24 July 2017

Minor League Defensive Shifts

Joe Reisel's Archives

It's been several years that defensive shifts - generally considered to be three infielders on one side of second base, as opposed to the standard two - have become more mainstream in the major leagues. Once reserved for use against the most extreme power hitters, it's now commonly used against any left-handed hitter who is not known as a slap hitter and against many right-handed power hitters. But it's only been the past three seasons or so that the practice has spread to the AAA minor-league level. Indeed, over the past three years Baseball Info Solutions has asked its scorers to record whether the batter has been shifted against.

Although different organizations employ defensive shifts at the AAA level with much more variety than at the major-league level, there is some consensus. Against the Norfolk Tides' Pedro Alvarez, almost every team plays three infielders between first and second, with one player positioned several yards out in the outfield. This should be completely unsurprising, as Alvarez has a long track record. The consensus is that he pulls almost all of the ground balls he hits, and he is not a fast runner. From a competitive standpoint, it makes no sense to station a defensive player where a ball won't be hit. Most of the AAA International League teams I've seen, including the Tides, will shift against Alvarez-like players.

On the other hand, the Charlotte Knights - the Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate - don't shift at all. Even against Pedro Alvarez, their shortstops stayed on the left side of second base. While that makes no sense from a competitive standpoint, it might make sense from a development standpoint. Yoan Moncada, the Knights' second baseman (until he was recently promoted), is a young potential star and the White Sox may not want to complicate his development by incorporating defensive shifts. Or, they may want their shortstops to demonstrate their range more effectively by stationing him further away from where balls are likely to be hit.

But Charlotte's lack of shifting against the Tides isn't interesting. More interesting is the team at the other end of the spectrum, the Durham Bulls. The Bulls are the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, a team historically at the forefront of the new wave of defensive shifting. The Bulls shift against Pedro Alvarez, as most teams do. They shift against David Washington, a similar although less extreme player; many teams employ a shift against him. But Durham also shifted against Johnny Giavotella, a right-handed hitting singles hitter, and Drew Dosch, a left-handed hitter making his AAA debut at age 25.

These shifts were generally successful; in the press box we commented and discussed how effective they were. It then struck me that this successful defensive positioning reveals something about the Tampa organization. Unlike the other organizations with teams in the International League, the Rays knew the offensive tendencies of Giavotella and Dosch. While the Rays may have assembled a dossier on Giavotella from his major-league time in the American League, they cared enough to pass that information down to Durham. And, because the Rays' A, Advanced A, and AA teams are in leagues different from the Orioles', they couldn't have personally seen Dosch play and so relied on their scouts or video for their information.

To me, at least, this illustrates that the Rays, as a organization, focus on gathering and disseminating information.. They care enough to collect data even on marginal prospects like Drew Dosch. Presumably, they care enough to tell the Durham field management to shift against unusual candidates like Dosch and Johnny Giavotella; at least, they encourage Durham to employ such shifts. The Rays organization is willing to explore non-standard methods to win more games.

And this information-gathering is cheap. The data-gathering and video review would be done by interns or entry-level employees. The information can be sent for free via email. It's unlikely to be substantially more expensive to hire minor-league managers and coaches open to new uses of information than those who are more resistant. There may be advantages to having players used to shifting at the minor-league level, rather than learning at the major-league level.

All of this is speculation and opinion; I don't know if any of what I've seen makes a difference or if my conclusions are valid. I do know that I'll be more interested in the Rays over the next few years than I would have been without having seen Durham shift so frequently.

21 July 2017

Caleb Joseph Has Recovered Nicely

At the plate, Caleb Joseph was about as bad as you could be last season. It was a painful year for him, and it's unknown exactly how much of an effect the injury had on his performance. So far this season, there are two noteworthy items for Joseph. First, he's healthy. And second, he's hitting extremely well for a backup catcher.

Joseph already has 21 more plate appearances than last year, so let's take a look at his 2016 vs. 2017:

2016: 141 PA, 6 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR
2017: 162 PA, 108 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR

Out of all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Joseph's 108 wRC+ is tied for 12th. Welington Castillo is 24th with a 91 wRC+. And, just for fun, Matt Wieters (71 wRC+) is tied for 40th out of 52.

Yes, as it's worth pointing out again, Joseph had a wRC+ of 6 last year. Six!!! And, notably, he didn't drive in a single run. It was an anomaly, it didn't make sense, and it was kind of funny (not to Joseph, of course).

So what's new for Joseph this year? Let's dig a little deeper. First, it's hard to ignore his BABIP increase of 164 points from last year to this year. Right now, Joseph has a BABIP of .385. You don't need me to tell you that isn't likely to stay so high. Still, if anyone was due some better fortune, it was probably Joseph. It also helps that he's hitting the ball harder (32.5 Hard% in 2017 vs. 21.7% in 2016).

And not only is Joseph hitting the ball harder, but he's pulling it more as well. Just take a look at his spray heatmaps in 2016 vs. 2017, courtesy of Baseball Savant:

Spray Heatmap for 2016

Spray Heatmap for 2017

That's less of an up-the-middle/opposite-field approach and a lot more pulled baseballs that are hit with increased authority.

Joseph has talked about having more confidence and putting in extra work, and things are going well for him right now. In all likelihood, with a BABIP regression, Joseph is closer to the range of 71-87 wRC+ he posted in 2014 and 2015. That may not be amazing, but when accounting for his pitch-framing skills, that makes a more-than-useful catcher, let alone one that's being used in a backup role. And, obviously, the dreadful 6 wRC+ season seems very much like a fluke.

Joseph is clearly the superior pitch-framer to Castillo, and he's currently performing better with the bat as well. Joseph's rebound has been one of the bright spots of a difficult O's season, and he's a major reason why the O's would be just fine if they're able to find a taker for Castillo and his 2018 player option (which may be no small feat).

20 July 2017

The End Of Round One At The Appellate Court

The latest chapter in the MASN saga was written on Thursday, when the appellate court released a decision about the latest set of appeals. As a refresher, back in 2012, MASN and the Nationals attempted to agree upon fair rights fees for 2012-2016. Using the Bortz methodology, MASN proposed that fair rights fees for the 5 year period was $198 Million. The Nationals, based on models built by Chris Bevilacqua, felt that fair rights fees were $590 million over the 5 year period. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement, so they requested that the RSDC decide.

MLB decided that it was in the interests of all parties for MASN, the Nationals and the Orioles to come to an agreement instead of the RSDC mandating a solution, so they did their best to buy time until it became clear that the two sides would not come to an agreement. When MLB did decide to release the RSDCs solution in 2014, MASN felt that they didn’t receive a fair hearing from the RSDC and appealed this decision in court. Judge Marks ruled in November 2015 that the RSDC decision was indeed unfair and should be vacated but that the RSDC was a possible venue to re-arbitrate this case. Both the Orioles and the Nationals appealed this court ruling and on Thursday, the appellate court ruled on this set of appeals.

The first decision they made was a unanimous decision that the original RSDC decision should be vacated. The second decision they made is that the appropriate venue to re-arbitrate the case is the RSDC by a margin of 3-2. A party is only allowed to appeal a decision that was agreed upon by three judges, so MASN is able to appeal the decision that the RSDC is the appropriate venue to make a decision about rights fees, but the Nationals are unable to appeal the decision to vacate the RSDCs original decision.

The only permanent consequence of this latest ruling by the appellate court is that the RSDCs original decision can’t be reinstated and that the only remaining discussion is which venue will re-arbitrate the case. The Nationals and MLB want the RSDC to be that venue while MASN and the Orioles want an independent forum such as the AAA to be that venue. However, the Nationals feel that this court ruling suggests that the full appellate court will decide that the appropriate venue to hear this case is the RSDC and not an independent venue.

The concurring opinion decided that the RSDC is the appropriate venue because there is no proof that the current members of the RSDC are biased against MASN or the Orioles and that the Nationals have agreed to use different representation in this rehearing.  They further claimed that all the parties made an educated decision to use the RSDC as the arbitrating venue in the original contract, despite knowing the fact that MLB has significant influence over the RSDCs decision.

The authors were not sympathetic to MASNs claim that the $25 million that MLB paid the Nationals will bias the RSDCs decision against MASN. They believe that this $25 million payment gave the parties more time to come to a mutually agreeable decision about rights fees and MLB had good intentions when making the loan. Therefore, they felt it would not be right to punish MLB for making this loan by saying that it would give MLB a stake in the decision and motivate them to bias the new members on the RSDC to make an unfair decision against MASN.

Finally, the authors also felt that there was no guarantee that arbitrators selected by the AAA could also be free of all bias. All arbitrators would be required to have expertise in professional sports and broadcast fees. Such experts may well not be independent of MLB and therefore this could mean that even independent arbitrators wouldn’t solve the problem.

The minority dissenting opinion, issued by the Chief Justice, stated that this case should be re-arbitrated in a different forum because the RSDC will be biased due to MLBs interest in the case. Unlike the concurring opinion issued by a plurality, this opinion feels that the court has the right to change an agreed upon venue if “the forum is shown to be so corrupt or biased as to undermine the reasonable expectations of the parties to have a fundamentally fair hearing”. He believes that MASN is correct to suspect that they won’t receive a fundamentally fair hearing in part due to MLB’s apparent lack of fairness at the first hearing, MLBs direct monetary stake in the case of $25M, evidence that MLB is supporting the Nationals and actively opposing MASN, and evidence of the current Commissioner's personal involvement in the prior arbitration, including the drafting of the vacated award, and his publicly stated views about the dispute.

Ultimately, the primary point that this case will hinge upon is the connection between the members of the RSDC and MLB. The majority of judges that decided not to send this case to a different venue did so because they aren’t convinced that the current set of members of the RSDC are biased and therefore feel that MASN can receive a fair arbitration hearing in this venue. The two judges that disagreed did so because they felt that MLB is able to bias the RSDC. MASN will need to convince the members of the court that the RSDC is vulnerable to pressure from MLB. In general, courts don’t like to change the terms in a contract unless there are extraordinary events that compel them to do so.

MASN should probably point out some inconsistencies in the concurring opinion’s argument. For example, the concurring opinion argues that MASN was well aware that the RSDC is significantly influenced by MLB. It further argues that MASN decided to waive the opportunity to mediate this dispute in front of the AAA or JAMS, electing to have this dispute heard in front of the RSDC and that the only reason why MASN has changed its mind is because they’re unhappy with the decision the RSDC made the first time.

Such an argument seems unreasonable. It is more plausible that MASN was perfectly willing to submit to the RSDC for arbitration until they and MLB went through a process in which MASNs concerns were completely ignored, and the whole arbitration hearing itself was ultimately thrown out for evident partiality. Given that few arbitration results are thrown out for evident partiality, it seems unreasonable to presume that MASN could have predicted the lengths that MLB would go to in order to receive its desired result. Certainly, this case would have been resolved by now if the first hearing was fairly run.

It is interesting that the Nationals put out a press release stating that they won a major legal victory when the court ruled that the case should be reheard in front of the RSDC instead of a different venue. Yet, the alternative to this was having the case heard in front of an independent arbitrator such as the AAA. Certainly, the AAA can’t be accused of being biased for MASN or the Orioles. If MASNs request isn’t fair, then the AAA will decide a different amount. So, if the Nationals think that they won a huge legal victory by having this case reheard by the RSDC, it perhaps suggests that they think that they’ll have an unfair advantage in this forum.

This becomes more evident when one considers that the RSDC originally determined that the fair rights fees should be closer to what MASN suggested than what the Nationals requested. If the Nationals felt that their request was credible, then they should hope to have their case heard in front of a different forum. The fact that they think that having this case heard in a forum that offered them less than what they requested is a “major legal victory” suggests that they know something about the forum that isn’t public knowledge.

One might think that this point is largely irrelevant to the overall picture. After all, the case will hinge on whether the appellate court thinks the arbitrators can judge this case fairly. However, the dissenting opinion did mention that the commissioners’ public statements were a reason why they decided that the RSDC wasn’t a proper forum for this case. It very well could be that unwise comments will convince the court to rule one way or another.

MASN and the Orioles are expected to appeal the decision by the appellate court to have this case judged by the same venue. In addition, it is possible that the Nationals and MLB will attempt to force MASN to submit to another arbitration in front of the RSDC.

Thursday’s decision had the potential to have a significant impact on the MASN dispute by determining where the second ruling will take place. A decision decisively in favor of one of the parties would have gone a long way towards bringing this dispute to its ultimate end. Instead, the appellate court was unable to come to a decisive decision and therefore this case will go for a second round at the appellate court.

19 July 2017

As Wade Miley Falls into the Abyss, Should O's Should Let Him Go?

At the halfway point, the Orioles were in a fix for starting pitching.  Feel free to copy that onto your clipboard for any retrospective application to the Duquette dynasty, a bit before, and likely into the perceptible future.  The Orioles always have seemed to be in a bit of a quandary when it comes to the rotation.  Even in 2014, the first half's rotation was a bit squirrelly with collective memory bronzing the dominant second half collective sub-2.50 performance delivered by Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen.  Gausman and Norris back filled sun-4.00 ERAs as well.  Those indeed were the salad days.

Last year was not that.  Last year saw some struggle.  Of course, those struggles look pretty cheerful now with a rotation that is currently the worst in franchise history.  Anyway, the club spent all of July looking for another starting pitcher and wound up looking at Wade Miley.  It would be the second "proven veteran" for "journeyman minor leaguer" the Orioles and Mariners arranged for the 2016 season.  The first one sent Twitter aficionado and Arrieta trade return Steve Clevenger for 1B/DH/?RF? Mark Trumbo.  That one worked out pretty well for the Orioles.  This second one with aged Cuban prospect Ariel Miranda for better-on-paper Wade Miley has been much more uneven.

Better-on-paper is a good way to describe Wade Miley.  He gets ground balls, he strikes out batters, and allows few walks.  However, what the Red Sox and Mariners found out was that he also tends to have problems elevating his pitches.  It could make him homer prone at times.  Also, the recent trend to try to uppercut pitches is not as well spread a thing as the media would have you believe, but it is enough of a trend to drastically impact pitchers who heavily really on sinking action.  A pitcher like Wade Miley, who employs heavily a good but not great sinker, is often presenting a pitch on the same plane as a batter who is trying to uppercut the ball.  His career home runs per fly ball norm of around 10% jump to 16% last year and now sits at 20% this year.  League norm is around 10%.  This has been somewhat devastating to Miley.

In turn, it has made Miley more skittish around the plate.  Longer innings and longer fly balls have turned into a sky rocketing walk rate.  In part, this walk rate has been negatively impacted by Welington Castillo's pitch framing butchery, but that does not seem to explain all of it.  Regardless, the home run rate and walk rate have sputtered a solid, if unspectacular, four slot pitcher into a fringey more back end arm.

This October, the Orioles will be staring at a choice.  Should they pick up Miley's option for a final year at 12 MM or should they pay him 500k to depart.  Miley appears to be a degrading commodity.  Two heavy analytical groups (Boston and Seattle) quickly gave up on an arm typically appreciated by more analytical types.  I wondered what exactly would my BORAS model think of Miley now.  Last year, the BORAS model once again nailed pitching contracts (though, admittedly it was terrible at position players unlike previous seasons where the model did well for both).  Last year, the model saw Miley as a 3/36 player if he was on the free agent pile last year.  Now? It pegs him as a 2/16 player.

What I want to use BORAS for though is to compare what pitchers are similar to the 11.5 MM cost of Miley and also who does BORAS consider similar to Miley's 8 MM projection.  First, BORAS thought no one would see a one year contract above 7.1 MM (Francisco Liriano).  To expand that to two years just to have some names to throw around: CC Sabathia (11.1 MM), Scott Feldman (10.7 MM), and Clayton Richard (10 MM).  Those three are older pitchers, who have performed about average recently.  Does it make sense to lock in a second year for one of those pitchers at the same cost?  I would argue no.  I think Miley is just as likely to put up a 2 WAR season as any of those guys, especially Feldman or Richard.

So what level of performance does BORAS think Miley is at?  Similar pitchers would be Yovani Gallardo (2/14), Tyson Ross (2/13), Liriano (7.1), and Hector Santiago (2/11).  All of these pitchers fit the same mold, two years ago they were pretty decent.  They are the inverse of Feldman and Richard.  And this is where the conversation gets interesting.  Is Miley worth a 3 MM premium on his services or do you role the dice on two lesser projected arm like Brett Anderson (1/6), Derek Holland (1/5), Miguel Gonzalez (1/6) or Chris Tillman (1/5.5).

In the end, my considerations are this: Miley is a one year contract for a player who is healthy, has shown an uncharacteristic walk rate, and whose alternatives are not clear improvements or represent big savings.  Two rough seasons in a row is not a good look.  It is concerning.  However, this club has few options in the starting rotation.  Sinking in similar money for a long contract FA option like Marco Estrada (3/34) or Andrew Cashner (3/38) seems to be poorer options.  Going with Mike Wright or Tyler Wilson also seems to be inadvisable.

So, picking up Wade Miley's option looks like the best of poor options.  He is young.  He has pitched well before.  It is only a one year endeavor at this point and looks similar to the 1/10.5 contract the Rangers inked Cashner to before this season.  Those attributes might push Miley up to a similar deal given how thin starting pitching options are almost every year.

Below are the current BORAS contract projections (7/18):

   Age     Yr        Total
Yu Darvish 31 6 118
Jason Vargas 35 4 80
Jake Arrieta 32 3 45
Alex Cobb 30 4 53
Lance Lynn 31 3 42
Jaime Garcia 31 3 42
Trevor Cahill 30 3 47
Tyler Chatwood 28 4 57
Andrew Cashner 31 3 38
Marco Estrada 34 3 35
CC Sabathia 37 2 25
Scott Feldman 35 2 22
Clayton Richard 34 2 22
Jhoulys Chacin 30 3 28
Jeremy Hellickson 31 3 31
Yovani Gallardo 32 2 14
Wade Miley 31 2 16
Tyson Ross 31 2 13
Francisco Liriano 34 1 7
Hector Santiago 30 2 11
Miguel Gonzalez 34 1 6
Brett Anderson 30 1 6
Derek Holland 31 1 5
Chris Tillman 30 1 6

18 July 2017

Orioles Can't Hit Breaking Pitches To Save Their Lives

On the third of April, Mark Trumbo kicked off the 2017 Orioles’ season in dramatic fashion: a walk-off home run in extra innings.  The Birds were undefeated and Eutaw Street was euphoric.  Ah, the good old days.

On the fourth of April, I wrote a column about Mr. Trumbo, warning that his struggles against breaking pitches might ultimately undo his murderous-prowess against straight stuff. 

Well, that malaise seems to have caught on with the whole club.  On Sunday, that ineptitude was on display against the Chicago Cubs and their shiny-new toy, Jose Quintana.  In his debut, Quintana made short work of the Orioles, fanning twelve in seven innings of work. 

The Orioles seemed particularly befuddled by the Colombian lefty’s curveball.  They swung at 46% of such offerings, but whiffed nearly a third of those instances.  It’s not an isolated incident, either. 

Breaking pitches have been a bugaboo for the Orioles’ batters, all season.  In fact, they’re probably better off NOT swinging at them at all.  Here’s how some of the Orioles’ mainstays have fared against curveballs, thus far:

Trouble With The Curve 
  • Seth Smith (31.92% Whiff/Swing, .190 BAA, .066 ISO)
  • Manny Machado (32.34% Whiff/Swing, .213 BAA, .142 ISO)
  • Mark Trumbo (36.46% Whiff/Swing, .212 BAA, .182 ISO)
  • Welington Castillo (37.00% Whiff/Swing, .220 BAA, .093 ISO)
  • Adam Jones (37.58% Whiff/Swing, .260 BAA, .156 ISO)
  • Jonathan Schoop (37.66% Whiff/Swing, .215 BAA, .199 ISO)
  • Trey Mancini (41.89% Whiff/Swing, .206 BAA, .000 ISO)
  • Chris Davis (43.91% Whiff/Swing, .187 BAA, .170 ISO)

Even the world’s best hitters aren’t expected to hit the moon against some of the nastier offerings MLB pitchers have to offer.  As Barry Bonds once said, “If you make your pitch, you can get me out.” 

The Orioles’ line-up is heavy on sluggers, waiting for a bit of dead-red heat to jack into the stratosphere.  The result: as a club, they rank in the “top” ten in baseball for strikeouts, and are in the bottom five for walks.  The approach sorely needs some refinement. 

Of course, it’s easy for someone like me to sit back and tell them they should sit on pitches.  However, if the Orioles can temper their aggression a bit – and lay off a few pitches that end in the dirt – maybe they can start working some counts in their favor and stop striking out so darn much.   

17 July 2017

Does a Trade Market for Manny Machado Even Exist at the 2017 Trade Deadline?

Following a sweep at the hands of the Cubs and losing 8 of their last 10 games, the Orioles pretty much find themselves out of the playoff race. They are tied for last place in the AL East and sit 8.5 games from first. The wild card position(s) are essentially lost as well, as the team is behind by 6 games, with the additional daunting task of having to pass 6 teams currently in front of them to grab that second spot. Fangraphs gives the Orioles a 2.8% chance of them making the playoffs in any form. The only teams in the American League with a smaller chance are the Athletics and White Sox.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Orioles are preparing for what a lot of us had already believed.

Manny Machado (photo via Keith Allison)
The Orioles could go a number of directions as they start selling of pieces, and Camden Depot has looked at several players who could (and should) be traded at the deadline already. Of course, the biggest asset the Orioles have to trade is Manny Machado. A trade of Machado would be the best way to inject some life into the Orioles somewhat barren (but likely slightly improved) minor league system. But is there even a market for Machado at the 2017 trade deadline?

AL East

Machado would actually be a good fit for the Yankees or Red Sox, as they both have a glaring need for him and they would have the needed prospects to get him. The Rays could use him at shortstop, but … you know what I am just going to stop myself there because a trade of Machado within the AL East is just not happening.

AL Central

In the AL Central, Machado doesn’t represent an upgrade at SS or 3B for Cleveland, so they’re out. The Twins are in contention, have the prospects/players to make a deal, but probably won’t want to part with the necessary pieces to get Machado as they are very early in their rebuild and playing over their heads. The Royals could use an upgrade at SS, but probably don’t have the players (in the minors or on the major league team) to make a deal work.

AL West

The Astros would be a good fit for Machado, and Matt and Jon worked together to come up with a possible package that would likely get a deal done a couple of weeks ago. The problem is since the Astros already have the division locked up (and are REALLY good already), they don’t NEED Machado and may not be willing to give up a big package for him as a result. The Mariners and Rangers aren’t good fits, seeing as they’re on the edge of contention and also have pretty good players locked in to both the SS and 3B positions.

NL East

The Nationals don’t have a spot for Machado, and have other more glaring needs to fill (which they may have just done). The rest of the division is terrible.

NL Central

The teams in the NL Central don’t appear to be fits either. The Cubs infield is already full and they need pitching. The Brewers are in a similar spot as the Twins (they are early in their rebuild). Additionally, third baseman Travis Shaw has been a more than a full win better than Machado in 2017, and shortstop Orlando Arcia is playing better lately as well, so it’s arguable that the 2017 version of Manny Machado wouldn’t even be an upgrade. The Cardinals could use Machado, but their 2017 playoff odds aren’t too great either, so they are unlikely to make that deal.

NL West

In the NL West, there are no contending teams where Machado would be an upgrade at 3B. The Diamondbacks and Rockies could use him at SS, however, they are clearly out of the division race and would probably balk at giving up a substantial package of players for Machado, only for the opportunity to reach the wild card game.


So, was this article a futile exercise? Absolutely! I don’t believe the Orioles will be trading Manny Machado at the 2017 trade deadline, and word on the street (according to Ken Rosenthal) is that the Orioles aren’t even considering it. However, even if they were, the market for Machado this year just doesn’t appear to be there (it obviously hasn’t helped that he’s having a down year). The best fits are in the AL East, which as stated before, is not happening. Houston is probably the most realistic destination, but they’re roster is so good (and incredibly deep), that they don’t need him (they also should be focused on pitching instead). The market for Machado just isn’t there at the 2017 deadline, so even if they Orioles would want to trade him, they’d be better off waiting until the offseason.

14 July 2017

Orioles Face Crucial Decisions On Manny Machado And Zach Britton

Are you expecting the Orioles to make any major splashes around the trade deadline? I'm not. I can't see the Orioles throwing in the towel even if they're within striking distance of a playoff spot, and I don't believe they'll trade away Manny Machado. Perhaps the Orioles could move Zach Britton, since they've shown a willingness in the past to trade away an expensive closer (Jim Johnson). But that deal also happened in the offseason and involved a less talented pitcher.

I wouldn't hesitate to trade Britton for a lucrative haul of prospects, but there are worse things than not giving up on the rest of 2017 and 2018. The 2017 version of the Orioles (42-46, -78 run differential) is underwhelming, but if you squint hard enough, you can see how they could return to their winning ways next season. These are their scheduled free agents of note:

Ubaldo Jimenez
Chris Tillman
Seth Smith
Hyun Soo Kim
Ryan Flaherty

J.J. Hardy has a $14 million club option ($2 million buyout), Wade Miley has a $12 million club option ($500,000 buyout), and Welington Castillo has a $7 million player option (you know, completely different than an opt-out clause).

Are you that worried about losing those players? You shouldn't be. Maybe you would be if the production levels for Hardy and Tillman hadn't dropped off precipitously this season, but, well, they did.

Unfortunately, even if the Orioles bring Miley back next season, they'll still need to add a couple of starting pitchers, along with a shortstop (or at least someone to play second base, shortstop, or third base if they juggle infield positioning) and a corner outfielder or two (and that's just the bare minimum). That's not the easiest thing to do with about $30 or $40 million to spend, depending on payroll.

Regardless of roster construction, there are major decisions that must be made. What happens with Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette? Like Machado, their contracts expire after 2018. It would be less than ideal for Duquette to be the one shaping the future of the O's if he's not in the organization's long-term plans. Showalter's best fit is in the dugout, and any potential shift to the front office would mean the O's need a new manager and still leave plenty of questions. Who knows at this point what Showalter even wants. With Duquette, we've seen that he has a desire to move on, at least for a higher-ranking position.

As good as Britton is, the real issue is how all of this affects Machado. Maybe Peter Angelos and co. intend to let him play out his deal before throwing everything they have at him to entice him to stay. That would be pretty similar to what happened with Chris Davis (so much deferred money!), except Machado could very well be headed for a contract worth twice as much or more. Extending Machado in the offseason would be wonderful, but he's so close to free agency that there's essentially no chance of that happening. So how much faith do you have in the Orioles outspending MLB's richest teams for one of the game's best players?

You get why ownership would want to wait, both because they want to hold on to any chance of competing and Duquette's and Showalter's statuses are unclear. Orioles ownership is also seemingly opposed to taking the necessary steps to implement a full rebuild, so clinging to even minuscule playoff chances might seem more enticing than having no real plan and just hoping things work out for the best.

Waiting, though, is fine sometimes, and it might look even better because of Machado's offensive struggles and Britton's recent return from injury. But no matter what, these are decisions that could lengthen the time between this current run of competitiveness and the next one. An Orioles team without Machado is not as exciting, but there still would be a path to success. Letting him play out his contract and then having him walk for nothing not only leaves a crater in the infield, but also in the minors where an influx of talent could help immensely.

These are not easy decisions. These are crucial decisions that will shape the Orioles for years to come. It's hard not to think this is a lose-lose situation. You can faintly see a path to success in all this, but you wouldn't count on it. Kind of like the 2017 Orioles.

13 July 2017

Should The Orioles Trade For Maikel Franco?

Like it or lump it, the Orioles consider themselves buyers. It appears that they want to take advantage of the next two years before they need to decide which free agents they want to keep. So, the Orioles should be interested in the rumor that the Phillies have made Maikel Franco available. Canfardo argues that Franco has had a poor season, hitting .227 with eight homers and 36 RBIs and his game has really gone downhill after showing so much promise last season when he hit 25 homers and knocked in 88 runs. CSN Philly has also heard that Franco is available, but the price will be high. The Orioles have received minimal production from shortstop, and this is probably Hardy’s last year with the club. Should the Orioles consider trading for Franco and moving Machado to shortstop?

The Philadelphia Daily News had an article last month suggesting that Franco should be demoted to AAA because he’s unable to recognize pitches. He argues that Franco is so strong that he’s able to make contact with horrible pitches, but isn’t able to do much with them and that Franco has a strikeout problem. According to Heyman, the Phillies think that Franco has suffered because he’s paid too much attention to analytics and is focusing overly much on exit velocity and launch angle.

There’s no question that Franco is struggling, as he has only a .220/.277/.389 line so far this season. However, his problem isn’t with his walk and strikeout rate. A walk rate of 7.3% is perfectly respectable, especially when he has a strikeout rate of only 13.4%. Franco is swinging at 71% of pitches in the strike zone, good for 25th out of 165 batters while swinging at only 26% of pitches out of the strike zone, good for 96th out of 165. It doesn’t seem like his problem is pitch recognition and its false to suggest that he has a strikeout problem.

Where he has struggled this season is when he puts the ball into play. Franco only has a .307 wOBA when putting pitches into play this season, good for 159th out of 165 batters. He ranks 155th out of 165 batters when putting pitches in the strike zone into play this season, suggesting that his struggles aren’t due to swinging at bad pitches. He’s simply showing an inability to do damage.

Statcast tells a better story. According to Statcast, Franco only has a .300 wOBA when putting pitches into play this season, but should have a .326 wOBA. If he did have a .326 wOBA against pitches in play, it would improve his performance from a .289 wOBA to a .310 wOBA. League average is .321, so such an improvement would take him from bad to merely below average. This makes him a slightly more attractive trade option.

This is considerably worse than his numbers in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Franco had an actual wOBA when putting pitches into play of .396 and an expected wOBA of .369. A .396 wOBA in such situations would give him an overall wOBA of .365 while a wOBA of .369 in these situations would give him an overall wOBA of .344. If he could replicate either of these stats, he would be at minimum above average. Having a wOBA of .365 would make him a star, although that’s probably unrealistic to expect.

In 2016, Franco had an actual wOBA when putting pitches into play of .354 and an expected wOBA of .364. In both 2015 and 2016, his expected results were pretty similar even if there was variation in his actual results. In addition, having a wOBA of .365 when putting pitches into play would make Franco a successful hitter. He would have a .340 wOBA if he had results similar to his expected results and a .333 wOBA if he had results similar to his actual results. Either would be perfectly respectable for a third baseman eligible for arbitration that isn’t yet in his prime.

However, his 2017 numbers are significantly worse. A look at his production based on distance groups shows the reason why.

Franco has a similar percentage from 2015 to 2017 of the type of pitches he puts into play. 70-75 percent of pitches that he puts into play are in the first two categories, which is acceptable. The problem is that he’s struggling against pitches that are more than half a foot away from the center of the plate. This suggests that he’s having issues with his range and that his problems in 2017 could be real. If he’s only able to do damage on pitches that are close to the center of the plate, then pitchers will be able to destroy him by throwing pitches that are still strikes but farther away from the plate. Such a strategy will force him to swing at fewer pitches and make it difficult for him to do any damage offensively. If so, one would expect his strikeout rate to increase significantly. In addition, looking at his actual production versus his expected production makes the case for him look even grimmer.

Franco is doing especially worse than expected against pitches that aren’t close to the strike zone. This could suggest poor luck, or it could suggest that he’s vulnerable to shifting and that his results shouldn’t be expected to improve. It could also suggest that he is focusing overly much on velocity and launch angle and that is impacting his range.

This problem really should define how one judges Franco. If one thinks that this range problem is a fluke, then he probably should be considered an above average hitter. Given his average defense at third base, this probably makes him somewhere between a 2 and 2.5 win player. He’s 24 right now, and will likely be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two next year. This means he’s under team control for the next four and a half years or for a good chunk of his prime. If he improves during his prime, he’d be able to contribute nine surplus wins. If one valued him this highly, then it would take a few prospects in addition to Sisco to make a deal.

On the other hand, if one thinks that this isn’t a fluke, then Franco is probably a below average hitter. If he continues to degrade in this regard, then he’ll quickly become nothing more than a platoon bat against left handed pitching. In such a case, his value would be close to zero.

I'm not fully sure what this means and would want a scout's opinion before making a definite statement. But I would think that this is a worrisome sign, and would lower my valuation of Franco accordingly. Going forward, I would project him to be an average batter and maybe worth 1.5 fWAR per year for the next four years. This wouldn’t make him a star by any means, but it would allow him to be an acceptable regular until he reaches free agency. It is likely that the Phillies are hoping is value is higher.

Franco is a very high risk trade option. Unless the Phillies are in love with one of the Orioles prospects or they’ve actually given up on Franco, there’s too much uncertainty to make a deal. I'd pass.

12 July 2017

What Having the Best Record Over 5 Years Earns You

As many know, the Orioles have been the winningest team in the American League over the last 5 seasons. This sounds like an accomplishment! If nothing else, it means that the team was consistently good. Despite this fact sounding like praise, it has always struck me as being both meaningless (a 5 season window of time is arbitrary), a sign of good luck (no MLB-level young arms were blown out), and irrelevant (so what?).

For some reason, the below tweet sent by this site's proprietor felt like something that needed to be addressed:

I agree with the sentiment. It's difficult to complain about a GM that has steered the team if not into ultimate success, at least toward consistent competency. Considering the 20 years of Orioles baseball that took place prior to Duquette's leadership, that can be considered a positive.

At the same time, being the winningest team over the span of 5 years strikes me as a hollow victory. It may mean that the team was consistently good, but was it consistency or quality that led to the accomplishment? I'm not advocating for the removal of Duquette by saying he did nothing, but I am questioning whether this marker of success is really all that important in the first place.

So I started digging, and generated a list of the winningest teams over rolling 5 year spans from 1997-2016. If you're not a fan of the Yankees, consider yourself warned for what you're about to see:
The first thing I notice when I see this list is that the Orioles have the fewest wins among all winningest teams over a rolling 5 year period. That's not necessarily an indicator of being somehow less worthy of the claim. The AL, and the East specifically, could be more competitive now than it was over the previous decade, making it more difficult to dominate over 5 years and more likely that the winningest team simply avoided disastrous seasons. One the other hand, this potentially points more to consistency being the key to the Orioles' 5-year run than quality of play. As in, the Orioles never dominated, but they never disappeared from the conversation either. "He was around," is more of a statement than a compliment, in my opinion.

But the Orioles were the winningest team over the last 5 years, a feat that we can't take away from them. So what does that earn them? Clearly not a World Series win, and not even a World Series appearance. How common is that?

Among the 32 distinct (I'm treating them a such but obviously many of these teams carry rosters and recent postseason accomplishments over year to year) teams to claim the status of the winningest team over the last 5 years, six failed to make a World Series at some point in their 5-year reign. Only four teams made three or fewer postseason appearances over their 5-year roll without also reaching a World Series. Only three teams made two appearances without a World Series outside of a Wild Card loss (which is hardly a postseason appearance): the 2011-2015 Yankees, the 2009-2013 Braves, and the 2012-2016 Orioles.

In my opinion, this makes being the winningest team over a 5 year span more impressive: most teams that claim the accomplishment also claim at the very least a World Series appearance, and 18 have at least one World Series title in that 5-year period. It also makes the Orioles' inability to get deeper into the postseason more frustrating. Based on recent history, a 5-year run as the winningest team in the league should mean that they run into more postseason success by virtue of trying relatively frequently.

This gets back to the whether this accomplishment is driven by consistency or quality, and starts to look more like the Orioles were either very unlucky or riding a wave of consistency without the added benefit of being really good.

Is that a knock on Duquette? Not particularly. Duquette has done a great job of filling out the roster and not resting when he hits on an unheralded player. He's added marginal wins wherever possible, and that's the job of a GM that has a competitive team - which the Orioles ostensibly did. He did not win a World Series with this team, likely because the team, while consistent, was never a head and shoulders above the competition.

Is the status of winningest team over the last 5 years noteworthy? Sure, maybe moreso than I thought. However, I don't know that I'd be bragging about it if I failed to turn it into any really notable postseason appearances.

11 July 2017

Playing Deep Helps and Hurts Jones

There was a lot of talk about Adam Jones' defense this past off season.  Adam Jones talked about it.  Dan Duquette talked about it.  Or, maybe like me, you were in a DC bar next to a guy who works in the Orioles front office who decided to be very vocal about his feelings about Adam Jones' defense.  Needless to say, there was a lot of talk and that talk basically boiled down to this:
1. Adam Jones plays so shallow that he allows what should be catchable balls go for doubles.
2. Those doubles are more costly than all the singles and extra bases Jones prevents by playing shallow.
3. The gist being that a baserunner on second from a double needs one hit to score while a baserunner on first needs two hits to score.

Anyway, the publicly available models on defense are a bit split on how this has gone over the first third of the season.  Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) pegs Jones as a plus one run player so far this year, which would extrapolate to about a plus two run player at season's end.  That would differ from expectation by only three runs.  UZR has him at negative five runs, which would be a negative ten run player at season's end.  It would equal his worst season according to that metric.  That other season was last year.

2014-16 1279 262 (.922) -1 2.3
2017(x) 664.2 145 (.922) -1 2.3
2017(a) 664.2 143 (.911) 1 -5

To varying extents, the underlying data for each metric points toward the same story.  The play value informs you that he is getting to about the same number of balls that he has gotten to in the past.  UZR underlying metrics however show a projected improvement of six runs in his range.  What you can surmise is that by moving back, Jones may be getting to just as many balls as he has in the recent past, but those balls were a higher value hit.  In other words, Jones is losing short singles to hitters, but extinguishing more damaging doubles to hitters.

However, that jump of over a half win in improvement through range in UZR is offset by an equal decrease in the value of Jones' arm.  The narrative follows that by playing deeper, Jones is killing doubles, but on those pesky short singles the baserunners are moving more freely.  Jones still has a good arm, but it is more difficult to throw guys out when you have to run an extra ten to fifteen feet get grab that groundball or Texas League fly.

Event Single Double Flyout

1st 2nd 1st 2nd
2014-16 67% 27% 34% 60%
2017(a) 66% 20% 36% 45%

The numbers play out the story that Jones' arm is not strong enough to deal with the added depth to his position.  It largely is not a role in keeping players to second on a single, but when the runner is on second, it is about 35% more difficult for Jones to prevent the runner from successfully running home.  Though more difficult to read into due to positioning differences, but Jones has also had a more difficult time preventing men on second advancing on flyouts.  Those two together would constitute a increase of three runs given up.  Obviously, that is not the whole story determined by DRS, but it sure is a major aspect of it.

With only a half of season of data to look at, this is not a comprehensive analysis.  However, it is not nothing.  One would hope that if you kick and scream and push a player out of his preferred way of playing the game that we would see pretty sizable differences in performance.  On the team scale, this outfield is considerably better defensive than last year.  The metrics would suggest an improvement of three to five runs over a whole season on defensive performance alone in the outfield.  It may well be that playing Jones deeper along with marginal improvements in corner outfield defense (pretty much just Seth Smith) has result in better play for the whole, which is lost on the individual play of Jones.

So, maybe it does work.  Right field defense is projected to be two wins better.  Left field defense is projected to be a win better.  Maybe a deeper Jones helps them fill the gaps.  Or maybe not.

10 July 2017

He Hasn't Done Nothing

Joe Reisel's Archives

If you really want to hear my views, Adam Brett Walker has done very little. Photo by Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.
If you have followed the Depot for a while - at least since the past offseason - you may remember a series of articles and comment threads upon the merits of one Adam Brett Walker. To sum up his rather eventful offseason, he ended 2016 in the Twins' organization; was claimed on waivers by the Brewers on November 18; was claimed on waivers by the Orioles on December 2; and, finally, was claimed on waivers by the Braves on January 26. To be candid, I was disappointed that he left the Orioles organization, because he would likely have played at Norfolk and I would have liked to see him at Norfolk. Walker hits home runs, and even though he would strike out a lot I would have enjoyed seeing him hit home runs. With every at-bat, there was the chance to see something amazing.

Walker began the season with Atlanta's AAA team in Gwinnett, and was - in a word - terrible. I saw him DH in two games at Norfolk, and he went 0-for-8 with a sacrifice fly. In the second of those games, Gwinnett scored 15 runs on 17 hits and Walker's only positive contribution was that sacrifice fly - although I should point out that he was robbed of a hit by Alex Castellanos and David Washington on a hard ground ball to third. Walker's tenure in Gwinnett wasn't much more successful - .128/.205/.282 - and he continued to struggle when demoted to AA - .122/.182/.388. The Braves released him on May 9, and the Orioles - always in need of high-level minor-league roster filler - signed him on May 12. Assigned to the hitter's haven of Bowie, Walker produced at a .426/.449/1.364 clip in 12 games before being promoted to Norfolk on June 26.

Norfolk began an eight-game homestand on the 26th, and I worked five of those games. In the last of the games, July 3, Walker did not play. I will review his at-bats of the other four games:

July 27 vs. Louisville, 2nd inning - against Amir Garrett, Walker got ahead 3-0; took a called strike; and fouled a pitch off. On the 3-2 pitch, Walker hit a comebacker to the mound. Louisville didn't play the ball very well and only got a force at second instead of an inning-ending double play.

4th inning - with runners on first and second and one out, Garrett struck Walker out on three pitches (swinging, called, swinging.)

6th inning - trailing 7-0, with Chris Johnson on first and two outs, Walker deposited a towering fly ball into the Norfolk bullpen in right field. Walker's home run was overshadowed by the temper tantrum Amir Garrett threw, as he began berating home plate umpire Blake Carnahan even before Walker finished circling the bases. (We speculated that Garrett was upset that the previous borderline pitch was called a ball rather than a strike. Or that Garrett, knowing he was going to be relieved, wanted to go out with a bang.)

8th inning, against Lisalverto Bonilla - with two outs and nobody on, with Norfolk down 7-4, Walker flew out to center field on a 1-2 pitch.

June 28 vs. Louisville, 2nd inning - against Robert Stephenson, Walker swung and missed at two pitches; took two balls, and then grounded out 5-3.

5th inning - after Stephenson struck out David Washington in an eight-pitch at-bat, Walker took three straight called strikes.

7th inning - Washington hit a two-run, two-out home run off Stephenson. On the next pitch, Walker hit a hard ground ball to short and was retired 6-3.

8th inning - With the score tied at three, Ismael Guillon gave up a single to Pedro Alvarez, then struck out Chris Johnson and Washington. Walker took a ball, swung and missed, took another ball, swung and missed, and fouled a pitch off. He then swung and missed at strike three.

June 30 vs. Durham, 1st inning - with two outs and runners on first and second, Walker hit into a 6-4 fielder's choice on a 2-2 pitch by Ryan Yarbrough.

3rd inning - With two outs and a runner on first, Walker flew out to center on Yarbrough's 1-2 pitch.

6th inning - With one out, Walker grounded out to third on the first pitch from Yarbrough.

9th inning - Again with one out, Walker grounded out to second on an 0-1 pitch, this time facing Andrew Kittredge.

July 2 vs. Durham, 2nd inning - against Yonny Chirinos, Walker grounded out 5-3 on a 2-0 pitch.

4th inning - after Pedro Alvarez homered over the right field party deck, Walker swung and missed at Chirinos' 1-2 pitch.

6th inning - Walker swung and missed at a 1-2 pitch as Chirinos struck out the side, fanning Chris Johnson, Alvarez, and Walker.

8th inning - Off left-handed relief pitcher Jose Alvarado, Walker struck out, swinging, on yet another 1-2 pitch, this time with the bases loaded and two outs.

I emphasize that I am in no way claiming that the Depot was "right" in our offseason thinking about Walker. I know that these are only sixteen plate appearances. And it's possible that he has been better than this on the Tides' recent road trip - I confess that I don't follow the Tides closely when they are on the road.

But I was hoping that Adam Brett Walker would provide some spectacular home runs, some memorable moments that my friends and I would talk about during rain delays for years to come. I suppose indirectly he did that - I'm sure we'll remember Amir Garrett's display of temper, which may have been triggered by Walker's home run. On the whole, however, I've so far been disappointed in Adam Brett Walker. He hasn't done nothing - but he has done very little.

05 July 2017

The Orioles and Blowouts

It's not just your imagination: the Orioles are getting blown out a lot. So far this season, the Orioles have had losses of 5 or more runs 15 times, good for 18% of their total games played. More disturbingly, though, is that fact that 11 of those losses have come since June 1, meaning that the Orioles have gotten blown out in a whopping 35% of games in the last month. That, unsurprisingly, coincides with their long and painful skid to a sub-.500 record and increasingly bleak playoff chances.

For context, while 15 total blowout losses isn't horrendous by MLB standards this season, with the average team getting blown out about 12 times, it is the worst mark in the division. Toronto has 13 such losses, Boston 11, Tampa Bay 10, and the Yankees an impressive 6. The O's also have the fourth most blowout losses in the American League, trailing only Minnesota, Oakland, and Kansas City.

The trend looks even worse, however, when you look at recent history for the club itself. The 18% blowout mark would represent the worst such season since 2010, in which the team suffered blowouts in 19% of its games.

Year Blowouts % of Total Games
2017 15 18
2016 21 13
2015 20 12.5
2014 15 11
2013 11 7
2012 23 14
2011 28 17
2010 31 19

While it is not necessarily the case that getting blown out in a high number of games means that a team will miss the playoffs (they all count the same, after all), it is certainly illustrative of the overall problems that the Orioles are facing. The pitching staff has largely imploded over the past month, and even the formerly stalwart offensive attack has been mediocre at best. Blowouts are also surely psychologically difficult to deal with and tax an already depleted bullpen. 

The best teams in baseball, simply, do not get blown out very often. This is perhaps an obvious point, but the Orioles are still hanging onto playoff hopes as we head into the break. Strangely, 4 of the top 5 most blown out teams in the AL are within 2 games of the second wild card and the overall mediocrity in the AL means that it is possible that the O's can survive the recent rash of blowouts. Still, maybe a couple closer games wouldn't be the worst? 

04 July 2017

Why McDowell?

Every year, the pure genius of Seinfeld slips further and further from the beating pulse of popular culture.  The once-iconic sitcom is in the danger zone of being relegated to Andy Griffith-status, for those 25 and under.  

Sure, the scenery and technology may not have aged well, but the simple genius driving Larry David's program about nothing still kills it, for those who are willing to dive back into a world of beepers, it brought us gems like this.

The man with the mustache is, of course, the unforgettable Keith Hernandez.  And, in the “flashback”, that is Roger McDowell: the real spitter *spoiler alert*.  And, yes, that is the same McDowell who currently presides over the burning garbage of the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching staff. 

Right now, poor McDowell must feel that he’s trapped on the barge of some hellish sitcom, awaiting cancellation. 

In the latest episode, Wade Miley starred as “shellacked individual number four."  It took him 67 1.2 innings pitched, with 7 hits, 2 walks and 7 earned runs on just 67 pitches.  All that was missing was the canned laughter. 

It takes a special kind of efficiency to achieve such rotten results in such a short period of time.  Anyone who can read the back of Miley’s baseball card knows that such dastardly deeds are his specialty.

Sure, every now and then, he’ll pull a gem from the clutches of his rear end.  Those who believe those short bursts of success to be anything more than a sun-kissed mirage have been drinking too much of Dan Duquette’s kool-aid. 

The Orioles have just weathered a horrific month of June.  The ineptitude included an AL-record, 20-straight games allowing five or more runs.

The carnage totaled 186 runs allowed.  The last time a Baltimore pitching staff allowed that many enemy runners to cross the plate was during George W.’s second term.  In September 2007, Daniel Cabrera and company allowed an astounding 202 runs. 

Before that, you had to go all the way back to June 1987 (186 runs allowed) to find a month so horrid. 

I stopped my runs research there.  After all, there’s something uncomfortably-morbid about poking around these stats – like reading bar tab statements of an alcoholic.

On the bright side, while the ‘87 Orioles went 5-23 in that month, their 2017 counterparts went 12-16, so it could be worse, right?

Moral victories won’t do much to save McDowell’s job, however, should the losses continue to mount.  Baltimore, under Buck Showalter’s direction, has certainly not been reticent to make changes at pitching coach.  In fact, McDowell is the sixth man to assume that responsibility since Showalter took over. 

Fair or not, hitting and pitching coaches usually get the ax when a club is under-performing.  And, under-performing they are.  The most troubling piece of evidence against retaining McDowell’s services is that the talent atop the rotation continues to take deep strides backwards. 

Here are Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy’s 2016 numbers held up against those from the current season:

Gausman: 8.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.77 XFIP
Bundy: 8.53 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 4.61 XFIP

Gausman: 7.3 K/9, 4.16 BB/9, 5.03 XFIP
Bundy: 6.99 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 5.22 XFIP

Bundy has cut his walks, but is allowing fly-balls (and home runs) at a much higher rate.  Whether this season’s problems have been mechanical or mental in nature, they don’t seem to be improving. 

Barring a miraculous turnaround, it is likely the Orioles will push the reset button yet again, this winter – if not sooner.  It wouldn’t be unwarranted; his Baltimore body of work is far from inspiring. 

Still, on days like Monday, you can’t help but feel for the guy.  

03 July 2017

The Orioles Offense Is Not Good

While the Orioles remain in the hunt for the both the AL East Division crown, and the wild card, the team has not inspired much confidence over the last two months. Yes, the pitching has been atrocious, as the staff went a record-tying 20 games allowing 5 earned runs or more (and we were all reminded of that on a fairly consistent basis). The pitching isn’t the only reason this team has played poorly, as the offense hasn’t been up to the task this season either.

A few weeks ago, Matt Kremnitzer pointed to a couple of position players in Baltimore who were having disappointing seasons. He specifically highlighted players such as Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and J.J. Hardy. And while those players have certainly been a disappointment, the numbers show that the entire Orioles offense in general is not good. Apologies for the “death by tables” aspect of this post, but I am going to blame it on the holiday weekend.

Baltimore 2017 Season Offensive Rankings

So as you can see the Orioles have an offense that doesn’t score many runs, doesn’t walk, strikes out a bunch, and hits for only average power. The power, which is what gave the team its offensive potency the last couple years isn’t showing up enough in 2017 to make up for the lack of everything else. Let’s take a look at a couple more numbers.

Baltimore 2017 Batted Ball Rankings
*FFB% and IFH% are both among highest in the league,
but since it would be better if they are lower, they were ranked in reverse order

The team BABIP indicates that Baltimore has neither been lucky nor unlucky. In fact, since both their BABIP and their line drive percentage are essentially at the league median, a basic argument can be made that the offense has been appropriately lucky. However, if you look at the table, I’ve also included the Infield Fly Ball Rate (i.e. pop-ups) and the Infield Hit Rate (i.e. um, infield hits). The high rates of each could be indication that the Orioles offense could have actually been lucky, despite the “ok” BABIP. Pop-ups are almost always outs, and since Baltimore isn’t a team full of fast runners, I would not expect that infield hit rate to stay at it’s current level.

One more table.

Baltimore 2017 Plate Discipline Rankings
*O-Swing%, F-Strike%, and SwStr% are among highest in the league,
but since it would be better if they are lower, they were ranked in reverse order

Compared to the rest of the league, the Baltimore offense swings at a lot of pitches out of the zone, make less contact on pitches they swing at, and fall behind in the count 0-1 more than all but two other teams. These plate discipline numbers pretty much help support why we see what we do in the first table, but I thought it was interesting to look at regardless.

This post isn’t necessarily advocating that the Orioles buy or sell at the trade deadline. It’s just a quick reminder that the team needs more than just starting pitching. The offense is not good, and while improvements through trade will help, any resources used to acquire that help leave fewer resources to address the pitching (keeping in mind that the Orioles have limited resources to begin with). Regardless of whether the team does trade for offensive help, the key will be for the players highlighted in Matt’s piece to hit much better. The Orioles have been waiting all year for that to happen, and now they have less than a month to see if they actually will before they decide whether to add or subtract.