Ravens Roundtable: April 17th

BSL’s Ravens analysts, Dan Bryden, Matt Jergensen, and myself, Mike Randall, bring you another roundtable discussion about all things Ravens this offseason. We’re talking draft, Eugene Monroe’s leadership, former first round target turned scrap heap addition to a Ravens rival, and football films. 

Enjoy!

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1. According to a recent fan poll (updated 4/17), 24.35% would like to see the Ravens select Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety out of Alabama with their first pick. 22.04% would take Taylor Lewan, tackle out of Michigan. These are the two front runners. Both would fill an immediate need on this team as a play making free safety and highly touted tackle filling the last hole on the O-line.  Agree, disagree with the picks? 

Dan Bryden: I would love to pick up Clinton-Dix at #17.  Something tells me the safety-needy teams picking before the Ravens will snatch him up (Rams 2x, Lions, Bears, Giants, Cowboys).  Clinton-Dix is rangy and he has the size and speed to be effective in the NFL.  I like the angles he takes and his propensity toward hitting in the run and pass games.  I understand why fans would want Lewan simply because he fills a need and his draft spot is slated to be around the where the Ravens pick.  That said, I would be very much against Lewan at #17.  Assuming the Ravens are married to the zone-blocking scheme, I’d rather see the Ravens pick a light-footed tackle whose best attribute is technique rather than size.  Lewan is a scrappy player but it doesn’t translate to consistent tackle performance.

Matt Jergensen: Clinton-Dix is who I’d love to see the Ravens select in the First Round. Of course there are concerns if he’ll even be there for taking. If not Zack Martin would be a solid addition instead and could battle Ryan Wagner for the Right Tackle job. Lewan is a mauler and maybe if the Ravens weren’t so heavy on the Zone scheme I’d feel more comfortable with choosing him. Instead they’ll need a player that exhibits better technique and in that department I feel Martin has an edge.

Mike Randall: I’d be fine with either of those picks. I figure there are six or so major names that the Ravens have been linked to. Clinton-Dix, Lewan, Zack Martin (OT), Calvin Pryor (S), Mike Evans (WR) and Eric Ebron (TE). It’s anybody’s best guess as to who will be still on the board at #17. If it’s Clinton-Dix, Pryor, Martin or Lewan, then the Ravens get the benefit of drafting possibly the best player available and fill a position of need. If it’s Evans or Ebron, I’d guess that that means the value is too good to pass up and the other four are off the board. My only stance is that if the Ravens take a tackle, they must make sure he fits the zone blocking system as an athletic, lateral mover. I think Gary Kubiak, as the league’s resident expert at utilizing that system would know exactly which tackle would work for them. I’d trust the one they take is the one they want, even if it’s a tackle who falls into the later rounds.

2. A recent article from the Ravens focused on Eugene Monroe’s workouts this off season. Working out at the castle twice a day, five, sometimes six times a week. With the lucrative contract he received, expectations are higher. Ryan Jensen, Jah Reid, and Kelechi Osemele have taken notice and have signed up for Monroe’s program. What are your thoughts on the weakest until last year putting in the extra hours when they aren’t instructed to? 

DB: Former offensive lineman will tell you that they would rather be a part of a cohesive line unit rather than a collection of above-average individuals.  I plan to do a full-length piece on this, but communication and rapport is an underrated aspect of good line play.  It allows for timing when combo-blocking, double-teams in pass protection, and fake protection calls to throw the other team off.  If the Ravens O-lineman can build further relationships while enhancing their strength, I’m all for it.

MJ: The great offensive lines of the past were normally together for several seasons and had built a rapport and cohesion that served them well on the field. The salary cap has made that more difficult of course. Still you get the feeling that Monroe has emerged as the de-facto leader by example with these workouts and that this group will be determined to put the failures of 2013 behind them.

MR: If anything, it shows the anchor in Monroe taking on leadership type qualities. Kelechi Osemele must be healthy which is good to see. Not sure the roles Reid and Jensen will have on this team, but it shows that they are willing to go the extra mile when it comes to wanting to make the squad come September. Coaches acknowledge that extra effort and if they can’t find room for them on the 53-man, it’s that kind of good word that might get them a shot with another team.

3. Sam Montgomery, defensive end out of LSU, is a guy we previewed last season as a potential first round target of the Ravens. He ended up falling down to the third round where the Texans selected him. He was released in October on violations of team rules, signed to the Raiders practice squad in December and released three days later. The Bengals just signed Montgomery this past weekend. Do you see this as a low risk, possibly high reward kind of deal, like Rolando McClain, that the Ravens missed on? 

DB: Sam Montgomery would certainly be a low risk deal, but I don’t see much of the upside.  I think he would fit the 3-4 as an OLB but he is far from polished at the position.  He has a limited repertoire of moves and he doesn’t have the speed/hips to bend the edge.  Additionally, the Ravens have two solid OLBs in Suggs and Dumervil who, along with Upshaw, will likely man those positions throughout the year.  If Montgomery had the ability to move to inside linebacker, I could see taking a small risk on him.  But with a reputation for violating team rules and coming in out of shape, I’m happy to let the Bengals use up one of their roster spots.

MJ: The Ravens seem set at outside linebacker so I’m not sure if Montgomery would have a position here. I understood the McClain signing because of a need at the Inside which I still think the Ravens have.I could see other teams taking a flyer Montgomery but Baltimore doesn’t seem in the right position to have to give him a look.

MR: Time will tell on this one. Had to have been some reason why his draft stock plummeted in the first place. After a year, it appears we know why. He’ll be a 4-3 DE in Cincinnati if he makes the team, so I wonder if he would bale to fit into the Ravens 3-4. He doesn’t have the meat to play on the defensive line here, and the Ravens have a boat load of pass rushers. We’ll possibly get to face him twice this year if he turns his game around.

4. In honor of the film “Draft Day” opening last week, what is your favorite football movie and why? What is your least favorite and why?

DB: My favorite is “Any Given Sunday”.  Not because it’s a good movie, but because it’s a fun movie.  “Any Given Sunday” is an overly stylized depiction of what could happen behind the scenes of a destructive professional football club.  Very silly at times, but it has the Favrian pain-killer addict, the endorsement-loving quarterback, Lawrence Taylor presumably reliving his former life, and obviously, the speech. Least favorite is “The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon”.  Barely an actual movie.  Its 78 minutes of Tony Danza and Disney awfulness.  For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about a garbage man who kicks the garbage compactor lever closed on his garbage truck.  Naturally, this leads to a pro football job as a kicker.

MJ: “The Longest Yard”. The 1974 original of course. I mean, how can goofy Adam Sandler compare to the ultimate macho man of the 70′s, Burt Reynolds? It’s a mix between comedy and political commentary but it’s mainly too silly to be taken seriously.

MR: I like “Rudy”. Haters, please don’t give me the whole “that scene with the players turning in their jerseys didn’t happen in real life!” speech. I know and I don’t care. It’s still a great story. It’s one of those that when I’m flipping channels and it comes on, I drop what I’m doing and I have to watch.  “Rudy” has some of the best camera work at capturing the essence of football. If you don’t shed a tear when Rudy’s blue collar, no emotion showing ever father, becomes elated like a little kid watching his son get in the game and standing next to guys a foot and a half taller than him then he gets a tackle with the crowd chanting his name, and he gets carried off the field!…you need to have your head examined. Worst football movie, I’ll say “Leatherheads”. I think that movie could have been so much more. I like a lot of George Clooney’s work as an actor and a few things he’s directed. I loved “The Office” so I thought John Krasinski would be fun. But nothing at all about that movie resonated with me. I guess they wanted a date movie males wouldn’t have to suffer through and isn’t a ton of football jargon to bore the females. Maybe if they used Kate Upton as the love interest rather than Renee Zellweger…. You can do comedy and sports (“Major League”, “Caddyshack”). You can do romance and sports (“Jerry Maguire”). But you can’t do romance, comedy, and sports (“Fever Pitch”, “That god awful one where Owen Wilson pitches for the Nationals that no one remembers the name of”).

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AL East Beat: 5 Things, Week Three

Injuries. Every team has them and over the course of a 162 game schedule no team goes unscathed. Every organization will be challenged and will have to produce solutions that still allow for contention. No team can replace a superstar, but a quality organization can still find a way to either bide time until a player returns or until the front office can make a move.

{Discuss the AL East on the BSL Boards}

With the American League East so competitive, injuries will play an even more important role in the race as the differences from the top teams to the bottom teams are just too slim. The early going has already given a glimpse to the fragility of each team. The Tampa Bay Rays’ depth is being challenged for the first time in many years. The Yankees are dealing with injuries to the likes of Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts; they’ve lost their backup catcher, Francisco Cervelli for quite some time. The Red Sox are nursing injuries to Koji Uehara and Dustin Pedroia. The Blue Jays lost Jose Reyes and Casey Janssen right as the season began. The healthiest team, the Baltimore Orioles, are still waiting for their young, superstar third baseman to return from a gruesome leg injury that he suffered last season.

As the injuries mount, the American League East is in constant movement. The Rays are no longer a runaway favorite. The Red Sox and Yankees aren’t particularly deep. That makes the AL East a division that can be had by any of its teams. The power of the 162 schedule is always the ultimate test of strength.

“Epidemic” Hits Tampa

Last week, Matt Moore threw a pitch, winced in pain, and is now on line for Tommy John Surgery. This week, the Rays lost Alex Cobb, the right hander who has quietly become one of the best pitchers in the sport. Cobb will miss approximately four to six weeks with an oblique strain. The news stings the Rays on a number of levels. They are an organization that has done extremely well with pitcher health. Quietly, they had run out essentially the same rotation for the past three or four years. This year, they have already started six different pitchers. Erik Bedard, who is replacing Cobb, will be the 7th. A rotation of David Price, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Cesar Ramos, and Bedard isn’t one that is championship caliber.  The Rays’ organization has the reputation of being extremely deep, but their reality has been exposed; there is a big game between their Major League roster and players who are ready to make the jump. With the rotation hurting, the Rays will need more from their offense, which may be too much to ask.

While Cobb’s injury isn’t arm related, the Rays’ injury problems has once again brought Tommy John Surgery back into the mainstream consciousness. It is being portrayed as some new epidemic. It may make for a good headline, but the truth is that pitchers have been getting hurt at an alarming rate for quite some time. Will Carroll has been writing about pitching injuries for at least a decade. I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to the science of Biomechanics because of Carroll and Rick Peterson, the Orioles Director of Pitching. The epidemic started long ago. Teams haven’t done anything. Many writers are now discussing the idea of pitch counts in Little League. They have been instituted for many years. Dr. James Andrews has been an advisor to Little League for the decade.

Pitch limits are just the beginning. They, however, do not stop the problem. If they did, we would see so many more healthy pitchers in Major League Baseball. Pitch limits are designed to reduce fatigue. Fatigue is actually the cause of pitching injuries because it leads to poor, dangerous mechanics, the ultimate killer of pitcher health. Because pitchers, especially young pitchers, are not in proper condition, they are throwing pitches with poor mechanics. That is what leads to injury.

The Orioles are in good shape because of their use of Biomechanics. While they cannot eliminate injuries because pitchers come to them with various histories, the Orioles will likely be a healthier organization. If Major League Baseball is concerned about reducing injuries, teams must invest in Biomechanics. For those who doubt the science, what else is there? Nothing else has worked.

Yankees’ Win With Tanaka And Pineda

CC Sabathia is no longer pitching like an ace. Evidently Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was preparing for that as his investment in Masahiro Tanaka looks to be quite sound. The 25 year old right hander has made three impressive starts that have come with 28 strikeouts in 22 innings of work. He has allowed just 15 hits and has walked just two batters. One can talk sample size and there are many “what ifs?” with Tanaka during his first season, but he has already demonstrated elite level control, elite level stuff, and the ability to miss bats. He is already the Yankees best pitcher. While he isn’t on the level of Yu Darvish, Tanaka already looks to be an elite level starting pitcher. His presence and his continued performance is a difference maker in the AL East race.

Cashman also looks good with the return of Michael Pineda. The 25 year old right hander has returned from labrum surgery and looks to be in the form that made him one of the brightest stars in the sport just a couple of seasons ago. In his three starts, he has pitched 18 innings, allowed 13 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs, and has struck out 15 batters.

With Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda looking like they will produce to their respective expectations and Sabathia still a quality starter, it looks like the Yankees now hold the title of best rotation in the division.

Red Sox Missing Power

The Boston Red Sox are right in the middle of the pack in the early going. One troubling sign for the defending champions is their lack of power. While Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Will Middlebrooks (on DL), should develop power, 2014 won’t be that breakout for the trio. That leaves the Red Sox heavily dependent on David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. Grady Sizemore’s revival has been the story of the season thus far, but he isn’t the prototypical power hitter. AJ Pierzynski isn’t a power hitter and Dustin Pedroia looks like he is struggling with health in the early going. Their current state leaves the Red Sox and Rays fighting for the title of least powerful offense in the division.

Britton Thriving

With his three shutout innings appearance against the Rays on Wednesday, Zach Britton has run his season totals to 11.1 scoreless innings while giving up 4 hits, 4 walks, and eliciting 7 strikeouts. This is precisely the role that the southpaw should’ve thrived in as he is an elite ground ball pitcher who is generating outs via the ground ball at over an 80 percent rate. While this type of performance is destined to regress a bit (FIP of 3.01) due to his dependence on the defense, limiting Britton to one or two passes through the lineup hides his weaknesses and allows him to work from the strength of his elite sinking fastball. There should be zero thought of a return to the rotation as the middle inning relief role is perfect given his skill set. This role allows him to utilize his fastball, throw it harder (averaging 94 MPH with it as a reliever) in short bursts, and elicit swings and misses with pitches in a strike zone at a career best rate of 14.5 percent. The Orioles have a major strength in the bullpen.

Nothing To Worry About With Davis

Chris Davis has just one home run in the team’s first 14 games. Last season, he had already blasted six long balls at this point. But, there is nothing to worry about. Davis is still posting a strikeout rate like he did last season. His 23.7 percent strikeout rate is virtually the same to his 2013 rate of 23.6. Even more encouraging, his walk rate is up slightly to 11.9 percent, compared to his 2013 walk rate of 10.6 percent. He has four doubles on the season and is otherwise hitting quite similarly to his 2013 standards. Home runs will come, but many should be encouraged that Davis he is taking a few more walks. The lone change in Davis’ approach is that he has made contact with more pitches that were outside of the strike zone. He’s made contact with pitches out of the zone at an 85.1 percent rate, which is about 7 percent higher than his career rate. The home runs will come regardless, but a bit more patience should lead to better contact.

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Matt Wieters and the Missing Strikes

It's nearly impossible to find a picture of Wieters actually framing a pitch. Foreshadowing!Matt Wieters was supposed to be a great hitter. He rose through the ranks of the Orioles’ farm system slashing .343/.438/.576 in 693 total plate attempts through various minor league levels, and his power potential from a typically light-hitting spot on the field was enough to excite members of the national media, to speak nothing of Orioles fans.

Strangely, or perhaps not, because few prospects turn out the way teams hope for them to, hitting has not been the hallmark of Matt Wieters’ Major League career. He has disappointed at the plate but hasn’t been wholly unacceptable; he hits well enough from the right side of the plate against lefties and provides power from a position that rarely sees any of it (Wieters hit more home runs than any catcher in 2013 besides Mike Napoli, and come on, he’s a first baseman).

Discuss Matt Wieters’ defense – and his offense – on the BSL Forums.

Matt Wieters has instead made his mark as a premier defensive catcher, throwing out over 35% of would-be base stealers in both 2012 and 2013 despite having already made a name for himself as a difficult catcher to run on. He ranks in the top 5 for CS% in both of those seasons even while fighting the feedback loop that makes it hard to consistently remain among the top catchers in that category: if baserunners know he can throw them out often, they’ll only run in situations of necessity or tremendous opportunity. Basically, Matt Wieters only sees stolen base attempts when baserunners have to go or when it’s so wide open, the base is practically free. He’s got multiple Gold Gloves, if you put any stock into that as a validation of defensive ability.

wietersBut there is a hole in Wieters’ game, and it’s one that has only recently come to light as seemingly every facet of offensive baseball has already been dissected and SABRmetricians have moved on to more taxing analysis: pitch framing, or the art of making it look like a borderline pitch or even a clear ball is a definite strike – and making sure a definite strike doesn’t look like a ball. If you’re wondering how pitch framing ability is measured, check out this wonderfully descriptive article on BSL. Now, pitch framing may sound like a very minor part of a catcher’s job, but as Grantland has pointed out, it can be worth as many as 2 wins per season (#longreads, but very worth it).

The value of framing a given pitch is estimated to be around 1.3 runs by Dan Turkenkopf, a former Baseball Prospectus writer and a current member of the Rays organization. Not long ago, Baseball Prospectus published a new estimate of run-value of framing based on specific counts. This works under the assumption that certain counts are more favorable to pitchers than others, which aligns with common baseball knowledge: it’s harder for the batter to take borderline pitches with two strikes than it is with none. The updated estimates from Baseball Prospectus are shown below:

Ball Strike Maximum Framing Run Value Available
0 0 .080
0 1 .092
0 2 .199
1 0 .112
1 1 .117
1 2 .241
2 0 .156
2 1 .098
2 2 .339
3 0 .173
3 1 .251
3 2 .590

An extra strike created by the catcher is worth a lot in situations where it also creates an out. It’s worth noting here that not only is there a small sample size, as batters tend to take less often in possible at-bat ending situations, but umpires are shown to be biased toward not impacting the game with a called fourth ball or third strike.

Perfect catch? Not always.

Perfect catch? Not always.

Let’s cut to the chase: Matt Wieters is not highly regarded in more advanced pitch framing measurements. This article shows him as being among the worst catchers in making sure pitches in the zone are called strikes. Camden Depot shows Wieters on a negative trajectory, becoming consistently worse at framing as his career has progressed, his ability worth -8.7 runs in 2013. CBS Sports puts Wieters’ 2013 at -9.1 runs worse than average in pitch framing. Baseball Prospectus is the least favorable, showing Wieters’ framing to be worth -16.4 runs. Using the typical 10 runs = 1 win conversion, Wieters may be costing the O’s about a win over the course of a season. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a player worth 0.5 bWAR in all of 2013 (a figure he’s already matched in 2014, by the way), which, as far as I know does not account for pitch framing.

After 2014, we may have a better idea of how well Wieters frames pitches for his rotation. With Ubaldo Jimenez joining the squad and a full season of Bud Norris, the team has added two pitchers who have something of a baseline in called balls and strikes to compare Wieters to. Essentially (as I’m typing this, I’m realizing that this is not “essentially,” but exactly what will happen), it’ll be possible – and given the run value of framing, worthwhile – to watch Jimenez’s fastballs to Wieters on the inside lower corner of the plate to right-handed batters while a specific umpire is calling the game to see how many were called strikes with other catchers and how many are called strikes with Wieters. Baseball Prospectus noted that people in the industry think his framing metrics will be improved simply by bringing in pitchers with an existing baseline performance to compare to, so maybe Wieters is only costing the team a half of a win every season.

There are three upsides to Wieters’ framing shortcomings. First, Wieters is penalized for catching the majority of Orioles pitchers, and for the Orioles pitching staff having relatively little turnover in the last few years. Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen have never pitched to anyone else, for instance; it’s impossible to determine a control to compare Wieters’ framing to, since the only baseline to use is Wieters himself. The second is that it may not be Wieters’ fault. The Orioles pitchers may just be young and inconsistent and inaccurate, all of which tend to push umpires to call borderline pitches strikes. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard Jim Palmer say, “Until he shows that he can consistently throw to that spot on purpose, he won’t get the strike call even though it’s on the black,” …well, I’d at least have one dollar, if you were lenient enough to count similar remarks. Even when pitches end up in the zone, if they were far enough away from where Wieters positioned his glove, the umpire might mistake bad pitching for a ball.

Fielding your position is an important part of the game.

Fielding your position is an important part of the game.

Finally, pitch framing is far from the only responsibility of the catcher. Blocking bad pitches, blocking the plate, making tags, throwing runners out, fielding, you know, offense, and actually calling the game are all integral parts of one of the most challenging positions on the field, and most are not a part by WAR. By all accounts, Matt Wieters is considered very good at all of these things. Having some shortcomings in pitch framing is wonderfully and happily forgiven for being a rock (and a healthy one at that) for the oft-changing arm portion of the battery. Seriously, who has time to practice framing pitches when you have to learn the new guy from AAA’s name, his pitches, his comfort level, and teach him the calls every few weeks? Hopefully a steady rotation in 2014 with some proven pitchers like Tillman and Chen will give Wieters a little break from being the captain of the ship and give him time to focus on pitch framing.

But seriously, if Wieters can get just one of Jimenez’s pitches called a strike, the catcher will be worth the $50M the team is giving the pitcher.

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