Orioles Rush Machado. Good For Them.

After last night’s victory over the Mariners, the Orioles announced they were calling up top prospect Manny Machado from Double-A and giving him the third base job for the stretch run. Wilson Betemit hasn’t been a total disaster, posting a 100 wRC+ in 356 plate appearances, but he’s one of the worst defensive players in baseball and is dreadful against lefties, so moving him into a 1B/DH platoon isn’t a bad use of his skills.

The promotion is still a bit of a surprise, however, as Machado is a teenager whose numbers in Double-A don’t suggest that he’s ready to start hitting Major League pitching right away. A .266/.352/.438 line isn’t all that different from what Betemit is doing, and of course Machado is posting that line against inferior pitching. But, despite the mediocre looking slash line, there are reasons to think that Machado might be more ready for the big leagues than the raw numbers suggest.

The first thing to note is that the Eastern League isn’t exactly an offensive haven. The average hitter in the EL this year is hitting .260/.331/.392, and the run environment for the league is just 4.31 runs per game. This isn’t the PCL or the Cal League, where you need to hit .350 just to call it a respectable season. Machado’s line might not look all that sexy, but it is good for a 122 wRC+, and ties him for the 18th best offensive season of any qualified player down there. He’s not tearing up the league, but relative to his peers, his overall line is still pretty good.

Then, there’s the park to consider. Our minor league wRC+ doesn’t include park factors right now, but if it did, Machado would jump to around 130 or so. Dan Szymborski’s published minor league park factors give Bowie a 95, which makes it the most pitcher friendly park in the Eastern League. Not surprisingly, Machado has shown a pretty large home/road split, hitting .254/.327/.398 at home and .279/.375/.478 on the road. Bowie isn’t Petco or anything, but it’s not a great place to hit, and we need to keep that in mind when looking at Machado’s overall numbers.

Still, given that he was only good-not-great in Double-A, he’s probably not ready to come in and dominate in a playoff push. For context, when the Marlins promoted Miguel Cabrera from Double-A at age 20, he was hitting .365/.429/.609 as a 20-year-old, and was still only capable of putting up a 105 wRC+ as a rookie. The two level jump is a big one, especially for an inexperienced kid who probably hasn’t seen a lot of high quality off-speed stuff yet. Odds are pretty decent that he’s going to struggle, and that he’s not going to represent any kind of real upgrade over Betemit down the stretch.

But the odds are already stacked against the Orioles anyway. They are 60-51 despite being outscored by 47 runs, and everyone keeps expecting them to fall out of the race any day now. Instead, they just keep winning. Yes, they’ve built their record on unsustainable performances, racking up 12 straight extra inning wins and going 22-6 in one run games. The way the Orioles have put themselves in contention suggests that they’re not as good as their record suggests, and that of all the teams fighting for the wild card, they’re the one least likely to continue winning games at this pace.

But none of that should matter to the Orioles. The reality is that those 111 games are in the books, and no one is going to be stripping wins from them simply because they won more close games than we would have expected. Baltimore is tied with Oakland and Detroit for the lead in the wild card race with 51 games to go, and in that kind of small sample, the variation in expected record around a team’s true talent level is pretty large. Even if we accept that the Orioles are playing over their heads, that does not preclude them from continuing to play over their heads for the rest of the season.

It might not be the most likely outcome, but the Orioles shouldn’t give up on a playoff run simply because the results aren’t likely to turn out in their favor. Even if we thought the Orioles were a true talent .460 team, we’d still expect there to be a wide range of possible outcomes given their current situation. In general, standard deviations around a team’s true talent level are believed to be about eight to 10 wins per full season, so it’s completely normal for a 75 win team to win 65 or 85 games just due to normal variation. In smaller samples, the variations are even larger, so even if we analyze the Orioles as a true talent .460 winning percentage team, that just means that they’ll probably win between something like 39%-53% of their games in August and September. In other words, they could be good, they could be bad, or they could be anything in between. Their underlying stats suggest that the mean is shifted towards the losing side of the curve, but that doesn’t mean that the winning side doesn’t exist simply because they’ve already “gotten lucky” in terms of wins and losses. They are not more likely to underperform now simply because they’ve already overperformed in the first four months.

The Orioles shouldn’t be the favorites to capture a playoff spot, but there’s a real chance that they sneak in and steal one. Cool Standings gives them a 19% chance of making the playoffs, which is simply too large of a window to ignore. The potential returns on a playoff run are huge, and push the value of going for it well into the positive, even given the unlikelihood of success.

We can sit here and say that Machado is probably not ready for the big leagues, and the Orioles probably aren’t going be able to hang around with Detroit, Anaheim, and Oakland in the wild card hunt, and odds are pretty good that at the end of the season, we’ll be right. But, what good does it do Dan Duquette to join in that crowd and tell his fan base to not get too excited because this probably won’t last? The Orioles wisely chose not to punt their future to make a marginal upgrade at the trade deadline, but calling up Machado now is nothing like trading away a good young player for a rent-a-veteran. The Orioles are basically giving themselves another lottery ticket, and if Machado’s talent overcomes his lack of experience, then they might have a slightly better chance of continuing to beat the odds.

That it probably won’t be enough isn’t really the question. Is it worth trying in a season where the team has given fans a reason to come back to the park, even if the odds are stacked against them? Absolutely. The cost of promoting Machado at this point is quite low. If he flops, then he’ll simply start next year back in the minors, and they’ll still be able to manage his service time if they want to get that extra year of team control. The only way they lose that extra year is if he’s good enough to force them to keep him in in the Majors for the next seven years, which also sounds like a pretty good outcome for the Orioles.

Perhaps the more interesting decision will come in September if the team is still hanging around in the wild card race. The Orioles also promoted Dylan Bundy to Double-A after his start for Frederick last night, and if they get into September and need an additional arm, they’ll have a premium stuff teenager knocking on the door. That one might be a tougher call, given how hard they’ve tried to manage his workload this year, but limiting his innings in April and May might serve to give them confidence that he’s still got something left for September. If Machado hits and the Orioles win, we could be having this same conversation about Bundy’s promotion in three weeks.

For the Orioles franchise and the sake of a fan base that hasn’t had much to cheer about in the last 15 years, I hope they keep beating the odds, and I’m glad to see that they’re willing to take steps to try and push those numbers towards the more favorable outcomes when they can.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


93 Responses to “Orioles Rush Machado. Good For Them.”

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  1. eric says:

    What happened up til now doesn’t matter. Tillman,Gonzalez,Johnson,McClouth,Thome,Ford, others weren’t here. Guys that got bashed around(Arrieta,Matusz,Britton,Hunter) are no longer in rotation. Were also without Markakis for 6 weeks(46 hits last 34 games). Add Hammel back in 2 weeks and there is no reason this team can’t go 30-21 last 51 games.

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    • Michael Scarn says:

      As a rule of thumb, if you cite Nate McClouth and Lew Ford as potential difference makers going forward, then your comment should not be taken seriously.

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    • Guest says:

      Oh yeah now that the O’s got Lew Ford back for the stretch run the rest of the AL East better watch out. The guy put up a .432 wOBA during his magical 2010 season in the Mexican league so he’s clearly going to give their OF a huge boost.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Good point. The run differential hardly means anything if the team does not stay constant. They’ve replaced several ineffective players with new faces, and there will be more to come. They might have benefited from a lot of luck up to this point, but the future is up in the air. If Steve Johnson and Miguel Gonzalez both end up pitching adequately (Chris Tillman has already won me over), it’s going to be a close race.

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    • Dave says:

      For the record, how epic would it be if the Orioles if they somehow made the playoffs with a Nate McLouth and Lew Ford left field platoon?

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      • Radivel says:

        It wouldn’t be completely unreasonable if they were both allowed to play there at the same time as some sort of extra outfielder handicap.

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  2. Matt says:

    Is there any non-anectodal evidence that suggests players getting called up before they’re ready have any long term effects on their performance?

    If i was an Orioles fan I would be very worried about what happened to the Jays and Travis Snider

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    • CabreraDeath says:

      This was essentially my concern, as stated below. I think people overreact to ‘rushed promotions’ in general, but I think the concern is at least valid and relevant to the decision-making process.

      FWIW, I hope your concern over Snider is misplaced and he realizes his full-blown potential, as a huge Buccos fan. But, you’re correct – his career thus does raise the obvious question of ‘rushed promotion disorder’.

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    • shibboleth says:

      You raise a valid concern, but I trust Buck to manage him appropriately.

      To quote from MLB.com, “Showalter is a stickler for details: for hitting the cutoff man, for running the bases smartly, for not giving away outs.”

      Exactly the kind of tutelage a player like Machado needs.

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      • Richie says:

        May I ask regarding which current manager mlb.com has said “Ralph favors details being ignored, missing the cutoff man, running the bases like a bozo and giving away outs”???

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      • kp says:

        i think the implication is that if one doesn’t do those things, you’re less likely to see expanded playing time. i’m sure we can think of plenty of managers tolerate less-than-stellar fundamentals in favor of projected talent when filling out a lineup card.

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      • Yinka Double Dare says:

        Richie, the White Sox did a lot of that last year under Ozzie Guillen.

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      • Richie says:

        I will buy this argument the first time I hear it said about a manager PRIOR to his team losing bushelsful of games. 5 decades now and counting.

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      • ndbrian says:

        I’d argue that Clint Hurdle does this on a regular basis (o.k., maybe he asks them to hit the cutoff man), but because the Buccos are winning, nobody except those of us forced to watch our “speedy” baserunners being #hurdled notices.

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    • karcotte says:

      Not sure how you would avoid the prospects that actually suck bias.

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    • JayT says:

      The problem with bringing up Travis Snider as an example is that he’s always continued to hit well against minor league pitching, so leads me to believe that there is less of an issue of him being rushed and more of an issue of him being a AAAA player.

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  3. Andy MacPhail says:

    If the Orioles win, do I get a ring?

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  4. VeveJones007 says:

    Linked to this on Orioles Hangout. Very well put, especially the Pythag stuff.

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  5. CabreraDeath says:

    DC:

    Good points, like always. My only issue: I’m not one of those dudes that feels two months of a ‘rushed promotion’ is disastrous for a player, but I think the concern that promoting Machado based on the team’s 2012 versus what is *more* appropriate for his development needs to at least be given more consideration. I notice that you say if he fails, no big deal – he’ll just start the year in the minors next year. Well, sure. But that’s just process. What are the substantive ramifications of 2-months (assuming, of course, he fails) of sustained failure for Machado’s development? All individuals react different to failure leading to all different sorts of outcomes. The possibility that Machado doesn’t react favorably to a rushed promotion (and, let’s be frank, it *is* a rushed promotion) needs to at least be considered in the decision/evaluation of the decision.

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    • Brad says:

      CD, I get your point, but I feel like if a position player can’t handle failure for two months, then I’m not sure they are ever destined to make it. Every player goes through slumps, and we all know the saying about “even the best hitters fail 2/3 of the time”…so, if he can’t handle two months of striking out and realize “crap, I’ve got to learn to hit offspeed stuff”, then he’s already in trouble. Yes, I definitely think there’s a slight added risk if the guy has a fragile psyche or is more likely to make too many adjustments/get into bad habits, but absent that scenario, I think that risk is worth the potential reward here. Also, I’ll say worst-case scenario…they get all “firsts” out of the way and get him comfortable with being with the MLB club, he figures out some important things to work on, and is much more prepared next year.

      Side note: I definitely see your “rush” risk being a bigger consideration for young pitchers, who may be less used to failure or may injure themselves trying to overthrow or make adjustments. But, that’s just based on my broad assumptions…no factual basis.

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  6. Brad says:

    Good article, Dave. Also, let’s not forget the recent example (albeit SSS) of Simmons (another SS, but less highly touted than Machado) jumping from AA to the Braves with only minimal variation in his numbers. I will say he was little unique in that he was essentially told to just play good defense and not worry about his hitting. I wonder if it’ll be tougher for Machado having to deal with defensive pressure of switching to 3B and offensive expectations . It’ll be fun to watch.

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    • Richie says:

      The position switch has me very concerned. He’ll make who knows how many mistakes as he adjusts to the unfamiliar position (and at the major league level, no less), is more likely to hurt himself (Will Carroll, along with additional research), and will have less time to work on his hitting due to the time needed to work on the 3rd base stuff.

      This will only work if Machado has an ’80′ mental and emotional approach along with his baseball skills. Which if his minor league supervisors say he does, then yeah, bring him up.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        They’ve apparently had him practicing at 3B in the minors quite a bit as of late. Obviously it’s not the same as in game reps, but it’s not like he hasn’t practiced there extensively.

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      • Richie says:

        Players as a rule practice switches before they do switches. And still get hurt more often, still make more mistakes, etc.

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      • therood says:

        Seems unlikely he’ll be any worse than Mark Reynolds or Betemit at 3B.

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  7. J Walter Weatherman says:

    Minor correction: as of last month, Manny Machado is no longer a teenager

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  8. Wes says:

    At the end of the day the Orioles are replacing Wilson Betemit. That should tell you everything you need to know.

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    • bbguns says:

      interestingly, Betemit begun his career as a highly touted shortstop in the Braves organization. I mean, not nearly as highly touted as Machado, but was considered a future everyday ss.

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  9. gobears says:

    Not much mention of the likely added value on defense. Yes, it’s a new position, but farther down the defensive spectrum. It’s what, 3 weeks longer than the cup of coffee he’d get anyway, and he ought to be an improvement on defense if a slight downgrade on offense, so why not? Duquette’s gotta keep rolling the dice if he wants a chance at reaching the post season.

    Regardless, I look forward to seeing how the kid plays!

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    • Richie says:

      When ARod switched from short to 3rd, he was worse as a 3rd baseman than he was as a shortstop. It takes tons and tons of reps to adapt to a new position, easier or not.

      (and in ARod’s case, the effects of aging militated against his ever being better at 3rd than he was as a younger player at short)

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      • Preston says:

        It’s a different and potentially harder throw. A-Rod really struggled making it when he moved and he has one of the strongest arms in baseball. I really think the O’s are expecting to much of this kid to throw him in the big leagues at a new position.

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  10. Manny Machado says:

    Slash line? How about I’m not fat, my BAC is 0, and I banged his mom last night?

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  11. Colin says:

    Someone explain Jake Arrieta to me. He comes up throwing harder, looking good, with solid peripherals. Then he proceeds to have a horrid LOB% and BABIP and allows a ton of runs as a result. The Orioles demote him. And now since he has been demoted his peripheral stats are in the toilet albeit in a small sample. What gives?

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    • BMoreGreen says:

      Colin – I do not have any direct knowledge of the situation, but I imagine the Orioles (read R.Peterson) are working to increase Arrieta’s mechanical consistency and tempo. Similar to the re-work on Tilman which started in ST. Despite dominating AAA in his previous stint, Tilman posted heinous numbers early this year for Norfolk.

      There’s a lot of info out there on the approach/philosophy/technique RP utilizes to develop pitchers. Bio-mechanical analysis is part of his program and most of the Orioles’ pitching prospects went under the cameras when Cs and Ps reported in the Spring. Guys on the major league squad did not.

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  12. ZZ177 says:

    People who have never followed Machado and just googled his season stats this morning will think this is a team oriented move and could possibly be detrimental to his development.
    But that isn’t the case. Machado is batting .440 for the last 2 weeks and hit for the cycle a few days ago. His performance has gotten him on the roster, not the team needs alone.

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  13. Brandon says:

    I don’t think this happens if Betemit can play an average third base. Or even a below average third base. But to call what Wilson Betemit does on a baseball diamond “playing third base” is to misapprehend the rules and objectives of the game of baseball. Even Buck, as stubborn and slow to adjust to reality as he is, had to come around sooner or later.

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  14. Karl says:

    “The reality is that those 111 games are in the books, and no one is going to be stripping wins from them simply because they won more close games than we would have expected.”

    I love that line and its statistical significance. Regressionists take note.

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    • Jason B says:

      MVP and Cy Young voters, too. “Well he got lucky…his xFIP was 4.53!” or “his BABIP was an unsustainable .385!” you can almost hear the cry on a quiet autumn eve…

      To which one should say…so what? I would venture a guess that *every* MVP winner likely outproduced their (always nebulous) “true talent” level in their MVP season. But it matters not to me what they “should have” done, or what they would have done with a league-average BABIP or strand rate, only what they *did* do.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Except for Barry Bonds, who was just so much better than everybody else that his ‘true talent’ level was better than anyone else’s fluky-great season.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        yeah except BABIP includes defensive performance and ERA includes ballpark effects.

        If you think Felix Hernandez deserves credit for pitching in PetCo and having Brendan Ryan playing SS behind, more power to you.

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      • dnc says:

        Felix and Ryan got dealt to the Pads?

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  15. everdiso says:

    Orioles are fools gold. Won’t finish better than 3rd in the division. I wouldn’t even rule them out for last. How many years now have they started off really well only to completely fall off and collapse?

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    • everdiso says:

      Unlike the Jays, I may add.

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    • BMoreGreen says:

      There’s only one 2012 baseball season. Irrelevant data points mean nothing to the rest of this go around. There are meaningful critiques to be levied against this iteration of the Os; you failed to address any of them.

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      • Richie says:

        Except the Orioles have consistently played worse later in the season than they had earlier. If you’re arguing that’s random, statistically show so.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        statistically show that it is random. good stuff.

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      • Daniel says:

        Richie, not so. they finished 2010 on a 34-23 tear and played nearly .500 baseball (28-29 IIRC) for the last two months. take it for what it’s worth, but since they’ve had Showalter as manager (I don’t really want to get into the effects of a manager on a team, I don’t think anyone has the right answer) they tend to finish strong.

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    • jim says:

      …$5 says this is real everdiso, any takers?

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    • kingoriole says:

      I think twice in the last 14 years they have had some sort of a winning start to the season only to see it crash hard. But never past June, and certainly not into August.

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    • iwishyouweresmart says:

      I love how sure people are about things that they have no ability to be sure about. I’m an O’s fan and I was worried all season they wouldn’t keep it up–but then they did. I never understood how people KNEW they wouldn’t sustain it, though. To people who said that, I always asked one question: If the O’s have a winning record while not playing that well, what would happen if they started playing better? Looks like that happened…

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  16. supershredder says:

    Richie, you are such a negative ninny!

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  17. nayr mit says:

    “In general, standard deviations around a team’s true talent level are believed to be about eight to 10 wins per full season, so it’s completely normal for a 75 win team to win 65 or 85 games just due to normal variation”

    Question about the standard deviation of wins around true talent: I thought that 8 to 10 was the observed standard deviation of wins, but that the standard deviation around a team’s talent (based only on luck) is more like 6 wins.

    The point about expecting large variation still stands either way, but am I understanding this correctly?

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  18. Stats newbie says:

    Question: can pythags and late/close records be affected by bullpens, and do these stats take that into account? Say the Orioles had the best bullpen ever assembled, their record in one run games might statistically be seen as unsustainable, but it actually might not be?

    Thanks.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      the pythag doesnt take that into account. its strictly a formula based on runs scored in the aggregate and runs given up in the aggregate.

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      • Stats newbie says:

        So, in a hypothetical scenario, if I had a bullpen full of Mariano Rivera in his prime clones, my Pythag scores, record in one run games,etc, would appear unsustainable, when in actuality they wouldnt be?

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        its debatable whether that in actuality would be sustainable, but to answer your question, yes, the pythag expectation ignores this.

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      • Richie says:

        If good/bad bullpens were all that significant with regard to won/loss records, then the pythag formula would not work as well as it does. And, of course, a good bullpen can turn bad pretty quickly.

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    • Newcomer says:

      Along the lines of what Richie said, an outstanding bullpen would not fuel a team to overperform its Pythag, because the runs that bullpen wouldn’t allow would become part of the team’s Pythag record.

      The bullpen that might help a team outperform its Pythag would be a very polarized bullpen. You need to put Marianos Rivera in whenever you need to protect a lead, and then put AAAA retreads out there to work on new pitches when you’re trailing. This you’d win more close games and lose more blowouts, changing the relationship between your run differential and your record.

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      • Sean says:

        A great bullpen and inconsistent starting pitching would also accomplish the same thing as a bullpen full of Marianos and AAAA retreads. And inconsistent starting pitching and a good bullpen is exactly what the Orioles have.

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  19. Don Draper says:

    I don’t get why you’d call this guy up? I mean, what are they expecting from him?

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  20. philcastle says:

    Rick Dempsey just compared him to Alex Rodriguez. Case closed.

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  21. Dave says:

    He came to life…good for him!

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  22. WahooManiac says:

    Call it a travel mug of coffee, its not a Beckham type situation IMO. Low risk go-for-it move, love that mentality. Good article, and I really found that bit on milb park factors quite interesting.

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  23. Mike Green says:

    I wonder what the alternatives available to the O’s at the deadline were. Was there not a third baseman around who could provide league average defence and some offensive contribution? I cannot imagine that that skill-set on a rental would cost too much. The Yankees acquired McGehee for Chad Qualls…

    The problem with the Machado rush has been identified here- the development concerns perhaps magnified by the position switch.

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  24. Oscar says:

    4/7, 3B, 2HR so far. I’m okay with it.

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  25. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Looks like Machado decided to prove this article right early on.

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  26. Atlee says:

    Lol, fangraphs overthinks this one a bit too much?

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  27. Aaron Beach says:

    Has anybody written an article entitled “Machado about nothing” yet?

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  28. Westman3 says:

    Oddly, the Orioles would win like this back in the ’70′s with pitching, defense and timely hitting. The major difference with this team is that their bullpen is +A top notch group of pitchers. They are the glue that is holding it together.

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  29. Eddie says:

    O’s are 15-7 since this was posted. To all those people that were laughing at Eric’s (first commentator’s) post? Yeah. You guys might want to temper those thoughts. Ha.

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    • iwishyouweresmart says:

      Those people are long gone. It’s easy to post dismissive, insulting things when you do it all the time and never go back to see if you ended up being right or not. If you don’t go back to check, it allows you to continue in the erroneous assumption that everything you think is right, and continue in the belief that everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot.

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