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Orioles tender contracts to Davis, Matusz, nine other arbitration-eligible players

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Orioles tender contracts to Davis, Matusz, nine other arbitration-eligible players

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There were no surprises prior to Tuesday night’s deadline for arbitration-eligible players as the Orioles tendered contracts to all 11 eligible in that department.

The group includes position players Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Pearce, and Alejandro De Aza and pitchers Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Brian Matusz. There had been some debate about the futures of Davis, De Aza, Hunter, and Matusz, but the Orioles tendered each a contract with the former three set to become free agents after the 2015 season.

As is always the case with arbitration situations, the sides will exchange salary figures in hopes of meeting somewhere in the middle and avoiding a hearing. For now, each player simply remains under club control as the Orioles can include them in any potential trade.

Though it was previously undetermined whether the Orioles would retain De Aza, his presence becomes even more important after the free-agent departure of Nelson Cruz and the undetermined status of free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis. De Aza batted .293 with the Orioles after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in late August and is projected to make $5.9 million in 2015, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.

Davis is coming off an abysmal season in which he hit only .196 and was suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, but the memory of his 53-homer campaign in 2013 was too much to ignore as he enters his final season before free agency. After making $10.3 million in 2014, Davis is projected to receive a raise to $11.8 million next season.

Perhaps the most questionable decision was tendering Matusz a contract as the lefty specialist is projected to make $2.7 million in 2015. The 27-year-old remained effective against left-handed hitting in 2014, but he once again struggled against right-handed hitters, who posted an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage against him.

Of the Orioles’ other arbitration-eligible players, Pearce figures to receive a significant bump after a career year while arbitration first-timers Tillman, Gonzalez, and Britton are in line for significant raises after impressive accomplishments in 2014.

Davis, Wieters, De Aza, Norris, Pearce, and Hunter are all scheduled to become free agents next offseason.

Below is a list of of Baltimore’s 11 arbitration players with their MLBTradeRumors.com projected salaries for 2015 in parentheses:

LHP Zach Britton ($3.2 million after making $521,500 in 2014)
INF Chris Davis: ($11.8 million after making $10.3 million in 2014)
OF Alejandro De Aza ($5.9 million after making $4.25 million in 2014)
INF Ryan Flaherty ($1 million after making $513,000 in 2014)
RHP Miguel Gonzalez ($3.7 million after making $529,000 in 2014)
RHP Tommy Hunter ($4.4 million after making $3 million in 2014)
LHP Brian Matusz ($2.7 million after making $2.4 million in 2014)
RHP Bud Norris ($8.7 million after making $5.3 million in 2014)
1B/OF Steve Pearce ($2.2 million after making $700,000 in 2014)
RHP Chris Tillman ($5.4 million after making $546,000 in 2014)
C Matt Wieters ($7.9 million after making $7.7 million in 2014)

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Orioles add Matusz, subtract Jimenez as only change for ALCS roster

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Orioles add Matusz, subtract Jimenez as only change for ALCS roster

Posted on 10 October 2014 by Luke Jones

On the morning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the Orioles announced their series roster with only one change made from the 25-man group they fielded against the Detroit Tigers in the first round.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz was added to the bullpen while right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez was subtracted as the Orioles will meet the Kansas City Royals for the first time ever in the postseason. With Kansas City sporting a regular lineup that includes four left-handed hitters, Matusz could potentially see some situational opportunities after being left off the AL Division Series roster due to the Tigers’ ability to feast on left-handed pitching.

The Orioles had been considering adding left-handed long reliever T.J. McFarland to their ALCS roster before once again electing to keep 14 position players, including both Kelly Johnson and Jimmy Paredes. The decision does leave the Orioles without a great deal of length in their bullpen should they want to use right-hander Kevin Gausman in high-leverage situations.

Jimenez did not appear in the ALDS after his inclusion on the roster surprised many observers.

As manager Buck Showalter confirmed on Thursday, infielder Chris Davis was left off the ALCS roster since he has five games remaining on his 25-game ban for amphetamine use. Davis rejoined the club for the ALCS workout day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Thursday and is now allowed to be with the Orioles while waiting for his suspension to expire.

If there’s a postponement Friday night, the Orioles and Royals may resubmit rosters as the prospects of playing five straight days would certainly change starting pitching plans. However, if they start Friday’s game and it’s suspended due to rain, teams may not alter their rosters.

Below is the ALCS roster, which can be altered should the Orioles advance to their first World Series in 31 years.

CATCHERS
Nick Hundley (R)
Caleb Joseph (R)

INFIELDERS
Ryan Flaherty (L)
J.J. Hardy (R)
Kelly Johnson (L)
Jimmy Paredes (S)
Steve Pearce (R)
Jonathan Schoop (R)

OUTFIELDERS
Nelson Cruz (R)
Alejandro De Aza (L)
Adam Jones (R)
David Lough (L)
Nick Markakis (L)
Delmon Young (R)

STARTING PITCHERS
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Chris Tillman

RELIEF PITCHERS
RHP Brad Brach
LHP Zach Britton
RHP Kevin Gausman
RHP Tommy Hunter
LHP Brian Matusz
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Darren O’Day

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles advancing to the American League Championship Series to take on the Kansas City Royals, manager Buck Showalter will have the opportunity to reset his 25-man roster before Game 1 on Friday.

For weeks, many have pondered what the Orioles will do when suspended slugger Chris Davis is eligible to return, but the three-game sweep in the AL Division Series made it all but guaranteed he’ll remain on the sideline until a potential trip to the World Series. There had been some thought at the start of the postseason that the Orioles could play a man down to begin the ALCS, but the quick elimination of the Tigers left Davis with five games remaining on his 25-game suspension and he wouldn’t be eligible to play until a potential Game 6.

Davis has continued to work out at third base in Sarasota to stay sharp, but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles automatically welcome him back to the 25-man roster if they advance to the Fall Classic. Working out and playing in instructional league games in Florida are fine, but a layoff of more than a month will inevitably leave some rust and the Orioles might not want to mess with their karma should they find themselves playing for a world championship.

With the Royals regularly using four left-handed hitters in their lineup, Showalter may elect to turn to left-handed relievers Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland after they were left off the ALDS roster against Detroit, who feasted off southpaw pitching in the regular season. Kansas City hit .266 against left-handers and .261 against right-handed arms, but the presence of lefty hitters Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon — right fielder Nori Aoki hit .363 against left-handers this season — would make you think Showalter would prefer having the situational Matusz as an option to pitch to a left-handed hitter or two in certain spots.

Left-handers hit only .223 against Matusz in the regular season while righties hit .277 with an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage.

McFarland’s addition for the ALCS would appear to be less certain as lefties hit .266 against him compared to right-handers posting a .324 average. There wouldn’t appear to be room for both Ubaldo Jimenez and McFarland in the bullpen, so you wonder if Showalter will once again go with the veteran as his emergency long man to keep Kevin Gausman available to pitch in high-leverage situations.

The Orioles kept 11 pitchers for the best-of-five ALDS, but the next round having a best-of-seven format might entice Showalter to add an extra pitcher, leaving him with a shorter bench. Considering Ryan Flaherty played such strong defense at third base, the Orioles manager might not find it necessary to have both Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson on the bench for this series.

The switch-hitting Paredes did not appear in any of the three ALDS games while the lefty-hitting Johnson appeared once as a pinch hitter and replaced Flaherty at third base for the ninth inning of Game 2.

As for the starting rotation, Showalter is expected to send Chris Tillman to the hill for Game 1, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll slot Miguel Gonzalez into Game 2 after he didn’t pitch in the ALDS or the right-hander will once again fit behind Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris in the pecking order.

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

Posted on 14 May 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles didn’t need a closer Wednesday afternoon as they were swept by the Detroit Tigers in a 7-5 final, but manager Buck Showalter offered few clues as to who might be taking the ball the next time his club has a save situation.

Struggling incumbent Tommy Hunter wasn’t ruled out by the Baltimore manager prior to the series finale against Detroit, but Showalter implied he would not receive the same leash as former Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Before being traded to Oakland over the winter, Johnson blew a career-high nine saves in 2013 but was only a year removed from an All-Star campaign in which he collected a franchise-record 51 saves for the playoff-bound Orioles.

“The difference between Tommy and Jimmy is, Jimmy had a track record,” said Showalter, alluding to the former entering the 2014 season with only four career saves. “Tommy does, too, in certain other things. So, there’s some unknown with where it is we’ll go with Tommy.”

Sporting a 6.60 earned run average and 1.87 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) so far this year, Hunter is on thin ice to put it mildly, but the Orioles knew this was a possibility when they elected not to sign an established closer after a two-year, $14 million agreement with Grant Balfour was scrapped due to a failed physical over the winter. The problem is figuring out where to turn next if three blown saves in 14 tries are enough in Showalter’s mind to demote Hunter from the role — at least temporarily.

Many have called for a closer-by-committee approach in which Showalter can play the matchups on any given night, but such a strategy only thrives with starting pitching that consistently works deep into games to leave some combination of the club’s top relievers available for the ninth inning and the opposing hitters it might bring. If the starting pitching is substandard,  a manager must then lean more on long and middle relief for the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, decreasing the likelihood of even getting to the ninth inning with a narrow lead intact.

Of course, the possibility of an outside addition exists as the Orioles still sit in first place in the American League East, but here’s an assessment of the most likely alternatives currently on the 25-man roster who would be in line to receive the ball in the ninth inning instead of Hunter:

RHP Darren O’Day (0.60 ERA, two saves)
Case for: The veteran sidearm pitcher has the longest track record with Showalter and has averaged 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, proving he misses plenty of bats despite his unorthodox style and underwhelming velocity.
Case against: Left-handed hitters batted .309 against him last season and have posted a .300 average so far this year, making him an easy target for opposing managers to use left-handed pinch hitters in the ninth inning.
Is he a good option to try next? Maybe, but O’Day would need to recapture the success he had against lefties in 2012 when they hit only .205 against him.

LHP Zach Britton (0.84 ERA)
Case for: The 26-year-old’s sinker has been devastating against nearly everyone he’s faced as right-handed hitters are batting .167 and lefties only .156 against him in 21 1/3 innings this season.
Case against: The left-hander has only been a reliever for seven weeks, and moving him to a defined closer role would mean he would no longer be stretched out enough to be able to save the bullpen as he has on a number of occasions already this season.
Is he a good option to try next? Yes, he’s the perfect example of riding the hot hand even if you’re concerned about rattling his confidence for the remainder of the season if he fails in the role.

RHP Ryan Webb (3.94 ERA)
Case for: His career splits against left-handers (.284) and right-handers (.238) are balanced enough to suggest he might be able to handle regular appearances in the ninth, and his sinker also plays well at Camden Yards.
Case against: His lifetime 1.36 WHIP is on the high side and his career 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings isn’t ideal for the closer role where you typically want a pitcher to miss more bats.
Good option to try next? Yes, Webb’s splits aren’t dramatically skewed to one side of the plate or the other unlike other candidates currently in the bullpen, and he has more relief experience than most in the Baltimore bullpen.

LHP Brian Matusz (3.46 ERA)
Case for: Lefties hit only .168 against the southpaw in 2013 and his background being stretched out as a starter as recently as spring training suggests he may have the durability for a regular closer role.
Case against: His 1.77 WHIP so far this season is far too high, right-handed batters hit .302 against him last season, and he’s more valuable as a lefty specialist to use in a big spot against an imposing left-handed bat such as Boston’s David Ortiz.
Good option to try next? No, Matusz simply hasn’t been effective enough this season and right-handers feast on his stuff too often to take him out of his current specialist role.

Who should be next in line for the closer job? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 

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Davis, four other Orioles agree to contracts to avoid arbitration

Posted on 17 January 2014 by WNST Staff

Of the six Orioles players eligible for arbitration this winter, five have reportedly agreed to deals ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline for each side to submit binding arbitration figures.

First baseman Chris Davis, right-handed pitchers Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris, and left-handed pitchers Brian Matusz and Troy Patton all agreed to one-year contracts to avoid arbitration. However, catcher Matt Wieters and the Orioles will exchange figures with a hearing to be scheduled next month.

Of the five players to reach contract agreements, Davis will receive the biggest raise as his $3.3 million salary from 2013 will reportedly increase to $10.35 million with additional performance bonuses, according to CBS Sports. The 27-year-old hit a club-record 53 home runs last season and finished third in American League MVP voting.

Davis is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.

Hunter will see his salary increase from $1.82 million last season to $3 million while Norris will make $5.3 million compared to $3 million in 2013.

Matusz agreed to a $2.4 million contract, an $800,000 raise from a year ago, while Patton will make $1.27 million after collecting $815,000 a year ago.

Wieters made $5.5 million last season and would become the first Orioles player since pitcher Brad Bergesen in 2012 to take the club to arbitration if he fails to reach an agreement. The sides having the choice to continue working on an agreement prior to then.

The 27-year-old catcher is scheduled to become a free agent after 2015.

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O’s tender contracts to six, agree to terms with Pearce, Reimold

Posted on 03 December 2013 by WNST Staff

The Orioles today announced that they have tendered contracts to six of their arbitration eligible players: CA MATT WIETERS1B CHRIS DAVISRHP’s TOMMY HUNTER and BUD NORRIS and LHP’s BRIAN MATUSZ and TROY PATTON. Additionally, OF’s STEVE PEARCE and NOLAN REIMOLD have agreed to terms on contracts for 2014, and RHP EDDIE GAMBOA and OF JASON PRIDIE were not tendered contracts by the club.

Wieters, 27, batted .235/.287/.417 with 22 home runs and 79 RBI in 148 games in 2013.

Davis, 27, finished third in the American League MVP voting, leading the major leagues with 53 home runs and 138 RBI while batting .286/.370/.634 in 160 games.

Hunter, 27, was 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA (86.1IP, 27ER) in 68 relief appearances.

Norris, 28, went 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA (50.2IP, 27ER) in 11 games (nine starts) for the Orioles after being acquired from Houston on July 31. He went 10-12 with a 4.18 ERA (176.2IP, 82ER) in 32 games (30 starts) in 2013.

Matusz, 26, was 2-1 with a 3.53 ERA (51.0IP, 20ER) in 65 appearances.

Patton, 28, went 2-0 with a 3.70 ERA (56.0IP, 23ER) in 56 outings.

Pearce, 30, hit .261/.362/.420 with four home runs and 13 RBI in 44 games.

Reimold, 30, played in 40 games, batting .195/.250/.335 with five home runs and 12 RBI.

Gamboa, 28, had his contract selected on November 20. He went a combined 6-11 with a 4.43 ERA (142.1IP, 70ER) and 114 strikeouts for Double-A Bowie (16 GS) and Triple-A Norfolk (nine GS) in 2013.

Pridie, 30, had his contract selected on September 25 after batting .269/.333/.434 in 118 games for Triple-A Norfolk. He went 2-for-10 in four games with the Orioles.

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — It’s only getting worse for Orioles relief pitcher Pedro Strop.

Fresh off a stint on the 15-day disabled list with what was labeled a lower back strain — many have drawn their owns conclusions on the injury — Strop displayed the same form seen over the first two months of the season Wednesday as he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA balloon to 7.58 while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The implosion turned what was a 4-2 Orioles lead into an eventual 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Despite a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider with good movement that enabled him to serve as an elite member of the Baltimore bullpen through the first 4 1/2 months of the 2012 season, Strop is looking more and more like a pitcher whose time with the Orioles is running out.

“Not good,” Strop said in an interview with MASN before leaving the clubhouse as the rest of the media talked to manager Buck Showalter. “Only thing I can say. I couldn’t do the job.”

The Orioles aren’t hiding from Strop’s problems, evident by their decision to place him on the DL and circumvent the reality of the right-hander being out of options. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair used the 15-day period as a way for Strop to work on his mechanics in hopes of improving his command after he walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings through his first 22 appearances.

However, the organization decided not to send Strop on a minor-league rehab assignment that could have lasted up to 30 days and would have allowed him to continue working on adjustments to his mechanics while rebuilding his confidence against minor-league hitters. There was some thought of that possibility before last week’s oblique injury to Steve Johnson, which prompted the club to activate Strop instead of looking to Triple-A Norfolk for another option.

Even before Wednesday’s implosion, it was perplexing to see the Orioles forgo that strategy with nearly everyone concluding his DL stint was more about ineffectiveness than any legitimate health concern.

It’s understandable to not want to give up on a talented 28-year-old who only became a pitcher in 2006 after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette knows at least a few clubs would take a chance on Strop should he be placed on waivers in hopes of getting him to the minor leagues, but the Orioles are also a contending club in the American League East that needs production from every player on the 25-man roster.

“He’s just not getting results,” Showalter said. “He understands it. Nobody cares more about pitching well for this team than Pete.”

It’s easy to criticize Showalter for turning to the volatile Strop after starter Jason Hammel allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo and walked Brad Hawpe on four pitches to begin the seventh inning, but a quick inventory of the bullpen made it easy to see Showalter’s options were limited at best as he acknowledged “two or three” relievers were unavailable without revealing names. Closer Jim Johnson had pitched in three straight games and Tommy Hunter had thrown a total of 51 pitches on Sunday and Monday.

Showalter wouldn’t reveal his late-inning plans when asked, but that presumably left Darren O’Day available for the ninth inning and lefty Brian Matusz to pitch the eighth. As a result, Showalter faced the prospects of sending a tiring Hammel out for the seventh with 94 pitches under his belt and having Strop and lefty Troy Patton — who’s also struggled this season — as his options if the starter ran into trouble. Showalter was rolling the dice for a quick inning by Hammel, but the right-hander was obviously gassed before being replaced by Strop.

Perhaps the Orioles manager could have resisted the urge to use Hammel — who wasn’t exactly dominating hitters despite a statistically-effective outing through six innings — with the thought of a fresh inning with the bases empty being more conducive to Strop having success, but that’s looking with 20-20 hindsight. The reality is Showalter didn’t have great choices at his disposal in the seventh.

“I was hoping [Hammel] could get us through seven, but it wasn’t there,” Showalter said. “That’s kind of where we were. We keep a pretty good log on innings pitched and [pitchers warming up in the bullpen], and I’m not going to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The real issue with the Orioles bullpen is more concerning than the individual struggles of Strop. Beyond the reliable quartet of Johnson, O’Day, Matusz, and Hunter, the Orioles have three other pitchers in the bullpen — Strop, Patton, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland — that they can’t really trust in important situations. All have long-term potential to varying degrees, but none can be moved off the 25-man roster without significant risk of losing them.

In fairness, McFarland has pitched respectably as a long reliever in blowout situations, but that’s a role typically held by a pitcher who can easily be moved on and off the roster to address a club’s needs at a given point in the season. It’s a major reason why we saw the one-and-done approach applied with several ineffective starting pitchers earlier in the season and it has further hamstrung the roster flexibility that Showalter and Duquette enjoy having.

The Orioles’ problems in middle relief have led to a heavier dependence on their best relievers, which jeopardizes the club’s long-term viability for the second half of the season. It’s not uncommon for even the best teams in baseball to have shaky options beyond the top three or four pitchers in the bullpen, but the keystone of the Orioles’ 2012 success included the effectiveness of middle relievers like Luis Ayala and Patton in the sixth and seventh innings that spared other late-inning options on occasion.

Baltimore needs improvement from its middle relievers or starting pitching — preferably both — to improve its chances in a tight division in which fourth-place Tampa Bay trailed first-place Boston by only four games entering play on Wednesday.

“We can’t pitch the same guys every night,” he said. “It just doesn’t work, and [Strop] was one of those guys for us last year and has been at times this year, and we hope that he will again. He pitched well and got physically fine and had a couple really good outings, as you saw. It just wasn’t there for him today.”

Bullpens are typically quite fluid over the course of a season, but the Orioles currently have just two pitchers (Matusz and O’Day) with remaining minor-league options and they obviously aren’t going anywhere. That means time is running out for Strop — you can say the same for Patton — to right himself after roughly four months of struggles going back to last year’s regular season.

The talent is there, but the Orioles need last year’s effectiveness to resurface.

They don’t have the flexibility to wait much longer.

 

 

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

There are lots of theories about what’s been wrong with Jim Johnson over the last week or so. The analysis (or over-analysis) of baseball can lead us down a lot of different roads, seeking an explanation for why the bottom has dropped out so dramatically on the Orioles’ closer. Sometimes that analysis might lead us to overlook the easiest of answers, but sometimes the easiest answers are the right ones.

The inability of the Orioles starting rotation to simply eat innings has been an issue all season. Now it seems that issue could be taking its toll on the bullpen.

 

It’s not as if last year the O’s did a much better job of covering innings with their starters, but what they were able to do was better hide their issues with a steady stream of arms passing through the revolving door between the big club and its minor league affiliates.

 

This year with fewer players having options remaining, the Orioles have to be more creative with their roster shuffling or risk losing players with promise to the waiver wire when sending them back and forth between the minors and the big club.

 

Last year the Orioles found themselves on the bad side of the run differential equation too. As a result many cast the team as lucky, and deemed their success unsustainable. While they indeed may have been lucky, it was that luck that in large part made them sustainable.

 

This year’s Orioles have a fantastic offense, and are sitting on the right side of the run differential, but they haven’t been able to come up with blowout wins. The blowout losses that fed last season’s run differential debate are gone as well, which hasn’t provided the team with the “luxury” of rolling out the B-bullpen and living to fight another day. As a result, the 3 arms in the bullpen that the O’s seem to trust are being used at an alarming, and likely unsustainable, rate.

 

Jim Johnson

 

Last year Johnson pitched in 71 games in the regular season. That’s 43.8% of the team’s 162.He pitched in 63 wins (67.7%) and only 8 losses (11.5%).

So far this season, Johnson has pitched in half of the team’s 44 games. He’s been in 73.9% of Orioles wins, and also in 23.8% of their losses.

He’s on pace to pitch an incredible 81 games.

 

Darren O’Day

 

In 2012 O’Day pitched in 69 games. That’s 42.5% of the Orioles total. He threw in 48 wins (51.6%) and 21 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013, he’s thrown in 21 games or 47.7% of the teams total. . He’s been used in 15 wins (65.2%) and 6 losses (28.5%).

O’Day is on pace to pitch in 77 games.

 

Brian Matusz (relief only)

 

Matusz became a member of the Orioles bullpen on 8/24/12, and appeared in 18 games. That’s 47.3% of the 38 games he was available for. He threw in 14 wins (56.5%) and 4 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013 Matusz has thrown in 21 games or 47.7%. He’s been in for 13 wins (56.5%) and 8 losses (38%).

Matusz is also on a 77 game pace.

 

The absence of Luis Ayala, the ineffectiveness of Pedro Strop, the inconsistency of Troy Patton and Tommy Hunter, and the inexperience of TJ McFarland has left Matusz, O’Day and Johnson to pick up most of the bullpen load when the Orioles are winning. The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games has left more innings to be picked up. And the lack of blowouts, for or against the Orioles, have led those 3 to be used in many more losses than they were last season too.

 

*Of last year’s 1483 innings pitched by the Orioles, 545.1 were covered by the bullpen. That’s 36.6%.

Of this year’s 385 innings pitched by the Orioles, the pen has covered 142.1. That’s 36.9%, or not much of a difference.

If there is a difference it’s that 60 of the Orioles bullpen innings last season were in extra frames. That’s 11%. This year 6 of the pen’s innings have been in extras. That’s just 4%.

In innings 1-9, the bullpen covered 34% in 2012 and is covering 37% of those innings in 2013.

 

All of this makes Buck Showalter’s decision to pull Freddy Garcia after just 66 pitches on Monday that much more curious as it led to 5 relievers and 76 pitches to cover innings 7-10.

 

For all of the talk of which Orioles the Orioles could least afford to lose, Matusz, Johnson and O’Day should probably be on the list ahead of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis or anyone else. More concerning it seems only a matter of time before one or more of these guys’ workloads cost them their health,

 

Last but not least, while no one is Mariano Rivera, it’s kind of interesting that baseball’s greatest closer has only pitched in 70 or more games 3 times in his career. In 2001 Rivera pitched 71 times and famously blew the World Series against the Diamondbacks. In 2004 her pitched in 74 games and then blew 3 post-season saves. And in 2005 he pitched 71 times and had 2 appearances in an unremarkable post season.

 

If the great Mariano was made mortal in seasons with 70 or more appearances, how much of Jim Johnson’s post-season struggles could we attribute to overuse? What might happen on his way to 81 appearances this season?

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What’s next for Jim Johnson and the ninth inning?

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What’s next for Jim Johnson and the ninth inning?

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

If you weren’t already concerned after consecutive blown saves last week, it’s difficult not be pushing the panic button after Orioles closer Jim Johnson failed to protect another ninth-inning lead in a deflating 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night.

In a week’s time, Johnson went from holding a franchise-record 35 consecutive save conversions to facing questions over whether manager Buck Showalter needs to look elsewhere in the ninth inning after three consecutive blown saves. Of course, the current six-game losing streak isn’t making things any easier as the Orioles have now dropped to 23-21 in the American League East.

Johnson has blown as many saves over the last seven days as he did in the entire 2012 season, so what do you do if you have a lead in the ninth inning the next time out? The Baltimore skipper was asked whether he’d hesitate to go to the 2012 All-Star reliever in the next save situation and his answer wasn’t surprising.

“Come back tomorrow and watch it again,” Showalter said.

Showalter clearly needed to offer unwavering support and by no means should the Orioles bury the right-handed reliever who played a critical role in their first postseason appearance in 15 years last season, but you wonder if a temporary adjustment needs to be made in how the club views the ninth inning. The location of Johnson’s pitches has been a major concern as his normally-dominating sinker that typically induces plenty of ground balls has too often been left up in the strike zone.

Johnson acknowledged he’s been working to make a few adjustments in his delivery, which has looked rushed and has given off the appearance that he’s overthrowing at different times over his last three outings.

“First, [I'm adjusting] a little bit of mechanics,” said Johnson, whose earned run average has ballooned from 0.95 to 4.22 over the three-game period. “Obviously, I’m not getting the ball where I need it to be. I’ve watched a lot of tape, and we’re working on certain things. Staying tall over the rubber a little longer. I’ll figure it out. There is no other option.”

To suggest Johnson should lose the job entirely would be an absurd tactic after he converted 51 of 54 opportunities to set a franchise record last season. Beyond that, Johnson has been a mainstay in the Orioles bullpen since 2008 except for a 2010 campaign partially derailed by an elbow injury.

It’s very possible we’ll look back at this current three-game stretch as an aberration, which is supported by the fact that Johnson reeled off 14 straight saves to begin the season and put the bad taste of a difficult 2012 postseason behind him.

However, closing out ballgames in the major leagues is a difficult task and history shows countless relievers having brilliant stretches as closers that couldn’t be sustained over multiple seasons. It’s also fair to point out that Johnson’s style of pitching to contact is unconventional compared to most strikeout-minded closers and would suggest his unbelievable 2012 campaign might be difficult to repeat when so many balls are put in play.

Truthfully, Johnson hasn’t held the closer role for such a long period that would deem him untouchable no matter how prolonged the struggles might be.

Some will point to Johnson’s heavy workload — he’s appeared in 22 of the Orioles’ 44 games this season — and suggest a mental and physical respite could be the perfect elixir while providing him with time to work on his mechanics in side sessions. However, any attempt to do so would put even more strain on Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz, the club’s other primary late-inning options.

“We are not worried about Jim,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We need to play better as a team. Once Jim gets rolling again, he will be [fine]. The whole team is not playing well right now, and there were things we could have done earlier in the game to give him a two or three-run cushion.”

The Orioles have no choice but to keep their faith in Johnson for the long haul, but in the meantime, it may not hurt to temporarily return to the mantra that Showalter used upon arriving in Baltimore in 2010. Famously proclaiming he was more interested in the win rule than the save rule, the manager could look more closely at opposing hitters due up in the ninth inning and match up a bit more using O’Day and Matusz in addition to Johnson.

For example, the first four hitters due up in the ninth inning of Monday’s game were left-handed, which suggests that could have been a time to allow the lefty specialist Matusz to start the inning with Johnson warming in the bullpen and ready to enter against any right-handed pinch-hitters.

Such a strategy wouldn’t need to be permanent but would take some of the ninth-inning burden off the 29-year-old until he’s once again confident in his mechanics and pitch location. Or, perhaps it’s as simple as the Orioles benefiting from a couple blowout games — preferably on the winning end, of course — in which the reliever could enter in a low-pressure situation to do some fine-tuning on the mound.

But a luxury such as that is difficult to plan for in the midst of the Orioles’ longest losing streak in almost a year.

“Three of [the losses] are my fault,” Johnson said. “The other guys do their job. If I do mine, we’re not standing here. I think everyone is doing a great job. I’m not pulling my weight, but I’ll figure it out.”

Regardless of how the ninth inning is handled in the immediate future, the Orioles need Johnson to figure it out.

And quickly.

 

 

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

He took the job that no one else wanted.

For those that are still shedding tears or pointing fingers over the way the Orioles handled this most recent off-season, just try and recall what the one that preceded it was like.

 

There are only 32 Major League GM jobs in the world, and arguably hundreds of pseudo qualified and hungry executives envisioning the opportunity to get one. Still, as the Orioles were searching for someone to take that opportunity with their club prior to the 2012 season they were rebuked, rebuffed, leveraged and otherwise used but never, it seems, seriously considered by a serious candidate. Enter Dan Duquette.

Duquette’s credentials were actually better than his 9-year hiatus/exile from Major League Baseball would have suggested but he had somehow slipped through the cracks for nearly a decade. To the Orioles’ credit, they found him. And to Duquette’s credit he not only accepted the job, but he arguably approached it like none of the other candidates would have, he approached it like none of his immediate predecessors had; Duquette approached the Orioles job like a winner, like a guy who expected to make the Orioles winners; and Duquette has made the Orioles just that.

If nothing else, Duquette should have earned our trust; he deserves our confidence. His reputation still isn’t quite in the stratosphere of Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and no one is ready to utter “In Dan We Trust” just yet, but he’s getting close.

It hasn’t all been Dan’s doing. The situation that Duquette inherited was probably better than most were ready to understand, but that shouldn’t diminish the job that he’s done. Through a series of moves and machinations, decisions and deliberations, Duquette teamed with Buck Showalter to create magic in the 2012 Orioles. Not all of his decisions have been good ones, but no one’s are. Duquette has at the very least been more hit than miss; more right than wrong, and more successful than anyone could have reasonably thought possible.

Now that we’re fully immersed in the Duquette era Orioles however, a couple of sad realizations have come to light. Foremost among them is that the Orioles are, and seemingly will be for as long as Peter Angelos is running the show, committed to winning on a budget; and it would seem that the budget part holds unquestionable precedence over the winning part. This doesn’t preclude them from winning, but does make it substantially more difficult.

The decisions where monetary considerations have trumped on-field considerations have already become evident. And last year Duquette not only proved that he could win despite them, but perhaps also began to develop and refine the blueprint by which he intended to get it done.

Throughout last season, the flexibility of the roster and the options available on players (particularly pitchers) allowed Duquette to creatively overcome a problem that had been at the heart of the Orioles biggest issues over the 14 futile years that preceded 2012. The inability of Orioles pitchers to work deep into games and the absence of a true innings eater at the back of the rotation has been a running theme for the Orioles for over a decade. More often than not it was just one in a long list ailments that the team had to overcome, but even in the seasons where the Orioles offense was high level and even in the seasons where they began the year competitively, the inability of starters to get deep into games and the resultant taxing of the bullpen has been an ongoing issue. Last year the Orioles used an active revolving door to overcome that.

This year, with fewer options available, and less opportunity to shuffle the deck day-by-day, that issue seems to be back. And while the Orioles are off to another encouraging start, it seems only a matter of time before the bullpen collapses, run differential begins trending the other way and the Orioles begin sliding down the AL East standings. This makes the presence of TJ McFarland difficult to fathom.

 

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