Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year...and Thanks

Happy New Year to all you long-suffering Oriole fans who are goodly enough to read my posts. Thanks for overlooking my clumsy writing, endless typos and meandering rants that, hopefully, make some sense to you guys.

Thanks to the "real" writers who have linked to Dempsey's Army and given me a little attention. Thanks to my fellow bloggers and especially the ones who torture themselves by blogging about the Baltimore Orioles. It is good to have peers who are bright and talented. As I was saying to Stacey of Camden Chat earlier today, the Oriole bloggers have a very low douche bag factor when compared to bloggers for other baseball teams and that makes this all a lot more fun.

We have, yet again, doubled our readership in 2010 and look forward to finding enough material to attract more of you in 2011.

And even if 2011 is a losing season for the 14th straight time...I'm going to make it. We all will...

The Mountain Goats "This Year" from A Bruntel on Vimeo.

4 Ways Oriole Coverage Got Better in 2010

Before the 2010 season completely slips from memory, I thought I'd throw out a few positives about Oriole coverage in this 13th straight (!) losing season. My thoughts are colored by being a member of the Oriole Diaspora and having little access to MASN or local radio. You fans still in the Baltimore area may have other opinions on local media. Feel free to share them in the comments.

4. No Buck Martinez - The gaggle of former Oriole players who combined to replace Buck Martinez in the booth for MASN television broadcasts were not overly impressive but they were still far better than listening to Buck. If there was a guy going through the motions the last couple of seasons, it was Martinez. His opinions were poorly informed, he was full of non-sequiturs and his mannerisms were just plain irritating. Don't believe me? Tune in to a Toronto broadcast sometime and listen to him do play-by-play. Good riddance. I'll take Mike Boddicker any day.

3. Britt Ghiroli -'s Oriole coverage before the 2010 season was pretty sparse and, quite frankly, very missable. MASN, The Baltimore Sun and independent blogs did it much, much better. Enter new Orioles beat reporter Britt Ghiroli. Britt began employing Twitter almost immediately and her MLB Pro Blog, Britt's Bird Watch, was actually updated on a daily basis at the very least. Multimedia tweets, interaction with the fans and breaking news on Twitter made her something of a pioneer in social media among Oriole beat reporters. Britt has made MLB's coverage of the Orioles relevant again and brought a fresh, energetic voice to mainstream Oriole coverage. We thank her for the effort.

2. Twitter - Twitter has been a blessing for the Oriole news junkie in 2010. In terms of media members untilizing Twitter, Ghiroli pretty much led the way here, too. But she wasn't the only one. MASN's Jen Royle and Kate Wheeler added a lot of content, as well as the Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Add to the mix my fellow Oriole bloggers and rabid fans and you had a hodge-podge of news, reaction, debate and factoids. It's a great place to spark conversation and I got a lot of ideas for posts from what began as Twitter conversations.

1. Credentialed Bloggers - This season, finally, the Orioles began credentialing independent bloggers for individual games at Camden Yards. This put civilian bloggers like myself side by side with the pros in the press box at Camden Yards.

This one would seem a bit self-serving but let's be honest; I live in Atlanta and I'm really not going to be able to take advantage of this program very often. But with traditional media shrinking, I love that my Baltimore-based colleagues will be able to offer fresh, alternative perspectives on the team, even in the worst of times. Let's face it, once Ravens training camp starts, Oriole coverage tends to suffer. Hopefully, this program will help fill in the gaps. A diversity of voices is a wonderful thing and as a producer and consumer of Oriole coverage, I love it.

And hopefully, bloggers will eventually get locker room access as well.

Low Cost Pitching Depth for the Orioles

You can never have enough pitching. Never.

The Orioles appear to be set in the rotation for 2010 with Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and, waiting in the wings in AAA, Zach Britton. But as we have seen before, injuries happen and these young arms may not all be ready to go. You don't want to have to rush a guy like Britton to the majors because you lack pitching depth. With David Hernandez gone, that just leaves Rick VandenHurk as a guy who could provide emergency starts. Jason Berken is not returning to the rotation.

But Baltimore has enough talent that they don't need to spend a lot of money on pitching depth. There are guys coming off of injury or poor seasons that can be had for cheap and may provide some upside if they rebound. I'm not saying these are great pitchers but they would be available for depth and emergency.

Sign a guy or two from this list and let them compete. They could always be shifted to the bullpen or to AAA if they are not needed.

Here's some candidates listed, more or less, in order of desirability.

Jeremy Bonderman - There is always a chance that Bonderman regains his pre-2008 form when a blood-clot in his shoulder shut him down for the better part of 2 seasons. He pitched a bit better than his 5.55 ERA (xFIP, FIP) and threw 171.2 innings in 2010. Another year removed from the injury, he could improve on those numbers and could provide great value.

Jeff Francis - A lefty starter, Francis pitched much better than his 5.00 ERA (3.88 FIP, 3.95 xFIP). If he's fully healthy, he could be an interesting weapon against the Yanks and Red Sox lefty-heavy lineups. Not a big strikeout guy but has pretty good ground ball rates.

Chris Capuano - The Brewers don't want Capuano, not as a starter anyway, so he's on the market. Capuano didn't pitch badly in 66 innings as a swingman for Milwaukee and even though he would probably see a bump in his ERA (3.95 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 4.08 xFIP), he would still be a slightly better than average starter. Another lefty in the rotation in the AL East couldn't hurt.

Kevin Millwood - Millwood didn't quite live up to expectations but he did provide more than 190 innings and 1.3 WAR last season. Again, he can take the beatings if the youngsters aren't all healthy or ready. He did it last year and you might be able to squeeze one more year out of him.

Freddy Garcia - Garcia is kind of a flyball pitcher which would seem to be a bad fit. Also, there seems to be some competition for his services which may push his price up. Still, he has been right around league average for the last nine seasons so he's a good bet to remain consistent and do that again.

Doug Davis - Davis would be a guy to bring in on a minor league deal. He could be an interesting option as a swingman or 5th starter if he has a good Spring Training.

Noah Lowry - What happened to this guy? He tried to make a comeback before last season, nobody signed him and he didn't pitch anywhere in 2010. Go find him and see if he'll sign a minor league deal. The guy had all kinds of upside as a young lefty for the Giants. It would be worth a look to see what he could do in Spring Training.

John Maine - Why not? Another guy who would come cheap, maybe even on a minor league deal and he could be shifted to the bullpen if needed. He wasn't healthy last season but if he's healthy now , he could give us a half season in the rotation or add depth to the 'pen.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Around the Oriole Blog-O-Sphere: Who's On First Edition?

The Orioles' top pick in the 2009 Amateur Draft, SP Matt Hobgood, will miss the start of the season as he rehabs from shoulder issues. Hobgood will remain in extended Spring Training before joining his assigned team. Let hope he doesn't need surgery...he can't afford to lose anymore speed on that fastball.

The Orioles, along with a local business, sent jerseys and softball equipment to service members who play in a softball league in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

Dan at Camden Crazies breaks down the J.J. Hardy acquisition, a move he has championed all offseason.

The Wayward O does his annual recap of the Oriole season in his own inimitable style. A must read.

Winter blues got you down? The Oriole Post has some photos from a fall tour of OPACY.

Steve Melewski still likes Matt Hobgood.

Roar from 34 gives tribute to the late Walt Dropo.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rafael Palmeiro's Case for the Hall

Ahead of next week's Hall of Fame election announcements, I wanted to take a closer look at the candidacy of former Oriole first baseman, Rafael Palmeiro.

When Palmeiro retired, I thought he was a slam dunk and was surprised by those who thought he wasn't. 500 home runs and 3,000 hits? He was only one of four players to reach those milestones, milestones that by themselves have assured players of election to the Hall.

We know the traditional case for Palmeiro and we also know the traditional arguments against him. The first is his link to steroids, having failed a drug test in 2005. He also has been called an "accumulator", a guy who hung around long enough to rack up big numbers but never having elite seasons.

With that, I wanted to take a closer look at Palmeiro's offensive production (since that is what his case for the Hall is primarily based on) as compared to his peers in terms of OPS+ and in terms of WAR.

Here is a look at Palmeiro as he compares to his fellow first basemen. From the years 1986 - 2005, the seasons encompassing his 20-year career, the OPS+ rates of all players who played 1B for 75% of their career (that eliminates Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, although they would probably be considered first basemen by most fans...):

McGwire     162
Bagwell     149
Helton      148
Delgado     143
Clark       137
McGriff     134
Palmeiro    132
Vaughn      132
Olerud      128
Hrbek       128

That's a rather sobering comparison. OPS+ is a rough tool but it does show us a level of offensive prowess measured against your peers and the environment you played in. Here, Palmeiro comes in way behind the likes of McGwire, Bagwell, Helton and Delgado and even comes in behind Will Clark and Fred McGriff. If Frank Thomas and Jim Thome were included, he wouldn't be any better than the 8th or 9th best bat at his position for his generation.

Now, career WAR for these guys courtesy of

Bagwell    79.9
Palmeiro   65.7
McGwire    63.1
Clark      57.4
Helton     57.3
Olerud     56.6
McGriff    50.5
Delgado    43.9
Hrbek      35.4
Vaughn     25.7

As a total player (WAR includes fielding), Palmeiro is rewarded a bit more. Of course, his longevity helps him too since WAR is essentially a counting stat. Do you penalize the player who is consistently valuable over the course of his career because his peak was not high enough? Personally, I don't think so but that's going to be the argument against Palmeiro.

But how does he stack up against other Hall of Fame first baseman? Career OPS+ for some Hall of Fame first baseman.

Gehrig      178
Brouthers   166
Foxx        163
Mize        158
Greenberg   158
Connor      152
McCovey     147
Terry       136
Chance      135
Anson       134
Cepeda      133
Murray      129
Beckley     125
Bottomley   124
Sisler      124

By this measure, Palmeiro would come in just ahead of Eddie Murray which is a bit ironic since the Murray model is the best case for Palmeiro's induction. Murray was also a steady guy, a player who never won an MVP but was consistently great over a long career. Murray vs. Palmeiro in terms of WAR by season, from highest to lowest:

Palmeiro wouldn't join the HoF elites here but he wouldn't be a bad choice in terms of bat alone.

Career WAR for these players and Palmeiro:

Gehrig     118.3
Anson       99.2
Foxx        94.0
Connor      87.1
Brouthers   83.7
Mize        70.1
Murray      66.7
Palmeiro    65.7
McCovey     65.1
Beckley     61.4
Greenberg   56.9
Terry       55.3
Sisler      50.4
Chance      49.4
Cepeda      46.6
Bottomley   32.3

Again, WAR serves Palmeiro well, even amongst stiff competition. He is within a hair of Murray and ahead of Willie McCovey and Hank Greenberg.

Palmeiro does not embarrass himself in terms of WAR or OPS+ against Hall of Fame first basemen. Against his peers? He does not seem to be among the elite. But I'm not a guy who likes to penalize a player just because he was not considered the best of his generation at his position, especially when he is a part of a strong class. There are only 18 first basemen in the Hall of Fame. Among Palmeiro and his peers, there are 5 guys who will probably be elected (Thomas, Thome, McGwire, Bagwell and Palmeiro) and maybe another one could sneak in. (Likewise, there is no sense in rewarding a player for being the Best (Position) of His Generation when the competition was weak...)

But what about the factors beyond the numbers? What about PEDs? I don't care about PEDs and while that issue may concern the people who vote, it will only serve to delay his election, not to scuttle it. There are younger writers from more diverse backgrounds voting for the Hall of Fame every year now, people who understand that there are tools you can use to judge players beyond counting stats. The Steroid Era provides plenty of white noise to the argument but there are measures that help squelch it. PEDs won't be keeping steroid users out of the Hall 10 years from now.

How about the argument that he was never considered among the best in the game? Again, Palmeiro is part of a very strong offensive class of first basemen. While he doesn't have a great peak, he was consistently one of the better hitters in the league for almost 20 seasons. You can't just hang around and "accumulate" 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. 500 home runs doesn't mean what it once did but that's still an impressive number and 3,000 hits is nothing to sneeze at.

Is he the slam dunk I thought he was 5 years ago? No. There are some chinks in the armor when you look closely. But he compares favorably to other first basemen in the Hall of Fame and he's certainly not going to be an outlier in terms of value among them. Not only do I think he is deserving, he has history on his side. 3,000 hits and 500 home runs still means something and he would be the first with either of those totals alone to not be elected to the Hall of Fame, let alone the first with both those milestones. He's going to get in but it may take a few years (as he is overshadowed by stronger candidates) for the voters to recognize his greatness.

He's going in and he's deserving. I predict election in 2017.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Alan Mills: Still Scowling

According to this feature from The Lakeland Ledger, life has sometimes taken its toll on former Oriole reliever Alan Mills since he left the game. But there's something tough times can't take from Mills. His signature scowl:

That scowl alone would probably make Mills a league average reliever, even at age 44.

It's a good feature on Mills, who left the game to be with his family and now is back at his high school alma mater trying to rebuild the baseball program.

And if Alan Mills told me to go run a lap, I'd run three just to be sure.

Oriole Trade Monitors: End of 2010 Update

As part of my end of the year housekeeping, it's time to clean up the Oriole Trade Monitors and that includes retiring a couple of transactions that have run their course. Before I add the trades made this offseason, it's time to put a wrap on the Kris Benson and Rodrigo Lopez trades.

Orioles Trade RP Jorge Julio and SP John Maine to the Mets for SP Kris Benson.

Julio - 0 WAR
Maine - 5.0 WAR

Benson - 0.8 WAR

Advantage - Mets (+4.2)

Before the 2006 season, Baltimore sent Jorge Julio and minor league starter John Maine to New York for Kris Benson, a starting pitcher who was under contract for the next two seasons.

At the time, I loved that deal. Trading a reliever for two seasons of a starter? Sure, why not? Maine was just a throw in.

Benson underperformed in 2006 and he decided to have shoulder surgery in 2007. Julio only lasted 18 games (and was terrible) before being shipped to Arizona for Orlando Hernandez.

John Maine was another story. He turned into a serviceable back of the rotation starter, finding a strikeout pitch and being aided by pitching at Shea Stadium. The highlight was 2007 when he went 15-10, threw 191 innings and a 3.91 ERA. After that, injuries took their toll and after a bad 2010, the Mets non-tendered Maine but still got 542 innings of league average pitching out of the trade. The Mets won, hands down.

SP Rodrigo Lopez traded to the Rockies for RP Jason Burch and RP Jim Miller

Rodrigo Lopez - 1.1 WAR

Jason Burch - 0.0 WAR
Jim Miller - 0.1 WAR

Advantage - Rockies (+1.0 WAR)

Rodrigo Lopez was shipped out after he was unable to secure a spot in the starting rotation before the 2007 season. Disgruntled, he was traded to Colorado for a couple of live relief arms.

Jason Burch never got above AA for the Orioles and last pitched in 2008 for the Blue Jays system.

Jim Miller racked up impressive strikeout totals in the minors and even got a cup of coffee with the big club in 2008. While his 2009 and 2010 numbers in Norfolk were pretty decent, he never got another shot with Baltimore and now has left the organization as a minor league free agent. I would've liked to see him get a shot, especially with the likes of Frank Mata and Pedro Viola taking their turns over the 2010 season.

The Rockies got a half of a decent season out of Lopez before he got hurt so they got a good return on the deal.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

When Will the Orioles Get Creative?

I believe the Baltimore Orioles can compete in the AL East. I really do.

When I hear others say that there is no way the O's can compete with the massive payrolls of the Yankees and Red Sox, I say that they can. It just takes four things:

1. Develop Your Farm System
2. Make Shrewd Trades
3. Spend In Free Agency on Select Talent
4. Get Creative

I didn't just pull these out of my hat. These are things teams like Oakland, Minnesota, Texas, Tampa Bay, San Diego and even the Red Sox have done to build themselves into winners and contenders in the past. The Orioles can do the same thing...but will they?

The first one, the Orioles are doing a good job with. Remember, the Oriole farm system was a desert from about 1987 to 2007. Think about it. How many regular players did Baltimore develop in those 20 years outside of Mike Mussina, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis? Few. Andy MacPhail has had to revamp the whole thing and is slowly getting it back to respectability. It's still a pit that needs filling but in 3-5 years, it could be a consistently good system churning out useful talent.

The second, MacPhail does a good job with, too. Trades have brought a lot a value back to Baltimore and I won't highlight those here. Check the Oriole Trade Monitors to see that.

Free agency is where Baltimore gets in trouble. They can't always get interest from the top free agents so you are left with overpaying them either in years or cash or you have to go without. Thankfully, MacPhail has avoided the temptation of giving the wrong player a cumbersome albatross of a contract. Baltimore can afford to spend more than people think but they don't have the farm system or the revenue to overcome a big mistake. But MacPhail does tend to reach and spend in unwise areas like ill-advised reclamation projects or giving big cash to relief pitchers (although, he has kept these contract to two-year deals or less so far).

This leads us to getting creative. You have to know that there will be times when the top free agents may not want to come to Baltimore. So why get held up by the likes of Adam LaRoche just to fill a hole in the infield? That's where you have to get creative.

Years ago, the Athletics saw something in castoff Boston catcher Scott Hatteberg. They turned him into a serviceable first baseman for three seasons (and then he went to the Reds and did it for two more seasons). You see the Padres trying to do it with Brad Hawpe now...taking an oufielder who could rebound to his 2007-2009 levels of offensive production and plugging him into their hole at first base.

Just because Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee are the only prominent names left with the "1B" designation left next to their name doesn't mean you can't get creative when trying to add an impact bat. The idea of shifting Luke Scott to first base and allowing a greater offensive pool of DH types to be available to the Orioles is an idea that is gaining traction. But it's not new. I called for it last offseason (as an alternative to Garrett Atkins) and Scott himself is on the record saying that he doesn't want to be a fulltime DH and would love a chance to play some first base. This is the kind of thinking a team like Baltimore needs. You don't have to get held up by a guy like Adam LaRoche. He's an OK talent, not one worthy of a three-year deal at this point. Tell him to pound sand and tell Luke to start working with his first basemen's mitt again. Get on the line with the agents for Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. Ask them how a big one-year deal grabs them.

These are not ideal situations but this is Baltimore. You're not going to face a lot of ideal situations as you work to improve your club. And in that case, you have to get creative.

Sadly, I don't see this happening and it's the one thing that leaves me thinking that eventually this club will need someone young and hungry running this front office before the Orioles take real steps back to contending. It's a quality I don't think Andy MacPhail possesses.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Infamous Billy Ripken Card: Peeling the Onion

Famous in Oriole lore is the 1989 Fleer rookie card for Baltimore second baseman Billy Ripken. You know, because the phrase "FUCK FACE" was written on the knob of Ripken's bat. A couple of years ago, Bill Ripken told his side of the story to MSNBC. But the blog "Baseball Card Comes to Life!" has an interview with veteran Fleer photographer Steve Babineau...the man who took the picture.

Before we get to Steve, here's the history of the card. Tim Kurkjian, then at the Baltimore Sun talked to Billy Ripken and Fleer in 1989. Fleer's president Vincent Murray claimed that he hadn't seen the obscenity  before the card was released and that the company was doing all it could to correct the error immediately.

Ripken told Kurkjian he was angry and disappointed. "It appears I was targeted (by teammates)," Ripken told Kurkjian. "I know I'm kind of a jerk at times. I know I'm a little off. But this is going too far."

Fast forward to December, 2008. The story from Billy Ripken then:

Now I had to write something on the bat. At Memorial Stadium, the bat room was not too close to the clubhouse, so I wanted to write something that I could find immediately if I looked up and it was 4:44 and I had to get out there on the field a minute later and not be late. There were five big grocery carts full of bats in there and if I wrote my number 3, it could be too confusing. So I wrote 'F--k' Face on it."

After the season was over, in early January, I got a call from our PR guy Rick Vaughn. He said, 'Billy, we have a problem.' And he told me what was written on the bat and I couldn't believe it. I went to a store and saw the card and it all came back to me. We were in Fenway Park and I had just taken my first round of BP. I threw my bat to the third base side and strolled around the bases. When I was coming back, right before I got up to hit again, I remember a guy tapping me on the shoulder asking if he could take my picture. Never once did I think about it. I posed for the shot and he took it.

I tried to deflect it as much as I could. It was fairly easy to say that somebody got me with a joke because people think you're the scum of the earth for doing something like this. The truth is that there's a lot of words like that that are thrown around in the clubhouse. They just don't get out there.

I can't believe the people at Fleer couldn't catch that. I mean, they certainly have to have enough proofreaders to see it. I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it. That writing on that bat is way too clear. I don't write that neat. I think they knew that once they saw it, they could use the card to create an awful lot of stir.

So with that background, here's Babineau's remembrance, where he explains how the obscenity was missed:

I shot the Billy Ripken card – it was definitely not intentional. I was at Fenway, and everyone is out there doing BP. Billy is the only one wearing a game uniform with the number in the front. Everyone else is wearing their orange BP top. For everyone else I would need to make sure there was an identifying marker like a glove, or I would take their picture as they walked away to get their uniform number. I didn’t have to magnify Ripken’s card because the number was clearly visible. In the past Fleer used to send us full color sheets, which we would use to check for reverse negatives and other problems with the picture. That year, to save money, they just sent us blueprints that were in three shades of blue. Your eyes don’t focus on something like that. After the card came out, my boss called me and told me to look at the knob of the bat. “Please tell me it says ‘slick face,’” he said to me. I had to look at it with the magnifying glass and tell him that that was not what it said.

The next year the first team I went to see at Spring Training was the Orioles, playing the Expos in West Palm Beach. I went up to Billy and he says “Thanks for making a nickel card into a thirty dollar card!” He told me he started using that bat as a BP bat on a road trip in Detroit or Cleveland before coming to Fenway. He said it was his brother that wrote that on his bat. I heard that he actually started signing that card for kids but had to stop.

So what really happened?

First, the story is waaaayy funnier if Cal wrote that on Billy's bat. Maybe that's why I want to believe it. It also makes a lot more sense than Billy's assertion that he wrote the the phrase on his bat to identify it among all the others. I mean, that's a lot of letters to have to write on the knob of the bat. He could have drawn a star or a circle or just written "BILL" on the knob of the bat for that matter. The effort to write an 8-letter phrase on that small space is only worth it if you're playing a prank on somebody. And Billy would only be motivated to cover up that story to protect the squeaky-clean image of his brother. Billy could cover for Brady Anderson or some other teammate but it is more unlikely that he would.

I also don't believe that Billy or the prankster meant for that phrase to end up on a baseball card. I'm sure that was just an unintended coincidence of a locker room joke that was never supposed to make it beyond the clubhouse.

I also believe Steve Babineau that the error was not intentional on Fleer's part. Fleer went under in 2005 so Babineau is not protecting anybody. If Fleer decided to issue the card after finding the obscenity or even highlight it, it would not hurt Babineau to reveal that fact now. Either it was missed honestly (and the story as to how it was missed seems plausible) or Babineau was not in the loop. My guess is that in 1989, the scandal probably did more harm than good to a company marketing baseball cards to kids.

So Cal Ripken, Jr. wrote the phrase on Billy's bat back in 1988 and everything that happened after was a peculiar series of mistakes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

h/t to NotGraphs

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Crystal Ball 2011: Jeremy Accardo

The Orioles signed Blue Jays reliever Jeremy Accardo to a one year, $1.08 million deal.

It's a bit of a head scratcher. The Orioles did not extend an arbitration offer to Matt Albers because they likely would have had to pay him $1 million for 2011. And I didn't disagree with that decision because the bottom line is that Albers just can't throw strikes. Which is what makes the Accardo signing a little strange.

Rate stats for Albers and Accardo over the past three seasons:

           K/9   BB/9   ERA+   HR/9   K/BB    WHIP   
Albers     5.8   4.3     96     0.6   1.35    1.53
Accardo    5.4   4.9     98     0.6   1.08    1.70

Granted, Accardo's rates come over far fewer innings but these stats are fairly close and Accardo's minor league numbers over that span don't show anything different.

The only thing Accardo has over Albers is that he's been a good pitcher before. It was only for the 2007 season but he was able to throw strikes. But data from four seasons ago is not exactly a sign of hope.

Accardo will probably replace Matt Albers...with all the good and bad that implies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Crystal Ball '11: Cesar Izturis

Cesar Izturis will be returning to Baltimore in 2011. Thankfully, he will not be the everyday option at shortstop as the Orioles inked him to a $1.5 million, one year deal. With incentives, the deal could net Izzy more than $2 mil for next season. He will serve as a utility infielder.

But just because he probably doesn't deserve a full time starting job doesn't mean he can't be a valuable asset. The asset he brings, obviously, is his glove.

For all MLB shortstops, UZR, UZR component stats and UZR/150 for the last three seasons:

Name             DPR    RngR    ErrR    UZR    UZR/150
Jimmy Rollins    1.3    10.3    12.7    24.4    10.5
J.J. Hardy      -3.5    21.3     3.5    21.4     9.1
Cesar Izturis   -1.6    14.1     8.8    21.3     8.7
Alex Gonzalez    3.4     3.1     6.4    12.8     7.0
Alexei Ramirez   1.6    11.6    -0.9    12.4     6.0
Elvis Andrus    -1.1    15.4    -2.0    12.2     6.7
Troy Tulowitzki  3.3    -4.8    11.0     9.5     3.7
Yunel Escobar   -2.6    10.8     0.9     9.1     3.4
Erick Aybar      2.1    11.3    -5.4     8.0     3.3

And the Total Zone with Location (TLZ) for all MLB shortstops for the last three season:

Name             TZL
Yunel Escobar   41.8
Cesar Izturis   30.1
J.J. Hardy      24.9
Marco Scutaro   19.9
Troy Tulowitzki 16.3
Hanley Ramirez  13.9
Jimmy Rollins   12.9
Michael Young   10.0
Edgar Renteria   7.8
Elvis Andrus     6.1

From these metrics you can see two things; first, that Izturis has been one of the top three fielding shortstops in baseball over the past three seasons. Arguably, you could rank him higher. Second, how about J. J. Hardy? He is Izzy's equal with the glove and is projected to be a league average hitter.

I'm sure Oriole fans find little comfort in Cesar's defensive wizardry since his bat is so bad. But even with the weak bat, Izturis still adds value. Not last year, when FanGraphs had him valued at -0.3 WAR but during an ordinary season, he's a valuable player.

His .545 OPS in 2010 was the lowest of his career and he still almost broke even in term of WAR when you factor in his glove. He was unlucky with his BABIP, even factoring in a slight decline in his Line Drive rate. He will never be a great hitter but even if he posts his career OPS of .618 in 2011, he could be worth 1.0 WAR as a full time player.

But fortunately, he will not be a full time player. He can fill in for an injured Hardy or Brian Roberts or be deployed against lefties versus whom he has a .639 career OPS.

He's not a difference maker by any means but Izturis and his glove should still be quite valuable in a backup role for Baltimore.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Donning the Golden Sombrero

This post is inspired by a Twitter conversation with Matt from Roar from 34 about his post regarding the day Don Buford struck out 5 times in the same game and the follow up question from @sarahcumbie:

So I decided to find out. As it turns out, Sarah had the right idea...Mark Reynolds is well into the double digits. All-time leaders in games where a player wore "The Golden Sombrero":

Reggie Jackson     23
Bo Jackson         19
Jim Thome          18
Ryan Howard        18
Sammy Sosa         17
Rob Deer           17
Jose Canseco       16
Dave Kingman       15
Andres Galarraga   15
Dick Allen         15
Reggie Sanders     14
Mark Reynolds      14
Ray Lankford       14
Bobby Bonds        14

That's way up the list for a guy who had only played three seasons. The next Orioles on the list (at least one who spent significant time in Baltimore was Frank Robinson with 6 sombreros to his credit. He's a player the likes of which we have never had in all or nothing slugger.

He's going to make me bi-polar.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wrapping up the Rule 5 Draft for the Orioles

The Rule 5 draft was held today and although it is rare for any of these pick s to be of consequence, I thought I'd run down who the Orioles selected and who they lost. A couple of these guys might not be coming back to the organization.

Orioles select RHP Adrian Rosario from the Brewers: Rosario, a 21-year old reliever from the Dominican Republic. He posted 11.50 K/9 against only 3.5 BB/9 over 46.1 innings in the minors last season but it was split between Rookie and Low-A ball. Seems like a longshot to stick.

Brewers select RHP Pat Egan from the Orioles: With the trade of Kam Mickolio to Arizona, Pat Egan was the top candidate to come up from Norfolk and help the Baltimore bullpen this season. Long and tall, the 26-year old hurler sports a killer ground ball rate and only 16 walks in 84 innings between Bowie and Norfolk. He just might stick.

Mets select RHP Pedro Beato from the Orioles: Beato reinvented himself this season from a flameout former top prospect to prospecty relief arm. The 6'6" righty struck out 50 in 59.2 innings with pretty good control. If he has a good spring, he is another candidate to stick with the team that selected him. Pitching at the spacious Citifield could make him serviceable at the major league level.

Minor League Phase

Orioles select 2B Dale Mollenhauer from the White Sox: The Oriole system desperately needs middle infielders in the upper levels and Mollenhauer would seemingly be the leading candidate to play second base at Norfolk next season. Hope he's got a good glove because his career .692 OPS in the minors is not real impressive. 73 stolen bases in four seasons though.

Orioles select LHP Casey Lambert from the Cubs: A 25-year old reliever who pitched OK for the Cubs high-A affiliate but has pitched as high as the AAA level in the past. He can strike guys out and has decent control. A former 6th round pick, he's an interesting lefty.

Orioles select RHP Jacob Rasner from the White Sox: Rasner is a 25-year old failed starter who can strike out his fair share (7.5 K/9 last season) but walks batters like Daniel Cabrera (4.7 BB/9 last season). His career WHIP is over 1.50...and he's never played above AA. Mike Griffin needs to get to work on this project immediately.

Koji Uehara Staying Put

Koji Uehara has agreed to return to the Baltimore Orioles on a one year, incentive laden deal for $3 million and the chance to earn up to $2 million more. There is also a vesting option for 2012.

I was critical of The Warehouse for not offering Uehara arbitration since there was reportedly interest from other teams and the Orioles seemed to want him back. However, Andy MacPhail read the situation correctly, gambled and won. Uehara comes back for less than he would have made in arbitration even though there were other teams interested in his services.

As The Oriole Way pointed out, even with the injuries and the shift back to the bullpen, Koji was worth every penny of the $10 million the Orioles just paid him. His stat lines over the past two seasons:

          IP    K   BB   HR   ERA   FIP   W-L   K/BB
Uehara  110.2  103  17   12  3.58  3.10   3-6   6.06

That's pretty damn good and if he does anything along these numbers again, he'll be a fantastic bargain.

And I'm not even including the sideburns.

J.J. Hardy Coming to Baltimore

This time, the Orioles got their man.

Last night, the Twins agreed to send SS J.J. Hardy and IF Brendan Harris to Baltimore for minor league relievers Brett Jacobsen and Jim Hoey.

In a market where legitimate shortstops were scarce, the Orioles got the best one available. Hardy will be 27 next season and is a good bet to be a league average hitter. Unlike Jason Bartlett, (who the O's were linked to earlier in the week) he's also a very good fielder. He represents a huge upgrade over Cesar Izturis. Speaking of Izturis, in terms of UZR, Hardy's just as good with the glove as Izzy was, maybe just a hair better. A glove like Izturis who is a league average hitter? It's a big swing in talent for the shortstop position. He should make $5-6 million in 2011 after arbitration.

When Ty Wigginton was signed by the Rockies, I started looking at other free agent options for a new Oriole sutility infielder. As you might imagine, the options were not that appealing. Not that Brendan Harris is any great shakes either but he can play all around the infield and is already signed to a reasonable $1.75 million for 2011. Again, he's not a great player but he a better bet to be a league average hitter than Robert Andino, the only viable internal option.

The O's dealt from one of their only areas of depth in the minors: relief arms. RP Brett Jacobsen came to Baltimore in the Aubrey Huff trade and pitched last season in high-A Frederick. He pitched well in relief with 8.5 K/9 and a 2.79 K/BB ratio. But he is, after all, a relief proswpect in the low minors and he will not be missed.

RP Jim Hoey made his major league debut in 2006 showing a big fastball but one that was very hittable in the majors. He's battled wildness and inuries since and although he had a nice season between AA and AAA last season, he's still just a fringe relief prosepct at this point. Again, in this organization, he will not be missed.

The left side of the infield is set for 2011. Time to go get a first baseman.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Luke Scott has Wacky Opinions, Sky Still Blue

Luke Scott has revealed his thoughts to David Brown of Yahoo Sports on a myriad of subjects: hunting, guns, politics, Mark Reynolds, Ted Nugent and...yeah, the birthplace of the sitting President of the United States.

DB: You don't think that Obama wasn't born in the United States, do you?

LS: He was not born here.

DB: [Sighs].

LS: That's my belief. I was born here. If someone accuses me of not being born here, I can go — within 10 minutes — to my filing cabinet and I can pick up my real birth certificate and I can go, "See? Look! Here it is. Here it is." The man has dodged everything. He dodges questions, he doesn't answer anything. And why? Because he's hiding something.

I'll use a variation of a fact I use a bunch when people get upset at the actions or words of a professional athlete: Hey, nobody said ballplayers had to be bright. These guys are paid to hit and catch a ball, they didn't go to college on academic scholarships. Many of them fit the stereotype of the dumb jock. So why would I hold them up to a higher standard than other dummies I meet in everyday life? My days of hero worship are long behind me.

Look, I'm not a gun owner but I don't disagree with many of Scott's assertions about the 2nd Amendment and he's correct about how human hunting helps balance out ecosystems. And being slavishly devoted to one side of the aisle or another? That's just America these days.

But the whole "Birther" thing? Well, that just means you're a big dummy. Or at least you have a really big blindspot when it comes to President Obama.

But I'm also not going to tell Luke Scott to "Shut up and play ball!" either. He has the right to his opinion and I hate it when athletes are villainized for being honest. That's why so many ballplayers come off as so vanilla these days. If nothing else, Scott's candor is refreshing and certainly entertaining.

And I'll still be pulling for him to put one a few on the Eutaw Street this season....

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mark Reynolds Coming to Baltimore

The Orioles have acquired 27-year old 3B Mark Reynolds from the Arizona Diamondbacks, reportedly for RP David Hernandez and RP Kam Mickolio.
I am not really sure how I feel about this deal. Really, it depends on how the rest of the offseason goes. But even Reynolds, in a vacuum, leaves me conflicted.

If you have read my blog for even a little bit, you know how much I love power bats. Love 'em. It's why I keep banging the drum for Luke Scott. It's why I was pimping Adam Dunn for Baltimore this offseason and in the 2008 offseason. It's why I love the potential of Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. Power. Power makes the offense go. It's a game changer and the Orioles don't have nearly enough.

Reynolds brings power in spades. Over the past three seasons, Reynolds has an ISO .247. That's 9th in baseball over that span, ahead of guys like Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun and Dan Uggla. On top of that, nobody ahead of him on that list plays anything other than DH or first base. According to HitTrackerOnline, the True Distance of his average homer was 415.6, tops among the leading home run hitters in baseball. If you can get that kind of power from your third baseman, you take it. Anytime. Sick, sick power. 32 homers in 2010...that was a down year.

Of course, I'm leaving out the downside. Reynolds hit .198 last season. .198...that's it. I don't care much about batting average by itself but when you hit .198, it's really tough to build enough good on top of that to make the overall offensive numbers look respectable.

Not that Reynolds didn't try. His walk rate was 13.9% in 2010. That was 9th in baseball. He has a good eye, something his 200+ strikeouts in each of the last three seasons seems to contradict. I don't care much about strikeouts either...but 200+ consistently is enough to raise anyone's eyebrow. That and the fact that his K rate has risen in each of the last three seasons too. And his Line Drive rates have dropped.

But his walk rate has increased over that span too. And he was hampered by a bad hammy late in the season and the Diamondbacks, in an effort to cut down on the strikeouts, started tinkering with his swing mid-season. And even with all this working against him, he put up an OPS of .754 (98 OPS+) Those are serviceable numbers, even with a .198 average.

The O's are only committed to him for 2 years. Maybe he gets healthy and Jim Pressley (the new Oriole hitting coach) sees a way to get him back on track. But I think he's going to turn me into a manic-depressive every at bat as I experience ecstasy everytime he launches one into the leftfield seats and despairing when he strikes out four times in a game.

As for the guys Baltimore sent to the desert, losing David Hernandez is a bit of a blow. I think Hernandez will be, someday, a successful major league pitcher. However, his path is almost certainly that of a reliever at this point and you shouldn't hesitate to part with relief arms to improve the club. Hernandez did manage to increase his K rate to something close to his minor league rate in 2010 but he was still essentially a flyball pitcher and figures to do better in Arizona. I have little doubt that he may have success going forward but he won't be as valuable as Reynolds has the chance to be.

Kam Mickolio is another story. Mickolio was a top relief prospect coming into the 2010 season. He's got a live fastball and was seen by many as a future closer. But he has struggled with wildness, struggled a bit during brief stints in the majors and will be 27 next season. Again, he may develop into a top notch reliever but there's no guarantee. And he is, after all, just a relief prospect.

I have no idea how all of this will work out. As you can see, I'm back and forth on Reynolds. I don't even know if this means the end of Josh Bell either since Reynolds could be moved over to first base. But there's a lot of upside here and the O's didn't give up any of their core building blocks. I'm cautiously pleased.

Thoughts on the Weekend Deals: What it Means to the Orioles

Lots of Hot Stove goings on over the weekend. Here's a quick look at how it all impacts the Baltimore Orioles.

Jayson Werth Signs with the Nationals: The Nats signed Werth to an insane 7-year, $126 million contract. If Werth was 26 or 27, maybe this wouldn't sound so nuts but Werth is going to be 32 in 2011 and is coming off a career season. It's hard to imagine a scenario where this contract turns out well for Washington. As I said on Twitter, I would rather the Orioles did nothing than give someone a silly contract like that.

Ken Rosenthal seems to think that the Werth deal puts pressure on the Orioles to overpay for a free agent now but in his column about the signing calls the contract "insane". I hope the Orioles don't feel any pressure to do something colossally stupid.

Twins Tender Contract to JJ Hardy: If the Twins had decided not to tender Hardy a contract, he would have been a reasonably priced solution for Baltimore's shortstop vacancy. Now, he may still be a reasonably prices option after arbitration but the Orioles will have to work out a deal with the Twins to make it happen.

Adrian Gonzalez traded to Boston: Much sturm und drang among Oriole fans when this deal went down. But I went over the prospects the Red Sox sent to San Diego and Baltimore could not match it. For prospects, it would have started with Zach Britton and Xavier Avery. Then they would have had to throw in some major league talent to sweeten the pot, probably Brian Matusz or Adam Jones plus a couple bullpen arms or Jake Arrieta. That's the minimum. The team is just not deep enough in talent to put together a package like Boston did. And if they did, the team would be so gutted of talent, Gonzalez probably wouldn't want to sign an extension anyway.  It was never in the cards for the O's and Gonzalez, not this offseason.

However, with Gonzalez in Boston, Kevin Youkilis will move over to third base. The Sox now have no need for free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. With Oakland removing themselves from the pool of Beltre suitors, that basically leaves the Angels and the Orioles as viable destinations. Beltre is a guy worth overpaying for. I stumped for him last offseason and the argument still holds up:

Beltre will only be 31 (now 32) next season and while he has flaws as a hitter, his glove more than makes up for it.

He has good power but he's a free swinger (although his walk rate is better in recent years than when he came up). His home/away splits for his career lean heavily toward the road since he has made his home in Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field for his entire career. His OPS is nearly 100 points higher on the road.

He would be an extremely dangerous hitter in OPACY and as long as he's healthy going into the 2010 (now 2011) season, I wouldn't have an issue with a 4 year contract for him. I probably wouldn't be upset with a longer deal either.

Good power, great glove. It works.

I would have some slight trepidation about a deal longer than 4 seasons now and anything past 5 would put the contract in the Jayson Werth range as far as risk. But the Orioles should go hard and see what it would take to get him to Camden Yards.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Baltimore Would Be Better Off Without Paul Konerko

From Dan Connolly's post in the Baltimore Sun's Oriole Insider blog, regarding Paul Konerko and the aggressive offer the Baltimore Orioles are reported to have made:

That said, the Orioles really could use Konerko. He fills several needs: a legitimate power hitter who plays first base, bats right-handed and brings winning experience and a veteran presence. He is one of the more well-respected professionals in the game.

Yes, he’ll be 35 and people have been waiting for his body to break down or his skills to erode for a few years now. And there’s a concern that his huge 2010 – which included 39 homers, 111 RBIs, a .312 batting average and career highs in on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.584) – was the product of a walk year and that he’s setting up his next team for an expensive fall.

But the Orioles have little choice. Their perfect free agent first baseman – Victor Martinez – is off the board and the other candidates are left-handed hitters, flawed or both.

That first paragraph, I have no issue with. Konerko would be an excellent addition to the Oriole lineup...if this were fantasy baseball. But this is real baseball and you have to account for the contract it will take to get Konerko to Baltimore.

There have been no details about the offer the Orioles made but I think we can make a few assumptions. Konerko just came off a contract where he was making $12 million per season. Anyone think he will leave the White Sox for a pay cut? Doubtful. Does anyone think the Orioles can lure him to Baltimore on a 2-year deal? A 3-year deal? I think the club will have to offer him at least a 4-year deal. So the 4-year, $48 mil offer they made to Victor Martinez seems to be a good jumping off point for Konerko. If anyone thinks we can sign him for less, please let me know.

So, should the Orioles offer this kind of money to Paul Konerko? Well, Konerko is a 34-year old first baseman coming off his career year. Yes, the stats for 2010 were fantastic (a .977 OPS in addition to all the stats Connolly recounted) but those were the best numbers he has ever put up by a good margin. Who wants to wager that he will put up those numbers again during his age 35-38 seasons? Not I.

Much of Konerko's season was fueled by a career-high BABIP (one that is not supported by his Line Drive percentage) and I think it's safe to assume that the composite of the previous three seasons (2007-2009) are a better indicator of what he will look like going forward. Top performances in terms of OPS+ from 2007-2009 for 1B/DH types:

    2007-2009         OPS+
1.  Pujols            178
2.  Fielder           151
3.  Teixeira          147
4.  Pena              145
5.  Berkman           143
6.  Gonzalez          142
16. Matsui            119
17. LaRoche           117
18. Butler            111
19. Konerko           111
20. Loney             110

There's Konerko, way down there with the 111 OPS+, under Adam LaRoche.

Guess who else isn't on this list (because he was a LF during much of this span)? Luke Scott who had a 114 OPS+.

So there's Adam LaRoche again, a player who could match Konerko's production over the next four years but would be available for less years and less money. Anybody think the Orioles need to give him $48 mil? How about extending Scott with that deal? And wouldn't you have to think twice about giving that kind of cash to Carlos Pena as well?

Konerko's going to be 35. He's due for a big decline over the course of a 4-year deal. And his 31-33 seasons were no great shakes to begin with. He has just come off his best season by far.

In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!"

Giving Konerko a contract as I described would be a disaster at worst and a huge overpay for a slightly above average player at best.

But Connolly (and a lot of fans) think it's a disaster the Orioles have no choice but to walk right into. Why? Why should the Orioles do something that will be to the ultimate detriment of the team. They don't have to do this. There are other options that are good bets to produce like Konerko but come at far less financial risk. LaRoche is one. Derrek Lee is another. Adam Dunn is still another, given the talent gap between the two. (Yes, Dunn is a better player than Konerko...)

This is not the Konerko of 2005. Not even the Konerko of 2000. This is a soon-to-be 35-year old first baseman coming of a season we will never reproduce and heading for an age induced decline. Don't believe the hype and hope we dodge another bullet.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Crystal Ball 2011: Matt Albers

Just ahead of the Thursday night deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players, I thought I should take my first (and possibly last) look through the Crystal Ball at Oriole reliever Matt Albers. Before the 2010 season, I was still a supporter of Albers. I loved his stuff and thought he would eventually learn to control it. I was wrong. After a horrid April, I was the last one left to leap from the Albers bandwagon.

However, it would be wrong to think that Albers didn't do some good things over the last three seasons. Here's some of his stats from

Season     W   L   G    IP    K/9    BB/9   HR/9   BABIP   GB%    HR/FB   ERA   FIP   xFIP
2008       3   3   28   49.0  4.78   4.04   0.73   .258   53.2 %  7.5 %   3.49  4.60  5.02
2009       3   6   56   67.0  6.58   4.84   0.40   .355   48.4 %  4.5 %   5.51  3.92  4.70
2010       5   3   62   75.2  5.83   4.04   0.71   .305   56.5 %  8.7 %   4.52  4.24  4.46

As you can see, his FIP was respectable and his xFIP was the best of his career. The ground ball rate is very good thanks to his sinking fastball. The peripherals are generally good.

However, his walk rate continues to be above 4.00 BB/9 which is not good. You need to strikeout 8 or 9 per 9 innings to make that work.

His Pitch F/X numbers show that he's added a pitch back to his repertoire. The slider.

Season  FB             SL            CB
2008    76.7% (91.1)                 22.6% (78.0) 
2009    75.1% (92.8)                 24.3% (79.2)  
2010    73.0% (92.5)   10.9% (85.6)  16.0% (79.0)

And the fact that he throws three pitches instead of two may make the difference for him going forward. Again, his fastball still pops and sinks, he gets good movement on his slider and his curve.

But he can't throw strikes. And there's no evidence that he ever will.

You can't offer Albers arbitration. You've got to cut him loose and see if you can bring him back at what he made last season, let him try to win a job in Spring Training. It's a risk and the Oriole bullpen depth isn't enough that you can just let him go without mulling it over but you can't pay him close to $1 mil to stay.