Keith Law on Hunter Harvey's fastball

Keith Law (ESPN Insider) on Hunter Harvey's outing against the Hagerstown Sun from yesterday afternoon:

I last scouted Harvey exactly one year ago, and his stride is still moderate with a leg swing rather than a step-over, and his release point is a little higher -- he's still finishing over his front side, but not extending as far as he did in high school. But he's more fluid now, with less effort, yet without losing any arm speed. I have heard of better velocity from Harvey, but 92-94 with this kind of sink and a swing-and-miss curveball will be a deadly combination if he can just work in an average changeup. 

The pitching depth in the minors is certainly the O's organizational strength at this point.  Velocity isn't usually as important as fastball location.  Without the command, 96-98 mph doesn't matter as much.  

Case in point - Zach Britton.  Command of his sinking fastball was half of the missing equation (with health being the other).

Buck on the best from Spring Training


From Roch Kubatko:

"We wanted Brian to get the feel for his changeup back and start," Showalter said. "If we had an injury or some trade had happened or something, Brian... Because nobody had a better spring than him with the exception of maybe Zach (Britton). So, with Troy being out, we wanted to make sure that we had a feel for the left-handed part of that, especially with four right-handed starters. And making sure you have length."

Obviously the changeup was a huge point of emphasis over the winter.  


Nelson Cruz and the Market for Players

from Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs:

All offseason long, Nelson Cruz was thought of as a terrifying land mine. Plenty was written elsewhere, plenty was written right here, and in early November, Dave used the term “land mine”, specifically, to refer to Cruz as an acquisition. It was understood that Cruz was seeking a major contract. It was understood that Cruz was overrated as a contributing player. It was understood that everyone was to prepare to laugh at the team that eventually gave Cruz a whopper of a deal. Cruz became something of an unfunny offseason punchline. Then he signed with the Orioles for a year and eight million dollars. There are incentives, worth a total of less than one million dollars.

All along, it was assumed Cruz would end up with something statistically unreasonable. What he got instead is something that’s more or less fine for that kind of player, and this is one of the dangers of reaching conclusions about the market before the market reaches a conclusion about a player. As Dave has illustrated, or will illustrate, it’s interesting that this is what Cruz was reduced to. Something else that’s interesting is how the Orioles’ earlier acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez in part allowed the Cruz signing to take place.

The thing Paul and I have been talking about at the Observer all off season.

Keith Law on the Ubaldo Jimenez signing

I feel like posting this is a jinx to Jimenez's physical but something has got to go the O's way this offseason.  From Keith Law's ESPN Insider piece on the signing:

The Ubaldo Jimenez that the Orioles are hoping they'll get is the version we saw in that second half, sitting mid-90s, throwing more strikes, missing more bats with the fastball so he can get to the plus slider and above-average splitter. If you're just grading out the pitches, he'll have outings in which he pitches with three 60s or better, and now he sometimes he can harness that stuff as well. For roughly $12 million a year, it seems like a bargain; the risk here is that Baltimore just guaranteed that salary for four years to a guy who has had, speaking broadly, two good half-seasons in his major league career.

Something Paul and I have been talking about is what we would like to see happen with Kevin Gausman.  If Gausman was our fifth starter when the Orioles break camp, it would have been fine with us.  The Jimenez signing does allow more breathing room for Gausman to refine his slider in AAA and come up mid year as a real weapon:

Gausman's slider was at its best in September when he was working in relief, and when he carries that over to a starting role, he'll be ready not just to pitch in the major league rotation but to do well in it. If Gausman looks ready in March, they could bump Yoon or Bud Norris to the bullpen, but if not they have a little more depth now with Ubaldo on board and Mike Wright also available for the fifth spot. 

Keith Law on the the O's top 100 Prospects

Keith Law (Insiders Only) on Schoop, ERod, Harvey, Bundy, and Gausman:

No. 86: Jonathan Schoop

He is a monster physically, and when he's healthy, he has plus to plus-plus power already, with 25-30 homer potential in a few years. He had some trouble with his swing this season after the back issue cropped up but looked better in the AFL -- more balanced throughout his swing and looser than he had been all season. But his timing was off and he didn't perform any better in Arizona than he had in Triple-A.

No. 43: Eduardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez will sit 91-94 mph with his fastball, mostly four-seamers with the occasional two-seamer, and has a plus changeup in the 84-88 range with good arm speed and hard fading action to his arm side. His slider is inconsistent, mostly 82-83, short and sometimes flat but other times sharp enough for him to backfoot a right-handed hitter.

No. 38: Hunter Harvey:

The Orioles have started to try to clean up and simplify his delivery, getting him more online to the plate. He's going to put on another 15-20 pounds, and if the changeup comes along he might end up in the same tier as Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy as a potential No. 1 or 2 starter.

No. 31: Dylan Bundy

He has an outstanding delivery -- the mere act of pitching does bad things to an elbow -- but Bundy generated most of his power from his lower half, and if we graded conditioning and work ethic Bundy would have graded out as an 80 in both.

He's an incredibly special talent who should still be an impact player if the surgery proves to be nothing more than an extended vacation for him.

No. 23: Kevin Gausman

He was in the majors too soon and could use a good 15-20 starts in the minors to focus on improving his command and feel for that pitch, but the promise he showed with it in relief -- MLB hitters failed to put any of the last 25 sliders he threw in 2013 in play -- should give Orioles fans a lot of optimism.

Buck responds

Roch Kubatko asked Orioles manager Buck Showalter for his thoughts on other doctors weighing in on the Grant Balfour situation:

Showalter responded tonight and he didn't pull any punches.

"How did you phrase it? 'Unusual?' " he asked. "I think it's borderline unethical. How's that?

"I don't think it's any of their business. I know our doctors. I know how good they are. I know the painstaking things they go through. Nobody talks about all the things they get right. We go through physicals on J.J. Hardy. We go through physicals on Chris Davis. We go through physicals on all these guys. They've made great decisions, not just for us but for our fan base. To have someone weigh in on it from afar and wonder if there's some ulterior motive there, that does bother me.

The Ken Rosenthal's, Peter Gammon's, and Buster Olney's of the world don't own and operate teams, yet their insistence on quoting third party doctors and then saying, "Case closed.  Orioles are stupid" is classic ignorance or arrogance, probably both. 

Buck continued:

"We liked the player. We still like the player," Showalter said of Balfour. "We just didn't like the two-year commitment compared to one year when you look at so many track record decisions made on guys. Every pitcher that you take in there is going to have some wear and tear on their elbow and shoulder and whatever. And (the physicians') educated decision was such. And I back them. I could rattle off a bunch, but they wouldn't want me to, of decisions they've helped us make that turned out very well.

"Some people just like to get their name in the paper. I guess it gets more people to come in their doctors office. I don't know. Or maybe they have a certain kinship or connection with the agent that represents that player. I don't know. But I can tell you that I took it personal. And I know the class that Dr. (John) Wilckens and them operate with that they will not get in that arena and not get on that level. And I'll leave it at that."

And I'll leave it at that as well after saying one more thing.  Balfour still hasn't signed on anywhere.  The national spin will probably be that he hasn't signed because the Orioles desecrated his good medical report.  But it's really starting to look like the truth is rolling much farther from that and closer towards legitimate issues.

I wouldn't be shocked if Balfour eventually takes a one year deal with the Orioles.  I think it is a complete long shot, but stranger things have happened. 

Going deep to save the bullpen?

From Bryan Cole at Beyond the Box Score:

From this analysis, we conclude that the efficacy of "saving the bullpen" is overstated, and that there is little if any carryover effect on the bullpen from a longer outing by a starter. Admittedly, there are some improvements to the methodology described here, including developing a probit model (as opposed to a simple linear regression) and using statistics that more directly measure bullpen performance. However, the results here serve as a first approximation showing that any potential dynamic effects from a long outing are most likely too small to contribute to player valuation models such as wins above replacement (WAR).

This conclusion is counter-intuitive and in some ways unsatisfying, as it suggests that innings-eaters have no value beyond their performance. Yet given the choice between a starter who contributes two WAR over 200 IP and one who contributes two WAR over 150 IP, I believe most front offices would prefer the starter who throws more innings. This suggests that we should continue to work to improve our player valuation models to account for such dynamic effects.

This off-season, I've seen Oriole fans bemoaning the lack of starting pitchers going deep into games.  Pitchers who average 7+ innings a start are rare.  They can be counted on one hand.  But that's another story.

The most interesting part to be is that potential effects of a long outing are just too small to have any meaning in WAR.  WAR certainly isn't perfect but it's still the best all around indicator that we have to determine overall player value.  

As we are in the Hall of Fame season, you have someone like Jack Morris, who ate up innings but also was much less productive later in games.  He potentially "saved the bullpen" but at what cost to the game or the overall course of the season?

Does a pitcher who goes 6 innings and lets up 2 runs mean as much as a guy who goes 8 innings but lets up 4?

In a perfect world, you want your starter to go 9 innings and let up 0-1 runs.  Most of the time, that gets you a win. But the world isn't perfect and I would be ecstatic about any member of the Orioles starting staff producing 6 IP/2 runs a start.

Grant Balfour's Intensity

from Jonah Keri's 2011 book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First

Balfour’s signature moment that season came in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the first playoff game in franchise history. With the bases loaded and two outs in a key spot, Balfour and White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera began yelling at each other, with Cabrera kicking dirt toward the mound and taunting Balfour to throw the ball over the plate. A fiery and animated competitor even in meaningless games, Balfour blew a fastball by Cabrera for strike three, pointed at him, then shouted, “Sit the fuck down!”

Bring on the Yankees and Red Sox!