30 December 2016

Camden Depot's Top 5 Posts Of 2016

You might not believe it, but the Camden Depot staff wrote a bunch of articles in 2016. It's true! We didn't write as many as we would have liked, but that's how things go when things like families, jobs, and writing for free are involved. We're doing the best we can, and we want to thank all our readers and commenters (yes, even the ones who have some... interesting opinions).

Here's a look back (in reverse order) at the five most popular Camden Depot posts of 2016:

5. Orioles Are The Worst Team In The AL East

That wasn't our prediction, but instead an early look at preseason FanGraphs projections. Jon broke down the projections by position. The Orioles did go on to add Yovani Gallardo (bad) and Pedro Alvarez (good), but neither of those moves would have moved the needle much anyway.

4. A Closer Look At Joey Rickard's Defense

Joey Rickard came with a lot of hype after a strong preseason performance that bled into the beginning of the season. Rickard recorded hits in his first seven games, but things started to slow down after consecutive three-hit games in late April. Still, while Rickard's bat was a question mark, his glove was supposed to be a sure thing, with reporters sharing and offering glowing praise. Some scout even compared him to Steve Finley. Rickard rated poorly when it came to advanced defensive metrics, though, so I took a closer look at some of his impressive and frustrating defensive plays. If you look hard enough, you can see an above average defender in him. There's still time to improve, for sure, but he's probably not the superb outfield glove that many fans hoped for.

3. First-Place Orioles Obviously Aren't Sellers, But Should They Buy?

The title is pretty self-explanatory. The Orioles ended up doing what you maybe figured they'd do, not making any major moves (if they even had the required trade pieces) and adding a bunch of minor upgrades. They added Wade Miley and Steve Pearce at the nonwaiver trade deadline, and a month later added Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs at the waiver deadline. Bourn was the best move of the bunch; Pearce got hurt and didn't add much; and Miley, while posting decent peripheral numbers, still put up an ERA of 6 in 54 innings.

2. CF To RF Defensive Modeling: Austin Jackson Is Dexter Fowler

Jon examined center to corner outfield conversion for outfielders in their late 20s to early to mid 30s. To do this, he created a regression model which compared players' last two seasons in center field to their first two seasons in right field. The results may surprise you. Losing out on Dexter Fowler ended up being a pretty big loss for the Orioles, though much of that is due to Fowler's tremendous year at the plate.

1. Bon Voyage, Zach Britton

Fans love talking about Zach Britton trades. Jon decided to use the value of the prospects that were sent to the Padres in exchange for Craig Kimbrel to estimate Britton's trade value. Some interesting prospect names are mentioned. While the O's aren't dealing Britton now, which is reasonable, a rough start to the 2017 season may force them to reconsider. If so, there's no doubt that the left-handed closer would be a top trade chip.


Thanks again to our readers for helping to make the 2016 season a fun one. Have a happy and safe New Year's.

27 December 2016

What's Next For Adam Jones?

By the time his career in Baltimore comes to an end, Adam Jones will be considered one of the greatest position players to ever wear an Orioles uniform. He won't be on the level of legends like Cal Ripken, Jr., Brooks Robinson, and Eddie Murray, but he should end up a few notches below them. Jones isn't a Hall of Famer, and that's OK. He's a good player, and he's been the unquestioned clubhouse captain and vocal leader during the team's tenure under Buck Showalter and, yes, Dan Duquette.

Still, at 31, it's possible that Jones's best days are behind him. Since Jones's career-best offensive season in 2012, when he posted a .361 wOBA and a wRC+ of 127, Jones's numbers have dipped each season:

2013: .350 wOBA, 119 wRC+
2014: .340 wOBA, 117 wRC+
2015: .334 wOBA, 109 wRC+
2016: .319 wOBA, 96 wRC+

Jones played through injuries last season; that can't be overlooked. He missed time early in the season with a painful rib injury, and he also dealt with back and hamstring ailments later in the year. But then again, Jones is often banged up but rarely misses time. He's played in at least 149 games in all but one season since 2010, and he still played in 137 games that year (2015) while putting up with a nagging right shoulder injury.

Jones's struggles were mainly tied to one thing in 2016: his lack of power. His plate discipline will never be great, but nothing really stands out. He unsurprisingly swung the bat a ton, but any contact worries don't jump off the page (at least when considering who we're talking about).  Interestingly enough, Jones somehow posted his highest walk percentage (5.8%) since 2009 (6.9%). That's a bonus when factoring in Jones's modest on-base percentage, but that increase in walks didn't help.

His .436 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008, and his .171 ISO was his worst since 2010. If you only care about home run totals, then Jones's 29 dingers seemed to fit in. Yet, he failed to hit 20 doubles and didn't record a single triple -- two things he'd done in every full season he'd previously played.

It seems likely the main culprit for the power outage would be the rib injury, but let's look a little deeper. For some reason, Jones hit a ton of fly balls last year. He ended the year over 40%, which is about 3-4% more than any of his seasons with the O's. Unfortunately, he posted his worst HR/FB rate (14.1%) since 2010 (11.4%).

Using Baseball Heat Maps' average home run and flyball distance data, things don't seem unusual:

2012: 294 feet
2013: 298 feet
2014: 289 feet
2015: 305 feet
2016: 298 feet

That's just measuring total distance, though, so let's look at a couple of spray charts, courtesy of FanGraphs. Here's one from 2012, when Jones was at his best:

Source: FanGraphs

And here's one from last season:

Source: FanGraphs

See anything noticeable? I see at least a couple of things. First, Jones hit a lot more line drives to the left side in 2012. And second, Jones hit a ton of long fly balls to center field last season.

Jones also hit a lot of balls to center field in 2012, but not as many of them were in the air. He also pulled the ball a lot, about 43% of the time, and he's been in the 43-44% range until last season (40%).

It seems unlikely that Jones would be able to approach his 2012 numbers again. Maybe he won't be able to regain that level of power. But if he starts out the year healthy, and starts pulling the ball again with more authority, he'll be on the right track. Jones still projects as a 2-3 win player, but it seems unrealistic to expect the middle-of-the-order bat from earlier in his career to return. That's already a lot to expect from a center fielder (and that ignores the concern from many fans about how much longer Jones should remain in center field).

You probably knew this part was coming, but Jones's departure may not be that far from now. He has two years and $33 million left on his contract, and while Duquette may be stating publicly that the Orioles aren't considering trading the likes of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and others for now, it may be time to take a hard look at what 2018 and beyond could look like if those players walk for little in return. That's the delicate balance the O's have to deal with right now. They're built to win in 2017, but they may not be as good as they think they are, and they're not currently set up to stay competitive in the long term. With a few trades, that outlook can change. And the O's surely hold several interesting trade chips.

Machado is the Orioles' best player by far, but arguably no player has done more to turn the Orioles around from a loser to a consistent winner. Plus, if thought-provoking comments and being interesting matter to you, Jones has been superb and reliable in that regard.

It was hard watching Nick Markakis leave, though it made sense. Watching Jones eventually leave town will be tougher to swallow. It'll happen, though, because that's usually how these things work.

22 December 2016

A Closer Look At Welington Castillo's Pitch Framing

Welington Castillo is not a good pitch framer. Ryan wrote an article last week discussing how Castillo’s pitch farming has cost his team about ten runs per season. Jeff Sullivan argued that Castillo isn’t the Orioles’ best catcher due to his poor pitch framing ability. Nick Cicere wrote an interesting article for Camden Chat with some video examples showing how Castillo struggles with framing. But just because Castillo struggles with framing, does that mean he struggles evenly regardless of where a pitch is thrown? He may be bad overall, but perhaps there are certain areas where his ability to frame is acceptable.

Using ESPNs Stats and Information Trumedia Portal, I took a closer look at his pitch framing results. The TruMedia portal is relatively high on Castillo’s 2016 pitch framing results, ranking him 52th out of 76 qualified catchers and rating his framing ability at only 2.70 runs below average. StatCorner reports similar results and claims he was worth -3.2 runs. Baseball Prospectus has better algorithms to measure pitch framing ability, and ranks his framing ability considerably lower. This could mean that this dataset has a fatal flaw. Unfortunately, without access to BPs proprietary methodology, this dataset is the best available to me.

The ESPN portal is unimpressed by Castillo’s framing ability against pitches thrown up in the zone. Out of 76 qualified pitchers in 2016, Castillo is ranked 75th against pitches thrown in the top third of the zone and has a framing value of -9.13. In 2015, Castillo was ranked 63rd out 67 qualified catchers with a framing value of -6.24. In 2014, Castillo was ranked 75th out of 76 qualified catchers with a framing value of -10.06. From 2014-2016, Castillo ranks as the worst catcher out of 103 qualified catchers with a -25.43 framing value. Not only this, but he’s the worst catcher regardless of whether a pitch is thrown inside or outside. It’s safe to say that this dataset indicates that Castillo is pretty terrible when it comes to framing pitches up in the zone.

He’s not much better relatively speaking when it comes to the middle of the zone. This data portal ranks his defense from 2014-2016 as yet again the worst out of all 103 qualified catchers with a -11.75 framing value. Yet again, it makes little difference whether pitchers throw the ball inside or outside. His best year in the three year sample was in 2016, when he ranked 73rd out of 76 qualified catchers. Let me reiterate that this data portal ranks Castillo’s defense most favorably. It’s safe to say that this dataset thinks little of Castillo’s ability to frame pitches in the middle of the zone.

Castillo excels when it comes to framing pitches in the bottom of the zone. From 2014-2016, his framing ability is ranked 28th out of 103 with a 6.32 value. He has pretty poor results framing pitches in the inside part of the zone, ranking only 70th out of 103 with a -1.33 value. However, he ranks 27th out of 103 framing pitches low and away with a 3.03 pitch framing value and ranks 13th out of 103 framing pitches that are just low but in the middle of the plate with a 4.63 pitch framing value.

In addition, Castillo has shown improvement at framing pitches low in the zone each year. He ranked 12th out of 76 in 2016 (+9 runs), 29th out of 67 in 2015 (+2.1 runs) and 61st out of 76th in 2014 (-5 runs). This possibly indicates that Castillo is able to improve in this regard. Castillo told Don Connolly that he’ll be going to Puerto Rico in order to work on his receiving and pitch framing abilities. He also stated that he knows he needs to work on it. If Castillo can continue his improvement in this regard, it’s possible he won’t be the worst catcher framing pitches up in the zone.

Jon reported on Sunday that Castillo will be Jimenez and Miley’s catcher as well as possibly Gallardo’s. Unfortunately, Jimenez is typically more successful when throwing pitches up in the zone rather than below. From 2014-2016, batters have a .310 wOBA when putting pitches thrown up in the zone into play, and a .346 wOBA when putting pitches thrown low in the zone into play.

When batters don’t put the ball into play, Jimenez has some pretty ugly number whether he throws a pitch up in the zone or low in the zone. But he is able to generate considerably more foul balls, throwing a pitch up in the zone rather than down in the zone. He has a 42% chance of getting a strike or a foul on pitches thrown up in the zone, but only a 37.8% chance when throwing down in the zone. If he decides to target the bottom of the zone in response to having Castillo as his catcher, fans will be more likely to want to throw up when watching him pitch.

However, Miley has better results when throwing down in the zone than throwing up in the zone. Opposing batters have a .375 wOBA when putting pitches thrown down in the zone into play compared to a .420 wOBA when putting pitchers thrown up in the zone into play. That stated, while he has a better swinging strike rate throwing down in the zone, he has a lower called ball rate, and higher called strike rate and foul rate throwing up in the zone. Honestly, having a catcher that can do a good job framing pitches is the least of his worries.

Castillo is terrible at framing pitches up in the zone as well as in the middle of the zone, but can do an acceptable job framing pitches low in the zone. This is ideal for a reliever like Zach Britton. However, it’s unlikely that this skillset will help improve Jimenez or Miley’s performance. The right team could probably work around Castillo’s inability to frame pitches, but that team probably isn’t the Orioles.

21 December 2016

MLB Winter Meetings: The Best (Worst) Place to Get a Job in Baseball

Terrible photos in this piece provided by the author
The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings is for many fans the most exciting part of the offseason. While the majority of Orioles fans may argue that the most exciting time of the offseason for them is mid to late February, the winter meetings cannot be beat in the sheer volume of news. Free agents sign, trades get made, players most people have never heard of get taken in the Rule 5 draft (probably by the Orioles), and there are more rumors than anyone can keep track of (from both REAL reporters and FAKE reporters). It sounds incredibly exciting, and since the 2016 winter meetings was basically located in my backyard at National Harbor, I absolutely had to go check it out.

Unfortunately, work responsibilities limited my time at the winter meetings to a couple of hours on Day 3. With no credentials in hand, I walked into the lobby and tried to act like I fit in, which was pretty easy, even when one considers that half the people there carried some sort of credential (PRESS/VENDOR/JOB SEEKER/etc). Other than the few who were wearing “Washington DC” themed souvenir shirts, I just assumed that everyone else not wearing a credential was either there for curiosity (same as me) or for baseball related reasons.

High Heat Live! (if you're into that sort of thing)
If you look at the agenda on the MiLB Winter Meetings website, there appears to be a lot to do while there, including several workshops, a job fair, and a trade show. They all sound interesting, and they all cost money (i.e. I didn’t go). For the curious observer such as myself, there really isn’t too much to do. MLB Network was filming “Hot Stove” and “High Heat”, the former of which I may have made my TV debut when I walked behind the set. Aside from a couple of national baseball writers (Rosenthal, Heyman, and Sherman), there weren’t even that many people a casual baseball fan would recognize. However, if you like talking to people, and you like talking to people about baseball, I can see how it would be easy to kill an entire day chatting to a variety of people about baseball, likely talking to a couple who work in a front office. I had little time to spend at the winter meetings, so while did chat with a scout (for the record, he had no idea what the Orioles were thinking) and a couple of current/former Baseball Prospectus writers, I was mainly there to chat with potential job seekers.

Fortunately for me, the majority of job seekers were literally wearing a badge that said “JOB SEEKER”. The winter meetings had always seemed to me like a necessary evil for job seekers. While it would be difficult to think of a better place to find such a high concentration of baseball people in a position to hire, a potential job seeker also has to deal with a large pool of other individuals who are at the winter meetings looking to accomplish the same thing. I wanted to see how their experience had been. To me, the idea of spending days competing with MANY other people for very few jobs, almost all of which demand long hours and little pay seems formidable, although it’s definitely possible, as I’ll get to in a minute.

Walking around and looking at the faces of the potential job seekers hanging out in the lower section of the lobby, there seemed to be a general sense of exhaustion and a little hint of despair. Maybe it was they were overwhelmed, maybe they were tired from 3 straight days of this, or maybe it was a little of both. I was in no place to offer anything to these people other than a couple guest posts at Camden Depot, so I felt fortunate that I was able to find several individuals willing to talk with me. None of the job seekers I spoke to had locked down a job yet, but all seemed to be in good spirits, expressing that their trips had so far been productive (in fact, one person had to cut the questions short when he received a call he had been expecting). That’s a good thing, as some of these people travelled a good distance to get here and make the most of their opportunity. The longest travelled was a guy from California, while another job seeker drove with a buddy of his (also looking for a job in baseball) all the way from Peoria, IL (a 12 hour ride). All were ideally looking for a job in the major leagues, but also realized that they may need to take a position in the minors first (or in some cases, again). Surprisingly (to me anyway), only three of the five people I talked to were looking for a job specifically in a major league baseball operations department (the other two were looking for marketing and facility management positions).

Every single person I talked to was able to set up some meetings while at the meetings, but according to winter meeting job seeking veterans, it pays to have at least one, if not several meetings set up before you arrive, especially if you’re after one of those coveted baseball operations department positions. And while the event had a job fair, the general consensus also seemed to think that the job fair was really useful place to visit, especially if you were looking for a minor league position, but had little or limited benefits for those looking for major league positions. So while it seemed like a trip to the job fair was worth checking out, it is definitely better to spend most of your time setting up as many direct meetings as you can.

The importance of already having established contacts and actually knowing someone appeared crucial for a successful trip, and something that seems obvious if you think the process through. If you were in a position to give someone a job, wouldn’t you be more willing to talk/interview someone you already know rather than a random person that just ran you down in a hotel lobby? Several of the people I had talked to had meetings set up prior to arriving, and as a result they seemed slightly more confident in their job prospects. Like anything, it’s better to be prepared, though that level of preparedness appears to make the whole process more daunting.

The purpose of this article though is not to discourage, but to give a glimpse into the winter meetings experience and hopefully show that this route can be successful. For example, former Camden Depot writer Stuart Wallace took a trip the 2013 winter meetings in Orlando (a 900 mile journey for him at the time), which helped him land a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a quantitative analyst in the baseball operations department. Although I did not get to meet up with him during my brief time at this year’s meetings, Stu was nice enough to answer some of my questions via email and provide some advice to those who are looking to take the same path he did.

Stu (whose background is as a neuroscientist, with additional training in biostatistics) only took the trip to the winter meetings once, but he made sure to mention that he supplemented that with trips to other events such as Saberseminar and SABR Analytics to network. He had one interview set up prior to his winter meetings arrival, but cold called other teams while he was there. With so many people in one place looking for the same thing, the key is setting yourself apart from the rest of the applicants. In Stu’s case, he was fortunate to receive advice from a team while applying for an analyst position with them.
"I followed [the advice] to a ‘T’. For me, that meant writing, so I started my own blog and got more active on social media, which led to bigger writing outlets taking a chance on me (thanks, Camden Depot!). I went to as many games as I could (MLB, MiLB, amateur) to get an idea of how to compare/contrast and get a feel for how to evaluate. I talked to scouts (when the opportunity presented itself!) and chatted about how they watched the game. I taught myself R and SQL -- I had some experience with these types of stats/database packages (using different ones for grad school and my job), but felt if I could know these cold, that would help get my foot in the door, since teams have familiarity with these two more so than what I had previously used. From there, I specialized with my writing; my background was in medical research, so I did my best to answer questions regarding injuries or general outlook on performance/pitching mechanics/swing paths with a given injury."
It’s obvious that Stu (successfully) went to a lot of effort to make himself as marketable to a big league club as he obviously could, and in answering that question, also provides some examples other potential job seekers can do to put themselves in a better position to get a job. In the end however, baseball (like many like many businesses) remains an industry based on establishing and keeping relationships. Yes, the analytic/programming/scouting/marketing/facility management skills are required (depending on what your interests are), but more importantly, as Stu recommends, you need to find your niche and get your name out there. As Stu notes when providing his advice to potential job seekers:
“Be passionate about the game, because if you're not, the hours will eat you alive. Have a portfolio of baseball-specific work, be it your own scouting reports, code for your self-made projection system, whatever it is, have something tangible and know it backwards and forwards. Have a specialty or a feel for one -- if you're an Econ major and love that side of things, understand the CBA or how arbitration works. If you're a medical person, write about particular conditions/injuries and apply it to on-field performance. Understand why you will be an asset to a team. Having a firm base in evaluation is helpful, as is having some knowledge of the minor leagues for a given team. Know where the full season teams play so you can speak thoughtfully on some of their Top 10-20 guys and how their level/park can affect their numbers. And last but not least -- NETWORK. Make friends, share notes, share email addresses, share info about what team has an opening where. Get on Linkedin, reach out to people who share the same interests as you and definitely be a part of Baseball Industry Network.”
So to all the job seekers hoping that a trip to the winter meetings will put them on the path to their dream job, don’t get discouraged if you left without an offer. But don’t expect that a productive trip to the winter meetings alone will put you in a good position to get one. Going after your dream job takes a lot of time and effort no matter what industry you aspire to work in. And if that dream job is in baseball, it takes even more time and effort to make it a full time gig. Hopefully some (or even one) of those job seekers see this and so they can put Stu’s advice to good use. So good luck to the people I had the pleasure of speaking to at the winter meetings and to all the other job seekers out there. If I somehow am fortunate enough to speak with any of you again, I hope that by that time you have since become another winter meetings success story.

Thank you to Stuart Wallace and the job seekers at the winter meetings for taking some time out of their schedule to talk to me for this article.

20 December 2016

Win These 3 Bar Bets About the 2016 Orioles Season

I rarely make bar bets, mostly because I don't go to bars or bet that often. But from popular culture I understand bar bets are a thing that people do. I suspect that for Orioles fans this offseason, bar bets are something we would do if only we had a bet to make. After all, there's no live baseball and when the team is mostly tinkering around the edges, leaving little news to discuss. What better way to pass the time than to make bets about the Orioles while hanging out in bars?

In this spirit, I present three bar bets you can win when discussing the Orioles' 2016 season at your local watering hole (or remote watering hole, if you're traveling for the holidays). All are team records they set this year. Use them to get a free Natty Boh when the night is young but you're out of money.

Most players with 30+ HR in a season (3)

Recent Orioles teams have favored the long ball, but until 2016, no Orioles team saw three players hit at least 30 dingers in a season. This year Mark Trumbo (47), Chris Davis (38), and Manny Machado (37) helped the team set this record.

Here are the previous record-holding seasons, where two players hit 30+ four-baggers:

  • 2015: Davis, Machado
  • 2013: Davis, Adam Jones
  • 2012: Davis, Jones
  • 2011: J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds
  • 1996: Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro
  • 1987: Eddie Murray, Larry Sheets
  • 1969: Boog Powell, Frank Robinson
  • 1966: Boog Powell, Frank Robinson

Davis and Machado should repeat next year. Will Trumbo return and do it again? Even if he doesn't come back, Jonathan Schoop could take his spot. The young second baseman swings out of his shoes on seemingly every pitch and knocked 25 last year.

If Trumbo does come back, the Orioles could set a new team record with four players hitting (pardon the pun) the mark. And don't discount Jones, who hit 29 last year. If he stays healthy he could make it five.

This year, Boston (David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and Hanley Ramirez) and Seattle (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager) also had three players with 30+ dingers. The most any team has had is four players. The last team to do this was the 2009 Phillies with Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth.

Most consecutive wins to start the season (7)

The 2016 Orioles season ended in disappointing fashion, so it's easy to forget that the year started well. The Orioles won their first seven games, the longest such streak in team history.

A 3-2 walk-off win over the Twins on Opening Day set the tone for the streak. After a weird off day, the Orioles won the next two games by a score of 4-2. Series win in hand, they headed to Tampa Bay for a two-game set with the Rays and won both contests.

The Orioles returned to Baltimore where they squeaked out a 9-7 win against the Red Sox in the home opener. The next day they pushed their winning streak to seven games before losing the last game of the series to Boston, dropping them to 7-1 on the young season.

Before this year, the next-longest season-opening winning streak was in 1970, when the team won five straight to start the year. If you stretch your definition of the Orioles to include the St. Louis Browns, then the 1944 Browns have the franchise record with nine straight wins to open that season. Expanding the scope to all baseball since 1913, the 1982 Braves and 1987 Brewers share the major-league record with 13 straight wins to start those seasons.

Most batter strikeouts in a three-game series (52)

While facing the Astros in Houston from May 24th-26th, Orioles batters whiffed 52 times. That set not only a team record but also (ugh) a major-league record.

In the first game, every man who stepped to the plate struck out at least once. Three batters had a hat trick: Davis, Trumbo, and Pedro Alvarez. Three batters struck out twice: Jones, Matt Wieters, and Ryan Flaherty. Machado, Joey Rickard, and Caleb Joseph struck out once. The only Orioles position player to not strike out was Nolan Reimold, and that's only because he appeared only as a pinch runner. The team totaled 19 K's; every Astros pitcher that day struck an Oriole out.

Game 2 was more of the same: 18 K's for the Orioles. Every batter struck out at least once except Hyun Soo Kim, who had three hits and walked once. Alvarez had another had trick, as did Jones. Astros starter Collin McHugh punched out 10 Birds in 5.1 innings. Each reliever notched at least one K.

By Game 3 the Orioles adjusted their approach and struck out only 15 times. Again, every Orioles batter except one (Alvarez) struck out at least once. Davis matched Alvarez with his second hat trick in the series, and Schoop joined in with one as well. Astros starter Lance McCullers, who owns a ridiculous curveball, bested rotation-mate McHugh by whiffing 10 batters in 5 innings. I watched this game with a friend who's an Astros fan and basically buried my head in the sofa cushions the whole time.

So there you have it, friends: three records the Orioles set for themselves as a team this year. Use these fun facts to swindle inebriated bar patrons or just to have some fun during the Hot Stove season. Either way it'll be more fun than discussing which Rule 5 pickup is going to end up being a full-time player for the team this year.

Inspiration for this post provided by the December 16th paper from the Baseball Records Committee of the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR). All data from Baseball Reference.

19 December 2016

The Orioles Are Still Really Right-Handed

By both wRC+ (83) and wOBA (.299), the Orioles were the worst team in the American League last year when it came to hitting left-handed pitching. That's an area where Welington Castillo should help. Castillo has a career wRC+ of 126 against southpaws. The switch-hitting Matt Wieters, with a career 114 wRC+ against lefties, posted a wRC+ of just 71 in 2016. In theory, Castillo should help.

Still, despite being very right-handed, most of the O's don't produce against left-handed pitching. See the career numbers below:

Manny Machado: 111 wRC+
J.J. Hardy: 102 wRC+
Adam Jones: 95 wRC+
Chris Davis: 92 wRC+
Caleb Joseph: 63 wRC+
Jonathan Schoop: 62 wRC+

It's worth mentioning that Joey Rickard posted a 131 wRC+ against lefties in 90 plate appearances last season, but who knows what to expect from him. The same should be said of Hyun Soo Kim, who went hitless in limited duty against lefties but who almost certainly will (and should) face them more next season.

Schoop has been particularly terrible against lefties, and yet he occasionally bats second when a southpaw is on the mound.

It seems obvious that the Orioles want Mark Trumbo back. The two sides still seem to be far apart on money, and the Orioles have good reason not to give in. Trumbo had a strong offensive season last year as a power bat from the right side. But it's not even clear that he'd help in the hitting lefties category. Coming in, Trumbo had the reputation as someone who crushes lefties. And yet, he posted a wRC+ of just 71 last year. Splits can fluctuate from year to year, but it was odd to see Trumbo struggle mightily against them. If the O's bring Trumbo back, it should be as a DH only. But he's still far from a sure thing.

If Trey Mancini plays more, maybe he'll produce against lefties. Or maybe the O's will add someone else who hits lefties well, though it's frequently discussed that the Orioles want a left-handed outfielder in right field. But for the most part, it doesn't really matter if the outfielder is right- or left-handed. The Orioles need someone who's actually an outfielder, period. That guy isn't Trumbo.

The Orioles were very right-handed last year, and they could be even more so this year. Yet, despite adding Castillo, they still could be pretty awful against lefties.

15 December 2016

What To Know About Welington Castillo

Click here for Ryan Romano's archives.

Remember Matt Wieters? That's all we'll be able to do, now that the Orioles have bid him goodbye. With the acquisition of former Diamondbacks catcher Welington Castillo yesterday, Baltimore seems to have found a starter behind the plate for 2017, meaning the former fifth overall pick — the man of the incredible facts, the assassin of playoff base stealers, the returner from Tommy John surgery, the recipient of the last illicit pie, and the visitor of my alma mater — will no longer don the orange and black.

But enough about Wieters. He's old news! Castillo's taken his place now. The righty, who will turn 30 in April, has a career triple-slash of .255/.318/.416, translating to a 98 wRC+. He's accrued 9.7 fWAR over 1,904 plate appearances — although BP's WARP sees him as a 2.0-win player, for reasons the last item in this listicle will elucidate — and, like him or not, he's the probable 2017 starting Orioles catcher. With that in mind, let's break down what the brand-new Birds backstop brings to the ballclub. (Spoiler: not a whole lot.)

He doesn't have much plate discipline. 

If the Orioles offense has one weakness, it's the strikeout: The club went down on strikes in 21.7 percent of its plate appearances this year, the ninth-highest level in baseball. They also didn't walk too often, with the 11th-lowest free pass rate at 7.7 percent. Castillo, you could say, is the quintessential Oriole — which isn't a particularly good thing.

Since he became a regular-ish player in 2012, Castillo has come to the dish 1,870 times. He's struck out in 24.8 percent of those and walked in 7.2 percent; the former is the 31st-highest* in the majors, the latter the 89th-lowest. In terms of bases on balls, he's not as bad as Jonathan Schoop or Adam Jones, and pitchers won't fan him as often as they will Chris Davis. Castillo's subpar production in both regards is nevertheless discouraging, reinforcing one of the more unsightly Orioles trends.

*Out of 241 players with at least 1,500 plate appearances.

As we'd suspect, this stems from a basic failure with pitch judgment. He's chased only 28.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, a respectable rate that's 102nd-lowest in that sample. The issue is that he's offered at only 60.0 percent of pitches inside the strike zone, which puts him 59th from the bottom. And to compound the issues, he places 77th from the top with a 10.1 percent swinging-strike rate.

Castillo has what appears to be a fairly common problem for hitters of his mold — he's a little too patient on outside pitches, for better or for worse:

When an adversary deals in the outer third of the strike zone, Castillo offers 59.4 percent of the time. On the area outside the strike zone, he swings at 31.4 percent of the pitches he sees. Plus, a whole ton of his whiffs are on pitches down and away, which is where a disproportionate amount of his pitches end up going. Unless he learns to judge these offerings a little better, Castillo will probably maintain his Oriole-esque strikeout and walk numbers, to the detriment of his new employer.

He hits the ball hard, but doesn't get much out of it — which could change. 

Here's an interesting comparison. Recall that, since 2012, Castillo has a 7.2 percent walk rate and 24.7 percent strikeout rate. In that same span, Mark Trumbo did exactly as well in terms of free passes (7.2 percent), and slightly worse in terms of punchouts (25.7 percent). As the table below lays out, both hitters have very similar quality of contact numbers as well. Yet one of them has a superior ISO, which gives him the wRC+ edge:

Player     Soft%         Hard%         ISO         BABIP         wRC+    
  Castillo   15.6% 36.0% .161 .314 98
Trumbo 16.8% 36.1% .222 .291 112

So why don't their results match up? Why did Castillo sign for a maximum of $13 million over two years while Trumbo looks for $70 million over four? Well, putting aside defensive value — which I'll cover below — Castillo just seems to have gotten unlucky.

No, seriously! From 2012 to 2016, Trumbo hit 43.2 percent of his balls on the ground and 56.8 percent in the air; Castillo had a ground ball rate of 42.5 percent, and a fly ball/line drive rate of 57.5 percent. Trumbo made hard contact on 45.4 percent of those air balls; Castillo, on 44.2 percent. Trumbo pulled them to left field 28.4 percent of the time; Castillo, 28.1 percent. Yet Trumbo has a 272 wRC+ when he goes airborne (31st in the majors**), while Castillo languishes at 240 (82nd in the majors, and much closer to the MLB average of 210).

**Out of 273 players with at least 500 air balls.

It's not like Castillo played in ballparks that heavily favored pitchers. Chase Field is a bandbox, and Wrigley tends to play fairly neutral, particularly during the years Castillo spent there. The answer might just be, as mentioned, dumb luck — Castillo hasn't received all that much playing time, so the sample here isn't too big. If he can continue to get good wood, maybe he'll start to see his mediocre BABIP and ISO rise, and his shoddy plate discipline won't matter as much. Hey, it worked out pretty well for Trumbo!

He took the heat in 2016, but not the soft stuff. 

In the same division as Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, Orioles hitters need to be able to keep up with fastballs. The fear surrounding Hyun Soo Kim before the season was that he'd flounder against MLB's harder offerings, but as my colleague Matt Kremnitzer noted, he actually fared fine on fastballs while struggling against breaking and offspeed pitches. Based on Castillo's 2016 results, it looks like he might share that trait:

    Year         Hard Runs         Breaking Runs         Offspeed Runs    
2012 4.1 -4.0 2.2
2013 8.3 -3.0 -2.7
2014 -1.8 -0.7 0.1
2015 -0.8 -3.3 3.5
2016 14.3 -9.3 -3.9
Data via FanGraphs' Pitch Type Linear Weights

Brooks gives us even more clarity on this disparity. In 238 at-bats ending with a fastball this season, Castillo hit .332 and slugged .550. By contrast, he had a sickly .175 average and .254 slugging percentage in the 177 at-bats ending with a slower offering. And the difference goes down to plate discipline, too. Castillo struck out 52 times and walked 27 times against fastballs; versus offspeed and breaking pitches, he racked up 69 Ks (nice) to a meager three BBs.

The issue seems to stem from Castillo's approach. When pitchers serve him a heater, he's more inclined to swing if it's up in the zone...

...whereas with slower pitches, he'll offer more frequently when they're lower:

As a power-ish hitter, Castillo does most of his damage up in the zone, where he can elevate the ball. That's the area where a good amount of fastballs head...and also the area that pretty much all breaking balls/offspeed pitches avoid.

Hitting hard pitches obviously has value — not many players can replicate that .332/.550 line. It won't make him a great hitter alone, though, and after a while, that hole will start to grow bigger as opponents exploit it. Back in April, Castillo told the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro he was "having rough moments recognizing the breaking pitch," which was evidently something pitchers started to pick up on:

So if Chapman decides to bust out his slider, or Kimbrel reaches back for a two-strike curveball, don't expect Castillo to accomplish much.

He really, really can't frame. 

Why did we expend so many words in this post on Castillo's offense? Primarily because it's a lot more interesting than his defense. Earlier this month, Dan Duquette swore the Orioles would take pitch framing into account when selecting their catcher, yet they settled on this guy to replace Wieters:

During his five full seasons and 3,947.2 innings behind the dish, Castillo has cost his teams 62.1 runs via poor framing; on a rate basis, he's been worth -15.7 runs per 1,000 frames (i.e. innings). That makes him roughly the polar opposite of Caleb Joseph, who over the past three years has saved the O's 29.5 framing runs in 1,854.1 innings, averaging out to 15.9 per 1,000. As Jeff Sullivan explained at FanGraphs yesterday, Castillo's offensive respectability can't compensate for his defensive ineptitude, and Joseph's probably the better option going forward.

Really, I don't feel like dwelling on Castillo's defense. The Diamondbacks sure didn't — that's why they non-tendered him in favor of Jeff freaking Mathis. We know the O's will give him the lion's share of starts instead of Joseph; we know his deficiencies will mean Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and co. will have a harder time snagging strikes. The farm system doesn't offer much hope for replacement receivers, so it looks like Baltimore will be stuck with a lot of strikes-turned-balls in 2017.


While there's some other stuff I haven't touched on here — Castillo has a significant platoon split, and he does a decent job at throwing out runners — this sums up his profile pretty well. For $6 million, the Orioles got themselves a possibly heavy-hitting, free-ish-swinging, slow-pitch-missing, non-framing catcher. Would they have been better served making  Joseph and/or Francisco Pena the substitute for Wieters? Probably! They decided to take this route, though, so here we find ourselves.

14 December 2016

Buck Showalter's Adherence to Bullpen Roles has Shown Up in the Playoffs Before

Remember when the Orioles had to win a single game to continue in the 2016 playoffs and their manager chose to leave their best reliever - and arguably the best reliever in baseball - in the bullpen? That decision relied on flawed logic, that even if the Orioles got a lead with Zach Britton on the mound, they'd still need another reliever to close the game out and he might give it away. The Orioles eventually lost with Britton sitting alone in the dugout, mostly fresh (he warmed up a few times during the game), thereby creating the new saddest six-word story in the English language: "For sale: playoff jersey; never worn."

The image of Britton sitting on the bench stood in stark contrast to the way Terry Francona and Joe Maddon managed their relentless bullpens throughout the playoffs and into the World Series. The AL Manager of the Year and the NL runner-up each deployed members of their respective bullpens in emergency, high-leverage situations for extended outings regardless of inning. Francona especially garnered a great deal of attention for his unorthodox, win-at-all-costs bullpen management. Journalists and fans around the country began to wonder if this model of bullpen management - firefighting rather than game saving - was key to season-long success (don't be ridiculous; it's incredibly taxing over a postseason, much less 162 games). It was very reminiscent of the Royals in 2014, whose bullpen shut down the Orioles in the ALDS en route to a World Series victory.

Andrew Miller, left handed relief pitcher for the Indians, seemed to be the centerpiece around which Francona deployed his bullpen. Miller was also a member of the 2014 Orioles who were dispatched in 2014, and his short stint in Baltimore made a lot of fans think that the team had a winning model going forward: stock the pen with arms, send them to the mound whenever the team needed an out, and shut down scoring opportunities before they happened. Maybe Francona's plan wasn't novel after all... in fact, FanGraphs highlighted the Orioles, Buck Showalter, and Andrew Miller himself in 2014 as examples of forward-thinking bullpen management.

Looking back at the usage of Andrew Miller in the 2014 bullpen, we find that perhaps Buck Showalter wasn't so forward thinking after all. Like in 2016, Miller was not the team's closer, and he was "free" to appear in any inning in which he was needed. Here's how that usage shook out in each year:
Showalter brought Miller into the game exactly one time before the 7th inning, and never used him for more than 5 outs. He threw 32 pitches in his first outing against the Tigers and then proceeded to throw fewer than 25 in each game afterwards. Some of that is a credit to Miller being good enough to get five outs on 20 pitches; another piece is Showalter adhering to traditional bullpen roles. Miller was used in back-to-back games twice, and only once on back-to-back days.

At face value, this paints Showalter as a more conservative manager who adheres slightly more strictly to defined bullpen roles. Even though Miller wasn't the "closer" or "setup man," he was probably safe in assuming that he would enter the game in the 7th inning if he was available that day. Francona's usage was much more variable over the course of the postseason, with Miller entering the game in each mid and late inning with an even frequency.

To be clear, this is merely one aspect of bullpen management, and only one example of it. Without knowing any context for the leverage of the situation in which Miller entered, it's possible that he was used as a fireman as much in 2014 as he was in 2016.

But such adherence to predictable late-inning entrances in 2014 probably wasn't by chance, and should have tipped fans off (if they weren't already aware) of Showalter's unwillingness to truly break away from defined bullpen roles. At least in the postseason, where every out matters to the team's very near future, the Orioles' manager needs to do a better job of firing the big guns when he needs them and not saving them for later - something he seems to have done consistently.

13 December 2016

Arrivals and Departures (12/13/16): Post Winter Meeting World

The Orioles saw a flurry of activity last week that at first glance appears to be a shuffling of deck chairs on the U.S.S. Oriole.  Delving in a little deeper, there are justifications for each move.  A vacuum perspective finds that each of these new additions serve a need at a preferred cost.  That said, we do not live in a vacuum and moves in the previous weeks indicate that perhaps if the club was a bit more aggressive than maybe things would look a bit more shiny for 2017.  A few months remain to reconstitute this roster and there are players out there available for the taking.

That said, it is difficult not to notice around the AL East and see that each club is making significant additions.  The Yankees took on the formidable, but morally conflicting, Aroldis Chapman.  Boston decided to deal away near can't miss elite prospects in order to have and hold Chris Sale for three years.  The Blue Jays went to town with a Steve Pearce signing.  The Rays perhaps signed their greatest catcher ever in Wilson Ramos.  All were attached to other sizable moves that have yet to come to fruition.

For the Orioles, the rumor mill has circled the drain with fringe catchers in Nick Hundley and Welington Castillo and slightly splashier names in Michael Saunders and Ian Desmond.  That last one died a quick death as the Colorado Rockies signed Desmond to presumably and confusingly play first base.  The Orioles came out of the meetings with largely the same questions as they entered.  Who catches?  Who plays right field? And, perhaps, how does the pen get stronger?

Right field may have been answered with the Rule 5 acquisition of Anuery Tavarez, a 25yo left handed right fielder who had a cup of coffee in AAA last year.  He has largely existed outside of the world of prospect consideration, but showed a high contact rate, good speed, fringe power, and dependable defense.  Performance wise, he ended the year on a blistering pace while dominating right handed pitching in AA.  In an idea world, one could perhaps squint and see him as a dominant side platoon with Joey Rickard in right field.  However, be sure to take a breath because his breakout season last year was largely tied to a .381 BABIP.

More confusingly, the Orioles made a second selection in the Rule 5 by taking Cleveland's Anthony Santander.  Santander is raw.  Santander is not a right fielder.  Just 22, Santander has always had imposing power and a troubling injury history.  It appeared that he escaped the injury demon this year, but went under the knife to fix a shoulder injury in his throwing arm, which may sideline him into the year and perhaps make him fall under Rule 5 active roster rules in 2018 as well. 

Anyway, what once appeared to be a fringe defense right fielder has slid down the defensive spectrum to appear more like a first baseman with a very promising bat.  2016 saw him break out big with .204 ISO and a healthy 20 home run, 290/368/494 line in single A.  The basic word from scouts was that they would like to have him in their organization, but where do you keep him on an MLB roster and, especially, a playoff contending roster.

As we move forward, it is difficult to conclude that the club has answered any questions yet.  It is also difficult to conclude that the rumored additions the club is planning will make this team better than it was in 2016.  As we move into the middle of the offseason, a creeping awareness of the 2019 season is looming larger and larger.  The club as is really has not been constructed to be viable after 2018.  Contract status, free agent cost, and a dearth of talent in the minors really puts forward the importance of the next two years.  Perhaps, that is better left said a little further down the line though.

Below is the current 40 man roster with 37 out of 40 positions filled.

Options Remaining
Jayson Aquino 3/12/2014 3/7/2015 3/13/2016
Brad Brach 4/16/2012 5/18/2013 2/25/2014
Parker Bridwell 3/18/2016
Zach Britton  3/29/2011 6/6/2012 3/23/2013
Dylan Bundy  3/16/2013 3/14/2014 3/16/2015
Oliver Drake 3/15/2012 3/9/2015 3/31/2016
Yovani Gallardo 5+ Service
Jason Garcia 3/14/2016
Kevin Gausman 6/13/2013 3/29/2014 6/21/2015
Mychal Givens 6/25/2015
Joe Gunkel
Donnie Hart 7/24/2016
Ubaldo Jimenez 5+ Service
Chris Lee 3/18/2016
Jesus Liranzo
TJ McFarland 3/29/2014 4/5/2015 5/8/2016
Wade Miley 5+ Service
Darren O'Day 5+ Service
Chris Tillman 5+ Service
Tyler Wilson 3/28/2015 7/3/2016
Vance Worley 7/25/2010 3/18/2011 5/22/2013
Mike Wright 3/20/2015 6/2/2016
Caleb Joseph  
Francisco Pena 5/25/2016 3/22/2015 4/1/2016
Chris Davis  5+ Service
Ryan Flaherty  5+ Service
J.J. Hardy  5+ Service
Manny Machado 
Trey Mancini
Jonathan Schoop  3/23/2013
Daniel Alvarez 3/29/2016
Adam Jones  5+ Service
Hyun Soo Kim Player Approval
Joey Rickard
Anthony Santander Rule 5
Anuery Tavarez Rule 5
Christian Walker 3/16/2015 3/26/2016