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.

Monday, August 4, 2008

O's take two from Mariners

The Birds are suddenly winning road games, taking two of three from the Mariners after taking two of three from the Yankees. They also finally got some good starting pitching as Garrett Olson went into the ninth on Friday and Jeremy Guthrie pitched a complete game on Saturday (with help from a HR saving catch from Jay Payton). Friday night was a weird game with the Mariners being shut out until the ninth when they scored five runs. They wound up with 15 hits on the night, but all of them were singles. That's the first time since 2004 a team has had that many hits without getting an extra base hit. Nice.

Danny Cabs allowed seven runs for the third time in four starts. That's. . .well, that's not at all good, folks. The game was tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh with Cabrera still on the mound but he got no men out while loading the bases. Jamie Walker came in and the flood gates opened, thanks in part to an error by Alex Cintron.

Adam Jones is apparently injured. Not cool. Pacman was replaced by Jay Payton on Sunday. The worst thing might be that Jones being out means Payton's rotting carcass won't be cut although it would presumably open up an outfield spot for Luis Montanez or Nolan Reimold.

Wieters Watch
Matt Wieters is no longer human. He is a robot from the planet Rygon-7 sent here to destroy the humanoids known as "pitchers". Mighty Matt went 3-3 with three, count 'em, THREE walks en route to reaching base six times. In one game. Then he came back tonight and only went 2-5 with a couple of singles.

Luis Montanez also hit his 26th HR and now leads the Eastern League in everything. Pretty nice.

Who starts for the Orioles on Tuesday? Hayden Penn seems likely, but he got hit with a bat in his start last night and lasted less than an inning. It's time for Penn to see a voodoo expert to see if he actually is cursed. It should be interesting if he does get the nod. I advocated for Penn for a long time, arguing that he wasn't getting a fair shake and that he'd be a better big leaguer than Adam Loewen. The second part of that might wind up true, but the first part is looking wrong as poor performance and injury have derailed him more than the Powers that be.

Penn is still only 23 so even though he debuted way back in the first half of 2005, he's far from ancient. The injuries have thrust him to the background as Garrett Olson took his place as the organization's future middle of the rotation starter who does nothing but own minor league hitters. Penn is out of options after this year so it will be put up or shut up time from him if he gets a few starts in Baltimore.

Of course having said all of this Lance Cormier will be the man for the job.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

School of Roch

Roch Kubatko is back. . . he's back in the saddle again, now blogging for MASN a week after leaving the Baltimore Sun. Good stuff, although MASN really needs to give him his own space on their website. Apparently he's also doing some stuff on the air for them which is good for him.

Friday, August 1, 2008

2007 Draft Review

Brian Matusz still hasn't signed a contract with the O's but all indications are that it will happen by the August 15th deadline. There's none of the intrigue that was apparent with Matt Wieters last summer, but that's not a complaint because hitting refresh a million times as midnight draws closer just shows me what a crazy person I am. But now that we're a year removed from the 2007 draft signing deadline, it might be a good time to look at the 2007 draft picks and how they've done in their first year or so of pro baseball. So here is a look at the top half-dozen prospects from that draft.

Rd 1 (#5) - C Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech: There's not much doubt that this has been a slam dunk of a pick. Wieters signed late and didn't play for the Orioles last summer, but he has shown extremely advanced skills on both sides of the ball since signing last spring, hitting .347/.447/.585 between Frederick and Bowie leaving as the only question how high he will be ranked this offseason in the various prospect rankings. He would seem to be a lock for top-three status with only Tampa Bay left hander David Price and Saint Louis CF Colby Rasmus challenging him for the top spot.

Rd 5 (#129) - P Jake Arrieta, Texas Christian: Called a "first round talent" by at least one prospect guru type, Arrieta fell to the fifth round and the Orioles made an above-slot offer to get him in the fold. He's had a fine debut season at Frederick with a 2.87 ERA over 20 starts before recently leaving the team to participate in the Olympics for the United States. Arrieta has had some control issue (4.06 BB/9), but he has been dominant (120 K in 113 innings) and should crack top 100 lists this fall.

Rd 20 (#609) - RHP Sean Gleason, Saint Mary's: Gleason had a fine debut at Bluefield (2.93 ERA in 67.2 innings), good enough for the now-22 year old to skip over the New-York Penn League and go right to Delmarva where he's continued to pitch well. In 114.1 innings, he's given up just three HR on the season and his strong ground ball tendencies could bode well for the future.

Rd 7 (#219) - CF Matt Angle, Ohio State: While Ohio State isn't one of the premier collegiate programs these days, it has turned out its share of major leaguers (47 in total) including current White Sox CF Nick Swisher. Not to draw the comparison too-far, but Angle has the great plate discipline that would have made him right at home in Billy Beane's Oakland farm system (where Swisher started) . Unfortunately his lack of power (no HR in three seasons at Ohio State) makes him a much more fringy prospect, but with some solid other numbers (.291 AVG with 97 BB in 167 pro games) and his reputation, both from scouts and statheads, of being a quality defender, he's a guy to keep an eye on.

Rd 16 (#489) - 3B Tyler Kolodny, Woodland Hills, CA: Kolodny was the Orioles' 14th pick but their first dip into the high school ranks in 2007. Kolodny started out in the complex-level Gulf Coast League, ripping pitchers to the tune of a .318/.406/.530 line, good enough to at least rate a mention among the O's better prospects. Now 20 years old, Kolodny has seen his average take a dip at Aberdeen but still has some decent indicators with 17 BB and 11 XBH in 140 AB so far. He'll need to get better, and fast, to have a viable career given that he plays at a corner position, though.

Rd 43 (#1274) - LHP Cole McCurry, Tennessee Wesleyan: Guys drafted outside of the top 1,200 from obscure non-Division I schools don't tend to be great prospects. McCurry isn't great, but he's good enough to be good. Still a month shy of his 23rd birthday, the Orioles have put him on something of a fast track as he already has 13 starts at Delmarva under his belt over the last two seasons. Don't be fooled by his unsightly ERA, his peripherals are good as he's striking out nearly a batter per inning while maintaining good command. He could stand to take a few lessons from Gleason and get the ball down. His home run rates could be an indicator that he'll be exposed when he faces stiffer competition.

Preliminary Grade: A-

Wieters alone makes for a good haul as he's the type of home-grown prospect who generates enough surplus value to make the whole endeavor of scouting and drafting young talent extremely important even with the low success rate. Kudos to the Orioles for ponying up to get him and Arrieta who helps to form a top two that not many organizations can challenge from last year's draft class. The lack of depth is what prevents this draft from being a complete success as the lack of 2nd and 3rd round picks (and the abysmal season of 4th rounder Tim Bascom at Frederick) mean that even the better second-tier prospects seem unlikely to get even cups of coffee at this point.

Brian Roberts, Record Breaker

Brian Roberts hit his 40th double tonight in game number 108 for the Orioles. Doing some easy math, that projects out to 60 doubles for the 2008 season. That would shatter the AL single-season record for doubles in a season by a switch hitter originally set by. . .Brian Roberts in 2004 with 50. It would also easily beat the major league record set by Lance Berkman in 2001 of 55 two-baggers. It's Roberts' fourth season (2004, 2005, 2007, 2008) with at least 40 2B.

The Baseball-Reference Play Index is fun to play around with when looking for obscure "records" that could be broken. Charlie Gehringer hit 60 two baggers with the Tigers in 1936 to set the record for most doubles by a second baseman - that mark is obviously also within Roberts' reach. BRob also has 8 triples so far, and he could join Gehringer as the only 2B to have 50 2B and 10 3B in the same season.

One record that Roberts won't be catching anytime soon is Craig Biggio's all-time record for a second baseman of 668 doubles. Roberts, now with 251, will need another decade to reach that mark. And when he does, we'll put numbers on the Warehouse (even if he gets traded!) as he chases Tris Speaker's all-time record of 792 doubles.

And speaking of Speaker (har har), one more quick fact. Roberts can become the third player ever to have 50 2B, 30 SB, and 10 3B in the same season joining Speaker of the 1912 Red Sox and Kiki Cuyler of the 1930 Cubs. Meaningless? Rare and Kurkjianian? All of the above.

In-season Marcel Projections

One of the bigger areas of research in current SABRmetrics is in the design of projection and forecasting systems to predict future performance. There are a bunch of systems popping up, but one of the most interesting is the MARCEL system, developed by Tom Tango. It's not interesting because it's complex, but rather because it's so damn simple. All it does is to take a weighted average of previous seasons, apply some regression to the mean and some age adjustment, and BAM!, there's your projection. It's actually named after Marcel the monkey because of its deliberate simplicity.

It's also interesting because it's completely open-source which means you can actually see where the results come from. And despite this lack of complexity, it still stacks up well to the other projection systems floating around out there. The projections have been typically released before the season, but Sal Baxamusa at the Hardball Times has developed a spreadsheet which you can use to calculate in-season MARCEL projections. Too lazy for that? (I'm nodding my head.) Just head over to Colin Wyers' site where he's written some code and is displaying the projections in real-time.

The best hitter right now - or at least the hitter with the best projection going forward, if you believe there's a difference - is Albert Pujols who checks in with a .333/.438/.603 line. He absolutely laps the field, coming in with a projected OPS over 50 points higher than the nearest competitors. Those competitors are David Ortiz (.293/.404/.586), who still looks good after this season's injury-marred performance, and Alex Rodriguez (.305/.404/.583).

A few Orioles' notables:

Nick Markakis (.303/.378/.481, +24 lwts) - A little pessimistic in my view. Of course I don't say that as an unbiased observer, but rather as a guy who is a huge Markakis fan. I'd still bet the over on that OPS over his next 600 PA.

Aubrey Huff (.270/.335/.456, +6 lwts) - The power of regression to the mean combined with its good friend, aging. Marcel the monkey throws cold water in our faces regarding Huff's big season, projecting him for just a .791 OPS, well in line with the .778 OPS he compiled from 2005-2007. This is why, at best, we should be cautious about Huff even approaching, let alone matching, this season's numbers in 2009.

Luke Scott (.268/.355/.488, +18) - Luke Scott, on the other hand, is a guy we might be able to count on in the future. Or at least next season. The system likes him so much that even with Scott being 30 and putting up a nice season that it thinks he's playing a few points of OPS below what he's capable of doing. Not a bad pickup in the Tejada (current projection: .300/.349/.470[!?]) trade.

Adam Jones (.270/.317/.405, -9) - That's a tick under where he's at this year, and as with Markakis, you think (hope) he can do better than that going forward. One issue with the system is that it doesn't know anything about minor league performance. If we looked at translated minor league stats, as a system like PECOTA does, we'd see why Orioles fans would call that projection pessimistic, but that's one of the issues that you have to be cognizant of with MARCEL.

The worst projection in the system goes to the immortal Corky Miller, a 32 year old journeyman backup catcher with a career .179/.269/.295 line in 378 PA over the last 8 seasons. Even Miller can't be that bad, says Marcel, as he's projected for a .182/.244/.300 line going forward.

All Quiet

The non-waiver trade deadline came and went without the Orioles moving anyone despite a couple possible sell-high pieces (Huff, Sherrill) and a few Proven Veterans that might have been in demand for a few teams (Hernandez, Millar, Bradford). There's still some time for a deal to be made by August 31st, but it seems like a longshot that Huff and Sherrill, the two biggest pieces to be dealt, would even clear waivers, let alone be traded. Something on the level of last year's Steve Trachsel trade would seem to be the upper limit on what could happen. Perhaps a team gets desperate for middle relief and gives up a nice prospect for Chad Bradford.

The Orioles also made a roster move, sending Brian Burres down to Norfolk and activating Alex Cintron as the Orioles' fascination with having three light-hitting SS on the roster (current version: Castro, Fahey, Cintron) continues. Another roster move would seem likely as the team needs at least one more starter. Garrett Olson and Jeremy Guthrie start the next two days. Then, assuming he appeals his suspension, Daniel Cabrera goes on Sunday in the finale at Seattle. Dennis Sarfate is in line to get his second start on Monday, assuming the team wasn't horrified by his outing against the Yankees. Tuesday's start is still up in there. Bowie's Brad Bergesen and Norfolk's Hayden Penn seem like the likely options with Lance Cormier moving out of the pen perhaps a possibility.

Wieters Watch

Matt Wieters got only one plate appearance for Frederick as a pinch hitter after getting the night off, but he came through with a single to raise his Bowie line to .365/.463/.625 in 104 AB.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Optimal Roster Construction, part 1,401

The recent roster moves have made it hard to tell what the Orioles are doing with the pitching staff right now, but in the end, there are 13 pitchers on the roster, with only four of them - Dennis Sarfate, Jeremy Guthrie, Garret Olson, and Daniel Cabrera - in the starting rotation.

For the time being, at least until the Orioles make a move to get a fifth starter on the team, there are nine relievers down in the pen. Nine!

Is there ANY need to ever have that many guys in your bullpen? Right now, with Juan Castro slowly taking over the starting SS job, the bench consists of Brandon Fahey, Jay Payton and Guillermo Quiroz. It's been discussed many times before, but that's just an awful bench. Payton is the closest thing to a hitter in the bunch, and he's currently sporting a .653 OPS. The biggest piece of strategy that Trembley can employ in the late innings of a close game is to pinch-hit Payton for Castro, move Payton to LF as a defensive sub for Luke Scott, and insert Fahey as the new SS. That's not really all that viable, but hey, they've made their choice to go for broke on having pitching and defense (supposedly) over any type of offensive flexibility.

But hey, Juan Castro smacked a homerun today, so maybe we've found our SS for the next 25 years? Castro did manage to beat Fahey in the race to get to 1 HR first, even with the head start he spotted Fahey. I'm actually shocked because looking at Castro I thought that even if he made good contact he'd just slap the ball to the outfield at best.

Speaking of Sarfate (we were earlier at least), his first start wasn't a total disaster. Of course I'm grading that from the perspective of "Sarfate won't last three innings" as a baseline. He actually lasted four, striking out five, and allowing just five base runners. Unfortunately all five of those guys (three of whom reached on walks) came around to score so that made for an ugly line. The guy who didn't help himself at all was the guy who just lost his starting spot, Brian Burres. He came into the game in the fifth with the game still in reach (5-2 Yankees) and after pitching a fine fifth inning, got only one out in the sixth before being lifted, eventually being charged with four runs. His roster spot is getting to be pretty tenuous as that ERA climbs close to 6.00 and he struggles in his new role as a long reliever.

Next up could be Hayden Penn or Brad Bergesen. Possibly both, as the Orioles will be needing both a fifth starter and a replacement for Sarfate in the coming weeks. Bergesen just threw a shutout for Bowie in his last start to get his 13th win of the season, and Penn had a nice start down at Norfolk. Neither of these guys are among the best arms down on the farm, but they may be the most ready, so they'll be pressed into action soon enough. Here's hoping Bowie's Jason Berken gets a look too. He's a guy I think has been a bit underrated this season.

Wieters Watch

Matthew "Babe" Wieters and his big blue Ox took it to New Britain last night to the tune of 4-5 with a double and another HR, his 21st of the year. That brings his current line up to a modest .350/.449/.600 with Bowie, .347/.448/.584. With that monster night he actually nudged his AA OPS back ahead of the OPS he had in A ball. Wieters currently ranks fifth in the minors in OPS among those with at least 300 PA, 13th among those with 150 PA.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Prospect Watch (7/29/08)

98 games (Frederick/Bowie): .341/.446/.572
29 games (Bowie): .330/.440/.560

Wieters drew four walks last night, including two of the intentional variety. That brings his BB/K ratio for the season to 62/63, which shows a pretty damn terrific sense of the strike zone.

Speaking of prospects that have shown great plate discipline, 2008 third round draftee LJ Hoes has done a nice job for the Gulf Coast League Orioles, drawing 17 walks and striking out just 9 times in 99 PA on his way to .333/.449/.444 line. Hoes is still in the very early days of his development, not even having made his way out of the complex leagues yet, but he's had an encouraging debut season so far. Hopefully the Orioles will challenge at least at Bluefield in the last month of the season.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Adam Loewen Career Retrospective Bonanza

It was announced last week that after suffering yet another injury, Adam Loewen's pitching career is finished. He'll try to make himself into a 1B/DH/OF to salvage his career, but he won't have nearly the upside he did as a pitcher.

Loewen was drafted fourth overall in the 2002 draft out of high school, three spots above Prince Fielder and eighteen spots above Jeremy Guthrie. It took forever for the Orioles to actually get Loewen signed, long enough for him to play one season of JUCO baseball. The present rules say that all draft picks must be signed by August 15th, but back then (back then? it was only six years ago) teams had a full year to sign draft picks. The O's finally got it done by giving Loewen a Major League contract worth over $4M in late May of 2003.

What that "Major League" adjective meant is that Loewen was immediately put onto the 40 man roster which caused him to be optioned to the minors every season, in effect accelerating his development schedule. In the end, the injuries are what did Loewen in as a pitcher, but he was, in my opinion, rushed through the minors too hastily based on how he actually performed.

Loewen was the prototypical great-stuff-no-control guy in the minors, walking an absurd 67 batters in 93 innings as a 20 year old in Delmarva and Frederick in his first full season. Spending the next season exclusively with the Keys, he walked 86 and hit 14 batters in 142 innings.

Loewen showed improvement at Bowie in 2006 and was soon pitching in Camden Yards. It was a fairly memorable debut in the rotation for Loewen as in his first four starts he was matched up with Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay in back to back starts, and then Tom Glavine in his fourth start. Loewen struggled, and then after a brief stint at Ottawa (his AAA debut), he came back and finished out the season in the Orioles' rotation, finishing with an extremely promising 13 start stretch. In that baker's dozen of starts, Loewen won six times, posting a 4.44 ERA with 66 K, 33 BB, and just 3 HR in 73 innings of work.

It was a fine finish for a then 22 year old Loewen, but the rest is history as injuries marred his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Loewen would make just 10 more starts before calling it quits as a pitcher. Sadly, Loewen won't go down as the biggest recent first round draft bust for the Orioles, or even particularly close - see e.g. Chris Smith, picked seventh overall in 2001.

Now he begins the long road to becoming a major league hitter. While the recent conversion of Rick Ankiel to a bona fide Major League hitter probably gives some the impression that Loewen could do the same, the odds are long. Even if Loewen were a third-round caliber pick, well, only five of the fifteen hitters drafted in the third round in 2002 have made the bigs (one of them being the immortal Val Majewski of the O's). Only Curtis Granderson, and to a lesser extent, Elijah Dukes, have done anything of note, and that's before accounting for the six years of development that Loewen has missed which others with similar skill did not.

So it's been real, Adam. See ya in 2012?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Does Cabrera Have A Future?

It's hard not to be pessimistic about Daniel Cabrera. Even before being tagged for 14 tuns in his last two starts, Cabrera had yet to show much tangible improvement in his fifth season aside from a nice string of games in May and July which included two complete game victories over the Royals. If anything, Cabrera had gone the opposite way, missing fewer bats and in general looking less overpowering than he had in the past.

Let's look at some of the key Pitch Data Summary from baseball-reference relating to Cabrera's trends which show how "overpowering" he has been over the past three seasons.

%Strikes Thrown: 57%-->58%-->59%
%1st Pitch Strikes: 52%-->55%-->57%

Those are both nice trends for a pitcher that has notably struggled with his control as a young guy. Unfortunately, the average pitcher throws 62% of his pitches for strikes and 58% of his first pitches for strikes so even with steady improvement since 2006, Cabrera is still below average at throwing strikes and at getting ahead in the count.

%Strikes Swinging:18%-->14%-->10%
%Pitches StrS: 10%-->8%-->6%

The first number is the percentage of Cabrera's strikes that have been of the swinging variety while the second number is the percentage of all Cabrera's pitches that have been swinging strikes. That's quite a marked decline. Cabrera is missing fewer and fewer bats, a fact you would expect with his declining strikeout rates. But maybe this, combined with his slightly improved command, means that Cabrera is getting more called strikes, perhaps on the corners.

%Strikes Looking: 30%-->27%-->28%
%Strikes In Play: 26%-->31%-->34%

Nope. Cabrera is actually getting fewer of his strikes as called strikes when compared to 2006. He's simply become more hittable with an 8 percentage point increase in the number of his credited strikes being on balls put into play. The average pitcher, meanwhile, gets 14% of his strikes swinging and 31% on balls in play compared to 10% and 34% in 2008 for Cabrera. One more number.

%Contact: 75%-->81%-->87%

When hitters do swing, they're making contact some 87% of the time, far above the league average of 80%. Once again, Cabrera is simply not missing bats which, when combined with subpar (4.14 BB/9, 14 HBP), is a bad way to go.

Now to look at some fangraphs data. Simply put, Daniel Cabrera is fairly predictable. He's going to throw a heavy dose of fastballs with the occasional slider mixed in. Of all pitchers with at least 80 innings this season - 123 in total - none have used their fastball as often as Cabrera who has done so on 83.6% of his total pitches. Fangraphs says that most (14.1%) of the rest of Cabrera's tosses have been sliders, with the occasional change up being used, although Josh Kalk's Pitch F/X (more from there later). says that all of the surplus non-fastballs are classified as

All told, he's throwing tons more fastballs than he did in his best season, 2005, going from about 65% fastballs to nearly 84% fastballs. He has also, according to fangraphs, lost about three mph on his fastball, dropping from an average of a bit over 96 mph to just over 93 mph.

His slider is used most often as his out pitch. The three most likely situations for you to see Daniel Cabrera throw a slider is on 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2 counts. Here is a nifty chart which plots the movement on Cabrera's pitches:

What you're seeing here is how Cabrera's pitches move relative to a pitch thrown with no spin or movement. That green cluster of triangles are Cabrera's sliders. And as you can see, they're clustered somewhere very close to the origin of the graph. Looking at the numbers, Cabrera's slider has little movement, clocking in at (.79, .89) inches in the x and y directions.

Now that's not really all that good. Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm really just starting to learn about how to interpret these pitch F/X graphs and data, but it seems to me that a slider that doesn't really move is going to be troublesome, especially when

a) you use it about once every six pitches and
b) it's really the only thing you throw besides a fastball

Here are a few good pitchers who rely heavily on their slider, and the graphs of their pitch movement, C.C. Sabathia and Jake Peavy.

Sabathia's average slider (-5.04, -0.41) and clocks in at 81.2 mph while Peavy's slider breaks at (5.83, 0.92) while averaging 83.1 mph. Cabrera, meanwhile is at 82.1 mph on his velocity. It shouldn't come as any surprise that Daniel Cabrera's slider isn't as good as the sliders of two of the best pitchers in baseball, but looking at the different in movement is striking. Cabrera's fastball, at least in movement and velocity, does stack up well against that of Peavy and Sabathia, but those pitchers rely on the fastball far less, both having multiple other plus pitches.

For one last piece of information, here is Cabrera's pitch type-movement chart from last season.

Cabrera, last season, got about four inches of movement on his slider. Of course, that didn't lead to results that were notably better than this season's, but qualitatively, it seems logical that a slider with more movement is a key, especially for a two-pitch pitcher. [One note - the 2007 data was based on only about 650 pitches, a small sample of Cabrera's total work. The 2008 data is far more complete.]

So does Cabrera have a future? Unfortunately it would seem unlikely that he'll ever be even a consistently average starter. He's still under team control until after the 2010 season so if he can avoid completely falling off a cliff, he'll have a chance to stick around, at least as a fifth starter, given his cheap price tag. But 138 starts into his Major League career, it's definitely time to stop thinking of Cabrera as a young guy with great stuff who only needs to harness his immense potential. It's just not the case anymore.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

First Half Value: Pitchers

I'm back with the second part of my first half team value breakdown with an analysis of the pitching staff. This one should be easy, right? We have ERA which already gives us our number of runs allowed, so all we need to do is compare that to the average to get a runs above average estimate.


ERA = pitching + defense. We've already attempted to account for defense in an earlier post, so now we want to attempt to isolate the pitching component. So how do we do that? We use a defensive-independent pitching metric, in this case FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), a metric that relies solely on those things a pitcher has great control over (K, BB, HR). Lucky for us, FIP is both

a) readily available and
b) scaled to "look like" ERA

So that's nice. Now what we'll do is park adjusment to account for OPACY playing as a slight hitters' park. Luckily, Baseball Reference does that already, telling us that the park adjusted league average ERA for pitchers who play half of their games in OPACY is 4.22 rather than 4.14. What we'll also do is adjust this to scale to Runs Allowed rather than Earned Runs Allowed (as ER vs R is often an arbitrary and nonsensical decision) by adding 0.46 (lgRA - lgERA) to our FIP values. We'll also break this down into starters and relievers; starters have an average park adjusted RA of 4.75 this season while relievers have an average park adjusted RA of 4.24.

Finally, we'll use this equation to convert our numbers into an estimate of runs above or below average for each pitcher:

RAA = ((lgFIPR - FIPR)/9)*IP

where lgFIPR is FIP, adjusted to scale to RA, adjusted for park, and customized for each player based on his mix of starting and relief innings. FIPR is each player's FIP scaled to RA.

Now onto results. Warning: Not for the faint of heart.

Bradford 5.00
Johnson 3.98
CabreraF 1.17
Guthrie 0.90
Castillo -0.01
Cormier -0.16
Bierd -0.64
Sherrill -1.20
McCrory -1.35
Albers -3.23
Bukvich -3.34
Sarfate -3.45
Walker -4.65
Burres -6.69
Olson -6.70
Loewen -7.41
Aquino -9.05
Liz -11.11
CabreraD -13.55
Trachsel -15.25

Oh that's not good. No that isn't good at all.

From a defense-independent perspective, Chad Bradford and Jim Johnson are leading the way, while Jeremy Guthrie is barely above average in 135 IP so far this season. The rest of the team have somewhat obscene values on the negative side of the ledger.

First let's talk about Guthrie. Simply, his peripherals have lagged behind his ERA for two seasons now. His strikeout rate is around average, he gives up a below-average number of walks, and he allows homers at a clip that rates as a bit above average. The key for Guthrie is that he has been much better (.652 OPSA) with runners on base than he has been with the bases empty (.722 OPSA). His BABIP is also low, sitting at .272 for a second straight year, which is interesting now that the sample is about 1300 PA. So, the book here is that Guthrie is stilly likely to regress, but then given that we're working with a decent sample of data here, it's also possible that his peripherals are underrating his true talent.

Either way, there isn't really a ton of dispute about Guthrie being an above average starter, which does have a lot of value, especially when accompanied by a price tag of less than $1MM. On the other hand, the rest of the starters on the team have been absolutely abysmal. Daniel Cabrera has put together some good results so far, but his collapsing strikeout rate and not-so-improved command means he's having a very poor season. Olson and Liz, the two young guys in the rotation, have both been awful, which has to be very discouraging.

Still worse, bullpen guys like Albers and Sarfate that have been fairly successful this season don't fare out too well under this analysis. Albers doesn't get enough strikeouts and Sarfate walks way too many hitters. The result? Both have contributed below average performances.

All told, the pitching staff comes in at an amazing 70+ runs below average. You could just look at the team-by-team FIP numbers and tell that the Orioles weren't going to rate favorably as they are the worst team in the AL in FIP, by a fair margin. So we'll see how this shakes out in a few months. I suspect the analysis will be similar, in which case we'll go back to our annual topic of overhauling the entire staff.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First Half Value: Position Players

Nearing the 100 game mark, let's take a look at the first half of the season and try to figure out how much each Oriole has been worth this year in terms of runs saved and runs allowed. Today I'm going to evaluate the position players, starting with their offense, which I'll evaluate using BattingRuns, a linear weights style system available at Baseball Reference. Later in this post I'll look at their fielding, and hopefully I'll look at the pitchers in a subsequent post.

Here are every Oriole position player ranked by Batting Runs.
Markakis        21.3
Huff 17.1
Roberts 15.7
Scott 8.3
Salazar 0.7
Moore -0.3
Torres -1.1
Cintron -2.1
Millar -2.4
Jones -3
Fahey -3.9
Quiroz -5.2
Mora -5.6
HernandezL -5.6
Payton -7.4
HernandezR -9.9
Bynum -13.2
TOTAL -1.3
First of all, the values here are the number of runs above or below average a player has been offensively this season. A value of '0' indicates that a player has performed at exactly the league average. This number has been adjusted based on league and park, but it does not account for positional differences (we'll look at that later), nor does it account for the difference in competition between leagues. It is a counting stat, which means that the absolute value of the statistic will tend to increase as playing time does.

The results here should not be particularly surprising. The entire team rates as being very slightly below average offensively with about 98% of the positive contribution coming from Luke Scott, Brian Roberts, Aubrey Huff, and Nick Markakis. In fact, the ONLY other player of the remaining 13 that has generated positive value is Oscar Salazar who had just 18 PA before being send back to Norfolk.

The SS production has been terrible, as expected, with a combined contribution of about -25 runs from the four primary SS options. Freddie Bynum and his .444 OPS over 121 PA has been the worst offender at -13.

So that's interesting. Now let's look at fielding value. This is based off of The Hardball Times' Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and converted to a runs saved estimate using the method used by Justin over on his excellent Reds' site (I also used his method for evaluating catcher defense) to convert to a "+/-" number of plays above or below average before converting to runs using the fact that 0.8 runs are saved for each play made.

What IS included in these rankings: runs saved on balls in and out of zone for non-catchers, relative to the average at their position; runs saved on stolen bases and errors for catchers.

What IS NOT included in these rankings: runs saved based on throwing arm for outfielders or double plays for infielders; runs saved on errors for non-catchers; runs saved on passed balls and wild pitches for catchers.

I hope to expand these numbers at the end of the season by including some of those other aspects of defense, but for now, I'm more interested in a quick-n-dirty look at defensive value.

Markakis 7.49
Roberts 5.63
Jones 2.80
Bynum 2.46
Quiroz 1.20
Millar 0.62
Huff 0.44
Moore 0.40
Torres 0.37
Cintron 0.13
Salazar -0.66
Fahey -0.87
Payton -1.33
HernandezL -4.03
HernandezR -4.22
Scott -6.07
Mora -15.24

First, a note. Ideally, we want to have a larger sample size of data. And even more ideally, we would want to use UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) rather than RZR as UZR takes a much more granular approach to analyzing the data, or at least another more advanced defensive system. However, RZR does bring us a reasonable approximation of defensive value and indeed correlates very strongly with UZR.

So, how about Melvin Mora? He turns in an absolutely terrible performance at over 15 runs below average. This is mainly as a result of making 15 fewer plays out of zone than would be expected from the number of chances he has had in his zone this season. When someone says that Mora has no range anymore at age 36, it's hard to look at these numbers and argue. He'll likely regress towards the mean somewhat, but there's a good chance that he is the worst fielding regular at 3B in the league.

Nick Markakis rates as the teams best fielder, even without the benefit of accounting for his excellent arm. Adam Jones also rates very well, as we would expect, though perhaps a touch lower than you would guess.

And going back to SS once again, look at those defensive values! The Orioles aren't trading offense for defense; they're punting offense just to get average defense. The numbers rate Bynum as a plus fielder, but his contributions are more than zeroed out by Luis Hernandez poor performance in the field. Is there any question he was the worst Opening Day starter in the league?

[To be fair, Hernandez' error and double play rates look solid at a glance, so perhaps factoring those into the analysis would push him back toward average. Still, average fielding from Luis Hernandez means he isn't particularly close to being a major league starter.]

So now let's add these two values up to get a complete rating system for all the Orioles, right? Nope. We still have to make a positional adjustment to account for the fact that Adam Jones playing CF is more valuable than Aubrey Huff playing DH. That's what our numbers so far don't show. There are a number of run values that are floating around the internet for positional adjustments, but I'll just a variation on the one floating around on Tom Tango's blog.

Markakis      26.16
Roberts 21.88
Huff 10.82
Jones 2.03
Moore 0.12
Salazar -0.04
Torres -0.85
Scott -0.91
Cintron -1.32
Quiroz -2.54
Fahey -4.05
Millar -6.99
HernandezL -8.70
Bynum -9.57
HernandezR -9.58
Payton -10.07
Mora -20.35
So there it is, our midseason estimate of player value, in terms of runs above or below average.

Melvin Mora has been, by far, the worst player on the team, in terms of cumulative value. While folks talk about the need to upgrade SS (total of about -24), the situation is almost as bad at 3B with Mora accounting for a -20 at the hot corner. That will happen when you play a power position and don't provide offense or defense to the team.

Another interesting observation is that after adding defense and our positional adjustment to the equation Luke Scott moves to the negative side while Adam Jones moves to the positive side. I think this is one of the areas where crunching the numbers is really instructive. It's sometimes hard for folks to look past a difference of over .100 points of OPS that exists between Scott and Jones, even if those people are fully aware that Jones plays CF very well and Scott plays LF mostly adequately. It should also be noted that Scott has been platooned somewhat with Jay Payton and also plays DH occasionally, leaving him far behind Jones in PA as well as innings in the field.

Did we learn anything here? I'd like to think we did, but if not, there are plenty of pretty numbers to look at. Stay tuned for more updates on this. I'm planning to at least do a final results post when the season is over.

Markakis, Year 3

Even as the Orioles slip further away from the elusive .500 mark, the season still has its small pleasures. Chief among them is watching the growth of Nick Markakis into a legitimate star caliber player. Now in his third season, Markakis has shown improvement in many areas of his game.

First let's look at the basic Markakis lines over the past two seasons. In 2007, Markakis went for a .300/.362/.485 line (121 OPS+) before bumping that up to .299/.401/.492 (139 OPS+). What has been impressive is that not only have Markakis' raw rate stats shown a jump, they have done so in as the run environment has become more receptive to pitchers in the AL this season. AL scoring has dropped by about 0.27 runs - a not insignificant drop - relative to pre-All Star Break levels from 2007.

By Batting Runs (a linear weights method), Markakis rates as +21.5 runs above average, as compared to +19.5 RAA last season, even though he has 300 fewer PA this season. That is important because lwts is a counting stat that, all things equal, accumulates as playing time accumulates.

The most striking difference in Markakis rate stat line is the jump in OBP, especially considering that his AVG has been nearly identical. His BB% (measured per PA) has jumped from 8.7% to 14.3%, an enormous jump, and good for 18th in all of baseball, 9th in the AL. Markakis has also increased his K% (20.3%), which is a concern, but his strikeout rate is not especially concerning. Among the top 20 in BB%, he ranks 10th in BB/K ratio at 0.80, a well above average ratio.

The rise in strikeouts might ordinarily forecast a drop in AVG as less balls in play mean less opportunities for hits. But what Markakis has done in conjunction with the increase in BB and K is to hit more line drives. His LD% has skyrocketed to 22.9%, which fits in well with his BABIP of .346 (a quick "rule of thumb" is that BABIP = LD% + .120). Markakis is becoming a bit more selective at the plate (swinging at just ~41% of pitches this season as compared to ~45% last season) and has simultaneously hit the ball harder when he does swing.

Markakis' defensive reputation has been that of a Gold Glove caliber RF for some time, at least among Orioles fans, but the numbers did not agree. At least not the RZR numbers of The Hardball Times, which rated him a very poor 16th out of 20 qualifying RF last season (although he did have an excellent 45 OOZ plays). This year those numbers peg him as being 5th of 19th in RZR as well as tied for 4th in OOZ plays, a strong case for being named the best defensive RF in the AL. Of course, we should take note of the small sample size involved in both seasons (as fielding statistics, even the best, have more year to year noise than do hitting statistics), and it may be correct to conclude that Markakis deserves to be ranked as just slightly above average in the field.

It has been interesting to see the strides that Markakis has taken this season, although it is probably best to be somewhat cautious while seeing how he finishes the season. The next step will be to add more power, although even if he just stays to his first half pace, he will end up with about 25 HR and 45 2B, very strong totals when combined with a .400 OBP. Here's to hoping