Tuesday, April 19, 2011


While the Orioles may not have any top-notch prospects in the upper levels of the minor leagues, it looks like Delmarva may have a number of solid talents this season. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus wrote about Jonathan Schoop today:

Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Orioles (Low-A Delmarva): 2-for-4, HR (2), RRBI, K
"In a system very low on prospects, Schoop entered the year as the No. 6 prospect following an impressive showing in the Appy League, but he was slid from shortstop to third base (where his tools profile better) to accommodate 2010 first-round pick Manny Machado, and suddenly the Orioles have one of the more impressive left sides of an infield in Low-A. A 19-year-old native a Curacao, Schoop has good defensive fundamentals, a plus arm and burgeoning power, and is now hitting .326/.396/.605 in 11 games while become one of my better non-Top 101 sleepers of the early season."
Looks like I need to take a trip across the Bay Bridge this summer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Outfield Defense

This is an interesting piece by Howard Megdal on outfield defense in left and right field (HT: Rob Neyer) for the New Yorks Mets, and one that may also be applicable to the Orioles. Nick Markakis has a reputation among fans and the media as being excellent defensively, but I suspect most scouts (and certainly the defensive numbers) would say he has perhaps average range and a very good arm. Felix Pie may be the opposite in left field, while Luke Scott is a bit below average on both counts.

Neyer notes that if  more balls are hit to left field than to right field (a right handed batter pull bias) then it stands to reason that left field defense would be more important than right field defense. That may well be true, but I'll suggest one more reason: left field is inherently more difficult than right field. In my experience, it is much easier to pick up the flight of a ball hit by a right handed hitter in right field than it is in left field (reverse that for left handed batters). With more right handed batters than left handers, this difference does suggest that the outfielder capable of getting better reads should play left field.

There are, of course, a few other issues that we might consider:
1) Who has a stronger arm? This is certainly important; throwing is more important in right field than in left.
2) Are there any ballpark specific factors that affect the decision? For instance, right field in Camden Yards, with its high wall, grounds crew viewing zone, and tricky corner, may be more difficult than left field.
3) How do the day's starting pitcher and opposing line-up project batted balls? Perhaps with left-hander on the mound against a right-handed heavy line-up a manager should place more emphasis on left field defense.

If Nick Markakis is one of your two corner outfielders, then it certainly makes sense to play him in right field; his arm is his most valuable defensive attribute. If, however, you're going to give Nick a day off and are trying to decide which corner should by manned by Luke Scott and which by Felix Pie, perhaps the counterintuitive but correct response would be to play Scott in right. Anyone have some data?

First Place!

The Orioles got off to a 4-0 start and are an impressive 6-3 after facing the Rays, Tigers and Rangers to open the season. The ballpark has shown signs of life, and the Orioles are the talk of the town. So why am I not more excited? Because the fundamentals don't support the hot start. To wit:

The offense (all numbers coming in to games of 4/11, league ranks in parentheses):
Team OBP: .282 (12th)
Team SLG: .348 (10th)
Team Runs: 35 (9th)
RISP: .360/.424/.720

The Orioles offense has scored more runs than its OBP and SLG would suggest because they've compensated by doing an excellent job of driving in those few runners that do reach scoring position. Based on the team-wide .243 BAbip (.400 with RISP), I would expect a bit better performance in general but with less clutchiness and for this to be a roughly league average offense.

And the pitching:
Team K/9: 6.2 (10th)
Team BB/9: 3.6 (9th)
Team HR/9: 1.1 (9th)
Team Runs Allowed: 32 (4th)

Much like the offense, the pitching is outperforming its peripheral numbers. Why? A .234 BAbip allowed. I'm willing to bet that number finishes closer to .300 than .234 (above .267). The young staff absolutely has some upside to it, but the aggregate numbers don't suggest much staff-wide improvement yet. And before you say "But the defense is much improved!," the BAbip for the 1970 O's (with Brooks, Mark Belanger, Davey Johnson, Don Buford, Merv Rettenmund and Paul Blair) was .264.

I would like nothing more than to see this O's club make a run at contention, but so far, nothing has dissuaded me that this is still a .500 team with the same odd roster construction and personnel decisions we all scratched our heads over earlier this spring.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nolan Reimold Goes to Norfolk

One of this spring's most intriguing roster battles was over the 4th outfielder spot between Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. In reality, however, the decision was a no brainer: Pie, capable of playing center field and out of options, won the job over Reimold despite Nolan's much better offensive performance this spring. Reimold's fate was likely sealed the day Vlad inked his $8mm deal to wear the black and orange, cementing Luke Scott, Derek Lee, and Vlad into the LF, 1B, and DH slots for the Opening Day roster. This has been a point of contention for many observers that would prefer to see Reimold get his everyday at-bats in Baltimore instead of Norfolk. While I agree that signing Vlad was a poor decision by the organization, I'm not especially worried that Reimold will miss out on much valuable development time in 2011, for several reasons.

First, Nolan was pretty terrible last year. He hit .207/.282/.328 in 131 MLB plate appearances and .249/.364/.374 across 401 for the Tides. Of course, his poor performance may well have been due to lingering effects from his 2009 Achilles surgery; the solid plate discipline figures and lack of power are certainly consistent with that story. He has looked better in Spring Training this year, but nothing in his performance last year suggests he should have been handed a Major League job this spring.

Next, I fear that Nolan Reimold has become a bit overrated. In 2009, he hit .279/.365/.466 in 411 MLB plate appearances, good for a 118 wRC+ (wOBA+ adjusted for league and park). Among MLB leftfielders with at least 300 plate appearances, that was good for a tie for 18th. That's a nice line and guy you're happy to have in the lineup, but the bar for being an above average hitter in left or at first base is set really high. For 2011, ZiPS has Reimold projected for a 103 wRC+, well below average for the position. Even in 2009, Reimold was good for just 1.2 WAR in 104 games, or about 1.8 per 150 games. Given his minor league numbers, a repeat of his 2009 season is probably on the slightly optimistic side of likely. At 27, there's likely not much more development left; he is what he is.

Finally, as the 2010 Orioles showed, depth is a good thing for an organization to have. What are the chances that Luke Scott (128 games in 2009, 131 games in 2010), Vladimir Guerrero (100, 152), Adam Jones (119, 149) and Derek Lee (141, 148) all avoid the DL? I'm guessing they aren't very high. What if Luke Scott really struggles against lefties (.325 career OBP)? Do I think the Orioles should have signed Vlad? No. But given the very high level of uncertainty surrounding Reimold's abilities and health, bringing in another player for LF, 1B or DH was not at all unreasonable; unfortunately, that player should have been someone eminently able to be cut or sent to Norfolk if Reimold proved his health this spring.

Still, I think that if Reimold heads to Norfolk, proves he's healthy and has rekindled his power stroke, he won't be in AAA for long. Whether it's because of an injury in Baltimore, a desire to evaluate at the MLB level, or even if he just forces the club's hand, there are plenty of at-bats to go around. Days off, platoons, injuries; for left field, first base, and DH, there will be about 2,000 plate appearances this year, and they can be filled many different ways. I wouldn't be surprised if Nolan Reimold gets four or five hundred of them.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Arbitration and Free Agency

First up, two definitions:

When is a player eligible for salary arbitration?
A player with three or more years of service, but less than six years, may file for salary arbitration. In addition, a player can be classified as a "Super Two" and be eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service. A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.

When is a player eligible for free agency?
A player with six or more years of Major League service who has not executed a contract for the next season is eligible to become a free agent.

In the 2011 season, there are 182 days (March 31 through September 28). For every day a player is on the active roster or disabled list, he accrues one day of service time; in any given season, a player cannot earn more than one year of service time. One full year of service is defined as 172 days, however, a player who is optioned to the minors for less than 20 days receives credit for a full year of service. This year, Day 20 is April 19. Zach Britton could pitch in Baltimore on April 20 and the Orioles would gain one extra year of club control before he is granted free agency. Since the O's are likely to control Britton's innings pretty tightly this year (he threw 153.1 last season), he'd likely be the 5th starter. Buck probably won't send his 5th starter to the mound until April 10, and then again on the 16th. The number five slot comes due again on Thursday, April 21, at which point Britton could pitch in the big leagues, having missed a mere two starts, and the O's will gain one extra season of control. I'm hoping to do the math sometime this week (been really busy), but that seems like a really great trade to me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Erik Bedard

I'm super late to this, but a few weeks ago, Heath (@DempseysArmy) and I got into a bit of a Twitter spat with Matt Gardner about Erik Bedard. Short story: Matt called Bedard lazy, we said he was hurt, but awesome. Matt responded with an allegation that Bedard told O's (I think) minor league pitching coach Scott McGregor that he would throw 100 pitches or 6 innings, whichever came first. I can't find any link to this, but that, of course doesn't mean it didn't happen (Matt obviously heard this from somewhere). Setting aside whether or not he actually said this, Bedard did not face this limitation in 2006 or 2007 (the two years he was mostly healthy and largely excellent).  Those links above are to his game logs.

2006: 24 of 33 starts with more than 100 pitches, with five of 110 or more in June, July and August.
2007: 21 of 28 starts with more than 100 pitches (one with 120), including 105, 109, 112, 115, 114, 113, 104 and 116 in his final 8 starts of the season, after which he got hurt and didn't pitch again for the Orioles. In that last start, he allowed 5 walks, struck out just 3, and gave up 6 ER in only 6 innings. Was he hurt then?

Mr. Bedard certainly did not have a sterling reputation among the fans and the media; I have no idea what other players thought of him. Regardless of that reputation, though, when Bedard was healthy he took the ball and pitched. Perhaps so much for a 69-93 Orioles team in 2007 that he's thrown just 164 Major League inning since.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Five Reasons for Optimism

I'm back! Just one more class to go in my MBA career, and then maybe I'll have a bit more time to devote to the blog on a regular basis.

Matt Vensel today posted "Five reasons for Orioles optimism in 2011". Spring is obviously the season for optimism, but these are some pretty pessimistic optimistic indicators. Running through Matt's reasons:

5. A lineup without holes: This is largely true, in so much as they now have 9 position players absolutely worthy of regular at-bats in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, it's also a lineup without much upside. Take a look through the Camden Crazies projections for this season; lots of guys with about 2.0 WAR. And now look at the ages of those regulars:

Matt Wieters, 25; Derrek Lee, 35; Brian Roberts, 33; Mark Reynolds, 27; JJ Hardy, 28; Luke Scott, 33; Adam Jones, 25; Nick Markakis, 27; Vlad Guerrero, 36.

Aside from Adam Jones (1800 career plate appearances) and Matt Wieters (900 plate appearances), no one else will play this season at an age where we can reasonably expect an improvement on their established level of performance. While I do think we'll see better numbers from Matt Wieters, Adam Jones has enough plate appearances now that it is difficult to expect big steps forward. Frankly, looking at that lineup is kind of depressing if you want the Orioles to build any sort of sustainable legitimate playoff contender.

4. Vlad the Impaler: Daniel covers this one ably. And as even Matt points out, he only hit 9 homers after the break last year.

3. The relative health of Roberts: I thought this was a post about optimism? Brian has already missed time in camp this spring with a strained neck, and the health of a balky backed 33-year old middle infielder seems much more like it belongs on a "worries" list.

2. The most interesting manager in the world: I like Buck, I really do. But if you're banking on the manager to take your club from 66 wins to the promised land, I hope your down payment on playoff tickets is refundable.

1. The young starting rotation: This is one with which I largely agree. I'm driving the Brian Matusz bandwagon, and I still harbor optimism that Chris Tillman can figure things out if only the organization will leave him alone in the Majors for a few months. I think Arrieta and Bergesen are both the type of arms that good organizations should turn out regularly, and I'm tremendously excited for Zach Britton. Guthrie isn't young, but he's still cheap and has proven to be a very valuable innings muncher.

In conclusion, this is a team that can reasonably be expected to make a run at .500, which, considering the miserableness of the past few years, is certainly a step forward but hardly anything to get excited about. The young pitching, however, really does have some upside. If there are legitimate reasons for optimism, they are on the mound.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2011 Ticket Prices

Despite setting a record low for attendance in 2010, the Orioles are raising ticket prices.

“We believe that the average increase of $3 per ticket is not going to negatively impact someone’s decision to buy, although we recognize no one ever wants to pay more for anything. We certainly understand that point,” Bader said.

Perhaps I should draw him a demand curve.