01 October 2012

Who Should the Orioles Start in a Wild Card Game?

The Orioles have clinched a play-off spot. Wow. That feels a little weird to write after the last 14 years (especially given expectations going into this season), but it's true. The team is guaranteed at least a Wild Card spot, and given the schedules of the respective teams (O's on the road versus the Rays, while the Yankees host the Red Sox at home), that's the most likely route the Birds will need to go through to reach the World Series. With Oakland finishing the year against the Rangers and the Orioles holding a one-game lead over the A's, I'd expect the Friday AL Wild Card game to be played here in Baltimore. The question is, who should start that game for the O's?

The options more or less shake out as:

Wei-Yin Chen - 4.11 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 4.36 xFIP this year. He'd be going on short rest, is already approaching 200 innings, and has looked a little gassed in recent outings as it is. As he's been one of the team's better starters this year, not being able to run him out multiple times in a potential ALDS isn't the best. Plus, skipping him over and giving him some extra rest would not only allow Chen to pitch twice in the five-game series but could improve his performance there as well.

Chris Tillman - 2.78 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 4.36 xFIP. By my count, he's on schedule to pitch the last game of the season in Tampa, but depending on where the O's sit in the divisional race he could probably be bumped back. I'd think having Tillman start twice in the ALDS would be the preferred path for the Orioles, which could happen if he just throws on the side and then starts Game One on Sunday the 7th and Game Five on Friday the 12th. There's no other real way to see him twice, unless he starts game 162 against the Rays but only goes a couple innings so that he could come back on short rest.

Miguel Gonzalez - 3.45 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 4.70 xFIP. He's had a great surprise season, but I'd say he's just plain not as good as Chen or Tillman. He's also on schedule to pitch game 161, which would knock out the Wild Card game but put him on schedule to pitch games one and five of the ALDS. Given the Orioles Magic going on this season, counting on Gonzalez in that way just might be wild enough to work. If he doesn't start against the Rays, he could pitch the Wild Card game - that would entail a longer lay-off (similar to Tillman not pitching until Game One).

Joe Saunders - 4.07 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 4.26 xFIP. He's the only guy who would pitch the Wild Card game on exactly normal rest, and I would think the Orioles would prefer starting one of the three above guys twice in the ALDS instead.

Steve Johnson - 2.86 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 3.87 xFIP (as a starter). He would also being going on mostly normal rest (one extra day), and has done a really nice job for the team since his call-up, but with the leg injury he may not be able to go (he's getting an MRI on it).

Jason Hammel - 3.43 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 3.47 xFIP. He's pretty clearly been the team's best starter this year, but he hasn't pitched in almost three weeks and has only 8.2 IP since mid-July. Even if he's healthy, I'm not sure you can trust him to make the start in a win-or-go-home game. If he's available and the O's are magically way ahead, letting him come out for an inning or two might be useful to see if he can start in the ALDS, but I wouldn't count on it.

I'd probably be inclined to start Saunders, while having Johnson (or some other "starter") coming in from the pen relatively early (maybe 2-3 innings from Joe then 2 from the next guy). That would hopefully get the team into the mid-to-later innings where the "normal" bullpen can take over.

In fact, the Orioles could easily throw starter after starter at the A's (matching righties and lefties) for 2 innings at a time. With the ability to set their roster for just the one game, the staff could be something like Saunders, Steve Johnson, Bundy, Phillips, Hunter, Arrieta, Matusz, Ayala, Patton, O'Day, Strop, Jim Johnson. Then they could drop Bundy/Phillips/third guy for Tillman/Chen/Gonzalez for the ALDS. The O's could even match up* pretty well, theoretically, with Saunders (L) - Johnson (R) - Matusz (L) -Arrieta (R) - Patton (L) - Hunter (R) each taking an inning before Strop, O'Day, and Johnson finish things off. With an off-day both before and after the Wild Card game, that shouldn't really mess things up for the pen.

* The A's have a higher OPS against righties than lefties this year (.717 vs. .705), but a higher OPS against lefty starters than righty starters (.724 vs. .707). So yeah, there's that.

Is it worth using two of the teams lesser starters instead of just going with their #1 (whoever you think that might be - pick a name out of a hat, maybe)? In his career, Joe Saunders has a 2.3 K/BB ratio his first time through the order. That drops to 1.8 the second time, and 1.4 the third time. Chris Tillman has a 2.5 K/BB ratio this year overall. Gonzalez is at 2.1 overall (and has actually struck out way more batters in his second go through the order than the first). So while Saunders may not be the Orioles' best starter, using him for a few innings - and just looking at 2012, Saunders has a 5.1 K/BB the first time through the order, declining to 2.3 on the second - and then going to the pen should pretty much replicate what you'd expect to get from riding things out with someone else. That gap between the various O's starters is relatively small, and the variance in a single game is going to wash out whatever differences are there. That is, they probably wouldn't be costing themselves much if anything in the Wild Card game, while potentially also setting themselves up better for the following series.

ALDS rotation would then be something like:

One: Tillman
Two: Chen
Three: Gonzalez
Four: Saunders/Johnson
Five: Tillman

In game four (or three, if they so choose), the O's would be in a position to do the same kind of as in the Wild Card game, having Saunders start with Johnson (if healthy) ready to come in after a couple trips through the order. If Buck preferred, he could also swap Tillman and Chen, allowing the lefty to pitch twice.

If the division title is still in play though (and there's a fair chance it will be), then obviously all bets are off. Using Gonzalez and Tillman in Tampa Bay to try to win the East leaves Saunders for the Wild Card game by default, but also means that the O's don't have a starter on normal rest (if Steve Johnson can't go) for a potential Thursday tie-breaker with the Yankees, unless Hammel is back (I'd think doubtful). Then I guess Tommy Hunter or Brian Matusz or Jake Arrieta would be pressed into action, which probably wouldn't bode terribly well for the Orioles' chances considering none of those guys has started a game in over a month. It would also leave Tillman unable to start Game One of the ALDS on normal rest.

The O's could go for more of a "bullpen approach" in the tie-breaking game as well, but trying that and losing (having to settle for the Wild Card) could mean having to rely on Joe Saunders for 6-7 innings on Friday - those are some risky options. Really, it would be best if the Yankees got swept while the O's won tonight and then had Dylan Bundy and Chris Davis entertain us by starting Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Don't even care which of the two throws a no-hitter.

Jonathan Schoop From A Defensive Perspective

I really enjoyed writing the last post about the defensive side of the ball, so I decided to do some more defensive driven posts, next focusing on the other player directly affected by Manny's move to 3B, Jonathan Schoop.

I was inspired by Matt P. in the comments section, and I apologize for giving kind of a short answer with not much depth to it, but the reasoning was because I was thinking about writing this post and he was a step ahead of me. So, first up, let's talk about Schoop. He is the enigma to most fans this season, he has been Machado's double play partner for the better part of the last year between Frederick and Bowie, and has been moved around the infield from SS to 3B and later to 2B over his few professional seasons. This is generally unusual for a top 100 or so prospect (no. 82 on Baseball America's 2012 pre-season list) as you want young players to get comfortable, develop good fielding habits and really master their position. While he hasn't particularly excelled at any of the three spots, he has played fairly average at all three.

As usual with defense, statistics don't tell the whole picture here, and being in the minor leagues, the statistics kept are spotty at best. Looking solely at the errors he has made, in his four professional seasons, by year:

Age         Level        Position    Games   Errors

17          DOM           SS           67          20
18            RK             SS          54          18                 
19           A-/A+         SS          43          13
                                  2B          64           7              
                                  3B          23           8                            
20           AA              SS          39          8                 
                                  2B          88          13

Schoop has a career fielding % of .951, which is not very good, however, seeing him in the field he's not as bad as it sounds. He has a very strong arm, however, being slightly slower to the ball than other players drives him to hurry the throw to try to hide his slow footwork with his arm. The times I've seen him get in trouble or make errors, he was either slow to the ball laterally and rushed a throw off target, or when he would make a concentration mistake with his glove, such as a bobble, or picking the glove up before the ball gets to it. He has shown that he makes most of the solid plays where he doesn't have to range too far, he's got the arm to make up for some mistakes, but the longer the throw, the less likely that it would be on target. If I had to project him at a position defensively, I would say he's a 2B with a very strong arm. He seems the most comfortable there, however if he is being showcased as a trade chip, leaving him at SS makes the most sense for now to show teams that he can play adequate enough defense there to pair with his very solid bat. 

All in all, Schoop looks to be a good offensive prospect, and while he is still young and can improve, his defense needs some work, mostly his hands, and getting faster footwork, especially in the side to side direction. With 2B a glaring question mark this offseason, Schoop could be a person of interest if he's not traded and would make the offense even more formidable, however with defense given more emphasis in the latter half of the season, that could hurt him in a competition.              
                                                                  

30 September 2012

Sunday Comics: Orioles Magicks

There's a Fullmetal Alchemist joke in here if you squint.

Matusz, Patton, Strop and Jim Johnson wanted to try Orioles Magic out for themselves, so they turned to alchemy. It just got Buck mad because they made a mess in the 'pen. Alchemy's not a clean science, folks.

If you know me or read some of the things I write over at Charm City Yakyuu, by the way, you'll know that I enjoy drawing Brian Matusz. He's awkward and goofy and that's a cartoonist's dream come true. 

See you with more art next week! (And once the offseason picks up in November, you might just see the return of my CCY segment Draw Your Orioles!)

29 September 2012

Who Gets the Credit for the 2012 Orioles?

Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette (there's a mouthful) is getting a lot of credit for building this Orioles team that ended the franchise's streak of 14 losing seasons and he does deserve some credit. But if we are to assume that the most important part of a team's success in the actual talent on the field, how much credit goes to his predecessors?

(Regardless of proper title, all heads of baseball operations for the Orioles will be referred to as a General Manager or GM going forward.)

I decided to find out. I took a list of every player who made an appearance for the Orioles in 2012 and assigned them to their GM of origin. This is a real oversimplification as it does not take into account coaching staffs or minor league development teams. Perhaps the new people Duquette brought to the organization had a big impact on the turnaround of Chris Tillman, for instance. But that's impossible to quantify.

I credited the GMs if the draft pick, the trade, the free agent signing or the waiver claim was made during their tenure. There are some minor exceptions dealing with mid-year regime changes or contract extensions. Brian Roberts, for example, would no longer be an Oriole if Andy MacPhail had not extended him through 2013. On the other hand, Nick Markakis was extended by MacPhail but he would have still been under team control in 2012 whether he was extended or not. So Roberts is credited to MacPhail  instead of Frank Wren (the GM who drafted him) but Markakis still falls under the Mike Flanagan/Jim Beattie regime that selected him in the 1st Round of the 2003 amateur draft.

If you want to see the individual transactions that brought the principle members of the Baltimore Orioles to town, go here. The below lists assign each player to a GM but does not detail how they got here.

Here are the player breakdowns starting with the most recent GM:


Dan Duquette 

Nate McLouth
Wilson Betemit
Nick Johnson
Bill Hall
Jim Thome
Steve Pearce
Lew Ford
Steve Tolleson
Luis Exposito
Taylor Teagarden
Ronny Paulino
Ryan Flaherty
Omar Quintanilla
Endy Chavez
Jason Hammel
Wei-Yin Chen
Darren O'Day
Joe Saunders
Miguel Gonzalez
Luis Ayala
Matt Lindstrom
Stuart Pomeranz
Dana Eveland
Randy Wolf
J.C. Romero
Miguel Socolovich

I'm giving Duquette credit for Darren O'Day even though the Orioles claimed him on November 2nd of last year and the Orioles did not introduce him as GM until November 8th. Andy MacPhail had been gone for almost a month but some of his staff were obviously making some of these decisions but since it falls closest to Duquette's start than MacPhail's departure, I'm giving it to him.


Andy MacPhail 

Adam Jones
J.J. Hardy
Chris Davis
Manny Machado
Mark Reynolds
LJ Hoes
Xavier Avery
Robert Andino
Chris Tillman
Pedro Strop
Troy Patton
Brian Matusz
Steve Johnson
Dylan Bundy
Zach Phillips
Jason Berken
Kevin Gregg


Mike Flanagan 

Matt Wieters
Joe Mahoney
Jake Arrieta
Zach Britton

Mike Flanagan gets credit for Matt Wieters because he drafted him shortly before he was removed from the job. Andy MacPhail took over in late June and signed Wieters but did not actually draft him.


Mike Flanagan/Jim Beattie 

Nick Markakis
Nolan Reimold

Flanagan and Beattie served as co-GMs for three seasons. I will split credit in terms of player value between Flanagan and Beattie since I don't know if either man had championed either player before they were drafted.


Syd Thrift

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is still under his original team control so Thrift gets some credit for drafting him way back in 2001.

Then I totaled up the fWAR (collected from Fangraphs.com) for each GM's associated players. Here's the breakdown:


fWAR by GM for 2012 Orioles


Not surprisingly, Andy MacPhail leads the field. He was, after all, GM for 4.5 of the 6 most recent seasons. It is a bit surprising that his players have delivered 44% more WAR than Dan Duquette's. His leaders are Adam Jones (4.6), J.J. Hardy (2.5), Chris Davis (1.7) and Chris Tillman (1.1). Brian Roberts (-1.1) and Tommy Hunter (-0.5) were the laggards.

Dan Duquette's most successful moves were with the pitching staff with Jason Hammel (2.9) and Wei-Yin Chen (2.1) leading the way. Joe Saunders and Miguel Gonzalez have both delivered 0.8 WAR in a relatively short amount of time and Nate McClouth has chipped in 1.5 WAR in just 49 games. Endy Chavez (-0.9), Omar Quintanilla (-0.4) and Ryan Flaherty (-0.4) dragged down the overall totals.

It's easy to forget the contributions of the late Mike Flanagan as a GM. Most of his WAR total is wrapped up in Matt Wieters (3.8) but he also had a hand in drafting Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold. He also selected Jeremy Guthrie off of waivers from the Indians back in January 2007. Dan Duquette was able to flip  Guthrie for Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom and then Joe Saunders. But that is not accounted for in these totals.

Jim Beattie gets partial credit for Markakis and Reimold.

That echo from the past is Jim Johnson, who gains Syd Thrift a shoutout on this list.

It would be interesting to do this at the end of each year to see how the quickly (or slowly) Duquette's influence moves from a minority to a majority. But for this team in particular, the core of the team was assembled by MacPhail. Duquette deserves credit for deftly adding some low-cost pieces to the Oriole pitching staff and some cheap but useful hitters like Betemit and McLouth but this team is still MacPhail's.

28 September 2012

Manny Machado: From A Defensive Perspective



This post can be called the first of a two-part series, focusing on some defensive details and specifically Manny Machado’s impact on the improvement of team defense this season.

So for the first half of the season the Orioles played TERRIBLE defense, no position more glaring a hole than at 3B. They have allowed 58 unearned runs on the season and at the time of Machado’s promotion led the league in errors by a wide margin. Despite all of this they were in the thick of the race, but popular consensus was that statistics say that they can’t keep this up and they will fall to earth soon enough. Common sense said that no team that bad defensively had made the playoffs in more than 20 years. The trading deadline came and fans were begging for a solution at 3B, some even ready to cut Mark Reynolds due to the awful defense and a down year at the plate. Some fans may say that a poorly constructed roster had too many DH only players and not enough 3B or LF. Chase Headley has been having an MVP type season on top of great defense, and O’s fans were dreaming of his bat taking off in cozy Camden Yards, however the Padres with a brand new ownership group in place were thinking of building around Chase and trying to get back in the hunt next season, so they were asking for the moon and a couple other planets in return. The O’s wouldn’t meet that price, and it was a smart move.

Enter Manny Machado, one of the top prospects in baseball. The comparisons to Alex Rodriguez, who was also from Miami, have been a bit of a reach, but have been around anyway. For me, the similarity was that ARod grew up idolizing Cal Ripken, a big SS that was athletic enough to play the position well and helped redefine the offensive expectations of the position. In turn, Manny grew up idolizing ARod, who took that torch from Cal and kept it burning until moving to 3B, a speculation many scouts had made about Manny himself. Manny, who just turned 20 this summer, is listed at 6’3 and 185lbs, which many think will grow once he settles in at the big league level and adds some more muscle to his frame, this is the big reason why many experts feared a move to 3B, simply outgrowing the position. Seeing him a few times in the minors, including one of the two games he played at 3B during Brian Roberts rehab stint, I had a slightly different take on his defensive potential.

Defensively, not all players are made the same, which is why some can play certain positions, some can play multiple positions, and some play positions better than others. For this conversation, we’ll stick to the infielder side of the equation. What makes for a good defensive SS for instance? Great hands are a must for any infielder as the ball comes hard and fast at the ML level, and funny hops are part of the game, so being able to adjust and make the play, away from the body, in close in a handcuff situation, on the backhand or out of the air are all important at all four infield positions. Where the differences arrive are in the position specific requirements, which is what keeps any corner infielder from being able to play both 1B and 3B and what keeps middle infielders from being able to play 2B/SS/3B interchangeably. For instance, a 1B needs to have better hands than arm strength, as playing hops and scooping throws are the most important need there, having good range which ties into both lateral speed and footwork is nice, but many 1B get by as long as they can field the ball. At 3B, since there are more RHB which pull the ball more often, not only are good hands important, but a quick first step and fast reflexes are extremely important there, as well as great arm strength to make the throws across the diamond. At SS, good hands, and arm strength are still important like 3B, but because there is much more ground to cover, lateral range, and good footwork are important since there are exchanges and throws made around the bag. This carries over to 2B who have to have that same footwork and range to cover the bag and infield range (especially to make up for 1B with little range) but arm strength isn’t as important at this spot.

Manny has exceptional arm strength, a great first step, and good hands, but his weaknesses defensively are that he strides forward better than moves side to side, where he has some trouble playing the ball when moving laterally. This puts him more in the mold of a 3B than a SS, although while he may be able to play average to slightly below average defense at SS, he looks to be better than average at 3B. Manny has made quite a few spectacular plays at 3B in his 41 games played, and only made 3 errors, two of which were throwing errors and one fielding error where one got through his legs on Sunday. In the minors, Manny made 19 errors at in 94 games, and then 23 errors in 106 games his first two professional seasons. Compared to the 6 errors Reynolds made at 3B in 15 games or the 26 errors he had there last season, and the 13 errors Betemit made in 69 games there this season, it is leaps and bounds better than the early part of the year.

By inserting Manny defensively at 3B, not only did it improve the defense there, but it moved Reynolds into the full time starter at 1B where he has proved to be slightly above average at the position. That moved Chris Davis into a split between RF where he has made 0 errors in 19 games filling in for Markakis and DH where it’s pretty darn hard to make an error. Coupled with bringing up Nate McLouth who has made 1 error in 45 games in LF this season between the O’s and Pirates, the defense has been significantly improved around the extremely solid up the middle trio of Wieters, Hardy and Jones. The debate has been sparked for next season on how to improve this team for ongoing contention, is it better to create a hole to fill at 3B by trading Hardy and moving Manny to SS? With other questions to be answered such as: Is Reynolds the answer at 1B? What FA will be signed in the offseason that will adjust the current roster? Will McLouth be resigned? Plenty of things need to be answered this offseason to know for sure, but one thing has already been solved, team defense cannot simply be an afterthought going forward.

26 September 2012

The Camden Highball: The First Podcast

After discussing the making of a podcast for almost two years now, Camden Depot is presenting the first episode of the Camden Highball.  Here we hope to produce a fairly consistent weekly podcast where the expanded Depot team of Daniel Moroz, Heath Blintiff, Steph Diorio, Jeremy Strain, and Jon Bernhardt will take part in discussing their perspective of things Oriole.  We are quite excited about this offering and look forward to the conversations that will come.  I hope you all enjoy.

On the podcast today, I (Jon Shepherd) am joined by our long standing writer Nick Faleris who is soon leaving to write predominantly for Baseball Prospectus about Minor League and amateur prospects.  We answer two letters from the mailbag: an evaluation of Steve Johnson and a discussion on what Andy MacPhail has meant to the 2012 Orioles.  We then tackle the AL East playoff race, who we think matches up best to the Orioles liking in the playoffs, and how to set up the post season rotation assuming the rest of the season plays out well for the team.  Finally, we add our two cents on the play of Manny Machado.  The recording was made Tuesday night (September 25, 2012).

Episode 1 of the Camden Highball

00:00:00 Introduction
00:01:59 Mailbag
00:11:35 AL East Race
00:14:15 Playoff Matchups
00:19:50 Setting Up the Rotation
00:34:00 Prospect Focus on Manny Machado
00:44:40 Nick Heading to Baseball Prospectus
00:47:51 Camden Depot Expansion


We are tentatively scheduling the next edition of the Camden Highball to post the morning after the final game of the season.  We should be available on iTunes by then.  It stands to be quite an exciting series of games between now and then.  If you have any question you would like to pose to us, feel free to mail them via CamdenDepot@gmail.com or via the Camden Depot Facebook page.

I would also like to thank Mark Brown with Camden Chat who has proved quite helpful in giving pointers to setting up this podcast.  Here at the Depot, we are familiar with appearing on podcasts, but not actually producing them.  We are doing our best to provide you with the best sound and show we can offer.  Any failing in this endeavor obviously should be credited to Mark.  All praise though is clearly to be directed toward the Camden Depot staff and our lovely, pleasant guests.

Catching Up on Players Discarded from 2011

Certainly you have to say that a part of the Orioles' success this year can be attributed to some of the players that Dan Duquette brought in in the off-season. What's a little more interesting, is that as of yet, there are no real regrets over players the O's lost from 2011.

Gone are:

Jeremy Guthrie. Sent to the Rockies in the Jason Hammel trade, which many people panned at the time (incorrectly, in my opinion). Not only has Hammel been quite good with the O's, but Guthrie has posted a 4.80 ERA for Colorado and (after being traded for Jonathan Sanchez and his 7.76 ERA) Kansas City. His vaunted base-hit suppression skills were no match for Coors Field (.318), though they did return to normal in the AL (.273 BABIP). Also seeing a big split was his home run rate; 2.1 HR/9 for the Rockies, and 0.8 HR/9 for the Royals. A Jeremy Guthrie doing what he's done for KC (3.00 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 1.6 fWAR) would have been a nice addition to the Orioles' rotation, but there's no guarantee of that - taken altogether, his 1 fWAR would rank just 5th amongst O's starters (and that's despite having more innings than anyone on the team but Chen).

Luke Scott. He hasn't done much more with the Rays (.227/.279/.438, 0.2 fWAR) than he did with the Orioles last year (.220/.301/.402, -0.1 fWAR). Pretty much every conceivable alternative the O's used this season (Betemit, Reynolds, Davis, Thome, Nick Johnson!) has out-hit him.

Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero are out of the Majors (Vladdy played a few games in the minors for the Blue Jays).

Josh Bell (traded to Arizona in May) could theoretically have blocked a Manny Machado call-up when the O's needed a third-baseman, but Machado has outplayed him (Bell's hit .173/.232/.269 in the Majors with -0.5 fWAR, though he has done a nice job in Triple-A as a 25 year-old; .311/.372/.509). Bell still has a chance to turn into something (only 282 career PA in the big leagues), but it's possible that having him in the organization in 2012 could have ended up costing the Orioles a win or so.

Felix Pie is hitting well in the minors for the Braves (.285/.338/.459), but Nate McLouth hasn't been much "worse" than that in Baltimore (.267/.339/.413) and I'm pretty sure the O's are fine with the guy they have of those two at the moment.

Cesar Izturis has been a replacement level player this year (and pretty much the last couple years), though he can still field a little bit and has been better than Omar Quintanilla (-0.4 fWAR for the Orioles) or Robert Andino (-0.3 fWAR). Having an actual second-baseman this season would have been pretty nice, though I doubt there are any fans pining for Cesar in particular.

Craig Tatum has hit .179/.258/.286 in Triple-A for the Yankees, while Taylor Teagarden has approximately 57 game winning hits.

Brandon Snyder took it to the Orioles when the Rangers came to town early this season, but he's been a slightly below average hitter this year (.277/.309/.446, good for a 98 wRC+) and that's with a .417 BABIP. Similarly in the minors, minus 55 points of BABIP (73 wRC+).

I miss Koji Uehara out in the pen, and he's done a nice job in relief for the Rangers; 2.15 ERA, 10.3 K/BB ratio (still has the best mark of all-time at 7.55 K/BB, min. 100 IP). I'd gladly swap out Koji for Kevin Gregg, but it's hard to complain about the O's missing a quality bullpen arm given how things have gone in that area for the team this season.

Similarly, Alfredo Simon is doing well in Cincinatti; 2.48 ERA, 2.95 FIP, and 0.8 fWAR in 54 relief innings. I think Simon is better than Luis Ayala, but - again - don't want to mess with that magical bullpen.

As far as non-Major Leagues players, the O's shipped off Jarret Martin (4.40 ERA, 9 K/9 but 5.6 BB/9 in A-Ball) and Tyler Hanson (.284/.374/.468 in Triple-A) for Dana Eveland (4.73 ERA, 0 fWAR) which was not a well received trade at the time (by me, at least) and has turned out about as expected (not disastrously, but certainly not well).

They also sent Randy Henry (3.38 ERA, 2.1 K/9 in High-A) and Greg Miclat (.275/.350/.394 in Triple-A) to the Rangers for Taylor Teagarden, which is probably not very good in the abstract but fine for the O's when you consider the big hits Teagarden has had.

So overall, the Orioles didn't lose a great deal of talent from the organization since 2011. Maybe they'd take a do-over on a move here or there, but it's hard to think that they're missing a piece that could have actually done much to improve the 2012 club.

25 September 2012

Was Promoting Manny Machado the Right Move for 2012?

Despite his top prospect status, I don't think the expectations for what Manny Machado would do in an Orioles' uniform this season were all that high. With Wilson Betemit on the DL though, the team need a third-baseman and decided to call up the 20 year-old from Double-A to fill in.

Machado started out well, hitting 3 home runs in his first 4 games, but since then has hit just .254/.267/.345 in 147 plate appearances (36 games). A 31 to 3 strike-out to walk ratio (overall) just isn't going to get it done in the Majors, but you don't need to be a plus hitter when you can handle the glove-work. As a shortstop, Machado unsurprisingly has solidified the hot corner for the O's - he's the only player with a positive UZR at the position this year (+3 runs), and is a big improvement over the likes of Betemit (-6 UZR) or Mark Reynolds (-5 UZR).

And even though the offensive production isn't there, given the alternatives it's still decent. Machado's .302 wOBA has translated into -2.2 runs relative to average in his 163 PA. Without Manny, the O's would have potentially had to go with a combination of Robert Andino, Omar Quintanilla, and Ryan Flaherty at third. The way they've hit this year, those three guys are at around -7, -3, and -6 runs in 163 PA, respectively. Combine that with losing some bench flexibility and potential platoon opportunities, and it seems fair to say that Machado has provided the team with upwards of 5 runs with the bat over what they would have otherwise been getting. With how close the AL East (and Wild Card) might be, that is certainly relevant.

Even if you ignore his hot start and assume he hit .254/.267/.345 all year, he'd still be a little above replacement level as a player; he's at +0.7 fWAR with -2.2 batting runs, so that translates into +0.2 fWAR with -7 batting runs with that triple slash. And that -7 batting runs is about what Andino would be expected to do over the same time period, so even the "slumping" Manny Machado doesn't really cost the Orioles anything.

More generally, this is probably good experience for Machado. He's holding his own in the big leagues despite not even getting a full year at Double-A. The lack of walks is a problem, but he hasn't been a complete hacker - he's swinging at pitches out of the strike-zone only slightly more often than league average (according to FanGraphs). Pitchers are pounding the zone against him though, and he's swinging and missing a fair bit. Still, there's enough positive signs to feel good about what Machado will be able to do in the near future - and, though scouting isn't my thing, he sure looks good out there.


24 September 2012

Dylan Bundy Has Arrived



Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or completely absent following sports or social media this year, you know who Dylan Bundy is. No, he’s not the guy that had 4 rushing TD’s for the Polk High Football team,  that would be Al Bundy (although Dylan apparently DID have a 3 TD game for his HS football team.) The 19 year old phenom pitching prospect for the O’s has had a great year, dominating in low A with Delmarva where the median age is 22, excelling in high A with Frederick with a median age of 23, and then doing well in AA Bowie against players with a median age of 24 this season.  

With a blazing four seam FB that sits in the high 90s and can reach 100mph, a curve that while still a tiny bit inconsistent (and let’s be honest, ALL pitchers hang a curve now and then) is a knee buckling knock out pitch. He’s also got a changeup that has seen miles of improvement over this season as he is getting more and more of a feel for the pitch. I’m leaving out quite possibly his best pitch, a cutter that moves a bit more like a slider and is a NASTY pitch, as some of his teammates have described. I leave that pitch out of this discussion because some members of the organization do not like the pitch in general and don’t want young pitchers throwing it. That is a topic for another day, however. 

So now that everyone is caught up on Dylan, it should be mentioned that he is one of, if not THE number one prospect in all of MLB, and the best Orioles pitching prospect in years. No pressure or anything right? Let us not forget that he is still a teenager, and instead of focusing on if he can have the impact of two other recent teenage phenoms (Trout and Harper), we should just sit back and enjoy the ride. This week, a pair of late, extended extra inning games led to an unplanned promotion to the big leagues, and he finally made his debut in a game, on the road, in BOS down 2-1 in the 8th inning. That is a lot of confidence in a 19 year old kid, especially when he inherited a runner on base. This is a group of fans who have fought against believing the hype all year for fear of being let down by a late season fade. As we approach the final 11 games or so of the season, one game behind the Yankees for the division, tied with OAK for the 1st wild card spot and 3.5 games up on the Angels for the 2nd, even the most skeptical and guarded fans now believe. Dylan Bundy has become the sign that it is ok to jump on board, both for now and the future. Regardless of how this season plays out, and whether he is on the post season roster or not, Dylan has arrived, bringing hope and a truckload of talent with him.

During his debut, Dylan only threw two types of pitches, a 94mph fastball that he kept low and in a few times and high and in on the two flyouts. This pitch made it easy to see why he is so tough on RHB, as he got two flyouts with it from 2 batters faced. He also mixed in an offspeed pitch that looked suspiciously like his cutter, although after the game Buck said with a smirk that it was a slider. We'll get back into this conversation later though. 

As for next season, expect to see him hang around training camp until the very end no matter what roster moves are made this offseason. Much debate will surround this as teams have given young players a start in the minors for a month or two before bringing them up, either to ensure that extra year of team control, or for the various reasons that teams give to NOT admit to doing so. Either way, this team will expect to come out swinging next year and Dylan will be a big part of that.

Welcome to the show kid, we hope you stick around a long time.

23 September 2012

Sunday Comics: RELEASE THE CUTTER!

Hi, everyone - happy Sunday!

My name is Steph Diorio, and I write over at Charm City Yakyuu for Aerys Sports. I also draw way too many cartoons, and Jon's brought me on board officially as the Sunday cartoonist for Camden Depot! It's an honor to be writing and drawing here and I can't thank Jon enough. I hope my cartoons make your Sundays a little bit happier!

Today's edition is a little protest poster based around Dan Duquette's hatred of a certain pitch.


21 September 2012

Orioles Clutch

by Daniel Moroz
 
This has obviously been a magical season for the Orioles, and part of that has been guys coming up big when the team has needed them to. There's probably no better example of that than back-up catcher Taylor Teagarden, who has all of 7 hits on the season (.140 batting average, .229 wOBA), but who has made those hits count.
 
He knocked in the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the 18th inning in Seattle.
He hit a 7th inning go-ahead two-run double against the Rays, moving the score from 0-1 to 2-1 (the O's eventually on in the 14th).
He hit a game-tying home run against the White Sox in the 3rd inning, and then tacked on an insurance run in the 4th (that might have come into play, as the Sox made a failed rally in the 9th).
He drove in the only run of the game with a 10th inning double against the Rays at the beginning of August.
He singled as part of a rally against the A's in July, scoring a run in an inning that saw the O's go from down 5-2 to up 6-5 (though they lost). This is the only hit Teagarden has all year that didn't drive in a run, and it's the only game in which he got a hit that the Orioles didn't win.
In his first game of the season, he hit a 13th inning walk-off home run against the Tigers (giving Kevin Gregg the W!).
 
He also threw the potential tying runner out trying to steal to end last night's game. That is some clutch performance* right there.
 
* Note, this does not mean that Teagarden is a "clutch player", or that he'll continue to come up big going forward. Nice microcosm of the Orioles' season thus far in that respect.
 
Teagarden inspired me to take a look at such "overperformance", so I compared players' Win Probability Added (WPA) with their batting runs (as part of Wins Above Replacement) which looks at just individual production removed from context. Teagarden has a ho-hum +0.6 WPA (~5.7 in runs), while he's been at -4.1 batting runs overall - that's a difference of 9.8 runs based on the timing and context of his hits. That's not the best in the Majors this year by a long shot - Ian Desmond  is at +23 runs - but give Teagarden a little credit given his all the team he's missed; on a per plate appearance basis, he's easily #1 at making the most of his successes (+0.2 runs/PA).
 
Just looking at the Orioles, Teagarden is by far the best representation of this. Second (by plate appearances), is actually Steve Tolleson, at +2.5 in 74 PA. He's been a negative based on WPA (-0.2) but considering how awful of a hitter he is (.188/.233/.319, -4.4 batting runs), he should have hurt the team even more. His biggest moment was hitting a game-tying three-run homer off of Cliff Lee (the O's went on to win 5-4 in extras - I'm seeing a pattern here).
 
Ryan Flaherty (+4 in 137 PA) is in a similar bad-WPA, worse-hitter situation. His highest WPA play was breaking a 7th inning tie game against the Indians with a single (the O's went on to win 9-8, as a Xavier Avery homer provided a needed insurance run).
 
Steve Pearce isn't with the O's, but he did his part (0 batting runs above average, but +0.1 WPA) with a game-winning three-run homer against the Angels (the only runs the O's scored in that game).
 
Nate McLouth was a little lower than I expected, but he's actually hit quite well for the Orioles (.287/.358/.446, +5.4 batting runs) so his +0.9 WPA isn't that impressive. He does have three game-winning hits; a 4th inning two-run triple against the Tigers that moved the O's from behind to ahead and stood up for the rest of the game, an 8th inning two-run homer against the White Sox that moved the O's from behind to ahead (I believe this was the play of the year, at +0.53 WPA), and a walk-off RBI single against the Rays. McLouth has been one of those scrap-heap pick-ups that's done a really nice job for the team.
 
Mark Reynolds is often vilified by fans - especially as "garbage time" home run hitter - but his 1.6 WPA (second best amongst position players on the team) has outstripped his +9.2 batting runs. Perhaps ironically, his biggest hit of the season wasn't a homer but a two-run 8th inning single against the Twins that put the O's ahead 4-3 to stay. More musingly, his second biggest didn't even drive in a run - it was a ball he hit to lead off the 10th inning against the White Sox on which their center-fielder made a three-base error (Reynolds scored the winning run on Chris Davis' subsequent double, and O's won what ended up being a 10-4 route).
 
Getting mighty close to parity (on a rate basis), we have Adam Jones at +2.8 WPA and +22.3 batting runs. He has a ton of big hits, including 4 extra-inning home runs (all game-winners, though only one was a walk-off). #1 for him was actually not a homer or even a game-winner though, but an 11th inning game-tying single to keep the O's alive (they fell behind in the top of the frame, and went on to win in the 13th when the Orioles were behind again and JJ Hardy hit a game-tying homer before Teagarden did the walking-off).
 
On the other end of the spectrum you have the likes of Wilson Betemit (-0.9 WPA despite +1 batting runs), who has some late-inning heroics but also a lot of negative at bats.
 
Overall, most Orioles position players aren't too too far off between how they've hit overall and their Win Probability added - it's pretty much the Magic of Taylor Teagarden, and everyone else balances out (-1.7 WPA, -19.3 batting runs).
 
Things are a little different on the other side of the ball. Oriole starters have been below average (9th in the AL in ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all) and have a -1.2 WPA to show for it (8th in the league). The bullpen though, has been nuts; 3rd in ERA, 7th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP, but in first by far in WPA at a whopping +12.8. That's the best mark... ever*. This has been a historically lucky or clutch (or however you want to explain) group.
 
* Going back to 1974, but given the way reliever usage has changed over time - 14 of the top 20 are from the 2000s - I'd guess that it would hold up.
 
Jim Johnson: +4.8 WPA (best in the AL for relievers), 1.2 fWAR (16th in the AL for relievers)
Darren O'Day: +3.1 WPA (5th), 1.2 fWAR (14th)
Pedro Strop: +1.4 WPA (19th), 0.8 fWAR (39th)
Luis Ayala: +1.2 WPA (24th), 0.6 fWAR (44th)
Troy Patton: +0.9 WPA (37th), 0.8 fWAR (37th)
 
Plus Steve Johnson and Brian Matusz have combined for +1.0 WPA in their relatively short time out there.
 
The worst mark in the pen for a reliever with more than 10.1 IP is Kevin Gregg... at -0.1 WPA. Even Kevin Gregg barely decreased the Orioles' probability of winning games this year. That's amazing.
 
I guess that's how you win 15 straight extra-inning games (15-2 overall) and go 27-8 in one-run games. Having Taylor Teagarden around in later innings might help a little too.

20 September 2012

Camden Depot is Running the Race for Hope

I have had some of my audience asking me more about my running of late.  I never really thought to use my writing as a way to help a worthy charity, but why not?  I will be running the Race for Hope in Philadelphia on November 4, 2012.  The race is being organized by the National Brain Tumor Society.  This group is working to help find better treatments for those living with a brain tumor today.  Specifically, these efforts involve investing in discovery science, clinical trial design, and the development of new therapies.

If this sounds like a worthy cause, then feel free to run or donate.  It is OK not to donate as well.  I just wanted to share this event with everyone. Please let me know if there are any runs that you might want me to participate in.  I can run, slowly, anything up to a half marathon at any time.  We'll see what we can do.  Thanks.


19 September 2012

Camden Depot on Dylan Bundy

For your reading pleasure while you watch Dylan Bundy sit in the pen tonight as the Orioles face the Seattle Mariners, all of the articles that we have posted on Camden Depot.  Enjoy!

Dylan Has a Secret by Steph Diorio 9/16/2012
As part of the Depot's Expanded Roster, Steph drew an anime style work focusing on Dylan Bundy.

Midseason Update: Top 25 Prospects by Nick Faleris 7/18/2012
A mid-season update on the 2012 Top 25 List.

Is Dylan Bundy Being Mishandled by Jon Shepherd 4/25/2012
I suggested here that by having Dylan spend time at Delmarva that opportunity was being wasted when he could be facing better competition.

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #1 Dylan Bundy by Nick Faleris 11/14/2011
This will one one of most informative scouting reports that you will be able to get your hands on.  Use wisely.

Should Dylan Bundy Get a Major League Deal by Nick Faleris 6/15/2011
A short pondering on Bundy getting a major league deal.

Recapping Day 1 of the Draft by Nick Faleris 6/7/2011
Nick briefly discussing the Bundy pick and how the Depot would have selected Anthony Rendon.

2011 Draft Depot Preview: Finding 1:4 (Dylan Bundy) by Nick Faleris 5/25/2011
Nick Faleris' first posted take on Dylan for the Depot.

16 September 2012

Expanded Roster: Dylan Has a Secret

When the Orioles expand their roster, so do we.  Click here to find all of Camden Depot's Expanded Roster entries for 2012.  2011 Expanded Roster items can be found here.  As always, feel free to provide the Depot with suggestions for posts or with your own interest in writing an items or several to be posted here.

Steph Diorio from Charm City Yakyuu has today's entry.  Steph is one of the writers I asked personally to provide us with content for the month.  She provides written content on almost a daily basis at her own blog, but what interested me most is her adoration of graphic art.  More of her work submitted to the Depot is found here.

Today's entry is called Dylan Has a Secret.


11 September 2012

Stephen Strasburg and the Verducci Effect

I sometimes think some ideas are firmly illustrated to be wrong and then become surprised when I see that there are back wellings where the idea still holds.  One of these ideas is the Verducci Effect.  The Verducci Effect specifically is about how with pitchers 25 years old and younger who throw more than 30 IP in comparison to their previous year pitcher will be at a greater risk for injury.  The term is often broadened to mean really anything to do with giving a young pitcher too much work before he gets older.  The idea had a lot of traction at first as it made some logical sense.  Young arms are growing arms and young arms are less experienced arms.  Like anyone at the gym or running, you slowly build up your strength or stamina over time with increasingly great feats.  This makes sense to us.

However, time and time again, the Verducci Effect has been shown to not be real at all even though he delivers a column or two on it every year (though now it looks like he is transitioning over to injured closer stories).  The earliest study I can find is from David Gassko in 2006 that found "overworked" pitchers appeared to pitch more, not less, innings the next year.  Jeremy Greenhouse wrote a column on injuries and the Effect...once again finding nothing to the notion.  I am sure there are many, many other articles by amazing writers who went on to be employed by Major League Baseball franchises.

That said...the Nationals claim they have evidence that shows in their favor the need to end Stephen Strasburg's season even though he is one of their best arms and they will be entering the playoffs.  From my qualitative perspective, it has seemed that this application of the Effect pleases Tom Verducci.  I figured to give the idea another look and measure the general idea in a slightly different (but incredibly simple) way.  Are the Nats using data over several years, not just one?  They have control of Strasburg's rights in 2013, 2014, and 2015.  In a marathon sense, keeping him healthy over that period is more important than the result of four games in September and, arguably, a couple games in October.  In a Keep-Your-Eyes-on-the-Prize sense, well, he should be pitching.

To test this, I took every pitcher from 1998 to 2007 (a ten year period) who threw more than 140 IP t age 23 and within his first three years of pitching at the MLB level.  I then proceeded to sub-divide these players into 20 IP allotments.  For instance, 140-159, 160-179, 180-199, 200-219, and 220+.  I then individually compared their current season to the accumulation of their next three seasons.  I compared how many innings they pitched as well as creating a metric for this study, vFIP.  To measure vFIP, you divide a pitcher's age 23 FIP by the next three year accumulative FIP.  A vFIP over 100 shows improvement and vice versa.

The first thing to look at would be injuries.  Half of the ten pitchers in the 140-159 class suffered injuries over the next five years (Ricky Nolasco, Josh Beckett, Roy Oswalt, Daniel Cabrera, and Ken Cloude).  This sounds like a great deal of loss, but every innings group roughly had the same injury effect rate, which would agree with previous studies. 

Perhaps better would be to compare actual work loads over the age 24 to 26 seasons.  In terms of innings pitched, there was no significant difference between the 140-159 group and the 160-179 (p=0.78) and 180-199 (p=0.66) groups.  However, significant differences were found between that group and pitchers who threw more than 200 innings (0.03 and 0.04, respectively).

140 160 180 200 220
135 128.1 147.1 191.1 194
There is likely to be a selection bias in play here as if a pitcher was given the opportunity to throw 200 innings in a season then he is likely to be a very good pitcher (or considered to be one) and earn or be given the opportunity to pitch a great deal over the next three seasons.  At the very least, it appears that pitching fewer than 200 innings changes what will happen much at all.

The final aspect to look at is performance.  This is where I will break out the vFIP metric and here is the data set:

140 160 180 200 220
123 118 104 100 108
111 83 103 83 92
87 102 93 113 87
76 104 100 96 122
131 82 98 106 65
120 106 124 83 98
99 90 98 92
130 101 86 114
96 85 94 105
96 129 80

116 106 111


105



82


The groups are not significantly different from each other.  However, there appears to be a slight improvement in performance from the 140-159 group.  Again, this is not significant and likely requires a larger data set to see if this trend can be more firmly established, but the 140-159 pitchers improved their performance by 16% as a group.  The other four groups were consistent with improvement ranged from 1 to 3 % better than their age 23 seasons. 

Again, there may be some selection bias in these groupings because if you are tossing over 200 innings then you have probably pitched very well and it will be difficult to improve upon that.  Here are the raw FIPs for the groups.


140 160 180 200 220
Age 23 4.64 4.73 4.4 4.24 4.18
24-26 4.01 4.65 4.28 4.17 4.16
The data suggests that the 140-159 group pitchers saw great improvement in their performances.  However, I would temper those differences with the idea that perhaps a pitcher who throws 140-159 innings at age 23 and proceeds to do poorly is more likely to be replaced in the rotation than a pitcher who tosses more innings.  There may be a prejudice that benefits pitchers who threw more innings during their age 23 season.

That all said, I am not sure how this informs us about Stephen Strasburg.  There is no evidence from the above methodology that injury rates decrease.  It appears that pitchers who log in more innings during their age 23 season wind up throwing more innings in the future at about the same level of performance.  Pitchers who are worked for 140-159 MLB innings tend to show improvement as a group in terms of performance, but not in innings pitched.  This may be the result of less desirable pitchers being able to be discarded more easily when they have less of a track record.