Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of Snow, Airlines, Beer and the Orioles

Considering that there is more than a foot of snow on the deck outside (and still plenty more to come, apparently), the 7:00 AM BWI to SLC flight didn't quite happpen this morning. On the plus side, we found this out last night and didn't wake up at 4:00 AM just to drive to BWI and sit at the airport all day. On the down side, Delta refuses to transport my wife and I to Oregon until Wednesday. Unless, of course, we're willing to pay them $1,500 to upgrade to first class. Instead, I'm sitting at home by the fire (ok, space heater), enjoying a malted beverage, and getting caught up on all the baseball news in my Google Reader.

As we all know, the Orioles made two signings this week: Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins. I've posted my initial thoughts on Gonzalez already, and nothing there has changed. I should note, however, that his 2007 and 2008 innings totals are a product of May 2007 Tommy John surgery, not a series of recurring injuries. Regardless, I don't like the move. Before I move on to Atkins, here are some other reactions from around the Web:

Gonzalez has never been worth $6M in free agent dollars throughout his career
and while he should receive a boost from increased leverage, I guess I’m more
concerned about Gonzalez’ health than anything. Factor in the loss of next
year’s second round pick and I’m not sure I completely approve of giving decent
– not great, mind you – cash to a injury prone reliever coming off his heaviest
Rob Neyer:
On balance, I think it's difficult to justify Gonzalez's contract for one big
reason: last season was the first of his career in which he threw more than 54
innings. If there's a better than 50/50 chance of Gonzalez breaking down at some
point while he's in the Orioles' employ, he's not worth $12 million. And I think
he's going to break down.
Keith Law (in chat, when asked about Fernando Rodney as a pick-free alternative):
I can't object to that signing. I'd rather have Gonzalez than Rodney + a 2nd
I think that about sums it up: Gonzalez has good talent, the money isn't exhorbinant (but is non-trivial), he's injury prone, and this costs a draft pick. On to Atkins...

The specs of the Atkins contract are 1-year guaranteed at $4.0 million plus an $8.5 million option with a $0.5 million buyout for year two. Since I sincerely doubt that Atkins will be worthy of the option, let's look at this as a 1-year, $4.5 million deal. FanGraphs does the heavy lifting on the analysis and concludes:
Including positional adjustment, over 150 games Atkins projects as about a 1.3
WAR player for 2010. Assuming $4.4 million per marginal win as average market
value, his $4.5 guarantee plus incentives seems to be in the right neighborhood.
So the Orioles paid a fair price for about what they're likely to be getting: a below average hitter and defender. Now, Atkins has had lots of success in the past, albeit in a very favorable run environment in the weaker league. If he can somehow rekindle that ability, this would be a nice coup for the Orioles. More likely, he keeps the position warm for Josh Bell, either later in 2010 or in 2011. Atkins does have the advantage of batting right-handed. His career splits are notably better against left-handed pitching, so it is also possible that even if he can't handle the everyday duties he caddies for Bell to protect the youngster who is still very much a work in progress from the right side of the plate. The FanGraphs conclusion mirrors my own:
It is worth reiterating that consistently paying “fair market value” isn’t
really a “smart” thing to do. Teams on budgets need to get more for their money
to win consistently, especially going up against New York and Boston in the
American League East. On the other hand, it isn’t particularly “dumb,” either.
It’s “average…” on average. It makes sense in this particular case. They
certainly didn’t want to bring back Melvin Mora, who has entered the undead
phase of his career. Baltimore’s prospects at third and first aren’t ready for
the major leagues yet. Atkins isn’t a star, and will be lucky to be league
average again. While Baltimore surely isn’t trying to contend, as has been noted
elsewhere, sometimes a team simply needs to put a competent player on the field
for fans. That’s okay as long the team doesn’t pay out the nose. Baltimore isn’t
paying excessively for Atkins, and he won’t be blocking any prospects who might
be ready for 2011. Way to bridge a gap, Mr. MacPhail.
Agreed: MacPhail didn't overpay in years or dollars, and someone had to play third base on Opening Day. Maybe the O's get lucky and Atkins bounces back. If not, they don't pick up his option and slot Josh Bell into the lineup for 2011.

One final point about Atkins, though, and it's that I think Keith Law's reaction is worth noting: "I don't get it - I wrote on Twitter the other day that I would hesitate to give him a roster spot." This certainly suggests that the projected numbers for Atkins aren't matching the decline in skills that scouts saw last season.

In other news, Baseball America released its Top 10 Orioles Prospects list under the headline "Help Is On The Way". I'll hopefully have more later.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Adrian Gonzalez Market

R.J. Anderson at FanGraphs has a fantastic breakdown of the Adrian Gonzalez trade market, showing an easy-to-read table outlining who needs a first baseman and then going through each team's prospect/competitive/cash situation to find five potential suitors. The Orioles basically come out in the top 3.

I think Gonzalez would be an excellent fit for the Orioles; it all comes down to cost. If the O's could snag the star first baseman without surrendering Matusz or Tillman, that seems like a pretty good deal. I don't know if that is realistic, however. My proposal: Felix Pie, Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe or Zach Britton and Caleb Joseph. This would give the Padres a center fielder immediately capable of playing at Petco Park, a pair of top pitching prospects that are close to Major League ready and a catching prospect that Baseball Prospectus calls "an excellent hitter with good barrel manipulation and some of the best plate coverage in the system." Note that this means the Orioles would surrender their #3, #4/#6 and #9 prospects, according to BP.

Is that enough? I don't know. It depends on San Diego's opinion of Pie and Joseph (who has yet to play above Frederick) and whether or not Arrieta and Erbe/Britton are viewed as having high enough ceilings. I doubt this would get the deal done, but it seems like a reasonable place to begin discussions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mike Gonzalez?

Well, this lowers my faith in Andy MacPhail. I don't care what the terms are; signing a relief pitcher at the cost of a second round draft pick is not a move the Orioles should be making. If the baseball industry has learned anything in the last few years it is that relievers are largely replaceable. I don't know why the Orioles need to bring in a "closer" when that costs them both dollars and a draft pick. Is Gonzalez a good pitcher? Yes; he struck out 90 batters in 74.1 IP last season. But, he also made 80 appearances (previous career high: 54), and the year prior he pitched just 33.2 innings. And in 2007? 17.0 innings. Why the Orioles want an injury prone reliever that costs a draft pick, I have no idea. I blame Peter Schmuck and the other rabble-rousers at the Sun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Player Valuation

Joe Sheehan had a great column yesterday about all the goings on with the hot stove season thus far. In it he provides a really good assessment of what we've seen from teams in terms of player valuation:
I keep coming back to the trend line of the last few offseasons. The
industry is getting smarter, valuing things that matter—expected on-field
performance, applied skills, proper evaluation—over a knee-jerk preference for
experience. Teams are coming around to the idea, first expressed by Bill James
in the 1980s, that talent in baseball is not normally distributed, that for
every great player there are multiple above-average ones, and for every
above-average one many average ones. There’s no reason to pay extra money for
average performance, and the vast majority of players are at that level or
below. The majority of baseball players, even major leaguers, are fungible. If
you pay $4 million each for three players who will produce $2 million worth of
value, you’ve wasted six million that could be better spent on high-impact
players. The key mistake that continues to be made—and we’ve seen it with
Kendall and the Royals, Ivan Rodriguez and the Nationals, Brandon Lyon and the
Astros—is money wasted in dribs and drabs on players who are fungible by teams
that have no reason to chase wins.

This is an important concept when we're talking about moves for the Orioles. Yes, the Orioles could overpay a bit to lure Carlos Delgado or Nick Johnson for two or three years, but that ties up money that could be better spent on legitimate long-term solutions or contract extensions for players like Matt Wieters or Adam Jones. That's one reason I like the Millwood deal; it involves no commitment beyond 2010, and thus has no effect on whether the Orioles could pursue a top talent for the corners or the starting rotation. I know there are lots of non-believers out there, but the difference between the Orioles under MacPhail and the club under Flanagan is night and day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More on Millwood

Baseball Prospectus offers the most upbeat take on the Millwood deal yet, and I agree.
I love the decision to add Millwood not simply because of the atmospherics—the
meme about the veteran workhorse joining a talented young rotation, etc.—or his
relative track record, but because it's exactly right in terms of adding that
guy for just a single season. Maybe this is a reflection of the past premiums
the Orioles have had to pay to get someone to choose Baltimore, but adding
Millwood for a single season at roughly $7 or 8 million (the $12 million he's
due, less the $3 million, less Ray's arbitration-boosted payday to come) is an
outstanding adaptation to a market that wasn't likely to yield his combination
of good work and reliable turn-taking at that price. For a year, the
organization can let Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, David
Hernandez, Jake Arrieta, and Jason Berken earn turns in the big-league rotation
behind Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, perhaps phase out or deal Guthrie, and then
let Millwood walk away, leaving 2011 draft picks in his wake. It's just one more
reason why the Orioles won't be a fun matchup for the favored three atop the
division, which should make for the most interesting Orioles team to watch in
more than a decade.

Echoes my sentiments exactly.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chris Ray

Jeff Zrebiec sums up perfectly the Chris Ray that I know:
Before the final game of 2009, Chris Ray shook the hands of a couple of the
team’s regular beat writers and thanked them for being fair and not piling on
him too much during what was a nightmarish season for the reliever. It was a
classy but hardly surprising gesture by Ray, who was a good guy and a great

There's much more if you click through.

Ray was a great teammate of mine at William & Mary, and I will very much miss having him in Baltimore. He is a fierce competitor and, when he's healthy, has some very good stuff. I hope he bounces back with the Rangers.

Felix Pie

Some good news today:
Speaking of Pie, there are several members of the organization that are very
much against trading the talented but raw outfielder. I’m not saying he won’t be
traded because there are enough teams interested and the Orioles are deep in the
outfield, but I am saying that the Orioles are going to have to get something
enticing back to deal him. Pie’s strong second half has earned him some
believers in the organization, and probably justified the team’s decision not to
trade him to the Chicago White Sox last year for third baseman Josh Fields.
These are my sentiments about Felix Pie exactly. He's always been talented, and he really did show signs of putting it all together last year. Yes, he is currently 4th on the outfield depth chart, but I see no reason that the Orioles can't get both Pie and Reimold regular at-bats. And it never hurts to have a capable back-up centerfielder on the roster. If the club does decide to deal Pie, it would have to be in a deal that brings back a significant piece.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on Millwood

Blogosphere: React!

MLB Fanhouse:

Adding an experienced starter makes a lot of sense for the Orioles. They've
got three talented youngsters in Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman,
but young pitchers come with innings limits and assorted other potential land
mines that keep them from throwing oodles of innings.

Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan:
Millwood at $8 [sic] million for one year is a solid pickup for the
Orioles, who get an innings guy to anchor the rotation as they bring along a
number of good young starting pitchers who will require some careful handling,
and they do so without giving up talent or committing past ’10.
Orioles GM Andy MacPhail, via Baseball Prospectus:
"We think (Millwood) is going to have a positive cascading effect on Jeremy
Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, David Hernandez, and Jason
Berken," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "He
should really anchor our staff."

For the Orioles, they receive a roughly average starting pitcher. As a one
year commitment, 9 million dollars isn’t egregious. It will be probably be near
his market value. With the Orioles not in a position to compete, taking on that
kind of salary doesn’t really make sense. This kind of money could be much
better spent on international signings, draft picks, or other developmental type
of projects. He will give them decent production, but is the marginal value of
his 2-3 wins above replacement really worth 9 million dollars to them? I’m not

Peter Schmuck:

Guthrie did everything he could to fill the No. 1 starter role the past two
years, but everybody knew it was too much responsibility for him, and he wilted
under the weight of it last season. Millwood will assume that role, which should
make everybody in the rotation more comfortable in their own skin. The trade
is just as important from a public relations and marketing standpoint because it
sends a signal that the Orioles are serious about improving the team for 2010.
MacPhail has to follow up with several more acquisitions over the next couple of
months, but he has made good on a key priority with plenty of time left to
concentrate on upgrading the corner infield positions and the bullpen.

In my opinion, this is a solid deal for the Orioles. Teams need roughly 1,000 innings from their starters to make it through the 162-game schedule. Guthrie and Millwood can be penciled in for roughly 60 starts and somewhere between 360 and 400 innings. Brian Matusz threw 157.2 innings a year ago, and is unlikely to be asked to go much beyond 180 IP in 2010. Ditto Chris Tillman (161.2 IP in 2009). Brad Bergesen, who reached just 134.1 IP in 2009 (after 165.1 in 2008) due to injury, will also face innings constraints. If--and that is one giant if--the Orioles can get 180 innings from all of these guys next season, that's 900 innings and the team won't be forced to prematurely consider Jake Arrietta or Brandon Erbe for the rotation. More likely, someone is going to miss some signifcant time and the Orioles will need at least one more starter.

From this perspective, the deal makes a lot of sense. $9mm with no commitment beyond 2010 is a financial risk the Orioles can easily afford to take, and Millwood is about as low risk as 35-year old starting pitchers come. If his presence permits the Orioles to limit the innings for their youngsters and takes a bit of load off the bullpen, his acquisition will be a success. All that nonsense from Schmuck about taking the pressure off Guthrie and providing a PR boost is just fluff. This deal is all about avoiding a repeat of last season, where 4/5ths of the Opening Day rotation (Guthrie, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Simon, Mark Hendrickson, and Adam Eaton) was injured or had pitched themselves out of the rotation by the end of May. Good work by MacPhail recognizing a mistake he made in 2009 and correcting it--at minimal cost--for 2010.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ray to Rangers

The Sun is reporting that the O's and Rangers are near a deal that will send Chris Ray to the Rangers in return for veteran starter Kevin Millwood. This makes much more sense than the Felix Pie or David Hernandez rumors we've been hearing, and from a cost-benefit standpoint, I like this deal for the O's. From a personal standpoint, I'm disappointed to see my former teammate traded out of Baltimore, but this at least gives him a good shot at the postseason in 2010. This looks to be a good move by MacPhail to trade a fungible commodity (right-handed reliever) for a short-term fix in the starting rotation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bullpen Psychology

Ivy League to MLB has an interesting post today on the psychology effects of bullpen role definitions. I agree with this concept, but not necessarily the conclusion. I wrote about this earlier in the season, and respond in the comments:
The problem isn't that bullpen guys have defined roles; it is how those roles
are defined. I think that a bullpen coach who is actively engaged and
effectively communicates with the pitching staff could easily get a 'pen
prepared for non-closer centric decision making.

Kevin Millwood

Multiple sources are linking the Orioles to Kevin Millwood after Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, with Felix Pie being the most likely player moved for pitching help. Now, the Orioles could certainly use the 30 starts Millwood is likely to provide, but this is not a move with much upside. Millwood went 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA in 198.2 IP last season, but was 9-10 with a 5.07 ERA in 168.2 IP in 2008. In reality, his talent lies somewhere between those extremes.

In 2008, Millwood suffered from an abnormally high BaBIP of .366, and, similarly, he was a bit lucky with a .279 BaBIP in 2009. He will be 35 in 2010, and he hasn't reached his career average strikeout rate (7.03 K/9) since 2004, coming in last season at just 5.57 K/9. He's under contract through 2010 at $12 million, so this would almost certainly be a 1-year stopgap. Felix Pie seems a steep price to pay for one season of a league average starting pitcher.