Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adrian Beltre

Last winter, Adrian Beltre didn't like the options he had for signing a long-term contract and instead signed a 1-year deal with the Boston Red Sox for $9 million (plus a player option he's sure to decline).  In their excellent contract crowdsourcing series, FanGraphs took up his free agent case today.  The result: 4 years/$13 million per.  At that price, the Orioles should absolutely pursue Beltre for a long-term deal.  The club has no clear cut option for anyone on the left side of the infield (if Josh Bell succeeds in 2011 I'll happily eat those words), and the club could really use a right-handed hitter capable of hitting for some pop.  No, he doesn't bring the on-base skills this club really needs, but he sure does bring the glove.  He's probably a 3-win player, making the $13 million annual value appropriate, and he would fill a much needed hole for the O's.  This would be a good signing.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Craft Beer

The Sun website picked up a Chicago Tribune article on craft beer today, entitled "Craft beer market draws attention of big breweries".  There's nothing new in there (it could have easily been written in 2005, only without the focus on recession), but there is one epic fail: there's not a single quote from a craft brewer!  The writer quotes PR people from Diageo, Tenth & Blake (MillerCoors), and several industry publication sources, but fails to talk to anyone from the other side of the story (have you ever met a craft brewer not willing to talk?).  Sigh.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Last weekend, Alewife opened about 0.4 miles north of Gate H at Camden Yards. Always on the lookout for great beer, especially within a short walk of the ballpark, I thought I better check it out.  It was well worth the trip.

As anyone who visited the building in its former incarnation as Maggie Moore's or Lucy's can attest, Alewife is an impressive bar space.  High ceilings, ample seating, beautiful stained glass windows; it's tough to imagine a better setting for a drink.  And, speaking of drink, Alewife aims to please.  The bar has 40 draft lines and, once they're fully up and running, will stock more than 100 different bottles.  If they regularly pour a draft lineup anywhere near as good as their debut efforts, though, that bottle list will be superfluous.  After much consternation, I decided to try a Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanco ($8) and a Smuttynose Big A IPA ($5), both new to me.  Other options included beers from Oscar Blues, Bear Republic, Green Flash, Stone, and Victory, several Belgians, and a healthy selection of IPAs (hops seem to be the owners' Achilles heel).  I chatted with a knowledgeable bartender, Brian, who explained that the beer list will change regularly, with one or two taps changing on a daily basis that so every two to three weeks nearly the entire list will turnover, keeping the beer fresh and regulars from getting bored.  There are also plans in the works to regularly put casks on the bar, but a permanent pump system is unlikely.  As for food, I really enjoyed my Smoke Burger ($14).  The beef was of very high quality and actually cooked to order (medium), while the gruyere, gouda and bacon topping was a divine combination.  Oh, and did I mention the rosemary garlic duck fat fries?  Fantastic.  I can't wait to go back and try the Cubano ($12).

Two early criticisms I've seen of Alewife are 1) a lack of local beer and 2) bartenders who weren't beer geeks.  As to the first, while Flying Dog Pale Ale was the only Maryland beer on tap, I would certainly define Victory and Dogfish as local brews.  Heavy Seas is sure to make an appearance in the rotation, and, hopefully, Troegs and Stoudts will soon follow.  Personally, it doesn't matter to me if there are only one or two Maryland options at any given time since local beer has become fairly ubiquitous (at least at the places I visit).  At a place with a draft list like Alewife, I like to branch out and try new things.  However, I certainly think local beer needs to have a strong presence; treating the locals guys right will only benefit the business.  Guys like Hugh Sisson and Steve Jones are tremendous advocates for craft beer and the local beer scene, and showcasing their products is important.

As for the second, I had no problems with my two bartenders.  Before Alewife opened, the owners sponsored a two week intensive seminar for all the bar and wait staff where they tasted more than 200 beers across two full weeks of training, and the research seems to have paid off.  The staff could certainly explain broad style differences between beers, and while I didn't test for intricate knowledge of subtle differences between the Belgian brews, I was offered a sample of the two IPAs I was trying to choose between.  Aside from perhaps the beer geekiest of craft drinkers, I can't imagine most people needing more technical knowledge from their barkeep.

Of course, I've largely ignored the elephant in the room when it comes to Alewife: location.  The bar is gorgeous, the draft list impressive, and the food delicious.  But will all that be enough to draw in paying customers?  I certainly hope so, and I'm optimistic.  In recent months, several new (albeit lunch focused) restaurants have opened in the same block, and this area is the focus of an incredible (after accounting for the recession) amount of new commercial investment; plus, the new owners are saying all the right things about being committed to the neighborhood's renaissance.  During the day, there are plenty of office and hospital workers, plus students from several schools, in the area, but will those people stick around for happy hour or trek back on a Saturday night?  Special events--like the upcoming October 1 Stone Brewing event--should help.  Still, while there are countless reasons, from poor cash flow management to bad food, that restaurants fail, it is an ominous sign that both Maggie Moore's and Lucy's didn't make it in the same location.  Let's hope the third time is the charm, because Alewife is an excellent addition to the Baltimore beer scene.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Felix Pie and Terry Crowley

Felix Pie, via The Baltimore Sun, talking about Terry Crowley: "The Felix Pie that everybody sees right now, that is because this guy made that person."  And later, Terry Crowley on Felix Pie: "He’s shown us that he can hit for an average, and he’s shown us that he’s got power."

Felix Pie has a .304 OBP and a 4.1% walk rate in 2010.  In 2009, he walked 8.5% of the time.  In his short Cubs career, he walked 8.4% of the time.  Across parts of 8 minor league seasons, he walked 7.4% of the time.  Note that Terry didn't say "He's shown us that he can get on base."  I like Felix, and I think he can still become a good player.  But has he really made the kind of progress that is a good thing to attribute to the hitting coach?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Matt Wieters Facts

On May 29, 2009, Baltimore though the future had arrived when one of baseball's top prospects, complete with is own facts page, made his Major League debut.  Unfortunately, a bit more than a year later, that future still looked bleak.  On June 19, 2010, Matt Wieters completed a third consecutive 0-for-4, dropping his career line to .263/.318/.377 in 625 plate appearances over 158 games.  His 2010 line was a woeful .222/.283/.321, hardly worthy of his survivor-free batting practice sessions.  In a season where nearly everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, Wieters' failures were among the most frustrating for Orioles fans.

Just in case you gave up at that bleakest of moments, I'm here to rekindle your faith.  Here is the line that Matt has posted since June 20: .299/.383/.494 with 19 extra base hits (12 doubles, a triple, and 6 homers), 25 walks and just 26 strike outs in 193 plate appearances.  Small sample size, yes, but for a prospect with his pedigree, these numbers cannot be ignored.  Let's dig a little deeper into Wieters early career.

First and foremost, let's examine Wieters approach at the plate.  In 2009 and the first half of 2010 (which I'll designate herein as ending June 19), Matt was overmatched.  He struck out in 22.1% of his plate appearances, and walked about one third as much (7.4%).  When he did make contact, it usually wasn't very authoritative; he knocked extra base hits in just 5.9% of his plate appearances.  FanGraphs doesn't break out plate discipline numbers intra-season (at least, I don't know how to do that), but in 2009, Wieters swung at 70.2% of pitches  in the strike zone (above the league average of 66.0%), and he made contact on just 83.4% of those swings (below the league average of 87.8%).  Combined, Matt was swinging at at 47.2% of the pitches he saw, 190 basis points over the league average rate of 45.3%.

Now, though, Wieters doesn't look anything like the same hitter.  He's lowered his strike out percentage markedly (13.5% since June 20), and raised his walk rate to nearly match it (13.0%).  The contact he makes is much more solid: 9.8% of the time he's poked an extra base hit.  Even his full 2010 plate discipline numbers have improved.  His in the strike zone swing percentage has dipped (to 60.7%; league average is 64.4%), and he's making contact at above average rates (91.5% of the time in the strike zone; league average is 88.2%).  Rather than swinging more than most hitters, Matt is now more selective, swinging 43.2% of the time (below the league average of 45.6%).

Wieters' full 2010 season line is also a bit deceiving in that he is likely the victim of a bit of bad luck in the BABIP department.  Plugging in his 2010 season totals, I calculate his xBABIP as .318.  Adjusting his line (by adding 9 singles and 2 doubles) to reflect these additional 0.028 BABIP points turns him into a .283/.353/.429 hitter for the season.  Importantly, his hot streak since June 20 has been built on the back of a .316 BABIP, a number right in line with his career total and his xBABIP calculation.

So, what's the takeaway?  Well, it sure looks to me like Matt Wieters has successfully adjusted to Major League pitching.  He's striking out less, walking more, and being more selective at the plate.  His recent hot streak is absolutely not driven by luck in the BABIP department.  Combined with his prospect pedigree, there is every indication that this turnaround is real.  The Orioles now have the stud catcher we were all expecting.