30 June 2011

Mark Reynolds needs to step down to be a 30/-30 player

After 74 games, Mark Reynolds has given us what we have expected.  He hits well . . . or, to be more specific, he makes enough solid contact and walks enough to make up for all the times he does not make contact.  He has also been incredibly rough at third base.  Both of these were expected and he is roughly the exact player we knew was coming here.  For the season, Reynolds is on pace to be 41 batting runs above replacement and -20 fielding run above average (from Baseball Reference).  If he ends up with those he will have had his second best offensive season and his worst defensive season.  There have been 5 players in the history of baseball who have had 41 BRAR or more and -20 FRAA or less. 
Dick Deitz 1970 42 batting runs -20 fielding runs
Joe Torre 1971 62 batting runs -25 fielding runs
Jeff Burroughs 1974 48 batting runs -21 fielding runs
Dale Murphy 1985 44 batting runs -21 fielding runs
Bernie Williams 2002 42 batting runs -22 fielding runs
If Reynolds is able to keep this up, he will be in select company.  Dietz was a strong hitter for a few seasons and likely would have been in the Majors longer if he had the benefit of a DH.  Torre is arguably a HoFer as a result of his playing days.  Burroughs had a somewhat uneven career with really only three solid offensive seasons.  Dale Murphy was a bat in search of a position and was likely going to be a sure fire HoFer until his knees quit on him.  Bernie Williams is a slightly better version of Dale Murphy.  Just as bad of a defender, but a tad better bat and a tad longer career.  Although he does have that Yankee glow while Murphy has that pre-Atlanta Dynasty patina.

A 40/-20 club may be a good way to measure a usable player (this is not position weighted though).  However, I think there is a certain special something to a 30/-30 club.  Mark Reynolds should easily get the offensive side of that equation.  He is in the midst of a career offensive year.  His defense is just not bad enough at this point.  He manages to get to a good number of balls, so that he saves a number of doubles by stabbing the ball even if it is followed by a poor throw.  This is especially true with the Orioles defense behind him in left.  Anyway, the 30/-30 club is quite small:
Ryan Braun 2007 33 batting runs -35 fielding runs
Jason Bay 2008 31 batting runs -35 fielding runs
Adam Dunn 2009 34 batting runs -33 fielding runs
Ryan Braun's 2007 season is quite remarkable in that he accomplished this while playing only 113 games.  If he had played his normal 155 games he would have had a 45/-48 season.  That would have been quite remarkable.  The Brewers feared those defensive numbers and shifted him to the outfield where he has shown more aptitude.  Jason Bay is not a good defensive outfielder, but his 2008 season may have been a bit of an abnormality.  It was somewhat of a surprise when the Mets signed him to play left field for them.  Even more of a surprise is that his defense has been passable while the bottom dropped out of his bat.  Some thought it had to do with his fly balls not finding enough room in the spacious confines of Citi Field.  However, he has been a much much better hitter at home than on the road.  Adam Dunn's defense was ignored for a season in Washington, shifted to first, and is now where he belongs as a DH for the White Sox.

Mark Reynolds may be a butcher at third, but his bat covers for him.  He may be worth more in left field or at first base.  Reynolds played a little bit of left in the minors and does not seem exceptionally bad out there.  His first base time in the Majors for Arizona looked quite poor.  It might make most sense for the former shortstop to play some outfield.  Of course, this means we need a new third baseman and I do not see that available in the system for next year.  Perhaps the best course of action is to put up with his poor defense as long as he is getting his walks and hitting home runs.

28 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Platoon Advantages' Expansion Draft

The folks over at the Platoon Advantage decided it would be fun to do a thought exercise where they would come up with an expansion draft with each blogger taking a team.  The rest of us in ESPN's Sweetspot Network cooperated by providing protected lists and pull back lists.  How did it work?  I'll let them explain:
1997 Expansion Draft, were as follows:

A) Players who were drafted in the last two amateur drafts (2010 and 2011) were not eligible to be selected in the Expansion draft. Also, players selected in the 2009 amateur draft who were under the age of 19 at the time they were selected are also exempt. Teams do not have to protect these players. These same rules apply to amateur free agents who signed in the same timeframe. Therefore, neither expansion club could pick Mike Trout from the Angels.

B) Any player who is going to be a free agent, obviously, will not need to be protected in this draft, since they will not be on their team’s roster at the time of the draft. Therefore, the Mets do not have to burn a spot on Jose Reyes, unless they happen to sign him to an extension before then.

C) Teams are required to submit a list of 15 eligible players who will be “protected” for the first round, meaning that neither expansion team can select them. The Marlins, for instance, protected Mike Stanton, recognizing that he was an incredible young talent with a low salary that any expansion team would pounce on.

D) The expansion teams are only allowed to select one player from any organization per round. For instance, if one club selected Adrian Beltre from the Texas Rangers, the Rangers couldn’t lose anyone else for the rest of that round.

E) After each expansion team has picked 15 players (which would mean that every MLB club has had one players selected), each club is allowed to protect three additional players for Round 2. At that point, the process repeats itself, with 15 more picks, and three more protected players, for Round 3. This continues until each expansion team has selected 35 players.
So, who did we protect?  Who did we not protect?

First 15 . . .
C Matt Wieters - Is currently one of the best catchers in baseball.  Really.  He is.
RF Nick Markakis - He has to be better than this and he is signed to a reasonable contract.
CF Adam Jones - Reasonable salary and near All Star performance.
SP Jeremy Guthrie - Veteran pitcher, quality pitcher, cheap pitcher.
SP Brian Matusz - Lots of promise even with his recent setbacks.
SP Chris Tillman - This might surprise people, but Tillman has youth and ability.  He is still mighty young.
SP Jake Arrieta - Young, solid thrower...as you can tell, we are hoarding our pitching.
SP Zach Britton - Same thing.
SP Brad Bergesen - This might also surprise people, but he could be a cheap valuable back end starter.
SS J.J. Hardy - One of the better players on the team and a valuable trade piece.
OF Felix Pie - This list was made about eight weeks ago, I would now leave Pie off of it.
LF Luke Scott - Reasonable contract and potential value on the market.
OF Xavier Avery - Raw, toolsy outfielder.  Even with continued poor performance, I would still protect him.
UTL LJ Hoes - He has also had a rough season, but the O's system does not have many have to protect guys.
SP Bobby Bundy - We have always been high on him here at the Depot and think he can be a solid mid rotation starter.

Who did we leave available?
We left many of our high priced relievers and older veterans for the taking.  We have long thought poorly of the Roberts extension and wished for some intervention.  We also were not very high on Vlad and the multiple millions spent on fringe relievers.

Who was taken in the first round?
3B Josh Bell - We are fine with this.  Bell showed a lot of promise when he came over from the Dodgers organization.  However, his improving defense stopped improving and he has largely lost his ability to take a walk.  Without a glove, you need a big bat to succeed.  He has that potential, but I severely doubt he can fulfill that potential.

We were then allowed to pull back three players:
LF Nolan Reimold - Part of us still believes there is an above average bat here.  Reimold is getting older, but that ability is still there for him to emerge as a late bloomer.
1B Brandon Snyder - He has a good swing and not much else.  However, that might be enough.
1B Tyler Townsend - He has ability and there just is not much for us to protect on this squad.

Who was taken in the second round?
3B Mark Reynolds - We are also fine with this.  The way we see things is that Reynolds is being paid as a 2 win player.  When everything is working, he is exactly that.  Past attempts to have him play first base were dreadful and we are not sure how well he can play left field.  This might have been a poor decision on our part to pull back Snyder and not Reynolds, but we also enjoy the increased payroll flexibility.  Unfortunately, say hello to new third baseman Robert Andino!

We were then allowed to pull three more back:
C Caleb Joseph - Potentially a useful backup offensive oriented catcher.
SP Ryan Berry - I think this was before we knew the extent of his injuries, but he is a fine pitching prospect.
RP Koji Uehara - Reasonably priced, solid reliever who may be useful in trade.

No one else was selected from the organization.

We were pretty happy with how we came out in the end.  We really did not lose much and we really did not have much to lose.  Sadly, we really we not able to get rid of any of the sillier contracts we have on the books, but we knew coming in that these guys kind of knew what they were doing (outside of not taking James Shields--what?).  Anyway, anyone have any better suggestions how we should have gone about it?

27 June 2011

Predicted Wins and Playoff Probability: Week 12

It has been awhile since I last posted the Orioles predicted wins and playoff probability.  All of the systems were sliding between 76 and 80 wins.  That just did not seem an incredibly exciting thing to update every week.  So where has a month later left us?  Between 76 and 80.  Perhaps it is slightly exciting to note that the Camden Depot and PECOTA predictions are beginning to move away from the Pythagorean.

A few more detailed notes:
  • The Orioles took four wins against Seattle during the six games in which they will face each other this year.  My system predicted 3.43 wins, so this was a good outcome for the team.
  • They split even with the Nationals three games a piece.  3.42 wins were expected.
  • Against Cincinnati they took two of three while the expectation was 1.47 wins.
  • They dropped two of their three to the Pirates where they were expected to win 1.67.
Out of these four finished series, they are +0.01 wins based on my initial projection.  This is practically breaking even.  Series against the Yankees, Jays, and Indians are not going so well and the team is likely to under-perform against those teams.

Before we get to the updated graph, here are some solid posts over the past month:
They Lathe Bats, Don't They?  An interview with a guy who makes bats for some of the Orioles
Science of Baseball Always a crowd pleaser
Revisiting MLB Reallignment

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Dempsey's Army Presents: Last Week in Chats (June 20-26)

Monday afternoons Heath from Dempsey's Army will recount all things Baltimore Orioles from the previous week's chats. It is a convenient way to learn what national writers think about specific issues that relate to the Orioles.
Where we distill all the week's baseball chats down to their Oriole essence...

Jerry Crasnik, ESPN

Charlie milwaukee [via mobile]
Where do you see prince fielder playing next season? The teams that need and can pay fielder already have a high profile name at that position.

Jerry Crasnick (1:06 PM)
Charlie, Yep, with Boston, the Yankees and others already spoken for at first base, that puts a bit of a crimp in Prince's market. At the moment, you hear the Cubs and O's floating around as potential candidates. And as much as you hear that the Brewers are "priced out" on Prince, I wouldn't write them off entirely. Scott Boras needs to keep them in the mix as a potential landing spot.

Derek Carty, Baseball Prospectus

Ralph (Arlington):
Rank em please: Brantly, Markakis, Pagan, Torres

Derek Carty:
I think you've got the order right there. Michael Brantley, Nick Markakis, Angel Pagan, Andres Torres. Brantley and Markakis are close, but I'd probably go Brantley first.

Yatchisin (Santa Barbara):
Do you think Brian Matusz will get right this year? Opens on DL, comes off, pitches mediocre at best, tweaks hammy.... I had high hopes for him, and now am at the point of cutting him for free agent Bud Norris.

Derek Carty:
I wouldn't give up on Matusz, but if you can drop him for Norris, I'd definitely do it.

Dave Cameron, FanGraphs.com

12:57 Comment From Mark
Hi everyone. Dave, what do you think Guthrie's trade value is and would he be an upgrade for the Reds rotation? Also do you think the Marlins would trade Sanchez?

12:57 Dave Cameron:
I don't think he'll be seen as a premium guy, since he's more good command than great stuff. And no, I don't think Anibal goes anywhere.

Keith Law, ESPN

I know this isn't a fantasy specific chat, but I am stuck with Ike Davis and Brian Roberts on my DL. Which player is more likely to return this season and contribute?

Klaw (2:10 PM)
Sounds like Davis might be done for the year.

Peter (Los Angeles)
Another Futures Game Question: Do you think Manny Machado & Jameson Taillon get invites this year or are they too young?

Klaw (2:19 PM)
Figured I'd answer these together. I'd say Perez and Profar or Perez and Martin. And I think both Machado and Taillon should be invited - they belong on ability.

Mike Morse (Washington DC)
*crossing Keith Law off Christmas card list*

Klaw (2:20 PM)
That's OK, Matt Wieters still sends me three every year.

Brian (AZ)
Which players from the draft do you think will get major league contracts?

Klaw (2:27 PM)
Cole, Bauer, Hultzen, Rendon. Maybe Bundy.

Norman (San Jose)
do you think Johnathan Schoop has enough bat for 3B?

Klaw (3:16 PM)

Klaw (3:16 PM)
Yes, and yep.

Matt Klaassen, FanGraphs.com

1:14 Comment From Rick
How do you feel about Adam Jones sustaining this level of production to a potential 25/100/15 season?

1:15 Matt Klaassen:
I was actually looking at Jones earlier. He's always had potential, but his plate approach has been so bad... this season, he's not getting lucky with BABIP or anything, and he's walking a bit more, yet he's still swinging (and missing) at about the same rate. Some guys are able to defy those peripherals. I really have no idea what's up with him. He's a special athlete, I'll give him that.

Jayson Stark, ESPN

Cole (Baltimore)
Do you think the Orioles trade Jeremy Guthrie? What would a team have to give up to get him

Jayson Stark (1:17 PM)
I continue to hear they're not anxious to trade him. And even though it isn't his fault he's 2-9, it isn't helping his value. He's one of those guys whose value to his current team is probably greater than his value on the market, but that could change.

Pete (Maryland)
Jayson - Rank of Prince Fielder's most likely destinations in 2012? Cubs, Orioles, Brewers, Angels, Rangers?

Jayson Stark (1:20 PM)
He should really go to the American League, shouldn't he? Nevertheless, I'd make the Orioles No. 1 and the Cubs No. 2. Very dubious he'd wind up with any of the other teams on your list.

Cup of jO's: Putting Reynolds Fielding into Perspective

The Orioles beat the Reds yesterday 7-5.  The game was a bit of a nail biter as Oriole pitching kept allowing the Reds get back in.  In addition there was about a one or two inning stretch where home plate umpire Al Porter seemed to be incredibly confused by his strike zone.  Regardless, the three home runs the Orioles hit proved to be too much for the Reds.  It also hurt the Reds that they left 14 men on base in comparison to the Orioles leaving seven.  Those differences are going to hurt you.


Mark Reynolds made two more throwing errors yesterday as well as making a few good plays.  This made me want to know just how bad historically has his defense been amongst third basemen?  The most recent update for baseball reference is that he is sitting at -10 runs.  This places him in a tie with the 103rd worst defense.  Two Orioles also share that feat: 1989 Craig Worthington and 1983 Leo Hernandez.  The last I calculated, Reynolds is on pace to be -21 runs above average for his fielding.  That would tie him for ninth worst ever with 1990 Jim Presley.

Here are the bottom ten:
1. Ryan Braun 2007 -35
2. Gary Sheffield 1993 -32
3. Ty Wigginton 2003 -28
4. Joe Torre 1971 -25
5. Mark Teahan 2005 -24
6. Edwin Encarnacion 2007 -22
--. Fernando Tatis 1999
--. Greg Norton 1999
9. Jim Preseley 1990 -21
10. Dave Hollins 1998 -19
It certainly is a good thing Mark Reynolds mashes.  A good number of poor defenders are often "rested" at DH, shifted to first, or sometimes hidden in Left Field.  However, Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and Luke Scott are preventing him to move to those locations.  It surely will be interesting to see how far he climbs up this list.

26 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Eye Color and Circadian Rhythm

Backbone Mountain
Garrett County's Backbone Mountain has the highest point of altitude in the Great State of Maryland.  The point, Hoye Crest, 3,360 feet high.  Last night in the Orioles' 10-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the nine home runs added up to 3,633 feet.  I'm not sure that helps you appreciate the way runs were scored last night, but it certainly was an impressive hitting feat.  Unfortunately, the Reds had the better end of it.  The Reds had one more home run and more instances of having men on base.  Also it is unfortunate that the Reds offensive explosion came against Brian Matusz.  On average he is giving up almost three home runs per nine innings, which will not get it done.

I also found it a concern how Matusz' fastball changed as the night went on.  He peaked in the first inning with an 89.3 mph fastball.  The pitches hung around 88.3 during that inning.  In the second inning, it dropped to 87.5 mph.  In the third, 87 mph.  In the fourth, 86 mph.  In the fifth, a shade under 86.  That difference of a little over 3 mph is something you do not see in a starting pitcher.  That is serious fatiguing.  I imagine the 26 pitch third inning was tiring, but the trend was in place before that inning.  I do not think this bodes well for him.  You could tell that him and Wieters knew it was not good as they steadily shifted over to throwing his change up almost exclusively toward the end of the outing.  The final home run he gave up was a four pitch at bat and each pitch was a change up.  Showalter and Matusz both claim there is no injury, but I am at a loss to explain how a starter is not showing any ability to maintain velocity over the course of a couple innings.


In light of me not posting a Science of Baseball tonight, I thought I would write a few things about Josh Hamilton's assertion that blue eyes are bad for hitting.  I figure if we wait another week or two we will wind up finding someone posting on eye color and hitting based on ESPN profiles.  I hope I don't have to do it.  Other studies that might be similar are ones where pitching performance was compared between sunny and cloudy days.  Hitters did better on cloudy days.  As well as this recent preliminary one where player specific circadian rhythms appear to dictate how well a player performs.  In other words, night owls do better when playing at night because they are capable of staying alert.

I think it makes sense that lighter eye colors would relate to light sensitivity and this could affect the ability of a player to recognize pitches and speed.  A player basically decides when and where to swing by the time the ball has traveled about ten feet from the pitchers hand.  (side-note: I think it was the other day when an announcer or journalist wrote how pitchers had the advantage in a Reds-Giants game because the stadium shadow had moved from behind the catcher to right in front of the plate.  That makes no sense.  You can blindfold a batter for the majority of the ball's flight path because hitting it has nothing to do with last moment reactions.  Your eyes, brain, and muscles just cannot process and respond to a projectile that quickly.  So, the shadow would have had to have been about 50 feet in front of home plate to make any difference).  Anyway, Hamilton may be suffering from two things: light sensitivity and having a circadian rhythm that helps him more at night.  It should be noted that blue eyes are not blue eyes are not blue eyes.  Not every blue eyed person shows light sensitivity.  Even using baseball statistics, I am pretty sure J.J. Hardy has blue eyes and his hitting is the same day or night.

Understanding light sensitivity and circadian rhythms might prove to be beneficial for a team.  If you are looking for a time to sit a batter or how to utilize a platoon.  It might be a good idea to look at a players day/night splits and probably normalize it with dome play data.  The dome is basically your light controlled data set while non-dome is affected by light and time.  For instance, Luke Scott hits 775 OPS in the day and 875 OPS at night with an 829 OPS in a dome.  What this may tell us is that Luke is not particularly affected by light, but he does appear to have better focus for night games.  It may be that if Buck wants to give Luke a day off, he should target games in the afternoon.  When looking at MLB in general, there typically not much of a difference between OPS in day and night games.  This might be a real effect and it might be an area in which a manager could exploit.

25 June 2011

Cup of jO's: What to do with J.J. Hardy?

The Orioles took last night away from the Reds in 12 innings with the 5-4 final score.  In the top of the twelfth, Adam Jones did not play Jay Bruce double well.  The encourage the Reds to send Joey Votto home, but the relay and Wieters at home were solid, preventing the run to score.  A few moments later, lineup protector Derrek Lee lifted a shot into the left field stands for a walk off home run.  It was his first home run in a little over a month and a half.  It was not an incredibly pretty win, but it was against a team that has a solid offense and decent pitching.

One more note...Blake Davis earned his first major league hit with a two run triple.  Congratulations to him.


I was reading the Sun's Matt Vensel's interview with Heath Blintiff of Dempsey's Army (and our Last Week in Chat post on Mondays that we host for him).  Toward the end of the interview, Heath mentions that one of the primary things the Orioles need to do is sign J.J. Hardy to an extension.  I'm not sure I entirely agree with that.  J.J. Hardy is experiencing a career year at 28 years old for a shortstop.  These kind of performances warrant contracts of about 5-6 years in length and north of 10MM.  With Hardy's background, he will not make the killing Jose Reyes will make this off season, but he will be a far more reasonable options for someone willing to squint their eyes and massage over the injuries as well as an uneven history.  I think much of the glamor on him comes from his impressive 2007 and 2008 seasons where he was able to show good contact and a very good glove.  I'm not sure we can completely trust that 2009 and 2010 were abnormalities.  However, those seasons might melt away with his 390 wOBA which is just 2 points away from the leader, Jose Reyes.  This season, J.J. Hardy is an elite shortstop again. 

Earlier this season, I was in full favor of extending Hardy.  Keeping him under contract for 2-3 additional years would enable the Orioles to have a good hitting and fielding shortstop while we wait for Manny Machado.  Additionally, Hardy could slide over to third if needed.  I think at the beginning of this year, the team could have extended Hardy for about 7 or so MM a year.  This off season will consist of basically him and Reyes at shortstop with several shortstop hungry teams.  I think it has made extending Hardy misguided and may largely be impractical with the Orioles apparent budget.  Hardy is a bit of a risk that I would be fine with at 7MM, but not 14MM.  I also think we need to consider how much longer he will be capable of playing shortstop as he is not particularly quick.  A five year extension with Hardy might be similar to what we are seeing with Brian Roberts.

This leaves us with the best solution when handed a position player who is having a career year at a shallow league wide talent position and is only being paid a few million over the rest of the season . . . a trade.  I think a decent comparison could be drawn to the Athletics and Cardinals trade that sent Matt Holliday to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortenson, and Shane Petersen.  This was a trade for a player who was struggling in Oakland, but had a history of success and a somewhat sizable remaining contract.  Hardy is someone who has had success in the past, recent injuries, recent incredible performance, and a cheap contract (~2.5MM left) at a premium position.  Where the A's were able to receive a first tier and two third tier prospects.  I think the Orioles could must a low first tier and two low second tier prospects.

So who is in need?

San Francisco Giants
The Giants thought they were solving their shortstop problems by installing Miguel Tejada at shortstop.  Unfortunately, they apparently had only a highlight reel of him to use to gauge his defense.  As much as I love Tejada, this season is likely to be his last.  He has no defensive value at shortstop and he has none at the plate.  In the past, poor performance has been explained away as being the product of him being an emotional player and not being in a playoff situation.  With a tight NL West, it just is not much of an excuse.  His replacement has been Camden Depot shadow draftee Brandon Crawford whose glove plays excellently in the majors.  However, he hits as well as the starting rotation and the Giants need more offense if they truly want to compete.

The key in a deal to the Giants would be Brandon Belt.  He is a legitimate top 25 bat at first base.  The Giants did not immediately find success with him this season and if they want to play for now . . . they may be willing to sell off part of the future.  Belt would be the Orioles Brett Wallace in this scenario.  I think he is a better prospect than Wallace was, but there really is not another high level prospect available in the Giants organization except for lower level pitcher and Camden Depot shadow draftee Zach Wheeler.  The second player I would target would be 3B Adam Duvall a 22 year old in low A ball.  He is a fringe C level prospect who has shown more power and plate discipline this year, which may convince some to push him up to a B level prospect.  He does have issues with contact and not much of a track record of success.  I would also go with Jason Stoffel for the third piece.  I have always liked him.  He does not do anything particularly spectacular, but he can pitch.  He could be a middle relief arm in 2012 or 2013.

Milwaukee Brewers
Yuniesky Betancourt is killing them up the middle and three teams are within three games of them.  The Brewers need some help and would be much better off with their ex-SS J.J. Hardy in their lineup.  This might be Prince's last year in Milwaukee, so it might be their last shot.  However, J.J. and the Brewers did not exactly leave on the best terms possible as they demoted him which tacked on an extra arbitration year.  Another stumbling block is that the Brewers system does not contain any readily identifiable gems.  You could go with a quantity trade with Taylor Green, Khristopher Davis, and Matt Gamel.  Maybe throw in a couple pitchers like Thornburg or Peralta.  I don't think this is something that the Orioles should do though.  It made sense when our system was thin on depth, but we have depth now.  What the system lacks are top tier prospects.  I don't see any in the Brewers system.  They have several guys who have a chance of being MLB players, but we already have too many players like them.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are also hurting with Paul Janish and Edar Renteria at shortstop.  Only three games out, they are in prime position to take the NL Central.  The clear target here would be Yonder Alonso.  The Reds are playing him in left field with the idea that him and Joey Votto can co-exist on the field.  He is not taking well to left field.  Another issue is that he is a bit of a platoon type hitter.  He may be a poor man's version of Ryan Howard.  However, he is a very good first base talent.  He is a high second tier type player.  Another player I would target as a top third tier guy with high upside is 2B Henry Rodriguez.  At 21, he has earned himself a promotion to AA and shows good contact and batspeed.  If he continues his progression, a solid infield of the future could be Alonso, Rodriguez, Machado, and Schoop.  That could be an optimist's dream.  Todd Frazier's ability to play anywhere on the field would also make him a decent target.

I think we can all agree that the Brewers should not be considered.  They just do not have the right pieces.  The Giants are known to value immediate contribution over long term value, so they may be the easiest to deal with.  They certainly have the best piece available in Brandon Belt.  The Reds are slightly more averse to selling away the future, but they have several upper tier prospects.  No one is as highly regarded as Belt, but both of their catching prospects have high marks.  The Orioles would not be interested in the catchers, but in positions for which the Reds already have occupants.  If I was in charge, I would be targeting Belt first, then Alonso, and then shrugging and paying Hardy for 4-5 years recognizing I'd probably be fired before it becomes obvious that the extension was a bad idea.

24 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Jonathan Schoop is from Curacao

No MLB game yesterday for the O's


The rosters for the XM All Star Futures Game were released yesterday.  The Orioles placed Manny Machado on the US team and Jonathan Schoop on the World team.  Most teams have two representatives with Brewers, Yankees, Athletics, Giants, Cubs, Angels, Blue Jays, Marlins, Astros, and Dodgers only having one.  These are great accomplishments for the players selected, but we should not view these rosters as being full of the top 60 or so talents in the minors.  That said, Manny Machado has been proclaimed by Baseball America as the best SS prospect in the minors and has made a few mid-season top ten lists even with time lost for a dislocated kneecap.  Jonathan Schoop has also be lauded by Keith Law and others as a top 50 prospect with an outside shot at the top 25.

Schoop is of particular interest because he is an international signee.  The Orioles are notorious for being late to the international free agent market and for preferring to spend resources on domestic talent through the draft.  They are continually in the bottom five for international signing bonuses and that is with a considerable increase in money spent the past couple years.  Still, they seem to have hit on a player from Curacao.  It is well known that there is a lot of talent that is signed for less than 100k in other countries.  Teams like the Rockies and Rangers have invested into ties to foreign countries and showing that they are dependable organizations that help players develop.  Prospects who are not elite level prospects often will wind up signing deals that are sometimes half of what other teams are offering.  For instance, if you read Venezuela Bust, Baseball Boom you find a dozen or so examples of players who signed with the Astros at lower prices (e.g. $30,000) than what other organizations are offering (e.g. $75,000).  This is not truly remarkable when you consider life before the draft in the US.  If you read Dollar Sign on the Muscle, you find that old time scouts often mention how a particular scout being in with the family for years could often persuade them to sign for less than what other organizations could offer.

What is remarkable about Schoop and the Orioles is that my guess is that the Orioles are not well established in Curacao.  Although, for an organization like the Orioles who spend so little in the international free agent agent, a small side talent pool like Curacao is likely to bring them more success than competing with more established and better funded groups in the Dominican.  This may also be a reason for the Orioles continued apparent reluctance to more forcefully enter the Venezuelan market for players.  Instead, we see the Orioles push money into Curacao, Nicaragua, Panama, and other locations where MLB scouting may not be as intense.  It is exciting to have Schoop in the fold though.

I first heard of Schoop as a player to watch before the 2010 season when he played in the rookie leagues as an 18 year old.  Talent evaluators within the Orioles were known to be quite impressed with him and that sentiment rapidly spread out before spring training.  He proceeded to hit for good power, have a high contact rate, and managed to walk at a decent rate.  As a result he popped up on a number of top ten prospect sheets for the Orioles.  He started the year off with Delmarva primarily at third base, but also filling in for an injured Manny Machado at third.  Schoop managed an impressive 316/376/514 line, which pushed him up to Frederick.  At Frederick, he has played all around the infield and has had initial struggles.  He has shown power though and after an adjustment period he should do fine.  Schoop is good enough for his bat to play at that level and it is his bat that is pushing him upwards.

With Machado now at Frederick, you are going to see some exciting play there.  I advise anyone within close proximity of the Keys to go and watch these two as often as possible.

23 June 2011

They lathe bats, don't they?: Making Bats for Orioles (Part II)

In part II, Allan Donato (DS Wood Bats (twitter)) and I discuss more on how bats are made.  This will include some information on what players ask for when ordering a bat and even a little bit on issues with bats breaking into splinters.

Jon Shepherd: When a player comes to you and asks for bats what specifications do they typically ask for? 

Allan Donato: When I speak to a player about their order, the important things are what wood type (ash, maple or birch), what bat model (a set model or custom model), length, weight, cup or no cup, finish, and engraving they would like.  There are a lot more variables than most people think.

JS: From your own experience, what makes for a good bat?

AD: Not only does the quality of the wood make a bat good, but making it exactly like the client wants makes it a good bat.  I see bats a lot of times that are not made exactly as the player asks and they are disappointed.  Majority of the time, this has to do with the bat being heavier than they would like.  Feel is a big thing in baseball.  Players want the bat to feel a certain way, and you must duplicate that feeling. 

JS: There has been a great deal of talk about wood types and the danger of shattering bats.  Is this something that has to be accepted as part of the game or not?  Have you looked into ways for making bats safer and what would they be?

AD: There definitely has been a great deal of talk about the shattering of maple bats lately.  I think it has been accepted as part of the game for a while now, but as of late I believe they are trying to educate the players and public more and show them this should not happen to the extent it has.  The testing done by a third party company through MLB has done a great job of showing what is causing the breakages and helping to educate and resolve the problem. 
JS: Not being a maker of bats, I imagine I am missing things that might be important with respect to making an excellent bat.  Is there anything you would like to add?
AD: I think one thing that gets over looked about the smaller companies like ourselves is the amount of handcrafting that goes into every bat.  We aren't the type of large company with numerous lathes and automatic sanders that has machines doing the vast majority of the work.  Every bat has hands touching it from the mill, to the lathe, to the finishing room.  Every aspect is done by hand in some fashion.  There is a lot of time and effort that goes into every single bat.
JS: Finally, this may be too technical for some, but what pieces of equipment do you use to make a bat and how long does it take to make one?
AD: We have three lathes that we use to cut and sand the bats.  One of our lathes is a Centauro which is used to duplicate and model that we turn by hand.  We also have a Jet lathe that is much smaller and used to turn our models by hand and make templates, along with a Delta that we use to sand our bats by hand.  For finishing the bats we also use a laser engraver to engrave the model, name and team into the bat.

Cup of jO's (June 23, 2011): 3-6 against the Blue Jays, Nationals and Pirates...

Game Wrap
Pirates 5, Baltimore 4
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

Zach Britton pitched well enough to keep the O's in the game, but is still drastically lacking in command -- particularly in the zone. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds each squared a few, continuing to swing the bat well. But in the end, Baltimore once again fell short -- drop the series to the Pirates and finishing a disappointing road trip at 3-6. All the details in the recap linked above.

Of interest...
Of interest to me today is Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec's wrap of a disappointing roadtrip. The piece includes some interesting comments from a number of Orioles, including skipper Buck Showalter. All the typical "rough times in baseball" responses are covered, including this "can't dwell on the bad" from Buck:

"If you dwell on it between here and the plane, you can't live in that world...I can come back on some games that didn't look like they presented a good option for us but we ended up winning those games. We won one game in each city that we went into, and we'll try to learn from it. If you stay in that 'woe is me' mentality, nobody feels sorry for you. You've got to pick yourself up. We had some good things happen on this trip. We swung the bats well. Some guys are giving us a chance. We're fighting through some health things." -Buck Showalter, Manager

a sentiment echoed by last year's most potent offensive O's weapon:

"We're a much better team than what we're showing on the field. The only thing we can do is keep working hard and try to get to the point where we can maximize our potential. We haven't done that yet." -Luke Scott, DH/OF

There is truth to each of these statements. Baltimore has had to deal with some tough luck and some injuries. Another stark truth, unfortunately, is that until Baltimore shows the rest of baseball -- in the win column -- that the organization has turned a corner, it won't matter how much promising talent is on the roster or how many ESPN and Baseball America articles cite changes for the better in the front office and on the farm. The Orioles are, once again, in last. They are among the five worst teams in all of MLB in run differential, and they just dropped six of nine to three teams with plenty of their own struggles.

Does anyone honestly believe a free agent like Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes would look at this situation from the outside and feel confident that they will be part of a winning organization in Baltimore? Heck, how confident do you feel that J.J. Hardy will be willing to stick around if he continues with his impressive production in 2011?

The Andy MacPhail era started with a bang. The Bedard and Tejada trades brought in a solid collection of young talent, and Baltimore nabbed Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz in an 18-month span. Since then, the additions to the farm have dwindled, and the Birds have remained firmly in the bottom third of baseball at the end of each season.

Within the next couple of years the young talent is going to start hitting arbitration and Baltimore will accordingly need to consider which kids they can afford to extend and which will need to be moved for more young talent. This off-season is of paramount importance. Either Baltimore figures out a way to bring in the right pieces to supplement this core and build a competitive 25-man roster, or we could once again be pointing ahead to the next collection of prospects that will turn things around -- this time Machado, Bundy, Bundy and Schoop.

This organization needs to put behind it the days of struggling with the other teams in the bottom third of baseball. Until they do, the idea of sticking with the likes of New York, Boston and Tampa will remain a pipedream...

22 June 2011

Cup of jO's (June 22, 2011): Karsten Whitson makes us look smart

Game Wrap
Pirates 9, Baltimore 3
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

Another start from Jeremy Guthrie, another punchless night for the offense. Granted, this time around Guthrie contributed to his own demise allow five runs in the first three innings before settling down and lasting into the seventh. Baltimore was 0-7 with runners in scoring position, and solo homers from J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones highlighted an otherwise pedestrian night at the plate for the Birds. Zach Britton will try to right the ship this afternoon -- click here for a preview of the 12:35 pm (eastern) conclusion to the three game series with the Bucs, and nine game road trip. Baltimore currently sits 3 - 5 over that span.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning was the College World Series. I've been prepping for a number of summer scouting trips (including the Tournament of Stars this week/weekend) and have not been able to follow the games live. But I did catch Aaron Fitt's (Baseball America) blog entry recapping of Karsten Whitson's start for the University of Florida. Readers will recall that Whitson was our pick in last year's Shadow Draft as the #3 overall talent in the class behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon.

While it seemed crazy to most that we would rate Whitson ahead of fellow prep standout and actual Orioles selection Manny Machado, that ranking doesn't look quite so crazy a year removed. That's not to say that Whitson has established himself as a better talent. Far from it. We will need much more time to figure out which of these two studs is ultimately the more valuable "get". But Whitson has impressed everyone, stepping into the weekend rotation as a true freshman at one of the top programs in the country. His stat line for the year includes a 2.42 ERA, 81.2 IP over 16 starts, a .238 BAA, 8.49 SO/9, 2.64 BB/9, just two homeruns allowed and a spotless (and admittedly meaningless) 8-0 record. Click here for College Splits breakdown with normalized numbers, as well.

Florida remains undefeated thus far in pool play, and it's highly likely that if they make the championship we will see Whitson again. Make sure to tune in and take a gander at the fastball/slider combo, impressive command and projectable build that has him atop follow lists for 2013, and the frontrunner to go first overall. Each of the CWS games are being televised on the ESPN Family of Networks, including live streaming online at ESPN 3.

21 June 2011

They lathe bats, don't they?: Making Bats for Orioles

We here at Camden Depot enjoy looking at baseball in ways that we think are often overlooked.  Sometimes this includes interviews.  In the past we have interviewed a fellow evaluator of talent in A ball, a writer of Japanese baseball, the author of a book on baseball statistics, an agent that represented several Orioles players, a blogger of Cuban baseball, and a film maker who is putting together a documentary on baseball in the Dominican which featured Miguel Sano.  I typically do not go out of my way to grab interviews, but when something interesting falls into my lap . . . it makes sense to me.  

A month or so ago, I was talking to one of my readers about the utility of the way I was evaluating college hitters.  In the midst of that conversation, he mentioned that one of his ex-teammates on Purdue's baseball team had recently started up a baseball bat wood working operation, DS Wood Bats (twitter).  To make it more relevant to the Baltimore Orioles, this outfit supplies several players in the organization with bats.  I contacted one of the founders, Allan Donato, and will share his answers about how he started his business and bat making in general.

Jon Shepherd: What led you to becoming a professional bat maker?  What is the proper name for someone who makes bats?

Allan Donato: I grew up in Harrisburg, PA where I didn't necessarily focus on baseball primarily, but always had a huge love for the game.  I was an all-state baseball player in high school and ended up taking a scholarship to play collegiately at Purdue University. I played for a bit after college in the Frontier League (Independent) before being approached with the idea to begin this business by my business partner, Richie Schwartz.  Rich played collegiately at Lebanon Valley College and was working in politics at the time and had decided he wanted to continue to be in baseball.  He had a true passion for hitting and loved bats.  He had some woodworking experience and sold me on the fact that he could make bats.  We bought a lathe that week and the rest is history.  It took a great deal of research, trial and error, and effort to get this point.  We have come a long way. 

JS: Interesting.  By the way, what is the proper term for someone who makes bats?  I'd hate to get this wrong.

AD: I have no idea what the proper term would be for a people who make bats, but I truly believe it is an art.  Most people don't understand the craftsmanship that goes into producing a bat for someone.  When people come visit our shop and watch us they really appreciate it afterwards.

JS: I have noticed that several players in the Orioles organization use bats you make.  How have you been able to take a small business and rapidly make such gains in the market?

AD: It took a few things to really take our small business and make us grow this rapidly.  First, the product itself has been amazing.  We are extremely confident in the wood and the craftsmanship, and truly believe we make the best bats on the market.  Not only the product, but it takes being approved for use in the major and minor leagues and also the relationships we have developed.  Once we became approved, myself and our VP of Operations, Jared Smith, traveled down to spring training and went camp to camp to develop the relationships we have established today.  Finally, it also takes flat out luck.  
We got in touch with Nick Markakis through luck.  Billy Rowell, one of our clients on the Bowie Baysox, ordered bats a few days before Bowie was in Harrisburg to play the Senators.  When Richie delivered the bats, he brought a few extras and happened to run into Jeff Fiorentino who tried our bats and loved them.  Jeff raved about our product, ordered from us, and then offered to contact his close friend Nick for us.  Once we got bats to Nick, he was very happy with them also and has continued to work with us to this day.  So as you can see, it definitely takes a great deal of skill and hard work, but it takes some luck also.

JS: Which players in the Orioles organization use your bats? 

AD: We have bats in the hands of Nick Markakis, Jake Fox, Brandon Snyder, Robert Andino, Billy Rowell, Joe Mahoney, as well as a few others.  I also have several other minor league players who have reached out to me to try our product as they have seen it at several levels.
JS: What are the future plans for DS Wood Bats?
AD: Our plans for the future have changed quite a bit over the past year because of how quickly we have grown.  Right now I would say our plans for the future are to continue to build the clientele in the major and minor leagues through showing the great quality of our product and ability to give the client exactly what they are looking for.  I think in turn, we will expand our amateur market drastically by showing the drastic rise in popularity of our product in the pro market.  Again, we have grown so much so quickly, that our plans can change quickly, but ultimately we definitely want to make sure we entrench ourselves in the pro market.
In part II (which will be posted on Thursday), Allan and I discuss focus more on how bats are made.  This will include some information on what players ask for when ordering a bat and even a little bit on issues with bats breaking into splinters.

Cup of jO's (June 21, 2011): Bad luck or poor planning?

Game Wrap
Pirates 3, Baltimore 8
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

The O's jumped on Charlie Morton and the Bucs for five runs in the first inning last night, and never relinquished the lead. Nick Markakis continues to improve on his hard contact rate, goin 3 for 5 with a double and extending his hit streak to eleven games. Jake Arrieta wasn't his best, but he spotted his fastball well enough and continues to show improved consistency -- particularly in snapping off his curve. Click here for Stats LLC's preview of game two of the series, which features Jeremy Guthrie taking the hill for birds opposite James McDonald.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning was an article at Fangraphs.com by Steve Slowinski, touching on some misfortunes that have contributed to a disappointing first half of the season. First, let me say that I've run into Steve's work at DRaysBay.com and have generally found it to be fair and thoughtful. This article in particular is nice because it serves as a snapshot of what an informed outsider thinks of the O's, their 2011 season and their future potential.

What jumps out right away is the inclusion of Brian Robert's injury, the struggles by Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero and the inconsistencies in the bullpen on the list of misfortunes that have beset Baltimore on all sides. Technically, I don't disagree with any of this. The same, none jump out as particularly surprising. And this is, I think, the issue that most critics of the front office will point to when complaining of "lack of progress."

At the start of the season I expressed strong support of the acquisition of Lee, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds. All were low-risk moves that represented potentially large improvements over their 2010 counterparts. Additionally, Reynolds represented a potential multi-year solution. I still believe Lee will prove to be a fine contributor for the 2011 season, though it likely leaves Baltimore looking to fill a first base hole again come November. Hardy is mixed blessing, as a strong 2011 would be a blessing coming from the shortstop position, but probably limits the chances of Baltimore extending him at a reasonable rate (plenty of good organizations will be willing to pony up some cash for a quality shortstop coming off of a successful year). Guerrero has been trending sharply downwards for some time, with a first half uptick in 2010 glaringly out of place. The extra money tacked on to his deal this year means Baltimore likely will not be able to offer arbitration (again) to one of its players, for fear it might be accepted.

The acquisition of Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo and (last year) Mike Gonzalez continue to leave me scratching my head. While the outlay for Accardo was minimal, both Gregg and Gonzalez represented not insignificant cash, with Gonzalez also causing Baltimore to forfeit their second round pick in 2010. Considering the volatility associated with relief pitching in general -- and both Gregg and Gonzalez in particular -- these moves seem to underscore a valuation system that is not well suited to the savvy AL East. Baltimore cannot afford to be the organization that shuns the "risk" associated with low seven-figure deals for elite Latin American prospects, while shoveling multiple years, eight figures, and draft picks at relief arms.

As for Brian Roberts, the situation is just unfortunate. Camden Depot has been on the record for a few years as generally being opposed to an extension for the aging second baseman, and hard set against the length and cash investment Baltimore ultimately doled out to Roberts. As one of our favorite Birds, it's disappointing to see him off the field so much these past two years, and nothing would please Jon or me more than being proven absolutely wrong for doubting his production over the extension would match the money paid. But the reality is that Baltimore owes another $20 million through 2013, and it's unlikely at this point that they will receive even production worth even half of that.

For an organization that continually claims to be limited in available payroll resources, these simply aren't the moves you like to see being made. Long eight figure extensions for aging second basemen, relief arms and aging designated hitters simply cannot be spun as sound investments in the long term, and it's tough to see why a team like the Orioles would push so many resources into simply scraping .500, rather than taking their lumps and building and implementing a long term plan with a chance to produce one of the top five teams in baseball -- and make no mistake that is what you need to be to compete in this division.

Yes, 2011 has included some truly unfortunate occurrences. Looking past the surface to the decisions shaping the general direction of the franchise, one has to wonder if even the best of luck will ultimately make much difference in the standings. This upcoming off-season looms large, as Baltimore has entered their "window" with a young core. They will need to decide between July and November whether there is enough in this core to make a hard off-season push worth while. If the answer is no, fans will have to start looking to the arrival of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy (assuming he signs), and whatever fellow prospects help consitute the next "wave" promising that, yes, one September in the future the O's will be playing meaningful baseball.

20 June 2011

Dempsey's Army Presents: Last Week in Chats (June 12 - June 19, 2011)

Monday afternoons Heath from Dempsey's Army will recount all things Baltimore Orioles from the previous week's chats.  It is a convenient way to learn what national writers think about specific issues that relate to the Orioles.

Where we distill all the week's baseball chats down to their Oriole essence...

Jonah Keri, FanGraphs.com

1:48 Comment From Tim
Favorite sabermetric book, aside from Extra 2% and Baseball Between the  Numbers?

1:48 Jonah Keri:
Weaver On Strategy

Matt Eddy, Baseball America

Kyle (Maine):
Does Andrew Miller still have a chance to be a quality major league starter?

Matthew Eddy:
Given what pitchers like Phil Humber and Jeremy Guthrie have accomplished after being written off, I would say just about anything is possible for Miller if you pair him with the right pitching coach and in the right situation. He's a tough look for lefty batters, so I could see him thriving in a relief role the rest of the way. Miller's three primary pitches have distinct velos and shape to them, and I have to say I'm kind of intrigued.

Jack Moore, FanGraphs.com

11:59 Comment From Joe Braga
Which trade was worse for the Twins - getting rid of Hardy or getting rid of

12:01 Jack Moore: This is a pretty tough one. On the one hand, the Twins  dumped Hardy for almost nothing in order to clear room for Alexi Casilla,  which, I think to anybody not named Bill Smith or Ron Gardenhire, is pretty clearly a silly move. On the other hand, the Twins dumped their only  capable backup catcher for a reliever who costs seven million dollars, which, if you listen to the front office, may have actually forced the Hardy trade.

So it depends, if you think that adding Capps to the payroll forced the Hardy trade (not sure I actually believe that), then the Ramos trade is worse. For this year, the Hardy trade is worse to me because I don't think you envision Mauer missing so much time at such a young age, whereas the Ramos trade was likely to have its impact farther down the road. Long-term, losing Ramos is probably a bigger deal, especially now with Mauer's issues.

12:03 Comment From Brendan
Rank the AL shortstops? Yunel, Hardy, Asdrubel, Lowrie, and Alexei?

12:04 Jack Moore: Actual baseball: Alexei, Hardy, Yunel, Lowrie, Asdrubal, but these guys are all quite good players.

12:04 Comment From Patrick
10-team head to head league, keep Britton or pick-up Daniel Hudson?

12:05 Jack Moore: I would prefer Hudson to Britton, yes. Britton has been overachieving all year (not that I think he's bad, just that he's not quite ready to pitch like he has), and Hudson's been underachieving.

Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus

fgbaloh (allentown):
I don't understand anyone thinking Bundy over Cole. They have similar great stuff but Cole has performed and stayed healthy for 3 more years. Besides that, most reports I read suggest Bundy has little projection. Bunndy has a chance to either get hurt or flame out in the next three years. Without ever seeing either I think Cole hands down. Your thoughts?

Ben Lindbergh:
Like you, I'd basically be echoing someone else's opinion either way. I can't say I have any special insight here.

David Schonfield, ESPN

Josh (NJ)
David, I think one thing the current MLB has going for it is the rivalries within the divisions. I feel that some of that would be lost with the proposed restructuring plan. That could have a big time negative impact ($$$) especially for teams who sell more tickets in during this rival series throughout the year. Your thoughts?

David Schoenfield (2:28 PM)
I don't know if I agree with that. The Orioles may draw more for the Yankees or Red Sox -- but everybody draws more for the Yankees or Red Sox. I don't think the Orioles are packing it in for Tampa Bay or Toronto. There are few good rivalries, but for the most fans want to see a winning team and don't care much about the opponent.

Matt Klaasen, FanGraphs.com

12:42 Comment From Jack
Magglio or Vlad to the M´s anytime soon? Jack Cust is terrible

12:43 Matt Klaassen: Not sure why the Ms need an older, just as terrible DH who is an even worse fit for their park.

1:34 Comment From Ben
Seems like the world has forgot the *ultra* hype machine Matt Wieters. He's actually having a very good year for a catcher and he's still pretty young. You see continued improvement?

1:35 Matt Klaassen: Yes I do. He won't ever be "Mauer with Piazza's power" or whatever people thought he would be, but he's got a decent bat and approach, some athletic upside, and combined with good defensive skills, that's still a potential star.

Keith Law, ESPN

Steve (Baltimore MD)
Any chance you'll get to travel to DR for games? Also, Jonathan Schoop ... top 25 next year?

Klaw (1:09 PM)
Not planning on it. I feel better about saying top 50 on him than top 25.

Luke (Baltimore)
Brian Matusz -- concerned?

Klaw (1:38 PM)
Sure, although as I said last week it's likely he's not 100% recovered from the injury.

Cup of jO's (June 20, 2011): Britton taking his lumps

Game Wrap
Nationals 4, Baltimore 7
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds made the front office look good today, as the left side of the infield (acquired this offseason) led the way with a combined 5-8 with two doubles and two homeruns. For the second straight series the O's avoided a sweep by salvaging the final game of the set. The team heads to Pittsburgh for the final third of their road trip. Jake Arrieta takes the hill opposite Charlie Morton.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning is Zach Britton's game log. It shows that over his last five starts he has posted a line of 28 IP, 34 H, 21 R, 16 ER, 12 BB, 18 SO and 3 HR. Britton's BB/9 currently sits at 3.2. With his SO/9 still below 6 (he has brought it up to 5.3), that is a lot of batted balls and probably too many baserunners between the walks and the balls that find their way through the defense. In early April I published up a brief scouting report on the young starter (original article here), noting the following:

[T]here could be some not insignificant growing pains as he finishes his development at the Major League level...The hard-throwing southpaw has a higher ceiling than any arm in the organization, though his proximity to that ceiling is still a ways off.
This wasn't exactly stepping out on a limb -- young arms often take their share of lumps while learning to make adjustments at the Major League level. Still, I received a fair number of challenges to my "take" on the young hurler, with the highest degree of umbrage being taken with my statement that Britton was "a ways off" from his ceiling. Today's writing may seem like an "I told you so," but that couldn't be less the case. Rather, it's meant to be a reminder that these sorts of rough patches are to be expected, and fans have no reason to feel any less excited about having Britton as a fixture in the O's rotation for the foreseeable future.

Prospects will always excite a fan base, and the proliferation of prospect blogs and websites have grown into an echo chamber adding to the hype machine. As we touched on last week in discussing Major League deals for top draft picks, we need to keep in mind that the path through prospect development is seldom linear. That holds especially true for the final jump from AAA to the Bigs. With an immense talent like Britton, O's fans simply need to show a little patience and enjoy the ride.

19 June 2011

The Science of Baseball: June 19, 2011

In the pitching study, the pads were situated on the pitching arm.
Due to seasonal trips and obligations, the Science of Baseball will go on a two week hiatus after today.  To send you off, we are going to focus on three interesting topics.  First, we are actually going to look back on studies done in 2006, 2009, and 2010 that assess whether or not interleague play truly increases attendance for the league.  Second, we'll review a Korean study that tries to assess how well "Small Ball" works for Korean league teams for scoring runs.  The final study this week is one that considers three different ways to replenish strength of a pitcher between innings.

How Does Interleague Play Affect Attendance?
Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer (2006), Eric Rosen (2009), and Maury Brown (2010)

Typically, I try to keep the Science of Baseball discussions to more recent research, but I have been inundated with announcers and professional journalists telling me that interleague play is an attendance boom.  I am told that attendance goes up about 10-15% simply due to this novelty.  I could write an article on this, but it is simpler to point toward three solid pieces of research that have already been written and have all come to a similar conclusion: interleague play does not increase attendance league-wide as much as MLB claims.  The numbers MLB quotes are accurate in that they compare average attendance between inter and intra league games.  However, this ignores that MLB schedules interleague games for the summer when attendance is highest and that MLB schedules interleague games for weekend dates 50% more often than games within leagues. 

Adjusting for the differences in schedules, the numbers are at best half what MLB claims and perhaps no different from regular games held this time of the year.  The 2006 study puts the attendance bump for the '98-'06 seasons at 5.3%.  The 2009 study puts the attendance bump for the '00-'08 seasons at 0.4%.  The 2010 study compared attendance over two consecutive weekends and found the difference to be -0.63%.  At the very least, we can conclude that MLB's claims of attendance boosts over 10% to be unfounded.

A caveat should be made in which specific rivalries are bound to increase attendance over what normally would be available.  For instance, we should expect attendance to be higher for an Orioles-Nationals game due to geographic proximity.  However, we also see this sort of thing within divisions as attendance is also higher when the Orioles face off with the Yankees or Red Sox.  There does not seem to be anything remarkable about these games.  What I would like to see and what I imagine someone is doing somewhere is to create a year by year chart to show how the fan base grew more and more indifferent toward interleague play.

Is the small ball strategy effective in winning games? A stochastic frontier production approach.
Lee 2011. J Product Analysis 35:51-59

Lee suggests that small ball baseball is taking over Korean baseball.  That the success of Japan in the World Baseball Classics has convinced the majority of the team in Korean leagues to follow the ways of Japanese baseball as opposed to the American version of the game (which is far less about small ball).  The way Lee tries to characterize a team as small ball or not is to measure three things: stolen base attempts, sacrifice hits, and the number of batters to appear in a game.  He uses those three metrics as they are things he can measure and events that are largely the product of a manager's control on the game.  Korean teams attempt to steal about 30% more, sacrifice 100% more, and bat 20% more players per game than do Major League Baseball teams.  He then models these factors for the Korean league and finds that on base percentage and slugging are far more important than those three factors.  He also finds that attempting to steal correlates with a positive increase in run scoring.  He also found that sacrifice hits and pinch hitting negatively correlated with run scoring.  The lesson here might be that in the Korean leagues that managers are overvaluing the utility of bunting and pinch hitting.

I find this interesting because it reminds me of a regression I ran to determine how speed was valued differently between different positions in a batting lineup.  I have the numbers all calculated and the explanations in my head, but I have never gotten around to publishing it.  Anyway, what was most interesting to me was that speed was found to be negatively correlated to run production for the lead off slot in a batting lineup.  A quick assessment would lead someone to say that speed is not important for a lead off hitter, which would be an incorrect assessment from my perspective.  What that study actually told me was that managers were going out of their way to put fast runners first in the lineup without any regard for their actual offensive ability.  Speed is actually very good for a leadoff hitter, but it looked bad because players were chosen for that position without consideration of their other talents (or lack thereof).

Effect of three different between-inning recovery methods on baseball pitching performance.
Warren et al. 2011 J Stren Cond Res 25:683-688

This study was interested in whether there is any truth to a few best practices suggested for maintaining pitching performance during a game.  Passive recovery was assessed.  This technique was tested by having the pitcher simply sit and not move.  The idea behind this being useful is that the body can focus on regenerating glycogen reserves, but it is thought that this can take 15-25 minutes to actually be useful in restoring those reserves.  In this study, pitchers were given six minutes between innings.  Another technique considered was active recovery.  You may be most aware of this with respect to Michael Phelps and swimming competitions.  After races, swimmers will often "cool down" with laps.  This is often thought to be one of the more successful techniques because it causes an increase in blood flow, which helps supply muscles with oxygen and reducing acid content.  In this study, the pitchers were told to lightly jog between innings.  The final technique used in this study was electromuscular stimulation.  This involves using electrical stimulation to cause muscle contractions which will increase the blood flow without straining the heart.  I personally am not aware of any athlete who uses this, but it would not surprise me if they did.  Though, it would surprise me if pitchers ever used this during a game.  For this study, college pitchers were used.  They threw on four days rest and they threw three simulated innings with six minutes between innings. 

The results of the study were interesting.  The pitchers reported that they felt more rested by implementing the passive recovery and electromuscular stimulation techniques.  These two approaches also resulted in pitchers being able to retain their pitch speed.  Active recovery was not perceived as beneficial.  When they measured the pitchers lactic acid content, they found that only electromuscular stimulation resulted in a decrease.  They conclude that teams should be more open minded and explore the utility of implementing electromuscular stimulation for pitchers between innings.

Me?  It sounds very interesting, but I would be interested in seeing more studies on this.

Cup of jO's (June 19, 2011): Introducing the 2011 July 2 IFAs

Game Wrap
Nationals 4, Baltimore 2
Box Score / Play-By-Play / AP Summary

Don't look now, but the Nats are building the type of excitement that Baltimore was hoping to capture this summer. Now winners of eight in a row, and one game from .500, the other side of the beltway is starting to generate at least a little buzz. Add to that the expected arrival next year of Bryce Harper and the expected return of Stephen Strasburg, as well as a slightly more winnable division in the NL East, and you have a recipe for a team turning things around. Time will tell which organization flips the script first, but as Baltimore stares down the possibility of being swept by their perennial neighboring cellar-dwellers, it's tough to remain optimistic. Some good news -- despite a rough line, Brian Matusz saw a slight climb in his sitting velocity yesterday and much more feel for his offerings (though he did leave the game with a tweaked calf).

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning is a series of articles by Baseball America's Ben Badler, upon whom many fans rely when it comes to getting a quick breakdown of the class of international free agents hitting the market on July 2nd of a given year. Each posted last, and the article I'd like to focus on is subscriber material only, focusing on some of the top outfielders available in this year's July 2nd crop.

One benefit of the increase in prospect/draft interest is that some of the showcase companies, as well as some of the trainers and agents down south, have started to work to get the talented Latin American ballplayers some exposure on the showcase circuit. Two Octobers ago top Dominican prospect Wagner Mateo traveled to Jupiter to lace them up with the Texas Yankees Scout Team (a team that also found O's top draft pick Dylan Bundy on the roster). Last August I got a sneak peak of power hitting outfielder Ronald Guzman (video below).

Guzman is exactly the type of talent for which O's fans are hoping Baltimore will eventually open up it's check book. Highly projectable with quick hands, leverage and enough raw power now to make it easy to envision plus or better in-game power in the future. He was overmatched at the Under Armour All-America Game (of course, he was just 15 at the time, playing against the top rising high school seniors in the United States.

Guzman is one of several potential power bats in a bumper crop of international talent. As with the First Year Amateur Player Draft earlier this month, 2011 represents a good opportunity for teams to invest in the future. These players are less developed than even the high school draft-eligible talents, and represent more risk, to be sure. But they also represent an open market for adding more potential premium young talent to the farm system.

Later this week and next we'll take a closer look at some other July 2 IFAs, as well as the question as to how much sense it makes to pump money into this market at this time.

18 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Jonah Hill is no Paul DePodesta

Last night's 8-4 loss to the Washington Nationals was full of interesting outcomes.  First, the Orioles racked up 18 hits while scoring 4 runs.  Typically, you would expect a team to plate about 41% of their players who hit the ball.  The Orioles on the other hand managed to do that 22% of the time.  This included 4 for 5 nights from both Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.  Neither scored once.  I am not sure I have ever seen that.  The worst case scenario is that at least three of the five times through the line up you would have both men on base.  Even if that event happened with two outs every time, the run expectancy value would be 1.41 runs.  Based on the actual scenarios last night, expectancy would have been 3.38 runs.  If the batters behind Markakis and Jones were able to hit last like like average hitters, this would have been a much tighter game.  Unfortunately, Wieters had a severe case of hitting grounders last night.

The second interesting event for me last night was Mark Reynolds' 15th error.  It amazes me how hot and cold he is.  One second he will make a fantastic play and the next he will botch a sure out.  His fielding takes away almost all of his value as a hitter.  That is a rare feat.  I will actually have more on this at a later date with numbers and maybe a graph.  For now, all I have to say is that the Orioles might be best served thinking about Reynolds as a first basemen or a DH next year.  However, there are just no good options out there for third base next year.  There is a splinter of hope that Josh Bell figures things out well enough, but his defense is just as bad and good as Reynolds.  Robert Andino has the glove for third, but not the bat.  The best bats at short who might be able to flip are Jimmy Rollins and perhaps Marco Scutaro.  Neither of their bats look considerably better than what we have so cheaply in Robert Andino.  Maybe the O's are stuck with Reynolds at third.

The third interesting thing was that Jeremy Accardo was designated for assignment.  I imagine he will pass through waivers and have the option of going to Norfolk.  Accardo is another example of a relief pitcher the Orioles signed on in free agency who just did not work out.  Thinking back to the past five or six years, I am hard pressed to think of a single free agent reliever the Orioles managed to sign and it turn out alright.  You could argue Kevin Gregg this year, but his peripherals look like he is in for some adverse regression.  You could also argue the second go around with Koji, which I could only muster that it was a resigning.  Outside of those two instances we have Mike Gonzalez, Mark Hendrickson, Danys Baez, Jaime Walker, Scott Williamson . . . well, Wil Ohman worked out.  Ohman netted us Rick VandenHurk.  You compare that to the Rays and Padres who turn relievers into gold and compensation draft picks.


A few days ago the Moneyball trailer was released.

What I find amusing is Jonah Hill as the representation of Paul DePodesta.  DePodesta played baseball and , I think, was a wide receiver at Harvard.  Jonah does not exactly strike me as an Ivy League wideout.  Perhaps that is why the character's name has been changed to "Peter Brand" in the movie, which is a change from the initial scripts.  Word was originally that the character was to be played by Demetri Martin.  Martin does not strike me as a wideout either.

Jonah Hill - - Paul DePodesta - - Demetri Martin
 I decided to run Paul DePodesta's image through face recognition software to come up with the top three actors who share the greatest resemblance.

Jason Biggs (33yo)

 Biggs is best known for the American Pie series.  He lately has been in a series of made for TV movies with a few straight to DVD offerings.  It also appears he has done some voiceover work.  Soon he will be back in another American Pie offering.  Jason Biggs is the right age abouts, has the face, and the rest of him is probably close enough, but with the trouble Moneyball had getting made . . . it may have been seen as him not having enough audience pull.  Jonah Hill certainly has his fans.  That might be a deciding factor against Jason Biggs.

Alexis Denisof (45 yo)

Denisof's wife Alyson Hannigan shares a connection with our first option Jason Biggs.  They were both prominent in American Pie series.  Denisof though is best known to followers of Joss Whedon.  He appeared in Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse.  He has always made a few appearances on How I Met Your Mother.  Mainstream audiences are probably peripherally aware of Denisof, but I would be surprised if many would recognize his name.  There, Biggs has an advantage.  Denisof does the face and body type of Paul DePodesta, but is about ten years too old.  Biggs is probably a better choice. 

James van der Beek (34yo)

There seems to be a theme here with actors who might be a few years out of the lime light.  Jonah Hill might be able to score himself as more relevant.  Like Jason Biggs, van der Beek is also well known for who he used to be . . . who was Dawson Leery on Dawson's Creek.  Like Denisof, he too has also appeared on How I Met Your Mother.  In terms of fit, van der Beek is the right age, right face, right body type, and he could pass with a dye job.  He currently is doing some TV work as it comes.  Of these three, I'd say the lowest scoring match would be the best option.  Moneyball could have been to van der Beek as Pulp Fiction was to John Travolta.

Do you have better options?  Perhaps an actor slightly more current in his popularity.