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Gausman receives cortisone shot for shoulder tendinitis

Posted on 20 March 2016 by Luke Jones

On the same day that Matt Wieters resumed throwing, the Orioles have another health concern with just two weeks remaining until Opening Day.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that starting pitcher Kevin Gausman received a cortisone injection for tendinitis in his right shoulder on Sunday morning. The right-hander had been scheduled to make a minor-league start on Monday, but he won’t pick up a baseball for at least a couple days.

“I don’t know if it’s a big concern,” Showalter said. “He’s had some inflammation in there, and we just want to get rid of that. We feel good about it structurally, [but it] hasn’t managed to go away completely. When we have some time here, try and clear it up before we break camp. Hopefully, that’s all it is. See where we are in two or three days.”

Gausman spent time on the disabled list last year with a similar issue.

With plenty of uncertainty in the starting rotation entering 2016, the Orioles are counting on the 25-year-old to take a major step forward in his first full season as a starter. The 2012 first-round pick pitched to a 4.22 ERA in his 17 starts last season and posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts in 2014.

In two Grapefruit League starts this spring, Gausman has allowed three earned runs, five hits, one home run, and a walk while striking out six in six innings.

Wieters took batting practice once again on Sunday and made 25 throws from up to 60 feet. The veteran catcher hadn’t thrown since leaving a game on March 12 due to right elbow soreness.

It remains unclear whether Wieters will be ready for Opening Day, but a magnetic resonance imaging exam last week revealed no structural concerns in his surgically-repaired elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery 21 months ago.

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Even with late additions, key to 2016 Orioles comes from within

Posted on 18 February 2016 by Luke Jones

If the Orioles are finally able to reach agreements with Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, they will have entered new territory.

Not only will the signings likely make the Orioles the biggest free-agent spender of the offseason — let that notion marinate for a few moments — but you could finally say that the 2016 club looks better than last year’s 81-81 outfit on paper. That is both an encouraging sign as well as a reminder of just how expensive the current Orioles have become without even mentioning the countdown to Manny Machado’s free agency after the 2018 season.

However, it’s important to remember that Gallardo isn’t an ace and Fowler isn’t an MVP-caliber player. Their additions alone won’t propel a .500 club into the postseason as they are more complementary pieces than dynamic difference-makers, regardless of their price tags.

If we’re being realistic about Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity over the last few seasons, his biggest value will likely come through an ability to make 30 or more starts like he’s done in seven straight seasons. Even if his ERA doesn’t sparkle, the Orioles need Gallardo to take the ball every five days and alleviate some pressure from the rest of the rotation and a talented bullpen that figures to be busy once again in 2016.

The Orioles need Fowler to set the table at the top of the order with his .363 career on-base percentage and to play good defense at a corner outfield spot, which will be a change after spending his entire career in center. In a lineup filled with plenty of power, the switch hitter can simply do what he does best.

Even if the free-agent newcomers live up to expectations, the Orioles need much more from several incumbents than they received a year ago if they’re to return to the postseason for the third time in five years.

No matter whom the Orioles were realistically going to add to their rotation this offseason, bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were going to be a necessity. Can Tillman put his 4.99 ERA from a year ago behind him and pitch more like the right-hander who had a 3.42 mark from 2012-2014? Was Gonzalez’s 4.91 ERA in 2015 more about poor health or did the perceived good fortune of outperforming his peripherals over the previous three seasons — a 3.45 ERA compared to a 4.59 fielding independent pitching mark — finally catch up with him?

Manager Buck Showalter said several times this offseason that Kevin Gausman is ready to “pop” as a full-time member of the starting rotation, but the 25-year-old will need to back up the confidence he expressed in his curveball late last season. No one doubts the 2012 first-round pick’s ability, but the Orioles would like to see him at least pitching like a top-half-of-the-rotation starter to improve their chances.

Shoulder and back injuries have zapped J.J. Hardy’s ability to be the hitter he was from 2011-2013, but can he at least rebound to produce at a level closer to what he did in 2014 when he still managed a .682 on-base plus slugging percentage? His defense would need to be at an elite level to offset a repeat of his .564 OPS from a year ago if he wants to remain a player of any value.

Will being another year removed from Tommy John surgery allow Matt Wieters to play at a level coming close to justifying his $15.8 million salary while the capable Caleb Joseph is likely relegated to backup duties? Wieters’ handling of the staff will be even more important than what he’ll bring with the bat after Orioles pitchers had a superior ERA with Joseph behind the plate (3.65 to 4.38) in 2015.

And then there’s the defense, arguably the biggest factor explaining the Orioles’ ability to run away with the AL East title by 12 games two years ago. In 2015, the calling card of Baltimore’s success in recent years was underwhelming due to injuries and frequent turnover at several positions. Fowler and Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim will try to stabilize the corner outfield defense, but improved health for Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Adam Jones should keep the Orioles defense strong up the middle.

Even if you don’t love the prospects of forfeiting two draft picks, the Gallardo and Fowler signings would address a rotation that lost the reliable Wei-Yin Chen and improve a corner outfield situation that was nothing short of horrendous a year ago. They are the best of what remains on the free-agent market in late February.

But their additions will mean much more if several incumbents are able to put last year behind them.

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Seven questions for Sarasota: 2016 Orioles spring training

Posted on 16 February 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s about that time.

Pitchers and catchers officially report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Thursday as the Orioles begin preparations for their 63rd season in Baltimore. With their arrival comes the annual optimism of spring training, but there are plenty of questions to be answered as the club tries to bounce back from its first non-winning season since 2011.

Below are seven questions that will begin to be answered in Sarasota this week:

1. Are any high-profile additions still on the way?

Having already invested more than $250 million this offseason, the Orioles don’t appear to be finished spending with multiple reports indicating they were moving closer to a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo last week. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also remains interested in adding another bat with free agents Dexter Fowler and Pedro Alvarez as well as Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce all being mentioned as possibilities. Of course, any additions of this caliber would have a substantial impact on not only the club heading north to Baltimore in April but on the 40-man roster that the Orioles have manipulated as frequently as anyone in baseball over the last few seasons. Duquette hasn’t hesitated to make substantial moves with spring training already underway in the past, so we’ll see if the Orioles are willing to spend a little more than they already have.

2. Can the Orioles win with the current starting rotation?

Of course, the addition of Gallardo would figure to help — even if there are real questions about him moving forward — but the Orioles lost their most reliable starter in Wei-Yin Chen and finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA last year. We won’t know whether Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have recaptured their pre-2015 form until the season begins, but it would be encouraging to see both pitch well in Grapefruit League action. Meanwhile, Kevin Gausman enters the spring knowing he will be in the rotation after being bounced between starting and relief and Baltimore and Norfolk over the last three years. The Orioles need the 25-year-old to put it together for a full season. Then, there’s the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 2.81 ERA in the first half and a 5.63 mark after the All-Star break in 2015. If Gallardo isn’t signed, the fifth starter competition is less than encouraging for a club hoping to contend.

3. Just how good is Hyun Soo Kim?

The Orioles signed the Korean outfielder to a two-year, $7 million contract in December, an indication that they believe he can be a starting-caliber player in the major leagues. However, there haven’t been many players to come to the majors from the Korean Baseball Organization, a league many consider to be comparable to the Single- or Double-A level of the American minor leagues. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was a big success story last season, but the Orioles hope Kim’s ability to get on base and to consistently hit line drives will translate into major league success. Early projections have compared him to Nick Markakis and Melky Cabrera, and the organization would be thrilled to get that kind of production from the 28-year-old. Kim handling a starting job would go a long way in quelling concerns about a corner outfield situation that was a nightmare in 2015 and is still a major concern.

4. How healthy is J.J. Hardy’s shoulder and back?

I discussed this situation in depth on Monday, but the Orioles must figure out a way to maximize whatever production the 33-year-old shortstop has left after the worst season of his career in 2015. Manager Buck Showalter is known for leaning hard on his veterans, but it may be time to take the foot off the gas in terms of expecting Hardy to play close to 162 games like in 2012 and 2013 when he missed a total of just seven games. It will be interesting to see if Manny Machado takes more reps at shortstop during the spring with thoughts of him playing games at his natural position when Hardy is out of the starting lineup like we saw last September. Of course, before any discussion or tinkering can take place, the Orioles need to see that Hardy’s left shoulder is healthy after he elected to forgo surgery on the torn labrum sustained late last spring. The health of his back is always something to monitor as well.

5. Will Dylan Bundy be ready to pitch in the big leagues?

The 2011 first-round pick made his major league debut as a 19-year-old more than three years ago and has pitched a total of 63 1/3 professional innings since then because of Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a shoulder problem last year. Bundy is only 23, but he’s out of minor-league options, meaning the Orioles must carry him on their 25-man roster if they don’t want to risk him having to clear waivers. Even if he is healthy — a question that will be of great interest this spring — the organization must try to marry his development with the reality of him occupying a spot in the bullpen. In a perfect world, Bundy would report to Sarasota healthy and gradually emerge as an effective middle reliever in a deep bullpen, but little has gone to plan with the prospect. His presence will resemble that of a Rule 5 pick, but there’s no finish line in sight as Bundy is now stuck in the majors unless he lands on the disabled list yet again.

6. How will Showalter handle the catcher situation?

The Orioles may not have expected Matt Wieters to accept the $15.8 million qualifying offer they made in November, but you would have to think Showalter intends to use the three-time All-Star selection as his primary catcher over Caleb Joseph. That being said, there are compelling arguments in favor of Joseph catching more and Wieters was just getting to a point in the final month of the season when he was able to catch on consecutive days, something he did only five times after returning in early June. Wieters said in December that he was happy to finally be finished with the rehabilitation process and to have a normal offseason, but he will still need to see how his elbow responds to a full spring training and full-time catching duty. The Orioles hope that Wieters stays healthy and lives up to his lofty salary, especially after Joseph showed the last two years that he was capable of being a solid starter for a fraction of the cost.

7. Who will be the biggest surprises of the spring?

Adding Gallardo and Fowler would shrink the number of open jobs, but there are a few players who could force the club’s hand in deciding who heads north in April. Outfielder Joey Rickard was considered one of the shrewder picks of the Rule 5 draft, and the Orioles are intrigued by the combined .427 on-base percentage the 24-year-old posted at the Single-, Double-, and Triple-A levels in Tampa Bay’s system in 2015. With at least one corner outfield job still open, could Dariel Alvarez or a returning L.J. Hoes have a spring strong enough to make the club and beat out veteran Nolan Reimold? And though the Chris Davis re-signing seemingly blocks Trey Mancini, could the 2015 Orioles minor league player of the year hit at such a high clip this spring that he forces the club to find a way to make room? Will someone off the radar do what Jimmy Paredes did last spring (a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage) to win a spot?

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Improving starting pitching complicated matter for Orioles

Posted on 19 January 2016 by Luke Jones

We know the Orioles need another starting pitcher.

In an ideal world, they’d add two to help fill the void of free-agent departure Wei-Yin Chen — their most consistent starter over the last four seasons — and provide more assistance to a staff that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA last year.

But even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette does add a starter between now and the start of the season, refining from within will be paramount if the Orioles are to improve from the 81-81 record that left them on the outside looking in last October.

The starting pitching details from the end of 2015 are all too familiar by now.

Bud Norris was downright awful before finally being jettisoned in late July.

A declining strikeout rate (7.8 per nine innings in 2013 down to 6.2 last year) and a nightmarish 11.72 ERA in six starts against Toronto — his ERA against the rest of baseball was a respectable 3.84 — led to Chris Tillman’s worst ERA (4.99) since the 2011 season when he was still trying to establish himself as a major league pitcher.

Miguel Gonzalez had a shiny 3.33 ERA in his first dozen starts before a groin injury sent him to the disabled list in mid-June. He was never the same after that, posting a 6.53 ERA in his remaining 14 starts and going on the DL again in September.

For the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, improved command and a greater reliance on his two-seam fastball led to a 2.81 ERA in the first half of 2015 before he relapsed with a 5.63 mark following the All-Star break.

And the Orioles are hoping that a full season in the starting rotation for the 25-year-old Kevin Gausman will allow him to take the giant step forward many believe he’s capable of.

It’s easy to say that manager Buck Showalter needs more from these four starters, but what about other factors impact their pitching results?

As discussed extensively at the end of last season, the defense performing more like it did in 2014 would go a long way in helping a starting rotation that largely pitches to contact. However, the man receiving the pitches is also an important factor in their results.

That’s where the discussion becomes complicated with Matt Wieters accepting the $15.8 million qualifying offer for the 2016 season. The three-time All-Star catcher is better than Caleb Joseph offensively, but is Wieters — who won Gold Glove awards in 2011 and 2012 — the best catching option for Orioles pitching at this point?

Not according to the 2015 numbers with the departed Chen included below:

     2015 ERA pitching to Joseph      2015 ERA pitching to Wieters
Tillman 3.51 in 77 IP 4.88 in 83 IP
Gonzalez 4.18 in 71 IP 5.98 in 46 2/3 IP
Jimenez 2.87 in 144 1/3 IP 8.62 in 39 2/3 IP
Gausman 4.07 in 59 2/3 IP 4.38 in 51 1/3 IP
Chen 3.67 in 108 IP 3.18 in 65 IP

 

To be clear, these numbers alone don’t prove anything conclusive as Chen was the Orioles’ top starter and the only one to find more success with Wieters than Joseph last year. There are plenty of other factors impacting pitcher performance in this breakdown such as the opponents and the ballpark. Wieters also received most of his work behind the plate in the second half of 2015 when Gonzalzez and Jimenez were out of whack, and it would be wrong to significantly attribute their struggles to the veteran catcher’s return.

With Wieters being another year removed from Tommy John surgery, it would be fair to assume he’ll be more comfortable with pitch-calling after not catching in the majors for over a year and still spending time rehabbing even after his return in early June. It’s not as though Tillman and Gonzalez weren’t successful working with Wieters in 2012 and 2013 when both had consecutive seasons pitching to ERAs well below 4.00.

But more and more data is quantifying pitch-framing and how important it can be to a staff’s success, and this is where Joseph has proven to be valuable over the last two seasons. According to Baseball Prospectus, Joseph ranked ninth in the majors in called strikes above average and 10th in framing runs among qualified catchers last season after ranking seventh in CSAA and ninth in framing runs in 2014 when the starting rotation was among the best in the league in the second half.

Simply put, Joseph positions himself and receives the ball so effectively that he receives more called strikes on borderline pitches than the average catcher.

In contrast, Wieters — who is listed to be two inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Joseph — has been a below-average framer over the last few years after being a top 10 performer in that area early in his career. Before posting below-average framing numbers in parts of the last two seasons, Wieters ranked 25th in CSAA and 26th in framing runs in his last full season in 2013 and finished 13th in both categories in 2012.

When you have starters who mostly lack the electric stuff required to miss bats consistently, pitching along the edges of the strike zone becomes even more important than it already is. Stealing as many borderline strikes as possible may not turn a terrible pitching staff into a great one, but it can still go a long way over the course of a full season. This is how Orioles pitching would benefit having Joseph behind the plate more often than Wieters.

We’ll see how Showalter ultimately distributes the playing time, but all signs point to Wieters being the primary catcher and that wouldn’t be surprising given the steep financial commitment being made to him for the 2016 season. This will likely provide a boost from an offensive standpoint, but you hope the hidden cost won’t be too harmful to a starting rotation needing all the help it can get if the Orioles are to jump back into serious contention after their first non-winning season since 2011.

Ultimately, the Orioles need better performance from their incumbent starting pitchers and that responsibility mostly falls on their shoulders, but effective framing and stronger defense would further augment the strides they hope to make in 2016.

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Orioles running out of time, excuses while waiting on Davis

Posted on 13 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles never expected to keep Wei-Yin Chen.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the starting pitcher was overrated or wasn’t worth the five-year, $80 million contract — opt-out clause and vesting option included — he was awarded by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday. The Taiwanese lefty isn’t a bona fide ace, but the Orioles were more than happy having him in the top half of their rotation over the last four years and the price was in line with what others of similar age and value have fetched on the open market.

Entering the offseason, you knew that Chen was replaceable, but not easily replaceable for an organization lacking quality arms in the minor leagues. You can either pay for quality arms or develop them, but being in between is a dangerous place.

As the curtain fell on the 2015 season, Dan Duquette said he wanted to acquire a starting pitcher for the front half of the rotation — to presumably replace Chen — but he’s yet to address the Achilles heel of the 2015 team unless you consider yourself the president of the Vance Worley fan club. Spring training is a month away, and the available free-agent options are dwindling with Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, and Doug Fister topping the list.

Signing Gallardo or Kennedy would require the Orioles to forfeit their first-round pick, which should be a deterrent for an organization needing to rebuild its farm system. Neither provides the kind of upside you’d like to have before surrendering a draft choice.

The Orioles always figured they would have to depend on bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez as well as a big step forward from Kevin Gausman to contend in 2016, but the No. 5 spot in the rotation remains wide open while the rest of the group — which also includes the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez — already faces questions.

That’s less than ideal if you’re trying to compete.

Shortly after the news broke about Chen, outfielder Gerardo Parra agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Again, the departure wasn’t surprising as the 2015 trade deadline acquisition was a flop in his two months with Baltimore, but the Orioles still have a gaping hole in right field — and that’s with left field already being occupied by the difficult-to-project newcomer Hyun Soo Kim.

With Colorado now having a surplus of outfielders that includes two-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez, the reports of the Orioles engaging in trade discussions with the Rockies have resurfaced, but they’ve been down this road before. Short of trading Gausman and opening another hole in a thin rotation, what exactly does Duquette have to offer for Gonzalez — whose career is trending in a concerning direction — or one of the other Colorado outfielders who have benefited from hitting at Coors Field?

Meanwhile, All-Star outfielders Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are jumping up and down in the free-agent corner, waiting for someone — anyone — to notice them.

Alas, the Orioles seem content waiting on first baseman Chris Davis, even though they said more than a month ago that they’d pulled their offer. Owner Peter Angelos is willing to give Davis $150 million over seven years, but that money doesn’t appear to be in play for anyone else — even options that could be more desirable in the long run — or won’t be until it’s likely too late. You can’t tell people you’ve moved on if you’re not truly willing to pony up comparable funds for other high-quality players.

It’s easy to understand the allure of the home run and that Davis has become a fan favorite over the last few seasons, but when did he become Mike Trout or Cal Ripken? Why will Angelos give lucrative money to a player who two years ago hit .196 and was suspended 25 games for testing positive for Adderall but not to a younger and steadier player like Upton, who also addresses a clear need?

The 28-year-old Upton may have never developed into the superstar many anticipated, but he is also less likely to turn into present-day Ryan Howard over the course of a long-term contract.

Signing next-tier players such as the combination of outfielder Alex Gordon and starting pitcher Scott Kazmir would have been cheaper in the long run and, arguably, more valuable than Davis in the short term, but the Orioles continue to play the waiting game with agent Scott Boras. They’ve allowed the slugging first baseman to take their offseason hostage while other commodities gradually disappear from the free-agent market.

How much longer can they afford to wait if they have real interest in competing in 2016?

The willingness to offer Davis nine figures — an amount some already feel is a bad investment — and to wait out the entire offseason to do so makes it all the more baffling why the Orioles weren’t willing to give Nelson Cruz a fourth year on a more reasonable contract last winter.

And what will the excuse be if they don’t land Davis and other viable options are gone? The Orioles stood on the returns of Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado as reasons why they’d be able to overcome last year’s free-agent exodus, but there is no such crutch this time around.

They can say they tried, but attempting to sign a high-priced free agent and actually doing it are different things entirely. Continuously underestimating market prices and complaining about opt-out clauses don’t make you any better on the field.

Despite Wieters’ acceptance of the $15.8 million qualifying offer — a development that shouldn’t cripple a club’s long-term plan — the Orioles made some solid moves early in the offseason in trading for first baseman/designated hitter Mark Trumbo, re-signing All-Star reliever Darren O’Day, and taking a two-year, $7 million flier on Kim. But the offseason has come to a screeching halt since then with major holes still needing to be addressed.

Baltimore continues to wait on Davis as if he were the Holy Grail, the only direction they can possibly go this offseason.

But a month after saying they’ve moved on, the Orioles appear stuck on plan A and have apparently forgotten what comes next in the alphabet.

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Despite focus on offensive woes, rotation has sealed Orioles’ 2015 fate

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis need to be rehashed about as much as Chris Tillman desires another start against the Toronto Blue Jays at this point.

We get it.

Even if you might have agreed with the decision not to sign either outfielder to a four-year contract, there’s no excusing an offseason plan that essentially consisted of writing checks to a long list of arbitration-eligible players and trading for a failed former first-round pick (outfielder Travis Snider) after one good half in 2014.

But even with the corner outfield woes that have lingered all year, the reeling Orioles entered Tuesday averaging 4.36 runs per contest, a mark nearly identical to last season’s 4.35 scored per game. It may not feel that way with the offense’s extreme peaks and valleys during a difficult 2015 season, but the numbers don’t lie.

Would the Orioles still be in contention for a playoff spot with Cruz and Markakis? Certainly.

But would Buck Showalter’s club be even with Toronto and the New York Yankees in the American League East race? Based on the way the starting rotation has performed, probably not.

That failure has ultimately sealed the Orioles’ fate as they entered Tuesday a season-worst seven games below .500 and 7 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot.

After ranking fifth in the AL with a 3.61 starter ERA in 2014 — the rotation was even better after the All-Star break with a 2.98 ERA — Orioles starters had a 4.59 ERA through their first 137 games, ranking 13th in the AL. Baltimore posted no worse than a 3.55 ERA in each of the final four months of 2014 while this year’s rotation has pitched to no better than a 3.84 mark in any single month.

You simply can’t expect to sustain success when your starters have been nearly an entire run worse per nine innings than they were a year ago. When you strip away the names and perceptions, the offensive numbers and bullpen ERA are very similar to 2014 while the starting rotation has woefully fallen short of last year’s pace.

Entering Tuesday, the Orioles had scored three or fewer runs in 46 percent of their games this season and held a 9-54 record under such circumstances. A year ago, Baltimore scored three or fewer 44.4 percent of the time and was 21-51 in those games.

Say what you will about the offensive struggles putting pressure on the pitcher, but it’s a two-way street when only one member of the starting rotation holds an ERA below 4.00. The offense has prompted much hair-pulling over significant stretches of 2015, but the times when Orioles starters have picked up the lineup have been few and far between.

Even if Dan Duquette anticipated the Orioles offense matching last year’s overall run production, he failed in leaving no margin for error for a rotation that exceeded expectations in 2014. That said, even the executive’s biggest detractors couldn’t have expected the starting pitching to be quite this poor.

Short of the Orioles making a marquee signing for an ace such as 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, few called for Duquette to make significant changes to the rotation this offseason after such a strong 2014. Less than a year later, the Orioles are left wondering who will even fit into the 2016 equation.

Tillman sports an ERA above 5.00 after three straight years of pitching to a 3.71 mark or better to establish himself as the club’s de facto ace.

After three straight years as a reliable starter, Miguel Gonzalez has been a disaster since late June and is currently on the disabled list.

Kevin Gausman was not only mishandled at the beginning of the season, but the 24-year-old hasn’t been able to build on a 2014 season in which he posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

A 15-game winner a year ago, Bud Norris didn’t even make it to August with a 7.06 ERA.

Ubaldo Jimenez has followed the narrative of most of his career with a strong first half (2.81 ERA) followed by a 6.88 ERA since the All-Star break, but there has been no attractive option to replace him like there was with Gausman last year.

Wei-Yin Chen is the only starter you can feel good about this season, but even he has allowed a club-leading 28 home runs. On top of that, the Taiwanese lefty is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and appears unlikely to return.

It’s easy to say the Orioles would be fine if they still had Cruz and Markakis — they’ve clearly been missed — but the story of last year’s 96-win club was more about a starting rotation that took off over the final four months of the season than offensive firepower. At a time when the Orioles needed to bear down this season, the starting rotation has instead saved its worst performance for August (5.23 ERA) and September (8.76 in the first six starts).

Most of the attention has naturally remained on an inconsistent offense after such a failure of an offseason, but the starting rotation that picked up the Orioles a year ago has instead helped hammer the final nails into the coffin for 2015.

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Struggling Gonzalez undergoes MRI on shoulder, elbow

Posted on 01 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Performing poorly for more than two months, Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday as he’s been experiencing discomfort in his right elbow and shoulder.

Manager Buck Showalter said after the 11-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that the exam revealed only inflammation and no structural concerns, but the 31-year-old has already received a cortisone injection in his shoulder and is expected to at least miss a start or two. The right-handed hurler could pitch again later this month, according to Showalter.

“It was a positive report. They didn’t find any structural damage,” Showalter said. “We’re going to let that quiet down [and] see if we can get him ready to pitch again. It was as good news as you could expect.”

Gonzalez sported a 3.33 ERA when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain on June 11. Since returning in late June, the right-hander has pitched to a 6.49 ERA that’s elevated his season mark to a robust 4.85.

Signed to a minor-league contract prior to the 2012 season, Gonzalez posted an ERA of 3.78 or better in each of his first three seasons with the Orioles and has been a mainstay in the starting rotation for two postseason clubs over that time. The organization had hoped there was nothing structurally wrong with his elbow since he already underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009.

The Orioles no longer plan to place Gonzalez on the DL, which would have allowed them to recall another player who has not fulfilled his 10-day minimum in the minors such as the recently-demoted Henry Urrutia.

On Tuesday, right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson (oblique) threw a four-inning simulated game and fellow right-hander Mike Wright (calf) started for Norfolk, pitching six shutout innings in a win over Charlotte. Wright is considered a strong option to replace Gonzalez in the Baltimore starting rotation.

Showalter had been considering pushing right-hander Kevin Gausman’s start back to Friday in Toronto, but the 24-year-old will pitch the finale against the Rays as scheduled.

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Davis quietly continuing bounce-back season

Posted on 04 August 2015 by Luke Jones

A year ago at this time, Orioles slugger Chris Davis was in the midst of the worst season of his career and just over a month away from being suspended 25 games for Adderall use.

The nightmare campaign landed him at an uncomfortable crossroads in his career, but the 29-year-old has responded with a bounce-back season that hasn’t garnered as much praise as deserved. No one should have ever expected Davis to duplicate his 53-homer output in 2013, but a three-run shot in the first inning in Oakland on Monday — his 27th of the season — moved him past his totals for home runs and RBIs from a year ago with still two months remaining in the 2015 season.

Still, Davis’ biggest critics dwell on the 132 strikeouts that lead the majors or a .245 batting average that dwarfs his anemic .196 mark from a year ago but still underwhelms in traditional baseball eyes. Davis isn’t the perfect hitter, but an .834 on-base plus slugging percentage and a pace to finish with 42 homers and 116 RBIs spell out what’s clearly been a good season.

Since May 27, Davis has 19 homers and 52 RBIs to go along with a .269 average and .915 OPS in 254 plate appearances. That type of production over more than one-third of a season is in the neighborhood of what he accomplished in his MVP-caliber 2013. His 31.1 percent strikeout rate is down from last season (33 percent) while he has homered in 6.4 percent of his plate appearances, the second-best rate of his career.

All along, it was a reasonable goal for Davis to bounce back to the level he achieved in 2012 when he hit 33 homers with 85 RBIs and an .827 OPS. He appears on his way to doing that as he’s positioned himself for a nice payday when he becomes a free agent after the season.

Now you only wonder how much of a push the Orioles will make to keep a player on his way to hitting more than 30 home runs for the third time in the last four seasons in a day and age when power isn’t easy to find.

Wilson finds a way

Acknowledging it was a favorable matchup against a punchless Oakland lineup in cavernous O.co Coliseum, you still had to be impressed with what Tyler Wilson accomplished in his second major league start, tossing 7 2/3 innings and allowing two earned runs in a 9-2 victory on Monday.

In 24 2/3 innings for the Orioles this season, Wilson has relied heavily on a fastball with good sink to frequently induce grounders while pitching to a 2.19 ERA. He doesn’t blow you away with a fastball that only averages 90 mph and he hasn’t missed as many bats as you’d like in striking out only 2.6 batters per nine innings, but his control has allowed him to compete as he’s issued five walks in his six appearances in the majors.

It remains to be seen whether Wilson’s stuff will be good enough to sustain success as a major league starter, but the 25-year-old right-hander did a commendable job filling in for Chris Tillman and helping the Orioles get off to a good start on their nine-game West Coast trip.

Road Gausman

It was interesting to hear Kevin Gausman talk about his initial fears as a rookie pitching at Oriole Park at Camden Yards after his seven-inning performance against Detroit over the weekend as he’s now posted a 0.86 ERA in his three home starts (21 innings) this season.

However, he hasn’t found the same success away from his home ballpark, posting a 7.98 ERA in his three road starts spanning 14 2/3 innings.

If the Orioles are to complete a successful road trip and have their best chance to contend over the final two months, Gausman needs to find success on the road like he’s been able to find pitching in his home ballpark.

Joseph benefiting from more rest

Catcher Caleb Joseph hit his ninth homer of the season and drove in three runs on Monday, raising his average to .250 and continuing a respectable season at the plate.

Much was made about the return of Matt Wieters in June, but Joseph has a better on-base percentage (.325 to .292) and OPS (.754 to .733) than the three-time All-Star catcher. Since moving into a part-time role alternating games with Wieters, Joseph is hitting .263 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 86 plate appearances.

Even if they were able to re-sign Wieters this offseason, the Orioles still might be better off trying to find a good backup type of a catcher — think Nick Hundley from a year ago — to pair with Joseph instead of throwing big money at a backstop rapidly approaching age 30 and still not catching consecutive days following Tommy John surgery.

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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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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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