31 October 2011

Free Agents - Backup Catcher

This is the second of a series of posts on free agents.

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | SP | RHRP | LHRP

Ramon Castro would be a fine backup catcher
A place where the Orioles could gain a minor improvement would be back up catcher.  John Hester (AAA - 674 OPS) and Caleb Joseph (AA - 692 OPS) do not look like options that would result is anything above replacement value.  Therefore, options have to come from outside the organization.  For the purpose of this post, we are considering anything above 0.6 WAR / 150 PA as starting catcher material and anything above 0.4 WAR / 150 PA as a good backup catcher.  We would not consider anything below 0.2 WAR / 150 PA.  The values were calculated by weighting performance of the past three seasons normalized each year to 150 PA.

Potential Starters (better than 0.6 WAR / 150 PA)
Ramon Hernandez (0.79)
Hernandez will want a situation where he will see 300 or more plate appearances.  That would not be with Baltimore.
Henry Blanco (0.98)
Blanco could be considered as a starting catcher option for a team in need.  However, he has never been used as a starter his last three years.
Ramon Castro (0.91)
Castro has also shown quite a lot of value in backup catcher time.  He could be seen as a starter by some teams.  He may also prefer to go to a situation with a weak starting catcher.
Jose Molina (0.71)
Molina has also not been considered a starter in his past three seasons even though he has performed quite well during that time.
Ryan Doumit (0.68)
A somewhat poor defensive catcher with a decent bat.  He would also be able to back up other positions on the field.  After a solid 2011 season, he may be looking for a situation to start.

Good Backups (between 0.4 and 0.6)
Chris Snyder (0.59)
Snyder has been seen as a starting catcher at times over the past three years.  He really is not one.  He might be looking for a situation to become a starter.
Kelly Shoppach (0.54)
Shoppach has been used as a part timer with Tampa.  He is a solid backup and may be an option.
Rod Barajas (0.45)
Barajas has been used as the primary starter in split catching squads.  He is likely to look for weak catching teams.

Poor Backups - MiL Contract with camp invite (between 0.2 and 0.4)
Jason Varitek (0.39)
He is not coming to Baltimore.
Ivan Rodriguez (0.36)
Teams will likely overpay for him and those teams will likely have a weak catching squad.
Jason Kendall (0.31)
Kendall will not go to a team with a strong starting catcher.  He has never been a backup.
Matt Treanor (0.22)
He could be a rather cheap option

AAA Signings
Rob Johnson, Josh Bard, Dioner Navarro, Brian Schneider, and Gerald Laird.

I would offer a 2.5 MM contract to any of the players in the first tier with a 0.5 MM buyout on a 3 MM option.  I would lean toward Ryan Doumit because of his offensive capabilities as a pinch hitter.  Doumit made 5.2 MM last year, so he may not be eager to take a 3 MM guaranteed.  Jose Molina, Ramon Castro, or Henry Blanco would also be good choices.  None of them were paid more than 1.2 MM last year.  The Orioles would be likely to grab any of them for far less than they are likely worth.

30 October 2011

Watch Yu Darvish's Last Start

Work on your Japanese and watch managerial moves that appear more questionable than what we saw during the World Series.  It is composed of two two-hour videos and a four minute video.  The last one does not include Darvish.  Keep in mind, this is the recording of the live feed.

MLB Players in the game:

Seibu Lions
Jose Fernandez
Fernandez is 36 years old and was an amateur signing of the Expos from the Dominican Republic.  He had a handful of at bats with Montreal in 1999 and a few more with the Angels in 2001.  Since then he has mainly jumped around the JPL as a power bat.  For this game, he is the Lions DH.
Alex Graman
Graman is a 33 year old reliever who was a third round selection for the Yankees in 1999.  He has had a rather uneven career in the JPL having only one impressive season in the five he has had with Seibu.  In 2004 and 2005 he put together 6.1 innings for the Yankees with an ERA of 18.47.  He was a decent starter in the minors though.

Nippon Ham Fighters
Micah Hoffpauir
Hoffpauir is a 31 corner outfielder and had played with the Cubs for 162 games over 2008-2010.  Last year he headed off to Japan.  He comes into this game as a pinch hitter.
Bobby Scales
The 34 year old appears as Nippon's DH in this game.  You may remember him from the 61 games he played for the Cubs over 2009 and 2010.

Watch live video from 為台灣選手加油 on Justin.tv

Watch live video from 為台灣選手加油 on Justin.tv

Watch live video from 為台灣選手加油 on Justin.tv

26 October 2011

An Interview with an Arm Injury Researcher, Part I

by Will Beaudouin
Will is a freelance writer who has written for Camden Depot previously.

Hayden Penn is now a Chiba Lotte Marines in JPL
Remember how we all used to pencil Chorye Spoone into future Orioles’ rotations? Can you recall the excitement surrounding Hayden Penn after he struck out 120 batters in 110 innings at Bowie? These were guys who were going to anchor the next great pitching staff in Baltimore. Unfortunately, both of their careers were hindered by various arm and shoulder injuries. Penn, along with falling down a set of stairs and being impaled by a broken bat, had elbow issues and went under the knife in 2007. Spoone suffered a labrum tear that appears to have ended any expectation of him becoming a Major League starter. If Penn and Spoone had stayed healthy, who knows what would have happened--it really can’t be over emphasized how important it is to keep your young pitchers healthy. Fortunately, there’s hope on the horizon that pitching injuries, as we know them, could be greatly diminished in the future.

Dr. Glenn Fleisig, research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, is considered an expert in the field of pitching biomechanics and was kind enough to grant us an interview. At ASMI, Dr. Fleisig works with various pitchers—both professional and amateur—to correct flaws in their pitching mechanics with the ultimate goal of reducing injury. It’s his work that’s giving baseball fans hope that their favorite pitchers may soon have longer, healthier careers. A world in which a pitching prospects future is defined solely by their ability, rather than hearing the constant refrain of TINSTAAP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect)? I’d take that.

In the past you’ve worked with pitchers from the Mets, A’s, and Red Sox. What sort of information are you able to provide them?  How prevalent is it that teams request services like yours?

Pitchers of all levels – from youth league to Major Leagues – come to ASMI for biomechanical evaluation.  The purpose of the visit is usually two-fold: to minimize the risk of injury and maximize performance.  The pitcher’s biomechanics are compared against elite pitchers previously tested at ASMI and then we use our biomechanics knowledge to identify areas for improvement.  We are pretty much measuring motions and forces such as those discussed in [scholarly research] papers, but explaining it to the pitcher in coach in a much clearer way, with videos, pictures, and descriptions.  You can see what the process looks like at this link.

Several professional teams send players to ASMI, but we do not disclose the names of the teams or players to protect their privacy.  The team or player is welcomed to disclose that they came to ASMI, if they wish.  This is our privacy policy for professionals and for amateurs.

The key to successful evaluation is the coach (pitching coach and strength coach).  The biomechanical analysis is simply an evaluation of what is wrong and what should be fixed.  The evaluation is a diagnostic tool for the coach, as the coach is the one who works with the athlete.  I view this as analogous to an MRI for an injury.  An MRI doesn’t fix an injury; an MRI gives information to the medical professional who is the one who treats the injury.

What’s the future for the field of baseball and biomechanics?

Behind the scenes, many professional teams are now trying to use biomechanics to keep their pitchers healthy and successful.  Some of the teams work with ASMI on this, and others work with our biomechanists.  Biomechanics is helping some teams and some players, and I predict that this effort will continue to grow.  Think of this as “Moneyball, Part 2.”  As you know Michael Lewis’ Moneyball showed how the science of statistical trends can improve the performance of players and teams.  The science of biomechanics is now being used to improve the performance of players and teams.  “Moneyball, Part 2” is actually a very appropriate name for this phenomenon, as the Oakland A’s were the first pro team is use biomechanics as part of their program.  The A’s pitching coach Rick Peterson started bringing pitchers like Barry Zito and Tim Hudson to ASMI in 2002 (the season featured in the Moneyball movie). For more details of how this started in pro baseball, read this old interview.

So, to answer your question, I think biomechanics is being used more by some MLB teams than people realize.  I think the impact will become even greater in the near future.  I think the success depends on the following three issues:

1. The ability of biomechanists to clearly explain findings to coaches.
2. The ability of coaches to make changes in the mechanics of pitchers.
        3. The convenience of biomechanical testing. 

Note: up until now, a pitcher had to come to ASMI for an evaluation.  Pitchers still come to ASMI from all across the country, but ASMI now also has the capability to bring its lab to a team’s spring training facility.

In Part II we’ll talk about specific types of injuries, along with a look into some of Dr. Fleisig’s—and colleagues’—published research.

25 October 2011

The New Moneyball: Paying Players Lots of Money?

Yu Darvish
An assumption I have made in the past may not exactly be completely accurate.  I was thinking last week about Yu Darvish and how much he would be worth on the open market.  I casually increased price per win because I think the economy is rebounding (arguable) and that scarcity causes elite players to be paid at a higher rate.  The first assumption is one that is beyond me.  If I was in tune enough to properly predict the market, I would probably own my own team by now.  The second assumption I can test in a slightly less casual way.

I decided to compare cost per win of free agents in general against cost per win of elite free agents.  I calculated average cost per win by back calculating fWAR and the value attributed to it.  I then produced a weighted average for the performance of elite free agents over the three years prior to free agency.  Elite players were defined as players who have received contracts in excess of 100MM in the free market from 2007 until now.  Here is the list:

2007 (average 4.09 MM / Win; elite 5.86 MM / Win)
Carlos Lee - 6/100MM (5.85 MM / Win; +43%)
Barry Zito - 7/126MM (6.97 MM / Win; +70%)
Alfonso Soriano - 8/138MM (4.77 MM / Win; +17%)

2008 (average 4.47 MM / Win)
Alex Rodriguez - 10/275MM (3.5 MM / Win; -22%)

2009 (average 4.42 MM / Win; elite 3.62 MM / Win)
Mark Teixeira - 8/180MM (3.99 MM / Win; -10%)
CC Sabathia - 7/161MM (3.25MM / Win; -27%)

2010 (4.10 MM / Win)
Matt Holliday - 7/120MM (2.79 MM / Win; -32%)

2011 (average 4.53 MM / Win; elite 3.39 MM / Win)
Cliff Lee - 5/120MM (3.43 MM / Win; -24%)
Carl Crawford - 7/142MM (3.25 MM / Win; -28%)
Jayson Werth - 7/127MM (3.5 MM / Win; -23%)

Based on this data and a quick overview of the years before 2007, it appears that prior to 2008 that elite players were paid about 30-40% above market rate for wins.  From 2008 and onward, elite players are now paid 24% less than market rate for wins.

Are elite players undervalued?
I don't think so.  I think what this list might show is that the thinking change for a large number of teams around 2007-2008.  Revenue streams were drying up which limited the number of teams able to spend top dollar for players, but also, I think, there is a greater understanding of player aging.

How does this affect the project value I threw out for Yu Darvish?
If his pitching the past three years translates as a 3.50 ERA over 200 IP / year, he is worth about 4.4 WAR per year.  With a 24% decrease in cost per win, we are looking at him being worth 75MM over five years if he was a free agent.  If you believe in the prediction from the translation model (2.97 ERA), then you are looking at a five year worth of 102MM with the elite reduction applied.

24 October 2011

Orioles Year in Review and 2012: C and Infield

As the Orioles off season drags along with fans waiting to see who is chosen as the new general manager and trying to enjoy truly compelling playoff baseball which is once again without the team from Baltimore, it is important to try and see where the team current is.  By only knowing where the team currently is in terms of talent, will we know what likely needs to be done to make them competitive in 2012.  Or, being more sober, realizing that this team stands no chance in competing next year and a longer perspective is required. In doing so, I try to use existing models to determine likely offensive and defensive production as well as how well that fares against league average.  I use a simple predictive model to arrive at production and use 2011 results to determine league average production for comparison.

Catcher: Matt Wieters (4.4 predicted 2012 WAR) and Craig Tatum (0.0)
First Third  >3.4 fWAR (Orioles)
Middle Third  2.2 - 3.4 fWAR (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays)
Bottom Third  <2.2 fWAR (Rays)

In 2011, Matt Wieters answered the critics who called him a bust.  He answered them by putting up arguably the best season by a catcher in either league.  However, being a great catcher does not mean you will wind up with the best play at catcher.  The Braves are a good comparison for showing off this idea.  Brian McCann put up a 3.7 fWAR while Matt Wieters had a 4.3 fWAR.  The difference between the two teams is that the Braves had Dave Ross rolling up a 1.3 fWAR from the bench while the Orioles had Jake Fox and Craig Tatum amount to -0.2 fWAR.  Yes, backups earning 150 plate appearances can have a small, yet meaningful, effect on your team's performance.  The Orioles may be set at catcher for the next few years, but they could stand an improvement in production from their backup.

For 2012, we see Wieters putting up offensive numbers almost as good as his better months in 2011 (March/April, August, and September) where he hit for a 800 OPS and above as opposed to his poor months (May, June, and July) where he hit below a 700 OPS.  Add in Wieters' defense and he winds up being worth about 4.4 WAR.  That translates into the expectation that he will have another all star level season.  It is a good start, but Craig Tatum still looks like a replacement level player.  His 150 plate appearances are likely to add nothing to the team.

A 4.4 WAR would have placed the team as 7th best in baseball at catcher in 2011.

First Base: Mark Reynolds (2.3) and Chris Davis (0.2)
First Third  >4 fWAR (Yankees, Red Sox)
Middle Third  1.5 - 4 fWAR (Rays)
Bottom Third  <1.5 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)

Last year was a difficult year for the Orioles at first base.  This is a common theme as the Orioles have not had any serious production there since the late 90s.  In 2011, the team ranked 26th in all of baseball according to fWAR with a motley crew of Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jake Fox, and Chris Davis.  So much was anticipated when Derrek Lee was signed in comparison to what was delivered.  Lee was assumed to be able to produce near an average level of performance just a shade north of 2 fWAR, but gave the team 0.5 fWAR before being spun to the Pirates where he wound up crushing the ball.  Fox and Davis accounted for -0.4 fWAR.

We think over a full season, Reynolds and Davis are likely to perform better than they did this season.  Reynolds would have more time to grow into first base.  If he maintains his production with the bat and he becomes merely below average at third, he is likely to be worth an average 1B.  Our system actually predicts better performance for Mark Reynolds (.330 OBP, .480 SLG) than I had assumed earlier.  this is primarily the result of factoring in a lower wOBA for league average (.320 vs .335), it increased Reynolds' batting worth at 1B by a whole win.  The previous value was based on league average production a few years ago.  Chris Davis (average defense, 95 plate appearances, 300/450) adds 0.2 wins to the total.

A 2.5 WAR would have placed the team as 16th best in baseball at first base in 2011.

Second Base: Robert Andino (1.1) and Ryan Adams (0.7)
First Third  >3.2 fWAR (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees)
Middle Third  1.8 - 3.2 fWAR
Bottom Third  <1.8 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)
2011 saw Brian Roberts try valiantly to play through a few ailments before he was shelved for the season with lingering effects from concussions.  He managed to play a quarter of a season and put up an unspectacular 0.2 fWAR.  Blake Davis and Ryan Adams provided replacement level production or worse.  Finally, Robert Andino was able to actually put up respectable defense and had some timely hitting for the team.  Already a favorite of Buck Showalter's, Andino probably sealed his place on the team based on an impressive string of hitting performance against the Red Sox in September during Boston's collapse.  The squad managed to put together production that ranked 21st in baseball.

2012 will be difficult.  Brian Roberts is likely to take up somewhere between 10 to 15 % of the payroll while likely not giving any meaningful production.  The team may misguidedly show Roberts respect by not attempting to resolve the situation at second.  If this is the case, then we are likely to see Robert Andino and Ryan Adams manning the position.  We have Andino with 400 plate appearances at second, but would get time at other positions as well.  We have Adams as his back up.  Andino pulling in a 330/345 slash and league average defense over that time period would be worth 1.1 WAR.  Adams filling in the rest of the way with below average defense and a 330/360 slash tacks on 0.8 wins.

A 1.8 WAR would have placed the team as 20th best in baseball at second base in 2011.

Third Base: Chris Davis (1.6) and Josh Bell (-1.1)
First Third  >3.4 fWAR (Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays)
Middle Third  0.6 - 3.4 fWAR (Yankees)
Bottom Third  <0.6 fWAR (Orioles)
Last year there existed a wide range of talent at third base around the league.  This is evidence by the middle tier starters being worth at least 0.6 fWAR.  The Orioles missed that by a comfortable margin with a -0.6 fWAR.  Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and Josh Bell did the Orioles no favors.  They each have rather shoddy defense at third base.  Davis and Bell showed little to no acumen when it came to figuring out how to get on base and send others home.  The Orioles ranked 27th overall in baseball for third base production.

Even with the expectation that Chris Davis' bat will return after surgery and that his defense would be merely bad, he is not a good solution for the hot corner.  His production is likely to be below average and the team has no useful depth.  Just as last off season, a solution needs to be found to properly fill out this position.

A 0.5 WAR would have placed the team as 28th best in baseball at third base in 2011.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy (3.6) and Robert Andino (0.1)

First Third  >3.8 fWAR (Orioles, Blue Jays)
Middle Third  1.6 - 3.8 fWAR (Red Sox, Rays, Yankees)
Bottom Third  <1.6 fWAR
J.J. Hardy produced a season the Brewers dreamed of his first few season in Milwaukee.  For the Orioles, Hardy earned the highest fWAR (4.8) of his career while only playing 129 games.  Simply put, he had a career year and was given mid-season a three year contract extension.  Cesar Izturis, Robert Andino, and Pedro Florimon Jr. spelled Hardy when he was injured or resting.  As a group they provided only replacement level production.  The Orioles had the 6th best production at shortstop.

Our prediction system is not convinced that J.J. Hardy will likely duplicate his 2011 performance, putting up numbers more typical of his career (.320/.440; 500 plate appearances).  However, we do see him as a fringe first division shortstop with an outside chance of putting up similar numbers.  Hardy is a plus defender and has plus plus power for a shortstop.  The concern has always been over whether or not he can hit the ball as he has little ability to earn walks.  We have Andino filling in for 200 plate appearance at shortstop.

A 3.7 WAR would have placed the team as 11th best in baseball at third base in 2011.

2011 fWAR: 10.3
2012 predicted WAR: 12.9

A target of 15.8 WAR should be identified.  This would be an infield that would be straddling the line between first and second tier performance.  Third base is the most obvious position to upgrade with second base and first base also being potential targets for an upgrade.

Next - Outfield and DH . . . then Starting Pitchers . . . and then Relief Pitchers.

23 October 2011

Orioles Bullpen in 2011 was Not All that Bad or Good

Just a couple graphs today.

The Orioles bullpen logged the most innings of any team.  The following graph depicts the splits between starting and relief pitchers for team in the American League.

Click to Expand

A general feeling was that the bullpen did not perform well for the club.  To assess how well the team performed, I divided fWAR by innings pitched.
Click to Expand

The Orioles had the tenth most effective bullpen.  This is another area where improvement is needed.

20 October 2011

Translating Yu Darvish's Performance to MLB

As we showed earlier this week, the Orioles had by far the worst starting pitching in the American League.  This begs the question exactly how to improve such a poor area of the team.  John Stockstill has flown off to Japan to personally scout Darvish's final games in the Japanese Players League for the 2011 season.  The team also expressed interest last off season.  It is assumed that Darvish will be posted and will then enter into a contract with the winning team.  The Orioles, in fact, may be interested in making a splash.

Darvish has proven himself as a star in the Japan, but it remains a question as to how well he would play in North America.  In this post, I will be using his statistics in the JPPL as well as three other recent pitchers who made the transition to try to predict what Yu might do and how much he would be worth.  

Five straight seasons of sub 2.00 ERA ball is pretty amazing, but it is difficult to figure out what exactly it means in MLB.  The game is played a bit differently over in Japan, so direct transition of statistics may not be incredibly useful.  Jim Albright came up with a rather interesting way to do this several years ago and I plan on doing something similar.  I am not entirely sure that it is useful to convert Darvish's numbers using coefficients derived from player performance in the 1990s and early 2000s.  I do not assume that the leagues have maintained their differences in performance.  Because of this, I would want to use more recent performances.

I decided to take three recent transitions: Hiroki Kuroda, Daisake Matsuzaka, and Kenshin Kawakami.  Here are there numbers in the three years prior to leaving Japan and what they were able to accomplish in MLB.

To create the coefficients, I pooled the performance of each pitcher by league.  I then scaled each league to 1,000 IP.  This resulted in the following coefficients:
Strikeouts: 1.079
Walks: 0.553
Home Runs: 0.804
It should also be noted that by using three pitchers, park factors may play a large role in these numbers.  Averaged park factors for Turner Field, Dodger Stadium, and Fenway Park were 1.02 for walks and 0.92 for home runs.  This will need to be taken into account for Camden Yards that has a walk factor of 1.04 and home run factor of 1.14.  This results in the following table:

That is a very solid pitcher.  Over the course of the next three years (assuming the prior assumptions are valid), Darvish would be worth about 20 WAR.  That would be a succession of three Cy Young quality seasons.  To be conservative, I think it would be fair to assume Darvish could potentially produce 20 WAR over five years, which would be worth about 120MM.  That would be equivalent to a pitcher who would average as a 2/3 slot pitcher on a first division team.  If I was the Orioles, I would consider bidding somewhere between 60-80 MM with the understanding that a contract would amount to a 5 or 6 year deal in the neighborhood of another 70 MM.

Extra Pitch F/X info
Based on Pitch F/X, Darvish throws seven different pitches: four seamer, two seamer, cutter, curve, slider, forkball, and change up.  I think as a MLB pitcher his lesser offerings will be discarded.  In Japan, he relies primarily on his four seamer and slider.  Those will work well in MLB, particularly with right handed batters.  In Japan, he often relied on his forkball against lefties, but I doubt that will play well over here.  I think his primary pitches will be his four seamer, slider, and cutter will be the pitches that will likely make the transition, but I am not entirely confidant in my ability to say so.  His four seamer works in the 93-95 range, the cutter comes in at 89-91, and his slider appears to have a lot of snap and sits at 81-83.  However, it would not surprise me if he loses a few mph when he transitions because he will be pitching more often.  In that case, I would expect his velocity to drop to the 91-93 range.  That drop in velocity may make things look worse with an expected ERA of around 3.50, which would be right about what a 3 slot pitcher should be on a first division team.  Looks good to me.

19 October 2011

Orioles Starting Pitching in 2011 was worst in AL

Our last descriptive graph detailed how the offense performed according to different metrics used to calculate fWAR for offensive players.  In this post, we present runs saved above replacement level pitcher for starting pitchers.  What one can see is a major area for the team to improve.
  • The Orioles' starting pitching was 42.6 runs worse than the next team in the AL (Blue Jays).  
  • They were about 137.1 runs worse than the best team in the AL (White Sox).

18 October 2011

MiLB Year in Review: Frederick Keys

Interesting mix fuels Frederick playoff run

The Frederick Keys ended the season with a tie for the best record in the League (losing the tie-breaker to Potomac for regular season title), a playoff series win in the Northern Division Championship against Potomac, and a Mills Cup title over Kinston. The players constituting the 2011 Keys were a blend of young and old, including two of the youngest and most talented players in the high Class A Carolina League -- Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

There are a number of solid performers and potential Major League contributors, but as is the case throughout the Baltimore system, the impact talent is limited. At the plate, Machado and Schoop are the only two potential above-average Major Leaguers, though Trent Mummey, Tyler Townsend and Kyle Hudson have a chance to carveout roles off the bench at the highest level. LJ Hoes still has everyday potential, but spent more significant time in Class Double-A Bowie, and will accordingly be discussed in more detail in our review of the Baysox.

On the hill, Bobby Bundy took a nice step forward, rewarding Camden Depot's steadfast support of him as one of the top arms in the system. Clayton Schrader completed the second half of his dominating first pro year with a strong showing at Frederick, and both Oliver Drake and Sean Gleason showed potential as future bullpen arms.

Frederick By the Numbers:
Record: 39 - 31 (Northern Division Champions; Mills Cup Champion)
Top Arm: Bobby Bundy (2008 Draft, 8th Round)
Top Bat: Jonathan Schoop (2008, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Bobby Bundy (121 IP, 102 H, 43 R, 37 ER, 31 BB, 100 SO)

Camden Depot readers will recognize Bundy as a staple in the top half of our Prospect Rankigns for the past three seasons. After a breakout summer, Bundy will see his name climbing the rankings of blogs and national outlets, as well, and deservingly so. A workout nut, Bundy is a strong and durable body, listed at 6-foot-2, 215-pounds. He logged a total of 136 IP this year between Frederick and Bowie, and projects as a #3 or #4 starter capable of eating innings at the Major League level.

Mechanically, Bundy has seen some lengthening in his arm action over the past three seasons, but has utilized his athleticism and solid body control to repeat his mechanics and release without too much inconsistency. The result is solid control/command and, more importantly, increasing consistency in the execution of his offerings. He throws out of a true three-quarters slot and creates solid downhill plane on his fastball and a decent angle on his curve. His sturdy base provides good drive and a muscular core serves as a capable the generator while maintaining an easy arm action.

His fastball is a low-90s heater that can come with some bore. He spots it well to both sides and can elevate it when needed, touching 94/95 mph up in the zone. His best breaking ball is an upper-70s curve with downer action, though he still rolls it from time-to-time, causing it to lose bite and rendering it hittable. He throws a firm change-up that will improve as he continues to gain feel. He has flashed a slider, but remains generally a three pitch arm with mid-rotation upside and high marks for durability.

Players to know:

Oliver Drake has a compact, under-control delivery and maintains a good line to home. His 89-92 mph fastball has some life and can induce soft contact down in the zone. His slider is a solid average to above-average offering, and he has also flashed average throughout his pro career with both a change-up and a curve. Drake has the body and endurance to chew through innings, but his stuff may be better suited for the pen, where his fastball/slider combo could be solid in middle-inning work. Baltimore will give him a second run at Bowie next year. If he stumbles, he could shift to the pen prior to promotion to Norfolk.

Since transitioning to the pen in 2010, Sean Gleason has emerged as a potential future contributor with the big club, and a candidate for late-inning work if he can spot better in the zone. He is primarily a fastball/slider reliever, sitting 91-94 mph and touching 96 mph when he reaches back for it. One scout shared that, in his first appearance in this year's Arizona Fall League, Gleason topped out at 97 mph up in the zone. His slider is an average offering that can flash plus, but he can tip the pitch at times with arm slot, and needs to find a balance between throwing it as a case pitch and catching too much of the plate. He'll also mix in a change-up and a curve as a change of pace, though both are generally below average. He'll turn 27 next year, and Baltimore will need to decide whether to protect him on the 40-man or expose him to the Rule 5 Draft in December (where an opportunistic organization could roll the dice on Gleason's arm strength).

Nicholas Haughian started 21 games for the Keys, but projects at best as a situational lefty at the Major League level. He commands his upper-80s fastball fairly well, and could sit 88-92 mph when permitted to go all out iun a relief role. His slider is a solid breaker and he'll also mix in a fringy change-up, though he slows his arm too often when dealing the mid-70s offspeed. Baltimore may continue to run him out as part of a rotation until he stumbles, but his stuff, as well as his limited ability to miss bats, indicate a shift to the pen may be unavoidable.

LJ Hoes struggled offensively in a 41-game stay in Frederick before righting the ship in Bowie. Owner of a compact frame with increasing strength, Hoes should see some power starting to develop in his game over the next twelve months. This will be an important development to monitor, as without that added dimension to his game, Hoes could be cast as a 'tweener, with a solid stick for second base but not the glove, and a solid defensive profile in left with not quite enough offensive pop.

Speedster Kyle Hudson toured through four levels in 2011 (Frederick, Bowie, Norfolk and Balitmore), and will be discussed in more detail in our review of the Triple-A Norfolk. Hudon's game is dependent on speed, and he'll have to show a consistent ability to find ways to first base against Major League pitching in order to provide any value at the Major League level. The complete absence of any power in his offensive game will open him up to aggressive arms at the highest level, and will drastically cut into his ability to maintain a lofty on-base percentage as his ability to draw a walk is taken away from him.

Manny Machado was once again the highest-ceilinged player on his squad, though the on-field results were mixed during his second half stay in Frederick. Machado continued to show a solid understanding of the strikezone, but struggled some with pitch identification, leading to too much soft contact on "pitchers" pitches. At his best, he still showed an ability to punish fastballs and mistakes, and there is little doubt he will make the necessary adjustments to continue to grow, offensively. Whether he starts 2012 back in high Class A Frederick or at Class Double-A Bowie will likely be determined in the spring.

Nathan Moreau has a phone booth delivery with a "just below" three-quarters arm slot. He struggles to finish and will occasionally cut himself off, each of which can have a negative impact on his ability to throw strikes. His fastball is generally 88-91 mph and he pairs it with a sweeping breaking ball that shows depth but inconsistent bite. His change-up is a workable third pitch but projects merely as potentially average. Seen as an upside selection when selected out of the University of Georgia in 2008, Moreau has stagnated, failing to improve upon his command or his stuff over the past two seasons. He still has a chance to provide value as a lefty specialist if he can find more consistency in his breaking ball and command.

As noted in our low Class A Delmarva review, Trent Mummey has limited ceiling, but plays a good center field, runs well, and has a short swing capable of spraying the gaps. He's undersized, but strong, and likely fits best as a future 4th outfielder. He gets tied up on the inner half when faced with good velocity, and his ability to adjust to more advanced secondary stuff at Class Double-A Bowie will say a lot about his future potential.

Jonathan Schoop saw a dip in his in-game power once he was promoted to Frederick, but continued to show a solid approach and ability to barrel balls. Like many young players, Schoop needs to tighten-up his pitch-ID, and should see a nice jump in power production once he is more comfortable working for and identifying pitches he can drive. Already thickening in his core, Schoop's future power tool is his best asset. He could end-up at third base, second base or an outfield corner, depending on Baltimore's needs, and has the athleticism and arm to fit into any of those roles.

Clayton Schrader followed up 22 dominant innings at low Class A Delmarva (where he was Camden Depot's selection for top arm) with 24 dominant innings at high Class A Frederick, boasting 13.1 SO/9 and 3.0 H/9 as a Keys reliever. Unfortunately, he also walked 19 batters in those 24 innings, though those baserunners were largely negated by his ability to miss bats. Schrader's performance at Bowie will help to ground his projection, which could be as high as a true shut-down late-inning arm and as low as a Four-A arm. Camden Depot entered 2011 bullish on Schrader and remains so, projecting him as a solid late-inning contributor with a future plus fastball and plus slider. He could be ready for Baltimore by next summer.

Tyler Townsend produced a triple-slash line of .317/.358/.583, but once again failed to stay healthy, logging just 72 games this summer (67 of them with Frederick). When healthy, Townsend shows some raw power and a solid enough glove at first base. He has a deep hand load and a fair amount of length to his swing, which causes him to start his swing early and hampers his ability to properly identify more advanced breakign stuff. His hand-eye coordination is such that he has been able to square pitches, even when fooled, at the lower levels. But he will need to overhaul his aggressive approach, including tightening his swing mechanics, in order to succeed against the advanced arms he'll see in Bowie, Norfolk and Baltimore. Townsend doesn't yet project as a future Major League regular, but could greatly improve his stock by staying healthy through 2012 with a solid showing at Bowie.

Bad Outfield Defense or a Bad Fielding Metric?

When I decided to write that title I did not mean that fielding is unfair between teams.  Rather, I wonder whether the way fielding is measured is fair.  I was wondering this because there has been discussion about Carl Crawford's defense not translating well to Fenway Park.  It made me wonder whether there was anything peculiar about Camden Yards.  My only resource (FanGraphs) informs me about career UZR home and away, so I decided to use Oriole outfielders who have been nearly exclusively part of the Baltimore Orioles:
  • Nick Markakis has played 7874 innings for the Orioles in RF.
  • Adam Jones has played 3405 innings for the Orioles in CF and 227 for the Mariners.
  • Felix Pie has 852 inning for the Orioles in LF and 13 for the Cubs.
Now from this we can basically declare that all three of these Orioles have overwhelmingly played at these positions for the Orioles.  With these players, we can attempt to measure if there are any unaccounted park factors.

Here is a short description of UZR if you need to be refreshed on how it is calculated.
How to calculate UZR: The baseball field is divided into 78 zones, 64 of which are used in UZR calculation. (As Lichtman explains, infield line drives, infield pop flies, and outfield foul balls are ignored. Pitchers and catchers are not included.)
Here's what is calculated for each zone: the out rate and the percentage of balls in that zone that turn into outs. The league average out rate is then subtracted from the player's out rate — if this number is negative, it means the player is worse than league average. If it's positive, it means he's better than league average.
That rate is then multiplied by the number of balls that hit in that player's zone. This yields a Zone Rating. To obtain the run value, it's multiplied by the Zone Ratings that are calculated for each zone the fielder covers, and then summed. This sum is a simple, unadjusted UZR. It is then further adjusted for park factors, batted ball speed, which side of the plate the batter was hitting from, the pitcher's groundball/flyball ratio and the number of baserunners and outs at the time. The adjustments are made because each of these variables can significantly affect the average out rate in a particular zone. Using run expectancy charts, these rates can be converted to runs.

UZR / 150

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Each player does remarkably worse at home than on the road.  It is actually a pretty remarkable finding.  Pie has only about 135 games worth of innings in left field, which is not nearly enough to get a good idea of how dependable a fielder he is.  UZR typically requires 2-3 years of data to get a good read on a player.  Adam Jones has about 546 games worth of innings.  With that amount split between assumed home and road games, it is arguably just enough to be usable.  Markakis has about 875 games worth of innings and is perfectly fine as a data source.  It seems clear enough that this is a real effect.  Playing in Camden Yards in any position in the outfield decreases your defensive metrics.  This means that as useful as UZR might be, it appears to do a poor job characterizing what normal means for Camden Yards.  The alternative explanation is that the Orioles outfielders are actually rather poor defensive players at home.

The question now lies as to whether we can discern what part of UZR has the problem and whether it makes any sense.



 No pattern appears with arm values.  This makes sense as throws are contained within the playing field.  It would be unlikely if a stadium could play much havoc with throws outside of wind issues, which apparently is not the case with Camden Yards.

Incidence of Errors
Incidence of errors also does not appear to be greatly affected by Camden Yards.  This is also expected as grounds crews do a fairly good job ensuring that each stadium has an excellent field.


Range is where we see the issue.  I am not entirely sure what the problem is.  Range is basically determined by how plays are in a players' area and how many he winds up catching.  Somehow, Camden Yards is a difficult place to track down baseballs.  I am not sure if there is an issue with see the ball come off the bat, if high flies are greatly affect by wind, or something else.  Unfortunately, I do not have any data for how visiting teams perform here.  UZR does account for park factors and one would think such a shift in fielding would be figured into the final number.

What if the numbers are correct?

It just might be that UZR is actually accurately measuring defensive ability at Camden Yards. The Orioles may be horribly position themselves and/or are inadequately instructed in how to play in their own ball park.  This reminds me of an article from a couple years ago, but I fail to remember who exactly wrote it.  Peter Gammons, I think, mentioned how the Red Sox did not care that Jacoby Ellsbury had a -9.7 UZR after the 2009 season.  They said that their internal metrics measured defense better at Fenway Park better than UZR did.  Ellsbury looks like a good centerfielder, so maybe they were correct.  Likewise, maybe UZR measures defense in Camden Yards as well as it does in Fenway Park.


I do not have a solid conclusion after looking at this data.  If the Orioles are doing this poorly at Camden Yards and UZR adequately adjusts for park factors then it would mean that every other team  on average is playing about 2 WAR better defensively.  While also meaning that when the Orioles are on the road, they outperform various home teams about the same.  I just have a hard time understanding how the numbers can be accurate here.  I inclination is to think there is a significant failing in UZR in the outfield at Camden Yards.

17 October 2011

MLB 2011 Offensive Values

Below is a simple graph showing the different components used to determine fWAR.  I re-engineered the values, so they may not be exactly correct, but they should be close.

Items of note:
  • Orioles had the second worst rated defense in baseball, bested only by the Mets.
  • Their base running ranked 22nd overall.
  • Their hitting ranked 19th overall.
Simply put, the Orioles did not do anything particularly well on offense.  The greater problem may be pitching, but it is not as if the Orioles can stay firm with their offense either.  Getting league average performance out of their fielding would mean an improvement of 4 wins.  Almost all of that could be attained by getting Mark Reynolds away from third base or last year simply being an anomaly for him.  Base running make become about league average with Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee gone and result in a couple wins.  This still leaves the team in need of about 10-15 more wins from their offense to be considered peers of the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.

Click to Enlarge

16 October 2011

Pitcher Velocity and Run Environments

Last night Will Carroll tweeted wondering about whether the perception was accurate that there were more pitchers thrower with greater velocity than there were in seasons before.  I had been sitting on a couple graphs for a month or so waiting to have something more interesting to say, failing that I published the graphs last night because at least it was timely.  Andrew over at Camden Chat asked about how the change in the number of hard throwing pitchers has affected the run environment.  In this post I compared the number of hard throwing starters (>90 mph) and reliever (>93 mph) to changes in the run environment as measured by starters' or relievers' FIP.  Each point is the data from a single year (2002-2011)


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The R2 for the above graph is 0.86.  That is a tight graph, but it should be stated that correlation does not always mean causation. 

The R2 is not as good or the relievers with an R2 of 0.62.  That is still a decent correlation, but again it does not outright say that the increase in velocity is the reason why the run environment has decreased.

The reasons for change in the run environment are likely to be rather numerous.  There has been greater recognition of the value of defense, which decreases run scoring in two ways: better fielding and reduced emphasis on offensive performance.  It is assumed that the reduction in effective PED use has also decreased offensive performances.  Another factor is that, as it always has, that baseball becomes more and more competitive every year.  By that I mean that the players today are better than the players who came before (Yes, the Babe Ruth is Matt Stairs argument).  It may also be that the recent upswing in pitchers who can throw hard has also resulted in dampening the run scoring environment.

Of course, the big question is why are there more harder throwing pitchers?  Here are the various explanations I have determined and collected:
  • There are a greater number of highly talented players to choose from.
  • Training has vastly improved.
  • Preventative and reconstructive medicine has improved.
  • Teams may be pushing more athletic, strong-armed players to the mound instead of the field.
On that last point, Keith Law disagreed with me on that one.  As far as I can tell, the four top throwers in the relief corps (Henry Rodriguez, Aroldis Chapman, Jordan Walden, and Daniel Bard) were never given much consideration for playing the field.  It may well be that idea sounds better than it looks when you begin looking at the data.  It may well be that advancements in training and medicine taking effect somewhere between 1995 and 2005 for amateurs may be the primary reason for hard throwing pitchers.  Or it may be that advances made in the 2000s in college and lower minors are improving the development and preserving the health of hard throwing pitchers.

15 October 2011

How Has Pitching Velocity Changed in Past Decade?

I was reading a few books on baseball from the 1970s and found it amusing how often a pitcher throwing 90 mph was a flamethrower and that mid 80s was considered sufficient.  Nowadays, success with those velocities would be considered highly improbable.  This left me wondering if our comprehensive measurements of mean fastball velocity since 2002 (from FanGraphs) could show any differences in the number of hard throwers in the past decade.

Starting Pitcher Velocity

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Pitchers throwing a mean fastball velocity above 90 mph has increased to 188% in 2011 compared to 2002.  Pitchers throwing harder than 94 mph has doubled over that same time period.  This growth in velocity at the Major League level occurred in 2007 and continues to increase.

Reasons I can think of for this occurring:
  • Teams want their pitchers with higher velocity to pitch more often and refrain from converting them to relievers.
  • Starters are being trained to pitch all out for shorter outings rather than trying to dialing down to last the entire game.
  • More hard throwers are available.
    • Fastball velocity is being valued more and baseball is able to out recruit other sports for these prospects.
    • Teams are more willing to convert hard throwing outfielders, middle infielders, and catchers to pitching. 
A number of these ideas could be tested by merely making a similar graph seen above for relief pitchers.  If we also see an increase in the number of hard throwers in relief then we will know that the overall population of pitchers are throwing harder.  That would run contrary to the first two reasons and point toward the third one as valid.

Relief Pitcher Velocity
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We see a similar increase in velocity as we did with starters.  However, growth is slow and gradual from 2002 to 2008.  In 2009, velocity jumped up and plateaued.  Relief pitchers with a mean fastball velocity above 93 mph increased to 221% in 2011 over what was available in 2002.  Perhaps more amazingly, pitchers throwing on average more than 96 mph increased 1,200% from 2002 to 2011.  In 2002, only one pitcher average a fastball over 96 mph: Billy Wagner (97.6).  In 2011, eleven pitchers sat above 96 mph: Henry Rodriguez (98), Aroldis Chapman (97.9), Jordan Walden (97.6), Daniel Bard (97.3), Bobby Parnell (97.2), Joel Hanrahan (97.1), Brandon League (96.5), Neftali Feliz (96.3), Craig Kimbell (96.2), Jason Motte (96.0), and Jason Lindstrom (96.0).

The number of pitchers capable for throwing hard has increased over time.  It does not readily appear that hard throwing reliever are being converted to starting pitching as the increase is apparent in both groups.  This leaves me thinking that there are simply more hard throwing arms available.  This could be due to natural progression or it may be an element of pitching that is now being emphasized to  greater degree.  I have talked to a few scouts who angrily mention how pitching velocity is becoming valued too much because it is a quantitative measure on pitching prospects that cannot be embellished and that qualitative measures are being relied on to a lesser degree.  I am not so sure I believe that, but it is an explanation that should be floated out there.

My personal belief is that hard throwing arms are being more heavily sought after.  Teams are willing to pay extra to draft prospects who show plus velocity over pitchers who perform well due to a polished approach.  In an earlier post, I showed in an awfully noisy graph that a mile per hour in velocity saves half a run over the course of 100 fastballs.  That is the difference between a pitcher giving up 6 runs over 12 innings vs 5 runs over 12 innings.  In terms of ERA, that means a 4.50 ERA would decrease to 3.75 ERA.  Certainly more is involved than simply velocity, but it certainly is a trait of a pitcher that is quite important.  It may be that other teams simply are valuing this more and are better at finding and getting these arms to the majors.  In other words, perhaps more athletic players with live arms are giving more consideration on the mound than trying to make their skills work in the field.

Perhaps more likely, competition is simply rising in baseball.  As it pretty much always has.  Players get stronger and the training improves over time.

Cup of jOe's: Value of Drafting Young High Schoolers

I tweeted about this the other day, but figured that these two articles published by Rany Jazayerli on Baseball Prospectus need to be highlighted. 

Starting Them Young Part I
Starting Them Young Part II

Now, he calls these pair of papers the "most significant finding of his career."  Well, this is not DIPS.  This is not exactly earth shattering and I imagine that quite a few front offices have had this information for years with a large number of scouts knowing this since the 1800s.  However, it is significant in terms of what was likely known ten years ago and it is significant in that this information is now public.  What makes it significant is that we now have a quantitative way of expressing the advantage behind drafting younger high school players.  It is also significant because it shows that MLB has not really figured it out as of 2003 otherwise we would not see such a great difference between ages.

Wait, a second...you might say...what about Billy Rowell? he was quite young when drafted.

Well, it certainly is not a fool proof system.  No one is saying that drafting a young player automatically means you are making a greater selecting.  It means that you have a greater probability of getting more value out of high schoolers drafted at a certain slot if they are younger. 

It also brings up another point, which is why use mean instead of median?  Using mean probably makes more sense because you tend to draft for stars instead of average players.  However, median makes sense if you are trying to build depth.  It may also make sense within small samples because massive outliers can overwhelm a mean.  I think this is still up for discussion, but it certainly is a discussion not many are having.  Or, it was decided a long time ago and I have been unaware.

Another article you should also read is this one by Scott McKinney.  It is a comprehensive break down of minor league prospects.

14 October 2011

MiLB Year in Review: Delmarva Shorebirds

Machado, Schoop shine for Shorebirds

The 55-85 record of the Delmarva Shorebirds (Class A, South Atlantic League) speaks for itself. While the 'birds boasted a handful of our favorite prospects for portions of the summer, the overall collection of talent was thin, with limited upside. With that said, Delmarva housed the top two prospects in the system for a combined 408 plate appearances and 89 games -- Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

Clayton Schrader and David Baker topped a short list of arms with successful campaigns in 2011.

Delmarva By the Numbers:
Record: 55 - 85
Top Arm: Clayton Schrader, rhp (2010 Draft, 10th Round)
Top Bat: Jonathan Schoop, inf (2008, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Manny Machado, ss (170 PA, 145 AB, .276/.376/.483, 8 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 23 BB, 25 SO)

The third overall selection in the 2010 Draft, Manny Machado put together strong first year of pro ball, split between Delmarva and Frederick. The stat line does not do justice to Machado's successes as the youngest player in each of the Sally and the Carolina League. While not as flashy as the triple-slash of equally unbaked Bryce Harper (.318/.423/.554), Machado's season included about a month's worth of missed time due to a patella subluxation of his left knee.

Machado is a four-tool player, with speed fringe-average and likely to decrease further as his thin lower-half fills out his broad frame over the next few years. He generates good bat speed through his core, and possesses the hands to consistently center the ball on the barrel. Already showing solid power, it could be a true "plus" weapon once he adds some strength and does a better job identifying pitches to drive.

His hands and arm are more than adequate for a shortstop, and his footwork is clean and effortless. The big question that remains is whether the inevitable loss of lateral quickness will hit Machado earlier or later in his pro career. If the former, he could switch to third where his bat will play closer to average, but still above. If the latter, he could enjoy some productive years as an offensive-minded ML shortstop with above-average defense to boot before shifting to the hot corner.

Players to know:

David Baker is currently a fastball-first arm, but it's a good fastball, straddling the line between average and plus. He tends to roll his curve, and his arm slot may ultimately be better suited for a slider. Long and lean, Baker still struggles to repeat his motion and will lose his release and command periodically. He tackled full season ball at age 20, showing good maturity on the mound over seven starts in which he averaged 8.0 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 6.6 H/9. He could start 2012 back in Delmarva or as part of the Frederick rotation, depending on his instructs and spring.

Matt Bywater throws out of a true side-armed slot, sitting upper-80s with a three-way fastball and flashing a solid average breaking ball and change-up. He profiles as a lefty/groundball specialist but will need to find a lot more consistency in his arm action and release, as his command/control has taken a step back since his time at Pepperdine, now grading out as below-average.

Jake Cowan (discussed in more detail in our short-season/rookie review) has a solid four pitch mix, with his secondaries often utilized as his primary weapons. He tired as the season wound down, stumbling to the finish line in Delmarva after a solid showing in Aberdeen and a couple good starts for the 'birds. He'll likely start 2012 back in the Sally but needs to get start 1) logging innings, and 2) moving up the ladder in order to find a spot in Baltimore's future.

After blowing out his elbow as a prep, Randy Henry has been brought along slowly (throwing just 11 innings at his community college and just 23 and 52 innings, all in relief, in his first two years of pro ball). Henry profiles as a middle or late inning reliever with a plus fastball and average to above-average breaking ball. He has the frame and mechanics to start, but considering he'll be 22 next year, has an elbow surgery under his belt and has never thrown more than 55 innings in a year, a conversion to the rotation may be a long shot. If Baltimore goes that route, they could start him in the pen in Frederick and shift him to the Aberdeen rotation once short season starts up (totaling around 80 IP for the summer). He has no issue throwing strikes, but too often lives in the middle of the plate where more advanced hitters will benefit from his limited repertoire.

Trent Mummey missed time after crashing into an outfield wall in May, then again due to hamstring issues later in the summer. While he only logged 29 games and 134 plate appearances this summer (14 and 69 in Delmarva, respectively), he needs to be on the radar of Orioles fans. Mummey has limited ceiling, but plays a good center field, runs well, and has a short swing capable of spraying the gaps. He's undersized, but strong, and likely fits best as a future 4th outfielder. He gets tied up on the inner half when faced with good velocity, and his ability to adjust to more advanced secondary stuff at Class AA Bowie will say a lot about his future potential.

Johnny Ruettiger was a 9th Round selection in this year's Draft, and put together a lackluster debut in full season ball after slapping around some teens in a three game stay in the Gulf Coast League. Ruettiger is a plus runner with good instincts in the outfield, but little experience in center field. He has a history of success with wood, including a Cape Cod batting title in 2010, but can get overly aggressive at the plate and needs to shift to a top-of-the-order approach in order to carve out a role as a professional. Ideally, he'd develop his on-base skills to the point he is serviceable at the top of an Major League lineup. More likely, he profiles as a 4th outfielder capable of holding down all three outfield positions as needed while providing a bottom-third offensive skillset.

While Machado was the top overall talent at Delmarava, Jonathan Schoop was the most impressive bat (though, as noted above, Machado had a significant knee injury slowing his game some from June on). Schoop's trunk is thickening, and with it he is generating more and more bat speed and manifesting more and more in-game power. Schoop's strength is his ability to stay compact from load to contact, which allows him to deliver an accelerating barrel to ball. He will continue to improve consistency in his balance and weight transfer, which will aid him in squaring off-speed offerings from more advanced arms. Schoop has the athleticism to shift across the diamond to second base, and the arm and hands to hold down third.

Clayton Schrader will be a polarizing arm come "prospect season" in the blogosphere. He has perhaps the most electric stuff in the system, averaging 14.3 SO/9 between Delmarva and Frederick, but also averaging 6.3 BB/9. His bread and butter is a mid-90s fastball that he brings with good downhill plane out of a high three-quarters slot. He can break-off both a hard, tight mid-80s slider and a downer 78-82 mph curve. A hard head whack and max effort delivery portend a BB/9 above 3 or 4 as a Major Leaguer, but he has the raw arsenal to succeed as a late inning arm in spite of it due to his ability to miss bats and match arm slot and pitch plane with his offerings. He easily overmatched hitters this year, and will face his first true challenge at Bowie next spring. He could debut in Baltimore late next summer if he tightens his game some over the next ten months.

Kipp Schutz has some offensive upside, but his overall status as a prospect is hampered by average bat speed and a defensive profile that limits him to left field. He has some lift in his swing, and some raw pop that will develop into solid power down the line. But there's too much action in his hands as he loads and a lengthy swing, neither of which issues are overcome by his average bat speed. He struggled upon arriving at Frederick, which was not unforeseeable.

Like Schrader, Ashur Tolliver is an undersized reliever with a live arm. Tolliver sits low-90s with his fastball and can generally throw it to both sides of the plate, though at times he struggle on the inner-half to lefties. His change and slider can be average pitches down the line, but both are too inconsistent to be weapons right now against more advanced bats. He is slated to start 2012 in Frederick, and could move to Bowie for the second half if he shows better command and a better understanding of how to set-up his pitches to more effectively implement his repertoire.

11 October 2011

MiLB Year in Review: DSL, GCL, and Aberdeen Ironbirds

Bridwell and handful of arms highlight rookie/short-season leagues
by Nick Faleris

We begin our review of the 2011 Baltimore Orioles Minor League teams with a brief look at the three rookie/short-season squads. While talent in the system is generally thin, a handful of arms stand out in this grouping as possessing the potential to emerge as legit prospects, and eventually Major League contributors. These arms include Eduardo Rodriguez, Jaime Esquivel, Jose Nivar, Sebastian Vader, Parker Bridwell, Jake Cowan, Trent Howard, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson.

The bats are less interesting, though a couple standout as potential "guys" with continued growth, including Hector Veloz, Glynn Davis, Gabriel Lino, and Roderick Bernadina.

Dominican Summer League Orioles (Rookie)

DSL By the Numbers:
Record: 46-24 (division winner)
Top Arm: Jose Figuereo, rhp (2010, international FA)
Top Bat: Hector Veloz, 3b (2010, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Hector Veloz, 3b (275 PA, 227 AB, .225/.344/.322, 16 2B, 2 HR, 33 BB, 62 SO)

Hector Veloz saw his stock plummet in months leading-up to the 2010 international free agent signing date, after testing positive for Stanozolol (an anabolic steroid). Baltimore scooped-up the third baseman for $300,000 -- the highest bonus handed out by the organization to an international free agent -- and placed him in the Dominican Summer League for the 2011 season. At 17-years old, Veloz held his own, showing solid hands at the plate and a left side arm in the field, though his BP showings far outdistanced his in-game production.

Hitting out of an open stance, Veloz shows solid pull power and strength in his wrists, allowing him to transfer the energy from his strong core to the barrel at contact. He shows some leak in his weight transfer, can neglect to close his front side in his load, and generally falls into a bit of a one-piece swing (which explains some of his contact troubles this summer). He also has a tendency to make contact too far out in front of the plate, and would benefit from letting the call travel more, particularly on the outer-half. He's so young that none of this is particularly troubling from a developmental standpoint, though the swing quirks, when coupled with the already thick frame and history of steroid use, are cause for measured expectations. Veloz could develop into a usable bat, but there is a lot of work to come between that day and today.

Defensively, Veloz has a strong arm and hands suitable for third base. He struggles at times to get his feet set under him, and side-to-side he is not the smoothest, or quickest. Again, he is so young that there is no reason to torpedo the idea of him sticking at third base, long term. But it is at the same time quite possible he ends up in an outfield corner.

Players to follow:

There is limited "name" talent on the DSL squad, and a number of the more impressive lines came from young arms that are either old for the league or undersized. Jose Figuereo is the exception, though he through exclusively in relief, showing results and a solid, sturdy frame. Figuereo boasted a 3.11 SO/BB ratio over his 32.2 IP, striking out nearly a batter per inning and limited hitters to a .202 BAA. He should make his US-debut next year in the Gulf Coast League as a 20-year old, with a chance to move up to Aberdeen assuming he stays in a relief role.

Gulf Coast League Orioles (Rookie)

GCL By the Numbers:
Record: 38 - 22 (division winner)
Top Arm: Eduardo Rodriguez, lhp (2010, international FA)
Top Bat: Roderick Bernadina, of (2009, international FA)

Player of the Year:
Eduardo Rodriguez, lhp (44.2 IP, 28 H, 17 R, 9 ER, 17 BB, 46 SO)

Eduardo Rodriguez does not have putaway stuff, but there is a chance for three workable pitches and he had them all on display through his ten starts and one relief appearance in the 2011 GCL Orioles season. The 18-year old has a broad frame and thickening physique, which bodes well for his future physicality. His motion is generally loose and easy, coming with a clean three-quarters release and staying under control throughout.

He frequently fails to get on top of his breaking ball -- a pitch that will flash some bite but for now looks like a future average offering due to rotation and plane. His fastball is an upper-80s offering that bumps 91/92 mph, and he can spot it to both sides of the plate. His change-up has the potential to outdistance his breaker as his go-to secondary offering, and he shows feel for it at an early stage.

Roriguez likely tops out as a mid-rotation arm, more likely to fall somewhere in the back-end of a rotation. None of his offerings project to plus right now, but his fastball and offspeed good grade out as above-average as he continues to refine.

Players to follow:

Roderick Bernadina was the highest upside bat with the GCL O's, showing leverage in his swing and good natural lift. His strength is in his ability to accelerate the bat head through the hit zone, though his hands can lag some getting started. The longer swing causes him to commit early, making pitch-ID problematic for him thus far. Raw defensively, his arm is solid but may be fringy for right field at the highest level.

Miguel Chalas is an undersized righty with a whippy arm and a lively low-90s fastball that will bump 94/95 mph. His long arm action gives him trouble repeating his path to release, and results in bouts of wildness and overall inability to spot his pitches with any consistency. His power curve has slurvy plane and hard bite, but he struggles to throw the pitch for a strike and more advanced bats will have less trouble identifying and ignoring it. Chalas is destined for the pen, where he'll need to refine his control enough to throw strikes with both his fastball and breaking ball. It would be interesting to see him toy with a true side armed delivery to add another look to his fastball.

Cam Coffey looks like a future big leaguer, but his arm strength simply hasn't bounced back since his Tommy John surgery in 2009. Now an mid- to upper-80s arm, the chances of Coffey reverting to his brief low- to mid-90s velocity of early spring 2009 seem unlikely. But with continued growth and strengthening of his core, he could sit 88-91 mph when all is said and done. His change-up shows good fade and will flash disappearing action when he turns it over well. His breaking ball rolls and is a fringy offering at this point.

Jaime Esquivel has a pro body and a solid fastball-curveball combo to go with it. His heater generally sits 89-92 mph fastball, while his 80-81 mph curve shows solid shape and flashes plus. He hits the same slot with both pitches, making the breaking ball difficult to spot. Esquivel often fails to get out over his plant leg, driving his fastball up in the zone and making him more hittable than he should be. With a strong instructional league and spring, he could break camp in Delmarva. The more conservative approach would be to give him an extended look in Aberdeen, where the more patient college-heavy lineups would provide a new challenge.

The 20-year old Juan Guzman was all arms and legs out of GCL Orioles pen, flashing an 89-92 mph fastball and an upper-80s breaking ball. Guzman is all over the place, mechanically, showing a long arm action in the back with late (and sometimes violent) pronation and inconsistent arm path and release. His breaking ball comes with some bite when he hits his release, but he telegraphs the pitch and does not spot it particularly well. He lacks balance through his core rotation and follow-through, and struggles to keep his momentum towards home. Currently an org player, Guzman has middle-relief upside if he can iron out his mechanics and show more growth in his below-average breaking ball. A slider may fit his general arm action better than does his current curve.

Backstop Gabriel Lino has some offensive upside and a strong arm behind the dish, but may lack the lateral quickness needed to stick at catcher. He also lets his glove float a little too often when receiving, which he'll need to tighten. The power is still raw, and does not project particularly well to a corner infield spot. Just 18-years old this year, he has time to work on his problem areas. Should his power tool emerge, he could shift to first base in order to allow more developmental focus on his bat.

Converted outfielder Jose Nivar turned heads from the mound this summer, topping out in the upper-90s with some giddy-up. He is still learning his mechanics, as well as the basics in approach to the art of pitching, but will continue to get long looks so long as he is showing plus-plus raw velo. His breaking ball is gimmicky at this point, and he may ultimately benefit from playing around with a two-seam and cut fastball to show different looks. Nivar should benefit from fall instruction and will look to carve out time between Aberdeen and Delmarva next summer.

Jorge Rivera is an arm strength lefty that can push mid-90s with his fastball, but lacks command over the pitch. His slider is a tight little breaker, but like his fastball he is too imprecise with the offering for it to be effective against more advanced bats. He pitched primarily in relief this summer, and that is the best fit for him long term. He gives batters a good look at the ball twice on the back side, though hitters generally still had a tough time picking it up out of his hand. Rivera turns 22 later this month and will need to get moving up the ladder.

Lanky righty Sebastian Vader has value tied to his projection, with current stuff inconsistent. His fastball is an upper-80s offering with a hint of run. His breaking ball is a upper-70s slider that bumps 81 mph and can flash some tilt, though it's generally inconsistent and will often saucer in the zone. Mechanically, Vader is an arm strength guy that doesn't incorporate his lower half. He also comes with a wrist hook and dice roll that can both cause some strain on his elbow and affect the consistency of the balls bath through his release. At 6-foot-4, 175-pounds, he'll add some meat.

Aberdenn Ironbirds(NY-Penn League, Short-season A)

Aberdeen By the Numbers:
Record: 24 - 51
Top Arm: Parker Bridwell, rhp (2010, 9th Round)
Top Bat: Glynn Davis, of (2010, undrafted FA)

Player of the Year:
Parker Bridwell, rhp (53.2 IP, 56 H, 32 R, 27 ER, 22 BB, 57 SO)

Parker Bridwell garnered a good deal of attention from Orioles prospect followers after signing for $625,000 in 2010 and earning good reviews from fall workouts a month later. His 2011 was a mixed bag, as the young righty struggled to execute his pitches at low A Delmarva and was accordingly knocked around. After being demoted to short-season A Aberdeen, Bridwell showed a higher level of comfort on the mound, and more consistency in his arsenal. He returned to Delmarva to close out August and again struggled vacillating between catching too much of the plate and falling out of his control zone.

Bridwell's best offering is a heavy sinker generally in the 90-92 mph range, climbing to the mid-90s at various points this summer. When he drives the pitch down in the zone, he induces lots of soft contact -- a trend that should continue through the lower levels. Eventually he'll need to improve his command of the offering, as more discerning bats learn to lay off the pitch as it bores. His breaking ball is a slider that actually acts more like a deep cutter with late horizontal movement. Still a work in progress, Bridwell's change-up is now an adequate third offering with a chance to be average, and perhaps a tick above, as he continues to tinker.

Bridwell could be a solid mid-rotation starter down the line. He'll likely return to Delmarva in 2011 where he'll team up with 2011 1st Rounder Dylan Bundy, forming an interesting 1-2 at the top of the Shorebirds' rotation.

Players to know:

Jake Cowan utilizes a four pitch mix, often working backwards to help his average fastball play up. Cowan's best secondary is a snappy slider that has good arm slot deception. He'll also bring a 12-to-6 curve with average depth and bite. His offspeed looks like a variation of a circle or three-finger change, which he rolls over on occasion to elicit fade. Once thought of as projectable, Cowan hasn't bulked-up as expected, though there is still time for him to add some strength. He could develop into a back-end arm or swingman with four usable offerings.

2011 draftee and former Illinois Figthing Illini Adam Davis is a standout defensive backstop with limited offensive upside. Davis shows quick feet and a solid, accurate arm. He excels as a field general, was known around the Big 10 as a strong positive influence on his pitching staff, and shows comfort throwing the ball behind runners at all bases. At the plate, Davis has an unrefined slap approach, lacking real leverage and expanding the zone too often. Baltimore will work to make him adequate offensively, in an effort to mold him into a back-up catcher capable of providing plus defense behind the plate.

We were out in front on first year outfielder Glynn Davis, tabbing him as the 16th best prospect in O's system after he signed as an undrafted free agent out of Catonsville CC (Md.). The speedy Davis is a true "80" runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, and progressed in his approach this summer both offensively and defensively. He is similar in body type to Hunter Pence, though he lacks Pence's current physicality. Davis projects to above-average defense in center, elite speed and an average hit tool with fringe-average power. If he can develop an on-base approach, he could be useful as a #1 or #2 hitter capable of reaching base via infield hit and stretching extra bases as he works out the gaps. He'll need to add strength, but has time to do so. He should get the gig as starting center fielder in Delmarva next summer.

Mychal Givens bounced around between Aberdeen and Delmarva, struggling to build any momentum either in the field or at the plate. The compact middle-infielder has good arm strength, but doesn't set-up his throws well and utilizes an open, slingy arm action that cause throws from the left side to tail off target. Couple that with fringy range and a tendency to swipe, rather than field through the ball, and Givens fits best at second base, where he logged most of his time this summer. Offensively, Givens has a flat swing plane and can drag through the hit zone. He may get another year to prove himself in the field, but it can't be long before Baltimore decides to try him on the mound, where his side-armed delivery produces low- to mid-90s fastballs and a low-80s sweeping slider.

Trent Howard logged 14 appearances (all starts) for Central Michigan prior to being selected by Baltimore in the 2011 draft, and followed up those 87.1 innings with another 41.1 IP in Aberdeen. He projects as a back-end innings eater, and could move quickly through the system -- albeit with limited upside. His upper-80s sinker works well in tandem with his short slider, and he'll mix in a curve and a change-up throughout his starts, as well. He has a sturdy frame and simple mechanics that allow him to repeat and maintain throughout his starts. He shows above-average command, which helps the effectiveness of his average arsenal.

Connor Narron shows flashes of upside with the bat, but struggled this year to find any consistency at the plate. From the middle-out he handles the bat well and can push the ball to the opposite field when he needs to. There's leverage in his swing, and the former Carolina prepster can put a charge into the ball during BP. But he struggles to cover the inner-half of the plate and his swing got long this summer as he tried to hit for more power. Sometimes labeled by scouts as overly selective at the plate, Narron has to learn to be more aggressive in the right situations, and to more fully cover the hit zone.

Tyler Wilson served the Virginia Cavaliers in every capacity possible, logging innings as a starter, in long relief, middle relief, and as a late inning arm, over the course of his four-year career. As a pro, he has the four pitch mix to stick as a starter, but his average stuff across the board would probably play best in the pen. He was dominant for Virginia as a Sunday/weekday starter in the spring, and carried that success over into the summer where he logged six strong starts for Aberdeen. He spots his 88-91 mph fastball well, and will drop in a curve, slider or changeup in any count.

Aaron Wirsch was limited to just 10 IP this summer, suffering a UCL tear in his pitching elbow and underjoing Tommy John surgery, but is a name to know for 2013. A projectable lefty out of El Toro HS (Lake Forest, Calif.) in 2009, Wirsch has added 25-pounds over the past two years, now measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. The velocity increase has not accompanied the added mass, though the big southpaw has seen spotty action at best over the past three seasons, longing just under 40 IP total due to various ailments. Baltimore will look forward to having a healthy Wirsch back, who at his best brings an average fastball and two potential above-average secondaries in his deceptive change-up and curveball.

Mike Wright, another 2011 draftee, started seven games for Aberdeen but most likely fits better in relief, long term. He has a short arm circle on the back side and low arm slot, creating a tough angle for hitters to try and square his sinker/slider combo. His sinker is a low-90s offering that can bump mid-90s in short stints, and his slider compliments it well. He spots both pitches to both sides of the plate. His offspeed lags behind in development, and will likely be a focus for 2012.