Monday, August 30, 2010

Orioles Attendance (Revisited)

Remember a few weeks ago when The Sun ran a piece asserting that despite the Orioles awful start to the season attendance was actually running higher than a year ago?  And remember how I did a little fancy math and took issue with their assertion?  What's happened since then?

Well, things look like we would expect them to for a team threatening to turn in the worst season in franchise history.  That is, attendance is lower than a year ago.  Last year, on August 31, the Orioles were averaging 24,365 fans per game; today (with one game still to go in August), the O's are drawing 21,069.  That's a decline of 13.5%.  Interestingly, the model I built this spring predicts 24,115 fans per game for the O's, very similar to last season's actual results, indicating that the two seasons have now seen a similar attendance generating schedule for the club.

Bluefield Orioles

The news this weekend that the O's were ending a 53-season relationship with the Bluefield Orioles hit me harder than most Baltimore fans.  See, I became a Baltimore Orioles fan largely because of the Bluefield Orioles.  My dad's family is from Bluefield, and we have a long history with the organization.  My grandparents were season ticket holders for many, many seasons, my dad and his brother were both batboys for the team, and my uncle currently serves on the club's board of directors; many of our most frequently told family stories revolve around the stands at Bowen Field, especially the grilling my grandfather would give to umpires failing to call the strike zone in favor of the home town team.  When I interviewed with the Orioles for my summer internship, I explained my Bluefield connection to illustrate my ties to the organization.  Thus, the announcement came as a particularly sharp blow.

No, it probably won't matter for the long-run health of the Major League club whether or not the Baltimore Orioles have an Appalachian League franchise, but every Orioles fan should be just a little bit saddened by this announcement.  Bluefield--and towns like it all across America--epitomize the small-town Americana image of minor league baseball.  Bluefield, which was the longest-running relationship in affiliated baseball, was still a link to that long-lost "Oriole Way", the idea that a freshly signed draft pick would enter into the organization and learn the same methods and practices that the big leaguers in far-off Baltimore were using in the Major Leagues.  I hope Bluefield attracts another big league club to take over its operations, but the city just won't be the same without the Baby Birds.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Zach Britton

I hate to say I told you so, but... I told you so.  As reported today by the various O's outlets, Zach Britton is most likely not going to make his Major League debut in 2010.  He's slated to pitch August 30 for the Tides, and then will likely start once again before the season is over (the final Norfolk game of the season is September 6).  That will bring his total number of AAA starts to a dozen, giving him somewhere in the range of 65-70 innings at the minors' highest level, pushing his season total right near 160, a modest increase from his totals of the past two seasons*.  If the Orioles really wanted to give him a taste of the Majors, he could easily handle another start or two, but considering that he's not on the 40-man roster, patting him on the back and handing him the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year award is probably the smartest way to go.  Congrats on a great season, Zach.  We'll see you in Baltimore real soon.  Please bring that sinker when you come.

*If minor league stats are to be believed. Seriously, every source reports something just a little bit different.

Triple Crown

Over in the National League, things are shaping up for quite the month of September in the NL Central.  The Cardinals and the Reds looks set to battle down to the final weekend for the division title, with the victor perhaps propelled by a Triple Crown* winner in either Albert Pujols or Joey Votto.  You would think that MLB would be trying to capitalize on the chase for this rare feat, but their stats page fails miserably.  Take a look:

Why can't I click a button that shows me only the NL leaders?  Then, I could see Joey Votto's smiling face atop the batting average leaders (.326, over Carlos Gonzalez at .320 and Pujols at .319), Pujols grinning as the leader in home runs (33, over Votto's and Adam Dunn's 31), and then Pujols again above the pack in RBI (92, over Votto's 90).  C'mon, MLB - make it easy for me to follow the Triple Crown race!

*I know the Triple Crown race is virtually meaningless, but it would still be a hugely exciting achievement.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fans Scouting Reports

Got a view on the just how good (or average) Adam Jones or Nick Markakis is at defense?  Then let your voice be heard!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Looking Ahead to 2011

Inspired by the Royals Authority, I decided to take at look at what the Orioles can expect in 2011, in terms of WAR.  According to FanGraphs, the 2010 Orioles have posted a mere 10.8 WAR, 29th in baseball (ahead of only Pittsburgh).  At the other end of the spectrum, the Twins (43.3), Red Sox (40.0), Rays (37.2), Yankees (35.7), Giants (35.6), Braves (35.4), Padres (35.0), and Rangers (34.2) show what it takes to be a contender.*

*On the other hand, the Blue Jays (34.0) show just how hard it is to compete in the AL East.  They'd be fighting neck-and-neck in nearly any other division in baseball.

In 2009, both the Yankees (58.4) and Red Sox (52.5) topped 50 wins, while the Red Sox (59.5) and Cubs (51.4) turned the trick in 2008; in 2007, the Red Sox posted 55.9 WAR with Yankees second at 49.7.  (Full results available here; you have to add pitcher and hitter results).  Thus, since the Orioles must build a team capable of being the best in baseball in order to challenge within its own division, the O's need to build a 45 to 50 WAR team in order to compete for a playoff spot out of the American League East.  Can they do that in the near future?  Let's go position by position.

Pos: Projected 2011 Player (2010 WAR, 2009 WAR)

CA: Matt Wieters (1.7, 1.6)  Wieters is a key for the club going forward.  His scouting pedigree and minor league track record suggests a future MVP candidate.  His current Major League production is solid average.  2011 Projection: 2.5 WAR

1B: Nolan Reimold (-0.3, 1.3)  After a very solid offensive debut in 2009, Reimold fell off a cliff in 2010.  I'm inclined to chalk it up to his Achilles injury, and he has been hitting better at Norfolk of late, but September will be a crucial audition for Reimold.  2011 Projection: 1.5 WAR

2B: Brian Roberts (0.3, 3.9)  From 2003 to 2009, Roberts posted win totals of 2.5, 2.4, 6.7, 3.2, 4.7, 4.8 and 3.9.  Then, he suffered a back injury while working out this past off-season and has been slow to return to his former self.  Most ominously, his range in the field looks severely diminished.  Will an off-season lead to further recovery and a return of the B-Rob of old, or is he destined to make laughable his contract extension?  2011 Projection: 2.0 WAR

SS: I have no idea (Cesar Izturis: -0.5, 1.1)  Thanks to a replacement level bat and a good glove, Cesar Izturis posted a postive WAR season in 2009.  His glove has slipped in 2010, making him sub-replacement level.  Given the scarcity of shortstop options likely to be available this off-season, it's tough to project anything more than replacement level for next season.  2011 Projection: 0.0 WAR

3B: Josh Bell (Bell and Miguel Tejada: -0.1, Melvin Mora: 1.2)  Bell clearly has some talent, but he's also looked over-matched in his initial Major League at-bats. 2011 Projection: 1.0 WAR

LF: Felix Pie (-0.2, 1.2)  I'm a big fan of Pie, but I'm unfortunately not sure if its warranted.  He may be just a 4th outfielder, capable of producing in the right spot, but not good enough to merit an every day job.  2011 Projection: 1.0 WAR

CF: Adam Jones (1.6, 1.8)  Another super athletic outfielder with an incredible ability to both amaze and confound.  Sometimes he makes baseball look easy, and then he'll chase three straight down and away sliders and let a double fly over his head in center field.  The whole package is still good, but he always leaves us expecting greatness that I'm not sure will ever be there over the course of entire season.  2011 Projection: 2.0 WAR

RF: Nick Markakis (1.8, 2.2)  Is Nick the guy with the 7% walk rate from 2009 and the second half of 2010, or the 14% walk rate from 2008 and the first half of 2010?  Is his defense above or below average?  Will he ever hit 20 home runs again?  He'll probably never again be the 6.3 WAR player he was in 2008, but can he be a 4.0 win guy over the life of his contract?  For the Orioles to contend, he needs to be.  2011 Aggressive Projection: 4.0 WAR

DH: Luke Scott (2.7, 1.5)  With a career .240 ISO, it's clear the man can hit for power.  He's not a great defender, but he's not a bad one either, grading out just about average in left over the course of his career.  Why the O's refused to let him play first base and instead signed Garrett Atkins I have no idea.  2011 Projection: 2.5 WAR

That's a total of 16.5 WAR from the regular offense.  On to the pitching!

Starting Pitching:
Jeremy Guthrie (1.5, 1.1)  2011 Projection: 1.5 WAR
Brian Matusz (1.8, 0.8)  2011 Projection: 2.0 WAR
Jake Arrieta (0.2)  2011 Projection:  0.5 WAR
Zach Britton (n/a)  2011 Projection:  0.0 WAR
Chris Tillman (0.0, -0.1)  2011 Projection:  0.0 WAR
Brad Bergesen (0.0, 2.3)  2011 Projection:  0.0 WAR

Do you have any better suggestions for how to project the pitching for next year?  Clearly, these individuals are going to have an extremely large variance surrounding their projected outcome.  I think that 2010 Guthrie is about what we can expect from him, while I'm hoping we see more of pound-the-strike-zone Brian Matusz going forward.  As for the others?  Well, maybe Tillman will finally put it all together, and maybe he won't.  Britton could be a left-handed Brandon Webb, or he could be a left-handed Brad Bergesen.  And Brad Bergesen?  Well, I haven't a clue.  Starting pitcher total: 4.0 WAR

It's pretty useless to project a bullpen this far in advance, but with David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Alfredo Simon, and a quite a few other live arms in the organization, Andy MacPhail should be able to piece together a serviceable bullpen.  What's a serviceable bullpen worth?  Well, great relievers are worth 2.0-3.0 WAR, while about 100 individuals have accumulated  a positive WAR value.  As a team, the Orioles 2010 team has posted 1.1 WAR.  On the other hand, a great bullpen properly leveraged can be worth 8.0 wins or more.  Let's give them 3.0 WAR for 2011.

Add it all up and the Orioles project for about 23.5 WAR in 2011.  While clearly far short of our 45 to 50 goal, how many wins is that?  About 70.  Yikes.

So, how can the Orioles break out of this path that they're on?  Clearly, the easiest way is for the starting pitching to develop.  Teams with great pitching pitching staffs can easily earn 15 or more wins from their starters and this group of young pitchers clearly has impressive upside potential.  In our dream world, everyone develops at the same time; let's say there are an additional 10.0 potential WAR (2.0 from Matusz, 2.0 from Arrieta, 3.0 from Britton, and 3.0 from Tillman) on the starting pitching front.  Next, we'll make Buck Showalter a bullpen match-up genius.  Rather than the 3.0 WAR a mere mortal would achieve from the O's bullpen, we'll double that total and make the 'pen worth another 3.0 potential WAR.  Now we're up to 36.5  and  the O's are above .500!  Where can we find another wins?

1) Acquire a quality shortstop.  This won't come cheap, nor will it be easy, but this is the Orioles most glaring hole.  Finding 3.0 WAR at the shortstop position is necessary for our rebuilding program to be a success.  If not, the absolute best glove available should be sought and "for the best" should be hoped.
2) Find the Matt Wieters that left no survivors after batting practice.  Can Wieters be the MVP candidate everyone thought he would become?  He'd add another 2.0 WAR (or more) if he did.
3) Proper use of bench and platoon players.  With Felix Pie, Nolan Reimold and Luke Scott, the Orioles have surprising flexibility to play match-ups and rest regulars.  Add another 1.0 WAR for bench players.
4) This still leaves the O's about 6.0 wins short of being a contender and lacking a stud bat in the middle of the lineup.  Can Adam Jones add a few WAR to his total?  What about Josh Bell; should the O's make a move to acquire a third baseman or first baseman?  Can Brian Roberts bounce back?

While a realistic projection again foretells a losing season for the O's in 2011, the orange-tinted glasses look reveals enough upside on the pitching staff to push the club close to .500.  A further clicking of the ruby orange slippers shows that enough development out of the young hitters could move the club into range to compete with the Blue Jays.  If the team really wants to compete, though, it's going to have to do more than hope everything goes right (hint: it won't) with the existing roster.  There are no stars on this team, and the lack of true top tier talents means that a reasonable ceiling for this club is probably the .500 mark, even if all goes well.  To compete in the AL East, this team needs top shelf talent.  Unfortunately, I don't have many suggestions for Mr. MacPhail when it comes to acquiring that talent.


One thing that drives me crazy is when announcers, writers and analysts bemoan a lack of "consistency."  Usually, the player subject to such comments is actually quite consistent: consistently bad.  In reality, though, this is a completely meaningless comment.  Baseball is a game of binary outcomes.  You either get on base, or you make an out.  You either win, or you lose (and sometimes it rains).  Are you asking for the player to do the same thing every at-bat?  Or post the same aggregate outcome for each game?  And how come consistency is never used with a negative connotation?  So the next time you want to say a player needs to develop some "consistency," please instead use the English language correctly and explain that what you really want is to see positive outcomes on a regular basis.  Of course, it doesn't sound as smart to say "Adam Jones needs to get some hits," does it?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gary Thorne and Stats

If you follow @theorioleway on Twitter, then you know that I'm not exactly a fan of Gary Thorne's play-by-play "analysis."  Just this week, he was amazed by the concept of regression to the mean, and I distinctly remember Thorne praising Cesar Izturis for collecting more hits than any other #9 hitter in baseball.  Well, it turns out that nerds like me aren't the only ones who don't like Thorne.  Take it away, anonymous Baltimore Sun commenter:

Pete, I think they should throw the stats books in the trash. They have ruined the game.
Managers manage more from stats than feel of the game. I do like the fact that Buck is old school in the way he looks at the game. If a pitcher is pitching well, let them pitch. A quality start to me is one we win, period. Who cares if the guy goes eight and looses.
We have guys in the big leagues who don't get to play because they are a left hander against a left hander and if the occasion comes that they do get a start against a left hander and they don't produce immediately, they almost never get another shot.
To me if the guy can play he can play against all types, let 'em play.
The chances of seeing a guy with 300 wins is gone because they aren't around for a late game ralley's or they get pulled for a match up reliever who blows the game. This is an easy game made complicated by stats.
In addition, have you listened to a Gary Thorne broadcast, he spouts stats all game long to the point I want to scream. Who cares if guy hits .300 on days where the sun shines from west instead of the east.
The game is way over analyzed. Just play ball.

Yes, this is why I can't read the Sun.  But I think it's funny that Gary Thorne makes all types of people want to scream.


Don't look now but Nolan Reimold is hitting .327/.500/.500 in August with 16 walks and 9 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances.  His July slash line (.235/.361/.382 driven by a .238 BABIP) isn't much to write home about, but he walked 18 times (against 14 strikeouts) in 122 plate appearances.  The power doesn't look to be all the way back after his season ending injury from last year, but he sure does bring a good approach to the plate.  I'm looking forward to seeing him come back to Baltimore (and play a little first base!) this September.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Inconsistently Consistent Adam Jones

For those missing me, I was in China for two weeks and thus unavailable to comment on the O's.  Of course, the Orioles chose this time period to put together their best stretch of the season, starting the Buck Showalter era 9-2.  I landed in the U.S. on Saturday, and since returning to North American airspace, the O's are 1-3.  I think we all know who is the problem.

While I was overseas, one of the most pleasing developments was Adam Jones' hot hitting.  From July 31 to August 13, he hit .400/.444/.600, a line I'd take any day of the week.  That brought his season line to .282/.318/.452, virtually identical to his current reading (you need only to add a single point to his OBP).  What I find amazing is just how similar that line is to his final 2009 numbers.  Take a look:

Given how poorly Jones started the season (.245/.268/.383 through June 4), I find it pretty impressive that he was able to match last season's numbers. If he can keep his .315/.362/.514 line since that date going, we might very well be seeing Jones become the player everyone anticipated.  If not, well, a .280/.330/.450 line from your centerfielder isn't the worst thing in the world, either.