Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trembley and the bullpen

"When you've given up as many runs as we've given up late in the ball game I think it starts to limit or narrow what you feel your choices are."

That's what Dave Trembley said yesterday when talking about the O's struggling bullpen. Does anyone doubt that this is true?

I think most people would agree that Trembley is a chronic bullpen over-manager. He likes to frequently play matchups as far as right-handed and left-handed pitchers are concerned, and he likes to have defined roles for relievers. And he's hardly the only manager in the major leagues to believe in those two things.

Unfortunately, several decisions by Trembley simply haven't worked out this year. And honestly, with a 15-34 record, not many things will be working out. The latest debated bullpen decision by Trembley occurred in the O's 7-5 loss to the A's on Thursday. Heading into the eighth inning, the O's held a semi-comfortable 5-2 lead. But that didn't last long. Brad Bergesen had allowed just two runs and two hits up to that point, but the A's led off the inning with two singles. With runners on first and second and Bergesen's pitch count up to 93, Trembley decided to remove Bergesen and replace him with Jason Berken -- not a bad choice.

Berken, filling mostly a long-relief role this season, has pitched well so far in 2010 -- 24.0 IP, 1.50 ERA, 11 K, 4 BB. Berken, who entered the game to face the right-handed Rajai Davis, got Davis to fly out to right field for the inning's first out. But here's where things started to get tricky: with two left-handed batters coming up, Trembley removed Berken and brought in lefty Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson, like Berken, has also mostly pitched in a long-relief role this year. But with the amount of injuries the bullpen has been dealing with (more on that later), Hendrickson has been needed in more high-leverage game situations lately.

Anyway, Hendrickson got Daric Barton to pop out to Cesar Izturis for the second out. Ryan Sweeney batted next, and he singled to left field to knock in a run and cut the O's lead to 5-3. Then things started to get weird, even by O's standards. Kurt Suzuki, the A's cleanup hitter by default, reached on an infield single to load the bases. The A's then pinch-hit for the left-handed Jack Cust with righty Jake Fox. With a right-handed batter up and another one, Kevin Kouzmanoff, in the on-deck circle, Trembley stuck with Hendrickson. Ahead in the count 0-1, Hendrickson got Fox to reach for an outside fastball and ground the ball to Izturis. The play looked routine at first, but on the ball's third hop it takes a bad bounce, obviously catching Izturis by surprise. Because of the bad hop, Izturis isn't able to get the ball to second baseman Julio Lugo quick enough to get the runner at second and everyone is safe. Seriously, watch the play. That's just bad luck.

But bad hops do happen, and at this point the O's still had the lead, 5-4, with two outs. The bases were still loaded, though, and Kouzmanoff was due up. Trembley removed Hendrickson and brought in righty Cla Meredith to face Kouzmanoff. On the second pitch, an 84 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate, Kouzmanoff lined a bases-clearing double to left center. The double gave the A's a 7-5 lead. After intentionally walking the next batter, Meredith got the final out to end the inning. But the damage had been done. The A's had scored five runs, completely shifting momentum, and most importantly, the score, in their favor. The O's couldn't muster any runs in the eighth or ninth and lost by that same score, 7-5.

After the game, many people blamed Trembley. The main complaint was that Berken should have been allowed to pitch to more than one batter. And they weren't necessarily wrong. Berken has been one of the few bright spots for the O's this year, and he may have been able to prevent the A's from taking the lead that inning.

But, really, we'll never know that for sure. Without that bad hop, the O's would have taken a two-run lead into the ninth with Will Ohman getting the ball for a potential save opportunity. But that sentence in itself shows just how bad things have gotten for the O's bullpen this season. Will Ohman, though he has pitched extremely well, is the team's closer.

Coming out of spring training, the O's bullpen looked to at least be decent. Mike Gonzalez had been signed in the offseason to be the new closer, and Jim Johnson would take over eighth-inning duties. Hendrickson and Berken would be middle-relief options, and Meredith and Ohman were also going to be situational choices. Matt Albers and Koji Uehara (when ready) were two other right-handed pitchers to be used whenever needed. Needless to say, that plan hasn't worked out. Gonzalez, Johnson, and Uehara (who just can't stay healthy or pitch in warm or humid weather) are all injured, and it isn't really known when any of the three will return. Even Alfredo Simon, who surprisingly assumed the closer role a few weeks back and pitched relatively well, injured his hamstring and is currently on the disabled list.

Because of those injuries, here's what the bullpen looks like right now: Ohman, Berken, Hendrickson, Albers, Alberto Castillo, Frank Mata, and David Hernandez. Hernandez lost his spot in the rotation to Chris Tillman, who has been called up from Norfolk to make his first start of the season. And Meredith, who has struggled, was sent down.

(By the way, according to that post in Orioles Insider, here's what Meredith had to say about his demotion: "It’s kind of been a weird year for me. I’ve pitched here, I’ve pitched there. Get in a groove for a little bit, get in a rut. I’ve been in a rut before. I don’t panic, but I’m not the one who calls shots around here. So, I don’t know. I’m kind of at the mercy of my employer. I’m 26 years old, my arm’s very healthy as is the rest of my body and I envision pitching for a long time whether it’s here or somewhere else. I’ve learned a couple years ago, you can only control the things you can control, this is one those things I can’t really control."

 What exactly does that mean? Does he think he's pitched well this year? Is it really his employer's fault that he's striking out fewer batters, not getting as many ground balls, and giving up more home runs? Meredith needs to get with the program and just pitch better.)

So, yeah, the O's bullpen certainly looks different than what Andy MacPhail originally planned. Without all of those injuries, the bullpen probably would have performed better. But we'll never know. All we know is that the bullpen has put up some pretty bad numbers. O's relievers have allowed opposing batters to hit .357/.435/.791 with 17 homers. That on-base percentage against is fourth-worst in the American League (all rankings given are AL ranks), and their slugging percentage against is third-worst. Using some stats from Baseball-Reference, O's relievers have allowed the third-most runs per game (4.94) and they have six wins in relief compared to 11 losses. Oddly enough, they're tied for fourth in inherited runner scored percentage (34%), which tracks how often relievers allow inherited runners to score. Unfortunately, they've still allowed the third-most inherited runners to score because, well, they've had so many inherited runners to deal with (97, second-most).

There are a few more stats available to show that the bullpen has been bad, but that's a given at this point. Ineffective pitching and injuries are the two main culprits. But let's go back to Trembley's quote at the beginning of this post. First of all, exactly how many games have the O's bullpen blown? Again, according to Baseball-Reference, the O's have blown 10 saves, tied for the most with Kansas City. In 19 save opportunities, the O's have converted just nine saves, good enough for a league-worst save percentage of 47 percent. That's just not good enough, and even with an underperforming offense, the O's need to convert more of those saves.

Still, how easy is it to just blame Trembley instead? There's no question that he's not the best manager of bullpens out there. Far from it. The O's could probably get rid of Trembley and find someone today who could manage the bullpen better. But that begs the question: How much does it really matter how well a manager chooses to use a bad bullpen? Does it matter more? Less? Probably more, but it's not possible to use a team's best relievers all the time. Sometimes bad relievers have to be used in high-leverage situations, as painful as it may be.

Still, the coach's job is to put the best pitchers in the game with the best chance to succeed and get opposing hitters out, sure. But if that bad hop in the A's game doesn't eat up Izturis at shortstop, the O's probably win the game. And then, at least for one night, fans aren't irate with Trembley for choosing to stay with a reliever one batter too long or to fail to let another pitch longer. These are the little choices a manager has to make, but sometimes, there is no right answer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Time to worry about Wieters?

There's a small contingent of Orioles fans out there who are more than a little concerned about the young career of Matt Wieters. You may not have heard much from them and there may not be many of them yet, but I guarantee they're out there. Maybe you've overheard a few people at an O's game, or maybe you've heard an oddball caller or two on a sports talk radio show.

Has Wieters lived up to the hype yet? Well, no, he hasn't. But there aren't exactly that many Jason Heywards out there who can just start raking from day one. Apparently many people were expecting Wieters to not just be Joe Mauer, but to be Joe Mauer from the start.

Here's a newsflash: Wieters isn't Mauer. Not only is Mauer the best catcher in the game today, but, barring injury, he'll probably go down as one of the best catchers of all time. Does Wieters have the skills to one day be named with some of the best to ever play the position? Definitely, but he only recently just turned 24 and has yet to play an entire season in the big leagues.

It's OK to be a little frustrated with Wieters's early struggles at the plate. All O's fans want him to dominate. But it's not OK to fail to recognize that early career struggles are pretty normal, especially for a young guy behind the plate. And, for what it's worth, Wieters has grown defensively, demonstrating improved mechanics that have led to him throwing out a higher percentage of runners.

With that out of the way, let's go to the numbers. (In 2009, Wieters played in 93 games; so far this year, he's played in 43.)

2009: .288/.340/.412, 9 HR
2010: .256/.318/.365, 4 HR

So, quickly, he's not getting on base or driving the ball as much (so far) as he did in his rookie season. That could mean that he's maybe walking less or striking out more, right? Not true.

2009: 7.3 BB%, 24.3 K%
2010: 8.2 BB%, 22.4 K%

Those aren't necessarily huge changes, but they are productive ones. Oddly enough, he's walking more and striking out less despite expanding the zone a little: He's swinging at 28.1% of pitches outside the zone (compared to 25.4% in last season). A few other good things: Wieters is making more contact with pitches inside the zone (90.6% from 83.7%), pitches outside the zone (63.8% from 61.2%), and, because of that, he has a higher overall contact percentage (81.1% from 77.5%).

Unfortunately, though, as you can tell by the numbers listed first, Wieters has struggled a bit to take advantage of striking out less, walking more, and making better contact. Why?

Reason #1: He's not hitting the ball as hard.

His line drive percentage is down from 18.5% in 2009 to 16.5% this season, which has also played a significant factor in his high BABIP from last season (.356) dropping down to .308. In the minors, Wieters always had high BABIPs, but he was also hitting the ball extremely hard in every level. Maybe he's been a little unlucky (for him), but not abnormally so.

Reason #2: He's hitting more ground balls.

In 2009, Wieters's GB% was 41.9; right now, it's 49.6%. For a fast runner, this would be a good thing, as it's normally good for someone who's quick to keep the ball on the ground so he can use his legs. Well, Wieters is not a fast runner -- at all. He should be able to adjust and hit more line drives and balls in the gap, but right now he's rolling over on a lot of pitches.

Reason #3: He's struggled with fastballs.

It seems that one way pitchers have been attacking Wieters is to get ahead of him in the count and then make him chase fastballs up in the zone. Pitchers have been throwing him more first pitch strikes this season (up to 61.2% from 53.0%), and he generally hasn't been swinging at as many pitches in the strike zone to begin with (70.2% in 2009; 58.2% now). Anyway, that first sentence was just a guess, but he has struggled with fastballs overall. Last year, Wieters was 7.5 runs above average when it came to hitting fastballs. But so far, he's at -2.3 against fastballs. He has made progress, though, when it comes to hitting sliders, cutters, and changeups. He's struggled slightly more against curveballs -- but not much. Many young hitters gear up to hit the fastball but can't seem to fight off offspeed pitches. Wieters seems to have already made that adjustment, though he may have overcompensated.

Those are just three of the problems I noticed with Wieters (with the help of stats from FanGraphs, of course). The good news is that all of these things are fixable. Maybe he needs to attack some first pitches more often, and maybe he needs to swing at more pitches in the zone. Obviously, it's simple to just say that and much more difficult to accomplish such tasks.

The important thing is that Wieters has shown that he can improve and is willing to do so. With him getting consistent at bats, he should be able to make adjustments and learn what works best at the plate for him to maximize his offensive talents.

I think Wieters will turn things around, and I don't think it'll take too long for that to happen. But if they don't, there's going to be plenty of time to worry and complain then. I'm not worried now, and neither should you.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How bad has Atkins been?

If you're an O's fan, you've probably noticed that Garrett Atkins hasn't played since Wednesday. On the season, Atkins is hitting an abysmal .221/.261/.283 with no home runs. In 33 games played, he has six walks while striking out 24 times. Among all AL first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances, Atkins ranks last in on-base percentage, second-to-last in slugging percentage, last in OPS, and second-to-last in BB% (5.0%).

And Atkins hasn't been much better in the field either. According to FanGraphs, Atkins has played below-average defense at first base (-2.8 UZR). So bad hitting combined with bad defense makes for a pretty unproductive player, right? Well, yeah, of course.

Among all MLB first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances this season, Atkins has been the worst. He's the only first baseman with that many at bats without a home run. Also, his -0.9 WAR is the lowest behind Matt LaPorta (-0.5) and Jeff Clement (-0.5). At least LaPorta (25) and Clement (26) have an excuse: They're still relatively young. Atkins, however, is 30. And because of his overall bad play, he has been worth -$3.6 million.

So it's not exactly a shock to say that the Atkins signing hasn't worked out very well. But I'm not trying to pick on Atkins; his numbers have been declining for years now. Since 2006 when Atkins hit .329/.409/.556 with 29 home runs (easily his best offensive season), his power numbers have declined each season, as has his ability to get on base. Here are his OBPs after 2006 leading up to this season: .367, .328, and .308. And here are his slugging percentages: .486, .452, and .342. His isolated power (slugging percentage - batting average) has also dropped significantly, from .228 in 2006 to .116 in 2009.

So what happened? Did Atkins just have a few decent seasons and was never that great of a player? Did opposing pitchers eventually figure him out? Were his numbers inflated from playing in Colorado? It's probably a combination of all of those things, but at least one constant has been his decreasing level of discipline at the plate.

In 2006, Atkins swung at 61.7 percent of pitches inside the strike zone and just 14.7 percent of pitches outside of it. Here are his numbers for those two categories in the seasons after that, including his numbers so far in 2010:

2007: 64.8%, 18.7%
2008: 62.5%, 19.1%
2009: 58.5%, 18.0%
2010: 57.0%, 26.6%

So Atkins is swinging at fewer pitches in the zone while chasing more pitches outside of it: not exactly a recipe for success at the plate.

Mike Flanagan also mentioned something interesting on a MASN telecast the other night. He said that, in recent years, Atkins has simply been missing pitches to hit when getting ahead at the plate. So, for example, in 2-0 and 3-1 counts, Atkins isn't hitting fastballs around the middle of the plate, or, if he did hit them, he isn't driving the ball and is mainly hitting singles.

First, let's examine the situational stats, which are somewhat intriguing to look at even if they're not the most effective way of analyzing the case at hand. Here is how Atkins has hit in 2-0 and then 3-1 counts from 2006-2010:



The 2-0 count results are probably a bit more conclusive than the 3-1 results, if not only because there are more at bats. Atkins's power numbers certainly declined in 2-0 counts, but it's hard to tell much more than that, because there aren't a whole lot of at bats to look at.

Now, since that didn't prove much, let's focus on something else instead: fastballs. In hitter's counts, opposing pitchers throw lots of fastballs because, obviously, they don't want to give up walks. So being able to hit the fastball is rather important when a hitter is ahead in the count.

Again, using FanGraphs, Atkins absolutely destroyed fastballs in 2006 and was 35.7 runs above average when hitting those pitches -- which was good enough for sixth in the majors, behind Ryan Howard (55.4), David Ortiz (47.3), Manny Ramirez (40.4), Nick Johnson (37.4), and Albert Pujols (36.3). Some other names near the top of that list: Lance Berkman, Grady Sizemore, Jorge Posada, Jermaine Dye, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Chase Utley. That's not a bad group of players to be listed with.

Unfortunately, Atkins never came close to hitting the fastball that well again. In 2007, he was 9.3 runs above average when hitting fastballs, but here are his numbers since then: 0.0, -3.0, and -4.5.

So it certainly seems like Flanagan was on to something when discussing Atkins's deficiencies at the plate. When getting ahead in the count, there's no question that Atkins hasn't been driving the ball. But he also doesn't get ahead in the count that often because he's chasing more pitches out of the zone, and whenever he is ahead in the count, or at any other time for that matter, he hasn't been hitting fastballs well enough.

Atkins seems like a nice guy, and it's a shame that his numbers have gone downhill at such a rapid pace. But with his current lack of offensive skills, Atkins is hurting the Orioles and probably shouldn't be on a major league roster -- and definitely not in any kind of full-time role.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A great night to be a Wizards/O's fan

It's not huge admission to point out that being a fan of the Wizards and the Orioles (and the Redskins too, for that matter) hasn't been a rather pleasant experience lately. The Wizards finished 26-56 last season and had a drama-filled year that included 1) Gilbert Arenas and the locker room gun situation; 2) the departure of Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson; 3) the death of Abe Pollin; and 4) the battle between Flip Saunders and Andray Blatche, just to name a few. And, as for the Orioles, they appear to be headed in the right direction because of some of the pieces they possess in both the major and minor leagues, but right now they're 13-27 and have struggled to put runs on the board.

As I'm sure you've heard by now, the Wizards won the NBA Draft Lottery last night despite holding just a 10.3 percent chance to do so. (Check out this chart for a more visual display of the Wizards' chances.) As the lottery was playing out and it was revealed that the Wizards would have a top three pick, it was pretty exciting. Still, I fully believed that the Wiz were going to end up with the No. 3 pick in a draft with two no-doubters: John Wall and Evan Turner. But, again, that didn't happen, and somehow the Wizards ended up with the No. 1 overall pick.

Here were some of my immediate thoughts when this happened:
  • DAGGER!!!!!!
  • John Wall or Evan Turner? (I say Wall.)
  • A Wall-Arenas backcourt would be thrilling to watch, but could it work?
  • Kwame Brown.
  • Wow, I like Ted Leonsis already.
  • The Wizards wouldn't trade the pick, would they? (No!)
The NBA Draft isn't until June 24, so there's more than a month to wait until the Wizards make a selection, but it's good news that Wall seems more than content with the possibility of becoming a Wizard. These two paragraphs from that article particularly stuck out:

"President Obama can be at your games," said Wall, as he stood outside on [agent Dan] Fegan's patio. "I'll keep working hard and hopefully they'll pick me."

Fegan said he just wanted for Wall to get a "good opportunity. This is a big market with a good opportunity. I've been in situations where we wonder what the teams are going to do. This one is 'wow.'"

Wow, indeed.

As for the Orioles, they obviously didn't have an achievement on par with what the Wizards could boast, but they did turn another apparent so-so performance into an exciting one with some late-game heroics. Facing Zack Greinke, the defending Cy Young award winner, and down 3-1 in the seventh, Luke Scott hit his second home run of the game to cut the lead to 3-2. Then, in the eighth, Corey Patterson homered to tie the game (though that shot came off of Blake Wood, not Greinke).

Meanwhile, Kevin Millwood pitched eight innings, giving up just three runs, striking out seven, and amassing 120 pitches -- the most he's thrown this season. Millwood's workhorse-like outing kept the O's in the game and eventually allowed them to push the game into extra innings, when they scored on a bases-loaded single by Nick Markakis in the 10th.

It's rare enough for two of my teams to win on the same night. But it's absolutely crazy that the Wizards won the draft lottery and that the O's pulled off an exciting 10th inning comeback victory all in the span of a few hours. And, as you might imagine, it was pretty cool.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tejada and his return to Baltimore

Miguel Tejada's least favorable attribute at the plate has to be his unwillingness to work the count. Out of all qualified batters, Tejada is fifth from the bottom in total pitches seen so far this season with 409. And sorting by pitches seen per plate appearance, Tejada (2.93) ranks last behind names such as Pedro Feliz (2.99), A.J. Pierzynski (3.03), and Yuniesky Betancourt (3.04). Because of his impatient nature at the plate, Tejada doesn't walk much (career 6.3 BB%), but then again, he doesn't strike out as much either (career 12.9 K% and 7.6% in 2009 and 7.0% so far in 2010).

Patience or no patience, Andy MacPhail and the Orioles made the decision to bring Tejada back to Baltimore in January. Tejada, of course, had been traded by the Orioles a few years back (December of 2007) to the Houston Astros in exchange for Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Troy Patton, and Michael Costanzo. Regardless of who "won" the trade -- probably the O's -- it worked out for both sides. Scott and Albers are both still in Baltimore, while Patton could be a bullpen option as the season rolls along. Tejada also turned things around at the plate last season, hitting .313/.340/.455 with 14 home runs and 46 doubles. Unfortunately for Tejada and the Astros, his defense at shortstop (particularly his range) was pretty bad -- -11.2 UZR -- which obviously brought his value down. Still, according to FanGraphs, he was worth 2.8 wins above replacement and $12.7 million of value.

With the departure of Melvin Mora creating an opening at third, MacPhail decided to sign Tejada, who was already familiar with the O's and seemed genuinely happy not only to return to Baltimore, but also to prepare for a season playing third base. (Oddly enough, MacPhail also signed corner infielder Garrett Atkins, which hasn't worked out too well.) Tejada signed a one-year, $6 million deal.

So far, Tejada has more than held his own at third, especially considering that it's his first season at the hot corner. Tejada has a 0.7 UZR and has been able to showcase his powerful arm when throwing the ball across the diamond. He won't ever be confused with Brooks Robinson at third base, but his UZR number ranks seventh in the AL, and so far he is ranked higher than unquestionably great fielders such as Adrian Beltre (0.4) and Evan Longoria (0.1). Of course, it's only May, and there's a lot of season left to play, but Tejada seems to be doing just fine.

At this stage in his career, Tejada is not a middle-of-the-order type of hitter, but the O's roster isn't exactly littered with great sluggers or on-base machines at the moment, which has resulted in Tejada usually batting cleanup. His offensive numbers (.279/.324/.426) have dipped compared to last season, but as long as he continues to play decent defense, he has value. Right now, he has been worth 0.6 wins above replacement and $2.5 million.

Tejada isn't having a great season, but if the alternative is seeing Atkins man third for an extended period of time, I'd pick Tejada every time. And if he plays at this level for the entire season, MacPhail may view him as an option to return next season or even until Josh Bell (currently batting .243/.276/.426 at Norfolk) or someone else is ready to be a long-term answer at third.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Orakpo and the 3-4 defense seem like a natural fit

I'll admit it: I haven't always agreed with Matt Mosley, who covers the NFC East for ESPN in his appropriately titled NFC East Blog. But Mosley seems to have hit the nail on the head in a recent post on Brian Orakpo, who just might be the Redskins' most destructive force on defense:

I spoke with Orakpo two weeks ago and he was thrilled to be working with new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. He had 11 sacks while playing linebacker and defensive end in a [4-3] scheme.

Haslett told a local television station that Orakpo probably rushed the passer 200 times last season. He expects that number to be closer to 600 in 2010. I don't think there's a player on the team who will benefit more from the scheme change than Orakpo. The guy has no business dropping back in coverage. He needs to be hunting quarterbacks at all times.

Kudos to Mosley for also saying that Orakpo is the "best player on this defense" and that "16 sacks would be a pretty reasonable goal" for him next season. That would be fantastic. Also, how refreshing is it that the Redskins seem to be prepared to efficiently utilize their weapons? Orakpo is a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen to deal with, and he'll only be doing more of that next season.

Transitioning to the 3-4 scheme may not be easy, but it should be a lot more fun to watch than another season of bend-but-don't-break defense.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bergesen's last three starts

In a 5-2 win last night, Brad Bergesen improved to 3-2 on the season and continued his recent improved stretch of pitching. He only allowed one run in 7.2 innings, and there's no question that he had his two-seamer working. He allowed five hits and walked two batters while recording 15 ground ball outs, five fly ball outs, and three strikeouts. The performance lowered Bergesen's ERA to 5.76.

In his last start, against the Twins on May 6, Bergesen pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, though he did so without striking out a single batter. On May 1, in his first start back after a tune-up start at Norfolk, Bergesen wasn't as great, lasting only five innings while giving up four runs, including two homers. Nevertheless, he's pitched much better in his last three starts than his first three on the season. Here's some proof (via FanGraphs):

First three: 10.1 IP, 14 ER, 5 Ks, 6 BB, 4 HR, 16 ground balls, 24 fly balls, 6 line drives
Last three: 19.1 IP, 5 ER, 5 Ks, 4 BB, 2 HR, 41 ground balls, 21 fly balls, 6 line drives

Much better, right? More innings, fewer runs allowed, and more ground balls being hit. The lack of strikeouts is a bit disconcerting, especially since he's walking nearly a batter more per game. But, then again, maybe he's starting to shake off some of the rust that came with missing several starts last season because of an injury.

Overall, Bergesen still has plenty of work to do. His ground ball percentage is right around where it was last season (50.0% to 50.1%), but more fly balls are being hit off of him (39.5% to 32.4%) and his home run to fly ball ratio is also higher (13.3% to 8.3%). However, he does appear to be getting more comfortable with his two-seamer and has been spotting it much better recently. And it's also worth noting that not as many line drives are being hit off of him compared to last season (10.5% to 17.5%).

Bergesen still may not be the pitcher that he was in 2009, but as his last two starts have shown, he may be getting closer. And for the Orioles, that would be a huge upgrade.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brief site update on an O's off day

I don't like posting items like this, but whatever. As you may have noticed over the past few days, I haven't posted as much. For the next several weeks, the posts here won't be as frequent, but I'm still going to try to post a couple of times a week. The O's games recaps/wrap-ups will probably be replaced by longer pieces that have less to do with specific games and more about the general standing of the team. And, of course, I may also write a few Redskins/Wizards/Terps items if it's necessary. Unfortunately, no promises though. Stay tuned, and, as always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bergesen, O's shut down Twins

Brad Bergesen pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, and Ty Wigginton hit a two-run home run in the second inning to provide the only runs of the game in a 2-0 O's win over the Twins. The win ended a three-game losing streak that came from three straight losses on the road against the Yankees.

Wigginton's homer was his 10th already on the season, which is currently good enough for second in the American League behind Paul Konerko and his 12 home runs. Wigginton also added a single. Miguel Tejada also had two hits -- both singles -- and Nick Markakis, Garrett Atkins, and Rhyne Hughes each singled. Tejada and Markakis both also walked, as did Matt Wieters.

But the story of the game for the O's was solid pitching. Despite not striking out any batters, Bergesen pounded the strike zone and used the big Minnesota ballpark -- and the rainy weather -- to his advantage. He did walk two batters, but he also mainly used his two-seamer to induce plenty of ground balls. With the performance, Bergesen lowered his ERA to 7.36, which is still high, obviously, but hopefully he can keep improving with each outing. Will Ohman and the recently activated Koji Uehara combined to pitch 1.1 innings of scoreless relief, and Alfredo Simon earned his third save with a scoreless ninth.

As you'd expect in a 2-0 game, a few O's didn't perform too well at the plate. Adam Jones went 0-4 with two strikeouts, and he is now hitting .218/.242/.355 on the season. Wow. Nolan Reimold went 0-3 and struck out; he is currently hitting .192/.294/.342. Cesar Izturis also went 0-3 and only saw six pitches in those three at bats, but that's fine, because it's Izturis. The slumping Luke Scott got the night off, and he might not play tomorrow night either with the left-handed Francisco Liriano on the mound for the Twins.

But all is not bad in Birdland -- the O's won after all. Rejoice!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's wrong with Reimold?

Last year, in his rookie season, Nolan Reimold was a pretty solid hitter. In 104 games, he hit .279/.365/.466 with 15 home runs. He also walked 47 times and stole eight bases in 10 chances. He was a less-than-stellar left fielder, but let's just focus on his offense.

In the first chunk of the 2010 season, though, Reimold has certainly struggled. In 24 games, Reimold is hitting .179/.282/.299 and has just one homer. Except for walks -- 11.5 BB% now compared with a 11.4 BB% last year -- his numbers are basically down across the board.

But Reimold is working hard to fix the problem; here's what he told The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec:

"It hasn't been very fun, that's for sure. I have an idea of what I'm doing. I'm just trying to work it out. I'll be all right. It's mechanical more than anything. I'm just not hitting the ball. I'm pulling off it a little bit, and pitchers are staying away. It's not a good combo."

Reimold also didn't want to use his previous Achilles injury as an excuse: "I'm not going to blame that," he said. So putting aside some admitted mechanical problems with his swing and his Achilles issue, let's take a look at what's been ailing Reimold.

First things first: Reimold has only played in 24 games. Maybe he's just getting off to a slow start. He's certainly not the only major leaguer who is having his fair share of early season difficulties. Next, he's also been a little unlucky. Despite hitting only a slightly smaller percentage of line drives this season (13.7% to 14.4%), Reimold has a BABIP of only .220. Then again, he's not hitting as many ground balls as he did last year (43.1% to 48.2%), and he is striking out more (25.4% to 21.5%). But those aren't enormous changes and could start to even out over the next few weeks. And again, it's a good sign that he's walking at about the same rate as last year.

So what's the problem? Pitch recognition might have something to do with it. According to FanGraphs, used for all of the stats in this piece, Reimold is only swinging at 49.7% of pitches in the strike zone compared to 63.7% of them last season. He's also swinging at fewer pitches in general as well, down from 43.2% to 34.5%. So maybe Reimold is just being a little too selective at the plate. If he's going to be more patient, that means he'll have to fight off tough pitches out of the zone -- which is something he hasn't done very effectively so far. Despite making contact with 56.0% of pitches outside the zone in 2009, Reimold is currently only making contact 32.0% of those pitches. Swinging at fewer pitches in the zone and then not making contact as often with balls out of the zone isn't a very good combination.

It might take some time for Reimold to get his timing and mechanics all in order, but things should start to turn around for him soon. He's probably been taking too many pitches in the zone, but he's still been unlucky when he's actually put the ball in play. One of the few good things about Felix Pie being out is that Reimold should still receive plenty of regular at bats, meaning that he'll have lots of chances to try to regain his 2009 presence at the plate.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Redskins release five players

This is more of a quick link post than much of an analysis, but the Redskins released five players this morning, with two of the names being noteworthy -- to me, at least. The first three were running back Anthony Alridge, receiver James Robinson, and running back P.J. Hill. But the other two were a bit surprising: receiver Marko Mitchell and defensive lineman Anthony Montgomery.

As a seventh-round draft pick, Mitchell wasn't really expected to produce much or play much, and he really didn't do either of those. In 10 games, he had four catches for 32 yards. And, as the Redskins Insider post notes, Mitchell didn't play on special teams. So if he's not catching passes and isn't playing on special teams, what exactly is his role? The only shocking thing about Mitchell being cut is the promise he showed in preseason last year. Then again, it was just preseason, and apparently Mike Shanahan wasn't very impressed.

Montgomery is another late-round draft pick -- he was picked in the fifth round in 2006 -- but since the Redskins are switching to a 3-4 defensive alignment and have signed several linemen hoping that maybe one or two of them can contribute something, Montgomery was basically expendable.

I can't say that I saw either move coming, but in the grand scheme of things, they're relatively minor anyway.

O's can't extend win streak, lose to Yankees

In a game that lasted only two hours and 29 minutes -- pretty quick considering the Yankees were involved -- the Orioles dropped to 7-19 after a 4-1 loss. The Orioles couldn't solve the pitching of CC Sabathia, who lasted eight innings and allowed just one run -- a solo home run by Matt Wieters in the second inning.

Jeremy Guthrie gave up just six hits in seven innings, but the Yankees scored all of their runs with two outs in the fourth inning as Guthrie struggled to get that crucial third out. With a runner on second and two outs, Nick Swisher lined an RBI double off the wall in right field to tie the game, 1-1. Brett Gardner then singled to extend the inning and put two runners on, and then Randy Winn, of all people, blasted a three-run home run to center field to give the Yankees a comfortable cushion with Sabathia on the mound. Guthrie also walked two and struck out two. And with the loss, Guthrie is now 0-4 on the season.

Both teams had six hits, but the O's were just unable to break through against Sabathia. Garrett Atkins got the start at first base with the left-hander on the mound and collected two hits (both singles). Nick Markakis doubled and walked, and Nolan Reimold also had a double. Lou Montanez walked, Wieters had a walk to go along with his home run, and Miguel Tejada singled. That's it.

The one good thing about this game is that Guthrie lasted a while and gave most of the bullpen a chance to rest. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't give him some support, not to mention that the defense, particularly Ty Wigginton, didn't really help him out defensively.

One additional note: Luke Scott has obviously been struggling, and it was interesting to see Rhyne Hughes get the pinch-hitting nod (for Atkins) in the ninth over Scott. Not that it mattered, though: Hughes struck out on four pitches.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

O's offense wakes up in 12-9 win

It's about time. After scoring one run through the first four innings and trailing the Red Sox by three (4-1), the Orioles offense exploded for six runs in the fifth and four more runs in the sixth (and another run in the seventh for good measure). The bullpen didn't pitch particularly well and allowed the Red Sox to score five combined runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but the offense had done enough as the O's were able to hold on to the lead and win, 12-9.

The O's pounded out 12 hits (and three walks), and five of those 12 hits were home runs. Ty Wigginton continues to crush the ball, hitting two solo homers, and Luke Scott had a solo shot of his own. But the two big blasts came from Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis, who each had three-run homers. The home run for Wieters was his first since Opening Day against the Rays.

Going down the lineup, Adam Jones had two hits and a walk, and he scored three runs. Markakis went 3-4 and had a team-high 5 RBI. Wieters, Miguel Tejada, and Scott each had a hit, and Wigginton, as mentioned above, had two big hits. Rhyne Hughes had two singles, and Nolan Reimold, who is still scuffling at the plate, went 0-2 but did have a walk. Cesar Izturis went 0-4 but managed to score two runs.

Brad Bergesen, who was given Jim Johnson's roster spot in order to start, wasn't a whole lot better than in his three previous starts. He gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings, but he did manage not to walk a batter while striking out two. But even though he was pitching in and around the zone, he was still getting hit hard. He allowed two solo home runs, one to David Ortiz and another to Jonathan Van Every. I guess Bergesen will get another start or two, but after four starts he has a 10.57 ERA. That's not going to cut it for very long.

Mark Hendrickson relieved Bergesen and was effective at first, retiring the first four batters he faced and striking out two of them. But in the seventh with two outs and runners on second and third, Hendrickson gave up a two-run single to Victor Martinez and then a two-run bomb to Kevin Youkilis to cut the O's lead to 11-8. Alberto Castillo came in for Hendrickson to retire the final batter that inning (J.D. Drew), but he stayed in to start the eighth inning and served up a towering home run to Ortiz.

Fortunately, Cla Meredith relieved Castillo and got three quick outs to end the eighth, and Alfredo Simon, who oddly enough is apparently the de facto O's closer at this point, pitched a scoreless ninth for his second career save.

Today, the O's go for a three-game sweep of the Red Sox, with Kevin Millwood set to face Josh Beckett. Millwood has been effective in the early season, but Beckett has struggled mightily. He hasn't been as bad as his 7.22 ERA suggests, but he hasn't been very good either. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and his home runs allowed are slightly up. He's been a little unlucky (.352 BABIP), but he's been getting fewer ground ball outs, meaning the solid Red Sox infield hasn't been able to help him out as much.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

O's cap off disappointing April with extra-inning win

Many fans were expecting a little more out of this team to begin the season. Well, things just haven't worked out that way so far as the O's now go into May with a 5-18 record -- which is also the worst record in the majors. But even with such a terrible record, the O's have been playing rather competitively, and last night's game was no different.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch most of the game, but I did get home just in time to see Miguel Tejada's game-winning single in the 10th inning to give the O's a 5-4 win over the Red Sox.

In the win, Adam Jones and Tejada each had three hits, and Nick Markakis had two (and a walk). Markakis and Jones each doubled, and Tejada added a solo home run in the eighth inning to tie the game at four. Then in the bottom of the 10th with two outs, Tejada hit a single right up the middle off of reliever Manny Delcarmen to score Jones from second.

The O's top four batters -- Jones, Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Tejada -- were responsible for all five runs. Hitters five through nine combined to walk three times, but they didn't record a hit, finishing 0-17 for the game.

But, for the most part, O's pitchers were able to hold the Red Sox down despite walking 10 batters(!). Starter David Hernandez wasn't sharp but was somehow wildly effective. Check out his pitching line: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 K, 5 BB, 2 HR. So he only gave up three hits, but two of them were homers (hit by J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia). After Hernandez left, O's relievers gave up only two more runs in 4.2 innings. Alfredo Simon and Matt Albers each threw a scoreless inning, but Jim Johnson certainly struggled, allowing three hits, two walks, and one run (coming on another home run) in just one inning.

The win last night was an important one -- maybe it will be a confidence booster -- and hopefully the O's start to pull out more of these close games.

With April over, here are some team awards for the month:

Best hitter: Ty Wigginton: .308/.395/.631, 6 HR, 10.5 BB%

Even though it didn't translate into more wins, Wigginton really gave the offense a shot in the arm the last few weeks. With Brian Roberts out, Wigginton has given the O's a reliable hitting option at second base. Obviously he won't continue to hit this well, but it is worth noting that he's already drawn eight walks (compared to 11 strikeouts).

Runner-up: Nick Markakis: .284/.385/.455, 1 HR, 14.4 BB%

Markakis has only hit one home run, but he does have nine doubles already. What's even more impressive is his patience and knack for working the count: He's walked 15 times and struck out just 17 times. He may never be a power hitter, but he has a tremendous ability to use the entire field and may be someone who fits well in the No. 2 slot in the O's lineup.

Worst hitter: Garrett Atkins: .224/.246/.284, 0 HR, 2.9 BB%

Adam Jones has certainly been bad too, but no O's hitter (besides Julio Lugo, who barely plays) has been worse than Atkins. Not only has Atkins shown little power -- he has no homers and has only four doubles -- but he rarely walks. He only has two walks and has struck out 14 times. According to FanGraphs, Atkins has played about average defense at first (-0.3 UZR), but because of his horrible hitting he's been worth -$1.8 million. The O's front office obviously realized how bad Atkins was playing because they wasted little time bringing up rookie Rhyne Hughes. Hughes probably isn't any kind of long-term solution at first base, but it is kind of funny that in only five games Hughes already has the same number of walks as Atkins.

Best pitcher: Brian Matusz: 2-1, 4.40 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

Matusz's ERA is slightly high, but as a flyball pitcher, his BABIP (.335) has also been a little high, suggesting that as long as he continues to strike out a lot of batters and limit his walks, he should continue to put up solid numbers. He's bound to give up more home runs, but he should be fine. According to FanGraphs, Matusz also has the highest WAR (0.8) of all O's starters and has been worth the most ($3.1 million) so far.

Kevin Millwood (0-3, 3.38 ERA, 7.9 K, 2.0 BB/9), Jeremy Guthrie (0-3, 4.70 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9), and David Hernandez (0-3, 4.55 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9) have also been pretty good, although Hernandez walks too many batters.

Worst pitcher: Brad Bergesen: 0-2, 12.19 ERA, 4.4 K/9, 5.2 BB/9

In his first three starts, Bergesen was really, really bad. He walked six batters and struck out only five, and he gave up four homers despite only pitching 10.1 innings. Just about everything Bergesen threw in the zone was getting hit hard. He struggled mightily, and the O's sent him down to Norfolk for what turned out to be only one tune-up start. In that outing, Bergesen pitched seven innings and gave up seven hits and two earned runs. He also struck out four and didn't walk a batter -- but he did give up a home run. Apparently, though, Bergesen did keep the ball on the ground: He recorded 14 ground ball outs. The O's are bringing Bergesen back up tonight to face the Red Sox, so he'll be tested right away. I find it hard to believe that one start in Norfolk was all he needed, but I guess we'll find out.

As far as relievers go, it might be a little too early to pick who has been the worst so far, but Matt Albers, Jim Johnson, Kam Mickolio (while he up), and certainly Mike Gonzalez have been bad.

By the way, it'll be interesting to see which player gets optioned (or even possibly released) to make room on the roster for Bergesen.