Thursday, March 31, 2011

19th Century Nicknames for 21st Century Orioles

I ran across this link on The 19th-Century Baltimore Orioles Nickname Generator. And it was funny. For a minute or two. But it started repeating itself in short order. With all the "real" nicknames available from that colorful era, this was the best they could do?

So I decided to give my own nicknames to the current Baltimore Oriole roster. I used actual nicknames that were given to players who played for Baltimore teams prior to 1900 and tried to assign them as best I could. Here's what I came up with.

C "Medicine Matt" Wieters - I have no idea what this means but it's pretty bad ass. And Wieters could use a little of that in his game. "Rounding third and heading for home? Matt is waiting at the plate with your medicine..."

1B "Scoops" Lee - As a first baseman known for his good defense, Scoops seemed like a good name for a guy who can pick 'em out of the dirt. And Lee seems to be a likable guy and who wouldn't like a guy named "Scoops"?

2B "Dandy Brian" Roberts - A name given freely to players with boyish good looks, this seemed pretty appropriate for the diminutive but dreamy Roberts. And it rhymes with "dandelion"

SS "Dimples" Hardy - No, really. Google image him. He has them.

3B "Blondie" Reynolds - He had to trim his locks a bit but it still works for the fair-haired Reynolds.

RF "Rip" Markakis - I had a hard time with Nick but Rip seemed appropriate for a guy who laces line drives all over the park. And it sounds good with his last name.

CF "Phenomenal" Jones - I have a feeling he'd like this name a lot. He's the most outgoing and flashy of the current crew. And it works well for a center fielder.

LF "Bloody Luke" Scott - Do I really have to elaborate?

DH "Papa" Guerrero - "Pa" was a common name given to elder players in the 1800's. "Papa" gives it a Spanish translation for the veteran slugger.

C "Boileryard" Fox - Doesn't Jake look like a dock worker or a pipefitter, something of that ilk? It fits.

IF "Stubby" Izturis - A name for players who are vertically challenged. Izzy's not that short really but it made me chuckle.

OF "Smiling Felix" Pie - Have you ever watched a game where this guy doesn't flash his dynamite smile? It was made for him.

IF "Sleepy Robert" Andino - Because sometimes he goes to sleep on the basepaths. Or in the field.

SP "Doc" Guthrie - These are starting to sound like names for dwarves now. "Doc" was often given to college guys who played the unrefined game of base. Guthrie is a veteran twirler who went to Stanford. And he's kind of cerebral on the mound. Close enough.

SP "Big Brian" or "Moose" Matusz - Brian needs a name with some intimidation factor. He is 6'4" so "Big" seemed good enough. I love "Moose" but, obviously, it conjures up memories of Mike Mussina. Couldn't decide so I listed both.

SP "Kid" Tillman - He made his MLB debut at 21 so it definitely applies. And doesn't it kind of make him sound sort of lovable and an outlaw at the same time? "Another perfect inning for Kid Tillman!"

SP "The Apollo of the Box" (Jake Arrieta) - This one requires a bit of explanation. Tony Mullane was a 19th century hurler who was ambidextrous. But he also was known for having the classic good looks of a Greek god. If fact, Mullane was so handsome that teams would ensure that he pitched on Ladies' Day promotions just to drum up more business. According to an informal poll on Twitter, the ladies love Jake Arrieta's "movie star" looks. And they both have/had moustaches. Done.

SP "Vinegar Brad" Bergesen - Some of the pitching staff needs a bit of edge, a hint of danger, some intimidation factor injected into their image. Again, I have no idea what it means but I might think twice about digging in against "Vinegar Brad".

RP "Lefty" Gonzalez - It's so simple and obvious but while I have had my doubts about Mike Gonzalez, Lefty Gonzalez sounds like a guy I HAVE to have on my team.

RP "Dirty Jim" Johnson - Again, the intimidation factor is high with this one. "Uh oh, Showalter's going to  the mound and he's calling "Dirty Jim" in from the bullpen!" It worked for The Nasty Boys.

RP "Chippy" Accardo - He might throw one in at your hands. Sounds like he's itching for a fight.

RP "Tricky Jason" Berken - You could shorten this to "Tricky J" for a more modern flair. Sounds like a crafty junkballer.

RP "Buttercup" Rupe - Because somebody was getting that one.

RP "Osaka" Uehara - Lots of nicknames were assigned based on the players' place of birth. Jersey. Texas. Or my favorite, Egyptian Healey. Koji was born in Osaka and now he sounds like a villian from Kill Bill.

RP "Jumbo" Gregg - Gregg is 6'6" and 240 lbs. The name "Jumbo" was given to players of far slighter build back in the olden days.

Think any will stick?

Fearless Predictions - Baltimore Orioles 2011

Looking at these predictions, they seem way less fearless than really obvious. At least some of them. But here they are anyway...

If Brian Roberts plays in 130 games, I'm going with 80 wins. If he ends up on the DL, 76 wins.

Zach Britton wins the AL Rookie of the Year. Yeah, Jeremy Hellickson is the odds on favorite but I think Britton comes up on the outside and catches him.

Adam Jones breaks out this season. A mild breakout, something like a .295/.340/.450. 20 home runs. But a breakout nonetheless.

I can't predict playing time but Nolan Reimold will finish the season with a higher OPS than Vladimir Guerrero. So will Luke Scott.

Jeremy Guthrie will, once again, have an ERA lower than his FIP. Probably significantly so.

Nick Markakis will hit 40 doubles. Again. Also will have at least a .360 OBP.

Matt Wieters hits 15 home runs. Anything else he does is anybody's guess.

Luke Scott will OPS north of .850.

Josh Rupe doesn't see May 15th in Baltimore. He sees it from Norfolk.

Zach Britton is in Baltimore before May 15th.

JJ Hardy will be a fan favorite by June 1st.

Matt Albers will outperform most of the Oriole pen while pitching for Boston.

Mark Hendrickson ends up playing a large role in the Oriole season. Take that as you will.

Mark Reynolds hits 30 homers and has 200 Ks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Free Nolan Reimold

"Yeah, great to see you too...again..."
So signing Vlad Guerrero has, for the moment, done exactly what I said it would do waaaay back before the Orioles had even signed him:

Vlad's signing would push Scott 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.

Nolan Reimold came to camp this spring ready to play. He finally looked healthy and fully recovered from his Achilles surgery. He ran well, played better defense (passable anyway) and hit like crazy. He controlled the strike zone, hit for power and generally looked like the guy who was a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2009.

And where did that get him? Banished to the AAA Norfolk Tides...because there is no room for him on the roster.

The guy needs to play. Some have diminished his value and called Reimold "overrated". But Reimold OPS'ed .831 in 2009...which is the same level of offense that Nick Markakis has provided over his five year career. (And yes...I'm throwing out 2010. He wasn't healthy. Period.) It's nothing to sneeze at. And if he can do that again or even improve on it...well, that's something this team needs to know before 2012's free agent season.

And this is not to disparage Guerrero at all. It was the combination of signing Derrek Lee and Guerrero that caused this situation. One or the other would have been great. Signing them both causes a logjam at positions where the O's have a guy on the farm ready to step in.

I said it then and I'll keep saying it. Reimold should be getting big league at bats. Now.

And until he does....I consider him exiled to Norfolk.

Orioles Trim 3 More, Put Duchscherer on DL

The Orioles re-assigned RHP Zach Britton, IF Brendan Harris and C Craig Tatum to Norfolk today and placed oft-injured former All-Star Justin Duchscherer on the DL.

So the roster looks something like this.

The Infield:
1B Derrek Lee
2B Brian Roberts
SS JJ Hardy
3B Mark Reynolds
C Matt Wieters

This is as expected. Lee looks healthy now, as does Roberts. Hardy has hit well and looks great with the glove. Mark Reynolds looks like you would expect, at the plate and in the field and we are all just waiting for Matt Wieters to really hit although his defense has been sensational this spring.

The Outfield:
LF Luke Scott
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
DH Vlad Guerrero

Again, no surprises here. Everyone has looked pretty good this spring, even with Scott's slow start at the plate.

The Bench:
C Jake Fox
IF Cesar Izturis
IF Robert Andino
OF Felix Pie

Jake Fox had a hot spring and beats out Craig Tatum for the backup. Some seem to think that Tatum is a far superior defensive catcher than Fox. I have seen very little evidence of that. Just because a guy can't hit, it doesn't automatically make him a good defensive catcher (see Paul Bako, 2007).

Robert Andino and Cesar Izturis both make the club. This seems redundant but I suppose there is still real concern about Roberts' health. Andino has all the physical skills to be Izzy's equal in the field and at least his equal at the plate (low bar and all). But he doesn't hustle. Ever. If you've read this blog for any time at all, you know I do not call out guys on this lightly. But I've watched him at the major league level and in AAA for two seasons now. And he doesn't hustle. Ever. He is subject to defensive lapses, baserunning gaffes and just plain doggin' it at really bad times. Andino and Izturis will not both co-exist on this roster long term. One of them is going.

Pie is out of options and is a prototypical fourth outfielder. He sticks and should all season.

SP Jeremy Guthrie
SP Brian Matusz
SP Brad Bergesen
SP Jake Arrieta
SP Chris Tillman

Guthrie is the Opening Day starter yet again. Matusz seem to be ready to go for his Saturday start. We don't know about Bergesen yet. Arrieta and Tillman have backed into the rotation at this point but I'm glad they are there.

The Bullpen
RP Kevin Gregg
RP Koji Uehara
RP Michael Gonzalez
RP Josh Rupe
RP Jason Berken
RP Jim Johnson
RP Jeremy Accardo

Gregg looks like he's the closer with that big contract and all. Uehara is healthy again...for now. That's great...for now. Gonzalez still doesn't look like the guy I watched in Atlanta for two seasons. I thought they overpaid for him but I thought he'd be better than this. Berken looks fine and Johnson looks really, really good. Accardo, who I thought would be a slightly more expensive version of Matt Albers, has looked very good, throwing strikes and getting swinging strikes. Kudos to the Oriole scouting department for rescuing him from the Toronto farm system.

Josh Rupe made the team while Mark Hendrickson was released. Rupe didn't look so great this spring save for the ERA. Hendrickson is no great shakes but a useful middle reliever. I doubt very sincerely that Rupe will be even that. Hendrickson may decide to report to Norfolk and be called up when needed. But he will probably move on. This may be a blessing in disguise as younger arms in AAA get a shot at the Baltimore pen when Rupe inevitably flames out.

Rick Vandenhurk cleared waivers and will be in the starting rotation for Norfolk.

As for Nolan Reimold...we'll discuss that later...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jake Fox is Rude...Evidently

Faux pas to deep left!
From the Oriole Insider blog at

The Orioles had runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth inning today when Fox came to the plate against Tigers minor leaguer Chance Ruffin. The most important aspect of this story is the score was 13-3 at the time, and both teams had subbed out most of their regulars. Ruffin started the at-bat with three straight balls, but Fox decided to take a rip at a 3-0 pitch in a clear take situation.

It certainly qualified as a breach of baseball etiquette. Swinging 3-0 in a 10-run game with no outs in the eighth inning with a minor league pitcher on the mound is a decent way to make sure you get a fastball in the ribs in your next at-bat. The average fan may not think it was a big deal but Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Tigers manager Jim Leyland certainly did.

I'll never fully understand this but...what exactly is the big deal here? If Buck Showalter had the take sign on or had VERY SPECIFICALLY told Fox to start taking on 3-0 this spring, that's fine. Ignoring your manger is worthy of his scorn.

But this doesn't appear to be the case. Both managers were angry and it seemed to be a simple breach of "baseball etiquette".

But would it have been OK if he swung away at 2-0? 3-1? Swung at the first pitch? Which is it, really? And what would be the difference? And isn't this a spring game? What's the big deal?

"Oh man, you never played the game. You wouldn't understand." Well, I've watched plenty. And when I was watching this 30-3 gem the Rangers put on us....NOBODY STOPPED SWINGING! They scored 16 of those 30 runs in the 8th and 9th innings! They swung away like Merrill!

What did Tigers manager Jim Leyland think about the situation?

“Look, once and for all, it’s not going to affect the team at all. All these people are going to get dramatic about this (expletive), it’s not going to affect this team one bit. Trust me. That’s all reading material. Everybody gets all upset, gets real dramatic ..."

Oh wait...he wasn't talking about Jake Fox swinging at a 3-0 pitch. He was talking about his starting first baseman getting arrested for driving while fall-down drunk! So excuse me if I don't trust HIS sense of perspective! Perhaps Fox could have been forgiven for swinging at a 3-0 pitch....IF HE WAS REALLY, REALLY DRUNK!

(pant, pant, pant)

I mean, really. Screw that noise.

The Oriole Rotation Suddenly in Limbo

Brian Matusz was hit by a line drive in today's simulated game and his status for Saturday's start is in jeopardy.

Brad Bergesen was struck in a similar fashion last week, albeit worse, by all reports.

That leaves Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton as the only completely healthy starters just three days from Opening Day.

Justin Duchscherer is not due back until April 21st at the earliest. The situations for Matusz and Bergesen remain more cloudy. It is not known if either will be ready for their respective starts on Saturday and Sunday.

The fates seem to be conspiring to give Chris Tillman a spot in the rotation. Eliminating Zach Britton from the conversation (if Britton is sent to Norfolk, it won't be due to performance), Tillman has the lowest ERA of the spring and a quick calculation of FIP shows he has the second lowest FIP (4.29) behind Bergesen (4.20).

But Tillman, seemingly, wasn't given a real fair shake coming into Spring Training. He was behind Jake Arrieta in the competition for the rotation from the beginning. And even though he outpitched nearly everybody else, the organization was tyring to find any way to send him back to Norfolk. With Bergesen, Matusz and Duchscherer banged up (to varying degrees), Tillman may sneak into the rotation and get his shot after all.

The team does not need a fifth starter until April 10th. But Matusz and Bergesen would both have to be healthy to push Tillman to Norfolk. Tillman's going north. And he'd better take advantage of the situation if he wants to stay there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Orioles Cut 8; Nolan Reimold and Mark Hendrickson Among Cuts

From the Official Oriole press release:



            The Orioles today announced eight spring training roster cuts, bringing their spring roster to 30 players.

            The Orioles optioned OF NOLAN REIMOLD to Triple-A Norfolk and OF RANDY WINN asked for, and was granted, his unconditional release.

            Non-roster invitees LHP CLAY RAPADA, LHP MARK HENDRICKSON, RHP DAVID RISKE, RHP RYAN DRESE, RHP PAT EGAN and INF NICK GREEN have been assigned to minor league camp.

            With the moves, the Orioles have 30 players in camp including 15 pitchers (one non-roster invitee), five outfielders, seven infielders (one non-roster invitees) and three catchers.

            The Orioles have 39 players on their 40-man major league roster, with 28 of them remaining in camp.

More on these cuts later...

Can Kevin Millwood Win in New York?

So I saw this exchange on Twitter on Friday...

Then about the same time, Craw of Camden Depot had left a comment on my "What is Curt Schilling had remained an Oriole?" post directing me to Jeff Zimmerman's post on FanGraphs about a formula he had devised for extimating wins based on ERA and run support. I put the formula into an Excel spreadsheet and decided to find out who was right. Could Kevin Millwood win 15 games for the Yankees this season?
Projected Winning % = 0.112(Run Support)-0.105(ERA)+0.446
with an R-squared = 0.827

Projected Wins = 0.7 * Games Started * Projected Winning %

I took Millwood's ERA from last season, gave him the same number of starts and gave him the Yankee run support (5.3 r/g) from last season. That netted 10.9 wins which we can round up to 11. However, Millwood pitched better than his ERA would indicate last season when you examine his FIP and xFIP numbers. 

His xFIP was 4.66 and since his Marcel projections put him at 4.68 this season, that seemed like a reasonable assumption to make. Plugging in a 4.66 ERA over 31 starts with the 5.3 runs per game of support gives him 12 wins (11.9).

But what if the Yankees score more? Two seasons ago, the Yanks scored 5.6 runs per game. Using that number with the 4.66 ERA, that gives him 13 wins.

Now, while all this shows that Millwood would fall short, if I plug CC Sabathia's numbers into the calculations, he should have only won 17 games. He actually won 21. That Yankee offense could bring a couple extra wins. That would be 15 wins for Millwood, if everything broke just right.

Millwood's ERA by month for 2010:

April      3.38
May        4.29
June       8.82
July      10.66
August     3.54
September  3.82

It's one thing to go through a rough patch for a last place team like the Orioles. One has to wonder if Millwood would get the chance to make 31 starts for the Yankees if he hit a similar rough patch. Since he's starting the season in AAA, that makes the odds of getting 30 or more starts even less likely.

So, if Millwood is able to pitch as well as he did last season AND it actually shows up in his ERA AND the Yankee offense performs a little bit better than it did last year AND he gets 31 or more starts AND he gets a little luck...he could win 15 for the Yankees this season. But it seems pretty unlikely.

However, I do think he will surprise a bit and provide quality innings for New York this season. And double digit wins are a definite possibility.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This Week in Chat - 3/26/11

Various Oriole related opinions from various chat sessions around the web:

David Shoenfield, ESPN

Matt (Charlotte)
Between Brian Matsuz, Zach Britton & Jake Arrieta, which one do you see as having the better 2011 season for the Orioles?

David Schoenfield (3:15 PM)
Definitely Matusz. His numbers once Showalter took over last year were very, very good.

David Schoenfield (3:15 PM)
Our scouting/minor league guru Keith Law LOVES Britton, by the way. That could be a really nice 1-2 lefty combo for the O's in a couple years.

Jim Callis, Baseball America

Chris (S.I.N.Y): Who makes the biggest impact in the big leagues this season. Gibson, Drabek, Pineda, Britton, McGee or Banuales?

Jim Callis: I think Gibson. Britton may be the best prepared to succeed right now, but he's on a bad team. Banuelos is intriguing, but the Yankees are going to limit him to 140 or so innings, so he may not get a ton of big league starts.

Jonah Keri, FanGraphs

[Comment From Lost in Europe]
When does Britton get a shot with the big club?
Jonah Keri: I think he's up this season. Could see June/July, to avoid Super 2 status. Love heavy-GB pitchers.

Frankie Pilere, FanGraphs

[Comment From Mozelles]
What team is this years Padres?

Frankie Piliere: They aren't going to compete seriously for a playoff spot because of the division but the Orioles are going to be at least a very difficult spoiler this year.

[Comment From Luke]
Percentage chance of Rendon or Cole being available to the Orioles at #4????

Frankie Piliere: 20%. Arbitrary number probably

Dave Cameron, FanGraphs

[Comment From Jay]
Thoughts on Erik Bedard this year?

Dave Cameron: He's basically impossible to project, right? He's healthy until he's not, and in general, there aren't any real warning signs with him. He pitches well, then comes off the mound and says his arm hurts. He's throwing really well in Arizona, but who knows what that actually means. His history says he can't be counted on for more than 100 innings, but who really knows, right?

[Comment From os]
Zach Britton's gonna be a beast - what's your opinion of him this year and long term?

Dave Cameron: I'm a sucker for high velocity ground ball guys, so Britton is one of the young arms that I'm pretty high on. I think he'll come up mid-summer and be one of the O's better pitchers pretty quickly.

[Comment From Prince Fielder]
do you see me eating crab cakes in Baltimore for the 2012 season?

Dave Cameron: Not unless they now have vegetarian crab.

[Comment From Prince Fielder]
Do you see me eating veggie subs in Baltimore for the 2012 season?

Dave Cameron: Certainly possible. I'd put Toronto in the mix as well.

Keith Law, ESPN

Mick (Colorado)
Hi KL,O's have targeted HS types in recent drafts, do you think they continue in that direction?

Klaw (3:29 PM)
I have heard they're more inclined to go college this year, although it's early and if the right college guy isn't there I'm sure they'll consider a HS guy. But at worst they'll have Jed Bradley, Hultzen, Gray, and Jungmann all staring them in the face.

Steve (NYC)
You like Travis Snider to bust out this year? 275/350/500 with 30 bombs unreasonable?

Klaw (3:35 PM)
I had Snider, Justin Upton, Wieters, and Bruce all on my breakouts list last year. So, 1) the list sucked and 2) I still like all four guys. (Bruce did break out in the second half, a level I think he'll continue to achieve.)

John (New Brunswick, NJ)
Is Jake Fox legit? Seems like he has the underlying skills, just needs the PT.

Klaw (3:56 PM)
No, PT will be held down by his limited bat.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Training Updates: Week 4

Things are wrapping up in Sarasota. With a week to go until Opening Day, decisions will need to be made this week. Let's see where things stand.

Before the season I listed 5 things to watch:

1. Pie versus Reimold - Heading into the final week, Felix Pie is hitting .229/.240/.333 with a homer, two doubles, a walk and two strikeouts. Nolan Reimold is hitting .298/.431/.489 with 2 homers, 3 doubles, 10 walks and 7 strikeouts. It all depends on what the Orioles value at this point...Reimold's superior bat or Pie glove and defensive versatility.

Derrek Lee may not be ready for Opening Day. But he will be soon and the Orioles will have to make a tough choice since Pie has no more options.

2. Chris Tillman versus Jake Arrieta - Arreita has a 5.79 ERA, Tillman has a 3.55 ERA. However, Tillman's peripherals no longer are better (0 HR, 7 K, 5BB) than Arrieta's (3 HR, 14 K, 7 BB). You have to give the nod to Arrieta, ERA's aside. Justin Duchscherer is now slated to return on April 21st at the earliest. Tillman and Arrieta should both start the season in the rotation although Baltimore won't need a 5th starter until April 10th.

3. Brian Roberts Rebound - He's back and he looks good. Keep your fingers crossed that he stays that way.

4. The Battle for the Backup Backstop - Unless Buck Showalter doesn't think Jake Fox can catch well enough, this battle is over. Fox is hitting .328/.339/.836 and leading all of baseball with 8 homers this spring. Predictably, he has cooled a bit lately but should still make the club

There is still talk that the team may keep Fox and Tatum on the roster but I find that unlikely. With Roberts' injury concerns, I would imagine that the Orioles would carry and extra middle infielder rather than a catcher. And if you're going to keep an extraneous player on the roster, I;d rather see Pie and Reimold on the bench than Tatum and Fox.

5. Who's the Backup Middle Infielder? - Cesar Izturis still probably has the job by default at this point giventhe contract the Orioles gave him. I don't think that it will happen but Brendan Harris and Robert Andino have hit well enough lately that they could release Izzy and give one of them the job. Probably not but it is conceivable.

Further developments: Jeremy Guthrie has been named the Opening Day starter...Zach Britton continues to be impressive and he remains in major league camp after the most recent round of cuts...RP Pat Egan has been returned to the Orioles from the Brewers and will be assigned to Norfolk. Egan was selected by the Brewers in the Rule 5 draft. I like Egan and think he will appear out of the Baltimore bullpen sometime this season...Rule 5 pick Adrian Rosario was returned to the Brewers...I like what I'm seeing out of Matt Wieters at the plate. He seems less tentative and has a plan for each at bat. When he's taking, he's taking, when he's swinging he's being aggressive and swinging hard...Looks like the bullpen will consist of Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Jason Berken, Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo, Mark Hendrickson and Josh Rupe. But that's just my guess...Josh Bell was sent to minor league camp and told the team wants him to play third everyday...RHP Pedro Beato has a 3.72 ERA for the Mets this spring and the word is that he will make the team.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Psychological Warfare of Buck Showalter

I didn't write about this when I originally saw it just because it seemed to be such a non-story. But Buck Showalter's comments in the April issue of Men's Journal seem to have caused shockwaves through the Evil Empires.

"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll," he said. "You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?'?"...
"The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout," Showalter told the magazine. "Our guys are thinking, 'Wow, he's screaming at Derek Jeter.' Well, he's always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets -- and yes, he [ticks] me off."
Showalter has taken a lot of psychological tactics since coming to the team. He has let the team know last season that nobody is assured a job in Baltimore for 2011. Even in Spring Training, he will not commit to Jake Fox as the backup catcher, even in the face of 8 homers. Similarly, Zach Britton is almost assuredly going to Norfolk but Buck seems like he wants to keep him in camp as long as possible...perhaps to send a message to the other three young starters that nothing is decided yet.
Beyond that, his gamesmanship has been showing as well. The comments above poking the division Goliaths. His practice of not throwing Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman against division rivals in Spring Training. 
Who knows if any of these tactics will have the desired effect? But he's trying to change the mindset in Baltimore. And that can't be bad in the long run.
"Let's face it," Showalter told the Bergen Record, "I know where we sit [in the East]. I just want my players to know it's not hopeless. That's the main thing I'm trying to do here. How is it going to pan out? We'll just have to see."
If it ruffles some Yankee and Red Sox feathers in the process, all the better.

What If...Curt Schilling Had Remained an Oriole?

"No, Mr. Schilling. Thank YOU for YOUR service!"
It's a pretty slow day for Oriole news. Cuts are coming but really we are just waiting for Opening Day and spinning our wheels watching what now seem to be meaningless Spring Training contests. And the mind starts to wander...

So...what would've happened if, magically, the Orioles would have kept Curt Schilling instead of trading him to the Astros in 1990?

I used Baseball Refererce's "Neutralized Pitching" Tool. You can learn the particulars here but it allows me to go through, year by year, and adjust Schilling's numbers as he has to pitch in the American League with Memorial Stadium/Camden Yards as his home ballpark. How would that have looked?

It could have looked something like this. The years highlighted in yellow are his post-Oriole years adjusted by the Neutralized Pitching tool for a fictional Oriole career:

A few observations...

First, Schilling would have won much more than he shows here from 1996-1999 when the Oriole offenses were well above average (The tool provides for league average run support...) but that would be evened out by the mediocre offenses of the early 90's and early 2000's so the career win totals would not be affected that much.

Second, who would've liked Baltimore's chances in the playoffs in '96 with Mike Mussina and Schilling at the top of the rotation? Better yet, how about a rotation of Schilling, Mussina, Jimmy Key and Scott Erickson in 1997? It would have been a thing of beauty.

Curt's career numbers in real life and Oriole life:

               W     L     ERA   K   BB   HR   
Reality Curt  216   146   3.46 3116 711  347   
Oriole Curt   205   135   3.65 3024 724  350

Pitching the bulk of his career in the AL would have diminished his overall stats a little but they are still pretty close. And there is a chance that (gasp!) he could have won back to back World Series titles with the Orioles in '96 and '97.

It's fun to dream...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No Ivy at Camden Yards?

Damn you, Phytophthora!
Say it ain't so!

With less than two weeks to go before Opening Day, the Orioles have already suffered the first loss of the season. The score: Mother Nature 1, the ivy at Camden Yards 0.

The ivy that grows up the wall beyond centerfield at Oriole Park, and contributes to its widely imitated retro feel, was attacked by a soil-borne pathogen and had to be pulled out earlier this month, said Nicole Sherry, the head groundskeeper.

"It broke my heart to tear it down," Sherry said Tuesday. "I know how much it means to the fans, and it was sad to see it go."

The batter's eye will get a fresh coat of green paint before the season and Sherry plans to replant the ivy later this year. So hopefully, this is just temporary.

The "bricks and ivy" was yet another nod to the old ballparks (specifically Wrigley Field) when OPACY was constructed and I hope they find a way to make it work again. The park wouldn't be the same without it.

Mike Bordick is an Oriole Hall of Famer; Matt Palmer Doesn't Like It One Bit

Yet another double play turned...ho-hum...
Mike Bordick was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame last week. I was sketching out a post about Bordick and his Oriole career when I saw this article by CSN's Matt Palmer (h/t to Camden Chat for the link.)

When it came to 1990s defensive shortstops, few were better than Mike Bordick...

And, yet, when the Orioles announced he had been elected him to the team's Hall of Fame, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The committee that chooses the Hall of Fame inductees is made up of Oriole Advocate members, front office personnel, media members and members of the Orioles Hall of Fame. Those elected must get at least 60 percent of the votes cast.

Knowing all the people that would be involved in such a vote, it's surprising Bordick was elected.

I don't know. I wasn't that shocked. There are no specific criteria published on the the Oriole Advocate website so we are left to examine the list of players who are already there and draw our own conclusions about what kind of player would merit selection into the Orioles Hall of Fame. Given the list of players who have been inducted, it is not exclusively a hall based on outstanding offensive numbers alone.

The list of players in the Orioles Hall of Fame ordered by WAR and compiled through the Play Index:

Cal Ripken, Jr. 89.9
Brooks Robinson 69.1
Jim Palmer 63.5
Eddie Murray 54.8
Boog Powell 35.9
Frank Robinson 34.4
Paul Blair 32.7
Mark Belanger  32.6
Bobby Grich 32.6
Brady Anderson 30.8
Ken Singleton 29.4
Chris Hoiles 23.4
Al Bumbry 22.3
Dave McNally  22.1
Doug DeCinces 21.3
Rick Dempsey 20.3
Mike Flanagan 20.2
Milt Pappas 19.9
Don Buford 19.0
Davey Johnson 17.6
Scott McGregor 17.5
B.J. Surhoff 16.7
Mike Boddicker 15.9
Mike Cuellar  15.9
Steve Barber  15.6
Jim Gentile 15.4
Hoyt Wilhelm  14.7
Luis Aparicio 14.5
Mike Bordick 13.1
Gregg Olson 12.8
Hal Brown 12.6
Gus Triandos 12.3
Stu Miller 9.4
Dick Hall 8.7
Harold Baines 8.5
Gene Woodling  8.4
Dennis Martinez 8.2
Tippy Martinez 6.3
Elrod Hendricks 6.2
Eddie Watt 5.1
Lee May         2.5
Billy Hunter   -1.4

Bordick is hardly the worst choice if you want to judge a player by his play on the field. And he is hardly lowering the standards. His bat was not great but he was a superior defender for several seasons.

Reportedly, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar did not get enough votes, but both were on the ballot. Say what you will about Palmeiro's turbulent final year in Baltimore, but he contributed far more to the organization during his time than Bordick. Even though Alomar played just three seasons, the minimum number allowed to be eligible, he also contributed mightily offensively and defensively during his time with the Orioles, which included two postseason runs and the best Orioles teams since 1983.

Rafael Palmeiro belongs...but again, I really don't know the criteria. I am guessing that, like the regular Hall of Fame, Palmeiro is being punished on moral grounds surrounding his use (or perceived use) of steroids and lying (or perceived lying) to Congress about it. That's problematic for any team at this point and he will likely have to wait awhile.

Roberto Alomar would be a fine induction as well. But he did only spend three seasons as an Oriole and had that nasty spitting incident. He will probably also get in at some point but given his short time in Baltimore, I'm not that surprised. And wasn't Bordick on that '97 team with Alomar? How come Bordick doesn't get some credit for that too?

He batted .260 lifetime and with the Orioles. The one season in which he made an All-Star game wearing orange and black was 2000, when he batted .297 during the first 100 games of the season. He was then traded to the Mets, but returned to Baltimore the next season. 
He clearly found a home in Maryland and an organization where he was comfortable.

But he was never great beyond his fielding.

Well, yeah, that's true. But look at that list. Mark Belanger, Luis Aparicio, Elrod Hendricks, Gus Trianados, Rick Dempsey...there are a lot of guys in the OHoF who were great with the glove and light with the bat.

And the last time I checked, fielding still matters in baseball. Bordick had three of the greatest fielding seasons in Oriole history and was always very, very good. Harold Baines or Lee May were not penalized for being one-dimensional offensive players. Neither should Bordick be seen as sub par baseball player.

Palmer is really hung up on Bordick's bat but you have to know that his bat was never what made him great. If Bordick is considered OHoF worthy, it would absolutely have to be on the strength of his glove, not his offensive prowess. Palmer can't be surprised at that.

Rarely was he a player fans flocked to see. If they did notice him, they went home saying, "You know, that Bordick's a solid player."

That really defines Bordick's career. Solid. That's not meant to diminish his incredible play at shortstop, a grueling position in a marathon sport. 
But, as the team has struggled in recent years, players who had "pretty good" careers with the team are now next to greats such as Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver and Eddie Murray. Granted, not every player is going to rise to that level. 
But, it should be harder to get in the door.

And Palmer is really hung up on the notion that the OHoF is just for players who were the caliber of Ripken, Palmer and Murray. But it's not and never has been. Eddie Watt. Dennis Martinez. Lee May. B.J. Surhoff. Gene Woodling. Stu Miler. Scott McGregor. A bunch of guys are already there who could be described as "solid". You can feel that it should be harder to get in the door but you'd have to kick at least a few of these guys out in the process.

As currently constructed, Bordick belongs in the OHoF. And if you don't think he does, well, you ARE diminishing his incredible play at short.

Actually, Palmer listed the six Oriole players who have their numbers retired by the club in that last paragraph. Do you think he is confused? Do you think he believes they are retiring Bordick's number?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adam Jones: Fashion Plate

"Damn low and away pitch got me again!"
I couldn't resist this...

Turns out Adam Jones is a featured model for a clothing line called Five Four Clothing:

Five Four’s new campaign features MLB All-Star Adam Jones from the Baltimore Orioles. Adam and Dee have become good friends over the years and Adam was a natural fit for what we wanted to convey in our next campaign. Adam Jones is the quintessential Five Four modern gentleman; he is hard working, motivated, stylish and passionate about his career. He has achieved a high level of success at a young age and is someone that Five Four proudly associates with its brand.

That's nice and all but why was Adam wearing a Five Four shirt that says Los Angeles on it for the shoot?

There is a limited edition Five Four Baltimore shirt if you are interested.

And in the name of all that is holy, somebody needs to find out if the glove Adam uses on game days actually has "Mr. Brackin'" stitched on it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Derrek Lee Returns to Action...or Does He?

Not getting off on the right foot...
Derrek Lee made his Oriole debut on Saturday. Woo-hoo!

Lee said the plan all along called for him to get two at-bats. He'll get three tomorrow in Port Charlotte and take off Monday.

Lee sounds encouraged and figures to get enough at-bats to be ready for the April 1 opener.

"It feels great. I was happy. It wasn't an issue. I didn't feel it swinging. I kind of landed on it going for a ball and didn't feel it. I was happy with it," Lee said.

"It was two at-bats all the way, and three tomorrow...

All right. Lee's out there, swinging the bat, fantastic.

Wait. What?

First baseman Derrek Lee, who made his Orioles' debut yesterday and was supposed to play again today, is no longer in the lineup because of a sore left foot. Lee fouled a ball off his left foot during his first at-bat...

What the hell.

"Derrek goes home last night and [head athletic trainer Richie Bancells] called me and said, ‘We got a problem,’" (Buck) Showalter said, this morning. "He said that [Lee] was fine when he left here but he was sitting in a chair or whatever and he said, ‘Richie, this thing is killing me. [It] is throbbing, I don’t know what’s going on here. I’ve never had anything like this.’ I’m [saying], ‘perfect.’ Anyway, it was a long night. He went to get an X-ray and the X-ray had said everything looked OK with the exception of one spot the guy was concerned with. He had an MRI this morning at 8 o’clock, and we just got the results back and that’s clean. So we dodged a bullet there, it looks like."

Lee is scheduled to come back on Tuesday if the foot feels better. That will give him just about a week of Spring Training before the team heads north.

There is absolutely no reason to rush Lee. Luke Scott can slide in to play first, Nolan Reimold (who has had a great spring by the way) can play left and they can delay a decision on Felix Pie. Get him totally healthy and leave him in extended Spring Training.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Feature: Get Your Oriole Tickets on Dempsey's Army

When looking for ways to monetize this blog, I look for solutions that match my interests, are in sync with the subjects we cover here and will benefit my readers. I have no interest in online gambling, dating sites or discount drugs so I have a hard time taking money to hock those products and it is highly unlikely you will see those kinds of ads on my site.

But I do love Oriole baseball and I like getting the best price for my game tickets. That's where TiqIQ comes in.

TiqIQ is an aggregator that shows ticket prices from a number of vendors to help you get the best prices for the seats at the games you want to attend. There is a "ticket filter" to help you find the number of seats together at the price you are willing to spend. In addition, the interactive seating chart for Camden Yards allows you to see where the available tickets are as well as a virtual view from the seats.

Features and Benefits:

1. Aggregated Listings: They aggregate all major sellers in the market so you can find the best deal.

2. TiqZone Categorization: They break each venue up into TiqZones, which are groupings of sections that we’ve determined are comparable in value.

3. TiqIQ Statistics: They provide ticket-level buying intelligence through their IQ rating and TiqIQ Statistics.

4. E-Ticket Filter: Want tickets last minute? You can find all the available e-tickets so you can print your tickets from home or the office.

5. All-in Pricing Option: Before you complete your sale you'll be able to tell exactly how much your tickets will cost including all service and shipping fees.

Help a brother out. Especially if you like my coverage of the minors and Oriole prospects, check out this service and see if you like it. It can help you get your game day tickets and put some gas in my tank to get to Greenville or Gwinnett or down to Sarasota to cover the Gulf Coast League games this summer.

The widget will be on the left hand side of the blog all season. Give it a try.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In Defense of Jake Fox

Jake Fox stands next to Josh Bell to make his walk rate look better...
Kind of a funny title, isn't it?

After all, Jake Fox is leading the all of baseball with 7 home runs for spring training. The internet if filled with sportwriters singing his praises and fans are clamoring for him to make the roster as the backup catcher and, now, even a backup second baseman (!?!??).

However, two writers in the Oriole blogOsphere whose opinion I respect have been pretty derisive of The Fabulous Mr. Fox. Stacey and Andrew_G of Camden Chat hate, absolutely hate, the fact that Jake Fox does not walk much. Andrew summed it up thusly:

I think we need to dispell the myth of Jake Fox: decent bench bat.
The guy CANNOT get on base. His career year with the Cubs in ’09, he had a .311 on-base percentage. Two weeks of crushing Pirates Spring Training fastballs does not make him a viable bench bat.

There is no doubt that Fox is a free swinger. He has a mere 4.9% walk rate and chases balls outside the strike zone at a 42.0% rate for his major league career. He will never be a great hitter with those kind of peripherals.

However, his minor league numbers were a bit better than that. His walk rate over the last two years in the minors (covering AA and AAA seasons) was close to 8.5%. He may not approach that in the majors but he has a chance to improve and the projection systems think that he will.

But that's not where his value lies. He's a guy who hits for contact with enormous power. Outside of his unfortunate time in the Oakland Coliseum, he has an ISO well over .200 over the course of his brief major league career.

But there is a way to mask most of Fox's weaknesses as a hitter:

Split   G  PA  AB HR BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    vs RHP as RHB 114 277 252 15 14 60 .246 .296 .488 .784
    vs LHP as RHB  85 190 176  3  9 38 .222 .268 .330 .598

Fox should NEVER be allowed to hit against lefthanded pitchers. Ever. Even with his struggles since his graduation to the majors, Fox is a slightly better-than-league-average hitter and one with great power.

So his weakness against lefties can be masked in a part time role. And he would make a good bat of the bench late in a game. Why? Name a lefthanded closer in the American League. Well, there's one. The Athletics' Brian Fuentes and that's only if Andrew Bailey misses significant time with his recent injury. So I would have no problem with bringing up Fox to face any closer in the league.

So Fox has enormous power, can play the corner infield and corner outfield positions in addition to catcher, hits righties well and nearly all the closer in the game are righthanded pitchers.

Sounds like a pretty good backup catcher/bat of the bench to me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Training Updates: Week 3

The end of the third week of spring training games is upon us, so lets see how these position battles are shaking out.

Before the season I listed 5 things to watch:

1. Pie versus Reimold - Felix Pie is hitting .211/.231/.263 still with just the two doubles over 39 plate appearances with a walk and two strikeouts. Nolan Reimold is, quietly it seems, hitting .333/.458/.564 with 2 homers, 3 doubles, 8 walks and 5 strikeouts over 47 plate appearances. Reimold is lapping Pie at this point.

Until Derrek Lee actually plays a game, this is probably a moot point. But it would be a shame if Pie has to be exposed to waivers to give Reimold his shot this spring. Pie is a nice fourth outfielder at worst and could be pretty useful in that role. But he could get exposed to waivers...because the Orioles decided to pay Valdimir Guerrero $8 million for this season. We shall see...

2. Chris Tillman versus Jake Arrieta - Arreita has a 4.00 ERA, Tillman has a 3.55 ERA. However, Tillman's peripherals no longer are better (0 HR, 7 K, 5BB) than Arrieta's (1 HR, 8 K, 2 BB). But some other supporting numbers are. Tillman has a lower WHIP, has lower OBP against and alower SLG against. I said this battle would be decided by who shows the best control or woh had the better K/BB ratio and that's where Arrieta has the edge. But overall, they are pretty even still. I'm still not sure why Arrieta's spot in rotation seems to be a fait accompli while Tillman is viewed as being on the outside looking in.

3. Brian Roberts Rebound - We have not seen Roberts on the field since this time last week. His MRI showed nothing new but he seems no closer to action than he was last Friday.

4. The Battle for the Backup Backstop - Hey, let's face it. Unless Buck Showalter doesn't think Jake Fox can catch well enough, this battle is over. Fox is hitting .356/.370/.911 and leading all of baseball with 7 homers this spring. Given the potential in his bat and his versatility, he's the man.

Now, some people have derided Fox's lack of walks this spring (he has but one) but I am not very concerned about that. His minor league walk rates were OK and I expect them to be better during the season. He came into Spring Training on the bubble for this team. He probably figured he needed to make an impression and you don't make a big impression watching that fastball that may be a bit high in the zone. You get noticed by depositing that ball over the leftfield fence.

Conversely, Fox will be a decent backup and a nice bat off the bench. He is not a guy you want starting for you. His spring is fooling people that he is more valuable than he actually is. He is not going to hit like that during the season and he would be exposed if he was in the lineup everyday. He's a nice player, the kind that the Orioles should be picking up cheap and finding a spot for him. I like him a lot. But he's a backup. Not a starter. Calm down.

5. Who's the Backup Middle Infielder? - Nobody has hit. Cesar Izturis still probably has the job by default at this point. But if the coaching staff believes Izturis has lost what little offensive skills he had, don't be surprised if he is jettisoned and Brendan Harris or Robert Andino is given the job instead.

Further developments: Justin Duchscherer is a couple of days away from throwing again. Opening Day is a mere two weeks away. It's hard to imagine that he will be ready to go by then...Zach Britton has continued to be impressive. He is still likely to start the season in Norfolk since the Orioles have other options but he likely won't be there long...Kevin Gregg was tinkering with his mechanics and over two appearances, it was to poor results. He and new pitching coach Mark Connor are abandoning the experiment...Rule 5 pick Adrian Rosario has not made an appearance in more than a week and looks very unlikely to make the club. He will soon be returned to the Brewers unless the teams can work out a trade...RHP Pedro Beato has a 2,57 ERA for the Mets and is pitching OK. The Orioles might not get him back. RHP Pat Egan has a 0.00 ERA and hasn't given up a walk in 4 appearances for the Brewers. There's an outside chance the Orioles don't get him back either.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Couple International Prospects the Orioles DID Manage To Sign

Baseball America highlights a couple of international players the Orioles did manage to sign this summer (subscription only) while also reiterating that Baltimore seems to be continuing their trend of low activity in Latin America:

...(the Orioles) did set a franchise record for a Dominican signing bonus when they gave third baseman Hector Veloz $300,000 in July. Prior to July 2, Veloz tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol when he took a drug test as part of Major League Baseball's registration program for 40 of the top players in the Dominican Republic...

A 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthanded hitter, Veloz is a power bat who has been inconsistent against live pitching when he becomes pull-conscious, but he's shown well in games at other times. He's a tick above-average runner with solid hands and a slightly above-average arm.

Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, 17, was dominant last year in the Dominican Summer League, where he showed the ability to throw strikes, miss bats and get ground balls. He finished with a 2.33 ERA and a 62-28 K-BB mark in 65 2/3 innings. Rodriguez was a slender 6-foot-2, 175 pounds when he signed for $175,000 out of Venezuela last January, but he's slowly begun to fill out and add velocity. He now sits at 88-90 mph with tail and some sink, showing good command for his age. He mixes in a fringy slider and a changeup that could be average or better, as well as an occasional slow curve. He'll likely make his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this year.

Some video of Hector Veloz:

And a quick word on the Orioles' international efforts...

I completely get why the Orioles would pull back a bit from Latin America, especially the Dominican Republic. It's a dirty business. Corruption among scouts and agents dealing for these 16-year old's really seamy and a difficult path to navigate.

And given uncertainty of player's ages and the fact that steroids among these kids appears to be fairly common, if not rampant, forking over multi-million dollar bonuses is very, very risky, perhaps even prohibitively so.

But you don't have to spend tons of cash in bonuses to have a presence in Latin America or to successfully develop international talent. The Rockies and the Phillies, for example, rarely get involved in bidding for the top talent but develop from a pool of less expensive players and are really good at it. There is more than one way to achieve your goal; dollar figures alone are not the only measure of a team's international efforts.

I though the Orioles were on that path. They had increased their crop of international talent enough to field two Dominican Summer League teams last year and it looked like the Orioles were going to try to ape the Phillies success by stocking cheaper talent and trying to develop it themselves. That hope is gone now as Baltimore has pulled back to just one DSL team this summer and they appear to be pulling back further than ever from Latin America.

Signing players out of the DR is a dirty and highly risky business. But there is a happy medium to be struck. Hopefully, the Orioles are able to find one. But right now, not so much.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Justin Duchscherer's Spot in the Rotation "In Peril"

Although the Baltimore Sun reported that the Oriole got "good news" on the injury front, it actually seemed to be neutral at best. Buck Showalter said that Justin Duchscherer's chances of making the Opening Day roster were "in peril" and although they found nothing new from Duchschere's MRA yesterday, I'm not sure that's necessarily good news.

...(Brian Roberts and) Duchscherer, still struggling with his surgically repaired left hip, have seemingly been alternating good weeks and bad weeks all spring, and they'll remain shut down from extensive baseball activities for the next couple of days.

"With [Duchscherer] and Robby, there wasn't anything new going on there, but that doesn't mean everything is fine," Showalter said. "There are still some persistent things that have been a challenge for both of them."

So we should probably count Duch out for now, especially since before the MRA he told reporters that his hip "felt like it did last year before (he) had to have it operated on."

But that's not an altogether bad thing. I liked the Duchscherer signing for depth but I am beginning to believe that the team will be better off with Chris Tillman in that 5th spot to start the season anyway.

It was looking more and more like Jake Arrieta was going to win the battle for the final spot in the rotation this spring and that Tillman would be returned to Norfolk. But looking at Tillman 's AAA numbers show that there is little need for him to go back.

Lev    W  L W-L%  ERA  G CG SHO    IP   H HR BB  SO  WHIP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
AAA   19 13 .594 3.06 39  2   2 218.0 205 15 56 193 1.197  0.6  2.3  8.0  3.45

What else does the guy need to do down there? I keep hearing that Tillman should not be handed the job and he should heave to "earn" it. Putting together numbers like that in AAA at age 21 and 22 is more than enough to earn a spot in the rotation.

The Orioles need to put Tillman in the rotation and let him sink or swim. He needs MLB innings at this point, there is nothing left for him to prove in the minors.

And if his shot comes because of a Justin Duchscherer injury, so be it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dempsey's Army to Guest for MASN's Orioles Buzz

From the MASN Managing Editor Pete Kerzel:

Beginning April 4, Orioles Buzz will feature guest bloggers every weekday. recognizes that the blogosphere contains all sorts of opinions on the O's, and bloggers following the orange and black are a particularly hearty breed of fan. What they say is increasingly relevant and how they present their perspective has become more and more savvy.

Since the Orioles now credential selected bloggers on a game-by-game basis, we thought you'd be interested in reading what some of the most rabid Internet-based O's faithful has to say. And Orioles Buzz is a perfect platform for sharing their thoughts, ideas and reminiscences.

So exactly who will you be hearing from? Beginning April 4, look for Stacey Long of Camden Chat will be sharing this space. In the following weeks, you'll be hearing from Matthew Taylor of Roar From 34, Heath Bintliff from Dempsey's Army and Anthony Amobi of Oriole Post. After the All-Star break, we'll change things up and introduce some new voices into the mix.

Thanks to Pete and MASN for extending this opportunity to Oriole bloggers and I am particularly honored to be included with Stacey, Matthew and Anthony for this new feature. It should be fun.

I'll keep you updated on posts I write for Orioles Buzz when the season begins. Looks like I will be starting the week of April 18th.

With Brian Roberts in Limbo, A Way to Cushion the Blow

With Brian Roberts in and out of the lineup this spring, you can't help but be concerned for the offensive prospects of the Orioles this season. There are plenty of mistakes to be made when considering who to bat leadoff should Roberts not be available for the regular season.

Unfortunately, many managers overvalue speed and base running ability when choosing a leadoff hitter. They seem to forget that none of that means much unless the leadoff man.

Can you imagine the team batting Cesar Izturis in the leadoff spot for a significant portion of the season and how damaging that would be to the offense? Before you start to think that batting Izturis leadoff is so ridiculous that no manager would do it, consider this breakdown of Izzy's career and where he and his career .296 OBP have hit in the lineup:

He has hit leadoff more than he has hit 9th or 8th individually. And he's batted 2nd quite a lot too. There are enough managers out there with big league jobs who looked at Izzy and said, "That's a guy I need at the top of my lineup." It has happened and can happen. When you lose a player who embodies the classic leadoff hitter like Roberts, there is an enormous opportunity to do something stupid.

And it can lead to disaster. To demonstrate, using the Lineup Analysis tool at Baseball Musings, I created a probable and pretty traditional lineup with Brian Roberts at the top of the order.

That lineup will score you 5.127 runs per game or 830 runs over the course of the season.

Now, place Cesar Izturis in the leadoff spot and you get 4.877 runs per game or 790 runs per season. In 2010, that difference would have been enough to drop your offense from second in the American League to sixth.

Here's a quick list of the internal "traditional" options and what happens when each of them bats leadoff:

R/G   Total Runs
Izturis   4.88      790
Andino    4.90      795
Hardy     4.92      797
Harris    4.95      801

(In the Hardy leadoff scenario, Izturis is also batting 9th...)

However, leave Izturis in the lineup (he is the most likely to play second base if Roberts can't, at least to start the season) but try a different configuration.

I have recently become more strident in my assertion that Nick Markakis has the skills to be a prototypical leadoff hitter. Let's give him a shot here. And instead of a guy in the 2 hole who "is a good bunter" or "can move the runner along", let's put a decent hitter there. A guy like Luke Scott who can get on base at a fair rate and actually drive in the leadoff man.

That lineup will get you 805 runs for the season. Even choosing the worst possible offensive option at second base, with Markakis and Scott at the top of the lineup, it beats every other option available.

The loss if Roberts will still hurt but it can be mitigated if you assess the skills of the players in your lineup correctly and construct your lineup doesn't have to be a disaster. Now we'll see if Buck can navigate his way through the pitfalls.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring Training Updates: Week 2

The end of the second week of spring training games is upon us, so lets see how these position battles are shaking out.

Before the season I listed 5 things to watch:

1. Pie versus Reimold - Felix Pie is hitting .250/.250/.350 still with just the two doubles over 20 plate appearances and, characteristically, no strikeouts or walks. Nolan Reimold is hitting .308/.471/.577 with 2 homers, 7 walks and 5 strikeouts over 33 plate appearances. Reimold is not only outhitting Pie by a large margin, he's getting a longer look this spring. With Derrek Lee's injury, they may both make the Opening Day roster, at least for a while.

2. Chris Tillman versus Jake Arrieta - Arreita has a 3.60 ERA, Tillman has a 7.20 ERA. However, Tillman's peripherals are better (0 HR, 4 K, 1BB) than Arrieta's (1 HR, 2 K, 2 BB) I haven;t seen either of them to see how hard one or the other is getting hit. Zach Britton has been moved up to starter with Tillman working in relief for today's game. A sign of things to come? At the moment, it does not look good for Tillman.

3. Brian Roberts Rebound - Sidelined with neck spasms early, now he is sidelined with back spasms. Not good.

4. The Battle for the Backup Backstop - Craig Tatum got up off the mat and is hitting .300/.333/.350 after last night's game. However, Tatum only has 21 plate appearances. Jake Fox has 30 and has posted a line of .367/.367/.767 with three homers and three doubles. Fox is getting the longer looks this spring and is hitting very well. And he has not embarrassed himself behind the plate. Fox has the edge.

5. Who's the Backup Middle Infielder? - None of the candidates has hit. Cesar Izturis has been hurt but is hitting .250/.250/.357 so far and probably has the job by default at this point.

Further developments: Koji Uehara threw on flat ground yesterday...Some beat writers believe that Ryan Drese has pitched well enough this spring to insert himself into the competition for the 5th starter. Drese has not pitched in the majors since 2006 or in affiliated ball since 2008...I saw Jeremy Accardo for the first time last night. He's getting groundball, throwing strikes and has yet to allow a run this spring. If he pans out, kudos to the Oriole scouting team for rescuing him from the Toronto farm system he has been buried in for the last two seasons...Ryan Adams might be a better prospect than I thought. He has decent power and a good approach at the plate. His fielding needs some work but if he's passable, the bat might play. He should get to (if not starts in) AAA at age 24 this season. I'll be curious to see how he does...Top prospect Zach Britton is coming up on the outside in the rotation competition. He has given up no earned runs and his peripherals and ground ball rates look great...Rule 5 pick Adrian Rosario has been wild and has a 9.00 ERA. The team can arrange a trade for him with the Brewers but he looks like a wasted pick at this point...Meanwhile, RHP Pedro Beato has a 1.80 ERA for the Mets but the peripherals are not so good for him. RHP Pat Egan has a 0.00 ERA but only two appearances for the Brewers. Both may be offered back to Baltimore or in Egan's case, he could be swapped for Adrian Rosario.

The New 2011 Brian Roberts Injury Timeline

Frustrating, isn't it?
I present the 2011 version of the Brian Roberts injury timeline. Remember last year when Roberts' injuries were downplayed over and over but got worse and worse and then he missed 2/3 of the season? Yeah, me too. That's why this 2011 pattern seems all too familiar.

This is just a tracker that I will continue to update...and freak out about, until the end of the season.

February 22nd, 2011 - Jeff Zrebiec reports on Brian Roberts arriving at Spring Training:

This year, (Brian Roberts) said, has a little different feel, and the best part about it is he is healthy again after struggling with a herniated disk in his back all last spring.

The very next day...

February 23rd, 2011 - Roch Kubatko reports that Roberts leaves camp.

I just arrived in the workroom to find out that Brian Roberts isn't working out today. He left camp with a sore neck.

Roberts might need X-rays. That's all we really know at the moment.

Later that day, Roberts returned to camp and Jeff Zreibiec had this:

Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts returned to Ed Smith Stadium after getting X-rays and downplayed his stiff neck.

"We probably all had a stiff neck at some point in our life, right? I'm not overly concerned," he said.

Of course, any ailment involving Roberts will raise panic after he played just 59 games last season because of a herniated disk in his back.

Asked whether he understood that, Roberts was dismissive, saying: "I understand there's about a two feet difference from where my back hurt and where my neck hurt. So I'm pretty sure they are not related."

Roberts returned to the stadium to get some treatment. He isn't sure whether he'll be able to participate in tomorrow's workout.

Feb 24th, 2011 - Roberts doesn't participate in the workout. Peter Schmuck:

Brian Roberts, who missed yesterday's workout and went for X-rays after waking up with neck stiffness, will not work out today, but said his neck feels better.

"I'm not going out today,'' he said, "but it's better. I'm going to get some treatment and just try to get it calmed down. Hopefully, I'll be out there tomorrow."

February 25th, 2011 - Roberts was not "out there tomorrow". From

Brian Roberts was held out of workouts again on Friday, as the Orioles' second baseman continues to deal with neck stiffness, but he said that if it was the regular season he would be able to play.

"You play during the season hurt at times, and this isn't anything that would cause me to miss any games if it was the season right now," said Roberts, who missed his third consecutive day of workouts.

Feb 26th, 2011 - Roberts Practices. USA Today:

Roberts received an ultrasound treatment on his neck Saturday morning after participating in the team's annual photo day. He then suited up and practiced for the first time since Tuesday.

Roberts had to get the approval of the athletic training staff before returning to the field....

Roberts probably won't play when Baltimore opens its exhibition schedule Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton.

March 2nd, 2011 - Brian Roberts Makes His Spring Training Debut...and All Was Quiet


March 7th, 2011 - Yankees vs. Orioles

Leading off the game, Brian Roberts lays down a bunt between the pitcher and first base. He dives into first, narrowly missing being trampled by the pitcher and Mark Teixera. At the time I tweeted that Roberts was "a big dummy" for doing that in a Spring Training Game. Roberts played until the 5th inning.

March 8th, 2011 - Roch reports

Brian Roberts is dealing with back spasms and is tentative for tomorrow afternoon's game against the Minnesota Twins in Sarasota.

"We'll see if that will take care of itself overnight," Showalter said.

"He said he did it two, three days ago during the stretching. It kind of came back. He felt good last night. He had it from stretching and just tweaked it a little bit. It went way and he played the game. He came in today and it flared up again."

March 9th, 2011 - More from Roch

Brian Roberts said his back feels a little better, but he won't play in today's game against the Twins in Sarasota. And there's no way he's traveling to Fort Myers tonight for the other split-squad game.

"It's not too bad," he said.

Roberts said he woke up with back spasms a few days ago. He said they weren't caused by him diving into first base during Monday night's game against the Yankees.

"I never really said anything because I wanted to keep playing," he said. "When I get them, they usually come on and then they go away on their own after a couple days. I probably didn't help things by sliding when I already had back spasms, but that wasn't the cause of them."

Roberts could play today...but they're already saying he won't travel to Kissimmee tomorrow. So playing today seems unlikely.

March 10, 2011 - Brian Roberts has "trigger-point injections and schedules an MRI. The Sporting News:

Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts had "trigger-point injections" in his ailing back Friday and will be sidelined until at least Tuesday, according to The Baltimore Sun...

Roberts told MacPhail that the pain isn’t as bad as it was last spring, and manager Buck Showalter expressed optimism that Roberts will be ready for opening day.

March 15, 2011 - Robert's MRI reveals nothing new. Because...

...he has been experiencing discomfort since January and it hasn't really gone away. Asked how this compared to last year he said it was 100 percent different,and this current issue isn't nearly as bad.

...he will progress toward "possibly" being ready on Opening Day on a day-by-day basis.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gregg Zaun Hangs 'Em Up

"O, say can you Z...."
I can't let the week go by without giving a salute to Rick Dempsey's nephew, Gregg Zaun as he announced his retirement on Monday.

Zaun came up through the Oriole system and made his major league debut in 1995. I like him a lot as a backup catcher. He worked the count, had a little pop and was pretty good behind the plate in his younger days.

I remember him having some big hits for those 1995 and 1996 Oriole teams too. Looking up some of his game logs on, I found that my memory served me well.

On May 24th, 1996, the Orioles were playing the Athletics when Zaun drove in Bobby Bonilla on a two-out, walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th. The win brought the Orioles within a half game of the first place Yankees.

There were other big days for Zaun. He drove in 4 against the Royal during his rookie campaign, almost singlehandedly beat the White Sox that same year and broke a scoreless tie wide open against the Athletics in that same 1996 series.

But he was traded, unceremoniously, to the Marlins on August the player to be named later in the Terry Mathews trade. Mathews was a relief pitcher and performed well for the Orioles down the stretch and made six postseason appearances in 1996 without surrendering a run. It was a good baseball decision for Baltimore and for Zaun. In 1997, Zaun got a World Series ring with the Marlins while posting an .856 OPS in his backup role.

The next season, the Marlins gave him more playing time but he failed to perform. He hit .188 with a .566 OPS in 338 plate appearances. After the season, he was traded to the Rangers as part of a conditional deal.

From there Zaun played for Texas, got traded to Detroit who flipped him to Kansas City and then on to short stints in Houston, Colorado and Montreal.

During that nomadic time in Zaun's career, I always wondered why the Orioles didn't bring him back. He would've played for the league minimum and it's not as if the O's were stocked with great catchers at the time. It seems like Zaun would have been an attractive option as a backup instead of the Fernando Lunar, Brook Fordyce and Geronimo Gil rotation Baltimore trotted out during the early aughts.

Instead, it took a division rival to see Zaun's potential as the Blue Jays signed him before the 2004 season and he spent the next 5 seasons playing significant time and being nearly a league average hitter.

In 2009, he returned. He was to be the starting catcher until Matt Wieters was deemed ready and then slide into the role of backup/mentor for the wunderkind. He didn't play half bad and was one of the few players on that team who could work a count. He was traded to the Rays in August and hit even better. He finished up his career with the Brewers and, again, had a pretty decent year at the plate for a catcher.

"I don't have the same enthusiasm. I enjoy the guys and being in the clubhouse each day, but when it came down to the playing end of it, I could take it or leave it," Zaun said....

The next step, Zaun said, is to get back into broadcasting. He has served as a postseason analyst for Rogers Sportsnet in Canada since 2006.

"Broadcasting is the next step," he said.

So again, Zaun follows in the steps of his uncle.

I'll bet he'll be pretty good at that too.

For some fun, visit Zaun's website and get your Z-game on!

(As an aside, the name listed as a contact on Zaun's site is T.R. Lewis, former Oriole prospect and Zaun's teammate at Bowie in 1993. Lewis hit .304 for Bowie that season and hit .296 with an .811 OPS over 11 minor league seasons...hadn't heard that name in years.)