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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay

Posted on 26 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being shut out for the first time this season in a 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup couldn’t even create opportunities with just two hits and three runners reaching scoring position — two in the second inning — over the course of a damp night. The Rays retired 18 of the final 19 Baltimore hitters.

2. Failing to score runs or collect hits is one thing, but the Orioles hit only four balls out of the infield in the entire game. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

3. You couldn’t have asked for much better from Wade Miley, who allowed two runs over seven innings to register his third straight quality start. He won’t sustain his 2.08 ERA, but Miley regaining the form of his early years in Arizona would go a long way in helping Baltimore contend.

4. For the second time in four starts, the walk was Miley’s Achilles heel as he walked six with both runs originating as free passes. For a pitcher with a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings, it’s strange to have outings of seven and six walks already this season.

5. After Ubaldo Jimenez gave the Orioles only 3 1/3 innings on Monday, Miley throwing 116 pitches over seven innings was a bulldog effort to spare the bullpen. He’s averaging 6.5 innings per start so far in 2017.

6. It doesn’t excuse the punchless bats, but Rays manager Kevin Cash scratching scheduled starter Erasmo Ramirez 20 minutes before first pitch because of “uncertain weather conditions” was unusual since there was very little rain until late in the game. I’m guessing that didn’t sit too well with the Orioles.

7. Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo are hovering at the Mendoza line, but the former can chalk up some of that to bad luck as he’s hit a number of balls hard with little to show for it. The same can’t be said for Trumbo, who hasn’t homered since Opening Day.

8. Chris Davis struck out looking for the 14th time this year, which is more than his 13 swinging strikeouts. With him going down looking a career-high 79 times last year, it’s becoming apparent that the first baseman needs to be more aggressive with two strikes.

9. Caleb Joseph had another opportunity to collect his first RBI since 2015 with runners on second and third and two outs in the second, but he struck out looking. He continues to do a good job defensively, but the RBI drought has to be torturing his mind at this point.

10. Darren O’Day turned in his fifth consecutive scoreless appearance and is really quelling the concerns stemming from his poor outings over the first week of the season.

11. The Rays turning Tuesday into a bullpen game worked beautifully, but seeing Cash change pitchers with two outs in the fourth and no serious scoring threat fetched more than a few eye rolls in the crowd and the press box on a less-than-ideal night at Camden Yards.

12. The next few days will be big for Zach Britton and Chris Tillman. Britton will complete a bullpen session on Wednesday and may have a rehab outing on Friday. Tillman is scheduled for a 75-pitch outing for Single-A Frederick on Thursday. If all goes well, both could return very soon.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 09 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their first loss of the season in a 7-3 final against the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Baltimore pitching staff tested its fate throughout the afternoon by walking a total of 11 batters before the floodgates finally opened in the ninth inning. Frankly, the Orioles were fortunate to even have a chance to win with that kind of pitching performance.

2. Darren O’Day getting off to a poor start is concerning after an injury-plagued 2016 season that included hamstring and shoulder ailments. He walked three and gave up four earned runs in the ninth inning and has now issued five free passes in his first two innings of 2017.

3. You won’t find many starts stranger than what Wade Miley offered as he matched a career high with seven walks while giving up one hit in five scoreless innings. For a guy with a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings, you don’t expect control problems like that.

4. Even with those optics, I’d guess most fans would have gladly taken five scoreless frames from the inconsistent left-hander. Of course, it didn’t help that Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman had short outings the previous two nights.

5. You knew the Orioles wouldn’t have their full bullpen Sunday after closer Zach Britton and setup man Brad Brach had pitched four times in the previous six days. Buck Showalter confirmed after the game that those two as well as Oliver Drake were not available for the series finale.

6. Of course, the offense didn’t help matters by managing only three runs before the final 14 Baltimore hitters were retired in the defeat. With Miley on the hill and a short bullpen behind him, the Orioles had to figure they’d need plenty of runs to stay undefeated on Sunday.

7. Tyler Wilson snapped the bullpen’s streak of 17 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the season by giving up a two-run triple to Ronald Torreyes in the sixth. Showalter leaned heavily on his pen to secure the first four wins, but it will catch up to you, especially without much offense.

8. It was good to see Mychal Givens get a key out against lefty-swinging Chase Headley to end the seventh, but he blew his second save by giving up the game-tying home run to right-handed bat Aaron Judge in the eighth. My main concern with Givens is still getting out lefties.

9. The Orioles haven’t seen a ton of Matt Holliday as he’s mostly played in the National League, but the new Yankees designated hitter capped off an impressive weekend by drawing a career-high five walks. The 37-year-old remains a dangerous hitter.

10. Caleb Joseph had a chance to end his long RBI drought, but he grounded out with runners at second and third in the second. He showed in 2014 and 2015 that he can be a good backup catcher, so I’m rooting for him to get through this embarrassing spell.

11. There had to be plenty of groaning in both dugouts after the clubs combined for just two runs despite 13 hitters reaching base over the first three innings. This one was hardly a classic.

12. Some uneasiness about O’Day’s performance is fair after Sunday’s defeat, but the Orioles still finished off a 4-1 homestand to begin the season. The irrational dream of a 162-0 season is over, but you’ll gladly take that kind of a week against two AL East foes.

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2017 Orioles preview: Caleb Joseph

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman
March 3 – Adam Jones
March 4 – Darren O’Day
March 5 – Seth Smith
March 6 – Mike Wright

C Caleb Joseph

Opening Day age: 30

Contract status: Under club control through the 2020 season

2016 stats: .174/.216/.197, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 7 R, 0 SB, 141 PA

Why to be impressed: His extreme struggles at the plate aside, Joseph remained an above-average defensive catcher as he was worth two defensive runs saved and threw out 31 percent of runners attempting to steal. He also remained an asset as a pitch framer and was valued at 2.7 runs above average in that department, according to Stat Corner.

Why to be concerned: Joseph set a major league record for most plate appearances without an RBI in a season, an alarming development hastened by a testicular injury that required surgery and sidelined him for more than a month. His career 7.3 percent extra-base hit rate entering 2016 plummeted to 2.1 percent in 2016 and his contact rate dropped by more than two percent from his first two seasons.

2017 outlook: It’s easy to bury Joseph after a historically-inept season, but his .660 on-base plus slugging percentage over his first 630 major league plate appearances is a reasonable sample suggesting that he can be a solid backup. With a healthy spring and improved luck from his .221 batting average on balls in play in 2016, Joseph should return to being an acceptable reserve with above-average defensive skills.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .222/.280/.360, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 191 PA

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Castillo under microscope as new Orioles catcher

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles weren’t wrong to move on from Matt Wieters when they signed new catcher Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract with a $7 million player option for 2018 in December.

If they truly believe Chance Sisco is their catcher of the future, it would have made little sense to commit big money and multiple years to Wieters after they were stuck paying him the $15.8 million qualifying offer amount last season. And even with the veteran backstop still dangling on the open market in mid-February, the thought of the Orioles possibly playing the waiting game for a starting catcher this late into the offseason just wouldn’t have made sense. Wieters clearly wasn’t signing a short-term deal in mid-December like Castillo did.

Despite agent Scott Boras’ best efforts to create a market for his client, the idea of Wieters has always been better than the real product, which began with the unfair amount of hype he received before ever stepping foot in the majors. It’s dangerous investing in a 30-year-old catcher who’s already had an incredible workload behind the plate and has seen his offense decline over the last five years. For all of the praise for Wieters’ handling of a pitching staff, his pitch-framing numbers are below average and the Buck Showalter-era Orioles pitched at their best in 2014 when he missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery, making you question the true value of those intangibles.

Since being worth 3.5 wins above replacement in the 2012 season, Wieters has been valued at a total of 3.9 WAR in 373 games since the start of 2013.

Of course, none of this will prevent Castillo from being under the microscope this season as he replaces a four-time All-Star selection who was popular in the clubhouse.

Castillo has the edge over Wieters offensively over the last two seasons with a .747 on-base plus slugging percentage compared to the latter’s .723. He’s also a year younger and hasn’t logged nearly as many innings behind the plate in his major league career. Castillo is unlikely to hit in the heart of the order, but his offense shouldn’t be an issue, either.

But there are fair concerns about a catcher now with his fourth major league club since the start of 2015.

You can understand Castillo’s desire to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic, but the Dominican native forgoing the opportunity to better familiarize himself with a new pitching staff can’t sit too well with the organization privately. Whether he’s on the same page with Orioles pitchers early in the season will be something to monitor.

Castillo improved in the pitch-framing department last season — finishing better than Wieters — but he was one of the five worst catchers in the majors over the previous three years, according to StatCorner.com. He worked on this part of his game with former major league catcher Jose Molina — one of the best framers in baseball throughout his career — in the offseason, but spending more time in Sarasota reinforcing these “presentation” principles with bench coach John Russell and projected backup and above-average framer Caleb Joseph would be preferable to playing in the competitive environment of the WBC next month.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound catcher threw out an impressive 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last year, but his 10 passed balls tied for the National League lead. In contrast, Wieters threw out 35 percent and had just one passed ball in 65 more innings behind the plate.

These concerns aren’t secrets, evident by Arizona’s decision not to tender Castillo a contract after a 2.4 WAR season. The Orioles know they signed a catcher with imperfections, but those flaws aren’t terribly different from the more acclaimed catcher who was seeking a much bigger payday.

The Orioles made the right decision to move on from Wieters, but it will be up to Castillo to show they chose the right replacement.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Machado, Britton, Tillman, Schoop

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Facing a 1 p.m. deadline on Friday to exchange salary figures with players eligible for arbitration, the Orioles came to terms on contracts with four key cogs to their success over the last few years.

Third baseman Manny Machado ($11.5 million), closer Zach Britton ($11.4 million), starting pitcher Chris Tillman ($10.05 million), and second baseman Jonathan Schoop ($3.475 million) all agreed to one-year deals for the 2017 season. Tillman is scheduled to become a free agent after the season while Machado and Britton remain under club control until the end of 2018. Schoop does not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

After failing to come to terms, the Orioles exchanged salary figures with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, reliever Brad Brach, and catcher Caleb Joseph. Multiple outlets have reported that the Orioles intend to take a “file-and-trial” approach with any unresolved cases, which would mean they would not negotiate any further with these players before arbitration hearings that would be scheduled for next month.

It comes as no surprise after they played such crucial parts in recent trips to the postseason, but Machado, Britton, Tillman, and Schoop will combine to command nearly $18 million more in salary than they did in 2016. That’s a major reason why the Orioles are projected to have a payroll well north of $150 million for the 2017 season.

Baltimore came to terms on one-year deals with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty ($1.8 million) and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland ($685,000) on Thursday.

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Orioles thoughts on Wieters decision, Britton snub, Showalter as finalist

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles gambled by extending a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters last offseason and ultimately chose not to do it again.

Yes, they were able to keep the 30-year-old for another season when he accepted, but the $15.8 million price tag wasn’t cheap and likely altered the rest of their offseason plans. Wieters earned his fourth trip to the All-Star Game in 2016, but his .243 average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage were his lowest marks since 2013. In fact, his league-adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 87 was the worst of his career and he was worth a decent but unspectacular 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Those are numbers unlikely to improve — or to be maintained — as he gets older.

It’s easy to point to Caleb Joseph’s abysmal 2016 campaign as validation for keeping Wieters last year, but there’s no telling how the backup might have fared had the latter moved on. Joseph had been acceptable at the plate with regular playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Orioles would have added another veteran catcher to the mix anyway.

We also don’t know what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette might have done with an extra $15.8 million at his disposal last winter. As just one example, would the Orioles have been able to sweeten their multi-year offer to outfielder Dexter Fowler — the kind of player they needed at the top of the order in 2016 — to make him change his mind about returning to Chicago?

A year later, arguments for extending Wieters a $17.2 million qualifying offer with thoughts of fetching a compensatory draft pick were certainly valid. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran backstop quelled concerns about his right elbow by playing in 124 games and throwing out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal, making him more appealing to potential suitors than he would have been last year. There’s also the reality of Wieters being the top catcher on the open market after Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL in September.

Observers have pointed to recent deals awarded to Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) as benchmarks for Wieters even though Martin is a superior defensive catcher with similar offensive production and McCann was substantially better as a hitter at the time of his signing.

But a qualifying offer would have also depressed Wieters’ value to other teams, who would have then been required to forfeit their first-round pick to sign him. Would that reality coupled with an underwhelming season at the plate have prompted Wieters and super agent Scott Boras to take another great one-year payout from the Orioles with thoughts of being in decent free-agent position again next year?

It’s hard to say, but you can understand the Orioles’ trepidation.

Replacing Wieters will hardly be a slam dunk, but the Orioles proved in 2014 that his presence isn’t the be-all and end-all of their success as they won 96 games despite him missing most of the season and Joseph and journeyman Nick Hundley handling the catching duties. Manager Buck Showalter and teammates have long praised Wieters’ leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, but there’s also his below-average pitch-framing numbers, his struggles blocking pitches, and sometimes-questionable pitch-calling to consider.

Wieters does offer intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but the perception of him has always been better than the actual player who never met the unreasonable expectations laid out before he even debuted in the majors.

It will be interesting to see how an over-30 catcher already with 7,000 major league innings behind the plate will be valued in the open market without a qualifying offer attached to him.

A draft pick would have been great had Wieters rejected the qualifying offer, but the possibility of having to pay him $17.2 million was too risky with other needs to address and significant raises owed to younger players in arbitration.

He may have been the right player, but it wasn’t the right price.

Britton “snubbed”

I was surprised when All-Star closer Zach Britton wasn’t named a finalist for the 2016 American League Cy Young Award.

Considering the amount of discussion surrounding his candidacy over the last few months, I assumed he would sneak into the top three in the voting conducted at the end of the regular season. However, the Baseball Writers Association of America correctly concluded that very good starting pitchers are still far more valuable than an exceptional closer over the course of a 162-game season.

There’s no disputing that Britton had a historic season with a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, but the lefty also tossed less than one-third of the innings recorded by Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander and only 16 of Britton’s 47 saves came in one-run victories, meaning he was working with some margin for error in roughly two-thirds of those save chances.

That’s not intended to diminish what Britton did, but the context is necessary. A better argument probably could have been made with a bigger workload, but the 28-year-old pitched more than one inning just seven times.

None of the aforementioned AL Cy Young finalists posted an ERA below 3.00, but there’s a reason why virtually all relief pitchers are former starters. It’s far more difficult to succeed going through a lineup multiple times in an outing, and that should still be recognized despite no AL starter standing out with a truly great season in 2016.

Britton absolutely earned the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award and warranted far more consideration for the Cy Young than any relief pitcher in recent years. It would have been great to see him as a finalist, but I can’t go as far as saying it’s a travesty, either.

Showalter as a finalist

It’s unfortunate that Showalter being named a finalist for the AL Manager of the Year now looks like a punchline after his decision not to use Britton in the wild-card game cost the Orioles a better chance of advancing.

A club almost universally picked to finish in fourth or fifth place in the AL East this season qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, a reflection of the exceptional work Showalter has done since arriving in Baltimore in 2010. You can still consider Showalter to be an excellent manager while also believing he made a terrible move that he’ll likely hear about for the rest of his career.

Great doesn’t mean perfect as the Orioles and their fans painfully learned that night.

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Orioles send struggling backup catcher Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to reinstate starting catcher Matt Wieters from the paternity leave list prior to Monday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals, the Orioles demoted backup Caleb Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk.

In an effort to get Joseph some regular at-bats to right his dismal season at the plate, Baltimore elected to keep catcher Francisco Pena on the 25-man roster to back up Wieters for the time being. In 121 plate appearances, Joseph is hitting just .193 with two extra-base hits, no RBIs, and a .450 on-base plus slugging percentage.

He is eligible to return as early as Sept. 1 when major league rosters expand.

“We’d like to get him some at-bats, consistently, with Matt back,” said manager Buck Showalter, who made it clear that Joseph remains in the club’s plans moving forward. “In fact, he would have caught tonight if Matt wasn’t back. We’ve got an opportunity to get him 10 days of at-bats [with] some things he’s been working on. Get him back.

“He probably would have caught maybe once here in those 10 days, maybe twice. We just thought the benefit would be better there. He doesn’t lose any service time or anything. He’ll be back in 10 days.”

In 39 plate appearances this season, Pena has hit .222 with one homer and three RBIs. He filled in as the club’s backup catcher throughout the month of June after Joseph took a foul ball to the groin area and had to undergo emergency testicular surgery on May 30.

Joseph’s intense struggles at the plate this year are quite a change from last year when he hit .234 with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs, and a .693 on-base plus slugging percentage. In 2014, he filled in admirably after Wieters was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and batted .207 with nine homers, 28 RBIs, and a .618 OPS as a rookie.

He has been an above-average defensive catcher in the majors despite not having the best reputation in that department during his minor-league career, but the Orioles want to get his bat going for the stretch run.

“This guy’s got a pretty good track record, offensively, behind him,” Showalter said. “He’s a better hitter than he’s shown here, and I think sometimes it gets kind of mentally and emotionally in there. Caleb’s driven in some big runs for us, and he’s been a nice guy to have down in the bottom of the order. If you relax on him, he’s a guy you like to see coming up with people on base.

“We’ve just got to get him back to that. How do you do it? Sitting around playing once every 10 days? It doesn’t work too good.”

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-2 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 29 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-2 defeat to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 101st game of the 2016 season.

1st — Despite collecting 11 hits, the Orioles scored fewer than three runs for the seventh time in 14 games since the All-Star break. Other factors played a part in the defeat, but Baltimore continues to flounder with the bats in the month of July, scoring just 3.3 runs per game. Adam Jones homered on the first pitch of the game from Minnesota’s Kyle Gibson and J.J. Hardy added an RBI single in the fourth, but too many other hitters simply aren’t pulling their weight over the last few weeks. The Orioles went a respectable 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, but one of those hits didn’t even score a run. With a weekend series against second-place Toronto looming, the bats must wake up.

2nd — The offensive output would have been better, but two runners were thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning. With runners at second and third and no outs and the Minnesota infield playing back, Chris Davis broke on contact when Jonathan Schoop hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who threw Davis out at the plate. An even bigger problem was Mark Trumbo not advancing from second to third on the tag play at the plate. Had Trumbo also broken on contact and just moved to third, he would have jogged to the plate on Pedro Alvarez’s single to right field. Instead, an ill-advised send by third base coach Bobby Dickerson resulted in Trumbo also being nailed at the plate.

3rd — Odrisamer Despaigne and Chaz Roe didn’t do their jobs in the seventh, but manager Buck Showalter was clearly saving his bullpen bullets for the Toronto series. As if it weren’t already obvious that the Orioles were punting on Thursday night by starting Ubaldo Jimenez — allowing Kevin Gausman to go against the second-place Blue Jays — Showalter sent Despaigne back out for the seventh inning of a tie game when Brad Brach hadn’t pitched since Sunday and Darren O’Day had only pitched once over the previous three nights. After allowing the game-tying homer in the sixth, Despaigne allowed three of four hitters to reach in the seventh and Roe followed by surrendering a single and a triple to give the Twins a 6-2 lead. This was a winnable game, so you hope the strategy pays off over the weekend.

Home — Still looking for his first RBI of the season, Caleb Joseph twice came up with runners in scoring position and failed to deliver. … Jimenez threw 51 pitches to complete the first two innings, but the right-hander pitched well after that, allowing just one run and striking out eight over five frames. … Alvarez collected his sixth three-hit game of the season. … Manny Machado went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is hitting just .216 in 97 plate appearances in July. … Davis went 2-for-4 to collect only his fourth multi-hit game of the month. … The four earned runs and five hits allowed by Despaigne were season highs and elevated his ERA to 4.43. … On Friday night, the Orioles send Gausman to the hill against Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada.

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of 2016 first half

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the Orioles have still endured their share of disappointing performers during a 51-36 start.

While plenty has gone smoothly for the first-place club, several players have turned in underwhelming performances in comparison to their expectations for the 2016 season. Those shortcomings make it more impressive that Baltimore has been able to excel in the competitive American League East.

After examining the biggest surprises of the first half earlier this week, below are my five biggest individual disappointments:

Dubious mention: Kevin Gausman, T.J. McFarland, Brian Matusz, Tyler Wilson, J.J. Hardy

5. Darren O’Day

The 2015 All-Star reliever’s inclusion on this list is obviously much more about his extended absence than his performance as his hamstring injury has put great strain on a bullpen trying to compensate for one of the worst starting rotations in the majors.

It also came after the Orioles invested a four-year, $31 million contract in O’Day this past offseason, but the club should feel good about the right-hander’s track record in coming back to contribute in meaningful ways in the second half.

Injury aside, O’Day would likely be the first to tell you that he wasn’t pitching at his best despite a respectable 3.15 ERA in 20 innings of work through June 1. His five home runs allowed are still the most surrendered by any Baltimore reliever this season and match his total in 65 1/3 innings last year. His walk rate of 4.1 per nine innings is also the worst of his career and substantially higher than the 2.1 per nine he averaged over his first four seasons with the Orioles.

It remains unclear exactly when O’Day will be ready to be activated, but manager Buck Showalter is itching to have the backbone of his bullpen back in the mix.

4. Caleb Joseph

It almost feels cruel to include the backup catcher on this list after his gruesome testicular injury suffered on Memorial Day that required surgery and sidelined him for a month, but failing to collect a single RBI in 81 plate appearances can’t be ignored.

There was a fair argument this winter that the Orioles would have been better off not extending a qualifying offer to Matt Wieters and going with Joseph as the starting catcher at a fraction of the cost, but the latter has batted .160 with only two extra-base hits and a .409 on-base plus slugging percentage. In his defense, Joseph hasn’t received nearly as much playing time as he did last season when he posted an acceptable .693 OPS with 11 homers and 49 RBIs, but his struggles at the plate have been so extreme that you’d worry about an injury to Wieters at this point.

Joseph’s defense remains a clear strength and Wieters has had no perceived issues moving back to a heavier workload now being two years removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Orioles are likely going to need the understudy to get his bat going at some point in the second half.

3. Mike Wright

Perhaps it’s unfair to include a pitcher who had just 44 2/3 major league innings under his belt entering 2016, but the Orioles thought enough of Wright being in their rotation that they jettisoned veteran Miguel Gonzalez in an effort to save $4 million before the season.

Needless to say, the decision hasn’t worked out as Wright has posted a 5.97 ERA in 69 1/3 innings that included 12 starts. He has twice been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and did not fare well in his latest return to the major leagues just before the break.

Wright has held right-handed batters to a .237 average, but lefties are hitting .355 with a 1.023 OPS, leaving many to continue to believe the hard-throwing 26-year-old is better suited for a relief role reminiscent of former Oriole Tommy Hunter. He has a plus fastball, but it’s fair to wonder whether his secondary stuff — or his composure — is cut out for a long-term starting role.

The reality is that the Orioles probably could have lived with a 4.50 to 4.75 ERA from Wright at the end of the rotation, but he’s fallen well short of that mark.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This free-agent marriage began on poor footing when the Orioles’ concerns about his right shoulder prompted them to rework the original three-year agreement into a $22 million deal for two seasons.

Struggling to touch the high 80s with his fastball in March and April, Gallardo pitched to a 7.00 ERA in only four starts before landing on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis and missing nearly two months of action. His velocity has improved since then, but the 30-year-old has completed six innings just twice in his nine starts and hasn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning or later since June 27, 2015.

Even at his best this year, Gallardo has been no better than a five-inning pitcher as opponents are hitting .333 with an .801 OPS when he goes through the order a third time. The problem is that Showalter can’t always afford to go to his bullpen that early when considering the struggles of the rest of the rotation.

Despite his 3.66 career ERA entering 2016, the warning signs with Gallardo were there this winter with a declining strikeout rate and diminishing velocity. A quarter of the way through the contract, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette’s decision to forfeit a first-round pick and fork over $22 million for Gallardo isn’t looking very wise.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez

Inconsistency has been the calling card throughout Jimenez’s career, but even that doesn’t fit anymore as he’s just been plain bad in 2016.

His 7.38 ERA is the highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 80 innings, leaving most to wonder how the Orioles can continue justifying keeping him on the 25-man roster, let alone in the starting rotation for a contending club. Jimenez is still owed roughly $20 million through the end of next season, but evidence continues to pile up that this is a sunk cost to move on from.

Lost in the countless discussions about his poor command and erratic mechanics is the fact that the 32-year-old’s average fastball velocity has dropped below 90 miles per hour, a far cry from the pitcher whose fastball sat in the mid-90s earlier in his career. His 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings look fine, but his 5.5 walks per nine match his career high and he’s putting on two baserunners per inning.

Jimenez desperately wants to turn around his fortunes to contribute, but his 2.81 ERA from the first half of 2015 — his only extended period of success in his three years with the Orioles — feels like an eternity ago. The command and the stuff may simply no longer be there for Jimenez to turn this ship around in his 11th major league season.

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