Saturday, April 4, 2009

Orioles Fan Fest 2009 - They Know What They're Doing

The baseball season starts tomorrow, which means that the Orioles Fan Fest was this morning. Having the season ticket holder passes and being able to get in early is a big plus, and I was very pleased with a lot of what I heard from Andy MacPhail during his State of the Orioles address.

One of the first things Andy said was that the teamed had learned its lesson from last year's Fan Fest and moved the address from the O's dugout to the visitors dugout, which is in the sun. While it's not a really big deal, it's nice to see that the team learns from the past.

I've given Andy a little bit of a hard time about not being one of the more advanced GM's in baseball, but after today I think that may have more to do with his tendency to play things close to the vest. Repeatedly he mentioned concentrating on stats, but also looking at scouting reports and the like. That statistical analysis is the default was meaningful to me, as in the past it would have been scouting on top with an acknowledgment that stats are important too just to keep the more sabermetrically minded fans from complaining. MacPhail discussed using a computer system to track various stats (specifically in the minors, though I imagine they use it for the majors too) including things like first-pitch strike percentages and change-up usage. I got a little bit of a chuckle out of that, wondering if they were aware of FanGraphs. Given his unprompted comment that Baseball Prospectus has the team scoring the second most runs in baseball, it's certainly possible. (He followed that up with "God, I hope that's true" and then Dave Trembley crossed himself.) BP and their PECOTA projection system are becoming much more mainstream, but to see the O's GM throw it out there so casually and with some appreciation for its value was a very nice surprise. Expanding international scouting and taking chances on players later in the draft by going over slot were mentioned. As was the reality that if the team has 12 pitching prospects, they will be lucky to get 5-6 major-league contributors out of that group. MacPhail mentioned Nolan Ryan's work with Texas' pitching prospects - trying to install a development program to get them to throw more pitches and more innings safely - and that the O's would keep an eye on how that works and possibly borrow some of their ideas. He was realistic about where the team is and how it's progressing, and seems to have a solid decision making framework in place.

I was even able to get a question in during the Q&A - it was amazingly nervous and kind of zoned out in the middle of it, but I think I mostly remember what it was. First I commented that Baseball Prospectus was been low on Nick Markakis the last couple years and so their runs projection for the team might actually be better than presented (though I doubt it). My question was regarding the analysis the team does before giving out a lone-term contract, and whether they focus more on total value over the course of the deal or value on a year-by-year basis. And if it was the latter, whether there was a way to keep a deficit in value relative to salary in the later years of a contract from hurting the team's payroll flexibility. Basically, I was asking how much trouble the last year or two of Brian Roberts' deal will be for the team.

[Me on the jumbotron asking my question.]

Steve Melewski at MASNsports was nice enough to post the transcript of Andy's answer, and it's reproduced below:
"Payroll flexibility is a key component of the analysis that we do. In the case where our ownership committed over 100 million to Nick and Brian, the analysis in those cases pretty much was what expectations could we have based on league experience with players in comparable parts of their careers and comparable ages.

How does their performance track over four years, or six years in Nick's case. In both cases we were satisfied that it was a reasonable bet and we had the payroll flexibility. We know the players and we think highly of their character and approach and what we want them to accomplish here.

They are homegrown Baltimore Oriole players, which was a message we wanted to send down to our kids, so, every part of our analysis we were satisfied that it was a good risk on the club's part."
That's not exactly what I was asking, but given everything I heard before that point I'll take it. At least it gives me the confidence that the team won't be signing any Raul Ibanezes for $31 M.

[Andy MacPhail responding to my question.]

When in line to get Jeremy Guthrie's autograph, I took the opportunity to ask a very poorly phrased question to try to gain some insight into why how he has success despite just OK peripherals. While not an exact quote, it was basically "You throw pretty hard, but you don't strike out that many guys - does that have something to do with your pitching style?" I think that may have caught him off-guard a little, and I admit that I shouldn't have been so blunt about it (I rushed the question because I didn't want to hold up the line). His response was something like "I have no idea why that is," followed by "they just hit it." I was a bit disappointed, as I was expecting to hear that he pitches to contact or tries to get the batter to put the ball in play weakly or something along those lines, but it seems like he never really considered that he should strike out more guys (or at least try to, if it wouldn't result in other bad things happening). That makes me slightly more hesitant to expect another year with an ERA below his FIP. Despite my comparison from last year, Guthrie is no Brian Bannister. Maybe that'll end up being a good thing, as Banny's ERA ballooned to 5.76 last year.

[Jeremy Guthrie looking surprising friendly despite me sort of question is ability.]

At the Koji Uehara table, by friend Ian told Adam Eaton that he had Eaton on every one of his fantasy teams when he played for San Diego. Eaton seemed somewhat flattered, and responded by saying "back when I was useful, and good." It was very good natured and I have a great amount of respect for him for showing that level of self-awareness and self-deprecating humor. Now I really hope he doesn't suck this year.

[Adam Eaton listening to a fan.]

Fanfest was a lot of fun, and I have even more confidence in the way the team is being run now - even if they still aren't quite on the same level as the Rays.

Thanks to Ian for taking these great pictures - see more of his work over at I Never Stop Designing.

1 comment:

Ian Oland said...

Great post, Moroz. I had a great time being there with you. Here's my post about fanfest: