Friday, July 30, 2010

Orioles History

The One Royal Way blog (Twitter @OneRoyalWay) asked me to write up an introduction to Orioles history over at their site, and I was happy to oblige.  This looks like an excellent resource not only for Royals fans, but for anyone seeking out grassroots coverage of any of the teams around baseball.  I'm looking forward to checking out some of the new O's bloggers on his list.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poll Results

I ran a poll a few weeks ago, but I'm not sure how scientific my results are.  For instance, my home computer never did show me that anyone else voted, but my work computer tallied away.  Regardless, O's fans are a pessimistic bunch: half the voters picked the O's to finish with the worst overall record, and the other half picked the club to finish with the second worst record.  Given the way the club has started the second half, I fear those who picked the O's to finish out of the top (bottom?) spot are a bit optimistic.  At least we don't have to play the Blue Jays tonight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jose Bautista

Jose Bautista has crushed the Orioles this season, posting a .326/.400/.884 line with six homers in just 50 at-bats.  It's safe to say that the former Oriole is a big reason why the O's are 0-11 against the Blue Jays this season.  More interestingly, though, Bautista has enjoyed a truly break out season at age 29, leading the league in home runs and posting 2.5 WAR in 400 plate appearances.  This has of course led to a great deal of analysis about whether or not his break out is "real" or simply a fluke.  R.J. Anderson has the latest piece at Bloomberg today.

Unfortunately, every single thing I've read about Bautista this season falls short in one important respect: no one has mentioned his path to the Majors.  In 2003, Bautista played 51 games at A+ Lynchburg where he posted a .242/.359/.424 line at age 22.  At this point, he had accumulated 990 plate appearances across the Gulf Coast, NY-Penn, Sally, and Carolina leagues.  Then, the Baltimore Orioles selected Bautista in the Rule V draft and jumped him straight to the big leagues.  In 2004, he received a combined 96 plate appearances with four different organizations.

Since he didn't stick in the Majors, Bautista returned to the Pirates in 2004, and the Bucs did the sensible thing and assigned him to AA in 2005.  There, he posted solid numbers, hitting .283/.364/.503 with 23 home runs in 507 plate appearances.  His development looked to be on-track.

In 2006, the Pirates jumped him to the Major Leagues after just 119 plate appearances in AAA.  Add in the 55 pa's he received in AAA in 2005, and Bautista had only 174 plate appearances at the highest level of the minor leagues.  Over the next four seasons, Bautista was largely a full-time player for Pittsburgh and Toronto, accumulating 1911 Major League plate appearances and posting a .242/.334/.412 line, equivalent to a 96 OPS+.  Certainly not great, but he was just a bit below average with the bat.  Add in a bit below average glove, and Bautista was only marginally more effective than a replacement player over that span.

Bautista's 2010 exploits have been well chronicled, so I won't rehash them here.  I do, however, want to raise an important question: how did Bautista's non-traditional path to the Major Leagues affect his long-run development?  Certainly, 2004 was a lost developmental year, and he also spent negligible time at AAA before his final promotion to the Majors.  Yet, all along the way, Bautista showed good plate discipline.  Should we really be so surprised by his break out season?  Let's throw out 2004, and also toss 2006,  Bautista's first full Major League season.  Would a 27-year old hitter with an 11.6% walk rate a 96 OPS+ in about 1500 plate appearances across three seasons, and who also showed power potential in the minor leagues, enjoying a break out really shock us?  For instance, Brian Roberts had nearly 1700 Major League plate appearances and an 83 OPS+ before his breakout 2005 season.

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I think they have important implications for player development.  The Orioles have tended to rush their young pitching prospects, and they definitely pushed Nick Markakis aggressively.  I don't think you can make a reasonable case that Josh Bell was big league-ready at the time of his promotion this year. While each player is obviously unique, how do aggressive assignments affect player development, in aggregate?

Is Bautista's 2010 season a fluke?  Quite possibly.  But given his handling during his key developmental years, I'm absolutely not willing to casually dismiss his power surge.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Second Half Poll

I've decided to run my very first poll here at the Bird's Nest; check out the sidebar and vote.  I'll report the results next week.

Question: Where will the Orioles select in the 2011 First Year Player Draft?

Here are two valuable resources for research:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Midseason Review

It's the All-Star break, and that of course means a celebration recap of the first half.  New to this year's review, each award gets a Twitter hash tag!

Most Valuable Oriole: Nick Markakis
Nick's .308/.395/.452 line is good for a .371 wOBA and 2.2 WAR.  He may only have 6 homers and 31 RBI but I'll take a league-leading 28 doubles, a 1:1 K:BB ratio and a 12.9% walk rate any day of the week.  And, for the record, Nick has a .316/.421/.408 line with runners in scoring position. #RBIfail

Jim Palmer Award (since Cy Young was a Red Sock): Brian Matusz
Slim pickins.  I considered Matusz, Guthrie, Berken, and Simon, and really, none of them deserve the honor.  I went with Matusz since he's just 23 years old, and when he's on, he's brilliant.  Maybe we should change this to the #JorgeJulioAward.

Rolaids Relief Award: Jason Berken
There's been no shortage of heartburn from the O's bullpen (for instance, the team has allowed an .842 OPS in the 8th inning, an .878 OPS in the 9th, and a mind boggling 1.001 OPS in extra innings), but Berken really does spell relief.  Across 50.2 IP, he's post a 1.95 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.  He began the season in a long relief role but has earned the right to pitch higher leverage innings.  A prime example of the way a former starter's stuff can play up in the bullpen. #ProjectingRelieverPerformanceIsHard

Biggest Bust Award: Garrett Atkins
That was $4.5 million wasted.  Too bad we didn't spend the money on some more scouts or something. #NeverSawThisComing

Biggest Bust Award II: Mike Gonzalez
Another $12.0 million well-spent.  At least he's on pace to void my prediction that he never pitches in an Oriole uniform again. #ProjectingRelieverPerformanceIsHardSoDon'tSpendBigMoneyOnThem

Biggest Disappointment: Matt Wieters
Finally, a category where we have lots of candidates from which to choose!  Nolan Reimold (now batting .215 in Norfolk), Adam Jones (.304 OBP), and Chris Tillman (two stints in Norfolk) have all disappointed in one way or another, but Wieters production is the most worrisome.  Expected to be the cornerstone of a revitalized lineup, he's instead batting a measly .245/.315/.357.  To my untrained eyes, he's looked overmatched at times.  At least his defense has received rave reviews. #BaseballIsHard

Newest Man Crush: Zach Britton
He's gotten ground balls nearly two-thirds of the time in Bowie and Norfolk and was one of the standout performers at this weekend's Futures Game.  Granted, allowing ground balls is a terrible strategy considering the Orioles infield defense, but maybe one day we'll get some guys with more range than the Babe Ruth statue out there. #FutureAce

Best Nickname: Alfredo Simon

Biggest All-Star Snub: Nick Markakis
No, he probably doesn't deserve to make the team without the one player from each team rule, but that's no excuse for Joe Girardi selecting Ty Wigginton instead. Since he clubbed two homers on May 15 to bring his OPS to 1.070, Wigginton is hitting .212/.303/.272 with just two home runs in 211 plate appearances.  A .562 OPS in 152 plate appearances from Garrett Atkins got him designated for assignment, but a .575 mark from Wiggy means he goes to the All-Star game.  I guess now would be a good time to point out that Oriole clean-up hitters are hitting a stout .229/.292/.315. #TimingIsEverything

In conclusion, the first half of the season has been a disaster.  The O's are just 29-59, but at least they're finally off the pace of the 1962 Mets.  The club is about to hire its third manager of the year.  The young talent has regressed.  There are serious questions about the ability of the coaching staff to develop Major Leaguers.  And attendance continues to dwindle.  But with bright spots like Nick Markakis and flickerings from Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Jason Berken, David Hernandez and Alredo Simon, there are still plenty of reasons to watch in the second half.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trade Deadline Primer

If you're like me, you've noticed that Daniel Moroz at Camden Crazies hasn't recently been blogging quite as frequently as is usual.  Well, now I know why.  The 2010 Trade Deadline Primer is out, and it's an incredible piece work of work by Daniel and other bloggers from around the league.  Would you like to know which Major Leaguers are likely to be available from each of the 30 teams?  How about the prospects each team has to offer in return?  Or perhaps you're more interested in specific first basemen or shortstops the Orioles could chase at the deadline.  It's all there, plus rundowns of the first half for each team and essays from around the league.  This is a fantastic work from the analyst community, and a prime example of why I enjoy baseball on the Internet so much.  Check out the free version (about 1/4 of the book), or spring for the whole thing; I suspect it will be $10 well spent.