Wednesday, March 31, 2010

O's questions, links, and thoughts as Opening Day approaches

The Orioles begin the season on the road against Tampa Bay on April 6, and I can't wait. There's no guarantee that this Orioles season will be any different from previous disappointing seasons, but there is at least a bit of hope. Then again, it would be hard for the Orioles to do any worse than the Redskins or Wizards, so that's something to look forward to.

First things first: Here's the 25-man roster that the Orioles will start the season with, via Peter Schmuck:

Starting pitchers: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez
Relievers: Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Mark Hendrickson, Matt Albers, Cla Meredith, Will Ohman, Jason Berken, Koji Uehara (DL)
Catchers: Matt Wieters, Craig Tatum
Infielders: Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, Cesar Izturis, Ty Wigginton, Robert Andino
Outfielders: Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Luke Scott, Felix Pie

Not too shabby. You'll probably notice a few things: Craig Tatum made the team over Chad Moeller; David Hernandez beat out Chris Tillman for the fifth spot in the starting rotation; and Jason Berken apparently will be the long man in the bullpen while Uehara is on the disabled list. At least that's what caught my eye at first.

The real surprise (to me) is that Tatum made the team over Moeller. It's not that Moeller is any kind of spectacular back-up catching option, just that most O's fans were led to believe that Moeller would make the team and sort of groom Wieters and give him veteran advice throughout the season. (Peter Schmuck thought the same thing.) In parts of 10 seasons, here are Moeller's numbers: .226/.288/.351, 29 HR. Tatum (27 years old), on the other hand, has only played in 26 career games -- all of them coming in 2009 with the Reds. In those games, he hit .162/.250/.221 with 1 HR. For what it's worth, Tatum, in six minor league seasons, hit a combined .252/.318/.384 with 34 HR, so he's obviously not on the Orioles for his offense. Here is Dave Trembley explaining the decision to keep Tatum over Moeller:

Craig Tatum is regarded as the better defensive player, which is why he beat out Chad Moeller.

"I think that's the only consideration," Trembley said. "You come down to Tatum and his ability to catch and throw. And I think it's pretty obvious."

Trembley doesn't believe that Moeller is needed to mentor Matt Wieters or the young pitchers.

"This is Wieters' team," Trembley said. "This is Wieters' pitching staff. We're expecting a lot from Matt Wieters. Chad Moeller is not there for Wieters any more. We feel confident that Wieters now, boom, it's yours."

Pretty interesting stuff, and it tells you how much that Trembley and the O's front office think of Wieters to make a decision like that. There's obviously no way to know how much Moeller's mentoring and veteran leadership helped Wieters, but that doesn't mean Moeller didn't bring anything to the table. But again, it's nice to see that the Orioles aren't just keeping veterans around just for the sake of doing it. However, since Tatum isn't much of a hitter, he'll need to control the pitching staff and running game while Wieters isn't behind the plate.

Here's what Trembley had to say about keeping Hernandez over Tillman (from the same Roch link):

"What we're doing is the best thing for the team and for his development," Trembley said. "He was put in a situation last year where he came up to the big leagues because of need. We had an awful lot of injuries and we had an awful lot of movement. He is going to be a fantastic major league pitcher for a long time, but there are some things that he needs to get better at, and we'd rather see him do that at Triple-A than in the big leagues."

It's hard to argue with that, and it's nice that the Orioles don't have to simply rush Tillman's development along just because he was on the team last year for a few months. Hernandez showed some improvement and earned the chance to start the team as the No. 5 starter; it doesn't mean that he'll be in that role for the whole season. And it's also a positive that the Orioles have a few options to consider when it comes to competent starting pitchers -- and that's something that should be consistent in the years to come. Also, here's what Rob Neyer thinks (hint: it's a good thing):

[I]t's struck me this spring that, for all the talk about nobody having enough pitching, a lot of teams have a No. 6 starter with real promise. The Yankees, Red Sox, Reds, Orioles, Padres, Rangers, Twins ... there are a lot of good young pitchers out there who aren't quite good enough yet to crack their team's rotation.

As for Berken winning the long-man role by default, well, that's fine. Because there have only been maybe two or three televised games, I haven't had the chance to see him pitch. According to Dan Connolly, in six appearances this spring, Berken has an ERA of 2.84. Last year he was downright terrible -- 6-12, 6.54 ERA, 1.43 HR/9, 1.50 K/BB -- but maybe he'll do a little better in the mop-up role. As for Uehara, will he ever be healthy enough to contribute to this team again? The O's could really use him in the bullpen.

Now, on to another surprising move: Apparently Miguel Tejada will begin the season as the O's cleanup hitter. Dan Connolly:

If Roberts has rebounded from a herniated disk, he'll bat leadoff, with Adam Jones likely second, Nick Markakis third and Miguel Tejada at cleanup. Trembley has juggled several lineups this spring, including using various options in the fourth spot. Tejada has been there the most, and Trembley acknowledged Sunday that he thinks the veteran is his best current option at cleanup.

"He is the most experienced guy," Trembley said about Tejada. "That doesn't mean he will be there all the time, but he is the most experienced guy."

Trembley said he prefers to have a left-hander or switch-hitter behind Tejada, which means switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters or lefty designated hitter Luke Scott likely would bat fifth. Trembley has used Wieters at fifth and fourth at different times this spring.

Roberts appears to be healthy, so he should have no problem starting the season at second base and in the leadoff spot. And that's great; losing Roberts for any significant chunk of the season would be rather detrimental to the O's offense. And although the Orioles don't really have a prototypical cleanup hitter at the moment, Tejada may not be the best option for that spot. Since Wieters isn't quite ready yet and Nolan Reimold won't be starting the season at 100 percent, Luke Scott seems like the better option to hit fourth. Now, I'll preface this by saying that it's not really a big deal, but let's at least see which one-through-four combination looks better:

Roberts, Jones, Markakis, Tejada; or
Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Scott.

Roberts definitely stays in the leadoff spot, and Nick Markakis and Adam Jones simply flip-flop spots. Now let's compare Tejada's and Scott's career numbers:

Tejada: .289/.341/.469, 285 HR, 6.3 BB%
Scott: .264/.350/.495, 76 HR, 11.1 BB%

Tejada is still a good hitter, and he even hit 46 doubles while batting .313 during a much-improved 2009 season. But Scott hit 11 more home runs last season (25 to 14), drew 36 more walks (55 to 19), and simply seems like the better option to hit fourth right now. Starting the season with Tejada hitting cleanup is one thing, but keeping him there for an extended period of time doesn't seem like a good idea. Unless Tejada starts out the season on fire, hopefully Trembley moves him down the lineup a few places.

Two other notes: Millwood will get the Opening Day start, which was expected, and Felix Pie will start in the left field as well. The start for Pie is a little surprising, only because of how well Reimold played last season. But Trembley's reasoning makes a lot of sense:

"This is not a slight on (Nolan) Reimold, but this is the right thing for Reimold. He's not 100 percent. You think I'm going to go ask him to bust his butt on turf?" Trembley said.

"That kid is as tough as nails. We all saw him play for three months last year, half a player. Never complained, never did nothing."

Even if you're the biggest Reimold fan, it would be hard to disagree with Trembley. The goal is to be healthy for the whole season, so what's the rush in hurrying Reimold along while he's healing? Pie is also the better outfielder and has been steadily improving at the plate.

The roster is slightly different from what I thought it would look like on Opening Day, but it's not too difficult to see why the O's are making certain decisions. I'm excited to see what they can do this season.

No comments:

Post a Comment