As with any and every decision the Orioles make under their new front office, advanced data and analytics will factor into the Monday’s First-Year Player Draft as well. There is much more data available on college players, but there is also some available for high school players.
On MASN’s “O’s Xtra” on Saturday, Mike Bordick interviewed Sig Mejdal, the Orioles’ vice president and assistant general manager for analytics. How much will the data factor in for this draft?
“It’s quite a bit,” said Mejdal. “It’s not the ’90s anymore. There is quite a bit of information beyond what the experts, our scouts provide. The TrackMan that we have here has made its way to so many of the college parks. We have body sensors, bat sensors on many of the players. So it really is an exercise in combining all this information now.”
The TrackMan system is a 3-D Doppler radar system that precisely measures the location, trajectory, and spin rate of hit and pitched baseballs.
When the Orioles drafted left-hander Zac Lowther out of Xavier in 2017, he was a pitcher with big strikeout rates without a big fastball. The TrackMan system provided more info on how Lowther could fan so many batters with spin rate data and so forth. Since the O’s drafted him, the strikeouts have kept coming and he’s averaged 10.7 per nine innings in his career. This year at Double-A Bowie, he’s 4-3 with a 1.68 ERA along with 43 strikeouts over 48 1/3 innings. A pitcher that can top out at 91 or 92 might not have been drafted so highly several years ago.
“He was one, when we were with the Astros, we had our eye on him, too,” said Mejdal. “Anyone that was looking at the performance numbers, what he did in his career at Xavier was amazing. And so then it became a question of was this going to continue? If you just looked at the velocity alone, the answer would probably be no. But now with the Trackman devices, you can dive a little deeper into his spin rate, his movement, his velocity and where he throws. And get a bit more insight into why this pitch is working in college and whether it will work or not all the way up to here.”
The analytical data can also help the club when trying to decide on older, more advanced college players or younger and more raw high school players.
“It’s a difficult task and thank goodness for scouts,” said Mejdal. “We have the experts who have a lifetime of trying to make sense of exactly that. At the end of the day, what matters is preventing a run out there or creating a run out there. Whether you were drafted out of high school, junior college or college, or whether you are a pitcher or hitter, it doesn’t matter. A run is a run. So it’s our challenge to put what the scouts describe and their prognosis into the language of runs. Once you have done that, then it’s exercising and maximizing runs.”
More math and data comes into play when comparing players from different positions like the top two prospects in this draft. Adley Rutschman is a college catcher that won’t play 162 games in the majors. High school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. may be able to play every game of a season in the major leagues. So how do they weigh that?
“That is where some more math comes in,” Mejdal said. “We know the average output of a catcher, the average output of a first baseman. And you can quantify that in runs. So if you have the same bat, but he’s behind the plate, that is obviously a lot more valuable then the same bat at first base. So you can reward that catcher with a run value, if you will. Then if he’s not playing 162 games there, you can deduct a little bit. It can all be quantified.”
So for the Orioles, all the prep work is just about in their rear-view mirror. And the first draft with Mike Elias as executive vice president and general manager begins Monday night.
“Hopefully, we have done as much preparation that we can possibly do beforehand, where we have the players in an order we feel confident in. And simply taking the guy at the top of the list,” said Mejdal.
Wrapping up the homestand: A homestand that began with the Orioles losing two of three with Detroit comes to an end this afternoon. The Orioles have split two games with San Francisco and are still looking for that elusive series win. They haven’t had one since taking two of three from the Chicago White Sox from April 22-24.
The Orioles lost 8-2 Saturday as right-hander David Hess falls to 1-7 with a 7.36 ERA. This was the 40th time in 2019 that an O’s starter went 5 1/3 innings or less. In this series, O’s starters Andrew Cashner and Hess have allowed 13 runs over nine innings.
Renato Núñez homered again Saturday. It was his 15th, which puts him in a tie for sixth in the American League in home runs. Over his past 12 games, Núñez is batting .386 (17-for-44) with eight homers and 16 RBIs. He has hit seven homers in his past 10 games and eight in his last 12 games. Since May 20, Nunez leads the AL with eight homers and 16 RBIs.
Former O’s minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski is 3-for-7 in this series with a triple, homer, four runs, two walks and three RBIs. He was 1-for-3 with an RBI yesterday.
The Orioles (18-40) are the first team in the majors to reach 40 losses. Hess received just one run of support. It’s the sixth start where he has gotten one or no runs of support. San Francisco scored 12 first-innings runs in its first 55 games and has scored seven in this series.