Matt Klaassen is a contributing writer to both FanGraphs (http://www.fangraphs.com/) and Beyond the Boxscore (http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/)
You can also find him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/devil_fingers
Orioles Hangout thanks Matt for answering a few questions.
Orioles Hangout: “Prior to the start of the season, you had an interesting piece asking, ‘How Significant Is Batting Order?’ http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/how-significant-is-batting-order/
Based on lineup optimization, what do you think should be the O’s everyday lineup (inclusive of Hardy once off the DL)?”
Matt Klaassen: “Keep in mind that the optimization guidelines given in Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin’s book (http://www.insidethebook.com) are just that – generally guidelines summarizing the typical findings of a Markov model. To get it right for specific situations you really need to use a simulation or Markov modeler. Also, the results obtained depend on how you project the “true talent” of the hitters involved. Keep these things in mind.
“True” optimization requires a lot of different stuff. I’m going to just do a limited version here, using ZiPS preseason projections. The tools I use (which I prefer to the classic Baseball Musings analysis tool) don’t allow me to compare all possible batting orders, just to check each one individually. I’ll compare to the opening day batting order (Roberts, Markakis, Lee, Vlad, Jones, Scott, Reynolds, Wieters, Hardy). One should use different batting orders versus left-handed and right-handed pitchers ideally, but projecting each event probability for platoons… well, that makes for a ton more work. I’ll just do an “everyday” batting order (and this is what most teams do, although some teams make one or two changes). As I type this, I honestly don’t know if my suggestions will actually be any better than the Opening Day lineup (and the Orioles are already ahead of a lot of teams by putting a good hitter [Markakis] second!) once they are plugged into the model and simulation, but we’ll see what I can come up with!
With a simple simulation, the best lineup I got wasn’t that much different from what the Orioles are doing now. My lineup Roberts, Markakis, Lee, Vlad, Scott, Reynolds, Jones, Wieters, Hardy. One of the biggest differences in this sim was flipping Jones and Reynolds – it really doesn’t like Jones hitting ahead of Reynolds. It’s worth noting that this model doesn’t take double plays into account, and both Lee and Vlad tend to ground into quite a few, which is a problem in the third spot, especially.
However, in the Markov model I did use that is more complex (and time-consuming), it actually didn’t mind Vlad hitting third. There weren’t a whole bunch of big changes… until I tried Luke Scott in the leadoff spot. It loved that, and I could have pushed it more to get wilder results, but I stopped. The best I got with that was: Scott, Lee, Vlad, Markakis, Reynolds, Roberts, Jones, Wieters, Hardy. Having Roberts further down makes sense – his basestealing and speed aren’t leveraged hitting in front of guys like Scott and Reynolds who have a lot of power, but you don’t want to give him more plate appearances than e.g., Markakis.
Take it as you will, there are obviously different ways of modeling these things, and Os fans should just be happy that Buck Showalter is hitting Markakis second, rather than having Hardy up there due to his “bat control” or something like that.”
Orioles Hangout: “In the FanGraphs organizational rankings, the O’s were ranked 15th overall, and 5th overall in Future Talent. As Keith Law / ESPN, and Baseball America had both ranked the O’s in the lower 1/3 in their Prospect rankings, presumably the FanGraphs Future Talent ranking was based mostly on the players at the Major League level whom have yet to reach their prime. (Jones, Wieters, Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, Tillman, Bergesen etc.)
I’m not sure if you participated in the rankings, but regardless were you surprised of where the O’s wound up? If you were in the Orioles front office, would the main focus be figuring out how to augment that core?”
Matt Klaassen: “I did participate in the overall rankings, just ask the furious Red Sox fans who pointed out how biased I am against their team since I said that they were the best team in baseball. You can see why they were so upset… For the rankings the bulk of us gave grades for “present talent,” “front office,” and “finances,” but only our minor league experts did the future talent stuff. I was a bit surprised how high Baltimore’s overall ranking was, some of that may be to idiosyncrasies in how we do the rankings, and a lot of teams minor league grade got bunched together, so a lot of the teams in the middle could conceivably be ranked a lot higher or lower. And, yes, the Orioles front office should be trying to augment the core with players in the majors and minors who are going to be helping beyond 2011, which is why their off-season as a whole (especially in light of similar moves last off-season) puzzled me.”
Orioles Hangout: “In a prediction piece to start the year, you wrote, to the effect, that the O’s were a mediocre non-contender. That if they got off to a hot start, that words would be wasted that they ‘might make it’, but that they would not, and will not contend for even the wild card.
I don’t think many would disagree with you too much here. The expectations in Baltimore have basically been an Orioles team that is around .500 in ‘11, that likely finishes in 4th place. I had the O’s at 83-79, and 4th. I believe you had the O’s around 79 wins. I guess my only surprise was how definitive your verbiage was. If the O’s get Matusz back to end the month, they should be able to run out 4 competitive/capable starters (Matusz, Guthrie, Britton, Arrieta), and have reasonable answers for the 5th (Bergesen, Tillman). The offense has been anemic here to start the year, but league average production should be within reason.
Would it really be shocking to you if that group played a bit over their heads, and won 85-88 games (and were basically right on the outside of Wild Card contention)? If so, at what point during the ‘08 season did you believe in the Rays (66 wins in ‘07, 97 in ‘08)?”
Matt Klaassen: “Well, back in 2008 I thought of baseball a lot differently, and no one cared what I thought. Frankly, people still shouldn’t care what I think (and I’m sure very few do).
I felt a bit bad that I brought up the Orioles in three separate negative comments in that post (even though they were all different ways of saying the same thing). And really, the post was supposed to be “really obvious and easy” predictions, not “probably very true” ones. After the Giants last season, we shouldn’t write any mediocre team off. The Rays, of course, looked good going into the 2008 season according to both PECOTA and CHONE, although that is forgotten/never realized by mainstream writers who think the Rays came from out of nowhere (sigh). The 2011 Orioles don’t have that kind of upside.
So while putting the Orioles non-contention status in with things like “people will overreact to small sample sizes” was rhetorically problematic on my part, well, what you’re doing above is something a lot of us do: “If everything goes right for the Orioles, but everyone else has the usual or worse luck, they could be in this thing!” Well, yeah. One could make similar predictions for, say, the Blue Jays. Heck, my beloved Royals are 10-5 as I type this, and if Gordon maintains his .360 batting average, Kila starts to hit, Bruce Chen continues his Cy Young run, Jeff Francis continues to guide balls into he fielders’ gloves, Moustakas and Hosmer come up in June and instantly begin to rake, Alcides Escobar hits more like Yuniesky Betancourt and less like Tony Pena, Jr., and Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Gavin Floyd, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Justin Morneau all suffer devastating injuries, they’ve got a shot! Anything could happen!
Sorry, couldn’t help myself.”
Orioles Hangout: “Let’s play over/under. I’ll throw out some predicted stats, you tell me if you take the over or under.
When we last spoke in early February, I said I expected a team era around 4.20, and for the O’s to score 115 more runs in 2011. You said you found the team era prediction overly optimistic, and the run prediction optimistic, but within reason. So, I’m guessing you would take the over for the team era, and the under for the runs? (O’s scored 613 runs in 2010, 115+ would obviously be 728 or above.)”
Matt Klaassen: “I don’t think I’ve seen enough to change my opinion .Still under on the runs, but the offense is better than it has played so far. The over on the era, the pitchers have been getting pretty lucky given their peripherals. That is not to deny the exciting potential on the staff, however.”
Orioles Hangout: “Going into Saturday’s game, Markakis had a .736 OPS. Over or under on exceeding his career OPS of .829?”
Matt Klaassen: “I think he’ll hit close to that over the rest of the season, but for the whole season, I think he’ll fall short.”
Orioles Hangout: “Mark Reynolds has had a (-5.9) UZR/150 for his career at 3rd. Over or under on him matching the 2.5 mark he had in 2010? Over or under on 35 homers?”
Matt Klaassen: “Well, the main thing is whether or not he’s good at defense, as one year of UZR can go a lot of ways due to sample size issues. He seems to be a below average third baseman (although he isn’t completely horrible there), so I guess the basic gist is “under.”
As for the home runs… What the heck, I’ll take the over.”
Orioles Hangout: “Brian Roberts has a career wOBA of .345. Over or under for 2011?”
Matt Klaassen: “I think his “true talent” is close to that, but given his slow start, he won’t quite make it there by the end of 2011.”
Orioles Hangout: “Derrek Lee had a .774 OPS in 2010, including an .888 mark after the All-Star break. He entered Saturday with a .638 mark. Over or under 145 games, 20 homers, .750 OPS?”
Matt Klaassen: “No idea on games… maybe just under? Just over on 20 homers. Over on .750 OPS. Surely people aren’t panicking about Lee already? Lee isn’t a super-duperstar, and I didn’t love the signing for the Orioles given their situation, but he is still a pretty good hitter. His contract with the Cubs was too big, but he remains sort of underrated.”
Orioles Hangout: “Vlad Guerrero had a .496 Slugging % last year for Texas. As of Saturday, currently .340 for the O’s. Over or under that he has a .460 Slugging % in ‘11?”
Matt Klaassen: “Over.”
Orioles Hangout: “Adam Jones has had a walk percentage of 4.8% for his career. (6.9% in ‘09, currently 2.1% in ‘11). Over or under that he exceeds his current career rate?”
Matt Klaassen: “This is a tough one. It will be close. I usually have faith in young guys, but while Jones has loads of potential, there’s nothing really encouraging about his plate discipline. Hope I’m wrong about this one for the sake of O’s fans, but I’ll to take the under.”
Orioles Hangout: “Matt Wieters currently (as of Saturday) a .608 OPS, and a .714 OPS for his career. Over or under that he finishes with a .775 OPS this year?”
Matt Klaassen: "I think you forgot to put a “1” in front of that decimal point… But seriously, that’s a tough one. Wieters is a little bit like pre-2009 Alex Gordon (in some ways, bear me out): super-hyped coming out of college and the minors, disappointing in the majors (although better than people think), seemed to have a long swing, and so on. But Wieters’ peripherals still look pretty good, he’s healthy, a stud athlete, and he also plays a good defensive catcher (even if he’s not old enough nor helpless enough at the plate for TV geniuses to say anything about it). A .775 OPS from a catcher would be really good. I could go either way. I think it will be close, but I’m going to say a bit under. He could very well prove me wrong and hit 25 home runs this season with a good OBP. Still, a catcher doesn’t have to hit like Joe Mauer or Brian McCann to be a quite valuable.”
Orioles Hangout: “Tampa recently signed Wade Davis to a long-term extension (team options for what would be his first two years of free agency), essentially buying their way out of the arbitration process. Should the O’s be aggressively doing the same with their young starters?”
Matt Klaassen: “Yes, just about every team should. That deal is so good for the Rays that it is hard to see them losing on it barring serious injury to Davis, and I’m not super-high on him. It isn’t a Longoria contract (because Davis isn’t close to being a Longoria-level talent, then again, very few pro baseball players are; Longoria is one of the best players in the game) but geez… Yeah, any team should do that with their good, young players. I realize that Davis is now set for life, but one still has to wonder what are the agents are thinking with all these club options.”
Orioles Hangout: “The Orioles get to the non-waiver trade deadline, and are within striking distance of the wild card. Should they be trading everyone that is not part of their younger core, for any value they can obtain?”
Matt Klaassen: “It depends on what you mean by “striking distance.” If you mean “if the season ended that day, they would be in it, the Rays are still out of it, at least one of the Red Sox or Yankees have had serious injury issues and are behind them, and no other team has emerged in the Central,” then no. Otherwise: yes. They should have been doing that last season with valuable guys like Scott. I mean, trade the other old guys, but only good players on cheap deals are going to bring back value.”
Orioles Hangout: “Adrian Gonzalez (29 on May 8th, .873 career OPS, good fielder) signed a 7 year $154M extension with Boston. Prince Fielder (27 on May 9th, .921 career OPS) figures to hit the open free agent market this coming Winter. If he does, and the O’s want to get involved, what type of contract should the O’s be prepared to offer?”
Matt Klaassen: "There’s no doubt that Fielder is going on the market this winter. Adrian Gonzalez is an excellent player, but that’s definitely on the upper end of what he’s worth, in my opinion. Of course, the Red Sox’ financial situation permits them to make those kinds of moves (although somehow they feel free to whine when the Yankees do it; cf. Texeira, Mark). Fielder is a tremendous hitter and will only be 28 next season. He is the kind of player the Orioles should take a shot at, especially given that they are in the DH league, which is probably Fielder’s best position. The Orioles should have room for him (assuming they don’t drink the Vlad Kool Aid… again). Players like Fielder (tons of power, terrible defense) have been overvalued in the past, but in the past few seasons, that seems to have changed a bit. Despite his relative youth (compared to most free agents), there will also be some concern about how a player with his, um, “body type” will age. I’ll say this: I’ll be surprised if he gets less than 5/100, despite, and that’s probably on the low end. A lot of things can change in terms of the economy and Fielder’s 2011 performance, so I’m hesitant to speculate further. But I do think that’s the lowest sort of contract he’ll get on the open market. How much bigger it will be, I don’t know. But I don’t think it will be 7/150.
The really fun part of Fielder’s free agency will be watching the Angels screw up their negotiation with him causing Fielder to sign elsewhere. Feeling pressure to “do something,” the Angels will panic and trade Mike Trout for Ryan Howard.”
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