Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"


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Start of spring not encouraging for Davis, Trumbo turnarounds

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Luke Jones

We all know the starting rotation is the overwhelming reason why expectations remain low for the Orioles three weeks ahead of the start of the 2018 season.

But even if ownership were to suddenly loosen the purse strings — perhaps simply to last year’s payroll level — to sign Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb to upgrade the projected starting five, Baltimore would still need some substantial improvement from within to dramatically increase its chances to contend. The Orioles finished last in the majors in starter ERA, but their trademark over the last six years also declined last season.

Buck Showalter’s club still hit plenty of home runs, but not at the same impressive clip that’s made Baltimore the standard in that department over the last six years.

For the first time since 2011, the Orioles finished outside the top three in the American League in homers, ranking fifth with 232 after hitting a league-leading 253 the previous season. To be clear, they hit only nine fewer than the top-ranked New York Yankees, but a new major league record was set for home runs across baseball in the 2017 season and the average AL club hit 14 more than the previous year. And when you consider Welington Castillo and Trey Mancini provided upgrades in the home run department from 2016 starters Matt Wieters and Hyun Soo Kim at those respective positions, one could have expected the Orioles to at least match the previous season’s total rather than hit 21 fewer and be one of only four AL clubs to hit fewer homers in 2017 than the year before.

The reason that didn’t happen falls on the shoulders of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who combined to hit only 49 long balls. Trumbo nearly matched that total by himself with 47 the year before while Davis clubbed 47 in 2015 and a club-record 53 in 2013. No one could have reasonably expected the pair of high-priced sluggers to match those career highs in 2017, but the Orioles instead received one of the worst seasons of each veteran’s career.

Unfortunately, the start of spring hasn’t served as a harbinger of a rebound for either player. After going 2-for-13 with a homer and seven strikeouts in early Grapefruit League action, Davis remains sidelined with a sore right elbow that prompted an MRI several days ago to rule out any structural damage. Meanwhile, Thursday brought news that Trumbo would miss some time because of a sore quadriceps. We know better than to jump to conclusions based on spring training results or minor ailments, but both sluggers are already on the wrong side of 30 and don’t profile as the type of hitter who ages particularly well. Frankly, each could stand to benefit from as many reps as possible as well as some positive results this spring to help put last year behind them.

Entering the third season of the seven-year, $161 million contract signed two years ago, Davis is coming off his worst campaign since 2014 and will try to avoid seeing his home run total and on-base plus slugging percentage decline for the third straight year. Even more concerning is that Davis batted .215 while sporting a .301 batting average on balls in play, which was dramatically higher than his .242 BABIP in 2014 when he batted a brutal .196. That means he wasn’t even unlucky in the midst of struggling.

Most assumed at the time of Davis’ signing that his record-setting deal would be problematic in its latter stages after some productive seasons, but he was worth minus-0.1 wins above replacement (Baseball Reference) and struck out looking 12 more times than anyone else in the majors despite playing only 128 games last season. His .688 OPS after the All-Star break prompted Showalter to lower him in the order, and Davis’ defensive metrics at first base also declined to minus-five defensive runs saved after registering an above-average eight in 2016 and an above-average count in the two seasons before that.

In other words, without a meaningful rebound in 2018, his contract is already bordering on disastrous without having reached the halfway point of its duration. Turning 32 next week, Davis spoke at the start of spring about his need to be more aggressive early in counts and to not take as many strikes, but he’s missed valuable at-bats to test out his revamped mindset.

Making less and only being under contract through next season, Trumbo was worse than Davis in 2017 as he hit only 23 homers and posted a career-low .686 OPS in his second year with the Orioles. Some questioned the wisdom of re-signing him last winter after a career season at the plate that still registered only a 1.6 WAR because of his fielding deficiencies, but the organization deemed a three-year, $37.5 million contract to be a bargain after the rest of the market was largely disinterested in his services.

The Orioles wisely kept Trumbo out of the field last year to try to maximize his value at the plate, but the veteran responded unfavorably to the most extensive action of his career as a designated hitter and batted only .202 with a .600 OPS after the All-Star break. His .278 BABIP was identical to the previous season when he posted a career-best .850 OPS and was not terribly far behind his .286 career BABIP, making it difficult to chalk up too much of his performance to bad luck. Trumbo hit more grounders (43.3 percent to 39.5 percent) and fewer fly balls (40.6 percent to 43.1 percent) than in 2016, which certainly isn’t an encouraging development for a one-dimensional power hitter.

Perhaps more troublesome is the fact that Trumbo’s 2017 campaign came on the heels of his 2016 second half that was boosted by his 19 homers and still included a .214 average and a so-so .754 OPS. That’s a significant sample of below-average offense to follow his incredible first half in Baltimore that fetched him a 2016 All-Star invitation.

Trumbo is a cerebral individual who’s used new-age numbers such as launch angle to refine his approach, but he said at January’s FanFest that he may have been too consumed by those numbers last season in trying to adjust his swing. And though he wouldn’t use his increased DH role as an excuse for his poor performance, one could easily reason that a hitter not playing the field would be more inclined to obssess over his struggles at the plate between at-bats. Of course, Trumbo playing anywhere in the field other than maybe first base mostly negates what value he offers when swinging the bat well.

The attempt to simplify his approach hasn’t produced positive results so far this spring as he’s off to a 3-for-20 start with nine strikeouts in the Grapefruit League and will now miss at least a few days with the quad injury.

The recent signings of Pedro Alvarez and Danny Valencia provide depth and insurance for worst-case scenarios playing out with the incumbents, but it’s difficult not to wonder if a DH platoon of Alvarez and Valencia might be better than Trumbo at a fraction of the cost. That’s little more than buyer’s remorse at this point, however, as the remainder of his contract would be extremely difficult to move.

It would be unwise to write off Davis or Trumbo after both produced monster seasons in recent memory, but the problem is the Orioles are paying them lucrative money to be difference-makers and both are bigger question marks than answers at this point. That’s not encouraging, especially for an organization that’s been unwilling to use the necessary resources to try to significantly improve the starting rotation.

We all know the Orioles need to pitch much better more than anything else to succeed in 2018, but they would further boost their chances by recapturing their edge in the long-ball department.

That needs to begin with Davis and Trumbo bouncing back in a meaningful way from their nightmare seasons a year ago.

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Schoop, Castro sidelined as Orioles open Grapefruit League action

Posted on 23 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles began Grapefruit League play with their most valuable player from a year ago and one of the leading candidates for the No. 5 starter job sidelined for health-related reasons.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that second baseman Jonathan Schoop was scratched from Friday’s opener because of left elbow bursitis. Right-handed pitcher Miguel Castro is dealing with tendinitis in both knees and will not make his scheduled start on Sunday.

Schoop was originally slated to bat second against Tampa Bay before the Orioles released a revised lineup Friday morning with Luis Sardinas taking his place at second base and batting ninth. Showalter said the All-Star selection and 2017 Most Valuable Oriole winner bumped his elbow on something recently, causing it to swell and prompting the training staff to drain it.

The 26-year-old has missed only two games over the last two seasons combined while blossoming into one of the club’s best players.

With Ryan Flaherty now with Philadelphia, Baltimore is looking for a new utility infielder with Sardinas, Ruben Tejada, and Engelb Vielma considered the top candidates for the job.

Castro is trying to transition from long relief to a starting role, making this a concerning disruption to that schedule. The 23-year-old posted a 3.53 ERA in 66 1/3 innings last season and is competing with the likes of right-handers Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa and Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes for the fifth starter job behind Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Tillman in the rotation.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of spring training

Posted on 20 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles spring training underway and Grapefruit League action beginning later this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After signing Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, the Orioles will have an estimated 2018 payroll of just south of $130 million after an Opening Day payroll of $164 million last season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Explain again why they’re not serious players for Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

2. We scoff whenever a free agent says it’s not about the money, but I believe free-agent-to-be Adam Jones when he said the chance to win will be more important than compensation. The 32-year-old obviously won’t play for nothing, but a ring is very important to him.

3. That said, how the Padres perform in 2018 would be an interesting variable to throw into the Jones mix after they signed Eric Hosmer. They have one of baseball’s top farm systems, so perhaps the San Diego native would be intrigued about going home if the Padres show they’re ascending.

4. Not that Tim Beckham has had any leverage in the matter, but I’m impressed with the way he’s handled himself in the wake of Manny Machado moving to shortstop. Showing he can be a solid third baseman would only enhance his value moving forward.

5. Dylan Bundy astutely noted at FanFest that he got away from his curveball and changeup too much down the stretch as he posted a 7.53 ERA in his three September starts. His 2017 workload was a major topic of discussion, so you pray that he has a healthy spring.

6. Chris Davis knows he needs to be more aggressive. His contact and chase rates have held fairly steady since 2014, but he swung at a career-low 60.0 percent of pitches in the zone last year, down from 64.1 percent in 2016 and 72.2 percent in 2015. That’s a disturbing trend.

7. One of Baltimore’s more cerebral players, Mark Trumbo said he was probably too caught up in swing analytics last year. He denied any negative impact from serving as the designated hitter so frequently, but that role sure provides a lot of time to overthink struggles at the plate.

8. A healthy Darren O’Day would go a long way in the bullpen’s effort to endure the extended absence of Zach Britton. Little went right for the Orioles last September, but the 35-year-old quietly posted a 0.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts over his last 18 2/3 innings of the season.

9. If the best Dan Duquette can do in adding a lefty-hitting outfielder is 32-year-old journeyman Alex Presley, the Orioles need to give Austin Hays every opportunity to show he can be an everyday player and this year’s version of Trey Mancini despite lacking the same minor-league seasoning.

10. There’s much evidence supporting concerns about Cashner, but citing his 42-64 career record pitching mostly for bad teams tells us very little about his performance. Pitcher win-loss records are baseball tradition, but they should induce an eye-roll if used in attempts at meaningful analysis.

11. I’m skeptical just how much baseball’s new initiatives to improve pace of play will move the meter, but limiting the number of mound visits is long overdue. You’d think some pitchers and catchers had never met before with how frequently they congregate.

12. Many of the spring training caps introduced around baseball in recent years have been cringe-worthy, but I do like this year’s Orioles version. It was a smart call taking the logo from the deer hunter caps used for “Players Weekend” last summer.

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Orioles’ lack of direction taking optimism out of spring

Posted on 14 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Orioles pitchers and catchers have reported to Sarasota and participated in their first workout on Wednesday.

This is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy time for those longing for baseball and warmer weather while reminding themselves that hope springs eternal, right?

You’ve read the primers with the top five or 10 biggest questions going into spring training, but what’s currently happening on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex feels rather inconsequential. Musings about another left-handed bat, the utility infielder competition, or even the vacancies in the starting rotation simply don’t measure up to the colossal question emanating from this organization.

What the heck is going on?

The Orioles finished in last place in 2017 and posted the worst starter ERA in the major leagues and worst in club history, but the most notable rotation candidate added this offseason has been Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes. The loudest and most consistent buzz about a veteran signing continues revolving around Chris Tillman, who last year posted the worst ERA (7.84) by any major leaguer throwing more than 90 innings since Scott Erickson (7.87) in 2000. His track record prior to 2017 makes him an acceptable flier to compete for the final rotation pot, but he’d currently be penciled in as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the projected 2018 payroll is currently around $40 million lower than last year’s, but reports and speculation continue to suggest reluctance to commit to long or even medium-term contracts, making one wonder if the decrease is deliberate. Players who’ve meant so much to their recent success like Adam Jones have indicated that the club isn’t even engaging in extension talks. And Baltimore still hasn’t traded Manny Machado as the 25-year-old superstar is now nine months away from walking away as a free agent.

Why, why, and why?

The Orioles certainly don’t appear to be “going for it” with Machado, Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach all scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season and haven’t yet signaled a rebuilding process by dealing any of the aforementioned names. Blame executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette if you want, but both he and manager Buck Showalter are also in the last year of their contracts, only adding to the perceived lack of direction exhibited by ownership.

Do Peter Angelos and family have a plan for 2019 and beyond?

Of course, excuses are there if you want to entertain them. Duquette has regularly conducted business late in the offseason and well into spring training and an abnormally-stagnant market has left dozens of free agents still looking for jobs, but you’d assume that increased supply will be accompanied by more demand from other clubs whenever the thaw occurs.

Perhaps the Orioles will silence critics by still signing an Alex Cobb or a Lance Lynn, but we know they historically don’t win bidding wars and rarely even engage in them. Would such an addition make enough of a difference anyway or only increase the likelihood of the organization keeping Machado and others through the trade deadline with ill-advised thoughts of chasing the second wild-card berth as we saw in 2015 and last year? Those pondering the future should feel conflicted about that possibility since the current club is hardly devoid of talent despite its clear deficiencies.

You could try to argue that the rotation can’t be any worse than it was a year ago and the removal of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Tillman — at least the 2017 version — is addition by subtraction, no matter who ends up making those starts. Of course, that “glass half full” outlook still doesn’t translate to consistently competing with a group currently comprised of Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and three shoulder shrugs. The bullpen also isn’t as strong on paper with Britton sidelined indefinitely and former All-Star reliever Darren O’Day another year older and having dealt with different ailments over the last two seasons.

Even with baseball’s bizarre market, the organization isn’t proceeding all that differently from recent offseasons, but the reality is that it’s entering the ninth inning of the current era with the same old flaws more magnified than ever. It’s no longer 2012 or 2014 when most of the club’s top commodities remained comfortably under contractual control, meaning there should have been much more urgency.

The organization deserves credit for accumulating the most wins in the American League from 2012-16 and ownership has steadily increased the payroll over the last six years, but frustrating peculiarities have remained such as the philosophical refusal to participate in the international market. The farm system is quietly improving, but the shortage of impactful starting pitching has hindered the major league club for years and crushed it in 2017.

No one will forget the surprising 2012 team, the 2014 AL East champions and Delmon Young’s double, or the wild-card appearance two years ago, but the Orioles are now an unimpressive 113-124 since the 2016 All-Star break and only four games above .500 over the last three seasons. After years of proving naysayers wrong and outperforming projection models, that old mojo feels like it’s on life support at best with the futures of so many key individuals in doubt.

The 2018 club will grind it out to the best of its ability, using the doubts and criticism as fuel for competitive fire. The group will once again be led by Showalter in the dugout and Jones on the field, the two most important individuals in this decade of Orioles baseball. Both will say and do the right things, but they deserve better in what could be their final year in Baltimore.

A last-place team from a year ago begins spring training after treading water all winter, neither making one last big run with the current core nor taking meaningful steps to start building for future success.

The current Orioles, the future Orioles, and those fans typically excited for spring deserve better.

At least some semblance of a direction would be nice.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Luke Jones

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

1. It bears repeating how problematic it is having a general manager whose contract expires in less than a year navigating one of the more pivotal offseasons in club history. The lack of evidence of any direction or long-term thinking from ownership is maddening.

2. That hasn’t been helped by the overall inactivity of the market as MLB Network reported only 31 of 166 free agents had signed deals entering Monday. That sounds fishy, regardless of whether you believe it’s collusion or the effect of the luxury tax and next year’s free-agent class being better.

3. No one’s suggesting the Orioles should just give Manny Machado away, but this is what happens when you punt on the future for so long. This current process should have started from the moment they knew a long-term deal very likely wasn’t in the stars.

4. Speaking of long-term deals, signing Jonathan Schoop to one should be a top priority right now, but you wonder if watching the organization’s handling of his close friend leaves him more inclined to wait for free agency after 2019.

5. Kevin Gausman changing his jersey number to honor the late Roy Halladay is a touching gesture, and the Orioles hope the 27-year-old builds off his 3.41 ERA in the second half of 2017. Home runs remained an issue, but his strikeout and walk rates improved markedly after the All-Star break.

6. Part of that improvement should be credited to Caleb Joseph as pitchers posted a 4.23 ERA throwing to him compared to a 5.60 mark with the departed Welington Castillo. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the staff has usually fared better when Joseph has caught over the last several years.

7. Chris Davis was worth minus-0.2 wins above replacement in 2017, according to Baseball Reference. He’ll only be 32 and can still turn things around, but the seven-year, $161 million deal he signed two years ago is looking more disastrous than many feared it could be at the time.

8. Looking at 2017 batting average on balls in play and remembering the league average is just below .300, Machado is a no-brainer pick to rebound after a career-worst .265 mark. On the flip side, Trey Mancini’s .352 clip makes him a candidate for some regression in his second full season.

9. The club has high hopes for Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro, but the former’s 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings and .263 opposing BABIP are worrisome for projecting future success. Castro’s 5.2 per nine strikeout rate and .231 BABIP should also temper expectations about a possible move to the rotation.

10. Hunter Harvey is a bright spot for an organization still lacking pitching prospects, but you hope the Orioles aren’t so desperate for starting pitching that they potentially compromise the 23-year-old’s health and development. Unlike Dylan Bundy two years ago, Harvey has minor-league options remaining.

11. You’ll hear plenty about Nestor Cortes and other Rule 5 picks over the next few months, but this annual exercise that’s put numerous strains on the roster has netted a total of 1.7 WAR during the Dan Duquette era, according to Baseball Reference. Way too much effort for minimal value.

12. Maybe they’ll prove us wrong in the coming weeks, but the Orioles’ approach to this offseason with a slew of expiring contracts after 2018 feels like a basketball team running a Four Corners offense while trailing by 10 points. Where’s the urgency?

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Orioles appear to finally be facing reality with Machado

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Orioles have finally concluded they’re drawing dead.

There’s little sense in going for a straight or a flush if the other players at the poker table are already holding a full house, and that’s what the American League East is once again looking like after some leaner years — relatively speaking — for its two behemoths.

Even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette were to sign a pair of accomplished starting pitchers such as Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn this offseason, that may not be enough to seriously challenge the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Of course, there are no indications owner Peter Angelos is willing to make such steep financial commitments anyway after the disastrous Ubaldo Jimenez contract finally came off the books at the end of last season.

All the talk about the Orioles making a final run with their group of pending free agents sounds nice, but aggressively spending is the only realistic way to make that happen now and that’s just not in this organization’s DNA despite some success in recent years. Trading a part or two in an already-barren farm system for a mediocre-at-best starter and signing minor-league free agents are not realistic means to the end as the last few years have proven.

That brings us to Manny Machado, one of the best players in baseball who’s less than a year away from becoming a free agent. The rumors and reports are rampant this week about the Orioles finally being willing to part with their All-Star third baseman, who apparently now wants to play shortstop with J.J. Hardy no longer in the picture. What that would mean for Tim Beckham is anyone’s guess.

Of course, the Orioles have known for years that Machado was scheduled to hit the open market at the end of 2018, but Duquette confirmed to reporters Tuesday that they haven’t engaged in contract talks in a long time. That truth reflects the organization’s lack of any long-term vision, a reality reinforced by ownership entrusting a general manager entering the final year of his contract to manage this delicate situation in the first place.

Using hindsight, the optimal time to sign the 25-year-old likely would have been after the 2014 season when he underwent his second knee surgery in as many years. It would have been risky — and we know how the Orioles scrutinize medical records — and far from cheap, but the financial commitment to buy out the first few years of Machado’s free agency would have paled in comparison to what they would need to pay to keep him now.

But that’s ancient history as is the chance to have fetched a bigger return for him last winter or last July.

It’s better late than never if Angelos isn’t willing to extend Machado — a fair position considering the anticipated price and competition for his services next offseason — and is now open to him being dealt, but there’s no telling whether the Orioles will properly execute such a franchise-defining decision. And that’s what makes the developments at the winter meetings all the more unsettling.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Orioles are seeking two young starting pitchers with controllable years, but how realistic is that in exchange for just one year of Machado? Even if that is doable, is Duquette looking for major-league-ready starters with limited potential in hopes of merely being competitive in 2018 or prospects a bit further away from the majors with much higher ceilings?

If you’re going to trade Machado, you should be seeking the best deal possible — pitching or positional talent — from any potential suitor and shouldn’t be doing it with any major regard for the present. If your goal is being competitive next season, you wouldn’t be trading your best player in the first place. If that means you then look to trade other pending free agents such as Zach Britton, Brad Brach, or even Adam Jones, so be it.

You can’t play it both ways, no matter what you try to tell fans or the media.

But Duquette’s own status complicates that since he’s no more invested in the organization beyond next season than Machado is at the moment. The Orioles finishing in last place again in 2018 wouldn’t exactly bode well for his résumé if this is his own finale in Baltimore.

The Orioles engaging in trade talks doesn’t mean a deal will be completed this week — remember we’re talking about Angelos here — but it is a hopeful sign that they won’t allow one of the most talented players in club history to simply walk away for an inconsequential draft pick next fall. The idea of parting with a special talent like Machado really hurts, but Baltimore can improve its long-term outlook by accepting the strong likelihood that the current group’s window has closed and trading assets unlikely to be here for the next competitive window.

Even if you like your hand, folding it with eyes toward the future sometimes proves to be the best move.

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Labor Day weekend illustrates Orioles’ minuscule margin for error

Posted on 04 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles still have a pulse in their push for a wild-card spot.

Winning nine of their last 12 games was a must after falling four games below .500 two weeks ago, but the effort required for a 2-2 long weekend fit well with Monday’s holiday celebrating the unofficial end of summer.


Even with a 7-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Labor Day, the Orioles should feel fortunate. Instead of easily disposing of last-place Toronto in a four-game set, they were a bad pitch away on Friday and the subtraction of Welington Castillo’s game-tying home run on Sunday from finishing the long weekend on a five-game losing streak that would have wrecked their work from the previous week. They managed to come away with a four-game split that was an exhausting grind and left them vulnerable on Monday — even with top starter Dylan Bundy going to the hill.

After a blistering August at the plate, the Orioles have scored a total of 12 runs over the last four games, which included seven extra innings of play. In the two extra-inning wins over the weekend, the bullpen had to pitch a whopping 15 frames with much of that work going to Baltimore’s most reliable arms. Those innings took their toll as manager Buck Showalter confirmed after Monday’s loss that he wasn’t going to use three or four unidentified relievers in the opener against New York.

That’s why Bundy’s outing was so deflating as the Orioles needed their best starter to go at least six or seven innings to have any decent chance to win without a huge offensive performance. No one could have expected Bundy to duplicate the brilliance of a one-hit shutout in his last outing, but his short day was a death knell when the bats also went silent after three early runs.

Instead of being able to hand the reins of a close game over to a tough bullpen in the fifth, Showalter tried to squeeze extra outs out of his struggling starter and then had no choice but to turn to Miguel Castro, another young pitcher who’s had multiple long outings over the last 10 days. Castro struggled to throw strikes, eventually giving way to the likes of recent call-ups Richard Rodriguez and Gabriel Ynoa to finish the day. An expanded September roster allowed Showalter to rest his trusted relievers, but you’d prefer not using those extra arms when the outcome hasn’t fully been decided.

Monday’s loss and the weekend illustrated Baltimore’s minuscule margin for error.

Trying to give Bundy extra rest as much as possible since he’s already thrown a career-high 159 1/3 innings in 2017, the Orioles have continued to hand starts to Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, who own the two worst ERAs in the majors among all pitchers with at least 80 innings. Those two still being part of a playoff contender’s six-man rotation in the final month of the season is an organizational failure from top to bottom, but the Orioles somehow still find themselves in the race.

Pitching on five days’ rest after a career-high 116 pitches last Tuesday, Bundy showed no dip in velocity, but his command wasn’t sharp from the get-go and the Yankees eventually exposed the deficiency in the fourth inning when he gave up three runs and needed 37 pitches to retire the side. Those struggles conjured unsettling thoughts of last season when Bundy posted a 5.11 ERA in September.

The Orioles’ formula for winning is difficult, but clear with 24 games remaining. They need to score runs at a prolific rate and use their bullpen to protect narrow leads in the late innings. The starting rotation merely needs to be mediocre like it was in August with an underwhelming 4.86 ERA and averaging 5.7 innings per start, which were dramatic improvements from the previous three months. We know this rotation isn’t going to lead the Orioles into October, but it has to be decent enough to keep them in games and not completely cripple the bullpen.

A 2-2 Labor Day weekend didn’t ruin their playoff chances, but it stretched their limits.

And we were reminded how little room the Orioles have for error with the days dwindling.

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Twelve thoughts on Dylan Bundy’s one-hit shutout

Posted on 30 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With Orioles starter Dylan Bundy pitching a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Seattle, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. That was the kind of performance fans daydream about when their team selects a pitcher in the top five spots of the amateur draft. Whether we’re witnessing the start of something special or this was merely the pinnacle of a solid career, Tuesday’s outing was fun to watch.

2. All of his pitchers were working, but the slider was especially potent, fetching swings and misses on 10 of the 27 he threw. It’s been said before, but he’s tough to beat when he has that breaking pitch going.

3. It’s a bummer to think a chance at a no-hitter was lost on a bunt single by Kyle Seager, but he dropped that down facing a one-run deficit in the fourth inning and before anyone was thinking about any flirtation with history.

4. I was waiting for Buck Showalter to pop out of the dugout after Bundy hit Robinson Cano to lead off the ninth inning, but you had to be impressed with the way the young pitcher immediately went back to work.

5. His 95 game score is tied for the sixth best in club history, according to the Baseball Reference play index. That’s some impressive company over 64 seasons of Orioles baseball.

6. This was easily the best pitching performance by an Oriole since Erik Bedard’s two-hit shutout that included 15 strikeouts against Texas on July 7, 2007. I’ll give Bedard a slight edge since he didn’t walk a batter while Bundy walked two and hit one.

7. Bundy provided the club’s first complete-game shutout since Miguel Gonzalez pitched one in 2014 and its complete game since Ubaldo Jimenez’s last September. How much has the game changed over the years? Jim Palmer pitched 20 or more complete games in a season four times.

8. This was the third time in his last four starts he’s struck out 10 or more. According to ESPN, that’s more than the total for any Orioles pitcher over the last 10 years. Yes, that reflects the Orioles’ lack of high-quality pitching, but it’s still an impressive feat for Bundy.

9. After averaging an ordinary 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings over the first four months of the season, Bundy is striking out 11.3 per nine in August. Even with extra rest being an obvious factor, it’s encouraging for the future to see him missing more bats.

10. He became the second pitcher in Orioles history to record a one-hit shutout with 12 or more strikeouts. Mike Mussina was the first on Aug. 1, 2000 when Bundy was not quite 8 years old.

11. I understand concerns over a career-high 155 1/3 innings this season, but squabbling over the right-hander exceeding his career high in pitches by four to get the shutout just reeks of joylessness. That said, the Orioles need to continue massaging his workload the rest of the way.

12. Bundy was pitching with a heavy heart after his grandmother’s death last week. That outing sure was a special tribute to her.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following West Coast trip

Posted on 17 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their final two games in Seattle to finish a 4-6 trip on the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A losing road trip doesn’t cripple their playoffs chances, but the Orioles entered Thursday with six clubs ahead of them for the second wild card. They’ve played better since the All-Star break, but repeatedly falling to the back of the line among so many mediocre teams isn’t encouraging.

2. With a bullpen in good shape going into an off-day, Buck Showalter stayed with Ubaldo Jimenez entirely too long in the fifth inning Wednesday. The already-struggling veteran was facing the top of the order a third time, but Showalter instead saved his best relievers and lost the lead.

3. Showalter letting Chris Davis bat against lefty Marc Rzepczynski was a tougher call. He’s 8-for-24 over the last week after being lowered in the order, and Rzepczynski has been tough against righties, too. If you’re trying to get Davis going for the stretch, I understand not testing his confidence further.

4. Of their six losses on the road trip, the Orioles held a lead in five of those defeats. Whether it was shaky pitching or the offense going to sleep after scoring an early run or two, the trip should have been better. That’s just another sign of mediocrity.

5. Tim Beckham will cool off eventually, but it’s fun thinking about the possibility that there was more to the idea that he didn’t like hitting at Tropicana Field than anyone thought. In 16 games, he already ranks seventh on the 2017 Orioles in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

6. I’ve said this before, but Trey Mancini’s development has a left fielder continues to amaze after he only began learning the outfield this past offseason. I would never bet on him winning a Gold Glove, but he looks very capable, which is a nice bonus to accompany his dangerous bat.

7. Davis has fairly received plenty of heat in the midst of his worst season since 2014, but Mark Trumbo has been just as disappointing. Expecting him to match what he did in 2016 was unrealistic, but his .711 on-base plus slugging percentage is the second-worst mark of his career.

8. Since the All-Star break, the Orioles are 1-5 in games in which they’ve had an opportunity to move back to the .500 mark. Talk about beating your head against a brick wall as the second wild card sits there begging for someone to take control.

9. Kevin Gausman has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts and sports a 3.13 ERA when Caleb Joseph catches. Welington Castillo was behind the dish for that one non-quality start, and Gausman owns a 7.30 mark with him behind the dish. Stick with what’s working.

10. I don’t have a major problem with temporarily sending Joey Rickard to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Anthony Santander, but Rule 5 players since 2012 have netted the Orioles a combined 2.4 WAR, per Baseball Reference. That’s a minimal return for so often playing with a shorthanded roster.

11. Speaking of questionable value, Jimenez and Chris Tillman have combined for a minus-2.4 WAR despite making a total of $23.55 million in 2017. That’s a heck of a price tag for below-replacement-level production.

12. The 25th anniversary celebration of Camden Yards will be a nice nod to the 1992 Orioles, who showed a 22-game improvement from the previous year. I’m a little bummed Randy Milligan — one of my favorites as a kid — won’t be there though. His .391 career on-base percentage was underappreciated.

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By not selling, Orioles continue course toward 2019 cliff

Posted on 31 July 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Monday’s trade deadline came and went with the Orioles taking no detour from their path toward that 2019 cliff.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette offered few specifics about any potential deals that were on the table for two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton or 2016 All-Star setup man Brad Brach. He did allude to Britton’s market being depressed because of his two-month absence for a left forearm strain in the first half and referenced the lucrative returns that the New York Yankees received for relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at last year’s deadline.

“He’s one of the top relievers in the American League,” Duquette said. “There’s a steep price paid for the relievers that were traded last year, and that really wasn’t the market this year.”

Make no mistake, the Orioles were smart to aim high and not trade Britton if they couldn’t find a fair offer, especially with him being under club control through next season. He wasn’t just a rental for a contending club, but you’d certainly hope they plan to deal the talented — and increasingly expensive — closer this winter and not wait until a year from now when his hypothetical value would be considerably lower.

Keeping the likes of Britton, Brach, and third baseman Manny Machado for now isn’t necessarily the end of the world that many are making it out to be, but the Orioles remain on that ominous path when those three as well as veteran center fielder Adam Jones become free agents at the end of next season. You can’t help but feel that the longer they wait to deal such valuable pieces, the longer it will be until their next competitive window opens.

And just because the Orioles can still trade any of those individuals at some point over the next year doesn’t mean they will, which is an even scarier proposition.

Duquette talked at length about the organization not giving up on 2017, a notion that left many rolling their eyes as Baltimore entered Monday tied for the fifth-worst record in the American League. The acquisitions of veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson — who’s only under contract through the end of the season — and 27-year-old infielder Tim Beckham are hardly the moves of a club that considers itself a serious contender.

At least Beckham, the first overall pick of the 2008 draft, is under control through the 2020 season and has developed into a useful major league piece after years of underwhelming results. The Hellickson deal reeks of pointlessness as even he admitted surprise when the fourth-place Orioles acquired him from Philadelphia late Friday night.

No, Duquette didn’t trade away the organization’s high-end minor-league pieces for a long-shot chance at a playoff berth, but middling activity such as these two deals once again left us wondering about the Orioles’ overall direction. Beckham could be the club’s starting shortstop for the next few years, but he’s not someone you’d point to as a difference maker, either.

“I still like this team. I like this team for this year; I like this team for next year,” said Duquette, whose contract expires at the end of next season. “You’ve seen fits and spurts of this team playing very, very good baseball. The consistency will come when we get a consistent, stable rotation.”

Duquette chuckled when asked how his and manager Buck Showalter’s contract status as well as the age of owner Peter Angelos — who turned 88 on July 4 — might impact the club’s overall plans, but those uncertain futures are even more problematic than what to do with the likes of Machado and Britton. It makes little sense to have a lame-duck general manager begin a rebuilding process, and he has little incentive to want to start such an arduous task without assurance of being able to see it through.

Angelos should have already decided what the future holds for Duquette and shouldn’t continue with him in charge if he isn’t going to be the architect after next season.

Instead, it appears to be all about the present, whether not selling at the deadline or continuing to move international signing bonus slots.

Are the Orioles committed to keeping the band together for a final run in 2018? If so, they’ll need to do a ton of heavy lifting to revive a starting rotation that’s been an utter disaster this season, and a veteran like Hellickson isn’t going to cut it. While they’re at it, the offense hasn’t been very good in 2017, either.

Will the Orioles start showing any regard for what happens beyond 2018 or stubbornly continue marching forward with a club that doesn’t appear to be good enough anymore?

Important questions, but no clear direction in sight.

Other than that cliff ahead.

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