Archive for May, 2013

Orioles Draft Retrospective: 2000-2003

Posted in Draft, Prospects, Rule 4 with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

With the MLB Rule 4 Draft rapidly approaching (the festivities begin June 6), I’m sure that you have seen a lot of draft analysis (as well as mock drafts) all over the interwebs from your favorite baseball writers.  While I appreciate the inclusion among your favorite baseball writers, I am not planning to write up any kind of draft preview (although maybe I’ll do a draft recap).  Instead, I thought it would be interesting to take a brief look at how well the Orioles have drafted since 2000.  We’ll take a look at the team’s first round picks, a first round pick they passed on (but shouldn’t have), and any successful picks they made in later rounds.


The Orioles had two first round picks in the 2000 draft (numbers 14 and 32 overall), the second pick a result of losing Arthur Rhodes to free agency.

1-14 – Beau Hale (RHP) from University of Texas at Austin

1-32 – Tripper Johnson (RHP) from Newport HS (Bellevue, WA)

Don’t get upset at yourself if you’ve never heard of either of these two.  Both players topped out at AA, and neither has played since 2007.  In fact, no one from the Orioles 2000 draft has made it to the major leagues, except for their picks in each of the rounds from 32 to 36, with only one out of five providing positive Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  That lone player was Tim Stauffer (never signed with the Orioles), who has a career 2.1 WAR (according to Fangraphs), all with the San Diego Padres, who drafted him in 2003.

The biggest prize in the first round the Orioles skipped over from that draft was none other than one of my favorite players, Chase Utley (career 52.9 WAR), who was selected by the Phillies at #15, immediately following the Orioles pick of Hale.


The Orioles once again had multiple first round picks, the two extra being given as a result to losing Mike Mussina as a free agent.

1-7 – Chris Smith (LHP) from Cumberland University

1-19 – Mike Fontenot (2B) from Louisiana State University

1-31 – Bryan Bass (SS) from Seminole HS (Seminole, FL)

Fontnenot is the only one of the 3 to make the big leagues, accumulating 4.8 WAR, mostly for the Cubs and Giants (the Orioles traded Fontenot and others in 2005 for the washed up remains of Sammy Sosa).  The one from the first round that got away in 2001 was David Wright, but in fairness, he was drafted 38th overall, so just about every team their shot at him.

The Orioles got their current closer Jim Johnson in the 5th round of the 2001 draft, but really nothing else.


The Orioles had one first round pick in 2002, and they used it on…

1-4 – Adam Loewen (LHP) from Fraser Valley Christian HS (Surrey, BC)

Loewen contributed a total of 1.7 WAR on the mound for the Orioles between 2006 and 2008.  In 2011, he briefly returned to MLB as an outfielder for the Blue Jays (currently on their AAA team).  The only other player from that Orioles draft that produced a positive WAR was John Maine (all of that positive value was with the Mets, who traded for him in 2006).

I don’t know what everyone was thinking leading up to this draft, but looking back, this draft was loaded in the first round, and the Orioles passed on all the following players still on the board when they took Loewen.

#6 – Zack Greinke

#7 – Prince Fielder

#9 – Jeff Francis

#12 – Joe Saunders

#15 – Scott Kazmir

#16 – Nick Swisher

#17 – Cole Hamels

#20 – Denard Span

#25 – Matt Cain

Not the finest moment in the Orioles draft history.


While the Orioles didn’t get much from the 2002 first round pick, they made up for it the following year by selecting…

1-7 – Nick Markakis (OF) from Young Harris College

With a career total of 21.0 WAR to date (all for the Orioles), I think it’s safe to say that this was a good first round pick, regardless of who was still on the board.  But just out of curiosity, let’s take a look and see who was still there in the first round.  Names such as John Danks, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Hill, and Carlos Quentin were still available, but none of them have been more valuable than Markakis.  In fact, Markakis has been the most valuable 1st round pick (according to WAR) from the 2003 draft, period.

Despite the excellent Markakis pick in the first round, the Orioles got nothing else of value out of the 2003 draft.  We’ll stop on that somewhat positive note and pick it back up with 2004-2007 next time.

J.P. Arencibia Welcomes Kevin Gausman to the Big Leagues

Posted in Pitching, Prospects with tags , on May 25, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Last night, highly touted pitching prospect Kevin Gausman made his major league debut against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Gausman was the Orioles first round selection in the 2012 draft (4th overall) and was the Orioles’ #2 prospect behind Dylan Bundy, according to basically every prospect ranking list heading into the season (Keith Law of ESPN had Gausman as the #26 best prospect overall, while Baseball Prospectus had him at #13).  He mainly throws a fastball and change-up, which most scouts regard as plus pitches, as well as a average slider that can also flash plus at times.  He also commands his pitches well, thanks to an easy delivery and repeatable mechanics.  Prior to being called up to the big club, Gausman spent the first part of the season pitching for AA Bowie, posting excellent numbers (3.11 ERA and 2.44 FIP), while striking out more than 25% and walking only 2.6% of batters faced.

Despite taking the loss last night, Gausman’s stuff looked as good as advertised.  He mostly threw his 4-seam fastball (about 70% of his pitches), AVERAGING a velocity of 97.26 mph, and topping out at 99.45 mph (according to pitch f/x).  While a well-located fastball that averages more than 97 mph is impressive, his change-up was easily the most impressive pitch of the night.  Gausman’s change-up not only looked like a fastball coming out of his hand, he threw it (on average) 13 mph slower, while having excellent late fading action.  If you didn’t get a chance to see him throw that pitch last night, click HERE to look at Carson Cistulli’s post on Fangraphs for footage of that pitch.  When you’re done, don’t try and convince me that Gausman’s change-up isn’t beautiful…because you can’t.

Obviously, Gausman’s night wasn’t all positive since he gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, and there were times during his outing where he seemed to lose his command.  Blue Jay’s catcher J.P. Arencibia did a particularly good job of giving Gausman a taste of what to expect at baseball’s highest level, going 2 for 3 with a double and a home run (driving in 3 of the 4 runs Gausman gave up).  Below shows the location of the pitches Arencibia hit and the description of those pitches (from the catcher’s perspective).

Gausman vs Arencibia

Gausman vs Arencibia Table

If Gausman didn’t know that major league hitters can do some damage on a good pitch, he does now.  He barely got away with a pitch right down the middle to Arencibia (the ball was caught on the warning track), but the two pitches Arencibia hit for extra bases were not necessarily bad pitches.  I’m sure that many hitters in AA could not do much with a 97 mph fastball off the inside part of the plate, let alone hit it for a home run.  In fact, many major league hitters may struggle with that pitch, and Gausman would do well to keep challenging them with hard stuff on the hands.  Although, as the chart below shows, he may want to throw his fastballs to the upper/outer part of the plate next time he faces Arencibia, as the Blue Jay’s catcher tends to do some considerable damage on fastballs down and on the inside part of the plate.


Gausman’s major league debut was not great, but it was not terrible either.  With his combination of pure stuff and youth, we’re bound to see some inconsistency this year when he takes the mound (provided he stays in the major leagues).  And I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to beig there for every start, to see just how good he can be.

Another Guest Post at Camden Depot

Posted in Defense, Pitching with tags , , , on May 21, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Today’s post is once again located at Camden Depot (the Orioles blog for the ESPN Sweetspot Network), as they were kind enough to have me back for second time to be a guest writer.  The write up takes a look at Wei-Yin Chen, and his increased ability to induce the double play in 2013, despite getting opposing hitters to hit less ground balls than last year.  So head over to Camden Depot to read my article, and while your there, take a look at some of the other great content they have posted.

Direct Link to Article –> Wei-Yin Chen: Double Play Machine

Alexi Casilla to Stop Switch Hitting?

Posted in Glossary, Offense with tags , , , , on May 14, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Late last week, the Orioles announced that Alexi Casilla may stop switch hitting in favor of solely batting from the right side.  The move seemed like a curious decision to me, and my initial reaction was that the Orioles were looking to exploit some sort of platoon advantage at second base, especially considering their other second baseman, Ryan Flaherty, bats left handed.

It’s no secret that the second base position is something of an offensive black hole for the Orioles since Brian Roberts went down with a hamstring injury 3 games into the season (and even Roberts was not a sure bet to be productive at the plate this year).  In the absence of Roberts, the Orioles have been sending out Casilla and Flaherty to man the keystone, and it has not been pretty.  Orioles’ second basemen possess a combined .221 wOBA and a 30 wRC+*, both ranking 28th in the league.  For anyone too lazy to click on the link below, a wRC+ of 30 corresponds to a batter who is 70% worse than league average.

*click on the link for a definition of wRC+

Individually in 2013, Casilla, a switch hitter, has a .209/.244/.256 line (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 46 PA’s, with roughly two-thirds of his plate appearances against LHP’s (batting right handed).  Flaherty, a left handed hitter, has a .131/.223/.202 line in 95 PA’s (facing a RHP in all but 5 of them).  Just looking at those two lines makes me think that the Orioles are desperate to suggest Casilla give up switch hitting to focus on batting right handed, but maybe he has hit much better batting right handed against left handed pitching over the course of his career.

It turns out to be the opposite. The table below shows career numbers, and Casilla is a worse hitter when batting right handed in every offensive statistic except for batting average. He walks less, strikes out more, gets on base less, hits for less power, etc.  You get the picture.


I can’t comment on whether the Orioles coaches see something better in his right handed swing than his left handed swing based on some sort of scouting or mechanical characteristics (because I don’t know), but the numbers indicate that this will not do anything to improve Casilla’s offensive production, and may even make it worse.  In any event, as long as the Orioles keep playing any combination of Casilla and Flaherty at second base, you can expect little offensive production from them, regardless of what side of the plate Casilla bats on.

Adam Jones: Too Good to be True?

Posted in Offense with tags , , on May 7, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Many Orioles have gotten off to a great start in 2013.  Last week we took a look at the hot start of Chris Davis, to determine if his success was due to good luck, or a change in approach.  This week, we’ll take a gander (thank you Microsoft Word thesaurus!)* at the hot start for Adam Jones, and see if we can answer the same question.

*just kidding, I don’t need Microsoft Word’s thesaurus to help me write anymore

As of May 6, Adam Jones is the owner of a very healthy triple slash line, which is sitting at .331/.360/.519 (AVG/OBP/SLG).  All of three are above the levels of his breakout 2012 season, when those statistics were also career highs.  Despite the .519 slugging percentage, he is hitting for slightly less power this year compared to less, as his ISO is currently 0.030 lower than it was in 2012.  Still, between last year and 2013’s great start, the Orioles front office and its fans are feeling pretty good about that extension Jones signed last year to stay with the team through 2018.

Similar to Davis, the first thing that jumps out about Adam Jones’ season so far is his extremely high BABIP, which is currently at .400 (career .320 BABIP), and ranked as the 7th highest in all of baseball (Chris Davis is ranked 17th).  While BABIP can be an indicator of good or bad luck, luck is not the only reason for a high or low BABIP.  As previously discussed in the Davis post, hitters who are fast and hit line drives have a better chance to maintain high BABIP’s.  Jones certainly has above average speed and his line drive rate is currently 3.3% above his career average.  However his 2013 LD% is basically the same as it was last year, when his BABIP was .313.

One reason being touted for Jones’ great start to the season has been his improvement when hitting with two strikes.  The numbers back this up, as Jones is hitting .302/.333/.476 with two strikes in 66 PA’s.  He also has an ABSURD .545 BABIP with two strikes.  Read that last sentence again.  In a count where the pitcher likely has a huge advantage, Jones getting hits on over half of the balls he puts in play.  In his career, Jones’ numbers with two strikes look a lot different, with a line of .211/.257/.329 and a BABIP of .331.  Even Chris Davis has a.228/.297/.491 line, with a BABIP of .409, is not even close to Jones’ two strike numbers in 2013.

While there is no reason why Jones will keep up his pace with two strikes, maybe he has changed his approach at the plate with two strikes through a shortened swing, better strikezone awareness, etc.  I have admittedly not watched enough Orioles games this year to make that claim one way or another, but the plate discipline numbers do not back this up.  Cue the table!


Jones is basically right around his career averages in the above plate discipline categories.  These numbers in addition to his current walk and strikeout rates don’t really show any sort of change in approach.  Jones has never been known to take a lot of walks, but so far in 2013, both rates are trending in the wrong direction (the blue line indicates league average).

BB Rate

BB Rate

K Rate

K Rate

Finally, before we finish up, let’s look at a couple players in the BABIP top ten with similar BB%, K%, and AVG/OBP/SLG as Jones…


Any idea who those players might be?  Hint: it’s probably not who you were hoping for.

  • Player A is Chris Johnson, third baseman for the Atlanta Braves.  If his name sounds familiar, he was part of the package Arizona sent to the Braves with Justin Upton this past offseason.  Over the course of his career (1,400+ PA’s), he’s basically been your average hitter, with a career triple slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .279/.318/.432.
  • Player B is Nick Hundley, catcher for the San Diego Padres.  Hundley has almost 1,500 major league PA’s in his career and has been a below average hitter, with a .242/.300/.397 line.
  • Player C is Starling Marte, left fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Marte has accumulated roughly a half season of PA’s in his two years in the majors and was one of the Pirates top prospects as recently as last year.  Scouts love his potential, but a lot believe he will never learn the plate discipline needed to reach it.  I don’t believe that it is unrealistic to say that Marte would be fortunate if his ceiling is Adam Jones type production, but he has a long road to get there.

If you don’t feel good about these players continuing to produce at those levels for the rest of the year, you shouldn’t, because it’s not likely that they will.  Unfortunately, the same can be said of Jones, especially since his plate discipline numbers indicate that his approach at the plate has not been any different this year than in previous years.  At some point, Jones’ balls in play will stop finding holes (especially with two strikes), and his numbers will regress to last year’s levels, or even closer to his career levels.

Chris Davis: Too Good to be True?

Posted in Offense with tags , , , on May 4, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

On Tuesday, Matt Kremnitzer over at Camden Depot took a look at the hot start to the season for Chris Davis, and came to the conclusion that his early season success can be attributed to his improved plate discipline.  Kremnitzer has a similar table in his piece, but take another look to see just how much Davis’ approach at the plate has improved so far this year, compared to his previous time with the Orioles (updated numbers for 2013).


*2011 stats reflect Davis’ time with the Orioles only

Currently, Davis is sporting a triple slash line of .337/.438/.704, with a .467 wOBA (as of May 3rd).  Is he going to keep that up during the entire season?  Absolutely not!  But, as Kremnitzer pointed out in his piece, his improved approach at the plate is a very positive indicator that Davis has a good chance to continue his success over a sustained period of time.

However, before we start talking about Davis as a potential MVP candidate, there are some reasons to be skeptical of his hot start.  I bring this up not to be a “Debbie Downer”, but more to temper expectations.

The first (and easiest) indicator is with Davis’ BABIP, which is a lofty .387, despite a line drive rate that is currently a career low and roughly 3.5% below his career rate.  To put this into perspective, typically batters who hit a lot of line drives and/or are fast can sustain a high BABIP.  For example, Ichiro Suzuki has a career .347 BABIP, and Dexter Fowler (who is speedy) led the league in BABIP last year with .390.  He also happened to lead the league in LD% at 27.2%.  Davis is nowhere near as fast as Fowler and currently has a LD% of 19.7%.  However, the career BABIP of Chris Davis sits at .338, so even a regression to his career level won’t send his overall numbers off a cliff.  This is the good news.  Now here comes the bad news.

Chris Davis swings at fastballs down and in…and crushes them.  Check out the figure showing his SLG on fastballs over his career by zone, courtesy of Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus (from catcher’s point of view).


You may say that’s not bad news, or even that it’s not news at all, but it sets up the bad news.  And that is that Chris Davis also swings at pitches that initially look like meaty fastballs down and in, but turn out to be breaking balls (curveballs and sliders) that dart out of the strikezone.  As a result, he DOES NOT crush them, and often times he misses them completely.  This time, our trusty figure shows his swing rate on breaking balls, again from the catcher’s point of view.


Pay special attention to the highlighted area out of the strikezone in the bottom right corner (pitches down and in to Davis) and make a mental note of how many times he swings at breaking balls there.  Now combine that swing percentage with the fact that he whiffs on breaking balls in that area more than 53% of the time (and 71.4% specifically in the zone on the bottom right).  Breaking balls thrown out of the strikezone down and in to Chris Davis is an undeniable weakness.

Let’s look at a few more figures, this time from 2013, courtesy of Texas Leaguers.  The first figure in each set shows pitch locations where Davis swung, while the second figure in each set shows pitch locations taken (again from the catcher’s point of view).  First, the sliders…


Now, the curveballs…


For some reason, opposing pitchers haven’t thrown Davis many breaking balls down and in out of the strikezone this year.  I’m not sure why they wouldn’t throw breaking balls in that area with more frequency, other than the fear of making a mistake and getting punished (Davis will crush breaking balls that don’t find their way far enough inside).  Another potential reason could have something to do with the batters in front of Davis consistently getting on base, requiring pitchers to guard against the steal or a passed ball.  A pitch down and in to a left hander is a difficult spot for a catcher to receive, especially when trying to throw out a potential base stealer.

Chris Davis is off to an amazing start to the year and there are good reasons to believe that an improved approach at the plate is a bigger reason for it than plain old luck.  As the season progresses and pitchers throw more breaking balls out of the zone down and in to Davis, we’ll see if that improved approach includes laying off those pitches, giving us a better idea as to whether Davis is going to have another breakout year.