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.

Positives

#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.

Negatives

#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).

Ouch.

#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.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quick NFL notes

- Redskins DE Jason Taylor will miss next Sunday's game against the Cowboys. His streak of 133 consecutive games played will come to an end.

- Eagles RB Brian Westbrook is day-to-day with a right ankle strain. He will probably be questionable for the team's Sunday night game against the Bears.

- The Browns plan to give backup QB Brady Quinn more reps in practice this week. As the Browns continue to struggle, don't be surprised if he takes over for starter Derek Anderson at some point in the near future.

- Ravens safety Dawan Landry appears to be doing well after being carted off the field yesterday against the Browns.

- Lions QB Jon Kitna sprained his knee against the 49ers. Lions fans don't appear to care too much.

- The Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Kansas City Chiefs are all 0-3. The Houston Texans are 0-2, and if the San Diego Chargers lose tonight against the New York Jets, they would also be 0-3. Very interesting start to the season.

- If the Patriots play anymore games like they did against the Miami Dolphins, pay attention to how Randy Moss acts as the season rolls along and frustration mounts.

- Finally, this isn't any NFL news, but here is a gem from DJ Gallo's Week 3 article for ESPN.

9. There's an NFLshop.com commercial that shows someone's den decked out in Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia from floor to ceiling. The camera pans the room, then finally pauses on a traditional lamp with the text: "What's with the lamp?" The commercial is a bit of a cheap shot. Do you want to know what happened to the lamp, NFL Shop? Do you? The Steelers' offensive line was house-sitting for a fan and was asked to protect that lamp. Despite their best efforts, a whole wave of burglars broke in and stole it the second the owner left. But I'm glad you find robbery and home invasion so funny, NFL.

Good stuff there. Enjoy Monday Night Football and Tony Kornheiser hyperventilating over the presence of Brett Favre.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Examining the black quarterback issue

With the recent struggles of Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans, the issue of whether or not the presence of the successful black quarterback in the NFL is "dead" has been revived in both the media and the blogosphere.

The best piece that I've read on the matter, by far, can be found here. The article is pretty long -- around 6,000 words -- but it's well worth the time.

I'd love to add more to the discussion, but after reading the article, there isn't much else that I can say that would be any better or more on the mark than that.

Orioles should consider bringing Mussina back

Unquestionably, the Orioles will have plenty of pitching concerns heading into the offseason.

Now, there are two ways of looking at the team's pitching dilemma. One, the O's have plenty of pitchers on the mend who should be fine heading into the 2009 season. A list of Oriole pitchers who are rehabbing or are shut down for the season includes Jeremy Guthrie (right shoulder), Matt Albers (partially torn labrum), Danys Baez (right elbow surgery), Daniel Cabrera (right elbow), Jim Hoey (right shoulder surgery), Jim Johnson (right shoulder), Troy Patton (left labrum surgery), Chris Ray (right elbow surgery), and Dennis Sarfate (right distal clavicle fracture). Hayden Penn's name can also be thrown in that list because he's almost always injured. George Sherrill recently returned from the disabled list and seems to be fine. Without a doubt, that's an impressive list, and most of them hope to be ready for the start of next season.

The Orioles, though, are never that lucky, so the second view is that the Orioles need to sign a few free agent starting pitchers. The last time the O's made a major move for free agent pitchers was in 2006 when the team signed Scott Williamson, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, and Baez. Needless to say, the signings didn't (and haven't: Walker -- 5.97 ERA) exactly panned out.

A list of 2009 free agent starting pitchers can be seen here (scroll down a bit). 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.

I have only heard one of the names above, Burnett, mentioned as being a possibility for the O's, and that appears to be because his wife is from the Baltimore area. Now, Burnett is having a good season (18-10, 4.19 ERA, 214 Ks, 1.35 WHIP, 206.1 innings pitched), but he's been injury prone throughout his career and would also ask for lots of money and a long-term deal. The O's would surely like to add a pitcher as talented as Sabathia or Sheets, but both will command huge contracts after this season.

That seems to leave one solution: sign one or two veteran starters to one or two year deals. Arguably, the two smartest and most dependable free agent options for the Orioles are Lowe and Mussina. Lowe's numbers this season -- 14-11, 3.40 ERA, 138 Ks, 1.14 WHIP -- have gone under the radar a bit, especially with the Dodgers where everyone has gone crazy over the presence of Manny Ramirez in that lineup. Lowe, 35, has had a pretty solid career and would certainly fill a large hole in the O's starting rotation. He is making $10 million this season, so the O's may not want to pay that much. He also probably wouldn't have the same kind of success in the AL East that he is having in the NL West, but he's better than most of the options the O's have right now.

Mussina will turn 40 in December, and he's had a solid season (18-9, 3.57 ERA, 141 Ks, 29 BB) for an underachieving Yankees team. Even if the O's signed Mussina for just one season, he'd provide a veteran presence for many of the younger pitchers and would eat a lot of innings since he avoids injuries. He also doesn't walk many hitters at all, while the O's lead both the AL and NL in walks allowed with 655 (so far). Signing Mussina would also bring him back to Baltimore where he was so dominant for 10 seasons. But two potential problems may arise if the O's are interested in Mussina: 1) He made $11 million this season, and the Orioles probably wouldn't pay that to Mussina for one or two seasons, and the Yankees or someone else might. 2) Mussina may not be interested in coming to a team coming off of a losing season; he still hasn't won a World Series yet.

In the end, the Orioles may decide to just go with their current roster and hope for the best. They will also have to figure out whether or not they want to bring back Daniel Cabrera; they probably won't if it costs more than $5 million.

But I know that I'm not the only one who doesn't want to see another makeshift rotation that includes any combination of Brian Burres, Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz, Chris Waters, and Cabrera with Guthrie.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Clinton Portis doesn't appreciate Brian Mitchell's criticisms

Today on The John Thompson Show Redskins running back Clinton Portis clearly expressed his disapproval of some of the things Brian Mitchell has been saying about him on the air. (If the link there doesn't work, try this one.)

I don't listen to the show that much, but Portis seemed to be upset over two specific critiques by Mitchell.

The first, apparently, is that Portis comes off the field too much and according to Mitchell, frequently seems winded or tired. Now, I'm not going to say whether Portis is really tired whenever he comes out of the game because I don't know. He looks like he's certainly in shape to me just by watching how hard he plays during the game -- both in running the ball and by being the best pass-blocking running back in the NFL.

But in the last few years, many teams have started to use two running back systems, and it's pretty common to see two running backs share carries during a game.

As of right now, Portis is tied for fourth in the NFL in carries with 44 attempts. In 2007, he ranked first in carries with 325, but in 2006, Portis had only 127 carries because of a broken right hand that ended his season after only eight games. In his first two seasons with the Redskins, Portis had 343 carries (fifth) in 2004 and 352 carries (fourth) in 2005. Since coming to the Redskins, Portis has unquestionably been one of the most highly utilized running backs. He may be losing some carries to Ladell Betts, but that can be attributed to a changing league and also how good Betts has been.

The second problem seems to be with some of the comments that Portis made in this story by The Washington Post's Barry Svrluga. In the story, Portis says stuff like:

"I wish I could go to a team for one week with the best offensive line, or the team with the best scheme, and switch places with their back and see how others would do in this system. I get a lot of touches with nowhere to run. I could see if I got all those touches and had some lanes, but there's nine or 10 men in the box. You know, I'm dodging all the people in the backfield, fighting just to get back to the line of scrimmage, and people [are] looking around like, 'Oh, he just missed it.' I'm dodging people getting the handoff, because nobody's really respecting us as a passing team."

Portis's comments probably don't come at the most ideal point since the season just started a couple of weeks ago, but he basically just seems frustrated with the offense's inability to score points and move the ball consistently. I don't think that Portis called any of his teammates out, and he was just being very honest, which is something that many athletes don't really do these days.

If Portis was someone who didn't play hard or give everything he had for the Redskins, I'd probably have a problem with it. I don't, but Brian Mitchell does -- and he's entitled to his opinion.

But that doesn't mean that Portis had to agree with Mitchell, which he certainly did not. At least Thompson was there to shift gears and mediate the argument a bit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A's are always a team in motion

I am fascinated with the way Billy Beane runs the Oakland A's. I should have written something about this in July when Beane pulled the trigger on the Rich Harden and Joe Blanton deals, but I wonder what it would be like to be an A's fan.

These were the details of the two deals:

July 9, 2008 -- A’s trade RHP Rich Harden and RHP Chad Gaudin to Cubs for RHP Sean Gallagher, OF Matt Murton, 2B/OF Eric Patterson, and P Josh Donaldson.

July 18, 2008 -- A’s send RHP Joe Blanton to the Phillies for LHP Josh Outman, 2B Adrian Cardenas, and OF Matt Spencer.

The Harden deal was much bigger because 1) he was traded to the Cubs, and 2) when he's healthy, Harden is a tremendous pitcher. He has a career ERA of 3.25, a career WHIP of 1.21, and batters have hit just .218 off of him. Blanton was also a solid pitcher for the A's with his best season coming in 2007 when he posted 14 wins, a 3.95 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, 140 Ks and just 40 walks.

Now, both deals seemingly make sense because the A's just don't spend that much money. Harden is scheduled to become a free agent in 2009 and depending on his injury concerns, he's going to make lots of money. And Blanton was making $3.7 million this season and just wasn't pitching that well -- 5-12, 4.96 ERA, 1.42 WHIP -- for the A's this season.

In the offseason, though, the A's also made three other significant trades. They were:

Dec. 15, 2007 -- A’s trade RHP Dan Haren and RHP Connor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for LHP Brett Anderson, LHP Dana Eveland, LHP Greg Smith, IF Chris Carter, OF Aaron Cunningham, and OF Carlos Gonzalez.

Jan. 1, 2008 -- A’s send OF Nick Swisher to White Sox for LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Fautino De Los Santos, and OF Ryan Sweeney.

Jan. 13, 2008 -- A’s trade Mark Kotsay and cash to Braves for RHP Joey Devine.

So, to recap, by mid-July the A's had gotten rid of arguably their four best starting pitchers (Haren, Harden, Blanton, and Gaudin), their CF (Kotsay), and another OF (Swisher).

Remember, the A's also let Barry Zito leave after the 2006 season, and they made two huge trades in 2004 that many people were scratching their heads at:

Dec. 17, 2004 -- A’s trade RHP Tim Hudson to the Braves for OF Charles Thomas, P Juan Cruz, and P Dan Meyer.

Dec. 20, 2004 -- A’s trade LHP Mark Mulder to the Cardinals for P Dan Haren, P Kiko Calero, and C Daric Barton.

Obviously, this strategy is nothing new for the A's since they dump big name players all the time before they're about to get paid millions of dollars by other clubs. The Marlins typically do the same thing but have had more success. (Side note: The Marlins have won two World Series (1997 and 2003) with this plan. Would the A's have won a World Series by now under Beane if the team was playing in the predominantly weaker National League? It's possible.)

It's also interesting to see what those pitchers have done since they left the A's.

Hudson has had a few good seasons with the Braves with his best probably coming in 2007, but he's making $15.5 million this season and just had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Mulder's only good season came right after the trade in 2005. Since then, he's been injured with shoulder problems and hasn't been able to make it through a full season. He is also making $7 million this year.

The strangest case is with Zito, who was signed by the Giants to a 7-year, $126 million contract to be their ace. Unfortunately, Zito hasn't been worth that much money at all. He had a subpar 2007 season with a 11-13 record, a 4.53 ERA, and a very average rate of stikeouts to walks (131:83). But this season has been much worse for Zito; he has a 5.35 ERA and a horrible 1.62 WHIP. And he's making $14.5 million this year.

At the time of the trade, a Giants source said, "I think Barry Zito will be the face of the Giants franchise for a long time." With the amount of money he's making and his awful performance, that statement is certainly turning out to be true -- just in the wrong way.

Beane doesn't always make good deals; in fact, he's made some very bad ones. In December of 2005, Beane traded OF Andre Ethier to the Dodgers for OF Milton Bradley and IF Antonio Perez. Ethier is helping the Dodgers push for the playoffs and is having a solid season, while Bradley didn't really help the A's much and was more of a distraction.

Nonetheless, the A's certainly have an identity, and Beane is never afraid to pull the trigger on a risky move that could push his team into the playoffs. Other teams have the luxury of spending big money on free agents; the A's don't.

As an Orioles fan, I was shocked to see the O's trade both Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada in the offseason. The Orioles don't really make that many big trades, and the team usually doesn't take that many risks. But Beane does as the A's GM, partly because he has to, and partly because he's very good at what he does. In about seven months, Beane completely reshaped the direction of the organization. For the most part, O's fans become attached to certain players. Doing so as an A's fan would probably be pointless.

I don't know what I'm trying to say exactly, but being an A's fan must be both interesting and annoying at the same time. As an O's fan, at least for the last decade or so, it's just been mostly annoying.

So worry not, A's fans. You may not win a World Series any time soon, but you won't have to "rebuild" for a decade either.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Don't mess with Trembley (Especially if you're not that good)

This isn't exactly shocking news, but the Orioles' pitching staff has been terrible lately. Since the all-star break, the Orioles have an MLB-worst team ERA of 6.30. Orioles' pitchers have given up 492 hits in 394 innings pitched. They've struck out 271 batters and walked 203, which averages out to a miniscule 1.33 K/BB ratio and an awful 4.64 walks per 9 innings.

But again, I'm sure you knew all that. But what you might not have known is that last Friday in a loss against the Tampa Bay Rays, Fernando Cabrera, who gave up 5 runs (4 earned) in 2 innings pitched, visibly angered manager Dave Trembley when he came to the mound to remove Cabrera from the game. Instead of handing Trembley the ball, Cabrera flipped it to him -- big mistake.

It was bad enough for Cabrera (5.40 ERA, 9 HRs allowed in 28.1 innings pitched) to be pitching poorly, but, as shown above, it's not like he was the only struggling pitcher on the team. But he brought attention to himself with that single move, even if it was surely just one out of obvious frustration.

The combination of the incident with Trembley in Tampa Bay with the rest of his incidents on the mound of giving up multiple runs was enough to justify Cabrera's release today. Trembley offered a few choice words on the matter:

"I think you always make evaluations based on performance first. Not everybody here is a milkshake drinker. They're not all guys that you'd want to bring home and introduce to your daughters. You understand that. But performance is the bottom line. I didn't see Fernando Cabrera fitting in on this club next year. I think we can do better. I told him I appreciated what he did, but I didn't see him making this club coming out of spring training. I think there is no substitute at any time for respect and integrity."

Whether or not Cabrera is a milkshake drinker isn't clear. But what is evident is that at this point in time, it's somewhat acceptable to be a mediocre pitcher on the Orioles. But if someone doesn't display some class and decides to show up Trembley instead, he's gone. Of course, that player being Fernando Cabrera certainly made the decision a bit easier.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tatum Bell pulls an Albert Connell?

I'm still not sure if the story has been officially confirmed yet, but I figured I would link to this report on ProFootballTalk about an odd situation with the Detroit Lions.

Apparently when Rudi Johnson came to meet with team officials on Monday, Johnson couldn't find his bags after agreeing to a deal with the team.

"So when Johnson came back to get his bags, they were nowhere to be found. Johnson and Millen were stumped.

Enter the eye in the sky.

The team checked the videotapes generated by the team’s in-house surveillance system, and they quickly identified the culprit.

So who might it have been? None other than Tatum Bell, who lost his gig with the Lions after Rudi arrived."

I'm sure we'll find out soon if this story is completely accurate. If it is, it's one of the funniest/strangest I've read or heard about in a long time.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Players I'm avoiding in 2008

Here is a list of players who I would rather not have for fantasy football this year. I've drafted a few teams, and I don't think I have any of these guys on them.

There are only two rules: 1) I can't pick any of the same players from last year's list, and 2) the choices can't be too obvious. Saying that I don't think James Thrash will be a solid fantasy football choice this year really doesn't say much at all.

Michael Turner

Turner's situation reminds me of when LaMont Jordan left the New York Jets for the Oakland Raiders after the 2004-2005 season. With the Jets, Jordan was underutilized as a short yardage and goal line back. He received carries of 39, 84, 46, and 93, respectively, in four seasons with the Jets, then went on to total 272 in 2005 as a Raider. But with those 272 carries Jordan averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. The biggest surprise in 2005 was Jordan's Tomlinson-like 70 receptions out of the backfield for 563 yards. The next two years Jordan was often injured and slowly played his way out of Oakland.

With Tomlinson ahead of him in San Diego, Turner was only needed to give Tomlinson a breather or finish off opponents on the ground when the Chargers already had the game well in hand. Because of his situation, Turner received few carries, but he made the most of them by averaging 5.5 yards per carry in four seasons. He also didn't catch many passes out of the backfield (3 in '06 and 4 in '07) because the Chargers wouldn't need to throw with him in the game, just run. Now Turner is going to an Atlanta Falcons team in rebuilding mode. The Falcons will be starting a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan, and the team's offensive line just isn't very good at the moment. With a young and inexperienced offense and a defense that should struggle, the Falcons will probably be playing from behind often and will have to throw the ball.

Now, Turner certainly figures to be the number one running back, but the Falcons also have Jerious Norwood on the roster. In two seasons with the Falcons, Norwood never received many carries but still averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He also possesses the ability to help out in the passing game; he had 40 receptions in those two seasons.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: the Falcons probably won't be very good on offense, and Turner will be looking to give away at least a significant portion of his carries to Norwood. Norwood also appears to be the favorite in the passing game, which the Falcons will be in often. Jordan surprised many people with his strong season in 2005. No one knows exactly what Turner can do, and if he's in part-time duty, selecting him in the first few rounds might just not be worth the risk.

Carson Palmer

I think Palmer is a very good quarterback, but I don't think he'll have that great of a season to warrant being the fifth-best fantasy football quarterback, which he currently is being selected as. With 4,131 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, and 20 interceptions, Palmer scored just the ninth-most points out of all quarterbacks. Palmer also has two solid receivers in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and he really should have better numbers.

Also, the Bengals have a schedule that may be more difficult than last season: at Baltimore, Tennessee, at NY Giants, Cleveland, at Dallas, at NY Jets, Pittsburgh, bye, Jacksonville, at Houston, Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore, at Indianapolis, Washington, at Cleveland, Kansas City. Besides the two games against Cleveland and the games against Washington and Kansas City, a lot of question marks remain as far as facing questionable defenses. The only good thing, or bad thing depending on how you look at it, is that the Bengals will probably be behind a lot and will have to throw the football. Still, Palmer could struggle against good defensive teams.

Willis McGahee

With a questionable passing game and the possibility of rookie Joe Flacco starting at quarterback, the Ravens are going to have to run the football this year. But McGahee already has some injury concerns with the same knee he injured in that gruesome injury in college against Ohio State. McGahee had 1,207 rushing yards and 8 total touchdowns last season in a relatively good year, but with some injuries and the retirement of Jonathan Ogden, the offensive line could struggle and fail to open up enough holes for McGahee. The Ravens also really like rookie running back Ray Rice, who could steal some carries and receptions on third downs as he tries to carve out a niche on the team.

Derek Anderson

Anderson had a fantastic 2007 season; no one could say he/she saw that coming, except for maybe Anderson himself (probably not). He also has plenty of weapons on offense this year in Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth, Kellen Winslow, and Jamal Lewis. But as of right now, he is still recovering from a concussion that he suffered during the preseason. I just don't think Anderson will have the same kind of season he did last year, and I also think if he struggles, the Browns may cave in to some pressure to give Brady Quinn an opportunity at some point.

Laveranues Coles

Remember the situation with Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley with the Orlando Magic a few years back? Francis was moved to tears in January 2005 when Mobley was traded out of Orlando to Sacramento.

"I can't put it into words," Francis said at the time "Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that's something I can count on, that I'm going to be in practice or in a game with Cuttino. Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don't know what I'm going to wake up for."

(Random tangent: Francis also had this to say: "You don't wait 30 minutes before a game to tell a guy he's traded. The way you handle relationships, for me, is going to change the way that I approach the game, more businesslike than anything." I never really noticed this before, but that 2004-2005 season was Francis's last good season. Was Francis so upset about the Mobley trade that he stopped playing well altogether for the rest of his career? Does handling the game "more businesslike" meaning playing poorly? Just a very weird situation.)

Anyway, that situation between Francis and Mobley reminds me of Coles and Chad Pennington, who was recently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Coles and Pennington were very close, and Coles stopped talking to the media so he wouldn't have to answer any questions about Pennington's departure. Brett Favre's presence should certainly help the passing game and the whole offense, but Coles's demeanor really leaves a lot to be desired. He's a professional and should still play hard, but I wonder if his heart is really still in it without his buddy in New York.

Jerricho Cotchery (82 receptions, 1,130 yards, 2 TDs) also seems like he's taken over the role as the team's best wide receiver from Coles (55 receptions, 646 yards, 6 TDs). Coles could still have a decent year, but he shouldn't be relied upon as a number two wide receiver option for any standard leagues with 10 or 12 teams.

That's all I have for this year. I picked seven players last year and five this year. For some reason, this year was tougher to pick some players I thought might struggle a bit, but I also tried to back up my picks a little more than before.