Posted on: May 15, 2009 12:21 pm
Edited on: May 15, 2009 4:46 pm
This decade, most years the Orioles have been among the leaders in MLB in issuing the base on balls almost every year, it seems. They've also been below .500 for that whole span. I thought there was certainly a correlation there. That the free passes were a major contributor to high ERAs and thus losses. All of this seemed a natural thing to assume. It seemed like a walk was scoring and breaking the team's back every night...but th evidence of this year seems to point in the opposite direction. This year, the Orioles are issuing many fewer walks, and are in fact among the better staffs in that category. Yet they remain in last place, and in May are already quite a few games below .500. Do walks really not matter as much as I'd thought, or is there some other variable that I've yet to discover offsetting the improvement in walks? O's fans, let's investigate.
For one thing, the staff has allowed the second-most home runs in baseball (most in the AL)...but they were doing so last year while also issuing all those walks, so this wouldn't seem to be the variable we're looking for. They're also leading baseball in BAA, which may be the factor; after all, if the baserunners are getting on they're getting on, regardless of the method. Still, the Orioles were 28th of 30 teams in THAT category in 2008, and walks are down more than this BAA is up. It seems there isn't a simple answer. What is producing this maddening result? How can more control be leading to a higher team ERA? Breaking down each pitcher may be the only way to reach the truth of the matter.
Jeremy Guthrie: Guthrie has issued 16 walks in his 46.2 IP, good for about a 3 BB/9. Not great, to be sure...still, it's much better than the average Baltimore pitcher from last year, who issued 4.35 per 9. So why has Guthrie's ERA ballooned to 5.21? Well, Guthrie is among the league leaders in XBH allowed, and has allowed 98 total bases, second only to Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins. That certainly solves the mystery in his case. The ace of a pitching staff should not be sniffing the top of those categories.
Koji Uehara: He's walked but 7 batters all year, good for a 1.48/9 IP mark. Not too shabby. Only one guy with at least 40 innings (Kevin Slowey) has managed better. And yet, Koji is saddled with a 4.01 ERA and 2-3 record. So what's this guy doing wrong? Well, I know from watching that it seems every time he comes out of the game the 'pen lets his runners score. His run support isn't great, especially from a lineup averaging pretty good numbers. He has a pretty smart WHIP of 1.13. Uehara is the victim of a few homers (6), a bad bullpen, and unfortunate run support. Part 2 of mystery solved.
Mark Hendrickson: Here is the easiest of the starters to figure out. For one thing, He's walking 4.13 per 9, not all that far below the team average last year. For another, he's given up 42 hits and 7 HR in just 28.1 innings...bringing his WHIP to a staggering 1.94. Simply put, he isn't throwing like a major league starter. This is one fifth of the rotation that is no mystery at all.
Adam Eaton: Eaton actually has a similar problem to that of Hendrickson; up over 4 BB/9, and a higher ERA but lower WHIP. So actually, make that 2/5 of the rotation that aren't mysteries. It begins to come clearer what's going on.
Brad Bergesen: Bergesen is issuing a little more than two and a half free passes per nine. Pretty good. So what's HIS problem? Well, for one thing, he ranks 156th among pitchers with at least 20 innings in BAA, at .348. .348!! That's horrendous. He has an excuse because he's learning, and I'll take a rookie giving up hits and not walking people over the alternative, but one need look no further than that number to solve Beresen's part of the mystery.
Alfredo Simon: Simon only put together 2 starts before his injury, but he only lasted 6.1 innings total and walked 2 (works out to about 3 per game). He isn't really worth mentioning, but is here in the interest of completeness. His OPS against was 1.242...
After a look at the starters, a picture begins to emerge. 3 of the 5 starters are much better than the Orioles' staff was last year in this important category, but the other two are only marginally better. Still, it is worth noting that all 6 men who have started games for the Birds this season have walked fewer per nine than the O's did collectively last season. So one would expect improvement in the ERA, but instead we're seeing inflation (overall ERA from 5.13 to 5.44; starters' ERA from 5.51 to 5.62). When examined closer, though, Guthrie's extra-base hits, Uehara's hard luck, and Bergesen's hits begin to make sense of the mess.
Still, the starters so far are responsible for only 54% of the walks over 60% of the innings...which means both that the bullpen has been doing worse in this area and that the 'pen has been a significant contributor to the team's ERA and losses. Taking a look at the bullpen numbers, the ERA is up almost a run over last year, and they are walking about 3.8 per 9 in '09. That's fully 1 less walk per game than the number that unit posted in 2008. Is the problem here similar to that in the rotation?
Well, collectively the league is hitting .298 off of Baltimore relievers. That number is up 30 points...but is that alone enough to account for 1 fewer walk per game? Well, working out the math says that the increased batting average accounts for 11 extra baserunners over the 123.2 innings worked by the 'pen this year. Over the same span, the decrease in walks has prevented about 14 baserunners...and so the high BAA isn't the whole story. It seems that in this case, the number worth looking at is the OPS against...which in 2009 is a whopping .860, good for last in baseball. That number is up a whopping 97 points from last years', more than enough to account for it.
What has all this investigation told us? Well, perhaps the obvious. All things being equal, fewer walks means fewer runs means more wins. It also tells me, though, that I was wrong in assuming that simply coaxing more strikes out of the staff as a whole can cause a ripple effect. I had always thought "if they'd just stop walking people, the rest will average out." So far, that simply hasn't happened. The single largest factor, as evidenced by Guthrie and the bullpen, working against that lower walk total is the staggering number of extra-base hits allowed by the Orioles (151 through 35 games). As Jim Palmer would likely say "well, there's throwing strikes, and then there's throwing quality strikes." Despite the ERA evidence from the first month and a half, I think the move to the first half of that statement is one step forward. Now if they can get personnel who can execute the second part, the Birds will be in business.
Posted on: February 18, 2009 12:24 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2009 12:27 pm
So, entering Spring training the Orioles have two sure answers for their opening day 5-man rotation and a wealth of solid options in the bullpen. What they have beyond that is an astounding number of question marks, and it's hard to see them being immediately competitive (or even climbing out of last place this season) because of that. However, it seems to me that Andy MacPhail and the rest of the front office are doing exactly what they need to to get better in the long run. They have solidified all of the positions on the field and spots in the lineup, right down to the bench and acquired a wealth of young (and not-so-young) arms to experiment with. Now the Orioles will have a year or two of evaluation, to hone things down to a solid starting staff of the future, and 2 or 3 years from now will be the time to supplement all this great young talent with a big Free Agent signing or three to get them over the hump. This is all, of course, provided they evaluate the talent they have properly and bring it through the organization at the right pace and with the right mindset. With some coaching staff adjustments and a trend toward more control, the O's are in a very good position to do that.
Now to the immediate problem: The Orioles have 27 pitchers on their Spring Training Roster, and 10 more as non-roster invitees. So how do you hone 37 guys down to a 13 man staff, and 5 starters, in a month? It is clear that the 13 guys they begin the season with will not be the same 13 they end the season with, as more younger guys will get a shot if they fare well in the minors, but who do they break camp with? This is my attempt to sort out the madness before any live competition takes place.
I'll start, just like the O's will, with the list of 37 players.
On the Roster
Wow. That's quite the list of names. For non-Orioles fans I'm sure few of them jump out as great options, but there is a TON of upside attached to a number of those names. But who's ready?
Step 1 - The Obvious Stuff
Now it's time to begin whittling down the list. Some of this process will be easy, but in a way it will make the next couple steps even more difficult.
1A. Locks for the rotation:
Koji Uehara (we didn't sign him to pitch in the minors)
1B. Locks for the bullpen:
Danys Baez (I know they've said they'll look at him for a starting role, but after the injury and a career as a reliever, with all the guys the O's have acquired, I'm just not Baeing it).
Jim Johnson (Some have tabbed him as a potential starter, but the way he pitched in his relief role last year tells me that would be a mistake. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)
Chris Ray (I can't wait to see if he's the pitcher he was before he got hurt.)
Dennis Sarfate (I suppose he COULD get upstaged by someone else, but his experience is invaluable)
George Sherrill (Who will be the closer? Personally, I like Ray in the ninth with Sherril and/or Johnson in the 8th)
Jamie Walker (I could see him being released or traded sometime this year, but with this much experience we'll break camp with him on the parent club)
1C. locks for the team:
Mark Hendrickson (he's a special case and will wind up in either a starting or long-relief role, depending on how the Spring goes. I'd put Albers here but he may need to rehabilitate in the minors first)
So, that leaves the Orioles with a shorter list of players competing for a short list of spots. Nine spots on the team seem guaranteed with 4 remaining...either 3 rotation slots and one reliever or two and two, depending on how Hendrickson's value is determined. It sounds less overwhelming put this way, until one realizes that there are 28 names vying for those 4 spots. Yikes!
Step 2 - Sorting out the relievers from the starters
Keep in mind that this is based primarily on what they've done so far in their careers...many of the "starters" could end up pitching in relief at some point or vice versa, but I think there's a good chance that a career starter won't break camp in the MLB bullpen or vice versa.
Brian Bass, Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Chorye Spoone, Chris Waters, Jake Arrieta, Andy Mitchell, Chris Tillman
Matt Albers (because of the injury - he could start later in the season), Jim Hoey, Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Wilfrido Perez, Alfredo Simon, Alberto Castillo, Scott Chiasson, Fredy Deza, Brad Hennessey, Ryan Keefer, John Parrish, Ross Wolf
So it looks like an even split with 14 guys competing for the last spots in each role. Time to thin the herd a bit.
Step 3 - Identifying the top candidates to start
3A. Who's (definitely) not ready:
Brian Matusz He should progress quickly but has virtually no professional innings under his belt. Not a guy to break camp with.
Troy Patton Love the kid's upside, but let's see how he pitches in AA or AAA before we promote him. Injuries like his need time to evaluate.
Chorye Spoone He's been highly touted within the organization, but he has put up mediocre numbers at the lower levels and we have far too many pitchers with more upside than him for Spoone to realistically have a shot.
Jake Arrieta Great numbers so far and great potential, but he's only pitched at A Frederick. Can't wait to see him, but the O's need to avoid rushing him.
3B. Who might not be ready:
Three guys had fantastic numbers at AA Bowie but have not yet pitched above that level. They are Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Chris Tillman. A fourth guy has had some success in a couple seasons at AAA Norfolk (Andy Mitchell) but is a non-roster invitee for a reason. I personally don't see any of these guys cracking the opening day roster unless they have dazzling Spring numbers.
3C. So, your contenders are:
Brian Bass, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, David Pauley, Hayden Penn, and Chris Waters. None of them has great MLB numbers, but all have experience at the big show. As I've said, any of the four guys under 3B could surpass the field and get a spot, but I consider them long shots who may deserve a chance later in the season.
3D. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I think Rich Hill, Chris Waters, and Brian Bass deserve to make the cut...with Bass being the odd man out of Hendrickson is tabbed as a starter. I think Trembley will select Rich Hill, Hayden Penn, and Mark Hendrickson as his opening-day 5 (in unknown order) but personally I don't see Penn turning his career around in Baltimore and I think Hendrickson would be more valuable in the bullpen.
Step 4 - Identifying the top candidates for the 'pen
4A. Injuries to think of:
My heart tells me to put Matt Albers straght onto the MLB roster because he's a great kid with talent and success at this level. My brain tells me he needs to start the season in the minors and work his way back from that injury. Since he elected therapy instead of surgery, he needs to work back slowly.
Jim Hoey is also working his way back from injury, and his MLB numbers are terrible even before that. Kid needs seasoning and rehab.
4B. Need more time:
Scott Chiasson He simply hasn't performed well in the NL, and needs to pitch in the minors first.
Fredy Deza Promising numbers last year but only in 6 games.
Ross Wolf Same as Chiasson
4C. The other long shots:
As with the starters, the folks listed here would need excellent Springs to make the team. They are Wilfrido Perez (great at AA with no MLB experience), Alfredo Simon (mediocre and limited MLB numbers), and Ryan Keefer (his ERA wasn't very good in the minors as a reliever).
4D. So your contenders are:
Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Alberto Castillo, Brad Hennessey, and John Parrish.
4E. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I like Brad Hennessey and Mark Hendrickson to take the last two bullpen slots out of camp. However, as I noted above, I think Trembley will tab Hendrickson as a starter, and probably select John PArrish as his last reliever (along with Hennessey). A final thought is that Bob McCrory and Kam Mickolio seem to be much better than their lofty ERAs at the MLB level indicate. Keep in mind that McCrory has had two bad outings, and started with a 108 ERA by allowing 4 runs to TB in .1 innings. Any time you shave 93 points off of your ERA you're moving in the right direction. Mickolio had a similar spike in ERA (at 27) but has consistently brought it down since.
Well, I hope you stayed with me through all that blab, O's fans, and I hope you have found them interesting and useful in making sense out of the Spring. Please comment with any thoughts you may have. What did I miss? Who do you like that I didn't tab? Who do I like that you thinkis terrible? Please, weigh in.
Tags: Alberto Castillo, Alfredo Simon, Andy Mitchell, Baltimore, Bob McCrory, Brad Hennessey, Bradley Bergesen, Brian Bass, Brian Matusz, bullpen, Chorye Spoone, Chris Ray, Chris Tillman, Chris Waters, Danys Baez, David Hernandez, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Fredy Deza, George Sherrill, Jake Arrieta, Jamie Walker, Jeremy Guthrie, Jim Hoey, Jim Miller, John Parrish, Kam Mickolio, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, Matt Albers, Orioles, Radhames Liz, Rich Hill, Ross Wolf, Ryan Keefer, Scott Chiasson, Spring Training, starting rotation, Troy Patton, Wilfrido Perez