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.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


There is nothing better than a walk-off homer! Way to go, Melvin.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Trade Speculation

In the past few days, there has been increasing chatter regarding the future of Atlanta Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar. The Braves are in need of offense as they look to finish ahead of the flawed Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Florida Marlins in the mediocre NL East. Escobar may not be a superstar, but he is a capable shortstop and, at age 26, would be a long-term solution for some club at the position. Would the Orioles be a good fit? One potential trade: Escobar to the Orioles for Cesar Izturis, Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott. The Braves are currently playing Casey Kotchman (.273/.340/.390) at first base and a Garrett Anderson/Matt Diaz platoon in left field. Diaz, a right-handed hitter, has solid numbers, but Anderson's best days are well past. Both Scott and Huff would be upgrades for Braves, and Izturis could replace Escobar at short. If Anderson or Diaz could play right field, the Braves could sit Jeff Francouer (65 OPS+) and improve even more. The Orioles would need to find someone to play first base, but Ty Wiggington could man the position for the rest of the season, or the club could give Nolan Reimold a bit of playing time at the position and take one final look at Felix Pie.

First Half Review

Yesterday, the Orioles played their 81st game of the season, losing 11-4 to the Angels to fall to 36-45, 12.5 games behind the division leading Red Sox. The club is all but eliminated from the postseason, and appears poised to post its 12th consecutive losing season. Since Opening Day, 80% of the rotation has been turned over, and two rookies have established themselves in the everyday lineup. Though it may not seem like it from watching the Major League club every night, the future in Baltimore is looking up. Let's review the first half.

The first five players below form the core of the team the Orioles expect to compete in the very near future, and the first half of the season, while not completely smooth sailing, indicates that they'll be capable.

After a blazing start, 23-year old Adam Jones slumped badly in June (.229/.286/.323 for the month). Still his season line is a healthy .307/.364/.503, and he has already hit a career high 12 home runs. Throw in a bit of gold glove caliber defense in centerfield, and the Orioles have a star in the making.

Like Jones, Nick Markakis got off to a hot start in April. May, however, did not treat the rightfielder kindly; he batted just .240/.281/.438 for the month. The batting average rebound in June (.304), but the plate discipline (9 walks in the month) and power (1 home run) are still missing.

Nolan Reimold has established himself as the everyday leftfielder, and looks to be just the type of solid, if unspectacular, player good organizations are capable of churning out to fill important roles. For the season, Reimold is hitting .279/.358/.497 with 9 home runs in 147 at-bats. This trio--all 25 and younger--looks capable of being the Orioles outfield for years to come.

Sliced bread might be the best thing since Matt Wieters, but the top prospect has struggled in his initial exposure to the big leagues. He's hitting just .253/.306/.385 on the season, but over the past 28 days he's up to .302/.362/.444. By all indications, he's going to be a force in the middle of the Orioles lineup.

Brian Roberts continues to post solid numbers out of the lead-off spot. He's batting .276/.343/.432 and leading the league in doubles (27) and runs scored (60). Basically, Roberts is just a few walks below the .370ish OBPs we've come to expect. Roberts is playing this season at age 31, and one thing that must worry the Orioles are his declining speed numbers: he has just one triple and is 16-for-21 (.761) on stolen bases after posting 40-for-50 (.800) and 50-for-57 (.877) marks the previous two seasons.

With the outfield, catcher and second base settled, the Orioles can be more flexible in filling the remaining slots. They need someone capable of posting high on-base percentages to to bat second, a good defensive shortstop, and two other players capable of manning the corner infield or designated hitter slots. In theory, these should not be difficult roles to fill and the Orioles have some internal candidates for those slots.

Luke Scott is enjoying his career year at age 31. Despite spending several weeks on the DL, he leads the club with 16 homers, a .378 OBP and a .573 SLG. Still under club control and entering the age where players tend to decline, Scott may be an attractive trade candidate for a team in need of a left-handed bat. If the Orioles retain his services, however, he will likely be in the mix for significant playing time at both first base and DH next season.

Cesar Izturis, while unfortunately injured for much of the first half, has done exactly as the Orioles expected: play solid defense at shortstop and hit well below average (61 OPS+). He's under contract for next season, and the Orioles will be counting on his defense, unless they trade for a potential long-term solution for the position in the next 8 months.

Melvin Mora looks to be on his last legs as a Major League baseball player. He's hitting just .264/.322/.324 and the Orioles can almost certainly find a better option to man the hot corner next season. It would not surprise me to see him retire after this season.

Aubrey Huff may be a potential trading chip prior to the deadline at the end of the month. Though his numbers (.269/.335/.444) are down from last year's, he would represent no long-term commitment to a team in need of a bat for the stretch drive. He will represent an interesting decision for MacPhail over the next few weeks. Unlikely to bring much back in the way of prospects, his skill set is similar to that of corner players who found the free agent market less-than-friendly last year. Would the Orioles be better off taking what they can get now, or offering Huff arbitration, hoping he does not accept and then taking the draft pick(s) likely to accompany his leaving as a free agent? Would Huff accepting arbitration be a risk the Orioles are willing to take?

After starting the season with a rotation of Jeremy Guthrie, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon and Adam Eaton, only Guthrie remains. Uehara is on the DL, Simon out for the season, Hendrickson banished to the bullpen and Eaton mercifully sent packing. In their stead, the Orioles have given Baltimore fans their first glimpse of the young pitching that will determine Andy MacPhail's success or failure in his quest to return the franchise to relevancy.

Jeremy Guthrie is far from the ace tag that his status as Opening Day starter thrusts upon him, but he is a valuable Major League pitcher. Looking at him as the fourth or fifth starter he is may make the rotation appear even weaker, but it gives a more realistic view of what should be expected of Guthrie.

Koji Uehara pitched well in his dozen starts, compiling a 112 ERA+, limiting walks and homers and giving the Orioles a chance to win. He's out for what will likely be until September, and given his injury history, the Orioles may decide that he's better suited to relief duty next year.

Rich Hill has been awful. He's walked 27 in just 40.2 IP, but at least he's giving up lots of hits, too (46). Still, he has the ability to miss bats (37 strikeouts), and the club is likely to give him every chance possible to harness his impressive stuff.

Brad Bergesen has exceeded everyone's expectations thus far. Through 14 starts, the rookie is 5-2 with a 3.53 ERA, including a 5-0 record and 2.06 ERA in his last 7 starts. He succeeds by limiting walks (1.9 BB/9), but he has also benefitted from a .265 BAbip. His strikeout rate, 4.5 K/9, is extremely low, suggesting there has been quite a bit of luck in his early results.

Jason Berken is 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA. There is little in his minor league track record to suggest that he will be a successful Major League pitcher, and given the recent comments from Andy MacPhail, I would not be surpsised if we see Chris Tillman manning his rotation slot after the All-Star break.

David Hernandez rounds out the revamped rotation. After posting impressive numbers in Norfolk, he deserves his chance at a rotation slot. He's been solid in his recent outings, but needs to do more to limit the walks.

In the minors, the top pitching prospects have had as successful a first half as could ever have been imagined. Chris Tillman will likely be in Baltimore sooner than expected, and Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz won't be far behind.

Chris Tillman: 6-5, 2.69 ERA, 80.1 IP, 82 K, 22 BB, .219 BAA (Norfolk)
Jake Arrieta: 7-5, 2.69 ERA, 83.2 IP, 90 K, 30 BB, .218 BAA (Norfolk and Bowie, combined)
Brian Matusz: 7-2, 1.80 ERA, 85.0 IP, 96 K, 27 BB, .210 BAA (Frederick and Bowie, combined)

Neither Tillman nor Arrieta has much left to prove in Norfolk, and while Matusz has been competing at a lower level, here's what Kevin Goldstein wrote at Baseball Prospectus this week:
He's sitting at 88-92 with outstanding movement and location, throws two quality breaking balls and a very good changeup, mixes his pitches extremely well and pounds the strike zone. That scouting report has been the same for Matusz for years now, and he's nearly big league-ready.
Depending on the Orioles development plans for each (and it's important to note that each is already over 80.0 IP on the season), it's quite possible that the rotation will turn over another 60% by the end of the year.

All in all this has been a successful first half of the season. Though the results on the field may not appear dramatically different from previous seasons, it is important to note that the talent level of the organization has shifted dramatically. No longer are the team's best players veterans past their primes; Jones, Wieters, Reimold and Markakis are just 23, 23, 25 and 25, respectively. The pitching of the future has yet to arrive, and while Major League struggles should be expected, the Big Three pitching prospects have given every indication that they will be as good as advertised.

Before the season, I set out three criteria for making 2009 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 any significant development set-backs. While Wieters may be a bit behind schedule and we should replace Felix Pie with Nolan Reimold, I think we can stick a check mark next to each at the midway point. This is an organization on the right track.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Little Things

Managers and coaches and fond of telling their players that wins and losses tend to hinge on the little things: throwing to the right base, advancing from first to third on a single, or making the routine defensive play. In the early years of rigorous baseball analysis, analysts were quickly able to quantify hitting and pitching: the big things. In recent years, though, progress on capturing the little things, such as defense and baserunning, has been remarkable. Defensive statistics are starting to make their way into the mainstream, and baserunning stats will likely follow shortly.

As we're all painfully aware, the Orioles have made several high profile baserunning blunders in recent weeks. The blunders have been so egregious that today Peter Schmuck's column wonders whether this lack of attention to detail could eventually cost Dave Trembley his job. Are these just one-off events, magnified by the late-game situation? Or are the Orioles really a bad baserunning team, as Schmuck asserts (without any corresponding data)? Using the Baseball Prospectus statistics page, not only are the Orioles one of the worst baserunning teams, they are the worst baserunning team. The Orioles rank dead last in EqBRR, a measure which indicates the "number of runs contributed by a player's advancement on the bases, above what would be expected based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities with which the player is presented, park-adjusted and based on a multi-year run expectancy table." In other words, it measures how frequently a team takes extra bases. According to EqBRR, the Orioles have lost 17.4 runs this season from their baserunning, compared to an average team. Using the sabermetric rule of thumb that 10 runs = 1 win, that's nearly two wins missing from the Orioles total.

This offseason, I also made quite a big deal about the Orioles improving their defense. Unfortunately, that was wrong, at least based on a half year's worth of data. According to FanGraphs, the Orioles have actually faltered substantially on defense this season. Given that Aubrey Huff and Ty Wiggington have seen significant time at the infield corners, and that Cesar Izturis has been injured, this isn't entirely shocking, but it is still disappointing. Not only do the Orioles need to improve their pitching (mightily), but a renewed focus on the little things is also in order.