Sunday, February 28, 2010

Felix Pie

Perhaps the only interesting story at this point in spring training is how Dave Trembley plans to find at-bats for all four of his talented outfielders. We know that Nick Markakis and Adam Jones will play everyday, while Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie will concoct some sort of time share in left field. While Reimold is limited to left field, Pie is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Assuming the club goes with Reimold as the starting left fielder on Opening Day, how can Pie get enough at-bats?

1) Pie can spell both Reimold and Jones, each of whom has battled injuries in the past and has yet to prove he can make it healthily through a full MLB season.
2) Reimold can play a bit of first base or designated hitter, making room for the superior defensive player (Pie) in the outfield on occasion.
3) Reimold bats righty, and Pie lefty. Some straight platooning is likely to be in order.
4) Pie could also DH, sending Luke Scott to the bench.

Basically, it is important to keep in mind that over the course of a 162-game season, it should not be difficult for three players to find at-bats at two positions (Pie, Reimold and Scott at LF and DH), especially when one of those players (Pie) can easily spell Jones from time to time. Injuries happen. Left-handed pitchers happen. Days off happen. The at-bats will be there.

We also need to remember that Luke Scott, who turns 32 in June, is not nearly as big a part of the Orioles future as Pie, who just turned 25. Scott is a good hitter: in three seasons of full-time play, he's posted a .257/.342/.486 line with 66 home runs, good enough for a 114 OPS+. Unfortunately, he's on the wrong side of the aging curve, and he is about to get very expensive. As a second-year arbitration eligible player this year, he agreed to a $4.05 million deal for 2010. During his three full seasons, Scott has been worth 2.3, 2.2, and 1.5 wins above replacement. With free agent wins going for about $3.5 million the open market this off-season, Scott is a good deal at $4 million. At $6 million, he's very close to being fairly paid, and at $7 or $8 million he's probably overpaid, especially at age 33 or 34. I can't see Scott sticking around Baltimore much past 2010 or 2011, and since the 2010 O's are still in building mode, Pie's development shouldn't be hindered in order to get Luke Scott a few more at-bats.

In conclusion, there are plenty of at-bats to go around. No sense worrying over how they'll be distributed today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nick Markakis Bunts

I hope this is just one of those crazy, half-baked Spring Training theories that will never see the light of day, but Dave Trembley is emphasizing bunting this year. His words:
It's the little things that obviously were prominent that might not have gotten done the way we wanted to get it done last year. So, let's brush up on it in Spring Training, but let's also emphasize the importance of it.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this statement. The Orioles absolutely should be emphasizing such little things as baserunning, pitcher defense, and thinking ahead on the field. These are areas where the Orioles have struggled in recent seasons and improvement would help the club more games. If Trembley, however, thinks having Nick Markakis work on bunting is going to help the Orioles win games, I think it's probably best for the sanity of all Orioles fans (and especially mine) if MacPhail makes a managerial change right now.

Wow, February 24 and I've already done my first "Fire Trembley" post. That can't be good.

Young Whippersnappers

Rob Neyer pointed me to this, a piece about a father and his son's obsession with sabermetrics, today, and I wanted to make sure that my own Dad, since he's maybe my only regular reader, saw it, too. I might not even tweet this post, but considering that Dad just got a BlackBerry (I received approximately 17 text messages with some form of "new Bbeery tring out txting" from him this weekend), so maybe I should.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Orioles: Sleeping Giant?

Hey, I didn't say it. Brian Cashman did:
The Oriole way is coming back real quick. I went to high school and college in the DC area, so I know how important the Orioles are to that area. It's a sleeping giant that will emerge again, I promise you.
As soon as I read this, I knew I had read it somewhere before, and it didn't take me long to track down the source, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney. Here are a few excerpts, quotes beginning on page 179 if you're following along at home:
The balance of power in the American League East seemed to be at stake after the 1995 season...The Yankees were gaining strength but still not fully reestablished, the Boston Red Sox were a playoff team lacking depth, and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos was intent on turning his club into a powerhouse...During the run of championships, the Yankees' greatest good fortune may well have been in sharing a division with rivals infected by crippling dysfunction. Yankees officials viewed the Baltimore Orioles, the Boston Red Sox, and the Toronto Blue Jays with fear and fascination: they were dangerous franchises, with high payrolls and formidable potential for developing revenue streams, but they never consistently challenged the Yankees...The Orioles were a cash machine, thriving because of the popularity of their home field.
Olney goes on to detail the folly that was the Orioles of the late 90s (and remember, he covered the O's beat in 1995 and 1996), but he does close with this line: "Baltimore never finished closer than 13 1/2 games to the Yankees from 1998 to 2001, and before they would rebound, Angelos would have to learn to trust others, it seemed." Given that immediately following this statement Olney describes the Red Sox failures under Dan Duquette--and that we know how a GM change worked out in Boston--I can only hope that Olney's words about Angelos ring true.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Koji Uehara

It's official: Koji Uehara is headed to the bullpen. I happen to think he will perform very well in this role, mainly because he pitched fairly well as a starter last season. Brittany Ghiroli also makes another point: he pitches much better the first time through the batting order. Then again, so do all starting pitchers. Koji, though, is extreme:

tOPS 1sttOPS 2ndtOPS 3rd

tOPS is simply the OPS allowed relative to a player's (or the league's) normal. So if a player performs at 100, he is performing at his average level. Below 100 for pitcher, means he pitched better than his normal.

As you can see, all pitchers tend to perform more poorly as they advance through the game; this is part of the reason why pitchers post better numbers as relievers than as starters. You can also see that Uehara's splits were far greater than the rest of the league. If he pitches out of the bullpen like he did his first time through the order (.202/.224/.337 with a 9:1 strikeout to walk ratio), the O's will have a shut down reliever.

(I apologize for the looks of that table; I'm very, very rusty on my html.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bloggers on the Beat has a new beat blogger for the Orioles this season, Brittany Ghiroli. She was a contestant on last year's Prospectus Idol, which I think bodes well the perspective she'll provide.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Only the Orioles...

Or maybe the Royals.

Brad Bergesen hurt his shoulder filming a TV commercial. I kid you not.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beer Tragedy Update

This landed in the Birds Nest inbox this afternoon...

From: The Brother In-Law
To: The Oriole Way
Subject: Amid fallen brothers, weary soldiers return home

After weeks of post-holiday uncertainty, we have finally welcomed home the brave Oregon brews sent to fight thirst in the East. The troops never met the front lines, however, as several casualties met the battalion along the journey.

Last week I returned home from work to find a familiar package at my door; one that had left town weeks ago. The brown box, carefully addressed to one The Oriole Way of Owings Mills, Maryland, was hardly recognizable. What can best be described as the "bottom left" of the package prominently displayed a large dent; the entire parcel was tightly wrapped in cellophane and the top was stamped "unclaimed." Immediately, I realized at least one of the tightly-wrapped metalheads had met disaster en route to the unit's destination.

I was able to find some time today to explore the damage and cut open the package, a process akin to the first steps into King Tut's tomb or the curious Pandora's first glimpse into a now-famous box. The first wave of smell hit me like a five iron as my mailbox key deftly separated plastic and tape, cardboard and paper. The putrid scent of mold and stale beer smelled like the bastard child of an Arizona State fraternity and Jeffrey Dahmer's refrigerator. As the key moved on and the interior of the box came into view, I found what I thought to be a full, intact bottle. In fact, it was a 22-ounce Lompoc Strong Draft with the cap still on but very little liquid still inside. This terrible fate was echoed by some other bottles deeper inside the package. In a flurry of bubble wrap, moldy liquid and bottles, I recovered the survivors:

22-ounce Deschutes Brewing Hop Trip
22-ounce Roots Organic Brewing Island Red
22-ounce Cascade Lakes Brewing India Pale Ale
22-ounce Oakshire Brewing Ill-Tempered Gnome Winter Ale
12-ounce Bridgeport Brewing Ebenezer Ale

These tough and delicious thirst warriors left Portland prepared to fight valiantly against cheap beer and dry NFL playoffs, only to return to base with scars of war not found in battle. The scars worn by these timeless heroes are those of The Oriole Way's empty pint glass and broken dreams. The revered veterans have been cleaned up and debriefed, will receive proper ceremony and are scheduled to return to duty at base camp within 24 hours.


Out of 11 brave soldiers, five survived. May the memory of the lost be honored with taps and a 22 oz salute.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Free Agent Fail

Pick one of the following players for this season:

Player A: Age 29, $550,000 salary, CHONE Projected .344 wOBA, 3-year trend: .365, .333, .338 wOBA
Player B: Age 30, $4,500,000 salary, CHONE Projected .324 wOBA, 3-year trend: .368, .337, .291 wOBA

Let's also point out that Player A spent most of the past three seasons in the American League, and Player B spent all of the last three years in the best hitter's park in the National League. I am, of course, talking about Ryan Garko (Player A) and Garrett Atkins (Player B).

Free agent fail.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bloomberg Sports

Wow, this looks awesome.

As a financial industry professional with a Bloomberg terminal on my desk, I wonder if there is any way possible I can sneak this expense by our data services team. Hmmm... I trade FX, this uses PitchFX, do you think anyone will notice?

2010 Baltimore Birds Nest Projection, Part I

Hard as it may be to believe, spring training is barely two weeks away. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Orioles roster is shaping up for 2010.

By my count, 23 of the 25 roster spots are spoken for. We can assume the Orioles will keep 13 position players and 12 pitchers. First, the position players:

CA: Matt Wieters, Craig Tatum
IF: Brian Roberts, Cesar Izturis, Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, Ty Wigginton, Robert Andino
OF: Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie
DH: Luke Scott

I’m giving the 13th spot to Robert Andino since he is the only back-up available to play shortstop and second base (except maybe Justin Turner), meaning that both Michael Aubrey and Luis Montanez are likely off the roster. At this point, I think it is once again fair to scratch our heads at the Garrett Atkins signing. Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder and Justin Turner are dark horses to make the team out of spring training, but each could make his Baltimore debut sometime in 2010.

On to the pitchers:

SP: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman
RP: Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson, Cla Meredith, Mark Hendrickson

Two relievers will come from this group: David Hernandez, Alberto Castillo, Matt Albers, Jason Berken, Kam Mickolio, Armando Gabino, and Wilfrido Perez. Waiting in the wings, the Orioles have Jake Arrietta, Brandon Erbe and Troy Patton who, while currently starting pitchers, could easily fill bullpen roles if no spots open up in the rotation.

In 2009, the Orioles allowed 876 (rank: 14, league average: 771) runs while scoring 741 (rank: 11, league average: 781) runs for a Pythagorean record of 69-93, five games better than their actual record of 64-98. Thanks to Dave Cameron, I know we can’t stop there. According to WAR, the Orioles received 15.8 WAR from their offense (including pitcher hitting) and 7.5 WAR from their pitchers. Since replacement level in 2009 was about 46 wins, the Orioles are actually about a 69 win team according to WAR. Thus, since the two methods agree, I’m very comfortable working with a baseline performance of 69 wins from the 2009 Orioles.

Thus, in order to make a run at .500 in 2010, the Orioles need to improve by about 120 or 130 runs. The fastest way for this team to make up those runs will be to improve the pitching staff, and my early analysis shows that they will do just that. Last season, Orioles starting pitchers threw 877.2 innings, compiling a cringe inducing 5.37 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. According to FIP, that ERA was no fluke either. The starters allowed 154 homers, walked 299 and struck out just 533; that’s a FIP of 5.38. Fortunately, the starting pitching projects to be much improved for 2010.

(Note: For each of the pitchers below, I’m taking a weighted average of three readily available projection systems: Bill James, PECOTA, and CHONE, except for Brian Matusz, who does not have a Bill James projection.)

Kevin Millwood: 174.0 IP, 194.7 H, 21.0 HR, 58.3 BB, 5.0 HBP, 113.3 K, 4.56 FIP
Jeremy Guthrie: 192.7 IP, 200.3 H, 27.0 HR, 62.0 BB, 5.7 HBP, 115.7 K, 4.87 FIP
Brad Bergesen: 148.7 IP, 164.7 H, 17.7 HR, 42.7 BB, 8 HBP, 74.3 K, 4.77 FIP
Brian Matusz: 109.5 IP, 117.5 H, 15.0 HR, 42.0 BB, 1.0 HBP, 85.0 K, 4.61 FIP
Chris Tillman: 137.0 IP, 143.7 H, 19.3 HR, 58.7 BB, 8.3 HBP, 112.0 K, 4.87 FIP
Combined: 761.8 IP, 820.8 H, 100.0 HR, 263.6 BB, 28.0 HBP, 500.3 K, 4.74 FIP

Now, normally a team will need about 975 innings out of its starting pitchers (162 * 6 IP = 972 innings), meaning the Orioles have about 200 innings unaccounted for in the above projections. While it would be awfully nice to give 75 of those to Brian Matusz (Matusz threw 157.2 including the minors last season) and Chris Tillman (161.2 combined), let’s instead be conservative and give those 200 innings a replacement level-ish 250 hits, 30 homers, 100 walks, and 130 strikeouts; that works out to a FIP of 5.35. Our new combined starting pitcher line: 961.8 IP, 1070.8 H, 130.0 HR, 363.7 BB, 28.0 HBP, 630.3 K, 4.87 FIP. Some quick subtraction shows that this year’s staff is 0.50 runs per nine innings better than last year’s version (5.38 – 4.87 = 0.51). That’s a savings of about 50 runs over last season. You’ll quickly notice that a 0.10 difference in FIP equates to 10 runs, or one win; keep that in mind when we start to do a bit of sensitivity analysis around these projections.

Moving on to the bullpen, the 2009 ‘pen threw 550.1 innings, posting a 4.83 ERA and 1.53 WHIP (613 H, 64 HR, 232 BB, 400 K, 4.49 FIP). Now, FIP is a bit less reliable for relievers, but it’s the best I can offer; plus, there doesn’t seem to be any clear bias in the data one way or the other. Let’s look at our bullpen projections for this season.

Mike Gonzalez: 60.7 IP, 50.0 H, 6.0 HR, 25.0 BB, 2.3 HBP, 64.0 K, 3.73 FIP
Koji Uehara: 58.3 IP, 60.3 H, 7.0 HR, 15.0 BB, 0.0 HBP, 44.7 K, 4.00 FIP
Jim Johnson: 63.7 IP, 68.7 H, 7.3 HR, 24.7 BB, 2.0 HBP, 41.3 K, 4.66 FIP
Cla Meredith: 65.7 IP, 73.7 H, 6.7 HR, 20.7 BB, 1.7 HBP, 41.3 K, 4.28 FIP
Combined: 248.3 IP, 252.7 H, 27.0 HR, 85.3 BB, 6.0 HBP, 191.3 K, 4.18 FIP

(Note: I'm not using the Mark Hendrickson projections since they seem to be giving him waaay too many innings. I'm just going to roll him into the replacement level below.)

To play a full season, a team needs 1,450 innings from its pitching staff. We’ve now projected 1,210.1 between the starting rotation and the top four relievers, meaning we need 240 more innings. We’ll give those a FIP of 5.00 (240.0 IP, 275 H, 30 HR, 120 BB, 160 K) since we would expect replacement level pitchers in the bullpen to be just a bit better than our replacement pitchers in the rotation (mainly because many of those replacement starters are going to see some time in the bullpen, and they're numbers out of the 'pen should be better than their numbers as starters). The combined relief pitcher line: 488.3 IP, 527.7 H, 57.0 HR, 205.3 BB, 6.0 HBP, 160.0 K, 4.58 FIP. Unfortunately, that’s right about the same level as last year’s bullpen.

Now, that does not mean this year’s ‘pen won’t actually be better than last year’s version. Mike Gonzalez should be a pretty fair approximation for the George Sherrill that was so impressive for the first four months of the season, and I’m very optimistic that Koji Uehara will take nicely to a bullpen role. If that happens, Dave Trembley should be able to use Johnson and Meredith in situations where they face better match-ups, and likewise for the remainder of the bullpen. In addition, last year’s pen actually allowed a bit more runs than their FIP would suggest. I’m comfortable projecting a 0.2 runs per nine innings improvement for the bullpen this year, or about 11 runs better than last season.

Adding up the rotation and the bullpen, here is the combined projected pitching line for 2010: 1,450.2 IP, 1,598.5 H, 187.0 HR, 569.0 BB, 34.0 HBP, 981.7 K, 4.77 FIP. That works out to about 775 earned runs allowed for the Orioles. Add in 35 unearned runs, and I project the club to allow a total of 810 runs for 2010. In other words, the Orioles figure to improve by about six wins on the mound in 2010.

Up next: Part II (The Offense).