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.