30 May 2013

O's Bullpen Is Not Overachieving Anymore

For a reminder of why baseball analysts often note that relievers are fickle, look no further than the difference between the 2012 and 2013 Orioles bullpens. Consisting of several of the same contributors, the 2013 bullpen has not been nearly as good as last season's surprisingly dominant group.

Sure, it's the end of May and the bullpen could turn things around the next few months, but it's going to be nearly impossible for them to approach last season's success. Take a look at the two seasons:


The biggest differences? Walks and home runs. In 2012, the O's had a HR/FB rate of 9.6 percent; in 2013, that rate has jumped to 12.1 percent. This season's combined BABIP (.280) is exactly the same as last season, but the bullpen is stranding about 4 percent fewer runners and inducing about 3 percent fewer ground balls. The slight bump in strikeouts is nice, but the increase in free passes and big flies adds up.

Last season, the team's top five relievers -- Darren O'Day, Jim Johnson, Troy Patton, Luis Ayala, and Pedro Strop -- outpitched their peripheral stats. O'Day, for example, was outstanding, but he had a high strand rate (85.1%). So did Patton (84.6%). Strop walked lots of batters but barely allowed any home runs (0.27 HR/9) and also had a high strand rate (83.2%).

But the outpitching peripherals thing, as you'd expect, isn't happening as much this year. O'Day is at it again (1.88 ERA/3.73 FIP/4.19 xFIP) with an even higher strand rate so far. Hunter (1.86 ERA/4.65 FIP/4.22 xFIP) is right there as well (100% strand rate). But (remember, small sample size alert) Johnson, Strop, and Patton have not pitched as well as last season and are the three biggest reasons for the bullpen's struggles. All three have walked more batters and have increased strand rates, and Johnson and Patton have a higher BABIP than last season. Strop's BABIP is only .216, but he has a ridiculous HR/FB rate of 27.3%. So that low BABIP doesn't mean as much when opposing batters are launching home run after home run.

Let's explore each of the three a little more below.

Jim Johnson:


Johnson isn't as good as he was last season, but he's not as bad as he's been this year, either. The jump in home runs allowed is a huge reason why he's been so bad, and if that number was around 9 or 10 percent, things wouldn't look as awful. Per Pitch F/X data, his four-seam (94.4 to 93.2) and two-seam fastball velocity (94.2 to 93.8) is down, but that hasn't affected opposing batters' plate discipline numbers all that much. They're actually swinging at the same number of pitches outside the zone (28%) and are even making less contact overall (83.3% in 2012; 81.9% in 2013). The biggest change appears to be that hitters are swinging at more pitches in the zone (from 55.7% to 61.5%) and are hitting Johnson's offerings harder (from a 16.4 line drive percentage to 20.5%). Perhaps he needs to work on changing speeds more often, or maybe mix his pitches a little better if his two-seamer isn't working as well.

Troy Patton:


Patton has been a lot worse across the board. Like Johnson, he's not as good as his 2012 numbers, but he's not this bad. At the very least, Patton has been able to get lefties out throughout his career (.272 wOBA against), but this year they have a combined .419 wOBA when facing him. That's not likely to continue, unless Patton keeps walking a bunch of batters like he's doing now. Patton's never been a hard thrower, but per Pitch F/X, his fastball velocity is down about 1 mph, from about 90 to 89. But unlike Johnson, opposing batters haven't been chasing Patton's pitches out of the zone as often. Last year, opposing hitters swung at 34.3% of Patton's pitches outside the zone. This season? 25.8%. They're also swinging less overall (50.3% to 43.3%) but are making much more contact (79.4% to 83.1%).

Pedro Strop:


Like most, I'm still not sure what to make of Strop. His arsenal of pitches is downright nasty, but he just can't seem to control them. His walk rate has jumped in each of his seasons in Baltimore -- from 2.19 to 5.02 to 7.13 -- and hitters are just laying off his pitches (32.1 O-Swing% in 2012 to 21.2% in 2013) because there's a good chance he's going to walk them before he can throw three strikes. Like Johnson and Patton, his fastball velocity is also down (96.4 to 95.3 (four-seam) and 96.9 to 95.6 (two-seam). If he can't throw strikes and get ahead of hitters, he may never get a real chance to approach that 2012 (or 2011) season again.

25 May 2013

At Last! A Look at Tsuyoshi Wada

Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen were Dan Duquette's major Far East signings in the 2011-2012 offseason. Wada, a successful veteran pitcher in the Japanese league, was the more highly-touted signing, but he was injured in spring training. He made a rehabilitation appearance for Norfolk in Gwinnett on April 19, and was ineffective - he gave up 6 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks in 2 2/3 innings. Immediately thereafter, he was diagnosed as needing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and missed the rest of 2012.

Wada had signed a two-year contract with the Orioles, and continued his rehabilitation into 2013. He made his first rehabilitation appearance of 2013 on May 16 against Lehigh Valley. This was a weekday day game, and so I wasn't able to work the game. Wada pitched adequately for someone who hadn't pitched in a game in over a year; he gave up 4 runs (3 earned) in four innings, giving up three hits and two walks. He made his second start against Durham on May 21, and I worked that game for BIS, marking the first time I had seen Wada pitch since his signing.

Wada is not a big man. He's listed at 5'11'', 180 pounds, and he looks slighter than that. His fastball was consistently at 85 or 86 mph according to the Harbor Park radar gun, although he did reach 88 a couple of times. His curveball was generally recorded in the low 70's. Wada faced 21 batters in 4-plus innings; he left after facing three batters in the fifth. He was the losing pitcher in a 3-2 game, surrendering two runs on six hits, with two walks and one strikeout. Both runs scored after he left the game; he left with the bases loaded and no outs. Reliever Chris Jones allowed one inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly and another on a pop-fly single; it's more fair to charge those runs to Wada than to blame Jones for letting the inherited runners score.

A look at his pitches:

Called Balls: 35
Called Strikes: 14
Swinging Strikes: 3
Fouls: 13
In Play: 17
Hit By Pitch: 1

And the number of pitches he threw with different counts:

0-0: 21
1-0: 12
0-1: 8
2-0: 6
1-1: 9
0-2: 4
3-0: 1
2-1: 9
1-2: 4
3-1: 4
2-2: 5
3-2: 0

At first glance, it looks like Wada might be struggling with his control upon return from injury. But there was a sequence that leads me to believe that Wada's apparent lack of control is a tactical decision. In the third inning, he hit the first batter and gave up a double to the second, putting runners on second and third with no out. The next batter fouled off two pitches and was called out on strikes on the third; the next batter fell behind 0-2 before hitting a soft liner to second. Then, with two outs, he reverted to his nibbling ways, retiring the batter on a 2-2 count.

This sequence tells me that when Wada has to, he is capable of throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters. The rest of the game, he wasn't throwing pitches all over the place; they were going where he wanted them to. As a result, I believe that Wada's approach is to get aggressive batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone, either inducing weak contact or swings-and-misses.

Tsuyoshi Wada would have been more effective twenty-five years ago, before working counts and plate discipline had become as important as they are now. Even today, he might be an effective #4 or #5 starter on a team that includes other overpowering pitchers and pitchers who can go deep into games. That's not the 2013 Orioles, and I don't have faith that Wada will be able to help the 2013 Orioles' starting rotation.

24 May 2013

Dickerson Making the Most Out of Opportunity With Baltimore

This post was written by Zach Mariner. Follow him on Twitter here.

When he was cut by the Yankees in January, Chris Dickerson was a 31-year-old utility outfielder who had never seen 300 plate appearances in a season, and had only seen at least 100 three different times.

Selected by the Reds in the 16th round of the 2003 first-year player draft, Dickerson spent five years fighting through injuries while toiling in the minors before making his major-league debut with Cincinnati on August 12, 2008. But, after just 31 games, a stress fracture in his heel forced him to miss the rest of the season, setting the tone for what has been a disappointing career.

Dickerson’s best season came the following year in 2009 (thanks to great defensive numbers), when he started 51 games through the first four months of the season before hitting the disabled list on two separate occasions late that summer. He finished the year with a .275/.370/.373 line.

During spring training in 2010, Dickerson voiced his frustration to reporters after Drew Stubbs was assumed the Reds’ starting center fielder, saying “I guess I’ll just have to go out and hit .450 this spring.” He only managed .288, and was traded to the Brewers for Jim Edmonds in August. In 25 games with Milwaukee, he drove in five runs with a line of .208/.271/.264. A week before Opening Day in 2011, he was traded to New York for Sergio Mitre.

It was during that same spring training in 2010 that Reds manager Dusty Baker summed up Dickerson’s career in a nutshell: "Dickerson has as much ability as anybody, it's just a matter of him staying healthy, the same thing I said (in 2009). People want to know why he didn't play every day, and that's because I wanted to keep him healthy with his history of injuries."

Since the start of 2010, Dickerson’s played in just 146 major-league games and 145 minor-league games. The Yankees cut him due to an abundance of left-handed outfielders.

Aside from struggling with injuries and running into a little bit of bad luck, the primary reason for his up-and-down career isn’t tough to figure out: he gets on base (.342 wOBA), but has trouble making contact (26.0 K%).

All of that made him a perfect fit for the Baltimore Orioles and general manager Dan Duquette, who’s picked up several outfielders in similar situations over the past two years.

Each of these guys has had a troubled career, but they all also have the potential to help the Orioles in some way or another (even if that mostly means providing depth). Dickerson was the second of these six players to get the call this season, after Steve Pearce made the 25-man roster coming out of spring training.

Dickerson spent his first six weeks with the Orioles — who are 7-3 when he’s been in the starting lineup — serving in that same utility outfielder role, starting roughly once a week and playing sparingly as a late-game defensive replacement. However, he’s started six out of the past seven games since Nolan Reimold hit the DL with a hamstring tear. Seeing as it may take a few weeks for Reimold to make his way back into the lineup, Dickerson will have an opportunity to continue to showcase his value to this organization.

In 43 at-bats this season, the lefty is hitting .326 with three home runs. The sample size is small, and the numbers are somewhat inflated after his 3-for-4, two-homer night on Tuesday against the Yankees. But, he does have a .352 career OBP, higher than Reimold (.329), Pearce (.311) and even Nate McLouth (.332) — although his spot in the lineup against righties is pretty secure. Beyond that, Dickerson’s wOBA comes in higher than that all three of his mentioned teammates, for both their careers and 2013.

Now, don’t expect what you’ve seen from him so far to continue, because he probably isn’t going to hit .300 this season — or hit a home run every 14 at-bats — but his ability to draw walks (10.6 career BB%) and occasionally steal bases (28 in 35 career attempts) makes him valuable at the bottom of the lineup, at least against right-handed pitching (.294 career wOBA against lefties).

More than anything else, what Dickerson brings to the table defensively has the potential to make him a permanent fixture in this lineup. His career utility zone rating outranks almost every Baltimore outfielder in nearly every outfield spot.

His prowess and versatility in the outfield, along with his speed and ability to get on base, make him a pretty solid fit to continue to hit out of the No. 8 spot and play wherever he’s needed in the outfield against righties (assuming either McLouth, Jones, or Markakis is serving as the DH that night). With Reimold hurt for the time being, Dickerson will probably split time with McLouth, Pearce, and Danny Valencia in the DH/OF role against lefties. His high strikeout numbers (22.7 K% in 2013) are a liability, and rank higher than every other player mentioned, except for Reimold so far this season — but again, that could change once the sample size grows. However, as long as he continues to get on base (at least at an average rate) he’s still an upgrade. Dickerson is by no means an all-star, but he is the best available option going forward.

Dickerson won’t ever replace Jones or Markakis in the lineup, no matter how much of an upgrade he is defensively. But he’s been making the most of his chances in the outfield as Jones fills the DH spot while dealing with soreness in his groin. If Dickerson continues to impress Buck Showalter, he could see more and more meaningful playing time, especially if Reimold can’t get it going at the plate once he comes off the DL.

Kevin Gausman Piece on ESPN's SweetSpot

I wrote a post on Kevin Gausman's MLB debut last night for ESPN's SweetSpot blog. His first start (and game) could certainly have gone better, but there's a reason to be excited for his presence.

23 May 2013

Strikezone Analysis for May 20 - 22: Yankees at Orioles

Series Thoughts

Coming into this series, I was curious to see how the strikezone would play out. The "Yankee Strikezone" is part of why I began this project. In the first series between these teams this year, the strikezones were wildly inconsistent, ranging from under 80% correct to over 90% correct for the Rzone. The Orioles had received 24 calls in favor to the Yankees' 31. This series saw 13 Rzone calls in favor of the Orioles to 20 for the Yankees, bringing the totals to 37 and 51, respectively.

On borderline pitches, the first series between the teams saw the Orioles with 19 called balls and 19 called strikes. The Yankees had 22 called balls and 36 called strikes. This series saw 25 strikes to 26 balls for the Orioles and 30 strikes to 25 balls for the Yankees.

On the season, the Orioles borderline strike rate is 49.06% and their opponents are at 49.35%. Versus the Yankees, the Orioles have a 49.44% rate and the Yankees have a 58.41% rate. Matt Wieters has caught all 6 games against the Yankees, while the Yankees have used Cervelli (2.5), Stewart (0.5), and Romine (3). This is not enough data to draw a firm conclusion from, but it does raise an eyebrow.

Click through the jump for the game-by-game numbers.

21 May 2013

Wei-Yin Chen: Double Play Machine

by Nate Delong 
Delong writes about the Orioles over at Orioles Proving Ground. He is part of 2013's Expanded Roster, a feature where we provide local writers opportunities to expand their reach. Click here to find all of Camden Depot's Expanded Roster entries for 2012. 2011 Expanded Roster items can be found here. As always, feel free to provide the Depot with suggestions for posts or with your own interest in writing an items or several to be posted here.

Wei-Yin Chen recently went on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain. As Matt Kremnitzer pointed out last week, Chen’s injury could cause some problems for an Orioles rotation that already ranks towards the bottom of the league in both ERA (23rd) and FIP (27th). Chen has easily been the most valuable member of the rotation this year, already accumulating 1.2 WAR in the first quarter of the season according to Fangraphs (2.2 WAR in all of 2012). His success this year comes mainly from his ability to keep the ball in the park, strand baserunners, and induce the double play.

Let’s focus on the final reason for his success. Wei-Yin Chen is not a ground ball pitcher. The league average GB% is usually around 44% (45.1% in 2012 and 44.6% in 2013). One look at the table below, and we see that Chen has been well below that in both 2012 and 2013.

Last year, Chen induced a total of 10 double plays. At the time he went on the disabled list this week, he had already matched last season’s total, despite getting opposing hitters to hit far less ground balls compared to last year. He is currently tied for second most double plays induced, behind Lucas Harrell (with 12), whose career GB% is just under 56%.

Let’s take a closer look at his double plays from 2013. Below is a table showing a couple of details for each of his double plays this year, followed by a corresponding figure that displays the pitch location of the double play (from the catcher’s prospective).*

*Pitch type and pitch location figures are courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

The first thing that pops out is the fact that Chen got away with a few pitches that could have been absolutely crushed, with half of them located over the plate, waist level or higher. Next, out of the players that hit double plays, at least half of them were hit by batters who are legitimately fast, indicating the balls were likely hit hard, right at the defender. Interestingly enough, only one of the groundballs was classified as weak (according to Baseball-Reference).

You’re probably thinking that Chen’s double plays in 2013 are just extreme good luck in a small sample, but just for fun, let’s take a look at the double plays from last year. The following table and figure show the same information as above, but for 2012.

All but 2 of the double play groundballs from 2012 were considered weak (I’m including the bunt as a weak groundball, as it’s probably safe to assume it wasn’t a scorcher), and it seems to make more sense, as Chen got more of these double plays from batters making contact on pitches located on the edge (or even out) of the strikezone.

Compared to last year, Chen’s double plays in 2013 certainly look like a function of good luck, especially considering the pitch locations. However, as a friend and I were discussing, the vastly improved infield defense could play a part in this increase as well. Beware of the very small sample in UZR/150 in the table below (UZR tends to stabilize after 3 years of fielding data), but it’s clear to see from both advanced and standard statistics (or with your own eyes while watching games) that this year’s infield defense is far superior to last year’s.

In fact, the entire Orioles pitching staff is on pace this year to shatter the number of double plays recorded in 2012. Through 40 games, the Orioles have turned 38 double plays, and if they maintain that pace, they’ll reach 154 by the end of the season, compared to 131 in 2012. Chen may have lady luck to thank for his increase in double plays this year, but it’s important to remember that he may have his improved infield defense to thank as well.

20 May 2013

Strikezone Analysis for May 17 - 19: Rays at Orioles

Series Thoughts

What an extraordinarily frustrating series. The called strikezone greatly benefited the Orioles in one game, benefited the Rays in another, and was neutral in another, which shouldn't be masked by the overall high correct call rates (first series this season with all three games over 90% correct). The Orioles even came out ahead on calls in favor to calls against, 22 to 19, but this series demonstrates that not all incorrect calls are created equal. There is a significant difference between random pitches called incorrectly here and there compared to a massive shifting of the strikezone in one direction or another.

Click through the jump for the game-by-game breakdown.

Hitting Them Where They Ain’t: Flyball and Homerun Distances

I found some interesting data on the distance of flyballs and homeruns from 2007 to the present over at Baseball Heat Maps.  I’m not exactly sure what they can be used for either than describing what has happened as opposed to what underlying talent is present.  That current expectation is inform by this article over at Beyond the Box Score.  In that article, average flyball and homerun distance did a pretty good job correlating with overall power, but failed in predicting future power.  However, I am not entirely convinced yet that is the case.  There may be an issue with sample size and some other things that I plan to explore at some point.

Anyway, in this article I thought it might be thought provoking to show some tables with general information and then ones detailing the careers of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters.  First, I want to show the general outlook on this season and show the 248 players currently with enough of a sample size (>15 hits; not sure why that number is used).  The orange bars indicate Oriole players (in order: Davis, Nolan Reimold, Jones, Flaherty, Machado, J.J. Hardy,Wieters, Nate McLouth, and Markakis).

And here is a table with the data summarized since 2007:

Average Distance Maximum
2007 281.85 320.60 Ryan Howard 248.14 Reggie Willits
2008 286.86 317.15 Chris Ianetta 249.38 David Eckstein
2009 288.09 316.98 Brad Hawpe 265.51 Craig Counsell
2010 288.67 323.02 Jim Thome 266.04 Orlando Cabrera
2011 279.94 321.57 Giancarlo Stanton 257.99 Brendan Ryan
2012 280.51 313.26 Matt Kemp 239.09 Jamey Carroll
2013 280.95 319.77 Hunter Pence 236.72 Juan Pierre

As we look above, the minimum average guys make sense with players who are well known for scraping the fence whenever a ball goes yard.  The maximum average also largely makes sense though I would not immediately think of Ianetta and Hawpe in that grouping.  However, I have seen several moonshots by Hawpe…that just didn’t seem to happen all that often and that might be why I don’t immediate associate him as a long distance hitter.

So what about Nick Markakis?

Distance Distance+ Percentile
2007 282.82 100 50th
2008 300.85 105 84th
2009 297.71 103 76th
2010 291.23 101 59th
2011 279.86 100 52nd
2012 284.07 101 58th
2013 267.25 95 22nd

To make it a little easier to understand, I included too statistics in here: (1) Distance+ and (2) Percentile.  Distance+ is simply the player’s distance divided by league average and then multiplied by 100.  So, 100 would be average with anything above being greater than average.  The Percentile should be interpreted as being anything higher means a higher placement among the hitters.  For instance, a player in the 84th percentile would be hitting them deeper on average than a player in the 33rd percentile.

Now, back to Nick.  You can see with his numbers that there is a decent amount of correlation between the distance of his batted fly balls and home runs with his best offensive seasons.  It also seems to correlate with his power coming back during last year’s injury plagued season.  Beyond that, I am not sure it informs us much more than what we currently already know: Nick is not hitting the ball deep this year.

Adam Jones

Distance Distance+ Percentile
2008 281.25 98 37th
2009 303.62 105 89th
2010 292.01 101 61st
2011 291.80 104 85th
2012 293.59 105 84th
2013 287.54 102 64th

What we see here is a similarity coming from his 2010 season and this year in terms of power.  In other words, more singles and fewer home runs.  It is a slight concern that is also expressed in his high BABIP (.374).  Those give pause and should make us wonder whether his numbers are outpacing his performance.

Chris Davis

Distance Distance+ Percentile
2008 306.29 107 93rd
2009 312.82 109 98th
2010  Small Sample  Size
2011 290.34 104 82nd
2012 297.01 106 89th
2013 315.23 112 99th

Again, not particularly notable other than…yeah…Davis crushes the ball.  I’m not sure what to say beyond that.  These numbers simply seem descriptive.  They are good for looking at what has happened, but metrics like isolated power or slugging percentage combined with other numbers like hit type percentage or batting average of balls in play probably do it better.

Matt Wieters

Distance Distance+ Percentile
2009 281.82 98 32nd
2010 290.21 101 55th
2011 278.21 99 45th
2012 281.09 100 51st
2013 278.21 99 47th

Wieters appears to be pretty consistent.  He gets about the same distance out of the ball every year.  This falls in line with his ISO from 2011-2013 (.188, .186, .185, respectively).  I know a lot of people like to get down on Wieters for not being what they wished he would be, but he is a fine defensive catcher who currently is hitting right on par with what you can expect from a catcher with his .306 wOBA.  If his BABIP rises from .248 to his career norm of .290, then you see an average catcher becoming an All Star level catcher.  In terms of competing this year…it has not gone well, but it certainly has kept down his long term value if the two sides can agree on a long term contract.

I don’t think there is much of a conclusion to have.  These numbers tend to fall in line with the general stories associated with other numbers.  Just a wobbly hammer to add to the tool box, perhaps.

Hammel Struggling to Get on Track

This post was written by Zach Mariner. Follow him on Twitter here.

Friday night was, in a word, disastrous for Jason Hammel, Baltimore’s ace from 2012. Despite a 5-2 record on the young season, Hammel has struggled mightily, and his rough outing against Tampa Bay (seven earned runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings) was the worst of his nine starts.

Hammel was 6-1 through nine starts in 2012, and his ERA was down at 2.78, compared to 5.72 so far this season. He only has three quality starts, as opposed to six through nine starts last year. His innings pitched are also down, having thrown just 50.1, compared to 55 at this point in 2012. If not for the ridiculous amount of run support from his teammates (over seven runs per start), his record would probably not look nearly as nice as it does.

Which brings us to the question, why? Well, he’s still throwing 60.9 percent of his pitches for strikes, barely down from last year’s 62.1 mark. However, his strikeouts are down from 8.67 per nine innings in 2012 to 6.47 per nine in 2013, closer to his career mark of 6.57. The culprits behind Hammel’s decreasing strikeout numbers are the decline of his velocity and vertical pitch movement across the board, which may support the argument that his impressive 2012 might have been a fluke, as he’s regressed more toward the 2011 version of himself. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s making all the difference in the world.

Another area where you’re really seeing a big difference is Hammel’s fly ball/ground ball ratio. Right now, it stands at 1.12, where as last year it was down at 0.76. If that weren’t enough, he’s given up twice as many home runs (seven, as opposed to just three in 2012) as he did through nine starts last season.

It also doesn’t help that Hammel is oftentimes missing his spots, leaving the ball up and out over the plate and giving hitters a chance to drive the baseball. We’ve heard Buck Showalter talk about Hammel having trouble “repeating his delivery” which is just a fancy way of saying he’s been inconsistent, and it’s certainly showed in his numbers. Hammel was quoted after the game on Friday as saying, “I’ve been here before. I’ve figured it out before. I’m not going to continue to beat myself up.” And followed up by saying he’s been “trying to do too much.”

And that makes sense to a certain extent, as the expectations for him are higher, since last season he was on pace to have easily the best season of his seven-year career -- if not for it being shortened by injuries. A lot of people described last year as somewhat of a fluke season for him, as he went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA -- from 2006-2011, he had a 34-45 record with a 4.99 ERA, struggling in stints with the Rays and Rockies.

It is important to note that while Hammel isn’t pitching quite as well as he did a year ago, he’s still doing his part to stay healthy and put the Orioles in position to win ball games, for the most part. He trails only Chris Tillman in both innings pitched and strikeouts. So even though he hasn’t looked like the anchor of this starting rotation, he’s still doing enough to get by, assuming he can turn things around within the next few weeks.

19 May 2013

18 May 2013

Zach Britton's Start of May 14, 2013

In the 2010-2011 offseason, left-handed starting pitcher Zach Britton was hot. He had split 2010 between AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk, and had pitched 153 innings with a 2.70 ERA. Baseball America rated him the 28th-best prospect in baseball. The 2010 Orioles' starting rotation was shaky, and while most thought he would benefit from more minor-league seasoning, he was still a candidate for the 2011 Orioles' rotation. Chris Tillman pitched poorly, Brian Matusz got hurtm and Britton pitched well in spring training, Britton earned that rotation spot and survived all season.

Unfortunately for him, 2012 didn't go as well. He began the year injured and didn't make his 2012 debut until the end of May, and that in the minors. With the Orioles playing well, there wasn't a need to rush him back to the majors, and he didn't make his 2012 major-league debut until July. He was promoted for good in August, and didn't pitch well. Before 2013, he was considered one of the longer shots for a spot in the Orioles' rotation, both because he hadn't pitched as well as Miguel Gonzalez or Chris Tillman and because he had minor-league optional assignments remaining.

Today, the Orioles starting rotation is once again unsettled. Orioles fans a wondering if Zach Britton can return to the Orioles and take his place in their rotation. I've seen Britton make two starts at Norfolk this season. He had a blister on a finger on his throwing hand during his April 7 start and was consequently unable to control his pitches. The start that I saw second was last Tuesday, May 14; and I'll look at Britton's performance in this article.

A summary: Britton pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs (six earned) on twelve hits. He struck out three and walked none. He didn't have much defensive support. L.J. Hoes made a fairly long run to get to a fly ball in right field, then dropped it for an error. Danny Valencia made the single dumbest defensive decision I've seen in 2013; with a two-run lead and a runner on third base, he moved to his left to field a ground ball and then decided to throw home; the runner was safe and the batter-runner later scored. Trayvon Robinson in left field arguably cost his team two outs with hesitant decision-making on throws. On the other hand, most of the base hits Britton allowed were on balls hit harder than average. While this was bad game for Britton, it wasn't an atypically bad outlier.

Let's look first of all at his pitches:

Called Balls: 31
Called Strikes: 12
Swinging Strikes: 8
Fouls: 22
Put in Play: 24

There weren't any, but if there had been any foul fly outs, they would be counted as a ball put in play. Also, foul tips (foul balls which went directly in the catcher's mitt and remained caught, and count as swinging strikes for all purposes) are recorded as swinging strikes.

Batters swung at 55.6% of Britton's pitches, and when they did swing, they made contact 85.2% of the time. That's not really surprising; Britton has a reputation as a pitch-to-contact pitcher and he has neither an overpowering fastball nor deceptive movement on his pitches. And when they didn't swing, the umpire called the pitch a ball 72% of the time. This is entirely in keeping with Britton's reputation; he's not an overpowering pitcher and to succeed he must induce weak contact.

To some degree he was successful at that. Of the 24 balls put in play, 16 were ground balls, 5 were line drives, and 3 were fly balls. A ground ball is any ball which, if hit directly at an infielder, would have hit the ground before it reached him; there is a subjective component between "line drive" and "fly ball" which I can't really explain. The good news is that for a pitcher of Britton's type to succeed, he must get ground balls. He did. He also must avoid walks. He did. He also needs a good infield defense; in this game, he didn't. Third baseman Valencia isn't bad, but shortstop Brandon Wood, second baseman Buck Britton, and first basemen Russ Canzler and Chris Robinson were being stretched.

Britton was working neither notably ahead of or behind hitters. The list below shows the number of times the opposing batter had a specific pitch count; the numbers won't add up because of two-strike fouls.

0-0: 27
1-0: 11
0-1: 12
2-0: 4
1-1: 10
0-2: 6
3-0: 1
2-1: 4
1-2: 8
3-1: 1
2-2: 12
3-2: 1

He made 26 pitches when he was ahead of the hitter; 49 when the count was even; and 18 when he was behind the hitter. Other than the obvious -- he wasn't consistently behind the hitters -- I don't know enough to judge this. (As a contrast, the next day Lehigh Valley relief pitcher Cesar Jimenez made twenty pitches in which he was behind in the count to 14 batters.)

Finally, let's look at how quickly Britton was able to deal with hitters. The average batter saw 3 1/2 pitches before a result. Below is the number of at-bats in which the batter saw a given number of pitches:

1 pitch: 4
2 pitches: 4
3 pitches: 6
4 pitches: 7
5 pitches: 2
6 pitches: 3
7 pitches: 2

Here, too, I don't know enough to draw any conclusions or to make any judgement.

It seems clear that Zach Britton is a young pitcher who gets ground balls and has good control. Generally, pitchers of this type don't really achieve their peak until they're in their thirties, although they can be successful in their twenties. I think Britton is a better option than Freddy Garcia, and I'd rather give him a chance than Jake Arrieta. The Orioles do have a good infield defense, which will help him. The problem is that Britton might very well struggle in his first few starts until he gets acclimated, and if he does struggle he's going to be really bad. So even if the Orioles turn to Britton, they may give up on him before he has a chance to establish himself.

16 May 2013

Strikezone Analysis for May 14 - 15: Padres at Orioles

Series Thoughts

In continuation of the trend I noticed this weekend, Wieters continues to have "noisy" glovework. He is inconsistent in presenting a clear target to his pitcher (the easily visible brown interior of his glove, as opposed to the black exterior, which blends with his chestguard); often this includes rapidly twisting his wrist, flipping his glove between open and closed, front and back presented to the pitcher. He also presents the backside of his glove in a different location than he seems to want the pitch. Finally, he has quite a bit of glove movement upon receiving the pitch. I know that this was something that the team worked on with him when he was first drafted and called up. Perhaps he could use a refresher course.

Click through the jump for the game-by-game.

15 May 2013

Manny’s Backwards Run and the Rule Book

Last night in the eighth inning, we had an interesting scenario.   The Padres sent Gregerson to the mound to face Manny Machado.  Machado hit a grounder to the first base side and met Gregerson about 10 feet in front of first.  Gregerson went for the tag while Manny decided to backpedal to home with the pitcher chasing instead of turning around and tagging the bag.  To some viewers, this was an attempt to allow Steve Pearce to score from second base as the final out on Manny would be a tag out instead of a force.

Fellow BSL writer Tucker Blair commented on the play noting that the run could not score and was met with two followers who declared the runner could score.  This made me want to go back to the rule book because the batter-runner is generally given more attention than other runners.  Now, I will be the first one to say that my knowledge of the rule book in some areas is pretty scant.  However, I have a difficult time seeing how the run could score without Manny making it to first base.  Here is the primary rule about run scoring:
(a) One run shall be scored each time a runner legally advances to and touches first, second, third and home base before three men are put out to end the inning. EXCEPTION: A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made (1) by the batter-runner before he touches first base; (2) by any runner being forced out; or (3) by a preceding runner who is declared out because he failed to touch one of the bases.
As I read this rule, first base and the batter-runner is treating differently than any other runner on the base paths.  Manny running back home to get the pitcher to tag him will not be successful because he must touch first base successfully.  If Manny was already on first and did this successfully between first and second, then a run should count by my reading here.

So, my reading here, indicates that Gregerson was right to be irritated at the end of the play.  Manny had no way to enable Pearce to score by drawing out the out.  However, Gregerson should be more upset with himself as he simply could have turned around and walked ten feet to first base without exerting himself.

14 May 2013

Strikezone Analysis by Pitcher: Volume I

The off day gave me some extra time to go through and take a look at how each pitcher is fairing with the called strikezone, both Real and Typical, as well as borderline pitchers.

These numbers are likely to change as the season progresses. Hammel, Chen, Gonzalez, and Tillman have each seen multiple umpires, so their numbers are somewhat more reliable, although 35 - 50 IP is still a small sample size. Johnson (Jim), O'Day, Patton, Matusz, Strop, Hunter, and McFarland have enough appearances out of the bullpen to have seen quite a few umpires, but with less than 20 IP each, just a few pitches can skew their numbers significantly.

That being said, there are some interesting trends emerging. Wei-yin Chen and Jim Johnson have the most accurately called pitches, while TJ McFarland and Tommy Hunter have some of the least accurate called pitches. But there's more to this than simple accuracy. Chen and Johnson pay for their accurate zones, as their ability to get balls called strikes is much lower than other pitchers. On the other hand, TJ McFarland and Darren O'Day must be dazzling the umpires, because they are earning called strikes on pitches outside of the zone at a much higher rate.

Click through the jump for a more in-depth breakdown.

Chen's Injury Could Be Troublesome for Thin O's Rotation

Orioles' left-hander Wei-Yin Chen is likely headed to the disabled list with a right oblique strain. Chen would join Miguel Gonzalez as the second injured Orioles starting pitcher, though Gonzalez's injury, a thumb blister, isn't as serious as Chen's. (Oblique injuries can be pesky.) Also, Gonzalez's disabled list stint is retroactive to May 4, so he should be able to rejoin the rotation within the next week.

Still, the loss of Chen for any extended amount of time would be a serious blow to the Orioles. Until Gonzalez returns, the O's three remaining starters are Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman (who starts today), and Freddy Garcia (who will apparently start tomorrow). Thankfully, the O's had an off day yesterday and have another on Thursday, but after that they don't have one until June 3. So they can juggle their rotation in the short term, but Chen's absence will matter soon, especially since his temporary replacement(s) will likely be some combination of Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and Jair Jurrjens. Jake Arrieta is dealing with a shoulder strain, and Kevin Gausman doesn't seem like an option just yet. But anything's possible.

It's only May, but Chen has been the O's best starter so far. He put up an fWAR of 2.2 last season, but he's already up to 1.2 fWAR in 2013. His strikeouts have been down (from 7.19 K/9 to 5.13), but he's been walking slightly fewer batters while doing a much better job of keeping the ball in the ballpark (from 1.35 HR/9 to 0.57). But that's in only 47.1 innings, so who knows if that trend will continue, especially now that he'll have to work his way back from an injury.

Last season, Chen didn't have amazing numbers (4.02 ERA/4.42 FIP/4.34 xFIP), but he threw 74.2 more innings (192.2) than the team's next closest starter, Hammel (with 118). Tillman only pitched 86 innings, and although he's shown tremendous strides these past two seasons, he's far from a reliable option and even dealt with his own injury concern just last September.

Garcia is a wild card, and anything the Orioles get from him is a bonus. He wasn't as bad as his 5.20 ERA in 107.1 innings with the Yankees last season indicated, but he wasn't good, either. But there's a big difference between asking him to be a fifth starter type and being someone the team actually needs to pitch well for a couple weeks. He's been pretty lucky in 12.2 innings (.135 BABIP) and has been OK, but more of those balls in play will turn into hits, and since he's not striking anyone out, that's going to be a problem.

And then there's Hammel, who has not looked anything like the pitcher Orioles fans watched last season. His walks are up, his strikeouts are down, he's not getting as many groundballs, he's giving up more home runs, and his velocity is down. I'd say those are reasons to be worried. More than any other pitcher, the O's will need Hammel to step up in Chen's absence. It would certainly be helpful if the guy who put up 2.6 fWAR in just 118 innings quickly turned things around.

Maybe some of that Dan Duquette magic will present itself yet again, and Garcia and Jurrjens (or someone else) will shut things down while Chen recovers. It's unlikely -- but not impossible. Just look at what Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, and Travis Hafner are doing for the Yankees. But I'm not expecting great things, which will probably mean more innings for an already overworked bullpen. Get well soon, Chen.

13 May 2013

Strikezone Analysis for May 10 - 12: Orioles at Twins

Series Thoughts

Overall, a poor series for the umpires. The strikezones looked an awful lot like the strikezones of the late-'90s and early-'00s, very elongated across the plate and inconsistent on the top. The Orioles worked the Tzone-Rzone area very well, posting strike rates of 85.71%, 50.00%, and 100.00% (first "perfect" Tzone-Rzone game this season). By comparison, the Twins sat at 54.71%, 61.54%, and 44.44%. The Orioles were also consistently better on borderline strikes. This mimics the results of the first series, with the Orioles significantly better at getting close pitches called strikes than the Twins in wins and only slightly worse (if at all) in losses. Small sample size conclusion? Ryan Doumit and Joe Mauer aren't very good at receiving pitches and presenting them to the umpire.

On to the game-by-game strikezone analysis, as well as a discussion (with game images) of the difference between how Snyder and Wieters present a target to the pitcher.

Data: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0An-w9dFaRvtmdENTeWZnczVZUERyc25Gd1NNOE0xV3c#gid=0

Finding a Second Baseman

This season, the Orioles have so far gotten nothing out of their second basemen as a whole.  For a team tied for the American League East, it is an area where an upgrade can make a major difference.  Here is what the team has had so far:

Name PA wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
Brian Roberts 12 .400 152 0.4 0.2 0.2
Alexi Casilla 41 .252 51 1.2 0.9 0.1
Ryan Flaherty 92 .186 6 3.2 0.5 -0.3

Brian Roberts is still injury-prone and his three games may not be truly indicative of his actual level of ability.  In the Spring, his legs looked a step and a half too slow at second.  He has always had good hands and an arm strong enough to be a fringe shortstop, but his reaction time has lengthened.  It was a noticeable issue even before his string of injuries occurred, so I doubt it is something he will be able to correct.  His remarkable batting line in 12 plate appearances is also a bit of mirage as randomness smiled on him.  His batted balls just dropped in where no one was.  A few were hit very hard, but nothing looked beyond below average gap power.

Alexi Casilla has proven himself to be adequate with the glove and less than adequate with the bat.  His true role on a team should be as a veteran backup middle infielder who will sub in as a pinch runner at times.  He can play second or short, neither incredibly well…about average.  When it is all said and done, he is a replacement level player whose speed you can occasionally leverage.
Ryan Flaherty still cannot hit.  Oh, if it is a fastball and he knows it is a fastball…he can launch it a country mile, so teams are throwing him few of those.  His fielding though looks awful, but actually rates well.  He reacts quickly, which makes up for his lack of speed.  He also showcases a pretty good arm for a second baseman.  When you include last year with this year, you start to make a solid argument that he actually has an above average glove out there.  No one would have ever thought that would turn out to be the case a year ago.  Unfortunately, what people thought he would be (an offensive second baseman with no defensive ability) is doubly wrong.  The bat looks completely lost and he may never be able to figure it all out.

As group, the Orioles have a collection of players whose gloves negate the negative value in their bats and they wind up with a net zero fWAR at second base.  In other words, they are playing on level with AAA talent.  So who is available?

Currently, I project four second basemen as being available.  Chase Utley, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jamey Carroll, and Brendan Ryan.  Betancourt’s horrific defense concerns me too much while I do not believe Ryan’s gold glove improves the team much.  Utley would be a good addition, but might be costly and is a perennial injury concern.  Carroll is cheap with an option and has been in the recent past an on base machine.  However, he is long in the tooth and may have finally collapsed.

I do not believe the Orioles current situation is tenable while having playoff aspirations and would lean toward acquiring Utley or Carroll while sending Flaherty to AAA.

Contract Team Prorate fWAR Trade
Chase Utley
Phillies 6.8 High
Yuniesky Betancourt
Brewers 2.7 High
Jamey Carroll Option Twins 0.0 High
Brendan Ryan
Mariners -2.3 Medium
Robinson Cano
Yankees 3.6 Low
Mark Ellis Option Dodgers 4.1 Low
Mike Fontenot
Rays Minors Low
Omar Infante
Tigers -0.9 Low
Nick Punto
Dodgers 5.0 Low
Ryan Raburn
Indians 0.0 Low
Ramon Santiago
Tigers -0.5 Low
Alfredo Amezega
Dodgers Minors Low
Clint Barmes
Pirates -0.5 Low
Stephen Drew
Red Sox 3.2 Low
Cesar Izturis
Reds -0.9 Low
John McDonald
Pirates -1.8 Low
Jhonny Peralta
Tigers 5.0 Low

Trade likelihood is done in a rather simplified manner and can be easily argued against.  I considered a high likelihood when Baseball Prospectus projected the team as having less than a 10% chance of making the playoffs.  Medium was a 10-20% chance.  Low was >20%.

12 May 2013

Sunday Comics: Happy Mothers' Day!

Have a wonderful Mothers' Day, everyone!

11 May 2013

Painting the Monitor: Nothing to See or Wieters Lost a Game

It has been about 3 weeks since I last addressed how called balls and strikes may be affecting the team.  Before I jump into the numbers, I’d like to revisit a concept: rulebook vs. typical strike zones.

What we have above are called pitch data from an Orioles game last week.  On the left are called pitches for left handed batters and on the right, right handed batters.  The strike zones are oriented as if you are the catcher looking at the pitcher.*  The solid lined box is what is roughly the rulebook strike zone.  However, in practice the strike zone is actually different and is affected by batter handedness as well.  In the broken lined box, is the area where called pitches are more likely to be called strikes than balls.

The above are, more or less, constructs and not the actual strike zones.  You will get slight variation for the height of the batter.  Though, this is a pretty negligible issue when you drill into the data.  Second, the typical strike zone is represented as a box when it really is not.  Umpires tend not to call the corners.  However, we need to start somewhere and this is probably a good construct to use.  So, hopefully, it is clear what rule book vs. typical strike zone means.

Orioles vs. the Umps (Rulebook) – up to 5/9/2013

Runs Given
Total -0.13
Home -0.84
Away 0.70
Wieters -0.13
Based on the rulebook, Orioles catchers have saved the team about a tenth of a run, which over 20% of the season means rather little.  With backup catching removed, Wieters performs as well as the group does.  There does seem to be about a run and a half split difference between home and away games, but that is not much and may well be explained by chance.  Out of 2,564 pitches the Orioles pitchers have thrown, 316 have been called incorrectly.  On the other side those numbers are 2,466 and 294.

Orioles vs. the Umps (Typical) – up to 5/9/2013

Runs Given
Total 9.36
Home 5.60
Away 4.50
Wieters 8.80
The real world is not kind to any of the Orioles catchers as they stand at a 9.36 run disadvantage to their opponents.  In rough approximation, giving up 9-10 runs is equivalent to losing a game (some math is involved with that, but try to accept that as a general rule of thumb).  When you extrapolate that performance over a full season, you wind up with the Orioles underperforming their pitch framing to the tune of 42.3 runs.  That is worth four or four and a half wins, which is a major issue if you consider yourself a playoff contender.

Such a figure would also put Wieters as one of the worst pitch framing catchers in  baseball.  That has not been the general feeling about him though.  His footwork, blocking, and coverage have all been raved about.  His pitch framing has never been considered a strong point for him, but it has been considered largely average as opposed to horrific.  At this point, I think you would have to lean toward caution because it may well be that it takes a lot more than a few hundred miscalled pitches to determine a catcher’s skill at framing.

Regardless, it is something to continue following.

Data used for this post was collected from Brooks Baseball, managed by Lou Proctor at Camden Depot, and manipulated by Jon Shepherd.

* – This sentence was corrected from the original version.

Other Second-Base Options at Norfolk

Since last week's report on Jonathan Schoop, several things have happened. First, the Tides have played a week's worth of games against teams good (Buffalo) and bad (Syracuse). Second, the Orioles have continued their winning ways. Third, the Orioles' second basemen have continued to play poorly (it's probably not a good sign when your team's television commentators praise you for getting a bloop single, as the Orioles' did for Ryan Flaherty.) Because the Orioles are playing well, upgrading second base isn't urgent. But it's certainly possible that the lack of production at second base will start to cost the Orioles, and they'll look to Norfolk for a replacement.

As I wrote last week, it would probably be in the Orioles' best long-term interest to keep Jonathan Schoop at Norfolk for all of 2013. On the other hand, if the Orioles need a second baseman, and Schoop is the only option, then they'll have to bite the bullet, promote Schoop, and hope that he can pull a Manny Machado. There are two other options at Norfolk, both of whom are currently playing well and who are on the forty-man roster.

Danny Valencia has been the Tides' regular third baseman. He's been hitting very well, .288/.323/.508 through May 9. He's a better defensive third baseman than his numbers look; two of the errors he's been charged with were very borderline calls (the official scorer has admitted that he'd have changed one call if he'd been asked to.) He'll never walk a lot, but he's made consistent hard contact and four of his strikeouts were in the first three games of the season. If the Orioles get desperate at second base, the Orioles could recall Valencia to play third, and either move Manny Machado to second or Machado to short and J.J. Hardy to second.

I wouldn't do it, not because Valencia wouldn't be an improvement over the Orioles' second basemen but because the other moves cause problems. If you move Machado to second, you'll be teaching him a third position in two seasons. Second base is perhaps the hardest position to learn from a technical standpoint. I believe Machado's future is at shortstop; if you move him to second base, it'll be harder to move him back to short later. Moving both Hardy and Machado has the disadvantage of having two players learning new positions in the middle of the season. Recalling Valencia would be an absolute desperation move.

Yamaico Navarro has mostly been playing shortstop, and he's also seen time at second base. He's hitting .317/.405/.462, which is substantially better than he has hit in the past. Since Jonathan Schoop moved to second base, Navarro has been playing shortstop, and his throwing arm is amazing -- in the sense that almost every throw is a line drive to the first baseman's chest. Although he hasn't played a lot of second base in his career, he has played there some and would be better defensively than Jonathan Schoop. Interestingly, in the games I've seen he has neither walked nor struck out a lot; but that goes against his overall season numbers in which he's walked and struck out 15-20% of the time.

 If the Orioles did decide to promote either Valencia or Navarro to replace their second baseman, they'd be taking a risk. Both Valencia and Navarro are playing well, and are likely to regress to their average performance. On the other hand, their current second basemen are likely to progress to their average performance. Until the Orioles stop playing well, their best plan is probably to continue as they are and wait the expected improvement.