Archive for 2013

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.

2012-2013 Offseason Recap

Posted in Offseason with tags , , on March 30, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

On Monday we looked at a recap of the Orioles 2012 season, and tried to make sense of their unlikely run to the playoffs.  Today, we will take a look at what they could have done to improve, what they should have done, and what they did do.

Last year, the Orioles had a payroll of just over $84 million. The team led the league with 15 arbitration eligible players, each requiring a raise.  The team agreed to contracts with 11 of those 15, for amounts totaling almost $31 million, adding an additional $18 million to the 2012 payroll.  With that in mind, we’ll assume that expensive free agents may add too much money to the team’s already increasing payroll. Just trying to avoid using monopoly money in this exercise.  Additionally, Baltimore’s minor league system is very strong at the top (with RHP Dylan Byndy, RHP Kevin Gausman, and INF Jonathan Schoop), but lacks depth, so an impact trade would be difficult to produce without including one of those 3 players.  With that in mind, these 3 players will not be included in any potential trades.

Monday’s post concluded that based on current roster construction, the best areas to upgrade were at 2B, LF, SP.

Second Base

What they COULD Have Done: Not much.  First off, the team already has $10 million committed to Brian Roberts, who is in the last year of his $40 million contract he began in 2010.  Roberts hasn’t done much since signing that contract, playing in 115 games over the previous 3 years due to a multitude of injuries. However, prior to 2010, Roberts was an elite second baseman, averaging roughly 4.5 WAR from 2005-2009.  If he can stay healthy (a HUGE if), he should be able to produce 2.0 WAR in 2013 (roughly average, which is good).  A healthy Roberts and his career .351 OBP will improve the team’s OBP and baserunning at the top of the order.

Additionally, there wasn’t much on the free agent market, with Jeff Keppinger and Marco Scutaro the best second basemen available.  Both signed for multi-year deals and don’t really represent a significant upgrade over a healthy Roberts.  The trade market also appeared to be slim, with potentially a couple of buy low candidates in Gordon Beckham and Johnny Giavotella.  Again, neither represents an upgrade.

What they SHOULD Have Done: Pray that Brian Roberts stays healthy in his contract year, and maybe get some Brian Roberts insurance (you know, because he’s hurt a lot).

What they DID Do: They claimed Alexi Casilla off of waivers to act as a back-up infielder/Brian Roberts insurance.  With a career triple slash line of .250/.305/.334 (AVG/OBP/SLG) Casilla doesn’t offer much with the bat, but can provide value with solid defense and baserunning.

Left Field

What they COULD Have Done: Nolan Reimold looked good in LF to start 2012, but got hurt after 16 games and never returned.  Nate McLouth did an admirable job filling in following Reimold’s injury, but his recent history prior to his surprising 2012 makes his productive half season with the Orioles look a little fluky.  In fact prior to being signed by Baltimore, McLouth was released by the Pirates (the PIRATES!!!!!) after hitting .140/.210/.175.  He fared much better in Baltimore, but no one would blame you if the thought of Nate McLouth as your starting LF made you a little nauseous.

A lot of options on the free agent market, several of them being potentially good fits for the Orioles.  Some OF free agents such as Torii Hunter, Angel Pagan, and Melky Cabrera did not require the Orioles to give up there 2013 1st round draft pick (#22 overall), while others, including Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton, BJ Upton, and Michael Bourn would leave Baltimore without the pick.  As mentioned previously, Baltimore’s minor league system is very thin after the top 3, so that pick has a lot of value to the team at this time.  Potential trade options included Denard Span, Chris Young, and Josh Willingham.

What they SHOULD Have Done:   Hindsight is 20/20, but the best option the Orioles had was going after Torii Hunter for the amount the Tigers signed him (2 years, $26 million).  Hunter is unlikely to repeat his 2012 (.389 BABIP compared to a career BABIP of .307), but signing him to play LF would bring in a player with solid, if unspectacular on-base skills (career .335), a well above average defender in a corner OF position, and an average baserunner at this point in his career, on a short contract without having to give up a draft pick.  Of the available free agents requiring Baltimore’s draft pick, Swisher is the only one I would have attempted to sign given his consistent mix of on base ability and power (career .256/.361/.467 line), solid defense, and positional flexibility, as he can play in either corner OF spot and first base.

As far as trades, the Oakland A’s basically stole Chris Young from the Diamondbacks, so he would have been the best target in my opinion.  His batting average keeps his OBP low (career .239/.318/.437 hitter), but he can draw a walk or to, with a career walk rate of 10%.  He is also an excellent defender and a good baserunner.

What they DID Do:  The Orioles resigned Nate McLouth and are hoping for Nolan Reimold to remain healthy, as those two look to be getting the most playing time in LF.

Starting Pitcher

What the COULD Have Done:  The Orioles starting pitching unit in 2012 consisted of surprises (Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Steve Johnson, Chris Tillman) and continued disappointment from recent top prospects (Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton).  Going into 2013, the rotation features a lot of upside, albeit with a lot of uncertainty.

Several free agents who would not cost a draft pick were available, including Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, and Edwin Jackson.  Greinke (career 3.45 FIP and 8.09 K/9) is the only one of that group that would be a significant upgrade, but his asking price was too high for Baltimore’s budget.  As far as impact starting pitcher’s, the trade market wasn’t much better, with Rick Porcello and Trevor Bauer likely being the two starting pitchers the Orioles could have potentially acquired without giving up their top 3 prospects.  And while each of them have upside, neither of those two are necessarily upgrades in 2013.

What they SHOULD Have Done:  Basically stay away from the free agent market.  Brandon McCarthy would have been a solid pick-up as a free agent (signed with Arizona for 2 years, $15 million), although he would come at a significant risk, since he’s averaged less than 95 innings per year mainly due to injury. Realizing that his career stats do not quite match up with the Orioles starting pitching needs, I think a trade for Rick Porcello would have benefitted the Orioles (career 4.26 FIP and 5.00 K/9).  Despite already accruing over 3 years of service time, Porcello is only 24, and still has plenty of upside.  He’s a groundball pitcher (career 52.3% GB) who’s had terrible infield defense behind him throughout his career, so you could expect his ERA to improve with an infield defense better than Detroit’s.  Just speculating, but I believe an offseason trade of JJ Hardy and Jim Johnson for Rick Porcello and Jhonny Peralta would have been fair.  Closers like Johnson can be overrated and while it hurts to trade Hardy, it allows you to move Manny Machado over to SS, while Peralta gives you a short-term solution at 3B.

What they DID Do:  Other than sign Jair Jurrjens, they basically brought everyone back from 2012, and I can’t really fault that strategy.  Despite disappointing careers to date, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton still have upside.  Tillman showed promises of breaking out last year with increased fastball velocity and a 2.93 ERA over 86 innings.  Arrieta, a 2012 victim of bad luck (.320 BABIP and 57.3 LOB%) resulting in an ERA over 6, still posted 1.6 WAR with a strong strikeout rate over 22%.  Additionally, another strong year from Hammel and Chen seem likely.  Add in the fact that Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are waiting in the minors, and there is a good chance the rotation improves just by staying the course.

Overall, the Orioles offseason strategy was sound, despite the fact that for the first time in years, the AL East appears wide open.  Baltimore likely realized that they did not have the farm system to make over the big league team like the Blue Jays, and resisted the free agent market, allowing them to keep their draft pick and retain financial flexibility in the future.  The 2012 run to the playoffs was a nice surprise, but the Orioles probably need a little more time to turn into a perennial contender…but I hope I’m wrong.