21 June 2017

Top 5 Orioles Trade Chips

Thanks to some home runs and good relief pitching, the Orioles pulled out a one-run win last night to get back to .500. Close wins are still wins, and it's too early to completely write off the O's.

Still, the 2017 season has gone south for the Orioles in a major way. If they were just losing a bunch of close games, that would be one thing. That's not the case, though, as both injuries and poor play across the board have resulted in the O's currently looking up at three teams in the American League East. Additionally, the Orioles now have a run differential of -56, which is second worst in the American League and fifth worst in all of baseball. The Orioles have some serious problems, and some of them are not fixable.

Any rational-minded O's fan knew this squad had a limited window to compete, and it very well may have slammed shut. We will find out soon whether the Orioles can stay within striking distance of the playoff race, and they'll come to a crossroads on how to proceed with this group of players. It'll either be time to push major decisions on players like Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Zach Britton to the offseason, or to meet this organization's problems head-on and see what the Orioles can really acquire at the trade deadline by dangling some of their best players.

Let's note two things first. First, I do not expect the Orioles to trade Machado or Schoop this season. Maybe falling way out of the race would change that, but I'd still be stunned. I also do not think ownership will pony up the cash required to keep a superstar talent like Machado, but you could certainly argue they shouldn't do that anyway. There aren't many players like Machado out there, but there also aren't many mid- or small-market clubs who could pay an enormous amount of money to Machado while also paying a huge chunk of change (though less enormous than Machado) to Chris Davis and still be able to put the requisite pieces around them. Doing something like that would require a lot of young, cheap talent, which the Orioles don't have right now.

Second, you can't ignore the contract situations of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter. Their deals both expire after 2018. Do you really want Duquette orchestrating a tear-down if he's not going to be here soon? And if you jettison Duquette, what about Showalter? An incoming general manager would probably want to pick his own manager, though the Orioles don't really work that way (Showalter was already in place as manager when Duquette was hired as executive vice president of baseball operations). Perhaps the Orioles would just promote from within anyway (obligatory Brady Anderson mention). Would Showalter be fine with that and does he still want to manage; or is he more interested in a front office role? These are all important questions, and I fully expect the Orioles to punt on them until the offseason.

If the Orioles were to be fully active in the trade market, though, how would their trade chips rank? Many of them don't look as good as they did before the season, but let's take a look at the top five:

1. Manny Machado
Jon's value approximation: $42M (based on 1.5 years, 8 projected WAR, $22M in salary)
Potential trade partner: Astros
Potential price: A lot
Potential deal: Machado for Alex Bregman, Francis Martes, Franklin Perez, Forrest Whitley, and Colin Moran

Machado isn't hitting up to his abilities (last night's two-homer, 4-4 game was a good sign, though), but there's no doubting his talent. He's an elite defensive third baseman, an above-average defender at shortstop if a team wants to use him there, and his offensive struggles will only last for so long. Machado would be a game-changer for any team looking for a significant upgrade for the rest of this season. That team could keep him through 2018, his last year of arbitration, or flip him in the offseason.

In all likelihood, the O's won't be able to keep Machado in Baltimore, and while dealing Machado would be difficult to stomach, it could also be a way to replenish a farm system in serious need of top-level talent. Players like Machado don't become available often, and the price to acquire him would and should be enormous.

2. Jonathan Schoop
Jon's value approximation: $36M (based on 2.5 years, 6 projected WAR, $20M in salary)
Potential trade partner: Unclear
Potential price: Top 25-50 pitcher and B-level hitter or 50-100 hitter and 50-100 pitcher

Britton probably would have gone here a few months ago, except he now has a forearm injury that's caused two trips to the disabled list this season. The Orioles and Britton have taken a more patient approach this time after an earlier setback, and he very well may be fine and look like the Britton of old when he is scheduled to return in a couple weeks. But that injury cloud matters, and maybe the O's couldn't get as much as they'd like.

Meanwhile, there's Schoop, who seems to have taken a much-needed step forward offensively. He's walking more than ever, chasing less often, and being much more selective. Because of Machado's struggles, Schoop has arguably been the team's best position player so far.

One the one hand, Schoop is 25 and a homegrown talent, and you'd like to keep those guys around (especially when they're showing promise). On the other hand, the Orioles, as if often the case, did not lock Schoop up to any kind of team-friendly extension. He has two arbitration-eligible years left, making him a free agent in 2020. He's going to get more expensive in 2018 and 2019, and there's no guarantee he sticks around beyond that.

On top of that, he may need to move off of second base soon. There's no doubting the strength of Schoop's arm, but his range may be becoming an issue. Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating both have him as a far below average defender this year, and there have been more than a handful of groundballs that have bounced off his glove or escaped his reach that a second baseman with average range would have gobbled up.

If the Orioles aren't going to explore an extension, then it's time to start thinking about what he could bring back in a trade.

3. Zach Britton
Jon's value approximation: $12M (based on 1.5 years, 4 projected WAR, $20M in salary)
Potential trade partner: Rangers
Potential price: An A-level (25-75) and B-level player
Potential deal: Britton for Yohander Mendez and Brett Martin

There is not much to add here. When healthy, Britton is simply one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball. But that healthy part is key, and he will need to get through his current rehab assignment and come back and demonstrate that he is still that same dominant force. If he does that, teams will come calling.

4. Brad Brach
Jon's value approximation: $17M (based on 1.5 years, 3 projected WAR, $7M in salary)
Potential trade partner: Rangers
Potential price: A-level (50-100) and B-level hitter
Potential deal: Britton for Andy Ibanez and Brett Martin

Even though he's more affordable than Britton, Brach comes in below the lefty closer because he doesn't have the same ceiling. If you want the best, you want Britton. If you want someone who's still very good when he's not being overworked (and can fill in at closer some, if needed), then Brach is more than a worthy alternative.

Brach has rebounded nicely after a shaky couple of weeks, and he's showing that although he's probably not as good as last year (2.05 ERA, 2.92 FIP in 79 innings), he's still a very good late-game relief option (currently, 2.67 ERA, 3.32 FIP in 30 1/3 innings).

5. Mychal Givens
Jon's value approximation: $36M (based on 4.5 years, 7 projected WAR, $20M in salary)
Potential trade partner: Rangers
Potential price: A-level (50-100) and B-level hitter
Potential deal: Britton for Andy Ibanez and Brett Martin

Givens's inclusion in the top five completes the troika of relievers after Machado and Schoop. Like Brach, Givens is a solid but not amazing reliever, plus he has the benefit of being under team control for several more seasons. Unlike Brach, Givens does have platoon concerns that are at least worth mentioning. Because of his extra value, Givens could net a similar return to Brach or maybe even more depending on the team, but he's probably just a notch below him and doesn't have the same kind of upside. (Also, in case you can't tell, Jon thinks the Rangers will add a reliever or two.)

Players Who Should Go

Welington Castillo

Castillo is having a nice season for the O's at the plate (105 wRC+), and he hasn't been terrible in terms of pitch framing either (Baseball Prospectus has him at -1.6 with its framing runs metric). Still, with a $7 million player option (essentially an opt-out even though the Orioles would never offer an opt-out), Castillo can choose whether he becomes a free agent after the season. The Orioles also have Chance Sisco in Triple-A Norfolk waiting in the wings for catching work, and Caleb Joseph is a serviceable backup option. It wouldn't be the worst thing for Castillo to return, but the O's don't need him and should get what they can (maybe a B-level pitcher and C+ hitter).

Wade Miley

Like Castillo, Miley has a 2018 option as well; his, though, is a team option for $12 million (with a $500K buyout). Miley has been the team's second-best starter, though that's no great feat considering Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Ubaldo Jimenez have ERAs over 6. Miley isn't the worst pitching option to have around, even for $12 million, but if the O's can move him for a B-level pitcher and C+ level hitter, they should take that offer.

Seth Smith
Hyun Soo Kim

Let's just lump these two together. They're both left-handed platoon bats in the corner outfield, and they're both scheduled to be free agents after the year. Together, they could bring back a couple of B-level pitchers and C+ level hitters.

Bad Timing Or Little Value

Adam Jones

Do you really want to see the Orioles trade Jones? I'm not sure that I do. However, that might not matter anyway; Jones can reject any deal because he has 10-and-5 rights (given to major leaguers with 10 years of service time who have played the last five consecutive years with the same team).

Jones is also not the same player. At this stage in his career, he's basically in the 90-100 wRC+ range with defensive abilities in center field that rate somewhere between average and below average. That's not awful for an up-the-middle position, but the final two years of his contract don't provide much of a bargain (the rest of $16 million this year and $17 million next season). Jones's contract extension was a great move for the team, but the surplus value from it has already been received. Now they're dealing with the rest of it, and it's not clear what the next step is.

Kevin Gausman

Arguably no player has had a more underwhelming couple of months than Gausman. Instead of helping to anchor the staff with Dylan Bundy, Gausman has been dreadful. Following a promising season - his first with a full workload (30 starts) - he has a 6.60 ERA and 5.50 FIP in 75 innings. His strikeouts are down, and his walks and home runs allowed are up. Gausman just can't shake his pre-Cubs Jake Arrieta impression, and some fans are tired of it and ready to cut bait.

What type of return could he fetch? Perhaps a 50-100 hitter and 50-100 pitcher, though, in the moment, that seems like a lot. Maybe that works for you. Gausman seems too talented to be this terrible, but he wouldn't be the first player to meet that qualification. There's no guarantee he'll improve, but he still seems like a hold.

Chris Tillman
Ubaldo Jimenez

Let's get this over with quickly. Tillman has been horrible, doesn't seem fully recovered from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the start of the season, and is a free agent after this season. Unless he goes on some sort of miraculous run, he has next to no trade value.

Even though Jimenez had a nice start in his undeserved return to the O's rotation, he also barely has any trade value. The O's have been trying to unload his contract for years, and maybe the only reason why they'd be able to do so now is because his deal expires after the year. On any team with even the bare minimum of pitching depth, Jimenez would have been designated for assignment long ago. But, remember, this is Birdland.

Jon Shepherd contributed values and potential landing spots to this article.

20 June 2017

When It Rains, It Empties

In December 2013, my beloved Washington Redskins played snowy hosts to the Kansas City Chiefs. They were massacred 45-10. And, honestly, it wasn't even that close.

Even worse, however, the stands looked barren. By halftime, a good portion of that already tiny fraction had dissolved, save for the odd pocket of Chiefs fans.

In what turned out to be a crummy, three-win season, that game was probably rock bottom. And, I’ll never forget the image of all those empty, red seats, staring tauntingly out onto the frost-swept field.

There was no snow on Monday night in Baltimore, but you’d think a full-scale blizzard had hit town, judging by the rows and rows of empty seats clearly visible on the telecast.

I was stuck watching the game from behind the bar I work at. Otherwise I definitely would have considered hiking it around the Beltway to catch the game. Who would want to pass up a chance to see the clubs’ aces (Dylan Bundy and Corey Kluber) lock proverbial pitching horns?

Instead, less than 14,000 fans showed up to see the home team get waxed, 12-0. Halfway through the game, it looked like the head count barely scraped the echelon of four figures. That’s not just sobering, it’s embarrassing.

I found myself having flashbacks to that Chiefs game. Heck, even the MARLINS drew a crowd northwards of 20,000 tonight.

I’m not sure what the disconnect is. Maybe it’s the tailspin that’s seen the club tumble from first to its current residency in a tie for fourth place. Maybe fans have grown tired of the never-ending stream of lackluster pitchers parading out to the mound at Camden Yards.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t excuse nights like tonight. Maybe it would in Tampa Bay or Oakland, but not here, with a rich tradition of winning. Support your team Baltimore.

19 June 2017

Does Dylan Bundy Struggle Against Left Handed Batters?

Last week, Dave Cameron wrote a post over at Fangraphs talking about how terrible the Orioles starting rotation is. This is not news, and Cameron isn’t the first to write about that particular subject this season. The piece itself mainly focused on Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman, but Cameron included a little tidbit in his article discussing Dylan Bundy and how he needs to figure out a way to get left-handed batters out. Specifically, here is what Cameron said about Bundy.
"The AL average K%-BB% for a starting pitcher is 12.2%, a mark that no member of the Orioles rotation is living up to. Bundy is close to that average, and combined with batted-ball tendencies that make him look like he might be a guy who can legitimately avoid hard contact, he’s a perfectly decent big league starter, though he won’t be any kind of ace until he can figure out how to get lefties out more effectively."
This took me by surprise, as I did not think Bundy was doing all that badly against left-handed batters. So based on Cameron’s statement(s), I thought I would take the time to investigate a little bit further.

Dylan Bundy (photo via Keith Allison)
Based on the initial look at his numbers in 2017, Bundy is performing worse against left-handers than he is against right-handers, but not by much. To date, he’s allowed a .245/.315/.420 (.313 wOBA) against left-handed batters compared to a line of .232/.288/.411 (.299 wOBA) against right-handed batters. So while there is a difference, it doesn’t strike me as some massive problem that Bundy needs to figure out. The numbers for his overall career show a similar result. Lefties hit Bundy better than righties do, but again, not by much (.320 wOBA versus .317 wOBA). So what is the basis of Cameron’s statement? I am not entirely sure as I can’t read his mind (and he didn’t expand the Bundy comment further within that piece), but I am guessing that it has to do with strikeouts.

Dylan Bundy is having a great year for the Orioles, and he’s essentially been the lone bright spot in a rotation that has been extremely disappointing to date. Having said that, Bundy has been getting the job done with a less than stellar strikeout rate. He has the best K%-BB% of any Baltimore starter, but even that is less than that of the league average starting pitcher. If you break it down further and look at the batter handedness splits for strikeout rates, that’s when one starts to see potential issues.

Bundy’s strikeout rate versus left-handed batters is only 12.4%, which is a full 10.1% lower than his strikeout rate against right-handed batters. Combine that with an 8.6% walk rate against LHB (2.3% higher than that against RHB), and he’s left with a measly 3.7% K%-BB% against left-handers. While Bundy does not have a lot of time in MLB prior to last year, this issue does appear to be new in 2017. It’s not necessarily a huge problem, but it is a concern if Bundy’s low BABIP, high LOB%, and low HR/FB rate against left-handed batters start going in the other direction (although, he also has a low BABIP and high LOB% against RHB as well).

So let’s break this down further and look at Bundy’s pitch mix in 2017.

Dylan Bundy Pitch Usage in 2017 (via Brooks Baseball)

Just looking at the overall pitch usage, the only general difference in Bundy’s approach (all counts), is that he’ll swap out sliders for changeups when he faces left-handed batters. That’s pretty typical, as a good changeup can be a pretty effective pitch for neutralizing batters who hit from the opposite side. However, Bundy’s changeup (even with a pitch value of 10.1 runs above average, according to Fangraphs), has not been good at putting left-handers away. Bundy gets a whiff/swing rate on his changeup against left-handers of 24.10%, which is actually lower than the 27.27% whiff/swing rate he gets with his slider against left-handers. Compare that to the whiff/swing rate of 51.28% using his slider against right-handers and it begins to look like the changeup may not be a good out pitch for him against left-handers. To Bundy’s credit, he’s locating the changeup really well against left-handers, which could help support his decent line against them for the year.

Dylan Bundy Changeups Versus LHB in 2017 (via Brooks Baseball)

So maybe Cameron was right when he stated that Bundy won’t be any kind of ace until he can get left-handers out. Or maybe he was only partially right. It’s true that Bundy isn’t getting the whiffs or strikeouts against left-handed batters you’d like to see from a top of the line starter. However, his results against left-handers isn’t so much worse than the results against right-handers that the team should start getting worried. While it would be nice to see left-handers swing through the changeup more often, just because left-handed hitters aren’t missing it, doesn’t necessarily mean Bundy isn’t fooling them, as Bundy is holding left-handers to a .136 batting average and a .205 slugging percentage on the changeup. Combine that with the evidence that Bundy appears to be able to command the changeup against left-handers very well, and I think this (at least for now) is a non-issue. We’ll just have to wait and see if it ever becomes one.

16 June 2017

O's Position Players Aren't Getting The Job Done Either

Fans already knew before the season that the Orioles would make a ton of roster moves in hopes of finding a couple of workable fringe roster solutions. That has always been the plan of action under Dan Duquette, and it's mostly helped (even if it is annoying and/or easy to mock). The goal is to avoid negative players, and sometimes that leads to finding a diamond in the rough or at least someone who can perform well for a stretch. Sometimes you find Miguel Gonzalez. And sometimes you give five disastrous innings to Edwin Jackson and move on (after way too much talk about his opt-out date and ability to both start and relieve). Oops!

What we didn't know is that many of the players the team relies on most would take steps back. That's where some of the criticism leveled at Duquette misses the mark. He has absolutely made mistakes. There have been bad signings and trades, and he surely regrets them. But the 2017 Orioles were mainly built around a core of veterans, and they are not performing well.

If you're looking for bright spots so far, there are few. There's Dylan Bundy, Trey Mancini, Jonathan Schoop, and Welington Castillo. That's really about it, unless you want to give a couple of nods to Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Wade Miley (for not being a complete disaster until his last few starts), and Alec Asher for at least contributing something when he was acquired for little.

So who's underachieving? Keep in mind this is just a look at position players, as plenty of deserved criticism has already been handed out to Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, and Ubaldo Jimenez. (Remember wondering how the Orioles would compete while Tillman was out?)

Here are five of note:

J.J. Hardy: 39 wRC+, -0.8 WAR
Chris Davis: 104 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
Adam Jones: 89 wRC+, -0.1 WAR
Manny Machado: 83 wRC+, 1.3 WAR
Mark Trumbo: 91 wRC+, -0.3 WAR

Those are five of the six players (the other being Schoop) the Orioles were counting on as everyday players, and three of them have negative WAR numbers. That's really bad! Only Davis has a wRC+ over 100, though the major league average for first basemen is 118. In addition, he's in just the second year of his lucrative contract. Surely that isn't the kind of production the Orioles had in mind -- and now he's on the disabled list with an oblique injury.

In terms of wOBA, let's see how those five compare to their preseason ZiPS projections:

Machado: .301 vs. .363 (-62 points)
Hardy: .236 vs. .283 (-47 points)
Trumbo: .313 vs. .337 (-24 points)
Davis: .332 vs. .355 (-23 points)
Jones: .309 vs. .320 (-11 points)

Hardy has been truly awful at the plate and ranks as the second-worst qualified hitter in the majors, and yet Machado's struggles are the most noteworthy. He's the best player on the team and is barely ahead of Schoop in WAR, and only his outstanding defense is saving him right now. Maybe he's just been ridiculously unlucky; maybe he has an issue with making contact; or maybe he wanted to become even more of a power hitter and is searching for his identity at the plate. The last possibility seems more narrative driven, and anyway, Machado is so talented that you'd bet on a turnaround at seemingly any minute. Still, Machado playing at a superstar level would sure be helpful.

Some teams might be able to still win games with so many underperforming players, and that team would probably need an outstanding collection of starting pitchers. That team is not the Orioles.

If you're looking for any kind of silver lining if the Orioles end up in a position to sell, well, Machado is the only trade chip of note above. Hardy's terrible play has nullified any of his trade value (not to mention that his $14 million club option would vest with any trade). Jones looks worn down and has been on a steady decline; he also now has 10-and-5 rights and can reject any trade. Trumbo's three-year, $37.5 million deal seemed like a bargain, but that also requires much better offensive performance. And Davis? Nope!

There will be plenty of time to handicap the team's full collection of trade chips if the O's don't get out of this funk, but their trade options don't look nearly as good without including Machado and Zach Britton.

14 June 2017

What if the Orioles are Actually Terrible?

The 2017 Baltimore Orioles, after a hot start that saw them leading the division through April, have faltered. Since the beginning of May, the Orioles have gone 16-23 and fallen to third in the competitive AL East. The last month and a half of play has included separate stretches of  4 losses, 7 losses, and the active stream of 5 losses. To say that the late spring has not been kind to the Orioles is an understatement; during this stretch the team lost Manny Machado to a hand/wrist injury for a handful of games, Chris Davis was just put on the DL for an oblique strain (he missed time in 2014 for the same injury), Britton and O'Day are both on the DL, Castillo spent time on the DL nursing a groin injury, and starting pitchers not named Dylan Bundy have been downright atrocious.

All teams suffer injuries and setbacks, but the play of the Orioles has not inspired confidence in their ability to compete in spite of them. For one thing, even if the batters are healthy, it's hard to win when giving up 5 or more runs a night as the Orioles have in each of the last 9 games, matching their season average for runs against. As some have noted on Twitter (sorry if you're one of them, I can't find the tweets), the abundance of "not since before 2012" stats is a little frightening - not since before 2012 have the Orioles been a miserable, moribund franchise with so little going for it at the Major League or minor league levels.

We're deep enough into the season that we can start to look at historical performance of similar teams and see where they ended up after 162 games. To keep this apples-to-apples, and to effectively gauge how the Orioles should approach the deadline, I looked exclusively at seasons after 2012, when the second wild card was introduced. In theory, teams hovering around .500 at the deadline after 2012 would be more inclined to consider themselves in the playoff hunt and could improve through acquisitions that make them true playoff contenders (though not all do) thanks to the second wild card. With that in mind, we can come up with a reasonable expectation of the Orioles' end-of-season record regardless of deadline acquisitions.

First, I examined teams within two wins of the Orioles through 62 games from the last five years. That would create a five-game range of 29 to 33 wins; basically, teams that were .500 through a third of the season. The following chart shows the number of teams ending the season with any given number of wins:
Probably not surprisingly, teams that played .500 ball through 62 games were likely to continue to do so and end the season with a record around .500. About as many teams drastically underperformed the 81-win mark as outperformed it. This is fairly promising, considering that 87 wins were enough to punch a playoff ticket in both 2015 and 2016. Not many teams reached 87 wins after playing .500 ball through the first third of the season, but some did and that is enough to inspire hope and maybe a shopping spree before the trade deadline (or as close to a shopping spree as the Orioles get).

However, the Orioles are not an ordinary .500 team right now. As unfortunate as they have been with injuries, the Orioles have also been very fortunate in terms of outperforming their run differential. The 31-31 Baltimore Orioles have given up 43 more runs than they've scored for a Pythagorean win-loss record of 27-35. For all of their warts since 2012, this franchise has never been outscored over the course of a season. This run differential is not the mark of a good team, and the past performance of teams with similar Pythagorean records through 62 games proves it. Consider the per-game win total of teams from 2012-2016 within 2 Pythagorean wins, after 62 games have been played, of the 2017 Orioles:
You may notice immediately that the orange line representing the Orioles is substantially higher than the grey lines of teams with similar 62-game Pythagorean records. This is because the Orioles have pretty substantially outperformed their actual ability so far this season. Pythagorean record also changes by game as more runs are scored for and against. It's plausible that the active 5-game skid is weighting the Orioles' Pythagorean record down, and that they performed closer to their run differential earlier in the season.

You will also notice that very few of teams with similar Pythagorean profiles reached 80 wins to end the season. This is not surprising! Teams that consistently give up more runs than they score are, on the whole, losing teams. If the Orioles continue to play the way they are, they will be a losing team. The end-of-season win totals of teams with similar Pythagorean records inspires much less confidence:
Very few teams with similar Pythagorean profiles reached even 81 wins, and only two have topped the 87 wins that have represented the cheapest ticket to the playoffs since 2012.

If the sad state of the Orioles is to be accepted as reality for the foreseeable future - and really, why wouldn't it? - the team should accept that its window has closed on 2017 and perhaps moving forward. I run the risk of sounding like a doomsday prepper when I recommend the Orioles blow up their current roster and follow the lead of the now-successful Astros and Cubs by playing poorly enough to build through the draft, develop players in low-risk environments, and then reemerge as contenders when the pieces fall into place. In my opinion, it's far more difficult to build a .500 team into a contender due to salaries on the books, fewer positions open for new players, and middling draft positions. .500 is too good to get the best young players in the draft, but too bad to consistently make a run in the postseason.

Free agency will slowly tear this team down over the course of the next three seasons, and there's little to suggest that it's worth keeping together. Why not take the next few months to work out trades that stock the farm system and start the rebuild now while the team can? Why not put ourselves in position to build a solid contender from the ground up (if you believe that the organization can actually do that)? If the Orioles aren't going to compete in 2017, and will slowly lose the pieces they have banked on carrying them to the postseason over the next few seasons, the only reason to hold on to the most valuable pieces of the team is either sentiment or untradeable contracts. Neither have helped any team reach the World Series.

12 June 2017

Outlook Before the Draft...

The Orioles will have three selections tonight:

21st overall (rd 1)
60th overall (rd 2)
74th overall (rd 2a - comp B pick)

This post will go over what I have heard and then a short bit about my own preferences for the position.

First off, I want to take a few words to spell out my own drafting perspective.  First and foremost, I prefer college bats and arms that project to be Major League starters.  To determine that, I use a mix of scouting and my own analytics (CRAP).  Secondary to that, I value defensive ability in the middle of the field running from catcher through shortstop and into centerfield.  Then, I prefer arm strength as a deciding factor amongst similar players.  In pitchers, I value arm strength over skill and secondary command over fastball command.  Finally, I have zero interest in poor defending catchers.  I evaluate them at their next position.

21st overall
In the media, the names swirling around the Orioles come down to collegiate shortstop Logan Warmoth, collegiate RHP Tanner Houck, and Puerto Rican prep OF Heliot Ramos.  Warmoth is a bit of a tweener.  If the industry really believed in his bat or his glove, he would likely be a top ten pick in the manner of someone like Grant Green.  However, his arm is not all that impressive and his range does not make up for that.  The bat appears adequate for shortstop, but might struggle to provide competent value if left field is his final destination.

Houck is another player that generates conversation.  His has a peculiar delivery that provides some life on his fastball, giving the low 90s two seamer a plus plus grade.  However, that same delivery has seemingly made it difficult to develop much out of his breaking ball or changeup.  The ceiling is a workhorse first division backend arm, but the current tools scream more "late inning arm" to me.  A confidant club could look to clean up his delivery, but that could really flatten out his fastball to the point it is an average offering to go along with marginally improved off speed offerings.  Reinventing a pitcher does not exactly seem like something the Orioles have had a history of doing well.

Ramos has had a lot of helium in the last couple weeks as more people in organizations are becoming enthused about his plus plus speed, huge raw power, and how it seems everyone in his family is capable of great athletic feats.  Defensively, he is a true centerfielder with a plus arm.  It all comes down to whether or not he can develop a better approach at the plate and better pitch recognition.  Very much a feast or famine kind of player.

Among those three, I think Warmoth is acceptable, but would lean toward the possibility of Ramos.  However, I would include other names in the discussion.  I am really not incredibly interested in the college offerings this year and the college players that do strike my fancy like Joe Dunand (SS), Will Toffey (3B), and Mike Papierski (C) will likely be available on Day 2.  With this first pick, I would want to go after someone with a loud tool.  Ramos fits that, but so does Nick Allen (SS).  Offensively and defensively, Allen has done at SS what scouts hope Ramos can do in CF.  The big knock on Allen is that he stands at 5'8".  If he was three or four inches taller, then he would find himself as a top 15 name.  My model thinks that size is overstated as an attribute to use to project future performance, but my model has some limitations.  That said, I have more confidence in the data there than in the major projection leap required for Ramos.

In the end, I would look toward selecting Nick Allen first and Heliot Ramos second.  If that all falls through, then I would look at a safety pick like Houck, Griffin Canning (RHP), or Brent Rooker (OF).

60th overall
Projections here are all over the board, but the two names I hear most are both two seam heavy pitchers, Iowa Western southpaw Daniel Tillo and Alabama prep LHP Jacob Heatherly.  That might be more of a guess with their decision making process last year because the second round does not look like it is full of interesting arms like it was last year.

Tillo was first and foremost a basketball prospect whose athleticism failed him a bit into being a baseball player.  There are not many miles on his arm, but he has shown the ability to pitch in the high 90s with boring action.  He also has a slider that came out average last year and has some projection to it.  His changeup was limited to bullpen sessions.  He won't be polished or a fast riser, but there is a good bit to dream in that arm.  If a changeup can be produced, you have a solid makeup for a starting pitcher.  If not, that is a late inning burner.

Heatherly is one of those dreaded 19 year old amateur high schoolers.  The issue with that is that 19 year old high schoolers tend to have had more reps as an amateur and look a bit more put together than prospects who are 17 or 18.  Heatherly throws a potential plus two seamer in the low 90s and a slider.  He can rely on those two pitches in the prep ranks and easily handle opposing lineups.  He also is faintly a two way player who can generate screaming liners.  He is someone who you could go the P/DH route for a season or two to see if anything magically happens at the plate.

For me, Tillo makes sense, but I am going to go one of two ways, Brent Rooker or Joe Dunand.  Brent Rooker is the aforementioned left fielder.  He does not look flashy, but has seen his performance leap forward in the past few years.  Rooker has led the SEC in most offensive categories and has done a solid job developing a better approach at the plate.  He gets good grades for makeup and is that kind of player who drops because he looks like a left fielder.  Dunand is a SS/3B tweener.  He probably does not have the ability to firmly play SS, but could serve as a UTL or settle in at third base.  I think he would be a solid choice.  For me, the potential as a SS, has me lean to Dunand.  Tillo would be my backup plan.  Joe Perez (1B/RHP) is a prep who would also have my interest as a plan C.

74th overall
Projections come up with similar names as the 60th pick.  Basically either guys who live in the strike zone or hitters with a polished approach like prep OF Daniel Cabrera or Arizona 1B J.J. Matijevic.

My focus would be on Tillo or Perez.  If Hagen Danner (RHP/C) falls then I would be interested as well.  He profiles as a potential catcher who could slide back into the bullpen and throw in the upper 90s.  Prep RHP Drew Rasmussen would also hold my attention as he has shown an upper 90s fastball somewhat regularly.

In the end, I think my preferred likely scenario would go:
21st - Nick Allen, SS
60th - Joe Dunand, SS/3B
74th - Daniel Tillo, LHP

It seems for the Orioles it might be:
21st - Tanner Houck, RHP
60th - Daniel Tillo, LHP
74th - J.J. Matijevic, 1B

2017 CRAP Positional Collegiate Rankings for the Draft

This will be a short post because I actually somehow thought the draft was tomorrow and I have only a lunch break to push this out.  Anyway, I developed CRAP last year.  You can read about it here (add soon).  In sum, the model worked well last year, but I used a curated list handed to me that included collegiate positional players on the top 100 rankings.  This year, I expanded the list from about 20 to 83.  This list also differs because it includes players in collegiate conferences I did not use when constructing the model.  Effectively, anyone outside of the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12 did not have this model consider them.  To compensate for that, I tried to develop conference strength ratings, but that is not related to future performance.  It only is related to performance in season across collegiate conferences.

Anyway, the model top 10 list for tonight:

Name Po. BA xRating xSlash(HiA)
Joe Dunand SS 130 50/55 276/351/461
Will Toffey 3B 162 50 285/402/439
Adam Haseley OF 8 50 296/401/453
J.J. Schwarz C 374 50 255/345/393
Garrett Benge 3B NR 50 275/388/417
Mike Papierski C NR 50 247/362/389
Brent Rooker OF 45 45/50 284/374/485
Chris Williams C 118 45/50 249/309/412
Brendan McKay 1B 3 (P) 45/50 308/423/492
Drew Ellis 3B 66 45/50 269/359/434

You might wonder where the rest of the top collegiate bats for BA were projected.

Name Po. BA xRating xSlash(HiA)
Evan White IB 12 40 248/311/390
Keston Hiura OF 14 45 279/378/422
Pavin Smith 1B 15 40/45 275/373/412
Jeren Kendall OF 18 40 245/309/384
Logan Warmoth SS 19 45/50 261/332/398
Jake Burger 3B 20 40 228/308/370
Stuart Fairchild OF 43 40/45 257/329/410
Brian Miller OF 44 40/45 264/345/383
Kevin Merrell SS 51 40 230/302/335
Greg Deichmann OF 64 45 266/368/430
Gavin Sheets 1B 65 45 282/395/461
K.J. Harrison C 68 45 263/338/387
J.J. Matijevic 1B 70 45/50 302/366/464
Michael Gigliotti OF 71 35 211/304/312

As you can see, there is a whole lot more jumbled around this year than it was last year.  One major reason is that there really are no standouts this season.  Last year, the model has players flirting with the 60s and this year that is not the case.  However, it appears that there is a large number of fringe MLB starters this year which did not seem present last year.

Personally, I am a bit surprised.  I thought Brian Miller and Keston Hiura would perform better according to the model, but that was not the case.  It also is a bit unsettling as a modeler that nine of the top ten in the CRAP top ten are players that Baseball America thought were not first day selections.

Oh well, let's check back tonight and then in a few years.






Hoping for Lightning

Joe Reisel's Archives

I don't want Edwin Jackson on my baseball team.

I have nothing against Edwin Jackson. I've never met him, but I haven't heard complaints about him from the Norfolk staffers I work around. He was the guest on the Norfolk Tides radio pre-game show, and he was polite and talkative, answering the host's questions in some detail.

Nor is he the pitcher least likely to succeed I've seen. That distinction would probably go to the 35-year-old Ryan Drese, in who 2011 - three years after his last pitch in "organized" baseball - threw 44 innings with the Tides with some truly amazing results. For the past six years, we in the press box still amuse ourselves trying to come up with reasons why the Orioles added Drese to the Tides roster. (So far, the best reason is that the Orioles lost a bet.)

Nor do I not want him on the team because I'm a Cubs fan, and Jackson ranks among the very worst free-agent signings in Cubs history. There have been players who signed the wrong contract - or at least a contract that put them into a situation in which it was hard for them to succeed - but rebounded to play well elsewhere.

I don't want Edwin Jackson on my team because he's an extremely frustrating pitcher to watch.. He's got great stuff - he throws hard, and his pitches move. He just doesn't always seem to know where his pitches are going, and so he ends up throwing a lot of pitches that are called balls. And then he has to focus more on throwing the ball in the strike zone, and so doesn't pitch with his best stuff. And he gives up hits. And, just when he's ready to be written off, he'll go and pitch a great game. I'd rather have someone who pitches fairly well most of the time than someone who pitches brilliantly 20% of the time.

After the Orioles signed Edwin Jackson, he spent some time in extended spring training before being assigned to Norfolk in May. He spent about a month with the Tides before the Orioles added him to the team. In that month, Jackson made twelve appearances - of which I saw five - and pitched 20 1/3 innings - of which I saw 10 2/3. And in those appearances, he confirmed my belief that even when he pitches well, you can't have too much confidence in him.

The below table shows his basic pitching lines for the games I saw him pitch:

Date
Opponent
IP
H
R
ER
BB
K
May 7
Durham
3
3
1
1
1
2
May 13
Charlotte
1 1/3
0
0
0
2
2
May 21
Charlotte
2 1/3
3
1
1
2
1
May 31
Pawtucket
3
3
0
0
0
1
June 3
Rochester
1
0
0
0
0
2

That doesn't look too bad. His walks and strikeouts are variable, as you would expect in such small samples. It looks like he got lucky to give up only one run on May 21, but on the other hand he couldn't do much better on June 3.

When you look at his performance in more detail, however, you will probably be less impressed. The table below shows his pitch breakdown in each game:

Date
Opponent
Balls
Called
Strikes
Swinging
Strikes
Fouls
In Play
May 7
Durham
23
7
4
5
9
May 13
Charlotte
14
6
2
2
2
May 21
Charlotte
21
8
2
4
8
May 31
Pawtucket
9
5
7
4
9
June 3
Rochester
2
3
4
0
1

The good news is that he has been pitching with more command as he got more practice. In his first three appearances, he had more balls than strikes, and that's not allowing for the possibility that some of the swinging strikes or fouls were on pitches out of the strike zone. In his last two games, he was able to control and command his pitches better, concluding with a June 3 performance - pitching the ninth inning of a 8-7 Tides win - that even I couldn't find fault with.

So, perhaps the Orioles decided to promote Jackson to the major-league team while he was pitching well in the hope that they could catch lightning in a bottle, and get a couple of good outings from him before he stopped pitching well. They couldn't; Jackson made three appearances and pitched poorly in all three. With the bullpen overworked after a number of long outings, the Orioles designated Jackson for assignment to add Jimmy Yacabonis to the roster. In the next ten days, Jackson might be traded; he might accept another outright assignment to Norfolk; or he might declare free agency and try to sign with another team.

I hope he doesn't sign with my team.