Tag Archive | "kansas city"


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Orioles shouldn’t overlook defense entering critical offseason

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Improving the starting pitching, re-signing Chris Davis, and upgrading corner outfield production top the consensus list of priorities as the Orioles’ offseason needs.

Though maddeningly inconsistent during the 2015 season following the free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Baltimore lineup still produced eight more runs than it did a year ago. A bullpen that didn’t retain postseason standout Andrew Miller finished third in the American League with a 3.21 ERA, only slightly worse than its 3.10 mark in 2014.

But an Orioles starting rotation that finished fifth in the AL with a 3.61 ERA in 2014 was almost a full run worse with a 4.53 mark that ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs this past season.

That explains much of the Orioles’ drop-off in a nutshell, right?

Not exactly, even if the starting rotation clearly needs to be upgraded this winter.

Below is a look at a mystery team compared to the Orioles in just a few categories with their 2015 AL rankings included in parentheses:

  Mystery team      Orioles
Runs scored       724 (6th)   713 (7th)
Starter ERA   4.34 (12th)   4.53 (14th)
Starter FIP   4.32 (12th)   4.47 (14th)
Quality starts   71 (14th)   72 (11th)
Bullpen ERA   2.72 (1st)   3.21 (3rd)
Bullpen FIP   3.56 (4th)   3.48 (3rd)
Team ERA   3.73 (3rd)   4.05 (8th)
Team FIP   4.04 (6th)   4.11 (10th)


Though you’d conclude that the mystery team was better than the Orioles in 2015 — by 14 wins, in fact — the comparison shows two clubs sharing a similar profile in terms of runs scored and a reliance on a strong bullpen to overcome below-average starting pitching. But the smaller gap between these clubs in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) compared to the difference in ERA helps illustrate arguably the biggest difference between the Orioles and the World Series champion Kansas City Royals in 2015.


Now, traditional fielding statistics — that don’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, and an ability to make the more difficult plays — would suggest the Orioles were the best defensive team in the league in 2015 as they committed the fewest errors of any AL club and owned the highest fielding percentage. Meanwhile, the Royals committed 11 more errors and ranked only sixth in fielding percentage.

But a deeper look indicates the Royals were vastly superior to Baltimore in the field, leading the AL with 52 defensive runs saved (numbers constructed by Baseball Info Solutions) while the Orioles finished 11th at minus-9. On their way to its first AL East title in 17 years, Buck Showalter’s club led the league with 50 defensive runs saved a year ago.

This sterling defense in 2014 helped make an average Baltimore starting rotation that owned the 14th-worst FIP (4.18) in the AL one of the league’s best in terms of ERA with a 3.61 mark that ranked fifth. In other words, superb defense helped compensate for starting pitchers who still finished in the bottom third of the AL in strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.

So, what happened to the defense in 2015?

Using defensive runs saved — only one metric, but viewed by many as a reliable one — below is a position-by-position look at how the Orioles performed in 2014 compared to 2015:

Position    2014    2015    Difference
C    -1    4    +5
1B    15    1    -14
2B    8   -7    -15
3B    6    10    +4
SS    5    -2    -7
LF    7    4    -3
CF    6   -1    -7
RF    5   -8    -13
P   -1   -10    -9


According to defensive runs saved, the Orioles improved at only two positions in 2015: catcher and third base. Caleb Joseph starting the majority of the games led to the overall improvement at catcher as he finished second on the club with 12 defensive runs saved in 2015. The overall improvement at the hot corner should come as no surprise with a healthy Manny Machado starting all but six games at third base and leading the club with 13 defensive runs saved overall in 2015.

Based on defensive runs saved, the largest drop-offs occurred at first base, second base, and right field. At first base, the 2015 defense wasn’t atrocious, but it was only average after both Chris Davis and Steve Pearce played superb defense there a year earlier. In 2015, Davis was still better than average (+4), but other options such as Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, and Chris Parmelee were either average or slightly below average at the position. Whether Davis ultimately returns or the Orioles are looking at other options for the position in 2016, they’d clearly prefer a return to 2014 defensive levels at first base.

The dramatic drop-off at second base can mostly be attributed to the long-term knee injury suffered by Jonathan Schoop, who finished with an impressive 10 defensive runs saved as a rookie in 2014. Virtually everyone who played the position this past season — including Schoop (-1) — was either average or below average. Fortunately for the Orioles, it’s reasonable to expect Schoop’s defense to bounce back with a full winter to strengthen his knee, but that will be something worth monitoring early next season.

Of course, right field was manned by the unspectacular but very steady Nick Markakis in 2014, but other options such as Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce also played solid defense in limited opportunities in right. The Orioles’ revolving door at right field in 2015 was nearly as painful in the field as it was at the plate with no one playing good defense including the two-time Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra (minus-7 defensive runs saved) after he was acquired at the trade deadline. The Orioles simply must find a better all-around option in right field than the ones they ran out there in 2015.

Other positions with drop-off can primarily be attributed to starters missing time due to injuries. At shortstop, J.J. Hardy saw his defensive runs saved dip from 10 to four, but the Orioles will only hope the injuries he’s battled the last couple seasons won’t zap his defense as dramatically as his offense.

Despite the Orioles’ overall decrease in center field in 2015, Adam Jones slightly improved in defensive runs saved from a year ago, but his replacements did not play well in the field. Though turning 30 this past year, Jones has a track record of durability that doesn’t make this position much of a concern after a variety of ailments limited him to just 137 games in 2015.

As for defense on the mound, it’s apparent that pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti will need to make improving defense a point of emphasis during spring training. However, it’s worth noting that the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez was the biggest pitching culprit at minus-4 runs saved in 2015 as he is very poor at holding runners on base.

These defensive numbers aren’t to suggest that the Orioles don’t need to improve their starting pitching or go all out to sign Davis or another impact bat or two this winter, but much of their success over the last few seasons can be attributed to exceptional defense, something Showalter’s club did not play in 2015. And given the organization’s track record for not spending big money on free agents, improving the defense at a few positions is probably a more realistic task than overhauling the starting rotation or even re-signing Davis at this point.

Would that alone be enough to make the Orioles a contender?

No, but playing underwhelming defense in 2015 went a long way in exposing a mediocre starting rotation and ultimately leaving the Orioles on the outside looking in for the postseason.

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And Toto, the fountains are blue, the midwest is lovely and it's baseball in a perfect environment...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 2 Kansas City Royals

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Kansas City – I defy you to go to Kansas City and not fall in love with the Midwest and baseball on a summer night. History. Tradition. Pride. Fountains spewing. Great food stands. A big parking lot full of energy. This is certainly a far different experience than anything you would’ve seen in those 29 years when the Royals were, well, not so Royal in the American League standings. Winning changes everything. And there goes your proof in Kansas City. It’s the best pure stadium every designed for watching a baseball game. All of the seats point to second base. Now, all of the All Star Game fans vote blue. It’s standing room only most nights. The atmosphere has finally caught up the natural beauty and charm of Kaufman Stadium. This is a fantastic place to watch a baseball game. Go see for yourself.

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Predicting the Orioles’ All-Star selections

Posted on 30 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The latest American League All-Star voting update made it clear that no Orioles players will be elected as starters, but that doesn’t mean Buck Showalter’s club won’t be well-represented in Cincinnati.

Starters voted by the fans will be announced on Sunday night while the All-Star reserves and pitchers will be revealed on Monday evening.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s top candidates to be invited to baseball’s All-Star Game on July 14:

The most deserving: 3B Manny Machado
Skinny: The Orioles and their fans still pray that the 22-year-old’s knee problems are finally behind him, but there’s no disputing that Machado has blossomed into a superstar this year. Leading the club in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, stolen bases, and runs, Machado has already set a career high in home runs and will surpass his career mark in walks before the All-Star break. The 2010 first-round pick has played Gold Glove defense at third base from his first day in the majors, but Machado is rapidly developing the kind of bat that could make him an MVP candidate in the years to come. He ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement — according to the rankings from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and ESPN — making him a lock as an AL All-Star reserve.

The first-time selection: LHP Zach Britton
Skinny: Instead of again spelling out why Britton should become the 10th Orioles closer to make an All-Star Game since 1979, I ask you to check out the piece I wrote over the weekend explaining why.

The mainstay: CF Adam Jones
Skinny: Despite the fact that he’s already missed more than twice as many games in 2015 (11) than he had in his previous three seasons combined (five), Jones still makes a strong case for an invitation to Cincinnati as he entered Tuesday sporting a career-high batting average and on-base percentage. Already a four-time Gold Glove winner in center field, Jones might be having the best defensive season of his career, which is high praise for an outfielder already possessing that kind of a track record. Already a four-time All-Star selection in his career, Jones will likely be given a boost by his league-wide reputation and still ranks third among Orioles players in homers and RBIs despite missing close to two weeks of combined action.

The deep sleeper: RHP Darren O’Day
Skinny: Considering Kansas City manager Ned Yost is managing the AL and loves using a bullpen, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see him give a nod to O’Day. The submarine hurler has struck out a career-high 12.1 batters per nine innings and sports a career-best 1.21 ERA, which ranks seventh in the majors among relief pitchers. Because the game determines home-field advantage for the World Series, Yost could see the National League’s unfamiliarity with O’Day as enough reason to add him to the roster.

My All-Star picks: In order of most confident to least, I’ll go with Machado, Britton, and Jones to make it, but a deep list of outfield candidates could squeeze the 29-year-old center fielder out, especially with injuries stunting his numbers a bit and because he wasn’t voted in this year for the first time since 2012.

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Road improvement big part of Orioles turnaround

Posted on 23 June 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated 10:25 p.m.)

Many reasons have been discussed for the Orioles’ June turnaround, but one of the biggest has been a revitalization away from Camden Yards.

Upon losing their fifth straight game and dropping their third in a row in Houston on June 3, the Orioles had not only fallen a season-low six games below .500 but sported an 8-17 record on the road, tied for the second-worst mark in the majors. A 3-2 victory over the Astros the following afternoon started a run of 14 wins in 18 games that continued with a 6-4 victory over Boston at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

Their current 15-20 road record is still no shining achievement, but the Orioles have won seven of their last 10 away from home including this past weekend’s important series win against Toronto at Rogers Centre, a place where they were swept in April.

The Orioles entered Tuesday tied with Kansas City for the second-best home record in the American League at 22-13, but continued improvement on the road will be critical to their ability to contend in the tight AL East. In running away with their first division title in 17 years last season, manager Buck Showalter’s club sported a 46-35 record on the road, which was tied for second in the AL.

You can simply look at the previous three seasons to see how critical road performance has been to the Orioles’ postseason aspirations. In making trips to the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, the Orioles sported matching 46-35 regular-season records away from Camden Yards. Two years ago, they finished a strong 46-35 at home, but an underwhelming 39-42 road record led to an 85-77 mark and third place in the AL East.

July will bring a major test to the Orioles’ mettle as they’ll play 15 of 22 games on the road.

Pondering Schoop and Flaherty

After beginning his rehab assignment going 1-for-11 in his first three games for Double-A Bowie, second baseman Jonathan Schoop exploded Monday night with a home run and two doubles.

The Orioles have made sure that Schoop has taken his time in rehabbing a right knee injury suffered in mid-April, but the 23-year-old’s return and potential will be welcomed at the bottom of the lineup. What this means for Ryan Flaherty remains to be seen, however, as he had a very solid .744 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Tuesday.

Schoop clearly possesses more upside, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Showalter continue to give the 28-year-old Flaherty some playing time as he can spell the young second baseman as well as veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy to keep them fresh. With Hardy’s well-documented back issues and Schoop’s knee, Flaherty should continue to receive at least two or three starts per week.

And he deserves it with his improvement at the plate this season.

Another outfield option on the horizon?

As the Orioles ponder how to figure out a crowded outfield picture, another potential option at Triple-A Norfolk has begun emerging recently.

Dariel Alvarez has been on the organization’s radar for quite some time, but the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder has collected multiple hits in 11 of his last 14 games entering Tuesday. Over that time, the right-hander is batting .410 with four home runs, five doubles, and 12 RBIs over 61 at-bats.

A call-up probably isn’t imminent with the 25-man roster already too crowded, but Alvarez possesses an electric throwing arm and has improved his average to .282 with 11 homers, 38 RBIs, and a .761 OPS. If he continues his recent trend at the plate, the Orioles will certainly be tempted to take a look at him in the second half of the season.

All-Star Game voting fix

Much has been said — including from this writer — about the All-Star Game voting that currently features seven Kansas City Royals in line to start for the AL, but ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out one of the biggest — and easily correctable — problems with the system.

A simple visit to the voting website illustrates how one can mindlessly vote for every player on their favorite club by simply clicking the team’s logo at the top of the page. If you give people an excuse to be lazy, many will take the bait to save even a minute or two of time.

To be clear, the Royals, Orioles, or any major league team can campaign for their players to be All-Star selections as much as they’d like, but can we at least make homers hellbent on only voting for their own players — in Kansas City or anywhere — to put in some effort by voting manually for each position?

At the very least, this would force fans to look at other names in the process, which isn’t too much to ask if we’re going to let them vote for the players participating in a contest that determines home-field advantage in the World Series.


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Jones falls, Machado climbs in latest All-Star voting update

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

While the Kansas City Royals continue to dominate the All-Star voting in the American League, the Orioles’ chances of securing a starter appear bleaker.

In the latest AL voting update released on Monday, four-time All-Star selection Adam Jones fell to seventh among outfielders and trails the third-place Alex Gordon by nearly 3 million votes. The 29-year-old center fielder ranked fifth among outfielders in last week’s update.

In the midst of his best season, the 22-year-old Manny Machado climbed to fourth among AL third baseman but trails the first-place Mike Moustakas by nearly 8 million votes.

While seven Kansas City players are currently slated to be starters — Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout are the only non-Royals — the Orioles had no other players appear among the leaders. Voting concludes on July 2 with the 2015 All-Star Game set for July 14 in Cincinnati.

Let’s just take a moment to remember we’re living in a world in which 6,521,733 votes have been cast for a second baseman rocking a .549 OPS. As Buck Showalter put it, Royals second baseman Omar Infante must be having a heck of a defensive year.

Is it too late to start the Ryan Flaherty All-Star campaign?

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Showalter changes tune on 2015 All-Star Game voting

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A couple days after saying he had no issue with the All-Star Game voting process and the number of Kansas City Royals currently leading at their positions, Buck Showalter changed his tune with the latest update was released on Monday afternoon.

With eight Royals players currently slated to start for the American League in the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, the Orioles manager offered his theory on the voting results thus far.

“What do they have, a virus in the computer or something?” Showalter said. “It’s got to be, right? It’s got to be a virus in the computer. Really?”

Manny Machado and Adam Jones each rank fifth at their respective positions while Los Angeles Angels outfielder and reigning AL Most Valuable Player Mike Trout is the only non-Royals player who would be in the starting lineup — he’s second behind Lorenzo Cain and ahead of third-place holder Alex Gordon in AL outfielder voting — if voting were to end today. Jones ranks fifth behind Kansas City’s Alex Rios who’s played all of 18 games after signing with the Royals in the offseason.

No other Orioles players appeared in the latest update.

Understanding the Royals have several talented players worthy of All-Star consideration, Showalter took strong exception to the light-hitting Omar Infante leading the way at second base.

“What’s he hitting now, .204?” Showalter said. “He must be having a heck of a defensive year.”

This is the first year in which fans have voted exclusively online with paper ballots no longer being distributed at ballparks. The Royals-heavy results have prompted many to ask if the voting process needs to be revamped to more closely resemble the NFL’s Pro Bowl, which splits the vote evenly among fans, coaches, and players.

Showalter said over the weekend that he’d like to see home-field advantage for the World Series determined by clubs’ regular-season records and not by the winner of the All-Star Game.

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Ravens sign veteran safety Kendrick Lewis

Posted on 14 March 2015 by Luke Jones

After watching a number of their own depart in the first week of free agency, the Ravens have made their first significant addition of the offseason by agreeing to a deal with safety Kendrick Lewis.

Baltimore agreed to a three-year contract with the 26-year-old who started 16 games for the Houston Texans last season and spent the first four years of his NFL career as a starter with the Kansas City Chiefs. Lewis collected 84 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, and six pass breakups for Houston last season, but the Texans signed safety Rahim Moore to a three-year, $12 million contract earlier this week.

With starting safety Darian Stewart signing a two-year deal with Denver on Friday, the Ravens had an obvious need at the position and Lewis is considered a strong tackler despite being unremarkable in coverage. The 2010 fifth-round pick out of Ole Miss graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th-ranked safety in the NFL among those who played in at least half of his team’s snaps last year. Stewart was graded 23rd by the same publication.

The Lewis signing completes a fascinating game of musical chairs as he replaces Stewart, who will replace Moore in Denver after the ex-Broncos safety signed with Houston to take Lewis’ starting job. Houston was reportedly interested in bringing back the 6-foot, 198-pound Lewis, but he viewed Baltimore as a better opportunity.

Though not an addition appearing to have a great deal of upside, Lewis gives the Ravens a veteran option in anticipation of what looks to be a weak 2015 draft class of safeties beyond Alabama’s Landon Collins. Lewis and Will Hill would appear to have the inside track as Baltimore’s starting safeties at this early stage of the offseason, but others figure to be in the mix such as disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks, who is currently recovering from knee surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season.

A restricted free agent, Hill was given the $1.542 million low tender before the start of free agency, which gives the Ravens the right of first refusal should another team sign the 24-year-old to an offer sheet.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn’t typically sign unrestricted free agents due to their negative impact on the compensatory pick formula, the loss of five unrestricted free agents of their own means that the Lewis addition wouldn’t appear to impact their ability to earn the maximum number of four compensatory picks for next year’s draft.

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Harbaugh owes Andy Reid dinner for help getting to playoffs

Posted on 30 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Before turning his attention toward a wild-card meeting with Pittsburgh, head coach John Harbaugh thanked an old friend for helping the Ravens get to the postseason on Sunday.

Harbaugh reached out to Kansas City head coach Andy Reid via text messaging after the Chiefs knocked off San Diego to help the Ravens secure their sixth postseason berth in seven years. Baltimore earned the No. 6 seed after the 20-10 win over Cleveland and Kansas City’s 19-7 victory over the Chargers.

“I promised Andy dinner. He responded very favorably to that.,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “He’s looking forward to his dinner. It probably won’t be cheap.”

Of course, Harbaugh worked as an assistant under Reid for nine years in Philadelphia, serving as his special teams coordinator for all but one of those seasons. The Ravens coach may need to sweeten the pot when remembering Reid and the Chiefs still had playoff hopes of their own in Week 17 before Baltimore and Houston both won.

It remains unclear whether Harbaugh will treat Reid to Maryland crab cakes or some famous Kansas City barbecue. Perhaps they’ll compromise by reminiscing over a couple Philly cheesesteaks.

Regardless of what’s ultimately on the menu, Harbaugh was glad to see the Chiefs rise to the occasion in the regular-season finale.

“Sometimes we don’t acknowledge how tough it is for everyone, [because] we look at our own situation all the time so hard,” Harbaugh said. “Everyone in this league fights week in and week out. It’s just a great league; it’s a great sport. It was a great victory for the Chiefs, and we’re happy they got it.”

The Ravens are scheduled to host the Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium during the 2015 season.

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Only one scenario remains for Ravens to make playoffs

Posted on 23 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens already knew they needed a win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 to keep their playoff hopes alive, but one of their two remaining possibilities for help was thrown out on Monday night.

Baltimore would have clinched a playoff spot with a win on Sunday and Cincinnati losing its final two games, but the Bengals defeated the Denver Broncos on Monday night to officially clinch a playoff spot. They will play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday night with the winner taking the AFC North crown.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens are still in the hunt, however, as they can punch their ticket to the postseason with a win and a Kansas City victory over the San Diego Chargers. At 9-6, the Ravens currently hold the same record as the Chargers, but San Diego’s Week 13 win in Baltimore serves as the tiebreaker.

Harbaugh’s younger brother Jim was unable to lead San Francisco to a win over the Chargers on Saturday, so the seventh-year head coach will now turn to his NFL mentor Andy Reid and the Chiefs for the necessary help to get into the playoffs. Harbaugh served as the special teams coordinator under Reid for eight years in Philadelphia before becoming the head man in Baltimore in 2008.

“Our emphasis is completely and squarely on the Cleveland Browns,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we’re going to be doing. I’m sure they’ll flash the score up there; I’m sure we’ll see it. It’ll be a matter of [looking up], ‘OK, what’s the score?’ But we’re not going to be immersed in any other game. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

After the Orioles were swept by the Royals in the American League Championship Series in October, perhaps it’s in the stars for Kansas City to do Baltimore a favor by beating the Chargers on Sunday.

Otherwise, the Ravens will face the reality of having missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

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Two scenarios remain for Ravens to make playoffs

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As many debate whether or not the Ravens deserve a playoff spot after their disappointing loss in Houston on Sunday, their postseason chances remain in decent shape despite now needing help to advance to January.

Two scenarios would land Baltimore in the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years under John Harbaugh, but both require a win over Cleveland next Sunday. The Browns lost their fourth straight game in a 17-13 final at Carolina in Week 16.

The first scenario that would give the Ravens a playoff spot would be two losses by Cincinnati to conclude the regular season. The Bengals host the Denver Broncos on Monday night before traveling to Pittsburgh next Sunday night in what amounts to an AFC North title game.

As strange as it sounds, the Ravens could be forced to root for the hated Steelers in order to receive the invitation to January. Pittsburgh officially punched its ticket to the postseason Sunday with a home win over Kansas City.

A second outcome that would land the Ravens in the playoffs would be San Diego losing at Kansas City next Sunday. The Chargers currently own the same 9-6 record as Baltimore, but their Week 13 win at M&T Bank Stadium gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Again, both of these scenarios become moot points if the Ravens don’t handle their own business against the Browns.

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