01 January 2013

Turning the Orioles into a 2013 Contender (Shepherd)

This entry is one is a short series by the different writers here at the Depot.  The others will be linked in the space below when they come online:
Steph Diorio
Daniel Moroz
Jeremy Strain

The point of this column is to come to terms with how at this late date in the off season that the Orioles can be a playoff contender.  The short and easy answer for me would be incredible health, the emergence of the starting rotation solution from last season, and an offensive explosion from Matt Wieters and Manny Machado.  Perhaps even easier would be to say that this team is already a playoff contender having made it last year with essentially the same squad.  The former is kind of a boring article and the latter is something I simply do not believe, so I will be going on the route of a series of moves that would make the team far more competitive.

As I have it now, projected talent levels in the AL East look like this to me:


EdG Wins
Orioles 85
Red Sox 85
Yankees 85.5
Rays 91.5
Blue Jays 90
That is not really an estimation of the final win tallies because of the unbalanced schedule, but it does give a reasonable projection as to the differences in talent levels.  From this napkin scratch, I am taking on the assumption that this team needs to improve by five wins worth of talent.  Currently, the expected payroll is 86.8 MM and I assume that the team could move the needle up to 100 MM.  So, I need to find a relatively realistic way to improve this team by five wins with only 13.2 MM to spend.

The three biggest names left in free agency are Adam LaRoche, Michael Bourn, and Kyle Lohse.  We used LaRoche as a construct for an argument as to whether his addition would be good for the Orioles.  I concluded, nay.  LaRoche is a solid average first baseman with a decent flame out probability due to his age.  I could not see giving him a three year deal at market rate along with letting go of a draft pick.  Michael Bourn is an excellent centerfielder who has defense and speed.  I think, for him, those two tools will age well for him.  However, I do not think signing him could be easily fit under the payroll limit and Adam Jones is unlikely to be incredibly happy about moving over to left field to accommodate Bourn.  Finally, Kyle Lohse is probably a 3-4 WAR improvement over whoever the Orioles slot into the fifth slot of the rotation.  However, I think better value can be found in a way that would not clog up the payroll.

I have decided on four moves to make the Orioles a contender: three trades and a free agent signing.

Free Agency
Luke Scott, DH
As a first move, this is not flashy.  However, if healed up, Scott has the ability to provide plus performance at a minimal cost.  His power still looks strong with an ISO above .200 and knocking out about 15% of his fly balls over the fence.  Scott also has the flexibility to stand, if not play in a pinch, at first base and left field.  He could potentially be an improvement on Mark Reynolds bat and cost perhaps at most 4 MM on a one year deal.  If possible, perhaps a 1 year 3MM deal with an option of 1 year and 8MM or a 1MM buyout.  Another alternative here would be someone like Travis Hafner.  Acquiring either of these batters, will be a push win-wise due to trades mentioned below.

Trades

Jim Johnson, RP and J.J. Hardy, SS
for
Rick Porcello, SP and Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF
This first move incorporates rumors that Porcello is on the market, the Tigers' desire for a closer and their need for a better infield, and their openness to dealing out one of their top prospects.  For the Orioles, they can replace Jim Johnson with Tommy Hunter.  Hunter's new found velocity and his ability to do far better coming out of the pen as opposed to the dugout means the Orioles have a very cheap and ready closer in their midst.  Pedro Strop might be a decent backup option, assuming his control issues do not magnify.  Hardy is difficult to let go as he is a true all star level shortstop.  However, Machado makes him replaceable and the team needs to save some cash to fit everyone in who will be coming in on trades.

Rick Porcello has three years of team control left and is thought of as generally underachieving in Detroit.  However, if you replace the below average Detroit defense with an above average one, he gives up about a dozen fewer hits which would result in a sub 4.00 ERA.  That is worth about 3 WAR and would be a 2 win improvement over what the Orioles could likely fill in at the five slot.  Castellanos means nothing to the 2013 Orioles, but gives them something to look at in the future at third base or in left field.

In total, the Orioles will be taking on 4.7 MM in salary with Porcello and getting rid of 13.9 MM by sending out Johnson and Hardy.  With Scott's 4 MM, it is a net loss of 5.2 MM or 18.4 MM left under the budget.

Brian Matusz, SP, Zach Britton, SP, and Wilson Betemit, DH
for
Gavin Floyd, SP
The White Sox are trying to acquiring a left handed hitter and have dangled Gavin Floyd, once again.  The White Sox have talked about Floyd a great deal in the past, but have never gone through with trading him.  As such, he is now in the last year of his current deal, set to earn 9.5 MM, and is coming off his worst performance as a starter.  Chicago's chip has decreased a great deal in value.  Still, Floyd looks like a decent bet to be a 3 WAR pitcher who would be 2 wins better than what the Orioles currently have.

Wilson Betemit, assuming he has a healthy wrist, is a plus hitter against right handed pitching.  He has nothing to off in the field or against southpaws, but he does provide a very strong and stable platoon bat for a very low price.  The White Sox could also play the odds and hope Brian Matusz can start even though Cellular Field is a launching pad.  Balancing out that risk though is the groundball pitcher Britton, who also has quite a bit of promise.  The truth is, this deal could really go south on the Orioles with both Matusz and Britton doing well and having to pay for Scott or Hafner to replace Betemit.

The Orioles save 2.75 MM here while taking on 9.5 MM in salary.  This leaves 11.65 MM left to spend.

Dylan Bundy, SP and Nicky Delmonico, 1B/2B
for
Chase Headley, 3B
This is probably the move that leaves a great number of people saying no.  A key part of this move would have to be getting Headley to sign a long term deal, but, maybe not.  Chase Headley provides above average defense at third base, takes a walk, and somehow hit home runs last year.  I don't think a permanent move from Petco would result in him being a 30 home run hitter, but it is not a stretch to think he could be a .350 OBP hitter with 20 long balls annually and a good glove.  That would be worth about 4 WAR which would be an improvement of about one win over the Hardy/Machado side of the infield.

Bundy simply does not impact the team this season.  At most, he would see a late season reintroduction to the team.  In the future, he could be worth a great deal to the team, but it remains to be seen if he can (a) fulfill his potential and (b) that the team will be good enough that it will matter whether he fulfills his potential.  If 2013 is so important with the shambles of the Red Sox and Yankees, then it might make sense to wave goodbye to the future.  Delmonico is a bit more of a lottery ticket.  The bat looks very sound, but he currently is without a position.  If he has to shift to first, it puts a lot of pressure on his bat.

In this deal, the Orioles take on approximately 8.3 MM in salary, leaving 3.35 MM under the assumed 100 MM cap.

Conclusion
The above moves leave the team with the following lineup:
Nick Markakis, RF
Manny Machado, SS
Chase Headley, 3B
Adam Jones, CF
Chris Davis, 1B
Matt Wieters, C
Luke Scott, DH
Nolan Reimold, LF
Alexi Casilla, 2B
With a bench of Taylor Teagarden, Ryan Flaherty, Nate McLouth, and Danny Valencia.

The rotation would shake out as:
Jason Hammel
Wei-Yin Chen
Gavin Floyd
Rick Porcello
Miguel Gonzalez / Chris Tillman

To me, this looks like a 90 win talent team with Headley marginally improving the lineup and Porcello/Floyd improving the rotation.  The remaining 3.35 MM could be put to good use to help shore up the team performance at the trade deadline.  The team lost one of the best prospects in the game in Dylan Bundy, but was able to pick up a solid positional prospect in Nick Castellanos.  All in all, if Dan Duquette was able to and did the moves above, I'd have little to complain about.  However, publicity-wise...it might be a tough sell.

30 December 2012

Sunday Comics: Happy 2013!

2012 was certainly a good year in Baltimore. There's no denying that.

Now we just have to hope 2013 matches up to it nicely since there was no apocalypse.


Have a safe and happy New Year! (Seriously, be safe. Don't do anything stupid involving alcohol and cars. I love you guys. <3)

28 December 2012

Discussing the Orioles and Japanese Baseball with Yakyu Baka

The past off season there was a flurry of moves involving players from Japan without the Orioles winding up with any of them.  This was quite different from Dan Duquette's first off season when he signed Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to a three year contract and Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada.  That effort rewarded the Orioles greatly as Chen provided them with an above average pitcher on a below market contract.  Even when you factor in the 4 MM paid to Wada, who was out all year injured, an above average pitcher for 8 MM in expenditures is still a net positive deal.  Anyway, Duquette's engagement with Japanese baseball was perhaps the greatest move he made last off season.

This left me wondering about this year's class.  I have seen a good deal of video, gone over Pitch f/x, and read the assessments by several evaluators (i.e. Patrick Newman).  However, I thought it might be good to contact Gen again from Yakyu Baka to discuss the current crop, future players who might cross the Pacific, and how the Orioles are perceived in Japan.

Jon: Kyuji Fujikawa, a 32 right handed reliever, signed with the Cubs in early December for two years and nine million.  He is a fastball / forkball pitcher, similar in ways to J.J. Putz.  How well do you think his success in Japan will translate over to Major League Baseball?

Gen: Most think that Fujikawa will do fine in the Majors.  History has also been fairly kind to Japanese relievers as well.  My only concern with him, as well as with any Japanese players going to the Majors, is how well he will fair over the course of a full MLB season.

Over the last couple of years, it seems he lost a little something.  There have been questions about whether or not he can handle a heavy workload off and on over the last couple of years.  Again, if there there's one thing I would be concerned about it, it would be his stamina.  Otherwise, I think he'll be fine.

J: In Baltimore, Wei-Yin Chen was warmly embraced and even had his own celebratory night with fans being given free shirts.  It made many here pay more attention to the Japanese game.  Do you notice more mention of the Orioles in Japan now?

G: I don't really notice a huge presence, but then I don't pay as much attention to the MLB as I used to.  In general, it probably hurt that Wada missed the year.  If he was healthy and pitched, then TV news shows would have show highlights from his starts.  He would have have showed up more often in the newspapers.  Chen, I'm not really sure how much of a following he has in the Kanto region.  I also noticed that many of the online sites didn't provide updates on his starts as they do with other Japanese players.

J: Last year, the Orioles were embroiled in the Kim Seong-min incident (which the Depot wrote extensively about last year and was the first news source that actually asked journalists in South Korea for their perspective).  Did that affect how the team was viewed in Japan?

G: I don't really know how NPB teams are looking at the incident.  I know NPB teams are concerned about losing young players to the Majors.  A lot of eyes were on Shohei Otani.  I think you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief when he decided to start his career in Japan.  Personally, I don't see a reason why a teenage Japanese pitcher would avoid signing with the Orioles.  And I'm not sure if anyone in the NPB feels the Orioles should be singled out as a bad team because of the incident.

J: Who do you think are the Japanese players in the future to keep in mind?  Players who will perform as well as Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish.

G: Hard to say.  Players like Ichiro and Darvish don't really come around too often.  Otani could end up getting posted to the Majors within the next five years, depending on how he develops.  Rakuten's Masahiro Tanaka is a name I'm sure more people around the world will become familiar with after the WBC.  Nippon Ham's Yoshio Itoi wanted to be posted, but the Fighters turned him down.  He might be an interesting player to keep an eye on during the WBC as well.  Softbank's Masahiko Morifuku has expressed an interest in playing in the Majors, but not right away.  He's also on the preliminary WBC roster.

26 December 2012

Why Giving Up a Draft Pick for LaRoche Might Make Sense

How much is LaRoche worth?  Depends.
With Nick Swisher signing with the Cleveland Indians, my perspective has become that there are no longer any true difference makers on the free agent market and that the Orioles will need to seek out improvement in talent by engaging the trade market with all of their efforts.  Although that thought is excellent in terms of twitter sound bites, it does use a context that is assumed.  It is a statement that can be misunderstood and repeated in ways that are not intended.  In truth, there certainly are lines of argument to say that Adam LaRoche and Kyle Lohse are indeed difference makers.  However, my usage is a player that can improvement a team by 2 to 3 wins.  An amount that justifies the cost being outlaid to a player.  However, at times it does make complete monetary sense to pay 12 or 15 MM for a player who may only improve a team projection by half a win.

How can half a win be worth 15 MM?  Well, it is a matter of looking at worth of a single player versus the worth of an entire team.  If a payroll budget is 100 MM that will be spent or lost, then it may well make complete sense to full utilize that budget.  A team may be projected at 95 wins and sit at a 85 MM payroll.  At that point, adding a high profile reliever for a year at 15 MM does make the team better and improves the likelihood for a playoff run while staying under the team payroll budget.  To put it another way, no way is a reliever worth 15 MM to add a half win or a full win to a team, but it is important to maximize that win profile by fully utilizing that budget.  It may well be the most useful way to use up that payroll is to go big and deep on a reliever.

Recently, there has been talk that the Orioles have frittered away last season's good will and success that may have paid dividends on the free agent market.  There has been a tidal surge of interest suggesting a run at Adam LaRoche (which seems to be a common event every other year) and a smaller sportswriter push for Kyle Lohse.  Reactions to those pushes are that the players are mediocre commodities (likely true) and will not add much to the win total of the 2013 Orioles (probably true).  However, a use-or-lose payroll and cost outlay may have the addition of these players make sense, somewhat.

Added to the complexity of acquiring these players is that their former teams offered arbitration which was turned down.  Upon turning down the offer, the former team will receive the top draft selection remaining by the signing team that is not within the first ten selections in the draft.  In other ways, if the Orioles sign a player like LaRoche of Lohse who turned down arbitration, the Orioles will be required to forfeit their first round pick (24th overall).  If they sign both of them, they would lose their first round and second round selections (they cannot lose their compensatory pick between the first and second rounds).

For some, the loss of a draft pick is something that is unacceptable.  Amateur talent is essential to almost every team as it is the primary way to field a competitive team.  A cost controlled group of players under their first six years of MLB time helps reduce cost to enable teams to go out and find what is useful on the free agent market.  Additionally, teams are locking up their star players and preventing them from entering free agency.  This makes it even more important to be able to develop your own guys as available free agent star players simply are becoming a low probability event.  That said, nothing is infinite in value, so the idea of never losing a draft pick is likely an extreme point of view.

Challenging my original statement, is there an arguable position to say that the Orioles should go after a player like Adam LaRoche or Kyle Lohse?  Well, the following is an exercise to see if I can develop that argument and will be primarily focused on LaRoche.

The value of LaRoche

Last year, LaRoche entered the season coming off an injury plague 2011 where he was atrocious when he was able to get on the field.  Expectations were not incredibly high with PECOTA projecting him as having a slash line of 251/321/435 and worth 1.3 wins over replacement production.  An entire win of that total was based on his defense.  That projection was spot on...if you only consider defense.  Offensively, he slugged 271/343/510, hit his 90th percentile projection, and was worth 3.6 wins above replacement production.  Entering his age 33 season, it is difficult to think that this past season set a new level for expected production, but it certainly happened.  My expectation is that LaRoche is worth about 2.5 wins next year, 2.2 wins in 2014, and 1.8 wins in 2015.

The cost of LaRoche

At 6.5 wins, he is worth about 32.5 MM if the market value is 5 MM per win.  However, that alone is not his cost.  The Nationals placed a tender on him, which enables them to take the Orioles' pick (1:24; top 10 picks are protected).  The loss of a draft pick for signing LaRoche has caused great consternation among some Orioles fans.  It is a sentiment that many share when considering moves by other teams.  The problem by taking a hard line on losing prospects is that it is clear that draft picks have a limit to their value.  There certainly is a price point for which losing a prospect makes complete sense.

The Orioles selection, the 24th pick, carries a certain probability of producing a useful player down the road.  If selection does become a league average player, he will save the Orioles quite a bit of money that could be spent elsewhere.  It will take several years for that value to come into being.  If it does, it will be worth about the following:


Value Cost Diff
2014 minors

2015 minors

2016 minors

2017 minors

2018 12.2 0.5 11.7
2019 12.7 0.5 12.2
2020 13.2 2.6 10.6
2021 13.7 5.5 8.2
2022 14.2 8.5 5.7
2023 14.8 11.8 3.0
Total

51.4
 This suggests the cost for signing LaRoche would be an additional 51.4 MM on top of his total salary.  However, it is unlikely that the draft pick becomes an average player.  From 1996 to 2005, picks 23 through 25 resulted in seven players you could argue were valuable as starters (this forces one to consider Phil Holmes and Jeff Franceour as suitable starters).  This is a rate of 23%, which drops that 51.4 MM value to 11.8 MM when you consider average value (or 0 MM if you wish to consider the mean as your outcome) or 9.0 MM in 2013 dollars.

I think it also helps to consider what it means when you consider the draft in general for a team.  As in, how many average starters does a team produce in a draft.  The following looks at how many starters were produced from each draft position for the Orioles 2013 draft.

1996-2005


Round n-1 n n+1
1 3 2 2 23%
c 0 2 0 7%
2 1 2 1 13%
3 1 1 0 7%
4 1 0 0 3%
5 0 0 0 0%
Players


0.53
You could expect an average of half a useful player coming out of the 2013 draft.  Another way of thinking is that the Orioles stand a 53% chance of getting a useful starter.  If you remove that first round pick, it becomes about a third of a player or a 30% chance.  The point here is that even though a team loses a first round pick, it does not mean the team has no chance to produce a starter.  It certainly decreases that chance.

The Talent on the Current Team

The decision on whether to acquire a free agent is greatly dependent on how good the team is with and without the player.  The concept was expressed well in an article on Baseball Prospectus from 2006.  Basically, not all wins are created equal.  A team moving the needle from 60 wins to 61 wins is not going to earn as much from that 61st win as a team will by pushing from 89 wins to 90 wins as the latter scenario results in a greater likelihood of a big pay day in the playoffs.

Below is an updated version of the graph from the previous article (only difference in market price is addressed, not the expanded playoff system):



Keep in mind, I am not certain those updated numbers above are accurate, but lets use them as a basis for discussion.

If you believe that the Orioles are an 83 win team (what an even one run record would have resulted in), then a 2.5 win player would be worth about 6.1 MM (if the graph above is accurate).  If the team is at 89 wins then the 2.5 wins would be worth 17.4 MM.  Assuming the latter is the real scenario, then a 3 year 36 MM deal is more like earning 2.4 MM (12 + 3 - 17.4) in 2013.  However, this assumes that the first base scenario is Adam LaRoche or replacement level.  The two scenarios to compare are Chris Davis (1B, 2.1 WAR), Wilson Betemit (LH DH, 1.2 WAR), and Danny Valencia (RH DH, 0.4 WAR) against Chris Davis (DH, 1.6 WAR) and Adam LaRoche (1B, 2.5 WAR).  The DH positions cancel out, so the projected difference is 0.4 WAR.  The increase from 89 to 89.4 wins, the difference is worth 2.5MM.  Instead of a windfall of 2.4 MM, it would be a cost of 12.5 MM.

However, the above situation views the move in a cost vacuum.  That is, does the cost paid out to an individual match the improvement in wins attributed to that single player.  The Orioles payroll stands roughly at 87 MM and there is some suggestion that the payroll limit is at 100 MM.  Although the free market rate for a win improvement is about 5 MM, would it make sense to spend 13 MM to get as half win and pay five times the going rate for that improvement in talent? 

Conclusion

The first segment simply noted that LaRoche has value.  The second segment noted that the cost of acquiring LaRoche is his salary and the value associated with the loss of a draft pick.  The third segment showed that cost can change depending on the talent level of a team and that a team can have surplus value to overpay a player.  In other words, draft picks are not commodities that must never be dealt away.  They have a certain value and sometimes it is quite beneficial to sacrifice them in exchange for signing a free agent.  Furthermore, the value and cost of a free agent are often subjective based on current talent level of a team and surplus money on a payroll.

So, yes, you could argue that LaRoche is a needed addition on this team.  Actually, a much better argument would be for Kyle Lohse who probably stands as being a 1.5 win improvement over whatever becomes the filler for the Orioles' fifth rotation slot.  However, I still wouldn't pay out as I believe this team is the fourth or fifth best team in the AL East and a good bit behind the two teams I think are the best in the division (Tampa and Toronto).  The Orioles need to improve by about 5 games worth of talent (two excellent players in areas that are holes).  I think that would have best been addressed by filling LF with more dependable talent and acquiring another SP.  However, Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher are gone.  R.A. Dickey is gone as well as the secondary market with guys like Edwin Jackson.  As it is, it probably is best for the team to seek fringe talent and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.

If I was under a use or lose scenario with money, my efforts at this point would be to try to offer a signing bonus to Matt Wieters or Manny Machado to lock them up long term at a low base salary.  Of course, maybe that is a topic to more fully engage at a later date.

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


# BB% SO% SB% AVG OBP SLG
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


# BB% SO% SB% AVG OBP SLG
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.

Conclusion
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.


RA/9

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.