When infield prospects Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra came to the Orioles in a trade from the Colorado Rockies last August, all the uncertainty about being traded was partially assuaged by the cold, hard realities of data.
The two were among the first to receive detailed reports from the Orioles’ hitting development department that broke down what they did well, what they needed to keep working at, and more importantly, what traits made them players worth targeting.
Nevin said it was “a huge encouragement,” and with the possibility of even more prospects coming to the Orioles organization by Friday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline — and a dozen more getting their professional introduction after the amateur draft — the reports are growing into a staple of how the team uses and communicates data for player development purposes.
“It’s just part of our process and philosophy — we want to be able to provide information for them to assess where they are and where they need to go,” director of player development Matt Blood said. “We don’t want to just be subjectively guessing. We want to have hard evidence and be making cases to these players for why they need to do what they’re asking them to do. It’s just how we do everything, so whenever these players arrive, our coaches did a deep-dive on them and identified some of the process-driven metrics that we felt if we attacked, then they would help players get to where they want to go.”
Blood, who was hired in September 2019, brought in a group of new hitting coaches for the 2020 season but didn’t get to see his staff in action much outside of the first month of spring training before the pandemic shut down minor league baseball. One of the coaches, Anthony Villa, put together a template during that time that grew into the hitting reports that the new players got in Double-A Bowie after that Mychal Givens trade.
“The beautiful thing about playing baseball in the modern era now is we have all this data on your that is almost like showing us a thumbprint of who you are as a player,” Villa, the hitting coach of the Orioles’ Florida Complex League Orange Team and the organization’s short-season hitting coordinator, said.
“We’re able to get a feel for how good your eye at the plate is, how powerful you are, your damage abilities — just being able to look at strengths and weaknesses and try to piece the puzzle together for how we can get the most offensive production out of you based on your skill-set, and then cleaning up any areas of inefficiency.”
Nevin said in spring training when he revealed the PowerPoint’s existence that it gave him “a different outlook on how to approach things and realizing I have those tools now to go back and track progress and develop that way.” The data wasn’t as prevalent in the Rockies’ system.
Ryan Fuller, the Double-A Bowie hitting coach and the farm system’s full-season hitting coordinator, said there have been occasions in which players have been surprised the Orioles were even willing to give out the data, let alone communicate it that way. But in the interest of total transparency, the team shared that data to make the best possible case about how each player should move forward.
“Whenever we want a player to do something, we kind of think of it like you would if you were going to a judge,” Blood said. “The term they use is you’ve got to lawyer up. We have to lawyer up with our information so whatever we’re taking to players has got some real information behind it that’s legitimate and is going to pass in court.”
Those reports welcomed several hitters acquired in trades last summer, and will be replicated in August if the Orioles bring in any prospects in deadline deals. The new draftees have a different kind of orientation, but nothing as finely tuned to their own batted ball data as is available to those with minor league track records.
“If we’re acquiring a player form another organization, someone that has a sample size in pro ball, then we feel pretty comfortable with the data set and we’re going to be able to express a thumbprint of the player to them reflecting how they’ve been in pro ball,” Villa said. “As far as the new draft guys go, this first short season leading up really into this first full season, that’s where they get the chance to establish that dataset. It’s like being able to get them into games, collect some information on that and see what their physical and strategic profiles look like.”
That doesn’t mean they won’t encounter the reports before long. This hitting staff has overseen significant jumps in both plate discipline and power at the Orioles’ full-season affiliates this year thanks to their focus on swing decisions and the installation of more challenging drills to gear them up to drive the ball.
The walk rate at the Orioles’ four full-season affiliates was 8.3% in 2019, and entering Wednesday’s game, it was up to 11.5% this season. The OPS is up nearly 40 points, from .696 to .735.
After two months at Bowie, Fuller used the reports to update the players on their progress toward their individual target metrics. They focus on which pitches players have been hitting the ball hardest, what they need to work on and which parts of the strike zone they should prioritize.
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“It really gives a clear picture of the what, why, and how of what we’re doing,” Fuller said.