14 April 2016

Expanded Roster: JO-EY, JO-EY And The Rule 5 Draft

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JO-EY JO-EY: Joey Rickard and the Rule 5 Draft
By Joe Wantz

photo by Keith Allison
The Orioles love the Rule 5 draft. They love the Rule 5 draft like Romeo loved Juliet. They love the Rule 5 draft like Baltimoreans love crab cakes. They love the Rule 5 draft like…ok, you get the idea. The Orioles have selected a player in every Rule 5 draft since 2006, though not all of those have ended up making the team. That’s eleven straight drafts. The next longest streak? The Phillies, with selections in four straight.

Clearly, the Orioles see value in the Rule 5 draft that most teams do not, and the makeup of the team is reflective of that viewpoint. They have carried a Rule 5 player on the Major League roster each year since 2012 and currently have three Rule 5 picks on the 25 man: Ryan Flaherty, TJ McFarland, and Ted Williams…er, Joey Rickard. The man, the myth, the leadoff hitter has had a phenomenal start to his career as an Oriole, providing good defense, good contact skills, an outstanding eye at the plate, and even a little bit of power. It started in Spring Training, with Rickard slashing a phenomenal .397/.472/.571 with a home run and five stolen bases. He was good enough not only to make the team out of camp but to start in left field on Opening Day. Since then, he hasn’t looked back, starting each of the team’s first 7 games and hitting .370/.367/.556 in the season’s first week.

This is, to say the least, a surprising turn of events. Less that the Orioles kept a Rule 5 player (which is right up there with the sun rising in terms of a shocker) and more that he has looked like anything but. After a somewhat lackluster start to his minor league career, Rickard broke out in 2015 as a member of the Tampa Bay organization, putting up a .360/.437/.472 debut at AAA Durham in 2015. This makes it all the more notable that Rickard was exposed to the Rule 5 draft and made it to the 8th overall pick. That may be due to his overall scouting report, which portrayed Rickard as a good fourth outfielder as opposed to a regular contributor.

He was, however, the 98th ranked prospect in Fangraphs’ KATOH projection system published in late 2015 and had previously been ranked as a top 10 prospect for the Rays. KATOH takes a novel approach to prospect evaluation, focusing not on projectability and scouting reports but solely on minor league statistics. As a result, KATOH differs fairly significantly from more traditional prospect rankings and does not take into account player tools. This is certainly not meant to be a definitive model of player evaluation (which the creator Chris Mitchell readily admits), but it does provide a way to look at players who might otherwise be undervalued by traditional scouting.

This projection fits in with the Orioles’ initial interest in Rickard. Steve Melewski of MASN reported this week that it was not the Orioles’ scouting department that took an interest in him but rather the analytics staff. This put him on GM Dan Duquette’s radar screen, and that interest was confirmed by Felipe Alou Jr., who coached Rickard’s Dominican Winter League team and runs the O’s Dominican academy. This dovetailing of analytics and scouting has, at least so far, made the Orioles look like a bunch of geniuses.

Of course, Rickard’s current production is very unlikely to continue. He is almost certainly not going to be an All Star-type performer, but there is reason to believe that his skill set can play at the Major League level. KATOH projected Rickard to put up 3.8 WAR through his age 28 season, which would be 2019. At this rate, he might eclipse that mark this season, but let’s optimistically say the number is somewhere around 2.5 WAR per year. This would put him at +10 WAR for his career. That would be a solid number for most players but extraordinary for a Rule 5 pick. The table below shows the top 12 performers by career WAR that have been selected and kept by a new team in the Rule 5 draft since 2006.

Original Team
New Team
Career WAR
Josh Hamilton
Tampa Bay
R.A. Dickey
Joakim Soria
San Diego
Kansas City
Everth Cabrera
San Diego
Odubel Herrera
Hector Rondon
Jared Burton
Josh Fields
Mark Canha
Ryan Flaherty
Delino DeShields, Jr.
TJ McFarland
Note: The new team column doesn’t necessarily show the team the player ended up on, just the one that drafted them in the Rule 5. Hamilton, for example, was drafted by the Cubs and subsequently traded to the Reds.

We can see a few things here. First, the Orioles are nicely represented (I’m positive they signed Cabrera because he was once a Rule 5 guy but can’t prove it). Second, successful Rule 5 picks are hard to come by. Out of all the Rule 5 picks since 2006, only eleven have a career WAR of over 1. Rickard himself, at 0.3, is already in the top 15 after one week! The most notable names on the list are obviously the first three, with Josh Hamilton and R.A. Dickey being the obvious outliers. Those guys won an MVP and Cy Young award, respectively, and were well above average performers for several seasons. Soria has been, at times, a dominant reliever and has overcome some injury issues to settle into being a pretty good one.

A final interesting thing about this list is the fact that three of the top performers by WAR were drafted in the 2014 Rule 5: Odubel Herrera, Mark Canha, and Delino DeShields Jr. While none of those guys profile as future stars, they are useful players that have some upside for their teams. Indeed, with so much good young talent in the big leagues, perhaps this is a golden age in Rule 5 history.

Ultimately, it seems likely that Rickard will settle into that category. It is not particularly difficult to imagine him being a starting outfielder and giving the Orioles solid production. The 2.5 WAR per year would be a pretty aggressive projection to be sure, but even if he doesn’t hit for power or post a great batting average he can provide value with his defense and base running abilities. He has already shown those skills in his short time in Baltimore and figures to have a long leash this season. Hyun-Soo Kim and Nolan Reimold don’t seem like particularly big playing time threats at this point and it seems likely that Rickard will stay in the lineup when Adam Jones returns from injury. He may never reach the heights of someone like Josh Hamilton, but Rickard could very well end up being one of the best Rule 5 players of the past decade. We all might want to get used to chanting JO-EY JO-EY at the yard.


Pip said...

Great article, I enjoyed it immensely.
Last couple nights, Joey saw a different mix of pitches. Having shown 1) he won't swing outside the zone and 2) he can hit fastballs, he was shown more breaking balls and had several looking 3rd strikes.
Kimbrel made him look foolish last night, but also made Manny look foolish, too, with almost the same sequence of pitches.
At Camden chat there was some fervent discussion about whether Joey could handle breaking balls, having shown he can hit fastballs for singles if not for home runs.
In his last nine ABs, he has (IIRC) two walks one hit and four Ks, but only one swinging.
Do you have any idea whether adjusting to a more common mix of off speed stuff will cause major problems?

Roger said...

I see him as a Scott Podsednik type. Speed, defense, OBA, and occasional power. He may have as many a two or three very good years and a few other semi-useful years. He won't be considered a star but he will come across as a good guy to have on a team for the tools he does have. His punch-and-judy style will play fine with breaking balls. He will have to adjust. But the good plate discipline will serve him well regardless of how he's pitched.

Last night, lots of O's looked bad on Kelly's low stuff. The worst of which was Schoop who would not lay off pitches out of the zone. I'd be more concerned about Schoop's plate discipline than anything Joey's doing. Kelly could not throw a strike to save his life and the O's let him off the hook repeatedly.

Jon Shepherd said...

If he is a Pods guy, your description is not what Pods was. He had one good year and then was a 4th or 5th outfielder the rest of his career.

Joe Wantz said...

In a super small sample of course, Rickard has struggled with offspeed and breaking pitches, so that's going to have to improve for his breakout to be real. Ultimately, I don't really see him as being an above average hitter. His value will primarily come from defense and baserunning.

Jim Garman said...

For the first time since Brady played left field we have someone who looks like he can cover the quite large area that is Camden left field. We have continue to try to stash guys out there and it rarely works. Defense first O's will really help this staff.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

That didn't really work out too well for David Lough.

Roger said...

Jon, OK, I didn't look up Pods' record - just went on memory - but even at your description, if we can get his one good year and have a solid 4th OF after that, I think it's as good as or better than Flaherty has been - without the "good" year yet.

Matt, it sure seems like Joey is better than Lough. Joey is younger upon making his debut and he seems to have better strike zone management.

Jon Shepherd said...

David Lough had insanely good defense in left and center. He was a better defender than Pods or Rickard (it appears), but not as good of a base runner. Lough put up two very solid seasons as a part timer and then injury wiped him out.

Joe Wantz said...

Lough had 4.4 fWAR in 2013 and 2014 combined, so that wouldn't necessarily be a worst case scenario assuming Rickard can avoid injury. I could imagine Rickard doing something like Lough did in 2013 this season, but maybe upscaled to 450 plate appearances.

Jon Shepherd said...

I just don't see Rickard being able to do what Lough did defensively. He was incredibly undervalued here by fans when he was healthy.

Roger said...

Hey. All us fans wanted was for Lough to hit .280/.320 and steal a few bases (15?) as a regular for a full season. He showed flashes but never got there and so he was a disappointment. If Joey gives us better than average defense (I sure wish he had been able to get to that pop fly double last night) and hits .280/.340 as a starting LF then he IS an improvement over Lough. Looked like Lough had potential after his rookie season in KC. Time will tell for Joey, but he's young too.

vilnius b. said...

Well, let's remember what plans the Orioles had for the flame-thrower(Jason Garcia) they poached from the Red Sox with the Rule 5 draft. The idea was to hide him as much as possible, have him come in only in low leverage situations and then move him to the minors this year to work on his weaknesses and see if in a couple of years he's a useful piece, either as a starter or a reliever.

So why not the same with Rickard? He's having a great start but baseball is a game of adjustments and we don't know yet how he'll respond when MLB pitchers find out his weaknesses. But we do know that he has a lot of positives, is still young and could be sent down to the minors next year to work on those areas of his game that needs improving.