22 December 2012

Where Are They Now -- the 2012 Tides Home Opener Roster (Batters)

Last time, I looked at the pitchers who were on the Norfolk Tides roster for the 2012 home opener and found that three proved to be contributors to a big-league team, six were AAA mainstays who had bigl-league cups of coffee, and four were total washouts. This time, I'll look at the twelve non-pitchers.

Ryan Adams (infielder) — Tides' fans had high hopes for Ryan Adams after a solid 2011, including doing fairly well in a late-season major-league callup. Adams returned to Norfolk for 2012, and he got off to a slow start. He broke his thumb while frustrated; when he returned, he didn't rebound and seemed to be giving less than 100%. He was declared a free agent and has been suspended for fifty games for amphetamine use.

Matt Antonelli (infielder) — Matt Antonelli began the year on the Orioles' 40-man roster. He began the season as a third baseman/second baseman at Norfolk. His offensive approach was to take plenty of pitches, and he earned 19 walks and 23 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances. But he hit for neither average nor power, and was waived off the Orioles' 40-man roster in May. The Yankees claimed him and then released him in July, and he wasn't signed by anyone else.

Xavier Avery (outfielder) — Because Xavier Avery was still raw and hadn't really shown he had mastered AA, he something of a surprise on the opening-day roster. He played well early in the season and earned a callup to Baltimore, where he saw some time in left field. He was sent back down and played less well, although he earned some emergency callups. He ended up hitting .236/.330/.356 in 102 games with Norfolk. Baseball America ranked him as the Orioles' #7 prospect, and he figures to be in the mix for a bench job with the Orioles; if he has a good spring training he might be a candidate for starting left fielder. If he doesn't stick with the Orioles out of spring training, he will probably return to Norfolk.

Scott Beerer (outfielder) — Scott Beerer began 2012 as the Tides' fourth outfielder. With Jai Miller's struggles, he played in 18 games. He got hurt at the end of April and didn't play again the rest of the season. Beerer was declared a free agent after the season.

Josh Bell (infielder) — After two chances to claim the Orioles' third-base job, Josh Bell was still in the Orioles organization, with Norfolk, at the start of the 2012 season. He hit .094 in nine games before being designated for assignment and traded to Arizona. He hit .311 and slugged .509 with the Diamondbacks' AAA team, which earned him another callup. But he hit .173/.232./.269 in the majors with the Diamondbacks, so he was removed from their 40-man roster and is now a free agent.

John Hester (catcher) — John Hester was the primary catcher for the 2011 Tides and survived spring training. But Hester had no history with General Manager Dan Duquette, and was released when the Orioles picked up Luis Exposito. Hester caught on with the Angels and was called up when injuries hit their catching corps. He did an adequate job as a part-time backup catcher and remains on the Angels' 40-man roster.

Jamie Hoffmann (outfielder) — Jamie Hoffmann and Oscar Villarreal were the two Tides who spent all 2012 in Norfolk. Hoffmann began the year as the Tides' regular left fielder. When L.J. Hoes was promoted from Bowie and Nate McLouth was signed, Hoffmann became the fourth outfielder. When McLouth joined Baltimore, Hoffmann saw more playing time, and in 110 games finished the season at .254/.347/.407. Hoffmann was declared a free agent after the season and has signed a minor-league contract with the Mets.

Joe Mahoney (infielder) — Joe Mahoney spent most of 2012 as the Tides' regular first baseman. He led the Tides in games played, at bats, hits, and runs batted in; he also went 0-for-4 in two games with the Orioles. Mahoney didn't hit quite as well as we hoped he would, and when the Orioles removed him from the 40-man roster was claimed on waivers by Miami. He's currently on the Marlins' 40-man roster.

Jai Miller (outfielder) — Jai Miller had an amazing 2012 season. He started the season as the starting right fielder, and hit 8 home runs — including two of the longest I've ever seen at Harbor Park — in 211 plate appearances. He also struck out 95 times in those 211 plate appearances — a rate of 247 strikeouts in 550 plate appearances. Miller was demoted to Bowie where he was equally ineffective; he hit .196 combined. Miller was granted free agency after the season.

Chris Robinson (catcher) — Chris Robinson began the season splitting the catcher position with John Hester, but when the Orioles signed Luis Exposito and assigned Ronny Paulino to Norfolk, Robinson was left with backup duty. 2012 was a down season in Robinson's up-and-down offensive career, and he missed most of the second half with a back injury. The Orioles re-signed him to a minor league contract for 2013, and he projects to be back at Norfolk, either as part of a split-duty catching combination or as a veteran AAA backup.

Steve Tolleson (infielder) — Steve Tolleson began the season as the Tides' starting shortstop, and did well enough to be occasionally called up to Baltimore. He played 29 games at third base, second base, shortstop, and left field as a bench player with the Orioles, but didn't hit (.183/.227/.310). Tolleson did hit better in his 50 games at Norfolk, but was declared a free agent after the season and has signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox.

Zelous Wheeler (infielder) — Zelous Wheeler was a late-spring waiver pickup from the Brewers and was sent to Norfolk to serve as a spare third baseman - second baseman. When the Orioles added Blake Davis to the Tides, Wheeler was sent to Bowie, where he spent most of the season. Wheeler continued his uncanny consistency (2012: .269/.356/.440; career: .271/.368/.414) and rejoined Norfolk briefly. Wheeler wasn't eligible for free agency, and thus remains in the Orioles organization for now.

21 December 2012

Trade Target: Rick Porcello

Reports circling the internet tonight have linked the Orioles to DET SP Rick Porcello, who some have speculated might be on the move after DET resigned A. Sanchez this offseason. Duquette has been focused on trying to acquire a potential middle of the order bat, but several people close to the team have said it seems like he will make a trade at some point this offseason.

Why Porcello? For starters he's 6'5 200lbs, will be 24 this season even after 4 full years in the majors, and due to some creative subverting of the CBA is 1 day short of a 4th year of service time so he is under team control for 3 more seasons. While his stats show a near replacement level pitcher for his career, he has been durable making 31 starts each year, except for the one season the team sent him down for 4 starts to save the service time which he made 27 starts. He also has a Fangraphs career GB/FB ratio of 1.86 breaking the 2.0 threshold last year with a 2.36, and a career GB% of 52.3 where league average is somewhere around 44%. That aspect makes him enticing in HR friendly Camden Yards, and it sheds more light onto Porcello's numbers as he is reliant on a good infield defense to be the best that he can be, and DET has had a sub par defense for years. Getting him out of DET and to an improved Orioles infield should help his numbers alone, not even allowing for natural maturation as he is getting more experienced and closer to his prime years. Porcello's K/9 rate has been increasing every year, as has his K/BB rate, which is showing better pitching intelligence as he is learning the league and learning better habits.

Porcello throws one of his two fastballs almost 70% of the time, while scattering an equal number of sliders and changeups, and rarely throwing a curve. The problem with this mix is that his slider is very hittable, often hanging middle-in to RHB and it's his change with good sink that he most often gets batters to chase. If he would reduce the number of sliders thrown and go to more of a heavy FB/CH rotation he would be much more effective. Fortunately, BAL currently has a pitching philosophy that lends to a FB/CH/CV arsenal, so there is some potential to get him to change his patterns and use his best tools most often.

What would he cost? That is always a loaded question since actual value for a player isn't determined until he is actually traded. Many times a player is speculated to bring back a large haul to go for less than anticipated, so speculating is kind of a waste...but where is the fun in that? DET is a solid contending team with a future star 3B prospect in the wings, a couple mashers in the middle of the order and a fairly solid rotation after resigning Sanchez. The spot that stands out the most as potential for improvement is at the back end of the BP where the team has said it is comfortable starting with fireballing Rondon and his 100mph fastball to start the season, but one can't help but think that a solid experienced closer, allowing DET to apprentice Rondon as a set up man is a more desirable option. Speculation will naturally center on a deal of Jim Johnson for Porcello, which could make sense for both sides. The O's have players they could audition or move into that role (Arrieta, Hunter, O'Day, Strop) and DET has 6 SP for 5 spots in the rotation with Verlander, Sanchez, Smyly, Fister and Scherzer in addition to Porcello. With Johnson up for FA in 2 years and Porcello in 3 the service times and arbitration costs aren't too far off from each other, it seems like the framework of a deal could be in place.

The Orioles have also been linked to the Mariners possibly for Justin Smoak as a buy low candidate and to free agent Joe Saunders who pitched great down the stretch, but with inflated SP prices could demand quite a premium on the market right now.

Taking a chance that Porcello would break out a bit this year and stabilize the rotation further may be worth the risk of dealing a very solid closer who is getting too expensive for the team and will be looking at large raises in arbitration the next two seasons.

2012 Orioles Retrospective: Adam Jones

Adam Jones. Above average hitter despite plate discipline issues. Gold Glove center-fielder, even though the defensive stats don't like him. Team leader, who entered the season only 26 years old and approaching free agency. Jones may not have quite lived up to the expectation some had of him when he was acquired from the Mariners for Erik Bedard* in previous seasons, but he sure made up for some of that with how he started the 2012 season.

* Along with Chris Tillman. And George Sherrill, who go the team Steven Johnson. And Kam Mickolio, who was sent to the D'Backs in the Mark Reynolds trade. That Erik Bedard deal ended up having big ramifications for the '12 O's playoff-bound team. And to think, many fans hated it at the time.

The Orioles got off to a hot start, going 14-9 in April, and a big part of that was Jones tearing the cover off the ball - .333/.368/.611 with 6 home runs. And it didn't slow down in May, as a lower batting average was made up for with some extra pop and a few more walks - .298/.362/.623 and 10 longballs. Was the Adam Jones some people always thought he could be finally arriving? Well... no, not really. It was pretty clear even in the early going that his home run per flyball rate was unsustainably high, and would surely come down (dragging his batting line with it somewhat).

That didn't stop the Orioles from giving Jones a 6 year, $85 M contract though. Panned by some due to the obviousness of the first two months being a hot streak and Jones' low OBP, (and obviously loved by most O's fans), I thought it was a solid deal for the club - one which paid him to be the guy he was in previous seasons (good, but not great) as opposed to expecting him to have reached a new level. (And with the increase in salaries we're apparently seeing, the contract might look a little better now.)

Adam rewarded the team by having an atrocious June, combining a power-outage with a lack of patience as he hit just .272/.299/.427. There were ups and downs after that, but from the day he agreed to the contract extension until the end of the year, Jones hit .277/.325/.467. From 2009 to 2011, Adam Jones hit a combined .281/.326/.455. Generally speaking, he was who we thought he was, plus maybe a little bit extra. He still swung at way too many pitches out of the strike-zone (and missed a lot of them), but the additional extra-base hits (not so much the homers, which is what people noticed, but the doubles - Jones hit 39 of them after years of only 21-26) made up for it, as they have in the past.

Overall, Jones ended up getting some MVP votes with his career high 32 home runs and .287/.334/.505 line (and 4.6 fWAR, but I doubt his voters were looking too closely at that). I think he was undoubtedly the Orioles' 2012 MVP, even if his playoff performance was a horror show (.077/.074/.077). Going forward, it seems more likely Jones will settle in more in the 2.5-4 win range than approach 5 as he did (or 7+, as he was on pace for early); and it's at least possible that the increase in doubles portents that an expected drop-off in HR/FB rate might be mitigated somewhat by some of those two-baggers clearing the fence, and he's closer to the higher point in that range.

And that's just fine. An above average hitter (105 wRC+ career, 126 in 2012 due to his hot start) with plate discipline issues (4.8% walk rate career, 4.9% last season) is still an above average hitter (with some upside potential). A center-fielder who the defensive stats don't like (-7 UZR, -16 DRS) is still a guy playing up the middle (so he could be an OK corner outfielder, where his bat would still play - and, to my eye, I thought he looked a little better out there for much of the season). A now 27 year-old team leader who's going to be hanging around for the next few years (and is also a good player) isn't a bad thing to have around for a club that's hopefully going to at least have a chance of being competitive.

19 December 2012

How does player birthplace affect performance?

"You cannot walk off the island" is a quote said by someone long ago about how to go from being an amateur baseball player in the Dominican Republic to being a professional one in the United States of America.  It is a perspective that is slowly, quite slowly, changing as the DR is incorporating more players leagues to give prospects in game experience as opposed to solely engaging in workouts.  Recently, Jorge Arangure Jr wrote another fascinating article on this.

It made me think...historically, how does the country of origin affect the "average" baseball player.  I decided to review the past 20 years for players who have accumulated at least 1000 games to see what successful players from these countries have been able to accomplish on average.

1993-2012 Players with at least 1000 games

USA-St 163 9.7 15.8 71.9 .277 .341 .453
DR 28 8.0 15.0 70.7 .281 .333 .465
USA-PR 15 9.2 16.0 70.7 .277 .338 .458
VZ 16 8.4 13.0 69.9 .278 .332 .422

First off, I used 15 players as a cutoff point (small sample size alert) and I included Puerto Rico as a country of origin even though they are American through and through.  Anyway, what we see is that these populations do seem to carry some of the stigma.  Dominican players do tend to walk less than the average American.  Venezuela's youth league system is often mentioned in how they produce players with better skills levels, but the difference in walk rate does not seem like much and it gets lost when you fact in batting average for on base percentage.

This made me wonder though if by choosing 1000 games as a cutoff point that I am ignoring players with attributes that prevent them from having a career at that length.  Furthermore, it may also be that by including players in general that the numbers are being washed out due to a different kind of selection bias.  It has been often mentioned that there is a dearth of American shortstop prospects and the reason for this is that these big, athletic people who could play shortstop are being pushed over to sports like basketball (as a point guard or shooting guard) or football (any skill position) where there are institutional advantages.  In other words, Americans who can excel at shortstop will chase athletic opportunities that offer better scholarships options at the college level.

In 2012, 11 of 23 (48%) shortstops with over 100 games played were born in the USA.  In contrast, 22 of 29 (76%) first basemen with over 100 games played were born in the USA.  In 1991, American born SS were 17 out of 27 (63%) and American born 1B were 21 out of 27 (78%).  This is only two data points (a later post will explore this more fully), but it seems to suggest that position profiles differ by country of origin.  Therefore, it might make more sense to compare players by position and not by overall population.

Below is a comparison between the countries and the average SS with at least 100 games played from those countries.  Puerto Rico was not included because they had too few players meeting this description.

1993-2012 Shortstops with at least 100 games

USA-St 55 7.8 14.7 72.0 .269 .319 .404
DR 26 6.3 13.7 70.2 .271 .310 .397
VZ 12 7.1 12.7 69.4 .267 .311 .375

The pattern for an average player remains.  Dominicans walk less than both Americans and Venezuelans, but OBP is essentially the same for both Dominicans and Venezuelans.  My next thought was whether or not there was an issue here with me not measuring fielding.  However, using rWAR's fielding component I devised a fielding runs by 150 games (using the assumption that 4.2 plate appearances equaled a game), Americans had a 1.4 runs above average, Dominicans were -1.2 runs above average, and Venezuelans were 2 runs above average.  It does not appear that lesser offensive production is accepted in exchange for defensive aptitude.

Historically, it appears that there are indeed differences in performance based on player origin.  The above study does not determine why this is so.  Speculation suggests that there are existing prejudices in the developing country and/or in the developing organization that encourages some types of performance while ignoring other types of performance.  An example of this is that there is about 9:1 ration of small white guys being called gritty as opposed to small guys of other ethnicity.  Personal anecdotal experience has informed me that there still is a contingency in professional baseball that tends to undervalue talent in white prospects and skills in black prospects.  Likewise, athletes from other countries are often maligned as being unintelligent which often is simply a product of English not being a first language as well as organizations having little interest in providing academic education to 16 year olds that they sign.  Of course, this is speculation based on anecdotes.

Another point to consider is that this is a historical study.  It informs us a little bit, but not excessively, about what will happen from 2013 to 2032.  Youth leagues are beginning to sprout up in the Dominican Republic along with talk of MLB focusing more on the island.  Additionally, more and more organizations are starting to realize that foreign born players often need more assistance in acclimating to new environments and have been developing more useful instruction in language and cultures in order to make it easier on players to focus on developing their baseball abilities.

18 December 2012

Are Domes a Knuckleballer's Paradise?

With R.A. Dickey moving to Toronto, discussion has arose again laying claim that a dome is good for a knuckleball pitcher.  That is that the knuckleball travels so slow that having it exposed to the wind outside results in a pitch that is very difficult to control.  Therefore, without any wind the pitch would be more effective as a result of the pitcher having better control.  Runs through the physics of it and a fastball of 90 mph can be pushed three inches with a sustained crosswind.  Dickey's 78 mph knuckler may be pushed about three and a half inches.  It should be noted that the lack of spin on the ball might result in greater drag that could increase how much the wind can draw the pitch off course.

Ideally, we would use real data to determine how well R.A. Dickey can pitch in a dome vs. outside of one.  However, he has thrown only once in the past three years inside such a structure.  Last year, he tossed nine innings against the Rays in Tropicana Field.  The result was a one hit shutout with twelve strikeouts.  That simply won't do in terms of sample size, so I decided to take a look at the last four great knuckleballers: Phil Neikro, Joe Niekro, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield.


Inside Outside
Phil Niekro 3.98 3.90
Joe Niekro 3.47 4.07
Charlie Hough 4.02 4.29
Tim Wakefield 4.95 5.01
The lowest number of innings in a dome for the above pitchers was 375 innings.  Only Joe Niekro exceeded that with over 1,300 IP...thanks to many a game in the Astrodome.  That said, Joe Niekro appeared to really benefit from pitching his home games in the Astrodome while Charlie Hough also performed well out of the elements.  Wakefield and Phil Niekro did not appear to show much of a difference.  It should be noted that the four above never threw a knuckler the way Dickey does.  Hough would occasionally try to let go of a hard knuckler, but all four of them typically stayed within the 50-70 mph range with their pitches.

So...what does this all mean?  There seems to faint evidence that "knuckleball" throwing pitchers pitch the same or better when pitching inside a dome.  It will be interesting to see next year how Dickey fairs inside the Rogers Centre.  Some have noted it as a launching pad, but that seems to potentially be hyperbole borne out of a couple of seasons where Blue Jay hitters performed awfully well there while being bookended by relatively average home run seasons.  Citi Field actually saw an increase in home runs hit with them moving in their fences last year.  Although the first season in Citi Field played about league average for home runs.  Below are park factors for HR:

Rogers Citi
2009 0.99 1.06
2010 1.36 0.72
2011 1.19 0.74
2012 1.03 1.07
If I was forced to guess, I would say that Dickey will be worth anywhere between 3-4 wins next year.  Some have called this deal a mistake on the Blue Jays part in giving up an offensive catcher who most scouts feel sure will be a major part of the Mets lineup to come along with a few interesting parts that may boost the Mets pitching or outfield.  There is truth in that.  The Jays gave up a lot, but when you look at the vulnerability in the AL East at the moment...it is hard not to try to go for it.  There certainly is a good deal of risk in the Jays roster with guys who have been somewhat uneven in performance and injured, but, with the money behind the Yankees and Red Sox, if you can strike then you strike.  That is what the Jays are doing and, to me, it makes complete sense.  As of this moment, they are my favorite for the division.

17 December 2012

The Aging of Bad Outfield Arms

A few weeks back, I took a look at how elite arms age in the outfield.  What was interesting in that little study was that performance peaked in year two and then collapsed.  There was some question as to whether it was merely a regression to the mean sort of phenomenom (although if that was the case the trend should be flat instead of a concentrated and significant increase in year 2).  There was some interest in how poor outfield arms aged and whether it looked like a mirror image of the good arms or if bad arms gain a reputation and will be exploited by runners.

If you did not click on the link above, here is what the elite arm graph looked like.

I used the same methodology of the previous post, but used the nine worst outfield arms as defined by Defensive Runs Saved.

Runs by Arm per 1400 Innings

1 2 3 4 5
Andre Either -9.0 -3.6 -5.1 -6.1 -2.6
Coco Crisp -3.8 -4.4 -3.1 -1.2 -6.3
Chris Young -2.2 -6.0 -6.9 3.1 -3.1
Justin Upton 1.6 -1.2 -6.3 -5.1 -3.3
Ryan Braun 1.1 -2.1 -4.2 -6.7 -1.1
Corey Hart -6.4 -3.1 -3.0 -1.2 -5.2
Jason Bay -2.9 -9.0 -8.2 -2.3 -4.2
Grady Sizemore 0.0 -3.0 -4.0 -2.1 -8.7
Matt Holiday -9.2 -4.0 -5.2 -1.0 -2.3
This yields an insignifiant p value (0.39) and the following averages and standard deviations:

1 2 3 4 5
Average -3.4 -4.0 -5.1 -2.5 -4.1
StDev 4.1 2.3 1.7 3.1 2.3
What does that all mean? 

I am not sure what this means with respect to this population or the statistically significant differences observed in the elite arms group.  No trends can be measured here or inferred.  Bad arms do not seem to improve as a group and neither are they exploited.  The explanation eludes me.  It may well be that the elite arms group was genuinely a unique occurrence.

16 December 2012

Sunday Comics: Christmas Lists...

At some point, we all realize that we can't always get every single thing we want for the holidays.

15 December 2012

Where Are They Now -- the 2012 Tides Home Opener Roster (Pitchers)

One of the purposes of a Triple-A team is to supply their affiliated team with reinforcements during the course of the long season. In 2012, the Norfolk Tides did supply the Orioles with many key pieces, such as outfielder Nate McLouth and starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. But not all of the 77 players who appeared on the Tides’ active roster in 2012 were as useful as McLouth, Tillman, or Gonzalez. Although I don't have the Tides 2012 Opening Day roster — they opened 2012 on the road — over the next two weeks I'll review the Tides' roster for their April 9 home opener. This week, I'll go over the pitchers.

Brad BergesenBergesen began 2012 in the Norfolk starting rotation, and in fact was their opening-day starting pitcher. As other starting pitchers joined the team, he was moved to the bullpen. When the Orioles tried to remove Bergesen from the forty-man roster, the Diamondbacks claimed him and he pitched in nineteen big-league games. The Diamondbacks released him in November.

Jason BerkenBerken, the Tides starting pitcher in their home opener, spent almost all of 2012 in the Norfolk starting rotation. He led the Tides in starts and innings pitched. He had one disastrous relief inning in Baltimore, and after the minor-league season was claimed on waivers by the Cubs. He made four starts for the Cubs and was outrighted to AAA after the season.

Dana EvelandEveland bounced up and down all of 2012, making 14 starts for Norfolk and appearing in 14 games (2 starts) for the Orioles, mostly in a mop-up role. He was granted free agency after the season.

Willie EyreEyre had been a successful pickup at the end of 2011, and made the Tides bullpen out of spring training. Unfortunately, Eyre could only manage a 7.92 ERA in his 25 Tides innings and was released in June. The Rangers signed him, and he pitched fairly well for their AAA team. He’s now a minor-league free agent.

Chris George – After two modestly successful seasons as a swingman for the Tides, former Kansas City Royal George was on the Tides’ roster at the start of the season. After 4 games, 8 innings with an 11.25 ERA, George was released at the end of April and didn’t catch on anywhere.

Steve Johnson – Johnson began 2012 as a spot starter/long relief pitcher with the Tides, but after promotions, injuries, and roster moves became a fulltime starting pitcher. He pitched very well for the Tides – much better than he had in 2011 – and went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in twelve big-league appearances. He's in the mix for the 2012 Orioles' staff.
Jon Link – Link started 2012 as one of the Tides’ closers, but lost that job and was released in early June despite pitching fairly well. He was signed by Miami and was declared a free agent after the season.
Pat Neshek – Recovering from an arm injury, Neshek eventually took over the closer role for the Tides and led the team in saves. Neshek was sold to Oakland in early August and became a useful member of the Athletics’ bullpen, posting a 1.37 ERA in 24 games. He’s currently on Oakland’s 40-man roster, having signed a contract for $900,000.
Zach Phillips – Phillips was the Tides’ primary left-handed setup man to Pat Neshek until Neshek was sold to Oakland; then he became the Tides’ closer for the last month. He led the Tides in pitching appearances and gave up only one home run in 54 innings. In addition, Phillips pitched six scattered innings for the 2012 Orioles. After the season, he was declared a free agent and has signed a minor-league contract with the Marlins.
Miguel Socolovich – Another Tides middle-to-long relief pitcher, Socolovich went 4-0, 1.90 in 28 Tides relief appearances. He had two brief stints with the Orioles before being claimed by the Cubs on waivers in late August. After a few appearances with the Cubs, he was removed from their roster and is currently a free agent.
Chris Tillman – Tillman started 2012 in the Tides’ rotation. He pitched better and was recalled to Baltimore on July 4. The fourth time was the charm, as Tillman became a reliable rotation starter, going 9-3, 2.93 with the Orioles. He starts 2013 as a likely member of the Orioles’ rotation.
Oscar Villarreal – Villarreal was one of the two Tides to spend all of 2012 at Norfolk, generally as the right-handed setup man. Villarreal was effective in that role with a 2.88 ERA in 68 innings. He was declared a free agent after the season and signed a minor-league contract with the Red Sox.
Dontrelle Willis – The Orioles signed Willis to a minor-league contract with the hope that he would become a left-handed relief specialist. Willis made a couple of ineffective appearances, was put on the disabled list, and then left the team, declaring that he wanted to be a starting pitcher. Eventually, the Orioles agreed to that and he rejoined the Tides. On June 27, he made a start at Columbus and was hit hard. After that game, he announced his retirement and so far has stuck to it.

12 December 2012

Will trading JJ Hardy improve the Orioles?

There has been a general feeling from many national writers as well as those in the fan base that moving J.J. Hardy (who is currently under contract for two years at seven million a piece) could help improve the team in the present as well as in the future.  The opportunity presenting itself is one where Manny Machado is able to shift over to shortstop and then back filling the third base position.  The need there would be to get someone who could play at third for a couple seasons while Jonathan Schoop develops into what is hoped to be at least a league average third baseman.

A major problem is finding someone who is worth as much as JJ Hardy is:

Po. wRC+ Defense xWAR
JJ Hardy SS 92 10 3.7
Manny Machado SS 96 0 3.0

3B 96 10 3.0
The above numbers are somewhat optimistic.  The offensive and defensive components are not what are optimistic.  What is optimistic is assuming that JJ Hardy can be worth 3.7 WAR because it is projected to 150 games.  That is something Hardy has done twice in his seven years of service time.  More likely, the team could expect something more in the neighborhood of 2.8 to 3.2 WAR as Hardy may play somewhere around 125 games.

Unfortunately with the scope limited to 3B, that number is not projected to be matched by anyone who is available in free agency.

Age wRC+ Defense xWAR
Miguel Cairo 39 77 0 0.4
Mark DeRosa 38 68 -5 -0.8
Chone Figgins 35 72 5 0.5
Alberto Gonzalez 30 54 15 0.0
Jack Hannahan 33 74 10 1.2
Orlando Hudson 35 85 -5 0.6
Brandon Inge 36 81 10 1.8
Adam Kennedy 37 82 0 0.8
Jose Lopez 29 66 0 -0.5
Casey McGehee 30 72 5 0.5
Placido Polanco 37 75 10 1.3
Mark Reynolds 29 108 -30 0.0
Scott Rolen 38 87 5 1.7
Brandon Snyder 27 103 -15 1.1
Ian Stewart 27 68 5 0.2
Ty Wigginton 35 89 -15 -0.1
Kevin Youkilis 34 105 -5 2.2
The best figure on the list is Kevin Youkilis' 2.2 WAR, but he has been hobbled by injuries over the past four seasons.  He may be putting in anywhere between 50 to 120 games.  The third best target is Scott Rolen, who is also a major risk.  The general take home message here is that basically all options are rather poor ones with major question marks.  The Phillies when presented with these options chose to go with Michael Young, who was the worst full time player in baseball last season and someone who has never looked comfortable at third base.  They are banking on him improving upon his defense and showing something more similar to his 2010 season as opposed to his 2011 season.  My choice would have been different as many of these options would have been cheaper than the 6 MM the Phillies are paying along with the two decent relief pitchers.  Guys like Figgins, Hannahan, Inge, Polanco, and Gonzalez might be decent pick ups.  Though, to be honest, none of these solutions have the potential upside of Young.

That upside is wishing though.  A common thought process risk assessors go through is attaching themselves to a desired outcome.  That is, if you want something then you are more likely to forgive misfortune than recognize good luck.  It is a concept I have mentioned often this off season.  That people are more likely to forgive something like Nick Markakis' injury than understand the good fortune of something like Miguel Gonzalez' performance.

Anyway, bringing this discussion back to the main point of the article...can JJ Hardy be adequately replaced for what he brings to the team?  Highly unlikely.  The Orioles would need to be more creative than simply dealing Hardy for prospects and filling in third base via free agency.  The talent simply does not appear to be available.  Perhaps, signing Brandon Inge along with finding a +1 improvement on an established position (e.g., 1B or DH) might be a solution and one that is useful if pieces are also acquired that will be of value for future seasons. 

The remaining teams most active on the shortstop market are the Tigers, A's, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Yankees.  Targets would be players capable of providing a 3 WAR value which would provide the needed increase of one of the established positions.  The focus on a Tigers deal would be for Rick Porcello who would likely be a +1 or more increase upon whoever the team trots out in the 5 slot in the rotation.  For the A's, that target would be Josh Reddick.  He has an average bat and plus defense.  With the Diamondbacks, the likely player to acquire would be Justin Upton.  The Red Sox' Jacoby Ellsbury would be the target with that team.  The Yankees?  I see no opportunities there.  Of course, identifying a target does not mean it will be easy or even possible to engage these teams on these players...though trade rumors have been mentioned for each of these targets.

In the end, it will be a challenge to deal Hardy while maintaining value on the big league club.  Even more difficult will be to maintain that value while improving the team in the future.  Porcello and, maybe, Reddick would be the two targets that might bring back talent in addition to the player mentioned.  However, that certainly is not a guaranty.

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

Jake Arrieta 
7/6/2012 O O
Luis Ayala 
Mike Belfiore 
Zach Britton 
7/9/2011 6/6/2012 O
Dylan Bundy  3/11/2012 O O O
Wei-Yin Chen 
| | |
Zach Clark 
Miguel Gonzalez 
Jason Hammel 
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 

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

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

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