Scouting and drafting Archives

May 28, 2004

A look inside the Orioles' heads, part 1

Anyone who has read Michael Lewis's bestselling book Moneyball knows the story of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane as a player. Extraordinarily gifted in virtually every physical tool a baseball player could want, Beane was one of the top prospects in the nation coming out of high school. He even had a football scholarship waiting for him at Stanford despite the fact that he had not played football for two years.

Selected in the first round of the 1980 draft by the New York Mets, Beane signed with the team and eventually made it to the majors, yet he never lived up to his athletic promise as a professional because he lacked the right mental traits to succeed. Part of his problems could be traced to a lack of motivation, confidence, and emotional control. His most visible shortcoming was that he did not handle failure well. Whenever Beane struck out, his teammates made sure to keep their distance to avoid suffering collateral damage from his vicious outbursts. His reputation for destructiveness grew to mythical levels, so even his opponents would watch his tantrums for their entertainment value.

Beane's foil in the book is Lenny Dykstra, Beane's teammate coming up through the Mets' system. While Beane carried his mistakes with him everywhere he went, Dykstra never let a little failure bother him. Dykstra was unflappable; he quickly put bad experiences behind him and was able to move on to the next inning, the next at-bat, or the next game. To Beane, Dykstra had the ideal temperament to play baseball, and that conclusion influenced him when it came to making decisions on players as a general manager.

While this little psychological study is a fascinating subplot in the book, the overarching story of Moneyball is the Athletics' ability to find undervalued players by weighting statistically meaningful measures of baseball performance over traditional, overrated metrics. Psychological traits were just one of many pieces of information that went into Oakland's decision-making.

The Baltimore shop

The Orioles' current administration bridges the old and new schools of baseball management. Their top prospect is a high-risk player touted by traditional, tools-based scouting analysis, but team officials have also publicly acknowledged the importance of on-base percentage and have entertained an unorthodox philosophy regarding bullpen usage. But while the Orioles may not be at the forefront of the sabermetric movement, they do appear to have made significant gains in the area of psychological profiling of prospects.

This past Sunday, the television program "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" featured an interview of Dave Ritterpusch, the Orioles' director of baseball information systems. On the program, Ritterpusch described the psychological profiling method that he developed to evaluate players for the Orioles, and how it figures into the Orioles' personnel decisions. This topic was previously covered in an article by John Eisenberg that appeared in the Sun on February 22. On Sunday Ritterpusch expanded on his method, although he stopped short of revealing the most critical details.

For those who are unaware of the show, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is a weekly half-hour program that airs on local television station WNUV 54 (Baltimore's WB affiliate) on Sunday mornings during the baseball season. It is essentially the equivalent of "Meet the Press" for the world of Orioles baseball. Like NBC's Tim Russert, local sports reporter Tom Davis conducts studio interviews of high-profile guests, but instead of grilling policymakers and heads of state, Davis talks one-on-one with Orioles players, coaches, and decision-makers present and past. The tone of the show is informal, but the long format of the program makes it possible for guests to expound in ways that are rarely seen in the mainstream, sound-bite-oriented news media. For Orioles fans seeking coverage of the team in more depth and from a different angle than is available from most news outlets—and if you're reading this, you probably are one of those people—"TMOB" is a unique and valuable resource.

Next: A look into the Ritterpusch interview.

May 29, 2004

Inside the Orioles' heads, part 2

Part One

Welcome back

First off, a little background on Dave Ritterpusch (digested from John Eisenberg's February 22 article in the Sun and a 1996 story by the venerable John Steadman): after graduating from college, serving in the military, and becoming a bank executive at Equitable Trust Co., Ritterpusch was recommended to the Orioles' management by then-minority owner Zanvyl Krieger. Ritterpusch soon became scouting director, a title he carried from 1973 to 1975 in the front office led by General Manager Frank Cashen. Back then, Ritterpusch was one of the first to adopt psychological testing for athletes. His greatest find was Eddie Murray in the third round of the 1973 draft, and that year he also selected Mike Flanagan in the seventh round. Another fruitful pick was Rich Dauer in the '74 draft.

But Ritterpusch was jettisoned when the Orioles' front office turned over in the mid-'70s, and after a failed attempt to latch onto another team, he returned to non-sports jobs. Still, he remained in touch with people in baseball and in the psychological testing community. In the 1990s, he helped Flanagan, then the Orioles' pitching coach, to review pitcher Arthur Rhodes's psychological profile and decide that the best role for Rhodes was in middle relief. When Flanagan and Jim Beattie were selected to lead the Orioles' baseball operations in late 2002, one of their first signees was Ritterpusch as director of baseball information systems.

Ritterpusch, now in his early sixties, has spent most of his life working outside of baseball. His educational record includes a finance degree from Lehigh (1963) and a master's in business administration from Penn State. His work record includes several military positions, including paratrooper and military intelligence officer; he retired from the service with the rank of colonel in 1991. He then served as an assistant secretary of labor in the first Bush administration and has also worked in the private sector for consulting and contracting firms serving the defense industry.

First impressions

Judging from his appearance on Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Ritterpusch looks like he never quite left the '70s—or the military—behind him. On the program, his dark brown, slicked hair was tautly combed and parted to the side. He had on a black suit and a powder-blue, buttoned-collar dress shirt. The knot of his splotchy necktie often disappeared beneath his jowly jawline. It was not hard to imagine that Ritterpusch once worked in military intelligence. Large, brown-tinted aviator sunglasses with gold rims obscured his eyes throughout the interview, making it tough to read his facial expressions. Often pausing to consider his thoughts before answering a question, Ritterpusch spoke in a steady tone of voice that was low-key yet confident, in a manner akin to Dick Cheney. His every utterance sounded carefully measured and vetted to demonstrate the soundness of his knowledge while providing no more detail than necessary.

Ritterpusch began by describing the Orioles' reports on Flanagan and Murray from when they were being scouted as potential draftees. He immediately gravitated to his specialty and emphasized the mental aspect of each player. Flanagan, he said, "had terrific makeup, terrific mental toughness, terrific composure." Ritterpusch added that he had checked with Baltimore doctors about a prior arm injury of Flanagan's and was reassured that it would not be a problem.

Murray is clearly the crown jewel in Ritterpusch's prospecting history, and on the 2003 Hall of Fame inductee he said: "Any of us who have seen Eddie and know Eddie well know that he is an extremely composed individual.... We had used our psychological profiles and knew he had very high drive, and we knew it was masked by something called emotional control. Now, we really didn't realize how important emotional control would be in Eddie's career, but of course that's one of the things that enabled him to be a selective hitter and hit over .400 with the bases loaded." Ritterpusch also noted with some satisfaction that while the psychological profile attracted the Orioles to Murray, other clubs did not even have Murray on their draft lists.

Continue reading "Inside the Orioles' heads, part 2" »

June 6, 2004

Inside the Orioles' heads, part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Profiles in reflection

With the amateur draft scheduled to take place Monday and Tuesday, the Orioles no doubt have compiled their list of the top eligible players. As discussed earlier, the psychological ratings of their director of baseball information systems, Dave Ritterpusch, will have a significant influence on the selection process—greater, perhaps, than for any other team. The psychological profiles help winnow the field by eliminating those who are least mentally prepared to play baseball at an elite level. They also provide a tipping factor when deciding among prospects of similar ability.

There is a danger that the Orioles could go overboard with their perceived competitive advantage in psychological profiling. The mental side of the game is important, but prospects who are mentally strong and motivated still need the physical aptitude to succeed against first-rate competition, as Ritterpusch himself acknowledges. From what I've seen, I'm not terribly confident in the Orioles' ability to go beyond typical scouting metrics like the five tools and assess the more subtle assets that show up only on the field in live competition (and in certain statistics). Does the player have the ability to pick up the nuances of the game and to make the proper adjustments when necessary? How good is a hitter's command of the strike zone? How well does a pitcher create movement on his pitches and deception in his delivery? How quickly does an outfielder pick up the ball off the bat? Ritterpusch's confidence in his findings may cause the Orioles to overrate players who have strong psychological and physical profiles but lack the "baseball intelligence" that is necessary for success in the game.

There is also the possibility that the Orioles could miss out on some very good players by discounting psychologically suboptimal prospects from their consideration. Ritterpusch indicated that an "overwhelming majority" of star players score highly in certain key traits. But just how small is that underwhelming minority of stars who are deficient in one or more of the key traits? Ten percent? Twenty? Albert Belle was a seeming exception to the rule, a highly motivated player with All-Star talent who also exhibited antisocial behavior. His frequent outbursts directed at fans and the media (and, sometimes, inanimate objects) suggest that he may have rated low on emotional control. I guess the bottom-line question is: at what point is it appropriate to allow for exceptions to the key traits?

Ritterpusch did not mention by name any players who did poorly on their psychological tests, probably because of legal repercussions—aside from the possibility of a libel suit, there are probably privacy and confidentiality protections involved. But I'd still like to know how certain players profiled. Could the troubles of Steve Blass disease sufferers—among them Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblauch, and Rick Ankiel—have been predicted? What were the profiles of oddballs like Mark Fidrych, Jim Walewander, and Randy Myers? And a psychological contrast between Moneyballers Billy Beane and Lenny Dykstra would be interesting for its own sake. Although many players' personality traits become obvious in press reportage, it's still interesting to know what goes on inside the heads of the most unusual athletes.

What about profiles for managers and coaches? For them, leadership and responsibility would intuitively be important. The ASP, however, is not the ideal test to determine a managerial candidate's fitness for the job, since it is customized for athletes. A test designed to measure aptitude for business managers would probably be more appropriate.

And further tests for players may come if the trend continues and clubs are willing to contribute to some up-front costs. In addition to psychological questionnaires, high-profile players may need to take physicals before the draft and make them available to interested teams. Pitchers may be asked to have an MRI scan done on their pitching arm and submit pitch-count and injury histories. Technology advances are making the accumulation and dissemination of such data extremely convenient.

If all this testing sounds like overkill, it's not. It's becoming an increasingly common practice in industry. A recent AP story indicates that businesses such as the Pathmark supermarket chain are incorporating computerized screening tests (which include some personality-related questions) into their hiring processes. As long as the test methods and accuracy are sound, it makes a lot of sense. A résumé and interview can only tell so much about a person. The more relevant information that hiring managers have in hand, the better equipped they are to make decisions on the hiring and placement of personnel.

There will always be uncertainty in any process involving human beings. But as long as it exists, people will always be looking for economical ways to reduce it. And that is true in life as well as in baseball.

June 8, 2004

Draft day 1 recap

The Orioles made seventeen picks in the first eighteen rounds on the first day of the amateur draft. (Their second-round pick went to Oakland as compensation for Miguel Tejada.) Their first day's haul was a relatively even mix of eight pitchers and nine position players. There are no runts in this litter: every one of the picks is over six feet tall, and only one is listed at under 180 pounds.

For the third straight year, the Birds went with a heavy concentration of college players in the initial part of the draft. This year is their most college-loaded yet: so far they have selected fourteen university products and just three high-schoolers. All fourteen of their college draftees are from four-year institutions. The league has been trending towards college players in the last few drafts, but Baltimore has gone farther than most of their peers in that direction.

Baltimore's top pick, eighth overall, was right-hander Wade Townsend, one of the vaunted triumvirate who pitched Rice University to the NCAA championship last year. The other two, Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann, were selected third and fourth overall. Townsend is a stud both physically (6'4", 225 lbs.) and statistically (12-0, 1.80 ERA, 11.1 K/9 IP, 3.29 K/BB in 2004, his junior season). Because of his burdensome workload during the college season, which ended on Sunday, I would expect the Orioles to rest his arm for most of the remainder of this summer. But it's hard not to get excited about a talent like Townsend, and it will be interesting to see which pitcher of the Rice trio ends up with the best major-league career. This longitudinal study suggests that only one of every three first-round picks becomes a significant contributor in the majors, although the draft data used in the study are from fifteen years ago, so its conclusions may not be quite the same in today's draft.

A rundown of Oriole-related draft articles (in order of decreasing informativeness):

The Orioles' second pick, which came in the third round, was Jeff Fiorentino, a power-hitting outfielder from Florida Atlantic University. Baltimore selected him as a catcher, but he only recently started playing the position, so it may be a stretch to expect him to handle it at the professional level.

An updated list of the Orioles' picks, with scouting reports on several of them, is on the 2004 Baltimore draft page on

On the second day of the draft in recent years, the Orioles have veered toward a mix of mature college seniors to fill out the farm system and high-school and junior-college "reach" picks with draft-and-follow potential. Given that the quality of talent decreases rapidly after the first ten rounds or so, it's as good a strategy as any, and I would expect the Orioles to continue that tactic today.

June 9, 2004

Draft day 2 recap

As expected, the O's used most of their second-day draft picks (rounds 19-50) on leftover college seniors, high schoolers, and junior-college prospects. In fact, after round 28 they exclusively took prep and juco players. Some quick, superficial numerical analysis:

  • The Orioles' draft class of 49 picks comprised 26 pitchers and 23 position players.
  • Twenty-one picks (43%) were from four-year colleges, eleven (22%) from junior colleges, and seventeen (35%) from high schools.
  • The Birds' picks in rounds 1-25 were dominated by college players. Nineteen of those picks (79%) were from four-year colleges and just five (21%) were from high school.
  • In the second half of the draft, though, the four-year college picks dwindled to just two (8%), while the juco tally soared to eleven (44%) and preps to sixteen (48%).
  • Eight catchers were picked, suggesting that the Orioles specifically sought more depth at backstop. Totals for other positions: one first baseman, two second basemen, one third baseman, three shortstops, and eight outfielders.
  • The pitchers were almost evenly split in handedness between twelve lefties and fourteen righties.
  • The states most heavily mined by the Orioles were California and Texas with six players each, followed by Florida with five and Illinois, Maryland, and South Carolina with four players apiece. One Puerto Rican high schooler was taken in the 44th round, but all the others came from U.S. institutions.

(Pitcher Derik Drewett, selected in the 36th round, is classified as a juco draftee in the totals above although his school, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, is a four-year college. Drewett apparently is on an associate's degree program at UAFS, making him draft-eligible after his freshman year.)

From “O's draft 49 in marathon” (Gary Washburn)

In addition to the draft tracker, Baseball America has the entire 2004 Oriole draft class conveniently listed on a single page.

October 5, 2004

DeMacio's time runs out

Since taking over in 2002, the Orioles' front office leadership of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan has been cleaning house. Last year the club said sayonara to manager Mike Hargrove, and this year it's arrivederci to scouting director Tony DeMacio and minor-league director Doc Rodgers, whose expiring contracts will not be renewed after the season. Today we'll look at DeMacio's termination and his legacy.

From the Sun: “Orioles fire their scouting director

DeMacio's canning comes as a mild surprise, but not a shock. He was the highest-ranking baseball executive in the organization remaining from the Frank Wren administration. DeMacio's reputation as a member of successful scouting regimes in Atlanta and Cleveland helped him outlast former bosses Wren and Syd Thrift, and Beattie and Flanagan thought enough of DeMacio to keep him on for two more seasons. But in the end, the results just were not there.

Continue reading "DeMacio's time runs out" »

October 24, 2005

A few words on Harry Dalton

One of the brightest lights from Orioles yesteryear has gone out. Harry Dalton, general manager of the Orioles from 1965 to 1971, died Sunday at age 77 of complications from Parkinson's disease. The Sun's Mike Klingaman has written a review of Dalton's career in baseball. has the Associated Press story. Dalton served in the Oriole organization for 18 years and also directed the California Angels from 1972 to 1977 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1978 to 1991.

Continue reading "A few words on Harry Dalton" »

October 25, 2005

Profiler Ritterpusch sent packing

Dave Ritterpusch, who openly touted his use of psychological data to rate players as director of baseball information systems for the Orioles, is no longer with the team after being forced to resign (along with his assistant, Ed Coblentz) yesterday by executive vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan. The official reason given by Flanagan was that Ritterpusch's blabbiness to the media about the club's evaluation methods had become an “unnecessary distraction.... I think it really undermined his effectiveness.”

Let that be a lesson to loose-lipped leakers everywhere.

Press reports on Ritterpusch's dismissal:

Continue reading "Profiler Ritterpusch sent packing" »

June 3, 2006

Revisiting Jeffrey Maier: Forgive that swine?

I remember Jeffrey Maier. Not fondly, I'm afraid.

On October 9, 1996, I was watching Game 1 of the ALCS on TV with a bunch of Yankee-rooting friends (don't ask) and was struck with disbelief, then rage, when the long arm of Maier reached over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium, turning a deep fly ball by Derek Jeter from a possible out into a home run. When the replays showed Maier's glove extending over the wall into the field of play and pulling the ball into the stands — clearly a case of fan interference — none of the Yankee fans in the room denied that the umpire, Rich García, had made the wrong call in crediting Jeter with a game-tying homer. One of them said, "Well, too bad. That's the way the ball bounces." And then Bernie Williams hit a home run in the 11th to give the Yankees the win, making for a lot of smug faces in the room — and one glum one.

Yesterday, Washington Post baseball writer Dave Sheinin served up an underhanded story about Maier, the kid who helped steal a World Series appearance from the Orioles ten years back. In the article, Sheinin catches up with Maier, now 22 and a recent graduate of Wesleyan University with a degree in government and economics, and gets reflections on the incident from Maier and members of both teams who were at the scene of the crime ten years ago.

Ordinarily that's where the story would end. But it turns out that Maier had a standout career as an outfielder and third baseman on Wesleyan's Division III baseball team. So Sheinin can't help but suggest the outrageously ironic possibility that Maier could be drafted by the Orioles in the upcoming amateur draft and wind up playing for the very team he once robbed of a crucial playoff win. Or, he could be selected by the Yankees, his hometown team (he's from north Jersey), and continue to torment the O's with his glove and his bat. Never mind that few Division III players get drafted, and almost none advance to the majors. Talk about journalistic license — the lengths to which writers will go for a good story! Maybe Sheinin should write sports-themed novels instead.

Continue reading "Revisiting Jeffrey Maier: Forgive that swine?" »

June 6, 2006

Let the draft roll in

Today the Orioles will gather their best scouts and prepare for what has become known as baseball's annual crapshoot, the First-Year Player Draft. Some quick facts:

  • By virtue of their lousy 74-88 finish last year, the Birds will pick ninth in every round except the second — they lost that pick (53rd overall) to the San Diego Padres for signing free agent Ramón Hernández last winter.
  • As compensation for losing B.J. Ryan to free agency last offseason, the O's received the second pick in the supplemental first round (32nd overall) plus the Toronto Blue Jays' fourteenth pick in the second round (58th overall).
  • The full 2006 draft order is at's Draft Central, which will provide real-time updates throughout the draft.
  • MLB Radio will broadcast live Internet audio of the proceedings starting around 12 p.m. Eastern today for rounds 1-18 and Wednesday for rounds 19-50.
  • For the bandwidth-stingy, Baseball America's web site has a summary list of Oriole draftees.

Continue reading "Let the draft roll in" »

About Scouting and drafting

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Orioles Warehouse in the Scouting and drafting category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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