07 November 2013

Camden Depot Mailbag (11/06/2013)

You may have noticed on the left hand side that there is a link to send us emails.  One could also click here to send us an email.  Typically, the writers here answer the question directly, but sometimes I decide to turn the questions into a short Q and A post for everyone to read.  The reason for doing so is that we may get a few emails that seem like they may be a common question among our community.

From Terry S.:
From a broad prospective, it really seems to me that there are some teams that always seem to have very effective pitching every year (or at least produce solid numbers given the players available).  The Atlanta Braves for example, always seem to have a very effective rotation, from the youngsters to the vets.  At the plate, The Red Sox come to mind as another team that manages to put together a lineup every year that is reliable.  The Rays?  A little mix of both of those teams.
I have watched the O’s for 30+ years, and my memories seem to fall in the direction of the breakdowns.  Young players who are touted as almost a ‘sure thing’ that ultimately fizzle  (Ben McDonald, etc)  Pitchers that seem immensely talented but simply never bloom such as Matusz, Arrieta and many others both SP and RP.  While Showalter and the front office have installed a new culture for the team (not making head-scratching trades for a ‘big name’ guy), my concern is the development of the players we already have.
Am I not seeing the whole picture?  Are we not drafting well?
I have complete ignorance as to the effectiveness a positional coach has over players in the Majors, but do you think the overall stagnation of our pitching talent is a result of coaching, player evaluation, or something I probably have missed?
The organization is a product of missteps from before Peter Angelos owned the team.  The Orioles were one of the clubs that heavily relied on the Scouting Bureau for information.  That was not necessarily a smart thing to do and the club suffered.  They tried to go big into scouting in the 1990s domestically and abroad, but came up largely nuts.  This led to a concentration of energy on the domestic kids, which cuts your talent pool by about a quarter.

The result is an organizational approach that requires basically all of your solid prospects to mature and become legitimate Major League players.  That sort of thing is rather improbably as success rate of the pitcher and positional prospects most well thought of are roughly a quarter and a half, respectively.  With such low odds of success, the notion of a "Calvary" of arms coming to save the day was rather hopeful.  If you are expecting your minor league pitchers to occupy three fifths of a rotation, then you probably should be looking at 10-12 solid starting pitching prospects as opposed to hanging a prayer on Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton as All Star caliber players.

Putting hopes on a shallow system is destined to bring a good bit of acid reflux.  Additionally, it seems that Joe Jordan during his long tenure as the leader of the amateur draft was not exactly a great thing.  Jordan came over from the Marlins and was (still is) considered having a great eye for talent.  Working with a sufficient budget, he often tried to make big plays to get potentially big prospects.  A common tactic was to draft and sign players who suffered significant injuries during college.  This led to a great number of wash outs as these players had to become healthy and show the promise they had before being injured.  I think this resulted in the club losing out on a lot of second and third tier talent that could have led to a much more talented organization.

Additionally, the team acting as an upper low or lower mid market club resulted in the club less willing to deal cheap prospects for bigger ticket items.  This make failure look worse than it actually is as fans of the team will often be able to track the entire history of a prospect as opposed to following him up to AA and then welcoming in a mid-tier established pitcher.

So, to sum it all up: (1) historical decay in scouting, (2) thin system magnifying failures, (3) top tier staff devising approaches that wind up not being incredibly successful, and (4) holding onto prospects long enough to watch them fail.  I don't think any of this is remarkable for an organization, but it has certainly been a below average performance over the past two decades in drafting and development.

From Philip C.:
Kurt Suzuki is a better backup than anyone we have and he was just non-tendered.  How do you feel about grabbing him?
Kurt Suzuki is known for his incredible defense and below average offense.  The past couple seasons, his bat has been so poor that he has been relegated as a backup for the Athletics and Nationals.  He would greatly improve the club defense behind the plate when Wieters sits, but he would provide nothing in terms of a bat off the bench.  My concern is that with a stalwart like Wieters, the team needs to find a catcher who can hit off the bench because Wieters simply plays too much.  The backup catcher should be a good bat off the bench.  This is a rare thing to find as most of these catchers already have starting gigs, so a focus might be placed on trying to find someone who shines in a platoon situation.

I also think that Suzuki thinks he can still be a starting catcher, so he will likely look for a situation where it may be seen as a good possibility for him to unseat a weak starter.  In Baltimore, that path does not appear open to him.  It likely decreases his interest in coming here.

From Kevin R.:
In your article about Matt Wieters and platoons, you wrote that Moneyball teams are no longer interested in on base percentage.  Is this because they found out that they were overvaluing walks and not paying enough attention to real performance like home runs?
I believe what I wrote was that "Moneyball is no longer about on base percentage".  This does not mean that OBP is without value.  What it means is that enough teams respect the value of OBP that it decreases the availability of players who excel at not getting out by increasing the demand of their services.  For a team that needs to get as much performance as possible out of a slim budget, this means you need to find the new thing that everyone else undervalues.

That is really all Moneyball is about: finding inefficiencies in how teams assess the value of a player's ability and then exploiting those inefficiencies.

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