Monday, June 29, 2009

Chris Ray

This has not been a good season for Chris Ray. He's allowing 15.4 hits per nine innings, 5.1 bb/9, has a 10.24 ERA, and he allowed a home run yesterday. Reader Legends commented yesterday:
I know Chris Ray is your college buddy, but how much longer are the O's going to trot out Chris Ray 3-4 times per week to take a beating? I am not sure he can get anybody out. Package him in a deal, stay with him, back to Norfolk? I say goodbye.
Now, there are plenty of good reasons not to get rid of Chris Ray just yet: 1) he's cheap; 2) he still has options; 3) he's just coming back from Tommy John surgery; 4) he has a solid track record; and 5) this is what relievers sometimes do. The real question is whether or not he has any hope for a comeback. I'm optimistic, not only because he has maintained (and actually improved) his strikeout rate this season. When you're striking out 10.2 per nine, you're doing something right. Let's look at his outing from Sunday via Pitch FX data, courtesy of the totally awesome Brooks Baseball:

Average Fastball Velocity: 95.29 mph
Average Slider Velocity: 85.68 mph
Comment: Good fastball velocity; good pitch speed separation

Strikezone Plot:
Comment: As you can see, the home run Ray allowed came on a fastball right over the middle of the plate. He doesn't appear to be getting the ball to his arm side very well, but this is a very small sample size.

Horizontal Movement:

Comment: He's getting good movement on his fastball; how does his slider compare to pre-surgery? Unfortunately, we can't really tell because I can't find Pitch FX data for Chris Ray for 2007.

Conclusion: It seems that Chris doesn't quite have his command all the way back following surgery. This shows in both his BB/9 (up to 4.9) and his XBH% (10.4%); he's throwing fewer strikes, and those that are strikes are frequently getting hit hard. He's also suffering from an incredible .462 BAbip. However, he is still missing bats and getting strikeouts. While Trembley should probably refrain from using Ray in high leverage situations for the time being, the evidence seems to indicate that Chris can be an effective reliever once again.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Corner Infielders

Yesterday, reader Legends commented in response to my post about the Michael Aubrey trade:
Definitely need to upgrade at the corners. Huff and Mora are not the answers. Is Salazar an option, what could the O's expect from Snyder? Reimold to first?
This echoes my own thoughts on the 2010 Orioles, where third base and first base are the only unsettled positions based on players currently under contract. Given that the young pitching appears poised to reach Baltimore either later this year or at the beginning of next, the Orioles are approaching competitiveness and will need to address these two holes. Let's look at their options.

Oscar Salazar - In 81 at-bats in 2008, Salazar posted a .284/.372/.506 line with 5 homers, 12 walks and 13 strikeouts. He was also 30 years old and seeing his first significant big league action. In 2009, Salazar warranted a call-up from Norfolk, where he was batting .372/.408/.618 in 199 at-bats. Unfortunately, Salazar's career minor league numbers are nowhere near this good (which is why he's 31 and never seen significant big league opportunity): .287/.343/.469. Salazar makes for a nice story, but it's extremely unlikely that he's capable of being an everyday first baseman.
Nolan Reimold/Luke Scott - With the caveat that I've never seen either play first base, neither is an exceptional outfielder. It could be that the Orioles find it easier to bring in another left fielder and shift one of these guys to first base duty, with the other manning the DH slot. Too bad Felix Pie isn't working out.
Lou Montanez - See Salazar, Oscar. A great 2008 season at Bowie sparked the interest of many, but Montanez was 26 and in Double A. He's probably not an everyday player.
Brandon Snyder - Despite the populist sentiment to move Snyder to third base (check the comments), I'm not sure you could find a single scout anywhere in the country who thinks that's a realistic option. He is, however, making a huge leap with the bat this season. After posting a .343/.421/.597 line at Bowie, he moved up to Norfolk last week, and after a bit of a slow start, he's got a double and a triple (so far) in today's game. If this break out is for real, could we see a September call-up? Though the Orioles were conservative with Reimold and Wieters, I don't think that's an unreasonable expectation if he has three successful months in Norfolk.
Michael Aubrey - Acquired just yesterday, Aubrey is a former first round draft pick that has never quite put it all together. He brings organizational depth, but much like Salazar and Montanez, we can't really put much hope in his suddenly figuring it out.
Aubrey Huff - After posting big numbers in 2008, Huff has looked much more like the 2007 version thus far this season: .280/.337/.442 in 2007, .267/.333/.443 in 2009. Unfortunately, those numbers also look suspiciously like 2005 and 2006 Huff as well (.263/.331/.446 combined). I wouldn't be opposed to a short, inexpensive contract to bring Huff back for 2010 and perhaps 2011, but he is clearly not a clean-up hitter for a team with any hopes of contending. He's a .270/.335/.450 hitter, and the Orioles should look to upgrade if possible.
Melvin Mora - Unless something drastic happens, there is roughly a .01% chance that the Orioles pick up Mora's $8mm option (choosing instead the $1mm buyout) for 2010. He's currently producing to the tune of a .668 OPS, and at age 37, his best days are far behind him.

The Orioles have some potential trade bait to use before the deadline: Aubrey Huff, Danys Baez, Luke Scott, and George Sherrill are all likely to draw at least some kicking-the-tires interest. Unfortunately, none are likely to bring back anything near an impact corner infielder. Given the presence of Snyder and the possible, if not exactly desirable, options for filling first base internally, the Orioles need to focus on picking up a third baseman. Alas, the offseason free agent class is not exactly the most intriguing, and there aren't many prospects to be had in the minors. At this point, I have no suggestions for Mr. MacPhail. Let's hope he can come up with a creative solution.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2003 Draft Redux

Back in 2003, the Orioles selected Nick Markakis with the 7th pick of the draft. Clearly, this was a smart move. At the time, though, it seemed a bit risky (many scouts preferred Markakis as a pitcher), and I was personally hoping for the O's to select another two-way player: Michael Aubrey. Instead, the Indians picked Aubrey 11th overall, Markakis became a budding star and Aubrey progressed slowly, in no small part due to numerous injuries. Well, now I get my wish: the O's traded for Aubrey today. Since the Orioles just promoted Brandon Snyder to play first base in Norfolk, does this mean the Aubrey Huff trade rumors will start flying?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


For the record, I'm an idiot. It is 1-1. And make it 3-1. Matt! Wieters!

Boog Powell

I'm at the game in the company box tonight. And Boog is in the box. I'd post a picture, but that would be tacky. Not that this post is not tacky, of course. Mets 1, O's 0.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2010 Orioles

In yesterday's edition of Future Shock, Kevin Goldstein includes Jake Arrieta, and makes a very interesting comment regarding the future of the Orioles pitching staff:
Arrieta was certainly dealing at Double-A, striking out 70 over 59 innings and limiting the Eastern League to a .208 batting average, but it was still surprising to see him bumped up to Triple-A. Not that he didn't deserve it—he did pitch six two-hit innings in his Norfolk debut—but it's surprising in what the move might say about his timetable. The Orioles have already looked at a lot of young arms this year at the big-league level, but they've stayed away from the premium guys like Chris Tillman. Now that he's joined in Triple-A by Arrieta, one wonders if they're simply lining up all of the pieces for a September look and a permanent installation in April 2010 as starters.
A few weeks back, I disputed a Peter Schmuck notion that the Orioles window for competition would open in 2011 (sorry, can't find a link to the post on Schmuck's blog); I've argued that the pieces were in place for arrival by 2010, and that while a 2010 playoff push is still unlikely, talent has a way of achieving results (just ask the Rays). With the obvious caveat about counting our pitching chickens before they're hatched, let's take a look at the 2010 Orioles.

CA: Matt Wieters (club control)
2B: Brian Roberts (under contract)
SS: Cesar Izturis (under contract)
LF: Nolan Reimold (club control)
CF: Adam Jones (club control/arbitration eligible)
RF: Nick Markakis (under contract)
DH: Luke Scott (arbitration eligible)

Aubrey Huff is slated to be a free agent at the end of year, and Melvin Mora has a club option for 2010 (Cot's Baseball Contracts does not give an amount, but I can't see it being less than this year's $9 million salary). Thus, the Orioles need to fill their infield corners for 2010.

Potential free agents that might be worth pursuing: Aubrey Huff, Carlos Delgado, Nick Johnson, Adam LaRoche, Adrian Beltre, Melvin Mora

While the merits of those players would certainly be worth discussing, I'm not sure that MacPhail will choose an expensive fix. At this point, I would love to know the organization's plans for Brandon Snyder. Could his breakout season push him into the lineup next year? Given that both Wieters and Reimold were advanced on a fairly conservative timetable, I can't imagine that, at the earliest, we'd see him much before June. An ideal fix would be a third baseman capable of posting an OBP high enough to merit batting second in the lineup, but isn't that player on every team's wish list? Resigning Huff might be a viable option for first base, especially since he won't cost a draft pick.

The Orioles have six pitchers likely to garner most of the remaining 2009 starts: Guthrie, Uehara, Bergesen, Hill, Berken and Hernandez.

Jeremy Guthrie (arbitration eligible) - Guthrie has pitched similarly to last year in terms of strikeouts and walks, but his BAbip has ticked up, rising from .260 to a more sustainable .292. The main drivers of his higher ERA, however, have been fewer groundballs (0.75 GB/FB career; 0.64 in 2009) and an increased home run rate (8.9% HR/FB career, 12.0% in 2009) . Fewer ground balls + more home runs per fly ball = higher ERA. Assuming those rates regress toward Guthrie's established performance level, he still looks capable of being a reliable back end starter, even though he's likely to post higher ERAs than the past two seasons.

Koji Uehara (under contract) - Uehara as done exactly what the Orioles expected him to do: limit walks, strike out a reasonable number of batters, and post a league average ERA.

Brad Bergesen (club control) - Bergesen has been solid thus far, though a very low strikeout rate (4.2 per nine) is worrying. He never struck out lots of batters in the minors, and he got good results there, too, but 4.2 is probably too low for him to have long-term success in the Majors.

Rich Hill (arbitration eligible) - Hill has mixed three solid starts with three bad starts, and he really struggled in his last two outings (combined 4.2 IP, 7 walks, 7 ER); I suspect he will need to turn it around quickly lest he move to the bullpen. He's the type of arm that deserves every opportunity to straighten out his control issues, but when can't throw strikes, he really can't throw strikes. My optimism that this reclamation project will work out is waning quickly.

Jason Berken (club control) - Like Hill, Berken's first two starts went swimmingly, and then not so much. He's walked nine and struck out eight, hardly a ratio that will lead to positive long-term results. He's probably destined for swingman duty if he can stick with the club.

David Hernandez (club control) - Though his debut was mediocre, he continues to post very good numbers in the minor leagues. At some point, he's likely to return to Baltimore to fill in for either injury or ineffectiveness, so he will definitely get another shot to prove himself.

Based on their current seasons and the outlook for the rest of the year, Guthrie, Uehara, Bergesen, and Hernandez are, in my estimation, very likely to warrant consideration for the Opening Day 2010 rotation, albeit all as back end quality pitchers. Who else could be in the mix? Of those currently in Norfolk, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Troy Patton have been healthy and productive this season, and each could have better stuff than anyone else listed above. With Brian Matusz figuring to join the mix as well, the Orioles are looking at a potential surplus of viable rotation candidates. Assuming that Tillman, Arrieta and Matusz all figure into the 2010 plans, that's a welcome problem to have, if for no other reason than managing workloads.

Importantly, that depth brings up an interesting conundrum for MacPhail: rather than deal with an offensive black hole from the left side of the infield or sign an expensive free agent, should the Orioles trade a pitcher for a shortstop or third baseman? I don't know very much about prospects in other organizations, but what would it take to pry Brandon Wood from the Angels?

Asking the 2010 Orioles to contend would obviously be a tall order, but the offense looks to have the makings of a very good one, especially if the Orioles fill the holes at first and third wisely. As for the pitching, the impact arms are getting very close. Will we see the first wave this September, as Goldstein speculates? That remains to be seen, but it is clear that given the progress made in the first two months of 2009, Orioles fans won't have to wait much longer for all that mound talent to appear. The window opens in 2010, even if it's just barely cracked.

Checking in on Joe Jordan

Following the somewhat controversial (but not really) selection of Michael Hobgood in last week’s draft, defenders of the pick noted that the Orioles of recent seasons had spent money on the draft and that Joe Jordan’s track record had earned him the benefit of the doubt regarding the assessment of Hobgood's talent. Named Director of Scouting on November 16, 2004, by then-Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations (and Really Long Titles) Jim Beattie, Jordan just completed his fifth draft with the club, so it’s time to take a look back at how well he’s done infusing a formerly-barren Orioles minor league system with talent.

Pick Number - Player

2005 Draft

13 – Brandon Snyder: A high school catcher, injuries have since forced a move to first base. Given the position switch, Snyder’s value is tied directly to his bat. I’ll let Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus tell you how that value is developing: “It's officially a breakout season at this point for the 2005 first-round pick, who recorded his third straight multi-hit game on Thursday, is batting .440 this month and a whopping .355/.418/.612 overall. As a first baseman only type, he needed to prove that he could fit in the middle of a big lineup this year with more power, and for many scouts who have seen him, it's mission accomplished.” He’s still just 22-years old, and looks like he could very well be in Baltimore in the near future.

48 – Garrett Olson: Scouting reports called Olson polished, and he was expected to move quickly through the system. He did just that, reaching the big leagues in July 2007. In 33 starts for the Orioles in 2007 and 2008, he went 10-13 with a 6.87 ERA. This offseason, the Orioles traded him to the Cubs for Felix Pie, and the Cubs then shipped him to the Seattle, where he is pitching respectably as a swingman: 10 appearances, 4 starts, 4.26 ERA, 31.2 IP, 1.39 WHIP. Still, he’s yet to show anywhere near the command that drove this minor league success.

61 – Nolan Reimold: He hit in the NY-Penn League and the Carolina League during his 2005 debut. He hit some more in the Carolina League during 2006. He hit in the Eastern League in 2007. He hit in the Eastern League (again) in 2008. He hit in Norfolk in 2009. And now he’s hitting in Baltimore to the tune of .287/.356/.543 with 7 homers in his first 28 games. Looks set to be the Orioles everyday left fielder for the foreseeable future.

93 – Brandon Erbe: Before injuring his shoulder and hitting the disabled list, Erbe seemed to be poised for a breakout season. As the organization’s fourth best pitching prospect, he was 1-3 with a 0.90 ERA for Bowie, allowing just 11 hits (but 8 walks) in 20.0 IP with 19 strikeouts. As a 20-year old in the Carolina league in 2008, Erbe pitched very well: 150.2 IP, 82 hits, 50 walks, 151 strikeouts.

123 – Kieron Pope: A toolsy outfielder, he spent three seasons in short-season leagues, hasn’t hit and is currently on the minor league disabled list with Delmarva.

483 – David Hernandez: Though he doesn’t possess knock-out stuff, Hernandez has consistently posted very good strikeout rates in his minor league career. He enjoyed a great season in Bowie last year, and was off to another great start in Norfolk in 2009. He made his Major League debut on May 29, picking up the win against Detroit, but was just optioned to the minors. He’ll be back.

873 – Tanner Scheppers: What might have been… Scheppers elected not to sign and instead attended Fresno State. He suffered a stress fracture to his pitching shoulder before the 2008 draft and thus fell into the second round and again chose to not to sign. Last week, he was selected 44th overall by the Texas Rangers. Alas.

2005 Results: One everyday left fielder, a top pitching prospect, a blossoming first-baseman, one pitcher traded for a fallen star prospect, another very useful organization arm, and no major flops from the top picks. Gold stars all around!

2006 Draft

9 – Billy Rowell: After an impressive short-season debut at age 17 and a solid full season debut in 2007, Rowell has disappointed. Scouts have questioned his effort and attitude (not to mention his defense), and he’s since shifted from third base to the outfield. In his second go around at Frederick, he’s hitting just .236/.293/.391. To make matters worse, the following players we selected immediately after him: Tim Lincecum (10), Max Scherzer (11) and Travis Snider (14).

32 – Pedro Beato: Another disappointment, Beato has never posted the sort of strikeout numbers you’d expect from a pick this high. He’s just 4-5 at Frederick this year, posting a 4.57 ERA and 1.52 WHIP across 65.0 IP while striking out just 6.2 per nine.

58 – Ryan Adams: A second baseman, Adams posted good numbers at Delmarva in 2008, but at age 21 he was a bit old for the league. He’s in Frederick now, but on the disabled list.

85 – Zach Britton: Britton has improved as he’s advanced through the system, raising his strikeout rate, but his walk rate is a bit higher this year. His ERA looks pretty (1.96), but it masks 13 unearned runs allowed for the Keys. At age 21, this is an important season for Britton as a prospect.

115 – Blake Davis: A shortstop drafted out of national powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, Davis spent the 2008 season in Bowie where he posted a .284/.324/.389 line. Because of injury he’s yet to play for the Tides this season, but does not project as an everyday Major Leaguer.

175 – Jason Berken: Aside from perhaps Britton, it’s up to Berken to redeem the 2006 draft for the Orioles. He was part of that excellent 2008 Baysox rotation, and posted solid numbers this season before being called-up to the big club. He’s getting an extended audition, but considering the rest of the talent behind him, he’s unlikely to play a major role for very long. Still, he is a quality organizational arm and could definitely have value out of the bullpen or as a swingman.

2006 Results: The exact opposite of the 2005 draft. Rowell and Beato haven't developed, the position prospects have almost no chance to make an impact in Baltimore, and one organization-type arm is all the Orioles have to show for their troubles.

2007 Draft

5 – Matt Wieters: I think we know all about this guy.

129 – Tim Bascom: A right-hander out of Central Florida, Bascom just reached Bowie at age 24. After a poor 2008 season at Frederick, he posted only slightly better numbers in the Carolina League this year before his promotion. He’s walking just 2.2 per nine this year, but also only striking out 5.8.

159 – Jake Arrieta: After falling thanks to a mediocre junior season at TCU and questions regarding his bonus demands, Arrieta has validated the Orioles decision to go over slot and meet his asking price. There is no hint of social promotion here, as Arrieta dominated the Carolina League in 2008 and the Eastern League in 2009 to earn his recent call-up to Norfolk. His walks (4.1 per nine) were a bit worrisome in ’08, but he’s greatly improved this year (3.2 per nine), and his strikeout rate is a very attractive 10.5 per nine this year. He and Chris Tillman are on the verge of being the first of the elite arms to reach Baltimore.

189 – Joseph Mahoney: Only the Orioles fourth pick in the top 200 (Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker: the gifts that keep on giving!), the big first baseman from the University of Richmond is repeating at Delmarva this season, showing none of the power (one home run in 182 at-bats) the Orioles hoped to see. But he is the biggest base stealer in baseball.

2007 Results: While Wieters has struggled in his Major League debut, he has all the makings of a future star; Arrieta also looks to be a future potential stalwart. Perhaps having just four top 200 picks was a hidden benefit as it allowed the Orioles the budget flexibility to sign Wieters and Arrieta.

2008 Draft

4 – Brian Matusz: While many fans preferred a bit bat like Justin Smoak with last season’s first round pick, Matusz has been as good as advertised. After a bit of a slow start, he’s making his case for a promotion to Bowie; he’s 2-1 with 1.13 ERA (39.2 IP, 5 ER) and 43 strikeouts over his last six starts. Andy MacPhail has stated that Matusz is on the “Wieters Plan,” so expect to see him in Bowie shortly and in Baltimore by the middle of next year. UPDATE: I wrote this yesterday, but just got around to posting today; Matusz was promoted to Bowie yesterday.

50 – Xavier Avery: A speedster who turned down a scholarship to play running back at the University of Georgia, Avery is raw and toolsy. His introduction to full season baseball has gone relatively well, especially after a horrific April, and he’s hitting .294/.335/.398 with 2 home runs and 16 steals in 24 attempts at Delmarva. He’s a long way from the big leagues, but he’s the kind of athlete scouts drool over.

81 – L.J. Hoes: Hoes is another high-upside high school draftee playing with the Shorebirds. He’s hitting .242/.280/.298 this year after posting a .308/.416/.390 line in the Gulf Coast league in his introduction to pro ball.

116 – Kyle Hudson: A speedy outfielder drafted out of the University of Illinois-Champaign, his .272/.342/.300 line at Delmarva fails to impress.

2008 Results: Matusz is on the fast track, but it's tough not to be just a bit jealous of the Rangers, who had Justin Smoak fall into their laps. Avery looks to be making real progress on turning his tools into skills, and Hoes has impact talent as well.

The verdict: The Orioles went above slot to draft top prospects Wieters, Matusz and Arrieta. Jordan's first round selections have been successful (to date, of course), at an 75% success rate, but after the 2005 draft, Jordan’s later round record is much more mixed; Jordan and his staff do earn bonus points, however, for the choosing the pieces returned in the Bedard and Tejada trades (Tillman, Patton, Albers, Sherrill, Jones, etc). Considering the success the Orioles have had in paying to meet the demands of the best available prospects, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t reach for a higher priced pitcher. Still, Hobgood rated very highly on most draft boards and was certainly not a laughable reach. If the Orioles can spend the money saved on a Latin prospect or two, as was rumored last week, then the club could net two top prospects for the price of one. On balance, Jordan and his staff have done an excellent job restocking the Orioles system.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mike Mussina

Reading Joe Posnanski's blog post, Big Finish, I realized I had completely missed the Mike Mussina argument for 300 wins:
Mike Mussina just months ago WALKED AWAY from 300 victories. He has 270, and he won 20 just last year, and he retired. Is there much doubt that if he wanted to stick around he would have won 300? Coming off his 39 year, he had more wins than Gaylord Perry, than Nolan Ryan, than Phil Niekro, than Randy Johnson … and all but two pitchers with more victories (Bert Blyleven and Robin Roberts) won 300.
Mussina provides an even better argument as to why someone will again win 300 games in the Major Leagues, even if he didn't quite get there himself.

1) Mussina made his Major League debut in 1991, well after the closer era began.
2) Mussina pitched in college, and made his debut at age 22, but wasn't a full-time Major Leaguer until age 23.
3) Mussina famously won 20 games just once, in his final season at age 39.
4) Mussina never made more than 36 starts in a season.
5) Mussina surpassed 240 innings in a season just twice, in 1992 and 1996, and threw more than 230 innings just one other time, in 2000.
6) During his 17 full-time seasons, Mussina threw fewer than 200 innings six times, albeit once during strike-shortened 1994.
7) Mussina pitched during the era of guaranteed contracts, and made more than $144 million in his career.

Over the final five seasons of his career, Mussina was slightly better than league average (107 ERA+), but he managed to rack up 71 wins (14 per year). Posnanski points out that Maddux posted a 104 ERA+ over his last six seasons while accumulating 82 wins, but he pitched until age 42. I think it's likely that had he wished to do so, Mussina, just completing his age 39-season when he retired, could have continued pitching for a few more seasons, accumulated 30 more wins, and been the "last" 300 game winner, either late next season or in 2011. The fact that he chose not to stick around could potentially be attributed to his career earnings, but then how do you explain Maddux ($153m), Glavine ($128m), Johnson ($167m), or Clemens ($121m)?

Mussina was an excellent pitcher for a very long time; he enjoyed very good health, and was fortunate enough to play on a large number of winning teams. If you believe those characteristics will never again manifest themselves in a Major League pitcher, by all means, consider Randy Johnson the final 300 game winner. I, however, think we are quite likely to see someone fit exactly those characteristics.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

300 Game Winners

This week, Randy Johnson achieved one of baseball's most impressive career milestones: he became the 24th player to win 300 games. But you already knew that. And, if you've been listening to the "conventional wisdom," you'd also know that the Big Unit will be the last 300 game winner we'll ever see. Peter Schmuck picks up the meme in his column today: "But there has been such a dramatic - and seemingly irreversible - generational change in the way pitchers are both developed and managed that nobody is likely to stick around long enough to become the 25th pitcher to reach that venerated milestone." Sure, it's possible no one will ever win 300 games again. But care to bet on it? Before you jump at the chance, let me save you some money: let's look at the history of 300 game winners.

The modern era of baseball is widely agreed to have begun in 1919, and nine members of the 300 Club won their 300th game before that date: Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch, Charles Radbourn, John Clarkson, Kid Nichols, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Eddie Plank. Belonging to the deadball era, these guys aren't really relevant when analyzing pitching today, so we'll leave them alone and instead focus on the remaining fifteen players. First up, we have Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander whose careers straddle the two eras. Johnson won his 300th game in 1920, and would go on to win 417; Alexander achieved 300 in 1924 and won 373 career games. Since then, no one has matched that total, with Warren Spahn (363), Greg Maddux (355) and Roger Clemens (354) coming closest. Given those numbers, I think we can agree that no one is likely to ever win 400 games again, and even 350 wins would be a monumental achievement.

Interestingly, on the day Alexander won his 300th career game, the next 300 game winner had yet to pitch in the Major Leagues: Lefty Grove made his debut in 1925, and would go on to win his 300th (and final) game in 1941. Oddly enough, our next 300 game winner, Warren Spahn, had also yet to pitch in the Majors at this point. He made his debut in 1942, but would not win his first game until after World War II in 1946 (at age 25), and picked up number 300 in 1961. This is a technicality though, as Early Wynn made his Major League debut in 1939, picked up his first win in 1941, and would go on to win 300 games, albeit not until 1963, two seasons after Spahn had won his 300th game. Thanks to the lively ball era of the 1920s and 1930s and the baseball time lost to the wars of the 1940s and 1950s, those three men are the only pitchers who won 300 games playing entirely in the modern era until the 1980s.

300 Game Winners by Decade:
1920s: 2 (Johnson, Alexander)
1930s: 0
1940s: 1 (Grove)
1950s: 0
1960s: 2 (Spahn, Wynn)
1970s: 0

From 1946 to 1961, no future 300 game winner won his first career game, and then the 1960s saw a half dozen: Gaylord Perry (1962), Phil Niekro (1965), Steve Carlton (1966), Don Sutton (1966), Tom Seaver (1967), and Nolan Ryan (1968). After this burst, which hadn't been seen since the deadball era, the well ran dry again until the 1980s, when the most recent crop of 300 game winners all won their first games: Roger Clemens (1984), Greg Maddux (1986), Tom Glavine (1987) and Randy Johnson (1989).

300 Game Winners by Decade:
1980s: 5 (Perry, Niekro, Carlton, Sutton, Seaver)
1990s: 1 (Ryan)
2000s: 4 (Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Johnson)

And, really, Ryan belongs in the 1980s since he won his 300th game in 1990.

So what does all this mean? It means that a large gap between 300 game winners is far from unusual in baseball history. In fact, there has been a gap of at least 14 seasons between the first wins of future 300 game winners four different times: 1911 to 1925, 1925 to 1941, 1946 to 1962, and 1968 to 1984. People wrote after Ryan won his 300th game in 1990 that we may never see the feat again (ht: Wezen-ball). Why? Because of the 5-man rotation, reliever specialization, guaranteed contracts, later debut ages, etc. Gee, that sounds awfully familiar. Yes, that's right: Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Johnson all won 300 games in the era of the 5-man rotation, the closer and guaranteed contracts. Do I know who will be the next 300-game winner? Definitely not. But before we write off the current crop of pitchers as too soft and pampered and yearn for the glory days of yesteryear, it is important to keep in mind that what we're seeing now is far from unusual. In fact, it fits perfectly with patterns we've seen repeatedly as baseball has transformed over the year.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Draft and ESPN

Warning: potential incoherent rambling ahead.

Jayson Stark's column today leaves me speechless. Floored. Flabbergasted. Overwhelmed. Sad. Flummoxed. Perplexed. Angry.
Stephen Strasburg will be happy to serve as a one-man sport-changing earthquake. And our prediction is, that's exactly what he'll become.
Once he finishes collecting whatever preposterous bonus the Washington Nationals eventually give him, the landscape will be different. And the shock waves should drive the baseball draft toward a place it should have gone years ago.
Toward a cap on draft-pick bonuses.
Toward some sort of formal slotting system that predetermines how much money top draft choices will collect.

So that the owners can keep more of their money? So that young players--who are the among the most talented in the world at their profession--have to wait years to get their big payday? Stark quotes and unnamed "club official" who asserts that the MLB players "don't want money like this going to kids who have never played a game." How is that relevant? I don't want my employer to hire new people if it means I might lose my job or get a lower salary, either. Why do we accept things in sports that we would never accept in real-life? How would people feel if GE, Google, Goldman Sachs and General Motors organized a draft for college graduates, fixed the starting salaries (at levels below what a free-market would pay), forbid graduates from choosing their employer and then prevented these new workers from changing jobs for the next six to ten years? Drafted by GM, but wanted to work in Silicon Valley? Sorry! Welcome to Detroit.

I understand why there is a draft in baseball; the sport as a whole benefits when there is some semblance of competitive balance. But capping bonuses isn't the way to "fix" the draft. I don't disagree with Stark's (and many other sane people's) idea to trade draft picks; to the contrary, I think that is very reasonable. Unfortunately, I don't see where a hard slotting system is anywhere close to reasonable. Besides, does anyone really think Strasburg is going to actually get the $50 million he's rumored to be requesting?

At least Jayson Werth offers the most perplexing quote of all-time: "You should get paid for what you do, for what you've done. That's what free agency's for -- to get paid for what you could do, for what you might possibly do. It's not what the draft is for."

Actually, Jayson, that's precisely what he draft is for.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

All Decade Team

Yesterday, Rob Neyer linked to Matt Waters' account of the All-Aughts Team. Other than the points Neyer makes regarding the starting pitchers and relievers, I really have no quibbles with the list. Thus, to spice things up, let's do one for the worst decade in Orioles history! It quickly becomes apparent why this is the worst decade in Orioles history.

CA: Ramon Hernandez - .264/.328/.427 from 2006 to 2008. What, you prefer Brook Fordyce? A case can be made for Javy Lopez (.293/.343/.468 thanks to a great 2004), but since he was only a full-time catcher for two seasons, let's just move on to next decade, shall we?
1B: Jeff Conine - After joining the Orioles in 1999, Conine hit .287/.341/.442 across six seasons and two Orioles stints. He saw time at 1B, LF, RF, 3B and DH, and was very much a fan favorite.
2B: Brian Roberts - A career .284/.356/.418 hitter, Roberts has spent his entire career with the Orioles (2001-2009) and made two All-Star teams. Roberts also wins the Player of the Decade Award.
SS: Miguel Tejada - After three stellar offensive seasons, the Orioles relationship with their highly paid shortstop soured thanks to attitude, age, declining defensive abilities and injuries. He batted .311/.362/.501 in his four Oriole seasons, making three All-Star teams.
3B: Melvin Mora - The only player to play for the club in every season this decade, Mora has batted .281/.357/.443 over 10 seasons with the club and earned two All-Star berths. After a slow start to his career, Mora came into his own in 2003 and enjoyed an excellent three season peak from age 31 to 33. Unfortunately, the Orioles chose the end of that stretch to sign him to a 3-year, $25 million contract extension that covered his inevitable decline.
LF: Larry Bigbie - I know. Here is the list of Orioles everyday left fielders this decade: B.J. Surhoff (2000), Brady Anderson (2001), Melvin Mora (2002), Larry Bigbie (2003-2005), Jeff Conine (2006), Jay Payton (2007), Luke Scott (2008), and Felix Pie (2009). Bigbie wins for sheer "longevity", and he did hit .271/.335/.406 in 352 career games, including a combined .289/.350/.438 line in 2003 and 2004.
CF: Luis Matos - As bad as the choices are in left field, center field is worse (Anderson, Mora, Chris Singleton, Corey Patterson, Adam Jones). Matos posted a .256/.313/.375 line over seven seasons, including a pair of sub-60 OPS+ performances in 2004 and 2006. I'm tempted to give this to Adam Jones on the strength of his .344/.400/.608 line to start 2009.
RF: Nick Markakis - Thank goodness Markakis established himself as a budding star, or Jay Gibbons would have rounded out the worst All-Decade outfield of all-time (also known as the Orioles 2003 and 2004 outfield, which I proudly proclaimed as "promising" when I worked for the club that season. Somehow, I didn't parlay that stint into a full-time baseball operations position). Markakis struggled through April and May of his rookie season, but since June 1, 2006, he's batted .305/.371/.490 while playing stellar outfield defense and is due to make an All-Star team any day now. Unfortunately, no one outside of Boston is voting. Vote Nick!
DH: Aubrey Huff - You were expecting Sammy Sosa or David Segui? After joining the club prior to the 2007 season, Huff has batted .288/.346/.494 in his three seasons with the Orioles, including a .304/.360/.552 mark to anchor the O's offense last season.

Pitching: There really isn't much to choose from here. Of all the 116 pitchers that have appeared for the Orioles this decade, exactly 24 have a winning record over the past ten years, plus 13 with a .500 mark. Eliminating everyone with fewer than 10 starts leaves only Erik Bedard (40-34), Willis Roberts (17-15), and Rodrigo Lopez (60-58). Matt Riley (4-4), John Parrish (12-12), Adam Loewen (8-8) and Jeremy Guthrie (21-21) have managed .500 records.
SP: Erik Bedard - Always tantalizing, but frequently injured, Bedard posted a 40-34 record with a 3.83 ERA across 658.0 IP. However, he is a leading candidate to make the 2010s list thanks to returning Adam Jones and Chris Tillman from the Mariners.
SP: Rodrigo Lopez - Across five seasons and 912.2 IP, Rodrigo accumulated a 60-58 mark and 4.72 ERA. In 2002, he finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and was three times an Opening Day starter.
SP: Sidney Ponson - Sir Sidney compiled 73 wins, 85 losses and a 4.86 ERA in 1,375.1 IP across parts of eight seasons. He looked to have finally put all his talent together in 2003, compiling a 14-6 record and 3.77 ERA before a trade to the Giants. After resigning with the team that offseason, his lifestyle caught up with him; he was arrested three times in nine months for a series of alocohol related incidents and the team released him in September 2005.
SP: Jeremy Guthrie - Guthrie has been the club's de facto ace for the past three seasons, compiling a 21-21 record and 3.85 ERA in 67 starts for the Orioles.
SP: Daniel Cabrera - Cabrera burst on the scene in 2004, tossing 6.0 scoreless innings in his debut, a 1-0 win over the White Sox. Ominously, he walked as many as he struck out in that initial start, and he finished in the top 3 in the AL in walks in each of his five seasons, twice leading the league. His good starts--most notably a one-hit shut out of the Yankees in his final start of 2006--never quite happened frequently enough. He ended his Orioles career 48-59 with a 5.05 ERA.
RP: B.J. Ryan - Ryan posted two of the better Orioles relief seasons in club history his final two years with the club. As a set-up man in 2004, Ryan made 76 appearances, notched a 2.28 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 87.0 IP and struck out a whopping 122 batters. In 2005, he took over the closer role and picked up 36 saves, striking out 100 in 70.1 IP with a 2.43 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
RP: Jorge Julio - During a late-2003 Orioles vs. Mariners match-up, Julio faced off with John Olerud in the bottom of the 9th. As my friend, Mark, commented sarcastically, "This is the best hitter facing off with the best pitcher. This is why we came to the game." Julio picked up the save that day, one of 83 in his Orioles career, but he's known far more for his 4.20 ERA and 1.40 WHIP and thus his tendency to live on the edge.
RP: Buddy Groom - There are many comparable choices for this last slot, but Groom symbolizes much about my relationship with the Orioles: he was on the team (and pretty terrible) in 2003, drove fans crazy, was repeatedly rumored as trade bait, and averaged less than an inning per outing. He also has a winning record! From 2000 to 2004, Groom served as the lefty specialist for the O's, compiling a 15-13 record in 330 appearances and 285.1 IP. His ERA (3.91) and WHIP (1.29) weren't too shabby--as far as Orioles relievers go--either.

Manager: Well, Lee Mazzilli posted the best record (129-140, .480) and led the club to its only 3rd place finish, Mike Hargrove (275-372, .425) had the longest tenure, Sam Perlozzo (122-164, .427) took over and was fired in midseason, and Dave Trembley (132-174, .431) is currently the manager. I guess we'll go with Mazzilli, which is shocking.

This team isn't that terrible on offense (the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis Tool shows them scoring 5.25 runs/game), but considering that it's an All-Decade team, it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, there's not much to suggest that that even 10 years worth of Orioles pitching could make the team much more than a .500 ballclub. Now that we're all sufficiently depressed, I have two words for you: Matt. Wieters. Feel better now?