Monday, January 31, 2011

So Who Was That Guy Pitching for the Orioles with "Millwood" on His Back?

Dear ESPN,

     Kevin Millwood didn't pitch for the Indians last year.

Or the year before that. Or the year before that. Or the year before....

Nice focus.


Dempsey's Army

Around the Oriole Blog-O-Sphere: Post Fan Fest Edition

James Baker recaps the 2011 Oriole Fan Fest here with more pictures here.

Dan at Camden Crazies likes the Justin Duchscherer signing.

Chris of Baltimore Sports and Life is fine with the Duchscherer signing, as long as the competition for rotation spots in Spring Training is legitimate.

Speaking of BS&L, Chris also canvased four national baseball writers for their thoughts on the 2011 Orioles.

Camden Depot takes an ingenious new angle on Oriole attendance...but it's not a pretty picture at all.

Has The Wayward O been delivered a sign that Felix Pie should remain the starting left fielder?

The Eutaw Street Hooligans don't like the idea of Vlad in Black & Orange either and I couldn't have put it any better myself.

Mark Hendrickson has been signed to a minor league deal. I like that signing. Hendrickson pitched better than his numbers last season, is just fine out of the bullpen and capable of being an emergency starter. Nice addition.

The Frederick Keys are up for sale. To complicate matters, the city of Frederick has put the lease on Harry Grove Stadium out for bid. (According to the article, the Bowie Baysox are up for sale as well...)

Want to see a baby eagle being hatched?  Cool, right? What's the Oriole connection? The egg was removed from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota to save it from noise and construction that was threatening the nest.

Orioles Sign Justin Duchscherer

The Orioles have signed RHP Justin Duchscherer to a one-year contract providing the team with some starting pitching depth as their young arms continue to develop.

(Great. Now I have to learn how to spell his name...)

I've always liked Duchscherer. He struck out his fair share and never walked a lot of guys. He gets his fair share of ground balls and doesn't give up a lot of home runs. Basically, he has been a guy who is not spectacular at any one thing but does a lot of things pretty well.

At least he was. Elbow, hip and back injuries, as well as a bout with depression has prevented him from pitching significant innings since 2008. Really, he hasn't had a fully healthy season since 2005.

But he's a depth signing that is low risk and comes with some potential upside. The base salary is reportedly just $700,000 and goes up to $1.1 million if he makes the Opening Day roster. If he's healthy, Duchscherer will only make $4.5 million.

Pitching is volatile. Signing Duchscherer adds a (potential) quality arm at a low price and will hopefully allow the team to not rush Zach Britton to Baltimore due to injury or ineffectiveness in the rotation. It's a good move.

On the flip side, where does this leave Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta? Barring injury, one of them is going to end up back in Norfolk. Is that the right thing for their development? I'm undecided. Arrieta has 28 AAA starts under his belt. Tillman has 39. What else do they have to prove at that level? I suppose it will come down to which pitcher looks better this spring. Which needs more polishing to their game in Norfolk?

All of this could be a moot point come April. After all, it's rare that you start the season with too many healthy starters.

Anyway, a good low cost move by the Orioles. If he's healthy (granted, a big if), Duchscherer could be quite a steal.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Breaking Down the Oriole Prospect Talk and ESPN have released top prospect lists this week so I thought I would sift through them today and filter it through the Oriole prism. put out their Top 50 Prospect list on Tuesday with Norfolk sinkerball pitcher Zach Britton (video) coming in at #19 and 2010 1st Round pick SS Manny Machado (video) ranked #24.'s prospect expert Jonathan Mayo did not elaborate much beyond the video scouting reports in his chat, probably due to a lack of Oriole questions submitted, but did say that Manny Machado was one of the players outside of the top 20 that had the biggest upside. I may have to track him down again to remedy that.

ESPN's Keith Law put out a ranking of the Major League farm systems (subscription). The Orioles came in #24:

This group was probably the most surprising ranking to me as I went through the process. The O's have produced a ton of potential impact players who no longer qualify here -- including Brian MatuszMatt WietersNolan Reimold, and Chris Tillman -- but the system at this moment is two Top 30 prospects and no one else I'd put in my Top 150. The lack of international talent in the system stands out.

Law's Top 100 includes, you guessed it, Manny Machado (#26) and Zach Britton (#11). Some comments from Law, first on Britton:

Britton is a true sinker/slider guy -- meaning his fastball actually sinks -- and at 91-94 it's very hard for hitters to elevate successfully. His low-80s slider is very sharp with great tilt and gives him a swing-and-miss weapon, especially against left-handed hitters...

...His command is fair, and he doesn't have a pitch that moves away from right-handed hitters, so he's had some trouble with walks in those situations for which he compensates by getting groundballs.

There's at least strong No. 2 starter potential here, but better command would give him more ceiling than that.

(I love the analysis on Britton from and emotional standpoint, if not a logical one. I don't think Britton's potential is that good but I love to hear other people do...)

And about Machado:

He has strong, quick wrists, good rotation and excellent extension through his swing, clearing a slight bat wrap quickly once he gets his hands started. It's line-drive power now, but he's going to have more power down the road as he gets stronger.

Machado has a 70 arm and good hands at shortstop, but his frame is so big that he might outgrow the position in a few years, although I think he has the raw ability to stay there if his body cooperates.

Law's top ten for Baltimore:

1. Zach Britton, LHP
2. Manny Machado, SS
3. Xavier Avery, CF
4. L.J. Hoes, 2B
5. Dan Klein, RHP
6. Jonathan Schoop, SS
7. Mychal Givens, SS
8. Joe Mahoney, 1B
9. Ryan Berry, RHP
10. Trent Mummey, CF

Quick comment of this list: The Oriole farm system is weak at this point, I'll grant you. But I don't get Joe Mahoney. His numbers at Frederick were nice but the Bowie numbers just seem fluky. Talent wise, I just don't think there is that much to separate him from the likes of Jacob Julius. Not sure why he's considered a prospect based on season's performance anymore than Matt Hobgood losing his status based on one poor season. I want to see more of him at Bowie before I'm a believer.

On the plus side, nice to see some middle infield talent even if most of it is raw a far away from the majors.

One Oriole question in his chat about Machado:

Wade (VA)

Have you seen Manny Machado play? Are the A-Rod comparisons at all viable or too aggressive?
Klaw (1:52 PM)

I have and I may have inadvertently started the A-Rod thing - but I called him "A-Rod Lite" and pointed out that some reasons were demographic rather than baseball. I do like him but he's not A-Rod.

And Law selected one sleeper for the Orioles too:

Curacao native Jonathan Schoop played the 2010 season at age 18, but the shortstop hit well in the advanced Appalachian League and earned a brief call-up to high-A Frederick. He's getting stronger with projected above-average power, a good arm and the feet and hands to play somewhere in the infield, probably third base.

Why Signing Vlad Guerrero is a Bad Idea

As much as I hate commenting on hypothetical moves, it seems I'm already arguing about them on Twitter. So now I will elaborate as to why I am not thrilled with the idea of Vladimir Guerrero coming to Baltimore next season.

1. Vlad Guererro isn't Vlad Guerrero Anymore

From 1996 to 2007, Vlad was a monster. He hit .325/.391/.591 with 365 home runs and an OPS+ of 148. However, for the last 3 seasons he has hit .300/.350/.496 with 71 homers and an OPS+ of 121. That's a good hitter but not a great one. In addition, he can no longer play the field anymore. So given that he is no longer a monster at the plate...

2. Vlad Won't Help This Team That Much

If I believed the Orioles were going to contend this year, loading up on veteran help would make a lot of sense and would be banging the drum loudly for this signing. But this team is not a contender. Not this year. I figured that if everything goes perfectly and Vlad repeats his performance from last year, he might be worth a couple extra wins. Dan at Camden Crazies broke it down some more and figures Vlad would only be worth one win, maybe. So will it make that big a difference if this team wins 73 games instead of 71 or 72? I don't see how. Besides...

3. We Already Have A DH Who Hits Like Vlad

Over the past three seasons, Vlad has an .845 OPS. Luke Scott also has an .845 OPS over that span. In addition, he can still play the outfield or first base making him a versatile and valuable player. But why couldn't the team move Scott back out to left field and let Vlad DH full time? Well they could but...

4. Vlad Robs Young Hitters of At Bats

Vlad's signing would push Scot to left field, Felix Pie to the bench and Nolan Reimold to Norfolk. And that's fine. But what if Reimold goes to AAA and starts tearing it up for a couple months like he did in 2009? Assuming health for all the OF/1B/DH's involved, there is nowhere for him to play. Or by some chance, Brandon Snyder puts it together and tears up the International League. Without Vlad, Snyder could come up and DH with Scott moving to left. Not possible with Vlad on the roster. Ditto for Josh Bell.

At this point, it's more important for Pie and Reimold to get the at bats so the team can see if they will be useful nuggets going forward and to have flexibility to call up hitters from Norfolk who are deserving of promotion.

This team isn't going to win or lose because of Vlad Guerrero. Its fortune ride on the offensive development of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold and on the advances Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and (possibly) Zach Britton make on the mound. An aging DH isn't going to make or break this team. So leave him alone and let the guys who are a decade younger play ball.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Crystal Ball 2011: Adam Jones

Of all the 26-and-under talent that he Oriole have on their roster, Adam Jones is the most likely to have a breakout season in 2011.

Really, it feels like it should have happened last year. A 6'2" centerfielder who can run like the wind and shows even the limited power that Jones has up to this point is an intriguing package. There's a lot of baseball potential in his physical gifts.

Potential. There's that dirty word again. The Orioles are full of players whom the fans are waiting on to convert that potential into useful products like hits, home runs and wins. But Jones is poised to do just that.

Leaving out his disastrous April, here's Jones' stats from May 1st on:

                    BA      OBP     SLG     OPS   BB    K   2B   HR  
Jones '10          .297    .341    .454    .795   21   95   21   16   

You can accuse me of cherry-picking the numbers but it's not like he had a great May either.

But those numbers are basically what he hit the season before. So why am I encouraged? I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's because of the work he put in to overcome the start of his season. He learned to lay off the low and outside pitch better and made the adjustments to salvage his season. This gives me hope that his free swinging ways can be tempered a bit and he can become a more consistent and effective offensive player. And any young player who has the mental toughness and work ethic to overcome a rough patch...well, that just bodes well for a physical talent like Jones. It's a good combination.

According to Baseball Reference, his most similar comps are Chili Davis and Dave Winfield, two players who overcame their aversion to the walk and became more patient hitters. I'll take either of those careers for Jones, especially from a center fielder.

He's always going to be a bit of a free swinger, something that may hold him back offensively. But a new hitting coach, one that has experience actually improving young hitters, can't hurt.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Troy Patton Arrested for DWI

Orioles LHP Troy Patton was arrested in Houston Saturday night and charged with DWI.

Patton, 25, was pulled over by police for speeding and driving over a curb, according to the report. Police also said Patton had a 0.14 blood-alcohol content, which is nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08 in Texas, and that he was released on $500 bond, with a court date scheduled for later this month.

Patton has been working his way back from shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the 2008 season and a good chunk of 2009. In Texas, a first offense for DWI (I'm assuming it's his first offense) garners a fine of up to $2000, no less than 72 hours and no more than 6 months in jail and some community service.

From a baseball perspective, Patton should still be at Spring Training and he figures to be in the mix for the Oriole bullpen at some point in 2011 (even if it's an outside shot).

From a drinking perspective, blowing a .14 means you're pretty blottoed and you're very dangerous behind the wheel. Hey Troy, stay home and drink. Please. Before you kill somebody.

I'm kind of tired of Orioles relievers running afoul of the law this offseason.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Around the Oriole Blog-O-Sphere: Nobody Cares About Baseball This Weekend Edition

Sully Baseball lists all the reasons Hoyt Wilhelm was awesome and they are all 100% correct.

Zach Sanders highlights Jeremy Guthrie as an undervalued fantasy baseball asset. They're catching on...

Mark Reynolds talked to Sports 620 KTAR in Phoenix about his trade to Baltimore. You'll have to get past factual errors (Reynolds hit .198 not .192) and brutal sentences like this: "One might expect a player who was traded from a team he had just signed a lucrative extension with to be bitter, but Reynolds wanted fans to leave fans and the organization on a different note." It's like I wrote it or something.

Dean Jones, Jr. and Mike Miller rank the top ten Oriole prospects for the Baltimore Sun. Like that Matt Hobgood is still hanging in there at #10. Just don't read the comments below. At least half of them are retarded.

Camden Crazies offers up his very preliminary win projections for next season's team.

Ross Gore at Baltimore Sports Report examines new Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg. He's not crazy about him either.

Roar From 34 continues the Eutaw Street Chronicles.

PressBoxOnline give us an update on the renovations being done to Ed Smith Stadium, spring training home of the Orioles.

Autograph vouchers go on sale for the Oriole FanFest for $15. Fans ages 4-14 will still be able to get autographs. Not being a autograph collector myself, I find the stir about this new fee amusing. But I think I support it. The kids should be the first ones getting the autographs but the lines at these things are usually filled with binder-laden guys between the age of 22 and 52 trying to get cards signed leading to long lines and disappointed fans after the time is up. It will control crowds, cut down on piggish behavior and help a charity. Kudos.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lineup Optimization for the Baltimore Orioles

Now that the regular 2011 Oriole lineup is pretty much set, I thought it was time to mess around with lineup optimization. What, you have something better to do until Spring Training?

Using ZIPS projections and 's lineup optimizer, I constructed what I thought would be the optimal "traditional" style lineup. Here's the lineup and the projections I used initially:

Player 1:
Player 2:
Player 3:
Player 4:
Player 5:
Player 6:
Player 7:
Player 8:
Player 9:

* I couldn't find a ZIPS projection for J.J. Hardy yet...I used the fan projection instead.

According to the lineup optimizer, this lineup will produce 5.0 runs per game, 810 runs for a season. By contrast, the Oriole offense only scored 3.8 runs per game in 2010. 5.0 runs a game in 2010 would have put Baltimore among the offensive elite in the American League, only behind the Yankees (5.3) and tied for second with the Rays and Red Sox. Hopefully, these projections have some merit.

Anyway, here's the optimal lineup given by the calculator. It would produce 813 runs over a season.


I would really like to think that Roberts power has been sapped so much that he would be a bottom of the lineup hitter in 2011 but that's my heart speaking more than my head. But I can't find a projection that has him slugging .450 again.

Regardless,the offensive talent has improved greatly which as we've seen in the past matters much more than the order of the lineup. With health and a little luck (like Matt Wieters finally starts to hit like we all think he could), this offense could actually be something special.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Crystal Ball 2011: Jeremy Guthrie

I don't know how Jeremy Guthrie will pitch in 2011. But I'll wager on one thing; he will outperform his FIP. After all, he's done it for the last three seasons.

When I looked at the 2011 Bill James Handbook last week, I discovered that Guthrie is among the best at keeping opposing batters off the bases, among the likes of Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett and Felix Hernandez.

I decided to pull some data from FanGraphs and see where Guthrie ranked in terms of outperforming his FIP over the past four seasons. The results:

                FIP - ERA
Trevor Cahill      0.97
Johan Santana      0.67
Jeremy Guthrie     0.62
Shaun Marcum       0.61
Matt Cain          0.46

That's good company for Guthrie. Really, those top 4 are head and shoulders above the rest of baseball in this regard.

How do they do it? Three of them have BABIP's under .280 and the other (Santana) only had a .286 BABIP. Those numbers help but they are just results. What do they do to keep the BABIP down? How do they outperform their FIP year after year? What do they have in common?

In short, they have little in common. They don't all have live fastballs, they are not all groundball pitchers, they are not all big strikeout guys. They don't all pitch in front of great defenses, they pitch in pitcher and hitter friendly stadiums, some throw a ton of changeups, others throw a ton of sliders.

The only thing they all do reasonably well is limit their walks but FIP should already account for that.

It's probably not any one thing that these pitchers do but a combination of characteristics. But they all have a knack for outperforming their FIP, however they arrive at it.

My theory on Guthrie? He gives up a lot of weak flyballs and his outfielders have pretty good arms. But that's a weak theory, I'll admit. If anyone else has some ideas, let me know.

Guthrie in 2011 will be a slightly above average pitcher again and go for 30+ starts. Considering the rest of the rotation will be 25 and under, it's nice to have one guy who should be steady, if not spectacular.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Three More Things I Learned from the Bill James Handbook

While we sit here and wait for Spring Training, here's some more tidbits I found while perusing the 2001 Bill Jame Handbook. These three factoids all concerned players who are no longer with the team, coincidentally.

1. Corey Patterson Has Some Value

At least as a fourth outfielder. For a guy who was plucked from the waiver wire and started his 2010 Oriole season in Norfolk, Corey Patterson had a successful season in Baltimore. The batting line was about what you would expect from him (.269/.315/.406) but he brought more than his bat to the table.

According to the Handbook, he was the best baserunner on the team, by a good margin, while only playing 90 games. He did well in every aspect, stealing 21 bases at an 84% rate, scored well above average in going 1st to 3rd, 2nd to Home, and 1st to Home and grounded into double plays only 3 times in 47 opportunities.

In addition, on John Dewan's +/- scale, he scored a +3 for his work in left and center and saved 4 defensive runs.

Patterson has moved on to Toronto and there really wasn't room for him in Baltimore but he's a good guy to have as your fourth outfielder. I'm sure he'll cause some headaches for Baltimore next season.

2. Ty Wigginton Doesn't Have As Much Value As You Might Think

According to the Handbook, the Orioles were 27th in baserunning last season. As a group, they lost 31 bases  compared to average baserunners. Ty Wigginton lost 21 of those bases by himself. Not only was he a poor base stealer, he grounded into a bunch of double plays and he was very poor at advancing on hits. Even Matt Wieters, as slow as he is, only scored -10.

He was also a poor fielder. He scored -8 in terms of Runs Saved and was just passable (+3 Runs Saved) at first base.

Given his .248/.312/.415 2010 batting line, it's hard to see what the Rockies liked so much about him when they gave him $8 million over the next two years. That could be an ugly little contract.

3. Really? That Guy?

The Handbook breaks down reliever performance and has a stat called Clean Outings which are outings when the reliever does not give up any runs or allow any inherited runners to score. The leader for the Oriole bullpen. Matt Albers with 34 Clean Outings. Matt Albers. Koji Uehara was second with 33 in many fewer appearance. I'm not sure that this doesn't say more about the poor bullpen than the effectiveness of Albers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Has the Oriole Farm System Produced?

I have beat this point like a drum, almost since the inception of this blog more than 4 years ago...but why stop now? The Oriole farm system, once the best in baseball, has been abysmal for the last 25 years or so. And this is the #1 reason that the Orioles have lost for 13 straight seasons, why they have had 19 losing seasons since they last won the World Series and why they have trouble competing in the AL East. Andy MacPhail has done his part to restore it but he had a big hole, nay, a chasm to fill.

How deep was that pit that is the Oriole farm system? Really, really deep. To demonstrate that point, I decided to look at how many homegrown players it has produced for the club since 1988, the season the Orioles posted the worst record in franchise history.

I'm not looking for stars. My criteria for position players and starting pitchers was a 5.0 WAR during their Oriole career and 3.0 WAR for a reliever's Oriole career.

The player also has to have spent significant time in the Oriole system. Players traded for who had already reached AAA in their former organizations (or players who had dominated AA so thoroughly that starting them in AAA the next season was a no-brainer) were excluded. Chris Hoiles and Brady Anderson, for example, don't count.

These are not lofty standards. The Tampa Bay Rays had 7 players on their 2010 roster alone who met this criteria.

Here's the list, in order their Oriole debut along with their Oriole career WAR.

Bob Milacki - 6.1 WAR

If there's ever a player who demonstrates how low these standards are, it's Bob Milacki. Debuting at the end of miserable 1988 season, Milacki was a big part of 1989's "Why Not?" team. I was surprised he was on this list because I had forgotten his rebound 1991 season. Most of Milacki's value is wrapped in those two seasons.

Gregg Olson - 9.3 WAR

Like Milacki, Olson debuted in 1988 and was also a big part of the "Why Not?" team. Unlike Milacki, Olson spent 1989-1993 as a very productive player out of the Oriole bullpen.

Ben McDonald - 13.8 WAR

Debuting in 1989, McDonald would never live up to the hype but had a decent career. He was developing in to a very good pitcher when injuries began to take their toll in 1995.

Leo Gomez - 10.0 WAR

Gomez hung around for 6 seasons with a couple of decent seasons in 1992 and 1994.

Mike Mussina - 47.4 WAR

The only true star produced during this period, Mussina was one of the greatest pitchers in Oriole history.

Arthur Rhodes - 6.8 WAR

I had always thought of Rhodes as a Jose Mesa type, a guy the Orioles didn't give a chance to relieve before they cut him loose. But he was primarily a reliever the last four seasons of his Oriole career. I had forgotten that.

Sidney Ponson - 11.6 WAR

Ponson's up and down career was really not so bad. He was hyped as a #1 starter but was probably more of a back of the rotation guy. But he was decent.

Jerry Hairston - 6.4 WAR

Hairston had his moments. He must have if the Orioles were wondering if he or Brian Roberts would be the better player.

Brian Roberts - 28.7 WAR

He's Brian Roberts. Enough said.

Daniel Cabrera - 8.7 WAR

A couple of tantalizing seasons...

Nick Markakis - 17.3 WAR

It's amazing that Markakis made it at all. He only had 33 games above high-A ball when the Orioles made him one of their starting outfielders going into the 2006 season. It's safe to say that Markakis succeeded in spite of the Oriole farm system. He was rushed to the majors at a ridiculous pace.

That's it. These 11 players are the best that the Oriole farm system has produced for the major league club. In 23 years...this is it!

What's the point? The point is that the Oriole farm system was so wretched over the past 25 years or so, that I can't be upset with what the Orioles farm system is now. Andy MacPhail has improved the system by leaps and bounds. The starting rotation this season could feature four homegrown starters. There are two homegrown arms in the bullpen and the position player with the most upside is also homegrown.

That's why I can't be pessimistic about the future of the Orioles as some of my fellow bloggers are. Viewed in a vacuum, the state of the Oriole farm system is a bit bleak. In context, it is healthy and improving. Would I like them to produce more major league talent? Yes, but it is producing more than it has in years...decades. Should they spend more on the draft? Yes, but they are spending more than they ever have. Would I like them to be more active internationally? Yes, but they have signed foreign born players in the last couple years where their presence was nearly non-existent.

Slowly, the minor league system is coming along. It's not a powerhouse but at least it's functioning now. It's a start.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Around the Oriole Blog-O-Sphere: Hall of Fame Edition?

Sully Baseball highlights all the awesomeness that was Game 7 of the 1979 World Series. Except for the whole "Orioles lose the World Series" business. But it's worth looking at for the pictures of Don Stanhouse alone. Trust me.

Stacey at Camden Chat takes a look at the recent history of multi-year contracts handed out to relief pitchers by the Orioles. And it ain't pretty.

Camden Depot gives his thorough take on the state of the Orioles as we head in to 2011. Quick conclusion? He thinks he's seen enough of Andy MacPhail.

Camden Crazies talks about the Kevin Gregg deal which makes any analysis I was going to write, redundant.

Kevin gives a send off to four former Orioles who fell off the Hall of Fame ballot today, including Harold Baines, one of my all-time favorite Orioles.

Eutaw Street Hooligans runs down the new Orioles. And quickly puts to rest the notion that Prince Fielder is coming in 2012.

Neal at The Loss Column has graded the Oriole offseason.


Baltimore Sports and Life wonders who will round out the Orioles bullpen. Bet you thought you'd heard the last of Bruce Chen.

Baltimore Sports Report breaks down who should break camp with the big club out of Spring Training.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Three Things I Learned from the Bill James Handbook

If you haven't caught on yet, I got the 2011 Edition of the Bill James Handbook this week. Here's some nuggets from 2010 I've uncovered.

1. Nick Markakis Has a Very Specific Set of Skills

While I have given up on Markakis becoming a star player, he does still do many good things at the plate. Persusing the AL leader boards, Markakis is in the top ten in hits (5th with 187), doubles (tied for 4th with 45) and singles (tied for 9th with 127).

He also hit .338 with runners in scoring position (7th in the AL). Oddly enough, he was 2nd in batting average against left handed pitching (.361), 4th in OBP against lefties (.415) and, not surprisingly, had the 2nd highest OPS for a lefty versus lefty pitching (.906). That is really not typical for Markakis who usually makes his hay against RHP, as you would expect.

He was also 5th in the AL in pitches seen and 10th in lowest first swing percentage.

He may not be a star but he's still a pretty good hitter.

2. Getting On Base Against Jeremy Guthrie is Really Hard

Batters only got on base at a .298 clip against Jeremy Guthrie in 2010. That was 10th best in the AL and puts him in a top ten that includes David Price, Justin Verlander and Dallas Braden. This prompted me to see who was the best at preventing runners from getting on base over the past four seasons:

              Opponent OBP
R. Halladay       .289
C. Lee            .294
C. Sabathia       .297
J. Weaver         .301
F. Hernandez      .304
J. Beckett        .306
S. Baker          .308
J. Verlander      .308
J. Guthrie        .310
J. Shields        .310

That's pretty good company. And it probably explains a lot about how Guthrie is able to outperform his peripherals every year.

3. The Orioles' Two Best Fielders Probably Aren't Who You Think They Are

In terms of Runs Saved, the best showing from a regular fielder was...Felix Pie. This is not a surprise to some but the "Felix Pie looks lost in left field" reputation has been tough for him to shake. But Pie was credited with 6 Runs Saved, good for 5th among all left fielders in baseball, in only 70 games. Double that for 140 games and the 12 Runs Saved would put him right behind the likes of Brett Gardner (13) and Carl Crawford (14). He's one of he best fielding outfielders in baseball. It's time to retire the notion that he's not.

The best fielder in terms of John Dewans' +/- system was...Brad Bergesen. Brad scored +6 on that system among all pitchers and on the list of 3-year leaders, Bergesen scores +13, just two points behind the leader, Jake Westbrook...and Brad only played a year and a half of those three years. 

Bergesen needs to do all the little things to succeed in the majors and when it comes to fielding his position, he certainly does.

Matt Hobgood Left His Fastball in High School...Or Did He?

This from ESPN, Kevin Goldstein runs down a list of 10 prospects who need to have big years in 2011. Oriole pitching prospect Matt Hobgood is included:

Matt Hobgood, RHP
Baltimore Orioles

Hobgood looked like a budget-minded selection when Baltimore nabbed him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, and while the Orioles said he was at the top of their board at the time, he's looked like a mistake so far by any measurement. His beefy (or chubby, depending on the observer) frame was a concern for many, and he's simply never matched the stuff he showed in high school, as what was once a low-90s fastball now never escapes the 80s, while his regressing command and control has created further issues. He's gone so far backwards that he's already facing a pivotal year in his development.

First, I have a hard time believing that a 20-year old kid needs to have a big season or fall by the wayside. He has one professional season under his belt and evidently, it wasn't a fully healthy one.

Second, Goldstein (and others) imply that the stuff that Hobgood showed in high school has never shown itself in the minors, that his fastball can't break 90 in the pros. I don't dispute that point as it applies to how he was pitching for most of the season. But I saw that live fastball in 2010.

Here were my observations on Hobgood when I watched his first start for Delmarva against Greenville in 2010:

You can see why the Orioles like Hobgood so much. Though only 19, he was sitting at 92-93 mph all night and hitting 95 with his fastball on occasion. He has a wicked 79 mph curve that was buckling the knees of the opposition and his stuff was dominant when he was putting it over the plate. Only two batters made solid contact and he only gave up 3 hits while striking out 4.

Unfortunately, he wasn't putting it over the plate consistently. At one point in the 3rd, he walked three straight batters. Early in his career, this will be his Achilles heel. He has the stuff to dominate low-A, he just needs to throw strikes more consistently.

There's more if you follow the link but the point is...there it was. A fastball that was sitting in the low 90's and hitting 95. Breaking stuff that befuddled the opposing hitters. There is a danger in believing the stadium gun but I don't think it was off by that much. Hobgood didn't leave his velocity in high school, he had it, if ever so briefly, at the beginning of 2010.

Thirdly, Goldstein points to "regressing command and control". For the season, Hobgood had a 3.6 BB/9 and a 5.6 K/9 rate. But his last 10 games he posted a 3.1 BB/9 rate against a 5.2 K/9, this with declining velocity.  It's not great control but it hardly looks like he was regressing as the season went along.

Other positives include his GB/FB ratio of 2.07 (2.39 over his last 10 games) and his 0.6 HR/9 rate.

There's a lot to be concerned about as far as Hobgood's development goes. The control is not good at this point and the shoulder injury isn't exactly encouraging. But there's no need to overstate other deficiencies or overlook the things he has done well. The guy the Orioles drafted did show up in the pros...whether he makes it back to that ability is another story.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bunting: Sacrifices versus Hits

I am often critical and dismissive of the bunt. I have the Earl Weaver quote on the front page of this blog for a reason. The bunt, by and large, is a give-up play and usually the payoff does not equal what it costs you.

I should clarify this stance though. And this article over at Beyond the Boxscore got me thinking about the one time I do like the bunt...when you're bunting for a hit.

As it turns out, the Orioles had two of the best players in the game when it came to bunting for hits: Adam Jones and Cesar Izturis.

Jones went 7 for 12 when bunting for hits (.583 hit percentage), leading all of baseball in bunt hit percentage and Izturis went 7 for 17 (.412 hit percentage), good for 10th. If you can drop bunts and get hits that often, you do it. Those guys can drop a bunt whenever they feel like it. (The article is really interesting, well worth reading all of it.)

However, Buck Showalter did show a tendency for using the bunt as a sacrifice play, more than I was comfortable with, to be honest. According to the 2011 Bill James Handbook, although the three Orioles managers were at the helm for about the same number of games, Showalter actually employed the sac bunt 13 times, more than Dave Trembley (10). But less than Juan Samuel (18).

These numbers are a bit higher from what Showalter has done in the past and perhaps with the additions of Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, Buck won't feel so inclined to try to manufacture runs. I'd like to think so.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Alfredo Simon Suspected of Murder

According to the AP, Oriole reliever Alfredo Simon is being sought by authorities in the Dominican Republic for murder.

The pitcher shot and killed 25-year-old Michel Castillo Almonte and wounded his 17-year-old brother during a New Year's Eve celebration in the northeast coastal town of Luperon, police said in a statement. No motive was disclosed. Simon is from the Dominican Republic, and police said he fled after the violence.

This does not bode well for Simon. Ugueth Urbina got charged with attempted murder in Venezeula in 2005 and is still serving a 14-year sentence.

It may seem trite but this is a baseball blog and I have to consider the baseball implications. Alfredo Simon, even in the best case scenario, will not be with the team at the beginning of the season and may never return. The Oriole bullpen now consists of Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez and Jim Johnson from last year. Jason Berken expects to return in time for Spring Training but is coming off a shoulder injury. Jeremy Accardo has been signed. The best case scenario still leaves the Orioles looking for two more arms. David Hernandez is gone, Kam Mickolio, the closest reliever to the majors in the organization is gone.

It's an open audition, folks. The O's should be inviting every reliever who says yes, major league or minor league, to Spring Training to fill the open spots in the bullpen.

Is the Oriole Pitching Prospect Pool Too Shallow?

ESPN's Rob Neyer gives another lesson in the concept of TINSTAAP: "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect."

This time, he took a look at the top prospects as selected by Baseball America over the last 21 years.

I'm going to start with something really simple. Here are the top-rated hitters and pitchers from each year, presented chronologically (in a number of cases, the top-rated guy repeated a year later, and they are noted as such) ...

Hitters: Andujar Cedeno, Chipper Jones (2), Cliff Floyd, Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones (2), Ben Grieve, J.D. Drew, Pat Burrell, Josh Hamilton, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer (2), Delmon Young, Alex Gordon, Jay Bruce, Matt Wieters, Jason Heyward.

Pitchers: Todd Van Poppel, Brien Taylor (2), James Baldwin, Armando Benitez, Paul Wilson, Kerry Wood (2), Rick Ankiel (2), Josh Beckett (2), Jesse Foppert, Edwin Jackson, Felix Hernandez, Francisco Liriano, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Joba Chamberlain, David Price, Stephen Strasburg.

I believe that first list accounts for six MVP Awards, and the second for exactly one Cy Young Award.

I believe the first list includes one absolute bust -- arguably Gordon, so far -- while the second includes two absolute busts (Taylor and Foppert) along with a number of pitchers (Van Poppel, Baldwin, Wilson, Wood) who did hang around for a while but never hit the predicted heights.

Ankiel is in a class of his own. The jury is still out on Dice-K and Joba. You really can't say anything negative about Hernandez or Price (except Price is still young and highly susceptible to the same injury woes that have waylaid so many other young pitchers).

It just highlights how uncertain the path of pitching prospects is when compared to hitting prospects. And since the Orioles' philosophy of late has been to "grow the arms", you have to think hard about the direction of their farm system given that pitching prospects are so volatile a commodity.

You have heard me quote Branch Rickey a thousand times. "From quantity comes quality." I applauded the Orioles when they added a second Dominican Summer League team last year, giving them 7 minor league teams in their system. Now, with the excuse that resources are being spread too thin, the Orioles are dropping down to one DSL team and ending their affiliation with Bluefield in the Appalachian League. This gives them only 5 teams full of players for 2011.

Why is this important? As Neyer's exercise highlights and as is generally accepted, you can't always count on your top picks to provide pitching for your major league club. Many times, depth is provided from the later rounds and the more spots you have for guys to play, the better chance you have to stumble upon a diamond in the rough.

A.J. Burnett was an 8th round pick. James Shields a 16th round pick. Jamie Garcia, John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte were all 22nd rounders. Roy Oswalt and Dallas Braden were 23rd and 24th round picks, respectively. I could go on and this doesn't even include relievers who often come from later in the draft.

The point is, if you are going to build your farm system on pitching, the most unpredictable of commodities in baseball, shouldn't you have as many rotation spots for them as possible, especially in the lower levels?

I would assume that with the contraction of two teams in their farm system, they will use that savings to spend more on the draft and on international talent. I hope so or the Oriole farm system may be taking a step backwards in 2011. That would be a shame given the steady progress it's made over the past four years.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Derrek Lee Joins the Orioles

Derrek Lee has joined the Orioles, agreeing to a 1-year deal worth $8 million and could reach $10 mil with incentives.

Once the Orioles lost out on Adam Dunn, signing Lee or Adam LaRoche to a one year deal were the two best outcomes I could hope for. Paul Konerko would have been a expensive mistake and outbidding the Tigers for Victor Martinez would have been a bad overpay.

Lee and LaRoche were attractive for different reasons; Lee has a better upside, LaRoche was a more predictable, steady commodity. Now, I didn't like LaRoche much on a two year deal and even less at the rumored three year $21 million offer. LaRoche is OK...not worth making a commitment to.

So now the Orioles have Lee for 2011 who does not arrive without his own set of concerns and risks. He is coming off the worst full season of his career, will be 35 next season and was hampered by hand injuries all last season. There is a real chance he doesn't rebound from his 2010 levels.

But if he's healthy (and perhaps playing some games at DH will help him stay that way), Lee adds another intriguing right handed power bat to the Oriole lineup. Camden Yards rewards right handed power as the home run factor for RHB at the park is 129 for 2006-2009 (second highest in the majors over that span) according to the Bill James Handbook. They did build OPACY with Cal Ripken in mind, after all. Wrigley allows home runs to right handed batter at about the league average. There is also evidence that Lee was swinging the bat a bit better than his final numbers indicate, that while his power was diminished, he was also pretty unlucky with his line drives.

The more interesting thing is that the addition of Lee and Mark Reynolds give the Orioles one of the best groups of right handed power hitters that they have had in the last 20 years. Reynolds, Lee and Jones could all slug more than .450 (and ISO .175) becoming the only the second trio to do so since Camden Yards was built. (Javy Lopez, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada did it in 2004.) Add to that the outside shot of Nolan Reimold and J.J. Hardy doing the same...let's just say if you get seats in the left field bleachers, bring your glove. A lot of balls are going over that fence.

There is no first base prospect in AAA knocking on the door to Baltimore. Lee isn't blocking anybody in 2011 and even if he hits like he did in 2010, it's still a big upgrade. Oriole first baseman combined to OPS .625 last season, the lowest offensive output from any position on a team that was not exactly filled with offensive stars. He's a good stopgap and should help the Oriole offense approach something resembling respectability in 2011. Reynolds, Jones, Lee and Scott at the heart of your lineup with Roberts and Markakis setting the table? It could be fun.