Friday, August 21, 2009

Last Post on the Draft

One last post on the draft, and then I'm done.

Are first round draft picks overpaid? Nope. Not even close. But don't take my word for it; take Erik Manning's.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Annals of Ridiculous Statements

Top of the 1st, Nolan Reimold has just doubled over B.J. Upton's head and Buck Martinez says this:
"There are a lot of players around baseball, some of them in the Hall of Fame, that play much better in the big leagues than they ever played in the minor leagues. George Brett comes to mind as a guy that never hit .300 in the minor leagues and ends up with career 3,000 hits. I think Nolan Reimold is going to be one of those players that plays much better in the big leagues than he ever did in the minors."

1) George Brett debuted in the Majors at age 20, and won a Rookie of the Year award at age 21. I'm not sure he's really a valid comparison for the 25-year old Reimold.
2) In what world did Nolan Reimold not play well in the minor leagues? He hit at every level, if you ask me. Or the numbers.

After the Signing Deadline

Stephen Strasburg got his money; the Orioles surpisingly signed Mychal Givens; and Toronto, Tampa Bay and Texas inexplicably failed miserably. And now we get the columns lamenting the fate of western society if baseball cannot fix the draft. Jayson Stark does an especially egregious job of shilling for the owners, so let's deconstruct his piece, point by point.

Only five starting pitchers on the entire free-agent market got packages bigger than that last winter: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster and Oliver Perez.

And Strasburg is guaranteed slightly more money than Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz were guaranteed for this season put together. Those guys own a combined nine Cy Young Awards. Strasburg has thrown a combined zero professional pitches.

Conveniently, Stark leaves out Kenshin Kawakami (3 years, $23 million), signed by the Braves this offseason and someone whose talent is nowhere close to Strasburg's. Asked in his chat yesterday about this very deal, Keith Law responded, "It's incredibly unfair to Strasburg. I doubt there's a team in baseball that would rather have Kawakami over the next three years than Strasburg." Not to mention that Koji Uehara signed a $10 million deal with the Orioles, and I'd bet the team doesn't regret that one bit. Besides, isn't saying that Oliver Perez received a whole lot of money more of an indictment of the Mets or the free agency process than of the the draft?

Law's comment, of course, brings up another point: Strasburg's deal isn't for three years; it's for four. And not only that, but the team will still control his rights (via arbitration) for another two years (at least) after that. Johnson (45), Martinez (37) and Smoltz (42) may have received less guaranteed money, but they also came with many fewer seasons of team control. Another red herring are those Cy Young awards cited: (smart) teams don't pay for past results; they pay for expected future performance. Only someone who'd been asleep for the last decade would have predicted a Cy Young award for any of those guys in 2009.

The Rockies -- a team that had to trade away Matt Holliday over the winter and a club that could afford to sign only one major league free agent (Alan Embree) -- tossed almost $4 million at another high school pitcher, Tyler Matzek.

Perhaps the Rockies felt that their money was best spent on bringing in young, high-end talent rather than retread veterans. The Rockies could clearly "afford" to sign more than one major league free agent; they apparently had $4 million in the bank. Nobody "forced" them to trade Matt Holliday; instead they acted in what they perceived to be the best interests of their ballclub. Given that the Rockies currently lead the NL wild card standings and that two of the players they received in the deal (Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez) are playing key roles in that run, I don't think they're too upset with the outcome, either. Even more so if the 23-year old Gonzalez's blossoming is real.

"So the big loser," said an official of one team, "is Bud and his slotting system. It got crushed. Some of these signings are off the charts. Look at some of this stuff in the later rounds. There's carnage all over the map."

[C]hange is coming. This draft isn't working. It hasn't for years. And now Selig's informal slotting system is being so widely ignored, you can bet this topic is heading for a bargaining table near you in 2011.

Yes, the big loser was Selig's ridiculous slotting system; that is indisputable. Teams that are willing to spend the money get the best players. Much less clear is how the draft hasn't been working for years. Washington, Seattle and San Diego all got their man, and while the Pirates did not spend a lot at number four, that was by design. Plus, last year they signed a Boras client (Pedro Alvarez). Teams that make smart decisions are able to pull together successful drafts for much less than the cost of three seasons of Danys Baez. I don't really see how that means the system is broken beyond repair.

SLOTTING -- Baseball is now the only major sport that doesn't have some sort of system that regulates how much drafted players can get paid. And that can't go on. Not just because the clubs want slotting, either. It's because players want it. We've polled a bunch of them. And big league players want those $15 million deals going to them, not to kids who have never played a professional baseball game.

Interestingly, baseball is also the only major sport with a powerful union; might that have something to do with slotting in other sports? Regardless, of course the players want that money to flow to them; I'd like for it to flow to me, too! I don't see how restricting a few million dollars (in total) from flowing to amateur prospects is going to drastically affect current player paychecks, though. Perhaps they can win a concession or two regarding free agency or arbitration eligibility, but that sounds like the owners cutting off their nose to spite their face if you ask me. Why would the owners want to give up a year of established player cost control just to keep the top few prospects from getting closer to their market value?

TRADING PICKS -- Now here's a concept the union is in favor of. So it seems just about inevitable that this is a new draft wrinkle that's coming soon. If you have the first pick and you don't want the price tag that comes with Stephen Strasburg, or you don't want the migraine that comes from dealing with Scott Boras, you pick him anyway and then dangle him on the open market.

I see nothing wrong with trading draft picks. Though I think "price tag" and "headache" are more likely to be thought of by teams as "value" associated with picking in a certain range.

WORLDWIDE DRAFT -- We're not sure if this on-again, off-again idea will ever fly. But it's gaining momentum again, because it needs to. A system that allows the Yankees and Red Sox to outspend everybody on any player they really want, with no limits whatsoever, doesn't serve anyone except the Yankees and Red Sox.

Damn those Yankees and Red Sox! I can't believe they are able to simply outspend and get all the good international players like... Wagner Mateo (Cardinals), Michael Ynoa (A's), Miguel Angel Sano (Pirates and O's interested), Kenshin Kawakami (Braves) and Koji Ueahara (O's)! Yes, they signed Dice-K, Matsui and the like, but, without doing all the hard research, the playing field really seems quite level in terms of international free agents.

THE CONTROL ROOM -- Another idea that's been building steam beneath the surface is a way for teams to wriggle out of the embarrassment of being held hostage by 17-year-old high school kids. What some people in the sport would like to see is a draft system similar to the hockey draft, which would allow any team picking a high school player to control that player's rights through his college years. "We need something to that effect," said an exec of one team, "just so you don't feel like you have no leverage as a club in those negotiations. So if you draft a kid out of high school and he says he's not ready to sign, after his sophomore year you can try to sign him again. And after his junior year you can try to sign him again. And then, if he still doesn't sign, after his senior year of college, then he goes back into the draft."

So, the league allows players to negotiate with only one team, forcing him to either take the contract offered or wait another full year before playing professional baseball, and it's the team that lacks leverage? Why is it that players seem to get close to their asking price? Perhaps its because the teams have crunched the numbers and realize that signing a top prospect for the cost of one or two seasons of a utility infielder or middle reliever is actually a really good deal.

And the big finish...

[A]ny system that's paying an 18-year-old amateur more than a five-time Cy Young winner needs more repairs than a 1962 Volkswagen.

Never mind, of course, that the "five-time Cy Young winner" (Randy Johnson) was actually the one who needed those repairs.

I'm all for trading draft picks; teams should be allowed to maximize their return on the draft. Perhaps the Nationals would have been better served trading the number one pick to the Diamondbacks and Angels for two first round picks, or to another team willing to give up prospects that are already in their system. But remember, the team giving up those picks would clearly value Strasburg (including the associated cost commitment) more highly than a few more lesser propspects. Whose to say which team is correct in its assessment?

I would also like if the deadline was moved forward; fans, players, and teams would all benefit if the staring-at-each-other period was shortened. Teams would get their players out to affiliates sooner; fans would be spared months of nonsense and get a chance to see prospects sooner, and players would gain certainty over their futures and get a few professional games under their belt the same season they're drafted. One suggestion that seems reasonable is to move the deadline forward a month. I've also seen it suggested that some upper level short-season leagues (like the NY Penn League) could be extended a month; I think that is also an interesting proposal.

Regardless, unless your goal is to give the owners more money and teams more control over the prospects they sign, most of the proposals out there to "fix" the draft aren't worth your time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dog Days

I'm on my way home tonight after (what looks to be) another disappointing Orioles loss, a frustrating start from David Hernandez (30+ pitches in the second inning) and more poor baserunning (this time from Cesar Izturis) underlining two disturbing trends. But let's make two things abundantly clear: 1) Izturis broke a fundamental baserunning rule and 2) Trembley had no choice but to ride Hernandez for as long as possible.

When you're in high school first learning baserunning on the large diamond, you are taught that if the ball is hit on the ground to your right you retreat to 2nd base; Izturis failed to heed that fundamental advice and paid the price. After 13 innings last night (and countless short outings from the rotation in recent weeks), the bullpen is gassed. If the O's were in a pennant race, I suspect that Trembley would have pulled Hernandez sooner; instead he tried to squeeze out a few extra outs and the Angels took advantage.

Unfortunately, with a rotation hampered by ineffectiveness (Guthrie, Berken), injury (Uehara, Bergesen), and usage constraints (Tillman, Matusz), Trembley really has no choice but to try and piece together games until rosters expand. This is likely to result in many more frustrating losses and irate messages from fans on blogs and message boards calling for the heads of Trembley and MacPhail and deeming the rebuilding a failure; don't listen to the nonsense. With the Huff trade today, Reimold and Pie are going to get a chance to play daily, the young starters are getting their feet wet and the plan is on schedule. If the O's are in this same position a year from now we can all hit the panic button. Until then, the club is a work in progress.

T-Shirt Monday

Such a tough choice!!!

Greedy Stephen Strasburg

It's draft signing deadline, and you know what that means! Just like last year with Brian Matusz, lots of grumpy people complaining about Stephen Strasburg!! Fortunately, Joe Sheehan hits the nail on the head:
"The time from draft day to the signing deadline is the only time for perhaps a decade—and perhaps ever—that a player has any kind of negotiating leverage. Once he signs with a team, that team owns him until he accumulates six full seasons of major league service time. How can you possibly blame a person for wanting to
maximize his return on the only negotiation in which he’ll have any leverage for at least six years, possibly an entire decade, and in many cases ever? The idea, popular among players and ex-players who seem to have no grasp of the structure under which they play, that a draftee should just sign for whatever’s available and start his career because he’ll get paid if he performs, that's just laughable on its face...Stephen Strasburg could win Rookie of the Year and finish third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2010, and make $400,000 in 2011. He could be even better in '11, racking up a ton of innings as the Nationals make a wild-card push, and make $400,000 in 2012. The next time Strasburg will be able to do more than just ask for money, entirely at the team’s mercy to give it to him, is the winter of 2012-13. The first time he’ll be able to negotiate with more than one team is the winter of 2015-16, unless the Nationals diddle with his time on the roster, in which case it’ll be 2016-17. That’s a long time from now. That’s a lot of innings from now, and he might never get there—he might be great, like Prior, out of the box, and never get paid because that’s how the system is set up."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Young Pitching writer Spencer Fordin posted an excellent article yesterday discussing the Orioles plans for the starting rotation this September. The club (rightly) plans to protect its young pitchers and may move to a six man rotation for the season's final month. I don't know for sure whether a stretched out rotation or simply piggybacking potential starters (i.e., Matusz for five innings, followed by a long man) is a better idea, but I think that adding a man to the rotation is probably the way to go since it forces the young kids to pitch fewer innings than would be possible under a five man rotation; there will be fewer opportunities to abandon a solid outing to try and get a win in a game that is meaningless in the standings. Also, while we've rightly been critical of Dave Trembley's in-game strategizing, he makes some very sensible comments in this article:
"The thing that I've noticed is how much more difficult it is for the young guys, and how much harder they seem to have to work at this level," said Trembley. "The other teams will grind you. Toronto, the other day, they just waited Matusz out. I think you have to look at the pitch count and add 20-25 pitches to it. Physically, it's pretty taxing for them. Outs don't come easy and they really have to work to get them. In that sense, I think you have to be very wise about how long you leave them out there, how many innings they throw and how hard they work."
Trembley may not be the guy to manage this team long-term, but I do believe he's done a very good job putting the development needs of the organization first. I'm sure he knows the fan base is unhappy, and it can't be easy for him to keep Jason Berken's name on his starting pitching calendar, but he's done so. That is admirable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What should the O's do with Guthrie?

That's the question Dan Connolly poses today over at the Toy Department, and one that deserves a fair bit of examination. First let's look at Guthrie's three seasons with the Orioles:

2007: 6.31 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9, 4.41 FIP
2008: 5.66 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 1.13 HR/9, 4.53 FIP
2009: 5.23 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 1.81 HR/9, 5.62 FIP

Since 2007, Guthrie is striking ouy one fewer batter per nine innings, and walking nearly a half batter more. That's not a good trend. Also interesting is the way Guthrie's pitch types have changed:

2007: 67.8% fastballs, 22.4% sliders, 4.5% curve balls, 5.3% change-ups
2008: 64.1% fastballs, 18.1% sliders, 6.3% curve balls, 11.4% change-ups
2009: 60.9% fastballs, 18.7% sliders, 4.8% curve balls, 15.6% change-ups

That's a pretty striking shift away from fastballs and toward change-ups, especially when you consider that, traditionally, the fastball has been Guthrie's most effective pitch. Unfortunately, Guthrie's fastball has actually been below average this year. What happened? Let's go to Pitch F/X.

First, I took a look at Guthrie's outing from June 16, 2008, when he allowed just one run over 8.0 innings to the Astros. He clearly had his good stuff that day, allowing just 3 hits, walking one and striking out 8.

Average Fastball Velocity: 92.92 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 95.7 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.75 inches
Veritical Movement: 10.13 inches

Next, I took a peek at his numbers from last night:

Average Fastball Velocity: 91.78 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 93.7 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.87 inches
Vertical Movement: 8.06 inches

Right off the bat, the drop in velocity and, especially, vertical movement is striking. Has this been a problem for Guthrie all year? Let's go to May 30, when Guthrie struck out 10 Detroit Tigers over 6.0 innings.

Average Fastball Velocity: 93.94 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 96.1 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.88 inches
Vertical Movement: 8.92 inches

The velocity is better, but the vertical movement still doesn't quite match his start from last year. Without going through all the data, it seems that this could explain why Guthrie is striking out fewer and allowing more home runs. Is this fixable? Is Guthrie hurt? Has that viral infection helped sap his velocity? Given that Guthrie will be arbitration eligible for the first time this coming season, he's very likely to cost so little that it's worth finding out the answers to those questions. At worst, it seems like he's capable of repeating his efforts of this season, and while that's not exactly what the Orioles were hoping for coming into 2009, his ability to at least pitch a significant number of innings makes bringing him back a very good risk for 2010.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First in the AL East!

In what really counts: the value of beer. (ht: Beyond the Boxscore)


The Next Oriole Pitching Prospect

Since Tillman and Matusz have arrived, and Jake Arietta is not far behind, it's almost time to turn our attention to the next wave of pitching making its way through the Orioles farm system. And Brandon Erbe is making us take notice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Matusz Outing

Erik Manning over at FanGraphs beat me to the punch this morning, breaking down Brian Matusz's PitchFX data before I had a chance to do so. However, I think he leaves out on key picture:

That shows a number of fastballs that Matusz missed with just off the plate inside to righthanders, and it also shows just how infrequently he threw his breaking balls. Matusz got good results last night, but that's definitely not as well as he can pitch.

Dave Cameron also broke down Chris Tillman.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Matusz Debut

It's the most anticipated Oriole pitching prospect debut since... last week. And, of course. that means I'll be live blogging. Check back right here once the game gets underway in about 20 minutes.

Top 1: Roberts starts the O's off right again tonight, this time doubling to right center field. For those who have been critical of Brian's effort at times this year, please note his hustle tonight. With a full count on Nolan Reimold, Brian broke for third. He nearly reached the bag, but Reimold lofted a fly ball to deep center. Brian retreated all the way to the second base bag, tagged up and advanced 90 feet. That's heads up baserunning and impressive hustle. Now, the Tigers are bringing the infield in with one out and Nick Markakis due up. This seems like a bad idea. Sure enough, Nick grounds one through the hole on the right side. The run would have scored either way, but it is possible that's the second out if the infield is at normal depth. Finally, Adam Jones grounds into a double play to end this inning. I have to say, I really like this lineup configuration. I hope that Reimold can continue to post a high enough OBP (.367 coming into tonight) to warrant batting at the top of the lineup. Coming up... Brian Matusz's debut!

Bottom 1: It's hard to believe that a year ago, Brian Matusz wasn't even a member of the Orioles organization. So far, so good: a soft pop to center for the first out of the inning.

Fastball: 92-93 mph
Change-up: 81 mph

Looking good... 1, 2, 3 inning!

Top 2: Here's a sentence I hope to write many times in the future: Matt Wieters gives Brian Matusz a 2-0 lead.

Bottom 2: Matusz is clearly comfortable pitching backwards (fastballs in breaking ball counts; breaking balls in fastball counts), and he has excellent command of his breaking balls. That's a recipe for success.

Good camera work from the MASN guys gives a nice view the circle change grip on the pitch Matusz used to strike out Miguel Cabrera. That's a pretty good hitter to get for your first career strike out.

A 3-1 change-up to Raburn with a runner on second. I like it. The batter is going to be looking fastball, and Matusz was hoping to roll him over.

The first curve ball from Matusz comes in at 77 mph, on a 1-1 pitch to Inge with runners on first and second. Buck Martinez just got done telling a story regarding the pre-game pitching meeting; Matusz indicated his curve was his weakest pitch. He sure had confidence in throwing that one.

As a former catcher, Buck should know what he's talking about in evaluating pitch selection. He's on his game tonight, doing an excellent job evaluating the game being called by Wieters.

And that's why the O's signed Cesar Izturis: an excellent diving snag and flip to Roberts ends the inning.

Bottom 3: More excellent defense from Izturis; solid defense behind a young pitching staff was exactly what the Orioles were hoping for.

And now Buck makes the same point. Like I said, he's on his game tonight.

After getting ahead 1-2 to Miguel Cabrera, Matusz loses him for his third walk of the evening. Needless to say, we don't like walks. Martinez makes the point that Matusz is becoming a bit too "change-up reliant" as Kranitz comes to the mound for a conference. Matusz has tried to establish his fastball, especially inside to righties, but he's just missed on numerous occassions. I don't know if he's trying to be too fine, or if he's getting squeezed, but a few more fastball strikes would greatly improve his outing.

Top 4: Jones showed bunt on the first pitch of the inning, but Inge (who was playing deep) apparently indicated that he would not be moving up to take the bunt away. Jones has done this a bit in recent weeks, and I like it. It didn't work this time, but if he can get the third baseman a few feet closer, he's more likely to sneak one by every once in a while. I used the tactic during my career to keep teams from employing a full-fledged shift and I know it helped my batting average. I like Adam Jones more with each passing day.

Bottom 4: A pair of doubles plates the first runs for the Tigers and pushes Matusz past the 80 pitch mark. Given his bouts of mini-wildness in the 2nd and 3rd, it looks like he'll be unable to throw more than 5.0 innings tonight. Orioles lead 2-1.

Top 5: Cesar Izturis is definitely the early leader for tonight's player of the game. His homer gives Matusz and the O's a 3-1 lead.

Bottom 5: MASN just showed the graphic that 18 years ago tonight Mike Mussina made his debut against the White Sox. Let's hope another Orioles top prospect is beginning a Hall of Fame career on August 4.

After a Miguel Cabrera double to put runners at second and third, Matusz bears down and strikes out Thames and Raburn to end the inning. Through 5.0, the O's lead 3-1.

Assuming we've seen the last of Matusz, here's my summary of his outing: great change-up, but he was missing his fastball command tonight. He also didn't throw many sliders or curveballs. I'm guessing that adrenaline had a big impact on both of these; he may have been overthrowing a touch. In all, while he didn't pitch great, he's given the O's a chance to win and I'm incredibly excited for the Brian Matusz era. He clearly has the stuff, command and mound presence to justify his high selection and advancement to the Majors after just four professional months. He's going to be a good one.

Top 6: Sure enough, that's it for Matusz. He's in line to become the fifth different Orioles pitcher to win his Major League debut this season. This would be the first Major League team since 1890 to achieve that feat. We're still waiting on Jake Arietta, too.

Markakis just crushed a homer to right center with Reimold on first base. Have I mentioned that I like this line-up configuration?

A two-run single from Izturis ups the lead to 7-1. Let's hope the bullpen can hold this lead. And, with that, the live blog is done for the evening.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Matusz Time!

Peter Schmuck, via Jeff Zrebiec, is reporting that Brian Matusz appears to be the winner of the "vigorous debate" over who will take the rotation slot vacated when Brad Bergesen hit the disabled list. Can't say that I disagree with the decision: Matusz is pretty clearly the next best (ok, maybe the very best) pitcher in the organization. So long as they resist the temptation to keep pitching him every five days through the beginning of October (which Schmuck indicates in the comments would be the case), I'm excited! We're finally getting a look at all the young pitching that is hopefully going to lead the Orioles back to contention. It's another good day in Birdland.