Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of Snow, Airlines, Beer and the Orioles

Considering that there is more than a foot of snow on the deck outside (and still plenty more to come, apparently), the 7:00 AM BWI to SLC flight didn't quite happpen this morning. On the plus side, we found this out last night and didn't wake up at 4:00 AM just to drive to BWI and sit at the airport all day. On the down side, Delta refuses to transport my wife and I to Oregon until Wednesday. Unless, of course, we're willing to pay them $1,500 to upgrade to first class. Instead, I'm sitting at home by the fire (ok, space heater), enjoying a malted beverage, and getting caught up on all the baseball news in my Google Reader.

As we all know, the Orioles made two signings this week: Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins. I've posted my initial thoughts on Gonzalez already, and nothing there has changed. I should note, however, that his 2007 and 2008 innings totals are a product of May 2007 Tommy John surgery, not a series of recurring injuries. Regardless, I don't like the move. Before I move on to Atkins, here are some other reactions from around the Web:

Gonzalez has never been worth $6M in free agent dollars throughout his career
and while he should receive a boost from increased leverage, I guess I’m more
concerned about Gonzalez’ health than anything. Factor in the loss of next
year’s second round pick and I’m not sure I completely approve of giving decent
– not great, mind you – cash to a injury prone reliever coming off his heaviest
Rob Neyer:
On balance, I think it's difficult to justify Gonzalez's contract for one big
reason: last season was the first of his career in which he threw more than 54
innings. If there's a better than 50/50 chance of Gonzalez breaking down at some
point while he's in the Orioles' employ, he's not worth $12 million. And I think
he's going to break down.
Keith Law (in chat, when asked about Fernando Rodney as a pick-free alternative):
I can't object to that signing. I'd rather have Gonzalez than Rodney + a 2nd
I think that about sums it up: Gonzalez has good talent, the money isn't exhorbinant (but is non-trivial), he's injury prone, and this costs a draft pick. On to Atkins...

The specs of the Atkins contract are 1-year guaranteed at $4.0 million plus an $8.5 million option with a $0.5 million buyout for year two. Since I sincerely doubt that Atkins will be worthy of the option, let's look at this as a 1-year, $4.5 million deal. FanGraphs does the heavy lifting on the analysis and concludes:
Including positional adjustment, over 150 games Atkins projects as about a 1.3
WAR player for 2010. Assuming $4.4 million per marginal win as average market
value, his $4.5 guarantee plus incentives seems to be in the right neighborhood.
So the Orioles paid a fair price for about what they're likely to be getting: a below average hitter and defender. Now, Atkins has had lots of success in the past, albeit in a very favorable run environment in the weaker league. If he can somehow rekindle that ability, this would be a nice coup for the Orioles. More likely, he keeps the position warm for Josh Bell, either later in 2010 or in 2011. Atkins does have the advantage of batting right-handed. His career splits are notably better against left-handed pitching, so it is also possible that even if he can't handle the everyday duties he caddies for Bell to protect the youngster who is still very much a work in progress from the right side of the plate. The FanGraphs conclusion mirrors my own:
It is worth reiterating that consistently paying “fair market value” isn’t
really a “smart” thing to do. Teams on budgets need to get more for their money
to win consistently, especially going up against New York and Boston in the
American League East. On the other hand, it isn’t particularly “dumb,” either.
It’s “average…” on average. It makes sense in this particular case. They
certainly didn’t want to bring back Melvin Mora, who has entered the undead
phase of his career. Baltimore’s prospects at third and first aren’t ready for
the major leagues yet. Atkins isn’t a star, and will be lucky to be league
average again. While Baltimore surely isn’t trying to contend, as has been noted
elsewhere, sometimes a team simply needs to put a competent player on the field
for fans. That’s okay as long the team doesn’t pay out the nose. Baltimore isn’t
paying excessively for Atkins, and he won’t be blocking any prospects who might
be ready for 2011. Way to bridge a gap, Mr. MacPhail.
Agreed: MacPhail didn't overpay in years or dollars, and someone had to play third base on Opening Day. Maybe the O's get lucky and Atkins bounces back. If not, they don't pick up his option and slot Josh Bell into the lineup for 2011.

One final point about Atkins, though, and it's that I think Keith Law's reaction is worth noting: "I don't get it - I wrote on Twitter the other day that I would hesitate to give him a roster spot." This certainly suggests that the projected numbers for Atkins aren't matching the decline in skills that scouts saw last season.

In other news, Baseball America released its Top 10 Orioles Prospects list under the headline "Help Is On The Way". I'll hopefully have more later.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Adrian Gonzalez Market

R.J. Anderson at FanGraphs has a fantastic breakdown of the Adrian Gonzalez trade market, showing an easy-to-read table outlining who needs a first baseman and then going through each team's prospect/competitive/cash situation to find five potential suitors. The Orioles basically come out in the top 3.

I think Gonzalez would be an excellent fit for the Orioles; it all comes down to cost. If the O's could snag the star first baseman without surrendering Matusz or Tillman, that seems like a pretty good deal. I don't know if that is realistic, however. My proposal: Felix Pie, Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe or Zach Britton and Caleb Joseph. This would give the Padres a center fielder immediately capable of playing at Petco Park, a pair of top pitching prospects that are close to Major League ready and a catching prospect that Baseball Prospectus calls "an excellent hitter with good barrel manipulation and some of the best plate coverage in the system." Note that this means the Orioles would surrender their #3, #4/#6 and #9 prospects, according to BP.

Is that enough? I don't know. It depends on San Diego's opinion of Pie and Joseph (who has yet to play above Frederick) and whether or not Arrieta and Erbe/Britton are viewed as having high enough ceilings. I doubt this would get the deal done, but it seems like a reasonable place to begin discussions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mike Gonzalez?

Well, this lowers my faith in Andy MacPhail. I don't care what the terms are; signing a relief pitcher at the cost of a second round draft pick is not a move the Orioles should be making. If the baseball industry has learned anything in the last few years it is that relievers are largely replaceable. I don't know why the Orioles need to bring in a "closer" when that costs them both dollars and a draft pick. Is Gonzalez a good pitcher? Yes; he struck out 90 batters in 74.1 IP last season. But, he also made 80 appearances (previous career high: 54), and the year prior he pitched just 33.2 innings. And in 2007? 17.0 innings. Why the Orioles want an injury prone reliever that costs a draft pick, I have no idea. I blame Peter Schmuck and the other rabble-rousers at the Sun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Player Valuation

Joe Sheehan had a great column yesterday about all the goings on with the hot stove season thus far. In it he provides a really good assessment of what we've seen from teams in terms of player valuation:
I keep coming back to the trend line of the last few offseasons. The
industry is getting smarter, valuing things that matter—expected on-field
performance, applied skills, proper evaluation—over a knee-jerk preference for
experience. Teams are coming around to the idea, first expressed by Bill James
in the 1980s, that talent in baseball is not normally distributed, that for
every great player there are multiple above-average ones, and for every
above-average one many average ones. There’s no reason to pay extra money for
average performance, and the vast majority of players are at that level or
below. The majority of baseball players, even major leaguers, are fungible. If
you pay $4 million each for three players who will produce $2 million worth of
value, you’ve wasted six million that could be better spent on high-impact
players. The key mistake that continues to be made—and we’ve seen it with
Kendall and the Royals, Ivan Rodriguez and the Nationals, Brandon Lyon and the
Astros—is money wasted in dribs and drabs on players who are fungible by teams
that have no reason to chase wins.

This is an important concept when we're talking about moves for the Orioles. Yes, the Orioles could overpay a bit to lure Carlos Delgado or Nick Johnson for two or three years, but that ties up money that could be better spent on legitimate long-term solutions or contract extensions for players like Matt Wieters or Adam Jones. That's one reason I like the Millwood deal; it involves no commitment beyond 2010, and thus has no effect on whether the Orioles could pursue a top talent for the corners or the starting rotation. I know there are lots of non-believers out there, but the difference between the Orioles under MacPhail and the club under Flanagan is night and day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More on Millwood

Baseball Prospectus offers the most upbeat take on the Millwood deal yet, and I agree.
I love the decision to add Millwood not simply because of the atmospherics—the
meme about the veteran workhorse joining a talented young rotation, etc.—or his
relative track record, but because it's exactly right in terms of adding that
guy for just a single season. Maybe this is a reflection of the past premiums
the Orioles have had to pay to get someone to choose Baltimore, but adding
Millwood for a single season at roughly $7 or 8 million (the $12 million he's
due, less the $3 million, less Ray's arbitration-boosted payday to come) is an
outstanding adaptation to a market that wasn't likely to yield his combination
of good work and reliable turn-taking at that price. For a year, the
organization can let Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, David
Hernandez, Jake Arrieta, and Jason Berken earn turns in the big-league rotation
behind Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, perhaps phase out or deal Guthrie, and then
let Millwood walk away, leaving 2011 draft picks in his wake. It's just one more
reason why the Orioles won't be a fun matchup for the favored three atop the
division, which should make for the most interesting Orioles team to watch in
more than a decade.

Echoes my sentiments exactly.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chris Ray

Jeff Zrebiec sums up perfectly the Chris Ray that I know:
Before the final game of 2009, Chris Ray shook the hands of a couple of the
team’s regular beat writers and thanked them for being fair and not piling on
him too much during what was a nightmarish season for the reliever. It was a
classy but hardly surprising gesture by Ray, who was a good guy and a great

There's much more if you click through.

Ray was a great teammate of mine at William & Mary, and I will very much miss having him in Baltimore. He is a fierce competitor and, when he's healthy, has some very good stuff. I hope he bounces back with the Rangers.

Felix Pie

Some good news today:
Speaking of Pie, there are several members of the organization that are very
much against trading the talented but raw outfielder. I’m not saying he won’t be
traded because there are enough teams interested and the Orioles are deep in the
outfield, but I am saying that the Orioles are going to have to get something
enticing back to deal him. Pie’s strong second half has earned him some
believers in the organization, and probably justified the team’s decision not to
trade him to the Chicago White Sox last year for third baseman Josh Fields.
These are my sentiments about Felix Pie exactly. He's always been talented, and he really did show signs of putting it all together last year. Yes, he is currently 4th on the outfield depth chart, but I see no reason that the Orioles can't get both Pie and Reimold regular at-bats. And it never hurts to have a capable back-up centerfielder on the roster. If the club does decide to deal Pie, it would have to be in a deal that brings back a significant piece.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on Millwood

Blogosphere: React!

MLB Fanhouse:

Adding an experienced starter makes a lot of sense for the Orioles. They've
got three talented youngsters in Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman,
but young pitchers come with innings limits and assorted other potential land
mines that keep them from throwing oodles of innings.

Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan:
Millwood at $8 [sic] million for one year is a solid pickup for the
Orioles, who get an innings guy to anchor the rotation as they bring along a
number of good young starting pitchers who will require some careful handling,
and they do so without giving up talent or committing past ’10.
Orioles GM Andy MacPhail, via Baseball Prospectus:
"We think (Millwood) is going to have a positive cascading effect on Jeremy
Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, David Hernandez, and Jason
Berken," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "He
should really anchor our staff."

For the Orioles, they receive a roughly average starting pitcher. As a one
year commitment, 9 million dollars isn’t egregious. It will be probably be near
his market value. With the Orioles not in a position to compete, taking on that
kind of salary doesn’t really make sense. This kind of money could be much
better spent on international signings, draft picks, or other developmental type
of projects. He will give them decent production, but is the marginal value of
his 2-3 wins above replacement really worth 9 million dollars to them? I’m not

Peter Schmuck:

Guthrie did everything he could to fill the No. 1 starter role the past two
years, but everybody knew it was too much responsibility for him, and he wilted
under the weight of it last season. Millwood will assume that role, which should
make everybody in the rotation more comfortable in their own skin. The trade
is just as important from a public relations and marketing standpoint because it
sends a signal that the Orioles are serious about improving the team for 2010.
MacPhail has to follow up with several more acquisitions over the next couple of
months, but he has made good on a key priority with plenty of time left to
concentrate on upgrading the corner infield positions and the bullpen.

In my opinion, this is a solid deal for the Orioles. Teams need roughly 1,000 innings from their starters to make it through the 162-game schedule. Guthrie and Millwood can be penciled in for roughly 60 starts and somewhere between 360 and 400 innings. Brian Matusz threw 157.2 innings a year ago, and is unlikely to be asked to go much beyond 180 IP in 2010. Ditto Chris Tillman (161.2 IP in 2009). Brad Bergesen, who reached just 134.1 IP in 2009 (after 165.1 in 2008) due to injury, will also face innings constraints. If--and that is one giant if--the Orioles can get 180 innings from all of these guys next season, that's 900 innings and the team won't be forced to prematurely consider Jake Arrietta or Brandon Erbe for the rotation. More likely, someone is going to miss some signifcant time and the Orioles will need at least one more starter.

From this perspective, the deal makes a lot of sense. $9mm with no commitment beyond 2010 is a financial risk the Orioles can easily afford to take, and Millwood is about as low risk as 35-year old starting pitchers come. If his presence permits the Orioles to limit the innings for their youngsters and takes a bit of load off the bullpen, his acquisition will be a success. All that nonsense from Schmuck about taking the pressure off Guthrie and providing a PR boost is just fluff. This deal is all about avoiding a repeat of last season, where 4/5ths of the Opening Day rotation (Guthrie, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Simon, Mark Hendrickson, and Adam Eaton) was injured or had pitched themselves out of the rotation by the end of May. Good work by MacPhail recognizing a mistake he made in 2009 and correcting it--at minimal cost--for 2010.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ray to Rangers

The Sun is reporting that the O's and Rangers are near a deal that will send Chris Ray to the Rangers in return for veteran starter Kevin Millwood. This makes much more sense than the Felix Pie or David Hernandez rumors we've been hearing, and from a cost-benefit standpoint, I like this deal for the O's. From a personal standpoint, I'm disappointed to see my former teammate traded out of Baltimore, but this at least gives him a good shot at the postseason in 2010. This looks to be a good move by MacPhail to trade a fungible commodity (right-handed reliever) for a short-term fix in the starting rotation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bullpen Psychology

Ivy League to MLB has an interesting post today on the psychology effects of bullpen role definitions. I agree with this concept, but not necessarily the conclusion. I wrote about this earlier in the season, and respond in the comments:
The problem isn't that bullpen guys have defined roles; it is how those roles
are defined. I think that a bullpen coach who is actively engaged and
effectively communicates with the pitching staff could easily get a 'pen
prepared for non-closer centric decision making.

Kevin Millwood

Multiple sources are linking the Orioles to Kevin Millwood after Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, with Felix Pie being the most likely player moved for pitching help. Now, the Orioles could certainly use the 30 starts Millwood is likely to provide, but this is not a move with much upside. Millwood went 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA in 198.2 IP last season, but was 9-10 with a 5.07 ERA in 168.2 IP in 2008. In reality, his talent lies somewhere between those extremes.

In 2008, Millwood suffered from an abnormally high BaBIP of .366, and, similarly, he was a bit lucky with a .279 BaBIP in 2009. He will be 35 in 2010, and he hasn't reached his career average strikeout rate (7.03 K/9) since 2004, coming in last season at just 5.57 K/9. He's under contract through 2010 at $12 million, so this would almost certainly be a 1-year stopgap. Felix Pie seems a steep price to pay for one season of a league average starting pitcher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gold Gloves

I've kept silent about Adam Jones winning the Gold Glove award this season, largely because the various defensive metrics indicate that he had a poor season in the field (I even highlighted it in my look ahead to the offseason). Joe Posnanski found an interesting tidbit, though:
The Doyen of Defense, John Dewan, wrote an interesting thing the other day. He
was trying to determine if Torii Hunter or Adam Jones deserved their Gold
Gloves. And while he hit several points, the one that stuck out for me was this:
Adam Jones led the league with four home run saving catches.

That explains it perfectly! Of course Adam Jones would score highly on the system used by Rawlings to determine the Gold Gloves: he looks like a great defender. He makes spectacular catches, runs gracefully, and has a great arm. Franklin Gutierrez, who turned in an all-time great defensive season for Seattle, was more deserving of the Gold Glove, but it's difficult to fault the voters when Jones made so many memorable plays. People who watched the Orioles play all season long picked up the same thing as the metrics: Jones, who frequently plays shallow, had difficulty on deep balls. Most evaluators, though, don't have the luxury of watching a full season, and it's these situations where objective metrics need to supplement subjective opinions.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cool to the Touch

As was totally, predictable, the Hot Stove hasn't really heated up yet. But, as Baseball Prospectus reported on Sunday, the Orioles have payroll to burn and figure to be active participants this offseason:
The Orioles have money to spend and they are eying a number of free agents,
including left-handers Erik Bedard and Randy Wolf, right-hander Rich Harden,
closer Billy Wagner, and first baseman Nick Johnson.

That's a pretty impressive list of targets.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Turning on the Hot Stove

As the leaves fall and the air turns crisp, the baseball calendar turns to some of my favorite events: free agent speculation, trade rumors and prospect ranking season. On that last note, Baseball Prospectus is already out with their Top 11 Orioles Prospects and FanGraphs recently posted a Minor Review of the Orioles organization. We'll get more into the rankings and their implications as the winter wears on.

I sponsored my first page today, lending my name to the 2003 Baltimore Orioles (the sponsorship should be posted tomorrow). This is the team for which I interned in the PR department, spending a glorious summer working at the ballpark, living in a penthouse suite, and drinking $1 Yuenglings at this blog's namesake (and now defunct) dive bar. It's also the summer where I made my brilliant proclamation that an outfield of Luis Matos, Jay Gibbons, and Larry Bigbie provided a solid building block for the organization. Combined career line: .260/.316/.418 with a 162-game average of 17 homers and 65 RBI.

Friday, November 6, 2009


One of the few bright spots defensively for the Orioles in 2009 was shortstop Cesar Izturis. Signed
for $6 million over 2-years last offseason, Izturis returned nearly the value of the whole contract last season, posting a 1.3 WAR, worth $5.8 million according to FanGraphs. Chalk up a big win for MacPhail.

Still, Izturis, who will play 2010 at age 30, is not a long-term solution for the position. He is a pretty terrible hitter (his .256/.294/.328 mirrors perfectly his career numbers), and he's starting to get old. He's a fine option for 2010, but I'm sure the Orioles would love to have a younger option that could provide some more offensive punch for the long-term. This winter's trade market may provide one such option.

In 2007 and 2008, J.J. Hardy was one of the best shortstops in baseball. He hit; he played defense; he was a star. But in 2009, the bottom fell out for his hitting and he posted a .229/.302/.357 line--not so different from Cesar Izturis. His defense, though, remained stellar. In fact, FanGraphs rates him as the 3rd best defender over the 2007 to 2009 period. As noted in that article, the Brewers installed rookie Alcides Escobar at shortstop last season, perhaps making Hardy expendable. Should the Orioles take a look?

He's three years younger than Izturis, and plays defense just as well, but is a bit more expensive. Hardy earned $4.65 million in 2009, would be arbitration eligible for next season, and is slated to be a free agent after the 2010 season (according to Cot's; I'm not sure about that. Given that he was sent to the minors for a part of this season, I think that his free agency will be delayed by a year). Importantly, though, J.J. has significant upside with the bat. His down year last year can partly be attributed to a lower BAbip (.260 vs. career .278), but he also seemed to lose some of his power stroke; his line drive percentage fell, and he hit fewer home runs per fly ball. Still, if he can be had fairly cheaply, he would be a good risk for the Orioles to take. Since the team is unlikely to add a power bat on the corners, the O's will need to get extra production from nontraditional sources. Matt Wieters behind the plate and Adam Jones in centerfield are a good start, and J.J. Hardy could provide above average offense from the shortstop position.

Update: Nevermind. Hardy is off the market.

Friday, October 30, 2009

2010 Orioles Preview

Well, this should get me to the front of the line on season previews...

As we all know, 2009 was a disappointing season in the loss column, but the Orioles made significant progress in their rebuilding efforts, breaking in rookies Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, and others. Still, there were set-backs: Adam Jones suffered another season ending injury, Nick Markakis took a step back, and Brandon Snyder struggled upon being promoted to AAA. There is still much work to be done to remake this team into a contender, but the club is still on the right track. Let's look ahead to potential offseason moves and what we can expect from the O's next season.

In 2009, the Orioles had a payroll of $67.1 mm, virtually identical to 2008's $67.2 mm, and the club has $30.1 mm in commitments for 2010. Throw in about $20 mm to cover minimum salaries for the rest of the roster and arbitration raises for eligibles Matt Albers, Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Ray, Cla Meredith, and Luke Scott, and the Orioles have some significant money to play with this offseason. Where should they spend it?

Based on players currently in the organization, here is the projected 2010 roster, making room for 12 pitchers and 13 position players:

CA: Matt Wieters
2B: Brian Roberts
SS: Cesar Izturis
LF: Nolan Reimold
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis

BN: Luke Scott
BN: Felix Pie
BN: Robert Andino
BN: Ty Wiggington
Others: Michael Aubrey, Justin Turner, Lou Montanez

S1: Jeremy Guthrie (R)
S2: Brian Matusz (L)
S3: Chris Tillman (R)
S4: Brad Bergesen (R)

R1 - 7: Koji Uehara (R), Jim Johnson (R), Chris Ray (R), Matt Albers (R), Cla Meredith (R), Dennis Sarfate (R), Brian Bass (R), Jason Berken (R), David Hernandez (R), Kam Mickolio (R), etc.

There are a few glaring holes that need to be addressed: third base, first base, starting pitcher and left-handed relief pitcher. Additionally, I'm sure the team would love to upgrade shortstop and designated hitter, finding a long-term solution for the middle of the infield and pushing Luke Scott into a platoon role (career vs RHP: .269/.355/.506; vs LHP: .249/.330/.458). Let's explore the options for each position.

Third Base: Internally, the only option is recently acquired Josh Bell, who will play 2010 at the age of 23. He enjoyed a true break-out season at the plate in AA this year, batting .295/.376/.516 with 20 home runs between the Dodgers and Orioles organizations, but he's still a bit rough around the edges defensively (7 errors in just 50 chances since the trade) and his approach from the right-side of the plate is still a work in progress. Bell is clearly the best long-term option for the position, but pushing him to the Major Leagues next season would, at best, be an aggressive move. On the free agent market, there are several players that could provide a bridge between the departed Melvin Mora and Bell, including Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus, Joe Crede, and Pedro Feliz. None of those guys is likely to require a long-term contract, unlike Adrian Beltre or Chone Figgins. I doubt, however, that the Orioles would be willing to hand over a draft pick to sign any of those players, making Type B free agents DeRosa and Glaus unlikely (assuming their former clubs offer arbitration, of course).

First Base: After earning a promotion to Norfolk, Brandon Snyder struggled mightily, posting a .248/.316/.355 line with just two home runs in 262 at-bats. Drafted as a catcher, scouts question whether he will ever hit with enough power to be an every day first baseman. The free agent market doesn't offer much in the way of help, either. Carlos Delgado (38), Nick Johnson (31), and Adam LaRoche (30), all Type B free agents, are the most "attractive" names out there. One (far fetched) option would be the trade market; rumors continue to swirl that the Padres and Brewers would be willing to deal Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, respectively, though Andy MacPhail doesn't seem too keen on trading away any of the prized young pitchers it would take to acquire such a power bat. One option I've long advocated is buying Nolan Reimold a first baseman's mitt. He's not exactly a gold glover in the outfield, and with Felix Pie's strong finish, this move could have the effect of improving both the offense and the defense.

Designated Hitter: Ideally, the Orioles would add a right-handed bat to the mix here. The deepest pool on the free agent market is clearly corner outfield/DH (Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, Bobby Abreu, Rick Ankiel, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vlad Guerrero, the corpse of Jermaine Dye, etc.), so maybe the O's will get lucky like the Angels and Nationals did last winter with Abreu and Dunn and be able to sign a solid hitter for less than the expected wins he can provide. Again, though, the compensation pick would work against the Orioles signing one of these players, but many of these guys are likely to not be offered arbitration.

Starting Pitcher: Until the team gives the keys to Jake Arrieta and Brandon Erbe, they'll need someone else to pitch every fifth day. The best pitcher on the market, John Lackey, will command too high a price tag, and the quality drops off quickly thereafter. Upside injury plays like Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, and Justin Duchscherer can't be counted on to provide very many innings, Jason Marquis, Vicente Padilla, and Randy Wolf carry the giant "WARNING: National League Pitcher" tag, and while future Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Randy Johnson may harken back to the good ol' days of the 1990s, they aren't likely to come to Baltimore.

Relief Pitcher: There are lots of "closers" on the market (Mike Gonzalez, Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano, and Jose Valverde), but I hope the team has learned its lesson with high priced reliever imports (I'm looking at you, Danys Baez). Given the resurgence in pitching depth within the organization, I'm confident the team can piece together a bullpen capable of holding leads. Koji Uehara, David Hernandez, and perhaps Troy Patton could all be starters-turned-relievers that provide a significant boost to the 'pen, Chris Ray and Jim Johnson may bounce back from disappointing 2009 seasons, and young arms like Wilfrido Perez, Bob McCrory and Steve Johnson could blossom. Relief pitcher performance is highly variable, and the team has lots of internal options.

Defense: One item I've only touched on above is defense. Teams that have made rapid improvements in recent years (like the Rays, Rangers and Mariners) all had one thing in common: they vastly improved their defense. The Orioles ranked 26th in 2009 in defensive efficiency, converting just 68.2% of batted balls into outs. The Orioles set out on the path to improving the defense last year, bringing in Cesar Izturis, but Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis all slipped defensively this past year, with each posting well below average UZR ratings. Nolan Reimold, too, doesn't seem to be helping things with his play in left field. I'm not terribly worried about Jones and Markakis (they still rate highly according to the fans), but the trend in the numbers for Brian Roberts is very worrisome.

Recommendations & Outlook: At this point, the Orioles most glaring need is for a middle-of-the-lineup power bat. The only ones on the free agent market, Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, are well positioned to earn lucrative long-term contracts from some combination of the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Cardinals or another mystery team, and they do not play the position the Orioles would like most to fill (first base). Thus, MacPhail needs to at least explore the trade market for Gonzalez or Fielder. He's wise not to trade Tillman or Matusz, but Arrieta, Erbe, and Zach Britton shouldn't be considered untouchable. He may also want to kick the tires on prospect Yonder Alonso (blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto). First base looks like it will be a difficult position to fill adequately, unless we can figure out a way to void Mark Teixeira's contract.

At third, waiting for Bell seems like the best bet. Perhaps he will surprise in spring training and make the club on Opening Day, but the Matt Wieters timeline seems more likely. Thus, a stopgap is necessary, meaning the club will likely sign someone like Joe Crede or Troy Glaus (if he is not offered arbitration). Glaus could be an attractive option since he could also DH in an attempt to stay healthy.

Pitching wise, as much as the team "needs" a "veteran" to "lead" the staff (or so I've been told by the Sun commenters), there really isn't much out there worth the risk or investment. If the team could somehow sign John Lackey for four years and $50 million, I'd be all for it. There would seem to be about as much chance of that happening as me becoming the designated hitter next year, though. Thus, I think we're looking at another season of Mark Hendrickson-esque retreads until Arrieta and/or Erbe reach Baltimore.

As for the outlook for 2010, barring a significant move to acquire Gonzalez or Fielder, this team doesn't have the horses necessary to compete in the AL East; they won't yet score or prevent enough runs to keep up with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay on a nightly basis. However, there is significant upside with the starting pitching. I expect Jeremy Guthrie to bounce back and be a league average starter, and Tillman and Matusz both have top of the rotation potential. Young pitchers are always a wild card, but these two guys have the stuff to succeed next year. As much as I'm hoping otherwise, I expect that Bergesen will regress; he just doesn't have the stuff to keep pitching like he did last year. Still, if Arrieta and Erbe establish themselves, the rotation could go from one of the worst in baseball (2009) to one of the best in a hurry. MacPhail is right that the goal for 2010 shifts to wins and losses, but lets not get our hopes up too much yet. Hitting the .500 mark in 2010 would be an excellent accomplishment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jayson Werth

I was watching the Phillies and Dodgers play last night, and a classmate pointed out that the Orioles drafted Jayson Werth in the first round way back in 1997; I did not know this. Inevitably, this sparked the "Who was he traded for?" question. Some quick Googling revealed the answer: John Bale, after the 2000 season. Yes, a 27-year left-handed relief pitcher who would throw a total of 26.2 innings for the Orioles. In hindsight, it would be nice to have Werth on the club now, and this has sparked the typical "The Orioles are idiots!" comments on various blogs. But were they? In short, yes.

Werth was drafted (as a catcher) out of high school with the 22nd pick of the 1997 draft. He signed quickly and reported to the Orioles Gulf Coast League affiliate. There, he batted .295/.432/.398 over 111 plate appearances. He walked just as much as he struck out (22 times; 19.8%), showing great plate discipline for an 18-year old a few weeks removed from his high school graduation. The next year, he played 120 games for Delmarva, notching a .265/.364/.387 line in 476 plate appearances. He struck out about the same (92 times; 19.3%) but walked a little less (50 times; 10.5%), though still at a very acceptable rate. The 1999 season saw the now 20-year old Werth promoted to Frederick, where he posted a .305/.403/.394 over 279 plate appearances, cutting back on the strikeouts and upping the walks (37 times each; 13.3%). He hadn't shown much power, hitting just 12 home runs in his career to this point, but his knowledge of the strike zone was obviously well-developed. The Orioles, perhaps a bit prematurely, promoted him to Bowie where Werth showed off the same skill set: .273/.364/.355 in 144 plate appearances with 17 walks (11.8%) and 26 strikeouts (18.1%).

After that 1999 season, Werth garned some acclaim as a top-prospect; he was named the #52 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. Plate discipline is a valuable skill, and the potential for Werth to be an offensive-minded catcher rightly made him a young player with lots of upside. Werth split the 2000 season between Bowie and Frederick (I can't find the dates he spent with each club), where he produced virtually identical numbers to his 1999 season: a combined .240/.358/.362 in 435 plate appearances with 64 walks (14.7%) and 65 strikeouts (14.9%). He was again named a top prospect by Baseball America (#48), but the Orioles were apparently unimpressed, perhaps in part because they knew Werth would not stick at catcher. Despite fielding a team that went 74-88 in 2000, the club chose to give up on its recent first round pick, deciding that what it really needed was a left-handed reliever who walked 3.65 batters per nine. Shockingly, this type of decision making led to a 63-98 record in 2001.

As if on cue, Werth's power began to develop in 2001. He hit 20 home runs in the Blue Jays minor league system, matching his career total, but he did need to move off catcher, shifting to play some first base in 2001 and the outfield by 2002. He spent the 2002 and 2003 seasons bouncing around the Toronto system, accumulating 104 Major League plate appearances before being traded to the Dodgers for reliever Jason Frasor. In Los Angeles, he showed significant potential as half of a valuable platoon (.290/.377/.690 vs LHP) in 2004, but he struggled in 2005 and then missed the 2006 season due to injury. After being granted free agency following the 2006 season, he caught on with Philadelphia and has been an excellent player for the past three seasons: .276/.376/.494, gaining more playing time with each successive season.

While the Orioles probably wouldn't have been the beneficiary of Werth's late-blossoming, their initial decision to trade him was still indefensible. Aside from the abhorent focus on batting average and not on-base abilities, teams that are rebuilding--as the Orioles were, or at least should have been, doing in 2000--should never value short-term roster construction over long-term potential. 21-year old prospects that have reached AA and exhibited impressive plate discipline are real prospects, even if they haven't yet developed the expected power; left-handed middle relievers are a dime a dozen. Fortunately, the Orioles have changed management and the new GM seems to understand this very concept. After all, he turned George Sherrill into Josh Bell.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Month Break

Wow, has it really been two months since I blogged about the Orioles? Thanks to school starting back, the inevitable losing streak, and a host of excuses, it's been too long. This month is typically dedicated to the teams in the playoffs, but I still want to talk a little orange and black.

At the beginning of the season, I set out three criteria for making this season a success:
1) Matt Wieters establishes himself as an offensive force behind the plate.
2) Felix Pie and Adam Jones show that they are long-term solutions in the outfield.
3) The young pitching does not suffer and significant set-backs.

How did we do?

1) Check. After a slow start, Wieters was impressive in September, batting .333/.395/.486 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI during the month, raising his overall line to a quite respectable .288/.340/.412. Sure it wasn't quite what we had hoped for, but we can still expect great things from young Matt.

2) Incomplete. A great start led to his selection for the All-Star team, but Adam Jones struggled from June onwards, finally succumbing to (another) season-ending injury and missing the final month of the season. April and May had us thinking stardom, but June, July and August--aside from one great stretch from late July into early August--just left us with more questions. The talent is obvious, but I'd still really like to see a full healthy, productive season from Jones. Meanwhile, Pie's season was the exact opposite: a terrible start followed by a fast finish. He looked much, much better as the season progressed, and could be a real asset for the club going forward. There seemed to be a movement afoot late in the season to trade Pie for another bat, but given that he's unlikely to return an impact first baseman and the troubles Adam Jones has had staying healthy, the team is much more likely to keep him around.

3) Double check. Not only did the young talent make it through the season without any long-term injury concerns (Erbe bounced back nicely from shoulder issues, and Bergesen's freak leg injuries are not expected to linger into spring training), but Matusz and Tillman both racked up valuable experience in Baltimore. They didn't pitch great, but they flashed the talent that has scouts drooling.

Unfortunately, we can't stop there. This season had another recurring theme, and it was of a much darker variety: what is wrong with Nick Markakis? FanGraphs chronicled the unfortunate developments that led to Markakis posting a line similar to his rookie season. Obviously, the young kids are an important part remaking the Orioles into a winner. Equally important are Brian Roberts maintaining his high level of play and Nick Markakis being a star. Without Markakis as a big bat in the middle of the lineup, the rebuilding efforts are going to fail. Was he hurt? Distracted by life changes? Was his regression random? Let's hope that 2009 is an anomaly, and he returns to his 2008 level (or better) in 2010.

Finally, the bullpen was just awful, especially after the Sherrill trade. With Guthrie, Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman all ticketed for the 2010 rotation, Hernandez and Uehara should both help bolster the unit next spring. Chris Ray will be another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and perhaps Jim Johnson will look more like the pitcher he was before taking over the closer's role. Given the variability in relief pitcher performance, I'm not too worried about next year's bullpen.

Coming soon, a preview of what the Orioles need to do this offseason to prepare for 2010.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Last Post on the Draft

One last post on the draft, and then I'm done.

Are first round draft picks overpaid? Nope. Not even close. But don't take my word for it; take Erik Manning's.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Annals of Ridiculous Statements

Top of the 1st, Nolan Reimold has just doubled over B.J. Upton's head and Buck Martinez says this:
"There are a lot of players around baseball, some of them in the Hall of Fame, that play much better in the big leagues than they ever played in the minor leagues. George Brett comes to mind as a guy that never hit .300 in the minor leagues and ends up with career 3,000 hits. I think Nolan Reimold is going to be one of those players that plays much better in the big leagues than he ever did in the minors."

1) George Brett debuted in the Majors at age 20, and won a Rookie of the Year award at age 21. I'm not sure he's really a valid comparison for the 25-year old Reimold.
2) In what world did Nolan Reimold not play well in the minor leagues? He hit at every level, if you ask me. Or the numbers.

After the Signing Deadline

Stephen Strasburg got his money; the Orioles surpisingly signed Mychal Givens; and Toronto, Tampa Bay and Texas inexplicably failed miserably. And now we get the columns lamenting the fate of western society if baseball cannot fix the draft. Jayson Stark does an especially egregious job of shilling for the owners, so let's deconstruct his piece, point by point.

Only five starting pitchers on the entire free-agent market got packages bigger than that last winter: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster and Oliver Perez.

And Strasburg is guaranteed slightly more money than Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz were guaranteed for this season put together. Those guys own a combined nine Cy Young Awards. Strasburg has thrown a combined zero professional pitches.

Conveniently, Stark leaves out Kenshin Kawakami (3 years, $23 million), signed by the Braves this offseason and someone whose talent is nowhere close to Strasburg's. Asked in his chat yesterday about this very deal, Keith Law responded, "It's incredibly unfair to Strasburg. I doubt there's a team in baseball that would rather have Kawakami over the next three years than Strasburg." Not to mention that Koji Uehara signed a $10 million deal with the Orioles, and I'd bet the team doesn't regret that one bit. Besides, isn't saying that Oliver Perez received a whole lot of money more of an indictment of the Mets or the free agency process than of the the draft?

Law's comment, of course, brings up another point: Strasburg's deal isn't for three years; it's for four. And not only that, but the team will still control his rights (via arbitration) for another two years (at least) after that. Johnson (45), Martinez (37) and Smoltz (42) may have received less guaranteed money, but they also came with many fewer seasons of team control. Another red herring are those Cy Young awards cited: (smart) teams don't pay for past results; they pay for expected future performance. Only someone who'd been asleep for the last decade would have predicted a Cy Young award for any of those guys in 2009.

The Rockies -- a team that had to trade away Matt Holliday over the winter and a club that could afford to sign only one major league free agent (Alan Embree) -- tossed almost $4 million at another high school pitcher, Tyler Matzek.

Perhaps the Rockies felt that their money was best spent on bringing in young, high-end talent rather than retread veterans. The Rockies could clearly "afford" to sign more than one major league free agent; they apparently had $4 million in the bank. Nobody "forced" them to trade Matt Holliday; instead they acted in what they perceived to be the best interests of their ballclub. Given that the Rockies currently lead the NL wild card standings and that two of the players they received in the deal (Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez) are playing key roles in that run, I don't think they're too upset with the outcome, either. Even more so if the 23-year old Gonzalez's blossoming is real.

"So the big loser," said an official of one team, "is Bud and his slotting system. It got crushed. Some of these signings are off the charts. Look at some of this stuff in the later rounds. There's carnage all over the map."

[C]hange is coming. This draft isn't working. It hasn't for years. And now Selig's informal slotting system is being so widely ignored, you can bet this topic is heading for a bargaining table near you in 2011.

Yes, the big loser was Selig's ridiculous slotting system; that is indisputable. Teams that are willing to spend the money get the best players. Much less clear is how the draft hasn't been working for years. Washington, Seattle and San Diego all got their man, and while the Pirates did not spend a lot at number four, that was by design. Plus, last year they signed a Boras client (Pedro Alvarez). Teams that make smart decisions are able to pull together successful drafts for much less than the cost of three seasons of Danys Baez. I don't really see how that means the system is broken beyond repair.

SLOTTING -- Baseball is now the only major sport that doesn't have some sort of system that regulates how much drafted players can get paid. And that can't go on. Not just because the clubs want slotting, either. It's because players want it. We've polled a bunch of them. And big league players want those $15 million deals going to them, not to kids who have never played a professional baseball game.

Interestingly, baseball is also the only major sport with a powerful union; might that have something to do with slotting in other sports? Regardless, of course the players want that money to flow to them; I'd like for it to flow to me, too! I don't see how restricting a few million dollars (in total) from flowing to amateur prospects is going to drastically affect current player paychecks, though. Perhaps they can win a concession or two regarding free agency or arbitration eligibility, but that sounds like the owners cutting off their nose to spite their face if you ask me. Why would the owners want to give up a year of established player cost control just to keep the top few prospects from getting closer to their market value?

TRADING PICKS -- Now here's a concept the union is in favor of. So it seems just about inevitable that this is a new draft wrinkle that's coming soon. If you have the first pick and you don't want the price tag that comes with Stephen Strasburg, or you don't want the migraine that comes from dealing with Scott Boras, you pick him anyway and then dangle him on the open market.

I see nothing wrong with trading draft picks. Though I think "price tag" and "headache" are more likely to be thought of by teams as "value" associated with picking in a certain range.

WORLDWIDE DRAFT -- We're not sure if this on-again, off-again idea will ever fly. But it's gaining momentum again, because it needs to. A system that allows the Yankees and Red Sox to outspend everybody on any player they really want, with no limits whatsoever, doesn't serve anyone except the Yankees and Red Sox.

Damn those Yankees and Red Sox! I can't believe they are able to simply outspend and get all the good international players like... Wagner Mateo (Cardinals), Michael Ynoa (A's), Miguel Angel Sano (Pirates and O's interested), Kenshin Kawakami (Braves) and Koji Ueahara (O's)! Yes, they signed Dice-K, Matsui and the like, but, without doing all the hard research, the playing field really seems quite level in terms of international free agents.

THE CONTROL ROOM -- Another idea that's been building steam beneath the surface is a way for teams to wriggle out of the embarrassment of being held hostage by 17-year-old high school kids. What some people in the sport would like to see is a draft system similar to the hockey draft, which would allow any team picking a high school player to control that player's rights through his college years. "We need something to that effect," said an exec of one team, "just so you don't feel like you have no leverage as a club in those negotiations. So if you draft a kid out of high school and he says he's not ready to sign, after his sophomore year you can try to sign him again. And after his junior year you can try to sign him again. And then, if he still doesn't sign, after his senior year of college, then he goes back into the draft."

So, the league allows players to negotiate with only one team, forcing him to either take the contract offered or wait another full year before playing professional baseball, and it's the team that lacks leverage? Why is it that players seem to get close to their asking price? Perhaps its because the teams have crunched the numbers and realize that signing a top prospect for the cost of one or two seasons of a utility infielder or middle reliever is actually a really good deal.

And the big finish...

[A]ny system that's paying an 18-year-old amateur more than a five-time Cy Young winner needs more repairs than a 1962 Volkswagen.

Never mind, of course, that the "five-time Cy Young winner" (Randy Johnson) was actually the one who needed those repairs.

I'm all for trading draft picks; teams should be allowed to maximize their return on the draft. Perhaps the Nationals would have been better served trading the number one pick to the Diamondbacks and Angels for two first round picks, or to another team willing to give up prospects that are already in their system. But remember, the team giving up those picks would clearly value Strasburg (including the associated cost commitment) more highly than a few more lesser propspects. Whose to say which team is correct in its assessment?

I would also like if the deadline was moved forward; fans, players, and teams would all benefit if the staring-at-each-other period was shortened. Teams would get their players out to affiliates sooner; fans would be spared months of nonsense and get a chance to see prospects sooner, and players would gain certainty over their futures and get a few professional games under their belt the same season they're drafted. One suggestion that seems reasonable is to move the deadline forward a month. I've also seen it suggested that some upper level short-season leagues (like the NY Penn League) could be extended a month; I think that is also an interesting proposal.

Regardless, unless your goal is to give the owners more money and teams more control over the prospects they sign, most of the proposals out there to "fix" the draft aren't worth your time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dog Days

I'm on my way home tonight after (what looks to be) another disappointing Orioles loss, a frustrating start from David Hernandez (30+ pitches in the second inning) and more poor baserunning (this time from Cesar Izturis) underlining two disturbing trends. But let's make two things abundantly clear: 1) Izturis broke a fundamental baserunning rule and 2) Trembley had no choice but to ride Hernandez for as long as possible.

When you're in high school first learning baserunning on the large diamond, you are taught that if the ball is hit on the ground to your right you retreat to 2nd base; Izturis failed to heed that fundamental advice and paid the price. After 13 innings last night (and countless short outings from the rotation in recent weeks), the bullpen is gassed. If the O's were in a pennant race, I suspect that Trembley would have pulled Hernandez sooner; instead he tried to squeeze out a few extra outs and the Angels took advantage.

Unfortunately, with a rotation hampered by ineffectiveness (Guthrie, Berken), injury (Uehara, Bergesen), and usage constraints (Tillman, Matusz), Trembley really has no choice but to try and piece together games until rosters expand. This is likely to result in many more frustrating losses and irate messages from fans on blogs and message boards calling for the heads of Trembley and MacPhail and deeming the rebuilding a failure; don't listen to the nonsense. With the Huff trade today, Reimold and Pie are going to get a chance to play daily, the young starters are getting their feet wet and the plan is on schedule. If the O's are in this same position a year from now we can all hit the panic button. Until then, the club is a work in progress.

T-Shirt Monday

Such a tough choice!!!

Greedy Stephen Strasburg

It's draft signing deadline, and you know what that means! Just like last year with Brian Matusz, lots of grumpy people complaining about Stephen Strasburg!! Fortunately, Joe Sheehan hits the nail on the head:
"The time from draft day to the signing deadline is the only time for perhaps a decade—and perhaps ever—that a player has any kind of negotiating leverage. Once he signs with a team, that team owns him until he accumulates six full seasons of major league service time. How can you possibly blame a person for wanting to
maximize his return on the only negotiation in which he’ll have any leverage for at least six years, possibly an entire decade, and in many cases ever? The idea, popular among players and ex-players who seem to have no grasp of the structure under which they play, that a draftee should just sign for whatever’s available and start his career because he’ll get paid if he performs, that's just laughable on its face...Stephen Strasburg could win Rookie of the Year and finish third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2010, and make $400,000 in 2011. He could be even better in '11, racking up a ton of innings as the Nationals make a wild-card push, and make $400,000 in 2012. The next time Strasburg will be able to do more than just ask for money, entirely at the team’s mercy to give it to him, is the winter of 2012-13. The first time he’ll be able to negotiate with more than one team is the winter of 2015-16, unless the Nationals diddle with his time on the roster, in which case it’ll be 2016-17. That’s a long time from now. That’s a lot of innings from now, and he might never get there—he might be great, like Prior, out of the box, and never get paid because that’s how the system is set up."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Young Pitching writer Spencer Fordin posted an excellent article yesterday discussing the Orioles plans for the starting rotation this September. The club (rightly) plans to protect its young pitchers and may move to a six man rotation for the season's final month. I don't know for sure whether a stretched out rotation or simply piggybacking potential starters (i.e., Matusz for five innings, followed by a long man) is a better idea, but I think that adding a man to the rotation is probably the way to go since it forces the young kids to pitch fewer innings than would be possible under a five man rotation; there will be fewer opportunities to abandon a solid outing to try and get a win in a game that is meaningless in the standings. Also, while we've rightly been critical of Dave Trembley's in-game strategizing, he makes some very sensible comments in this article:
"The thing that I've noticed is how much more difficult it is for the young guys, and how much harder they seem to have to work at this level," said Trembley. "The other teams will grind you. Toronto, the other day, they just waited Matusz out. I think you have to look at the pitch count and add 20-25 pitches to it. Physically, it's pretty taxing for them. Outs don't come easy and they really have to work to get them. In that sense, I think you have to be very wise about how long you leave them out there, how many innings they throw and how hard they work."
Trembley may not be the guy to manage this team long-term, but I do believe he's done a very good job putting the development needs of the organization first. I'm sure he knows the fan base is unhappy, and it can't be easy for him to keep Jason Berken's name on his starting pitching calendar, but he's done so. That is admirable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What should the O's do with Guthrie?

That's the question Dan Connolly poses today over at the Toy Department, and one that deserves a fair bit of examination. First let's look at Guthrie's three seasons with the Orioles:

2007: 6.31 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9, 4.41 FIP
2008: 5.66 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 1.13 HR/9, 4.53 FIP
2009: 5.23 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 1.81 HR/9, 5.62 FIP

Since 2007, Guthrie is striking ouy one fewer batter per nine innings, and walking nearly a half batter more. That's not a good trend. Also interesting is the way Guthrie's pitch types have changed:

2007: 67.8% fastballs, 22.4% sliders, 4.5% curve balls, 5.3% change-ups
2008: 64.1% fastballs, 18.1% sliders, 6.3% curve balls, 11.4% change-ups
2009: 60.9% fastballs, 18.7% sliders, 4.8% curve balls, 15.6% change-ups

That's a pretty striking shift away from fastballs and toward change-ups, especially when you consider that, traditionally, the fastball has been Guthrie's most effective pitch. Unfortunately, Guthrie's fastball has actually been below average this year. What happened? Let's go to Pitch F/X.

First, I took a look at Guthrie's outing from June 16, 2008, when he allowed just one run over 8.0 innings to the Astros. He clearly had his good stuff that day, allowing just 3 hits, walking one and striking out 8.

Average Fastball Velocity: 92.92 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 95.7 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.75 inches
Veritical Movement: 10.13 inches

Next, I took a peek at his numbers from last night:

Average Fastball Velocity: 91.78 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 93.7 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.87 inches
Vertical Movement: 8.06 inches

Right off the bat, the drop in velocity and, especially, vertical movement is striking. Has this been a problem for Guthrie all year? Let's go to May 30, when Guthrie struck out 10 Detroit Tigers over 6.0 innings.

Average Fastball Velocity: 93.94 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 96.1 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.88 inches
Vertical Movement: 8.92 inches

The velocity is better, but the vertical movement still doesn't quite match his start from last year. Without going through all the data, it seems that this could explain why Guthrie is striking out fewer and allowing more home runs. Is this fixable? Is Guthrie hurt? Has that viral infection helped sap his velocity? Given that Guthrie will be arbitration eligible for the first time this coming season, he's very likely to cost so little that it's worth finding out the answers to those questions. At worst, it seems like he's capable of repeating his efforts of this season, and while that's not exactly what the Orioles were hoping for coming into 2009, his ability to at least pitch a significant number of innings makes bringing him back a very good risk for 2010.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First in the AL East!

In what really counts: the value of beer. (ht: Beyond the Boxscore)


The Next Oriole Pitching Prospect

Since Tillman and Matusz have arrived, and Jake Arietta is not far behind, it's almost time to turn our attention to the next wave of pitching making its way through the Orioles farm system. And Brandon Erbe is making us take notice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Matusz Outing

Erik Manning over at FanGraphs beat me to the punch this morning, breaking down Brian Matusz's PitchFX data before I had a chance to do so. However, I think he leaves out on key picture:

That shows a number of fastballs that Matusz missed with just off the plate inside to righthanders, and it also shows just how infrequently he threw his breaking balls. Matusz got good results last night, but that's definitely not as well as he can pitch.

Dave Cameron also broke down Chris Tillman.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Matusz Debut

It's the most anticipated Oriole pitching prospect debut since... last week. And, of course. that means I'll be live blogging. Check back right here once the game gets underway in about 20 minutes.

Top 1: Roberts starts the O's off right again tonight, this time doubling to right center field. For those who have been critical of Brian's effort at times this year, please note his hustle tonight. With a full count on Nolan Reimold, Brian broke for third. He nearly reached the bag, but Reimold lofted a fly ball to deep center. Brian retreated all the way to the second base bag, tagged up and advanced 90 feet. That's heads up baserunning and impressive hustle. Now, the Tigers are bringing the infield in with one out and Nick Markakis due up. This seems like a bad idea. Sure enough, Nick grounds one through the hole on the right side. The run would have scored either way, but it is possible that's the second out if the infield is at normal depth. Finally, Adam Jones grounds into a double play to end this inning. I have to say, I really like this lineup configuration. I hope that Reimold can continue to post a high enough OBP (.367 coming into tonight) to warrant batting at the top of the lineup. Coming up... Brian Matusz's debut!

Bottom 1: It's hard to believe that a year ago, Brian Matusz wasn't even a member of the Orioles organization. So far, so good: a soft pop to center for the first out of the inning.

Fastball: 92-93 mph
Change-up: 81 mph

Looking good... 1, 2, 3 inning!

Top 2: Here's a sentence I hope to write many times in the future: Matt Wieters gives Brian Matusz a 2-0 lead.

Bottom 2: Matusz is clearly comfortable pitching backwards (fastballs in breaking ball counts; breaking balls in fastball counts), and he has excellent command of his breaking balls. That's a recipe for success.

Good camera work from the MASN guys gives a nice view the circle change grip on the pitch Matusz used to strike out Miguel Cabrera. That's a pretty good hitter to get for your first career strike out.

A 3-1 change-up to Raburn with a runner on second. I like it. The batter is going to be looking fastball, and Matusz was hoping to roll him over.

The first curve ball from Matusz comes in at 77 mph, on a 1-1 pitch to Inge with runners on first and second. Buck Martinez just got done telling a story regarding the pre-game pitching meeting; Matusz indicated his curve was his weakest pitch. He sure had confidence in throwing that one.

As a former catcher, Buck should know what he's talking about in evaluating pitch selection. He's on his game tonight, doing an excellent job evaluating the game being called by Wieters.

And that's why the O's signed Cesar Izturis: an excellent diving snag and flip to Roberts ends the inning.

Bottom 3: More excellent defense from Izturis; solid defense behind a young pitching staff was exactly what the Orioles were hoping for.

And now Buck makes the same point. Like I said, he's on his game tonight.

After getting ahead 1-2 to Miguel Cabrera, Matusz loses him for his third walk of the evening. Needless to say, we don't like walks. Martinez makes the point that Matusz is becoming a bit too "change-up reliant" as Kranitz comes to the mound for a conference. Matusz has tried to establish his fastball, especially inside to righties, but he's just missed on numerous occassions. I don't know if he's trying to be too fine, or if he's getting squeezed, but a few more fastball strikes would greatly improve his outing.

Top 4: Jones showed bunt on the first pitch of the inning, but Inge (who was playing deep) apparently indicated that he would not be moving up to take the bunt away. Jones has done this a bit in recent weeks, and I like it. It didn't work this time, but if he can get the third baseman a few feet closer, he's more likely to sneak one by every once in a while. I used the tactic during my career to keep teams from employing a full-fledged shift and I know it helped my batting average. I like Adam Jones more with each passing day.

Bottom 4: A pair of doubles plates the first runs for the Tigers and pushes Matusz past the 80 pitch mark. Given his bouts of mini-wildness in the 2nd and 3rd, it looks like he'll be unable to throw more than 5.0 innings tonight. Orioles lead 2-1.

Top 5: Cesar Izturis is definitely the early leader for tonight's player of the game. His homer gives Matusz and the O's a 3-1 lead.

Bottom 5: MASN just showed the graphic that 18 years ago tonight Mike Mussina made his debut against the White Sox. Let's hope another Orioles top prospect is beginning a Hall of Fame career on August 4.

After a Miguel Cabrera double to put runners at second and third, Matusz bears down and strikes out Thames and Raburn to end the inning. Through 5.0, the O's lead 3-1.

Assuming we've seen the last of Matusz, here's my summary of his outing: great change-up, but he was missing his fastball command tonight. He also didn't throw many sliders or curveballs. I'm guessing that adrenaline had a big impact on both of these; he may have been overthrowing a touch. In all, while he didn't pitch great, he's given the O's a chance to win and I'm incredibly excited for the Brian Matusz era. He clearly has the stuff, command and mound presence to justify his high selection and advancement to the Majors after just four professional months. He's going to be a good one.

Top 6: Sure enough, that's it for Matusz. He's in line to become the fifth different Orioles pitcher to win his Major League debut this season. This would be the first Major League team since 1890 to achieve that feat. We're still waiting on Jake Arietta, too.

Markakis just crushed a homer to right center with Reimold on first base. Have I mentioned that I like this line-up configuration?

A two-run single from Izturis ups the lead to 7-1. Let's hope the bullpen can hold this lead. And, with that, the live blog is done for the evening.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Matusz Time!

Peter Schmuck, via Jeff Zrebiec, is reporting that Brian Matusz appears to be the winner of the "vigorous debate" over who will take the rotation slot vacated when Brad Bergesen hit the disabled list. Can't say that I disagree with the decision: Matusz is pretty clearly the next best (ok, maybe the very best) pitcher in the organization. So long as they resist the temptation to keep pitching him every five days through the beginning of October (which Schmuck indicates in the comments would be the case), I'm excited! We're finally getting a look at all the young pitching that is hopefully going to lead the Orioles back to contention. It's another good day in Birdland.

Friday, July 31, 2009

MacPhail on TV

MacPhail is on TV tonight during the bottom of the 3rd, and he's talking about the Sherrill/Bell trade. He mentioned that the Orioles had been watching Bell over the course of six weeks, and that three different scouts all agreed he could stay at third base. That's probably the consensus view throughout baseball, but it is certainly not a unanimous opinion. Still, his value is clearly derived from his bat, and it appears to be a good one.

He also mentioned that getting Bergesen two weeks off in the long season isn't the worst thing in the world, and that there is currently a "vigorous debate" about who will take the rotation slot. When asked point blank about whether or not we'll see any of the other top prospects this season, MacPhail said, "Sometimes you have these things thrust upon you, whether you like it or not... You only have so many guys that you can put in there."

A few more quotes...

On whether the Orioles should start competing right now: "We need to set that mentality. I just shed them of their closer, and our starting pitching is not where we need to be to win in this division yet, but we are creating the nucleus on the field that is getting us closer to [winning]."

On how the Orioles can compete in the rough and tumble AL East: "We've been very fortunate. Everything I have asked ownership to consider, they have really come through for us, with the Sarasota thing being the last thing. Making some of the moves, some of the investments in amateur signing bonuses--I think we've ranked third or fourth in baseball over the last couple of years--we're starting to see the results of that. I think that's exactly the philosophy we need to continue to take. We just have to try to build the inventory of young, talented kids every opportunity we get and then there's going to come a time where we're going to take advantage of Major League free agency and maybe trade some of those young kids to add some proven winners to our young mix."

A very good interview. If you didn't see it and have the game on DVR, check it out.

Brad Bergesen

After turning in yet another quality start yesterday, Brad Bergesen hit the DL today thanks to a line drive off the bat of Billy Butler that left a nasty bruise and created quite the scare. Fortunately, it appears the injury will end up being minor. Still, the Orioles are right to be cautious; injuries to a pitcher's legs can cause slight alterations to mechanics and lead to cascading injuries as players adjust to compensate. It's also unfortunate that the Orioles will lose their most effective starter and a Rookie of the Year candidate for at least two weeks.

However, so long as the injury truly is minor, this could actually be a blessing in disguise. Bergesen has been worked fairly hard this year, having already thrown 134.1 innings, just 31 innings short of last season's total. With 61 games to go, Bergesen would likely make 10 to 12 more starts, easily pushing him past last year's total and perhaps close to 200 IP. That would make the 23-year old Bergesen a candidate for the "Verducci Effect", which basically states that young pitchers (< 25 years of age) should not exceed the previous season's inning total by more than 30 IP. This injury will likely keep him within that threshold, and perhaps keep him healthier for next year.

It's also worth noting that last year Chris Tillman threw 135.2 innings for Bowie. This season, he's notched 100.2 between Norfolk and Baltimore. If he gets 10 more starts, he'll likely finish in the 160 IP ranged, meaning that the Orioles will have successfully managed the 21-year old's workload as well. To round out the pitching prospects: Jake Arrieta threw 113.0 last year, and 110.2 so far this season. One more month in Norfolk would put him at about the allowable increase, but also preclude a September call-up. Brian Matusz has thrown 112.0 innings in 2009, and did not pitch professionally in 2008. He threw 105.0 collegiate innings in 2008, and 123.0 in 2007. As much as we'd probably like to see them, I doubt either debuts for the Orioles in 2009. Instead, we're probably in for a mix of Mark Hendrickson, Brian Bass, David Pauley and Chris Waters spot starts.

More Sherrill Trade Reactions

From around the interwebs...

Rob Neyer, ESPN: "What I will do is send up a big hip-hip-hooray for the Orioles, because the single best thing any rebuilding manager can do, ever, is trade a relief pitcher in late July for a couple of solid prospects... If I were an Orioles fan, I would be organizing a party right now."

Keith Law, ESPN: "The main return for Baltimore is third baseman Josh Bell, who alone is probably worth more in asset value than a good but sub-Joe Nathan, 60-inning-a-year reliever with two years of control left."

R.J. Anderson, FanGraphs: "The two seem like a nice coup by the Orioles in exchange for two years and a third of Sherrill as they continue to build with impressive young talent."

Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus: "Flipping Sherrill to the Dodgers to add Bell merely drives home the extent to which the Bedard deal—of which Sherrill was the semi-famous part—is the gift that keeps on giving."

I'll update here as I come across more analysis.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sherrill Dealt

Score another one for Andy MacPhail. George Sherrill, everyone's favorite flat-brimmed closer, was traded to the Dodgers this afternoon for 22-year old switch hitting third baseman Josh Bell. Bell ranked this preseason as the Dodgers 8th best prospect, and is especially known as having above average power potential and a strong throwing arm. However, he is a big man (6' 3", 235 lbs), and there is some concern about his weight becoming an issue. Bell has put together a solid season in the Double A Southern League this year, batting .296/.386/.497 with 11 homers and 30 doubles in 334 at-bats. He may not be a top 100 prospect, but I suspect that Nolan Reimold would be a good comparison for the type of prospect (if not entirely the style of player) we should expect. All in all, I think this was an excellent job by MacPhail to turn a valuable trade chip into a player with the potential to fill a glaring hole for the Orioles.

Before we get all misty eyed about George Sherrill and lament the lack of an experienced closer, let's keep this in mind: the Orioles have developed impressive pitching depth in the minor leagues (and just added to it with the other player in this deal, Steve Johnson). Good organizations should churn out arms capable of filling relief roles. Between Jim Johnson, Matt Albers, Chris Ray, Kam Mickolio, Troy Patton and a host of others, including David Hernandez and Koji Uehara, the Orioles should have no problem finding someone to fill the role just as capably as Sherrill. Don't get me wrong: Sherrill pitched great this season. It's just that, at this stage of rebuilding for the Orioles, a 22-year power bat who can play third base is more valuable than a 31-year old lefthanded set-up man masquerading as a closer. In case you still weren't convinced, this is more evidence that this organization has completely turned the corner in the last two years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's Tillman Time!

This is the moment O's fans have been waiting for since... 1991 when Mike Mussina debuted? When was the last time the O's had a pitching prospect this touted? Regardless, I'll be live blogging Chris Tillman's debut tonight. We're finally getting our first glimpse at the pitching talent that has me so excited, and I wish I could be at the ballpark. Alas, I'll be sitting on the couch and bringing you my thoughts live! Check back frequently for updates.

7:07 PM: I'm sipping my Clipper City Heavy Seas Loose Cannon from my Sports Legends glass, reflecting on the symbolism in Chris Tillman wearing #54 and anxiously awaiting the first pitch... and here comes the tarp. Let's hope this isn't symbolic, too.

7:48 PM: And we're back! First pitch strike. 92 mph fastball.

7:49 PM: DeJesus gave one a ride to center, but Adam Jones ran it down and makes a fantastic catch over his shoulder in deep center. I like watching him play center field.

7:53 PM: That was a great change-up to Butler to put Tillman ahead 0-2. Tillman then induces a sinking liner to shortstop, and Tillman's first inning is in the books. He threw nearly all fastballs between 92 and 95 mph, and that one devastating change-up at 82 mph. So far, so good.

8:02 PM: Adam Jones just turned in a great at-bat, making a nice adjustment to Greinke's slider early in the at-bat and then fouling off some impressive offerings before driving a homer into the seats in left center. I don't know how he got the barrel on that pitch, much less hit it for a homer. Did I mention I like watching him hit, too?

8:04 PM: Markakis follows up with a double off the left-field wall. If Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold followed, my head might explode.

8:09 PM: Reimold just turned in a high quality at-bat, drawing a full count walk. He's not going to be a star, but Reimold's emergence is one of most important developments of this season. He is exactly the type of hitter good organizations produce on a regular basis.

8:12 PM: Ty Wiggington lofted a soft fly ball to right field for the second out of the inning, but Nick Markakis shows some heads up baserunning (shocking for the O's, I know). Bloomquist held the ball just a bit too long, and Markakis moved up to third base. This first inning has featured a nice catch in center field from Adam Jones, a 1-2-3 inning from Tillman, a lead-off single from Brian Roberts, a home run from Adam Jones, and double from Nick Markakis, a quality at-bat from Nolan Reimold and now heads up baserunning from Markakis. Yeah, the future is bright.

8:17 PM: Unfortunately, Greg Zaun strikes out with the bases loaded to end the inning. Not gonna lie, I would have liked to see the full youth movement tonight with Matt Wieters behind the plate. Still, the O's made Greinke throw 34 pitches in the first.

8:33 PM: I'm a bit late here (love DVR), but Tillman just gave up his first major league hit, run and home run. His fastball to Callaspo caught a whole lot of the plate and ended up on Eutaw Street. He bounces back with an easy strike out of Mike Jacobs. Unfortunately, I know he'll give a home run next, too.

8:37 PM: Some quick fast forwarding catches right back up to live TV. DeJesus hit one to the wall in left that Nolan Reimold tracked down for the first out in the top of the third. It looks like the ball is really carrying tonight; that's twice DeJesus has hit one that carried much farther than it looks like it should have.

8:43 PM: Tillman's change-up has some serious fade to it. He's thrown a few nice ones to Butler tonight, and now another to Teahen. With the 10+ mph separation between his fastball and change-up, it can be a real weapon for him. So can a high fastball you blow by hitters, just like the one Teahen just waved at on which Bloomquist was caught stealing.

9:09 PM: Tillman gave up another homer, this time to Mike Jacobs on a hanging breaking ball. He's basically made three bad pitches tonight, each of which was smacked for a long ball. Welcome to the Big Leagues.

9:30 PM: Trembley tried to get Tillman through five innings, but instead pulls him with runners on the corners and two outs in the 5th. Not a great outing, but he definitely flashed the ability that makes him a top prospect: a fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s, an impressive change-up and the makings of a good curveball. I'm already looking forward to his next start. And, with that, I'm signing off the blog for tonight.

Trade Deadline

As the trade deadline looms later this week, the Orioles have only one player that is drawing any significant interest: George Sherrill. Both the Dodgers and Angels appear interested, with Josh Bell and Brandon Wood, respectively, being the prospects the Orioles are hoping to acquire. If the Los Angeles clubs offer either of those players, I have one piece of advice for Andy MacPhail: say 'yes' as fast as you can and immediately fax the paperwork to the commissioner's office. George Sherrill is a 32-year old left-handed reliever. He's been very good for the team this year, but we all know that he's not a true shut down reliever. Josh Bell is a 22-year old switch-hitting third baseman who, according Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, offers great tools and has made significant progress in his approach at the plate. Brandon Wood, who has admittedly struggled mightily in limited time in Anaheim, has crushed AAA pitching, has massive power and been a top prospect for a very long-time. Both of those guys would be an impressive haul for George Sherrill.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Even though it's about the Red Sox, Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe has a fantastic look at how pitchers attack the strike zone. Definitely worth a read. (ht: Rob Neyer)

Over the Hill

Rich Hill turned in another poor start last night, yielding 5 ER in 3+ innings pitched while allowing 3 hits and 4 walks. As the Sun speculates this morning, and as we speculated last night at the bar while watching the game, his time in the rotation--and on the ballclub--could be up. It's now official: the Chris Tillman rumblings have become a full blown roar. Could we see him in Baltimore soon?

Tillman is scheduled to pitch tonight at Gwinnett, and Jason Berken will pitch for the O's in New York. The Orioles then have an off-day before visiting the Red Sox this weekend and hosting the Royals starting Monday. Here's how the O's rotation currently aligns:

Tonight: Jason Berken
Friday: Brad Bergesen
Saturday: TBA
Sunday: David Hernandez
Monday: Rich Hill

That TBA should be Jeremy Guthrie, assuming he bounces back from his last outing when he threw 108 pitches while still battling the lingering effects of a viral infection. It does, however, raise the intriguing possibility of bumping Tillman from his start tonight and flying him to Boston for his Major League debut on Saturday. Even if Tillman pitches tonight for Norfolk, however, he's lined up perfectly to take Hill's slot in the rotation on Monday. Given that evidence, I really think we've seen the last of Rich Hill in the rotation and the only question becomes whether or not he moves to the bullpen or is designated for assignment. The Orioles are already carrying a dozen pitchers, so moving Hill to the bullpen would necessitate another pitching move. Unless MacPhail can move Sherrill or Baez or is willing to part ways with the surprisingly effective Mark Hendrickson, I don't see how the roster can accomodate Hill moving to the bullpen. As much as it pains me to write this, it's time for the O's to give up on the Rich Hill experiment. If he's going to recapture the glory, it will have to be with another club.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Second Half Outlook

In the Sun today, Jeff Zrebiec takes a look at five second half storylines to watch for the Orioles. He raises the right issues, and I'd like to address each before we get to the end of the All-Star break.

1. Will manager Dave Trembley be back?

Personally, I lean towards bringing in a long-term solution for the job; we've been over the reasons that I don't think Trembley is the right person to manage the team as its competitive window opens. Had the Nationals not fired Manny Acta this week, I would have advocated for a managerial trade this offseason.

2. Can they avoid the second half swoon?

While I'd like to say that the young pitching and exciting position players can help the Orioles turn their record around in the second half, consider these facts: The Orioles face an opponent's winning percentage of .524 in their remaining 74 games, and 40 of those games are on the road. That's a difficult schedule, but at least they're done going to the west coast. Still, this is team that looks poised to hold its own in the second half, even if they won't have the benefit of 18 games against the National League East. I'll make the bold prediction that Orioles winning percentage will roughly mirror their Pythagorean first half (39-49, .443).

3. Will the trade winds blow?

It would be nice to see a bopping third baseman or first baseman make their way to Baltimore, but I just don't see it happening. First, general managers have become much more astute at discerning the forward value of their young players, making it less likely that other clubs would trade legitimate prospects without significant return. Second, the Orioles just don't have that much trade bait which would be attractive to other teams. Aubrey Huff is a free agent this offseason, Luke Scott is 31, and George Sherrill isn't the closer many Baltimore fans perceive. Each is a nice player that does things to help a team win, but none is worth a top-notch prospect. While I hope to be proven wrong, I doubt MacPhail makes any blockbuster moves over the next two weeks.

4. Where will the rotation lead?

This is perhaps the most intriguing question of the second half, and one that is likely to influence the answers to each of the other questions on this list. Rich Hill's last start not withstanding, he's really struggled recently, and Jason Berken just doesn't have the stuff necessary to be a starter in the AL East. Given the injury to Koji Uehara, David Hernandez will likely be back soon, and it seems that Chris Tillman is knocking on the door. I predict either Hill or Berken is out of the rotation by the end of the month, replaced by Tillman, and Brian Matusz earns a promotion to Norfolk. From there, could Jake Arrietta and Matusz be far behind Tillman? Service time issues will come into play, as will workload management and MacPhail's plans for the 2010 rotation, but if Berken and Hill both bomb and Uehara is slow to return from injury, the cries for the young studs will grow deafening.

5. Rookie of the Year?

Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergesen have been great stories of the 2009 season, especially as second tier prospects for the organization. This is a banner year for AL rookies, though, and the ballot is sure to be crowded, with players like Gordon Beckham, Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero, Rick Porcello, Jeff Niemann and Andrew Bailey all likely to merit serious consideration. Even in that impressive field, I'll place my bet on Matt Wieters posting a huge second half and winning the award.

Answering those five questions really comes down to this: what happens with the Orioles young pitching over the next six weeks? If the young kids prove they are ready for the spotlight in 2010, will MacPhail decide that it's time to bring in a tactitian to focus on wins and losses? Will the staff complement an exciting core of position players and make the Orioles a dangerous spoiler down the stretch? Will a realistic shot at contention next season cause the O's to keep Huff, Scott and Sherrill, or deal them for a corner bat? While the results on the field for the rest of July and August will be important, the real intrigue will happen on the third floor of the warehouse.