Saturday, July 31, 2010

Showalter will have work cut out for him

In case you missed it, the Orioles have hired Buck Showalter to be the team's next manager. The move has been speculated about for weeks, and the move was finally made official on Thursday. Showalter will take over for interim manager Juan Samuel officially on Tuesday, though Showalter has, kindly enough, offered Samuel the third-base coach position on his staff. Samuel will apparently decide on whether or not to take the job this weekend.

Anyway, back to Showalter. I wrote about Showalter's potential hiring more than two weeks ago, and in the second article linked above, here's what I wrote about his biggest challenge:
Showalter is an interesting choice for the Orioles, and arguably his most important task will be to get more production out of the team's younger players. Highly regarded prospects like Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and others have shown promise and seemingly have the talent to produce at the Major League level, but they haven't been able to put all of the pieces together yet. Maybe Showalter, who himself moved up the coaching ranks in the minor leagues before becoming the head coach of the Yankees, will do a better job of helping them get to the next level.
Now, it's not unusual for a team's young players to struggle, obviously. However, it is rather odd that all of these players have been struggling at the same time. To improve at all, let alone at a steady pace, the O's must get production from their young talent. That simply hasn't happened this year, as the following players have all had their growing pains: Jake Arrieta (24), Brad Bergesen (24), Brian Matusz (23), Matt Wieters (24), Adam Jones (24), and Felix Pie (25). Josh Bell (23) will probably also see regular playing time shortly. And David Hernandez (25) and Jason Berken (26) have seemingly found productive roles in the O's bullpen. [Editor's Note: I also left out Chris Tillman (22).]

The O's still have some other talent -- Nick Markakis (26), Jeremy Guthrie (31), Brian Roberts (32), and Luke Scott (32) (barring any trades) -- but not a whole lot of it. So basically, if that young group of players doesn't start to perform in the next year or so, the O's are in an enormous amount of trouble. Again, it's not likely that things can get much worse at this point -- the O's are 32-71 right now -- but at least there's a glimmer of hope. If Wieters and company all disappoint, though, there won't be much of that left at all.

The good news is that all of those players are getting experience playing at the highest level this season. Unfortunately, they haven't gotten the results. Here are their stats at this point in the season, with the hitters listed first:

Matt Wieters: .245/.320/.371, 8 HR, 1.3 WAR
Adam Jones: .267/.302/.433, 15 HR, 1.1 WAR
Felix Pie (in limited action): .250/.295/.398, 2 HR, -0.6 WAR

Jake Arrieta: 5.47 ERA, 4.27 K/9, 5.64 BB/9, -0.1 WAR
Brad Bergesen: 6.95 ERA, 3.58 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, -0.3 WAR
Brian Matusz: 5.46 ERA, 7.21 K/9, 3.72 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
David Hernandez: 4.21 ERA, 7.64 K/9, 4.61 BB/9, 0.5 WAR
Jason Berken: 2.79 ERA, 6.36 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 0.8 WAR

Buck Showalter, this is the hand you've been dealt. It's time that the O's received more production from their youngsters. Make it happen.

MacPhail says O's might be done dealing

On Thursday, the Orioles traded Miguel Tejada to the Padres for pitching prospect Wynn Pelzer. Most fans viewed the trade favorably, not only because it made sense to try to get something in return before Tejada's one-year deal expired, but because he's been mediocre this season.

Tejada hit .267/.308/.359 in Baltimore with seven homers. Primarily batting second, Tejada didn't strike out much (9.9 K%), but he basically didn't walk either (3.7 BB%) -- as it's been established, Tejada isn't a fan of taking many pitches. Also, playing third base for the first time in his career, Tejada showcased a strong arm and a decent amount of range -- and he made several solid plays charging the ball and whipping the ball to first on difficult attempts -- but his UZR for the O's was -4.6. According to FanGraphs, Tejada was the definition of a replacement level player, accumulating 0.0 WAR (which can't be easy to do) and a value of $0.2 million. Still, he filled in at third when the team didn't have a whole lot of options and allowed for Josh Bell to get a little more seasoning in the minors.

Now that Tejada is gone, the question is: Now what? Here what Andy MacPhail had to say recently in a Jeff Zrebiec article:
"We've had a lot of conversations. I have no idea where they are going or if anything will come from them. It's not like the phone is dead, but I wouldn't see anything that I characterize as likely at this point."
As expected, MacPhail would love the chance to move Ty Wigginton and Will Ohman, but he's not simply willing to give those players away just for nothing, especially when it comes to the possibility of trading Luke Scott and Jeremy Guthrie, who have much more value than Wigginton or Ohman. MacPhail:
"There is going to be plenty of criticism and rightfully so based on our record [if the O's are done trading], but that doesn't mean you should do something for the sake of doing something. That would fall into the category of being stupid."
I happen to agree with MacPhail, at least when it comes to Scott and Guthrie. Wigginton, on the other hand, who has played third base the last two games, is basically blocking Bell from playing everyday, which seems to be the opportunity that opened up with the Tejada trade. Wigginton and Ohman are having solid seasons, but let's not go overboard. Wigginton has been worth 0.5 WAR, with his combined -9.2 UZR at first, second, and third overshadowing many of his .256/.329/.452 line and 16 home runs at the plate. Ohman (3.30 ERA, 29 K, 18 BB) has also pitched pretty well, with his strikeouts up and walks slightly down. But, overall, he still walks too many batters and has pitched over his head a bit, suggesting that his ERA will go up before the season is over. He should be viewed as a decent lefty who can match up against other lefties in late-game situations, and not much more than that. And teams are likely viewing Wigginton as a platoon-type infield option.

Seeing what happened in the Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt trades, etc., it doesn't seem like teams are willing to just give away top prospects. MacPhail is correct in not wanting to just give away players to opposing teams. When it comes to Scott and Guthrie, that makes a lot more sense than protecting trade chips like Wigginton and Ohman. Wigginton's and Ohman's deals both expire after this season, and if they want to return to Baltimore, they'll likely want raises -- not exactly something that makes much sense for the O's to do. So if teams are willing to throw in a few decent prospects for those two, MacPhail should pull the trigger. Then again, that's easier said that done.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

O's hit rock bottom

It pains me to say this, though I really should have been feeling this way for a while considering how terrible the team has been for more than a decade now, but tonight I'm embarrassed to be an Orioles fan.

It's one thing to just be a bad team -- but don't worry, the O's have that covered. At 31-70, the O's have the worst record in the majors, and they've also been outscored by an MLB-leading 191 runs. And in the very tough American League East, the O's have a record of 10-35. Again, that's horrible.

But after a 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays tonight, the O's have dropped their fifth game in a row and twelfth straight against Toronto. That's right, the O's have lost twelve in a row to the fourth-best team in the AL East. Not the Yankees, or Rays, or Red Sox. The Blue Jays.

The sad thing about tonight's loss is that the O's got the solid start that they've been looking for since the last time Jeremy Guthrie took the hill. Guthrie pitched seven innings while allowing one unearned run on six hits. He also struck out three and walked just one. But when the O's do one thing well, they usually fail in other aspects of the game -- tonight was no different. Despite Guthrie's great outing, the O's offense put together three hits and three walks -- that's it. And the offense wasn't just bad; they were awful against Brad Mills, a 25-year-old lefty making his first start of 2010. That isn't to say Mills didn't pitch well -- he did -- but the O's couldn't get anything going at the plate and barely pieced together any scoring opportunities.

To make matters worse, the O's didn't play well defensively either. After a Vernon Wells single in the second inning, Adam Lind singled to left center. Wells was well on his way to third base, but Corey Patterson bobbled the ball in the outfield, allowing Wells to score easily. Since there were no outs, the Blue Jays probably would have scored at least a run in the inning even if Patterson didn't commit an error. But plays like that have hurt the O's all season; not only do they not take the extra base when they're on the basepaths, but they allow other teams to move up another base or two to take early leads. That's not a particularly good quality to have when their offense doesn't produce many runs of their own. For good measure, Patterson bobbled a ball late in the game on a Jose Bautista double, as did Adam Jones on a triple by Adam Lind. Nice work, guys.

By the way, the game was likely over because the score was 2-0 in the bottom of the eighth, but with a runner on second and two outs and Will Ohman pitching, Juan Samuel made the decision to walk Aaron Hill to pitch to Lyle Overbay. Under normal circumstances, there's nothing wrong with that choice, I guess. I thought about looking into the numbers, which I briefly did before deciding that Samuel just made the choice because Ohman and Overbay are both left-handed. It didn't matter that Hill has been horrible this year or that putting extra runners on simply hasn't worked for the's O's much at all. But it's fun to over-manage, though it's hard to fault Samuel much at all. Considering how poorly the O's have played this year, no matter the decision, the Blue Jays likely would have found a way to add to their lead. Dave Trembley found that out the hard way.

As you can tell, being an O's fan isn't fun right now. The managerial situation is still seemingly up in the air, there have been no updates on the trade front, and the team's young players aren't producing at the major league level. It's fun to point and laugh, but just be glad that this isn't the team you root for right now.

Friday, July 23, 2010

O's win in Roberts's return

It took longer than expected, but Brian Roberts finally made it back to Baltimore. And though Roberts went 0-4 in his first game back, Jeremy Guthrie picked up the offense's subpar performance (three runs on seven hits and no walks) by giving up just two earned runs in seven strong innings.

Guthrie allowed six hits while striking out six and walking none to earn his fourth win. The two Twins runs came on a two-run homer by Joe Mauer in the sixth. Will Ohman, David Hernandez, and Alfredo Simon combined to pitch the final two scoreless innings, with Simon earning his 14th save on the season.

Luke Scott stayed red-hot since coming off the disabled list by collecting two more hits, including a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth to give the O's a 3-2 lead (also the final score).

Playing without Nick Markakis, who got the night off, the O's seemed rather impatient at the plate -- except for Roberts, who saw a team-high 24 pitches in four at-bats. In four at-bats of his own, Miguel Tejada saw just 11 pitches (though he did have two hits and scored two runs). Adam Jones, Felix Pie, Craig Tatum, and Corey Patterson all didn't do a particularly good job of working the count either.

But, hey, on this night, because of Guthrie, three runs was good enough.


To make room on the roster for Roberts, the O's designated Scott Moore for assignment. While speculating about potential roster moves the other day, I figured the O's would cut ties with Julio Lugo before getting rid of Moore.

In actuality, this isn't a big deal. Moore could easily clear waivers, and if he does so he could go back to Norfolk and return to Baltimore at a later point in the season. Or maybe another team will take a chance on him.

Anyway, here was Juan Samuel's quote on the move:
"We wanted to keep somebody who would give us a hand at short, and [Julio] Lugo was that guy," interim manager Juan Samuel said. "We talked to Scotty Moore and he understood that situation."
Samuel's right; Moore can't really play shortstop well enough at such a high level. But Cesar Izturis's name is in the lineup every day; why can't Tejada fill in for Izturis at that position once in a while? Is it really worth keeping Lugo around just for that purpose, especially since Roberts is back now to play second base?

At this point in his career, Lugo is a 34-year-old utility player without the ability to get on base often or hit for much power. He doesn't hold that much value on an American League roster, though his speed does come in handy occasionally late in games. And while Moore isn't necessarily that much better than Lugo, he is younger (26) and is still someone who can play multiple positions (first, second, and third).

Again, it's really not a big deal. But some of the moves the O's make baffle me at times. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

O's links: Roberts, Gonzalez, Jones's bubbles

After a 5-4 loss to the Rays yesterday, the Orioles are 30-64. But it's an exciting 30-64! OK, maybe not, but here are some links to keep you occupied:
  • Brian Roberts could be back in an O's uniform as early as this weekend. []
  • Michael Gonzalez has been activated from the 60-day DL and will probably be eased back into the closer's role. [Baltimore Sun]
  • Something about defending Adam Jones for chewing lots of gum and blowing bubbles during the game. Cowherd's right, it's not really a big deal. Granted, I don't listen to Baltimore sports radio talk or read many O's message boards, but I've never heard anyone complain about Jones's bubble blowing before. I've never even heard Jim Palmer criticize Jones for it. It's more of a, "Hey, Jones caught that ball and blew a bubble at the same time. That was pretty cool." [Kevin Cowherd]
  • When Chris Tillman returns from Norfolk, he needs to attack the zone. [Dempsey's Army]
  • It wouldn't make much sense to send Brian Matusz to the minors. [Camden Crazies]
  • In Dave Cameron's annual Top 50 Trade Value series, two O's made the list: Matt Wieters at No. 33 and Brian Matusz at No. 44. No Julio Lugo for some reason. [FanGraphs]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tillman sent down again; more roster moves coming

After a subpar performance last night, the Orioles decided to send Chris Tillman back to Triple-A Norfolk. According to O's manager Juan Samuel, the move doesn't mean a whole lot:
"We figured Tillman is not going to pitch again for five days, so why not do it now and get him on his way," interim manager Juan Samuel said. "That's the decision we made instead of waiting until" Wednesday.
With Kevin Millwood scheduled to be activated from the disabled list tomorrow and slated to start against the Twins on Thursday, the O's needed Tillman's roster spot to make the move.

First off, I don't really have a problem with the decision. The O's need to get Millwood back on the roster to make a few starts since they would obviously love to trade him and get something of value in return. That will only be possible if he's able to pitch well and stay healthy, so we'll see how that goes. Second, the front office's hands are really tied at this point with Michael Gonzalez, Brian Roberts, and Matt Wieters all expected to join the team within the next week or so. That's a lot of roster moves and decisions to make in such a short period of time.

With Luke Scott taking Frank Mata's roster spot and Millwood taking Tillman's, (at least) three more choices will need to be made. Barring possible trades or injuries, here are a few options: 1) demote Josh Bell to Norfolk; 2) release Julio Lugo; or 3) designate Matt Albers for assignment (I believe he's out of options). I guess the O's could also release Jake Fox or demote Brad Bergesen, though that would probably mean that Tillman would be promoted.

In the long run, these roster moves won't mean a whole lot. But even really bad teams have to make difficult personnel decisions.

O's lose again as Tillman can't get out of the third

Remember the O's four-game sweep of the Rangers last week that at least gave fans a faint hope that the team could play better baseball in the second half of the season? Yeah, that hasn't really happened yet.

In another hard-to-watch game, the Rays shelled Chris Tillman and blew the O's out 8-1. Tillman, like Brian Matusz the day before (1.2 IP, 6 ER, 5 H), wasn't effective at all. He gave up eight runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings, officially putting the game out of reach for the O's and their overmatched offense.

Since the All-Star break, the O's have lost all four of their games -- three to the Blue Jays, and now one to the Rays. In those games, the O's have scored just six runs, which is absolutely terrible. And not that it excuses the poor pitching performances from Matusz and Tillman, but it must be rather difficult to pitch when they're (possibly) thinking that giving up just a few runs will be insurmountable for the O's inept offense.

Speaking of offense, or the lack thereof, the O's had seven hits and one walk against Rays' starter Wade Davis, who gave up just one run in eight solid innings. The O's lone run came in the fifth inning when Cesar Izturis singled in Scott Moore. Izturis and Craig Tatum each had two hits.

By the way, the bullpen was actually very good yesterday. In 6.1 scoreless innings, Matt Albers, David Hernandez, Koji Uehara, and Alfredo Simon allowed just two hits while striking out seven Rays. Not bad, guys.

With the loss, the O's fall to 29-63 on the season.

Still, there is some good news. Luke Scott returned from the disabled list yesterday and went 1-4 with a single. And Brian Roberts is in Bowie for a rehab assignment and could be back with the O's in a few weeks. The return of Roberts to the leadoff spot would be big for the O's, who, despite the hot stretch by Corey Patterson before he got hurt, have really missed Roberts's ability to work the count, get on base, and be a nuisance on the basepaths. And although Felix Pie is talented and has improved at the plate, he is not a leadoff hitter; in the leadoff spot last night, Pie went 1-4 with a single, but he also saw just 10 pitches.

One other thing: It's time to end the Miguel Tejada experiment in Baltimore. I think Tejada is a nice guy. But not only is he playing below average defense at third base, he's adding very little offensive production to the lineup while batting second for most of the season. Sure, with injuries to guys like Roberts, Scott, and Matt Wieters, the options haven't really been there for the O's to move guys around to different spots. But Tejada, who is hitting .272/.311/.368 after an 0-4 last night, hasn't given the O's anything more than a singles hitter who doesn't get on base enough or hit for much power at all.

At 23 years old, Josh Bell might not be ready to play third base in a full-time role for the O's. And, who knows, he may never be that guy. In six games and 19 at-bats, he has five hits (all singles) but has struck out eight times. But if he's in Baltimore, he should be playing just about everyday instead of sitting the bench in favor of Tejada. The same can be said of the current platoon situation at second base between Julio Lugo and Scott Moore, though that probably doesn't matter as much with Roberts close to returning.

Basically, it comes down to this: No matter who the O's put in the lineup right now or bring up from the minors, they just aren't going to win this season or maybe even next season. So who would you rather watch while the team is bad, the current versions of Tejada and Lugo, or Bell and Moore? The answer should be pretty obvious.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wizards win again as Wall, McGee impress

It's been a while since I paid this much attention to the NBA Summer League, but then again, it's been a while since the Wizards had a young player as talented as John Wall.

In a 90-89 victory over the Hornets, Wall, in 35 minutes, scored a game-high 31 points. He also tallied six rebounds, three assists, and three steals while committing just two turnovers. He took 23 shots, making just 10 of them, but he also got to the free thrown line 13 times, also making 10 of those.

In four games, Wall is averaging 23.5 points, 7.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. He's shooting only 37.7 percent from the field and has turned the ball over a little too much (5.2 turnovers), but after turning the ball over 16 times in the first two games, he's committed only five turnovers in the last two. Oh, and Wall has also gotten to the free throw line 47 times. Not bad for a rookie getting his first real taste against professional competition.

While Wall's game-to-game progression has been exciting to watch -- and will be immensely more so during the actual season -- JaVale McGee has also been impressive. McGee, who will be entering his third year in the NBA after being drafted in the first round (18th overall) by the Wizards in 2008, has shown a lot of potential but hasn't necessarily done much with it yet. Could the upcoming season, in which he's currently slated to be the Wizards' starting center, be a breakout campaign for McGee? If his play in the Summer League is any indication, he certainly has a chance.

In four games, McGee is averaging 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 68.8 percent from the field. He's still turning the ball over (3.0 per game) and fouling a little too much (4.5 per game), but McGee looks a little stronger and seems more interested in mixing it up a little more in the paint. Here's a nice play inside, with a strong finish, for example:

Then again, McGee still has a tendency to make plays like this:

On the one hand, that's a great move by McGee, especially considering he's a seven-footer. But on the other hand, how often is he going to be able to do things like that during the regular season? Once, maybe twice? He can do phenomenal things on the basketball court -- likely things that no one else in the NBA can do -- because of his height, length, and athleticism, but I can't be the only one who would rather see McGee hanging around the basket instead of incorporating behind-the-back moves from the top of the key into his game. Playing with Wall should likely make the game easier for McGee. There's no reason why he shouldn't keep moving and rolling to the basket. If he's open, Wall will find him.

Besides Wall and McGee, Lester Hudson added 14 points on 5-10 shooting. He also hit the game-winning shot. (Head on over to Truth About It to check out the shot by Hudson and to see a huge dunk by McGee in the game. That's more like it, JaVale.)

Rookie Trevor Booker added seven points and five rebounds. Cartier Martin certainly didn't have his best game -- three points on 1-10 from the field -- but he did grab six rebounds, so that's something.

Looking for more? Here's a few Wizards-related Summer League links:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wall to McGee

In the Wizards' third Summer League game (an 88-82 win over the Mavericks), John Wall found JaVale McGee rolling to the basket for an easy dunk. Expect to see lots of these plays in the upcoming season.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Byrd's spectacular defensive play propels NL to victory

This year's MLB All-Star Game didn't feature much offense -- the NL won 3-1 -- but in a game with plenty of great pitching performances, one huge defensive play may have saved the game for the National League.

With a runner on first (David Ortiz) and one out in the bottom of the ninth and closer Jonathan Broxton in to protect a 3-1 lead, John Buck hit a fly ball to shallow right field that dropped in for a hit. Ortiz, who won't be confused with Juan Pierre anytime soon, isn't light on his feet by any stretch of the imagination (though he's probably got more speed than Matt Wieters), but he basically stayed halfway between first and second -- the right move since it seemed like the ball had a chance of being caught -- before making sure that the ball dropped in and hightailing it to second base.

In most games, Buck's blooper would be a base hit, and the American League would have had runners on first and second with one out. But in most games, Marlon Byrd wouldn't be playing in right field. On the play, Byrd charged the ball hard but realized he wouldn't be able to get to it. Instead of diving and risking giving up a huge play, Byrd, in one rapid motion, played the ball off to his left, snagged the ball with his glove, transferred the ball to his hand while spinning towards the right field line, and fired a rocket on one hop to second base to nab Ortiz. (Watch the amazing play here.)

I've watched the replay maybe 15 times, and I still can't believe that Byrd made that play. Maybe the play isn't as impressive since Ortiz was running instead of a faster runner, but I disagree. And the AL still may not have won the game if Byrd didn't make that play, but Buck's potential single would have given them the tying run on first and Ian Kinsler at the plate -- a completely different situation than just a runner on first and two outs.

Anyway, watch the play and recognize the degree of difficulty for Byrd. I believe it may be one of the all-time best defensive plays in All-Star Game history. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wall, Young score 18 apiece in Wizards win

John Wall and Nick Young each scored 18 points as the Wizards moved to 2-0 in the NBA Summer League, beating the Clippers 89-64. Young shot 6-11 from the field, including 4-7 from three-point range. But (obviously) the story for the Wizards -- as will be the case for many games this season -- was the rookie Wall, who filled up the stat sheet (both good and bad) and led the Wizards to victory.

Wall was 5-12 from the field and got to the free throw line eight times, making all eight. Besides his 18 points, he dished out 10 assists, grabbed one rebound, and picked up five steals. Unfortunately, for the second straight game he turned the ball over eight times.

Wall may be turning the ball over too much, but it's impossible to question his talent. Watching the game highlights embedded above, it's difficult not to be impressed with Wall's hustle and court vision. When he drives past opponents, he always has his head up and isn't just looking to score. He's looking to find open Wizards either standing near the three-point line or cutting to the basket. It's going to be exciting watching Wall mature into a great basketball player.

After a strong first game, JaVale McGee seemed to struggle a bit. He scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but he shot just 3-10 from the field and committed seven personal fouls. He also had five turnovers. Definitely not his best game.

In 24 minutes, rookie Trevor Booker scored eight points, making all four of his field goal attempts, and had four rebounds. Cartier Martin also scored eight points on three shots -- not bad.

The Wizards' next Summer League game is on Thursday against the Mavericks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Showalter expected to be named O's manager

According to Ed Price of AOL FanHouse (via HardballTalk), Buck Showalter will likely begin his tenure as the next O's manager this weekend.

Not knowing a whole lot about Showalter, I went to Baseball-Reference to hopefully get an idea about his previous coaching results. In head coaching stints with three teams -- the Yankees, Diamondbacks, and the Rangers -- Showalter has a career record of 882-833. He's also been named AL manager of the year twice: in 1994 with the Yankees and 2004 with the Rangers.

One of the strangest things about Showalter's managerial career -- and this is also mentioned on his Wikipedia page -- is that the Yankees (in 1996) and the Diamondbacks (in 2001) both won the World Series the year after he was fired. Showalter also very nearly was fired three times while still having winning records: 79-65 (1994), 85-77 (2000), and 80-82 (2006). Close, but no cigar.

Showalter is an interesting choice for the Orioles, and arguably his most important task will be to get more production out of the team's younger players. Highly regarded prospects like Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and others have shown promise and seemingly have the talent to produce at the Major League level, but they haven't been able to put all of the pieces together yet. Maybe Showalter, who himself moved up the coaching ranks in the minor leagues before becoming the head coach of the Yankees, will do a better job of helping them get to the next level.

By the way, in case you're wondering, Showalter is definitely an old-school type manager. Just check out this 1994 article in The New York Times about Showalter's criticism of that young hotshot Ken Griffey Jr.:
It's not Mariners versus Yankees in Seattle this weekend so much as Griffey versus Showalter, perhaps the game's premier player against one of its brightest young managers in a lively discourse on the merits of respecting the game.

"I shouldn't say this publicly," Showalter was quoted as saying in the magazine story, "but a guy like Ken Griffey Jr., the game's boring to him. He comes on the field, and his hat's on backward, and his shirttail's hanging out."

He also made pointed comments about San Francisco's Barry Bonds, saying that at last year's All-Star Game Bonds failed to tuck in his shirt until game time.

"To me, that's a lack of respect for the game," Showalter said. "Maybe I'm being too picky on these guys. I'm starting to say things like, 'Back when I played.' I thought I'd never say those words."
So even if Showalter can't get the O's to improve much on the field, at least fans won't have to worry about any untucked shirts or caps being worn backwards.

Arrieta, O's complete four-game sweep of Rangers

Perhaps the oddest series of the MLB season came to a close yesterday when the Orioles completed a 4-1 win over the Rangers to earn a four-game sweep on the road. Not only were the O's an MLB worst 25-59 heading into the series, but the Rangers were playing great baseball and were 50-34.

I don't want to make too much of it -- after all, it was just one series -- but, then again, it was the first four-game road sweep for the O's since 1995. Fifteen years. That's a long time.

As for the game itself, Jake Arrieta allowed one run on six hits in 6.1 innings to win his third game. He also struck out three and walked two. Will Ohman relieved Arrieta and struggled a bit, giving up a hit and and a walk while failing to retire a batter, but Jason Berken pitched 1.2 scoreless innings to pick him up. Alfredo Simon pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.

The O's collected eight hits and five walks, allowing them to knock out Rangers' starter C.J. Wilson after only 4.2 innings pitched (and a total of 111 pitches). Julio Lugo had two hits, including a double, and Nick Markakis, Ty Wigginton, and Craig Tatum all had singles. Corey Patterson and Adam Jones each doubled, and Miguel Tejada hit a solo home run in the ninth inning to extend the O's lead to three.

The sweep improved the O's record to 29-59, which is obviously still very bad. But they're one game of getting out of the MLB cellar: The Pirates are 30-58 and have lost six in a row. And despite the one-game difference between the two, the Pirates have been outscored by an MLB worst 194 runs. The O's have been second worst (-142), but that's still 52 runs better. Just some food for thought.

Heading into the All-Star break, here are the O's team leaders in various offensive categories:

OBP: Nick Markakis (.395)
AVG: Nick Markakis (.308)
Runs: Adam Jones (44)
HR: Adam Jones, Ty Wigginton (14)
Doubles: Nick Markakis (28)
RBI: Ty Wigginton (45)
Walks: Nick Markakis (50)
SLG: Luke Scott (.520)
OPS: Luke Scott (.868)
WAR: Nick Markakis (2.2)

Markakis has been the team's best all-around hitter, and he hits a lot of doubles and walks a lot. Wigginton, the team's lone All-Star, has a lot of the counting stats like RBI and HRs (most of which came earlier in the season). Unfortunately, he's been rather cold at the plate lately and also has been awful in the field. It's also a shame that Scott has been stuck on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. Most people discuss Wigginton as one of the main trade chips for the O's, but Scott is the better hitter between the two and should be worth more in the trade market.

Here are the team's pitching leaders:

ERA (starters): Jake Arrieta (4.38)
ERA (relievers): Jason Berken 1.95)
Strikeouts: Kevin Millwood (84)
K/9 (starters): Kevin Millwood (7.02)
Innings pitched: Jeremy Guthrie (111.1)
Quality starts: Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz (10)
Walks: Brian Matusz (38)
HR allowed: Kevin Millwood (20)
Wins: David Hernandez (4)
WAR: Brian Matusz (1.4)

Alfredo Simon also leads the team with 13 saves. What an awesome first half for Berken, who has been outstanding in the bullpen.

The O's haven't been very good -- that's a given. But hopefully they can build off of the sweep against the Rangers and play better baseball in the second half of the season.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pie not wasting much time

Activated from the disabled list just a few days ago, Felix Pie is doing his best to make up for being gone since mid-April. In three games and 13 at-bats, Pie has collected four hits, including a home run and a triple. He has yet to draw a walk or strikeout, which is interesting, though mostly attributable to the fact that he's only seen 46 pitches in those 13 at-bats (about 3.5 pitches per at-bat). That Miguel Tejada-like approach isn't exactly the most ideal model to imitate, but Pie does seem to have a somewhat better eye at the plate to go along with decent power.

There's been some talk that Pie will eventually take control of the leadoff spot despite the recent solid play of Corey Patterson. Patterson obviously isn't the best long-term option to hit there, but the Orioles have been limited because of Brian Roberts's lingering injuries. But is Pie necessarily a better option? While he's been improving over the past few years, Pie still has a career on-base percentage of .312 -- obviously not what teams want from their leadoff hitter. (Patterson's career OBP: .292.) Anyway, Pie is surely a better option than Patterson to hit just about anywhere in the lineup, but don't be too upset if Pie doesn't produce like a prototypical leadoff hitter. That's probably not where he belongs in the lineup, but it may give him the chance to work on drawing walks and seeing more pitches. Whether he's capable of doing that is another issue.

Still, it's way too early to make any kind of proclamation about how good Pie will be for the rest of the season. Hopefully he'll be able to simply stay healthy and man left field for the next few months. With the way things are going in Baltimore, the O's sure could use some young players showing some progress.

LeBron getting dunked on

Even (arguably) the most sought after player in sports history gets dunked on every now and then. This is for you, Cleveland fans, even though this YouTube video probably won't -- actually I know it won't -- help out that much with your sports misery right now. Still, I tried.

A new look

I got a little tired of the old template, and I decided to give this new one a try. I think it looks better and is an improvement over what I've used before. Of course, any feedback would be much appreciated.

Wall misses practice with groin injury

You may want to file this one under "No big deal" -- especially since it's July -- but John Wall missed practice this morning with a groin injury. The linked AP story notes that the injury isn't causing Wall much pain, and also that Wall "might work out" with the team tonight.

Here's what Wall had to say:

"This is my first time sitting out like this. I'm type of person who doesn't want to sit out too long, but also in this type of situation, practice is important, Summer League is important. But it's an injury that can be hurting you throughout the whole season so my coaches and training staff are doing a great job."

Makes sense -- there's no point in further aggravating something as serious as a groin injury. With Summer League games coming up, Wall should be just fine. But this may be something to pay attention to.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

MacPhail's moves not paying off

Before the current MLB season started, the general consensus was that the Orioles were going to be better -- probably not a whole lot better, but at least improved. Last year the O's were 64-98 and finished in fifth place in the AL East, and many figured that the O's would play better this season and at least move out of the AL East gutter and possibly finish in fourth place. Right now, the O's are 25-59 and 16.5 games behind fourth-place Toronto and a whopping 28 games behind the first-place Yankees.

Now, the O's weren't supposed to compete for a title or anything by any means, but they were supposed to be showing signs of at least some improvement by this point. Several things, including injuries, youth, and overall poor play, have prevented that from happening, but the O's also haven't received much help from Andy MacPhail's offseason moves.

Just as a refresher, here are the offseason moves the O's made. Let's take a closer look at those moves:

Mike Gonzalez: Gonzalez has been dealing with a strained left shoulder since early April, and he has only appeared in three games. But in those few games he was terrible, giving up four earned runs in two innings and blowing two saves. He did save one game, though, so he had one OK performance (even though he allowed a hit and walked two batters in that inning). In his brief time on the mound, Gonzalez displayed a lack of control and decreased velocity, which obviously were reasons for the DL stint. There's still time (the rest of this season and next) for Gonzalez to help the O's bullpen out, but if he can't stay healthy and regain his pitching form, the O's wasted $12 million AND the No. 52 overall pick in the draft on Gonzalez.

Miguel Tejada: The O's brought Tejada back with a one-year, $6 million deal -- a decent gamble for a team without many corner infield options. Tejada was both willing to come back to Baltimore and move from shortstop to third base, so the move made sense (if not for the whole Garrett Atkins signing). Unfortunately, Tejada just hasn't played that well. Considering the position change, Tejada is doing a decent job at third, I guess, but he's still playing defense at a below-average level, with a -3.0 UZR at this point. He has a great arm, but sometimes he relies too heavily on it to make plays. At the plate, Tejada hasn't been much better: .277/.310/.370 with six homers and 33 RBI. Since he doesn't walk (3.1 BB%) or strike out much (9.3 K%), Tejada obviously puts the ball in play a lot. But he's not hitting for much power (his ISO is down to .093) and is hitting fewer line drives (18.5%) than the last two seasons (23.4% and 20.3%, respectively). One main problem: Tejada is chasing too many pitches out of the zone (37.2% O-Swing%). If he finishes the season with that number, it'll be the highest of his career. Tejada currently has been worth 0.2 wins above replacement (WAR) and $0.9 million -- so he's been slightly above replacement level. Still, that's not very good for someone who's been slotted in the No. 2 hole in the lineup for a few months now. If Josh Bell is still on the roster in a few weeks, there's no reason why the O's shouldn't give him more of a chance than Tejada, who probably doesn't deserve to be brought back next season.

Kevin Millwood: The Rangers sent Millwood and $3 million in cash to the O's in exchange for Chris Ray (and Rule 5 pick Ben Snyder). On the surface, the move made sense: The O's needed a veteran pitching presence to go alongside Jeremy Guthrie, and if Millwood pitched well the O's could possibly trade him to another team for something of value. Millwood's deal also expires after this season, so even if he pitched poorly, he wouldn't be a salary burden. Unfortunately, after a solid start, Millwood's numbers have dipped recently, and the O's just placed him on the DL with a strained right forearm. At the moment, here are Millwood's numbers: 2-8, 5.77 ERA, 84 K, 35 BB. Overall, his strikeouts are up and his walks are slightly down; he's also been a little unlucky (.344 BABIP). Still, opposing batters are hitting the ball hard off of him (23.0 LD%), and he's not getting as many ground balls as usual. He has room to improve -- his HR/FB ratio of 14.8% probably won't stay that high -- but he'll have to show that he's healthy if the O's are going to be able to trade him.

Garrett Atkins: The Atkins signing has already been covered. It was an awful move, but at least he's gone now.

Mark Hendrickson: The O's brought Hendrickson back after a decent 2009 season with a one-year, $1.4 million contract. Oddly enough, he's arguably pitching better this season despite having an ERA of 5.52. His strikeouts are up and his walks are down from last season (when he finished with a 4.37 ERA), and he's also allowing fewer home runs. Hendrickson's problem, despite allowing a few more line drives, is that he's been unlucky (.367 BABIP). If that number was closer to his career BABIP of .315, his numbers would probably be similar to last season's, or even better. Hendrickson hasn't been great, but he's almost reached the value of his contract ($1.1 million according to FanGraphs, at least) with some room for improvement.

Will Ohman: The O's signed Ohman to a minor league deal, and so far it's paid off. Ohman's strikeouts are up and his walks are down, and he's put together a solid 2.84 ERA so far as the team's late-game situational lefty. He's probably pitching a little over his head, but the O's just may be able to flip him for a decent prospect. Hopefully they don't wait too long to do so.

Craig Tatum: Tatum was claimed off of waivers from the Reds, and he's been a competent backup to Matt Wieters. Tatum is hitting .229/.327/.271 in limited duty, and he's played pretty good defense behind the plate -- a necessary attribute for a backup catcher. According to FanGraphs, Tatum has been worth 0.1 WAR and $0.5 million, and since that doesn't factor in his defense behind the plate, he's probably been worth slightly more.

So that's basically it, besides the decision to bring back Scott Moore with a minor league deal and to pick up Julio Lugo because of injury concerns with Brian Roberts. Lugo has been terrible (-0.3 WAR), but the O's basically received him for nothing. It's funny that the only deals that are paying off are for guys like Hendrickson, Ohman, and Tatum, which were all low-risk moves. Instead, the major signings/moves for Gonzalez, Tejada, Millwood, and Atkins haven't given the O's much of anything to this point, and when actually factoring in their value to the O's this season, those four have a combined WAR of -0.5. Atkins and his -1.1 WAR obviously weigh that group down, but that's not exactly the best way to spend over $25 million ($6 million for Gonzalez this year, $6 million for Tejada, $9 million for Millwood after subtracting the $3 million received from the Rangers, and $4.5 million for Atkins).

If the O's are going to eventually compete in the next few years, there's no question that the team's young talent is going to have to start producing. But the O's can't make the kind of mistakes they did this past offseason and expect to be a whole lot better.

Stats/info via FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Birdland Blunders: Lugo strikes out bunting

After a tough 7-5, extra-inning loss to the Tigers last night, the Orioles dropped to 25-58 on the season. Going into the eighth inning, the O's led 4-1, but the bullpen couldn't get the job done, allowing a Miguel Cabrera two-run home run to tie the game at 5 in the ninth, and then a game-winning two-run homer to Johnny Damon in the 11th inning for the win.

Now, the O's weren't terrible last night. Jake Arrieta (6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 4 K, 2 BB) was solid, and O's hitters put together 17 hits, 6 walks, and Adam Jones also reached base after getting hit by a pitch. Unfortunately, only three of the O's hits were extra-base hits, and the O's also managed to leave 17 runners on base. That just isn't good enough, especially when the bullpen allows two runs each in the eighth, ninth, and 11th innings.

As Stacey of Camden Chat notes, the O's were far from perfect. Runners were caught stealing, Jones misplayed a ball in the eighth inning, and Matt Wieters was thrown out running to third on a ground ball to first base (though that was a phenomenal play by Cabrera). But none of those was the worst blunder; this was: Julio Lugo struck out trying to bunt in the second inning.

First, congrats to Lugo. He collected three hits last night (all singles) and played a decent game overall. But there's no excuse for what happened last night. With a runner on first and two outs, Lugo tried to bunt with two strikes and fouled the pitch off, resulting in a strike out. I wasn't watching the game and couldn't find a video of the play on, but on the radio, Joe Angel said that perhaps Lugo forgot the count. The stadium's video board apparently showed just one strike, so that may have been what happened. Still, it's a mistake that's inexcusable. Forgetting the count is arguably just as bad or worse than failing to run out a flyball or ground ball, which the O's have already had their share of problems with this season. Also, why was Lugo trying to bunt anyway? There were already two outs and a runner on, and it's not like his bunt would have turned the lineup over -- Cesar Izturis was batting behind him.

The O's played hard last night, and it's not likely that Lugo would have been able to drive a run in in that situation anyway considering he only has four extra-base hits in 152 at bats. But it's one thing to watch the O's simply lose games to better teams; it's another to watch them make bone-headed plays in completely winnable games. Maybe Lugo doesn't deserve to be benched for a game for that play, but hopefully one of the coaches at least tried to figure out what exactly he was doing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Seriously, $20 million for Darko?

Yesterday was the first full day that NBA teams could sign free agents, and it certainly seems like many teams just couldn't help themselves. The wild spending spree was almost like a wackier version of Brewster's Millions, only the top-tier free agents -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Dirk Nowitzki, etc. -- were not involved. Instead, these are some of the contract agreements and offers that were haphazardly thrown around:
  • Joe Johnson: 6-year, $120 million offer from Atlanta
  • Rudy Gay: 5-year, $82 million contract with Memphis
  • John Salmons: 5-year, $39 million offer from Milwaukee
  • Channing Frye: 5-year, $30 million deal with Phoenix
  • Drew Gooden: 5-year, $32 million contract with Milwaukee
  • Darko Milicic: 4-year, $20 million deal with Minnesota
  • Mike Miller: 5-year, $30 million offer from Los Angeles Lakers
  • Amir Johnson: 5-year, $34 million deal with Toronto
Just about every single one of those contracts is a head-scratcher. And, again, that was just the first day of free agency. Who's going to cash in today? Shelden Williams, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Battie, Aaron Gray, Oleksiy Pecherov, Luther Head, or Adam Morrison? Who knows, but don't be surprised if it happens.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jones's phenomenal June: turning point or aberration?

If you've heard anything about Adam Jones this year, besides a few random non-baseball things, it's probably that he's not having a very good season at the plate. Jones struggled mightily in April and May, failing to post on-base percentages over .303 while also hitting a combined five home runs in the two months.

Then June came and Jones surprisingly started to crush the ball. In 26 games and 100 at bats in the month, Jones hit .320/.352/.600 with eight homers and 21 runs batted in. To go along with that impressive home run total, Jones hit 20 singles and four doubles. He also added two stolen bases and wasn't caught stealing. Still, despite the hot streak, Jones walked just four times and struck out 24 times.

Because of his June hitting, Jones is currently batting .274/.300/.453 with 13 home runs. Unfortunately, unless he starts to walk more, that may just be the kind of hitter Jones is: a guy who won't get on base a ton because he doesn't walk but does have some power. That seems a little insulting considering the month Jones just had, but it's just not possible to say that he's turned the corner yet. His awesome month can basically be attributed to two things: a high BABIP (.353) and improved power (.280 ISO). Jones has a career .316 BABIP and .157 ISO, so he's likely to return to the norm in both areas.

One of the interesting things about Jones's hitting this past month is that not only did he actually hit the ball harder in May (23.3% line-drive percentage) than in June (17.3%), but he actually struck out more too (24.0% in June to 16.3% in May). He walked slightly more in June (3.8% to 2.8%), and by slightly more I mean one more walk. Still, considering that Jones has only walked nine times this season, that's an accomplishment.

It would be ideal if Jones rounded into a complete hitter, possibly one who could hit in the middle of the lineup. He possesses a ton of power, but he just doesn't seem to be able to get on base more often by working the count and drawing walks. Right now, his BB% is lower than Miguel Tejada's (2.8% to 3.1%), which isn't very good unless you're racking up a ton of hits like Jones did in June.

So it's unlikely that Jones will be able to sustain his hot streak much longer. Unless he stops chasing pitches outside the zone and starts to walk more, he'll never be much more than a sixth or seventh hitter who doesn't get on base much but will still swing for the fences no matter the count. If that sounds harsh, it's only because Jones has the talent to be an offensive force for years to come. Here's to hoping that he reaches that potential.