Archive for Recap

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.

Quick Recap of 2012

Posted in Offseason with tags , on March 26, 2013 by oriolesprovingground

The Orioles had a surprisingly successful 2012, not only finishing above .500 for the first time since 1997, but also making the playoffs, defeating the Texas Rangers in the wild card game, and taking the Yankees to the brink of elimination before losing Game 5 of the Division Series.

How did the Orioles succeed in 2012?  They maneuvered their 40-man roster incredibly well and had a ton of luck.  Luck is something that I will refer to a lot on this website, as it can play an important part in baseball.  Luck (good or bad) will eventually even out with more games played, but over a small sample of games, it can play a big difference.  This is a reason why, over a 162 game season, you generally see the best teams qualify the post-season, while the playoffs are much more unpredictable.  Extended streaks of good or bad luck are rare, but they can happen.  Before we look at how lucky the Orioles may have been in 2012, let’s take a look at some of their team statistics from 2012, and compare them to the rest of the American League and MLB.

2012 Batting

Statistic

Value

Rank in AL

Rank in MLB

Runs Scored

712

9

15

Batting Average

.247

10

20

OBP

.311

11

23

SLG

.417

6

11

wOBA

.317

6

11

UBR

-4.4

11

25

Offensive WAR (as per Fangraphs)

0.54

7

12

The Orioles were average or below average in all of the above offensive categories.  While they hit 214 home runs (2nd behind the Yankees), they struggled to get on base and were terrible at baserunning.  Increasing the team’s OBP would help the offense greatly, specifically by turning those home runs into more of the 2 and 3 run variety.   From an on-base standpoint, the main culprits contributing to these below average numbers were located at 2B, 3B, SS, and LF positions, which posted OBP’s of .273, .302, .282, and .300, respectively (all of which ranked 25th or worse in MLB).  Significantly upgrading 4 positions can be difficult.  However, a bounce back year at the plate for J.J. Hardy, (never a high OBP guy, but much better power and glove tools than the average SS) and a full year of Manny Machado at the hot corner essentially reduces the number of upgrades to essentially two positions.

OFFSEASON UPGRADE:  2B and LF

2012 Pitching

Statistic

Value

Rank in AL

Rank in MLB

Runs Against

705

8

17

Starters IP

937.2

9

20

ERA

3.90

6

13

FIP

4.20

8

21

K/9

7.14

10

25

BB/9

2.92

8

13

WAR (as per Fangraphs)

16.6

7

15

Notice anything similar to the rank of pitching statistics to the offensive ones?  They’re basically all average to below average as well.  The bullpen itself produced 6.4 WAR (ranking 5th in all of baseball), while pitching in less than 37% of all innings.  This effective relieving unit is basically returning for 2013 intact, so the main area for improvement would be among starting rotation.  In 2012, the Orioles lacked a true #1 starter, despite very strong performances from Jason Hammel (2.9 WAR in 118 IP) and Wei-Yin Chen (2.2 WAR in 192.2 IP).  Looking at the table, the two statistics they needed to improve most were strikeouts and innings pitched by starting pitchers.  Doing this would decrease the fielding opportunities for the below average defense (see below) and prevent the very effective bullpen from wearing down over the course of the long season.

OFFSEASON UPGRADE:  Starting Pitcher(s)

Fielding

Statistic

Value

Rank in AL

Rank in MLB

Fielding %

0.983

10

17

UZR/150

-4.3

12

26

Defense was another issue for the Orioles in 2012 as both traditional defensive statistics and advanced statistics saw them as a well below average defensive team.  In addition to ranking 10th in the AL in fielding percentage, every position except for C and SS posted a UZR/150 below average.  The healthy return of Nick Markakis in RF (league average defender over his career, according to UZR) and a full season of Manny Machado at 3B (13.2 UZR/150 in 2012…although in an EXTREMELY small sample) will improve the defense at positions that were mainly occupied in 2012 by below average defenders in RF and Mark Reynolds (who may be legally blind) at 3B.  In a conveniently symmetric way, the biggest areas of improvement can be found at 2B (-6.6 UZR/150 in 2012) and LF (-3.9 UZR/150) in 2012.*

OFFSEASON UPGRADE:  2B and LF

*Orioles centerfielders (mainly Adam Jones) actually had a slightly worse UZR/150 than LF, but Mr. Jones not only won the AL Gold Glove for CF, but is also signed for the next 6 years, so he’s not going anywhere.

If the Orioles were this bad at every aspect of the game, compared to the rest of the league, how did they end up finishing 93-69 and making the playoffs?  As mentioned above, it was effective roster manipulation and luck.  The way the team manipulated its active roster in 2012 was nothing short of brilliant, with the names on the major league team changing (and contributing) almost daily.  Though instead of analyzing this further, I will just give the front office a hypothetical pat on the back on move on (may be a good topic for a future post).

As for luck, there are 3 factors that their impressive 2012 may have been a mirage.

1)     Orioles Pythagorean Expectation

This theory demonstrates that a team’s record should loosely correspond with the number of runs they score compared to the number of runs they allow, which if you think about it, makes sense.  The good teams will score more than they give up, while the bad teams will do the opposite.  Based on the fact that the Orioles scored 712 runs and gave up 705 runs, they were expected to have a record of 82-80.  This indicates the Orioles true talent was closer to a .500 team rather than the 93-69 team that made the playoffs.

2)     Orioles Record in 1-Run Games

The Orioles went an insane 29-9 (.763 winning percentage) in one-run games, which was the best winning percentage in one-run games since the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms.  Don’t be embarrassed, I don’t know who they are either.  While some of the team’s success in one-run games is due to their stellar bullpen, luck, which is believed to play a large role in the outcome of one-run games, is likely the reason for their near-historic winning percentage.  Think about it, if they had gone 19-19 in one-run games, they would have finished with an 83-79 record, much closer to their Pythagorean Expectation.

3)     Orioles Record in Extra-Inning Games

The Orioles went an equally insane 16-2 in games decided by extra innings, including 16 wins in a row.  Similar to one-run games, winning extra-inning games is generally perceived as a function of luck, and the Orioles definitely seemed to have an abundance of it in 2012.

Obviously, there is more to the Orioles 2012 season than the contents of this post, however, 2012 is in the rear-view mirror and we must move on.  Next, we’ll use this information to help look at what the Orioles did this offseason (or more accurately, what they didn’t do) and why that may have been a good thing.