Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

Fixing Jimenez one of Orioles’ biggest challenges this spring

Tags: , , , , ,

Fixing Jimenez one of Orioles’ biggest challenges this spring

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Luke Jones

It was exactly what the Orioles had envisioned when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract seven months earlier.

With a chance to clinch their first division championship in 17 years last Sept. 16, the Orioles sent the right-handed starter to the hill against Toronto and Jimenez pitched solidly — two earned runs allowed in five innings — to earn the victory. Of course, it was one of the few bright spots of a disastrous season in which Jimenez eventually lost his spot in the starting rotation and was left off the American League Championship Series roster.

Spring training breeds optimism and hope for transformation, and there would be no bigger breakthrough than the Orioles getting Jimenez on track as they try to defend their 2014 AL East title. Pitching coach Dave Wallace believes confidence was as big a problem as any as Jimenez tried to prove himself worthy to his new club. Jimenez acknowledged Saturday that he didn’t follow his normal offseason routine last year as he didn’t sign with the Orioles until after spring training had already started, and it likely led to problems in being able to repeat his complicated delivery.

In 25 games (22 starts) and 125 1/3 innings, Jimenez went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA and posted a career-worst 5.5 walks per nine innings.

“Who knows what was going through his mind last year? New team, new contract, all that stuff,” Wallace said last month. “Hopefully, that’s all pushed aside. He actually came up with a couple things last year that he made changes with in September that helped him a little bit. We’ll see if we can continue that.”

It’s hardly the first time that Jimenez’s unorthodox mechanics have come into focus as Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway was credited for rebuilding the veteran starter after a career-worst 5.40 ERA in 2012. Jimenez rebounded in the second half of 2013 to finish with a 3.30 ERA, his best season since his 2010 All-Star campaign in Colorado.

Jimenez previously brought his hands high above his head in his windup, which he believes created too many moving parts in his mechanics that hindered his control. In September, Jimenez abandoned that approach, keeping his hands quieter and in front of him as he pitched to a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings with 12 strikeouts. His seven walks reflected that his control was still a problem, but the small sample size brings a glimmer of hope that Jimenez can bounce back in 2015.

He wouldn’t be the first Orioles starter to adjust his windup in recent years as ace Chris Tillman has credited a simpler motion for the success he began enjoying in 2012 and Kevin Gausman has also quieted the movement in his windup since being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft. Jimenez hopes his adjustments will lead to similar results.

The Dominican pitcher estimated that he threw five bullpen sessions and live batting practice this winter in preparation for the start of spring training after the disruptive offseason last year. Manager Buck Showalter was impressed with the pitcher’s first bullpen session in Sarasota on Friday as he continued the simplified approach he used late last year.

“It was all about not going over the top of my head because I was going way too far and that makes my mechanics go everywhere,” Jimenez told reporters in Sarasota on Saturday. “Right now, I’m able to simplify everything by grabbing the ball and just going straight to home plate. Once I saw everything was working, I was staying with it and I’m not changing anything.”

With Showalter and Wallace needing to choose among six starters for five spots in the rotation, Jimenez will need to pitch effectively this spring, but just under $39 million remaining on his deal mean he’ll receive every opportunity to prove last year was a fluke. Historically, Jimenez’s fastball velocity has been the key in determining whether his mechanics are right as his average of 90.6 miles per hour last season was the slowest of his career and continued a steady decline since 2010 when his fastball averaged 96.3.

Much of that can be attributed to wear and tear, but an increase closer to his 2013 level (92.1 miles per hour) would indicate he’s on a better track. Opposing hitters also made contact on 80.8 percent of their swings a year ago, up from his career mark of 78.3 percent. Jimenez still averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings a year ago — the same as his career mark — but hitters were more patient than ever (4.15 pitches per plate appearance) against him as he struggled to throw strikes.

It’s easy to say the Orioles regret their rich investment in Jimenez after one season, but his track record suggests better results are likely in order for 2015. Whether that improvement will be enough to justify a spot in the rotation is the real question after the Orioles’ other five starters each posted an ERA of 3.65 or lower a year ago.

“Hopefully, everything changes and I’m going to be able to compete better and be able to give the team a chance to win,” Jimenez said. “Last year was a disappointing year. It was a really bad year. There’s no doubt about it, but just changing my mechanics makes everything better. I’m going to be able to compete.”

For the price they’re paying Jimenez over the next three seasons, the Orioles certainly hope so.

 

Comments (0)

Sizing up the 2015 Orioles roster entering spring training

Tags: , , ,

Sizing up the 2015 Orioles roster entering spring training

Posted on 15 February 2015 by Luke Jones

Only a few 25-man roster spots figure to be up for grabs as the Orioles report to spring training this week to begin preparations for the 2015 season.

Manager Buck Showalter frequently warns against being fooled by a player’s performance in March, but a number of individuals will be competing for a job to help Baltimore defend its 2014 American League East title. As we’ve learned throughout the Showalter era, roster flexibility is a must, so it’s critical to remember which players have minor-league options that could impact their standing on the big-league roster at any given time.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently in the major league camp at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are currently on the projected 25-man roster. An asterisk indicates a player who is a non-roster invitee.

PITCHERS (28)
LOCK: Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Wesley Wright
BUBBLE: Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ryan Webb, T.J. McFarland, Jason Garcia, Logan Verrett,
LONG SHOT: Tim Berry, Dylan Bundy, Oliver Drake, Eddie Gamboa, Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Dane De La Rosa*, Hunter Harvey*, Mark Hendrickson*, Steve Johnson*, Chris Jones*, Chaz Roe*
Skinny: By their merits, both Gausman and Gonzalez should be locks for the 25-man roster, but the current logjam in the starting rotation — and Jimenez’s albatross of a contract — could bump one to the bullpen or even to Triple-A Norfolk at the start of the season since both have a minor-league option remaining. A trade is always possible, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also wants rotation depth in the event of an injury or two. As for the bullpen, Brach, Matusz, and Webb are all out of options and Garcia and Verrett are Rule 5 selections, making a trade or two a distinct possibility to clear roster space.

CATCHERS (6)
LOCK: Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph
BUBBLE: Steve Clevenger, J.P Arencibia*,
LONG SHOT: Ryan Lavarnway*, Brian Ward*
Skinny: Based on what Wieters and the Orioles are saying, the three-time All-Star selection could very well be ready for Opening Day, but it will be interesting to see which direction the club goes in if he needs a few more weeks to strengthen his surgically-repaired elbow. Joseph showed enough behind the plate to feel good about him being Wieters’ backup, but Clevenger and Arencibia could be battling it out to be Joseph’s backup to begin the season. Arencibia showed promising power in Toronto, but his career has gone downhill dramatically over the last couple years.

INFIELDERS (11)
LOCK: Chris Davis (suspended for Opening Day and does not count toward current 40-man roster), Ryan Flaherty, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop
BUBBLE: Rey Navarro, Jimmy Paredes
LONG SHOT: Christian Walker, Michael Almanzar*, Paul Janish*, Chris Parmelee*
Skinny: The Orioles’ fascination with Navarro is curious as they were willing to give him a big-league contract while other teams pursued a minor-league agreement. Paredes showed nice ability at the plate late last year, but his defensive limitations won’t help his chances in Showalter’s eyes. Baltimore expects more at the plate from Schoop this year, but his excellent work in the field makes him a lock to be on the roster with Flaherty occasionally spelling him at second base. Machado has been fully cleared, so there isn’t as much uncertainty with his status for Opening Day as there currently is with Wieters.

OUTFIELDERS (11)
LOCK: Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, Delmon Young
BUBBLE: David Lough
LONG SHOT: Alex Hassan, Henry Urrutia, Dariel Alvarez*, Nolan Reimold*, Matt Tuiasosopo*
Skinny: At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much drama here, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see changes in the outfield as the year progresses. The Orioles hope De Aza settles into a regular leadoff role and Snider is a solid replacement for Markakis in right field, but the likes of Hassan, Urrutia, Alvarez, and Reimold will be on call at Norfolk for opportunities. Lough is out of options and provides speed and defensive ability off the bench, but it will be interesting to see if he can build on a .941 on-base plus slugging percentage in 64 plate appearances in the second half of 2014. Truthfully, Jones in center field is the only sure thing.

Comments (0)

Statheads and ex-jocks, can’t we all just get along?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Statheads and ex-jocks, can’t we all just get along?

Posted on 11 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The spat between Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is just the latest example in the battle continuing to be fought across multiple sports.

The “old school” way of thinking versus statistical analysis.

Never mind that the mindsets aren’t mutually exclusive, you better choose one or the other in this fight!

Despite being a self-proclaimed baseball nerd — we’ll use that sport for our example — I’ve always maintained it’s up to the individual to decide how dedicated and in depth he or she wants to be as a fan. After all, we’re talking about sports and not matters of national security.

It’s supposed to be fun.

Embracing sabermetrics to adapt how I study the game in recent years hasn’t swayed my enjoyment in watching a perfectly-executed relay or a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Finding new ways to educate yourself about the game isn’t a mandate — however, it should be for those who work in the game and want to remain relevant — but it’s silly to criticize simply because we may not understand or be interested.

Admittedly, statistical analysis is heavy as it can quickly start to feel like a calculus lesson instead of a baseball discussion. With many of these advanced stats — OPS-plus, FIP, UZR, and WAR just to name a few — I’ve developed a functional understanding of what they mean and how to apply them without wasting brainpower remembering how to calculate them. It’s akin to enjoying the steak without dwelling on how it’s prepared at the butcher shop.

For anyone not convinced of the value of sabermetrics — but will at least humor me — I typically present three questions:

1. Would you rather have a .300 hitter or a .260 hitter?

Many — not all — traditional fans will go with the .300 hitter, which has long been viewed as a benchmark for greatness, but how much does batting average really tell us?

In this case, the .300 hitter could also be a free swinger who doesn’t walk often and hits for very little power. In contrast, let’s pretend the .260 hitter clubbed 60 extra-base hits and walked 80 times over the course of the season. Under such a scenario, the .260 hitter is likely to be the far superior option without getting into their value on the bases or in the field.

This is why on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is embraced while batting average is being thrown aside by many statheads as a limited piece of information. If you want to take it a step further, OPS-plus takes into account how a hitter’s home ballpark — think of a pitcher’s park in Oakland compared to a hitter’s park — impacted his performance and allows for better comparison among players across the league.

2. Do you want a pitcher with a 3.70 ERA last year or one who had a 4.00 mark?

Again, many purists will point to the hurler with the lower ERA and be right in most cases, but is it always that simple?

What about the defense he played with in comparison to the group that was behind the other pitcher? What if one was really lucky or had great misfortune over a number of starts?

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is complicated to calculate, but it uses the outcomes a pitcher solely controls (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and home runs) to produce a value on the same scale as ERA. Its intent is to eliminate factors such as defense and bloop hits in trying to assess a pitcher’s effectiveness and to help predict his future performance.

As an example, the 2014 Orioles ranked seventh in the majors in team ERA (3.44), but they ranked 24th in team FIP (3.96). It reflects just how much Orioles pitching benefited from the exceptional defense behind it — which confirms what many purists witnessed with their own eyes, mind you — and how it would likely fare with an average defense.

3. Would you prefer the shortstop who made six errors or the one who made 12 last season?

This question is a good one as baseball fans have long been prisoners to a lack of data to truly assess defense. Hypothetically, a player could stand in one spot on the field all year and not commit an error, but that would make him quite poor defensively, wouldn’t it?

Sabermetrics are ever evolving when it comes to measuring defense, but numbers such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are finally accounting for how much ground a player covers in the field. The measures aren’t perfect as there is fluctuation from year to year, but we’ve taken giant leaps from the days of simply quoting the number of errors, putouts, and assists a player collects.

To answer the above question, we need to know how the first player’s range compares to the second shortstop. If the latter gets to many more balls in the hole and up the middle, it’s logical to conclude he’s likely to commit more errors, but how many more outs will he also have created in the process?

Of course, the three above questions only scratch the surface of what’s out there in baseball.

Statistical analysis is about accounting for variables and answering questions. There isn’t one fancy statistic that should be viewed as gospel — or a number to which you become a “prisoner” in Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s words — in the same way that no person’s gut feeling or eyeball test is foolproof, either. Computers and numbers don’t play the games on the field, but they can tell us more about what’s happening and what is likely to happen next.

It’s possible to appreciate the human element as well as what the numbers say. In fact, we might even find that a statistic will confirm a gut feeling or an observation.

If more statheads were willing to explain their rationale and more traditionalists were open to learning, we wouldn’t have the embarrassing exchanges like we saw this week between an NBA general manager and one of the great players in league history.

There’s a place for both statistical analysis and traditional evaluation if we’re willing to embrace both.

And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a Hall of Famer to do it.

 

Comments (1)

Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With spring training only a couple weeks away, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a number of issues to sort out as it relates to his everyday lineup.

Most attention has centered around replacing outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz — Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Delmon Young, and the newly-acquired Travis Snider are among the candidates — but identifying who will lead off in the Baltimore lineup is anyone’s guess at this point. However, it’s not a question over which the skipper is panicking in early February.

“Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I bet you,” quipped Showalter, adding that he’s more concerned with having a strong bottom of the order than with who’s hitting first. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve told you many times, [you could] just take your best hitter and hit him first to get more at-bats.”

It’s that very mindset that led to Markakis first becoming a regular leadoff hitter during the 2012 season even though he stole only six bases over his final three seasons with the Orioles. No one would confuse the Orioles with a track team after they stole a league-worst 44 bases in 2014, so speed isn’t a prerequisite for replacing Markakis at the top of the order.

Among their current candidates, who should lead off for the Orioles in 2015?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Of the possible options currently on the roster, De Aza carries the most experience hitting in the leadoff position with 296 career starts there, but Showalter said Saturday it would be wrong to simply assume it’s his job to lose this spring. His career .334 on-base percentage in the top spot of the order is just a touch higher than his career .330 OBP overall, but De Aza told reporters he feels comfortable leading off if that’s what the Orioles want him to do.

His production in 2014 spiked when he was traded to the Orioles at the end of August, but De Aza is eager to rebound from a campaign he called the worst of his career as he hit only .252 with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in, and a .700 on-base plus slugging percentage combined with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He would also represent one of the Orioles’ speedier options as he stole 17 bases last season.

“I can’t just go there and tell them that I want to be leadoff or they’re just going to give me the leadoff spot,” said De Aza, who added that Showalter hasn’t talked to him about the job to this point. “I’m just going to work hard, and they’re going to make the best [decision] for the team.”

Showalter acknowledged he’s had some “radical” thoughts about his lineup throughout the offseason, mentioning Lough, Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and even Chris Davis as potential candidates to be the leadoff hitter, but nothing is set in stone. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, Snider carried a .356 on-base percentage in the second half of 2014, and the Orioles hope that’s a sign of better things to come for the former first-round pick who’s struggled to realize his potential at the major-league level.

But if the Orioles are looking for a unconventional option who might also be the best one, Pearce led the club with a .373 OBP and worked the count as well as any hitter in the lineup a year ago. Even if the 31-year-old won’t match his lofty power figures of 21 homers and a .556 slugging percentage in 383 plate appearances in 2014, he has a career .335 OBP in parts of eight major league seasons as well as a .371 career OBP in the minor leagues.

Like Markakis, Pearce won’t offer much in terms of speed, but Showalter acknowledged the traditional leadoff hitter appears to be an endangered species in today’s game. In all likelihood, the Orioles will use a committee approach in Grapefruit League action until one or two hitters settle into the role depending on the opposing starter on a given night.

“They know things are going to change a little bit from time to time depending on who we’re facing,” Showalter said. “The conventional leadoff hitter like Brian [Roberts] was for a long time and like Rickey Henderson was for a long time, how many of them are there [today]?. How many guys can stay in the lineup against left-handed and right-handed pitching and be there every night?”

Comments (0)

Is Duquette now a lame duck for 2015 season?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Is Duquette now a lame duck for 2015 season?

Posted on 27 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The story has apparently ended with both sides pretending there’s nothing to see here.

The Toronto Blue Jays announced they’re keeping president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston before he retires at the end of the 2015 season while Dan Duquette remains under contract with the Orioles through 2018. We’re to believe everything is fine after a seven-week saga of rumors, reports, and deafening silence involving both American League East foes.

Blue Jays chairman Edward Rogers broke his silence Monday without addressing why he reportedly pursued Beeston’s replacement without alerting the longtime executive of his intentions. Meanwhile, we’ve yet to hear from Duquette or Orioles owner Peter Angelos since Toronto announced a one-year contract extension for their current president.

“We have been in discussions with Paul about his future with the team since his contract expired in October,” Rogers said in a release. “There were many rumors flying about, but it would have been inappropriate to comment on such matters publicly. Make no mistake — we are elated to have Paul continue to lead the team for this season.”

In the coming days, we’ll hear Duquette state his commitment to the Orioles — perhaps at Saturday’s FanFest in front of thousands of fans — and how he’s dedicated to bringing another winner to Baltimore, but will anyone believe him after weeks of declining comment on the Toronto situation? Yes, Angelos and the Orioles dug their heels in when it came to compensation and won, but you wonder if it still results in a losing outcome with a man in charge who doesn’t have his heart in Baltimore.

Make no mistake, the Blue Jays handled this poorly in not only disrespecting Beeston — a man who became the first employee of the expansion team in 1976 — but also ignoring the decorum of how to pursue another club’s employee, which doesn’t include trying to poach the executive vice president of baseball operations in the middle of an offseason.

Toronto put the Orioles in a terrible spot and expecting compensation was more than understandable, but asking for a package of three top prospects — an absurd return in relation to similar front office transactions in recent years — with the thought that it would prompt the Blue Jays to back off was shortsighted as it relates to Duquette’s future in Baltimore. His contract suggests he’ll remain with the Orioles for the next four seasons, but the events of the last two months make it look like Duquette could be a lame duck for the 2015 season, especially if the Blue Jays come calling again after the season.

Is the 56-year-old really invested in the Orioles after seeing a sparkling promotion dangled in front of him for weeks?

Are the reports of some in the organization preferring that Duquette be allowed to leave simply forgotten?

Have Duquette’s relationships with Angelos, manager Buck Showalter, and other front office members suffered irreparable harm?

Those questions don’t even address how little the Orioles have done this offseason after losing outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and top reliever Andrew Miller in free agency. Duquette’s approach hasn’t exactly been a high-profile or aggressive one in his four-year tenure with the club except for the signings of pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and Cruz during last year’s spring training, but his lack of activity casts doubt as the Orioles try to build on last season’s AL Championship Series appearance.

One of the reasons why the Orioles have experienced three straight winning seasons has been Angelos’ trust in Duquette and Showalter in recent years. With the 85-year-old owner mentioning Duquette’s contract and commitment on more than one occasion over the last two months, you wonder how much Angelos now trusts the man he rescued out of baseball purgatory a few years ago.

Even with the losses suffered this offseason, the Orioles remain serious contenders in the AL East and are led by one of the best managers in baseball.

But it’s difficult not to feel like Duquette has one foot out the door — even if his current title and contract suggests otherwise.

And that’s not a good place to be for a club and a fan base with championship aspirations.

 

Comments (0)

Orioles name Coolbaugh as new hitting coach

Tags: , , , , ,

Orioles name Coolbaugh as new hitting coach

Posted on 19 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles announced the hiring of new hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh on Friday night to complete manager Buck Showalter’s coaching staff for the 2015 season.

The 48-year-old was interviewed by Showalter and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson earlier in the day and will leave the Texas Rangers organization where he spent the last eight years. He was most recently the Rangers’ minor league hitting coordinator, but he spent parts of two seasons as their major league hitting coach from 2011 through 2012.

In 2012, the Rangers led the major leagues in runs scored and ranked second in the American League in total bases and batting average.

Showalter is familiar with his new hitting coach dating back to his days with the Arizona Diamondbacks when Coolbaugh served as a player, coach, and manager in their minor-league system. Coolbaugh also worked closely with Chris Davis in Texas and is held in high regard by the Orioles first baseman.

Originally selected by Texas in the third round of the 1987 amateur draft after a standout career at the University of Texas, Coolbaugh played in 167 major league games and was a career .215 hitter over four seasons with Texas, San Diego, and St. Louis. He also spent two years playing in Japan.

He is the older brother of the late Mike Coolbaugh, who died after being struck by a line drive while serving as the first base coach in a minor league game in 2007.

Coolbaugh replaces Jim Presley, who was reassigned by the organization earlier this offseason due to personal reasons.

Comments (0)

Orioles first baseman Davis receives approval for Adderall

Tags: , , , ,

Orioles first baseman Davis receives approval for Adderall

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles hope first baseman Chris Davis can bounce back from a nightmarish 2014 campaign that ended with him being suspended 25 games for testing positive for Adderall.

It now appears that he’s been approved to use the drug for the 2015 season. Manager Buck Showalter told reporters Tuesday that Davis recently told him that he received a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball to use the drug commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Davis reportedly had an exemption to use the drug when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, but it’s believed that growing concern over the high use of Adderall has led to baseball creating a more stringent process for issuing approval in recent years. Roughly 10 percent of players on 40-man rosters in the major leagues presented notes from doctors for Adderall use last year.

Even if the newly-secured exemption may bring some closure to the disappointment of last season, trying to determine how much Adderall might impact Davis’ performance is difficult. He allegedly didn’t have an exemption to use it in 2013 when he hit a franchise-record 53 home runs. In contrast, he tested positive for the second time in his career — the first failed test reportedly came when he was still a member of the Rangers and didn’t carry a suspension — in the midst of a season in which he hit .196 and saw his long-ball total fall to 26.

The 28-year-old still has one game remaining on his 25-game suspension that began on Sept. 12 and made him ineligible for the Orioles’ 2014 postseason run.

Entering his final season before hitting free agency, Davis will look to prove he’s more like the player who was the major league home run king in 2013 and not the player who struggled throughout 2014 and saw his season end in disgrace. The Orioles would gladly take a compromise resembling his first full season with the Orioles in 2012 when he hit .270 with 33 homers, 85 runs batted in, and an .827 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Davis posting numbers in that neighborhood would go a long way in helping replace the void left behind by Nelson Cruz, who departed via free agency earlier this month to sign a four-year, $57 million contract with Seattle.

Comments (0)

Will trust become issue between Duquette, Angelos?

Tags: , , , , ,

Will trust become issue between Duquette, Angelos?

Posted on 08 December 2014 by Luke Jones

After Orioles owner Peter Angelos made his stance perfectly clear on what he expects to be a long future for Dan Duquette in Baltimore, the executive vice president of baseball operations didn’t exactly squash the rumors and reports linking him to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday.

Speaking to reporters gathered in San Diego for the MLB winter meetings, Duquette reaffirmed what he said Sunday about being under contract with the Orioles, but his words did little to negate reports of him being interested in becoming the new president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Blue Jays. The 56-year-old is under contract with Baltimore through the 2018 season, but the Blue Jays position would represent the kind of promotion any general manager around baseball would be intrigued to at least explore.

“I’m here with the Orioles, and my focus is with the Orioles and helping the Orioles put together the strongest team that they can have in 2015,” Duquette told reporters Monday afternoon. “We have a lot of the pieces here. We have a good farm system, we have established people in the big leagues and we have a good pitching staff, so to me it’s really a matter of adding some pieces and we can contend again.”

According to the Toronto Sun, Paul Beeston is expected to remain in the position through the 2015 season, so it’s a mystery why the Blue Jays would be reaching out to potential replacements at this early stage. It’s believed that Toronto hasn’t requested permission to talk to Duquette about the position, and Angelos made it clear in interviews with local media Sunday that the Orioles won’t be willing to “relinquish” their rights.

It isn’t difficult to understand either side’s position, regardless of whether there are real legs to Duquette being a top candidate for the Blue Jays job. In any career field, you can understand a person being interested in the possibility of a lucrative promotion — even if they’re happy with their current job. By all accounts, Duquette has been happy in Baltimore and appreciative of the long-term commitment, but the opportunity to be in charge of all facets of an entire organization — not just baseball operations — has to be intriguing.

On the flip side, the Orioles can’t appreciate the timing of the news on the eve of the winter meetings, a critical juncture in the offseason when they’re trying to make signings or trades to improve your club. And it was the Orioles who hired Duquette after he spent nearly a decade away from the majors and then Angelos offered him a six-year commitment after only one year on the job.

It may be considered industry protocol to allow an executive to interview for a promotion, but how far does that go when you’re already deep into the offseason and that promotion is potentially coming with a division rival?

Even if the talk of the last couple days doesn’t lead anywhere, it’s fair to wonder if the trust between Duquette and Angelos will be harmed moving forward.

Duquette deserves plenty of credit for the work he’s done in his three years with the Orioles, but will his heart be in finishing the job of building a championship club if the organization ultimately denies him permission to at least explore the kind of promotion that doesn’t appear to be available with the current ownership structure in Baltimore?

And by all accounts, Angelos has put his trust in Duquette to run the baseball side of the organization without any significant whispers of the owner meddling. The decision to let outfielder Nick Markakis — one of Angelos’ favorites — leave via free agency appeared to be a prime example of Duquette’s autonomy, but would his flirtation with the Blue Jays prompt the owner to rethink that trust and that long-term commitment he made prior to the 2013 season?

With so many needs to address on the field between now and Opening Day, the Orioles hardly needed their infrastructure to come into question at the start of one of the more important weeks of the winter.

You can only hope there isn’t long-term fallout, regardless of the outcome.

Comments (0)

Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles faced difficult free-agent decisions entering the offseason after winning their first American League East title in 17 years.

The anticipated departures of slugger Nelson Cruz and shutdown lefty reliever Andrew Miller certainly hurt from an on-field standpoint, but both were hired guns for the 2014 season with little emotional attachment.

But longtime right fielder Nick Markakis?

That one hurts. It hurts a lot.

It stings fans, teammates who adore him and respect his everyday approach, and manager Buck Showalter, who has often said Markakis is the kind of player whose value isn’t fully felt until you don’t have him anymore.

That sentiment now becomes reality, and we’ll learn how true the manager’s words ring.

The organization’s longest-tenured player departing to sign a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday hurts as much as any Oriole to leave via free agency since longtime ace Mike Mussina joined the New York Yankees 14 years ago. After making his home in Monkton, Markakis was supposed to spend his entire career with the Orioles.

One of the lasting images of a wonderful 2014 season was watching Markakis, after enduring years of losing in Baltimore, celebrate the Orioles’ first division title since 1997 when they clinched in mid-September. After he could only watch the Orioles in the 2012 playoffs because of a season-ending thumb injury sustained a month earlier, the 2003 first-round pick finally earned his first taste of postseason play in his ninth major league season.

So, how did it get to this point after nearly everyone assumed that Markakis would be back?

Both local and national outlets reported a month ago that the Orioles and Markakis were working toward a four-year deal in the neighborhood of what the Braves ultimately paid the veteran outfielder. Concerns over a herniated disc in his neck discovered in 2013 reportedly prompted the Orioles to hedge on a guaranteed fourth year as the weeks progressed while Atlanta offered no such trepidation in bringing Markakis back to his home state.

Frustrated fans will understandably question the Orioles’ loyalty in how they negotiated and in ultimately failing to retain their longest-tenured player, but how much responsibility should Markakis hold? If he were truly committed to staying, why not sign a month ago when a similar offer was allegedly on the table instead of holding out for more and giving the Orioles the opportunity to rethink their position?

For as much as Markakis has been valued for his durability and consistency throughout his tenure in Baltimore, let’s not pretend the $30 million he earned in his final two seasons with the Orioles was reciprocated with similar value in production.

And that’s when we begin to view Markakis as the fascinating case study of weighing the old-school “gamer” against the cold, hard numbers he produces.

A look at the negative reaction from players via social media in the hours after the announcement suggests how unpopular the move will be in the Orioles clubhouse. Though a quiet man who doesn’t draw attention to himself, Markakis was a prime example of the club’s sum being better than its parts over the last three winning years. He plays the game the right way and is admired by teammates and fans alike.

But how much can and should you pay for those intangibles?

Assessing his value based solely on what shows up in the box score, Markakis likely isn’t worth close to $44 million over the next four seasons. In fact, observers with no apparent agenda are already saying the Braves will wildly regret investing so much in an outfielder whose numbers have declined over the last couple years.

Though he never developed the home run power some projected him to earlier in his career, Markakis averaged more than 65 extra-base hits per year from 2007 through 2010. He’s averaged just under 42 in each of the four years since, with only 34 in 160 games in 2013. What was once a gap hitter who regularly hit more than 40 doubles per year has become much more of a singles hitter — with little speed — in recent years.

His slugging percentage has dipped below .400 in each of the last two seasons, and he has only posted an on-base plus slugging percentage above .756 once in the last four years — his injury-abbreviated 2012 campaign when he produced an .834 OPS in only 471 plate appearances. Though a very good and dependable right fielder with a strong arm that resulted in him winning his second Gold Glove in 2014, Markakis’ range in right field has declined and figures to get worse over the next four years.

Those numbers aren’t presented to suggest Markakis no longer has any value as his durability, leadership, and work ethic can’t easily be quantified and will certainly be missed in addition to what he can still bring with the bat. But the numbers do confirm there is strong evidence to suggest he’s not worthy of a four-year investment after already showing substantial decline in recent seasons.

Only time will tell if the Orioles regret their decision based on how effectively they’re able to replace their longtime right fielder and on how he plays in his new home. It’s quite possible executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made the responsible call, but that will only matter if the Orioles find a quality replacement at the top of the order and in right field to continue the momentum of three straight winning seasons and a 2014 division title.

That will be easier said than done based on what options are available on the open market unless they plan to overpay some other player after drawing a line in the sand with the longest-tenured member of the organization.

The numbers and projections certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, either. Markakis will be missed by teammates and fans alike, but the cold, hard numbers ultimately prevailed.

Markakis wasn’t the biggest or only reason why the Orioles have won over the last three years, but he has been a significant part of what they’ve done. He’s been one of their rare hitters to work counts and get on base — major weaknesses for the club despite their winning record — and one of their most influential presences in a clubhouse that’s been harmonious under Showalter.

Despite the disappointment and the frustration felt by many over the lifelong Oriole’s departure and the questions it creates, four months remain before Opening Day. Duquette deserves some benefit of the doubt after a very rocky start to the offseason in which two key everyday players have bolted.

But the Orioles have a lot of work to do to appease both a shaken fan base and an unhappy clubhouse.

Comments (2)

Orioles searching for new hitting coach to replace Presley

Tags: , , , ,

Orioles searching for new hitting coach to replace Presley

Posted on 25 November 2014 by WNST Staff

After previously anticipating his entire coaching staff would return for the 2015 season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter must now find a new hitting coach.

Reportedly citing personal reasons, Jim Presley will be reassigned after four seasons as the hitting coach in Baltimore. The Sun first reported the news on Monday as the Orioles have already begun the search for his replacement.

The 53-year-old Presley had one year remaining on his contract as the Orioles led the major leagues in home runs for the second straight year. In 2014, they finished eighth in the majors in runs scored, ninth in batting average, and 17th in on-base percentage.

MASN reported the Orioles interviewed minor league hitting coordinator and former major leaguer Jeff Manto for the position on Monday.

Comments (0)