Episode 17: Manny Comin’ – August 9, 2012. Duration: 16:26. 

The Style:

The show opens with someone whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” That someone was Omar from The Wire. This particular clip was from Season 1 Episode 5 and ends with someone yelling, “Omar’s Comin!” Why was this clip chosen? Was it because Manny (Machado) was coming?

For this episode Ben is in Manhattan. Ben also lets us know that Sam is in California, in his garage, in his car, under the compost heap, and the lights that keep the worms from escaping. Sam compliments Ben’s ability to paint a picture. We’re off and running.

The Substance:

Sam’s topic for the day is Roy Oswalt’s struggles. Ben elects to talk about the Orioles calling up Manny Machado from AA.

Sam notes that Roy Oswalt has had a rough few days. He recently pitched in relief and pulled himself after two innings. Following the game Ron Washington appeared to throw Oswalt under the bus. Oswalt had recently joined the Rangers and he was struggling. He was sent to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for Scott Feldman.

Sam goes on to read a portion of an article written by Buster Olney from July 2006. When that article was written, Oswalt was 28 and he told Olney his goal was to retire at 33. Why would one of the best pitchers in baseball want to retire at such a young age? Oswalt would eventually play beyond age 33, but maybe he should have stuck to the original plan.

Sam looked at all the players since 1950 that have been most similar to Oswalt from the five years between ages 23-37. He took ten guys, five above and five below in a popular player assessment statistic. The average age of when these ten left the game was 33.4 years. The average age of their last good season, which Sam considered to be better than an average ERA while qualifying for an ERA title, was 31.6. The aging curve for these pitchers was right around the timeline that Oswalt discussed in the article.

Ben was surprised because he would have expected pitchers as good as Oswalt to age gracefully. Sam starts to look at some specific comparisons to Oswalt. Names on this list include Mark Gubicza, Dean Chance, Brad Radke, Sam McDowell, and Jose Rijo. Carlos Zambrano also looks to be on this same trajectory.

Ben mentioned it was surprising to see Oswalt decline a third inning of relief work. You rarely see a pitcher take himself out of the game, and there seems to be a stigma attached to pitchers who “don’t want the ball.” It’s especially surprising given his recent tantrum about his role change. Why would a pitcher who was frustrated with a reduced work load decline more work? Sam attributes this to Oswalt’s lack of experience in the bullpen. It’s possible that since Oswalt didn’t have a defined role he didn’t feel as strong an obligation to pitch.

Their final note on this topic deals with the Rangers short leash with Oswalt. Ben commented that Oswalt’s peripherals weren’t so bad that he needed to be moved to the pen immediately. Sam agrees. Oswalt’s stats were good, other than the amount of homeruns he was given up. However, he had been hit hard in back-to-back starts in the middle of a playoff race. Since he was the last man in, he was the first guy out.

Next up was Ben’s topic. The Orioles decided to call up Manny Machado from AA. He was the Orioles’ top position player prospect and one of the best prospects in baseball. This was a bit of a surprise, as most people didn’t expect him to get promoted any time soon. Surprisingly, the Orioles were  leading the Wild Card race, and they called up Machado to give them a boost.

Machado was still very young (20) and he had been very hot as of late. However, he wasn’t having a particularly great season. Ben notes that it’s a lot to ask a guy to go from AA to the majors in August in the middle of a playoff race. The Orioles seem to be happy with J.J. Hardy at shortstop, so the plan is for Machado to get playing time at third base in place of Wilson Betemit. Ben mentions that Betemit had been hitting pretty well, and third base wasn’t a black hole that the Orioles were trying to fill. He’s concerned that this might set too high a bar for Machado to clear.

Sam brings up Mike Trout as a comparable situation. He was a month younger than Machado when he got called up, and unlike Machado, he was crushing the ball in AA. However, Trout came up and struggled. It was clear he wasn’t ready to face big league pitching. Trout didn’t play every day and was eventually sent back down. He was called up again, but still didn’t play everyday. The Angels and Trout both felt like those few months were really beneficial for Trout. With this in mind it’s hard to expect much out of Machado. However, the same scenario paid off in 2003 for the Marlins with Miguel Cabrera, so perhaps this could give the Orioles a boost.

Ben suggests that even if Machado struggles offensively, he should be able to handle his position defensively. He’s skeptical that this move will help the Orioles at all as their playoff odds are still likely in the single digits. Ben and Sam both expect the Orioles to collapse. Sam closes the show by mentioning that it wouldn’t hurt to throw a random variable in the mix and see if it helps.

Supplement:

Sam was right. Things weren’t expected to get any better for Oswalt and they didn’t. Over the course of 2012 Oswalt appeared in 17 games for the Rangers starting nine of them. He ended the season with a 5.80 ERA in 59 innings. His next and final season was even worse. He started six games for the Rockies in 2013 and appeared in relief three times. In just 32.1 innings he amassed an 8.63 ERA and 52 ERA+.

The Orioles surprised all of baseball by making the playoffs in 2012. Not only that, they won their wild card matchup against the Rangers and took the Yankees to five games in the NLDS. Machado played in 51 games for the Orioles down the stretch slashing .262/.294/.445. He played well in the wild card game getting three hits, but would only get two more hits in five games against the Yankees. He wasn’t sent down following the season and played in 156 games for the Orioles in 2013.

In other news, Mike Trout’s time spent struggling in the majors early on does not appear to have adversely affected him. He’s doing okay.

 

Episode 18: Popcorn Popping
August 10, 2012. Duration: 16:12 

The Style:

The intro audio clip was the sound of popcorn popping…for about fifteen seconds. Sam welcomes everyone to the show for Friday August 6, and then realizes it’s the 10th. As of this episode Effectively Wild matched the entire series run of Freaks and Geeks! This speaks well of EW’s cultural impact. On a related note, Ben had just finished watching the entire run of Freaks and Geeks for the fourth time. Sadly, someone borrowed Sam’s DVD set and hasn’t returned it yet. If you have Sam’s copy of Freaks and Geeks please give it back to him.

The Substance:

Ben wants to discuss R.A Dickey. Sam chooses to discuss Eric Chavez.

Ben begins the discussion by noting that Dickey pitched a complete game shutout the previous night. He had been a little less effective lately, but now he appears to be back on track. As of now, Dickey appears to be the favorite for the NL Cy Young assuming that the Nationals shutdown Stephen Strasburg. Dickey’s manager, Terry Collins, has even talked about pitching Dickey on short rest to try and get him some more wins.

In order to gauge Sam’s confidence in Dickey moving forward, Ben wants to play “Would you rather have _______ or R.A. Dickey for 2013.”

Sam LOVES this game.

Ben notes that someone might doubt Dickey because of his age and because he hasn’t been this good before. However, he is a knuckleballer so it makes the question interesting.

As of this point in the season Dickey was 7th on the FIP leaderboard among pitchers w/ 100 innings. The game will consist of the top 20 pitchers on the FIP leaderboard. This game is only concerned with which pitcher you’d rather have for next season (2013). It also doesn’t take into account contractual matters.

I’ll start by typing the name of the player that Ben suggests and in parentheses I’ll put the name of the player that Sam chose.

Strasburg (Strasburg), Wade Miley (Dickey), Gio Gonzalez (Gio), Zack Greinke (Greinke), Felix (Felix), Sale (Sale), Verlander (Verlander), Kershaw (Kershaw), Josh Johnson (Dickey), Cueto (Cueto), Adam Wainwright (Dickey), David Price (Price), Jason Hammel (Dickey), Jered Weaver (Weaver), C.C. Sabathia (Sabathia), Jake Peavy (Dickey), Chad Billingsley (Dickey), Jarrod Parker (Dickey), and Jordan Zimmermann (Zimmermann).

In all Sam chose twelve of the top twenty pitchers over the best pitcher in the NL for 2012. Ben agrees with these choices and admits he might have taken more. He’s worried every time Dickey has a bad start and assumes it’s the end of his run.

Earlier in the season Sam had been asked in a chat if he was a believer in Dickey’s breakout. At the time he was asked, Dickey had only made five starts. Sam wonders how hitters will react to his knuckleball in the future. Many of the hitters facing Dickey haven’t encountered this type of pitch and they’re currently at a disadvantage.

Sam opens up the conversation on Eric Chavez trying to figure out how to pronounce Chavez. Chavez homered on the day of the show and Sam notes a few months ago that this would have been tweet worthy. However, he was having a good year at this point. He was almost having an identical year to his run from 2002-2005 when he had a .354 OBP, .489 SLG, and 123 OPS+. So far in 2012 he had tallied a .344 OBP, .511 SLG, and 124 OPS+.

Part of the reason for Chavez’s resurgence was the fact that he basically had to face no left-handed pitching up to this point. Of Chavez’s 212 PA only 22 had been against lefties. Sam likes the platoon concept but admits that it requires diligence and good management. He felt that up to this point, the Yankees had done a good job of protecting him.

Sam mentions that what makes this even more interesting is the fact that just a few years prior, Chavez could have been the worst player on a big league roster. He wasn’t producing at all and couldn’t stay healthy. However, now he’s hitting like vintage Chavez.

This leads Sam to wonder if PECOTA only going back five years is far enough. He assumes it is for most players, but he had also been thinking about this in light of Jeff Mathis who was a catcher for the Angels at the time. The Angels always believed that Mathis was about to turn it on as a hitter. They believed that the talent he flashed at twenty years old would come out sometime. Sam wonders if these “flashes” are hidden talent that have always been in the player, or if it’s just a fluke.

Ben mentions that the projection system created by John Eric Hanson is based on demonstrated skills. Once a player has demonstrated that they can do something, this system gives them credit for it. Even if you have a bad year, the system remembers past success and believes you can succeed again more than other systems. Ben doesn’t know if that makes this system more accurate or not.

Ben goes on to admit that he was wrong about Chavez. In a transaction analysis article he wrote for BP, he notes that this was a questionable choice for A-Rod’s backup. Why would you pick up a backup who regularly needs a backup? He also mentioned that Chavez’s reoccurring back injuries scared him. He ranks back injuries and elbow soreness as two injuries that would scare him when projecting a player’s future.

The Supplement:

The Nationals did shutdown Strasburg, and Dickey ran away with the Cy Young vote in 2012. Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez finished a distant second and third behind him.

So how did Sam fare in the “would you rather” game? We’ll use the same metric that Ben and Sam used to play the game (FIP) to evaluate. So which of these players had a worse FIP than Dickey’s 4.58 in 2013?

Josh Johnson at 4.62 and Jason Hammel at 4.93…that’s it. Dickey’s stats were worse across the board from 2012 to 2013. His ERA was up, he allowed more homeruns, his FIP was way up, and his ERA+ was below league average. His 2014 was a little better, but it was still close to his 2013 numbers than his breakout season in 2012. Sam was right to take twelve of those twenty pitchers over him, and it looks like he should have taken even more.

Chavez ended 2012 playing 113 games for the Yankees. He finished with 245 PA against right-handers and just 39 against lefties. He finished the season with a slash line of .281/.348/.496, but he was hitless in sixteen post season plate appearances. As mentioned on his BR Bullpen article at Baseball Reference, the Yankees announced that A-Rod would miss significant time with an injury in 2013. Chavez was the likely candidate to replace him. However, he signed with the Diamondbacks instead. He would play in 80 games for the D-Backs in 2013, but only 44 games in 2014. He suffered a knee injury in July of that season and shortly after, announced his retirement.

 

Special thanks to Ms. Roseberry for her contributions to this article. 

 

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