Archive for July, 2013

Is It Possible for a Bullpen to be Too Rested?

Posted in Pitching, Strategy with tags , on July 31, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

I have a new post up today on ESPN SweetSpot Network blog, Camden Depot.  The article takes a quick look at how the number of rest days a reliever gets in between appearances could potentially affect their performance.

Direct link to article –> Is It Possible for a Bullpen to be Too Rested?

Orioles Trade Options at the Deadline: Reliever Wishlist

Posted in Pitching, Trades with tags , , , on July 26, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

The following post was written by Doug Nickerson as a guest post for Orioles Proving Ground.  Nickerson grew up as a Red Sox fan on Cape Cod, MA and is looking forward to writing about the Orioles with his knowledge of the AL East from a non-emotional perspective.  He moved to the DC area last August, and while he loves the city, he hates humidity and traffic.

With the non-waiver trade deadline about a week away here is a quick rundown of my reliever wish list.  The Orioles bullpen has pitched well since the All-Star break but due to their early season performance and the importance of having a dependable bullpen for a stretch run, I wanted to look further into this.

**Note: At the time of finishing this article, Baltimore traded for Francisco Rodriguez.  This probably means they are done trading for relievers but this post was just about done so keep reading to see what could have been their other options**

With the weak trade market, as poignantly described by Jayson Stark at ESPN , I figure the best deals are going to be the ones that are made with little fanfare.  Therefore, I looked into players who are flying under the radar but could make a big impact. I’m also looking at realistically available relievers to fortify the O’s pen.  Therefore, I won’t be making suggestions like Mariano Rivera, Jason Grilli, or Craig Kimbrel.

Love to have if Peter Angelos cost wasn’t a factor:

Steve Cishek – A high cost in prospects and then rising salary cost as arbitration eligible.  Would love for O’s to have him, as over his last 11 outings he’s posted a 2.38 ERA, 0.84 FIP, and a 52% GB rate with a .296 BABIP.  In front of the Orioles strong defense, he could be a lethal end of game asset.

Glen Perkins – Twins have publically stated that it’d take an extremely high cost in prospects to acquire.  However, his contract is reasonable $10.3M / 3 Years (2013 – 2015) + 1 option year.  His high acquisition cost might be a good thing to ward off the Orioles.  He’s having a career year with his K/9, BB/9, ERA and FIP all at career bests.  At such a high cost, he comes with a risk of buying too high and he’ll retreat back to a respectable but not All-Star level.

Scott Downs – LA would be looking to get as many quality prospects back as possible if they fall further out of contention.  If they cover a decent percent of remaining $5M contract then prospect cost will obviously go up.  LA also might view him as a higher value asset because as a pending free agent they would lose out on a compensation pick if he qualifies and leaves.  He’s a rarity as he’s been a year to year consistent performer out of the bullpen.  He can get out righties when he has to (RH AVG 0.245) but he’s a better lefty specialist, LH AVG .200.

Bobby Parnell – He is the Mets’ Glen Perkins, although he isn’t having a career year like Perkins.  He’d most likely cost a lot in prospects as the Mets look to build toward the future.  Has a dominate fastball that peaks at 102 MPH and induces a lot of GBs (2013: 52%) and a modest K/9 of 8.00 this year.  Considering his BABIP this year is a career low, .256, which would indicate his career low 2.35 ERA isn’t sustainable, his asking price is going to be high due to having a big fastball on a rebuilding team in a weak market.

Tyler Clippard –The most consistent reliever for the Nats since 2009.  Would be buying high as his BABIP and ERA are at a career lows.  His K/9 and BB/9 are heading in the wrong direction from the previous two seasons.  However, with the Nationals fading fast, GM Rizzo might be willing to listen to offers to rebuild their weak upper farm system.

Could easily be traded:

Jesse Crain – Complicated situation.  He’s coming off injury but also was named an All Star this year.  Likely to be used by White Sox regularly over the next week to prove he is injury free to increase price.  He appears to be tailor made for Camden Yards.  Induces high ground ball rate but has increased his K/BB rate to make him more reliable and versatile at the end of games.

Javier Lopez – Lefty specialist who has pitched in AL East with success.  He has pitched for 3 World Series winners (Bos. ’07, SF ’10 & ’12).  He’s a GB pitcher with a 62.5% rate.  His down side is he is solely one dimensional as lefties it only .172 while righties hit .265.

Drew Storen – Never heard a specific rumor but from watching him he needs a change of scenery.  His velocity has only lost a little bit but he lacks mound presence to translate his talent to outs consistently.

Francisco Rodriguez – He is a FB pitcher, who last year had a terrible year for his reputation as a dominate bullpen guy.  His peak velocity is down but he’s throwing more fastballs to keep batters off balance when he throws his changeup and curveball.  This is a similar strategy to what he did in his last successful year in 2011.  I thought before the trade that K-Rod was a high risk, high reward proposition because of his smoke and mirrors success, as seen from his .250 BABIP and 3.09 FIP vs. 1.09 ERA.  If Buck can use him in the right situations to maximize him, I think its quality acquisition but I think there were better options out there.

As described by Keith Law at ESPN (Insider required) the Orioles only gave up a high A player, Nick Delmonico.  I disagree with Law as I think a player that isn’t one of the team’s top prospects for a veteran reliever who can help you down the stretch is a fair trade.  I think you make this trade 9 out of 10 times.  That prospect could turn into the next Jeff Bagwell, but considering they have Manny Machado at 3rd and Chris Davis at 1st, it’s a risk worth taking.

Under the Radar:

LaTroy Hawkins – Yes, he is still pitching.  Looking at his numbers, I wanted to say he’s having a resurgence but a closer look shows he’s been producing these consistent numbers over the past 15+ years.  I know he’s been a NL pitcher for 7.5 of the past 10 seasons, which was my biggest concern going into this investigation.  Can he handle the offensive rigors of the AL and especially the AL East?  2012 was his first stint in the AL since being with the Yankees in 2008.  His half season with the Yankees was forgettable, he produced one of the highest FIPs of his career, 4.21, and BB/9, 3.73, was almost a full walk above his career average.  With the Angels he performed better, closer to his career averages. The most optimistic sign for the Orioles is that Hawkins has remade himself into a ground ball pitcher.  In the last 4 seasons his GB/FB ratio has averaged in the 2.1 range, which is an increase the 1.1 he averaged in the early 2000s.  This year he has pitched better in high leverage situations than low leverage, therefore, the hope would be it translates to a team in a pennant race.

Casey Fien – He is having his second impressive year out of the Twins pen.  This is also impressive considering he has pitched drastically different than last year by mixing his fastball, slider, and changeup with almost equal proportions.  His improvement has caused him to gain more responsibilities in the Minnesota bullpen as he’s advanced to sharing the 8th inning duties. While he’s improved his BB/9 (1.70) and K/9 (9.57), he’s quickly approaching his most innings pitched since 2010 which could be cause for concern as he might fade down the stretch.  He will be due a raise at the end of this season (currently making the league minimum), and could be a quality asset for future seasons if resigned.

Joe Thatcher – Out in San Diego where they breed relievers, Thatcher is having an outstanding year as a lefty specialist.  He has reduced his BB/9 to 1.29 while also yielding a 2.25 ERA and 2.98 FIP.  His .285 BABIP shows his numbers are sustainable while he has pitch 40% of his innings this year against righties, he has let up a .298 AVG against them.  If limited to just lefties, he can be highly effective as seen from his .194 AVG against.

Orioles Trade Options: Designated Hitter

Posted in Offense, Trades with tags , , on July 24, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

Most of our recent time here at Orioles Proving Ground has been focused on the trade deadline, and ways the Orioles could improve their team for a run at the playoffs.  Last week, I took a rather lengthy look at trading for Chase Utley, while Doug looked at fortifying the bullpen with a trade for the Mariners’ Oliver Perez.

Next up, I take a look at potential trade options for designated hitter over at Camden Depot, considering certain financial limitations that have recently come to light.

Direct link to article –> Orioles Trade Options: Designated Hitter

Bounce Back Candidate for the Second Half: Matt Wieters

Posted in Offense with tags , on July 19, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

I’ve got a new post up on the Orioles ESPN Sweetspot Network blog, Camden Depot today.  The article looks at Matt Wieters as a potential candidate to have a much more productive second half of the season compared to his first half.  Head over to Camden Depot and check it out.

Direct link to article –> Bounce Back Candidate for the Second Half: Matt Wieters

Orioles Trade Options at the Deadline: Oliver Perez

Posted in Pitching, Trades, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

The following post was written by Doug Nickerson in the very first guest post for Orioles Proving Ground.  Nickerson grew up as a Red Sox fan on Cape Cod, MA and is looking forward to writing about the Orioles with his knowledge of the AL East from a non-emotional perspective.  He moved to the DC area last August, and while he loves the city, he hates humidity and traffic.

Hi Orioles Fans!  Thanks for coming to Orioles Proving Ground.  This is my first contribution to OriolesPG; I hope you find it insightful and please let me know what you think.

As mentioned in Nate’s earlier post on laying out the needs of the Orioles coming into July, Baltimore needs pitching, pitching, and then more pitching. Dan Duquette looked to secure the back half of his rotation by acquiring starter Scott Feldman from the Cubs.  With the return of Wei-Yin Chen from the disabled list, and hopefully an improvement from either Jason Hammel (a FIP of 6.99 since June 1st says probably not), Zach Britton (pitched well but not far into games since June 18th with a high GB% of 54% and a BABIP of .282, and was optioned to AAA on July 9), or Kevin Gausman (pitched well out of the ‘pen but mixed results as a starter, and also optioned to AAA on July 9) the rotation will be stable and dependable 1-5.

That leaves the bullpen as a glaring need for improvement.  As with every year, teams in contention are looking for bullpen help as relievers performance can be fickle.  With the addition of another wildcard playoff spot, more teams are in contention and fewer teams are looking to sell.  Thus basic supply and demand can drive up the cost of these trade assets.  The Orioles will not be looking to be on the wrong end of a trade as the infamous Heathcliff Slocumb for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe in 1997, or to a lesser extent, the Eric Gagne (horrific after trade) and cash (unneeded but best thing the Red Sox got) for David Murphy (a serviceable 10.2 WAR since trade), Kason Gabbard (forgettable), and Engel Beltre (23 and just called up to majors this week) trade.

Many rumors are circulating that the Orioles are looking into Oliver Perez.  I find this a high risk/high reward proposition for the Orioles.  Perez has done an amazing job re-making himself into a very good left-handed reliever in the last two years.  Thus, he also has a small sample size, which can give misleading data for a reliever.  However, this year he has held left handed batters to a .250 AVG while keeping right handed batters to an even lower .171 AVG.  This is exactly what the Orioles could use out of their ‘pen.  Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, and Tommy Hunter have been tough on same side match ups but have done poorly against opposite handed batters.  The other mainstays of the bullpen have been mediocre to borderline bad to either side of the plate.  As seen from the chart below:

   

Split

IP

AVG

BABIP

FIP

xFIP

Darren O’Day

RHP

vs L

14.2

0.312

0.362

4.63

4.48

vs R

27

0.161

0.213

2.80

3.29

Brian Matusz

LHP

vs L

22.2

0.141

0.167

2.80

3.07

vs R

13.1

0.321

0.354

4.56

5.16

Tommy Hunter

RHP

vs L

24.1

0.278

0.263

6.14

4.42

vs R

28

0.118

0.162

2.02

3.43

T.J. McFarland

LHP

vs L

20

0.263

0.333

3.16

2.47

vs R

28

0.265

0.306

3.63

4.47

Troy Patton

LHP

vs L

16.2

0.269

0.278

4.56

3.9

vs R

22.1

0.277

0.333

3.82

4.62

Jim Johnson

RHP

vs L

24.1

0.250

0.296

3.92

3.83

vs R

19.1

0.264

0.333

3.22

3.49

Although Perez’s stats look great now, they do come with an asterisk of caution.  The issue is Perez’s pitching style.  He is a strikeout-flyball pitcher.  His HR/FB ratio has been 7.9% which is slightly better than the league average of 9.8%.  This number is not alarming since he’s playing half of his games at the deep caverns of SafeCo Field and all of his home runs allowed have been at home to right handed batters.  However, his FB% is much higher than the league average, 49.4% vs. 35.4%, and his career average is 47.4%.  With 32 of the final 66 games at home and 12 of the 34 away games being played at flyball unfriendly stadiums (Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Toronto), it can be assumed that his HR/FB ratio would increase with the Orioles.  Having Perez implode with a high HR/FB ratio is the biggest risk the Orioles would be taking in acquiring him.

Adding to his list of positives, Oliver Perez has an attractive contract to the Baltimore organization.  He is in the middle of a 1 year deal for $1.5 million for which they would only be responsible for the prorated remainder.  Trading for Perez, the Orioles would be wise to only offer a lower level prospect, maybe someone they rank no higher than their 15th best prospect, due to the lack of draft compensation if Perez leaves via free agency. This is a distinct possibility, especially if he continues to play as he has since becoming a reliever, he could play himself into a bigger contract that the Orioles would be unwilling to give him.  With only 2 more weeks until the non-waiver trade deadline, look out for more analysis on potential bullpen additions to the Orioles bullpen.

Getting Prematurely Emotional About Chase Utley

Posted in Trades with tags , , , , on July 16, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

This is an Orioles blog.  However, if you remember correctly, I’m actually a Phillies fan, so let me take a moment to talk about the Phillies and Chase Utley.  After I let out a good cry (in the form of words), I promise I’ll compose myself, circle back around, and tie this post back to the Orioles.

Despite winning 9 out of their last 13 games, and arriving at the All-Star break playing .500 baseball, the Phillies are not a playoff team.  In fact, they are not even close to being a playoff team.  And as bad as it sounds, I am praying there will be no winning streak leading up to the trade deadline, which somehow leads to adding players at the trade deadline for a foolish run at a playoff spot that won’t be there at the end of the season.  The team is old and injury prone, the payroll is bloated, and the farm system is (for the most part) empty.  Prolonged success, years of trades to boost the major league club, and keeping a core group of aging players together for multiple runs at championships will do that.  Also, paying a closing pitcher (ANY closing pitcher) $50 million over 4 years doesn’t help either.  If I went on a train of thought rant on the Jonathan Papelbon contract right now, you would probably have to read several more pages until I actually got to the point.  But lucky for you, I’m showing restraint (actually, more likely lucky for me, because you’d probably just stop reading).

Yes the Phillies should be selling.  They may have a 48-48 record, but are playing like a team that should have a 43-53 record (scoring 45 fewer runs than they have allowed).  They are 6.5 games out of first place, 5.5 games out the 2nd wild card spot, and according to ESPN, they currently have an 8.2% chance at making the playoffs.  This is where Chase Utley comes into play.

If the Phillies do end up selling at the trade deadline, Chase Utley would be one of the prime candidates to be wearing a different uniform by August 1st.  The thought of Utley being traded is particularly sad for me (and I imagine the majority of Phillies fans), as he has been my favorite player since the days of my youth when I idolized Mike Schmidt.  While it seems like he was sometimes underappreciated throughout his career, he is easily the best second basemen the Phillies have ever known.  And with a couple more productive years, he should be a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.

How good has Chase Utley been over his career?  Since he debuted in 2003, his 54.0 career Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs (fWAR) is 3rd among all position players, behind only Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.  What’s even more amazing is that he’s accumulated that total while ranking just 48th in games played over that same period of time (due to injuries in 2010-2012).  Among second basemen, he leads the next closest on the list (Robinson Cano) by 19.1 fWAR, despite playing 50 less games.  Utley’s peak years were from 2005 to 2009, where he accumulated 37.7 fWAR, second to only Albert Pujols, who accumulated 41.2 fWAR during that period.

The amount of overall production Chase Utley has contributed over his career is impressive, but it’s only a portion of what makes him so excellent and fun to watch.  What makes him so great (from my point of view at least) is his knowledge of the game of baseball,which makes him better than his physical talent.  In a recent post at Crashburn Alley, resident scouting writer Eric Longenhagen was asked what Chase Utley’s scouting grades were during his peak years of 2005-2009.  Here is what he replied with:

Hit: 65

Power: 55

Run: 50

Field: 65

Arm: 50

Scouts rank players on a 20-80 scale, with 20 being terrible, 80 being excellent (and rare), and 50 being average.  Even in his prime, Eric viewed most of Utley’s tools as average or above average.  But let’s take a look at Utley’s hitting, running, and fielding a little bit more closely, because his game is more than just his baseball abilities.

First let’s take a look at his hitting.  It’s common knowledge that Chase Utley is a great hitter, especially for a second baseman.  But how great of a hitter is he?  In every year from 2005-2009, Utley compiled statistics that consisted of (at a minimum), a .280 AVG, .375 OBP, .500 SLG, and a .200 ISO.  Below is a table of second basemen in the history of baseball who have compiled all of those statistics in a season, and the number of times they have accomplished it.

UTLEY

Out of all the second basemen in the history of baseball, only Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby has accomplished that feat more often than Utley.  Only one other player has exceeded Utley’s combination of ability to hit for average, power, and to get on base. The Chase Utley of 2005-2009 is no longer around, and it’s very unlikely he will ever return.  Even so, Utley remains a very productive hitter, and is ranked 7th in wOBA for second basemen in 2013.  Whether you knew it or not, since 2003, the Phillies have had one of the best overall hitting second basemen of all time playing for them.  Period.

Now, let’s talk about his running.  Chase Utley has average speed, yet he is also one of the best running second basemen in the history of the game.  According to Fangraphs, he has accumulated 44.5 baserunning runs (BsR), which is good for 4th place among all second basemen since 1951.  Each of the players listed above him except one have played at least 500 more games than Utley, and the only one who hasn’t is Tony Womack, who owns a career fWAR total of 1.7.  Additionally, while Utley may not steal a ton of bases, when he does, you can almost guarantee that he won’t get caught.  He ranks 2nd in stolen base % among ALL players since 1951 (minimum 80 stolen base attempts), safely stealing a base 88.89% of the time.

Finally, we’ll take a look at his fielding.  Despite being scouted as only an above average defender, and never winning a gold glove, Utley has been the best at fielding his position over his career as well.  Since 2003, he’s accumulated 144 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at second base, which is ranked first by 27 runs.  He also tops the list of UZR/150 at 13.9, leading Dustin Pedroia (ranked 2nd) by 4.3.

I think I’ll stop there, because if I keep going, this is may start to turn into Mac’s letter to Chase Utley in “It’s Always Sunny”.

Bottom line, Chase Utley is good at baseball, and is easily the best Phillies player in an era when there were a lot of good Phillies players.  As a fan, it’s difficult to imagine trading Chase Utley.  However, from a baseball perspective, it makes a lot of sense not only from the team’s perspective, but from the player’s perspective as well.

Team Perspective

1) His Contract – Utley is in the final year of the 7 year, $85 million contract he originally signed in 2007.  There is no guarantee that he will be open to signing another contract with the Phillies, and due to his injury history (and the team’s payroll situation), the team may not want commit to the number of years or dollars he would like.  Additionally, the Phillies have two in house candidates who could potentially replace Utley next year if he were to leave (although neither Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez are close to the caliber of player Utley is).

2) While Chase Utley won’t ever be able to repeat the production of his peak years, he is still a very valuable player that many teams would want for the pennant race, and the Phillies may be able to get a decent return in prospects for him, which could help boost their very weak minor league system.  Despite his injury history, he has managed to stay relatively healthy this year and has been the 5th most valuable second baseman in the entire league (according to fWAR), despite missing 28 games for a ribcage injury.  I would imagine teams are happy that there’s been no knee trouble, and probably don’t view the ribcage injury this year as a concern.

3) If Utley is traded, the Phillies could potentially re-sign him in the off-season.  I feel like this would be unlikely, but if he enjoys playing in Philadelphia, the Phillies may be able to get Utley back while re-stocking the farm system at the same time.

Player Prospective

1) Obviously, the first reason for Utley to accept a trade would be the opportunity to play in a pennant race.  Every player wants to win, and Philadelphia is probably not the place to have the best chance at that this year.

2) According to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and the owners, Utley has a financial incentive to accept a trade.  If he’s traded this year, he would not have draft pick compensation tied to him in the offseason.  It’s slightly more complicated than this, but if Utley is traded, the team signing him for next year would not have to give up it’s first round draft pick in 2014 as a result.  On the other hand, if the Phillies keep Utley and extend a qualifying offer in the offseason (a 1 year, approximately $13 million contract), Utley’s rejection of that offer would tie him to a draft pick.  In recent years, teams have been increasingly reluctant to give up draft picks to sign certain free agents, and as a result, Utley’s market in the offseason would definitely shrink.

3) As mentioned above, Utley could always re-sign with the Phillies in the offseason if he enjoys playing in Philadelphia, while getting the benefits already mentioned.

Looking at this situation from a rational standpoint, trading Chase Utley makes too much sense.  As mentioned above, there are many contending teams that could use a Chase Utley to help their chances in a playoff race, one of whom would be the Baltimore Orioles (see, I told you I would tie this back to the Orioles).

The Orioles currently have a mix of Brian Roberts, Alexi Casilla, and Ryan Flaherty manning second base.  Casilla and Flaherty have been great in the field this year, but each has struggled at the plate.  Roberts on the other hand, has just returned from another injury and no one is really sure how much he’ll contribute.  In the 66 games following the All-Star break, Dan Szymborski’s Zips Projection system at Fangraphs projects the combination of Baltimore’s current second base options to contribute a total of 0.2 WAR over the remaining games this season.  On the other hand, Zips projects Utley to contribute 1.4 WAR throughout the rest of the season.  Utley’s projection may be a little low as well, since Zips only predicts Utley playing in 43 of the remaining games.  Due to his injury history, Utley does require more days off than he used to, but in the American League, some of those off days can be replaced with days spent at DH, another position the Orioles need to upgrade.  Utley’s WAR projection could increase by 0.25 or more with 10 more games of anticipated playing time.  The net 1.2 wins (or more) that Utley could provide to the Orioles during the second half of the season could be critical in what will surely be a tight playoff race down the stretch.

What would it take to get Utley from the Phillies?  Probably not as much as you think.  There are reasons the Orioles (and other teams) should be cautious when trading for Utley, the first and foremost being his injury history.  Another reason is the money that he would be owed.  Utley makes $15 million this season, so depending on when he’s traded the team getting him would be on the hook for probably $5-$6 million, unless the Phillies pick up some of the tab.  I doubt the Orioles would have a problem picking up his remaining salary for 2013, especially if it means giving up less in prospects, but the money may be a hurdle for other teams (I’m looking at you, Oakland).  Finally, since Utley will be a free agent after the season, he would only be considered a rental, and teams are less willing to give up their better prospects for rentals.

The Orioles farm system is strong at the top, but not very deep.  However, I think there is enough talent there to get Utley if they want him.  Even though they’re both injured, I don’t believe the Phillies have any shot at getting Jonathan Schoop or Dylan Bundy in the deal, and Baltimore would be foolish to even consider them.  If the Phillies would be able to get left handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (ranked 100th overall and 4th in the Orioles system prior to the start of the 2013 season by ESPN’s Keith Law), I think they should be thrilled, but Baltimore may not want to give him up either, and they wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that.  I’m not going to expand on exact hypothetical trades since it’s essentially a fool’s errand, as it’s impossible to predict, since I don’t know what organizational needs are exactly or how each team values it’s own (or other) players.

If Utley does end up wearing a uniform other than Phillies pinstripes come August 1st, there will be a mix of emotions.  On one hand, seeing him play for another team will be tough, but on the other, it is the best thing for the future of the Phillies organization.  And if he is traded, a part of me will definitely have a routing interest in that team the rest of the season. If that team happens to be the Orioles, then that will be even better.

Chris Tillman: Limiting the Damage of the Long Ball

Posted in Pitching with tags , on July 9, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

I’ve got a new post up on Camden Depot.  It takes a look at Chris Tillman‘s ability drastically reduce his home runs allowed with men on base, despite being a flyball pitcher, who is very prone to giving up a lot of home runs.  Check it out.

Direct Link to Article –> Chris Tillman: Limiting the Damage of the Long Ball