On a monthly basis Orioles Hangout will be checking in with Dan Szymborski, the Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Think Factory (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/) and a contributing writer for ESPN.
You can also find Szymborski on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/DSzymborski
Below is our second installment in this series.
Orioles Hangout: “Tampa has proven over the past three seasons that a well run franchise can reach the post-season, even with far less resources than the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. That said, if a second wild card team is added to each league, are the three largest beneficiaries Tampa, Toronto, and Baltimore?”
Dan Szymborski: "It’s definitely a good thing for the “others” in the division as it gives another way for the teams to make the playoffs. Is it the ideal system? Probably not, but as long as there will be wild card teams (and there will be), this method reduces the value of getting a wild card as opposed to winning the division. Most years, that second wild card team doesn’t even need 90 wins to get a play-in game. Baltimore has a legitimate complaint about the cruelty of playing in the AL East, but even in a tough decision should be able to build an 88-win team."
Orioles Hangout: “Through his initial 80 ab’s, Mark Reynolds has 2 homers, and his wOBA is just .258. For his career, his Swinging Strike % is 17.3%. In ‘11 that has been reduced to 14.8%. I think he has had too few ab’s to determine if he adjusted his approach, but would you agree that any alteration to reduce his k’s that also reduces his power would be a mistake?”
Dan Szymborski: When you have a player that strikes out a ton, as Reynolds does, the natural inclination is usually to try to get him to cut back on the strikeouts. As the argument goes, if you can just eliminate a strikeout a week, that’s about 10 hits a year, enough to boost the batting average by 15-20 points and OPS by 30-40 points a year.
However, reality’s not that simple. While coaches can always tinker and help a player, there’s very limited success in baseball history at completely changing a hitter’s approach at the plate. Reynolds’ success in the past, though mixed, was based on him swinging the bat pretty darn hard, when it comes down to it. That approach does lead to a lot of strikeouts, but sometimes you just have to accept a player for what he is. If you have, say, a John Lowenstein that can’t hit lefties, the solution, more often than not is to simply put the player in situations in which he can succeed and accept that you’re not going to have a perfect player.
There’s no doubt some bad luck in the mix as well – I doubt any remotely competent MLB/AAA/AA will have balls in play turn to hits at rates lower than pitchers (.220s) for an extended stretch of time. However, Reynolds has been awful and probably the best approach at this point is to get his mind off making contact and try to get him back to the “grip it and rip it” guy he was in 2009.
If he doesn’t, the O’s just have to move on. They really didn’t give up a lot for Reynolds and without a long-term commitment, the team may just need to accept at this point that this idea isn’t working out and look at Josh Bell again or another long-term idea."
Orioles Hangout: “Jeremy Guthrie has a career BABIP rate of .270. With the O’s, he has consistently outperformed the league average of .290 to .300. Why do think this is? Pitch selection? Location? Movement? Other?”
Dan Szymborski: "I suspect it’s due to the very late movement his best pitches (fastballs and slider) have. He’s probably not a true .270 BABIP guy (BABIP is very volatile and even with 3500 batters faced, you’d still expect him to be about halfway between his career number and league average), but he’s definitely showed some real ability to consistently come out with a lower-than-usual BABIP."
Orioles Hangout: “As we end April, Matt Wieters has an OPS over .800 (his second full month as a major leaguer over that mark), and is showing some early improvement as a right-handed hitter against LHP. He is also 9 for his first 10 with runners in scoring position. Should the O’s move him up in the lineup, or continue to bat him 8th?”
Dan Szymborski: "The O’s should slowly start to move him up, simply because he should be a better hitter long-term than several guys currently hitting ahead of him. It’s probably not something to worry about too much. Studying batting orders is one of the oldest bits of baseball research and the difference between an absolute optimal lineup – itself difficult without perfect knowledge of how players will play – and a regular old lineup is only a few runs a year. As long as your manager isn’t hitting a pitcher first or sticking Albert Pujols 9th or deciding that Alexi Casilla is your cleanup hitter, simply keeping your batters comfortable is probably the most important thing."
Orioles Hangout: “Nick Markakis has started the year poorly (.569 OPS in his first 93 ab’s). I fully expect Markakis to finish around his career averages (.823 OPS), but am curious if the extended slumps Markakis seems prone to are common throughout baseball for players of a similar skill-set?”
Dan Szymborski: "Extended slumps are common for any player with any skill-set. While we like to think that the scientific, contact guys are more consistent and the free-swingers are inconsistent, everyone’s pretty susceptible to the long, horrible slump. Markakis will be fine, like Carl Crawford will be, though it will have an effect on his final stats (after all, we can’t expect him to have an extra amazing streak out there, his poor play so far is in the bag, so to speak)."
Orioles Hangout: “There are a lot of Baltimore fans that are frustrated by how inept Michael Gonzalez has looked to start the season. I’ve argued the obvious point that his 310 career major league innings matter more than what he done over 5 innings here in ‘11. Low hits per IP, high K’s per IP, mediocre to poor control. If he is healthy, is there any reason to believe he will not produce more than he fails this year?”
Dan Szymborski: "I suspect Gonzalez will be fine. He’s never had great control but he hasn’t “gone Wohlers” and it’s never a good idea to go to crazy over the results from a handful of innings."
Orioles Hangout: “Zach Britton has started his major League career with 4 wins in his initial 5 outings, with an ERA under 3. His OPS against is .629, and he has a 1.47 G/F ratio. Where is he in your early American League Rookie of the Year hierarchy?”
Dan Szymborski: "I’d definitely put him ahead of Kyle Drabek at this point – Drabek has had some control issues – but J.P. Arencibia is probably a safer pick at this point as hitters are less flaky and his power numbers are likely to stay well up there, even if his OBP comes down some more, which is likely. Chris Sale will be better and put up a fight and one of the KC relievers (Aaron Crow or Jeremy Jeffress) could be a challenge. Especially Jeffress, as he may be the best candidate to get saves if the Royals trade Soria after falling out of it in the next couple of months. Jeffress has a pretty explosive fastball and if he racks up 10-12 saves in the last couple of months, he might get all the attention. I’m also probably forgetting someone obvious (luckily for Britton, Peter Bourjos had too much playing time last year).
People should remember that Britton still doesn’t have a lot of experience at the MLB level and there will be some rough patches."
Orioles Hangout: “When Brian Matusz returns, who do you think should stay in the rotation - Chris Tillman or Brad Bergesen?”
Dan Szymborski: "Tillman. Despite the first couple of starts, Tillman still has a lot of growing left to do as a pitcher and the AL East is a rough environment for a young pitcher. Bergesen is pretty much what he is, a 4th/5th starter, and probably isn’t going to learn much more at AAA."
Orioles Hangout: “Vladimir Guerrero has gone through his first 100 ab’s without drawing a walk. One difference with Guerrero today vs. the player he was in his prime is that he no longer draws intentional walks. If his ability to get on base is going to be almost totally tied to his average, he has to slug at what level to provide value to the O’s lineup? As of 4/18, Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs liked Guerrero to slug over .450. Do you agree with that?”
Dan Szymborski: "That’s probably about right, though as I mentioned in a recent ESPN piece, Guerrero’s primary value to the Orioles is what, if anything, they’ll be able to get him. If you really want to see him net a decent prospect, he’s going to have to be hitting at least 280/300/500 or something like that considering his lack of defensive value."
Orioles Hangout: “Derrek Lee has 1 hr in his first 94 ab’s. Many are wondering what the 35 year-old has left. By the time we speak to begin June, do you think he will have rebounded, or will the O’s be looking to move him out of the lineup?”
Dan Szymborski: "I wouldn’t worry too much about a month. Lots of bad decisions in baseball happen when someone has a small sample of play that just happens to coincide with a belief about the player. Even if you feel Lee is just about done, a month is still a short amount of time, and you don’t want to end up having confirmation bias push you into a decision. Nolan Reimold’s not hitting yet, but if he starts crushing AAAers, the O’s will have little option but to either dump either Lee or Guerrero or trade them for what they can get. Reimold’s not going to be a star, but he’s still more important to the team’s future than either of the veteran sluggers."
Orioles Hangout: “Last month you asked O’s fans how much is the fanbase willing to take at the moment. Specifically asking if getting the win total into the 80s was the primary desire, even if it came to the detriment of a long-term plan. Heading into May, what is your question for O’s fans this month?”
Dan Szymborski: "If the Orioles decide in the next few weeks that this season isn’t going to work and redouble their efforts for 2012 and 2013, if you’re one of the people that really hoped they would drive for .500 for this year, how would this affect your enthusiasm for the O’s? Any thoughts on the O’s returning to WBAL? It seemed so strange for them to be elsewhere after growing up listening to Miller and Angel on 1090.
Also, anyone know if any of the good pit beef joints that ship by the pound in dry ice? I’m only in Baltimore about 20% of the time and it absolutely kills me that I can’t get real pit beef west of Hagerstown. I can get crabs and crab cakes shipped pretty easily, but the paucity of pit beef in my life is making me very sad."
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