02 February 2018

2018 Orioles: Historically Bad or Pretty Good

Every year around March, it seems, social media is doused in gasoline and a match is struck.  The gasoline is made up of the feelings of fans and the matches are an array of projection models.  Every year, Orioles fans groan about how the models fail to live up to reality.  Buck Showalter's Orioles have routinely exceeded reality, well, except for 2015 and 2016 and 2017 was a bit too optimistic of an expectation.  And, let us not discuss 2011.  In general though, Buck seems to get about three wins more than the average model projection and our work has been roughly validated by slightly different methods elsewhere.

With the beginning of February upon us and a languid free agency process that has impacted nearly all teams, the Orioles find themselves under the FanGraphs projection as a 75 win team.  Personally, I do not use FanGraphs' projections as I think their defensive considerations are too conservative at times and too willing to extrapolate on small MLB sample sizes.  I also think whoever is in charge of divvying up playing time does not consider how willing certain teams are at replacing players or limiting their time.  The Orioles for instance have for the most part been very willing to reduce playing time of established players when merited.  It may not feel like that after you see Ubaldo Jimenez, JJ Hardy, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo struggle for an eternity, but in general, yes, they do move players around a bit more than a typical team when performance dips.  Anyway, when it all gets boiled down though the systems are pretty similar in how accurate they are.

How accurate are they?  They are accurate with a typical standard deviation of about 9 wins.  So a 75 win team would generically find themselves between 66 and 84 wins about 68% of the time.  Go to two standard deviations (57-93 wins) and you cover generically 96% of the time.  Go another standard deviation and you cover all generic possibilities with a range of 48-102 wins.  What that says is that basically the Orioles are almost assuredly not a historically great team, but no one needed to actually tell you that for you to know.  I should also note that I use the term generic quite a bit there and the rationale for that is that in baseball we actually have to deal with effective asymptotes for production.  It is incredibly hard for a team to be worse than 48 wins, which is basically replacement level.  On the upper end, it is difficult to be better than 120 wins.

If we look at teams who have been projected in the past to win between 74-76 games, we get the following distribution from the data set I have at hand.  My data set covers 2003-2013 and 35 teams have been identified as 74-76 projected wins through a variety of different projection models.  As I noted before, projection models are typical all pretty much the same in accuracy when it comes to populations, but a little different when it comes to projecting certain types of teams.  As we are interested in population projections it won't be too much of a concern here.

What we see is that a team that is projected to win 74-76 wins on average out performs the projection by 1.7 wins.  However, median is probably a better way to look at it as the teams are more impacted by the replacement level performance baseline.  The median is similar, but comes out at an expected lower 1 win above projection.  The range goes from -13 wins to 19 wins.  So in terms of our historical data understanding, we are looking at the realm of 62-94 wins.  If we consider 93 wins to be the division winner mark, then we see a 2 in 35 (6%) showing of a club going 93 or more wins.  If we consider 90 wins to be the home wild card base line, that nudges up to 3 in 35 (9%).  If we consider 88 wins as the second wild card, that nudges up to 4 in 35 (11%).  So while that range looks mighty expansive, it is a reasonable anchor to acknowledge when looking at how a season might turn out.

When you look at the FanGraphs projections, there are a few areas of improvement.  Left field, right field, designated hitter, and four starting pitcher rotation slots all fall below your basic goal of 2 fWAR per position.  However, several of those position will be static.  Dylan Bundy will be in the rotation, so that projection is not going to change.  With the downturn of the all bat, no glove market, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to see Mark Trumbo changing teams, so his value at designated hitter (thought likely inflated) will remain there.  Mancini is likely to see a lot of time in left field.  Austin Hays comes off as replacement level due to a rather negative view of his defense, but his offense is not projected all that well anyway.  Basically, the club has some outfield plate appearances to cover as well as three rotation slots.

As it stands, there are nine free agents who rate as two wins or better.  Unfortunately, eight are at positions the Orioles do not need to fill or have already concluded to be out of the running due to cost.  However, there are still improvements that could be made.  Below I look at a few scenarios based on cost.

Scenario #1: Lean Days
Under this scenario, the Orioles have only 20 MM to add onto their roster.  One easy fix would be to add on Jarrod Dyson at 6 MM a year. That would add 1.7 wins to the club by replacing what would be expected to be replacement level performance from Joey Rickard.  On top of that, Ricky Nolasco at 8 MM a year would replace -0.2 fWAR (Alec Asher, David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, Tanner Scott) with 1.4 fWAR.  The medical red flag Brett Anderson looks to be available for around 5 MM at 1.7 fWAR and would replace about 0.3 fWAR put up by Gabriel Ynoa and Mike Wright.  And that ends the 20 MM.

This would add about 5 wins to the projection, so the club would sit at 80 wins.  The 2003-2013 data set contains 61 teams.  That five win bump up results in generic expectations to rise.  The median club is expected to hit their projection, so it appears that the performance baselines and upper realm are not exactly at play here.  The standard deviation sits at 9.6 wins, which would suggest home field wild card or better 15% of the time.  Historically, you also get similar results.  Win totals 93 or better only happened 3 out of 61 times (5%).  Our home field line of 90 wins was hit 8 out of 61 times (13%).  Our road wild card line was hit 12 out of 61 times (20%), which is almost double what it was at 75 wins.

Scenario #2 A Bit More Money
Under this scenario, we are looking at a payroll slightly below last years, which gives us 30 MM to play with.  Under this scenario, we will follow everything listed above and start out with 80 wins.  With the remaining money we could target Jaime Garcia who is projected as a 2.2 fWAR player.  This performance would replace 0.1 fWAR put up by Miguel Castro and Michael Kelly.  It would place the team at 82 projected wins.

How would 82 wins changes the playoff odds?  The 81-83 grouping has some terrible underperformers, but more often a group of overperformers.  The median is 1 win and the standard deviation wobbles down to 11.  The 93 win mark would be hit historically 8 out of 41 times (20%).  The 90 win home wild card line would be achieved 14 out of 41 times (34%).  The 88 win road wild card line would be passed 15 out of 41 times (37%).  It is amazing how much better a position being projected to 82 wins is over a 80 win projection.

Scenario #X Trade Machado
So what if the unthinkable happens?  Let us say a deal happens where Manny Machado and Tanner Scott were dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Pat Corbin, Tony Banda, and Brandon Drury as well as the club having the payroll in Scenario 2.  Corbin has one year left at 7.5 MM, so the Orioles see another 10 MM added to their free agent money pile with Machado's salary going out.  Corbin's 1.9 fWAR replaces Miguel Castro's 0.0 fWAR.  Drury is related to non-descript backup with no fWAR impact.  And let us sit on Banda for a moment and figure out what to do with the 40 MM in our hands.

Beckham would shift over to shortstop and retain his value with his dip in defense being matched with the positional adjustment at shortstop.  The Orioles could then use 13 MM a year to snap up the 2.8 fWAR projected for Mike Moustakas.  The club could then sign Dyson for 6 MM a year and see a 1.7 win raise covering for Rickard.  Brett Anderson could be signed at 5 MM and his 1.7 fWAR would replace the -0.3 fWAR put up by Alec Asher and Devid Hess.  Finally, the club would spend on Jaime Garcia and his 2.2 fWAR replacing the 0.4 fWAR put up by Ynoa and Scott.  Now, back to Banda.  He provides decent starter depth.  He is projected to throw a 1 fWAR over 66 innings, which would eliminate the 0.3 put up by Wright and Scott.

So what does that add up to?  Machado leaving takes the Orioles down to 70 wins.  Corbin and Banda add back three wins (73).  Using the money saved on Moustakas gets the club up to 76 wins.  The other moves get the club back to the 82 wins.  Under this scenario, trading Machado did not impact the overall production of the club, but spread it out a little bit more among players.

To be frank, there is still hope that the club can put a competitive team on the field.  As it stands right now, the team looks like one that has maybe a 20% chance to steal a wild card.  That might translate into a team that has a one in three chance of being somewhat arrested at the trade deadline and unable to deal out a big piece like Machado or maybe Zach Britton.  Pushing up payroll modestly appears to be able to get the club into a projection level that considerably improves their chances to be a competitive club.  That scenario requires just the right players in the Orioles range, which is a range where they likely will face stiff competition from other clubs who are looking for bargains.  The club could even field a very competitive team if it gets a suitable replacement value for Machado in a trade.  Yes, a deal whose major component is a one year deal for a mid-level starting pitcher is a harsh deal to make, but it would put the club in a position to resolve some other issues.

All in all, there is no reason to get upset about what has happened this off-season.  Though, by the end of February, I may not be able to say that.


Anonymous said...

Tes. So DO IT ALREADY. I hope the O's don't try to squeeze a few bucks out of all the good choices and, by doing so, lose them all. They should be looking at Nestor for a swing man role, maybe 5th SP if he's really good. I am still going to be a pollyanna and say that Cobb/Garcia/Dyson would be the best combo (I think you shoot your Brett Anderson idea in the foot right away with the "medical red flag" notation). But the concept here is that 2 decent SPs and a great fielding LH OF would make this team competitive. Maybe not for the division but for a wild card. I think that's what we've all been saying all along. Making Hays the right side of a platoon with Dyson and Sisco as the 2nd catcher gives you even more hope for upside performance. If one could somehow get Trumbo to be a good DH, the team would be good.

Pip said...

I wonder just how valid a goal is the 2WC?
More then half the teams in the league spend almost all season "within striking distance" but how wise is it to put every egg in the basket to try to get it? It would probably be better to prepare for a division run.
That's not likely this year so it would be wiser, not to completely tear down the team( circumstances have already done most of it) but to trade all the pending free agents and look forward to an improved 2019 and go I to 2020 with a genuinely competitive team.

Jon Shepherd said...

I do not think the second wild card is worth all that much, but I think you certainly should try to go for it if it won't wreck your payroll or roster choices. If Machado is on the team, then it makes sense to do something like what was noted above. If you are sending him out, well, I would want more long term value than what was in that deal. However, part of the long term value would be about getting someone like Moustakas. So...I could be convinced even though I would prefer a different direction.

Unknown said...

Very Bad as curruenly constructed, love your signing ideas.

MisterDobalina said...

I'm terrified by the false hope of an in contention (barely) team at the deadline that doesn't get in seller's mode. If we sucked it up this year, we could have some great future building trade chips (Macho, Britton, Jones?)