30 November 2016

Orioles Miss Out On Potential Bargain In Jon Jay

It would be stunning if the Orioles made a major move this offseason. Still, they have holes to fill at outfielder, catcher, and possibly designated hitter. There could be other positions to add -- backup infielder, relief pitcher, maybe even starter -- depending on which non-tender candidates (Vance Worley, Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland) and starting pitchers the Orioles keep. 

Two areas where the Orioles would like to improve are outfield defense and on-base percentage. One possible free agent fit who checks those two boxes, Jon Jay, was just scooped up by the Cubs. Jay signed a one-year, $8 million contract.

Let's unpack a few things here. First, it's hard to ignore the parallel with Dexter Fowler's re-signing last year. Fowler spurned the Orioles' contract offer and returned to the Cubs on a one-year deal for similar money. He also apparently preferred to play center field instead of a corner spot. Jay is likely to spend a large chunk of his time in center field for the Cubs, and perhaps he's looking to do what Fowler just did: post strong numbers on a winning team in an effort to cash in the following season. 

Second, the Orioles were not clearly interested in Jay, though Roch Kubatko mentioned Jay as having been a "more realistic target" this morning. Which, well, of course. Jay has a career on-base percentage of .352, hits from the left side but is not a platoon bat (108 wRC+ vs. RHP and 100 wRC+ vs. LHP), and has the ability to play well enough in center field (1.9 UZR/150, -5 DRS) but can also play adequate defense in a corner outfield spot. His arm doesn't play as well in right field, but he still covers a lot of ground. 

Plus, Jay was not going to command huge money. Jon Shepherd's BORAS model projected Jay to earn a deal around two years and $20 million, so it's hard not to be impressed with what the Cubs were able to do. Jay isn't a superstar; you don't sign superstars for one year and $8 million. But you do get someone who has the ability to post a two- or three-win season, if things break right. Replicating Fowler's 2016 season is almost certainly a pipe dream, but there's no risk here. 

Maybe the Orioles never had a chance. Jay may have preferred the chance to play center field over anything else, and as much as some fans clamor for it, Adam Jones is not moving to a corner outfield spot yet. Jay surely received a couple of multiyear offers, but maybe they weren't to his liking. And hey, playing for the Cubs should be a lot of fun. They just won something called the World Series, which was kind of a big deal.

Regardless, there aren't a whole lot of worthwhile outfield upgrades out there that won't break the bank. Some options include Michael Saunders, Brandon Moss, Angel Pagan, Rajai Davis, Franklin Gutierrez, Matt Joyce, Michael Bourn, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, and Peter Bourjos, but many of them are not capable of playing full time or don't present real defensive upgrades (though lots of players are better in right field than Mark Trumbo). Regardless, the O's may have missed a chance by not being more aggressive in their pursuit of Jay.

25 November 2016

Starting Pitching Was Not (Really) a Strength of 2016 Orioles

Joe Reisel's Archives

Jon Shepherd's recent Camden Depot article, Orioles Starting Pitching Was Not a Weak Part of 2016 Club, made a case that the 2016 Orioles starting pitching was, well, not a weak part of the 2016 team. Some commenters, including myself, observed that while the rotation as a whole might have been average, the front half (Gausman, Tillman, Bundy, and Worley (4 starts) performed well while the back half (Jimenez, Gallardo, Wilson, Wright, and Miley) performed poorly. This started a lively exchange in the comments.

I probably misunderstood what Jon was saying. Digging beyond the headline, he was seeking to correct the narrative that the 2016 Orioles starting pitching was a "train wreck" (among other narratives.) The title and the article itself contain another source of potential misinterpretation - that if starting pitching wasn't a weakness, then there is no need to improve it for 2017. Jon didn't actually say that in the article and, in subsequent comments, made it clear that he wasn't trying to imply that the starting pitching was just fine the way it was.

Nevertheless, I thought I would explore the idea that the Orioles' starting pitching was either very good or very bad in 2016, and see what (if anything) I could discover. The simplest approach was to look at each team, and count the number of games started by good, average, and poor starting pitchers. As this is an initial exploration, I decided to keep things really simple, using ERA+ as the measurement. ERA+ is a context-adjusted measurement of a pitcher's ERA, so that 100 is league-average (adjusted for context), above 100 is better than average, and below 100 is worse than average. Because starting pitchers have higher ERAs than relief pitchers, I decided to define an ERA+ of 101 or better as above average, 90-100 as average, and 89 or below as below average.

The below table shows the counts. For each team, the number of games started by a pitcher with a season ERA+ at the appropriate level for that team is counted. These values are retrieved from baseball-reference.com. Two points - this doesn't distinguish a pitcher's ERA+ as a starter as opposed to his ERA as a relief pitcher, so a few pitchers who were primarily relief pitchers but made a couple of starts would be listed in a category heavily influenced by their relief usage. And, it uses the pitcher's ERA+ with the team only, so James Shields is considered average for San Diego and below average for the Chicago White Sox.


Regarding the 2016 Orioles, it does seem that they didn't have a truly terrible starting rotation, although it was the worst among playoff teams. Their 84 games started by poor pitchers was the 24th most among all teams and by far the most among playoff teams. The next highest-total was 64 (the Dodgers.) On the other hand, their 78 games started by good pitchers was the 17th most among all teams, and last among the playoff teams. Their starting pitching wasn't bad enough to keep them out of the playoffs.

Unlike two other contending teams. While most of the teams with bad starting rotations were bad teams, Houston and St. Louis were in wild-card contention until late in the season (the final day for St. Louis.) And most observers concluded that their lack of starting pitching is why those two teams didn't make the postseason.

To some extent, this chart understates how bad the Orioles' second-line starting pitching was. I used a cutoff ERA+ of 89 to define a "bad" starting pitcher; none of the five Orioles in that category - Jimenez, Gallardo, Wilson, Wright, and Miley - came particularly close to that level. (Wilson was the best at 84.) So the Orioles could improve their second-line starting pitching and still not have it show up in this measurement.

Although the Orioles did make the postseason in 2016, they probably need to improve their second-line starting pitching if they want to make the postseason in 2017. To make the playoffs, you have to survive the 162-game regular season - and it's very tough to do so if you have below-average pitchers starting half your games. They don't necessarily need more good starting pitching; they just need less bad starting pitching.

A few arbitrary observations:
  • There seems to be a "floor" for starts by bad pitchers, below which it doesn't seem to affect a team's chances. Almost every team seems to have a couple of guys who pitch badly before it's decided to replace them, and every team seems to have a few spot / September starts by pitchers who pitch poorly. A team should expect to have around forty games started by pitchers who don't pitch well.
  • The big surprises in a positive way were the Reds and the Phillies; I wasn't expecting them to be this good. 
  • In the 2016 American League, the Minnesota Twins were so awful at run prevention that "average" loses much of its meaning. The Twins gave up 889 runs; the next-worst team, Oakland, was closer to the best team (761 runs for Oakland, 666 for Toronto) than to the Twins. The American League average was 724 runs allowed - but if you exclude the Twins, the average shrinks to 712. The Twins themselves are responsible for five teams being above-league-average in run prevention as opposed to being below average.
  • This doesn't have anything to do with the subject, but the leader in innings pitched for the Pirates was Jeff Locke - with 127 1/3. Not only did the Pirates not have anyone who qualified for the ERA title, they didn't have anyone who would have qualified for a full-season minor-league ERA title if the minors leagues used the one-inning-per-scheduled game qualification.

23 November 2016

What Should The O's Expect From Dylan Bundy in 2017?

For the past five years, Orioles’ fans have had high expectations for Dylan Bundy. Fans have hoped he’d be a homegrown ace that could help stabilize the rotation and become an ace that could go toe-to-toe with the best starters in the playoffs. But then Bundy was injured for a number of years and was unable to contribute. In 2016, Bundy was able to stay healthy and even entered the rotation for the second half of the season. He had excellent results in his first six starts, and fans began and are still dreaming big. But then the next eight starts happened, in which Bundy largely got shelled and ended up with an ERA of 6.00. Looking forward to 2017, should we expect the dominant performance that he provided in his first six starts or the poor performance in his next eight?

For starters, Bundy had a very strong six game stretch in his first six starts. He had a 29% K-rate, a 6.5% BB-rate, while opposing batters had only a .264 wOBA against him and a .189 BABIP. They did, however, have a 4.8 HR% against him. Out of all starting pitchers that threw at least 100 innings, a 4.8 HR% would have tied for fourth worst out of 137. It’s a bad sign that he was prone to giving up homers, even in the middle of a successful stretch.

Left handed batters had a tough time when putting the ball in play against him, as they only had a .294 wOBA to go with a .159 BABIP despite an astoundingly high 6.4 HR%. Right handed batters had more luck with a .407 wOBA to go with a .233 BABIP and a 9.1% HR-rate.

According to the ESPN TruMedia Data Portal, Bundy primarily threw a fastball, changeup and curveball. During his six game stretch of success, his best pitch was easily his changeup. But his fastball was surprisingly effective at getting swinging strikes while he was able to locate a number of his curveballs in the strike zone.

Against left-handed batters, his changeup had a higher swinging strike rate (20.22%) than a called ball rate (17.87%) although batters had an extremely high in play percentage (28.56%).  Aside from that, left-handed batters struggled to make contact against his fastball as they had a 16.2% swinging strike rate. His curveball was largely ineffective against left handed hitters, but they only put it into play 5.9% of the time. Basically, he was able to throw his fastball and the changeup in the strike zone, thereby limiting the number of balls he threw while receiving swinging strikes. As a result, he had a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate.

It’s highly implausible for a pitcher with these stats against right-handed batters to have a 29.6% K-rate. His changeup was a decent out pitch, but not great and wasn’t thrown often. His curve and fastball got a lot of called strikes but fewer swinging strikes. According to Brooks Baseball, despite his fastball not being a great pitch to get swinging strikes, batters just had a terrible job making contact against it with two strikes. While this may happen over a small sample size, it isn’t something that should be expected to continue. Spoiler alert, it didn’t continue over the last eight games.

In his last eight starts, things fell apart for Bundy. His strikeout rate dropped from 29% to 20% while his walk rate went from 6.5% to 12%. His BABIP jumped from .189 to .301 while his HR% stayed stable at nearly 5%. Left handed batters had a 1.077 OPS against him while putting the ball into play with a 7.7% HR rate and a .333 BABIP. Right handed batters had a .895 OPS against him with a 7% HR rate and a .264 BABIP. His ERA was 6.00 and batters were pretty much taking him apart.

His changeup remained extremely effective as batters swung and missed at 22.5% of all changeups thrown during that period, but his fastball and curve lost some of their effectiveness.

Against lefties, his changeup was still dangerous, but his fastball and curve were rarely thrown for swinging strikes. His fastball significantly regressed and that was one reason why he struggled. He did get a lot of swinging strikes against left handed batters when he had two strikes against them, which is why his strikeout rate was so high. With such a small sample size, I question whether it was skill or random chance.

Against righties, his changeup was still dangerous while his fastball and curve improved in effectiveness. But he wasn’t as lucky as he was in his first eight starts so his numbers looked worse even if these are more maintainable. It is interesting to note that while Bundy’s stuff over the last eight games got worse against lefties, they got better against righties. This probably means that getting tired didn’t hurt him as much as one may have thought. This should encourage the Orioles because it means he may be able to throw more innings than one may have expected next year, but that we probably shouldn’t use his first six games as an example of anything.

Max Scherzer had a 31.5% K-rate and 6.2% BB-rate last year. It is possible to compare his stats to Bundy’s to see how an ace performs over an entire season and how Bundy compared.

Scherzer’s stuff was good against left-handed batters, but not elite. His fastball picked up a strong number of swinging strikes, but also nearly as high of a called and swinging strike rate as a called ball rate. In addition, his changeup and slider served as good out pitches. But even if his numbers against lefties were very good, they weren’t elite. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he had a 25.5% K-rate, a 9.1% walk rate while opposing batters had a .757 OPS against him. These numbers aren’t as dominant as Bundy’s against left-handers during his six game stretch of success and I think it’s fair to say that Bundy outperformed him in those situations.

Scherzer’s stuff was absolutely absurd against right-handed batters though. He did an excellent job locating his fastball in the strike zone, but it still generated a large percentage of whiffs. And his slider generated more swinging strikes than called balls and was nearly a called or swinging strike half of the time. Unsurprisingly, Scherzer had a 37.8% K-rate, a 3.2% walk rate and opposing right-handed batters had a .477 OPS against him. Those are Zach Britton like results and are what I’d expect given the quality of his fastball/slider combo. Bundy isn’t anywhere near as effective.

Based on that comparison, I’d probably expect Bundy to have had a K-rate in the 23 to 24% range during his hot streak. That’s above average, but given his homeritis issues suggests he’d have below average performance.

Bundy faces a number of challenges if he wants to be a successful starter in 2017. The major problem is that he gives up way too many home runs. If he gives up that many home runs, he’ll need to have strong strikeout and walk results or hold batters to a very low BABIP. It’s likely that neither of those are possible. If he is unable to fix this problem, then the Orioles won’t need to worry about whether he can throw 160 innings a season because he’ll be in the bullpen.

Bundy’s most effective pitch is his changeup. It gets a high percentage of strikes, especially swinging strikes. But batters put the pitch into play often and have a .984 OPS against the pitch. Of the 62 changeups put into play, 6 were hit out of the park. If batters can crush this pitch, then Bundy is going to be in trouble.

It seems that Bundy had a limited repertoire when starting this year perhaps because of his injury issues. A full offseason healthy and preparing to be a starter should yield significant dividends. In addition, it will be interesting to see whether he adds a new pitch this offseason. If not, he may need to work on using his fastball better. He stated at one point that he’s better off pitching 94 mph and locating properly than throwing at 97. The problem is that if he’s primarily using two pitches against lefties (fastball and changeup) and righties (fastball and curveball) then he may need to be able to throw at 97 and be able to locate. Using the changeup more against right handed batters should also improve his results.

Orioles’ fans should be encouraged by Bundy’s performance last year because he was able to stay healthy and was somewhat effective. But they shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that he’s going to save the rotation. He may turn into a strong starter, but he is still very much a work in progress.

22 November 2016

What Should The Orioles Do At Catcher?

The Orioles are poised to move on without the services of Matt Wieters, who will likely command a three- or four-year deal in free agency (despite recently cutting his forearm in a household accident). And that's probably the best move for both parties; Wieters should take advantage of the opportunity to get paid, and the Orioles don't need to get sentimental and overpay for the services of Wieters, who is a fine, not great, option at catcher and whose production can partly be replicated for less money.

Well, if not Wieters, then who? If you believe Dan Connolly's sources, that player might be Nick Hundley:
The best fit, without a doubt, is Colorado’s Nick Hundley, who spent part of 2014 with the Orioles and performed well. Pitchers liked throwing to him, he got along well with Joseph and Wieters and he made a real connection with catching instructor John Russell.

The Orioles definitely have an interest in a reunion with Hundley, according to sources.
Ken Rosenthal later solidified the team's interest with this tweet:
The easy joke (and one I made, because I like low-hanging fruit) is that the team viewing Hundley as Plan A is comical/worrisome. Now is always a great time to panic!

Anyway, as I see it, here are the Orioles' catching options this offseason:

  • Sign a catcher to a multiyear deal (Jason Castro, Alex Avila, maybe even Wieters, etc.)
  • Ink Hundley or someone else to a one-year deal and give Chance Sisco more time
  • Move ahead with Francisco Pena (or Audry Perez) in a backup role
  • Begin the year with Sisco on the major league roster and give him the backup job
That last option almost certainly won't happen. The first one probably won't either, especially since there is strong competition for Castro's services. As a platoon bat with Joseph, Castro and Avila both make sense (Castro moreso). To his credit, Castro also rates well as a pitch framer, as does Joseph. Wieters and Avila do not, and neither does Hundley. There are a handful of other catchers out there, but most of them are not enticing options.

It's not hard to understand the clubhouse and familiarity aspect with Hundley. And we're talking about someone who is going to split duties with Joseph, not a full-time player. However, Joseph has never played in more than 100 games in any single season, so it's not like we're discussing an insignificant amount of work. Whoever the other catcher ends up being, he's going to play a lot. And anything more than a one-year deal for Hundley should be out of the question. 

The second and third bullets above are most likely. And if you believe in Pena's pitch-framing abilities, then just going with him and Joseph wouldn't be the worst decision. Neither is very good with the bat, but having two guys who are good pitch framers, have strong throwing arms, and don't make a bunch of money would free up some room for the Orioles to do something else.

21 November 2016

Rule 5 Draft Possibilities: A Few Ideas...

Last week, clubs decided who to protect from the Rule 5 draft.  The draft tends to be a mess of players who are either too far away or simply not talented enough.  That said, the Orioles seem to find worthwhile pieces every year.  Nothing all that exceptional, but worthwhile.  Coming into December this year, we can expect the club to still be on the lookout for middle infield, outfield, and bullpen help.  Below are a few interesting names that you might see pop up when the draft happens.

Middle Infield

Calten Daal, 2B/SS
Cincinnati Reds
All Levels (4 Seasons)98741.280.321.317
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

Daal is Jonathan Schoop's fellow country man from Curacao.  Beyond being from the same place and knowing each other well, the similarities end there.  Daal is very athletic and has made a name for himself with defense and a decent contact tool.  He has no power to speak of and his arm is a bit fringy for shortstop, so projections have dropped him down to potential utility middle infielder.  He was considered a potential breakout prospect last year due to increased weight training, but head and shoulder injuries limited his time in the field.


Jairo Beras, RF
Texas Rangers
Minors (4 seasons)Minors1288.262.313.432
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

Basically, if you want a MLB ready right fielder then do not look in the Rule 5.  Beras has a plus plus arm and is sometimes frightening with his route running.  He has light tower power, but was swallowed whole by advanced pitchers in 2015 due to his long swing and poor pitch recognition.  He might be worth a flyer just to see him first hand in Spring Training, but I am at a loss how he could survive a whole season in the Majors right now.


Daniel Gibson, LHRP
Arizona Diamondbacks
Year Lev ERA IP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2015 A+-AA 1.56 52.0 5.9 0.2 3.6 10.0
2015 Fal 0.00 8.0 4.5 0.0 4.5 11.2
2016 AA 0.40 22.2 8.7 0.0 3.2 6.8
2016 AAA 6.86 21.0 10.7 1.7 6.0 7.3
Minors (4 seasons) Minors 2.90 183.0 8.0 0.4 3.9 9.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

Command has always been the issue with Daniel Gibson.  If he has it, he is a potential late inning reliever.  If not, then he might be a fringe situation specialist.  He has a plus fastball that ramps up to 95 mph and an above average slider.  In AAA, he faced hitters advanced enough to wait him out when he had some wild nights.  For a club like the Orioles who are in need for more southpaw options, he might be worth a look in Spring Training.

Angel Perdomo, LHRP
Toronto Blue Jays
All Levels (5 Seasons)3.01280.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

Yes, the jump from single A ball to the Majors is extreme.  However, Perdomo is a 6'6" lefty who as a starter was able to let it go as high as 95 mph and would be expected to sit at that velocity as a reliever.  His breaking ball developed as a more true above average pitch and he ate up left handed batters last year.  The move would be a stretch for him, but he benefits as being profiled as a left specialist for the Orioles who has the stamina to eat junk innings.  There is a lot of potential to like, but the jump may remind some people of Jason Garcia.

Corey Black, RHRP
Chicago Cubs
Year Lev ERA IP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2015 AA 4.92 86.0 7.7 0.7 4.9 10.6
2015 Fal 11.42 8.2 12.5 1.0 7.3 6.2
2016 AA 3.18 22.2 7.1 0.0 6.0 9.9
2016 AAA 5.04 30.1 8.9 0.3 6.2 11.0
Minors (5 seasons) Minors 3.93 423.2 7.8 0.6 4.8 9.5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

Black is Rick Vaughn.  He can dial it up to 100 mph with a plus plus fastball, but who knows where it will go.  He carries a starter's repertoire, but command hurts those average offerings even more.  If the Orioles somehow think they know a mechanical fix that the Cubs, who have made a name for fixing former Orioles, missed, then he could be a solid pickup.

Miguel Diaz, RHRP
Milwaukee Brewers
Year Lev ERA IP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2015 Rk 2.21 20.1 8.9 0.4 2.2 10.2
2016 A 3.71 94.2 7.9 0.7 2.8 8.7
All Levels (5 Seasons) 3.51 236.0 7.9 0.4 3.4 8.5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

The Brewers have been slowly bringing Diaz along as a starter.  Slowed by injuries, Diaz' fastball/slider combo is a solid foundation for a starter role, but also makes him a viable relief option.  Stop me if you have heard this one, but he has some control issues.

Dylan Covey, RHRP
Oakland Athletics
All Levels (4 Seasons)4.20369.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2016.

Covey has a nice heavy fastball that runs into the mid 90s in short stints and a starter's arsenal.  However, he spent most of the year on the DL, played rather mediocre in the AFL, and has always been knocked for having quality bullpen pitches that do not miss bats.  Maybe someone still believes.