Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Forecasting: Melvin Mora

Posted by Mike on March 22, 2006

In my interview with Rich Lederer, we had the following exchange:

OTT: Melvin Mora’s contract is up after this year and there have been talks of an extension in the three to four year range.  He is entering his age 34 season and presents a very interesting case in the study of career paths.  On the one hand, he is athletic and has a varied skill-set, which usually bodes well for how a player will age.  On the other hand, he was an extremely late bloomer, which often indicates the opposite.  What kind of player do you think Mora will be through 2009?

Rich: Mora has been a pleasant surprise for the Orioles for a number of years now.  His 2004 season was certainly underappreciated by MVP voters.  He had a Jekyl and Hyde season last year.  Melvin performed well up to the point when he pulled his hamstring in late June, then went into a two-month slump before hitting like the Mora of old (rather than an old Mora) in September.  Seven stolen bases in the first half and none in the second half paint a pretty good picture as to the type of year he experienced.

A fully recovered Mora should hit .280-.300 with 20+ HR in 2006.   That said, I would hesitate to give him a three- or four-year extension at full market value at this stage of his career.  One or two years, yes.  Three or four, no.  For what it’s worth, his most similar players (according to Baseball Reference.com) have not performed well from age 34-on.

 

It got me wondering if there was anything that a list of comparables could tell us about what the future has in store for Melvin Mora.  Is Rich right?  Will Melvin not be a good player in four years?  Will he still be a good player in two years? 

I figured the easiest way for me to display my findings was by impersonating the collective talents of Dave Studeman and David Appleman.  After all, graphs are fun- at least when other people make them. 

Both of these graphs will utilize Basball Prospectus’ EQA.  This is a measurement of a player’s total offensive output per out made.  EQA incorporates all offensive production, even baserunning.  The great thing about EQA is that the league average is always set to .260, so it’s about as easy to utilize as batting average and still allows you to make comparisons across eras. 

Some of you may wonder why I am using a rate stat as opposed to a counting stat (like VORP or WARP) to predict how valuable a player might be to his club.  The answer is simple: a comparison of VORP may account for injuries or reduced playing time, but it’s applicability to Melvin Mora is significantly depreciated.  By using a measure that simply accounts for how well a player performs when he gets to play, we eliminate a lot of variables that a player often has little control over.  Similarly, WARP may account for defensive performance in addition to offense, but Melvin’s defensive situation is fairly unique.  If you are desperately searching for defensive indicators- we know that Melvin upgraded his defense at 3B from abysmal in 2004 to below-average in 2005.  My guess is that is that he stays in below- average territory as his growing comfort with the position is countered by his aging body.  As for predicting injuries that will affect how often he stays on the field, we know that Melvin gets hurt a lot and is approaching his mid-thirties.   Baseball Prospectus puts his chances of dropping completely out of the league (Drop Rate) as follows:

2006- 0% (but it’s always zero for the upcoming year)

2007- 5%

2008- 14%

2009- 30%

 

Now, onto the first graph:

 

In 1999, when this graph starts, Melvin Mora was 27.  That was his first taste of major league pitching.  Even then, it took him until he was 30 to become a league-average hitter.  The graph takes us all the way through this past season, when Melvin was 33.  He took a downward turn, but still maintained above-average production.  Keep in mind that average (.260 EQA) denotes the average player, not average starter.

Next, let’s take a look at where Melvin might be headed.  To do this, I looked at his most comparable players list  on Baseball Prospectus.  My original intent was to use the list on Baseball Reference, but a cursory (and completely arbitrary) glance indicated, in this instance, that BP’s list seems more applicable.  I’ve graphed every player on his comparables list that met the following criteria:

  1. They are over 37
  2. The seasons looked at occurred after 1970 (again, an arbitrary date- but I wanted to weed out players from drastically different eras)

I’ve included each player’s age 33 season which, for Mora, was this past year. 

 

In their age 33 season, all ten players were above-average hitters.  By their age 35 season, only one player was drastically below-average and it was Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg.  That can be thrown out because what would have been his age 35 season (in 1995) was lost to an unsuccessful retirement attempt.  However, by their age 37 season, fully six of the ten players were either out of baseball or producing at a below-average rate. 

What does this tell us?  Well, for starters- Rich was right.  My first inclination is still to wait until July and see what Mora’s value is to contending clubs, but a close second would be signing him to a two year extension. 

The nature of any three or four year deal that Melvin would receive would almost certainly be backloaded.  Do you want $8 or $9 million committed to a guy in 2009 that, according to his comparables list, stands a good chance of being ineffective or out of baseball? 

That sounds like a good way to sustain mediocrity well into the future. 

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12 Responses to “Forecasting: Melvin Mora”

  1. Dais said

    I don’t remember Ryne Sandberg decling that badly. Also, Caminiti was a stud. It’s unfortunate that we have to wonder how much steroids had to do with it that late in his career. I wonder if that makes him a bad “comparable”.

  2. Mike said

    Good point about Caminiti. At this point, the impact steroids have on sustaining a player’s peak is pretty unknown. Off the top of my head, the sample size would be Canseco, Caminiti, Palmeiro and… who else? Including anyone else would just be conjecture.

    As for the Sandman, he broke my heart with his rapid decline in his thirties. I grew up with his posters all over my walls. Which is weird considering I was a diehard O’s fan and he was alternatively referred to as the poor man’s- and the NL- Cal Ripken.

  3. Good analysis, Mike.

    By their age 35 season, only one player was drastically below-average and it was hall-of-famer Ryne Sandberg (who lost the year to injury).

    Sandberg “retired” during the 1994 season and missed the second half of that year plus all of 1995. He was unhappy with his “mental approach” and “performance” but the reality is that his marriage was unraveling at that time.

    Ryno returned in 1996 and regained his power stroke but the rest of his game never recovered.

  4. Mike said

    Thanks for the clarification Rich. I’ll fix that in the post.

    For the record, my love of Ryne Sandberg had nothing to do with the dissolution of his marriage.

  5. Nate said

    Happy March Madness No Sleepz and O’s fans,

    Seeing as how I keep up through blogs and other methods with Spring Traing all day at work… I came across an entry today from The Sun’s ST guy Roch Kubatko. His reports seem to jive with the impression I got while I was down there. Slick Nick Markakis is making things very difficult on O’s personnel in terms of a decsion…

    “A team official indicated earlier this week that a decision on Markakis could come down to the last few exhibition games, after the Orioles break camp. They have back-to-back meetings with the Nationals in Washington and Baltimore. But it sure seems like they’re leaning toward keeping him, considering that I’m hearing how other teams have been told that Corey Patterson, Luis Matos and David Newhan are available in the right trade. Take your pick.”

    So there ya go. If this is true then we may get to see if the kid actually is ready. I know this post is a few day old, but I know at least Mike will be checking it and, if i know Mike, may want to maniacally follow up.

  6. Mike said

    No Speakz-

    Maniacal follow-ups are all I have.

    I, for one, would like Nick the Greek to see some more AA pitching before being promoted. Besides the fact that there is little incentive to rushing him in 2006, it makes sense to keep his arbitration/free agency eligibility another year away.

    I’m surprised to hear that Roch is hearing that C-Pat is available. Presumably the Cubs had shopped him around this winter and all they could get were two C to C+ A-ball prospects. I doubt the O’s could get much more now that the perception would be that a second team has given up on him (after a month).

    For what it’s worth, Roch’s blog is a worthwhile read. What he lacks in statistical gadgets and gizmos, he more than makes up for with his willingness to pass along insider info he is afforded (seemingly uncensored).

  7. Sam said

    I’d like to see Nick get more seasoning too, but right now he’s just better than our other options. Sticking Millar or Conine out in left as a starter is a nightmare. I’d like to see us deal Matos to get a solid fringe corner outfielder in here so we at least we have an adequate defender in the mix in left to platoon. Then it’d be easier to send Nick down, but as is he’s already one of our top 3 outfielders.

  8. Mike said

    I’d like to see Nick get more seasoning too, but right now he’s just better than our other options.

    Without conceding that as true, I still don’t want Markakis to start the year in Baltimore. First off, the Orioles are not going to contend this year even if they thawed out Teddy Ballgame and stuck him in LF. So… why run any risk of playing a promising kid before he’s had the opportunity to succeed at lower levels. And, of course, the most important point…

    If Markakis starts the year in Baltimore, he will be arbitration eligible after 2008 and eligible for free agency after 2011. If he is a June or July call-up this year, he will be arbitration eligible after 2009 and eligible for free agency after 2012.

    Why expedite the process of making him more expensive and one foot closer to the door when it will have no impact on whether or not the Orioles contend?

    I see a lot of risk and no reward to letting him make the OD roster.

  9. Nate said

    No doubt this is a tough decision, easily the toughest Perlozzo and company has to deal with. I agree with Sam that he is one of our top 3 outfielders at this point, based on spring training. I am probably one of his biggest fans and would love to watch him this year on the big club. However I think Mike’s points are overriding if you really think about it. The one thing I always come back to when trying to convince myself that he should be up here is that he only has played something like 33 games above A ball. In a year where everyone can agree we will not contend, there is indeed much more risk involved in letting come up north with us. The last thing we would want is to ruin the confidence that he has built and make him doubt the great work he has done thus far. And although it could go the other way too, even if it did, it wouldnt mean a whole lot for the O’s in the scheme of things. By the way, he went 4 for 4 yesterday against the Nationals.

  10. Mike said

    The last thing we would want is to ruin the confidence that he has built and make him doubt the great work he has done thus far

    This is a good point, but it is a distant second to the fact that allowing Markakis to make the OD lineup is just bad roster management. It’s allowing Jeff Fiorentino to be promoted from A-ball and be forced onto the 40-man roster a year early while you have AAA journeymen like Ramon Nivar in Ottawa bad. There is nothing more valuable than the first few seasons (pre-arbitration)of a good ballplayer’s career. There is no reason to burn one of those seasons prematurely when A) Markakis could still benefit from additional time in the minors and B) Markakis will have little impact on the direction of this season.

    Stating that he is one of the three best OF options the O’s have is a dangerous oversimplification of the situation. 

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