27 April 2011

Miguel Tejada is the Rock That Keeps Tigers Away

Tom Verducci is known to take a good idea and then grease up every bit of fact to wedge them into his good idea.  He has done it before, quite famously, with the Verducci Effect.  The Verducci Effect states that pitchers are likely to get injured or become ineffective if they suffered an increase of innings pitched greater than 30 from year to year before they turn 25.  The concept is sound.  However, the data has not been entirely useful.  Understanding the variation between arms, 30 innings are likely to be an overly arbitrary number.  A similar instance also known would be Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) as they do not correlate with pitching injury well.  Again, just because the numbers do not entirely support these concepts does not invalidate these concepts.  Moreso, it means that it is difficult whether or not there is an effect due to so many confounding factors.

Another pet project of Verducci is his love of how age performance curves may have changed after MLB instituted stricter drug testing.  In today's column Verducci writes:
There is no doubt Jeter and Tejada are struggling enough that their managers will face questions about where they bat in the order and how many days of rest they should be afforded. But guess what: This is what life used to be like for 37-year-old middle infielders. All of us have to recalculate what should be expected of players as they age through their late 30s.
That is a pretty foolish statement to make.  Just because Jeter and Tejada are doing poorly, are old, and you have a hypothesis . . . it does not necesarrily mean it is a good idea to lump them together.  Verducci fails here because he makes an assumption that there were actually 37 year old middle infielders who were good.  It just has never been so.

So, how many seasons has a 37 year old or older SS produced a WAR greater than 2?

Under Verducci's statement, we would assume that his carefully researched piece would indicate that a large proportion of those 19 season performances happened in the 2000s.  Here they are by year:

Bill Dahlen, 1908 3.9 WAR
Honus Wagner, 1911 7.2
Honus Wagner, 1912 8.1
Honus Wagner, 1913 2.9
Honus Wagner, 1914 2.7
Honus Wagner, 1915 4.5
Rabbit Maranville, 1929 2.3
Luke Appling, 1946 5.3
Luke Appling, 1947 3.8
Luke Appling, 1949 4.6
Pee Wee Reese, 1956 2.5
Maury Wills, 1971 2.0
Luis Aparicio, 1973 2.3
Larry Bowa, 1983 2.7
Ozzie Smith, 1992 4.3
Ozzie Smith, 1993 2.5
Mike Bordick, 2003 2.1
Omar Vizquel, 2004 3.1
Omar Vizquel, 2006 3.1

As you can see clearly, there is not some amazing boost to the presence of useful, old shortstops in baseball in the 2000s.  This sort of thing happens a couple times each decade and usually happens with a rather unique individual.  The fact that there is not likely going to be an average 37 year old or older SS this year in baseball is not exactly a useful piece of evidence.

Best bets to cross the 2.0 WAR threshold this decade?
2011-2012 Derek Jeter
2013 Marco Scutaro
2015 Rafael Furcal

26 April 2011

Thinking about the Duke and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Through Hardball Talk, I read an article in the Seattle Times.  Defensive wunderkind CF Franklin Gutierrez spent time at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota undergoing a series of tests to have a better understanding of his increasingly worse intestinal ailment which had landed him on the disabled list.  They reached a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, which can be somewhat controlled with medication.  He expressed a sentiment I have heard from a few friends who experienced similar circumstances:
"I've been having this a long time and nobody knew what I had, so knowing now this is what I have (and) can be treatable makes me feel better mentally and now I want to feel better physically, too, to get ready and be here again," Gutierrez said. "It's going to take time for the medicine to work. Let's see how it goes."
My knowledge of IBS is somewhat limited.  However, I will do my best to explain it.  It is a disease that is diagnosed because pretty much everything else has been ruled out.  It is not well understood and conditions known as IBS may actually encompass several different issues yet unknown.  Stress is known to intensify symptoms, which include bloatedness, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.  There also seems to be a connection between IBS and depression.  This may be the product of dysregulation of serotonin levels associated with IBS.

This story and this connection between IBS and depression also makes me think of Justin Duchscherer.  In the May edition of Men's Health, Duchscherer gave an interview to the amazing writer Pat Jordan in which Duke discusses his issues with depression.  Here is an excerpt from the article where he is explaining how he feels:
“People think if you’re rich, you must be happy,” he says. “They can’t understand why you’re not. I feel guilty making so much money playing a game. If I pitch a shutout, it doesn’t make me happy. I think of the guys I struck out, how they’re going home, depressed, to their families.”
I find this interesting because he also suffers from IBS.  In Oakland, Duchscherer started out in the bullpen and would have issues with his bowels.  In the middle to late innings, he would often run off to the bathroom from the pen to use the restroom.  The A's, noticing how his 'nerves' were not handling the bullpen well, shifted him to the starting rotation to give him scenarios where he knew exactly when he would pitch.  That certainty paid off for the A's and resulted in Duchscherer pitching quite effectively when healthy.  The Orioles are hoping that in the second half of the year that Duchscherer is able to provide some usefulness to their rotation.  He is currently dealing with a chronic hip issue that does not appear to be going away.  Based on the current performance of the starting staff and the thin talent at AAA, the Orioles will need him.

I don't know how prevalent IBS is among baseball players.  In a 1999 study on long distance runners and cyclists, it was found that 71% and 64%, respectively, suffered from lower intestinal problems.  Many of these individuals are likely suffering from IBS.  However, it is largely assumed that long distance running or cycling would be more likely to suffer from intestinal issues as extreme fatigue redirects blood from the intestines to the brain and muscles.  Baseball players likely do not have this confounding factor at play.  The only two other professional baseball players who suffered from this that I am aware of are George Brett and Matt McCarthy.  The latter is the author of Odd Man Out, which we will be reading in late June as part of the Camden Depot Book Club.

25 April 2011

Predicted Wins and Playoff Probability: Week 4

After four weeks into the season, consisting of 20 games, the Orioles find themselves roughly where I imagined them to be: winning about half of their games.  I did not expect them to be so streaky, but it is not surprising.

All three predictions are hovering around each other.  They are who we thought they are.

PECOTA playoff projections have decreased to 2.1%.  They were at 11.6% after two weeks.  Depot projections are at 0.71%.  After two weeks, the probability was at 3.9%.

20 April 2011

Vladimir Guerrero is Going Backwards

Vladimir Guerrero has played for a tenth of the season so far.  Earlier I covered how well designated hitters have played when they were 36 and over years of age.  Vlad has not done well so far and sits at -0.3 WAR before the game on April 20th.

It is still early and Vlad could right the ship, but the first sixteen games have not been kind.  Currently he finds himself better than George Brett (1993, -0.4 WAR) and Cecil Cooper (1987, -0.6 WAR) which places him as the 24th best DH out of 26.

18 April 2011

Predicted Wins and Playoff Probability: Week 3

Quick post tonight . . . before tonight's game, the team sat at 4.2% playoff chance with PECOTA's predictions and 1.0% with the Depot's predictions.

Here is the projected wins by date:

I find it somewhat remarkable how similar the different lines are.  So far, the Depot model has had the least elasticity while the Pythagorean, as expected, has the most.  Hopefully, next week finds the team in better shape.

15 April 2011

Five Baysox to Watch in Bowie in 2011 and Hoes

Orioles' OF Xavier Avery
 When I wrote the Frederick Keys Five to Watch post I had assumed that LJ Hoes would be playing 2B in Bowie.  However, the Orioles wanted to give Greg Miclat the first go at second base.  As such, I think Hoes will perform well in Frederick and give Miclat a couple months to prove himself.  In this post, I will give a short summary of five to watch in Bowie as well as something about LJ Hoes.  The rest of Bowie showcases some of the second tier talent in the Orioles' system.  Unfortunately, the Orioles second tier talent would be other teams' third or fourth tier talent.  For example, Zach Britton and Manny Machado were in Baseball America's top 25.  Baseball America forms their top 100 prospects by having their five contributors devise their own individual top 150 lists.  No other Oriole found himself on any of the top 150s.  That is what we call a steep drop in talent.

However, one should not confuse such a steep drop as meaning the organization is without talent past Machado and Britton.  The organization has several C+ / fringe B- players who have a great chance of being solid bench players in the Majors and an off chance at being a regular.  I would say to not expect anything beyond that though.  Bowie is really the epitome of that.  They will have several players this year that might become something, but have significant flaws that they must address or find ways to compensate.

Xavier Avery, CF/LF
Avery has a package of raw skills that scouts can dream upon.  He has great athleticism and strength that was honed as a serious football first athlete in high school.  It has really only been in the past four years that Avery has taken baseball seriously.  That he will be a 21 year old in AA Bowie shows that his natural ability and a capable learning curve has done wonders for his game since he was selected in the second round in 2008.  Although strong, his lean frame does not and should not result in any significant power.  He has increased his power production from his age 18 season (ISO of .057) to last year's age 20 season (.115).  His goal should be to increase it to about .130 in order to keep pitchers honest.  Otherwise, he will be constantly challenged at the Major League level.  His contact rate is league average (not good) and his plate discipline is a shade below average (also not good).  He has also not proven to be completely adept at stealing bases, but not awful.  His lack of skill is overcome by his speed and has resulted in roughly break even marks for successfully stealing bases.  However, he is on a 16 straight stolen base streak without being caught.  His speed also helps him in the outfield making several plays in center.  His first step is not great, but he covers a great deal of territory and has natural control of his body (think of Felix Pie who has great speed and looks quite clumsy...Avery is similar without the clumsiness).  Avery is still developing as a player, so it will be interesting to see what he can do this year.

After the jump, four more Baysox and Hoes.

14 April 2011

Updated 2011 1st Rd Draft Rankings: Keith Law, Baseball America, Nick Faleris

Baseball America put out their mid-season revision of the 2011 amateur draft rankings (April 12th).  There has not, in general, been a lot of movement in the lists, which are composite rankings also using Keith Law's (March 22nd) and Nick Faleris' (March 27th).  Baseball America also only brought in two new players within the the top 50 universe of players collected so far from each of the three ranking source over the course of this season.  Those two were 49th and 50th in their most current update.  The BA update has resulted in only one individual being tossed out of the top 33 (Nimmo) and a new one finding his place (Stephenson).

Click on the image below to make the graph a bit larger and more legible.

The top four have stayed the same in order with Rendon, Cole, Gray, and Starling.  Behind them, players have moved up and down a few spots.  It is actually quite remarkable how similar these lists are becoming.  One of the reasons why I chose these three sources was because they are famous for being independent in their rankings.  Other sources tend to be massaged in concert with new lists hitting the net.

For the Orioles, the growing perspective is that the team is focused on Anthony Rendon and then a college pitcher.  It would be shocking to see Rendon fall to the Orioles at the four spot (1:4), so it will likely be a college pitcher.  Danny Hultzen of Virginia and Jed Bradley of Georgia Tech would be the two most obvious candidates.  I have been told by some fans that they hope Matthew Purke is the selection, but I figure his motion, injury history, and that he rejected a 6MM deal from the Yankees Rangers (edit: 4/17/11 JS I did not remember this correctly) his first time around might make things a bit uncomfortable in figuring out their draft budget and ensuring they select a high quality prospect.

At Camden Depot, I think the way we lean right now would be Sonny Gray (Jon Shepherd) and perhaps Bubba Starling (Nick Faleris).  I am assuming Nick's pick here.  However, there is a lot of talent bunched up in the 3-8 range.  I would be pleased with a good number of players including Hultzen and Bradley.  I would also be pleased with someone who I think is a sure Major Leaguer, but without a superstar potential (Jackie Bradley Jr).  Anyway, I imagine we will see at least another four future updates of this list.

13 April 2011

Is Wieters a poor behind the count hitter?

In the Oriole sphere of influence yesterday there was considerable talk about Matt Wieters and his ability to hit (or lack thereof) when behind in the count.  Much of it was initiated by a post on Orioles Hangout and it being highlighted by Tony Pente.  The post itself put an interesting premise in place about how Wieters hit no better than Cesar Izturis when behind in the count.  I'd argue though that it was an interesting notion, but we need to put the numbers within a bit more context.  Why?
  1. Small sample size.  Think about it, how many plate appearances do you need to feel comfortable about a player's performance?  It is probably somewhere in the 500-600 range where you begin to have a decent idea as to how good a hitter is.  Wieters has seen 916 first pitches in his career.  He has seen 424, 397, and 385 pitches in 0-1, 1-0, and 1-1 counts.  Every other situation is less than 257 pitches.  As one goes from 1 pitch to 500 pitches, the data becomes more meaningful.  However, you need to be quite open and aware that these are not hard, unwavering indications of ability.  As such, it is NOT safe to say Wieters is a poor Major League hitter in 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts.  It MAY be safe to say that he has not performed well in those situations.  There is a subtle, but key point there.  Past events correlate ability, but past events are not ability.  The weaker the sample size, the weaker the correlation, typically.
  2. The poster presented Wieters numbers within the context of eight Orioles and two other players.  This is not ideal for a comparison population when Baseball Reference provides you with whole league data to devise an average level of performance.  To understand how Wieters' performance has been, it is necessary to determine how that performance compares to the league average hitter.  The point of doing this is to minimize peculiar collections of data.  Additionally, shouldn't we also consider how there is a scarcity of offense at his position?  It seems that comparing a catcher's offensive production to other positions with greater production might be a tad bit unfair.
  3. With the poster done with his findings, I think Tony Pente chose to present some statistics in a manner that could be confusing to his audience.  Tony is someone who I find to be quite good at scouting players.  I regularly check his views on Oriole minor leaguers.  I trust what he sees over many in the industry who look at the Orioles with a less focused eye (e.g., John Sickels).  However, I don't think Tony fully recognizes what statistics can and cannot do at times.  In one paragraph, he notes that the pitch distribution over 29 plate appearances "tells me the book on Wieters is not to try and throw fastballs by him, but to get him out with offspeed stuff."  Pitch distribution over 29 at bats is not a large enough sample size.  It can be too affected by pitchers faced, situations, and simple chance.  He next paragraph acknowledges the meager nature of the data set with "It's early and the numbers won't be as skewed by year's end, but one thing is certain is that Wieters has been a terrible hitter when down in the count throughout his career and that pitchers are throwing him more and more offspeed pitches..."  However, I am not sure what he means here.  He writes he is certain of one thing and mentions two.  I'd argue without true population context, we don't know if he has been terrible or poor or whatever.  Second, pitch distribution over 29 plate appearances should not make one certain that pitchers are throwing him "more and more off speed pitches."  Wieters has barely seen a cutter.  The same logic would dictate that reports have determined that Wieters crushes cutters and no one will throw them to him.  Markakis, Reynolds, and Vlad also have seen fewer fastballs as well.  Has the scouting report changed on all of these guys?  It would be nice if that data set is robust enough to use, but it is not.  Tony might be absolutely correct, but he is not citing anything that supports his notion.  This is a case of the existing statistics taken to fit a narrative.
In response, I plan to explore a few different ways we can measure quantitatively and qualitatively Wieters offensive performance.  This series may take three or four posts over the next couple weeks while being completely honest with ourselves about the robustness of the data we have and what we can say with it.  Remember, a batter going 0-4 had a poor performance, but may not be a poor hitter.  We need to make that distinction.  If we have 600 plate appearances we might be able to say something more conclusive.  With Wieters short experience, we will be mostly treading in statistics that have no much weight.

After the jump, I will re-explore the notion of Wieters' OPS once he reaches certain hit counts.

11 April 2011

Predicted Wins and Playoff Probability: Week 2

There were some problems in last year's projections and probability.  I have sorted out the errors in some of the equations.  The original probability was based on the unadjusted Depot win prediction, but that has been corrected to the adjusted wins.

Click to make larger.

10 April 2011

Two completely different Zach Brittons

Sunday morning Buster Olney tweeted this:
Zach Britton has a chance to become what Stephen Strasburg was last year: Must-see TV. He is a very rare lefty with veering 95 mph fastball.
As you probably know, I have always been a bit shy when it comes to predicting success for Zach Britton over the years.  He is a pitcher who does best by inducing poor contact (e.g. ground balls).  In the minors, you typically see a reduction in ground ball rates as you move up the ladder.  If I remember correctly, a league average pitcher will typically see a decrease in grounders about 10%.  In other words, if a pitcher was inducing 50% ground balls in low-A then the average result would be a 45% line in AAA.  These lost grounders are thought to be diverted into balls and line drives.  This is thought to mostly be a product of more polished hitters higher in the minors who lay off the low pitches or can square up the ball low in the zone or get around on high velocity pitches.

As such, I have tempered my expectations of Britton.  I put him in a category of pitchers who need to prove himself at each and every level because so much depend on inducing poor contacts.  The fear being that more polished hitters will lay off his sinking fastballs that fall out of the zone or guys would be able to square up on them at a higher rate.  Tony Pente was the first person I read who pushed all in on Britton as a future star.  He was doing that three or four years ago.  At times, he has mentioned Britton as being better than Brian Matusz.  Keith Law began beating the drum two years ago, but still considers Matusz the better pitcher.  I am still in a holding pattern waiting to see where Britton falls in the 2-4 range.

What has impressed me so far though through these two games (remember: small sample size) was how different the two outings were.  The first time Britton went out, he ditched his two-seamer and lived off his four-seamer with a mix of changeups and sliders.  On Saturday, he fully embraced the two seamer and casually threw his other pitches.  It was stunning.  Both pitchers looked quite effective with last night more so.  What this does for me is indicate that there is a broad set of skills in Zach Britton.  I find his two-seamer as his only exceptional pitch, but he can also effectively use his other offerings to get by.  That makes me optimistic that when the league starts adjusting to him, he will be able to keep up and change himself.

That being said . . . I saw Stephen Strasburg and this was no Stephen Strasburg.  However, it is still pretty amazing.  I hope Britton continues to surprise me.  Maybe next game he will break out a knuckle ball and an Eephus Pitch and no hit the Yankees.

Continue reading to see a comparison of the two Britton outings from Pitch f/x data.

09 April 2011

Updated AL East Predicted Standings: 04/09/11

In the rush of posts in the past two weeks, I neglected to put out the initial week's projected standings.  These are calculated by estimating runs scored and given by each team in a neutralized setting.  This is done by using the MARCEL projections along with a simple tool that predicts Wins Above Replacement by inputting playing time, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Once this is calculated I apply Bill James' log5 win expectancy model and the team's remaining schedule.  As with the expected wins piece on Monday, this will eventually take the shape of a graph when I get more data points.

03/31/11 (prior to opening day)
Red Sox 94.7
Yankees 90.0
Rays 82.3
Orioles 79.5
Blue Jays 73.9

Red Sox 93.3
Yankees 90.7
Orioles 81.7 (up from 4th)
Rays 80.1 (down from 3rd)
Blue Jays 74.8

As you can see a week full of games has very little impact on these predictions.  The greatest difference is the Rays who lost 2.1 wins due in part by their losing and also due to Manny Ramirez retiring.  He was on the ledger as contributing 2.5 wins this year.  However, his replacements (Casey Kotchman and eventually Desmond Jennings) account for a 1.5 decrease over the rest of the season.

08 April 2011

Is Chris Tillman Injured or just a Taun Taun?

I want to be completely and utterly clear here.  On this occasion, I have absolutely no inside information and am basing this solely off of Pitch f/x.

This Spring Training there were murmurs from opposing scouts that Chris Tillman had turned into a junk pitcher.  He was no longer using his fastball as much and was using it as a show me pitch.  Instead, he had increased his use of his secondary pitches.  I had thought he was doing this just to get more feel on them and get ready for the season.  Last night, it did not look so good.

Count: 63
Swing and Miss: 2
Velocity: 87.3 +/- 1.1 mph (89.5 mph max)
Horizontal Run: -1.8 +/- 1.7 inches
Vertical Drop: 11.0 +/- 1.8 inches

In comparison, this is what he did on July 10, 2010:

Count: 69
Swing and Miss: 2
Velocity: 91.4 +/- 1.2 mph (93.5 mph max)
Horizontal Run: -3.4 +/- 1.6 inches
Vertical Drop: 10.2 +/- 2.1 inches

Whenever I see a difference of 3 mph or more, it concerns me.  That loss of velocity is a major hindrance.  Comparing the two starts, Tillman was not missing bats with his fastball, but that loss of speed can give a batter more time to square up and make more solid contact.  Compounding that with Tillman getting less movement on his fastball and it becomes more of a concern.

Another important aspect of pitching is to have a nice delta between your fastball and change up.  The wider the margin while keeping the same arm action will affect the batter's ability to time.  Last July the difference between the fastball and change up was 9.5 mph while last night it was 6.8 mph.  The movement also looks a bit flatter.  Last year it had more horizontal runs and more sink.  The curve balls look different too, but both could be useful.  Last year, the pitch was harder and had more drop.  This year, it is about 3 mph slower with more horizontal movement and slightly less drop.

It may have just been a bad night.

How did it compare to last Saturday?
He was humming along at 89.4 with a max of 93.5 mph.  His curve balls was about the same speed, but had almost twice as much movement.  The delta on his fastball to change up was 11 mph.  So . . . this was not the same pitcher.  Tillman, as mentioned earlier, had diminished velocity during the Spring.  His game last Saturday would count as that.  However, last night was worse as his max speed was 4 mph less.  Hopefully, it is just him not being able to adapt to the cold.

07 April 2011

Josh Rupe: No. 1

One finger down has traditionally been synonymous with a fastball.  Josh Rupe knows this well.  He knows this so well that he probably is confused when he sees anything else.  At least, this was probably true last night.  Josh Rupe threw 51 pitches over parts of four innings.  He started off with a slider, then mixed in 16 four seam fastballs, a slider, then 17 four seam fastballs, and at this point he decided to mix things up with four seamers and sliders.  It was a remarkable night because I often saw this type of pitching when I was in travel leagues as a teenager.  This approach is fairly uncommon these days.

I think part of Rupe's ability to do this is that his four seamer gets considerable run into right handed batters.  Thrown with good command and control, it is a pitch that will force a good deal of poor contact.  Based on Pitch f/x data, he averages about 8 inches of horizontal run on the pitch.  That aspect of it was the most of any pitcher who threw last night.  The four seamer has enough movement that he can basically throw it over and over again.  However, if his command is slightly off, batters can tee up something that does not run as much or settles into the middle of the plate . . . as we saw last night.  His slider is merely a show me pitch that he uses merely to keep batters off guard with slight movement in the other direction and a change of speed.  If used sparingly, he can throw it for an uncontested strike or get a swing and miss due to sheer surprise.

Here are the numbers...

Four Seam Fastball
Count: 45
Strikes: 28
Swing and Misses: 4
Velocity: 91.6 +/- 0.9 mph
Horizontal Run: -8.2 +/- 1.4 inches
Vertical Drop: 6.4 +/- 1.3 inches

Count: 6
Strikes: 5
Swing and Misses: 1
Velocity: 84.1 +/- 1.75 mph
Horizontal Run: 4.4 +/- 0.9 inches
Vertical Drop: 1.8 +/-  1.3 inches

To understand the horizontal and vertical movement, it is good to read the Physics of Baseball by Adair.  A normal projectile should have a no movement (0 inches, 0 inches).  There is no such thing as a rising fastball, but there is such a thing as a pitch that does not drop as fast as it should (or faster than it should).  This is due to the seams on the baseball and how its flight can change due to them.

06 April 2011

Five Keys to Watch in Frederick

As the Orioles minor league system goes this year, single A Frederick does not offer the promise that is on show in Delmarva, Bowie, and Norfolk.  However, there are several second and third tier prospects who might break out this year.  Including the first player on the list, who has been a follow of ours since he was drafted in the 8th round back in 2008.

Bobby Bundy, RHSP (21 years old)
Bundy was an 8th round selection due to his tearing his anterior cruciate ligament while playing basketball before his senior baseball season.  He rushed back to the mound and pitched while wearing a brace.  His velocity was down, but the Orioles saw enough of the player who was there before the injury to take a chance on him and give him an overslot contract.  Working off the injury and as an 18 year old, it took Bundy about a year and a half for every thing to start clicking.  In 2010, Bundy threw 116 innings at 3.65 with 7.1 k/9 and 3.3 bb/9 rates.  These are not exceptional numbers, but they are solid for a 20 year old in Delmarva and show considerable improvement.  Lapses in command of his fastball (leaves it up sometimes) and his curve (flattens out) still need some more ironing out, but he is becoming more proficient at pitching.  I am looking forward to seeing him throw live for the first time.

The name will also be familiar to those following the draft.  His younger brother Dylan is looking to be drafted in the first 15 picks in June.  There is an off hand (incredibly off hand) chance Dylan is drafted by the Orioles.

Jesse Beal, RHSP
Beal has been mentioned by some as a poor man's Zach Britton.  His numbers have not been quite equal to those of Zach, but he has passed through each level a year younger than Britton.  He is a big guy (6'6") and he throws a heavy fastball, inducing a great deal of ground balls.  His breaking ball and change are still works in progress.  He does not produce many swing and misses, but manages to get hitters to top off on his fastballs and produce weak grounders.  That type of pitcher is one is hard to project.  With each level, he will need to prove himself as more advanced hitters lay off fastballs moving down and beneath the zone.  Those groundballs typically turn into a greater number of line drives.  Zach Britton has been able to defy conservative projections.  How Beal does this year will be a good indication of whether he could do the same.

Dan Klein, RHP
Klein will be throwing this year from the bullpen as he works up innings.  He will likely be groomed as a starter in 2012.  This is what Nick Faleris wrote about him last year:
Klein is an interesting proposition in that his medical history, aggressive demeanor on the mound and fastball/curveball combo all seem to point to a career in relief (as was his role this spring at UCLA). However, with his change-up and slider also as potentially solid offerings, and with some strength in his legs and core, there is enough raw material here to give him a serious run at a rotation spot. The big question will be how his shoulder holds-up under the stress of a full season pro workload, but there is also a question as to whether the stuff will maintain its effectiveness over five to seven innings and over the course of a season. There is some risk here developing him as a starter, but the injury history and his season in the pen mean you can take a shot at a potential mid-rotation arm at a discount. As a redshirt-sophomore, he has some leverage and could head back to UCLA to up his value as a weekend starter alongside 2011 potential 1st Rounders Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. He has set-up upside in the pen, and his fastball/curve/change don't need a ton of work to play against pro bats.
Klein is another interesting pitcher to anticipate seeing in Frederick.

Matt Hobgood, RHP
What can one say about Matt Hobgood?  He has just recently begun throwing after suffering an injury this past off season.  He will likely pitch for the Keys mid-way through the season.  He has been largely underwhelming during his professional career.  The hard fastball and hammer curve that were seen before the 2009 draft have not entire appeared at this level.  His fastball has been consistently in the upper 80s and the curve has lacked command.  He has shown flashes of being a good pitch, but not as often as was hoped when he was selected.  The hope is that his injury is not serious and he has become more devoted to his workout regime.  He has yet to fail at any level, which needs to be emphasized . . . but we have not seen anything to make us think he will be an average MLB player.

Tyler Kelly, 3B
Kelly has some interest to me.  He is not on many follow lists, but he has shown some interesting skills.  He has been sufficient as a third baseman, which is useful.  He also has shown some secondary power, hitting 30 doubles last year.  If more of those can be turned into balls deposited over the fence, it will increase his value immensely.  He has also shown a good ability to draw walks.  However, a major problem is making good contact.  It is difficult for a low minors hitter with a .261 batting average to successfully graduate through the minors.  There is some potential there and fans will probably enjoy seeing him out there.

I hope I am proven wrong about Frederick.  I would be hard pressed to name someone beyond these five.  I'll see them quite a lot this year, so we will see.

05 April 2011

Keith Law Mentions Possible O's Draft Targets

In Keith Law's chat on March 31, 2011, he wrote:
The only substantive thing I've heard on them is a preference for a college player, which would probably put them on Hultzen, Bradley, Jungmann, Gray.
 Here is what we wrote about these targets a week or so ago:

Danny Hultzen, LHSP
University of Virginia
Hultzen is a highly polished pitcher with fringe plus offerings. I do not think there is much projection left in his pitches with the exception of his change up. He shows good feel for it and it might qualify as a future plus-plus offering. Command is not an issue, but I think he could improve upon his placement and that would improve how he uses those pitches. His dominance so far this season has been largely due to how well he has been able to place his slider. Some like to think if you flash a skill, you own the skill. I'm a little more conservative than that, but do think the possibility is there. Like Bradley, I think he will move quickly through the minors and not be challenged until the Majors. For comparison's sake, I would put Brian Matusz above him or Bradley.

Jed Bradley, LHSP
Georgia Tech
I tend to value college players and college lefties a great deal. Bradley fulfills both. He throws a fastball in the low 90s and accompanies that with a fringe-plus change up and a good slider. He is the type of pitcher who is a safe bet to glide through the minors and not meet resistance until he faces more polished hitters in the Majors. He has a good strong body and a motion without any red flags for me. I'm hoping to see him in person when I make it to Clemson this year.

Taylor Jungmann, RHSP
University of Texas - Austin
Jungmann is safer than Gray and has the potential to be a front end starter. His pitching motion is easier than Gray's as it is not as maximum effort. However, it should be noted that there may be some interest in lengthening his stride as currently it is short enough that he puts extra stress on his shoulder to get his arm to catch up. It may also be a situation where he is a very good prospect and it might be a poor idea to change anything significantly. He has a low 90s fastball and slots his change up similarly to make it an effective offering. Jungmann also has a slurve that is not as sharp as Gray's, but flashes plus with good command. He is another solid arm in this draft class.

Sonny Gray, RHSP
Vanderbilt University
I might be on an island here, but many look at his full effort delivery and his small stature . . . then see a closer in the making. Although it is a full effort delivery, I think it can be repeatable. His stuff is electric with a hard, tailing fastball that he keeps in the mid to low 90s and a plus-plus curve that has movement in two planes. He has had some control issues in the past and many blame the delivery on it, but from reports I have read this year it sounds that control has not been as worrisome. He has also been working on a slider that would give his repertoire a boost in the depth of his offerings. I would be quite excited to land him.

04 April 2011

2011 Season Wins and Playoff Odds: Week 1

There are only two data points, so there is not much to say.  However, the three wins nearly doubled our probability for the Orioles to make the postseason.  This is a result of the Orioles sweeping the Rays whereas the model thought they would win one game, maybe two.  The Pythagorean method is being swamped by only have three data points and no foundation to base its earlier 81 default.  It should settle down more so in the next few weeks.

Click on image to make larger.

03 April 2011

The Pros and Cons of Zach Britton

It appears that when Brian Matusz was hit by LJ Hoes' line drive, he twisted sharply and suffered a Grade II strain on his intercostal muscles.  This set up a flurry of medical tests and plane tickets that has placed Matusz on the 15 day DL, likely to be out for six weeks, and Zach Britton getting the call on Sunday in Tampa.  The original plan was for Britton to pick up a month or two in Norfolk before sliding into the rotation in Baltimore, thereby giving the Orioles and additional year of control over his contract.  If he now spends less than 20 days from here on in the minors outside of rehabilitation stints, that year comes back to the Orioles.  You may remember that this was exactly what happened to JJ Hardy when Milwaukee optioned him to the minors in 2009 and prevented him from entering free agency last off season.

How does this effect the Orioles in the long term?
Well, losing out on Zach Britton is a concern.  The value of an average pitcher in 2010 dollars is about 10MM on the free agent market.  Lets assume, Britton is an average pitcher from 2011 to 2016.  In 2010 dollars, his saving each year would be about 9.5, 9.5, 10, 6, 4, and 2MM.  If you delayed him from the start, you get him for seven years and see something like 9.5, 9.5, 8, 10, 6, 4, and 2MM.  With that perspective, you lose one year of an average pitcher at 2MM.  Or 8MM to subsidize a pitcher.  That 8MM could then be used to put someone like Derrek Lee at first base for a season.  So, it is a considerable savings.  Even more so when this is practiced as a full on strategy because you wind up saving money long term on the performance of several players and all you had to do was not have one of them for 20 days.

Realistically though . . . how does this effect the Orioles in the long term?
It probably does not.  In all likelihood, Zach Britton will not be an average pitcher six years from now.  If you look at Baseball America's top 100 prospects over the past 20 seasons, pitching prospects who ranked in the 21 to 30 range (Zach Britton was ranked 28th this season) were considered "busts" 79.4% of the time.  In other words, four out of five Zach Brittons are not going to be able to keep themselves in a Major League rotation over the course of six seasons.  What the Orioles are losing is a 8MM lottery ticket that they will win on 20% of the time . . . six years from now.

Does this make sense?
For the Orioles . . . I do not see really any way it makes sense.  The team has a 2-3% chance to make it to the playoffs.  The difference between Zach Britton and Rick VandenHurk or Mark Hendrickson over the course of four to six starts is probably worth about half a win to a full win in the standings.  Let us say, it is worth two wins to be generous.  The Orioles will likely need to win 92 games to win the Wild Card and I currently have them hovering just below a .500 team.  It is highly unlikely that the team is a 90 win team (I have them as a 3.2% likelihood of reaching 90 wins), so that 8MM lottery ticket is potentially being tossed in the drainage grate in exchange for nothing.

However, for a team teetering on the edge of the playoffs, an increase in two wins is quite a considerable value.  Teams bring in about 1.5-2 MM for every home playoff game they play.  If the player makes enough of a difference that his presence on the team is the deciding factor on them making the playoffs, then just by being in the divisional series the team will break even in value.  This does not consider any potential gains in attendance at the beginning of the following year due to the playoff appearance.

In other words, a team like the Yankees should have Zach Britton in their rotation without regard to contract status while a team like the Orioles should not.  However, I will be quite interested in seeing Britton dealing in the low 90s and inducing grounders 60% of the time.

Note - Super Two status is most likely not an issue here as the next Collective Bargaining Agreement because that status is likely not going to be there.

02 April 2011

Reminder: Oriole Book Club

Reminder . . . purchase a copy of Weaver on Strategy and read it for the book club.  We should have a podcast up later in the month along with a live chat and a post or two.

April (one book)

Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team
by Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto

This book is Earl Weaver handbook on how to run a baseball team.  He dives into the inning to inning tasks as well as what he thinks needs to be considered over the course of the full season.  Personally, I have no read this work and have been told by many that this is essential reading for not only any Oriole fan, but also for any fan of baseball.

May (two books)

The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First
by Jonah Keri

This is Jonah Keri book on how the Tampa Bay Rays success story.  It is about how the worst team in baseball looked to find any and every advantage, no matter how small.  By slightly exploiting areas more efficiently than the Yankees or Red Sox enabled them to be successful.  Studying the Rays' success may provide some perspective to how the Orioles might be better run.

Built to Win: Inside Stories and Leadership Strategies from Baseball's Winningest GM
by John Schuerholz, Bob Costas, and Larry Guest

Schuerholtz tells some stories about his career and throws down some of his knowledge.  As I know his strategies, he considers himself to some extent an anti-Moneyball-ist . . . which is not exactly something I understand what it is.  We figure this is a good book to read about a successful general manager with ideas that differ from those with the Rays and, to some extent, Earl Weaver.

June (two books)

Dollar Sign on the Muscle: the World of Baseball Scouting
by Kevin Kerrane

This book is sadly out of print, but look around and try to find it for a good price.  Nick Faleris suggested this one and with it being in the first half of June . . . it fits in nicely with the Amateur draft.  From what I have been told, it is the history of baseball through a scout's eyes.

Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit
by Matthew McCarthy

Matthew McCarthy was a left handed pitcher who was selected late in the draft by the Los Angelos Angels.  This book is about his first and only season in professional baseball.  There has been some dispute over the veracity of aspects of the book, but, for the most part, it is considered a reasonable portrait of minor league ball.

July (first half of July)

by Milton Jamail

Reiner is currently with the Tampa Bay Rays breaking into Brazil.  In this book, it describes his effort in tapping into the talent available in Venezuela when almost all teams were ignoring the country.  His finds of note include Johann Santana, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Bobby Abreu, and former Oriole Melvin Mora.  The explains how the scouting system works and how Reiner has excelled at it.

Best Pitching Performance of the Year? Jeremy Guthrie

Opening day is out of the way for every team.  As it stands, Jeremy Guthrie has arguably had the great performance of any of them, which is impressive because teams begin the season with the pitcher they perceive as the best.  So how am I suggesting that Guthrie has had the best performance so far?  Game Score.

Game score is a fairly simple statistic that tries to determine the value of a pitching performance.  It uses innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, hits, earned runs, unearned runs (because unearned runs are poorly credited as pitchers really should not be completely absolved of responsibility for them), and extra credit for each innings completed after the fourth.  The formula is as follows:
Game Score = 50 + 3*IP + K + IP (completed after 4 innings) - 2*hits - 4*ER - 2*ER - BB
Jeremy Guthrie's line last night was 8 IP, 3 hits, 6 k, and 1 BB with no runs scored.  Plugging that into the equation we get:
81 = 50 + 3*8 + 6 + 4 - 2*3 - 4*0 - 2*0 - 1
A Game Score of 81 is the best mark of the season.  The top 5 so far are:

Jeremy Guthrie, 81
Clayton Kershaw, 77
Felix Hernandez, 74
Jered Weaver, 73
Chris Carpenter, 67
Derek Lowe, 67
Tim Lincecum, 67

It should be noted that a score of 81 would not have been in last year's top 40 with the lowest score among those being 86.  Last year, Brandon Morrow had the highest Game Score at 100 with his 9 IP one hitter where he marked up 17 strikeouts and walked 2.  The highest Game Score ever for a 9 inning game was Kerry Wood's masterpiece in 1998 where he struck out 20 while only giving up a hit (the highest possible score is 114).

After the jump, Guthrie Game Score graphically as he progressed from batter to batter last night and how his final Game Score compared to his performances last year.

01 April 2011

Brian Matusz has an intercostal strain

It was announced tonight that Brian Matusz will be out 3-4 weeks with an intercostal strain and that Zach Britton will take his place in the rotation.  This left many a Baltimore Oriole fan asking . . . "Just what is an intercostal strain?"

The intercoastal are a series of muscles that are interlaced with the ribs and help provide stability to the rib cage.  Straining this muscle is usually the result of a quick and sudden twisting of the core.  Matusz may have experienced this during his reaction to being hit with a line drive this past week in his final tuneup against LJ Hoes.  The batted ball hitting his biceps would not have been the issue, it would have been him reacting and twisting away from the ball.

Based on the three to four week number, this sounds like a Grade II strain of the intercostal muscles.  This is a bad, but not awful strain.  It would not be surprising if it takes about a month and a half for him to heal up and another rehab start or two.  Right now, he is probably feeling some discomfort while breathing and constant, dull ache in his rib cage.

2011 Season Wins and Playoff Odds: Week 0

Bald Eagle Hatching from Ed Smith Stadium
So begins another year and another season of keeping track of projected wins and playoff odds for the Baltimore Orioles.  In years past we have seen the three measures I use (PECOTA, Pythagorean, and Camden Depot's house stats) follow the team and mosey toward actual reality.  Typically, the team does about six to ten games worse than the projections each year.  Hopefully this season is different.

Graphs depicting the journey will appear from now on every Monday.  It being the first week, we only have one data point.  As a brief reminder, here is a rundown of each system:
PECOTA - I use Baseball Prospectus' projections that models the season and predicts wins and playoff opportunity.
Camden Depot - I used MARCEL projections to determine team WAR, adjust the WAR with a log5 strength of schedule factor, and then use a simple binomial function that determines the likelihood of the Orioles winning 92 games.  Why 92?  Based on all of the projection systems I have seen, 92 wins is likely what will result in a wild card.
Pythagorean - It assumes that what has happened will happen again no matter the sample size.  I will also use the same binomial function as a playoff predictor.

Projected Wins:
PECOTA - 80.3 wins; 8.20% playoff chance
Camden Depot - 79.5 (80.7 without adjustment); 2.23%
Pythagorean - 81 (by default); 3.56%

The Depot's current projection of 2.23% is currently the lowest of the systems I can find.  CAIRO puts them at 12.5%.