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Twelve Orioles thoughts as spring training winds down

Posted on 22 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles in the midst of their final two weeks in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ken Rosenthal fairly laid out positives and concerns related to Brady Anderson’s organizational role, but the big question is the future. With Dan Duquette’s contract expiring after 2018, is Anderson viewed as his successor and, if so, is he adequately preparing for that while still wearing so many other hats?

2. Anderson’s criticism of the handling of Jake Arrieta coincides with Baseball Prospectus’ latest look at the Orioles’ track record with pitching prospects. More scrutiny for both their talent evaluation and development remains in order from top to bottom despite the club’s success over the last five years.

3. Count me as a new World Baseball Classic fan. It’s refreshing seeing outward emotion without it leading to World War III. Cultivating more of this mindset in the majors would better grow the sport than obsessing over shaving 10 minutes from the time of game. Joy isn’t a four-letter word.

4. With baseball being a regional sport in terms of fan interest and player popularity, it’s been fun seeing Adam Jones shine in the WBC spotlight. In the process of pointing out what he isn’t, too many overlook just how important he’s been to the Orioles’ turnaround. He deserves this.

5. As the club counts down to Chris Tillman attempting a long-toss session this Sunday, you have to wonder what’s next if he again experiences shoulder discomfort after a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and a cortisone shot earlier this month. Plenty of folks have to be holding their breath.

6. You shouldn’t read too much into any spring numbers, but Trey Mancini is doing everything he can to make the club. In addition to posting a .926 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, he is also learning the outfield. Finding a role for him is the obvious problem.

7. There’s much debate about whether Hyun Soo Kim is capable of hitting left-handed pitching, but he entered Wednesday just 2-for-5 with two strikeouts against southpaws in the Grapefruit League. It’d be tough to argue that Buck Showalter is committed to finding out if Kim can be an everyday player.

8. After Francisco Pena and Audry Perez were sent to minor-league camp on Tuesday, Chance Sisco remained as the only non-roster catcher in major league spring training. The 22-year-old isn’t making the club, but the Orioles wanting to take a longer look at him is a good sign.

9. Robert Andino will always be remembered for the final game of the 2011 season, but he’s appeared in only 13 major league games since 2013 and is just 4-for-39 with 11 strikeouts this spring. You have to wonder if the 32-year-old will be given a place in Baltimore’s minor-league system.

10. Perhaps Seth Smith doesn’t need a slew of at-bats to get ready for Opening Day, but he hasn’t played in two weeks because of a slow-healing hamstring injury. That’s an unsettling development for a 34-year-old right fielder who will likely be playing in cool conditions in April.

11. Despite his early success at the plate since re-signing, Pedro Alvarez going to the minors to learn the outfield should remain the plan. The corner outfield defense clearly hasn’t been prioritized recently, but run prevention needs to matter — at least somewhat — with a pitch-to-contact rotation.

12. After enduring headaches with fringe roster players being out of options in recent seasons, the Orioles’ only decision in that department is reliever Oliver Drake. The 30-year-old has had some limited major league success over the last two seasons, but he isn’t helping his cause with a 10.61 spring ERA.

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2017 Orioles preview: Adam Jones

Posted on 03 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman

CF Adam Jones

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Under contract through the 2018 season

2016 stats: .265/.310/.436, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 86 R, 2 SB, 672 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite being slowed by a rib injury over the first month of the season, Jones hit at least 25 home runs and drove in at least 82 runs for the sixth consecutive season. Often criticized for his lack of plate discipline, the veteran recorded a career-high 39 walks as well as the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 17.1 percent while being asked to serve in the leadoff spot for much of the year.

Why to be concerned: His .436 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008 and his .265 batting average was his worst since 2007, which are concerns for a player entering his 12th season. Much has been made about his comments on the outfield defense, but Jones finished at minus-10 defensive runs saved in 2016 and is being asked to cover too much ground to make up for lesser corner defenders.

2017 outlook: Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t want to use Jones in the top spot again, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain healthy enough to see his power return to where it was prior to 2016. His .280 batting average on balls in play in 2016 was well below his .308 career mark, an indication that Jones should expect to experience better luck on his way to bouncing back from a down season.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .274/.314/.458, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 85 R, 5 SB, 660 PA

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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Orioles looking to rebound against left-handed pitching

Posted on 20 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles offense was nothing short of maddening in 2016.

The second-best lineup in the American League prior to the All-Star break at 5.08 runs per game and holding an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage, Baltimore was a different story in the second half. Over their final 75 games, the Orioles ranked 14th of 15 AL clubs in runs scored at 4.03 per contest and 13th in the AL with a .713 OPS.

A major part of that decline was an inability to hit left-handed pitching as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in OPS (.692) against southpaws. That’s not exactly what you want to hear with AL East favorite Boston adding All-Star lefty Chris Sale to a rotation that already includes David Price and Drew Pomeranz and could also feature young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.

Two Orioles hitters who struggled against lefties in 2016 — Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold — are no longer with the organization, but the club’s struggles can’t be blamed solely on them. Of course, Reimold’s regular starts in place of Hyun Soo Kim — who was hitless in 22 sporadic plate appearances against southpaws — are difficult to defend since the 33-year-old owned an anemic .565 OPS facing pitchers throwing from the left side.

Including the key offseason additions of catcher Welington Castillo and outfielder Seth Smith, below is a look at how Orioles regulars fared against left-handed pitching in 2016 and in recent seasons. It’s important to remember that a hitter rarely has more than 180 plate appearances against lefties in a given year, so we’re dealing with a relatively small sample, making it useful to look at production over multiple seasons.

2016 vs. LHP 2015 vs. LHP 2014 vs. LHP Career vs. LHP
Chris Davis .712 .799 .677 .737
Jonathan Schoop .688 .573 .529 .607
J.J. Hardy .782 .494 .621 .764
Manny Machado .919 .763 .642 .784
Adam Jones .580 .754 1.003 .729
Mark Trumbo .608 .856 .796 .787
Seth Smith .476 .571 .744 .594
Welington Castillo .868 .790 .855 .840

Of their two notable pickups, Castillo should be a welcome asset against left-handed pitching while Smith is clearly a platoon player who’s proven over 558 career plate appearances in the majors that he won’t produce enough to warrant regular playing time against southpaws. Manager Buck Showalter will likely express the belief publicly that Smith can handle himself against lefties much like he did with Pedro Alvarez last year, but the numbers simply don’t support that notion to be true.

Trumbo and Jones stood out as substantial deviations from their career numbers a year ago. It’s remarkable to think that Trumbo had such impressive production in his first season with Baltimore while also posting a career-low OPS against left-handed pitching. The slugger made some mechanical changes to his swing with Seattle that preceded his debut season with the Orioles, so perhaps that impacted his approach against lefties. History still suggests that he’ll bounce back against lefty pitching to a meaningful degree.

Jones has been more successful against right-handed pitchers than lefties throughout his career, but 2016 was extreme compared to his typical numbers. The 31-year-old has shown some decline offensively over the last few seasons, but it’d be surprising to see him struggle to that extreme level against lefties again in 2017.

Machado and Schoop had different levels of success in 2016, but both young players continued to trend upward against lefties, which could be a product of getting more familiar facing the skilled lefties who tend to be so rare in the minors. We know the 24-year-old Machado has already reached superstar status, but the 25-year-old Schoop has shown meaningful improvement against lefties since his rookie year, a positive sign for his ability to improve further as a hitter.

Hardy was one of the Orioles’ few success stories against lefties last season, but you’d have to think the 34-year-old will struggle to duplicate what he did in 2016 being another year older and already dealing with back concerns this spring. His lack of production against lefties in 2014 and 2015 suggest last year was more of the aberration at this advanced stage of his career.

The wild cards in this department for 2017 will be Kim and reserve outfielder Joey Rickard. It’s a shame that Kim didn’t receive more opportunities against lefties — especially when his primary platoon partner was so unproductive — as last spring should have taught us not to judge his overall ability on a small sample of at-bats. With Smith already destined to be part of a platoon, Kim being able to effectively handle himself against southpaws would go a long way in maintaining more game-to-game roster flexibility. The need for two corner outfield platoons would allow opposing managers to potentially wreak havoc with bullpen matchups late in games.

The Orioles would like Rickard to back up a strong .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties last year with further proof that he can produce as part of a platoon with either Kim or Smith. If he doesn’t, Trumbo will likely see more time in the outfield, which hurts his overall value.

A simple look at these numbers suggests that it’s hardly unreasonable for the Orioles to make improvement against lefties this season without dramatic changes to their lineup. Baltimore won’t lead the league by any means, but the arrival of Castillo, Jones and Trumbo performing closer to career norms, and the improvement of a young hitter or two would put the Orioles in much better position to compete against lefties.

And that’s all they probably need when they’re seeing lefty starters only 25 percent to 33 percent of the time in a given season.

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota for spring training in less than a month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There are valid reasons for the Orioles not to re-sign Mark Trumbo, but nothing about Dan Duquette’s history in Baltimore makes me believe he truly values a compensatory draft pick for the departure of the slugger.

2. Entering Wednesday, Baltimore’s 2017 estimated payroll of $157.9 million ranked eighth in the majors, according to Baseball Reference. I question how wisely the Orioles are budgeting for their roster more than the amount they’re spending these days.

3. Zach Britton is worth every penny of the $11.4 million he’ll be paid in 2017, but I still believe it was organizational malpractice not to pursue a trade this offseason with the lucrative market we saw for closers. A club with other needs and a shrinking window missed an opportunity.

4. Former Orioles prospect Josh Hader is MLB.com’s top left-handed pitching prospect, which will make fans groan in light of their current system. It’s easy to call the Bud Norris trade a failure given his disastrous 2015, but his 2014 season and playoff win against Detroit make it easier to stomach.

5. It’s difficult to believe the 25th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards will arrive this April, and Stadium Journey again recognized it as the top stadium experience in North America. Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium also ranked 14th and topped all NFL facilities on the list.

6. My fondness for Camden Yards aside, the Orioles donning jersey patches and using special baseballs all season for the 25th anniversary after making such a big deal out of the ballpark’s 20th feels excessive.

7. I like the acquisition of Seth Smith and believe he will be a solid addition to the lineup, but the Orioles’ potential reliance on multiple platoons is going to be problematic in this era of extreme bullpen use. Finding another bat who can hit left-handed pitching is a must.

8. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since Scott Boras represents him, but I’m surprised that Matt Wieters hasn’t found a new home yet. The Orioles were still wise to sign Welington Castillo on the cheap and not endure the waiting game for a catcher turning 31 in May.

9. The retrospectives to Wieters’ time with the Orioles only reminded me that Chris Hoiles is one of the most underrated players in club history. Per Baseball Reference, Hoiles was worth 23.4 wins above replacement in 894 career games while Wieters is at 16.3 in 882 games.

10. I’m interested to see what lingering effect Brad Brach’s arbitration case could have as the 2016 All-Star selection reportedly filed at $3.05 million while the Orioles offered $2.525 million. The right-hander took his second-half struggles hard and undoubtedly would be reminded of those in a February hearing.

11. The Orioles defense led the American League with 50 defensive runs saved in 2014 and followed that with minus-9 in 2015 and minus-29 last year. The outfield ranked last in the AL in 2016 at minus-52. Smith and Castillo alone aren’t fixing such a steep overall defensive decline.

12. Adam Jones is coming off a rough year, but he’s a solid bet to bounce back despite entering his age-31 season. His .280 batting average on balls in play was a career low and suggests tough luck while his walk rate, strikeout rate, and average exit velocity improved from 2015.

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Unlikely sources providing late lift for Orioles

Posted on 25 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Teams hoping to play in October often need help from unexpected sources along the way.

The Orioles acquired Steve Pearce at the trade deadline to aid their lineup against left-handed pitching, but the veteran was lost for the season after undergoing right forearm surgery last week. Minor-league prospect Trey Mancini received the call to the majors to take his place on the roster just a week ago.

The 24-year-old has responded by becoming the third player in major league history to homer in each of his first three starts to begin his career. His solo blast off Arizona lefty Robbie Ray gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead in the fourth as they’d ultimately win 6-1 to retake the lead for the second wild card in the American League.

Mancini has yet to collect a single in the majors as all four of his hits — three homers and a double — have gone for extra bases. Whether it’s short-lived success or the start of a good major league career, the spark has provided a lift at a time the Orioles have needed it with the memory of the four-game sweep to Boston still in their minds.

Of course, the rookie hasn’t been alone as Wade Miley turned in Baltimore’s second-longest start of the year on Saturday, allowing one run over 8 2/3 innings and nearly pitching the club’s first complete-game shutout in over two years. Miley matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and has now allowed one run over his last 12 2/3 innings dating back to his injury-abbreviated start last Sunday.

Who would have predicted that 10 days ago?

Facing two last-place teams has certainly helped, but Miley has commanded his fastball much better over his last two outings and is pitching with more confidence. With Kevin Gausman pushed back due to an intercostal strain and the Orioles wanting to give Dylan Bundy extra rest between starts, Miley’s improvement couldn’t have come at a better time.

After Saturday’s gem, the lefty cited a recent conversation with Scott McGregor in which the former Orioles pitcher advised him to try “easier” on the mound and to relax. Whatever he said has at least worked temporarily for the veteran starter whom many wanted to be banished to the bullpen for the remainder of the season after posting a hideous 8.41 ERA in his first eight starts for the Orioles.

He isn’t the first maligned Orioles pitcher to reverse his fortunes recently as Ubaldo Jimenez has served as one of their top starters over the last month. Recent performance doesn’t erase either pitcher’s giant missteps in 2016, but at least they’ve salvaged some good grace in helping down the stretch.

Jones sets career high

Often criticized for his aggressive approach at the plate, Adam Jones set a new career high when he drew a leadoff walk in Saturday’s first inning.

The 31-year-old now has 38 walks this season, surpassing the 36 he drew in his first All-Star campaign back in 2009. His 6.0 percent walk rate isn’t as high as his 6.9 percent mark from that season, but it’s substantially higher than where it’s been in recent years.

Jones owns a .366 average with a 1.012 on-base plus slugging percentage when swinging at the first pitch in his career and is hitting .316 with a .979 OPS on the first pitch this season. He surely goes through stretches when that approach hurts him, but I’ve always argued that the five-time All-Star center fielder would not be the same hitter if not for his aggressiveness early in the count.

Say what you want about how it might look at times, but Jones now has six straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 82 RBIs and has produced an OPS of no worse than .764 in any year over that time. He’s bounced back admirably from the rib injury that hurt his production over the first six weeks of 2016.

Drake quietly impressing

The Orioles bullpen recently welcomed back 2015 All-Star selection Darren O’Day, but right-hander Oliver Drake has quietly impressed since being recalled in late August.

In his last 11 innings, Drake has pitched to a 1.64 ERA with 14 strikeouts and only two walks and earned his first major league victory with a scoreless inning on Friday night. Manager Buck Showalter has cited improved fastball command and a tighter splitter as the reasons for his improvement at the major league level.

That splitter makes Drake particularly effective against left-handed hitting.

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Ten observations on why Baltimore sports fans aren’t going to Orioles games

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

My story and history with Peter G. Angelos is pretty well told. There are many “insider observations” that I know and have lived that shall remain private for now but it’s pretty obvious that I’m a journalist who has been intimidated and lied to by them for so long now – and in so many ways – that it could only make sense to someone who has witnessed the past few months of this presidential race.

If you’re one of the low information people who think it’s “no big deal” or justified to ban any legitimate media member who asks fair questions and has the accountability and public availability that I’ve had in the Baltimore sports media marketplace for 25 years, then you should simply move on because you’re the type that doesn’t want to deal with the facts. Your bar is lower than it should be.

I promised some fair thoughts today on why YOU and many other citizens of Maryland and fans of the Baltimore Orioles don’t go to the games as regularly as perhaps you once did. I wrote a blog earlier this week about why I don’t go to games and actively give Peter G. Angelos my money.

So if the question is: “Why are there so many empty seats at Camden Yards for Orioles baseball games in height of pennant race?”

Consider these mostly global thoughts:

1. Washington has a baseball team. This was the worst nightmare of Peter G. Angelos. When he sat with me in 1997 (and mostly lied to me), he also predicted that if D.C. got a team it would “split” the fanbase and make for two “mediocre” franchises (back when attendance mattered more than the siphoning of cable TV revenue).

 

Those fans south of Laurel who love the Nationals are long, long gone. And they’re not coming back. And there are a LOT of them.

2.People simply have other things to do and other interests. Kids sports leagues. Various other sports and hobbies and passions. Family issues. Work. Church. Civic Issues. Festivals. The beach. Pokemon? The world has changed since 1966 when the Baltimore Orioles had a summer monopoly on civic pride and evening stoop soap opera. Peter Angelos is competing with anything and everything inside your mobile device. He’s not #winning your hearts.

3.It ain’t cheap. And it ain’t as cheap as it used to be. Tickets are easy to get but not so cheap as to not make it a decision. My wife and I want to go next Thursday night for the final game of David Ortiz. (She’s a Red Sox fan. This is pretty well documented.)       boston-day-4-25 The whole process feels like I’m waiting out a stock because the “get ins” on the roof are $18. If the game matters, perhaps demand will sky rocket and everyone will want to be there. But, the Orioles could also be five games out and fighting for their lives. I buy from the secondary market whenever I do go and it’s a weird market. It’s also clear they’re spreading out the sales of the seats to make the bowl look more full and manipulating them on Stubhub. The jacking up of prices for key games – while industry standard – is a tacky business move and hasn’t just backfired here in Baltimore. The elimination of discount nights smacks of another greedy Angelos idea. And the beer and concession prices – and the quality of the food – speaks for itself. Not to be a dick – but where in life is there a more expensive and generally crappy decision than buying food at a sporting event than at an arena, theatre or stadium? We’re all kinda blind to it but there’s nowhere else on the planet you feel comfortable paying $12 for a draft beer, $10 for leathery chicken tenders or $8 for a cold hot dog or $4.50 for a bottle of water. It’s obscene – but acceptable in America. But, still…not cheap. There are many folks who would love to go an Orioles game who simply can’t afford to go more than once a month or once a season. From the tickets, the parking, the concessions and the time invested, it’s just not a cheap night out for the family or even a date. It’s a decision made with your wallet as much as your heart. Meanwhile, the place sits empty most nights. MORE…

 

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Orioles add outfield depth by claiming veteran Stubbs

Posted on 31 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Trying to improve their depth and defense in the outfield, the Orioles claimed veteran outfielder Drew Stubbs off waivers from the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.

With Adam Jones recently sidelined with a left hamstring injury, Baltimore has been short in the outfield and primarily using corner outfielder Nolan Reimold in center. Jones is expected to return to the lineup by the weekend, but the Orioles envision the 31-year-old Stubbs filling a void as a late-inning defensive replacement and reserve outfielder that hasn’t really been filled since Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard suffered a thumb injury in late July.

In 67 plate appearances with the Atlanta Braves and the Rangers this season, Stubbs is hitting .259 with three home runs, six RBIs, and a .757 on-base plus slugging percentage. He is a career .244 hitter with a .710 OPS over eight major league seasons.

Capable of playing all three outfield spots, Stubbs has mostly played in center during his career, giving the Orioles a backup for Jones in the final month of the season. The right-handed hitter has struggled to hold down a steady job over the last two seasons, but he hit 15 home runs in a season as recently as 2014 and reached double digits in stolen bases every year from 2009-2014, which provides manager Buck Showalter with a little speed off the bench.

To make room on their 40-man roster, the Orioles designated newly-acquired left-handed relief pitcher Kyle Lobstein for assignment with the hope that he clears waivers and remains in the organization. Baltimore acquired the 27-year-old Lobstein from Pittsburgh in exchange for minor-league lefty Zach Phillips earlier in the day.

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