19 February 2018

Player Opt-Out Clauses Could (Have) Really Help(ed) the Orioles This Offseason

The Orioles finally did something last week by signing Andrew Cashner to a 2-year, $16 million deal. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the deal also includes a $10 million vesting option if Cashner throws 340 innings over those two yers. That option turns into a player option if he pitches at least 360 innings. As the article points out, Cashner has only topped 170 innings twice over his career, and has only exceeded 180 innings once, so it’s unlikely that those options will come into play.

This article isn’t going to focus on the Cashner deal though (we covered that here and here). Don’t get me wrong, I think the deal is fine, and it certainly fills a need, though the Orioles have more roster holes to fill, even as players have reported to spring training. The semi-inclusion of the player option in Cashner’s contract actually got me thinking about player opt out clauses in contracts over the past few seasons. The Orioles front office has been pretty adamant about not wanting to include opt-out clauses in their contracts, so I definitely don’t expect them to act on this, but at this point in the off-season, handing out a few multi-year deals with opt-outs after year 1 would be a great strategy to round out the roster. In my opinion, it would be beneficial for both the team and certain players that could help them in 2018.

From the team’s perspective, 2018 is arguably the last season where the Oriole’s competitive window is open to contend. I say arguably, because it really does depend on who (if anyone) they sign to round out the starting rotation. We’ve talked about which players will most likely not be on the major league roster next season so many times that there is no need to lay it out again. And without much immediate help coming from the farm system, the post 2018 landscape doesn’t look too promising at the moment.

With that in mind, the team probably would not like to be committed to many long-term (and likely expensive) contracts during what will almost certainly be very lean years. This makes perfect sense. Not only do they not want to be spending a lot of money during multiple losing seasons, but it’s essential during those bad years to “play the kids” so the front office can get a good idea of which players should stick around for the team’s next competitive window. During the rebuilding process, available roster spot(s) can almost be more important than the veteran salary commitment. Offering players a long-term contract with an opt-out after the first year provides a path for an increased chance at 2018 contention, while also providing an opportunity for that contract to not exceed one year.

Obviously the 2017-18 offseason has been unique in that there have been a lot of players that are still not signed. Regardless of the reason, at the core, those players remain unsigned because they are not getting offers they feel are in line what they’re worth. So from the player’s perspective, a multi-year deal with an opt-out after year 1 seems like a good option, This provides them the opportunity to test the market again next year, while also providing a backup plan should they underperform in 2018. It may even be beneficial to both parties to front load the deals in the first year. In that case, the players maximize their earnings in 2018 (and make the Orioles more competitive), while incentivizing those players to opt out given that the salaries in years 2 through x would likely be lower than fair market value.

I would imagine that a contract structure such as this may be intriguing options to some of the players still left on the market who could help the Orioles, such as a Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. The Orioles could even take this option to someone like Mike Moustakas. With Manny Machado’s move to SS confirmed, signing Moustakas would be an upgrade at 3B. This would move Tim Beckham to a super utility role, one which he is much more likely in which to succeed (I believe Matt Perez suggested signing Moustakas in his 2018 blueprint).

Of course there are downsides to handing out contracts with opt-out clauses after year one. The first is that if everyone has a down year, they all decide to stick around after 2018. This puts the Orioles on the hook for another couple of years in which they likely won’t be competitive. However, if they can be frontloaded, those out years wouldn’t hurt as badly. Additionally, players with upcoming opt-outs will have their trade values diminished in 2018, due to the acquiring team not knowing exactly how many years of that player they’re getting.

Giving out contracts with player opt-outs after year 1 is definitely not without risk, but this offseason, the Orioles and some players were/are both in unique situations where this contract structure may be mutually beneficial. If the Orioles are truly serious about contending in 2018 (and other than publicly saying so, I’m not sure that they are), then this idea should not be off the table, despite the front office’s disdain for doing such things. Maybe if someone mentioned to the front office that player opt-outs are essentially the same as player options they wouldn’t be opposed to it. I mean, they did just kind of give one of those to Andrew Cashner.

16 February 2018

Is Andrew Cashner The O's New Yovani Gallardo?

Before Andrew Casher signed with the Orioles, he already reminded some people of Yovani Gallardo. It probably had something to do with this:

Gallardo in 2015: 184.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 5.91 K/9, 3.32 BB/9
Cashner in 2017: 166.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 4.64 K/9, 3.46 BB/9

That was Gallardo's season with the Rangers before signing with the O's and Cashner's pitching line from last season. Cashner's numbers aren't as good (just looking at ERA only can be misleading), but they're a little closer if you instead look at each pitcher's last three seasons before joining the O's:

Cashner previous 3 years: 483.1 IP, 4.26 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
Gallardo previous 3 years: 557.1 IP, 3.70 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 6.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

Simply scouting the stat line performance alone, Gallardo is still the winner. He threw more innings and has slightly better peripheral stats. You can see why the O's wanted Gallardo. And considering the state of the team's starting rotation, you can see why the O's want Cashner.

That doesn't mean the signing is a sure-fire win. It's not because there are, of course, red flags. Bringing in a pitcher with a K/9 under 5 is not reassuring. Cashner has never thrown more than 185 innings in any season. And in his only season in the American League, he posted a 3.40 ERA that was rather fluky and that he's unlikely to replicate. As Jon discussed on Thursday, Cashner as a No. 5 starter sounds a whole lot better than a No. 3.

Still, while it's not hard to paint a picture of Cashner going off the rails in Baltimore like Gallardo did, the O's at least did not pay Gallardo prices. Comparing the career workloads for both when they signed with the O's, Gallardo had thrown about 580 more innings than Cashner. Gallardo deserves credit for being a workhouse, but that larger workload was a concern.

Gallardo's original deal with the O's for three years and $35 million dropped down to two years and $22 million (with a $13 million club option) after the O's oft-criticized (usually unfairly) physical process revealed a shoulder issue of some kind. (Gallardo hasn't been the same pitcher since.) The bargain improved the deal somewhat, but there were still injury worries. On top of that, the O's had to sacrifice the No. 14 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft because Gallardo had been offered the qualifying offer by the Rangers. The O's also tried to add Dexter Fowler in order to sign two QO free agents, like they had done with Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz in 2014 to double-up and decrease the loss of the draft picks, but that plan fell through.

Gallardo had the better track record when he signed with the Orioles, but he signed a larger contract and had an apparent shoulder concern to worry about. Cashner, meanwhile, hasn't performed as well, but he hasn't thrown as many innings (both a good and bad thing) and signed for less money two years later. While some of that can be credited to the painfully slow offseason and perhaps some kind of referendum on the pursuit of free agents, waiting around and hoping for smaller deals is far from new to the Orioles under Dan Duquette.

It would not be surprising at all to see Cashner post an ERA over 5 in 2018. In his first year in Baltimore, Gallardo put up a 5.42 ERA in just 118 innings. Considering that performance and the options around him not named Bundy and Gausman, Cashner doesn't have to pitch that well to be useful. Still, hopefully the O's have another signing to make, preferably bringing in a pitcher who's better than Cashner.

Statcast Projected Isolated Power Performance in Predicting 2017 Performance

Last February, I took Statcast batted ball data to project Isolated Power performance.  The idea was that big in game power comes from hitting the ball hard and barreling up on it.  I lacked launch angle data, but considered batted ball types.  However, incorporating ground balls, fly balls, and line drives did not improve the model.  Regardless, a model knowing only average distance and barrel per at bat, you could fairly accurately predict Isolated Power performance.  Therefore, if a player underperformed according to the projection then you might expect a bounce back the following season.  However, I wondered whether there were reasons why a player would typically under or over perform the projection.

Looking at the 2016 season, it found the following players whose actual 2016 ISO was the most underperforming in comparison to the model projections:
2016 ISO 2016 xISO Diff
Miguel Cabrera .247 .295 -.048
Josh Harrison .105 .147 -.042
Brandon Belt .199 .239 -.040
Howie Kendrick .111 .149 -.038
Kendrys Morales .204 .242 -.038
Buster Posey .147 .184 -.037
Albert Pujols .189 .226 -.037
Alex Gordon .160 .197 -.037
Adeiny Hechavarria .075 .109 -.034
Yonder Alonso .114 .147 -.033
Troy Tulowitzki .189 .222 -.033
Nick Markakis .129 .161 -.032
Mitch Moreland .189 .220 -.031
Yadier Molina .120 .151 -.031
Adam Jones .171 .201 -.030
Looking at this data, Kendrys Morales jumped out to me.  He was quickly scooped up by the Blue Jays in what seemed like a fairly curious move.  He had been a decent hitter for the Royals, but was not doing anything incredibly productive.  His lack of position also hurt roster flexibility.  A three year deal for a player like that seems a bit like folly.  At the time of looking at this model, I thought well maybe the Blue Jays think his ISO underperformed because of Kaufman Stadium.

Mid-season, you heard similar things about Adeiny Hechavarria when the Rays traded for him.  He was hitting the ball hard and barreling it, so perhaps the Rays thought they could better channel that into more productive hitting.  Anyway, how did these guys do in 2017 compared to 2016?
'16 ISO '17 ISO Diff
Albert Pujols .189 .145 -.044
Yadier Molina .120 .166 .046
Miguel Cabrera .247 .149 -.098
Kendrys Morales .204 .196 -.008
Howie Kendrick .111 .161 .050
Alex Gordon .160 .107 -.053
Nick Markakis .129 .110 -.019
Troy Tulowitzki .189 .129 -.060
Mitch Moreland .189 .197 .008
Adam Jones .171 .181 .010
Buster Posey .147 .142 -.005
Yonder Alonso .114 .235 .121
Josh Harrison .105 .160 .055
Brandon Belt .199 .228 .029
Adeiny Hechavarria .075 .145 .070
32+ -.020
31- .047
All .010
One thing you will notice is that I reordered them by age.  Moreland and up are 2017 seasons played as 32 or older.  Jones and down are age 31 and younger.  What this paltry little sample seems to suggest is that underperforming your expected ISO is a major red flag for players in the mid to late 30s.  It is indicative of something else happening that is eroding performance.  However, for younger players, who are in less of a decline phase age-wise, show significant rebounding in performance.

What does this mean going forward?  Below are the players who most underperformed their expected Isolated Power performance:
Player 2017 ISO 2017 xISO Diff
 Miguel Cabrera .149 .230 -.081
 Mitch Moreland .197 .248 -.051
 Alex Gordon .107 .157 -.051
 Kyle Seager .201 .248 -.047
 Jose Peraza .066 .113 -.047
 Justin Turner .208 .252 -.044
 Matt Carpenter .209 .250 -.041
 Nicholas Castellanos .218 .258 -.040
 Jed Lowrie .171 .209 -.038
 Alcides Escobar .107 .144 -.037
 Albert Pujols .145 .180 -.035
 Chris Davis .208 .241 -.033
 Shin-Soo Choo .162 .194 -.032
 Dansby Swanson .092 .124 -.032
 Ian Kinsler .176 .207 -.031
 Jose Bautista .164 .195 -.031
 Hanley Ramirez .188 .218 -.030
 Nick Markakis .110 .140 -.030
 Yadier Molina .166 .196 -.030
 Joe Mauer .112 .142 -.030
What we see above in this list is a lot of older players who failed to live up to the projections.  If the 2017 data is indicative of anything, this does not bode well for most of these guys.  Younger players on the list are a mix in availability like Nick Castellanos are supposedly available in trade or like Dansby Swanson are not available.  It is these players who we might expect as they age they refine their skills and are able to turn their barreling and distance into something more useful.

Chris Davis, for the Orioles interested readership, will be entering his age 32 season.  Above, that barely places him into the upper range that saw a major erosion in performance.  Molina and Kendrick were really the only two players who bounced back.  The others treaded water or further collapsed.  For those hoping for Davis to reclaim his past greatness, it is a weak indicator that perhaps that simply is unlikely to be in the cards this upcoming season.

15 February 2018

Andrew Cashner is Pretty Pretty Pretty OK

At the Depot, we have a model called BORAS.  BORAS is a model that takes away all our experty opinions and troublesome feelings in order to gauge past performance and age, converting that into a contract.  When BORAS considered Andrew Cashner, it determined he was worth a 3/34 deal.  Peripherals indicate a strong role player in 2015 and 2017 as well as quite good performance on the field in 2017.  His velocity is a concern, it has been dropping.  His strikeout rate collapsed, which is troubling.  His avoidance of home runs last year appeared magical.  In other words, he is a pitcher who carries some red flags despite a passable track record.

What the Orioles signed Cashner to was a 2/16 deal with a 1/10 option which requires 360 IP in 2018 and 2019 total to activate.  If he hits all of his incentives then the deal will push up to 41 MM.  For all intent and purposes, this deal looks good for the Orioles if we assume BORAS is right.  BORAS has performed fairly well so far this year as it does every year, but this peculiar logjam of late might mean we are about to see a lot of contract coming in that are low in years and low in guaranteed pay.

What I mean to say is this, the Orioles signing Andrew Cashner is either terrible or good.  If the club sees itself as a playoff contender and Cashner as its third rotation piece, then we are in terrible territory.  If it sees him as the fifth option in a rotation, then it is pretty good.  Fourth, is, I guess, OK depending on who winds up being that third slot pitcher.

This off season, I have told folks to keep their powder dry and wait until you see the whites of their eyes.  With the Cashner signing, I think we are nearing the point to be concerned.  We are not there yet, we are closer.  We need to wait a little bit longer.  This could still work out.  Or not.  It all depends on what the actual role of Cashner is.  He can be a good pitcher and is perhaps a better candidate to be a good pitcher than someone like Miguel Gonzalez who went for slightly less.

There is still some hope if the next guy through the door is Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb.  If it is Tillman, then, you know, yeah.

Book Review: Keith Law's Smart Baseball

We all can -- and should -- strive to learn something new. That's the main idea behind Keith Law's book, Smart Baseball.

The extended title of the book is Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball, and, well, that tells you plenty. Law undertakes the arduous task of explaining which traditional baseball statistics are misleading or not that informative (part one), and which numbers fans should be looking at instead (part two). Some chapters focus on topics like why batting average is flawed, why pitcher wins can be deceiving, and the issues with fielding percentage. Then, to close things out in part three, Law puts newer stats to use while painting a picture of what's next (including MLB Statcast and how scouting is changing).

If you've ever made your way to, say, the comments section under a MASNsports.com article, or maybe engaged in a debate about baseball on Twitter or *gasp* Facebook, then you know the number of fans who still rely on things like batting average, runs batted in, pitcher wins, and saves to win arguments about the value of current players. Because of the rise of sites like Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus, there aren't quite as many of those fans around, but there are still lots of them. And that's OK, because not everyone has to look at baseball the same way.

But for those fans who want to know more about the game and how to more approximately value what's happening on the field, this book is a tremendous help. For someone looking to simply jump headfirst into baseball analytics, I can't think of many better ways to get started. Even for those who already read lots of analytical writing about baseball, Law's work is still worthwhile and includes new ways to approach much-debated topics.

Law tackles complex subjects and breaks them down bit by bit, slowly adding to each part and showing you why things matter. Why is on-base percentage important? What the heck is WAR, wOBA, or wRC+, and why should you not avoid them? How do analysts even attempt to separate pitching and defense? What makes one fielder better than another, and what's the best way to measure that? Why is the clutch baseball player a myth? For those seeking to learn more about the game they love, Law's book is a quick and informative read.

The last line of the epilogue stuck with me: "Using the best knowledge we have right now while remembering that we may know a lot more in the future is the essence of Smart Baseball." There's always something else to learn, and that's especially true if you can't get enough baseball.

-----

Smart Baseball
Keith Law
304 pages
William Morrow
Paperback available: March 13, 2018

14 February 2018

Darvish: Worst 100 MM Free Agent Pitcher Deal Ever?

The first 100 MM contract signed by a free agent pitcher was Kevin Brown before the 1999 season, which he played at 34.  It was scheduled to take him to age 41 and included many perks, such as private jet flights and what not.  It was shocking at the time.  It would be shocking now.  If you inflated his deal to what free agents are currently getting paid, his deal would be equivalent to a 7/307 contract.  That is a 44 MM salary each year.  So, yeah, that is a stunning deal.  Yu Darvish's 6/126 taken back in time would be around 6/43 in 1999.

In other words, 100 MM means different things over the years as revenue in the game increases.  Still, it marks a major bright line for players to cross.  Only twelve free agent pitchers, including Brown and Darvish, has signed deals passing the 100 MM mark.  When Jake Arrieta inks his name, he might make it a lucky 13.
1st Yr Yrs Total $
David Price 2016 7 217
Max Scherzer 2015 7 210
Zack Greinke 2016 6 206.5
CC Sabathia 2009 7 161
Jon Lester 2015 6 155
Johnny Cueto 2016 6 130
Barry Zito 2007 7 126
Mike Hampton 2001 8 121
Cliff Lee 2011 5 120
Jordan Zimmermann 2016 5 110
Kevin Brown 1999 7 105
Yu Darvish 2018 6 126
While the talk about Yu Darvish as being a great bargain for the Cubs has been the main story line this past week, I thought it at first to be a weird statement.  Darvish arrived in MLB with incredible promise and a dizzying array of pitches.  He pitched very well, but never really transcended the scene to become a feared ace.  He has been largely restricted to that frame of mind about what if he could hit the next level.  That kind of talk feels peculiar now that next season will be his age 31 season.  Add on to that how hittable he was last year and the persistent search to find one easy trick to get him back to where we all thought he was going.

So what I did was compare all of the pitchers in this 100 MM FA club.  I added up the bWAR they accumulated over their previous six years and their previous three years.  Additionally, I did a simple count of seasons in the past six years where they accumulated more than four bWAR.  These are simple metrics, but metrics that give a decent indication of how good a pitcher was and how often he was quite good.
6 yr bWAR 3 yr bWAR >4 bWAR
Kevin Brown 33.6 23.6 5
David Price 27.9 13.4 4
Barry Zito 27.5 10.5 4
Zack Greinke 26 17.5 2
CC Sabathia 24.2 17.7 3
Jon Lester 24.2 8.3 4
Max Scherzer 23.5 16.9 3
Johnny Cueto 22.5 11.7 2
Cliff Lee 20.8 17.1 3
Jordan Zimmermann 19.4 12.1 2
Mike Hampton 19.3 14.8 2
Yu Darvish 19.3 5.8 1
Can we just take a moment and reflect how amazing Kevin Brown was and how we all basically ignored how amazing he was or perhaps that we really on focused on him when he was a 40 year old Yankee pitcher?  How is that guy not in the Hall of Fame?

Anyway, what we see is that Darvish is tied for the lowest 6 yr bWAR tally, clearly lower in the 3 yr tally (and would be at best second lowest if he did not lose a whole season to Tommy John), and the only pitcher with only one season above a four bWAR.

At first blush, it looks like Darvish is leading the pack as the worst 100 MM contract recipient, but we still have that change in revenue issue.  To look at that, I decided to utilize the BORAS model that we use to project free agent contracts.  This works by looking at recent performances and project salary terms based on that performance.  This way we can strip out the differences in pay over time and compare that to adjusted 2018 earnings.
2018  AAV* BORAS Diff
Barry Zito 24.4 16.4 49%
Yu Darvish 21.0 17.3 21%
Zack Greinke 34.4 28.7 20%
Mike Hampton 29.5 24.7 19%
Kevin Brown 43.8 40.4 8%
Jon Lester 25.8 24.2 7%
Jordan Zimmermann 22.0 20.8 6%
Max Scherzer 30.0 28.5 5%
Johnny Cueto 21.7 21.4 1%
David Price 31.0 31.4 -1%
CC Sabathia 27.3 35.0 -22%
Cliff Lee 24.0 32.5 -26%
There have really only been two deals that looked like great signings at the time according to BORAS: CC Sabathia with the Yankees and Cliff Lee with the Phillies.  BORAS considers both to be well below the expected market value.  On the over-committed end, Zack Greinke comes in third place.  Of course, this probably overstates the overpay as much of his deal was deferred, which decreases the cost.  Deferments are not easy to find for all of the deals, so I simply assumed that they did not exist.

Darvish ranks as second worst.  As an overpay of 21%, according to BORAS.  Some will note that this is due to BORAS' inability to differentiate between time lost due to injury and simply being unable to accrue bWAR during terrible performances.  And that may be the rationale.  If we assume that 2016 was increased from 100.1 IP to 180 IP at the same WAR rate and 2015 went from 0 IP to 180 IP with the 2016/2017 average WAR rate, then BORAS would estimate a 5/108 deal (21.7 AAV).  That is pretty close to what he got.  The other pitchers on the list did not have to deal with that situation.  If we assume that Tommy John's mean nothing and performance is projectable, then that places Darvish on the other end in the same grouping as Johnny Cueto and David Price.  This would represent what BORAS would consider an on-market value.  In other words, not a bargain.

This leaves us with the answer as Barry Zito.  His deal awarded him what BORAS considered a 49% overpay.  This off season only one other free agent pitcher may see a 100 MM deal: Jake Arrieta.  BORAS projects him as a 17.3 MM AAV just like Yu Darvish.  He would need a deal paying him 25.8 MM to be on par with Zito.  That seems unlikely to me, but supposedly his agent is trying to push that 25 MM number.  Arrieta would have the far lowest 6 year bWAR with 18.8, but a very respectable 14 bWAR over the past three seasons.

We shall wait and see if Zito is forced to hand over the crown.

13 February 2018

What if the Orioles Just Want to Cut Payroll?

All off season, including here on Camden Depot, it's been assumed that the Orioles have money available to spend on free agents as a result of clearing multiple large salaries off their books. Specifically, the O's no longer have to pay a combined $45 million to Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, JJ Hardy, and Chris Tillman. Given that the O's payroll has increased every season for almost the past decade, it made sense that at the very least they would maintain a payroll number similar to that of 2017. Of course, the problem with the 2017 payroll (which was the highest in club history) is that the team crashed and burned, finishing below .500 for the first time since 2011.

The Orioles have, in both their actions and their rhetoric, repeatedly shown that the current brain trust has little interest in rebuilding. It was therefore natural to assume that the Orioles would sign several free agent pitchers to bolster what was the worst starting rotation the team has ever had. Of course, there has only been the barest of hints that the Orioles are even interested in any free agent starters, much less being close to signing one. Even in a glacially slow off season, the O's have been less active than their normal selves. This raises obvious questions about what the goals of this off season actually are.

From a non-cynical perspective, perhaps the O's are just engaging in their time honored method of waiting for the market to shake itself out and then picking up whatever is left. In an off season with a relative dearth of impact talent, this might even make sense. The problem is that the team is desperately in need of pitching talent and there have been multiple reports that the Orioles have been turned off of the starting pitching market by contract demands, health concerns, or both. There is certainly still time for moves to be made, and it seems likely that the Orioles will bring in at least one or two MLB starters, but the idea that the team would sign multiple higher end pitchers is rapidly becoming unrealistic.

A less generous interpretation, however, would be that the Orioles may just not want to continue spending at the level they have over their recent run of success, especially since they have spent well above their market over the past half decade. Baltimore is the 21st largest metro market in America with about 2.7 million people. There are six other franchises that operate in markets with 600,000 more or fewer people than Baltimore: San Diego, Saint Louis, Colorado, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. 600,000 is, admittedly, an arbitrary number, but I mostly picked it to show the types of teams that the Orioles are clustered around in terms of market size.


Note: All payroll data provided by Cot's Contracts.

It's clear that the Orioles are at the top of the class among this group, with only the Cardinals having a higher average payroll since 2012. The Orioles also have the highest single season payroll ($164 million in 2017) and outspent each of these teams in 2016 and 2017. If you go back only to 2014, the differences are even more stark, with the Orioles having the highest average payroll of the group.

Clearly, this kind of analysis ignores any number of factors. I didn't take into account regional television network revenue, ticket sales, team record, or a host of other potential reasons for the disparity in payroll among these teams. That said, if we accept the idea that the total number of people living in a particular market is a decent proxy for how much a given team should spend, this data is fairly striking. Within their market peer group, the Orioles have been easily one of the highest spenders over the past half decade.

So, maybe there's a simple explanation for the lack of activity from the O's this season: they've realized that their market cannot sustain this level of spending and are attempting to bring the payroll down to more reasonable levels. Even if they do very little in terms of adding to the rotation, it is likely that the 2018 payroll will at least be in the $130 million range, still well above their average spending since 2012. While the team isn't doing what most fans, and even players, seem to want, they will still be spending a significant amount of money on the team in 2018.

Of course, the biggest issue isn't necessarily that the Orioles are cutting payroll, but rather whether the brain trust has a clear idea of where the franchise is going in the next several years. Undergoing a payroll correction in the service of a rebuild may result in a couple of lean years at the major league level, but at least there would be a plan in place. Cutting payroll while also holding onto and/or not seriously engaging in contract extension discussions with the team's most talented players seems much less like a plan and more like a front office that is in disarray.

12 February 2018

If God Invented Baseball

E. Ethelbert Miller is a name that you have heard of.  You have heard him on the radio, perhaps on television, perhaps at some even here or there.  If you are not of the world of poetry, then perhaps that is a name that whispers to you at such a distance that you can just quite make out what is being said yet still remain unsure.  The world we usually walk in is the baseball world and that world does in fact overlap with Miller's in ways that should be readily known to us as if a part of us has always known, but never quite said.

If God Invented Baseball is a collection of Miller's poetry that utilizes the familiar knowledge we share of baseball as a way to communicate that reaches down into our soul.  Baseball lets your guard down and enables the author to reach in with his message before your natural walls come up or your filters lock into place.  Baseball provides a construct and an even ground to offer up personal truths about life.  And that is what the works in this book is about, I think.  I think it is about life.

The book opens with a poem, Ball Four, about Jim Bouton.  A meeting between the poet in his youth and Bouton as a young hurler with enormous potential.  Miller grew up in New York City and focus on a Yankee team that was not as shiny and clean and damily friendly as today's incarnation was.  However, Bouton was always known as a kind soul.  He was someone who would line children up and spend a moment with each as he signed a few autographs.  As an opening poem, the collection asks us to think back to our childhood; the innocence, the naivete.  The truth about that point in life, the narrator's and perhaps your own.

As the collection progresses, we find that not only is this a work that speaks of the author's own experiences, it is a work that tries to expand that message and broaden it.  Later in the book, Miller pens The Trade.  The Trade tries to communicate an incident where part of childhood dies when the greater world opens up.  The narrator speaks of when his parents come to tell him he is being bused across the city to a predominantly white school.  How it was the first time he realized there was a discerning aspect to himself that he did not fully comprehend before: his blackness.  The narrator summons Curt Flood, the baseball player who sacrificed himself to bring about free agency.  With that inclusion, the narrator communicates that there can be loss when forging something new, something that attempts to be better.

The collection continues to wind through ruminations about life as one would progress through it in time.  It ends with two poems.  One about the changing of the guard.  It is about the passing of the elders.  The other is maybe a rebuke to the preceding poem in that life should be lived in the moment as opposed to calculating what has been lost or gained.  The one should give themselves to the moment and fully embrace it with your senses.

The collection was eye opening to me.  I come from a liberal arts education, but veered right into the sciences.  In the sciences, I have been for 17 years.  Poetry is not my normal feed.  I devour biographies, technical writing, and what not.  And perhaps that is where these poems touched me in that it effectively is a biography.  A biography that is stripped, reduced to a familiar syrup at least until about halfway through when the poems began taking me into my future.

Beyond me, the works charge into a political arena as well as into how race connects to many issues.  I found the use of baseball as a metaphor, a construct for these issues to be rather effective.  With that in mind, I would like to leave you one poem to consider.  One aspect you might find interesting is the impression former Oriole Hoyt Wilhem had on the author and how it was a defining moment in his youth that he uses to relate to you something else.

The Knuckleball  
Every black man should be born
with a big mitt.
How else can one catch the world
that flutters in unpredictable ways.  
The sound of a knuckleball
is Parker on his horn.
When Ella scats don’t try
to copy her.  
Oriole Hoyt Wilhelm in 1958 threw
a no-hitter against the Yankees.
It was like Douglass being Lincoln
for a day. It’s impossible to dance
to slavery anymore. It ended with
the hangman’s swing.  
The knuckleball is Bebop.
Don’t be baffled by its strange beauty.
Just keep hitting it with your ears.

-----

If God Invented Baseball
E. Ethelbert Miller
72 pages
City Point Press



09 February 2018

How Did The Orioles Fare In 2018 Top 100 Prospect Lists?

While fans continue to wait for free agents to sign, many have focused more on the various 2018 prospect rankings released over the last few weeks. After not rating well for a couple years, the Orioles' farm system is on the rise.

Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and Chance Sisco all appeared on at least one of the major lists (including top 100/101 lists for MLB.com, Baseball America, Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, and FanGraphs).

Here's where they ended up:

PlayerMLBBALawBPFG
Hays2321797290
Mountcastle9871n/a65n/a
Siscon/a6853n/an/a

Hays appears on all of the lists, while Mountcastle is a new addition (except on BP's midseason list, surprisingly at No. 41). Sisco, meanwhile, fell off of the lists of MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and FanGraphs after making it last year. He was 57th on BA's list last February and then jumped to 29th in July. Now, at No. 68, he's fallen back a bit. Only on Keith Law's list, where Sisco went from 69th in 2017 to 53rd in 2018, did he improve.

Other O's prospects like Hunter Harvey, D.L. Hall, and Tanner Scott also received praise by FanGraphs and, in Harvey's case, Law. Plus, if you're interested in the 2018 KATOH top 100 rankings on FanGraphs, D.J. Stewart, Scott, Hays, Zac Lowther, and Sisco all appear in the bottom half of the list. Even the Orioles shared the list, which maybe shows that they're desperate for good news.

As always, Jon would like to inject some nuance into this topic. As Matt Perez demonstrated in his Death to TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect) posts (found here and here), top position player prospects are still more valuable than pitching prospects, but the gap isn't as large anymore. Position players are more dependable in reaching a successful wins above replacement level, but the baseline for a pitching prospect may be a useful reliever who, under WAR calculations, has a more difficult time accumulating WAR.

Besides Harvey, who despite a slew of injuries and not pitching above A-ball hasn't slowed the O's expectations for him this season -- with the possibility of pitching in the majors in 2018 -- the O's don't have another starting pitching prospect who's near the majors to get excited about yet. Much of the team's current hope is on position players panning out and making up for soon-to-be departing talent.

08 February 2018

Dan Duquette's First Orioles Free Agent Signing (2011): Matt Antonelli

On November 21, 2011, Dan Duquette made his first addition to the 40 man roster by signing Matt Antonelli.  At one point, Antonelli was a highly regarded infielder who could play third or second and racked up a 307/404/491 line in his second professional season.  It led to him exploding onto the prospect lists and catapulted him into the struggling San Diego Padres lineup in 2008.  His career derailed at that point.  His performances were poor at both the AAA and MLB levels.  It was suggested that the game was simply moving too fast for him.  He reached non-prospect status and an injury ended his career with the Padres.

He signed as a MiL free agent with the Nationals and proceeded to get his career on track.  He slashed a 298/390/457 line primarily in AAA as a second and third baseman.  Several teams were intrigued that he might have figured things out.  The Orioles were the only club that offered a 40 man roster arrangement and a clear path to the Majors on a team that was struggling to fill both second base and third base positions.  Injury and performance were contributing factors that kept Antonelli behind Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty, and Wilson Betemit.

He was released in May after a terrible stretch in Norfolk to make room for Lew Ford.  He was picked up by the Yankees off waivers, struggled, and shut it down for the year.  The following season he signed with the Indians on a MiL deal and his career did not bounce back.  Since then, he has been providing services as a coach as far as I am aware.

A year after he had signed with the Orioles, I interviewed Antonelli for a column that I wound up never running.  I am dusting it off here for you all.

Camden Depot: On the internet there has been a proliferation of scouting sites that predominantly use video to evaluate players, but do not actually go to the games.  On your youtube channel, you have provided your opinions of hitting mechanics on the game's stars.  What can video do and what can it not replace with in person assessments?

Matt Antonelli: I think video is a great tool to use when looking at mechanical aspects of the swing, the delivery, etc. I know it is something that I use heavily when working on my own mechanics, and have found it very useful when doing lessons during the off-season. I make sure to videotape every single session and the players I use it with find it extremely helpful. I always say that "feel" and "real" are never the same, and the only way to really get a player to understand the adjustments that need to be made is by watching video. As far as scouting goes, I think you can use it in a very similar way to understand a players mechanics, but obviously there is a lot more that goes into breaking down a players ability than strictly mechanics. Video definitely has a role in scouting, but it can't be the only thing you rely on.

CD: I know you recently discussed your views on batting donuts.  At the Depot, we have noted similar studies showing the negative impact of used weighted bats before getting into the box.  Can you elaborate on your thoughts.

MA: Well I have read different studies that they have been done in both baseball and golf showing the affects of using a heavier instrument when warming up and then going to your game bat or golf club and in most cases it shows to have no affect or a negative affect on bat and club head speed. It also has shown to have a negative affect on bat and club head accuracy. Again, I didn't perform these tests but it was just something I have read.

CD: There was a lot of interest in your review of how Alex Rodriguez' batting mechanics have changed over the years.  How do players respond to your online analysis?

MA: I typically don't analyze many player's swings online. I just happened to receive a bunch of questions on A-Rod's swing so I threw something online very quickly noting a few things he has done differently over the years. It was more showing what has changed with his swing, not what type of swing I believe he should have or what he is doing wrong.

CD: What are your thoughts on minor league salary scales? What are the difficulties players face? What should be done about the system?

MA: I think there are certain things that should probably be changed. Salaries for most minor leaguers, especially your first few years is very low. I believe my first year in pro ball I made around $6,000. By the time you pay for housing, food, dues, etc. most players are losing money to play, especially if they didn't receive a signing bonus. Obviously if you one day make it to the Major Leagues you are rewarded with a huge pay raise, but the percentage of players that actually make it to the MLB is extremely low.

CD: What are some of the more interesting superstitions you have run into during your time in professional baseball?

MA: I've seen a lot of superstitious things throughout my career. It's mostly seeing guys go through the same routine over and over again if they are successful. Things like eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, riding to the park with the same people, etc. Baseball is really a game of routine so guys end up doing things over and over again, especially when things are going well.

-----

Below is a video that Antonelli put up last November on his training regime with Brady Anderson.



-----

Update: I think this is a video of Brady doing part of his workout routine.