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Archive for February, 2006

A Surprisingly Optimistic Off-Season Recap

Posted by Mike on February 27, 2006

The Hardball Times recently published an article by Ben Jacobs that began a series recapping and ranking the off-season (mis)adventures of every major league team. He started with the bottom third of his rankings and, surprise, the Orioles check in at #23. Below is his take on what the black and orange brass accomplished this off-season:

The first problem for the Orioles is that they lost their best reliever when B.J. Ryan signed with the Blue Jays. Baltimore had a below average 4.10 ERA from its bullpen last year, and losing Ryan’s 2.43 ERA in 70-plus innings won’t help that.The next problem is that the free agent signings were not good. Giving Jeff Conine $1.7 million wasn’t a stroke of genius, but it wasn’t terrible either because although he’s 39 years old, he’s been at least an average hitter for the last seven seasons. He can certainly be useful.The same probably can’t be said for Kevin Millar. He’s 34 years old and he’s coming off the worst offensive season of his career. I know he’s got a good reputation in the clubhouse, but he doesn’t hit well enough for first base and he’s not a great defender to make up for that. If he’s just a pinch-hitter/backup/fourth outfielder, that’s OK, but he figures to get a lot of time at first this year.The big free agent signing for Baltimore was $27.5 million over four years for Ramon Hernandez. That’s a fine deal for a catcher of his ability, as he’s been a solid hitter the last three years at a position that’s low on solid hitters. The problem is that they already paid the catcher premium for Javy Lopez. Now they’re going to be paying a lot of money every day for either a backup catcher or a subpar DH, since neither of them is likely to put up an OPS+ above 110 or so (if even that high).The trades for LaTroy Hawkins and Corey Patterson are both low risk, since the Orioles didn’t give up much (Steve Kline for Hawkins and Nate Spears and Carlos Perez for Patterson), but they’re also low reward, since neither Hawkins nor Patterson are actually any good. At least Hawkins has had a three-year stretch in which he was a good pitcher, but he wasn’t even close to that level last year. The other piece to the offseason (trading Jorge Julio and John Maine for Kris Benson) is a solid deal because Benson can give the Orioles a lot of decent innings, while Julio is maddeningly inconsistent and Maine hasn’t been able to live up to the potential he showed a couple years ago.But really, the only thing I could get excited about were I an Orioles fan would be the signing of Leo Mazzone as pitching coach, but I don’t think even the great Leo can make the Orioles (who were 10th with a 4.56 ERA last year) a top five pitching team with the talent they have. The best they can probably hope for is middle of the pack pitching-wise.

Despite spending the increasingly disturbing amount of time necessary to maintain an Orioles website, I’m not often accused of being an Orioles apologist. But I do take exception to this particular interpretation of the Orioles’ off-season moves. I’m a long-time reader of THT and am familiar with a lot of the quality writing that Jacobs has done in the past, so I don’t mean this as an indictment of either, but let’s review each of his points. You’re free to decide the merits of both arguments.

First, it’s no secret that losing B.J. Ryan to free agency is going to hurt our bullpen, but to count losing him as a strike against the Orioles’ off-season seems harsh. In fact, I’d take the opposite approach. Had the Orioles been able to hang onto Ryan for anywhere near his final signing price in Toronto, they’d be committing roughly 1/6th of their total team payroll to a pitcher that would be counted on for 70 or so innings a year. The point is not that Ryan isn’t worth that kind of money- although, as an aside, he isn’t- it’s that the Orioles are not within the stone’s throw of contention that is the only logical catalyst for paying exorbitant amounts for an elite 70 inning pitcher. Not signing him actually leaves open the payroll flexibility to pick up the bigger pieces needed to take steps forward in 2007 and beyond. This is without even mentioning the inherent danger of citing ERA as an indicator of bullpen effectiveness.

In addition, the Orioles have hedged their bets with a series of smaller moves that should provide the bullpen with decent depth- again, without decreasing future payroll flexibility. I’m not implying that the 2006 pen is going to look anything like some recent Twins or Angels bullpens, but the likes of Chris Ray, LaTroy Hawkins, Todd Williams, as well as the depth provided by NRI’s like Sendy Rleal, Jim Brower, Franklyn Gracesqui, Orber Moreno, Ricky Bottalico, Scott Rice and others should be enough to keep it from standing out as the weak link on a decidedly average ballclub.

Jacobs’ next two points are more related than you might think. He is basically arguing that the two over-the-hill one-year-rentals are, at best, useful. No argument there. I would nitpick at his seemingly reversed optimism about Conine and pessimism about Millar, though. As is evidenced by the projection chart in my last post, so would Marcel, DiPS, and PECOTA. Either way, these one year contracts are a great way to bridge to the seasons beyond 2006 without compromising the development of some of the Orioles more exciting prospects. I’d sure rather watch Jeff Conine slug .380 in the major leagues than a not-yet-ready Nick Markakis, and that could very well be the situation that the Orioles are protecting against. Again, what these moves come down to are trying to put together a .500 team en route to competing in 2007 and beyond. One more point, and Jacobs could not have known this in time for his article, but the minor league contract recently given to Richard Hidalgo only makes these signings more redundant. Of course, I’ve already made my opinions known about this.

Next up is the Ramon Hernandez signing. Again, I see the argument popping up that it’s a redundant signing. Fair enough, but Javy Lopez is a poor defensive catcher who is 35 and getting increasingly fragile behind the plate. I have my own reservations about the signing, but minimizing Javy’s value to the Orioles in 2006 is not chief among them. I understand that a startlingly lucrative buyer’s market has made this nearly impossible, but I can’t help shaking the feeling that the O’s could get something useful from the new Dodger regime in exchange for Lopez. That would at least void some of the criticism of this deal. After that, all we’d have to worry about is the decreasingly effective 1400 or so plate appearances we can expect out of Hernandez over the next four years.

Jacobs’ final points are not really knocking the Orioles that much. I agree that Corey Patterson is far from a good player at this point. But, however unrealized it may be, Patterson still has enough of an upside as a 26 year old to make trading two A-ball prospects for him a worthwhile gamble for a non-contender. And it’s not like forcing Luis Matos to his natural position as a 4th OF’er is going to have massive repercussions for future Oriole teams. Concerning the Benson trade, Jacobs acknowledges that there’s little not to like. It won’t have the impact in the win column that signing A.J. Burnett would have, but it’s not going to hamper the Orioles’ chance to contend in the future nearly as much if he implodes, either.

Finally, this snippet ends on an obviously positive note- Leo Mazzone. Last year, the Orioles were 5.3% below average in the AL in run prevention and 5.6% below average in run production. While this couldn’t have been said of the aging core of the 2005 offense, the pitching staff will likely improve merely by being another year older. Adding Mazzone to further help out the development of pitchers like Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard, and Chris Ray should be enough on its own to make the Orioles worth watching in 2006.

In conclusion, let’s just say the O’s went wild and signed both Burnett and Konerko this off-season. That probably adds about 6-7 wins to the current roster and, albeit by a much closer margin, results in another fourth place finish in the very tough AL East. The Orioles need fundamental changes in their team construction and, at this point, a high-priced free agent or two is not going to push them over the top. Despite the Hernandez signing and the Konerko offer, Flanagan has seemingly started the process of building fom within towards contention. By not overpaying for a decidedly mediocre free agent pool and blocking several of the more promising young players in the organization, the Orioles should be in a better spot to see who shakes out in 2006 and build around a promising core next off-season. From there, of course, the Orioles will again have to decide just how close they are to contending and spend accordingly. If nothing else I’m saying leaves you impressed with the 2005-06 off-season, you better believe that it has left the Orioles with enough roster and payroll flexibility to build a contender in the near future. Making the right signings might be the tricky part, but not making the wrong signings is an important, if often overlooked, first step.

If I’m placing a bet, I expect the O’s to rank a lot better than 23rd on lists like these after next off-season.

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Posted in Orioles | 8 Comments »

2006 Hitter Projections

Posted by Mike on February 24, 2006



Above, you will find a chart that has projections for 13 Orioles hitters that are pretty good bets to make the team out of Spring Training. I apologize if it’s a bit tough on the eyes, but this is about as good as I could do on Blogger (EDIT: Just click on the chart and it’s fine). If you’d like a clearer copy of the chart, email me and I’ll send it to you.

Marcel is the brain-child of Tom Tango, ZiPS is the fine forecasting system orginated by Dan Szymborski, and PECOTA is the culmination of some of Nate Silver‘s more intriguing work.

Note that playing time is a reflection of past playing time and age and that none of these systems is opinionated as to whether, say, Corey Patterson or Luis Matos should start in CF, or how fast Brian Roberts’ elbow is going to heal.

Ramon Hernandez

All three projections are pretty similar and completely reasonable. Note that all three have him playing less than a full season. But then, we already had a good idea that was going to happen- right?

Javy Lopez

He’s a pretty good bet for iso. disc. of about .50, so his OBP is going to be awfully dependant on his BA. PECOTA sees his power numbers continuing to dip and I am inclined to agree. 35 year old catchers, as a rule, decline.

Kevin Millar

ZiPS sees 2005 as a sign of what’s to come. Marcel and PECOTA both see a consolidation year between his above-average past and last season. He’s a good bet to straddle the line between useful and Sean Burroughs.

Brian Roberts

None of the forecasting systems are projecting Roberts to keep up his stellar 2005 performance but none of them are expecting him to give back all of his gains, either. If he can keep his OBP in the .360 range and continue to play solid defense, he’ll still be one of the better bets at 2B next year. His power numbers will determine whether or not he ever sees another all-star game and a ~.425 SLG looks about right to me. I’m hoping we get some word about that elbow soon. The Todd Walker rumors floating out there are less than an encouraging sign.

Miguel Tejada

Miggy being Miggy, I guess. The only surprise is that Marcel sees a decline in playing time. I don’t buy it. Miguel will continue doing what he does, 162 games a year. By July, we should know for whom.

Melvin Mora

The thing that worried me most about Mora’s 2005 performance was not the drop in power numbers or the drop in his contact rate. What worried me was the decline in his walk rate. It could mean so many different things. He may have changed his approach to compensate for declining performance, he could be listening too intently to Terry Crowley, or it could be a harbinger of things to come for a player that some feel is likely to decline nearly as fast as he ascended. I’d be happy if he met the projections above.

Jeff Conine

ZiPS sees him as useless and PECOTA and Marcel prefer the phrase “somewhat useful”. All three focus on his age more than the fact that he is leaving a notorious pitcher’s park. I’m inclined to agree.

Corey Patterson

Again, the systems are pretty consistent- even if Patterson is anything but. They see him meeting somewhere in the middle of his 2004 and 2005 seasons.

Luis Matos

To be honest, his projected lines are more useful than Patterson’s. But, if these projections come true, we will be counting the days ’til the Nick Markakis Era arrives.

Jay Gibbons

Projected to be our most useful Opening Day outfielder, but look at the competition. None of the systems expect him to earn that new raise.

  • I also found a nifty little tool c/o The Hardball Times. Using a pretty simple algorythm, it utilizes Marcel and ZiPS projections to determine optimal lineups for 2006.

Marcel

  1. Roberts
  2. Millar
  3. Mora
  4. Lopez
  5. Tejada
  6. Gibbons
  7. Hernandez
  8. Patterson (Matos would bat 9th, after Conine)
  9. Conine

ZiPS

  1. Roberts
  2. Mora
  3. Tejada
  4. Lopez
  5. Gibbons
  6. Hernandez
  7. Patterson/Matos
  8. Millar
  9. Conine

Go ahead, follow the link and substitute who you want in there. I’m sure the two line-ups it projected above should at least inspire some debate.

Also, both system’s give the O’s credit for 5.7 runs per game with those lineups. That would come to 923 runs on the season- which would have led the AL by 20 runs in 2005. Of course, this is assuming 162 games each out of Tejada, Lopez, Mora, Roberts, and Hernandez– so I’m betting the under.

 

Posted in Orioles | 9 Comments »

Quickies

Posted by Mike on February 22, 2006

 

  • In my last post, I detailed David Gassko‘s DIPS 3.0. I downloaded the spreadsheet at the bottom of his article and added a few columns into it. First I imported RA/9 for all the pitchers and then I entered a column that calculates the difference between a pitcher’s DIPS 3.0 and RA/9. The greater the number in the Difference column, the more that pitcher’s results exceeded his performance ($38 million for Jarrod Washburn, anyone?). The greater the number is negative, the more that pitcher’s results failed to live up to his actual performance. It’s a handy way to look at which pitchers got ripped off the most and vice versa. Feel free to download it here (EDIT: The download wasn’t working earlier, but it should be fine now). There are all sorts of fun ways to play around with this if you’re handy with Excel. And again, thanks to David for the great work and for allowing me to distribute this.
  • Melvin Mora wants to stay in Baltimore. This is the type of story that makes it tough to be both objective and a fan. On the one hand, I think that Melvin is a throwback to the kind of classy player that used to epitomize the Orioles organization. He’s always smiling and has been my favorite Oriole to watch since 2003. And it’s always fun to root for a player that seemingly came out of nowhere (think David Newhan circa 2004). On the other hand, the types of numbers that have been getting thrown out are around 3 years and $24 million and frankly, I doubt that Mora will be an effective major leaguer in 2009. PECOTA has the chances of him being completely out of baseball at 5%, 14%, and 30% for the years 2007-2009 and, although it wouldn’t factor into this contract, 52% for 2010. From 2006 to 2009, PECOTA also projects his plate appearances dropping from 613 to 464. Since I have been preaching a “build towards 2008” approach, it would make little sense to keep $8 million on the payroll for decreasing production when it is likely the Orioles could get a nice prospect or two for him in July.
  • I ran into this nice little puff piece about Javy Lopez. This time, Javy really wants to end his career in Baltimore and is more worried about getting an extension than anything else. To his credit, I should mention that by all accounts, he is spending a lot of time training hard for two positions this spring.
  • Scroll down in this article, and you’ll see that Luis Matos is taking the opportunity to represent Puerto Rico in the WBC. I certainly can’t blame him, but I doubt this bodes well for what seemed like an open competetion in CF with Corey Patterson.
  • It looks like one of my favorites, Aaron Rakers, is on the shelf for 2006. He has a torn labrum and the chances that we will ever see how his outstanding minor league numbers translate to a full-time role in the major leagues have grown pretty slim. I haven’t been this disappointed since I snuck onto my friend’s instant messenger screen name and asked his girlfriend to rate me on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • An anonymous commenter pointed something out to me that I have been meaning to mention. Ted Cook is doing a series of Ground Ball Effects articles over at Orioles Hangout. I’ve conversed with Ted a few times and, as if you couldn’t tell from the articles, he knows his stuff. Luckily for us, this isn’t one of the things that OH charges for, although it is defintely some of their best stuff. I urge you to check out Part 1 and Part 2. Read in conjunction with the several DIPS related materials I’ve linked to in the past, it makes a nice primer for understanding the often misunderstood art of inducing ground balls.
  • As the season approaches, I will be making an effort to update this blog more regularly. I am pleased with the way this site is growing, and I thank all of you that keep checking back. I look forward to blogging my first season of Orioles baseball in 2006.

Posted in General Baseball, Orioles | 7 Comments »

DIPS 3.0

Posted by Mike on February 20, 2006

A couple of days ago, David Gassko (of the Statistically Speaking Blog) published his second article on DIPS 3.0 over at The Hardball Times. Like the original work by Voros McCracken, it’s relatively simple, straight-forward, and incredibly meaningful. These guys have a real knack for making me feel stupid for not thinking of things first.

Years back, McCracken discovered that replacing a pitcher’s BABIP with the league average BABIP and recalculating his ERA based on this was a better indicator of future ERA’s than current ERA. If I lost you in that last sentence, he’s essentially saying that pitchers have, at a minimum, much less control over whether or not a ball in play becomes a hit than previously believed.

David Gassko decided to take this one step further. We already know that pitchers generally have consistent GB and FB rates, and you might as well lob K’s, BB’s, HBP’s, and infield flies onto that pile. HR’s are an interesting case and they are accounted for as a reflection of ((League Ave. LD rate*(Leag. Ave. HR/LD))+ ((FB rate*(Leag. Ave. FB HR/FB)). What does not correlate year to year is the amount of line drives a pitcher allows (as is reflected in Gassko’s HR calculations). So, with some surprisingly simple math, Gassko replaces the line drive rate with the league average and then assigns singles, doubles, etc. according to league average distributions (for instance, a line drive becomes an out 29.3% of the time). Another thing that becomes apparent is that it is silly to differentiate between earned and unearned runs at this point. After all, you’re already separating the pitcher from his defense. This was originally a problem because ground balls more often result in an error, so GB pitchers’ ERA more often overrates their effectiveness.

After normalizing line drives and then redistributing all the other outcomes, you’re left with a number that is a more accurate reflection of performance than ERA, DIPS ERA, and FIP– DIPS 3.0. Without further ado, your 2005 Orioles:

DIPS 3.0 … RA/9 … Diff.

BJ Ryan … 2.92 … 2.56 … +0.36

Chris Ray … 3.90 … 3.32 … +0.58

Aaron Rakers … 4.18 … 3.29 … +0.89

Erik Bedard … 4.36 … 4.19 … +0.17

John Parrish … 4.47 … 3.12 … +1.35

Daniel Cabrera … 4.57 … 5.13 … -0.56

Jorge Julio … 4.59 … 6.28 … -1.69

Tim Byrdak … 4.61 … 4.78 … -0.17

Todd Williams… 4.69 … 4.01 … +0.68

Bruce Chen … 4.71 … 4.29 … +0.42

Jason Grimsley … 4.96 … 6.14 … -1.18

Steve Kline … 5.06 … 5.02 … +0.04

Rodrigo Lopez … 5.08 … 5.42 … -0.34

Rick Bauer … 5.12 … 9.72 … -4.60

Sidney Ponson … 5.17 … 6.70 … -1.53

James Baldwin … 5.24 … 4.47 … +0.76

John Maine … 5.40 … 6.75 … -1.35

Hayden Penn … 5.56 … 7.09 … -1.53

Steve Reed … 5.60 … 6.61 … -1.01

Eric DuBose … 6.21 … 6.44 … -0.23

You can see the results for yourself– Sidney and Jorge weren’t quite that bad, BJ and Chris Ray weren’t quite that good, and so on.

One caveat: This is highly dependant on the subjective art of scorekeeping. At some point, this will have to be addressed and quantified– as far as this can be done. I don’t think this is enough to negate the meaning of the numbers above, but quite frankly, I have little clue as to the variance in the classification of GB’s, FB’s, and line drives among different scorekeepers.

All in all, I think this is some fascinating work. McCracken taught us that pitchers have less control over balls in play than previously thought. And, as Gassko tells us in his article, his research shows us why.

Posted in General Baseball | 17 Comments »

The Battle for CF

Posted by Mike on February 16, 2006

Intro/Background

Luis Matos came out of the gates raking in 2003. It wasn’t long until he forced the Orioles to promote him from Ottawa. He shined in his 103 game trial to the tune of a .303/.361/.467 batting line. Coming in to 2004, the Orioles pinned their hopes not only on the free agent signings of Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, and Javy Lopez, but also on the continued development of Matos and fellow OF’s Larry Bigbie and Jay Gibbons. While Tejada and Lopez shined, Matos was by far the biggest disappointment of a largely disappointing group. His .224/.275/.333 batting line was something even Cristian Guzman would be ashamed of. He ended his season by breaking his shin and having to get a metal rod surgically inserted to stabilize the bone. 2005 essentially split the difference between his 2003 and 2004 seasons. He posted a .280/.340/.373 batting line while making it through a career-high 112 games. Unfortunately, concerns about his work ethic and injury-prone nature grew from a whisper to a persistent rumor and finally climaxed with a trade for one-time top prospect, Corey Patterson.

Patterson, much like Matos, has had many ups and downs in his young career. Baseball America named him the #3 prospect in all of baseball in 2000 and then ranked him #2 in 2001. Taking a cue from all the buzz that Patterson was generating, the Cubs rushed him through the minor leagues. He had brief stints with the parent club in 2000 and 2001 (his age 20 and 21 seasons, respectively) where he looked overmatched at the plate. The full-time gig was his by 2002 and he responded by posting a .253/.284/.392 batting line. Although he was still not ready for the show, he showed enough glimpses of what he could become that the Cubs would not send him back to the minors until 2005. Since 2002, he posted the following batting lines:

2003 (329 ABs)- .298/.329/.511
2004 (631 ABs)- .266/.320/.452
2005 (451 ABs)- .215/.254/.348

Just a cursory glance at those lines will tell you exactly why the Cubs were so willing to part with him this off-season. While still only entering his age 26 season, it only took Patterson one year to convince Jim Hendry that two C-level A-ball prospects had more potential value than the former #2 prospect in all of baseball.

Basic Info, Splits

Matos- DOB: 10/30/78; T-R, B-R
Patterson- DOB: 8/13/79; T-R, B-L

In 2005, Matos hit lefties very well– .297/.368/.466. Even with that performance, however, he has shown a reverse platoon split for his career, hitting lefties to the tune of a .227/.285/.343 batting line.

Over Patterson’s career, he has only authored a reverse platoon split once- in 2004. Still, his career batting line against righties (.259/.302/.426) is not egregiously out of line with his career numbers against lefties (.233/.266/.378).

Defense

Both Matos and Patterson are regarded as slightly above-average center-fielders. Over his career, Matos has posted a Rate2 of 103- or three runs above average per 100 games. Patterson has a career Rate2 of 97, but that is heavily weighed down by his time growing into the position in his earlier seasons. In 2004 and 2005, he posted Rate2’s of 102 and 101, respectively.

Flaws

I detailed many of the concerns about each player in the intro, but I’ll reiterate them here. Matos showed the Orioles that he was little more than 4th OF in 2005. He ranked 31st out of CF with at least 300 PA’s in secondary average, and his glove can only make up so much ground. He will always have a spot on someone’s bench due to his above-average speed (although he has poor base-stealing technique) and ability to provide late-inning insurance defensively.

Anytime someone has a 1:5 career BB/K ratio, like Patterson does, their flaw is easy to pick out. In and of themselves, strikeouts are generally over-emphasized. A player like Manny Ramirez has lots of K’s, but all that indicates is that he likes to work deep into counts. However, when a player fails to post a corresponding number of walks, then they have contact/strike-zone issues. Corey Patterson was never forced to confront these flaws in Chicago and it would be a mistake to assume he will overcome them on his own- especially if the make-up issues that dogged him in 2005 prove warranted. Nobody has ever doubted his speed (and he is a very good base-stealer), arm, power, or defense.

Conclusion

It is possible that the Orioles enter 2006 with a platoon situation in CF. Unfortunately, that would be counting on Luis Matos to continue the work he did in 2005 against left-handers- which, at this point, looks like the outlier in his career splits. It would also be ignoring the fact that in the short term that Patterson was able to hit righties well, he was also able to hit lefties at a better clip than we could hope from Matos.

What this position battle boils down to, then, is what direction Patterson’s career takes. Simply put, he is holding all the cards. If he comes close to his 2003/2004 form, Matos will be relegated to 4th OF status. Matos may be the safer bet at this point but he can not match Patterson’s upside. What Matos does provide is a nice security blanket in case Patterson continues to struggle like he did in 2005. Believe me, the Orioles front office want Patterson to win this job. If he doesn’t, it will be because he failed to measure up to a decidedly below-average ballplayer, not because Matos is playing like it’s 2003 all over again.

Posted in Orioles | 5 Comments »

Free Agent Watch: Richard Hidalgo

Posted by Mike on February 13, 2006

With only a short time until pitchers and catchers report, I thought I’d address the Richard Hidalgo rumor going around. Now- I have no idea as to it’s validity, but that will not be the focus here. I’m going to take a look at the player- where he’s been and where he might be headed.

Most of you know the name- Richard Hidalgo- as a function of his 2000 and 2003 seasons with the Houston Astros. In those years he hit .314/.391/.636 and .309/.385/.572 respectively. Before those seasons, he posted a season and change that looked pretty good and a horrible one. In between those years, he posted a solid season and a horrible one. Since those seasons, he’s posted two horrible seasons. Last year, he basically hit like Sammy Sosa v.2K5 – even in the Arlington bandbox. You see what I’m getting at– Hidalgo is one of the most remarkably inconsistent players in baseball.

A telling indicator of his inconsistency is his isolated discpline (OBP-BA). Have a look.

1997- 0.52
1998- 0.52
1999- 1.01
2000- 0.77
2001- 0.81
2002- 0.84
2003- 0.76
2004- 0.64
2005- 0.69

There are a few trends worth noting here. First, like many eventual all-stars, Hidalgo gradually improved his plate discipline before it declined and settled into the realm of decidedly average. Second, Hidalgo’s best seasons do not correlate at all with his most disciplined seasons. For instance, his 1999 and 2002 seasons were nothing short of terrible. Yet, those are the seasons he posted his highest iso. discipline. I don’t need to reiterate the high correlation between getting on base in any form and scoring runs, but there are exceptions out there that are more valuable offensively when they are more aggressive at the plate.

If I am venturing a hypothesis here, it is that Hidalgo is the type of hitter that thrives on being aggressive at the plate. Without having anything in front of me to quantitatively support this claim, that style of hitting lends itself to athletic (or toolsy) types- which scouts will confirm that Hidalgo is amongst. Of course, the downfall of this style of hitting is that it isn’t often sustainable beyond a player’s physical peak. In this example, you’ll notice that Hidalgo will turn 31 in July. Moreover, his stolen base totals (another indicator of athleticism) have declined to a career-low of 1 in 2005 after a peak of 13 in 2000. All this leads me to the conclusion that Hidalgo spent his formative years altering his batting style, trying to figure out what worked for him. In the years he was able to most effectively determine his optimal plate aggressiveness, he was an all-star caliber player. But, since the approach he settled on is more reliant than others on sheer athleticism, he has had trouble maintaining success as he’s aged. Accordingly, I find him to be an unlikely candidate for a rebound season.

Defensively, Hidalgo has played all three spots in the outfield adequately. He’s even had a few outstanding seasons in right field where his arm strength is most valuable.

And just so I mention it, Hidalgo has no particular platoon advantages. He bats right-handed but has posted similar .276/.357/.480 and .266/.341/.493 lines vs. lefties and righties, respectively, over his career. In 2005, he even showed a reverse platoon advantage.

Disclaimer: For this particular example, I’ve only loosely relied on scouting reports. Most of my conclusions are based on analyzing his career major league statistics.

  • In other news, The New York Post has named Javy Lopez one of the 5 most likely players to be traded, either in Spring Training or during the season. I’m constantly surprised by the lack of respect Javy gets. His career places him squarely in the Hall of Very Good. Of course, I’d still like to see him moved for whatever young talent the O’s can get.

Posted in General Baseball | 54 Comments »

John Sickels Top 20

Posted by Mike on February 11, 2006

Since we were lucky enough to have Deric McKamey offer some extended commentary in our last post, I thought it might make sense to look at what another popular analyst, John Sickels, has to say about the Orioles minor league system as well. Below you’ll find his top 20 list, graded out. You’ll have to check out his site for the more in-depth version. And I urge you to check out his book for an even more in-depth analysis, complete with an explanation as to what each grade means.

 

  • Nick Markakis, OF, Grade A-
    Brandon Snyder, C, B+
    Chris Ray, RHP, B+
    Adam Loewen, LHP, B
    Val Majewski, OF, B
    Nolan Reimold, OF, B
    Garrett Olson, LHP, B
    J.J. Johnson, RHP, B
    Brandon Erbe, RHP, B
    Hayden Penn, RHP, B-
    Jeff Fiorentino, OF, B-
    Chris Britton, RHP, B-
    Radhames Liz, RHP, B-
    Dave Haehnel, LHP, C+
    Kurt Birkins, LHP, C
    Brian Finch, RHP, C
    Ryan Keefer, RHP, C
    Blake Owen, RHP, C
    Paco Figueroa, 2B, C
    Wilfredo Perez, LHP, C (reportedly will miss ’06 due to Tommy John surgery)

Some things worth noting:

  • Unlike Deric, you’ll notice that John is higher on Adam Loewen than Hayden Penn. Without giving away too much of his premium (read: you have to pay for it) information, it looks like John is adding onto the pile of people that think Penn would benefit from some time in Ottawa.

 

  • Most minor league pundits have had no problem vaulting Nolan Reimold, Garrett Olson, and, in some cases, even Brandon Erbe past Brandon Snyder on their lists despite Snyder’s status as the #1 pick in last year’s draft. In no instances has anyone implied this to be an indictment of Snyder, but rather a reflection that the Orioles got some top-shelf talent down into the third round. Sickels, however, remains very high on Snyder. Also note that in a previous post, I mentioned that Sickels has said that Reimold would have ranked #51 on his top hitters list (but it only goes up to 50).

 

  • I was surprised to see Sendy Rleal left off the list. Sickels seems more inclined to side with younger live arms that may have a higher ceiling than above-average reliever. But who are you going to side with- some schmuck that knows how to use blogger or someone that has worked with Bill James?

 

  • Right now, Haehnel is graded as a C+. Last year, he was rated a C. He is definitely one that will be interesting to watch as he gets his first crack at AA next year, especially if Deric McKamey’s optimism proves warranted.

Posted in Minor Leagues | 5 Comments »

Interview: Deric McKamey

Posted by Mike on February 9, 2006

Deric McKamey has been Baseball HQ’s Director of Minor League Analysis for 12 years. Since 2001, he has been a contributor to Street & Smith’s Baseball magazine. He was also part of the 2002 class at the Major League Scouting Bureau’s Scout Development Program and has worked as an advisor to the St. Louis Cardinals since 2004. What brings him here today is that I was fortunate enough to purchase his recently released 2006 Minor League Baseball Analyst; a collection of essays, scouting reports, and prospect lists that has quickly vaulted to the top of my never ending pile of baseball annuals. Graciously, Deric agreed to field the following questions about the Orioles minor league system. If you like what you see here, I’d encourage you to check out some of his other work linked above.

OTT- Can you briefly tell us how you are able to combine statistical analysis and traditional scouting methods and what makes this so important when evaluating minor league talent?

DM- I believe one should use all available information in evaluating prospects, but it’s important to discern what you see on the field and on the stat page. After I’ve evaluated a player in a game, I always scrutinize his statistics to see if things match-up. When they do, you feel pretty confident that your assessment is correct. The problem lies when the tools and stats don’t fit, which at that point, you have to make the call which to rely on more. It isn’t always just the tools or just the stats in those instances, but you have to judge each player individually.

OTT- The crown jewel of the Orioles minor league system is Nick Markakis. What kind of future do you see for him and when do you think he’ll be ready?

DM- I see him being a productive right-fielder who can be a solid run-producer and defensive asset. I don’t see him having an extraordinarily high batting average, but see good power potential (25-30 HR). I think he arrives in the midst of the 2007 season and establishes himself as an everyday player at the end of that year.

OTT- What does the Orioles outfield look like in 2009? Can any one of Markakis, Majewski, Fiorentino, or Reimold handle CF?

DM- I see Markakis (RF) and Reimold (LF) manning the corners, with someone else (Patterson?) in CF. I don’t think any of the four players mentioned can handle CF on a regular basis, though Markakis probably comes the closest. I doubt that Fiorentino and Majewski can out-hit Markakis/Reimold and would be outfield reserves if they were still on the club. Fiorentino and Majewski are on the fringe of being regular outfield corners and most likely settle-in as platoon outfielders.

OTT- One of the more interesting debates in the Orioles system is the merits of Hayden Penn vs. Adam Loewen. Where do you stand on this? What are each pitcher’s flaws and how do you see each progressing in 2006?

DM- I went Penn #2 and Loewen #4 on my organizational list. Penn is a more complete pitcher, though I thought he pitched tentatively with the Orioles. He needs to improve the rotation of his curveball and I’m not quite confident he can carry-over his strikeout rate. If the Orioles are patient with him and let him re-establish some confidence, he’s going to be special. Loewen, potentially, has better stuff, and as we saw in a limited sample (AFL), he can be dominating. Obviously, his command and curveball consistency are holding him back. He has a 50/50 chance of repeating his AFL performance in the minors.

OTT- So far, the 2005 draft class looks to be among the most successful in recent memory. Have you spotted any trends in Joe Jordan’s philosophy that may have inspired such a strong haul?

DM- The class looked good following the 2005 season as many of the top picks were college players. That’s going to happen naturally. I do like the aggressiveness he showed early by nabbing Brandon Snyder and going for unheralded guys (Olson and Reimold) who have excellent upside. I felt the Orioles really went after talent this year, instead of trying to draft for signability.

OTT- Speaking of the 2005 draft, Nolan Reimold instantly became the biggest power threat in the Orioles system. The only statistical flaw seemed to be a high strikeout rate. Do you see his ability to make contact being a problem as he moves into the upper minors?

DM- It is something he will have correct, especially at the upper minors when pitchers will be trying to get him to chase breaking pitches more often. Contact rate is an important hitting skill, but as long as he makes his power game-usable and continues to draw walks, he’s going to have offensive value.

OTT- Does Brandon Snyder have the tools to stick at catcher? How significantly could that impede his offensive development?

DM- His tool package puts him right on the edge, as far as being an everyday catcher. He has the receiving skills and a quick release, which offsets an average throwing arm, and he did nail 29% of attempted runners. Most catchers do stagnate offensively in the minors at some point, so it is likely that he’ll have a year or two where he struggles. I think the Orioles need to gauge what type of bat he has, and adjust his position and timetable accordingly.

OTT- Brandon Erbe dominated rookie ball competition in his age 17 season. What made him so successful? What adjustments does he need to make to carry that success forward? And, being that he’s already a hard-thrower, is there still some projectability left in him?

DM- His ability to add and subtract to his fastball with a cutter and change-up is his bread-and-butter. He pitches comfortably in the low-90’s, but is able to ramp-it-up to 95 MPH when he needs to. Most of the adjustments he has to make are mechanical. His high ¾ slot really isn’t conducive to a slider and he does tend to throw across his body. Correctable in both instances.

OTT- Not surprisingly, Jeff Fiorentino was clearly not ready for major league competition in 2005. He also seemed to struggle for a few weeks after being demoted back to Frederick. Do you see any potential long-term effects from his mishandling? Is he still seen as a potential every-day player?

DM- Not really and it isn’t uncommon for players to struggle after a promotion of this sort. As I mentioned earlier, he has the potential to be an everyday outfielder, but if he’s any more than your third best outfielder, the team isn’t going to be very good.

OTT- The Orioles seem reluctant to send prospects to AAA Ottawa. Is this more a reflection of its distance from the parent club or do the Orioles, perhaps, only see a nominal difference between Eastern League and International League competition?

DM- I would side with the nominal difference between the EL and IL. The EL is one of the better AA leagues from a ballpark-effect standpoint, so I think that allows them get a good handle on their players.

OTT- Was there any justification to leaving Sendy Rleal in AA a second year only to thoroughly dominate his competition yet again?

DM- I didn’t really understand that move, but they must have had their reasons. The only base skill that improved was his HR rate and he still doesn’t spin the ball real well, limiting his usage pattern in a bullpen.

OTT- Radhames Liz: starter or reliever at the highest level?

DM- In the book, I listed his Projected Role as a #4 starter/setup reliever, so you can see that I’m on the fence with this. He just didn’t have a reliable third pitch to go with his fastball and curveball, and that’s why he could go either way. At his age and level, I’m going to side with him being a setup reliever.

OTT- Garrett Olson was another from the draft class of 2005 that had a strong debut. His curve seems to be his highest rated pitch. How do his other pitches rate? Is he a candidate for a September cup of coffee in 2006?

DM- I rated his fastball as an average pitch at 87-92 MPH, though it is more important for him to keep the ball low (which he was highly successful at) rather than trying to overpower hitters. His change-up is a below average pitch and will need that next season as he likely pitches in AA. It’s possible that he becomes a September callup, but I think it will be 2007, at the earliest.

OTT- The Orioles seem to be collecting more relief talent than in years past. Many of these players have not overwhelmed scouts but have had solid track records in the minors. What kind of futures do you see for David Haehnel, Aaron Rakers, Eddy Rodriguez and Scott Rice?

DM- Haehnel- setup reliever, Rakers- short reliever, Rodriguez- short reliever, and Rice- situational reliever. Haehnel is the best of the group, though I’ve been pushing Rakers and his splitter for three years now.

OTT- Is there any hope for former prospects Keith Reed, Ed Rogers and Rich Stahl?

DM- No, no, and unlikely. Reed just doesn’t know how to use his tools, Rogers hasn’t played well, and Stahl may never be healthy for an extended period of time.

OTT- Are there any sleepers in the Orioles system you’d like to identify? Any players you could see taking a large step forward in 2006?

DM- I don’t know if you would call him a sleeper, but I really like Chris Britton and his knee-buckling curveball. He was very dominant at Frederick and I think he can be highly effective as a match-up righty. Scouts don’t seem to be too high on Luis Ramirez, but all he does is miss bats and win despite marginal stuff. I see Adam Loewen opening-up some eyes in 2006.

OTT- And finally, where would you rate the Orioles system compared to others? What about compared to the AL East?

DM- I think the Orioles have improved immensely over the last three years when they were considered one of the worst minor league systems in the game. I would put them somewhere in the lower-middle of all Major League teams. Half of their top ten weren’t in the organization two years ago, so I don’t see much in terms of immediate impact. Within the AL East, I’d have to rank them behind Tampa Bay and Boston, but probably on equal footing with New York and Toronto.

Well, that wraps up the first Q&A session here at Orioles Think Tank. I’d like to thank Deric once again for taking the time to participate. And, if you haven’t yet, go buy his book.

Posted in Interviews, Minor Leagues | 30 Comments »

Matos Re-signed

Posted by Mike on February 6, 2006

  • Luis Matos has been re-signed for $1.6 million. I certainly don’t mind keeping him around. Sure- he’s nothing more than a fourth outfielder, but he provides some nice insurance against Corey Patterson’s amazing ability to make an out over 70% of the time. Plus, he should provide solid defense and speed off the bench- two skills that the Orioles are not deep in. I also like that he provides a little more protection against having to bring up Markakis or Majewski before they are ready.
  • Javy Lopez has gone the way of Miguel “Bitchfest 2005” Tejada and rescinded his trade demand after meeting with the Orioles brass. Now, I would never imply that what Javy did was as classless or counterproductive as Miggy’s antics. Javy wanted to retain full value in his walk year by being a full-time catcher and was willing to talk extension first- two important distinctions. But, I do wish the O’s would move him for some younger talent that has a chance to help the club into 2007 and beyond. As a catcher, he has an above-average stick and below-average defense. As a first baseman, he’ll have a below-average stick and, likely, below-average defense. He simply makes too many outs. So why not move him to a club that could utilize him as a catcher (ahem, Dodgers) and look to get a younger, better hitting 1B type (ahem, Choi) in return?
  • Spencer Fordin appears to be the new Orioles beat writer over at MLB.com. I don’t think I’ve ever been too impressed with the quality of a lot of their writers, but I’ll give Fordin the benefit of the doubt for now. In his latest mailbag, he argued that the Benson deal was beneficial if for no other reason than it will allow Hayden Penn time to develop in AAA. He’s seriously the only other person I’ve seen make that point. On the other hand, he gets himself into trouble using the terms closer and relief ace interchangeably. Maybe he thinks Flanagan is progressive enough to use Chris Ray as a modern-day Goose Gossage. Maybe not.
  • Ramon Hernandez hit for the cycle and drove in five runs to lead the Caracas Lions (Venezuela) over Mazatlan (Mexico) in the Carribean World Series. The article also mentions that Miguel Tejada drove in a pair over in Maracay.
  • Everyone’s favorite minor league aficionado, John Sickels, had a nice blurb up about Daniel Cabrera over at his blog. Like everyone else on the planet, Sickels identifies Cabrera as a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2006. Both his K rate and GB:FB ratio put him in some elite company. Now if he could only cut down on those pesky free passes.
  • Well, it’s annual season, and I’ve already dropped a few Benjamins buying every prospect book/organizational review I can get my hands on. As I get deeper into some of them, I’ll post some recommendations. For now, I’ll point out that Sickels’ book is always a keeper. Another that I’ve come across, that some of you may be less familiar with, is Deric McKamey’s Minor League Baseball Analyst. If for no other reason, buy this book just to read about his methodologies. His credentials aren’t too shabby either.

Posted in Orioles | 6 Comments »

Do the Orioles Need Another Lefty?

Posted by Mike on February 3, 2006

A lot of people out there in Orioles land have reservations about this year’s bullpen. Of particular cause for concern seems to be the apparent lack of any credible lefthanders, accented by the departure of last year’s relief ace, B.J. Ryan, and top set-up man, Steve Kline. The point of all this worrying is that you’re supposed to have a guy that can come in and mow down a tough left-handed hitter in a high leverage situation, right? So, let’s take a look at how some of the players that project to have roles in this year’s pen have fared against lop-sided batters. What follows are the 2005 batting lines (BA/OBP/SLG) of left-handed hitters against much of the projected O’s bullpen, followed in parentheses by the 2005 batting lines of all hitters (both lefties and righties) against the same pitchers.

  • LHP

John Parrish– 30 ABs, .200/.314/.333 (.279/.419/.382)

Eric DuBose– 48 ABs, .146/.241/.292 (.243/.356/.383)

Tim Byrdak– 56 ABs, .214/.323/.286 (.255/.380/.321)

Franklin Grascesqui– Not enough data

  • RHP

Jim Brower– 47 ABs, .277/.358/.447 (.282/.387/.479)

LaTroy Hawkins– 101 ABs, .228/.295/.366 (.265/.336/.420)

Chris Ray– 67 ABs, .284/.347/.478 (.222/.306/.373)

Todd Williams– 114 ABs, .263/.312/.307 (.252/.317/.339)

Aaron Rakers– 22 ABs, .227/.308/.364 (.220/.255/.480)

Orber Moreno*- 70 ABs, .229/.295/.300 (.239/.308/.313)
*2003-2005 data used

Sendy Rleal, Eddy Rodriguez– Not enough data

One thing that should also be pointed out is that B.J. Ryan actually authored a slight reverse platoon advantage in 2005 (but he was mighty dominant against both sides) and Steve Kline did everything but live up to his billing as shut-down lefty specialist (.317/.364/.515 vs. LHB).

A few other things jump out at me. For one; Parrish, DuBose, and Byrdak may not have marquee names, but all were very effective in their limited duty against left-handers in 2005. Another is that every righty listed not named Chris Ray pitched at least as well against left-handers in 2005 as they did against right-handers. Some of this is due to the natural fluctuation in the distribution of hits against relief pitchers, since by definition you are dealing with small sample sizes. In other instances, such as in LaTroy Hawkins’ case, the reverse platoon advantage holds true over the larger 2003-2005 sample size as well. In fact, looking at Hawkins’ and Kline’s relative effectiveness against lefties last year, I am once again stuck scratching my head as to what the Giants were thinking with that trade.

Ultimately, two things can be drawn from this. One, don’t get in a huff about whether or not a team has enough situational relievers. I mean, have you checked out the Angels bullpen recently? They had 27.7 innings pitched in relief by left-handers in all of 2005 and finished the year with a bullpen ERA of 3.52. The fact that almost every right-hander projected into the Orioles bullpen in 2006 shows no significant decrease in effectiveness against left-handed batters only reiterates how silly an overemphasis on handedness can be. Secondly, if you still don’t buy into the first argument, then you can at least take solace in the fact that the lefties the O’s do have performed pretty fairly against their own kind.

So let’s hope the O’s don’t go out and address their need for a veteran LOOGY by throwing millions, or worse- prospects, at the first guy they see throwing with the wrong hand.

Posted in Orioles | 5 Comments »