Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Showalter confirms Wieters expected to begin season on DL

Posted on 21 March 2015 by Luke Jones

What appeared probable earlier this week was made all but official by Orioles manager Buck Showalter on Saturday.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after being shut down earlier this week due to elbow tendinitis. The 28-year-old made his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate on Tuesday, which marked exactly nine months after he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Wieters experienced soreness and was shut down the following morning. An X-ray on Thursday revealed no concerns and prompted no further testing on the elbow.

He would be eligible to return as early as April 11, which would fall during the Orioles’ home-opening series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Showalter confirmed that Wieters beginning the season as the club’s designated hitter was not an option since it wouldn’t help in the recovery process.

The Orioles aren’t viewing Wieters’ tendinitis as a concerning setback since it’s very common during the recovery process from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery. Pitchers often take 12 to 14 months to fully recover from the procedure, and Wieters will still be under the 10-month mark on Opening Day.

Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that he doesn’t want the veteran catcher to feel as though he’s facing a deadline as it’s more important for him to be full healthy for as much of the season as possible rather than rushing back for the opener at less than 100 percent. It’s a similar stance to the one the Baltimore manager took with Manny Machado last spring before the third baseman eventually made his season debut on May 1, 2014.

With most attention being paid to his defense and throwing ability, Wieters is 0-for-23 with four strikeouts and one walk in seven Grapefruit League games this spring. He served as a DH in all but one of those contests.

Caleb Joseph is expected to be the starting catcher with Steve Clevenger, Ryan Lavarnway, and J.P Arencibia serving as the candidates to back him up to begin the season.

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Wieters shut down with elbow tendinitis

Posted on 18 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A day after making his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has been shut down due to elbow tendinitis.

The three-time All-Star selection will be shut down from catching duties for a week after manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Florida Wednesday that Wieters experienced soreness the morning after his spring debut. No runners attempted to steal against him in Tuesday’s game, but Wieters made a wide throw to first base on a roller in front of the plate in the 10-9 loss.

Tuesday was the nine-month anniversary of his Tommy John surgery.

It’s not unusual to experience tendinitis when building up strength in a surgically-repaired elbow, but this development certainly doesn’t help Wieters’ chances of being ready to catch in the season opener on April 6. Showalter told reporters that Opening Day is not yet off the table, but it would be difficult envisioning the veteran catcher having enough time to strengthen the elbow adequately considering he didn’t respond favorably to only one game behind the plate.

“With all the time we have left, we thought it would be prudent to just try to get ahead of it,” Showalter told media in Florida. “He’s been doing a lot of things on the half field and throwing program. He’s been doing things that he didn’t do when he was healthy. There’s been a lot there. His legs feel great, though. I don’t think it puts anything in jeopardy, but we’ll see.”

Wieters could return to action as a designated hitter as early as Sunday.

Though the possibility of Wieters opening the season as the club’s DH has been discussed throughout the winter, Showalter again told reporters it’s unlikely that the Orioles would keep him on the 25-man roster if he’s not ready to catch. The club would likely choose two catchers among Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, J.P Arencibia, and Ryan Lavarnway if Wieters begins the regular season on the 15-day disabled list.

Serving strictly as a DH before Tuesday, Wieters is hitless in 23 spring at-bats.

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Recovering Wieters focused on 2015 season despite looming free agency

Posted on 28 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — Watching Orioles catcher Matt Wieters during the first few days of full-squad workouts, you could almost forget he’s less than nine months removed from having Tommy John surgery.

He may not yet be cleared to fire bullets down to second or third base to gun down a runner trying to steal, but there have been no signs of apprehension to this point as he’s participated in other fielding drills and caught bullpen sessions. The Orioles hope it stays that way as Wieters will catch in the club’s first intrasquad game on Sunday, which won’t include any throwing for him beyond tosses back to the pitcher.

“He’s doing everything [else],” manager Buck Showalter said. “I saw him throw a ball [the other day] and I had to catch myself because it looked like normal and I thought to myself, ‘Jeez.’ There wasn’t that recoil or decel at the end that you see with a lot of guys that are [recovering from arm injuries].”

It’s so far, so good for Wieters, who is part of a small group of major league catchers to have undergone the elbow ligament reconstruction surgery more commonly associated with pitchers. The track record of catchers coming back from the surgical procedure isn’t encouraging, but most in the group were fringe major league catchers to begin with and lacked Wieters’ ability behind the dish and in the batter’s box.

Defense has been Wieters’ biggest strength throughout his major league career as he’s thrown out 33 percent of runners trying to steal. Until the 28-year-old is fully cleared to throw behind the plate, however, uncertainty remains about what kind of catcher he’ll be in his seventh season and beyond.

The three-time All-Star selection and two-time Gold Glove winner may not have to worry about throwing breaking balls or preparing for 100-pitch outings like a hurler coming back from Tommy John surgery, but making a high volume of throws from different angles behind the plate does make projecting an exact timetable for recovery tricky compared to the expected 10 to 14 months for most pitchers or the six to eight months for other position players not throwing as often as catchers.

“The rehab is going as well as we could have expected, which is a blessing in itself,” Wieters said. “To be able to get out there and just do partial throwing and be able to just be with the guys is great. I’m going through the throwing program, and it feels good throwing. I haven’t gotten into actual positional throwing yet, so that will be the next step of getting into a squat and making throws as a catcher. I’ll do that for a little bit before actually getting behind the plate in a game.”

The Orioles are currently targeting March 17 for Wieters’ first game behind the plate in Grapefruit League action. In the meantime, he’ll receive at-bats as a designated hitter and catch in minor-league spring games — once again with no runners trying to steal — at the organization’s Twin Lakes facility. Showalter plans to have Wieters’ legs fully in shape to allow him to catch five to seven innings when he makes his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate.

The organization and Wieters remain hopeful that he’ll be ready for Opening Day on April 6, but returning to the lineup for good is the 2007 first-round pick’s ultimate goal in not wanting to experience a setback or to need to baby the surgically-repaired elbow over the course of a 162-game season.

“I think about what’s going to be best for the team and what’s going to be best health-wise going forward,” Wieters said. “It’s something where missing all that time last year was tough. I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to make the decision, ‘What’s the best way for you to be on the field as much as possible?’ This game is what I love playing, and we’re going to do whatever is going to give me the best chance to be on the field the most this year.”

There’s also the reality of looming free agency to consider as Wieters is scheduled to hit the open market next winter. The catcher insists his singular focus is on getting ready for the season, but he and agent Scott Boras have to be thinking about his health and showing the Orioles and potential suitors that his elbow problem will be completely behind him.

It isn’t an easy position for a soon-to-be 29-year-old catcher to be in after he’s already logged 5,533 innings behind the plate in his major league career. In that way, the injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the rest of his body in 2014 as he was only able to contribute from a mental standpoint, which even included some advanced scouting of the Detroit Tigers ahead of the American League Division Series.

Showalter has frequently pointed to Wieters as a potential manager one day and credited his work with catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley as a major reason why the pitching staff thrived in his absence.

“It just verified what we thought. That doesn’t surprise anybody,” Showalter said. “He was in the film room with those guys every day. His words carry a lot of weight. He projects a real self-confidence when you’re willing to help other people like that.”

Wieters is confident that his familiarity with the club’s pitching staff — which lost only lefty reliever Andrew Miller in the offseason — will allow for a smooth return behind the plate.

Having not played in a game since May 10 of last year, Wieters is itching to return to action, whether it’s as soon as Opening Day or a more conservative track. He gained perspective from watching Showalter in the dugout and believes the mental side of his game has improved over the last year, but watching his teammates play in the 2014 postseason wasn’t easy.

“It was tough and great at the same time to be able to watch those guys have the success they had last year,” Wieters said. “I felt a part of it but not as much a part of it as I would have liked to be. When the season ended last year, I was probably the only guy in that clubhouse that was already thinking about spring training. Those guys deserved their time off, but I was ready to come down here and get going as soon as possible.”

Wieters can see the light at the end of the tunnel in the rehabilitation process, but the last few hurdles remain. Meanwhile, the Orioles know the clock is ticking before the catcher hits free agency, with few expecting him to sign an extension to stay with the organization that drafted him.

Those realities present an interesting juxtaposition as Wieters must understandably focus on the big picture while the Orioles would like to maximize their return in their final season of control before free agency. Unclear of his future beyond 2015, Wieters is hoping to take advantage of a healthy season while trying to help the Orioles defend their 2014 AL East title.

“I love Baltimore and Baltimore’s a great town,” Wieters said. “Right now, I’m really thinking about getting back on the field, which could be a blessing. [Free agency is] something that always looms for players, but for me, it’s really just about getting back out there and enjoying it.”

Listen to my exclusive interview with Wieters from Sarasota HERE.

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Cabrera offers different skill set to second base mix

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — After several days of anticipation as he finally resolved a lingering legal issue, infielder Everth Cabrera has officially joined the Orioles.

What the organization gets from the former San Diego Padres shortstop is anyone’s guess as the 28-year-old went from being an All-Star selection in 2013 to being suspended 50 games for the Biogenesis later that year and followed that disappointment with an injury-riddled campaign in which he was limited to 90 games in 2014. Cabrera hit only .232 with a .572 on-base plug slugging percentage last season, but his 99 stolen bases over the last three years provide some appeal for a club that ranked last in the majors in that department a season ago.

Signing the Nicaraguan infielder to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, the Orioles like his upside that is accompanied by a remaining minor-league option.

“He’s young, he’s hungry, he made the All Star team in 2013,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “He can play a premium, skilled defensive position. He’s a switch hitter. He’s an outstanding baserunner and a premium base stealer. He’s got a lot of assets that can help the ball club and I’m sure we will find some good spots for him to help us win some ballgames.”

How Cabrera will fit into the picture remains to be seen. Starting second baseman Jonathan Schoop and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty appeared to be virtual locks for roster spots entering spring training, but Cabrera provides an element of speed that the other two don’t possess.

Considered the second baseman of the future by many, the 23-year-old Schoop posted a .598 OPS and walked only 13 times in 481 plate appearances during his rookie season. It’s possible that Cabrera might push Schoop for the starting job, but a more likely outcome would be him winning the utility infielder job from Flaherty.

After accepting a plea deal that included a fine, community service, and probation stemming from a resisting arrest charge last fall, Cabrera will now focus on proving the Orioles were wise to take a chance on him after two tumultuous seasons.

“I always think every spring training that I’ve got to compete,” said Cabrera, who spent much of the winter strengthening his hamstrings after injuries took their toll last year. “I don’t care where they’re going to put me. I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to compete every single day when they give me the opportunity to play.”

Cabrera will be busy this season getting acclimated to multiple infield positions after spending his entire career at shortstop for the Padres. He’s appeared in just 12 games at second base and only one at third base in his six-year major league career.

Manager Buck Showalter will give Cabrera every opportunity to prove himself to be worthy of a roster spot this spring, but he acknowledges not being overly familiar with the National League West in terms of evaluating the division’s talent. His speed on the bases is an obvious asset, but Cabrera will need to prove himself defensively before Showalter strongly considers using him in place of Schoop at second or designates him the primary utility man over Flaherty.

Keeping Schoop, Flaherty, and Cabrera on the 25-man roster appears to be unlikely, making the veteran’s signing an intriguing storyline to monitor this spring.

“He’s been doing a lot of work and had a very diligent offseason. I think the timing’s good with him,” said Showalter, who admitted Cabrera resolving his legal issues was a “prerequisite” to completing a deal. “This guy a lot of people considered one of the better infielders in the National League a couple years ago.

“We’ll see where the need is of the club and see if he can fit the need. He gives us some flexibility.”

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New Orioles outfielder Snider not concerned with filling Markakis’ shoes

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — New Orioles outfielder Travis Snider may be the leading candidate to replace veteran Nick Markakis in right field, but he isn’t taking anything for granted this spring.

Playing parts of seven seasons without ever recording as many as 360 plate appearances in a single campaign, the 27-year-old can’t dwell on the opportunity presented to him in Baltimore after the free-agent departures of Markakis and slugger Nelson Cruz. Call it a force of habit for a former first-round pick who’s seen more disappointment than success in his major league career with numerous minor-league demotions and nagging injuries.

“I don’t worry about what happened last year and who you guys say I’m replacing,” Snider said in an interview with WNST.net. “I came here to play when they tell me to play and where they tell me to play. For me, the focus remains on the day to day of getting better and when they put my name in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”

Fair or not, the pressure is on Snider to perform as he represents the Orioles’ most significant addition of the offseason. The beginning of his career doesn’t remotely stack up to Markakis’ nine-year run in Baltimore, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider’s .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014 — Markakis’ was .729 — is a sign of a once-heralded prospect finally figuring it out at the major league level.

Snider’s numbers spiked in the second half of 2014 as he hit .288 with nine home runs, 24 runs batted in, and an .880 OPS to help lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a wild-card berth. The numbers reflected the kind of prospect Snider once was in posting a .968 OPS in 835 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.

Even if his offense remains a question as a .246 lifetime hitter according to William Hill Sports, the Orioles already like what they’ve seen from Snider defensively as he will potentially replace a two-time Gold Glove winner in right field. The left-handed thrower was viewed as a good defender in Pittsburgh and was frequently used as a defensive replacement when not in the starting lineup.

“I don’t care who you are, you always have these preconceived ideas and visual and then you actually see it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I watched Travis Snider run two balls down in right field during [batting practice]. You take something out of everything.”

After five disappointing years with Toronto in which he could never live up to his potential as the 14th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Snider was traded to Pittsburgh midway through the 2012 season. His improvement at the plate hardly came overnight — the left-handed hitter batted just .215 in 2013 — but he credits the winning culture in Pittsburgh over the last two years for changing his mindset, which led to his own improvement in 2014.

After being acquired in exchange for minor-league pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Steven Vault, Snider believes playing for a club that has advanced to the postseason in two of the last three years and is coming off its first division title in 17 years is the perfect environment to pick up where he left off in his final year with the Pirates.

“I’ve been able to take some steps forward in my career and the way I approach each day by remaining focused on each day and not worrying about stat lines or box scores and those types of things,” Snider said. “As a young player, I got caught up worrying too much about myself. Being part of a winning culture, it made it easy to buy in and knowing that you’re playing for each other and the pressure is taken off of your personal accolades and put onto the team and what you have to do each night to get the win. It makes baseball a whole lot more fun when you play that way.”

With Snider and the impending signing of infielder Everth Cabrera the only notable position players added to the mix this winter, the Orioles will likely need a breakout performance from an unheralded name similar to what they received from Steve Pearce a year ago to give themselves the best chance to make it back to the postseason. A former Pirate himself, Pearce rose from anonymity at age 31 last year to hit 21 home runs and post a .930 OPS and is now being counted on to fill a regular role this season.

It’s the perfect example to which a player like Snider can aspire after years of failing to live up to expectations as one of the best prospects in the game.

“Steve Pearce was one of the best stories in baseball last year, and that was one of the first things that I told him,” Snider said. “Understanding that this game and this business doesn’t always go the way that we plan, the guys that are able to overcome that adversity and make the most of those opportunities [succeed]. It was a lot of fun for me to watch him do what he did last year.

“We all get humbled at some point in this game. Opportunities come and opportunities go, but understanding where that focus remains and to see guys go out there and do what he did last year, that’s pretty cool.”

The opportunity will be there for Snider this season, but it will be up to him to take advantage.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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?

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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?”

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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.

 

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