Friday, August 31, 2007
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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
Thursday, August 16, 2007
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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?
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.