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Sunday Notes: The Orioles Newest Pitcher Evokes Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Fans of prog rock are well familiar with Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Karn Evil 9.” The song, which is on the seminal 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, includes the line, “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.” Nearly 30 minutes long, Karn Evil 9 has been described, thematically speaking, as a battle between humans and computers.

Which brings us to the first major league free agent signed by the Orioles new-and-geeky front office regime. On Thursday, Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal and Co. welcomed Nate Karns back to The Show, inking him to a reported $800,000, one-year deal.

Karns has been a good pitcher when healthy. He hasn’t been healthy very often. The righty had labrum surgery back in 2010, and more recently he’s had thoracic outlet surgery and elbow issues. He didn’t pitch at all in 2018, and in 2017 he was limited to just 45-and-a-third innings. In the two years preceding the more recent of those, ahem, evil injuries, he showed plenty of promise. Pitching with Tampa Bay and Seattle, he went 13-7 with a 4.25 ERA and a 4.17 FIP.

My colleague Rain Watt will have more on Karns’s comeback tomorrow, so I’ll keep the rest of this look contained to the 31-year-old’s curveball. It’s his primary secondary, and a pitch he refined while going through a shoulder program after having his labrum repaired. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Payton Henry Pins His Hopes on Brewers Catching Job

Payton Henry grew up in a wrestling family in a wrestling town. That’s not the sport he settled on. The 21-year-old native of Pleasant Grove, Utah cast his lot with baseball, and went on to be selected in the sixth round of the 2016 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s seen by many as the NL Central club’s catcher of the future.

His backstory is one of Greco-Roman lineage. Henry’s paternal grandfather, Darold, won 10 state championships as a coach, and is a member of Utah’s Wrestling Hall of Fame. The patriarch coached 65 individual champions, including his son Darrin — Payton’s father — who captured a pair of titles. And while it eventually rolled away, the greenest of the apples tumbled from the same tree.

“I was kind of born to grow up a wrestler,” said Henry. “But then I fell in love with baseball. Once I realized I had a future in it, and started traveling a lot for baseball tournaments, I stopped wrestling. I didn’t have the time for it anymore.”

Being physically strong — weight training has long been part of his workout routine — and well-schooled in the sport’s technical aspects, he probably could have followed in his father’s footsteps. The coaches at Pleasant Grove High School certainly thought so. At the start of each year they would approach him and say,“Are you sure you don’t want to come out and wrestle?” Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: New Ranger Taylor Guerrieri is No Longer Between the Railroads

Taylor Guerrieri is a Texas Ranger now, having signed a free-agent contract with the A.L. West club on Tuesday. His MLB experience is scant. Originally in the Tampa Bay organization — the Rays drafted him 24th overall in 2011 — he debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays last September and tossed nine-and-two-thirds innings over nine relief appearances.

Guerrieri features a high-spin-rate curveball, but what he throws most often is a sinker. Per StatCast, the 26-year-old right-hander relied on the pitch 47.1% of the time during his month-long cup of coffee. I asked him about it in the waning weeks of his maiden campaign.

“The main thing with the two-seam is to stay on top of it and drive it downhill,” Guerrieri told me. “That way you get the depth you’re looking for. Horizontal movement isn’t a very good play. Guys can see side to side. They struggle with up and down, so the more depth, the better.”

Natch. The goal for a sinker is to make it sink, and what Guerrieri explained is part of Pitching 101. As for grips… well, those are more nuanced. In Guerrieri’s case, they can also be a bit of a moving target. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Blue Jays Prospect Chavez Young is a Bahamian On the Rise

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Chavez Young came out of nowhere to become one of the hottest prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. But he is following an atypical path. The 21-year-old outfielder grew up in the Bahamas before moving stateside as a teen, and going on to be selected in the 39th round of the 2016 draft out of Faith Baptist Christian Academy, in Ludowici, Georgia.

Since that time he’s become a shooting star. Playing for the Lansing Lugnuts in the Low-A Midwest League this past season, Young stroked 50 extra-base hits, stole 44 bases, and slashed a rock-solid .285/.363/.445.

How did a player with his kind of talent last until the 1,182nd pick of the draft? Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Can the Astros’ Secret Sauce Spice Up Orioles’ Pitching?

Pitchers in the Astros organization were K-happy this past season. Thanks to a bevy of power arms and analytics-based attack plans, each of Houston’s full-season minor league affiliates led its respective league in strikeouts. So did their short-season and, most notably, their big-league club.

Given that he’d spent the last six seasons as a high-ranking member of Houston’s front office, I asked Mike Elias if that’s something that could maybe be replicated in Baltimore.

“We’re very much hoping to replicate even a semblance of that success here,” answered the Orioles Executive Vice President and General Manager. “The fact that we have (Assistant GM, Analytics) Sig Mejdal here, and Chris Holt, who was our assistant pitching coordinator in Houston, makes me feel really good about our chances of doing so. There is a little bit of a secret sauce behind that. I’m not going to explain it fully, but we had a great program there. We took a lot of time developing it, and we want to get it in place here as well.”

Hoping to glean at least a little insight into the secret sauce’s ingredients, I suggested that both draft and player development strategies are involved in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

Projection Leaderboard Fun Courtesy of ZiPS and Fans

Now that spring training is getting to the point where stats and injuries are beginning to add up, it’s a good time to peek in on some in-season expectations from ZiPS and the Fans. The “Projections” tab on our header is a great place to burn away time at the office. There are currently five projection systems located there and each has a couple surprises.

ZiPS went fully live about a week ago and we’re combining it with Steamer for the WAR projection on our Depth Charts page. The Fans projection is from our crowdsourcing project. The numbers tend to come out a tad optimistic, so keep that in mind. There’s no special reason to be looking at these two systems side by side, but both recently went live for the season and both interest me.

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A Quiet October For Fans of Offense

Last October, Jeff Sullivan wrote about how the 2012 postseason was almost historically low-scoring, calling it “Where Offense Went to Die,” because Jeff Sullivan is wonderful and perceptive. He noted the following stats at the time:

Hitters had a combined .227 batting average, a combined .290 OBP, a combined .349 slugging percentage.

If the 2012 postseason were a player, it would have basically been Justin Smoak, who had a slash line roughly in that range. Smoak was nowhere near the World Series or the playoffs, of course, largely because his Seattle team was terrible, but also because Smoak was hitting like, well, that all year.

With either one or two games remaining in the 2013 postseason, not likely enough to significantly move the needle, we’ve seen 74 playoff games, exactly the same as last year. And where are we this time around? .229/.289/.355, also known as “being within the margin of error of being completely identical”. That’s in the Starlin Castro or Mike Moustakas range of hitters this year, and again, that’s pretty poor, especially when MLB as a whole hit .253/.318/.396 this season. If you liked last year’s lack of hitting, well, you’re seeing the sequel right now, and suddenly last year’s near-historic offensive outage looks like it might not be so historic after all. Read the rest of this entry »

MGL’s New Blog

MGL (Mitchel Licthman), the man behind UZR and co-author of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, has a new spot where he’ll be sharing his baseball research and game strategy analysis.

Head over to to read his playoff analysis and more!

From the site’s about page:

As the sole author of this site, I take full responsibility for everything in it . Feel free to comment, if comments be allowed; however, if I don’t like your comment for any reason, I will delete it. I am also quite grumpy, so if you don’t like surly, pettish, fractious, and sometimes downright churlish banter, this may not be the blog for you. However, if you like to read about occasionally interesting baseball analysis, this is definitely the site for you.

Chris Young Is Not A Minor League Pitcher

A victim of what amounts to one of the deeper stables of starting pitching, Chris Young opted out of his contract with the Washington Nationals with the hopes that he could find a major league role in another city. The Nationals could ostensibly retain Young’s services should he fail in that pursuit, but it’s plausible that there will be several organizations interested.

Young, 33, is not so young anymore. The hulking 6-foot-10 right hander has had two shoulder surgeries in the last four seasons, limiting his major league innings from 2009 through 2011 to just 120. His 2012 comeback was a mixed bag, as he posted a 4.50 FIP, a 16.2% strikeout rate, and the characteristic high fly ball rate, flirting with 60%. His fastball has been in steady decline since he broke into the league in 2004, averaging just 84.6 mph in 2012 and almost all reports out of Spring suggested he was sitting in the 80-82 mph range frequently.

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Change You Can Believe In

Back in High School, my pitching coach used to sit down all of the starting pitchers (all three of us) from the varsity squad to have a chat about pitching philosophy. Coach was a former minor league pitcher who flamed out after injury and ineffectiveness, but his love of pitching was obvious, if not a little obsessive. He used to preach about a lot of things, controlling your emotions, mechanics, pacing, etc. But it was always the video I looked forward to.

He’d roll out the rickety old metal stand with a crummy 18 inch TV and antiquated betamax player. Not only had we seen it before, but we would never really understand the usefulness of the demonstration. But it was still fun to watch.

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