The Baltimore Orioles ballpark, Camden Yards; CC by license 2.0
Most of us are accustomed to the final gist of The Wizard of Oz. Little is understood in regards to the “wizard”, however he’s mentioned to have mystical powers that may grant any want. Dorothy and the crew go all the way in which up the yellow brick highway to satisfy mentioned wizard, they usually arrive to witness scenes of smoke, fireplace, and floating heads which created a spectacle that was by no means earlier than seen. Nevertheless, the gang comes to comprehend that these harrowing sights have been made doable not by magic, however by one man behind a curtain pulling some levers and urgent some buttons. Since 2012, Mike Elias has been the person behind the scenes for 2 of essentially the most miraculous main league franchise turnarounds in latest reminiscence. The present GM for the Orioles has his workforce in good form at simply over the quarter mark of the season, replicating a whole lot of the success he had beforehand with the Houston Astros. After pitching for and graduating from Yale, he can be a scout for the Cardinals till 2012 when he took his experience to Houston as their scouting director, and Elias has carried out his baseball wizardry since.
Most of Mike Elias’ success with the Astros is overshadowed by the notorious 2017 World Collection dishonest scandal. After serving 7 years in Houston, Elias was fired after the 2018 season. The firings of the then-manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow got here after the next season. You will need to be aware that whereas unprecedented suspensions have been positioned on Hinch and Luhnow, Elias was deemed harmless within the scandal. The Baltimore Orioles jumped on the alternative to carry Elias into their constructing, changing their old-school GM Dan Duquette with the new-school analytical considering of Elias earlier than heading into the 2019 season. He had the identical process in entrance of him that he had 7 years earlier in Houston: take the workforce with the worst report in baseball the yr earlier than and switch them right into a perennial contender. Mike Elias has pulled all the suitable levers and pressed all the suitable buttons behind the scenes to make it occur… twice.
Sure, each the Astros in 2011 and the Orioles in 2018 had the worst information in baseball to complete their respective seasons. The Astros closed out the 2011 season at 56-106, which was seven extra losses than the following closest workforce they usually have been the one workforce that yr to build up 100 losses. Compared to the remainder of the league, they ranked twenty fifth in WRC+ and wOBA. They suffered equally on the pitching facet, rating twenty eighth in each FIP and WHIP. Elias had vital floor to cowl after that 2011 season in Houston, however the identical might be mentioned for the scenario in Baltimore when he arrived after the 2018 season. The Orioles completed 2018 with a 47-115 report, which was 9 extra losses than the following closest workforce they usually have been the one workforce to not surpass 50 wins. Sound considerably acquainted? The O’s struggled with the bats which put them at twenty sixth in WRC+ and wOBA for the season, and the pitching was downright terrible after ending final in WHIP and FIP. Sound much more acquainted? Mike Elias stepped into virtually the identical scenario each in 2012 and in 2018 with nowhere to go however up.
For these of you who’re accustomed to a workforce rebuild course of, usually, the primary place to begin is the farm system. Groups within the rebuilding stage will bolster their system with prospects within the MLB draft. Prospects regularly make their method by the minor leagues till they’re both known as as much as the most important league squad or traded for solidified main league expertise. Struggling groups, just like the Orioles and Astros, had prime draft selections for a number of years whereas Elias was on the helm. Due to this fact, each have been capable of generate elite farm methods over time. However Elias approaches the draft in another way than most executives. Outlined within the e book Future Worth, Elias makes use of what has been deemed the “portfolio method”. Michael McDermott explains:
“The method is to attempt to save as a lot as doable with their prime choice with out an excessive amount of of a drop-off in expertise then use the financial savings to make an over-slot choose with a highschool expertise that’s fallen effectively under his authentic anticipated vary. By taking that method, the hope is to have the ability to leverage an enormous signing pool into a powerful draft haul of expertise” (McDermott, 2022).
Heading into the MLB draft each workforce has a set amount of cash they will hand out for the primary 10 rounds. Each choose ‘slot’ has an assigned worth that must be spent for the participant picked at that spot. Elias goals to go ‘under-slot’ for early picks, in different phrases drafting gamers sooner than projected in hopes of signing them for lower than the assigned slot worth. Then he can take the financial savings from the under-slot choose(s) and use it to build up extra expertise all through the draft by going over-slot on later picks. This technique expands or diversifies the prospect ‘portfolio’, therefore the portfolio method.
Elias has used this technique in Houston and Baltimore with usually nice success. For the aim of this text, I’m going to be breaking down and evaluating years 1 by 5 of Elias in each Houston and Baltimore. This yr’s 2023 season is Elias’ fifth yr in Baltimore, and I assumed it might be becoming to check every year in Baltimore to the primary 5 he spent in Houston to check progress. To start out, let’s check out the draft historical past for Mike Elias:
The visible above clearly exhibits the usage of the portfolio method through the years. Out of the 8 first picks, 6 of them have been signed under-slot. A number of all-stars together with Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker all signed beneath their assigned slot worth when drafted. It’s fairly effectively documented that the MLB draft is a crapshoot. So Elias requested himself, why overspend on the early first-round picks when participant worth is unfold all throughout the draft? Why spend the capital on an early choose when most of them don’t pan out? This isn’t to say Elias was a draft wiz proper out of the gates. After having a terrific first draft going under-slot on Correa to go over-slot on Lance McCullers, Elias had a streak of drafting pitchers with the primary choose in 2013 and 2014 (Appel & Aiken). Respectively, each pitchers have been prime prospects within the draft, and it was not stunning to see them go #1. And each didn’t pan out within the majors due to totally different causes, however you see the development from there and the teachings he took with him to Baltimore. Regardless of having 2 of the highest 5 picks in 2015, Elias went under-slot on two positional gamers, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. Each Bregman and Tucker have gone on to have nice careers in Houston. The development of drafting positional gamers under-slot continued in Baltimore with the stunning choose of Heston Kjerstad at #2 in 2020, adopted by the 2021 draft. Colton Cowser and Connor Norby have been each school bats drafted under-slot, and like Bregman and Tucker, each are prime 100 prospects in baseball in accordance with MLB.com. Elias has hit his stride on early draft picks which interprets to elite farm system expertise.
Once you do a deep dive into farm system rankings for the Elias Astros in comparison with the Elias Orioles, the timelines are eerily comparable. After the 2014 draft (the third yr of Elias’ tenure in Houston), the Astros’ system was touted because the second-best in baseball by Bleacher Report. Their MLB.com prime 100 prospects have been Correa (#8), Appel (#17), McCullers (#52), and George Springer (#21), who was drafted the yr earlier than Elias arrived. Now right here is the place the parallels are available in. After the 2021 draft (the third yr of Elias’ tenure in Baltimore), the Orioles’ system ranked as one of the best in baseball in accordance with MLB Pipeline. The O’s, like Houston in 2014, had not 4 however 5 prime 100 prospects on MLB.com: Rutschmann (#2), Kjerstad (#69), Henderson (#80), Cowser (#83), and Grayson Rodriguez (#27), who was drafted the yr earlier than Elias arrived. In Elias’ third yr in each Houston and Baltimore, he managed to build up a few of the greatest farm methods in baseball. Nevertheless, placing collectively some good prospect lists is just one a part of the rebuilding equation.
An equally essential a part of a rebuild is the administration of prospects. There’s a lot discuss now about service time manipulation, and within the fashionable historical past of this sport, there was no scarcity of prospect busts. However why do some pan out and a few don’t? Lots of it boils all the way down to selecting the correct time to name a prospect as much as the most important leagues. Name a participant up too early or too late and the workforce may danger flailing on a high-value prospect. Each Carlos Correa in Houston and Gunnar Henderson in Baltimore have been high-value prospects whereas they made their method by their respective methods. And to label them solely as high-value prospects is an understatement, as the 2 equally have been drafted as highschool shortstops who would ultimately develop into prime 3 prospects in baseball. Given the similarities between the gamers and their quick on-field success once they received the decision, I assumed it might be fascinating to look at the numbers they put up within the minors. Did one thing within the analytics inform Elias that these guys have been prepared for the massive leagues?
Above is a desk with a few of the numbers put up by Correa and Henderson while within the final two ranges of the minors (AA and AAA). General, the numbers look totally different, particularly by stage. Correa put up noticeably higher stats in AA whereas Henderson had him beat in AAA. Nothing within the desk signifies something which you could level to and say, ‘That’s the logic that led to them being known as up once they have been’. However what if we dive a bit deeper?
As indicated by the brand new desk above, the averages between AA and AAA inform a special story. The variations on the particular person ranges are obvious nonetheless, however the averages are separated by mere decimal factors. Now from this knowledge, we are able to put collectively extra of the exact batting profile Elias seems for in his high-value prospects earlier than they make it to the present. If we have been to make an assumption off of this knowledge alone, we are able to assume that Elias seems for his place participant prospects to have (between AA and AAA):
An OPS nearing 1.000
A wOBA within the mid-to-low .400s
A WRC+ within the mid-to-high 100s
A BABIP above roughly .350
It goes with out saying that this isn’t an actual science. A major variety of variables go into whether or not or not a prospect will get known as as much as the majors. Nevertheless, with Elias being on the forefront of analytics, these numbers possible had a big function within the call-ups of Carlos Correa and Gunnar Henderson.
What Mike Elias has managed to do with the Astros and now the Orioles is really exceptional. As of this writing, the O’s at present have the second-best report in baseball with excessive hopes for a playoff run in simply the fifth yr of Elias’ time as normal supervisor. His fifth yr in Houston didn’t see the identical success after narrowly lacking the playoffs in 2016, however everyone knows what occurred in 2017. Regardless of the dishonest scandal within the World Collection, the Astros nonetheless managed to place collectively an unimaginable 101-61 common season and have been one among if not the favorites to win the World Collection going into the playoffs. May this be a sign of what’s to come back in Elias’ sixth yr on the helm in Baltimore? Let’s evaluate the year-by-year analytics to see if the Orioles are on tempo:
The visualization above exhibits the typical FIP and common WHIP rankings for every of the primary 5 years of Elias in Houston and Baltimore. A disclaimer that must be said right here is that Elias’ 2nd yr in Baltimore was the 2020 shortened season, so there’s a smaller pattern dimension and numbers from that season are usually inconsistent. Apart from that, the ‘Elias Impact’ can’t be understated. General Baltimore ranked decrease in FIP and WHIP than Houston did of their first 5 with Elias. Nevertheless, the gradual stand up the ranks is obvious for either side. Each franchises struggled to crack the highest 20 within the two classes for the primary 3 years however managed to complete inside the highest 20 for every class in years 4 and 5. The hitting analytics inform a lot of the identical story:
The development from yr 3 on is staggering in each visualizations. Simply because it was with pitching the Astros had extra of a straight line to the highest, however given the shortened season in yr 2 for Baltimore, it’s clear each groups made regular enhancements of their common wOBA and WRC+ every year. Whereas Elias may not be within the dugout giving hitting or pitching ideas, establishing a roster based on analytics led to the rankings we see within the visuals.
Are the numbers pointing to an O’s World Collection bid in 2024? It’s definitely doable, however there may be some floor to cowl earlier than that involves fruition. Lots of the criticism placed on Mike Elias in Baltimore has been his unwillingness to make ‘the massive transfer’. For essentially the most half, trades have been restricted to prospect hauls for solidified main leaguers, and Elias has but at hand out a single multi-year contract to a free agent throughout his time as GM. And Orioles followers might need to take a seat tight yet one more yr for a splash. Should you return in time and go to the 2016 Astros (fifth yr of Elias in Houston), you will notice they have been 55-49 on the commerce deadline. The Orioles are at present 28-16 at simply over the quarter mark of the season. Whereas they could be on tempo to be in a significantly better place at this yr’s deadline than Houston in ’16, I count on the dearth of beginning pitching to catch as much as Baltimore earlier than the deadline which may put them in an analogous scenario to Houston 7 years in the past. The Astros missed the playoffs due partly to a aggressive AL West (Mariners, Rangers), which might be a lot of the identical cause the Orioles may miss the playoffs this season, in a traditionally aggressive AL East.
Following Elias’ blueprint from Houston, yr 6 is the yr to purchase in. On the commerce deadline in 2017, the Astros led the American League at 85-53. This put them in prime place to commerce for all-time nice Justin Verlander. They traded three of the highest twelve prospects of their system for the longer term hall-of-famer, becoming a member of All-Stars Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers in a lethal rotation that received them to the World Collection. When Verlander came visiting, Keuchel was the chief of the workers, and former prime pitching prospect McCullers made his first All-Star workforce at 23. May we see a Verlander-esque scenario on the horizon for Mike Elias and Baltimore? If Elias rolls along with his 6-year blueprint, the Orioles commerce for a top-of-the-rotation arm at subsequent yr’s deadline with loads of prospect depth to make the transfer. Theoretically, the acquisition would be a part of a rotation with former All-Star and chief of the workers John Means and former prime pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who may very effectively make his first All-Star workforce at 24, simply as a 23-year-old McCullers did in ’17. Whereas Means will probably be coming into his age 30 season, versus Keuchel (27 in ’17), he will probably be coming off Tommy John surgical procedure which may rejuvenate his profession. Fairly comparable conditions for an enormous commerce piece to be going into. A commerce to carry elite beginning pitching to the Orioles rotation is imminent. It’s been a protracted drought for thrilling strikes in Baltimore, however because the 2017 Astros proved, good issues come to those that wait.
Quickly after Dorothy’s canine Toto unveils Ozbehind the scenes, he takes off in a sizzling air balloon by no means to be seen once more, forsaking loads of unfulfilled hopes and desires. After 2018, the new air balloon that took Elias out of Houston occurred to be product of dugout trash cans and Jose Altuve’s buzzers. As a Baltimore native and life-long fan, I really feel snug talking for all of Birdland once I say I hope the balloon stays grounded and Elias retains working his magic behind the scenes for a few years to come back as he reaps the advantages of yet one more profitable rebuild.