Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Zach Britton

In a year of disappointments, one major bright spot within the Orioles organization is the performance of Zach Britton.  The O's 3rd ranked prospect this offseason has been excellent at AA Bowie, racking up a 3.44 FIP (91.2 IP, 68 K, 28 BB, 4 home runs allowed) and an incredible 64.1% ground ball ratio.  Now, he's been called up to Norfolk, a promotion that he has certainly earned.  Understandably, this has caused speculation about whether or not we'll see Britton in Baltimore this season (assuming he keeps up his stellar performance in AAA, of course).  Britt Ghiroli sure seems to think its possible, but I'm a touch skeptical.

By my count, the Tides have 65 games remaining this season, meaning that Britton is likely to make about a dozen starts in the International League.  He's already thrown 91.2 innings across 15 games this season, and another 12 starts would likely add about 70-75 innings to his season total. Britton tossed 140.1 innings in 2009, and 153.0 in 2008, so I can certainly see the Orioles pushing him to about 160 or 170 innings this season.  As we all know, 91 + 70 = 161.  Would the Orioles bring Britton to Baltimore just for one or two starts, or perhaps a handful of relief appearances?  It's certainly possible, but I don't think that's the most likely scenario.  Britton is still just 22 years old, and the club handled young pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman very carefully in September just a year ago, shutting down the youngsters at the first signs of fatigue.  As a fan, I'd love to see Britton make it all the way to Baltimore this year, but I've got my money on a 2011 debut.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mike Flanagan

I got into a good exchange with @CamdenDepot today regarding the potential re-re-hiring of Mike Flanagan as pitching coach.  He contends that the "current pitching development system the O's run is still the model Flanny put in place."  Since Flanagan was previously the pitching coach in 1995 and 1998, I naturally wondered if that covered the entire time between now and then, or if this was a relatively recent plan put in place during Flanagan's tenure as an executive (which began in 2003).  Since pitching busts like Matt Riley, Mike Paradis, Richard Stahl, Beau Hale and Chris Smith all hail from the intermediate time, I think it's important to ask just when the development program took effect.  I think Crawdaddy is arguing that most of the plan went into effect in recent years (and not in the late 90s), but since this is difficult to discuss over Twitter and it seems like an important part of the organization's direction, I wanted to open up a thread for discussion.  If you've got anything to add, please do!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Orioles Attendance

Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun had a big article stating that, despite the Orioles miserable start, attendance at Camden Yards has actually increased since last season.  Here's their assertion: "Even with the Orioles' ineptitude, attendance is up 9.5 percent, from 21,653 to 23,720, through 32 home games compared with the same number of games last year, according to Major League Baseball."  Technically, that is true, but it certainly doesn't tell the whole story.  The Sun does offer one caveat, noting that the Orioles have had an attractive slate of opponents in the early going, hosting "the Boston Red Sox in two weekend series, the Yankees in two midweek series and the New York Mets on a weekend,"  while at this point last year the club "had hosted two Yankees series — one on the weekend and one during the week — and no Red Sox games," but they did nothing to quantify the effect.  Since they couldn't be bothered, I will do so for them!

First, let's try and build a model that would predict attendance for any single game.  What sort of factors might you be interested in?  I identified several variables to test: 1) Day of the Week, 2) Attractive Opponent (defined as Yankees, Red Sox and Mets), 4) Opening Day, and 5) Summer (defined as between Memorial Day and Labor Day).  Now, obviously, you could also add in things like win loss record, game time temperature, and day game vs. night game, but I'm going for a quick and dirty model here (plus, this is the data I can easily access).  After running the regressions on 2009 data*, I came up the following statistically signficant variables (95% confidence interval): Attractive Opponent, Friday, Saturday & Sunday games, Opening Day, and Summer.  Thus, games taking place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday do experience a change in attendance from Monday nights (the baseline case).  I think those results are very inuitive.  Here's the regression equation:

Attendance = 13,803 + AttOpp(12,185) + Friday(9,538) + Saturday(12,557) + Sunday(6,519) + OpenDay(22,617) + Summer(4,256)

Using that equation, we would expect attendance for the first 32 games of 2010 to be 25,889.  Instead, actual attendance came in 8.4% below that number.  So where did the Sun go wrong in its analysis?

First, all those attractive opponents make a huge difference.  In 2009, the Orioles played a total of 21 home games against the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets (average attendance of 32,747 including Opening Day), but had played just six of those games by the 32nd home date (average attendance 35,340); they've already played 15 games against those teams in 2010 and averaged just 28,299 fans.

Next, the use of 32 games--and not the calendar date--is also significant.  In 2009, the Orioles played home game number 32 on Thursday, June 11.  On Friday, June 12, the O's welcomed in the Atlanta Braves for the start of a summer weekend series that averaged 28,295 fans.  This year, home game 32 occurred on Sunday, June 13.  If you include that Atlanta series to normalize the date, the year on year comparison is less favorable, with the Sun's 2009 number moving from 21,653 to 22,222.

The use of game 32 (and the omission of another weekend series) highlights another important point: the day of the week.  The 2009 Orioles played 20 of their first 32 home games a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday; the 2010 O's contested just 17 of 32 on those days of the week.

Thus, when adjusting for opponent, day of the week, and the calendar, the Orioles 2010 attendance is almost assuredly running lower than last season, and I suspect that upcoming series (serieses? serieii?) against the Marlins, Nationals, Athletics, Blue Jays, Twins, Angels, White Sox, Mariners and Rangers (the O's next nine home series) will reveal just that.

*If you would like to see the data set, please email me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mainstream Media

I (and the rest of the saber community) do lots of mainstream media bashing, so I feel its equally important to point out when the media does something well.  Jeff Zrebiec did just that in his big feature on Nick Markakis this morning.  The money quote:
Overall, the Orioles are second to last in the AL in on-base and slugging percentage. They have the fewest walks in the league, and they see the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.73). They also have the fifth-worst "chase percentage" in baseball in that they swing at 30.2 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone.
Perfect.  He used on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and plate discipline, and he did it in a way that is accessible to the casual fan.  Nowhere does he mention batting average, and he doesn't rail about the Orioles lack of clutch hitting (which is certainly a problem, but is more a symptom of their poor approach than the cause of their woes).  Thanks, Jeff.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nick Markakis is Not a Happy Camper

And he wasn't afraid to tell the Sun about it.  I don't blame him.  Some of his comments:
Sometimes, guys are going up there and it looks like they have no idea what they’re doing. 
You can have anybody come here and you still are going to have a couple of guys who are not going to change their approach and fix it. It’s worthless.
Well then.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mike Gonzalez

Yesterday, Britt Ghiroli reported that Mike Gonzalez was getting close to returning (perhaps by the end of the month) and that he touched 88 mph in his latest bullpen session.  If both of those facts are true, I have one prediction: disaster.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball's Pitch FX Tool, we can use facts.  Here is Gonzalez's velocity chart from April 28, 2009:

As you can see, his fastball velocity is between 93 and 95 miles per hour, and almost exclusively above 94 mph.  Now, here is his chart from three months later, July 28, 2009:

His velocity is a bit lower, 90-94 mph.  Now from the end of last season, September 26, 2009:

Hmmmm... lower still at 88-92 mph. And here is his velocity graph from April 9, 2009:

Sigh.  87-91 mph, and he got it up over 90 just once. Why, exactly, do the Orioles think that Mike Gonzalez at 88 mph 1) is healthy and 2) can be effective?  And, it should also be asked, if I can pull this information in between meetings and running reports before 8:00 AM, why the hell did the Orioles sign an injury-prone relief pitcher who showed notable velocity declines during what was easily his highest workload season to a 2-year, $12 million contract? This is exactly the type of decision making that has me thisclose to jumping ship.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Josh Bell

I was invited to guest blog today over at OriolesProspects.com, where I discussed Josh Bell's struggles against left-handed pitching:
Josh Bell is a switch swinger. That is, he hits from the left side of the plate, but not so much from the right side of the plate. During his minor league career the difference is stark: a career .301/.367/.506 line against right handed pitchers, but a .242/.320/.360 line versus southpaws. The first hitter is a prospect; the second would never make it to the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Check out the rest here...

A (Very) Few Positives

I said I wasn't going to write again until I had something positive to say.  Well, I don't have much yet, but I want to start blogging again, so let's give it a whirl...

1) Brian Matusz turned in a very good start on Saturday night, needing 96 pitches to turn in a final line of 8.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, and 4 K.  He didn't walk anyone, but he did give up two home runs.  I'd like to see a few more ground balls (11:14 GB:FB ratio) but that rate is much improved from earlier in the season (interestingly, as he's given up more ground balls, he's concurrently given up more home runs. Such is the Orioles).
2) Adam Jones is hot.  From June 3 to June 13, he's hitting .324/.390/.514 with 2 homers, 2 steals, and 8 RBI.  He's also drawn 3 walks (matching his May and exceeding his April total) and was hit by a pitch in another at-bat.  Sure he's struck out 9 times in 10 games, but again, focus on the positives.
3) Jake Arrieta: 6.0 IP, 4 hits, 2 walks (I refuse to count the INT ones), 6 K, 3 ER in his Major League debut.  Against the Yankees, too!
4) David Hernandez earned his first career save, and blew some 97 mph cheddar in the process.  Since moving to the bullpen, he's accumulated 7.1 IP, allowed 3 hits and 1 run while striking out 6 and walking 3.  Maybe not lights out, but promising.
5) Zach Britton is a ground ball machine.  Across 77.1 innings for the Baysox, he has an eye-popping 64.8% ground ball rate.  Against lefty batters, he has more strikeouts (23) than hits allowed (21) and nearly as many K's as walks (4) plus hits.
6) Nick Markakis just keeps walking.  At 13.1%, his walk rate isn't quite as high as his 2008 season (14.2%), but I'll certainly take it on this team of hackers.  While I'd like to see him pull the ball in order to pop a few more home runs (1.1% HR rate vs. 2.7% career), seeing him lace a double to left center is still a thing of beauty.
7) Garrett Atkins has played just three times this month (2-for-8) and I can't imagine that he'll get significant playing time again this season.

Look, that's seven things to be happy about!  Unfortunately, none of them involve Orioles wins.  Alas, maybe next time.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Guest Beer Blogging

Last Friday night, I had one of the best experiences of my entire life.  You can read all about it here.  A quick excerpt:
Tactical Nuclear Penguin just might be the world’s most dangerous beer. Pouring a deep black, this stout measures 32% ABV, but it sure doesn’t taste that way. Instead, the rich, caramel malt character shines through, making this a truly outstanding beer. As BrewDog recommends, we drank it with an aristocratic nonchalance. Similarly, the Tokyo stout, which measures “only” 18.2% ABV, was easily drinkable despite its high alcohol content and subtle enough to allow the cranberry and jasmine flavorings to shine through. BrewDog’s success with these extreme stouts is impressive, and they’ve earned their distinction as one of the world’s most innovative brewers.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Back From the Ledge

The Orioles are terrible.  There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.  Virtually every thing that could go wrong with the 2010 season has gone wrong.  At 15-38 (.283), the O's are on pace for just 46 wins (or 116 losses, if you prefer), the third worst record of the expansion era (1962 Mets, 40-120, .250; 2003 Tigers, 43-119, .265).  I spent this past long weekend out of town, and flipped last night's game off after the Yankees took a 2-0 lead.  It was refreshing.  Thus, I'm going to take a little break from blogging.  This could be a week (say, after the draft), or it could be a month, but I'm going to wait until I have something positive to write.  I plan to keep watching and following the team, but its probably best if I recharge my orange colored batteries before doing much more writing about them.