Thursday, December 20, 2012

Yes, the Wizards are still really bad

Let's look at some Wizards player averages, separated into two groups.


Emeka Okafor: 12.5 points, 9.9 rebs, 51.5 FG%, 32 mins (career)
                         7.0 points, 5.7 rebs, 44.5 FG%, 22 mins (2012-13)

Trevor Ariza (currently injured): 9.0 points, 4.9 rebs, 42.8 FG%, 25 mins (career)
                                                 8.1 points, 4.9 rebs, 34.9 FG%, 25 mins (2012-13)

Shaun Livingston: 6.6 points, 2.5 rebs, 3.4 assists, 45.7 FG%, 22 mins (career)
                           3.5 points, 2.0 rebs, 2.2 assists, 35.6 FG%, 18 mins (2012-13)

Chris Singleton: 4.6 points, 3.5 rebs, 37.2 FG%, 21 mins (2011-12/rookie year)
                         5.0 points, 3.9 rebs, 38.5 FG%, 19 mins (2012-13)

Jan Vesely: 4.7 points, 4.4 rebs, 53.7 FG%, 19 mins (2011-12/rookie year)
                  2.1 points, 2.3 rebs, 42.4 FG%, 13 mins (2012-13)

Somewhat better: 

Kevin Seraphin: 6.2 points, 4.1 rebs, 49.6 FG%, 17 mins (career)
                         11.0 points, 5.7 rebs, 47.0 FG%, 24 mins (2012-13)

Cartier Martin: 5.2 points, 2.0 rebs, 0.5 assists, 39.8 FG%, 13 mins (career)
                       7.6 points, 2.7 rebs, 0.4 assists, 42.6 FG%, 18 mins (2012-13)

Jordan Crawford: 13.8 points, 2.8 rebs, 3.2 assists, 39.5 FG%, 26 mins (career)
                            15.0 points, 4.1 rebs, 4.6 assists, 39.7 FG%, 29 mins (2012-13)

Martell Webster: 8.5 points, 3.2 rebs, 41.4 FG%, 23 mins (career)
                          9.1 points, 3.5 rebs, 42.3 FG%, 25 mins (2012-13)

You'll notice that there is no great or awesome category, for obvious reasons.

John Wall is injured and hasn't played yet. Nene is still on a minutes limit (only 21 minutes per game in 12 games), but he's been pretty good. And Trevor Booker and A.J. Price are also currently injured, but neither was playing that well anyway.

It's hard to expect too much from Livingston, who's a replacement for the failed Jannero Pargo experiment. When everyone is healthy, Livingston would either never play or be out of a job. (But I know, this is the Wizards, and everyone is never healthy.) But Okafor and Ariza have been huge disappointments, and every day that goes by that Hornets trade looks worse and worse.

Also, the Wizards' 2011 draft class looks like a disaster. Vesely is a DNP machine and has no offensive game. Singleton shows promise at times, hitting a couple shots and playing decent defense. But his three-point shooting has been abysmal (12.5 percent), and it says something that he's playing fewer minutes this season despite all of the team's injuries. Oh, and Shelvin Mack didn't even make this terrible team and is playing in the D-League.

There's still hope for Seraphin and Crawford, but both can be maddening to watch. Seraphin turns the ball over too much, makes plenty of boneheaded plays, and doesn't get to the free throw line nearly enough for someone who spends most of his time in the paint. And Crawford, who the Wizards have had to rely on for so much, still takes lots of bad shots. His all-around game, though, seems to have improved.

There's a reason the Wizards are 3-20. Sure, injuries have played a factor. But even if everyone on this team was 100 percent healthy, they still wouldn't be THAT much better. There has just been too many bad draft picks and foolish trades made by a general manager who should have been out of a job long ago.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bowl games, RGIII, and Terrance Broadway

Don't know which of the lesser college football bowl games to watch this year? Let's use a couple of Robert Griffin III's ongoing rookie season statistics to help. Most people would agree that Griffin has easily been one of the most exciting players of the 2012 NFL season so far. Here are some of his numbers: 18/4 TD:INT ratio, 66.4 completion percentage, 8.3 yards per pass attempt, and 6.7 yards per rush.

Those last two numbers both lead the NFL, which is remarkable. No one in NCAA football is in Griffin's class (that's not an insult), but several quarterbacks still put up great numbers.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt and 6.4 yards per rush, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota also had solid passing (8.0) and rushing (7.0) averages. Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois was also impressive, posting averages of 8.4 yards through the air and 6.5 yards on the ground. But unless you want to count the Heisman winner or two other quarterbacks who are playing in BCS bowls, you'll have to look elsewhere for a more obscure, but still exciting, name.

And that player is quarterback Terrance Broadway of Louisiana-Lafayette, who averaged 8.9 yards per pass attempt and 6.4 yards per rush. Broadway, a sophomore transfer from Houston, threw for 2,526 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while also running for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. Obviously at least two quarterbacks above played against much better competition, but we're just looking at some numbers here. It's bowl season, after all.

Broadway's Ragin' Cajuns will be facing off against East Carolina in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 22. Don't be surprised if Broadway makes a few big plays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What they're saying about Maryland and the Big Ten

I'm mostly out of my element when talking about topics like conference realignment or college athletic department finances, but let me add my two cents anyway about Maryland's departure from the ACC (in 2014). I'm disappointed, and I'll miss the tough games against Duke, UNC, etc. Those games (when competitive) were obviously a joy to watch.

Over the years, I've slowly lost interest in college football, and football is the driving factor in Maryland heading to the Big Ten. I have no doubt that Maryland football will continue to struggle whether they play in the ACC or Big Ten; however, Mark Turgeon and the basketball program should be just fine. And, really, that's what I care about the most. As long as Maryland basketball keeps improving and starts winning lots of games again, it won't matter to me what conference Maryland's in. (Which is important, because they may be in another conference in 20 years.)

As has been repeated elsewhere ad nauseum, the move makes sense for Maryland's athletic department; that influx of cash means they'll be able to do/pay for more things. (Smart things, hopefully.) But that doesn't mean it's a perfect move, either. Important decisions are made all the time, and things eventually change. That's fine, but that also doesn't mean fans and alumni won't miss the ACC or easily forget about it.

Occasional Krem's Sports correspondent Walt Williams (follow him on Twitter) also weighed in on the subject:

"I haven’t come here to tell you that the University of Maryland should have never answered the call of the Big Ten Network and the purported millions that will come with it. I haven’t even come to lament the loss of home basketball games against Duke and North Carolina. That time would have come when the ACC decided to place in motion the conference raiding that began the national game of musical chairs that may ironically lead to its own demise with the addition of Virginia Tech and Miami. I also can tell you that I most certainly haven’t made an appearance to champion the academic benefits of this move. Especially since the university itself can’t do that with a straight face or without coming back to the importance of finances. Yes, the two things I have come here to talk about are the primary motivations of Maryland’s move to the Big Ten: Money and Football.

Looking at the financials, or at least what we’ve heard about them, Maryland is projecting that they will see an increase of 100 million dollars in conference revenue from the Big Ten by 2020. That number, even if it is extremely inflated, is sorely needed to help put Maryland’s athletic department on slightly more stable ground. That money could also be used for student athlete support that is sorely lacking at Maryland and has been for years. Whether Maryland uses the extra money for those modest things or overpaying for overmatched football coaches remains to be seen but we can hope for the best. The only possible hiccup in the financial calculations could be the long term viability of the Big Ten network in its current capacity. That is to say, the long term viability of basic cable as we know it now is tied to the viability of the Big Ten and now Maryland. Is it too far-fetched to think that by 2020 the current model of getting a bundle of networks as a part of your cable package could be jettisoned for a more customer friendly pick and choose model? If not, what would happen to profitability of the network and the Big Ten’s members if profit depended on a large number of individuals actively choosing to have access to the Big Ten network instead of having it forced on them? I believe these are all interesting questions to think about for the future. Right now however, there is no need to say that Maryland or Rutgers would be mooching off of the Big Ten’s success. Both schools by virtue of their television markets are as valuable to the Big Ten as the Big Ten is to them. I may be wrong but I don’t believe Jim Delany and the Big Ten are going to go around and give handouts unless they feel like they are getting something valuable in return. In the case of Maryland that value is probably going to be solely on the demographic side of things as the Terps aren’t likely to do anything of note in football for the foreseeable future.

Looking at the conference switch from the perspective of the Maryland football program, there is nothing I can say except that this probably won’t go well at all. Now I’m not saying that the Big Ten is the best football conference in the country or even close to it. There is no doubt though, that the Big Ten is worlds better at this point than the ACC has been in the past decade or so. Add in the fact that Maryland is at the moment a cellar dweller in the ACC and you get a recipe for long Saturday afternoons starting in 2014. Does anyone look forward to the sight of Randy Edsall attempting to match wits or talent with Urban Meyer, Bill O’Brien, Bret Bielema, or Brady Hoke? I know I certainly do not. Looking at the Big Ten right now the only team Maryland is probably unquestionably above is Illinois. Unless the Big Ten has some sort of starter introductory schedule for bad football teams where Maryland can play Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota twice it's hard to see how Randy Edsall will get a chance to finish out his contract, especially with the new conference money coming in. Of course, that’s if he even makes it to 2014 to begin with.

So basically this move to the Big Ten comes down to money, security, and football. While the first two should hopefully be taken care of in the short term, the football may take a while to come around. So I’m going to spend time the next 18 months or so warming up to stale beer and bratwurst and trying to learn the difference between leaders and legends. It can’t be too bad, right?"


Here's what some other writers/commentators/former coaches are saying about the move:

- "My gut level reaction is that it will work out badly. Maryland has tried a million ways to be a better football school. It’s not going to happen by moving to the Big Ten (or 14). If you eventually lose Turgeon as coach __he’s exceptional__ then you may go backwards in basketball, too. And will the sports that got erased because of budget be brought back? If restoring those sports isn’t part of the plan, then that weakens the case. This will be an endless debate. We’ll know if it was smart in ... five years ... 10 years? Right now, I’m in the 'lets learn more' stage. But whenever a fait accompli is presented and everything __from first news to 'it’s decided'__ all happens in less than 100 hours, I’m suspicious." -- Thomas Boswell

- "I just see it as part of the collegiate culture. The Big Ten wants that market for TV and Maryland wants more money or else they wouldn’t be making that move. I think it’s money-driven, but I kind of hate to see it because there were some really great rivalries there. I still recall some of the great games we had, and basketball in the ACC was even bigger with Carolina and Duke." -- Bobby Ross

- "I know a lot of people talk about traditions, they talk about, 'What? No more Maryland-Duke? No more Maryland-North Carolina?' Well, ever since a couple of years ago when they limited Maryland to playing both of those schools not twice but once, that took care of that. I really love it when you go to Duke and get knocked off and run out of the place and come back here and beat ‘em at Comcast Center. And Carolina the same way. But I’m looking forward to it. I think academically it’s good, athletically it’s terrific. The money, you certainly can’t turn your back and say, 'No, we want to continue the way we’re going.' And now it gives an opportunity for those sports that were cut, some of them, hopefully all of them, will be able to be brought back." -- Johnny Holliday

- "Tradition has ceased to exist in college athletics, so it shouldn’t even be part of the conversation. There will be a lot more money waiting for Maryland’s budget-strapped athletic department in the Big Ten. The conference is run by Jim Delaney, one of the less savory individuals in college athletics, but also — as he proved by being so far out in front in maximizing TV dollars with the Big Ten Network — one of the smartest. Football would be helped in terms of recruiting and ticket sales and fan interest. Basketball would stay about the same — games against Ohio State and Michigan State wouldn’t stir up the Maryland crowd like the Duke games do, but some would say that’s a good thing. The games would still be sellouts." -- John Feinstein

- "When you look around and see what’s going on — Notre Dame’s personal contract with NBC for football and being able to come into the ACC without football — just watching teams like Nebraska, who you never would think would be a member of the Big Ten — we all have to look at what’s best for the university. If you want to be successful in basketball and football, that takes certain finances to do that. Why would Syracuse and Pitt go to the ACC? Why would Nebraska go to Big Ten? The answer is pretty obvious. We shouldn't feel bad about doing what other schools have done to increase the exposure, to increase the validity of their programs." -- Gary Williams

- "This is again what’s wrong with what’s taking place in intercollegiate athletics. The priorities are completely screwed up. Someone should be looking out for the betterment of the totality of the game of football, the financial bell cow of their beloved intercollegiate athletics, home to all of their student athletes. Instead, they’re in the business of trying to clear markets for regional cable networks and get their financial landscape and footprint out to a different market. It’s just obscene what’s taking place here. One minute they’re shaking hands and talking about what’s great about the sport itself, and then as soon as they get through shaking hands, they go and raid one another’s leagues. It’s situational ethics at its height, at its absolute height." -- Tim Brando

- "They play the games that the ACC plays -- they play soccer, they play lacrosse -- it makes sense for them to find a league that played the same games. Does anybody in the Big Ten play lacrosse? Of course it saddens me. I'm actually shocked by this. I'm absolutely blown away." -- Gene Corrigan, former ACC commissioner

- "The Big Ten Network is a money-making machine, and the conference actually made more money last year than even the SEC. Last fall, when I spent a day with the Indiana football program, they informed me that they'd been able to upgrade their facilities almost entirely with money procured from their Big Ten Network share. But that's what makes this so frustrating for those of us who actually give a damn about the product: Speaking to Rittenberg, [Big Ten Commissioner] Delany appeared to characterize the conference's football woes as a short-term concern, as something that could be attributed to an influx of new coaches and the consequences of immoral behavior at Penn State and Ohio State. He made no real acknowledgement of the long-term statistics, of the Big Ten's 34-52 bowl record since 2000, of the fact that the Big Ten has won 37 percent of its nonconference games against nationally ranked teams since Ohio State won the national championship in 2002. The top of the conference is largely shaky, and the bottom has never been worse: I imagine Purdue and Minnesota and Illinois would struggle to finish .500 in the MAC. But honestly, I don't even know if competitiveness is a real priority anymore, as long as the money keeps flowing." -- Michael Weinreb

- "As a former student-athlete at the University of Maryland and a supporter of the Athletic Department, I would like to congratulate Wallace Loh, Brit Kirwan and Kevin Anderson on reaching this agreement with Jim Delany and the Big Ten Member institutions. The ACC has been a great partner to Maryland throughout the years, however joining the Big Ten now provides new and exciting opportunities for our beloved University. The positive financial impact of this move has been well-documented; however, enhancing the experiences for all of our student-athletes and our campus as a whole is the most important consideration. I look forward to this new chapter for Maryland and I am excited for our future. Go Terps!" -- Kevin Plank

- "But I realize that what I feel nostalgic about is something that was lost a long time ago.... Syracuse and Pitt are coming to the league and that means that going forward, Maryland was guaranteed in basketball two home-and-homes: with Pitt and Virginia. Now I don’t mean any disrespect to Pittsburgh, but they don’t mean any more to Maryland than Maryland means to them. And that was supposed to be our rival, going forward? And speaking of rivals — or, not our rival — so many Maryland folks now are lamenting the loss of what we would call The Duke Game. And let’s remember, folks: that’s a school that doesn’t see Maryland the way Maryland sees them. But besides that larger point, in the immediate future, there’d be far more years in basketball where you would not have a home game against Duke than years that you would." -- Scott Van Pelt

- "But the first question the conference hasn’t quite answered here is, why should these schools care about making more money? Money is obviously vital to college athletics as a threshold question. If you’re running an athletic department, you need to bring in enough revenue to fund your operations. But beyond that threshold, you don’t need more money. Universities are nonprofit institutions. There are no stockholders. At some point, more revenue simply means that athletic directors need to find more things to spend their windfall on.... The superconference experiments failed because you can’t manufacture tradition, and tradition is the only thing college football has to offer. Without tradition, college football is just an NFL minor league. Big Ten football mainly consists on a week-to-week basis of games like Michigan versus Minnesota and Illinois versus Wisconsin. Those games have meaning to the fans in ways outsiders can’t grasp. The series have gone on for a century. They often have funny old trophies. Every game is lodged into a long historical narrative of cherished (or cursed) memory. Replacing those games with some other equally good (or, as the case may be, not good) program is like snuffing out your family dog and replacing it with some slightly better-trained breed. It is not the same thing. And that deep well of sentiment, not the conferences’ ability to exploit a series of local cable cartels, is its ultimate source of value." -- Jonathan Chait

- "But the reality is that it is a GREAT move for Maryland (and, arguably, even more for Rutgers), and -- yes -- it is entirely about the money.Maryland athletics is in terrible shape financially. Joining the Big Ten and its ATM of a cable network will help immeasurably. From the Big Ten's standpoint, expanding the footprint is mandatory in a 'super-conference' world, and it is most ideal to do it in big markets like DC and NYC. I have no patience for people griping 'What about the tradition!?' Those people don't have to finance college athletics. You can lament the end of the Maryland-Duke rivalry while agreeing the move makes sense." -- Dan Shanoff

Some quotes/paragraphs were combined to save space.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A quick look at Panthers-Redskins

Like the Redskins, the Panthers have mostly played close games. At 1-6, their only win of the season came in a 35-27 victory over the Saints, and they've been blown out just one time: in a Thursday night game in Week 3 against the Giants, when they lost by 29 points. The Redskins (3-5) just suffered their worst loss of the season, falling 27-12 to the Steelers. Besides that, though, they've been in every single game. So it's no surprise that the Redskins, at home, are favored by just three points.

Washington has the superior offense. They score more points per game (26.6 to 18.3) and gain more yards per game (387.4 to 347). The Panthers average slightly more passing yards per game (232.6 to 221.1), but they also throw the ball more often -- Cam Newton has just nine fewer pass attempts despite playing in one fewer game (bye week). And the Redskins, who are second to the 49ers in the league in rushing yards per game by just 0.3 yards, average 166.3 yards on the ground to the Panthers' 114.4.

Still, the Redskins' defense is one of the worst in the league, while the Panthers' unit is slightly better. The Redskins have allowed 28.4 points per game (28th) and are ranked last in pass defense; the Panthers have given up 23.9 points per game (21st) and are 15th in pass defense.

It's hard to examine this game without looking at the quarterbacks. And Robert Griffin III has also outplayed Cam Newton up to this point. Griffin has completed nearly 10 percent more of his passes (66.8 to 57.1) while throwing for slightly more yards (1,778 to 1,701). Griffin's quarterback rating of 97.3 is also seventh in the NFL; Newton's rating of 75.2 is 28th. But while Newton has accounted for eight total touchdowns (5 passing, 3 rushing), Griffin has 14 touchdowns (8 passing, 6 rushing), has rushed for 166 more yards, and has turned the ball over just five times (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles). Newton, meanwhile, already has eight interceptions and has lost four fumbles.

The Redskins didn't do a good job of it last week, but they need to shut down the Panthers' running game and force Newton into some tough throws. The front seven has not provided much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but if they do so with Newton, he's demonstrated that he'll turn the ball over. Unless Redskins' receivers drop 10 more passes (or however many the official number was), they should be able to put up at least 20 points on a better, but still middle-of-the-road, Carolina defense.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, their horrid pass defense keeps opposing teams in every game. But fortunately, they also have Griffin, who gives the Redskins a chance to score every time he takes the field. It's not an ideal situation, but it could certainly be much worse.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hall's time in Washington has been embarrassing

The DeAngelo Hall era (which should end after this season, since he's not due any guaranteed money in 2013) has not gone well. The Redskins, as is usually the case, thought they were getting a better player in Hall than they actually signed. But besides his poor covering abilities, Hall has been a consistent source of embarrassing and bizarre behavior both on and off the field.

Let's take a look back at both how we got here and the weird, foolish things Hall has done or said in his time with the Redskins.

Nov. 8, 2008: The Redskins sign Hall.

Nov. 9, 2008: Via Pro Football Talk
“Adam Schefter reported on NFL Network’s NFL GameDay Morning that Redskins executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato called Kiffin, who was fired as the Raiders’ coach four games into the season, and asked for his opinion on Hall. Per Schefter, Kiffin told Cerrato that he thought Hall had been humbled and would be a good fit.”

That whole paragraph is amazing. And extremely sad.

Feb. 27, 2009: 
You'll never believe it, but the Redskins decided to spend a boatload of cash in free agency. They signed Hall to a six-year, $55 million deal, with $23 million guaranteed.

Mar. 25, 2009: 
Hall defends Albert Haynesworth's enormous contract: “Do I feel like he’s the most feared player in this league? Yes I do. . . . I think he’s the best player in the NFL, bar none.”

Oct. 15, 2009: Hall complains about the team's personnel and lack of depth.

(Also included in that link is this self-righteous paragraph by Gregg Rosenthal: "But maybe they wouldn’t be lacking in depth if Hall had taken less than $23 million guaranteed in February. That way, the Redskins would have had more cash and cap space available to acquire better personnel at key backup positions." Completely ridiculous.)
Oct. 20, 2009: 
Hall questions Jim Zorn's decision to remove Jason Campbell ("I don’t think that was the right move. Coach made that move. Ain't nothing I can do about it. He made that move, he had to live with it.”).

Nov. 6, 2009: Hall publicly criticizes Falcons' GM Thomas Dimitroff the week the Redskins head to Atlanta.

Nov. 8, 2009: In his return to Atlanta, Hall predictably finds trouble during the game, this time in a sideline skirmish with the Falcons and head coach Mike Smith. It should be noted that Hall wasn't fined and that Smith looked rather unprofessional in the incident.

Dec. 22, 2009: From Dan Steinberg: 
"Early in the fourth quarter, Brandon Jacobs got into a scuffle with DeAngelo Hall. The running back threw Hall to the ground, and then appeared to throw at least one punch. 'I run over there, thought the play was still going, wasn't blown dead,' Hall said, via my colleague Rick Maese. 'I stopped. I get hands put on my face. I got [shoved]. If the refs can't see that, there ain't nothing I can do about that. Just my luck.'"

Yes, just his luck.

Apr. 26, 2010:  
Here's what Hall had to say a few weeks after the Redskins regrettably traded for Donovan McNabb (via Steinberg): "We'll dominate our division, off of bringing Donovan McNabb in here, a guy who's dominated the division in the past. So that's just an educated guess." They went 6-10.

Aug. 31, 2010: 
Hall, standing up for Malcolm Kelly, thinks the team incorrectly diagnosed his hamstring injury: "They thought it was one thing, he ended up finally getting a second opinion three weeks later, and we find out it was something a heck of a lot worse than they ever thought it was. So we're here babying Malcolm, saying, 'He's a baby, he's a baby, get out there and play,' when he has a Grade 2 strain. And they're around here saying it's a Grade 1 and there ain't nothing wrong with him." (I don't have a huge problem with this -- the Redskins' trainers have deserved their share of criticism over the years -- but it was still a controversial issue.)

Sept. 20, 2010: Not pleased after the Redskins coughed up a 17-point lead, allowed a last-minute touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, and lost in overtime, Hall says a few interesting things: (1) "DeAngelo Hall made it clear he’s following the other team’s top receiver from now on and that’s just the way it is"; (2) "It's my team, my defense"; and (3) "I’m going to wherever the f***ing ball is going. Wherever the receiver is going, that’s where the f*** I’m going." (All quotes linked in this PFT piece.)

Hall wanting to follow an opposing team's top receiver? What's the worst that could happen?

Oct. 21, 2010: From Jason Reid: "Cornerback DeAngelo Hall and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett got into a contentious exchange Tuesday over pass coverage instructions, a development Coach Mike Shanahan followed by meeting privately with Hall and singling Hall out at a team meeting Wednesday morning, according to three Redskins employees familiar with the events."

As far as I'm concerned, both Hall and Haslett deserve blame.

Apr. 25, 2011: Hall calls Jay Cutler a "clown" in an interview. Not a big deal, but yeah.

Sept. 21, 2011: Hall, on how he'll attack an ailing Tony Romo"I want to get a chance to put my helmet on whatever’s hurt. Romo’s ribs -- I’m going to be asking for some corner blitzes. If I know Felix Jones’ shoulder’s hurt, I’m not going to cut him. I’m definitely going to try to hit him up high, so that’s just part of it."

I appreciate Hall's honesty, but that's maybe not the best thing to say heading into a game.

Sept. 26, 2011: Here's Hall, upset with a call in the loss to the Cowboys: "That was a [bleeping] terrible call. I told the ref he’s going to [bleeping] lose his job. I told the ref, 'That might have been the worst call of the game.' He’s going to get some demerit points for that call because that wasn’t no facemask."

Hall also thought Haslett called an ill-timed blitz on a crucial play ("Asked if Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett made the wrong call on the play, Hall said, 'You tell me. The result was a first down.'"). Hall and Haslett: not the best of friends.

Nov. 20, 2011: Hall, after another bad performance: "I can’t point a finger at anybody but myself. The way I’m playing right now, they need to go and cut me, because I’m definitely not worth what I’m getting. It’s frustrating."

That might be the most insightful thing Hall has ever said.

Dec. 16, 2011: In a game against the Patriots, Hall didn't agree with a defensive holding call against him, so he picked up an official's penalty flag and chucked it. He was fined $7,500. In that same game, Hall drew the ire of fans and even "John Keim, the normally mild-mannered Examiner beat writer," for failing to finish a play and instead watch as two teammates failed to tackle Rob Gronkowski.

Apr. 7, 2012: Hall challenges an Olympic gold medalist to a race. Stupid, but good-natured.

June 1, 2012: From a Mike Jones Insider piece on some of the changes in the secondary: "Hall says he expects to take on a role similar to that of Green Bay’s Charles Woodson." DeAngelo Hall and Charles Woodson -- basically the same player, right?

Oct. 14, 2012: Nothing came of it, but Adrian Peterson claims that Hall slapped him in the face after a play in the first quarter.

Oct. 21, 2012: Hall calls out Eli Manning, basically saying that any quarterback could have made the same throw that Manning made to Victor Cruz to beat the Redskins in Week 7. He later backtracks, sort of, and compliments Manning.

Oct. 28, 2012: And, most recently, Hall was ejected in the fourth quarter against the Steelers for "berating an official with an obscenity-laced tirade." He was fined, but not suspended.


Hall has been with the Redskins for just four seasons, and he's done/said all of those things above. Granted, some are worse than others, and if Hall was a star, or even a helpful player, fans would be more willing to put up with his behavior. But that's not the case.

The Redskins, obviously, need to make some changes next season, particularly in the secondary. Getting rid of Hall needs to be one of those moves.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Praising the 2012 Orioles, maybe the most improbably good team (of which I'm a fan) of my lifetime

You've heard it by now, but the Orioles' last winning season, until 2012, occurred in 1997. In that season, they went 98-64 and finished first in the AL East. Since that year, here's where they've finished in the AL East:

- fourth place for six straight seasons;
- third place in 2004;
- fourth place in 2005-2007; and
- fifth place in the four seasons after that.

And then, with not much hope to be much better (Dan Duquette's goal before the season was "to be .500 or better"), the 2012 Orioles somehow won 93 games, eliminated in the new one-game wild card playoff a Texas Rangers team that had participated in the last two World Series, and gave the Yankees all they could handle by forcing a fifth game in the American League Division Series. 

The weird thing about the Orioles this season is that, except for few minor (or at least apparently minor) names here or there, the roster wasn't THAT much different from 2011. Here's the opening day lineup on April 1, 2011:

Brian Roberts 2B
Nick Markakis RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Adam Jones CF
Luke Scott LF
Mark Reynolds 3B
Matt Wieters C
J.J. Hardy SS

Remember Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero? I bet you didn't. Sorry. I won't go through the entire 2011 pitching staff, but there were many of the same names -- particularly the younger pitchers -- but there weren't nearly as many strong performances as this season.

And here was the opening day roster on April 6, 2012:

Nolan Reimold LF
J.J. Hardy SS
Nick Markakis RF
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Wilson Betemit DH
Mark Reynolds 3B
Chris Davis 1B
Robert Andino 2B

And don't forget, oddly enough, that Jake Arrieta started that game. Reimold started the season on fire and homered in four straight games (and in five of six games), but he was eventually lost for the season because of a herniated disc in his neck, and he didn't appear in another game after April 30. You'll also notice Reynolds at third base, a healthy Markakis, and Betemit's presence in the lineup.

But, OK, I'm rambling. How did the O's get from that 2011 roster to facing off against the Yankees in the ALDS? The winning close games thing is obvious now and has been beaten into the ground. It truly was amazing what the Orioles did in close and extra-inning games, but let's explore some of the major and minor moves, in no particular order:
  • Signing Wei-Yin Chen
It wasn't discussed all that much at the time, but the Orioles got a bargain when they signed Chen to a three-year, $11.38 million deal in January. His deal also includes a $4.75 million club option in 2015. Chen, now 27, gave the O's a 4.02/4.42/4.34 (ERA/FIP/xFIP) pitching line in 192.2 innings, which isn't superb but is still pretty good for a rookie making his way through AL East lineups. He stayed healthy the entire season, and though the O's did try to give him a few extra days between starts at the end of the season because he began to tire somewhat, he was arguably the team's most reliable starter from April to October.

Chen may never pitch better than he did this season, but there's no reason he can't at least be close to it. And for the contract he signed, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
  • Putting Darren O'Day on the roster
It's hard to believe after the incredible season he had, but O'Day (and Troy Patton, for that matter) was not a lock to make the 25-man roster before the season. O'Day was lights out in 67 regular season innings, finishing with a 2.28 ERA. Because he didn't finish with a bunch of saves like Jim Johnson, who was also very good this season, O'Day didn't receive the same notoriety (until he kept mowing down batters in the playoffs, at least), but he was every bit as valuable. Fortunately for the Orioles, O'Day is still arbitration eligible, though he should expect a nice raise after a fantastic season.
  • Moving Mark Reynolds to first base
It took much longer than it needed to, but Buck Showalter eventually stopped playing Reynolds at third base. Reynolds never played third after May, and the position was instead occupied mostly by Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino (at least until a certain 20-year-old took over the position; more on that below). A Betemit/Andino platoon wasn't the worst thing ever, but it also wasn't ideal. Betemit isn't very good defensively but can hit right-handed pitching a bit, and Andino fields well and is an OK hitters against lefties. But, again, it wasn't perfect.

Reynolds has improved his defense immensely at first. I'm still hesitant to call him great, or at least very good, at the position, mostly because I think he needs to work on his footwork, mostly around the bag. (That would explain why no other first baseman ends up diving for nearly as many throws.) Still, he at least went from average or below average at first base to slightly above average or decent, which is still impressive for a guy who looks as bad on the other side of the diamond.

He improved his on-base percentage from .323 in 2011 to .335 this season, which can mostly be explained by his uptick in walks (from a 12.1 BB% to 13.6%). But that wasn't enough to make up for his 54-point drop in slugging percentage to .429, the lowest of his career.

Reynolds has a 2013 team option for $11 million, which seems a little steep, especially since he's been worth a combined 0.8 fWAR the past two seasons. Like Luke Scott the season before, Reynolds could be a non-tender candidate, though I wouldn't be all that surprised if he somehow returned for less money. Reynolds has some value, but he's not worth $11 million.
  • Signing Miguel Gonzalez
Prior to this season, I had never heard of Gonzalez. I don't think most fans had, either. But signing him to a minor-league deal when no other team was interested ended up being a very wise decision. In late May and early June when guys like Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz were struggling mightily as starters, the O's needed someone to eat innings, so Gonzalez got his chance. He pitched well out of the bullpen a few times, and he eventually got his first Orioles start on July 6 against the Angels, when he pitched seven innings, allowing one run on three hits, while striking out six and walking two. He continued to pitch well after that, with only a few bad outings, and was one of the biggest reasons why the starting rotation exceeded expectations.

I'm not sure if he'll pitch as well in future seasons, but it's not like a 28-year-old, oft-injured journeyman starter/reliever is supposed to be easy to predict. He's obviously earned a shot at a rotation spot next season, and if he pitches well again, it's a tremendous bonus.
  • Signing Nick Johnson
OK, just kidding. Still, this actually happened. And you're not going to believe it, but he got hurt. But he did have a couple of important hits. Oh, and look at his Twitter handle. So, yeah.
  • Promoting Manny Machado from Bowie
I'm not going to say watching Machado's development was the most exciting thing this season, but it was easily one of the most exciting things. Machado, 20, made his major-league debut on August 9, collecting his first two hits. The next night, he upped the ante by hitting two home runs and knocking in four runs. After that, things cooled off for Machado somewhat, and by the end of the season he batted .262/.294/.445 in 202 plate appearances.

His plate discipline needs to get better, but that was something he improved as the season went on. He also started to look more comfortable when hitting with two strikes. While the O's struggled to score runs in the ALDS, Machado was one of the few Baltimore hitters to actually have a few nice at-bats. That didn't necessarily translate into big offensive numbers, but his talent is evident. With more playing time and exposure, Machado should become a potent, middle-of-the-order hitter in the next couple of years.

Oh, and he was outstanding at third base and helped fortify the team's infield defense. That seems important for someone who never played the position in the minors.
  • Trading for Jason Hammel (and Matt Lindstrom)
At the time, the trade looked OK, but nothing special. And then Hammel started pitching, and he was very good from day one. If not for a right knee injury that limited him to just 118 innings, Hammel likely would have posted the best numbers of his career (he basically did anyway, though, just in fewer innings). He finished with a solid pitching line of 3.43/3.29/3.46, and his 2.9 fWAR was the best among O's pitchers. Chen, who pitched nearly 74 more innings, was the next closest with a 2.2 fWAR. Hammel's wildly effective two-seam fastball produced a ton of ground balls (53.2 GB%), the highest of his career). He also struck out the highest number of batters (8.62 K/9) of his career. And he did all this while keeping his walks relatively low (3.2 BB%) and doing a fantastic job of keeping the ball in the ballpark (0.69 HR/9). 

Hammel, 30, has one year of arbitration left, so he'll at least be around for another season. But if the 2012 version is indeed the real Hammel, the O's may have found someone who can pitch effectively in their rotation for the next few years. The knee injury is somewhat of a concern, but when healthy, Hammel was outstanding.

Lindstrom also pitched well in his 36.1 innings out of the bullpen, posting a 2.72 ERA. Dan Duquette figured he was expendable, though, and shipped Lindstrom to Arizona in late August in exchange for Joe Saunders. In seven regular season starts after arriving in Baltimore, Saunders was actually decent, with a line of 3.63/3.77/4.44 and accumulating 0.8 fWAR. It helped that he was pitching to a few bad/injured lineups (Toronto twice, Seattle once, and Boston once), but those innings and starts helped propel the O's to the playoffs. Also, against all odds, Saunders put together back-to-back effective starts against the Rangers and Yankees in the playoffs. In both outings, he went 5.2 innings and allowed just one run. Saunders may not be in an Orioles uniform next season, but he proved to be a helpful addition, and it only cost the O's a replaceable reliever who has a $4 million team option next season.
  • Batting Markakis leadoff
It seems like ages ago, but when Markakis returned from his first-ever trip to the disabled list after having surgery on his broken right wrist, he was inserted into the leadoff slot in the lineup. From July 13 (when he returned) to September 8 (when an errant CC Sabathia fastball broke Markakis's thumb, ending his season), Markakis batted a whopping .335/.390/.489 and looked like the hitter O's fans had been expecting the last couple of seasons. In those 54 games, Markakis collected 74 hits (he had just 51 hits in his previous 50 games), and he walked six more times than he struck out (20 to 14). 

Maybe it was just a fluke or an unsustainable hot stretch for Markakis. But he needs to be the team's leadoff hitter on opening day next season, which is something I'm sure Buck Showalter already knows.
  • Pulling the plug on Matusz, Arrieta, and Hunter as starters
I still think there's some hope for Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta as starting pitchers in the future; according to the Orioles, that's still the plan, at least. (Tommy Hunter, though, needs to stay in the bullpen.) But they weren't overly effective in the rotation this season, and eventually the O's decided to send them to the minors to straighten things out. But they didn't return as starters; they returned as relievers.

When Arrieta came back, he wasn't all that much different, though his stuff still looked pretty good (it usually does). But when Matusz returned, he had somehow transformed into a power lefty, capable of blowing hitters away with ease. The sequence that sticks out in my mind is when he entered in the play-in game to face Josh Hamilton, and even though Hamilton obviously didn't look right, Matusz blew him away with three straight fastballs. Considering Hamilton had a four-homer game against the Orioles in May and looked dominant at the time, it was a bizarre sequence.

Matusz's performance out of the bullpen was something entirely new, and even though he still wants to be a starter (which he should), it had to feel pretty awesome to routinely dominate hitters since returning to Baltimore in August.


I want to keep going on, and I probably could for a few thousand more words. But instead, I'll just list some of the other keys to this season:

  • Signing Nate McLouth (obviously)
  • Giving Chris Davis consistent at-bats
  • Trading for Jim Thome (still not sure how wise that trade was, but he had a few big hits)
  • Picking up guys like Lew Ford and Omar Quintanilla (who were helpful at times) for basically nothing
  • Keeping Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty, who could be a decent player
  • Using Kevin Gregg only when it was necessary
  • Getting a shot in the arm when a much-improved Chris Tillman returned in July
  • Giving Steve Johnson a chance
  • Receiving solid years from guys like Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, and Luis Ayala
That's it. Or, at least, I think that's it. This season was pretty fun, Orioles. How about another?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ibanez saves Yankees, puts O's on brink of elimination

All right, so there's no escaping last night's excruciating 12-inning loss. That one hurts, a lot, and the Orioles really have no one to blame but themselves. Well, OK, they could blame Raul Ibanez for hitting the game-tying and game-winning home runs in consecutive at-bats. Or they could blame Joe Girardi, who had the stones to pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez, who has only hit 647 home runs in his career, is one of the greatest players in baseball history, and has more than five years and $110 million left on his contract after this season.

Most people are blaming Jim Johnson, who allowed that tying home run to Ibanez in the ninth. In his two innings of work, Johnson allowed just that one hit. Some questioned the logic of bringing in Johnson to face at least two lefties (Ichiro and Robinson Cano). And would Rodriguez still have hit if Brian Matusz had entered the game instead of Johnson? Then again, Matusz did allow that second Ibanez homer, so maybe Ibanez was simply destined to become a Yankees postseason legend.

But, really, that's what happens in one-run games, and that's why the O's record in close and extra-inning games this season is/was so remarkable. Anything can happen in those types of games -- and even solid players like Johnson occasionally falter. Obviously, though, losing late leads hurts that much more in the playoffs.

The O's lineup also didn't do Miguel Gonzalez (who pitched magnificently) or any of the other relievers any favors by not tacking on any runs after Manny Machado's go-ahead solo home run in the fifth inning. It's easy to point the finger at Johnson, who was also bad in the first game of this series when he allowed five hits and four earned runs in a tie game. But J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, and Jim Thome all went 0-5 last night. In these few playoff games, Adam Jones is hitting .154/.154/.154. Wieters is hitting .077/.077/.154; Hardy is batting .083/.154/.167. Thome hasn't done anything, either. Right now, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Fortunately for the Orioles, they play tonight, so they don't have to think about that horrible loss too long. But they also now must win the next two games. Buck Showalter will be handing the ball to Joe Saunders instead of Chris Tillman, a surprising decision. It's a do-or-die game, meaning that if Saunders struggles, he'll probably be removed from the game quickly (possibly replaced by Tillman). But Darren O'Day, Johnson, and Matusz all pitched yet again last night, so the Orioles could really use another strong start. Saunders dodged the big inning in Texas; he may not be so lucky in New York.

O's batters get to face Phil Hughes, who's 2-2 against the Orioles this season in four starts with a 4.76 ERA. Hughes gives up his share of hits, so the O's need to capitalize on those opportunities -- something they haven't done a great job of in this series.

If the O's do somehow win Game 4, they'll face CC Sabathia, who had a very strong outing in Game 1. That's not good, obviously, but watching that potential Game 5 would be a lot of fun.

Now is the wrong time to abandon this team. They've done more than any other Orioles team in the past 15 years, and even if last night's defeat turns out to be one final hurdle that they couldn't overcome, they deserve plenty of praise for how far they've gotten. Moral victories don't mean anything, but we're also talking about an O's team that many predicted to lose between 95 and 100 games this season. Instead, the O's must win the next two games, in New York, to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs. It's improbable, but it's not impossible. And until this team's season is officially over, writing them off is a mistake.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Angelos reportedly 'happy' after O's wild card win

I'm almost positive I know what you were thinking after the Orioles defeated the Rangers 5-1 in the inaugural American League wild card one-game playoff: Where is Peter Angelos right now, and what is he thinking after such a thrilling victory?

Well, apparently Angelos watched the game at a Towson restaurant, and here's what the owner had to say about Angelos's demeanor after the game:
"He's not overly ecstatic. But he was happy. And then he went home," [Carol] Troia said.
Considering Angelos is 83 years old, that's acceptable, I guess. Then again, it would have been way better if he had ordered dessert for everyone after leading a rousing rendition of "Orioles Magic." Actually, I'm going to believe he did that instead.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Orioles stun Rangers, face Yankees in the ALDS

For me, the biggest decision of this improbable, unexpected Orioles season happened when the O's promoted Manny Machado from Double-A Bowie. On that day, August 9, the O's were 60-52 and were on a five-game winning streak, so it's not like they were playing poorly by any means. But the surprising move put an end to the likes of Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino (or anyone else) playing third base, the position which Machado has played nearly every day since his call-up.

With Machado, the Orioles went 33-17 to close the season and finished with an insane 93-69 record, ending up two games behind the Yankees in the East but tied with the Rangers in the wild card standings. The 20-year-old Machado gave the O's exactly what they needed. He played a solid third base (which made him look like one of the best fielders of all time considering what fans had been watching at the position for years) and hit with enough power to make him a decent contributor in the lineup. His .262/.294/.445 slash line in 191 at-bats also doesn't look so bad when compared with J.J. Hardy's 2012 line: .238/.282/.389 (in 663 at-bats). That's not to diminish what Hardy has done defensively this season, but there's no question that he's had a disappointing offensive season.

So let's skip ahead to a crucial moment in last night's win over the Rangers. With the O's leading 3-1 in the top of the ninth, Machado stepped to the plate with runners on second and third and one out.

Then he did this:

Machado will swing for the fences until he gets two strikes (and sometimes after), but he also has a tendency to shorten his swing and protect the plate. He strikes out a pretty good amount (18.8%), but not nearly as much as Jim Thome (34.8%), Chris Davis (30.1%), Mark Reynolds (29.6%), Wilson Betemit (27.4%), and Ryan Flaherty (25.7%), just to name a few. So even though Joe Nathan made a pretty good pitch down in the zone, Machado was able to still get a decent swing on the ball on hit it past a diving Elvis Andrus at shortstop.

After Machado's single, Nate McLouth added a sacrifice fly, pushing the score to 5-1. As it turned out, the Rangers loaded the bases against Jim Johnson with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, though Johnson got David Murphy to fly out harmlessly to left field to end the game. He still may have saved the game even if the score had been 3-1, but those extra two runs were obviously helpful.


I don't know what the future holds for the Orioles, both in the American League Division Series against the Yankees and beyond. And I've said this before: This season has provided the most sports enjoyment for me in a really long time. Regardless, this team and what they've accomplished up to this point has been nothing short of amazing, and I really hope it continues.

Whenever/however it does end, I'm going to look back on this season and wish I had written more at various points during the wild ride, but that hardly matters right now. The Orioles are about to begin a five-game playoff series against the Yankees, with the first two games at Camden Yards, a magnificent place that's going to be packed with excited and raucous fans believing that one playoff win was great, but that knocking out the Yankees and advancing to the ALCS would be that much sweeter. It really would. And I'm not going to be the one to tell them it won't happen.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Team-record-tying 7 homers propel O's over Blue Jays

Down 2-1 in the fifth inning to the injured and struggling Blue Jays, who managed to take two of the last three from the Orioles over the last few days, the O's needed an offensive boost to keep pace with the likes of the AL East-leading Yankees and other AL wild card contending teams. Fortunately, they were up to the task, hitting three home runs that inning to grab a 6-2 lead. But O's hitters weren't finished; they added two-run homers in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings to take a commanding 12-2 lead, which also happened to be the game's final score.

All 12 runs were scored via seven (!) home runs, which ties the franchise record for homers in the same game and is the first time the team has hit that many since 1985. If you want to see all seven bombs, check out this video.

Here's the home run breakdown:

1st inning: Nate McLouth (solo)
5th: Jim Thome (solo)
5th: Manny Machado (solo)
5th: Chris Davis (3-run)
6th: Mark Reynolds (2-run)
7th: Davis (2-run)
8th: Machado (2-run)

So, yup, seven home runs, and none of them hit by Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, or J.J. Hardy. Weird.

Even after the win, the O's are still 1.5 games back of the Yankees, but they are a half-game up on the A's for the top wild card spot. They're also 2.5 games up on the Angels and 3.5 up on the Rays. (Those teams all have seven games remaining, while the O's only have six.) Those six games for the O's are three at home against the Red Sox and three at Tampa Bay to end the season.

New York, who has seven games against Toronto and Boston, is still the heavy favorite to win the division. Oakland still has four against the Rangers and three against the Mariners, so things are still somewhat difficult for them, even if the Rangers rest a few of their regulars. The Angels have four games against the Mariners and three against the Rangers. And the Rays face the White Sox in Chicago for four huge games (Chicago trails Detroit by only one game in the AL Central) before the season-ending series against the O's.

The O's would do themselves a huge favor by taking at least two of three from the Red Sox. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester just pitched, so the O's won't have to face either of them. Instead, they get to face Aaron Cook, Felix Doubront, and Zach Stewart. The O's have already knocked Cook around twice this season, though Doubront has pitched extremely well against them twice (striking out 20 in 13 innings while allowing only three runs). Stewart, sent to the Red Sox in the Kevin Youkilis trade, has yet to face the O's while with Boston, but the O's did score a bunch of unearned runs on him in April while he was with Chicago.

There's no guarantee, even with only a handful of games left, that the O's make the playoffs. But they have an excellent shot, and you really couldn't ask for more than that, considering this is the Orioles and all. This season has been amazing, and hopefully that continues into the playoffs.

Friday, September 14, 2012

O's keep cruising along, reach 81-win mark

I don't know exactly what to say about this awesome, improbable Orioles season, but man, is it a lot of fun. Yesterday, the O's won yet another one-run game, this time in 14 innings. And, oh by the way, they've also now won 13 consecutive extra-inning games, which is just ridiculous. To top it all off, Manny Machado's walk-off single gave the O's 81 wins, meaning that with 19 games left, they're going to finish above .500 for the first time since 1997.

This isn't supposed to be happening. Not only did the O's not look all that talented heading into this season, but they're far from fielding their best possible lineup. With Nick Markakis lost at least for the rest of the regular season, Nate McLouth is batting leadoff -- and getting the job done. But even before that, he was batting third, and he wasn't doing a terrible job. Lew Ford may be the team's best right-handed bat off the bench. Machado, only 20 years old, is playing a phenomenal third base after basically not playing the position in the minor leagues, and while not getting on base a ton, he's demonstrated some power and has come up with some timely hits. Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day have transformed into lethal late-game relievers. Brian Matusz seems more comfortable in the bullpen and is actually getting hitters out, routinely. And all Taylor Teagarden does is get hits in important situations. I could keep going, but all that matters is this: The O's are getting great performances at just the right time from so many different, random names, and they're doing this without a handful of their best players.

Against all odds, the wins keep coming. About a month ago, I looked at the O's remaining 44 games and how difficult it would be for them to stay in the playoff race. Here's what they've done since:

2-1 at Detroit
1-2 at Texas
2-0 vs. Toronto (one game rained out)
3-1 vs. White Sox
2-1 at New York
2-1 at Toronto
2-2 vs. New York
3-0 vs. Tampa Bay

That's a 17-8 record, which is absurd.

At 81-62, the O's are currently tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East, one game behind the A's for the top wild card spot, and 3.5 games up on the Angels in the second wild card spot. After a playoff berth looked incredibly implausible a month ago, the O's now, according to ESPN's playoff odds (provided by, have a 72 percent chance of making the postseason. The O's huge three-game sweep against the Rays reduced Tampa Bay's playoff chances to about 27 percent, but again, there's still about three weeks left to go, so anything is still possible. And it's not like the O's haven't been defying odds all season long, so it'd be foolish to close the book on other teams until they're officially eliminated.

After a nine-game road trip in Oakland, Seattle, and Boston, the O's have a seven-game homestand (four against the Blue Jays and three against the Red Sox) before three final games in Tampa Bay. Depending on how both teams fare between now and then, that could be an enormous series. But, for now, the O's still have a lot of work to do, and they're guaranteed of nothing. But, considering they were all but guaranteed to finish last in the AL East, finishing over .500 is fantastic.

But this is no time for settling for simply a winning record, as weird as that is to say. This is Birdland, where meaningful September games are played, apparently.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Playing without Markakis (again) will not be easy

Heading down the stretch, the Orioles could not afford to lose one of their best players. Nick Markakis is certainly one of those names. And now, for the second time this season, the O's will need to battle on without Markakis, who broke his left thumb courtesy of an errant fastball from CC Sabathia last night in a 5-4 win over the Yankees and is out for the rest of the regular season.

Markakis had already missed a portion of the season -- part of May, all of June, and some of July -- with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist. But when he returned, Buck Showalter decided to bat Markakis leadoff. And that decision has proved to be extremely wise: After returning, Markakis batted .335/.390/.489 in 54 games. For an O's lineup with the fourth-worst on-base percentage in the American League and that has been in the middle of the pack at scoring runs, losing Markakis really hurts. And let's not forget to mention the toughness of Markakis, who arguably returned a little too early from his right wrist injury but has still been raking ever since.

What should the O's do? There aren't many options. Nate McLouth could shift from left to right field, meaning a platoon of Lew Ford (against lefties) and Xavier Avery (against righties) could occupy left field. Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Tolleson, and Wilson Betemit have also played at least some outfield for the O's this season, though they're not really outfielders. But don't be surprised if one or more of them receive occasional playing time.

Unless the O's get extremely lucky and guys like Ford, Avery, and Davis, etc. play out of their minds for the next few weeks, replicating Markakis's bat will be nearly impossible. But they should be able to improve the outfield defense with Markakis out, especially with a McLouth/Jones/Avery outfield. Yes, Markakis won a Gold Glove in 2011, but a lot of that defensive value came from his arm (he had 14 assists). He's only had three assists in 2012, and he also hasn't looked as spry out there as he's looked in the past. McLouth, who's played a pretty good left field for the O's, has more speed and a decent arm, so he should be able to play a more than adequate right field.

I'm also interested to see who will bat first. Showalter typically alternates right- and left-handed batters in the lineup, but he may not have that luxury without Markakis, unless he simply plugs in Avery, which isn't all that likely. Avery, 22, had some bright spots in 25 games earlier this season, hitting .233/.317/.356, but pitchers seemed to figure him out the longer he played.

But maybe Avery will catch fire, or maybe someone else will. Unbelievably, the O's have a 78-61 record on September 9 and are tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East. Their chances of making the playoffs without Markakis aren't promising, but, really, they've never looked good anyway. This team was never supposed to make it this far. And I'm not going to be the one to say they can't still somehow make it to the postseason. It won't be easy, but when was it supposed to be that way, especially for the O's?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

O's pitching philosophy is different, which may not be a bad thing

Last week, Dan Duquette, the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations (or, you know, their general manager), was interviewed by MASN's Steve Melewski about the organization's pitching philosophy now that he and director of pitching development Rick Peterson have been around for nearly a full season. Much of the talk centered around top prospect Dylan Bundy and the fact that the O's won't let Bundy throw  his cut fastball, arguably the youngster's best pitch, this year (and possibly beyond).

You should read the entire interview, in which, oddly enough, Duquette seems defensive of the strategy and isn't really a fan of anyone questioning what he's doing. Here are some of his comments to Melewski:
"The philosophy of the organization is to encourage pitchers to develop a good delivery, command of their fastball, an off-speed pitch and a good breaking ball," Duquette said. "The first breaking ball that we work with our young pitchers on is a curveball. So that is basically the level of progression of our instruction and our organization philosophy.

"First of all, the cut fastball, we don't like it as a pitch, OK? And we don't like it for young pitchers because it takes away from the development of their curveball, which is a better pitch long-term and also, the velocity of their fastball. So we encourage development of an overhand breaking ball that has depth along with command of their fastball and, of course, velocity and movement will get the hitter out."
If Duquette had stopped right there, he may have been better off. It's at least somewhat defensible that a pitcher, especially at a young age, should be working on maintaining a strong delivery and developing fastball-changeup and curveball/slider command. But he kept going, questioning whether Mariano Rivera's cutter is actually a cutter or just "his fastball." Duquette also challenged whether the cutter was actually an efficient pitch, which seems peculiar considering several of the game's best pitchers throw cutters. Still, I was more surprised by Duquette's seemingly hostile tone, but he could be tired of people asking why Bundy hasn't been able to throw his cutter. Honestly, though, it's more than a fair question.

On Thursday, Melewski interviewed Peterson, who should probably do the talking about this subject for the O's from now on instead of the occasionally aloof Duquette. Again, read the entire interview. Here were, to me, the two most interesting responses from Peterson:
Why don't you like use of the cut fastball?
"What happens is you start to get off to the side of the baseball (with your grip) and then you're no longer consistently behind the baseball. Typically what we see is the more you throw that cutter, you can become dependent on it and you start to overuse it and typically what happens to guys that overuse the cutter is their fastball velocity drops. That has been consistent over the years."

So with younger pitchers, you discourage use of the cutter?
"Yeah, we'd like them to develop the curveball or the slider as the primary breaking ball, something that has depth to it, not something that is flat. And the cutter is a pitch that typically is thrown later on in your career, often after you've been in the big leagues several years. Be it Roy Halladay, be it Cliff Lee, those are pitches they developed later in their career, not when they were young starting pitchers coming through the minor leagues.

"I'm not saying the cutter is not a good pitch, don't misunderstand me. A cutter used effectively is a nice addition to your arsenal. But a cutter thrown 40 percent of the time for a young power pitcher can become a crutch, then your velocity drops and you fail to develop your changeup and a breaking ball that has depth to it. The cutter overused is normally not displacing changeups and curveballs, it's displacing fastballs."
So there's at least a lot of thought behind what the O's are doing. They don't want Bundy to simply get in a mode in the minors where he throws cutter after cutter to get batters out. They want him to develop his other pitches first, and then there's the possibility that they'll let him have the pitch back at some point in the majors. But by the time he's ready, Peterson doesn't seem to think he'll need the cutter anymore, or at least not until later in his career. They also don't want Bundy's fastball velocity to drop, which Peterson says is a possible result from constantly throwing cut fastballs.

ESPN's Keith Law has been one of the most outspoken critics of how the O's have been handling Bundy, and that was before this cutter discussion started. Law believes the O's started Bundy way too low -- he thinks Bundy should have started his minor league career at least at Single-A Frederick or Double-A Bowie -- and he was not a fan of limiting Bundy to three innings at a time when he first started pitching this season. Predictably, Law is not of fan of the O's cutter philosophy either. When asked in an ESPN chat last week on what he thought of it, Law said, "I think it's nonsense, and in Bundy's case, the worst possible outcome for the kid's future." He also added this on Twitter:
So, yeah. It seems pretty bold (but harsh) for the O's to disallow Bundy from throwing the pitch entirely, but it'll be even more ridiculous if they never let him throw the pitch again (which almost seems unreasonable). I'm pretty sure Chris Tillman, who's 24, throws a cutter, and he's been more effective this season than in years past.

Here's one thing I do know: Over the past 10-15 years, the O's have done a horrible job of both drafting and developing organizational talent, and that includes starting pitching. Let's take a look at their draft picks (pitchers only) in the first five rounds of the last 10 MLB drafts (not including this year).

2002: Adam Loewen (1st round), Hayden Penn (5th)
2003: Brian Finch (2nd), Chris Ray (3rd), Bob McCrory (4th)
2004: Wade Townsend (1st, didn't sign), Brad Bergesen (4th)
2005: Garrett Olson (1st (supplemental)), Brandon Erbe (3rd), Reid Hamblet (5th)
2006: Pedro Beato (1st (supplemental)), Zach Britton (3rd)
2007: Timothy Bascom (4th), Jake Arrieta (5th)
2008: Brian Matusz (1st)
2009: Matt Hobgood (1st), Randy Henry (4th), Ashur Tolliver (5th)
2010: Daniel Klein (3rd)
2011: Dylan Bundy (1st), Mike Wright (3rd), Kyle Simon (4th), Matt Taylor (5th)

Again, that's a lot of bad draft picks. But whatever the O's were doing then to develop those pitchers' abilities wasn't working -- at all. Some of those draft picks were/are OK relievers -- Ray, Bergesen, Beato -- but none of them is still with the O's. Britton, Arrieta, and Matusz are all still starters and have at least a shot of being effective, but you can't say the same for anyone else on that list. And all three of those guys have struggled at the major league level and have been disappointing. Hobgood and Klein haven't been able to stay healthy and are long shots to ever make it to Baltimore. And Henry (to Texas for Taylor Teagarden) and Simon (to Philadelphia for Jim Thome) are no longer in the organization. Oh, and Wright is also a reliever.

I'm not sure if what the O's are doing will work. It seems a little radical and might be an overreaction to the results of one type of pitch. But I do know that it's refreshing to see that Duquette and particularly Peterson have some sort of well-thought-out plan, and I'm sure it's much more complex than simply not allowing their younger minor leaguers to throw cutters.

It would be nice if the organization was better at drafting talent, period, but when they actually have good players, it's important that they grow and are eventually useful to the major league club. That hasn't happened for a while, but maybe it will now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

J.J. Hardy is not doing what the O's need him to

J.J. Hardy is a superb defensive shortstop, but he's consistently batted in the second spot the entire season despite putting up awful offensive numbers (.226/.273/.372). In his first season with the Orioles last year, Hardy batted .269/.310/.491, which isn't ideal for a No. 2 hitter because of the low on-base percentage, but it didn't hurt the O's much because he displayed a surprising amount of power. He posted a .222 ISO (isolated power, which measures a player's ability to hit for power/get extra-base hits) -- the best of his career -- yet only has a .146 ISO right now, which would be one of the lowest of his career.

So what's gone wrong? Let's explore.

Hardy's walk and strikeout numbers aren't much different. In fact, he's striking out less and walking slightly more.

2011: 5.5 BB%, 16.2 K%
2012: 5.7 BB%, 15.2 K%

His BABIP is low, though, which means he's been somewhat unlucky. He's only posted a BABIP above .300 once in his career, but this season's .240 mark is lower than his career BABIP of .274. So he's due for a few more hits to drop in, but that doesn't solely explain an OBP this low.

He's hitting more line drives this season than last (from 16.4% to 17.5%), and his ground ball/fly ball ratio is higher than last season (from 0.93 to 1.02). His home run/fly ball ratio (9.4%) is also nowhere near last seasons's (15.7%). So he's hitting the ball somewhat harder, but overall he's hitter fewer fly balls -- and even fewer of them are leaving the ballpark.

Hardy's plate discipline isn't the problem either. Not only is he swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, but he's making more contact with those pitches as well. He's swinging at about as many pitches in the zone and overall is swinging the bat slightly less, but that doesn't explain the significant drop in his numbers either.

So what's been the problem? Fastballs and right-handed pitching. I think it was Jim Palmer who either last night or the night before discussed how Hardy seems to be having trouble with outside fastballs and ones tailing away. Hardy's a pull hitter who likes to turn on inside pitches. He doesn't hit the ball to the opposite field often, and when he's down in the count he'll try to foul off pitches he can't handle until he gets something that he can. After destroying fastballs last season (per Fangraphs PITCHf/x pitch value data), Hardy's not hitting them much this season and is actually hitting some offspeed pitches slightly better.

Also, here are Hardy's splits this season (and career splits in parentheses) vs. right-handed and left-handed pitching:

vs. RHP: .215/.255/.362 (.256/.303/.413)
vs. LHP: .261/.328/.403 (.266/.345/.466)

Again, Hardy's numbers are down across the board. But his numbers against lefties this season are at least serviceable for a strong defensive shortstop. Those numbers against righties, though, are truly ugly.

It's worth remembering that last July Hardy was given a three-year, $22.25 million extension. It's nice that the O's found their short-term option at shortstop and that Hardy is so good defensively at that position, but if he's not hitting he's not helping the club nearly as much as he did in 2011. Instead of trading Hardy at the trade deadline last season when he was arguably having the best season of his career, the O's are stuck with the possibility that Hardy peaked and may only be a shell of that previous offensive force. Also, if Manny Machado stays in the majors and is on the club after spring training next season, and there's really no reason to think that he won't, then Hardy is blocking Machado's true position, or at least the position he should be playing at the big league level until he proves that he can't.

I like Hardy and he's a steady, veteran presence who has helped the O's get where they are right now, but it's looking more and more like the O's and Andy MacPhail missed a big opportunity to sell high on Hardy a year ago and add a few pieces to fill other holes in the O's farm system.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Orioles keep winning, which is awesome

Somehow, some way, the Orioles (64-53) keep racking up wins. After consecutive victories over the Red Sox, the O's have a chance to sweep Boston today and send them five games under .500. The O's have also won nine of their last 11 games.

It's been noted that the O's have a difficult schedule in their remaining 44 games after today. Here's how those games break down:

3 at Detroit
3 at Texas
3 vs. Toronto
4 vs. Chicago
3 at New York
3 at Toronto
4 vs. New York
3 vs. Tampa Bay
3 at Oakland
3 at Seattle
3 at Boston
3 vs. Toronto
3 vs. Boston
3 at Tampa Bay

Yikes. First of all, it's crazy that we're even talking about this. Again, somehow the O's are 11 games over .500 and are leading the wild card. No matter what happens the rest of the season, this is actually happening right now. For a team with very little hope heading into April, the run this team has been on is almost incomprehensible. But, you know, luck, run differential, and regression, etc., so let's try to stay grounded -- though it won't be easy.

Making the playoffs isn't easy, especially for an O's team that's already fighting an uphill battle in the AL East. The Red Sox and Blue Jays have had bad luck with injuries all season, but as O's fans are more than well aware of, that's part of the game. The O's have battled their share of injuries this year and have had some pretty terrible luck with them in past seasons. So it's important to remember this: No one feels sorry for you. After 15 years of futility, the O's have needed and will continue to need some good fortune for them to have a chance of actually sneaking into the playoffs.

Of their 44 remaining games, 28 are against the AL East. Plus, teams like Detroit, Texas, and Oakland are all pretty good, too. And while it's bad enough to play all of those games against good teams, the O's also have one trip to the West Coast left, which includes three games in Oakland and three in Seattle. Luckily, on that trip the O's avoid the Angels, who have a 7-2 record against the O's this season.

That remaining schedule could wear down even the best of teams, but over the course of this season, the O's have held their own against decent teams, primarily in the East. In fact, other than their struggles vs. the Angels, the only other teams they're under .500 against are the Rangers (1-3), Tigers (1-2), and Yankees (5-6) -- and there's nothing wrong with that. Overall, they're 18-13 vs. the Central division, 11-14 vs. the West, and they finished 11-7 in interleague play. But the biggest surprise is their 24-19 record in the East, fueled by an 8-3 record against the Red Sox. Sorry, Beantown.

Considering that schedule and that the O's have been playing over their heads, I'm not sure they're going to be able to ride out that storm and eventually still be in contention heading into the final days of the regular season. But this team has accomplished way more than I ever thought they would, and I certainly won't write them off. This whole winning thing has been fun, and I hope like hell it continues.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

O's surprisingly promote Manny Machado to Baltimore

After the Orioles completed their three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners with a 9-2 win last night, I went to bed. So I missed the flood of stories around midnight saying the O's were calling up Manny Machado from Bowie to play third base for the major league club. Machado, 20, is considered the O's second-best prospect behind Dylan Bundy and is a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.

Instead of making a major trade at the deadline, promoting Machado is arguably the biggest move the O's could have made (outside of promoting Bundy straight to Baltimore instead of to Bowie), and it's probably something that Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette have discussed before. Machado, who's hitting .266/.350/.431 at Bowie (and was named Eastern League Player of the Week just a couple days ago), has almost exclusively played shortstop in his time in the minors, but it wouldn't make much sense to move J.J. Hardy from the position, because even though he's not hitting all that well, he's still playing outstanding defense at the position. There's no guarantee that Machado would do the same, and it's unknown how long he'll be with the team. Still, the O's are promoting Machado for a reason: They think he's good enough right now, and at 60-51, they want him to help them win more games.

Buck Showalter echoed that sentiment in his comments after the game:

So, will Machado help the team? If he plays every day, which he should if he's on the big league club, he'll be replacing the third base platoon of Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino. Betemit will likely still DH some and get occasional starts in the field to keep his bat in the lineup against right-handed pitching, but Andino will probably be relegated to more of a utility role since Omar Quintanilla has taken over the regular second base duties. Overall, Andino is hitting .227/.292/.318 and Betemit is batting .263/.323/.427, so neither guy is really a superior option offensively. Machado probably won't be much better right away -- and it may be unfair to expect that he will be -- but he may be able to be decent defensively while hitting better than Andino -- sort of a combination of the two's skills. Still, Machado has never played much third base, and now he'll be doing so at the highest level. (Apparently Machado took "a lot of ground balls at third" during his time in Bowie, according to manager Gary Kendall. So that's good, I guess.)

I'm not sure if Machado is ready or that it's a smart move to bring him up right now. I guess we'll find out over the next few weeks and months. As with most player promotions, fan opinions are mixed. But there's one thing this move definitely is: bold. It's an extremely bold move. I'm sure the team's current record played a part in the decision, but then again, if the O's were 20 games out of first place, wouldn't it almost make just as much sense to play Machado every day in the majors if they thought he was ready? Possibly, I guess.

But here's the cool part of all of this: Now we get to watch Machado play on a team that's currently tied for the lead in the wild card standings. Regardless of how good this team actually is or if they can stick around through late August into September, that's pretty exciting.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Orioles and winning

Today, August 7, 2012, the Orioles have a 58-51 record. Here are O's team records on this date the past 10 years:

2011: 44-67
2010: 36-74
2009: 46-63
2008: 55-59
2007: 52-59
2006: 50-63
2005: 53-58
2004: 51-57
2003: 54-58
2002: 54-57

That's right, not a single winning record on this (arbitrary) date in the past decade. What does it mean? Not a whole lot really, especially since that run differential (now -55) keeps sticking out, tempering even the most optimistic fans.

But the O's have far exceeded expectations, and winning is so, so much better than losing. Whether the O's keep this up, though unlikely, is anyone's guess, but even the worst run differential can't take away those 58 wins.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Appreciating Wei-Yin Chen

Orioles fans didn't know what to expect when the team signed Taiwanese starter Wei-Yin Chen to a three-year, $11.3 million contract this past offseason. But Chen, now 27, has been better than expected and currently has a pitching line of 3.46/4.05/4.32 (ERA/FIP/xFIP) after pitching seven scoreless innings and getting the win against the Rays in Tampa Bay last night. He leads all rookies in innings pitched (135.1) and is tied for second in AL rookie pitcher wins above replacement (2.1 fWAR) behind Yu Darvish (2.4).

Chen's FIP and xFIP indicate that he's probably due for some regression, mostly because he's not a ground ball pitcher and he's gotten a little lucky BABIP-wise (.260), plus he doesn't have completely overpowering stuff (19.3 K%, 7.8 BB%). But even if he's not quite this good, he's still been a very good signing, particularly for an O's team that's struggled to find any kind of starting pitching consistency. And he's also doing this while pitching in arguably the best division in baseball, the AL East -- no small task.

When Jason Hammel went down in mid-July (knee surgery), the O's needed Chen to step his game up. He's done just that: Since July 14, Chen has five consecutive outings of pitching at least 5.2 innings and allowing three runs or fewer. In the process, he's lowered his ERA from 3.93 to where it is now, 3.46.

There's no guarantee that Chen continues to pitch this well or that he's this effective in his future years in Baltimore. This is his first year in the majors, and teams very well may adjust to Chen the more they face him. But the O's rarely have cost-controlled, effective starting pitchers under contract period, let alone for multiple years, and with Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton currently unable to live up to their expectations, Chen's effectiveness has been crucial for a 56-51 O's team.

By the way, if Chen's contract wasn't looking like enough of a bargain, his three-year deal also includes a club option for 2015 at $4.75 million. So, yeah, that'll probably work out.

Stats via FanGraphs. Salary info via Cot's Baseball Contracts.