Saturday, March 31, 2012

Heavy Winds In Baltimore

   The Orioles' offense was roughly average last year. It was not the main reason they only won 69 games, but it certainly was not a factor in helping them win more. In 2012 the Orioles have subtracted players such as Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, and added Wilson Betemit and  Chris Davis. Guerrero and Lee proved to be at the end of their respective careers. Betemit and Davis seem to provide around the same level of play as both the veterans, but at a much lesser price. However, there is one thing that both these new full-time Orioles bring. They are extreme K machines. Betemit had a 29.2 K% last season, while Davis had a 30.0 K%. So it seems that while the Orioles might have gotten a little more versatile with their roster, they also are prepared for extreme winds at Camden Yards in 2012.

The Orioles ranked 17th in K% in 2011 with an 18.2% rate. That equates to 1120 K's.

In 2011 Wilson Betemit had 105 K's in 359 PA. If averaged to 500 PA, it equates to 145 K's.
In 2011 Chris Davis had 63 K's in 210 PA. If averaged to 500 PA, it equates to 150 K's.

Vlad Guerrero had 56 K's in 590 PA.
Derrek Lee had 83 K's in 364 PA.

So for fun, let's do a little addition and subtraction.

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   1276 K's would have ranked 5th in 2011. That's obviously not an exact projection, since there are a ton of other players that will trickle onto the roster as well. Also that does not add in progression and regression from the other current starters. There are also a ton of other factors that apply when looking at how productive an offense is, but being near the bottom in any negative statistic like this is probably not a good thing. Add that along with the fact that the Orioles had one of the worst BB% in 2011, and it's not exactly a pleasant picture. If the Orioles do intend to give Betemit and Davis 500 PA, then heavy winds should be expected in the Baltimore Area. Also, I would actually go over on 150 K's for Davis if he gets 500 PA.

   In conclusion, I doubt that the number of K's will truly affect the outcome of the offense, but it will surely make watching the games a little more frustrating.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Finding Clarity For Flaherty

   Every year it seems as if the baseball world spends an extensive amount of time discussing the utility infield spot for their respective team. The amazing part is that the utility player primarily tends to be one of the last players to make the 25-man roster each year. Funny enough, they also usually provide minimal impact on the major league roster. Last season, only three AL utility players actually provided their team with a fWAR over 1.0. Regardless, it's extremely exciting to figure out whom should take over this utility role.
Image From Baltimore Sun

   The Orioles seem inclined to keep Ryan Flaherty on the roster after his "torrid" spring. Flaherty, a Rule 5 pick from the Cubs, has batted.265/.321/.449 in 49 AB so far. He also has tallied 10 RBI and played practically every position except P, C, and CF. Obviously the Orioles are happy that he has shown some form of success at the plate, but I think they are probably more impressed with the positional eligibility he has provided them. If there is any chance for Flaherty to stick the entire season on the roster, that would primarily be the main reason. But even if Flaherty turns out to be a below-average hitter, he still could provide some value for the club. Well, at least the minimal value that most utility players provide. Check out the utility players from last season:

Notes:
- I only used players that had played at least 20 Innings at three different positions, not including OF. For example, Jack Wilson played 20+ innings at 2B, 3B, and SS. They could also play OF, but needed at least two other positions to classify as a true utility guy (Playing OF is just considered a 4th OF to me). So a guy like Ezekial Cabrera does not classify as a utility guy, but Brent Lillibridge does.
- They needed to have at least 150 PA or 50 games played.
-I did not use anyone with over 500 PA, as they essentially were starting and no longer being used in a utility role. Robert Andino would be an example of that.

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   As shown above,the average statistics of an AL utility infielder were not exactly mind-blowing. Maicer Izturis is essentially a top-line utility guy, and border-line starter. Ramon Santiago and Brent Lillibridge proved to be excellent utility options. Everyone else practically was indifferent to their club from a value aspect.
   So in reality, it does not seem like much of a stretch to envision Flaherty putting up a line of .239/.294/.360 in 2012. Oddly enough, ZIPS projects Flaherty to produce a .238/.289/.376 batting line, which is extremely close to the average utility players' line from 2011. It remains to be seen what positions Flaherty will actually play the most, and that could fluctuate his fWAR substantially since fWAR calculates defensive metrics into its total. If he plays much SS, I wouldn't expect him to reach that 0.4 fWAR.
   In conclusion, the utility infielder role really is not a season-changing role, but Flaherty seems capable enough to live up to the utility standards set last season.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Could the Orioles be Worse in 2012?

   Spring training is often a time of solace for Orioles' fans. With the regular season usually becoming a disaster for their mind and souls, they tend to rejoice for any success mustered early in the season. Last season there was hope that the Orioles had finally turned the corner. The young pitchers were poised for a large boost in performance, Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee were ready to provide veteran leadership and solidify the lineup, and the overall prestige of the franchise seemed to be turning the corner in some eyes.

Yea...That sure as hell did not happen.

   This season is more or less the same. Brian Matusz is back from the dead, having a stellar spring for the most part. Jake Arrieta seems to have finally "put it all together" after his surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. There is excitement to see Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. There is hope that improvements from Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold could help bolster the offense.

But what happens if none of this actually fruition's into anything?
I hate to be the one who bursts everyone's bubble, but there is also a chance that the Orioles could actually be worse than they were last season. Let's take a look at each area of the club:

Starting Pitching:

   With the rotation likely consisting of Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz at the start of the season, there is honestly not much to be excited about. Even if all five prove to be average #4 or #5 starters, they will still not produce as much as needed. Just check the projected FIP of each starter (Full in-depth Bill James FIP Projections here):

Arrieta: 4.79
Hammel: 4.17
Hunter: 4.48
Matusz: 4.55
Chen: ***

Average FIP = 4.50


***There is no projected FIP for him yet, so let's say he pitches to a 4.50 FIP, which would generally be around league average for a SP***

   Obviously there will be other pitchers making starts, which would alter the above FIP, but it is hard to calculate that since it is essentially a wild guess. Nonetheless a team 4.50 FIP is beyond terrible. Only two teams had higher FIP last season, The Reds (4.55) and the Orioles (4.91!!!!!) of course. With that being said, it could very well be possible for the Orioles to still have one of the worst rotations in baseball in 2012. Even if one or more of these pitchers actually pitch to a better FIP, it would still take an exuberant amount to actually matter. It is also important to remember that Zach Britton is essentially a wildcard now with his latest injury. I don't think anyone can truly predict what happens with him now.


Bullpen:


   Funny enough, I am actually a little more high on the bullpen than anywhere else. I think it could be OK. At least OK enough to not make myself bash my head against the wall. It's pretty tough to guess who makes the 'pen as of now, but it's pretty obvious that Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, Alfredo Simon and Luis Ayala will be in it. Tsuyoshi Wada will probably be there too (unless he goes to the rotation or starts on the DL), but it's too early to really know what they are going to do with him. The current FIP projections are:


Johnson: 3.71
Lindstrom: 3.55
Gregg: 4.48
Strop: 2.98
Patton: 4.55
Simon: 4.96
Ayala: 4.19


Average FIP= 4.06


   That is actually a half-decent projection based on the talent, although it already has some flaws just by giving it a quick glance. A 4.06 FIP would have ranked 23rd last season. However, that projection also leaves out a ton of other variables involved. Obviously there will be more than just seven different pitchers in the bullpen all year. Also who is to say that the bullpen will not get over-worked again? Last season they were first in innings pitched at 565.2. The Pirates were next with 526.0 innings pitched. The Orioles traded away innings eater Jeremy Guthrie, and in return also traded away essentially ~20 innings pitched (Jason Hammel averaged around 170 IP the past few seasons). The Orioles are also relying on a cast of pitchers whom have never thrown more than 150 innings in a full MLB season before. Chen, Hunter, and Arrieta have never accomplished this feat. While it is very possible that they could, they haven't yet. I just fail to see any reason why the starting rotation would not be a burden on the bullpen. In the long run they will be taxed again like usual.


Lineup:


   Now the fun. Of course the Orioles have a few youngsters whom are ready to take it to the next level. Matt Wieters and Adam Jones are the two most talked about on the offensive side. But what happens if both stay at the same level of play? It wouldn't hurt their stock much now, but it could severely alter the long term plans of the Orioles. As of now, both players are above-average at their position. But that doesn't help much in the AL East. With both of them essentially being the Orioles best players, they need to take their offensive game to the next level for the Orioles to ever become anything more than a cellar dweller. Without going much into the statistical side, I just want to say that it is very possible that they both do not make major gains offensively. Of course, they also very well could. But if they don't, it will further hinder the club, and then they will have to decide whether or not to sign both players to extensions or trade them.
  JJ Hardy finally had a healthy season last year, but let's remember that he generally does not have healthy seasons. What happens if he misses substantial time again this season? The Orioles could put some form of Matt Antonelli, Ryan Flaherty, Robert Andino at SS, but that is not going to be near the level of play that Hardy brings.
 Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis on the corners could be brutal. Everyone in the baseball world knows the flaws of Reynolds, so I will refrain from torturing you with that. However, if the Orioles decide to give Davis 500 PA, they could be in for a gut-wrenching season. To put it simple, Davis has looked terrible this spring. While I will usually be the first person to say spring training stats are meaningless, I will be the first person to also tell you that Davis is still the same old player he was before. He has poor pitch recognition, poor plate discipline, and essentially is only good for a HR every now and then. He will need to take it to the next level this season, and it seems the Orioles may be comfortable giving him 500 PA to iron out all his kinks. If that is even possible.
   Wilson Betemit is the teams' new DH. While I don't really have a strong opinion on the signing, I don't think it honestly matters. He probably will put up similar numbers to Vlad last season, which really means he is indifferent to the club.
   Last but not least, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis. Reimold is an interesting case. He seemingly will get a shot at taking over LF for good, unless Endy Chavez steals playing time. Reimold is essentially a fan favorite in Baltimore, and most await the day he gets to play and puts it all together. So what if that never happens? He is already 28 years old, and if he starts off slow this season there could be a chance that the Orioles lose all hope in him. I just think that people are expecting way too much out of Reimold. I personally think he could put it all together and have a pretty good season, but I do not want to over-place his talent with projections. Markakis is working back from an injury, and to be honest I expect him to primarily be the same as last season. That means he will be an average-to-above-average OF for the Orioles. Nothing exactly to brag about, considering the large contract he has.

   Overall, it could very well be another long season for the Orioles. They could end up being worse than the 69 win season of 2011. Is there a chance they could be better? Sure there is, but does it really matter if a club wins 69 or 72 games? Not really. This season is probably more about looking at individuals. The team is not going to be very good most likely, even though we all still have that lingering hope that they could somehow even get to .500 baseball.

But most likely they will make you end up doing this:


As Gary Thorne says "Please Drink.....Responsibly"



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jai Miller High Life

   Orioles Outfielder Jai Miller is certainly one of the hot topics this spring training. He has started out spring training on a tear, hitting .318/.348/.646 with a plethora of extra base hits. However, It's important to not overreact to these statistics. It is important to remember that most pitchers are primarily working on their location and possibly just throwing a select pitch (usually a fastball) for their first couple starts. I wrote about spring training hype here, and encourage everyone to read.

   Jai Miller is certainly getting the dreaded spring training hype right now, and rightly so. He is a good story from one aspect. He has struggled to crack a major league roster, and is a newly acquired player on a team looking for as many answers as they can find. Could Jai Miller be one of those answers? I would surely hope so, but I have my reservations.

  The statistics that no one is talking about are scary. Jai has struck out 10 times compared to walking only once. Thats a 10:1 K:BB ratio for anyone not in a math mood today. This trend is obviously bound to even out a little, but it still shows that Jai has major flaws with the bat. Check out his K% and K:BB ratio from the past three years:

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    Those ratios are scary. Just to give a little comparison, Mark Reynolds had a K:BB ratio of 2.6:1 last season. Imagine what would happen if Jai was given substantial playing time. Actually, imagine if he was given 500 PA. If you calculate his 10 K's from this spring training over the course of 500 PA, it equates to 227 K's. That makes Reynolds look like nothing!
 
   So why does Jai have such ridiculous K numbers? It's mostly because he cannot hit the breaking ball. He tends to struggle picking up the pitch out of their hand, and often is over-swinging on it. He certainly has some pop in his bat, and can hit the fastball efficiently enough to garner attention. However, if you cannot hit the breaking and off-speed pitches, it's only a matter of time before this gets exposed in the majors. Jai has a lot of maturing to do still as a player, so maybe he can fix these flaws. I highly doubt it happens this year though.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who Should Bat Cleanup?

   The Orioles go into the season with a little uncertainty in the middle of the lineup. While their offense was decent last season, they still did not have the big bat that is essential in the AL East. In 2011, they primarily used Vlad Guerrero at the cleanup spot in the lineup. Vlad hit for a solid average, but was clearly a shell of his former-self; especially in the power category. He was not what the Orioles expected when they signed him. In 2012, I see the Orioles  most likely leaning on three players to hit cleanup. They are probably not ideal fits for a middle-of-the-order hitter. However, as the current squad is built, they will have to do.

   I primarily see either Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, or Mark Reynolds getting a shot at cleanup. These are the three guys most likely to provide the offensive numbers that a typical cleanup guy would. I am not saying they will, but they are the most likely candidates in an Orioles uniform. Other guys such as Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, JJ Hardy, and Nolan Reimold could be choices, but I would refrain from choosing them due to how Showalter uses them. They also have better skill-sets for other spots in the lineup.
So with that being said, I compiled the stats of Jones, Wieters, and Reynolds throughout their career with runners in scoring position, and two outs with runners in scoring position.

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   At a quick glance, all three players have fairly similar statistics with RISP. Jones has the highest BA but the lowest OBP. Reynolds has a pretty large gain of OPS (OBP + SLG) on Wieters and Jones. Wieters seems to fall in-between Jones and Reynolds. Reynolds also has an absurdly high BABIP at .330, since his career BABIP is only .310. By looking at only RISP numbers, it would seem that Reynolds would take the cake, although not by a terribly large margin. Even looking at 2 Outs RISP, you can see that Reynolds seems to have better numbers from a power perspective. So how large of a margin is it from Reynolds to Wieters and Jones? I calculated the extra base hit % of each player below. These are based off their extra base hits with RISP, and RISP with 2 outs.

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    Based off their career numbers, it would seem that Reynolds is the clear winner and potentially the best fit at cleanup. Reynolds seems to have the biggest impact with RISP, even with a little lower average and a plethora of K's. Wieters may not be too far behind in his Career XBH%, but with 2 outs it is a significant distance. That being said, it's not valid to just look at their entire career, since these players are all below the age of 30 and are still growing and maturing as baseball players. Below are their RISP statistics from 2011.

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    Reynolds did not have a good year with RISP. It was one of his worst years in his career actually. This could be from changing leagues, or simply because he saw much better pitching in the AL East. On the other hand, Matt Wieters seems to have had his best year yet, and was probably the most effective out of the three. Jones had an okay season, but not something you would want out of a cleanup hitter. Below are the XBH% of each with RISP.

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    It's an even more telling sign by looking at the XBH% with RISP. Wieters and Reynolds seemingly switched their career statistics for each above. So based off of last season, it wouldn't be too absurd to say that Wieters is the best fit for the cleanup spot. Ideally, none of these three guys would be the teams' cleanup guy, but the Orioles have to choose someone. It will most likely be one of these guys, unless Showalter pulls a wild card out of his manager cap.

   I see Jones sticking in the 3-spot in the lineup, which would mean that Wieters or Reynolds fill into the cleanup spot. It's really not a huge deal who bats there, but I would give Reynolds a shot there to begin the season. Either he creates more value for himself, or he proves that he cannot stick there. They should probably figure that out this season, since Wieters could easily plug the hole in the future. This is of course once Reynolds is traded, falters at cleanup, or walks as a free agent.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Best Defensive Catcher In Baseball

   Defense is often the forgotten thought when it comes to baseball. Fans will often speak about hitting and pitching, and fielding goes by the wayside. This is even more the case for catcher defense. I think it is one of the most underrated parts of the game, and often players are not given the credit they deserve. When it comes down to it, a catcher is in every single play of the game. There is a possibility that they can effect and change the outcome of every single pitch. This is why catcher defense is a crucial aspect to look at when identifying a catchers' worth. As a person that watches the Orioles each game, I have become well accustomed to Matt Wieters and his terrific defense. So I decided to take a look at where Wieters stands compared to the other catchers in the league. The stats below are what I used to determine my analysis.

Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB)-  Gives the catcher credit for throwing out runners and preventing them from attempting steals in the first place.
Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)- Indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position.
Counted Passed Pitches (CPP)- The expected number of passed pitches.
Runs Passed Pitches (RPP)- The number of runs above / below average a pitcher is at blocking pitches.
Fan Scouting Report (FSR)- This is a less credible statistic to use, but still gives a pretty good  idea to where a player stands defensively, especially in the eyes of the people who watch the player each day; the fans.It's a fun stat nonetheless. Look at it as another stat such as WAR or DRS.

A few notes:
-16 Catchers "qualified" in the 2011 season. Catchers such as Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, Joe Mauer, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Buster Posey did not qualify, even though majority of them played almost enough innings to qualify.
- Some of these stats can be cumulative, which is another reason I am using only qualifying players. Lou Marson is a very good defensive catcher, but you wouldn't really see him as a standout by just glancing at him due to only playing about half the innings that these qualifying players did.
-These are not the only statistics to study for catchers, but they give an efficient and effective outlook on them in my own opinion.

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   As seen above, Matt Wieters seems to be the clear favorite for best defensive catcher based off the statistics. He ranks first in four of the six categories used.
   I also ranked all 16 qualifying catchers below. I calculated this by using their average rankings for all the above statistics ( avg(rank) ). Of course, it was not really surprising who landed on top of the list.

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   The total itself does not necessarily mean anything significant, but the ranking does give a good idea as to where a catcher stands. I cannot say I am surprised by the top three. Matt Wieters won the gold glove in the AL, Yadier Molina won in the NL (and won himself a new contract), and Miguel Montero has been under the radar defensively for a while. Russell Martin at four is a little surprising. I was also a little surprised as to where Carlos Ruiz fell. The bottom three are not surprising either.

   In conclusion, Matt Wieters is pretty damn good at defense. I have to give credit to FanGraphs for producing two more amazing statistics to further show this (CPP/RPP). Without their great work, it would be a little bit more difficult to prove how good he truly is.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Baseball's Glass Clannon

   Baseball is a game of mental and physical stress. The average man cannot undertake the pressure that a 162 game season delivers to both the mind and body. I respect those players that come and do their job every day, like Cal Ripken Jr. , Derek Jeter, etc. However, some players simply have a tough time staying healthy for the entire season. It's not because they don't want to, but their body simply cannot take the duress of playing the game year-round. I like to call them a glass cannon.
 
   A glass cannon is defined as a person, weapon, or vehicle which has a high output, but a low defense, life, durability, etc.

   The Orioles recently signed one of the more prolific glass cannon players in the league on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. While Nick Johnson has clear talent, he is the prototypical glass cannon type of player. Before I go any further, I'd like to say that this is not in any way an insult to Nick or any other player under the glass cannon term. People should be well aware that it takes an incredible person and athlete to even play in half a season-worth of games.

   Johnson, 33, is no spring chicken. He has played in 794 major league games with 3214 plate appearances. However, he has only played more than 135 games in a season once in his nine year major league career (147 games with the 2007 Nationals). His past two seasons he has played less than 100 games combined. Clearly durability has been an issue with Johnson. So it brings up the question, why did the Orioles bother signing a glass cannon whose injuries might have finally caught up to him? There are a few reasons why they might have:

1. AAA Depth is obviously needed. With the Orioles lacking in the corner infield department, they could use another body in AAA so they do not need to rush anyone.

2. Johnson could possibly be a mentor for players such as Chris Davis, Joe Mahoney, and Tyler Townsend. Johnson has been around the block quite a few times in his career. The man certainly knows how to get on base, indicated by his lifetime .401 OBP. Davis, Mahoney, and Townsend could all learn from Johnson, especially in the art of plate discipline.

3. Possibly, just possibly, Nick Johnson does not revert back to his glass cannon status and has a healthy season. Is there a possibility that he still has value at the major league level? I would say so. Is it possible that he can stay healthy long enough for him to turn into an asset? At this point, it seems unlikely. Regardless, it's still not a terrible idea to bring him into camp with this in mind.

   Overall, Nick Johnson is an interesting guy for a club like the Orioles. He obviously has no future with the club, but could still prove to be a veteran mentor, or even a trade piece at the deadline (highly doubtful to bring much back in return, but I've seen crazier things happen).