Tag Archive | "delmon young"

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If it meant a World Series, do you trade the Future?

Posted on 22 July 2015 by James Revere

 

untitledHi, Folks. James is back at the helm. As I was looking through the Twitter-sphere today, one tweet from @MasnRoch really caught my eye. The Orioles are apparently listening to offers that include future ace Kevin Gausman. Has the recent disturbing trend of lack of clutch hitting really pushed the front office this far? Last year, Gausman and Hunter Harvey were deemed the second coming of Sean Connery and Kevin Costner. (The Untouchables for all those who didn’t get the reference. Decent movie by the way.) Now at five games behind the division leading Yankees, it would appear that with 11 pending free agents, all bets are on the table in order to try and win now.

The response to this rumor was met with more favor than I thought possible. If I had to predict, it has to come from a long seeded frustration with the organization’s inability to develop front line starters. Dylan Bundy was deemed Das Wunderkind from his draft day. No player would ever be able to pry him away from the clutches of our team. Here we sit three years later, and his arm has done nothing but let the young man down. Adding him to the ever growing list which includes Hayden Penn, Daniel Cabrera, Matt Riley, and Adam Loewen can really help show where this willingness to part with Gausman is coming from.

The major problem with a move of this magnitude lies with where the Orioles are as a franchise in terms of organizational depth. With a severe lack of impactful prospects,  prospects that are highly regarded in the system still years away from the bigs, and the potential mass exodus of players from the major league team, the Orioles could very well see the proverbial “window” close very harshly behind them if the wrong deal is made. Trading enough of the farm system now, for the services of a big bat or front line starter could derail this team for many years to come. So what exactly is the “right move”?

While there are many names linked to the Orioles right now, almost every single one of them is a free agent at the end of the year. Be it Justin Upton from San Diego, Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit, or Johnny Cueto of Cincinati, these stars will most definitely test free agency after the season is over. To part with a load of minor league talent for one of these guys would have to most certainly require a 72 hour window to negotiate a new contract. If not I would let everyone of these gentlemen go somewhere else. There is only one team out there in dire need to shed some contracts and get young fast that would make sense to trade with.

The Phillies have been laughable this year. Weighed down by injuries, age, and hundreds of millions of bad contracts, this is the team you need to meet at the table. They need a youth movement, and major league ready help now. Looking at their roster, I see three guys who would provide the Orioles with everything they need as well as provide them with some building blocks to help the team compete next year. With a promise to help with some of their contracts, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Ben Revere would instantly give the Birds all that is needed to help push for the division. In Revere, not only would I be able to buy a jersey with my last name on it, but the long lost leadoff hitter that this team has missed since Brian Roberts would be found. Put him in left field and bat him leadoff to move Manny Machado to a more productive spot in the line up. With the likes of Adam Jones and Chris Davis around him, Machado could easily duplicate the first half numbers he displayed down the stretch. While Ryan Howard is up there in age, he can still provide power and protection in an already deep roster. Place him as your DH, move Jimmy Paredes into a Delmon Young type role and the bench gets that much deeper. Hamels doesn’t exactly need explaining. At 30 years old, he still has good baseball ahead of him. With finally acquiring that number one starter Birdland has yearned for, the rest of the rotation becomes that much better.

Granted it may be wishful thinking, but if Kevin Gausman plus a few other players got this kind of return, I’d pull the trigger. With a few of our players saying they wanted to see if the front office was committed to winning, this deal may just be the sort that makes them realize just how serious the front office is.

So what do you guys think? Does the thought of Kevin Gausman being dealt make your blood curdle, or do you think in the right package it could make sense. Send me a tweet or leave a comment.

 

@DJ_Jaymz

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Standing at 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have faced their share of disappointments as they look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

Though just four games behind the first-place New York Yankees and sporting the fifth-best run differential (plus-39) in the league, the Orioles and their fans could certainly point to the uncertain future of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and a disappointing offseason as the biggest factors contributing to an underwhelming first half. It’s easy to point to the decisions not to re-sign any of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, but the problems have run deeper than that.

On Wednesday, left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was designated for assignment, becoming the fifth veteran — joining Ryan Webb, Alejandro De Aza, Everth Cabrera, and Delmon Young — scheduled to make at least $1.6 million this year to be designated since the start of the season. Not only did the Orioles fail to keep their top free agents, but they spent a lot of money poorly elsewhere.

Below are my five biggest individual disappointments of the first half of the season:

Dishonorable mention: Everth Cabrera, Wesley Wright, Travis Snider

5. Alejandro De Aza/Delmon Young

It’s appropriate to lump these two together after they were both designated for assignment in the first half of the season. At the beginning of the year, manager Buck Showalter envisioned De Aza as his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching while Young was expected to handle a larger role after the free-agent departures of Cruz and Markakis in the outfield.

Instead, De Aza hit just .214 with a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage and further saw his playing time diminish due to lapses on the bases and in the field. After being traded to Boston in early June, De Aza has provided a spark for the last-place Red Sox with a .323 average, making Orioles fans wonder where that production was earlier in the season.

Young’s .270 average may not have looked bad on the surface, but he offered little else as he homered only twice and posted an anemic .628 OPS in 180 plate appearances. Because of a crowded outfield situation and his limited versatility, Young was designated and eventually released last week.

While neither De Aza nor Young were necessarily projected to be everyday players, both were obvious disappointments after the Orioles committed to paying them a combined $7.25 million to contribute in 2015.

4. J.J. Hardy

It’s often forgotten that Hardy was the one big-name free agent the Orioles were able to keep last fall with a three-year, $40 million extension, making the first half of his 2015 season that much more frustrating after other veterans departed.

A left shoulder injury cost Hardy more than a month, but he hasn’t been able to gain his bearings at the plate beyond a few clutch hits here and there. His defensive ability remains a clear strength, but Hardy’s .226 average and .584 OPS must improve in the second half as the Orioles try to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

The fact that Hardy hit only nine homers last year while dealing with a lingering back issue was concerning enough, but a second straight season of diminished power (five homers in 225 plate appearances) creates doubt whether the 32-year-old will ever again approach the power numbers he posted in his first three years in Baltimore. Even if that’s the case, the Orioles need more offensive production in terms of average and at least a few more doubles from the veteran infielder.

You never want to discredit Hardy’s value in the field, but he’d be the first to tell you much more is needed with the bat.

3. Steve Pearce

Even his biggest supporters wouldn’t have predicted Pearce to duplicate his magical 2014 campaign in which he hit 21 homers, posted a team-leading .930 OPS, and was worth 5.9 wins above replacement, but the numbers were so strong that you could reasonably hope the journeyman had finally established himself as a solid everyday player.

That hasn’t been the case as Pearce hit .176 in his first 74 at-bats of 2015 and has largely been relegated to part-time duties against left-handed pitching. An .812 OPS since May 16 shows that Pearce has done a better job over the last two months, but most of that has come against left-handed pitching as he’s hitting just .207 against right-handers and .228 overall this year.

In addition to not matching the same power he found a year ago, Pearce’s walk rate has dropped considerably, a part of his game that was solid even before the 2014 season. What has likely saved the 32-year-old’s roster spot has been his versatility as he’s able to play four or five different positions, including second base for the first time earlier this season.

It will be interesting to see if Showalter will give Pearce more opportunities against right-handed pitching with Chris Parmelee struggling immensely of late, but it’s difficult foreseeing a return to the success from a year ago as Pearce is scheduled to hit free agency at the end of the season.

2. Chris Tillman

Predicting a down season for Tillman after he posted no worse than a 3.71 ERA in three straight seasons might not have been out of the question, but a 5.40 ERA and 3.8 walks per nine innings are numbers that would have landed him in the minors if not for the fact that he’s out of options.

The 27-year-old has been better since a nightmarish start in Toronto last month that elevated his ERA to 6.22, but his struggles are a major reason why the Orioles currently rank 10th in the AL with a 4.20 starter ERA. If you eliminate his 15.00 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays, Tillman owns a very solid 3.48 mark against the rest of the league, but you can’t dismiss that part of the picture when Toronto is one of the clubs the Orioles are competing with in a tight division race.

His strikeout numbers are fairly similar to the last few seasons, but his walk rate is his highest since 2010 and the lack of fastball command has gotten him in trouble too often in 2015. Opponents have sported a .331 batting average on balls in play against Tillman, indicating he’s run into bad luck that’s made him pay even more for the control issues.

You hope the worst is behind Tillman as he pitched too well from 2012-2014 to continue languishing in the second half, but the Orioles wouldn’t figure to have much of a chance to be playing in October if the tall right-hander doesn’t start resembling the guy who had back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2013 and 2014.

1. Bud Norris

A look at his track record told you Norris was unlikely to win 15 games or match the 3.65 ERA he posted a year ago, but few have had a more dreadful season entering free agency in recent memory than Norris, who was demoted to the bullpen before the All-Star break.

Sporting a 6.86 ERA and being paid $8.8 million this season, Norris has been helpless against left-handed hitters who have posted a 1.005 OPS and hit nine homers against him, prompting opposing managers to stack their lineups with lefties in his starts. The changeup that worked so well against lefty hitters last year hasn’t been much of a factor in 2015, leaving Norris much too reliant on his fastball and slider.

With Kevin Gausman stepping into the rotation, Norris has the stuff to profile as a decent reliever, but the move now leaves Showalter without the “swinging-door” bullpen spot he likes to have to summon a fresh arm from the minors when necessary.

At this point, it doesn’t look like Norris will get another chance in the rotation unless someone else falters or is injured, but he’ll need to be able to pitch effectively out of the bullpen to keep his roster spot as he is out of options. Duquette will undoubtedly try to find a trade partner, but Norris would be difficult to give away at this point with a high salary attached to him.

Very few would have expected Norris to be Baltimore’s best starter in 2015, but the most disastrous season of his career couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or the Orioles.

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Orioles thoughts on Young, Paredes, starting rotation

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a tough decision, but the right one on Wednesday.

Delmon Young should never have to pay for a meal in Baltimore again after his three-run double in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series last October, but the 29-year-old was caught up in the numbers game this year. And when the roster consists of several platoon outfielders, it boils down to versatility and how many different ways you can help your club win.

Beyond a decent .270 average, the offensive numbers weren’t pretty for Young as his 2.2 percent walk rate was the worst on the club and his .339 slugging percentage was lower than even the likes of Ryan Flaherty (.400) and David Lough (.340). Despite collecting eight outfield assists, his defensive limitations made Young the most vulnerable of the fringe players on the roster.

In contrast, Steve Pearce can fill a similar role against left-handed pitching while being able to play multiple positions at a higher level. Though his health is always a question, Nolan Reimold has power, solid defensive ability, and better speed. And even the maligned David Lough fills a bigger need — for now — as the backup center fielder until Adam Jones proves his right shoulder injury is completely in the rear-view mirror.

Last season, Young was in the perfect role in making just 56 starts — most of them against left-handed pitching — with the Orioles having a fixture in Nick Markakis in right field. However, Showalter being forced to mix and match at both corner outfield spots this year — with disappointing results — eventually led to the additions of Nolan Reimold and Chris Parmelee to the 25-man roster last month and a reduction in Young’s playing time.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would be wise in attempting to deal Young to a National League contender looking for a right-handed bat off the bench. Given his reputation in the postseason, you’d hate to see the Orioles potentially cross paths with Young this October — or sooner — if he were to end up with an AL club.

With the Orioles still wanting to activate second baseman Jonathan Schoop sooner rather than later, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will face another difficult decision with so many outfielders remaining on the roster.

However, let’s not forget that these outfielders are all complementary pieces at the end of the day. The Orioles may not consider these as easy decisions, but parting ways with Young — or whoever else they might have chosen — was never going to make or break the season in the long run.

** Another reason why the Orioles felt they were able to part ways with Young was the emergence of Jimmy Paredes, who has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2015 season with a .319 average, 10 home runs, and an .867 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Thursday.

Paredes serving extensively as the designated hitter further diminished the need for Young, and the former’s most recent hot streak likely provided the final confirmation that the Orioles needed.

After hitting a remarkable .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year, Paredes’ good fortune had appeared to run out when he went through a nightmarish two-week stretch from May 28-June 10 that saw his average plummet 59 points. It appeared that opponents had finally figured out how to pitch the switch hitter during a 4-for-41 drought that included 20 strikeouts.

However, Paredes has rebounded dramatically since then, hitting .404 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 56 plate appearances. In recent weeks, he’s shown a little more discipline in laying off pitches outside the strike zone and even drew three walks during Sunday’s doubleheader.

It may be a tall order for Paredes to hit .319 the rest of the way, but he’s certainly shown enough over 242 plate appearances this season to make you think that Showalter and the Orioles have found a nugget with an intriguing future at just 26 years of age.

** Though we shouldn’t read too much into the projected starters for this weekend’s series in Chicago, it was interesting to note that Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.

For what it’s worth, that is supposed to be Bud Norris’ next turn in the starting rotation, but Showalter revealed that the struggling right-hander will be available in relief on Thursday since Tyler Wilson was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for starter Kevin Gausman on the 25-man roster, once again leaving the Orioles with a six-man bullpen.

What happens after Thursday will be interesting with the Orioles counting down to the All-Star break, a time when they’ve gotten creative with the use of their roster over the last few years. Not only does the four-day break begin on July 13, but the Orioles also have an off-day next Thursday, which could prompt them to option a starter — maybe even two — to the minor leagues before the season’s intermission begins.

Should Gausman pitch well against Texas on Thursday, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the Orioles to keep him around and elect to give the ball to Miguel Gonzalez on four days’ rest on Sunday, meaning they would skip Norris and use him as a long reliever for the time being. They could then option Gonzalez to the minors on Monday to give them an extra roster spot as they would only need four starters for the remainder of the first half with a day off on July 9.

This could be a desirable scenario if they would prefer Gonzalez to pitch over the break as he’s not far removed from a stint on the disabled list and has been out of sync since returning.

It’s only spit-balling and the Orioles could just as easily option Gausman to the minors immediately after Thursday’s game, but Showalter certainly left the door open to pondering the alternatives by not immediately listing Norris as his starter for the series finale against the White Sox.

 

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Orioles part ways with veteran outfielder Young

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — No longer able to endure a well-documented roster crunch, the Orioles designated outfielder Delmon Young for assignment prior to Wednesday’s game against Texas.

Baltimore needed a fresh arm in the bullpen and recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson to take Young’s spot on the 25-man roster. With the recent promotions of Chris Parmelee and Nolan Reimold, the 29-year-old Young’s playing time had dwindled with just 17 plate appearances since June 13.

“They’re all difficult,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about the decision to part ways with the veteran. “We wrestle with these decisions and hash them out and go back and forth, and we try to develop more options for the team to keep all the players in the organization. We couldn’t come up with a solution to this roster move because we didn’t have the flexibility on our roster that we’ve had in the past.”

Young provided arguably the most exciting moment in the history of Orioles Park at Camden Yards last fall with a three-run double in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series, sparking his club to a 7-6 victory and eventual sweep of the Detroit Tigers. However, the outfielder struggled with more extensive playing time this season, hitting .270 with just two home runs and a .628 on-base plus slugging percentage in 180 plate appearances.

With the Orioles employing a number of outfielders serving in part-time roles, Young didn’t offer as much versatility with declining power and limited defensive ability. The emergence of Jimmy Paredes this season has taken away a large number of at-bats at the designated hitter spot that the Orioles projected Young to receive at the beginning of the season.

The roster pains aren’t over for the Orioles as they must make room for right-hander Kevin Gausman to make Thursday’s start and second baseman Jonathan Schoop will finish his rehab assignment over the next few days. Manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Nolan Reimold will go on paternity leave next week, which would temporarily open a a roster spot.

“There’s not a right decision there. Nobody is trying to present it as such,” said Showalter of Young’s departure. “We’ve got good quality people, and you reach a point where you can’t keep them all. Unfortunately, we’re probably not done. It tugs at your chest.”

After being signed to a minor-league deal two offseasons ago, Young thrived in a part-time role in 2014, hitting .302 with seven homers and a .779 OPS. The first overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft was Baltimore’s best pinch hitter, going 10-for-20 in the regular season before delivering his pinch-hit two-bagger off Detroit right-hander Joakim Soria in the ALDS.

The offseason departure of slugger Nelson Cruz figured to create more opportunities for Young, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal over the winter to remain with the Orioles.

Duquette will now have 10 days to try to work out a trade for Young, a realistic chore considering he was able to deal Alejandro De Aza to the Boston Red Sox last month. Duquette told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game that he had already engaged in trade discussions with other clubs about Young but hadn’t gotten close to making a deal prior to Wednesday’s designation.

“Delmon is a qualified major league hitter,” Duquette said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a [landing] spot for him in a few days.”

Many fans will remember Young fondly for his heroics last October, but he isn’t the first Oriole to be let go shortly after a pinnacle playoff moment. Outfielder Tito Landrum hit the game-winning homer in Game 4 of the 1983 AL Championship Series before being traded the following spring.

 

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Orioles facing difficult roster decisions this week

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite playing their best baseball of the season over the last two weeks, the Orioles know a roster crunch is coming that will force difficult decisions to be made in the coming days.

Not only are pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen expected to return to the starting rotation this week, but the Orioles could welcome back second baseman Jonathan Schoop after he began a rehab assignment over the weekend. The current roster consists of 14 position players, three starting pitchers, and eight relievers. One roster spot will be taken care of by optioning either Oliver Drake or Mychal Givens back to the minors, but what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter plan to do beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Of their current position players on the roster, only Caleb Joseph, Manny Machado, and Ryan Flaherty have minor-league options, illustrating how little flexibility the Orioles have. Machado and Joseph clearly aren’t going anywhere while optioning Flaherty to make room for Schoop would leave Steve Pearce as the closest remaining piece resembling a utility infielder.

The Orioles are too crowded in the outfield, but barring a trade or an injury sending a player to the disabled list, they’ll have no choice but to possibly lose two players by designating them for assignment.

Below is a look at the candidates in danger of losing their roster spots and a chance to vote in our poll to determine who should go with Gonzalez, Chen, and potentially Schoop all returning to the 25-man roster this week:

If the Orioles must part ways with two of the following, who would you pick?

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David Lough
Age: 29
Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season
Argument for: Lough is arguably the second-best defensive outfielder on the club behind Adam Jones and has been used as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.
Case against: The left-handed hitter has never developed at the plate and currently sports a .605 on-base plus slugging percentage while showing little ability to use his speed to consistently steal bases.

Chris Parmelee
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season
Argument for: The 2006 first-round pick’s strong numbers at Triple-A Norfolk immediately carried over to the tune of three homers in his first two games with the Orioles last week.
Case against: The owner of an underwhelming .720 OPS in 923 major league plate appearances, Parmelee is 1-for-12 since going 5-for-7 with three homers to begin his run with the Orioles.

Steve Pearce
Age: 32
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: His ability to play four different positions brings needed versatility and his 2014 success (.930 OPS) is far more than most of the other candidates have ever accomplished in the majors.
Case against: Pearce has struggled to overcome a poor start and has seen his playing time dwindle, a sign that Showalter either has lost faith in him or is simply trying to evaluate his less-familiar pieces.

Nolan Reimold
Age: 31
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: Reimold has played good defense, shown speed, and displayed the plate discipline and power that once had the Orioles very excited about his potential to be an everyday player.
Case against: Even his biggest supporters have a tough time feeling confident that he’ll finally remain healthy, making you take pause before jettisoning other players off the roster in order to keep him.

Travis Snider
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2016 season
Argument for: His .349 on-base percentage is second on the club behind only Manny Machado among regulars, and his defense has actually been solid since some early-season issues in right field.
Case against: The lefty hitter hasn’t shown nearly as much power as the Orioles would like to see, and he goes through prolonged stretches where he struggles to make good contact.

Delmon Young
Age: 29
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: The .271 batter is 3-for-9 as a pinch hitter after going 10-for-20 in that department a year ago and is among the American League leaders with eight outfield assists.
Case against: The veteran doesn’t inspire confidence in the field and is slugging just .343 with four walks to give him a .634 OPS, which is comparable to the likes of Pearce and ex-Oriole Alejandro De Aza.

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Orioles thoughts on pitching and outfield situation

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Sunday was a forgettable day for Orioles rookie Mike Wright, but manager Buck Showalter was correct in pointing out the starting pitcher experienced some tough luck, especially early in the game.

The 25-year-old gave up a number of hits that weren’t exactly tattooed by the Yankees, but the biggest problem for Wright has been his inability to put hitters away — New York fouled off 13 pitches with two strikes in his four-plus innings of work — which often leads to a pitcher making a mistake. This not only drives up the pitch count, but it puts more pressure on the pitcher as Wright crumbled in the top of the fifth walking three straight hitters to conclude his afternoon.

His mid-90s fastball certainly plays at the major league level, but Wright’s slider and changeup haven’t been impressive, making you wonder if he’ll have the stuff to make it as a starting pitcher in the long run. I’m not ready to give up on the idea of Wright as a major league starter, but I do think his fastball could be very tough to handle in a late-inning relief role in which he’s only working an inning or so at a time. It wouldn’t be difficult seeing Wright eventually stepping into the role occupied by Tommy Hunter, who is a free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

Either way, Wright has work to do to improve his secondary stuff.

* I have no idea how long outfielder Nolan Reimold can continue this, but he’s provided a nice lift in his first week back with the Orioles.

I never doubted the 31-year-old’s ability early in his career, but you had to wonder whether the talent would still be there after two serious neck injuries in 2012 and 2013. Acknowledging it’s only been a handful of games, we’ve seen the combination of power, speed, and defensive ability that had the Orioles and their fans salivating about his potential years ago.

You can only cross your fingers that a guy who’s had terrible luck with injuries can stay healthy and the Orioles shouldn’t assume that he can stay on the field for the long haul, but Showalter should pencil his name into the starting lineup every day until there’s a reason not to.

* Speaking of outfielders, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d told you in February that Travis Snider would be hitting .252 in his first 150 plate appearances for the Orioles, but his lack of power has been startling.

After hitting nine home runs and slugging .524 in the second half for Pittsburgh last year, the Orioles hoped they were getting a 27-year-old and former first-round pick who was finally blooming at the plate after years of struggles, but Snider is slugging a career-low .326 with just one homer and seven extra-base hits and rarely makes sharp contact or shows the ability to drive the ball. In contrast, ex-Oriole Nick Markakis has a higher slugging percentage at .367 — still a poor mark — despite not yet hitting a home run for Atlanta this season.

You have to wonder if Snider is running out of chances as the Orioles desperately need an effective lefty-hitting outfielder and Chris Parmelee is producing at Triple-A Norfolk.

* The Orioles hope to see Bud Norris improve enough to finish out the season in the starting rotation, but I wouldn’t be keen on the idea of re-signing him this winter.

A club will likely overpay for the right-hander based on his 2014 season, but Norris hasn’t been able to duplicate his success against left-handed hitters this season. Relying on an effective changeup to hold lefties to a .255 average and .753 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, Norris has been lit up by lefty bats this season to the tune of a 1.035 OPS as he’s been unable to command the off-speed pitch as effectively.

Norris has always handled right-handed hitters, but his problems against lefties have plagued him for most of his career, which is the biggest reason why he’s been nothing more than an average starting pitcher other than last season. In reality, he’d probably be better suited for the bullpen on a competitive club, but Norris would hardly embrace such a role in a contract year.

* You get the sense that Showalter is beginning to use Delmon Young more and more like he did last season, which isn’t a bad thing for the Orioles.

Young has shown little power (a .358 slugging percentage), but he does sport a .327 average against left-handed pitching, making him an obvious start against southpaws. It was interesting to see David Lough hit for Young against right-hander Sergio Santos on Saturday night — Showalter said he wanted to give the young outfielder an at-bat even though the Orioles only led by three runs at the time — and then Matt Wieters was sent to the plate in Young’s place to face Dellin Betances in the ninth inning on Sunday.

It would be helpful if Dan Duquette could at least find an effective platoon partner for Young for the rest of the season.

* With southpaws Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland both struggling to throw strikes this season, the Orioles are hoping that Wesley Wright can settle into the lefty specialist role upon completing his minor-league rehab assignment.

On the disabled list since the first week of the season with a left trapezius strain, Wright is expected to join an affiliate any day now and could make Matusz expendable if he proves he’s healthy and can throw strikes.

* Adam Jones is a four-time Gold Glove center fielder and certainly doesn’t need validation, but there have been a couple points in his career when he was probably a little overrated as a defender.

But strictly going off the eyeball test — his fielding metrics have been good, for what it’s worth — Jones has never played better defense than what we’ve seen from him this year. The 29-year-old has not only been steady and consistent, but he’s made countless sensational plays — just ask the Boston Red Sox about last week’s series — running down balls in the gap or making exceptional throws to gun down runners trying to take an extra base.

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Five questions pondering Yanda, Matusz, others

Posted on 22 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or do you still enjoy seeing Marshal Yanda receive league-wide recognition? I’ve made no secret about my disdain for the annual NFL Network top 100 players list over the years, but I did enjoy seeing the four-time Pro Bowl guard appear 79th overall on this year’s version — even if he should be higher. Ozzie Newsome is in a tough spot with Yanda and Kelechi Osemele both scheduled to become free agents after the 2015 season. If you can only sign one — the Ravens believe young linemen John Urschel and Robert Myers could be starters in the near future — conventional wisdom might say to keep the younger Osemele, but would Baltimore really let the best guard in the NFL and one of the better players in franchise history leave? It isn’t an easy call as Yanda turns 31 in September, but his play has shown no signs of slowing down and he’s the leader of an offensive line that was very good in 2014.

2. Is it just me or do you think the Orioles regret not trading Brian Matusz in the spring? It’s been a difficult start for the lefty specialist, who sports a 3.77 ERA that doesn’t tell the story of just how ineffective he’s been. Matusz owns a 5.85 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark, is walking as many hitters per nine innings as he’s striking out (6.3), and has allowed an .864 on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handed hitters, which includes 10 walks in 41 plate appearances. After a two-hour rain delay on Thursday, Matusz entered to face a lineup that sported six left-handed hitters and could have given the Orioles a lift by handling a couple innings. Instead, he labored through a 39-pitch frame by giving up two runs, three hits, and a walk. Meanwhile, right-hander Ryan Webb sports a 1.42 ERA for Cleveland after the Orioles elected to jettison him at the start of the season.

3. Is it just me or are you interested to see how John Harbaugh handles the new extra-point rule? Despite expressing my skepticism over how much the changes will really impact the game, I am intrigued to see how the Ravens coach approaches the new rules from a strategic standpoint considering he hasn’t been afraid to go against the conventional — and ultraconservative — nature of many NFL coaches as we saw with his key decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory in Miami last season. Speaking to reporters after delivering the commencement address at Stevenson University on Thursday, Harbaugh endorsed the changes and believes they will lead to more two-point conversions, particularly when weather conditions are harsh. Of course, it certainly helps that he has one of the best kickers in the league to handle what will now become 33-yard extra points.

4. Is it just me or does Buck Showalter need to rethink the heart of the order? No, this isn’t a rant about Chris Davis striking out way too much — you don’t need me to tell you that — but it’s a look at Delmon Young, who has hit fourth in nine of the Orioles’ last 13 games. On the surface, Young’s .287 average is respectable, but his .330 slugging percentage is lower than the likes of struggling hitters such as Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce. Young’s lack of patience at the plate isn’t helping with only a 2.1 percent walk rate. This isn’t supposed to be a knock on Young as much as it shows how underwhelming the Orioles have been at the corner outfield spots, which has forced him to become an everyday player. Young is a better fit as a part-time player and pinch hitter, but he’s already played more innings in the field in 2015 than he did all last season, something that isn’t helping the Baltimore defense, either.

5. Is it just me or should the Ravens take a suggestion or two from the Uni Watch assessment of their uniforms? I don’t shy away from being a uniform geek as I enjoy using the “#FashionTweets” hashtag on Twitter and I generally like the Ravens’ duds, but the subtle tweaks suggested by Paul Lukas wouldn’t be bad ideas. The black pants that have become a major part of home and away uniform combinations could use a purple and white stripe on the sides similar to what we saw in 1997 (see below) before the black pants disappeared for years. More than that, I’d like to see the Ravens bring back the black and purple striped sock design worn before changing to the current — and boring — solid black ones in 2004. I admire the organization for making few uniform changes since 1999, but a couple tweaks would freshen up the look, especially if they insist on wearing black pants so often.

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BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 28:  Jamal Lewis #31 of the Baltimore Ravens leaves Dewayne Washington #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in his wake as he goes 26 yards for a first quarter touchdwon to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead over the Steelers during NFL action on December 28, 2003 at the M and T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

 

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Jones not receiving much help in Orioles outfield

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Arguably off to the best start of his major league career, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones rarely knows who will be playing to his left or right on any given night.

That unrest at the corner outfield spots has been one of the Orioles’ biggest problems through the first six weeks of the 2015 season as the quintet of Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Steve Pearce, and David Lough haven’t met expectations. After the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Orioles planned to mix and match their options in left and right depending on opposing pitchers and whoever might be swinging a hot bat at any given time.

Instead, it’s been no man’s land, leaving manager Buck Showalter searching for any production he can find. Entering Monday, Orioles left fielders have hit only .208 with a putrid .593 on-base plus slugging percentage. Right field has looked good from a batting average standpoint (.301), but that traditional power spot has provided only one home run and a .397 slugging percentage.

Playing more regularly than last season, Young has hit .292, but he has just four extra-base hits and an anemic .337 slugging percentage, making him less than desirable as a choice for the cleanup spot where he’s often appeared. His defense has been better than expected in right field, but Young rarely makes you feel comfortable watching him roam the outfield.

De Aza is second on the club with 27 strikeouts and has relinquished his role as the regular leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching due to a .209 average and just four walks in 92 plate appearances. His defense has also been inconsistent as he’s misjudged balls and occasionally thrown to the wrong base.

Snider was decent with the bat early and currently sports a .700 OPS, but his defensive lapses in April clearly led to him falling out of favor with Showalter. The former Pittsburgh Pirate has started just seven games in May.

Despite a dramatic walk-off homer against Boston on April 25, Lough has done nothing else to present himself as a player who should receive more playing time since returning from the 15-day disabled list.

And though he’s been reinvented as a second baseman this month due to a rash of injuries at the position, Pearce has failed to approach the same stratosphere of his 2014 success as he’s hitting just .188 on the season. A .208 batting average on balls put in play indicates Pearce has hit into tough luck, but that can’t completely make up for below-replacement level numbers from a veteran hitter who posted a .930 OPS a season ago.

Beyond searching for a time machine to travel back to the offseason, what can the Orioles do?

The organization has long-term visions of making current designated hitter Jimmy Paredes a corner outfielder, but much of that work will need to be done next offseason and moving him now would likely only shift one of the struggling outfielders to the DH role anyway.

Mentioned in the spring as possibilities to make contributions in the Orioles outfield at some point this season, Nolan Reimold is hitting just .238 and Dariel Alvarez is batting .240 at Triple-A Norfolk.

Beyond the possibility of a trade — which appears to be an eventual necessity at this point — the Orioles might be inclined to take a look at Chris Parmelee, a 2006 first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins who signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason. The 27-year-old is only a career .249 hitter in 901 major league plate appearances, but he has raked for the Tides in 2015, hitting .338 and posting a .904 OPS with three homers, 11 doubles, 22 RBIs, and 21 walks in 139 at-bats.

Parmelee has experience playing the corner outfield spots as well as first base in the majors, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend that he’s someone on the Orioles’ radar as a potential call-up. Of course, no one can view Parmelee as a long-term solution, but perhaps it’s time for Baltimore to shake up the current outfield roster with some different competition in hopes of sparking more production.

Regardless of how they proceed, the Orioles cannot continue to receive such little production from two positions traditionally viewed as run-producing spots.

One of the biggest questions entering the season would be how the corner outfield spots would shake out with Markakis and Cruz no longer options to flank Jones.

So far, the plan has been nothing short of a colossal disappointment.

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Orioles feeling better after regrouping against Boston

Posted on 26 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You often hope a dramatic moment like David Lough’s walk-off homer against Boston on Saturday night will be the sign of better fortunes to come.

It helped the Orioles snap a five-game losing streak and sent fans home happy after a tense day in downtown Baltimore, but “magical” occurrences like this can be found in virtually any season with most being of little consequence in the scope of a 162-game schedule. That’s what made Sunday’s demolition of the Red Sox that much more encouraging.

Manager Buck Showalter often quotes the late Earl Weaver’s philosophy of momentum being as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, and Bud Norris delivered with 6 2/3 strong innings despite his nightmarish beginning to the 2015 season. Of course, he received plenty of support as the Orioles lineup matched its highest run total since April 19, 2006.

“It was one we kind of needed,” said right fielder Delmon Young, who drove in five runs in Sunday’s 18-7 final. “We’ve been playing sloppy baseball for about a week or so. Good to get out of the rut. We had been swinging the bats well, [but] just hadn’t been playing on the defensive side well. And Bud pitched a strong game.”

The Orioles played sound defense — something that shouldn’t be taken for granted of late — and Norris quieted questions about his status in the starting rotation for the time being by holding the Red Sox scoreless until surrendering a three-run home run to Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the seventh inning. Norris lowered his ERA from 17.42 to 12.18 in his first four starts covering 17 innings.

It was his outing that was the most encouraging development of the afternoon despite the Orioles collecting 20 hits in a game for the first time in over a year.

“Bud, without a doubt,” said Showalter when asked if he placed more importance on the performance of his starting pitcher or the offense. “That’s the Bud that pitched well for us last year. This guy won 15 games last year, and he was in attack mode today. He got a little tired there at the end. Threw a lot of strike ones. He was around the zone the whole day. Bud was good.”

Norris showed improved fastball command in allowing seven hits and three earned runs while walking three and striking out two to help the Orioles win their third series of the season. His six clean innings were more than his total number of clean frames (five) in his first three outings combined.

After completing six innings just four times in their first 16 games, Orioles starters are on a mini-roll with Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Norris each turning in six or more innings over the weekend. But Norris needed a good outing more than any pitcher on the roster after a rough spring and two of the worst starts of his major league career coming in his first three outings of 2015.

“It feels really good, to be honest, just to prove to these guys that I’m here to help out again,” Norris said. “These guys know who I am. We’re trying to find our stride. We have a good group in this clubhouse, and we’re excited with the year to go.”

Yes, the Orioles regrouped nicely this weekend to calm some nerves after a 7-10 start and their ugly five-game slide. Still dealing with injuries, they need to see their pitching step up and the defense to stabilize with some new pieces until the likes of J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters are able to return.

The offense is certainly doing its part, entering Sunday ranking sixth in the majors in runs scored and taking over the major-league lead with its highest run total in almost a decade.

Fans will hope Lough’s walk-off homer and a drubbing of the Red Sox on Sunday are the catalysts for a hot streak to even out the early struggles, but the next indicator comes against the Chicago White Sox with Ubaldo Jimenez taking the hill against Hector Noesi on Monday night.

“Momentum stops once you go to sleep,” Young said. “It’s a new pitcher, a new day.”

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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