05 February 2013

Arrivals and Departures (2/5/2013)

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

40 Man Transactions since 1/7/2013:
February 5, 2013 - Corner infielder and corner outfielder Russ Canzler was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees with catcher Luis Martinez, claimed in December from the Texas Rangers, was designated for assignment.
When Luis Martinez was acquired, we suggested that he was a "kick the tires" sort of addition.  He profiled as a contact oriented hitter with good plate discipline and defense along with a paucity of power.  Martinez was also attractive because he had one option remaining.  However, time passed and the Orioles found a better 40th man in Russ Canzler.

Whereas Martinez provided additional depth at catcher, Luis Exposito already fulfills that role.  Canzler, on the other hand, can stand at first, third, left field, and right field.  He also has options (two) remaining, so he can be shuttled back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore as the need arises.  At first glance, one might think that Canzler would be an excellent solution as a DH against left handed batters with an MLB OPS split of .526/1.086, but that performance has been collected over 102 plate appearances in total.  In AAA, he has a split of .863/.866.  This suggests that Canzler's prowess against lefties at the MLB level is not what it seems to be.

Regardless, Russ Canzler is the new tire to be kicked.

Options Remaining

* 3 2 1

Jake Arrieta 
7/6/2012 O O
Luis Ayala 
Mike Belfiore 
Zach Britton 
7/9/2011 6/6/2012 O
Dylan Bundy  3/11/2012 O O O
Wei-Yin Chen 
| | |
Zach Clark 
Miguel Gonzalez 
Jason Hammel 
Tommy Hunter 
8/16/2008 4/1/2009 5/7/2012
Jim Johnson 
6/3/2006 3/12/2007 5/1/2010
Steve Johnson 
6/3/2012 O O
Brian Matusz  3/14/2009 6/30/2011 7/1/2012 O
TJ McFarland
1/5/1900 1/5/1900 5
Darren O'Day 
5/13/2008 O O
Troy Patton 
3/14/2009 3/15/2010 3/11/2011
Pedro Strop 
3/10/2008 3/24/2010 5/4/2011
Chris Tillman 
3/30/2010 5/29/2011 3/31/2012
Tsuyoshi Wada 

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

Wilson Betemit 
Russ Canzler
3/30/2012 O O
Alexi Casilla 
3/23/2007 3/14/2008 5/6/2009
Chris Davis 
7/6/2009 4/23/2010 3/29/2011
Ryan Flaherty 
J.J. Hardy 
Manny Machado 
Yamaico Navarro 
3/17/2011 5/29/2012 O
Brian Roberts 
Jonathan Schoop 
Danny Valencia 
3/19/2010 5/9/2012 O

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

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.

To Extend Matt Wieters or Not

Last year, the Orioles signed Adam Jones to a contract that made him the face of the organization through the 2018 season.  That 2018 season is the same final year in the contracts recently signed by Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter.  This has brought on some conversation about whether or not Matt Wieters should be engaged and make him part of the core for future Baltimore summers.

Matt Wieters, by the numbers:
2009 23 96 385 15 1 9 28 86 .288 .340 .412 96 1.4 1.2
2010 24 130 502 22 1 11 47 94 .249 .319 .377 90 2.4 2.3
2011 25 139 551 28 0 22 48 84 .262 .328 .450 110 5.0 4.8
2012 26 144 593 27 1 23 60 112 .249 .329 .435 107 4.1 3.2
4 Yrs 509 2031 92 3 65 183 376 .260 .328 .421 102 12.9 11.5
It is strange to think how a catcher with two first division seasons as a catcher could be viewed as a disappointment.  A not all that uncommon refrain is that the team should string Wieters out year-to-year because of his "poor" play.  I assume the reason why people think he has not performed well is because expectations were that he would be competent at performing defensive tasks, but be one of the best offensive hitters in baseball.  Visions of Mike Piazza were floating in the minds of many a fan and analyst.  As time as moved on, Wieters has shown himself to be an above average hitting catcher with excellent defense.  It arguably puts him into a top end of first division catchers along with Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Miguel Montero, and Carlos Ruiz.  Maybe Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz, as well.

These catchers are players who teams tend to lock up in long term deals.  To consider Wieters' play underwhelming or disappointing seems a bit to harsh for someone who is on par with the best catchers in baseball.  With that in mind, it is perfectly reasonable to explore a long term deal with him.  Top flight catchers rarely if ever reach the free agent market, so we are provided with several examples of what Wieters might cost with an extension.

Comparable Contracts
The Orioles have taken the tact that so few have when coming into possession of first division catcher.  Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and Yadier Molina were all signed to contracts to circumvent the arbitration process.  For Mauer and Molina, those contracts led to a second contract extension.  Russell Martin and Miguel Montero were taken year to year by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively, with Montero being the one who wound up with the long term contract.

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Mauer, potentially like Wieters, is a face of the franchise.  After his second full season, a season that was arguably MVP worthy, the Twins locked Mauer into a contract that would cover his arbitration years.  The deal was for 4 years and 40.3 MM (in 2013 value).  After a few more MVP level seasons, Mauer signed another extension for 8 years and 202.4 MM (in 2013 value).  It was an arguable contract signing at the time due to the amount of money being handed over to a catcher.  The idea was that even though a move off of catcher would be necessitated, Mauer hit well enough to be useful at first or left field.  Two seasons have passed by on the deal: a poor 2011 where Mauer experienced leg weakness and an elite 2012 where Mauer performed in line with his best seasons.

Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
In 2006, McCann had the offensive season that Baltimore fans had believed was there for Wieters to have.  McCann slashed 333/388/572 with a wRC+ of 142.  The Braves decided to reward McCann with a 7 year, 46.8 (in 2013 value) deal that bought out his arbitration years and two free agent years.  The contract has proved to be a great investment with problems surfacing only last year when he tore a labrum in his shoulder and suffered hamstring problems.  There was some talk about whether the Braves would take on the 2013 season (which was an option year).  He will likely not begin the year behind the plate.

Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
These past two seasons have been a major coming out party for Molina as he has now paired power with plate discipline and defense.  He is arguably the best catcher in baseball.  After the 2007 season, Molina showed himself as a great defensive catcher with some potential for being above average at getting on base.  That combination was good enough for the Cardinals to avoid the arbitration process and sign him to a 5 year extension worth 26.1 MM in 2013 value, which also bought him out of two free agent years.  In 2011 and 2012, Molina managed to double his isolated power, turning him from an above average catcher to a great one.  The Cardinals were impressed enough to sign him to a 6 year, 88 MM deal.

Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Montero's offensive game has some similarities to Wieters.  However, Montero's defense is roughly average.  The Diamondbacks, unsure with the uneven offensive game, decided to go year-to-year with Montero until he proved himself to them to engage in a long term contract.  2011 and 2012 saw an increase in offensive production along with improved defense led to a 5 year, 60 MM extension.  The difference between Montero and Wieters over the next five years is probably worth about two or three wins meaning a value of 10-15 MM.

Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates / New York Yankees
Martin showed good power, plate discipline, and defense when breaking into the Majors.  They decided to go year to year into arbitration.  Unfortunately for Martin, he began suffering a power outage at the plate as he became a league average hitting catcher.  The Dodgers, hurting for money under the previous regime, let go of Martin for nothing.  He wound up with the Yankees, who also went year to year.  The Yankees, also seemingly under a reduced cost mentality, let Martin go to the Pirates who signed him to a 2 year, 15 MM deal.  In my opinion, he is the most underrated free agent signing this past season.

Player Comparison Suggestion
With Wieters making 5.5 MM in 2013, we can assume that he will make 8.25 MM and 11 MM in 2014 and 2015, respectively (based on the 40/60/80 projection of arbitration salaries compared to free agent value).  In terms of contract value, I think Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina are the best comparisons here.  If Montero is worth 12 MM per year and Molina is worth 15 MM a year, we can project Wieters would have his contract value between those values.  This would result in a 5 year extension beginning in 2014 to cost between 55.25 MM to 64.25.  Would this be a good value?

Projected Performance
In order to predict Wieters' future offensive performance, I used the projected 50th percentile performance values from PECOTA and converted that to a Fangraphs WAR spectrum.  To project defense, I took Wieters' current regressed performance based on UZR and applied aging curves that Tom Tango developed.  Finally, I converted projected WAR to money using 5 MM/ win in 2013 and assuming a 5% increase each season.  For cost, I am using the assumed arbitration values from 2013 to 2015 with market value from 2016 onwards.

wOBA oWAR dWAR (f)WAR Value Cost Dif
2013 0.327 2.9 0.9 3.8 19.1 5.5 13.6
2014 0.327 3.0 0.9 3.9 20.2 8.3 11.9
2015 0.327 2.9 0.6 3.5 19.5 11.0 8.5
2016 0.326 2.9 0.3 3.2 18.4 15.0 3.4
2017 0.323 2.7 0 2.7 16.7 15.0 1.7
2018 0.319 2.5 0 2.5 16.1 15.0 1.1
2019 0.312 2.2 0 2.2 14.9 15.0 -0.1
2020 0.304 1.8 0 1.8 12.9 15.0 -2.1
2021 0.293 1.4 0 1.4 10.1 15.0 -4.9

Based on the table above, the Orioles look to have plus value in signing Wieters to a deal of upwards to a five year deal beginning in 2014 at a cost of 64.3 MM while bringing back 6.2 MM in value during the bought out free agent years.  That value will be negated if the contract is strung out to eight years at 109.3 MM.

Last year, we discussed Adam Jones' contract and how useful it was to sign him long term.  The issue with his deal is that Jones was signed to a fair long term deal that did not provide much in terms of savings for the Orioles.  The problem with that is that a mid to small market team really cannot afford to pay the going rate for talent.  These kinds of team need to get surplus value where they can in order to fill in talent where they are lacking.

With that in mind, I think it makes sense to secure Wieters through his age 32 season.  The bet here is that a five year, 64.3 MM extension would yield surplus value of about 6 MM.  More significantly, it also places a safe bet that Wieters may enjoy another breakout in the next couple years.  There has been some discussion that college catchers who quickly make the jump from the minors to the Majors wind up having their offensive maturation delay a couple seasons.  The data is not necessarily robust enough to make that conclusion, but it is a common thought that is bandied about.  If Wieters does improve, he does not need to improve much to start asking for 20 MM a year.  At that level, he would likely be a prohibitive commodity for the team.

04 February 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Puerto Rico

This is the second in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia and Cuba.

The body of the Puerto Rico article was written by Jon Shepherd.

Puerto Rico
IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 12th
2013 Pool Dominican Republic


2013 Players of Note Yadier Molina, C

Jose Molina, C

Carlos Beltran, OF

Alex Rios, OF

Angel Pagan, OF

2009 Record 4 - 2, Round 2

2009 All WBC Ivan Rodriguez, C

2006 Record 4 - 2, Round 2

2006 All WBC None

Proximity to the United States, its education and business interests, along with the establishment of the Monroe doctrine (the government’s expressed interest in restricting European interests in the Americas), was a major influence in the spread of baseball in the Caribbean.  The first wave of baseball was from Cubans going to college in the States and then them proselytizing the game to all the islands, Latin America, and the Northern shore of South America.  The second wave often consisted of the US Military establishing bases to secure their interests after the Spanish American war.  In the soldiers’ down time, they would often set up leagues and play against the local.

Puerto Rico’s experience with baseball began the same way.  Early disciples learned the game in the United States and tried to introduce it to the island.  However, it took about a decade before the first baseball clubs were created in the late 1890s.  Shortly thereafter, the island transferred from the Spaniards to the Americans who set up bases and established regular games as recreation to pass the time.  Over several decades, the game became more entrenched with lighter colored Puerto Ricans being picked up by various minor league teams.  The Negro Leagues also picked up players from time to time.

Hiram Bithorn was the first Puerto Rican to appear in the MLB game.  The Chicago Cubs, trying to stay competitive while dealing with a massive efflux of players due to World War II, signed Bithorn in 1941.  He was an ace pitcher in the Puerto Rican winter leagues and was also a manager.  Bithorn struggled his first year and then proceeded to dominate in 1943, going 18-12, 2.60 ERA, 7 shutouts, and 19 complete games.  He then enlisted in the military and served out until the end of the war.  Upon coming back 30 or 40 pounds heavier, Bithorn pitched poorly and retired in 1947 after developing a sore arm.  He was murdered by a policeman a few years later in Mexico as he tried to make a comeback in the Mexican leagues.  You may remember that the main stadium in Puerto Rico, where the Expos played in 2003 and 2004, is named Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Talent came out of Puerto in a slow trickle until the 1980s.  Roberto Clemente was the first Puerto Rican to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Orlando Cepeda being the second.  The 80s though saw a massive influx of talent coming to the US from the island.  Javy Lopez, Pudge Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada all came out at the same time and all have a good argument to be included in the Hall of Fame.  Roberto Alomar is already in.  Other late 80s talent finds included Bernie Williams, Juan Gonzalez, and Carlos Delgado.

Since then, talent has been trickling in again with Javier Vasquez, Carlos Beltran, and Yadier Molina establishing themselves as elite players.  Much of the concern over the reduction in talent has been placed at the feet of the 1991 decision to include Puerto Rico in the Rule 4 draft.  No longer could trainers and agent collect amateur talent and sell it to the highest MLB bidder.  Now, every team had a chance as long as they had a high enough draft choice.  The argument goes that with reduced money being handed out to players, that the system that was in place to develop these amateur players had no financial reason to exist anymore.  However, there is some argument to this.  Opposing points of view suggest that improved standards of live have pushed families to further educate their children instead of wishing on big money from baseball.  Others still simply suggest that the island simply has had a run of bad luck.

Below is a table showing how Puerto Rico compares in developing players who wind up in the Major Leagues.  I would interpret any player born before 1974 to be in the pre-draft era.  The 1974 to 1978 range would be players born in the time when the draft was instituted, but the island's talent likely still benefited from pre-draft infrastructure.  The 1979-1983 cohort would represent the group that most likely did not benefit much from the previous system.  I compared the country to the two other stalwarts in baseball player production, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, who are also in their starting pool in the 2013 WBC.
Born Puerto Rico Venezuela Dominican Republic
1954-58 16 5 26
1959-63 20 15 31
1964-68 32 18 57
1969-73 29 28 81
1974-78 39 47 108
1979-83 19 67 105

The interesting thing to me about the above table is how talent greatly increased from Venezuela from the 1969 to 1983 time period.  It may well be that other clubs began mining the country for talent after the Houston Astros showed so much proficiency there.  It may have also been a product of clubs deciding to reroute their scouting and training money from Puerto Rico to Venezuela.  It may also be the elimination of the trainer/agent system and the lack of a developed little league system.

MLB and other interests recognized after a decade of having Puerto Rico under the Rule 4 draft that something needed to be done.  In 2002, MLB had every team pay in money to support the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and High School.  It sounds more grand than it actually is.  A few years back, the Orioles established their own academy in the Dominican Republic, spending several million.  MLB hands over to the Puerto Rican Academy $400,000 a year.  The academy is a single building that acts as an academic setting and headquarters with its players being transported to fielded around the area to play.  The academy does not sufficient lands or funds to build their own complete training facilities.

However, it is still roughly productive with five players getting drafted and 40 being sent to the states for collegiate baseball per year.  According to my records, 61 players have gone from the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and High School directly to the professional ranks, starting with their first graduating class in 2004.  None have played a single Major League game, but there is some hope that the island's infrastructure for developing talent is improving.  Carlos Correa was drafted last year number one overall by the Houston Astros with MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo assessing that he was the 30th best prospect in baseball.  Correa definitely shows that top tier talent is capable of turning up in Puerto Rico, but it remains to be seen if the island can return to its former glory as a producer of baseball players.

Much of the island's reemergence will likely be related to how invested MLB is to creating infrastructure in Puerto Rico.  By having a laissez-faire attitude when the country was not under the Rule 4 draft allowed for the area to develop a more professional tone with weak youth leagues and strong trainer/agents.  Upon draft inclusion, the trainer/agents no longer could make serious money by selling off to the highest bidder and that profession crashed.  The youth leagues were underfunded and neglected to the point where they were not a suitable way to develop talent.  It can be argued that it is the populations' responsibility to invest in their own infrastructure if they want to produce top level baseball talent, but that should also be in MLB's interest as well to encourage the game in one of their strongest markets.

2013 World Baseball Classic Roster

In 2009, Puerto Rico's roster was populated with some of the old guard now gone, such as Javier Vazquez, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, and Bernie Williams.  Returning players include Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Alex Rios.  New significant additions are Jose Molina and Angel Pagan.  That leaves the impression that this WBC team has been historically an offensive powerhouse, which would be accurate.  It also suggests that some top level, aging talent is being replaced with lower level talent.  Jose Molina may in fact be the great defensive catcher in the past twenty years, but his utility may be minimized with Yadier on the club catching as well.  Angel Pagan is certainly better than 2009's Bernie Williams, but he truly is not an elite player.  Generally speaking, the team's offense is weaker than it was four years ago and it lacks an ace pitcher or, really, any pitchers of elite talent.  Anything can happen in a short series, but they will need things to break their way to get by Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

03 February 2013

Sunday Comics: Rest In Peace, Earl Williams

This isn't a good year if your name is Earl W. and you played for the Orioles. We've lost Mr. Williams this week, too, and to leukemia at that.

I'm from New Jersey and don't live too far away from Newark, where Williams was born, Montclair, where he went to high school, and Somerset, where he passed away. This one's a little personal for me.

We'll miss you, Earl.

02 February 2013

Thoughts on Jake Arrieta enterring 2013

This is an archived entry that initially appeared at Baltimore Sports and Life here.  Be sure to click that link and check out their articles and forums on all sports Baltimore.

Pyrite, iron sulfide, is known more commonly by the flashy name given to the mineral in those boxes of rocks at geological tourist traps, Fool’s Gold.  A pile of the mineral in its respective bin shines in comparison to the boxes next to it, full of opalite, galena, and gypsum.  The faint resemblance to gold and the dullness of the other minerals give it the appearance of importance.  However, this comparison is a bit unfair because the minerals in the other boxes are not random.  There are no boxes full of gold or platinum or diamonds.  In comparison to them, closer inspection leads one to assume that pyrite is worthless.  But, enough about rocks, lets discuss Jake Arrieta.

With the large stable of pitchers available for the Orioles, not much is dependent on Jake Arrieta pitching in a meaningful role for the team in 2013.  He was once a premier prospect in the Orioles organization with his advanced fastball and a promising curveball.  Once you reach that status of being a high ceiling prospect, a lot of dreams get placed on that arm and those dreams can be difficult to let go.  Those dreams appeared to be hiding underneath the surface last year as Jake cut his walks and increased his strikeouts.  He was a darling of those who are sabremetrically-inclined last year because his ERA was two and a half runs greater than his xFIP and SIERA (3.65 and 3.59, respectively).

The expectation from that point of view is that his future performance is more likely to be closer to the advanced pitching metrics than traditional ERA.  Briefly put, xFIP looks at events where the pitcher has complete control (strike outs, walks, and home runs) as well as conversion for park factors (e.g., Camden Yards is a little home run happy).  SIERA looks at how walks, strikeouts, ground balls, and fly balls characterize a pitcher.  These peripherals have been shown to be more predictive of future performance than simply using a descriptive statistic like ERA.

Anyway, the sabermetric perspective is one that says Arrieta was unlucky last year.  Much of his trouble came from him being hit incredibly hard, generating a high line drive percentage that was uncharacteristic of his career to date.  This initially appears to be a concern, but there has been little evidence showing that line drive percentage carries over from one year to the next.  That this poor performance has not be observed in seasons past, suggests that we should not expect it going forward.  Line drives, of course, are a major reason why xFIP and SIERA discount Arrieta’s ERA.  As they both shrug at line drives, line drives are very effective batted balls as 73%, on average, wind up as being base hits with a good many of them going for extra bases.  In comparison, 24% of groundballs work their way out of the infield for almost exclusively singles and 15% of fly balls hit the ground with some leading to extra bases, including a good number landing somewhere past the outfield fence.  Back to the point, these tools tend to say that we should be seeing a rather effective Jake Arrieta next year.

I agree, to an extent.  I think Arrieta was unlucky last season with batted balls and simple linear patterns of play development.  By that I mean, he tended to be quite unlucky for having bad events group together.  However, my view is tempered by a couple things.  One, as much as line drives are not predictable from one year to the next, I think that may not exactly be the case for Arrieta.  Last year, he pitched differently than in years past.  When falling behind in the count, Arrieta walked 18% of those batters which differed from 29% in 2011.  A major reason why his walk total decreased so much (thus, lowering his xFIP and SIERA) was that he became more aggressive with the hitters.  That resulted in hitters not really improving their OPS (974 vs 989), but a major difference in batting average (312 vs 261).  As you can imagine, a successful batted ball is more dangerous than a walk.
Second, I have long standing concerns about Arrieta’s ability to pitch to left handed batters.  This is not a new concern.  It is something that has been hanging on Arrieta for quite a while.  In our prospect previews over at Camden Depot, one of my major issues with Arrieta in the minors is that he has a horrible time putting left handers away.  His pitching strategy is basically getting into counts where he can effectively use his curveball, a pitch that is highly ineffective against the lefties he faces.  This results in the handed wOBA splits we see each year (2010- 389/276; 2011 – 373/316; 2012 – 359/295).  In other words, Arrieta consistently makes lefties look like a top 15 batter (e.g., Robinson Cano) and righties look like a bottom 15 batter (e.g., Jeff Francoeur).

That handed split is a major problem.  Teams can prepare for starters.  Last year, Arrieta faced a lefty 54% of the time, which is also about the same rate as fellow right handers Jason Hammel and Miguel Gonzalez.  The difference is that Hammel ate up lefties last year (262 wOBA) and MiGo was not too shabby as well (308 wOBA).  They both can handle the extra lefties, Arrieta cannot and has shown throughout his career that this is the case.  Teams will challenge Arrieta with lefties and he may decide to continue challenging them and get crushed.  Or, he may decide to nibble more like he used to, increase his walk rate, and being a serviceable fifth starter like he was.

To me, this situation is similar to pyrite, Fool’s Gold.  Among other minor leaguers, Arrieta looks impressive.  His stuff plays well and many of his troubles could be explained away with youth.  In the Major Leagues, those troubles have grown more visible and, with experience, it appears that his pitches are never going to be effective against left handed batters.  In other words, his value looked much more than it wound up being when you compared him side-by-side with genuinely valuable talent.  Similar to how unimpressive pyrite appears when sitting next to actual gold.

However, this perspective is unfair to both pyrite and Jake Arrieta.  Pyrite is very useful in the industrial manufacture of sulfuric acid and used in many applications.  Jake Arrieta is quite excellent at getting right handers out.  I imagine every pitcher would love the opportunity to face Jeff Francouer over and over and over again.  The value here is that Arrieta is truly a late inning relief arm.  He is a pitcher who can be slated into the 7th or 8th to cut down same handed batters while working around the left handers.  Yes, Jake Arrieta is pyrite and, for that, we should be thankful.