Tag Archive | "Chris Davis"

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Even by Orioles standards, superb start to 2017 tough to explain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We’ve been here before talking about the Orioles.

After another offseason in which the projection models and pundits didn’t like their chances in the American League East, the Orioles are off to their best start of the Buck Showalter era. Now a fifth of the way through the season, Baltimore entered Thursday on pace to win 108 games despite playing 24 of its first 27 games against division opponents and 21 contests against clubs currently above .500. It’s hardly been a cupcake schedule for the Orioles, who own a winning record on the road and the best home mark in the majors.

Veteran starting pitcher Chris Tillman and All-Star closer Zach Britton have missed most of the season with the latter not expected to return until the latter half of June at the earliest. Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has a 6.63 ERA through his first eight starts. Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis have a total of eight home runs and both have slugging percentages under .400 so far. Even Manny Machado is hitting just .227 despite leading the club in homers and RBIs.

Of course, the Orioles have had their share of surprises, too, with Dylan Bundy looking every bit the part of an ace over his first seven starts, Wade Miley overcoming a slew of walks to pitch to a 2.45 ERA, and Trey Mancini ranking second on the club in home runs, but how do you best explain a .667 winning percentage through the first 33 games?

The stock answer for most of their success since 2012 has been home runs and strong bullpen work, but even those assumed strengths have been only slightly above average through the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season.

The Orioles entered Thursday sixth in the AL in both home runs and bullpen ERA. The offense ranks seventh in the league in runs and eighth in on-base plus slugging percentage. The rotation has been better than expected without Tillman, but Baltimore still ranks just seventh of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA. It hasn’t been about elite defense, either, as the Orioles are tied for 12th in the AL in defensive runs saved.

In other words, everything about this club has been ordinary except its win-loss record, which is paramount and clearly nothing for which to apologize. An 8-2 record in one-run games and a plus-13 run differential reflect good fortune in amassing a 22-11 record, but the best way to describe the 2017 Orioles so far is to say they’ve been been really good at being opportunistic.

Their .303 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the AL and their pitcher win probability added (WPA) leads the league, which are both indicators of “clutch” performance. The offense has been good when it’s absolutely needed to be while the pitching has been at its best in many high-leverage moments.

Even the most optimistic of fans would concede that the Orioles won’t continue winning two-thirds of their games, but such a strong start has given them some breathing room to tread water if we assume the young and surprising New York Yankees aren’t going to keep winning at their same impressive rate, either.

It’s reasonable to expect the likes of Trumbo, Davis, and Gausman to pick up their production while acknowledging the likelihood of regression for Bundy, Miley, and Mancini, but the bullpen has to be the biggest concern even before Wednesday’s meltdown in Washington. A healthy Britton was never going to be as dominant as he was in his historic 2016, but you just don’t replace the man who ranked second on last year’s club at 4.3 wins above replacement and led all major league pitchers in WPA by a wide margin. The 2016 AL Reliever of the Year made up for plenty of deficiencies last season that would have otherwise prevented the Orioles from qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years.

Making matters more difficult for Showalter is the current five-man bench, which leaves the Orioles with just six arms in the bullpen on a given night. Yes, the organization has effectively used the Norfolk shuttle to receive some meaningful contributions in long relief, but you’d prefer having another reliable middle-to-late relief option to use in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning in a given night. It’s a lot to ask of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, and Donnie Hart to pick up the slack in Britton’s absence, and we’ve seen each struggle at times with Brach and his 10.29 ERA since April 28 most recently receiving the loudest criticism.

For now, the Orioles can feel good about their terrific start knowing they haven’t come close to firing on all cylinders yet. But if they’re going to continue to flourish, their old reliables must emerge sooner than later. The home runs need to start flying out of the ballpark more frequently and the bullpen must find a way to tighten up until Britton is hopefully ready to return early in the summer.

The latter is easier said than done, but if anyone can figure out the current relief puzzle, it’s Showalter. Once again, his club is showing to be greater than the sum of its parts.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over White Sox

Posted on 06 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles beginning a five-game homestand with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The news of Zach Britton again experiencing left forearm discomfort took the fun out of an improbable win in which the Orioles lost their starting pitcher in the first inning. As I noted after Thursday’s win in Boston, Britton’s sinker didn’t look right in two appearances since being activated.

2. Wade Miley was hit by two vicious liners in a three-pitch period to force him out of the game with two outs in the first. Fortunately, he suffered only a contusion on his left wrist and doesn’t expect to miss his next start, but I’ve never seen anything like that.

3. Gabriel Ynoa couldn’t have been much better in his Orioles debut, turning in six scoreless innings of relief to collect the win. With Miley’s exit occurring two nights after Kevin Gausman was ejected in the second inning at Boston, Ynoa’s 101 pitches were a godsend for a strained staff.

4. Ynoa really impressed with his slider as he used the breaking pitch to record 10 of his 13 swinging strikes. His numbers at Triple-A Norfolk were less than impressive in April, but he showed the kind of stuff Friday that makes him an interesting option moving forward.

5. Few had faith in Baltimore’s starting pitching depth entering the season, but it should be noted that Alec Asher, Jayson Aquino, and Tyler Wilson have all turned in quality starts in addition to Ynoa’s quasi-start on Friday. Those contributions have been huge with other starters ailing or struggling.

6. Chris Davis hit his first home run — and collected his first multi-hit game — since April 14 in a 3-for-3 night that also included a walk. The Orioles hope that’s the kind of game that gets the big first baseman going after an extended slump.

7. It’s a bit more understandable after we learned that Britton wasn’t available, but I’m still surprised that Buck Showalter allowed the newly-recalled Stefan Crichton to start the eighth inning with only a 2-0 lead. His leadoff walk issued to Melky Cabrera led to the first White Sox run.

8. Joey Rickard’s RBI double in the eighth proved to be the winning run after Brad Brach ran into some difficulty in the ninth inning. Those insurances runs become even more critical now with the incomparable Britton sidelined once again.

9. Seeing J.J. Hardy mishandle two potential double-play balls in the ninth was disconcerting as he continues to look shaky in the field. His defense needs to remain strong to help offset the decline in his bat over the last few years.

10. Old friend Miguel Gonzalez turned in the type of performance we frequently saw over his four seasons with Baltimore. His outings were rarely fancy and he struggled in the second half of 2015, but jettisoning him last spring was an obvious mistake.

11. Chris Tillman felt good after his workday on Friday and will make his 2017 debut for the Orioles on Sunday. Of course, the results in his four minor-league rehab starts and his underwhelming velocity have everyone holding their breath over whether he can at least be close to himself.

12. They’ve still managed to go 4-4 going back to last Friday, but this is easily one of the strangest weeks of Orioles baseball that I’ve ever witnessed. What else can happen at this point? Well, maybe we shouldn’t answer that.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Boston

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles opening a four-game road series with a 5-2 win over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. He was a hated man at Fenway Park after the recent drama with the Red Sox, but Manny Machado reminded us why he’s one of the game’s best players with a monster home run and several defensive plays that were terrific even by his standards. Don’t make him angry.

2. Dylan Bundy quelled recent concerns about his velocity by averaging 91.6 miles per hour with his fastball and turning in his sixth straight quality start. You know you’re off to a terrific start to 2017 when you allow two runs over seven innings and your season ERA increases to 1.82.

3. Despite matching a career high with four walks, Bundy did a superb job pitching out of jams by inducing two double plays and taking a shutout into the eighth. The free passes appear to be contagious, however, as Orioles pitching entered Monday with the highest walk rate in the majors.

4. I was genuinely surprised to see Bundy back on the mound to start the eighth after 99 pitches and with no one warming in the bullpen. Is it really a good idea for him to be throwing a career-high 111 pitches five days after his velocity was markedly down?

5. It was disturbing to learn what Adam Jones had to face on Monday night, making his performance in center field that much more impressive as he made a terrific catch to end a problematic eighth inning and added another nifty grab in the ninth.

6. Trying to protect a slim lead, Bundy didn’t appear to be in a spot to plunk Mookie Betts on purpose, but the optics were shaky after coming inside two pitches earlier. Either way, I’m sick of this saga that started with a slide not even considered malicious by the victim.

7. It’s laughable for anyone in Boston to take offense to Machado’s trot around the bases on his sixth-inning blast considering the retired David Ortiz just now reached home plate on the final home run of his career clubbed last September.

8. After collecting his first RBIs since Sept. 11, 2015 on Saturday, Caleb Joseph picked up an RBI in his second straight start with a double in the fifth. He’s a machine!

9. As if the Red Sox defense wasn’t bad enough, Hanley Ramirez rushing into second as Andrew Benintendi was standing on that very base was a bold strategy in the eighth. The Orioles took full advantage of the Boston ineptitude late in the game.

10. Chris Davis striking out three times isn’t exactly unusual, but I continue to be amazed by how many called strike threes he continues to take. He struck out looking twice and has already done it 17 times this year after shattering a career high with 79 last year.

11. Brad Brach provided an uneventful ninth inning to secure his fifth save and final opportunity before Zach Britton is activated on Tuesday. That was a pleasant change after what went down on both Friday and Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

12. Hyun Soo Kim sat in favor of Ryan Flaherty’s small-sample success against Rick Porcello. With two lefties and knuckleballer Steven Wright starting the next three games, Kim will likely sit more. There sure seem to be a lot of reasons not to play a .302 hitter from a year ago.

(Update: The Red Sox announced after Monday’s game that Wright would be going to the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury.)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping the New York Yankees in a 6-5 final to improve to 3-0 on the infant season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Seth Smith picked the opportune time to hit his first home run as an Oriole, not only getting in the tying run from third base with less than two outs but giving his club the lead in the seventh inning.

2. I had to laugh at the Orioles still cashing in via the long ball after J.J. Hardy had bunted Jonathan Schoop to third base before Smith came to the plate. Who needs small ball anyway?

3. Despite striking out three times, Manny Machado hit the three-run shot off the hard-throwing Luis Severino with two outs in the fifth that shrunk a four-run deficit and breathed life into a lineup that hadn’t done much to that point.

4. Friday marked the 18th time in his Orioles tenure that Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five or more earned runs in an outing. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty for the veteran starter in his season debut as Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez hit homers off his ineffective splitter.

5. It’s apparent that Buck Showalter still isn’t keen on giving Hyun Soo Kim opportunities against left-handed pitching as Joey Rickard hit for him in the sixth against southpaw reliever Tommy Layne. Kim is still looking for his first hit of 2017.

6. Darren O’Day made his 2017 debut in the sixth inning, marking just the sixth time since the start of 2013 that the reliever has appeared in a game before the seventh. There’s some impressive depth in that Baltimore bullpen.

7. Walks were an issue in O’Day’s injury-plagued 2016 campaign, and he issued two in his 1 1/3 innings of work. It’s fair to note, however,  that the right-hander hadn’t pitched in a while after a bout with the flu.

8. Collecting his first major league win, Donnie Hart gave up a hit to the lefty-swinging Jacoby Ellsbury in his season debut after lefties went 5-for-38 against him last year. It was good to see the lefty specialist retire the right-handed Starlin Castro to end the top of the seventh.

9. Brad Brach was sensational in the eighth, striking out Chase Headley, Aaron Judge, and Pete Kozma on just 11 pitches. That was the All-Star version of Brach that we saw in the first half of 2016.

10. The Orioles didn’t want to see Zach Britton roll his right ankle on a Gary Sanchez comebacker in the ninth, but that was easily his best performance of his first three outings. Showalter seemed to think his All-Star closer was OK after the game.

11. Britton may have converted his 51st consecutive save dating back to the end of 2015, but Chris Davis deserves an assist by picking low throws from Britton and Machado for the final two outs in a one-run win.

12. You had to feel for fans braving a cold and windy night with a less-than-stellar version of Jimenez on the mound. That’s not a pleasant combination, but the Orioles provided the desired result for the home crowd in the end.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 06 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles besting Toronto in a 3-1 final to complete a brief two-game sweep, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was nothing short of exceptional, giving up one run and striking out eight over seven innings in his first start of 2017. Making his first career start against the Blue Jays, he set the tone early by striking out the side in the first inning.

2. Bundy induced 17 swinging strikes, a career high and a total Chris Tillman reached only one time last season. Getting that many swings and misses without issuing a single walk reflects how nasty his stuff was on Wednesday.

3. After shelving his slider last year with a focus on staying healthy, Bundy used the pitch extensively to keep Toronto hitters off balance throughout the night. As long as it doesn’t create arm issues, that pitch could do wonders for the 24-year-old.

4. Going through the order for a third time presented a significant challenge for the right-hander last season, but the Blue Jays were 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s how you put an exclamation point on a performance.

5. After hitting only three home runs and posting a .580 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitching last year, Adam Jones homered off Toronto starter J.A. Happ in the third inning. His career numbers against southpaws suggest 2016 was much more of an aberration.

6. The two-run shot tied Rafael Palmeiro on the Orioles’ all-time list as Jones now trails only Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson. That’s really impressive company for the veteran center fielder now in his 10th season with Baltimore.

7. Chris Davis also homered, his 200th as a member of the Orioles. Jones quipped after the game how Davis is only 23 behind him despite the latter having played just five full seasons here. It’s typically a good sign seeing the first baseman drive the ball to the opposite field.

8. A 2016 Gold Glove finalist, Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar showed why by robbing Manny Machado of extra bases in the third inning. You never want to see someone crash into the wall as hard as Pillar did — he stayed in the game — but what a sensational catch.

9. Zach Britton found the reliable 6-4-3 double play off the bat of former Oriole Steve Pearce to nail down his first save of 2017, but the Orioles closer labored through a second straight outing and is still searching for his usual command.

10. Other than the two home runs allowed, Happ pitched very well for Toronto as he struck out nine and walked none over seven innings. His career renaissance going back to the second half of 2015 with Pittsburgh has been nothing short of impressive.

11. Trey Mancini wasn’t tested extensively in his first start in right field, but he made a good throw to the plate on a Devon Travis RBI single and handled both fly balls hit his way without incident. So far, so good with this experiment.

12. The new LED lights at Camden Yards have been a topic of conversation this week, but Jones didn’t exactly provide a great endorsement after Wednesday’s game (go to the 1:55 mark). They’re markedly brighter and at least provide the decorative perk of blinking during Britton’s entrance from the bullpen.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Opening Day win over Toronto

Posted on 04 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping Toronto in a 3-2 final on Opening Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Asked Sunday whether he was concerned that he hadn’t hit a home run in the Grapefruit League, Mark Trumbo cited how he didn’t hit any in the spring of 2013 before hitting 34 in the regular season. I’d say he further proved his point on Monday.

2. It takes a lot for Manny Machado to surprise me with anything he does in the field at this point, but his diving stop and throw to get Toronto’s Devon Travis — who has good speed — reminded us how lucky we are to watch him work at the hot corner.

3. Despite showing great fastball velocity, Kevin Gausman struggled with his command and walked four hitters over 5 1/3 innings, but he made good pitches in key spots to give his club a chance to win. He walked more than three in a start just once all last season.

4. The Orioles are now 7-0 in season openers under Buck Showalter. Yes, it’s only game and they even had a good Opening Day record during their 14 straight years of losing, but his clubs have clearly tried to set an early tone during his tenure.

5. Hyun Soo Kim would have been my choice to lead off against right-handed starters to begin the season, but it’s tough to take too much issue with Seth Smith and his .344 career on-base percentage in the top spot for now.

6. After being left in the bullpen in last year’s American League wild-card game loss in Toronto, Zach Britton pitched two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in a tie game. Baseball’s funny.

7. How important is home-field advantage to the Orioles, who are 241-162 at Camden Yards since the start of 2012? “This is one of those places where you never feel good when they get the last at-bat,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “They’re probably the top power-hitting team in the game.”

8. After left-handed bats posted a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage against Mychal Givens in 2016, the right-hander gave up an RBI double to the lefty-swinging Ezequiel Carrera in the sixth inning. He needs to continue to hone the use of his changeup to combat those struggles.

9. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but Chris Davis made several superb scoops at first base to save his fellow infielders over the course of Monday’s game. He doesn’t get enough credit for the dramatic improvement he’s made there since coming to Baltimore in 2011.

10. Kudos to the home crowd for giving former Oriole Steve Pearce a nice ovation during pre-game introductions. Pearce had three hits against his old club, but that reception meant a lot to him and was much deserved.

11. Playing in his first Opening Day, Trey Mancini came off the bench to single off lefty Aaron Loup in the 10th and is 5-for-11 with three homers against southpaws in his brief career. He becomes an intriguing piece for the future if he can play a respectable right field.

12. File this one in the #FashionTweets department, but the Orioles debuted their new matte batting helmets, which better replicate the look of their caps and don’t have the glossy look.

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2017 Orioles preview: Chris Davis

Posted on 27 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day only a week 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.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach
J.J. Hardy
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Trumbo
Wade Miley
Welington Castillo
Zach Britton

1B Chris Davis

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season

2016 stats: .221/.332/.459, 38 HR, 84 RBI, 99 R, 1 SB, 665 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite his underwhelming batting average, Davis still ranked third on the 2016 Orioles in on-base percentage behind only Hyun Soo Kim and Manny Machado and posted the third-biggest home run total of his career. The slugger also recorded the highest walk rate of his career, continuing a trend of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011.

Why to be concerned: Davis striking out too much is hardly a new concern, but the first baseman shattered a career high with 79 of his 219 being of the looking variety as he swung less frequently than ever in 2016. The left-handed hitter also hit a career-low percentage of line drives and more ground balls than he has since 2012, a trend that doesn’t bode well for his production if it continues in 2017.

2017 outlook: The Orioles and Davis will hope that a lingering thumb injury largely explained the aforementioned trends regarding his performance at the plate last season. Expecting Davis to ever challenge his all-around 2013 season is unrealistic, but coming closer to what he did two years ago appears reasonable if he’s able to stay healthy in 2017.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .239/.346/.485, 41 HR, 99 RBI, 103 R, 2 SB, 655 PA

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Orioles looking to rebound against left-handed pitching

Posted on 20 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles offense was nothing short of maddening in 2016.

The second-best lineup in the American League prior to the All-Star break at 5.08 runs per game and holding an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage, Baltimore was a different story in the second half. Over their final 75 games, the Orioles ranked 14th of 15 AL clubs in runs scored at 4.03 per contest and 13th in the AL with a .713 OPS.

A major part of that decline was an inability to hit left-handed pitching as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in OPS (.692) against southpaws. That’s not exactly what you want to hear with AL East favorite Boston adding All-Star lefty Chris Sale to a rotation that already includes David Price and Drew Pomeranz and could also feature young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.

Two Orioles hitters who struggled against lefties in 2016 — Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold — are no longer with the organization, but the club’s struggles can’t be blamed solely on them. Of course, Reimold’s regular starts in place of Hyun Soo Kim — who was hitless in 22 sporadic plate appearances against southpaws — are difficult to defend since the 33-year-old owned an anemic .565 OPS facing pitchers throwing from the left side.

Including the key offseason additions of catcher Welington Castillo and outfielder Seth Smith, below is a look at how Orioles regulars fared against left-handed pitching in 2016 and in recent seasons. It’s important to remember that a hitter rarely has more than 180 plate appearances against lefties in a given year, so we’re dealing with a relatively small sample, making it useful to look at production over multiple seasons.

2016 vs. LHP 2015 vs. LHP 2014 vs. LHP Career vs. LHP
Chris Davis .712 .799 .677 .737
Jonathan Schoop .688 .573 .529 .607
J.J. Hardy .782 .494 .621 .764
Manny Machado .919 .763 .642 .784
Adam Jones .580 .754 1.003 .729
Mark Trumbo .608 .856 .796 .787
Seth Smith .476 .571 .744 .594
Welington Castillo .868 .790 .855 .840

Of their two notable pickups, Castillo should be a welcome asset against left-handed pitching while Smith is clearly a platoon player who’s proven over 558 career plate appearances in the majors that he won’t produce enough to warrant regular playing time against southpaws. Manager Buck Showalter will likely express the belief publicly that Smith can handle himself against lefties much like he did with Pedro Alvarez last year, but the numbers simply don’t support that notion to be true.

Trumbo and Jones stood out as substantial deviations from their career numbers a year ago. It’s remarkable to think that Trumbo had such impressive production in his first season with Baltimore while also posting a career-low OPS against left-handed pitching. The slugger made some mechanical changes to his swing with Seattle that preceded his debut season with the Orioles, so perhaps that impacted his approach against lefties. History still suggests that he’ll bounce back against lefty pitching to a meaningful degree.

Jones has been more successful against right-handed pitchers than lefties throughout his career, but 2016 was extreme compared to his typical numbers. The 31-year-old has shown some decline offensively over the last few seasons, but it’d be surprising to see him struggle to that extreme level against lefties again in 2017.

Machado and Schoop had different levels of success in 2016, but both young players continued to trend upward against lefties, which could be a product of getting more familiar facing the skilled lefties who tend to be so rare in the minors. We know the 24-year-old Machado has already reached superstar status, but the 25-year-old Schoop has shown meaningful improvement against lefties since his rookie year, a positive sign for his ability to improve further as a hitter.

Hardy was one of the Orioles’ few success stories against lefties last season, but you’d have to think the 34-year-old will struggle to duplicate what he did in 2016 being another year older and already dealing with back concerns this spring. His lack of production against lefties in 2014 and 2015 suggest last year was more of the aberration at this advanced stage of his career.

The wild cards in this department for 2017 will be Kim and reserve outfielder Joey Rickard. It’s a shame that Kim didn’t receive more opportunities against lefties — especially when his primary platoon partner was so unproductive — as last spring should have taught us not to judge his overall ability on a small sample of at-bats. With Smith already destined to be part of a platoon, Kim being able to effectively handle himself against southpaws would go a long way in maintaining more game-to-game roster flexibility. The need for two corner outfield platoons would allow opposing managers to potentially wreak havoc with bullpen matchups late in games.

The Orioles would like Rickard to back up a strong .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties last year with further proof that he can produce as part of a platoon with either Kim or Smith. If he doesn’t, Trumbo will likely see more time in the outfield, which hurts his overall value.

A simple look at these numbers suggests that it’s hardly unreasonable for the Orioles to make improvement against lefties this season without dramatic changes to their lineup. Baltimore won’t lead the league by any means, but the arrival of Castillo, Jones and Trumbo performing closer to career norms, and the improvement of a young hitter or two would put the Orioles in much better position to compete against lefties.

And that’s all they probably need when they’re seeing lefty starters only 25 percent to 33 percent of the time in a given season.

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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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After long process, Trumbo ends up exactly where he wanted to be

Posted on 27 January 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Free agency didn’t play out exactly how Mark Trumbo envisioned, but the slugger ended up where he wanted to be all along.

A week after signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract to remain with the Orioles, Trumbo expressed happiness in being able to stay where he found a comfort zone in 2016 after being traded three times in a two-year period. The 31-year-old knows Oriole Park at Camden Yards suits him well after enjoying a career season and helping Baltimore to its third postseason appearance of the last five years.

“I always held out a lot of hope that there would be an opportunity here down the road, which is fortunately what ended up happening,” Trumbo said. “If there were competitive offers on the table — even if this one had been a little bit lower — this was my first choice.”

Of course, it was a surprise to Trumbo that no other competitive offers truly materialized. Projected by many to receive upwards of $60 million on a four- or five-year deal, he found a cooler-than-expected market for his services despite hitting a career-high 47 home runs to lead the majors.

The story played out much like the previous winter with first baseman Chris Davis, who envisioned a $200 million contract before finally agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million deal that included $42 million deferred. Trumbo wasn’t the only free-agent slugger to sign for less than anticipated this winter as he even cited other hitters — such as Mike Napoli — who still remain on the market.

There were plenty of highs and lows in the negotiations with the Orioles while few other clubs even remained in the mix. Trumbo said there were a few other offers that had some appeal early in the offseason, but others were easy to forgo as he hoped to work something out with Baltimore.

“You kind of go into it thinking you might have a ton of suitors,” said Trumbo, whose value was depressed since another clubs would have needed to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. “You lead the league in home runs [and think], ‘Who’s not interested in that?’ And then you realize that there aren’t that many vacancies at times for what you do, especially this year.”

Despite Trumbo’s impressive ability to hit home runs, his defensive limitations and lack of ideal plate discipline likely kept other suitors away. His career .303 on-base percentage isn’t ideal while defensive metrics and most observers perceive him to be a liability as an outfielder, diminishing his appeal to any National League clubs who didn’t have an opening at his best defensive position — first base.

With the offseason acquisition of veteran outfielder Seth Smith from the Seattle Mariners — who played with Trumbo in 2015 — the Orioles are likely to use Trumbo primarily as a designated hitter against right-handed starters. However, Smith’s struggles against southpaw pitching could prompt manager Buck Showalter to use Trumbo in right field against lefty starters.

He could also make an occasional start at first to spell Davis, who was a finalist for the 2016 American League Gold Glove. Trumbo said he hasn’t been told how he’d be used in 2017 and described his outfield defense as “adequate” after he made 95 starts in right field a year ago.

“I definitely don’t think I’m a liability out there,” said Trumbo, who acknowledged the widespread criticism of his outfield defense. “If Buck chooses to put me out there, I’m going to do everything I can to play a good right field, left field, wherever needed on the defensive side. But if I end up DH-ing most of the time, that would be great, too.”

With the financial part of the decision finally behind him, Trumbo expressed his content over being able to remain in a clubhouse in which he fit well last year. His dependable and cerebral approach to the game was praised by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who said he received a text of approval from All-Star third baseman Manny Machado after the news of the signing broke.

In his first season with the club, Trumbo quickly earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. Those same teammates were mentioned repeatedly as a big reason why the slugger was so glad to be staying.

“I beat that to death, but it really is true,” Trumbo said. “I think the way I was welcomed coming into spring training last year. As a new player, which I was trying to tell Seth Smith recently, you’re going to love it here. They just know how to make you feel comfortable right away. That, in turn, allows you to go out and play your best baseball.”

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