Orioles Sign A Collection Of Minor-Leaguers And An Economist

Small change, but the O’s have agreed to minor-league contracts with:

Right-handed pitcher Kyler* Newby; the soon-to-be 27 year-old sometimes starter (he’s been shifted into that role a little bit in recent years) has spent most of his minor-league career in Double-A, where he’s punched out some batters (8.3 K/9) but shown only decent control (3.0 BB/9) and a tendency to give up the longball (1.2 HR/9), as sometimes happens with flyball pitchers. Might be an OK reliever (don’t have starting-relieving splits – maybe his non-knock-out seeming stuff plays up especially well out of the pen?).

* Was ‘Kyle’ just too boring of a name? Did it have to be made more “extreme”?

Right-handed pitcher Jon Link; he’ll be 28 at the start of next season, and is almost exclusively a reliever. Career Triple-A numbers; 9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9. Seems to primarily use a low-90s fastball and a slider, though the fastball might have some sink to it since Link’s been able to generate some groundballs (less so recently than in the lower minors, but still around a 50% rate). Based on five-minutes of looking, I like him better than Newby (though he’s still probably only a 4.50 ERA type guy in the majors at best).

Outfielder Antoan Richardson; he’s 28 years old, but still only has 40 career plate appearances above Double-A, where he’s hit .260/.384/.321. He’s supposed to be a very good defensive player, as a speedy center-fielder. Plus he’s stolen bases at an almost 85% clip with almost 60 thefts per full season in his minor-league career (though only ~20 steals per at around 80% in Double-A). I love the walks (13.5% career walk rate at Double-A), but Richardson strikes out too much (~18% of the time) to hit for a high average even with a good BABIP (around .330), and he has virtually no power. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the free passes decrease at higher levels as pitchers have little reason not to challenge Richardson, but if he could keep his OBP in even the .320-.330 range while saving 10+ runs per season in the field then he would be a decent back-up outfielder.

Outfielder/first-baseman Lee Cruz; this 28 year-old only even has 140 games in Double-A to his name. Given the side of the defensive spectrum that he plays on, it’s not surprising to see that Cruz’s game is about the power production; he’s hit .255/.297/.433 in Double-A and .292/.330/.485 in the minors overall. He doesn’t hit a ton of homers (~20 per season), but cracks a bunch of doubles to make up for it. He’ll put the bat on the ball more than some other sluggers, but never walks (less than 5% of the time in the minors) and – unless his fielding is much more impressive than I’d assume (in the outfield he tended to play left) – he’s unlikely to even be particularly close to a replacement level player in the majors. But hey, minor league depth!

I wonder if Stephen Walters* had a hand in bringing these guys aboard.

* Econ professor at Loyola who the O’s just brought aboard (though he apparently advised Angelos in the past and also worked with Dan Duquette in Boston).

He’s already “provided financial valuations — based on an undisclosed formula — which have aided the Orioles in their pursuit of several minor league free agents they have signed this offseason” and he “analyzes how many additional wins a player can create and how much a specific team should pay for those wins…

“If you incorporate ‘Player X’ into the mix, how many wins does that add and how much are those wins worth in that market?” said Walters, who also still works for Loyola. “It can vary from case to case, and there is a time dimension question with any player transaction — what are the future ramifications? … So the puzzle pieces come together, and ultimately, Dan is the guy who masterminds that information. But a lot of people supply him with the information.””

I’m not sure how much more complicated Walters’ “formula” is than the freely available WAR implementations around the web (I’d assume he’s using proprietary inputs, but is his formula different than the normal frameworks?). Plus, sometimes* economists will apply their models to baseball and get odd results instead of building models starting from the baseball. (Obviously not all economists are the same – Matt Swartz, for example, does some very fine work). I read Walters’ study on the free agent market and came away not completely impressed (I guess in 2007 it might have been more ground-breaking, maybe). At least he didn’t try to come up with his own measure of player production and used WARP instead, but that still leaves me wondering what Walters brings to the table relative to what the sabermetricians already have going.

* For example, one of the previous studies that Walters/Burger criticize was one that used slugging percentage as a proxy for overall player production, which is laughably wrong.