16 August 2018

Cup of jO's: Deadline Prospect Roundup

Just a short post.

Here are the values for the prospects acquired in the deadline deals as determined by MLB Pipeline, FanGraphs, and 2080 Baseball.  An absent value may not mean the player is lowly valued.  He may not be considered or simply not enough was known by the site when handing out grades.
Machado MLB FG 2080
Yusniel Diaz 55 45+ 55
Dean Kremer 45 40 45
Rylan Bannon 45 35
Zach Pop 45 40 50
Breyvic Valera 40
Fairly typical through these lists is that FanGraphs tends to grade down players 5 to 10.  I have talked to evaluators and they tend to generally like how FanGraphs rankings come together, but all seem to think that the values associated with players are overly conservative.  That said, Kiley McDaniel, who helps put together these values, was employed by MLB teams, so this might simply show a differences in scouting grade spectrum preference between organizations and it may be better to look at similar players grouped together.
Britton MLB FG 2080
Dillon Tate 50 40+ 50
Cody Carroll 45 40 45
Josh Rodgers 40
You get a similar playing out of grades as you do from the Machado trade.  FanGraphs tends to be a bit harsher.
Gausman/O'Day MLB FG 2080
Jean Carlos Encarnacion 45 40+ 50
Brett Cumberland 45 45+ 45
Bruce Zimmerman 35+
Evan Phillips 40 45
MLB and FanGraphs seem to be narrowing here.  Zimmerman and Phillips are considered as below the top 30 for the Orioles and more or less organizational filler.
Schoop MLB FG 2080
Luis Ortiz 50 45 50
Jean Carmona 45 40
Jonathan Villar
From 2080, I heard good things about Carmona, but I think he is such a young breakout player that they wanted to get more information on him before putting a grade on him.



15 August 2018

Prospect Rankings Are More Precise Than Prospect Values


One difficult aspect of assessing the value of prospects is trying to figure out just how much is one worth.  When I was reviewing the trades this past season or in years before, I have mainly relied on top 100 prospect lists and, sometimes, John Sickels B and C age based ratings for those who do not make the list.  However, recently FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, 2080 Baseball, and others have begun using the 20-80 scale to designate prospect values.

Fangraphs performed an exercise to determine value based on rankings and some peculiar associations came up.  The linearity of the values seemed off and I wanted to take a look by directly comparing them with top 100 rankings, which the methodology is a bit more robust than going back in time and retroactively applying grades.

I went ahead and looked at pitchers.  In the table below you see pitcher rankings in the first column, 2018 attributed value for those rankings, and in the third column is the averaged MLB pipeline scouting grade.
2018 Grade
Pi 1-10 73 64
Pi 11-25 46 58
Pi 26-50 32 55
Pi 51-75 20 55
Pi 76-100 15 55
If you apply the values derived from the FanGraphs venture, you would get a 62 MM value in the first ten, 34 MM in the 11 to 25 rankings, and 22 MM throughout the rest of the list.  However, we do find significant variation from 26-100 on this list.  Variation that the grades are unable to discern, but that the rankings do.

What this suggests to me is that using grade values for prospect worth is viable only after exhausting top 100 rankings.  Additionally, that value should be limited by the value associated with a prospect ranked on the backend of the top 100 list.

For instance, Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz are rated as 50 prospects.  Using the FanGraphs value system, the associated value would be 14 MM (slightly more as this number is for 2017 and not adjusted for 2018 values).  The lowest value in the top 100 ranking is 15 MM for a pitcher, but those values (55s) would be considered 22 MM.  There is a good bit of contradictory information and potential issues with cross site evaluations.

What I would suggest is to value prospects off the top 100 in this way: in 2009, the initial study was to look at Baseball America rankings and fill in with Sickels' rankings for those player who did not appear on the top 100.  For pitchers, a quality pitcher who was not on the top 100 was considered worth 70% of what a backend top 100 prospect pitcher was worth.  A position prospect was worth about  just off the top 100 had an associated value about 45% of that backend value.  These kinds of players are what MLB pipeline would refer to as 50s.

For MLB pipeline 40/45 prospects, young pitchers (22 yo or below) would be worth about 21% of that backend value while those 23 and older would be worth about 16%.  For hitters, the younger bracket would be 6% and the older group 4%.

So let us go back and take a look at one of the deals.  The Gausman and O'Day deal brought back Jean Carlos Encarnacion (45, 20yo, 1.2 MM), Brett Cumberland (45, 23yo, 0.8 MM), Bruce Zimmerman (unrated), and Evan Phillips (unrated).  This provides a traumatically different view on the take than in my original column.  In that column, I put forward the notion that because a lot of handwaving occurred when putting together the final batch of the top 100 that the different in value between the ones on the list and just off it is not all that much.  

Maybe that still is true though.  Maybe guys like Encarnacion or Cumberland are, for some, in the conversation in that next batch.  And, maybe, 45 is a huge bucket where players fall.  When you look at the rankings, there are about 400 known prospects in baseball, according to MLB pipeline as 45s.  That is stunning and probably wrong.  A 45 generally means someone is good enough to sit on the bench and I doubt there are 400 players (ignoring the 200+ that are at 50 and above) that will eventually be dependable bench players.

This makes me think that just knowing that a player is a 45 is not very useful information.  We know that a 55 ranking in the top 100 has less resolution than the ranking, so the a generic 45 means fairly little as well.  This all means that while we have a good base to evaluating deals on a top 100 prospect basis that deeper dives into the prospect world are far more difficult to evaluate and require us to have strong scouting skills or to rely on those with strong scouting skills.

14 August 2018

Welcome to Baltimore, Cedric Mullins

There has not been a lot to look forward to during this Orioles season. What was supposed to be a competitive team wilted back in April. Since then, the team has traded away a handful of familiar faces with the promise of a brighter future. It's not always easy to see that future without some tangible evidence of his eventual arrival. The promotion of Cedric Mullins last week was the first proof that maybe there is, in fact, a light at the end of what may be a very long tunnel.

Mullins burst onto the major league scene with a three-hit debut. He showed all of the things that were promised: speed, on-base ability, a quick bat and some actual defense. Will he be a star in the bigs for a decade to come like his predecessor Adam Jones? That may be a bridge too far.

However, Mullins does make the Orioles a better team right now. Improving the defense in center field immediately makes life easier for everyone around him. Pitchers don't have to be quite as fine. The corner outfielders don't need to cover quite as much ground. And the middle infielders don't need to worry about reaching every bloop into the grass.

There is still a long way to go before the O's are officially back on the road to contention. Mullins might be a piece of the puzzle, but bigger pieces are coming, or at least they need to. A plus defender that can set the offensive table is nice, but the club still must build a competent infield and a middle of the order that can do more swing and miss.

The young players to come will be what makes this a team to pay attention to, just as long as you don't look too closely at the win-loss record. The Orioles are at their bottom as a franchise. It can't get much worse than this on the field. It will all be worth it if the pay off is as sweet as the dark days are sour.

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13 August 2018

Chris Davis: Orioles Contracts and Extensions that Did Not Work

Chris Davis is the summit in a lot of ways: he holds the most expensive and longest contract in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.  Although the deal was ill-advised at the time, it was certainly not outlandish. 

Peter Angelos desired to re-sign Davis after the 2015 season.  He noted it in late September of that year to the press, a rare public statement on a player by the owner.  Angelos noted it again after the Winter Meetings, further solidifying what we all kind of knew, which was Angelos would move heaven and earth to get Davis back on the club.  It was noted that the Orioles front office largely did not agree with this approach to the 2015/16 offseason.

What many fans forget though is that Davis has another suitor.  Tigers Illich thought Davis to be the missing piece in Detroit.  He was certain that Davis could spend a year or two out in right field, something that Boras was stressing to everyone within earshot, before existing contracts would open up first base and designated hitter later in the contract.  It was rumored, and widely reported, that the Tigers were discussing the parameters of a contract around 190 MM against the wishes of the Tigers' front office.

What wound up happening is that the Tigers front office convinced ownership to hand out a deal to Justin Upton instead for 132 MM (well below the parameters discussed with Davis).  Davis went back hard to the Orioles, with Yeonis Cespedes circling, and signed a 7/161 MM deal with much deferred (making it worth more like 126 MM) two days after Upton inked.  It seemed to be very similar to how Baltimore approached Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez a decade earlier in offering them both the same deal, waiting until someone came back to them and said yes.  Cespedes then went back to the Mets the following week on a 3/75 (a deal he would opt out of after the year was over and sign a staggering 4/110 deal after the season).

The contract has not been kind.  Davis' first year was fine with a 3.3 bWAR, but for someone who had six more years left to go on a contract, you certainly wanted a bit more production because he was entering typical decline years.

Standard Batting
Year HR BA OBP SLG OPS+
201638.221.332.459110
201726.215.309.42395
201813 (21).159.242.29749
11 Y280.239.321.476112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/10/2018.

And decline he did.  Contact, walk rate, power, they have all declined.  In 2018, Davis is having one of the worst seasons in the history of the game.  At -2.2 bWAR, he would wind up around the 30th worst season ever out of 18,000 player seasons with more than 100 games played.

Under the terms of Davis' deal, that 126 MM should have translated into an expected return of about 12.7 bWAR.  Almost three full seasons in, Davis stands at a cumulative of 1 bWAR or 7.8% of what was expected.  This begs the question as to whether it truly was the worst contract extension or free agent signing in Orioles' history?  Let us cherry pick a few contracts and see how they shake out:
2016 $ xWAR bWAR %
J.J. Hardy 44 4.2 1.7 40
Brian Roberts 57 6.7 1.0 15
Albert Belle 310 30 4.0 13
Glenn Davis 73 7.2 0.7 9.7
Chris Davis 126 12.7 1.0 7.8
Scott Erickson 153 14.5 0.1 0.7
One thing to note is that Albert Belle is uniquely on this list.  Before insurance companies got wise, the Orioles were able to secure a ~1.7 MM premium on Belle's contract that would pay out 11.7 MM per year for every year that he was out due to a permanent injury.  So, you could argue that the Orioles really paid Belle 29.9 MM, which would be a xWAR of 13.6 and that he achieved 29% of  his expected performance.  

Scott Erickson either did not qualify for the insurance premium or the Orioles were unable to secure one for him.  And you can see how much the Orioles put into him with what would be around a 5/153 deal in 2016 free agent land.  Sometimes those dollar figures (5/32) look so quaint back then that you do not see how much the deal actually was in that market.  Nowadays, you would think of that being if someone forked over that deal to Ervin Santana when the Orioles were trying to nab him on a one year deal and pair him with Ubaldo Jimenez.  Yes, Erickson was coming off of two 4 bWAR season, but that is an exceptional deal for someone who really was not an elite pitcher.

Maybe a percentage base is not the right way to look at it.  Perhaps a better way to look at it is how much money was sunk.
Sunk $
J.J. Hardy 26.25
Brian Roberts 59.85
Glenn Davis 68.25
Albert Belle 100.8
Chris Davis 122.85
Scott Erickson 151.2
It does not change all that much.  Glenn Davis and Belle flip around. 

It should be noted though that Chris Davis' career is still active.  With another 1.2 bWAR, he will surpass Brian Roberts in % return.  With a couple more bWAR, he will move past Albert Belle in total sunk cost.  He certainly can make this contract become a slightly smaller albatross. 

However, given his -2.1 bWAR so far this year, he can sink lower.  A -1 bWAR moving forward would mean falling beneath Erickson in terms of percentage.  A -3 bWAR moving forward would put Davis as a sunk cost greater than Erickson.  Hopefully, that will not happen.

-----

In case you want some further reading on the value of WAR.
https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/10/15/4818740/how-much-does-a-win-really-cost
https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-recent-history-of-free-agent-pricing/



09 August 2018

Re-Signing Adam Jones

Adam Jones is awesome.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote how Adam Jones really takes up opportunities that should be afforded to the Orioles minor league outfield prospects in their upper minors.  One of the major concerns I have heard about not re-signing Jones is that would leave the club in the hands of young players who have not earned a place in right field.  I think the following from that article answers that in part:
It is true that the beginning of the year may not present itself with a true outfield with MLB ready competency, but, again, a rebuilding club does not need to worry about that.  A rebuilding club does not need to worry about re-signing a Mark Trumbo because you question whether Trey Mancini can cut it.  A rebuilding club does not need to corner the market on well tread, but potentially viable bats when wins and losses quickly become unimportant.
I am also at a loss as to how Jones' presence is compatible with giving the young players the opportunity to earn their roles.  If opportunity is swallowed up by veterans, then you are shooting yourself in the foot if your goal is to find starting options among your youth.

That said, it goes without saying that Adam Jones is "The Franchise".  This Southern Californian has taken to Baltimore and acclimated himself to our dirty little port town.  His outgoing style was refreshingly in contrast to the type of franchise voices the organization has had in the past in the forms of the fairly quiet type like Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Mike Mussina, and Cal Ripken, Jr.  While they all were very meaningful to Baltimore, Jones truly took it up a notch and put himself out there, succeeding.

With that, he has earned a great deal of good will from the fan base, which you can see in the following poll:

To me, that is stunning.  I see zero reason why we would entertain making Jones the first player/manager since Pete Rose.  I think there is a great conflict of interest there and it erases a major go-between for the front office and the clubhouse.  What I take from it though is how warm we are to Jones and just how special he is.

Last December, I considered what exactly it would look like if the Orioles chose to re-sign Jones on an extension.  The BORAS model pegged him as a 2/23 signing, while a comp model pegged it as a 3/32 deal.  I made a major assumption to run the model, which was that Jones would perform in line with his ZiPS projection.  That assumption had an issue.

HR AVG OBP SLG WAR
x2018 27 0.269 0.306 0.458 1.8
2018 12 (19) 0.281 0.31 0.43 0.5 (0.8)

ZiPS missed Jones power and that his defense would remain terrible.  ZiPS thought that Jones would regress to his career norm a bit going from -14 UZR/150 in 2017 to -4 UZR.  That did not happen.  This year, he remains on pace for a -15 UZR/150 season.  That differences of ten runs is reflected in his expect fWAR of 0.8 and makes up for his total loss in value in comparison to ZiPS.

With his performance this season, we have a bit more data and that impacts what BORAS comes up with.  If we consider only his performance (with adjusted for the rest of the season), then BORAS sees Jones as a 1.9 or 2/13 signing.  If we use the logic in the December post to translate Jones' player to right field, then we see a very slight bump with BORAS pegging Jones at 2/18.8.  One last wrinkle, you may have noticed that Jones is hitting the ball pretty well since the All Star breaking.  Well enough that it would add another win to his total.  That would settle him into a 2/23 or 2/24 deal.

Personally, it would be great to see Jones don the orange and black until he wishes to retire, but the way this team is set up I think that might work against the best wishes the franchise.

08 August 2018

Chris Davis Bounces Back to Replacement Level

Chris Davis has always seemed unique.  Early in his career, Davis was Cuban National Series Pedro Cerano in AAA and MLB Pedro Cerano without a proper sacrifice (see Major League).  In other words, once off speed pitching reached a certain level of precision and movement, Davis was dead in the water.  The difference between a solid .300 hitter and a sub .200 bat was an amazing study in how his contact tool was on a threshold with a deep dropoff.

Occupying that threshold contact performance always made him seem like a player who should not be completely depended on.  It was a signing I was fully against because the outcome seemed so likely to fail and fail spectacularly, but not like this.  His performance this year was foreseeable, but not so soon.  I ran a comp model a couple months before he signed when Peter Angelos made his second public remark about the need to re-sign Davis.  The model thought there was a 15% chance he would be worth less than 0.9 bWAR in 2018.  His -2.0 bWAR so far this year was not seen to be possible until around 2022.

In fact, no reasonable person or model would have thought that Davis' performance was possible.  From a historical sense, few players have been as terrible as he has this year.  On a practical sense, in situations where a player performed as poorly as Davis, said player would cease playing.  The Orioles keep trotting Davis out into the field and largely out of desperation with such a heavy salary on his shoulders.

Back in July, I wrote about Davis' undesirable quest to become the worst baseball player in history.  I put forward three potential second half outcomes:

  • Optimistic Outcome - 204/293/406, This level of performance is fairly poor and would net Davis a 0.1 fWAR outcome for the rest of the season.  This is replacement level.  This is not what you want from a player and definitely not what you want for a player who has four more seasons to go on his contract.
  • Davis 2.0 - 191/253/456, This is the line Davis put up once he got back from Buck's vacation from June 22nd to July 13th. That flip in OBP to SLG actually caused a significant decrease in fWAR.
  • Pre-June 22nd Davis - 150/227/227, Davis performing as he did in the first part of the season would have put him in contention for the worst season in the history of professional baseball in a major league.
In the time since the article, Davis has slashed 164/292/418.  This is the optimistic outcome, being a replacement level player.  If Davis is able to continue on this path, then he will no longer be in contention for the worst season ever.  Instead, he looks to settle in around -2 fWAR and have roughly the 30th worst 100 game or more season in a major league season out of about 18,000 seasons.

07 August 2018

The Orioles Did What They Had To

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline was nearly a week ago, but many of us are just recovering from what took place. The Orioles are almost unrecognizable compared to the beginning of July. Gone are established stars Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Zach Britton. Sent away with them were familiar faces Kevin Gausman, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach. Things are going to be different in Birdland. It's sad. It hurts a little. And it had to be done.

This organization had stagnated. They did well to get a bunch of really talented players all at the same time. They rode many of those players to three playoff berths in five years. As a guy who grew up thinking of the Orioles as perennial also-rans, to see them even playing meaningful baseball deep into September was a dream come true. But as with all things, time catches up. Players that were in their prime start to regress. Young studs become expensive veterans. And eventually all of the trading away of prospects to paper over weaknesses eats away at a team's depth.

The O's were overdue for an overhaul. Did they get tremendous value for every player traded away in July? It depends how highly you regarded some of the up-and-comers they got in return. Even then, you are dealing with potential versus proven ability.

It is impossible to judge this team's success at the deadline right away. It will take two or three years before a "winner" of each swap can be determined. At the very least, the O's have picked a direction and they have clearly stated goals. Now, the hard work begins: Setting the wheels in motion and turning one of the worst teams in baseball into a contender once again.

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06 August 2018

Checking Your Expectations of Victor Victor Mesa

As you run through the knowledge of the fan base on Victor Victor Mesa, I think you find a wide range of knowledge on the prospect.  Some are delirious with expectations as FanGraphs and others note him to be the most exciting prospect in this year's international amateur bonus pool class.  Others try to cool everyone down and do so by misunderstanding how some media entities compile their lists:

It should be noted that while the handle is from a very good MiL photographer, he does not understand the prospect ranking methodology used by MLB Pipeline.  MLB Pipeline does not consider players who have yet to pass through the MLB approval process.  Another follower contacted me and worried about the Orioles signing Mesa because he thinks, and I paraphrase, that everyone considers Mesa to be a superstar in the making, that he is likely to fail, and will result in the fans and the front office swearing off international amateurs again.

This misinformation and misunderstanding made me wonder among our connections via Twitter, what do people actually think about Victor Victor Mesa.

In that poll, three quarters of the respondents think Mesa is ready for the minors with a quarter thinking he is ready for me.  I think that is a fairly good understand of where Mesa is at the moment.  The evaluators I talk to say that he is primed more for AA Bowie.  Though one thought Frederick might be a better place for him to get his feet under himself.

One of the concerns was that last year as a 21 year old, Mesa was part of a Cuban National Team that barnstormed Canada against teams that were often a good eight to ten years old than him made up of some talented former minor leaguers with one or two former MLBers who had brief stints.  Phillippe Aumont being the most well known of them.  Mesa had difficulty adapting to the heavy offspeed laden pitching approaches he faced.  That combined with a frustrating Cuban National Series, gives some cause for a slower, more deliberative approach.

While people probably do not know all the ins and outs with Mesa, I find the general expectation of where he is now to be largely accurate with only 1 in 4 being mistaken.  It may be that they hear reports noting that he could be a glove only replacement on the bench right now and it provides a halo to overshadow his developmental needs.

The second aspect to explore is what will Mesa become?
The poll fond 95% think Mesa will be a solid regular or star.  Yes, that is tough.  As we have noted before, Victor Victor Mesa is thought of as being a backend top 100 prospect talent.  Lets take a look at what that means by re-reading our post on success probability of prospects.  If that is too much of a task, the short of it is that backend positional prospects do not become solid starters 73% of the time.  The prudent response to this question would be that you should expect him to be a bench level talent.  That does not mean he cannot become more than that, but that is what the expectation should be.

What makes scouts excited about Mesa is that he is a true centerfielder.  He runs good routes. He has plus speed.  He has a plus arm.  Those are all very valuable.  A young Craig Gentry boasted all of the same.  Current model Craig Gentry still does to some extent.  The main developmental issue with Mesa is what exactly is his bat.  In the CNS, he profiled more as a line drive hitter with gap power.  He was more contact oriented and was rather average at drawing walks.

When you look at young Cubans who played in the CNS and then made big signings in the States, you generally see more aptitude for power.  Yasiel Puig, Rusney Castillo, Alex Guerrero, and Yasmany Tomas.  Now, of those only Puig has found success at the MLB level, but it goes to show that a major skill to show success is lacking so far in Mesa's skill set.  If it was there, you might have more of a projection here.  An excellent hit tool would conjure up visions of Andy Van Slyke or Eric Davis.

As is, Mesa is an excellent prospect that is considered worth far more than what he will be able to sign for with MLB's international bonus pool rules in effect.  However, keep your expectations in check.

03 August 2018

Can Victor Victor Mesa Gamble Himself into Big Money?

After the whirlwind of the July trading deadline, the Orioles sit with 8.25 MM in allotted international signing bonus money.  The only team with more than them in total are the Yankees with 8.75 MM, but the Yankees have dedicated roughly 4.5 MM of that in players they have already signed.  Additionally, the Yankees are chock full of outfielders and Victor Victor Mesa is AA ready and looking for a place to get real time and money as a Major League player.  As a nearly ready for prime time player, the Yankees do not represent that.

Another player with a great deal of open money is the Marlins.  They have about 4 MM free from their initial total.  Much of that was supposed to be dedicated to 16 year old Cuban Sandy Gaston, but, for whatever reason, his nearly 2 MM deal broke down and no one is exactly sure where they stand now.  That may mean that the Marlins are now in the running.

Back to the Orioles, today they are supposed to name a few international signings from Curacao, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.  All of the big money prospects from these locations signed shortly after the July 2nd date when signings for this year are allowed by MLB (season ends around June 15th).  That means we should be surprised if any of these new signings surpass 500k in their bonuses.  The Orioles should be in prime position to offer Mesa four or five million dollars.

But lets say that Mesa feels squeezed by this.  Maybe he really does not want to go to the Orioles, but accepting a deal from two to four million from the Yankees or Marlins is not to his liking either.  What could he do?  He could, and this is a huge risk, declare residency in the United States and enter the draft.  Such a process would mean winter ball for him and starting up with an Independent league team to showcase his talent and get him into shape.

The first question we have to ask is where does Victor Victor Mesa sit right now, talent-wise.  Well, he profiles as a backend top 100 talent.  He has a strong arm and is fast, a genuine centerfielder, but with some question as to the impact of his bat.  If you look at draftees in the back end of the Top 100 prospects, you see:
Name Rank Drafted Bonus
Casey Mize 20 1 7.5
Nick Madrigal 32 4 6.4
Joey Bart 35 2 7
Alec Bohm 45 3 5.9
Jonathan India 55 5 5.3
Brady Singer 65 18 4.3
Matthew Liberatore 66 16 3.5
Jerred Kelenic 67 6 4.5
Travis Swaggerty 86 10 4.4
Cole Winn 97 15 3.2
Mesa seems to fit into that 3-4.5 MM range based on where evaluators think of him.  That is on par with what he might expect currently as an international free agent.  However, if he excels in his winter league and looks good in the Spring, he may be seen as a player would could contribute in 2019, if not 2020.  That level of projected certainty is likely to be quite valuable.  In that case, I think you could see Mesa moving past five million and maybe challenging for a lot more.

Of course, the 22 year old Mesa cannot threaten to go back to college like many valuable juniors can.  Similarly, there really is not much money in winter leaguers and no money in the indy summer leagues.  Any team that drafts Mesa would be able to hold his feet against that baseline and could potentially get him to agree to a deal far less than what a college junior of that talent and floor would earn.

Mesa's saving grace may well be though that he could simply jet off to Korea.  Assuming that a Korean team would want someone who is young and did well in international competition (I assume that would be a definitive yes), he would probably see something in the neighborhood of 500k per season.  The average KBO player makes around 240k with top end talent approaching 2 MM.  I figure Mesa would likely see something on the lower end until he establishes himself in the KBO after a year or two.

However, that may not be a saving grace as I am fairly certain that Mesa could be drafted every single year during that time frame.  To escape that draft eligibility, Mesa would need to go undrafted in the previous year.  I do not think playing in the KBO negates that, which could really hamper his eventual pay day.

The other option would be this: Mesa could declare residency in another country and then play in the KBO for three years to fulfill age limitation on being considered outside of the signing pool allocation.  His time in Cuban professional leagues should be sufficient to meet the requirements of being a professional.  If they do not, his three years of KBO action at that time would fall three years short.  Assuming he could be a free again in three years and that he excels in KBO play, he could be looking at a 6/70 MM deal by a team like the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, or really almost anyone.

So, is Mesa a gambler or not?

02 August 2018

Brewers Paid for What They Thought Jonathan Schoop Could Be

In the weeks and months leading up to the July trade deadline, you likely read an idea that we repeated and repeated: if Jonathan Schoop would not be extended, then he needs to be dealt for players who would play more of a role in the Orioles future.  The morning of the trade deadline, I reiterated on Twitter that any serious attempt at rebuilding must include Schoop being dealt because arbitration would take away much of his value in the off-season.

Well, he was traded.  The Orioles were able to acquire from the Brewers, Jonathan Villar who is a different kind of player than is Schoop, but one who has arguably had a better season.  In addition to Villar, the Orioles acquired the once shiny Luis Ortiz and a very young shortstop, Jean Carmona.

Was this deal one that produced a fair value?

Jonathan Schoop surged back up into being a meaningful bat in the past couple weeks and put himself back on track for what was expected of his this season.  Moving forward, we would expect him to produce about 1 WAR this year and another 2.4 next year.  That is worth about 34 MM.  He has roughly 3.5 MM coming to him this season and is expected to almost double his salary for his walk year increasing it from 8.5 MM to 15.1 MM.  In other words, he costs about 18.6 MM.  That is a surplus of 15.4 MM.

The first player I will visit is Jonathan Villar.  Whereas Schoop has 1.5 years left on his control, Villar has an additional year to offer.  The Orioles are currently on the hook for 1 MM this year, about 3 MM next year, and somewhere between 5 and 10 MM in his walk year.  That difference comes from whether he continues his current spell or if he returns to his excellent 2016 season.  If, the expectation is that he continues his 2017 and 2018 puttering around, then he has about 0.5 WAR left this year, 1 next year, and 1 the year after that.  That is worth about 25 MM.  On the conservative end, that puts his value around 10.5 MM.

Why would the Brewers deal Villar and prospects for Schoop when Villar has similar and potentially more value than Schoop?  Two things.  One, Schoop concentrates that value into one player and into a third less games.  Two, Villar has not shown star level competence in two years.  For a team that needs a potent now this year and next, Villar probably was just too much of a gamble.  And, maybe, a gamble no one really puts much faith in.  In general though you would kind of expect a talent like Villar to be paired with a second tier prospect. Villar has value and is useful, so that should eat up a lot.  However, it really did not seem to do that.

The Orioles took a post-shine pitcher in Luis Ortiz.  Ortiz used to be a solid top 100 arm with the Rangers, but injuries and conditioning took him off that path.  AA ball has been a bit of a struggle for him.  This is his third year at that level after a taste in 2016, an uneven 2017, and now 2018.  He seems to have solved his issues there and is still quite young for the league, but is at a stage where his package appears to be what it is with only pitchability being what can improve.  As a starter he has a strong low 90s fastball with a little bit of life and a change up that pairs up very well with it.  His third pitch, a slider, is less impressive.  This is sort of a Kevin Gausman-lite kind of a deal.  Ortiz has a package that looks like a decent backend rotation arm with mid-rotation upside or, if he has trouble seeing the batting order more than once, looks like a potentially dominating closer as his fastball has ramped up to high 90s when he has seen time in relief.  Grades on Ortiz range from 45 to 50, so that is a value range of 10-15 MM.

Jean Carmona is the other prospect and, to some, is the prize of the deal.  However, there is a wide range of views on him.  FanGraphs evaluators peg him as a 40, MLB Pipeline puts him as a 45, and one of my scouting contacts who was floored by this deal has him as a 50+ (same scout put a 45 on Ortiz and that Villar was a fringe MLB player).  Carmona is 18 and fairly raw.  He possesses a strong arm and shows good reactions in the field.  He is projected to be a solid shortstop, but is thought to be able to slide to third if he thickens up too much.  Good runner, but just learning the nuances of the running game.  He shows strong gap power and, for his age, shows a good approach at the plate.  The 40 grade evaluators see him as just a raw player who likely will flame out.  The value then on him would range between 5-20 MM.

With all that in mind, if you take the middle road, you wind up with a 10 MM value for Villar, 10 MM value for Ortiz, and a 10 MM value for Carmona.  That is a 30 MM overall package for a 15 MM surplus player in Schoop.  If you think Schoop is truly a 3.5 WAR or a 4.5 WAR player, then you add another 10 to 20 MM on top of that.  My assessment is that the Brewers see Schoop as a true 3.5 WAR player and was willing to pay for him what they think he is rather than what he has shown himself to be over time.

This contrasts with the Gausman deal where he too has inconsistently shown an All Star level of play.  While Gausman returned to the Orioles a package on par with his mid-rotation performance to date, no one appears to have been willing to toss in an extra 20 MM in value that would have been more reflective of the ace-quality talent he shows from time to time.  Many evaluators think getting away from the Orioles will help tap into that, but no club banked on that.

Also different from the Gausman deal is that this one did have a trophy prospect in Luis Ortiz.  Although his reputation has been shaken a bit by those injuries and inconsistent play at AA, he still is considered a desirable arm to have in your system.  He really is the kind of player I expected the Orioles to get two or three of in the Gausman deal.  By pairing him with Carmona, the Orioles have mixed together a dependable high floor prospect with a much more exciting and volatile commodity.  And, somehow, Villar is there too.

I have no complaints.

01 August 2018

Orioles Went Fishing in the Kevin Gausman Trade

A few days ago, I established what I thought would likely be the market rate for Kevin Gausman: the Sonny Gray deal.  It made a lot of sense.  Gray and Gausman had similar career, had similar service time, and what Gausman lacked in notoriety among the fanbases, the front office knew he had performed better than Gray in their recent histories.  The Yankees got three fringe top 100 talents.  They were hit or miss top 100 guys.  Guys with name recognition.  They would be players one would be happy with if you went on a prospect trophy hunt.  Based on conversations, I know the Orioles literally asked for this.  As the deadline fell though, Gausman was traded, but not for a package that resembled Sonny Gray's.

What made the Sonny Gray deal so interesting was that value was concentrated into three players.  While Gray and Gausman both were about 50 MM players, the Gausman deal diversified the portfolio of talent that was coming back.  Instead of viable (yet injured) 50s the Yankees got with Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian, the Orioles acquired a couple 45s and a couple 40s with international money and the Darren O'Day money bomb splitting the difference.  In other words, the value exchanging hands in both deals was effectively the same, but the way in which that value came together was quite different and it comes down to philosophy.

First, though, lets visit each piece in the deal:

As noted above, I addressed Kevin Gausman's value in a previous post and pegged him at 50.2 MM.  To be brief, that number comes from his current salary and his projected cost in arbitration over the next two seasons against the value associated with his performance as expected over the next two and a half years based on wins above replacement.

Darren O'Day is the other player going to the Braves.  O'Day has three million or so left for this year and eight for next year.  After undergoing hamstring surgery, his three million this year is a loss.  Among scouts, there is concern that his hamstring issue is related to a more chronic issue with his back, so performance project varies between zero and ten million.  Split the differences and you come up with a general value of -5 MM for O'Day.

The total package comes to roughly 45 MM going from the Orioles to the Braves.  In a concentrated deal, you could expect three backend top 100 pitchers (15.1 MM value) concentrating that value in a vein similar to what was seen with Gray, but as noted before that was not the case.

Based on what scouts you listen to, the Orioles got two 45+ prospects in Jean Carlos Encarnacion and Brett Cumberland.  They could also be described as a 45 and a 40, too, depending on who you listen to.

First, lets discuss Jean Carlos Encarnacion.  Encarnacion was a minor signing in the Braves 2016 class, coming in at 10k.  He was largely overlooked for a couple years as he did not have skills or much strength.  The flyer the Braves took in 2016 paid off massively as Encarnacion has physically developed significantly and began showing some loud tools.  He shows sufficient reaction for third base, has a gun for an arm, and has great batting practice power.  That power has shown up in his game.  Still he is considered quite raw.  Scouts vary in their opinion on him.  Some see him as a raw player without much feel, having foolish errors in the field, and striking out once a game, and slap a 45 on him.  Others see him currently trending upward with a 45+ on him as he harnesses his power and begins to settle down.  I have heard him called an eventual Quad-A first baseman to a potential first division third baseman.

As a 45/45+, his value is somewhere in the 15-20 MM range.  That might seem strange that a player rated below a backend top 100 pitcher would be valued more than a position player.  There are two major reasons for that: (1) as a 3B, he can slide down the defensive spectrum to left field or first base and still provide some value as opposed to a pitcher providing value as he shifts into the pen and (2) pitchers get injured a lot, which lowers their absolute value.

Brett Cumberland is the other potential 45+, though he is also described as a 35.  Cumberland was taken out of Berkeley in the lottery portion of the second round of the 2016 draft, overslotting at 1.5 MM.  He was a player who was seen as having a good, polished bat with the potential of catching.  If you see that 45+, you see a player who might be more if the catching sticks, but whose bat is solid enough to carry a second division score at first base.  If you are like me, you see a poor defensive catcher and poor defensive catchers rarely ever become adequate behind the plate (see Chance Sisco).  Additionally, you see a player who has only shown off his bat in leagues where he is older than most of the other players and he still swings and misses a lot.

One thing that is important to note is rankings pre-season against in-season rankings.  Most public evaluators are using last year's rankings with this year's performance and a scout or two providing some newer information.  This means there is a significant data lag in the analysis, particularly for someone like me.  It may well be true that after this season is over, we find that the general view of Cumberland (and Encarnacion) have drastically improved.  That all said, the range of valuations on Cumberland fall between 5 and 20 MM.

The third piece in the Braves deal is Bruce Zimmerman.  He was selected in the fifth round in 2017 out of Mount Olive (formerly was with Towson University) as a senior signing who signed for 10k.  He does not seem to bring much except for polish as a lefthander.  This creates some red flags.  Polished lefties tend to struggle as they move up against more advanced hitting.  More advanced hitters do not get as flummoxed by platoons as younger or less talented hitters.  Plus, polish tends to mean a limited project, a limited range of possibilities to improve performance.  Grades on him are in the 35/40 range and he is worth about 5 MM, maybe 10 MM if you are really a believer.

Evan Phillips is the last piece in the deal and some are intrigued as he flirts with 100 mph heat.  Historically, he has had terrible control, which has led him into situations where he is quite predictable and is hit hard.  The Orioles certainly need more live arms in their system and Phillips qualifies as that, but he is the type of guy an organization should have a half dozen off throughout their organization.  I would put Phillips as a 35, which carries about a 5 MM value.

You can see where the pessimism comes from.  The worst case scenario for these four players is 15 for Encarnacion, 5 for Cumberland, 5 for Zimmerman, and 5 for Phillips for a 30 MM total.  If you are big on Cumberland only, then that winds up at a 45 MM value and the deal breaks even.  If you like Zimmerman as a starter or think Phillips is a true setup man it sets the value up where if you really like Encarnacion, the deal breaks even.

This leads us to the final part: 2.5 MM in international bonus pool money.  The Orioles now sit at 8.25 MM with only a bit of it dedicated to players right now.  Three big fish remain out there: Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa, Jr., and Sandy Gaston.  Their value is about 20, 10, and 10 MM and their expected cost is around 3.5, 1, and 2 MM.  The 2.5 MM could bring back another respectable prospect into the organization.

What this all leads back to is philosophy.  If you concern is value, then in a number of ways, it looks like the Orioles got their fair value.  The initial reports, however, indicated that they were trophy hunting similar to their other deals (i.e., Yusniel Diaz, Dillon Tate, Luis Ortiz).  They took a different direction and diversified their asset portfolio for a quantity of decent but not exceptional prospects.  Based on conversations, the return on Gausman/O'Day was seen as "light" to "genius".  I lean on the light side, but I may not be the best evaluator of that.  It may not be until the offseason when I have enough information to make a more certain conclusion.

As it is now, I think the Orioles went out with a big trophy or three on their minds and instead went fishing.