30 May 2014

Camden Depot on MASN: May 2014 Roundup

Click here for the April 2014 roundup.

Before Spring Training, MASN came to us and asked if we wished to take part in a weekly series for their Orioles Buzz feature.  We could write about anything we wanted as long as it did not cross over into beat territory.  We are not beat writers, so that was peachy for us.  Below is a roundup of our April articles.  The writing is a bit different on MASN.  We are limited to about 750 words and have taken a broader approach with our writing, often applying lessons learned from pieces we have written here.

What to Make of the Morales Chatter
May 7, 2014
Is there a viable argument for the Orioles to sign Kendrys Morales?  How would the team be affected?

Say Goodbye to Matt Wieters' Ash
May 13, 2014
Although there is a movement to unreasonably cast doubt on the impacts of invasive species and climate change, that movement is unable to wish their existence away.  Unfortunately, that means that ash bats, a long stay of our American past time,will likely become commercially extinct.  Bat companies are searching out a comparable wood as a replacement.

The Value of a Buck
May 20, 2014
Buck missed a game to attend his daughter's graduation from law school.  Can we determine how much the Orioles were hurt with John Russell, his replacement, at the helm?

An Adequate Catcher is Hard to Find
May 27, 2014
Jon discusses Matt Wieters' PRP injection, the acquisition of Nick Hundley, and the difficulty of amateur catchers drastically improving upon their defensive skills.

29 May 2014

Nick Markakis' Secret Platoon Issue

Looking on the surface of the 2014 season, it appears that Nick Markakis is hitting fairly well.  The perception of his season seemed to be so high, that a couple of weeks ago, Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette was starting to be asked whether or not he planned to pick up Markakis’ team option, which would pay the long time Baltimore right-fielder $17.5 million in 2015 (there is a buyout of $2 million).  Maybe it was his 18-game hitting streak that put next year on everyone’s radar, or maybe it was the fact that Markakis was hitting .300 and getting on base while primarily batting leadoff.

When the questions about the team option for Markakis were being asked, we hear at the Depot were a little confused as to why.  Markakis is currently batting .297/.346/.392, which is good for .327 wOBA and a 103 wRC+, which essentially makes him a league average hitter.  A league average hitter is a valuable commodity, but it isn’t necessary to pay $17.5 million to get one ($15.5 million if you include the buy-out).  Sure, when comparing Markakis’ line so far in 2014 to what he produced last year, he looks like an All-Star.  But one must take into consideration that Markakis was basically replacement level in 2013.  Jon may have put it best when he sent out the following tweet.

What does this have to do with a platoon issue with Markakis?  Similar to his deceivingly “productive” numbers at the plate this year, his platoon issues are not immediately seen.  If you compare the career numbers Markakis has against right-handed pitching to left-handed pitching, on the surface it doesn’t look he is a serious platoon candidate.

Nick Markakis Career Splits
As you may have guessed, the problem isn’t with the average or the on-base percentage necessarily, but with the power.  We’ve discussed the Nick Markakis power outage here on this site quite a bit (so I can understand if you’re tired of hearing about it), but his lack of power when facing left handed pitching this year helps illustrate the argument that Nick Markakis probably shouldn’t be an everyday player for a contending team such as the Orioles.  Below you’ll find a figure that shows his triple slash line versus left-handed pitchers throughout his career.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much of a trend, but looking at the raw data (which includes a couple of extra statistics versus left-handed pitching not included in the graph), we start to see that the uptick in slugging percentage during the 2010 and 2012 seasons may have been artificially inflated.

Nick Markakis vs LHP 
Looking at the table, it’s clear to see that the success Markakis enjoyed against left-handers in 2010 was buoyed by his .419 BABIP, while his slugging percentage was pushed over .500 in large part to a 16.1% HR/FB rate in 2012 (also shortened due to injury). As a point of reference, over his career, Markakis has a .326 BABIP and a 6.2% HR/FB rate against left-handed pitching.  Substituting that .326 BABIP line in 2010 (and assuming he only loses singles) brings down his 2010 slugging percentage to .414.  Similarly, if we use his career HR/FB rate versus LHP in 2012 (which may be generous considering his HR/FB% versus LHP since the end of the 2008 season), his slugging percentage would also drop to .414.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Markakis has accumulated 11 extra base hits (10 doubles and 1 home run) in 308 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. And as the figure below shows, a pitch from a left-hander literally has to be located in the middle of the strike zone for Markakis to hit it with any sort of authority.

If the Orioles have dreams about being serious playoff contenders, there are some things the team needs to do.  Obviously the biggest thing deals with improving the pitching staff (which was actually talked about quite a bit yesterday), but another thing is letting go of the idea that Nick Markakis is an everyday right fielder.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a useful player, but he’s the equivalent of Ben Revere (without the speed) when he faces left-handed pitching.  Yesterday, Jon suggested on twitter that Matt Kemp was an interesting trade option.  A few days earlier I mentioned Alex Rios.  Trade season is just around the corner and those are just two of what will likely be many options that the team will (hopefully) look into.

28 May 2014

Receivers in Name Only

You may have never heard of the baseball term RINO (Receivers in Name Only).  The likely cause of this is that I think I just made it up.  What it is trying to make clear is to communicate what is a popular perspective in several front offices throughout baseball: catchers without sufficient defensive skills when drafted are highly unlikely to acquire those skills during their career.  Maybe the term sticks, maybe it does not, but hopefully this article addresses whether or not this sentiment is true.

The way I decided to test this was pretty simple.  I took all draftees listed as a catcher from 2004 through 2008.  I decided to ignore any position switches because what we are interested in are catchers at the MLB level.  Whether or not they hit well enough to assume another position (e.g., Gaby Sanchez) does not resolve the issue of catching depth in a system.  I gave them credit for service at a level (e.g., MLB, AAA, AA, A, Hi A, A, Short A, Rookie) if they had over 100 games played at that level or accumulated at that level and a above.  For instance, if a player had 70 games caught at AA and 40 at AAA, that player would be credited with having reached AA with 110 games at or above that level.  All this was how the study measured performance, nothing more.

To determine how a catcher's ability was viewed at the time of being drafted, I consulted Baseball America's draft database scouting reports.  I decided to be conservative in what I labeled as a defensive catcher.  The following are several of the terms used that would result in a player being classified as such:
best defender in the class, pure catch and throw, solid average, at worst fringe average, best defensive catcher seen since Charles Johnson (a label that adorned Matt Wieters' scouting report, which is contrary to my memory)
Draftees labelled as poor defenders included labels like these:
needs improvement behind the plate to stick, defense remains his nemesis, passable, adequate, no scouts see him at catcher, deserves a look behind the plate, will move to third
These designations left us with 37 catchers labeled as defensive drafted in the first five rounds and 28 labeled as non defensive.  This may not be the most robust data set, but it might be able to yield some answers if the differences between these two groups are large.

How well do defensive catchers advance through the levels?

 If you simply count each level attained as a single point, sum them up for each player individually, and group them by their defense, then defensive catchers significantly (p=0.001) rack up levels played as a catcher in professional baseball.  The table below shows the total number of players in each group that are credited with time spent (100 games or more at that level and above) and the percent of that group that made it to that level.

Defensive Non Defensive

Total 37
MLB 16 43% 5 18%
AAA 24 65% 9 32%
AA 29 78% 13 46%
Hi A 31 84% 15 54%
A 36 97% 20 71%
Short A 36 97% 21 75%
Rookie 36 97% 22 79%

As you can see, defensive catchers are likely to make it to the Majors 2.4 times more likely than non-defensive catchers.  Keep in mind that this success rate does not include defensive catchers Kyle Skipworth, Austin Romine, and Travis D'Arnaud who all stand a very reasonable chance of achieving that 100 game MLB mark in the next year or two.  That would raise the success rate to 51% and increase of probability to 2.8 times more likely to make the big show than non-defensive catchers.  In other words, if you are an organization looking to improve catching depth within your system then you should stick to the amateurs who already show proficiency in the position.  However, if you really love a bat and the player just happens to be listed as a catcher then feel free to select him knowing that it is highly likely that he has to exchange his catching mitt for a fielding one.

One question that may be asked would be whether or not non-defensive catchers are more likely to be selected in the later portions of the five round database of drafted catcher that I put together.  In fact, the average round players were drafted in was higher for the non-defensive catchers (2.5) than the defensive catchers (2.8).  For the most part, defensive and non-defensive catchers drafted in the first two rounds were in similar proportion in their groups.  The non-defensive catchers attained a higher average draft round because teams drafted few of them in the fifth round in comparison to defensive catchers.

Below is a table parsing out the round data for each group as well as the MLB attainment rates for those groups.

Defensive Non Defensive
Round Success n Success n
1st 64% 11 14% 7
2nd 57% 7 0% 5
3rd 33% 6 14% 7
4th 33% 6 29% 7
5th 14% 7 50% 2

A first round catcher with existing professional defensive skills is 4.5 times more likely than a non-defensive catcher.  If you add Skipworth and D'Arnaud in that then the percent goes up to 82%, 5.9 times more likely than a non-defensive first round catcher.  Romine's addition would put the second round at 71%.  Keep in mind that these are small sample sizes, but these are rather impressive differences that suggest that there is a trend here.


The conclusion is this: if you want a catcher, then draft an individual who has already displayed professional catching skills.  If you really like a bat and the player just happens to have played catcher in high school or college, then do not talk yourself into dreaming about him as a catcher and respect him simply for his bat.  Otherwise, an organization may just find itself a few years down the road with no internal solutions behind the plate.

27 May 2014

Tommy "Country Style Breakfast" Hunter

When I think of a "Country Style Breakfast", I think of a mountain of food.  A plate standing tall with eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and hash.  The thought of that being a typical breakfast perhaps says something about our shared nostalgia for the simple bucolic country life that resides in our nation's heritage.  Of course, that heritage is largely false and quite inflated in comparison to the reality of the typical farmer who was teetering on the edge of malnourishment, but that truth simply is not that useful of a story when trying to communicate the greatness of this country.

Similarly, when one might think of a shut down closer, they probably think of a pitcher who comes into the ninth and sends several guys down in order.  Tommy Hunter is almost that guy, but he really is not.  Before injuries prevented him from pitching and with a resurgent Zach Britton likely preventing a return back to a closer role, Hunter performed admirably well for the Orioles.  However, the reality of his play was enjoyable, but heart attack inducing...which is also similar to a diet consisting solely of Country Style Breakfasts.  Hunter had a habit of pitching quite poorly with the bases empty, but turning it up a notch when a runner was on base.

Jordan Ellenberg explored this in a post over at his blog Quomodocumque.  He is the money table from that article with OPS of Runners in Scoring Position in bold and Total Overall OPS residing to the right of that number.

Rk I Player Split G OPS OPStot Diff
Tommy Hunter RISP 133 .683 .777 -.094
Pedro Feliciano RISP 268 .604 .696 -.092
Hideki Irabu RISP 106 .707 .797 -.090
Julio Santana RISP 169 .730 .820 -.090
Steve Parris RISP 136 .740 .829 -.089
J.A. Happ RISP 131 .669 .756 -.087
Doug Rau RISP 209 .612 .698 -.086
John Grabow RISP 294 .665 .751 -.086
Bob Sebra RISP 86 .689 .775 -.086
Victor Zambrano RISP 165 .679 .764 -.085
Jordan Zimmermann RISP 118 .615 .695 -.080
Scott Proctor RISP 194 .704 .782 -.078
Scott Baker RISP 159 .661 .737 -.076
Cecilio Guante RISP 267 .612 .685 -.073
Frank Francisco RISP 239 .624 .697 -.073
Dennis Bennett RISP 163 .659 .732 -.073
Kevin Slowey RISP 125 .726 .798 -.072
Buzz Capra RISP 127 .644 .712 -.068
Erik Bedard RISP 222 .632 .699 -.067
Scott Linebrink RISP 338 .662 .729 -.067
John Frascatore RISP 203 .714 .781 -.067
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/23/2014.
The list looks interesting, but I was wondering whether or not Hunter was being hurt here by his time as a starter.  One of the talking points has been that part of Hunter's bullpen emergence has been due to him no longer having to rely on a windup that had been problematic.  To test this out, I looked at 2013 and 2014 to see how things stacked up with him being a strict reliever.  The data set included pitchers from that time period who had fewer than five starts and more than 45 outs with men on base.
Here is the top 40:
Rk Player G OPS OPStot Ops-total
1 Junichi Tazawa 51 0.402 0.719 -0.317
2 Joe Thatcher 54 0.404 0.720 -0.316
3 Alex Sanabia 10 0.632 0.935 -0.303
4 Kevin Slowey 31 0.534 0.819 -0.285
5 Heath Bell 50 0.538 0.816 -0.278
6 Wesley Wright 49 0.471 0.729 -0.258
7 David Hale 13 0.315 0.563 -0.248
8 Jarred Cosart 20 0.412 0.657 -0.245
9 Freddy Garcia 14 0.544 0.782 -0.238
10 Seth Maness 53 0.525 0.754 -0.229
11 Ross Wolf 19 0.57 0.797 -0.227
12 Kenley Jansen 52 0.336 0.560 -0.224
13 Tommy Hanson 15 0.595 0.813 -0.218
14 Stephen Fife 13 0.619 0.835 -0.216
15 Sam LeCure 43 0.405 0.620 -0.215
16 Donovan Hand 24 0.574 0.785 -0.211
17 Tony Cingrani 28 0.464 0.675 -0.211
18 Alex Wood 32 0.479 0.688 -0.209
19 Ernesto Frieri 48 0.493 0.701 -0.208
20 Joe Kelly 34 0.483 0.682 -0.199
21 Brandon Morrow 16 0.672 0.871 -0.199
22 Vidal Nuno 12 0.583 0.772 -0.189
23 Huston Street 32 0.461 0.644 -0.183
24 Taylor Jordan 14 0.572 0.753 -0.181
25 Alfredo Simon 50 0.462 0.629 -0.167
26 Franklin Morales 21 0.668 0.835 -0.167
27 Tony Watson 44 0.405 0.571 -0.166
28 Joaquin Benoit 43 0.394 0.558 -0.164
29 Darren O'Day 40 0.454 0.618 -0.164
30 Edward Mujica 46 0.572 0.728 -0.156
31 Brian Matusz 43 0.506 0.661 -0.155
32 Carter Capps 37 0.677 0.829 -0.152
33 Tommy Hunter 45 0.539 0.688 -0.149
34 Greg Holland 36 0.355 0.500 -0.145
35 Jim Henderson 38 0.539 0.679 -0.140
36 David Hernandez 30 0.564 0.702 -0.138
37 Aroldis Chapman 30 0.414 0.550 -0.136
38 J.C. Gutierrez 39 0.548 0.681 -0.133
39 Paul Clemens 35 0.729 0.858 -0.129
40 Alfredo Figaro 26 0.634 0.762 -0.128
 Hunter comes in on this table at number 33.  Above him you find several closers as well as brand new Norfolk Tides pitcher, Heath Bell.  In other words, it appears quite a few pitchers are clamping down when they find themselves in rough situations.