Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teixeira traded to the Angels

With a 66-40 record, which happens to be the best in MLB, the LA Angels decided that their lineup needed a significant upgrade, so the team traded for the best hitter on the trading block: first baseman Mark Teixeira. In order to get Teixeira, who becomes a free agent after this season, the Angels traded away first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek to the Atlanta Braves.

Before the trade, the Angels had a good lineup but not a great one. When discussing the Angels' lineup, other than the power of Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, most baseball analysts and announcers usually bring up that the Angels are a very fundamentally sound team. The Angels will hit-and-run, go from first to third on a single most of the time, and lay down bunts when needed. Chone Figgins steals plenty of bases, Howie Kendrick is a great contact hitter, and Reggie Willits can come off the bench to bunt, play defense, and do whatever is necessary at a certain time.

But all of that can only get a team so far, especially when the Angels have had Maicer Izturis (.264/.327/.352) batting third.

The Angels have really been a peculiar team this season. On the one hand, as stated above, they play fundamental baseball and win one-run games (20-13 on the season). The Angels have an outstanding starting rotation and a very solid bullpen; Francisco Rodriguez already has 44 saves. On the other hand, the Angels have been extremely lucky. They are 24 games over .500, but their run differential is just +43. To contrast, the Oakland A's, also in the AL West, have a run differential of +42. And they are just 53-53 on the season.

The Angels also happen to rank ninth in the AL in runs scored (480), 11th in on-base percentage (.322), and ninth in home runs (99).

So instead of just hoping the luck continues and deciding to put Izturis in the third slot for the rest of the season, the Angels took a chance and got Teixeira. Teixeira will slide right into first base to replace Kotchman, and he helps give the Angels a much more formidable lineup. Kotchman is a pretty good hitter, but Teixeira is much better in almost every category:

(2008 numbers)
Kotchman -- .287 BA, .774 OPS, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 47 Runs
Teixeira -- .283 BA, .902 OPS, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 63 Runs

A lineup 1-7 of Figgins, Kendrick, Teixeira, Guerrero, Hunter, Anderson, and Izturis sure looks a lot better than this one: Figgins, Kotchman, Izturis, Guerrero, Hunter, Anderson, Kendrick.

Of course, the 28-year-old Teixeira is a free agent after this season and will want a long-term deal worth more than $20 million per season. Depending on how the rest of this season goes, the Angels may decide to sign him, or maybe they'll just let him walk. Either way, they definitely seem to be serious about making a run at the World Series, and they sure look like the best team in the AL right now.

If the Angels win the World Series this year, no one will care that they traded away Kotchman. (Except Kotchman.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Mora the better

As I wrote about previously, Melvin Mora (.233/.301/.387) had a subpar first half of the season. But ever since the All-Star break ended, Mora has been on a roll. Here are Mora's numbers in the six games after the break:

July 17 -- 2-4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 run scored
July 18 -- 1-3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 runs scored, 1 walk
July 19 -- 3-5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 runs scored
July 20 -- 0-3, 1 walk
July 21 -- 2-4, 2 RBI
July 22 -- 4-5, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 run scored

Mora is 12 for his last 24 and has four homers in six games. His average is up to .251, and his OPS has jumped up 65 points.

Ramon Hernandez has also started hitting the ball a little better after the break, and his OPS is up 43 points.

With the way the Orioles starters (except for Guthrie) have been pitching, the lineup is going to need to score as many runs as possible to keep them in games for the rest of the season. Being fourth in the AL in home runs (114) and fifth in team OPS (.760) should certainly help that cause.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Orioles 2008 mid-season (sort of) report: Hitting and some defense part 2

I have already gone over the three best Oriole hitters from the first half -- Roberts, Markakis, and Huff -- so here's a brief summary of the rest of the offensive (and defensive) performances of the first half. Performances in this rundown are broken down from best to worst.

Adam Jones: .281 AVG / .324 OBP / .408 SLG / 5 HR / 41 RBI / 38 Rs / 8 SB / 3 CS

Jones, who turns 23 in August, seems to be progressing at a rapid pace this season. He hit .272 in April and just .226 in May, but in June he batted .323 and is currently hitting .341 in July. He's only hit five homers so far, but he does have 17 doubles and five triples. His .732 OPS is also good enough for fifth on the team right now. If Jones's OBP continues to rise, his value this season and beyond will grow, especially as he gains more power at the plate. Now batting second in the lineup, Jones adds some speed behind Roberts, and he has shown the occasional ability to bunt for some hits. The two-hole may not be where Jones ends up batting next season or in the future, but he's more reliable, at least right now, than another option like Mora. Plus, Markakis's power and ability to drive in runs is wasted there.

In the first half of his first full season in the majors, Jones also seems to be one of the best center fielders in the AL. He has committed two errors, but he has two assists and a .932 zone rating, which is good enough for second in the AL. (Zone rating is the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.) He has a tendency to miss the cutoff man by trying to show off his arm instead in situations that don't call for such a thing, but with more experience, his fundamentals should steadily improve.

Luke Scott: .254 AVG / .334 OBP / .474 SLG / 14 HR / 34 RBI / 38 Rs / 2 SB / 1 CS

Scott, who also has 16 doubles and one triple, has had a good first half of the season in left field for the O's. His .809 OPS ranks fifth among AL left fielders, as does his total of 14 home runs. Considering the Orioles are paying him $430,000, it's a pretty good trade-off when Miguel Tejada is now making $14.8 million with the Astros. And, oh yeah, Scott has more home runs than Tejada (14 to 10) and has an OPS that is 70 points higher. Even if Scott regresses some, he's already been a welcome addition to the team.

Scott is almost always replaced by Jay Payton late in games when the Orioles are ahead. Payton has more range than Scott, so the move makes sense, but when the O's blow the lead, fans are left to watch Payton struggle at the plate instead of having Scott at the dish. Scott has two assists, and he hasn't committed any errors; he may be replaced by Payton in the eighth and ninth innings, but it's not like he's playing left field like Jay Gibbons. Now that would be something to worry about.

Kevin Millar: .239 AVG / .339 OBP / .391 SLG / 12 HR / 47 RBI / 46 Rs / 0 SB / 1 CS

All-in-all, Millar had a decent first half. His .730 OPS is tied for eighth among AL first basemen, and it's 43 points higher than Paul Konerko's. His 12 home runs are sixth-best among AL first basemen, and his 49 walks are second. Though his average is low, his OBP is the reason why he's scored 46 runs. Millar is a decent option at first for the Orioles, who really don't have anyone else much better to replace him with at the moment.

Millar has played an above-average first base and has committed only three errors. He saves a lot of errors for other infielders by picking some tough throws out of the dirt, but that's exactly what a solid first baseman is supposed to do. He has decent range, but he makes the occasional mistake of not running to first himself and is sometimes caught out of place.

Melvin Mora: .233 AVG / .301 OBP / .387 SLG / 11 HR / 48 RBI / 44 Rs / 2 SB / 6 CS

I have now come to the portion of the roster that has been, well, pretty bad. Out of nine AL third basemen who qualify (meaning they have enough at bats), Mora ranks ninth in OBP and eighth in OPS (ahead of Jack Hannahan, whoever that is). The only bright spot for Mora has been when runners are in scoring position, except for that last game in Boston where he left 11 men on base. Mora is hitting .333 with RISP, .351 with RISP with 2 outs, and .333 with the bases loaded, which explains the 48 RBIs. The 11 home runs, tied for sixth among AL third basemen, help a bit, but he doesn't deserve to bat second or in the middle of the lineup until his numbers start to improve. It also doesn't help that Mora is one of the worst baserunners that I've ever seen. If you can identify another player who seems to get thrown out at second, third, and home more than Mora, I'm all ears.

Mora still plays, for the most part, pretty good defense at third. He's no Scott Rolen, Evan Longoria, or Mike Lowell, but he still has excellent range and the sixth-best fielding percentage among AL third basemen (.962). He doesn't have the best arm, but he has been getting the job done and makes some outstanding diving catches. Still, he needs to hit better -- obviously.

Ramon Hernandez: .238 AVG / .285 OBP / .379 SLG / 8 HR / 35 RBI / 27 Rs / 0 SB / 0 CS

To be blunt, Hernandez has been one of the worst full-time catchers in the AL, rivaling Kenji Johjima, Victor Martinez, and Jason Varitek, who somehow was voted in by the players to make the AL All-Star team. Hernandez's putrid .664 OPS ranks 14th among AL catchers with more than 150 at bats -- 44 points behind the A's Kurt Suzuki. Hernandez has played in 78 of the team's 93 games, and he hasn't hit this poorly since 2002 when he batted .233 with seven home runs and an OPS of .648.

Another surprise has been the deterioration of Hernandez's defense behind the plate. His eight errors committed are tied with Russell Martin for the most in MLB, and Hernandez's five passed balls are the most in both leagues. Hernandez's 61 stolen bases against are the second-most in baseball, and his .208 caught stealing percentage is 20th among catchers with at least 50 or more games started. Pitchers like Daniel Cabrera, who allow many stolen bases, are partially to blame, but those numbers are still pretty bad. The play of Hernandez is certainly worrisome for Orioles fans, but then again, with Matt Wieters waiting in the wings at Double-A Bowie, relief seems to be on the way next season.

Jay Payton: .243 AVG / .283 OBP / .370 SLG / 6 HR / 31 RBI / 21 Rs / 4 SB / 0 CS

Playing the role of the fourth outfielder, Payton (.653 OPS) has not had consistent playing time other than coming in for Scott as a defensive replacement in left field late in games. But part-time playing duty isn't really an excuse here; Payton put up similar numbers in a full season last year (131 games, 434 at bats, .256 average, .668 OPS, 7 HRs, 58 RBI). The one difference this year is that Payton already has six homers in 181 at bats, so that's a bonus. But other than those six home runs, Payton only has five extra base hits, all doubles; the rest of his hits are singles. The biggest problem with Payton is that he's a free swinger who doesn't get on base that much. Not only does he see few pitches in most at bats, but he rarely walks. He only has nine walks this season, and in all those at bats last year, he only walked 22 times! In fact, in his entire career, he's never walked more than 43 times in a season. (Remember, Markakis has already walked 59 times so far this season.)

The Orioles will surely try to trade Payton to a contender before the trade deadline, but it won't matter because there's no way the team brings him back after this season when his contract expires.

Guillermo Quiroz: .203 AVG / .276 OBP / .304 SLG / 2 HRs / 8 RBI / 10 Rs / 0 SB / 0 CS

Quiroz hasn't played enough (30 games) to really worry about breaking down his offensive numbers, but in limited time, his defense has been better than Hernandez's. He's committed one error, allowed two passed balls, and has 16 stolen bases against him. But he has caught eight runners stealing, good enough for a .333 caught stealing percentage. If a catcher isn't going to hit that well, you might as well have one who plays good defense.

Brandon Fahey: .230 AVG / .254 OBP / .344 SLG / 0 HR / 9 RBI / 4 Rs / 0 SB / 0 CS

Fahey's offensive numbers aren't good at all, but to be fair, he's not the long-term answer at shortstop. If he improves his hitting, he could become a serviceable bench/utility player for Dave Trembley. On defense, Fahey has committed three errors and has been decent.

Freddie Bynum: .179 AVG / .220 OBP / .223 SLG / 0 HR / 8 RBI / 12 Rs / 2 SB / 3 CS

If Fahey's offensive numbers are bad, then Bynum's stats are absolutely awful. Bynum had a chance earlier in the season to earn the starting shortstop spot for good, but he completely blew the opportunity. Right now, he's only on the roster because of the injury to Alex Cintron. With five errors committed, Bynum has not been good in the field either. Unfortunately for him, he might not have much of a future with the Orioles.


All in all, the Orioles offense has been pretty good after a slow start. There is much room for improvement, obviously, at catcher, third base, first base, and shortstop. The fielding (tied for eighth in MLB with a .985 fielding percentage) has also been good, but not as strong as last season (.987).

One other thing: the Orioles are tied for second in the AL with the most runners caught stealing (28) but are just seventh in the league in stolen bases (58). For a team that doesn't swipe that many bases, a 67% stolen base percentage (tied for 11th in the AL) is very bad. Other than Roberts, Jones, Markakis, and Fahey in the everyday lineup, the O's don't have a lot of team speed. By getting thrown out by trying to make some things happen, they may actually be taking a few runs off the board. If the team is going to keep stealing, the 67% mark will need to improve.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Orioles 2008 mid-season (sort of) report: Hitting and some defense part 1

At the All-Star break, the Orioles are 45-48 after 93 games. The team is last in the AL East behind the Blue Jays by one game, and the Orioles are ten games behind the division-leading Red Sox.

At times the O's have looked very good and very bad, which is the norm for an overachieving ballclub. I say overachieving because many analysts figured the Orioles would lose 100 or more games. To do that now, the Orioles would have to lose 52 of 69 remaining games, or 75.3% of those games. I shouldn't count the Orioles out of doing something like that, but it's just not going to happen.

One bad sign, though, is that the O's went in to the break losing eight of its last ten games.

The top third of the lineup has been one of the few bright spots for the O's this season: Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Aubrey Huff. Although Adam Jones is now hitting second in the lineup (more on that later), Roberts, Markakis, and Huff have all put up solid numbers and any one of them could have been named to the All-Star team roster.

Brian Roberts: .296 AVG / .375 OBP / .489 SLG / 7 HR / 33 RBI / 62 Rs / 27 SB / 9 CS

Hitting out of the leadoff spot, Roberts has been a nightmare for opposing pitchers. His .864 OPS is second in the American League among second basemen behind Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, and his 27 stolen bases are tied for third-best in the league. His 33 doubles are one behind Kinsler's 34 for the most in the AL as well. Roberts has also been solid in the field; his 99.1% fielding percentage ranks fifth among AL second basemen.

Nick Markakis: .299 AVG / .401 OBP / .492 SLG / 14 HR / 50 RBI / 61 Rs / 9 SB / 4 CS

Now back in the third-slot in the lineup, Markakis has been the best Orioles hitter so far this season. His .892 OPS is 13th best in the AL, and he's fourth in the AL in OBP. He's on pace to hit around 30 home runs, which would be the most in his three full seasons (16 in '06, 23 in '07). Surprisingly, with his good eye at the plate, Markakis has struck out 74 times this season, but he's also compiled 59 walks -- two less than all of last season.

In the field, Markakis is tied for second in MLB with nine outfield assists. He has also only committed one error.

Aubrey Huff: .284 AVG / .349 OBP / .526 SLG / 18 HR / 59 RBI / 53 Rs / 2 SB / 0 CS

If Markakis has been the O's best hitter, then Huff is probably tied with Roberts for second-best. Huff's strong first half seemingly came out of nowhere, especially after his underwhelming 2007 season, which included a .280 average but only 15 homers and 72 RBIs. Huff, who mostly is in the lineup as a DH but can play first or third, is tied with Jim Thome for the second-most homers for DHs. If he had more at bats at first or third, Huff would also be second in homers at both positions. He even has more homers now than 2008 HR Derby champion Justin Morneau (14). The point is that Huff is finally hitting for power, which is what the Orioles signed him for.

As shown, Roberts, Markakis, and Huff are all major reasons why the Orioles currently rank sixth in the AL in runs scored with 439.

The next post will cover the rest of the Orioles position players and how they've fared so far this season.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

O's bullpen blows game

After Jim Johnson gave up two runs in the eighth and George Sherrill blew the save tonight against the Blue Jays, I took a look at some of their stats. They've both been pretty good, especially Johnson, but I found one potential bad sign. I posted the following on Roch Kubatko's "Roch Around the Clock" blog a little while earlier:

Jim Johnson and George Sherrill, for the most part, have been pretty good for the first half of the season. But they may not pitch nearly as well in the second half -- just take a look at both of their BABIPs (batting average on balls in play).

The average BABIP in MLB for pitchers is around .300; Johnson's is .111 and Sherrill's is .167 -- both are well below that mark.

Just look at tonight as an example, primarily for Sherrill. Sherrill didn't necessarily make a bad pitch to Rolen, but Rolen's blooper found a spot where no one could catch it. Was it luck? Sure -- but Sherrill's been pretty lucky so far this season (although not lately).

One more thing: I don't really agree with the get-me-over curveball that Sherrill threw to Lind. The batter before Lind, Overbay, who tied the game with the sacrifice fly, was sitting on the pitch. Lind was obviously paying attention and did the same.

I hope the numbers are wrong in this case, but if both Johnson and Sherrill are destined to come down to earth after the All-Star Break, the O's bullpen could be in serious trouble.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Brand signing big for the Sixers

Now that it seems likely that Elton Brand will sign a 5-year, $82 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Sixers' front office appear to be serious about improving a team that managed to take two games from the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs.

In order to acquire some space to make the signing, the Sixers agreed to send Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth, and a future No. 1 pick to Minnesota for a $2.8 million trade exception and a future second round draft pick.

The 29-year-old Brand seems completely healthy after rupturing his left Achilles tendon in August of 2007. Because of the injury, he played in only the last eight games with the Clippers last season.

With Brand on board, the Sixers have a formidable starting five, which may include Andre Miller (17.0 points, 6.9 assists), Andre Iguodala (19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.1 steals), Thaddeus Young (8.2 points, 4.2 rebounds), Brand (career average of 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds), and Samuel Dalembert (10.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks). The main contributors off the bench will include guard Willie Green (12.4 points), point guard Louis Williams (11.5 points), power forward Reggie Evans (5.2 points, 7.5 rebounds), and power forward Jason Smith (4.5 points). Newly drafted center Marreesse Speights will be a work in progress.

Needless to say, with the addition of Brand in the post, the quick and athletic Sixers will be a tough matchup for almost any team. The Sixers, though, will need to address one thing: 3-point shooting. Louis Williams is the only consistent shooting threat from the outside, and he made just under 36% of his threes last season. The next closest are Iguodala (32.9%), Young (31.6%), and Green (28.5%) -- not very good.

The Sixers may not be ready to overtake the top teams in the East -- Boston, Detroit, Orlando, and Cleveland -- but next season may be Philly's best since the Allen Iverson years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Loewen surely headed back to the DL

Pitcher Adam Loewen, the fourth overall pick in the 2002 MLB Draft by the Orioles, left in the fifth inning of Sunday's game against the Rangers after feeling some pain in his left elbow. The results of Loewen's CT scan have not been revealed yet, but he seems destined for another stint on the 15-day disabled list.

The 24-year-old Loewen has given Orioles fans plenty of reasons to worry, and he has rarely shown signs that he'll be able to pitch well at the major league level, let alone that he can stay healthy for a significant period of time.

Loewen's injuries may be the most frustrating, but several other pitchers in the Orioles organization are recovering from various injuries as well.

Two of the pitchers the Orioles received in the Miguel Tejada deal with the Astros, Troy Patton and Matt Albers, are dealing with labrum tears. Patton, who turns 23 in September, is out for the whole season and hopes to be able to pitch next spring. In four seasons in the minors, Patton is 27-28 with a 2.99 ERA, 396 strikeouts, and 127 walks. He's also left-handed and may turn out to be an upgrade over Brian Burres and Garrett Olson in the O's starting rotation.

A slight labrum tear in Albers's right shoulder was recently discovered, and he's currently on the disabled list as well. According to Roch Kubatko of the Baltimore Sun, Albers, 25, "report[ed] to the minor league camp in Sarasota, begin rehabbing his right shoulder. He won’t pick up a baseball for three to four weeks before doing some light throwing. He still hopes to return by late August or early September." Last year with the Astros, Albers had an ERA of 5.86 and finished 4-11, but this season with the O's, Albers found an effective role as a middle reliever and spot-starter. Up until his injury, Albers was 3-3 with a 3.49 ERA, 26 strikeouts, and 22 walks. He walked too many hitters but was usually efficient in getting the ball to Jim Johnson in the seventh of eighth innings.

Another recovering pitcher is Chris Ray, who is also rehabbing in Sarasota. Ray had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in August of 2007 and hopes to pitch in September, though it seems unlikely. If he continues to throw without any setbacks, Ray may retain his role as closer in 2009.

Reliever Danys Baez is also rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and hopes to be ready to pitch in 2009. Baez, who signed a 3-year, $19 million contract in 2006 with the Orioles, will come off the books after next season.

Jim Hoey, coming off of shoulder surgery, also hopes to be ready for 2009. He turns 26 in December.

If Patton, Albers, Baez, Ray, and Hoey are all healthy next season, the Orioles would add even more talented pitching to an organization that seems to be well-stocked with arms. Then again, almost everything the Orioles do seems to be accompanied by the word "if."