18 November 2016

Orioles Starting Pitching Was Not A Weak Part Of 2016 Club

In the aftermath of success or failure, explanations skitter around until conventional wisdom settles on a final narrative.  That narrative may be accurate, indulged, or utterly wrong.  An astute observer understands this and does their best to challenge these ideas in order to bring oneself closer to whatever the truth is likely to be.

As I understand the conventional wisdom of the 2016 Orioles, I have heard these primary conclusions:
1. Starting Pitching was a train wreck.
2. Chris Davis failed in his first year on a major contract.
3. Jonathan Schoop broke out.
4. Trumbo's magnificent bat in right field saved club.
5. The Relief Corps was the heart of the club.
Out of those conclusions, some are likely to be true and others not so much.

One way we often look at value by position is to use Wins Above Average.  One way to calculate that is Baseball Reference's version, which takes into account, roughly, what actually happens on the field in comparison to FanGraphs', which, again roughly, tries to figure out the underlying value of the events on the field as opposed to what actually occurred.  Anyway, various perspectives look at both and have ideas about how they each handle uncertainty, but for the purposes here we are simply going to go with Baseball Reference to look through the conclusions above.

Below is a graph of Orioles Wins Above Average for American League clubs.  The whiskers illustrate the entire range of performance among AL teams.  This sort of illustrations does better to show actual range of performance than a metric like WAR, which assumes a certain base level of play.  Year-to-year, base levels of play vary and it may be better to describe what happened last year by actually assessing what happened.

1. Starting Pitching was a Train Wreck Last Year
Well, if you remember the Zach Britton discussion about the Cy Young award, then you might remember how lackluster starting pitching was in the American League.  The graph above suggests that maybe the feeling that the starting pitching was a train wreck was true in comparison to league wide performance in year's past, but not this year.  The Orioles actually enjoyed the fifth best rotation in the AL, according to bWAA.

2. Chris Davis Fell Flat on his Face
First base was also a position in the AL where nothing much seemed to happen.  In fact, the Chris Davis led Orioles first base situation was found to be the third best outfit in the American League.

3. Jonathan Schoop Broke Out
Schoop actually was worth a win less per average American League second baseman.  His banner holding second base performance put the Orioles as having the 10th best second base crew in the American League.  Out of 15 teams, that is nothing much to write home about.

4. Trumbo's Magnificent Bat
The two positions Trumbo touched most, right field and designated hitter, were pretty awful with the Orioles ranked 12th and 9th in the AL, respectively.  In fact, if you combine the entire outfield performance then the Orioles ranked dead last in all of the AL.  Perhaps, what is missing is just how dreadful the outfield was last year and how the club could really improve themselves by shoring themselves up there.

5. Bullpen was the Heart of the Club
Of the five main talking points emerging from the season, this is the one that actually holds water quite well.  The club was pretty remarkable with bullpen performance.

Yeah, but how does overall team WAA compare to the actual club record?
The Orioles went 89-73 last year.  WAA expected them to go 86-76.  Considering Britton's fortune in the closer role, WAA did a decent job explaining the Orioles success.

Perhaps the actual talking points coming out of the season are that the starting pitching was average, Davis was one of the better first basemen in the league, Schoop is still full of unfulfilled promise, Trumbo's home runs hid a lot of rotten wood, and the bullpen really was quite precious.


Boss61 said...

I find this quite a fascinating read, and a little more accessible for my math-lazy sports brain than most. Some of the numbers are quite startling.

No wonder Wieters did not get a QO, no wonder the O's probably let Trumbo walk and no wonder Dan Duquette no longer feels starting pitching is a chief weakness. It's hard not to read the embedded chart as somewhat of an indictment of seemingly untouchable players (from a fan appreciation perspective) such as Adam Jones.

Similar analyses for other teams might identify free agent or trade acquisition targets.

the muse said...

Well yes... We love Adam Jones. Some of his highlight bloopers are for the ages. I was in Oakland the day he caught what he thought was the third out with runners on base, turned around and threw the ball into the stands. I also remember him blowing one of those bubbles while making an over the shoulder basket catch and having the ball drop out of his glove. But... I still love watching him track a deep fly ball from shallow center. As far as JS, he makes a decent 2nd baseman, no Alomar but turns a pretty good DP. I think one of these years he will have a true breakout offensive season AKA Brady Anderson. Davis is a pretty decent 1st baseman but his mistakes are occasionally spectacular too.
1.) Get rid of Drake, Ondrusek, Miley, and Gallardo. The rest we can work with and pick up the next retread.
2.) Find a real right fielder.
3.) Platoon Kim and Rickard in left.
4.) Sign Trumbo if you can. 47 homers at DH would look pretty damned good.
5.) Joseph and Pena at catcher until the AllStar break then bring up Chance.
This should get you 90 wins.

tim in sanjose

Anthony M. said...

So keep the bullpen and Manny and trade everyone else.

Unknown said...

Half the Orioles' starting rotation was quite good, and the other half was terrible. On balance, that puts them right about average. That doesn't mean that the Orioles shouldn't be concerned about the half of their starting rotation that was terrible.

Pip said...

Joe is correct."average" is a dangerous term. The difference between our top three and our bottom three is astonishing. I will never forgive or understand Dan's thinking in signing Gallardo: all signs pointed towards him being terrible and unhealthy, and that's exactly what he was.
Anyway, about outfielders… Colby Rasmus is available now. He hits pretty well, and his defense is above average, and he probably won't be that expensive, how about picking him up?

Pip said...

As another aside, given the cost of pitching, have you reconsidered whether to keep Worley? His cost isn't too bad compared to both his actual performance( .1 WAR/3-ish million isn't too much of an overpay) and if Cashner/Morton can't get the deals they got, Worley is probably worth keeping.

Pip said...

"If Cashner/Morton CAN get the deals they got..."

Bad typo

vilnius b. said...

Pip: for once I disagree with you. Colby Rasmus had an extraordinary April, esp. with OBP relative to his career, but eventually he reverted to being Colby Rasmus again. Now that Reddick is with the 'Stros, I think we should pursue Michael Saunders. His LHB and Camden Yards are a nice fit.
Rasmus is a decent defensive OF but we'll need a bat to replace Trumbo as he almost certainly rejects that QO. Rumor has it that the Rocs are interested in him as they need a 1B and he fields that position much better than he plays the OF.

In an unrelated note: because of the election and its aftermath, I missed out on the news that Rick Peterson is gone. Hallelujah! His one-size-fits-all philosophy almost certainly hurt the organization much more than it helped it. He changed Arrieta; he tried to change Bundy. We've seen the consequences. One can only wonder what he would've done with Chris Sale or Johnny Cueto if they had been in our organization.

Roger said...

A couple of comments. first, I do think that Saunders is a good FA target. I still think Desmond would be an unbelievably good fit for the O's.

Another comment is that what Joe R posts is a start of a good discussion. I would actually extend that the outfield and not just to differential rotation pieces but also to varied performance over time. Trumbo is the best example of this. His first half truly carried the O's. The O's outperformed their expected WAA.... why? Could it be that performance variations over time caused more benefit than the total average? For example, the SP (and Jimenez) got hot in the second half when the offense failed and the offense was hot early before the SP came together. The only constant was the bullpen which blew very few games when the O's were in control.

These statistics are obviously, highly impacted by defensive metrics. That's why we don't come to the Obvious conclusions about what we "see" in performance. Defense is harder to "see" whereas runs scored and runs given up show up instantly. What the above graph does is to compare performance against the rest of the league for this year only - an excellent way to analyze to season. However, in determining how to proceed, you have to use a broader base of data - today's performance may not equal tomorrow's performance.

Adam Jones may not be the best statistical CF but he is the heart of the Orioles and should not be questioned for his roster slot. The prior article about Machado's second half gives a key to next year's improvement - the same is true for Schoop. Look at Hardy's performance in the chart. People have been concerned about Hardy for the last two years and yet he put up a better than average performance. Improvement in the OF is the obvious place to look (catcher too but that may be only improvable for defense). I am hard over on the addition of Desmond and using Mancini at DH. If a LH OF is needed, Saunders seems to be a good option (lots of OPACY upside) - maybe Jon Jay to focus more on D than power.

The problem with Worley is not that he did poorly or wouldn't be a good risk, but that the money is needed elsewhere (i.e. OF). However the pitching is upgraded, internal options and Rule 5 are going to be front and center (Wilson, Wright, Bradley, Lee, Aquino). I also think Joseph/Pena/Wynns has to be given a chance to bridge to Sisco and Sisco needs to arrive sometime next year. If Gallardo's salary can be dumped and Trumbo/Wieters are not re-signed then possibly signing Desmond and Saunders or Jay might be possible. There really are very few paths to significant improvement for next year even with more money.

Jon Shepherd said...

As some noted, these metrics are buckets with multiple inputs. Also, keep in mind that defense is a component of bWAA. Yes, pitching was highly variable. Keep in mind thought that when you look at it in depth none of the pitchers came off as truly terrible. Some were quite bad, but when you look at all AL pitchers there are several that were far worse. It is not that you poorly perceived Gallardo's value but that maybe you were unaware of how horrible other pitchers were like James Shields.

Roger said...

Jon, yes, but you can watch Gallardo and see his value independent of the league and know that we could get the same value from a younger developing minor leaguer (e.g Wright) without 90% of the cost. And, yes, Shields would be a worse investment but it doesn't excuse Gallardo.

Jon Shepherd said...

I am unsure why you think saying a rotation was decent is the same as saying there are no areas to improve. It means something to say that the Orioles were above average for Quality Starts in the league.

Roger said...

I hope you don't think I said there were no areas to improve. What I said was that there were few significant paths to improvement; something that was well highlighted by the roster options presented here. Mostly limited by a thin farm and not much money to spend.

Jon Shepherd said...

What I was commenting on appeared to be a similar vein which was a total hides the components.