Saturday, September 24, 2011

Revisiting the O's deadline trades

At the non-waiver trade deadline (July 31), the Orioles made two moves. They were:

1) Koji Uehara and $2 million to the Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter; and

2) Derrek Lee and cash to the Pirates for Aaron Baker.

And in a waiver deadline (August 31) deal, the O's shipped Mike Gonzalez to the Rangers for cash. They then used that cash to claim Pedro Strop off of waivers. Essentially, it was a swap of Gonzalez for Strop.

The O's have made a flurry of other roster moves, bringing several players up and sending others down -- including designating Felix Pie for assignment and then assigning him to Norfolk once he cleared waivers -- but for the most part, that's a pretty common thing for most MLB clubs in September. So let's focus on the four players acquired in the three trades mentioned above.

Chris Davis

Davis has not collected a whole lot of service time in his career, meaning that the O's won't have to worry about paying him a bunch of money anytime soon. And that's positive news, because he probably wouldn't be around otherwise. By acquiring Davis (25) and Hunter (25) in exchange for Uehara, the O's took a chance on bringing in a couple of older players rather than actual prospects. And both players, mainly because of how thin the O's roster is, should receive plenty of playing time next season.

Davis will probably see his name in the lineup in most games next season at a corner infield position or designated hitter. And unless the O's go out and sign someone, there aren't many better options on the roster. Davis has played in 26 games and has only 109 plate appearances, but in that time he hasn't performed well. He has a slash line of .260/.294/.385 with the O's, and he's been striking out more (33.9%) and walking less (4.6%) than usual -- which is pretty tough considering he has a career 31.9 K% and a 6.5 BB%. He also doesn't bring much defensive value to the table; he appears to be a below average third baseman and an average first baseman. But if Mark Reynolds sticks around next season, he'll likely play first, which will push Davis to third or DH.

Davis has also been dealing with a shoulder injury basically since he arrived in Baltimore, so it may be unfair to judge his play. That's fine, and it's very possible that he plays much better next season if he's healthy. But his issues aren't just with this season; he doesn't have great overall numbers. In 1,062 career plate appearances, Davis has hit .249/.299/.447 -- not good. The ability to hit for power is obviously Davis's strongest attribute, but he doesn't get on base nearly enough. Taking more pitches and walking more would aid Davis tremendously, but that's not an easily acquired skill.

Tommy Hunter

Like Davis, Hunter has his flaws. He has a career pitching line of 4.55/4.71/4.51 (ERA/FIP/xFIP) in 330.2 innings, which suggests that he's been a little unlucky in his 64.1 innings with the O's (5.32/4.53/4.22). Hunter is essentially an innings eater right now, and he may end up in that role next year if the O's young pitchers continue to falter.

Hunter has barely been walking any opposing batters (0.98 BB/9), and he hasn't struck out many either (4.62 K/9). By all accounts, he doesn't have fantastic stuff, and he really shouldn't be in the rotation next season if everyone's healthy. But with the O's, that rarely happens, meaning that it's good to have someone like Hunter around, even if he's not spectacular. Hunter may be best utilized out of the bullpen, where he could give the O's three or four innings at a time.

So, basically, the O's traded a fantastic reliever (Uehara) and received two 25-year-old players with limited upside. Don't get me wrong: Both players could end up being useful. But that's not exactly the best way to go about furthering along a rebuilding process.

Aaron Baker

Baker, 23, is not viewed as a top prospect, which is why the Pirates were willing to part with him. In 12 games at Single-A Frederick, Baker hit well, posting a .386/.472/.591 line. But in 15 games at Double-A Bowie, he struggled and hit only .196/.188/.239. The O's were not going to receive much value for Lee, and Baker may never make it to Baltimore, though there's still time for him to do so. Regardless, the deal was reasonable because it got Lee off the roster and allowed Reynolds to move to first.

Pedro Strop

The most effective player the O's received, surprisingly, has been Strop (26). He's only pitched in 8.2 innings, but he's yet to give up a run and has already earned eighth-inning responsibilities. Whether or not that continues next season is another question entirely, but for now Strop is dealing. In those 8.2 innings, Strop has 11 strikeouts and two walks. FanGraphs' PitchFx data has Strop's fastball sitting at 94 mph (about his career average), and it also shows that Strop has been throwing more sliders (40.6% now, 27.2% career). Maybe that's a recipe for continued success, or maybe not.

Strop has only thrown 36 innings in the majors, so it's hard to take much of anything away from such limited experience. But the O's acquired him for someone that they didn't want on the roster and who wouldn't be on the team next year anyway (Gonzalez), meaning that it appears the O's did something right.

Strop won't keep pitching this well, and who knows what his true talent level actually is. But similar moves are the ones the O's should be making. The least-publicized move may end up being the best one. It's funny how things work sometimes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Praising Santana Moss

Remember Laveranues Coles? When the Redskins signed him in 2003, they believed they had found their big-play wide receiver. Of course they believed that, because not only did they sign him to a seven-year, $35 million deal with $13 million guaranteed, but they also forfeited their first-round pick to the Jets since Coles was a restricted free agent. That selection ended up being the 13th overall pick.

The linked article also highlights two other interesting things from that offseason: 1) That was the offseason when the Redskins decided it would be a good idea to sign several Jets players, including Chad Morton, Randy Thomas, and John Hall; and 2) (it's probably better if I just quote this from the article):
Coles would fill Washington's need for a speedy, big-play receiver to play opposite Rod Gardner. They had originally planned to draft such a player -- such as University of Miami's Andre Johnson -- by trading picks to move up on draft day, but Coles would give them a proven talent at roughly the same price without risking a training camp holdout.
I'm against the Redskins trading draft picks; most Redskins fans are. But at the time, they were still wheeling and dealing with reckless abandon, as evidenced by the Coles trade. Still, it would have been pretty awesome for the Skins to end up with Andre Johnson, though it would have taken a lot to move up to select him since he was taken third overall by the Texans. Also, here are some players who were taken in the first and second rounds who would have been available at No. 13 had the Redskins not traded for Coles: Ty Warren, Troy Polamalu, Calvin Pace, Willis McGahee, Dallas Clark, Larry Johnson, Nick Barnett, Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Tillman, Rashean Mathis, Anquan Boldin, and Osi Umenyiora. There were others, but you get the point. Oh, and with their first pick in the draft (at No. 44 in the second round), the Skins selected Taylor Jacobs out of Florida. Did I mention that the Steve Spurrier era was a disaster?

But back to Coles. Under Spurrier, Coles had a solid 2003-2004 season in his first year in Washington. He caught 82 passes for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns. But after that season, Spurrier resigned, and Daniel Snyder hired Joe Gibbs. Under Gibbs, a believer in establishing the run and continuing to pound the ball, Coles was not as productive. He had more catches (90) the next season, but only for 950 yards and a single touchdown. Predictably, Coles was unhappy:
[Coles:] "He [Gibbs] wasn't flexible. We didn't see eye to eye. I just felt like it [the offense] wasn't for me. He knew that. I knew that. So we felt that it was best that we both go our separate ways."
Coles and Gibbs held a couple of meetings to settle their issues, and Gibbs apparently even agreed to alter the play-calling to include more downfield passing instead of being so conservative. But for whatever reason, the two sides could not agree on anything concrete and Coles was traded back to the Jets in exchange for Santana Moss.

Even though the Redskins had to absorb a significant cap hit to get rid of Coles, they were happy to replace him with Moss. At the time, Moss was viewed as a talented playmaker:
In Moss, the Redskins obtain an explosive wide receiver with blazing speed who is also a dynamic punt returner.

"We're excited to have Santana Moss," Vice President Vinny Cerrato said yesterday in brief comments because the trade wasn't official. "He's been a touchdown-maker, and he has great speed."
Redskins fans eventually learned that anything Cerrato said should be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case he was right. Many were skeptical of the move because of Moss's hamstring issues, but looking back, he still played in at least 15 games in three of the four seasons with the Jets. The only season that he didn't -- in 2001, his rookie season -- was because of torn cartilage in his left knee, an injury he suffered in training camp.

Surprisingly, Moss didn't bring all of his return skills to the Redskins special teams unit -- not because he wouldn't have done well in that role, but because the Redskins had others to handle return duties and also because Moss flourished with a new offense. In fact, he's only returned 24 punts with the Redskins, though that does include his 80-yard return in 2008 against Detroit.

In the 2005-2006 season, Moss caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. No one expected that kind of season, and it's not surprising that Moss hasn't put up those kinds of numbers again. It's hard to place much of the blame for that on Moss, though, since he's been one of the most talented of the Redskins' offensive weapons for several years now. It also helped that the Skins had some stability at quarterback with Mark Brunell at the time, which was also the last time he played in a full season. He's basically been a backup since.

Without a consistent quarterback, offensive scheme, coaching, and overall talent, the Redskins have not had a competent offense for years, and Moss's numbers took a dive after that first season. Here they are since:

2006-2007: 14 games, 55 catches, 790 yards, 6 TD
2007-2008: 14 games, 61 catches, 808 yards, 3 TD
2008-2009: 16 games, 79 catches, 1,044 yards, 6 TD
2009-2010: 16 games, 70 catches, 902 yards, 3 TD
2010-2011: 16 games, 93 catches, 1,115 yards, 6 TD

Those aren't amazing numbers, but they're pretty solid considering how abysmal the Redskins looked on offense during most of those seasons. I also have no doubt that Moss, on a more explosive offense with other talented receivers, could have performed much better and been talked about as one of the most productive receivers in the league. Still, Moss has performed admirably in Washington and is arguably the team's most consistent offensive threat, especially now that Chris Cooley seems to have taken a step back because of his knee injury. It's also worth noting that Moss, viewed as sort of an injury-prone guy at the time, has only missed four games in his Redskins career.

Similar to Clinton Portis, though not nearly as outspoken or controversial, Moss will occasionally do some questionable things. But he doesn't get in trouble off the field, which is rather important, right Brandon Banks?

Perhaps Moss has been more of a No. 2 receiver who has been tasked with the job of a No. 1 during his Redskins tenure. I don't think many would argue that, and I wouldn't either. It also would have been pretty exciting to watch the Redskins offense with Moss as the second option at receiver while a bigger, more talented receiver took some of the pressure off of him. But, thanks to bad drafting and plenty of failed acquisitions, that never happened. In the end, the Redskins have been stuck with Moss as their top wide receiver for a while now. But as Rod Gardner, Brandon Lloyd, David Patten, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and the plethora of awful moves the Redskins have made to try to shore up the wide receiver position have shown, there's no guarantee that another receiver will fit right in (especially when Cerrato is the guy calling the shots, or at least most of them). Moss is one of the few moves to actually pan out, and he's still going strong. Hopefully that continues.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hardy's poor second half

J.J. Hardy has had a pretty good season for the Orioles. He's been one of the better hitters in the lineup, and he's hit a surprising 26 home runs. But he hasn't been nearly as good since the All Star break (I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday but thought it was worth posting here as well):

Pre-All Star break: .278/.338/.498
Post-All Star break: .250/.269/.466

That .269 on-base percentage is abysmal, and it's not like Hardy was getting on base at a fantastic rate in the first half of the season. Most of his value at the plate is tied to his power, and since he's not walking all that much, he needs to keep collecting those extra-base hits.

He currently has 510 plate appearances, which is the most for him since 2008 (629). So it's possible that he's wearing down. Still, is it smart to assume that he'll be able to continue hitting for that much power?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More on Wieters's power surge

Behind Jeremy Guthrie's strong start (7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 10 K, 3 BB), the Orioles beat the Rays again last night, this time 6-2. The O's scored all of their runs via the long ball -- a line-drive solo shot by Nolan Reimold, a three-run bomb by Chris Davis, and a two-run blast by Matt Wieters.

The Wieters home run is particularly noteworthy for three reasons:

1) It was his third homer in three games, and it gives him 20 on the season. It also raises his slugging percentage to .449, which is top five among qualified catchers.

2) He hit the bomb off of Matt Moore, who many analysts and scouts consider to be the best pitching prospect in baseball.

3) It highlights just how well Wieters is hitting against left-handed pitching this season. Take a look:

vs. RH: 367 PA, .231/.283/.365
vs. LH: 133 PA, .348/.429/.696

So that's a little weird, especially since his career splits aren't that crazy.

Career vs. RH: 974 PA, .264/.325/.397
Career vs. LH: 410 PA, .267/.327/.453

Much of that jump in slugging percentage against left-handers is because of his performance this season, so it remains to be seen whether it's legitimate or sort of fluky. I'd probably lean towards fluky, especially since Wieters has a .400 BABIP against lefties and a .243 BABIP against righties this season.

Regardless, Wieters is on a roll lately, and it's never a bad thing to hit for more power.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wieters hitting for more power

In a 4-2 Orioles win last night, Matt Wieters hit the go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth inning. That blast gave him 19 homers for the season; his previous season-high was 11 last year.

Wieters is often criticized for not being an absolute force at the plate. As a tremendous defensive catcher, he's still quite valuable as an average to above-average hitter, but he hasn't developed into more than that. Wieters is only 25, so maybe it's just taking him a little longer to transform into the hitter many scouts thought he'd be.

Here's what he's accomplished in three seasons (made his debut in late May in 2009, and obviously the 2011 season isn't finished yet):

2009: 385 PA, .288/.340/.412
2010: 502 PA, .249/.319/.377
2011: 500 PA, .260/.322/.440

Not a huge increase from 2009 to 2011, but his numbers this season are way better than his 2010 stats. His power numbers have jumped, which is impressive, but he's still not getting on base as much as he should. That he's walking only 8 percent of the time (8.3 percent for his career) is rather shocking with the batting eye he possesses, but he also has a tendency to chase pitches out of the zone (33.4 percent) and is also swinging at more pitches in general (48.3 percent) than he did in his two previous seasons.

This post wasn't mean to be a breakdown of Wieters's 2011 season. Maybe that's something I'll work on after the season. But it's still worth noting that he's made a few improvements at the plate, though he still has to get better in other key areas (like, you know, getting on base more often). How's that for in-depth analysis?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not overreacting to Grossman's solid game

In Week 1 against a wounded Giants defense, Rex Grossman completed 21 of 34 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. And he did so even though a couple of receivers dropped catchable passes and while under heavy pressure at times (he was sacked four times). Even the most optimistic Grossman supporters likely didn't think he'd play as well as he did.

Still, Grossman did have one unfortunate play: a crucial fumble early in the fourth quarter that led to a field goal attempt by the Giants. Fortunately, Brian Orakpo blocked the kick, and Grossman (aided by an Antrel Rolle unsportsmanlike conduct penalty) marched the offense down the field and put the game away with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney.

Grossman looked more than competent in the Redskins' first game, and he seemed more than comfortable in a familiar offense. But he was hardly the only unheralded quarterback to have a solid Week 1. Sure, top quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees had fantastic games, but that's expected. Grossman's strong start wasn't, and neither were great performances by:

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 17-25, 208 yards, 4 TD vs. Kansas City
Cam Newton: 24-37, 422 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT vs. Arizona
Chad Henne: 30-49, 416 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT vs. New England

The surprising thing about Fitzpatrick's game is the four touchdowns, but at least he had a decent 2010 season (meaning he'd put up OK numbers before). Henne did not; he threw more interceptions (19) than touchdown passes (15) last season. And Newton wasn't expected to put up those kinds of numbers in his NFL debut, regardless of which defense he was facing.

None of these quarterbacks will play this well all season. That's not exactly a strong statement to make, especially since only one game has been played. But that also doesn't mean that Grossman, or the other three quarterbacks, can't exceed expectations and have better seasons than others predicted. Maybe Fitzpatrick and Henne have improved. Maybe Newton is better than the experts thought. And maybe Grossman really is better in an offense he's been studying and practicing in for a few years now. Or maybe none of these things continues.

But here's what we know: The Redskins offense, led by Grossman, looked pretty good on Sunday. Grossman found open receivers all game long, many of them down the field. If the Redskins get more consistent offensive line play and receivers keep getting open, there's no reason to think that Grossman won't keep finding them. And there's also no reason to believe that he will all of a sudden stop turning the ball over at inopportune times. He can still be effective, just probably not that effective. He is, after all, Rex Grossman, and he'll need a few more games like Sunday's before fans stop saying that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jeremy Affeldt cuts hand while separating burgers

This doesn't have to do with the Orioles or D.C. sports, but it does have to do with burgers. And if you know me, you probably know that I like burgers. So does Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who recently wanted to enjoy some burger goodness. Unfortunately, that's not what happened:
San Francisco Giants left-hander reliever Jeremy Affeldt is done for the season after sustaining a deep cut in his right hand while using a knife to separate frozen burger patties during the off-day Thursday.

He needed surgery and suffered nerve damage in his pinkie.
Isn't this why Wendy's slogan is "Always Fresh, Never Frozen"?

Giants are dealing with a ton of injuries

The Redskins open the 2011-2012 season against the Giants, and for the most part, they're a pretty healthy group. Only one player, LaRon Landry, has been ruled out for Sunday's game as of this moment. Even though Landry is an important piece of the Skins defense, that's not too bad.

Besides Landry, five other players are dealing with injuries and are listed as questionable. They are: Chris Cooley, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ryan Torain, Brandon Banks, and Donte Stallworth. Maybe one or two of those guys sit out, but most should be ready to play. Unlike the Redskins, though, the Giants have plenty of injury concerns to worry about. First off, here's a list of players the Giants have already lost for the season:

LB Jonathan Goff
CB Terrell Thomas
CB Bruce Johnson
DT Marvin Austin
LB Clint Sintim

Also, the Giants will be starting the season without Osi Umenyiora and Prince Amukamara, and Justin Tuck, arguably the team's best defensive player, is questionable with a neck injury.

If you're paying attention, all of the Giants' injuries have been on the defensive side of the ball. That should give the Redskins some help on offense, meaning they should move the ball and put some points on the board. Still, the Skins defense will have its hands full, as the Giants have plenty of healthy and explosive weapons on offense.

But don't get me wrong: The Redskins shouldn't overlook any team, especially a team like the Giants that is talented and has given the Skins fits over the last few seasons. The Redskins offensive line still has to block, receivers and running backs still need to find open space, and Rex Grossman needs to have a solid game. But there will be chances for the offense to exploit the Giants defense, and if the Skins are going to open the season with a win, they'll need to take advantage of the Giants' injuries.

In the NFL, injuries occur frequently, and no one feels sorry for a team dealing with an abnormal amount of injuries, even at the beginning of a season. Hopefully the Redskins seize the opportunity they've been presented with.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chris Davis whiffs five times in O's win

In yesterday's 5-4 win, Chris Davis struck out five times -- a feat occasionally called the platinum sombrero. Mark Reynolds struck out four times, but he also knocked in the game-winning run in the top of the 11th. All Orioles batters combined had 15 strikeouts at the plate.

But the five strikeouts by Davis is particularly interesting. Here are some notes on his awful day at the plate:

Chris Davis becomes the 1st player in 2011 to strikeout 5 times in a single game. Last player to do so, Ryan Howard on 8/24/2010. #whiffkingWed Sep 07 20:54:22 via TweetDeck

Before Davis, the last Oriole to strike out 5x in a game was Chris Hoiles, who did it on June 14, 1997 against Atlanta in a 12-inn contestWed Sep 07 21:03:45 via web

In 1950 Yogi Berra struck out 12 times in 597 ABs. Today Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, and Ryan Adams have 12 Ks in 14 ABs.Wed Sep 07 21:07:32 via TweetDeck

Congrats to Chris Davis for becoming only the 23rd player in MLB history to strikeout 5 times in 6 plate appearances. I kid, but come on.Thu Sep 08 01:22:16 via web

Since joining the O's, Davis has hit .180/.196/.260 in 50 at-bats. He's been dealing with a strained right shoulder, so it may be unfair to judge his performance with the O's just yet. Regardless, he's under team control for a while, so the O's will likely give him every opportunity the rest of this season and next (and possibly beyond) to find out just how good he is.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bill Barnwell says mean things about the Skins

Not many football writers and analysts have predicted great or playoff-type seasons (Michael Lombardi of NFL Network being the exception), but most believe the Redskins got at least a little bit better. And that's just fine. Again, there's never a guarantee for improvement, but the Redskins stayed away from many top/expensive names during free agency, and they utilized the draft better than in recent years.

That's why I wasn't expecting this mostly negative write-up (from a few days ago) of the Redskins' offseason and their chances of competing this season by Bill Barnwell, formerly of Football Outsiders and now a writer for Grantland:
Redskins fans didn't get much out of the 2010 season, but they got a whole lot of close games. The Redskins were in 12 games decided by a touchdown or less, the first time since 2003 that a team was in so many close games in one year. They went 6-6, which means that Redskins fans can make the case that they were a few lucky bounces away from the playoffs, while people who hate the Redskins can point out that they were a few lucky bounces away from 3-13. In the four games that weren't close, Washington went 0-4 and was outscored by 81 points. The haters have it.

Of course, the Redskins then went and had a typical Daniel Snyder offseason. After clearing the decks by dumping their old, high-priced veterans and insulting them on the way out, they replaced them by overpaying new free agents. Instead of paying Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins now have the pleasure of giving former Giants tackle Barry Cofield and Cowboys backup end Stephen Bowen more money than they deserve. They devoted too much money to a defensive back, signing O.J. Atogwe away from the Rams as one of the few pre-lockout free agents to leave the market. They spent too much on one of their own, re-signing Santana Moss as he comes off a career year at 32. And then they finally traded Donovan McNabb and replaced him with god knows what.
I don't have a problem with that first paragraph. But in all seriousness, does anyone actually think the Redskins had a "typical Daniel Snyder offseason"? They may have signed Cofield, Bowen, Atogwe, and Moss, and they probably overpaid for a couple of them. But that's just four guys. The Redskins were apparently front-runners to sign several other high-priced free agents, including Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice, DeAngelo Williams, Braylon Edwards, and Cullen Jenkins, among several others. They resisted, instead deciding to target a few veterans at key positions while mostly focusing on a youth movement.

Sure, the Skins signed Cofield and Bowen, but their first two picks in the draft were defensive players: Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins. Both were impressive in the preseason, though unfortunately Jenkins is now out for the season after tearing his ACL. And yeah, the Skins brought back Moss, while also not having an overly impressive group of receivers. But three of the receivers on the roster right now are Terrence Austin, Leonard Hankerson, and Niles Paul -- all of whom were selected in the last two drafts. Wouldn't the Redskins have been sharply criticized for throwing a ton of money to land Holmes or Rice? There's a decent chance that one of those three receivers turns into a solid receiving option, and at least for now, all three have a decent amount of upside.

I won't argue against the Atogwe signing, which probably won't look all that special if LaRon Landry also isn't able to stay on the field. But the Redskins also signed Josh Wilson for not a whole lot of money, while also drafting a couple of young guys (safety DeJon Gomes and cornerback Brandyn Thompson) who have made the team for now after strong showings.

The Redskins may very well struggle this season. If neither Rex Grossman nor John Beck plays competently, the Redskins could finish with 5 or 6 wins -- maybe fewer, depending on injuries. But the Skins also have an outside shot at a couple more wins than that, which isn't that bad considering the work Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have done to remake the roster. Obviously there's a ton of work left to be done, and at some point the Redskins will need to address the quarterback position (probably in the upcoming draft). But I can't remember the last time the Redskins mostly stayed quiet during the offseason while instead choosing to get younger at several positions. Who knows if the youth movement will continue, but the point remains: the Redskins did not have a very Redskins-like offseason.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

About Kevin Gregg and front office thinking

For some reason, the Orioles failed to learn from Mike Gonzalez's awful first season (and plenty of other failed reliever signings before that) that signing relievers to multi-year deals rarely goes according to plan. Except for the elite, relievers are notoriously fickle, and it's difficult to predict their performances for one year, let alone two or three. So instead of cutting their losses and searching for other cheaper or underappreciated bullpen options, the O's front office decided to bring in Kevin Gregg to assume the closer's role.

Unlike Gonzalez (who received a two-year, $12 million deal in 2010), Gregg was not a Type A free agent (but was a Type B), meaning the O's didn't have to surrender a draft pick to sign him -- something that made the Gonzalez signing even more ridiculous. But the O's did hand Gregg a two-year, $10 million contract, meaning he'll be back next season. And regardless of what Buck Showalter says/said in MASN commercials about how the save rule "doesn't carry much weight with [him]," well, that just hasn't proven to be true.

Before joining the O's, Gregg had never been signed to more than a one-year deal. True, he was arbitration eligible until the 2010 season, but even then the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent to a one-year, $2.75 million deal. If the O's had done something similar with Gregg, I doubt many fans would have complained. Sure, he's not a lights-out reliever, but even a rather ordinary reliever can pitch well for one season. And that's basically what Gregg did last season for the Blue Jays: He finished the season with a pitching line of 3.51/3.57/4.05 (ERA/FIP/xFIP), accumulated a WAR of 0.8, and struck out 8.85 batters per nine while walking 4.58 per nine. Again, those aren't fantastic numbers, but they are useful and didn't cost the Jays a ton of money.

So why did the O's overreact and sign Gregg for two years? Maybe they were impressed by the then-32-year-old's 37 saves in 2010. Or maybe they just liked his goggles. Either way, they brought Gregg on board, and he has been terrible. In 52 innings, he has a pitching line of 4.33/5.03/5.01 while also striking out fewer batters (7.27 K/9) and walking way too many (6.23 BB/9). In his career, Gregg has struck out 8.23 per nine and walked 3.97 per nine, so his numbers are obviously down across the board this season. By the way, Gregg has a WAR of -0.4 this season, which is awful. It's also worth noting that in his 52 innings, Gregg has allowed 50 hits and 36 walks, while also hitting a batter. That's a ton of baserunners.

When the O's had both Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara, it was ridiculous to have Gregg saving games, particularly in situations with, say, a one- or two-run lead. Without Uehara and with the O's apparently wanting to stretch Johnson out so he can start at some point this season or next (more on that in a second), there really aren't that many options for the O's to turn to late in games.

But look at last night's win, for example. Zach Britton pitched six innings and then handed the ball off to Jim Johnson with a 3-2 lead. Johnson pitched two spotless innings, and then it was Gregg-in-for-the-save time. First of all, are the O's going to stretch Johnson out, or not? He pitched three innings against the Angels on August 20, and in five appearances since then he's pitched one inning three times and two innings twice. Haven't they decided what to do yet? Second, again, the O's bullpen does not have a bunch of fantastic relievers in it right now, but how can any team rely on Gregg in a one-run game? He's not pitching like someone who Showalter can just throw out there for an inning, especially with such a slim lead. In the ninth inning last night, Gregg nearly blew another save (which would have been his seventh). He allowed a leadoff single but retired the next two batters. He then proceeded to walk the next two to load the bases. Thankfully, he retired Brandon Guyer to end the game, but not after yet another roller-coaster outing.

If Gregg's performance this season hasn't bothered you enough, maybe this quote after the game will:
"The bottom line is you obviously haven’t acquired my taste in pitching yet,” Gregg said. “It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. And yeah, it’d be nice if I was like [Jim Johnson] and went 1-2-3, every inning I’m out there. But I’m not J.J. I don’t throw 97 [mph] with sink.”
It's easy to get mad at Gregg for saying something like this. He's certainly frustrated with how he's pitched this season, even if you can't quite take that thought away from his quote. But in a way, he's right, and I don't mean that as a positive. Sure, Gregg is having his worst season in the majors, and I don't think many people would have thought he'd be just this bad. But for the most part, this is who he is. He likely wasn't going to join the Orioles and transform into some dominant closer; you can't predict that type of thing by just looking at save totals. So it was foolish for the O's to think they could predict what an average pitcher like Gregg would do for a single season, let alone two.

I know one thing, though: I will never acquire Gregg's taste in pitching. He can try to convince fans that he'd prefer to walk guys in order to end up facing someone who he's more confident he can retire, but, frankly, I'm tired of hearing about how he never gives in to opposing hitters and that he continues to nibble when he's down in the count because he's a gambler out there who refuses to give in. Really, he's just not that good, and the O's are relying on him to do more because they made the mistake of paying him to do so.

The reason why the O's are trotting Gregg out there in save opportunity after save opportunity is because they're looking to justify the money they're paying him. It's the same reason why Vladimir Guerrero continues to bat fourth or fifth every game. Maybe the O's don't have a slew of other options to replace either guy, but by refusing to cut their losses, or at the very least adjust, Showalter and/or the front office are hurting the team. And they're upsetting fans.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brandon Banks, return specialist

When he's actually healthy and on the field, Brandon Banks is unquestionably the most exciting player on the Redskins. He demonstrated that again last night by making a 95-yard punt return look particularly easy. Just take a look:

Yes, it's the preseason, so it doesn't really count. But that's the type of kick/punt returning ability that Banks brought to the table last season.

Two other things of note: 1) Banks started celebrating at about the five-yard line and almost dropped the ball before he crossed the goal line (similar to the DeSean Jackson play), but thankfully the touchdown was not overturned; and 2) the play actually caused Mike Shanahan to smile (see the 0:30 mark in the video), though that obviously was before the play went under review.

I don't think anyone cares if Banks celebrates or not after a touchdown. But that's the key: after a touchdown. He should at least wait to do so until he's, you know, in the end zone with the ball.

Beck fails to separate himself from Grossman

To be honest, I don't care that much who gets the starting nod under center for the Redskins. I believe that John Beck and Rex Grossman give the Skins about the same chance to win, though I do think Beck is the somewhat more interesting choice because he hasn't thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2007-2008 with the Dolphins. Beck didn't impress then, and there's been no real reason since to think he'd catch on somewhere else and succeed.

Last night, the Redskins played their fourth and final preseason game, which basically gave a lot of back-ups, subs, and players who won't make the team a chance to see the field. Interestingly enough, Grossman sat out, while Beck played the first half. Beck didn't play all that well, though, which is discouraging because not only did the Redskins start their first-team offensive line in the game, but Tampa Bay's first-team defense did not play. The Redskins' better skill position players (Tim Hightower, Santana Moss, etc.) also sat out, but by most accounts Beck seemed pretty ordinary. So what exactly were the Shanahans thinking when they started Beck? Were they:
  • trying to give Beck a chance to win the starting job by having a solid final game;
  • already convinced that Grossman is going to be the starter (considering that he's played better in the preseason);
  • or simply allowing Beck to get more snaps in general, considering how inexperienced he is?
No one knows what the Shanahans' thinking on this matter is for sure, but they're running out of time to make a decision. Assuming, you know, that they haven't already done so.