Friday, April 30, 2010

Jeremy Guthrie vs. The Yankees

As I'm sure we're all aware, Jeremy Guthrie has plunked a few Yankees this season.  He hit Mark Teixeira in spring training, and then drilled Jorge Posada on Wednesday.  Joe Girardi was not a happy man:
"I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose, but he hits a lot of people,” Girardi said. “That’s frustrating for us. We know he’s going to pitch inside and I don’t have a problem with that. What do you expect, me to be happy that our guys are getting plunked? I’m frustrated by it. I wish he had better command in there."
Actually, it seems to me like he's hitting his spots quite well, thank you very much.  Here is Guthrie's hit by pitch per game, broken down by team, courtesy of a Yankee fan coworker:

That tall line in the middle?  Yep, that's the Yankees.  Guthrie is hitting Yankees at twice the rate he hits any other single opponent.  I don't know exactly what they did to make him mad, but he apparently didn't like it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Bullpen

With good reason, the Orioles bullpen has been the target of much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the early going.  So imagine my surprise today when I checked the pitching splits page at and saw that Orioles relievers (4.70) have a lower ERA than do Orioles starters (4.75)!  How is this possible?  There are two big reasons:

1) Brad Bergesen.  He's made three starts, combining for 10.1 IP and a 12.19 ERA.  Strip out those three starts and the rest of the O's starters have a 3.97 ERA over 99.2 IP, which is not too shabby at all.
2) Inherited runners.  As of April 26, O's starters have passed off 16 baserunners to the bullpen.  Nine of them have scored.  The league average rate for inherited runners scored is 34% (across all situations; it is possible that O's starters have biased their inherited runners toward high run expectancy situations like second and third with no outs).  If O's relievers could acheive that league-average percentage, the starters would have been charged with 4 or 5 fewer runs, bringing their collective ERA to 4.34 or 4.42.  Control for Bergesen (who, ironically, has only had 1 of his 3 bequeathed runners score) and the top four O's starters have an ERA in the 3.60 range.

As for the more skill-dependent numbers, Orioles starters are performing better than their relief counterparts there, too:

K/BB ratio: 2.40 for O's starters, 1.85 for O's relievers
HR/9: 0.90 for O's starters, 1.17 for O's relievers

So, yes, the Orioles rotation has been much better than the bullpen, especially when you look at the numbers without Brad Bergesen.  With the offense finally scoring a few runs this weekend, the bullpen needs to start pulling its weight to get the O's a few more wins.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Roster Moves

Could the end of the Garrett Atkins era be near?  The Orioles have recalled 1B/OF Rhyne Hughes from Norfolk today, but the move has not yet been made official so we don't know who will be leaving the 25-man roster.  Speculation has initially focused on Alberto Castillo, Justin Turner or Julio Lugo, and each makes some sense.  Castillo is the last man up in a larger-than usual bullpen (and I assume he can be optioned), Turner can be optioned, and Lugo is... well, Julio Lugo.  But I'll suggest three other candidates:

1) Garrett Atkins - He's awful. In 60 plate appearances, he's walked twice and struck out 12 times.  Plus, Hughes plays his position.  He gets my vote.
2) Jason Berken - Berken has actually thrown well, but he, too, can be optioned. The O's may not need/want an extra long man right now.
3) Will Ohman - Again, the O's have an extra pitcher in the bullpen right now, and Ohman can't seem to throw strikes. Which, of course, he couldn't do last year, either.  If he's not the guy today, he'd be my choice to go when the O's make a move for a 5th starter next week.

The moral of the story?  It's probably not a good sign if your team is making a roster move and there are six legitimate candidates to be optioned or released.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Orioles

Joe Posnanski is one of the best sportswriters around today:
The first Orioles game I ever attended was in 1990 at Memorial Stadium. It’s one of my favorite ever baseball experiences. The Orioles were already lousy then, but there was still the whiff of the great Baltimore teams in the air — Cal Ripken was at shortstop every game, Frank Robinson was managing the team, and you could park in front of somebody’s house (for a small fee) and walk through a neighborhood to get to the ballpark. 
Baltimore represented just about everything I knew that was good about baseball — growing up in Cleveland, where the team constantly did everything wrong, the Orioles were like a team from another planet. From 1970-85, they had the best record in baseball. They pitched great, and they played great defense, and they hit the three-run homer, and they ran the bases beautifully. The biggest dream I could come up with as a young journalist — this is absolutely true — was to be a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. The Orioles, I know, were the big reason for that.
A few years later, I saw the Orioles play at Camden Yards. And it was beautiful … but different. I loved the park. I thought it was spectacular, and I found it amazing that such a new place could feel old, could feel like a part of Baltimore baseball tradition. The Orioles were pretty good then too; the ballpark was a money-printing machine and those were the years when they tried to match payrolls with the New York Yankees. They reached the championship series in 1996 and ‘97. But the Orioles could not sustain it.
This year, they drew fewer than 10,000 fans for just their fourth home game of the season — a 5-1 loss to Tampa. They were about 14,000 the next game and just a few more than 10,000 the following. The Orioles lost both of those too. You can’t blame the fans, not after 12 consecutive losing seasons, not with the team stuck in a division with the Yankees and the Red Sox and even the Tampa Bay Rays (who play, God bless ‘em, quite a lot like those classic Orioles teams used to play). No, you can’t blame anyone, but it’s sad to watch a great baseball town lose heart.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I'm betting this next statement won't come as a complete surprise, especially if you've been following @theorioleway on Twitter: I'm frustrated.  A 1-9 start to the season is never a good thing, but especially not so when a team's next 22 games are three more in Oakland, at Seattle, at Boston, home against the Yankees and BoSox, at the Yankees and at the Twins.  Those are all legitimate playoff contenders; a truly scary record on the order of 7-24 (or worse) is a very realistic possibility.

Losses happen.  Teams go through rough patches.  It's early.  I get it.  But it's not so much the losing that has me frustrated, but the way the club is losing.  Let's make a list:

1) The Orioles are an incredible 10-for-70 with runners in scoring position.  That's a .143 batting average.
2) Orioles hitters are seeing just 3.68 pitches per plate appearance, 28th in baseball (3.87 is average).
3) The relief pitching has been brutal, especially late in games: in innings 7-9, the staff as a whole is allowing an eye-popping .313/.375/.565 line.
4) The defense is once again shoddy: the O's .664 defensive efficiency rating ranks 26th in the Majors.
5) The club has wasted several excellent starting pitching outings.
6) Injuries to Brian Roberts, Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold have hurt both the offense and the defense.
7) Garret Atkins is batting .222/.243/.333; Miguel Tejada, .205/.279/.410.

So other than a good offensive approach, clutch hitting, pitching, and defense, things are going swimmingly.

Eventually, someone will get a hit with runners in scoring position (please?).  But those other items have the potential to be glaring trends for 2010.  Tejada, Izturis, Atkins and others are pretty hacktastic.  Especially with the injury/ineffectiveness concerns with Mike Gonzalez, this bullpen is not very (ok, any) good.  While the outfield defense might be acceptable or even good, any infield that has Tejada, Wigginton and Atkins "flashing" the leather isn't going to turn many hits into outs.  And injuries have played an important part in past late season collapses; with Roberts and Pie both hurting and Reimold still recovering from offseason surgery, do the O's have a training staff capable of getting them back on the field and healthy?

Now that we've got the pessimism out of the way, are there any positives we can take from the early going?  Unequivocally, yes.  As always, caveat emptor on the sample size.

1) Brian Matusz is going to be a stud.  I am 100% convinced.  I may not be convinced that the Orioles shouldn't have drafted Justin Smoak instead, but I am really, really excited for the Brian Matusz era.
2) Millwood and Guthrie have both been effective in the early going.
3) Matt Wieters and Felix Pie have been the team's best hitters.  Wieters I fully expected, but we have to be thrilled that Pie has maintained the progress he made late last season.
4) Nick Markakis has is walking again.  After walking in 14.2% of his plate appearances in 2008, he took a free pass just 7.9% of the time in 2009.  In 2010, he's back up to 22.7%.  He's currently suffering from a .259 BAbip (career: .327).  His line drive percentage (14.7%) may look low, but with only 27 balls in play (33 at-bats minus 7 strikeouts + 1 sac fly), he's only missing one liner from his career rate (4/27 = 15%, 5/27 = 18.5%).  If we normalize his BAbip, he'd be hitting .273 and no one would be worried.

See, things aren't so bad, right?

Last season, I set three goals for the 2009 Orioles:
What would make this a successful season? I think three things:

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.
Results were mixed on the first two, but the third was undoubtedly achieved.  Since it looks like we're in for a really long year in the loss column, what will make the 2010 Orioles a success?

1) Pitching, pitching and more pitching.  Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brandon Erbe, Zach Britton, Troy Patton, Jake Arrietta.  Stay healthy.  Keep improving.
2) The young core group of hitters keeps improving: are Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold the middle of a championship caliber line-up (and I think they can be)?  Is Felix Pie* really breaking out?  Can Josh Bell and/or Brandon Snyder take over a corner?
3) Continue to infuse the organization with young talent.  This might mean trading Kevin Millwood or Jeremy Guthrie, and it definitely means using the #3 pick in the upcoming draft to take an impact player.

*Since I have completely neglected my blogging duties lately, I'm just now getting a chance to comment on Pie's thrilling score from first on a single during the home opener.  I was sitting high along the first base line and had the perfect view of the play.  He was dead in the water (I believe my exact words as he was rounding third base were "He's out by a mile") with a perfect throw, but as we know, perfection is difficult.  Great hustle, and I love the gutsy call by Juan Samuel.  I can't find it right now, but I think I remember seeing research that shows 3B coaches as way too conservative, so I love the aggressiveness.

If those first two goals are met, I think the wins will be there by the end of the season, especially if the offense comes around.  Not all of those young pitchers need to get starts in Baltimore this year; breaking them into the big leagues as relievers is perfectly acceptable.  We also need to be prepared to deal veterans like Guthrie, Millwood, Tejada and Luke Scott at the cost of a few wins in August and September.  While I think the chance for a surprisingly good outcome still exists, a slow start really steepens the climb.  2011 and 2012 are still the goal.

Finally, one last word on Dave Trembley: things are getting ugly.  This from Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus:
Since I spent the last few days in the Baltimore/DC area, catching three games at Camden Yards, forgive me if I'm a bit more concerned with the O's than most. (Given the crowds over the three-game sweep, I might be one of very few.) It's flat out a mess in the O's bullpen right now, and it seems like Dave Trembley has lost them, if not the whole clubhouse. The tension is palpable there, and many think that Trembley might not be long for the job. His handling of the Gonzalez situation, throwing him under the bus so quickly and then questioning his DL move, is a real puzzler. Gonzalez's "mechanical work" is something that could have been taken care of in camp if Trembley's handling of the vets in camp hadn't been so lax. Now that they need to DL him, the shoulder strain is enough to pass muster and fill in the slot after Trembley burned through the pen willy-nilly. It's one thing to lose a closer, and another thing to completely lose touch with a pen's strengths and weaknesses. Gonzalez's stint likely won't be too long. He was scheduled to come back to the pen early next week after working on the side, so assume that it should be about the minimum. If there's any positive, it's that Uehara is throwing and looking like he'll be ready to get back to the pen by late April. His presence could work a lot of ways. He could be a smoothing option for the long role or slot into the closer role, since Trembley seems to have more confidence in him than Gonzalez.
I think my feelings about Dave Trembley have been made pretty clear: he can't handle a bullpen, he can't fill out a lineup card, and he hasn't (for whatever reason) been able to get this team to play solid, fundamentally sound baseball.  If he's starting to lose the clubhouse (and, as outsiders, we have no idea if this is the case), the best thing to do will be to get rid of him as quickly as possible.  I don't mean to make him a scapegoat for all that's wrong with the Orioles; he's been a good soldier and says (almost) all the right things.  But I don't think he is a good manager.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Opening Day

Though we might not have the mid-June-esque weather of the past few days, today really feels like baseball season. Or at least it will once I head out from the office for today's game!

As I'm sure you've figured out, I'm really interested in line-up construction, and it seems I'm not alone: the Pirates are using a "non-traditional" line-up this season. Forearm smash: The Book blog.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Opening Day

Rumor has it that there was an Orioles game yesterday. I prefer not to acknowledge that the season has begun until we get a home opener, but last night's events have forced my hand. Without further ado, let's overreact!

The Good
Adam Jones is good. Enjoy video evidence here.
So is Matt Wieters. I love the reaction of the fan who foolishly tries to barehand a missile.
Nick Markakis has a pretty solid arm.

The Bad
Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins combined to go 1-for-9 with a GIDP. Why do I get the feeling I will be repeating that sentence all too frequently?

The Ugly
Mike Gonzalez, welcome to the Orioles bullpen! I know it's one game, but I still can't help but think it's really, really foolish to spend big money on the bullpen.

The Jury's Still Out
It sure looks to me like Felix Pie deserves to play. And that Luke Scott deserves to play. And that Nolan Reimold deserves to play. How will Dave Trembley handle the time share? My vote is for more of this.

Today is a new day. Let's hope the club can get a win!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Playing Time Forecast

Enter your Orioles playing time forecasts here. Suffice to say, the fans have lived up to the charges of optimism bias: 1,587 innings pitched (162 x 9 = 1,458) and 1,800 batter games played are predicted for the Orioles.. The pitching forecast ranks 13th, above the 1,571 IP average, while the hitting forecast is 15th, just above the 1,787 game average. Only one team, the Cardinals, comes in below the 1,458 inning number. Pirates fans are the most optimistic, scoring 55 OptiPoints on my proprietary scale [31 minus Rank(PA) plus 31 minus Rank (IP)]. The Orioles are 8th, scoring 39 OptiPoints. There is no correlation (R^2 = 0.001) between hitting and pitching optimism (Graph 1), nor between projected wins and OptiPoints (R^2 = 0.039).