Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Early Look back at the Two Off-Season Trades

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at who we traded for both JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds.

The first trade was:

Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson for JJ Hardy.

-Hoey has been terrible for a terrible Twins team. He is 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA and has a BB/9 ratio of 5.2. His KK/BB ratio is 1.17. Need I say anymore...
-Jacobson has pitched pretty well for the Twins at AA. But he also is a 24 year old at AA.
-Hardy has had a few clutch hits and a game winning hit. He also has played phenomenal defense so far this year. He was injured, but still is an upgrade over Cesar Izturis.

My Take:

-I would execute this trade all over again in a heartbeat. As long as JJ Hardy stays healthy, he should put up reasonably solid numbers for a SS. The two players we gave up in return have not aspired to anything, and one could argue that Hoey has had a negative value for the Twins.

The second trade was:

David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio for Mark Reynolds.

-Hernandez has been amazing for the Diamondbacks so far this season. He has taken over their 8th inning setup role, and is putting up prolific numbers. While his BB/9 is a little high at 5.9, he still has a 1.85 ERA and K/9 of 9.2 through 24 innings. That would look pretty good in the Orioles battered bullpen...
-Mickolio has only thrown 6.2 innings in the MLB so far this season, with 5ER. It's honestly too small of a sample size to evaluate, so I would not count him as a negative. He also shouldn't be counted as a positive on their side either.
-Reynolds has been hit or miss in an extreme way. He has 7 Hr and 24 RBI, but also is still hitting under the mendoza line (barely). He has played average defense so far, although it probably is still an upgrade over last year's Tejada and Bell tandum. Overall, people would consider Reynolds a flop so far. While I would agree that he has not lived up to the expectations yet, I would still argue that it was a fairly even trade. Technically the Orioles really only lost a strong bullpen arm, which is usually one of the easy things to replace with another (People would argue this, but we know it is not the case always) . While in hindsight, the Orioles should have traded Chris Tillman for Reynolds, this trade at the time and still now, seems logical. Time will tell if it swings back in the Orioles favor.

Larger Role for Simon in the Future?

-Alfredo Simon has looked fairly sharp since his return from, well...you know.
He has pitched 6.2 innings so far, with a 1-1 record. Two of the games he has pitched in, he looked absolutely dominant. The other game (his loss), he actually looked dominant in the first inning, and fell apart in the second. The best part about Simon so far has been the velocity and strikeouts that he is achieving. He currently holds a KK/BB ration of 3 (9:3). 4 of his strikeouts have been at very important parts of the game where men were on base. He was able to come in and get the job done in the best possible way, a strikeout.

-Now the question is, Do the Orioles move Alfredo Simon into a larger role as the season goes on? I would argue that they should. He can be dominant at times, and by moving him into a larger role in can open a spot up for someone like Brad Bergesen or another pitcher to come in and take over the Long Reliever spot. I love Alfredo Simon in long relief, but I also think going on further down the season that his talent may be wasted. Why not move him into higher leverage spots where he can be of more important use? He has closing experience, so it would not be out of ordinary for him to pitch in higher leverage spots.

-Overall, I have no problem with Simon staying where he is now, but I think in the future they should look towards expanding his role (at the expense of Mike Gonzalez NOT being in a high leverage role please).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buck Showalter and Flexibility

The Orioles have had their share of injuries so far in the 2011 season. Whether it was Brian Matusz, Brian Roberts, Derrek Lee, or Luke Scott, the Orioles have seemingly excelled in their absences. This all comes down to one factor; Buck Showalter. The more flexibility Showalter has had over his tenure as the Orioles head coach, the better they have done.

-Let's go back to last year. When Showalter took over, he was given a team with a vast amount of injuries, including the main injury of Brian Roberts. Buck was able to manage the roster and shift the lineup every single night in a way that was beneficial towards the Orioles late season success.
-Buck has continues to do the same thing so far this year, since the mainstays of Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee have gone down. Now has it been because of necessity or is it because he was forced to do it? This is the question I am going to take a look at.

-Showalter began the season using the same roster practically every game. While the Orioles started off hot, they started to tailspin during their 8 game losing streak. The "mainstays" began to get cold, and people began to question whether Buck Showalter was just a "fad". A couple injuries and lineup shifts later, people were back on-board. This leads me to believe that while Showalter is a great manager, he still tends to get too caught up with the "classic" approach towards building a lineup. At one point of the season I didn't bother to check what the lineup was before the game. I knew every game it would be the same. Now I get extremely excited to see the lineup. It also could be that he was just getting a feel for each player at the beginning of the season. That would be the most logical approach, and very well could be his reasoning.

-I would argue that in order for the Orioles to succeed any this season, Buck needs to continue to use the roster in a flexible way. The Orioles are clearly a better team when he is playing the people who are hot and have the "best" match-ups. It has been obvious since  Derrek Lee and Brian Roberts have been out, since Buck has been shuffling Robert Andino, Felix Pie, Jake Fox and Ryan Adams within the lineup. Luke Scott has also been getting less playing time, which indicates to me that Buck is not going to let the "track record" indicate who is playing every day anymore. I love it, and I hope that Buck continues to manage this way in the future. The Orioles are simply a better team when he does this. Even if Roberts and Lee come back, he should continue to manage in a flexible and creative way just like he has when they were gone.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ryan Adams: Let Him Play

Brian Roberts is expected to be out at least 2-3 weeks. Thus, the Orioles called up Ryan Adams to take his roster spot. It seems to me that the Orioles plan to split playing time with Adams and Robert Andino at 2nd base. I would argue however that Ryan Adams  should be given the next few weeks to prove he can play at the major league level.

-Adams was one of those players that moved through the Orioles system slowly, making a stop at every level. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft. At age 24, it seems time for him to prove his worthiness at the major league level. Adams could be the potential replacement for the ailing Brian Roberts; Permanently. It seems that with Roberts continuing to shows signs of regression, that the Orioles may need to consider a permanent fixture for the void of Roberts. I think Adams could be this guy.

Adams has been fairly consistent throughout his minor league career
His AVG over the past 4 years:
2011: .303 (so far)
2010: .298
2009: .288
2008: .308

-His OBP has been just as consistent, ranging from .349-.373 over the past 4 seasons. (Stats Taken From Baseball Reference )
-It seems to indicate that Adams bat is ready for the show, and what better time is it to give him a shot then now. His defense has been his biggest blunder throughout his career, but to me that is not such a big deal. Fielding is easier to teach a player than hitting at the major league level.

-The man standing in his way however, is Robert Andino. I personally like Andino as well, but I see him as  more of a utility guy over his career. He is also already 27 years old and really does not show much power and gap skills. I think Roberts could turn into a solid #2 type hitter, although he most certainly would end up batting at the bottom of the lineup for the time being. I know Buck loves Andino because as of now he is the only leadoff type of hitter we have (Felix Pie has led off as well, but been pretty ineffective).

-Overall, I am taking a "why not" approach to this scenario. If the Orioles really view Adams as a long term asset, then they will give him playing time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grading the 2011 Roster: Position Players

The Orioles hitting has been sporadic so far during the 2011 Season. As a whole, there have been very few nights where the entire team clicked. Here are my grades for each individual player SO FAR. The things I took into consideration for the grades are basically the overall offensive production( hitting with RISP, AVG, OBP, etc) and Defense.

Matt Wieters (C): A
-Wieters has been terrific hitting with RISP and has also been terrific defensively. I wrote up an entire piece on him, so i'll direct you to that HERE.

Derek Lee (1B): C-
-If I had only looked at offensive production for these grades then Lee may not have even cracked a C. But his defensive skills have probably saved the Orioles more than 2 errors per game (seriously). However, his hitting with RISP has been awful so far this year (at a point he was 1-25). As soon as he started to look like he was turning his season around, he got injured. Lee's grade will remain a C for myslef unless he comes back from the DL and starts putting up numbers like a 3 hitter should.

Brian Roberts (2B): D+
-Besides the first week of the season, Roberts has looked like a shell of his former self. I know he is approaching the age where 2nd basemen usually decline (sharply), but this has been a little eye opening for me. I hope he can return from his DL stint and prove us wrong, but so far I would have to say that Roberts has been my biggest Disappointment so far this season from any position player.

JJ Hardy (SS): C
-I graded Hardy as a C because he has been up-and-down for the Orioles so far. He started off the season with a few clutch hits that really helped the Orioles win some games. Then he gets injured and misses a decent portion to the beginning of the season. He came back and was clutch once again, but then tailed off into a pretty big slump. Overall, I still lvoe the trade and will remain unchanged on that, but Hardy will need to pick it up and be more consistent, which he is most certainly capable of doing.

Mark Reynolds (3B): C-
-I know some people are wondering how I can even give Mark a C- for his grade. It's simple really, he has deceiving stats. While he strikes out a ton (we knew this), he has shown that he has a good eye, and when he gets a hold of the ball it is simply gone. Also over the past week or so, he has shown his ability to drive the ball into the gaps. I really think Reynolds is just learning the AL still, and it is only a matter of time before some of the warnnig track flyouts carry out of the yard. Mark may not be the most fan-friendly type of player, but there is going to be a point this season where he wins us some games with his bat. Also his defense has been better than I personally expected, although he still has a few flaws (hard hit grounders tend to give him a little trouble, and he is not Brooks Robinson when it comes to charging a ball). Give him some time people, baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.

Luke Scott (1B/LF): C
-Scott has been pretty average so far this year, and I'm not entirely surprised. He finally is playing the field every day again, but it seems to have taken a toll on his hitting (maybe the injury he is dealing with has affected him more) . It is only a matter of time before he starts another hot streak back up, and he does have 6 HR on the season so far. Overall, Scott has been one of those hitters that seems to be hot on nights when everyone else is cold, and vise-versa.

Adam Jones (CF): B+
-Jones looks like he is finally realing his full potential. There has always been that dynamic appeal of Jones, but he is starting to show the 5 star ability that was thought to be had when the Orioles traded for him. He has been on a tear in May and his avg is inching close to .300. The most impressive aspect about his hitting has been the ability to lay off that low and away slider. Jones has not fallen victim to that pitch much this season. He also has been playing gold glove worthy defense in Center.

Nick Markakis (RF): C+
-Markakis is probably my favorite Orioles, but he really struggled in April. He is hitting over .300 in May however, but I cannot let the fact that April was so bad slip by me. Markakis will probably finish the season with an average over .290 still, but to this point he has only been a little above average. His defense is still terrific though, and maybe one of these days he will get the Gold glove he deserves.

Vlad Guerrero (DH): B+
-Vlad is the MVP of May (close race with Jones). He only has 5 HR, but his is raking the ball as of late. His average is over .300 and frankly, I would be afraid to pitch to Vlad at the time being. He has honestly been worth the contract so far, and hopefully he can sustain his success the entire season, unlike last year with Texas where his production dropped off after the All-Star Break.

Robert Andino (UTIL): B
-The biggest surprise this season offensively has surely been Andino. He has been solid defensively filling in for Hardy and Roberts, and for a time was swinging a solid bat. His stats are not flashy, but he has been productive at the bottom of the lineup. He basically made Cesar Izturis expendable.

Cesar Izturis (UTIL): ???
-I'm still wondering why he was on the roster ... The Orioles have essentially not used him except a few rare spot starts, and as a pinch runner.

Jake Fox (Backup C/UTIL): C+
-I almost gave him a lower grade, but he has been decent in his spot starts. He has caught a few good games (Bergesen vs. Tampa), but also caught a few bad ones (Arrieta vs. Texas). Overall he has been a decent bench option, with only a few hits to show for it. I see no problem with Fox at the time being.

Felix Pie (OF): C+
-Pie has been effective in his spot starts, and especially in his appearences during the extra innings games. Overall, Pie has shown flashes of brilliance off the bench. His last couple games have been average offensively, but he also has only had sporadic playing time. Regardless, he has been a solid 4th OF.

I cannot really grade anyone else, since they have not been on the roster long enough. (Ryan Adams, Nolan Reimold, Brandon Snyder).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Grading the 2011 Roster: Bullpen

Grading the bullpen was not fun. As a whole this year, they rank in the bottom tier of productiveness. They are in the bottom tier when it comes to HR given up. Let's just say that these grades may be a little harsh, but rightly so.

Jeremy Accardo: C+
-Accardo has been OK for the Orioles this year, and they frankly have pushed him hard over the past couple appearances. Let's be honest, Accardo is destined to only be a 1 inning kind of guy, yet the Orioles continue to push him into pitching multiple innings out of neccessity. Overall, he has been decent when it comes to eating up innings and limiting damage. He still is giving up way too many hits (especially HR). He is what he is though, a mop-up middle innings kind of guy.

Michael Gonzalez: F
- If you are surprised by this, then I do not know what to tell you. He has been so bad this year that it does not surprise me if the Orioles end up cutting ties with him and his $6 million contract. He has lost all control (the little he had) and just is not fooling any hitters anymore. Lefties are crushing him as well. This is about as bad of a signing as McPhail could of ever had.

Koji Uehara: B
-Koji has been decent this year. He may not have the same KK/BB ratio as last year, but he is still putting up consistently solid numbers in a setup role. The only worry ever with Koji is if he can stay healthy, and so far he has been alright. I still wish he could continuously pitch back-to-back games over the course of the season, but it seems doubtful.

Kevin Gregg:  D+
-I almost graded him as an F, but he did have a string of 5 saves in a row where he was half-decent. Gregg is and always has been a lower tier closer, and no one should be surprised about the blown saves he has had so far this year. He simply puts too many people on base, and it has really hurt him in the past couple of appearences. The most bothersome part about the Gregg signing is that the Orioles simply could have signed a guy like JJ Putz who has been much more effective.

Jim Johnson: B
- He has been pretty effective this year, and he would be the only one I fully trust out of the pen so far. The sink and velocity of his fastball is back to its old form, and proven to be highly effective so far this year. He actually touched 100mph the other night. I limited him to a B though because there have been a few spurts where he did give up runs in important situations, and when he is not on his game that night it really shows.

Clay Rapada: C
-Clay has turned the corner since his terrible outings when he was first called up. He has been pretty effective over his past 5 outings which makes Gonzalez even more expendable. I would undoubtedly trust Rapada over Gonzalez right now as the LOOGY of the pen. He may never have "sexy" numbers, but as long as he can come in an get his one or two men out, I'm ok with him.

Jason Berken: D+
-This was a tough grade for me. I decided to give him a D+ because he has honestly been average at best so far this year. There have been spurts of dominance, but most of the time he has been hittable. I have not seen the dominance that was shown last year before his injury. Maybe it is because of the weight loss, maybe last year was a fluke. I'm believing last year was not a fluke and that he may just be having some mechanical issues. Either way, the Orioles were really counting on Berken this year and he has not delivered yet. (I had to go back and edit this grade after his 6 runs given up and demotion. Original grade was a C-)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Grading the 2011 Roster: Starting Pitchers

I thought it would be fun to look and grade the Orioles individual performances so far for the 2011 season. The grades I give will obviously be opinions based off my personal feelings so far for each player. I'm going to start with the starters, and will work my way down the roster in the next few days.

Starting Pitching:

Jeremy Guthrie: B
-Guthrie has pitched effectively in majority of his starts, but continues to get absolutely no run support. It's come to the point where it is almost criminal. He has a 1-6 record with a K:BB ratio of 32:9. If you dig deeper into his peripheal numbers you can see more reason to get excited about the way he has pitched. But Guthrie said it himself best, The only good game pitched is a game you win. That's my reasoning why I give him a B. It would be an A if he could find a way to win some more games for us, even though majority of the time there is nothing he can do about it.

Jake Arrieta: A
-Arrieta has been outstanding for the Orioles so far in 2011. He is 4-0 with a 2.75 ERA and 36 strikeouts over his last six outings, spanning 36 innings. He also has 7 quality starts out of 9 games so far this season, and really has only had one bad start (Texas) the entire season. It really seems as if he has finally come into his own. He is averaging a K/9 of 8.06 which is outstanding, although his BB/9 is a little high at 3.68. This is Arrieta's main problem so far. Once he learns how to limit his pitches then I expect him to be even more effective. I love Arrieta, and I have not made it a secret. I think he has shown enough this year to prove to myself that he is going to be a fixture on the Orioles for a long time.

Zach Britton: A
- This grade really should not surprise anyone. Britton has been a godsend so far this season. I thought he would be a pretty good starter in his rookie season, but he has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. He currently is 5-2 with a respectable 55.6% ground ball ratio. While his peripheal numbers actually indicate that his results have been better than how he has actually pitched, I do not want to get caught up in these numbers. Britton is the type of pitcher that has a natural sink on his ball, and thus will naturally be more effective due to this. Hitters simply have not been able to square up on his sinking fastball. The most amazing number in my opinion is that he has left 83.3% of baserunners stranded. That is outstanding.

Chris Tillman: C
-I would have given him a D if it wasn't for his last two starts. He clearly is not 100% ready for the show, but he has been average to say the least. While he is 2-3 with a 5.35 ERA, he has been a trainwreck at times. For each good start that he has had (Tampa, Chicago, Boston), there have been equally bad starts (New York, Kansas City). His FIP actually indicates that he is pitching a little better than the 5.35 ERA indicates, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that he initially struggles at the beginning of each game. Thus, his pitch count is always high. It would seem as of now that he may be in danger of losing his rotation spot once Matusz comes back.

Brad Bergesen: C
-Bergy has been up-and-down as well this year. His complete game shutout against the Rays was amazing, but it also skewed his numbers a little. He has been average-to-below-average in his other starts, although he has had the burden of starting the year out of the pen. I like Bergesen as a 5th starter and possibly a long man if necessary. Its all about hitting his spots with Bergesen, and he could use an increase in ground balls. his Ground ball % is currently 37.6%, a far cry from his past years (50%, 48%).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Trading Luke Scott?

The Orioles are currently hovering around .500 for the time being (19-21). They also are in last place (although they are only 4 games out of  1st), which leads me to early speculation of whether the Orioles should pursue in trading some of the veterans on the team; presumably Luke Scott.

Luke Scott is 32 years old and under team control through the 2013 season. Everyone knows Scott's game by now. The hot streaks come and he is one of the most prolific players during that time span. Then he can become one of the most unproductive players during his cold streaks. Although he has somewhat tamed his streakiness, it is still evident. We also know that Scott has a big bat. He has had 20+ HR the past 3 years, and is on pace to finished with 20+ more again this year. That is all fine and dandy for the Orioles, but lets be honest and say that the Orioles most likely do not have a legitimate chance at continuing to compete this year.

This is why I believe Luke Scott should be traded this year at some point. He could provide some left hand power off the bench for a contending team, as well as playing LF and 1st base. I would suspect that most contending teams would give him sufficient at bats (although contending teams could have the luxury of benching Scott when he is cold).
There are 3 primary reasons as to why I would trade him.

1. Felix Pie- Pie has been a strong asset off the bench this year for the Orioles and is still only 25 years old. I can already see people shaking their head in disgust after reading this, but hear me out. Pie still has the potential to be a very solid OF in the MLB. He is laying off the junk pitches in the dirt better since last year, and has continuously shown a smarter approach at the plate compared to his past years. Not to mention he has looked excellent defensively so far. I also love the fire he brings to the game, as he generally looks like the most excited player on the field when he plays. I really think trading Scott would open up an opportunity for Felix Pie to finally show his potential. Even if Pie struggles, we still have Nolan Reimold, Robert Andino, and Jake Fox who can play LF.

2. Restocking the System.- The Orioles could really use a facelift when it comes to their minor league system. By trading Scott, they could potentially bring in either a solid prospect and some fringe prospects, or a couple decent prospects. At this point in time, I see no reason why trading Scott would not be beneficial, besides the fact that prospect are just what they are (They are prospects until they prove otherwise in the MLB).

3. Arbitration and Cost- Scott is going to be entering his 2nd year of Arbitration in which he already is making $6.4 million. That number is only going to go up in the next two years, and the Orioles may deem this to be too expensive. In a perfect world the Orioles would trade Scott and free up money to pursue a top tier First Basemen like Prince Fielder. I personally hope that would be the case, although you never know with Angelos running the ship.

Overall, these 3 reasons are my view on why the Orioles should trade Luke Scott. You could argue that they should keep him, since it is never bad to have control of a 20+ HR guy. I personally think the Orioles need to be active in finding a trade partner this season (or even after the season is over).

I did not consider any of Luke Scott and his Obama comments, because frankly I do not care about things like that when it comes to a professional baseball player.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wieters: Best Catcher in the American League?

Before anyone jumps out of their chair:
Yes, I do think Joe Mauer is the most talented catcher in the entire league.
But with Mauer, there is the growing concern of his future behind the plate to go along with his health concern. With Catcher arguably being the most important position in Baseball, this makes both of Mauer's problems much larger. If he cannot stay healthy, then how is he going to be considered the best catcher in the majors? This is especially true if the Twins decide to move him out of the catcher position, which is a whole different topic.

Now on to Matt Wieters:

There are 3 aspects of a the game that most people look at when it comes to Catching.
1. Game Calling: This is obviously the most quintessential aspect of a Catcher.
2. Defense: The second most important aspect of a Catcher is how they handle the ball behind the plate and manage baserunners.
3. Hitting: Obviously hitting is important for every position (besides Pitcher), but Catchers can usually get away with being average-to-below-average hitters.

Now how does Matt Wieters match up with these three aspects?

1. Wieters has clear and substantial growth when it comes to gamecalling since his rookie year. One aspect that has clearly become better is the confidence level of Wieters behind the plate. In his rookie season he would be quiet and not be the leader needed. As time has gone by however, Wieters has clearly taken control of the game and really excelled in his gamecalling. Just from watching the game you can tell that Wieters has substantially grown in his baseball instincts. The most obvious way is by looking at every situation and seeing what pitches he is calling. He has gained a better understanding of the correct and appropriate pitch to call in most situations. Another part of his growth has been the comfort level between Wieters and the pitching staff. One of the greatest benefits of our "cavalry" and Wieters coming up around the same time is that they got to learn and grow together. This has really strengthened them.

2. If you don't know already, Wieters leads the league in throwing out baserunners. He is currently 12-24 (50%) in throwing out baserunners. 30-32% is the league average usually. Only Kurt Suzuki has a greater percentage (51%). He also leads all Catchers in innings played (316.1). The next highest is Russell Martin (296.2). Wieters also does not have a Passed Ball credited to him so far this year.

Now should I move onto the fielding aspect of defense? If you have watched majority of the games this year, you have already seen some terrific plate blocks from Wieters. He essentially won the game for us against Seattle, and has continued to be a rock behind the plate when it comes to close calls and bang-bang plays. This is where I think Wieters has risen above everyone in the AL, and possibly all of MLB. The only defensive Catcher in my opinion that competes with Wieters on all facets of defense is Yadier Molina.

3. Finally, the hitting. I know people tend to be very judgmental with Wieters because he was supposed to be "Switch Hitting Jesus". Let's be honest, that was completely unfair and naive for anyone to say Wieters was a "Mauer with Power". But the reality of it is that he still has a large amount of growth left when it comes to hitting. He actually is better than league average right now when it comes to Catchers statistics. He is crazily hitting over .500 with Runners in Scoring Position, which is unheard of .He actually has the 2nd highest batting average of all AL Catchers right now (.264). Only Alex Avila (.268) has a higher average (Mauer would have the highest average but he is currently injured). Wieters is third in OBP%, SLG% and OPS%. He does however have the 2nd highest BABIP of all AL Catchers (.298). Alex Avila is the one with a higher BABIP (.308)
(You can read about BABIP here if you do not understand what it means).
(All stats were taken from FanGraphs)

So in reality, Wieters may be failing to the hype of "Switch Hitting Jesus". But he is clearly one of the better hitting Catchers around the league if you compare him with others. Obviously the top tier Catchers such as Joe Mauer and Brian McCann continue to be great, but there is no reason as to why Matt Wieters should not be named as a top 5 Catcher in all of Major league Baseball. He has all 3 aspects of a Catchers game necessary to be successful.