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Like weather, Orioles waiting for rest of lineup to heat up

Posted on 05 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Orioles offense is waiting for the weather to feel more like Baltimore in early May and less like Seattle as it has during the current homestand and for much of the season.

The overall numbers look mostly great as they rank sixth in the AL in runs, fifth in hits, third in home runs, third in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and first in slugging percentage, but that reflects how much an MVP-like performance from Manny Machado and a white-hot start from Mark Trumbo have carried the Orioles through the first month of the season. Chris Davis and Jonathan Schoop have had their moments — as did J.J. Hardy before his unfortunate injury — but virtually all hitters not named Machado or Trumbo are failing to pull their weight.

Manager Buck Showalter can’t rely on those two to do it all year while the rest of the order struggles to get going.

“That’s kind of been the way things have been going for us lately,” said Davis, whose on-base plus slugging percentage dipped to .795 on Wednesday. “We’ve had a few games where we’ve been able to score some runs early and capitalize on those opportunities, but for the most part, we’re not getting the job done when we have runners in scoring position.

“The biggest thing to remember is to stay the course. We’re playing really good ball defensively. I think we’re throwing the ball well and keeping ourselves in the game. We all know the bats are going to heat up when the weather [stops] raining and [being] cold and it warms up a little bit.”

Joey Rickard was the feel-good story of the spring, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify his .304 on-base percentage remaining in the lineup every day, let alone in the leadoff spot. Despite much praise for his defense this spring, the 24-year-old has also struggled in the outfield at minus-seven defensive runs saved, creating more reason to see less of him and more of Nolan Reimold or even Hyun Soo Kim.

Burying Rickard on the bench would be premature, but lowering him in the lineup might be appropriate, even if Machado is the only viable alternative to lead off and you’d rather keep him in the No. 2 spot.

The catching tandem of Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph have combined to hit .217 with one home run and a .577 OPS. A $15.8 million salary for Wieters wasn’t going to suddenly transform him into the type of hitter many hoped he would be at the start of his career, but his .588 OPS is sub-replacement level and dramatically below his career .740 mark and Joseph (.485) has been even worse.

Pedro Alvarez has warmed up recently, but the former Pittsburgh Pirate still hasn’t shown enough to justify the Orioles spending $5.75 million on him this spring.

However, the biggest early-season concern is veteran center fielder Adam Jones, who is batting .205 with just one homer. He’s grounded into more double plays (seven) than he has extra-base hits (five) through his first 87 plate appearances.

Of course, Jones is a famously streaky hitter and has gone through extended dry spells before, but these struggles coming off the rib injury that cost him a week early in the season make you wonder if he’s truly healthy — or at least healthy enough to be himself. The 30-year-old would never use an injury as an excuse, but the Orioles need Jones to be his usual strong presence in the middle of the order.

His 75.4 percent contact rate is perfectly in line with his career average, but he’s hitting more ground balls (57.4 percent of balls put in play compared to 47.9 percent in his career) and fewer line drives (9.8 percent to 18.4 percent for his career), suggesting that he could be struggling to elevate the ball with authority. However, FanGraphs has tracked 33.9 percent of his balls in play being hard contact, which is in line with his 31.8 percent career average. His average exit velocity of 92.4 miles per hour is also better than last year’s 88.9 mph, creating more hope that Jones is just in an early-season funk.

“He’s not the only one, but we know there are some good things ahead,” said Showalter after Wednesday’s 7-0 loss in which Jones went 0-for-3 and the Orioles went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. “Like good hitters with good track records and things that he’s done for us, some [opponent] will pay. He’s a little frustrated by it, but I know Adam. We’ve seen it a lot where he’s gone through some periods like a lot of good hitters do and he’ll get it going.

“He’ll get it going.”

Showalter hopes that several members of his lineup heat up sooner than later — along with the weather.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 2-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 18th game of the 2016 season.

1st — It was only a matter of time before Rays ace Chris Archer bounced back from a horrendous start to his season, but the Orioles were shut out for the first time all season and extended their scoreless streak to 17 innings. And it’s a shame because they received a more-than-acceptable performance with only two runs allowed by Orioles pitching. Entering the night with a 7.32 ERA, Archer did a superb job commanding his changeup and slider to complement his mid-90s fastball, but the Orioles managed just five hits and didn’t have a single batter reach against the Rays bullpen. The lone offensive highlights of the night were provided by Pedro Alvarez, who collected two doubles as he tries to bounce back from a horrendous start. No other Baltimore hitter reached second base, however.

2nd — Kevin Gausman deserved a better fate, but his struggles after failing to get the call on a 3-2 slider to Steven Souza proved to be the difference in the fifth. The Orioles had to be pleased with what they saw from the 25-year-old in his season debut following a stint on the disabled list, but the terrific breaking ball he displayed over the first four innings vanished after the walk to Souza and he worked into too many deep counts and struggled to put hitters away the rest of the inning. The pitch he’d ultimately like to have back was the 3-2 fastball catching too much of the plate that Rays catcher Curt Casali lined down the left-field line to plate Souza for the first run of the game. The 32-pitch fifth brought a premature end to his outing and he probably ran out of a gas trying to keep up with a terrific pitcher on the opposing side, but Gausman removed much doubt about the health of his right shoulder by using a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and a sharp breaking ball to strike out seven in five innings. He just didn’t get any help from his offense.

3rd — In his second appearance since coming off the DL, Brian Matusz walked the two left-handed hitters he faced and loaded the bases in the sixth. If the lefty specialist isn’t going to get lefty bats out, his place in the bullpen becomes tenuous at best as he doesn’t offer as much length as other pitchers. Yes, it was Vance Worley who clipped Casali’s jersey with a pitch to force in the second Tampa Bay run, but Matusz was the one who created the mess that led to a 2-0 deficit.

Home — The Orioles didn’t have many opportunities, but Jonathan Schoop, Joey Rickard, and Manny Machado combined to go 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. … Chris Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. … Despite hitting Casali to force in a run, Worley pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for Baltimore to save the rest of the bullpen. … Adam Jones grimaced after swinging at the second strike in his final at-bat and was captured by MASN cameras talking to trainer Richie Bancells in the dugout after he grounded out in the ninth inning. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill on Tuesday night and will be opposed by Tampa Bay right-hander Jake Odorizzi.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-3 win over Toronto

Posted on 21 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 13th game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado wasted no time extending his hitting streak to 13 games with his RBI double in the first inning, but his most impressive at-bats came late in the game when it was clear that Toronto pitching wanted no part of the All-Star third baseman. Coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position in both the eighth and the 10th, Machado saw a total of one strike while patiently taking walks to continue the innings. A couple years ago, he might have expanded the zone to try to be the hero in those situations, but he instead drew his free passes on Wednesday night. It was the kind of maturity at the plate that sometimes makes you forget that Machado is just 23 years old. His 2-for-3 night raised his average to .407 on the season.

2ndJoey Rickard collected three hits, scored the first run of the game, and threw out Ryan Goins at the plate to end the top of the sixth inning and protect a one-run lead at the time. Two of the three hits were of the infield variety, but the Rule 5 pick continues to show good speed to put pressure on infielders when he hits the ball on the ground. Though he’s only drawn two walks to this point in the season, Rickard saw a total of 30 pitches in his five plate appearances on Wednesday, which is exactly what you want to see from a leadoff hitter. He leads all major league rookies with 18 hits this season.

3rdAdam Jones offered the Orioles’ defensive play of the year so far as he laid out in a head-first dive in shallow right-center to catch a sinking liner off the bat of Jose Baustista in the top of the seventh. The play temporarily saved a run as Michael Saunders inexplicably failed to tag up and score, but the Blue Jays left fielder came around to touch home plate on Edwin Encarnacion’s two-out double. That said, Jones taking away a hit from Bautista might have been the difference between a tie game and Toronto going ahead on Encarnacion’s extra-base hit if Bautista had been on base.

Home — The bullpen wasn’t flawless but allowed only one run in five innings of work, and Zach Britton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth against the top of the order to headline the group’s effort. … Jonathan Schoop made fine defensive plays to end the ninth and 10th innings, the latter being a 4-6-3 double play to strand a runner in scoring position. … Baltimore has pitched to a 2.11 ERA in seven games at Camden Yards so far this season. … According to STATS, Wednesday marked the first walk-off win in Orioles history coming on a passed ball. … The Orioles send Chris Tillman to the mound in search of a series win on Thursday while the Blue Jays will go with Marco Estrada.

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“Rounding the Bases” in 6-3 loss to Texas

Posted on 15 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-3 defeat to the Texas Rangers on Thursday night?

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

1st — Going the third time through the batting order is challenging for any starting pitcher with hitters being more familiar with their stuff and fatigue sometimes setting in, but it was painful for Chris Tillman, who had allowed only one run and three hits in his first two trips through the Texas lineup. Counting Delino DeShields’ infield single in the fifth, Rangers hitters went 6-for-7 with three doubles in their third at-bats seeing Tillman and transformed a 3-1 Baltimore lead into a 6-3 Texas advantage as the right-handed starter was chased and the sixth inning eventually came to an end. It didn’t take much as a couple pitches up in the zone to Nomar Mazara and Adrian Beltre quickly transformed what had been a solid start into a nightmare exit.

2nd — For the second straight night, the Orioles squandered scoring opportunities that could have eased the pressure on Tillman in that fateful bottom of the sixth. After Jonathan Schoop singled and Nolan Reimold doubled off Texas starter Cole Hamels to lead off the top of the fifth, the top of the order failed to plate a single run as Joey Rickard struck out looking, Manny Machado grounded out, and Adam Jones struck out swinging. J.J. Hardy singled in a run in the top of the sixth, but Jonathan Schoop grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners and one out, failing to extend a 3-1 lead. The Orioles left four runners in scoring position and lost by three runs.

3rd — Tillman’s final line of six earned runs and nine hits surrendered in just 5 1/3 innings was ugly, but some of that damage was due to some bad luck in the sixth, which you figure will be balanced out by good fortune over a 162-game season. Mitch Moreland’s RBI double down the left-field line was nothing more than a softly-hit pop fly that Rickard couldn’t catch up to after he was playing the pull-happy lefty hitter way over in left-center. Ian Desmond followed that with a game-tying infield hit that couldn’t have been much softer between the mound and first. As Buck Showalter said to MASN after the game, “The baseball gods weren’t too kind to us.” They made a bad inning worse for Tillman and the Orioles.

Home — Replays showed Schoop did not get a good read on the Reimold double over Desmond’s head in left-center and probably should have scored from first base on the play. … Machado has a hit in all nine games to begin the 2016 season, but he went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position. … Tillman turned in the second-longest outing of the season for the Orioles, becoming the first starter to complete more than five innings since Ubaldo Jimenez’s seven-inning performance on April 7. … Mark Trumbo is now 5-for-15 with two homers off Hamels in his career after hitting one out to the opposite field in the fourth. … Vance Worley will make his second start of the season on Friday with Texas sending lefty Martin Perez to the bump.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the fifth game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado said after the game that he isn’t yet locked in at the plate, but he sure looked like it on Sunday as he went 4-for-4, hitting a two-run home run in the second off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi and scoring two runs. The 23-year-old also showed impressive baserunning instincts in the bottom of the eighth when he scored on a wild pitch by Erasmo Ramirez — even if Matt Wieters astutely alerted him to touch the plate after he had initially missed it on his slide. Machado is hitting .429 and has homered three times over the first five games, reminding us why he’s the Orioles’ best player.

2nd — Brad Brach entered with two outs in the top of the fifth and the Rays threatening to tie the game with runners on the corners, but the right-hander got Brad Miller to fly out to deep right, just the latest example of how effective he is against left-handed hitters. He followed that with a flawless top of the sixth that included strikeouts of Steven Souza Jr. and Curt Casali, setting the tone for the rest of the bullpen to protect a small lead over the final three innings.

3rdJonathan Schoop continued his strong start to the season, collecting an RBI double to start the Orioles’ scoring in the bottom of the second inning. The 24-year-old second baseman is now hitting .313 on the young season and has four extra-base hits over the first five games. He also extended his hitting streak to 11 games dating back to last season.

HomeVance Worley was on a pitch count and hadn’t pitched since the spring finale on April 1, but the right-hander was very effective the first time through the order against a club he’d never faced and managed to get into the fifth with a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that he probably stuck with Worley too long trying to get him through the inning to be eligible for a win, but he’ll need to go deeper if he’s going to stick in the starting rotation. … Mychal Givens rebounded from allowing three runs in his first two appearances by pitching a scoreless seventh inning that included strikeouts of Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria. … Hyun Soo Kim collected two hits that didn’t leave the infield, but it was a good start for the South Korean outfielder in his major league debut. … Mark Trumbo collected two more singles and is now 9-for-19 on the season, all of those hits being singles. … Pedro Alvarez picked up his first hit of the season and scored the first Baltimore run by evading the tag of Casali. … The Orioles have started a season 5-0 for the first time since 1970. … Yovani Gallardo will make his second start of the season Monday afternoon in Boston and will be opposed by Red Sox ace David Price.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the second game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Davis homered at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the first time since Oct. 4, 2015, the game many assumed would be the slugger’s last in an Orioles uniform before he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract in January to remain in Baltimore. The 421-foot shot to center off Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson gave Baltimore the lead for good in the bottom of the third and was the Orioles’ first home run of the season. The first baseman made a good defensive play in the eighth, picking J.J. Hardy’s in-between hop on a throw and keeping his foot on the bag to record the out before tumbling over.

2ndYovani Gallardo allowed just one run and struck out four in five solid innings to win his Orioles debut. The only hits he allowed were a pair of doubles by talented Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, but Gallardo did walk three batters and induced only three grounders, which is fairly unusual for him. His velocity remains a concern as his fastball sat mostly between 87 and 88 miles per hour, but he mixed his pitches well, using his slider to strike out Byung Ho Park and Eduardo Escobar in the fourth. The 30-year-old retired seven of the final eight hitters he faced and threw 89 pitches, 52 for strikes.

3rdJoey Rickard continued to impress in his second major league game, going 2-for-3 and picking up the first RBI of his career with a sacrifice fly to left in the fourth inning. The Rule 5 pick is 4-for-7 with a double and a run scored in two games and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Rickard also had two six-pitch at-bats on Wednesday, something manager Buck Showalter wants to see if the left fielder is to eventually become the club’s leadoff hitter.

HomeJonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters each collected RBI doubles to give the Orioles their other two runs on the night. … Zach Britton allowed a double and a walk, but the 2015 All-Star closer struck out the side to earn his first save, tying Eddie Watt for seventh on the club’s all-time saves list with 74. … Not known for his patience at the plate, Hardy drew a walk for the second straight game and saw a total of 23 pitches in four trips to the plate. The Orioles have drawn 11 walks in their first two games of the season. … Pedro Alvarez is the only regular in the lineup yet to record a hit this season, but the former Pittsburgh slugger walked twice in Wednesday’s win. … Adam Jones appeared to show some discomfort after striking out swinging in the bottom of the eighth, but Showalter said he was unaware of any issue when asked following the game. … Thursday’s announced attendance was 12,622, the Orioles’ lowest mark since April 22, 2013 if you don’t count the empty-ballpark game from last year. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill Thursday night with the Orioles in search of a three-game sweep after going 0-7 against Minnesota in 2015. He’ll be opposed by Twins right-hander Phil Hughes.

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Five things that must go right for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 31 March 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule full of twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2016:

1. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman take the lead for a suspect starting rotation

It’s impossible not to be concerned with the starting five, especially with bounce-back candidate Miguel Gonzalez being released after a poor spring. That’s why Tillman and Gausman are so important to the Orioles’ chances of improving a starter ERA (4.53) that finished 14th in the AL in 2015.

Tillman will once again take the ball on Opening Day and posted a 3.42 ERA from 2012-2014 to lead the rotation, but his 4.99 mark last year was one of the big reasons why the club allowed 100 more runs than it did in 2014. A hip ailment slowed him at the start of spring, but the 27-year-old is still talented and young enough to rebound. The question will be whether it’s enough improvement to move the meter.

Gausman’s right shoulder tendinitis is cause for concern until he’s back on the mound, but the Orioles hope they were proactive in taking care of it. Finally a full-time member of the rotation, Gausman has the ability to become the best pitcher in the rotation if he can master his command of a third pitch to go with his electric fastball and tough split-changeup. At the end of last season, he expressed growing confidence in his curveball after throwing a slider earlier in his major league career.

The Orioles will hope for the best with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but inconsistency has followed him his entire career. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo has an impressive track record, but a declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity make him an expensive question mark. After that, the Orioles will hope the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can handle the final rotation spot.

If Tillman and Gausman can be productive rocks for the rotation, it becomes easier to put together the rest of the group to improve from last season. If not, things could get ugly.

2. The lineup produces its highest run total since 2008

The Orioles have averaged just under 719 runs scored per season over the last four years, but it’s fair to expect more from a lineup that added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and hopes to have healthier versions of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop.

Even if the starting rotation can improve from last year, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of ceiling that would make you think the Orioles will stay in serious contention without boosting their run total of 713 from 2015. After finishing third in the majors with 217 homers, the lineup now has two more bats with 30-homer ability in Trumbo and Alvarez, making it arguably the most powerful order in the majors.

The lineup will strike out too much and doesn’t have many hitters with good on-base ability, but it’s not impossible to think the power-hitting Orioles can eclipse the 750-run mark for the first time since 2008.

3. The defense returns to its 2014 level of excellence

Most focus on the demise of the 2015 club fell on the regression of the starting pitching from the previous year, but a rotation that depended on pitching to contact did not have the same quality of defense behind it as in 2014.

Sure, the Orioles committed the fewest errors in the AL, but that traditional measure doesn’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, or the ability to make spectacular plays. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (plus-50) in 2014, the Orioles finished ninth at minus-11 last year.

Healthier versions of Hardy, Schoop, and Adam Jones should improve the overall defense at positions that suffered in their absence last year. And Machado being another year removed from his knee surgeries will likely eliminate the shaky defensive start he had in 2015, making the already-elite third baseman even better in the field.

Of course, Trumbo being projected as the primary right fielder probably won’t help a position that was abysmal for the Orioles at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2015. And it will be interesting to see how a heavier workload for Wieters will impact the defense behind the plate after Caleb Joseph finished second on the 2015 club with 12 defensive runs saved.

If the starting pitching improves enough in 2016, the defense will likely have a lot to do with it.

4. The bullpen becomes even more dominant than it was the last few years

How can you expect much more from a group that finished third in the AL in bullpen ERA over the last two years and posted a 3.21 mark in 2015?

Full-season contributions from Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy give a deep bullpen even more upside than it already had with 2015 All-Star selections Zach Britton and Darren O’Day leading the way. There is some short-term concern about the lefty specialist role with Brian Matusz ailing this spring, but the Orioles have right-handed relievers such as O’Day and Brad Brach who are effective against left-handed hitting to help pick up the slack for the time being.

Long-term depth might be even more important than dominance late in games with the serious questions about the starting rotation. Fortunately, there are a couple more capable arms such as Oliver Drake waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter is as good as they come handling relievers, so you trust his ability to keep them fresh for the long haul. At the same time, the starting rotation might test the bullpen like it hasn’t faced in several years.

5. Someone other than Machado emerges as the leadoff hitter

Machado did an admirable job primarily serving in the top spot in the order with a career-high .359 on-base percentage, but his run-producing ability is better utilized in the second or third spot.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard figures to receive some early opportunities in the leadoff role after winning the starting left field job to begin the year. He had a .390 career on-base percentage in the minors, but will that ability translate to the majors considering his limited power that will prompt pitchers to challenge him with strikes and better stuff at a higher level?

Veteran Nolan Reimold could also factor into the equation as he had a .344 OBP in 195 plate appearances last year.

It isn’t as important that the Orioles move Machado out of the leadoff spot as it is to find a replacement who is truly deserving of hitting at the top of the order. If they do, the offense can better maximize its power capabilities and score more runs to help out a starting rotation that remains the biggest concern entering 2016.

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2016 Orioles preview: Jonathan Schoop

Posted on 03 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman

2B Jonathan Schoop

Age: 24

Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season

2015 stats: .279/.306/.482, 15 HR, 39 RBI, 34 R, 2 SB, 321 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite missing over two months with a knee injury, the young second baseman nearly matched his 2014 home run total (16) in 160 fewer plate appearances. Schoop’s .788 on-base plus slugging percentage might be tough to sustain over a full season, but that kind of production would put him in the All-Star discussion at a position where offense is at a premium.

Why to be concerned: Schoop provided plenty of power in his second full season in the majors, but his strikeout rate (24.6 percentage) was virtually identical to his rookie year and his walk rate (2.8 percent) makes Adam Jones (4.2 percent) look downright patient. He has plenty of talent and is still maturing, but it’s difficult to sustain success when you struggle to make contact and show little plate discipline.

2016 outlook: It was impressive to watch Schoop ambush pitchers last summer after such a long layoff from the knee injury suffered in mid-April, and the Orioles hope that he will have a healthy spring. The Curacao native will never walk 90 times per season, but just a little more patience at the plate would go a long way in making him one of the better second basemen in the AL.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: .255/.295/.430, 22 HR, 53 RBI, 56 R, 3 SB, 552 PA

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Five questions pondering Machado, Ravens tight ends, Pittsburgh’s woes

Posted on 28 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or is it almost impossible to believe Manny Machado is the active “iron man” in the majors? As the Orioles prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record next week, how is it possible that someone who doesn’t yet have the 131 in “2131” owns the longest active streak with 127 consecutive games played entering Friday night? Credit Machado for being the only player in the majors to appear in each of his club’s games so far this season — especially after he underwent season-ending knee surgeries in the two previous years — but the 23-year-old would have to continue for nearly 15 1/2 seasons to catch Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games. We’ll see you in 2031 when Machado is 39 years old? I suppose we should never say never when no one thought Gehrig’s record would ever be broken, but the juxtaposition of Machado and Ripken 20 years later shows how remarkable “The Streak” really was.

2. Is it just me or does the tight end position become even more important with the Ravens’ current injuries at wide receiver? The long-term absence of Breshad Perriman and recent Michael Campanaro injury have taken attention away from the tight end position, but the Ravens have to be nervous at the thought of needing to count on their tight ends more than expected. Baltimore still has the incomparable Steve Smith as well as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown at wideout, but none of them are field-stretchers, meaning the Ravens will need more precision in the short-to-intermediate passing game if Perriman isn’t ready to make an early impact. Young tight ends Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Nick Boyle have much upside, but they have 10 career receptions and one year of professional experience among them. In Saturday’s dress rehearsal for the season, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will want to see his tight ends have a good showing to quell concerns.

3. Is it just me or is it embarrassing to look back at the Orioles’ corner outfield “crunch” of a couple months ago? It wasn’t long ago that we were discussing the Orioles’ difficulty in trying to make room for Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, David Lough, Travis Snider, and Chris Parmelee. Two months later, only Pearce remains on the 25-man roster as the Orioles released Young and Snider and outrighted Parmelee, Lough, and Reimold to Triple-A Norfolk. Allowing both Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to part via free agency was one thing, but the plan for trying to replace them was a colossal failure when there were better moves that could have been made that even wouldn’t have wreaked havoc on the payroll. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has done good things since arriving four years ago, but it’s difficult to recall a worse offseason for an individual that immediately followed an Executive of the Year campaign.

4. Is it just me or are the Pittsburgh Steelers in pretty rough shape early in the season? The Ravens have dealt with their share of injuries and face the daunting task of playing five of their first seven games on the road to begin the 2015 season. However, I’m still not sure it tops what Pittsburgh will face early on, especially with Thursday’s news that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the first four games. This comes after Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell was already serving a two-game ban, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a long-term ankle injury, and reliable kicker Shaun Suisham was lost for the year in the Hall of Fame Game. Of course, none of this should make the Ravens or their fans feel sorry for their hated rival, but it’s a simple reminder of just how much every team goes through over the course of a season. Taking nothing away from the team ultimately holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy at season’s end, but the NFL really is a war of attrition and involves plenty of luck.

5. Is it just me or are there some significant positives to take away from an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Orioles? It’s easy — and fair — to deem 2015 a failure if the Orioles do not qualify for the postseason for the third time in four years, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some important developments for the future. The organization and fan base will collectively knock on wood, but Machado has remained healthy while also blossoming into an MVP-caliber player as he’s already set career highs in home runs, stolen bases, and walks and is on track to finish with personal bests in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBIs, and runs scored. Despite missing nearly three months, second baseman Jonathan Schoop had an .845 on-base plus slugging percentage entering the weekend and would be on pace for 30 homers and 90 RBIs over a full season. The Orioles face an uncertain offseason, but two All-Star-caliber infielders under age 24 are golden pieces to build around.

 

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Schoop coming into own since returning from knee injury

Posted on 20 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injury report

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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