Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Interview With Patrick Newman, Founder of NPB Tracker

Ever since the Orioles signed Kenji Uehara, I’ve been trying to find out more about him and Japanese baseball in general. I mean, if the Orioles are serious about tapping this resource, why not learn a little more about the Nippon Pro Baseball league?

The blog NPB Tracker has been an invaluable resource for all things regarding Japanese baseball. But I still had some questions, so I talked site founder Patrick Newman into a mini-interview so I could get some clarity on a few subjects. I asked him about Koji Uehara, minor league signee Ryohei Tanaka and Japanese baseball in general. Thanks to Patrick for his time…the interview follows.

Dempsey’s Army: According to the Atlanta papers, Kenshin Kawakami has a contingent of 6 or 7 memebers of the Japanses press following him around Spring Training. Kenji Uehara seems to have at least twice that contingent even though Kawakami was touted as the better pitcher this offseason. What's the draw with Uehara?

Patrick Newman: Koji Uehara pitched for the Yomiuri Giants, who are basically the Yankees of Japan, so he has a national following. He's also been talking openly about pitching in the majors for years, so it's a good story that he's finally getting to do it now. And although Kawakami has been more consistent for the last few seasons, Uehara's peak performance was better, with Sawamura Awards* in 1999 and 2002.

*Japan's award for the best pitcher. It's like the Cy Young, but it actually pre-dates the Cy.

DA: Uehara has been primarily a reliever for the past two seasons. Why was that decision made? Also, are relievers in Japan used in a similiar fashion to the way they are used in the U.S. (i.e. one inning at a time on average...) or do they have longer stints? I am wondering how long it will take Uehara to stretch himself out to a starter again.

PN: Uehara was moved into relief after suffering an injury before the 2007 season. He was dominant in the closer role, and the Giants didn't have any other obvious closer candidates, so they left him there for the duration of the season. After 2007, they signed Marc Kroon to close, and moved Uehara back into the rotation. He struggled in 2008, got demoted, and pitched in middle relief, but got back into the rotation and put together a string of good starts in August and September.

Reliever usage patterns in Japan are similar to MLB -- you have closers, lefty specialists, middle relievers, etc. I think this is one of the reason we've seen a number of NPB relievers come over to America and do well. Starters in Japan tend to throw more pitches per start, but get more time in between starts. This is something that Uehara will have to adjust to. I don't know how long it will take him to adjust, but I would be a little surprised if he throws 200 innings this year.

DA: Outside of having to face some imposing lineups in the American League East, what do you think Uehara's biggest obstacle will be on his road to becoming a successful pitcher in the U.S.?

PN: Uehara has been home run-prone in his NPB career, so he'll have to work on keeping the ball down. Another thing is that he could count on getting the close calls in Japan, because of his reputation and his team. He won't have the benefit of the doubt in American. He seems to be cognizant of both these points though.

Off the field, he'll have to adjust to more travel, different food, a new language, etc.

DA: When he's in a jam, what is Uehara's "out" pitch? Which pitch does he command the best?

PN: In Japan it was his forkball.

DA: "Power pitcher" or "junkball" guy?

PN: "Finesse" guy. He has some good stuff but that doesn't include a power fastball.

DA: The stats for RHP Ryohei Tanaka are not impressive. He struggled during a cup of coffee with the Chiba Lotte Marinesand his minor league stats that you posted on NPB Tracker are not encouraging. He's only 26 but why would the Orioles be so interested in him? Does he have a big arm or was he highly touted (or drafted) out of high school?

PN: I've never seen him so I can't speak to how good his arm is or what he throws. I always take minor league stats with a grain of salt, because he might have been facing rehabbing major leaguers, or had a bad defense behind him, or working on a new pitch. But he rates haven't been good and he didn't improve statistically in his eight years.

The Orioles gave him a tryout and must have seen something they liked. He got a minor league contract paying him something like $40k, so there's no risk involved for the team.

DA: What is the view of NPB as a league about Japanese players having success in America? Is it a source of pride or are they concerned about how much talent if leaving the NPB? How do the fans feel?

PN: The league isn't crazy about the trend -- they were particularly upset about Junichi Tazawa last year and actually enacted a ban on players who skip NPB returning to Japan.The fans are more amenable to it. Guys like Ichiro and Matsuzaka are on the news every time they do anything, and their success is obviously a source of pride among most of the Japanese population. I like seeing those guys succeed, because I'm a fan of NPB and I think their success gives the league credibility.

DA: Before I die, I plan on visiting Japan and attending a professional baseball game while I'm there. Any tips for the average American baseball fan taking in a NPB game for the first time? Also, what is the Japanese version of a hot dog and a beer? Is there a traditional ballpark food in Japan?

PN: Get to Koshien Stadium in Osaka and see a Hanshin Tigers game, if you can. The stadium is a dump but there's no other baseball experience like it. I used to eat yakisoba, edamame, and sometimes dried squid at games in Japan -- I would say those are among the most generic items. All of the six Japanese stadiums I've been to served hot dogs, but I've only ever tried them at Osaka Dome. Osaka Dome also had McDonald's and KFC inside the stadium last time I was there. The Japanese version of beer is beer.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Five Things to Watch During Spring Training

Lots of new faces in Ft. Lauderdale this year...what should we be watching for when we watch the meager MASN slate of Spring Training games?

1. Koji Uehara…What’s Up With That?

Uehara is an exciting addition but he’s a huge unknown on this side of the Pacific. Raise your hand if you’ve seen him pitch. I’ve only seen some WBC footage on YouTube. How’s his delivery? How does that fastball pop? Can he control his breaking pitches? How will he do against the competition this Spring?

2. The Rotation…who will emerge?

When Spring Training broke in 2007, here was the starting rotation:

J. Guthrie
D Cabrera
A Loewen
S Trachsel
B Burres

As you know, only Guthrie remains in the organization. Uehara will be the number two starter by default but it’s a Battle Royale for the last three spots. We have star-crossed homegrown prospects (Hayden Penn), cast-off from other organizations (Brian Hennessey), former Cubs farmhands who can’t find the plate (Rich Hill), former Oriole farmhands who can’t find the plate (Radhames Liz), guys who weren’t even sure they wanted to be middle relievers two years ago (Danys Baez), guys dumped for minor league relievers by division rivals (David Pauley), guys coming back from serious shoulder injuries (Troy Patton, Matt Albers), former NBA players (Mark Hendrickson), recent First Round draftees (Brian Matusz) and various farm system products hoping for a shot (David Hernandez, Brad Bergensen, Chris Waters).

That’s at least 13 arms who will legitimately compete for three available spots in the rotation. (I won’t count Chorye Spoone, John Parrish, Chris Tillman, etc…guys who have no real shot at grabbing a spot.) That makes for a lot of competition and a hope that at least a couple of these guys break out and put a stranglehold on a spot in the rotation.

3. Luke Scott…Where’s he playing?

Dave Trembley has said that the arrival of Felix Pie will not spell the end of Scott’s time patrolling LF for the O’s. Scott says he’s willing to play some first base and the DH spot is wide open.

Contrary to popular belief, Scott’s defense in left was not bad at all. He doesn’t look great doing it but he fields his position well. It would seem a waste to put him exclusively at DH. It will be interesting to see how he handles first base; if he is competent, he could be an interesting option for that position in 2010 when Aubrey Huff departs.

4. The Catcher Situation…

Gregg Zaun has the starting job until Matt Wieters shows up but there are a few guys competing for that backup catcher spot…even if they will only have it for a few weeks. Robby Hammock, Guillermo Quiroz, Chad Moellers, Adam Donachie…but obviously that’s not the glamourous aspect of this story.

The interesting thing will be if Wieters plays well enough to break camp with the team. Now, given the free agency ramifications surrounding him, there’s little chance he heads north with the big club in April. Of course, I said the same thing about Nick Markakis three years ago. If he shows up and lives up to the hype of being Christ in a Catcher’s Mask, he’ll make the decision a lot harder for Andy MacPhail.

5. Who’s The Closer?

Or more precisely, how’s the bullpen going to shake out? But figuring out who the closer is will go a long way to figuring the rest of the ‘pen out.

If Chris Ray takes the closer spot back, what happens with George Sherrill? If Sherrill tkaes the setup job, does Jim Johnson take over as the 7th inning guy? Will Jamie Walker be reduced to lefty specialist? Will Walker be effective at all? Will Trembley feel comfortable with a 12 man pitching staff or will he continue to carry 13 arms? Who's the long relievers?

Mundane matters now but they won't be mundane once the games start to count.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Brian Roberts - Oriole For Life

The Orioles have reportedly signed second baseman Brian Roberts to a four year, $40 million extension which will keep him with the club through the end of 2013.

Objectively, I’ve already talked about the aging of second basemen and in light of that, this is a risky contract. Roberts is now the second highest paid second baseman in baseball (behind Chase Utley) and the extension kicks in during his age 32 season. I can’t imagine this contract will look so great during his age 34 and 35 seasons (2012 and 2013). I will root for Roberts to age gracefully but the reality is that middle infielders with his skill set tend to break down hard in their early 30’s.

Subjectively, a great move for the short term and a good PR move and not just for the fans. Roberts is a fan favorite and probably brings some people to OPACY for the singular purpose of watching him play. So the fans will be happy. But for free agents looking at signing with the Orioles, this sends a message that the Orioles are serious about making the commitment to win and with Roberts and Markakis locked up for the next few years, Baltimore is a much more attractive place to play.

And count me as a fan who is glad that we will be seeing Roberts in black and orange for the next five season…even if I may be cringing for the last two.

The Crystal Ball '09: Matt Wieters

For the last installment of this year's Crystal Ball, I was going to do some possible projections for the future rookie phenom Matt Wieters. But since Wieters is the most hyped Oriole prospect since Mike Mussina, he has been dissected and examined by everyone from fellow Oriole bloggers to national baseball writers. I've been trying to figure out an original angle on him...but as far as I can tell, he's been covered every which way you can imagine. So, I thought a recap of some of the projections would be the best way to go at this point.

ESPN's Keith Law ranked Wieters the #1 prospect in all of basebal
l and was uncharacteristically effusive in his praise for him.

Wieters is typically compared to one of two current big-leaguers: Mark Teixeira and Joe Mauer. Those are tough comps to hang on a player who has yet to sniff the big leagues, but in Wieters' case, they're merited...

Wieters could start 2009 in the majors, although giving him a one-month stint in Triple-A would give Baltimore the advantage of another year of control before Wieters hits free agency. Other than that possibility, there's nothing stopping him from becoming an impact catcher from Day One.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball calls him the "Best prospect in baseball. Mutant cross between Mauer and Piazza."

Dave Cameron looks at Wieters AA numbers at age 22 and shows how he compares favorably to other AA seasons by Miguel Cabrera, Jose Canseco, Pat Burrell, Vlad Guerrero and Eric Chavez.

Finally, Victor Wang compares Wieters against the number two prospect in baseball, Tampa Bay pitcher David Price. As it turns out, they aren't even close in terms of future value. Wieters laps him.

Various projections:

CHONE .274/.352/.439
Bill James .311/.407/.526
Oliver .294/.373/.487

Even the most modest of these projections gives Wieters a season that hasn't been seen by an Oriole catcher since the Chris Hoiles era.

If all the projections are to be believed, Wieters will be the second best player on the team the moment he sets cleats on the field. Now we'll see if he actually lives up to the hype.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Base Hits: 2/13/2009

I had to give a tip of the hat to Desert O at Weaver's Tantrum who did a fair job of arguing that Rich Hill's control problems may have been injury related and Rick Ankiel-like mental blocks may have been overstated.

A well argued premise that seems to been given credence by Hill himself during an interview on The Hot Stove show in MASN. Per Roch Kubatko's blog:

Hill said the injury, to a "little joint" in his back, often occurs when attempting to lift something heavy.

"I tried to compensate so I could compete," he said. "It kept building and building, and every start it would get worse and worse.

"I blame myself for continuing on and trying to fight through it."

So a tip of the hat to Desert O. Nobody who writes about the Orioles had made that assertion before him. Well played sir, well played.


Just in time for Valentine's Day, Garrett Olson is moving on with his new partner while removing reminders of the old one:

But Thursday morning (Garrett Olson) spent time getting rid of the last vestiges of his Baltimore Oriole pitching career.

He took a black magic marker and filled in all the orange on his pitching cleats, orange being the dominant color of the Orioles. Actually, Olson did it with one pair and clubhouse worker Pete Fortune did it with another pair. It was sort of a paint-by-number thing.

Olson eventually will get properly color-coded shoes inclusive of the Mariner blue and teal. But for the moment, ''I didn't want to go out there wearing the orange,'' Olson said.

This is the baseball version of removing the old pictures with your ex-girlfriend in them before bringing over a new prospect for dinner. Good luck looking for happiness Garrett...


MASN has released their schedule for televised Spring Training games...only 4 Oriole games on the schedule. LAME.

Look, the Orioles are most certainly going to be a losing club in 2009 and the one thing fans have to look forward to are the young prospects. So let us see them play! This schedule could easily be doubled. I guess I'll be reduced to watching other teams during Spring Training...again.


Write your own punchline. Feel free to leave them in the comments for this post!


The Orioles have signed another Japanese pitcher, this time former Chiba Lotte Marine farmhand Ryohei Tanaka. According to a translation from NPB Tracker, Tanaka said "I was surprised. When I heard, tears came out." Given the state of recent Oriole teams, one has to wonder whether they were tears of sorrow or joy...


Pitcher and catchers report on Sunday! Spring is nearly here!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

BHI: Millar, Tejada and Tettleton

What is BHI? Look here...

Kevin Millar - 52 Oriole Career Homers

Kevin, we hardly knew you. Millar had a somewhat good rep for hitting big homers and he did hit 7 game-tying, a very good percentage. But he hit a ton of homers with nobody on base and hit nearly 15% of his Oriole homers when the O's were down by four runs or more...the ultimate in garbage time.

If not for one game ending home run against Boston in 2007, Millar would score somewhere in the Jay Gibbons range. Instead, he finishes with a slightly less lackluster score.

BHI - 117

Miguel Tejada - 102 Oriole Career Homers

While Tejada's "truthiness" is pretty suspect these days, his bat was least early in his Oriole career. In fact, most of the good scores for Tejada are as a result of his monster 34 HR, 150 RBI 2004 Oriole debut.

The good: Above average scores in go ahead shots and a walk-off

The bad: Nearly a third of his Oriole homers came during Garbage Time and nothing else stands out.

Just like every aspect of his Oriole career, Tejada's BHI starts out with a splash, then peters out into mediocrity at the end.

BHI - 218

Mickey Tettleton - 52 Oriole Career Homers

Tettleton is one of my favorite players of all-time so I was pleased that he scored so well and dismayed by something I realized for the first time.

Mickey hit a very low percentage of his longballs during Garbage Time ( of the lowest scores in this excercise) and a whopping 54% of his homers either tied the game or put the Orioles out in front. The only thing that keeps him from topping the list is his above average percentage of solo shots.

What I realized was this: It was October 3rd 1990. The Blue Jays (the team who had edged out the "Why Not?" Orioles for the division a year before) trailed the Red Sox by one game for the AL East lead heading into the the last day of the season. The score was tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth...when Tettleton took Tom Henke deep to right center ending the Blue Jays playoff hopes.

In the offseason, Tettleton was traded to the Tigers for SP Jeff Robinson. Tettleton would hit 30+ homers in four of the next five seasons while Robinson would continue to suck until he was out of baseball.

That's right. Tettleton's last hit as a Baltimore Oriole was a walkoff homer with two outs in the ninth. Ouch.

Anyway, Tettleton rates among the Oriole greats in terms of BHI.

BHI - 444

BHI Leaders - Oriole Career

Brooks Robinson - 495
Eddie Murray - 469
Rafael Palmiero - 469
Mickey Tettleton - 444
Tony Batista - 406
John Lowenstein - 393
Boog Powell - 341
Mike Devereaux - 333
Jim Gentile - 274
Larry Sheets - 266
Albert Belle - 240
Chris Hoiles - 240
Roberto Alomar - 230
Doug Decinces - 225
Brian Roberts - 224
Miguel Tejada - 218
Cal Ripken - 197
Brady Anderson - 138
Rick Dempsey - 136
Kevin Millar - 117
Jay Gibbons - 42
Jeff Conine - 5
B. J. Surhoff - -64

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Quick Note on Steroids...

I am going to post this so I can refer to it in the future...

Another player who played from 1988-2003 has tested positive for steroids. Really, this is no surprise. It has happened before and will surely happen again. When I am 75 years old, people will be coming forward with proof that Player X took steroids back in the 1990's. I haven't been surprised for awhile and will never be surprised in the future. I won't be surprised if it turns out that Calvin Edwin Ripken, Jr. himself used steroids to some extent.

It matters not. The Steroids Era is easily placed into context and nobody should be excluded from the Hall of Fame simply because they are linked to steroid use. The problem was so widespread, we have to assume a great majority of the players from the 1990's were using. No one can be assumed to be "clean".

The best post I've seen lately about steroids is here:

OK, resume party...

The Crystal Ball '09: Melvin Mora

Friends, Baltimoreans, O's fans, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Melmo, not to praise him;
The outs that batters make live after them,
The bunt singles are oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Melmo...
Melmo was ambitious with his fielding:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Melmo answered it...

This is probably Melvin Mora's final season in Baltimore and it will probably be time for him to go. Since the end of 2004, Mora has been in decline. You shouldn't really expect much out of a 37-year old third baseman. I mean, he had a nice year in 2008 but that's just a lat hurrah for an old vet. Surely he'll regress back to his normal declining self in 2009. 2008 was a fluke. Right?

Since 1954, third basemen age 37 or over whose OPS+ was greater than 100:

OPS+ Age
Schmidt 142 37
T. Fernandez 124 37
Nettles 120 40
Boggs 119 37
Nettles 119 38
Rose 119 37
B. Robinson 113 37
G. Gaetti 108 37

First, I would like The Warehouse to take note that the only player on this list who was an above-average hitter after their age 37 season: the freakish Graig Nettles. I have faith that Andy MacPhail will decline that club option for Mora for the 2010 season...

Second, excepting Nettles, there were only six other third basemen who were above-average hitters during their age 37 season in the last 54 years. Four are (or should be) Hall of Famers. Gary Gaetti's age 37 season was his last hurrah, at least as a third baseman. I suppose Mora could have another good season ala Tony Fernandez...but it's a real long shot. It just doesn't happen very often.

And Mora does NOT have the glove to make up for a slumping bat. Mora had worked himself into a decent fielder in recent seasons but he has been slipping. He wasn't the worst fielding third baseman baseball last season...but there was only one AL regular worse than him in 2008.

Still...his 2008 numbers were no fluke. His BABIP was .289, below his career average and his average on on groundballs was a measly .189. The point is that Mora was legitimately good last season. He was stroking line drives like a madman, he didn't just get lucky. It gives some hope that Melvin puts it together for one more year.

I still think the odds are long on that happening though. Look for a .260/.330/.410 line, something in that neighborhood. Don't be surprised if Wigginton is getting a lot of starts at third toward the end of the year.

Photo by Keith Allison and used under the Creative Commons License 2.0

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Trade Monitors Updated

Trade Monitors have been updated to include the two major trades of the off-season. I suppose if we ever figure out who we're sending to Chicago for Rich Hill, I'll add that too.

I am taking down the Chris Britton for Jaret Wright trade. The Yankees got 2 WS out of Britton over two seasons and waived him this offseason. Britton performed well when he got a chance in 2007 but suffered thorough injuries in '08. On the other hand, the Orioles got only 10.3 innings from Wright during his Oriole career. The aftermath? Neither team got much value out of this trade. Wright's career is over and Britton was picked up on a minor league deal by San Diego.

I also added the Rodrigo Lopez trade. I had forgotten about it by the time I put the Trade Monitor together but seeing Jim Miller on the Spring Training invite list jogged my memory.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Crystal Ball '09: Luke Scott

Luke Scott came over from Houston last offseason as one of the five players Baltimore received in return for Miguel Tejada. In terms of Win Shares, Scott nearly equalled Tejada's output in 2008. (see the Trade Monitor to your left...)

Scott, by default, was the best left fielder the Orioles have had since B.J. Surhoff hung up his cleats and filled a gaping hole that the Orioles has struggled with for years. (A sign of The Warehouse's ineptitude before Andy MacPhail hard is it, really, to find an average leftfielder?)

But his struggles hitting lefties have continued. Scott hit .215/.300/.402 against lefties in 120 plate appearances in 2008. That's a big problem but a problem that may have been solved with some offseason acquisitions.

Dave Trembley has been averse to playing straight platoons, (He kept giving Jay Payton ABs against righthanded pitching when it was painfully obvious that the ONLY thing he could still do was hit against lefties...) but the addition of Ty Wigginton and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Freel could go a long way to mask Scott's weaknesses and cobble together an adequate DH that is greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine this guy at DH. Let's call him Tyanuke Freeginscott...:

Scott 415 .269 .346 .492 .838
Wiggy 200 .320 .380 .510 .890
Freel 50 .331 .360 .435 .795

Total 665 .289 .357 .493 .850

That's not bad production from what would primarily be DH at-bats.

Yes, it's tough to platoon when you only carry three players on your bench but the guys they have now offer enough versatility to keep Scott out of situations where he will most likely fail. And he can be brought off the bench at key moments to face righthanded relievers.

And Scott's defensive woes have been overblown. He's not pretty doing it but he gets to most balls hit his way and can still help spell Felix Pie (who has been all but given the starting job) in left.

IF Trembley platoons him correctly, look for a .280/.350/.500 line over 400 ABs.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Quick Word About Chris Gomez...

Since the signing of Ty Wigginton, the composition of the expected three-man bench has been kicked around, specifically the future of Chris Gomez. Sure, this Wigginton signing probably means Gomez doesn't make the team but who will back up Cesar Izturis at shortstop?

My response: Who cares?

You may want a defensive specialist who can play short on your bench if you have an offensive shortstop with some fielding deficiencies (Miguel Tejada). But the O's already have a defensive specialist as a full-time starter. You're not lifting Izturis late in the game for a defensive specialist. And if you pinch hit for him, stick Freel out there if necessary for an inning. One inning won't hurt.

Izturis blows out his knee? Stick Freel there for a game, then call up Jolbert Cabrera or Donnie Murphy (or someone of that ilk) from Norfolk.

Backup catcher I understand. Backup shortstop? Why keep a guy who would ONLY fill that role on a three-man bench? Not thick enough.

Gomez should not make this team barring injury or an expansion to a four-man bench. Period.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ty Wigginton...Still Another Free Agent Signing

Ty Wigginton has signed a two-year deal to play for the Baltimore Orioles.

First, the negatives. Wigginton plays various positions (1B, 2B, 3B and OF) but doesn't play any of them particularly well, save for the corner outfield spots.

Even though he had a good year for Houston last year, he has basically been a league average bat over the course of his career.

His career OBP is .330.

He'll reportedly make $3 million per season for the next two years.

All that said, given his projected role, the signing will probably improve the team.

Why? He hits lefties very well and the Orioles needed someone to put in the lineup against C.C. Sabathias, Scott Kazmir and the other tough lefties Baltimore will have to face this year. Against LHP, Wigginton's line is .288/.364/.514 and in 2008 it was .340/.424/.631 . He'll go a long way to offset the weaknesses of Luke Scott and Aubrey Huff against lefthanded pitching.

He'll spell Melvin Mora in the field.

He'll likely push Chris Gomez off the roster. The fewer AB's that Gomez gets, the better this team is. (Baltimore will already be giving 600+ AB to Cesar Izturis...we can't afford anymore "good glove, bad bat" guys in the lineup...) In 2008, Gomez was a guy who played a lot of positions but none of them particularly well and he can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag.

So to recap, if this move prevents Gomez from making the 25-man roster and if Dave Trembley deploys him correctly (mostly against lefties), he'll be a useful player for the next couple seasons.

It'll be interesting to plug him into the WAR spreadsheet...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rich Hill...The Latest Oriole Reclamation Project

Hill had some success for the Cubs in '07 but quickly lost the ability to find the all, ala Rick Ankiel. This was true with the major league team and the AAA Iowa Cubs.

So why do the O's want him? The move will reunite Hill with his former pitching coach Rick Kranitz and his former minor league coach (and current bullpen coach) Alan Dunn which Andy MacPhail probably hopes will straighten Hill out.

Will it work? Probably not but there's a big upside if it does. The Orioles have should continue to make moves like this; low price, big risk, big upside. The farm system is better these days but is still really thin beyond the upper echelon of prospects. The O's need to gamble on guys like Hill, Pie, Moore, Uehara, Patton, etc. and hope a couple of them pan out. Is Hill of much use to the Cubs? No. Could he be useful to the Orioles? Maybe.

Add another arm to the mix. "We take anybody."

The Crystal Ball '09: The Rotation

After Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara, the rest of the starting rotation for your 2009 Baltimore Orioles is a mystery. I still expect the Orioles to pick up a veteran starter to stick in the 3 spot in the rotation but for now, here are the most likely candidates to fill the three available spots.

Hayden Penn – Penn is going to get a fair shot at the starting rotation this season and I feel OK about that. Why? Outside of the top two spots, I’m not sure there’s anyone better suited for the job. He's probably the most talented guy on the list and he has had success at AAA, he just needs to stay healthy and get some major league innings under his belt.

Second, Penn had very good numbers when it comes to inducing groundballs. He induced grounders at a 48% rate in Norfolk and if you don’t include his shaky April, the rest of the year it was somewhere around 53%. That’s good. Why were his overall numbers so bad then? First, he didn’t strike out a lot of guys. Second, his infield was….well, let’s just say that there weren’t many plus defenders in that Norfolk infield. If Penn is getting grounders at a 50% rate in Baltimore, having Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis behind him will serve him well. And as long as he keeps it in the park, the young outfield should be able to run down a lot of his mistakes. Penn only walked guys at about a 3 per 9 rate. If he can stay healthy long enough, he could become a valuable player in the rotation for ’09 and ’10.

Chris Waters – Waters is getting overlooked as a starter in ’09 but his rate stats from last season were only surpassed by Daniel Cabrera and Jeremy Guthrie last season. He found ways to get by with really limited stuff. He famously debuted pitching 8 innings of one-hit ball and later in the season pitched a complete game shutout in Toronto. He took his share of beatings but pitched into the 5th inning everytime and often pitched into the 6th or 7th. He’s a good candidate for a 5th starter, an innings eater who can cherry-pick some wins at the back of the rotation.

Mark Hendrickson - I've talked about what I expect from Hendrickson here.

Radhames Liz – He may not ultimately be a starter but he’ll be forced to be one this year, at least early. He's a flyball pitcher, not a good fit for OPACY unless his strikeouts dramatically increase and his walks come down. It would be nice if he could work out these issues in the bullpen but the Orioles probably won’t have that luxury. With a little luck, other candidates for the rotation will develop enough that he’s a reliever after the All-Star break.

David Pauley – Pauley is an interesting candidate. Coming over in a trade from the Red Sox for RP Randor Bierd, he has solid AAA numbers. He’s a groundball pitcher and induces a lot of pop-ups. His strikeout numbers in AAA were respectable too. At worst, he could be an innings eater. At best, he improves to be an league average starter in the second half?

Brad Hennesey/Brian Burress – A pair of soft-tossing waiver claims from the Giants organization.

Burress has shown a tendency to issue free passes and, when he finds the plate, serve up big home runs. Only a marked unexpected improvement in those tendencies or massive injuries to the rotation keep him on this team in 2009 (He was equally bad out of the bullpen in ’08).

Hennesey could be a sleeper. His former first-round draftee status has some comparing him to Jeremy Guthrie. I don’t see it. He’s never struck out batters at a very good rate, walks batters at an average rate and doesn’t induce enough ground balls to offset his mediocrity in those two categories. I suppose a change of scenery may help him but he’s a longshot.

Troy Patton/Matt Albers – Going into Spring Training 2008, I thought Patton had the best shot of any of the youngsters at cracking the starting rotation. As injuries mounted in the rotation, I thought Albers was best suited to move from the ‘pen and grab a spot as a starter. Why do I lump them together? They both suffered rotator cuff injuries before they could seize their respective opportunities. Patton underwent surgery, Albers opted for rehab. Both are now big question marks. If either are able to start a significant number of games in 2009, it will be gravy.

Hey, let’s not kid ourselves, this ain’t pretty. Guys like Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergensen are not going to show up in Baltimore until the second half of ’09 at the earliest. This list is what we’ve got to work with for the first few months of the season. There’s guys to dream on or root for but realistically the Orioles will be insanely lucky if one of these guys breaks out and put a choke hold on one of the spots in the ’09 Oriole rotation.

It's going to be a rough year for the putching staff...