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Recovering Wieters focused on 2015 season despite looming free agency

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Recovering Wieters focused on 2015 season despite looming free agency

Posted on 28 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — Watching Orioles catcher Matt Wieters during the first few days of full-squad workouts, you could almost forget he’s less than nine months removed from having Tommy John surgery.

He may not yet be cleared to fire bullets down to second or third base to gun down a runner trying to steal, but there have been no signs of apprehension to this point as he’s participated in other fielding drills and caught bullpen sessions. The Orioles hope it stays that way as Wieters will catch in the club’s first intrasquad game on Sunday, which won’t include any throwing for him beyond tosses back to the pitcher.

“He’s doing everything [else],” manager Buck Showalter said. “I saw him throw a ball [the other day] and I had to catch myself because it looked like normal and I thought to myself, ‘Jeez.’ There wasn’t that recoil or decel at the end that you see with a lot of guys that are [recovering from arm injuries].”

It’s so far, so good for Wieters, who is part of a small group of major league catchers to have undergone the elbow ligament reconstruction surgery more commonly associated with pitchers. The track record of catchers coming back from the surgical procedure isn’t encouraging, but most in the group were fringe major league catchers to begin with and lacked Wieters’ ability behind the dish and in the batter’s box.

Defense has been Wieters’ biggest strength throughout his major league career as he’s thrown out 33 percent of runners trying to steal. Until the 28-year-old is fully cleared to throw behind the plate, however, uncertainty remains about what kind of catcher he’ll be in his seventh season and beyond.

The three-time All-Star selection and two-time Gold Glove winner may not have to worry about throwing breaking balls or preparing for 100-pitch outings like a hurler coming back from Tommy John surgery, but making a high volume of throws from different angles behind the plate does make projecting an exact timetable for recovery tricky compared to the expected 10 to 14 months for most pitchers or the six to eight months for other position players not throwing as often as catchers.

“The rehab is going as well as we could have expected, which is a blessing in itself,” Wieters said. “To be able to get out there and just do partial throwing and be able to just be with the guys is great. I’m going through the throwing program, and it feels good throwing. I haven’t gotten into actual positional throwing yet, so that will be the next step of getting into a squat and making throws as a catcher. I’ll do that for a little bit before actually getting behind the plate in a game.”

The Orioles are currently targeting March 17 for Wieters’ first game behind the plate in Grapefruit League action. In the meantime, he’ll receive at-bats as a designated hitter and catch in minor-league spring games — once again with no runners trying to steal — at the organization’s Twin Lakes facility. Showalter plans to have Wieters’ legs fully in shape to allow him to catch five to seven innings when he makes his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate.

The organization and Wieters remain hopeful that he’ll be ready for Opening Day on April 6, but returning to the lineup for good is the 2007 first-round pick’s ultimate goal in not wanting to experience a setback or to need to baby the surgically-repaired elbow over the course of a 162-game season.

“I think about what’s going to be best for the team and what’s going to be best health-wise going forward,” Wieters said. “It’s something where missing all that time last year was tough. I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to make the decision, ‘What’s the best way for you to be on the field as much as possible?’ This game is what I love playing, and we’re going to do whatever is going to give me the best chance to be on the field the most this year.”

There’s also the reality of looming free agency to consider as Wieters is scheduled to hit the open market next winter. The catcher insists his singular focus is on getting ready for the season, but he and agent Scott Boras have to be thinking about his health and showing the Orioles and potential suitors that his elbow problem will be completely behind him.

It isn’t an easy position for a soon-to-be 29-year-old catcher to be in after he’s already logged 5,533 innings behind the plate in his major league career. In that way, the injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the rest of his body in 2014 as he was only able to contribute from a mental standpoint, which even included some advanced scouting of the Detroit Tigers ahead of the American League Division Series.

Showalter has frequently pointed to Wieters as a potential manager one day and credited his work with catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley as a major reason why the pitching staff thrived in his absence.

“It just verified what we thought. That doesn’t surprise anybody,” Showalter said. “He was in the film room with those guys every day. His words carry a lot of weight. He projects a real self-confidence when you’re willing to help other people like that.”

Wieters is confident that his familiarity with the club’s pitching staff — which lost only lefty reliever Andrew Miller in the offseason — will allow for a smooth return behind the plate.

Having not played in a game since May 10 of last year, Wieters is itching to return to action, whether it’s as soon as Opening Day or a more conservative track. He gained perspective from watching Showalter in the dugout and believes the mental side of his game has improved over the last year, but watching his teammates play in the 2014 postseason wasn’t easy.

“It was tough and great at the same time to be able to watch those guys have the success they had last year,” Wieters said. “I felt a part of it but not as much a part of it as I would have liked to be. When the season ended last year, I was probably the only guy in that clubhouse that was already thinking about spring training. Those guys deserved their time off, but I was ready to come down here and get going as soon as possible.”

Wieters can see the light at the end of the tunnel in the rehabilitation process, but the last few hurdles remain. Meanwhile, the Orioles know the clock is ticking before the catcher hits free agency, with few expecting him to sign an extension to stay with the organization that drafted him.

Those realities present an interesting juxtaposition as Wieters must understandably focus on the big picture while the Orioles would like to maximize their return in their final season of control before free agency. Unclear of his future beyond 2015, Wieters is hoping to take advantage of a healthy season while trying to help the Orioles defend their 2014 AL East title.

“I love Baltimore and Baltimore’s a great town,” Wieters said. “Right now, I’m really thinking about getting back on the field, which could be a blessing. [Free agency is] something that always looms for players, but for me, it’s really just about getting back out there and enjoying it.”

Listen to my exclusive interview with Wieters from Sarasota HERE.

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Jones defends Markakis’ strong words about Orioles departure

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Jones defends Markakis’ strong words about Orioles departure

Posted on 26 February 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 12:00 p.m.)

SARASOTA, Fla. — The biggest headline stemming from Thursday’s workout in Sarasota involved a player who’s no longer with the Orioles.

More than two months after signing a four-year, $44 million with the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis fired a shot at the way the Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette handled negotiations. The 31-year-old underwent neck surgery Dec. 17 for a herniated disc he’s dealt with for two years, and the Orioles were concerned with the latest magnetic resonance imaging exam, prompting them to lower their initial offer of four years to three.

“Don’t believe a word they say,” Markakis said to USA TODAY on Wednesday. “It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good. It’s all B.S.”

Center fielder Adam Jones was asked about his former teammate’s comments and expressed satisfaction that the normally-quiet Markakis spoke his mind.

Told Duquette had confirmed that the neck was a concern from the Orioles’ perspective, Jones still took exception to the timing of the comments after Markakis had already departed. The center fielder credited Markakis for playing through the neck issues over the last couple years, citing that nearly every player in baseball deals with various ailments over the course of a season.

“Now you want to say it two months later,” said Jones of Duquette. “Let’s say it when everybody is wanting to know right then and now. But it always comes out later. That’s just how this game is.”

Truthfully, Duquette acknowledged in early December that the Orioles had “concern that made the terms an issue” as it was reported at the time that the neck was a clear holdup. Markakis may have legitimate gripes about the way negotiations were handled behind closed doors, but Duquette going public about the health issues could have easily hurt the right fielder’s value in free agency with any team vying for his services.

In that regard, the Orioles might have actually been doing Markakis a favor.

It’s also worth noting that the Braves sold off a number of players this offseason after signing Markakis, making it likely he’ll be playing for a club with little chance of winning in 2015. Maybe some underlying frustration exists after he took Atlanta’s offer? Markakis hopes to be ready for Opening Day, but that isn’t a certainty, according to reports from Braves camp.

Meanwhile, the Orioles will try to turn to page without Markakis or 2014 home run king Nelson Cruz, who signed with Seattle in the offseason. Jones admits he’ll have to get used to someone different manning right field after spending the last seven years with the same guy.

“It’s going to be different looking to my left not having Markakis there just like it’s going to be different for Orioles fans knowing that 21′s not in right,” Jones said. “He’s been there for nine years, but it’s baseball. Cal [Ripken] retired, and somebody had to fill in. The game is going to continue. 2015 Opening Day’s not going to be halted because we don’t have Markakis. It’s just an adjustment we’re going to have to make. I think we’re going to be fine.”

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Cabrera offers different skill set to second base mix

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Cabrera offers different skill set to second base mix

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — After several days of anticipation as he finally resolved a lingering legal issue, infielder Everth Cabrera has officially joined the Orioles.

What the organization gets from the former San Diego Padres shortstop is anyone’s guess as the 28-year-old went from being an All-Star selection in 2013 to being suspended 50 games for the Biogenesis later that year and followed that disappointment with an injury-riddled campaign in which he was limited to 90 games in 2014. Cabrera hit only .232 with a .572 on-base plug slugging percentage last season, but his 99 stolen bases over the last three years provide some appeal for a club that ranked last in the majors in that department a season ago.

Signing the Nicaraguan infielder to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, the Orioles like his upside that is accompanied by a remaining minor-league option.

“He’s young, he’s hungry, he made the All Star team in 2013,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “He can play a premium, skilled defensive position. He’s a switch hitter. He’s an outstanding baserunner and a premium base stealer. He’s got a lot of assets that can help the ball club and I’m sure we will find some good spots for him to help us win some ballgames.”

How Cabrera will fit into the picture remains to be seen. Starting second baseman Jonathan Schoop and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty appeared to be virtual locks for roster spots entering spring training, but Cabrera provides an element of speed that the other two don’t possess.

Considered the second baseman of the future by many, the 23-year-old Schoop posted a .598 OPS and walked only 13 times in 481 plate appearances during his rookie season. It’s possible that Cabrera might push Schoop for the starting job, but a more likely outcome would be him winning the utility infielder job from Flaherty.

After accepting a plea deal that included a fine, community service, and probation stemming from a resisting arrest charge last fall, Cabrera will now focus on proving the Orioles were wise to take a chance on him after two tumultuous seasons.

“I always think every spring training that I’ve got to compete,” said Cabrera, who spent much of the winter strengthening his hamstrings after injuries took their toll last year. “I don’t care where they’re going to put me. I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to compete every single day when they give me the opportunity to play.”

Cabrera will be busy this season getting acclimated to multiple infield positions after spending his entire career at shortstop for the Padres. He’s appeared in just 12 games at second base and only one at third base in his six-year major league career.

Manager Buck Showalter will give Cabrera every opportunity to prove himself to be worthy of a roster spot this spring, but he acknowledges not being overly familiar with the National League West in terms of evaluating the division’s talent. His speed on the bases is an obvious asset, but Cabrera will need to prove himself defensively before Showalter strongly considers using him in place of Schoop at second or designates him the primary utility man over Flaherty.

Keeping Schoop, Flaherty, and Cabrera on the 25-man roster appears to be unlikely, making the veteran’s signing an intriguing storyline to monitor this spring.

“He’s been doing a lot of work and had a very diligent offseason. I think the timing’s good with him,” said Showalter, who admitted Cabrera resolving his legal issues was a “prerequisite” to completing a deal. “This guy a lot of people considered one of the better infielders in the National League a couple years ago.

“We’ll see where the need is of the club and see if he can fit the need. He gives us some flexibility.”

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Orioles designate Hassan to make room for Cabrera on 40-man roster

Posted on 25 February 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles today announced that they have signed free agent infielder Everth Cabrera to a one-year contract. Cabrera, 28, was a National League All-Star in 2013, becoming the first Nicaraguan-born position player to be named to an All-Star team.

Cabrera batted .232/.272/.300 with three home runs and 20 RBI in 90 games with the Padres in 2014. In 481 career games, he has hit .248/.319/.333 with 12 home runs, 128 RBI, and 136 stolen bases.

In 2013, he set career-highs in batting average (.283), hits (108), and home runs (four), while tying his career-high in RBI (31) before having his season cut short due to a 50-game suspension. He finished ninth in the majors and fifth in the National League with 37 steals, while his .283 batting average ranked third among NL shortstops. He earned his first career All-Star Game selection after collecting 34 steals prior to the break, but did not appear in the game.

He became the first Padre in team history to lead the NL in steals after a career-high 44 stolen bases in 2012, which ranked third in Major League Baseball. Since 2012, Cabrera ranks eighth in MLB with 99 stolen bases.

Originally signed by Colorado as a non-drafted free agent in 2004, Cabrera was selected by San Diego from the Rockies in the first round of the 2008 Rule 5 Draft.

To make room for Cabrera on the 40-man roster, outfielder Alex Hassan has been designated for assignment.

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Orioles, infielder Everth Cabrera finally agree to one-year deal

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Orioles, infielder Everth Cabrera finally agree to one-year deal

Posted on 23 February 2015 by Luke Jones

After several days of ironing out the details, the Orioles have finalized an agreement with infielder Everth Cabrera.

According to CBS Sports, the sides have agreed to a one-year, $2.4 million contract that includes $600,000 in incentives. News first broke about a potential deal last week, but final details needed to be ironed out and the former San Diego Padres infielder is expected to be in Sarasota to complete the signing on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old has experienced plenty of highs and lows in his six-year major league career, ranging from an All-Star appearance in 2013 to a 50-game suspension that same season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera has also experienced problems off the field, being arrested for a domestic violence incident before the charge was dismissed in 2012 as well as a resisting arrest charge for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana last fall.

The addition of Cabrera is interesting in how it impacts second baseman Jonathan Schoop and incumbent utility man Ryan Flaherty. It is worth nothing that Cabrera does have a minor-league option remaining, but he brings more experience than either of the other two.

In 2013, Cabrera hit .283 with four home runs, 31 runs batted in, and 37 stolen bases before being suspended. His numbers fell off dramatically a year ago as he batted only .232 and posted a .572 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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Fixing Jimenez one of Orioles’ biggest challenges this spring

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Fixing Jimenez one of Orioles’ biggest challenges this spring

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Luke Jones

It was exactly what the Orioles had envisioned when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract seven months earlier.

With a chance to clinch their first division championship in 17 years last Sept. 16, the Orioles sent the right-handed starter to the hill against Toronto and Jimenez pitched solidly — two earned runs allowed in five innings — to earn the victory. Of course, it was one of the few bright spots of a disastrous season in which Jimenez eventually lost his spot in the starting rotation and was left off the American League Championship Series roster.

Spring training breeds optimism and hope for transformation, and there would be no bigger breakthrough than the Orioles getting Jimenez on track as they try to defend their 2014 AL East title. Pitching coach Dave Wallace believes confidence was as big a problem as any as Jimenez tried to prove himself worthy to his new club. Jimenez acknowledged Saturday that he didn’t follow his normal offseason routine last year as he didn’t sign with the Orioles until after spring training had already started, and it likely led to problems in being able to repeat his complicated delivery.

In 25 games (22 starts) and 125 1/3 innings, Jimenez went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA and posted a career-worst 5.5 walks per nine innings.

“Who knows what was going through his mind last year? New team, new contract, all that stuff,” Wallace said last month. “Hopefully, that’s all pushed aside. He actually came up with a couple things last year that he made changes with in September that helped him a little bit. We’ll see if we can continue that.”

It’s hardly the first time that Jimenez’s unorthodox mechanics have come into focus as Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway was credited for rebuilding the veteran starter after a career-worst 5.40 ERA in 2012. Jimenez rebounded in the second half of 2013 to finish with a 3.30 ERA, his best season since his 2010 All-Star campaign in Colorado.

Jimenez previously brought his hands high above his head in his windup, which he believes created too many moving parts in his mechanics that hindered his control. In September, Jimenez abandoned that approach, keeping his hands quieter and in front of him as he pitched to a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings with 12 strikeouts. His seven walks reflected that his control was still a problem, but the small sample size brings a glimmer of hope that Jimenez can bounce back in 2015.

He wouldn’t be the first Orioles starter to adjust his windup in recent years as ace Chris Tillman has credited a simpler motion for the success he began enjoying in 2012 and Kevin Gausman has also quieted the movement in his windup since being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft. Jimenez hopes his adjustments will lead to similar results.

The Dominican pitcher estimated that he threw five bullpen sessions and live batting practice this winter in preparation for the start of spring training after the disruptive offseason last year. Manager Buck Showalter was impressed with the pitcher’s first bullpen session in Sarasota on Friday as he continued the simplified approach he used late last year.

“It was all about not going over the top of my head because I was going way too far and that makes my mechanics go everywhere,” Jimenez told reporters in Sarasota on Saturday. “Right now, I’m able to simplify everything by grabbing the ball and just going straight to home plate. Once I saw everything was working, I was staying with it and I’m not changing anything.”

With Showalter and Wallace needing to choose among six starters for five spots in the rotation, Jimenez will need to pitch effectively this spring, but just under $39 million remaining on his deal mean he’ll receive every opportunity to prove last year was a fluke. Historically, Jimenez’s fastball velocity has been the key in determining whether his mechanics are right as his average of 90.6 miles per hour last season was the slowest of his career and continued a steady decline since 2010 when his fastball averaged 96.3.

Much of that can be attributed to wear and tear, but an increase closer to his 2013 level (92.1 miles per hour) would indicate he’s on a better track. Opposing hitters also made contact on 80.8 percent of their swings a year ago, up from his career mark of 78.3 percent. Jimenez still averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings a year ago — the same as his career mark — but hitters were more patient than ever (4.15 pitches per plate appearance) against him as he struggled to throw strikes.

It’s easy to say the Orioles regret their rich investment in Jimenez after one season, but his track record suggests better results are likely in order for 2015. Whether that improvement will be enough to justify a spot in the rotation is the real question after the Orioles’ other five starters each posted an ERA of 3.65 or lower a year ago.

“Hopefully, everything changes and I’m going to be able to compete better and be able to give the team a chance to win,” Jimenez said. “Last year was a disappointing year. It was a really bad year. There’s no doubt about it, but just changing my mechanics makes everything better. I’m going to be able to compete.”

For the price they’re paying Jimenez over the next three seasons, the Orioles certainly hope so.

 

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Maier glove used to catch 1996 Jeter homer auctioned off

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Maier glove used to catch 1996 Jeter homer auctioned off

Posted on 16 February 2015 by Luke Jones

A week after former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis auctioned off a Super Bowl ring that was a gift from owner Steve Bisciotti, Baltimore fans now have an opportunity to own a piece of local sports infamy.

The glove Jeffrey Maier used to corral a Derek Jeter fly ball over the right-field fence at old Yankee Stadium against the Orioles in the 1996 American League Championship Series is being auctioned off this week. As of Monday evening, the leading bid at Heritage Auctions came in at $13,000.

While Maier was beloved in New York for his assist, the then-12-year-old was a villain in Baltimore as Jeter’s home run tied Game 1 and the Yankees went on to win the series opener on a Bernie Williams homer in the 11th. Orioles fans have long wondered if the series — won by the Yankees in five games — might have been different had fan interference been ruled on the eighth-inning fly that right fielder Tony Tarasco was camped under before Maier’s glove deflected it over the fence.

Many Orioles fans suggested on social media Monday that the glove needs be burned as a way to exorcise a curse as Baltimore hasn’t advanced to the World Series since 1983. The Orioles have been unsuccessful in three trips to the ALCS since their last championship, also falling in 1997 and 2014.

Of course, some fans quipped that umpire Rich Garcia should purchase the glove since it was his failure to call interference that was the real culprit of the Orioles’ controversial Game 1 loss in the Bronx.

 

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Bovada sets Orioles win total at 82 1/2

Posted on 16 February 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

Courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV).

MLB Win Totals (Alphabetically)

Arizona Diamondbacks 71½

Atlanta Braves 73½

Baltimore Orioles 82½

Boston Red Sox 86½

Chicago Cubs 82½

Chicago White Sox 81½

Cincinnati Reds 77½

Cleveland Indians 83½

Colorado Rockies 71½

Detroit Tigers 84½

Houston Astros 74½

Kansas City Royals 79½

Los Angeles Angels 89½

Los Angeles Dodgers 92½

Miami Marlins 81½

Milwaukee Brewers 78½

Minnesota Twins 70½

New York Mets 81½

New York Yankees 81½

Oakland Athletics 80½

Philadelphia Phillies 68½

Pittsburgh Pirates 83½

San Diego Padres 85½

San Francisco Giants 84½

Seattle Mariners 86½

St. Louis Cardinals 88½

Tampa Bay Rays 78½

Texas Rangers 77½

Toronto Blue Jays 82½

Washington Nationals 92½

MLB Win Totals (From Highest to Lowest)

Los Angeles Dodgers 92½

Washington Nationals 92½

Los Angeles Angels 89½

St. Louis Cardinals 88½

Boston Red Sox 86½

Seattle Mariners 86½

San Diego Padres 85½

Detroit Tigers 84½

San Francisco Giants 84½

Cleveland Indians 83½

Pittsburgh Pirates 83½

Baltimore Orioles 82½

Chicago Cubs 82½

Toronto Blue Jays 82½

Chicago White Sox 81½

Miami Marlins 81½

New York Mets 81½

New York Yankees 81½

Oakland Athletics 80½

Kansas City Royals 79½

Milwaukee Brewers 78½

Tampa Bay Rays 78½

Cincinnati Reds 77½

Texas Rangers 77½

Houston Astros 74½

Atlanta Braves 73½

Arizona Diamondbacks 71½

Colorado Rockies 71½

Minnesota Twins 70½

Philadelphia Phillies 68½

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Sizing up the 2015 Orioles roster entering spring training

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Sizing up the 2015 Orioles roster entering spring training

Posted on 15 February 2015 by Luke Jones

Only a few 25-man roster spots figure to be up for grabs as the Orioles report to spring training this week to begin preparations for the 2015 season.

Manager Buck Showalter frequently warns against being fooled by a player’s performance in March, but a number of individuals will be competing for a job to help Baltimore defend its 2014 American League East title. As we’ve learned throughout the Showalter era, roster flexibility is a must, so it’s critical to remember which players have minor-league options that could impact their standing on the big-league roster at any given time.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently in the major league camp at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are currently on the projected 25-man roster. An asterisk indicates a player who is a non-roster invitee.

PITCHERS (28)
LOCK: Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Wesley Wright
BUBBLE: Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ryan Webb, T.J. McFarland, Jason Garcia, Logan Verrett,
LONG SHOT: Tim Berry, Dylan Bundy, Oliver Drake, Eddie Gamboa, Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Dane De La Rosa*, Hunter Harvey*, Mark Hendrickson*, Steve Johnson*, Chris Jones*, Chaz Roe*
Skinny: By their merits, both Gausman and Gonzalez should be locks for the 25-man roster, but the current logjam in the starting rotation — and Jimenez’s albatross of a contract — could bump one to the bullpen or even to Triple-A Norfolk at the start of the season since both have a minor-league option remaining. A trade is always possible, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also wants rotation depth in the event of an injury or two. As for the bullpen, Brach, Matusz, and Webb are all out of options and Garcia and Verrett are Rule 5 selections, making a trade or two a distinct possibility to clear roster space.

CATCHERS (6)
LOCK: Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph
BUBBLE: Steve Clevenger, J.P Arencibia*,
LONG SHOT: Ryan Lavarnway*, Brian Ward*
Skinny: Based on what Wieters and the Orioles are saying, the three-time All-Star selection could very well be ready for Opening Day, but it will be interesting to see which direction the club goes in if he needs a few more weeks to strengthen his surgically-repaired elbow. Joseph showed enough behind the plate to feel good about him being Wieters’ backup, but Clevenger and Arencibia could be battling it out to be Joseph’s backup to begin the season. Arencibia showed promising power in Toronto, but his career has gone downhill dramatically over the last couple years.

INFIELDERS (11)
LOCK: Chris Davis (suspended for Opening Day and does not count toward current 40-man roster), Ryan Flaherty, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop
BUBBLE: Rey Navarro, Jimmy Paredes
LONG SHOT: Christian Walker, Michael Almanzar*, Paul Janish*, Chris Parmelee*
Skinny: The Orioles’ fascination with Navarro is curious as they were willing to give him a big-league contract while other teams pursued a minor-league agreement. Paredes showed nice ability at the plate late last year, but his defensive limitations won’t help his chances in Showalter’s eyes. Baltimore expects more at the plate from Schoop this year, but his excellent work in the field makes him a lock to be on the roster with Flaherty occasionally spelling him at second base. Machado has been fully cleared, so there isn’t as much uncertainty with his status for Opening Day as there currently is with Wieters.

OUTFIELDERS (11)
LOCK: Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, Delmon Young
BUBBLE: David Lough
LONG SHOT: Alex Hassan, Henry Urrutia, Dariel Alvarez*, Nolan Reimold*, Matt Tuiasosopo*
Skinny: At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much drama here, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see changes in the outfield as the year progresses. The Orioles hope De Aza settles into a regular leadoff role and Snider is a solid replacement for Markakis in right field, but the likes of Hassan, Urrutia, Alvarez, and Reimold will be on call at Norfolk for opportunities. Lough is out of options and provides speed and defensive ability off the bench, but it will be interesting to see if he can build on a .941 on-base plus slugging percentage in 64 plate appearances in the second half of 2014. Truthfully, Jones in center field is the only sure thing.

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Statheads and ex-jocks, can’t we all just get along?

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Statheads and ex-jocks, can’t we all just get along?

Posted on 11 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The spat between Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is just the latest example in the battle continuing to be fought across multiple sports.

The “old school” way of thinking versus statistical analysis.

Never mind that the mindsets aren’t mutually exclusive, you better choose one or the other in this fight!

Despite being a self-proclaimed baseball nerd — we’ll use that sport for our example — I’ve always maintained it’s up to the individual to decide how dedicated and in depth he or she wants to be as a fan. After all, we’re talking about sports and not matters of national security.

It’s supposed to be fun.

Embracing sabermetrics to adapt how I study the game in recent years hasn’t swayed my enjoyment in watching a perfectly-executed relay or a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Finding new ways to educate yourself about the game isn’t a mandate — however, it should be for those who work in the game and want to remain relevant — but it’s silly to criticize simply because we may not understand or be interested.

Admittedly, statistical analysis is heavy as it can quickly start to feel like a calculus lesson instead of a baseball discussion. With many of these advanced stats — OPS-plus, FIP, UZR, and WAR just to name a few — I’ve developed a functional understanding of what they mean and how to apply them without wasting brainpower remembering how to calculate them. It’s akin to enjoying the steak without dwelling on how it’s prepared at the butcher shop.

For anyone not convinced of the value of sabermetrics — but will at least humor me — I typically present three questions:

1. Would you rather have a .300 hitter or a .260 hitter?

Many — not all — traditional fans will go with the .300 hitter, which has long been viewed as a benchmark for greatness, but how much does batting average really tell us?

In this case, the .300 hitter could also be a free swinger who doesn’t walk often and hits for very little power. In contrast, let’s pretend the .260 hitter clubbed 60 extra-base hits and walked 80 times over the course of the season. Under such a scenario, the .260 hitter is likely to be the far superior option without getting into their value on the bases or in the field.

This is why on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is embraced while batting average is being thrown aside by many statheads as a limited piece of information. If you want to take it a step further, OPS-plus takes into account how a hitter’s home ballpark — think of a pitcher’s park in Oakland compared to a hitter’s park — impacted his performance and allows for better comparison among players across the league.

2. Do you want a pitcher with a 3.70 ERA last year or one who had a 4.00 mark?

Again, many purists will point to the hurler with the lower ERA and be right in most cases, but is it always that simple?

What about the defense he played with in comparison to the group that was behind the other pitcher? What if one was really lucky or had great misfortune over a number of starts?

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is complicated to calculate, but it uses the outcomes a pitcher solely controls (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and home runs) to produce a value on the same scale as ERA. Its intent is to eliminate factors such as defense and bloop hits in trying to assess a pitcher’s effectiveness and to help predict his future performance.

As an example, the 2014 Orioles ranked seventh in the majors in team ERA (3.44), but they ranked 24th in team FIP (3.96). It reflects just how much Orioles pitching benefited from the exceptional defense behind it — which confirms what many purists witnessed with their own eyes, mind you — and how it would likely fare with an average defense.

3. Would you prefer the shortstop who made six errors or the one who made 12 last season?

This question is a good one as baseball fans have long been prisoners to a lack of data to truly assess defense. Hypothetically, a player could stand in one spot on the field all year and not commit an error, but that would make him quite poor defensively, wouldn’t it?

Sabermetrics are ever evolving when it comes to measuring defense, but numbers such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are finally accounting for how much ground a player covers in the field. The measures aren’t perfect as there is fluctuation from year to year, but we’ve taken giant leaps from the days of simply quoting the number of errors, putouts, and assists a player collects.

To answer the above question, we need to know how the first player’s range compares to the second shortstop. If the latter gets to many more balls in the hole and up the middle, it’s logical to conclude he’s likely to commit more errors, but how many more outs will he also have created in the process?

Of course, the three above questions only scratch the surface of what’s out there in baseball.

Statistical analysis is about accounting for variables and answering questions. There isn’t one fancy statistic that should be viewed as gospel — or a number to which you become a “prisoner” in Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s words — in the same way that no person’s gut feeling or eyeball test is foolproof, either. Computers and numbers don’t play the games on the field, but they can tell us more about what’s happening and what is likely to happen next.

It’s possible to appreciate the human element as well as what the numbers say. In fact, we might even find that a statistic will confirm a gut feeling or an observation.

If more statheads were willing to explain their rationale and more traditionalists were open to learning, we wouldn’t have the embarrassing exchanges like we saw this week between an NBA general manager and one of the great players in league history.

There’s a place for both statistical analysis and traditional evaluation if we’re willing to embrace both.

And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a Hall of Famer to do it.

 

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