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Mike Oz on the unwritten rules in baseball

Posted on 20 October 2015 by WNST Staff

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Statheads and ex-jocks, can’t we all just get along?

Posted on 11 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The spat between Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is just the latest example in the battle continuing to be fought across multiple sports.

The “old school” way of thinking versus statistical analysis.

Never mind that the mindsets aren’t mutually exclusive, you better choose one or the other in this fight!

Despite being a self-proclaimed baseball nerd — we’ll use that sport for our example — I’ve always maintained it’s up to the individual to decide how dedicated and in depth he or she wants to be as a fan. After all, we’re talking about sports and not matters of national security.

It’s supposed to be fun.

Embracing sabermetrics to adapt how I study the game in recent years hasn’t swayed my enjoyment in watching a perfectly-executed relay or a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Finding new ways to educate yourself about the game isn’t a mandate — however, it should be for those who work in the game and want to remain relevant — but it’s silly to criticize simply because we may not understand or be interested.

Admittedly, statistical analysis is heavy as it can quickly start to feel like a calculus lesson instead of a baseball discussion. With many of these advanced stats — OPS-plus, FIP, UZR, and WAR just to name a few — I’ve developed a functional understanding of what they mean and how to apply them without wasting brainpower remembering how to calculate them. It’s akin to enjoying the steak without dwelling on how it’s prepared at the butcher shop.

For anyone not convinced of the value of sabermetrics — but will at least humor me — I typically present three questions:

1. Would you rather have a .300 hitter or a .260 hitter?

Many — not all — traditional fans will go with the .300 hitter, which has long been viewed as a benchmark for greatness, but how much does batting average really tell us?

In this case, the .300 hitter could also be a free swinger who doesn’t walk often and hits for very little power. In contrast, let’s pretend the .260 hitter clubbed 60 extra-base hits and walked 80 times over the course of the season. Under such a scenario, the .260 hitter is likely to be the far superior option without getting into their value on the bases or in the field.

This is why on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is embraced while batting average is being thrown aside by many statheads as a limited piece of information. If you want to take it a step further, OPS-plus takes into account how a hitter’s home ballpark — think of a pitcher’s park in Oakland compared to a hitter’s park — impacted his performance and allows for better comparison among players across the league.

2. Do you want a pitcher with a 3.70 ERA last year or one who had a 4.00 mark?

Again, many purists will point to the hurler with the lower ERA and be right in most cases, but is it always that simple?

What about the defense he played with in comparison to the group that was behind the other pitcher? What if one was really lucky or had great misfortune over a number of starts?

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is complicated to calculate, but it uses the outcomes a pitcher solely controls (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and home runs) to produce a value on the same scale as ERA. Its intent is to eliminate factors such as defense and bloop hits in trying to assess a pitcher’s effectiveness and to help predict his future performance.

As an example, the 2014 Orioles ranked seventh in the majors in team ERA (3.44), but they ranked 24th in team FIP (3.96). It reflects just how much Orioles pitching benefited from the exceptional defense behind it — which confirms what many purists witnessed with their own eyes, mind you — and how it would likely fare with an average defense.

3. Would you prefer the shortstop who made six errors or the one who made 12 last season?

This question is a good one as baseball fans have long been prisoners to a lack of data to truly assess defense. Hypothetically, a player could stand in one spot on the field all year and not commit an error, but that would make him quite poor defensively, wouldn’t it?

Sabermetrics are ever evolving when it comes to measuring defense, but numbers such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are finally accounting for how much ground a player covers in the field. The measures aren’t perfect as there is fluctuation from year to year, but we’ve taken giant leaps from the days of simply quoting the number of errors, putouts, and assists a player collects.

To answer the above question, we need to know how the first player’s range compares to the second shortstop. If the latter gets to many more balls in the hole and up the middle, it’s logical to conclude he’s likely to commit more errors, but how many more outs will he also have created in the process?

Of course, the three above questions only scratch the surface of what’s out there in baseball.

Statistical analysis is about accounting for variables and answering questions. There isn’t one fancy statistic that should be viewed as gospel — or a number to which you become a “prisoner” in Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s words — in the same way that no person’s gut feeling or eyeball test is foolproof, either. Computers and numbers don’t play the games on the field, but they can tell us more about what’s happening and what is likely to happen next.

It’s possible to appreciate the human element as well as what the numbers say. In fact, we might even find that a statistic will confirm a gut feeling or an observation.

If more statheads were willing to explain their rationale and more traditionalists were open to learning, we wouldn’t have the embarrassing exchanges like we saw this week between an NBA general manager and one of the great players in league history.

There’s a place for both statistical analysis and traditional evaluation if we’re willing to embrace both.

And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a Hall of Famer to do it.


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Sizing up the Orioles-Royals American League Championship Series

Posted on 10 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the start of the American League Championship Series now upon us, here’s how I see the Orioles and Royals stacking up in their first-ever postseason meeting …

Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: The Royals play small ball better than anyone, but the Orioles don’t waste outs and have the ability to dramatically change a game with one swing of the bat and scored 54 more runs during the regular season.

Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: Kansas City is very strong in the outfield and behind the plate, but the Orioles have a clear edge in infield defense, which tips the scale in their favor in this category.

Starting pitching
Advantage: KANSAS CITY
Skinny: The Royals’ starter ERA of 3.60 was just a hair better than the Orioles’ 3.61 mark and the veteran presence of James Shields gives Kansas City someone who’s pitched in a number of big games before.

Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: The trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera is every bit as good as Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and Darren O’Day, but the Orioles are a little bit deeper beyond that, which is more significant in a seven-game format.

Advantage: KANSAS CITY
Skinny: There isn’t a more lopsided advantage for either club as the Royals stole 153 bases to lead the majors while Baltimore managed just 44 to rank last in that statistic.

Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: The Royals were riding a wave of momentum in topping Oakland and the Angels to advance to the ALCS, but the Orioles endured everything thrown their way this year on the way to 96 wins.

Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: Royals manager Ned Yost deserves credit for allowing his young players to be themselves this season after he was previously more of a taskmaster, but Buck Showalter is the better tactician and it isn’t really close.

Unsung hero – Kevin Gausman
Skinny: In a best-of-seven format, there’s bound to be a start or two that isn’t up to par for either side and Gausman’s stuff in a shorter stint in relief is a wild card that we already saw play out in Game 2 of the AL Division Series.

Prediction – Orioles in six games
Skinny: Once you move past their different styles offensively, Baltimore and Kansas City are quite similar in every other phase of the game, making this series difficult to predict. However, the emotional wave that the Royals were riding against the Athletics and the Angels had a chance to subside over the last five days while the Orioles simply looked like themselves against Detroit and were the better club than Kansas City over the course of 162 games.

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Young’s simple approach nets huge dividends for Orioles in dramatic Game 2 win

Posted on 03 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Following one of the most dramatic moments in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Delmon Young appeared to be the only one who didn’t view his three-run double as anything special after the Orioles’ 7-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Friday afternoon.

Asked how it felt to hear the roar of the crowd after he connected on a liner down the left-field line off Joakim Soria and what it meant to lift his club to a dramatic comeback victory to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series, Young was short and unemotional with his answers as if he didn’t understand why such a fuss was being made. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Young has delivered in October as it was just a few years ago that he hit eight home runs over two postseason runs with the same team he put on the brink of elimination Friday afternoon.

“Just like winning a ballgame,” said Young about how he felt as just a trace of a half-smile briefly came across his face. “I was trying to do my job and win a game. You don’t want to go to Detroit [tied] 1-1 when they have [David] Price going and [Rick] Porcello going and they have an opportunity to clinch up there.”

The coming days will determine where Young’s hit might ultimately rank in club history, but the 29-year-old’s bases-clearing double has at least given him folk-hero status in a 22-year history of Camden Yards that doesn’t include a long list of great on-field results.

It all started quietly enough with the Orioles signing Young to a minor-league deal following a tryout at their January minicamp in Sarasota. His career appeared at a crossroads after a mediocre season with Detroit in 2012 and a disappointing campaign split between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay a year ago.

But the Orioles only envisioned a platoon role for him against left-handed pitching, and manager Buck Showalter quipped after Friday’s game that no one was smart enough to anticipate Young’s 10-for-20 mark as a pinch-hitter in 2014, providing timely hits throughout a 96-win campaign even after stretches when he’d sit on the bench for days at a time.

“He’s always been a good hitter,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who scored the go-ahead run on Young’s double and played with him in Minnesota in 2010. “But pinch-hitting, we look at each other in the dugout after he gets a big hit and we’re like, ‘How does he do that after not seeing a live pitch for five or six days and then just come in and hit a pitch like that down the line?’ It’s unbelievable.”

Young shrugged when asked how he’s been able to come through off the bench in the late innings so often, calling it good fortune and stating that it’s a matter of simply being ready whenever Showalter calls his name. Now with his fifth different club in the last four years, the journeyman almost made it sound as simple as rolling out of bed to step to the plate before returning to a state of relaxation after getting the job done.

But teammates know better, applauding his preparation and ability to do something that even many of the most-skilled hitters in the game struggle with.

“It’s the hardest job in sports, being a pinch-hitter,” said first baseman Steve Pearce, who’s filled a similar role to Young’s in past seasons and is a career .190 pinch-hitter in 88 plate appearances. “You’re going up there cold; you haven’t seen any pitching. Bullpen pitching [is] even tougher. That’s why he’s so good. He keeps everything simple. He doesn’t read into anything. He just goes up there and hits, and he does a good job of that.”

Showalter said Young is one of those players that allows a manager to rest his head on his pillow when thinking about using him, because he’s always going to be ready. Young has rewarded that faith with big hits throughout the season.

But none were as dramatic as his game-winner on Friday, putting the Orioles in position to advance to the AL Championship Series with just one more win over the Tigers.

“We don’t know if magic is the word to use,” said Young about the Orioles scoring 12 eighth-inning runs in the first two games of the series. “We’re just trying to beat a very good ball club in Detroit.”

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Orioles acquire outfielder De Aza, infielder Kelly Johnson in separate trades

Posted on 30 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Looking to augment their roster in their final push for the American League East title, the Orioles acquired outfielder Alejandro De Aza from the Chicago White Sox and infielder Kelly Johnson from the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night.

Unheralded minor-league pitchers Miguel Chalas and Mark Blackmar were sent to Chicago to complete the deal for De Aza, who will provide a much-needed left-handed bat and speed, two areas in which the Orioles could stand to improve despite a comfortable seven-game lead in the division entering Saturday. The 30-year-old is hitting .246 with five home runs, 31 runs batted in, and 15 stolen bases while seeing time at all three outfield positions this season.

“We have been looking to get a little bit better balance to our lineup with the addition of a left-handed hitter,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “De Aza is a left-handed hitter that can help balance out the lineup and contribute to the team. We thought it was important to continue to add major league players who can help us in September and also be eligible for the post-season when we advance.

De Aza is a career .268 hitter with a .331 on-base percentage and 77 stolen bases in seven major league seasons. In 2013, he hit .264 with 17 homers, 62 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases in 153 games.

The Orioles hope De Aza can provide what they hoped they were getting when they acquired David Lough from the Kansas City Royals last winter, but the latter is hitting just .213 in his first season in Baltimore and has largely been relegated to late-inning defensive replacement duties and pinch-running in the second half.

He is expected to report to the Orioles for Sunday’s game, meaning the organization will need to make a 25-man roster move to activate him. De Aza is eligible for arbitration and not scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2015 season.

In a separate trade, Duquette acquired Johnson and minor-league infielder Michael Almanzar from Boston in exchange for Triple-A Norfolk infielders Jemile Weeks and Ivan De Jesus. Johnson will give the Orioles a veteran option at third base in the wake of the season-ending injury to Manny Machado and is hitting .212 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 87 games split between the New York Yankees and the Red Sox.

Johnson has a career .250 average with a .332 on-base percentage in nine major league seasons spent with Atlanta, Arizona, Toronto, Tampa Bay, the Yankees, and Boston. Johnson has played games at first, second, third base, and left and right field this season.

“Kelly Johnson can play a couple of different positions,” Duquette said, “He’s familiar with the American League East, he’s played for all the other teams but ours, and now he’ll get a chance to play for ours. He’s got some power and he can get on base and he can hit right-handed pitching, and that gives us some more options to help our ball club. ”

Manager Buck Showalter said Johnson is not expected to report to the Orioles until Monday when rosters can expand to 40.

Almanzar was selected by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft this past winter, but the organization elected to return him to Boston in early July. He is a career .251 hitter with 55 home runs and 333 RBIs in seven minor-league seasons.

Acquired in the Jim Johnson trade last offseason, the 27-year-old Weeks batted .278 in 62 games for the Tides while dealing with injuries this season. De Jesus was a .282 hitter in 113 games with the Tides.

The 22-year-old Chalas was 3-4 with a 4.48 ERA in 30 relief appearances between Triple-A Norfolk and Single-A Frederick this season. Over five minor league seasons in the organization, Chalas sported a 24-21 record with a 3.73 ERA.

Blackmar, 22, was 10-1 with a 3.18 ERA in 26 games (18 starts) for Frederick this season. In four years in the Baltimore organization, Blackmar went 21-13 with a 3.75 ERA.

Earlier Saturday, the Orioles outrighted pitcher Suk-min Yoon and infielder Cord Phelps to Norfolk, creating two open spots on the 25-man roster.


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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Orioles 9-Game Scorecard (Games 81-89)

Posted on 08 July 2014 by Luke Jones

During the 2014 season, Drew Forrester and Luke Jones of The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will provide the “9-Game Scorecard” for the Orioles, evaluating the club in nine-game increments in a number of categories and looking ahead to how Baltimore will fare over the next nine games on the schedule.

To hear the full explanation of the most recent “Orioles 9-Game Scorecard” during Tuesday’s show, click HERE.

1. Should the Orioles have been better or worse than their 7-2 mark?
Drew: Worse
Luke: Better

2. Most Valuable Player/Least Valuable Player
Drew: MVP – Nelson Cruz; LVP – Chris Davis
Luke: MVP – Adam Jones; LVP – Brian Matusz

3. Biggest surprise
Drew: The Orioles going 4-1 during the Manny Machado suspension
Luke: The struggling Chris Davis falling below the Mendoza line

4. Best thing about the nine-game stretch
Drew: The Orioles bats coming alive during the end of the last homestand
Luke: Winning the series finale in Boston despite squandering a 6-1 lead

5. Nine games from now…
Drew: The Orioles will be ahead by five games in the American League East
Luke: A limited platoon surfaces with Chris Davis losing some at-bats to Steve Pearce and Delmon Young

6. Record in the next nine games (three with Washington, three with the New York Yankees, three at Oakland)
Drew: 9-0
Luke: 6-3

7. Stock rising/falling over the next nine games
Drew: Rising – Miguel Gonzalez; Falling – Ubaldo Jimenez
Luke: Rising – Manny Machado; Falling – Steve Pearce

8. Grading Buck Showalter in games 81-89
Drew: A
Luke: B+

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Orioles officially recall Gausman, option Berry back to Bowie

Posted on 07 June 2014 by WNST Staff


The Orioles announced Saturday that they have recalled right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned left-handed pitcher Tim Berry to Double-A Bowie. Gausman is scheduled to start Saturday’s game against Oakland.

Gausman, 23, has pitched to a 2.98 ERA (42.1IP, 14ER) in 10 starts for Norfolk this season

Berry, 23, was recalled yesterday and did not appear in last night’s game. He has gone 3-3 with a 4.12 ERA (63.1IP, 29ER) and a career-best 3.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 starts for the Baysox this season.

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Orioles 9-Game Scorecard (Games 46-54)

Posted on 03 June 2014 by Luke Jones

During the 2014 season, Drew Forrester and Luke Jones of The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will provide the “9-Game Scorecard” for the Orioles, evaluating the club in nine-game increments in a number of categories and looking ahead to how Baltimore will fare over the next nine games on the schedule.

(Editor’s note: Since this nine-game scorecard officially ended on Saturday night, it does not include the final game of the Astros series, which will be included as part of the next nine-game increment.)

To hear the full explanation of the “Orioles 9-Game Scorecard” during Tuesday’s show, click HERE.

1. Should the Orioles have been better or worse than their 4-5 mark?

Drew: Better

Luke: Better

2. Most Valuable Player/Least Valuable Player

Drew: MVP – Nelson Cruz; LVP – Manny Machado

Luke: MVP – Nelson Cruz; LVP – Chris Davis

3. Biggest surprise

Drew: Chris Davis’ inability to get on a roll offensively

Luke: Chris Davis getting back in a major funk after returning from paternity leave

4. Best thing about the nine-game stretch

Drew: Steve Pearce continuing to contribute whenever called upon

Luke: The starting pitching stabilizing during the Houston series

5. Nine games from now…

Drew: The Orioles will be under the .500 mark

Luke: The Orioles will stand alone in second place in the AL East

6. Record in the next nine games (1-0 at Houston, three at Texas, three with Oakland, two with Boston)

Drew: 4-5

Luke: 6-3

7. Stock rising/falling over the next nine games

Drew: Rising – Bud Norris; Falling – Ubaldo Jimenez

Luke: Rising – Manny Machado; Falling – Nelson Cruz

8. Grading Buck Showalter in games 46-54

Drew: B+

Luke: B-

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Wieters to avoid surgery on ailing right elbow

Posted on 07 May 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 2:10 p.m.)

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is in the midst of the best offensive start of his career, but concerning news that surfaced Tuesday caused many to fear his season might be in jeopardy.

The news was more encouraging a day later as multiple outlets reported the two-time Gold Glove catcher will not need surgery for his sore right elbow. Wieters visited renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday to have his elbow examined as the Orioles wanted to rule out the worst-case scenario of an ulnar collateral ligament tear, an injury that likely would have required Tommy John surgery.

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed that Wieters underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that the concern was with the flexor mass and not Wieters’ UCL.

“He’s been getting it treated for a while,” Showalter told reporters in St. Petersburg Tuesday night. “We just want to make sure we know what we’re dealing with. He’ll be back for the game. We just want to follow up. Hopefully he’s catching for us [on Wednesday].”

It appears that Wieters will serve as the club’s designated hitter at least in the short term as he rests an elbow that’s given him trouble over the first five weeks of the season. The 27-year-old was sidelined for a game with forearm soreness in Toronto two weeks ago and has thrown out just one of 12 runners trying to steal this season, a significant drop from his career rate of throwing out 33 percent of potential base stealers.

Triple-A Norfolk catcher Caleb Joseph was scratched from the Tides’ original lineup in Louisville on Tuesday, an indication that he would be joining the Orioles in St. Petersburg. Baltimore outrighted infielder David Adams to Double-A Bowie last weekend to create an open spot on the 40-man roster.

Wieters was in the lineup serving as the Orioles’ designated hitter in the series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night. Even though it appears that Wieters will be avoiding a trip to the disabled list, it’s possible the Orioles will still purchase Joseph’s contract to serve as the backup catcher to Steve Clevenger for the time being.

Needless to say, the loss of Wieters behind the plate and in the lineup for any significant time would have been a devastating blow to the Orioles as he is batting .341 with five home runs and 18 runs batted in over 99 plate appearances.

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Series Synopsis: Royals come to Baltimore looking to end skid

Posted on 25 April 2014 by WNST Staff

The Royals are one of those teams.

On the cusp of being “good,” the Kansas City faithful has hung onto the idea that likes of Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer would lead a generally irrelevant franchise back to a level of respectability it enjoyed during the 1980s and the days of George Brett.

Tonight, a (10-11) Kansas City team rolls into Baltimore looking for some upward momentum after losing four of its last five.

What you need to know about The Royals:

2014 Record:  10-11, last place in AL Central, two games back of first.

2013 Record:  86-76, Third place in AL Central.

Managed by:  Ned Yost.

Streak:  After winning six straight, the Royals have dropped four of five.

Turning Point: Royals’ DH Billy Butler has struggled mightily through 21 games, batting below the Mendoza Line (sub-.200).  If he can find a way to get his bat going, along with the rest of the solid KC lineup,  it could spell trouble for an O’s rotation that has struggled to minimize pitch-counts and efficiency.

Pitching Matchup of the Series:  Ubaldo Jimenez takes the bump for the fifth time as an Orioles’ starter.  He’ll be paired with Royals’ flame-throwing sensation Yordano Ventura.  Jimenez (0-3) is still looking for his first win this season, while Ventura, after earning his first Big League win two starts ago, is looking to rebound from a rocky outing last weekend.  This matchup will set the tone for the series, and if Ventura has his command working, Jimenez could find himself in another spot where he needs to work into the late innings and be much better than he’s been thus far.

Prediction:  The O’s bats came alive in Toronto, and with a healthy lineup for this weekend series at Camden Yards, there’s no reason to think the Birds can’t take two-of-three.





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