Monday, June 30, 2008

Adam Jones Triples

Jones just smacked a triple into the right center gap, hitting a breaking ball down and away on a 3-2 count. As Buck Martinez noted, "Everyday you see improvement." I agree. Jones seems to gain confidence each and every day, and he just seems to have fun playing the game. Did anyone else see him blow a bubble just before he dove into third base?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Better than Expected

There's lots in the Baltimore Sun today about the 2008 Orioles being better than expected. Childs Walker notes that the fans enjoy this year's team, and Peter Schmuck says Andy MacPhail is in quandry about how to approach this year's trading deadline. The two articles both touch on a common theme: in the context of MacPhail's long-term rebuilding plans, how should the Orioles approach the rest of season?

First of all, Walker is right; this year's team is fun to watch. The players seem to genuinely enjoy playing together, and what's not to like about a team with 24 comeback wins and five walk-off victories? In a season where many (including me) predicted the Orioles would lose 100 games for just the third time in the franchise's Baltimore history, a 41-38 record is to be celebrated. Nick Markakis, somehow still just 24, is establishing himself as an All-Star rightfielder, Brian Roberts has a chance to break the record for most doubles by a second baseman, George Sherrill has been excellent as closer and wears a funny hat, Luke Scott is making the most of his opportunity to play everyday, Adam Jones, 22, has shown flashes of his incredible talent, Aubrey Huff is hitting like it's 2004, and Jeremy Guthrie is proving that last year's first half was no fluke.

Still, this team has very real shortcomings. The shortstop woes have been well chronicled, but third base has been every bit a bad offensively. Melvin Mora is ranked 30th out of 33 third basemen with at least 100 plate appearances in VORP. He has 311 plate appearances, 10.2% of the Orioles' total, and has a .298 OBP and .397 SLG. And he frequently bats third in the Orioles lineup (which is a subject that deserves its own post). Kevin Millar, whose unquantifiable "clubhouse presence" may account for much of the apparent never-say-die attitude, is a nice complementary player, but first base should be the easiest place for the Orioles to find more offense going forward. Adam Jones is showing the potential to be a very good centerfielder, but he's very much learning on the job. Ramon Hernandez has been a major disappointment at catcher, performing below the 25th percentile of his PECOTA projection; at last at catcher, help is on the way.

Suppose that those flaws aren't fatal and the Orioles really can continue to win with three positions filled by players below replacement level (catcher, third base and shortstop) and two more significantly below league average (first base and center field). At this point, the schedule gets significantly more difficult. After feasting on the NL for two weeks, the O's play host this week to the suddenly surging Royals (12-4 over their last 16 games) and Rangers (41-41). After that, it's off to Toronto and Boston before the All-Star break. Then, the Orioles play 14 games in 14 days against Detroit, Toronto, the Angels, and the Yankees. As Kevin Millar said in Peter Schmuck's column, "We're a 12-2 streak away from being in the thick of everything." No offense, Mr. Millar, but I don't see a 12-2 streak on the horizon with that July schedule. Complicating matters is that, at best, the Orioles are the fourth best team in their own division, behind Boston, Tampa Bay and New York. If the Blue Jays can find some offense to go with their deep pitching and defense, they might be better than the O's, too.

Add it all up, and the correct path for Andy MacPhail this trade deadline is to stay the course in the long-term rebuilding plan. For the last decade, management has consistently overrated how close the Orioles are to legitimate contention, and in doing so continuously pushed contending further into the future. MacPhail has correctly deduced that there is no quick fix and acted accordingly. The Bedard and Tejada trades have paid immediate dividends while setting up significant future earnings potential, and the past few drafts have brought high-ceiling prospects to a once-barren farm system.

Schmuck contends that "the fans have waited a long time for a team they could embrace like this one, and there's no guarantee they'll get another such opportunity anytime soon, even if MacPhail makes a couple more big scores." I disagree. We the fans have been waiting a long time for a team that can win 95 games and bring October baseball back to Baltimore, not for a team that makes a feel good run at .500 baseball. Without upgrades at shortstop, third base, first base and catcher, we'll keep waiting, and the best way to upgrade those positions is likely to be dealing valuable short-term commodities like Brian Roberts, George Sherrill, Aubrey Huff or Kevin Millar for high impact prospects that can help the club when it's nucleus of Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones is ready to lead the team to the playoffs. Would I like to see Brian Roberts as a part of any Orioles contender? Absolutely. It's just not likely that he'll be a part of such a team.

More on Shortstop

In their Saturday game previews, Baseball Prospectus evaluates the potential Felipe Lopez trade for the Orioles:

The Nationals and Orioles have been engaged on the field and on the phone lines this weekend, as FOX Sport's Ken Rosenthal has reported that Baltimore is moving towards acquiring Washington's Felipe Lopez to play shortstop. Baltimore has gotten nothing offensively from their shortstops this season–just a single homer, and a .196 EqA–so Lopez, with his two homers and .233 EqA, would fit right in. Where he wouldn't match up as well is on defense, which should give the Orioles brass pause before making the deal. Lopez has played just two games at shortstop this season, but 591 over the course of his career, and he has been well below average at the position, by both Range Factor (4.18, compared to the average of 4.47), fielding percentage (.959 to .974), and FRAA (90 Rate, or -53 runs below average). He has also produced -22.9 SFR in his career at shortstop, with his only season in the black being 2003. To this point, Baltimore is first in the majors in defensive efficiency, and has managed to stay above .500 in part because of such outstanding defense. In that light, it would seem that adding such a poor glove at such an important defensive position might well upset that fragile harmony. Orioles shortstops have not been great defensively thus far, but they have put up an above-average Range Factor and have been a bit better than average by FRAA.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Shortstop Woes

Coming into the season, shortstop was the Orioles' most glaring weakness. It's the end of June, and nothing has changed. As Jeff Zrebiec reports in the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles are looking to trade for a shortstop.

The Orioles this season have employed five players at shortstop: Luis Hernandez, Freddie Bynum, Brandon Fahey, Eider Torres and Alex Cintron. Perusing the VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) list over at Baseball Prospectus, none has a VORP above zero. Cintron has posted a -0.3 number, Torres -0.7, Fahey -1.8, Hernandez -2.0, and Bynum -7.9 (note: VORP does not include defensive value). That's nearly 10% of the team's plate appearances given to players below replacement level. Clearly, shortstop is a need that must be addressed, at least in the long-term.

So what should the Orioles do? Well, there's not much out there worth trading for: Zrebiec mentions Jack Wilson, Clint Barmes, Brendan Harris and Felipe Lopez as names that the Orioles might be considering. Ick. Wilson has a career OPS of .689. Barmes had a solid rookie season in 2005 and got off to a solid start in 2008 before hitting the DL, but he's also walked just eight times in 145 at-bats and has a career .303 OBP. Harris finally got regular playing time last season in Tampa Bay and put up a 106 OPS+, but is down at an 84 OPS+ this season and is considered a brutally bad defender at shortstop. Lopez has a .653 OPS and makes $4.9 M this season. While these might be slightly better options than Brandon Fahey, they are certainly not long-term solutions for the position.

In spite of their offensive struggles at shortstop, the Orioles have accumulated a 40-37 record, two wins better than the 38-39 record their run differential (-8) would imply, and far above virtually all preseason predictions. How have they done it? In a word, defense. The Orioles rank first in defensive efficiency, converting 72% of balls in play into outs. Tampa Bay, Oakland and Chicago (AL) are next on the list, and all of these teams are also "surprise" winners this season. Oakland and Tampa, especially, have made a concerted effort to field excellent defensive teams. I do not think it is a coincidence that these teams are outperforming expectations and also play tremendous defense.

Cintron is probably the best offensive option for the Orioles, but his struggles defensively are amplified since the club wins by playing solid defense. If Dave Trembley believes he can't handle the position defensively, the only other internal option is Fahey, and he's proven he cannot hit at the Major League level. If the Orioles do decide to trade for a shortstop, they should target the best available defender that can produce offensively near replacement level. But unless they are able to trade Roberts, Sherrill, Huff, Scott or any of the other veterans for a legitimate prospect, nothing that fills the shortstop position for this season is going to be a part of the long-term plans to make this team a contender again.

Wieters Promoted

Well, that didn't take long. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that uber-prospect Matt Wieters will be promoted to AA Bowie, perhaps today. After batting .345/.448/.576 in 69 games, he was clearly too good to be stuck in the Carolina League, so this promotion is well earned. But what will it mean going forward?

In the Baseball Prospectus article I linked to yesterday about Billy Rowell, the same scout called Wieters a "friggin' stud." (Now that's how I like my Orioles prospects!) However, the scout did voice one concern, saying Wieters might be susceptible to "upper-level" velocity. Prince George's Stadium is also notoriously a pitcher's park, so it's quite possible that Wieters will have the first struggles of his pro career as he moves up a level. But I wouldn't be surpised if two months from now his numbers look similar to those he put up in Frederick and we're discussing whether or not the Orioles should reward him with a September call-up.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Billy Rowell Update

Kevin Goldstein over at Baseball Prospectus takes a look at AL East Prospects today. And he doesn't like what he sees when looking at Billy Rowell:

2006 first-round pick Billy Rowell is hitting a lowly .237/.295/.362, with just three home runs and 48 strikeouts in 177 at-bats. The scouting report reflects those numbers. "I’m totally off that. Look, when he centers a ball, it’s really good–it’s a lot of power, but it hardly ever plays because he has lots of swing problems and is constantly bailing against lefties." Defensively, there are real concerns about Rowell’s effort. "He’s just lazy," said the scout. "I don’t like the energy, and I just sit there wanting to yell, 'Dude! Move!'I don’t even like how he catches the ball–it’s just annoying to watch him play.

Granted, he's just 19, but he had just a .761 OPS at Delmarva last year with a K:BB ratio of over 3:1. That guy who was selected with the 10th pick might have been a better choice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Welcome to the Baltimore Birds Nest!

As the new kid on the block, I would like this blog to be a valued resource for Orioles fans and fill a niche in the Baltimore baseball discussion. I will try and post analysis of pertinent team issues, both that I have written and that others are writing about the O’s, typically with a moderately sabermetric bent. I’m a big reader of Baseball Prospectus, and may link to a number of articles behind their paywall. If you are not already a subscriber, it’s $35 well-spent. At the very least, add BP: Unfiltered to your RSS reader. If there is something I talk about that is unfamiliar, please ask. I can be reached via email (theorioleway at or through the comments.

I will try to remain objective here. Orange colored glasses will obviously tint my analysis, but I will try and evaluate the organization in a fair and honest manner. Whether the manager can’t handle the bullpen, the media fails to hold management accountable, or the team isn’t playing hard, this blog will voice those opinions honestly. I welcome feedback, but let’s please keep it civil. My opinions are fair game, but frame your arguments so that you’re actually arguing with my assumptions or facts and not just my personality.

Hopefully I can be a productive voice in the Baltimore baseball discussion.