Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An injured Redskins team could be an ugly one

You probably already know by now that Donovan McNabb has a sprained ankle and hasn't been practicing. Head coach Mike Shanahan has said that he's not sure if McNabb will be ready in time to play in the season opener against Dallas. Unfortunately, Clinton Portis is also dealing with an injured ankle, though his injury isn't as much of a concern as McNabb's.

Neither practiced on Monday and both have already been ruled out of the Redskins' preseason finale against the Cardinals -- which is common since most starters are held out of the final preseason game anyway. Still, McNabb and Portis have nearly two weeks to get healthy, and according to Rick Maese (in the second linked story above), "both seemed to be walking around on their sore ankles without much problem" yesterday.

So they'll likely both be ready to play against Dallas. But don't expect this to be the last time that injuries plague McNabb and Portis this season. McNabb turns 34 in November, and although he's a tough guy and battles through an assortment of injuries, he has played a full 16 games just once in the last six seasons. (In three of those seasons, he played in 15, 14, and 14 games, so he's durable, but he will miss games.) Portis is a little younger -- he actually turns 29 tomorrow -- but he also plays a different position, running back, and has taken a pounding the last few seasons. Portis suffered a serious concussion last season and only played in eight games, but with Shanahan in town he seems to be in great shape and has been working out and practicing hard to impress the new coaching staff. If he stays healthy, he should unquestionably receive the bulk of the carries.

If McNabb and Portis miss games this season, especially at the same time, the Redskins are in big trouble. A starting lineup that features Rex Grossman at quarterback and Larry Johnson as the main rusher isn't exactly promising, to say the least. One of the risks the Redskins have taken over the last several years -- trading away their draft picks -- frequently results in a lack of depth at key positions. It's nice to have players like McNabb and Portis (both were acquired in trades), but it's even better to hold onto picks and draft solid players. Easier said than done, though, I guess.

For the Redskins to remain competitive this season, barring some kind of miracle, McNabb and Portis both need to be healthy and need to play well. It's a lot to ask of two players, but this team doesn't really have other options.

Monday, August 30, 2010

For the O's, it's all about the pitching (in August)

The Orioles are off tonight after a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim. They have one more game in the month of August -- tomorrow at home against the Red Sox -- but have already clinched, with a 16-11 record, their first winning August since 1997. And not to harp on this point, but the O's are also 16-10 since Buck Showalter took over as manager on August 3.

But this post isn't about Showalter. He's obviously had some kind of effect on the team, but there's no way of knowing just exactly how much he means to the team both on and off the field. So instead, let's focus on something tangible, like how much better the starting pitching has been this month. The latest sweep of the Angels, which allowed the O's to sweep the season series (six games) from them for the first time ever, only reinforces how strong the starting pitching has been lately. On Friday, the O's won 3-1 behind eight innings and one run allowed by Brad Bergesen. In the outing, Bergesen struck out four and walked none. On Saturday, the O's turned to Kevin Millwood, who responded with a fantastic performance of eight scoreless innings. He walked only one while striking out five. And yesterday, Jeremy Guthrie capped the series with 8.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out five and walking just one. So in one three-game series, three O's starters combined for 24.1 innings and just one earned run. Simply put, that is fantastic.

But, again, the starting pitching has been outstanding all month. Out of all major league teams in the month of August (with two days to go), the O's have the fourth-best ERA (3.21) among starters. Think about that -- yes, the Orioles -- with a rotation of Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Bergesen, and Millwood, have the league's fourth-best ERA in August right now. In those 27 starts, O's starters have thrown a combined 182.1 innings, the most out of all MLB teams. Oddly enough, they've only struck out 92 batters in those innings -- second-lowest among all teams -- but have kept their walks down at the same time: 44 walks, tied for sixth fewest.

I'm not going to say the entire starting staff has turned over a new leaf. They've actually been a little lucky: O's starters have a combined .261 BABIP in August. And by not striking out a ton of batters and keeping their walks down, O's starters have been relying on the team's defense, though the O's currently have the worst UZR among all MLB teams.

Still, even if it's been a little bit of a fluke, no one can take away what the O's pitching staff has done this month. Starters are pitching later in games and throwing more innings, which not only keeps the O's in the game, but saves the bullpen from being used too much.

It's likely that Showalter has affected the team's pitching in same way -- maybe they're all trying to impress the team's new manager and show him that they deserve a spot in the rotation next season. With the exception of Millwood, the team's other four starters -- Matusz, Guthrie, Arrieta, and Bergesen -- are all showing that they can be relied on to start next season in the rotation. But who knows for sure.

August has been rather fun. Let's see what happens in September, when the O's play 17 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. Not even Showalter's magic may be enough to get the team through that difficult stretch of games.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Arrieta is walking too many batters

At just 24 years old, Jake Arrieta (5.10 ERA) has had his ups and downs in his first major league season. He's been very good at times, like on August 5 against the Angels when he allowed just two earned runs in 7.2 innings. He's also been occasionally frustrating to watch -- a common occurrence for young pitchers -- for example, his start last night, when he lasted just four innings while giving up four runs on seven hits.

And although he has shown flashes of brilliance, Arrieta has been dealing with one major problem: walks. In fact, he has more walks (46) than strikeouts (39), and he has walked at least two batters in each of his 15 starts. That is not a good sign.

In the minors, Arrieta did walk his fair share of batters, but not at the rate he is right now. Here's his strikeout and walk rates from his time in Frederick, Bowie, Norfolk, and Baltimore:

Norfolk (23)
Norfolk (24)

Now, much of that difference in Baltimore can be attributed to simply facing better hitters who won't chase as many pitches out of the zone. But why did Arrieta start walking almost a batter more per game at Norfolk when he was 24 instead of 23? Sure, it's not a big innings sample size, but it's still a bit odd, especially considering that his strikeout rate essentially stayed the same.

So what's the problem? Is Arrieta nibbling too much? Does he not trust his stuff enough to finish hitters off? Or is he just getting used to facing major league hitters who won't swing at pitches that many minor leaguers go after? It's probably a combination of all three, and it may be worth exploring if Arrieta's still struggling with his command next season. Right now, I think Arrieta deserves the benefit of the doubt because, after all, he's only thrown 83 major league innings. However, it's difficult enough to pitch effectively in the majors without walking nearly five batters per nine innings. Hopefully Arrieta makes the necessary improvements in the near future and pitches more efficiently in the zone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What to do with Koji

Last night, Koji Uehara earned his second save, and he may have overtaken Alfredo Simon as the team's main closing option. He's pitching extremely well, but his contract expires after this season. What should the Orioles do with him?

In the 2009 offseason, the O's signed Uehara to a two-year, $10 million deal. The move was noteworthy because 1) he became Baltimore's first Japanese-born player and 2) the O's needed pitching help. He was initially signed to pitch in the starting rotation, and he did a decent enough job in the role. In 66.2 innings last season as a starter, Uehara had a 4.05 ERA while striking out 48 batters and walking just 12. Unfortunately, he injured his right elbow in June and didn't throw another inning after giving up one run in six innings against the Marlins on June 23.

Besides the injury, another concern surfaced: Uehara's stamina. Most of Uehara's starts in his first season ended between five and six innings, and he only threw a full seven innings one time: April 19 against the Red Sox. His pitch count wasn't always necessarily high, but he just got worn down by the heat and/or humidity.

After the season, the O's decided to move Uehara to the bullpen. He didn't get off to the best start; in fact, he didn't make his first appearance until May 6 because of a lingering hamstring injury. Then, after making just six relief appearances in May, Uehara ended up on the 15-day disabled list again with an injured elbow. Finally healthy, Uehara was activated from the disabled list on June 27 and pitched on June 29. He's been lights out ever since, allowing only five earned runs in almost two months.

For the season, Uehara has a 2.00 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only five walks. The biggest jump in his performance has been with strikeouts: his K/9 rate has gone from 6.48 last season to 10.33. He's also been a little unlucky and has a .365 BABIP, which is high and will likely go down. Because of the two DL stints, Uehara has thrown only 27 innings, but he's still been worth 1.0 win above replacement -- third-best out of O's pitchers after Brian Matusz and Jeremy Guthrie.

Uehara also appears to be in better shape and hasn't seemed as fatigued on the mound lately. The O's don't use him much on consecutive days -- the last time he pitched two days in a row was on July 19 and 20 -- so maybe that's a contributing factor. Or maybe he's just healthy and finally in a comfortable routine. Either way, there's no debating that he's been very good this season.

So what should the O's do: re-sign Uehara or let him walk? He turned 35 in April and has battled injuries in both seasons with the O's. But when healthy, he's been valuable: according to FanGraphs, Uehara has been worth $4.1 million already this season and was worth $7.3 million last season even though he made just 12 starts. That's a total of $11.4 million, and there's still time left this season for that amount to grow.

Still, at the time of Uehara's first deal, he was signed to be a starter. He's been great in the bullpen, but it doesn't make much sense for the O's to throw a bunch of cash at a reliever (Michael Gonzalez, anyone?), especially if Uehara asks for a similar contract to his first one. I'd have no problem if the O's decided to bring Uehara back, since he appears to be a legitimate closing option. But they shouldn't overpay for a 35-year-old reliever with occasional injury and endurance issues just because he's been outstanding for a few months.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

McNabb, others out for Friday's preseason game

An ankle sprain will keep Donovan McNabb out of the Redskins' third preseason game (against the Jets). McNabb hurt his left ankle in last week's loss to the Ravens.

Here's what head coach Mike Shanahan had to say about McNabb's injury:
"I don't think it's a bad ankle sprain. I don't think it's too bad. But it's still real sore right now, sore enough where he couldn't play this week if it was regular season, so that kind of gives you an idea."
Teams typically play their starters the most in the third preseason game, so the injury hurts the offense in that regard. But McNabb should be ready for the first regular season game against the Cowboys on September 12. The rest of the offense may lose the chance to become more familiar with McNabb and open things up a bit more for the rest of the preseason, but it's important to keep McNabb as healthy as possible. With McNabb out, Rex Grossman will get the start.

According to Shanahan, fullback Mike Sellers and wide receiver Malcolm Kelly will also miss Friday's game. Safety Kareem Moore will miss the game as well and is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee. Reed Doughty will get the start in his place.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy birthday, Cal

Cal Ripken turns 50 today. And regardless of what you think of the possibility of him returning to the organization in either a part- or full-time role in some capacity in the near future, you have to at least respect all that he's done for the Orioles franchise both on and off the field.

And now, here's a Coke commercial at the time of Ripken's retirement.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sally Jenkins blasts Haynesworth

So much for Albert Haynesworth not becoming any more of a distraction. After Haynesworth passed head coach Mike Shanahan's offseason conditioning test, many Redskins fans hoped that Haynesworth would jump on-board with what the team was trying to do and become a force on the newly installed 3-4 defense. Unfortunately, not only has Haynesworth missed several practices -- he may have been diagnosed with a "muscle condition" -- but he also recently sounded off after the Redskins latest preseason game against the Ravens.

The linked ESPN article above provides a pretty good summary of the current issue:
Haynesworth stopped practicing early Tuesday at training camp and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Shanahan gave varying explanations for Haynesworth's idleness each day. The coach initially said Haynesworth "just was sick," then said the cause was dehydration, then finally said it was "more of a headache than anything else."

Haynesworth said Saturday night he had something more, but he didn't specify what.

"You'll have to ask them, but I guess they'll tell you 'headaches' again," said Haynesworth, emphasizing the word by holding his fingers in the air to simulate quotation marks. "It was part of it, but it wasn't all of it. They left out a whole lot of stuff."
Haynesworth was also mad for having to play in the second half with a bunch of reserves: "I'm a ninth-year pro. I don't think I should have been out there in the third quarter."

Predictably, Shanahan stuck to his guns when it came to Haynesworth and practice:
"Albert has gotten away in the past with playing without practicing," Shanahan said. "That will not happen under this regime. If he's going to play, he's going to practice, and that is the same with every player here. The days of him playing without practicing are over.
If Shanahan's comments weren't straightforward enough -- and if the feeling among fans hasn't turned sour enough on anything to do with Haynesworth just yet -- Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins raked Haynesworth over the coals this morning for failing to grow up and take a leadership role on the Redskins. You should really check out the entire column, but here were a few of her comments:
Shanahan's insistence that Haynesworth get himself into "football shape" isn't some head game he's playing. It's not some ruse to recoup Haynesworth's $21 million offseason bonus check, or some petty little punitive measure by a martinet. It's a matter of non-negotiable, foundational values to Shanahan. To know that, all you have to do is read just a few pages of Shanahan's book, "Think Like a Champion." In fact, just read the dedication. It's to his wife, Peggy. You might expect a love note. Instead, it thanks her for her "commitment, dedication, and sacrifice." Apparently the head coach's wife has more of those qualities than the highest paid member of the Redskins defense. Shanahan can't stand for that - and he won't.
In the past, Haynesworth may have been able to outmaneuver Redskins coaches to get what he wants. But for the first time in years, the coaching staff and front office are on the same page and seemingly stand unified on this issue. Haynesworth can't win this battle, and he's certainly not gaining any allies either.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Matusz cruises in O's victory over Rangers

Brian Matusz befuddled Rangers hitters and threw eight innings of shutout ball, and the Orioles lineup finally broke through against Colby Lewis in the seventh inning to score four runs to give the O's a 4-0 win on Thursday night. The O's managed to score those four runs on 11 hits, but the real story was Matusz.

Throwing 115 pitches by the time his night was done, he allowed just five hits while striking out six and walking one. Matusz induced about the same amount of ground balls (8) and fly balls (9), and he also gave up just one extra-base hit: a double to Andres Blanco, who was thrown out on the play trying to advance to third.

Koji Uehara maintained the shutout by throwing a scoreless ninth inning.

But back to Matusz: The performance last night lowered his ERA to 4.97 -- the first time his ERA has been under 5 since July 9. And although he struggled against Tampa Bay in his last start (4.0 IP, 9 H, 5 ER), he's been solid in August, allowing just one earned run each in the other two starts in the month. Another strong sign is that his walks are down this month (five walks in 24 innings).

It's been fun to watch Matusz's growth as a starting pitcher, and he should continue to improve as he gets more major league innings under his belt. The growing pains likely aren't done yet, but remember, he's just 23 years old and has still been the O's best pitcher this season.

(For a more in-depth look at Matusz's strengths, weaknesses, and improvements he needs to make, check out this article on FanGraphs by David Golebiewski.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Roberts picks up Simon with walk-off HR in the 10th

Brian Roberts led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a home run to give the Orioles a 3-2 win -- their sixth win in seven games under manager Buck Showalter. Going into the ninth and clinging to a 2-1 lead, closer Alfredo Simon allowed a solo shot to Paul Konerko to tie the game.

Besides Simon, the rest of the O's pitchers were solid. Brian Matusz gave up one run on three hits in six innings, lowering his ERA to 5.08. He also struck out four and walked two. Because of Simon's blown save, Matusz didn't get the win, but his performance was good enough to win on most nights. Koji Uehara relieved Matusz and pitched two scoreless innings. He didn't allow a hit and only needed 16 pitches to retire six consecutive batters. Michael Gonzalez did an effective job of relieving Simon and escaping the ninth inning without giving up the go-ahead run. Matt Albers also retired two batters in the top of the 10th and eventually earned the win.

Back to Uehara for a minute: He's been on a bit of a roll lately. Since giving up two runs in an appearance against Detroit on July 5, Uehara has allowed just one run -- against Toronto on July 28 -- and has struck out 14 batters and walked just one in 12.2 innings. During that span, he's lowered his ERA from 4.50 to 2.18. My beef with Uehara has never been that he isn't effective -- just that, at least earlier in the season, he seemed to tire when having to throw more than a few pitches in humid weather. Whether or not it's because he's in improved shape or just feeling better now that he's healthy, he's been outstanding lately and is looking like the best reliever in the O's bullpen.

The offense was held in check by White Sox starter Edwin Jackson through the first five innings, though they did put up two runs (one earned) against him in six innings. The O's finally got to him in the sixth with a Ty Wigginton solo home run. Then, aided by a Dayan Viciedo error, the O's loaded the bases with one out and took a 2-1 lead on a Matt Wieters RBI fielder's choice to first base. Instead of immediately throwing home, first baseman Konerko fielded the ball, touched first base, and then threw home too late to nail a sliding Luke Scott at the plate.

Besides the home runs by Wigginton and Roberts, the O's had six other hits, all singles, by Wigginton (2-4), Scott (2-4), Adam Jones (1-3, walk), and Felix Pie (2-4). Roberts also walked.

One other note: There's no question that Josh Bell is struggling mightily at the plate. In 52 at-bats, Bell has just eight hits (one double). He's also struck out 21 times while failing to draw a walk -- a dangerous sign. It's not a positive sign either that he batted ninth behind Cesar Izturis last night. He's simply been overmatched, and I'm just not sure this can be good for his development -- and I was one of the people clamoring for him to get more playing time when Miguel Tejada was still on the roster. And yet, that isn't the only problem. On a few plays in the field last night, Bell was too tentative. He was called off on a routine (though very high) pop up to third base by Izturis, and on another play, Bell failed to take charge on a pop up near the third base line, which forced Wieters to make a difficult, and awkward, catch. It was good to see Bell take charge on a tough fly ball in foul ground not more than an inning or two later after the Wieters play -- Bell made the catch -- but he has to be more sure of himself. There's no reason for Bell to get called off by the catcher on just about any pop up around third base; it's one thing for him to struggle at the plate, but he can't bring that with him out onto the field.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

O's drop White Sox in 10 as win streak hits four

The Orioles haven't had much to get excited about this season, but their recent four-game win streak has been one of those times. Brad Bergesen (7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 5 K, 1 BB) matched the outing by the more-accomplished John Danks (7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 5 K, 0 BB) and gave the O's their fourth strong starting pitching performance in a row (and, more importantly, the chance for an eventual 2-1 win). In those four games, O's starters (Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Bergesen) pitched a combined 27.2 innings and allowed just seven runs. Timely hitting has also been a factor, but getting starting pitching like that has been a relief.

Back to the game: Danks may have pitched seven innings, but the O's made him work (he threw 120 pitches). The O's only drew two walks -- none off of Danks -- but every Oriole who started the game saw more than 14 pitches at the plate. Only three White Sox hitters saw more than 13.

Still, that didn't lead to many runs. The O's had 10 hits, but they were all singles. Just about all of the damage in this game was done by the top of the lineup. Brian Roberts went 2-4 with a walk, Nick Markakis had four hits in 5 at-bats, and Luke Scott had two hits and a walk. Ty Wigginton accounted for the first O's run with an RBI single in the first inning, and Adam Jones knocked in Markakis in the 10th with a game-winning single. That gives the O's two wins in a row on walk-off singles (Cesar Izturis had the game-winning hit on Thursday).

After subpar outings the last two nights, the bullpen was much better. Koji Uehara pitched the eighth inning and looked fantastic, striking out two batters and needing just 13 pitches. When Uehara's healthy and not looking exhausted on the mound, there's no denying that he's a solid option in the bullpen. Alfredo Simon relieved Uehara and pitched two scoreless innings, also striking out two.

Other notes:
  • This current win streak is the team's third four-game win streak of the season. The first came on June 24-27 when the O's beat the Marlins and then swept a three-game series against the Nationals. The second came in that shocking four-game sweep in Texas against the Rangers right before the All-Star break.
  • On the other hand, the O's have four(-plus)-game losing streaks six times, including stretches of nine losses, five losses, 10 losses, and five losses. I like winning better too.
  • In the last three games, the O's have faced three pretty good starting pitchers (Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, and John Danks) and still won. And today, the O's face off against Gavin Floyd, who hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in an outing since June 2. His amazing run has lowered his ERA from 6.64 to 3.54. The O's will counter with Kevin Millwood. Yeah, something has to give tonight.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Buck moves to 2-0; O's have a win streak!

What seemed like a laugher in the fourth inning didn't end as one. After a five-run fourth that gave the Orioles a commanding 9-1 lead, the Angels battled back with a five-run seventh that brought them within striking distance. Still, those nine runs ended up being enough as the O's bullpen bended but didn't break, allowing the O's to escape with a 9-7 win.

First, the positives: Brian Matusz had a great rebound outing, allowing one run on seven hits in six innings. He struck out three and didn't walk a batter -- something that he's done too much this season. He got the win, his first since July 4.

The O's offense was also fantastic, accumulating 14 hits (12 against starter Ervin Santana) and nine runs. Santana wasn't fooling O's hitters last night, and they knocked him out after just 3.2 innings. Adam Jones and Felix Pie each had three hits, and Ty Wigginton and Luke Scott each had two. Pie tripled in a run in the second, and Scott belted a two-run homer in the fourth. Brian Roberts had a hit and a walk, and Nick Markakis doubled. Josh Bell also singled in a run.

Unfortunately, after a 24-minute rain delay in the bottom of the sixth inning, the O's momentum was gone and the Angels started to chip away at the lead. Matt Albers relieved Matusz, and here's what happened: single, fly out, single, double, double. David Hernandez then relieved Albers after three runs had scored, but the Angels weren't done: double, single, foul out, wild pitch (run scored). With two more runs tacked on, Hernandez left the game with an ankle injury, and Koji Uehara entered the game. He allowed a walk and an infield single before finally getting a ground ball to second to end the threat.

The O's failed to tack on any runs in the bottom of the seventh, so they led 9-6 going into the eighth. Uehara must have felt more better out there, because he struck out the side. Still, the Angels weren't done. Alfredo Simon entered the game in the ninth inning, and things got interesting. Simon allowed two straight doubles, which cut the lead to two. Then for some reason, Torii Hunter, who hit the second double, tried to steal third and was thrown out by Matt Wieters. Hunter is a great player and has made many phenomenal plays in his career, but to me, this is a benchable offense. The Angels weren't down by just one run in that situation (not that a steal is justified in that situation either); they were still down by two. And there still weren't any outs! What was Hunter thinking? He was already in scoring position, and his run didn't even mean that much. His decision just didn't make sense, but I'm glad he tried to steal and gave the O's an easy out. With the pressure slightly off, Simon got two fly outs -- while giving up a single in between -- to earn the save. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.

Two other notes: First, Roberts left the game after the rain delay with a left shin contusion. He was hit with the ball when diving back to second base early in the game, but he remained in the game. My guess is that he's fine, even if he gets the day off today just as a precaution. Second, the loss moved the Angels to one game under .500 (54-55), which is rather significant because, according to Joe Angel on O's radio last night, this is the latest in the season the Angels have been under .500 in about a decade. Must be nice, Angels fans.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Site news: title update

Just a quick note: I decided to drop "Blog" from Krem's Sports Blog, so from now on it's just "Krem's Sports." It seemed a little redundant, so now it's gone. If you were kind enough to link to my site on yours, I'd appreciate the brief title update. If not, that's cool too -- and again, thanks for the link. Carry on.

Wieters on the rise

Matt Wieters (.253/.330/.380) still doesn't have great numbers. He only has eight home runs, and for much of this season has seemed like a singles hitter who hasn't taken advantage of his raw power.

But after a decent month of July and three-hit game last night, Wieters's numbers are starting to look better. On July 1, Wieters had a batting line of .238/.308/.343, which is really bad. Since then he's improved his OPS by 60 points (from .650 to .710), though he only hit two home runs in July (both on July 26 against the Blue Jays).

But the strongest sign of Wieters's improvement at the plate seems to be his plate discipline. Sure, it's a small sample size, but since July 1, Wieters has struck out just three times while walking nine times. Considering that in June, for example, he struck out 18 times while walking seven times, that's a solid reversal.

In a post I wrote about Wieters in May, I noted that, despite his struggles, he was still walking more and striking out less. His numbers at the time were: 8.2 BB% and 22.4 K%. Right now, those numbers are even better: 10.1 BB% and 20.5 K%. It sure seems like Wieters has made some necessary adjustments.

Let's see how he's doing in three other trouble areas from before:

1) Hitting the ball hard

May: 16.5 LD%
Now: 17.2 LD%

2) Ground balls

May: 49.6 GB%
Now: 46.1 GB%

3) Fastballs

May: -2.3 runs above average
Now: -5.0 runs above average

To summarize -- again, noting the small sample size -- Wieters has been hitting the ball harder, hitting fewer ground balls, but has still been struggling with fastballs. However, he has been better at hitting curveballs, cutters, sliders, and changeups. He's also been swinging at more pitches in the zone (up to 59.4%).

There's no question that Wieters still has more work to do, especially when it comes to hitting for more power, but he is getting better. It wasn't time to give up on him before, and that's certainly not the case now.

Guthrie's strong start earns Showalter a win in O's debut

Jeremy Guthrie gave up three runs in seven innings and the O's offense woke up in the sixth inning to score four runs in a 6-3 win over the Angels in Buck Showalter's first game as the team's new manager.

Guthrie served up a two-run homer to Howie Kendrick in the fifth, but he allowed just five hits while striking out two and walking none. Since giving up four runs in 4.2 innings against the Rangers on July 8, Guthrie has been on a roll, allowing just seven combined runs in his last four starts -- a span of 27.2 innings. During that stretch, Guthrie has walked only two batters while striking out 17. His recent improved pitching has also lowered his ERA from 4.77 to 4.21.

On offense, Luke Scott hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning; he also had a double. Matt Wieters, though, may have had the best offensive performance of the night for the O's, finishing 3-3 with a double, two runs batted in, and a run scored. He also walked, allowing him to reach base four times. Felix Pie went 2-3 with two singles; Adam Jones singled and walked; and Josh Bell added a two-run double. Ty Wigginton went 0-2 but did walk twice. At the top of the lineup, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis combined to go 0-8, yet the offense still scored six runs -- not bad, I guess.

As for the Showalter factor, the lineup was pretty much the same, and most things were done by the book. However, he did use the bullpen a little differently and showed some outside-the-box thinking. Here's Dan Connolly explaining the situation:
What interested me most was watching Showalter manage. During the past month, I’ve talked to a bunch of people who have worked under Showalter, and they have all spoken about his preparedness and how he puts his players in a situation to win.

And so I was intrigued by his first real piece of managing: in the ninth inning Tuesday with the Orioles up 6-3. Lefty Michael Gonzalez had already pitched one scoreless inning, and Showalter summoned him to pitch again in the ninth – even though it was a save situation and closer Alfredo Simon was warming up.

Go by the book, and bring in your closer. That’s what every manager I have ever covered would have done. But Showalter left Gonzalez in to face lefty Hideki Matsui, who struck out. Then Showalter stuck with Gonzalez to turn around switch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, and he grounded out.

With one out needed, Showalter called for Simon, even though it was no longer a save situation for the O’s closer. And Simon struck out Howie Kendrick.

Asked about the moves after the game, Showalter said: “The matchup was a lot better. Gonzo, I’ve been watching him throw the ball and talking to [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and some of the guys. And I liked the switch-hitters turned around. The tough call was Hunter [in the eighth with one on and two outs]. That’s a tie ballgame at worst, though, and we like our chances at home with the last at-bat. Take our chances.”

That’s a guy who is not managing scared.

He followed that up with his best line of the day: “Believe me, I know the save rule and, quite frankly, it doesn’t carry much weight with me. I like the win rule a little bit better.”
Apologies for the long quote, but that's some intriguing stuff right there. I'm all for managers going against the typical bullpen philosophy of simply bringing in the closer in the ninth for a potential save. Now, I'm not a fan of leaving relievers such as Mike Gonzalez in for more than one inning, but Showalter recognized that Gonzalez has been throwing well lately and stuck with the hot hand rather than simply summoning Alfredo Simon in the ninth.

Could the move have backfired? Sure, anything's possible against the Orioles. But the move worked, and that's something that has been hard enough for the O's to find for a long time. I'm not ready to pronounce Showalter the greatest manager ever or anything because of the move, but I am ready to see what he has in store for this team.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Showalter's arrival

"You hear people talk about realignment or whatever, I don't really care. The Yankees aren't going away. The Red Sox aren't going way. Tampa's not going away. And Toronto's getting better. So you gotta figure out a way to do it, and Tampa Bay's eliminated a lot of those excuses."
That's what Buck Showalter had to say when asked about competing in the AL East. Check out that article -- it's well worth your time.

Showalter makes his O's managerial debut today in Baltimore against the Angels.

VandenHurk impressive in Norfolk debut

Making his first start for Triple-A Norfolk, Rick VandenHurk pitched seven innings, allowing only one run on four hits against Indianapolis. He also struck out four and walked just one, while earning the win.

With the addition of VandenHurk to the organization, the Orioles currently have a few starting pitching options in Norfolk: Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, and VandenHurk. The O's rotation -- which currently consists of Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie, Kevin Millwood, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen -- has struggled mightily, but it's still very young. Millwood won't be in Baltimore next season, but he may stay with the team for the rest of the season if the O's don't 1) work out a deal with another club, or 2) simply release him. Matusz, Guthrie, and Arrieta will all be in the rotation next season barring a trade, while Bergesen's ineffectiveness may cause him to be converted into a reliever.

Tillman seems like a lock to be added to the rotation next season, but then again, that's what many fans thought heading into spring training. The 22-year-old Britton is also an intriguing option, but he's only pitched 31.2 innings in Norfolk and probably needs some more seasoning before being called up. With that being said, if he continues to pitch well, I wouldn't be shocked for him to get a start or two before the season ends. (Or maybe not: According to David Golebiewski of FanGraphs, "[t]he chances of Britton getting ample major league innings this season are slim — the O’s aren’t playing for anything of consequence, and the southpaw is a little more than 30 frames away from his previous career high workload." For more information on Britton, check out that link.) VandenHurk also seems like a likely addition to the pitching staff in September.

If I had to make a guess on what the O's rotation looks like in 2011, here's what I'd say:


But, again, it's too early for that, especially since most fans probably haven't seen VandenHurk pitch yet. The O's may decide to sign a veteran starter, or they may make a few trades. It's also possible that Britton will be ready by then. We'll see -- it's up to you, Mr. Showalter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Could Trent Williams be the next Chris Samuels?

It's a little unfair for the Redskins to ask Trent Williams to step in and immediately solidify the team's left tackle position. Nevertheless, he's looked pretty good in training camp so far and has impressed several people, including John Keim of the Washington Examiner:
I really, really like how strong his base is and how well he uses his arms. I remember when Chris Samuels first came to camp and you could just tell the kid would be good because his fundamentals and skills were just different. Williams is the same way. We don’t know how well he’ll prepare, but that’s the only question I have at this point. In terms of talent, he’s legit.
Keim obviously isn't saying that Williams is a carbon copy of Samuels, but that's definitely a strong example of a lineman for Williams to emulate. Samuels, drafted third overall by the Redskins in 2000, played nine seasons in Washington and missed only eight games in that span. He was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl six times.

At 6-5, 315 pounds, Williams is almost the exact same size as Samuels (6-5, 325 pounds), and hopefully he can have similar success on the Redskins' line for years to come.

(HT: SB Nation DC)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ohman trade reactions

Last night, the Orioles traded Will Ohman to the Marlins for 25-year-old pitcher Rick VandenHurk. With the way the O's rotation has struggled, VandenHurk will likely get the chance to pitch either in the rotation or in the bullpen at some point in the near future, depending on what the O's do with some of the pitchers currently on the roster. And make no mistake about it, VandenHurk is happy to be in Baltimore. In an e-mail response to Orioles Insider's Dan Connolly, VandenHurk expressed his excitement:
"I think it's great! I'm very excited to come to the Orioles organization. I've worked with Kranny before and he knows me and knows what I've got, and that's important. And I'm excited for this opportunity."
Hopefully his enthusiasm pays off.

Don't know much about VandenHurk or what to think of the deal? Here are some quick takes on the trade:
  • "From Baltimore’s perspective, the club gives up a guy with a 4.76 projected FIP from ZiPS for a 25-year-old with a history of missing lumber and missing starts. Originally signed out of the Netherlands back in 2002, VandenHurk has struck out nearly a batter per inning during the course of his minor league career, with 3.8 BB/9. He sits 91-92 MPH with his fastball, mixing in a hard mid-80′s slider and a changeup. . . . Chances are, this trade won’t have a profound effect on either team. Ohman’s a so-so southpaw, and VandenHurk can’t seem to stay off the DL for any sustained length of time. Still, the swap gives the Marlins a better lefty than Tankersley and the O’s a live arm who could play some part on the next relevant Baltimore club." [David Golebiewski, FanGraphs]
  • "The trade is a win for the Orioles in that Ohman wouldn’t provide future value while Vandenhurk might (even if it’s only a little), but I don’t see anything to get too excited about. That this is the only deal the O’s made at the deadline is disappointing. I guess winning 60 games instead of 55 this year matters more than potentially going from 85 to 90 in 2012, or 2013, etc." [Daniel Moroz, Camden Crazies]
  • "One of the few Dutch-born players in big league history, VandenHurk came back from Tommy John surgery in 2005 to unexpectedly make the big leagues in April 2007, not having pitched above high Class A previously. He went 4-6, 6.83 in 81 2/3 innings as a 22-year-old rookie for the Marlins in 2007, but he has been unable to establish himself in the big league rotation in subsequent seasons. VandenHurk has fought control problems at times in 2010, though he still has the potential to be a mid- or back-of-the-rotation starter. His fastball tops out around 92 mph with good life, and he complements it with a slider and changeup. He's had trouble keeping the ball down, though, as he's given up 11 homers in 19 starts for New Orleans and his 0.62 groundout-to-flyout ratio was among the lowest in the Pacific Coast League, a factor that seem to make him a poor match for hitter-friendly Camden Yards. But a fresh start could do him some good." [Jim Shonerd, Baseball America]

Maybe Shanahan isn't so mean after all

So Albert Haynesworth has failed Mike Shanahan's conditioning test twice in a row, and on Saturday morning he didn't take the test because of some swelling in his knee. Shanahan said that he wasn't sure when Haynesworth would be able to take the conditioning test again:
"I don't know; it all depends on how the knee is, how he's feeling. I never said he had to take the test every day. We want to get you in football shape and when you feel like you can pass the test, we'll let you take it and if you pass it, we'll let you practice with the team."
Seems fair, right? Haynesworth missed just about all of Shanahan's offseason program, so Shanahan is forcing him to pass this test to prove he's in shape enough to participate in practices. Sure, Shanahan is likely upset that Haynesworth basically skipped his program, but he's using a test that Haynesworth should be able to pass.

And just in case you thought the conditioning test is unfair, Titans' coach Jeff Fisher has admitted that his team uses a very similar test as well. Here's what Fisher had to say, according to Redskins Insider's Jason Reid:
"That's the test we do - the 300-yard shuttle with a recovery time and then another one. What we do is ... if you've made a minimum number of offseason workouts, then the test is modified.

"Those that have been here for at least eight offseason workouts, it's a 300-yard shuttle, [but] they will run 50-yard increments instead of 25-yard shuttles, so it's a little bit easier. The 25-yard, 300-yard shuttle is an appropriate test for what kind of shape you're in."
There you have it -- similar workout under similar circumstances. So, yeah, Shanahan might have it in for Haynesworth because of how he treated Shanahan's offseason program, but if Haynesworth passes the conditioning test, he'll be able to practice -- case closed. Whenever that will be, though, remains to be seen.