Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Is There Any Hope For Slick Nick?

Posted by Mike on June 19, 2006

During spring training, many fans were excited about the possibility of Nick Markakis breaking camp with the parent club.  I was not, but that had as much to do with financial implications as it did with him getting the proper seasoning in the minor leagues.  The Orioles front office ended up putting more value in Markakis' strong spring, against decidedly weaker than usual competition, than his paltry 33 games experience above A-ball.  Now that we're closing in on the halfway point of the season, it's difficult to overstate exactly how poorly Markakis has played.  Consider the following:

  • He's amassed a -7.4 VORP, tied for 12th worst in the entire league. 
  • His .226 EQA makes him the 8th worst hitter in the AL with 150+ PA's
  • While Markakis looks good in the outfield corners, he has disappointed some that thought he might be able to handle CF (Rate2 of 83).
  • His .665 OPS for the month of June is slightly less horrible than his .627 overall OPS, but hardly suggests a nearing breakout.
  • He's hitting .232/.312/.315 overall.  And he's not a shortstop during the second dead ball era.  
  • By comparison, offensive drains Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar, even while failing to live up to their meager expectations, are each putting up a .700+ OPS.

So what's the problem?  Well, even a casual fan can see Markakis' complete inability to turn on a fastball.  What's especially ironic about this is that, before 2005, a big knock on Markakis was his inability to use the whole field.  In the past, Markakis pulled everything.  Now, he looks like he'd be late on a Mel Clark fastball.

Like many of you, I'm extremely disappointed.  I'll certainly cut him some slack; it's not his fault he's been forced into major league action well before he was ready.  But pretending the problem doesn't exist will only exasperate it. 

While a performance this bad necessarily dims future expectations, he's still capable of turning it around and continuing on the path of becoming an offensive cornerstone.  He's just not going to get there by setting a new standard for offensive futility against pitchers that are clearly out of his league.  The Orioles have little choice but to admit their mistake and send him back to Bowie.  Otherwise, they will continue to cost themselves runs and potentially valuable service time, all while Markakis continues to falter in his development.

Sorry for the negative vibe, folks, but I'd be doing a disservice to pretend the situation is any rosier. 

Commence caustic emails.  Then, check out the new Oriole Report.

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Posted in Orioles | 11 Comments »

Corey Patterson Redux

Posted by Mike on June 15, 2006

Every once in a while, I am wrong.  I normally don't make a whole post about it, but I do usually get an email or two. 

About six weeks ago, I wrote a piece on Corey Patterson that concluded, among other things:

If there is ever a player that will be able to have a solid major league career with this degree of strike zone ineptitude, it will be one with Patterson's complementary skillset.  But that is really masking the point that it is unlikely such a player will ever exist.  Put simply, if Patterson wants to come within spitting distance of his potential, then he'll have to learn to take a walk more than once a month.

As if to mock my very existence, Corey Patterson has answered by hitting a respectable .289/.337/.454 through his first 194 at bats.  Moreover, he's leading the league with 27 stolen bases in 30 attempts.  He's second on the team with a 17.8 VORP and fourth on the team with a .287 EQA.  Plus, he's yet to hit into a double play. 

To make my point in my previous article, I displayed his walk and strikeout rates over the past three seasons:

              AB/BB            AB/K

2003-       21.9                4.3

2004-       14.0                3.8

2005-       19.6                3.8

Not inspiring.  But so far this year…

2006-       14.9                5.5

Neither of those figures are anything resembling ideal and he will still be hideously miscast if forced near the top of the order, but both represent improvements on his career established levels.  What seems to be most important is that he's been able to make more consistent contact and make better use of his exceptional speed. 

One statistic that I find particularly interesting is that he's actually decreased the average amount of pitches he's seen per plate appearance.  In the past three years, he's seen 3.5, 3.4, and 3.1 pitches per plate appearance, respectively.  I'd hypothesize that this has as much to do with his proclivity to bunt for a hit as anything else, but that would also have some impact on his personal best AB/K rate. 

Looking at his batted ball data, provided by the Hardball Times, provides some additonal insight:

                 LD%      GB%     IF/F%      HR/F%

2004         19.1        40.0       N/A           12.5

2005         17.7        46.1       24.1          10.7

2006         23.5        36.8       18.5          12.9

The thing that stands out to me is that Patterson has increased the amount of balls he has hit for line drives while decreasing his production of groundballs over previous years.  Unlike with pitchers, batters do have a high correlation of batted ball types, including LD%, so the improvement looks genuine.  Not only is Patterson putting the ball in play more, he is also hitting with more authority than in recent seasons.  This improvement is even more pronounced if you buy into my theory that Patterson's high number of bunt hits may be affecting the data.

So, while I am looking foolish in my pessimism about Patterson's chances to get back on track, improving his contact rate has played a role in his turnaround.  And it certainly doesn't hurt that he is arguably the best athlete in professional baseball, which provides him with a pretty nasty complementary skillset.

Posted in Orioles | 2 Comments »

Some Notes

Posted by Mike on June 10, 2006

Dave Sanford, of Royals Corner, was kind enough to pass along some photos of the O's 6th round pick, Jason Berken.  They are from his start against UVA this year.

Be sure to stop by Royals Corner and say hi.  A good place to start is with RC's interview with #1 overall draft pick, Luke Hochevar

  • Rodrigo Lopez

Lopez threw another quality start tonight (7 ip, 6 K, 3 BB, 7 H, 3 R) and it looks like he's finally back on track.  After not having one all season, Lopez is now 3 for his last 4 in quality starts.  Of course, it's only fitting that Bruce Chen registered the loss by giving up a home run in the 12th inning.  That's 18 home runs in 51 innings if you're keeping track at home.

  • Promotions Ahead? 

While Jeff Fiorentino (.200/.275/.335) and Brandon Snyder (.202/.242/.363 with 47 K's in 32 G's) continue to struggle, a few O's farmhands are clamoring for promotions.   

Nolan Reimold is now hitting .304/.435/.538 for a .973 OPS.  Offense is down throughout the minors (many believe as a result of replacement umpires) and the league OPS is sitting right around .700.  I see no reason that he shouldn't see some time at Bowie shortly, unless, of course, the O's use that as a reason to start him in Baltimore on opening day 2007

Brandon Erbe is also making a name for himself, even outside of the usual O's circles.  After a terrific start earlier this week, his season line looks like this:

  IP     H      ERA       K        BB     HR

  53     37     2.04      65        14       1

It'll be interesting to see where he ranks on MLB-wide prospect lists at season's end, but it will likely be between Erbe and Nick Adenhart  for the title of top pitching prospect yet to reach AA.  Erbe's only in his age 18 season, so I commend the O's for their patience thus far.  But it's unlikely that Erbe will continue to dominate his competition this thoroughly and not see some significant time at Frederick in 2006.

And, of course, there are candidates in Frederick's rotation that would be happy to make room for Erbe.  The top candidate has to be Radhames Liz, but there is also a case to be made for Garrett Olson.  Here are their respective lines thus far:

              IP     H      ERA       K        BB     HR

Liz          64     39     2.53       80       32       6

Olson     70.3   73     3.07       65       18       6

Liz's dominance is easy to see, but he is also still walking a batter every other inning.  Another advantage that Olson has over Liz is his ability to induce a ton of groundballs.  In 2005, over 60% of balls put into play against Olson were on the ground.  That's better than over 99% of major league pitchers.  Liz, on the other hand, will have to succeed by continuing to miss bats.  He's a pronounced flyball pitcher. 

  • Brandon Fahey in LF?

Through 92 AB's, Fahey is batting .272/.309/.348, which is actually exceeding my expectations.  I have no doubt that he has the athleticism to play a good LF, but his bat makes him a marginal backup shortstop.  Although, I will be the first to admit he is phenomenal defensively (at shortstop).

It seems like many GM's are trying to cultivate a Chone Figgins-like utility player of their own without any regard for the players actual ability.  Let me let you in on a secret: Chone Figgins is a great fantasy player, but he is, at his best, an average everyday third baseman or center fielder.  His value is directly linked to his ability to play wherever he is needed, making him a great utility player. 

So what do you get when you take someone who is distinctly below average at the plate and put him at one of the easiest defensive positions on the field?  Brandon Fahey as your starting left fielder. 

I'm not saying the kid has no place on the team.  Most teams carry a backup shortstop (although the O's are one of the few teams that can actually afford not to) and Chris Gomez is hurt.  It just makes no sense to stick him in left field.  Not when Luis Terrero is putting up a .900 OPS in Ottawa. 

Posted in Draft Coverage, Minor Leagues, Orioles | 5 Comments »

Day 1 (Part 2), Plus the Rest of the Draft

Posted by Mike on June 7, 2006

From here on out, I'll forego grading the picks.  After Round 5 or so, the picks are tougher to read and, obviously, are less consequential.  I'll tell you a bit of what I know about the players through the 10th round and then a few others worth tracking.

Round 6 (175)- Jason Berken, RHP (Clemson) 

Berken was highly regarded among Clemson's elite coaching staff, but was forced to have Tommy John surgery in 2005.  In his first year back, he showed 88-92 mph heat and good pitchability.  Concerns about his velocity dipping have to be tempered by the fact that it was his first season back from TJ.

At this point, a few of you may have questions about TJ surgery.  First off, it takes anywhere from 6 to 18 months to recover from.  After that, pitchers generally regain their stuff faster than their command, although a decrease in velocity is not uncommon the first year back.  With advancing medical technology, there have even been cases where a pitcher comes back from TJ and gains a few mph on his fastball.  That shouldn't be counted on, of course, but elbow ligament damage is far from the certain career-ending injury it once was.  Nick Adenhart is a good example of a player that was highly touted before TJ surgery and was able to be had late in the draft (14th rd.).  He came back strong and made the Angels look very smart, indeed.  In fact, his example probably has something to do with the proliferation of the strategy this year. 

Round 7 (205)- Josh Tamba, RHP (JuCo)

This might have been a slight overdraft on the O's part.  After transferring from Long Beach State, Tamba showed a 90 mph fastball and a marginal slider and changeup. 

Round 8 (235)- Jedidiah Stephen, SS (Ohio St.)

Most of the criticism surrounding Stephen centers around his inconsistent play.  For a senior drafted in the 9th round, he actually has an intriguing toolset; combining a strong arm, speed, and even a little power.  He might be a little more of a project than most 22 year olds out of major college programs.

Round 9 (265)- Brett Bordes, LHP (Ariz. St.)

Bordes projects to work in a relief role in the long-term.  He has good sinking action on his fastball, which can reach the low 90's.  He also has a breaking ball, but because of his arm slot, it can get slurvy (that's a bad thing).  All in all, he could end up a decent value for the 9th round.

Round 10 (295)- Emeel Salem, OF (Alabama)

Salem is a plus defender in CF, although he lacks ideal arm strength.  His speed is probably his best tool.  He does not have a very refined approach at the plate and has little power to speak of but he is adept at making consistent contact. 

Round 12 (355)- Brandon Tripp, CF (Cal. St. Fullerton)

Good actions in CF and is very athletic.  He could surprise.

Round 17 (505)- Anthony Watson, LHP (Nebraska)

Watson works with a solid three pitch arsenal (FB, CB, CU).  He led the Cornhuskers rotation in ERA (2.78) over the much-heralded Joba Chamberlain (Round 1S- NYY).  His 69 K's in 100 ip are less inspiring.

Talent-wise, Watson was better than a 17th rounder.  He fell because of his perceived bonus demands.  As a draft-eligible sophomore, Watson has extra leverage in contract negotiations.  He also had labrum surgery in 2004, so it's likely that his arsenal will continue to improve.  That or his arm will fall off.  The Orioles will monitor him this summer to determine if he is worth the price tag.  They have until he re-enrolls in the fall to get a deal worked out. 

Anyone else you'd like to hear about?  Let me know.

By the way, am I missing something or did Jeffrey Mayer not get drafted?  That's a shame. 

Posted in Draft Coverage | 4 Comments »

Day 1 (Part 1)

Posted by Mike on June 7, 2006

Here's a quick rundown of the O's draft so far, with a few tidbits about the players selected:

Grade A= Love the Pick

Grade B= Like the Pick

Grade C= Reasonable Pick, but there were better options available

Grade D= C'mon Joe

Grade F= You draft like my friend Joe rides a bike (that is to say, poorly)

Round 1 (9)- Billy Rowell, 3B (HS)

I covered Rowell in my post a few hours before the draft.  In case you missed it, here is what I had to say:

The second name floating around is that of the top prep position player in the draft (albeit in a depleted field); Billy Rowell.  He's Baseball America's #17 rated draft prospect. 

Rowell certainly fits an organizational need, since he can both hit a baseball and play an infield position.  It's also likely that his bonus demands won't be quite as high as Linecum's.  Right now, he plays a passable shortstop with good hands and a strong arm, but scouts expect his range to limit him to 3B as he fills out.  He has legitimate 70 power (on the 20-80 scale) which would instantly make him as big of a power threat as anyone in the O's system. 

As expected, the Orioles announced their intention of shifting him to 3B immediately.  Like Brandon Snyder in 2005, Rowell may have been selected a few spots ahead of where he would have gone had the O's selected later in the draft, but he was who they were gunning for all along.  And he instantly slots in behind Nolan Reimold as the Orioles' #2 position prospect. 

Pick Grade: B

Round 1S (32)- Pedro Beato, RHP (JC)

Beato is best known as the best draft and follow candidate from the 2005 draft.  He was a top prep pitcher before needing Tommy John surgery in April 2004.  He came back for his senior season and, like many recovering TJ survivors, struggled with both his stiff and his command.  Still, the Mets took a chance with their 17th round selection and offered him $150,000 to sign.  Beato turned them down and attended St. Petersburg Junior College, thus maintaining his eligibility to sign with the Mets.  After a dazzling JuCo season that saw his fastball return to the mid-90's at times and his slider and changeup showing plus potential, Beato knew he had made the right decision.  It was widely anticipated that the Mets would meet his seven figure demands, since they lacked a first round pick this year.  When he turned down their best offer, the 2006 draft gained yet another first round caliber arm. 

Another interesting sidenote is that it was widely speculated that the O's would take Emmanuel Burriss (SS out of Kent St.) with this pick, whom they had worked out several times.  I was never a big fan of Burriss, who looks like a future role player to me, so the Beato pick is doubly sweet for me.  The Giants, however, were happy to take Burriss with the very next pick.  Apparently, they are trying to corner the market on speedy second basemen (Burriss has a fringe arm). 

Back to Beato, there are also several stories floating around about how great his work ethic is.  Here's a link  (if you have a BA subscription).  And personally, I always marvel at guys willing to turn down more money than they've ever seen before because they believe so strongly in themselves.  The work ethic will come in handy because, at this point, Beato's stuff is soundly ahead of his command.  That's not unusual for a 19 year old, nor is it unusual for a guy two years removed from TJ, but Beato is the type of kid who will put the neccessary work in to correct it.

Pick Grade: A

Round 2 (58)- Ryan Adams, SS (HS)

Adams was drafted as a shortstop, but he profiles as an offensive second basemen.  He's also battled with several hamstring injuries.  That, coupled with his increased muscle mass, has cost him a bit in terms of speed.  He has an advanced approach at the plate and should develop above average power for a middle infielder.  The O's will have to keep him close to the trainer's office, but he has loads of potential.

Pick Grade: C+

Round 3 (85)- Zach Britton, LHP (HS)

Here's a pick I really like.  In the past year, Britton's velocity has shot up from 86-87 to 92-93.  And his lanky 6'3'' frame portends to even more gains in velocity, which could make it a consistent plus plus pitch.  There are two major concerns here.  The first is that his velocity dipped as the summer wore on.  Coincidentally, that's probably the biggest reason that Brandon Erbe was available in the 3rd round last year.  The second concern is that, right now, the fastball is all he has.  His curveball needs loads of work, but there's nothing in his mechanics that will prevent it from developing into an average pitch.  He also has little in the ways of a changeup, which will make him vulnerable to righties at higher levels, but that's hardly damning for an 18 year old.  BA notes that his delivery lacks deception and in his videos you can see the ball  pretty easily out of his hand.  A solid changeup would similarly help negate this problem. 

Overall, I think this was a great high upside pick in the third round.  Who knows, maybe this will become a theme in Joe Jordan's drafts.

Pick Grade: A

Round 4 (115)- Blake Davis, SS (Cal St.- Fullerton)

Blake Davis is polished in the field and that alone gives him an edge in reaching the big leagues.  But his offense lags behind.  He can spray the ball to all fields and is athletic, but it's hard to see how any power is going to develop for this 22 year old.  He should put up some decent, if fairly empty, batting averages before he reaches Bowie, but how he does in the high minors will tell us if the O's have anything more than a backup at the highest level.

Pick Grade: C-

Round 5 (145)- Bobby Henson, SS (HS)

Henson is ultra-toolsy, but scouts have trouble projecting him with the bat.  He was a good quarterback and pitcher in high school and, predictably, his arm is one of his best tools.  He's also quite fast and should be able to handle SS with more experience.  At the plate, expect him to look as poorly as Kieron Pope did last year.  Low batting average and lots of strikeouts in Bluefield.  His ability to refine his approach and make adjustments will determine his long-term success.

Pick Grade: C

I'm going to stop here because, hey, these take a lot of time to write.  I'll continue with more pick reviews tomorrow.  MLB.com has some great footage of each of these players that came in handy for these reports.  I'd encourage you to check them out as well. 

While it looks like I am lukewarm at this point, I'm actually quite encouraged with Joe Jordan's second draft.  There are some trends worth noting, or at least worth tracking to see if they continue.  The first is the selection of elite prep hitters with the first pick.  Both Brandon Snyder and Billy Rowell were considered refined at the plate and athletic enough to become solid defenders.  Rowell should make short work of Bluefield, much like Snyder.  Let's just hope he adapts better to full season ball.  Jordan also has a knack for identifying players that might keep a few scouting directors up at night for passing on them.  Like Nolan Reimold before him, I think Pedro Beato has a good shot at quickly gaining top prospect consideration. 

Last year, Jordan's best picks were his 3rd and 4th picks and, this year, I am most impressed by his 2nd and 4th picks.  That's not a knock on Rowell, just recognition that more talent is expected via the 9th overall slot than the 32nd or 85th.  I already pointed out some similarities between Brandon Erbe and Zachary Britton and, while it would be foolish to expect Britton to explode like Erbe has, it's easy to see the possibility that Britton could develop into a very interesting prospect.  The Bobby Henson pick also reminds me of the Kieron Pope selection last year.  Henson should have much more defensive value and Pope has more power potential, but they are similarly raw players that the organization is perfectly willing to be patient with as they turn their tools into skills. 

Rest easy guys and gals, this was a good draft. 

Part 2 tomorrow.

Posted in Draft Coverage | 2 Comments »

Draft Day

Posted by Mike on June 6, 2006

The Rule IV Draft is today and the Orioles own the 9th overall selection.  More than any others, I've repeatedly heard two names connected to the Orioles. 

The first is Tim Linecum, who just might have the best overall stuff in the draft: mid-90's heat (touching 98), plus curve, improving slider and changeup. 

The problem is that he's under his listed height of 6 feet and was abused by his college coach (even registering a 146 pitch count on one occasion).  He's earned a reputation as being "rubber-armed", but you don't get that kind of reputation by enduring a reasonable workload as an amateur.  He might even be shut down for the season by whatever team drafts him.  Some believe that his stuff and resiliency would be best deployed in the bullpen. 

He is BA's #2 rated prospect in the draft but it's likely that he will still be on the board when the O's pick because of the way the teams selecting ahead of them match up.

The second name floating around is that of the top prep position player in the draft (albeit in a depleted field); Billy Rowell.  He's Baseball America's #17 rated draft prospect. 

Rowell certainly fits an organizational need, since he can both hit a baseball and play an infield position.  It's also likely that his bonus demands won't be quite as high as Linecum's.  Right now, he plays a passable shortstop with good hands and a strong arm, but scouts expect his range to limit him to 3B as he fills out.  He has legitimate 70 power (on the 20-80 scale) which would instantly make him as big of a power threat as anyone in the O's system. 

In a few short hours, we will find out who the O's first round draft pick is.   They also have a supplemental first round pick for the free agent loss of BJ Ryan (plus Toronto's 2nd round pick, but the O's lost theirs signing Ramon Hernandez).  Later tonight, I'll get another post up analyzing the entire first day.

Posted in Draft Coverage | Leave a Comment »

Catching Up

Posted by Mike on June 2, 2006

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.  At least part of the blame belongs to my internet provider.  

Anyways, let's get straight to the bullet points.

  • Loewen To Start Tomorrow

Kilbs recently made a great point in my comments section:

The key stat for Loewen: 26 BB’s in 49.7 ip.

So yeah, I am happy with his development in that he is a prospect and not some other first round flame out. However, if he is walking this many guys in AA, how many will he walk in the majors? God forbid he pitches against the Red Sox or the Yankees. 

So I'll leave alone the fact that Loewen should have been left alone in Bowie and focus on the latest Flanaquette decision: having Loewen make his first major league start against the team best designed to exploit his weaknesses. 

Far be it from me to suggest that Loewen should rot away in the pen but wouldn't it be nice if the kid could start off with a team like the Royals or the Twins?  Instead, the O's are sending Loewen, command issues and all, against the team with a collective .373 OBP.  That's the team average, mind you.  Know how many individuals have that high of an OBP on the O's?  Two; B-Rob and Miguel.

I'm sure many of you will say: We might as well see what the kid's got or We gotta do what we gotta do.  But this is a kid who struggled in his full season debut in 2004 because, according to many, he got shell-shocked in spring training (another wonderful benefit of his major league contract) and took his time recovering.  Maybe the O's should be more concerned with protecting an obviously talented kid instead of forcing him into such an extreme scenario.

Regardless of the outcome of the game, the logic behind this move is failing.  I'll refrain from making a prediction, except to say that I'll be pleasantly surprised if he walks (or hits) less than a batter an inning.

  • Orioles Persued Kyle Lohse?

I ran into this article recently.  Basically, it names the Orioles as one of the few teams that persued Kyle Lohse this off-season.  Apparently, they weren't satisfied with only a handful of #6 starters.  I know it's easy for me to say this now that his ERA more accurately reflects his ability, but I'd be surprised if you could find many knowledgeable baseball folks who would have bet on Lohse having another sub-4.50 ERA before this season. 

What were we going to give them, anyways?  Kim Cattrell?  Because that's the only thing that springs to mind when I think of things that are less valuable than Kyle Lohse.

  • Yanks Interested in Javy

This article mentions that the Yankees would be interested in Javy Lopez, but the O's wouldn't move him to an AL East opponent.  That makes sense… if you're the Blue Jays and they are interested in Greg Zaun.  But the O's are not going to compete this year, and the 35 year old Javy Lopez is unlikely to be a major roadblock to their success the next time they build a contender.  My advice: get what you can while he still looks like he might be able to catch.

  • Another Thought on the Mora Deal 

A few of you have emailed me, or at least expressed the opinion, that the Mora signing was, at least in part, vindicated by the fact that he was underpaid the past three years.  He was underpaid, this is true.  But anytime you sign a guy to a contract, you are paying him for what you expect his production to be during the tenure of the contract

Let's say things work out to where Mora makes the right amount of money (compared to his value) from 2003-2009.  That's great for Melvin, who seems like quite a nice guy, but the O's should expect more.  If his value clearly exceeded his salary in his first contract, then he will have to underperform in his second contract to make things square.  Wouldn't the O's be better served to just cash in while they're up, instead of rewarding a guy for exceeding the expectations of his previous contract with a salary he is very unlikely to earn?

I'm not denying the existence of good arguments in favor of the Mora deal.  This just isn't one of them.

  • Time to Worry About Bedard?

Rather than get worked up about the likes of Rodrigo Lopez (who has looked better recently) or Bruce Chen, let's take a look at a guy who could be a major part of the next winning Orioles team: Erik Bedard.

Simply put, he hasn't looked good this year.  Especially lately.  And there is no underlying means to explain it away either, as his peripherals will show:

                          K/9            BB/9            BABIP           P/PA

2004                  7.93             4.65               .326               4.2

2005                  7.94             3.62               .323               4.1

2006                  5.40             3.84               .329               3.9

For those of you that don't remember, Bedard led the major leagues in pitches per inning in 2004.  He made major strides towards resolving that by lowering his walk rate in 2005, although he still works painfully slow.  His walk rate this season, while better than 2004 and in line with 2005, is nothing spectacular.  But he's maintained success by missing a lot of bats.  This year… not so much. 

I put his BABIP into the mix to show that, while it's very high, it's roughly the same as it has been each of his previous two seasons.  I still expect it to regress towards the mean by season's end, but we can't really hold it accountable for his struggles since he's overcome being just as hit unlucky in the past. 

Another thing I noticed is that while his groundball % is higher than ever (47.5%), his HR rate is also up (1.19/9 ip).  All this adds up to a pretty high HR/FB rate (15.0%) which should also regress closer to the league average (12%) by season's end. 

If the O's are going to contend in 2007 or 2008, Erik Bedard is going to have to step up.  I've repeatedly sung his praises in the past, but he hasn't exactly lived to becoming the #2 starter I envisioned.  If you look closely enough, there are certainly a few indicators that he'll improve on his current performance, but it all starts with him missing a few more bats.   

  • Draft and Follows

Here's a list of the O's signed draft and follows:

Chad Thall, lhp, Jefferson County (Mo.) CC, 27th round
Chris Vinyard, 1b, Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC, 38th round
Bryan Lee, rhp, Cuesta (Calif.) JC, 42nd round

Here are their fifth year senior signings:

Matt Hayes, rhp, Indianapolis
Joe Nowicki, of, Wisconsin-Milwaukee

I'll have scouting reports on each of them shortly. 

Anyone else as excited for Tuesday as I am?  I'm holding my breath that Tim Linecum drops to the O's.

  • P.S.

Do you fancy yourself an expert on world politics?  How bout world finances?  Then head on over to The Screaming Pen

Maybe you're a glutton for pretentious writing and grandstanding hyperbole (and you're already finished with OTT for the day).  Whatever your reason, the site was recently launched and is certainly worth a look. 

Very Funny

Posted in Orioles | 2 Comments »

Mora Deal Finalized

Posted by Mike on May 23, 2006

I'm a couple days late to the party, but the Melvin Mora deal is now official: 3 years/$25 million.  I'm certainly happy for Melvin and his 26 kids, but the deal is a bit overextended for my tastes. 

In a previous post, I took a look at Mora's top comparables and looked at how they fared in their age 35 to 37 seasons.  The results were a bit mixed, but the final graph looked like this:

I ended up concluding that a two year deal would be defensible, but a three year deal would not.  This is particularly true due to the fact that the money is certain to be backloaded for the 2009 season. 

Let's say that Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, Brandon Erbe, Nolan Reimold, etc. etc. are all up and contributing to a winning club by 2009.  The Orioles will now have an $8 million sinkhole tied into the diminishing performance/playing time of a 33 year old Ramon Hernandez plus another $9 or $10 million tied up in a player who, according to his comparables list, has a six in ten chance of being an offensive drain or out of baseball.  And what are the O's going to do if the standard Melvin Mora midsummer 20-game vacations turn into 30, 40, or 50-game breaks? 

I don't mean to be overly pessimistic about this- Melvin's contract could certainly work out.  It's just that the odds aren't in his favor.  If the O's are ever going to get this rebuilding thing right, they're going to have to get away from aiming for .500.  Avoiding giving an injury prone 37 year old $10 million would be a good first step.   

As usual, Chris Kahrl had a few pithy comments concerning the signing:

PECOTA's valuation anticipates that Mora will be worth more than $12 million during that three-year stretch, and Mora's still hitting, so signing him to an extension might make all sorts of sense… unless it's for more than twice as much money, and the deal is reported to have enriched Mora to the tune of $25 million. As much self-pity as the Orioles like to indulge themselves in over whether or not free agents won't come to Baltimore unless they overpay–a la Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez–this seems more than a little excessive on the self-flagellation scale.

  • Penn DL'ed, Loewen Recalled

I really, really don't like this move.  Really.  But first things first- Hayden Penn will not be making Daniel Cabrera's starts due to the fact that he has appendicitis.  He'll have to be put on the disabled list, but how much time he'll ultimately miss is unclear.  If anyone out there has ever had appendicitis, feel free to let us know how long it was until you were full strength in the comments section.

Hayden Penn being called up makes a bunch of sense.  He's certainly the guy who would give the O's the best chance of winning every fifth day.  It would even have been likely that had he met any success, Chen would have been moved to the pen upon Cabrera's return.  Carmudgeon that I am, I would have rather the O's see if Cory Morris had anything to offer before forcing Penn up, but even I could understand the inclination to go with Penn.  Morris is not exactly tearing things up, after all, and Penn is doing just that.  Still, I speculated earlier that Penn would have to stay in Ottawa until June to avoid Super Two status after the 2008 season.  It would be a shame to waste an entire pre-arbitration season for one start during a season when the O's aren't viewed as serious contenders. 

Unfortunately, Penn got sick and all that reasoning was for naught. 

Now, Adam Loewen has been recalled and, what's more, may not even be starting.  For those of you that are unaware, the Orioles drafted Loewen out of high school with the 4th overall pick in 2002.  After a year at Chipola College, many speculated that he would be the 1st overall pick in 2003, before the O's and Loewen finally came to terms.  Those terms included a major league contract, which will force Loewen to stick in the majors by opening day 2007.  No matter how badly he struggles, he can not be sent back to the minors without being exposed to waivers. 

Fortunately, Loewen's star has grown continuously brighter since his disappointing 2004 season.  He dominated the AFL last off-season and now sports a 2.72 ERA in Bowie with 55 K's and 26 BB's in 49.7 ip.  He very well could be among the O's best five starting pitchers already. 

The problem I have is that the Orioles have dug a pretty deep hole for themselves if he is not.  With only a few months left in which Loewen will be able to polish his game, the Orioles can't afford to sacrifice any of his development time.  Both Hayden Penn and Jeff Fiorentino took several weeks to get back to normal even after they were demoted to the minors last year.  According to Deric McKamey, "…it isn’t uncommon for players to struggle after a promotion of this sort."  If that happens to Loewen, he'll have lost much of his final minor league season and will be that much further pressed to succeed in 2007.  With 49.7 ip above A-ball, how confident can you be that Loewen will succeed against major league hitters?

There are plenty of organizations that get accused of coddling their prospects.  The Orioles sit on the other end of the spectrum.  I see a lot of fans arguing "let's see what the kid's got, etc." and the O's seem to be listening.  Unfortunately, that's an overly simplistic approach that can cut short a lot of promising careers.  It took Brian Giles and Jason Bay until their mid-20's to establish themselves as major league hitters.  It took Melvin Mora until his thrities.  Randy Johnson didn't become The Big Unit until he was almost thirty.  And all of these guys are all-stars. 

Yet, many expect a 22 year old kid to either be ready for the major leagues or they'll consider him worthless to the organization.  Just like people in other facets of life, baseball prospects develop at different paces and follow varying career paths.  The key for the O's organization is to identify each prospect's personal developmental needs and protect them as long as is reasonably possible.  I highly doubt that a promotion to the majors after less than 50 innings above A-ball is what is best for a kid that is still walking a batter every other inning, especially when he will never get another chance to address his command issues in the minors.  Don't get me wrong, the Loewen call-up might very well work out.  But what if it doesn't?  In this case, I think the potential downside far outweighs the potential benefits. 

Posted in Minor Leagues, Orioles | 3 Comments »

The Curious Case of Daniel Cabrera

Posted by Mike on May 19, 2006

A couple weeks ago, I profiled Corey Patterson based on his difficulty in comprehending the concept of a strike zone.  Today, I hope to do the same for Daniel Cabrera.

Clearly, the point of this toiling is produce pitchers comparable to Cabrera in terms of both promise and their ability to frustrate fans.  Let's first take a look at a few of Daniel's key indicators for the past few years:

                      K/9                BB/9  

2004             4.63                 5.42

2005             8.76                 4.85

2006             9.36                 8.49

There are a few notes I should make right off the bat.  First, Cabrera has the added benefit of being an extreme groundball pitcher.  But I have no way of tracking that historically, so we will have to make do with K and BB rates.  Secondly, we should most concern ourselves with the statistics from 2005.  Clearly, Cabrera had no business pitching in the major leagues in 2004 and I would be remiss to hold that against him (although you should feel free to hold it against the organization).  Conversely, 2006 is still young and his statistics are skewed by a few ridiculous outings. 

With that in mind, here is the criteria I opted to use for creating a list of comparables for Daniel Cabrera:

  1. Season occurred after 1980
  2. Pitcher pitched at least 100 innings
  3. K/9 is equal to or greater than 8.50
  4. BB/9 is equal to or greater than 4.50
  5. Pitcher is 25 or younger during the season in question

Here is a list of matches:

Bobby Witt 1986 & 1987

Like Cabrera, Witt was called up well before he was ready.  By his age 26 season, 1990, Witt did the best of his career.  He maintained his high strikeout rate but cut his walk rate to 4.46 per 9 ip.  For the majority of the rest of his long career, Witt was close to a league average performer with wildly fluctuating strikeout rates. 

Mitch Williams  1987

No surprise that Wild Thing makes an appearance on this list.  Being a reliever, the applicability of this comparison isn't very high.  Nevertheless, Williams had a successful career out of the pen while remaining wild throughout. 

Scott Williamson 2000 

Another immensely talented reliever, Williamson has also battled injury problems.  He's generally been effective when available to pitch.

Chan Ho Park  1996

We all know the story with Park- he went on to become one of the game's best before the Rangers rewarded him with a ridiculous contract.  He promptly broke down.

Kerry Wood  2000 & 2001

Wood's story is similarly familiar.  Yesterday, after his most recent rehad stint, he made his first start of the season.

Oliver Perez  2003

Perez broke out in a big way in 2004.  Since then, he's stuggled with injuries and inconsistency.  He's still only 25 and, personally, I am a big fan.  So, I'll forgive the Pirates for being patient. 

Mark Clear  1980 & 1982

Another reliever- maybe I should have put a games started filter in there…  Anyway, Clear was a useful, if inconsistent, reliever into his early thirties.

Randy Wolf  1999

Wolf went on to become one of the better starters in the National League, until injuries started to drag him down these past two seasons. 

Pedro Martinez  1993

Simply ther most dominant pitcher of all time.  I recently saw a respected writer compare Martinez to Koufax.  That's underselling what Martinez has accomplished.  In their respective primes, I would take Pedro over anybody that has ever thrown a baseball.

Of course, 1993 was his age 21 season and by 1994, he was throwing strikes at a rate that Daniel Cabrera will likely never reproduce.

C.C. Sabathia  2001

Sabathia has quickly become one of the more reliable starters in the AL, although his K rate has fallen along with his BB rate.  Until recently, many believed he could become similar to Livan Hernandez.  That still may happen, but it's unfair to expect any young pitcher to carry the workload that he has.

Scott Garrelts  1985

The former first round pick (and another reliever) had his second best season in 1985.  He switched to starting in 1989 and, despite a plummeting K rate, helped lead the Giants to the World Series.  He was out of baseball by his 30th birthday.

Bartolo Colon  2000

Colon has succeeded by improving his control, even if it costs him a few K's.  His hard work culminated in an incredibly undeserved Cy Young Award last year.  Nevertheless, Colon is a very valuable player. 

Rick Ankiel  2000

After injuries cut short a phenomenal young pitching career, Ankiel has decided to try to make it back to St. Louis as an outfielder.  He hit very well in High A last year and his power translated to AA as well, albeit with no plate discipline.  Earlier this season, Ankiel broke his clavicle, once again proving my point that God hates Rick Ankiel. 

Conclusion

This list doesn't need much more commentary.  Aside from Rick Ankiel (Quick aside: Has anyone thought of making Rick Ankiel novelty voodoo dolls?), the comparables are quite positive.  To my surprise, most people on this list either developed more control or managed it in some way (usage patterns?) to maintain effectiveness. 

I should note that many of the people on this list have some kind of advantage over Cabrera.  Pedro Martinez was 3 years younger than Cabrera was when he qualified for the list and even then, barely so.  Nevertheless, I don't think many of you would be surprised to discover some objective confirmation of Cabrera's tremendous upside.  What surprises me most is that so few of his comparables failed outright.

One word of caution is that many of these pitchers suffered through injuries.  In some cases (Wood, Perez), the jury is still out on what type of career they will ultimately carve out for themselves.  You could argue that the sample is inherently risky since it only considers pitchers 25 or younger, but it makes sense that this particular breed of pitcher would suffer disproportionately.  Even those on this list that carved out long careers for themselves, like Pedro, are constantly scrutinized for health concerns.  Luckily, you couldn't ask for much better of a pitcher's build than Daniel Cabrera's, but that, and because his pitch counts are easy to lose track of, are not good excuses for abusing him

Finally, one name you guys might have been expecting to see is Randy Johnson's.   He missed the list because of the age cutoff, which was meant to convey the possibility of rapid development, but his 1992 season would have otherwise qualified.  His example is as good as any to leave you with.  Like most of the other examples, Johnson's career demands patience with the enigmatic Daniel Cabrera.

So rest easy, O's fans.  It might not happen this year or even next, but Daniel Cabrera's upside is as high as any young pitcher's in baseball.  For that, I'll gladly wait and endure the rough patches.

Posted in Orioles | 7 Comments »

A Closer Look

Posted by Mike on May 16, 2006

The O's are 18-21 and fans are already starting to express some frustration.  Before we react too strongly, I think it's important to look at some stats that might be a little more meaningful than a simple W-L record.  All stats are courtesy of the fine folks at The Hardball Times

RS– 201  RA– 233

The O's have been outscored by 32 runs so far.  If anything, I'd expect their record to be a bit worse than 18-21.  Pythagorean formulas would put them at 17-22.

Record in 1 or 2 run ballgames– 9-6

That helps explain the discrepancy.  Teams generally regress to .500 in close games.  Just think about how the Nationals won more than a dozen 1 run ballgames in a row early last year before losing several in a row.  It's luck.  So, if anything, the O's are a bit lucky to be 18-21.

R/G– 5.15

That's higher than the AL avg. of 4.98.

Team Batting Line– .270/.330/.440

The aggregate AL line is .269/.339/.432.  The O's don't walk much but they can slug better than most clubs.  We already knew that, right?  I'd actually prefer the aggregate AL line, so why have the O's scored more R/G than the avg. AL team?

BA w/ RISP– .289 

The aggregate AL line- .267.  The O's have been lucky with men on base, so they've scored more than their share of runs.  That or they've been clutch.  Just kidding, they've been lucky.  But there is good news…

BABIP– .280

The aggreagte AL BABIP sits at .298.  The O's BABIP should come up as their BA w/ RISP comes down. 

Now for the pitching/defense…

R/G– 5.97

That's much higher than the AL avg. of 4.98.  It's slightly lower than the Royals, but if you're taking solace in that, then your standards are simply not high enough. 

It's not all the pitching staff's fault…

Defense Efficiency Rating (DER)- .683

This is the inverse of BABIP.  It measures the rate of balls in play that the defense converts into outs.  The avg. AL defense has a DER of .696.  In case you're wondering, John Dewan's plus/minus system distributes the blame equally among the OF and infield, at -6 runs apiece. 

There are a few flukey things going on that also bode well for the pitching staff. 

LD%– 20%, HR/FB-14%

Year to year correlations of line drive percentage is much lower than for any other type of batted ball.  In english, that means that pitchers have little control over how many line drives they give up.  The AL avg. is 19%, so O's pitchers have been a bit unlucky.  Same deal for HR per flyball.  The AL avg. is 12%.

Of course, the pitching staff's struggles has a lot to do with the pitchers themselves as well.

K/9– 5.5, BB/9– 4.4

The AL avg looks like this: K/9- 6.0, BB/9- 3.2.  The O's are the third worst team in the AL at striking batters out and are, by far, the worst team in the AL at allowing free passes. 

All in all, the most glaring problem is the same as it has been the last several years: walks.  The O's allow too many of them and don't take enough of them.  Leo Mazzone has his work cut out for him.  And Terry Crowley, well, he needs to learn how to teach hitting. 

Posted in Orioles | 2 Comments »