Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Bradford Doolittle and Terrible, Horrible, No Good Trade

I’ll admit, I do not know the work of Bradford Doolittle. Maybe I should know him but cut me some slack, I’ve been out of the game for a minute. (His name should definitely be wearing a top hat and a monocle) But after Twitter directed me to his article on grading the Orioles’ recent swap of Jorge Lopez,  I am more familiar with his psyche than I ever hoped to be.

After a hectic day before trade deadline day, the actual deadline day kicked off with a deal between a team scrambling to hold onto a narrow division lead and a team scrambling to relinquish its unexpected status as a postseason contender.

I typically use Fangraphs for my playoff odds and using their base calculation the Twins have a 49.3% chance to make the postseason and the Oriole chances are….2.5%. Hard to compare a team with multiple paths to the postseason and a current division lead to the Orioles for whom it’s wild card or bust and they are battling it out with 6 other teams for those spots. 

But hey, Fangraphs leans heavily on pre-season projections and sees the O’s as a regression candidate. Other models weigh in-season results more heavily. So over at Baseball Reference, we see the Twins have 50.4% chance at the postseason and the Oriole have a 37.4% chance. Not too shabby.

But would this make us buyers? We are projected to go 29-28 the rest of the season. Great! But how does dealing Jorge Lopez affect those odds? More on that later…

Lopez, meanwhile, has arguably been the most improved player in baseball this season. After entering the campaign as a failed starter with a 6.04 career ERA, he made some drastic changes to his pitch mix and his career suddenly took off.

He made some drastic changes to his pitch mix. Hmm. He made. I wonder who suggested that to him? Odd that he did not make these changes in Milwaukee or Kansas City. Guess it was just a coincidence that these changes started happening once he joined the Orioles. 

In his first full season with the Orioles, Lopez’s K% ticked above 20.0 for the first time in his career. With the shift to the bullpen, he increased his velocity and started leaning heavily on his sinker and slider and became an All-Star. Baltimore deserves some credit for turning a journeyman hurler into an effective weapon. His career did not “suddenly” take off. More on that later…

There is a white flag flying over Camden Yards. Someone should write a song about it.

Is that a Star Spangled Banner joke? You cheeky monkey.

While the Twins are embracing their narrow, uncertain chances at a playoff run, the Orioles are sprinting away from their still-breathing probabilities as if they were being chased by the ghost of Babe Ruth.

Is 50.8% narrow and uncertain? I think not.

There is a reason the Orioles have a puncher's chance at a wild card berth...their winning July. The team went 16-9 that month, surging into the playoff race and bringing into question what they should do at the deadline.  What did Lopez do that month? A 4.76 ERA and opposing batters had a .913 OPS against hm. He turned every hitter into Pete Alonso. On another note, Trey Mancini slashed .237/.321/.355 in July. That is just above Odor-esque production at the plate. It is not as if Mancini and Lopez put the team on their back and dragged them to 16 wins...the team won in spite of those guys. 

So this is not even the waving of a white flag. It could be a rally flag instead. This team might actually get better. (Indeed, they are 2-0 for August...)

With Lopez leading the way, the work of Baltimore's bullpen has been the backbone of the team's surprising success this season.

Yeah….kind of? The O’s bullpen has been great this year and Lopez has been a big part of that with 1.1 fWAR out of the ‘pen. But Felix Bautista has been just as good, also 1.1 fWAR. Dillon Tate has been just as good as Lopez (0.9 fWAR over fewer innings). Cionel Perez, Keegan Akin and Bryan Baker have also been very good in their roles. See, baseball is a team game. Lopez is not the entire relief corp on his own. Someone will need to step up and take a bigger role now that he is gone…will that be Nick Vespi? I am doubtful but this organization has been surprisingly good at finding and developing relief arms.

Lopez was one of those. A waiver wire claim back in 2020, the Orioles were able to turn him into an asset and an All-Star. Tate was one of the arms we got back for Zach Britton back in 2018. Bautisa was a rookie league minor league free agent signing back in 2016. Baker and Perez were waiver wire claims this past offseason. Akin was a 2nd round draft pick back in 2016.

The Orioles have been great at developing relief arms under Mike Elias and I am willing to bet they can patch it together again.

Even after the Mancini trade weakened the Baltimore roster, the Orioles' playoff chances went up at the end of the day -- from around 11% to 15% -- because they went out and won a game. I guess that didn't sit well with GM Mike Elias, so he picked up the phone and shipped out the standout performer from the most productive position group on his roster.

I love the imagery of Mike Elias as Snidely Whiplash, twirling his handlebar moustache and laughing maniacally as he trades Lopez to the Twins. This’ll get them to lose! I mean, where does he get this characterization from?

I know, I know. The Orioles are rebuilding. But you know when a rebuild is over? When your team reaches August with a winning record, is 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot

Imagine the scene, Elias coming out for a Warehouse press conference with a huge “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner behind him. “Gentlemen, when we started this rebuild three and half seasons ago, my goal was to have this team two full games over .500 in the month of August and by God, we have achieved that goal! I declare the rebuild over!”

Anyway, from a value standpoint, I'd rather bet on Lopez outproducing any one of these four prospects over the next three seasons, but he'd be hard-pressed to outproduce the aggregate of the quartet over the duration of all those controllable seasons. Yippee.

I don’t think Doolittle understands the aim of trading for prospects. There is not a rule that you lose the prospects after three years. This is quite an arbitrary time frame to declare winners and losers.

Maybe all of these pitchers will be part of a postseason Orioles team in five years. Maybe they won't. Either way, it won't make me any less annoyed about what they've done over the last two days.

Grade: F-

It’s the minus for me.

I am not aware of Doolittle’s personal grading scale. Maybe he has a G. But if not, this is the absolute lowest grade you can give a transaction. If you don’t like it, you could give it a C or C- but I don’t know if trading a newly minted closer can ever be an F-. It just won’t have that kind of impact, even if you blow it.

Here’s an F- trade that could be made…Elias traded the entire starting lineup save for Rougned Odor, throws in 3 starting pitchers and D.L. Hall getting  Joey Gallo in return.  Then he machine guns some puppies at home plate, pees on the Cal Ripken, Jr. statue and sets the stadium on fire. That’s an F-. 

I don’t know if he has problems with the Orioles organization in general but this analysis lacks all perspective. I hope old Bradford is able to recover. Maybe I’ll send him a new top hat.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

John Means and His Narrow Path Forward

One of the few bright spots for the 2019 Baltimore Orioles was starting pitcher John Means. The soon-to-be 27-year old lefty finished second in AL RoY voting and posted a 3.60 ERA over 155 innings. Things look great, huh?

Well, maybe. Means also had a FIP of 4.41 and an xFIP of 5.48. The discrepancy between his ERA and FIP (E-F) ranks 8th among MLB starters who pitched 150 innings or more. (All rankings going forward are for MLB SPs with 150 IP or more in 2019.) His K/9 just barely eked over 7 and his BABIP allowed was a likely unsustainable .256. All these peripherals scream that a massive correction is coming for Means in 2020.

Or does it? Instead of looking at these obvious peripherals and assuming Means got very, very lucky in 2019, let's see if we can find what Means did well, how he got those results and if these skills can carry into 2020.

Did Means induce a large number of ground balls? He did not. In fact, quite the opposite. Means is an extreme flyball pitcher with 50% of batted balls hit in the air. (Caleb Smith at 52.2% is the only MLB pitcher with a higher rate in 2019.) That is a bad fit for Camden Yards. How did he succeed?

Means is not your typical early-21st century pitcher as he barely strikes out 7 per 9 IP. If you are going to have that kind of rate, you need to keep the walk rate down and he did. His 2.21 BB/9 ranked 18th among this group which is not dominant control but very good and it can help limit damage if more balls that average are being put in play. (This is different than a guy like the Cardinals Dakota Hudson who sports a similar strikeout rate but walks nearly double Means' rate pointing to more "smoke-and-mirrors" results for him in 2019.)

So Means is stingy with free passes which helps but it's not a crazy-good rate. Let's look at batted balls and how he was able to keep that BABIP so low.

Scrolling through the leader boards at FanGraphs, I do find two categories where Means ranked as elite in 2019. He was in the top 5 in O-Contact% at 73.5% which puts him between crafty veterans like Mike Fiers and Rick Porcello. That means batters were making a high amount of contact of pitches outside the zone and perhaps inducing weak contact.

As far as weak contact, Means was number one in limiting hard hit balls. Number one. His Hard Hit % of 27.8 is just ahead of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and Stephen Strasbourg.

Over at the Athletic, they looked at combining Hard Hit% and Soft Hit % to measure a pitcher's ability to limit quality contact with their Hard Minus Soft Rate (H-S%) measurement. A description of the stat and its stated purpose:

"Hard Minus Soft is a statistic that compares the number of times a pitcher is hit hard and the number of times that same pitcher induces soft contact. I intend for H-S% to be viewed and used in a similar manner to K-BB%, as it should highlight pitchers who combine the best of the two outcomes."

As you can see in the below screenshot, Means comes in 9th, just behind Stephen Strasbourg and Kenta Maeda and just ahead of Lucan Giolito and Zack Wheeler.

Is this a "sticky" skill? Can John Means continue to (seemingly) induce weak contact by getting batters to strike pitches out of the zone? I can't answer these questions yet but am fascinated to see if he can.

And he'd better. Without some improvement in his underlying talent (his fastball speed ticking up a bit, improving swing-and-miss rates on one of his secondary pitches), this is Means' way forward as an effective MLB starter. Fortunately for Means, even with some regression built in, a pitcher who can  hold an ERA between 4.25-4.50 over 175 innings is still incredibly valuable to this team in 2020.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Orioles Face Tough Task Of Repeating In American League East

As far as surprises go, the Baltimore Orioles probably had the most impressive season in baseball in 2014. The team was able to run away with the American League East title, and they also had a little bit of success in the postseason. With that being said, there are going to be quite a few changes surrounding the roster as spring training starts up. Can they repeat as champions in a tougher division in 2015?

The Orioles lost 3 key pieces to their team from 2014, as Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller all left as free agents. It is impossible to get mad with individual players in baseball looking to get paid, but some fans were a little frustrated that Baltimore did not make a better effort to keep at least one of those guys around. Cruz was a standout in fantasy baseball leagues last year, and Markakis had been with the team for close to a decade. Miller emerged as a guy who kept the bullpen together down the stretch in 2014, as he was one of the most effective left-handed relievers in the game.

Coming in, the team only has 2 significant signings right now. Travis Snider still has some value as an outfielder, and Wesley Wright will try to do his best Andrew Miller impersonation.

In order to make up for the lost lineup talent, many fans are expecting healthier seasons for Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. Baltimore was able to survive without them being healthy last year, but that just won’t work in 2015. Not only will those 2 players need to play well, but veterans like Chris Davis and JJ Hardy need to be a little bit more productive in fantasy baseball leagues as well. They both suffered from down seasons in 2014.

The Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays improved their roster over the winter, but the American League East is still not as tough as it used to be just a few years ago. Baltimore is going to be right there in the mix, especially if the pitching staff holds up. They had one of the best team ERAs last year, and if they can do that again, everything will be going very well.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Nick Markakis-Brian Roberts Steroids Mashup

In 2007, Oriole second baseman Brian Roberts was named in the Mitchell Report and issued a statement admitting his use of steroids.

In 2013, Oriole rightfielder Nick Markakis was very candid with Dan Connolly about his feelings on the current batch of players who were suspended for links to the Biogenesis lab and steroid use in baseball in general.

Fantasy Baseball

Here is Roberts' prepared statement from 2007 mixed up with Markakis' quotes from Monday's article in the Sun. Go!

Brian Roberts: I would like to address the allegations that were made against me in the Mitchell Report. I will begin by saying that I have worked very hard to develop a good reputation both on and off the field. I have always taken pride in being a man of integrity and values.

Nick Markakis: These guys that are doing performance-enhancing drugs are taking away from a lot of other people that are doing it the right way. They are taking opportunities away and they are basically stealing.

BR: I know that by being a professional athlete, I am held to a very high standard. I never have and never will take that for granted. However, I am also human and I have made mistakes.

NM: These guys are big boys; they can make decisions. If I go out there and rob a convenience store, I know the consequences that are coming with it. We are all adults here.

BR: In 2003, when I took one shot of steroids, I immediately realized that this was not what I stood for or anything that I wanted to continue doing. I never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drugs prior to or since that single incident.

NM: ...I’m just disappointed in these players. This is a harmless game that has never done anything to anybody except be good to people. And you are going to go out there and cheat a game that is supposedly the national pastime?

BR: I can honestly say before God, myself, my family and all of my fans that steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs have never had any effect on what I have worked so hard to accomplish in the game of baseball.

NM: I know how hard this game is, and to see some of these guys going out there and putting up these video game numbers, it’s mind-boggling. It’s disappointing; it’s frustrating. Because you know how hard you have to work just to get to this level.

BR: I am very sorry and I deeply regret ever making that terrible decision. My only hope and prayer is that the Orioles, my family, friends and fans that have supported me so faithfully will forgive me.

NM: These guys are going to come out and say they are sorry and apologize. But I think for the most part they are apologizing because they got caught. For you to go out there and disrespect the game is not only a slap in the face of the game, but a slap in the face of everyone that does it the right way.

I find the juxtuposition of Roberts and Markakis fascinating. Not only are they still teammates as Nick makes these comments, they were really the faces of the franchise, arguably, from 2006-2010 so they will always be linked in my mind as the defining Oriole players for that 5-year span. Markakis' frank talk on the subject is completely different from Roberts' as Brian has NEVER addressed steroids outside of that prepared statement. Nick's comments were not only unprepared but came straight from the heart. We have never heard Roberts speak so frankly on the subject even though he was directly involved. (And if you think that Roberts used once and only once, I would remind you that he denied Jason Grimsley's accusations initially. It would be naive to believe that "only one time" assertion if he hadn't lied about the allegations earlier, it would be completely foolish to believe him.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hanging 'Em Up

After more than six seasons, I going to hang up my blogging cleats and shut down Dempsey's Army.

As anyone who comes here regularly has noticed, the frequency of my posting has fluctuated quite a bit over the past year and a half and it's trending toward much less. I have never claimed to be a great writer but I did take pride in the fact that I could take some interesting angles on certain subjects and that I wrote on a regular basis. I am finding time to write (and do it well) harder to come by and while I keep kidding myself that over that next hill I'll find more, it's just not going to happen in the near future. If I'm not writing on a regular basis, I'm not sure what I can hang my hat on. I'd rather shut the blog down than let it continue a slow death and just go inactive.

Thanks to anyone who came here to read my ramblings. Dempsey's Army was always a very personal project to vent my thoughts and post analysis on the Baltimore Orioles and the fact that anyone came to check it out was more than I ever expected. Beyond that, thanks to all those who linked to my posts, invited me to participate in special events, extended me press credentials like I was a real writer or let me write on other sites. None of these were goals but they were wonderful and welcome surprises.

Goodbye, don your rally caps and let's go O's!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Post at Camden Depot: The Clutchiest Hits

What were the top 10 clutchest hits for the Orioles in 2012 (in terms of WPA)? Find out here. The results might surprise you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Guest Post at Camden Depot: Who Gets the Credit for the 2012 Orioles?

I have a post up this morning over at Camden Depot.breaking down player contribution to this season's team with what GM brought them to town. Enjoy!