Friday, March 11, 2011

BORT Triple Play: 3/11/11

Highlighting three posts, articles or stories you should be reading this week...

1. Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies had this post about developing plate discipline for Beyond the Boxscore:

I don't think it's an uncommon experience for a fan to wonder about a certain player on their favorite team, "man, that guy has a lot of tools... if only he'd develop some plate discipline!" I know I've had it (*cough* Adam Jones *cough*). How often do those young guys actually improve though? Off to Baseball-Reference's trusty play index for a quick look!

I won't spoil it for you but it does tell us what to realistically expect form Adam Jones. Oh crap, I think I gave it away...

2. Adam Sobsey of Durham-based says farewell to former Oriole first baseman and all-time Durham Bulls home run leader Chris Richard, who is retiring from baseball:

"They say athletes die twice," Chris Richard says, near the end of a long, reflective interview. He pauses. That pause lasts just long enough for the listener to realize that he's been talking about death, in one way or another, the whole time...

But the sense is inescapable that if the Tampa Bay Rays called him tomorrow to ask him to come back to the Bulls, he'd do it. Richard, a San Diego native, lives in Durham year-round. He's in a stable relationship here with his girlfriend, Ashley Hester. He's in good shape. He works out nearly three hours a day. He stays sharp with the bat, using the Personal Pitcher machine his father designed for him years ago. He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He is, at 36, a welcome and steadying veteran presence in a minor-league clubhouse buzzing with callow prospects and occasionally aggrieved big-league failures: good-natured and professional, easygoing but exemplary in his competitive demeanor, intelligent and friendly, patient—watch his diligent, cerebral at-bats over a couple of years, and his agreeability with the media, and you see the breadth of his patience. He's the guy reporters want to go to for comment, because he tells you the truth and is willing to go into the details of what he does—batter's eyes, swing mechanics. He is the guy you want representing your team at Fanfest, because he isn't faking it. Sit down with him for an hour or so, it becomes clear that he is above all an honest, living, breathing human.

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air." Thomas Gray. Or William Cullen Bryant. I don't know, I get them mixed up.

(h/t to Kevin Brotzman of Orioles Card "O" the Day for highlighting Richard or I would have missed this one completely...)

3. Congrats, You Found My Blog! has introduced a new idea: Salary+

Nothing bothers me more than when writers, bloggers, players, TV analysts and fans alike, compare player salaries from different years as if they were apples-to-apples, lay out an overly simplistic conclusion (Alex Rodriguez is overpaid!) without ever making an attempt to adjust the salaries for historical context. It occurs to me that there is a simple way to do this totally consistent with other metrics frequently relied upon... put contracts into a historical context so we can compare players across time and take out the distorting effects of inflation. Just like the Sabermetric community uses OPS+ and ERA+, I suggest Salary+.

It's a work in progress but it's an interesting start to compare salaries across eras and he delves into stuff like MLB payrolls and how they relate to overall revenue. Good geeky stuff.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Oriole = Astros? Logic Fail.

A response to this article by Austin Swafford on the Sweetspot Blog on ESPN:

There's certainly nothing wrong with trying to win right now if you have the right parts. But I have thought about the lesson that could be learned from the Astros as I have watched the Orioles since the end of last season. They closed 2010 on a good note. They hired Buck Showalter and, with him at the helm, went 34-23 to end the year.

The Orioles signed 35-year-old Derrek Lee, among other veterans, during the offseason.
So, naturally, they looked around at their very talented division and said, "No rush. We have a good manager, we're making good progress and we have young talent. We can be patient while that young talent develops." Right?

It'd be nice if that were the case, but instead of doing that, the Orioles got very involved in free agency, went out and got J.J. Hardy, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, Justin Duchscherer and Kevin Gregg. Average age: 31.8.

OK, let's start here.

There's the premise: The Orioles are making the same mistakes the Astros made 4 or 5 years ago by dealing away younger players with potential for veterans or signing veterans that block promising youngsters on the farm, all because they had a strong second half and think they are better than they are.

But after stating that the Oriole got very involved in free agency, he lists J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds who were acquired through trade. It's kind of a red flag for the points to come...he doesn't seem to have looked too closely at the situation.

Baltimore is in serious risk of getting mired in the same mud as the Astros since their surprising World Series run in 2005. The Astros haven't been bursting at the seams with young talent the last six years, but they spent four seasons taking what young talent they did have and dishing it to other teams to get veterans to try to compete now.

What young talent have the Orioles parted with this offseason? David Hernandez, a guy whose ultimate destiny is a relief pitcher, is the only player of consequence the Orioles surrendered this offseason. Jim Hoey, Kam Mickolio and Brett Jacobsen are, at best, marginal major league relievers who may or may not have figured in Baltimore's plans. Baltimore didn't package up Nick Markakis or Josh Bell to fill in the holes in the infield. It was a bunch of middling relief prospects.

They dealt Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsh and Willy Taveras to the Rockies for Jason Jennings. They shipped Luke Scott, Troy Patton and three others to the Orioles for Miguel Tejada. At the same time, they signed Carlos Lee as a free agent to the biggest contract in club history and patched together their rotation with guys like Woody Williams, Randy Wolf and Brian Moehler.

Wow. He used an example of the Astros blunders by using a trade they made...with Baltimore! Dealing the 5 players they did for Miguel Tejada before the 2008 season would have been like the Orioles trading Nolan Reimold, Garrett Olson, David Herenadez, Brandon Waring and Denis Sarfate (ironically) for J.J Hardy. Or Jason Bartlett. There's no real comparison to Tejada out there right now but a couple of years of control over a middling infielder. They didn't do that.

(As an aside, was that trade for Jason Jennings really so bad? They took a flyer on one year of Jennings, gave up guys who did very little elsewhere and had people on the farm that could take their places. That doesn't seem like a crazy trade for the Astros at the time nor in retrospect.)

Houston spent four years suppressing the development of young players under the delusion that these poorly constructed teams loaded with not-so-good veterans might actually compete. Much like the Orioles, the Astros would go on good second-half runs that convinced the front office that they were just a piece or two shy of competing. Of course, they never even came close.

I'm not sure that competing is what the Orioles had in mind. They had holes, big ones, and were looking for way to fill them and be mildly competitive, not to take the division. Think about it. There is no one in the Oriole system ready to play shortstop. Their best prospect, Manny Machado, is years away. Hardy is a free agent after 2011 and is blocking nobody.

At first, they picked up Derrek Lee on a one-year deal. Brandon Snyder is not exactly tearing it up in Norfolk. Joe Mahoney has half a season under his belt at AA Bowie. That's all the O's have right now for internal first basemen. Lee is blocking no one.

Mark Reynolds is at third and under team control for the next couple of years. The best third base prospect in the system, Josh Bell, showed that he is completely overmatched against major league pitching at this point (not with his 53/2 K to BB ratio he posted in his debut last season...). He needs to go back to Norfolk. And if he is knocking on the door later in the season, Reynolds can slide over to first base for 2012 (or Bell for that matter). Reynolds will block no one.

Justin Duchscherer was a low cost, one-year deal for pitching depth. If he blocks anybody, it will because Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton are ALL pitching well. It's unlikely and it would be a great problem to have. In that case Duchscherer would be cut or traded. Duchscherer blocks no one.

Kevin Gregg blocks no one. There is not much in the Oriole system as far as top notch relief prospects go. Outside of the size of the contract and it being a two-year deal, that is not a move that is detrimental to any young talent. If fact, you can make the argument that it will help.

Vladimir Guerrero is the one move where the writer may have a point. The combination of Lee and Guerrero squeezes out Felix Pie and, more importantly, Nolan Reimold. Reimold needs to play and may very well end up in Baltimore for the majority of this season. But Guerrero's signing puts that in a bit of jeopardy.

The point is, the Oriole's are nothing like the Astros of a few years ago. Firstly, they have more young talent than the Astros had. Secondly, they have given up virtually none of it this offseason. Thirdly, any of the veterans signed (or acquired) have no more than a two year deal. In fact, only Gregg and Reynolds have that kind of obligation. Everyone else mentioned in this article is a one-year rental. And fourthly, they are not blocking any young talent, not in 2011.

If the Orioles had gone out last offseason and picked up Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, maybe he'd have a better point. But the Orioles have no Carlos Lee-sized blunder. Andy MacPhail, is anything, has been overly averse to giving veterans big multi-year deals.

Four out of five rotation spots (at least) are filled with products of the farm system or Jeremy Guthrie, a waiver wire claim who comes very cheap. Even after all the dealings to fill the infield holes this offseason, two of the five infield positions are filled with homegrown players. The entire outfield is filled with either homegrown talent or inexpensive young talent acquired in trade (or in Scott's case, he was youngish when they originally acquired him).

All in all, this looks nothing like the mid-aught Astros. Not a bit.

...the Orioles are in danger of falling into the same trap as the Astros. Let them serve as a cautionary tale that a good month and a half doesn't mean the team is a few overpriced veterans away from going to the World Series. Let them serve as a cautionary tale of what happens to a club when they refuse to develop young talent.

Yeah. I haven't heard any of the Oriole brass say that this team can compete for the division, let alone the World Series. I think they wanted to build a team that could compete a bit, be respectable and maybe win. But I don't think MacPhail's goal were that lofty.

Are the Orioles the Astros of 2008? Not even close.

For more analysis, news and general musings about the Baltimore Orioles, visit Dempsey's Army...