Archive for Orioles

Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

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Machado Joins Harper and Trout at the Awesome Party

Last season, the Orioles unexpectedly won the AL East. I say “unexpectedly” for two reasons. One, because almost nobody called for it during the preseason. And two, because Baltimore experienced injuries to and underperformance by some of their best players to such a degree that, had any of us known about it beforehand, it would have caused us all to project them falling backwards into last season, let alone last place. At the end of the year, their top-five players by WAR were Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Nelson Cruz, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis — a list within which Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado (i.e. much of the team’s hypothetical core) are conspicuous by their absence.

This season things are different. This season, the list basically goes like this: Manny Machado, Manny Machado where you mispronounce his name for some reason, Manny Macahdo where I mistype his name for some reason, and then two more Manny Machados where you and I summon the humanity to get the man’s name right. Essentially this season, the second-place Orioles are Manny Machado and a bunch of .500-ish players or worse. That’s how good Manny Machado has been in 2015.

You may have read Dave Cameron’s recent trade-value series. If not read it. READ IT. On it, Machado ranked eighth, which is a very high ranking. However, if you look at the projected WAR by ZIPS over the next five seasons listed for each player in the articles and then re-ranked the players on that basis, you’ll get a top two of Mike Trout (double duh) and then Manny Machado himself. Machado, whose name my computer badly and inexplicably wants to change to “man mated,” has the second-highest projected WAR over the next five seasons. He’s that good now. He projects to be better soon. He hasn’t always been that good, though.

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Nationals Righty Lucas Giolito Impresses, As Expected

Anyone who follows prospects knows that Washington Nationals pitching prospect Lucas Giolito comes with considerable hype. After being in consideration for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft before succumbing to elbow problems, Giolito has repeatedly shown the sort of form that put him in that conversation (one that, given the performance of Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton to date, is frankly quite lofty).

I have seen Giolito twice over the past two years, and I’ve happened to take in two of his more notable outings. Last August, I witnessed him toss five scoreless innings working exclusively with his fastball and changeup, and last week, I watched him throw seven no-hit frames after entering in the second inning. As one might expect, the heralded hurler showed plenty of substance behind his acclaim in both outings.

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A Case for Darren O’Day’s All-Stardom

As Craig Calcaterra correctly points out at Hardball Talk, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost has somewhat joylessly brought ultra-utility types aboard the American League All-Star roster instead of selecting players with bigger reputations.

But can ya blame Yost? You might recall that he got wicked close to winning a World Series just nine months ago. In a Game 7 where every last doggone base was weighted with incomprehensible leverage, playing that game at home nudged forward the Royals’ chances at winning by precious, precious percentage points. With this year’s Royals actually plausible World Series contestants — as opposed to their then-implausible candidacy at this time last year — Yost has unique motivation to play the All-Star Game to win.

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Introducing: The Submarine Riseball

“Have you ever heard of a submariner throwing a riseball?”

Athletics Media Relations and Broadcasting Coordinator Zak Basch almost had a crazy look in his eye as he asked. But as soon as I understood what he was asking, there were two intense people in that Oakland dugout, contemplating insane things. Because it’s almost an impossible idea, the riseball released from a submarine angle. They physics of releasing the ball down under makes it almost impossible to get backspin on the ball, and backspin is what gives fastballs “rise” — backspin helps the ball drop less than you’d expect, given gravity.

That’s why, when you ask current submariners, they mostly just shake their head. “I’ve heard stories of this myth before,” laughed Javier Lopez of the Giants. He struggled to name any active low-slot pitchers that have ever thrown a riseball on purpose.

But it’s not impossible. Basch, a former pitcher for the University of Nevada (Reno) himself once threw one in game action, and it only took a couple dozen failed attempts to get there. Just to get an idea of how difficult it is to get backspin on the ball from that angle, Basch modeled the delivery and spin for a traditional submarine fastball and then how you might throw a rising fastball.

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Ubaldo Jimenez Proving His Worth

Heading into this season, not unlike most seasons over the past few years, not much was expected out of the Baltimore Orioles from the statistics-based community at FanGraphs. Despite winning at least 85 games in each of the past three seasons with two playoff berths and the division title in 2014, just seven of the 38 FanGraphs writers surveyed before the season expected the Orioles to make the playoffs. The projections pegged the Orioles for 79 wins and gave them just a 16% chance of making the playoffs. The offense figured to be led by Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and emerging star Manny Machado providing great production at the plate and in the field, but the pitching had some question marks with no starter projected to record an ERA or FIP below four. While Jones, Davis, and Machado pacing the offense, there are still questions about the pitching staff, but Ubaldo Jimenez has returned from a terrible 2014 to provide stability for an Orioles team once again in first place in the American League East.

Jimenez was once one of the best pitchers in major-league baseball. From 2008 to 2010 with the Colorado Rockies, Jimenez accumulated 15.3 WAR, ninth in MLB just behind Felix Hernandez and right ahead of Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright, and Jered Weaver. Inconsistency plagued Jimenez over the next three seasons with the Cleveland Indians, but a great second half in 2013 — when he posted a 1.82 ERA, 2.17 FIP and 3.0 WAR — earned him a four-year deal with the Orioles worth $50 million.

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The Most Unlikely Home Run

It seems like a simple question to ask. Which recent home run was the least likely?

You could flippantly answer — the one Erick Aybar hit this year, or the one Melky Cabrera hit this year — and because they’ve got the lowest isolated slugging percentages with at least one homer hit, you would be right. But that doesn’t control for the quality of the pitcher. Aybar hit his off of Rick Porcello, who is having some issues with the home run right now.

A slightly more sophisticated approach might have you scan down the list of the worst isolated powers in the game right now, and then cross-reference those names with the pitchers that allowed those home runs. If you do that, you’ll eventually settle on Alexei Ramirez, who hit his first homer of the year off of Johnny Cueto earlier this year.

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MLB Scores a Partial Victory in Minor League Wage Lawsuits

Eight Major League Baseball teams won an initial victory on Wednesday in two federal lawsuits contesting MLB’s minor league pay practices under the minimum wage and overtime laws. At the same time, however, the judge denied the league a potentially more sweeping victory in the cases.

The two lawsuits were filed in California last year by former minor league players who allege that they received as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite routinely being required to work 50 or more hours per week during the playing season (in addition to mandatory off-season training). MLB and its thirty teams responded to the suit by challenging the plaintiffs’ claims on a variety of grounds. Wednesday’s decision considered two of these defenses in particular.

First, 11 of the MLB franchises argued that they were not subject to the California court’s jurisdiction and therefore must be dismissed from the lawsuit. Second, all 30 MLB teams argued that the case should be transferred from California to a federal court in Florida, which they argued would be a more convenient location for the trial.  In its decision on Wednesday, the court granted MLB a partial victory, agreeing to dismiss eight of the MLB defendant franchises from the suit due to a lack of personal jurisdiction, but refusing to transfer the case to Florida. Read the rest of this entry »

The Potential New J.D. Martinez

As far as health is concerned, the Orioles have had something of a middle-infield catastrophe, with injuries to J.J. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty, and Jonathan Schoop. Injuries sometimes force teams to do creative things, and what we saw Buck Showalter do was push Steve Pearce to second base on the fly. Pearce had never played the position before, but Showalter liked his potential over the somewhat defensively-challenged Jimmy Paredes, even though Paredes had experience. That wasn’t the whole story, though: Paredes remained at DH. Showalter said he still wanted to keep that bat in the lineup.

Which is a funny thing to say about a guy who’s been a terrible hitter for most of his big-league career. Granted, it’s not like Paredes has a decade-long track record, but through his first four years, when he batted almost 500 times, his wRC+ ranked right between Yuniesky Betancourt and Freddy Galvis. There are reasons why Paredes was dumped by the Astros, when the Astros couldn’t afford to be liberal with their dumps. Showalter, though, has been a believer. You could say he’s seen some things. And right now, if you sort by wRC+, with at least 100 trips to the plate, Paredes finds himself sandwiched by Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera. What those players have in common with Betancourt and Galvis is that they’re players in major-league baseball.

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Adam Jones Is Up to Something

Monday afternoon, I participated in an Orioles-centric podcast, where one of the things I was supposed to talk about was Manny Machado. I wrote about Machado a couple of weeks ago, and more specifically, I wrote about him suddenly exercising a lot more patience at the plate. From what we understand about plate-discipline statistics, they find themselves pretty fast. It’s unusual when they move around, so Machado’s change was unusual and worth some attention. He seems to be doing the thing we all want prospects to do, but that they only infrequently pull off.

In advance of the podcast, I thought it would be smart to do a little Orioles research. I know some things about them, but I do not know everything about them, since I’m supposed to keep aware of 30 teams until the passing of the deadline renders a few of them irrelevant. Nobody wants to sound unprepared. I checked in on Machado, to make sure things were still keeping up. I checked in on Steve Pearce, out of offensive and defensive curiosity. And it was while scrolling through pages I noticed something about Adam Jones. Machado, as noted, is showing some weird changes in his plate discipline. Jones is, too, in a different way.

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Steve Pearce Is Playing Second Base

Understand that no one’s Plan A would be putting Steve Pearce into the lineup at second base. It would be nobody’s Plan B, either. Understand that the Orioles have been forced into a position, with J.J. Hardy hurt, and with Jonathan Schoop hurt, and with Ryan Flaherty hurt. What the Orioles have been confronted with is a situation in which the middle infield is in dire need of at least temporary help. Under these specific circumstances, Pearce at second base has become Plan A. Even that feels strange, like the sort of thing no other team would dare attempt.

Pearce, as it happens, is actually out of the lineup Tuesday, because he’s feeling under the weather. But that’s not a performance concern. Over the weekend, Baltimore played three home games in a city that isn’t its home, and in all three games, Pearce started at second. There’s a graphic for it and everything.


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Manny Machado’s Light Bulb Turned On

Let’s watch a little MLB Gameday, you and I. I’ll select Saturday’s matchup between the Rays and the Orioles. Below, you’re going to see all four of Manny Machado‘s plate appearances. Note that I could’ve selected Sunday’s game instead and demonstrated the same thing, but on Saturday, Machado faced more pitches. Four simple .gifs:

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Home-Field Advantage With No Home-Crowd Advantage

Before this post gets published, the White Sox and Orioles will begin a baseball game in Baltimore played before no one. The few scouts in attendance will keep to themselves, and those watching from elsewhere will be unheard. There will probably be birds, and birds are always making noise, but we’re generally pretty good at tuning them out, because they never shut up. Two things, before going further:

(1) Of course, what’s going on in the rest of Baltimore is of far greater significance than what’s going on inside Camden Yards. For every one thought about the baseball game, there ought to be ten million thoughts about the civil unrest, and what it means and what’s to learn. My job, though, is to write about baseball, and so this is a post about baseball. I am qualified to do very few other things.

(2) The game will be played under extraordinary circumstances, but it’s also one game. A sample of one is, for all intents and purposes, no better than a sample of zero, so we’re not going to learn much today. We’d need a few thousand of these to really research and establish some conclusions. The post basically concerns the hypothetical, inspired by what’s taking place.

Home-field advantage exists in all sports. It’s a known thing, to varying degrees. The first thing that occurs to most people, as far as an explanation is concerned, is that the team at home has people yelling in support of it. The team on the road, meanwhile, has people yelling other things at it. The average person prefers support over mean and critical remarks. Now, consider the game in Baltimore. Strip the crowd effect away completely. What could that do? What might we expect of the home-field advantage of a team that plays with no fans?

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Kevin Gausman is Learning to Elevate

There’s a lot going on with Kevin Gausman right now. He’s throwing a curveball, instead of a slider. I learned that from another baseball writer earlier today in my email. He’s working out of the bullpen, instead of the rotation. I learned that from general news, and from all the people who complain in our weekly chats. And, all of a sudden, he’s throwing high fastballs. I learned that accidentally through research of other stuff. This is of particular interest to me.

In January, I asked a simple question: should Kevin Gausman and James Paxton throw more high fastballs? The thinking was this: the Rays have been prioritizing high fastballs. An effective high fastball has a particular movement, with lots of rise as observed on PITCHf/x. Gausman and Paxton throw fastballs that qualify, but they also threw the bulk of those fastballs low. What if they didn’t do that? Could more strikeouts and success follow? I didn’t know, but I thought it at least worth wondering.

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Division Preview: AL East

And now the final division preview, just in time for Opening Day. If you missed them, here are the first five:

NL West
AL West
NL Central
AL Central
NL East

Now, wrapping things up with the AL East.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Red Sox 87 75 45% 18% 8%
Blue Jays 83 79 19% 17% 3%
Yankees 83 79 19% 16% 3%
Rays 80 82 11% 12% 2%
Orioles 79 83 7% 9% 1%

The only division in baseball where all five teams have a legitimate shot at winning; the projected spread between first and last place in the AL East is smaller than the gap between first and second place in the NL East. The forecasts have a favorite, but this division is wide open, and nearly any order of finish could be reasonable. On to the teams themselves.

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Brian Matusz as a Potential Starter

In 2011, Brian Matusz had one of the worst seasons imaginable as a pitcher. At the end of Spring Training, he suffered an intercostal strain and missed the first three months of the season. In his first start back, he gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings pitched, struck out three and walked none. In his next eleven starts, broken up by a stint in the minor leagues, he pitched 44 innings, struck out 35, walked 24 and gave up 18 home runs. There have been roughly 7,000 pitcher seasons over 40 innings in the last 20 years. Brian Matusz’ 3.26 HR/9 is the highest of all of them. Matusz was given another shot to start the next season, but was sent to the minors in July and when he returned, it was as a reliever, the role he has had ever since.

There have been some discussions about moving him back into a starting role. Baltimore does not currently have an opening for him, but there have been rumors that another team could trade for him and try to recapture the talent that once made him Baseball America’s number five prospect in all of baseball. In his recent Sunday Notes column, David Laurilia asked him if he enjoyed starting more and he answered, “Absolutely. No question.” The Orioles had been ramping up Matusz with starter innings, getting up to four innings on March 20th, but have since limited him to one inning performances, readying him for the role he has held the last two seasons for the Orioles.
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Baltimore’s Pieced Together Offense

The Orioles are projected to have the seventh-best offense this season, and they had the seventh-best offense last season. Yet looking at the offenses projected to be better and slightly worse than the Orioles reveals something interesting about Baltimore, and how you can take it one of two ways. We’ll get to that part later.

First, let’s go through and examine just how many players on each team are projected to have a positive and negative batting runs above average.
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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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Should Kevin Gausman and James Paxton Throw More High Fastballs?

Understand that I’m not a pitching coach. I’ve never played one on TV, and if I were asked to serve as one for an actual team, I’d be wildly out of my element. Pitching is complicated, and pitchers in the major leagues are impossibly good, and pitchers in the major leagues also have reasons for doing what they do however they do it. I don’t know if what follows is good advice for Kevin Gausman and James Paxton, or garbage. It’s just, there’s at least enough here that we can have a conversation.

Thursday, I wrote about the Rays and collecting and encouraging high fastballs. I’m interested in this high-fastball thing — it’s an intuitively sensible way to attack hitters who are increasingly prepared to hit down low. The Rays have talked about this idea. The Astros have talked about this idea. Brandon McCarthy has talked about this idea, during an interview for the Hardball Times Annual. It’s a trend, seemingly, to counter a different trend. But it’s worth noting, not just any fastball should be thrown high. You need to have some command, and you need to be able to generate the right kind of spin. You want to have a fastball — a four-seamer — with a high PITCHf/x vertical-movement reading. That’s not the way pitchers themselves think about it, but that’s how we can understand it.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Baltimore Orioles

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Baltimore Orioles. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York NL / Oakland / San Diego / San Francisco / St. Louis / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Washington.

Manny Machado returned in May after completing rehab on his horribly ruptured left-knee ligament and the surgery to repair it. His slash stats were poor during that first month back (.220/.271/.284 in 119 PA), but by the beginning of August he possessed roughly the same park-adjusted offensive mark he’d recorded the season before (111 wRC+, as opposed to 102 wRC+ in 2013). His 2014 campaign ended in August when we underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his other knee. ZiPS doesn’t specifically “know” about the injuries — just the playing time lost to them. In any case, Machado is expected to replicate his slightly above-average batting line once again — with a little bit more in the way of isolated power than either of the past two seasons.

The breakout age-31 season isn’t a particularly common occurrence in baseball, but that’s what Steve Pearce produced in 2014, recording a 161 wRC+ and 4.9 WAR in 383 plate appearances. Characteristically, ZiPS is conservative. After hitting homers at a rate of 33 per 600 plate appearances, Pearce is projected for 26 every 600 plate appearances in 2015 — plus also a markedly more average defensive figure.

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