31 January 2018

Whose WAR is Whose? Duquette vs. MacPhail and others

If you have traveled the provincial lands surrounding Baltimore you get a general feeling that people believe the Orioles' success derives from Dan Duquette riding on Andy MacPhail's coat tails of talent.  You will hear how with the Adam Jones deal or the Chris Davis deal or drafting Manny Machado that the Orioles would have been toiling at the bottom of the Al East instead of being one of the most winningest teams in baseball during the Duquette reign.  However, when one looks at the MacPhail era that feeling seems more like a glass is half full perspective of MacPhail; or, more likely, a glass is half empty view of Duquette.

One of the difficulties is assigning responsibility for a team's well being is that so much falls outside of the control of the general manager.  For instance, you only have so many Billy Beanes who have been the main caretaker of a club for nearly two decades.  Whatever happens with the Athletics, you can place that at the feet of Beane.  With the Orioles, Duquette inherited a franchise that was largely tended by MacPhail with a lingering presence of Mike Flanagan and a wisp of Syd Thrift.  It is a hard line to cut because inheriting those players also means deciding what to do with them.

Below we present the proportion of fWAR by players drafted or acquired by each General Manager:
2012: 29.1 fWAR
2013: 38.2 fWAR
2014: 42.8 fWAR
2015: 32.7 fWAR
2016: 35.3 fWAR
2017: 21.4 fWAR
So what was Duquette handed?  He was handed a team with a strong partial starting squad and gaping wounds at starting pitcher.  MacPhail's group could not figure out how to develop guys like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, and Jake Arrieta.  Duquette's record in continuing their development is mixed, but he knew the area was a weakness and supplemented it as best as he could.  He turned the fading career of Jeremy Guthrie into a solid performance by Jason Hammel and a useful piece in Matt Lindstrom that led to an essential September performance of local product Joe Saunders.  In addition to that, Duquette added on Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.  Tinkering with Tillman saw his velocity return and his pitchability.  It cannot be denied that 2012's playoff run was built on Duquette's ability to take a ruinous starting rotation and find the pieces to create a passable one.  That was a remarkable accomplishment and it cost the club relatively nothing in terms of money and prospects.  It is perhaps the greatest series of moves he has made while with the Orioles.

In 2013, the MacPhail portion of the club boosted the team into playoff contention with strong performances from Davis, Machado, Jones, and J.J. Hardy.  Duquette once again put together a decent collection of role players headed by Nate McLouth, Ryan Flaherty, Danny Valencia, and Steve Pearce.  The pitching floundered again.  Duquette products in Chen and Gonzalez as well as mid-year pickups Scott Feldman and Bud Norris did well, but not well enough.  Duquette was unable to find solutions for the dearth of talent in the minors, particularly on the pitching end.

In 2014, Duquette reaped all that he had sewn in the years prior with the club pushing strong on the shoulders of Chen, Gausman, and Norris as well as Pearce, Nelson Cruz, David Lough, and Adam Jones (on his first year outside of his team controlled years).  This team ran away with the AL East, but there were some worrying aspects of it.  Long-term, there seemed to be an issue with pitching.  The club did not have a group of high minors arms that looks like significant pieces.  The only one, Eduardo Rodriguez, was traded out for a vanity piece by the name of Andrew Miller.  The team did well to avoid injuries, outside of Manny Machado, and almost made the World Series.  It was a type of performance that would elevate most general mangers to a long term status and a fan favorite.  That said, the minor leagues were in a wreck and a major reason why many analysts, including us, would say, "Yes, but..."

From 2015 through 2017, we see the extinguishing of Flanagan's fingerprints on the Orioles as well as the end of MacPhail touch on the team.  MacPhail's minor league talent will likely all be gone in a couple seasons.  What we are left with is Duquette's decision making.and what we have seen is a cratering of talent.  MacPhail did not produce much minor league talent with an uneven first round history and a pretty dreadful track record past the first round.  Duquette's decision to focus on the MLB squad and decimate talent influx by signing players on Qualifying Offers hurt the talent level on the team.  Additionally, decision making in the early part of the Duquette draft era was not especially fruitful with only the past few drafts resulting in a good influx of position player and relief talent.  Starting pitching remains an issue throughout the organization.

30 January 2018

Manny Machado is the Best Under 25 Oriole Ever (with Cal Ripken Jr.)

Brady Anderson met with reporters during FanFest and gave answers that sounded like they would be appropriate at Manny Machado's wake.  For instance he declared:
[Machado] was our guy. You couldn’t have gotten a better six years out of anybody. He was an Oriole great. I mean, the youngest Oriole great in the history of the franchise. So we’ve gotten quite a bit out of him in the years he’s been here.
For those a bit taken back by Anderson's statement and his apparent conviction that former teammate Cal Ripken Jr. is not the best young Orioles in franchise history, lets take a look at the top thirty Orioles by bWAR, ages 24 and below:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To
1 Manny Machado 27.9 2012 2017
Cal Ripken 1981 1985
3 Eddie Murray 16.8 1977 1980
4 Milt Pappas 15.5 1957 1963
5 Bobby Grich 15.3 1970 1973
6 Nick Markakis 14 2006 2008
7 Boog Powell 12.9 1961 1966
Jim Palmer 1965 1970
8 Mike Mussina 12 1991 1993
Storm Davis 1982 1986
10 Paul Blair 11.3 1964 1968
11 Curt Blefary 10.2 1965 1968
12 Brooks Robinson 9.1 1955 1961
13 Adam Jones 7.2 2008 2010
14 Gregg Olson 7 1988 1991
15 Steve Barber 6.7 1960 1962
16 Chuck Estrada 6.3 1960 1962
17 Sidney Ponson 6.1 1998 2001
18 Don Baylor 5.7 1970 1973
19 Ben McDonald 5.3 1989 1992
20 Jim Hardin 5.2 1967 1968
21 Jerry Walker 5.1 1957 1960
Ron Hansen 1958 1962
23 Jonathan Schoop 5 2013 2016
24 Rich Coggins 4.6 1972 1974
25 Dylan Bundy 4.5 2012 2017
Bob Milacki 1988 1989
27 Dave McNally 4.3 1962 1967
Luis Matos 2000 2003
29 Matt Wieters 4 2009 2010
Ross Grimsley 1974 1974

Yes, Manny Machado comes out as the best under 25 player in Orioles history, tied with Cal Ripken, Jr.  It is also interesting to note that the club currently employs four of the 30 players on this list.  In general, the Orioles have tended to keep their young players, but the record is obviously more mixed once free agency set in.

What about overall during the franchise lifetime of the Orioles (since 1954).

Rk Player WAR/pos From To
1 Mike Trout 48.5 2011 2016
2 Alex Rodriguez 38 1994 2000
3 Bert Blyleven 37.4 1970 1975
4 Ken Griffey 37 1989 1994
5 Al Kaline 33.9 1954 1959
6 Frank Tanana 31.3 1973 1978
7 Andruw Jones 31 1996 2001
8 Vada Pinson 30.9 1958 1963
9 Johnny Bench 30.7 1967 1972
Dwight Gooden 1984 1989
11 Hank Aaron 29.9 1954 1958
12 Frank Robinson 29.7 1956 1960
13 Albert Pujols 29.2 2001 2004
Cesar Cedeno 29.2 1970 1975
15 Don Drysdale 28.9 1956 1961
16 Rickey Henderson 28.1 1979 1983
17 Dennis Eckersley 28 1975 1979
18 Manny Machado 27.9 2012 2017
Cal Ripken 27.9 1981 1985

That is impressive: 18th overall.  When you look at the more recent players, you do see a mix of players who stayed or left.  Mike Trout and all of his awesomeness has stayed with the Angels.  Andruw Jones stayed as well as Albert Pujols and Cal Ripken Jr.  Really the only recent guys who left were Alex Rodriguez and Rickey Henderson.

28 January 2018

In Defense Of Moving Manny Machado To Shortstop

Buck Showalter finally announced at Orioles FanFest what seemed like an inevitability: that Manny Machado will start the 2018 season at shortstop. It isn't a secret that Machado wanted to play his preferred position, and he seemed more comfortable putting pressure on the Orioles to move over after the departure of mainstay J.J. Hardy.

Many fans are upset with Showalter's decision, believing he is making the O's worse and questioning the logic behind moving an excellent third baseman. But just because Machado is getting what he wants doesn't make it bad for the Orioles as a team. I generally don't like moving infielders around if it's not needed, but calling the move dumb or silly or stupid is simplistic.

There are at least a few sound reasons to play Machado at shortstop instead of third.

Shortstops get a lot more fielding chances than third basemen

If it's possible, a team should want its best infielder to play shortstop. Why? The number of fielding chances. The goal is to have the ball in the superior defender's hands as much as possible.

The ball is hit to shortstop much more than third:

Average top 5 SS in 2017: 690 chances
Average top 5 3B in 2017: 411 chances
Source: Baseball-Reference

What about the year before?

Average top 5 SS in 2016: 674 chances
Average top 5 3B in 2016: 440 chances
Source: Baseball-Reference

You get the idea; there's just more work for shortstops.

Not every third baseman can seamlessly move over to shortstop, and vice versa, but Machado seems to possess those qualities. He filled in for Hardy in 2015 and 2016 and posted a 5.4 UZR/150 and +2 DRS in 433 innings. Beckham, meanwhile, has a career UZR/150 of 2.7 and a DRS of -1. Machado doesn't seem to be a massive upgrade over Beckham at shortstop, but he is better.

(Keith Law's book Smart Baseball also has an interesting discussion of fielding chances and plays made/not made in his chapter that takes down fielding percentage.)

Machado's abilities at shortstop shouldn't be undervalued

Machado is not likely to be one of the top two or three defensive shortstops in the game, but that's hardly a knock against him. Only six qualified shortstops had a UZR/150 of 5.4 or above in 2017, and just 10 had a DRS of +2 or above.

The shortstop who can both hit and field well is rare. The league average shortstop had a wRC+ of 92 last year. It's wonderful to have a superstar, of course, but a superstar shortstop is even more special than a superstar third baseman.

It'll make Machado happy

The Orioles are not in the business of giving their players whatever they want. But if there's even the smallest possibility that Machado playing shortstop will lead to him playing better, that matters. Maybe there's some extra motivation, and perhaps some of that has to do with his next contract and next team. Or maybe some players simply play better when they're comfortable and in the position they want. I don't really buy those reasons, but I wouldn't completely rule them out either.

The O's need Machado to be at his best if they have any chance at all of competing for a playoff spot in 2018. Plus...

It could increase Machado's trade value

There's a chance the O's find out early on that Machado at shortstop just isn't going to work. He didn't play the position at all in 2017, and playing quality defense at shortstop at the major league level is difficult enough without having to wait for the chance to play there regularly.

Still, Machado is incredibly talented, and it's expected that he'll succeed in playing well at shortstop. That could give a team with an opening at shortstop even more motivation to trade for Machado before or at the trade deadline. Maybe another team just wants to see Machado play the position for a couple months.

The O's are looking for an incredible amount of value in any Machado trade. This is a small thing that could push a team to give up even more. Who knows? It only takes one team.

Beckham could increase his positional flexibility

Unless you're bullish on Tim Beckham in a way that almost no one else is, you see the value in having him defensively capable at another infield position. Like Machado, Beckham sees himself as a shortstop and prefers to play there. But while he's played over 1,450 innings at shortstop in the majors, he's also played 520 at second base. Meanwhile, he's played just 52 at third base.

By giving Beckham a chance at third base now, the O's can find out if he can provide value defensively. Maybe they'll simply opt to move him back to shortstop after Machado leaves, or maybe they'll find out his value as a utility player who can fill in adequately at second base, shortstop, and now third base. It's even possible that Beckham turns out to be an above average defender at third.

It may not be a huge benefit, but it'll be interesting to see how Beckham handles the challenges of a new position (especially if he keeps hitting while batting leadoff).

Machado will be gone soon anyway

Even if you're furious about the move, how much can it really matter? Machado is not going to be in Baltimore in 2019, and he could be traded at any moment. That's likely a big reason why the O's put off the announcement as long as possible.

Some fans are mad (not unusual), but I'm with the group in the "whatever" camp. At the end of the day, the O's will be a flawed team regardless of where Machado plays. Even if Machado were to stay at third base, the starting rotation will almost certainly be an enormous problem, along with the rest of the roster issues that have been discussed throughout the offseason.


As things stand now, the O's don't look like they'll be very good in 2018. At least for a while, you get to enjoy watching a marvelous player like Machado handle a challenge, make wonderful plays, and turn some spectacular double plays with Jonathan Schoop. It'll also give you some extra time to talk yourself into a Beckham/Ryan Mountcastle left side of the infield.

26 January 2018

Is Adam Jones Undervalued?

Last week, I examined the production by Orioles' corner outfielders over the last few years (2015-2017). I also included this breakdown by position in FanGraphs wins above replacement for O's in that span. Here it is, if you missed it:

C: 7.7 fWAR (8th)
1B: 8.4 (7th)
2B: 6.5 (17th)
SS: 4.8 (21st)
3B: 14.4 (7th)
LF: -1.8 (29th)
CF: 5.7 (23rd)
RF: 5.5 (t-17th)
DH: 0.2 (t-13th)
SP: 40.5 (27th)
RP: 22.6 (5th)

As mentioned briefly in that post, it's interesting to see that O's center fielders rank 23rd in fWAR. When you talk Orioles and recent center fielders, you're basically just talking about Adam Jones.

In the last three years, Jones has put up an fWAR of 7.0. Because Jones rarely misses time, his backups don't play much. But when they take over for him, they've been pretty awful. Looking at Jones's production (CF only) over the last three years, he's tied for 12th among qualified center fielders. If you expand that out to the last five seasons, he's fifth, with an fWAR of 16.3. That trails Mike Trout (40.4), Andrew McCutchen (25.2), Carlos Gomez (18.0), and Lorenzo Cain (17.6). Not bad!

Jones has fallen off a bit as of late, both at the plate and in the field. He did rebound offensively in 2017, improving his wRC+ from 97 in 2016 to 107. That doesn't mean he's back or anything, but it was a nice recovery.

With Jones entering the final year of his contract, it's worth noting that the Orioles have not been able to develop anything close to a competent, consistent backup in center field during his tenure. The O's have tried to sell players like Nolan Reimold, Dariel Alvarez, Joey Rickard, and a bunch of veteran options (Nate McLouth, Gerardo Parra, Julio Borbon, Michael Bourn, etc.) as capable of playing an adequate center field. Almost all of them lacked the offensive skills, and only someone like David Lough flashed enough leather to maybe stick there for a while. To be fair, Jones is almost always on the lineup card with the number 8 next to his name, but it's not like you could get excited about any of the names above having to take over for Jones for any extended period of time. (Unless you were a huge Felix Pie fan, or something.)

It's possible that things have changed and the O's now have some center field options to get excited about. Those two options are Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins. In recent top-100 prospect rankings for 2018, Baseball America ranked Hays 21st and Keith Law (ESPN Insider required) had him 79th. As Jon discussed yesterday, there's some debate about whether Hays has the necessary tools to stick in center field. As long as Jones is healthy, Hays is unlikely to see much time there with the Orioles this year, but perhaps he'll play there more in the minors.

Or maybe the O's view Mullins as the center fielder of the near future, with Hays playing right field. Mullins was not ranked on any of the top-100 lists, but he is faster and is seen as the more natural fit in center. It also doesn't hurt that he's a left-handed bat for an organization with a GM who can't stop talking about the need for more lefties. Mullins, who played all of last season for Double-A Bowie, got off to a scalding start but was hampered by a nagging hamstring strain that limited him to just 76 games and 350 plate appearances. But he seems to have an intriguing mix of speed and power, and as long as he's healthy, he could find himself in Baltimore before the end of the season.

The Orioles have had their issues developing players. They're often knocked for ruining pitching prospects, but they haven't done well in coming up with quality outfield options. Maybe they hit on both Hays and Mullins, and they'll become contributors soon. Maybe that even includes Ryan Mountcastle, who may not be able to stick at third base and could find himself in left field (with Trey Mancini getting more at-bats at 1B/DH). A Mountcastle-Mullins-Hays homegrown outfield could be pretty exciting. Perhaps you can throw D.J. Stewart in there, too. Go crazy.

Still, these are all just hopes. Meanwhile, Jones is close to walking out that door. Even if you've been frustrated by his free-swinging ways or postseason struggles, it's going to be weird when someone else ends up playing center field for the O's. Jones was never a perfect player, and it's pretty ridiculous when an all-time talent like Trout makes things look so easy and easily dwarfs the production of his peers.

Regardless, Jones has been very good for the O's for a long time. It's hard to imagine the O's could have done any better when they traded away Erik Bedard nearly 10 years ago.

25 January 2018

Orioles Top 100 Prospect Value: 1990-2018

Spend enough time reading about the Orioles' minor league system and the yearly reminder is that other clubs have better systems.  Part of it has been because the Orioles have ignored the international scene since the late 1990s after the club invested money in international prospects that went nowhere and Peter Angelos, allegedly, became more aware how exploitative the labor market can be.

However, it is good to recognize that the Orioles have never really been all that proficient with the international market.  The highest ranked international talents (according to Baseball America) were players acquired from a long time ago.  Leo Gomez was signed out of Puerto Rico in the 1980s before the draft placed the island under the domestic draft umbrella.  Manny Alexander was an 1980s Domincan product along with Armando Benitez.  Nerio Rodriguez is the only 1990s ranked international prospect. Radhames Liz covers the 2000s for the Dominican Republic with Jonathan Schoop and Eduardo Rodriguez coming from Curacao and Venezuela, respectively.  And, that is it over 29 years.  Seven players when the average is 24.  Needless to say that kind of disadvantage in finding useful international players will dampen a system.

Below, prospect value uses 2016 valuations produced in this post.

What we see is that the Orioles usually have a subpar minor league system.  The only season Duquette has overseen with an above average farm was his first year when Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy catapulted the system.  Over the next few years, the club had issues with have few first round picks to push up value and the lack of post-first round draftees under the MacPhail era developing.

The MacPhail era was largely spent as a better than average farm system.  The value during these years was sunk into Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz.  Before then, it was pretty much a wasteland during the Flanny years in the wake of the late 1990s disasters.  I do not know if the scouting system fell apart then, but the club had trouble getting accolades for their talent.  During this time, the Orioles were implementing some innovative techniques to find talent, but over time those innovative techniques wound up being more snake oil than functional.

What about the 2018 crop?
The Orioles came back in 2018 with a more respectable crop of players.  Austin Hays road his helium up to a 21 ranking where last year he was unranked coming off the draft.  There is a question as to what his final position might be.  The negative view on him sees him as lacking enough foot speed for centerfield and lacking the arm for right field.  The positive view sees him as someone who early on could play some center, but with an arm that sits comfortably in right field.  Scouting reports vary quite a bit and he exists in that nether region where no consensus lies.  The same can be said for his bat.  His tools look largely average, but it seems that perhaps his hit tool is undervalued.  His hit tools has carried the weight at every step and made the other tools play up to level.  I think in general that a 21 ranking is a bit aggressive, but with all his success I can see why someone would shrug and hand him that.  It is defensible.

Chance Sisco returns after his 2016 debut though this time he finds himself eleven places behind where he was.  My knock on Sisco is that poor defensive catchers when drafted rarely ever learn how to adequately catch.  This places a great deal of pressure on the bat to keep afloat a poor defensive catcher or to sustain the player when he is pushed from behind the plate.  Sisco has a contact oriented bat, but that is about it.  That is a very difficult skill set to be successful with.  I prefer bat first catchers to have some plate discipline and something more than slap gap power.  I do think he has the athleticism to move out to second or third, but the bat leaves one wanting quite a bit more and there is not all that much projection here.  I think the ranking is largely residual to an expectation he can still catch.  The hit tool does not impress me.

Ryan Mountcastle debuts at 71 and I find it to be a tad bit low.  Yes, he cannot find himself a walk, but the bat is glowing and dripping with potential.  I think ultimately he is either a left fielder or a first baseman, but I think the bat plays at either of those positions.  The only fear is that more advanced pitching can find a gaping hole in his game.  Mountcastle struggled mightily when he was promoted to Bowie, but was putting together excellent plate appearances toward the end.  To be honest, I would probably place him about 50th.

The take home message is basically that the Orioles find themselves in a better place with young talent.  The monstrous cliff now looks more like a scary ravine.  The farm system is not in a good place, but it is in a better than normal position.  Moving forward, players like Hunter Harvey and DL Hall may provide some ranking recognition.  Cedric Mullins might sneak into a discussion here or there.  DJ Stewart might finally convince people he is actually good.  The club is likely to draft an excellent talent at the 11 spot in the draft this year.

We shall see.

24 January 2018

Jarrod Dyson and Outfield Sprint Speed Aging

Based on media reports, the Orioles have been in communication with Jarrod Dyson, a fleet, left-handed outfielder who has excelled everywhere in the outfield.  The communication raised to a level that was serious enough for the Orioles to consult his medical files and find them to be supposedly unconcerning.  For several of us at the Depot, this is some good news.  Dyson was a major element of several of out plans for the offseason and a piece that I have thought fits the club well.  He provides speed, a good on base percentage, and a solid backup option to Adam Jones (and a potential solution in 2019 when the club might be Jones-free).

He has a couple major drawbacks.  First, he cannot hit southpaws.  This means that he can be a heavy component of a platoon (most pitchers are right-handed), but he is a liability to late inning relievers and is largely restricted to defensive replacement duty when a left hander starts on the mound.  He has been a very effective pinch hitter with a 134 wRC+ (over 24 PAs).  Second, he is getting into his twilight baseball years and will begin next season in his age 34 season.

While my preference would be a two year deal, I recently noted that I would be fine securing Dyson to a three year contract.  This resulted in a flourish of tweets telling me I was paying too little attention to his age and that my perspective was rooted too much into his defense, which was benefited by his speed.  To some extent, the narrative holds true when we look at his position based UZR/150s (runs saved):

Age Sprint (ft/s) LF CF RF
31 30 25.2 18.2 11.2
32 29.6 29 19.6 35.5
33 28.8 19 8.6

Dyson's defensive performance was otherworldly in his age 31 and 32 seasons.  However, he suffered a major decline in speed this past season.  The optimist would suggest that his hyperextended toe resulting from a July 22nd wall crashing and a sports hernia that was diagnosed August 19th led to his decreased speed and that we should expect a return to form with a healed hernia.  That optimistic view notes that speed tends to change mostly due to body morphology changes or accumulated hamstring and back injuries.  Toe injuries can be death, but it appears he has recovered from that and hernias tend to mend well.  Neither of these look like a chronic issue.
Edit: In the comments someone succinctly noted that I am not appropriately communicating the outcomes for sports hernias.  I will walk through the process. Before the article was posted, I did some research. Only player I found to have repeated sports was Scott Posednik who underwent five surgeries in the span of about three years.  It is uncertain to what extent that impacted him as he was still fairly fast, but less disruptive which may be due to a lingering groin issue or simple aging.  From there, I ask a person I went to school with who performs surgeries like this. He said that basically everyone is fine and able to compete in three months and that recurrence was rare, maybe 5 percent.  After getting the comment below, I sought him out again and he said that to suggest a sports hernia is a serious injury feels to him to be a rather outdated perspective and perhaps the individual is not current with modern therapies. However, he said that while he performs surgeries that he is not much involved in the rehabilitation process and follow up.  So...I contacted a friend of mine who works for an MLB team on their medical staff and is experienced with bringing players back from all sorts of injuries.  He stated that sports hernia surgeries are a very successful procedure with few recurrences.  He did not have a number on hand, but said that it has to be less than 10%.  After all of this, I have concluded that my original text is accurate and the commenter did not have a complete understanding of the outcomes for, at least, this demographic.
Overall how does speed change in outfielders as they age?
Using sprint speed data from 2015-2017 for outfielders, I was able to construct the following table.

Age Sprint Change (ft/s) Example >28 change Example
22 28.00
23 -0.03 27.97 30.00
24 -0.12 27.85 -0.05 29.95
25 -0.06 27.79 -0.02 29.92
26 -0.05 27.73 0.02 29.94
27 -0.09 27.65 0.01 29.95
28 -0.08 27.57 -0.03 29.92
29 -0.10 27.47 -0.04 29.88
30 -0.12 27.35 0.00 29.89
31 -0.10 27.25 0.10 29.98
32 -0.11 27.14 0.08 30.06
33 -0.11 27.03 0.03 30.09
34 -0.06 26.97 0.15 30.24
35 -0.14 26.83
36 -0.11 26.72

What the table shows are two situations.  The second and third columns explore what happens to the population in general in terms of how speed changes from one year to the next as well as what happens to an age 22 runner who sprints 28 ft/s as he ages.  The second take a subgroup out of that population to see what happens to plus runners (>28 ft/s) as they age with a value that is more like that value (30 ft/s) for a 23 year olds starting point.

What the data appears to indicate is that the population of outfielders in general see their speed degrade with time.  Someone in Dyson's situation would be expected to lose about a third a foot per second as he aged over a three year deal when fit to that model.  If we assume that 28.8 ft/s is his real talent level, then that would be a 28.5 ft/s.  That would have made him tied with the fastest Oriole on the roster in 2017 (Craig Gentry).

For the faster group, the data does not go as far.  I did not feel comfortable extrapolating out to where I did not have five or more data points to consider, so the results above would only consider Dyson's first year.  What I find interesting about the results though is that elite runners tend to remain elite runners.  In other words, if you have a body type that is fast then you tend to remain fast.  We see this pretty often that while world class sprinters tend to peak in their mid to late 20s, but they retain that speed into their late 30s.  True, they rarely challenge for medals in their late 30s, but they only lose a stride or two over several years.  That means a great deal on the track, but perhaps not as much out on the ball field.

So, sure, maybe offering a three year deal to a speedster entering his mid thirties is something that should be avoided, but I still think the gamble is fine.

23 January 2018

How Can Kevin Gausman Get Back On Track?

As of this moment, the depth chart on Orioles.com lists the O's starting pitching rotation as Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro, and Alec Asher. Last week, Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun wrote an early prediction of the O's 25-man roster considering the current options, and he came up with these five: Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, and Miguel Castro.

By now, everyone knows the Orioles need starting pitching. It's basically a given when you say the word "Orioles." If you bring up the Orioles to a baseball fan, he or she will most likely ask you about either Manny Machado or the rotation options. It's kind of sad!

In a recent interview, Buck Showalter said that, while it's difficult, fans should stay patient. He said things like, "I share their sense of some anxiety, but I do know that the end game, we’ll end up getting there. I know a lot more than I’m letting on" and "There’s a lot of things going on and we’re prepared for it. I think the final product is something we’re going to be proud of."

Make sure to read the full article for more of Showalter's wisdom. And hey, maybe he's right! Showalter has forgotten more about baseball than any of us will ever know. Still, maybe a starting rotation that you'd be proud of is not the same thing as one that Showalter would be proud of. Maybe simply not having to rely on Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley counts as enough of a positive. To Showalter, lower-tier options like Andrew Cashner and Jason Vargas may be very appealing. Maybe he's not as concerned about handing the reins over to Castro.

There's always hope that the O's could piece together a workable starting rotation that's enough to get by, because they've done that. But considering the pitchers involved, it never felt like it had the chance to repeat year after year. And now, the options are even more limited, which would be disappointing by itself if it weren't for the fact that the O's are about to lose major contributors after the 2018 season.

For now, the only two locked-in rotation options are Gausman and Bundy. Bundy should have no limitations in 2018, so there's some hope that he can take another step forward. But what about Gausman? In 2017, Gausman's ERA jumped by a full run, and his peripheral stats took a hit as well:

2016: 3.61 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, 8.72 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 3.0 fWAR, 4.2 bWAR
2017: 4.68 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 4.33 xFIP, 8.63 K/9, 3.42 BB/9, 2.5 fWAR, 1.9 bWAR

Gausman was better in the second half, as he has been throughout his career, but it was a discouraging performance. The Orioles needed more from Gausman, and they didn't get it. There were plenty of reasons why the O's collapsed in 2017, and Gausman is hardly the only party to blame. But he still hasn't taken that next step.

Despite the obvious worries, there are still some reasons for optimism. Gausman seemed to be unlucky BABIP wise; his .336 BABIP in 2017 was his worst since a .328 mark in 47-plus innings in his rookie season. It hadn't been above .308 since then. The jump in BABIP is also a bit odd when factoring in his exit velocity allowed the past two seasons:

2016 exit velocity: 83.4
2017 exit velocity: 81.9

Opposing batters didn't hit the ball as hard, yet more hits dropped in. That's not a ringing endorsement of the O's team defense in 2017, but weird things can happen in a single season. Like Steve Pearce's 2014, for example, or Richard Bleier's 2017.

If Gausman is going to get back to how things were in 2016 (or perform even better), he's going to have to limit the amount of baserunners. Only four qualified pitchers allowed more walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) than Gausman. It's tough to succeed if runners are constantly on base. An underwhelming defense is partially to blame, sure, but Gausman still has to finish batters off.

If anything is concerning for Gausman, it's the jump in walks. While hitters made less contact against him in 2017...

2016 O-Contact%: 63.8
2017 O-Contact%: 62.6

2016 Z-Contact%: 87.6
2017 Z-Contact%: 84.8

... they swung in the zone slightly more (from 64.7% to 65.3%) while chasing out-of-zone pitches much less:

2016 O-Swing%: 35.8
2017 O-Swing%: 31.6

As you can imagine, Gausman's control in 2017 just wasn't as good. Perhaps the rise in walks simply gives that away, but let's look a little deeper. Gausman throws two pitches the most, his four-seam fastball and his splitter (also sometimes called a changeup). Gausman throws the fastball about 64% of the time, and the splitter about 20% of the time.

Here is his pitch heatmap from Baseball Savant for all fastballs in 2016 vs. 2017:

The heatmaps for the splitter probably tell us more, though:

In 2016, Gausman often was able to pinpoint the inside/low corner for right-handed batters, and that down-and-away corner for left-handed batters. If he missed? It was usually a ball, with not a lot of damage done. But in 2017, he threw a bunch of splitters that were more hittable. They were still down in the zone, but they weren't as close to the corner.

Opposing hitters fared a bit better against Gausman's fastballs last season. But they improved mightily against his best pitch, the splitter, gaining 70 points of slugging percentage and 62 points of isolated power.

There's a reason why teams like the Rockies have previously expressed interest in adding someone of Gausman's potential. There's a lot to like about him, and it doesn't seem like he would be difficult to fix. He's not broken, necessarily, but for whatever reason, the O's can't get him to put everything together.

Maybe Gausman is indeed fixed right now; he mentioned in September that he worked out the kinks with his delivery. He always seems to be tinkering with something, though, whether that's where he is on the mound, pitch usage, etc. Constant adjustment is part of the job, but it doesn't matter as much if the results aren't there.

If you don't think the O's can get the most out of Gausman, there's a good chance you believe another team could. That's a problem, but hardly a new one.

22 January 2018

For The Orioles, Has Corner Outfield Been A Wasteland?

The most-viewed article in the history of Camden Depot is simply titled, "How to Solve the Orioles' Corner Outfield Problem." It was a May 2015 post by Matt Perez that discussed the lack of outfield options in the O's farm system, and Matt suggested trading for Shane Victorino. Somehow, whether it's the SEO-friendly headline, some error in pageview counting, or a combination of things, that post has been viewed more than four times as much as the next-closest post on this site.

The Orioles never traded for Victorino and 2015 ended up being his final season in the major leagues, but they are still dealing with corner outfield issues. After the 2014 season, the Orioles decided to move on from Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. I was fine with both decisions, though obviously the move not to bring back Cruz looks worse now. Somehow, Cruz has been even better than his rebound season in Baltimore, and his four-year, $57 million deal with the Mariners looks like a bargain. Maybe you wanted him back; maybe you didn't. His career turnaround his still been stunning, and no other team was willing to top that Seattle offer.

The same can't be said for Markakis's time with the Braves. He has maintained solid on-base numbers the last few years, but he still has very little power. Markakis has posted a wRC+ of 106, 98, and 95 in the last three seasons, respectively, and his fWAR has fallen each year as well, from 1.5 to 1.1 to 0.9. Considering his four-year, $44 million contract, Markakis may have helped the O's marginally, but that's it.

We don't need to rehash everything the O's have done to try and get production out of the corner outfield spots. From 2015-2017, O's right fielders have accumulated 5.5 fWAR (17th in MLB). In left field, things have been much worse: -1.8 fWAR (29th).

If you're curious, here are all the ranks for the Orioles in that span:

C: 7.7 fWAR (8th)
1B: 8.4 (7th)
2B: 6.5 (17th)
SS: 4.8 (21st)
3B: 14.4 (7th)
LF: -1.8 (29th)
CF: 5.7 (23rd)
RF: 5.5 (t-17th)
DH: 0.2 (t-13th)
SP: 40.5 (27th)
RP: 22.6 (5th)

A couple of things jump out. First, it's not surprising at all to see the starting pitching rank so poorly. Second, the center field production seems low. Adam Jones has posted a combined fWAR of 7.0 in those seasons as he's received far and away the bulk of playing time. In that period, Jones has 1,875 plate appearances when playing center field; the next closest player is Joey Rickard, with 67.

Of the 10 other center fielders who have seen time the last few years, only two have positive fWARs: Nolan Reimold (0.4) and Joey Rickard (0.1). The O's have really needed it, but they have never really had a competent backup for Jones in center field. That's one reason why the brief playing time given to Junior Lake (-0.2), Austin Hays (-0.4), David Lough (-0.5), and Gerardo Parra (-0.6) is weighing that number down a bit.

Back to the corner outfield discussion. In right field, the main contributor has been Mark Trumbo - or, to be clear, Trumbo in 2016. That year, he was a revelation (offensively). In 2017, he quickly came back to earth. Trumbo's outfield defense will always be a concern, but he has a 135 wRC+ when playing right field for the O's. When slotting in at DH, it drops to 81.

While the O's have made things respectable in right field, the same can't be said for left field. The last three years, they've used 21 different players out there. The best fWAR of the group goes to Trey Mancini, at 0.4. Thirteen of the 21 have posted a negative fWAR. Three others posted an fWAR of 0.

Maybe that's a little confusing, because Hyun Soo Kim posted a 120 wRC+ overall in 2016 and Mancini put up a 117 wRC+ overall in 2017. But when playing left field, Kim's wRC+ was 100 and Mancini's was 101. Kim's infrequent playing time and poor hitting in 2017 dropped his wRC+ significantly, while Mancini has a 157 wRC+ at first base (157 PAs) and a 148 wRC+ at DH (87 PAs). Most of Mancini's best work has come when he isn't playing in the outfield. Plus, while each looked OK at times, neither would be confused for a good defensive outfielder. Mancini seems to be an average defender, at best, while Kim was less so. Still, that Mancini is recognized as average (or close to it) shows improvement on his part.

During the season, I didn't notice that Mancini's best offensive production came at first base and DH. Because it's a small sample of plate appearances, maybe it means nothing. But since Chris Davis is locked in at first base and Trumbo is slated to get the bulk of the at-bats at DH, Mancini is scheduled to be the team's opening day starter in left field. The hope is that Mancini's overall offensive production carries over, and that he'll hit no matter where he plays without doing much harm with his glove. He's really only an outfielder due to the O's roster construction, and it would be more suitable to have him split time at first base and DH while the O's put a better outfielder in left. But unless Trumbo is traded, that's not an option.

With Austin Hays waiting in the wings, there's certainly promise in the O's system for help in right field. But the O's could clearly use more (especially defensively) given that there's no guarantee Hays is ready for a full-time role now. Hays has upside but is unproven, Trumbo will surely still see time in right field, and then behind them there's Jaycob Brugman, Joey Rickard, and Anthony Santander (who needs to spend 44 days on the active roster to fulfill his Rule 5 requirement). There's also Cedric Mullins, who could find himself in Baltimore before the season ends.

The O's current (though maybe misguided) plan is to compete in 2018, and if so, they must do better than relying on Brugman and Rickard. They maybe shouldn't even be relying on Mancini as a full-time outfielder. Brugman and Rickard are fine depth pieces, but more experienced players like Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Carlos Gonzalez, Jarrod Dyson, Cameron Maybin, and Melky Cabrera are still out there. Curtis Granderson would have made sense as a low-risk addition, but he just signed with the Blue Jays for $5 million. I'd prefer Dyson or Jay, but almost any of them would be preferable to relying on Rickard again. (Sorry, Rickard fans.)

19 January 2018

How To Fix MLB's Economics

MLB’s economics are broken. A few writers have noticed that teams just aren’t as interested in free agents any more. Joel Sherman claims that he supports players making a “ton of dough” in a $10 billion a year industry, but that this flawed system pays players for declining deals. He also noticed that deals exceeding both $100 million and $20 million per year have largely been unsuccessful. Jeff Passan noted that it has taken a long time for free agents to find homes this season and thought it signaled collusion. Turns out, he learned that people don’t think the MLB's current structure makes sense any longer. Teams are no longer interested in paying players for previous performance that they aren’t likely to repeat.

In addition, MLB has a problem with tanking. A number of mid/large market teams have decided to do complete rebuilds and cut spending. Passan writes in his article that “There’s less interest in winning than I’ve ever witnessed before,” one union official said. “MLB has done a fantastic job of convincing the public that’s OK. I think fan bases are accepting of losing now. Sometimes they even want their team to lose.”

According to Passan, a veteran agent is strongly considering recommending a salary cap. Union officials are openly talking about how this could result in a work stoppage. The health of the game is in the balance because it would be hard for baseball to recover from another strike. But if MLB wants to avoid a strike, they’ll need to change the compensation structure and do something about tanking. Here are the changes I recommend.

The first change would be to the amateur draft. Teams are now rewarded for being the worst team in the league by receiving the top pick in the draft. The difference between receiving the first pick in the draft and even the third pick in the draft is significant – the first pick was valued as worth nearly three times more than the first pick in 2013. In addition, teams receive a significant slot amount for the first pick  – enough to pay for that pick as well as add talent later in the draft. This gives teams an incentive to be the worst in the majors.

The amateur draft should be changed so that half of a teams’ draft pool is determined by market size and half is determined by their record in the previous season per the slot value system (all slot values are cut in half). MLB determines each teams’ market size in the CBA for revenue sharing purposes, and they can use that analysis to decide which teams deserve more draft money than others. After the fourth round, draft order will be determined by market size as opposed to record.

In addition, MLB should have a lottery open to all non-playoff teams for the first five draft slots so that there is a further disincentive to tank. It is one thing to tank if a team will receive the #1 pick and a significant draft pool. It’s another thing to tank if they might get the sixth pick and receive only a slightly higher draft pool.

If small-market teams receive higher draft pools than large-market teams, then this means that free agent compensatory picks and competitive balance picks can be eliminated. Instead, small market teams will receive one franchise and one transition tag every five years. A small market team (ranked 21-30) can tag a player that has been under their control for the past two years. If a team tags a player with the franchise tag, then if the team is able to keep that player under their control, they’ll be compensated for one-third of his cost out of revenue sharing funds. Same idea for the transition tag, only the team will be compensated for 20%. Mid-market teams ranked (14-20) receive one transition tag every five years. Players that receive one of these tags can’t be traded for three years afterward and their teams receive no compensatory cash if the player is traded.

The minimum wage should be increased from $550k to $1.6 million. Teams receive significant production from team controlled players, so these players should see significant rewards. In addition, forcing teams to pay fair values for team controlled players will reduce the financial incentives to tank. A team that uses only minimum wage players will see its payroll increase from $13.75M to $40M. Such as increase could cost MLB between $300M and $450M. In an ideal situation for the players, MLB teams would eat the entire cost of the minimum wage increase. In the current situation, where the union has limited leverage, veteran players may need to take a 5-10% decrease in salary to help pay for a minimum wage increase.

Players will remain under control for six years, with players that have three years of service time eligible for arbitration. To reduce the likelihood of roster shenanigans, a player will receive credit for a full season of service time if he is on the roster for eighty days in one season. The Super Two rule will remain as is.

Revenue sharing would be significantly reduced. Instead of the current 33% level, teams should be taxed at 16.5%. There will be two forms of revenue sharing. The first set, taking 6.5% of revenue, will go from large-market clubs to small-market clubs based on market size. This revenue will also cover payments for players that receive a franchise or transition tag.

The second set, consisting of 10% of revenue, goes to all teams that make it to at least the division series of the playoffs regardless of market size. This reward should be at least $100 million per playoff team and strongly encourages teams to try to win their division and at least make it to the playoffs as well as discouraging tanking. This cash should be enough to help even low-revenue teams keep a playoff dynasty intact.

One of the major problems that large market teams have with revenue sharing is that some small market teams don’t always spend that money on players. This method primarily helps small-market teams that are willing to spend money to keep their best homegrown players. Other teams will see their revenue sharing payments slashed.

Nathaniel Grow argues that the MLBPA has limited leverage to convince MLB to increase salaries. With free agents losing their appeal, I think he’s largely correct. However, there is significant friction between large market clubs and small market clubs. Large market clubs have stopped allowing the Athletics to receive revenue sharing. In addition, large market clubs have complained about how small market teams support themselves via revenue sharing. Other teams in large markets complain about how they’re paying more than other teams in the same market. Meanwhile, the Rays were hoping for more assistance via draft reform. Both would get what they want from this proposal.

A plan like this would help ensure competitive balance, incentivize teams to win instead of tanking and reward players based on production instead of seniority. This would be a significant upgrade from the current system that rewards teams that tank and encourages teams to spend billions of dollars on players that can’t produce. If MLB doesn’t change to a system like this in the future, teams will quickly discover that this system doesn’t work and there are better uses of their money. That’s likely to lead to players receiving an increasing smaller portion of the pie and ultimately a strike.

18 January 2018

Manny Machado is Scott Rolen

18 months ago, Manny Machado was projected to earn more per year
than the island nation of Tuvalu.

There are two main narratives that rotate around Manny Machado.  First, his defensive play is the second coming of Brooks Robinson.  Second, if he had not missed so much time recently then he would unquestionably be the best third baseman in baseball.  Regarding his defensive play, you can waste an entire afternoon looking at the utterly mind blowing things he does with a glove, a couple arms, and a couple legs.  Regarding the latter, it is perhaps a bit more interesting than it seems on the surface.

A week ago, I knew the MLB.com best ten third basemen article was about to come out, so I asked this for my Twitter followers.

Half of the respondents declared that Manny is the best third baseman in baseball.  MLB.com this past week released their list to declare that Machado was the eighth best third baseman in baseball.  A year ago, he was third.  A year before that, he was fourth.  To be fair, in the writeup the staff at MLB.com made Machado the fifth best by tipping their hats to his potential.

Thinking about the potential as Machado enters his age 25 season, I thought that his unreached potential may be an idea that is kept afloat by the perception that he has missed a great deal of time during his development these past three years, so I asked this:

Over 80% of those who answered the poll were wrong.  Machado has missed 11 games these past three years for an average of 3.7 games missed per season.  He has been there every single day for the most part.  While he has done well, last year was a bit of a mess as he struggled to a good season of 3.5 bWAR.

In June of 2016, I made a comp model of Machado to see just where he might be headed.  He had done so much at such a young age that it was difficult to find positional comps and I had to look at big picture comps.  The group he fit into consisted of Ken Griffey Jr, Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, Al Kaline, Andruw Jones, Eddie Matthews, Cesar Cedeno, Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr, Johnny Bench, Albert Pujols, and Orlando Cepeda.  It was a remarkable projection with the mean expectation to be a career as storied as Cal Ripken Jr's (~85 bWAR).  Even at its worse was a fringe Hall of Famer in Lou Boudreau (~60 bWAR), but, at its best, a monster Mike Schmidt level career (~105 bWAR).

2017 24 642 34 .297 .375 .539 7.4 51.8
2018 25 639 31 .296 .374 .531 7.1 52.2
2019 26 662 35 .292 .370 .533 7.3 56.3
2020 27 570 29 .285 .367 .531 6.2 50.2
2021 28 646 31 .282 .362 .507 6.4 54.5
2022 29 651 33 .291 .378 .526 7.3 65.2
2023 30 593 27 .278 .366 .496 5.8 54.4
2024 31 551 24 .277 .357 .484 4.9 48.3
2025 32 516 23 .271 .350 .485 4.4 45.5
2026 33 450 19 .270 .350 .461 3.6 39.1
Mean 285 .287 .368 .511 60.4 517.5

However, 2017 was a train wreck in comparison to what the mean expectation of that group was.  Worse, Machado was unable to meet the -SD of that group, which was a WAR of 5.6.  That is certain to redirect a projection model.  It may seem unfair that a single season could torpedo a career projection, but it seems a bit dream casting to wish a season that missed expectations to be ignored.

So, I set out to update the model.  With another year under the belt, we are now able to restrict the model to shortstops and third basemen.  The comps are offensive based.  In the final projection, Machado's position is assessed as a shortstop and over the length of his career he is assumed to be league average there.

His new comp model cohort consists of Cal Ripen Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Troy Glaus, Hanley Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Ron Santo, Jim Ray Hart, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitski, Nomar Garciaparra, Hank Blalock, and Ernie Banks.  The weakest fits in this model are related to Alex Rodriguez and Troy Glaus for their prodigious power and Jim Ray Hart who could hit, hit, hit, but was unable to field, field, field.  Hart's plate appearances were greatly suppressed by his terrible fielding.  Regardless, the contribution of these three are largely overwhelmed by what the others in the cohort did.

The silver lining of the new projection model is that the baseline remains the same.  Lou Boudreau is still our -SD expectation, so Manny would have an interesting HoF case with around 60 bWAR.  The mean has dropped to a Scott Rolen level (70 bWAR) and the +SD expectation has dropped significantly down to a Brooks Robinson career (80 bWAR).  In other words, Manny has gone from someone who seemed likely to be mentioned in hushed tones throughout the land to someone who may still get that treatment, but only provincially.

Here is the mean projection:

2017 25 639 29 .291 .367 .510 6.5 45.5
2018 26 555 24 .288 .366 .504 5.5 40.4
2019 27 508 24 .282 .360 .506 4.9 37.8
2020 28 607 26 .267 .339 .463 4.5 36.5
2021 29 540 25 .283 .360 .499 5.2 44.2
2022 30 483 20 .276 .347 .486 4.1 36.6
2023 31 539 21 .260 .325 .448 3.4 31.9
2024 32 486 19 .267 .331 .462 3.4 33.5
2025 33 470 17 .256 .323 .428 2.6 26.9
2026 34 449 16 .249 .314 .423 2.2 23.9
2027 35 441 14 .230 .290 .387 1.2 13.7
235 .274 .345 .479 43.5 370.9

For the time that overlapped between the two projections, ages 25 to 33, the decrease in value is 30%.  Originally, the value was assumed to be about 413 MM and in this iteration that fell to 288 MM.  That is a pretty sizable drop.  At this point, a mean contract extension would be 16 MM for this year and then a whopping 10 year, 325 MM payout.

It would also be likely that Machado would ask for an opt out. My conclusion has been than an opt out is worth the break even point for total potential loss and total potential gain at that point in time. This gives us this little table to cover years 2019-2028:

opt Out Total
1 311
2 338
3 349
4 371
5 380
6 382
7 382
8 372
9 331
None 371

Last year, I noted that Machado was set to earn more per year than the gross domestic product of Tuvalu.  At 36 MM a year, Machado would earn more than that in several iterations of this contract.  That said, it may well be that the team that signs Machado fully and totally believes in him. If that is the case, then we would see that 10/371 contract bump up to 10/417.  Yes, it is a major dropoff when we were pondering a potential 700 MM player, but that is what happens when what you have is good play and a lot of yet unfulfilled promises.

Here are the three outcomes from the model in case anyone is interested.

Year Age (-SD) Mean (+SD)
2017 25 6.1 6.5 6.8
2018 26 4 5.5 6.9
2019 27 3.4 4.9 7
2020 28 3.9 4.5 5.4
2021 29 4.3 5.2 6.4
2022 30 2.7 4.1 5.1
2023 31 2.7 3.4 4.3
2024 32 3 3.4 3.8
2025 33 1.9 2.6 3.4
2026 34 1.8 2.2 3
2027 35 0.9 1.2 2
34.7 43.5 54.1