12 February 2013

Where Markakis Bats

I’m not a huge fan of endlessly discussing where hitters should be placed order-wise, but I do like to see guys at least slotted in about the right area in a lineup. Nick Markakis is one of the Orioles’ best hitters, and until last season he had primarily batted either second or third. Because of a couple of injuries he only played in 104 games last season, but he did get his first opportunity in the leadoff spot.

In 246 plate appearances batting first, Markakis put up the best numbers of his career. Let’s compare his leadoff numbers to the two other spots where he’s primarily batted.

Batting 1st: .335/.390/.489; 8.1 BB%; 5.7 K%; .337 BABIP (246 plate appearances)
Batting 2nd: .313/.384/.489; 10 BB%; 12.7 K%; .336 BABIP (1,340 plate appearances)
Batting 3rd: .281/.355/.438; 10 BB%; 14.6 K%; .310 BABIP (2,413 plate appearances)
Career: .295/.365/.455; 9.6 BB%; 13.5 K%; .322 BABIP (4,556 plate appearances)

Obviously his numbers batting second and third are better samples because of the larger amount of plate appearances. His leadoff numbers, besides the strikeout rate difference, are pretty similar to his numbers batting second. His on-base and slugging percentages are about the same, but he’s not striking out as much and is trading walks for hits (mostly singles).

Markakis, as you'd imagine, isn’t concerned about where he’s placed in the order:
"It wasn't any different (batting leadoff). Just another spot in the lineup. One thing that I could gain from it, I swung a little more. I was a little more free swinging. Somebody had to fill the spot. Glad I was successful at it. It doesn't matter where I bat. Guys (opponent pitchers) know who I am," he said.
He’s probably right. Markakis batted leadoff more as a need than anything, since there weren't many other good options. But it was interesting to see how much more effective he was out of the leadoff spot than hitting third last year.

Through May, Markakis batted third and in 225 plate appearances hit .256/.333/.452 (.339 wOBA) while walking about 10% of the time and striking out 16.4% of the time. After missing all of June with a wrist injury, he returned in mid-July and was placed in the leadoff spot. He stayed there until breaking his thumb in September and had a .378 wOBA in 246 plate appearances (see above). As shown, his walks took a slight dip, but he cut down on his strikeouts by more than 10%.

Markakis's apparent altered approach also led to a lot of line drives -- 28.7% out of the leadoff spot. For his career, his line drive percentage is 20.1%, but for the entire 2012 season he was at 26.8%, by far the highest of his career. Maybe this was something he was focused on, or maybe it's just an anomaly.

It's not a big sample size, and there's no guarantee Markakis bats leadoff again in 2013 or beyond, so who knows whether we'll get to see if his leadoff strategy is really that much different than what he regularly does at the plate. But it's interesting that he views the leadoff spot as a place to swing the bat more than usual. The leadoff hitter is typically viewed as someone who will take more pitches, draw some walks, and just get on base. But apparently Markakis is only worried about the third part, which is fine if it works, but maybe not completely sustainable. I couldn't locate plate discipline splits, but, interestingly enough, Markakis overall did swing the bat slightly less in 2012 (40.9%) than his career mark (41.1%). But he did make more contact on all pitches last year (91%) than throughout his career (88%). Maybe over a full season of batting leadoff the swing percentage numbers would be a little more skewed, though we probably won't get to see that.

Markakis did swing the bat more out of the leadoff spot, though. Despite having 21 more plate appearances out of the leadoff spot, he saw 50 fewer pitches. But he was definitely doing some damage when he did swing. His leadoff numbers were partly fueled by a .337 BABIP, but that's not that far out of line with his career mark (.322). I'd be concerned with fewer walks out of the leadoff spot in more leadoff at-bats, mostly because I doubt he'd be able to keep hitting the ball as hard and having as many hits drop in. I also doubt he'd be able to keep from striking out more, unless that was something he was trying hard to avoid.

Regardless, Markakis batting leadoff, even if he's not as effective as he was in 2012, is way better than handing out leadoff duties to hitters who are speedy runners but not very good hitters -- like Robert Andino or Endy Chavez last season. Nate McLouth and Nolan Reimold might be decent leadoff options, depending on match-ups, so Markakis may not be needed at that spot. But if he does get the opportunity again, it will be intriguing to see what his approach is.

10 February 2013

Arrivals and Departures (2/10/12)

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



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 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%
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.

Injury issues may be another concern with O'Day:


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
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).

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.



Options Remaining

* 3 2 1
Pitchers 



Jake Arrieta 
7/6/2012 O O
Luis Ayala 
X X X
Mike Belfiore 
O O O
Zach Britton 
7/9/2011 6/6/2012 O
Dylan Bundy  3/11/2012 O O O
Wei-Yin Chen 
| | |
Zach Clark 
O O O
Miguel Gonzalez 
O O O
Jason Hammel 
X X X
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
Todd Redmond
3/16/2009 3/18/2012 O
Pedro Strop 
3/10/2008 3/24/2010 5/4/2011
Chris Tillman 
3/30/2010 5/29/2011 3/31/2012
Tsuyoshi Wada 
X X X
Catchers 



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



Wilson Betemit 
X X X
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 
O O O
J.J. Hardy 
X X X
Manny Machado 
O O O
Yamaico Navarro 
3/17/2011 5/29/2012 O
Brian Roberts 
X X X
Jonathan Schoop 
O O O
Danny Valencia 
3/19/2010 5/9/2012 O
Outfielders 



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

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.

09 February 2013

Jair Jurrjens and Brian Matusz' Future

The Orioles have signed former Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens, who becomes the tenth realistic candidate for the Orioles' starting rotation. This depth is especially good news for one candidate, Brian Matusz. After a rapid rise to the major leagues and a promising debut, Matusz has struggled during the past two seasons. The Orioles' starting pitching depth may give Matusz a chance to get back on track without the pressure of being in a contending team's starting rotation.

To review, Matusz reached the major leagues in 2009, his first professional season. In 2010 he was in the Orioles' rotation the whole season, and pitched well, given that he was a pitcher in his second professional season and that the Orioles were a bad team. However, he missed the first two months of the 2011 season after he being injured in spring training. When he returned, he had one of the worst seasons ever by a pitcher — 12 starts, 49 2/3 innings, 1-9 record, and a 10.69 ERA. The Orioles hoped that his off-season was due to his injury, and he began 2012 in the Orioles' starting rotation. While his 2012 ERA was less than half of his 2011 ERA, that still wasn't very good, and he was sent down to Norfolk. Toward the end of the season, the addition of Joe Saunders settled the starting rotation somewhat. Matusz pitched out of the bullpen because the Orioles were hoping that he could help them as a left-handed spot relief pitcher.

Matusz has pitched for Norfolk in both 2011 and 2012 — he bypassed AAA on his initial surge to the big leagues — and I actually haven't seen Matusz pitch very often. I saw him make two starts at Norfolk in 2011, one during his rehab from the spring-training injury and one later in the season when he was trying to recapture his form. By chance, I didn't see him make a start at Norfolk in 2012, and I saw him make only two relief appearances.
The first 2011 game in which I saw Matusz pitch was his rehab start on May 27, against Columbus. Matusz pitched five innings plus two batters, giving up one run on four hits and one walk, with seven strikeouts. Although his line resulted in a game score of 61, he didn't pass the eye test. He fell behind eleven of the nineteen batters he faced and of his 84 pitches 28 were fouled off.

The second 2011 game in which I saw Matusz pitch was August 6, against Rochester, after he had struggled in Baltimore. Given a 7-0 lead after two innings, Matusz went seven, giving up one run on five hits and two walks, striking out 6. His game score was 67. Matusz pitched well, although it's hard to tell how much was Matusz and how much was Rochester giving up. When Norfolk took a 9-1 lead after the fifth inning, Matusz retired six straight Rochester batters in the sixth and seventh, using only 23 pitches.

The first 2012 game in which I saw Matusz pitch was August 15, against Gwinnett. Gwinnett's starting pitcher in that game was the newly-signed Oriole Jair Jurrjens, who left in the third inning with an injury. Matusz entered the game in the top of the seventh with a 5-0 lead. In the seventh, he struck out the side while allowing a run on a walk and two singles. In the eighth, he walked the leadoff batter on five pitches before retiring the next three batters on six pitches. In the ninth, he retired the first two batters, gave up a run on two singles and a double, and finally getting the third out on a fly ball to the warning track. By pitching three innings and preserving a lead, Matusz earned a save, becoming one of the fifteen Tides' pitchers to earn a save.

The second and final 2012 game in which I saw Matusz pitch was August 19, against Charlotte. Matusz entered the game with two out in the top of the seventh. The Orioles had a 4-2 lead, but Charlotte had runners on first and second. Matusz retired Jordan Danks on a fly ball. Matusz stayed in to pitch the eighth and surrendered the lead, on a walk, single, balk, wild pitch, and single. Zach Phillips relieved him with the score 4-4. Phillips got the last out of the eighth and then was credited with the win when Ryan Flaherty homered in the bottom of the inning.

Although he has been regarded as a top prospect, I haven't been very impressed with the games I've seen him pitch. Even when he's pitched well, he didn't have an overpowering fastball and his command was far from perfect. I still can't write Brian Matusz off; here's an example of where limited observations may be misleading. He was so good a prospect, and so promising in his first season-and-a-third, that I think there's still a good pitcher there. I am confident in saying that if he'll be a significant pitcher, it will be as a starting pitcher, and not as a closer. He's got starting pitcher stuff, not relief ace stuff.

And this is where Jair Jurrjens — and the rest of the Orioles starting pitchers — come in. With ten realistic candidates for the starting rotation, the Orioles will have the luxury of starting Matusz in the bullpen or in the Norfolk rotation. If Matusz does, in fact, have the ability to be a good pitcher, he'll have the chance to rebuild his confidence in low-pressure environments. If he does earn a spot in the Orioles bullpen, he can still mature into a good starting pitcher. There have been many successful starting pitchers, especially left-handed pitchers, who pitched in the bullpen for a time at the start of his career; Jimmy Key, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, and Darren Oliver are all examples. If Matusz is to have a successful pitching career, and the Orioles are to get something out of him, I think Matusz should pitch a season in the bullpen and get another shot at the rotation in 2014, or start the season in the Norfolk rotation.

08 February 2013

Arrivals and Departures (2/8/2013)

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 2/5/2013:

February 8, 2013 - Right-handed minor league pitcher Todd Redmond was claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds.  In a corresponding move, outfielder Trayvon Robinson was designated for assignment. 
Throughout his career, Todd Redmond has been a starting pitcher 200 times and a reliever 7.  However, his future most likely lies as a relief pitcher.  As a starter, he has a 90 mph fastball and an above average curve.  His change works well enough in the minors as a show me pitch, but likely is not good enough for him to work through lefties at the Major League level.  What gives some hope for his utility is that as a draft and follow in 2005, he had shown the ability to work up into the mid 90s.  That velocity decreased quickly with that, perhaps, due to shortened time between starts.  As a reliever, he may see his velocity return and he could be effective when placed in situations where he would face right handed batters.

Another benefit is that I am pretty sure he has an option remaining and can be moved back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk (options were used in 2009 and 2012; an option was used in 2010, but Redmond was outrighted after 10 days which should negate the option).  You may remember that I bring up shuttling quite frequently.  I don't think it is necessarily a great strategy.  Having players with excellent, unquestionable talent is preferable.  However, if you are filling out the fringes of your roster then it can be quite useful to employ players who can be moved back and forth based on the needs of the need and the aptitude of the player.  Someone with any options, like Trayvon Robinson, locks the team down into a situation where they have a marginal talent with little leverage in dealing the player due to being unable to send the player down and a reduced market of teams in need of an extra outfielder at the end of Spring Training.

Daniel Moroz brought up Trayvon Robinson earlier in the off season.  Basically, Robert Andino was a pretty bad second baseman in 2012 and he was not going to be on the team in 2013.  The Orioles acquiring Alexi Casilla made that intention relatively clear.  The team could really only manage dealing for another player who had little value as well.  Robinson can probably be best summed up as Xavier Avery with a little more power and no more options.  That simply is not a very valuable player, but one that is similar in value to Robert Andino.



Options Remaining

* 3 2 1
Pitchers 



Jake Arrieta 
7/6/2012 O O
Luis Ayala 
X X X
Mike Belfiore 
O O O
Zach Britton 
7/9/2011 6/6/2012 O
Dylan Bundy  3/11/2012 O O O
Wei-Yin Chen 
| | |
Zach Clark 
O O O
Miguel Gonzalez 
O O O
Jason Hammel 
X X X
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
Todd Redmond
3/16/2009 3/18/2012 O
Pedro Strop 
3/10/2008 3/24/2010 5/4/2011
Chris Tillman 
3/30/2010 5/29/2011 3/31/2012
Tsuyoshi Wada 
X X X
Catchers 



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



Wilson Betemit 
X X X
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 
O O O
J.J. Hardy 
X X X
Manny Machado 
O O O
Yamaico Navarro 
3/17/2011 5/29/2012 O
Brian Roberts 
X X X
Jonathan Schoop 
O O O
Danny Valencia 
3/19/2010 5/9/2012 O
Outfielders 



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

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.

2013 World Baseball Classic: USA

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 Previously, we reviewed Australia, Canada, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

The body of the United States article was written by Jeremy Strain.



United States
IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 2nd
2013 Pool Mexico

Italy

Canada
2013 Players of Note R.A. Dickey, SP

Ryan Vogelsong, SP

Joe Mauer, C

Adam Jones, OF

Giancarlo Stanton, OF


2009 Record 4 - 4, 4th
2009 All WBC Jimmy Rollins, SS


2006 Record 3 - 3, 2nd Round
2006 All WBC Derek Jeter, SS

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Baseball has often been referred to as “America’s Pastime” for generations, which makes sense because ball and bats games have had an impact in many communities.  As far back as 1791, there were local ordinances in the Northeast banning the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house was made.  Much of the early history of baseball was discussed on Camden Depot's book club over a year ago. Briefly, the game bounced around in various forms over the next hundred years.  The first team to play under modern rules were the New York Knickerbockers, which was a social club founded in 1845. By 1857, the New York area had grown to 16 clubs and founded an organization, the National Association of Base Ball Players to govern the sport and introduce a championship. With help from the Civil War, players all over the country were soon adopting these rules and ways as they were exposed to players from various states, who would then take them back to their home states and spread the game.

The next 50 years saw the end of open ball parks and the rise of the home run.  The American and National Leagues established themselves as the premier leagues with hundreds of minor teams in dozens of leagues at any one time playing across the country.  This includes Negro Leagues, whose members were barred from joining the American or National Leagues or any league aspiring as a feeder league or competitor.

The great innovator, Branch Rickey, truly brought baseball into the modern era.  He led the slow charge to develop better ways to measure talent in players.  He championed the use of on base percentage and isolated power.  He hired a statistician to be part of his front office.  He saw the benefit in an organization owning minor league teams to raise their own talent.  Rickey also saw utility in harmonizing the teaching in his system in what some fans around Baltimore call the Oriole Way.  Rickey also was the first to put money into developing a permanent Spring Training facility.  More importantly, he saved baseball from itself by forcing through desegregation by giving Jackie Robinson the opportunity to show that he belonged in Major League Baseball.  

Over the years, the American professional game has remained the strongest in the world.  Major League teams have aggressively set up academies in other countries to spread the game in hopes of finding elite players.  As of 2012, 71.6% of MLB rosters were American-born, while 52% of all minor league players were born in the US. While this number moves around a bit year to year, it has stayed within 3% for the past 4 years.

MLB is a game dominated by the US, however international competition has been more uneven with professional players preferring not to play for the national teams.  In Olympic play, minor league talent led the US to a gold in 2000 and a bronze in 2008.  The International Olympic Committee decided after China to drop the game altogether from Olympic play.

For the WBC, the United States saw participation from many major stars from the Major Leagues.  They did not place.  In 2009 a younger group of largely less accomplished finished 4th. USA also won a silver medal in the Pan American games in 2011 with a team full of minor league talent. The 2013 team features an interesting mix of youth and veteran leadership with the strength of the team in a mashing OF of Adam Jones, Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton. Other standouts such as David Wright, Mark Teixeira, and Joe Mauer join a pitching staff with some great relievers such as Craig Kimbrel, Luke Gregerson, and Chris Perez, but the weakness of the team for this season has to be the starting pitching. R.A. Dickey leads the staff, but young potential star Kris Medlen dropped out of the WBC leaving only Derek Holland as the other sound starter. Rumors have swirled this past week that Justin Verlander may consider playing for the USA which would be a HUGE gain to this squad’s chances this year.

USA will always continue to dominate the population of the sport housed within it’s borders, but part of that success has been the draw of foreign born players that would like to compete in the best league in the world. Players from various countries have been defecting or placing themselves for sale in order to get to the ML and compete against the best. With little league teams transitioning to travel teams, to high school teams and on to college before getting to the minor league systems, there is a pipeline of US talent constantly flowing, with only the cream of the crop ever making it to the Major Leagues. Players are being groomed for ML play from the first time they can hit off of a tee in the US, and while the sport has taken a hit in popularity over the years, it still produces thousands of ML hopefuls every year. With young talent showing an interest in representing the team, such as Stanton, Medlen, Jones, Braun, Kimbrel etc. it bodes well for other young talented players wanting to represent the country and keep the USA in contention each competition. Players such as Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Mike Moustakas and others lend a bright future to team USA potential, if they are willing to play.

07 February 2013

Earl Weaver and Batting Lineups: Weaver on Strategy

Previously on the Camden Depot Book Club, I remarked on a few items that Weaver addressed in his second chapter of the book, Weaver on Strategy.  That chapter addressed his thoughts on various aspects of offensive play.  This entry will address the next chapter.

Chapter 2 - The Lineup
Pushing the Right Buttons

A Perfect Order
Earl Weaver was a bit of a master clock maker.  He saw his role in setting his team up before each game and then letting them go.  A significant part of his determination of who to set out on the field came from his understanding of various metrics.  The following is his idea of who should slot in where in the line up:
Leadoff - "someone with a high on-base percentage...70 walks and a high batting average"
Second and Third - "have as many guys on base as possible when the number four hitter comes to bat"
Fourth - has enough power "to do some damage with men on base"
Fifth - "should have some power...so opposition cannot pitch around the number four hitter"
And he derides the use of the second hitter being a high contact bunt or hit-and-run player.  The concept of the first five players and how not to use a second hitter is actually very forward thinking.  It reemerged with the Oakland A's teams from the 2000s and has progressively made its way through a significant portion of Major League Baseball.

However, as much of a visionary Weaver was with the lineup, even the good people of Baltimore forget his lessons.  Last year with Nick Markakis going down, much was to be argued about the proper lineup order.  J.J. Hardy and his sub-300 OBP batting second 150 times last year.  That has to be one of the most anti-Weaverian displays last year.  Hardy is an old school perspective on second batters.

As interesting aside, I do not think I ever printed this before as I cannot seem to find it, but I once ran a regression on batting lineups of all 30 teams over a ten year period expanding from OBP and SLG value to include an improvised speed score based on Speed Score.  What I found amazing by the regression analysis was that speed came out as a negative trait for a lead off hitter.  This does not make intuitive sense at first look.  However, thinking more about it, the reason why speed was considered a hindrance according to the regression analysis was because managers tended to use speedy players at the top of the lineup while largely ignoring how well they actually get on base.  Speed is excellent, but not when the other tools overwhelm the utility of speed.

Numerical Narcosis
I think numbers can be a wonderful thing.  Ideas and concept sometimes become so elegant and lucid in their place when events are measured in the right ways.  It is what brought chemistry out of alchemy and advanced medicine away from barbers.  To understand how something works, why something works, it can be quite empowering.  However, it can lead one to overlook where current processes do not measure things as well as they measure other things.  I call this numerical narcosis or, more simply, being drunk on numbers.

Such perspectives run rampant in baseball circles where a little knowledge can make someone dangerous.  The Verducci Effect has evaporated into nothingness and likely will be forgotten in time.  That hypothesis came forward by squinting hard and seeing patterns where there really were none or at least none that could be so easily pinned to a change in innings.  Likewise, number crunching amateur players has eroded from the meager footholds that they held in Oakland and Toronto.  Psychological evaluations petered out in Baltimore.  Everyone looks for an in, everyone wants to believe that they can explain and measures things, which can lead to ignoring times where the approach fails.

This brings me back to Earl Weaver and his focus on a player's record against a pitcher.  He goes over sitting down and looking at a sheet of paper that yields information that ranges on 2 to 35 plate appearances with most below 20.  Somehow he thinks this is sufficient data to make decisions on who should play over general handedness data.  I would suggest that having one or two seasons of data points on handedness would be a much better predictor of future success than a few seasons of numbers against specific pitchers.  Although pitcher have some degree of unique value, the sheer difference in volume between the two datasets will likely leave handedness more useful than performance against specific pitchers.

The Extra 3% Lineup
On average, a team send a batter up to the plate 34 times in a game.  An idea Earl Weaver had was to sometimes write in outfielder Royle Stillman or first baseman Tom Chism at shortstop when the Orioles were the visitors.  After the top half of the inning, Mark Belanger would then come in and play the rest of the game.  This happened in 1978 and 1979 when Belanger hit 36 and 48 OPS+.  Weaver would only do this in September after the roster increased in size for fear that during the regular season a pinch hitter would be needed.

Last year, Robert Andino played in 127 games.  Let us assume that he started 60 of those on the road.  Just how many runs would replacing Andino with a bench player for that first at bat earn the Orioles?  If Steve Pearce and his 92 wRC+ batted leadoff in place of Robert Andino and his 61 wRC+ for those 60 at bats, the Orioles would have gained 2.3 runs over those 60 plate appearances.  That is roughly a quarter of a win.  If such a situation was carried out over 81 road games, that would be worth maybe a third of a win.  Trade in Steve Pearce for Nick Markakis and you would see a gain of about three quarters of a win for those 81 games.

Needless to say, I could understand doing this in situations where a player must sit, such as when Matt Wieters needs a day off.  If you have a player as poor at hitting as Andino in the lineup then, sure, as long as it does not mess with Andino's head too much...let Wieters lead off.  However, I assume these situations are few and far between.  They probably really frustrate the players, too.

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Next Chapter:
Pitching - The Game Within the Game