31 August 2012

It is Tightening Up: 2012 AL Playoffs

The Orioles keep winning and defying the historical norm in terms of run based metrics.  The projected final totals has the Orioles only a single win behind Tampa along with Detroit and the Angels.  If you only look at the last 30 games...the projection puts them three back.  It will be an exciting month.

Here is the current playoff outlook as we finish up August.

Team Wins "Luck" Proj Final * p30 Proj
TEX  77 0 96 West 97
NYY  75 -1 94 East 93
 OAK  73 8 89 WC 90
CHW  72 9 87 Central 86
 BAL  72 17 86 1 GB 87
 TBR  71 4 87 WC 90
 DET  69 -2 86 1 GB 90
 LAA  69 -2 86 1 GB 85
 SEA  64 6 77 9 GB 76
 BOS  62 -7 78 8 GB 77
 KCR  59 -1 74 12 GB 75
 TOR  59 3 73 13 GB 69
 CLE  55 3 67 19 GB 63
 MIN  53 -4 66 20 GB 66

26 August 2012

The Case for Joe Saunders

This column began as a thesis on how Joe Saunders might be helpful to the Orioles this year and what it would cost to acquire him.  That changed as the Orioles ended the speculation and agreed on a deal with the Diamondbacks.  Free Agent to be Joe Saunders and an undisclosed amount of cash come to the Orioles for Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named later.  There has been no information on the player to be named later other than it was mentioned that this individual is a not a "targeted" prospect from the lower level of the minors who will be determined after the season.  This means that there is a group of players the Diamondbacks will be allowed to select from that has at the moment been agreed upon.  Additionally, it is possible that the group of prospects for selection may change depending on the success of the Orioles.  This possibility would be similar to the Steve Trachsel for Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry deal in 2007.  The Cubs made the playoffs and that resulted in the Orioles also receiving Jake Renshaw.

What did the Orioles lose?

On a team with many weaknesses, the Orioles have something in excess: relief pitching.  The Orioles have relief in spades this year.  Matt Lindstrom has a 2.72 ERA.  When the season ended last year, that mark would have been beaten by only Jim Johnson.  This year, Darren O'Day, Troy Patton, Luis Ayala, and Pedro Strop all have better marks.  The Orioles also have decent arms in Jake Arrieta and whoever else falls out of the rotation.  Many of these arms are right handed like Lindstrom.  In terms of pure numbers and effectiveness, Lindstrom was neither special or unique on this team.

One thing the Orioles need?

The Orioles' starting pitching has been incredibly uneven this season. 

W  L  ERA  IP  ERA+ 
Wei-Yin Chen*  12 7 3.87 151 108
Tommy Hunter  4 8 5.95 121 70
Jason Hammel  8 6 3.54 109.1 118
Jake Arrieta  3 9 6.13 101.1 68
Brian Matusz*  5 10 5.40 85 78
Miguel Gonzalez  5 3 3.66 66.1 115
Chris Tillman  6 2 3.71 51 114
Zach Britton*  3 1 5.59 37 75
Dana Eveland*  0 1 4.73 32.1 89
Steve Johnson  2 0 3.18 17 134
Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel have kept the rotation afloat for much of the year.  Neither are having great seasons, but they are certain having very good ones.  Jason Hammel could have actually been a fringe Cy Young argument if he had not missed eight starts this year.  Beyond those two, the Orioles have seen horrific results from several pitchers (e.g., Zach Britton) and very good performances from several pitchers (e.g., Zach Britton).  The team faces an open question of how successful can this squad be with Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson and whoever else they use.  Combine that with a desire to lower the workloads for Miguel Gonzalez and Chen...that makes for a starting pitching deficit.  Joe Saunders may help fulfill some of that need.

Who is Joe Saunders?

Saunders is in his eighth season as a starting pitcher.  He has never made an appearance as anything other than a starting pitcher.

Age  Tm  ERA  G  IP  ERA+  HR/9  BB/9  SO/9 
24 LAA  7.71 2 9.1 57 2.9 3.9 3.9
25 LAA  4.71 13 70.2 96 0.8 3.7 6.5
26 LAA  4.44 18 107.1 102 0.9 2.9 5.8
27 LAA  3.41 31 198 131 1 2.4 4.7
28 LAA  4.6 31 186 95 1.4 3.1 4.9
29 TOT  4.47 33 203.1 92 1.1 2.8 5
30 ARI  3.69 33 212 109 1.2 2.8 4.6
31 ARI  4.22 21 130 102 1.2 2.1 6.2
What you can see above is that Saunders was very good one year and has consistently performed at a back end level for a first division team.  Here are a few more numbers for your perusal.

Age  Tm  bWAR fWAR
24 LAA  -0.2 -0.2
25 LAA  0.5 1.3
26 LAA  1.2 1.8
27 LAA  4.4 2.8
28 LAA  0.3 1.1
29 TOT  -0.3 1.7
30 ARI  1.4 1
31 ARI  0.6 1.7
As a reminder, the basic difference between the two metrics is that bWAR credits the pitcher for batted ball quality while fWAR does not consider potential pitcher effects on batted ball quality.  I wrote about the two statistics in a post about last winter's Jeremy Guthrie - Jason Hammel deal.  So, yes, you can argue that Saunders is more of the same that the Orioles already have or that he may be a solid average pitcher.

Something has also been made of Saunders' poor record at home with the inflated offensive atmosphere in Arizona.  Below are a couple seasons from his time with the Angels and his last two years in Arizona.


Home wOBA
Road wOBA
2007 5.11 0.37
3.71 0.312
2008 4.27 0.322
2.55 0.289


Home wOBA
Road wOBA
2011 4.42 0.349
3.14 0.309
2012 5.8 0.371
2.92 0.288
As you can see...you could have made similar arguments about how Saunders would benefit pitching elsewhere.  2009 and 2010 showed rather even performance.  More so, the Angels home field is not a place where it is particularly easy for home runs to be hit.  It seems doubtful that the Orioles should expect him to be a low 3 era pitcher.

Additional Value as a Relief Pitcher?

Saunders has pitched in 285 games as a professional.  He has thrown in relief once.  It was 2005 when he was with the Salt Lake City Buzz.  Saunders value as a reliever is purely hypothetical as we have no indication whether he can actually pitch in relief.  The Orioles saw something similar with Dontrelle Willis this year.  He tried to throw in relief, met some hard times, and could not do it.  Some of that may have been mental and some of it may be physical damage to his arm.  That said, we do not know if Saunders is OK being in the pen.

The hope is that he can use his ability to shut down lefties as a starter to his advantage in the pen.



2006 0.237 2.43
0.327 4.49
2007 0.273 2.53
0.359 4.69
2008 0.294 3.56
0.309 4.60
2009 0.306 4.13
0.361 5.01
2010 0.310 3.93
0.358 4.80
2011 0.250 2.67
0.347 4.90
2012 0.208 1.65
0.361 5.01
If Saunders can handle the relief state of mind, he could prove to be a rather impressive force from the bullpen against lefties.  With expanded rosters in September, a larger bullpen would enable more frequent use of batter specific match ups.  With a smaller rotation in the playoffs, a similar situation could also be utilized.


The Orioles adding Joe Saunders to the mix while bring Jake Arrieta to the bullpen will give Buck better options to use at the Major League level.  This is certainly not a game changing trade.  Few deals in August are game changers.  However, the Orioles have been able to convert their abundance of relief talent into improving the talent available for starting pitching.  As long as the player to be named later is no one of great importance, this is a solid deal looking to go as deep as possible this year.

Playoff Update: Oriole Magicks (August 26, 2012)

And, so, yes, the Orioles continue to defy their peripherals.  According to their run differential, the Orioles have have 11 more games than they should have won.  At the moment, they join the 2009 Mariners (10), 2008 Angels (12), 2007 Diamondbacks (11), 2005 Diamondbacks (11), and the 2004 Yankees (12) as teams that have exceeded their expected win total by 10 or more wins.  In other words, it is an occasion that has happened 1.5% of the time in the 2000s.  One remarkable trait of all teams is that they did well in close games.

2012 Orioles 23 6
2004 Yankees 24 16
2005 Dbacks 28 18
2007 Dbacks 32 20
2008 Angels 31 21
2009 Mariners 35 20
Close games do not fully explain their knacks for exceeding the run differential, but if you combine that with general deviation from the projected win totals...it makes sense that these events can occur.  It also makes sense that these events are likely not representative of any skills.  However, the data set is too small and the analysis is not incredibly in depth to make any solid conclusions.  Basically, the take home likely is that hopefully the ride continues this year and, come offseason, the team cannot rest on its laurels.

For this update, I have included "luck."  This metric can be defined as what our fWAR projection of wins compares with actual wins.  A positive number means the team is outperforming their projection.  As you can see, fWAR is wholly unimpressed with the Orioles.  Only the Indians have a lower fWAR than the Orioles.  This is quite remarkable.

As a reminder, the p30 projection considers the fWAR of the last 30 days.

Team Wins "Luck" Proj Final * p30 Proj
TEX  75 0 97 West 97
NYY  73 -1 94 East 93
CHW  70 8 88 Central 88
 TBR  70 4 88 WC 92
 OAK  69 7 87 tWC 88
 BAL  69 17 84 3 GB 86
 DET  68 0 87 tWC 90
 LAA  66 -3 85 2 GB 85
 SEA  61 4 77 10 GB 79
 BOS  60 -7 78 9 GB 77
 KCR  56 -2 73 14 GB 74
 TOR  56 2 71 16 GB 67
 CLE  55 4 70 17 GB 64
 MIN  51 -3 66 21 GB 67
One good bit of news in the past few days has been the Red Sox - Dodgers deal.  The Orioles have several games remaining against the Red Sox and they have become a weaker team by removing Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.  In their place will be the continually underwhelming James Loney and whoever the Red Sox can get to be their fifth pitcher.  The more Aaron Cook and Felix Dubront are in the BoSox rotation the better.  Of course, this makes the Rays and Yankees schedule easier, but it helps the Orioles against the teams in the other divisions vying for the Wild Card.

20 August 2012

Just Some Graphs: Run Scoring and Earning

In a comment on the post before this one I put forth my current untested hypothesis on how the Orioles can win so many close games, but look so awful in games decided by more than a few runs.  Here it is:
The Orioles have a solid bullpen to go along with a feast or famine starting rotation and an offense that is atrocious at hitting themselves or walking themselves on base.  Therefore, in games where the score is close, the Orioles' solo or two run home runs help make the difference.  In games in which the other team get more of a lead, the Orioles simply cannot put enough men on base unless they begin to chase relievers.
That is it.  I do not know if it is correct.  Why I do know is that somehow the Orioles are doing something that no one has done before to the extent that they are doing it.  They are dominant in close games and positively atrocious in the others.  Remarkable.

Here is a graph for your amusement depicting runs scored or giving over the course of a single game as a frequency:

Here is a cumulative run scoring chart, adding from low scores to high scores:

I am not sure if that informs us of much.  However, you do see a shift where the Orioles tend to score two to five runs at a greater frequency than their opponents.  They have also given up four scores higher than any they have produced this season.  It may well be that this team is constructed to brilliantly split hairs.

19 August 2012

Who will make the playoffs? (August 19)

This series keeps chugging along with the Orioles slowly, but steadily, moving upwards even though they still project as having the fewest wins remaining in the season.  If you gauge the team by the full season, then they are below average.  If you gauge them by the last thirty games, then they are average.  However, they still seem to figure out how to win (ignoring July).

Team Wins Proj. Wins Total * p30 Proj
NYY  71 25 96 East 96
TEX  69 25 94 West 90
 TBR  66 21 87 WC 93
CHW  65 21 86 WC 85
 BAL  65 18 83 3 GB 85
 OAK  64 21 85 1 GB 86
 DET  64 23 87 Central 89
 LAA  62 22 84 2 GB 84
 BOS  59 21 80 6 GB 76
 SEA  57 18 75 11 GB 76
 TOR  56 18 74 12 GB 73
 CLE  54 18 72 14 GB 68
 KCR  53 20 73 13 GB 74
 MIN  50 19 69 17 GB 71

16 August 2012

A Quick Thought on Melky Cabrera

Yesterday, the news came out on Melky Cabrera testing positive for testosterone and that he would be immediately serving a 50 game suspension.  As I understand the suspension, it means that he will be available for the playoffs if the Giants make it.  Several writers reacted to the news:

John Sickels
Cabrera has greatly exceeded expectations the last two seasons, and now we know why. Certainly, his record as a prospect didn't imply that he was capable of this kind of performance.

Danny Knobler
Yes, Melky suspension is tough on Giants. But as one player from another team said, they already benefited from his cheating.

Jon Heyman
His career turnaround seemed too good to be true. And so it was.
All of these are really unsubstantiated comments.  Danny Knobler implicitly agrees with an unnamed player making a conclusion based on unsubstantiated connections between drug use and performance.  Jon Heyman falls into the same boat.  John Sickels, a conduit for evaluation on prospects, should know full well that player development is not linear.  It surprises me that someone who has spent his life analyzing player performance would so quickly attach himself to the idea that testosterone cures all.  It is disappointing to read such a knee jerk response from a writer who was really the person who got me into more critically evaluating prospects.

What do we know about testosterone and athletic performance?

Testosterone will increase muscle mass.  It will increase muscle mass more with exercise.  This muscle is largely functional in that it certainly does increase strength (something human growth hormone has not been found to do making it the biggest bogeyman of this thrashing, poorly thought out effort to reduce PED use in baseball).  So, yes, testosterone will make you bigger and stronger and using it with a great deal of hard work will make you even bigger and stronger.

This leads to the next part of the logic train: does strength mean you are a better baseball player?

Maybe, but we do not know.  I think everyone is aware of the wall of sound declaring that PEDs actually increase performance, but there actually is a great body of evidence suggesting otherwise.  The answer is not incredibly clear cut, so to immediately assume everything is a mirage is somewhat Chicken Little-ing the discussion.

That is what truly irritates me about the whole PED discussion...it simply is not a discussion.  It is a horde of folks running and chasing after an easy concept without truly considering the complexity of the situation.  Human growth hormone supplements could have been an amazing conversation about the state of science and how athletes are using the substances.  Instead, we throw every player using into a raging fire where taking a more conservative approach would have enabled us to determine more clearly whether or not a substance improved performance or not.  This resulted in MLB spending millions of dollar to initiate and maintain an HGH program that likely roots out (poorly) usage of a substance that in all likelihood does nothing to improve performance.

Honestly, I think the only proven effects of PED use in baseball is lazy sports writing.

Yes, Melky cheated.  No, we don't know if him cheating with testosterone had anything to do with his improved performance.  It probably is not directly unrelated.  It probably has a great deal of placebo effect riding on it.  However, a lot, if not almost all, of it is likely Melky.  His career walk rate, strikeout rate, stolen base rate, and home run rate are all in expected ranges.  The difference is that he BABIP is about 20% higher than his career level (and we should expect that to crash) and, with that increase in BABIP, he is showing an increase in secondary power.  For a player at an age where peak performance could be expected and someone who had not to dissimilar seasons in 2011 and 2009 when accounting for BABIP...this season is really not remarkable.

13 August 2012

Minor League Update: Kevin Gausman (rhp, Clas A-SS Aberdeen)

Kevin Gausman (rhp, Class A-SS Aberdeen) made his home debut for the Iron Birds on Sunday, tossing three scoreless innings.  Gausman cut through Connecticut's line-up with little difficulty, the lone hit surrendered coming off the bat of former Stanford Cardinal (and fellow 2012 draftee) Jake Stewart.

Gausman's 2012 pro action will be limited to short stints as he rounds out his work load for the year, which began back in February with LSU.  Through two starts, the young righty's cumulative line sits at 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, and 5 SO. 

Currently Baltimore's #3 prospect, Gausman has true #1 upside and could headline the Orioles future rotation or slot in behind Dylan Bundy, depending on how each refines.  His fastball and change-up are already consistently above-average to plus, with each of his curve and his slider showing plus at times over the past two seasons. 

Here is our brief overview of Gausman from the 2012 mid-season top 25 prospect rankings:
3. Kevin Gausman (rhp, unassigned) / Age: 21y6m / Prev. Rank: N/A
Baltimore's first round selection in the 2012 draft (fourth overall selection) has an impact arsenal and has shown a proclivity for absorbing instruction over the past two years at LSU. His progression is unlikely to be linear, but the finished product could be a legit #1 or #2 starter. He should have limited pro exposure this summer, and will likely start 2013 with Class A-Adv. Frederick. 

We broke down Gausman in more detail here, as part of our draft coverage.  His next start should come next weekend, again against Connecticut. 

12 August 2012

The Orioles Record on August 12 the last 20 Years

With the loss last night, the Orioles fell out of the Wild Card lead and are now a half game backwith Detroit.  Tampa and Oakland now lead the Wild Card.  What remains exciting is that this is the first true threat by the Orioles to get into the playoffs this last in the season since 1997 when they went wire to wire in first place.  In fact, 0.5 games out of the Wild Card is a good 8.5 games better than there next closest mark on August 12 since 1997.

With 15 years gone between genuinely competitive years, we have many a fan who is unfamiliar with a winning club and many who do not exactly comprehend how well the team has picked up wins.

Below is a table comparing the records of all Orioles teams on August 12 since 1993.

Year W L Rnk GB
1993 65 31 4 2.5
1994 63 49 2 7
1995 46 51 3 12
1996 60 56 2 9
1997 72 41 1 Up by 5
1998 61 57 3 26.5
1999 51 63 4 19.5
2000 50 64 4 13.5
2001 49 68 4 20
2002 56 59 3 15.5
2003 57 60 4 13.5
2004 54 58 4 17.5
2005 56 58 4 10.5
2006 51 65 4 18
2007 53 62 4 16.5
2008 57 61 5 14.5
2009 47 66 5 23
2010 40 74 5 30.5
2011 45 70 5 26.5
2012 61 53 3 6.5

11 August 2012

Who Gets In? (8/11/2012)

I put in a different column this week.  As mentioned before, I have been using season long fWAR to project future performance.  The idea is that perhaps fWAR is a better metric to use for a projection than simple runs scored and runs given.  The new column (p30) uses fWAR from the past 30 days to project future performance.  I do not know if it is a better way to do things or not.  Regardless, both methods are utilizing a descriptive statistic as the basis for projecting performance.

Team Wins Proj. Wins Total * p30 Proj
NYY  66 30 96 East 96
TEX  65 30 95 West 89
CHW  61 26 87 WC 84
 BAL  61 21 82 5 GB 84
 DET  61 27 88 Central 90
 OAK  60 24 84 3 GB 88
 TBR  60 25 85 2 GB 89
 LAA  60 27 87 WC 88
 BOS  56 25 81 6 GB 78
 TOR  53 23 76 11 GB 74
 CLE  52 21 73 14 GB 68
 SEA  51 21 72 15 GB 75
 MIN  49 22 71 16 GB 76
 KCR  48 23 71 16 GB 72
To emphasize the AL East:

Team Proj Win
NYY  30
TBR 25
BOS 25
 TOR 23
 BAL 21