Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tony Pena has an OPS+ of 3

Orioles fans should at least celebrate that our SS performance wasn't this bad in 2008. Pena has made Luis Hernandez look like Derek Jeter. He's made Freddie Bynum look like Cal Ripken. And so on with the analogies. And the Royals gave this guy, who hasn't ever been a good hitter, over 200 PA this season.

Frank O'Rourke of the 1912 Braves has the worst OPS+ (-11) of any player with at least 200 PA due to his .122/.177/.148. The thing is, O'Rourke was just 17 at the time, and though he would have a long, if not distinguished, major league career, he didn't step foot onto a major league field again until 1917 when he was 22. In fact he played in fewer than 100 games total from 1913 through 1920.In fact, O'Rourke was the last guy to get that much time in the batter's box while putting up an OPS+ of less than 5. You can even bump that number up to 10, and it's still O'Rourke.

You'd probably suspect that even the Royals can't be so inept that they can't find anyone better than Pena. And they're not. As Pena moved to the bench, the Royals have used 27-year-old rookie Mike Aviles who has hit .333 with 7 HR and 24 two baggers in just 80 games. That's not bad. Aviles isn't this good, although he did hit to the tune of a 1.001 OPS at Omaha (albeit in his third PCL stint) and has an .802 career MiL OPS.

But let's discuss the O's SS situation. It's bad. Ugly. Putrid. To the tune of a .213/.250/.274 line (five of the other eight positions have a higher average than that slugging percentage).

Now everyone already knows that, and not much has changed. Juan Castro is now the no questions asked starter after Alex Cintron returned and embarassed himself (even by Orioles' SS standards) and he's actually hit the only two HR by an Orioles SS this season. It's the small victories that drive Orioles fans.

It's easy to tell MacPhail to fix this problem. . .but Fix This Problem Andy MacPhail.

Things aren't getting any prettier on the pitching front. Radhames Liz and Garrett Olson are back in the rotation and getting smacked around like cheap hookers. Their brief respites in Triple A didn't do much for their woes. Chris Waters is still chugging along, showing why he was still in the minors at his advanced age. Lance Cormier made a start this week, and didn't pitch poorly at all. Brian Burres is back. Bryan Bass is here. Fernando Cabrera is out. Rocky Cherry ought to be.

Dennis Sarfate moved back to the pen and has struck out 16 in 11.2 innings since exiting the rotation. He's taken on a bit of a different role, pitching more than an inning in all six of his appearances since moving back to the pen, including three of two or more innings. Still can't throw strikes, but who can?

Not the Orioles. The pitching reached a new low by walking in five runs last night against the Athletics. Kam Mickolio was a big offender there, endearing himself to no one. The Orioles might need another 6-9 righthander if they get rid of Cabrera, a role that Mickolio can certainly fill. Upside for Mickolio: 3 of 4 outs have come via a K. Downside: his WHIP is over 5.00.

The pitching staff is DEAD LAST in the AL in K, BB, and HR. As in worst, less good than every other staff that has taken the field in the AL this season. Has that ever happened? My research, which was limited to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and the 1930 Phillies, says that it hasn't. It probably has though, just by simple probability, right?

Somehow the Rangers still have a worse ERA, even adjusting for parks. Of course the Rangers also have some 2007 Devil Rays mojo going on with a terrible, terrible defense (.668 DER). They've got a dozen more errors than the next worst team. Are the Rangers glad they signed Michael Young to that big deal now? He can't hit at this point, and he never could field. Hell, Young never really was any thing great as a hitter beyond one terrific year and a bunch of seasons where he piled up 200 hits and an all-star appearance.

Adam Jones is back, which is one of the few reasons to keep watching. Unfortunately besides a longball in his first game back, he's been bad at just 1-14. Jones always looks to be a guy who gives 110% so I'm hoping that this isn't a situation where he pushes himself too quickly just to get back on the field. I don't think that's the case; I don't think the Orioles would allowed one of their prized pieces to be jeopardized by that. But it's a nagging fear for me, one that admittedly has been influenced by his slow start since returning.

DRAFT WATCH - 9th pick, 63-77.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh Hello There

-Melvin Mora is trying to get us all to forget how epically lousy he's been for awhile with an absolutely torrid stretch (.413/.445/.738 [!!] in 137 PA) since the All-Star Break. His line is now at a pretty damn good .283/.341/.485 with 20 HR and 91 RBI. Predictive ability: nearly none, but right now Mora is doing his best to earn his salary.

-The offense is absolutely exploding. They've scored 10 already tonight against Clay Buchholz (take your no-hitter and shove it) and the Red Sox with an out in the fourth to storm back from a 4-0 deficit to take a 10-4 lead. I even spoke too soon on Mora as he hit a HR and has three RBI.

The Birds also had games of 11 and 16 runs over the weekend against the Tigers (including a game where the team got 30 men on base), games of 11 and 8 last weekend against the Indians, and two games of 9 and a game of 7 runs last weekend against the Rangers. It's the 7th time in 32 games since the All-Star Break with double digit runs scored.

-The Sarfate as starter experiment is mercifully over. He had a 10.34 ERA over 4 starts, averaging less than four innings per start and walking 14 batters. That's about all you can really say.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cal Ripken, 1983

One of the things I'm looking to do long-term is to calculate WAR for every Oriole season ever. Considering that I'm in the (very) preliminary stages of this, it's going to be a long while (if ever) before I really get down to doing it. Part of the problem is my lack of skill in doing these things where database skills are imperative. The other part is simply deciding what exactly is *the* best way of doing it, meaning which data sources do I use.

As sort of a sanity check, I decided to start with 1983 Cal Ripken. This was, of course, his first MVP season. He had won the Rookie of the Year in '82, but this probably would have been the season where he truly broke out. It was also his first full season at shortstop.

First what I did was to figure his batting runs above average. There were a few ways to do this. I could just look at bb-ref and take their word for it at +40.2 runs. Fangraphs is another option for the lazy, and they check in with an estimate of +32.68. Call it +32.7?

The first one is nice because it adjusts for park. The second one is nice because it changes its run values based on base/out state rather than using a static estimator for the value of a single, double, etc.

I could also recalculate it on my own using a more advanced linear weights formula derived from Base Runs that uses custom weights for each team and year that models the actual run scoring of a particular team. Those weights, as with many more good things, can be found on tangotiger's site. The down side of this estimate - +37.39 - is that while it is more "exact", it is also more context specific - two players on different teams with the same batting events in the same run environment will have different values based on the hitters around them.

So in the end I decided to stick with the +40.2 value found on bb-ref. And not because that was most favorable to Cal.

Next is fielding. I'm using Sean Smith's TotalZone system because it's both the most thorough and the most transparent zone-based historical fielding system that I know exists. He rates Rip at +9 runs with an additional +1.6 on turning the double play, for a total of +10.6 defensively.

Now position. I usually use a position adjustment based on defense (so that we don't assume average 2B = average SS = average LF), but I don't have much confidence in what those numbers should be in 1983 when there was an even larger offensive gap at SS. Luckily Tom Ruane has me covered with his awesome chart which puts the average SS in the 1983 AL at -0.018 run/PA. Taking this and multiplying it by 726 PA gives Rip at staggering +13.1 for position.

RunsAboveAverage = offense+defense+position = 40.2 + 10.6 + 13.1 = +63.9

64 runs. Better than average. Holy Cow, are you kidding me?

Lets sprinkle in an extra +22.5 (a guess, but a good one) for replacement level to put Cal at +86.4 above replacement level. Now use 10.5 runs per win (a guess, but a good one) to convert from runs to win and Cal is at 8.23 WAR.

If I actually continue on with this project, I would think that his 1984 and 1991 seasons would be the only seasons from an Orioles hitter that could touch this one, but I could be wrong. This is a peak level Albert Pujols season. Maybe better. The only qualification is whether our defensive numbers are close to correct. Baseball Prospectus' FRAA has him at +24, and of course we know what his reputation would tell you his fielding was worth back as 22 year old kid. But even if we're wrong and he's -11, making him one of the lesser fielders in the league, he's still up above 6 WAR.

Baseball Prospectus has him at 13 WARP. Great season, but even this one didn't net the Orioles 13 wins.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bradford Traded to Rays

Chad Bradford was moved to the Rays today for a Player to Be Named Later. It was an interesting move, and Andy MacPhail had this to say today (Baltimore Sun):
It's no surprise he was attractive to a team that's in first place. We just felt going forward it would give us an opportunity for some others in our organization who have some upside to get a look over the rest of '08 and '09. I think we have that guy [a right-handed setup reliever] in our system, and I'm going to need to fill some other needs, so I can use the dough.
MacPhail may have sold another bill of goods to someone and will actually get a good return for Bradford. More likely, MacPhail realized that the $4.5M owed to Bradford over the next season and a half was greater than his value to the club. Given his comments, that seems to be the likely conclusion, and if so, good for MacPhail not being fooled into thinking that Bradford's 2.45 ERA made him irreplaceable. I was mildly critical of MacPhail after he failed to make a move by the non-waiver trading deadline, but even a small move like this reassures me that he still has his priorities in order. Well done.

One possibility to sure up the bullpen with Bradford going south is Kam Mickolio, a 24 year old obtained from Seattle in the Bedard trade. He's pitched 51.2 innings between Bowie and Norfolk with 54 K and 26 BB and a good number of GB (57%). He seems to be highly thought of so it will be interesting if he gets the call.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sweet Lou

Lou Montanez made the most of his debut today as the starting LF going 2-4 with a single and a homer, picking up right where he left off in Bowie. It's imperative that he be given a shot at regular playing time in the next two months, but I'm not sure if I see that happening. Montanez made a fielding error that turned a Mark Teixeira double into a triple, and I doubt that will give Diamond Dave any confidence in letting Montanez start games in CF in place of the injured Adam Jones. I'm assuming that Jay Payton will be there nearly every night.

Trembley juggled the lineup a bit today by sitting Melvin Mora, shifting Aubrey Huff to third, and giving DH responsibilities to Luke Scott. Hopefully if he doesn't trust Montanez in CF (and I'm not sure that he should), Trembley will continue to make an effort to start Montanez four or five days a week by rotating days off for Mora, Huff, and Scott.

I was right yesterday about Chris Waters. He is the new Dave Borkowski or Eric Dubose! The Dave Borkowski that took a shutout into the ninth in his Orioles' debut or the Dubose that pitched to a 3.79 ERA as a part-time starter in 2003, that is. Waters pitched eight innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit the whole night in a 3-0 win. He's either a poor-man's Brian Burres or a poor-man's Garrett Olson in the long run, so enjoy his good starts while they last.

Markakis hit his 16th HR today off of Ervin Santana. He's good at baseball. So very good.

Wieters Watch

Bowie played a morning game with an 11:05 start time today, and Matt Wieters going 1-3 with 2 BB and his 32nd RBI in 39 games with Bowie. On Tuesday night against Binghamton, Wieters went 1-4 with a single. He's now at .362/.464/.606 for Bowie on the season and .351/.454/.587 on the season.

Prospect guru John Sickels calls Wieters the best prospect in baseball here.

Also in today's game at Bowie, Nolan Reimold went 2-4 with two singles to raise his numbers for the season to .289/.363/.498 at Bowie. As I've said before, he should certainly be in line for a call up to the majors.

Brandon Erbe had a huge night for Frederick last night, combining with two other pitchers on a no-hitter against Salem. Erbe went the first six innings and struck out seven while walking three and hitting two batters. It's the third start this year where Erbe has allowed no runs and either one or zero hits. Erbe has had trouble with the HR ball this year, but if he can keep the ball out of the air a bit more, he's going to have a really strong career.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jones done, Montanez up

The story on Adam Jones' injury is that he's now on the DL [Roch] and likely out for the season. Luis Montanez will take his place on the roster getting a well-deserved call up after hitting .335/.385/.601 in Bowie this season with 26 HR. My impression is that he's, at best, better suited for a corner OF spot and, at worse, a poor defender, but here's hoping Diamond Dave Trembley will run him out there every day in CF so that the team can see if his bat will play in the majors. I don't see it happening.

Chris Waters starts tonight! He's basically Dave Borkowski, Eric Dubose, Kurt Birkins or any other random AAA non prospect the Orioles have used this decade so it's not really worth me breaking down his numbers. Act II of Dennis Sarfate as The Starter bombed miserably last night in Anaheim, but this time there were no redeeming Well Ifs. Hopefully Hayden Penn will be up soon.

Wieters Watch

Oh Matthew, you sly dog. He went 1-4 with a BB and HR last night to up his Bowie line to .367/.465/.625. He continues to tempt the OPS GODS by hovering near that mythical 1.100 barrier, ready to break through. For good measure Wieters has a 23/17 BB/K ratio in AA.

Jerome Hoes! Dude (.327/.459/.449) is now the official Sleeper Prospect of Orioles Outsider until such time as he bombs in Aberdeen. LJ is 6th in the GCL in OPS, 1st in walks, and 9th in batting average. Not bad. 18 year old Dominican Garabez Rosa is hitting .336 with 3 HR although you'd like to see more than one walk against 15 K.

Brad Bergesen won his 15th game of the year on Saturday (14th in Bowie). I'm sure not big on wins or even Bergesen, but 15-4, 2.62 is a gaudy line for a 22 year old in AA.

Evaluating Teixeira

The fans in Baltimore love Mark Teixeira. They want to see Mark Teixeira come home and have almost since the day he was taken by the Texas Rangers in the 2001 first round, two picks before the O's would have had the chance to select him. The fans, or at least a large portion of them, think money should be no object in bringing back the hometown hero.

And they might be right. You won't see me crying if the O's "overpay" to get Teixeira in orange and black. But what is he worth? To establish what qualifies as an overpay, we must answer that question first.

Teixeira is a great hitter. A simple average of his batting runs over the past three seasons has him at +31 with the bat. His current in-season MARCEL has him at +38, but that number is a bit high because the monkey doesn't know about park adjustments. Let's call him +30 offensively though even factoring in a bit of regression, that may be conservative.

Defense plus position is next. Teixeira is a good defender. UZR sees him as a total of +15 runs above the average 1B from '05 to mid '07, above average every season. John Dewan's +/- also likes Teixeira to the tune of +15 plays in total, or about +12 runs. Let's give him a +2, then subtract 9 for position so that Tex becomes -7 as a defensive player relative to all players.

So our total projection becomes +24 runs above average (relative to all players) for 2009. Now add in the estimate that the average player is about 20 runs better than replacement, and you've got Tex now as +44 runs above replacement or about 4.4 WAR. What's next? Well, we can use Tango's salary chart found here. First we have to factor in inflation in the free agent market which bumps these values up by about 10% for the 2009 season.

That means that fair value in the free agent market for Tex is something like 7/129M, 8/138M, or 9/143 given that he's a 4.5 WAR player today. Scott Boras apparently seems to want to set the price at 10/230M which means that a team is paying him to be a 6 WAR player. Even the most generous analysis suggests this is well above where Teixeira should be valued and any team that pays such a contract will likely have grossly overestimated his worth.

But at the same time, none of those "fair" contracts seem like what we would expect the premier free-agent hitter, who also happens to be a Boras client, to get for a long-term free agent contract. Of course this analysis was far from sophisticated, and it may be that a rigorous, theoretically solid projection system would value him at 5.0 WAR in which case anything from 7/151M to 10/180M seem like reasonable free agent contracts.

If the Orioles pay him more will it be a bad move? That depends, as there are assuredly some positive externalities above and beyond his on-field value (e.g. his popularity in Baltimore) which could generate enough revenue to absorb some of the surplus salary. On the other hand, paying fair market value for wins is not always optimal in that wins may also be accrued for less than a cost of 4.9M per WAR. Either way I'm hoping to see Teixeira in an Orioles' uniform next season.

**EDIT** I should be using a lower replacement level for comparison to account for the differences in quality between the NL and the NL. In this case about +2.3 WAR for an average player would be appropriate meaning Tex would be about 4.7 WAR. In that case it really becomes easy to say that paying for either 4.5 WAR or 5.0 WAR is the right salary.