Friday, August 29, 2008

O's-Rays, The Better Team Won

The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in the AL and are 18.5 games ahead of the Orioles right now. That's pretty amazing, and I will be happily cheering for them once they get to the postseason. They are now the kind of organization the O's should try to model themselves after.

Nice start for the O's against Scott Kazmir, as Brian Roberts draws a walk. Markakis uncharacteristically swings at the first pitch and flies out to center. With Mora up, Roberts steals second fairly easily and then takes third uncontested. Melvin can't get him in though, as he grounds out to third. Neither can Huff, who grounds to first. Despite Robert's efforts in the inning, the O's don't score.

Jeremy Guthrie's starting for the Birds, so this should be a pretty good pitching match-up. Iwamura decides to cut to the chase and just take third right away. Lead-off triple, and now the Rays have a good chance to score. Upton grounds to short, but unlike Roberts in the top of the inning, Iwamura takes off for home. Castro makes a solid throw, and a short rundown results in the first out, though Upton takes second. Carlos Pena walks, and as the ball bounces away from Ramon Upton takes third with a stolen base (he was off during the pitch). Cliff Floyd with a shot into the right-field corner makes it 1-0 Rays. Willie Aybar strikes-out looking and Eric Hinske grounds back to Guthrie to end the inning and leave a couple stranded.

Three-up, three-down go the O's in the second, including a pair of K's.

A one-out single is almost erased by a double play, but Castro's relay throw to first is a bit off-line. Walks to Iwamura and Upton load the bases for Pena, who then walks himself to force in a run. Not the control we're used to from Guthrie. Then Floyd walks to force in another run. Lance Cormier is warming in the pen, with the score 3-0 already. Guthrie finally gets out of it by getting Aybar to pop out.

Castro draws a one-out walk, then Markakis draws a two-out walk. Mora battles through a good at bat and ends up grounding a 3-2 pitch up the middle. Iwamura slides to get it and throws Mora out by a half-step, and Melvin goes to the ground in pain. It looks like a ham-string injury - hopefully it's not serious, but I imagine he'll leave the game.

Alex Cintron takes over for Mora, and Guthrie keeps the Rays off the board despite a single by Gabe Gross.

Ramon finally gets the O's into the hit-column with a line-drive single to right-center. Millar strikes out (Kazmir's second of the inning and fifth of the game) and Luke Scott pops out to leave him stranded. 3-0 Tampa Bay, and I'm not feeling confident about a comeback.

Back-to-back singles by Iwamura and Upton start the fourth. Jim Palmer is noting that Jeremy Guthrie's less than stellar outing thus far may be the result of the number of innings he's thrown this year. (175.1 IP last year and 183.2 IP coming into this game.) I had the same thought during second when he walked in two runs. With a nine-man bullpen and the season already mostly lost, there's not much point in pushing Guthrie too much for the remainder of the year. Carlos Pena walks again (Jeremy's sixth) to load the bases with none out. I have to think he won't be long for this game. Floyd once again pull the ball into the right-field corner for and RBI double; this time scoring two. That makes it 5-0 (with two on and still no outs) and Fernando Cabrera will enter the game. Aybar grounds out to Millar without a run scoring, and Cabrera intentionally walks Hinske to load the bases. Ben Zobrist, deep and gone. A line-drive grand slam into the right-field stands makes it 9-0. Something I found really interesting about the Rays which I don't remember where I read, is that instead of targeting superstars to acquire and assuming they can fill the rest of the spots with whatever role-players, they target role-players. Ben Zobrist, Willy Aybar, Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd, Gabe Gross, the bullpen arms, etc. These are the guys that are providing the little extra that has made the Rays one of the best teams in baseball. Speaking of Gross - he crushes a home run to dead center to stretch the lead to 10-0. Ramon catches ball two from Cabrera to Iwamura, and gets thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire. The strike-zone didn't help Guthrie - and it's nice to see Ramon protecting his pitchers, I guess - but it's 10-0 and the team is already playing with a short bench. For all intents and purposes, the game is now over.

I'm going to go ahead and just be happy that the Rays are moving further ahead of the Red Sox (and the Yankees, but New York is already out of it, in my opinion - both in the AL East, as well as the Wild Card). Tampa Bay has a pretty decent chance to win the World Series this year, and this may still be the worst Rays team we say for a while. The core is under control for at least a couple more years, and they have David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, etc. coming up soon to further strengthen their rotation. Plus their position prospects. I really do wish they were in another division, because I've been a fan for a couple of years now (since a little while after the new front-office regime took over) and it would be nice to be able to cheer for them outright.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Those Other Baltimore Birds Are Almost Back

The O's avoided a sweep yesterday, beating the White Sox 11-3. The offense showed up and Radhames Liz pitched relatively well, which was nice to see. The Birds have an off-day today, but that just provides for an opportunity to see the Ravens' last pre-season game. I am officially picking the Ravens to win the AFC North this year, though it may be with only a 9-7 record. With Kyle Boller injured, Troy Smith [Edit: I later found out that Smith is out with a whole array of illnesses. Hope he gets better soon.] and/or Joe Flacco need to play reasonably well against the Falcons tonight to give me a little more confidence in that prediction (even though I know the pre-season doesn't mean much).

Flacco is the starter, and he picks up a first down with a couple short passes after a run by Ray Rice doesn't get much. Then he throws a pass right into the defensive line, which shouldn't happen very often with a QB who's 6'5". On third and long, Flacco goes to the shotgun and completes a nice throw to the outside to Mark Clayton, who avoids a tackle and falls for a first. He looked much smoother on that play than on the previous few. That's where the Baltimore drive stops; the O-line gave Flacco all kinds of time, but Joe couldn't hit his receiver. I see a bit of the Boller jitters in Flacco, but he seems to have more talent (hopefully).

The Ravens' defense is true to form, shutting down the Falcons. They pressure Matt Ryan and stuffed the run, other than one draw play that went for 10 or so. That D is what's going to win the team games this year.

Flacco comes out with a no-huddle offense, which is interesting to see. It doesn't help much, as the go three-and-out. The crowd wanted them to go for it on 4th and inches (as they usually do) but Harbaugh declined from their own 37. Teams don't go for it enough in those types of situations often enough (when in opponents territory). I remember reading a study done that showed that teams leave something like 5 points a game on the field by not taking risks. And that's on average, which accounts for those risks that don't work out.

Nothing doing for the Falcons. It is a rookie QB and all, but I'm still happy to see the defense playing well.

Ray Rice is kind of a little guy, but he should be a nice complementary back to Willis McGahee. Flacco's lack of accuracy is on display before a Ravens' punt.

More smothering defense.

Flacco ends the first quarter with two very nice passes to Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams. The were both right on the money and had some zip to them. Rice starts the second with a quick run that started inside and went outside for 23. The Ravens had a chance to fro a TD, but Flacco's lob to the corner of the end-zone was just out of the reach of a diving Williams and they had to settle for a Stover field-goal. Matt Stover may be one of the most important players in the history of the Ravens.

Atlanta goes to another QB, but the results are largely the same.

Flacco's night is over, as Casey Bramlet (who?) comes in as quarterback. His first pass hits Dan Wilcox in the numbers for a 21 yard gain. The next pass for Wilcox was actually picked off. Oh well.

The Falcons get backed up to their own goal-line and can't get anything going. Another punt.

Bramlet gets pressured out of the pocket and takes off. Instead of sliding, he tries to fall for a first-down, but comes up a few inches short. This time, in Atlanta territory, they go for it on fourth-down. QB keeper and they get the first. The drive stalls, but the Ravens get the ball right back as the Falcons go three-and-out again.

8 plays later another Stover field-goal makes it 6-0.

With about a minute left in the half, the Falcons drive all the way down the field (with the aid of a couple Ravens' penalties) and score to take a 7-6 lead.

The first half didn't go too poorly, but considering they were playing one of the worst teams in the NFL I'm not very happy. I did see a little more on offense than I did last year, so there is some hope that they can put up a few points and take some pressure off the defense. The second half is so boring that I'm falling asleep, so I'll end here. Why is it that I'm always surprised when the football season starts? Maybe it's because the baseball season is in the run to the playoffs, but every year someone tells me that the Ravens play their first game the following week and it always catches me off-guard.
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Starting Pitching Stuck In Labyrinth Puzzle

The Orioles just got swept at home by the Yankees, and it's Monday. How about some amusement...

And the whole setup is just a trap to capture escaping logicians. None of the doors actually lead out. Read more ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grouping Starters With tRA+

What is a #1 starter? Is it different than an ace? What about an ACE? How much better is a #1 than a #2? Though these labels are fairly arbitrary, they do provide a quick way of classifying pitcher. I personally break things down into 10 groups; Aces, #1 starters, #1/2's, #2's, #2/3's, #3's, #3/4's (see where this is going yet?), #4's, #4/5's, and #5's (which is where swing-men and the like get lumped in). tRA+ can be used to assign values to the various groups, which is what I did (other factors, such as durability, come into play also, but this is just something I was interested in and not a rigorous study or anything). I then looked at five starters for each club (usually the guys who had pitched to the most, but not always) to see how the rotations stacked up. The labels are based entirely on 2008 pitching performances for the team the player pitched for most; some guys have pitched like Aces despite not being that talented, and some top starters are having relatively down years.

Aces: tRA+ of 135 or better - Cliff Lee (176, CLE), Brandon Webb (165, ARI), Rich Harden (162, OAK), Dan Haren (150, ARI), Tim Lincecum (149, SFG), Joba Chamberlain (145, NYY), Randy Johnson (140, ARI), Jorge Campillo (138, ATL), Chad Billingsley (138, LAD), Roy Halladay (137, TOR), Ervin Santana (137, LAA), Ben Sheets (137, MIL), Sean Gallagher (136, CHC), CC Sabathia (135, CLE)

That is a pretty good collection of pitchers there. Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb are likely to win Cy Young Awards for their respective leagues. Arizona will be tough to beat in the playoffs with Webb, Haren, and a still very effective Randy Johnson. One would have to be crazy to call Jorge Campillo and Sean Gallagher aces, but they've pitched very well (though Gallagher did less well after he was traded to Oakland). Since he was traded, Sabathia has actually been better (180 tRA+). A few names are noticeably missing, but this is for 2008 performance only.

#1's: tRA+ around 130 - Edison Volquez (133, CIN), John Danks (131, CHW), Josh Beckett (130, BOS), Ryan Dempster (130, CHC), Derek Lowe (129, LAD), Javier Vazquez (128, CHW), Matt Cain (127, SFG)

Matt Cain is over-shadowed by Tim Lincecum (which is kind of ironic, since Cain is the way bigger guy), but he's still a very good pitcher. How are the White Sox in first place? Good pitching, from Danks and Vazquez especially. Anyone surprised to see Lowe this high? I was, a little, but he guy still gets those groundballs. Considering how short of a contract he may get this off-season, I wouldn't mind if the O's made an inquiry.

#1/2's: tRA+ around 122 - Andy Sonnanstine (125, TBR), Clayton Kershaw (124, LAD), Jon Lester (123, BOS), AJ Burnett (123, TOR), Kevin Slowey (123, MIN), Tim Hudson (123, ATL), Justin Duchscherer (122, OAK), Jonathan Sanchez (122, SFG), Ubaldo Jimenez (121, COL), Cole Hamels (120, PHI), Scott Kazmir (119, TBR), Jair Jurrjens (119, ATL), Hiroki Kuroda(119, LAD)

Andy Sonnanstine? Really? No wonder the Rays are in first place; their "#4" starter is pitching better than many team's "#1's". The NL West is going to be interesting in the coming years, with Haren, Webb, and Johnson in Arizona; Billingsley, Kershaw, and Kuroda in LA, and Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez in San Fransisco (not to mention Jimenez in Colorado - and Jake Peavy hasn't even been grouped yet). Of these, Hamels and Kazmir are the guys I would have guessed as #1 starters right now.

#2's: tRA+ around 115 - James Shields (117, TBR), Jose Contreras (117, CHW), Justin Verlander (116, DET), Mark Buerhle (116, CHW), Carlos Zambrano (115, CHC), Zach Greinke (114, KCR), Felix Hernandez (114, SEA), Brian Moehler (114, HOU), Johan Santana (113, NYM), Shaun Marcum (112, TOR), Jake Peavy (112, SDP), Matt Garza (112, TBR), Dustin McGowan (112, TOR)

The White Sox, the Blue Jays, and the Rays all have very good rotations. Another surprise, with Brian Moehler ahead of Johan Santana and Jake Peavy. Six teams have yet to be mentioned; the O's, Rangers, Marlins, Nationals, Cardinals, and Pirates. Hard to compete without a top-of-the-rotation starter.

#2/3's: tRA+ around 107 - Scott Baker (111, MIN), Gil Meche (111, KCR), Mike Pelfrey (111, NYM), Jo-Jo Reyes (111,ATL), Daisuke Matsuzaka (110, BOS), Andy Pettitte (110, NYY), Sidney Ponson (110, TEX), Adam Wainwright (109, STL), Aaron Cook (109, COL), Ricky Nolasco (108, FLA), Ted Lilly (108, CHC), Paul Maholm (108, PIT), Jeremy Guthrie (107, BAL), Fausto Carmona (107, CLE), Dave Bush (107, MIL), Doug Davis (107, ARI), Mike Mussina (107, NYY), Nick Blackburn (107, MIN), Jorge De La Rosa (107, COL), Joe Saunders (106, LAA), Roy Oswalt (106, HOU), Cha Seung Baek (106, SDP), Manny Parra (106, MIL)

Only the worst team in baseball (Washington) doesn't have at least one guy above the level of a #3 starter. I guess Texas doesn't have one anymore either, though Sir Sidney has been far worse in his time with the Yankees. The majority of these guys aren't who you would think of as quality starters (Seattle gave Cha Seung Baek away for practically nothing to the Padres, for example). Sorry O's fans, but Jeremy Guthrie really (really) isn't an Ace - he's a good pitcher, but the team will need a better one (or two) to make the playoffs. Or four more guys around his level, I guess. That actually seems more like what they have going on, with Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz not likely to be #1's but more #2/3's.

#3's: tRA+ around 100 - Chien-Ming Wang (103, NYY), Jared Weaver (103, LAA), Joe Blanton (103, OAK), John Maine (102, NYM), Charlie Morton (102, ATL), Erik Bedard (101, SEA), Andrew Miller (101, FLA), Josh Johnson (101, FLA), Tim Wakefield (100, BOS), Armondo Galarraga (100, DET), Jamie Moyer (100, PHI), Wandy Rodriguez (100, HOU), Shawn Hill (99, WAS), Darrell Rasner (99, NYY), John Lackey (99, LAA), Tim Redding (99, WAS), Gavin Floyd (98, CHW), John Lannan (98, WAS), Jason Bergmann (98, WAS)

The Nats finally show up - four times. If their fifth starter was a #1 instead of a #4/5 (and they had a little offense), then they might having something to work with. Wang isn't a bad pitcher, though he is overrated because of the Wins the Yankees offense gets for him. Jamie Moyer might pitch until he's 50 - he's been throwing about 80-81 for a few years now, and still gets outs. I wonder if the increase in average velocity in baseball (I'm pretty sure that is true) has actually helped Moyer, as hitters are used to gearing up for faster pitches? Lackey is obviously higher than a #3.

#3/4's: tRA+ around 95 - Clay Buchholz (97, BOS), Garrett Olson (97, BAL), Luke Hochaver (97, KCR), Micah Owings (97, ARI), Oliver Perez (96,NYM ), Brett Myers (96, PHI), Kason Gabbard (95, TEX), Jason Marquis (95, CHC), Jesse Litsch (94, TOR), Greg Smith (94, OAK), Todd Wellemeyer (94, STL)

I like this group, since it has a lot of similar pitchers in it. I guess Brett Myers is the one who's fallen farthest, but otherwise it's pretty accurate, I think (though Buchholz will be moving on up in the future). Say it with me everyone; "Garrett Olson is perfectly capable of being a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Orioles next year." Alrighty, then.

#4's: tRA+ around 90 - Livan Hernandez (93, MIN), Bronson Arroyo (93, BOS), Jeremy Bonderman (92, DET), Phil Dumatrait (91, PIT), Jeff Francis (91, COL), Glen Perkins (91, MIN), Johnny Cueto (91, CIN), Dana Eveland (90, OAK), Greg Maddux (90, SDP), Nate Robertson (90, DET), Randy Wolf (90, SDP), Chris Waters (89, BAL), Kyle Lohse (89, STL), Zach Duke (89, PIT), Jarrod Washburn (88, STL), Scott Olsen (88, FLA), Kevin Correia (88, SFG), Kenny Rogers (88, DET), Barry Zito (88, SFG)

No way would I have guessed that Livan and Zito (or Washburn, for that matter) were this high. A few pitchers have a lot more upside than this (Bonderman, Francis, and Cueto in particular; maybe Olsen), but the rest are in this area. Nice to see Chris Waters so close to Kenny Rogers (as the comparison has been made before), though I would prefer if he pitched like The Gambler of five years ago. This is the first year (since 2003 at least) that Maddux has dropped below the #2/3 level. Amazing.

#4/5's: tRA+ around 85 - Kevin Millwood (87, TEX), Mark Hendrickson (87, FLA), Ian Snell (87, PIT), Edwin Jackson (86, TBR), Odalis Perez (86, WAS), Brad Penny (86, LAD), Jon Garland (85, LAA), Brandon Looper (85, STL), Brandon Backe (85, HOU), Carlos Silva (84, SEA), Daniel Cabrera (83, BAL), Paul Byrd (83, CLE), Adam Eaton (83, PHI), Vincente Padilla (83, TEX)

Please Andy MacPhail, don't sign Jon Garland. Do you see Carlos Silva there? Don't make that mistake. That would be bad. In other news, Daniel Cabrera needs to stop trying to be Carlos Silva. He was actually gotten worse (tRA-wise) four years in a year. Stopping trying to throw strikes and just let it rip; at least with 98 mph fastballs, he throws a gem every once in a while. Now, he just is mediocre every time out. Snell is probably the best of this bunch, and I expect to see him back amongst the #1/2's (like he was last year) soon.

#5's: tRA+ around 80 or less - Jeff Suppan (82, MIL), Kyle Davies (81, KCR), Shawn Chacon (80, HOU), Brian Bannister (80, KCR), Scott Feldman (79, TEX), Joel Piniero (79, STL), Aaron Harang (79, CIN), Josh Banks (78, SDP), Brian Burres (77, BAL), Kyle Kendrick (73, PHI), Tom Gorzelanny (73, PIT), Carlos Villanueva (73, MIL), Jeremy Sowers (72, CLE), Greg Reynolds (72, COL), Pedro Martinez (71, NYM), Josh Fogg (66, COL), Miguel Batista (62, SEA)

Pedro just might want to retire after this season. He still can be effective, but I don't know if he's going to be. Harang should shoot back up to the #1's area once he's healthy next year. Banny, unfortunately, might be here to stay. Also, I would just like to once again laugh in the general direction of the Pacific North-West. Yes it's mean (and I'm sorry), but that doesn't make it any less funny to me.

So that's it; 30 teams, 150 pitchers. The O's this season have had a rotation of #2/3, #3/4, #4, #4.5, #5. That will just not cut it. For next year, I see Guthrie (#2/3), Cabrera (#4/5), and hopefully Olson (#3/4) as set. Sheets and Sabathia aren't necessary, but Lowe and Burnett would make the group pretty solid. Lowe (#1), Burnett (#1/2), Guthrie (#2/3), Olson (#3/4), and Cabrera (#4/5) probably won't beat out the other AL East teams, unless Daniel finally turns that corner (at this point, it seems like he's been in a round room his whole career). With a top-five offense though, the O's would have a shot. Read more ...

Friday, August 22, 2008

O's-Yankees, Loss In The Game - Victory In Life

Radhames Liz was called back up from the minors and thrown right into the fire against the New York Yankees. I'll set the over/under on walks by Liz at 4.5. The guy has a live arm, but I don't have a lot of confidence in him as a major-leaguer yet.

Johnny Damon gets ahead 2-1 but doesn't walk. Instead, he doubles into the corner in right. Cap'n Jeter bloops a single off of Brian Roberts' glove in short center and the Yankees have runners on the corners - not the best start for Liz. Bobby Abreu takes some awkward swings on a couple Liz fastballs, but then adjusts and pulls one through the hole on the right side for an RBI single. A-Rod continues his un-clutch season, grounding to Mora who starts the 5-4-3 double play. Giambi and his 'stache take a 3-1 change-up for a strike, and then Liz comes back to throw a fastball by him for the K. Though it's 1-0 New York, Liz wasn't bad in the inning.

Brian Roberts singles to left to start the O's attack. And then easily steals second. Mike Mussina teaches Nick Markakis something, dropping in a curve for strike one, and fastball on the inside corner for strike two, and then after missing further inside with a second heater, gets him swinging on another curveball. That's vintage Moose. After Melvin lines out to left, Huff comes through yet again with a bouncing single passed a diving Cano at second to tie the game at 1-1. Millar pulls a single just off of Jeter's glove - the middle-infield defense for the Yankees isn't very good. Actually, the outfield defense isn't really either (especially Abreu, who's awful). Luke Scott grounds out, but the O's and Yank's have matching three-hit, one-run innings.

Xavier Nady goes down looking at a 3-2 slider. I like that Liz is willing to throw any pitch in any count, but that strategy would work way better if he could throw those pitches for strikes. Matsui doesn't chase any two-strike pitches and draws a walk. That's one. Liz gets ahead of Cano 0-2 but can't put him away. His single to right brings up Jose Molina. No problem putting him away, as Liz gets him swinging on a slider bouncing in the other batter's box. Ramon has a high fastball go off his glove as he makes only a half-hearted attempt at it. No damage done though, as Damon pops to Millar and leaves a couple on.

1-2-3 go the Birds in the second. I really enjoy watching Mussina pitch. The catcher puts up the glove and Moose throws a fastball right to it. Curveballs dropping in for strikes, varying arm angles - it's not Maddux in his prime but it ain't half bad.

Abreu hits a one-out single up the middle, but gets thrown out trying to steal after A-Rod swings through a high fastball. The generous zone from the plate ump isn't hurting, but Liz is looking pretty good.

Great battle between Mussina and Markakis. Moose starts him off with another curve for strike one, and then a second on a 3-1 count (though Nick started towards first). On 3-2 kakes lines a fastball into center for a single. Mora reaches out and hooks a slider into left for a single. Huff almost takes out an umpire with his line-drive single up the middle. Nick comes around to score and the O's lead 2-1.

The Giambino is first-pitch swinging and ropes and single to right. Unfortunately for him, Giambi wanted to make it a double and his horribly awkward slide took him off the base where Roberts applied the tag. A flyout and a grounder to first on which Millar makes a nice play end the inning. [Brian Matusz is being interviewed in the booth - he seems like a pretty smart guy. When Tillman was interviewed he sounded like a bit of a block-head. I will reserve judgment until there's a larger sample-size, and frankly I don't care as long as he puts up zeroes on the mound. Say what you will about me, but part of why I like Mussina is because he's really bright off the mound. Well, and on the mound.]

Ramon... deep and gone. A laser-beam into the left-field seats makes it 3-1. Can't leave 86 mph fastballs in the middle of the plate. Payton lines a pitch up the middle, but Mussina displays those Gold Glove skillz (sorry; skills), snagging it for the out. Castro takes a slider on the outside corner for the third out, and isn't too pleased about it.

Robbie Cano crushes a high fastball to DEEP right. Onto Eutaw street. Wow. Jose Molina doesn't crush one, but it still clears the right-field fence. Hanging slider and just like that the lead is gone. Abreu singles with two outs, and that'll end Liz's night. He only walked one and K'ed four, but gave up 9 hits and the two homers. I thought he was pretty good - if he had only given up 5 hits instead of the 9, would Trembley have left him out there? He did throw 83 pitches though. Dennis Sarfate comes in and gets A-Rod to end the scoring.

Round three of Markakis vs. Mussina goes to the latter, who gets Nick looking on a slider at the knees. Three-up, three-down go the Birds in the fifth.

Sarfate blows Giambi away with a fastball in the middle of the strike-zone. Man, I missed that while he was in the rotation. Then he blows Nady away. I think it's clear what Sarfate's role on the team should be. Matsui walks, but a flyout to center ends the inning.

[On the broadcast, they are comparing Mike Mussina to Jim Palmer. I have made the point before that, context considered, Palmer wasn't really a much better pitcher (if at all). K/BB? 1.7 for Palmer and 3.6 for Moose. FIP? 3.50 for Palmer and 3.58 for Mussina. That Mike needs to win 20 games this year to maybe get into the Hall of Fame is ridiculous.]

Huff lifts a flyball into the right-field corner, where Bobby Abreu makes a great running catch. Abreu (and Damon) can't get to Millar's drive to right-center though, and it bounces over the fence for a double. Luke Scott singles into right to put runners on the corners. Ramon hits a hanging curveball to the track in deep left, but Nady is there. Millar comes in to score though, and the O's get the lead back.

[I missed a couple innings talking to a friend of mine. Apparently, he's now engaged. Crazy stuff (it wasn't a surprise to me, but there's the "holy crap, my friend is getting married" factor in there). Congratulations to Sean and Zoe, who are both awesome and make each other happy. I once heard, or read, that love is finding someone who's just the same kind of crazy that you are. I think that applies in this situation. Maybe eccentric would be better. In any case, I wish them the best, as well as all the other things people say to that kind of news.]

I'm not paying too much attention to the game now, but why not just bring Jim Johnson in in the eighth with two on and Nady coming up. Going to Kam Mickolio in his second career game just to preserve JJ's "role" as the current closer is stupid. No matter the results. First pitch bounces away from the plate and Abreu scores on the wild pitch. 4-4. Stupid. Nady singles through the drawn-in infield to make 5-4 Yankees. Now Trembley will take him out in favor of the lefty, Alberto Castillo, with Matsui coming up. Stupid. Not that Dave was the one throwing the pitches, but still.

Two home runs later it's 9-4, and that's the score the O's lose by. Sucks. Oh well, at least there was some good news from today.
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Alternative Theory

A BBTF commenter's thoughts on the extremely ill-advised Scott Kazmir/Victor Zambrano trade between the Tampa Bay (then, Devil) Rays and the Mets:
"Maybe nobody on the Mets approved the trade. Somebody on the Rays called up as a joke and said they were confirming the trade of Kazmir for Zambrano. Since the organization is so disfunctional, everybody just assumed that somebody else with authority had approved the trade, and they said okay, and shipped Kazmir off -- and they have been trying to explain it ever since.

Frankly, that seems a lot more rational to me than believing that anybody on the Mets thought the trade was a good idea."
Oh contraire, dear commenter. Steve Phillips, the New York GM at the time, also picked the Mariners to win 92 games and the AL West this year. He really may have thought it was a good idea. Read more ...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Magnificent Melvin

In honor of his crazy series against the Tigers (10-13, with two doubles, a triple, three home runs, 10 RBI, and six runs scored for a nifty .768/.800/1.769 line) I decided to take a look at Melvin Mora's bounce-back season. First, some history:

2003: .317/.418/.503, 15 HR, .398 wOBA
2004: .340/.419/.562, 27 HR, .419 wOBA
2005: .283/.348/.474, 27 HR, .352 wOBA
2006: .274/.342/.391, 16 HR, .323 wOBA
2007: .274/.341/.418, 14 HR, .336 wOBA

2008: .286/.343/.491, 20 HR, .366 wOBA

Mora showed a very strong walk-rate in '03, but it went down after that to merely a "pretty good" level in '04. From '05-'07 it was right around average (a touch below in the first two years and a bit above in the third), but this year it's fallen off a cliff. It's not quite bad yet, but it's pretty close. This may be a byproduct of his swinging at more pitches out of the strike-zone, though he is also making a good deal more contact with them. The increased contact has lowered his strike-out rate; it was around average for most of his career, but has become pretty good this year. It's not just contact though, it's hard contact. With a 20.7% line-drive rate (about his career average), his .290 BABIP is actually too low. Despite hitting for his highest average in four years, Mora has been unlucky on balls in play. His isolated power, which has in free-fall from '03 to '06, has gone up two years in a row. His home runs per flyball is a bit flukey (13% after 9% last year) but not terribly so. I'll give credit where it's due, and Melvin Mora is having a very fine season. Maybe all those nagging injuries really did take away from his performance. I don't know - and I'm not sure how much I trust him to approach these numbers again next year - but for now I'm just going to watch and enjoy it. Yaye Melvin!

[When I was writing this post, I thought it was odd that showing worse plate discipline resulted in better numbers for Melvin. Though not nearly as extreme, the increase in % of balls swung at reminded me of Vlad Guerrero and his own special talent for being successful with that approach. This year, Vladdy is hitting .285/.348/.492 (to Mora's .286/.343/.491), with 22 HR and a .352 wOBA. I honestly had no idea what Guerrero's line looked like before I looked it up. Spooky.] Read more ...

Shea Hillenbrand Was Kinda' Bad

So, you all remember that Miguel Tejada trade? Remember when Miggy got off to that scorching start in Houston and some people were saying he should have been playing shortstop for the O's instead of Luis Hernandez? Well - funny thing - Miguel Tejada has walked 21 times this year, and he has grounded into 21 double plays. Going back the last few years, I only found one non-catcher for whom that was the case; Shea Hillenbrand. Oh, and Tejada is also hitting .283/.317/.421 with 12 HR, while Luke Scott is at .273/.357/.519 with 21 HR. And Houston threw in four more players and around 12 million bucks. Thanks Ed Wade! Read more ...

Friday, August 15, 2008

O's-Tigers, Mora & Huff Is More Than Enough

The O's travel to Detroit to face the Tigers for three after splitting their four-game set in Cleveland. If the Orioles win two of three then they will leave Detroit with a better record than the supposed AL Central contenders. Wasn't someone supposed to score 1,000 runs this year?

Brain Roberts, batting righty against lefty Nate Robertson, flies out to short left-field. Nick grounds one up the middle, but Placido Polanco ranges to his right and makes a nice play to get Markakis at first. Mora drives the ball into the right-center gap and goes all the way to third. Aubrey Huff brings him in with a single pulled through the right side of the infield. Every time Huff comes to the plate with a runner in scoring position I feel like he'll bring him in. Ramon flies out to center, but Chris Waters has an early 1-0 lead to work with.

Curtis Granderson pulls a ball deep but foul, and settles for a single to center in front of Big Lou Montanez, who's thankfully in there for Payton. Polanco bounces one slowly to Castro at short, but even his quick flip and a good relay from Roberts isn't fast enough to get the double play. Fortunately, Magglio Ordonez has so much hair slowing him down that his grounder to short did result in a double play. Waters does what Cabrera couldn't yesterday and gets out of the first with a lead intact.

Kevin Millar takes a pitch on the inside corner for strike three. Luuuke, actually getting to play against a lefty, falls behind 1-2 but hooks a pitch down the line for a double. Big Lou coming up with a runner in scoring position. Robertson gets him swinging on a slider down and in. Juan Castro does a nice job working a walk to bring Roberts up again. Brian Roberts bloops the first pitch in front of Magglio in right - Inge can't handle the throw home and Luke Scott scores. Then Castro comes in as the ball rolls away from the plate, with Roberts going to second. Markakis flies out to short center, but the lead is now 3-0.

Melvin Mora has to go far to his right into foul territory to get a Miguel Cabrera grounder, but has plenty of time to throw him out at first. Gary Sheffield rips a double down the left-field line - the guy still has a very quick bat. One out later Edgar Renteria hits a grounder up that middle that Waters deflects with his glove. Mora gets to it, but not in time to get an out. The grounder by Inge goes to Mora directly, who throws to second for the force. Waters is looking more like he did in his first start than his second one.

How often do you see a guy make a defensive play to end an inning and then homer to start the next one? Melvin Mora hits it out to left, and the lead is 4-0. Millar hits a line-drive into left-center for a two-out double and Luke Scott draws a walk, but Big Lou leaves them stranded.

Ryan Raburn tries to bunt his way on, but Razor makes a strong throw to first to get him. Granderson hits one down the first-base line, and as the ball goes into the corner in right Curtis makes it all the way to third. Polanco grounds to third, where Mora looks Granderson back to the bag before throwing to first for the out. Magglio draws a walk to put runners on the corners for Miguel Cabrera. Waters gets him looking with a nice 3-2 fastball on (just off) the inside corner.

Juan Castro showing some pop with a double over Granderson's head in center. Roberts has a productive at bat, advancing Castro to third with a groundball to second. Nick can't get him in though, as he swings at the first pitch and grounds weakly to second. Mora walks, but Huff grounds out and the O's are kept off the board for the first time.

Castro makes a throwing error to put Renteria on with two outs, but Mora makes a second nice (not outstanding, but solidly good) play of the inning to end the fourth.

Luke Scott draws a two-out walk, but Big Lou strikes out to leave another runner on base.

Granderson gets another hit to right - this time a single - and comes around to score on Polanco's blast into the left-field seats. That cuts the O's lead in half. A bouncer up the middle by Ordonez brings the tying run to the plate. Waters gets Cabrera to pop out, but Sheffield singles between Castro and Mora to put a couple on with two outs. That'll be it Chris, as Dave Trembley will make a call to the bullpen. Lance Cormier will try to get out of the jam. Waters can't even get through five, though he didn't pitch all that badly. Thames grounds a curveball to third, and Mora beats Cabrera to the bag to end the inning. It's now 4-2 Orioles, and it'll be up to the pen to protect that lead.

Juan Castro picks up his second double of the game, this time off the wall in left. Brian Roberts puts down a sac bunt to move him to third - I don't know why, considering he's a good hitter. Robertson slipped attempting to field it but stayed in the game long enough to walk Markakis on four pitches. Alquino Lopez comes in and gives up a sac fly to Mora to make it 5-2. He does get Huff to pop up for the third out, though.

"Jupiter is big enough to have two moons" - O's commentator (I don't know which one) seeing Jupiter in the night sky. Wikipedia says: "Sixty-three moons orbiting Jupiter have been discovered." Good stuff. Oh, and Lance Cormier pitches a scoreless inning - giving up a single but a caught stealing erases the runner.

At the start of the next inning, Amber Theoharris tells Jim Hunter that she looked it up on Wikipedia and Jupiter has 63 moons. I guess I'm just ahead of the game. In the actual game, the O's put a couple runners on but can not score as Big Lou strikes out for the third time. Jay Payton will replace him in center on defense, with Montanez moving to left.

Easy three-up three-down inning for Cormier - he's done a good job to stop the Detroit comeback.

Roberts singles off of new pitcher Casey Fossum to start the eighth. Nick's less than great night continues as he grounds into a 3-6-3 double play. Mora pops out, and the O's need to hold a three-run lead for two more innings.

Jim Johnson in there for the eighth. After several foul balls, he gets Miguel Cabrera to ground out to third. Melvin has handled a lot of chances tonight. JJ looks very good in K'ing Sheffield getting him to chase a curveball for strike two and then blowing him away with a fastball up and in. Singles by Thames and Renteria brings the tying run to the plate in the person of Brandon Inge. A pop-up to Millar keeps the score at 5-2 going into the ninth.

Aubrey Huff's single to left knocks Fossum out of the game, and the Tigers' former closer Todd Jones comes in. After Ramon flies out, Kevin Millar takes a hanging curveball down the left-field line for a double. Jay Payton gets the intentional walk to load the bases for Big Lou. Montanez grounds slowly to first, but Cabrera drops the ball as he tries to throw home and everyone is safe. Castro grounds to short - Renteria tosses to Polanco to second - Polanco's relay to first hits a sliding Montanez in the arm (which was raised while sliding - or intentionally) - it's not called interference, two runs score, and Jim Leyland comes out to argue. Crazy play. Polanco actually gets thrown out of the game during the argument. The call stands and it's 8-2 O's. Back to the action; Roberts walks on four pitches. Markakis battles at the plate and draws a walk of his own. Mora singles to center to score two more. 10-2, and it's way not a save situation anymore. Huff singles to center to score Markakis - that's his second hit of the inning. Ramon grounds out to finally end the inning - Hernandez made two of the three outs in the ninth. I hope JJ stays out there and picks up a save for this one.

Nope, it'll still be Sherrill. Two flyouts, a four-pitch walk, and a strike-out of Maggs is how the ninth goes.

The Orioles took an early lead and never gave it up. Waters looked OK, but he isn't going to be in the team's long-term rotation plans (probably - hopefully). The offense has another big night, with Mora going 3-4 with 4 RBI and Huff adding three hits and 2 RBI of his own. The win moves the Orioles ahead of Detroit by a half-game in the Wild Card standings, though both teams are clearly out of it.
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We've Got Ourselves A Matusz

The O's finally signed first-round draft pick Brain Matusz today. I'm glad it didn't go right down to the deadline, as the two sides weren't all that close in recent days. A major league contract with a $3.2 MM signing bonus was agreed upon, and Matusz should see action in the Arizona Fall League or Hawaiian Winter League. I was hoping for a $3 MM max, but $3.2 isn't that bad and isn't that far above slot. Considering Buster Posey is going to get around $7.5 MM, I'm pretty happy. I would have preferred it not be a ML deal so that the team saved an option (to send him back down to the minors, which they'll now need to use right away) as well as a spot on the 40-man roster. Whatever - dreaming about a Tillman / Matusz top of the rotation is enough for this O's fan today. I guess I can add "Matusz" to the spell-checker on here now, since I imagine I'll be using it quite often in the future. Read more ...

Oh Those Poor Fans

The blogosphere was buzzing today due to the continued stupidity from the Seattle Mariners. After asking way too much at the trade deadline and failing to complete a deal to send #4/5 starter (at best) Jarrod Washburn and his $10+ MM salary to the Yankees, the M's got another chance. The Minnisota Twins claimed Washburn on waivers, and then reportedly offered Seattle 26 year-old pitcher Boof Bonser for him. Bonser is younger (and so may get better while Washburn will only got worse), cheaper (he's making the minimum), under team control longer (four more years), and - even ignoring all that - already a better pitcher: a 4.33 tRA for Bonser and a 5.16 tRA for Washburn. As dumb as it is for Minnisota to actually offer anything beyond salary relief (which, in and of itself, isn't the best decision) to Seattle, it's so very many times dumber for Seattle to say no. As a commenter on USSMariner put it:
"If the M’s turned down Bonser, they are dumber than a box of hammers. A box of really, really dumb hammers."
[Edit: It seems that Bonser was never on the table, though Washburn himself reacted in an amusing manner to the rumors. Washburn said: “If that was the case, how much more do you think you’re going to get? A young guy with a great arm who’s cheap.” That's good stuff; it's better player valuation than the M's front-office does. Still, the M's should have just cut the salary - Washburn isn't worth what he'll be paid, and it's pretty easy to find a pitcher to replace him.] Read more ...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More Advancements In The Sabermetric Community

Today is a very good day. Today my life was made a good deal easier, as the fine people of LookoutLanding (a quality M's blog) have started a new site,, that has several handy things on it which I will no longer have to calculate (often incorrectly, as I was using a simplified version of the formula - also, a typo in my spreadsheet has caused a general undervaluing of offense, which I'll need to go back and change for some previous posts); notably, wOBA and tRA. The former I have talked about before, and StatCorner is even nice enough to calculate the Run Value based on wOBA for a player per plate appearance, 600 PA, and total actual PA. For example, Nick Markakis actually has a .397 wOBA. which is worth 0.057 runs per PA, 34.2 runs per 600 PA (about what one can expect for a season projection-wise), and 30.2 runs this season so far. Let's call him a 3 win player with the bat. With his previously mentioned +0.5 defense in RF (-0.5) in the AL (+2.5) (adjusting for playing time) that makes Nick a 5 WAR player. And I was hoping he could get up to that level in his prime, before.

tRA is calculated in a manner similar to wOBA in that it assigns run values to different events (a K saves about 0.11 runs, while a BB costs about 0.33 runs, a line drive allowed costs about 0.38 runs, and so on). Then the number of runs a pitcher is expected to give up is divided by the numbers of outs he is expected to get, and then multiplied by 27 to give the expected numbers of runs allowed per 9 innings. So one can think of it kind of like ERA (except without the whole earned/unearned thing so it's about 0.50 runs higher). It's an upgrade over FIP, so now that it's readily available I'll use it instead.

Jeremy Guthrie was a tRA of 4.32 this year, compared to his 5.15 tRA from 2007. His excellent results are still confusing to me, but at least he's improving. The tRA+ (like ERA+) is also given, and Guts is at 109 this year.

Daniel Cabrera has been awful, with a 5.50 tRA. He's actually gotten worse each of the last four years. Maybe they really should trade him. I guess I wasn't as objective as I should have been with Daniel, because I really wanted him to at least do OK, so he would stop being made the butt of so many jokes.

Garrett Olson has been pitching much better than it would seem, as his tRA is 4.82, for a tRA+ of 98 (just a bit below league average). Like I said, I'm confident that he can pitch at the back of the O's rotation next year, though unfortunately he may end up near the front end.

Radhames Liz and his 7.58 tRA aren't ready for a big-league rotation.

Brian Burres, as I'm sure many of you realized, kind of sucks; 6.19 tRA.

The pen isn't that good, but far from the disaster of previous years.

Alberto Castillo: 2.51
Jim Johnson: 3.28
Dennis Sarfate: 3.88
George Sherrill: 4.14
Randor Bierd: 4.15
Matt Albers: 4.46
Lance Cormier: 4.78
Fernando Cabrera: 5.79
Jamie Walker: 6.18

Another thing I really like about StatCorner is their team info. It has the starting rotation with a tRA of 5.50 (ouch) which translated to giving up 119 runs above average; the bullpen with a 4.42 tRA (13 more runs than average); and the offense with a wOBA of .339 (scoring 32 runs more than average).

I know it may be confusing for the four or five of you that read this stuff to keep track of my constantly changing stat usage, but whenever I find something better than what I had before (and understand it) I upgrade. wOBA and tRA I think should be around for a little while, though. Apparently, on there are going to be a bunch more things added to StatCorner like tRA* (regressed tRA, which should provide even more predictive value) and wOBA+, as well as leaderboards and the like. I have to say, I'm pretty excited. Now if only there was a really good defensive metric to rely on. Read more ...

O's-Indians, 8 In The 8th More Than Enough

Haven't done one of these in a while. Hopefully Daniel Cabrera can follow up Jeremy Guthrie's quality start from yesterday. He's facing a line-up that he has a chance to do OK against, and the O's should be able to put some runs on the board for him.

Brian Roberts starts things off by beating at an infield grounder for a lead-off single against former Brewer, lefty Zach Jackson (who came over in the Sabathia trade). Nick Markakis erases him with a grounder to first, but at least he's able to beat out the double play. Melvin Mora ropes one off the wall in left and cruises in to second with a double. Nick stops at third, but with Aubrey Huff coming up I feel confident he'll score this inning. And he does, as Huff gets the O's second infield single of the inning, off of Asdrubal Cabrera's glove. Here comes Mora, as Ramon singles up the middle. The O's have runners on the corners with one out for Kevin Millar. Millar runs the count full, but ends up popping out. Jay Payton grounds out to end the inning - it was a good one, but could have been better.

Grady Sizemore lines a single to right to start the Indians attack. Former Oriole David Dellucci lines out to center on the first pitch he sees. Ben Fransisco singles to left, and the Tribe has something going. Jhonny Peralta grounds to deep third, but Mora makes the long throw and gets him easily at first. Daniel may get out of the first with a lead. Nope; Shin-Soo Choo doubles of the wall in left just a little out of Montanez's reach to tie the game at 2-2. Cabrera strikes Kelly Shoppach out swinging at a slider out of the zone, but the damage has been done.

Brian Roberts' two-out single brings Markakis up for a second time. Pitch down and away - line drive over the shortstop for a single. Coming into this game, Nick was hitting .307/.404/.502 on the season and .417/.482/.708 in the month of August. Every day his price is going up. Mora works the count to 3-2, but his line-drive is caught by a leaping Peralta at short.

Oh, Daniel. Garko singles to right-center, and then moves to second on a single by Asdrubal Cabrera that went off Millar's glove at first one out later. Then Cabrera hits Sizemore in the leg to load the bases. A groundball from Dellucci gets him out of it as Roberts and Castro turn a nice double play.

Huff misses a home run by about 5 feet down the right-field line. A couple pitches later he crushes one, but that too is foul. Nice at bat by Huff, as he ends up drawing a walk. He's stranded though, as Jackson retires the next three Birds in order.

With one out, the second hit batter (Peralta this time) of the game extends Cabrera's league lead in the category to 17. He gets another double play ball, but Roberts has a little trouble getting it out of his glove and they only get one. Shoppach ends a second inning, this time grounding out to short.

Big Lou (Montanez) singles to left to start the fourth. Juan Castro tries to bunt him over, but Shoppach jumps out from behind the plate and fires to second to get the lead runner. Roberts takes strikes two and starts to trot to first, thinking it would be called ball four. Brian grounds sharply to first, but Ryan Garko makes a diving stop and tags the base for the out. Nick makes an out? I'm sorry, I'm not used to seeing such things recently. Kakes fell behind 1-2 and chased a breaking-ball down and away for strike three (just his fourth K of the month).

Garko chases a nice slider out of the zone for Cabrera's second strike-out. Then there's some nice defense, with Castro handling a grounder to his left and Big Lou making a diving catch in left. A 1-2-3 inning for Daniel is good to see.

With two outs, Razor rockets a pitch to right-center that bounces over the wall for a ground-rule double. Millar hits a pitch to almost the same exact spot, though the Indian's outfielders lost track of the ball and just stood there as it bounced. The O's take the 3-2 lead. That's all they'd get; now we'll see if Cabrera can hold it.

The prospects of that didn't look good as he walked Sizemore. Dellucci grounded to second, but the ball was hit too slowly to turn two. Fransisco then singled to center to put the tying run in scoring position, but Cabrera got Peralta to ground to Mora who started the inning ending double play.

Zach Jackson's day is over with Juan Rincon coming in from the pen. He sets the O's down in order.

Daniel is still in there, and he gives up a one-out single to Shoppach into short right-field. The runner goes to second as Ramon lets a pitch go right between his legs - all year long Hernandez has been bad behind the plate; does he not care enough to actually get in front of the ball, or is he just not good enough to? Garko draws a walk, and Asdrubal Cabrera hits a two-out double to tie the game at 3-3. Thankfully Garko "runs like a catcher" and had to be held at third. Dave Trembley has seen enough, as he will go to the bullpen. It'll be Jamie Walker in to face Grady Sizemore; I can't honestly say I'm confident in the outcome. Walker doesn't do his job, walking Sizemore to load the bases, and Rocky Cherry will be the one to try to get out of it. Still not confident. Cherry falls behind Gutierrez 2-0, but comes back to strike him out swinging on a 3-2 slider. That was a close one.

After a Markakis groundout, Mora reaches out a serves a pitch into left for a single. Huff singles to right, sending Mora to third, and the O's have a chance to re-take the lead. Ramon can't get the run in, as he grounds into a double play.

Former Indian Fernando Cabrera walks a batter, but a caught stealing makes it a 1-2-3 inning.

Kevin Millar singles to start the Orioles eighth. Payton grounds to deep third, but Anthony Gonzalez can't make a play on it and both runners are safe. Big Lou drives one to deep right, and Gutierrez can't get to it. The ball goes over his head and bounces into the stands for another ground-rule double - this one giving the O's a 4-3 lead. The Indians bring the infield in, and Castro singles right through it. That'll bring in two, and the lead is now 6-3. Brian Roberts grounds to second for the first out of the inning. Cleveland then intentionally walks Markakis, but Mora makes them pay with an RBI double of his own. The Indians then walk Huff intentionally to load the base for Ramon, hoping for another double play. Razor drew an unintentional walk to force in a run, making it 8-3 Orioles. Millar singles for the second time in the inning to bring in two more runs. Payton grounds out, but Big Lou gets his third hit of the game - singling up the middle to bring in Ramon with the O's 11th run. There is no reason for Payton to be starting instead of Montanez - yes he's a bit old for a prospect, and Jay may be better in center, but put him out there and lets see wha he can do. Castro pops out, and 8 runs later the inning is finally over. So much for it being a pitcher's duel.

Jim Johnson is coming in to hold the lead, for some reason. It's 11-3; throw some guy who hasn't pitched in a while out there. An error and a single put a couple runners on, but JJ got out of it without any damage.

Alex Cintron pinch-hits for Roberts and doubles to start the ninth. He gets no further than third, as Markakis, Mora, and Huff are retired in order.

Alberto Castillo and Guillermo Quiroz are the new Orioles battery. Franklin Gutierrez greets them with a solo home run to deep left. With two outs, a double and a single cut the lead to 11-5. Another double cuts it to 11-6. Maybe they're trying to get George Sherrill another save. Ol' Flat Brim is warming up in the pen, but a grounder to short ends the game.

The Orioles win and move to 58-62. Another impressive showing (well, in the 8th at least) by the offense makes up for a mediocre start by Daniel Cabrera and some bullpen issues. Every Orioles who got up to the plate got a hit, except Jay Payton (man am I going to be happy once he's gone), with Mora, Millar, and Montanez each getting three. They've already won more games than some people predicted they would win for the whole season.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This, That, And The Other

Random thoughts while watching the O's-Indians game:

* It's nice to see Anthony Reyes finally getting a chance to show what he can do.

* Nick Markakis is still the man.

* Why is Grady Sizemore (.267/.380/.521, 27 HR, 67 RBI) still batting lead-off? He doesn't have to hit clean-up, but maybe the #2 spot? If he had 100 RBI right now would he be getting more attention as an MVP candidate?

* Guthrie touches 98 (on the stadium gun) in striking out Kelly Shoppach to end a perfect first. How does this guy not have a K/9 above 6?

* How did nobody want Aubrey Huff (.300 BA, 24 HR, 77 RBI) at the trade deadline? Wait, make that 25 HR and 78 RBI. Anyone expecting 25+ home runs from him next year may be slightly disappointed.

* I thought Luke Scott would hit for a bit more power. He's missing a few doubles from his line.

Fast-forward 6 innings as I spend time with my family...

* Hey, the Orioles are winning.

* Jeremy Guthrie is a very good athlete out on the mound, and it just helps show how bad Daniel Cabrera is at fielding his position and the like.

* Did I mention that Nick Markakis is the man? 2-3 with a double and now a walk.

* I actually agree with the bunt with runners on first and second in the top of the ninth up 2-1 with Juan Castro at the plate. Too bad he can't do it correctly, and Ramon gets forced at third. People always argue strategically whether or not to bunt without taking into account how often the bunt isn't put down well.

* You know, it's always nice when a player rewards your faith in them. Nick Markakis singles in the O's third run in the top of the ninth with two outs and a couple on. He may win a batting title one year. Sign the man!

* It's a little hard for me to think of Rocky Cherry as a legitimate major-leaguer. He's no Madison Bumgarner though.

* So, many expected that the O's offense wouldn't be very good this year. 4.9 runs per game I said! Where are they at? 4.9 R/G. These guys can swing the bats a little bit, as they put a four-spot up to extend their lead to 6-1.

* Jeremy Guthrie may not be an ace, but he is this team's stopper. The team needed this type of game after what the past couple have been.

* The O's have a better record than the Atlanta Braves, and about the same record as the Detroit Tigers. And they're still easily in last place in the AL East. They'd be only 4 games out in the NL West (less, probably, if they played the NL teams instead of the AL teams most of the season). Sometimes life isn't fair.< Read more ...

Pitchers Wanted - Will Pay Reasonable Price

Another poorly played game resulted in an O's loss yesterday, as the team fell to the Cleveland Indians. A solid offensive performance was wasted as the defense committed four errors (and generally wasn't very good) and Garrett Olson and the usually reliable Jim Johnson got touched for seven runs. Earlier in the year, the O's were above .500 because their defense made their pitching look better than it was - they were among the league leaders in glove-work for a good part of the year, and for a while were the number one team at turning balls in play into outs. They are still a bit above average now, but much closer to the middle of the pack. That has caused the team ERA to balloon all the way up to 4.84, which is the second worst in the AL. They're also giving up a second worst 5.09 runs per game, which is actually almost a full run better than Texas (6.04 R/G). Believe it or not, it might really be worse than it looks.

Jeremy Guthrie has a very good 3.26 ERA, but his FIP is about a run higher at 4.23.

Daniel Cabrera has disappointed me with his 4.78 ERA, but he's also pitching worse than that with a 5.14 FIP.

JJ has been very good, but his 2.18 ERA is due to move towards his 3.27 FIP.

Matt Albers (3.49 ERA / 4.57 FIP), Randor Bierd (3.32 ERA / 4.22 FIP), and Fernando Cabrera (3.79 ERA / 5.27 FIP) are probably not the great relievers some may think they are.

On the bright side, Garret Olson has been pretty bad, but his 6.06 ERA should be about a run lower (5.04 FIP). I think he could definitely contribute at the back end of the '09 rotation.

I still maintain that Guthrie is a good but not great pitcher. I'll even call him a #2/3 instead of a #3, but I can't go up to a real #2. Maybe he'll be one of those pitchers (like Carlos Zambrano) that consistently outdoes his FIP, but I need to see it for a little longer before I am willing to accept that. Cabrera's a #4/5; so is Olson; hopefully so are Waters and Liz, but I expect both to end up in the bullpen if they make it at all (and I'm way higher on Liz than Waters); hopefully so is Hayden Penn. The bullpen, I think, can be constructed relatively cheaply while being about league average. There isn't a shutdown "ace" reliever, but I think a closer by committee approach with Sherrill (until he's traded) taking the ninth with lefties coming up and JJ or Chris Ray handling the righties would work well. I think I'd actually prefer Ray in that role, and let Johnson pitch multiple innings in a set-up role. It's not Rivera-to-Wetteland or Lidge-to-Dotel-to-Wagner, but it will shorten games where the O's have the lead more often than not. Albers, Sarfate, Bierd, and Castillo (plus Hoey, Mickolio, McCrory, etc.) form a pretty good middle relief core, I think, and should keep the team in games. All that leaves are openings at the top of the rotation.

Does that mean I think the O's should sign two of CC Sabathia/Ben Sheets/AJ Burnett/Derek Lowe? Not really. The team isn't close enough yet to make that kind of splash, and I generally agree with Andy MacPhail in that pitchers should mostly be grown and not bought on the free agent market. It isn't my money though, and signing two of the above as well as Mark Teixeira and Rafael Furcal really would make the 2009 Orioles a contender. I think it would be a large waste of money - and the team would be worse off in the long run - but flags do fly forever. Signing Adam Dunn too, and putting him at DH with Huff playing third would be even better (in 2009). The payroll would jump up by around $80 MM (just for 2009), but they would certainly have a shot at the play-offs.

What I purpose is trying to find some bargain free agents to fill out the roster (maybe there's another Carlos Pena out there) and run through their minor league pitchers to see who's ready or close to it. Nolan Reimold should take over in left-field a good deal of the time (hopefully he'll get a look in September) with Luke Scott spelling him and DH'ing or playing first. Matt Wieters I'd call up about a month into the season (to hold back his service clock so that the team controls him for an extra year). Huff and/or Mora can hopefully be traded (especially Mora - having a team take him off the team's hands would be fantastic, even with no return). Roberts should probably be on the move also, with some sort of middle-infield prospects coming back. The plan would be to assemble a set of pitchers that can contribute to a contending team in 2010 or 2011, and then make trades and sign players to fill in the pieces later. It's a slow road, but one worth taking. Read more ...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rocco In For Injured Rays

It's nice to see Rocco Baldelli back in the big-leagues with the Rays. Before the season started, Baldelli's entire career was in jeopardy because of a mitochondrial something-or-other that left him too tired to play. With that hopefully squared away, or at least under control, Rocco is in a position to really help out the club with both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria on the DL - the former maybe for the rest of the season. Tampa Bay will be careful with Baldelli, apparently using Gabe Gross to shadow him in case he needs to come out of a game. With top prospect David Price potentially being this year's "Joba" - coming up from the minors to throw upper 90's fastballs and wicked sliders out of the pen - the Rays may actually have the depth to hang on to their AL East lead. I was higher on the team than many, but no way would I have predicted a 95 win season for the Rays. Even Baseball Prospectus, with their seemingly crazy call for 88-89 wins, may have undershot them. What's going to happen to the rest of the teams in the East once Tampa Bay starts calling up the rest of their prospects? How are the Orioles - on their way up and a team that would be in contention in the NL West - going to be able to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays (and Blue Jays, I guess)? Read more ...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Junior Rejuvenated?

After Ken Griffey Jr. was traded last week, I had a discussion with someone about the impact of the deal on the White Sox. My point (as stated in the post about the trade) was that Junior's bat is still pretty good, but it's no longer great and that his horrible defense (in RF no less) counteracts it, and then some. The counter-argument was that Griffey is going to a contending club, which should "energize" and "rejuvenate" him, and "give him back his fire". And so on, and so forth. There was more to it than that, but the main points were (1) Intangibles make players play better (and also the players around them) vs. (2) Intangibles can allow a player to play to their fullest potential, but Junior's potential isn't that high anymore and so even if he has been "rejuvenated", he still won't help Chicago that much (if at all).

This raises a simple question: does going from "playing out the string" to being in a pennant race in the middle of a season cause players to step up there game? I decided to find out. To do that, I looked at the trades from June, July, and August from 2001 to 2007 in which a player went from a club out of contention to one that was fighting for a play-off spot. Now, it was a little complicated to look at the records (and standings) of the teams at the time of the trade, so I estimated based on the final standings. Generally speaking, if a team was within a few games of a division title (or the wild card in many cases) I counted them as a contender. If a team ended the year 64-98, then I assumed a player wouldn't be giving it his all in the dog days of the summer. (Actually I don't really think that - I think a guy will rarely make it to the majors if he does that kind of thing to a significant degree - but for the purposes of this exercise, it's what I went with.) I only counted players with at least 75 at bats or 50 innings pitched both before and after the trade to try to minimize the small sample size issues a little. Since there are other factors affecting performance, like the change in leagues or ballparks, I used OPS+ and ERA+ as my comparison stats since they account for such things. Also, since both are on the same scale, I can combine the pitchers and the hitters together.

There were 54 cases to look at, with three players being traded multiple times (Kenny Lofton and Carl Everett twice each (with the White Sox acquiring Everett both times in consecutive years), and former O's favorite Jeff Conine three times). I looked at the actual change in OPS+ or ERA+ (going from 80 to 100 is a +20) as well as the percentage change (going from 80 to 100 is a +25%). So, the results?

The average OPS+/ERA+ change ended up being +0.8; a player, an average, would go from an OPS+ of, say, 113 to 113.8. In other words, it was pretty much exactly the same. The average percentage change was +4.8. How about when taking out the outliers (those cases more than two standard deviations from the mean like Julio Lugo going from a 124 to a 41 OPS+ (-83) or Woody Williams going from an 81 to a 189 ERA+ (+108))? Well then the average change goes all the way up +1.8, and the average percentage change actually goes down to +2. If there is a "contention factor", it is clearly not very significant. I would also like to mention that I originally stopped at trades back to 2002. At that point, the average change was negative at -3 (which means players actually got a little worse when the pressure was on) and the average percentage change was 0. I'm not going to discount 2001, but I think that goes to show that using a one point increase in OPS+ from 01-07 to support the intangibles theory isn't sound.

Not one to stop right away having seen that my argument was supported, I broke the cases down into groups by their OPS+/ERA+ before the trade. Maybe OK hitters (Junior had an OPS+ of 103) go up significantly more than others, or whatever. Here's a poorly constructed table showing the results. Notice something? That would be regression to the mean. Every group moved in the direction (and partially) by the amount that would be expected. The bad generally got better (except for Rey Sanchez, who started at an OPS+ of 76 and still managed to drop 45 points) and the good got worse (though Mark Teixeira did what he could to help Atlanta get to the postseason last year).

When the groups were split between pitchers and hitters, the former were the ones that actually improved (by 9 points, on average) while the hitters did worse (by about 3 points). They do say that when a pitcher faces a hitter for the first time, it's the pitcher that has the advantage - that may be what is going on here as in most cases the pitchers switched leagues and would thus be more likely to face batters unfamiliar with them. The batters switched leagues slightly less often.

My favorite part was that the changes actually fit a normal distribution (mostly).That doesn't necessarily mean that they're random, but I think it makes it difficult to support the notion that getting traded to a contender causes a player to play better. Sample size caveats and all that not withstanding, I think I've made my point. More could be done with this, such as looking at players going the other direction (from good to bad teams) or traded players in general. I made my argument here with numbers though,and USSMariner made a similar argument here with words - that's good enough for me.

Does all that mean that Ken Griffey Jr. won't play any better in Chicago? Of course not. He was actually a bit unlucky on balls in play earlier this season, and so his offensive stats should improve some. Then again, he is going to the harder league. Frankly, I don't really care about his bat that much (it's not outstanding and not horrible) - it's his atrocious defense (especially in center) that is going to make it unlikely for him to really improve the team. Now, one could make the argument that I didn't look at defense here, but it seems silly to me that a player would play better on defense, but not when hitting or pitching. It's a little harder to find a defensive metric to work with, so I'm going to pass on looking at that myself. Maybe instead I'll do the 1,526,039th study showing that "clutch" doesn't really exist. Or go look for some more living room furniture on craigslist - you know, something that might actually benefit someone. Read more ...

Value Of Some Current & Potentially Future O's

During the O's game a few days ago, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts, and player valuation in general. My points were that (1) Tex might not be worth as much as he'll get, but I'd still overpay a little (say, 4 years / $110 MM, which I doubt he'd accept anyway), (2) Brian Roberts is in the same situation (but even more extreme), though he may actually accept a little less to stay here (but probably not less by enough), (3) Adam Jones, if he never gets much better as a hitter (stays below league average) would still be worth quite a good deal and should be locked up on the super cheap sometime soon (buying out his team controlled years for $20-25 MM with a couple of team options for his first free-agency years would be a steal), and (4) Nick Markakis is really, really, really, awesome. I simply can not overstate how big of a mistake the O's made in not signing him long-term last year. (Actually I can - maybe $15 MM in extra costs to them for waiting a year. They're only going to have waited a year, right?) I like using Tom Tango's Wins Above Replacement system, since it's pretty simple but also does what I need it to do. Hitting, defense, position, and league difficulty are all taken into account.

(1) Mark Teixeira (adjusted from the post about his trade using better numbers for his defense) was an NL (+2) first-baseman (-1) with a very good glove (+1.5) and a big stick (+3.1). Adjusting for playing time, that means Tex is a 5 WAR player, which is worth about $22 MM this year. He's going to be 29 next year, and so after the first couple years of his next contract one can expect some decline from aging as he leaves his prime. To my utter amazement, he's actually worth (about) what he's asking. 4 years / $103 MM; 5 years / $127 MM; 6 years / $151 MM; 7 years / $172 MM; 8 years / $ 191 MM. In the crazy world of free agent contracts, those are all fairly reasonable deals. I still don't think it would be a great idea to sign him given where the team is (in last place), but if they could convince him to accept a little bit less to play in Baltimore then it might be OK.

(2) Brian Roberts is an AL (+2.5) second-baseman (+0) who has been up and down defensively, but is still around average (about +0, lets say) and is worth about 1.4 wins with the bat. That makes Roberts about a 3.5 WAR player, which is worth about $15.4 MM this year (while he's getting paid just $6.3 MM). Taking aging and salary increases into account, I have Roberts worth $14.5 MM in 2009 (he's set to make $8 MM), $13.3 MM in 2010, $11.7 MM in 2011, $9.7 MM in 2012, and $7.1 MM in 2013. He'll want around $15 MM annually based on his current play, but taking that out too far into the future would likely be problematic for the club. Having Roberts making $15+ MM in 2013 while only providing $7 MM in value makes it hard to have a competitive ball-club unless the organization is willing to lock young players up early (and cheaply), which they have shown isn't the case yet. I like Roberts a lot, but he may not even be a regular second baseman by the time his next deal is finished. The best option - the only real option that helps the club - is to trade Roberts for prospects, especially of the middle-infield variety.

(3) Adam Jones is an AL (+2.5) center-fielder (+0.5) who is good with the glove (+0.5) but not with the bat yet (-0.5). That's a a 2.5 WAR player at a young age, who's likely to improve. Even assuming he only gets very slightly better (maxing out as a league average hitter), his remaining team controlled years are worth about $83 MM. If he shows improvement next year, I would run to him with a contract with as many free-agency year team options as I could get. It's what the smarter clubs are doing these days. And if he becomes Torii Hunter, well... you get the idea.

(4) Nick Markakis is an AL (+2.5) right-fielder (-0.5) who plays good defense (+0.5) and is a very good hitter (+3). He is a 5 WAR player right now, which is worth about $22 MM. Assuming no improvements from his current level of play, giving Nick a 7 year / $140 MM deal is pretty defensible. In fact, it very well may be a good deal. Nick's wOBA has improved from .344 (already above average as a 22 year-old rookie) to .372 to .397 this year. If the team can sign him for 7 years / $70 MM then they should jump all over that - it's more than it would have cost a few months ago, but it's still a great deal. Interestingly, I think Nick could very well be as valuable as Roberts and Teixeira combined (in WAR) by 2013. Also of note (discovered by a member at Orioles Hangout) - since 1950, in a player's first 1600 at bats of his career (under the age of 25), no player has had more hits than Nick Markakis. Sign the man! Read more ...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

No More Chad Bradford Scraping The Dirt As A Bird

Kudos to Andy MacPhail on sticking with the plan. Chad Bradford was claimed on waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays (as if they need more bullpen help) and a deal was worked out with a PTBNL coming over to the O's. If the asking price was that low (depending on the N of the P), then it seems a trade could have been made a week ago (before the deadline) and so there would have potentially been more teams involved in the bidding. In any case, I'm anxious to see who they got - considering the Rays' system, they could send over their #23 prospect and he could step right into the O's rotation. At the very least, the O's clear out some payroll (though Bradford may have resulted in at least a supplemental draft pick after next season, which needs to be taken into
account). Who else is on their way out of Baltimore? There are several guys that should pass through waivers (Payton, Mora, Millar, Walker, Ramon, Huff maybe). Read more ...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

One Positive Step At A Time

I know I've been less than kind to the Mariners organization this year - and I did say they'd lose a bunch of games (though not this many) - but I'll give credit where credit is due. In the last week the team has (1) traded an old free-agent reliever for a young pitching prospect, (2) sent Brandon Marrow (who had been used out of the pen) down to the minors to begin his conversion to starting pitcher (finally), (3) moved Miguel Batista (6.80 ERA) to the pen and called up Ryan Rowland-Smith to take his spot in the rotation, (4) released designated "hitter" Jose Vidro (he of the .234/.274/.338 line), and (5) brought slugging OF Wladimir Balentin up. Now if they would just take Raul Ibanez's glove away and make him the DH (with Wlad taking his spot in left) then the team will have improved itself. They still aren't very good, but one has to start somewhere.

While I'm on the M's, I just want to note that Willie Bloomquist has an OBP almost 100 points above his SLG (.382 to .288). He has 44 singles and 1 double on the year. Also, the top two hitters by BA for Seattle are pitcher Felix Hernandez (1.000 with a grand slam in his only at bat) and pitcher Erik Bedard (.500 - two singles in four at bats). The guy with the second best WHIP (behind Marrow's 0.90) is catcher Jamie Burke (1.00 in his one inning of work). At least they're amusing. Read more ...

More "Waters" Pun Opportunities Coming

I haven't written about the O's games much lately, but yesterday's deserves some special attention. 27 year-old lefty Chris Waters made his major league debut on the mound for the Birds against the team with the best record in baseball, the LA Angels (of A?). He came out throwing strikes, getting Chone Figgins looking on three pitches. While not blessed with particularly great stuff, Waters showed command of his pitches, hitting both corners for strikes with his high 80's fastball as well as his curve. "Work fast - throw strikes - change speeds" was Ray Miller's motto, and Waters did just that. I don't know if he can be a quality big-league starter, but he does have a little cross-fire action in his delivery which may work well out of the pen as a lefty reliever. There were some Kenny Rogers comparisons being thrown around, so there is a bit of unexpected upside. For now though, a 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 3 K line is something any pitcher would be proud of - congratulations to Chris on finally making it.

In less pleasant O's news, Adam Jones ankle injury has landed him on the DL and may well keep him out for the rest of the year. That's a shame (and I'm not very excited about seeing Jay Payton out there every day) but Jones has played pretty well this season and I look forward to seeing the progress he makes next year. Read more ...