30 June 2014

Bud Norris' Groin Strain

Bud Norris' quietly successful 2014 campaign was briefly brought to a halt last week when magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results confirmed a right groin strain injury. Norris, currently enjoying a 7-5 record with 0.7 fWAR and 89 ERA-, left his June 21st start against the New York Yankees after five complete innings pitched after complaining of right leg discomfort; a bullpen session later in the week with continued groin pain prompted the MRI and his current placing on the 15-day disabled list.

Not often associated with disabling injury in baseball, the muscles of the groin—collectively known as the hip adductors (and here on out called 'adductors')—nonetheless can become painful and uncomfortable when strained or torn. A collection of seven muscles that originate from the pelvis that insert into the inner aspect of the femur and tibia,  they are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis and moving the leg towards the midline of the body (adduction), which is where they get their name. Broadly, they are active especially when changing direction during running and in kicking.

Muscles of the groin: adductor brevis, adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor minimus, pectineus, and gracilis. Obturator externus not shown. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With regards to the mechanism of injury, tension is placed on the adductors when they are contracted. When this tension is excessive from repetition or high forces being applied in a short amount of time, one or more of the muscles can tear. Tears can range from a small partial tear with few muscle fibers torn with minimal pain and loss of function, to a complete rupture of one or more muscles, resulting in severe pain and marked loss of function. While there is no universally accepted grading system for muscle strains and tears, the most widely accepted system includes a grade 1 to a grade 4 strain, classified as follows:
  • Grade 1: a small number of muscle fibers are torn; some pain/tenderness but with full function.
  • Grade 2: a moderate number of muscle fibers are torn with moderate loss of function. Tenderness with swelling, possible hematoma and palpable defect.
  • Grade 3: a large number of fibers torn with significant tenderness, swelling, hematoma and partial detraction of muscle. Increased loss of muscle function.
  • Grade 4: all muscle fibers are ruptured resulting in major loss of function, substantial retraction of muscle and corresponding pain, swelling, and hematoma.
The majority of groin strains are grade 2, with the most commonly affected muscle strained being the adductor longus muscle. Factors that could predispose a player to adductor injuries include weakness and/or tightness of the area, perhaps arising from a previous injury in the same leg. For Norris, a right hamstring strain earlier this season, as well as a right hip strain in 2012 and additional right hamstring tightness in 2011 could have possibly put the righthander at greater risk for the adductor strain.

From a pitching biomechanics perspective (and with Norris being a rightander taken into consideration in the following descriptions), the right adductors play a large role in the windup, providing balance at the top of leg kick as well as initiating transfer of power to the upper body by stabilizing the lower extremity and pelvis when the right foot is planted. Through the latter phases of the pitching motion—through stride, arm cocking, arm acceleration, arm deceleration, and follow-through—the right adductors draw the thigh toward midline, pulling the back leg through the delivery and in turn, rotating the hips towards the plate as the pitcher releases the pitch. An electromyography study of the lower extremity in pitching showed that the adductors are the main source of energy that is eventually transferred to the upper extremities, while also contributing to the stabilization of the torso and deceleration of the shoulder and arm in follow-through. As such, insults to the adductors, creating discomfort and a decreased range of motion, can manifest themselves further downstream biomechanically, resulting in shorter stride lengths, leading to poor command of pitches (leaving pitches up in the strike zone) as well as increased stresses put upon the shoulder joint during deceleration and follow-through.

Thankfully for Norris and the Orioles, the groin injury sustained appears to be mild and will resolve with time and the use of one or all of the many physiotheraputic approaches to recovery, including RICE, massage, ultrasound, and stretching. More recent treatment approaches using platelet-rich plasma injections to the offending area are inconclusive, but anecdotally show some acceleration and improvement of the healing process, which can be protracted in lower grade strains. Given the mildness of the injury, Norris should return to the mound without much issue; however, given his history of right upper leg injuries, care will be taken to monitor the righthander's leg health and strength in order to prevent injury re-aggravation.


References: Dines, J. S. (2012). Sports medicine of baseball. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

29 June 2014

Camden Depot on MASN: June 2014 Roundup

Click here for the April 2014 roundup.
Click here for the May 2014 roundup.

Before Spring Training, MASN came to us and asked if we wished to take part in a weekly series for their Orioles Buzz feature.  We could write about anything we wanted as long as it did not cross over into beat territory.  We are not beat writers, so that was peachy for us.  Below is a roundup of our April articles.  The writing is a bit different on MASN.  We are limited to about 750 words and have taken a broader approach with our writing, often applying lessons learned from pieces we have written here.

Nick Markakis is Everything
June 3, 2014
How you view Markakis is dependent upon the context you place him in.  Using statistics, you can convincingly say he has been awful as well as excellent.

When Stats Fail
June 10, 2014
Empirical evidence and its use has exploded onto the baseball scene over the past decade.  This bevy of information can result in people using it poorly.

Looking Back on This Year's Draft
June 17, 2014
If you have strong feelings about the draft, you are thinking about it in the wrong way.  If you think the draft is a crap shoot, you are also thinking about it in the wrong way.

Solving the Problem that is Manny Machado
June 24, 2014
This article does not solve the problem that is Manny Machado.  It does however mention his struggles as well as the struggles of other positions across the field and how they may be incredibly troubling.

28 June 2014

Spoiling At-Bats Against Mike Wright

When I'm either datacasting a Tides game for Major League Baseball Advanced Media or recording a game for Baseball Info Solutions, something in the details of the game will catch my notice. For example, in one game several years ago I noticed that about 1/3 of Radhames Liz' pitches were to one specific batter. I shared this with the Tides' Media Relations director, who passed the information on to the radio broadcasters. Not only did that fact get mentioned on-air, but the broadcaster generously credited me with noting the fact.

I was datacasting the June 17 Norfolk game and I noticed that Tides' starting pitcher Mike Wright was allowing a lot of two-strike foul balls. I kept track and by the end of his five-inning, 94-pitch outing Syracuse batters had hit 16 two-strike foul balls. I had already thought that Wright's biggest weakness was an inability to put away hitters. The large number of two-strike foul balls shows two things - first, that Wright is able to get to two strikes and second, that he truly wasn't able to put batters away once he did get to two strikes. This inspired me to look at the other Wright starts I worked to see if this was a consistent pattern.

As the following table shows, the sixteen two-strike fouls in 94 pitches was unusually high for Wright. I've worked seven of Mike Wright's starts, and the following table shows what I've found:

2-Strike Fouls

Overall, 9.5 percent of Wright's pitches were two-strike foul balls. It will be interesting to compare this percentage with other pitchers. What is more interesting is that there don't appear to be any correlations in his games:

  • While his two highest-strikeout games measured by K/IP (April 9 and June 22) featured low percentages of two-strike fouls, he had a low strikeout rate in his May 27 game with a low percentage.
  • He pitched well in two of the games in which he allowed a below-average percentage, but pitched poorly in one. He pitched well in two and poorly in two of the games in which he allowed an average-to-above average percentage.
  • His walk rates don't show much of a pattern either.
At this time, this information is more curious than significant. What's the two-strike foul percentage for other pitchers? In general, are pitchers who allow many two-strike fouls more or less effective than pitchers who allow few? In general, do pitchers perform better in games in which they allow fewer, or more, two-strike fouls?

Batters are often praised for their ability to spoil pitches and when a batter gets a positive result after fouling off six, seven, or more pitches, it's noted. And it's similarly noted when those at-bats run up a pitcher's pitch count. But we don't know their true significance.

27 June 2014

David Lough, Starter in Disguise

GIF lifted lovingly from BSR.

David Lough is one of those lightning rods.  Back in the Winter, I criticized the move for Lough if it meant that he was to be the Orioles' starting left fielder.  Simply, it was a matter that defense first 27 year old rookies are rookies at age 27 for a reason.  Plus, defense is a skill that tends to peak in a player's early to mid 20s.  When you go over the history of exceptional, defense-first 26 and older rookies, you are left with success benchmarks of F.P. Santangelo and Wayne Kirby.  That is a very low benchmark and not one a team should plan on trotting out there if they dream of playoff sugar plums.  That kind of player simply is not worth much, which was clear for all to see in that the cost was Danny Valencia.

I received a bit of bitter disagreement with my assessment.  Fingers were pointed toward Lough's gaudy AAA numbers where he toiled many a season without a sniff from the parent club.  On my side, I tried to explain the problems with performance scouting, offensive environments in the PCL, and how a large body of indifference from scouts should usually be accepted as a most likely characterization of the player.  Numbers are not everything.

That all said, I might have been wrong.  No, I was right about his bat being anemic.  Where my fault was in how I was evaluating his defense.  When I look at a player, I first check out the statistics.  Defensive metrics have improved to the level of a graduated litmus test, but they still not are as accurate as a similar sample size of batting data.  You tend to want a few years to figure it all out with any certainty, Lough had some amazing defensive metrics.  At worst, he was probably a +10 player over a full season.  Those are rare.  I severely doubted that he was a +28 player as 835 innings as a Royal.

I then consulted people I know and available scouting reports.  With Lough, he was described as a player with a fringe bat.  He plate discipline was not great, but he made decent contact and showed gap-to-gap power.  His defense was considered solid, but not enough to carry his bat in a corner position.  Additionally, with the emergence of high offense producing bats in center field, his wares were thought a poor fit.  Weighted all together, the general view was that he was a fourth outfielder who would be shuttled back and forth between the Majors and Minors while occasionally getting on hot streaks.  The cost being Danny Valencia, that assessment made sense.

How Lough has been deployed by the Orioles also makes sense with respect to the numbers as well as to the scouting.  After experiencing some struggles at the plate, Lough has been largely removed from the field and his place of shame, the batter's box.  He also might find himself as this club's 23rd, 24th, or 25th man.  All of those positions are likely up in the air.  This is particularly true with Nolan Reimold pushing the active roster.  Added to the equation, Lough cannot be optioned to Norfolk.

That all said, this is what Lough has accomplished this season:

PA AVG OBP SLG oRuns Innings UZR
126 .182 .262 .282 -2.2 300.2 5.3

I converted oWAR into oRuns just to put it on the same scale as UZR.  I also included the positional adjustment in that value instead of placing it in with defense.  Basically, playing about 30 games of innings, Lough has put up 3.1 runs over a replacement player.  Over a full season, that would be worth about 1.8 WAR.  That is an average quality player even though he has been horrible with the bat.

Of course, the problem is that so much is dependent on the admittedly scant sample size for measuring defense.  You really would want something like 2000 innings to feel comfortable about Lough's ability.  In his career, he has played 1136.1 innings (about a season's worth of innings) and consistently has a rate of about 25 runs saved above average, which would make him the second or third best defensive outfielder in baseball.

Yes, the sample size is small, but it appears to be relatively consistent in over three years of play.  To me, that suggests that it likely is a real performance level and that performance level alone is worthy of starting.  More so, it is hard to see his hitting getting worse.  Over the rest of the season, we could expect a line like this:

PA AVG OBP SLG oRuns Innings UZR
ZIPS 270 .227 .281 .342 1.4 600 10.6
Continued 270 .182 .262 .282 -4.7

The above is the updated projection of what ZIPS thinks Lough should do the rest of the season looking at his career statistics to date.  The expectation as a full time player is that he will be worth about 12 runs above replacement or roughly 1.2 WAR.  If he continues to hit as poorly as he is hitting, we would expect 5.9 runs above replacement or roughly 0.6 WAR.  To think of that as full season WAR, it would project to a player between 1.6 and 2.9 WAR.

That is rather solid, but we can probably make this even more solid.  What if we replaced Lough with Delmon Young as a leadoff hitter in away games against left handed pitcher?  Any successful hit, Lough would come in as a pinch runner.  Any unsuccessful appearance and Lough will simply jog out to left field in the bottom of the inning.  Here is how that would look:

PA AVG OBP SLG oRuns Innings UZR
Lough Z 250 0.227 0.281 0.342 1.3 600 10.6
Lough C 250 0.182 0.262 0.282 -4.4

Young 20 0.285 0.321 0.471 1.2

For Delmon Young, I only considered ZIPS adjusted for left handed pitchers, which expects Young not to keep up his current pace.  In other words, this might be considered a conservative estimate.  Using ZIPS also for Lough and taking away 20 plate appearances, Lough's value decreases by 0.1 runs to 11.9 runs above replacement while Young adds 1.2 runs.  In other words, the effort changes from 12 runs above replacement to 13.1 runs, a difference of about a tenth of a win.  In the continued performance scenario for Lough, his value is 6.2 runs above replacement, an improvement of 0.3 runs.  Put on Young, this improves it by another 1.2 runs or 1.5 runs total.  If we were talking about a full season, we would be talking about an improvement of almost a whole win.  Yes, it would take a pinch hitter away from you in about 50 games, but how often are pinch hitters really used?

Of course, all of this ignores who really is now patrolling in left field.  That essentially is a 50/50 mix of Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz.  Lough and Lough / Young should be compared not with a vacuum, but against this other mix.  While patrolling left, ZIPS sees Cruz as worth 0.6 WAR while it sees Pearce as 0.7 WAR for a grand total of 1.3 WAR.  That is equivalent to what Lough is worth out there, meaning that there currently is no reason to put Lough out there even though he appears to be in the neighborhood of an average starter to fringe All Star player simply due to his defense.

Going forward, that is incredibly important to know.  If those metrics are accurately describing Lough's performance level, then there is no total dropoff between him and the current group of starters.  That is depth.  It also suggests that Pearce or Young could be available for use as complementary pieces in a trade.  Lough is an important piece of the club and could potentially have good value next year if the team has difficulty finding elite performance in left.  All in all, those cries for designating Lough for assignment sounds like a pretty bad idea.

26 June 2014

Orioles Could Use an Upgrade at Catcher, Should Consider Russell Martin

Losing Matt Wieters for the season was a devastating blow for the Orioles. He was playing fantastic baseball through the first month-plus of the season -- particularly at the plate (.308/.339/.500). Wieters will take about nine months to recover from Tommy John surgery and work his way back, which means he could be ready by the start of next season. It was not all that surprising when it was announced that he would need season-ending surgery, but the finality of it all still stung.

Without Wieters, though, the O's have done OK. They are four games above .500 at 40-36, are in second place in the AL East (trailing Toronto by 2.5 games), and are just one game back of the second wild card spot. And, unlike previous years, they aren't getting overly lucky; they have a +9 run differential -- not great, but fine -- and are 13-11 in one-run games. Considering how valuable Wieters is to the O's, it's impressive that they've hung around -- though the second wild card spot certainly makes that easier.

So the Orioles are down to three in-house options at catcher: Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, and Steve Clevenger. Dan Duquette recently said that the O's aren't looking to trade for another catcher, because "we've been able to transition from Matt as an everyday catcher to a tandem of Caleb and Nick Hundley during the season and remain competitive." So that's something. Still, Duquette is under no obligation to be honest about anything, especially when it comes to potential trades.

Joseph, who recently turned 28 and made his major league debut in May only a few days before Wieters played his last game of 2014, has received the majority of the time. Until recently, nearly all of Joseph's value has come from behind the plate instead of at it. He's thrown out 45% of runners on the basepaths so far, and he has an advantage over Hundley since he's been in the Orioles' system his entire career (since 2008) and is more familiar with much of the pitching staff. He had a batting line of .141/.235/.225 (.217 wOBA) in his first 83 plate appearances. But he hit his first major league home run against the Yankees on Sunday, hit another home run (and had three hits) on Monday, and now has a (better) batting line of .171/.264/.303 (.260 wOBA). But, yeah, that's still pretty bad.

The 30-year-old Hundley was acquired from the San Diego Padres on May 24 in exchange for left-handed reliever Troy Patton. Hundley has appeared in only 11 games for the Orioles, and he hasn't been good. He's batting just .162/.195/.189 (.174 wOBA) in 42 plate appearances and hasn't played well defensively either (caught just 17% of runners; FanGraphs and Baseball Reference both have him below average defensively). Really, Hundley had one good season in San Diego (in 2011) and has mostly been a somewhat useful player because of his defense. He has a career wOBA of .296 in 1,854 plate appearances.

The Orioles' best offensive option at catcher is probably Clevenger, who is currently the everyday catcher at Triple-A Norfolk. Clevenger won the backup catching job in spring training and stayed with the Orioles through late May, batting .243/.300/.378 (.295 wOBA) in 80 plate appearances. Defensively, Clevenger performed about average. Beyond this season, Clevenger and Joseph may battle for backup duties behind Wieters.


As noted above, the O's are clearly within striking distance of both a wild card spot and finishing first in the East. The real goal is obviously to win the division, and no team in the East appears to be that much better than the Orioles. One way to upgrade the roster would be for the Orioles to go after the Pirates' Russell Martin. It's worth wondering whether the Pirates would even be willing to move Martin in the first place. The Pirates are eight games back in the NL Central but only 3.5 back in the wild card. Surely they aren't ready to throw in the towel.

But if they get to that point in the next few weeks, Martin would be a clear improvement over Joseph, Hundley, and/or Clevenger. In 2014, Martin is batting .271/.415/.400 in 177 plate appearances. He's a career .256/.352/.396 hitter over nine seasons. And he's an elite defensive catcher.

Martin is in the last year of a two-year, $17 million contract. The Pirates may be reluctant to part with him because he's been so solid for them, and it's possible that they would extend him the qualifying offer after the season. If the O's were to trade for him, they wouldn't be able to make him the qualifying offer.

But a move for Martin would be a move for 2014. It would mean taking a chance on acquiring Martin to push for the playoffs and sacrificing some prospects. Jon thinks a trade for Martin could potentially include a package of Eduardo Rodriguez, Branden Kline, and Adrian Marin. That's a steep price for a rental. But if it means less of Joseph and Hundley and a better chance at making the playoffs, it could be worth a shot.

Stats and records as of June 25.

25 June 2014

But How Fresh Are the Tomatoes?

With Manny Machado now having his own salsa... let us not forget that Cal Ripken Jr had himself a candy bar.

One needs to ask themselves whether or not the salsa will be as monumental as the Cal Bar?  Cal personally consulted the candy bar to develop something that had scrumptious milk chocolate, caramel, and fresh peanuts.
Mr. Ripken is particularly pleased with the peanuts in the bar ... "They're fresh peanuts," he said after a press conference yesterday at Camden Yards to mark the introduction of the bars into the retail market. "Sometimes peanuts in a candy bar don't stand out much." The fresh peanuts make the taste "a little bit different."
Think about it.  Ripken developed the prototype for the Nutrageous.  The only aspect missing was the peanut butter.  Obviously, the obstacle for Ripken was his great concern for the emerging increase in peanut allergies.  Otherwise, the NutRipken would have been born.  He was simply too great a man to develop that superior bar.  How could he have known?

So what about Machado's salsa?  How does it compare to Peyton Hillis' salsa or Miguel Cabrera's?  How fresh are those tomatoes?

24 June 2014

Need a Cheap Upgrade? Fix Left Field!

There has been a lot of parity in the American League this season. After 74 games the Orioles are 39-35 and are tied for the wildcard spot. The AL East leading Blue Jays have just suffered injuries to Brett Lawrie and Joey Bautista and the other teams in the AL East look weak. The Orioles will have to reassess their situation closer to the trade deadline but at the moment should be buyers.

The Orioles could use upgrades at pitcher, second base, third base and whichever of LF/DH that Cruz isn't playing. Wieters is not expected to return this season and therefore the Orioles are expecting below average production at catcher. Manny Machado is firmly entrenched at third base and the Orioles will be unlikely to trade for a replacement. The Orioles have already made a trade for a catcher this season and acquiring an upgrade at either catcher or second base will require a lot of resources. That leaves left field.

The Orioles hoped that Nolan Reimold or David Lough would be successful. Instead, Reimold is hurt again and David Lough has been ineffective. Instead, the Orioles have received production from Delmon Young and Steve Pearce.

The problem with these players is that they are primarily platoon batters against left handed pitching and have historically struggled against right handed pitching. From 2011 to 2013 they’ve put up the following stats (data courtesy of Fangraphs) against righties:

Delmon Young 1039 3.80% 19.80% 0.29 0.4 0.68 0.29 0.29 82 10.90%
Steve Pearce 201 8.50% 23.90% 0.3 0.3 0.62 0.3 0.28 72 3.80%

These numbers aren’t what success looks like. They’ve been successful against right handed pitching this year but let us take a closer look at their 2014 statistics (data courtesy of Fangraphs).

Steve Pearce 88 6.80% 28.40% 0.39 0.6 0.96 0.45 0.42 167 15.40%
Delmon Young 65 4.60% 21.50% 0.35 0.4 0.76 0.39 0.34 113 6.30%

These numbers look better. The problem is that Pearce’s numbers have been powered by a high BABIP and HR/FB rate. He definitely won’t have a .453 BABIP in his next 100 PAs against righties and probably won’t have a 15.4% HR/FB rate. Young probably won’t have a .391 BABIP in his next 100 PAs against righties. When their BABIPs begin to regress to the mean then these players will cease to be quality options against right handed pitching.

The good thing about preparing for the trade deadline a month early is that you have a month to assess your players. Pearce will be given the opportunity to show that he can outperform his previous production against righties. If he does so for another month then the Orioles won’t need to add another left fielder. If on the other hand he regresses as one would expect then the Orioles can go after a left fielder that can hit righties.

Fortunately, there’s a good platoon option on the market. Seth Smith was given an opportunity to play when Carlos Quentin got injured and took advantage of his chance by having a strong season for the San Diego Padres. But there’s something funny about his statistics.

vs RHP6422018727561448212834.299.397.545.943.329
vs LHP23261923200276.158.385.263.648.231
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/23/2014.

He’s had 220 PAs against right handed pitchers and 26 against left handed pitchers meaning he’s seen as solely a platoon bat against righties. As a platoon bat his value is lower than it would be if he could play against lefties. He’s currently in his last year of arbitration and is making $4.5 million. By the time the trade deadline comes along there will be about $1.8 million remaining on his contract. It seems plausible that the Orioles and Padres could come to an agreement over a relatively trivial amount of money. Many teams will be interested in him and the Padres will want to move him because he will be a free agent next year.

The Padres would almost definitely want a prospect in return for him. But they shouldn’t expect one of our top prospects like Bundy, Gausman, Harvey or Rodriguez. Seth Smith was traded earlier this year for Luke Gregerson . The value for players like that are roughly a B-/C+ level prospect. A pitching prospect like Branden Kline or Zach Davies or Tim Berry should be reasonably close to fair value. These are all prospects that have had some success in the lower minors and have a legitimate chance to become starters in the majors. It is more likely that if these pitchers are successful in the majors it will be as relievers. Cost controlled relievers do have value but should not be considered untouchable.

This deal would strengthen the Orioles lineup and address a potential weakness at an affordable cost in both money and prospects. Generally the Orioles have been willing to make similar trades but have been unwilling to make a huge deal so this seems realistic. And it would allow the Orioles to potentially use their top prospects in a different deal to perhaps get a difference maker at second base.