Steve Goldman is the Editor in Chief of Baseball Prospectus (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/)
Goldman has been with BP since 2003, writing the "You Could Look It Up" column which ties baseball history into current events, and now "The BP Broadside," a current events column. As an editor, Steven has supervised the creation of the BP books "Mind Game" and "It Ain't Over," as well as the last six editions of the New York Times best-selling Baseball Prospectus annual. As a solo author, he wrote "Forging Genius"about the professional education of Casey Stengel. He also writes the Pinstriped Bible (http://www.pinstripedbible.com/) for the YES Network.
You can find Goldman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/PB_Steve .
Orioles Hangout thanks Mr. Goldman for answering a few questions.
Orioles Hangout: “The O’s offense is underachieving, and there are questions with the bullpen. The team goes into Mother’s Day at 4 games under .500. When Matusz returns, Baltimore will have four competitive starters at the front of the rotation. Hardy’s return should also help the offense.
Prior to the start of the season we interviewed 22 National writers, with 78 being the average predicted win total for the O’s. Do you think the O’s meet that predicted total?”
Steve Goldman: “If you had asked me then, I would have been even a couple of games more generous than that, and called for something right around .500. Now I’m not so sure. With a few exceptions, they’re not hitting or pitching particularly well, and their record is probably a little better than it should be. They’ve played only 32 games as I write this, so we’re still a short way from being able to call their current record predictive, but their veteran imports have all flopped and I suspect they’re going to stay that way, so perhaps what you see is what you get after all.”
Orioles Hangout: “The O’s decision to add Vladimir Guerrero was hotly debated in Baltimore, and among Sabermetrical types Nationally. Getting past the decision of whether it made sense to add him (vs. keeping Scott at DH, and giving extensive playing-time to Pie and Reimold in LF), I’m interested of where you see Guerrero’s numbers ending. Through Saturday (5/7), Guerrero has a .684 OPS in his first 127 ab’s with four walks. In the second-half of ‘10, Guerrero had a .748 OPS (though it was .888 in September). We recently spoke with Matt Klaassen (FanGraphs / Beyond The Boxscore), who believes Guerrero will have a slugging percentage exceeding .460 in ‘11. Are you in agreement with Klaassen, or are you forecasting regression below that point?”
Steve Goldman: “PECOTA, our in-house forecasting system, thought he would slug .465, but I’d be more concerned with his on-base percentage, because not only is he apparently determined not to walk this year (despite drawing two on Saturday), he seems like a bad influence—the Orioles are last in the AL in walks drawn, last in walks as a percentage of their plate appearances. They weren’t any better last year, but that’s sort of the point: remember when Bobby Abreu went to the Angels in 2009, the team (which had traditionally hacked) became more patient, and Abreu’s influence was widely credited? Well, this is the opposite of that. “I confirm you in your views. Carry on.”
Orioles Hangout: “Getting past Guerrero, the most significant additions the O’s made this off-season were the acquisitions of Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy because they have the potential of being longer-term options. Reynolds is signed through ‘12, with a team option for ‘13, while Hardy is signed just through ‘11.
Hardy would play in just 6 regular-season games before suffering an oblique injury that forced him to the DL. This DL trip comes after playing just 115 games in 2009, and 101 games in 2010. Despite any perceived injury risks with Hardy, would it be a mistake for the O’s to wait until after the season to initiate contract extension talks?”
Steve Goldman: “Hardy has been all over the map since his 2007-2008 breakthrough, and injuries have been a big part of the problem. That said, when healthy last year he hit .304/.363/.442 , which is a lot more than the Cesar Izturis types of the world are going to give you. Given the shortage of shortstops, a team that is sincerely trying to build its way back into contention would want to have this guy around, because even with all the uncertainty and the tendency to spend too many days on the DL, the upside is something to hold on to. Yes, Manny Machado is coming, but (A) we don't know when, (B) it seems unlikely to be as soon as next year or even the year after, and (C) there is still some question as to if he's going to be a shortstop by the time you see him in big-league drag. I may be one of the few Hardy optimists out there, and I suppose even I would have my limits in terms of cost, because he should have to make some concessions for being a 100-game player, but again, I'd rather gamble on his providing some offense and some defense half the time than a more durable player providing some defense and no offense all the time.”
Orioles Hangout: “As far as long-term potential, who is the better trio? Markakis/Jones/Wieters or Matusz/Arrieta/Britton?”
Steve Goldman: “The latter. Markakis is what he is, and (this year’s poor start aside) what he is is good, but not of star quality but the next tier down. Jones has had two roughly identical seasons for the Orioles, and unless he can become a bit more selective, he is going to remain what he is, a very good combination of offense and defense and therefore a valuable player, but not someone who can be in the center of the offense. He’s 25, so there’s still some time for him to take a little hop forward. In a recent radio spot, I compared him to Robinson Cano in that Cano was at the same juncture in his career after the 2008 season, when he too was 25. He was able to make an adjustment and become a little bit choosier in what he swings at. No one will ever mistake him for Wade Boggs in terms of selectivity, but over the last two years he stopped getting himself out. We’ll see if Jones can do the same thing. Wieters… Well, I’ve gone on record as being disappointed in Wieters. He is 25 as well, and so maybe he can still figure something out, and he’s hit a little better this year than he has in the past. He has also been crazy good with runners in scoring position, which is nice but normally isn’t the kind of thing that lasts. Still, if he was going to be a star, I think we would have seen more evidence of it by now. He can catch and hit more than the average backstop does, so he’ll always have value, but we were all expecting someone the franchise could build around.
See? For those three guys we have to throw in all of kinds of qualifiers about who they are and where they might be going. The pitchers’ future is largely unwritten.”
Orioles Hangout: "Prior to the Matusz injury, Britton was ticketed for AAA. Most in Baltimore were in agreement that it made sense to keep Britton in the Minors until April 20th, for the organization to gain that additional year of service time. I think you can argue that the promotion of Britton was a mistake - that a full year of team control in 2017, likely means more than 3-5 starts to begin 2011. I also think you can argue the opposing view as well. The O's were initially doing what they could to protect their commodity (Britton) but that you can respect them for changing on the fly and doing what they needed to give this '11 team their best chance to win as many games as possible. As shown, he is clearly ready for the bigs Which side of the fence do you lean on?”
Steve Goldman: “I hate the whole Super-Two thing and wish teams could get back to making decisions on their baseball merits instead. With luck, the new labor agreement will sweep that away. Look, Orioles fans have not had anything to feel good about in years. If you can make this team one game better or five games better, or better in any conceivable way today, I think you have to do that just so the club has some legitimacy. Make up the extra you may have to pay Britton someday in ticket and hot dog sales. And then pay it! Because lord knows, the Orioles have found the scratch to pay less promising players than him.”
Orioles Hangout: “Chris Tillman told MASN’s Steve Melewski that he is purposely pitching with lowered velocity, to gain further control and movement. Pitch F/X is not showing much increase in movement. So far this year he has had three competitive starts, and three poor starts.
His K/9 ratio has increased from 5.20 last year, to 6.18.
His BB/9 has decreased from 5.20 last year, to 2.93 this year.
His HR/9 has decreased from 1.51 to 0.65.
His line-drive rate has decreased from 21.6% to 17.3%.
His tERA is 3.50. What are your present thoughts on the young-righty? When Matusz returns many believe Tillman will head back to Norfolk, with Bergesen staying in the rotation. Agree or disagree with that?”
Steve Goldman: “Tillman has given the Orioles just two quality starts in six tries, which is kind of a depressing ratio. Yet, as you point out, his peripherals are improved. His batting average on balls in play is .365 and his line-drive rate isn’t particularly high, so there is certainly an argument to be made that he should be allowed to hang around—particularly if the alternative is Bergesen, who is just rehearsing his eventual role as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
Orioles Hangout: “Fast forwarding to the non-waiver deadline, if the O’s are improved but outside of contention; do you foresee them actively shopping players outside of their younger core (Guthrie, Scott, Lee, Guerrero, Uehara, Gonzalez, Gregg) to augment the system?”
Steve Goldman: “Shopping, yes. Selling, no. Given the way most of that group has performed, I’m not sure they’re going to get a lot back for them. I’ve advocated for Guthrie and Scott to be traded in the past, but as I recently remarked on Twitter, given how easy it apparently is to forge a birth certificate, I’m not sure that Scott is who he says he is.
Should Uehara and Gregg continue to pitch well, there should be a market for their services. Lee, Guerrero, and Reynolds may be lost causes.”
Orioles Hangout: “In an interview with Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal (http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/baltimore-orioles-farm-system-lacking-022911), the Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail was asked about the minimal foreign talent in the system and he responded, “Philosophically, I’m not as committed to making the same commitments that we do in the (amateur) draft if it’s just going to be a workout. If you can’t see the guy play in a game, I think that is fraught with peril.” With Baltimore lacking the financial resources to go head-to-head for the top talent that hits the Free Agent market, is there any justification for the organization to have a lack of effort in International Scouting through design?”
Steve Goldman: “No, if that’s what he was really saying. It’s hard to imagine that’s what he meant, since such a large percentage of talent comes from there. Maybe he wants to be there on more of a budget than those teams that throw big money at teenagers, but you have to be there, period.”
Orioles Hangout: “In that same interview, MacPhail points out the large amount of signing bonuses the O’s have made since 2007 in the Amateur Draft. Part of that is the result of the O’s drafting high each of those years, and part of that is the O’s having targeted ‘over-slot’ picks during the respective drafts. The O’s Front Office has failed to gain (or protect) compensatory draft-picks in recent years. This is illustrated by the fact that during 2005-10 the O’s have had 17 picks during the first 3 rounds of the draft, while in that same period the Yankees have had 18, Tampa 21, Toronto 27, and Boston has had 30. This trend will continue in the 2011 draft. O’s Scouting Director Joe Jordan has confirmed the Orioles spent roughly $9M in each the two previous drafts. When asked if his budget for the ’11 draft was raised to $15M if there would be a corresponding change in draft strategy, Jordan responded by saying, “Now that would be fun! Overall philosophy wouldn’t change but I could definitely entertain a lot of scenarios.” Tying in the previous question, if the O’s are not going to invest significantly Internationally, should the Amateur budget be further increased, especially considering they have less high draft picks than their AL East peers?”
Steve Goldman: “One of the reasons for the lack of acquiring compensatory draft picks is, who the heck have the Orioles had leave them as a free agent that one would want to give up a pick for? You have to make good players to reap the compensation prize for losing good players. Until this recent run of good pitching, the O’s haven’t done that, so you have a self-sustaining vicious cycle. You can’t go over-slot and not spend money, just like you can’t use your high picks on lesser players because you’re afraid to pay for them. That said, the problem for the Orioles has been less one of money than of poor taste. They have picked in the top ten in the last five drafts. Of those picks, Brian Matusz and Manny Machado seem like winners, Matt Wieters has been a mixed bag, and Billy Rowell and Matt Hobgood seem like outright misses. Or how about Brandon Snyder, Wade Townshend, Adam Loewen, Chris Smith? There have been so many high picks that have been, for whatever reason, total losses. I don’t think the Orioles signed all of these guys on the basis of their being inexpensive, but rather in many cases they simply didn’t know what they were doing.
If I’m wrong about that and ownership is not adequately supporting player development and scouting, then the Orioles aren’t going to make a real run any time soon.”
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?”
Steve Goldman: “I would say so, yes. But you still have to be good.”
Orioles Hangout: “Entering May, Wieters’ OPS was .826, and had some early success with Runners in Scoring Position. Many Baltimore fans were asking if it made sense to move him up in the lineup. A recent cold-spell has dropped that OPS down to .714. The next time he gets hot, do you move him up, or keep him batting in the lower 1/3?”
Steve Goldman: “As I said earlier, success with RISP is nice but isn’t something you can depend or build upon. Better to just let him hang out where he is until he shows overall consistency, something that hasn’t happened yet. Yes, he’s been great with runners on and fairly miserable the rest of the time. He’s finished trouble but hasn’t started it. Until such time as he does, where he bats in the order is of really minor concern.”
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