29 February 2016

Keep Calm, Fowler Does Not Make Or Break The Season

To be honest, I was on the fence to even write about the Dexter Fowler exiting stage right deus ex machina, media bob and fake, signing with the Chicago Cubs.  It certainly took people by surprise and that manifested in different ways as a product of how they originally assessed the signing.  Here, we thought our view was largely understood: meh.  I wrote at length about Fowler (and suspect the other writers think similarly) that while Fowler is a good player, he simply did not move the needle much toward a playoff caliber squad.  Combine that with a lost draft pick and it made it more difficult to say positive things.  That said, it was a fair move and fair pay.  The move was simply arguable, so the non-move as well was simply arguable.

A column regurgitating our thoughts sounded quite boring, but we were inundated with requests to put this all into words and try to gain a corrected view as to where the Orioles are and where they are going or maybe even what would have been.  Avid followers of the media have heard the official line of Adam Jones, which can be paraphrased as it is all good, no harm no foul, and now we have money available to address needs that become more apparent mid-season.  That should resound a bit as last year Tommy Hunter was almost assuredly jettisoned in order for payroll to appear for Gerardo Parra.

I also asked a couple of folks in the industry: one an analyst and the other a pro scout.  What is transcribed is more or less my memory of those chats (I will correct if they tell me if my memory is poor):
JS: What is your take on the Fowler to Cubs news?
Analyst: Surprising, very surprising.  The Cubs were up there running laps with their talent and somehow they get him at half the QO price.  Demoralizing a bit.  It also must stink for those in the Orioles front office.
JS: Specifically, what?
A: He was a guy they wanted.  They were not getting much, if any, discount on him.  They were going to give up a draft pick.  As much as you can for a guy like that, they had internally come to terms with the cost and appeared eager to get him.  When you lose out on that at the end of the year when nothing else is out there, it hurts.  I imagine they are pinging agents and general managers, but they have little to give.
JS: Where do you think the Orioles are now without Fowler?
Pro Scout: Where were they before?
JS: You think he would not have helped the team?
PS: Listen, he is a good player.  A guy who can put up fringe first division numbers is a good player.  A role player.  You do not set your watch to him.  He complements the rest of the squad.  If he is making or breaking your season, then you probably do not understand who Fowler is.  With the Orioles, he has a skill set that would make a number of things easier.  He fits the lineup well and he can provide some backup help in center if anything happens to Jones.  With the Cubs, he is a 0-20 away from becoming a fourth outfielder.  They have depth and they meant more to them than a comp pick.  My guess is they are taking the three month look at this and will have outfielders to deal to fill in any holes in June.  This is the kind of guy who is around at the end of the year.  QOs do not impact meaningful players.
JS: Why did he turn down the Orioles money?
PS: I don't know.  Some guys want flexibility.  His family supposedly liked it in Chicago and he had a better experience there than some of the other places he had been.  He obviously was not excited to come to Baltimore and do you really want a guy on a three year deal coming into the clubhouse whose heart you have to win over.  I am not saying chemistry is everything, but it is not nothing.
Those are only two voices, but they fall in line with my general thoughts on the matter.  I also decided to gin up some batting lineup modeling that takes into account batting and baserunning.  These are not perfect models, but it suggests how certain players may affect the production of the lineup.

Here is a handful of players I thought up and plugged into the model:
xRuns Change
Baseline 747
Dexter Fowler 760 13
Austin Jackson 747 0
David Murphy 749 2
Pedro Alvarez 754 7
David Freese 754 7
Jay Bruce 749 2
Matt Kemp 759 12
Nick Markakis 759 12
Oswaldo Arcia 758 11
Marcel Ozuna 756 9
The above obviously does not take into account fielding prowess of any of the players.  The Baseline is defensively worth about -10 runs, which would be the same as the David Murphy, Pedro Alvarez, David Freese, and Matt Kemp options.  At -5, Dexter Fowler, Jay Bruce, and Nick Markakis.  Austin Jackson and Oswaldo Arcia fall in either at league average or +5.  Marcel Ozuna is either at +5 or +10.  Anyway, that is the rough way to look at it through this one data science way of looking at it.

If you want to look at it from a win perspective, about 9 runs is the value of an added win.

In conclusion, the loss of 13 to 18 runs is obviously not good, but the larger question of how good a team the Orioles are is a bit more open ended.  Analytics range on this from a distant fifth (thanks, PECOTA) to perhaps a mid AL East table team (hi there, ZiPS).  For a team like that, 13 to 18 runs is not all that meaningful because so many other things needs to go right for the club to make that jump up into the next realm.  Those things going right include Chris Davis maintaining performance, Jonathan Schoop taking another step, J.J. Hardy actually having two working arms, and the rotation not repeating last year.  It is a steep order, but one that might well happen.

This brings up back to Adam Jones and the value of having money left to spend mid-season.  So many of those things have to go right, that we should assume that some will go wrong.  Having money mid-season means that under that more restrictive market, you still have the financial wherewithal to fill an actual need as opposed to a projected need (which is what signing Dexter Fowler resolved, a projected need).  That might well be the best way to go about it.  We shall see.

25 February 2016

Orioles Should Have Assembled A Comparable Roster And Kept Their Draft Picks

Now that they've signed Dexter Fowler and reached a modified agreement with Yovani Gallardo, the Orioles seem like they're done spending. They are clearly better than they were a few weeks ago. And if that's all you want to focus on, that's all right.

So here are the notable moves from this offseason:

- Claimed Vance Worley off waivers from the Pirates (avoided arbitration, $2.6 million).
- Extended the qualifying offer to Matt Wieters ($15.8 million), who accepted.
- Signed Hyun Soo Kim to two-year, $7 million contract.
- Re-signed Darren O'Day (four years, $31 million; $1 million deferred annually).
- Traded Steve Clevenger to the Mariners for Mark Trumbo (and C.J. Riefenhauser). Trumbo avoided arbitration and will make $9.2 million.
- Re-signed Chris Davis for seven years and $161 million ($42 million deferred, with MLB calculating the deal's present-day value at around $147 million).
- Traded Jean Cosme to the Padres for Odrisamer Despaigne.
- Signed Dexter Fowler (three years, $33 million).
- Signed Yovani Gallardo (two years, $20 million, with $13 million club option and $2 million buyout, per Roch Kubatko).

That's a lot of spending! I've already come to terms with the Davis deal, the largest of the bunch by far. In all likelihood, a contract of anywhere near $100 million (or above) was going to be for Davis and no one else.

So the bulk of the rest of the free agent money went to, in order: Fowler, O'Day, Gallardo, Wieters, Trumbo, Kim, and Worley. Just working with rough numbers, that's about $120 million. (And that's also not factoring in the loss of the two draft picks (Nos. 14 and 29; a value of anywhere from $25-$30 million) for signing Gallardo and Fowler.)

So what could the O's have done differently with that money? Here at the Depot, we occasionally get some flak for being too negative. I've had my moments this offseason, especially when the Davis deal was first announced. But I have liked some of the O's moves: adding Kim, trading for Trumbo, and offering the QO to Wieters. Kim is a cheap upside play; Trumbo is a one-year flier and shores things up at designated hitter; and the Wieters gamble made sense. So let's keep all of them (about $32 million).

I would have entertained non-tendering or trading Miguel Gonzalez and Brian Matusz, or even -- gasp, trading Zach Britton -- but keeping all three is at least reasonable enough. With Britton on board and a handful of solid relievers, the Orioles could have let O'Day walk and used that money elsewhere. I was surprised the O's kept O'Day, but was a little more mixed on that deal than the ones above. I also would have avoided Fowler and Gallardo since they are attached to draft pick compensation. The Worley addition doesn't move the needle much, so let's undo that deal as well. Without O'Day, Gallardo, Fowler, and Worley, that leaves about $87 million, give or take, to play with.

The first move would have been to sign Scott Kazmir. The Dodgers signed Kazmir for three years and $48 million, with an opt-out after the first year. And yes, obviously the Orioles are not huge fans of handing out opt-out clauses. But would you rather offer an opt-out and lose a player after one year, or sacrifice a draft pick? Clearly the O's prefer to go the qualifying offer route, which gives them leverage, but Kazmir would have been a better fit for the 2016 squad, even if he departed after one year. The O's likely would have had to offer a bit more upfront money and more money overall; maybe something in the $51-$54 million range ($12 or $13 million in the first year) gets the deal done.

With that extra $33+ million, I would have gone after Denard Span. Maybe that wouldn't have been enough to pry him from the Giants, and maybe he would not have passed the O's demanding physical process (that could also have been a concern for Kazmir). Span also wanted the chance to play center field, and that opportunity would not have been available in Baltimore. A little more money could have been persuasive enough.

Span is a couple years older and more injury-prone than Fowler. But they are similar hitters (106 career wRC+ for Span; 107 wRC+ for Fowler). Span is also the superior defender, and he has experience in both left and right field (and played both well).

(For what it's worth, a pairing of Ben Zobrist and J.A. Happ or Doug Fister or Mat Latos would also have been a decent option, although Zobrist's apparent preference to play second base would have torpedoed that strategy. Jon also noted a possible Happ signing with a platoon of Nori Aoki and Chris Young. The O's likely could have kept O'Day in that situation as well. Still, the Davis contract limits a lot of potential, intriguing options.)

I'll admit that hindsight is 20/20, so going back after the fact isn't entirely fair. And maybe the money doesn't completely line up. But it's close (and that's without going back and doing things differently with an entire offseason blueprint). I suspect lots of fans would take O'Day, Gallardo, Fowler, and Worley over Kazmir and Span. It's possible that group performs better this year and beyond. But signing Kazmir and Span would have enabled the O's to keep their two highest picks in the upcoming draft.

Each draft selection is a lottery ticket and a chance to grab a talented player. Drafting players is difficult, and every additional pick helps. The O's have been bad at both drafting and player development, but punting on two top 30 draft picks does not help.

The Orioles could have opted for the best of both worlds -- putting together a solid and improved team while not harming their chances of improving the farm system. Instead, they chose the 2014 route of targeting QO players. By itself, that is not a bad strategy at all. But the O's could have assembled a similar or better team without the need to sacrifice draft picks. All it would have required is some flexibility.


It may seem like complaining to have any issue with an offseason in which the O's handed out so much money. Overall, they have improved their chances, though maybe not to the extent many fans would like to believe. Even with Gallardo and Fowler on board, the O's aren't projected to be that much better. Thankfully, sometimes things don't go according to plan. The scary thing is what happens if they do.

24 February 2016

Orioles Continue To Raid The Bakery At Closing Time: Dexter Fowler

While Yovani Gallardo's deal is up in the air over an issue found with his shoulder, Dexter Fowler soldiered on and was undeterred into tentatively agreeing to contract terms.  Fowler is rumored to have agreed to a three year deal at 33 MM.  The BORAS model I developed predicted a three year deal at 36.3 MM.  A miss of 1.1 MM a year is pretty decent for a model and, perhaps, indicates that the discount the Orioles got for Fowler was not all that grand and likely a net loss after including the lost draft pick at the end of the first round.  I think a more fair deal would have been a 2/22 deal with a 1/11 option, but at some point this might well be splitting hairs.

As we suggested back in November, the Orioles waited for the market to settle and are now trying to fill every hole on the roster they can.  This is similar to what happened a couple years ago.  Back in the winter of '14, the Orioles blew their first round pick on Ubaldo Jimenez and then slashed their second round pick on Nelson Cruz.  The former has been forgettable and the latter made their first place finish obscenely in front as opposed to comfortably in front.  Gallardo may well be 2016's Jimenez who might be paired with a 2016 Cruz in Dexter Fowler or the other way around.  Fowler has a number of question marks associated with him similarly to how Cruz had his own issues.  Both are/were capable of big things and both had/have a risk of completely crapping out.

The comp model is not particularly excited about Fowler.  His late 20s look most similar to these ten outfielders: Brady Anderson, Brian McRae, David Dejesus, Marvin Benard, Shane Victorino, Mark Kotsay, David Murphy, Fred Lewis, Randy Winn, and Shannon Stewart.  As a group, these players remained remarkably healthy and logged a great number of innings from age 30 to 32.  McRae, Benard, and Lewis are the only ones who completely crapped out.  A 70% three year retention number is a great figure for players in their early 30s.


The above table was constructed based on Fowler being a right fielder and performing as a -5 run defender.  A general rule of thumb is that a player gains ten runs when shifting from a center field position to a corner position.  However, center fielders with below average arms are general thought to only gain five runs with a shift to right field.  As such, a general expectation of Fowler would have him as a -10 run CF, -5 run RF, and 0 run LF.  As a left fielder, he looks like a decent signing, but nothing special and certainly one a club would hate to lose a draft pick.  As a right fielder, he looks like a poor player to look in long term.  That said, if Hyun-Soo Kim is starting, you would want Fowler in right as opposed to Kim regardless of what WAR says about Fowler individually.

Again, there are reasons why some players are the last to sign.  Fowler is a below average hitter from the left side for an outfielder and is mostly a below average defensive outfielder.  Adding to the confusion over his value is that he has logged minimal innings from a corner outfield position (95 innings in Rookie and Fall League before Fowler turned 21 in addition to one major league inning in 2008).  With that in mind, he certainly feels better than Nolan Reimold and whoever, but maybe only 0.5 wins better.  To sober up that thought, PECOTA pegs Reimold and Fowler as equal value in Right Field when given the same playing time.

It all seems highly questionable because the club appears to be moving the needle slightly while dedicating a high level of resources for that small incremental change.  In fact, if both Gallardo and Fowler signings are finalized, the Orioles will be the biggest spenders of this past off season.  As it stands, a Gallardo addition roughly moves the club from a 12% to 15% shot of getting into the play-in game (first place is about 1%).  Fowler moves the club up into the 17% range with maybe 2 to 3% shot at first. Vegas odds have a similar take with the Orioles enjoying 50 to 1 odds.  Maybe the Orioles have a different way of figuring out how good of a club they are.

23 February 2016

The MASN Case: Will The Case Go Back To The RSDC?

In the beginning of November, MASN was victorious in court. Justice Marks ruled that the RSDC proceeding objectively demonstrated an utter lack of concern for fairness that is “so inconsistent with the basic principles of justice” that the award must be vacated.  Ever since, the Court, MASN, MLB and the Nationals have attempted to negotiate next steps.

MASN has insisted that the case be reheard in front of a neutral, unbiased panel such as the American Arbitration Association. When neither the Nationals nor MLB would accede to this request, MASN filed a limited appeal of the court’s decision, insisting that the court should have ruled that the case be heard by a different panel.

Meanwhile the Nationals agreed to use different counsel and insisted that the case be reheard by the RSDC. When MASN refused, the Nationals filed a motion to compel MASN to submit to an arbitration before the RSDC.

The Nationals claim that their motion should be granted because a delay causes them harm. Until a decision is accepted by all parties, the Nationals will only receive rights fees that MASN unilaterally determines and this has significant financial implications for their operations and competitiveness. The Nationals also argued that there is an absence of a reasonable likelihood that the Orioles will prevail on the central question presented in their appeals – whether this court should have rewritten the agreement by directing arbitration to a panel other than the RSDC.  The Nationals made these arguments because these are legal points that a judge will consider when choosing to grant their motion or not.

On January 5th, Judge Marks’ principal law clerk set a schedule for the Nationals’ current motion. The Nationals’ were to file their notion by January 22nd. MASN was given a chance to respond by February 16th but apparently waived that right. The Nationals were given a chance to respond to any of MASNs' statements by the 23rd and the Court will hear the case on the 24th. The ruling will determine whether MASN will be forced to submit to a new arbitration before the RSDC regardless of the status of their appeal.

There is a legal maxim called “justice delayed is justice denied”. If some legal decisions are or aren’t implemented immediately, then it can cause irreparable damage to a given party. For example, if the delay of a decision causes a company to go bankrupt, then even a favorable decision after the fact can’t repair the damage inflicted by this delay. MASN successfully made this argument in 2014, when they requested that the court put a stay on the RSDCs previous decision. Allowing the Nationals to sell their media rights to a different broadcaster would have forced MASN to renegotiate its contracts with all of its providers at a significant reduction in value and therefore caused irreparable damage.

The Nationals’ argument that a delay would cause them substantial harm wasn’t persuasive the first two times that they used it, and they are hoping that the third time is the charm. It is certainly the case that the Nationals could use any extra cash to improve their operations. However, typically parties to a lawsuit can use any extra cash they may win as a result of a decision. The minimal cash at stake will not force the Nationals to shut down operations and certainly at this point will have no impact on their free agent spending. As such, while being forced to wait for a decision is inconvenient and unfortunate, a delay will not cause any irreparable or even substantial damages.

In addition, it is implausible that the Nationals would receive any cash from a favorable RSDC decision, presuming that it is favorable, until after the court came to a decision about MASNs appeal. Therefore, even if the Court did agree that MASN should be compelled to return to the RSDC panel, it would have no impact on the Nationals bottom line. If so, it is hard to see how sending this case back to the RSDC panel would have any effect on the Nationals money woes.

The other argument that the Nationals noted, whether the court can rewrite the contract, is considerably stronger. If the court doesn’t have the authority to rule that this case should be heard by a different panel, then MASNs appeal is meritless and taken primarily for the purpose of delay. If that’s the case, then the Court should reject MASNs appeal and issue an order compelling MASN to arbitrate before the RSDC.

MASN argues that the Court does have the authority to rule that this case should be heard by a different panel. The New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (§ 7511(d)) states that:

(d) Rehearing.  Upon vacating an award, the court may order a rehearing and determination of all or any of the issues either before the same arbitrator or before a new arbitrator appointed in accordance with this article.  Time in any provision limiting the time for a hearing or award shall be measured from the date of such order or rehearing, whichever is appropriate, or a time may be specified by the court. 

Likewise, the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 10(b)) states that:

(b) If an award is vacated and the time within which the agreement required the award to be made has not expired, the court may, in its discretion, direct a rehearing by the arbitrators.  

It seems from MASNs perspective that the court has the right, even if not necessarily the obligation, to decide that the case should be heard by a different panel. Justice Marks quoted Hooters of America, Inc. v. Phillips in his decision, a case in which a court decided to void a previously existing contract. It appears Justice Marks was well aware that he could send the case to a different panel if he chose to do so, even if he couldn’t necessarily re-write the contract.

However, Justice Marks made a number of interesting remarks during the May Court Hearing, which possibly give insight into his thought process. He made the following comments:
"If Proskauer is taken out of the case, do we have a problem with the arbitrators? In fact, I think it's -- I think I read the Committee membership has changed anyway."
"But the Commissioner is not one of the arbitrators."
“If there is a round two, wouldn't it be different? Isn't round two more of a magnifying glass than round one, given all that's happened here?”
“What if it went back to the same entity and they were directed to apply the Bortz methodology? And I'm not saying that I would do that, or I don't know that I even have the authority to do that, but would that make you happy?"
“What else would they do if they were given that instruction to be that precise, there would be nothing left for them to do”. 
It's worth noting that the Orioles also agreed that the members on the RSDC had changed.

Justice Marks’ remarks potentially explain why he declined to send this decision to a different arbitration body. He rejected all of MASNs arguments except for the one stating that the verdict should be vacated due to evident partiality caused by Proskauer Rose’s involvement. This conflict no longer exists now that the Nationals have new legal representation. If there were new teams on the RSDC then it would be implausible that Proskauer’s previous involvement would have any effect.

Justice Marks also stated that the Commissioner isn’t one of the arbitrators and therefore feels that the members of the RSDC will be able to be impartial and fair regardless of MLB’s wishes. Arbitrators, especially in a situation like this one, are expected to be able to withstand outside pressure. This is unfortunate for MASN, but if Justice Marks feels this way, then it certainly seems logical that he wouldn't send this case to a different forum.

The only problem is that the Nationals and MLB are seemingly hell-bent on proving each of Justice Marks’ assumptions false and that sending this case back to the RSDC would do nothing more than create a mockery of justice. Justice Marks made the reasonable presumption that the Nationals and MLB would proceed more carefully in a second arbitration in order to avoid further non-confirmable decisions. So, it probably came as a surprise that the Nationals requested on November 25th, 2015, that the RSDC hearing be scheduled for late-January 2016.

MASN reasonably argued that this schedule would only give MASN two months to determine whether there are any illicit relationships between Quinn Emmanuel and any of the three MLB teams on the RSDC. Mr. Hall noted that such a schedule would ignore the lessons that should have been learned over the past year and a half such as that the parties should take as much time as necessary to ensure that everything is proper for Round 2.

Determining whether there are any illicit relationships between Quinn Emmanuel and members of the RSDC is a considerable challenge in and of itself. It becomes even more challenging when one notes that there are currently only two teams on the RSDC. MASN would be forced to look into whether any of the teams in baseball have a relationship with Quinn Emmanuel or they would have even an extremely limited period to determine whether the third team, as of yet unknown, has an illicit relationship with Quinn Emmanuel.

Even worse, MASN couldn’t rely on the team in question to state accurately whether or not it had a relationship with Quinn Emmanuel. The Pirates President and one of the members of the previous RSDC panel, Francis Connelly, stated that he had “failed to recall” certain dealings the Pirates had with Proskauer. If a member of the RSDC had “failed to recall” its dealings with law firms in the past, then there is no reason why it couldn’t happen in the future. The fact that the Nationals want an expedited schedule illustrates how they failed to learn lessons from the past year and a half and how they clearly don’t feel like they’re under a magnifying glass.

Justice Marks stated that he doesn’t believe that the Commissioner will be able to bias the members of the RSDC panel. That’s fair enough, but it’s still worth outlining Manfred’s remarks about this case. Manfred stated in May 2015 that "I think the agreement's clear in MASN.  I think the RSDC was empowered to set rights fees. That's what they did, and I think sooner or later MASN is going to be required to pay those rights fees." Manfred stated in November, after the decision was vacated that, “We are intent on making sure that the agreement that gets the Nationals a fair market value for their TV rights is enforced, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to get that.” In addition, it’s impossible to forget that MLB will receive an extra $25 million if the RSDC issues a similar ruling to the previous one. The court may question whether MLB is able to bias the RSDC panel, but there can be no question that Manfred will do so if he is able.

The next assumption that MLB has disproved is about the makeup of the RSDC panel. In 2012, the three clubs on the Panel were the Pirates, Rays and Mets. In October 2014, the three clubs on the panel were the Rays, Cubs and Blue Jays. These teams appear to have been the three clubs on the panel in May 2015, when Justice Marks and the Orioles both agreed that the teams on the RSDC have changed. Therefore, it was reasonable to presume that the teams on the RSDC would be different for a future second round.

This didn't happen. The teams on the RSDC panel as of January 2016 are the Cubs and Pirates with the third seat vacant. My understanding is that the Blue Jays were being represented on the RSDC by their president Paul Beeston. When he retired at the end of October 2015 this created an opening on the RSDC. This suggests that the Rays were replaced by the Pirates, one of the teams on the RSDC panel that originally ruled on the MASN dispute in 2012.

The Pirates President, Mr. Connelly, was a member of the RSDC panel from 2008- November 2013. In addition, from 1998 to 2007, he also served as the General Counsel-Labor for the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. He further stated that during his tenure working with MLB, he also served as a legal attorney providing support to the RSDC panel.  Mr. Connelly would be a poor choice to be a judge on this new panel because he has already been biased by the proceedings that occurred during the previous panel.

Mr. Connelly felt it necessary to write an affidavit to the court responding to MASNs claims that the RSDC panel was biased due to Proskauer’s involvement and therefore decided to involve themselves in the previous court case. Although this isn’t a typical situation, it is usually expected for arbitrators to not act on behalf of one side or the other in future proceedings.

In addition, Mr. Connelly is likely to be the member of the RSDC with the most experience in these regards and therefore be the most influential member. Given the number of potential candidates, it is certainly the case that the Pirates would be a poor choice to be on this panel and their inclusion would be worrisome.

The Cubs are the second team on the panel. In theory, Mr. Ricketts would be a reasonable choice for this panel as he had no connection with the previous proceedings. In practice, he’s a poor choice. The Sports Business Daily wrote that “Mr. Ricketts is also a close ally of Rob Manfred, which has elevated his role in league circles.” In addition, ESPN wrote that “behind the scenes, Manfred has made some personnel changes at MLB's central office in New York and given prime committee assignments to Tampa Bay's Stu Sternberg, Tom Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs, Hal Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees and other owners who weren't necessarily part of the game's "old boy'' network.” Mr. Manfred has spent capital elevating Mr. Ricketts role in the league by placing him in important positions. Given that relationship, it seems unreasonable to expect Ricketts to be completely impartial to the Commissioner’s wishes. Ricketts gains considerable prestige due to his relationship with the Commissioner and may not be willing to jeopardize that for MASN and the Orioles.

Finally, my understanding is that the third team on the RSDC panel will be determined by Manfred. It clearly isn’t fair to allow the Commissioner the ability to select the third panel member when he has already stated his preferred outcome.

Manfred has further shown that he has the ability and desire to stack committees the way that he sees fit and thus reward owners that agree with him while punishing owners that work against him. When Manfred was first appointed, he stated that he wasn’t going to take into account which owners voted against him. Those owners that voted against him appeared to be the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays. So, it was surprising when Mr. Manfred decided in January 2015 to completely change the membership of MLB’s executive council. Manfred replaced seven of the eight owners on the executive council with the only owner remaining coincidentally Manfred’s strongest supporter during the confirmation process. Mets360 argued that, “it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t some shred of cronyism in his decision, as the Wilpon appointment was part of an almost-total retooling of baseball’s executive council.” They also argued that “So at least we have a theory as to Manfred’s motivation – he wants baseball’s hierarchy to consist of those who helped elect him commissioner.” The blog further argued that the owners on the executive council that supported Manfred were giving plum positions, even though they were removed while the owners that didn’t support Manfred were not and therefore were punished.

This indicates that the Court shouldn’t underestimate Manfred’s ability to bias the proceedings. If Manfred was able to pack the Executive Council with his supporters and punish his detractors, then there is no reason why he wouldn’t do this to members of the RSDC. The RSDC is far more vulnerable to the Commissioner than it may have appeared at first glance.

Finally, there has been considerable conjecture that the MASN lawsuit is why the Orioles weren’t selected to host the 2018 All-Star Game. I wrote about this situation in April. Without repeating myself, it is worth noting that a number of publications, such as the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Fox Sports, and NBC Sports all wrote articles speculating that Baltimore didn’t receive the all-star game due to this conflict. It seems at minimum plausible that Manfred didn’t award the 2018 All-Star Game to punish the Orioles for this conflict. If so, other teams have likely learned that Manfred will punish them if they cross him and issue a decision that he doesn’t favor.

As stated earlier, some owners have openly crossed Manfred despite being punished for it. It would be reasonable to presume that these owners would be more likely to be impartial than the owners currently on the RSDC. If so, there should be no reason why a panel consisting of three officials from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels or Oakland Athletics would be a preferable option to the current RSDC. There is no reason to presume that they would biased against the Nationals but they are also the least likely to be biased by MLBs statements. Indeed, the White Sox's owner is on the record as speaking in extremely negative terms about the agreement and if anything would be biased against MASN.

I believe whether the Court thinks that Manfred can bias the RSDC may be relevant at a later date. If the Court believes that he is able to do so, then it is far more likely to look upon MASNs’ claims with favor. This is because MASN did agree to an arbitration process where some of the members may be partial. MASN could and probably should have realized that many MLB owners felt that MASN was given a generous deal at their expense.

However, MASN didn’t and couldn’t have known that MLB would actively attempt to coerce the members of the RSDC to rule against them. It seems unlikely that MASN had realized that MLB can appoint members to the RSDC solely at its whims and punish these members for a decision contrary to its wishes. Nor could they have predicted that the previous RSDC would have completely ignored and dismissed their repeated asserted concerns about fairness. Or that the previous RSDC would utterly ignore and disregard every precedent case when deciding to not use the Bortz Methodology solely for MASN.

It would appear that the Nationals arguments arguing that this case should be sent back to the RSDC before MASNs appeal is addressed are weak. On the other hand, MASN didn’t even bother to reply to the Nationals’ motion to have this case sent to the RSDC. It appears that MASNs argument is two-fold. The first point is that the RSDC is unable to rule fairly. The second is that the RSDC doesn’t even have three members at the current time and it will take months before it is ready to hear this case. How can the Nationals compel MASN to submit to arbitration in front of a panel that doesn’t currently exist?

There are advantages to having a second round of arbitration in front of the RSDC. A new RSDC decision may be able to resolve the current litigation. This dispute would come to an end if the new decision was based off of the Bortz Methodology or another slightly different methodology that was acceptable to all sides. Or it may become abundantly clear that the RSDC and MLB have no interest in fairness and therefore strengthen MASNs claims that this case should be heard in a different forum.

Meanwhile, the Court can rule that MASN should be allowed to appeal its decision and that MASN needs to submit to arbitration in front of the RSDC. The Court could decide to stay the RSDCs’ second decision until all of the appeals have taken their course. It seems that the only thing MASN would lose in such a circumstance is the time, effort and expense of preparing for an arbitration panel. Meanwhile, it is indisputable that this case has gone on for more than a year and that it is only fair to ensure that it comes to as speedy of a conclusion as possible. It would appear that the pros, however unlikely, would outweigh the possible cons.

I wouldn’t focus overly much on whether the Court decides to compel MASN to submit to arbitration in front of the RSDC or not. If MASN wins its appeal of the first Court decision, then any future RSDC decision will be meaningless. Likewise, if an appellate court decides that the first RSDC decision shouldn't be vacated, then a future RSDC decision will be meaningless. Even if MASN doesn’t win its appeal, then MASN still may have an opportunity to appeal a future RSDC decision. The main question is whether an appellate court will hear MASNs appeal and whether it will decide to send this case to a new arbitration panel.

21 February 2016

The Last Item In The Pitching Display Case: Yovani Gallardo

Yesterday, we learned that the Orioles were done hemming and hawing over retaining their 14th overall selection in the 2016 draft.  They would willingly discard it in order to acquire Yovani Gallardo, a pitcher whose performance does not match what front offices seem to think of him.  In other words, a pitcher who is considered a middle of the rotation arm is one that clubs are typically willing to sacrifice a draft pick in addition to offering a sizeable bundle of cash (see Ian Kennedy, Jeff Samardzija).  Instead, the pitcher who often struggles is one who has accomplished quite a bit, but whose repertoire has become highly questioned (see Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana).

Back in the fall, I used the BORAS model to project future contracts.  BORAS is a relatively simple model.  It looks at several years of data as well as age.  It does not consider Qualifying Offer status.  BORAS pegged Gallardo for a four year deal at 58.4 MM.  Last I heard, Gallardo was trying to secure himself a three year deal for 45 MM, which is in the ballpark.  That would be a 15 MM annual salary as opposed to a 14.6 MM annual salary.

At this point, it might be good to compare different pitchers projected by the BORAS model:

Annual Salary
BORAS (MM) Actual
Jeff Samardzija 15.8 18
Scott Kazmir 15.6 16
Yovanni Gallardo 14.6 12
JA Happ 14.4 12
Hisashi Iwakuma 13.5 12
Mike Leake 13.4 16
Ian Kennedy 9.6 14

Of the pitchers who are considered similar by BORAS, Gallardo is rather reasonably priced.  Not shown here, is that besides earning a rather reasonable salary, Gallardo is also only on the hook for three years while pitchers like Leake, Samardzija, or Kennedy are locked in for five years.  However, JA Happ certainly makes more sense as he would have provided the club with a left handed starter and not resulted in a lost draft pick.  But just to reiterate, Gallardo's salary is quite reasonable (though the lost draft pick certainly adds a wrinkle and I will get to that later).

A while back I also put together a comparison model for Gallardo, which differs from the BORAS model in that it looks forward beyond the off season market.  I never published it because I figured it would be silly for the Orioles to give up a mid-range first round pick on a relatively forgettable arm.  I read the market wrong on that it seems.  Anyway, the comps at his age for a variety of key characteristics (e.g., walk rate, strikeout rate, peripheral runs allowed indices, handedness) were: Brad Radke, Carl Pavano, Todd Ritchie, James Baldwin, Pedro Astacio, Jon Garland, Jeff Suppan, Ramon Ortiz, Matt Morris, Jason Johnson, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Lohse.  Pedro Astacio was his closest match.

That group led to this five year mean projection, one year beyond the contract's option year:

Next, here are the low, mean, and high expectations by WAR:

Part of the decrease is due to the injury rate of pitchers.  As is pretty common, injury rate is quite low in the first year of a contract.  For this comp population, 8% of the pitchers were unable to provide 100+ IP.  Years two through four increases the attrition rate to 40% and year five has a 60% loss.  If healthy, the contract could actually be a modest boon,  The chance that Gallardo stays healthy and productive for the next three seasons is 33% and 13% through the option year.  Purely on a coincidence, 33% is the historical average during the 2000s for a drafted player in the teens to turn into a regular which is what the Orioles gave up to sign Gallardo.

That draft pick, of course, is the cost associated with Gallardo that is the most difficult to pin down.  Based on data science, a mid teens draft pick is worth about 20 MM.  That number comes from the odds of a player panning out, cost controlled surplus value, and decreased value based on that value coming years down the line.  In practice, teams appear to value these picks about half of what the data science suggests they are worth, so about 10 MM in market terms.

With the Gallardo deal, the Orioles saved ~10 MM on what BORAS thought Gallardo's salary should be.  The Orioles saved additionally by only having to offer a three year deal, while BORAS suggested four.  That probably saved the club another 7-9 MM.  In other words, the Orioles appear to have gotten true data science value in signing Gallardo.  However, if we look at it from a comp model perspective, he should have earned 3/33 and the only value saved is on not having to ensure a fourth year.  So, that would be a savings of 7-9 MM which is closer to what market value of picks suggests.  This paragraph is somewhat confusing.  The take home is basically, this is relatively fair.

However, I do not think Gallardo is considerably better than what the Orioles already have shuttling between Baltimore and Norfolk.  Additionally, the minor league system is nearly bereft of talent and an additional pick would be helpful to make the future look a little brighter.  Some have suggested that due to the Orioles history of poor development that the club should value their draft picks less, which is a weird perspective to have.  Personnel turnover has occurred regularly over the past couple decades and poor performance is not hereditary.  The logo on the polo shirt does not provide automatic deficiencies.

From 2001-2010, the Orioles were below average in developing first round talent, but not by much.  This range had a wide range of competency, from the wreck of the Syd Thrift era to better organizational efforts of Jim Beattie, Mike Flanagan, and Andy MacPhail.  Over the course of these years and considering the probability of developing regular starters by draft pick, the Orioles would have been expected to produce 4.3 starters.  Instead, they developed three: Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado.  There is nothing exceptionally bad or good about that.  I think that there is a "feeling" of poor development of first round picks that simply is not shown well in that actual production of their draft selections.  Keep in mind, the decision to focus greatly on pitchers also plays a bit of a role on the below average success rate as pitchers are less likely to develop into starters than position players are.

Anyway, even if the Orioles have difficulty developing their own drafted talent, it helps picking higher up in the order where evaluation and development is often easier to accomplish.  I think that argument holds no water.  However, again, the play here is for the next couple years before the core gets old and Manny leaves for a 400-500 MM deal somewhere else.  The draft pick would have no bearing on this window beyond a chance it could be used as trade bait.  I know if my contract was coming up after 2018, I would not value these picks so greatly and would be looking to see how I could swing some success into another position.

19 February 2016

Breaking Down wOBA

Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is considered one of the best stats to quantify batting performance.  Per Fangraphs, wOBA combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. But there are a number of questions about wOBA. Is it more important to have a strong BB/K rate or to produce when making contact? Is production when hitting fly balls more important than hitting ground balls and if so by how much? In order to answer these questions and more, I used 2013-2015 data from ESPN Stats and Information and Pitch FX to see what correlates best with overall wOBA.

The first test I ran used data from ESPN Stats and Information. I measured players wOBA based on contact against pitches thrown in the strike zone, wOBA on contact against pitches not in the strike zone and wOBA based on at bats that ended in either a hit by pitch, strikeout or unintentional walk. Then, I determined a given player’s percentage rank for each of these three categories from 2013-2015 as well as his rank for the likelihood of each of these events occurring.

I found that the average wOBA for pitches put into play in the strike zone was .385, for pitches out of the strike zone was .290 and for pitches not put into play was .204. I expected pitches hit in the strike zone to be the most productive type, but I was surprised to see that contact made against pitches thrown outside of the strike zone was more productive than at-bats not resulting in contact.

This indicates that batters are stuck in a game theory situation since they want to make contact as often as possible. Swinging aggressively may result in higher contact rates but also more strikeouts, fewer walks and potentially less productive contact. This means they need to decide whether to swing at a bad pitch early in the count. Ideally, batters would never walk or strikeout because they have their best results when making contact. On average, they should be willing to give up roughly 11 walks in order to prevent 9 strikeouts.  For comparison, a player like Adam Jones roughly strikes out 5 times for each time he earns an unintentional walk.

A stepwise regression analysis suggests that wOBA for pitches hit inside the strike zone percentile rank is the variable with the strongest relationship to actual wOBA percentile rank. The next most influential variable was wOBA on pitches which weren’t put into play. On average, 85% of all at bats end in one of the two above scenarios. There is a weaker relationship between actual wOBA rank and the percentage of balls in each of the three categories, suggesting that this has some relevance but not a huge amount. In general, the percent of pitches resulted in strikes or balls put into play had a positive impact on total wOBA (obviously, putting strikes into play is better than putting balls into play) while failing to put a ball into play had a negative impact.

The R^2 for this analysis was .9225 indicating that these wOBA categories accurately describe overall wOBA. This is expected but important to verify.

There is a high year-to-year correlation between how often a batter puts a pitch in the strike zone (.746) or out of the strike zone into play (.725) or alternatively fails to put the ball into play (.836). There is some year-to-year correlation between a batter’s ability to produce when putting pitches in the strike zone into play (.544) or when not putting the ball into play at all (.639), but only minimal when putting pitches not in the strike zone into play (.169). This suggests that players largely have the same outline from year-to-year but their production is considerably more variable. It also suggests that production on pitcher-friendly pitches is considerably more variable than production on hitter-friendly pitches. It also suggests that while these results have some predictive value, they’re more helpful for illustrating actual results.

The second test I ran used PITCHf/x data from 2013-2015 and studied players that faced at least 1000 pitches in a given season. I then used zone information to determine whether a pitch was a clear strike, a clear ball or unclear defined as being within 1 inch of the strike zone in any direction. Then I determined a players’ overall wOBA percentile rank as well as his wOBA rank for pitches that are strikes, balls and unclear as well as the likelihood percentile rank of him putting a ball, strike or unclear pitch into play.

Unsurprisingly, batters were most successful against pitches in the strike zone with a .411 wOBA, worse against pitches that were questionable with a .342 wOBA and worst against pitches that were clearly balls with a .284 wOBA. It’s pretty clear that batters are most successful when swinging at strikes.

Roughly two-thirds of balls put into play were strikes. As a result, it should not be surprising that a regression analysis indicated that how a player does against strikes has the largest impact on his wOBA by a significant margin. Performance against pitches that are unclear or not in the strike zone are significant variables but with minimal impact. The model’s R^2 was .96 suggesting that these components do accurately describe what occurred.

As with the ESPN data, a players’ year-to-year profile stays reasonably static. There’s a strong correlation of about .73 between a players current “In Play Percentile Ranks” and his rankings the following year for pitches in the strike zone or pitches not in the strike zone. There is a smaller correlation of .516 between a players’ current “wOBA against strikes” percentile rank and his rank in the following year. All in all, it shows that we can be reasonably certain that a player who swings at good or bad pitches will continue to do so in the future, but that this dataset is better used to describe what happened rather than to predict what will happen. This chart can be found below:

The third dataset that I looked at was also PitchF/x data from 2013-2015 based on players that faced at least 1000 pitches in a year. For this dataset, I determined their wOBA percentile rank based on batted ball type (fly ball, ground ball, line drive and pop up).

As one might suspect, batters were most productive hitting line drives with a .732 wOBA, flyballs ranked second with a .354 wOBA, grounders were third with a .251 wOBA and pop-ups were fourth with a .022 wOBA.

A regression analysis suggested that fly balls were more predictive of future wOBA than line drives. Hitting a larger percent of fly balls and line drives resulted in a higher wOBA while hitting grounders and pop ups resulted in a lower wOBA. An R^2 of .91 suggests that these categories accurately describe what occurred.

I found a moderate year-to-year correlation for the likelihood of a player being ranked at a given percentile for his profile type. I also found a reasonable year-to-year correlation for a player hitting fly balls, line drives and pop-ups but only a minimal one for a player hitting ground balls. A chart summarizing this data can be found here:

All in all, these datasets largely show things that are obvious. They show that hitters do better against pitches in the strike zone than against pitches that aren’t. They show that hitters are more productive when hitting line drives than when hitting ground balls. But they also show a few things that aren’t obvious. They illustrate how strikeouts, walks and hit by pitches relate to balls put into play. And they also can illustrate a player’s strengths and weaknesses.

Being able to visualize the data like this can lead to some surprising findings. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to show you some.

18 February 2016

What To Know About Dexter Fowler

You already know the arguments in favor of signing Dexter Fowler. The Orioles are always in search of on-base percentage to go with their penchant for power hitters. But more than that, Fowler is a good player, and he'd be taking playing time away from Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez and others. Nothing against those guys, but Fowler is a clear upgrade.

The O's are still squarely in the mix for both Fowler and Yovani Gallardo, with a possible deal for Fowler looking like this:
That's slightly different than the earlier report of two years and $20 million, but that still seems like a pretty good deal. The draft pick compensation knocks it down some, but the O's are at least correct to target two qualifying offer players instead of one (even though the concerns regarding Gallardo are legit).

So if the O's do sign Fowler and slot him in right field, or even left, what should you know?

He's better from the right side of the plate

Fowler's a switch-hitter, so he'd add a left-handed bat to a lineup that could use another one. But in his career, he's fared much better against lefties (121 wRC+) than right-handers (101 wRC+). He strikes out much more against left-handers (24% vs. 17%) though he walks slightly more (12.5% vs. 12%). His isolated power numbers are better from the left side and he both pulls the ball and hits the ball in the air more. Aided by him keeping the ball on the ground more and hitting the ball nearly as hard, his BABIP from the right side is nearly 40 points higher.

He walks a lot 

You won't confuse Fowler for Joey Votto or Bryce Harper, but he does draw a lot of walks. His walk rate of 12.2% would have led everyone on the Orioles in 2015 not named Chris Davis (and, you know, Ryan Lavarnway in 32 plate appearances, but you don't care about him). It also wasn't a one-year fluke; Fowler has a career walk rate of over 12%, and his lowest walk rate in any season is 11.3% in 2010.

He's also a bit of a strange player, because he combines lots of strikeouts and walks with not a lot of power. He had the lowest slugging percentage among the six players who struck out at least 150 times and walked 80 times or more in 2015. The other names on the list? Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Davis, Matt Carpenter, and Curtis Granderson.

Fowler has been below average defensively as a center fielder

If the Orioles sign Fowler, he won't be playing center field. That's noteworthy because Fowler has played exactly one defensive inning that wasn't in center field: a single, lonely inning in right field with the Rockies in 2008. That hurts his value a little, because even a below-average defender in center field is useful when combined with solid offensive production.

Center field is the most difficult of the three outfield positions to play, so many center fielders can switch to left or right without much trouble, at least for a few years. Fowler should be capable range-wise, but the main concern is his lack of arm strength. As a comparison, in seven full seasons in center field, Fowler has an outfield arm runs above average rating of -15 (per FanGraphs). In one more season of work, Adam Jones's rating is +44. And while looking at total assist numbers can be misleading, Jones has 84 career assists in center. Fowler has 30. So it's not a news flash that left field would be more suitable for his skill-set.

Fowler's not a great stolen base threat

Fowler is a fit as a leadoff hitter and has 114 career steals, but he's also been caught 53 times. That's a success rate of below 70%, which is generally the break-even point. According to FanGraphs' weighted stolen bases metric (wSB), which approximates how many runs a player adds to his team by stealing bases, Fowler has been below average (-1.8). It's not a huge concern by any means, but every little bit counts. Fowler would add some speed and OBP to the O's lineup, but he wouldn't rack up a bunch of stolen bases.


It's somewhat concerning that no other team (at the moment) seems to be in on Fowler. The draft pick compensation scares teams away for sure, but a center fielder with good on-base skills is certainly valuable. Fowler projects as about a two-win player. Steamer has him at 1.6; Baseball Prospectus's WARP has him at 1.7. That is an improvement over what the Orioles have, though it's possible their combination of Reimold, Alvarez, Joey Rickard, etc. could come close to that number. I'm not sure I'd like to see them try, even if the O's have to sacrifice a draft pick that they sorely need.

The O's best course of action may indeed be to sign Fowler and Gallardo -- their version of going "all in" or whatever you want to call it -- but that doesn't mean I have to feel great about it. With the cratering of the farm system and the cost of Manny Machado's (potential) extension on the horizon, these February waiting games for devalued players may make less sense in the future. It would be nice to get to the point where the O's don't feel the need to make these types of signings, but hey, maybe 2014 happens again. The chances are slim, but maybe that's just how it has to be.

16 February 2016

Do Childhood Memories Affect Attendance?

Not long ago, I found myself late to a discussion about whether a person's favorite team being good when they were a kid makes them more likely to be a fan as an adult. The natural corollary would be that kids growing up around a bad team would be less engaged with the team later in life. This clearly isn't the case, as the Cleveland Browns continue to play in front of dozens of people (shots fired). 

But whether people have childhood memories of joyful success or soul-crushing sadness of their favorite team may affect how big of a fan they are - their magnitude of fandom, so to speak. By treating attendance as a proxy for magnitude of fandom in a region, I was able to measure whether childhood memories, good or bad, have an affect on adults.

I expanded a (pretty good!) season-long attendance regression I built while writing for BSL to include combinations of new parameters that measure extreme seasons 20 years in the past. To make sure I captured a chunk of a fan's formative years, I used a range of 5 years around the season 20 years ago. Parameters for predicting attendance in the 2014 season would be 1992-1996, for example. The parameters listed below were selected as examples of extreme seasons, both successful and not:
  • >= 100 wins
  • playoff berth
  • World Series berth
  • <= 65 wins
  • division cellar
I built multiple regressions with varying combinations of these parameters, which all seemed to predict attendance pretty well. The chart below shows the ability of each regression, categorized by parameters used, to forecast attendance:

...but there's a real issue with the inclusion of these parameters. While the scores look great and the extreme memories may make sense to some, the coefficients were generally opposite of what would be expected. For instance, if you were to believe that a childhood World Series berth makes people more likely to be fans, you would expect it to carry a positive coefficient. That would indicate that it is a positive event that drives attendance among adults. The regression that included parameters for childhood World Series and cellar-dwelling memories that has an R^2 value of nearly 0.98 assigns the following coefficients (shown in green against the blue "no memory" control regression) to its parameters:
These coefficients are entirely out of sync with our expectations; they suggest that teams winning the pennant or even making the playoffs as a wildcard that year are pushing fans away, and memories of a World Series berth make people incredibly unlikely to go to games as an adult. It doesn't matter what its alleged predicted value is. This model is not grounded in any reasonable hypothesis and it's overfit to the data added to it.

The only regression that appeared to have any semblance of modeling reality is one that only includes memories of the team in the cellar:

No coefficients radically changed direction, although it appears additional emphasis is placed on rostering a All Star starter and winning a wild card at the expense of winning a pennant. And it seems to predict that high beer and hot dog prices attract more fans. At least memories of being in the cellar pushes people away from attending.

I tend to favor the original model that doesn't include extreme memories, in particular because I don't believe very young fans know the difference between their team being in 4th or 5th in their division. In fact, I don't think very young fans care very much about the on-field product, and are more likely to harbor positive memories of spending time with their family at the ballpark. Those memories are far more likely to make adults want to return the favor with their own kids.

And anyway, as always, the most important coefficient is how well the team is doing in that season. It makes sense. It's not hard to tell over 162 games whether a team is good, and fans want to see an exciting team that gives them a good chance to go home happy.

In other words, you're all bandwagoners.

12 February 2016

Orioles Re-Sign Four 2015 Norfolk Tides

Joe Reisel's Archives

The Orioles' big-ticket moves have justifiably received most of our and your attention this off-season. But the Orioles organization consists of more than the major-league team; the Orioles have to stock four full-season, two short-season, and two Dominican Summer League minor-league affiliates. To complete the rosters of their upper-level affiliates, the Orioles, like all organizations, sign free agents to minor-league contracts. This offseason, the Orioles re-signed several players who were in their farm system for much of 2015. Four of them saw a lot of action at Norfolk and are likely to start 2016 there, assuming that they don't get released in spring training.

While this article may include some rudimentary statistical analysis, the conclusions are primarily based on my subjective observations during the 2015 season. In 2015, I scored - either as the MiLb.com datacaster or as a scorer for Baseball Info Solutions - 50 Norfolk Tides games.

Pedro Beato, relief pitcher

Pedro Beato was re-signed after being credited with 16 saves in 2015. Photo courtesy of Norfolk Tides/Les Treagus.

Pedro Beato returned to the Orioles in 2015, four years after the Mets selected him in the December 2010 Rule 5 draft. Beato spent 2015 at Norfolk. He served as a set-up reliever to Oliver Drake and as the closer when Drake was in Baltimore. He was credited with 16 saves and a 5-5 won-loss record. He had 2.65 ERA, surrendered 66 hits (five home runs) in 74 2/3 innings with 25 walks and 61 strikeouts. Although he struck out fewer batters than you'd like from a relief pitcher, his performance reflected in these statistics suggest that he could be another Brad Brach or Chaz Roe.

And he could. But I'm not convinced. It seemed to me that he was hit harder than reflected in his numbers. And it seemed that when he struggled, he was unable to right himself. He also was less effective late in the season, although that was probably caused by overwork as most of the bullpen was less effective late in the season. When he entered a game late in the season, I had zero confidence that he would be effective.

Beato could pitch well at Norfolk early in the season, and if he does, could get a call-up if Baltimore needs bullpen help. It's possible that he could pitch well in a low-leverage role - there are plenty of relief pitchers who've had one good 40-inning season - but he's unlikely to have long-term success.

Terry Doyle, starting pitcher (?)

Over 1/4 of Terry Doyle's career minor-league wins were earned in 2015. Photo courtesy of Norfolk Tides/Les Treagus.

The Orioles re-signed Terry Doyle after he went 16-2 with a 2.16 ERA in a 2015 season split between AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk. And he pitched 158 2/3 innings in 26 games (21 starts.) There's nothing wrong with those numbers, and Doyle truly is a valuable pitcher.

As a minor-leaguer. It should be no surprise that Doyle went 12-1, 1.97 at AA; he was a 29-year-old who had already had two good seasons in AAA. He began 2015 as a long reliever at Bowie and moved into the rotation when Elih Villanueva was temporarily promoted to Norfolk. He stayed in the rotation because he pitched very well and because Dylan Bundy was injured. Doyle was promoted to Norfolk in August when trades and promotions wiped out the Norfolk rotation. He continued to pitch well.

Doyle relies on control and command of mediocre stuff to get batters out. As I said, he's valuable in the minor leagues because he can effectively eat up innings, because he can (and has been) used as both a starter and as a relief pitcher, and because he accepts his role. He'll only make the major leagues as a desperation/emergency alternative, but he'll remain in the minor league until his stuff declines from mediocre to poor.

Andy Oliver, relief pitcher

Andy Oliver joined the Orioles system in 2015 after being released by Tampa Bay. With Norfolk, he was used as a middle-to-long relief pitcher; although he's left-handed, he wasn't used as a left-handed relief specialist. He was a top prospect in the Detroit organization after he was drafted, but failed his first major-league trial. Then he completely lost his control, which was never good to begin with. He can strike batters out - he averaged 10 1/2 strikeouts per nine innings last season - but in his career he's walked nearly six batters per nine innings.

I dreaded Oliver's entering a game because there was a good chance that he would be wild and ineffective. And when he's off, he's really off - a lot of long, slow innings with a lot of pitches. But occasionally he would have his control and he'd be effective. And, because he had been a starter for much of his career, he's capable of pitching multiple innings in an outing.

It's conceivable that Oliver will suddenly find his control, pitch well in the minors, and earn a shot in the major leagues. It's more likely that Oliver will continue to struggle, get off to a poor start, and get released after a few awful games in a row.

Sharlon Schoop, infielder

Sharlon Schoop is Jonathan Schoop's older brother. From 2010 through 2012, he had been a AA utility infielder in the Giants and Royals systems. He signed with the Orioles before the 2013 season; he missed 2013 with an injury and spent 2014 in his accustomed utility-infielder role at Bowie. He started 2015 at Bowie, and was promoted to Norfolk when Jayson Nix was released. He primarily played second base when Rey Navarro was injured or spelling Paul Janish at shortstop.

Schoop hasn't hit in the past two years; he hasn't posted an OPS above .600 in his two years in the Orioles system. (That implies that he's either had an on-base percentage below .300, a slugging percentage below .300, or both.) He played a competent but unremarkable second base, at least in comparison to Rey Navarro. I don't think he has the range for shortstop or the arm for third base.
I wouldn't be surprised if, for roster-management reasons, Schoop started 2016 back at Bowie. I see no reason to think that he'll see the major-league roster, except possibly as a reward for loyal service.