Tag Archive | "Baltimore"


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Zuttah absent, Monroe returns to practice on Wednesday

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Conducting their first full practice since returning from their bye, the Ravens welcomed back a starting member of their offensive line while being without another.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) was a full participant in Wednesday’s workout, but center Jeremy Zuttah continues to recover from a left shoulder injury suffered in the Week 8 win over San Diego. Monroe had missed the Nov. 1 game against the Chargers, but head coach John Harbaugh had previously expressed optimism that he would return after the bye week.

The Ravens appear optimistic about Zuttah’s chances to be ready for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

“We’re anticipating — we’re hoping — that Jeremy will be out later in the week to practice,” Harbaugh said prior to Wednesday’s workout, “but he won’t be out [on the field] today.”

Rookie cornerback Tray Walker (concussion) participated fully in Wednesday’s practice after missing the San Diego game. Though still on injured reserve with the designation to return, defensive end Brent Urban (biceps) also took practiced with his 21-day participation window having opened on Monday.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) remains sidelined from practice.

Wednesday also brought the practice debut of former Towson running back Terrance West, who was signed to Baltimore’s practice squad a day earlier. Jettisoned by both Cleveland and Tennessee in the last two months, the Northwestern High grad hopes a return home will be the key to getting his once-promising NFL career back on track.

Harbaugh said he spoke with wide receiver Steve Smith following his successful Achilles tendon surgery in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday.

“He’s in great spirits,” Harbaugh said. “He’s looking forward to the rehab, and he was pretty fired up about the way [the surgery] went.”

Meanwhile, the Jaguars were without two starters during their Wednesday workout as standout second-year receiver Allen Hurns (foot/thigh) and outside linebacker Dan Skuta (groin) were non-participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (shoulder), CB Tray Walker (concussion)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Michael Bennett (hamstring), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury), WR Allen Hurns (foot/thigh), LB Dan Skuta (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marqise Lee (hamstring), S James Sample (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Zane Beadles (knee), RB Toby Gerhart (groin), WR Rashad Greene (thumb), TE Julius Thomas (abdomen)

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Pitta, Ravens make difficult — and right — decision in end

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta desperately wanted to return to the football field this season.

Still loving the game and feeling a sense of obligation to the Ravens after signing a long-term contract last year, the 30-year-old tight end rehabbed rigorously to return from the second serious hip injury suffered in a 14-month period. But the skilled route-runner known for finding open windows in coverage couldn’t separate from the memory of him collapsing to the ground without being touched after making a simple catch in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014.

As difficult as the decision was, he and the Ravens made the right one in the end as he will remain on the reserve physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season.

“Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed that I won’t be out there this season,” Pitta said. “It’s something that I’ve been working hard to be able to do. I’ll continue to rehab and do everything I can to make sure I’m healthy and put myself in the best position that I can.”

His disappointment is understandable after playing in just seven games since dislocating and fracturing his right hip the first time in practice on July 27, 2013. Pitta returned to play in the final four games of that season, catching 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

The healthy return prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to sign the 2010 fourth-round pick to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed. But Pitta injured his hip a second time in Week 3 of the 2014 season and hasn’t played since.

Returning to practice last month after beginning the season on the PUP list, the Brigham Young product acknowledged hearing conflicting opinions from those close to him — including his concerned wife, Mataya —  about whether he should resume his playing career. According to head coach John Harbaugh and teammates, Pitta looked like his old self making plays against the Baltimore defense in practices, but the stability of a twice-repaired hip wouldn’t allow his safe return at this time.

“It didn’t quite respond the way we had hoped,” said Pitta, who added that there were things on and off the field that weren’t “quite right” with the hip. “Sitting down with doctors over the last couple of days, we decided that it was certainly too much of a risk at this time and too unsafe to take the field. That was a decision that we made collectively.

“At the end of the day, we can’t ignore what sound medical science has to say.”

Pitta said Wednesday that he still hopes to continue his career and isn’t yet ready to announce his retirement, but it’s difficult envisioning what would change doctors’ minds next season after he’s already spent 14 months rehabbing from the second injury. Whether the Ravens will keep Pitta on the roster to find out is another story as his guaranteed $5 million salary for 2015 made it a no-brainer for both sides to explore his potential return this season.

Next year, his $5 million salary is not guaranteed and Pitta is scheduled to carry a $7.2 million salary cap figure. Cutting him in the offseason — possibly with a post-June 1 designation — would save cap space and not leave the Ravens on the hook for his 2016 salary in the event of another injury.

Having drafted two rookie tight ends — Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle — this spring after selecting Crockett Gillmore last year, the the organization prepared this offseason as though Pitta would not be able to return to the field.

Even so, the layers of frustration are apparent for both Pitta and the Ravens in the midst of a 2-6 season.

“It’s been kind of a roller-coaster ride,” said Harbaugh, recalling the memories of both injuries. “You have hopes. I was hoping that he’d be able to play. To see him come out here and perform well [in practices], that part of it was a plus. But the other thing that overrides all of that is the fact that you want what’s best for the player. His safety and going forward as far as his quality of life overrides all of it.”

In parts of five seasons in Baltimore, Pitta has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end added three more touchdown catches in the 2012 postseason run that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, a game in which he caught four passes for 26 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.

No one will ever forget Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown catch in the divisional-round game in Denver that January, but that game-tying play still may not have mattered if not for Pitta’s catch on third-and-13 from the Ravens’ own 3 in the first overtime period. Baltimore didn’t score on that drive, but the 24-yard reception flipped field position and allowed Sam Koch to eventually punt the ball deep into Denver territory instead of being forced to kick from deep in his own end zone and potentially set the Broncos offense up on a short field.

That critical conversion is easily one of the most underrated plays in franchise history and likely allowed the run to an eventual championship to continue. The spectacular pitch and catch epitomized quarterback Joe Flacco’s trust in his close friend and teammate on the field.

“It’s great to have a guy that you know you can go to and you know what he’s going to do,” Flacco said. “He’s going to be in the right spot, he’s going to win, and he’s going to catch the ball at the end of the day. To have a guy like that on the field with you, it makes your job a little bit easier. He was definitely a big part of that.”

Pitta said Wednesday that he doesn’t want his final play in the NFL to be the one in Cleveland that resulted in him being carted off the field. The Ravens didn’t want that, either.

But both made the right decision not to take the risk of that happening again.

Even if it marks the end of Pitta’s career with the Ravens.

“I’ll continue to work,” Pitta said, “and hopefully that won’t be the end of the story.”

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Machado wins 2015 Gold Glove Award

Posted on 10 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado won the 2015 American League Rawlings Gold Glove Award on Tuesday night.

The 23-year-old won for the second time in his career, edging fellow finalists Adrian Beltre of Texas and Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay. Machado claimed the award as the only player in the majors to play all 162 regular-season games, showing his surgically-repaired knees were healthy with numerous spectacular plays in 2015.

Machado led all AL third basemen in total chances (488), double plays (38), range factor per nine innings (3.09), and range factor per game (3.01), and he finished second in defensive runs saved (14) to only Beltre (18). Though he committed a career-high 21 errors — 19 at the hot corner and two at shortstop — Machado made nine in the first 38 games of the season and just 12 the rest of the way.

In winning his second Gold Glove Award in three years, Machado becomes just the second Orioles third baseman to win multiple times, joining the incomparable Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and his 16 Gold Gloves.

Despite a sizable defensive drop-off in team defense from 2014 to 2015, the Orioles have now won at least one Gold Glove in each of the last five seasons, which is the second-longest streak in club history. Over that time, five different Orioles have won a combined 12 Gold Gloves.

Since the award was created in 1957, 17 different Orioles have claimed a total of 71 Gold Gloves, the most for any AL club and the second most in the majors behind only the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Crazy or not, Ravens striking right chord after bye week

Posted on 10 November 2015 by Luke Jones

An 8-0 finish?



The chatter among players began moments after the win over San Diego and has only been amplified with a bye week to rest their bodies and minds. Despite a 2-6 record that has them standing 13th out of 16 teams in the AFC entering Week 10, the Ravens still have their sights set on the playoffs as they trail current No. 6 seed Pittsburgh by 2 1/2 games.

Few outside the Baltimore locker room think qualifying for the postseason is anything but crazy talk, but that’s perfectly fine with the Ravens.

“That’s why it’s going to feel so much greater when we finally make it,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “Coming back from this type of record and this season and the first eight [games], it’s going to feel that much greater when we make the playoffs. Let’s make some history.”

Unrealistic? Absolutely. Insane? Perhaps.

But I still like it.

Recent Ravens teams haven’t exactly oozed swagger like those from yesteryear, and that was even before they lost their two most demonstrative leaders — Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith — to season-ending injuries in the first half. Players know the odds are wildly against them, but believing you’re good enough fits into that winning equation — whether you actually are or not in the end.

Doubting talent and coaching is fair, but questioning the effort of these Ravens doesn’t mesh with all six of their losses coming by just one possession and a combined 30 points. A team that’s mailed it in doesn’t compete on a weekly basis, making the post-bye confidence an encouraging sign for better results with a more favorable schedule in the second half.

Of course, how much better is the real question, and that can only be answered on the field.

“We have to earn our way to have that conversation for sure,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But I expect our guys to have high expectations. The standard here has been high. We’ve set a high bar here for a long time, and we’re proud of that. We have high expectations, so we’re not going to let those expectations go. We’re not pleased with where we are — just like the fans aren’t pleased, coaches aren’t pleased, players aren’t pleased. Nobody in the organization is pleased with where we are, and we’re very determined to turn it around.”

We’ve all heard how the Ravens could be better than their 2-6 record. Given the small margin of defeat in those six losses, it’s fair to acknowledge the possibility, but let’s not forget those two victories could have easily turned into defeats as well. The eternal optimist would be stretching further to say the Ravens could be 6-2 or better than the pessimist would be in pointing to the possibility of a winless record through eight games.

Even if you believe that the Ravens were unlucky in the first half of the season, that doesn’t mean a run of good fortune is on the way. With Baltimore having a poor defense and an average offense lacking reliable pass-catchers — even before Smith’s Achilles injury — for Joe Flacco, predicting much better than a .500 record in the second half of the season would be based more on blind optimism than what we watched in the first half of 2015.

But players and coaches certainly don’t have to feel that way.

“The mindset is 1-0. Take care of what we have to take care of this week,” said running back Justin Forsett, who “definitely” thinks the Ravens can still make the playoffs. “We’ll just do our part and control what we control. Hopefully, at the end, we’ll be where we want to be.”

Even if the Ravens were to somehow run the table to finish 10-6, there’s no guarantee of even that being good enough as they needed help in Week 17 a year ago to make the playoffs with that same record. Rebounding from 2-6 is an incredible long shot, but who said the Ravens or their fans need to be grounded in reality, especially with eight games to go?

Does Harbaugh think the Ravens can make history as the first team to start 1-6 and make the NFL playoffs under the current format?

“Of course we can. We’re planning on it,” Harbaugh said. “We’re very optimistic about what’s in front of us, our future. We love our players, love the way they work, love the enthusiasm that they had today coming back and getting ready for Jacksonville.

“We’ll take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”

That’s all the Ravens can do, but some extra bravado can only help their near-impossible cause.

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Former Towson standout West joins Ravens practice squad

Posted on 10 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The start of former Towson running back Terrance West’s NFL career has been nothing short of disappointing, but he’ll now come home with an opportunity to turn it around.

The Ravens signed the Northwestern High product to their practice squad on Tuesday to become the third NFL team to employ the 24-year-old in less than two seasons. A third-round selection of the Cleveland Browns in last year’s draft, West was traded to Tennessee in September before the Titans released him this past weekend.

Despite leading the Browns in rushing with 673 yards as a rookie, West quickly fell out of favor with the Cleveland coaching staff due to both inconsistent play and immaturity, prompting the organization to give up on him days before the start of his second season. West appeared in only two games for the Titans, rushing 16 times for 51 yards.

West shot up the 2014 draft board after a standout career at Towson in which he rushed for almost 5,000 yards in three seasons for the Football Championship Subdivision-level Tigers. The Browns were so high on West that they traded up to select him 94th overall, five spots ahead of where the Ravens were scheduled to pick at the end of the third round.

No one doubts that West is talented, but he will need to prove himself after two running back-needy teams disposed of him in the last two months. If West can’t get his career back on track in his hometown, it’s fair to wonder if it will ever happen for the 5-foot-10, 225-pound back.

To make room for West on the practice squad, the Ravens cut defensive end Nordly Capi.

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Clock ticking for Pitta, Perriman to help Ravens in 2015

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two talented pass-catchers are potentially at opposite ends of their careers with the Ravens.

Each with the clock ticking.

Sixth-year tight end Dennis Pitta faces a Wednesday deadline to determine whether he will attempt to come back this season from the second devastating hip injury of his career suffered more than 13 months ago. Meanwhile, head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that time is running out if injured first-round receiver Breshad Perriman wants to see the field in his rookie season.

Two weapons, if healthy, who could help quarterback Joe Flacco, but both are surrounded by more questions than answers as the Ravens returned from their bye to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list, Pitta returned to practice on Oct. 21, triggering a 21-day window to determine whether he would return to live-game action this season. The 30-year-old hasn’t played since dislocating and fracturing his right hip for the second time in a 14-month period on Sept. 21, 2014.

“He did look good in practice. We had a tough time covering him,” said Harbaugh, who stated that an announcement would not come before Wednesday. “He was doing stuff from the ‘look’ team and made a bunch of plays out there and just kind of looked like his old self out there.

“But don’t construe that as saying that he’s ready to go, because it’s not about that. It’s going to be about he and the doctors. The doctors are going to take a hard look at that and help him decide, ‘Is this really safe?’”

Pitta’s return wouldn’t necessarily fill a positional need with the Ravens having selected three tight ends in their last two drafts, but the 2010 fourth-round pick was a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, catching seven touchdowns in his last full season in 2012. Pitta caught three more touchdowns that postseason in helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Though he’s received positive reviews from teammates and coaches in his return to practice, Pitta acknowledged last month that there were conflicting opinions from those close to him on whether he should return to the football field after his second serious injury, which occurred without him being hit. He also said that retirement would be a distinct possibility if he would not be able to return to the field in 2015.

“Dennis is going to play if he can,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt in my mind based on what I’ve talked to him. If it’s safe and he feels like he can get out there and the hip is responding well, he’s going to play. And if it’s not safe, then he’s not going to play.

“I’m sure Tuesday — it is an off-day — we’ll sit down [and] have a pow-wow on it and figure out if that’s what we’re going to do and what the doctors and he say is the best thing.”

While there isn’t as much long-term concern with Perriman, Harbaugh said Monday that he’d like to see the 26th overall pick of this year’s draft be able to play in even the final four games of the season, but he would need to return to the practice field soon in order for that to happen. The 22-year-old sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp on July 30 and briefly practiced in late September before a setback prompted arthroscopic surgery and another lengthy absence.

With No. 1 receiver Steve Smith out for the rest of the season and previously intending to retire, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome would love to take a look at what they have with the first receiver selected in the first round by the organization since Mark Clayton in 2005. The Ravens have carried Perriman on the 53-man roster all season.

“The clock is ticking if he can’t get out there and practice soon,” Harbaugh said. “I’d love to get four games out of him, just so you can see him and he can develop for four games. But that means now we need four weeks of getting him ready to play four games, and I haven’t been told that he’s going to practice this week.

“I think that’s a conversation that the doctors and Ozzie need to have, and we need to make a determination on that real soon.”

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Ravens defensive end Urban returns to practice field

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens defensive end Brent Urban practiced on Monday for the first time since suffering a biceps injury in early August.

Returning from the Week 9 bye, the team announced the 2014 fourth-round pick has returned to practice after beginning the regular season on injured reserve with the designation to return. Urban now enters a 21-day practice window in which the Ravens may elevate him to the 53-man roster at any point or leave him on IR for the remainder of the season if deemed unable to return at the conclusion of the period.

Urban, 24, suffered a torn biceps on Aug. 8, an injury that was initially feared to sideline him for the entire season. The Ravens are intrigued by the 6-foot-7, 295-pound defensive lineman’s potential, which is why they used their one designation to return on him at the start of the season instead of saving it for another injured player.

“I don’t know if you’d say Brent Urban is going to be some kind of premier pass rusher,” head coach John Harbaugh said last week. “Maybe he’ll develop into that, and we’ll all be excited. But he’s going to pressure the quarterback. He’s going to get push-back. He’s going to get knock-back. He’s going to create problems, just because of his leverage and his size, and he’s going to be definitely hard to throw the ball around.

“I think if nothing else — at the very least — he’s going to get batted balls, and that’s going to be good for us. He’s such a young player. We’re going to have to find out what kind of a player he is once he gets out there and gets going again.”

Urban suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee early in his first training camp, meaning expectations should be tempered for a player who hasn’t taken as much as a preseason snap in his NFL career. But the Ravens believe he can be a factor at the 5-technique defensive end spot — currently manned by veterans Chris Canty and Lawrence Guy — and as an inside rusher in passing situations.


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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2015 season

Posted on 07 November 2015 by Luke Jones

No one expected this.

Even if you wondered why the Ravens were receiving so much preseason love after enduring a number of substantial offseason departures, a 2-6 record at the midway point could haven’t been predicted based on the history of the John Harbaugh era. Now, Baltimore must simply crawl back to respectability before any thought of playoff contention can seep back into the psyche.

If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, the Ravens have four remaining games against opponents who entered Sunday with losing records and two others against teams with only .500 marks. After playing five of their first seven on the road to begin 2015, Harbaugh and his team will relish the opportunity to play five of their next seven contests at M&T Bank Stadium.

While inviting you to mock my preseason prophecies for the Ravens from a couple months ago, I offer five new predictions for the second half of the 2015 season …

1. Joe Flacco will remind the Ravens that reworking his contract won’t be cheap this offseason. Simply looking at the numbers won’t tell the story as you can’t expect Flacco and this group of pass-catching targets to excel with Steve Smith out for the rest of the year. That said, the eighth-year quarterback will find a way to make the offense work and play at a respectable level. With Flacco scheduled to carry a $28.55 million cap figure in 2016, both sides knew all along that his six-year, $120.6 million contract signed in 2013 would need to be reworked this offseason. Flacco will play well enough to remind Ozzie Newsome that he can lead the Ravens to the top, especially if the general manager assembles an acceptable group of talent around him unlike two of the last three seasons.

2. Jimmy Smith will start playing more like the cornerback the Ravens signed to a long-term deal last spring. Already lacking playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Ravens could hardly afford to have the fifth-year cornerback play at an underwhelming level coming off last year’s Lisfranc surgery, but Smith has at least played better of late. The surgically-repaired foot should continue to improve as the season goes on, and that will help Smith’s confidence after defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently described his play as “tentative” this season. With other recent deals such as the ones with Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta not working out, the Ravens need Smith to look like a No. 1 corner averaging eight figures per year. He’ll begin regaining that form in the second half.

3. Rookie Buck Allen will emerge as a viable offensive weapon coming out of the backfield. It’s easy to say that the Ravens need an inexperienced group of receivers to step up in Smith’s absence, but how much can you reasonably expect from a group of former rookie free agents and castoffs? Baltimore will lean more on its running game and Allen needs more than the 4.6 carries he’s averaged in his first eight NFL games. Justin Forsett will remain the primary ball carrier, but the 2015 fourth-round pick has more explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield and can help an undermanned passing game. To keep Forsett fresh and to determine whether Allen can at least be a strong No. 2 option, Marc Trestman will give the rookie more opportunities and he will take full advantage.

4. Chris Givens and Terrence Brooks will become starters by the end of the season. Envisioning Givens as a starter isn’t going out on a limb since he played more snaps than Marlon Brown in the San Diego game, but the fourth-year wideout plays with a chip on his shoulder after plummeting down the depth chart in St. Louis and gives Flacco a speed option he lacked at the start of the season with Breshad Perriman sidelined. Givens isn’t a long-term starter, but he will make enough plays to warrant keeping him around as an option to use in three- and four-wide sets in 2016. Meanwhile, veteran Kendrick Lewis has disappointed at safety, and it’s time for the Ravens to see whether Brooks can be a viable starter moving forward. At the very least, he’ll wrestle away the job from Lewis.

5. The Ravens will finish with a 6-10 record to earn a top 10 pick in the 2016 draft. Predicting a dramatic second-half turnaround just isn’t realistic given Baltimore’s lack of overall talent and injuries, but a favorable remaining schedule will translate to more wins for a group that’s continued to compete every week under Harbaugh. Even with two of their three remaining away games coming against teams with losing records, the Ravens shouldn’t be considered a good bet to win on the road. A 6-10 record would have had the Ravens picking as high as eighth or as low as 10th in this spring’s draft. A return to championship contention in 2016 isn’t impossible, but hitting on a couple higher draft picks in the first and second rounds would be a heck of a shot in the arm for a roster lacking elite players.

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Orioles extend qualifying offers to Wieters, Chen, Davis

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Luke Jones

With free agency officially opening at midnight on Saturday morning, the Orioles face their most critical offseason in recent memory if they plan to remain competitive in 2016 and beyond.

As expected, the club made qualifying offers — one-year, $15.8 million contracts for the 2016 season — to first baseman Chris Davis, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, and catcher Matt Wieters on Friday afternoon. If any — or all — of the three rejects the offer and signs with another club, the Orioles are then awarded a supplemental first-round pick in the 2016 draft.

A club signing a player who previously rejected a qualifying offer from his original club must then forfeit its first- or second-round pick based on its 2015 record.

The Orioles were always expected to make qualifying offers to Davis and Chen, but there was some doubt as to whether they’d extend one to Wieters. With the 29-year-old catching only 55 games a year removed from Tommy John surgery, some had wondered if the Orioles would refrain in fear of him accepting a hefty one-year salary and impacting the rest of their offseason budget.

However, Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, has been one of the harshest critics of the qualifying offer system, making it unlikely that he would accept one on behalf of his client. Considering Wieters’ heavy workload early in his career and that he’s one of only a handful of major league catchers to have the serious elbow procedure over the years, it will be interesting to see what kind of market exists for the three-time All-Star selection, especially with a club now needing to forfeit a draft draft pick to sign him.

Baltimore has three other free agents — reliever Darren O’Day and outfielders Gerardo Parra and Steve Pearce — who did not receive qualifying offers, but the club has expressed interest in re-signing all three.

The Orioles also announced on Friday that they had selected the contract of left-handed pitcher Chris Jones from Triple-A Norfolk. The 27-year-old went 8-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 150 innings last season.

“Chris Jones has compiled two good years at Triple-A since becoming a starter and really improved his control in 2015,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said in a statement. “By continuing to pitch well in the Dominican Republic this winter, he has earned his spot on the roster.”

This move leaves the Orioles with 36 players on their current 40-man roster.

With a New York state judge throwing out an arbitration decision regarding rights fees owed to the Washington Nationals by Orioles-controlled MASN on Wednesday, many fans hope that means an increase in payroll to re-sign Davis as well and upgrade the starting pitching and outfield situations after Buck Showalter’s club failed to have a winning season for the first time since 2011. However, it remains to be seen if that will have any tangible effect after the Orioles had a payroll just under $119 million on Opening Day, according to Baseball Prospectus.

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Orioles shouldn’t overlook defense entering critical offseason

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Improving the starting pitching, re-signing Chris Davis, and upgrading corner outfield production top the consensus list of priorities as the Orioles’ offseason needs.

Though maddeningly inconsistent during the 2015 season following the free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Baltimore lineup still produced eight more runs than it did a year ago. A bullpen that didn’t retain postseason standout Andrew Miller finished third in the American League with a 3.21 ERA, only slightly worse than its 3.10 mark in 2014.

But an Orioles starting rotation that finished fifth in the AL with a 3.61 ERA in 2014 was almost a full run worse with a 4.53 mark that ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs this past season.

That explains much of the Orioles’ drop-off in a nutshell, right?

Not exactly, even if the starting rotation clearly needs to be upgraded this winter.

Below is a look at a mystery team compared to the Orioles in just a few categories with their 2015 AL rankings included in parentheses:

  Mystery team      Orioles
Runs scored       724 (6th)   713 (7th)
Starter ERA   4.34 (12th)   4.53 (14th)
Starter FIP   4.32 (12th)   4.47 (14th)
Quality starts   71 (14th)   72 (11th)
Bullpen ERA   2.72 (1st)   3.21 (3rd)
Bullpen FIP   3.56 (4th)   3.48 (3rd)
Team ERA   3.73 (3rd)   4.05 (8th)
Team FIP   4.04 (6th)   4.11 (10th)


Though you’d conclude that the mystery team was better than the Orioles in 2015 — by 14 wins, in fact — the comparison shows two clubs sharing a similar profile in terms of runs scored and a reliance on a strong bullpen to overcome below-average starting pitching. But the smaller gap between these clubs in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) compared to the difference in ERA helps illustrate arguably the biggest difference between the Orioles and the World Series champion Kansas City Royals in 2015.


Now, traditional fielding statistics — that don’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, and an ability to make the more difficult plays — would suggest the Orioles were the best defensive team in the league in 2015 as they committed the fewest errors of any AL club and owned the highest fielding percentage. Meanwhile, the Royals committed 11 more errors and ranked only sixth in fielding percentage.

But a deeper look indicates the Royals were vastly superior to Baltimore in the field, leading the AL with 52 defensive runs saved (numbers constructed by Baseball Info Solutions) while the Orioles finished 11th at minus-9. On their way to its first AL East title in 17 years, Buck Showalter’s club led the league with 50 defensive runs saved a year ago.

This sterling defense in 2014 helped make an average Baltimore starting rotation that owned the 14th-worst FIP (4.18) in the AL one of the league’s best in terms of ERA with a 3.61 mark that ranked fifth. In other words, superb defense helped compensate for starting pitchers who still finished in the bottom third of the AL in strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.

So, what happened to the defense in 2015?

Using defensive runs saved — only one metric, but viewed by many as a reliable one — below is a position-by-position look at how the Orioles performed in 2014 compared to 2015:

Position    2014    2015    Difference
C    -1    4    +5
1B    15    1    -14
2B    8   -7    -15
3B    6    10    +4
SS    5    -2    -7
LF    7    4    -3
CF    6   -1    -7
RF    5   -8    -13
P   -1   -10    -9


According to defensive runs saved, the Orioles improved at only two positions in 2015: catcher and third base. Caleb Joseph starting the majority of the games led to the overall improvement at catcher as he finished second on the club with 12 defensive runs saved in 2015. The overall improvement at the hot corner should come as no surprise with a healthy Manny Machado starting all but six games at third base and leading the club with 13 defensive runs saved overall in 2015.

Based on defensive runs saved, the largest drop-offs occurred at first base, second base, and right field. At first base, the 2015 defense wasn’t atrocious, but it was only average after both Chris Davis and Steve Pearce played superb defense there a year earlier. In 2015, Davis was still better than average (+4), but other options such as Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, and Chris Parmelee were either average or slightly below average at the position. Whether Davis ultimately returns or the Orioles are looking at other options for the position in 2016, they’d clearly prefer a return to 2014 defensive levels at first base.

The dramatic drop-off at second base can mostly be attributed to the long-term knee injury suffered by Jonathan Schoop, who finished with an impressive 10 defensive runs saved as a rookie in 2014. Virtually everyone who played the position this past season — including Schoop (-1) — was either average or below average. Fortunately for the Orioles, it’s reasonable to expect Schoop’s defense to bounce back with a full winter to strengthen his knee, but that will be something worth monitoring early next season.

Of course, right field was manned by the unspectacular but very steady Nick Markakis in 2014, but other options such as Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce also played solid defense in limited opportunities in right. The Orioles’ revolving door at right field in 2015 was nearly as painful in the field as it was at the plate with no one playing good defense including the two-time Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra (minus-7 defensive runs saved) after he was acquired at the trade deadline. The Orioles simply must find a better all-around option in right field than the ones they ran out there in 2015.

Other positions with drop-off can primarily be attributed to starters missing time due to injuries. At shortstop, J.J. Hardy saw his defensive runs saved dip from 10 to four, but the Orioles will only hope the injuries he’s battled the last couple seasons won’t zap his defense as dramatically as his offense.

Despite the Orioles’ overall decrease in center field in 2015, Adam Jones slightly improved in defensive runs saved from a year ago, but his replacements did not play well in the field. Though turning 30 this past year, Jones has a track record of durability that doesn’t make this position much of a concern after a variety of ailments limited him to just 137 games in 2015.

As for defense on the mound, it’s apparent that pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti will need to make improving defense a point of emphasis during spring training. However, it’s worth noting that the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez was the biggest pitching culprit at minus-4 runs saved in 2015 as he is very poor at holding runners on base.

These defensive numbers aren’t to suggest that the Orioles don’t need to improve their starting pitching or go all out to sign Davis or another impact bat or two this winter, but much of their success over the last few seasons can be attributed to exceptional defense, something Showalter’s club did not play in 2015. And given the organization’s track record for not spending big money on free agents, improving the defense at a few positions is probably a more realistic task than overhauling the starting rotation or even re-signing Davis at this point.

Would that alone be enough to make the Orioles a contender?

No, but playing underwhelming defense in 2015 went a long way in exposing a mediocre starting rotation and ultimately leaving the Orioles on the outside looking in for the postseason.

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