Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

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Hey Orioles: Those empty seats mean that Baltimore is just not that into you…

Posted on 13 September 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

As the first – and only – local sports journalist to poke the bear and pull down the pants of the emperor, it’s now my turn to chime in on the biggest local sports story this month that’s returning to Camden Yards for the next 11 days.

Ok, the most important question in the land of pleasant living at this time of the year is always about the Baltimore Ravens. Facts are facts. They’re 1-0 and headed to Cleveland to (presumably) be 2-0 by Sunday night.

But the very obvious other “water cooler buzz” around our kingdom is about why Camden Yards is so empty in September with the Orioles facing arch-rivals in the middle of a very winnable pennant race in Baltimore?

TOMORROW I’LL GIVE MY “TOP 10 REASONS BALTIMORE SPORTS FANS DON’T GO TO ORIOLES GAMES ANYMORE”

Two weeks ago, during the “homestand of empty” vs. the Blue Jays and Yankees, I was in Europe reading some laugh-out-loud reports from local “journalists” either on the payroll of Peter G. Angelos, the Baltimore Orioles or any of the MASN-based or CBS-owned arms of business partnerships that permeate the local media. Those organizations are strongly discouraged from critical thinking and free $peech so it’s up to places like WNST to get to the truth. Unlike their employees who are intimidated or “compensated” in the Angelos food chain, we get to say what we think here.

The employees of any of the above entities are not allowed to tell the truth. Angelos confirmed this to me years ago.

So, when you write pieces like the one longtime Washington journalist Thom Loverro inked two weeks ago in The Washington Times – in local sports writer vernacular, “a take down” – you get your press credentials revoked. And amongst those who do follow the Orioles and bow at the shrine of the orange cartoon bird, you get called a hack, a traitor or a guy with an axe to grind.

But, of course, no one at MASN or 105.7 The Fan or The Baltimore Sun or PressBox is ever called a shill – even though the dignity of the whole Orioles operation under Angelos is veiled by the fact that no one ever answers a question about anything. Other than playing baseball games when they’ve locked the doors and told the fans to NOT come, we don’t hear from the Angelos clan.

Loverro and his track record as a reporter speaks for itself. So does mine.

On December 13th, I’ll celebrate 25 years of doing sports radio in Baltimore. In 20 of those years, the Orioles haven’t just been an “also ran” – they’ve been a “never ran at all.” The reasons have all been well- …

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Out-of-sync Orioles in danger of falling out of AL East race

Posted on 01 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but cringe at the pitching matchups as the Orioles returned home to begin a critical three-game set with Toronto on Monday.

Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo going up against the Blue Jays’ three best starters? Even the most optimistic of Baltimore fans feared it could get ugly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Instead, the embattled trio turned in three quality starts against the second-highest scoring offense in the American League. And the Orioles still lost two of three to the division leader to fall four games back in the AL East.

The term “must-win” is one of the most overused descriptors in sports, but that series win was one that Buck Showalter’s club surely wanted to have, especially playing at home where the Orioles have looked quite mortal over the last few weeks. It’s just been that kind of a second half as Baltimore fell into a tie with Detroit for the final wild card spot on Wednesday.

Trying to hold on, but seemingly losing their grip bit by bit as the summer transitions into fall. Out of sync and trying to avoid falling out of a tough division race in which Toronto and Boston aren’t going anywhere. A wild-card spot that appeared likely now looks in doubt with the likes of Detroit, Houston, and Kansas City surging.

The pitching remains the biggest concern — even two of the top three bullpen arms surrendered runs in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss — but an offense that thrived in the first half has been among the worst in the league since the All-Star break. Sure, the Orioles still hit home runs — they tied the major league record for long balls in August with 55 after hitting a record 56 in June — but they’ve all but stopped doing anything else offensively.

Remember how Baltimore ranked third in the AL with a .333 on-base percentage in the first half? Those more disciplined at-bats and the willingness to draw a few more walks have evaporated with the Orioles ranking last in the AL with a .293 OBP in the 46 games since then. They rank 12th in runs scored since the break despite continuing to lead the league in home runs, illustrating how much more dependent on long balls they’ve become to score runs as the season has progressed.

We knew all along that the Orioles lineup was constructed to win with the home run, but the all-or-nothing outcomes are as extreme as ever. Consider Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who have combined to hit 22 home runs and bat .180 in 305 at-bats since the break. They haven’t been alone in the second-half struggles, but you just aren’t going to consistently score runs with that kind of production from your No. 4 and No. 5 hitters.

Because the offense produced at such a high level over the first half of the season, it’s still reasonable to think — at least hope? — a prolonged hot streak could be right around the corner.

But then we come back to the pitching, which ranks 13th among 15 AL clubs. Other than the first few weeks after the All-Star break when the rotation performed at a respectable level — and the offense failed to capitalize — you just can’t trust this starting pitching, especially with Chris Tillman unlikely to return before the middle of September. The bullpen continues to wilt without Darren O’Day, who is just now working out the final remnants of discomfort in his right shoulder.

The Orioles will say they were encouraged by the way Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo pitched against the Blue Jays this week, but that kind of success feels more like an aberration than a breakthrough for the final month.

Despite exceeding expectations for most of the season, this club just isn’t firing on all cylinders and hasn’t been for quite some time. When the rotation does offer a stretch of decent outings, the offense fails to do its job. When the bats are lively, the pitching struggles to even be competitive. Or, neither phase performs well and it gets downright ugly.

On Wednesday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette added Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, veterans who can help the abysmal outfield defense late in games and add some speed off the bench. Maybe these spare parts will help spark a struggling club, but the Orioles simply look like a team struggling to keep their heads above water these days.

The losing spells have been more frequent while the good times have been fleeting. In the first four months of the season, the Orioles had three seven-game winning streaks, two five-game winning streaks, and a four-game winning streak. In August, they won as many as three in a row just once while dropping three straight on three separate occasions.

Going just 21-25 since the All-Star break, the Orioles have been trying to hold on, but they’ll need to do more than that in September to secure their third trip to the postseason in the last five years.

You should never count out the Orioles under Showalter with so much baseball left to play, but an increasingly one-dimensional offense, a poor starting rotation, and a bullpen short on trustworthy arms aren’t inspiring confidence in the final month of the season.

It’s just not looking good.

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Orioles add outfield depth by claiming veteran Stubbs

Posted on 31 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Trying to improve their depth and defense in the outfield, the Orioles claimed veteran outfielder Drew Stubbs off waivers from the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.

With Adam Jones recently sidelined with a left hamstring injury, Baltimore has been short in the outfield and primarily using corner outfielder Nolan Reimold in center. Jones is expected to return to the lineup by the weekend, but the Orioles envision the 31-year-old Stubbs filling a void as a late-inning defensive replacement and reserve outfielder that hasn’t really been filled since Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard suffered a thumb injury in late July.

In 67 plate appearances with the Atlanta Braves and the Rangers this season, Stubbs is hitting .259 with three home runs, six RBIs, and a .757 on-base plus slugging percentage. He is a career .244 hitter with a .710 OPS over eight major league seasons.

Capable of playing all three outfield spots, Stubbs has mostly played in center during his career, giving the Orioles a backup for Jones in the final month of the season. The right-handed hitter has struggled to hold down a steady job over the last two seasons, but he hit 15 home runs in a season as recently as 2014 and reached double digits in stolen bases every year from 2009-2014, which provides manager Buck Showalter with a little speed off the bench.

To make room on their 40-man roster, the Orioles designated newly-acquired left-handed relief pitcher Kyle Lobstein for assignment with the hope that he clears waivers and remains in the organization. Baltimore acquired the 27-year-old Lobstein from Pittsburgh in exchange for minor-league lefty Zach Phillips earlier in the day.

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With trade options limited, recent rotation surge encouraging for Orioles

Posted on 25 July 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 10:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles clearly want starting pitching help.

We can certainly debate to what degree they need more starting pitching as Baltimore entered Monday holding the best record in the American League despite a 4.91 rotation ERA ranking 24th in the majors.

But we should be realistic about this final week leading up to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. There isn’t much out there, plenty of contenders are looking for starters, and the Orioles have few commodities to give up unless they’re planning to surrender impact talent from their current roster, which doesn’t sound all that appealing when you’re trying to improve.

These realities don’t excuse the Orioles, who knew they had rotation problems entering the offseason before letting their 2015 ace, Wei-Yin Chen, depart via free agency and replacing him with Yovani Gallardo, who’s dealt with shoulder issues that were first flagged during his February physical and eventually landed him on the disabled list in April after only four starts. The options may not have been plentiful this winter, but no one can say the Orioles’ Achilles heel is remotely surprising a few months later.

There just isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now.

“We’re going to try to add to our rotation,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend. “We need some more consistency from the guys we have here, and we’re going to try to add to it via the trade route. This is a really thin market. There’s a lot of teams chasing a few pitchers. It’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen the market, but we’re going to see what we can do.”

It remains to be seen whether Duquette can deliver a starter who represents a marked upgrade over what the Orioles already have — forgive me if I’m not doing cartwheels over the likes of San Diego’s Andrew Cashner — but the executive was right about the need to find some improvement from within. That’s what has made the start of the second half uplifting for Baltimore.

In their first 10 games since the All-Star break, the Orioles have posted a 3.03 starter ERA after a robust 5.15 mark in the season’s first 87 contests. It’s a very small sample that includes seven games against two light-hitting clubs — Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees — but six starts of six or more innings have allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest a little easier of late.

The rotation isn’t fixed, but you’ll take any positives you can find after the first half.

Arguably the club’s most valuable player behind Manny Machado, ace Chris Tillman has rebounded from a rocky June with four straight starts in which he’s lasted seven innings and allowed only one run to lower his season ERA to a tidy 3.18. Kevin Gausman has also elevated his performance as the No. 2 starter, surrendering two runs and striking out 13 over his two starts covering 13 1/3 innings since the break.

After signing him to a two-year, $22 million contract, the Orioles desperately want to see Gallardo as their true No. 3 starter in a perfect world, but the questions about his ability to pitch deep into games haven’t disappeared despite back-to-back outings last at least 6 2/3 innings. His track record makes provides optimism that he can build on what he’s done over the last week.

But what we witnessed on Friday and Sunday provides some hope beyond the clearly-defined top two and Gallardo in the rotation. These names aren’t definitive rotation answers, but we’ll call them “maybes” for right now.

Facing a Cleveland offense currently ranking third in the AL — and ahead of the Orioles — in runs scored, Dylan Bundy allowed only one unearned run in five strong innings in the series-opening win. You can’t cross your fingers any harder that the 23-year-old will stay healthy and that the Orioles will take care of him as they stretched him out from 70 pitches in his first start to 87 on Friday night, but the ability is undeniable and his season results have been better than anyone could have expected entering 2016. What we don’t know is how the organization will handle his workload to keep him in play as a contributor in September and October, but he’s been fun to watch.

Veteran Vance Worley provided the other shot in the arm on Sunday by allowing just two runs over seven innings as the Orioles completed the series sweep over the AL Central-leading Indians. In a perfect world, Worley would have remained in his role as an effective long man, but he owns a respectable 3.89 mark as a starter in his career. After seeing the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright struggle with extensive opportunities in the first half, the Orioles had few choices but to go with Worley, who received little more than a cameo as a starter in April before moving to the bullpen.

At least for the time being, Bundy and Worley have done enough to continue giving them the ball for the time being. The Orioles rotation isn’t magically going to transform into a top five group, but rising to even the middle of the pack in the AL in the second half would go a long way in complementing a powerful offense and a bullpen back to full strength with the return of Darren O’Day.

Finding that kind of improvement would be much easier if Duquette can somehow find another viable arm to slot into the rotation, but the start of the second half has brought some encouragement.

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Orioles lose another outfielder as Rickard goes to DL

Posted on 22 July 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Just days after a lingering hamstring strain landed Hyun Soo Kim on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles have now lost fellow outfielder Joey Rickard to injury.

The Rule 5 pick suffered an injury to a ligament in his right thumb while trying to make a leaping catch of Brett Gardner’s leadoff triple in Wednesday’s 5-0 loss at Yankee Stadium. Rickard did not leave that game, but the condition of his thumb prevented him from playing on Thursday, prompting the club to send him for a magnetic resonance imaging exam prior to Friday’s series opener against the Cleveland Indians at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Friday’s game that Rickard would be sidelined at least four to six weeks and would not return until September.

The Orioles recalled outfielder Dariel Alvarez from Triple-A Norfolk to take Rickard’s place on the 25-man roster. The recently-promoted Julio Borbon started in left field and batted ninth on Friday night.

One of the good stories of the 2016 season, Rickard made the club after a terrific spring and began the year as the Orioles’ everyday leadoff hitter and left fielder. However, his struggles as well as the emergence of Kim eventually led to Rickard settling into a role as an extra outfielder playing regularly against left-handed starters.

In 282 plate appearances, Rickard is hitting .268 with five home runs, 19 RBIs, and a .696 on-base plus slugging percentage.

The Orioles couldn’t afford to wait on him with other players still feeling the effects of the illness that swept through the clubhouse. Chris Davis and Manny Machado were in the lineup for the second straight game on Friday, but both are still feeling lingering effects after being knocked out of action in New York.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the Orioles “could take a look” at the possibility of adding another outfielder at the trade deadline with both Kim and Rickard on the DL, but he reiterated that his focus is on trying to add starting pitching in a thin market. Kim hadn’t played since July 10 before officially being placed on the DL on Tuesday, making him eligible to return as early as July 26.

Alvarez is beginning his second stint with the Orioles this season after briefly joining them on their final road trip before the break. The 27-year-old was hitting .280 with four homers, 26 doubles, 40 RBIs, and a .697 OPS with the Tides this season.

NOTES: Matt Wieters was out of the starting lineup for the fourth straight game on Friday while continuing to nurse a bruised right foot, but Showalter said he was available to catch and play if necessary. … Showalter said Dylan Bundy could still remain in the starting rotation for the remainder of the season despite an undisclosed innings limit, but it remains to be seen how the Orioles would handle his workload in each start. … Center fielder Adam Jones was back in Friday’s lineup after back spasms forced him out of Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees as well as the series finale in the Bronx.

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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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Five biggest Orioles surprises of 2016 first half

Posted on 12 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the first-place Orioles have benefited from their fair share of surprise performers in the midst of a 51-36 start.

While there haven’t been any players to seemingly come out of nowhere as we’ve frequently seen in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era, several have turned in performances few would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season. Their accomplishments are major reasons why Baltimore has been able to exceed expectations in the competitive American League East.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season with the biggest disappointments coming later this week:

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Honorable mention: Joey Rickard

5. Jonathan Schoop

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the 24-year-old’s first half after he hit .279 with 14 home runs and a .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in 321 plate appearances last season, but to see the second baseman take that production to the next level has been impressive.

In addition to being one of only two Baltimore players to play in all 87 games before the All-Star break — a year removed from a knee injury that cost him almost three months last season — Schoop is hitting .304 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 52 RBIs. His .847 OPS ranks third on the club among qualified players, which is quite a leap after he produced a .598 mark as a rookie just two years ago.

Schoop has likely benefited from some good fortune with his .348 batting average on balls in play, but he’s also shown some modest improvement in his free-swinging ways with a 3.8 percent walk rate that remains well below average but represents improvement from his 2.8 percent career mark entering the 2016 season. He hit safely in 20 of his 21 games before the break, posting a .414 average and 1.112 OPS over that stretch.

4. Dylan Bundy

One could argue that Bundy would be pitching in the minor leagues in a perfect world, but perhaps he’d be the ace of the Orioles rotation by now if such a sphere existed. Either way, the 23-year-old has overcome an array of injuries over the last few years to contribute meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

Instead of serving as a pseudo Rule 5 pick who’s only in the majors because he’s out of minor-league options, Bundy is rapidly becoming an intriguing candidate to start in the second half despite the Orioles’ plans of trying to keep him healthy while massaging his development in a relief role. Since Showalter began regularly giving him at least three days of rest between outings, Bundy has pitched to a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings of work.

Bundy’s 3.08 season ERA is even more impressive when noting how opponents have a .371 BABIP against him, an average likely to normalize in the second half. His velocity has also spiked since receiving more regular rest as his average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph since May 31 and was just 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen what Bundy’s role will look like in the second half, but his continued health and reemergence as an important part of the club’s future are wonderful developments.

3. Brad Brach

How many would have believed that Darren O’Day would miss nearly six weeks of action and the Orioles would still rank second in the AL and fourth in the majors with a 3.12 bullpen ERA at the break?

With no disrespect intended to phenomenal All-Star closer Zach Britton, Brach is the biggest reason why as he’s built upon his first two good seasons in Baltimore with his own All-Star campaign that includes a microscopic 0.91 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings over 49 1/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed just one of 19 inherited runners to score and has held lefty bats to a .238 average and a .644 OPS, an important feat given the lack of a lefty specialist in the Baltimore bullpen.

Right-handers are batting .080 with a .326 OPS against Brach in 97 plate appearances as he’s provided occasional length as well as serving as a strong replacement for O’Day, who hasn’t pitched since June 1. The 30-year-old ranks third in strikeouts (58) and second in innings pitched among AL relievers.

According to Baseball Reference, Brach ranks third on the club with 2.6 wins above replacement, an illustration of how critical he’s been to the first-place Orioles.

2. Mark Trumbo

Expecting Trumbo to help fill a void in the heart of the order that wasn’t addressed after the post-2014 departure of Nelson Cruz was realistic, but the right-handed slugger has instead been one of the best offensive players in the AL in 2016.

Trumbo leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than he hit in 170 more plate appearances a season ago and only six shy of his career-high 34 in 2013. His 68 RBIs rank fourth in the majors, and his .288 average and .923 OPS would easily be career bests for the 30-year-old outfielder.

While his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks, Trumbo has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and has shown more consistency than his streaky track record preceding his time in Baltimore. It would be unfair to expect him to hit 50 home runs, but Trumbo has done more than his expected share for one of the best lineups in baseball.

And his offseason acquisition is arguably the best trade pulled off by Duquette during his time in Baltimore.

1. Hyun Soo Kim

Just over three months ago, the Orioles were convinced that Kim wasn’t worthy of being in the big leagues, a reminder that we shouldn’t take spring training performance as gospel.

Whether the organization was foolishly mistaken, he simply improved and adjusted to the majors, or it was a combination of both, the 28-year-old South Korean outfielder took advantage of sparse opportunities early and eventually earned a regular role against right-handed starters by late May. His .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead the club among those with at least 170 plate appearances.

Kim has provided a steady ability to get on base in a lineup known for its power and free-swinging ways. His 12.7 percent strikeout rate is the lowest on the club among regulars, and his 10.4 percent walk rate has been a helpful addition in the No. 2 spot in the order ahead of the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Trumbo.

His .370 BABIP suggests Kim will have a difficult time sustaining his current level of production, but he’s done more than enough to suggest he’s worthy of being a major leaguer and that the thoughts of sending him back to the Korean Baseball Organization in the spring were grossly premature.

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Orioles starting Jimenez sends bad all-around message

Posted on 22 June 2016 by Luke Jones

It doesn’t matter how Ubaldo Jimenez performs on Wednesday night.

Whether the good version makes a cameo for the first time since early May or he again pitches like the worst starter in baseball, the Orioles are sending a bad message all the way around by giving him the ball against the San Diego Padres after moving him to the bullpen just a week ago.

Through all the noise about the difficult schedule this week, the Orioles have known since sending Mike Wright down to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday that they would need a starter for Wednesday’s game. They even opened up space Tuesday by outrighting infielder Paul Janish to Norfolk, meaning they had the flexibility to promote any pitcher in the organization not currently on the 40-man roster.

Instead, the Orioles decided to roll with a pitcher whose 7.34 ERA ranks last in the majors among those registering at least 60 innings.

It speaks volumes about the state of the organization’s starting pitching depth. Not that anyone is convinced that Odrisamer Despaigne or Joe Gunkel or Nick Additon or any other minor-league starter with a pulse would provide substantial improvement, but why field teams at Norfolk or Double-A Bowie if you’re just going to maintain the status quo with a starting rotation ranking 13th in the AL in ERA?

What message does it send to the rest of your first-place club that this is the best you can do? A couple weeks ago, the Orioles replaced Mike Wright with, well, Mike Wright. Then, they removed Jimenez for the returning Yovani Gallardo. Now, they’ve demoted Wright again in favor of Jimenez.

Talk about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

The Orioles have now essentially told both Jimenez and Wright, “You’re not good enough, but here’s the ball again because we have no one else worthy of receiving a shot.” Having no competition for starting pitchers performing so far below expectations is embarrassing for a contending team.

A first-place club with a powerful offense, a great bullpen, and a strong infield defense deserves better. It at least deserves an attempt to be better, but that’s an issue that dates back to the offseason when improving the starting pitching was initially deemed a priority by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles proceeded to lose their best starter from 2015 — Wei-Yin Chen — and replace him with Gallardo, a pitcher with shoulder concerns that have already landed him on the disabled list.

To make matters worse, the Orioles thought they had enough rotation depth this spring to jettison a struggling Miguel Gonzalez to save $4 million instead of sending him to the minors to work on his issues. His 4.29 ERA is far from stellar, but his velocity is back in line with where it was the last four years and he’d be a substantial upgrade over Wright or Jimenez right now.

Of course, Wednesday’s start doesn’t mean Jimenez will remain in the rotation. Perhaps this truly is an attempt at a Hail Mary with the 32-year-old after seeing how his demotion has negatively impacted the bullpen over the last week. His lone relief appearance last Friday brought an inability to even keep the Orioles within four runs of Toronto after Wright was lifted in the fourth inning.

It’s difficult to hide a pitcher in the bullpen when he can’t even contribute in that kind of a low-leverage situation.

Despite still being owed roughly $21 million through next season, maybe this represents Jimenez’s last chance with the Orioles.

At some point, you have to recognize a sunk cost and move on, right?

Otherwise, we’re reminded that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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Orioles trade Matusz to Atlanta for two minor-league pitchers

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Unable to overcome his early-season struggles and having never fulfilled his potential as a former first-round pick, Orioles left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz was traded to Atlanta on Monday.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sent the 29-year-old and the 76th overall pick in this year’s draft to the Braves in exchange for minor-league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. According to multiple outlets, the Braves will designate Matusz for assignment, reflecting their willingness to take on the remainder of the lefty’s $3.9 million salary to acquire the draft pick.

The move saves the Orioles money while opening a spot in the bullpen for another reliever. Baltimore also announced it signed left-handed relief pitcher Brian Duensing to a minor-league contract on Monday. Most recently with the Kansas City Royals organization, the 33-year-old Duensing has pitched to a 4.13 ERA over 649 1/3 major league innings in his seven-year career.

The fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft, Matusz had struggled mightily since being activated from the 15-day disabled list last month. In seven appearances covering six innings, the lefty had pitched to a 12.00 ERA with seven walks and one strikeout while surrendering three home runs and 11 hits.

His velocity was down after returning from a left intercostal strain suffered in spring training. Matusz was set to become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season and was not expected to be in the club’s plans for the future.

After serving as a reliable lefty specialist for the better part of four seasons, Matusz had retired just five of the 16 lefty bats he’d faced in 2016 and had appeared in just four games this month. Lefties have hit just .211 with a .627 on-base plus slugging percentage over his eight-year major league career, which allowed him to find a role as a lefty specialist after failing to establish himself as a major league starter.

The 23-year-old Barker went 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA and struck out 40 batters in 45 innings that included eight starts for Double-A Mississippi this season. The Braves’ 16th-round pick of the 2014 draft is expected to be assigned to Double-A Bowie.

The lefty Belicek has gone 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 innings while walking one and striking out 32 in 12 games between Class-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this season. The 23-year-old was Atlanta’s 16th-round pick last year and will go to Single-A Frederick.

Though Matusz found modest success as a reliever in his final few seasons with Baltimore, he will be remembered as a disappointment for not panning out as the top-half-of-the-rotation starter many expected him to become. The University of San Diego product was taken just one pick ahead of future National League MVP Buster Posey.

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Orioles place Paredes on waivers as rehab assignment ends

Posted on 15 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Jimmy Paredes’ rehab assignment concluding on Sunday, Buck Showalter only hinted about his status as the Orioles concluded a four-game set with Detroit.

Comcast SportsNet and multiple outlets reported that the switch hitter was placed on waivers after Showalter indicated that a decision had already been made regarding his status, but the Baltimore manager deferred to executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette for further details.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to divulge that, right?” Showalter said. “I mean everybody knows, but I’m not [telling]. I think that’d be a good question for Dan.

“Legally, you could wait until [Monday to make a decision]. Whether or not we did, I do know.”

Paredes, 27, began the season on the 15-day disabled list after spraining his left wrist early in spring training. Since beginning his minor-league rehab assignment last month, the switch hitter has batted .308 with two home runs, nine RBIs, and an .847 on-base plus slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances split among Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie, and Triple-A Norfolk.

Though he’s played both corner outfield spots and third base during his rehab stint, Paredes lacks a true position, diminishing the appeal of making room for him on a 25-man roster already housing a few players with defensive limitations. Paredes hit .216 with a .517 OPS in the second half of 2015 after surprisingly holding an .807 OPS at the All-Star break.

Should he clear waivers, Paredes could be outrighted to Norfolk. He was starting at third base for the Tides on Sunday and was scheduled to go on their next road trip, according to Showalter.

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