Second, this is just one year with only 14 teams.  I think it is prudent not to automatically assume that August is the defining month.  It is also unfortunate that if it is the defining month then it makes the July trade deadline a bit murky.  Regardless, it appears that maybe April's record is not incredibly useful in predicting the final record for a team.

A secondary question can then emerge: how many games does it take to see how well a team will perform in the future?  To try to answer this, I used the same data and generated R2s comparing cumulative records against the remaining record.

Date R2
May 1st 0.05
June 1st 0.16
July 1st 0.41
August 1st 0.18
September 1st 0.05
The story here is likely that the more games you play, the more certain you are of the true value of a team (measured as wins).  By that I mean, 81 games played gives you a decent idea of the true value of a team and 81 games left to play allows for that talent to represent what they are truly worth.  Having 130 games in the bag will help you know the value of a team even more, but with only 32 games left, you can have some interesting things happen that can skew a record.

Finally, I decided to run a quick regression comparing individuals months (April, May, June, and July) to a club's final record.

Month Coefficient P
April 0.39 0.006
May 0.30 0.02
June 0.25 0.03
July 0.16 0.07
Again, I caution against taking these numbers as anything definitive due to what I assume to be a small sample size.  I find it interesting that the coefficient (weighted value of a month's record related to the final total record) would be the most valuable and that the coefficients trend downward.  I would like to see this with a more robust data set.  Second, I also find it striking that the record for July did not meet the level of significance I set (P = 0.05).  I also wonder how a more robust data set would affect that.  It should also be noted that standard error here is roughly 0.1 for each month's coefficient, so that is a pretty wide range that leaves none of the months statistically significant in difference to each other.

I am not exactly sure what to conclude here other than me want to see what happens with a larger data set.  The first two exercises suggest that winning the April pennant has little bearing on what happens for the rest of the year.  The third exercise provides numbers for a convenient narrative that the beginning of the season appears to establish a perspective for the rest of the year.  That narrative would mean that if a team starts off poorly, then for some reason that performance will have an effect on the rest of the season more so than whatever is accomplished in May, June, or July.  Tempering that perspective is the relatively large standard error.

20 April 2012

2012 Draft Coverage: Finding 1:4, weekly pref list (April 20, 2012)

Jon and I ran into a bit of a buzzsaw this week with outside obligations. With apologies for the slow few days, content-wise, here is an updated pref list and a promise to double-up on items next week.  It's been an entertaining start for the Birds, for sure, and we're excited to start digging into it now that we are a handful of series into the season.

On the Draft from, starting next week we'll break down the cross-sections on the pref list (comparing pitchers, shortstops, outfielders, etc.), and will start rolling out full scouting reports (in alphabetical order). In May we'll expand our look to some later round targets, as well.

Current Preference List (April 20, 2012)
1. Mark Appel, rhp, Stanford Univ.
2. Kevin Gausman, rhp, Louisiana St. Univ.
3. Byron Buxton, of, Appling County HS (Baxley, Ga.)
4. Kyle Zimmer, rhp, Univ. of San Francisco
5. Albert Almora, of, Mater Acad. (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
6. Mike Zunino, c, Univ. of Florida
7. Lucas Giolito, rhp, Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.)
8. Carlos Correa, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Acad. (Gurabo, P.R.)
9. Gavin Cecchini, ss, Barbe HS (Lake Charles, La.)
10. Deven Marrero, ss, Arizona St. Univ.

For today's draft video, here's Kevin Gausman dealing to Arkansas earlier this month:

16 April 2012

OOTP13 is an Inside the Park Homerun

Outside of the Park 13 is the latest in a long running baseball computer game series ($39.99;
http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/out-of-the-park-baseball/).  The appeal of this games is that you are able to personally run an entire franchise.  Depending on how involved you would like to be, you could be as micromanaging as dictate how every lineup, depth chart, pitching decision, and player acquisition move plays out in your organization or you can hand your majors, minors, and scouting to your hired personnel while you focus on simply making trades.  It can be a very detailed playing experience for you or one that is quite pedestrian.  It all depends on how you want to run it.  Regardless (as best as I can tell), the game play takes time because the program actively seeks out player moves and simulates every single game from short season rookie ball to the majors.

That depth is where the title of this post comes from.  It is an impressive game, but it requires a great deal effort to truly maximize the games' potential.  It has been years since I last was into the whole gaming experience.  I cut my teeth on the original Nintendo and became rather unbeatable on several Super Nintendo games (I maintain Super Castlevania IV is the greatest game ever and I am ashamed as to occasionally wishing I had the soundtrack).  My last foray was an interest in playing Halo at a flat I rented with a couple other people during the first year of my doctoral studies.  Beyond that, softball, long distance running, foreign films, and traveling have become passions that have pushed out games for me.  Outside of the Park 13 piqued my interest because I wondered how well it could project seasons...something for which I do not think it is truly designed.

The current version of the game has the entire major and minor league rosters (with injuries) as of Opening Day.  The new CBA is fully integrated into the league rules and, after playing one season, the Houston Astros will move to the AL West.  The universe is also expanded to the inclusion of professional baseball in Japan as well as other actual international leagues (these other international leagues are populated with fictionalized players, I think).

For those who love to game, there is a real time simulation mode that gives a GM's perspective of what is happening in real time.  This includes updates of games in progress, notifications of important events, and other tidbits.  It was designed to give more meaning to the end of the season.  They also have put in something called an interactive storyline where players do things like lash out at the media or other teammates while the GM must consider where punishment in meted out.  There is also online play that many people enthusiastically play.

In the 40 or so hours I played the game, the only peculiar thing I found was that I could make one kind of seemingly unfair deal.  This is a great improvement over other games I had played in the past where you could stack countless non-prospects or bench players for cheap, good players.  The deal I found possible was that if I had a player who was average or below average and I had about three or four years left at 15MM, it was possible to deal said player for someone who was worthless at about 20MM.  From my perspective that is a steal because it saves the team 25MM while giving up someone who was going to be a deadweight on the team.  That...is the only hangup of the AI that I found I could exploit.

As someone who enjoys projection systems, I found other aspects of the game to be more interesting.  Although I may disagree with the projections, the outcomes are actually pretty consistent with what looks to be a rather realistic bell curve as projections go.  I ran through ten season simulations and kept track of several players.  Although the game does present WAR...I found it to be peculiar in how I would imagine WAR to be, so that will be a question I will be asking them later on.  Instead, I will present FIP and batting slash lines

Weiters 262/328/431
Andino 247/303/353
Reynolds 224/312/504
Betemit 266/340/458
Hardy 257/298/412
Reimold 260/319/447
Jones 280/322/473
Markakis 283/347/422

Arrieta 5.15
Hammel 4.70
Matusz 4.58
Chen 4.08

All of those numbers look reasonable to me.  The standard deviation varies slightly depending on the player, but the typical range would be +/- .020 for BA and OBP and +/- .030 for SLG.  Standard deviation for FIP ranged from 0.32 to 0.75.

The Orioles wound up winning between 67 and 73 games 90% of the time.  They were not the worst team 20% of the time.  AL East crowns went to the Yankees four times with the Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays at two a piece.  Six times the AL East had a wild card team with an additional two times having both wild card teams.  The Yankees and Brewers were considered the favorites to make the World Series with three appearances a piece.

Median Win Values in 10 Simulations
AL East
Yankees 95
Red Sox 89
Rays 86
Jays 85
Orioles 70

AL Central
Tigers 84
Royals 79
Indians 74
White Sox 72
Indians 71

AL West
Rangers 95
Angels 89
Mariners 78
A's 74

NL East
Phillies 90
Braves 87
Marlins 87
Nationals 87
Mets 71

NL Central
Reds 90
Brewers 85
Cardinals 77
Cubs 76
Pirates 68
Astros 67

NL West
Dodgers 85
Diamondbacks 84
Giants 82
Rockies 82
Padres 70

Should You Buy It?
I think if you are looking for a game that doubles as an easy simulator, then it is difficult to justify this game as being the right tool for you.  However, if you want a simulator that enables you to take a role as a GM and enjoy a realistic game, then this is right up your alley.  I am thoroughly impressed with the attention to detail in this game.  After a Baseball Prospectus article came out in February about the value of pitch framing in catcher, the development crew for this game immediately incorporated the concept.  That is impressive and that sort of comprehensive attention is an element of this game that to my knowledge has no peer.  Of course, we do not know whether we can adequately project such abilities, but I think you have to applaud the development team for considering these attributes and trying their best incorporate them.

I am planning on using the game as a simulator as the season progresses, but it will be difficult for me to do so.  It shall be interesting to see how many times I will be able to use it to provide answers to questions that pop up in my head.

12 April 2012

How Good is an NL Ace?: Mean Performance of Pitchers by Slot

There is a series of articles by Jack Sackman that you can find here.  It is an idea I found interesting an often use when I describe pitchers as a certain type of slot pitcher.  I think in common use a person referring to a guy as a one slot pitcher is more or less actually saying that the guy is a one slot pitcher on a first division team.  In other words, an ace on one of the ten best teams in baseball.  In this series of posts, I plan on going through each division and describing what each slot means and how that relates to teams.
AL East | Central | West
NL East | Central | West
NL Summary of Slots

In this post we will go through and look at four team FIP performances for each slot: median, first division cut off, best, and worst.  The following relates to numbers produced in 2011.

Slot 1
An NL pitcher at this slot could be described as:

Median 3.15
67th 3.24
33rd 3.05
The Nationals' Jordan Zimmerman (3.16 FIP) is your typical ace pitcher.  Philadelphia Phillie Cole Hamels (3.05 FIP) would be the threshold first division ace and Cardinal Jaime Garcia (3.23 FIP) would be the closest to a bottom rung ace.  In 2011, the Phillies had the best ace (Roy Halladay 32g 2.20 FIP) and the Astros were the worst (Lucas Harrell 2g 3.27 FIP; Bud Norris 30g 4.02 FIP).

Slot 2
An NL pitcher at this slot could be described as:

Median 3.62
67th 3.79
33rd 3.48
The average Slot 2 pitcher would be the Brewers Yovani Gallardo (3.59 FIP).  Reds' Ace Johnny Cueto (3.45 FIP) is the threshold first division second slot.  New Yankee Hiroki Kuroda (3.78 FIP) would qualify as a bottom threshold second slot pitcher.  The team with the best slot 2 performance are the Philles again (Cliff Lee 32g 2.60 FIP) and the worst was the Pirates (Paul Maholm 23g 3.78; Brad Lincoln 8g 3.88 FIP; Aaron Thompson 1g 3.95 FIP).

Slot 3
An NL pitcher at this slot could be described as:

Median 3.91
67th 4.05
33rd 3.73
Your typical three is the Cubs' Ryan Dempster (3.91 FIP).  The first division gate keeper is the Brewers Shawn Marcum (3.73 FIP).  Jason Marquis (4.05 FIP) would be the bottom rung three man.  The Phillies again have the best performance for the slot (Cole Hamels 31g 3.00 FIP; Vance Worley 1g 3.24 FIP) and the worst was, once again, the Pirates (Jeff Karstens 26g 4.29 FIP; James McDonald 6g 4.68 FIP).

Slot 4
An NL pitcher here can be described as:

Median 4.23
67th 4.55
33rd 4.08
Jhoulys Chacin (4.23 FIP) of the Rockies is the pitcher that embodies the meaning of the fourth slot.  The Brewers' Chris Narveson (4.06 FIP) would be your threshold 4 man and the Phillies' Kyle Kendrick (4.55 FIP) would be your lower tier line.  The Phillies once again set the tone here with the best 4 slot squad (Vance Worley 20g 3.24 FIP; Roy Oswalt 12g 3.44 FIP) and the worst was the Reds (Mike Leake 7g 4.21 FIP; Sam LeCure 4g 4.57 FIP; Edison Volquez 20g 5.29 FIP; Bronson Arroyo 1g 5.71 FIP).

Slot 5
An NL pitcher here can be described as:

Median 4.64
67th 5.27
33rd 4.41
The median 5 slot pitcher would be the Mets' Dillon Gee (4.65 FIP).  Your first division fiver was the fellow Met Mike Pelfrey (4.47 FIP) and the bottom third gate keeper was the Reds' Edison Volquez (5.29 FIP).  The Phillies sweep the slots (Roy Oswalt 11g 3.44FIP; Joe Blanton 8g 3.55 FIP; Kyle Kendrick 13g 4.75 FIP) in better fashion than the Orioles who rated last across the board. The team with the worst back end performance in the NL was the Diamondbacks (Joe Saunders 5g 4.78; Wade Miley 7g 4.79 FIP; Micah Owings 4g 4.85 FIP; Jason Marquis 3g 6.91; Barry Enright 7g 6.98 FIP; Armando Galarraga 6g 7.29 FIP).

AL Average Rotation
1 - Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
2 - Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
3 - Ryan Dempster, Cubs
4 - Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies
5 - Dillon Gee, Mets

AL First Division Threshold Rotation
1 - Cole Hamels, Phillies
2 - Johnny Cueto, Reds
3 - Shawn Marcum, Brewers
4 - Chris Narveson, Brewers
5 - Mike Pelfrey, Mets

11 April 2012

2012 Draft Coverage: Finding 1:4, weekly pref list (April 11, 2012)

No travels over the holiday weekend, which means it was a video weekend for the 1:4 pref list. My focus was on starting to narrow down this top 15 list into a more manageable top 10. In addition to reviewing video I've taken on all of these players (totaling over 50 videos), I was able to catch-up on some game film I've had stored on the computer and in some cases on my DVR. Below are some quick thoughts on the guys currently situated 6-10, and what could cause them to rise-up or get cut from the pref list in the coming weeks. Also, I've included reasoning for dropping players 11-15 from consideration:

Still in the running:
Albert Almora (of) -- Easily the most impressive HS outfielder for me through the summer and fall. Lacks the ceiling of Buxton, but much more refined actions in the field and at the plate. Direct to contact, good plane, and shows pop in a projectable frame. Instincts in the outfield are great and reads off the bat are already average or better by Major League standards.

Gavin Cecchini (ss) -- Focused player with through-the-roof make-up. Business-like approach to the showcase circuit and performed well throughout each stop. I liked that he elected to use wood in the HS game I recently attended, but he expanded his strikezone and failed to square what should have been highly over-matched pitching (including a shaky freshman making his first ever appearance for the varsity squad). I'm relying on the summer/fall showings in projecting the bat to be top-ten worthy, and the glove/arm/actions/instincts make short the easy position to project to.

Carlos Correa (ss/3b) -- Big pop and big arm strength. His approach is a work-in-progress, though he has helped his cause over the past 9-months, shortening his load without losing the violence in his barrel delivery. The result is a shorter swing with comparable torque and a little more time to pitch-ID. Looks like a third baseman, long term, but if you believe in the bat (I do) you could have a "60" player between the offensive and defensive profile.

Luc Giolito (rhp) -- Elbow strain makes him a wildcard, but he's easily the highest-ceilinged arm on the board for me. Giolito has shown growth from his coming out party during the 2010 Area Code Games to the summer circuit and winter workouts. He isn't likely to be a fast-move candidate, but the wait should be worth it. Once he gets everything working together in his motion, he could be a plus to plus-plus velocity guy at 85% effort.

Deven Marrero (ss) -- Beware narratives! Marrero hasn't been hitting, but we do have a history of seeing him perform, including with wood. The trend right now is to for media outlets to come up with a reason that Marrero has struggled this spring. The truth is that he has always been a slightly better hitter with wood than with BBCOR, and even with wood he has never really looked like + hit or + power guy. You're buying positional certainty, advanced feel, and saved money on development.

Missing the cut:
Max Fried (lhp) -- Projectable, advanced secondaries, but limited "now" velocity and consistency. Fried is exactly the type of player I hope to get a shot at in the middle-third of the first round or lower, but lacks the probability to really match-up with the players that will be available in the top 5.

Stryker Trahan (c) -- The defense was just too rough in the spring check-in for me to keep him in the discussion for selection in the top 5 overall. The power is legit, and big, and his athleticism could allow him to play an outfield corner (likely left field) if he has to scoot out from behind the dish. Some folks close to Stryker had very positive comments regarding his make-up, work ethic, and overall character.

Zach Eflin (rhp) -- Spring helium guy that was overlooked more than he should have been in the fall down in Jupiter. The velocity jump is nice, but certainly not surprising, considering the arm speed, frame, and easy motion. The same, there are three legit college arms with better "now" stuff and more probability. It doesn't make sense to keep a follow on Eflin in that context when, essentially, you're looking for Eflin to develop into one of those college arms.

David Dahl (of) -- Potential five-tool package that just misses manifestation in-game, from my looks. His speed plays down some due to some inconsistency in his routes, and he can get too pull-happy at the plate. Almora and Buxton present higher probability and ceiling, making Dahl redundant on our follow list. That said, he's the type of player that, two years from now, people might scratch their head and wonder how he was available at 15th overall.

Walker Weickel (rhp) -- Projection guy in the summer that saw some slide down in Jupiter and a full step back this spring. His ceiling now isn't any lower than it was in the summer (top high school arm in the draft), but he hasn't taken that big step forward yet, and the safer bet is still Giolito. Like Eflin, Weickel just doesn't offer enough over the college trio to make his continued follow worthwhile.

On to the 1:4 pref list:

Current Preference List (April 11, 2012)
1. Mark Appel, rhp, Stanford Univ.
2. Byron Buxton, of, Appling County HS (Baxley, Ga.)
3. Kevin Gausman, rhp, Louisiana St. Univ.
4. Kyle Zimmer, rhp, Univ. of San Francisco
5. Mike Zunino, c, Univ. of Florida
6. Albert Almora, of, Mater Acad. (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
7. Lucas Giolito, rhp, Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.)
8. Gavin Cecchini, ss, Barbe HS (Lake Charles, La.)
9. Carlos Correa, ss/3b, Puerto Rico Baseball Acad. (Gurabo, P.R.)
10. Deven Marrero, ss, Arizona St. Univ.

Dropped out:
11. Max Fried, lhp, Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.)
12. Stryker Trahan, c, Acadiana HS (Lafayette, La.)
13. Zach Eflin, rhp, Hagerty HS (Chuluota, Fla.)
14. David Dahl, of, Oak Mountain HS (Birmingham, Ala.)
15. Walker Weickel, rhp/1b, Olympia HS (Fla.)

For today's draft video, here's a look at Carlos Correa(ss/3b, Puerto Rico Baseball Acad., Gurabo, P.R.) in action down in Jupiter:

Will This Be the Decade of the Offensive Catcher?

If you graph the number of seasons catchers had a 125 OPS+ or higher by decade, you get this graph:

If one was to believe in cyclical production at catcher, you would have the impression that the 2011-2020 decade will produce about 26-30 seasons of catchers hitting better than 125 OPS+.  Much of this production would be placed on the backs of Brian McCann, Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana, and Buster Posey.  I can see those four accounting for maybe 12-16 seasons.  That is a mighty strong base crop of catchers.  In the 1930s, the production was largely resulting from Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett, and Bill Dickey.  In the 1970s, Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons led the charge.

10 April 2012

Cup of jO's (April 10, 2012): Thoughts on Matusz's Start

It wasn't the start that O's fans were hoping for, but as one data point it wasn't terrible. We'll go in-depth on 2012 Matusz once he has accumulated three or four starts, but some quick thoughts for today:

- Overall Matusz's stuff was good, though he was at times inconsistent with his implementation.

- This was among his best showings this year (including Spring Training) with regards to release point. He was highly consistent finding the same slot and release point for his four offerings, which aided in his deception and allowed a 90 mph fastball to miss some good bats.

- The curve and slider were, at times, above-average to plus. His focus moving into start two will be commanding each better to both sides of the plate.

- His change-up wasn't really there for him, though it appeared this was more a result of him not turning it over consistently. As a feel pitch, it's more likely he just didn't have it last night than it is there are long term issues with the offering.

- I counted 9 to 11 pitches that could have easily been called strikes that were not. Pitch fx put the number at 8 no-doubters (significantly in the strikezone) that were not called strikes. This is part of the game, but against a patient and opportunistic line-up like the Yankees, you can bet you are going to run into trouble if it takes you are required to get four or five strikes past a hitter in order to retire him.

Overall, it was a middle-of-the-road start, scouting-wise, and an ugly start from a stat-line perspective. Matusz next matches up against the Jays on Sunday -- we'll hope he maintains the quality of his pitches while improving the placement of his secondaries.

09 April 2012

Cup of jO's (April 9, 2012): The O's, via Tom Scocca

What I'm reading...
Just a quick hit today, as we gear up for the O's series against the winless Yankees. Tom Scocca (Deadspin.com) published an Orioles-centric piece last Friday that is worth a read for every Orioles fan out there. In fact, I'd argue it is a therapuetuc read for any fan base suffering through seasons of losing.

Scocca opens the piece with a look back at the fantastic win that closed out the 2011 season and relegated the Red Sox to an October at home. What follows is an insightful look into the plight that has been the experience of the Orioles fanbase these last 14-years. In conclusion, he offers up a tentatively optimistic view of the current Orioles, their current management, and their 2012 campaign.

Maybe the real undervalued asset was in hiring an unwanted veteran general manager, rather than the sixth- or eighth-best whiz kid on the whiz-kid market. Duquette seems to be trying to get ahead however he can, not angling to position himself to implement a long-range plan to create a future window of opportunity. The long view doesn't require you to grab Zelous Wheeler off waivers at the last minute.

The reason you grab Zelous Wheeler and Matt Antonelli and Nick Johnson is so that, at some point this year, when Chris Davis or Mark Reynolds unleashes his violent, unsound swing and for once connects with the ball, it will be a two-run home run instead of a solo shot, because someone ahead of him has drawn a walk. You do it so that the Red Sox pitchers have to throw three or four extra pitches in an inning.

These are little things. The 27th out in the 162nd game of a losing season is a little thing, too. Until you refuse to concede it.

Make no mistake, the author does not claim the Baltimore fans should start printing playoff tickets. But it is a nice look at the organization for people who haven't necessarily been paying attention to Baltimore for the last decade or so. It's a balanced piece that leans a little to the rosier side of things -- not the tilt that O's fans are used to reading outside of fanbase blogs. Give it a read.

Coming soon...
Thursday will mark a new experimental series for us. I will prepare advance scouting reports for readers to view prior to an Orioles series. The series will serve less as an introduction to the Orioles opponents than it will a true advance scouting compilation, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of individual players. We'll give it a go and see what you all think.