40 Man Transactions since 2/8/2013:
February 9, 2013 - The Orioles avoided two years of arbitration with Darren O'Day by agreeing to a two year deal worth 5.4 MM and a 2015 club option worth 4.25 MM with 0.5 MM buyout.There is a significant number of baseball analysts who view any long term commitment to relievers to be anathema. The idea behind that is that relievers are a volatile commodity that can be difficult to measure by performance. For instance, 60 innings pitched informs us to a limited extent how good a pitcher actually is. For instance, you may remember Kurt Ainsworth's 3.82 ERA over 66 IP with the Giants before the Orioles acquired him in the Sidney Ponson deal. You may also remember short stretches where John Parrish, Eric DuBose, or Chris Waters might actually have a solid place in the rotation for years to come. For relievers, an unrepeatable performance level is more likely to occur because a reliever can be limited to a few batters with a handed advantage. Pitchers, such as Chris Britton, Jason Berken, and Jorge Julio demonstrate that. Part of the mentioned failings are due to exceptionally lucky performance while others relate to injury issues.
For followers of the Orioles, there are also some shallow wounds. Money was directed from other potential assets and forced toward players like Jamie Walker (3 years, 12 MM), Danys Baez (3 years, 19 MM), and Chad Bradford (3 years, 10.5 MM) all in 2007. It was a relatively decent idea in concept. The Orioles had the worst bullpen in baseball in 2006. The bullpen actually had a negative fWAR of 1.5, meaning that they gave up about 15 runs more than an abstract team composed of generically available AAA relievers. That is awful. The following season saw an increase to 1.4 fWAR for the pen, which is what you expect when you sign three pitchers who are worth about 3 wins. Unfortunately for the rest of the team plan, the Steve Trachsel addition did not provide much and neither did Daniel Cabrera or Adam Loewen break out to be average or better pitchers. For the offense, Aubrey Huff struggled in his first season with the team and Corey Patterson, Ramon Hernandez, and Melvin Mora all entered into spirals. So, yes, relief investment is a tricky thing when it is part of the larger plan for a team to compete.
However, Darren O'Day's contract seems like a good deal to me. It buys him out of his last two years of arbitration and sets up an option year for the value less than what a win will go for in the market place. Essentially, the Orioles are securing a player at a price roughly equivalent to 1 win value (when considering arbitration) for three years. If you like fWAR (pitchers are not wholly responsible for batted balls), then 3 fWAR looks pretty spot on for the next three years. If you like bWAR (pitchers are more responsible for balls in play), then he is worth about 6 bWAR over the next three years. In other words, he appears to be something between a good to great reliever. Not too shabby for a waiver wire pickup.
However, you may have some concern about his 2011 season, which saw horrible performance coupled with a labrum injury. For comparison, here are his run rate stats over his career:
ERA and FIP are none too fond of the 16 and two thirds innings O'Day pitched in 2011. A major reason for that is neither of them regress the contribution of home runs in their formulation. Both SIERA and xFIP are descriptive metrics that try to measure player ability during a certain year with the assumption that weird things happen outside of a player's ability. There also appears to be a tendency for sidearm pitchers to, on average, outperform their SIERA, FIP, and xFIP values with respect to ERA. O'Day, of course, is a little different than traditional sidearmers in that he enjoys living up in the zone and does it quite effectively by inducing infield flies consistently above 15% of the time. That combined with a track record of consistently allowing fewer than 10% of flyballs out of the park is something that is quite special and effective.
ERA SIERA FIP xFIP HR/FB 2008 4.57 3.82 3.64 4.29 4.9% 2009 1.84 3.18 3.03 3.80 4.7% 2010 2.03 3.45 3.50 3.89 6.8% 2011 5.40 2.97 7.59 3.86 30.4% 2012 2.28 2.75 2.96 3.40 8.2%
Injury issues may be another concern with O'Day:
With pitchers, the major concerns are in the throwing arm, lower back, and legs. Any recurrent or major injury in those players is something to throw up a red flag. Although O'Day has had noted injuries all over, really only the cartilage issue in his shoulder in 2008 and the hip labrum of 2011 are of concern here. The shoulder labrum injury does not appear to have affected him since it occurred. It makes me feel comfortable that it is improbable to be an issue going forward in the short term. Surgery was required for his hip labrum in 2011 and he was not the same pitcher when he returned, based on performance. Last spring, further concern about his hip arose when he suffered a groin strain, but was somewhat relieved when he was able to pitch without incident for the entire year. From that perspective, I see that more as a yellow flag: something that would prevent me from paying first division money for a reliever (>5 MM).
Injury Days Lost 2008 Labrum (shoulder) Offseason 2009 None 2010 Elbow Bone Bruise Spring Training Back Soreness 13 2011 Labrum (Hip) 66 2012 Groin Tightness Spring Training
As is, I find the deal to be agreeable, but not exceptional. If O'Day stays healthy and the Orioles assume the 2015 season, then it gives them about a million or two savings for a middle reliever or perhaps four million in savings for a closer if he takes over from Jim Johnson. Not every extension can be expected of accruing a massive amount in savings and this one, like Adam Jones', fits in as a reasonable slightly cost saving maneuver. My guess is that the Orioles signing Jones last spring probably saved the team about 5 - 10 MM over six years if they had taken him to free agency. I think someone would have valued him similarly to B.J. Upton if not slightly more so if they believed in Jones' glove. In that case, maybe the Orioles saved 15 - 20 MM, which would be a major cost savings though an ultimate value that probably is not reflective of Jones' actual worth.
A "|" denotes an understanding that the player must agree to being sent to the minors.
"Rule 5" denotes that the player cannot be sent down without being offered back to his previous parent club.