Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hanging 'Em Up

After more than six seasons, I going to hang up my blogging cleats and shut down Dempsey's Army.

As anyone who comes here regularly has noticed, the frequency of my posting has fluctuated quite a bit over the past year and a half and it's trending toward much less. I have never claimed to be a great writer but I did take pride in the fact that I could take some interesting angles on certain subjects and that I wrote on a regular basis. I am finding time to write (and do it well) harder to come by and while I keep kidding myself that over that next hill I'll find more, it's just not going to happen in the near future. If I'm not writing on a regular basis, I'm not sure what I can hang my hat on. I'd rather shut the blog down than let it continue a slow death and just go inactive.

Thanks to anyone who came here to read my ramblings. Dempsey's Army was always a very personal project to vent my thoughts and post analysis on the Baltimore Orioles and the fact that anyone came to check it out was more than I ever expected. Beyond that, thanks to all those who linked to my posts, invited me to participate in special events, extended me press credentials like I was a real writer or let me write on other sites. None of these were goals but they were wonderful and welcome surprises.

Goodbye, don your rally caps and let's go O's!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Post at Camden Depot: The Clutchiest Hits

What were the top 10 clutchest hits for the Orioles in 2012 (in terms of WPA)? Find out here. The results might surprise you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Guest Post at Camden Depot: Who Gets the Credit for the 2012 Orioles?

I have a post up this morning over at Camden Depot.breaking down player contribution to this season's team with what GM brought them to town. Enjoy!

Friday, September 28, 2012

This Week in Chat, Part 2: 9/28/2012

Part 2 of the weeks chats boiled down to their Oriole essence...

Dave Cameron, Fangraphs.com

12:03 Comment From Preston
Could the Orioles outperforming their expected wins based on WAR mean that we are over-valuing defense and under-valuing bullpens in the equation?

12:03 Dave Cameron:

12:05 Comment From Person hscer
if the wild cards end up atlanta st. louis oakland baltimore, who has the best chance at the WS? the worst?

12:05 Dave Cameron:
I think St. Louis is the best of those four teams. Baltimore's probably the worst.

12:05 Comment From The Oriole Bird
Do you expect the O's to be a big player in this year's free agent market? If so, whom would you expect them to target?

12:06 Dave Cameron:
Yeah, my guess would be that they'll look to add a big name pitcher to the rotation. I could see them in on Greinke, Haren, or Peavy.

12:24 Comment From TKDC
Say the Yankees are a game back of the Orioles on the last day of the season and they play either before or at the same time (so a win could be meaningless). If possible, would you throw your ace, or would you save him for the one-game playoff?

12:25 Dave Cameron:
The play-in game should be a bullpen day, so I'd use Sabathia and watch the scoreboard very closely.

12:55 Comment From Dan
Without making any changes to the roster, Baltimore will be a __ win team in 2013.

12:55 Dave Cameron:

12:59 Comment From Scott
Does Bundy pitch over 100 innings in the majors next year?

12:59 Dave Cameron:
Don't think he's ready yet, no.

Wallace Matthews, ESPN.com

george (boston)
8 games left - what's your guess at the Yanks record? Let's say 5-3. That would mean the O's would have to play to 6-1 to force a tiebreaker. So ... Yanks pretty much a division lock?

Wallace Matthews (12:34 PM)
I figured at the start of this stretch the Yankees would win at least 6 of these last 10 games, and more likely seve. They are 1-1 so far, so sticking with my gut, that means a final record of 95-67

Ian Miller, Baseball Prospectus

Roger (Washington DC):
So 2012 has seen the debut of Harper, Machado, Profar, and Bundy. At least two and quite possibly three of them are up for good. Is this the greatest group of teenagers collectively in the majors at the same time? More importantly, what the heck is happening to the standard development curve?

Ian Miller:
I can't say for certain that they're the best group of teens ever, but OTOH, I can't think of any other group, so maybe, yeah!

The second part of your question is far more interesting to me, though. Is this just a fluke, or is it something more profound? Are diets or training regimens or something else entirely causing players (kids) to develop faster than ever? I think that's a very real possibility, but it's not a question a liberal arts guy like me can answer.

Intriguing, though.

Tony La Russa, ESPN.com

Henry (Phoenix)
How good for the game is it that we've seen teams like Baltimore, Washington, and at least earlier in the season, Pittsburgh, have some success this year?

Tony La Russa (3:31 PM)
I think one of the problems with our system is so often the city and the fans going into spring training don't have a realistic chance of being excited. Like Tampa Bay if you draft smart and develop well, you can build a nucleus and make some moves to jump into the competition.

Keith Law, ESPN.com

Ryan (DC)
The Orioles run differential is down to -1. Thoughts?

Klaw (1:07 PM)
Which means they've played roughly like a .500 team. There's been a weird emphasis on the O's run differential potentially turning positive, as if that's a binary variable. It's not. The point is that a team that barely outscores its opponents on the season doesn't end up 20 games over .500 without a lot of good fortune.

Rob (DC)
What do you think is the ceiling for Tillman? Been looking pretty good this year.

Klaw (1:25 PM)
He has looked good. Looking at him as a potential above-average starter again.

Mike (DC)
Do you think Showalter is a big reason for the O's success this year? Seems like he manages circles around people...

Klaw (1:27 PM)
I think he's a reason, but no manager can entirely explain their success this year.

Randy (Baltimore)
How do you see the Machado/Hardy situation playing out in BAL for 2013?

Klaw (1:28 PM)
If I were the GM there I'd try to trade Hardy and get Machado back to shortstop, which I believe is his long-term position.

Mike (DC)
Think Jonathon Schoop could be the O's long term answer at 2B, or is he more likely to move to 3B and take over there when Machado goes to SS?

Klaw (1:32 PM)
Third base. But I think he was rushed this year.

Andrew (LA)
I'm glad the O's called up Bundy to get his feet wet. What situations would be ideal for Bundy to pitch i.e. mop up duty or close contests?

Klaw (1:50 PM)
I'd rather use him in longer outings than short ones. Not concerned about the score, just don't want to see him used like a short reliever, warmed up more than once in a game, asked to come in and air it out for a few pitches, etc.

Joe (Chicago)
I have seen a lot of Orioles fans says that the reason Bundy is able to pitch now is because the Orioles made him throw three inning starts earlier in the season. What is your response to this?

Klaw (1:55 PM)
Shelby Miller.

Muzzy (Leicesster)
Mr. Law, I have a three-part Davis question for you: Ike's overall numbers are not good, but is there anything in his swing that says he's not the player he was or is not healthy? Chris Davis is having a breakout year...that looks almost exactly like his career slash line. Is this the "real" Chris? Finally, can Khris hit enough to overcome his fielding limitations? Thanks!

Klaw (2:00 PM)
Ike: will always swing and miss, but there's power there. This is probably the real Chris. Khris (Brewers prospect) probably gets there as an extra guy.

Mike Newman, Fangraphs.com

4:10 Comment From The Oriole Bird
What kind of future, if any, do you see for LJ Hoes?

4:11 Mike Newman:
Tweener type. Potentially a 4th outfielder, but I don't think he contributes quite enough to be considered a starter.

4:41 Comment From Jeremy Strain
Did you get a chance to see Delmonico with Delmarva before he got hurt? What's your take on him?

4:42 Mike Newman:
Yes, and I've written about him at FG at length. I liked the hit tool, but LOL'd at their attempts to make him a 2B. He will be ranked on my list of the top 1B prospects I've seen this season.

Jayson Stark, ESPN.com

Mike (San Diego)
You have no idea how much I'm rooting for Oakland, LAA, Baltimore, and Tampa to have the same record. Bring on the chaos!

Jayson Stark (1:33 PM)
Easy for you to say. You don't have to travel 12,000 miles in 72 hours to break all those ties!

Curt (Trappe Md)
Very exciting time to be an Oriole fan this year which is something we have not had for almost 20 years, but how do you explain a team without 1 player having an average of 300 is knocking on the door of the division title?

Jayson Stark (1:35 PM)
It's incredible, isn't it? And only one pitcher making 20 starts! I'm going to quote my friend Casey Stern of Sirius/XM fame. Heard him say one day the Orioles aren't a great team, but they're one of the greatest stories ever. Totally agree.

Wayne (Baltimore)
How about them Birds!!! With the schedule that both teams have remaining (Red Sox and Rays for O's, Jay's and Sox for Yanks) what realistic chance do the Orioles have of winning the East outright?

Jayson Stark (1:41 PM)
I don't like their chances, based on the schedule alone. The Yankees finish with the Blue Jays and Red Sox, two teams that are 37 games under .500 just since Aug. 1. The Orioles also get the Red Sox at home, but those three games in Tampa Bay to finish up look awfully precarious.

Danny (Baltimore)
Does Matt Wieters deserve any MVP consideration, he has done a masterful job handling the O's rotation mess.

Jayson Stark (1:57 PM)
He'd be in my top 10. He's had a fantastic season. Really fulfilling expectations that people had for him.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Orioles Go Primetime

Could Deion Sanders have cured the Orioles offensive doldrums?

Via CSN:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This Week in Chat: 9/26/2012

Where we boil all the weeks baseball chats down to their Oriole essence...

(For the first time in the history of this semi-regular feature, the Baltimore Orioles are seemingly the talk of the baseball world and there is so much here after Tuesday's chats for a post. I'll post part two from this week on Saturday...)

Dan Szymborski, Fangraphs.com

12:05 Comment From Joel
How excited were you last night (if you watched the O's game), when you saw Dylan Bundy jog out to the mound? Any impressions?

12:05 Dan Szymborski:
Unfortunately I wasn't. Because I had run upstairs to get a bite to eat because I hadn't had any lunch and I was hungry. I got back in time to see the last pitch in Valencia. I'm going to look back at the game this afternoon. That's why awesome starting prospects need to have announced debuts.

12:15 Comment From Os Fan
I Steve Johnson.

12:15 Dan Szymborski:
I Dan Szymborski.

12:34 Comment From JT
How should the Orioles handle their postseason rotation? Do you think a Rockies-esque paired pitching system would suit them best?

12:34 Dan Szymborski:
I dont' think you want to go with anything too crazy at this point - dangerous time to start experimenting. The WC game is, however, the focal point of the offseason that all planning should go through - it's the only game in advance that you know for a fact will risk your elimination.

12:37 Comment From The Oriole Bird
I'm going to the doubleheader today. Think I'll see Bundy pitch?

12:37 Dan Szymborski:
Hope so! Good luck!

12:47 Comment From Os Fan
Dangit, that was a "less than three" heart there. What gives cover it live?

12:47 Dan Szymborski: Ah, so you're not Steve Johnson? Definitely gotta dig that ultra-slow loopy curve that he has.

12:49 Comment From STiVo
Estimate the likelihood of the following happening today: The Orioles sweep today's doubleheader against the Jays, and the Yankees lose to the Twins. If this occurs, the O's will be 0.5 games ahead of the Yankees.

12:50 Dan Szymborski:
let's say 36% for winning both and Yankees 35% lose to Twins. That's what, 12%?

12:54 Comment From Darn Zimbowski
Dan Duquette's #1 priority this offseason...?

12:54 Dan Szymborski:

1:04 Comment From Penguinis
Last week, Dave Cameron said Mark Reynolds is "awful" at first base, while a general consensus of Oriole fans, broadcasters, and Buck Showalter seem to think he's playing gold glove caliber defense. What do you think? And if he's actually any good, why does UZR hate him?

1:04 Dan Szymborski: I don't think he's quite that awful. I don't think he's all that good. After watching Reynolds at third, he's going to inevitably look good. Like how after you watch a rerun of Suddenly Susan, Two and a Half Men doesn't seem so bad.

Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

Ryan (State College)
Whats the most fascinating storyline left with so few games to play?

Jerry Crasnick (1:02 PM)
Ryan, For me, it's the Orioles and A's both making spirited runs at the wild card spots. But you can also look at the fallout that will ensue if the Tigers and Angels fail to make the playoffs. I'm a Little Engine that Could type of guy, so I like the underdog storylines.

Harrison (New York)
Who are your AL and NL managers of the year? (I've got Buck Showalter(AL) and Don Mattingly(NL))

Jerry Crasnick (1:08 PM)
Harrison, I'll go with Showalter in the American League. As for the National League, I think the first place managers -- Johnson, Baker and Bochy -- will all get some support. You can make a strong case for Dusty Baker given how his team played in Votto's absence, and the way he didn't let his contract status become a distraction.

Nick (College Park)
Jerry, given that they don't have an ace, I wouldn't make the O's a favorite vs. anyone in the WC, but in a full series, I think they've got a fighting shot. They've got a good record agains everyone but Texas, I think. I think we've also reached the point in the season where almost nothing they do will surprise me. What say you?

Jerry Crasnick (1:39 PM)
Nick, I spent two months writing off the Orioles, then I just threw up my hands and decided they're for real. There are some things in baseball that can't be fully explained by the numbers, and that team's success is one of them.

Jay (Baltimore)
So would you give Jim Johnson/O's bullpen the O's MVP? or Showalter? or Adam Jones?

Jerry Crasnick (1:44 PM)
Jay, That's a really apple and orange-y comparison. I would probably go with Adam Jones because he does so many things day-in and day-out for that club. He has really matured into a leader and a guy who's accountable every game. Throw in the power and the defense in center, and he's an incredibly valuable piece for that club. I think he helped keep them together when Markakis went down with what could have been a crushing injury.

Jason (St Louis)
The Orioles may be for real as you say but they don't have the look of a team built to make a run in the playoffs, if you want my unsolicited honest opinion. They've got to lose an extra innings game one of these day at a minimum.

Jerry Crasnick (1:46 PM)
Jason, I hear you. The rotation looks iffy for October and you have to wonder when the strain of pitching all those one-run and extra-inning games will catch up to that bullpen -- a la the Braves of 2011. But I'm past the point of saying that team"can't" do anything.

Bill Parker, Baseball Prospectus

Albert (DC):
What do you think of the 2012 Orioles?

Bill Parker:
I'm in favor. Look, I know they probably aren't a great team, etc. In my mind, though, there's a difference between wanting a setup that makes it more likely that the best teams come out on top (which is kind of what my last answer was about) and actually wanting the best teams to always come out on top. If we've got a good, competitive system, and you're a mediocre team that somehow beats that system over a full 162-game schedule, good for you! I'd love to see an Orioles-Nats World Series, both because I spent a few years down there and it'd make me happy, and because I think it makes for the best story.

@jakelarsen (chicago):
Looking at the remaining schedule for Wild Card contenders and Division leaders, who do you see making playoffs when all the dust has cleared?

Bill Parker:
I think the Yankees win the AL East, because they get to play the Twins now. I think the White Sox win the Central by default, because nobody wants it at all, and obviously the Rangers win the West. I don't see a compelling reason to go against the current WC leaders, Baltimore and Oakland. In the NL, with the Brewers getting creamed as I type, it's all but set in stone: Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Atlanta and St. Louis.

john (ct):
Orioles-Nats would be great for baseball. As a lifelong O's fan- back to the days of Brooks Robinson, this season has been a very pleasnat surprise. And how about the Nats- no more "first in war, first in peace and last in the American League". Gonzalez just struck out 200. Walter Johnson was the Washington player to do that!

Bill Parker:
Not a question, so I don't have an answer, I just love the excitement.

Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs.com

12:07 Comment From Kyle
Where's the love for the O's Steve Johnson? Guy is so good.

12:08 Jeff Sullivan:
The Orioles overall make so little reasonable sense that it's hard to focus on any one individual player of theirs. Sure, we could focus on Steve Johnson for a little bit, but then it's like, shouldn't we just be talking about the Orioles? What on earth is going on with the Orioles?

12:16 Comment From The Oriole Bird
Over the next three seasons, how many times do you expect Adam Jones to post more than 4.5 WAR?

12:17 Jeff Sullivan:
I'll say one time? And another time where he's very close. And one time where he's more like 2-3, due to either underperformance or injury

David Schoenfield, ESPN.com

John (NC)
Hey David, with 8 Games left for the Orioles, 1 1/2 games back in the East and 1 1/2 games up on the A's (3 1/2 on Angels), where do you see Baltimore's season going from this point?? And if they make the playoffs, how far do you see them going?

David Schoenfield (2:07 PM)
I think the Yankees win the East and the O's take the first wild card. The lack of an "ace" would seem to hurt them in the wild-card game, but of course Showalter would have a very quick hook. But I don't see them beating the Rangers in the Division Series. Nothing they do would surprise me though. An O's-Nats Beltway Series would be pretty fun.

Monday, September 24, 2012

These 2012 Orioles are Record Breakers

This team has broken a lot of records on their way to their improbable playoff chase, individual and team, franchise and league. Here's a look at some of the notable, the obscure and downright bizarre.

Jim Johnson breaks the franchise saves record

It seems almost fitting that Jim Johnson broke the Oriole's single season saves record during the only winning season that the team has had since lefty fireballer Randy Myers set the old mark of 45 back in 1997. After years of being the best reliever in the Oriole bullpen and watching men not nearly his equal get big buck to come to town and fill that role, Johnson has shown that becoming a proven closer does not require receiving training from Ra's al Ghul to develop that poise and steely determination that all closers seemingly possess. You just have to pitch well, keep the ball in the park and generate outs. After watching that "proven closer" label being thrown around by Oriole management and having Johnson's ability to close questioned by a few in the local media, it's nice to see the guy succeed and get in line for his own huge payday, first in arbitration and then in free agency. 47 saves...and counting.

Adam Jones hits more doubles than any other Oriole centerfielder

Jones has racked up 31 home runs but he'll not sniff Brady Anderson's famous mark of 50 set in 1996 and no other center fielder is likely to. But what Jones has done during his breakout season is tie Anderson for the team record of doubles from an Oriole center fielder with 37. I like Jones' chances to break that record over the team's last nine games.

Strikeouts of various iterations

The Orioles set their franchise record for batting strikeouts as a team at 1019 in 1964. That total was not exceeded for 46 years when the 2010 Orioles took the crown with 1056. The 2011 Orioles blew right past that (thank you Mark Reynolds) with 1120. But this team is more than 100 strikeouts beyond the 2011 total and still has nine games to go. However many more strikeouts are added to the 1227 these batters have already been rung up, it's hard to imagine this total being approached again.

In addition, this team will also set the franchise record for most players with 100 strikeouts on a team. The 2011 Orioles only had 2. The 2008 team had 4. This team has 6! (Wilson Betemit, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters) And Robert Andino, with 97 is knocking on the door.

Manny Machado

Manny Machado is officially the most successful 19-year old to ever play for the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, he's actually 20 right now but this is his age 19 season. He has 14 extra base hits. (Brooks Robinson had 5 during his age 19 season). He has played in 41 games. (Wayne Causey played in 51 for the 1956 Orioles). His bWAR is 1.1 and his fWAR is 0.7. Nobody else is even close to half of those totals.

Winning Percentage in One Run Games

Even after yesterday's loss to the Red Sox, the 2012 Orioles are tied for first (with the 1981 Orioles) for the highest winning percentage in one run games since 1901. I'll give the 2012 O's the tie-breaker on the identical .750 winning percentages because they have won 6 more games and '81 was a strike shortened season.

Extra Inning Games

I believe, if the Orioles win their next extra-inning game, they will tie the record for consecutive extra inning wins. But even if they don't, this is still one of the greatest extra-inning performances in baseball history. Taken in terms of winning percentage and the number of extra inning games played, their 16-2 mark is only exceeded by the 1949 Cleveland Indians (18-1) and the 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates (19-2).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Build a Winner: The 2012 Baltimore Orioles

A graphical representation of the origin story for these 2012 Baltimore Orioles. Well, the best I could do at least.

Click on the picture or go here for a full sized view.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Up with Pedro Strop?

Pedro Strop came into yesterday's game in the 9th inning and turned what was a 9-4 romp into a relatively tense affair with the tying run in the on deck circle when Buck Showlater called in Jim Johnson to get the final out of the game. For Strop, it was 2/3 of an inning, 2 singles, a walk and a run surrendered.

It was the latest in a string of disturbing outings for Strop over the past two weeks ranging from shaky to disastrous. What's going on?

Here is a breakdown of Strop 2012 ERA's and FIP's by month for 2012.

              ERA     FIP
April        2.08    3.43
May          0.66    3.49
June         0.96    3.31
July         1.64    3.29
August       4.09    2.02
September    8.31    8.04

Strop has been outperforming his FIP and xFIP all season long. August was the first month in 2012 where his peripherals were actually better than his overall results.

He's walked 6 is his last 7 appearances while only walking 2 in his previous 7 games. His strikeout rates remain about the same and his ground ball rate is still in the 65% range. It has just been the extra walks and some of those grounders finding holes.

These last 7 games have been the worst stretch of the season for Strop in terms of wildness and walks and he'll have to figure out how to throw it over the plate on a more consistent basis if he is to remain a key member of the Oriole bullpen. But he has only 16 games left to figure that out.

When's Troy Patton coming back again?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Markakis Coming into His Own (Or Was Anyway...)

I was working on this post but then I was at that game last Saturday night at OPACY when C.C. Sabathia hit Nick Markakis with a pitch and broke his thumb and it thoroughly bummed me out so I set this post aside. I'm going to post it anyway since I think his recent performance still hints at future greatness...

If I consider Nick Markakis' Oriole career disappointing, it's only because I had such high hopes. As early as 2007, I was comparing the young outfielder to Hall of Famers and All-Stars. But mostly, I compared him to Enos Slaughter, the Hall of Fame outfielder who chiefly played for the 1940's and 50's St. Louis Cardinals:

As the (2008) season went on, I became more convinced that Markakis is the second coming of Enos Slaughter. Both are/were lefties, both play(ed) rightfield and both are/were very good fielders with great arms, at least when young.

Their bats are very similar as well:

           Age 22     Age 23     Age 24
Markakis     106        121        134
Slaughter    105        122        133
Spooky, huh?

Slaughter's OPS+ at age 25 was 141. How do we get Markakis there? I'll say:

                BA   2B   HR   OBP   SLG   OPS   OPS+
Markakis '09  .315   40   29  .415  .520  .935   141

Using the Slaughter comparison beofore the 2008 season, I had fairly accurately predicted Markakis' offensive output. I assumed this steady improvement would continue in 2009 but I was wrong.

As it turned out, 2008 was the offensive peak for Markakis thus far. From 2009-2011, his OPS+ was 116 and only 2010 could be pointed to as "not disappointing". I was never a huge believer in Nick's ability to be a 30+ homer guy but 20-25 homers, load so doubles, a perennial .300 batter and a stellar walk rate figured to be in his future.

Instead, he never hit even 20 homers again, his hit tool has not proved to be as formidable as I thought and the walk rate has been good but not outstanding. He was becoming Mr. Average at the plate. A guy who did several things well but excelling at none.

Before his first injury, Markakis was going about his season at a 110 OPS+ clip, about what he had averaged over the last three seasons. But upon his return and subsequently taking on the role as leadoff man, he has done what I predicted back in 2009:

                   2B   HR   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS   
Markais (leadoff)  15    5  .335 .390  .489  .879

Markakis, in the 54 games since his return, is hitting at what would be about a 140 OPS+ and even taking his season in total, he ranks 21st among American League hitters in OPS+. His BABIP is a little higher than his career totals but nothing abnormal.

What I'm saying is that in the leadoff spot, as I've discussed before, Markakis has found the elevated level of talent that I and many others projected for him after those first three great seasons. Sure, 54 games is a small sample size and I would feel a lot better about all of this if Nick hadn't broken his thumb and could keep this momentum going but if I believed in the talent before, I have to believe in it now. Nick is Enos Slaughter reborn, even if he is three years behind schedule.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Zach Britton Getting Noticed

I thought I would pass this along...Zach Britton is getting noticed outside of Baltimore. Andrew Schwartz of Midwest Sports Fans provided his thoughts on the young pitcher:

A former 3rd round pick, Britton was previously ranked (in 2010) as a top-30 prospect by Baseball America, so his success shouldn’t come as that great of a surprise. But still, after Britton spent the first three months of the season in the minors and then accumulated an 8.35 ERA through his first 4 starts of 2012 season, he didn’t appear to be the most likely candidate to suddenly turn into a late-career version of Sandy Koufax.

So now, the question is whether Britton’s recent dominance is sustainable or whether it is merely “smoke and mirrors.”

You'll find a very thorough analysis of why Schwartz believes this version of Britton might be for real.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Negative Run Differential Playoff Teams and the Key to Their Success

Much has been made of the Orioles' negative Run Differential this season. But they would hardly be the first team to make the playoffs with a negative Run Differential. In fact, I have discovered a commonality that helps to explain how teams can be outscored but still produce winning results.

1987 Minnesota Twins

The Twins switched from a plain outfit to their signature pinstripes before the '87 season and added "Minnesota" to the away jerseys. As a result, they were able to overcome being outscored by 20 runs to win the AL West and eventually the World Series.
1986 Twins Uniforms
1987 Twins Uniforms

1989 Houston Astros

OK, the Astros didn't actually make the playoffs but they would have in the current Wild Card environment. The subtle changes from a pullover jersey to a button-up and adding a belt to the pants helped Houston finish 10 games over .500 despite being outscored by 22 runs.
1988 Astros Unis
1989 Astros Unis

1991 San Diego Padres

San Diego ditched the brown and brought blue to the forefront on their revamped unis for the 1991 season. The team did not make the postseason but would have in the current Wild Card environment despite being outscored by 10 runs.
1990 Padres Unis
1991 Padres Unis
 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks ditched the weirdness of their purpley and turquoisey pinstripes for a more cohesive anchor of red and embracing the script "D" on their caps. They won 90 and the NL West crown despite being outscored by 20 runs on the season.
2006 D-Backs Unis
2007 D-Backs Unis
2012 Baltimore Orioles

A-ha! AH-HAH!!!
2011 Baltimore Unis
2012 Baltimore Unis

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Individual Performances Leading Team Effort on Charge to the Top

On July 18th, the Orioles were 2.5 games out of the AL Wild Card spot and 10 full games back on the Yankees for the AL East title. Today, they started the day in possession one of the wild card spots and a single game behind the Yankees for the division lead going 29-15 over that stretch.

While this has been an improbable team effort, there are some great individual efforts that have sparked this run. Here are the Orioles who helped lead that furious charge. Not surprisingly, most of these guys are pitchers.

Nick Markakis

          AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   2B  3B  HR  
Markakis .331  .390  .489  .879    9   2   5

Nick has been on fire since his return from the DL and is flourishing in his new role as leadoff hitter. He is now the best hitter in the lineup.

Mark Reynolds

          AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   2B  3B  HR  
Reynolds .252  .366  .489  .855    9   0   8

Reynolds has streaked his way to offensive relevance over the past 6 weeks while leading the team in walks, ranks second on the team in ISO and since moving to first base has provided adequate defense. Some of the fans who were clamoring for a playoff spot were also the same ones who were crapping all over Reynolds this season which I always found strange since this team was going to need every bullet in the arsenal to make a run at even a wild card berth. Reynolds has proved to be valuable in that endevour.

Wei-Yin Chen

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Chen     54.2   51    16     7   3.79

In the absence of Jason Hammel, Chen provided some stability and a center to the revolving door of starters entering and exiting the rotation. Not spectacular but always solid.

Chris Tillman

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Tillman  52.0   41    17     8   3.81

Miguel Gonzalez

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Gonzalez 49.0   37    14     8   3.67

Zach Britton

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Britton  41.0   37    15     5   4.39

I lump these three guys together because with the rotation is ruins, these three came in on the Norfolk shuttle to throw some quality innings and settle things down. There were some rough spots for sure but the minor league journeyman, the former prospect whose star had faded and the top prospect who was working his way back from injuries have teamed up to give the pitching staff a huge boost.

Steve Johnson

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Johnson  18.0   37    14     8   3.67

Steve Johnson has come up from AAA to provide some spot starts and long relief for the team. With Tillman's health in question, he will be taking on a larger role in September. Remember when we lost Johnson in the Rule 5 draft a couple of years ago? Thank God we got him back.

Luis Ayala

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Ayala    19.1   11     4     1   2.79

And why wouldn't we see a bunch of guys from bullpen on this list? Ayala is not spectacular and give up his fair share of hits but he is working enough magic to strand enough runners to be very effective.

Pedro Strop

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Strop    18.0   18     8     0   2.50

The big fastball and impressive ground ball rate offset the occasional wildness as Strop continues his breakout season.

Darren O'Day

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
O'Day    17.2   18     6     0   0.51

Troy Patton

           IP    K    BB    HR    ERA
Patton   11.0   11     2     0   0.00

The unsung heroes of the 'pen whose praises I keep trying to sing. Even though he is now on the DL, look at what Patton had done before he went down. And O'Day has been dominant. I want Patton back and soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Stunned Silence

Friday, August 31, 2012

Free-Swinging Orioles Making History Again

This Oriole team is looking to make some history by breaking a 14 season winning streak and has a chance to even make the playoffs. But this team is a mortal lock to create even more team history by, for the third straight season, breaking the franchise single season record for striking out.

The 1964 team struck out 1019 times and the 1968 team matched that total. That record stood for more than 40 years but along came the 2010 club who shattered that record with 1056. The 2011 team pushed that record out even further with 1120 whiffs.

But this team already has 1046 strikeouts as a unit and is hurtling for last season's total with great velocity.

Here's a graphical breakdown of the team's strikeout leaders:

This team is striking out over 8 times a game. No Oriole team has ever averaged 7 in a game before.

There's really no great conclusion to this outside of "Damn, this team strikes out a lot!". Just an observation.

Breathe Deep Baltimore at OPACY, September 22

I don't post a lot of press releases but this event is for a great cause and sounds like a cool experience. Check it out.

Lung Cancer Survivors, Loved Ones to Gather for LUNGevity’s Breathe Deep Baltimore Walk to Stop Nation’s Number One Cancer Killer

BALTIMORE (August 30, 2012) – Hundreds of people whose lives have been impacted by lung cancer will gather in Oriole Park at Camden Yards for LUNGevity Foundation’s Breathe Deep Baltimore 5K Walk/Fun Run Saturday, September 22, 2012. The only event of its kind to take place inside the Baltimore Orioles’ home stadium, check-in begins at 9 a.m.; the program, 10 a.m.; and the walk/run, 10:10 am– rain or shine. LUNGevity, the nation’s largest lung cancer-focused nonprofit, hosts the event to raise awareness and funds for earlier detection and more effective treatments of lung cancer.

Fun activities for kids, a video game theatre, prizes and free refreshments, and more will be available for participants to enjoy. Retired Baltimore Orioles catcher (1989-1998) and Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Chris Hoiles is participating in the day’s festivities. The walk will take place on the field, with many pre-event activities, on the stadium’s concourse level. The day will include a silent auction and raffle.

Breathe Deep Baltimore Web Site

The Breathe Deep walks and runs are LUNGevity’s nationwide signature events, launched by the Foundation to raise public awareness and critical funds needed for lung cancer research. Through LUNGevity’s expansive grassroots network, communities, celebrities, corporate executives and elected officials across the country are coming together to stand up to the nation’s number one cancer killer. LUNGevity’s Breathe Deep events offer a place for those impacted by the disease to share, hope and heal.
Lung cancer takes more lives annually than breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined. In fact, with one in 14 Americans diagnosed in his or her lifetime, the number of people who die from lung cancer is equal to having a jumbo jet fall from the sky every single day. More than half the people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked or have already quit smoking. There is no widely available and cost effective early diagnostic test, and only 16 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive five or more years post-diagnosis.

LUNGevity Foundation has the largest grants award program for lung cancer research among lung cancer nonprofit organizations in the United States. In the past two years alone, LUNGevity has awarded over $5 million to the most promising lung cancer research projects. In addition to funding research, the Foundation has a robust national grassroots network, with events happening across the country. The organization also has the largest online support community for lung cancer patients and their loved ones.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Curse of the Andino Is Real After All

OK, so maybe I was wrong.

At the end of last season, when the Orioles won their 69th game and knocked the Red Sox from the playoffs, I was not one of the Baltimore fans giddy with delight. The game was met with excitement and hailed as one of the biggest victories for he franchise in years. I did not agree.

I thought it was a real loser's mentality to get excited about knocking one division rival from the playoffs just so another could go. It seemed pointless to get so worked up about a team with 69 wins and the prospect of Tampa Bay in the ploayoffs versus Boston. It was just sad.

But my biggest objection to the celebration was that the Boston defeat would have no lasting effects on the Red Sox franchise and they would remain favorites to win the AL East for years to come. Evidently, I was wrong.

The knee-jerk reaction to the Red Sox collapse is that this will be a devastating blow to the organization. A death blow. A failure that will result in a changing of the guard and a decline of the team into mediocrity. I would love for that to be the case but that's probably not going to happen.

It's looking more and more like it was a death blow. And the Red Sox have been the embodiment of mediocrity this season.

Boston fans are not clamoring for the heads of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein. Nor is the Boston press. While acknowledging that this collapse was really, really horrible, measured responses are being seen in most corners. No one in the Red Sox management seems to be in danger of being forced out.

This was true. The Boston press, the fans (in general) and the Red Sox ownership all said that scapegoats were not being sized up. But within 2 weeks of me writing the above opinions, Terry Francona was fired, Theo Epstein was off to Chicago and fried chicken-gate had been exposed by the Boston Globe. As it turned out, the Red Sox were ripe for the plucking in terms of a management overhaul. The Orioles had but to push the first domino.

Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, John Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Bucholz and Jacoby Ellsbury are all coming back.

The 2010 version of Beckett came back. Crawford couldn't stay on the field. Youkilis is in Chicago. Gonazalez is having his worst season since he became a regular. Lester and Pedroia are having the worst seasons of their careers. Bucholz has been not great shakes. Ellsbury...see Carl Crawford.

And now Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez find themselves with the Dodgers.

They have prospects popping up all over the end of year Top 20 lists over at Baseball America.

Only Will Middlebrooks contributed in any meaningful way.

This is not the end of the Boston Red Sox. Win or lose, they will fill some holes, resign some guys, heal their injured and be right back among the favorites to take the division in 2012.

They brought David Ortiz back. But their signings of Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto, Aaron Cook, Vincente Padilla and Cody Ross did not exactly set the league on fire.

So it appears that Robert Andino's hit was a desperate stab in the dark that hit its mark with deadly accuracy. The Red Sox went from World Series favorites to full rebuilding mode in less than 11 months.

Oriole Magick, indeed.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Baltimore Acquires Joe Sauders from Arizona

The Baltimore Orioles acquired starting pitcher Joe Saunders from the Arizona Diamondbacks for reliever Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named later. The Diamondbacks also sent some cash to offset the $1 million plus still owed to Saunders for the rest of the 2012 season.

Lindstrom had been acquired before the season along with Jason Hammel from the Rockies in the Jeremy Guthrie trade. Lindstrom pitched well for the O's but a stretch on the DL between May 10th and June 27th had limited him to 36.1 innings for the club. He was the second highest paid player in the bullpen (behind Kevin Gregg) making $3.6 million in 2012. Although he has been valuable, if the Orioles have any strength to deal from it is within their relief corp and it was unlikely that the team would excercise his hefty $4 million option for 2013 ($200,000 buyout). This is not a whole lot for the club to give up in terms of relative value.

Saunders is kind of a left-handed version of Jeremy Guthrie. He's a low-strikeout, low-walk guy who gives up his fair share of homers but seems to survive with a middling ground ball rate and eats up the innings. Indeed, Saunders routinely tops 180 innings pitched and there is value in a slightly above average starter who can provide that number of innings. (Yes, these are the exact things I used to say about Jeremy Guthrie...) Now, there's no guarantee that Saunders will actually be an above average starter coming in from the NL West to the AL East but he should at least approach averagish results. That's more than we can say about some pitchers who have been starting games for Baltimore over the last couple of months.

While it's not exactly a world changer for the team, any move that keeps the likes of Dana Eveland and Tommy Hanson a step further away from the mound at Camden Yards is a good thing. And I like bolstering the starting rotation this way better than trading prospects for Joe Blanton.

Hard to get too excited but I think Saunders helps this team on its improbable wild card chase in September.

A Few Quick Pictures...

...of some of the Norfolk Tides players from Tuesday's game. Some of these guys ended up in Baltimore this weekend and helped the team win the Toronto series.

Tides vs. Braves

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From Jeff Conine to Chris Davis: A Recent History of Offensive Futility at First Base

For more than 10 years, the Baltimore Orioles have been looking for a regular first baseman. By and large, they have failed.

Below is a graph showing the Orioles' offensive output measured by sOPS+, a comparison of OPS compared to the rest of the league's first basemen. (sOPS+ stats pulled from Baseball-Reference.com)

As you can see, the best the Orioles have done over the past 10 seasons is flirt with average production from their first baseman.

Back in 2003, Jeff Conine was just hanging on and the offensive output was pitiful. Production was buoyed a bit with the second tour of duty of Rafael Palmeiro and the massively underrated Kevin Millar from 2004-2007 (with an occasional assist by Aubrey Huff although he was mainly a DH). 2009-11 saw new lows in bad hitting first baseman with the likes of Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton, Garrett Atkins and Derrek Lee.

The Oriole farm system has been bereft of legitimate first base prospects for many years and they team has tried and failed to patch that hole through free agency with disatrous results at worst and mediocre results at best. Andy MacPhail addressed the issue by trading or claiming off of waivers every corner infieder he could  lay his hands on which is why we saw appearances by Rhyne Hughes, Michael Aubrey and Scott Moore over the past few years.

But finally, some of those MacPhail trades have paid off as Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis have combined to provide slightly above average offensive production at the position with some poor production from Wilson Betemit, Nick Johnson and Joe Mahoney dragging it down.

Chris Davis is under team control for the next three years and may be the closest thing the Orioles have had to a regular productive first baseman the club has had in years. He's probably not going to be the answer but he's not a disaster. It's not much but it's a start.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tides vs. Braves: 8/21/12

L.J. Hoes
The Norfolk Tides completely handled the Gwinnett Braves today in Lawrenceville, GA 8-0. Since I felt an acute case of baseball fever coming on this morning, I called out sick and went to the 10:35 AM start.

The Oriole highlights came early as former Dodger farmhand RF Jamie Hoffman launched a 3-run homer that just barely cleared the left field wall and Braves LF Jose Constanza's leap to give the Tides the 3-0 lead. CF L.J. Hoes' bases loaded single drove in two more in the 4th to give Norfolk the 5-0 lead and the game was pretty much over.

SP Dana Eveland gave up only 3 hits and struck out 5 over 7 innings and the Braves mounted no real threat at all. Braves' pitching issued 9 walks and walked in the other 3 Tide runs. Again, not the most exciting game to watch.

On to the individual performances, led by Hoes. He went 1-5 with a walk and reached on a fielder's choice that should have been a hit. He scorched a ball toward right field in the 6th inning but Braves 1B Ernesto Meija reached up and got his glove on it but it was hit too hard for him to hold. Hoffman was on 1st and had to hold up for a beat ot make sure Meija didn't catch the ball. If Hoffman would not have been on base, that would have been a hit for the speedy Hoes. Hoes had good at bats, worked the count and looked poised beyond his 22 years at the plate. He is hitting .369 in August and has maintained good walk rates throughout his minor league career.

RP Brian Matusz pitched the 8th inning. He gave up no runs but was unimpressive while walking one batter and striking out none. His fastball was missing up out of the zone and his breaking stuff was missing low and outside a lot. He got out of the inning with a couple of sharply hit ground balls that his fielders turned into outs but it was not hard to imagine major league hitter turning those mistakes into hits. He got himself into bad pitcher's counts on three of the four batters he faced. He may need more work.

2B Ryan Adams looks like I've seen him before. At the plate, he looked relaxed, worked the count and put the ball into play with authority. A great looking hitter and he is hitting .300 with 5 XBHs in August. In the field, he is not smooth and he made an error in the 7th.

I've never fully understood the enthusiasm for 1B Joe Mahoney. His walk rates are poor, his hit tool is OK and the value is wrapped up in his power as he slugged over .500 over the 2010-2011 in just over 200 games split between Frederick and Bowie. But that power has disappeared in Norfolk this season (.387 SLG in 120 games) and had trouble making solid contact today and could not manage a walk on a day when the G-Braves staff was giving them out freely. He'll be 26 next year and I guess the power could return. But if it doesn't, he's not going to have much value as a prospect.

3B Brandon Waring has hit 20 or more homers in every season he has played professionally. He walked twice today but his walk rates are just decent. His power is really, really impressive. Fun to watch but hard to imagine how he can help the major league club in the future.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Unsung Relief Duo

The emergent stars in the Orioles bullpen, the best in the American League, have been Jim Johnson, establishing himself as an elite closer in 2012 and Pedro Strop as the setup man with the electric fastball.

However, they have not been the best duo in the Baltimore pen. That honor belongs to Darren O'Day and Troy Patton.

Patton and O'Day do not operate in the glamorous 8th and 9th innings, not typically anyway. They do not possess live fastballs that sit in the mid-90's or rack up saves. They just do all the dirty work and do it better than anyone else.

Some stats pulled from FanGraphs.com:

Name            K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9     K%   BB% WHIP  ERA  FIP   E-F xFIP SIERA
Darren O'Day   8.68 1.54 5.63 0.77 24.20% 4.30% 0.99 2.51 2.92 -0.42 3.51 2.90
Troy Patton    8.25 1.89 4.36 0.86 22.80% 5.20% 1.03 2.58 3.25 -0.67 3.33 2.89
Pedro Strop    7.14 4.35 1.64 0.17 19.80% 12.10% 1.1 1.22 3.38 -2.16 3.85 3.51
Jim Johnson    4.99 2.22 2.25 0.55 13.70% 6.10% 1.09 3.33 3.71 -0.38 3.79 3.18

O'Day and Patton lead Johnson and Strop, as well as the rest of the Oriole bullpen, in every major rate and fielding independent stat in the game. With fastballs that average about 85 mph and 89 mph, O'Day are 1st and 2nd in strikeout rate respectively. Their walk rates and WHIPs are lower, their K/BB rates are higher and their Fielding Independent stats, especially the ones that account for batted ball data, are superior.

Now, I have absolutely no issues with a tandem of late innings closers like Johnson and Strop who induce groundballs at rates higher than 65%. That probably helps to keep leads better than flyball pitchers like Patton and O'Day. But make no mistake, O'Day and Patton have been the better pitchers during the Orioles' improbably playoff chase this season.

Manny Machado and Royals Pitch Selection

In what will be an unending overanalysis of the debut series for Manny Machado, I decided to take a look at  how the Kansas City Royals piched to the Oriole phenom, at least in terms of pitch type.

To do this, I broke down percentages of pitch types thrown to Manny Machado by all the Royal pitchers he faced during the 4-game series. To contrast, I also broke down the pitch selection to the rest of the team.

Here it is:

                    CH%    CU%    FA%    FC%    FF%    FT%    SI%    SL%
Machado             9.1   14.6    1.8    0.0   38.2    9.1    5.5   21.8
Rest of Orioles     9.7   13.1    0.8    0.4   48.4    8.8    7.4   11.4

Common wisdom has rookies getting challenged with a bunch of fastballs when they are first called up and if they show they can handle them,teams will start throwing more breaking stuff to see if he can handle those pitches too. In this case, the Royals threw him fewer fastballs overall and fed him a lot more sliders.

If we simplify it further:

                 Breaking/Offspeed  Fastballs
Machado                51%             49%
Rest of Orioles        42%             58%

So Manny got fed a steady diet of breaking stuff, at least more than the rest of the team and still had a stellar debut. In fact, his hits came mostly on breaking stuff. Moving through the weekend, he tripled on curve ball, single on a slider, homered on a curve ball, homered on a slider, doubled on a fastball and homered on a sinker.

Small sample size and there's more to pitching than pitch selection alone but it is encouraging to see that the 20-year old is far from lost against major league breaking pitches.

*Data gathered from BrooksBaseball.net.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The "Why Not?" Team Can Take Backseat to The Fightin' Showalters

I was in high school during the 1989 baseball season so I remember the "Why Not?" Orioles vividly and with great fondness. And why not? (See what I did there...) The team had traded away Eddie Murray and Mike Boddicker but were led by Cal Ripken, Jr. in the field and Mickey Tettleton at the plate and young pitchers like Bob Milacki, Jeff Ballard and Gregg Olson led the pitching staff. It was a lot of fun but ended in heartbreak during the last weekend of the season as they were edged out of the division win by the Toronto Blue Jays. (I still hate the Blue Jays more than the Red Sox, if you can imagine that. Not as much as the Yankees but I still hate them...)

Anyway, that team had nothing on this 2012 club. In 1989, it was "Why Not?". Now it should be "How's That?" or "Who Did What?" or "Is That Even Possible?". Many fans have deemed it the "WTF?" season.

This team is on the most improbable run in Baltimore Oriole history. Look no further than the team's run differential where, as of this morning, they have been outscored by 54 runs but still remain 9 games above .500. There are just a handful of teams over the last 15 years who have been outscored by the opposition and still had a winning record. The Orioles are the only team doing that in 2012.

Early in the season, I opined that this team could win, not make the playoffs, but win games more than they lost. But I figured they would need some luck to do this as they were not the deepest team in the division and any key injuries would derail the whole season.

Then Nolan Reimold, he of the .960 OPS in April went down for he season. Brian Roberts started the season on the DL, gave me hope when he returned in June but struggled and wound up back on the DL before the 4th of July. Endy Chavez, such as he was, went down, came back and went to the DL again. Nick Markakis got hurt. Reliever Matt Lindstrom, then Jason Hammel, our most effective starter got injured. Then mid-season acquisition Jim Thome got hurt. But through it all, the team kept winning. Through April, May and June, they just kept winning.

July looked to be breaking point where they finally had a losing month (13-14)as the injuries and struggling starting pitching seemed to finally be taking a toll. But now they are 5-2 in August and looking at the upcoming schedule, only Texas and Detroit strike me as being clearly better than Baltimore. This team could win in August too.

Every time something goes wrong, it seems like someone steps up to give the team a lift. Xavier Avery came up to lift the team when Reimold and Chavez were down. Steve Pearce and Chris Davis filled in nicely (or at least didn't embarrass themselves) when Markakis joined them on the DL. Stu Pomeranz provided quality innings for a couple of weeks when the bullpen was overworked. Omar Quintanilla brought a hot bat and steady defense to the lineup when Robert Andino went down. Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and now Steve Johnson, none of whom were expected to contribute to the team before the season for various reasons, have steadied a banged up and ineffective starting rotation.

That 1989 team at least had some stability. They were led at the plate by Tettleton, Randy Milligan, Phil Bradley and Joe Orsulak all posted OPS+ numbers greater than 120. Only Adam Jones and Nick Markakis can make that claim on this team (and Markakis only very recently).

The 2012 Orioles are 10th in runs scored and 10th in runs allowed in the American League But today, they are tied for the Wild Card ticket into the postseason. Oriole Magic, indeed.

The Opening Day starter in pitching in AAA. Three of the five best Oriole hitters in 2011 have taken significant steps backwards and another is out for the season. Baltimore's defense is, to put it kindly, shaky. But the team keeps winning.

Sometimes things are just meant to be. This season has been insane. Eleven straight extra inning wins. Chris Davis pitching and winning in Boston and hitting a home run with a broken bat. The bullpen is the best in the AL and was assembled with kids, journeyman and spare parts. They have the highest winning percentage in 1-run games of any team since 1954. (A .786 winning percentage, just ahead of the 1981 and 1970 Oriole clubs.) Matt Wieters has 3 stolen bases and a triple for Christ's sake.

Now, the Orioles have called up 20-year old phenom Manny Machado to the big club. I could temper enthusiasm given struggles young players usually have jumping from AA straight to the majors but I wouldn't be surprised if he hits .300 for the rest of the season because that's the way 2012 has been going for the O's. Everything's been breaking their way.

Now that the trading deadline is over and I am sure that the team won't do something stupid to marginally improve this team, I am giving myself over to this team of destiny. I want this team to win, I want them to make the playoffs, I want them to take the division. And even if they miss the playoffs, this is still the most entertaining team I've seen since 1989.

Why not? Why the hell not?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Hubbub over Headley

It's been a while since I've seen Oriole fans clamoring for a player that is not an impending free agent and the player they are clamoring for is not exactly a household name. He is San Diego third baseman Chase Headley.

Admittedly, I didn't know tons about the guy and while the Orioles need help at third base, didn't understand the hype. So with some assertions from other fans in my Twitter feed, I set out to find out a little more about him.

Here are three assertions made about Headley and why he is worthy of trading Oriole prospects for:

1. Chase Headley will hit better once he leaves Petco.

This is likely true. But the degree to which it is true is a different matter.

Lefthanded hitters do not really hit that much better once they leave the Padres. Adrian Gonzalez is the perfect example. While his offensive prodcution improved a tick between 2010 and 2011 (152 OPS+ up to 154 OPS+) there was not the dramatic explosion of offensive prodcution that was predicted. You still have to factor in the switch from the NL to the AL, especially the AL East. The AL still has more talent than the NL and is the clearly the tougher league. If you doubt that, look at what David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen have done in Arizona compared to their Oriole careers.

So if Headley came to Camden Yards, his offensive numbers may indeed improve but with the change of leagues they are probably going to be very much like the numbers he puts up now. So he's a lefthanded bat with good plate discipline and modest power. We're talking about 12-18 homers and .425 slugger whether he's in Petco or not.

He is likely to hit very much like he has over the past three season with some slight improvement with his power:

              AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+ 
2010-2012    .272 .353 .395  111

2. He's a superior defensive third baseman

I admit that I have not seen a lot of Headley in the field. So I looked to Fangraphs and got UZR/150's for the last three years at third base.

A. Beltre      13.9
K. Kouzmanoff  12.3
P. Polanco     12.2
E. Longoria    10.1
C. Headley      9.5
A. Callaspo     9.0

Of the qualified players, he's right on the cusp of the top third of third baseman in defense. It was pointed out to me that his total defensive numbers include his time in left field which brings the number down.

So my assertion that Headley is an average defender is pretty off base. He is not a elite defender but few are and he is among the best in MLB.

(BTW, Kevin Kouzmanoff's bat didn't improve after he got out of Petco. He's in Omaha now.)

3. He's an All-Star

No. No, he's not.

Headley probably deserved to be an All-Star in 2012 but he wasn't and never has been. His All-Star status was touted by more than one person on Twitter but he is not actually an All-Star player. Not that this fact means much.

Now, here's the commodity quantified; Chase Headley is a 29-year old (in 2013), slick-fielding third baseman with good plate discipline and slightly above-average offensive skills (I am predicting an OPS+ of about 110 in the AL over the next three years, just for reference).

That is a valuable commodity.

But how valuable is it for the Orioles? According to Dan Connolly, the Padres were looking for Jake Arrieta, plus two other prospects including a high-ceiling guy.

Is Headley worth all that?

Whatever your feeling are on Jake Arrieta, it's not as if the Orioles are flush with pitching and Arrieta is not without value. In fact, even with his struggles, Arrieta is still second on the team in terms of xFIP and his peripheral stats are quite similar to Wei-Yin Chen's. Arrieta can still be a useful starter for this team.

So it's questionable, but arguable, that Arrieta alone is too much to give up for Headley. What's scarcer? A decent young starting pitcher or a third baseman with a slightly above average bat approaching 30? It's a close call but I would probably side with the pitcher on that count.

But to give up two more prospects in addition to Arrieta? Boy, that seems like too much to give up for a guy like Headley.

And what does Headley do for this team? He'll help with run prevention surely. He'll likely be an offensive upgrade over Wilson Betemit (although not as much as you might expect). But he is not a game changer at the plate or in the field. Not enough to improve the prospects of this team for this season or the next two, not by himself.

The Orioles have scored 4.2 runs per game, tied for 10th in the AL in scoring. They are ties for 11th in runs allowed. They have been outscored by a whopping 60 runs this season and are still 5 games over .500. It is crazy that they are where they are in the standings, with even a hint of a chance at a playoff spot. It's been magical and fantastic and I've enjoyed every bit of it.

But this team is not a serious playoff contender this season nor will they likely be next season, not without some improvements to the starting rotation and some better bats in the lineup. One player will have far less impact on the offensive and the pitching than improvements from players already here or young players coming up through the system.

The Oriole farm system is too shallow to be making deals for a guy like Headley right now. Sure, if you can spin off a couple minor league relievers for a guy like J.J. Hardy and extend him, you do it every time. But you can't trade away legitimate prospects or pitchers who can help you in the majors in the near future for a short term improvement to the team.

Not to mention, there are other solutions out there if you get creative. The Orioles could make a run at David Wright (unlikely but he'll be out there). Or they could platoon a better fielder with Wilson Betemit. Brandon Inge could be a nice left/right platoon and improve the defense at third. Or slide Robert Andino over to third base against lefty pitchers. Or hell, pick up Kevin Kouzmanoff on a minor league deal and platoon him with Betemit. (Chase Headley may be an All-Star away from Petco as many fans have told me but Wilson Betemit is an All-Star if you don't let him hit against left handed pitching.)

All I'm saying is, the price to get Headley is way too high right now. Maybe that price drops in the offseason and I'll feel differently. But while he's a logical target for the team, I don't get the hype.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nick Markakis at Home at the Top

At long last, Nick Markakis has been made the team's leadoff hitter. I have suggested such a solution several times on this blog but it's hardly a revolutionary idea. Since the collapse of Brian Roberts' performance and body, there is no one else on the team who demonstrates such patience and on base skills as Markakis does. Nolan Reimold was the only player who comes close and he can't stay on the field. But instead, Buck Showalter has favored speed over on base skills and given the majority of leadoff at bats to the like of Endy Chavez and Robert Andino.

Among Oriole leadoff hitters with more than three games in the spot, only Xavier Avery (.309), Nolan Reimold (.328) and Nick Markakis (.411) have OBP's higher than .300.

Let's take a closer look at that .411 mark for Markakis. Splits for Nick based on batting order for 2012:

Split          G GS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS TB
Batting 1st   12 12  5  1 .353 .411 .451 .862 23
Batting 3rd   50 50 22 37 .256 .333 .452 .786 90

That batting average is aided by a high BABIP (.360) but that's not too much higher than his .321 BABIP for his career. The bottom line is, he just looks more comfortable in a role at the top of the order.

And this is not new. Career splits for Markakis based on batting order:

I         Split   G   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS BAbip
    Batting 1st  12 .353 .411 .451  .862  .360
    Batting 2nd 296 .313 .384 .489  .873  .336
    Batting 3rd 545 .281 .355 .438  .794  .310
    Batting 4th  52 .273 .314 .417  .731  .282
    Batting 8th  22 .456 .538 .588 1.126  .525
    Batting 9th  65 .264 .312 .364  .676  .303

The thing that's important is to look at the split between Markakis when he's batting 1st/2nd versus his numbers when he's batting 3rd/4th. He has been quite a bit better at the top of the lineup than when he is in the heart of the lineup.

I am ususally of the opinion that a player is the hitter he is regardless of where he is in the lineup. Frank Thomas had the approach of a #3 hitter and when he was batting cleanup for Toronto late in his career, he was criticized for walking too much and not swinging more. But he was what he was and that wasn't going to change. If you bat Mark Reynolds leadoff, he will take the same approach he always does.

But I think Nick is a player who does change his approach based on his spot in the lineup. He may feel more pressure to be aggressive at the plate in the 3 or 4 hole to drive in runs. But he does not seem to feel that pressure as a 1 or 2 hitter. And his natural talents (working the count, drawing walks, good baserunning) are well suited to that role.

And while all of this seems obvious, it did not appear to be obvious to Buck Showalter. Markakis as lead off hitter may have come too late to make a difference to the Orioles' fading playoff hopes in 2012.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Oriole Acquire Jim Thome; Is Dan Duquette All In?

The Orioles acquired legendary slugger Jim Thome from the Phillies yesterday for a couple of minor league prospects. My first thought was, "Can he pitch?"

There are lots of ramifications to this trade so let's take them one at a time.

First, let's look at who the Orioles acquired. Unlike the Vladimir Guerrero debacle of 2011, Thome's skills include the ability to get on base and his ISO is still top notch. He's still a legitimate power threat at the plate and a well above average hitter overall. His addition make the Oriole lineup better, you can argue about how much better but there is little doubt that he helps the offense.

Second, Dan Duquette traded away two legitimate prospects to acquire Thome for half a season. Say what you will about the Taylor Teagarden trade but RHP Randy Henry and SS Greg Miclat were not considered top prospects at the time of that trade. In the Oriole farm system, RHP Kyle Simon and C Gabriel Lindo are ranked #18 and #21 respectively by Baseball America. They are at the lowest levels of the organization but these are not spare parts; Simon is a legitimate starting pitcher prospect and Lino is at the very least a great defensive catching prospect. It's a high price to pay for three months of Jim Thome.

Thirdly, how is this going to affect the configuration of the existing lineup? If today's lineup is any indication, Mark Reynolds may have a hard time getting off the bench. Thome will be exclusively a DH which removes a lot of flexibility that Buck Showalter had when filling out his lineup card. With Reynolds utterly unable to play third base, there is now a 3-man rotation of Reynolds, Thome and Chris Davis competing for at bats among DH and first base. And you have to include Wilson Betemit in that mix too. With Reynolds unable to find his power stroke at the mid-point of 2012, he may find playing time sparse. Even today, Showalter is more comfortable putting Davis in right field than starting Reynolds at first. Reynolds has not played third base since early May, look for Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty to handle most of that duty.

Lastly, to what end have the Orioles added Thome? What's the end game here? Does Dan Duquette believe that Baltimore has a shot to make the playoffs? With this pitching staff? He must or he would not part with two prospects as highly though of as Simon and Lino are. I don't share that belief. I have said often this season that this team could be the one that breaks the 14-season losing streak but I never thought they would make the postseason. But Duquette is signalling that this team will be buyers at the trading deadline.

I don't get it. Maybe Duquette is smelling blood int he water with the massive injuries to the Blue Jay rotation and the Yankee rotation, the general ineffectiveness of the Rays offense and the myriad of issues facing the Red Sox.

But I don't think this team has enough to make the postseason and it's troubling that Duquette does. I wonder what other decisions he'll make in that belief and what the long-term impacts are of those moves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Post at MASNSports.com: I Heart Troy Patton

In which I sing the praises of the unsung hero of the Oriole bullpen. Probably my last post for MASNSports for the season. It's been fun.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Random Thoughts About the Atlanta Series

The Orioles were in Atlanta over the weekend and I made it out to all three games as the Orioles took the series. Here are some varied observations:

* I got to watch the Orioles pitching staff throw 20.1 straight scoreless innings this weekend. If you ever get a chance to do that in person, I highly recommend it. It was the funnest.

* This is not a new revelation. I have lived in the Atlanta metro area for more than 8 years now and the Tomahawk Chop has not grown on me. I have not been to all 30 major league parks but I can't imagine there is a sillier tradition in baseball. I am almost embarrassed for the Braves fans every time they start in with it.

* I watched the first three games of Chris Davis' major league outfield career. He did no look completely comfortable but he really didn't do a bad job out there. He played 54 games in the outfield in the minors but for a guy who has been primarily a 1B/DH type for his MLB career, he really did an excellent job. Hit, pitch, field...is there anything Chris Davis can't do?

* I received some very annoyed tweets responding to my very annoyed tweet in which I called Brandon Beachy a "bum" who "routinely walks the park" and vented my frustration that the Orioles went to the plate the first two innings of Saturday night's game "hacking" and making Beachy's night easy. After looking more closely at his stats, I will retract the bum comment. But every time I flip by Peachtree TV and I see Beachy pitching, he is giving out free passes to opposing batters like they  were flyers for a comedy club. Especially down the stretch during the Braves' late season collapse of September 2011. So excuse me if those starts were more memorable to me than his good outings. We'll just call him an inconsistent young arm. But his SIERA and xFIP are in the same neighborhood as Jake Arrieta, a guy who is holding onto his starting job by his fingertips. NL ERA champ? Yes but probably not deserving of that much reverence.

* Speaking of ERA, with the way the Braves defense played this weekend, I am surprised all of their pitchers do not have sub-2.00 ERA's. Friday night's game was a frustrating loss because the Orioles were facing the best pitcher they would see all series in Tommy Hanson and he was not on his game. The Orioles had plenty of chances to tack on runs but didn't and lost by two. But let's give the Atlanta defense some credit. Some bad luck was involved with well-struck balls going right at Brave fielders but, generally, the Braves just made some great plays to kill rallies and keep runs off the scoreboard.

* Speaking of defense, I had never heard of Andrelton Simmons before this weekend. I won't forget his name now. Simmons was called up from AA as the Braves sent down fellow rookie Tyler Pastornicky to AAA Gwinnett who had struggled at the plate and, more importantly, in the field. Simmons was called up on June 1st and I don't think he's going back. He made more than one terrific play in the field this weekend and has shown patience and power at the plate in his short time in Atlanta. Now the Braves are talking about having Pastornicky focus on more of a utility role while in the minors. Simmons should be playing short for the braves for years to come and I am a fan.

* Speaking of being a fan, I certainly admired Wei-Yin Chen's pitching and understood how important his contributions to this team's winning record have been in 2012. But this was the first time I have seen him in person and I loved him. He fields his position so well, better than any Oriole pitcher I've watched since Brad Bergesen, and made some fine plays on Sunday, getting off the mound quickly and making a couple of heads up plays that many pitchers would not have been confident enough to make. Also, he's really quite fast, at least faster than I thought he'd be. When he laid down a sac bunt in the 6th yesterday, he made the play at first far closer than it had any right to be. He is completely cool under pressure and that fastball/changeup combo he has isn't bad either. I am a fan.

* Going to Turner Field with a normal ticket is a fine experience. Buy any of their value added tickets, however, and you may find yourself on a scavenger hunt. You bought the four-pack of tickets that come with dogs, drinks and a program? Ooohh, you can't redeem the food with your game tickets, you need to go two levels down and halfway around the park to the kiosk Sec. 132. Oh, I'm sorry, you have to go to the ticket booth in Sec. 146 , get vouchers for your program and food and come back here to 132. Oh, I'm sorry, you can't redeem your food voucher here and the counter nearest your section is closed. You'll have to go back downstairs, Sec. 217, I think.

Nobody seems to know how any of this works at the park and good luck finding the information on the website. I did eventually track it down but even all of those details were not consistent with how it worked at the park. Seems like that information should be front and center on the website and that the people involved in the process know how it all works. It's one thing that it's convoluted, it's another that it's not consistent.

Nor are the parks' security policies. Open your bags for search and then have to empty the entirety of your pockets one day, next day a cursory glance at the bag and nothing further. Again, I don't mind being inconvenienced or delayed as long as you are consistent. This has gotten worse over the years. Fix it, Braves.

* On a positive note for Turner Field, I like a good park organist and we have a good one in Atlanta. While the Braves all come up to their canned walk-up music, (I really enjoyed Martin Prado's walk-up music, by the way. A Latin ska-tinged number, something that I assume is big in Venezuela. If anyone knows what it is, let me know) the Turner Field organist came up with little ditties for each of the Orioles as they approached the plate. Some are stretches but you can get there is you think about it. Here are a few of my favorites from the weekend, see if you can figure out the connections"

      Jason Hammel - theme from "Star Wars"
      J.J. Hardy - theme from "Good Times"
      Chris Davis - "Kind of Blue"
      Adam Jones - "It's Not Unusual" (or the opening melody to "Pac-Man", which is obvious)
      Steve Pearce - "Round and Round" or "Radar Love"
      Robert Andino - "The Flintstones"
      Wilson Betemit - "The Gambler"

Some of these might be easier to figure out since I gave you the titles but hearing the tune, trying to figure out the tune and then the connection to the batter is a bit of geeky fun for me. Took me all weekend to deduce Steve Pearce.

* I like Steve Pearce. My head tells me he will not be all that useful going forward but  I really like something about how that guy plays.

* I am grateful, as a fan out here in the Oriole diaspora, that I got to see Brian Roberts play, and play well, one more time in person. There were times that I doubted I would ever see it at all and I am happy I got to see it first hand.

* Between innings, the Braves have some sponsored contests or quizzes up on the Braves-vision screen in center field. On Friday, they introduced an elderly gentleman on the screen and informed up that the man, clearly in his eighties had fought in World War II and the Korean War. This brought patriotic cheers and a standing ovation for the man. They brought out a $50 Publix gift card and the announcer said they were going to give it to him....if you can answer this multiple choice question! Jesus, just give the 80-something dual-conflict vet the card. Don't make him dance for it.

* I still hate the wave at a baseball game and, thankfully, most attempts to get it started during this series fizzled badly.

* A great series and a whole bunch of fun for an Oriole fan. My only complaint is that they still should have won Friday and had the sweep. I mean, Hunter was dog-crap that night...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Winning and Attendance: Part 1

I have said for years that the remedy for the poor attendance at Camden Yards is not signing premier free agents, not signing "exciting name players" for marketing purposes, not putting "Baltimore" back on the away jerseys and not a better customer experience at the park. Those things are nice but the factor that was going to move the needle for attendance was always going to be more wins.

Winning was the key. Baltimore is a good baseball town and if you put a competitive club on the field, the people will come.

Now we have a winner and I thought I'd take a look at how we are doing. After 30 home games, the Orioles are 35-26. Through 30 home games last season, the team was 26-31. In 2011, the team had muddled along at a few games under .500 for most of the year. This season, the Orioles came screaming out of the gate and have hovered around first place for most of the season. How's that working out for ticket sales?

Average attendance for 2011 through this point was 19,022 and average attendance for 2012 is 25,325. That is 6,303 more people per game or an increase of 33% over this time last year. It's still a bit early to pinpoint a real trend but that's an impressive jump. We'll keep an eye on this each month and see how all this winning helps things at the turnstile.