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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bullpen Management

Hasn't this bullpen been mismanaged long enough? Not by the managers but by the front office.

John Parrish just doesn't have what it takes to be a major league pitcher. He has a live arm, you have to admit, as evidenced by 33 strikeouts in 34 innings. That's a pretty good way to keep a job as a reliever. But unfortunately he's also allowed a ghastly 28 walks on the year.

And that's not something new. In 211 1/3 career innings, he's walked 160. That's good for 6.81 BB/9. Even if you can blow it by batters as well as John Parrish, you have to have some basic level of control. Parrish doesn't have that, despite spending parts of six seasons with the Orioles dating back to 2000. He's never had it, and considering he's now 29, at what point does the organization realize it's finally time to cut bait? Parrish just isn't a major league caliber pitcher. Guys with a 5.82 ERA in middle relief, especially those with little prior track record, are imminently expendable.

Paul Shuey hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2003 before his call-up to Baltimore last month. He's good enough as bullpen filler for Norfolk, an experienced pitcher to step in and provide some innings in case of emergency pending his performance in AAA, although given that Shuey is 36, there doesn't seem to be much of a need to try to resurrect his career in the bigs.

But Shuey wasn't good in Norfolk, posting a 4.70 ERA (although in fairness his peripherals were strong). Considering that he had pitched in just six games in organized baseball from 2004-2006, what reason was there to promote Shuey? None, other than his performance from years ago when he was a very good middle reliever. So far Shuey has rewarded the Orioles with a 6.11 ERA in 11 appearances.

If the Orioles didn't have any options, maybe that would be acceptable (though you'd have to wonder why these two were the best relief options they could come up with). But there are options. Here are two:

Corey Doyne: 1.91 ERA/42.3 IP/47 K/14 BB/0 HR (age 25)
James Hoey: 0.72 ERA/ 37.3 IP/53 K/ 9 BB/ 1 HR (age 24)

Doyne put up those numbers at Norfolk while Hoey split the season between Bowie and the Tides.

Is this a small thing? Relatively speaking, it is. But it's also illustrative of the team's failures. In at least three areas

1) Relying on veterans and experience over youth, talent, and performance

It's the tendency of the Flanagan & Duquette to go with the veteran rather than the young guy who is likely to outperform him. Doyne and Hoey both pitched better than Shuey in the minors this season, but yet Shuey is the one member of the trio on the current major league roster.

It might be understandable if the young guys were 20 or 21, or the team were in the heat of the pennant race, but that's not the case. Hoey and Doyne are both in their mid-20s and as ready as they'll ever be to contribute in a major league bullpen. And in a season where the Orioles are once again miles out of the race, why are innings being given to a retread like Shuey rather than guys who might possibly be part of the team the next time the Orioles contend?

2) Poor roster management/planning

Hoey and Doyne did get a shot with the Orioles this season. They were called up and combined to throw one inning before being sent back down to Norfolk. You have to wonder what the Front Office was thinking in calling these guys up only to promptly shuttle them back to Norfolk before either could pitch a full major league inning.

Was it a lack of patience? Was it a move that wasn't thoroughly considered before it was executed? Either way, it speaks to the lack of planning to call these two up for two days, only to send them down for Rob Bell and Paul Shuey.

3) Holding on too long

I had no problem with having John Parrish on the opening day roster. He had, after all, posted an ERA well better than the league average over 84 appearances from 2003-2005. Even taking into account the control problems, that's enough for him to make the roster, especially considering his affordable six figure salary. But at some time it's time to make the realization that he just doesn't have it.

It's similar to the way the Orioles handled Todd Williams. He gave them solid relief work off of the scrap heap in 2005 despite poor peripheral numbers that forecasted a drop off. He was understandably brought back for 2006 where he struggled in posting a 4.74 ERA over in 62 appearances. But despite being 36, the Orioles brought him back to the organization calling him up long enough to post a 7.53 ERA in 14 games.

Instead of realizing that pitchers like Todd Williams and John Parrish are a dime a dozen and can be replaced, the team has held onto them as if they are valuable commodities worth trying to rehabilitate. And that's a problem.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chris Ray

Before the 2007 season, there was a general agreement that the Orioles had found their closer. It was deemed in the spring of '06 that Chris Ray would be the replacement for the departed BJ Ryan. Ray rewarded the organization for its confidence with a nifty 2.73 ERA in 66 IP, converting 33 saves in 38 chances.

But while others were singing his praises, I was more than a little worried about Ray's future in the closer role. His peripheral numbers were simply not that good in 2006. He was an extreme fly-ball pitcher with a tendency to give up lots of walks. His strikeout rate was good, but not good enough to compensate for his deficiencies in other areas. But an unsustainable .197 BABIP muted the effects of the poor peripherals. Well, not totally. Ray did give up a whopping 10 HR on the season which caused some concern. But in the minds of many, results were results, and Ray was getting the needed results even with his propensity to give up the longball.

Ray did struggle early in the season in terms of his ERA, but by mid-May he had lowered his ERA to 3.44. That number was inflated by two appearances where he gave up a combined 7 runs. Indeed Ray was unscored upon in his other 16 appearances. More importantly, Ray was giving up fewer fly balls and had a sterling 18:2 K:BB ration through 18 1/3 IP.

But the next 18 1/3 innings were not nearly as kind. In his very next appearance Ray retired just one batter and his ERA rose by nearly a full point. In 19 appearances over that span, Ray compiled a 6.87 ERA, driven by a nasty 15:13 K:BB ratio.

However since that terrible stretch, Ray has made five appearances totaling five innings. In those five innings of work he hasn't surrendered a run, has struck out 10, and has walked just two (including no walks in four of his five appearances).

It's tough to know the reason for the up and down performances by Ray this year. Obviously the fluctuations in the walk rate has been the major change throughout the season. My eyes told me that Ray has been doing a better job attacking the strike zone in his past five games, so I decided to check the data.

In his first 18 games, Ray threw a stellar 66.1% of his 298 pitches for strikes. In the second portion of the season, that number dropped to 60.8% of 358 pitches (notice the need for 60 more pitches to complete the same number of innings). But in this third leg of the season the number has risen back to only 62.9% in 81 pitches. That's not bad at all, but it isn't as good as it was early in the season.

Maybe it's just the perils of small sample size. Ray could end the year with a sub-3 ERA or with one that climbs back over 5.00. But for now, it might be best to have a little patience with Ray's struggles because he is on the right track.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Where we stand

In my last post, I took a look at where the Orioles really stand so far this season and why there might be cause for optimism. But even the most optimistic view (third order wins) sees the team topping out at somewhere around 87 or 88 wins. Any Orioles fan would be happy if the team managed to win that many games this season, but it's not enough to make the playoffs. Indeed an AL East team would have needed to win at least 95 games in each of the past six seasons to make the playoffs. Not since the Yankees won the division at 87-74 in 2000 would fewer wins have done the trick.

So clearly with improvement necessary, we must evaluate what the team has for next season, and at what prices. Following is a look at all players under the team's control for the 2008 season.

Free Agents:

SS Miguel Tejada ($13M)
3B Melvin Mora (~$8.6M)
1B/DH Aubrey Huff ($8M)
C Ramon Hernandez ($7.5M)
2B Brian Roberts ($6.3M)
LF/DH Jay Gibbons ($5.7M)
LF/CF Jay Payton ($5M)
RP Danys Baez ($4.5M)
RP Jamie Walker ($4.5M)
RP Chad Bradford ($3.5M)

Subtotal: $67.6M

SP Kris Benson ($7.5M Club, $0.5M buyout)
SP Steve Trachsel ($4.75M Club, $0.1M buyout)
1B/DH Kevin Millar ($2.75M Vesting)

Subtotal: $3.35M (estimated)


SP Erik Bedard ($5.5M, estimated)
SP Daniel Cabrera ($2.5M, estimated)
RP Chris Ray ($1M, estimated, assuming Super 2 status)

Subtotal: $9M


SP Adam Loewen (~$400k)
SP Jeremy Guthrie (~$400k)
RF Nick Markakis (~400k)

Subtotal: $1.2M

That's not exactly a pretty picture. The team has 17 players under contract next season - 4 starters, 4 relievers, and 9 position players - for a total of $81.15. They will also add some mix of Brian Burres, Garrett Olson, JR House, Jon Knott, James Hoey, Corey Doyne, and Nolan Reimold to the 25 man roster after camp breaks next year. None of those players are assured of a spot at this point, but all are somewhat attractive options, partly because none of those players will be eligible to arbitration for several seasons.

But the problem with the current roster construction should already be quite apparent at this point. The team has locked up an offensive core that is not close to being productive enough for the team to contend.

A modest upgrade could be expected if the team does a better job of roster management. Taking at-bats from Paul Bako, Brandon Fahey, Luis Hernandez, Alberto Castillo and other offensive dregs and assigning them to Jon Knott, JR House, or even Nolan Reimold could provide a small but cheap boon to the offense.

Modest bounce back seasons might be within reach for Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Tejada, and Aubrey Huff, but those could easily be offset from declines by Melvin Mora, Kevin Millar, and Jay Payton, all of whom will be 35 or older next season.

With this seasons' opening day payroll at $89.5M, there will be little room for meaningful free agent upgrades unless Peter Angelos decides to reach deeper in his pockets. Call me an optimist, but given the sizable increase in payroll this season, that just might happen. But unless the upgrade in payroll is substantial, the team will be far out of the running for any top-dollar free-agents. One can argue the merits of going after high dollar free agents - and I'd tend to agree - but the alternative of continuing to sign mediocre vets on the decline isn't particularly attractive.

The path seems clear enough. Andy MacPhail must work on a plan where some of the seven-figure veterans are traded and replaced with cheaper solutions, or more expensive, but smarter solutions. Yet that's easier said than done. Of the players locked up to long-term deals, Payton, Huff, Gibbons, Mora, and Baez are all unmovable because their contracts are paired with mediocre (or worse) performance.

Walker and Bradford have performed well, and might be able to be traded for small returns. And given the volatility of relievers and their small workloads, the Orioles would be wise to work hard to find a team that will accept their contracts at the upcoming trade deadline where relievers are likely to be at more of a premium than in the offseason.

More likely the team needs to trade Tejada, freeing up a substantial amount of payroll while likely still getting a useful part or two back. As painful as it might be, a trade of Brian Roberts has to be on the table if the team can get multiple high quality young players.

Andy MacPhail walks into a tough situation. While some solutions seem obvious to me (adding Knott and House, trading Tejada), there is no quick fix. MacPhail can only right the ship by crafting a detailed plan and adhering to it. A plan which, most importantly, stops the over reliance on mediocre veterans whose most attractive quality is the familiarity of their name.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


With Consecutive Losing Season Number 10 on the horizon, Orioles fans naturally turn their attention to the question of how to fix things. But one question that has to be asked is "how far away from contending is this team?". To that end it's worth looking deeper about where the team stands today.

The team currently sits at 38-49, but it's possible that the situation isn't quite as dire as that record indicates. That record is fueled by a ridiculously bad 8-18 record in one-run games. A team's record in one run games is largely - though not completely - a product of random chance rather than some peculiar inability to play well in pressure situations. That 8-18 record is worse than every team in the majors aside from the Yankees and the Phillies. Even worse, the team is tied with the Padres for most one-run losses. But given that no team has finished with a worse record in one run games in the past three seasons, it seems likely that the Orioles will regress towards the mean in this department in the second half.

The team's Pythagorean Record, an expected record based on runs scored and runs allowed, puts the team at 42-45. Not good certainly, but a modest improvement, and certainly closer to respectability. It certainly shows to some extent how the team's record is colored by its performance in close games.

But even better are the team's "third order" wins. Third order wins are generated in a similar manner as Pythagorean wins and losses, however instead of using runs scored and allowed, equivalent runs scored (EqR) and equivalent runs allowed (EqRA) are used. EqR and EqRA are generated using a team's batting line (and opponent's batting line for EqRA) in order to determine how many runs a team "should" have allowed or given up, a number adjusted for strength of schedule (which actually results in AEqR and AEqRA). In this calculation, the Orioles are credited with 23 additional runs scored and 17 fewer runs allowed, vaulting their "expected" record up to a touch better than 47-40.

What does any of this mean? We know that both of these adjust records will do a better job of predicting the future than will the team's current unadjusted record. So from here on out we can expect the team to play more like one which won 45 or so games in the first half rather than one which won 38 -- assuming the roster remains the same, of course.

But that doesn't matter much for this year, except for pride. Even if the team went 15 games over .500 over the final 75 games it would only get them to a shade above .500 at 83-79. That's a point of pride if you're one of the worst franchises in baseball but not if you hope to play meaningful games after the All-Star break. No, the real utility in these advanced measures is for looking at next season as a tool to assess what the Orioles need to do in the offseason. I'll try to tackle that next time.