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January 7
Aaron Sele: Stud or Dud?

So the Orioles are thinking of signing Aaron Sele to a four year contract worth approximately $30 million. Our knee-jerk reaction was "Wow, another stupid move by the Os." After all, the main attraction of Sele is not that he has pitched well, but that he has been handed 19 and 18 Ws the last two years by the powerful Ranger offense. And it's true; he's had ridiculously good run support the last couple of years. But is he just a lucky recipient of run support, or is there something more?
Run support
19986.69 R/9 IP (4th in the AL)
19997.46 R/9 IP (3rd in the AL)
19984.234.65 AL average
19994.794.86 AL average

Let's start by pointing out that Sele was quite poor for the Red Sox in 1996-1997, with a combined record of 20-23 and an ERA of 5.35. So the case for Sele rests on these last two years with the Rangers. What about those two years? Well, he has been about average at preventing runs, as the table above shows. That 1998 looks better than average, but there's a skeleton lurking in that closet -- he allowed a lot of unearned runs. If a normal proportion of his runs had been unearned, his ERA would have been 4.49 that year.

Okay, so it's easy to look at ERA, but maybe that's misleading. What are some of the other factors which need to be considered?

Park effects: If we were discussing his value to the Texas Rangers in 1998-1999, we'd have to say that Sele was more valuable than his numbers first appear, because he plays his home games in the best non-Coors hitter's park in baseball. But we are not discussing his value to the Rangers; rather, we wish to project how Sele is likely to do for another team, namely, the Orioles. And that's where things really start to get sticky. Sele's ERAs were not very impressive, but his road ERAs were downright depressing.

Home/Road splits
19983.64 Home4.95 Road
19994.69 Home4.93 Road

Peripheral performance: His strikeout rates have been good; he was third in the league in Ks in 1999, and fourth in strikeout rate. In 1998, he was eighth in each. (To put that in perspective, in both years he was comparable to Mussina in these areas.) On the other hand, Sele allows a lot of baserunners, and in particular, a ton of hits. Overall, his baserunners allowed is approximately 13.7 per 9 innings, which is not at all encouraging. What else? Well, Bill James and STATS have invented a stat called "Component ERA." The formula is a little involved, but the basic point is that it looks at the raw statistical totals allowed by the pitcher -- IP, H, HR, BB -- and attempts to factor out the element of chance, to see what ERA a pitcher would expect to achieve given those statistics. In both 1998 and 1999, Sele's Component ERA was somewhat higher than his actual ERA, meaning he may have been getting somewhat lucky -- most likely by getting extra help from his defense and/or his bullpen.

Team fit: Well, on the one hand, the Orioles certainly had a hole in their projected 2000 rotation. Without Sele, their rotation would be Mike Mussina, Sidney Ponson, Scott Erickson, Jason Johnson, and Calvin Maduro/Matt Riley/other. And while Johnson did finish strong in 1999, his overall performance hardly inspired confidence, leaving two questionmarks among the five slots. So in one sense, Sele certainly answers a big question for the Orioles rotation.

On the other hand, what answer is it? "More of the same," we think. Sele is basically Scott Erickson Lite -- he will give his team solid innings (fewer than Erickson, but over 200 in both 1998 and 1999), and will generally keep his team in the game, but he is unlikely to be anything more than a .500 pitcher if he gets average run support -- which is the most he can reasonably expect from the Orioles' mediocre offense. He is 30, which is not old but which is not young either. And, of course, he represents a long-term roadblock for Matt Riley, the Os' stud pitching prospect, unless the Orioles are prepared to scrap the Jason Johnson experiment after just one season.

There is another facet about Sele that stands out: he is a pretty strong groundball pitcher; he finished third in the league in 1999 in groundball/flyball ratio. Now, there's a tendency to assume that you want groundball pitchers in Camden Yards. That assumption is based on the myth that Camden Yards is a great hitter's park, which it is not -- it is actually a pitcher's park, and not a great home run park, either. Moreover, given the Orioles' aged infield, it is not at all clear that groundball pitchers are going to find it smooth sailing in Baltimore.

Salary: As usual, the Os appear to be assuming that a high payroll will somehow trick other teams into forfeiting games. This strategy has not worked so far, but they will apparently keep trying until Peter Angelos runs out of money. The reported offer to Sele may not be quite as ridiculous as the money Dodger GM Kevin Malone has burned in Los Angeles, but it is far out of proportion to the other free agent pitchers on the market. In comparison, Andy Benes is looking at a three year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $16-19 million total, while Juan Guzman and Omar Olivares seem to each be looking at two year deals worth a total of about $10 million. (To be fair to the Orioles, we should point out that Tampa has allegedly offered Sele a contract similar to the Os' proposal; then again, since when is emulating the last-place, poorly-run Devil Rays the way to win?)

In sum, the Orioles once again seem to have overpaid for a mediocre veteran rather than trying to see what a youngster could do. And once again, they seem to have deluded themselves into thinking that this veteran is The Solution. For instance, the Washington Post said that the Os' projected rotation with Sele

would give the Orioles arguably as good a starting rotation as any
in the American League, rivaling the New York Yankees'.

Such enthusiasm would be great if it were not wishful thinking, but in any case, the Orioles had a top three rotation last year and hardly scared the rest of the league. How about addressing the team's offensive needs -- besides signing Greg Myers, we mean? How about making the team younger, instead of forfeiting draft picks for a guy who is unlikely to mean anything more than the difference between fourth and third place?

Comments? Is our analysis right on target or off the wall? We want to know what you think. And if you can do better, show us! Good submissions are always welcome.

© 2000 The Orioles Warehouse
Whole wheat.
Last Updated: January 7, 2000
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