Sunday, December 21, 2008

Note to DeShawn Stevenson: Stop shooting

The Wizards are 4-20 right now, and they have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. It's pretty hard to believe that -- only four wins.

Yet the Wizards still play hard but find ways to lose winnable games. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler have both been their usual selves; they both can score plenty of points and rebound, but neither can be called a defensive stopper by any means. Andray Blatche is actually playing better since Eddie Jordan got fired, and young guys like JaVale McGee, Dominic McGuire, and Nick Young have all shown glimpses of how they can significantly contribute down the road. And even though no one knows how good he can be, Javaris Crittenton could eventually turn into a serviceable young point guard to spell Arenas when/if he ever comes back. Hopefully Crittenton has a chance to play more as he becomes comfortable with the offensive and defensive schemes.

Mainly, Tapscott has done one thing well as interim head coach: play Blatche more. Blatche, who has now played more than 30 minutes four games in a row and started the last three, is averaging more minutes per game (23.7 to 16.9) and more points per game (11.5 to 6.7) in the 13 games under Tapscott. He's far from consistent, but Blatche actually appears to be improving each time he steps on the floor. More importantly, the Wizards have played better with Blatche in the game; he's the only player who plays consistent minutes with a positive +/- number at +14.

Unfortunately, Tapscott refuses to stop playing DeShawn Stevenson so many minutes. Stevenson is shooting 32.0 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range, yet he plays 29.7 minutes per game and also starts every game. Consider this: Out of 44 shooting guards who have enough three-point attempts to qualify, Stevenson is ranked 42nd. If he was just shooting a few a game, it wouldn't be a big deal; instead, of those same 44 players, Stevenson ranks 10th in three-pointers taken per game (4.7). So not only is he shooting a horrible percentage, but he also refuses to stop chucking them up. (Here's an idea: Remove hand from face -- then shoot.)

I'm not trying to blame Stevenson for the Wizards' 4-20 start by any means. Right now, they're just a bad team. But Stevenson shouldn't be playing more minutes than Nick Young, who is averaging more points (9.8) and a better field goal percentage (43.1) in 8.3 fewer minutes per game. Young isn't a good defensive player, but Stevenson isn't exactly Ron Artest either. When was the last time you watched a game and said, "Man, Stevenson is really locking his man down!" Probably never.

Watching Stevenson brick a bunch of shots on a four-win team isn't exactly thrilling. At least giving Young, McGuire, and McGee more minutes would give Wizards fans something to get excited about.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Now that I have a job...

I'll be posting fewer entries. I'm still going to try to post a few during the weekend if possible, but they probably won't be very long. Again, it all depends on how much time I have or how bad the Redskins/Wizards/Orioles perform in the future.

Thanks to everyone/anyone who's been reading what I write. It's very much appreciated.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portis is not pleased

Remember when the Redskins were 6-2 halfway through the season? Remember when Clinton Portis was one of the frontrunners for league MVP?

Those days sure seem like a long time ago.

Following a Week 8 win at Detroit, the Redskins have dropped four of five games to fall to 7-6. Washington will need to win its last three games over the Bengals, Eagles, and 49ers to have a chance to make the playoffs, and even then a wild card spot may not be guaranteed.

To make matters worse, head coach Jim Zorn apparently has issues with Portis's lack of practice time during the last few weeks, which allegedly resulted in Portis's benching in the second half of the Redskins' loss against the Ravens on Sunday.

Portis, who was interviewed today on the John Thompson show, obviously wasn't happy with the situation. He also had no problem voicing his frustration.

"If they need to cut ties with me, cut ties with me," he said. "It is what it is, bro."

Later in the interview, Portis added, "Maybe I'm the problem. Maybe I should go on IR."

He even managed to drop an S-bomb during the live show, which caught Thompson off guard.

I don't understand what Zorn is trying to do with Portis. Is he trying to send some kind of message or something? The problem can't really be the lack of practice time because then other players like London Fletcher and Chris Samuels would also have been benched against the Ravens. And if missing practice last week was such a big deal, why did Portis even play in the first half?

It's bad enough that the Redskins have looked so terrible (mainly on offense) these last several weeks; now the team's best player is under attack even though he's one of the hardest working guys on the team.

I've never heard of a situation off the field where Portis is missing meetings, showing up late, or not being prepared for game day. Whatever is going on, it doesn't sound like it's going to end well.

(For more, check out the D.C. Sports Bog.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ravens present challenges for Redskins

It pains me to say this, but to be honest, at 8-4, the Baltimore Ravens are probably not talked about as much as they should be.

On defense, the Ravens are third in the NFL in points allowed (15.8) and second in total yardage allowed per game (253.3). But that's not really shocking because the Ravens usually have one of the best defenses in the league. What is surprising, though, is that the offense, with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, has played well. Overall, the offense ranks 19th in total yardage per game (323.5) but is tied for 11th (with Denver) in total points per game (24.3). Obviously, the Ravens' defense has helped the offense out by scoring five touchdowns off of interception returns and recording three safeties, but the offense still takes advantage of red zone opportunities and is relatively balanced -- 14 rushing touchdowns and 14 receiving touchdowns.

The Ravens also take care of business by soundly defeating weaker opponents. This season, the Ravens have beaten the Bengals (twice), Browns (twice), Dolphins, Raiders, Texans, and Eagles. Of those six teams, only the Dolphins (7-5) and the Eagles (6-5-1) have winning records. Against better competition, the Ravens have struggled a bit, with four losses coming to the Steelers (9-3), Titans (11-1), Colts (8-4), and the Giants (11-1). All four of those teams have been discussed as possible Super Bowl contenders, so even though two of the games were close, the losses were not particularly surprising.

The Redskins, on the other hand, have not been as efficient as the Ravens -- especially on offense. While the Ravens manage to score more points with fewer yards gained, the Redskins gain more yards -- 13th in the NFL (339.1) -- and score fewer points (17.3, 28th). The Redskins have nine rushing touchdowns and 11 receiving touchdowns, but the offense has not been balanced. Simply put, when the Redskins can't run the ball, they struggle mightily.

There's no question that the defense has been what keeps the Redskins in games. The defense is sixth in yardage allowed (283.0) and sixth in points allowed (18.5) while failing to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The leading pass rusher on the Redskins is Demetric Evans with 3.5 sacks; Andre Carter is right behind him with 3.0 sacks. Highly-paid and injury-plagued Jason Taylor has registered only one sack.

Is playing in the NFC East tougher than the AFC North? Yes. But the Redskins have not scored enough points to win against good defenses.

The Redskins' wins this season have come against the Saints, Cardinals, Cowboys, Eagles, Browns, Lions, and Seahawks. Of those teams, the Cardinals (7-5), Cowboys (8-4), and Eagles (6-5-1) are above .500. The Saints are currently 6-6. The one loss that really hurts right now is the one to the 2-10 St. Louis Rams. The offense failed the defense that day by scoring only 17 points against one of the worst defenses in the league, which may have been a sign of concern for how the next several weeks were going to play out.

But no matter how bad the offense has been, the Redskins are still 7-5 and have a chance to make the playoffs. What makes this such a huge game is not just the fact that the Redskins need a win, but that the Ravens need one as well to keep pace with other AFC rivals. The Redskins finish the season against the Ravens, Bengals, Eagles, and 49ers; the Ravens face the Redskins, Steelers, Cowboys, and Jaguars. If the Redskins were to lose this game, they would still be considered at least moderate favorites in the rest of their games. Unfortunately, finishing 10-6 may not guarantee the Redskins a playoff spot.

The Ravens would have to take on the Steelers at home and then travel to Dallas to face the rejuvenated Cowboys. Needless to say, a win in this game would be enormous for both teams.

To me, the key to the game is pretty simple: The Redskins' offensive line has to protect Jason Campbell and give him time to throw, and receivers, veterans and rookies alike, have to get open.

(Note: Campbell has been the focal point of way too much undeserved criticism lately. His numbers aren't spectacular -- 10 TDs, 4 INTs, 63.8 completion percentage, 87.8 QB rating -- but he's taken care of the ball and given the team a chance to win. A few more catches down the field on long throws and things may have turned out differently in various key situations.)

Anyway, back to this matchup. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are both banged up, and it's almost impossible to run the ball effectively against the Ravens' front seven (unless you're the Giants). If the Redskins don't move the ball through the air, convert on third downs, score some points, and take advantage of some opportunities, it won't matter how well the defense can hold the Ravens' offense because at some point they will break.

It would be easy to say that if the Redskins' defense can get some pressure on Flacco that some turnovers may follow, but that's the same old story every week. The Ravens have allowed 23 sacks and have 26, while the Redskins have given up 32 sacks while accumulating only 19. The defense isn't likely to add many more this week, but the offensive line has the talent to hold it together.

If Campbell gets time, the Redskins have a chance. If not, it could be a long game.

Wizards have a few bright spots

There aren't many positive things to look at when a team is 3-13 like the Wizards are, but the team has actually shown signs of improvement over the last few weeks -- even if it's only brought wins over the Warriors and Nets. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are both producing; Jamison (20.9 points, 9.3 rebounds) is putting up solid numbers and shooting 49.8 percent from the field, and Butler (21.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists) is scoring a point better per game through 16 games this season. But both Jamison and Butler are expected to produce, so that's really no surprise.

The biggest surprise, though, has been rookie JaVale McGee. Many figured McGee was either a poor pick by the Wizards or at least a project who would take a few years to develop. Instead, McGee supplanted Etan Thomas in the starting lineup after only a handful of games and hasn't looked back. By no means is McGee done improving, but he's given the Wizards a lot more than just about anyone expected.

Out of all rookies, McGee currently ranks 19th in minutes per game (19.4), 15th in points (8.1), 16th in field goal percentage (48.6), ninth in rebounding (5.2), and fourth in blocks (1.2) -- not bad for a guy who many thought would sit the bench for the entire season.

Besides McGee's hustle and energy, the best thing about him is that he obviously has so much room to improve. Most of his buckets right now come off of alley oops or dunks on fast breaks. Wizards' fans can only imagine what will happen when he starts to develop both his offensive and defensive games. McGee, who turns 21 in January, could be the center the Wizards need to compliment Haywood when he returns.

Four other young players on the Wizards have also shown their potential: Nick Young (23), Andray Blatche (22), Dominic McGuire (23), and Dee Brown (24).

Young, in his second season, is scoring 11.8 points per game, 4.3 more than last season, and he's shooting 46.7 percent from the field. Out of all NBA Sophomores, Young ranks eighth in points and 14th in efficiency. Even though he comes off of the bench, Young is third on the Wizards in scoring. If DeShawn Stevenson continues to shoot 32.9 percent from the field, Young's minutes should increase, especially in crunch time.

This season, which happens to be Blatche's fourth, may be the one where Blatche finally starts to realize his role in the league. His numbers so far this season aren't really better than last year's -- 8.0 points per game compared to 7.5 last season -- but he's also playing about three fewer minutes per game. McGee's emergence has taken some of those minutes away from Blatche, but so has Blatche's own failure to significantly improve his conditioning.

Just by watching Wizards' games, fans can see that Blatche has been hustling a bit more and taking better shots. He still settles for his jumper a little too often and usually commits one boneheaded turnover per game, but his +/- number of +15 is third-best on the team.

McGuire and Brown have also performed well. McGuire, who is arguably the team's best defensive player besides Haywood, averages only 10 minutes per game, but his presence is usually felt through his perimeter defense and rebounding ability. McGuire will never be a scorer in the NBA, but he can be someone used to give Butler the occasional breather and to help get key stops late in games or at the end of quarters, which the Wizards struggle doing. And Brown, who was forced into the starting point guard role because of the poor play of Juan Dixon and an injury to Antonio Daniels, has looked much more comfortable over the last few games. Averaging 2.4 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game, Brown isn't going to scare anyone offensively. But he has caused some turnovers with his defense and given the Wizards a few baskets on fast break situations.

As much as I admire Daniels (4.8 points, 3.6 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 22 minutes) and his leadership on the floor, if he's not healthy or able to keep point guards in front of him on defense, Brown may be the best option for backup point guard whenever Gilbert Arenas returns to the lineup this season.

One more thing: I'm tired of seeing the veterans get priority over the younger players in the fourth quarter. While Arenas was out last year, playing Daniels and Stevenson together in the backcourt in crunch time was fine because they both played defense and helped get a few stops. Now, neither is really playing much defense, and the team is suffering. A key example was the team's last game against Portland. Brown had a solid first half, but he barely played at all in the second half while Daniels was getting torched on key plays by Steve Blake, a pass-first point guard. For some reason, Brown, who finished the game with a +3 differential, played four fewer minutes than Daniels, who finished -14 from the game. The Wizards are -52 for the season in the first quarter and -30 in the fourth quarter, and a big reason for that is the poor play by Stevenson. It's not surprising that not only are the Wizards +23 in the second quarter when more substitutions are made, but also that the Wizards played possibly their most complete game of the season against New Jersey on Tuesday when Stevenson was actually making his open threes -- imagine that.

I guess I just can't understand how or why Stevenson gets 29 minutes per game.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Derrick Rose is mean

Just a nasty move. The announcers are kind of lame in the video but still -- I feel bad for Andre Miller after watching it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jimmy Patsos coaches to... make a statement?

If you don't know who Jimmy Patsos (above) is, he's the men's head basketball coach at Loyola (Md.) College. He's a former assistant coach under Gary Williams at Maryland, and he was around when the Terps' won a national title against Indiana in 2002.

Anyway, Loyola faced Davidson yesterday and Patsos employed a triangle-and-2 defense to try to stop Stephen Curry, Davidson's outstanding guard and a player who will more than likely be a high first-round pick in next year's NBA draft. (A triangle-and-2 defense is when two defenders shadow one or two players and the three other players on defense basically play a 1-2 zone.)

Patsos is a pretty good coach, but he figured his team had no chance to stop Curry, so he figured, hey, why not just take him out of the game and see what happens?

“If Oklahoma can’t stop him, how is Loyola College going to stop him?” Patsos asked.

Well, what happened was a 30-point loss. Then again, Curry didn't score any points, so, moral victory!

Unfortunately, some fans weren't pleased with Patsos's decision; the same goes for Davidson's head coach.

Some will remember the catcalls Patsos received from the fans when he stuck with the defense well after the game was decided. Davidson coach Bob McKillop was so annoyed he kept Curry in the game until the final minute.

“It seemed to me they were willing to risk the game at the expense of locking Steph up,” McKillop said. “When you put two people on somebody and you do it for 30 minutes and at the end of the game, you have to wonder what the reasons for that are.”

Those Maryland coaches are just off the wall, aren't they?

Blatche shows potential in Wizards win over Warriors

Playing at home against the Golden State Warriors, the Wizards, under interim head coach Ed Tapscott, looked more like a 10-1 team instead of a 1-10 team as they defeated the Warriors 124-100.

The Wizards filled the stat sheet as they dominated from the very beginning. As a team, the Wiz shot over 50 percent from the field, hit 40 percent of their three-pointers, outrebounded the Warriors 54-40 (including 23 offensive rebounds), and tallied 27 assists, 12 steals, and 9 blocks. The defense, which seemed much more active, limited the Warriors to 6 three-pointers made (30 percent) and forced 20 turnovers.

Individual numbers were just as impressive. Caron Butler was the game's high scorer with 35 points; he also finished with 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Jamison scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Rookie JaVale McGee started the game off strong with an alley oop from DeShawn Stevenson immediately following the opening tip-off, and he finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds.

But the most shocking and welcomed performance was by Andray Blatche. In 29 minutes on the floor, a season high, Blatche looked comfortable on both offense and defense. In his most complete game as a Wizard, he finished with 25 points (11-18), 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 blocks, and 2 steals. He only committed 1 turnover and played some strong minutes alongside McGee.

Jamison noticed a change in Blatche's production. "Maybe for him the biggest key is a new voice," he said, "a different voice in the locker room." Either way, Blatche looked like a completely different player.

Did the Wizards play with more energy because of some anger or frustration over the firing of Eddie Jordan? Probably. Did playing against the Warriors, a team that is allowing the second-most points per game this season (106.1), aid a rather stagnant offense? I'm sure it did. But the Wizards still played their best game of this still-young season, and Tapscott gave plenty of minutes to the young guys: McGee (20 minutes), Blatche (29 minutes), Young (22 minutes), and McGuire (17 minutes). McGuire's 17 minutes, a season high for him as well, came as a shock, but he didn't disappoint. He's not an offensive force by any means (2 points), but he did hustle on defense and managed to grab 5 rebounds and also finished with 2 steals and 2 blocks.

Tapscott also kept Thomas on the bench, which is where he should be unless McGee or Blatche gets in foul trouble or is injured. Thomas has played hard this season, but the Wizards just play better when he's not in the lineup. (For proof, check out his -29.9 Net48 total, the lowest on the team, on 82games here.) Tapscott also refused to play Songaila at center, another strong indication of how he will handle bench players' minutes.

The Wizards have two tough games coming up against the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks, so hopefully Tapscott sticks to his guns and continues to hand out minutes to the young players, which he should do even if the Wizards don't play as well as they did yesterday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More on Eddie Jordan

Earlier today, Ivan Carter, the Wizards' beat writer for the Washington Post, was interviewed on SportsCenter and basically said what most Wizards' fans think about the move to fire Eddie Jordan this morning. Jordan was certainly partially responsible for an underachieving start, but everyone on the team has to play better, period.

Who is Ed Tapscott?

When the Wizards decided to fire Eddie Jordan this morning, I was unaware of who Tapscott was or that he was even on the Wizards' coaching staff. Now he's the head coach of the team (at least for a while), so a little background information seems useful.

This is Tapscott's first time as an NBA head coach, but "he has plenty of front-office experience, including as president and chief operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats and, before that, as vice president of player personnel and basketball operations for the Knicks in the 1990s." Grunfeld was running the Knicks at that time, which appears to be why the other assistant coaches were looked over.

Tapscott also followed Gary Williams as head coach of American University in 1982. When he was coaching under Williams, Tapscott "was in charge of the defense, and advocated a full-court, 94-foot game, a pressure defense and a fast-breaking offense," which is interesting to note because the Wizards do none of those things, especially the whole playing defense part.

The above link to the DC Sports Bog also includes the following quote from Tapscott:

"While I was attending Sidwell Friends, I used to come to AU to watch practice. The doors were always locked so I had to look through the cracks between the doors. I was an admirer of Kermit Washington and Tom Young's coaching and I hope to continue that legacy. The doors might not be locked now, but there will be someone watching who comes in."

It remains unclear at this time whether or not Tapscott plans to lock Oleksiy Pecherov out of practice.

Wizards fire Jordan

According to Ivan Carter of the Washington Post, Eddie Jordan was fired this morning. Ed Tapscott, the Director of Player Development, will take over as head coach.

As the Wizards head coach, Jordan had a record of 197-224 and was 8-18 in the playoffs. He coached the Wizards into the playoffs in four of his five full seasons with the team, but the Wizards only advanced out of the first round once (in 2005), only to be swept by the Miami Heat in four games.

A 1-10 start to this season with a most recent loss to the short-handed Knicks didn't help Jordan's cause.

With the move, the Wizards relieve the Eastern Conference's longest-tenured head coach of his duties.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One of the worst plays I've ever seen

The video speaks for itself:

(Found on Basketbawful)

Piling on

The Wizards are now 1-8 after a disappointing loss to an Atlanta Hawks team with Josh Smith and Al Horford. The game was competitive until the very end when, shockingly, the Wizards failed to get some timely defensive stops and instead left shooters wide open.

But I'm not going to go on a pointless rant. The Wizards are playing hard every night; they just can't finish games down the stretch because they don't have the talent to overcome as many mistakes.

Anyway, I'm just going to post a couple of heartbreaking videos that many Wizards fans know all too well. A 1-8 record is really bad, but I guess things could always be worse. At least the Wizards haven't lost like this yet. And Michael Ruffin could still be on the team.

Did I mention that I'm not fond of the Raptors?

Hey, at least JaVale McGee finally started!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wizards need a change -- and fast

After consecutive losses to the Miami Heat, the Wizards' record stands at 1-7, the worst in the Eastern Conference. Fans and players are frustrated; here's what Jamison had to say after the most recent loss to the Heat:

"It's tough right now but we're going to stay positive and continue to work hard. We're going to do everything possible to turn this thing around. It's tough when you put yourself in position to win, but you just can't get it done. We're going to get on a plane, learn from our mistakes, and once we touch down in Atlanta, we need to get focused on a pretty good Atlanta team that is playing well at home."

Head coach Eddie Jordan is also starting to show some frustration:

"This team is built for Gilbert Arenas to lead us; this team is built for our all star forwards to do certain offensive things for us and for Brendan Haywood to have a career year manning the middle for us. We don't have those things. You're asking people to do things they are not capable of doing. They are not capable of carrying the load for us like a Dwyane Wade, like a Gilbert Arenas. You've got young guys who aren't going to make veteran plays night in, night out."

There's no questioning the fact that the Wizards would be much better off with Arenas and Haywood in the lineup. While Jordan is right about having several young players, he routinely sends his overmatched veterans out to start the first and third quarters, forcing his team to dig out of deficits at least twice a game. Want proof? Here are the +/- numbers to start the first and third quarters before Jordan makes his first substitution.

Game 1 (95-85 L to Nets): tied in 1st (4:16), +1 in 3rd (4:16)
Game 2 (117-109 L to Pistons): -14 in 1st (2:47), -7 in 3rd (5:05)
Game 3 (112-104 L to Bucks): -10 in 1st (3:46), +4 in 3rd (5:03)
Game 4 (114-108 L to Knicks): -6 in 1st (3:45), -5 in 3rd (6:56)
Game 5 (106-81 L to Magic): -6 in 1st (2:42), -6 in 3rd (4:31)
Game 6 (95-87 W vs. Jazz): -4 in 1st (3:36), -3 in 3rd (7:41)
Game 7 (97-77 L to Heat): -8 in 1st (1:57), +7 in 3rd (6:28)*
Game 8 (94-87 L to Heat): -4 in 1st (4:39), -8 in 3rd (9:41)

* Darius Songaila started the quarter in place of Etan Thomas.

Other info: The starting five for games 1, 2, 4, and 6 was Daniels, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, and Thomas. The starting five for game 3 was Daniels, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, and Blatche, and the starting five for games 5, 7, and 8 was Dixon, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, and Thomas.

The Wizards are a combined -69 (!) before the first substitution is made in the first and third quarters. What that means is the following: The young guys that do come in the game like Young, McGee, and Blatche have their work cut out for them and need to work hard to get their team back in the game. Sure, the starting lineups are also playing against the starting lineups of other teams, which may be tougher, but they're still getting significantly outplayed.

I also don't think it's a concidence that two of the three positive starts to quarters came with Etan Thomas not in the lineup. And that means that either McGee or Blatche should start in his place. Or, at least Blatche would be in a position to start or play more if he didn't have problems with his conditioning. According to Jordan, Blatche's conditioning "hasn't gotten to the point where it's where it should be, where he can sustain a high level of intensity and a high level of concentration." In that case, McGee should be the starting center until Haywood returns.

The case could also be made that Nick Young should be starting in place of DeShawn Stevenson. Not only has Young played better than Stevenson after eight games, but Stevenson also appears to be dealing with a hamstring problem. Stevenson is averaging 8.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists; last year, he averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. He played about 5 more minutes per game last year, but he also shot better from the 3-point line (38.3% in '07, 29.0% in '08). He's obviously struggling a bit, and even though he's been known to play through injuries before, if he's hurting the team in the starting lineup, then he needs to be replaced.

Young, on the other hand, is almost doubling his offensive production from last season. The injury to Gilbert Arenas and the departure of Roger Mason have given Young more minutes (over 28 per game), and he's scoring 14.8 points per game off of the bench. He's also shooting a solid 47.2% from the field despite shooting a miniscule 14.3% from 3-point range. It goes without saying that Young seems to be at his best when he's creating off the dribble or shooting fadeaways. According to 82games, the Wizards are also +7 when Young is on the floor and -91 when Stevenson is playing.

While Young has been solid, McGee has probably been the biggest bright spot on an otherwise ugly start to the season. The McGee selection in last year's draft was ripped by several analysts and colunnists (here, here, and here), but McGee has been one of the best players so far this season. In a little over 21 minutes per game, the rookie is averaging 9.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks. McGee seems to have a big future, and he should continue to get plenty of minutes. The Wizards are also +1 with McGee on the court (and -66 when Thomas plays).

Besides two blowout losses to the Magic and Heat, the Wizards have been competitive; a few plays here or there and the team could be .500 right now -- but they're not. Starting Young and McGee wouldn't necessarily guarantee the Wizards any victories, but having Jordan revamp the starting lineup and bench rotations would give the team more of a chance to win some more games.

Monday, November 17, 2008

LeBron 'absolutely' thinks Yankees will land Sabathia

I'm not really sure why this is an MLB headline on, but apparently LeBron James, a huge Yankees fan, is positive that CC Sabathia will eventually sign with the Yankees.

"Asked before Cleveland's game against Utah on Saturday night if he thought the Yankees would win the Sabathia sweepstakes, James smiled and said, 'We're gonna get him. Absolutely.'"

No word on whether Caron Butler thinks the Nationals have a shot at Mark Teixeira or not.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Howard has huge game vs. lowly Thunder

It feels weird to read and write "Oklahoma City Thunder," and I'm not sure that will ever change.

Anyway, Magic center Dwight Howard recorded his first career triple-double in a win over the Thunder today. Howard had 30 points, 19 rebounds, 10 blocks(!), and even managed 3 assists.

"It was the first time a player had at least 30 points and 10 blocks in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon had 31 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks against Dallas on April 13, 1996, according to the Elias Sports Bureau."

Pretty crazy.

While there's no questioning Howard's huge game, it is worth noting that it's not all that surprising that the Thunder's three-headed monster at center, Johan Petro, Robert Swift, and Mouhamed Sene, couldn't slow Howard down.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A's acquire Holliday from Colorado

The A's made a surprising move today by dealing for the Rockies' Matt Holliday. While the deal has not yet been finalized, the A's appear to have acquired the power hitting Holliday in exchange for pitchers Greg Smith and Brett Anderson and outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Carlos Gonzalez.

The trade is interesting on a number of levels:

1) Billy Beane actually traded for a superstar in the prime of his career instead of trading one away.

2) Holliday only has one year left on his deal, and the A's rarely give out big money.

3) The Rockies managed to pull off the deal; many figured they wouldn't get it done.

This Sporting News article also does a great job of explaining the motives for the move and the possibilites for what the A's may do with Holliday during the 2009 season.

Another 0-5 start for the Wizards

For the second consecutive year, the Wizards have started the season with five losses in a row. Last year, the losses came to the Pacers, Celtics, Magic, Nets, and Nuggets; this year, the losses have been to the Nets (2-3), Pistons (4-1), Bucks (3-4), Knicks (4-2), and Magic (4-2). While it’s way too early in the season to take a lot out of opposing teams’ records, the Nets, Bucks, and Knicks, a combined 83-163 last season, all appear to be at least somewhat improved this season. But that’s a completely different angle altogether, and it doesn’t matter who you play; it matters if you win -- and the Wizards haven’t done that yet.

Except for the most recent loss to the Magic, the games have been competitive, and the Wizards could have earned a victory if they made a few more plays in crunch time. Unfortunately, they didn’t and now face the possibility of a horrific 0-6 start when the Jazz (5-1) come to Washington on Wednesday.

Believe it or not, I had the exact same idea for a Wizards write-up as Bullets Forever, a great read by the way, with "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" theme, but they beat me to it. So I’ll just go with some good and bad news; obviously the bad outweighs the good.

Good News:

Nick Young: Young (16.6) is third on the Wizards in scoring behind Butler (20.2) and Jamison (17.6) despite coming off of the bench and playing fewer minutes. Young has been one of the team’s best offensive weapons and is basically taking over Arenas’s role as one of the "Big 3" scorers. Though he doesn’t add much in terms of rebounds, assists, or defense, Young has been limiting his turnovers to 1.4 per game and seems to be better conditioned. Remember, Young is just 23 years old and this is only his second season. He appears to be developing into a very formidable scorer who can give the team a spark at any moment.

JaVale McGee: Yes, it’s extremely early, but McGee is fifth on the Wizards in scoring with 7.5 points per game. Fair or not, McGee is basically doing what every Wizards fan wants Andray Blatche to do: hustling up and down the court, blocking shots, playing hard, throwing down dunks, and showing progress with each court appearance (no pun intended). In a little over 17 minutes per game, McGee is also grabbing 5.8 rebounds and blocking 1 shot. If he keeps it up, he could easily find himself starting at center in the next few games/weeks.

Juan Dixon: To illustrate just how bad the Wizards’ point guard situation is, Dixon, a jump-shooter who isn’t really known for his ball-handling ability, started at the one against the Magic. Dixon, though, has played surprisingly well and has teamed with Young to form the best backcourt combination for the Wizards in the first several games. Dixon is averaging 5.8 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.2 rebounds and has a 10.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. With Antonio Daniels battling a knee injury, Dixon may earn the bulk of the point guard minutes until Daniels is healthy or Arenas returns to action.

Bad News:

Andray Blatche: I mentioned his name before, and his case is very frustrating. Blatche seems to possess all of the physical tools to excel on the court, but he just hasn’t done so. For every solid stretch of play that Blatche has, he seems to have just as many boneheaded plays and careless turnovers. He seems to forget that he’s not a 3-point shooter and often settles for jumpers instead of drawing contact and trying to get to the free-throw line. Haywood’s absence in the lineup should provide Blatche with an outstanding opportunity to play more minutes and prove to Eddie Jordan that he’s improving, but he’s actually averaging 2 minutes fewer per game so far because of his inconsistent play. Make no mistake about it: Blatche still has plenty of games to showcase his talent. It would just be nice for the Wizards if he would do so sooner rather than later. Also, giving up easy baskets to Kwame Brown, of all players, doesn’t exactly help his case.

Defense: As in, the Wizards barely play any defense. The Wizards are currently ranked last (30th) in the NBA in points allowed (108.8) and are tied for 19th in defending 3-pointers (36%). The Wizards also allow 18 assists per game to opposing offenses, the most in the league. Last year, the Wizards gave up 99.2 points per game (12th in the NBA): 9.6 fewer than this season. Haywood’s absence is certainly a big reason for a few more points being given up per game, but that is no excuse for poor defensive rotations and the knack for allowing so many wide open 3-point shooters.

Free throws: The Wizards are 26th in the NBA in free-throw shooting (70.6%). Last year, the Wizards made 78.2% of their free throws, good enough for 5th in the league. Because the Wizards play so many close games, they obvoiusly need to make their free throws; if they had made more, they may have won a game or two by now. Daniels, a career 79.2% from the free-throw line, is shooting 66.7%. Butler, who shot over 90% from the line last year and is a career 85% free-throw shooter, is hitting just 76.5% of his shots from the charity stripe. These free throws percentages need to improve if the Wizards are going to pull out some close games.

Fans’ increased grumblings of Eddie Jordan: I’m a supporter of Jordan, but I fear that if the Wizards continue to play so poorly, he will lose his job. While I don’t think that would be the worst decision in the world, I also don’t think he’s responsible for the awful start.

I do, however, blame Jordan for the loss to the Bucks; he failed to play his best lineup that night (Dixon, Young, Butler, Jamison, Blatche/McGee) down the stretch and instead went with Daniels, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, and Songaila. Leading 89-76 with 7:16 left in the game, Jordan substituted Daniels and Stevenson into the game for Young and Dixon. While the Wizards had several opportunities to make shots and get stops, they didn’t and the game was tied at the 1:15 mark. The Wizards then went on to lose in overtime. After that game, Jordan played Dixon 28 minutes against the Knicks and 23 minutes against the Magic, and Young received 30 minutes in both games, so Jordan is showing some flexibility as he searches for some kind of answer to get the Wizards a win. Then again, with Arenas and Haywood out for a while, he doesn’t have many options to turn to. Unless, of course, you think Oleksiy Pecherov is the answer.

Next 5 games:

11/12 Utah
11/14 at Miami
11/18 Miami
11/19 at Atlanta
11/21 Houston

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lawrence Taylor's still got it

I just saw this video a few minutes ago via Awful Announcing:

Good thing Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens don't have to share a locker room with LT.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

First trade of the offseason is a questionable one

On October 30, the first MLB trade of the offseason was made when the Marlins sent first baseman Mike Jacobs to the Royals for relief pitcher Leo Nunez. The motives for making this move were different for both teams: the Marlins seemingly wanted to dump Jacobs because he's now arbitration eligible and acquire a cheap, serviceable reliever at the same time, while the Royals felt Nunez was expendable and wanted to add a first baseman with some pop.

Nunez should be a reliable addition to a Marlins bullpen that posted a solid 4.04 ERA last season. He's only 25 years old, and he put up pretty good numbers in 2008: 4-1, 2.98 ERA, .249 BAA, .660 OPS against. Plus, Nunez made $405,000 in 2008 and will make about the same in 2009, which is important for a team like the Marlins that doesn't spend much money.

Jacobs, 28, on the other hand, is due for a significant raise from his $395,000 2008 salary; he'll probably be rewarded a few million in arbitration. Last season, he batted .247 with 32 home runs, and a .813 OPS -- decent numbers.

Unfortunately, Jacobs's numbers don't belong with the top power hitting first basemen in the league. Out of all eligible first basemen, Jacobs was tied for eighth in home runs. The following players (most HR first) were ahead of him: Ryan Howard, Carlos Delago, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, and Jason Giambi -- not a bad group of players to be listed with. But Jacobs didn't (and doesn't) get on base nearly as much as the rest of these power hitters; in 2008, Jacobs had an awful .299 OBP (his career OBP is only .318). The closest player to that mark was Howard at .339 -- 40 points higher. Jacobs, like the rest of the group (except for Pujols and Teixeira), struck out over 100 times, but he also had the fewest walks (36). Cabrera was closest to Jacobs with 56 walks -- 20 more. Because of his low OBP, Jacobs ranked last among those players in OPS, which was more than 58 points below anyone else's.

Is it going out on a limb to say that Jacobs is not one of the league's top first basemen? Of course not. But then why are the Royals trading away a cheap, young, solid reliever for an average first baseman who hits home runs but doesn't get on base very much?

Maybe the Royals know something that no one else does.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Redskins defense shines in first half

The Redskins offense ranks seventh in the NFL in yards per game at 364.3 but is scoring just 20.6 points per game, 23rd in the league. In 2007, the Redskins scored a few more points, 20.9 per game (t-18th), but gained around 31 fewer yards per game (333.4, 15th). Keep in mind, this is the team's first year in Jim Zorn's new offense, and the team is scoring just about the same amount of points and is gaining more yards. With Jason Campbell continuing to take care of the ball, Clinton Portis putting up MVP numbers, and Santana Moss having a solid season, the Redskins offense should keep improving each week.

However, though the offense appears to be in good shape, the defense has actually been the key to an impressive 6-2 start. The defense is 8th in scoring (18.1), 6th in total yards (278.1), 5th in rushing yards allowed per game (82.8), and 11th in passing yards allowed per game (195.4) -- all solid numbers, but let's examine those numbers further.

Here are the points and yards allowed by the defense in the first eight games of the season, followed by that team's current NFL ranks in both categories:

Game 1 vs. Giants: 16 points, 354 yards -- 6th in scoring (27.3), 3rd in yards (378.9)
Game 2 vs. Saints: 24 points, 250 yards -- 7th in scoring (27.0), 1st in yards (403.1)
Game 3 vs. Cardinals: 17 points, 313 yards -- 1st in scoring (28.6), 5th in yards (369.3)
Game 4 vs. Cowboys: 24 points, 344 yards -- 10th in scoring (25.3), 6th in yards (365.5)
Game 5 vs. Eagles: 17 points, 254 yards -- t-4th in scoring (27.7), 8th in yards (361.1)
Game 6 vs. Rams: 19 points, 200 yards -- 29th in scoring (16.0), 28th in yards (267.1)
Game 7 vs. Browns: 11 points, 236 yards -- 27th in scoring (16.4), 30th in yards (265.7)
Game 8 vs. Lions: 17 points, 274 yards -- 28th in scoring (16.3), 29th in yards (266.3)

To summarize, the defense held five of the NFL's top 10 scoring offenses below their season averages in points and yards per game despite ranking 28th in sacks (10) and forcing only 8 turnovers (only Detroit and Seattle have fewer in the NFC). Also, the defense performed even better than the numbers indicate; the Saints' Reggie Bush returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 2, the Eagles' DeSean Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 5, and the Rams defense recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in Week 6. Those three plays account for 21 points that the defense did not allow.

Intriguingly, the defense has faced a Cardinals offense with a healthy Anquan Boldin, a Cowboys offense with a healthy Tony Romo, and an Eagles offense with a partially healthy Brian Westbrook; all three players have missed several games for their respective teams.

If Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor are able to get healthy after the team's bye week (Week 10), it's scary to think exactly how strong the defense could finish the season.

Most of the credit, so far, goes to: Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache, DE Andre Carter, DT Cornelius Griffin, MLB London Fletcher, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Fred Smoot, S Chris Horton (fourth-to-last pick in the 2008 Draft), S Laron Landry, and LB Rocky McIntosh. Horton may be the early favorite for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and a much-improved Rogers could be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after recovering from a torn ACL and MCL.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Redskins links

  • Jason La Confora of the Washington Post thinks that Jason Campbell is the team's first-half offensive MVP. He's not; it's Clinton Portis. Mr. Irrelevant has it right. So does Seth Wickersham of ESPN.

  • Adam Schein of Fox Sports doesn't think that Portis is "having a classic MVP year," whatever that means. It would be nice to know, but he doesn't explain himself.

  • Dan Steinberg explains the Zorn vs. Portis incident in the first half of the Lions game.

  • Zorn didn't appreciate it when a Washington Times reporter rolled his eyes at the coach.

  • Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson is impressed by the Redskins offense so far this season: "Santana Moss (658 receiving yards, five touchdowns) is probably one of the most underrated wide receivers of this season. Clinton Portis (126 rushing yards in the win over the Detroit Lions) is opening up his lead for the rushing crown. And quarterback Jason Campbell still hasn’t thrown an interception in 230 attempts this season. What’s not to like?" Probably the fact that the Redskins are just 23rd in scoring (20.6) despite ranking 7th in the NFL in total yards per game (364.3). There is some room for improvement, but at 6-2, it's hard to complain.

  • Peter King of Sports Illustrated ranks the Redskins seventh in his latest article. King believes the Redskins don't deserve any "style points (SP) for a close-call win in Detroit. Luckily, in the NFL, there's a column for W's, a column for L's and no SP column." Thanks for pointing that out. It's worth noting that King picked the Lions to upset the Redskins last week.

  • The Washington Post's Mike Wise thinks the Redskins are "Passing the Chemistry Test."
  • Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Loewen leaves for Toronto

    Instead of re-signing with the Orioles and trying to make it back to the majors as a corner outfielder or first baseman, Adam Loewen has signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Let's be very clear here: Loewen doesn't owe the Orioles anything. He can do whatever he wants, and he did so by choosing to leave Baltimore to try to revive his career elsewhere. It's unfortunate that his career hasn't gone as planned, and he's apparently trying to make the best of it.

    An obviously agitated and surprised Andy MacPhail had this to say:

    "I don't think it's about money. The way it was explained to me, it's all about playing for his national team in Canada and it's not about terms or anything. The way it was explained to me is he grew up there and it's his lifelong dream to play for Toronto. I have no interest in having Baltimore become part of Canada. We're proud members of the United States, and there isn't much we can do about it."

    Many Orioles fans (like myself) figured Loewen would stay loyal to the team that gave him a major league contract after drafting him fourth overall in 2002. They were wrong.

    Loewen's career numbers: 8-8 record in 29 starts, 5.38 ERA, 134 Ks.

    Good luck. Maybe.

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Friday links

    -- This news is about a month old, but do you know who the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voted for as the MVP of the Tampa Bay Rays this season? Nope, not Evan Longoria (.272/.343/.531, 27 HR), B.J. Upton (.273/.383/.401, 9 HR), or Carlos Pena (.247/.377/.494, 31 HR), or anyone on the pitching staff. Instead, they gave the MVP to shortstop Jason Bartlett. Fire Joe Morgan already covered this topic, but I just wanted to make sure I had this right: Bartlett (.286/.329/.361, 1 HR) apparently deserves the award more than the three Rays listed above because he's a great defensive shortstop? Longoria and Upton are both outstanding defensive players at third base and center field, respectively, and Pena is solid at first base as well. Bartlett has certainly made the Rays better this season, but he's not the most valuable player on the team by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, it probably won't matter if the Rays end up winning the World Series.

    -- This story is also a few weeks old, but it's worth mentioning as well. Here's a video of a hit by Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson on Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards in Week 5. Sure, it's a hard hit, but it looks pretty clean, right? This is the NFL after all. Apparently not, since Wilson was fined $25,000 for "unnecessarily [driving] Edwards to the ground." This article on Pro Football Talk states that Wilson "violat[ed] Rule 12, Section 2, Article 12 (2) of the NFL Official Playing Rules. That rule states: 'a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw [the quarterback] down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender's weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up or cradle the passer with the defensive player's arms.'" I didn't know that "cradle the passer" and "football" were ever supposed to be seen in the same sentence. Look, it's unfortunate that Edwards suffered a concussion because of the hit, but football is a violent sport played by very strong and very fast individuals. Players are going to get hurt, even on rather ordinary plays. How exactly is Wilson, running at full speed, supposed to be worried about making the play while also remembering he must cradle the quarterback on the way down so he doesn't get fined? The league can keep handing out unnecessary fines all it wants, but plays like this happen every week and the commissioner can't stop them.

    Some quick hitters:

    -- An interesting read on the "Curse of 370" carries by running backs.

    -- There are passionate Redskins fans, and then there are insane ones.

    -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is "tired of talking" about Pacman.

    -- Nick Young understands that he'll need to step up this year.

    -- Gilbert Arenas doesn't mind answering some questions for Young.

    -- This NFL season makes no sense to Jason Whitlock.

    -- Roch Kubatko is willing to "quit [his] job at MASN and work as Pacman Jones' publicist" if Adam Loewen leaves the Orioles.

    -- Antawn Jamison is skeptical of whether or not Andray Blatche will step up this season.

    -- Jim Zorn filled in as play-caller for one game with the Lions in 1999.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Emmitt being Emmitt

    That's right. According to Emmitt Smith, Cassel has not earned his "Rites of Patches" yet. I wonder if Lou Holtz can decipher that message.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Ten offseason questions for the Orioles: Part Two

    Five more questions:

    #6: Is it worth it for the Orioles to go after Mark Teixeira?

    This is going to be a long answer, but first off, let's start out with some figures. In 2008, Teixeira made $12.5 million. In 2009 and beyond, he's going to want much more -- at least around $20 million per season.

    In 2007, the Orioles spent $93 million, 10th in MLB, and finished 69-93. But in 2008, the Orioles spent $67 million, 22nd in MLB, and finished with basically the same record of 68-93 -- one game wasn't made up because of rain.

    Not that it's rocket science, but obviously spending more money doesn't equate to more wins. And with MacPhail in charge, the Orioles didn't make any wild free agent signings before the 2008 season. Instead, the team made a couple of solid trades (Bedard and Tejada) and now seem to be in position to improve each season.

    As of right now, three players who made $1 million or more will be off of the team next season: Jay Payton ($5M), Steve Trachsel ($1.5M), and Chad Bradford ($3.6M). Daniel Cabrera ($2.8M) and Kevin Millar ($3.8M) could be re-signed, but their returns are both up in the air. If all five players are off the roster next season, around $17 million would be freed up by their collective departures.

    Now, Markakis and Roberts could both receive significant raises in the offseason, and some other players' salaries increase a little each season, but $17 million is still decent amount of money coming off of a relatively small payroll. And that's not even mentioning the fact that Baez ($6.6M), Hernandez ($7.5M), Walker ($4.5M), Mora ($7.8M, 2010 option), and Huff ($8M) are all scheduled to become free agents after the 2009 season -- that's about $40 million more.

    Anyway, the point is: not much of the Orioles' payroll is tied up long-term, and the team can definitely afford to pay money to a superstar like Teixeira.

    Sure, the Orioles need starting pitching help, but the 2006 offseason proved that giving several aging, stop-gap pitchers millions of dollars doesn't help the problem at all. Besides, much of the talent in the Orioles farm system is young arms that need some more time to develop.

    As for dealing with the question at hand, if the Orioles want to bring back Millar as a part-time player, I have no problem with that. He's a great clubhouse guy and is a team player; however, he may not be an everyday player at this point in his career. If the Orioles are comfortable with giving Huff the bulk of the starts at first base, that's fine too. He had a great season last year and could be solid again. Unfortunately, he doesn't appear to have much trade value because 1) he only has one year left on his deal, and 2) many teams may not believe his 2008 season was for real.

    But signing the 28-year-old Teixeira would be huge on multiple levels:

    • He's a talented power hitter in the prime of his career who apparently wants to come back home to play.

    • His presence alone would spark more fan interest.

    • Opposing teams wouldn't be able to pitch around Markakis with Teixeira batting behind him in the lineup.

    • The lineup could potentially include a combination of Roberts (.771 career OPS), Markakis (.851), Teixeira (.919), Huff (.827), Mora (.799), and Scott (.851). And that's not even including Adam Jones or the eventual arrival of Matt Wieters.
    I've gone back and forth over the idea of paying over $20 million per season to Teixeira, and, in the end, the move just makes sense to me. I'm usually not one to want my team to give one talented player a ton of money over several years, but it makes sense if the situation is right. It would be nice if the Orioles had some nice power hitting infield prospects in the minors (besides Wieters), but they don't. Billy Rowell could be good one day, as a few other hitters in the farm system could be, but the Orioles will still have to work on stockpiling more hitting prospects in the next few years. Doing anything other than at least trying to sign Teixeira to fill a huge hole at first, especially if Huff leaves after next season, would just be hoping that another younger player pans out. And as Billy Beane said, "Hope is not a strategy."

    The Orioles can afford to sign Teixeira -- and they should sign him.

    Prediction: The Orioles offer Teixeira a big contract, but he still chooses either the Angels or the Yankees over Baltimore. (Which would then make Teixeira one of my least favorite players in the league.)

    #7: Should the Orioles bring back Daniel Cabrera?

    Cabrera is eligible for arbitration, which could push his salary up to around $5 million in 2009 if the Orioles choose to bring him back. Cabrera says that he was pitching hurt towards the end of the season, and whether that is true or not, MacPhail summed up the situation with Cabrera nicely in early September:

    "To this point, he's performed well by and large in the first half, and not well in the second half. The first 10 starts, he had eight quality starts. Since that time, he has five quality starts in 18 outings. We're trying to figure out which is the real Daniel Cabrera."

    The weird thing is, even after five full seasons with the Orioles, Cabrera occasionally shows flashes of brilliance, but he always comes back down to earth after a few solid starts and appears to forget everything he did during his hot streak.

    For the most part, though, Cabrera is consistent because he's always dealing with runners on base. His career WHIP is 1.55, and he's always been among the ML leaders in walks: 9th in 2004, 7th in 2005, 2nd in 2006, 1st in 2007, 7th in 2008.

    The question for the Orioles is whether or not a pitcher like Cabrera, who can eat some innings and sometimes give his team a chance to win, is really worth $5 million. Then again, this is a league where Adam Eaton can get a 3-year, $24.5 million deal.

    It's very unlikely that Cabrera will ever turn the corner, but the only thing worse than him not ever living up to his potential is the possibility of him doing so in another team's uniform.

    Prediction: Cabrera is back in an Orioles uniform in 2009.

    #8: Does it make sense to sign a veteran starter or two?

    Even though this is one of the pressing questions this offseason, I basically already tackled this issue in an earlier post.

    "In no particular order, the top names on the list of many teams will probably be: A.J. Burnett (if he opts out), Ryan Dempster, Jon Garland, Kyle Lohse, Mike Mussina, Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Ben Sheets. Some other intriguing but aging pitchers are: Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers, and John Smoltz."

    The Orioles may be looking at Burnett, Mussina, Lohse, Lowe, and Rogers.

    Anyway, in short, it would make sense to bring in at least one veteran starter to give the starting rotation some stability. That doesn't mean go crazy like in 2006 (as I mentioned before) when the Orioles tried to improve the bullpen by throwing lots of money at Baez, Bradford, Walker, and Williamson, but if the Orioles are smart, signing a decent starting pitcher or two for one or two years would give some of the younger pitchers in the farm system more time to develop; then, MacPhail won't have to worry about rushing them.

    Some veterans would also be a good influence on a relatively young rotation where Guthrie is the oldest at age 29.

    Prediction: The Orioles sign at least one veteran starter.

    #9: What should be done about Baez and Walker? Keep one, both, or neither?

    Battling an elbow injury, Walker, 37, had his worst professional season in 2008 with a 6.87 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, and 12 HR allowed in 38 innings pitched. Fortunately, Walker won't need to have surgery this offseason, so he should be relatively healthy to begin the 2009 season.

    Baez, on the other hand, missed the entire 2008 season after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Possibly because of the injury, Baez, 31, also had his worst professional season in an Orioles uniform. In 2007, Baez had a 6.44 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and just as many walks (29) as strikeouts.

    The good news for Orioles fans is that both Walker and Baez will be free agents after the 2009 season. Many fans just wish the Orioles would cut ties with both relievers right now, but since the team must pay them anyway, it would make sense to give them both a chance to show if they can reverse their pitching misfortunes in Baltimore. Walker is six years older and could be nearing the end of his career, but Baez should remain in the league for several more years if he can recover from the surgery.

    Giving both pitchers a chance to stay in the bullpen in 2009 isn't a huge risk; if they both pitch poorly, they'll be released anyway.

    Prediction: Both start the season on the roster and are gone by September.

    #10: Which pitchers start out the season on the roster?

    Even if the Orioles sign a veteran starter or two, the team will have to make some decisions on which young pitchers to put in the rotation and in the bullpen.

    If the Orioles bring Cabrera back and all injured players are ready to compete in spring training, several pitching battles could form.

    Jeremy Guthrie is the staff ace, but no other starting pitchers are, at the moment, guaranteed a spot in the rotation next season. The following starting pitchers will likely battle for some of those spots:

    Garrett Olson
    Radhames Liz
    Matt Albers
    Brian Burres
    Chris Waters
    Troy Patton
    Hayden Penn

    Albers was solid as a reliever last season, so, again barring injury, he'll be on the team even if it's not as a starter. The same can't be said for the rest of the names. Olson (6.65 ERA), Liz (6.72 ERA), and Burres (6.04 ERA) were all terrible last season. However, Waters, who I hadn't even heard of until the Orioles brought him up, actually pitched pretty well for a 28-year-old rookie. He had a 5.01 ERA in 11 starts, but he didn't strike out many batters and pitched out of many jams. Nonetheless, he did what the other three couldn't do -- he gave the Orioles a chance to win. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get another chance in the rotation over someone like Olson or Burres.

    Patton, 23, will try to come back from a left labrum tear and, just like Penn, he has an outside chance at earning a rotation spot. Patton could also end up in the bullpen.

    Guaranteed spots in the bullpen will likely go to Lance Cormier, Dennis Sarfate, George Sherrill, and Jim Johnson. Chris Ray will also be in the bullpen if he can stay healthy. The rest of these pitchers will probably compete for the last few spots in the bullpen:

    Brian Bass
    Jim Miller
    Jim Hoey
    Danys Baez
    Jamie Walker
    Rocky Cherry
    Kam Mickolio
    Alberto Castillo
    Bob McCrory
    Randor Bierd
    Alfredo Simon

    Hoey (25) and Baez are both coming off of major surgeries, and Walker pitched through some pain for most of the 2008 season. The 26-year-old Miller had a 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings, and Castillo, 33, had a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings. Castillo, a crafty lefty, also got right-handed batters (.262) out about as often as left-handed batters (.256). If Castillo makes the roster, Walker will likely be gone.

    Cherry, Bass, Mickolio, McCrory, and Simon probably won't make the bullpen out of spring training, but each has a chance with a strong spring.

    Prediction: If the Orioles carry 13 pitchers and by just counting the names on the roster now (Daniel Cabrera included), I think Guthrie, Cabrera, Waters, Albers, and Liz will be the starters with the bullpen consisting of Sherrill, Johnson, Ray, Cormier, Sarfate, Patton, Walker, and Baez.

    Luckily, the Orioles should have plenty of bullpen arms to choose from if injuries were to occur or if Walker and Baez prove to again be ineffective.

    That's it on writing about the Orioles for a few months, unless, of course, they sign Mark Teixeira for $800 million. Then I might write something. Maybe.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Ten offseason questions for the Orioles: Part One

    The way I see it, the Orioles have at least 10 important decisions to make this offseason. I'll cover five of them in this post and five in the next. So let's get to it.

    In no particular order:

    #1: Will the Orioles give Nick Markakis a new contract?

    Markakis is the best player on the Orioles, and he will turn just 25 in November. But the team couldn't negotiate a contract extension before the start of the season, so he made only $455,000 in 2008. That's not a bad deal for the Orioles considering Markakis has averaged a .299 batting average, .375 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 172 hits, and 67 walks in his first three years in the majors. However, the Orioles again couldn't complete a contract extension with Markakis in late July, and the team must now work on a deal in the offseason -- especially since he is eligible for arbitration and will make lots of money either way.

    The good news for the Orioles is that the team controls Markakis's rights until 2011, but if they cannot complete a deal in the near future, they could risk upsetting him or making him want to play elsewhere -- and that would not be good.

    Prediction: Markakis finally gets a long-term deal.

    #2: What should the Orioles do with Nolan Reimold?

    Playing for the Bowie Baysox, the 25-year-old Reimold had his best season as an Orioles farmhand. Not only did Reimold show that he can stay healthy (139 games played), but he also demonstrated his tremendous hitting ability: .284 BA, .868 OPS, 25 HR. With Markakis in right field and Adam Jones (23 years old) in center, Reimold's presence in left field would give the Orioles a young and extremely talented outfield for many years to come.

    Two things seemingly stand in the way of that happening: 1) Reimold might not be ready, and 2) Luke Scott had a pretty good 2008 season. If the Orioles did decide to go with Reimold in left field, Scott could become the primary designated hitter and still play in left every once in a while. Lou Montanez also had a strong showing in the latter part of the season when he was called up, and he could play a part in the final outcome.

    Prediction: Reimold stays in the minors and, barring injury, is brought up at some point during the season.

    #3: Sign a free agent shortstop or re-sign Juan Castro?

    In 61 games with the Orioles in 2008, Castro solved the defensive dilemma at shortstop for the Orioles. He's a slick fielder and has quick hands, but none of those things seemed to help him at the plate, where he batted .193 with 2 home runs and a minuscule .513 OPS. Brandon Fahey laughs at those numbers. (Well, sort of -- Fahey has a career .586 OPS.) Alex Cintron hit the best of all the shortstop experiments this season -- Luis Hernandez, Freddie Bynum, Fahey, Castro -- with a .286 batting average and a .682 OPS, but he made 7 errors at shortstop in only 28 starts and just doesn't have the range to be anything more than a utility infielder. Cintron is also a free agent, so he may not be back in 2009.

    Two intriguing names are on the 2009 free agent shortstop list: Orlando Cabrera and Rafael Furcal. Some other names on the list are Alex Cora, David Eckstein, Adam Everett, Cesar Izturis, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, and Omar Vizquel. But all of these shortstops are about 30 years old or older, which probably isn't the best plan for the Orioles if they don't want to give someone more than a one or two-year deal. The Orioles have also shown at least some interest in the past in guys like Eckstein and Everett, but they might as well keep Castro rather than spend some millions on average shortstops.

    If the Orioles decide to go after Cabrera or Furcal, Cabrera appears to be the safer option of the two. Furcal, who turns 31 in a few weeks, is three years younger than Cabrera, who turns 34 in November; however, Furcal is more injury-prone. Cabrera has played in 140 games or more in every season since 2001. Until this season, Furcal had played in 138 games or more since 2002, but he also had lower back surgery earlier in the season which caused him to miss five months. Furcal will probably command more money as well; Furcal made $15.7 million in 2008, while Cabrera made $10 million.

    Either signing a shortstop for cheap or just letting Castro get most of the starts isn't a bad plan to go with if the Orioles don't want to pay a lot of money for Cabrera or Furcal, and I won't blame them if that's what they choose. At some point, though, the Orioles will need to trade for a solid shortstop prospect or at least draft a few because the farm system doesn't include many options at the position. Then again, Mike Bordick could always come out of retirement and save the day.

    Prediction: The Orioles don't sign Cabrera or Furcal and either let Castro start or sign another shortstop for cheap.

    #4: Should the Orioles trade Ramon Hernandez and begin the Matt Wieters era now?

    The debate among Orioles fans is probably the same as the debate going on in the Orioles front office, which is: Is Matt Wieters ready, and if so, what should be done with Hernandez?

    Honestly, there may not be a right answer. The Orioles probably wouldn't get much in return if they were to trade Hernandez because he becomes a free agent after the 2009 season and doesn't appear to have a whole lot left in the tank. But if they start him and he performs as poorly as he did in the first part of the 2008 season, many fans will be calling for his release, which could be awkward if the team isn't ready to go with Wieters at that point.

    And that also brings up a critical decision for many organizations: When is the right time to bring up top prospects? Wieters is the best catching prospect in all of baseball, but it could be possible that he's just not ready yet.

    Either way, his numbers in his first full season in the minors were outstanding. In 69 games with the Frederick Keys, Wieters batted .345 with 15 home runs and a 1.024 OPS, and in 61 games with the Bowie Baysox, he batted .365 with 12 home runs and a 1.085 OPS.

    Andy MacPhail has made plenty of solid decisions so far as President of Baseball Operations with the Orioles, and the handling of Matt Wieters will be very important for the Orioles' future.

    Prediction: Hernandez starts the season with the team, but the Orioles eventually bring Wieters up after he continues to dominate minor league pitching.

    #5: Give Brian Roberts a new contract or trade him?

    Like Hernandez, Roberts is also scheduled to become a free agent in 2009. The Orioles signed Roberts to a two-year, $14.3 million contract extension before the 2007 season, and he made $6.3 million in 2008 and is scheduled to make $8 million in 2009. However, he's due to earn a lucrative new contract very soon, and if the Orioles aren't going to pay him, then moving him to a contending team willing to offer a few talented prospects seems to be the direction to go in.

    Roberts, who recently just turned 31, is the fifth-highest paid second baseman in MLB (in average annual value), and he'll probably be looking for a three or four-year contract worth at least $10 million per season. (As a contrast even though Roberts won't make a deal nearly this big, Chase Utley, arguably the best second baseman in MLB, signed a seven-year, $85 million contract with the Phillies before the 2007 season. That's an average of over $12 million per season.) If the Orioles determine that Roberts will be a key piece to turning around their misfortunes, then paying the money would make sense. But that obviously will depend on how much money they (hopefully) want to give to Markakis this offseason and a few other players they could be thinking about going after.

    Trading Roberts could end up being a good decision, but there are two drawbacks from doing so. First, he's a fan favorite and someone who plays hard every game. And second, trading Roberts would leave the Orioles with an even more questionable middle infield with no real solution in sight.

    Then again, that whole Tejada-Roberts combination didn't exactly win the Orioles a ton of games anyway.

    Prediction: The Orioles try to get a deal done with Roberts but don't. He ends up being traded during the season.

    Next post: 5 more questions.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    Do the Cubs want Roberts now?

    At least one Chicago Sun-Times writer certainly does.

    Nothing like second-guessing after the fact.

    No one was complaining during the season when the Cubs rolled up a 97-64 record -- best in the NL. Baseball analysts and writers were praising the Cubs for refusing to offer too much to the Orioles for Roberts, and maybe they were right after all. They had a very successful season, but then something completely shocking happened: the Cubs actually played poorly in the postseason. Imagine that.

    Would Roberts have helped the Cubs? Of course. He's one of the best second basemen in MLB. But it's not like the Cubs' own starting second baseman, Mark DeRosa, performed poorly during the season. Mike Fontenot, who also received plenty of starts at second base (49), also played well.

    But Wittenmyer wants to bring up the absence of Roberts as a big reason for the Cubs' postseason failure this season, even though I'm sure the Cubs would have been better off with any other really good player they somehow could have acquired at some point but didn't.

    "First, they have no left-handed hitters whom opponents respect. If you don't believe that, ask yourself how many pitches a Dodgers left-hander threw against the Cubs in seven regular-season and three postseason games. The answer: none."

    Can you guess which 2008 batting numbers belong to which player (Roberts, DeRosa, and Fontenot)?

    Player A: .285 BA, .376 OBP, .857 OPS, .275 BA/.842 OPS vs. RHP
    Player B: .305 BA, .395 OBP, .909 OPS, .302 BA/.911 OPS vs. RHP
    Player C: .296 BA, .378 OBP, .828 OPS, .289 BA/.818 OPS vs. RHP

    The answers: A is DeRosa, B is Fontenot, and C is Roberts. I'd say the Cubs were fine at second base, and that's not even counting DeRosa's 21 home runs (16 off of RHP). Roberts also wouldn't have added much more in terms of hitting right-handed pitching to the Cubs -- Fontenot and DeRosa did just as good, if not better. Apparently taking one former Orioles second baseman (Fontenot) isn't enough.

    Wittenmyer also says the Cubs needed someone to provide "better balance and top-of-the-order table-setting ability." And that obviously wouldn't have hurt; Roberts is an outstanding leadoff hitter, one of the best in baseball. But the Cubs didn't lose because they didn't have Roberts. They lost because they played really bad baseball for three games against a good team that hit well, pitched well, and didn't make stupid errors. No team, not even one that wins 97 games, can afford to play so poorly in the playoffs.

    And what's with the bashing of Alfonso Soriano?

    "And of all people, Alfonso Soriano alluded to it after Saturday night's elimination when he suggested the Cubs aren't built to hit in the postseason. That starts with Soriano and his all-or-nothing traits as a leadoff hitter."

    I agree, Soriano probably isn't the most ideal leadoff hitter. But he's not the one filling out the lineup cards. Soriano (.280/.344/.532, 29 HR, 76 runs) had a solid season, but the Cubs lineup didn't make much sense anyway. As shown above, Fontenot got on base a lot when he played, as did DeRosa. Why couldn't they have just hit first and second in the lineup?

    Either way, the Cubs had a lot more problems against the Dodgers than just missing a table-setter at the top. When a team only scores six runs in three games after leading the NL in runs scored the entire season, the problems (and answers) were in the Cubs' clubhouse, not another team's.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Examining the 2008 Orioles' season

    Now that the 2008 MLB regular season has come to an end, the Orioles have finished in last place for the first time since 1988.

    Finishing in last place is never a good thing, but the Orioles do happen to play in one of the best, if not the best, division in MLB -- the AL East.

    The AL East was one of two divisions in baseball with four teams -- the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays -- that finished at least 10 games above .500. The other division was the NL Central, with the Cubs, Brewers, Astros, and Cardinals all at least 10 games above the .500 mark, and it took an insane 36-16 run by the Astros from the start of the second half to Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter in the controversial two-game series in Milwaukee to be among those four.
    Because the AL East is so tough, all five teams in the division finished at the top in strength of schedule. The Orioles (68-93) had an awful 22-50 record inside the division and were just 16-32 versus left-handed starting pitchers.

    The Orioles, though, had a pretty good offense (except for a slow start and a sluggish finish): 11th in runs scored (782), 9th in total bases (2,384), tied for 10th in OPS (.762), 6th in doubles (322), tied for 13th in home runs (172), and 11th in batting average (.267).

    While the hitting was surprisingly impressive, the pitching was dreadful. I’ve covered the Orioles’ terrible pitching in other posts, though, so I don’t think I need to waste much more time recounting the horror again; I’m looking at you, Steve Trachsel, Fernando Cabrera, Garrett Olson, Brian Burres, Bob McCrory, Jamie Walker, Kam Mickolio, Greg Aquino, Radhames Liz, Daniel Cabrera, Ryan “Ice Man” Bukvich, and Adam Loewen (pre-injury).

    Anyway, let’s go through some of the positives and negatives of the season.


    #1 -- Aubrey Huff’s great season.

    Where did this come from? In January of 2007, the Orioles signed Huff to a 3-year, $20 million contract. In his first year with the O’s, Huff hit .280, but he hit only 15 HRs, drove in only 72 runs, and finished with a .337 OBP and a .779 OPS. Those numbers are decent for a hitter towards the bottom of the lineup -- not someone batting fourth or fifth in the majors.

    This season, though, Huff had his best year since 2003 when he was playing with the Rays. That season, Huff hit .311/.367/.555 with 34 HRs and 107 RBI. This year, Huff hit .304/.360/.552 with 32 HRs and 107 RBI -- very similar. Huff finished 5th in the AL in OPS and tied for 8th in homers. He hit more home runs than Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Justin Morneau, and Carlos Pena. He also had 82 extra base hits (most in the AL) and stayed healthy all season (154 games played), which is something many of the Orioles weren’t able to do as the long season rolled along.

    His dramatically improved presence at the plate was certainly one of the reasons why the Orioles offense was better than last season’s.

    #2 -- The steady pitching of Jeremy Guthrie.

    Guthrie was an outstanding starting pitcher this season on a team that, at the moment, only has one reliable starter. Guthrie finished with a 3.63 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 120 strikeouts (5.66 K/9), and only 58 walks in 190.2 innings pitched. Opposing batters also hit just .242 off of Guthrie.

    Unfortunately, the Orioles didn’t really take advantage of many of Guthrie’s starts, and he finished the season with a 10-12 record. Meanwhile, a pitcher like Garrett Olson, with an atrocious 6.65 ERA, had a 9-10 record. So the next time that someone tries to point out a pitcher’s worth and immediately points to the number of wins or the win-loss record, simply ignore them.

    #3 -- The players received in the Miguel Tejada trade: Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, and Troy Patton.

    The latter of these four, Patton, has yet to pitch for the Orioles because of a left labrum tear. But he’s only 23 years old, and he is hoping to recover in time to make the club next season.

    Scott is a very streaky hitter, and this season was no different. He will probably never hit higher than .275 in a full season, but he did add some pop to the Orioles lineup by hitting 23 HRs and driving in 65 runs. His .807 OPS this season was actually a huge upgrade over the everyday left fielder last season, Jay Payton, who had a .668 OPS and only 7 HRs in 434 at bats in 2007.

    Albers was pitching very well (3.49 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .240 BAA) before an MRI revealed a partially-torn labrum in his right shoulder. Albers decided against having surgery and chose to rehab instead. If Albers, 25, is healthy enough to pitch at the start of next season, he may end up in the starting rotation.

    Sarfate was also impressive in his first season with the Orioles. His overall numbers -- 4.74 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 86 Ks, 1.39 K/BB -- were not good at all, but they include his four starts (or disasters) on the mound. In those four starts, Sarfate amassed a 10.34 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched; however, as a reliever, Sarfate had a 3.38 ERA in 64 innings pitched and struck out 71 batters. His brief stint as a starting pitcher may have shown him that the way for him to succeed is as a reliever.

    Interestingly enough, Sarfate also pitched most of the season with a fractured clavicle in his right shoulder. According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko in this blog post, “[t]he fracture occurred while Sarfate was moving into his new home [in April]. He bent over to pick up a set of keys that he dropped, and the door that he swung open slammed into his shoulder.” He ended the season on the 15-day disabled list, but he should be fine after he rests in the offseason.

    #4 -- Melvin Mora’s second-half surge. (Yes, it’s not really a half -- whatever.)

    Before a hamstring injury slowed him down with a few weeks left in the season, Mora was having arguably the best second half of any hitter in the American League. Mora hit .376 after the break; only one other player in MLB had a higher average over that period with as many at bats: Manny Ramirez (.388). Mora’s other numbers over that time period include 12 HRs, 55 RBI, and a 1.073 OPS.

    Mora still finished the season with solid numbers -- .285/.342/.483, 23 HRs, 104 RBI -- but it would have been nice to see him able to complete the season while playing at such a high level.

    #5 -- The first-half performances of George Sherrill and Jim Johnson.

    George Sherrill and his flat-billed cap brought some stability to the Orioles bullpen in the first part of the season. Before the All-Star Break, Sherrill had a 4.08 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP in 39.2 innings pitched; he also accumulated 28 saves. But after the break, Sherrill pitched only 13.2 innings and put up some bad numbers: 6.59 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 3 saves. He also missed about a month battling some shoulder inflammation. There are two possibilities for Sherrill’s poor second half: 1) He pitched only 45.2 innings in 2007, so maybe the workload this season was too much for him; and 2) The All-Star Game went 15 innings, and AL manager Terry Francona had Sherrill throw 2.1 innings, which may have added some fatigue to Sherrill’s arm.

    Nonetheless, Sherrill’s pitching in the first half was just an added bonus to the ample rewards the Orioles received in the Erik Bedard trade.

    Another welcome surprise was the presence of 25-year-old Jim Johnson, who didn’t even start out with the Orioles on Opening Day. But Johnson was brought up after making one start for Norfolk, and he soon became the primary set-up man for Sherrill in the bullpen. Johnson’s numbers from April through July -- 53.1 IP, 2.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .181 BAA -- were fantastic, and he deserved to be the Orioles’ representative in the All-Star Game more than Sherrill.

    But like Sherrill, Johnson began to fade a bit -- 15.1 IP, 2.93 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, .323 BAA -- after the break. He was shut down for the rest of the season in early September when an MRI revealed damage in his shoulder. He was heavily relied upon in the first portion of the season, which may have been the reason for his shoulder problems.

    In the minors he had been a starting pitcher; in 2007, he threw 148 innings for the Norfolk Tides. Perhaps Johnson’s arm wasn’t completely ready for the demanding role of set-up man, but he should be fine for the start of spring training.

    #6 -- Dave Trembley’s old-school coaching and post-game reactions.

    No manager is perfect, and Trembley certainly had his fair share of questionable decisions as far as bringing in various relievers. But he did a good job with the hand he was dealt this season. Trembley also had the team playing at an extremely high level before the team’s abrupt collapse in August/September.

    Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Trembley’s post-game press conferences and interviews. He’s always mad when the team loses, as he should be, and he doesn’t hide the fact that he hates answering questions instead of being in the clubhouse talking with his players. His face almost always turns bright red; it’s an intimidating appearance. He’s not afraid to say what he feels is right or what needs to be said in certain situations. He’ll defend his players or call them out if he feels it’s necessary. Trembley is accountable for whatever happens on the field and aware of what it will take to turn this team around.

    #7 -- Jay Payton won’t be back next season.

    Payton plays the game hard; I understand that. He runs hard down the first-base line, he hustles after every ball in the outfield, and he’s not afraid to bang into the wall to make a catch. In a way, he’s kind of like David Eckstein: the guy who just plays the game “the right way” and looks like he’s giving everything he has. Well, that’s fine and dandy after a while, but when a team is losing and that player isn’t performing all that well, it doesn’t matter as much. When Eckstein was playing on World Series winners like the 2002 Angels and the 2007 Cardinals, it didn’t matter that he only had OPS’s of .751 and .738, respectively, because he played decent defense, moved runners over, and put the ball in play. Winning games makes individual players’ deficiencies matter less. Now, I bet you couldn’t even guess what team Eckstein finished the season with. (It’s the Arizona Diamondbacks, by the way.)

    The two seasons in Baltimore have been the worst of Payton’s career. I mentioned his 2007 stats earlier, but his numbers this season were worse. He only hit .243 and had an OPS of .637, which is very bad. Sure, he basically played in a platoon role because of Luke Scott in left field, but Payton still had over 330 at bats -- he just didn’t hit well or get on base much. And that’s not even considering the fact that Payton made $4.5 million in 2007 and $5 million in 2008.

    #8 -- Nick Markakis’s defense.

    Markakis led all ML outfielders in assists this season with 17, and he committed just 3 errors while playing in 157 games. At the beginning of the season, opposing runners challenged Markakis; many of them soon learned that wasn’t such a good idea. Besides throwing runners out, he also made numerous outstanding diving catches and played solid all-around defense in right field.

    #9 -- The presence of Adam Jones.

    Having Jones in center field this season was a breath of fresh air for Orioles fans. Not only is he a solid player, but he’s only 23 years old. His numbers -- .270/.311/.400, 9 HRs, 57 RBI, 10 SB -- are not overly impressive, but this was his rookie season. Jones also covers a lot of ground in the outfield to form a fantastic center field-right field duo with Markakis. He certainly has plenty of room to improve, but Jones certainly possesses the tools to do so.

    There’s no doubt that Jones has the potential to be exceptional on the field, but he’s already special off of it. First of all, he’s not afraid to take pictures for Yahoo! Sports with his eyes closed. Second, he hates to miss games, evident by his constant nagging of Dave Trembley to let him back on the field when he was dealing with a fractured foot. Trembley obviously had enough to deal with this year with a crumbling pitching staff, but the image of Jones asking, “Can I play now, Coach?” on a daily basis was (and still is) pretty funny.

    #10 -- The limited appearances by Lou Montanez and Oscar Salazar.

    When Jones was placed on the disabled list in early August, the Orioles purchased Lou Montanez’s contract from Double-A Bowie. At the time, Montanez had hit .335 with 26 HRs and 97 RBI in 116 games and was leading the Eastern League in all three Triple Crown categories. When the Bowie regular season ended about a month later, Montanez was still in the lead to clinch the Eastern League’s first Triple Crown since 1976. He also won the MVP award for his outstanding season.

    Though he still needs to improve his outfield skills, Montanez, who turns 27 in December, played very well in the first 38 games in the majors of his career. The former third overall pick in the 2000 MLB Draft hit .295 with 3 HRs, 14 RBI, and a respectable .763 OPS. He also managed to homer in his first major league at bat against the Angels, which will leave him with an amazing memory for the rest of his life even if he ends up back in the minors next season.

    Injuries and infield concerns also presented some playing time for 30-year-old Oscar Salazar. Mainly a corner infielder and designated hitter, Salazar batted .284 with 5 HRs, 15 RBI, and an OPS of .879. The 34 games played with the Orioles were the first for Salazar since a brief 8-game appearance with the Detroit Tigers in 2002.

    The Orioles always appear to be looking for serviceable bench players, and both Montanez and Salazar deserve a chance to stick around next season.

    Other notables: The great offensive seasons by Roberts and Markakis; this gem from Joe Angel: "Trachsel's taking a long time between pitches... well, if you had his stuff, you wouldn't want to throw it either"; Buck Martinez’s crazy hair; Juan Castro’s defense; listening to Gary Thorne say “Guillermo Quiroz,”; Jim Palmer’s random stories and love for In-N-Out Burger; Kevin Millar’s blond hair experiment; and his one-time at bat music after apparently losing a bet.


    #1 -- Another second-half collapse.

    Nothing signals the end of summer like the annual Orioles collapse in the second part of the season. This season, the Orioles managed to tread water in late July (6-8) and August (11-17), but the epic implosion eventually came in September when the Orioles went an astounding 5-20. Yes, 5 wins and 20 losses.

    The horrible final month capped off a 22-45 post All-Star Break record for the O’s, during which the Orioles happened to have separate losing streaks of 5 games (8/22-8/26), 8 games (8/29-9/6), and 10 games (9/17-9/26).

    Both injuries and bad pitching certainly played a significant role in the team’s second-half downfall, but so did the schedule. The Orioles finished off the season with 37 games in this order: 3 vs. Boston, 3 vs. New York, 3 vs. Chicago, 3 vs. Tampa Bay, 3 vs. Boston, 2 vs. Oakland, 4 vs. Cleveland, 3 vs. Minnesota, 3 vs. Toronto, 3 vs. New York, 4 vs. Tampa Bay, and 3 vs. Toronto. Those eight teams finished the season with a combined record of more than 100 games over .500 (699-596). So the Orioles looked terrible as the season came to an end, but they had lots of help.

    #2 -- Awful pitching.

    Just posting the numbers:

    Overall pitching: 13th (out of 14 teams) in AL in ERA (5.13), 14th in walks (687), 14th in strikeouts (922), and 13th in runs (869).

    Starting pitching: Tied for 13th in ERA (5.51), 13th in innings pitched (882.0), 14th in walks (395), 14th in strikeouts (514).

    Relief pitching: 11th in ERA (4.50), 3rd in innings pitched (540.0), 14th in walks (292), 7th in strikeouts (408).


    #3 -- Daniel Cabrera’s pitching (and batting).

    Since his debut with the team in 2004, the Orioles have been waiting for Daniel Cabrera to turn the proverbial corner and harness his raw skills. After yet another disappointing 2008 campaign, the Orioles may still be waiting in 2009 if the front office decides to bring him back since he’s eligible for arbitration and may get around $5 million.

    Unfortunately for the Orioles, Cabrera’s performance this year was arguably the worst of his career. Cabrera finished the season on the disabled list with a right elbow sprain and the possibility of his back affecting his pitching at various points during the season. Some injuries may explain not only his awful numbers -- 5.25 ERA, 1.05 K/BB, 1.61 WHIP, .286 BAA -- but also his fluctuating pitch speeds on the radar gun. Before this season, Cabrera consistently reached the upper 90s with his fastball; this season, he sometimes threw in the upper 80s to low 90s.

    But to dismiss many of Cabrera’s troubles because of the possibility of an injury would be foolish; his pitching mechanics haven’t improved in five seasons, and he is usually among the league leaders in walks, hit batsmen, and wild pitches. This season was no different -- 2nd in the AL in walks (90), 1st in HBP (18), and 1st in wild pitches (15). It’s bad enough that Cabrera simply cannot correct his troubles on the mound; instead, every time he pitches and Jim Palmer is in the broadcast booth, Palmer lectures about how Cabrera’s mechanics seem to have deteriorated.

    And the mention about Cabrera’s hitting is for this reason: in 14 career at bats, Cabrera has struck out 14 times. He’d probably have a better chance swinging a telephone pole.

    #4 -- Watching the Orioles run the bases.

    This one is pretty self-explanatory, but if it’s not, then it’s definitely Trembley-explanatory. Here are some comments from Trembley after the O’s ran themselves out of another inning on Sept. 22 against the Rays:

    “We had two crucial baserunning mistakes. It's three balls and two strikes and you're running, and it's a fly ball. Don't you stop? It's not Kamikaze baseball. You don't just run until you're out. To me, that's just a total mental breakdown on his (Salazar's) part. Total. And to be honest to you, that's embarrassing to me and the club and the people who are watching the game. And I'm not burying him, but that's not right."

    Orioles’ baserunners seem to frequently run themselves out of bigger innings by getting greedy or not paying attention. Also, many runners on the team don’t get good secondary leads and are pretty bad at going from first to third on a single. Sure, the O’s have many slow runners like Millar, Hernandez, Huff, Scott, Quiroz, and Salazar, but slow runners can still pay attention and take the extra base when necessary.

    #5 -- Jamie Walker.

    Walker, 37, was placed on the disabled list in late June with inflammation in his left elbow. He battled back to rejoin the Orioles in about a month, but he appeared to still be feeling the effects of the same injury and just wasn’t the same pitcher.

    His numbers show just how ineffective he was this year: 6.87 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, .325 BAA. Left-handed batters hit .304 off of him and had 7 HRs. Even though he has one more year left on his contract, the Orioles may choose to let him walk and cut their losses.

    #6 -- Luis Hernandez and Freddie Bynum both failing to keep the shortstop job.

    When the Orioles started the season with Luis Hernandez as the starting shortstop, Hernandez wasn’t asked to do much. He was supposed to play solid defense and maybe hit around .250. But he didn’t have much range at shortstop (he’s more of a second baseman), and he batted .241, had a .295 OBP, and had only one extra-base hit, a double, in 79 at bats.

    So, when Bynum was activated from the disabled list on May 8, the Orioles handed him the starting shortstop job and asked him to do the same. Instead, Bynum proceeded to produce at a lower level than even Hernandez did. Bynum, who also isn’t really a shortstop, didn’t play good defense; he made 5 errors in 32 starts and didn’t get to many hits to the left or right of him. (Remember how this game ended?) He was also horribly unproductive at the plate: .179 AVG, 0 HRs, 8 RBI, .444 OPS.

    The inability of both Hernandez and Bynum led to fans being forced to watch Alex Cintron play the infield like Roger Dorn before he found out that Rachel Phelps wanted to move the team to Florida and get rid of all the players in Major League. At least the team traded for Juan Castro, who didn’t hit well but actually fielded his position -- imagine that.

    #7 -- Ramon Hernandez’s relatively unproductive season.

    Hernandez had a sluggish year behind the plate; in 118 starts, he was tied for 2nd in the AL in errors among catchers (9) and 3rd in passed balls (9). Though the pitching staff didn’t help him to hold runners very efficiently, Hernandez also played a significant role in allowing 99 stolen bases, the most in the AL. Only two everyday catchers had worse numbers in the running game than Hernandez (.195 caught stealing percentage): A.J. Pierzynski (.186) and John Buck (.174).

    As far as hitting, Hernandez had a very solid second half. He hit .288 with 7 HRs and a .791 OPS after the All-Star Break, but he hit just .237 with 8 HRs and a .747 OPS before the break. For someone who made $7.5 million this season, those numbers just don’t add up.

    Other notables: Having Orioles pitchers give up leads almost immediately after getting them; watching Daniel Cabrera cover first base; lots of injuries; the possible return of Danys Baez to the bullpen next season; Rick Dempsey in the broadcast booth; Mark Viviano as the sideline reporter instead of Amber Theoharis; horrible camera angles and the lack of replays from MASN; and starters routinely going fewer than 5 innings.

    Even though this season didn’t end well, there’s always next year. Besides, the Orioles have plenty of things to look forward to next season and in seasons to come; nonetheless, the front office has plenty of important decisions to make in the offseason.

    I’ll try to go over most of them in the next post.