14 March 2014

Should the Orioles Have Gone Gonzo in the Offseason?

Here at the Depot we tend to write about the process and often struggle at elucidating a clear, succinct way to illustrate how characteristics of a club can affect what direction a franchise may choose to take.  At the end of a season, a team evaluates its players, its league, and determines what course to chart.  This may mean to invest more heavily on the youth side of things, put together a mid-flight team and hope for some luck, or even to go gonzo and invest all of your resources into the here and now.  The whole idea can expressed, as it often is, as a window.  Windows come is all different shapes and sizes and certainly some might be more preferable than others.  Likewise, competitive baseball can take quite a few paths to lead to the same result.  That said, I wanted to try to simplify things.

What I focused on are two variables: success and youth.  For success, I decided that the previous season's Pythagorean Win Expectation was a sufficiently robust metric that could be easily viewed at the end of a season.  For youth, I choose to sum up all 25 and under players who had at least 2 bWAR, players whose rookie status expired but were on the previous season's top 100 prospect ranking list, and a weighted expectation of top 100 prospects to become at least league average players.  That last component was calculated using Matt Perez' recent work on prospect outcome probability.  Additionally, when I put this graphic together, I only had Baseball Prospectus' top 100 list (I ignored the 101st player), so I used that over Baseball America's even though the probabilities that Perez devised were done for Baseball America's list.  Eh, we are dealing with approximates and a process discussion here, so I think it does not matter. 

The result is this:

Note that the above graph looks suspiciously like the thought exercised by a recent article in...I cannot remember.  Maybe Beyond the Box Score or Grant Brisbee, I cannot remember at all.  Anyway, I took a more quantitative perspective, but this kind of evaluation is loose enough that being quantitative does not necessarily mean being more accurate.

UPDATE--Thanks to one of our astute readers, the article I am referring to is indeed one by Grant Brisbee.  You can read that one here. There are some differences of note.  For instance, the method we used classifies Boston as a not young team while Brisbee's suggests that they actually are.  Most teams appear to fall is the same places.

Where a team wants to be is up and to the right.  The graphic above suggests that the two strongest teams in baseball are the Cardinals and the Braves.  The Cardinals' competitiveness puts them in the elite class and they trend younger.  The Braves' appear both elite in competitiveness as well as in youth.  The success they have had with their youth has recently been in the news with the many contract extensions they have been handing out to their 25 year old and younger talent.  It must be great to be a fan in Atlanta with all of that potential in place.

What is also interesting is that you have teams like the Athletics who have a roster that is not spry, but is also not expensive.  However, it is also competitive.  This shows their uncanny knack of late for finding older prospects and players who are useful major leaguers, but have not been put in roles to maximize their success.  Flipping on the x-axis, you have a team like the Phillies who are both old and were not very good last year.  Placement in the bottom left is not a death sentence though, health and major cash influxes can help alleviate some of the pain.  Ask the Yankees.  They have made many a playoff run based on experienced players.

But what about the Orioles?
The Orioles are pretty much a middle of the pack team, which means they need a wise hand guiding them or some luck shine their way in order to sustain their recent success.  They are competitive, but not exceptionally so.  They have youth, but not in any exceptional abundance.  They teeter on the threshold, which that graph probably did not need to tell you.  It is a reason why the discussion of playoff windows is so often mentioned with this team.  A team in the middle can easily wobble either way.  When November dawned upon the Orioles, they really had two major paths to travel down (with many variations):
  1. Go all in, maximize payroll, and improve probability of a meaningful playoff run within this window.
  2. Be shrewd, protect amateur influx, and avoid potential albatross like long-term contracts.
Path one would have been fun, exhilarating, and full of wonderful risk.  It is what the Blue Jays tried to do last season.  For them, unfortunately, it did not work out.  Path two would have been frustrating, but somewhat understandable given the payroll this club works with.  Having so many players in their upper 20s and in arbitration takes up a lot of space on a club.

What we have seen though is the team using both strategies.  Signing Ubaldo Jimenez and, to a lesser extent, Nelson Cruz were those all in, maximize immediate value moves.  He is not really an exceptional pitcher, but he is a good mid-rotation arm on a playoff team.  Cruz is not an exceptional hitter, but he does provide some positive value with the bat.  Better high end moves probably would have meant double the cost expenditure in securing talent like Robinson Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, Shin Soo Choo, or Jacoby Ellsbury.  Regardless, Jimenez and Cruz cost the team a first round pick and a second round pick, respectively.  This probably dings the youth outcome by about a third of a player assuming the Orioles would have selected a top 100 talent this year like they did last year in Hunter Harvey.

The second path saw implementation a few times this off season.  The team refused to pay Nate McLouth 5 MM a year, so they managed to take a spare part and deal it for David Lough who might be capable of doing what McLouth did, but for 4.5 MM less.  The club opened up payroll by dealing out Jim Johnson.  The club also is trying to make some shrewd acquisitions in picking up a player like Suk-min Yoon, a player that no other MLB club values as highly as the Orioles.

With this in mind, I am not exactly sure what the long term plans of this club actually are.  They certainly are pushing the payroll hard in order to put forward the best team possible.  However, that best team possible was achieved by having money leftover to pick up the scraps at the free agent table.  The results were fine, but the process looks miserable. Additionally, one could argue that better foresight would have included a plan to better beef up their offense.  Players like Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, and JJ Hardy are getting older or might well be departing.  The farm system is filled with pitching talent, but is a bit thin on positional talent.  This summer is not going to provide a great opportunity to acquire hitting.  Maybe this means that these players will eventually be sent off to beef up that talent or maybe the minor league pitching will be used to accomplish that.

Below is the table used to construct the graph above:

Youth Expected Prospect Performance 25 and under 2013 Pyth
Arizona 5.07 1.07 4 80
Atlanta 7.56 0.56 7 98
Baltimore 3.77 1.77 2 85
Boston 1.82 1.82 0 100
Cubs 3.21 2.21 1 71
ChiSox 5.47 0.47 5 67
Cincinatti 4.91 0.91 4 93
Cleveland 1.79 0.79 1 90
Colorado 5.38 1.38 4 76
Detroit 2.3 0.30 2 99
Houston 4.81 1.81 3 57
Kansas City 4.07 2.07 2 87
LAD 4.16 1.16 3 89
LAAA 1 0.00 1 81
Miami 5.56 0.56 5 64
Milwaukee 4 0.00 4 76
Minnesota 4.37 2.37 2 63
NYM 4.17 1.17 3 74
NYY 0.26 0.26 0 79
Oakland 1.49 0.49 1 96
Philadelphia 1.51 0.51 1 66
Pittsburgh 4.12 2.12 2 88
San Diego 2.02 1.02 1 72
San Francisco 2.3 0.30 2 74
Seattle 6.03 1.03 5 67
St. Louis 4.21 1.21 3 101
Tampa 5.32 0.32 5 87
Texas 4.9 1.90 3 92
Toronto 1.81 0.81 1 77
Washington 5 1.00 4 84

Average 3.75

St Dev 1.74


Here is the graph from the Brisbee article:


Triple R said...

I believe this (http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/2/10/5398424/baseball-windows-contending) is the article to which you were referring.

B.J. Rassam said...

Baltimore is looking stocked at many positions; they should be able to push some of the more elite teams in the AL.