20 April 2018

Players Don't Need Unlimited Mound Visits

The Norfolk Tides finished their first homestand last week. I was fortunate to datacast three of those games - a 3-1 loss to Gwinnett on Friday, April 6; a 3-1 walkoff win over Gwinnett on Sunday, April 8; and a sloppy 7-1 win over Charlotte on Tuesday, April 10. There's not enough data in three games to draw any conclusions about the Tides players, but there is still something worth noting.

As all of you should know, there are have been some new rules, intended to improve the pace of game play, for minor league games this season. The most discussed has been the rule to start extra innings with a runner on second base, but none of the games I saw required extra-innings (thanks to a DJ Stewart walk-off home run.) Another rule change, one which I believe has been long overdue, limits the total number of mound visits to six, including both visits by coaches/managers and by other players.

This rule change had an immediate, noticeable effect in the first two games I saw. There was a total of one mound visit that did not result in a pitching change. In the Friday game, Gwinnett's pitching coach Reid Cornelius came out to the mound after Evan Phillips walked Joey Rickard to load the bases with one out. Phillips retired the next two batters without allowing a run. Earlier, Tides manager Ron Johnson went to the mound to relieve a struggling Joely Rodriguez. In the Sunday game, the Tides made two mid-inning pitching changes, but otherwise the players on both teams had to go at it without internal discussions or help from their coaches.

And this lack of discussion didn't seem to lessen the quality of play. Players knew where to throw the ball and knew where their teammates were going to be. Catchers and pitchers were in agreement on their signs. In short, players knew what to do without discussions of remote contingencies.

One day, before a game, the official scorer, the Tides radio play-by-play broadcaster, and I chatted about the rule changes. None of us really liked the extra-innings rule, although we all agreed that anything to end five-hour marathons decided by (1) which team first runs out of rested pitchers or (2) which team has a batter who hits a fly ball down the line and into the seats is a good thing. But we all agreed that too much of modern baseball has become dead time, and limiting the number of visits to the mound is a good start. And, at least so far, it hasn't hurt the game at all. I will be interested to see if that remains the case.

19 April 2018

There is No Cavalry

As a child, hope sprung eternal for the fate of the Baltimore Orioles season.  Back then, the margins were thinner.  Rich teams and poor teams did not differ all that much from each other.  You could look and see how Alan Wiggins, Don Aase, or Sam Horn would revolutionize the club.  But, times changed.  Media-driven bags of cash have been thrown at clubs, more to the big media markets.  Baltimore was left behind even though they were on the front end of the cash grab.  My knowledge of baseball has also increased and I can see beyond what more pedestrian sources of baseball information report.

This past offseason, we knew starting pitching was an issue.  We knew that three-fifths of the rotation had to be acquired through external means.  We knew that Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were not sure thing starters.  We knew that swingmen in the bullpen and Norfolk would probably be needed.  We knew these things because it happened before.  It happened last year.  It happened before then, too.  It occurred in 2012.

When Duquette took over the Fall before, he knew he had an issue with the starting rotation.  He had several young players who kept getting torched: Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton.  The club also did not like the other spots being filled with Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, and Alfredo Simon.  This led to a shopping spree.  Guthrie went out and Jason Hammel came in.  Dana Eveland, Tsuyoshi Wada, Randy Wolf, Wei-Yin Chen, Armando Gallaraga, Miguel Gonzalez, Dontrelle Willis, Jamie Moyer, Chris George, Casey Fossum, and Joel Pineiro signed on.  The club also kept Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen around.  All in all, 25 different pitchers started a game in AAA.  Oh yeah, Joe Saunders showed up in August.

2012 began with a rotation of Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Wei-Yin Chen, and Brian Matusz.  2012 ended with a rotation of Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Joe Saunders, and Steve Johnson (covering for an injured Jason Hammel).  The club went through 12 total starters trying to find the right ones with only Wei-Yin Chen earning more than 20 starts.  For the most part, it was ugly, but it helped the club find useful non-negative value pitching and limited the damage that a full season of starting that Arrieta, Hunter, and Matusz would have done to the club.

In 2017, the club trotted out 11 pitchers to the mound, but had trouble finding anything useful beyond Bundy and usually Gausman.  Wade Miley somehow started 32 games.  The club could not prevent Ubaldo Jimenez from his 25 starts.  The Tillman trainwreck appeared 19 times for a first pitch.  No solutions were found with Jeremy Hellickson (who was highly displeased with being sent to the Orioles in a trade), Alec Asher, Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro, and Jayson Aquino.  The lack of depth prevented the Orioles from mixing around their starting rotation and forced them to keep penciling in arms they knew would not work.

With that experience in mind, one would imagine that the Orioles would then see a massive influx of fringe starting pitching talent on par with the 2012 refitting.  The club was able to snag a decent middle of the rotation arm in Alex Cobb, a backend arm in Andrew Cashner, and a flyer on Chris Tillman.  Rising up in Norfolk were David Hess and Yefry Ramirez.  To beef up MiL options, Asher Wojciechowski, Jayson Aquino, Tim Melville, Eddie Gamboa, Michael Kelly, and David Holmberg were signed.  It simply was not the onslaught of starting talent that they worked through in 2012.

And so the club is in this position now.  They let numerous pitchers go in the offseason.  Last fall, I suggested the club secure pitchers such as Ryan Carpenter, David Hurlbut, and Drew Hutchison.  None of them look particularly interesting, but they would add more fodder for the canons.  You could add Scott Barlow to that list.  And, really, there were fringe starters beyond those who would be of interest.  The Orioles largely sat on their hands and now they are forced to trot guys out to the mound who should not be there.  And so the club repeats the situation they found themselves in last year.

Below are the current crop of Norfolk starters and percentile projections of ERA.

Asher Wojciechowski
Projected ERA
10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
7.15 6.52 5.77 5.08 4.46
6.2 4 5 6.75

David Hess
Projected ERA
10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
7.68 6.96 6.29 5.57 4.99
5 7 0 1.8

Tim Melville
Projected ERA
10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
7.26 6.55 5.81 4.99 4.42
4 6 3 4.5

Jayson Aquino
Projected ERA
10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
6.57 5.91 5.35 4.73 4.19
9 4 5 6

Yefry Ramirez
Projected ERA
10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
8.61 8.02 7.07 6.21 5.5
8.2 7 4 2.08

Jimmy Yacabonis
Projected ERA
10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
7.87 6.89 6.12 5.33 4.78
5 4 3 7.2

18 April 2018

The Orioles Have Been Bad In Many Areas

You only need to look at the Orioles' record (5-12) and run differential (-37) to know they've had a rough start to the year. They haven't won many games, and they've been outscored by a lot.

As you'd imagine, they've struggled in plenty of ways. This isn't an exhaustive breakdown, but here are some areas in which they've been very bad. First, the offense:
  • Scoring runs: 3.19 runs per game (2nd worst in AL)
  • Getting on base: .286 OBP (2nd worst in AL)
  • Avoiding strikeouts: 28.2 K% (MLB worst)
  • Also have the 2nd most caught looking Ks (38) in the majors
  • Hitting the ball hard (28.0 hard-hit percentage, worst in AL)
  • Making contact (71.9 Contact%, worst in MLB) 
  • 2nd worst in both out-of-zone contact and in-zone contact
How about the pitching struggles?
  • Limiting runs: 5.38 runs allowed per game (3rd worst in AL)
  • Avoiding bullpen usage: 5.0 IP per start (tied for 2nd worst in AL)
  • Keeping runners off base (1.50 WHIP, 2nd worst in AL)
And the fielding? That actually depends which metric you use (and yes, it's incredibly early to be looking at fielding metrics):
  • 16th in MLB in FanGraphs' defensive runs above average (DEF)
  • 6th in UZR/150
  • 26th in DRS
I can't imagine this O's defense will rate anything better than average as the year goes on. The battle lines of Manny Machado playing shortstop have been drawn (I'm still in favor but also never thought it was a huge deal), but no matter what, I don't think anyone wants to see Danny Valencia playing third base anymore.

So Orioles batters are not scoring runs, getting on base, putting the ball in play, hitting the ball hard, or making much contact. Jonathan Schoop (out with a quad injury), Adam Jones, Danny Valencia, Anthony Santander, Tim Beckham, Chris Davis, Colby Rasmus (hip injury), and Caleb Joseph all have a wRC+ under 70 (with several far below that mark). O's starting pitchers, collectively, are not going longer in games, and they're not keeping runners off base. With each start, Chris Tillman's hold on a roster spot gets even more tenuous. And while the fielding has maybe been OK, it hasn't helped pitchers to keep runs off the board. These are all significant problems.

The Orioles have not had much go right. They need a healthy Schoop back as soon as possible, and they need a significant chunk of the team to play better. And they need to do it soon, before things get really bad and the team digs a large enough hole that they can't climb out of. I hope Buck still likes his guys because they're all he's got.

Photo via Keith Allison. Stats, from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, as of April 17.

17 April 2018

Trade Manny Now? Historically, Not Happening.

It is not uncommon to hear the rising volume of those who wish for the Orioles to sell their pieces and build for the future.  That crowd is growing in size.  It was a small patter before the 2017 season and has grown steadily since then.  The noise, noticeable but not overwhelming, feels like it is about to become a wall of sound overtaking all other talk this year.

The articles are coming out.  The departure of several veterans after this season and the poor start of this 2018 campaign has made the Orioles an easy column to tap away.  They have pieces that others might well desire and those pieces could help replenish a system that was heavily neglected for years.  The recent, quite impressive, success of the the Duquette era feels like a mix of Andy MacPhail bricks, Duquette's mortar, and a whole lot of Orioles magic.  That mix seems to have run out.

Will Leitch filed his column on the Orioles and chewed on the possibilities.  The basic refrain was that it was early, but that the early returns for the Orioles were terrible and the club should very well get on with it.  On some level, this makes sense if you think this season will not bear fruit, but, generally, this is not the case for a club not even 20% of the way into the season.

April is not a time for major trades.  You have to wait for that.  You have to wait for team to accept (maybe their fan bases to accept) that there simply is not enough juice in the club to compete this season.  You have to wait for other clubs to conclude that their solution for a position failed and they really need a good solution to replace that idea that did not work out.  These things take time to assess and move on.

Billy Beane would say that the first two months of the season were solely about figuring out how you screwed up the offseason.  Once equipped with that information, you can then use the next two months to figure a way out of the mess you created.  Still, one hears that murmur in Baltimore that trades should happen right now.

Since 2009, there have been 37 trades from April 15th to the end of the month.  In 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, and 2017, the trades were for fringe players going one way and money or PTBNLs going in the other way.  They were all post-shine players.  Guys who once looked interested and simply wore off that shine.  They then would go somewhere else to a team that still had that hope.

However, there have been a few deals where players were immediately exchanged.

In 2011,
1) Chris Malone going from the Rockies to the Jays for Brad Emaus
2) Danny Farquhar leaving the A's for the Jays in exchange for David Purcey
In 2012,
1) Josh Bell leaving the Orioles to the DBacks for Mike Belfiore
2) Red Sox bidding adieu to Michael Bowden for the Cubs Marlon Byrd
In 2013,
Chris Snyder left the Angels to go to the Orioles for Rob Delaney
In 2014,
A post-shine Ike Davis took up with the Pirates in exchange for sending Zach Thornton to the Mets

The most anyone got for their troubles was a little fringe bullpen action.  No one gave back one WAR to the teams acquiring a player.

What this all means is that you are going to have to wait.  Teams are figuring out themselves.  They are trying to determine their true needs and what they are willing to give up to fill those needs for a playoff run.  That typically means mid-June or later.  So take a breath and enjoy Manny for a few weeks more before he may head off to another pasture.

16 April 2018

Dylan Bundy's Fast Start

The Orioles (5-11, -35 run differential) have been lousy. Dylan Bundy, though, has been outstanding. After four starts, he's thrown nearly 26 innings while posting an ERA of 1.40 and a FIP of 1.97. In each start, he's gone at least 5.2 innings, allowed two earned runs or fewer, and struck out at least six batters. That puts him in rare company in Orioles team history.

In the Expansion Era (since 1961), Bundy tops the list of Orioles starting pitchers with consecutive starts of at least 5.2 IP, 2 ER or fewer, and at least 6 strikeouts to begin a season (via Baseball-Reference's Play Index):

Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
1Dylan Bundy2018-03-292018-04-15425.24731
2Steve Johnson2012-08-082012-08-25212.04416
3Rich Hill2009-05-162009-05-22211.14612
4Garrett Olson2008-04-292008-05-05213.03613
5Dave Schmidt1987-06-091987-06-14213.11212
6Ken Dixon1985-04-201985-04-25215.22513
7Dave McNally1968-04-171968-04-22218.02213
8Tom Phoebus1966-09-151966-09-20218.00515
9Dave McNally1963-04-201963-04-27217.03315
10Dylan Bundy2017-04-052017-04-0517.0108
11Ubaldo Jimenez2016-04-072016-04-0717.0109
12Mike Wright2015-05-172015-05-1717.1006
13Ubaldo Jimenez2015-04-112015-04-1117.0018
14Bud Norris2013-08-012013-08-0116.0228
15Scott Feldman2013-07-032013-07-0316.0206
16Miguel Gonzalez2012-07-062012-07-0617.0126
17Chris Tillman2012-07-042012-07-0418.1027
18Wei-Yin Chen2012-04-102012-04-1015.2216
19Zach Britton2011-04-032011-04-0316.0136
20Jeremy Guthrie2011-04-012011-04-0118.0016
21Bruce Chen2005-04-092005-04-0916.0206
22Rick Bauer2004-09-292004-09-2916.0017
23Dave Borkowski2004-07-052004-07-0518.1216
24Jason Johnson2002-04-032002-04-0317.2116
25Jason Johnson2001-04-052001-04-0518.1116
Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
26Sidney Ponson2001-04-042001-04-0417.12110
27Pat Hentgen2001-04-022001-04-0218.2116
28David Wells1996-04-031996-04-0317.0136
29Rick Krivda1995-07-071995-07-0715.2227
30Mike Mussina1993-04-071993-04-0718.0119
31Ben McDonald1992-04-091992-04-0919.0019
32Rick Sutcliffe1992-04-061992-04-0619.0016
33Eric Bell1987-04-121987-04-1216.1127
34Mike Boddicker1985-04-101985-04-1016.0146
35Mike Boddicker1983-05-171983-05-1719.0018
36Jim Palmer1978-04-151978-04-1519.0017
37Mike Flanagan1977-04-191977-04-1919.0226
38Rudy May1976-06-181976-06-1818.1236
39Grant Jackson1971-06-221971-06-2216.2017
40Dave McNally1971-04-071971-04-0719.0216
41Dave McNally1970-04-071970-04-0719.02313
42Jim Palmer1969-04-131969-04-1319.0038
43Mike Cuellar1969-04-101969-04-10110.0036
44Tom Phoebus1968-04-101968-04-1017.1126
45Pete Richert1967-06-031967-06-0318.0226
46Frank Bertaina1967-05-181967-05-1816.0146
47Moe Drabowsky1966-08-121966-08-1218.2037
48John Miller1966-05-101966-05-1016.1217
49Jim Palmer1966-04-131966-04-1319.0186
50Steve Barber1964-04-171964-04-1715.2247
Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
51Dick Hall1962-07-281962-07-2819.01012
52Steve Barber1962-04-151962-04-1519.0167
53Jack Fisher1961-04-141961-04-1416.2207
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/16/2018.

Coming out of the gate, Bundy has been wonderful. It's a shame the O's haven't taken advantage; after Sunday's loss in Boston, they're now 1-3 in his starts and have scored just seven runs in those four games.

If Bundy is going to catch the O's leader for most consecutive starts with 5.2 IP, 2 ER or fewer, and 6+ strikeouts (not just to start the season), he still has three more to go:

Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
1Erik Bedard2006-06-212006-07-28750.061154
2Erik Bedard2007-07-072007-07-31535.041247
3Dave McNally1966-07-031966-07-27540.281237
4Dylan Bundy2018-03-292018-04-15425.24731
5Kevin Gausman2017-07-192017-08-04427.22932
6Mike Mussina1995-07-231995-08-07431.04825
7Ben McDonald1993-09-011993-09-17433.151029
8Steve Stone1980-06-121980-06-26436.041333
9Ubaldo Jimenez2017-07-262017-08-06318.24721
10Zach Britton2012-08-242012-09-04321.23424
11Jake Arrieta2011-05-042011-05-15319.05821
12Erik Bedard2007-06-152007-06-27320.04126
13Erik Bedard2005-04-232005-05-04323.01325
14Mike Mussina2000-08-212000-08-31321.01221
15Scott Kamieniecki1997-07-301997-08-15320.23720
16Mike Mussina1995-09-211995-10-01327.01721
17Ken Dixon1986-07-021986-07-11326.02626
18Mike Flanagan1979-08-091979-08-20330.02529
19Jim Palmer1977-09-121977-09-20326.03520
20Jim Palmer1977-04-121977-04-24327.01420
21Mike Cuellar1973-07-111973-07-19329.03627
22Jim Palmer1972-08-191972-08-28327.01826
23Jim Palmer1972-05-051972-05-15325.06425
24Jim Palmer1971-04-291971-05-09325.05624
25Dave McNally1968-07-051968-07-15324.24721
Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
26Tom Phoebus1968-07-031968-07-13326.02930
27John Miller1966-08-261966-09-05322.051322
28Milt Pappas1964-08-251964-09-02325.02226
29Steve Barber1963-04-171963-04-25326.23925
30Chuck Estrada1962-06-191962-06-29324.03721
31Kevin Gausman2017-09-132017-09-19215.01213
32Wade Miley2017-04-202017-04-25215.03719
33Kevin Gausman2016-08-282016-09-03213.00217
34Kevin Gausman2016-08-032016-08-08213.04313
35Dylan Bundy2016-08-022016-08-07213.02216
36Kevin Gausman2016-07-182016-07-23213.22413
37Chris Tillman2016-06-082016-06-14214.11216
38Chris Tillman2016-05-132016-05-18213.12513
39Chris Tillman2016-04-272016-05-03213.21618
40Wei-Yin Chen2015-09-192015-09-26212.23214
41Chris Tillman2015-07-102015-07-18214.02214
42Ubaldo Jimenez2015-05-112015-05-16214.04215
43Wei-Yin Chen2015-05-092015-05-15214.03314
44Chris Tillman2014-09-142014-09-20213.23312
45Kevin Gausman2014-09-062014-09-12214.02614
46Miguel Gonzalez2014-08-292014-09-03216.01214
47Chris Tillman2014-08-032014-08-08213.22113
48Miguel Gonzalez2014-05-102014-05-20213.04213
49Chris Tillman2013-08-242013-08-29215.03217
50Chris Tillman2013-07-212013-07-26215.02615
Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
51Jason Hammel2013-05-222013-05-27214.24214
52Steve Johnson2012-08-082012-08-25212.04416
53Jason Hammel2012-06-162012-06-22217.00218
54Jason Hammel2012-04-192012-04-25213.02417
55Brian Matusz2010-09-272010-10-02213.01417
56Jeremy Guthrie2010-07-172010-07-23213.23112
57Rich Hill2009-05-162009-05-22211.14612
58Garrett Olson2008-04-292008-05-05213.03613
59Erik Bedard2007-08-152007-08-21214.02219
60Jeremy Guthrie2007-06-202007-06-26214.13215
61Erik Bedard2007-05-202007-05-25214.03620
62Daniel Cabrera2006-08-192006-08-25216.00517
63Daniel Cabrera2006-04-282006-05-03214.03312
64Daniel Cabrera2005-09-062005-09-12212.22317
65Erik Bedard2005-05-212005-07-18213.00414
66Daniel Cabrera2005-05-032005-05-09216.01619
67Rodrigo Lopez2004-09-212004-09-26216.01414
68Erik Bedard2004-08-062004-08-11212.02813
69Rodrigo Lopez2003-07-012003-07-06213.22014
70Sidney Ponson2003-05-032003-05-09215.02315
71Mike Mussina2000-09-242000-09-30213.11122
72Mike Mussina2000-06-112000-06-16214.24312
73Mike Mussina1999-09-241999-09-30213.00218
74Juan Guzman1999-06-231999-06-29212.23715
75Mike Mussina1999-06-181999-06-24218.04119
Rk Name Strk Start End Games IP ER BB SO
76Scott Erickson1998-07-051998-07-11216.22515
77Scott Erickson1998-05-211998-05-26215.23517
78Mike Mussina1997-08-281997-09-02214.04119
79Scott Erickson1997-07-271997-08-01217.00215
80Mike Mussina1997-06-251997-06-30217.02221
81Jimmy Key1997-06-081997-06-13213.22415
82Mike Mussina1997-05-031997-05-08213.13315
83Mike Mussina1997-04-171997-04-22215.02113
84Rocky Coppinger1996-09-211996-09-26215.12413
85Mike Mussina1996-04-281996-05-04214.23515
86Ben McDonald1995-05-311995-06-05217.04215
87Mike Mussina1994-06-211994-06-26216.01214
88Mike Mussina1993-08-311993-09-05216.24414
89Jamie Moyer1993-08-181993-08-24217.01315
90Ben McDonald1992-09-291992-10-04216.01415
91Arthur Rhodes1992-09-151992-09-23215.22613
92Mike Mussina1992-09-051992-09-11217.03417
93Arthur Rhodes1992-07-241992-07-29217.02415
94Ben McDonald1991-09-081992-04-09216.02216
95Ben McDonald1990-09-071990-09-12217.03413
96Bob Milacki1989-05-281989-06-02216.12412
97Oswaldo Peraza1988-08-021988-08-06216.02516
98Eric Bell1987-07-171987-07-23217.22321
99Dave Schmidt1987-06-091987-06-14213.11212
100Mike Boddicker1986-09-211986-09-26214.13614
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/16/2018.

It's easy to take for granted just how good Erik Bedard was for a few years during the Orioles' Dark Ages, but he was superb in 2006 and 2007.

If you're curious, out of all teams, Randy Johnson had the most such starts to begin a season during the Expansion Era, with nine. And the longest run of such starts spanning multiple seasons was by Pedro Martinez, with 15 (1999-2000), and in any single season by Randy Johnson, with 14 (1999).