Saturday, November 10, 2007

Erik Bedard's Future

Perhaps the biggest question mark of the offseason for the Orioles is what to do with ace starter Erik Bedard. Any team would like to have Erik Bedard start at the front of their rotation after last season. He had his breakout campaign, and on a inning-by-inning basis he was probably the best pitcher in the American League.

But the decision to keep him is not an easy one. He will be a free agent after 2009, meaning the Orioles have him under their control for only two more seasons - and at least next season looks to be another season far removed from contention. While his production was stellar last season, it may represent a high water mark. Of course not reaching last year's heights isn't a damning indictment, but at 29 and having never thrown 200 innings in a season, there are still question marks surrounding Bedard.

If you try to decipher what Andy MacPhail has said in recent weeks, it seems that resigning Bedard would be the first option. A fair contract would likely be in the 4 year, $60M range.
And that's at the very upper limit. Break that down as $20M for the last two arbitration years (Carlos Zambrano pocketed $18.9M) and $20M to buy out each of his first two seasons of free agency. And that's assuming health and consistency as a top 5 pitcher in the AL. Something like 4/$50M might be more in line with Bedard's value, even though he likely wouldn't sign for that amount.

The more attractive option might be to trade Bedard for a package of three premium prospects, if indeed someone is willing to offer that in a winter where the free agent market is devoid of quality pitching. Any contract to Bedard will pay a premium to him based on having been signed when his value is highest. Such a contract will put almost all of the risk on the Orioles, something that should be cause for concern. Either course of action is defensible, but for the first time, I find myself leaning towards raking in multiple young players in return for Bedard.

Monday, October 29, 2007

As we move into November...

*Kurt Birkins was selected by the Devil Rays off of waivers. It's not a big loss for the organization, although with the clear lack of quality bullpen options available this season, it might not have been the best move to give away a potentially helpful arm. Pitching as a starter in Norfolk, Birkins struck out almost a batter an inning. He got hit hard in a couple starts in Baltimore, but that's clearly not where his future is, if he has one. He managed to strike out 27 in 30.1 innings as a reliever in Baltimore, but his numbers were superficially inflated by poor luck on balls in play. Birkins will never be a dominant reliever, but he probably has a future in the age of the seven man bullpen.

*Lots of shuffling on the 40 man roster in recent weeks. Fredy Deza was added. He pitched in relief and as a starter this year with Bowie, putting up a 4.43 ERA. At 25 and having never made it past the Eastern League, his future is limited at best.

Reliever Bob McCrory was also added to the 40 man roster. He's 25 and made what was essentially his full season debut, splitting time between Frederick and Bowie and striking out a man an inning. He worked almost exclusively as a ninth inning man (finishing 37 games in 44 appearances) and performed well, but his walk totals still suggest some unresolved command issues. The feeling seems to be that he has a real shot to contribute to the bullpen in 2008 in some capacity. There could be worse solutions.

Val Majewski lost his place on the 40 man, finally extinguishing any faint hopes of prospectdom that he still had. Majewski once seemed destined to have some role in the big leagues, but after missing all of 2005 to injury, he completely lost any power he once had, leaving him with a bat that doesn't play in the corner outfield, even as a reserve.

Adam Stern is gone too. He didn't hit again this year in AAA, but the Javy Lopez trade was still a net positive for the Orioles. Sayanora to Elder Torres. At least Brandon Fahey and Luis Hernandez augment their lack of hitting skill by playing SS rather than 2B.

*The Orioles still don't have a full coaching staff. Roch says that the First Base coaching job is down to Chris Hoiles and some guy named Mo. If we could only be so lucky as to see the return of Chris Hoiles to an Orioles uniform.

*The Red Sox win again! Fuck them!
t is
*Alex Rodriguez is officially a free agent after opting out of his contract yesterday. And there sure seems to be some acrimony between Rodriguez and the Yankees suggesting he will play elsewhere next season. No surprise there. I'll guess that the end result is 8 years for a quarter of a billion dollars.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Offseason Moves So Far

The Orioles moved quickly to fill the vacancy at pitching coach by hiring former Marlins' PC Russ Kranitz. He comes in having guided a very young 2006 Marlins' staff to an excellent season which was enough for Baseball America to name him their Major League Coach of the Year. I'll reserve optimism on this one given the failures of two high profile pitching gurus (Leo Mazzone and Ray Miller) in recent years. Still, on the surface of it, it seems that the Orioles made about as good a hire as could be expected.

As could be expected, the team has already parted ways with some deadweight as Jaret Wright, Rob Bell, Victor Santos, and Victor Zambrano have all been granted free agency after fulfilling their role as sub-replacement level pitchers on last year's staff. Catcher JR House was also released. That one isn't surprising, although it still hurts that the Orioles continue to ignore the concept of freely available talent.

And since no round of transactions can be completed without the Orioles doing business with the Cubs, the club claimed Cubbies reliever Roberto Novoa off of waivers. He missed all of this season with an injury after adequate performances for the Tigers and Cubs from 2004 to 2006. He did strike out more than a batter per inning in about 45 innings of relief work for the Cubs in 2005, so he might be a nice power arm to have in the organization. If nothing else, this hopefully signals that the Orioles are looking to solidify the bullpen through low-cost acquisitions rather than multi-year contracts. The team has done that in the past, though one would hope that the new front office is better equipped to separate possible contributors from junk.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Leo Mazzone Fired

Leo Mazzone, Orioles pitching coach and assumed pitching genius, was fired by the team last week after two years in charge of the team's staff.

In terms of raw numbers, Mazzone failed as a pitching coaching here in the Charm City. After so many great staffs working under Bobby Cox with the Braves, Mazzone came back to his home state to work with long-time friend and manager Sam Perlozzo as the Orioles' Pitching Coach, succeeding Ray Miller in 2006. Mazzone's first O's staff in 2006 finished with a 5.35 ERA (ERA+ of 84), bad enough to finish 13th in the 14 team American League. This year's team improved to a 5.19 ERA (86 ERA+), but still did no better than 13th in the AL.

2006 was written off by many, including myself, as an adjustment period for Mazzone as well as the staff. 2007, if was hoped, was the year that the vaunted Mazzone Effect came to bear on the team's results. But it was not to be, at least superficially.

What isn't shown in the numbers is that the staff put together an outstanding (or at least very good) 4.13 ERA through the end of July. Erik Bedard had fully realized his potential and might have been the best pitcher in the AL. Former top prospect Jeremy Guthrie had been outstanding in what was a classic case of a pitcher turning it around under Mazzone's tutelage (ignoring cause and effect for a moment). The bullpen was solid, even with Danys Baez combusting from the start.

But then things fell apart. Bedard and Guthrie were both injured in the last two months. The formerly nifty Brian Burres imploded upon being sent to the bullpen. Steve Trachsel, who had inexplicably defied his peripherals all season, was traded to the Cubs. Chris Ray was lost for the year. Danys Baez never improved back to previous seasons' form.

And the Orioles kept plowing through arms in trying to find a working combination. Prospects James Hoey, Garrett Olson, and Radhames Liz flopped upon extended auditions in the bigs. Sub-replacement level veterans like Paul Shuey and Rob Bell had places in the bullpen for what seemed like years. And by September the Orioles were giving starts to the likes of Jon Leicester, Kurt Birkins, and the Brothers Victor (Santos and Zambrano).

However, simply blaming the talent collection is somewhat insufficient. The job of the coaches is to improve the talent. It's clear that some of the poor performance was the result of poor talent evaluation by the front office as well as a desperation to find warm bodies and functioning arms as well as plain old bad luck. But Mazzone's deft touch didn't help highly rated Orioles prospects like Olson or Hoey adjust to the majors. Daniel Cabrera, a centerpiece of the team's youth movement on the pitching staff, regressed strongly in 2007, posting perhaps his worst season yet.

In the end, the last two years are not a damning statement against Mazzone by any stretch, though it has certainly shown that enough credit for the Atlanta staffs has not been given to the manager/general manager team of Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz. When Mazzone's old Atlanta reclamation projects (Jaret Wright, Russ Ortiz, Jim Brower), results were ugly.

The Orioles are not likely to find a better pitching coach, but at the same time, the staff is unlikely to get appreciably worse next season. Dave Trembley will have significant input on his coaching staff, one which won't include Mazzone or Tom Treblehorn. It's hard to be excited about seeing the most ballyhooed coach in recent baseball history leave the bench, but perhaps it won't be so bad after all. We'll find out soon enough.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Orioles Defense 2007

Listed below are the rankings for every Orioles defender in the IF and OF based on translations from Justin Inaz. It's based on Hardball Times' RZR (Revised Zone Rating) data. Learn more about Inaz' procedure for generating these numbers on his site.

The basic idea is that a zone rating (percentage of balls made into outs within a fielders' zone of responsibility) is converted into the number of runs a player saves or concedes relative to a league average defender. Plays made out of zone (OOZ) are also factored in as a positive for defenders. The rule of thumb is that ten runs is equal to about one win. Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies (+27.6 runs) wins about three more games than the average SS with his glove. On the flip side, Derek Jeter (-37.1 runs) gives up four wins or thereabouts with his glove relative to an average player.

Standard disclaimers about sample size and the imperfect nature of defensive stats apply as always.

1B - Moore (-0.7), Gomez (-1.1), Huff (-3.1), Millar (-4.2)

Millar has something of a reputation as an underrated defender - sure handed but lacking in range. That was the case this season, but Millar's range was worse than some had imagined. Huff, on the other hand, was as bad as advertised. With regular work at 1B, he would have rated among the very worst in the majors.

2B - Roberts (+4.1), Fahey (+3.3), Gomez (-0.1), Bynum (-0.4), Luis Hernandez (-0.7)

The Orioles had solid middle infield defense on the season. Roberts rates as a solidly above average defender, ranking between Robinson Cano and Mark Grudzielanek. Brandon Fahey is either a Gold Glover at second or a small sample size fluke. He's 15th in the majors among keystone fielders despite playing a mere 31 innings at the position. That pace is certainly not sustainable going forward, but there is little doubt that Fahey has the skills to rank among the best in the league if he played the position regularly.

SS - Tejada (+4.8), Luis Hernandez (+4.1), Gomez (+2.2), Fahey (+1.4), Bynum (+0.4).

Imagine that. The much maligned (defensively, at least) Miguel Tejada rates as a comfortably above average defender. The numbers confirm that Luis Hernandez is better; he contributed nearly as much defensively in fraction of the innings. It's entirely possible that the system is overrating Tejada. As I posted last week, the BP fielding stats (which aren't PBP based) show a gigantic gap between the below-average Tejada and the well above-average Hernandez. Still, these numbers should be very interesting to those in the Front Office wanting to move Tejada to another position.

3B - Mora (+2.8), Moore (-1.8), Gomez (-2.6), Huff (-3.9)

Mora rates as above average. That generally jibes with perception, at least this year. On the left side of the infield, Mora was the one catching heat for his defense in 2006. Now Tejada has assumed that role. Scott Moore shows why he was regarded as a weak defender during his time in the minors. Huff continues to be terrible regardless of the position.

LF - Bynum (+1.9), Fahey (+0.7), Millar (0.0), Knott (-0.1), Redman (-0.4), Gibbons (-1.0), Payton (-9.0)

When your two main LF are below replacement level with the bat and below average with the glove, that isn't a good situation. Gibbons was surprisingly good, though still below average. Payton was atrocious and didn't live up to his reputation as a plus glove.

CF - Payton (+1.0), Patterson (-1.3), Bynum (-3.0), Redman (-7.9)

Corey Patterson got no love this year, going from an Gold Glove defender to one that was slightly below average. Patterson has all the physical tools in addition to being more than competent in terms of taking routes to the ball. The lack of out of zone (OOZ) plays made by Patterson stands out as one reason for his low rating.

RF - Gibbons (-0.2), Payton (-1.0), Markakis (-12.6)

It's believable that Miguel Tejada was an above average SS this season. It's believable that Corey Patterson might have had a down year and rated as a below average fielder in center. But Nick Markakis as one of the worst RF in the game? No way, right?

Markakis was ahead of only a select few - Guillen, Cuddyer, Guerrero, Griffey, Abreu, and Dye. It's possible that the high scoreboard in RF at Camden Yards suppressed his numbers beneath what they should have been. Balls of off the scoreboard count as plays in the zone that weren't made, despite the fact that there was no chance they could be turned into outs. It's similar to the Green Monster taking Manny Ramirez from a run of the mill atrocious fielder to ten runs worse than anyone else in the majors, albeit on a smaller scale.

It wasn't a great year for the defense, if you believe these numbers. Mora, Roberts, and Tejada were above average, but the other four positions ranked. It is good that MacPhail seems likely to emphasize defense though he needs to find the proper balance between defensive and offensive considerations.

Monday, October 1, 2007

And so it ends... 69-93. For the tenth straight season the Orioles lost more than they won. For the ninth time in the last decade, the club finished in fourth place in the five team AL East. And for the third straight season the team lost more games than they had won the previous season.

The Orioles had a total payroll of $93.554M according to USA Today, good for tenth highest in the majors. Only four of the top ten teams in total payroll went to the playoffs, but aside from the Orioles and the White Sox (72-90), every one of them finished with more wins than losses. Indeed, a payroll of nearly four times that of divisional rival Tampa Bay scored the Orioles a mere three additional wins.

The birds finished tenth in the AL in runs scored with 756 while finishing 9th in OPS+ at 97. The pitching staff and defense did little better, finishing 13th in ERA (5.19) as well as runs allowed (868). The Orioles scored fewer runs and gave up fewer runs, but that was mostly the effects of scoring going down across the league. While Baltimore's OPS+ stayed the same as in 2006, the team's ERA+ managed to drop from 86 to an even more terrible 84.

While there were bright spots, 2007 was just another year that saw Baltimore sink further and further into baseball irrelevance. The new Man in Charge, Andy MacPhail, does seem to realize that changes - real, sweeping changes - need to me made for this ballclub to become competitive once again. He insists that he hasn't finalized a plan for this offseason, so we'll check back once the moves start being made to see what MacPhail is going to do for the club.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

#18 David Hernandez

When evaluating a young pitcher, or really any pitcher, the one question that often comes up is "does he miss bats?" Does the pitcher strike hitters out or does he rely on his defense to generate outs? David Hernandez is a pitcher that will strike batters out. In his final regular season start, Hernandez struck out an absurd 18 Winston-Salem batters and on the season he fanned 168 batters in 145.1 innings over 27 starts.

Hernandez, 22, was taken in the 2005 17th round out of Consumnes River JC in Sacramento and has put up big K numbers ever since, striking out over a batter per inning in Aberdeen in his pro debut in 2005 before doing the same last season at Delmarva. He improved quite a bit on his already lofty totals, fanning 14 more batters in just 1/3 of an inning more.

Hernandez has control problems, though perhaps not quite as acute as Radhames Liz or others in the system. His pro BB/9 rate is a high but not unmanageable 3.66, but he also has 34 wild pitches and has hit 21 batters in the past two seasons. Add that to a fly ball tendency (16 HR allowed) and a 4.95 ERA (skewed by some lousy luck on balls in play) and it's easy to see the reason for tempered enthusiasm. Even so, you'd have to think that a guy who can record so many outs without the use of his defense will have a role in the majors somewhere.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

#19 Zach Britton

Britton has a huge ceiling and is making strides

Britton did nothing special in his pro debut at Bluefield last season, but he did enough at Aberdeen in 2007 to make himself interesting. The one aspect of his game that stands out is that he gets hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Britton gave up just one homer in Aberdeen this season over 15 starts (63.2 IP). Lefties who can get ground balls have a future. The ones that have mediocre strikeout numbers and haven't reached full season ball need more time to develop.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tejada and Changing Positions

There has been increasing speculation around the Orioles that if Miguel Tejada is on the team next season, it will be at another position, possibly 3B. Jeff Zrebiec wrote an illuminating article in The Sun about the issue yesterday.

The saying is that where there's smoke, there's fire. That might not be the case here, but it's almost undoubtedly true that the some of the folks running the club can envision a scenario where Luis Hernandez takes over as the everyday SS next season. If that's the case, it's very disturbing whether or not Hernandez eventually gets the job or not.

The idea that Hernandez is a viable SS candidate at this point rejects nearly every accepted notion about the value of defense relative to offense, the tradeoffs between the two, and the utility of minor league performance as a projection for major league performance. Hernandez put together an abysmal .244/.276/.312 season at the plate for Bowie and Norfolk in 2007. Even if he experienced no drop off at all in offensive production after a move to the majors, no amount of defensive acumen, even relative to the worst defending SS in the majors (not Tejada), would make up for a .588 OPS.

Baseball Prospectus' Rate stat marks Hernandez as a +9 above average defender and Tejada as a -8 defender. Keep in mind the sample size issues present not only for Hernandez but Tejada as well. There is some inherent error in these numbers for a variety of reasons, but it confirms the notion that Hernandez has been better - much better - defensively than Tejada in 2007.

Let's look at this in terms of winning games. To this end, we'll use WARP as an indicator of a player's contribution towards winning. It's far from a perfect metric, but it can give us a rough idea of the relative value of a player.

Hernandez has accumulated 0.3 WARP in 120 innings of play this year. Projecting that out to 150 full games (about 1350 innings), we can estimate that Hernandez is roughly 3.4 win player. That's not great, but it's certainly a healthy contribution you'd expect from an average player like Melvin Mora or Kevin Millar.

Tejada has played 1002.7 innings this season and totaled 3.5 WARP. Projecting that figure over 150 full games, we see that Tejada projects to about 4.7 WARP for a full season. That means that moving Tejada from SS in favor of Hernandez results in a net loss of about one win over the course of the season, probably a bit more.

But there's a fallacy here. As we project these numbers out to a full season and to next season, we assume that Hernandez can repeat his current .705 major league OPS. We assume that Miguel Tejada will not improve on his .801 OPS, his worst since 1999. And finally we assume that Tejada won't even approach the defensive prowess he exhibited in his first three seasons as an Oriole when he ranged from a +2 to a +14 defender.

If Hernandez regresses back to his minor league offensive numbers, which he almost certainly will, we see an even bigger gap between him and Tejada. If Tejada manages to play midway between where he was in 2006 (when he had an 8.2 WARP) and where he has so far this season, the gap widens still more. What might only be a one win gap under the assumptions that each of the two is playing to their true talent level can easily expand to a four win gap.

There are other considerations. Moving Tejada to 3B is an offensive upgrade over Melvin Mora, although Mora is rated as a +4 defender there this season and it isn't clear that Tejada would field that well after moving to a new position. On the whole, Tejada is a likely upgrade over Mora while Mora would be an upgrade over Jay Payton and Jay Gibbons, assuming he were to be moved to LF.

It would seem that these moves have the chance to be a net zero in terms of wins, although that seems close to a best case scenario. It is quite probable that playing Luis Hernandez as the everyday SS results in a loss of wins. In either scenario, the team is losing several wins on the table by moving Tejada off of SS that must be recouped elsewhere. And at 65-87, it should be quite clear that upgrades must be made. Simply breaking even is not a viable option at all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What's next for Daniel Cabrera?

I've been a Daniel Cabrera defender for quite a while now. Not one of those folks who still compares him to Randy Johnson and talks wistfully of his upside. No, I've been sure for some time that Cabrera was never going to reach those wild expectations. But he's a guy who is still three years away from free agency after this year. Given the money spent on mediocre starters in the free agent market, if Cabrera can put up his customary 4.50-5.00 ERA, he has value. With a bit of improvement, he becomes an incredibly valuable commodity.

But with tonight's latest debacle against the Yankees, Cabrera drops to 9-17 with a 5.51 ERA. He has given up 104 walks and 25 homers on the season. That ERA puts him in a tie for 36th in the AL among qualifying starters ahead of only Jose Contreras. His 4.6 BB/G ranks him dead last among qualifiers despite a radical improvement in that area this season. He has a 5.12 FIP ERA - that also puts him dead last in the league. And if you care about more traditional stats, his 17 losses is also - you guessed it - dead last in the AL.

Cabrera still has problems with walks, and what's worse, he isn't striking out as many batters and he's getting hit harder. While he was certainly never dominant, he did show flashes of dominance, but those have become much harder to come by this season. At this point it's hard to consider him to even be an acceptable 5th starter.

Even with any residual perceived "upside" or "potential", Cabrera's complete lack of progress at the major league level makes his trade value fairly close to nonexistent. A role in the bullpen could help refine his mechanics and shave down the walks through more frequent usage while allowing Cabrera to throw at max effort for short periods rather than pacing himself for 110 pitches. Assuming that Hayden Penn and Garrett Olson are ready for primetime (a big assumption perhaps), Cabrera's optimal role might be in the bullpen. However, unless he morphs into the relief ace the team needs, it would seem to be a waste to trade 210 innings of a mediocre Cabrera for 70 innings of a slightly improved Cabrera.

In a sense this discussion is probably pointless. Cabrera, along with Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen, and Jeremy Guthrie would seem to be near-locks for the team's Opening Day Rotation. But with Penn, Olson, and Liz in the pipeline behind him, he may need to earn the rotation slot. And that's for the best since Cabrera is a 5th starter at this point.

#20 Brad Bergesen

Brad Bergesen was the Orioles' 4th round pick (#109 overall) in the 2004 amateur draft. He was their third pick in that draft behind P Wade Townsend and OF Jeff Fiorentino. The then-18-year-old Bergesen was signed out of Foothill HS in Pleasanton for the tidy sum of $310k and would begin his pro career later that season with Bluefield of the Appalachian League.

Bergesen made it to Aberdeen in 2005, and although his performance record was undistinguished that season, he made his way to Delmarva to begin the 2006 season, an impressive feat for a 20 year old starting pitcher. Bergesen's record with the Shorebirds was that of a finesse pitcher - just 49 k's with 97 hits in 86 innings. But what made Bergesen interesting was the mere 10 walks he allowed on the season, good for a tidy 4.9 K/BB.

Bergesen isn't a finesse pitcher, though. His "stuff" is solid and despite the lack of strikeouts his accomplishments aren't the result of smoke and mirrors or feasting on younger competition. His season at Delmarva was solid, but it wasn't even good enough to merit a mention by prospect guru John Sickels in his list of top Orioles' farmhands.

Returning to Delmarva for the start of the 2007 season, he continued his success with a 73/17 K:BB in almost 100 innings of work. His ERA was an outstanding 2.19 after 15 starts, and that was good enough to get him promoted to Frederick for a shot in their rotation. Bergesen floundered somewhat in the more advanced Carolina League, posting a 5.75 ERA in 10 starts, although with a very solid 35/9 K:BB and a near total lack of luck (.374 BABIP) were looming beneath the surface.

One of the things that made Bergesen an interesting prospect after this season was that he induced quite a few more balls on the ground this season, going from a 1.17 G/F in 2006 to a scintillating 2.14 ratio in 2007, a tendency that led to a minuscule 7 HR in 150.2 innings pitched. The lack of strikeouts is concerning, but when mitigated by extreme control and the ability to avoid homers and to keep the ball on the ground, it's not a deal breaker. It should be noted that in addition to his low walk totals, Bergesen hit 14 batters on the season.

Bergesen will likely start next season as part of the Frederick rotation. It will be a crucial year for him to prove that he is a legitimate name to remember in the future rather than a borderline prospect in the vein of Jim Johnson.

first in a series of Prospect Profiles

Orioles Top Twenty

1. Matt Wieters
2. Billy Rowell
3. Garrett Olson
4. Nolan Reimold
5. Brandon Erbe
6. Scott Moore
7. Radhames Liz
8. Brandon Snyder
9. James Hoey
10. Chorye Spoone
11. Pedro Beato
12. Jake Arrieta
13. Brandon Tripp
14. Christopher Vinyard
15. Timothy Bascom
16. Jeff Fiorentino
17. Blake Davis
18. David Hernandez
19. Zach Britton
20. Brad Bergesen

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Keys Win

Of the nine teams in the Orioles' organization, the only one to make the playoffs was the High-A Frederick Keys of the Carolina League. Even the Keys limped into the playoffs, finishing only 64-74 on the season. Frederick won the North Division in the first half with a record of 32-37. That same record in the second half was good enough for only third in the four team division.

The Keys - led by a rotation that included Chorye Spoone, David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Brandon Erbe - finished 7th in the 8 team Carolina League in both runs scored and runs allowed on the year. They were outscored by a whopping 154 runs in their 138 games. To say they were an underdog in the playoffs would probably have been an understatement.

But anything can happen in a short series. We all know that. Facing the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Royals affiliate in the best-of-3 North Division playoffs, the Keys won back to back games, 9-2 and 3-1 to take the series in two straight. After pounding out 17 hits and getting 7 strong innings from starter Brad Bergesen in game 1, the Keys got a tremendous start from rising star Chorye Spoone in the clincher, a complete game one hitter that featured 9 strikeouts from Spoone. The no-hitter was not spoiled until the 9th inning on a two out homerun. But Spoone was not yet done with his postseason heroics.

Next up were the Salem Avalanche of the Astros' organization in a best-of-five series. The Keys took the first game in a tight one, riding another seven inning pitching performance, this time from David Hernandez, to a tough 3-2 win. Salem won the next game 8-4, but Frederick retook the series with a 6-4 win on the road.

The Keys had their ace Spoone back on the hill for the possible series clinching win. Once again Spoone took a shutout into the ninth, leading 5-0. Spoone failed once again to get the shutout, giving up a run on three hits to the Avalanche in the ninth. But more importantly, Spoone suceeded in closing out the win. The single run was accompanied by a whopping 11 hits, but Spoone pitched well enough to strike out 8 and won a well deserved series MVP award.

Congratulations to the Frederick Keys for their second Mills Cup win in three years. Look for Spoone, Erbe, and a few others in the upcoming Orioles Top 20 prospects list.

Baez to have Tommy John?

Maybe, or so says Roch Kubatko in his blog.

If Baez does need to have TJ surgery, he'd almost certainly be out for 2008 and the Orioles would no longer have to deal with his sub-replacement level 6.44 ERA. The team has always been unable to recognize a sunk cost when they see it so there was little chance they would simply release Baez if he continued to pitch to his current level. And even in a trade with the Orioles taking on a significant portion of the money owed to Baez, there most likely would not be a line forming to acquire his services for 2008 and 2009.

That being said, Baez has only faced 233 batters this year, a relatively small number on which to judge a pitcher (or any player). If Baez could come back next season and approximate his 4.53 ERA from 2006, he'd have some value, even if that value was far below what he will be paid. A sub-0ptimal solution is sometimes a necessary evil given that Rob Bell or Victor Santos are the types of alternatives the team might be inclined to audition.

In either case, the team clearly needs to upgrade the bullpen for next season. Although Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker have both been perfectly acceptable this season, Andy MacPhail hopefully realizes the folly of throwing big money at the problem. And while scrap heap solutions can work, it's much better to acquire some young flamethrowers with big arms (Fernando Cabrera) rather than old guys long past their usefulness (Paul Shuey, Rob Bell).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ten Straight

The Orioles lost their 82nd game of the season this week, which is significant for no other reason than the fact that it clinches another losing season. For those who have lost track, this is the tenth straight season that the Orioles have failed to as much as break even at 81-81.

It's lonely at the bottom, but the Orioles have some company. The inept Devil Rays are also in the midst of ten straight losing seasons, precisely the number of seasons they've been in existence. And sadly enough, Tampa Bay hasn't even mustered a season better than their 70-91 campaign in 2004. The Pirates have had 14 straight losing seasons dating back to when Barry Bonds left the team. And if you expand the category just a bit, the Brewers have had 14 straight years of finishing at or below .500, though that's likely to end after this season.

It's not unexpected of course. The Orioles have been a deplorable 3-16 dating back to the 30-3 defeat against the Rangers. The pitching staff has fallen apart, and what's left of it seems almost universally incapable of recording an out.

Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada have come on strong over the past two months, and Kevin Millar continues a solid season, but the rest of the offense has remained lethargic, with even Brian Roberts seeing his performance collapse.

At this point in the season, it's pointless to bemoan Paul Bako playing more than JR House or Jon Knott being DFA. Changes need to be made in the offseason - that much is clear. Hopefully Andy MacPhail will finally be the man to enact the necessary changes to bring back the proud tradition of Baltimore Baseball.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Trembley Interview

Some interesting notes in a Baseball Prospectus interview with Dave Trembley (subscription required). A few revealing answers:

BP: Weaver’s reputation included playing for the three-run homer. Do you share a similar philosophy?

DT: I think you have to adapt, and adjust, your philosophy and approach to the personnel that you have. I’ve always been a believer in baseball fundamentals, and to me that’s a repetition of basic baseball skills. It’s pitching, defense and timely hitting. I think you win more games, or at least have the opportunity to win more games, if those things are in place. Obviously, the three-run home run makes it a lot easier, but if you don’t have pitching and defense, a three-run home run doesn’t mean a hill of beans.

Andy MacPhail was in the booth on Saturday and said that the game was "80% pitching". He might have been exaggerating for effect, but given what we've heard from he and Trembley it's clear that pitching and defense is going to be an organizational mantra. And that's fine to an extent.

But the problem seems to be that the men in charge haven't indicated that they appreciate the tradeoffs between offense and defense. The three run home run doesn't mean a lot without the pitching - see Tampa Bay. But there seems to be no recognition that the pitching and defense is no good if the lineup scrapes just to score four runs every night. In order to field a winning team there should be a mix of all three components rather than the thought that any offense generated is a nice bonus for the team.

It's fine to trade some hitting for good fielding up the middle (or anywhere that it adds value), but that doesn't make Luis Hernandez or Brandon Fahey viable options for an MLB roster. It doesn't mean that the team needs to move Miguel Tejada to a less valuable defensive position, and it doesn't mean that a "defensive" catcher like Paul Bako or Alberto Castillo should be on the roster getting at-bats over a JR House.

BP: What is your approach to the use of statistics and statistical analysis?

DT: Well, it’s gotten a lot more sophisticated since I first started. I like to look at match-ups, right/left, and situational things. I think it’s a tool, and I think that a lot of the services that provide this information have some good things, but it’s not a sole basis for making decisions. I think the game is still played between the white lines, and there are a lot of decisions that are made by your gut, not by what you see on paper.

I might be reading into this what I want to see, but this doesn't sound like a man who is going to look at the statistical analysis available to him? Obviously there are going to be situations that can't be neatly summed up by the statistics, but is going with your gut the better option? Is it too much to ask that a manager actually makes decisions by some analytical process rather than the tried and true "gut method"?

It's infuriating that not only will people not take to heart the knowledge gained through statistical analysis, but they'll also say things like "the game is played between the lines". Of course it is. And the statistical record analyzes the things that occur between those lines.

I actually like Trembley a lot so far, although I liked Perlozzo too at the beginning. I don't want to be too hard on him because of one interview, but I do hope he takes to heart the analytical side of baseball.

Guthrie Done for the Year

Just a few days after Erik Bedard was shut down for the season with a strained oblique, Jeremy Guthrie left yesterday's game with the same injury. And now he's out for the season.

Guthrie was the surprise of the season, pitching like a Cy Young candidate for a few months after being picked up off of waivers in the offseason from the Indians before fading down the stretch. Guthrie's season was strikingly similar to that of Rodrigo Lopez, who posted a 3.57 ERA as a 26 year old rookie in 2002 after being picked up from the Mexican League.

Guthrie got by early in the season with a Maddux-like walk rate and an extremely low BABIP. Once those two measures regressed, and combined with a startling 1.2 HR/9 on the year, Guthrie began to pitch more towards preseason expectations. Guthrie has great stuff and put up solid numbers this season so it makes sense to pencil him as a back of the rotation starter next season despite the warning signs of a possible collapse.

So now the rotation is in shambles with Rob Bell (he of the 7.75 ERA) and newly acquired Victor Santos starting in the upcoming series against the Angels. Talk about depressing. It's tough to find reasons to watch a team with what has become, almost completely, a sub-replacement level pitching staff. How did the pitching staff crumble so quickly? Garrett Olson will also miss at least one turn and Birkins is back in the pen so I suppose the rotation is currently Cabrera, Bell, Santos, Leicester, and Liz. Or something. Yikes.

Nick Markakis continues his torrid second half (.325/.401/.549). I'm going to look at his season a little bit more in depth after the year is over. He's the biggest reason to keep watching at this point. Legitimate hope for the future is always nice.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Pedro Alvarez Sweepstakes

So named for the presumptive first pick in next season's draft (depending on who you ask) Here are the leaders as of the conclusion of last night's games. Let's Go Orioles!

TBD 59-83 --
FLA 61-81 2
CHW 61-81 2
BAL 61-80 2.5
KCR 62-79 3.5
WAS 63-79 4

Stay tuned as the Orioles try to make up a 2.5 game deficit with just 21 games left. Feel the Magic.

Jon Knott DFA; O's acquire two

The Orioles picked up Victor Santos from the Reds to help in their desperate search of pitching. Santos is really not a good pitcher at all. He's 30 and has a 5.14 ERA in 588 career innings including a 5.14 ERA in 32 relief appearances (49 innings) this season. Santos will start on Tuesday Night.

To make room for him on the 40 man roster, the club officially ended the Jon Knott Era in Baltimore. Knott hit .250/.356/.451 with 13 HR in 288 AB in class AAA Norfolk. The handwriting had been on the wall for a while in regard to Knott, no more clear than when he didn't even get called up after rosters expanded last week. It's extremely disappointing that Knott wasn't even given a shot with Payton/Gibbons manning LF for most of the season, but such is the way of the Orioles.

The Orioles also shut down Erik Bedard for the season, putting him on the 60 Day Disabled List. To add depth, the Orioles picked up Victor Zambrano, whose biggest career achievement was being traded for Scott Kazmir. Zambrano had brief stints with the Mets and Blue Jays over the past two seasons and was horrible. He also pitched to an ERA over 5.50 in class AAA with Syracuse and Indianapolis, naturally making him a desirable acquisition for the Orioles.

Hayden Penn has pitched well in Norfolk so far (20/5 K/BB in 21 IP) and would seemingly need to get some more work after missing a large part of the season with an injury, but the Orioles have decided against bringing him up even with the need for pitching. It would be nice to allow the 22 year old to ease his way back into the majors with some low-pressure innings out of the bullpen this month, but that appears not to be in the plans.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Minor League Leaders

Thanks to the awesome new minor league site on, it's easy to look at minor league numbers (going back to 1992) in a number of different ways. I decided to look at the Orioles' Minor League leaders for 2007. This isn't a list of some of the best prospects. It's a lot of unfamiliar names that are old for their level, but it's still fun to look at the leaders.

AVG (min. 200 AB)

Omar Casamayor (DSL) - .344

OBP (min. 200 AB)

Matthew Angle (ABD) - .421

SLG (min. 200 AB)

Luis Antonio Jimenez (BOW) - .591

OPS (min. 200 AB)

Luis Antonio Jimenez (BOW) - .990


Luis Antonio Jimenez (BOW) - 22
Oscar Salazar (BOW) -22


Oscar Salazar (BOW) - 96


Daniel Figueroa (DEL) - 35


Craig Anderson (BOW/NOR) - 12

ERA (min. 75 IP)

Wilfredo Perez (DEL) - 1.67


Craig Anderson (BOW/NOR) - 167


David Hernandez (FRE) - 16


Cory Doyne (NOR) - 29

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Orioles vs Devil Rays: The Race for Last!

Baltimore and Tampa Bay are fighting one another to avoid the ignominy of finishing last. It's a war going on right now on two (2!) different fronts - the standings and the bullpen ERA leaders. The Orioles hold a four game lead in the standings and a slight edge in bullpen ERA (5.93 to 6.17), but keep checking back. This race is sure to go down to the wire!


With active rosters expanding to (a maximum of) 40 players, the Orioles called up Luis Hernandez, Brandon Fahey, Gustavo Molina, and Fernando Cabrera.

I'm interested in seeing what Cabrera does, but the other three are no-hit position players that have no role on this team. What is the fascination with Hernandez and Fahey? Do the Orioles not understand offense? Molina is another light-hitting catcher. With JR House on the roster and not getting any playing time, do we really need to evaluate Molina this month, as if he has any business on a major league roster?

It's nice that Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry went right to the active roster, but it's very disappointing to see Nolan Reimold, Hayden Penn, Jon Knott, Jeff Fiorentino, and Cory Doyne won't get a shot this season.

And oh yeah! Rob Bell is back. He cleared waivers (imagine that) so he'll be in the bullpen once again. Now why you'd want to have a pitcher on your roster that is old with history of major league failure, I have no clue. Sendy Rleal was Designated for Assignment and Paul Shuey was given his long overdue release. Not that I wasn't rooting for Shuey, but let's get serious.

Plus the O's finally decided to win a game, 8-4 at Tampa Bay. Guthrie had another "meh" start, walking four and giving up three runs over six innings. But the bullpen pitched shockingly well and Aubrey Huff hit another homerun, his 15th. Don't look now, but Huff is starting to look like a real, live offensive player. So that's nice 4 months later.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Congratulations, Nick Punto

For being the worst player in the majors. And it's not even close. His VORP (-26.3) is far worse than the next worst player in the bigs, Craig Monroe (-15.0). Punto is hitting a robust .199/.288/.256 in 467 PA for the Twins. He's threatening to become the first player since Rob Deer (.179 in 1991) to hit less than .200 in a season of 500 or more PA. And isn't that just as exciting as a player chasing .400? It's always nice to see a guy really, truly flirt with the Mendoza Line.

Of course to have the lowest VORP in the league, you need to accrue some significant playing time. So Punto isn't really the worst player in the majors right now. At least I'm not sure that he is. There are untold dozens of players who could have been just as bad if given enough plate appearances. But isn't that the important part? Not everyone can hold a regular job at 3B with a .256 slugging percentage.

Punto has been a good enough defender to get his WARP to exactly 0.0 on the season, making him the definition (or at least BP's definition) of a replacement level player. So he's only the worst hitter in the league. But that's not half bad.

Bedard Out for the Season?

Erik Bedard hasn't pitched since last Sunday against the Twins and the team doesn't know when he'll be back - if he's even back at all. Roch Kubatko has the latest. It's disappointing that his Cy Young Award bid is over, though that was likely the case after his poor performance against the Twins. I don't mean to sound like a crotchety, old sportswriter, but everything is falling apart right now. At least Markakis and Tejada are showing some power. And the offense as a whole has been strong lately. But this season looks like another 4-32 finish is on the way. I've tried to look at the positive developments this season, but that's getting harder to do - especially with Kurt Birkins on the mound about to give back a 4-0 lead to the Devil Rays.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

No Hit

The Orioles were the only team in the majors yet to be shut out heading into last night's game. Clay Buchholz saw fit to end that. He no-hit the Orioles last night in his second career start. The Orioles bullpen gave up 6 more runs in 3 innings and Boston won in a romp, 10-0.

I suspect the Orioles were the first team in baseball history to allow 30 runs and to be no-hit in the same fortnight, but I shall have to check the records on that one.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Trachsel to the Cubs

I was wrong.

I was vocal that Steve Trachsel needed to be gone from the rotation on August 1 so that we could plan for the future. I assumed Trachsel would continue to pitch poorly, just as his peripherals indicated he would and that he had little trade value. I assumed that Garrett Olson and Brian Burres would be just as good. But instead it was Trachsel pitching brilliantly in August with Burres melting down after being moved to then pen and Olson performing poorly in his five starts as an Oriole.

And on the last day for teams to add players and have them eligible for the postseason, the Orioles sent Trachsel to the Cubs (another trade with Cubs?) for 3B Scott Moore and RP Rocky Cherry.

Moore was rated as a top 10 prospect in the Cubs system this offseason by Baseball America, John Sickels, and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. He then proceed to rake to the tune of an .899 OPS in Iowa this season, hitting .265/.373/.526 and improving his troublesome control fo the strike zone. He's only 23 so he's still young enough to have a legitimate career. His strike zone judgment is still worrisome, and he doesn't rate as a particularly good defender but he seems to be a guy that will hit enough to contribute over the next few seasons.

Cherry posted a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings out of the Cubs bullpen which means he's automatically the best pitcher in the Orioles bullpen. Maybe that isn't true, but he's still a nice arm to have around. His minor league track record isn't spectacular, and he is already 28. That being said, there's enough there to suggest that he can be a nice relief option in the near term. He strike out almost 10 batters per 9 innings in Iowa this season with other good peripherals despite a high ERA. The bullpen is sometimes a war of attrition, and Cherry is a nice guy to have in the mix.

It was a fantastic job by the Front Office. Moore and Cherry are certainly not cornerstones, but they could be cheap, effective contributors, a commodity that you can never have too much of.

Friday, August 31, 2007

How did it get worse?

One of the great themes of the Orioles ineptitude seems to be that when you think they can get any worse in a particular area, they then proceed to do exactly that.

Last season's Orioles bullpen finished with a 5.25 ERA, ahead of only the Royals in the American League. The Front Office then proceeded with an aggressive strategy of procuring bullpen help through free agency, signing Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford and Scott Williamson - a group that helped form the core of what has become derisively known to some as the $42M bullpen, the total financial commitment to the quartet (most of it to the first three).

But here we sit on September 1 and the Orioles' relief corps currently has a 5.78 ERA, ahead of only the Devil Rays in the American League. And that was before five relievers combined to give up six earned runs in six innings in a 9-8 win over the Red Sox.

The team has used 16 relievers this year, with only Bradford (118 ERA+) and Walker (154 ERA+) rating as above average relievers (league relief ERA = 4.25) as well as Jeremy Guthrie who has pitched predominantly as a starter.

After that it's a rotating list of relievers who range from average to abysmal including Ray, Leicester, Burres, Birkins, Hoey, Doyne, Baez, Johnson, Williamson, Parrish, Williams, Bell, and of course the incomparable Paul Shuey.

The Orioles have brought in their fair share of trash, but even seemingly decent relievers have pitched poorly. Chris Ray improved his peripherals tremendously but saw his ERA jump almost two runs. James Hoey pitched extremely well for a short stretch but once again has a four digit ERA. Danys Baez was always going to be wildly overpaid, but did anyone expect him to add two runs to his career ERA?

But what can be done? I'm a big proponent of the Earl Weaver strategy of letting young (future) starters throw out of the major league bullpen. If the rotation next season is Bedard/Cabrera/Guthrie/Loewen/Olson, pitch Liz, Penn and Burres out of the bullpen. Add that to a core of Baez, Walker, Hoey, and Bradford, and you have a nice bullpen. In theory at least. Maybe you see Francisco Cabrera in there somewhere, and Cory Doyne or Rocky Cherry will be options, too.

No more retreads. There is no place for Todd Williams, Rob Bell, and Paul Shuey to be in the bullpen. There's little downside in giving them a shot if the need arises, but the team can't continue to give them 20 appearances when it's clear they're not servicable pitchers anymore. Use vets with a long track record (Walker and Bradford) or young guys with big arms.

The team is dead last in WXRL (expected wins added over replacement level). I'm hesitant to say they can't get any worse, but when your entire bullpen is sub-replacement level, it's hard to get worse without setting records for ineptitude. With 16 losses when leading after seven, it isn't hard to see why the Orioles are one of the worst teams in baseball yet again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Roster Moves

The Orioles have made a couple of roster moves over the past few days.

The team demoted starter Garrett Olson to Bluefield and recalled starter James Johnson from Norfolk to pitch out of the bullpen. Olson started the second game of Tuesday night's debacle of a doubleheader against the Rangers and pitched poorly once again. Olson made five starts with the team and posted a 7.33 ERA with 21 K and 21 BB in 23 1/3 IP. He was sent to Bluefield to work out some specific mechanical issues and could be back on active roster even before it expands on September 1. While the incredibly high number of walks is concerning for a pitcher with a reputation of having great control, the high number of strikeouts indicates that while Olson struggled, he was not completely overmatched during his time in the majors.

In need of a starter for tonight's game against the Twins, Radhames Liz got the call from AA Bowie. Liz has put together a very nice season at Bowie striking out 161 but walking 70 in 137 innings, good for a 3.22 ERA. Liz suffers from control problems but has great stuff and gets tons of strikeouts - sort of a Daniel Cabrera figure. He's come on strong this season, changing his perception from future reliever to a possible starter although I still think he's likely a back end of the bullpen reliever. He still has to work on his control, but it's good that the club is getting a look at him this season for a possible role on the team next spring.

The Orioles also signed reliever Fernando Cabrera, recently released by the Indians. He's young and has struggled in the majors after putting up fantastic numbers in the minors. He's given up tons of homeruns, but his rate of HR on FB is ridiculously high, and we'd expect some regression on that number. He'll still give up his share if he gives up as many fly balls as he did with the Indians, but he could be primed to be a very good reliever. It's a very good low-risk, high-reward pickup for the team.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It wasn't even embarassing. It was just funny. I'm not old enough to remember the Orioles losing to the Rangers 26-7 so I'm glad I got to see them lose to Texas 30-3. You get pissed off when your team loses 15-3. When the other team scores twice that many, you just appreciate seeing a little bit of history.

Danny Cab is not inconsistent any longer. He's just consistently bad. Brian Burres had inexplicably not pitched for nine days and had less than zero stuff tonight. He needed to eat up some innings after coming in with none out in the sixth, but he couldn't even finish that inning. By the time Rob Bell came into the game, it was well out of hand, but he and Paul Shuey combined to give up 16 ER over the final 3 1/3 innings. Bell now has an ERA above 6.00. Shuey is now above 9.00. Since I love to look at the positive, you'd have to think that the disgusting performance by these two tonight earned them a ticket out of Baltimore.

Trembley to Manage in 2008

The Orioles announced yesterday that Dave Trembley will be brought back for the 2008 season. The club is 29-25 in 54 games since Trembley succeeded Sam Perlozzo has the team's skipper.

At the press conference today Andy MacPhail talked about the desire for the team to have the managerial situation resolved so that the manager and the front office could work together from the very beginning of the offseason to determine the future direction of the team. If that leads to a cohesive organizational decision, that's a nice accomplishment for the often directionless Orioles.

I thought at first that it would have been smart to have a proper managerial search in the offseason, but the players and front office seem to be comfortable with Trembley. I haven't seen anything that makes me think he's unfit to do the job, and although that might seem like a backhanded compliment, it's really not meant to be. Managers get second guessed and their mistakes are magnified by fans so Trembley avoiding Perlozzan mistakes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Evaluating House

JR House finally found his way onto the 25 (and 40) man roster in the abscense of Jay Gibbons, but he hasn't really found his way into the lineup. He started one game against the Blue Jays, pinch hit in games against the Yankees and Jays and got six at-bats over the two series. He's made good so far with 3 hits including a HR (but also a baserunning blunder in the 10th inning of today's game).

It's disappointing that House has only started one game. Paul Bako started a game at catcher in each of the two series so it seems clear that, at least for now, Bako will remain the backup C and House will serve mainly as a DH. Aubrey Huff has finally started to heat up over the last month (.382/.433/.727 with 4 HR in August) so he might be starting daily. Add in Kevin Millar riding a 40+ game streak of getting on base earning him a daily spot in the lineup, and there does not seem to be much time for House.

The general thinking is that the Orioles are hesitant to use House as a catcher because of his defense, and not having seen him play behind the plate, I have no idea whether the concerns are warranted. It seems to me that his defense is not likely to be much worse than Paul Bako's offense, in which case House should be the backup.

If House is at least competent defensively behind the plate, that would open up some interesting possibilities, assuming he can hit to the level his minor league numbers suggest he can. He'd certainly add more value to the team than Bako. It might also allow the team to trade Ramon Hernandez if he regains some value (i.e. power) in the near future. The Orioles could clear payroll with such a move while allowing House to serv as a bridge to catcher of the future Matt Weiters in 2008.

With the team done for the season, the Orioles ought to do themselves some good by giving House a few games behind the plate so that the Front Office can evaluate his defense at the Major League level. If he's terrible, no real harm done. If he isn't, the Orioles might have some real value in House for the next few seasons

Patterson and CF

Corey Patterson got hot not long after Dave Trembley came aboard and made him a fixture in the number two spot in the order which led some to conclude that the lineup shift coaxed more offensive production out of Patterson. But in 16 August games Patterson is hitting .254/.292/.373 which is a shade below his already poor .264/.304/.377 line. His OBP in the #2 spot this year is .319, which is better than what he posted at the bottom of the order, but it's still a sinkhole that high in the order.

Patterson does some things very well like steal bases and play defense, but it's clear now that he can't be a long-term option in CF. With the number of high dollar Free Agent CF available this winter (Rowand, Hunter, Cameron, Jones), it's possible that Patterson could be had for cheap, but the team has to look to add an above average contributor en lieu of Patterson unless they can trim some fat at a few other places.

Nolan Reimold might be the long-term solution, but he's been set back by injuries this season. He's been torrid at Bowie in limited time, but Opening Day 2008 might be considered ambitious by the organization.

One option that likely will not be explored but perhaps should is the idea of moving Nick Markakis to CF. It's probably not going to happen now that Markakis has already been tagged as the RF of the future. He plays the corner spot well, but he's young, quick and athletic and could probably play a capable CF. If that's the case, a possible .300/.360/.460 type season would hold a lot more value.

The Orioles have had a bunch or trouble finding capable players to fill corner spots, but in theory filling RF with a relatively productive bat with a credible RF glove should be fairly simple. It could be a Knott/House RF equivalent off the scrap heap. In fact a Knott/Payton/RF combo manning the two corner OF spots might not be half bad for next season. What the front office must not do is sign another Jay Payton/BJ Surhoff hoping for one more season of league-average production out of them.


I use FIP quite a bit. It's a theoretical ERA from Hardball Times which uses a pitcher's peripheral statistics (namely K/9, BB/9 and HR/9) to extract the effects of defense on a pitcher's performance record (ERA) theoretically giving a better picture of what a pitcher contributes by virtue of his own skills.

For it to be of any use, it needs to be predictive. It needs to show us that something happening now is or isn't likely to happen again in the future. So what I did was to compare 2005 ERA and 2005 FIP to 2006 ERA in order to determine whether ERA or FIP correlated better year to year.

I looked at the 51 pitchers from 2005-2006 who pitched 150+ innings in the same league in both 2005 and 2006


05 FIP 05 ERA 06 ERA
J Santana 2.80 2.87 2.77
Haren 3.84 3.73 4.12
Zito 4.37 3.86 3.83
Lackey 3.08 3.44 3.56
Garcia 4.05 3.87 4.53
Millwood 3.75 2.86 4.52
Bonderman 3.92 4.57 4.08
Westbrook 3.94 4.49 4.17
Garland 4.22 3.48 4.51
Robertson 4.72 4.48 3.84
Johnson 3.77 3.79 5.00
Rogers 4.07 3.46 3.84
Buerhle 4.37 3.86 4.99
Lee 3.80 3.79 4.40
Mussina 4.03 4.41 3.51
Contreras 4.20 3.61 4.27
Blanton 4.40 3.53 4.82
Sabathia 3.70 4.03 3.22
Lopez 4.64 4.90 5.90
Washburn 4.37 3.20 4.67
Meche 5.04 5.09 4.48
Silva 4.17 3.44 5.94
Byrd 3.94 3.74 4.88
Pineiro 4.41 5.62 6.36
Radke 4.45 4.04 4.32
Moyer 4.39 4.28 4.39
Webb 3.42 3.54 3.10
Harang 3.59 3.83 3.76
Smoltz 3.14 3.06 3.49
Willis 2.91 2.63 3.87
Carpenter 2.86 2.83 3.09
Capuano 4.54 3.99 4.03
Oswalt 3.08 2.94 2.98
Hudson 4.22 3.52 4.86
Lowe 4.10 3.61 3.63
Pettitte 3.03 2.39 4.20
Zambrano 3.62 3.26 3.41
Schmidt 3.77 4.40 3.59
Morris 3.91 4.11 4.98
Davis 3.87 4.16 4.91
Peavy 2.80 2.88 4.00
Francis 4.62 5.68 4.16
Myers 3.99 3.72 3.91
Glavine 3.56 3.53 3.82
Marquis 4.88 4.13 6.02
Suppan 4.48 3.57 4.12
Penny 3.57 3.90 4.33
Fogg 4.90 5.05 5.49
Lieber 4.13 4.20 4.93
Ja Wright 5.08 5.46 5.48
Milton 5.37 6.47 5.54

R for FIP = 0.64
R for ERA = 0.51

(R is correlation coefficient)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ray has Tommy John Surgery; Baez Closing

What a dagger for the Orioles bullpen. Chris Ray had Tommy John surgery this week so instead of being back on the roster next month or on Opening Day '08, he won't be back until after the All-Star Break next season. And that's actually a best case scenario. It's not entirely unlikely that he misses the entire 2008 season.

I had a lot of faith in Ray even through his struggles this season as I said here a couple times. Despite the jump in ERA and the blown saves I felt that he improved from last season and was going to be a fine closer in the future. He will still have a shot to be that elite closer going forward, but even though Tommy John isn't a huge risk surgery anymore, this still clouds Ray's future. Losing a year to an arm injury is never a good thing for a pitcher.

Danys Baez was officially named the closer, presumably for the rest of the year or until he loses the job, by manager Dave Trembley. Baez had a three up, three down ninth today to gain his first save as the full-time closer. If he can pitch well down the stretch and rack up a few saves, there might be an outside chance at Baez becoming a tradeable asset which you'd hope the Orioles would take advantage of to get out from under his contract. I doubt that's why the move was made, but it might be a nice benefit if it works out.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Olson out of Control

Garrett Olson got his fourth start of the season and his struggles with his control continued. He threw less than 50% of his pitches for strikes (36 of 74) and last only 2 2/3 innings. He walked 4 and struck out only one, brining his total to 18 BB in 18 1/3 innings so far this season. It's a very small number of innings, too small to draw conclusions from, but the lack of control from a guy who didn't have those types of problems in the minors is discouraging.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Turning Point?

Maybe it's too early to label yesterday a turning point in the Orioles' direction. In fact, it is too early. But that doesn't mean that five years from now the day we signed Matt Wieters as a big day in the club's history.

It's not just about Wieters. He's no sure thing, even if he was the best, or second best, or fifth best player in the draft. But it was huge because the club took the best available player in the draft, started down super agent Scott Boras, and in the end did what it took to sign Wieters giving him a $6M bonus, second highest in history behind Justin Upton.

Joe Jordan has received lots of praise for the rejuvenated farm system and improved drafting efforts since he took over. Adding a willingness to draft and pay for top amateur talent without regard to "signability" might be what it takes to propel the Orioles player development system firmly into the top half of the majors.

The team also paid big for fifth round pick Jake Arrieta signing him to a record bonus for the fifth round. Even without having a 2nd or 3rd round pick, the Orioles might have managed to bring a large infusion of talent into the system.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wieters Signed!

It didn't happen until the 24th hour, but the Orioles got it done with C Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech, the club's first round draft pick. The Orioles also signed fourth round selection Jacob Arrietta, a pitcher from Texas Christian considered to be a first or second round talent.

Combined with Erik Bedard's sterling performance and the team's 6-3 win to take the series in Yankees Stadium, it was a great day to be an Orioles fan.

Friday, August 10, 2007

300 Games

Tom Glavine recently won his 300th game, an excellent feat which puts an exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career. Commentators are now weighing in to wonder whether or not we'll ever see another pitcher win so many games, which is exactly what happened after Greg Maddux won his 300th game. And what happened after Roger Clemens won his 300th. And I'd bet a few shiny nickels that there were people saying it when Nolan Ryan won his 300th back in 1990 way back when Roger Clemens was just a 28 year old pup with 116 career wins.

But will it be the last? Conventional wisdom says that it's harder than ever to win 300. Before we dive into that, let's look at the number of 300 game winners by the decade in which they debuted.

1880: 1
1890: 4
1900: 2
1910: 2
1920: 2
1940: 1
1960: 2
1980: 5
1990: 1
2000: 3

Do we see any trends? It sure doesn't seem like it. Pud Galvin was the first 300 game winner in 1888, and from 1888 to 1901 there were 7 players to win 300. From 1982 to 2007 there have been 9 players to get 300 wins. The real decline was seen from 1902 to 1980 when only 7 players won their 300th game. The big gap was from the summer of '41 to the summer of '61 between Lefty Grove winning his 300th and Warren Spahn winning number 300.

Getting to 300

Old Hoss Radbourne got to 309 wins even though he only pitched 11 seasons largely because he had two seasons where he won a combined 107 games. Pud Galvin won 364 games over 15 seasons, and his quest was aided by consecutive 46 win seasons.

That's not happening today. In fact, in 2006, no major league pitcher got to even 20 wins. Starters throw fewer innings and make fewer starts in a season than their predecessor, and they rarely complete their starts anymore. That's where the conventional wisdom that pitchers will have a harder time winning 300 comes from.

What this ignores is that there are many ways to accomplish 300 wins. As I talked about above, pitchers can be like the workhorses of 125 years ago, making 70+ starts and winning 45 games over shorter careers, but they can also be like the great pitchers of today who pitch less but have extended their careers into their mid-40s.

And there are a good number of pitchers pitching well into their 40s. Roger Clemens, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, Woody Williams, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Orlando Hernandez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Curt Schilling have all made starts this season after turning 40. That's 12 pitchers, and if that isn't a record, it has to be close.

What's important to remember is that even though workloads are being restricted more than ever now, the theoretical goal is to keep pitchers healthier. If that's a philosophy grounded in reality we shouldn't expect it to be particularly uncommon for some starters to throw well into their 40s. If a pitcher can begin his career at 22 and pitch until he's 43 or 44, that changes the equation quite a bit, because then a pitcher needs to average only 13 or 14 wins a season over his career to reach 300.

This certainly doesn't mean that there undoubtedly is a cause and effect between the number of older pitchers and lower workloads. After all, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson endured high workloads for years, as did Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, and others from the last great generation of starters, yet they all pitched well into their 40s. But even if this correlation does not imply causation, it's something to think about.

Who's Next

Randy Johnson (284, 43) - It's never a good idea to count out Randy Johnson. Many thought he was done after 2003, but he came back in 2004 and had a season that would have netted him his 6th Cy Young Award if he didn't play for a 51 win Arizona team. The Big Unit was written off again last year before coming back strong this season, only to see his year end after 60 innings. He apparently wants to come back, but he may have to be willing to pitch into 2009 - when he'll turn 46 in September of that year - to get to 300.

Mike Mussina (246, 38) - Mussina had an excellent 2006, but 2007 hasn't been so kind. It's the 3rd time in four season that Mussina has missed some time and saw his performance suffer. Moose isn't pitching nearly bad enough to have to worry about not having a job, and he'll likely pitch at least one more season after 2007. Still, 300 looks to be a good 4 years away. Will Mussina keep pitching as a mediocre starter or will he pack it in before he's 42 and chasing 300? He may need a resurgence similar to the one Tom Glavine experienced after 2003.

Andy Pettitte (194, 35) - Pettite just turned 35 and has an outside shot of making it to 200 by the end of the year. Pettitte would have to pitch well into his 40s to have an honest shot of reaching the milestone, but with the exception of his first season with the Astros back in 2004, he's generally maintained his health throughout his career. His last two seasons have been above-average, but not spectacular, perhaps forecasting a possible collapse in the near future.

CC Sabathia (95, 27) - Sabathia is a real dark horse to be sure, but the big lefty will likely get his 100th win in his age 26 season - quicker than both Glavine and Clemens. Sabathia will have to keep his weight in check to pitch long enough to do it, but if David Wells can pitch until he's 44, why not Sabathia? Sabathia has about 20 more wins than fellow 26 year old Carlos Zambrano and a few more than 28 year old Johan Santana. Of any of the young pichers between 25 and 30, Sabathia seems to have the best shot.

It's likely that none of these four will be the next 300 game winner. But if I had to bet, I'd say that someone will.

No Joy in Steeltown

Alright, this isn't exactly new, but the great Rob Neyer pointed out that Matt Morris will become the highest paid player in Pirates history next season after they acquired him from the Giants at the Trade Deadline last week. That's the Matt Morris who will be 33 next season and has had precisely one season better than the league average in the past four. He was very good for the Cardinals back when he was young and cheap, but now, not so much.

There's only one Pirates payroll fact crazier than Matt Morris making the most money in team history. The player being paid the most money by the Pirates this season is Jason Kendall, a guy who:

a) has a .582 OPS
b) played for the Athletics and Cubs this season and
c) hasn't played a game for the Pirates since way back in 2004

And that's the highest paid player on a team with a $38.5M payroll. The Pirates will always have trouble competing with a payroll that low, but they'll never compete when they allocate so much money to Jason Kendall and Matt Morris while drafting relief pitchers with the top 5 draft picks they've "earned". But as an Orioles fan, I'll thank them for not scooping up Matt Weiters...assuming the Orioles can sign him.

Playing a Man Down...Again

Interesting note from Roch Kubatko of the Sun today:

Manager Dave Trembley has been suffering in silence. He couldn’t use Jay Gibbons in the outfield because of a shoulder injury, but didn’t want opponents to know. So he kept playing the same three outfielders - and kept watching Jay Payton lose steam by the inning.

Gibbons has inflammation around his rotator cuff and can't throw. He was examined Monday by Reds team physician Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who performed the surgery on Brian Roberts' elbow in 2005, and underwent an MRI and arthrogram.

The pain doesn't prevent Gibbons from swinging a bat, which is why he still can be used as the designated hitter. But it limits how often Trembley can put him in the lineup because Aubrey Huff usually handles the DH duties.

Shouldn't the O's jump on any excuse to put Gibbons on the DL and get him off the active roster? Instead they're willing to play a man short yet again, keeping Gibbons on the roster even though his health and the roster configuration makes his role that of the occasional DH.

Gibbons did manage to hit .281 with 3 HR in July, but he also pulled the nifty feat of failing to draw a walk in 58 plate appearances leading to a .281/.276 BA/OBP line. Most of that hot streak was because of a couple games in early June. Over the past four weeks Gibbons is putting up his customary .656 OPS in 13 starts.

And this is the guy they're keeping on the roster through an injury?

Olson Recalled

With Brian Burres pitching two innings in mopup relief last night the Orioles were in need of a starter for Saturday's game against the Red Sox so they called up lefty Garrett Olson from Norfolk. I've talked about the need for Olson to return to the Baltimore rotation before so hopefully this move is permanent. Olson threw only three innings in his past two starts, both cut short after long rain delays, so we'll see whether that rest has him extra fresh or just rusty on Saturday.

Erik Bedard takes the mound tonight in what could be a great pitcher's duel with Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka. Bedard enters the game having won eight straight decisions and is putting together a season that should legitimately contend for the AL Cy Young Award. He's second in the AL in VORP behind Dan Haren of the Athletics. His ERA sits at 3.09 and he's still leading the majors in strikeouts by a wide margin with 192. If Erik can stay on the roll he's been on the Orioles will be able to snap this pesky three game losing streak.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Orioles Make Moves

After being completely inactive at the non-waiver trade deadline, the Orioles made two transactions today, trading LHP John Parrish to the Mariners for minor league OF Sebastian Boucher. The team also allowed the Indians to claim UTI Chris Gomez off of waivers for the $20,000 waiver fee.

Not much could have been expected in a trade for Parrish, and that's exactly what the Birds got. Boucher is a 25-year-old former 7th rounder out of Bethune-Cookman. Although Boucher put up nice numbers at AAA Tacoma in a short trial this season, he spent most of the past two seasons in AA, failing to hold his own offensively at either San Antonio in 2006 or West Tennessee in 2007. He does draw his share of walks and can steal bases, but his .364 career minor league slugging means he's never likely to be a useful major leaguer. James Hoey was recalled from Norfolk to take Parrish's spot in the bullpen.

While I was certainly no fan of Parrish, it seems odd to trade him for a lesser minor leaguer. If the Front Office was set on getting Hoey back to the bigs - which I applaud them on - Shuey or perhaps Bell should have been the ones to go.

The Gomez move was a stranger. Gomez certainly is an expendable part, but he had at least shown competence with the bat during his three seasons with the Orioles as well as an ability to play all four infield positions if needed. It seems odd that the team would give him away for nothing, though presumably the team wants to keep both Brandon Fahey and Freddie Bynum on the 25 man roster after Bynum is activated from the disabled list.

Tike Redman was added to the 40 man roster and called up from Norfolk to take Gomez' roster spot. Redman is another guy who won't hit his way out of wet paper bag. He's now 30 and has a .278/.312/.378 line in 392 games with the Pirates. Jon Knott remains at Norfolk, and JR House is also there, not even on the 40 man roster. But the men in charge think that Tike Redman is more valuable than either of those guys.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Another Crazy Winter

It shouldn't be any surprise that the free agent market gets crazier and crazier every season. Reports today had Eric Byrnes resigning with the Diamondbacks for a reported 3 years and $30M.

Byrnes is a useful enough player. The Orioles should have held onto him after acquiring him from the Rockies at the 2005 trade deadline, but they were scared off by an abysmal end to that season. Byrnes righted his career by hitting 26 HR with Arizona in 2006. This year he's hitting over .300 and slugging just a tick under .500.

But to commit $10M to his age 32-34 seasons is ridiculous. That's the nature of Free Agent contracts, but in the two seasons before this one Byrnes had OBPs of .294 and .313. He has a career OPS+ of 102, with extreme platoon splits (.888 vs LHP, .740 vs RHP).

Eight figures for a 32 year old who has been average throughout his career and would be well-served in a part-time role? God Bless America.

At least Arizona won't regret it as much as the Dodgers regret signing Juan Pierre to man CF for them. In the first year of a 5 year/$44M deal, Pierre has put up a .277/.314/.331 (OPS+ = 69) line with 0 HR. At least he has 44 steals.

Cory Doyne and Fear of the Unknown

I have no idea how good Cory Doyne is. His performance at AAA this season suggests he could be valuable in a relief role, but it's certainly possible, perhaps probable, that he can't replicate that success in the majors.

Even if he can't it would seem to be something worth finding out. The Orioles disagree. Doyne was sent back to Norfolk in exchange for Kurt Birkins, and while Doyne might not have pitched particularly well at all, he was scoreless in three of his five innings this season.

Doyne could be an option out of the bullpen in future years. Paul Shuey, on the other hand, will not be. Less than four innings of work was enough to send Doyne south, but Paul Shuey is still here after 18 games despite a 7.14 ERA. What's wrong with this picture?

I've talked about this before, but the tendency to rely on experience over talent is something that has to change. What good does it do to have Paul Shuey racking up sub-replacement level innings with other younger options in the minors?

Bring on Olson!

Steve Trachsel gets another start tonight for the Birds, and so far he's unscathed through one inning, at least as far as scoring goes (although as I type this Raul Ibanez led off the second with a homer to left). But of course Trachsel isn't very good at all, to put it mildly. There's tons of evidence, but perhaps the best is his staggering 56 BB to just 39 K ratio so far this season.

But enough with the negative. Because the Orioles do have someone better. It's disheartening that the O's refuse to use that pitcher, but at least he exists. Garrett Olson has dominated this season in Norfolk. He pitched well enough to get the call for a couple of starts in Baltimore after Steve Trachsel went on the disabled list. Olson was mediocre in those two starts, working 9 1/3 innings and walking 8.

But make no mistake, Olson is ready to pitch in the majors. He responded masterfully to his undeserved demotion throwing 21 innings over his first three starts after arriving back in Norfolk, striking out 23 and walking 5 while allowing just one earned run. For the season Olson's ERA stands at an even 3.00 with 118 K in 126 IP.

Olson has steadily worked his way up the ladder in the minors, pitching well at every stop. His future is bright. Hopefully the Orioles can find 8 or so starts to finish off the year instead of the useless Steve Trachsel. It might just help the all-important drive to .500, too.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Out in Leftfield

It takes a special brand of incompetence to fail to surpass even the lowest expectations, but yet the Orioles' Front Office manages to find ways to do it.

Last year's left field situation for the Birds was pathetic. At a position where offense should be incredibly easy to find, a gaggle of Orioles' LF hit .248/.322/.359 in 2006. That .682 OPS was easily the worst in the majors. Jeff Conine and, inexplicably, Brandon Fahey got the lion's share of the playing time there, but Nick Markakis (before his break out), Luis Matos, David Newhan, Jeff Fiorentino and a few others saw time there. But in a perverse way, LF might have been a bright spot. Certainly it couldn't get any worse, could it?

Apparently so. With the Two Jays (Gibbons and Payton) splitting up LF duties, the team's LF have cobbled together a nifty .247/.302/.349 mark this season. But in the spirit of fairness, the Royals and the Nationals have managed to field even less impressive left fielders, at least as judged by OPS. And with 5 HR already, the LF are on their way to shattering last season's standard of 7.

At least we're not in the dark days of 2005 where the team got .239/.289/.381 production out of LF.

It really shouldn't be this hard. To go three consecutive seasons without getting a .700 OPS out of one of your four corner spots (or DH) is unacceptable. LF that can put up a .700 OPS almost literally grow on trees. Luis Terrero (.715 OPS), formerly a member of this very organization, has done it for the White Sox this year. Jon Knott could almost certainly do it. Platoon Jeff Fiorentino with someone who can hit lefties reasonably, and you wouldn't do any worse than a .650 OPS. And that would be for less than 10% of the cost of the current LF.

If the Orioles failed with cheap, inventive solutions like the ones above, it wouldn't be fun, but at least it would be better than getting that run production from two guys combining to make nearly eight figures. Maybe next year will be the year for some wise roster moves under MacPhail. Let's just hope that somehow, someway, the Two Jays aren't out in left field for the 2008 Orioles.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tejada returns

..and because of that the Orioles needed to make a roster move. And as everyone might have guessed, Jon Knott is the one going back to Norfolk. The Orioles' bench for tonight's game against the Yankees is Chris Gomez, Luis Hernandez, Brandon Fahey, and Paul Bako. That's three utility middle infielders and a backup catcher. This is for a team starting five players at or a below a .700 OPS at the beginning of the night.

Jon Knott was a nice test for manager Dave Trembley. I was interested to see how Knott would be used under the new regime. At first it appeared that Knott was going to start against lefthanded pitching. That was a reasonable approach, but it didn't work out that way. The Orioles last game against a lefthander was Tuesday against Scott Kazmir with Knott nowhere to be found.

During the past two weeks Aubrey Huff went 7-36 (.194) but played in every game. Knott started three games and pinch hit once, failing to get a hit. Even with Huff (and Gibbons and others) not hitting Trembley was unwilling to try something new, plugging Huff's sub-.300 OBP into the lineup every single day.

Roch Kubatko's blog had an interesting tidbit from Trembley:

Knott was optioned because Trembley is stressing pitching and defense at the moment. He said if the Orioles need another right-handed bat, they'll dip into Norfolk's roster again.
If the team needs another right-handed bat? Right now Kevin Millar, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Miguel Tejada are the only hitters on the team that can be expected to provide league-average production. This team needs another credible hitter from either side of the plate, and Jon Knott is a lot more credible than half of the current roster.

It's fine to build around pitching and defense, but I truly wonder whether the offensive failings of the team are even considered? With Mora out, Huff can play third, Gomez and, let's say, Fahey can serve as backups. What role does that leave for Luis Hernandez? At least Freddie Bynum was fast and could play the outfield positions. Hernandez brings defense, but if he doesn't play, what good is he?

So far the Trembley era seems eerily familiar to the Perlozzo era in terms of philosophy, if not attitude. Let's hope Andy MacPhail takes note of both.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mid-Season prospect review

Now that we're about four months into the season, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the Orioles best prospects in the preseason and check in with how they're doing and what they're future looks like. I've decided to use John Sickels top 20 list found here as the reference list. I'll take a look later at some others to note who didn't make this list.

1. Billy Rowell, 3B, 2006 1st round

Rowell is the jewel of the Orioles' farm system. He tore up Bluefield in his debut hitting .329/.422/.507 in 42 games before hitting .326 in a brief trial with Aberdeen to end the season. And all of this for a guy in his age-17 season. Rowell's 2007 has been derailed by injuries limiting him to only 53 games. The .268 /.341/.405 (5 HR) line isn't exciting, but in the context of an 18 year old playing for Delmarva, it's extremely encouraging. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as he moves further away from his injury. The strike zone judgment (22/64 BB/K) is cause for some concern as are the defensive questions. It's possible Rowell ends up at 1B, but if he can play an adequate 3B, his bat becomes much more valuable. Rowell is still far away, but

2. Brandon Erbe, RHP, 2005 3rd round

Hometown prospect Erbe took the system by storm in his 2005 debut at Bluefield striking out 48 batters in just 23 1/3 IP as a 17 year old. He pitched mostly in relief at Bluefield, getting three starts before moving onto a brief stint in Aberdeen. He began the 2006 season in Delmarva and dominated with 10.44 K/9 and just 2 HR allowed in 114 2/3 IP. But after moving up the ladder to Frederick, Erbe has been hit hard. Carolina League bats have torched him with a 6.25 ERA over 19 starts. The walks are up and the strikeouts are down, though he's still getting many K's. The odd thing is that the HR rate is up so much despite an increase in G/F ratio. But that's to be expected perhaps - his G/F in Delmarva was a relatively poor 0.89. Erbe is still young though, and his peripherals suggest he isn't nearly as bad as his ERA suggests. Even if he has to come back to Frederick to start next season, he'll still be on the fast track to the bigs assuming he can work out his control issues. The Orioles need only patience and a strict limit to the workload of the not yet 20 Erbe.

3. Nolan Reimold, OF, 2005 2nd round

Reimold shot quickly out of the gate after being drafted from Bowling Green in 2005 destroying New York Penn League pitching at Aberdeen before doing the same in a 23 game test in Frederick, skipping low-A completely. Reimold played all of 2006 in Frederick and performed well despite injuries. Now 23, he's moved onto Bowie but unfortunately has played only 19 games due to injuries. He's raked so far, but he needs to get healthy and back on his way up the organization. Reimold's game is based on power and walks. He hit only .267 over his first two years but has drawn 121 BB and has 37 HR in 211 career minor league games. He's a legitimate prospect, but injuries and high strikeout totals are warning signs. He'll hopefully be in an Orioles uniform by mid-2008.

4. Garrett Olson, LHP, 2005 1st round

Olson has been nothing but dominant and reliable as he quickly climbed the organizational ladder. He dominated the NYPL in his debut before skipping right to the Carolina League where he made only 17 starts before moving to Bowie. 14 starts in the Eastern League were good enough to earn a promotion to the International League. 17 stars in Norfolk were enough to prove his worth to the Orioles as an injury-replacement starter where he performed admirably. He was considered to be a polished college pitcher out of Cal Poly and needed only 54 starts in the minors to reach Baltimore. The minor league numbers were outstanding - an ERA below 3.00, about 9.00 K/9 and less than 3.00 BB/9. His upside wasn't considered great, but all he's done is have success at every level, reaching the bigs at 23. He looks like a good bet to be a solid middle of the rotation starter as soon as next year.

5. Pedro Beato, RHP, 2006 1st round

Beato struck out 52 batters in 57 innings with Aberdeen last year out of junior college. The results have been just as good at Delmarva with a 3.33 ERA in 20 starts, but an 84/47 K/BB ratio in 108 innings is reason for pause. He's only allowed 4 HR which is a plus. Beato is just 20, and has shown a steady decline in walk rate each month since April. If that improvement continues he should be ready for Frederick next season where his career will begin to get really interesting.

6. Radhames Liz, RHP, ---

Liz is ostensibly a starter, but that will change before too long. Liz has poster better than a strikeout per inning at every single stop, but those have come with walks. Lots and lots of walks. 173 in 331 innings to be exact. He's another guy that hasn't given up many HR, just 29 in his pro career. He's 24 and still trying to master AA ball, but that's somewhat deceiving. He didn't debut until his age-22 season. But since 2005 he's moved quickly up the ladder, starting 2005 in Aberdeen and ending 2006 in Bowie. He's never been allowed to master the lower-levels completely and given his lack of pro experience his command issues are understandable. Still, Liz doesn't look to be ready for the ML rotation anytime soon, so a switch to relief might be beneficial. If that were to happen Liz might be ready in the very near future.

7. James Hoey, RHP, 2003 13th round

I talked at length about Hoey in my last post. He pitched at three levels in 2006, striking out well over a batter per inning in about 60 innings spread between Delmarva, Frederick, and Bowie. He trimmed his walk rate as well and earned a call up to the majors where he was hit hard. He's been even more dominant in 2007 with a 0.89 ERA and a 58/10 K/BB ratio over 40 innings between Bowie and Norfolk. He's 24 and looks to be an excellent relief prospect. He should be called up right now.

8. Jeff Fiorentino, OF , 2004 3rd round

Fiorentino was drafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2004 and destroyed pitchers in the New York-Penn League as well as the South Atlantic League in his first season. He hit .286/.346/.508 in Frederick at age 22 in a 2005 season marred only by an extremely ill-advised promotion from A ball to the majors where, to his credit, he didn't embarrass himself. Fiorentino's stint at Bowie in 2005 was marked by a nearly 100 point drop in his isolated slugging that was offset by a great increase in strike zone judgment (53/58 BB/K). Fiorentino started 2007 at Bowie and has had a somewhat disappointing season on the whole. His power is nearly identical, but his plate discipline regressed from 2006 levels. To be fair, much of the problem came from a terrible April. He's heated up nicely over the past three months and looks more than ready for his first shot at Norfolk. Probably only a backup outfielder. His splits strongly suggest he should platoon vs. RHP, but the Orioles almost certainly will ignore that.

9. Brandon Snyder, C, 2005 1st round

Snyder was highly regarded coming out of high school in 2005, and he rewarded the team with a .271/.380/.493 line at Bluefield to go with 8 HR in 44 games as an 18 year old before hitting .393 in a brief trial in Aberdeen. 2006 was a disaster. Snyder couldn't put up a .600 OPS in either Aberdeen or Delmarva with a gruesome 14/98 BB/K ratio in 72 games before being shutdown with a torn labrum. His status was very much up in the air heading into this season, but he's responded with a .287/.356/.408 line for Delmarva. The power is still on the light side, but he's just 20 playing in the SAL coming off of a serious injury so there's plenty of optimism. His future as a catcher is questionable, and he might be blocked by Matt Weiters soon enough at that position. If he sticks as a 1B/DH he'll need to hit more to become a plus player.

10. James Johnson, RHP, 2001 5th round

Johnson is sort of the opposite of a sleeper prospect. He's always had good results (3.82 ERA through 2006) and hasn't struggled in any meaningful way at any level. By the time he got to class A, he's always been about the right age for his league. His peripherals have been solid rather than great, but they've held up well as he's advanced with a K-rate around 8.00/9 and a walk rate a shade over 3.00/9 to go with a good HR-rate. It's been more of the same in his first turn at class AAA with a 3.76 ERA in 19 starts. He's now 24 and probably too far down the organizational depth chart to get an honest shot in the rotation, but he should be looked at long and hard for a spot in the bullpen by Opening Day 2008.

11. Jason Berken, RHP, 2006 6th round

It hasn't been a great season for Berken. The 23 year old righthander out of Clemson has posted a 4.95 ERA over 18 starts for Frederick. After dominating Aberdeen to the tune of 46 K and 5 BB, Berken's rates came down to earth after the move to a more age appropriate level. It's important to remember that he completely skipped the South Atlantic League, and there are some positive signs. Berken has allowed just 6 HR so far in 96 1/3 IP. The groundball tendency will be very helpful if he stays as he climbs the ladder.

12. Chris Vinyard, 1B, 2005 38th round

Vinyard is an intriguing power prospected drafted out of junior college. After posting 8 HR and 26 2B in 73 games for Aberdeen, Vinyard retained some of the power with 11 HR and 23 2B in 94 games for Delmarva. But the drop in SLG to .431 is certainly a bad indicator, as is the 84/24 K/BB ratio. He's still only 21 so there's still time for him, but the drop in power and the poor strike zone judgment are worrisome.

13. Ryan Adams, SS, 2006 2nd round

Drafted out of high school, Adams started his career at age 19 for Bluefield. Despite hitting just .256, Adams drew 19 BB in 34 games to boost his OBP to .361. After a short stint with Aberdeen to end 2006, Adams started this season with the Ironbirds. Though still early in the season, Adams has hit just just 4 XBH (no HR) and has drawn just 6 BB in just over 100 AB. Given his status as a middle infielder, the offensive bar will obviously be lower, but a .658 OPS in short season ball isn't promising. Considering that the season is still relatively young for Adams, it might be beneficial to wait for an evaluation until after the season.

14. Val Majewski, OF, 2002 3rd round

I'm a bit surprised that Majewski even made a preseason prospect list. At one time Majewski certainly was a decent prospect, hitting well enough in Bowie to get a cup of coffee in the bigs in 2004. But then a shoulder injury wiped out his entire 2005 campaign. Majewski got his first shot at class AAA upon his return but slugged just .381 for Ottawa. Demoted to Bowie to start 2007, Majewski hit just 3 HR in 91 games for the Baysox. The shoulder injury seems to have zapped his power almost completely. He was never going to be a power hitter, but he had enough to make it as a backup outfielder for a while. Majewski recently, er, earned a promotion to Norfolk, but it's unlikely he makes it back to the Show.

15. Kieron Pope, OF, 2005 4th round

Pope struggled mightily in his first shot at Bluefield in 2005. Still 19, Pope got another shot at the Appalachian League and didn't waste it, hitting .341/.411/.585 in his second year in the league. That was enough to earn him a promotion to Aberdeen where Pope had a dismal 20 game stretch, hitting .107 with no XBH and a disastrous 33/2 K/BB ratio. Pope has been sidelined all season with a shoulder injury so he hasn't gotten his second shot at Aberdeen yet. That's unfortunate. Pope has intriguing upside, but he's clearly very raw (see: 131 K in 98 pro games) and in need of experience. He'll have to work hard to get back on track as a prospect.

16. Zach Britton, LHP, 2006 3rd round

Britton struggled at Bluefield in 11 starts, posting a nearly identical number of strikeouts and walks. But for a high school pitcher getting his first taste of pro baseball, a little over 30 innings isn't the end of the story. His season just recently started at Aberdeen. He's given up just one HR in 11 starts, and sports a sub 4.00 ERA. The K/BB numbers still aren't exciting, but at least they've improved a bit. Another prospect to check in on after the season after he logs a more meaningful number of innings.

17. Brian Burres, LHP, 2001 31st round (Giants)

If all #17 prospects were this useful, the Orioles organization would be in fine shape. A nifty waiver claim from the Giants before the 2006 season, Burres had a fine year for Ottawa before getting his shot in Baltimore in 2007 after a rash of injuries. He's responded well, posting a 4.33 ERA split between the rotation (11 starts) and the pen. He has above average strikeout numbers to go with just one HR allowed every 12 innings so far this year. The main deficiency is a BB-rate above 5.00. Looking longterm, his future is probably in the bullpen with all of the starting arms in the organization, but he's done all he can to earn a slot. As a swingman, he'll be a nice use of a roster spot over the next few seasons. Hopefully.

18. Brett Bordes, LHP, 2006 9th round

An odd sort of selection for the list. Drafted out of Arizona State last year, Bordes posted a nice 2.02 ERA in 28 relief appearances for Aberdeen. Of course he was 22, and even worse, he averaged over 4.5 BB/9 and only a bit over 7.00 K/9, hardly dominant numbers. He advanced to low-A to pitch with Delmarva this year, and he's again had good results with a 2.45 ERA. But he's also walked one more batter (26) than he's struck out (25) so far in 29 1/3 IP. What is nice is his ridiculous 4.17 G/F ratio, a touch lower than last year's 4.79 G/F ratio. 60 innings into his pro career, and opponents still haven't homered off of him. The control obviously needs a massive amount of work, but the groundballs and strikeouts mean the Orioles might have a useful bullpen arm in three years.

19. Brian Finch, RHP, 2003 2nd round

Finch put up good ERAs as a starter in Frederick in 2005 and Bowie in 2006, but his peripherals had never been good throughout his minor league career. They collapsed at Bowie, but were masked by, well, it wasn't a lucky BABIP (.283 for Bowie), but it was something. A torn rotator cuff ended his 2007 before it could begin, and that might be the death knell for Finch's status as a prospect.

20. Blake Davis, SS, 2006 4th round

Davis was drafted out of Cal State-Fullerton last year, two rounds after Ryan Adams, but Davis started two levels higher at Delmarva due to his collegiate experience. He only managed a .670 OPS with 3 HR in 49 games, but that was enough to promote the now 23-year-old to class A. Davis hit .282 with just 1 HR though he did show good gap power (19 2B in 67 G). Davis was recently promoted to Bowie where he has struggled with a .195 average in 24 games. He's been aggressively promoted, and at only 23, there's still plenty of time for him to develop into a major leaguer.

Looking at the list, the one thing that sticks out the most is that every player but Liz was drafted. Liz was the only one of the Orioles Top 20 prospects from Latin America. It's a sad commentary on the state of the organization's Latin American scout that their only international prospect is one that was signed at 22. It's just another example of an underrated reason for the Orioles faults. Combine the moribund Latin scouting with no presence at all in Asia and it isn't hard to see why the team loses and the farm system was barren for so long.