Friday, October 22, 2010

Tyler Townsend Injured Again, Done for AFL

Orioles 1B prospect Tyler Townsend, the player I identified as needing the AFL to make up for time lost to injury over his first two professional seasons, will instead be going under the knife.

Orioles infield prospect Tyler Townsend will have surgery to remove a cyst from his hand, a procedure that won't significantly affect his preparation for the 2011 season, but will end his time in the Arizona Fall League...

He's apparently had the cyst since high school, but it recently started affecting how he gripped the bat. By having surgery, Townsend should be able to resume baseball activities by December.

Here's hoping he's healthy enough to play somewhere, anywhere, in the Oriole organization for the full 2011 season.

Luke Scott...Still the Invisible Slugger

Yet again, I am compelled to defend Luke Scott as a premier slugger in the American League. That's right, I said it. Premier. Slugger.

Seeing these two items over the past week show that the perception of Scott does not match the reality, especially the Scott we saw in 2010. The first is from a comment I saw on a post at Baltimore Sports Report. The other is the closing line in a Baltimore Sun article by Jeff Zrebiec.

I do believe that Markakis gets even better if you put a true #4 bat in this lineup. - MGW

The offense also lacked a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter, a commodity that MacPhail has made a priority again this offseason. - Jeff Zrebiec

Now, I am not picking on the commenter or Zrebiec, just using them as examples of the (still) widespread perception that the O's did not have a "legitimate" clean up hitter or even a true "middle-of-the-order" caliber bat. They did and they do. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is Luke Scott.

What is a clean up hitter? Beyond the obvious position in the batting order, what is his job? Steve Treder of The Hardball Times explains it far more eloquently than I can:

The role has been called "cleanup" since forever for a reason: See the runners soiling the pristine white bases out there? This guy's job is to clean them bases up, get them runners home.

Obviously it's great if a cleanup hitter hits for a high average and/or draws a lot of walks, but if he's doing either or both of those things without hitting for power, he isn't properly performing the cleanup function. Setting the table is a means to an end, not an end in itself; the purpose of getting on base is to come around and score. The cleanup hitter is there to convert baserunners into runs, to finish what the others have started. And that means hitting for power, and plenty of it.

Power. That's what a cleanup hitter is supposed to deliver. Why? Because the farther the batter can hit the ball, the longer it will take for the outfielders to get it back into the infield, giving the baserunners the most time to circle those bases and score. The guy who hits it the farthest, the most often, should be you cleanup hitter. Simple concept, right?

I have advocated Scott as the cleanup hitter in past seasons because he had very good power and there were scant options otherwise. This year, that was not the case. Scott was a legitimate cleanup hitter and hit for great power in 2010. And power is measured in slugging percentage (SLG) and Isolated Power (ISO)

AL Leaders in SLG for 2010

Hamilton       .633
Cabrera        .622
Bautista       .617
Konerko        .584
Beltre         .553
Scott          .535
Cano           .534
Ortiz          .529
Wells          .515
Swisher        .511

In addition to those names, Scott out-slugged Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Evan Longoria.

In terms of Isolated Power (ISO):

AL Leaders in ISO for 2010

Bautista       .357
Cabrera        .294
Hamilton       .274
Konerko        .272
Ortiz          .259
Scott          .251
Wells          .242
Quentin        .236
Rodriguez      .236
Beltre         .233

Scott also posted an ISO higher than Teixeira, Longoria, Robinson Cano and Carlos Pena.

So, 6th in the league in both stats that evaluate power, finishing ahead of many hitters that would universally be considered middle-of-the-order bats. The Orioles did not lack a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat in 2010...they had one of the best in the league.

But the word still hasn't managed to get I guess I'm going to have to keep beating this dead horse until it does.

Terry Crowley's Days as Hitting Coach Numbered

According to the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec, longtime hitting coach Terry Crowley may be done with that position, if not the organization.

The Orioles are discussing a multi-faceted position with Terry Crowley, an arrangement that will end his long career as the team's hitting coach but keep him in a prominent teaching role in the organization....

Instead, Crowley, who is highly regarded for his ability to evaluate hitters, will work with both major and minor leaguers hitters, and assist in scouting and evaluating potential trade, free agent or draft targets.

The article also mentions that Felix Pie, Nick Markakis and Luke Scott have all credited Crowley with their development as hitters. But the bottom line is that the young bats have not developed well under the current coaching staff and Crowley has to take some blame for that. Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold...they haven't come along like they should have. Hitters seem to do well despite Crowley, not because of him.

After 13 seasons, it's time for a new voice at hitting coach and it's time for Crowley to find something else to do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Oriole Windfall for 2011, Part 2

Thanks to all the astute readers who pointed out that Mark Hendrickson could not be retained for $200k next season. That's the number on his buyout for 2011; he would make $1.2 million if his option is exercised. It didn't look right when I was typing it and a second look at Cot's Baseball Contracts confirmed that it was not. Thanks for the heads up guys!

We took a look at the payroll in Part 1, now let's look where some money needs to be spent. The Orioles have big needs at first base, third base, shortstops and on the pitching staff. Here's some ideas of how to fill these holes.

First Base/Designated Hitter

Pricey Options

Adam Dunn

Dunn is hitting free agency again after playing out his 2-year and, again, I will stump for his signing. Dunn is a butcher in the field but he wouldn't hurt you a ton splitting his time between 1B and DH. (Leaning more toward DH but I don't think he hurts you so bad at 1B that he can't start in the field 90-100 games a year.) I howled for him to be signed after 2008, especially when it became apparent that Mark Teixeira could not be signed. In fact, I imagined he could produce as well at the plate for half the money. And he did even more than that:

2009-2010      AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Dunn          .264  .378  .533  .910
Teixeira      .274  .374  .523  .897

Andy, it's time to buy a bat.

Oriole first basemen have OPS'ed .676 over the past two seasons and the O's paid their 2010 Opening Day first baseman $4 million to suck really hard. Meanwhile, Dunn was making $10 mil per year and crushing it.

The thing is, he's still undervalued. I think you can lock Dunn up for $13-14 mil per year for a 4-year contract. That gives you Dunn for his age 31-34 seasons and gives you one of the best DHs in the American League.

Furthermore, it would allow you to trade Luke Scott and prep Nolan Reimold to take over regular first base duties. Scott may not make the $7.5 mil I estimate but unloading that cash to another team for a couple prospects or some relievers makes sense. His value will never be higher and he would still be under control via arbitration for the next two years. There's no place for Reimold in the Oriole outfield right now, he can fill a need at first. If Reimold never returns to his rookie year form, Dunn helps soften that blow as well.

Victor Martinez

The Orioles value versatility and Martinez could offer some of that. Although Martinez is past his prime as a catcher, you could still see him catching on and off giving the O's more flexibility in the lineup. He's a good hitter.

The problem is, he's not really the power bat that many perceive him to be. Sure, when you hit 20-25 homers as a catcher, that's nice power. As a first baseman, that fairly average.

Also, there's likely to be more competition to sign Martinez. He will almost certainly cost at least what Dunn does over a longer contract. Moreover, there are candidates who will cost less over shorter contracts who could produce similar numbers. More on that below.

Mid-Range Options

Derrek Lee

There are a lot of mid-range candidates for first base out there who could be had for relatively modest money over two-year contracts: Paul Konerko, Troy Glaus, Adam La Roche, Lyle Overbay. But I figured I'd focus on two. Derrek Lee could come at a relative bargain.

Lee may find the demand for his services lacking after a down season. He'll be 35 in 2011 but is just 2 years removed from a 35 homer season. Like Adrian Beltre last year, Lee may be willing to sign a one-year deal to reestablish his reputation and try to get a better deal a year from now. You wouldn't want to go longer than a two-year deal with him but you could DH him some, help keep him healthy and he could put up V-Mart type numbers for the next two seasons. It's an option while our 1B prospects in the minors sort themselves out.

Carlos Pena

Anyone in baseball could have had Pena for a song 4 years ago. Now someone will have to pay.

But not that much, really. Pena had a pretty bad year for the Rays and didn't even hit .200. But he still had 28 homers and an ISO north of .200. He's not a perfectg player but he's a prime candidate for a rebound. Again, a 0ne or two year commitment as a stopgap while better options mature in the minors.

Budget Options

Luke Scott/Nolan Reimold

As I said last season, deploying Scott as a first baseman early in the season with Reimold playing DH until his Achilles tendon was healthy would have been a nice option for 2010. Now, we'll never know.

I still don't think this is a bad plan. Let them both play first and as Reimold's bat comes back, ease Scott back into a DH role and/or trade him. But I don't think this is a likely option since the Orioles are reportedly targeting a big bat for 2011.

Ty Wigginton

Of the flotsam that may be left for cheap out there, I'd be OK with signing Wiggy back for cheap to play some first and some third for 2011 as long as it was for $2 mil or less and a one-year deal. His versatility would allow him to move to a bench/utility role once a better option at first was found.

Third Base

Pricey Options

Adrian Beltre

Beltre is only an option for the Orioles if they are certain that Josh Bell cannot play in the majors at all. Beltre will be 32 next season and is coming off a fantastic year in Boston. he will be expensive and he will command at least a 4-year deal. Lots of money for a guy who will be on the wrong side of 35 when his contract is up. But he's a fine bat and a stellar defender at third. But I think $13 mil per season is what it would take to sign him, at the very least. I'm not sure that's the kind of guy the O's want to lock up for a long contract.

Mid-Range Options

Brandon Inge

If you want to give Josh Bell a real shot, you probably shouldn't sign a guy like Inge either since he would take away playing time for Bell even in a part time role. But Inge gives you a fine glove and nice power for the position. He should come fairly cheap and very short-term.

Budget Options

Josh Bell

The cheapest way to go is just to let Bell play and be ready for him to suck. The club should sign a Ty Wigginton type as a bench/utility guy who can spell Bell and provide an emergency replacement. But I think Bell may become a serviceable player and has some nice upside. I expect that the Orioles will give him every opportunity to prove himself in 2011.

Next: Shortstop and the Pitching Staff

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yankees Fans Are Animals; Sky Still Blue

Not that this is a shocker but Yankee fans tried to douse Cal Ripken, Jr. with beer last night. This video was on Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports:

The kind of fans who would dump beer on Ripken, who is classy to a fault, are the kind of fans who belong in a cage. Somebody tell me I'm wrong.

Orioles in the Desert: Arizona Fall League 2010

Let's go Scottsdale Scorpions!

There are still some Orioles playing baseball in October and this year they are doing it for the Scorpions of Scottsdale. Unlike previous years, there are no big prospects or even many prospects that may make it to Baltimore next season but there are still some interesting players in representing the Birds in Arizona.

RHP Oliver Drake

Drake is a 23-year-old righty who pitched for Frederick this season. His stats are nothing special although his control seems good (2.6 BB/9, 7.0 K/9 in 2010) and his numbers seem to scream Brad Bergesen. Of course, being Brad Bergesen in Frederick is not exactly impressive but it will be interesting to see how he fares in an offensive environment like the AFL. I would imagine he gets shelled but maybe he learns a few things that will help him in Bowie next year.

RHP Pat Egan

The 25-year-old Egan was impressive for Bowie and unlucky in Norfolk in 2010. Egan showed impressive control and kept the ball in the park and has throughout his minor league career. The 2006 36th-round draft pick has an odd hurky-jerky motion that keeps hitters off-balance. Limiting walks and homers can lay the groundwork for success and, again, it will be interesting to see how he performs in a high-offense environment like the AFL.

RHP Kam Mickolio

Due to injury, Mickolio only threw 44 innings in a disappointing 2010. Mickolio was thought to be a potential late inning reliever before the season and he'll have to try to recapture his control and ridiculous strikeout rate to force himself back into the 2011 bullpen picture. He and Egan are probably the Scorpions most likely to pitch in Baltimore next year.

RHP Wynn Pelzer

Pelzer is the player Baltimore got back from the Padres in the Miguel Tejada trade. He walks too many batters and gives up a bunch on hits per 9. If he doesn't get knocked around too badly in Arizona, it'll be a success for him.

C Caleb Joseph

I'm very interested to see how Joseph fares in the AFL. Joseph had a disappointing season for Bowie in 2010  but is still considered a decent enough catching prospect. Will the 24-year-old get his stroke back this fall? If so, it could be a springboard to his development in his inevitable repeat of AA in 2011.

2B Ryan Adams

The 23-year-old Adams had something of a breakthrough in the power department at Bowie this year (43 doubles, 15 homers) and is certainly destined for Norfolk in 2011. Looking at the roster, Adams should play a fair amount of second and perhaps at third during his AFL stint and it will be interesting to see if the power keeps coming.

SS Greg Miclat

The diminutive, light-hitting shortstop had a bit of a career resurrection in Frederick this season but hit a roadbump in Bowie. Still just 22, the extra work could help make or break him as a prospect in 2011. The Orioles could use another legitimate shortstop prospect.

1B Tyler Townsend

Since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 amateur draft, Townsend has only played in 83 during his Orioles career due to injury. He has show flashes of brilliance (.563 slugging percentage in 2010) and the Orioles could definitely use a power bat like his in the system. It's a good chance for Townsend to make up for lost time. He's only going to be 23 next year and there's no reason he can't get to Bowie and perhaps Norfolk in 2011 if he stays healthy.

CF Xavier Avery

I thought LJ Hoes would be the Frederick player to take a step forward this year (and he had a decent year) but it was the 20-year-old Avery that blossomed and advanced all the way  to AA Bowie. I don't take the hitting performances in the AFL too seriously but it would be fantastic if Avery showed well for the Scorpions. With 38 stolen bases combined in 2010, expect Avery to be testing arms in Arizona.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Oriole Windfall for 2011, Part 1

As we head into the offseason, it's time to look at the projected Oriole payroll for 2011 and see where money could and should be spent. All salary data taken from Cot's Baseball Contracts. First, the money owed to players already under contract for next season.

2011 Salary (in millions)
Roberts                        $10.0
Markakis                       $10.6
Gonzalez                       $6.0
Matusz                         $1.4
Hendrickson                    $0.2
Atkins                         $0.5

One more year on the Mike Gonzalez deal. If my estimated abritration figures are anywhere close, Gonazalez will be at least the 4th highest paid Baltimore player in 2011.

Hendrickson, apparently, can be retained for a $200,000 option. If that is true, then the Orioles will pick up that option.

Here's the guys on the team that could be retained for something just above or at the league minimum. I rounded all salaries up to $500,000.

2011 Salary (in millions)
Bergesen                       $0.5
Tillman                        $0.5
Fox                            $0.5
Hernandez                      $0.5
Berken                         $0.5
Arrieta                        $0.5
Bell                           $0.5
Reimold                        $0.5
Andino                         $0.5
Wieters                        $0.5
Tatum                          $0.5
Patton                         $0.5
Simon                          $0.5
Mickolio                       $0.5

Finally, to fill out the roster, here are the arbitration eligible players with educated guesses on what each player will earn if they are offered arbitration.

2011 Salary (in millions)
Guthrie                       $5.0
Albers                        $0.7
Scott                         $7.5
Jones                         $2.3
Johnson                       $0.7
Pie                           $1.0

Of the six, only Albers is a good bet to not be tendered arbitration.

That's a total of $52.9 million dollars committed to fill out the roster for 2011, more than $20 million less than the 2010 Opening Day payroll.

Again, Andy MacPhail has avoided the long contracts and leaves himself a lot of payroll flexibility for 2011. But will they spend it? Where could they spend it? More on that tomorrow.

Friday, October 15, 2010

5 Best Things I Saw at the Ballpark - 2010

Even though I don't live in Baltimore these days, I still go to a lot of games every season. I figured it was worth my while to go through my memory banks and coming up with some of the best things I saw during the 2010 baseball season. These aren't necessarily Oriole related or even MLB related but here they are.

Honorable Mention - The One That Got Away

The Norfolk Tides were coming to the Atlanta area (vs. the Gwinnett Braves)  in late April and I was only going to be able to get out to one game during the week. I decided to go to Thursday's game since Jake Arrieta would be pitching on April 29th and I hadn't seen him pitch yet. Chris Tillman was going on Wednesday but I had seen him a couple times in 2009.

Well, that one decision cost me the chance to see Tillman throw a no-hitter for the Tides. Minor leagues or not, I have never seen a no-hitter in person and I missed my shot by 24 hours. Adding insult to injury, Arrieta didn't even pitch that well and the Tides lost a lackluster contest to the G-Braves the following evening.

#5 - August 6th, Turner Field, Atlanta, GA: Chipper Jones Last HR?

I headed downtown to watch the Braves take on the Giants for a Friday night game, mostly to see Jason Heyward (who had not been in the starting lineup during my previous trips to Turner Field) and see Tommy Hanson pitch again. Heyward went 0-5 but Hanson pitched well as the Braves lost 3-2 in 11 innings.

But with 2 out in the bottom of the 6th, Chipper Jones hit a homer to left to give the Braves the 2-1 lead. He played three more games in 2010 before being shut down on August 11th. There is no guarantee that Jones will be healthy enough to return in 2011. So that was, perhaps, the last home run of a Hall of Fame career. It is also likely that I saw Chipper's last multi-homer game on June 7th, 2009 when he clubbed two off of Brewer's hurler Manny Parra.

#4 - April 10th, Fluor Field, Greenville, SC: Justin Dalles with a Moonshot

The Delmarva Shorebirds helped me get credentialed for this game (thanks Shorebirds!) and it was to be the professional debut of the Orioles' 2009 top draft pick, SP Matt Hobgood. So I was looking forward to watching Hobgood and catching prospect Micahel Ohlman on a fine spring Saturday evening in South Carolina.

But as with most of these stories, it's the things you are not expecting that end up making the game memorable. Hobgood pitched but was wild and gave up 3 earned runs over 4 innings pitched. Ohlman was dinged up from the night before and was replaced at catcher by University of South Carolina product Justin Dalles.

Leading off the top of the 7th, Dalles hit a mammoth solo home run to center. It's 420 ft to center with a 30 feet of wall/netting to clear. It cleared all of that with no problem. The centerfielder took two steps back than just stopped and watched it. It was a no doubter. I don't know how far that ball travelled as it sailed out into the inky blackness but it was the longest home run I've ever seen in person. It may have gone 500 ft.

#3 - August 14th, State Mutual Stadium, Rome, GA: Inside the Park Homer

I took the family out to watch the Rome Braves who were hosting the Augusta Green Jackets for a Saturday night game. Well, my family was basically there to see Birdzerk. There weren't any prospects of note playing that evening so I was there purely to watch a minor league baseball game the old fashioned way...with no angles.

In the top of the 8th, there was a man on second with one out. The game was tied 4-4 and Augusta 2B Ryan Cavan strode to the plate to face Rome reliever Kyle Mertins. Cavan proceeded to hit a loopy liner to right center. Rome CF Bobby Rauh sprinted toward the gap and dove for the ball hoping to prevent the man on second from scoring but he missed it and the ball bounced over him and rolled all the way to the wall. Cavan was not particularly fast but was running hard out of the box. He rounded third before the ball hit the cutoff man and scored a full step ahead of the ball for an inside-the-park home run. First one I've seen in person and probably the most exciting play I've seen all year.

#2 - June 28th, Turner Field, Atlanta, Ga: Stephen Strasburg vs. Tim Hudson

Strasmas came to Atlanta on June 28th as the rookie phenom squared off against Tim Hudson in a game that, at least for 6 innings, turned out to be the pitcher's duel that had been anticipated. After 6 innings, Strasburg had struck out 7, walked just one and allowed no runs. Hudson has struck out 5, walked 3 and had also allowed no runs.

The 7th inning told the tale however, as Hudson got through the 7th with a single hit allowed and Strasburg got wild, was victimized by an error on a sure double play ball and his bullpen gave up 4 runs after he exited. It was a fun atmosphere. Strasburg outpitched Hudson but Hudson kept finding ways to stay alive. Strasburg was also making the Braves lineup look silly for most of the evening and the Braves fans HATED him. They booed him at every turn, urges Hudson to throw at him whenever he came to bat and wished (prophetically, perhaps) terrible injury on the rookie. It's a game that I won't soon forget.

#1 - Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD: Josh Bell Goes Deep Twice, O's Spank Rangers

It was my first game at OPACY as a credentialed "journalist" and rookie 3B Josh Bell made it a memorable one. Bell's struggles against lefties were well known and he surprised everyone when he hit not one but two homers against lefty Cliff Lee. Luke Scott and Ty Wigginton got in on the act as they also went deep against the Rangers' ace. The crowd was on their feet in the 9th as Koji Uehara closed out the game. The atmosphere was electric and was a snapshot of the excitement Buck Showalter had brought to Baltimore late int he summer of 2010.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Brian Roberts Self-Flagellates Himself to the Bench

This note from Dan Connolly in The Baltimore Sun as Brian Roberts explains that he received concussion-like symptoms from a hit by...himself.

"I don't know 100 percent sure, but it was Monday night. In frustration [after a strikeout], I whacked myself on the head with my bat in the ninth. I had my helmet on," Roberts said. "It's something I've done a million times, but I still can't tell you for sure if that was it. But that's the only thing that I can point to because that night and the next morning, I just didn't feel good. So it's been going on since then....

"I just have some lack of balance and some headaches, and just stuff that hasn't been a whole lot of fun," Roberts said. "So, unfortunately, I haven't been able to obviously get out there and play, but we're still working on trying to get all the results and figure out what's going on."


Brian, it's bad enough that you are a 32-year-old second baseman who has developed back problems and we may have grossly overpaid for with a 4-year extension. Now you are concussed as well?

And here's a clue: When you hit yourself in the head with a bat "a million times", I'm guessing that's your root cause. You can send the other suspects home. You don't need Jimmy McNulty to solve this mystery.

Add this to the laundry list of issues that Roberts will have to be concerned about during Spring Training. (Back trouble, knee trouble, flu-like symptoms....)

And in case you need the point drilled home, Brian, remember Gus Ferrotte.

A Little 2010 Wrapup

The 2010 is, mercifully, in the books.

Sure, the last couple months have seen Buck's Birds playing as well as anyone in the league. But they had to win like hell just to get to 66 wins. Most of the season was, if you recall, miserable.

But the winning was quite remarkable and if you tuned out early to watch the Ravens, you missed the best baseball of the season. Maybe the last 10 years. In August and September(October), the Orioles posted back to back winnings months for the first time since 2005. It is the first winning August and Septmber since 1996. From August 1st, they finished the season on a 34-24 run, a .586 winnings percentage.

However, if the Orioles want to continue their success in 2011, they still need to improve. Outside of Luke Scott, all the hitters underachieved in 2010. They'll need more consistency (and improvement) from the young pitching. And they'll need to add some free agents to the lineup and the pitching staff to continue to compete in the AL East.

But heading into the offseason, there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful. And Buck Showalter has a lot to do with that. Buck's going to have a lot to say about who will be playing first base next season. And third, a short and left  field. You have to like the way he's evaluated the talent so face and you have to expect that he will have a ton of input about who is traded, who they will keep and who they will target in the offseason.

I'll be posting some more wrap up type posts during the rest of this week...and start looking forward to Spring Training.