31 July 2017

The One Move the Orioles Should Really Make Today

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is today, but you probably knew that already. Despite some rumblings that the Orioles were on the fence about being buyers or sellers, we here at the Depot have pretty much been on the “seller” side of things for some time. And as Jon explained last week, being 3.5 games back with 6 teams in front of you is not an easy task to overcome, and it’s a big reason why sites such as Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus have the Orioles odds of making playoffs (in any form) so low.

Is a mid-level veteran rotation arm really going to move the needle on this team and propel them to a wild card spot? No, it won’t. It will help (in the case of the Jeremy Hellickson trade, it helps in providing innings), but the team would also need improvement from all of their core players, specifically the starting rotation. So the Orioles should be selling and the fact that we’ve made it this far without any moves has to be a little troubling (again, I’m not counting Hellickson). But fear not, as of the time of this posting (9 AM ET), there is still 7 hours for the team to come to its senses and deal some players for something in return.

The players who are set to become free agents after the season are the obvious places to start, especially considering that the team has plans on competing in 2018. While there are 7 players set to enter free agency in the offseason (including Welington Castillo, who has a $7 million player option), none are likely to bring back returns that will help Baltimore next year or in the future.

Minimal Return
Probably More Valuable to Orioles Considering How Little the Return Would Be
DFA/Release Candidates
Sure the Orioles could (i.e. should) also look to clear the salary owed to Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and/or Darren O’Day, but their combination of performance and remaining money owed doesn’t lead one to believe that anyone would be willing to take them, even for minimal return. So, if the Orioles are planning on being competitive in 2018 (which, in my opinion is debatable), the one player they absolutely need to trade today before the deadline is Zach Britton.

While it appears that the Orioles will not lose much from their free agents, they will have plenty of holes to fill. And as we’ve discussed before on this site, there isn’t anything in the high minors ready to contribute next year (if you’re a believer in Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle, I think the best case scenario is they can play their way to Baltimore after the 2018 All-Star break). The Orioles will need to fill (at least) 2 rotation spots, a SS (or 3B depending on where they decide to play Manny Machado), an upgrade in one (if not 2) outfield spots, and possibly even another catcher. Those holes can’t all be filled via free agency, and even if they could, it’s unlikely the team would spend enough for the team to be markedly improved.

Zach Britton is the one player that the Orioles can trade at the deadline whose return could fill one or two of those holes in 2018. Granted, it’s unlikely that he’ll bring back a superstar on the cusp of a major league call-up, but a package of 1 or 2 high minors prospects who could be solid contributors and 1 or 2 well-regarded prospects in the low minors is reasonable. If the Orioles aren’t going to trade Machado, then Britton is the one guy who can bring back some talent that can help the team sooner rather than later.

Barring any sort of injury, Britton’s value shouldn’t decline between now and the offseason, so it’s true that the Orioles could wait to get a package they like until then, but I do believe the time is now to trade Britton. He is the kind of elite bullpen arm that literally every contender could use, and the presence of Britton even on an already GREAT bullpen, makes that team much more dangerous in the postseason. And while there may be more teams looking for Britton’s services in the offseason, I think the Orioles can capitalize on some trade deadline desperation and sell Britton as someone who can impact 2 seasons.

Obviously, if Baltimore doesn’t get a deal that they like, they shouldn’t accept a deal just for the sake of accepting it. And in fact, with Britton’s injury earlier this season, some teams may be skeptical of whether or not Britton is healthy, which would be a cause of concern in acquiring him (another may be his salary). However, based on what Britton has shown since returning from injury, he appears to be pretty similar to what he was last year. The time to trade Zach Britton is today, and while losing him may hurt, the one thing the Orioles have been good at is finding cheap and effective relief arms. Britton makes every team in contention much better, and trading him is the best chance the Orioles have to give this group of players one last championship run in 2018.

27 July 2017

Trade Retrospective: Wade Miley vs. Ariel Miranda

When Wade Miley was acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2016 for Ariel Miranda, there was legitimate reason to believe the Orioles had not dramatically improved their pitching situation. Miley had not posted an ERA under 4.34 since 2013 and was mired in, frankly, a poor season in Seattle. Miranda, on the other hand, had progressed quickly through the Orioles' farm system after coming over from the Cuban leagues and had put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers at every level. As we know, Miley has been (to be charitable) a low grade tire fire as an Oriole while Miranda has quietly been pretty decent in Seattle, despite a certain blogger arguing that Miley had figured things out in April and May.

It seems to be yet another ill-fated deadline move made by General Manager Dan Duquette, whose history at the non-waiver deadline has been checkered during his time in Baltimore. He infamously traded Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman, dealt away Zach Davies (who has become a relatively decent back-end starter himself) for two months of Gerardo Parra posting a .671 OPS, and got 20 lights-out innings from Andrew Miller in exchange for top pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. This is... not amazing, to say the least. His overall best deal was probably getting Bud Norris for LJ Hoes and Josh Hader in 2013, though Hader is off to a decent start to his career in Milwaukee and Norris had an epic, $8 million meltdown in 2015 after a solid 2014. 

But was this move as bad as it seems? If you go by straight results, the answer is an unequivocal "yes, good lord, yes." Miranda has put up a 4.16 ERA to go along with a 1.145 WHIP for the Mariners, while Miley has countered with a ghastly 5.79 ERA and 1.733 WHIP during his time in Baltimore. If you could do a straight-up swap of those numbers, it wouldn't be hard to imagine that the Orioles would feel significantly better about their 4th starter slot right about now.

Of course, a straight swap is unrealistic for any number of reasons, but most notably that Baltimore and Seattle are not exactly the same in terms of being run environments. Historically, Camden Yards has been a hitter's haven (say that five times fast) while Safeco Field has been more forgiving to pitchers. This may explain the differences in xFIP between the two: Miley has put up an acceptable 4.66 xFIP this year, with Miranda posting a 5.33. 

xFIP grants pitchers a league average home run rate, arguing that year-to-year fluctuations are essentially noise, and in Miley's case this may be accurate. Before coming to Baltimore, Miley was pretty good at limiting home runs. This year, however, Miley has one of the worst HR/9 marks in baseball at 1.43. So, we've solved it! Miley went to Baltimore and gives up a ton of homers, while Miranda got to go to a better park and gives up fewer homers. Done and done.

While that's a convenient narrative, it turns out to perhaps not be so simple. Miranda has somehow been worse than Miley this season, with a shocking 1.73 HR/9 rate. So how is Miranda even above water this season? Well, for one thing, he does a good job of limiting hard contact and having pretty good command. He gives up homers, to be sure, but he doesn't put a ton of baserunners on which limits the overall damage. Miley, on the other hand, is more like Oprah: "you have a walk, and you have a walk!" Wade is walking an almost unfathomable 5.4 hitters per game, which is both far and away the highest in baseball this year and the worst mark of his career. So, Miley lets guys get on base all the time while also allowing lots of homers. That is not a recipe for success. On the other hand, Miley has a better than league average strikeout rate while Miranda prefers to pitch to contact.

So, did Duquette screw up? Yes, but not necessarily because Miranda is actually a much better pitcher than Miley. I think the numbers indicate that, while Miley has better peripheral stats without question, it may be the case that those stats do not tell the whole story. Miranda is, ironically, a guy that seems to have the ability to outperform his peripherals while Miley does not. Miranda would actually fit in perfectly with the O's overall philosophy of "we literally do not care about ERA estimators," while Miley's stat sheet on Fangraphs indicates that he is an okay pitcher getting unlucky. Watching him pitch this year, however, throws about 500 gallons of cold water on that theory. Additionally, Miley consistently underperforms his peripherals and, really, does nothing particularly well other than generating ground balls. So, it's not that Miranda is so much better, it's that Miley is bad, has been bad for a while, and has gotten worse since the Orioles traded for him.

In the case of Miley vs. Miranda, we find in favor of (drum roll)....getting better pitchers! But seriously, folks, those pining for the Miranda who got away probably wouldn't be much happier if he was still here and Miley was not, though he also doesn't cost $10 million. Miranda probably wouldn't be a sub-4.50 ERA guy in Baltimore, but there's also nothing that necessarily indicates he'd be a plus-5.50 guy, either. Miley, unfortunately, is. That's reason enough to say that this deal isn't something Duquette should lead with in his next job interview.

26 July 2017

Checking in with Trey Mancini

Left fielder Trey Mancini has been one of the lone bright spots in the Baltimore Orioles 2017 campaign. In each of the previous two seasons, Mancini made his way into the top 10 in Baseball America's list of organizational prospects, and so far has fulfilled his promise at the Major League level. While most rookies can be expected to struggle some at the plate, Mancini has put up a slash line for the Orioles similar to what he was doing for the organization's minor league affiliates. His OPS with the Major League club has eclipsed that for all but one year of his time spent in the minors.

Today, Mancini ranks as the 38th best rookie since 2017 in wRC+, a measure of pure hitting ability. His 127 wRC+ indicates that he's batting 27% better than the league as a whole, similar to the offensive performance put up by Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and George Springer in their rookie seasons.

Earlier articles on this very website pointed to Mancini's very high HR/FB rate as a cause for his offensive performance, and a possible area of regression. When Mancini started the season, his 70% HR/FB rate was unsustainable, and it has fallen back to earth - kind of. His current 21.7% rate is still very high, 27th highest in the league among qualified hitters, but well within the range of an excellent power hitter.

However, Mancini hits ground balls too frequently to turn this HR/FB rate into the kind of attention that fellow rookie Aaron Judge is receiving. 50.7% of balls put into play by Mancini are ground balls, the 22nd highest rate in the league and mostly similar to league-average or below-average hitters.
As shown in the above batted ball trajectory chart, Mancini hits as many balls at steep downward angles (ie, into the dirt) as he does flat balls that are likely easily fielded grounders and balls at the 15 to 20 degree angle that are the most likely to be hits.

When hitting line drives and fly balls, the most preferable batted ball types, Mancini's average exit velocity of 96.4 miles per hour ranks 19th in the league this season. Of course, Mancini's average exit velocity is weaker when considering all batted ball types because he hits ground balls so frequently.

Notably, Mancini's power extends to all fields. Observe his spray chart, color-coded by exit velocity:
On balls in play that Mancini gets a solid bat on, he's generally hitting them to all fields. His weakly pulled grounders are not atypical for power hitters (and are the basis for shifting the infield against left-handed ones). That he hits line drives to all fields is notable, and promising for continued batting average success.

Most of the pitches Mancini sees are low and away. Most likely related: Mancini generally hits ground balls on pitches low and away that he puts into play. Fortunately, Mancini appears to exhibit a decent eye, swinging primarily at pitches middle and in:
While he has strong ground ball tendencies against pitches in all locations, Mancini is more likely to hit these middle-in pitches for fly balls, and hits line drives most frequently on pitches in the middle and bottom thirds of the zone. That he does a relatively good job of avoiding pitches that he almost definitely hits on the ground is another good sign for a 25-year-old who will likely rely on his bat to be a successful Major League ballplayer. If Mancini can avoid hitting as many balls into the dirt, he could improve his offensive performance even further.

Mancini is the Orioles' second best hitter this season in wRC+, and showing potential for consistent hitting and clear opportunities for improvement. The latter might not sound as positive, but identifying areas of weakness is a necessary first step toward improvement. If Mancini can reduce his GB% to something resembling the league average, or average among other power hitters, the Orioles might have a very scary hitter on their hands.

If the Orioles knew what they had on their hands in Mancini, they might not have been as eager to sign Chris Davis or Trumbo to longer-term and higher-priced contracts. As it stands, the Orioles have a good, young, controlled power hitter on their hands to fill the role of 1B/DH/OF-only-if-you-have-to.

25 July 2017

Cup of jO's: Zach Britton is Fine...Right Now

Over the past week, there has been a steady current of criticism toward Zach Britton's value.  Among the Baltimore faithful, there was hope that a Britton trade would bring back a bevy of talent similar to the Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller deals: a top 25 player, maybe a backend top 100 talent, and some prospect depth behind that.  However, there has been some dispute over that value.  To that end, I concur with the concerns about Britton's health.  The issue was never fully figured out and he needed lengthy time on the DL to sort things out.

The knock on his performance though has been interesting.  It began with a New York Post column where a scout was quoted about Britton's inability to pound the bottom of the zone.  It then led to a pretty sensationalistic article about Britton's performance on Beyond the Box Score and then a follow up one.

To test all of this, I decided to look at Britton's most recent outings where he has maintained a 96+ mph velocity similar to last year and consider metrics that are more useful in the short term.  Remember, it is important to use data that can answer your question.  Some of the failings in the articles above is that they use global 2017 data, which is not a good thing to do because you are suggesting that the entire 2017 season is representative to what Britton is now.  Post DL trip data might also be squirrelly because Britton was rusty.  You really want to see the peripherals light up and velocity can do that for you.

2016*: 96.3 mph
2017**: 96.5 mph

* July 5th to October 2nd, 2016
** July 16th to July 23rd, 2017

What we see here is that Britton is sustaining a velocity that is equal to what he did last year.  If you are worried about range, his lowest average velocity for his fastball was 96.3 and his highest was 96.7 over these last four outings.

So, how well has he hit the bottom third of the strike zone and just beyond the strike zone.

2016* 2017**
B 3rd 24% 34%
Ex B 3rd 19% 21%
43% 55%

This completely contradicts what the scout in the New York Post column said about Britton not being able to pound it low in the zone.  He is actually doing it numerically better this year than last year.

Here are a few other metrics that were noted in the columns above:

Swinging Strikes
2016*: 15.6%
2017**: 16.7%

Groundball Percentage
2016*: 79.1%
2017**: 84.6%

Hard Hit Balls
2016*: 12.8%


So, yes, any taker should be concerned about the injuries. I would not deal elite talent for Britton if I was given such a responsibility because I worry about that and the dent on payroll.  Performance-wise though, he looks to be firing on all cylinders.

Games Back: It's Kind of Complicated

Yesterday, I asked the site's followers for their opinion of when the probabilities are high enough to reach out and start buying at the trade deadline.  Overwhelmingly, they choose 50% with the caveat that some had others ideas like 40%, but 50% was closest to their perspective.  In turn, I wanted to compare those preferences to the Orioles' situation and how we think about playoff likelihood in a more traditional way.

Over the past few weeks, feverish attention has been placed on how many Games Back the Orioles are of either the AL East crown or, more often, the second Wild Card slot.  This attention often appears to coincide with a demand that the club is not out of the hunt and should not scatter players into the transaction wire wind.  However, Games Back as simple as it sounds is actually a rather difficult metric to comprehend.  If you think of each club as a particle moving through space, the distance between and the speed of both your particle and the particle you wish to overtake is needed, but also every other particle in the mix.  Just focusing on you and the leader gives you an incomplete view.

But what exactly is that incomplete view?  In this column, we will ignore probability metrics.  Those are probably the best way to figure out whether or not the club you root for is alive.  And, well, if you have resisted looking at them for perceived faults in their talent assumptions, then, well, I doubt this column will change your mind.  Instead, I will show you a different metric,  This one is called summed Games Back.

Summed Games Back is literally what it claims to be.  You simply add the number of Games Back the club is to the number of Games Back every club ahead of them is.  For instance, here are the standings from July 21, 2017:

AL Wild Card Detailed Standings
Tm W L GB GBsum
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/21/2017.

You will notice that the Orioles are shown as 8.5 GBsum vs. 3.5 GB.  That 8.5 summed GB number is the sum comes from adding the Orioles (3.5), Mariners (2.5), Royals (2.0), and Twins (1.0) Games Back values.  It is certainly a number that can fluctuate wildly.  For instance, if the Angels were a half game better, the Orioles would go from 8.5 to 11.5.  That inability to account for equal records certainly is a drawback (one that playoff probability metrics account for), but it is also a weak point in traditional Games Back approach.

So, let us compare GB vs. GBsum.  For this, I decided to look at all Wild Card races from 2012 until 2016 on July 25th.  I only looked at clubs who were five games or fewer Games Back.  I compared that placement with where they were at the end of the year.  That way we can decide what the probability of a placement is in getting a playoff entry.  I will do the same for those clubs, but use summed Games Back (regardless of that value for those teams that are 5 GB).  If GBsum is a better metric, then we will find that it will more accurately identify competitive teams.

When we batch numbers for Games Back from the second wild card from 2012-2016, something sticks out:

GB % PO GBsum % PO
0 50 0 50
1 and 2 21 1 to 3 21
3 and 4 9 4 to 9 13
5 11 10 to 14 0

Games back appears to be relatively useful in looking at how competitive a club might be until the data range between 3 and 5 Games Back.  At that point, it appears the probability sits around 10% without budging much while the 1 and 2 Games Back bucket sits comfortably twice as high in probability.  For the summed Games Back, there is a pretty consistent decrease in playoff probability.  Chances evaporate steadily through each bucket until you reach the bottom.

Where are the Orioles now, as I write this, they are 3.5 Games Back (suggesting ~10% likelihood) while they are 12.5 summed Games Back (suggesting 0% likelihood).  The larger take home would be this: 3.5 Games Back is a tough struggle to climb and a lot of data can be hidden in that number as you do not know how well other teams are doing.  Summed Games Back gives a better indication of who else is at play.  It suggests that the Orioles are in a situation where things are impossible.  If the Orioles do come back from 12.5 GBsum, it will be something no club has been able to do in the 2012 to 2016 window.

When it comes to that Twitter poll question, it seems fairly clear that maybe only about 1 in 20 Orioles fans think it is prudent for the club to buy and go for that Wild Card slot.  Most appear to think a club should only buy if it is sitting in the second wild card slot at the end of July.  A few more consider it practical to buy as long as a club is no more than two games back.  Then again, it may well be that most people and their perceived tolerance for probabilities are not in line with actual probabilities as they relate to Games Back.

Update: The Orioles won last night after I scheduled this for publication.  They currently are still 3.5 games out, but are now 9 summed Games Back.  This would put them squarely in the ~10% bracket.

24 July 2017

Minor League Defensive Shifts

Joe Reisel's Archives

It's been several years that defensive shifts - generally considered to be three infielders on one side of second base, as opposed to the standard two - have become more mainstream in the major leagues. Once reserved for use against the most extreme power hitters, it's now commonly used against any left-handed hitter who is not known as a slap hitter and against many right-handed power hitters. But it's only been the past three seasons or so that the practice has spread to the AAA minor-league level. Indeed, over the past three years Baseball Info Solutions has asked its scorers to record whether the batter has been shifted against.

Although different organizations employ defensive shifts at the AAA level with much more variety than at the major-league level, there is some consensus. Against the Norfolk Tides' Pedro Alvarez, almost every team plays three infielders between first and second, with one player positioned several yards out in the outfield. This should be completely unsurprising, as Alvarez has a long track record. The consensus is that he pulls almost all of the ground balls he hits, and he is not a fast runner. From a competitive standpoint, it makes no sense to station a defensive player where a ball won't be hit. Most of the AAA International League teams I've seen, including the Tides, will shift against Alvarez-like players.

On the other hand, the Charlotte Knights - the Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate - don't shift at all. Even against Pedro Alvarez, their shortstops stayed on the left side of second base. While that makes no sense from a competitive standpoint, it might make sense from a development standpoint. Yoan Moncada, the Knights' second baseman (until he was recently promoted), is a young potential star and the White Sox may not want to complicate his development by incorporating defensive shifts. Or, they may want their shortstops to demonstrate their range more effectively by stationing him further away from where balls are likely to be hit.

But Charlotte's lack of shifting against the Tides isn't interesting. More interesting is the team at the other end of the spectrum, the Durham Bulls. The Bulls are the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, a team historically at the forefront of the new wave of defensive shifting. The Bulls shift against Pedro Alvarez, as most teams do. They shift against David Washington, a similar although less extreme player; many teams employ a shift against him. But Durham also shifted against Johnny Giavotella, a right-handed hitting singles hitter, and Drew Dosch, a left-handed hitter making his AAA debut at age 25.

These shifts were generally successful; in the press box we commented and discussed how effective they were. It then struck me that this successful defensive positioning reveals something about the Tampa organization. Unlike the other organizations with teams in the International League, the Rays knew the offensive tendencies of Giavotella and Dosch. While the Rays may have assembled a dossier on Giavotella from his major-league time in the American League, they cared enough to pass that information down to Durham. And, because the Rays' A, Advanced A, and AA teams are in leagues different from the Orioles', they couldn't have personally seen Dosch play and so relied on their scouts or video for their information.

To me, at least, this illustrates that the Rays, as a organization, focus on gathering and disseminating information.. They care enough to collect data even on marginal prospects like Drew Dosch. Presumably, they care enough to tell the Durham field management to shift against unusual candidates like Dosch and Johnny Giavotella; at least, they encourage Durham to employ such shifts. The Rays organization is willing to explore non-standard methods to win more games.

And this information-gathering is cheap. The data-gathering and video review would be done by interns or entry-level employees. The information can be sent for free via email. It's unlikely to be substantially more expensive to hire minor-league managers and coaches open to new uses of information than those who are more resistant. There may be advantages to having players used to shifting at the minor-league level, rather than learning at the major-league level.

All of this is speculation and opinion; I don't know if any of what I've seen makes a difference or if my conclusions are valid. I do know that I'll be more interested in the Rays over the next few years than I would have been without having seen Durham shift so frequently.

21 July 2017

Caleb Joseph Has Recovered Nicely

At the plate, Caleb Joseph was about as bad as you could be last season. It was a painful year for him, and it's unknown exactly how much of an effect the injury had on his performance. So far this season, there are two noteworthy items for Joseph. First, he's healthy. And second, he's hitting extremely well for a backup catcher.

Joseph already has 21 more plate appearances than last year, so let's take a look at his 2016 vs. 2017:

2016: 141 PA, 6 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR
2017: 162 PA, 108 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR

Out of all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Joseph's 108 wRC+ is tied for 12th. Welington Castillo is 24th with a 91 wRC+. And, just for fun, Matt Wieters (71 wRC+) is tied for 40th out of 52.

Yes, as it's worth pointing out again, Joseph had a wRC+ of 6 last year. Six!!! And, notably, he didn't drive in a single run. It was an anomaly, it didn't make sense, and it was kind of funny (not to Joseph, of course).

So what's new for Joseph this year? Let's dig a little deeper. First, it's hard to ignore his BABIP increase of 164 points from last year to this year. Right now, Joseph has a BABIP of .385. You don't need me to tell you that isn't likely to stay so high. Still, if anyone was due some better fortune, it was probably Joseph. It also helps that he's hitting the ball harder (32.5 Hard% in 2017 vs. 21.7% in 2016).

And not only is Joseph hitting the ball harder, but he's pulling it more as well. Just take a look at his spray heatmaps in 2016 vs. 2017, courtesy of Baseball Savant:

Spray Heatmap for 2016

Spray Heatmap for 2017

That's less of an up-the-middle/opposite-field approach and a lot more pulled baseballs that are hit with increased authority.

Joseph has talked about having more confidence and putting in extra work, and things are going well for him right now. In all likelihood, with a BABIP regression, Joseph is closer to the range of 71-87 wRC+ he posted in 2014 and 2015. That may not be amazing, but when accounting for his pitch-framing skills, that makes a more-than-useful catcher, let alone one that's being used in a backup role. And, obviously, the dreadful 6 wRC+ season seems very much like a fluke.

Joseph is clearly the superior pitch-framer to Castillo, and he's currently performing better with the bat as well. Joseph's rebound has been one of the bright spots of a difficult O's season, and he's a major reason why the O's would be just fine if they're able to find a taker for Castillo and his 2018 player option (which may be no small feat).

20 July 2017

The End Of Round One At The Appellate Court

The latest chapter in the MASN saga was written on Thursday, when the appellate court released a decision about the latest set of appeals. As a refresher, back in 2012, MASN and the Nationals attempted to agree upon fair rights fees for 2012-2016. Using the Bortz methodology, MASN proposed that fair rights fees for the 5 year period was $198 Million. The Nationals, based on models built by Chris Bevilacqua, felt that fair rights fees were $590 million over the 5 year period. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement, so they requested that the RSDC decide.

MLB decided that it was in the interests of all parties for MASN, the Nationals and the Orioles to come to an agreement instead of the RSDC mandating a solution, so they did their best to buy time until it became clear that the two sides would not come to an agreement. When MLB did decide to release the RSDCs solution in 2014, MASN felt that they didn’t receive a fair hearing from the RSDC and appealed this decision in court. Judge Marks ruled in November 2015 that the RSDC decision was indeed unfair and should be vacated but that the RSDC was a possible venue to re-arbitrate this case. Both the Orioles and the Nationals appealed this court ruling and on Thursday, the appellate court ruled on this set of appeals.

The first decision they made was a unanimous decision that the original RSDC decision should be vacated. The second decision they made is that the appropriate venue to re-arbitrate the case is the RSDC by a margin of 3-2. A party is only allowed to appeal a decision that was agreed upon by three judges, so MASN is able to appeal the decision that the RSDC is the appropriate venue to make a decision about rights fees, but the Nationals are unable to appeal the decision to vacate the RSDCs original decision.

The only permanent consequence of this latest ruling by the appellate court is that the RSDCs original decision can’t be reinstated and that the only remaining discussion is which venue will re-arbitrate the case. The Nationals and MLB want the RSDC to be that venue while MASN and the Orioles want an independent forum such as the AAA to be that venue. However, the Nationals feel that this court ruling suggests that the full appellate court will decide that the appropriate venue to hear this case is the RSDC and not an independent venue.

The concurring opinion decided that the RSDC is the appropriate venue because there is no proof that the current members of the RSDC are biased against MASN or the Orioles and that the Nationals have agreed to use different representation in this rehearing.  They further claimed that all the parties made an educated decision to use the RSDC as the arbitrating venue in the original contract, despite knowing the fact that MLB has significant influence over the RSDCs decision.

The authors were not sympathetic to MASNs claim that the $25 million that MLB paid the Nationals will bias the RSDCs decision against MASN. They believe that this $25 million payment gave the parties more time to come to a mutually agreeable decision about rights fees and MLB had good intentions when making the loan. Therefore, they felt it would not be right to punish MLB for making this loan by saying that it would give MLB a stake in the decision and motivate them to bias the new members on the RSDC to make an unfair decision against MASN.

Finally, the authors also felt that there was no guarantee that arbitrators selected by the AAA could also be free of all bias. All arbitrators would be required to have expertise in professional sports and broadcast fees. Such experts may well not be independent of MLB and therefore this could mean that even independent arbitrators wouldn’t solve the problem.

The minority dissenting opinion, issued by the Chief Justice, stated that this case should be re-arbitrated in a different forum because the RSDC will be biased due to MLBs interest in the case. Unlike the concurring opinion issued by a plurality, this opinion feels that the court has the right to change an agreed upon venue if “the forum is shown to be so corrupt or biased as to undermine the reasonable expectations of the parties to have a fundamentally fair hearing”. He believes that MASN is correct to suspect that they won’t receive a fundamentally fair hearing in part due to MLB’s apparent lack of fairness at the first hearing, MLBs direct monetary stake in the case of $25M, evidence that MLB is supporting the Nationals and actively opposing MASN, and evidence of the current Commissioner's personal involvement in the prior arbitration, including the drafting of the vacated award, and his publicly stated views about the dispute.

Ultimately, the primary point that this case will hinge upon is the connection between the members of the RSDC and MLB. The majority of judges that decided not to send this case to a different venue did so because they aren’t convinced that the current set of members of the RSDC are biased and therefore feel that MASN can receive a fair arbitration hearing in this venue. The two judges that disagreed did so because they felt that MLB is able to bias the RSDC. MASN will need to convince the members of the court that the RSDC is vulnerable to pressure from MLB. In general, courts don’t like to change the terms in a contract unless there are extraordinary events that compel them to do so.

MASN should probably point out some inconsistencies in the concurring opinion’s argument. For example, the concurring opinion argues that MASN was well aware that the RSDC is significantly influenced by MLB. It further argues that MASN decided to waive the opportunity to mediate this dispute in front of the AAA or JAMS, electing to have this dispute heard in front of the RSDC and that the only reason why MASN has changed its mind is because they’re unhappy with the decision the RSDC made the first time.

Such an argument seems unreasonable. It is more plausible that MASN was perfectly willing to submit to the RSDC for arbitration until they and MLB went through a process in which MASNs concerns were completely ignored, and the whole arbitration hearing itself was ultimately thrown out for evident partiality. Given that few arbitration results are thrown out for evident partiality, it seems unreasonable to presume that MASN could have predicted the lengths that MLB would go to in order to receive its desired result. Certainly, this case would have been resolved by now if the first hearing was fairly run.

It is interesting that the Nationals put out a press release stating that they won a major legal victory when the court ruled that the case should be reheard in front of the RSDC instead of a different venue. Yet, the alternative to this was having the case heard in front of an independent arbitrator such as the AAA. Certainly, the AAA can’t be accused of being biased for MASN or the Orioles. If MASNs request isn’t fair, then the AAA will decide a different amount. So, if the Nationals think that they won a huge legal victory by having this case reheard by the RSDC, it perhaps suggests that they think that they’ll have an unfair advantage in this forum.

This becomes more evident when one considers that the RSDC originally determined that the fair rights fees should be closer to what MASN suggested than what the Nationals requested. If the Nationals felt that their request was credible, then they should hope to have their case heard in front of a different forum. The fact that they think that having this case heard in a forum that offered them less than what they requested is a “major legal victory” suggests that they know something about the forum that isn’t public knowledge.

One might think that this point is largely irrelevant to the overall picture. After all, the case will hinge on whether the appellate court thinks the arbitrators can judge this case fairly. However, the dissenting opinion did mention that the commissioners’ public statements were a reason why they decided that the RSDC wasn’t a proper forum for this case. It very well could be that unwise comments will convince the court to rule one way or another.

MASN and the Orioles are expected to appeal the decision by the appellate court to have this case judged by the same venue. In addition, it is possible that the Nationals and MLB will attempt to force MASN to submit to another arbitration in front of the RSDC.

Thursday’s decision had the potential to have a significant impact on the MASN dispute by determining where the second ruling will take place. A decision decisively in favor of one of the parties would have gone a long way towards bringing this dispute to its ultimate end. Instead, the appellate court was unable to come to a decisive decision and therefore this case will go for a second round at the appellate court.

19 July 2017

As Wade Miley Falls into the Abyss, Should O's Should Let Him Go?

At the halfway point, the Orioles were in a fix for starting pitching.  Feel free to copy that onto your clipboard for any retrospective application to the Duquette dynasty, a bit before, and likely into the perceptible future.  The Orioles always have seemed to be in a bit of a quandary when it comes to the rotation.  Even in 2014, the first half's rotation was a bit squirrelly with collective memory bronzing the dominant second half collective sub-2.50 performance delivered by Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen.  Gausman and Norris back filled sun-4.00 ERAs as well.  Those indeed were the salad days.

Last year was not that.  Last year saw some struggle.  Of course, those struggles look pretty cheerful now with a rotation that is currently the worst in franchise history.  Anyway, the club spent all of July looking for another starting pitcher and wound up looking at Wade Miley.  It would be the second "proven veteran" for "journeyman minor leaguer" the Orioles and Mariners arranged for the 2016 season.  The first one sent Twitter aficionado and Arrieta trade return Steve Clevenger for 1B/DH/?RF? Mark Trumbo.  That one worked out pretty well for the Orioles.  This second one with aged Cuban prospect Ariel Miranda for better-on-paper Wade Miley has been much more uneven.

Better-on-paper is a good way to describe Wade Miley.  He gets ground balls, he strikes out batters, and allows few walks.  However, what the Red Sox and Mariners found out was that he also tends to have problems elevating his pitches.  It could make him homer prone at times.  Also, the recent trend to try to uppercut pitches is not as well spread a thing as the media would have you believe, but it is enough of a trend to drastically impact pitchers who heavily really on sinking action.  A pitcher like Wade Miley, who employs heavily a good but not great sinker, is often presenting a pitch on the same plane as a batter who is trying to uppercut the ball.  His career home runs per fly ball norm of around 10% jump to 16% last year and now sits at 20% this year.  League norm is around 10%.  This has been somewhat devastating to Miley.

In turn, it has made Miley more skittish around the plate.  Longer innings and longer fly balls have turned into a sky rocketing walk rate.  In part, this walk rate has been negatively impacted by Welington Castillo's pitch framing butchery, but that does not seem to explain all of it.  Regardless, the home run rate and walk rate have sputtered a solid, if unspectacular, four slot pitcher into a fringey more back end arm.

This October, the Orioles will be staring at a choice.  Should they pick up Miley's option for a final year at 12 MM or should they pay him 500k to depart.  Miley appears to be a degrading commodity.  Two heavy analytical groups (Boston and Seattle) quickly gave up on an arm typically appreciated by more analytical types.  I wondered what exactly would my BORAS model think of Miley now.  Last year, the BORAS model once again nailed pitching contracts (though, admittedly it was terrible at position players unlike previous seasons where the model did well for both).  Last year, the model saw Miley as a 3/36 player if he was on the free agent pile last year.  Now? It pegs him as a 2/16 player.

What I want to use BORAS for though is to compare what pitchers are similar to the 11.5 MM cost of Miley and also who does BORAS consider similar to Miley's 8 MM projection.  First, BORAS thought no one would see a one year contract above 7.1 MM (Francisco Liriano).  To expand that to two years just to have some names to throw around: CC Sabathia (11.1 MM), Scott Feldman (10.7 MM), and Clayton Richard (10 MM).  Those three are older pitchers, who have performed about average recently.  Does it make sense to lock in a second year for one of those pitchers at the same cost?  I would argue no.  I think Miley is just as likely to put up a 2 WAR season as any of those guys, especially Feldman or Richard.

So what level of performance does BORAS think Miley is at?  Similar pitchers would be Yovani Gallardo (2/14), Tyson Ross (2/13), Liriano (7.1), and Hector Santiago (2/11).  All of these pitchers fit the same mold, two years ago they were pretty decent.  They are the inverse of Feldman and Richard.  And this is where the conversation gets interesting.  Is Miley worth a 3 MM premium on his services or do you role the dice on two lesser projected arm like Brett Anderson (1/6), Derek Holland (1/5), Miguel Gonzalez (1/6) or Chris Tillman (1/5.5).

In the end, my considerations are this: Miley is a one year contract for a player who is healthy, has shown an uncharacteristic walk rate, and whose alternatives are not clear improvements or represent big savings.  Two rough seasons in a row is not a good look.  It is concerning.  However, this club has few options in the starting rotation.  Sinking in similar money for a long contract FA option like Marco Estrada (3/34) or Andrew Cashner (3/38) seems to be poorer options.  Going with Mike Wright or Tyler Wilson also seems to be inadvisable.

So, picking up Wade Miley's option looks like the best of poor options.  He is young.  He has pitched well before.  It is only a one year endeavor at this point and looks similar to the 1/10.5 contract the Rangers inked Cashner to before this season.  Those attributes might push Miley up to a similar deal given how thin starting pitching options are almost every year.

Below are the current BORAS contract projections (7/18):

   Age     Yr        Total
Yu Darvish 31 6 118
Jason Vargas 35 4 80
Jake Arrieta 32 3 45
Alex Cobb 30 4 53
Lance Lynn 31 3 42
Jaime Garcia 31 3 42
Trevor Cahill 30 3 47
Tyler Chatwood 28 4 57
Andrew Cashner 31 3 38
Marco Estrada 34 3 35
CC Sabathia 37 2 25
Scott Feldman 35 2 22
Clayton Richard 34 2 22
Jhoulys Chacin 30 3 28
Jeremy Hellickson 31 3 31
Yovani Gallardo 32 2 14
Wade Miley 31 2 16
Tyson Ross 31 2 13
Francisco Liriano 34 1 7
Hector Santiago 30 2 11
Miguel Gonzalez 34 1 6
Brett Anderson 30 1 6
Derek Holland 31 1 5
Chris Tillman 30 1 6

18 July 2017

Orioles Can't Hit Breaking Pitches To Save Their Lives

On the third of April, Mark Trumbo kicked off the 2017 Orioles’ season in dramatic fashion: a walk-off home run in extra innings.  The Birds were undefeated and Eutaw Street was euphoric.  Ah, the good old days.

On the fourth of April, I wrote a column about Mr. Trumbo, warning that his struggles against breaking pitches might ultimately undo his murderous-prowess against straight stuff. 

Well, that malaise seems to have caught on with the whole club.  On Sunday, that ineptitude was on display against the Chicago Cubs and their shiny-new toy, Jose Quintana.  In his debut, Quintana made short work of the Orioles, fanning twelve in seven innings of work. 

The Orioles seemed particularly befuddled by the Colombian lefty’s curveball.  They swung at 46% of such offerings, but whiffed nearly a third of those instances.  It’s not an isolated incident, either. 

Breaking pitches have been a bugaboo for the Orioles’ batters, all season.  In fact, they’re probably better off NOT swinging at them at all.  Here’s how some of the Orioles’ mainstays have fared against curveballs, thus far:

Trouble With The Curve 
  • Seth Smith (31.92% Whiff/Swing, .190 BAA, .066 ISO)
  • Manny Machado (32.34% Whiff/Swing, .213 BAA, .142 ISO)
  • Mark Trumbo (36.46% Whiff/Swing, .212 BAA, .182 ISO)
  • Welington Castillo (37.00% Whiff/Swing, .220 BAA, .093 ISO)
  • Adam Jones (37.58% Whiff/Swing, .260 BAA, .156 ISO)
  • Jonathan Schoop (37.66% Whiff/Swing, .215 BAA, .199 ISO)
  • Trey Mancini (41.89% Whiff/Swing, .206 BAA, .000 ISO)
  • Chris Davis (43.91% Whiff/Swing, .187 BAA, .170 ISO)

Even the world’s best hitters aren’t expected to hit the moon against some of the nastier offerings MLB pitchers have to offer.  As Barry Bonds once said, “If you make your pitch, you can get me out.” 

The Orioles’ line-up is heavy on sluggers, waiting for a bit of dead-red heat to jack into the stratosphere.  The result: as a club, they rank in the “top” ten in baseball for strikeouts, and are in the bottom five for walks.  The approach sorely needs some refinement. 

Of course, it’s easy for someone like me to sit back and tell them they should sit on pitches.  However, if the Orioles can temper their aggression a bit – and lay off a few pitches that end in the dirt – maybe they can start working some counts in their favor and stop striking out so darn much.   

17 July 2017

Does a Trade Market for Manny Machado Even Exist at the 2017 Trade Deadline?

Following a sweep at the hands of the Cubs and losing 8 of their last 10 games, the Orioles pretty much find themselves out of the playoff race. They are tied for last place in the AL East and sit 8.5 games from first. The wild card position(s) are essentially lost as well, as the team is behind by 6 games, with the additional daunting task of having to pass 6 teams currently in front of them to grab that second spot. Fangraphs gives the Orioles a 2.8% chance of them making the playoffs in any form. The only teams in the American League with a smaller chance are the Athletics and White Sox.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Orioles are preparing for what a lot of us had already believed.

Manny Machado (photo via Keith Allison)
The Orioles could go a number of directions as they start selling of pieces, and Camden Depot has looked at several players who could (and should) be traded at the deadline already. Of course, the biggest asset the Orioles have to trade is Manny Machado. A trade of Machado would be the best way to inject some life into the Orioles somewhat barren (but likely slightly improved) minor league system. But is there even a market for Machado at the 2017 trade deadline?

AL East

Machado would actually be a good fit for the Yankees or Red Sox, as they both have a glaring need for him and they would have the needed prospects to get him. The Rays could use him at shortstop, but … you know what I am just going to stop myself there because a trade of Machado within the AL East is just not happening.

AL Central

In the AL Central, Machado doesn’t represent an upgrade at SS or 3B for Cleveland, so they’re out. The Twins are in contention, have the prospects/players to make a deal, but probably won’t want to part with the necessary pieces to get Machado as they are very early in their rebuild and playing over their heads. The Royals could use an upgrade at SS, but probably don’t have the players (in the minors or on the major league team) to make a deal work.

AL West

The Astros would be a good fit for Machado, and Matt and Jon worked together to come up with a possible package that would likely get a deal done a couple of weeks ago. The problem is since the Astros already have the division locked up (and are REALLY good already), they don’t NEED Machado and may not be willing to give up a big package for him as a result. The Mariners and Rangers aren’t good fits, seeing as they’re on the edge of contention and also have pretty good players locked in to both the SS and 3B positions.

NL East

The Nationals don’t have a spot for Machado, and have other more glaring needs to fill (which they may have just done). The rest of the division is terrible.

NL Central

The teams in the NL Central don’t appear to be fits either. The Cubs infield is already full and they need pitching. The Brewers are in a similar spot as the Twins (they are early in their rebuild). Additionally, third baseman Travis Shaw has been a more than a full win better than Machado in 2017, and shortstop Orlando Arcia is playing better lately as well, so it’s arguable that the 2017 version of Manny Machado wouldn’t even be an upgrade. The Cardinals could use Machado, but their 2017 playoff odds aren’t too great either, so they are unlikely to make that deal.

NL West

In the NL West, there are no contending teams where Machado would be an upgrade at 3B. The Diamondbacks and Rockies could use him at SS, however, they are clearly out of the division race and would probably balk at giving up a substantial package of players for Machado, only for the opportunity to reach the wild card game.


So, was this article a futile exercise? Absolutely! I don’t believe the Orioles will be trading Manny Machado at the 2017 trade deadline, and word on the street (according to Ken Rosenthal) is that the Orioles aren’t even considering it. However, even if they were, the market for Machado this year just doesn’t appear to be there (it obviously hasn’t helped that he’s having a down year). The best fits are in the AL East, which as stated before, is not happening. Houston is probably the most realistic destination, but they’re roster is so good (and incredibly deep), that they don’t need him (they also should be focused on pitching instead). The market for Machado just isn’t there at the 2017 deadline, so even if they Orioles would want to trade him, they’d be better off waiting until the offseason.

14 July 2017

Orioles Face Crucial Decisions On Manny Machado And Zach Britton

Are you expecting the Orioles to make any major splashes around the trade deadline? I'm not. I can't see the Orioles throwing in the towel even if they're within striking distance of a playoff spot, and I don't believe they'll trade away Manny Machado. Perhaps the Orioles could move Zach Britton, since they've shown a willingness in the past to trade away an expensive closer (Jim Johnson). But that deal also happened in the offseason and involved a less talented pitcher.

I wouldn't hesitate to trade Britton for a lucrative haul of prospects, but there are worse things than not giving up on the rest of 2017 and 2018. The 2017 version of the Orioles (42-46, -78 run differential) is underwhelming, but if you squint hard enough, you can see how they could return to their winning ways next season. These are their scheduled free agents of note:

Ubaldo Jimenez
Chris Tillman
Seth Smith
Hyun Soo Kim
Ryan Flaherty

J.J. Hardy has a $14 million club option ($2 million buyout), Wade Miley has a $12 million club option ($500,000 buyout), and Welington Castillo has a $7 million player option (you know, completely different than an opt-out clause).

Are you that worried about losing those players? You shouldn't be. Maybe you would be if the production levels for Hardy and Tillman hadn't dropped off precipitously this season, but, well, they did.

Unfortunately, even if the Orioles bring Miley back next season, they'll still need to add a couple of starting pitchers, along with a shortstop (or at least someone to play second base, shortstop, or third base if they juggle infield positioning) and a corner outfielder or two (and that's just the bare minimum). That's not the easiest thing to do with about $30 or $40 million to spend, depending on payroll.

Regardless of roster construction, there are major decisions that must be made. What happens with Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette? Like Machado, their contracts expire after 2018. It would be less than ideal for Duquette to be the one shaping the future of the O's if he's not in the organization's long-term plans. Showalter's best fit is in the dugout, and any potential shift to the front office would mean the O's need a new manager and still leave plenty of questions. Who knows at this point what Showalter even wants. With Duquette, we've seen that he has a desire to move on, at least for a higher-ranking position.

As good as Britton is, the real issue is how all of this affects Machado. Maybe Peter Angelos and co. intend to let him play out his deal before throwing everything they have at him to entice him to stay. That would be pretty similar to what happened with Chris Davis (so much deferred money!), except Machado could very well be headed for a contract worth twice as much or more. Extending Machado in the offseason would be wonderful, but he's so close to free agency that there's essentially no chance of that happening. So how much faith do you have in the Orioles outspending MLB's richest teams for one of the game's best players?

You get why ownership would want to wait, both because they want to hold on to any chance of competing and Duquette's and Showalter's statuses are unclear. Orioles ownership is also seemingly opposed to taking the necessary steps to implement a full rebuild, so clinging to even minuscule playoff chances might seem more enticing than having no real plan and just hoping things work out for the best.

Waiting, though, is fine sometimes, and it might look even better because of Machado's offensive struggles and Britton's recent return from injury. But no matter what, these are decisions that could lengthen the time between this current run of competitiveness and the next one. An Orioles team without Machado is not as exciting, but there still would be a path to success. Letting him play out his contract and then having him walk for nothing not only leaves a crater in the infield, but also in the minors where an influx of talent could help immensely.

These are not easy decisions. These are crucial decisions that will shape the Orioles for years to come. It's hard not to think this is a lose-lose situation. You can faintly see a path to success in all this, but you wouldn't count on it. Kind of like the 2017 Orioles.

13 July 2017

Should The Orioles Trade For Maikel Franco?

Like it or lump it, the Orioles consider themselves buyers. It appears that they want to take advantage of the next two years before they need to decide which free agents they want to keep. So, the Orioles should be interested in the rumor that the Phillies have made Maikel Franco available. Canfardo argues that Franco has had a poor season, hitting .227 with eight homers and 36 RBIs and his game has really gone downhill after showing so much promise last season when he hit 25 homers and knocked in 88 runs. CSN Philly has also heard that Franco is available, but the price will be high. The Orioles have received minimal production from shortstop, and this is probably Hardy’s last year with the club. Should the Orioles consider trading for Franco and moving Machado to shortstop?

The Philadelphia Daily News had an article last month suggesting that Franco should be demoted to AAA because he’s unable to recognize pitches. He argues that Franco is so strong that he’s able to make contact with horrible pitches, but isn’t able to do much with them and that Franco has a strikeout problem. According to Heyman, the Phillies think that Franco has suffered because he’s paid too much attention to analytics and is focusing overly much on exit velocity and launch angle.

There’s no question that Franco is struggling, as he has only a .220/.277/.389 line so far this season. However, his problem isn’t with his walk and strikeout rate. A walk rate of 7.3% is perfectly respectable, especially when he has a strikeout rate of only 13.4%. Franco is swinging at 71% of pitches in the strike zone, good for 25th out of 165 batters while swinging at only 26% of pitches out of the strike zone, good for 96th out of 165. It doesn’t seem like his problem is pitch recognition and its false to suggest that he has a strikeout problem.

Where he has struggled this season is when he puts the ball into play. Franco only has a .307 wOBA when putting pitches into play this season, good for 159th out of 165 batters. He ranks 155th out of 165 batters when putting pitches in the strike zone into play this season, suggesting that his struggles aren’t due to swinging at bad pitches. He’s simply showing an inability to do damage.

Statcast tells a better story. According to Statcast, Franco only has a .300 wOBA when putting pitches into play this season, but should have a .326 wOBA. If he did have a .326 wOBA against pitches in play, it would improve his performance from a .289 wOBA to a .310 wOBA. League average is .321, so such an improvement would take him from bad to merely below average. This makes him a slightly more attractive trade option.

This is considerably worse than his numbers in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Franco had an actual wOBA when putting pitches into play of .396 and an expected wOBA of .369. A .396 wOBA in such situations would give him an overall wOBA of .365 while a wOBA of .369 in these situations would give him an overall wOBA of .344. If he could replicate either of these stats, he would be at minimum above average. Having a wOBA of .365 would make him a star, although that’s probably unrealistic to expect.

In 2016, Franco had an actual wOBA when putting pitches into play of .354 and an expected wOBA of .364. In both 2015 and 2016, his expected results were pretty similar even if there was variation in his actual results. In addition, having a wOBA of .365 when putting pitches into play would make Franco a successful hitter. He would have a .340 wOBA if he had results similar to his expected results and a .333 wOBA if he had results similar to his actual results. Either would be perfectly respectable for a third baseman eligible for arbitration that isn’t yet in his prime.

However, his 2017 numbers are significantly worse. A look at his production based on distance groups shows the reason why.

Franco has a similar percentage from 2015 to 2017 of the type of pitches he puts into play. 70-75 percent of pitches that he puts into play are in the first two categories, which is acceptable. The problem is that he’s struggling against pitches that are more than half a foot away from the center of the plate. This suggests that he’s having issues with his range and that his problems in 2017 could be real. If he’s only able to do damage on pitches that are close to the center of the plate, then pitchers will be able to destroy him by throwing pitches that are still strikes but farther away from the plate. Such a strategy will force him to swing at fewer pitches and make it difficult for him to do any damage offensively. If so, one would expect his strikeout rate to increase significantly. In addition, looking at his actual production versus his expected production makes the case for him look even grimmer.

Franco is doing especially worse than expected against pitches that aren’t close to the strike zone. This could suggest poor luck, or it could suggest that he’s vulnerable to shifting and that his results shouldn’t be expected to improve. It could also suggest that he is focusing overly much on velocity and launch angle and that is impacting his range.

This problem really should define how one judges Franco. If one thinks that this range problem is a fluke, then he probably should be considered an above average hitter. Given his average defense at third base, this probably makes him somewhere between a 2 and 2.5 win player. He’s 24 right now, and will likely be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two next year. This means he’s under team control for the next four and a half years or for a good chunk of his prime. If he improves during his prime, he’d be able to contribute nine surplus wins. If one valued him this highly, then it would take a few prospects in addition to Sisco to make a deal.

On the other hand, if one thinks that this isn’t a fluke, then Franco is probably a below average hitter. If he continues to degrade in this regard, then he’ll quickly become nothing more than a platoon bat against left handed pitching. In such a case, his value would be close to zero.

I'm not fully sure what this means and would want a scout's opinion before making a definite statement. But I would think that this is a worrisome sign, and would lower my valuation of Franco accordingly. Going forward, I would project him to be an average batter and maybe worth 1.5 fWAR per year for the next four years. This wouldn’t make him a star by any means, but it would allow him to be an acceptable regular until he reaches free agency. It is likely that the Phillies are hoping is value is higher.

Franco is a very high risk trade option. Unless the Phillies are in love with one of the Orioles prospects or they’ve actually given up on Franco, there’s too much uncertainty to make a deal. I'd pass.

12 July 2017

What Having the Best Record Over 5 Years Earns You

As many know, the Orioles have been the winningest team in the American League over the last 5 seasons. This sounds like an accomplishment! If nothing else, it means that the team was consistently good. Despite this fact sounding like praise, it has always struck me as being both meaningless (a 5 season window of time is arbitrary), a sign of good luck (no MLB-level young arms were blown out), and irrelevant (so what?).

For some reason, the below tweet sent by this site's proprietor felt like something that needed to be addressed:

I agree with the sentiment. It's difficult to complain about a GM that has steered the team if not into ultimate success, at least toward consistent competency. Considering the 20 years of Orioles baseball that took place prior to Duquette's leadership, that can be considered a positive.

At the same time, being the winningest team over the span of 5 years strikes me as a hollow victory. It may mean that the team was consistently good, but was it consistency or quality that led to the accomplishment? I'm not advocating for the removal of Duquette by saying he did nothing, but I am questioning whether this marker of success is really all that important in the first place.

So I started digging, and generated a list of the winningest teams over rolling 5 year spans from 1997-2016. If you're not a fan of the Yankees, consider yourself warned for what you're about to see:
The first thing I notice when I see this list is that the Orioles have the fewest wins among all winningest teams over a rolling 5 year period. That's not necessarily an indicator of being somehow less worthy of the claim. The AL, and the East specifically, could be more competitive now than it was over the previous decade, making it more difficult to dominate over 5 years and more likely that the winningest team simply avoided disastrous seasons. One the other hand, this potentially points more to consistency being the key to the Orioles' 5-year run than quality of play. As in, the Orioles never dominated, but they never disappeared from the conversation either. "He was around," is more of a statement than a compliment, in my opinion.

But the Orioles were the winningest team over the last 5 years, a feat that we can't take away from them. So what does that earn them? Clearly not a World Series win, and not even a World Series appearance. How common is that?

Among the 32 distinct (I'm treating them a such but obviously many of these teams carry rosters and recent postseason accomplishments over year to year) teams to claim the status of the winningest team over the last 5 years, six failed to make a World Series at some point in their 5-year reign. Only four teams made three or fewer postseason appearances over their 5-year roll without also reaching a World Series. Only three teams made two appearances without a World Series outside of a Wild Card loss (which is hardly a postseason appearance): the 2011-2015 Yankees, the 2009-2013 Braves, and the 2012-2016 Orioles.

In my opinion, this makes being the winningest team over a 5 year span more impressive: most teams that claim the accomplishment also claim at the very least a World Series appearance, and 18 have at least one World Series title in that 5-year period. It also makes the Orioles' inability to get deeper into the postseason more frustrating. Based on recent history, a 5-year run as the winningest team in the league should mean that they run into more postseason success by virtue of trying relatively frequently.

This gets back to the whether this accomplishment is driven by consistency or quality, and starts to look more like the Orioles were either very unlucky or riding a wave of consistency without the added benefit of being really good.

Is that a knock on Duquette? Not particularly. Duquette has done a great job of filling out the roster and not resting when he hits on an unheralded player. He's added marginal wins wherever possible, and that's the job of a GM that has a competitive team - which the Orioles ostensibly did. He did not win a World Series with this team, likely because the team, while consistent, was never a head and shoulders above the competition.

Is the status of winningest team over the last 5 years noteworthy? Sure, maybe moreso than I thought. However, I don't know that I'd be bragging about it if I failed to turn it into any really notable postseason appearances.