Sunday Notes: Orioles Analytics, Kyle Freeland, Expos, more

Sarah Gelles was recently given a new title. The Baltimore Orioles’ Director of Analytics since April 2014, she is now the Director of Analytics and Major League Contracts. Based on her career track, don’t be surprised if she one day becomes a general manager.

In 2010, Gelles graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College with a degree in Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought. Along the way, she interned for the Pirates in their baseball operations department. Upon leaving school, she worked for Major League Baseball’s Labor Relations Department. After that, she served a year-long internship with the Orioles before being hired full time when Dan Duquette became team president in November 2011.

She began making her mark even before Duquette arrived. While still an intern, Gelles “identified an area of need in the organization, and started to build out our first internal database.”

Think about that for a moment. One year out of college, an intern initiated one of the most-meaningful advancements in team history.

“Matt Klentak (at the time Baltimore’s director of baseball operations, now the GM in Philadelphia) was my boss, and there was certainly buy-in from him in terms of wanting to expand our analytic capabilities,” said Gelles. “I put together a proposal to purchase SQL Server and he helped me get that approved, From there, we got in touch with the appropriate people at MLB about the data sources they provide to clubs. That was our first step, working with free data, and we went from there.”

Duquette obviously needed to be on board, but that was never in question.

“People who have followed Dan’s career closely know that he’s always been invested in analytics,” said Gelles. “At my level, you can put in all the work you want, and if the guy at the top isn’t buying into it, it’s effectively a waste of time. That’s not something I’ve encountered here.”

The department Gelles runs is small compared to that of most teams. The Orioles have a full-time analyst, Kevin Tenenbaum, and they will soon hire a developer. Most of the responsibilities fall on her shoulders, but that’s not necessarily a problem. The former intern has one of the best analytic minds in the game.

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Chris Davis re-upped with the Orioles yesterday at the steep cost of $161 million over seven years ($6 million of which will be deferred annually). That’s a lot of moola, but he may well be worth it.

Davis has averaged 40 runs over the past four seasons and is yet to celebrate his 30th birthday. There’s a good chance he’ll continue that production for another three to five years. Baltimore is banking on it.

Of course, there are no guarantees in baseball. Players, including left-handed sluggers, age differently. Jim Thome hit 195 home runs from ages 30-33. Ryan Howard hit 89 home runs from ages 30-33.

The money and length of contract are questionable — Dave Cameron wrote about this yesterday — but Baltimore’s lineup would lack much of its luster without him. That much is undeniable.

I’ve been more bullish on the Orioles than most — I touted them as a playoff team each of the past two years — and Davis was a big reason why. Had he opted to sign elsewhere this offseason, my confidence in the club would have plummeted. Instead, they ponied up big dollars for their horse, keeping them a contender.

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Kyle Freeland saw his 2015 season get off to a slow start. Hampered by a balky shoulder and bone chips in his elbow, the southpaw didn’t see game action until late July. Much to the relief of the Rockies, their 2014 first-round pick returned from his maladies as good as new.

“Everything has been great,” Freeland told me during his Arizona Fall League stint..” Ever since we got the shoulder cleared up and my elbow cleaned out, I haven’t had any issues.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. Teams were reportedly wary of the University of Evansville product going into the draft, as he’d undergone surgery on his pitching elbow while in high school. He also throws across his body. Long and lanky, the 6-foot-4 lefty has heard people compare his delivery to Chris Sale’s.

Freeland is comfortable with his mechanics. In his mind, the only concern is consistency.

“I’ve had the same mechanics as far back as I can remember,” said Freeland. “I’ve always had the same three-quarters arm slot. I just have to make sure it stays in that position. When I let it drop more to the side — kind of low three-quarters — is when I get into trouble. I become more rotational, and that’s when I start missing pitches and getting hit.”

He’s hard to hit when he’s on. Freeland’s fastball sat 92-94 in the AFL and topped out at 95-96. That lower range is where he gets “good depth, that good run and sink” on his two-seam.

Already blessed with a good slider, the Colorado prospect is currently focusing on his changeup. After experimenting with several grips, he’s finally found one that works for him.

“It’s a circle change with my pinky and ring finger,” explained Freeland. “I try to keep as much pressure on the ball with those fingers as I can, so it comes out like a fastball, but with deception.

“It’s definitely the pitch that’s the taken the longest to get comfortable with. With all of my other pitches, I’m gripping the ball with my dominant fingers, so I have that feeling of control. With my changeup, it’s taking longer to get that feel, because I’m throwing it off my two non-dominant fingers.”

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I recently wrote about Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Here are a pair of passages from the cutting room floor.

“I loved the old stadium in Milwaukee,” said Niekro. “Of course, any place you spend your first year or two in the big leagues is probably the greatest place you’ll ever play in your life. Henry (Aaron) was there. Eddie Mathews, Denis Menke, Frank Bolling, Felipe Alou. Joe Torre was catching. I made a lot of good friends in Milwaukee.

“What I’m maybe most proud of is winning 121 games after age 40. I think that was a big accomplishment, because almost nobody plays long enough to do that. Of course, guys today don’t need to. Back then, we were playing for a paycheck. Now you can afford to retire after six or eight years.”

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Reed Johnson signed with the Nationals in November and hopes to continue his career at the age of 39. Don’t bet against it. The well-traveled outfielder has never been a star — he’s hit .279/.335/.405 over 13 seasons — but year after year he finds a way to earn a job and contribute to a team.

Much of his success — ditto his longevity — can be attributed to his work ethic. As cliched as that sounds, it’s an accurate assessment.

“People have a different definition of what hard work is,” Johnson told me this summer. “It’s said that you go to your grave regretting certain decisions you made, and that’s probably true. But while I think the majority of guys will look in the mirror and think they did everything they could, they probably could have taken it to another level.”

The effort level he espouses doesn’t directly translate to the batter’s box.

“Baseball isn’t like other sports where you can get angry and just run somebody over,” said Johnson. “If you walk up to the plate angry, your at bat is already as good as over. You have to keep your aggression under control, and that’s actually been tough for me at times. I’m kind of a grinder who likes to get into the fight, so to speak. You have to learn how to control that. Sometimes when you’re struggling, you have to back off. Continuing to fight, continuing to press, will only make it worse.”

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Warren Cromartie played for the Expos, and now he’s part of a group trying to bring baseball back to his adopted home.

“We want our team back,” said Cromartie, who was a mainstay in the Montreal outfield in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “It was a travesty when we lost it (in 2004).

Cromartie said his group is hoping for a 35,000-seat stadium in downtown Montreal. He told me there is no timeline — “It will happen when it will happen” — and they will “Take any (franchise) that wants to (relocate) here.”

Bringing in a minor-league affiliate isn’t an option. “This is a major league city,” said Cromartie. “This is a five-tool city.”

If Montreal does get its team back, their new ballpark — a necessity for this to happen — will likely have a retractable roof. Cromartie would have wanted one in Shea Stadium during his playing days.

“One game in New York, it was raining and thundering and lightning,” Cromartie told me. “I called time out and proceeded to walk off the field. Billy Williams, the umpire, said, “Cro, where are you going?’ I said, ‘I don’t play in lightning. I don’t like lightning. We have spikes on. We could die out here.’ I went into the dugout and it took 15 minutes to coax me out of there.”

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The Tigers avoided arbitration with Jose Iglesias, signing the 26-year-old for $2.1 million, plus incentives. For an elite defensive shortstop coming off a season where he hit .303/.347/.370, that’s a bargain. Andrelton Simmons, who is eight months older, will be paid $6 million next year. For my money — most of you will probably disagree — Iglesias is every bit as good as Simmons.

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According to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, Jemile Weeks has inked a minor league deal with the Padres. The news didn’t surprise me, as I heard during the Winter Meetings that San Diego was a possible destination for the versatile switch-hitter. The Cubs purportedly kicked the tires as well, but ultimately opted to fry bigger fish, signing Ben Zobrist to a 4-year, $56 million deal.

Weeks, who will turn 29 later this month, has failed to repeat his rookie success. In 2011, he slashed .303/,340/.421 and swiped 22 bases as Oakland’s starting second baseman. Lackluster in 2012, he’s subsequently spent most of his time in Triple-A, with the Orioles and the Red Sox.

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Yesterday on Twitter, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch quoted Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak as saying “There is more momentum in discussions with GMs and owners for the DH coming into the National League.”

I have mixed feelings on the designated hitter rule — I’d be fine with or without it — but I do have a strong opinion on how it’s viewed in respect to the Hall of Fame: It shouldn’t count heavily against a candidate’s worthiness.

BBWAA Hall of Fame voting has taken place in 72 separate years, and the DH rule has been in place for 42 of them. Love it or hate it, the rule is older than many people reading these words.

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Had there been a designated hitter rule in the 1920s, Ike Boone might have become a star. Instead, he spent much of his career in the minor leagues.

A bright spot on a bottom-of-the-standings Red Sox club, Boone hit .337/.404/.497 in 1924, and .330/406/.479 in 1925. Unfortunately, the outfielder-in-name-only was out of shape and defensively challenged. Boston sold Boone to a Pacific Coast League team in January 1926.

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When Max Kepler debuted with the Twins on the final day of the 2015 season, he became the first player born and raised in Germany to appear in a big-league game. None of the 42 German-born players who preceded him spent their formative years in his homeland.

Among them was Bill Kuehne, who came to the United State from Leipzig and played from 1883-1892. His best season was 1887, when he hit .299 while manning the shortstop position for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He had marital problems.

Per Kuehne’s SABR Bio Project entry, an August 1887 issue of Sporting Life contained the following:

“Kuehne has the sympathy of his many friends in his trouble with his wife. The good-natured player made an unfortunate choice… It is said that the woman several times invited members of the [Pittsburgh] club there during her husband’s absence, but none of them accepted the invitation… She is very homely. It is reported that she has left the city… He will no doubt get his divorce.”

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Lefty Gomez holds the record for most innings pitched in an All-Star game. The Yankees Hall-of-Famer went the first six innings for the American League in 1935.

When Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, he didn’t have a 5-for-5, a 4-for-4, a 3-for-3, or a 2-for-2 game the entire season (thanks to @obxleatherman for this great piece of trivia)

Ty Cobb, Ed Delahanty and Rogers Hornsby are the only players with three .400-or-better seasons. In 1921, Hornsby went into the final game hitting an even .400, but he went 0-for-4 and finished .397.

In 1927, Pie Traynor led the National League with 35 sacrifice hits. He batted .342 that year. In 1928, Traynor led the NL with 42 sacrifice hits and batted .337.

In 1992, his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Bobby Grich received 2.6% of support. Of the 23 players who garnered more votes, only two, Tom Seaver and Pete Rose, finished with a higher rWAR than Grich’s 70.9. (Rose wasn’t on the ballot, but received 41 write-in votes).

Great article here by MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. George Genovese, a long-time scout for the Giants and Dodgers, helped sign 44 players who combined to hit 3,344 home runs. Genovese passed away in November at the age of 93, one week after having his contract renewed by the Dodgers.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Orioles Analytics, Kyle Freeland, Expos, more by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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You’re thinking of Lefty Gomez, not Grove.