Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Improving starting pitching complicated matter for Orioles

Posted on 19 January 2016 by Luke Jones

We know the Orioles need another starting pitcher.

In an ideal world, they’d add two to help fill the void of free-agent departure Wei-Yin Chen — their most consistent starter over the last four seasons — and provide more assistance to a staff that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA last year.

But even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette does add a starter between now and the start of the season, refining from within will be paramount if the Orioles are to improve from the 81-81 record that left them on the outside looking in last October.

The starting pitching details from the end of 2015 are all too familiar by now.

Bud Norris was downright awful before finally being jettisoned in late July.

A declining strikeout rate (7.8 per nine innings in 2013 down to 6.2 last year) and a nightmarish 11.72 ERA in six starts against Toronto — his ERA against the rest of baseball was a respectable 3.84 — led to Chris Tillman’s worst ERA (4.99) since the 2011 season when he was still trying to establish himself as a major league pitcher.

Miguel Gonzalez had a shiny 3.33 ERA in his first dozen starts before a groin injury sent him to the disabled list in mid-June. He was never the same after that, posting a 6.53 ERA in his remaining 14 starts and going on the DL again in September.

For the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, improved command and a greater reliance on his two-seam fastball led to a 2.81 ERA in the first half of 2015 before he relapsed with a 5.63 mark following the All-Star break.

And the Orioles are hoping that a full season in the starting rotation for the 25-year-old Kevin Gausman will allow him to take the giant step forward many believe he’s capable of.

It’s easy to say that manager Buck Showalter needs more from these four starters, but what about other factors impact their pitching results?

As discussed extensively at the end of last season, the defense performing more like it did in 2014 would go a long way in helping a starting rotation that largely pitches to contact. However, the man receiving the pitches is also an important factor in their results.

That’s where the discussion becomes complicated with Matt Wieters accepting the $15.8 million qualifying offer for the 2016 season. The three-time All-Star catcher is better than Caleb Joseph offensively, but is Wieters — who won Gold Glove awards in 2011 and 2012 — the best catching option for Orioles pitching at this point?

Not according to the 2015 numbers with the departed Chen included below:

     2015 ERA pitching to Joseph      2015 ERA pitching to Wieters
Tillman 3.51 in 77 IP 4.88 in 83 IP
Gonzalez 4.18 in 71 IP 5.98 in 46 2/3 IP
Jimenez 2.87 in 144 1/3 IP 8.62 in 39 2/3 IP
Gausman 4.07 in 59 2/3 IP 4.38 in 51 1/3 IP
Chen 3.67 in 108 IP 3.18 in 65 IP

 

To be clear, these numbers alone don’t prove anything conclusive as Chen was the Orioles’ top starter and the only one to find more success with Wieters than Joseph last year. There are plenty of other factors impacting pitcher performance in this breakdown such as the opponents and the ballpark. Wieters also received most of his work behind the plate in the second half of 2015 when Gonzalzez and Jimenez were out of whack, and it would be wrong to significantly attribute their struggles to the veteran catcher’s return.

With Wieters being another year removed from Tommy John surgery, it would be fair to assume he’ll be more comfortable with pitch-calling after not catching in the majors for over a year and still spending time rehabbing even after his return in early June. It’s not as though Tillman and Gonzalez weren’t successful working with Wieters in 2012 and 2013 when both had consecutive seasons pitching to ERAs well below 4.00.

But more and more data is quantifying pitch-framing and how important it can be to a staff’s success, and this is where Joseph has proven to be valuable over the last two seasons. According to Baseball Prospectus, Joseph ranked ninth in the majors in called strikes above average and 10th in framing runs among qualified catchers last season after ranking seventh in CSAA and ninth in framing runs in 2014 when the starting rotation was among the best in the league in the second half.

Simply put, Joseph positions himself and receives the ball so effectively that he receives more called strikes on borderline pitches than the average catcher.

In contrast, Wieters — who is listed to be two inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Joseph — has been a below-average framer over the last few years after being a top 10 performer in that area early in his career. Before posting below-average framing numbers in parts of the last two seasons, Wieters ranked 25th in CSAA and 26th in framing runs in his last full season in 2013 and finished 13th in both categories in 2012.

When you have starters who mostly lack the electric stuff required to miss bats consistently, pitching along the edges of the strike zone becomes even more important than it already is. Stealing as many borderline strikes as possible may not turn a terrible pitching staff into a great one, but it can still go a long way over the course of a full season. This is how Orioles pitching would benefit having Joseph behind the plate more often than Wieters.

We’ll see how Showalter ultimately distributes the playing time, but all signs point to Wieters being the primary catcher and that wouldn’t be surprising given the steep financial commitment being made to him for the 2016 season. This will likely provide a boost from an offensive standpoint, but you hope the hidden cost won’t be too harmful to a starting rotation needing all the help it can get if the Orioles are to jump back into serious contention after their first non-winning season since 2011.

Ultimately, the Orioles need better performance from their incumbent starting pitchers and that responsibility mostly falls on their shoulders, but effective framing and stronger defense would further augment the strides they hope to make in 2016.

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Davis deal creates window Orioles can’t squander

Posted on 16 January 2016 by Luke Jones

After years of clamoring for owner Peter Angelos to spend big money, Orioles fans finally got their wish on Saturday with first baseman Chris Davis agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million deal.

Even with the $42 million deferred without interest through 2037 easing the short-term burden, the contract nearly doubled the $85.5 million deal awarded to Adam Jones in 2012, which had been the richest in franchise history. No, Davis wasn’t cheap as many have criticized the length and money in the deal, especially with the apparent lack of competitors vying for his services. There’s little disputing the likelihood of the last few years of the deal not being pretty, but that’s the drawback of signing most marquee free agents in baseball.

In the end, the Orioles kept the most prolific home-run hitter in the majors over the last four seasons, and that’s something fans can rightfully celebrate, especially after watching the trio of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller depart via free agency last offseason.

But what does this mean for 2016 and beyond? After all, you better be looking at the big picture when you’ve committed to paying an individual a total of $161 million through his 51st birthday.

No one can say the Orioles haven’t spent big money this offseason after giving a four-year, $31 million contract to a non-closer reliever — even if it is 2015 All-Star selection Darren O’Day — and now making a nine-figure investment in Davis. The problem is that paying incumbents more money doesn’t magically make them better players, nor can you expect them to be.

These are the types of moves a club makes when it’s going “all in” to try to win a championship, which is why fans can hope there’s more to come. There needs to be more, quite frankly.

Already with a franchise-record payroll — which also includes one-year deals of $15.8 million and $9.15 million for Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo, respectively — the roster isn’t terribly different from where it stood at the end of 2015 with an 81-81 record. Swapping out starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and outfielder Gerardo Parra for Trumbo and Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim all but covers it.

The Orioles have the makings of a powerful lineup with a good infield defense and an excellent bullpen for 2016, but what about the starting pitching?

Bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez and a breakthrough campaign by the young Kevin Gausman would go a long way in making up for the departure of Chen, but you’d still likely be looking at no more than an average starting rotation with a total question mark in the No. 5 spot. You can’t lose your top starter in a rotation that ranked 14th in the American League a year ago and expect to contend without doing something beyond crossing your fingers.

And Baltimore remains too vulnerable at the corner outfield spots — offensively and defensively — the same flaw that helped sink their fortunes a year ago.

The Orioles have spent plenty, but they have too many holes to be a serious pennant contender as presently constructed. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette doesn’t need to take the payroll to ridiculous lengths, mind you, but he needs a starting pitcher and another corner outfielder of some quality.

The organization needs to be all in — not just two-thirds of the way.

Spending long-term money on Davis and O’Day makes little sense if the Orioles aren’t going to do what it takes to try to get over the hump while making improvements to the farm system over the next three years. That’s how long the window figures to stay open with the current core before Manny Machado and Adam Jones are scheduled to hit free agency at the end of 2018.

Short of having a payroll more closely resembling the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Yankees, you wouldn’t think the Orioles will have a great chance of keeping both Machado and Jones, so they need to be willing to spend a little more in the meantime while finding and developing young talent.

It’s up to ownership and management to determine whether the Davis signing means that they’ve merely kept a big-time power hitter and popular player on an OK club or that they are going to give themselves a good chance to win a championship. What amounts to a $42 million interest-free loan from Davis should provide the flexibility to do some more this offseason and over the next couple winters.

At the end of the day, putting yourself in position to try to win the World Series is what matters.

Re-signing Davis was a big step, but only if more is done to get there.

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Orioles should only close door on Davis with real alternative in place

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles need to make improvements for the 2016 season.

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t need to re-sign slugger Chris Davis in order to accomplish that.

Of course, it’s exciting to know that the organization has made a reported seven-year, $150 million offer, which would obliterate the previous franchise-record contract of $85.5 million awarded to Adam Jones in 2012. And keeping Davis would make life easier for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles in trying to compete in the American League East in 2016 and beyond.

But it’s not the only means of building a winner. Re-signing Davis alone isn’t enough as the Orioles finished only 81-81 with him clubbing 47 home runs. They would still have needs in the starting rotation and outfield to address.

Let’s also not forget a 96-66 mark that netted a division championship came during Davis’ worst season in Baltimore.

It isn’t all about home runs as the Orioles have had the major league leader in each of the last three seasons and have just one playoff appearance over that time to show for it. The point is there are numerous ways to construct a winner if you’re willing to put in the work and spend wisely.

According to CBSSports.com, Davis is seeking an eight-year, $200 million contract, which has drawn the ire of many fans believing he’s not worth such lucrative money. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that the market alone dictates what a player is ultimately worth, and as of late Wednesday night, no other club was known to have a better offer on the table, which was good news for the Orioles.

Neither Davis nor the Orioles should take the negotiations personally.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette shouldn’t bid against himself, but super agent Scott Boras knows it’s barely mid-December and the market has been slower to develop for premier position players than top-shelf starting pitchers. It’s well within the interest of his client to wait if he’s looking for the best possible deal — Boras has done this countless times over the years — but the Orioles have no obligation to be the ones on standby for an extended time while alternatives dissipate and Davis continues to seek a more attractive offer.

They just can’t be surprised by this.

Yes, this is where it gets tricky for the Orioles. This is where fans can judge whether the organization is really deserving of praise for their efforts to re-sign the hulking first baseman.

Duquette and Showalter continue to point to the possibility of moving on from Davis if a deal isn’t struck sooner rather than later. It’s sound negotiating, but only if they have a real alternative ready to agree to a contract on the spot. And, no, that doesn’t mean a cheap deal with former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez before making a few other bargain-basement signings and calling it a winter.

The only reason the Orioles should walk away from Davis at this point is if they already have a high-impact agreement with someone like Justin Upton or Alex Gordon or Scott Kazmir or — better yet — with more than one of those names. Otherwise, the act of “closing the door” on Davis while merely talking about alternatives is not only a hollow tactic that burns a bridge, but it wouldn’t help negotiations with other free agents who would then know Davis is no longer an option.

Worst of all, it could become an empty promise to an anxious fan base. Understanding how Boras operates, the Orioles had to know this was a distinct possibility, making cynics doubt their true intentions if they’re to swiftly walk away from negotiations without something else significant already in place.

It means nothing for the Orioles to say they gave it the “old college try” to keep Davis if it’s followed by a return to the operating procedure we witnessed last offseason. A special $150 million investment from owner Peter Angelos allocated for Davis and no one else would make little sense with there being countless other ways — perhaps better ones — to augment the club with that kind of money.

In truth, it may not be wise to give Davis $150 million, let alone to consider offering him an amount even closer to what he wants. Just ask the folks in Philadelphia how the Ryan Howard deal has worked out, and he was a former league MVP who had twice led the majors in home runs. And then there’s that matter of trying to sign Manny Machado to a long-term contract in the not-too-distant future, something that will take even more money to do.

The current scenario with Davis would have been preposterous a year ago with him coming off a season in which he hit .196 and was suspended 25 games for Adderall use. But here the sides are with the Orioles saying they’re willing to give the biggest contract in club history if Davis wants to sign it.

Most fans are applauding the club’s effort, but it won’t mean a thing unless the Orioles succeed in either getting it done or walking away because they’ve made another high-impact move instead. To hastily cut off negotiations without a substantial plan B firmly in place would be questionable strategy and will only lead fans to wonder if they were ever fully serious about signing Davis considering Boras’ normal tactics of waiting it out for other clubs to jump into the mix.

Make no mistake, it’s good to see the Orioles pursuing a high-priced free agent. If a deal gets done, it’s a significant step for an organization with a long track record of being unwilling to spend big dollars. If the Orioles don’t sign Davis, they should be judged based on what happens after that — not praised simply because they tried to keep him.

One can only hope it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition that’s more for show than anything else.

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Facing many changes, Orioles can only wonder what’s next

Posted on 05 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Chris Davis hit two home runs, Matt Wieters drove in two runs, and Darren O’Day pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Orioles’ 9-4 win over the New York Yankees on the final day of the 2015 season.

A day earlier, Wei-Yin Chen pitched six solid innings to earn the win.

For their four biggest free agents, the weekend served as a final reminder of just how important they’ve been to the club’s turnaround as the Orioles finished their fourth consecutive non-losing season on Sunday, something they hadn’t done in three decades. Of course, 81 wins in 2015 were disappointing after 96 victories and an American League East title a year ago, but even a .500 standard felt unreachable just five years ago when Buck Showalter first arrived.

Now, it’s considered a failure.

“Every time there’s the first hint of fall in the air, I want people to think about playoff baseball and the World Series,” said Showalter, who managed Sunday’s game after his mother passed away on Saturday. “That’s why we get up in the morning, that’s why you go to spring training, that’s why you do the things we’re going to do between now and next February. We’re not giving in.

“It’s not good enough though. It’s not good enough. [A record of] 81-81 ain’t good enough. We’re trying to win. We want to be the last team standing, the last city standing. Our city deserves that.”

By now, no one should doubt Showalter leading the way in the dugout, but even the most optimistic fans are questioning the future after the Orioles posted the best record in the AL over the last four seasons with a .543 winning percentage. With so many pending free agents and the Orioles’ offseason track record, many doubt whether 81 wins will even be a reasonable goal for the 2016 club without ownership making significant financial commitments.

The general consensus is that the Orioles will survive without Wieters, who still hasn’t proven he can be an everyday catcher again after last year’s Tommy John surgery. For a fraction of the price, Caleb Joseph can provide respectable offense and better defense than Wieters at this stage of his career.

But replacing the other big-ticket free agents is a different story.

Davis just led the majors in home runs for the second time in three years and has clubbed 159 over his four full seasons in Baltimore. It’s the kind of power rarely seen in this pitching-rich era of baseball, but are the Orioles willing to offer a nine-figure contract to even sit down at the negotiating table with agent Scott Boras?

We know what history says until executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and owner Peter Angelos prove us wrong. If not, the Orioles will be allowing a major league home run champion to depart for a second consecutive winter.

Though far from an ace, Chen was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher in 2015 with a career-best 3.34 ERA. The 30-year-old lefty has never pitched 200 innings in a season and will likely command more money than he’s worth as a middle-of-the-rotation starter on the open market, but Baltimore lacks the pitching depth to replace him from within like the best organizations will often do. For a club that finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA and gave up 100 more runs than it did a year ago, replacing Chen will be much more difficult than letting him leave.

And then there’s O’Day, who was claimed off waivers after the 2011 season and has been the backbone of the Orioles’ biggest strength over the last four years. The right-hander just made 68 or more appearances for the fourth consecutive season and lowered his ERA each year. Rarely is it wise to spend significant money on relievers, but the 32-year-old has arguably been the best non-closer relief pitcher in the majors over the last four years. Baltimore has other young relievers such as Brad Brach and Mychal Givens who pitched well in 2015, but weakening the club’s biggest strength would be a dangerous proposition.

The Orioles will also need to make decisions on the likes of Gerardo Parra, Steve Pearce, and Nolan Reimold as they try to fix the corner outfield spots that were a disaster in 2015. Parra disappointed after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline while Pearce and Reimold should only be viewed as reserves at most.

Reinforcements in the minors appear few and far between at this point as outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker barely garnered a look in September promotions. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson may eventually settle into bullpen roles, but neither are viable options to pencil into the 2016 starting rotation if the Orioles have visions of contending. Oft-injured pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is out of minor-league options next year, but to expect anything more than a bullpen role for him to begin 2016 would be foolish.

The harsh truth is that the aforementioned decisions all involve players who were already part of a .500 club. The goal is to be better than 81-81, right?

For example, even if the Orioles were to re-sign Davis, O’Day, and Parra, what do they do to improve their starting rotation and the other outfield spot flanking Adam Jones in center?

Improving from .500 in 2016 will also depend on at least a few incumbents bouncing back from underwhelming seasons. Starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were clear disappointments while the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman didn’t take the step forward you would have liked to see. Given the track records of the previous three seasons for Tillman and Gonzalez and the potential of Gausman, it’s probably reasonable to expect at least two of those three to be better in 2016 than they were this season.

But that still leaves an open rotation spot and doesn’t even consider the enigma that is Ubaldo Jimenez, who has two years remaining on his $50 million contract. To be serious about contending in 2016, the Orioles need to find another starter to at least slot into the top half of the rotation and should probably add another arm to compete for the No. 5 spot at the very least.

Easier said than done.

More improvement from within is always possible as the Orioles hope that shortstop J.J. Hardy can be better at the plate after playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season. Even a return to his 2014 production would be welcomed after Hardy was a liability at the plate with a career-worst .564 on-base plus slugging percentage this year.

Can Jonathan Schoop be even better have improving his OPS from .598 as a rookie to .788 this season?

Is there yet another level for the 23-year-old Manny Machado to climb after he already became one of the best players in baseball this year? It’d be unfair to expect that, but he’s certainly a special talent.

Many questions and few answers for the Orioles as they potentially say goodbye to a number of key contributors from the last four years while exploring ways to not only fill those voids but improve from an 81-81 record in 2015. And that’s not even taking into account the concerns surrounding the working relationship of Duquette and Showalter.

No, the Orioles reaching the .500 mark in Sunday’s finale wasn’t the end goal they had in mind.

But you wonder whether they can even reach that plateau next year with such an uncertain offseason ahead.

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Orioles can only wonder what might have been while looking to 2016

Posted on 17 September 2015 by Luke Jones

It was one year ago Wednesday that the Orioles officially clinched their first American League East title since 1997.

But this Sept. 16 brought a much different feeling as many in an announced crowd of 22,642 at Camden Yards were chased away by an early 9-0 deficit and the Orioles wrapped up their penultimate homestand of 2015 with a 10-1 loss to Boston.

Under typical circumstances, winning three consecutive series and completing a 4-2 homestand are nice consolations in a blowout defeat, but the Orioles now embark on a 10-game road trip trailing the second wild card spot by 5 1/2 games, needing a historic finish to even give themselves a chance. Baltimore not only would need to catch Houston, but three other clubs — Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Cleveland — must be passed in the process, making any loss devastating at this point.

The many reasons for the Orioles’ shortcomings are obvious in mid-September as a terrible offseason led to a maddeningly inconsistent offense and the starting pitching that was so strong last season completely fell apart in 2015. But even with the well-documented free-agent departures, the offensive struggles, and the poor starter ERA, the Orioles can still point to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games that began in late August and lasted through Labor Day — their worst baseball over that period of time in four years — and wonder what might have been had they avoided such a dramatic slide.

Even going 6-7 over those 13 games — hardly an impressive feat — would have left the Orioles only 1/2 game behind Houston for the second wild card as they began a road trip against Tampa Bay, Washington, and Boston.

Of course, you can pick out any stretch of prosperity or futility over 162 games for these types of arguments as someone else could say the Orioles would be locked into last place had they not won 18 of 23 games in June. Ultimately, they’re right where they deserve to be after playing such inconsistent baseball over 5 1/2 months, but that 1-12 stretch that began with a stunning four-game sweep at home against the Twins will likely eat at Buck Showalter and his players throughout the winter.

Pondering next year’s rotation

With a 4.61 starter ERA ranking 14th out of 15 AL clubs and their most consistent starter Wei-Yin Chen set to become a free agent, the Orioles will be faced with the unenviable task of revamping a rotation that became their biggest weakness after being a strength in 2014.

Realistically, which pitchers make up your starting five next season?

Assuming super agent Scott Boras will command No. 2 starter money and a long-term contract for the 30-year-old Chen, the Orioles are unlikely to sign him and he may not bring the greatest return on a big-money contract anyway. The Taiwanese lefty remains on pace to allow a career-high 31 home runs and has never pitched 200 innings in a season, but he will still be difficult to replace.

Chris Tillman is in the midst of a poor season skewed dramatically by his nightmarish struggles against Toronto (15.50 ERA in five starts), but his track record over the previous three seasons all but guarantees him a spot in the 2016 rotation. That said, extension talks should be tabled for now.

Kevin Gausman hasn’t taken the step forward you’d like to have seen in 2015, but much of that can be attributed to the organization’s poor decision to put him in the bullpen to begin the year. Whether he ever becomes a top-of-the-rotation guy remains to be seen, but he’s shown enough to be one of the five.

Ubaldo Jimenez? You’d love to dump that contract, but there are 26.5 million reasons over the next two years to think a trade is unlikely to happen.

Miguel Gonzalez was in the midst of the worst two-month stretch of his career before going to the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis earlier this month, but he was too good for three years just to bury him. Maybe he shouldn’t be promised a rotation spot, but he’ll enter the spring with every opportunity to earn one.

Dylan Bundy will be out of minor-league options, but his lack of experience still makes him a long shot to fill anything but a long relief role to begin 2016. The former first-round pick needs to prove he can stay healthy before anything else is even discussed.

Sure, young pitchers such as Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright will garner looks — the latter seems destined for the bullpen with his latest struggles — but it’s clear executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be looking to add at least one impact starting pitcher — a second would really help — to augment the rotation. Beyond that, you can be cautiously optimistic that the track records of the incumbents will lead to at least a couple bounce-back performances in 2016.

Below Par-ra

Remember the angst over the Orioles needing to re-sign outfielder Gerardo Parra this offseason when he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies at the trade deadline?

The 28-year-old was in the midst of the best season of his career with a .328 average and an .886 on-base plus slugging percentage at the time of the trade, but he’s hit just .226 with a .619 OPS with Baltimore and has been worth -0.6 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Instead of providing the spark the Orioles needed for the final two months, Parra has been swallowed up by the Orioles’ 2015 corner-outfield wasteland.

At the time of the trade, the Orioles were essentially hoping to cash in on another club’s version of a 2014 Steve Pearce for the final two months, but Parra has been worse than the player he was over the first six years of his career when he sported a .720 OPS. His career .595 OPS against left-handed pitching makes him an obvious platoon player, which is how Showalter has used him over the last couple weeks.

Even if the club feels inclined to bring him back — to be fair, he’s better than what he’s shown so far with the Orioles — Parra should hardly be viewed as a priority and doesn’t deserve big-time money to stay as he’s been no better for the Orioles than the likes of Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider were this season.

Managing Hardy

Watching J.J. Hardy post Belanger-like numbers for Ripken-like money in 2015 has been painful, but a portion of the blame probably needs to go to Showalter.

It’s no secret that Hardy has dealt with several physical ailments that have led to his OPS free-falling from .738 in 2013 to .682 last season to a career-worst .552 in 2015, but a simple look at his game log shows inadequate consideration for his long-term health. Not counting time he’s actually spent on the DL or when he’s missed a few games with a specific injury, Hardy has received very few games off over long stretches of time. For example, the veteran shortstop started every game the Orioles played from June 5 through Aug. 11, only enjoying rest provided by the schedule or the weather gods.

In order to salvage the final two seasons of a three-year, $40 million contract signed last October, not only does Hardy need to find a way to get healthy in the offseason and stay that way, but the Orioles can no longer treat him like a player who’s going to play 155-plus games a season. Periodic days off and resting him for day games after night contests like a catcher should become the norm for the 33-year-old dealing with back and shoulder problems. Sliding over Manny Machado or playing Ryan Flaherty at shortstop more often is worth it if it means Hardy can contribute more at the plate.

Hardy’s defense remains good, but his offense has been a substantial liability this season. No one should expect a return to his level of production from 2011-2013, but the Orioles need Hardy to at least offer what he did at the plate in 2014 to prevent his contract from being a total disaster over the next two years. More rest over the course of the season would appear to give him a better chance of doing that.

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Davis’ two longest bombs of year give Orioles temporary relief

Posted on 03 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Chris Davis’ longest home run of the year and the emphatic bat flip that followed are unlikely to save the season, but the Orioles could breathe a temporary sigh of relief on Wednesday night after they hadn’t led over their previous 51 innings before the walk-off blow against Tampa Bay.

The 459-foot blast to the back of the right-center bleachers in the bottom of the 11th came after a 446-foot shot in the fourth inning that had been his longest homer of the 2015 season. His 37th and 38th long balls of the year were instrumental in the Orioles snapping a six-game losing streak, but the precursor for his breakout performance may have come a night earlier.

With Baltimore trailing 11-0 to Tampa Bay in the late innings and Buck Showalter looking to give his biggest stars — Davis, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado — a breather, the first baseman asked his manager to let him stay in the game. Like many of his teammates, Davis was angry and just didn’t feel like throwing in the towel on what would be the Orioles’ 12th loss in 13 games.

The lefty slugger hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to avoid a shutout, inconsequential to the game’s outcome but maybe a trigger for one of Davis’ patented hot streaks.

“I understand Jonesy playing center field every day, Manny playing third every day,” said Davis about his request to remain in Tuesday’s game while his teammates exited early. “I had a DH [day] in Texas and had a chance to get my legs under me a little bit and I wanted to stay in that game. I didn’t like the way things were going. I didn’t like the way I was playing, and I just wanted to try to get something started.

“There may have been some carryover [to Wednesday], but I think more than anything, it was just an attitude. ‘It’s not over. Enough’s enough.’ And just trying to turn it around.”

With the Orioles entering the off-day still five games below .500 and 6 1/2 games behind the second wild card in the American League, now it’s about looking toward the future with Davis set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Fans certainly hope Baltimore’s future involves Davis remaining a fixture in the heart of the lineup, but he won’t come cheap as he closes in on the second 40-homer season of his career.

The 29-year-old has hit 150 home runs since the start of 2012 and has hit at least 33 in three of his four full seasons with the Orioles.

“The guy’s going to hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs,” Showalter said. “He posts up every day. And like the story I told you, him playing the last inning or two [Tuesday] night might have been the key to tonight and the rest of our season. Those are the little things that go unnoticed.”

Davis’ rebound campaign from a disastrous 2014 certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, begging a crucial question to be asked.

After watching Nelson Cruz depart last offseason, can the Orioles really afford to lose a 40-homer slugger for a second year in a row both on the field and in the eyes of their fan base?

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Struggling Gonzalez undergoes MRI on shoulder, elbow

Posted on 01 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Performing poorly for more than two months, Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday as he’s been experiencing discomfort in his right elbow and shoulder.

Manager Buck Showalter said after the 11-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that the exam revealed only inflammation and no structural concerns, but the 31-year-old has already received a cortisone injection in his shoulder and is expected to at least miss a start or two. The right-handed hurler could pitch again later this month, according to Showalter.

“It was a positive report. They didn’t find any structural damage,” Showalter said. “We’re going to let that quiet down [and] see if we can get him ready to pitch again. It was as good news as you could expect.”

Gonzalez sported a 3.33 ERA when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain on June 11. Since returning in late June, the right-hander has pitched to a 6.49 ERA that’s elevated his season mark to a robust 4.85.

Signed to a minor-league contract prior to the 2012 season, Gonzalez posted an ERA of 3.78 or better in each of his first three seasons with the Orioles and has been a mainstay in the starting rotation for two postseason clubs over that time. The organization had hoped there was nothing structurally wrong with his elbow since he already underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009.

The Orioles no longer plan to place Gonzalez on the DL, which would have allowed them to recall another player who has not fulfilled his 10-day minimum in the minors such as the recently-demoted Henry Urrutia.

On Tuesday, right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson (oblique) threw a four-inning simulated game and fellow right-hander Mike Wright (calf) started for Norfolk, pitching six shutout innings in a win over Charlotte. Wright is considered a strong option to replace Gonzalez in the Baltimore starting rotation.

Showalter had been considering pushing right-hander Kevin Gausman’s start back to Friday in Toronto, but the 24-year-old will pitch the finale against the Rays as scheduled.

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Schoop coming into own since returning from knee injury

Posted on 20 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Lost in the excitement surrounding Henry Urrutia’s walk-off home run for the Orioles on Wednesday night was the bounce-back performance from Jonathan Schoop.

After his worst game of the season in which he committed two errors, dropped a relay throw, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s loss to the New York Mets, Schoop took accountability for his performance, saying he played poorly and needed to be better for his teammates.

A factor often overlooked because he didn’t make it to the majors until more than a year after a then-20-year-old Manny Machado, Schoop is a young player in his own right, just nine months older than the two-time All-Star third baseman. But the Orioles were confident in his ability to bounce back quickly as he shook off two difficult at-bats against Mets starter Noah Syndergaard on Wednesday to belt a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

The blast came on a Syndergaard curve, the same pitch that had given fits to Schoop earlier in the game.

“Jon’s right where he should be for a college senior [by age],” manager Buck Showalter said. “I feel confident he’ll be as good as he’s capable of being. He cares, he cares. Like a lot of young guys, he’s impressionable and you want to have the right people around him. Same thing with Manny.

“Jon’s become more and more confident with his take on things, which is good.”

Schoop is also becoming more confident at the plate as he entered Thursday’s series opener with Minnesota sporting a .301 average with nine home runs, 24 RBIs, and an .865 on-base plus slugging percentage in 164 plate appearances. The 23-year-old’s play is impressive considering a right knee injury cost him nearly three months of action at a time so critical to a young hitter’s development.

After hitting .209 with 16 homers, 45 RBIs, and a .598 OPS as a rookie, Schoop has improved his homer rate (3.3 to 5.5 percent) and improved his strikeout rate (25.4 to 20.7 percent) from a year ago. According to Baseball Reference, Schoop was worth 1.5 wins above replacement in 2014 with most of that value derived from his defense, but he has already been valued this year at 1.4 wins above replacement in what amounts to just over a quarter of a season.

Such impressive talent coupled with the words of teammates like Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy made it a foregone conclusion that Schoop would be fine despite a forgettable night on Tuesday.

“To be honest, I’ve got great teammates and coaching staff,” Schoop said. “They talked to me and made me feel like that wasn’t me. Like I said yesterday, I have to play better, especially this time of year with focus. All those guys told me everybody has a bad day. Just flush it out and get it tomorrow.”

Those bad days have been few and far between for Schoop as he’s on the verge of becoming a mainstay in the heart of the Orioles lineup.

Injury report

Steve Pearce (oblique) began his minor-league rehab assignment for the Gulf Coast League Orioles on Thursday, going 1-for-4.

The outfielder and first baseman will play there again on Friday — including defense after serving as the designated hitter in his first game — before reporting to a minor-league affiliate closer to Baltimore over the weekend. Showalter was noncommittal about the possibility of Pearce being ready to rejoin the Orioles to begin the road trip on Monday, citing that the 32-year-old has missed more than a month of action and will need some time to get back into a groove.

Despite initial optimism that right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe (right shoulder tendinitis) would be ready to rejoin the Orioles when eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, Showalter indicated his activation would be closer to Sept. 1.

Right-handed pitcher Mike Wright (calf strain) will throw a three-inning, 45-pitch simulated game on Saturday.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey threw a 25-pitch bullpen session as he continues to go through his throwing progression. The 20-year-old right-hander and 2013 first-round pick has been sidelined all season due to a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, but the Orioles hope to see him pitch this autumn in either the instructional league or the Arizona Fall League.

The Orioles expect Norfolk right-hander Tyler Wilson to get back on a mound shortly as his oblique strain continues to improve.

 

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Pearce, Roe inching closer toward return to Orioles

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles continue to search for consistent production in left field, outfielder and first baseman Steve Pearce appears to be moving closer to a return from an oblique strain.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets that Pearce took live batting practice in Sarasota, but the 32-year-old was hit in the back by a pitch in his third at-bat, bringing an end to his session. Should Pearce respond well to hitting live pitching and feel no ill effects from the hit by pitch, the Orioles are hoping to send him on a minor-league rehab assignment in the near future.

Baltimore is currently using a platoon of Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold in left field after exhausting a number of unsuccessful options over the course of the 2015 season. Of course, Pearce was in the midst of a poor campaign of his own with a .227 average in 193 plate appearances, but he might represent the organization’s best internal option of receiving production in left field if he can channel his 2014 success over the final weeks of the season.

Pearce was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on July 22 and is eligible to be activated at any point. After a horrendous start in which he batted just .183 through June 3, Pearce was hitting .321 with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage over his last 59 plate appearances before the injury.

In other health-related news, right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe threw off flat ground on Wednesday, the first time he’s picked up a baseball since being placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis. Roe will repeat that task a couple more times before throwing off a mound and could then go on a brief minor-league rehab assignment.

He is eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 25, and the club remains hopeful that he will be able to return close to that date if he isn’t quite ready at the conclusion of the minimum 15 days.

Showalter said Matt Wieters’s hamstring felt good after returning to the lineup on Tuesday. The catcher also took a foul tip off his knee in the 5-3 loss to the Mets, but he stayed in the game.

The Orioles signed left-handed reliever Mike Belfiore to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. He made his major league debut for Baltimore in 2013, but the 26-year-old appeared in only one game.

After officially being released by the Orioles, outfielder Travis Snider has signed a minor-league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the club that traded him to Baltimore last winter.

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Joseph, Clevenger offer possible glimpse into Orioles catching future

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Over the final two games of the Oakland series, Orioles catchers on the 25-man roster collected two home runs, three doubles, and nine RBIs.

That production came with Matt Wieters sidelined due to a hamstring issue as Baltimore completed a four-game sweep over the hapless Athletics. And it could offer a glimpse into the Orioles’ future at the position with Wieters set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Could the combination of Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger — or another quality backup paired with the former — make the decision not to re-sign Wieters an easier one?

The notion isn’t as far-fetched as it would have sounded a year ago when you consider the three-time All-Star selection still isn’t catching consecutive games 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Wieters was always going to be a challenge to re-sign because of super agent Scott Boras, but would giving a lucrative long-term contract to a catcher approaching the wrong side of 30 even be the right move for a club with other holes to address this offseason?

In 272 plate appearances this season, Joseph has hit .255 with 11 homers, 43 RBIs, a .323 on-base percentage, and a .780 on-base plus slugging percentage. In contrast, Wieters has batted .278 with five homers, 17 RBIs, a .305 on-base percentage, and a .755 OPS in 167 plate appearances. Couple that similar offensive production with the fact that the 29-year-old Joseph is under club control through the 2020 season and you have a sound argument in favor of going with the cheaper option, especially if you pair Joseph with a good backup catcher that can spell him two or three times a week in a timeshare that would keep him fresh and help his offense as we’ve seen it do since Wieters has returned.

That’s where Clevenger could enter the picture as he was recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after hitting .305 for the Tides this season. Serving as the designated hitter over the final two games of the Oakland series, Clevenger collected four hits in Sunday’s 18-2 win and blasted a three-run shot off All-Star pitcher Sonny Gray on Monday night, making him the first Oriole actually from Baltimore to homer at Camden Yards.

He’s 10-for-24 with three extra-base hits in his brief time with the Orioles this season.

The sticking point with Clevenger receiving an opportunity to be Baltimore’s backup over the last couple years has been his defense, but manager Buck Showalter and other members of the organization have credited his work ethic and improvement behind the plate, making him a distinct possibility to factor into the catching picture for 2016 and beyond. Of course, the Pigtown native is more of a unknown than Joseph at this point — at least playing with the Orioles — but he has a track record for handling the bat well in the minors despite his defense holding him back.

Similar sentiments were shared about Joseph in the past as he was stuck at Double-A Bowie for four straight seasons, making you wonder if Clevenger could follow in those footsteps as a late bloomer to find success at the major league level.

In his second season in the majors, Joseph has shown himself to be capable of serving in a role much bigger than the traditional backup catcher who plays only once a week. And in limited opportunities this season, Clevenger is stating a case to be the complementary piece to help fill the catching void should Wieters depart.

Taking nothing away from the All-Star catcher, but the Orioles are looking more and more capable of being able to survive without him as his free agency is rapidly approaching.

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