10 December 2012

Arrivals and Departures (12/10/12)

A short primer on options was provided in an earlier post found here.  If you have any further questions about this issue or other baseball related issues, feel free to email us at CamdenDepot@gmail.com.

The Winter Meetings in Nashville began with great hope.  The Orioles announced they were looking for a middle of the order hitter who would play at first, left, or designated hitter.  They were also mildly interested in upgrading their pitching rotation.  These moves were suggested as coming by trade.  However, trades are a rather unpredictable ephemeral quality and nothing much went down in Nashville for Baltimore.

Transactions from last week:
December 5, 2012 - Signed Nate McLouth to a 1 year, 2 MM contract
December 6, 2012 - Selected TJ McFarland in the Rule 5 draft from Cleveland
First, there is still a considerable amount of time left in the offseason with a considerable number of players on the free agent market and being bandied about in trade rumors.  There is still time and Duquette, himself, said "Sometimes [talks] come together, sometimes they can take a little while to percolate after the meetings."  This brought back some unpleasant memories for some as Andy MacPhail was well known for using the term "percolate."  It can sound, particularly with some precedent, as if very little can be expected to be done.  Again, that said, trades are very difficult to pull off and a general managers position is far more intense and difficult than most fans give credit.

Regardless, there has been movement in that AL East this offseason.  The Blue Jays have remade their roster.  The Rays have added a useful piece in Yunel Escobar and traded James Shields for Wil Myers, a prospective above average major leaguer without any service time to his name.  The Yankees have been laying in wait and can always strike when they find something they like (but yes no real movement from them).  The Red Sox have been quite active in buying up mid to low level veteran talent at somewhat questionable prices.  I will be shocked if Shane Victorino's 3 yr / 39 MM deal will bring back anything better than a 8 MM per WAR value.

Anyway, these moves have left me with the following napkin scratch:


EdG Win
Orioles 85
Red Sox 85
Yankees 86
Rays 92.5
Blue Jays 90
I have the Orioles as having a 2 win increase in talent from last year (which fits well when you normalize their success in one run games...that alone takes them down from a 93 win team to a 83 win team).  That two win improvement comes primarily from two places: Endy Chavez and Mark Reynolds.  Their absence from the team allows other players with better fit and/or performance slide onto the team.  That said, simply excising the imperfect features of last year's squad does not set the team up for a strong chance to compete in 2013.  That is not to say that the playoffs are an impossible event at the moment, but highly improbable.  This is similar to last season when the playoffs were also highly improbable.  Add in an unbalanced schedule and that "85 win" talent may be more like ".500" win talent.

Going forward, the Orioles need to find themselves about 5 WAR to become a serious contender.  The Mets R.A. Dickey has been on the market and would be worth something in the neighborhood of 3-4 WAR.  That move would likely cost the team Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz in addition to several second tier prospects.  The actual win increase for the team is likely more in the neighborhood of 1-3 WAR depending on who goes.  I have not heard of any other pitchers being associated with the Orioles.  For batters, Nick Swisher, Michael Morse, Billy Butler, and Justin Morneau has been attached to the team.  Swisher has been crossed off according to the Orioles' front office and the group in general is likely only to improve the team by a win or two at most.  Their value would mainly come from providing more depth to be utilized if an injury comes along in an area where the depth is present.

In other words, the Orioles need to acquire stars.  Retaining a marginal starter like Nate McLouth or picking up a fringe lefty with good control and no above average pitches (i.e., TJ McFarland) will not help the team maintain the high level of performance (as opposed to talent) that they exhibited last year.  I think a lot of people look back to last year and thing (1) what if Markakis was healthy, (2) what if Nate McLouth played like that for the entire year, (3) what if Jason Hammel was healthy, (4) what if Manny played for the entire year, (5) what if they figured out the starters earlier, etc.  This is a 20/20 hindsight view that overlooks so many things that broke right for the Orioles.  You can also look back and say (1) what if the Orioles had a typical one run game record split, (2) what if Strop lost himself earlier in the year, (3) what if Chris Davis hits his career line, (4) what if Adam Jones did not explode offensively at the beginning of the year, (5) what if Mark Reynolds sucked for 26 weeks instead of 25 weeks, etc.  The truth does not lie in either extreme perspective, but in a mix of both.  It is good to think of how things will change next season, but be sure to recognize the good and bad breaks the team had this year.

Current 40 Man Roster with Options:

Options Remaining

* 3 2 1
Pitchers 



Jake Arrieta 
7/6/2012 O O
Luis Ayala 
X X X
Mike Belfiore 
O O O
Zach Britton 
7/9/2011 6/6/2012 O
Dylan Bundy  3/11/2012 O O O
Wei-Yin Chen 
| | |
Zach Clark 
O O O
Miguel Gonzalez 
O O O
Jason Hammel 
X X X
Tommy Hunter 
8/16/2008 4/1/2009 5/7/2012
Jim Johnson 
6/3/2006 3/12/2007 5/1/2010
Steve Johnson 
6/3/2012 O O
Brian Matusz  3/14/2009 6/30/2011 7/1/2012 O
TJ McFarland
5 5 5
Darren O'Day 
5/13/2008 O O
Troy Patton 
3/14/2009 3/15/2010 3/11/2011
Pedro Strop 
3/10/2008 3/24/2011 5/4/2011
Chris Tillman 
3/30/2010 5/29/2011 3/31/2012
Tsuyoshi Wada 
X X X
Catchers 



Luis Exposito 
3/17/2011 3/23/2012 O
Taylor Teagarden 
7/21/2008 4/27/2010 3/29/2011
Matt Wieters 
O O O
Infielders 



Wilson Betemit 
X X X
Alexi Casilla 
3/23/2007 3/14/2008 5/6/2009
Chris Davis 
7/6/2009 4/23/2010 3/29/2011
Ryan Flaherty 
O O O
J.J. Hardy 
X X X
Manny Machado 
O O O
Yamaico Navarro 
3/17/2011 5/29/2012 O
Steve Pearce 
3/17/2008 3/28/2009 4/4/2010
Brian Roberts 
X X X
Jonathan Schoop 
O O O
Danny Valencia 
3/19/2010 5/9/2012 O
Outfielders 



Xavier Avery 
5/29/2012 O O
L.J. Hoes 
O O O
Adam Jones 
X X X
Nick Markakis 
X X X
Nate McLouth
X X X
Nolan Reimold 
3/20/2009 5/12/2010 3/28/2011
Trayvon Robinson 
3/18/2010 3/14/2011 3/17/2012

09 December 2012

Sunday Comics: Nate the Great

So we get at least one more year out of Nate McLouth! Hooray!

I was admittedly pressed for time this week and literally had a few moments late on Saturday night to draw this (this time of the year things get awfully frantic), but Nate's all set to move back in and stay in Baltimore for a little while longer.


08 December 2012

What the Orioles Lost -- Joe Mahoney

On November 30, 25-year-old first baseman Joe Mahoney was claimed on waivers from the Orioles by the Miami Marlins. Mahoney spent most of 2012 with the Norfolk Tides; he got a two-game, four at-bat cup of coffee with the Orioles. According to Baseball America, Mahoney ranked as the Orioles’ #11 prospect after 2010 and as their #13 prospect after 2011. Mahoney played 132 games with Norfolk in 2012, of which I saw and scored about 40. What did the Orioles lose in Mahoney? How will his loss affect the organization?
Mahoney was the Orioles’ sixth-round draft selection in 2007, a semi-local selection out of the University of Richmond (VA). His progress through the Orioles farm system was steady but affected by nagging, minor injuries — he played 95 games in 2008; 115 games in 2009; 124 in 2010; and 88 in 2011. After two productive half-seasons (at total of 137 games) at Bowie, he was ready for Norfolk in 2012.
Mahoney is 6’6”, 240 and bats left-handed; he looks like a prototypical first baseman. But he didn’t really have a good year with the Tides; he hit .265/.319/.389. While Norfolk’s Harbor Park is an extreme pitcher’s park — probably the most extreme pitcher’s park in AAA — there’s a “short porch” down the right field line, so Harbor Park hurts left-handed power hitters less than other hitters. Mahoney’s disappointing season can’t be completely blamed on the park.

I saw two trends that contribute to Mahoney’s disappointing season. First, Mahoney simply didn’t hit very many hard ground balls. In the games I saw, he hit 54 ground balls and only 4 (7%) went through the infield and were initially fielded by an outfielder. In Mahoney's career, he has not drawn a large number of walks -- less than 8% of his plate appearances. So it's likely that he swings at too many pitches and too often makes weak contact. Second, when Mahoney did hit the ball in the air to the outfield, he didn’t pull it often enough. He hit 19 fly balls to the right fielder (41%), 15 to the center fielder, and 12 to the left fielder. While hitting the ball to all fields can be a good thing, a power hitter – especially a power hitter with a short porch to right field – needs to pull the ball more frequently to take advantage of his power. He did start to pull the ball more as the season went on.

Mahoney looked to be a pretty good defensive first baseman, but that may just be because Norfolk has recently had some really bad defensive first basemen. He has gotten mixed reviews for his defense. Mahoney looks like he has the tools to play left field, but he hasn't played there much because of his nagging leg injuries. 
Joe Mahoney would have made a nice insurance policy stashed away at Norfolk, ready to be promoted in case of injury or lack of first-base production. If he did learn to turn on pitches, he might have become a useful complementary player. But it's unlikely that the Orioles lost a future star, and he probably wouldn't have helped them much in 2013.

07 December 2012

Final Days of the Winter Meetings Recap

So days 3 and 4 of the Winter Meetings came and went with much rumor and little bite. Baltimore agreed with LF Nate McLouth to a very reasonable 1-year $2m contract with another 500k possible in bonuses. The rule 5 draft was also held with Baltimore selecting TJ McFarland from CLE, who is a 23 year old lefty with a good sinker, a good change up and great command. That is pretty much the MO of this front office, as shown during the "cutter-gate" incident last year, that this team's philosophy is that they like guys that can get groundballs, and guys with a FB/CV/CH combo. McFarland doesn't have much of a chance to stick in the pen as currently constructed all season because 6 of those spots are taken up by: Johnson, O'Day, Strop, Hunter, Patton, and Ayala. It would be tough to keep McFarland there all season, but there is an outside shot due to the LHP, and GB%. I'm sure they will give him a good look in ST, and try to work something out with CLE to send him to AAA if he can't make the team.

On day 3 the O's also made some minor league signings:


Lew Ford - Fans already know about Lewwwwwwww.
Conor Jackson - Career .350 OBP, can play 1B and corner OF, could be a sleeper for the 25 man.
Jason Pridie - Another depth OF move like Ford, Buck likes veteran AAA help.

Daniel McCutchen - RHP - Had a couple games in the Pirates pen, replacement level production.
Adam Russell - RHP - Couple games in 4 different MLB pens, had a rough 2012 in the minors.

Allan De San Miguel - C - Organizational C spent last year at 3 levels for the O's.
Jose Gil - C - Organizational C from the Yankees system the past 7 years.
Chris Robinson - C - Backup C for AAA Norfolk last year.

Jan Novak - LHP - 18 years old, out of the MLB academy in Europe, has a decent low 90's FB and some potential with some other pitches. Very raw, but could be a good first step into Europe which the team has indicated that it would like to do.

Trade talks with a few teams were still ongoing according to Duquette who said some things may have to percolate beyond the meetings. They are still on the hunt for a middle of the order bat, but as expected the cost is high and the market is a bit frozen waiting on Grienke and Hamilton to sign and start dominoes falling.

It will probably be quiet for a few days, as it usually is after the meetings, but sometime next week you should see some pieces really start moving around the league.

05 December 2012

Orioles Bring Back Nate McLouth On a One-Year Deal

It was pretty widely acknowledged by the team that they wanted to bring Nate McLouth back for the 2013 season, and today they've accomplished that goal; McLouth will get $2 M, with the potential for another $500 K in incentives.

We've discussed the Orioles signing McLouth quite a bit since the season ended; my opinion was that a $2-3 M contract could be an OK value (apparently the O's agreed), but that it wouldn't do much to actually improve the team for next year. And so it is.

It seems like the team is done looking for outfield help and will go with Nate McLouth and (if healthy, presumably) Nolan Reimold in left-field for 2013. A McLouth/Reimold combo is certainly capable of providing league average (or even a little above) production out there but I wouldn't necessarily consider that the most probable outcome, and so it leaves the O's (who got about 1 win from left in 2012) in a marginally better position than they were. Really, just losing Endy Chavez's -0.8 fWAR is a pretty sizable upgrade all by itself, but the opportunity was potentially there to make it a real jump.

I've had a hard time figuring out this off-season if the Orioles viewed themselves like a 93 win team (and so they were already mostly set to compete in the AL East again) or a 73 win team (and so far away that they're just look to add complementary pieces and wait for the younger guys in improve). The club could have stood to add wins in left-field, second-base, first-base, and third-base. So far it looks like they have Nate McLouth and Alexi Casilla penciled in for the first two spots (and potentially Manny Machado at third). Those are the types of guys who can certainly hold down jobs for second division teams, but unless their record in one-run games was close to 0% luck last season, they're not likely to do a huge amount to help propel the Orioles to the play-offs again.

I would have liked to have seen the O's go after Melky Cabrera on the kind of deal he ended up getting from the Blue Jays (2/$16 M), or looked at Nick Swisher if his contract demands are more in line with some rumors (more like 4 years than 7). If the Orioles started the off-season out as more of an 80-85 win team, then those types of players are ones who can add W's. Going for the cheaper value players can be a fine strategy - one I've recommended often in the past - but if they want to be competitive then that probably isn't going to be quite enough with the pieces they currently have. That doesn't mean that the Nate McLouth signing was bad - the question is just if it will be enough.

Orioles Winter Meetings Notes and Rumors: Day 2

Not a whole lot going on publicly on the Orioles front after day 2.

Some meetings took place with the agents for Joe Saunders and Nate McLouth. The team expects to have an OF signed by the end of the week. It should be noted that they also met with Nate Shierholtz's agents and that the word choice was signed, not acquired, as in trade.

Another wrinkle in the same discussion is that late last night the Orioles met with the reps for Nick Swisher, who has been thought to be seeking a fairly large contract. A curious move in that the O's are worried about keeping their payroll below $100m and have around $22m in incoming arbitration raises coming. This item shouldn't be taken too seriously just yet, since Swisher's agent is MVP Sports Group, who also represents Omar Quintanilla, who it has already been reported the team was looking into resigning. MVP also represents recently cut closer Brian Wilson formerly of SF. While the O's do have room for a player like Swisher, it may be nothing more than a coincidence during a period where media and fans are ready for a big move or signing to be made.

This morning has started simmering a little earlier than usual with continuations of talks that may have begun yesterday and reports on Twitter have the Twins contacting the O's to gauge interest on Justin Morneau who has spent the past 2 seasons coming back from a concussion and dealing with a nagging wrist injury. Morneau could be an interesting acquisition depending on the cost, as he should a couple months last season that he can still be that .850+ OPS player he was for 4 years prior to the injuries. With one year left on his deal at $14m if the Twins ate some money and the player return wasn't too rich, it could be just the kind of move Duquette likes to make. Reclamation projects with room for return seem to be Dan's specialty these days.

On the heels of the KC trade rumors, they seem to be looking at Shawn Marcum, a KC product, this morning, while the big news is that the Rangers are trying to close a deal with Grienke, which could set dominoes in motion for the rest of the free agent and trade market. 


04 December 2012

2012 Orioles Retrospective: Wilson Betemit

When the Orioles signed Wilson Betemit to a two-year contract, it was initially a little confusing. Multiple years for a part-time player? But the price was low enough ($3.25 M total), and Betemit's adequate production in 2012 has things looking alright even if the O's decide to cut ties with him.

Though he missed a fair bit of time later in the season, Betemit started often in the first four months and still amassed his most plate appearances since 2006 (376). At the plate, he largely repeated his 2011 season, minus over 50 points of BABIP - it fell all the way to .336 (still well above average and around his .341 career mark). Betemit was able to walk (even if his 8.2% rate of drawing free passes was down a bit) and hit for some power though, which kept his batting line of .261/.322/.422 just barely above average (101 wRC+) despite him striking out in over 27% of his plate appearances.

It's been said before, but it might be a good idea for Betemit to give up on the switch-hitting entirely - and 2012 was a new low for the guy as a right-handed swinger. As a lefty, Betemit's .302/.357/.502 is more than worthy of a starting job even if his third-base defense leaves a little to be desired*. As a righty, it was a disaster; .140/.219/.186 and a wRC+ of 10. 10! Almost 30% of the pitchers who had at least 50 PA on the season finished with a wRC+ above 10. Though he might not have always been able to maximize it, Buck did get Betemit in there against righties a touch more often than had been the case for Wilson in recent years.

* Betemit was pressed into service at the position when it became clear that Mark Reynolds was not going to be able to handle it, and was more or less his usual self over there with a -5.5 UZR (-12 UZR per 150 games, compared to -14 per 150 career).

Overall, Betemit's 0.7 fWAR (0.6 rWAR) made him a fine contributor to the team and worth his $1 M (and then some). Having him as a "left-handed" bat of the bench who can fill in various positions (he also played some first and left-field) when needed for 2013 isn't bad, but counting on him to be play almost every day (when healthy) might not be for the best (especially given that 324 more PA would cause his 2013 option for $3.2 M to vest).

03 December 2012

Orioles Winter Meeting Notes and Rumors: Day 1

So as we get into the evening hours of the first day of the Winter Meetings, the Orioles name has been tossed around in various rumors and news. Tidbits from the first day:

In an interview with MLBNetwork Duquette says that the club cut ties with Reynolds because they calculated his arbitration numbers around 12-14m and that salary number didn't work with the team's financial situation.

Duquette laughs when asked about Josh Hamilton, says that he is a great player who just about won a whole series against the O's early in the year by himself, and says that the team is definitely on the hunt for a middle of the order bat, but if Josh is that guy he wasn't sure. He says that he doesn't know if Josh works with the financial situation of the O's right now.

With Dan Connolly reporting that he has talked to sources indicating the O's have the pieces to pull off a trade for a pretty significant  power hitter now, but need to decide whether to pull the trigger or not, fans have been speculating all day. Kansas City has been rumored to be shopping some of their young hitters to get back some pitching, so people have been trying to link the O's to players such as Billy Butler. Kevin Towers has been said to be looking for a young, long term SS or top of the rotation SP for Justin Upton and Jim Duquette on XM Radio mentioned that he reportedly has two offers already, and ATL is not one of them, with TEX deep in the hunt, the second team is a mystery and some have speculated if it could be Baltimore.

Adam LaRoche has been close on a deal with WAS, with sides haggling over a third year as the reported sticking point. With their acquisition of D. Span, the Nats gained leverage in the negotiations, but teams such as BOS and TEX have been rumored to be in on LaRoche. With the meetings first big signing today, Napoli to BOS for 3/$39 it removed one the suitors, and Baltimore began coming up in speculation. With the team trying to upgrade defense, OBP and 1B production overall this winter, LaRoche would be an upgrade over last season, but the question is would the Orioles be willing to give the 3rd year that WAS has not?

Other players that have been speculated to be targets of varying interest to Baltimore are Willingham from MIN, Soriano from Chicago (which would require money from the Cubs), Morneau from MIN, and Trumbo from ANA, however it's not known if or how available these players are.

The Hot Stove is burning, so check back here and we will try to cover moves, news and rumors especially pertaining to the O's as they develop.

Arrivals and Departures (12/3/2012)

After a long hiatus, I am updating the information on the 40 man roster designations in terms of who has how many options left.

First though, I'd like to run down some basic points on options:
  • When a contract is purchased, a player can be optioned to the minors three times (unless player was signed an MLB contract under the pre-2012 draft rules then he has 4 total options or if an "amateur" international free agent is signed to a MLB contract--most established amateur players like Wei-Yin Chen will negotiate for teams to not be able to use options).
  • An option counts as expended if the player spends more than 20 days in the minors based on that assignment.
  • Only one option can be expended each season, but a player can be sent up and down between the Majors and Minors as many times as possible in that season under that option.
  • Players who have options remaining and more than 5 years of MLB experience must give consent to an option being used.
  • A Rule 5 player cannot be sent to the minors (unless on injury rehabilitation) the year he was draft.  The following year, he will retain all remaining options.
If you have any further questions about this issue or other baseball related issues, feel free to email us at CamdenDepot@gmail.com.

Transactions of the last few weeks:
November 20, 2012 - Traded Robert Andino to Mariners for Trayvon Robinson
November 28, 2012 - Purchased Danny Valencia from the Red Sox
November 30, 2012 - Lost Joe Mahoney to Marlins via Waivers
November 30, 2012 - Traded Jhondaniel Medina to Pirates for Yamaico Navarro
November 30, 2012 - Non-tendered Mark Reynolds, Omar Quintanilla, and Stu Pomeranz
Current 40 Man Roster with Options:


Options Remaining

* 3 2 1
Pitchers 



Jake Arrieta 
7/6/2012 O O
Luis Ayala 
X X X
Mike Belfiore 
O O O
Zach Britton 
7/9/2011 6/6/2012 O
Dylan Bundy  3/11/2012 O O O
Wei-Yin Chen 
| | |
Zach Clark 
O O O
Miguel Gonzalez 
O O O
Jason Hammel 
X X X
Tommy Hunter 
8/16/2008 4/1/2009 5/7/2012
Jim Johnson 
6/3/2006 3/12/2007 5/1/2010
Steve Johnson 
6/3/2012 O O
Brian Matusz  3/14/2009 6/30/2011 7/1/2012 O
Darren O'Day 
5/13/2008 O O
Troy Patton 
3/14/2009 3/15/2010 3/11/2011
Pedro Strop 
3/24/2010 5/4/2011 O
Chris Tillman 
3/30/2010 5/29/2011 3/31/2012
Tsuyoshi Wada 
| | |
Catchers 



Luis Exposito 
3/17/2011 3/23/2012 O
Taylor Teagarden 
7/21/2008 4/27/2010 3/29/2011
Matt Wieters 
O O O
Infielders 



Wilson Betemit 
X X X
Alexi Casilla 
3/23/2007 3/14/2008 5/6/2009
Chris Davis 
7/6/2009 4/23/2010 3/29/2011
Ryan Flaherty 
O O O
J.J. Hardy 
X X X
Manny Machado 
O O O
Yamaico Navarro 
3/17/2011 5/29/2012 O
Steve Pearce 
3/17/2008 3/28/2009 4/4/2010
Brian Roberts 
X X X
Jonathan Schoop 
O O O
Danny Valencia 
3/19/2010 5/9/2012 O
Outfielders 



Xavier Avery 
5/29/2012 O O
L.J. Hoes 
O O O
Adam Jones 
X X X
Nick Markakis 
X X X
Nolan Reimold 
3/20/2009 5/12/2010 3/28/2011
Trayvon Robinson 
3/18/2010 3/14/2011 3/17/2012

02 December 2012

Sunday Comics: All I Want For Christmas Is...

Winter Meetings time! This generally alternates between being filled with pleasant surprises and being as stressful as shopping for the extremely specific toys your kids want for the holidays.


01 December 2012

Xavier Avery, from 220 Miles Away

by Joe Reisel

I have the privilege of serving as an Milb.com datacaster and as a Baseball Info Solutions game scorer for the Norfolk Tides. In those roles, I saw 45 Tides home games last season. My duties include recording every pitch for ultimate entry into a computer database, so I must pay close attention to the games.

The recent Orioles-Mariners trade, in which Robert Andino went to Seattle in exchange for Trayvon Robinson, has attracted interest on this blog. A key issue is how this trade will affect Tides prospect Xavier Avery. Because I saw him play 30 games at Norfolk last year, I think I have a useful perspective on Avery’s potential. I don’t think he’s ready for the major leagues. I think he’s been rushed his entire career, and I’m afraid his premature promotions may have damaged his development to the point where he won’t have much of a major-league career.

Avery has outstanding speed, although he’s not an adept basestealer. He has shown an ability to bunt for base hits. But Avery’s batting lacks refinement. When he makes solid contact, he has pop – he hit 8 home runs in 458 plate appearances. But he doesn’t make solid contact often enough – he hit only .236 and, amazingly for someone with his speed, only 13 doubles. He has yet to learn how to hit line drives, and too often his swing looks awkward. He increased his walks to 51 – a career high in the fewest full-season plate appearance of his career – but his strikeout rate remains too high for a player with the power he has. Defensively, Avery also is a work in progress. He has to put his speed to good use in the outfield because he doesn’t read the ball well and doesn’t run good routes. He does have the range to play center field. He has a below-average throwing arm, and he really can’t play right field (he’s played 2 innings in right field in his career.)

It’s almost impossible to refine skills as raw as Avery’s at AAA. First, there are more experienced pitchers who are able to exploit weaknesses. But more importantly, at AAA players are expected to have more fully developed skills. Pitchers are encouraged to use whatever they can to get batters out – they’re not told to throw a certain percentage of fastballs or breaking pitches. Players who are trying to develop their baseball skills, like Xavier Avery, are playing a different game than other AAA players.

Instead of playing his 19-year-old season in Delmarva, Avery would have been better served by starting 2009 in extended spring training with a June assignment to Aberdeen. He would have been ready for Delmarva at age 20 – which isn’t too old for Class A. Now  he really needs to go back to AA to refine his skills but he can’t – he’s spent a full season in AAA and the majors and will perceive his being sent back to Bowie as failure.

Right now, Avery reminds me of a poor man’s Felix Pie – an athletically gifted athlete with unrefined baseball skills. However, Pie had had much more success in the minor leagues than Avery has, and thus Pie looks to be Avery’s ceiling. Avery’s floor is an AAA lifer, occasionally called up in September to serve as a pinch runner.

30 November 2012

Short Rundown of the Yamaico Navarro Deal

Yamaico Navarro is on the move again.  He tantalized Boston for several years showing plus power with adequate power and plate discipline from the SS position.  However, he frustrated them for his nonchalant manner in keeping himself in shape.  After a couple short trials at the MLB level, Boston gave up on him and traded him to the Royals with Kendal Volz for Mike Aviles.  You could call both Navarro and Volz as C level prospects.  The Royals gave up on him after half a season and traded him for Brooks Pounders and Diego Goris.  Goris is a non-prospect by this point as he has developed not a trace of plate discipline as a 21 year old in rookie ball.  The Royals converted Pounders to a starting pitcher where he has worked himself to a C+ level as a prospect.  Now, with the Orioles...he earns the Pirates Jhondaniel Medina who is in line as a C level prospect.  With this swapping perspective, it appears to me that Navarro is a commodity of decreasing value.

Navarro's decrease in value is related to a couple things.  First, as he has accumulated 383 plate appearances in the majors and will be 26 next year.  The promise he showed as a 20 year old breaking out in HiA Lancaster has eroded significantly over the following four years.  He stills shows a strong arm and quick feet, but has filled out rather softly which has cut into his range and pushed him to second base, third base, and left field.  The bat may wind up playing at second if he is able to generate better contact in the majors, which could make him viable as an offensive minded 2B.  Third base is trending more toward power these days, but he could potentially be a fit there.  In the outfield, it is difficult seeing the bat come along as well as that.

Jhondaniel Medina?  He is a nineteen year old pitcher who throws a high 80s fastball, a slider that breaks hard (with some command issues), and a poor change up.  The fastball-slider plays well enough for rookie ball and should work in A ball.  However, even at this level he shows a strong platoon split with lefties hitting him quite well.  As a right handed pitcher, this profile is not incredibly special.  However, it is a roughly interesting arm for the purposes of accumulating arm depth and it allows Pittsburgh to clean a space on the 40 man roster.

What does it all mean?
The Orioles find themselves with a player who used to be an interesting prospect and has failed multiple times at the major league level, but gives them more options for filling second base.  The Pirates get more flexibility in their 40 man roster by dealing a guy two other teams had given up on in the past two seasons along with acquiring an slightly interesting, but certainly not unique, arm.

2012 Orioles Retrospective: Chris Tillman

When the Orioles acquired Chris Tillman from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade, he was considered a top prospect. Mid 90s fastball, big curve, good numbers in the minors at a young age. Tillman continued that minor league success for the O's, before getting called up to the big club in 2009. Since then, it had been a series of disappointments surrounding occasional flashes of upside - largely due to a fastball that declined from 92 mph to 90 mph to 89 mph last year, and didn't have the movement or command to compensate.

This season, Chris Tillman seemed like a different guy. In Triple-A, he posted numbers we hadn't seen since 2009; striking out better than a batter an inning while keeping the walks and home runs down (3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9). When he was brought up to the Majors in July, he showed us why - his first start, he averaged 95 mph with the fastball, while pitching 8.1 innings against the Mariners and striking out 7 (he gave up 2 runs, both unearned). Hope had been rekindled.

Tillman ended up pitching 86 innings for Baltimore, and though he never again touched those Seattle highs, he was effective enough to keep rotation spot while things were constantly in flux for the O's. His 6.9 K/9 was only about average, but it was a career high. And he managed it while walking only 2.5 batters per nine.

Beyond throwing harder again - his fastball averaged a touch over 92 mph - Tillman also showed a more distinct repertoire, with the cutter figuring more prominently and the slider being its own offering. Here are the whiff rates on his pitches:

FastballCurveChangeCutterSlider
200910%26%32%--
201012%17%26%--
201110%18%19%24%21%
201214%27%28%14%25%

The fastball was a bit better, but the curve and change regained their prior success.

Tillman once again had a reverse platoon split in 2012; 3.67 xFIP versus lefties, and 5.39 xFIP versus righties. You can see that the improved whiff rates on his off-speed pitches from this, as lefties missed his change-up 31% of the time they swung at it and the curve 33% of the time. That's more like what happened in 2009, then in the previous two years when he could crack 20% against lefties with either pitch, though in 2011 the slider and cutter picked up some of that slack.

For his career, Tillman has actually handles lefties a fair bit better than righties, striking out almost 2 more batters per nine against them (6.9 K/9 vs. 5.2 K/9). Part of that is the change-up, which he used to throw mostly and now throws almost exclusively to left-handed batters, and which is maybe his best pitch - it not only gets swings and misses, but also some groundballs now (it had a 51% groundball rate in 2012). Right-handed batters were much more likely to see the slider and cutter this year, and as those are Tillman's newer (and, likely, worse) pitches, it's not so surprising that he'd be somewhat less effective with them.

That's actually not a terrible sign for his future, I think. If opposing teams don't pick up on this (or if the disparity goes away, as is possible considering we're talking about less than 150 IP against either side), then Tillman might once again get to face more lefties than righties (60% of the batters he faced in 2012 were left-handed; up from 58% in 2011 and 50% in 2010). And further development of the cutter or slider could help him decrease the split - a 3.67 xFIP against lefties is pretty darn good from a right-handed pitcher. Plus, he's (still) only 24 years old.

Going back to the fastball velocity - though it did take a distinct tumble after his 2012 debut, it still averaged 92 mph (and was more like 91-92 late in the year). That isn't as exciting as seeing him touch 98, but can be perfectly serviceable in a Major League rotation when combined with decent control and some quality off-speed pitches (especially if he can hold mid 90s in the tank for when he needs it). 

There are certainly some less positive signs; Tillman's 2.93 ERA is largely an illusion created by his .221 BABIP. He is a flyball pitcher and does induce more than his share of pop-ups, so a better than average BABIP isn't unexpected, but certainly nothing near that low. On the flip side to that, as an extreme flyball pitcher (and his 2012 groundball rate was a career low 35%) who doesn't suppress home runs like some of the more successful pitchers of that type have, Tillman can be susceptible to the longball - as his 1.3 HR.9 allowed can attest. Also, despite dropping his walk rate to 2.5 BB/9, he didn't really avoid three-ball counts or get ahead of batter much more than he had previously (a little bit, but not as much as one would think given that his previous career walk rate had been 4 BB/9). So some of the old flaws are still around, at least in part.

Overall, Tillman's 4.34 xFIP is probably more indicative of how well he pitched than his ERA (and his FIP of 4.24 leans much more towards the former). That xFIP is more or less in line with what the Orioles got from their starters overall in 2012, and ranked Tillman behind Hammel and Arrieta, and tied with Chen, but in front of Miguel Gonzalez, Brian Matusz, and various guys I wouldn't expect to starting games for the team in 2013. That probably leaves Tillman with a rotation spot heading into next season, but one that he'll need to maintain or improve upon his 2012 season to hold on to. And for the first time in a while, I have at least some confidence that that's possible.

29 November 2012

Trade Target: Giancarlo Stanton

After the fire sale in Miami there was outrage around the league. From the fans who had to endure starting over AGAIN. From GMs who thought, if they were going to dump salaries why didn't I get a phone call? From MLB who didn't like the message this sent to both players and fans. It also caused some issues with the players that were left behind. Giancarlo Stanton expressed his displeasure on twitter, and who can blame him? He went from a team a few pieces away from being a legit threat in the NL East, to a cellar dwelling team full of prospects and a couple guys just waiting for their turn to pack and head to the airport.

The problems with this situation abound. Not only did he just turn 23 this month and not eligible for arbitration until 2014, but he is a superstar in the making and the team can argue that they want to build around him and not deal him anywhere. Pretty much every team in baseball has called to see what they could offer in order to land Stanton, and rightly so, in 373 games, he already has 93 HR, a .350 OBP, an all-star bid and has gotten votes for MVP in his last two seasons. That means that MIA can ask for the moon, and more than one team will start building a really tall ladder.

In the Orioles case, there is pretty much no way a trade for Stanton goes down that doesn't include Dylan Bundy. Since there is no high salary to lend negative value for Stanton you are looking at trading a guy with a ML track record, that has excelled at that level and has less than 2 years of service time. That is going to cost a small fortune. MIA will be looking for a package of young, controllable talent and the Orioles are near the driver's seat in that they have the top SP prospect in all of baseball. From this point it comes down to Stanton is proven in the ML and Bundy is still a prospect who may never pan out at the ML level, so many people would make any deal of that sort without blinking. A package featuring Bundy, Schoop and Delmonico may get the Marlins attention, but it may also strip the team of the very little bit of prospects that they have. They may be able to build a package without giving up Bundy that features Manny Machado going home to MIA, but that would also strip the team almost bare. Gausman isn't eligible to be traded until this summer, unless it is as a PTBNL, and after the names I've already mentioned you aren't talking very highly regarded prospects around baseball.

While Stanton is exactly the kind of bat the middle of this lineup desperately needs, the question would need to be made, do you play him in LF which is fairly spacious in Camden Yards? Do you move him to 1B and hope that he can play the position well enough? Do you move Markakis to LF and play Stanton in RF? All of these scenarios are trivial to the issue of what needs to be given up in order to get him on the team. Do you trade away a prospect that hasn't proven anything in the major leagues? Even if that prospect could be on the level of Strasburg, Kershaw or Verlander? It's not an easy decision, but then again there aren't many players in MLB that this conversation would even happen for, Stanton just happens to be on that short list. I'm sure people will say even if Bundy does achieve his potential, that's a max of about 35 games per year, where Stanton could contribute to 162. You could also say that Bundy would have a lot more control over what happens in the games he does play in. It's a debate that happens over and over in baseball circles, one that I'm not sure there is a clear answer for.

28 November 2012

A Short Run Down of Danny Valencia

A year and a week ago, Dan Duquette made his first acquisition by signing a once promising third baseman by the name of Matt Antonelli.  That move did not provide any value to the Major League squad and may have hurt it due to him taking up a 40 man roster spot.  That said, the likelihood of a 40th man to provide much value is pretty slim.  Anyway, Antonelli was released after a few months in the organization and was picked up by the New York Yankees where he was injured.  He currently is a free agent and is looking for another opportunity with a ball club.

Today, Dan Duquette made another acquisition of a once (somewhat less) promising third baseman by the name of Danny Valencia.  Valencia was a fringe prospect coming out of college and required three solid seasons at the plate before he was given much consideration as a top talent.  Issues with breaking balls, defense, and his demeanor began to fade away as his bat began to play in AA and AAA.  However, he still cannot touch a breaking ball from a right hander, the defense is merely below average, and his behavior on the field seemed to tone down a bit. 

In 2010, the Twins were underwhelmed with Brendan Harris and Matt Tolbert at the hot corner, so they gave Valencia a trial at third even though he had been unimpressive in AAA (292/347/373).  Once in the majors, he broke out with a slash line of 311/351/448 (1.9 rWAR, 2.6 fWAR).  There was some concern attached to his .345 BABIP because he needs a high successful contact rate to make up for a below average walk rate.  In 2011, he provided a decent amount of evidence that he is not a full time player with a slash of 246/294/383 (-0.6 rWAR, 0.4 fWAR) during 154 starts.

Then came 2012:



PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
AAA vL 90 .329 .378 .537 127
AAA vR 239 .233 .272 .348 86
MLB vL 45 .214 .200 .333 73
MLB vR 96 .185 .208 .283 67
His season was split between AAA and MLB as well as between the Minnesota and Boston organizations.  He struggled against both left handed and right handed major leaguers to go aong with substandard defense.  That combination is a difficult one to stomach, so he spent most of his season in the minors where he showed some aptitude against left handers.

As it stands, it is difficult to say that Valencia will contribute positively to the Orioles in 2013.  He provides a weak glove and a bat that at best provides plus value against left handed pitchers (~30% of plate appearances).  Best case scenario?  He provides the same value as Jonny Gomes for 4.5MM less.

2013 Minor League Free Agents: Second Base

Second base is not a position of strength for the Orioles.  Their current options are last year's Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty, waiver wire pickup Alexi Casilla, elder Brian Roberts, and the green Jonathan Schoop.  The position does not have many great options on the free agent market with players like Marco Scutaro and Kelly Johnson headlining the 2013 class.  Although the team may choose to let the four in house options fight it out in Spring Training, it may be useful to have another option in Norfolk.

Before this past season, Ryan Adams manned 2B in Norfolk offering a potential offensive minded middle infielder.  Adams though will be sitting for the first 50 games due to a drug related suspension and word is that Adams' election for MiL free agency will mean that he is no longer going to be part of the Oriole organization.  There are some other options out there.

Adrian Cardenas, 26yo
Chicago Cubs



PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
Iowa AAA 282 .300 .381 .461 109
Chicago MLB 67 .183 .269 .283 52
Cardenas used to be a top notch prospect, making two top one hundred listings as well as six organizational listing.  Cardenas began his professional career as a shortstop.  When his range decreased, the hope was that he could be an offensive minded second baseman.  Having little touch for second base, he has been mainly shifted to the outfield.  Without a remarkable bat, he likely is now more limited as a utility infielder.

Yangervis Solarte, 26yo
Texas Rangers



PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
Round Rock AAA 568 .290 .342 .407 97
Minor league free agent second basemen are a pretty thin lot as evidenced by having to select a rather run of the mill option here.  Solarte joined the Rangers last season, but had spent his career before then in the Twins system.  He manages to put the ball in play with average power and walks for a second baseman.  He could fill in if need as a 2B, 3B,or LF, but not much else.  The Orioles do not have much at 2B in Norfolk until Schoop pushes his way up or if Flaherty is demoted.  There may be some opportunity to see if Solarte has anything to work on.

Brad Emaus, 27yo
New York Mets 



PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
Buffalo AAA 232 .212 .297 .315 85
Emaus has performed well in the minors, but has drawn many questions about how well his skill-heavy-talent-light would play at the Major League level.  He originally was in the Blue Jays system, left unprotected in Rule 5/selected by Mets/returned, traded to Rockies, traded to Red Sox, released by Red Sox, and then signed by Mets.  In 2012, his time in the Mets minor league system was a disaster.  Before last season though, Emaus was noted for his understanding of the strike zone. Including that season, his AAA career split is 276/365/458.  That might interest Dan Duquette.

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.


Year
Team Age Closer SV Age Closer SV

SV
1992
New York Yankees 35 Farr 30





1993
New York Yankees 36 Farr 25 24 Wickman 4


1994
New York Yankees 36 Howe 15 25 Wickman 6

6
1995
New York Yankees 28 Wetteland 31 37 Howe 2














1998
Arizona Diamondbacks 31 Gregg Olson 30 25 F. Rodriguez 5


1999
Arizona Diamondbacks 32 Gregg Olson 14 25 Matt Mantei 22


2000
Arizona Diamondbacks 26 Matt Mantei 17 21 B. Kim 14

5












2003
Texas Rangers 29 Urbina 26 28 F.Cordero 15


2004
Texas Rangers 29 Cordero 49





2005
Texas Rangers 30 Cordero 37





2006
Texas Rangers 34 Otsuka 32 31 Cordero 6














2010
Baltimore Orioles 29 Simon 17 35 Koji 13


2011
Baltimore Orioles 33 Gregg 22 28 Johnson 9


2012
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.