Posts tagged ‘Baltimore Orioles’

Monday: 08.5.2013

Jim Johnson’s “Regression” Is 5 Bad Innings

When Jim Johnson had his dream season in 2012 – complete with an MLB-best 51 saves – many in the fantasy community screamed “REGRESSION!!” at the top of their lungs. The biggest hurdle for most (I believe) was getting their heads around a low-strikeout reliever being a dominant closer. Johnson’s next 20 percent strikeout rate will be his first and that’s not even special for a reliever let alone a primetime closer. Relievers have averaged a 22 percent rate in each of the last two seasons with the best sitting in the 30s (well the absolute best like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman post absurd 45-50% rates).

What didn’t make sense about the cries for regression was the seemingly forgotten or overlooked fact that Johnson threw 91 innings at his 2012 levels the year before with all of his key indicators being nearly equal:

jjohnson1112

Now his ERA indicators were calling for a jump with FIPs of 3.22 and 3.25, but that is hardly egregious. In short, this GB-heavy approach wasn’t a fluke.

Essentially two-thirds through the 2013 season has yielded some interesting results for Johnson as those thinking it couldn’t last might feel justified by his 3.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. But are the Johnson naysayers really “right” if the entire “regression” came in about a two-week, five-inning stretch from mid-to-late May? While Johnson’s ERA is more than three-quarters of a run higher than in 2012, you can make a case that he’s actually been better save a 10 percent portion of his season. To wit:

 jjohnsongoodbad

I realize this is some gaming with selective endpoints, but when four of the nine outings during which he allowed earned runs are clustered in about a two-week sample, I don’t think it’s egregious to show the before and after on each side. At its core, this is less about Johnson and more about just how skewed reliever numbers can be given their relatively small innings totals.

If you just lifted those five innings from Johnson’s totals, his numbers are through-the-roof brilliant. We can’t do that, but look at those numbers since he emerged out of his funk; they are quite excellent, too. In that particular sample, his groundball rate is at 66 percent – even better than the astronomical 62 percent rates from the last two years. By the way, he is once again leading baseball in saves with 38 and he’s actually outpacing his 2012 total. His pace of 55 would tie him for the third-most in baseball ever and the most since Eric Gagne hit the mark in 2003.

Always dig into a reliever’s numbers as the front page of their Baseball-Reference profile will often mislead you.

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Sunday: 02.3.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 19 Days – Adam Jones

Only 19 days until live game action… and many folks officially turn their attention back to baseball tonight after the Super Bowl (Go Niners!)

With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

ADAM JONES

I talk often about how we can’t expect linear growth (and I’m hardly the only one) from young players. As exciting as it is to see a big age-22 season as a 380 PA/100 game call-up, we can’t just assume that they’ll take the experience and expound on it the following year as a full-time player. Hell, even if they log 500+ playing 140-something games as a full-time player in that age-22 season, there are still no guarantees that, even with good base skills, they’ll improve the following year.

It just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes it does and it’s magical, but often we see players experience a series of ups and downs in the early 20s as they amble about like a baby goat trying to establish themselves on firm ground. Regardless of their pedigree coming up, they may bounce around statistically for multiple seasons before finally becoming what we saw in the minors. And of course, they might not ever reach those minor league expectations. Adam Jones fits the former description.

Jones, a supplemental first round pick of the Mariners back in 2003, was a well-regarded prospect landing in the Baseball America Top 100 in both 2006 (64) and 2007 (28). He had a few cups of coffee with the Mariners, but was eventually traded to Baltimore in that huge Erik Bedard trade. His 2008 Oriole debut wasn’t particularly special as he showed just a bit of the power and speed that we’ve now come to expect from him yearly. He’s now headed into what he hopes will be his sixth straight *full* season (500+ PA) and fifth straight of better than league average performance.

ajones1

He surged forward in his second full season adding 10 home runs and improving his strikeout and walk rates, all in virtually the same amount of playing time. Despite adding 102 plate appearances the following year his production was essentially static in the counting number while his walk rate plummeted while the strikeout rate ticked back up. He rebounded at age 25 and then took another step forward last year for his best year yet. And depending on how you delineate it, he either just entered his prime or has yet to do so, either way the future is bright.

Is 2012’s power jump for real? The 18.8 percent HR/FB rate isn’t outlandish given his 2009 and 2011 rates. He did a lot of his home run damage in May hitting 10 with a 31.3 percent HR/FB rate, but at the other end of the outlier spectrum he had just a 9.1 HR/FB rate in August when he hit just two home runs so they cancel each other out a bit, though it’s reasonable to say May’s outburst contributed a good bit to his surplus over 2011. Nothing within his profile loudly screams that the 32 home runs were a fluke, though I’d probably land in 25-28 range for a projection. He didn’t hit a ton of flyballs (32.6 percent), but his 21.5 line drive rate offset that a bit.

Jones now has three straight seasons of established performance averaging a .284 batting average, 25 HRs, and 12 SBs, with the latter two categories on the rise year over year. The 2012 season may be the best of his career, but there is legitimate room for improvement given his skills and age especially since we’ve seen him do better with the walk rate in the past. I happen to think he can take another step forward with his batting average and put together a handful of .300+ seasons. It’s not much of a jump from the .280s anyway so I’m not exactly going out on a limb, just outlining something that is a reasonable expectation in the near future. Taking it a step further, a .320 or better season where he contends for a batting title in the near future wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Bet on a big batting average jump before another 32 HR season.

Monday: 01.25.2010

Is Markakis Overrated? Not So Fast.

There was a piece yesterday at AOL Fanhouse by an RJ White suggesting that Nick Markakis is overrated based on his average draft position (ADP) of 49th overall and 12th amongst outfielders. He’s surrounded by Adam Lind (43rd) ahead of him and a group including Josh Hamilton (51st), Curtis Granderson (53rd), Adam Dunn (54th) and BJ Upton (58th) shortly after him. His career highs are .306, 106 R, 23 HR, 112 RBI and 18 SB. All but the runs and average came in 2007 while the other two were in 2008. Last year was his worst in the last three, but he still managed a .293-94-18-101-6 line.

I used to be driving the bandwagon that this guy was overvalued and I’d tell anyone who would listen. My biggest issue was that I didn’t see him (and still don’t) getting back to that 18-stolen base level anytime soon and yet many of his profiles on websites and in magazines kept hearkening back to that 2007 total implying it was bound to come back that season. I came around on him when I noticed something this fall. I plugged Markakis’ lows from AVG-R-HR-RBI into Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index looking for occurrences of players reaching each of those thresholds in the last three years. The line, by the way, is .293-94-18-87. A line I don’t think many would consider AMAZING by any stretch but recognize as solid.

The results are what brought me back to Markakis’ side. In addition to Markakis, only Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have hit those numbers or better in each of the last three seasons. Only David Wright and Alex Rodriguez have done so twice while 21 others have done it once. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of consistency, especially in this game we play let alone on the field for the Orioles. In Mr. White’s article he touts the merits of Carlos Lee (68th) and Andre Ethier (71st), two fine outfielders, as markedly better picks than Markakis. How do they stack up to Markakis? For Lee, he discusses how he is just as capable of hitting .300 as Markakis while maintaining more power (though he recognizes the 4-year decline for Lee). What he misses is that Lee is 33 and likely to continue that decline or plateau for a year or two more while Markakis is 26 years old and entering his prime. It’s not at all unreasonable to believe that Markakis will return to the low 20s or even begin to set new career highs. Another miss from Mr. White is the runs scored column. In 2008, Lee scored just 61 runs but could be given a pass having played just 115 games, but in 160 games last year he managed just 65. I’ll grant that the category is more of a team-dependent one than individual, but it still counts and a 30-run split is significant. I’d bet on the Baltimore lineup before the Houston one if for no other reason than the growth of Matt Wieters thus giving the edge to Markakis in runs scored again.

Ethier is a different matter whereby he matches up better with Markakis statistically, but he also proves my point about Markakis’ power totals likely jumping up in the coming season. To wit, Ethier hit 11, 13, 20 in his first three seasons (spanning ages 24-26) before exploding for 31 last year. His AB/HR in that period was 31.1 and then 19.2 in 2009. Markakis has hit 16, 23, 20 and 18 in his first four seasons (spanning ages 22-25) with an AB/HR of 30.7. With Ethier’s power boost came a sizeable drop in batting average. He averaged .299 for three years before hitting .272, a total of 17 hits based on his 2009 at-bat total. Markakis has hit .298 the last four seasons, but it’s not out of the realm that a power boost would also come at the cost of some batting average. The two were neck-and-neck in runs and RBIs last year, but it was Ethier’s first season topping 90 in both. This is where Markakis’ consistency comes into play again as he’s scored 90+ each of the past three seasons and been below 100 RBIs just once with 87 in 2008.

I think Ethier stands up vs. Markakis, especially 22 picks later. But that brings up one of my least favorite things about ADP comparison articles: lack of context. Twenty-two picks seems like a lot, but Markakis at 49 is the beginning of the 5th round while Ethier at 71 is the end of the 6th. If you have that 49th pick, you drafted first overall giving you 1, 24, 25, 48, 49, 72, 73. Your only chance at Markakis, Ethier and even Lee is that 49th pick based on ADP so the ADPs of Lee and Ethier are irrelevant at that point. When judging the three on their statistical merit alone, I think Lee gets removed from contention based on age-induced decline. Now you’re comparing an ultra-consistent 26 year old entering his prime with an in-his-prime 27 year old who just showed the excellence he is capable of with a career year in 2009. It’s a pick ‘em at that point. The important thing to note is that draft trends suggest that a pick in the top of the 5th is likely your only chance at one of these guys. The other may fall to you with the last pick of the 6th, but it’s a risky bet.

Markakis definitely isn’t being overrated at this juncture in the mock draft season so much as he has been the preferential pick to a host of other comparable outfielders. I’d certainly recommend against Mr. White’s recommendation of taking Lee or Manny Ramirez (62nd) for age-related reasons while Ethier is a coinflip and a reasonable case can be made for either. Among the other in proximity not mentioned by Mr. White, I’d take Markakis over Hamilton and Michael Bourn (64th) without question, I’d take Granderson before Markakis and Dunn, Upton and Nelson Cruz (67th) would depend on my team makeup at that point in the draft. Markakis doesn’t have a standout category like Dunn’s power, Upton’s speed or Cruz’s healthy mix of both, but he also doesn’t have a gaping deficiency like Dunn’s average, Upton’s average and RBIs and Cruz’s runs scored and batted in totals. I think it is that lack of a standout category that causes some to believe Markakis is overrated as evidenced by the fact that Mr. White only looks at his power as compared to Lee and Ethier.

This game is about the balance between accumulating value and mitigating risk whenever possible making a guy like Markakis a strong, but unheralded and often underrated pickup on a team. Not only does his consistent track record alleviate risk, but there is also a viable upside that could come to fruition this season and increase the value of the pick thereby covering for some of the risk that will invariably reside on your roster. Not every pick, in fact not many picks will draw the oohs and ahhs from your leaguemates and make you feel like the smartest person in the room, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad picks or reaches.