Archive for April, 2013

Orioles Currently Lacking a Designated Hitter Who Can Actually Hit

Posted in Offense with tags , , , , , on April 26, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

If you’ve been reading this site (or most articles involving the young 2013 baseball season), you’ve heard the words “small sample size” applied frequently.  And since teams have barely played more than 20 games so far, those same three words apply directly to everything I am going to be presenting in this post.  So if you want the answer to the “what should the Orioles do about their DH?” question without actually reading the rest of write-up, the answer will be along the lines of, “they should go with what they have, until there is a large enough sample of plate appearances to support a decision”.

Hopefully the title alluded to this, but the Orioles designated hitters have been bad so far this year.  They have collectively compiled -0.2 WAR (according to Fangraphs), which is currently ranked 15th out of 17 teams (not every National League team has played an interleague game in an American League park yet).  If you take out the National League teams, the Orioles move up to 13th(!)…out of 15.  Let’s take a look at some other offensive (double entendre!) statistics for the Orioles DH’s (as of April 26), but let’s limit the list of teams to AL clubs only, since all of the teams will have similar sample sizes.

(as of April 26, 2013)

as of April 26, 2013

Yikes.  Remember, each of these rankings is out of 15 teams.  Again, yikes.  You can point to the very low BABIP and make an argument that maybe they’ve been unlucky, but looking at the other statistics, it would appear to be a reach.

Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce have held down the fort at the DH spot so far.  47 of Reimold’s 70 PA’s have come at DH (the others in LF and 1 as a pinch hitter), while Pearce has been used solely in the DH spot for a total of 25 PA’s.  Again, small sample.  Let’s put up their individual stats as a DH to compare the 2 players.  I’m not even going to tell which player is on which line, because as you can tell, it’s pretty pointless.

as of April 26

as of April 26

Since both players are pretty terrible hitting in the DH spot, is it possible that they’ve both been unlucky?  Reimold may be suffering from a bit of bad luck while it looks like Pearce is just suffering from being Steve Pearce.  Pearce is a 30 year old journeyman who has had some success against LHP, but not enough for a team to feel comfortable giving him regular at bats against them (career .258/.339/.456 against LHP in 289 plate appearances).  And he shouldn’t even face a right hander…pretty much ever.  Overall, he’s a career .231/.306/.365 hitter in almost 750 PA’s.  So if he is given more playing time, his numbers will probably improve, but not to the point where anyone should want him as a guy whose only job is to hit a baseball.

As for Reimold, he’s actually hit quite well in his 22 PA’s as a left fielder.  Comparing his numbers playing LF to his numbers in 47 PA’s as the DH…

as of April 26

as of April 26

…we see quite a difference.  If anything, Reimold may be on opposite ends of the luck spectrum during his time at the 2 different positions.  This provides some hope, as there is not much else they can do to improve at the DH position, other than hope that one of these 2 players becomes more productive in the DH spot.  It is WAY too early to talk about trading for anyone, and outside of (MAYBE) Russ Canzler, the Orioles don’t have anyone on their 40 man roster that would provide a substantial improvement.  One interesting option is to bring back Jim Thome, who has not declared retirement and remains unsigned.  While it wouldn’t take a lot of money to sign him, his presence wouldn’t automatically be an improvement, and his presence on the roster would severely limit the team’s roster flexibility, especially when they play games in NL ballparks (Thome cannot play anywhere in the field).

So if you’ve managed to keep reading after the answer was given in the first paragraph, the answer has not changed.  The Orioles should stay the course, continuing to use Reimold at the DH spot (in favor of Steve Pearce), and monitor the results.  If the DH numbers don’t improve by June, then it will be time to look seriously at other options.

Guest Post at Camden Depot

Posted in Pitching with tags , , on April 25, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Today’s post is actually located at Camden Depot, the Baltimore Orioles blog for ESPN’s Sweetspot Network, as they were kind enough to allow me to be a guest writer for their site.  The post takes a look at Jake Arrieta’s recent demotion to AAA, and why he may not be entirely his fault.  Please go over there and check out my post, as well as the other posts at Camden Depot, as they have some terrific stuff about the Orioles.

Direct Link to Article –> Jake Arrieta Optioned to AAA:  Not (Entirely) His Fault

A Minor League Trade Usually Brings…Minor Changes

Posted in Trades with tags , , on April 11, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

This little nugget caught my eye about a week ago as I was browsing through the Baseball Prospectus website.  Apparently the Phillies and Orioles completed a trade, with the Orioles sending 25 year old OF Ronny Welty to the Phillies in exchange for 22 year old RHP Julio Rodriguez.  It’s a trade of two minor leaguers, each of whom have never played above AA in the minor leagues, but I wanted to briefly discuss the trade for two reasons:

  1. Julio Rodriguez was a Top 10 prospect in the Phillies organization as recently as 2011 (#8 according to ESPN’s Keith Law and #9 according to Baseball Prospectus)
  2. I was able to see Ronnie Welty play a decent amount while working for the Orioles AA minor league affiliate in Bowie last year

What the Orioles Received

As I said, Julio Rodriguez was rated as a top 10 prospect in the Phillies organization last year, although the Phillies minor league system has not been strong recently.  I have never seen him pitch, but his results prior to 2012 were promising, as seen in the table below.

Rodriguez1

The thing that sticks out the most is his impressive strikeout totals, which were over a batter per inning in every year and every level he pitched, with the exception of the 10 innings he threw in 2008.  There was a problem of course, and it was that the results weren’t matching what the scouts were seeing.  According to reports, Rodriguez relies heavily on a deceptive delivery, as his stuff, which includes a max velocity fastball in the high 80’s left a lot to be desired.  Scouts were/are skeptical about his lack of an above average pitch, were interested to see how he would handle AA lineups.  As you can see from his 2012 line in AA, it wasn’t encouraging.

Rodriguez2

Despite a high strikeout total, Rodriguez’s already borderline average command tanked, as he issued more than 5 BB’s per 9 innings, leading to a 4.70 FIP, and obviously falling out of favor with the Phillies front office.  Reports have mentioned that his pitches have looked worse and his arm has looked slow.  There are some who think he may have been injured, but injury or not, his 2012 performance was enough to remove him from prospect lists.

What the Orioles Gave Up

Unlike Rodriguez, Welty was never considered a top prospect in the Orioles minor league system.  He’s primarily a right fielder who handles the position adequately.  I wasn’t able to see a full minor league season from Welty, as he was injured for most of the season, only appearing in 37 games.  When he was in the lineup, I was most impressed with his power, as he slugged .564 and hit 8 HR’s in only 146 plate appearances.  His swing can get long, causing him to strike out a lot, so he may not hit enough to get to his power as he continues up the organizational ladder.  He will kill a fastball, but showed some trouble with better off-speed pitches.  Additionally, despite showing decent plate discipline in previous years, his walk rate dropped to 2.1% in 2012 (small sample size).  See his career minor league stat line below.

Welty

In my limited time seeing Welty play, I thought his ceiling could be that of a 4th or 5th OF in the major leagues, rather than an everyday player.

Conclusion

The Orioles pick up a former prospect that still has some upside, but will need to overcome quite a few hurdles to get back on the prospect map.  A move to the bullpen seems unlikely, as the below average fastball/poor command combo would be a disaster.  In return, they gave up an organizational outfielder who may see some time in the show, but likely won’t make much of an impact while there.  Essentially, there is a good chance that neither of these players reach the major leagues and that the average baseball fan will never know this trade even happened.

Over-Use of the Defensive Over-Shift

Posted in Defense, Strategy with tags , , on April 7, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

If you watched the Orioles play the Rays last Wednesday, you were treated to a great baseball game that included multiple lead changes, a blown save from Fernando Rodney (arguably the best relief pitcher in all of baseball in 2012), and a walk-off home run.  Unfortunately, that walk-off home run came off the bat of Matt Joyce, handing the Orioles their first loss of the season.  Fortunately, for my wife, it meant that the game would not be going to extra innings and she could change the channel.

The defensive shifts used by the Orioles in the 7th inning were a big part of Tampa Bay’s comeback.  Was it the result of bad luck or was it bad strategy?  It’s incredibly easy to second guess after the game is over, but let us take a closer look at the bottom of the 7th inning.

Pedro Strop entered the game with the Orioles leading 5-4.  No arguments with bringing Strop into the game here.  He doesn’t have the best command, leading to more walks than you’d like (especially in a 1-run game), but he had a good season in 2012 and was lights out in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic.  He was scheduled to face Ryan Roberts, Jose Lobaton, and Kelly Johnson…not exactly a murderer’s row.  Sam Fuld (career .347 SLG), pinch hitting for Roberts, hit a rocket right at Adam Jones for the first out.  Now here’s where I’m going to get fancy on you…

WE

Above is the Win Expectancy table for the game in question.  Fangraphs defines Win Expectancy as…“the percent chance a particular team will win based on the score, inning, outs, runners on base, and the run environment. These percentages are calculated using historical data, meaning if a team is losing and has a 24% win expectancy, only 24% of teams in similar situations in the past have ever come back to win.”  The numbers on the bottom represent the innings, and the center horizontal line represents a 50% chance of winning for each team.

Looking at the Win Expectancy Table, the Orioles chances of winning were 72.3% after the Fuld fly out.  Matt Joyce was then sent up to pinch hit for Lobaton, and as a result, the Orioles implemented a relatively common defensive shift, similar to the one shown below.

DA

Certainly, Joyce’s tendencies to hit the ball to the right side of the field (about 50%), as well as hit the ball on the ground to the right side (48.2% GB rate on balls hit to the right side of the field) called for that shift.  However, it leaves the entire left side open and Joyce bunted the ball down the third base line for an easy single.  That bunt single event decreased Baltimore’s chances of winning by 5.4%.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but let’s take a look at the run expectancy matrix using the data from 2012 (the run expectancy matrix provides the number of runs that an average MLB team will score in an inning given any combination of baserunners and outs).

By employing the shift on Joyce, Baltimore was essentially trying to prevent a double at the expense of a guaranteed “single” (which Joyce took advantage of).  We’ll rule out a triple, since they’re not as common and Joyce isn’t a particularly fast runner, and home runs because the defense can’t prevent them.  With Joyce on 1st base and one out, the Rays were expected to score 0.51 runs that inning.  If Joyce would have hit a double instead, the run expectancy with a runner on 2nd base and one out only increases to 0.655.

Kelly Johnson followed, and again Baltimore shifted their defense to the right side, but this time, with JJ Hardy much closer to third base, as shown here.

Defensive Alignment

Where the shift was warranted against Joyce, the use of it against Johnson was suspect, as he has hit roughly 41.6% of his balls in play to the right side.  Johnson also showed a bunt on the first pitch, trying to catch the Orioles off guard a second time in a row.  Johnson ended up hitting a ground ball (where the shortstop is normally positioned) that went for a single instead of an inning-ending double play, resulting in Matt Joyce advancing to third.

Employing the shift and getting burned by it twice in subsequent at-bats lowered the chances of the Orioles winning from 72.3% to roughly 50%, even though they held a one-run lead at the time.  Additionally, now the Rays had a runner on first and third, with one out (a run expectancy of 1.15), giving them a very good chance to tie the ball game or even take the lead.  Tampa Bay ended up scoring 3 runs against Strop, taking a 7-5 lead.    And while the Orioles eventually tied it up, this inning played a big part in Tampa Bay’s victory.

So did the Orioles just run into some bad luck in the bottom of the 7th, or did they put themselves in a disadvantaged position that the Rays could exploit?  The short answer is probably a little bit of both.  Buck Showalter is considered one of the better managers in baseball, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know as much as he does or have as much information on the batted ball tendencies of the opposing team’s hitters.  Additionally, there are legitimate reasons to employ a shift on certain hitters, especially if they exhibit extreme batted ball tendencies (if teams didn’t think a shift is effective, they wouldn’t do it).

However, in this particular situation (7th inning, one-run lead), I do not think the shift was warranted given the detrimental value of putting runners on base.  Additionally, over-shifting could limit the pitcher’s ability to use both sides of the plate and his potential effectiveness (for example, left handed hitters will have an easier time hitting an outside pitch to the left side of the field, where bigger holes exist).  In fact, Kelly Johnson’s ground ball single was on a fastball on the outer corner of the plate.  You could possibly talk me into using the shift against Joyce here, but employing the shift against Johnson was unnecessary and ultimately changed the course of the game.

I’m not the first to have this idea, but I’m curious how many times it would take a particular batter to bunt against the over-shift for the defense to abandon it.  I don’t think anyone will ever try it, but having one person in your lineup guaranteed to reach base at every plate appearance would lead to more runs, especially over the course of the entire season.  At some point, you would think the defense would have to make an adjustment, and it would be interesting to see when that point is reached.  Perhaps this is a good topic for future post…

Orioles on Pace for a 162-0 Season

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 3, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

The Orioles won their first game of the season last night, putting them on pace to finish the season undefeated.  They thoroughly embarrassed Tampa Bay 7-4, and it could have been much worse if they hadn’t shown the Rays mercy by choosing to leave an additional 8 runners on base.  Basically the only thing left to do is for the American League to win the All-Star game so the Orioles will have home field advantage in the World Series…not that they would need it.