Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CHONE Projected Standings

Another reliable predictor, another 74-88 finish for the Orioles (Hat tip: FanGraphs). Interestingly, the CHONE projection includes a power ranking that places the Orioles 15th, ahead of every single team from the NL West. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays grade out as numbers 1, 2 and 3. Tough division.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Butterflies and Fairies

I just can't bring myself to title a post "Steroids."

I've refrained from commenting on the Alex Rodriguez steroids scandal that's brought the screamers out in full force, but Baseball Musings linked to this post from Only Baseball Matters today, and I think it's worthy of my first (and please let it be my last) post on steroids. Games can't start soon enough.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Brian Roberts Extension

With the news that Brian Roberts is on the verge of signing an extension that looks remarkably similar to the one suggested here four weeks ago, it's time to give Andy MacPhail a bit of extra credit and rank the O's offseason as a solid A. I'm hard at work on my preseason prediction and hope to have it posted before long. It feels good to be an Orioles fan today.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Roster Management

One of the most important tasks of any general manager is roster management. Teams need to construct a 25-man roster that fills each defensive position, provides at least one back-up for each defensive position, enough relievers to give the manager flexibility in late game situations and allows for adequate rest. This year, the Orioles are faced with a unique constraint in that they have three pitchers, Rich Hill, Hayden Penn and David Pauley, that are out of minor league options and must be kept on the 25-man roster or exposed to waivers. Unfortunately, this was an entirely avoidable problem, at least for Hayden Penn.

Penn was drafted at age 17 in the 5th round of the 2002 draft. He signed in August and did not make his pro debut until the following season, 2003. As is common for 18-year old Orioles, he debuted at rookie level Bluefield. He posted mediocre numbers in his first professional season, throwing 52 innings, allowing 58 hits and 19 walks while striking out 38. The next year, at age 19, he began the season a low-A Delmarva. Over six starts (13 total appearances), Penn posted more impressive numbers, allowing fewer hits and raising his strikeout rate, but still showing a high walk rate. The Orioles promoted him to high-A Frederick, where he continued his improvement. In 13 starts, Penn threw 73 innings, maintaining a strong strikeout rate and improved hit rate, but also improving his walk rate. Now, most organizations would be thrilled with an 19-year old pitcher succeeding in high-A and allow him to finish his second professional season at that level. But not the Orioles. Instead, the Orioles promoted Penn aggressively, allowing him to make his final four starts at double-A Bowie.

In 2005, at age 20, Penn returned to Bowie and pitched well, but unspectacularly. Over 110.1 innings, Penn compiled a 7-6 record, 3.83 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He allowed 101 hits, but struck out 120 batters and walked just 37. Unfortunately, the Orioles then promoted him to Baltimore, after a mere 311.1 minor league innings, and things, not surprisingly, did not go so swimmingly. In 38.1 innings, he struck out just 18, walked 21, allowed 6 home runs and posted a 6.34 ERA. Still, for a 20-year old pitcher, the growing pains were to be expected. The real problem with Penn making his Major League debut in 2005 was that he had to be added to the 40-man roster, and thus would require being optioned to the minor leagues to start 2006.

Penn began the 2006 season at Ottawa, and by May had been called up to Baltimore. Before he could pitch, however, he suffered appendicitis and missed several months. Upon returning, he pitched extremely well at triple-A Ottawa, throwing 88 innings over 14 starts, striking out 85, allowing just 27 walks and 71 hits. As a 21-year old in the International League, he was rightly a top Oriole prospect. Still, his September call-up did not go so hot (19.7 IP, 8 K, 13 BB, 38 hits allowed, 8 home runs allowed, 15.10 ERA).

Then, further injuries in 2007 and 2008 prevented Penn from again pitching for Baltimore. Still, he had to be optioned to the minor leagues each season. 2006, 2007 and 2008. That's three option seasons and now Penn must either be on the 25-man roster or exposed to waivers. Had he simply not been called up--prematurely--in 2005, 2009 could be his third option season. Coupled with the unfortunate Major League contract for Adam Loewen, this is yet another example of poor pitching development from previous Oriole management.

This is a cautionary tale for handling Baltimore's current crop of young pitchers. Tillman has yet to be added to the 40-man roster, and he shouldn't be until as late as necessary; same for Arrieta. Matusz signed a Major League deal last summer, but if he's not pitching in the Majors five seasons from now (refer here for a rundown of the option rules), I think it's safe to say that he'll be considered a bust. Young pitchers are a fickle breed; they can appear ready for the Majors at 21, and still be seeking a return to the Majors two years later. When it's July and the Orioles are in need of a starter for a doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals, let's not push for the promotion of a young pitcher too soon.

Pitchers and Catchers Report Today

The five best words in baseball!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Evaluating Outfield Arms

As any Orioles fan can tell you, Nick Markakis has an excellent outfield arm. But how does his arm rank compared to the rest of the league? And how much does arm matter when evaluating defense? FanGraphs does the heavy lifting, and Markakis comes out as the fourth best outfield arm in all of baseball. Before we get too carried away though, the best arm is worth about 15 runs more than the very worst arm per season. So while it does have some value, range and offense are clearly more important factors.

UPDATE: FanGraphs lives up to its name and delivers an outstanding pictorial depiction of the distribution of outfield talent along three dimensions: offense, range and throwing arm. The most amazing thing might be this nugget: "A league average bat who is an elite runner and thrower is about equal in value to a Ryan Braun type of hitter."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's Prediction Season!

First up: Baseball Prospectus and its PECOTA system

The Orioles are projected at 76-86, which would seem to be a Herculean achievement in a division with three 90-game winners. The AL East is going to be very, very good.

I'll post more predictions as they come available and have my own as Spring Training unfolds and we get a bit more certainty regarding the composition of rosters and pitching staffs.

UPDATE: When you click through the link to Baseball Prospectus, you'll see a different chart than the one above. As roster moves are made and more clarity surrounds playing time and injuries, BP is rerunning its projections. The Bobby Abreu signing bounced the Angels into first place, and in the latest run the Orioles had their projected record fall to 74-88.

UPDATE II: Baseball Prospectus has posted the standings with a discussion of each division and playoff chances for each team. The Orioles, despite being projected for 5th place, have a higher chance at winning the wild card (4.5%) than any team from any other AL division. Just more evidence that the 2009 AL East may be the toughest division in recent history.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Daniel Cabrera Analysis

Baseball Prospectus has a very interesting pair of posts regarding Daniel Cabrera. To sum up:
  • Increasing percentage of fastballs thrown
  • Decreasing movement and velocity on said fastballs
  • Arm injury in September

While his medicals may not be as bad as those of Ben Sheets, the Orioles may very well have saved themselves the hassle of paying Daniel Cabrera to be not very good and then injured.

On a related note, I'm thoroughly amazed at the work that can be done when analysts have movement and velocity data for each individual pitch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dog Days

The Super Bowl has passed, March Madness is still a month away, and pitchers and catchers won't report for another ten days. The Dog Days of February are here. But that doesn't mean we have nothing to talk about. On the contrary, the Orioles have been all over the baseball-related interwebs lately.

To begin with, Baseball Prospectus gives the Orioles favorable reviews on the Rich Hill and Ty Wigginton deals, and Fangraphs agrees. Hill, at the cost of Brian Burres' roster spot and a player to be named later, represents only upside. Granted, he is highly unlikely to reach that upside, but the Orioles have had good luck recently with another fallen star pitcher, and Hill is worth the risk. Wiggington, too, is a solid investment. Though unlikely to offer much upside, a two-year, $6 million deal for a player than can nominally play third base, first base, and the outfield and offer a bit of offense seems like a reasonable deal, especially since that player is a career .288/.364/.514 hitter against left-handed pitching. If used in a platoon role with some combination of Luke Scott, Aubrey Huff, and Felix Pie, he has the opportunity to provide lots of value.

More exciting here in the land of man crush has been the discussion regarding Matt Wieters. As Fangraphs points out, Wieters is really, really good. And Baseball Prospectus gets in on the action, too, pointing out that his PECOTA projections have him down to be the top-rated catcher in baseball. This season. Right now. Ahead of guys named Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Geovany Soto, and Russell Martin. I'm making my Cooperstown 2030 reservations now.

Finally, BP also put out its Orioles Top 11 prospects recently, and they use words like "incredible pitching depth" and "makings of one of the best rotations in the game." As we all know, there are no guarantees with young pitching, but the Orioles are well on their way to being relevant again, and that's exciting.