Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Sample Size Be Damned

Posted by Mike on May 5, 2006

Sam beat me to the punch here, but Bruce Chen looks nothing like the Orioles' most valuable pitcher of 2005.  Through six starts, this is his stat line:

W   L   ERA   IP     H    R  ER   HR   BB   SO

0     4   8.40  30.0  45  31  28    11    10    18

That's right folks, 11 HR's in 30 innings.  That's easy to explain when, on a night like tonight, Chen gets an out via the groundball once and via the flyball eight times. 

But, we all know that Chen gives up tons of homers (32 in 2005, 7 in 47+ ip in 2004).  So what has changed?  Let's take a look at his BABIP's from the last few years:

               BABIP        ERA           PERA

2004-       .232           3.02           4.63

2005-       .262           3.83           5.10

2006-       .309           8.40           7.47

As you can see, much of Chen's value has been wrapped up in the fact that he has allowed fewer hits per ball in play than the league average.  As we know, that is a difficult thing to repeat year in and year out.  It looks like lady luck finally caught up to Chen this year, as his BABIP has skyrocketed to slightly above-average levels.  And while change has been reflected in his PERA (or, what his ERA should be given his peripherals), it's not nearly as dramatic as in his ERA.

While the general perception of Chen has always been as the O's fifth best starter, it looks like the numbers are finally catching up to his reputation (in Baltimore, at least).  There are a few indicators that he may yet turn it around.  For instance, almost 25% of his OF flyballs are going for HR's, which is nearly double the average rate.  Couple that with the fact that his flyball tendencies this year are higher than his career established values, and it's certainly reasonable to expect his HR rate to come back to earth.

Add to the fact that he makes $3.8 million this year and we shouldn't expect him to go anywhere too fast.  But, at this rate, it looks like a return to the bullpen is becoming more and more possible.

Then What'll We Do?

You should know the answer to this question: Hayden Penn.  OTT's #3 prospect has been nothing short of brilliant in his two AAA starts this season, even taking a no-hitter through 7 innings in yesterday's start until he reached his pitch count (93).  Penn, however, already has roughly a month of service time from last year's grasp-at-straws major league stint (May 26th to July 1st).  So, anything the O's do involving Penn should at least let him stay in Ottawa for another month.  The benefits are as follows:

  1. It gives Penn ample time to build up confidence after he was a bit shellshocked last year.
  2. Penn avoids building up service time in excess of a year (or within spitting distance of the top 17% of players that don't reach that threshold).  That way, when the 2008 offseason rolls around, Penn won't be arbitration-eligible.
  3. The O's already screwed up with Markakis.  Screwing up with Penn would shake my faith in humanity.

In the meantime, what should the O's do?  Stick with Chen in the hopes he'll turn it around?  Defy my advice and call up Penn now?  Cory Morris?  Eric DuBose?  John Stephens?

Just don't say Adam Loewen, I'll scream. 

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16 Responses to “Sample Size Be Damned”

  1. bradley said

    well, i realize that creativity does not seem to be the hallmark of the perlozzo regime thus far, but what about a 4.5 man rotation? i was reading somewhere that standard bullpen construction dictates that the 12 man staff is the default when you rely on situational guys, loogys in particular. now, i figure that the present set up allows for five starters, a late inning block (ray, williams, hawkins) and then a bunch of other guys. halama’s pretty much useless, rleal has been used in a variety of spots and then there’s manon and birkins (for the time being).
    so, if we’re sort of committed to chen for the year why not trot him out every 5th day and give him a short hook by design? let him and birkins do it or dubose or morris? watch the pitch counts and whoever doesn’t max out would still be on the hook for pen duty?

    i don’t know. the whole thing is so exasperating and knowing that the pen has to take chen and lopez back to back is quite concerning.

    fwiw, bp reached the same conclusion about chen re: his babip in its 2006 annual.

  2. Ben said

    Bradley’s suggesting what in college baseball is referred to as a “staff day.” Typically happens for a mid-week game (important conference and non-conference 3-game series happen on the weekends). The nominal “starter” (i.e. Chen) goes 3-4 innings max, someone else covers the next 2-3, and so on. The problem, of course, is that Chen would probably find a way to throw 86 pitches in a 3-inning stint, which would negate the value of a “staff day,” namely, having the “starter” available for relief 2-3 days later.

    The other problem with Chen right now is that there’s no indication that he might be a good bullpen fit. His left-right splits in 2006 are relatively even (both awful). His career splits don’t help much either, if you’re looking for a LOOGY, or even a ROOGY:
    vs. RHB: 1.30 WHIP; .246 BAA; 1.7 HR/9; 7.2 K/9
    vs. LHB: 1.55 WHIP; .275 BAA; 1.5 HR/9; 7.2 K/9

    Another indicator of “bullpen material” (especially long relief) might be a starter who is OK for the first 3 innings, but has trouble the second time through the lineup. Unfortunately, that also doesn’t describe Chen. Aside from tolerable 1st innings, he’s gotten hit in the 2nd through 5th with no apparent pattern.

    So what should be done? Damned if I know. There’s not a lot of great options (since I agree that Penn should stay in Ottawa until it actually resemble Spring there). I don’t envy Perlozzo at all.

  3. Greg said

    My feeling is that they should let May run its course as is. Give Chen 4-5 more starts to see if he can get his placement back. (Because for all the stats you can look at, the real problem is that his location isn’t what it was last year. With his type of stuff he needs pinpoint control, and he often had that last year. This year, not so much.) And give Penn another month in Ottawa, as he got off to a late start anyway.

  4. Nate said

    Good points by everyone. The idea of a staff day is definitely interesting, but Ben makes a valid point that it is much more useful in the college ranks. Not that I don’t think something like that could be good, just not with Chen.

    “Another indicator of “bullpen material” (especially long relief) might be a starter who is OK for the first 3 innings, but has trouble the second time through the lineup. Unfortunately, that also doesn’t describe Chen. Aside from tolerable 1st innings, he’s gotten hit in the 2nd through 5th with no apparent pattern.”

    If his starts so far are any indication of future starts for Chen, the staff day would make no sense due to the fact that he is getting nailed early. If he were able to make it through 3 or 4 innings relatively unscathed then a long relief guy would make sense. But because of his overriding dependence on location, he must be accurate from the start or he is going to get hit from the start.

    This is no doubt a tough situation for Perlozzo, but I would have to say it is still early and they will need to throw him out there a couple more times and reevaluate. At that point if he is still throwing batting practice we will definitely need to look to change something.

  5. Eddie said

    …Just like last night, Chen needs to take one for the team…it’s gonna get ugly…but, we just can’t rush Penn just because our #5 starter bites…

    …he is good enough to keep it close from time to time with the right matchup…I think most Os fans have lost some faith in this guy…going into this year the HR rate should have concerned everyone…this year he seems to be keeping more pitches up…he’s sort of always been flirting with danger because his changeup break seems to require an occasional FB up just to keep his deception…and, sometimes hitters are sitting right on that pitch…

  6. Eddie said

    …but placing a SP into the bullpen might be just what we need to stabilize our relief corps…though I’m not too sure how much better Chen would be in the pen tho…you’d like a hard-thrower in there…with Rleal already in there, we’d have 2 changeup guys…

  7. Sam said

    Glad to see i’m being appreciated by someone Mike. Hopefully soon my parents and slut girlfriend will follow suit (I’m not bitter).

    I may have knocked the sample size earlier, but like everyone else I agree that we have to throw him out there at least 4 more times. I’m just not optimistic that he’s going to turn it around.

    As far as our other options, I think we need to hope that Penn can have a few more good starts in Ottawa and gain the consistency and confidence he needs, because our other options pretty much stink. I’ll throw John Halama in there as another option if Penn and Chen both struggle. His career numbers look somewhat like Chen’s do if you subtract last season from Chen’s resume. He’s not decidedly better than anyone else that we have to choose from, but in a pinch I’ll take him over Eric Dubose.

    Another aside, Fire Joe Morgan is now my favorite website next to bookworm bitches. If you want to laugh, check out the post on the Baseball Tonight segment where the debate is how pitchers can evoke better run support from their team.

  8. Kilbs said

    A few points:

    – I wonder how seriously Flanny explored trading Chen this off-season given that Chen’s DIPS ERA was much worse than his actual ERA. Chen had the fifth biggest difference in 2005 between DISP ERA and Actual at 5.03 v 3.83. His value was a lot higher 6 months ago.

    – As far as how to solve the problem, I think the best route is to hope that Chen gets on a hot streak and deal him in July. I don’t want to rush Penn at all.

    – I second that firejoemorgan.com is hysterical.

    The O’s already screwed up with Markakis. Screwing up with Penn would shake my faith in humanity.

    What is the Oriole track record of late developing our few blue chip prospect? I don’t think it’s terribly encouraging.

  9. Zachary said

    I have to disagree with The O’s already screwed up with Markakis. Sure, Nick went into a pretty bad slump after his opening week, but he’s come around lately. In his past week, he’s 5-for-17, which is a .294 average. I think pitchers adjusted to him, and now he’s adjusting to them. And no, he hasn’t looked great in CF, but I don’t think he’s going to learn it any better in Ottawa than he will here. I’d just as soon he got used to playing in the same outfield as Gibbons, whom he’ll be next to for years to come. Lastly, the major argument for guys being sent down for seasoning is so they can “build up confidence” or “not lose their confidence”. With Markakis, confidence has not seemed like a problem at all.

  10. Mike said

    I understand the argument about Markais’ confidence, but my main concern all along has been that he’ll be eligible for arbitration and free agency a year earlier than if he were brought up mid-season. I can’t stress enough that the most valuable commodity in baseball are everyday players that aren’t yet eligible for arbitration. That’s why the Indians will win the Marte-Crisp trade; they’re probably pretty clos in terms of career value, but Crisp is already in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

    Also, I don’t think the problem is that Markakis has to learn CF in the major leagues, I just don’t think he is a CF long-term. And I think it’s pretty clear, despite the fact that he has looked better recently, that Markakis would have been well served to spend April in Bowie. Even that month in the minors would have pushed his service time back a year.

  11. Zachary said

    I just don’t agree with making the decision based on contract and FA timelines. The replacement for Markakis in the OF would be Conine or Millar. Despite their years of experience over him, all three players are playing at roughly the same level. The difference is that those guys have peaked and are on their way down. Markaksis is green and on his way up. Every AB he has in the majors contributes to his learning curve. So we should put aging crap in the outfield to save a few $$ and a year of free agency? No way. You want to talk numbers? How about the $4M we’re paying those guys to play no better than a rookie this year?

    If Nick just sucked at the major league level, I’d agree to have him develop in the minors. But he’s actually doing decently and he has been earmarked as one of our outfielders of the future. I’d rather he get his seasoning in the majors. Next year, when maybe we’ll be a little more competitive, he comes up with a full year of major league experience under his belt, instead of a few meaningless weeks as a September call-up.

    I don’t care about service time and leveraging his minors experience and whatnot. Those are nickle-and-diming money decisions. Who cares if he’s eligible for free agency a year sooner? The whole point is that the Orioles need to be attractive enough to their free agent players that the players want to stay. If the kid is one of the best choices for outfield on the team today, he should be up today, no matter how many options he has left.

    Just my 2¢.

  12. Mike said

    I have to disagree Zachary. I understand the frustration at stopgap solutions like Millar and Conine, but the fact that they are playing as well as Markakis is a reason that Markakis should not have been on the OD roster. Also, I know it seems silly to think 3 or 6 years down the road about salary issues, but if Markakis turns out to be as good as advertised, than you can bet it will be a major issue then.

    One more point- Markakis hit .182/.270/.288 in April. He has hit .198/.274/.326 in his past ten games. He very well might snap out of his cold start, but I don’t think there is any doubt that keeping in the minors for April would not have impaired his progress.

    So Markakis has not represented an upgrade on Conine or Millar and could be making progress just as easily in the minors. Even if the arbitration and free agency issues are only minor, they still outweigh the non-existent benefits of having him up on OD.

  13. Eddie said

    I think if we remember what the conundrum was like back in April, it wasn’t a simple question of arb-eligibility…but I do agree that arb-eligibility is a very key piece of putting together homegrown talent…but last ST, the Os had a young top prospect who had the best Spring of all their players, including veterans..Nick was hitting well and most of all put together patient mature ABs consistently…at the time, the results were showing…I don’t know if sending down your best performing player would have sent the right message to him and/or other players in the system…the problem really was that if he would have had just a “good” Spring, that would have been fine to send him down to Bowie…but it turned out that he had a fantastic one…

    …that being said in theory (not that we’ve really had to test this theory of late), Baltimore is capable of signing their players so the arb-eligibility argument is less applicable…then again, we aren’t a team with a bottomless pit of money either..we need to make smart long-term committments to be successful…

  14. Mike said

    For me, the issue has always been Markakis’s service clock. It rarely makes sense to promote a player to the majors with a third of a season’s experience above A-ball. As good as he might one day be, he’s proven that he was not ready to play in the majors on OD.

    Baltimore is capable of signing their players so the arb-eligibility argument is less applicable

    The payroll is finite, so the money will have to come out of another part of the team. And what about the fact that he’ll be able to leave Baltimore via free agency a year earlier? If he turns into an all-star, wouldn’t you rather him leave us for the Yankees after his age after his age 28 season, instead of after his age 27 season?

    Well, we have already given away that year of his prime. We could have had it just by letting him do well in the minors during April instead of OPSing .550 for the big club.

  15. Eddie said

    ..I guess I just don’t think we’d let this kid go just because of the money…

    …our primary problem in recent years has been attracting FAs here because of the premium we have had to pay that other teams don’t (to our credit!)…we’ve scoffed on signing players just past their prime looking to sign their last big contract at our inflated Oriole premium…there’s nothing really wrong with that…in fact, the reason why we’re in this current mess is because we didn’t do enough of that during the 90s…sure, if Markakis is adamant in getting out of Baltimore eventually, this is dubious management indeed and we would lose out a full year of his prime…but all we can do as an organization is treat the kid right and let him grow…

    …if Markakis turns out to be a special player, I just don’t see us just letting him go…under the Angleos era, we just have never had that scenario played out before…we’ve never had a homegrown talent who we’ve invested tons of years and hopes into developing turn out…Angelos scoffed at extending Moose at his asking price, but, that was after his first big contract…one could argue that a similar situation could happen with Markakis at age 32 but that’s a situation where I think the arb-eligibility argument is dampened…

    …in my opinion, the arb-eligibility argument is a valid point but not for the reasons so far stated…considering this franchise’s desperate need for an heir to Cal, it is very hard for me to imagine the club just letting him go citing small-market reasons…if Markakis is a good one, he needs to be an Oriole at all costs…but, another point about arb-eligibility is not necessarily a question of keeping Markakis or not, but of what it would indirectly force the club to do at other roster spots…

  16. Mike said

    another point about arb-eligibility is not necessarily a question of keeping Markakis or not, but of what it would indirectly force the club to do at other roster spots…

    Agreed. That’s what I meant by saying that the O’s payroll is finite, but I wasn’t so clear. It’s presumptuous to think that ‘the O’s have money and won’t let Markakis get away if he’s a good one’ as if that’s all there is to the argument. Brian Roberts is making over $3 mill in his first year of arb-eligibility. If Markakis makes the same in 2009 instead of $400K, the difference will likely be reflected elsewhere on the roster. Likewise, he will get a raise in 2010 and 2011 and the difference over his initial arb salary will be reflected in those rosters. And that’s not even considering the possibility of a major pay raise/commitment in 2012 that could have been deferred until 2013. That very well might not be a big deal. My point is just that the O’s should not have put themselves in a position where it could be a big deal.

    Keith Woolner had this to say in his recent BP chat:

    The most economically efficient players to own are those performing at or above major league average but who have no negotiating leverage — the pre-arbitration-eligibles. Which is why a strong farm system and development program is an important long-term competitive advantage for most teams.

    The arguments in favor of Markakis breaking camp with the club are perfectly valid. I just happen to disagree. Hopefully, this helps articulate why I disagree.

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