27 November 2012

Buck Showalter's Closers

With last season's success by Jim Johnson, and the offseason debate that has taken off about whether to trade him with his value at it's peak or not, I thought it would be a good time to look at Buck's history with closers to see if he has a style or preference with them.

Team Age Closer SV Age Closer SV

New York Yankees 35 Farr 30

New York Yankees 36 Farr 25 24 Wickman 4

New York Yankees 36 Howe 15 25 Wickman 6

New York Yankees 28 Wetteland 31 37 Howe 2

Arizona Diamondbacks 31 Gregg Olson 30 25 F. Rodriguez 5

Arizona Diamondbacks 32 Gregg Olson 14 25 Matt Mantei 22

Arizona Diamondbacks 26 Matt Mantei 17 21 B. Kim 14


Texas Rangers 29 Urbina 26 28 F.Cordero 15

Texas Rangers 29 Cordero 49

Texas Rangers 30 Cordero 37

Texas Rangers 34 Otsuka 32 31 Cordero 6

Baltimore Orioles 29 Simon 17 35 Koji 13

Baltimore Orioles 33 Gregg 22 28 Johnson 9

Baltimore Orioles 29 Johnson 51 27 Strop 3

In 1992, Buck inherited Farr as his closer, he was already established and had a few great seasons closing for KC and NYY. Farr continued in his role until suffering elbow discomfort at the end of 1993 and going on the DL, where he was replaced by acquisition Lee Smith down the final stretch. Buck then went with veteran Steve Howe as his closer, with youngster Bob Wickman picking up a few saves out of the set up role that he thrived in the previous season. Going into 1995, NYY picked up star closer John Wetteland to supplant Howe in that role. In this stretch, Buck never replaced a closer that wasn't injured.

With Arizona, building the team from scratch, Buck had input into what players to add and acquire, and curiously enough his bullpen consisted of 3 career saves outside of one player, former Orioles closer, Gregg Olson, who had little to no success since leaving Baltimore in 1994. Olson was the oldest pitcher on the staff, and thrown back into the role that Showalter saw him thrive against him first hand as coach of the Yankees, Olson responded with 30 saves his first year as closer. Olson started out pretty rough through the season in 1999 and by mid-May was replaced as closer by new acquisition Matt Mantei who had shown promise closing for the Marlins before Arizona. Mantei started the season in 2000 on the DL with Kim stepping in exceptionally in the early part of the season before Mantei took his job back when he got healthy.

In Texas, they had signed U. Urbina coming off an all-star season in 2002 to a one-year deal, he started out great again in Buck's first season as manager, before they traded him in June to the Marlins for Adrian Gonzalez. Buck then turned to 28 year old RP Fransisco Cordero who had a great season the year before to take over the role, he responded by holding the job for the next 3 years and amassing 107 saves for Showalter before being traded to MIL in 2006 at the trading deadline. Otsuka was amazing as a set up man for SD before going to TEX, and Buck went to him with the closers job about a month into the 2006 season.

Coming to BAL, Buck came into a situation where Alfredo Simon was the closer, before he had the job, 3 weeks he made the move to 35 year old Koji Uehara for the remainder of the season. For the 2011 season the Orioles spent big on free agent Kevin Gregg who had a consistent few years as closer for multiple teams, not spectacular but consistent. As the season wore on and Gregg continued his ups and downs, Showalter turned to exceptional set up man Jim Johnson at the end of the season to close and carried into 2012 where he had an amazing season at the back end of a top bullpen.

In the end, you can see that he's got a preference for veteran guys in the closing role, and he is pretty loyal to the guy he goes with, he will give them chances to redeem themselves before being forced to make a move. In an injury situation the guy will get his job back, and he likes to use the set up role as kind of an apprenticeship for the closing role with younger guys training for the future. As one of the best bullpen handling coaches in MLB, you can see that in his history. With all of this being said, if the Orioles were to trade Johnson this offseason, likely candidates to get a shot at closing would be:

Strop: Showalter seemed to lose confidence in him down the stretch though.
Hunter: Showed an uptick in velocity in the pen, and has some history with Buck.
Arrieta: Has power stuff, and an arsenal for the back end, may get a chance to audition if he doesn't make the rotation, probably would have to intern as set up man first.
Matusz: More of a reach, as he is expected to move back to the rotation, but Buck showed a lot of confidence in him while Strop was struggling, and the splits are always a question there. 
Outside acquisition: O's have been linked to Japanese closer Fujikawa, and could always bring someone back in a trade.

26 November 2012

Seeking Value in the Rule 5 Draft (2012)

The 2011 Rule 5 draft was arguably a success as the Orioles carried utility man Ryan Flaherty the entire season after selecting him from the Chicago Cubs organization.  Before the season, Baseball America placed him as the 7th best prospect in the Orioles' system with his entire worth placed on his bat playing in the infield with hopes that his defense would become adequate.  Neither proved incredibly useful to the Orioles.  His final line over 167 plate appearances was 216/258/359, a .270 wOBA, and -0.7 UZR (with negative value coming from third and corner outfield positions).  Perhaps what most fans will remember though was his home run against the Yankees in the American League Division Series.

Flaherty will enter into his second Spring Training with the Orioles.  He no longer will be competing with Robert Andino for second base after the Andino-Robinson deal went down.  However, he will be competing with Luis Alexi Casilla, a little-bit-too-green Jonathan Schoop, an on-the bubble Omar Quintanilla, an unlikely Brian Roberts, and whoever is picked up (spring invite, free agent, or trade).  Dan Duquette has mentioned in a number of articles after the Casilla wire pickup that he was prepared to go into Spring Training with the second base position as is.  That does not mean he will rest on his laurels though.  Second base is still quite a position of need in addition to left field and everyone could use another pitcher.

Skimming through the Rule 5 eligible list, I found five players of interest:

Ryan Buchter, LHP
26 years old
Atlanta Braves

Mississippi AA 41.1 10.9 4.1 36 3.00
Gwinnett AAA 8 5.6 19.1 42 7.90
The Braves are Buchter's third organization.  He was originally drafted by the Nationals, but was dealt to the Cubs for Matt Avery who has not been in professional ball after the 2009 season.  In 2011, he was on the move again when the Braves traded for his services in exchange for Rodrigo Lopez.  It is obviously by his travels that he has attributes that are valued, but he has never appeared on any major publications top prospect rankings for any organization he has been a part of.  So what can do he so well?  He strikes batters out.  What does he not do well?  He walks everyone.  He does this with a low to mid 90s four seamer that he mixes with a good cutter (the supposed anathema in the current Orioles regime).  Being a lefty with a decent strikeout rate, he likely is worth a flyer for someone in Spring Training.  The Os are in need, or want, for a lefty in the pen, so he might be an option.

Braulio Lara, LHP
24 years old
Tampa Rays

Charlotte A+ 112 6.59 4.66 42 4.67
As mentioned by Baseball America, Lara is a player organizations can dream on, but who likely provides very little value in the near term.  The hope is that his low to mid 90s fastball and simply focusing on his inconsistent curveball as a reliever could bring out near term value.  The Rays have been keeping him as a starting pitcher, but his struggles may have reached the point where from this point forward they see what he can do as a reliever.  Lara might have the best chance for sticking with an organization that does not have playoff hopes.  The Orioles may view their roster spots as too precious to hold onto a not-ready-for-prime-time arm.

Jonathan Galvez, 2B/LF
22 years old
San Diego Padres

San Antonio AA 345 .295 .366 .432 111
This is Galvez' second year exposed to the Rule 5 draft.  He profiles as a bat first second baseman.  He has modest power for a second baseman and had a AA league average walk rate.  It is hard to see how Galvez is a better player right now than Ryan Flaherty, but maybe the Orioles' or some other's team scouts see something they like.  The Orioles could take a flyer and check him out for the entirety of Spring Training before having to send him back if he proves to be unworthy of an active roster slot.

Jeremy Hazelbaker, LF/CF
25 years old
Boston Red Sox

Portland AA 484 0.273 0.338 0.476 113
Hazelbaker has a lot of athleticism and shows plus-plus speed with a good head for the basepaths.  He has the tools to be an excellent fielder, but he has issues with proper route running and a slow first step.  He showed above average power last season in AA with average on base performance.  I'd rate him as a less impressive commodity than Trayvon Robinson, but, again, he may well be worth a flyer.  Hazelbaker has good enough defense, raw power, and uses his speed more effectively.  If he can provide similar defensive value as Robinson, his ceiling may be a bit higher as he could have a bat capable for left field.  He should be able to find someone willing to see whether they can fit him on their team.

Marc Krauss, LF
25 years old
Houston Astros

Mobile AA 429 0.281 0.415 0.5 129
Corpus Christi AA 35 0.414 0.514 1 211
OKC AAA 66 0.123 0.203 0.123 42

In 2009, Nick Faleris and I were discussing our plans for the shadow draft we were running in concert with the Orioles' draft.  I was a strong proponent of Marc Krauss while Nick was pushing for Todd Glaesmann (who was my target for the third round).  In the end, we chose Glaesmann over Krauss.  Krauss, with his poor body type and questionable bat speed, has found success and shown power at each step up the ladder.  It appears though after coming over in the Chris Johnson trade that the talent starved Astros do not see a need to put Krauss on the 40 man roster.  Krauss' poor defense and bad arm limit him to left field with his ceiling being somewhat like Luke Scott, but with a batting profile that is someone who should be limited against Major League right handed pitchers at this point in his career.  The Diamondbacks did try him out over 30 games at first base, but if the Orioles have one thing in abundance it is a number of guys who can play first base and left field.

25 November 2012

Sunday Comics: Happy Thanksgiving!

I don't think this needs any explanation. I hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with friends, family and food!

24 November 2012

Zach Petersime – He Got His Chance and Took It

by Joe Reisel

The Norfolk Tides used an International League-record 75 players in 2012. One reason they used so many players was that the parent Orioles would either suddenly promote a pitcher or tell the Tides not to use a pitcher to keep him ready for a sudden promotion. If the Tides didn’t have usable pitchers to get through a game safely, the Orioles would promote a pitcher who could quickly get to wherever the Tides were playing and who was able to pitch. These emergency pitchers might be recalled from Advanced Class A Frederick or Class A Delmarva. And, as you might expect, most of those pitchers promoted from the lower levels were overmatched by AAA hitters.

However, one of those emergency pitchers not only outperformed expectations, he managed to stay with the team for the entire last month of the season. Righthander Zach Petersime was promoted from Delmarva in August.  He was the Orioles’ 45th round draft choice in 2009.  He signed and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Orioles, where he pitched fairly well as a starter. He started 2010 in extended spring training; joined Bluefield in the Appalachian League in June, and didn’t pitch well as a swingman (seven starts, nine relief appearances.)  He started 2011 in extended spring training; joined Aberdeen in the NY-Penn League in June, and pitched poorly as a relief pitcher.

It would have been expected that had would be released during spring training 2012. But he survived and again started 2012 in extended spring training.  In June, he was assigned to Aberdeen; after one game, he was promoted to Delmarva. He pitched fairly well as a part-time closer when he got summoned to Norfolk as an emergency pitching replacement. There is a story, probably not true, that he got the promotion because Delmarva’s return trip from a road trip took them past Harbor Park; the bus detoured to the parking lot and dropped the most-rested pitcher off.

With the Tides, Petersime pitched well in two long relief appearances. On August 18 I saw him start a “bullpen game”, one in which the scheduled starting pitcher became unavailable and several relief pitchers go as long as they can. Petersime, who hadn’t started a game in two seasons, pitched three scoreless innings. In the fourth inning, L.J. Hoes misplayed a fly ball into a triple; Petersime retired the next batter but after allowing two more hits was relieved after allowing two more hits. Pedro Viola allowed those two inherited runners to score; making Petersime’s line (3 runs in 3 1/3 innings) look worse than he really pitched. He made another emergency start five days later. That game was on the road so I didn’t see him. He gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings, which was good enough for an emergency starter. The Tides were impressed enough to give him a third start even though there was a starting pitcher on rotation. I saw that game, in which he allowed two runs in five innings. For a pitcher skipping two levels and being pressed into an unfamiliar role, he was outstanding.

Under normal circumstances, in 2013 Petersime would probably be assigned to Delmarva as a relief pitcher. But based on his success in Norfolk, I think he has earned an assignment to Frederick. And based on how well he pitched in emergencies, I think he should be tried again as a starting pitcher. Zach Petersime may not be a real prospect, and the chances are slim that he’ll even ever see AAA baseball again. But he’s earned the chance to try the next level.

23 November 2012

The Camden Highball (Episode 5): Men who Stare at Men with Gloves

Oh, it is a Thanksgiving miracle!  The long awaited to be edited fifth episode of the Camden Highball is ready for public consumption.  Joining me on the show is Andrew Gibson of Baseball Info Solutions and Camden Chat fame.  We are discussing quite a bit about defensive metrics: what they mean and how they are calculated (in a very general idea-based way).  This means that we discussed the Orioles outfield and the worthiness of their gold gloves as well as one of our favorite subjects here at the Depot, Mark Reynolds.  Kevin sent me an email for me to comment on the Trayvon Robinson and Robert Andino deal that we wrote about earlier.  Let's get started...

Episode 5 of the Camden Highball

00:00:00 Music - Baltimore is the New Brooklyn by J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound (in full at end of podcast)
00:00:25 Greetings from Jon
00:02:00 Mailbag from Kevin in Newport News, VA.  Should we be excited about Trayvon Robinson?  What this means for Xavier Avery?
00:09:32 Interview with Andrew Gibson
00:10:25 What are DRS and UZR?
00:12:37 Balls hitting the outfield fence in DRS
00:15:08 Differences between home/road splits for Camden Yards
00:21:10 Good fielding plays explained using Mark Reynolds
00:25:49 Breaking down the arm component using Davis, Jones, and Markakis
00:40:12 Off season perspective on first base, More Mark Reynolds and others
00:45:55 Andrew likes Youk
00:48:04 Jon wonders about Travis Ishikawa and first base defense
00:52:02 Orioles needing to keep window open without selling off future
01:00:39 Baltimore is the New Brooklyn (in full)

We are available on iTunes (though we still seem to have some problems with updating there).  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.

Articles of note mentioned:
Depot's Home/Road UZR Split Post (it was nice to see this article had legs)
Dewan's indirect response on Jones and Markakis
Depot's pilot study on how arm components of defensive metrics change for elite arms

22 November 2012

2013 Minor League Free Agents: First Base

Previously, we discussed Minor League free agent catchers.  Today, we move on to first basemen.  The point of this article is not to suggest that the Orioles need to deepen their talent pool at Norfolk with journeyman first baseman, but to show that their may well be some talent at the fringe corners of the market.

First Base

The Orioles lost two Minor League free agent first basemen.  Rhyne Hughes had been in the organization since 2009.  He was acquired in a deal for Gregg Zaun, who no longer wished to provide counsel for the emergence of Matt Wieters.  The power Hughes' showed in the Rays' system never really materialized for the Orioles until he was forced to serve a suspension for PEDs and played out last year in AA.  The other free agent is Billy Rowell.  Often acclaimed as the man who caused Mike Trout to fall to the 24th selection due to the New Jersey fear (the fear that ball players from the Northeast can sometimes look like monsters merely due to playing vastly inferior competition).  Rowell had difficulty translating his batting practice light tower power into game power as he had issues figuring out off speed pitches.  He did not really take to the idea of being converted to a pitcher in spring training and then would up with a substance abuse violation.  He finished the year out at home as the Orioles decided to simply cut ties with their former number 1 pick.

On to potential pickups:

Christian Marrero, 27yo

Marrero has never been considered a top prospect.  He has been someone whose athleticism is not exceptional, but he has performed well enough at each step along the way.  His power is fringy for a first baseman or left fielder.  He is not particularly gifted with range, but he does have a strong arm that is useful in left.  The hope for him is that he improves his skills and can be used as a fourth outfielder or backup first baseman.  It will be a difficult road for him.

Reynaldo Rodriguez, 27yo
Red Sox

Rodriguez is a player who attracts my interest.  After floundering in the Yankees system, he was dismissed after he was injured and lost a season.  He kept at it and worked his way back to be signed by the Red Sox.  As one of the more older players in the leagues he was playing in, he managed to move his way through the system a step each year.  Last year saw hm with 49 plate appearances in AAA where he looked overmatched.  With reports of solid defense and good plate coverage.  A lean body with not much frame to add weight, his power will be at best average or, more likely, below average.  I'd like to see what he could do in Norfolk where his line drive swing might play well.  If he can pick up some time in the outfield, it might make him an easier player to carry at the MLB level on the bench.

Travis Ishikawa, 30yo

Ishikawa has always been a player that has interested me because he is someone who does something very well at a position where that particular skill is held with much value: defense.  I have not seen him enough, but you could make the argument that he is the best defensive first baseman in baseball.  His downfall is that he is an awfully poor hitting first baseman.  He would fall in as the 25th or so worst hitting player at that position.  However, that glove is worth about 1.5 wins over the course of a full season.  In total, that would bring him in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 2 WAR, which is passable (not preferable) at first.  Ishikawa would be someone I would be interested in sitting at Norfolk and bringing up in case of an injury at first.  It is a bit difficult to argument for a defensive backup at first base who is not going to be of much help in pinch hitting situations.

21 November 2012

2013 Minor League Free Agents: Catcher

One thing the Depot enjoys doing is looking at the edge of the playing field and finding potential plus value for next to nothing.  One area to look at as the season ends is the minor league free agent population.  In a series of posts, we will choose three or so players who appear interesting to us and give some background on them.


The Orioles lost Ronny Paulino to minor league free agency this year.  Paulino shows some interesting power and streaks of high contact.  He was picked up in response to Taylor Teagarden's injuries.  Optimistically, he even saw some time as the Orioles' designated hitter.  Over his career he has shown a strong platoon split with a +213 OPS in favor of hitting lefties.  Last year though, in limited time, he struggled against everyone.  If I was in another organization, I would be willing to give the 32 year old some playing time in AAA as the organization's third catcher, but lets look at some other options for the Orioles.

James Skelton, 28yo

Skelton does one thing pretty well...he walks.  The Tigers, the Diamondbacks, the Pirates, and the Nationals all tried to find ways to take advantage of that ability.  He began as a catcher and still catches, but his difficulties catching has led teams to trying to play him at second base and left field.  The bat will not work in left and the glove appears inadequate at second and behind the plate.  Still relatively young, I would be open to trying to give him more instruction behind the plate with the backup option letting him be a utility player.

Nevin Ashley
Nevin Ashley, 29 yo

Ashley shows more promise to me than Skelton.  Not that either has a lot of promise, but Ashley was able to flash long unseen power last year and a decent eye at the plate.  It was the first time since rookie ball that he showed any reasonable ability to hit a ball.  Based on his caught stealing numbers, he seems to have a good arm and earlier in his career he was awarded as the Rays best defensive minor leaguer and was often exposed to MLB squad pitchers in Spring Training.  It seems like a lot of the elements are in place for a pretty solid back up catcher.  It may well be he is a late bloomer or simply an older minor leaguer who had a good stretch.  As a Durham Bull, the Orioles certainly saw him play this year and likely have an established opinion on his capabilities.

Landon Powell, 31 yo

Powell, at one point, appeared to be a decent solution behind the plate for the Athletics.  He showed good power for a catcher, an ability to walk, and an absolute gun behind the plate (consistently eliminating 50% of those who dared to run against him).  Powell is a big body catcher checking in at 6'3 and 265 lbs.  Weight has been an issue with evaluators and has been a struggle for him.  After blowing out his knee in 2009, the power went away and his ability to eliminate runners also decreased from the low 50s to the low 30s.  It may well be his knee just cannot take the grind anymore and it affects his bat and his glove.  I would still like to give him a shot.

20 November 2012

Orioles Acquire Trayvon Robinson for Robert Andino

Given Robert Andino's down 2012, I suggested the Orioles might want to look elsewhere for a starting second baseman for 2013 if they wanted to be competitive again. When the O's picked up Alexi Casilla, the writing was kind of on the wall Andino wasn't going to be getting a starting job with the team next season. And now, as it turns it, he won't be getting any kind of job at all with the Birds, as he's been traded to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Trayvon Robinson.

First a quick look at the Andino to Casilla swap:

Andino career: .235/.296/.323, 67 wRC+, average-ish UZR at 2B/3B/SS
Casilla career: .250/.305/.334, 74 wRC+, average-ish UZR at 2B, plus (in few innings) at SS

Both guys hit better in 2011 than 2012, with Casilla slightly better in both years. He's walked less than Andino in his career (7.7% to 6.9%), but also makes more contact and strikes out less often (12.8% to 20.4%). Power numbers are similar (.088 ISO to .084 ISO), though Andino does it slightly more with homers and a little less with doubles. Casilla's better on the basepaths, and is a switch-hitter with relatively small platoon splits (especially when regressed) which makes him a more attractive starter than the right-handed Andino. The hope is probably that Casilla - if he is the team's primary second baseman - can be as valuable as Andino was in 2011 (around average), with less "Andino in 2012" type down-side (below replacement level).

Now to the trade:

Trayvon Robinson is a 25 years old switch-hitting outfielder. In the last two years for Seattle he's accumulated 319 Major League plate appearance with a .217/.272/.330 batting line. He improved somewhat from 2011 to 2012, bumping his walk rate up from 5% to over 8% and dropping the K's from 39% (!) to 26%. Back in 2011 with the Dodgers organization, he hit .293/.375/.563 with 26 home runs in Triple-A, though that took place for Albuquerque. Robinson's generally not shown that type of power and the whiffs are clearly of some concern, but his patience at the plate looks like it's improved since the lower levels of the minors.

Robinson does bring some speed (169 steals at a 70% clip in the minors) and (supposedly) defense to the table, which at least makes him attractive as a fourth outfielder. And, though he's out of options like Robert Andino, he has more years of team control left and is going to be cheaper - Andino made $1.3 M in his first arbitration year in 2012, and would probably be closer to $2 M for 2013.

Quick scouting report from Jon: He is a four tool guy whose tools simply have not been able to play at the MLB level. Robinson adds to team speed, but his plus speed that is not quite effectively used on the basepaths. He's overly aggressive at the plate and can be fooled by offspeed offerings, and he is also kind of a platoon guy even though he's a switch hitter. If you want to force a comp, he's like Xavier Avery with a little more power. (Which all more or less lines up with the stats above)

The Orioles didn't give up much in Andino or probably get much in Robinson, but there's likely more upside with the latter. Can't complain too much about that kind of trade.

2012 Orioles Retrospective: Tommy Hunter

Quick; who was second on the Orioles in innings pitched this year (pretend you haven't seen the title)?

Right, Tommy Hunter with 133.2 IP. Sometimes you just need a guy to take the ball, I guess.

The O's picked Hunter up from the Rangers last season in the Koji Uehara trade, and moved him from the bullpen (where he spent all of 2011 for Texas) to the rotation. He began 2012 as the O's #2 starter, but that didn't go especially well.

It wasn't totally unexpected; Hunter maintained his excellent control (1.8 BB/9) but continued to not miss many bats (4.7 K/9). The biggest problem - by far - was that batters started to take Hunter deep left and right. Allowing 30 home runs in 20 games (2.3 HR/9) is not a recipe for success, and his ERA (5.71) and FIP (6.09) reflected that.

Of course some of that was poor fortune, as Hunter's 21.3% HR/FB rate was the highest in the Majors for starters with at least 100 IP. That's why his xFIP was a more reasonable 4.52, which still isn't good but is more in line with his career numbers as a back of the rotation starter.

Hunter was used in relief a couple times earlier in the season, but finally moved to the bullpen full-time in September. And that's where he may have finally found his role. Because Tommy Hunter the starter throws a 90-91 mph fastball, but Tommy Hunter the reliever throws a 95-96 mph fastball that he can actually blow by people. Here's the change in whiff rates against his pitches during the year:


As a reliever, he simplified his repertoire and is much more content to let it rip with the heater. It's also possible that the slider compliments things better that way than the curve, but this is a relatively small number of pitches to look at.

In any case, it's working. Out of the bullpen, Hunter pitched to a 3.71 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 3.39 xFIP. Only Troy Patton had a lower xFIP (and his was just 0.01 lower) of pitchers with more than Tommy's 17 innings out of the pen. Hunter struck out 16 batters in those 17 innings, while handing out just 3 unintentional walks. he also threw the fastest pitch of any Oriole this year, at 100.1 mph.

As nonplussed as I was about the excitement some had when the O's added Hunter to the team as a starter, I can definitely get on board with him as a power-reliever who can potentially throw multiple innings out of the pen (I think I'm more comfortable with him in the 7th or 8th than Pedro Strop, at the very least). This could be one of those not-often-seen situations where a guy is so much better in shorter outings that he's more* valuable despite a somewhat reduced workload.

* More likely he'd be about as valuable; perhaps 1+ win in 80 innings as a reliever versus 1+ win in 120 innings as a starter.

19 November 2012

Clutchest Hits of 2012

During the magical 2012 season, the Orioles came up with a bunch of clutch hits. After all, you don't outperform you Pythagorean Win totals buy 11 games without coming up big in some close games. The Orioles were no exception.

So I took the 10 biggest hits in terms of Win Probability added and listed them below. Lots of heroes, not all of them obvious.

10. Wilson Betemit - .43 WPA - 4/13/12

The Orioles were in Toronto with two outs in the 8th and the bases were loaded. Betemit singled on a sharp ground ball up the middle scoring Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis turning a 1-run deficit into a 1-run lead. Reimold would tack on a run with a solo homer in the 9th and the Orioles would win 7-5, breaking a three game losing streak early in the season.

9. Adam Jones - .43 WPA  - 9/19/12

It was the top of the 11th in Seattle and the game had been tied since the 4th inning. Nate McLouth hit a 1 out single and then Adam Jones put the O's on top for good with a long home run to left field. The win put the team 21 games over .500 and kept them a half game back of the Yankees for the division lead.

8. Taylor Teagarden - .44 WPA - 7/14/12

The game versus the World Series bound Detroit Tigers on July 14th is the clutchiest team performance in terms of offense of the 2012 season. Taylor Teagarden's game winning 2-run homer in the bottom of the 13th is not even the biggest hit of the game in terms of WPA and is one of three hits that moved the winning probability more than 40% in the Orioles' favor.

7. Adam Jones - .44 WPA - 7/14/12

There would have been no Teagarden walk-off in the 13th without Adam Jones' big hit in the 11th. Down to their final out with two men on, Jones drove a liner into left scoring Nick Markakis and tying the game at 5 runs apiece.

6. Mark Reynolds - .45 WPA - 7/19/12

With two outs in the top of the 8th, Mark Reynolds singled in Matt Wieters and Wilson Betemit turning a one run deficit into a one run lead. The O's would beat the Twins 4-3.

5. Nick Johnson - .45 WPA - 5/11/12

Remember him? He didn't play much but he did have one of the biggest hits of the year for the Birds. With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Johnson hit a 2-run homer and turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead. (Sound familiar?). The bullpen made it stand up for the one run win over Tampa Bay.

4. Matt Wieters - .46 WPA - 6/24/12

The Nationals had shutout the Orioles for 7 innings but in the bottom of the 8th, Adam Jones singled and then Matt Wieters hit a homer to deep left-center. The blast gave Baltimore the 2-1 lead and, once again, the bullpen made it hold up.

3. Nick Markakis - .46 WPA - 4/22/12

Like many others, Nick Markakis turned a one run deficit into a one run lead with a bases loaded single in the top of the 8th. For good measure, after Angels had tied the game, Nick singled home the go-ahead run yet again in the top of the 10th off of La Troy Hawkins to give the O's their 3-2 victory. With those two big hits, Markakis had .741 WPA for the game, the clutchiest game for an Oriole hitter during the season.

2. J.J. Hardy - .47 WPA - 7/14/12

Back to the July 14th game against the Tigers, the Orioles were down by one run with one out in the bottom of the 13th. Taylor Teagarden was able to give the Birds the win thanks to J.J. Hardy's game tying homer earlier in the inning bringing them back from the brink of defeat.

1. Nate McLouth - .54 WPA - 8/27/12

Pedro Strop gave up three straight singles in the top of the 8th to give the White Sox the 3-2 lead. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Mark Reynolds walked and Nate McLouth hit a 2-run homer to deep right to give the Orioles the 4-3 lead that Jim Johnson would again make stand up.

Looking over this list, you can make the argument that the July 14th game versus Detroit was the turning point of the season. The Orioles were just 4 games over .500 heading into that game and went 48-28 the rest of the way, 20 games over .500. There were lots of great moments in this Oriole season but July 14th may have been the greatest game they played and sparked them to greater things as the rest of the season played out.

18 November 2012

Sunday Comics: Grand Theft Awards

In all seriousness, I think Bob Melvin did an excellent job with the Oakland A's this season - his work was just as stellar as Buck's was. That being said, this idea popped into my head when I was doing some holiday shopping at Dick's Sporting Goods and wouldn't go away, so it's been drawn.

Relax, Buck, you've won the Manager of the Year award twice already.

17 November 2012

Former Tides Now Minor League Free Agents

by Joe Reisel

Five days after the conclusion of the World Series, all players who (1) are not on forty-man rosters and (2) not under contract for the following season become what are known as “six-year minor league free agents.” Earlier this month, Major League Baseball declared 549 players minor league free agents. Twenty-five of them ended the year in the Orioles’ organization.  
Of those twenty-five, nineteen had played for the Norfolk Tides at some time, seventeen in 2012. Most were low-level non-prospects used who played for the Tides when they desperately needed pitching; or long-term veterans who re-entered the minor league baseball with the Tides in mid-season, and who may decide to retire; or players signed as minor-league free agents before the 2012 season and are free agents again. But six were recent prospects who have been squeezed off the roster or have fallen out of favor. I’ll take a look at those six, four of whom were 2012 Norfolk Tides.

Ryan Adams was once considered the Orioles’ best bet to succeed Brian Roberts at second base; after the 2010 season, Baseball America ranked him as the Orioles #8 prospect. He projected to be a .280 hitter with doubles power, but with marginal defense at second base. But Adams had a terrible 2012. After getting off to a slow start at Norfolk, he broke his thumb in a fit of frustration. He came back after the all-star break and rebounded a little, but for the season he hit .224 with a .665 OPS and worse-than-ever defense. After the season he tested positive for amphetamine and was suspended for fifty games. Adams has clearly fallen out of favor with the Orioles, and needs a fresh start in a new organization to restart his career. He’ll be 26 in 2013.

Blake Davis was a lower-tier shortstop prospect who has spent at least part of the last four seasons with the Tides; after the 2008 and 2009 seasons, he was named the best defensive infielder in the Orioles system.  He played 25 games with the Orioles in 2011. His glove is steady, rather than spectacular; he’s a .250-range hitter with neither great speed nor real power.  Davis’ major-league upside is that of a utility infielder, and at age 29, he’s most likely to be a career AAA middle infielder. The Orioles have apparently decided that he’s replaceable if he leaves the organization.

Brandon Erbe is a right-handed starting pitcher. He was drafted by the Orioles out of a Baltimore high school and was rated the #2 prospect in the system after he struck out 133 in 114 innings in A-ball at age 18. Although it took him two years to work through High Class A Frederick, Erbe was progressing on the normal prospect path (at age 21 in AA) when he got hurt and missed half the season.  He started 2010 in the Norfolk rotation and suffered through a terrible half-season – 0-10 with a 5.73 ERA in 14 starts. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum and missed the second half of 2010 and essentially all of 2011. He struggled to regain his control pitching relief at Frederick last season, although he did strike out nearly a batter an inning. Erbe, who’ll be 25 in 2013, has been surpassed by many other pitchers in the Orioles’ system and the Orioles don’t think they need to protect him.

Rhyne Hughes is a first baseman, originally acquired from Tampa in a 2009 trade for Gregg Zaun. In 2009, Hughes hit 25 home runs for three teams, and when he got off to a hot start in 2012 was promoted to the Orioles. He didn’t hit well in the majors and cooled off when he returned to Norfolk. He split time with Brandon Snyder and Michael Aubrey and didn’t establish himself.  After the 2011 season he was suspended for fifty games after testing positive for amphetamine use and became a minor-league free agent. He re-signed with the Orioles, served his suspension, and was sent to Bowie. Although Hughes performed well, he didn’t become one of the 75 players on the 2012 the Norfolk Tides -- with Joe Mahoney playing first, there wasn’t a spot for him. Hughes is limited to first base and designated hitter, and doesn’t project to hit well enough for either position. He didn’t have a future with the Orioles and will likely be Triple-A roster filler for the rest of his career.

Zach Phillips is probably the new six-year free agent the Orioles most want to keep. Phillips was acquired from the Rangers in July 2011 for Nick Green in a trade whose circumstances remain murky. Phillips had struggled as a starting pitcher and was converted to the bullpen in 2009. He’s been consistently effective as a relief pitcher, and has a 3.21 ERA in fourteen major-league innings. He’s not just a left-handed one-out guy; he’s consistently averaged over an inning per appearance in the minors. But the Orioles have a lot of pitchers and unproven left-handed relief pitchers are plentiful; the Orioles probably think that even if Phillips goes elsewhere they can pick up a replacement. 

Pedro Viola joined the Orioles in early 2010 on waivers from the Reds. Viola is a left-handed pitcher with an outstanding fastball, subpar secondary stuff, and terrible control. He’ll turn 30 next June. In his AAA career (with Louisville and Norfolk) he has walked 7 batters per nine innings, leading to a 7.30 ERA. When you see Pedro Viola throw his fastball, you can dream that if he just figures it out he can be a possible Mitch Williams-type closer. But at some point you have to stop dreaming, face reality, and accept that he’s just not going to figure it out. The Orioles are facing reality.

16 November 2012

2012 Orioles Retrospective: Lew Ford

Before the 2012 season, the last time Lew Ford played in the Major Leagues was in 2007. The last time Lew Ford had even 300 plate appearances in the Major Leagues was in 2005. So when the Orioles signed him to add some outfield depth to the team, it was largely viewed as a joke by many.

The 35 year-old Lew Ford then proceeded to hit .331/.390/.500 with 11 homers in 62 games in Triple-A. He was called up at the end of July to help fill some in when Nick Markakis got hurt, and ended up hitting just .183/.256/.352 for the Orioles in 79 PA.

Ford actually didn't play that poorly - his walk and strike-out rates (9%, 16%) were virtually identical to his minor league numbers and were both better than average. His .169 ISO was also above average. The main difference after his promotion was the nose-dive his batting average on balls in play took, from .365 to .182. Part of that was bad luck, and part of it was him hitting as many pop-ups as Joey Votto has in the last four years (combined).

Used mostly as a platoon guy, Ford posted an above average .330 wOBA against lefties compared to a .123 wOBA against righties. Part of that was BABIP-fueled, but he also walked twice as often against southpaws and hit all 3 of his home runs off of them (CC Sabathia, Chris Sale, and Francisco Liriano, no less).

Add in some decent defense in outfield corners, and Ford was a replacement level player even with the horribly low BABIP ("freely avialable talent" indeed). It's very possible - maybe even likely - that he showed enough to catch on with some team as a fourth-outfielder and righty bat, which is certainly a pretty neat story.

Given the current roster make-up though, I doubt it's worth bringing him back for 2013 on anything more than a minor league deal. But that doesn't at all take away from the fact that Lew Ford started a playoff game for the Orioles - as the designated hitter! - or that he hit  .375/.375/.500 in the post-season overall.