22 September 2014

I Am Not There, Yet.

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it”
Flannery O'Conner, Wiseblood


This post consists of my tenure at Camden Depot and me passing the baton over to Matt Kremnitzer.







In the midst of a funding lull in my research laboratory back in 2007, I created Camden Depot.  I wanted a permanent place where I muse upon some thoughts about baseball to a greater degree than the rough and tumble pre-subscription Baltimore Sun Orioles forum.  At the time, I realized that my understanding of baseball was mired in five year old data science.  I had become essentially a stat-based message board hero, a sabermetric dandy.  A guy who could drop in on traditional notions and discuss linear weights, pythagorean win expectation, and a whole host of other concepts.  These concepts were good ones to have, but my application of them had become too generic.


My journey into baseball became more intertwined with my day job.  I was becoming more logic-based and less fixated on being defensive.  I began assimilating my research methodologies into how I asked questions about baseball.  Perhaps, the first article that really struck a tone was this one on whether to play Matt Wieters behind the plate or at first base.  It is a simple article and one that I would do much different today than I did then, but it was the one that convinced me that I could write somewhat intelligently about the game.  It was also the article I submitted to Baseball Prospectus in 2008 to be considered for Prospectus Idol.  They declined.

Anyway, more and more I directed myself toward writing about statistics and the Orioles in a somewhat mainstream accessible way.  I added on Nick Faleris, now with Baseball Prospectus, to provide in-depth writing on Orioles' prospects.  I found him on the Baltimore Sun forums and encouraged him to write more at length his thoughts about prospects.  It has been amazing to see him develop and really become a major force in the public scouting world.  I would argue that he has implemented changes to writing and presentation that both Baseball America and the new Fangraphs Scouting incarnation have adopted.

I was also privileged to work with two generations of Orioles blog writers.  My era was one with Heath Blintiff of Dempsey's Army and Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies.  We messed around with ideas like the Baltimore Orioles Round Table, which has been emulated by others since.  It has also been great to work with new talent like Matt Kremnitzer, Nate Delong, Matt Perez, Stuart Wallace, Joe Reisel, and Patrick Holden.  I would also like to mention Steph Diorio who provided us with a Sunday Comics section for a while.

In 2010 as Osama Bin Laden's compound was being infiltrated with Seals and I was watching a rerun of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I signed a contract with ESPN to represent the Baltimore Orioles in their Sweetspot Network.  At the time, I knew it was a big deal in terms of providing more opportunities for me to explore baseball.  It got me onto the field, into the press box, and in contact with a variety of people working for several organizations.  What I was able to do with ESPN behind the site and a growing legion of great baseball writers was to increase our awareness 20 fold to the point where we are a million views a year site, which is something pretty amazing considering that we lack a message board and post about five times a week.

I do not like saying this because it can ruffle feathers and other local sites have boasted the same, but I truly believe that we deliver the most interesting, unique, and thoughtful analysis on the Baltimore Orioles.  We have been able to do this because we despise filler.  We said no to box scores and game reviews because those are commonly available.  We got rid of player summaries unless there was something unique about the player or in projecting him forward because a simple review of a player is something you can easily do by look at his statistical page at Baseball Reference or wherever.

What we said yes to in creating this site was to encourage our writers not to write, but to ask questions that interest them and then have them try to answer them.  We never presented ourselves as experts.  We let the ideas and studies speak for themselves.  We pieced together our constructs to try to make it clear why we thought something.  We tried to show as much as possible and tell as little as possible.  We tried to stay within the scope of the processes of a front office.

In the end though, the move to ESPN and my development into an editor has progressively pushed me away from the exploration I used to do.  My little pilot study hits are not as frequent as they use to be.  I am not producing questioning of UZR and DRS outfield statistics for Camden Yards, something that BIS and other organizations discussed intensely.  That also led to John Dewan to write a chapter on the issue after several data science folks as him about it and the issue got raised a few months down the line by a member of Orioles Hangout.

Anyway, those kind of studies are what I want to get back to and I am taking steps to move on.  This post is announcing that I am ceding my editor status to Matt Kremnitzer and becoming a statistical analyst for Baseball Prospectus, six years after my previous application and this time I did not send in a sample post.  I will be doing a lot of thinking over there and hope that I come up with some interesting takes on evaluating conventional wisdom as well as taking a few stabs at trail blazing.

It is difficult to leave this site.  It gave me so much.  It let me communicate with a wide variety of audiences as I wrote for ESPN, MASN, Huffington Post, and, yes, I had an article at Baseball Prospectus.  Writing here also enabled me to see my work discussed in the magazine that the journal Science produces, which is something that my work as a toxicologist has never come close to accomplishing.  I owe so much to the site and the people who made it what it is.

That includes you.  Right now, you reading this column is one of the million or so times that this site will be read this year alone.  That is written not to make one feel insignificant, but to signify how many of you are out there.  That is a ringing endorsement of the fandom that Baltimore enjoys giving the Orioles.  It is an amazing thing and I have been so lucky to be born into this fandom as well as being fortunate enough to communicate with all of you through my writing.

I will not be far away.  You can still chat with me through my brand, spanking new twitter account: @jsbearr.  You can also reach me via email through jsbearr at gmail.  The writers here will still be providing you with great content and asking questions that interest them, so I am no Pied Piper.

In the end, I hope my time here is one that gave some appreciation for Apollonian and Dionysian thought.  That is that logic and reason is woven into emotion and chaos.  Yes, we can explain and account for much of our world, but not everything.  What we cannot account for is meaningful.  That said, even though there are important things for which we cannot account, it does not render meaningless the things we know.  This is what empowers my methodology, what informs my journey in exploring this sport.  I am not done.  I am not there, yet.  I cannot even imagine what there looks like.

Postseason Roster Crunch: The Final Roster

Photo by Keith Allison

Over the past couple of weeks, I've offered my thoughts on the battles for the last spots on the postseason roster.

The Pitching Staff
David Lough or Alejandro De Aza
On Chris Davis, Kelly Johnson, Jimmy Paredes, and Expanded Roles

I wanted to bring everything full circle with a post on the final roster and a quick thought or two about the role I think each guy will play.

Catchers

Caleb Joseph: I expect Joseph to get most of the starts behind the plate because of his ability to throw out potential base stealers and to frame pitches.

Nick Hundley: Hundley will see the bulk of his time when Chris Tillman is on the mound. He's essentially his personal catcher, whether Buck will admit that or not.

Infielders

Steve Pearce: Pearce will be the everyday 1B, just as he has been since Manny Machado was lost to a knee injury.

Jonathan Schoop: While I don't think Schoop will start every game, he will get the majority of the playing time at 2B. When he doesn't start, expect to see him as a late game defensive sub.

J.J. Hardy: Assuming his back holds up, Hardy will be the everyday SS.

Kelly Johnson: As I talked about in my earlier post linked to above, I think Johnson should get the majority of the starts at 3B. However, he hasn't gotten a lot of playing time since arriving, so maybe Flaherty or Paredes will get more of the playing time at the hot corner.

Ryan Flaherty: Flaherty will get starts at both 2B and 3B. Based off of how he's been used recently, I'd expect him as a defensive sub at 3B in games where he's on the bench, or shifting over from 2B in games he starts there.

Jimmy Paredes: I'd be surprised if he got much playing time, even with how well he has hit lately. I think Johnson and Flaherty are both ahead of him on the 3B depth chart.

Outfielders

Nelson Cruz: He will be in the lineup every day, mainly at DH. I'd expect him to get time in LF vs LHP.

Adam Jones: CF. Every. Single. Game.

Nick Markakis: RF. Every. Single. Game.

Alejandro De Aza: I think De Aza will be the starting LF against RHP.

Delmon Young: His primary role will be as a pinch hitter, but he'll probably start in place of De Aza vs. LHP (hopefully as the DH).

LHP

Wei-Yin Chen: Chen will be part of the 4-man rotiation. I'd expect him to be the Game 2 starter of the ALDS

Brian Matusz: Matusz won't have the late-inning role he's had in recent years, but he'll be especially valuable against specific hitters that he dominates, such as Josh Hamilton, if the O's happens to play the Angels.

Andrew Miller: Miller will be used late in games, in high-leverage situations. While he is a lefty, Buck won't hesitate to use him against lefties or righties.

Zach Britton: Your closer, ladies and gentlemen

RHP

Chris Tillman: For my money, he'll be the Game 1 starter of the ALDS

Bud Norris: Norris will be in the rotation, I expect him to start Game 3.

Kevin Gausman: I'm hopeful that Gausman is in the rotation, but he has shown the ability to pitch effectively in relief. The Orioles are expected to announce their ALDS rotation this week and I expect Gausman to end up in the bullpen.

Miguel Gonzalez: If I'm managing this team, he'd replace T.J. McFarland as the long man out of the bullpen. If I'm guessing what Buck is going to do, I think he'll be the #4 starter

Darren O'Day: Will be used much the same way Miller is, in late game, high-leverage situations.

Tommy Hunter: If need be, Big Game will bridge the gap between the starter and the O'Day/Miller/Britton combo at the back of the bullpen.

Brad Brach: Brach will probably be used much the same way as Hunter. If it comes down to Hunter or Brach in a high-leverage situation, I think Brach will get the nod

Ryan Webb: He is one of the better relievers on the team and should make the roster. Going with a 4-man rotation allows the team the luxury to carry Webb instead of McFarland, since the 5th starter can serve as the long man.

There's the 2014 Orioles postseason roster as I see it. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

19 September 2014

The Giant Hole in Baltimore's Lineup

The Baltimore Orioles have a stellar offense, and it’s one of the primary reasons they have secured their first AL East division title since 1997.  Look almost anywhere on team offensive leaderboards and you’ll find the Orioles ranked at or near the top (actually, don’t look at OBP).  Runs scored? 7th. Batting Average? 8th.  Weighted On-Base Average?  Tied for 5th.  OPS+?  4th.  Looking at just the team’s power numbers, you can really see where the team gets the majority of its offensive value.  Home Runs?  1st (by a very healthy margin).  Slugging percentage? 3rd.  Isolated Power?  2nd.  Combine that potent offensive attack with one of the best defenses in all of baseball, a dominant bullpen and a (non Ubaldo) starting pitching staff that has pitched to the tune of a 2.48 ERA since August 17, and you have a pretty good ball club.

When you look at the offensive contributors individually, it’s easy to tell why the Baltimore offense has been so good.  Setting a minimum number of plate appearances to 200, you get a list of 11 players, with 6 of them being better than the league average according to OPS+.


Of the 5 players that are below an OPS+ of 100, you have Chris Davis at 98 (which is AMAZING considering he has batting average of .196), J.J. Hardy at 97 (only just below average, and combined with excellent defense at a premium position), and Caleb Joseph at 85 (also combined with excellent defense at a premium position).  The one player that really sticks out, especially considering the number of plate appearances he’s received is Jonathan Schoop.

So just how bad has Schoop’s season been offensively?  Well, to start he’s been the least productive second baseman in baseball when holding a bat, according to wOBA and wRC+ (minimum 400 PA’s).  With a little over a week to go, he’s on pace to get 487 plate appearances, and finish with a .212 batting average and .245 on-base percentage.  According to the Baseball-Reference play index, he’d be just the 8th player since 1947 to have a batting average less than .215 and an OBP less than .250 while receiving a minimum of 475 plate appearances.

Rk Name Yrs From To Age
1 Hal Lanier 2 1967 1968 24-25 Ind. Seasons
2 J.P. Arencibia 1 2013 2013 27-27 Ind. Seasons
3 Andres Thomas 1 1989 1989 25-25 Ind. Seasons
4 Bob Boone 1 1984 1984 36-36 Ind. Seasons
5 Pedro Garcia 1 1974 1974 24-24 Ind. Seasons
6 Zoilo Versalles 1 1967 1967 27-27 Ind. Seasons
7 Bob Lillis 1 1963 1963 33-33 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/18/2014.

Bob Boone and J.P. Arencibia are/were both catchers and four of the other five were shortstops or utility men, so if this holds, Schoop will be the just the second second baseman ever to accomplish this feat (Pedro Garcia was the first).  Admittedly, Schoop’s main value as a hitter comes from his power, where his isolated power of .145 is well above league average for second baseman (.113) and places him 5th among all second baseman (minimum 400 PA’s), ahead of names such as Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Ian Kinsler.
Jonathan Schoop turns the double play (photo via Keith Allison)

Of course, there are other reasons to play Schoop, in spite of his bat, mainly because of his defensive ability and the fact that the Orioles don’t really have a better option.  Many evaluators originally thought Schoop would be a better fit at third base, optimizing his strong arm and mitigating any questions about his range.  However, in his first major league season, Schoop has been better than expected at the keystone.  Obviously, one year of advanced defensive data can’t be considered fact (3 years of data is generally acceptable), but Schoop’s off to a good start as he is currently ranked the 4th best among second baseman according to UZR/150 and DRS (minimum 800 innings) in 2014.  Additionally, Schoop has been especially outstanding at turning the double play, leading all second basemen in Double-Play Runs.*

*August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs had a good article on J.J. Hardy’s ability to turn the double play last month that mentions Schoop’s ability to do so as well.

I’m a big fan of Jonathan Schoop and I think he’s going to be an excellent player in the future (both offensively and defensively), but he’s been overmatched at the major league level in 2014.  As Keith Law noted last week (ESPN Insider required and recommended), Schoop hasn’t had a successful offensive season since the first half of 2011, when he was playing in Low-A.  Depending on what happens in the offseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he starts next year in AAA.  However, we’re not there yet and there are some very important games in October to play before we do get there.  Right now, Jonathan Schoop is the best option that Baltimore has at second base.  We know he’ll play excellent defense, so all we can do is hope he holds a hot bat in October.

Editor's Note: an earlier version of this post stated that Schoop would be the first second baseman since 1947 to receive at least 475 plate appearances while hitting for less than a .215 average and a .250 OBP.  He is actually the second.  The post has been corrected to reflect that fact.