Archive for Orioles

The Precedent for a Manny Machado Trade

Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade their best player. Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade one of the best players, period. I’ve seen people worrying that the Orioles might just hang onto Manny Machado through the end of the year, and I understand that, historically, trading with the Orioles has always been complicated, but that would be a bridge too far. There’s just about no way the Orioles would settle for free-agent compensation, here. There’s a blockbuster trade to be made, and there are interesting prospects to be acquired.

So, a Machado trade is virtually inevitable. There is no shortage of suitors. Two factors make this situation unusual. One, Machado is very good. Many good players are traded around the deadline, but few are at Machado’s level. Two, Machado will become a free agent in a matter of months. He’s a rental. Some suitor might think they could win Machado over down the stretch, but that’s unlikely to lead to much of a bargain. Machado’s not signing a contract extension before he hits the market. This should be interpreted first and foremost as a short-term move.

It can be hard to know what would be an appropriate price. How much should someone be willing to give up for Machado? For how much should the Orioles be willing to settle? To this point, the Orioles have asked for more than anyone’s been willing to surrender. That much is self-evident, since Machado is available but there hasn’t yet been an agreement. I think it’s useful to dig into the history. Every trade negotiation is different, conducted under unique circumstances, but there’s value in understanding the precedent. Trades don’t follow precedent in the way that, say, arbitration does, but we can get an idea of what’s going to happen by looking at what has happened. Time to consider a whole bunch of names.

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Getting the Orioles and Royals to 120 Losses

Great teams may dream of winning 116 games in a season, but for losers, whether of the lovable or non-lovable stripe, 120 is the number at which they gaze, gimlet-eyed. The 1962 Mets, with their inaugural band of cast-offs, left behind a legacy of being great at being not-so-great, losing 120 games and planting their flag in the Mt. Everest of Terrible.

Yes, 120 losses isn’t actually the MLB record, that feat being accomplished by the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who lost 134 of their 154 depressing games. But it took a bit of chicanery to reach that sum. Frank and Stanley Robison owned both the Cleveland Spiders and St. Louis Perfectos and transferred most of the good 1898 Spiders over to St. Louis in an attempt to build one superteam and one comedy legend. Cleveland was doomed by design, though the Perfectos failed to be a superteam.

Incidentally, the Brooklyn Superbas pulled this off more successfully, looting the Baltimore Orioles to put together a 101-win roster (though I’d have penalized them a few wins for the confusing team name, which was swiped from an acrobatic act of the time and awkwardly made into a plural noun).

The 1962 Mets earned their infamy on the square and now serve as the gold standard for seasonal ineptitude. But as we head towards the trade deadline, we have two teams trying to make it interesting, the 25-66 Baltimore Orioles and the 25-65 Kansas City Royals.

Both teams stand slightly behind the Mets’ fierce pace, with winning percentages that round to 45-117, tantalizingly close to bleak greatness, but not quite there. Like when a batter tries to hit .400 over the course of the season, you want to have a cushion over the mark, since the natural course of regression will stamp down on the extremes.

But there’s at least a chance, which is really all that matters. What fun is a record if it’s likely to be surmounted? And it gives an additional layer of excitement to losing seasons when you need a break from wondering in what wacky way the Baltimore Orioles will mess up a Manny Machado trade or being astounded that the Royals actually advertise that it took them years to spare the roster from even a single game of Alcides Escobar’s services.

Powering up the ZiPS SuperComputer (it’s really just a regular computer), I cranked up the old simulations to get the latest probabilities that either the Royals or Orioles pull off the 120-loss feat.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/5

Monday through Wednesday notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

7/2

Brewer Hicklen, OF, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35+
Line: 4-for-6, 2B, HR

Notes
Hicklen has some statistical red flags if you’re unaware of the context with which you should be viewing his performance. He’s a 22-year-old college hitter with a 30% strikeout rate at Low-A. But Hicklen hasn’t been committed to playing baseball for very long, as he sought, late in high school and throughout college, to have a football career. He went to UAB as a baseball walk-on and eventually earned a football scholarship as the school’s defunct program was to be reborn. But Hicklen’s physical tools stood out as he continued to play baseball (plus speed and raw power), so he was drafted and compelled to sign. He hasn’t been focusing on baseball, alone, for very long and has a .300/.350/.525 line in his first full pro season. He’s a toolsy long shot, but so far so good.

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Sunday Notes: Ian Kinsler Has Deserved More Gold Gloves

Ian Kinsler was awarded his only Gold Glove in 2016. He’s been deserving of several more. Presenting at SABR’s national convention last weekend, Chris Dial shared that Kinsler has topped SABR’s Defensive Index at second base in five separate seasons, and on three other occasions he ranked as the runner up. Another metric is equally bullish on his glove work. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2006, Kinsler has 115 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of anyone at his position.

I asked the 36-year-old Angel if he was aware of how well he stacks up by the numbers.

“I secretly knew that,” smiled Kinsler, who then proceeded to balance appreciation with a touch of old-school skepticism for defensive metrics.

“It’s always nice to be valued in one way or another,” acknowledged Kinsler, who spent eight seasons in Texas, and four more in Detroit, before coming to Anaheim. “I don’t know if analytics are always correct. They don’t take into account everything this game offers, and I don’t know if they ever will, but to be thought of in that regard is flattering.”

Kinsler credits hard work, as well as the tutelage of coaches and teammates, for his having developed into a plus defender. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 6/26

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Taylor Hearn, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 23   Org Rank:FV: 45
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R

Notes
Hearn’s peripherals (27.5% K, 9.3% BB) are exactly the same as they were last year when he was in High-A. He’s a little old for Double-A, but that matters less for pitchers and Hearn’s early-career injuries set back his development pretty significantly. He’ll flash a 55 slider and average changeup, and he throws enough strikes to start, though he’s not overly efficient. He was up to 97 last night and projects as a fourth starter or late-inning reliever. Here are his swinging strikes from yesterday…

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Orioles Outfield Prospect Ryan McKenna Is Owning the Carolinas

Ryan McKenna has been pounding Carolina League pitching. Playing for the Frederick Keys, the 21-year-old Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect is slashing a lusty .377/.467/.556 with 18 doubles and eight home runs. He leads the High-A circuit in batting average by a whopping 57 points. (Milwaukee Brewers 2017 first-rounder Keston Hiura ranks second.)

McKenna, who started in center field and went 1-for-2 in last night’s Carolina League All-Star Game, was taken in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of a Dover, New Hampshire, high school. He bypassed a scholarship offer from Liberty University to sign with the Orioles. The decision was an easy one to make.

“I was ready to play,” explained McKenna, who grew up in Berwick, Maine, a short drive from the Catholic school where he excelled as a raw-but-promising prep. “I had a good opportunity at Liberty, a Division I school with a great program, but this path was meant for me. Ultimately, my gift has been athletics, so solely focusing on that was the right journey.”

He had little idea what to expect when the journey started. Having “no reference point to go off of,” he was simply excited that “one of the 30 ball clubs believed in me.” (And, based on his breakthrough, they certainly haven’t stopped believing.)

McKenna knew going in that the Orioles were interested, but when and where he would ultimately go in the draft remained a mystery.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Buck Showalter on the Changing Game

Buck Showalter has been around the game for a long time. He’s been at the helm in Baltimore since 2010. Before that, he skippered the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers. After five years of managing in the minors, he got his first big-league job in 1992. It’s safe to say that Showalter has seen baseball evolve, and it’s equally safe to say that he’s evolved along with it.

At his core, though, Showalter has remained much the same. He’s smart, and to his credit — although sometimes to his detriment — he’s rarely shy about expressing an opinion. At 62 years old, with four decades in the game, he’s earned the right to do so. Buck being Buck, that’s usually a good thing.

———

Buck Showalter: “One thing about analytics is that we all question what we don’t understand. You need to learn, so during the spring we do Analytics for Dummies. That’s what we call it. We take our most veteran baseball people, our on-the-field lifers, and bring them upstairs to go over every analytic there is and find the [equivalent of a] .300 batting average in every one of them. We take the black cloud of unknown away from it.

“What we’ve found is that most of our veteran people go, ‘Oh, really? That’s all it is?’ They’re not demeaning it, they’re just saying, ‘Now I understand.’ Know where the .300 batting average of WAR is, and what it tells you. Just as important, what doesn’t it tell you that you have to be aware of.

“There’s also the environment you create. You need an environment where you’ll respect what they bring and where thy’ll respect what the field personnel can bring. The best organizations are the ones that branch those together to make evaluations.

“A problem you run into now is that the players feel almost robotically evaluated. The sixth tool is not… it’s only evaluated by the people that are with them every day. The makeup, the want-to, the crunch-time guys: everybody on the field knows who they are.

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Trout, Davis, and the Largest Seasonal WAR Differentials

As I noted earlier today, Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who through the Orioles’ first 67 games has already dug himself a -1.9 WAR hole, is on pace for the worst season ever by that measure, -4.6 WAR. At the other end of the spectrum, Mike Trout is having not just the best season of his already amazing career, but one for the pantheon. His 5.7 WAR through the Angels’ first 69 games prorates to 13.4 over a full season, which would rank third all-time, behind the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively), making Trout’s season “only” the best in the past 95 years. What a slacker.

Even if that’s the case, Trout and Davis could combine for the largest WAR differential between two position players in one season, a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon. Below are the 20 largest single-season gaps, with some player-seasons, such as Ruth’s 1920, included more than once. I’ve also included two hypothetical end-of-season figures for Trout and Davis: their WAR differential based both on current pace and also our Depth Chart projections.

Largest Single-Season WAR Differentials Since 1901
Season Player 1 Team WAR Player 2 Team WAR Dif
2018 Mike Trout PACE Angels 13.4 Chris Davis PACE Orioles -4.6 18.0
1923 Babe Ruth Yankees 15.0 Shano Collins Red Sox -2.5 17.5
1920 Babe Ruth+ Yankees 13.3 Ivy Griffin Athletics -2.8 16.1
1920 Babe Ruth+ Yankees 13.3 Chick Galloway Athletics -2.4 15.7
2002 Barry Bonds Giants 12.7 Neifi Perez+ Royals -2.9 15.6
1927 Babe Ruth Yankees 13.0 Ski Melillo Browns -2.5 15.5
1924 Babe Ruth Yankees 12.5 Milt Stock+ Robins -2.7 15.2
1924 Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 12.5 Milt Stock+ Robins -2.7 15.2
1927 Lou Gehrig Yankees 12.5 Ski Melillo+ Browns -2.5 15.0
2001 Barry Bonds Giants 12.5 Peter Bergeron Expos -2.4 14.9
1931 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.7 Jim Levey Browns -3.3 14.0
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 David McCarty Twins -3.1 13.6
1929 Rogers Hornsby Cubs 11.1 Tommy Thevenow Phillies -2.4 13.5
1905 Honus Wagner Pirates 10.8 Fred Raymer Beaneaters -2.4 13.2
1912 Tris Speaker Red Sox 10.6 Frank O’Rourke Braves -2.6 13.2
1928 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.6 Doc Farrell Braves -2.6 13.2
1930 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.5 Fresco Thompson Phillies -2.7 13.2
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 Ruben Sierra Athletics -2.6 13.1
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 Luis Polonia Angels -2.6 13.1
1927 Rogers Hornsby Giants 10.4 Ski Melillo+ Browns -2.5 12.9
2002 Alex Rodriguez Rangers 10.0 Neifi Perez+ Royals -2.9 12.9
2018 Mike Trout PROJ Angels 10.8 Chris Davis PROJ Orioles -1.7 12.5
+ = Player-season appears more than once.

Seven separate Ruth seasons are represented here, along with three apiece from Hornsby and Bonds. Aside from the projection of Trout, only one other post-World War II player besides Bonds is represented above on the good side of things, namely A-Rod in 2002. That’s just one small set of data points related to the fact that the spread of talent between the best and worst players is much less now than it was 75 or 100 years ago and that leagues today are stronger than the ones of decades past.

Ruth hit “only” 41 homers during his 15.0-WAR 1923 season, but via his .393/.545/.764 (231 wRC+) line, he set career highs in the first two categories even while somehow failing to win a batting title. (The Tigers’ Harry Heilmann hit .403.) His dance partner from the 1923 season was Collins, a light-hitting outfielder who batted .231/.265/.289 for a lousy 43 wRC+ that year and was six runs below average on defense. To the extent that Collins has any other claim to fame, it’s apparently that he was the only player in the White Sox’ starting lineup for Game One of the World Series who didn’t wind up either banned for life as part of the Black Sox scandal or elected to the Hall of Fame (as Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk were). Ruth’s 1931 season (.373/.495/.700, 46 HR) is paired with Levey, the Browns shortstop who actually had an even worse season (1933, -4.0 WAR) that represents the record Davis is trying to avoid.

As for Trout, to date, the largest WAR gap of his career is 13.9 WAR, from 2013, when he set a career best with 10.1 WAR and Yuniesky Betancourt turned in a -1.8 WAR clunker. Even if Davis didn’t play another game this year, Trout would only need to add another 4.5 WAR over the Angels’ 93 remaining games to surpass that previous high. While he and Davis don’t have much margin for error in surpassing Ruth and Collins, it still boggles the mind that we could be seeing such extremes in the same season.


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update have also been excluded from consideration.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this somewhat recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Josh James, RHP, Houston (Profile)
Every time James produces a strong start — an event that has occurred with considerable frequency this season — FanGraphs contributor and traveler within the world of ideas Travis Sawchik sends a note to the present author that reads, “His name is JOSH JAMES.” While I can’t argue with the literal sense of Sawchik’s message — namely, that this right-hander’s given name literally is Josh James — I suspect that my colleague is attempting to communicate something more profound than a single datum from James’s biography. Have I pursued the topic? No. Not because I’m afraid to, either — but rather because I am infested by indifference.

James made one start this week, recording an 11:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 23 batters while facing Houston’s affiliate in Fresno (box).

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Chris Davis Might Be Having the Worst Season Ever

The Orioles’ season as a whole has been a bleak one. They’ve got the majors’ lowest-scoring offense at 3.49 runs per game, and the third-worst run prevention at 5.22 runs per game — yes, they’re being outscored by nearly two runs every time they take the field. Halfway through June, they’re already 27 games out of first place, and on a 46-116 pace.

If you think that’s bad, pour yourself a stiff drink and then barrel headlong into the heart of darkness by considering the performance of Chris Davis.

In the annals of baguiseball history, you can find bad seasons by garden-variety players who weren’t making much money. You can find terrible seasons by highly paid players who quite reasonably could have been expected to perform better; Albert Pujols finishing with -1.9 WAR last year at a price of $26 million is just the most recent example. And then there is whatever is going on with Davis. The 32-year-old Orioles slugger, who’s in the third year of a seven-year, $161 million deal, is threatening to produce the least valuable season of all time in terms of WAR. Through the Orioles’ 67 games (of which he’s played just 57), he’s at -1.9 WAR, which projects to somewhere between -4.6 and -4.7 over a 162-game season. (Depending on the rounding: his WAR actually rose overnight while the Orioles were inactive.)

As Dan Szymborski put it the other day:

Here is the leaderboard of the damned:

Lowest Single-Season Position Player WAR Since 1901
# Name Team Season PA wRC+ Bat BsR Fld Pos RAR WAR
1 Jim Levey Browns 1933 567 23 -58.3 -1.7 -8.0 8.5 -39.4 -4.0
2 Jerry Royster Braves 1977 491 45 -33.0 1.9 -26.0 4.1 -37.2 -3.8
3 Tommy Thevenow Phillies 1930 624 48 -51.1 0.2 -20.0 9.6 -38.8 -3.6
4 Jim Levey Browns 1931 540 40 -43.9 -1.0 -17.0 8.6 -33.4 -3.3
5 George Wright Rangers 1985 395 28 -34.1 -2.1 -5.0 -2.7 -31.1 -3.2
6T Cristian Guzman Twins 1999 456 34 -39.9 -1.4 -14.0 6.6 -32.5 -3.1
6T David McCarty Twins 1993 371 43 -25.8 -2.0 -10.0 -4.7 -30.8 -3.1
6T Jose Guillen Pirates 1997 526 82 -12.2 -0.6 -29.0 -5.7 -30.7 -3.1
9T Adam Dunn White Sox 2011 496 60 -22.9 -5.4 -4.2 -11.3 -27.8 -2.9
9T Neifi Perez Royals 2002 585 39 -44.2 0.7 -11.7 6.3 -29.1 -2.9
11T Coco Laboy Expos 1970 476 45 -32.8 -0.7 -13.0 2.8 -27.6 -2.8
11T Ivy Griffin Athletics 1920 508 46 -36.1 0.8 -3.0 -5.4 -26.9 -2.8
13T Hunter Hill – – – 1904 554 52 -28.2 -0.1 -19.0 3.6 -26.4 -2.7
13T Pat Rockett Braves 1978 157 -11 -19.5 -0.6 -14.0 2.6 -26.4 -2.7
13T Milt Stock Robins 1924 607 52 -36.2 -1.5 -14.0 4.4 -27.3 -2.7
13T Mike Caruso White Sox 1999 564 46 -41.0 -4.0 -10.0 6.7 -28.2 -2.7
13T Dan Meyer Mariners 1978 478 59 -22.1 0.3 -12.0 -7.1 -25.8 -2.7
13T Fresco Thompson Phillies 1930 529 66 -28.4 1.4 -23.0 3.5 -27.4 -2.7
19T Ruben Sierra Athletics 1993 692 79 -17.7 3.0 -25.0 -8.6 -26.4 -2.6
19T Del Young Phillies 1937 386 8 -43.7 1.0 -1.0 3.3 -27.5 -2.6
19T Frank O’Rourke Braves 1912 216 -11 -31.5 -0.7 -5.0 3.7 -26.1 -2.6
19T Willie McGee Cardinals 1999 290 43 -22.2 -0.4 -12.0 -1.7 -26.8 -2.6
19T Doc Farrell Braves 1928 533 42 -40.2 0.4 -11.0 8.2 -25.9 -2.6
19T Luis Polonia Angels 1993 637 76 -18.5 1.1 -22.0 -6.5 -25.7 -2.6
19T Billy Urbanski Braves 1935 566 62 -27.7 0.4 -26.0 8.0 -25.6 -2.6

That list includes some familiar names of relatively recent vintage, glove men (by reputation, if not metrics) with woefully inadequate bats such as Perez and Guzman, a big lug who could no longer even fake defensive responsibilities (Dunn), a former MVP on his last legs (McGee), a future legend in the scouting and player-development realm (Thompson), some commons from my first couple sets of Topps baseball cards (Royster, Rockett, Meyer, and just outside the frame at -2.5 WAR, 1977-model Doug Flynn), a guy who played like he was the 148-year-old former shortstop of the pioneering Boston Red Stockings (Wright), the shortstop on the team with the most runs allowed in a single season since 1901 (Thevenow, whose Phillies yielded 7.79 runs per game; the aforementioned Thompson was his double-play partner), and a woefully overmatched shortstop for some particularly crummy Browns teams who also played in the NFL (Levey). Davis could top — or out-bottom — them all.

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Sunday Notes: Sean Newcomb Has Sneaky Hop

Sean Newcomb has turned a corner. On the heels of an erratic rookie campaign that saw him go 4-9, 4.32 in 100 innings for the Atlanta Braves last year, the 24-year-old former Angels prospect is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. A dozen starts into his second big-league season, Newcomb is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he’s held hitters to a paltry .198 average and just three home runs.

Improved command and confidence have buoyed the young southpaw’s ability to flummox the opposition. His 4.3 walk rate (down from 5.1 last year) remains less than ideal, but he’s no longer the raw, strike-zone-challenged kid that Atlanta acquired from Anaheim in the November 2015 Andrelton Simmons deal. He’s making the transition from thrower to pitcher, and the results speak for themselves.

“I feel more comfortable now,” Newcomb told me prior to a late-May start at Fenway Park. “I had last year’s experience to take into the season, so I’ve felt more settled in. My fastball has also been working well, and I’ve been able to go from there.”

The fastball in question is by no means run-of-the-mill. It’s very good, and not for reasons that jump out at you — at least not in terms of numbers. Newcomb’s velocity (93.3) is right around league-average. His four-seam spin rate is actually lower than average (2,173 versus 2,263), as is his extension (5.6) versus 6.1). Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 10

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the tenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Zach Britton, Pedro Martinez, and Brandon McCarthy — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———-

Zach Britton (Orioles) on His Sinker

“In 2007, I was in short-season Aberdeen and my pitching coach, Calvin Maduro, tried teaching me a cutter. It kind of developed from there. No crazy story, really. It’s just that, with my arm action, the ball never cut. It went straight down like a sinker. He said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ and over the years I started throwing it more and more, and getting comfortable with it.

“A lot of guys throw cutters the way I grip my sinker, and others actually throw their curveball like that. Again, it’s arm action. I’ve shown it to guys and they haven’t been able to do it, so I can only assume it’s the way I throw.

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Sunday Notes: Richard Bleier’s Brilliance is Unique (and Under the Radar)

Since the beginning of the 2016 season, four pitchers who have thrown 100-or-more innings have an ERA under 2.00. Three of them — Zach Britton (1.38), Andrew Miller (1.72), Kenley Jansen (1.75) — rank among the most-accomplished bullpen arms in the game. The other name on the list might surprise you.

Since making his big-league debut on May 30, 2016, Baltimore Orioles left-hander Richard Bleier has boasted a 1.84 ERA in 112-and-two-thirds innings.

Bleier’s under-the-radar effectiveness has come over the course of 103 relief appearances, the first 23 of which came with the New York Yankees. His efforts went unappreciated in the Bronx. Despite a solid showing — five earned runs allowed in 23 frames — the Bombers unceremoniously swapped Bleier to Baltimore for a PTBNL or cash considerations in February of last year.

The 31-year-old southpaw attributes an August 2016 addition to his repertoire for his late-bloomer breakthrough. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 9

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the ninth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Brad Brach, Daniel Mengden, and Kirby Yates— on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Brad Brach (Orioles) on His Changeup

“”It’s weird. In college, my changeup was probably my best pitch, but when I got to pro ball [in 2008] I wasn’t able throw it. I don’t know if it was the minor-league balls or what, but I kept cutting it all the time. It was hard for me to throw strikes with it, so I pretty much got rid of it and started throwing a splitter.

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Sunday Notes: Brad Keller, Almost Once a Royal, is Thriving as a Rule 5 Royal

Brad Keller is having an impressive rookie season with the Kansas City Royals. Pumping fastballs with a bulldog mentality, the 22-year-old right-hander has appeared in 18 games and has a 1.96 ERA. He’s not afraid to challenge big-league hitters. Substantiating KC skipper Ned Yost’s assertion that he’s “been able to come in and bang strikes on the attack,” Keller has issued just five free passes in 18-and-a-third innings of work.

His path to the Kansas City bullpen was roundabout. In retrospect, it was also only a matter of time before he got there.

Drafted out of a Flowery Beach, Georgia high school by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, Keller changed addresses twice in a 15-minute stretch during December’s Rule 5 draft.

“My agent called to say, ‘Hey, the Reds picked you up in the Rule 5,’” explained Keller. “I hung up the phone, called my parents, called my brother, and as soon as I hung up my agent called again. ‘Hey, you just got traded to the Royals.’ Then I had to pick up the phone and call everybody back.”

Keller’s next conversation was with the D-Backs — “they told me everything that was going down” — and soon thereafter Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp called to welcome him to his new organization. A similar call almost came four years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »


A Bad Day at Work

Many of us have jobs. All of us have lives. And one thing that’s true about any job, or about any life, is that sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just don’t have it. Maybe you’re groggy, maybe you’re irritable, maybe you’ve got brain fog, maybe you have a headache. For whatever reason, there are simply bad days, and they can happen at random. They can come right after normal days, and they can come right after great ones. It’s all part of the experience of existence. You learn not to let the bad days define you.

Many of us have jobs, and all of us have lives, but few of us are performers. The average employee, when necessary, can hide herself or put forth a reduced effort. You can make yourself scarce, or even call in sick. If you’re just having a regular weekend day in the dumps, you can choose to stay in, to not engage with the world. Everyone has the right to bad days, and most people have the flexibility to more or less live their bad days in private. Other people don’t have to know when you’re off.

Performers, entertainers, have no such luxury. The responsibility is to perform for an audience, an audience that will quickly realize if something’s not right. The pressure to do well is ever-present, because, one way or another, you’re going to have to do something, and the people will judge you if what you do isn’t good. The stakes can be frightening, even paralyzing, because there’s no option to hide when you’re a performer. A performer like Dylan Bundy.

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Nick Markakis Is Somehow the Best He’s Ever Been

This offseason, I was tasked with preparing a writeup of right fielders in the game of major-league baseball. That was quite a difficult exercise, for it requires one to predict the future, and soothsayers are, at least to my knowledge, mythical. Still, I was quite confident when I wrote this:

There are those people who believe that Nick Markakis will make a run at 3,000 hits and the Hall of Fame. I am not among those people. Granted, Markakis has compiled 2,052 hits in his big-league career. That’s good! But Markakis, now at 34, is not good. Not at all. In fact, he really hasn’t been good since 2010. Since then, Markakis’s WAR has gone 1.4, 1.6, -0.2, 2.5, 1.5, 1.1, 0.9. In other words, of Markakis’ 25.3 career WAR, almost 17 were accrued in the first five years of his career.

Markakis hasn’t been even a league-average hitter since 2015, and that year he hit three (3) home runs. He hasn’t been even an average defensive outfielder since 2008. He hasn’t added value on the basepaths since 2009. In 2017, Markakis was below average against righties (97 wRC+) as well as lefties (91 wRC+), and his only remaining plus tool is his plate discipline and ability to draw walks. That’s all that separates Markakis from being a replacement-level player, and the projections aren’t optimistic about that, either. Markakis isn’t going to the Hall of Fame because he probably won’t get a big-league deal this offseason.

Welp.

Nick Markakis must have read that, because he has looked like a Hall of Famer so far this year. Entering Sunday, Markakis, who is 34, was slashing .344/.428/.550 (all career bests) with a 169 (career-best) wRC+. He also appears to have turned around his play afield, too, posting positive defensive numbers (that is, UZR and positional adjustment combined) for the first time since the Bush administration (2008). Nick Markakis, in 2018, has been worth roughly as many wins as his 2016 and 2017 combined.

What the hell has gotten into Nick Markakis?

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You Can’t Blame Tanking for the Lack of Competitive Teams

Tanking is a problem. Professional sports like baseball are built on the assumption that both sides are trying to win. Organizations putting forth less than their best efforts hurts the integrity of the sport and provides fans with little reason to engage. That said, the perception of tanking might have overtaken the reality of late. Competitive imbalance is not the same as tanking. Sometimes teams are just bad, even if they are trying not to be.

Tanking concerns are not new. Two years ago, just after the Astros and Cubs had turned their teams around, the Phillies were attempting to dismantle their roster by trading Cole Hamels. The Braves had traded multiple players away from a team that had been competitive. The Brewers, who traded away Carlos Gomez, would soon do the same with Jonathan Lucroy after he rebuilt his trade value.

The Braves, Brewers, and Phillies all sold off whatever assets they could. Two years later, though, those clubs aren’t mired in last place. Rather, they’re a combined 54-37 and projected to win around 80 games each this season in what figures to be a competitive year for each. While the Braves and Phillies could and/or should have done more this offseason to improve their rosters, neither resorted to an extreme level of failure, and the teams are better today than they would have been had they not rebuilt. While accusations of tanking dogged each, none of those clubs descended as far as either the Astros or Cubs. None came close to the NBA-style tank jobs many feared.

One might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked the three clubs mentioned above, purposely selecting teams with surprising early-season success to prop up a point about the relatively innocuous effects of tanking. That’s not what I’ve done, though. Rather, I’ve highlighted the three teams Buster Olney cited by name two years ago — and which Dave Cameron also addressed — in a piece on tanking.

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A Manny Machado Trade Has Become Inevitable

At the beginning of every season, each team has at least some kind of chance of eventually making playoffs. At the start of the present season, for example, the Orioles featured about a 5% probability of making the postseason in some form.

Those odds aren’t great. That said, there’s recent precedent for club’s succeeding from that modest starting point. Last season, the Rockies started their campaign with about a 10% shot at October. The Arizona Diamondbacks, meanwhile, were at 8%, while the Minnesota Twins begin with about a 5% probability of reaching the playoffs, just like this season’s Orioles. The Rockies and Diamondbacks got off to hot starts and jumped their chances up to around one-in-three within a few weeks. The Twins hung around .500 for a while. keeping their odds steady for a time. When no other challenger emerged for the second Wild Card, they claimed it almost by default.

The Orioles, on the other hand, are following a different trajectory. They’ve begun the season 6-17 and have lost whatever margin for error they possessed. And while the calendar hasn’t even flipped to May, it’s likely time for them to look ahead at the long-term health of the club. That means finding the best possible package for superstar Manny Machado.

Before we get to Machado, specifically, let’s consider Baltimore’s place in the standings a bit more thoroughly. The Orioles started off this season with a reasonable shot at the playoffs. As noted, however, they’ve gotten off to an awful start. That awful start has already rendered their long-ish playoff odds essentially non-existent. Here’s what their playoff-odds graph looks like since the beginning of the season.

It’s possible that graph doesn’t really do the odds justice, so here is another graph showing the odds as their chances of making it to the playoffs. For example, at the beginning of the year, the Orioles had a 5% chance of making the playoffs, which we will say is a 1-in-20. If they had a 2% chance, we’d say that is a 1-in-50 shot. Here’s how the graph has changed since the beginning of the season.

The Orioles’ chances of making the playoffs are down to about 1 in 1,000. If you prefer to look at things in terms of wins, you’d find that Baltimore is currently projected to win about 45% of the rest of their games — equivalent to about 63 more victories — to get them up to 69 for the season. Needless to say, that won’t be enough to make the playoffs. We don’t know what is enough for the playoffs, but if we give the AL East to the Red Sox, the Central to Cleveland, and the West to the Astros, that still leaves the Angels, Blue Jays, and Yankees as viable candidates for the Wild Card — with the Twins not too far behind. Given the talent and relatively positive starts from those teams, it seems like 87-89 wins will be necessary to take the second Wild Card spot. That means the Orioles — expected to play like a 74-win team (out of 162) the rest of the way — would need to play like a 94-win team to make the postseason.

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Sunday Notes: Trey Mancini Kept His Kick

Trey Mancini did some tinkering prior to the start of the season. Hoping to “limit a bit of pre-swing movement,” he decided to lower his leg kick. The Baltimore Orioles outfielder hit that way throughout the offseason, and he continued the experiment in spring training.

Then, about a week and a half before opening day, he returned to doing what feels natural.

“I am who I am,” Mancini told me last weekend. “The leg kick is just something that works for me — there’s a comfortability factor involved — so once I realized what I was trying didn’t feel totally right, I went back to my old one.”

Mancini felt that the lower kick disrupted his timing. Read the rest of this entry »