16 November 2017

Cup of jO's: Tyler Chatwood's Batted Balls

Previously, I had noted that Tyler Chatwood was a serious diamond in the rough kind of potential arm that appeared to be overlooked.  Since then, there has been a few predictions as to how much he would cost.
MLB Trade Rumors: 3/20
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs: 3/30
and, our own,
BORAS: 4/41
BORAS, of course, had some conditional prognostication.  If BORAS projected out all of his games at Coors Field as full season performances, Chatwood would be worth only a non-roster invite.  However, BORAS projected a full season on the road as being worth a six year deal at 24 MM per year.  In other words, Chatwood performed like a backend 2017 Orioles starting pitcher these past two seasons at Coors field and on the road he did an impression of a shade below Clayton Kershaw.

National writer Keith Law quibbles with that outlook:
Chatwood had much better results on the road (3.69 ERA), but it was all results on balls in play, as his walk, strikeout and home run rates were close to even, and he doesn't get left-handed hitters out anywhere.
That seems to be a bit unfair.  Let us look at performance over 2016 and 2017 against left handed hitters.
Tyler Chatwood* 212/308/383, .301 wOBA (16th of 84)
Sonny Gray 247/309/386, .301 wOBA (16th)
Danny Salazar 220/314/393, .302 wOBA (19th)
Max Scherzer 227/307/419, .312 wOBA (27th)
Yu Darvish 242/307/412, .309 wOBA (24th)
Jake Arrieta 227/325/396, .313 wOBA (29th)
Dylan Bundy 259/319/446, .326 wOBA (43rd)
Ubaldo Jimenez 293/372/559, .392 wOBA (84th)
* - Only considering performance against left handed hitter on the road.
This stellar performance should be expected.  Chatwood's curve drops a stunning 4.2 more inches when on the road and ranks as one of the highest spin rates in baseball.  A curveball with a high spin rate results in a lot of soft contact.  So, this really looks like a pitcher whose offerings improve considerably on the road in ways that can be explained with what we know about pitching.

I maintain that everyone should be clamoring for him.

15 November 2017

How Did Adam Jones Turn Things Around?

Even if you were the biggest Adam Jones fan in the world, you were still met with this fact before the start of the 2017 season: His offensive production was slipping. In pretty steady fashion, Jones's production decreased in each season since 2012 (his best offensive year):

2012: 127 wRC+
2013: 119 wRC+
2014: 117 wRC+
2015: 111 wRC+
2016: 97 wRC+
Data via FanGraphs

As is often the case, you could partially explain Jones's subpar 2016 numbers on injuries. In April of that season, he missed some time with a ribcage injury. Later in the year, he also missed some time with back and hamstring injuries. It's hard to know if those injuries affected him more than in other years, because he rarely seems to miss much time. In fact, Jones hasn't been on the disabled list since September of 2009, when a sprained ankle ended his season. That's hard to believe. Jones has played in at least 137 games in every season since 2009. Of course Jones gets hurt, but he just seems to deal with it and keep moving along. You know, by staying hungry.

In 2017, Jones bucked the trend and increased his offensive output. His wRC+ increased by 10 points, to 107. His BABIP, a career low .280 in 2016, fortuitously jumped back up to .312. He hit three fewer home runs than the year before, but managed to hit nine more doubles.

After seeing those numbers, I expected that Jones hit the ball harder in 2017. But he didn't. Let's look at some Statcast data for the last few seasons:

2015: 87.7 avg. exit velocity (t-242), 176 avg. distance (t-194)
2016: 88.3 avg. exit velocity (t-219), 183 avg. distance (t-146)
2017: 86.6 avg. exit velocity (t-270), 167 avg. distance (t-289)
Data via Baseball Savant

OK, so that's a little surprising, and isn't all that encouraging.

Let's keep digging. Jones still struck out in the 17-18% range, which he's done since 2015. He hit the ball on the ground a bit more than the previous season, and his fly ball percentage dipped as well (for the first time since 2013). How about his distribution of balls in play? In 2017, he pulled the ball about 41% of the time. There's nothing out of the ordinary there. But Jones didn't hit the ball up the middle as much (about 30%) and instead served the ball to right field more (about 29% of the time). It was his highest mark since 2010.

So Jones didn't hit the ball harder, but he did hit it on the ground a little more and punch more balls to right field. Not hitting the ball hard and pulling the ball less isn't a great sign, but it does represent him making the most of the current abilities. His plate discipline changes also reflect that. Jones has always chased a lot of pitches, and that was still the case this past season. While he dialed back his overall swing percentage, there's something more noticeable: His contact rates improved.

Picture an Adam Jones strikeout. Most likely, it involves him chasing a slider down and away. This season, though, while Jones chased just as many pitches, he made contact on 68.5% of them. In 2017, the average major league batter made contact on out-of-zone pitches 62.7% of the time (better than Jones's career average). Jones's previous-best O-Contact% of 64.3% came all the way back in 2008.

Last season, Jones finished tied for 50th in O-Contact% (among all qualified batters). In 2016, Jones finished just 104th. In 2015, he was only 89th.

Does all of this mean Jones is now a contact hitter? Not exactly, but he has sort of been trending in that direction and is closer to the middle of the pack. He's never walked much, and in an era when lots of hitters strike out frequently, he's a few percentage points below the major league average. That's not because he's patient, but because he'll swing early and often. And maybe he'll be able to do things like this:

Or like this:

A little more often.

Or maybe not. Players' ascent and deterioration don't always happen in linear fashion, which is part of what made Jones's yearly slips frustrating. Anyway, he might not hit 30 home runs again, but if he's truly improved his skills to foul off bad pitches and earn himself better ones, or to fight off tough pitches and have some of them drop in instead of him whiffing, then he might be able to stave off his decline for a couple more seasons. At 32, Jones has a lot of wear and tear, but I don't think anyone would say he's done just yet.

14 November 2017

Orioles Should Target These Starting Pitchers for Norfolk Depth

In years past, I noted how an important aspect of constructing a solid MLB roster is to have flexibility in the MLB roster where players can be shifted around to no negative effect and all to have a few guys on the farm who can step in without being a disaster.  While it may seem like the Orioles suffered with a rotating cast of starting pitchers, they really did not come from the farm.  The actual starting rotation remained fairly healthy and threw the first pitch often.  Let's look back over the years at the top three contributors to the rotation from the farm.

2012 239 4.47
2013 132.2 5.13
2014 118.7 4.43
2015 167 3.34
2016 157.1 5.53
2017 61 4.33

Most impressive was the 2012 performance where more than one starting pitcher's worth of innings was needed to fill the void.  That year, of course, saw the emergence of Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez as legitimate rotation arms.  2015 also saw a mighty impressive performance from Kevin Gausman as the sixth arm with a 100.1 strong innings (4.00 FIP).  Seen as a whole, having a reliable 6th, 7th and even 8th pitcher is important because one or two starting pitchers is bound to get hurt enough to visit the disabled list (or having a strong supporting rotation lets a pitcher go on the DL in the first place.

2017, the starting rotation was pretty much a disaster.  The club flirted around with having the worst ERA- in team history, but fell short at 129 (1991 Orioles are the worst with a 132 ERA-).  If you want a larger focus, then the 2017 starting rotation, since 1954, was the 24th worst starting rotation ever.  What might be more interesting is that it was done with an incredibly healthy starting rotation with only 61 innings needed from the farm.  While contractual obligations limited the kinds of moves the Orioles could make, it was pretty apparent that the farm offered little that was appreciably better than what the starting rotation currently employed.

The short of it is, the club needs a strong AAA pitching staff.  And, well, that is not what is currently present at Norfolk. Assuming that the Orioles have Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and three external solutions to the starting rotation, then Norfolk's current rotation looks like: Alec Asher, Jordan Kipper, David Hess, John Means, and Yefry Ramirez.  That is a decent collection of AAA workhorses, but not exactly a situation where you feel comfortable bringing more than one player up.  Asher may be needed for a bullpen role and that really leaves you with some stretches who have not shown enough performance at AAA or, even, AA to provide much confidence.

With that in mind, if I ran the Orioles, I would want to add two more rotation talents whom I would have slightly more confidence in as not being complete losses at the MLB level who would be added to David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, and probably Alec Asher.  The others would work on things down at Bowie.  Existing arms like Christopher Lee and Brandon Barker would see various roles emerging from the bullpen.

Minor League Free Agents
When I sit back and think about the kinds of pitcher to target as rotation depth, I consider a couple things.  I would want someone who is in the top half of starting pitchers at the MiL AAA level for swinging strikes and for DRA.  Second, I want them as young as possible.  That really is it.

Who is on that list who is also a MiL free agent?
Ryan Carpenter, LHP
David Hurlbut, LHP
Drew Hutchison, RHP 
Ryan Carpenter, LHP (26 yo)
DRA: 2.39
Swinging Strike %: 10.7%

Carpenter was never considered much of a prospect.  He is a control guy who mixes in decent enough fastball, changeup, and curve.  Carpenter shines a bit more than Hurlbut and Hutchison.  While they barely made both cutoff marks, Carpenter had one of the best DRAs and a slightly higher swinging strike rate.  The optimistic wrinkle is that around the mid-season mark, Carpenter added a slider to his pitches and saw his season turn around.  His first half saw him pitch to a 5.15 ERA and his second half, with the slider, when down to 3.37.

That said, the Rockies apparently did not see enough of an upside and let him go.  I think the ceiling on him is perhaps a better T.J. McFarland if it all works out.  McFarland was a lefty who showed no handedness advantage and was just a hair away from being a useful swing man.  Carpenter might be able to be a hair better than McFarland.  That would be useful.

David Hurlbut. LHP (27 yo)
DRA: 3.95
Swinging Strike %: 10.3%

Hurlbut looks like a lesser Carpenter.  He too had a rebirth in the second half of the season.  Actually, it was really just one horrific May outing.  He does not see much of an improvement against lefties and gets by on three average pitches, but he locates them well and seems to have enough deception in his delivery to make guys miss.

However, twice drafted by the Twins and in the Twins' system these past 6+ years, Hurlbut has been aggressively average.  He has never exactly looked good at any level, but holds his own with some thinking that perhaps a breakout is possible.  It appears that the Twins have given up on that breakout and with his inability to be a LOOGY he does not have much of a safety net.

Drew Hutchison, RHP (26 yo)
DRA: 3.97
Swinging Strike %: 10.2%

Until sometime in 2015, Hutchison was considered a future workhorse for the Toronto Blue Jays.  It all came crashing down.  Teams started hitting him hard; especially the teams that were able to stack up powerful lefties.  The Pirates thought they could turn him around and dealt out a wobbly and expensive Francisco Liriano, past prospect Reese McGuire, and stalling prospect Harold Ramirez.  There have not been any clear winners there, but the Blue Jays might get something out of McGuire and the wobbly Liriano remained wobbly, but was able to fetch the unexpectedly excellent Teoscar Hernandez from the Astros this past year.

Anyway, the Pirates could not fully right the ship.  They were able to improve him from being horrendous against southpaws to acceptable, but he could not crack a non-playoff Pirates roster.  That said, he would have surely appeared in Baltimore last year.

Are these guys better than the batch last year?
At the levels at which the three above performed, yes.

DRA SwgSt%
Tyler Wilson 6.20 7.9%
Gabriel Ynoa 5.52 8.3%
Jayson Aquino 4.65 10.3%
Mike Wright 4.31 9.5%
Jordan Kipper 4.94 5.6%
Alec Asher 5.97 6.9%

Kipper's 5.6% mark was the worst swinging strike rate in the International League for pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched.  Asher and Wilson were not far behind.  Only Aquino had an above average rate.  As far as DRA is concerned, none of the Norfolk rotation appeared as average or better.  Now, Ynoa is already gone--to Tampa.  [Ed. note: Vidal Nuno signed a minor-league deal with the Rays. Ynoa is still with Baltimore. We regret the error.] Wilson and Aquino are minor league free agents.  Wright and Asher are on the roster bubble with Asher having one more option remaining.  Kipper, I believe, is Rule 5 eligible, but that kind of performance would make many teams question as to how he could get through an MLB lineup with such hittable offerings.

I could understand bringing back Aquino, but I would prefer someone whose peripherals are slightly better. Yes, Aquino is a year or three younger then the three arms I identified, but youth is not all.  There has to be another gear that can get him to perform well enough at the MLB level.  Regardless, last year AAA SP performance was poor and it appears the best way to move forward is with some new blood.

10 November 2017

Caleb Joseph Is The Favorite To Start Now, And That's More Than Fine

It's clear by now that the biggest concern for the Orioles roster is the lack of starting pitching options. If the O's don't do anything significant to fix the rotation, then maybe none of the rest of the roster issues really matter that much. Still, the O's could use a defensive outfielder and an upgrade at utility infielder, with maybe one or both hopefully being decent left-handed bats. They could also try to part ways with Mark Trumbo to create some lineup flexibility, but that won't be easy.

But even though Welington Castillo predictably declined his $7 million player option for 2018, catcher is not a position the O's really have to fret about. That's because they have Caleb Joseph.

Joseph doesn't have Castillo's prowess with the bat, but he's far from a disaster. Besides a disastrous, RBI-less 2016 campaign that included a painful injury that certain O's beat reporters were rarely hesitant to mention, Joseph has mostly been around the MLB average mark for catchers.

Caleb Joseph wRC+ (and MLB average wRC+ for catchers)
2014: 71 (93)
2015: 88 (85)
2016: 8 (87)
2017: 82 (89)
Data via FanGraphs

You might not be thrilled with that. But combined with what Joseph brings to the table defensively, a league average bat is more than acceptable.

By DRS data, Joseph has been a highly touted defender behind the plate in his four seasons (+32 from 2014-2017). He's been above average overall in terms of throwing out opposing baserunners, though he was below average last season (though, to be fair, he did have to catch nearly 30 more innings of Ubaldo Jimenez, who's notoriously slow to the plate and easier to steal off of). He's also been a strong pitch-caller and good at blocking pitches in the dirt.

FanGraphs does not use UZR to measure catcher defense and instead lists DRS data. And while DRS data does apparently factor in "handling of the pitching staff via things like pitch framing and pitch calling," it's not as well regarded as framing data at Baseball Prospectus. Here's how Joseph ranks in FRAA (framing runs above average):

Caleb Joseph framing runs above average
2014: 15.2 (7th)
2015: 10.8 (11th)
2016: 7.8 (13th)
2017: 13.1 (8th)
Data via Baseball Prospectus

He's not the best, but he's pretty good and is clearly above average when it comes to adding extra strikes for his battery mate.

Considering everything, it's not surprising that BP lists Joseph as being worth more in his four seasons (5.8 WARP) than Baseball-Reference (4.1 bWAR) and FanGraphs (1.7 fWAR). Even if pitch framing is becoming a skill that's more difficult to carry over from year to year, Joseph has stayed pretty consistent in his career. And if he's able to maintain that level of production the next few years, all the better.

In Joseph, the Orioles have a good pitch-framer with good enough throwing, blocking, and hitting skills who is under team control for three more seasons. He made $700,000 last season after losing to the O's in arbitration, and as a Super Two player, he still has three more arbitration years remaining.

The O's are likely to have a patchwork pitching staff next year and beyond, and it won't hurt to have someone behind the plate for 100 or so games to aid their hurlers a bit. And even if pitch framing is not something that's easy to teach, it couldn't hurt Chance Sisco's defensive development as the backup to hopefully learn something from Joseph. Maybe that's wishful thinking, and of course there's no way of knowing what exactly Sisco will offer in 2017 (surely more offensively than defensively), but a Joseph-Sisco tandem could be a good and interesting combination.

09 November 2017

Orioles 2018 Blueprint Follow-Up: Why I Decided to Non-Tender Zach Britton

Zach Britton (photo via Keith Allison)
A couple of weeks ago, some of the writers here at Camden Depot went through our annual exercise of outlining our vision of how the Orioles should approach the offseason. My blueprint was the first to be published, and within it, I made the somewhat controversial decision to non-tender Baltimore closer Zach Britton. By doing so, the move saved me $12.2 million in payroll, but significantly weakened my proposed bullpen. For our fictional exercise, I thought the move was necessary to make the club as competitive as it could be for the 2018. And instead of getting into all of the reasons as to why I thought it was best to non-tender Britton within that piece (essentially inserting 1,000+ word tangent), I promised that I would post a follow up article detailing my reasons for doing so. Well, here it is.

With one more season of Manny Machado and Adam Jones, I wanted to put the best team possible on the field to compete in 2018, without much consideration as to what the team would look like in the following season. To do accomplish that, the two main things I was focused on in my blueprint was strengthening the bench with players who could play multiple positions and remaking the starting rotation. A more complete bench was the easy task, and in my view that goal was accomplished by signing Jon Jay, Howie Kendrick, and Cliff Pennington.

There is no getting around the fact that the 2017 Baltimore starting rotation was terrible. The only good thing about them was that the 3 worst performers were all going to be free agents.

2017 Baltimore Orioles SP Ranks
Like many of the other writers, I believed the lack of quality starting pitchers in the minor league system meant that it was essential to sign at least 3 starting pitchers. I believed that the only way to significantly improve the rotation was to get the best starting pitcher available, and in my mind that was Yu Darvish. With Darvish costing $17.3 million per year (and considering all the other areas this team needed to improve as well as a limited budget), my decision essentially boiled down to whether I would want Britton or Darvish. I chose Darvish.

The main reason I felt why I ad to go with Darvish was due to just how BAD the Orioles starting rotation was in 2017/could be in 2018. The Orioles have proven that they don’t need a great rotation to be successful and make the playoffs. However, the 2017 rotation was so bad (combined with the lack of internal options), I believed that anything less than Darvish would be applying a band-aid to a wound that required 40 stitches. And while he’s looked at as an injury risk, he’s coming off a sub-par season, where he was still worth 3.5 fWAR (3.9 bWAR). He’s averaged 4.1 fWAR (4.2 bWAR) per 180 IP over the course of his career. To put that into perspective, the Orioles haven’t had a starting pitcher eclipse the 3.0 fWAR mark since Erik Bedard did it in 2006 (4.6) and 2007 (5.0).

Comparing average Yu Darvish against Zach Britton at his absolute best (2.5 fWAR during the 2016 season), the Orioles get an additional 1.6 wins for the added cost of $5 million. I realize that Darvish would come with an additional 3 years of commitment according to our BORAS projection system, but as I mentioned, I was only concerned with 2018. Granted that average Darvish versus the best Britton argument doesn’t work when using bWAR bWAR (which based on run prevention instead of FIP), but what is the likelihood we see 2016 Britton again in 2018? It’s not impossible, but coming off an injury-plagued season with good (but not great) numbers, I think it’s highly unlikely.

Britton missed most of May, all of June, and the beginning of July due to a strained left forearm. He was then shut down for the rest of the season after his September 18th appearance due to an MCL sprain in his left knee, an injury that was serious enough for him to receive a stem cell injection. When he did pitch, he was effective, but certainly not his usual self, finishing with career worst strikeout and walk rates (since being transitioned to the bullpen full time).

Obviously I don’t know exactly how bad either of those injuries are, but that forearm injury (combined with his performance) was a big reason why teams weren’t offering a trade package the Orioles liked at the deadline. Along with the knee injury, he didn’t do anything the last two months of the season to bring his trade value back up. When you combine the injuries, the performance, and the assumption that he’ll make $12.2 million in his 4th and final year of arbitration, I don’t believe that he has much trade value. This kind of torpedoes the idea of tendering him a contract and trading him later in the offseason. If the Orioles couldn’t find an attractive offer at the 2017 trade deadline, they’re certainly not going to find a better one this offseason. Furthermore, I don’t think his value will be that high at the 2018 trade deadline if the Orioles are out of it. The only way the Orioles get a good package for him is if he pitches like he did in 2016 again and there’s a desperate contender who needs a closer. Again, that scenario is possible, just not probable.

The need to greatly improve the starting rotation, combined with the injury questions and decreased trade value of Zach Britton, led to my decision to non-tender him. I ultimately thought the $12.2 million saved could be better spent to make the team better in 2018. So if I were actually sitting in the GM chair in real life, would I still take the same course of action? Probably not (actually, almost definitely not).

For the purposes of our blueprint exercise, I stand by my decision. But I don’t think it’s a smart one to make in real life. And that’s not because the fans would probably be pissed about non-tendering a favorite (although that should be given consideration as well). The real reason you don’t non-tender Zach Britton is because it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be able to reinvest those savings into players that will improve the team. The readers who commented on my blueprint started to hit on this topic a bit. Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, and all of the other players we proposed to sign are human beings. They have a choice of where they want to play. If they don’t want to play in Baltimore, they’re not going to sign with Baltimore. The blueprint exercise takes that choice away from them. Non-tendering Britton in real life could very possibly yield a team without Zach Britton and an extra $12.2 million. That may be ok for the owners of the team, but from the perspective of being competitive, the Orioles would be decidedly worse off.

08 November 2017

A Tale of Two Chatwoods

Tyler Chatwood is an interesting player and one that has been contemplated by other sites, including here and Camden Chat.  However, I want to tease out some things.  First, I want to visit BORAS (pi) 1.3, our site's most recent version of contract prediction for free agent pitchers.  It pegged a new Chatwood deal as being in the neighborhood of 4/41.9.  This is a much higher value than what was put forth recently by MLB Trade Rumors: 3/20.  At that price, I think Chatwood would be a no brainer because of how interesting his performance has been these past two years at Coors (6.07 ERA, 148.1 IP) and away from Coors (2.57 ERA, 157.1 IP).

This presents a very drastic difference in production and almost as he was indeed two different pitchers (more on that later).  How would all three of these pitchers compare under the BORAS model if they spent a whole year at home or away?
4 years, 41.9 MM (actual)
Minor League Deal (home projected)
6 years, 146.6 MM (road projected)
It is rather a stunning difference and when we see something like this, we want to ask why?

          4S           2S         CH          Sl           CU
Home 40% 23% 4% 23% 10%
Road 28% 35% 5% 19% 13%

You can see his approach changes when he goes out on the road.  On the road, Chatwood relies more on his pitches with movement.  He leans on a sinker and curve a bit more and moves away from the four seamer and slider.  Why?  Because, depending on where he is, he has to use what works best.  At Coors, what works best is his fastball.  On the road, the fastball still works, but he gets more movement out of his other offerings.  He turns to his sinker, which sinks more. He goes with a slower breaking ball because it breaks more.
Horizontal Movement
     Home       Road          Diff
4S -1.8 -1.5 0.3
2S -5.7 -6.9 1.2
CH -2.9 -4.7 1.8
SL 0.6 1.5 0.9
CU 3.0 4.3 1.3
Vertical Movement
     Home       Road          Diff
4S 8.7 9.6 1.1
2S 7.7 7.6 0.1
CH 5.2 4.4 0.8
SL 3.1 2.6 0.5
CU -5 -9.2 4.2
Although Chatwood has been termed a sinker ball pitcher outside of Coors Field, that is a bit of a misreading of the numbers.  While his flat fastball gets flatter away from his current him and his sinker runs a bit more, what really changes is the run and depth of his breaking ball.  His breaking ball goes from being a show me pitch in Coors to something with pretty damaging potential away.

It would be interesting to see how Chatwood is able to adapt with having a fairly consistent collection of pitches instead of having to deal with the differences Coors offers on a regular basis.  Can he be that 24 MM arm?  Does a more stabilized pitch set also means a more readily prepared batter?  What he has accomplished on the road has been remarkable these past two years and there is good reason to believe that his pitches support that potential.  While much attention has been handed to Alex Cobb, Chatwood might well be the real star here.

07 November 2017

What Is a Jimmy Yacabonis?

Joe Reisel's Archives

Jimmy Yacabonis was named to the International League team for the 2017 AAA All-Star game. Photo courtesy of Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.

Recently, the authors of - and guest contributors to - Camden Depot have provided their opinions on what the Orioles should do this offseason. Every contributor acknowledged that the Orioles need pitching. While the need for starting pitchers is huge and obvious, many commentators (not necessarily on Camden Depot) have speculated that the Orioles could try to meet that need by trading from their bullpen. It is noteworthy to me that none of the commenters have suggested using pitchers from their AAA Norfolk team on the 2018 major-league team, except that Alec Asher and Gabriel Ynoa might be desperation options as long relievers/fifth starters if nothing else works.

Although it's noteworthy, it's really not surprising. The 2017 Norfolk Tides were not a good AAA team and their run prevention was also not good, finishing ninth in the fourteen-team International League despite playing in a pitcher's park. And many of the Norfolk pitchers were expressly acquired by the Orioles to serve as depth options, ready to be promoted if the Orioles needed a long man in the bullpen or if they were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. While the Orioles did catch a bolt labeled "Richard Bleier" in a bottle, pitchers such as Damien Magnifico, Jordan Kipper, Paul Fry, and Andrew Faulkner were only of interest in our end-of-season game of "Name Those Tides."

But I do wonder if the in-organization options for the Orioles staff are being written off too quickly. There were four Tides pitchers who were considered at least moderate prospects before 2017 and/or pitched reasonably well for the 2017 Tides. It's at least conceivable that - well, I don't know if the fans I'm thinking of would be considered casual or sophisticated - some fans might wonder if relief pitchers Jimmy Yacabonis and Stefan Crichton, or starting pitchers Chris Lee and Jayson Aquino, could play for the 2017 Tides. Over the next couple of months, I'll be looking at these four pitchers based on my observations/data collection from my 2017 work. (Newcomers - I work for the Tides as a Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) datacaster and for Baseball Information Solutions (BIS) as a minor league scorer.) First up - Jimmy Yacabonis.

Jimmy Yacabonis was the Orioles' 13th-round draft pick in 2013 out of St. Joseph's University. Although he had control problems, he pitched effectively while rising through the Orioles system - except in the Advanced-A Carolina League (Frederick); he spent parts of three seasons there and so only got to AAA in 2017, at age 25. His 2017 was, at least at the most elementary level, quite successful. With Norfolk, Yacabonis pitched 61 1/3 innings in 41 appearances, with a 1.32 ERA (and no unearned runs); a 0.95 WHIP; and no home runs allowed. In a couple of stints with the Orioles, Yacabonis pitched 20 2/3 innings in 14 appearances, with a 4.35 ERA (again with no unearned runs) and only two home runs allowed. Looking at those stats, he looks like a pitcher who could help in a bullpen role, and has even shown the ability to pitch more than one inning in an appearance.

Of course, those are his most favorable statistics, and other aspects of his performance raise doubts. With Norfolk, Yacabonis walked 28 batters and struck out only 48, unimpressive totals for a relief pitcher. He was even worse in his time with the Orioles, walking 14 while striking out only 8. His WHIP in his 20 2/3 innings with Baltimore was 1.55. It is possible - maybe even probable - that his overall effectiveness was a product of luck, rather than ability.

I saw 14 of Yacabonis' Norfolk appearances, and will look more closely at his performance to see a little more clearly what he is. First, his basic performance data:

Apr 10
Apr 15
Apr 26 (1)
May 06
May 07
1 1/3
May 20
2 2/3
May 31
Jun 03
1 1/3
Jun 18
1 1/3
Jun 28
2 1/3
Jul 27
Aug 19
Aug 22

That's a pretty solid line with a couple of red flags. In 20 innings, he allowed 2 runs (0.90 RA) on only 7 base hits. He pitched at least one complete inning in all 14 outings and at least two in 6. On the negative side, he walked 12 in those 20 innings and struck out only 14. This does appear to be a representative sample of his work, as his rates are completely in line with his full-season rates.

Next, a look at the results of Yacabonis' pitches:

Callled Strike
Swinging Strike
In Play

Although the Ball total may appear high, it's really in line with the counts of most Norfolk pitchers (at least the ones I looked at previously.) What's more distinctive is that batters swung at fewer of Yacabonis' pitches than they did at the pitches of most other pitchers - it's not radically out of line, but the percentage of swings is at the low end. I see two possible reasons for this - either it's known that Yacabonis doesn't have good control, so batters don't swing; or Yacabonis has a deceptive delivery and batters don't see the ball well. (Or both.)

The most interesting data is below, which is the number of pitches Yacabonis threw at different ball-strike counts:


The interesting thing is that over half the time Yacabonis pitched a ball on the first pitch. It's been established that pitchers are more effective when they have an 0-1 count, as opposed to a 1-0 count, after the first pitch. It does seem that, if he does fall behind 1-0, he doesn't have much trouble throwing the second pitch for a strike - he only had 16 2-0 counts.

So, after all this, I still don't know what to make of Jimmy Yacabonis. That he was effective in AAA is undoubted. It's still not clear whether he'll be able to be effective as a major-league pitcher. In general, I believe that a pitcher who's been effective at a level deserves a real chance at the next level, and Yacabonis fits that criteria. But his lack of control, his lack of strikeouts, and his inability to throw strike one give me pause. I can understand why the Orioles, in 2018, would rather use a pitcher with better predictors of success even if that pitcher was less effective than Jimmy Yacabonis.