30 May 2012

2012 Draft Coverage: Weekly pref list, May 30, 2012

With the Rule 4 Draft scheduled for next week, we are coming down the home stretch and narrowing focus to a final five targets for the Orioles' first round pick (4th overall). Our last pref list was ten names long -- today we shorten to five, with one player set as a "back-up" pick, and four dropping out of consideration completely:

Final Pref List:
1. Kevin Gausman, rhp, Louisiana St. Univ.
2. Albert Almora, of, Mater Acad. (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
3. Carlos Correa, ss/3b, Puerto Rico Baseball Acad. (Gurabo, P.R.)
4. Mark Appel, rhp, Stanford Univ.
5. Byron Buxton, of, Appling County HS (Baxley, Ga.)

Back-up consideration:
Kyle Zimmer, rhp, Univ. of San Francisco

No longer considering:
Gavin Cecchini, ss, Barbe HS (Lake Charles, La.)
Deven Marrero, ss, Arizona St. Univ.
Lucas Giolito, rhp, Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.)
Mike Zunino, c, Univ. of Florida

Gausman vs. Appel:
Gausman and Appel were the two most impressive starters on the Team USA squad last summer, my top two college arms coming into the season, and finish as the top two arms in the draft class.  Both have electric stuff, both have areas to improve upon and, most importantly, both have shown some growth over the past 12 months.

Appel has seen an improvement in SO/9 between his sophomore and junior seasons in Palo Alto (a sizable jump from 7.16 to 9.44), with the ability to miss bats being the biggest question mark for the two-year Friday night ace.  While the quality of his stuff has been inconsistent throughout the spring, Appel has finished strong, flashing two plus secondaries (power slurve and change-up) and a mid-90's fastball through most of May. Additionally, Appel has held his velocity late into games and late into the season.  He has front-end stuff, with his ultimate ceiling to be determined by the ability of a developmental program to tease a little more precision and consistency out of him. 

Gausman was the best pure arm on Team USA behind Marcus Strohman (Duke Univ.), breaking the triple-digit barrier multiple times on the radar gun and showing flashes of a quality curve and slider. This spring he has focused a little more on the fastball/slider/change-up combo, reserving the curve for particular occasions requiring a change of the hitter's eye-level.  A high-ceilinged arm with mechanical inconsistencies when he arrived in Baton Rouge, Gausman has been shaped by Coach Mainieri and staff into perhaps the best Friday night starter in the country.  In my last look-in this spring, Gausman showed two future plus pitches with his slider and change-up, and a future plus-plus fastball that hit 97 mph in his last inning of work.  As one AL cross-checker stated upon Gausman's exit from the game, "You win championships with arms like that." 

Like Appel, Gausman profiles as a front-end arm, but there is a little more athleticism in the LSU righty and a little more room for growth. Gausman tends to produce a greater number of groundballs than does Appel, in no small part because of a tougher pitch plane and greater ability to create angles with his pitches. These two are highly talented arms, but both the scouting and the advanced statistical breakdowns favor Gausman as the slightly better investment.  Gausman finishes the year as the top arm in the draft and the top prospect on our preference list.

The prep position players:
Earlier this month I broke down Almora and Buxton in detail, with Almora's combination of ceiling and probability beating out Buxton's sky-high potential.  The third prep position player we would have in the mix for Baltimore is Puerto Rican infielder Carlos Correa (who ranked third overall on our most recent pref list, behind Gausman and Almora).
Correa entered the year as an easy top 15 talent for me, with much of his value built off of strong showings in October and January in the tournament and showcase format, respectively. Already a sturdy 6-foot-3, 185-pounds, Correa has a broad frame that projects to another 20-pounds or so (perhaps a bit more). Couple the body with what is currently average range and quickness in his lower-half and you get a high likelihood that Correa will find his way over to the hot corner during his journey through the minors.  His hands and arm, however, should make him an easy plus defender at third and it is absolutely possible that the arm strength and fluid actions allow him to stick at short in spite of what is likely to be fringy range.  His defensive profile could resemble that of Troy Tulowitzki when all is said in done, though he lacks the first step quickness that allows Tulo to play an above-average short at the Major League level.

Offensively, Correa has a nice blend of projected power and hit tool, which is wholly a product of his first rate bat speed and hand-eye coordination.  He has knack for loud contact and has showcased the potential for plus in-game power down the road (he already flashes that raw pop during batting practice).  Assuming the move from shortstop, the best case scenario is a top-tier defensive third baseman with a chance to post triple-slashes of .315/.380/.550 -- easily one of the highest-ceilings in the entire draft class.

While Correa comes with a little more certainty than Buxton, he isn't as tested as is Almora and the difference in defensive value between third base and center field is not insignificant. Ultimately, the decision as to how to comparatively rank Almora, Buxton and Correa comes down to how you value probability versus ceiling. For me, Almora's blend of projection and probability gives him a slight edge over the other two highly talented prepsters and lands him second on the Camden Depot pref list. The Orioles would be fortunate to introduce any of the three to their system.  It's a nice situation this year wherein little separates the top five talents in the draft, as Baltimore is guaranteed a choice between at least two of them.

A not-quite-ace in the hole:
Though the numbers indicate that Baltimore will have a guaranteed shot at one of the top five talents in the draft, it's important to have a fallback in case of the unexpected.  San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer is a small step behind the two college arms listed above and can serve as that back-up if cost enters the picture.

This could come about under two scenarios. The first is a case where the two remaining top 5 talents indicate signing bonus demands well ahead of Baltimore's valuation.  While the O's are allotted $4.2 million to spend on this pick, the profiles of the available players would generally come in to the $2.75 to 3.25 million range, which would leave some extra money for Baltimore to spread out across the rest of their picks.  If advisors push this tactic -- treating the allotments as new "recommendations" for bonus amount -- it could make sense to revert to a fallback.

Likewise, even if the top 5 talents float reasonable signing bonus requests, it could make sense to sign a the fallback option provided the drop in value on the pref list is less than value of the money saved. That is, if the aggregate of your first and second round selections is better with a slightly lower value pick in the first and a much higher value pick in the second (say $2.5 spent in the first and second as compared to $3.5 spent in the first and $1.5 spent in the second), it's a scenario worth exploring.

The only name that fits the bill this year would by Zimmer.  He has similar upside to Appel and Gausman, but lacks their refinement. He has also seen fluctuations in his velocity and the quality of his stuff from game-to-game and at times from inning to inning. He is highly athletic and has a skill set that profiles well for a good developmental group.  The same, he hasn't been tested over the course of a long season and it is unclear where his stuff will ultimately sit once he's throwing every five days over the course of a six month season.

See for yourself:
For today's draft video, here's a look at our remaining pref list, one video a piece. Later this week we will link to my full detailed reports, which will be publishing at DiamondScapeScouting.com (and will include multiple videos for most of these players):






29 May 2012

Does Roy Oswalt fit on the Orioles?

There has been considerable discussion over the past week about where Roy Oswalt will wind up. Jon Heyman wrote the following:
One executive of an interested team said he believes Oswalt will probably top the $2.5 million the late-starting Andy Pettitte is guaranteed by the Yankees but seems skeptical about whether Oswalt will meet his asking price or guarantee himself $5 million. Oswalt is now said to be more open geographically, and the substantial asking price has some surmising he plans to go to the high bidder.
Oswalt is also said to want to play for a team with a chance to win, so assuming the Dodgers don't get back in the derby, the Rangers would appear to be the safest bet to make the playoffs of the known interested teams, though the Red Sox, Phillies and Orioles all have a chance to make the playoffs.

Last year, Oswalt suffered a back injury and missed part of June and all of July.  Conventional concerns were that a back injury can be a chronic this and that he was no longer dealing as an elite pitcher.  The first concerns is a legitimate one.  Back injuries typically get worse, not better.  However, this would likely be a one year deal and Oswalt likely would not be ready to pitch in the Majors until he gets his work in the minors.  This likely puts July as the target date.  A fully healthy Oswalt should be able to log about 16 games, half a season's load.  How much is that worth?

The second concern is whether Oswalt is a different pitcher than he used to be.  Here are his numbers from last year by month:
April: 5 GS, 27 IP, 7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 3.32 FIP
May: 3 GS, 18 IP, 4 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 2.97 FIP
June: 5 GS, 26.1 IP, 4.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 5.04 FIP
July: Disabled List
August: 5 GS, 26.2 IP, 6.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 2.58 FIP
September: 6 GS, 41 IP, 6.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.27 FIP
There really does not appear to be much difference between his pre-injury (April) and post-injury (August and September) starts.  His performance also does not look much difference than what he accomplished from 2005 to 2009 (6.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 3.50 FIP, 22.8 fWAR, 23.5 rWAR).  Towards the end of the season, his fastball was chugging around 92.8 mph which is perfectly within range of what he has done in the past five years.  Simply put, Oswalt should be viewed as he has been for the last few years with the caveat that there are some medicals out there that might be somewhat concerning.

With a line of 90 IP, 6.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.50 FIP, that is worth in the neighborhood of 1.7 to 2.1 WAR.  This year the cost per win is about 4.5 MM in the general market.  With a 20% injury reduction application, you wind up with a value of 6.1 to 7.6 MM.  If you believe that the Orioles are indeed a playoffs squad, then you are going to see higher attendance at the end of the season which may make the cost per win closer to 5.5 MM.  In the scenario, Oswalt's value might be closer to 7.5 to 9.2 MM.  Last winter, Oswalt declined an alleged offer from the Tigers for 10-12 MM.  At the moment, it appears that teams are balking over handing him 7.5 MM.  It may well be that my estimation of his current ability is too rosy and that his medical file leaves one wanting from one with fewer entries.  I do not know.

If I was Dan Duquette, I would pull the trigger and jump if Oswalt is asking for 5 MM.  That is a rich one year deal, but it certainly gives you a solid pitcher for this season and, with a 12 MM offer, gives you a solid one for next year or a compensatory pick.  Oswalt would push Tommy Hunter to the pen or Norfolk.  This would likely result in the team gaining an extra win or two in the standings with Oswalt tossing the ball every fifth day instead of Hunter.  Who knows...maybe passing through Frederick in June, Oswalt could show Dylan Bundy a thing or two about change ups.

Remember, for 5 MM or more the Orioles have gone after Garrett Atkins, Vladimir Guerrero, the second coming of Miguel Tejada, etc.  I actually can see Oswalt as part of a plan and not just haphazard, high-cost shrugging.

27 May 2012

Adam Jones' extension and the Orioles competing in 2012 and 2013

In the wake of the Adam Jones signing, I think back to the column I wrote back in January.  In that column, I came up with the following values for his 2012-2014 seasons based on players with similar numbers:
85th: 308/369/520; 18 WAR; ~80MM
50th: 278/334/451; 11 WAR; ~50MM
15th: 248/300/382; 4.5 WAR; ~21MM
Those values were assuming market value, so really only the final season would really fall under market value.  This season Jones is making 6.15MM.  Next year he will make 10.5MM when you include his signing bonus and then 13MM for a total of almost 30MM over these next three seasons.  By signing Jones, the club has probably saved somewhere between 2-5MM in 2014.  I did not run my analysis beyond those 2015 to 2018 dates to determine the value there.  I have him worth about 50MM over 2015 to 2018 based on my own approximation with 2017 and 2018 with him in left field.

To line them up, the Orioles are paying 85.5MM over 2013 to 2018.  I have Jones' mid-range projection over that period being worth 80MM.  If Jones hits the 85th percentile from that January column, then you are looking at a worth of about 134MM.  Simply put, I think the Orioles are probably going to get even value for Jones, maybe a little more depending on how free agency money shifts with the introduction of new TV money flooding several markets.

On a side note, it is nice to see how these projections come close to what the Orioles wind up doing.  Back in 2008, I came up with Nick Markakis earning an extension of 6 years at 66.01MM.  He wound up with a 6 year deal at 66.1MM.  That one has not worked out so well.  The Orioles from 2009 to 2011 got out of Markakis' arbitration years by paying him 21.05MM while his arbitration adjusted cost came to 18.72MM.  There is a decent chance he provides at cost return, but also a good shot at a subpar performance level.

This leads me to think about the team in general, the rest of this season, and next year.  With a payroll remarkably below what the Red Sox and Yankees have, the Orioles need to either get great value when they commit to a player or have solid 0-3 year player production.  A market value team need a total WAR of about 42 wins above replacement to be competitive and to get that solely at market value would cost roughly 210MM.  With that in mind the Orioles need to find some good cheap players or find an undervalue piece in the market.

The three weakest areas of the team are left field, first base, third base, and starting pitching (who doesn't have a weakness at starting pitching).  What I mean by weakest is that these are the areas where the greatest improvement could be found. 

Left fielders have been producing offensively at a level about 15% below league average.  Much of that can be put at the feet of Endy Chavez who was supposed to compensate that with plus defense.  Instead, the Orioles have delivered with league average defense according to UZR (blah blah blah small sample size, but I think having looked out there that defense has not been a strong suit in left field no matter who has played there).  Currently, Xavier Avery is picking up with promise of being a useful left fielder, but he looks more like a 4th outfielder to me still.  He is still learning how to play and if he figures it out he could be an above average starter.  His approach at the plate looks defensive and he tends to wander around in the field.  Nolan Reimold is another player who has shown promise, but it is difficult to truly rely on him.  He flashes above average potential, but gets into severe injury ridden ruts.  He is 28 and has never had a season where he was not dealing with a nagging injury and only two seasons where he managed to play almost a full season (2008 and 2009).

The players I immediately think of as short term guys for left field who could greatly improve the team would be the following:
Free Agents at the End of This Year
Melky Cabrera, Giants - The Giants are sitting second in the NL West so it will be a while before they consider breaking down the team.  However, Cabrera is a player to keep your eye on.  He is capable of playing left and right field as well as fill in for center.  Cabrera might be a concern as he let himself get out of shape before getting serious with conditioning, but he could be a solid target and make for a good player to extend for four years or so.  He probably adds about one to two wins on top of the team's in house options.
Nick Swisher, Yankees - Swisher is not going anywhere within the season, but he may be an option once the season concludes.  He has struggled so far this year, but has been relatively consistent.  He plays an average left and right field as well as can man first base.  His ability to take a walk may make him an early target of Duquette's.
Andre Either, Dodgers - Either has had some disagreements with the Dodger front brass, but he too will certainly not be dealt as the Dodgers are enjoying great success.  He is more of a stander than a fielder, but his bat could prove to be quite useful for the Orioles in left or as a DH in 2013.
Free Agents at the End of Next Year
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox - It will be difficult to see how the BoSox will let him walk.  It is also hard to see exactly how he and Adam Jones would figure out who stays in center field.  It looks unlikely that a fit could be made here if there is an opportunity to be had.
Hunter Pence, Phillies - Hunter Pence is a solid hitter with below average defense.  He will not be dealt and he is the type of player whose future is shaky if he cannot remain out in the field.  I think he will be given big money by someone...maybe the Phillies.
As it stands, it seems that the best direction for this team is to run the season out with Avery and Reimold.  In the off season, the team could look toward a player like Melky Cabrera who is versatile and has shown a solid bat over the past year and a quarter.

At first base, Chris Davis is making an interesting case for himself as a long term solution.  He is not the excellent defensive first baseman that seemed to be shoved in force during the off season.  He is an extremely streaky hitter who is enjoy his best stint since his rookie year.  He could serve the team as an average solution there.  I do not see him as a 300/335/500, but I could see him sustaining a 270/310/480 line.  That would be decent enough for him to be an everyday role player.  In a worst case scenario, you could keep most of his at bats against righties.  Davis as a long term solution is probably a good thing as the alternatives outside of the organization are limited.  I simply do not see a useful, star target available this or next year.

Andy MacPhail thought he solved the third base situation by trading David Hernandez and Kam Mikolio for Mark Reynolds.  It would be nice to have David Hernandez in the pen right now.  Reynolds work on his fielding did not pay any dividends, Wilson Betemit's fielding is what we thought it was going to be, and the random mix of players has resulted in the 5th worst defense at third if you think UZR is accurate at this point in the season.  Regardless, the defense has not been good and you really do not need a metric to tell you this.  There has been some talk of shifting Robert Andino to third and try Roberts out at second.  In the next few years with Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop making noise...there may be less need to force the issue here.

However, there is an option or two outside of the organization:
David Wright, Mets - Wright is having a little rebirth of a year and is crushing the ball.  His defense still looks shaky and has looked shaky for three years straight now.  With the Mets in a talent acquisition mode, it is plausible that they could jettison the 17MM for 2013 Wright in exchange for prospects.  The Orioles are light on prospects, but might be able to put something together.  I would think the Mets would be interested in a combination of players like Jonathan Schoop, Nicky Delmonico, Parker Bridwell, and L.J. Hoes.  That cuts the minors deep, but if you think Wright is a solution at third for the next three to four years then you have to go for it and secure an extension for Wright.  He would probably add a couple wins for this season and be somewhere around a 3-5 WAR player for the team.  That written, I have not heard him as being on the market.
Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox - With Will Middlebrooks making noise and the Sox potentially in need of more roster flexibility, Youkilis might be a target in the off season.  His bat has looked poor this season, he is not the defender he use to be, and he has injury issues.
If you believe in this team then I think you have to check in with the Mets and see what they are asking or if Wright is even on the block.  I think the Orioles have to hold on to Machado and Dylan Bundy, but no other player should be nailed down.  With the doubt surrounding Youkilis, I'd like to see him as a free agent or someone I would not have to give anything of significance.

As for starting pitchers, any time you can knock the fifth starter out of the rotation with an ace, it will be worth a 4-5 win shift.  That would send Brian Matusz or Tommy Hunter to the pen or Norfolk.  Here are how the options run:
Free Agents at the End of This Year
Zach Grienke, Brewers - Grienke will probably be dealt if the Brewers cannot bounce back into being an elite team.  He will likely require a package similar to what I described above for Wright.  It also seems likely that there will be more interest in Grienke with teams offering higher upside prospects than the Orioles can offer, assuming Bundy and Machado are off limits.  Any deal would be accompanied with the expectation that the team will need to offer a 20+/yr extension.
Cole Hamels, Phillies - The Phillies will likely ride their squad to the end of the season, making Hamels an off season target.  There is some question as to whether the Phillies can afford another big money contract.  There will likely be a great deal of competition for his services this off season.  I could see a 5 year, 120MM deal for him.  It will be difficult for the Orioles to fit him in their payroll.
Edwin Jackson, Nationals - Jackson is a pitcher whose stuff suggests he should be better than his result, but his results really are rather solid.  The Orioles will not be able to get him mid-season, but could target him as a player that would cost 60% what Grienke or Hamels will cost while providing 75% of the performance.
Colby Lewis, Rangers - Lewis also would not be available mid-season, but also represents a player who likely will provide above average performance at a reduced rate in comparison to elite arms.
Roy Oswalt, Free Agent - Oswalt went down last year with a back injury in June as a 3.00 ERA pitcher.  He came back for the final two months as more of 4.50 ERA pitcher.  This explains the tepid response to his free agency this past off season.  There is a good chance he would be more useful than Hunter or Matusz, but no one should expect him to be an elite arm anymore.
Oswalt or bust is the likely way things will go during the season for the Orioles.  The off season may prove more interesting.

So what does it all mean?
If you think the Orioles are for real, then this season matters a great deal.  You can target guys like Melky Cabrera and one of David Wright or Zach Grienke with an eye toward extending them as part of the team's core.  If Wright is a target, then you go hard after Oswalt as well.  If you have doubt in this squad, then waiting for the off season to upgrade will be ideal, but Oswalt should still be in play if the money is there to burn.  It certainly is excellent to be able to ask this question.  My perspective is that if you can acquire Wright for pieces that are not apparently tied to our future success, then you make that move and expand payroll some more.  I also think a move this off season for Melky Cabrera would better solidify this outfield.  Finally, an off season push for a solid number two or three in Jackson or Lewis would be something that would be financially feasible and work toward the team's success.

So, what do you think?

17 May 2012

Orioles 2005 and 2012 seasons: Apple and Oranges? (Pt I)

Baseball is a difficult sport to predict.  The season is long, guys get injured, and players all of a sudden develop skills or lose them.  This can make it difficult for a long suffering follower of the Baltimore Orioles to feel comfortable with their current success.  If you believe in fWAR and project it out, you wind up with 44.3 expected fWAR for the whole team.  Add that to a replacement level expectation of 48 wins and you get a 92 win team.  If you are more of a pythagorean runs type of person, then you have an expectation of 89 wins if they keep this season rolling.  Or, perhaps, you are a Bill Parcels guy and believe your record is an accurate description of yourself . . . then you think this is a 102 win team.

So with 89, 92, and 102 wins, we have quite a bit of difference from my early season projection of 68 wins.  To be clear...there is no way I can see this team as anything much less than 75 wins.  I think the two big keys this year the rest of the way are that the peripherals look decent for many of the players and the upper minors are not completely devoid of talent.  Mind you, the upper minors do not have great talent, but it is talent that you can use in a pinch.  That really has not been the case for the Orioles for a long while.  It is good to have a guy like Chris Tillman as a 6th, 7th, or 8th option in your rotation as opposed to being your third or fourth guy.  It is also good to have someone like Brad Bergesen as DFA fodder as opposed to being in your starting rotation.  We can certainly disagree with some of these moves, but I think we have to recognize that there is a higher and broader base level of talent sitting at Norfolk buffering real star talent lower in Bowie and Delmarva.

That said, I am also a great believer in regression to the mean.  I have yet to feel comfortable with a reassessment of my season projection, so my current projections are simply the current record with a projected .420 winning percentage on the rest of the season.  That brings my projection to 77 wins.  Honestly, that is a pretty exciting season in and of itself.  Sometime Camden Depot writer Daniel Moroz tried to address where this season will be heading on his own site, Camden Crazies.  Looking at how performance has related to underlying statistics, he came up with a rough estimate that the Orioles are about 6 games over their heads at the moment.  That would lead to an expectation of something like 86, 89 or 99 final wins roughly when you prorate that.

Again, the assumption here is that there is a set talent level associated with runs or wins and that this talent level remains continuous (e.g., injuries do not drastically affect performance, strength of schedule).

This makes me wonder about 2005.  It was a season where the Orioles geared up by trading for Sammy Sosa to shore up right field and banking on further production and growth from their existing roster.  Javy Lopez had a great first season with the Orioles in 2004.  Rafael Palmeiro produced slightly below league average.  Tejada and Mora could be argued as the best SS and 3B combo in baseball.  David Newhan broke out big in 95 games as a super utility guy slashing 311/361/453.  Rodrigo Lopez was very good and the trio of Ponson, Cabrera, and Bedard flashed plus pitching from time to time.  Jorge Julio, BJ Ryan, and John Parrish also made for a formidable bullpen.  Additionally, the Orioles had John Maine and Hayden Penn mulling around in the minors, waiting for their chance.  Now, the expectations were not incredibly high, but there was a good deal of hope for this team.

How did the team look at the end of May?  In terms of pythagorean, fWAR, and win marks...the expectation could have been for final season win tally projections of 95, 106, and 98 wins, respectively.  At the end of May, the Orioles sat with an offensive fWAR of 10.7 and a pitching fWAR of 7.5.  Those would be on pace for finals of 34 and 23.8, respectively.

fWAR Pace Actual
Roberts 0.362 0.449 0.642 3.4
4 12.7 6.7
Tejada 0.313 0.361 0.588 -1.3
2.1 6.7 5.1
Mora 0.284 0.344 0.501 1.2
1.6 5.1 4.1
Lopez 0.273 0.316 0.483 -0.8
0.9 2.9 1.9
Gibbons 0.269 0.32 0.546 1.8
0.9 2.9 2.5
Matos 0.274 0.377 0.393 -1.1
0.7 2.2 1.2
Raffy 0.271 0.361 0.449 -3.6
0.1 0.3 -0.1
Sosa 0.239 0.309 0.394 -1.6
-0.2 -0.6 -1.2
Bigbie 0.235 0.27 0.311 -0.2
-0.4 -1.3 0.1

These nine players were the primary starting nine.  If you believe in the performance to date for these guys, it would seem quite natural that this 2005 team would make the playoffs.  You have Brian Roberts on pace to produce one of the greatest seasons ever.  Tejada and Mora provide two additional star quality players.  Lopez, Gibbons, and Matos contribute as solid average performers.  Bigbie is a guy you can rotate out or trade for a better piece.  Raffy and Sosa are detriments to the team whose experience and contracts prevent replacement.  Roberts' performance will easily cover them.  If the pace would have held out, with all of these guys players, and replacement players contributing 0 fWAR, this would be a 30.9 fWAR offense.  That would have put them second in the AL behind the Indians and in front of the Red Sox.

Instead, the team wound up with 20.3 fWAR from this group.  Roberts could not sustain hitting one out of every four fly balls out of the yard and suffered an injury toward the end of the season.  That cut 6 wins off the pace.  Simply looking at BABIP, Roberts (.392), Tejada (.358), and Mora (.347) ranging about .046 to .081 over their career average BABIP.  That should have looked ripe for a regression.  Everyone else was within .030 of their career rates.  The offense should have simply looked like it was subsisting on three guys who may be a little lucky.  Introduce, regression, injuries, and positive drug tests . . . the team collapses to an average offense over the course of the season and a poor one after May.  After putting up 10.7 fWAR in the first two months of the season, the Orioles accrued 9.3 over the final four months.  The meme is that what killed the Orioles that year was the pitching falling apart, but the change in fortune (i.e., lost wins) was about 60/40 on the shoulders of the offense.

In part 2, I will take a look at the 2012 Orioles offense, which will probably be rather redundant with Daniel's analysis...who knows?

13 May 2012

Cup o' jO's: Hardy and Hall on Young and the Restless

Last night EME from the Camden Chat crew mentioned that Bill Hall was on Young and the Restless.  It appeared from the tweet that his source forgot that J.J. Hardy was also on that episode.  For your viewing pleasure, enjoy a behind the scenes video:

And the footage:

Yes, you have lost five minutes of your life.

09 May 2012

2012 Draft Coverage: Weekly pref list, May 9, 2012

Scouting obligations have kept me out of pocket on the Camden Depot coverage, but we return to our pref list this week with an updated list and brief comparison of the two high school outfielders on the list: Byron Buxton (Appling County HS, Baxley, Ga.) and Albert Almora (Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Fla.):

Tale of the tape:
Albert Almora measures in at 6-foot-2, 175-pounds, showing average speed in the field that plays up on the bases due to his aggressive approach to the game and advanced feel.  Buxton is a true burner, among the fastest 1st Round players the draft has seen in the last few years -- on par with Derek "Bubba" Starling, the fifth overall pick last year (Kansas City Royals). Physically, he stands 6-foot-1, 175-pounds with a broad frame that will hold additional thickness as he matures.  Almora will be 18-years, 2-months old in June, while Buxton will be 18-years, 6-months.

In the field:
Buxton has the sexier tool set, with true "80" speed (top of the charts on the scouting scale) and a plus-plus arm that some evaluators have likewise rated as an "80". His approach and feel are still generally raw, the effect of which can be spun two ways.  If you are an optimist, you see this as a player with the speed to outrun mistakes in routes and first steps, with a chance to improve his execution with pro instruction.  If you are a little more conservative, you wonder if the missteps off the bat and the sometimes deviated routes will negate the foot speed that should allow him to cover gap-to-gap without effort.  Overall, he is a starter kit for an elite defensive center fielder, but inconsistent time on the diamond makes it difficult to determine how easy it will be to assemble the kit.

Almora, on the other hand, has a feel for the outfield that you seldom see outside of the pro ranks.  His jumps off the bat are among the best I've ever seen in a prep player, and his routes and ability to close and finish belie his average foot speed.  He covers a wide swath in center, with his feel for the craft potentially allowing him to provide plus defense up-the-middle.  He has the arm strength and accuracy for center field, as well.  While Almora lacks the elite defensive upside of Buxton, he comes with much more probability, and can still be among the better defensive players in the game.

At bat:
Almora might be the best pure hitter at the prep ranks, and profiles as a potential .310/.400/.500 bat, with his slugging a solid mix of doubles and homeruns.  While his "now" power is somewhat limited in-game, his bat speed, ability to square, swing plane, loft, and pre-game showings indicate he could easily grow into 55/60 power when all is said and done.  His understanding of the strikezone is advanced, and his quick hands afford him the opportunity to delay the start of his swing long enough to get him an extra few feet to identify pitches. 

As is the case with his defense, the upside in Buxton's bat is incredible.  If everything clicks, he profiles as a monster three-spot hitter with slash potential of .290/.360/.550 bat (and that might be light on the hit tool).  Also as is the case with his defense, Buxton is a ways off from realizing this potential.  He gets long with his swing path and couples that with an extended stride that can throw off the rotational flow of his core, sapping pop.  While he has received dings in the media due to the lack of homeruns this spring, there is no lack of raw power here.  What we are likely seeing is a slightly out-of-whack swing leading to inconsistent hard contact, which should be addressed as he receives pro instruction and shortens his stride and swing.

Bottom line:
Do you like probability or upside?  Buxton has all of the physical tools you look for in a baseball player, and a true five-tool player that can be plus or better across the board simply doesn't come along very often.  At the same time, Almora provides a refinement and feel that you seldom find in a prep player.  Both are legit top-5 overall talents, and your personal preference between the two likely depends on your philosophy towards investment in and development of teenage prospects.

On to the updated 1:4 pref list. As a reminder, this is not necessarily the list of the top 10 players in the draft, but rather a list of players that, for various reasons, we have identified as targets for Baltimore at 1:4, were we doing the drafting:

Current Preference List (May 9, 2012)
1. Kevin Gausman, rhp, Louisiana St. Univ.
2. Albert Almora, of, Mater Acad. (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
3. Carlos Correa, ss/3b, Puerto Rico Baseball Acad. (Gurabo, P.R.)
4. Mark Appel, rhp, Stanford Univ.
5. Byron Buxton, of, Appling County HS (Baxley, Ga.)
6. Lucas Giolito, rhp, Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.)
7. Kyle Zimmer, rhp, Univ. of San Francisco
8. Mike Zunino, c, Univ. of Florida
9. Gavin Cecchini, ss, Barbe HS (Lake Charles, La.)
10. Deven Marrero, ss, Arizona St. Univ.

For today's draft video, here's a look at our new #1 on the pref list, LSU ace Kevin Gausman -- video shot on my Louisiana scouting trip this spring:

07 May 2012

Buying or Selling?: Matt Wieters

Still in shock after watching the Orioles take five of six from the Yankees and Sox, I figure it's time to start digging into the particulars of the 2012 season. It's still about four weeks too early, in my mind, to get too attached to a narrative, but let's be honest -- O's fans haven't had excitement like this in a long time and there is no shame in basking in the wins a little prematurely.

Over the next two weeks we hope to tick through some of the key components to Baltimore's hot start (certain players and stats) in order to make a determination as to whether these are trends are likely to continue.  We start with the player Camden Depot highlighted as the contributor fans should be most excited about entering 2012: Matt Wieters.

Who:  Matt Wieters
What:  fWAR and rWAR both on pace for approximately 9.25
Buying or selling:  Buying

Discussion:  Let's clear-up right away that it is highly unlikely Wieters hits the 9.25 WAR mark this season (only nine position players in all of baseball topped the 7.0 rWAR mark in 2011, none topping 8.4).  So "buying" isn't buying the 9.25 pace, but Wieters can absolutely be one of the ten most valuable position players in baseball this year.  For comparison's sake, in 2011 Wieters was worth 4.6 wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference.com (rWAR) and 5.0 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs.com (fWAR). For purposes of this discussion, we will focus on rWAR, as that presents us with the largest discrepancy between current pace and last year's performance.

Defensively, Wieters continues to shine.  He displays soft hands, quick feet side-to-side, and works well to gameplan, calling an effective game much more often than not.  His catch-and-throw skill set remains among the best in game, showing easy plus-plus arm strength with accuracy.  With 37% of would-be basestealers caught in 2011, Wieters was second to only Diamondback's backstop Miguel Montero (40%) among catchers logging more than 82 games.  Thus far in 2012, Wieters continues to mow down runners, currently at a 44% clip.  Additionally, he fields his position well, particular receiving throws from the outfield, handling your typical 'tweener hops with ease while blocking the plate. 

The big jump in value this year has been at the plate.  From a scouting perspective, the biggest change has been Wieters patience.  His approach was advanced, even as a prospect, but has really shone through over the Birds' first 28 games.  Wieters has better tapped into a selectively aggressive approach at plate, laying-off more borderline pitches, and charging into the ball with more violence during hitter's counts. While the statistical sample size is too small to provide us adequate ammo for a decisive report, a cursory glance generally matches-up my scouting observations.

According to pitch f/x, as compared to 2011, Wieters has generally maintained his contact rate on pitches in zone (85.4% against 87.9%) and out of the zone (81.6% against 82.2%), and has maintained his swing rate on pitches in the zone (66.9% against 65.3%).  Where pitch f/x shows the greatest change is on swing rate on pitches out the zone, where Wieters has cut down to 22.2% from 32.3%.  Again, the sample size is small, just 28 games into the season, but this matches with my scouting observations.

On batted balls his LD%, FB%, GB% and IFH% are all within 1% of his 2011 rates, and his GB/FB rate in 2012 is 1.10 versus 1.12 in 2011.  His BABIP has climbed to .309 from .276 in 2011, which on the surface might indicate that Wieters has been a little lucky.  Keeping in mind the backdrop that batters can more directly impact their own BABIP than can pitchers, and noting the improvement in selection of pitches to attack, it could very well be that we are witnessing Wieters identifying a BABIP baseline more in line with his natural talent. It would not surprise me to see Wieters maintain a BABIP around .300 for the remainder of the season -- no small feet considering his "20" speed on the scouting scale (bottom of the barrel) all but eliminates infield hits from the equation.

Where I'd expect to see the biggest drop-off is in the homeruns. Right now Wieters is on pace to hit around 40 homeruns over the course of the 2012 season, assuming health and rest on par with the first 28 games.  That is dramatically higher than what you would expect from a player with his power tool (I graded as a "60" as a prospect, estimating around 25+ homerun potential).  Again, in a small sample size, the numbers seem to back-up the scouting.  Thus far, Wieters has a HR/FB rate of 24.1% -- an incredibly high number.  For comparison, the 2011 homerun champion Jose Bautista hit 43 dingers with a HR/FB rate of 22.5% and a FB rate of 47% (compaired to Wieters' FB rate of around 38% throughout his entire MLB career).  Wieters isn't going to hit 40 homeruns, but that HR/FB rate could stay up around 17-18%, considering the improved selective aggression he is showing in 2012, which could lead to around 20 to 23 more big flies over the remainder of the season.

Summary: Matt Wieters is for real, and if Baltimore can stay in contention in 2012 he is the AL MVP without question.  He is among the best defensive catchers in the game, and is now establishing himself as not only one of the best offensive catchers, but one of the best middle-of-the-order bats in all of baseball.  Expect some backslide as the season takes it's toll on Matt's big body, but make no mistake -- this is what the beginning of a 7.0-7.5 rWAR season looks like.

02 May 2012

What Effect Moving the Fences at Camden Yards Would Have?

I have been wondering how fence distance affects home runs.  I thought I had read somewhere that a ten foot difference results in a 20% difference in home runs.  However, I can not find that article, so I decided to figure it out myself.  I used Hit Tracker and simply graphed a section of the wall at Camden Yards with ten foot sections marked off.

In this section 138 home runs were hit from 2009-2011.  In the graph above, if the fence was at line 1 (the bottom most line), then 138 home runs would be hit.  If the fence is set ten feet back at line 2, then 108 home runs would have been hit.  That is a reduction of 30 home runs that were hit in that 10 foot space along this section of the wall.

The following graph shows the relationship between moving the fence back and home runs:

You can then use this information to predict the effect of moving a fence.

The graph above is a bit confusing.  Somehow my tired brain could not figure out how to do it.  Anyway, the way the x-axis works is that you go out to the furthest distance the fence could stand with no home runs and move back in.  The stretch of wall I looked at had a distance of 340 to 395 and correlates to the 80 mark.  Knowing that, we then can produce the following table showing how distance affects home runs over the course of three seasons:
Beginning End Projected Home Runs Actual Home Runs Percetage
260 315 469
270 325 417
280 335 367
290 345 321
300 355 278
310 365 238
320 375 201
330 385 167
340 395 137 138 100
350 405 109 108 80
360 415 85 83 62
370 425 63 62 46
380 435 45 47 33
390 445 30 31 22
400 455 18 17 13
410 465 9 12 7
420 475 4 2 3
430 485 1

01 May 2012

Revising the Season Projection: May 1st

With a month in the books, Camden Depot's projections have not exactly panned out in the short term.  Projections rarely line up over the short term, but tend to do a decent job with a greater data set.  Much of this is about finding true talent levels of players.  The Orioles are a team I think performance projections have difficulty because so many pieces have a poor amount of data.  For instance, WeiYin Chen's performance is difficult to project because the NPB is a completely different environment than MLB.  Or, projection models are unable to predict that Jason Hammel will find amazing success with a 2 seamer.

The revisions I present for the AL East over the course of the season will give the teams credit for what they have accomplished, but that they will perform according to their predicted talent level in the future.

Current Preseason May 1st Change
New York 13 97 97 0
Boston 11 92 90 -2
Tampa Bay 15 83 87 4
Toronto 12 79 79 0
Baltimore 14 68 72 4

If the Orioles can keep their pace of pulling in four more wins than they were projected for each month, they will finish with 92 wins.  That would put them in very good position for a Wild Card.