Here's my entry for the contest. Instead of recommending a bunch of specific trades or free agent signings, I propose a new way to use pitchers and standards for selecting players from here forward. This might not actually meet the contest requirements, but I don't really care. This was fun to write.
My plan for the 2012 Orioles is based on an experimental pitching rotation and an emphasis on defense ...
The ABC System: 3-Day 9-Man Rotation
Starting pitchers who move to the bullpen sometimes become more effective. Jim Johnson, Troy Patton and Koji Uehara are examples. My experimental rotation takes advantage of this concept by breaking the game down into “relief-size” bits. My hypothesis is it's much easier to find a pitcher who can throw 3 good innings than it is to find a pitcher who can consistently throw 7 good innings.
Three pitchers are scheduled to pitch each day. The “A” pitcher throws innings 1-3, the “B” pitcher innings 4-6, and the “C” pitcher innings 7-9. They work every third day (or the fourth day when there's an off day in the schedule.)
Pitchers should be able to handle the workload. In a 3-inning outing, the pitcher will throw 60 pitches or less (hopefully less than 50), so two days off ought to be enough to recover. The plan is to use pitchers with good control so they won't run up their pitch counts. In a traditional 5-man rotation, the starter throws a side-session of about 50 pitches on his third off day, which indicates that working every third day is a good thing and not destructive to the arm.
Each of the 9 pitchers in the rotation will get 162 innings of work in 54 games. That's less than Guthrie pitched in 2011, but more than any other Oriole. Johnson appeared in 69 games (91 innings), so he'll be used less frequently in my system.
The Orioles' starters struggle to work deep into games, so why try to force them to do something that is beyond their ability? We will be the only team highly valuing 3-inning pitchers, and that may be an undervalued asset to exploit Moneyball-style.
The Orioles' ABC Rotation:
Day 1: Hunter/Britton/Johnson
Day 2: Arrieta/Matusz/Tillman
Day 3: Simon/Patton/Meyers**
Bullpen: Strop, O'Day, Ascanio*
* = free agent signing
** = Rule 5 pick
Lefties are sandwiched between righties everyday. We'll make the opposing hitters adjust.
Some of you might complain that by only pitching Britton 3 innings a game I'm not maximizing his value to the team. But consider this – Britton will pitch in 33% of the Orioles' games under my plan. In a traditional 5-man rotation he only figures in 20% of the team's games.
If the C pitcher is throwing well, he will not be replaced by the closer in the ninth inning. Let him finish. The bullpen is there just for emergencies. They only come in if the scheduled pitcher is getting shelled.
I have reinforcements at AAA Norfolk ready to move up in case of injury or ineffectiveness. But the young pitchers in Baltimore won't be shuttled back and forth to Norfolk like last season. They'll get every chance to settle in and succeed. We'll evaluate their performance in July and make adjustments, but not before.
Hopefully Hunter and Meyers will be able to get more strikeouts while maintaining their excellent control if they know they're only pitching 3 innings. If their performance is bad, we'll replace them at the All-Star break with pitchers from Norfolk.
It may be that relievers with good stuff, like Johnson (or O'Day or Ascanio), perform better in the ABC rotation than starters like Hunter. There's no way to tell without experimenting.
Where is Jeremy Guthrie? As an “established” starter I think he'd rebel against joining our ABC rotation. So he needs to be traded. Get a hitting prospect in return.
What about Kevin Gregg? Released! You're welcome.
The 7-3-1 Standard
The 7-3-1 standard is my shorthand for a pitcher who has at least 7 SO/9, less than 3 BB/9, and less than 1 HR/9 in AAA or AA. I want pitchers who meet that standard in this organization. It doesn't guarantee major league success, but it does require that the pitcher have control, be able to punch out batters and not get hit hard.
Here are some easily available players that fit the standard ...
Brad Meyers – Rule 5 pick from Washington. 25 years old. At AAA Syracuse: 7.0 SO/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 in 16 starts. 3.48 ERA. In my ABC rotation system his strikeout rate might tick upwards. Maybe his control will rub off on the other O's pitchers. God knows they need it. Scouting report on Brad Meyers from the 2011 Minor League Baseball Analyst book: "Tall/projectable pitcher throws strikes with three pitches. Keeps the ball down. Was limited to 30 IP in '10 due to foot injury. Mechanics contain a lot of moving parts and will sometimes tip his pitches by dropping his ¾ slot. Plus command allows his stuff to play up. If healthy he could move up quickly."
Jose Ascanio – minor league free agent. RHP. 26 years old. At AAA Indianapolis: 10.2 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9. He was injured in 2010. Throws 95+ and has a slider. He has a history as a starter so he's got some endurance.
Mitch Talbot – minor league free agent. RHP. 27 years old. At AAA Columbus: 8.5 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9. 7 starts in 13 appearances. Was strictly a starter prior to this season, but he seemed to prosper in the bullpen.
Todd Doolittle – minor league free agent. RHP. 28 years old. At AAA New Orleans: 9.6 SO/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9. 6 starts in 18 appearances.
JD Martin – minor league free agent. RHP. 28 years old. At AAA Syracuse: 6.0 SO/9, 1.4 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9. 4.32 ERA in 24 major league starts. A permanent move to the bullpen might improve his stuff enough to take advantage of his excellent control. He's comparable to Hunter.
Ryan Edell – minor league free agent. LHP. 27 years old. At AAA Lehigh Valley: 7.6 SO/9, 1.3 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9. Pinpoint control. A starter in the minors, his stuff might play up in shorter stints. At worst he improves the pitching staff in Norfolk, and his control is a good example for our other prospects.
Brad Kilby – minor league free agent. LHP. Missed 2011 due to shoulder injury, but it will cost nearly nothing to sign him, so why not? 28 year old. In 25 major league innings he has a 1.07 ERA, 28 strikeouts and 4 walks.
Michael Ballard – minor league free agent. LHP. I think the O's should re-sign him. Another leftie with pinpoint control. Has always been a starter in the minors. Could he make a step forward in relief? If not, he's still useful at Norfolk.
Let's also take a flyer on this guy: Adam Miller – minor league free agent. Formerly touted prospect, trying to come back from injury.
Norfolk's ABC Rotation
Day 1: Talbot/Viola/Bascom
Day 2: Berken/Ballard/Martin
Day 3: Bergesen/Edell/Doolittle
Bullpen: Miller, Kilby, Drake
The Rest of the Team
Instead of blowing up the team I'd start a real talent mining operation. Sign a lot of "project" or "suspect" players, at least three for every position. Set up the best physical training facility in the nation and put all the new project players through it, along with all our drafted prospects. And let the best men win.
Volume is the key to success for the talent search. We'll bring in 3 project players for each position every year and do everything we can to help them succeed. If you want to get big and strong like an elephant, you have to eat like an elephant and shit like an elephant. We'll intake a lot of players, keep the best and dump the rest. Then start the process again.
The "Antonelli minimum" is my minimum threshold for acquiring position players. To meet the minimum standard to be an Oriole, a player has to be a good fielder, have the potential to hit the league-average OBP (.320), and demonstrate at least a little bit of power in the minors. Matt Antonelli is the embodiment of this new minimum, so I named it after him.
Why the emphasis on defense? In 2011 the Orioles scored 4.37 runs per game and the Rays scored 4.36. The Rays made the playoffs because they allowed only 3.79 runs per game (the best in the league) and the O's allowed 5.31 (the worst). A contributor to that is the Rays' defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play turned into outs), a league-leading .724. The Orioles are at .682 (second-worst in the league).
The Orioles can help their pitchers and win more games by playing better defense. In 2007, the Rays turned just 66.9 percent of balls in play into outs. That was the worst rate in the league. In 2008, the Rays went from the worst to the best in defensive efficiency, turning 72.3 percent of balls in play into outs. The plus/minus system used by John Dewan in The Fielding Bible suggests the change in the Rays' fielding was responsible for a big 85-run improvement, worth 8 or 9 wins. The Mariners made a similar improvement in defense between 2008 and 2009 and jumped from 61 wins to 85 wins. It's time for the Orioles to commit to strong defense at every position.
1. Antonelli 3B (Not an ideal leadoff hitter, but the other options are even worse.)
2. Andino 2B (Ditto.)
3. Markakis RF
4. Reynolds 1B
5. Weiters C
6. Hardy SS
7. Scott DH
8. Reimold LF
9. Jones CF
Bench: Lastings Milledge OF, Tony Abreu MI, Davis CI, Teagarden C
… with 27 new project players fighting for roster spots in spring training.
I'm not going to calculate my projected payroll. Too much work. I traded Guthrie and haven't signed anyone expensive, so the total payroll is low.
PS – don't bother to comment that no team is going to try the ABC rotation. I know that, but I would try it and that's all that matters.