26 August 2012

The Case for Joe Saunders

This column began as a thesis on how Joe Saunders might be helpful to the Orioles this year and what it would cost to acquire him.  That changed as the Orioles ended the speculation and agreed on a deal with the Diamondbacks.  Free Agent to be Joe Saunders and an undisclosed amount of cash come to the Orioles for Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named later.  There has been no information on the player to be named later other than it was mentioned that this individual is a not a "targeted" prospect from the lower level of the minors who will be determined after the season.  This means that there is a group of players the Diamondbacks will be allowed to select from that has at the moment been agreed upon.  Additionally, it is possible that the group of prospects for selection may change depending on the success of the Orioles.  This possibility would be similar to the Steve Trachsel for Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry deal in 2007.  The Cubs made the playoffs and that resulted in the Orioles also receiving Jake Renshaw.

What did the Orioles lose?

On a team with many weaknesses, the Orioles have something in excess: relief pitching.  The Orioles have relief in spades this year.  Matt Lindstrom has a 2.72 ERA.  When the season ended last year, that mark would have been beaten by only Jim Johnson.  This year, Darren O'Day, Troy Patton, Luis Ayala, and Pedro Strop all have better marks.  The Orioles also have decent arms in Jake Arrieta and whoever else falls out of the rotation.  Many of these arms are right handed like Lindstrom.  In terms of pure numbers and effectiveness, Lindstrom was neither special or unique on this team.

One thing the Orioles need?

The Orioles' starting pitching has been incredibly uneven this season. 


W  L  ERA  IP  ERA+ 
Wei-Yin Chen*  12 7 3.87 151 108
Tommy Hunter  4 8 5.95 121 70
Jason Hammel  8 6 3.54 109.1 118
Jake Arrieta  3 9 6.13 101.1 68
Brian Matusz*  5 10 5.40 85 78
Miguel Gonzalez  5 3 3.66 66.1 115
Chris Tillman  6 2 3.71 51 114
Zach Britton*  3 1 5.59 37 75
Dana Eveland*  0 1 4.73 32.1 89
Steve Johnson  2 0 3.18 17 134
Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel have kept the rotation afloat for much of the year.  Neither are having great seasons, but they are certain having very good ones.  Jason Hammel could have actually been a fringe Cy Young argument if he had not missed eight starts this year.  Beyond those two, the Orioles have seen horrific results from several pitchers (e.g., Zach Britton) and very good performances from several pitchers (e.g., Zach Britton).  The team faces an open question of how successful can this squad be with Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson and whoever else they use.  Combine that with a desire to lower the workloads for Miguel Gonzalez and Chen...that makes for a starting pitching deficit.  Joe Saunders may help fulfill some of that need.

Who is Joe Saunders?

Saunders is in his eighth season as a starting pitcher.  He has never made an appearance as anything other than a starting pitcher.

Age  Tm  ERA  G  IP  ERA+  HR/9  BB/9  SO/9 
24 LAA  7.71 2 9.1 57 2.9 3.9 3.9
25 LAA  4.71 13 70.2 96 0.8 3.7 6.5
26 LAA  4.44 18 107.1 102 0.9 2.9 5.8
27 LAA  3.41 31 198 131 1 2.4 4.7
28 LAA  4.6 31 186 95 1.4 3.1 4.9
29 TOT  4.47 33 203.1 92 1.1 2.8 5
30 ARI  3.69 33 212 109 1.2 2.8 4.6
31 ARI  4.22 21 130 102 1.2 2.1 6.2
What you can see above is that Saunders was very good one year and has consistently performed at a back end level for a first division team.  Here are a few more numbers for your perusal.

Age  Tm  bWAR fWAR
24 LAA  -0.2 -0.2
25 LAA  0.5 1.3
26 LAA  1.2 1.8
27 LAA  4.4 2.8
28 LAA  0.3 1.1
29 TOT  -0.3 1.7
30 ARI  1.4 1
31 ARI  0.6 1.7
As a reminder, the basic difference between the two metrics is that bWAR credits the pitcher for batted ball quality while fWAR does not consider potential pitcher effects on batted ball quality.  I wrote about the two statistics in a post about last winter's Jeremy Guthrie - Jason Hammel deal.  So, yes, you can argue that Saunders is more of the same that the Orioles already have or that he may be a solid average pitcher.

Something has also been made of Saunders' poor record at home with the inflated offensive atmosphere in Arizona.  Below are a couple seasons from his time with the Angels and his last two years in Arizona.


Angels




Home wOBA
Road wOBA
2007 5.11 0.37
3.71 0.312
2008 4.27 0.322
2.55 0.289

Dbacks




Home wOBA
Road wOBA
2011 4.42 0.349
3.14 0.309
2012 5.8 0.371
2.92 0.288
As you can see...you could have made similar arguments about how Saunders would benefit pitching elsewhere.  2009 and 2010 showed rather even performance.  More so, the Angels home field is not a place where it is particularly easy for home runs to be hit.  It seems doubtful that the Orioles should expect him to be a low 3 era pitcher.

Additional Value as a Relief Pitcher?

Saunders has pitched in 285 games as a professional.  He has thrown in relief once.  It was 2005 when he was with the Salt Lake City Buzz.  Saunders value as a reliever is purely hypothetical as we have no indication whether he can actually pitch in relief.  The Orioles saw something similar with Dontrelle Willis this year.  He tried to throw in relief, met some hard times, and could not do it.  Some of that may have been mental and some of it may be physical damage to his arm.  That said, we do not know if Saunders is OK being in the pen.

The hope is that he can use his ability to shut down lefties as a starter to his advantage in the pen.


Left

Right

wOBA FIP
wOBA FIP
2006 0.237 2.43
0.327 4.49
2007 0.273 2.53
0.359 4.69
2008 0.294 3.56
0.309 4.60
2009 0.306 4.13
0.361 5.01
2010 0.310 3.93
0.358 4.80
2011 0.250 2.67
0.347 4.90
2012 0.208 1.65
0.361 5.01
If Saunders can handle the relief state of mind, he could prove to be a rather impressive force from the bullpen against lefties.  With expanded rosters in September, a larger bullpen would enable more frequent use of batter specific match ups.  With a smaller rotation in the playoffs, a similar situation could also be utilized.


Conclusion

The Orioles adding Joe Saunders to the mix while bring Jake Arrieta to the bullpen will give Buck better options to use at the Major League level.  This is certainly not a game changing trade.  Few deals in August are game changers.  However, the Orioles have been able to convert their abundance of relief talent into improving the talent available for starting pitching.  As long as the player to be named later is no one of great importance, this is a solid deal looking to go as deep as possible this year.

Playoff Update: Oriole Magicks (August 26, 2012)

And, so, yes, the Orioles continue to defy their peripherals.  According to their run differential, the Orioles have have 11 more games than they should have won.  At the moment, they join the 2009 Mariners (10), 2008 Angels (12), 2007 Diamondbacks (11), 2005 Diamondbacks (11), and the 2004 Yankees (12) as teams that have exceeded their expected win total by 10 or more wins.  In other words, it is an occasion that has happened 1.5% of the time in the 2000s.  One remarkable trait of all teams is that they did well in close games.



W L
2012 Orioles 23 6
2004 Yankees 24 16
2005 Dbacks 28 18
2007 Dbacks 32 20
2008 Angels 31 21
2009 Mariners 35 20
Close games do not fully explain their knacks for exceeding the run differential, but if you combine that with general deviation from the projected win totals...it makes sense that these events can occur.  It also makes sense that these events are likely not representative of any skills.  However, the data set is too small and the analysis is not incredibly in depth to make any solid conclusions.  Basically, the take home likely is that hopefully the ride continues this year and, come offseason, the team cannot rest on its laurels.

For this update, I have included "luck."  This metric can be defined as what our fWAR projection of wins compares with actual wins.  A positive number means the team is outperforming their projection.  As you can see, fWAR is wholly unimpressed with the Orioles.  Only the Indians have a lower fWAR than the Orioles.  This is quite remarkable.

As a reminder, the p30 projection considers the fWAR of the last 30 days.

Team Wins "Luck" Proj Final * p30 Proj
TEX  75 0 97 West 97
NYY  73 -1 94 East 93
CHW  70 8 88 Central 88
 TBR  70 4 88 WC 92
 OAK  69 7 87 tWC 88
 BAL  69 17 84 3 GB 86
 DET  68 0 87 tWC 90
 LAA  66 -3 85 2 GB 85
 SEA  61 4 77 10 GB 79
 BOS  60 -7 78 9 GB 77
 KCR  56 -2 73 14 GB 74
 TOR  56 2 71 16 GB 67
 CLE  55 4 70 17 GB 64
 MIN  51 -3 66 21 GB 67
One good bit of news in the past few days has been the Red Sox - Dodgers deal.  The Orioles have several games remaining against the Red Sox and they have become a weaker team by removing Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.  In their place will be the continually underwhelming James Loney and whoever the Red Sox can get to be their fifth pitcher.  The more Aaron Cook and Felix Dubront are in the BoSox rotation the better.  Of course, this makes the Rays and Yankees schedule easier, but it helps the Orioles against the teams in the other divisions vying for the Wild Card.



20 August 2012

Just Some Graphs: Run Scoring and Earning

In a comment on the post before this one I put forth my current untested hypothesis on how the Orioles can win so many close games, but look so awful in games decided by more than a few runs.  Here it is:
The Orioles have a solid bullpen to go along with a feast or famine starting rotation and an offense that is atrocious at hitting themselves or walking themselves on base.  Therefore, in games where the score is close, the Orioles' solo or two run home runs help make the difference.  In games in which the other team get more of a lead, the Orioles simply cannot put enough men on base unless they begin to chase relievers.
That is it.  I do not know if it is correct.  Why I do know is that somehow the Orioles are doing something that no one has done before to the extent that they are doing it.  They are dominant in close games and positively atrocious in the others.  Remarkable.

Here is a graph for your amusement depicting runs scored or giving over the course of a single game as a frequency:


Here is a cumulative run scoring chart, adding from low scores to high scores:


I am not sure if that informs us of much.  However, you do see a shift where the Orioles tend to score two to five runs at a greater frequency than their opponents.  They have also given up four scores higher than any they have produced this season.  It may well be that this team is constructed to brilliantly split hairs.

19 August 2012

Who will make the playoffs? (August 19)

This series keeps chugging along with the Orioles slowly, but steadily, moving upwards even though they still project as having the fewest wins remaining in the season.  If you gauge the team by the full season, then they are below average.  If you gauge them by the last thirty games, then they are average.  However, they still seem to figure out how to win (ignoring July).

Team Wins Proj. Wins Total * p30 Proj
NYY  71 25 96 East 96
TEX  69 25 94 West 90
 TBR  66 21 87 WC 93
CHW  65 21 86 WC 85
 BAL  65 18 83 3 GB 85
 OAK  64 21 85 1 GB 86
 DET  64 23 87 Central 89
 LAA  62 22 84 2 GB 84
 BOS  59 21 80 6 GB 76
 SEA  57 18 75 11 GB 76
 TOR  56 18 74 12 GB 73
 CLE  54 18 72 14 GB 68
 KCR  53 20 73 13 GB 74
 MIN  50 19 69 17 GB 71


16 August 2012

A Quick Thought on Melky Cabrera

Yesterday, the news came out on Melky Cabrera testing positive for testosterone and that he would be immediately serving a 50 game suspension.  As I understand the suspension, it means that he will be available for the playoffs if the Giants make it.  Several writers reacted to the news:

John Sickels
Cabrera has greatly exceeded expectations the last two seasons, and now we know why. Certainly, his record as a prospect didn't imply that he was capable of this kind of performance.

Danny Knobler
Yes, Melky suspension is tough on Giants. But as one player from another team said, they already benefited from his cheating.

Jon Heyman
His career turnaround seemed too good to be true. And so it was.
All of these are really unsubstantiated comments.  Danny Knobler implicitly agrees with an unnamed player making a conclusion based on unsubstantiated connections between drug use and performance.  Jon Heyman falls into the same boat.  John Sickels, a conduit for evaluation on prospects, should know full well that player development is not linear.  It surprises me that someone who has spent his life analyzing player performance would so quickly attach himself to the idea that testosterone cures all.  It is disappointing to read such a knee jerk response from a writer who was really the person who got me into more critically evaluating prospects.

What do we know about testosterone and athletic performance?

Testosterone will increase muscle mass.  It will increase muscle mass more with exercise.  This muscle is largely functional in that it certainly does increase strength (something human growth hormone has not been found to do making it the biggest bogeyman of this thrashing, poorly thought out effort to reduce PED use in baseball).  So, yes, testosterone will make you bigger and stronger and using it with a great deal of hard work will make you even bigger and stronger.

This leads to the next part of the logic train: does strength mean you are a better baseball player?

Maybe, but we do not know.  I think everyone is aware of the wall of sound declaring that PEDs actually increase performance, but there actually is a great body of evidence suggesting otherwise.  The answer is not incredibly clear cut, so to immediately assume everything is a mirage is somewhat Chicken Little-ing the discussion.

That is what truly irritates me about the whole PED discussion...it simply is not a discussion.  It is a horde of folks running and chasing after an easy concept without truly considering the complexity of the situation.  Human growth hormone supplements could have been an amazing conversation about the state of science and how athletes are using the substances.  Instead, we throw every player using into a raging fire where taking a more conservative approach would have enabled us to determine more clearly whether or not a substance improved performance or not.  This resulted in MLB spending millions of dollar to initiate and maintain an HGH program that likely roots out (poorly) usage of a substance that in all likelihood does nothing to improve performance.

Honestly, I think the only proven effects of PED use in baseball is lazy sports writing.

Yes, Melky cheated.  No, we don't know if him cheating with testosterone had anything to do with his improved performance.  It probably is not directly unrelated.  It probably has a great deal of placebo effect riding on it.  However, a lot, if not almost all, of it is likely Melky.  His career walk rate, strikeout rate, stolen base rate, and home run rate are all in expected ranges.  The difference is that he BABIP is about 20% higher than his career level (and we should expect that to crash) and, with that increase in BABIP, he is showing an increase in secondary power.  For a player at an age where peak performance could be expected and someone who had not to dissimilar seasons in 2011 and 2009 when accounting for BABIP...this season is really not remarkable.



13 August 2012

Minor League Update: Kevin Gausman (rhp, Clas A-SS Aberdeen)

Kevin Gausman (rhp, Class A-SS Aberdeen) made his home debut for the Iron Birds on Sunday, tossing three scoreless innings.  Gausman cut through Connecticut's line-up with little difficulty, the lone hit surrendered coming off the bat of former Stanford Cardinal (and fellow 2012 draftee) Jake Stewart.

Gausman's 2012 pro action will be limited to short stints as he rounds out his work load for the year, which began back in February with LSU.  Through two starts, the young righty's cumulative line sits at 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, and 5 SO. 

Currently Baltimore's #3 prospect, Gausman has true #1 upside and could headline the Orioles future rotation or slot in behind Dylan Bundy, depending on how each refines.  His fastball and change-up are already consistently above-average to plus, with each of his curve and his slider showing plus at times over the past two seasons. 

Here is our brief overview of Gausman from the 2012 mid-season top 25 prospect rankings:
 
3. Kevin Gausman (rhp, unassigned) / Age: 21y6m / Prev. Rank: N/A
Baltimore's first round selection in the 2012 draft (fourth overall selection) has an impact arsenal and has shown a proclivity for absorbing instruction over the past two years at LSU. His progression is unlikely to be linear, but the finished product could be a legit #1 or #2 starter. He should have limited pro exposure this summer, and will likely start 2013 with Class A-Adv. Frederick. 

We broke down Gausman in more detail here, as part of our draft coverage.  His next start should come next weekend, again against Connecticut. 

12 August 2012

The Orioles Record on August 12 the last 20 Years

With the loss last night, the Orioles fell out of the Wild Card lead and are now a half game backwith Detroit.  Tampa and Oakland now lead the Wild Card.  What remains exciting is that this is the first true threat by the Orioles to get into the playoffs this last in the season since 1997 when they went wire to wire in first place.  In fact, 0.5 games out of the Wild Card is a good 8.5 games better than there next closest mark on August 12 since 1997.

With 15 years gone between genuinely competitive years, we have many a fan who is unfamiliar with a winning club and many who do not exactly comprehend how well the team has picked up wins.

Below is a table comparing the records of all Orioles teams on August 12 since 1993.

Year W L Rnk GB
1993 65 31 4 2.5
1994 63 49 2 7
1995 46 51 3 12
1996 60 56 2 9
1997 72 41 1 Up by 5
1998 61 57 3 26.5
1999 51 63 4 19.5
2000 50 64 4 13.5
2001 49 68 4 20
2002 56 59 3 15.5
2003 57 60 4 13.5
2004 54 58 4 17.5
2005 56 58 4 10.5
2006 51 65 4 18
2007 53 62 4 16.5
2008 57 61 5 14.5
2009 47 66 5 23
2010 40 74 5 30.5
2011 45 70 5 26.5
2012 61 53 3 6.5

11 August 2012

Who Gets In? (8/11/2012)

I put in a different column this week.  As mentioned before, I have been using season long fWAR to project future performance.  The idea is that perhaps fWAR is a better metric to use for a projection than simple runs scored and runs given.  The new column (p30) uses fWAR from the past 30 days to project future performance.  I do not know if it is a better way to do things or not.  Regardless, both methods are utilizing a descriptive statistic as the basis for projecting performance.

Team Wins Proj. Wins Total * p30 Proj
NYY  66 30 96 East 96
TEX  65 30 95 West 89
CHW  61 26 87 WC 84
 BAL  61 21 82 5 GB 84
 DET  61 27 88 Central 90
 OAK  60 24 84 3 GB 88
 TBR  60 25 85 2 GB 89
 LAA  60 27 87 WC 88
 BOS  56 25 81 6 GB 78
 TOR  53 23 76 11 GB 74
 CLE  52 21 73 14 GB 68
 SEA  51 21 72 15 GB 75
 MIN  49 22 71 16 GB 76
 KCR  48 23 71 16 GB 72
To emphasize the AL East:

Team Proj Win
NYY  30
TBR 25
BOS 25
 TOR 23
 BAL 21



10 August 2012

The Replacement Arms


by Jon Bernhardt

There’s been a lot of talk about the luck the Baltimore Orioles have had in being nine games above .500 going into the second weekend of August, tied for a berth in the new second Wild Card slot and generally playing over their heads across the board.

Specifically, it’s been tied to the Orioles’ record in one-run games—22-6 (.786) –and their record in extra innings—12-2 (.857). Neither of those winning percentages are sustainable at those margins.
The above sentence should be read not as “the Orioles are about to regress in one-run games and extra innings, hard” but instead as “it’s more likely than not that moving forward, they will see a more normal rate of success; that is, closer to .500.” There is absolutely no reason that just because the Orioles have played .750 ball in one-run games up until this arbitrary point, that they must play deplorably to even things out—just that you shouldn’t be too surprised or disappointed if that goes on for a little while. In other words, there’s no such thing as being due. This is elementary probability.
But baseball games—and most human endeavors—are governed by far more than luck, and the most important thing that a team can have in a game that’s late and close is good pitching. As Taylor Teagarden has demonstrated on multiple occasions, if a game goes long enough just about any hitter will do; it’s the pitchers that really matter. Once you get into the soft belly of a bullpen things have a tendency to go south very fast.

The Orioles bullpen, however, hasn’t shown many signs of that—excepting 2011 closer Kevin Gregg, of course, who has been all but explicitly demoted to mop-up duty. In the offseason there was massive turnover in the composition of the Orioles pen from last year, due mostly to the efforts of Buck Showalter and new General Manager Dan Duquette. Showalter is not, and should not, be showrunning actual baseball ops decisions, but the man knows how to put together and use a pitching staff. It’s useful now, I think, as the Orioles go into the final run of the season, to examine a few members of the current Baltimore pen and exactly how they’re doing what they’re doing—especially late and close.
Mop-Up: Kevin Gregg
2011 Role: MLB Closer, Baltimore
2012 Compensation: $5,800,000
2013 Contract Status: Free Agent
Let’s start with Kevin, actually. Gregg was last year’s closer and Gregg was abysmal last year, but one hardly had much to do with the other; Gregg’s a marginal major leaguer to begin with and it’s likely only his make-up and personal bravado kept him hanging around in the late innings as long as he did. Not that Gregg has a bad make-up, per se. Closer mentality is horribly overrated and terribly misused as a term, but the fact remains that the late innings are higher pressure situations than the earlier ones simply because journalists, fans, coaches, and other players act as if it were so. There have been pitchers—LaTroy Hawkins is the classic example walked out here, but there have been others—who have been able to handle every relief duty except the closer’s role. The reason men like Hawkins are so rare are because generally players that can’t psychologically handle closing also can’t handle other instances of high leverage relief, pitch poorly across the board and are quickly remanded back to the minor leagues.

All that said, having a closer mentality doesn’t actually make one better at throwing baseballs, as Orioles fans discovered when Gregg came out. There was a metric last year that I had called the Kevin Gregg Hat Trick: the strikeout, the walk, and the hit allowed in a single inning. There were instances last year where Gregg recorded two of those in the same outing, though he never had an inning where he recorded a save with three, to my knowledge. Considering that recording three Kevin Gregg Hat Tricks requires allowing six baserunners while making no outs on the basepaths, I’m not even sure it’s possible. As the year wore on, he began allowing more hits and walking more batters while striking out fewer and trying to keep a running tally just became an exercise in depression.
Gregg’s been a bit of a nuisance in 2012, but nothing heart-stopping or nightmare-fueling like last year. The reason isn’t because his pitching’s improved all that much—his 105 ERA+, 1.76 K/BB, 1.598 WHIP line in 2012 is better than his 97 ERA+, 1.33 K/BB, 1.642 WHIP line in 2011, but not excessively so—but because his game-entering Leverage Index (gmLI), which tracks how important the situation is to the team when a pitcher enters the game with 1.0 being average pressure, has plummeted from 1.4 in 2011 to 0.5 in 2012. So in essence, he’s being used just like a guy who can give you 60-70 innings of middling with lots of hits, lots of walks, and lots of strikeouts should be used—sparingly. Showalter gave Gregg an entire lost season to prove he could pitch late and build his value, he couldn’t, he didn’t, he’s mop-up, case closed.

To his credit, Gregg’s taken his demotion with surprising grace considering his willingness to call out former teammate Koji Uehara last year when the Baltimore media began debating whether Gregg or Uehara should close, and there were reports that he’s tried to take on some sort of mentor role towards younger players on the team. Good on him, I say. It’s a savvy move, too: if you’re not going to beat the world on the field, you better show that you’re worth something to a club off of it. Gregg probably won’t have trouble finding work with a club next year, though it won’t be for the ludicrous 2/12 the Orioles gave him.
Middle Relief: Troy Patton
2011 Role: MLB Middle Relief, Baltimore; AAA Long Relief/Spot Starter, Norfolk
2012 Compensation: $480,000
2013 Contract Status: First Year Arbitration Eligible
Troy Patton’s had an interesting year; in fact, it might be the most interesting of all of pitchers that returned to the pen from last year’s squad. Patton came to Baltimore in the (first) Miguel Tejada trade, which sent Miggy to Houston for Luke Scott, Patton, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, and Mike Costanzo. Scott is now a Tampa Bay Ray, Albers a Diamondback by way of Boston, Sarfate’s in Japan and Costanzo is tooling around the Cincinnati organization, but Patton remains in Baltimore. He was the best prospect in the deal (Scott was already a major leaguer, if a part time player of sorts before coming to Baltimore), and he rewarded the Orioles by immediately tearing his labrum and missing all of 2008. He stayed in the minors for almost all of 2009, pitching only 2/3 of an inning, but then came up late in 2011 put up a 142 ERA+ and 4.40 K/BB (components: 6.6 K/9, 1.5 BB/9) in 30 IP working mostly in relief of beleaguered Orioles starters. He looked to build on that in 2012.
He has: 50 IP, 156 ERA+, 4.18 K/BB (8.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9). He wasn’t used as much of a longman in 2011 (1.5 IP per G), but that’s fallen even further in 2012 (1.04 IP per G); Patton also has the distinction of being the only left-handed pitcher in the pen most nights in 2012, so Showalter will occasionally use him in match-ups situations; last year Mike Gonzalez had that honor, and usually made a horror show of it.

I will begin by falling on my own sword: I wasn’t particularly impressed with what I saw of Patton last year despite the numbers and I thought the Orioles should have kept Zach Phillips, who came over from the Texas Rangers at the same time as Pedro Strop, as the match-up lefty. Phillips has been decent in AAA, but Patton has been one of the most useful lefty relievers in baseball, putting up a 1.6 rWAR.

Patton’s going to get some money in arbitration, but he’ll be around for a bit longer, and that’s good. He came up as a starter but baseball in general and Baltimore specifically could use more guys who are able to pitch 80-90 elite innings out of the pen with multiple innings per appearance—it’ll be interesting to see if Patton will turn into a guy like that. The Orioles starters could use it.
Middle Relief: Luis Ayala
2011 Role: MLB Middle Relief/Set-Up, New York Yankees
2012 Compensation: $825,000
2013 Contract Status: $1,000,000 Club Option ($100,000 Buyout)
Luis Ayala is a fantastic example of cheap lightning in a bottle. He’s been a bit less overwhelming of late—it’s hard to play over one’s head forever, especially in the AL East—but he’s put up a 159 ERA+ with a 3.00 K/BB (5.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9). For his career Ayala has a 2.2 BB/9, which highlights a common thread of the Baltimore bullpen this year: they don’t walk just about anyone. 

“Not walking anyone” correlates almost exactly with “being a good relief arm;” a certain number of walks are acceptable so long as they’re nullified by strikeouts, which don’t give those free runners much room to advance like long flyballs into the corners or simple grounders to first can, but really not walking anyone is the best policy. Some of the biggest problem children of Orioles bullpens past—Chris Ray, for example, or last year’s Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg (hello there!)—struck out a lot of guys but walked a whole lot, too. A little bad luck on batted ball placement and that goes south real fast.

So Luis Ayala will likely be back next year, especially considering the general esteem surrounding his current season, and he might be less lucky than he’s been this year on batted balls or he might be luckier still, but he’s certainly not a bad arm and at his cost, grabbing his option is somewhat of a no-brainer.
Middle Relief: Darren O’Day
2011 Role: MLB Mop-Up, Texas; AAA Relief, Round Rock
2012 Compensation: $1,325,000
2013 Contract Status: Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Darren O’Day was one of the last acquisitions of the MacPhail regime, picked up only a few days before Andy MacPhail stepped down as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operatons—and so, one might presume given his team and when the Orioles grabbed him, O’Day is an Oriole because manager Buck Showalter wanted him. It was a good call.

O’Day pitches submarine style, and so far this year has been good for him and for Baltimore: 45.2 IP, 165 ERA+, 5.50 K/BB (8.7 K/9, 1.6 BB/9). Once again, O’Day doesn’t walk anyone; and once again, like Ayala, his BB/9 is a bit lower than his career rate (2.3 BB/9 in 226.1 IP). The best bullpens are lucky and cheap, and the Orioles’ three major middle relievers not walking anyone while costing less than $2.5 million altogether is a good instance of that.

There’s been little discussion of splits here amongst the middle relievers because Showalter doesn’t play to those, for the most part; Patton, Ayala, and O’Day are all average an inning or more of relief, and Showalter doesn’t have any one out guys he likes to play with—outside of the stalwarts, bullpen spots are filled by guys that Showalter and Duquette want to take a look at, like Stuart Pomeranz, Miguel Socolovich, Steve Johnson, and Miguel Gonzalez. In the case of the latter two, they liked that look enough to give the guys starts, and so far both have paid off. Sometimes Tommy Hunter or Dana Eveland have hung around as long relievers and swingmen, but otherwise the bullpen is essentially five or six guys.

Given his season and that he’ll likely be fairly cheap next year too, I’d expect to see O’Day resigned before going to arbitration instead of non-tendered.
Set-Up: Pedro Strop
2011 Role: MLB Mop-Up, Texas; MLB Set-Up, Baltimore; AAA Relief, Texas
2012 Compensation: $482,500
2013 Contract Status: Under Team Control
Strop is a bit of a conundrum. He was acquired from Texas at the end of last year for Mike Gonzalez and ever since he arrived he’s been lights out. After a very good end to the 2011 season with Baltimore, he was in contention with Jim Johnson for the closer’s spot going into camp this year—a spot Johnson won mostly based on seniority and himself being a good pitcher. Not that this seems to be a problem; Pedro Strop is pitching in the 7th and 8th innings and is tied with Aroldis Chapman for the most valuable reliever, by rWAR, in baseball with 2.8.

But how? Strop’s ERA+ is amazing, 332, but really ERA+ isn’t too useful when evaluating relievers beyond “below 100 is very very bad.” His K/BB, however, is only 1.58 (6.9 K/9, 4.3 BB/9). He’s doing what Chris Ray and Mike Gonzalez before him did: he’s walking far too many batters. How, then, is he getting away with it?

Strop is inducing terrible, terrible contact and getting very, very lucky. His GB% is 68, with a 3.79 GB/FB rate. His BABIP against is .231. His strand rate is 90.3%. Some of this might be sustainable—specifically, the groundball rate—and if it is it will make the other stuff more sustainable, but being real: Pedro Strop is not Aroldis Chapman. He’s just gotten outcomes vaguely like him. The good news is that Strop does have strikeout stuff, and if he can figure out how to make it move and make it a strike at the same time, he could turn into a legit late inning guy.
Closer: Jim Johnson
2011 Role: MLB Relief Ace, Baltimore
2012 Compensation: $2,625,000
2013 Contract Status: Third Arbitration Year Eligible
Johnson pitched 91 innings out of the pen last year in 69 games, showing up anywhere from the sixth to the ninth innings; he rarely showed up for less than one and he regularly threw two. By the end of the year he was the closer in all but name, and there was some discussion over the offseason whether or not Johnson would return to starting as he had in the minors or if he would become the team’s closer.

He became the closer, and while generally I think that’s been a waste of his talents as a durable sinkerballer who doesn’t strike a lot of guys out, walks even fewer, and gets a lot of groundballs, the performance of the rest of the bullpen hasn’t really pushed the issue and I’m willing to accept that Showalter probably knows better than I do. That said, Johnson’s gotten very lucky on grounders finding defenders up until recently—the last couple weeks have highlighted why the strikeout is preferable, especially with a bad defense behind you. Nevertheless, he’s been fine for what he is.
Honorable Mention: Matt Lindstrom
Lindstrom’s been hurt a bit, only recording 30 innings to the 45-50 innings of the other three middle relievers, but just about every results-based analysis of them applies to him too. He’s been valuable, and the Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammels/Matt Lindstrom deal is looking like the steal of the year even if neither Oriole pitcher is especially healthy right now.

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So the Orioles pen going into the last fifty or so games of the season is essentially six men (and Kevin Gregg), all of whom are having some degree of an amazing year and none of whom are locked in for long in case that goes south in 2013. All in all, I’d say the Orioles front office did a pretty good job with this one.

But then there’s still fifty or so games to go, aren’t there?