Tag Archive | "Orioles"

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Potential rotation option for Orioles finds work elsewhere

Posted on 09 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Still uncomfortably thin in their starting rotation, the Orioles watched another veteran free-agent option find a home elsewhere on Tuesday.

The Chicago White Sox agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with right-handed pitcher Mat Latos as the 28-year-old will try to rebuild his value after a disastrous 2015 campaign. The Orioles had reportedly shown some interest in the longtime National League pitcher this offseason, but free agent Yovani Gallardo has been linked to the club more frequently.

Though considered by many to be a handful from an attitude standpoint, Latos owns a career 3.51 ERA in seven major league seasons and is only a year removed from a 3.25 mark in 2014. A lingering knee problem contributed to the worst season of his career in 2015 as Latos posted a 4.95 ERA split among Miami, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Los Angeles Angels.

His low base salary with the White Sox could lead one to believe Latos isn’t fully healthy and may not have even passed the Orioles’ rigorous physical exam. Of course, a one-year pillow contract pitching at Oriole Park at Camden Yards may not have been too appealing for a pitcher competing in a new league in 2016, either.

If those weren’t major factors, you have to wonder why the Orioles wouldn’t have shown more interest in a still-young starting pitcher who owns a strong track record and comes at a very low cost. Of course, this signing makes a marriage between the Orioles and Gallardo even more logical with the start of spring training less than two weeks away.

The current contenders for the No. 5 spot in the Baltimore starting rotation include Vance Worley, Odrisamer Despaigne, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson.

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Orioles increase ticket prices for 2016 season

Posted on 09 February 2016 by WNST Staff

The Orioles announced an increase in both season and individual ticket prices for the 2016 season on Tuesday.

Season tickets will go up $3 to $10 per ticket based on the type of plan, location of the seat, and the opponent. Individual tickets will rise $3 to $7.

The club sent out season-ticket invoices via email, which were accompanied by a letter from executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette explaining the price increase. Tickets for individual games are not yet on sale.

With the club projected to have a payroll north of $130 million — the highest in team history — most expected ticket prices to be raised for just the third time in the last 12 years. First baseman Chris Davis was signed to a seven-year, $161 million contract in January, shattering the previous club record for the richest deal awarded to a player.

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Harvey, Mancini among 17 non-roster Orioles invited to spring training

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey and 2015 Orioles minor league player of the year Trey Mancini were among the 17 non-roster players officially invited to major league spring training on Monday.

The list includes a total of seven pitchers — four lefties and three right-handers — as well as three catchers, four infielders, and three outfielders. Of course, the list below does not include players on the 40-man roster, who are automaticallly invited to spring training.

Orioles pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota on Feb. 18 with the first full-squad workout set to take place at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Feb. 24.

PITCHERS (7)

RHP Pedro Beato
Skinny: Originally a first-round pick of the Orioles in 2006, the 29-year-old bounced around the majors in 93 1/3 career innings before posting a 2.65 ERA pitching in relief for Triple-A Norfolk a year ago.

LHP Jeff Beliveau
Skinny: Signed to a minor-league deal in December, the 29-year-old southpaw has a 4.00 ERA in 45 career major league innings with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay.

LHP Cesar Cabral
Skinny: He received a cup of coffee with Baltimore in early June, but Cabral posted an underwhelming 4.95 ERA in 40 innings for Norfolk in 2015.

RHP Hunter Harvey
Skinny: The health of the 2013 first-round pick will be a big story of the spring after Harvey, 21, missed the entire 2015 minor-league season with a broken fibula and lingering forearm and elbow issues.

LHP Andy Oliver
Skinny: After pitching briefly for Detroit in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the 28-year-old has bounced around the minors and was picked up by the Orioles last July and posted a 3.72 ERA for Norfolk.

RHP Todd Redmond
Skinny: The 30-year-old veteran posted a 4.13 ERA for Toronto over the last three seasons and is now in his second stint with the Orioles organization.

LHP Ashur Tolliver
Skinny: A fifth-round pick of the 2009 draft, Tolliver, 28, has overcome some injuries and used a three-quarters throwing motion to post a crisp 2.91 ERA for Double-A Bowie in 2015.

CATCHERS (3)

Jonah Heim
Skinny: The 2013 fourth-round pick saw his 2015 season with Single-A Delmarva derailed by a Lisfranc injury in his foot, limiting him to just 164 plate appearances in his third professional season.

Audry Perez
Skinny: Acquired from Colorado in late March, the 27-year-old posted a .582 on-base plus slugging percentage for Norfolk in 282 plate appearances last season.

Chance Sisco
Skinny: Rated the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect by Baseball America, Sisco had an .809 OPS at Single-A Frederick before being moved to Bowie where he produced a .729 OPS in 84 plate appearances in 2015.

INFIELDERS (4)

Paul Janish
Skinny: The slick-fielding infielder hit .286 in 35 at-bats for the Orioles last season, but he carries a career .574 OPS in seven major league seasons and is off the 40-man roster.

Trey Mancini
Skinny: The 23-year-old took off in 2015 by hitting a combined .341 with 21 home runs, 89 RBIs, and a .938 OPS between Frederick and Bowie to land himself firmly on the organization’s radar for the future.

Ozzie Martinez
Skinny: The starting shortstop at Bowie hit only .252 with a .613 OPS, but the 27-year-old plays good defense and provided veteran leadership for the Baysox in 2015.

Steve Tolleson
Skinny: Having already spent time with the Orioles in 2012, the 32-year-old utility man signed a minor-league deal in November and appeared in 128 games for Toronto over the last two years.

OUTFIELDERS (3)

Xavier Avery
Skinny: The 2008 second-round pick has been with a number of organizations since being traded by the Orioles three years ago and signed a minor-league deal to return in November.

L.J. Hoes
Skinny: Reacquired in November, the 25-year-old was outrighted to Norfolk but still figures to compete for a roster spot despite an underwhelming .617 OPS in parts of four major league seasons.

Alfredo Marte
Skinny: After seeing limited action with Arizona and the Los Angeles Angels in the last three years, Marte, 26, inked a minor-league deal in November and had an .850 OPS with Triple-A Salt Lake in 2015.

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delmon

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Delmon Young arrested for allegedly choking, threatening to kill valet

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Former Orioles outfielder Delmon Young was arrested for battery after allegedly choking and threatening to kill a valet attendant in Miami on Sunday night.

According to Andy Slater of WINZ and other reports, Young allegedly grabbed the attendant by the neck and began choking him after he was denied entrance into a club that was closed. The 30-year-old was later arrested at his residence in Miami.

Young allegedly told the victim, “Stupid Cuban, open the (expletive) door. I’m gonna (expletive) kill you, you Latin piece of (expletive).”

Police said that Young answered the door of his residence wearing no clothes below the waist and was unsteady on his feet while initially denying any knowledge of the incident. Young allegedly told one of the officers on the scene, “I’ll slap you in the face with money, you (expletive) Cuban.”

This is not the first time in which Young has been in trouble with the law as he was arrested in New York for aggravated harassment as a hate crime for making an anti-Semitic remark in 2012. He was suspended by Major League Baseball and ordered to undergo counseling after pleading guilty to that charge.

Released by the Orioles last July, Young spent two seasons in Baltimore and was the hero of Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series for hitting a game-winning three-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning, providing one of the most exciting moments in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Young has not signed with another club since being let go by the Orioles.

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Pot-committed Orioles may need to push chips in on Gallardo

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have pushed plenty of chips to the center of the poker table this winter.

A seven-year commitment to first baseman Chris Davis worth $161 million, the richest contract in franchise history.

Making All-Star relief pitcher Darren O’Day one of the highest-paid setup men in the majors.

Paying just under $25 million for the services of three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and designated hitter Mark Trumbo for the 2016 season.

In other words, the Orioles are what the poker world labels as “pot-committed” with a projected payroll now north of $130 million. But there’s still a problem with that spending.

They’re currently no better than they were a season ago when they finished 81-81. In fact, they’re worse on paper after the free-agent departure of starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and his 3.72 ERA over the last four seasons.

It’s reasonable to expect Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to rebound — at least somewhat — from last year’s difficulties, but that doesn’t mean a return to their exceptional performances of 2014, either. Kevin Gausman could be ready to take off at age 25 and the Orioles may see more good Ubaldo Jimenez than the bad Jimenez in 2016, but that would still be too much hoping and not enough improving.

After turning their nose up to the cost of starting pitching all winter, the Orioles find few viable options remaining. The likes of David Price or Zack Greinke were never realistic, but second- and third-tier options such as Scott Kazmir (three years, $48 million) or even Doug Fister (one year, $7 million) were still available to slot into a thin rotation.

That finally brings us to Yovani Gallardo, the man linked to the Orioles throughout the offseason and probably the best option remaining on the market. Soon to be 30, the veteran right-hander is far from a sure bet despite a career-best 3.42 ERA in 2015 and a 3.66 lifetime mark in the majors.

Signing him would require the Orioles to forfeit the 14th overall selection of the 2016 draft after Texas made him a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason. That is an understandable deterrent for an organization in need of restocking its farm system, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said several times this offseason that the Orioles would prefer not to forfeit the pick.

Despite a strong ground-ball rate hovering around 50 percent that would figure to be perfect for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a strong infield defense, Gallardo has seen his average fastball velocity dip from 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.5 with the Rangers last season. His strikeout rate has declined in three straight seasons and fell to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings in 2015 after averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first six major league seasons.

Those numbers make a long-term commitment to Gallardo a risky one, but he’s still a much better option than the newly-acquired Odrisamer Despaigne, Vance Worley, Mike Wright, or Tyler Wilson, who are more scratch-off lottery tickets than good starting candidates for a club already lacking dynamic talent in its first four starter spots. Even if you’re not keen on the Orioles giving Gallardo a long-term contract, he would instantly move to the top half of the rotation and slide the aforementioned names into more appropriate roles as relievers or depth at the Triple-A level.

Losing the 14th overall pick would be disappointing, but the Orioles would still hold five selections in the first 100 spots. An increased financial commitment to international talent — something the organization should be making anyway — could also offset that sacrifice.

At the start of the offseason, Gallardo would have been far from the top choice, but the Orioles are now less than two weeks away from spring training and haven’t replaced their best starter from a year ago when their rotation finished 14th in the American League in ERA. Beggars can’t be choosers when you’re in need of starting pitching at this late stage of the winter.

Gallardo’s addition wouldn’t guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but it would be foolish to spend as much as the Orioles have this winter without seriously addressing a rotation that was the biggest reason for their downfall in 2015. There’s no sense in playing a high-stakes hand of poker if you’re just going to muck your cards after committing more than $200 million earlier this offseason.

If you’re going to do it, go all the way.

The Orioles’ spending says they’re in win-now mode — especially with both Manny Machado and Adam Jones hitting free agency after the 2018 season — but their starting rotation suggests otherwise. There isn’t enough depth, and there certainly isn’t enough quality depth.

Signing Gallardo comes with risk and sacrifice, but he could help a neglected rotation compete in 2016.

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jones

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Orioles can’t afford to experience déjà vu in outfield

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The surprise expressed by some over L.J. Hoes being designated for assignment on Tuesday says all you need to know about the current state of the Orioles outfield.

Dan Duquette still has work to do with spring training only a few weeks away.

Any notion that Hoes — a former third-round pick who has yet to establish himself as a bona fide major leaguer — was even a sleeper candidate to start in right field reflects how little quality depth the Orioles have at the corner outfield spots. The acquisition of Efren Navarro from the Los Angeles Angels doesn’t change that reality, either.

The Orioles cannot afford a repeat of last year at the positions flanking five-time All-Star center fielder Adam Jones. In 2015, Baltimore left fielders combined to hit .210 with a .640 on-base plus slugging percentage and were worth minus-0.7 wins above replacement. Right field was better at 2.0 wins above replacement, but nearly half of that value stemmed from the 29 starts Chris Davis made at the position.

If the season were to begin today, Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim would likely be the starting left fielder with Nolan Reimold trotting out to right field. That combination doesn’t inspire confidence in an otherwise-strong lineup.

To be fair, the Orioles have spent gobs of money this offseason re-signing Davis and Darren O’Day to long-term deals, inking Matt Wieters to a $15.8 million qualifying offer, and acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo and his $9.15 million salary for 2016. The Kim signing at $7 million over two years could pay major dividends, but you’d prefer a relative unknown who was playing in the Korean Baseball Organization a year ago to be slated as the No. 4 outfielder to start a season for a contending club.

The 32-year-old Reimold managed to stay healthy last year, but a .247 average with a .738 OPS in 195 plate appearances doesn’t scream starting right fielder. The club’s other options don’t carry great appeal, either.

Rule 5 selection Joey Rickard, 24, hit a combined .321 at three levels in the Tampa Bay system last season, but why did the Rays — a club always needing cheap talent — leave him off their 40-man roster? At the very least, he’ll be a name of interest to watch during spring training.

Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez was promoted to the big leagues in late August, but he’s 27 and received a meager 31 plate appearances with the Orioles, making you wonder whether manager Buck Showalter has much confidence in him. He has an exceptional throwing arm, but a .305 on-base percentage at Triple-A Norfolk in 2015 isn’t what you’re looking for.

Henry Urrutia provided one of the feel-good moments of the 2015 season with his walk-off home run against the New York Mets in August, but the 28-year-old struggles to pull the ball and isn’t a graceful fielder despite some improvement over the last couple years. He was optioned back to the minors just before September call-ups and wasn’t summoned to Baltimore again.

The Orioles could always turn to Trumbo at a corner outfield spot, but the fielding metrics suggest first base as his only suitable position without compromising the overall defense. Showalter has already indicated that he’ll serve as Baltimore’s primary designated hitter with Davis back in the fold.

And there’s always Jimmy Paredes, who played right field regularly in winter ball this offseason in hopes of finding a defensive position he can handle. But the bigger problem could be Paredes’ .517 OPS in the second half of 2015 after he posted an .807 mark before the All-Star break.

This group sounds a lot like last year’s flawed collection that included Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, and David Lough. If we’re being honest, it looks even worse on paper than that group did at this point last year.

Wednesday’s report indicating that the Orioles still had a five-year offer on the table for Yoenis Cespedes even after re-signing Davis to a $161 million contract creates hope that Duquette will still make an impact addition to the outfield. A couple attractive options still remain on the free-agent market.

His signing would require the Orioles to surrender their first-round pick in this year’s draft, but Dexter Fowler holds a sparkling .363 on-base percentage in his career. His speed would also be a nice addition, and he could probably make a positive transition to a corner outfield spot after less-than-impressive defensive metrics in center over the last few seasons.

Austin Jackson is coming off consecutive years with an OPS below .700, but he’s only 29, is still a solid defender, and performed fairly well before being traded in the midst of each of the last two seasons. Perhaps some stability would help get his career back on track, and he wouldn’t command a draft pick or — one would assume — a lucrative commitment to sign him.

There’s always the possibility of a trade, but the Orioles’ shortage of quality prospects has been discussed ad nauseam. We’ll believe it when we see it.

Other platoon types such as Will Venable, David Murphy, and Matt Joyce remain unsigned as well.

In a perfect world, fans would probably like to see the Orioles add two quality outfielders to the current mix, but the rest of the lineup is strong enough to carry a question mark at one of those corner positions as long as that individual plays good defense, which was another issue at those spots.

There’s still time, but the Orioles need to do whatever it takes to fight off that feeling of déjà vu in the outfield that plagued them throughout the 2015 season.

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Orioles acquire outfielder Efren Navarro from Angels

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Still needing to add a corner outfielder and a starting pitcher before spring training begins next month, the Orioles made a minor roster move on Tuesday with the acquisition of outfielder Efren Navarro.

Sending cash to the Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore added the 29-year-old Navarro and designated outfielder L.J. Hoes for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. The Orioles’ third-round selection in the 2008 draft and part of the Bud Norris trade in 2013, Hoes had been reacquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash considerations in late November.

The left-handed Navarro has batted .246 with a .303 on-base percentage in 280 major league plate appearances over the last four seasons. He carries a .365 career OBP in the minor leagues and hit .326 or better for Triple-A Salt Lake in each of the last three straight seasons (2013-15), but he never showed more than gap power in the minors — Navarro has hit more than seven home runs in a minor-league season just once —  and his success at the plate has yet to translate to the big leagues.

Navarro appeared in 118 games over the last two season for the Angels, but he was designated for assignment last week. Primarily a first baseman in the minor leagues, Navarro has learned to play the corner outfield spots over the last couple seasons and is considered a solid defensive player.

Meanwhile, Hoes had been discussed by some fans as a potential sleeper candidate to win a starting job, which is more a reflection of the Orioles’ lack of quality outfield depth. The addition of Navarro does little to improve an outfield picture that consists of All-Star center fielder Adam Jones and a list of question marks headlined by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim and veteran Nolan Reimold.

Mark Trumbo is also capable of playing the corner spots, but manager Buck Showalter has already indicated that he will primarily serve as the club’s designated hitter while receiving occasional starts at first base or in the outfield.

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Orioles haven’t found pitching they like for prices they like

Posted on 22 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Having just signed the richest deal in franchise history, first baseman Chris Davis stated the obvious when asked Thursday what else the Orioles still need for the 2016 season.

“Obviously, we lost [Wei-Yin] Chen,” Davis said, “so I think we need another starting pitcher.”

The answer probably wasn’t music to the ears of Dan Duquette after the organization awarded the 29-year-old slugger with a seven-year, $161 million contract, but the executive vice president of baseball operations said at the start of the offseason that upgrading the starting rotation would be a top priority. And that was before Chen, their most consistent starter over the last four seasons, signed a five-year, $80 million contract to join the Miami Marlins.

With spring training less than a month away, the remaining options are few for a club that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA in 2015, which included Chen’s 3.34 mark over 31 starts.

“We’re still looking for additions to our pitching staff,” Duquette said. “It takes a lot of energy to sign a star player for an organization. Obviously, we have a long-term deal with Chris, and we’re happy to have him here. We’re always cognizant of what we need to add to our pitching staff. We haven’t found the pitching that we really like at the prices we like. That’s been a very, very expensive market this offseason, but I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with the pitching that we need to compete.”

How costly has it been?

Even Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, commented on the high demand for starting pitching this offseason after he negotiated five-year contracts for Chen and Kansas City starter Ian Kennedy and even fetched a two-year, $16 million deal for Mike Pelfrey — and his career 4.52 ERA — in Detroit. Boras said this has affected the timing of the market for position players such as Davis.

Of the 10 contracts worth $80 million or more that have been signed this winter, seven have gone to starting pitchers.

“We’ve had eight pitchers sign five-or-more-year contracts in this market,” Boras said. “That’s unheard of. The demand on pitching quelled the market on offensive power, because the teams were so focused. So many teams needed pitching and needed offense, but the competitiveness for the pitching took a focus.”

So, who’s left?

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo turns 30 next month and has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his seven full seasons in the majors, but his strikeout rate has rapidly declined from 9.0 per nine innings in 2012 to just 5.9 last year and the Orioles would have to forfeit their 2016 first-round pick to sign him.

The 28-year-old Mat Latos was an above-average starter in the National League — he had a 3.34 career ERA entering 2015 — until injuries derailed his last two seasons and questions arose about his attitude after his trade from Cincinnati to Miami last offseason. At this point, he could be looking for a one-year pillow contract to re-establish his value, but Camden Yards wouldn’t be the ideal setting for that from his perspective.

Like Latos, signing right-hander Doug Fister wouldn’t require a draft pick, but he will be 32 and has seen his strikeout and groundball rates decline as well as his velocity. However, he does have experience pitching in the AL and won 16 games and posted a 2.41 ERA in 2014.

There isn’t much out there beyond that, unless you want to try to take Tim Lincecum for a ride in your DeLorean.

“There are some pitchers out there that we like, and then we have talked to some other teams about pitching,” Duquette said. “The problem with the pitching market is there have been more teams chasing fewer pitchers. There’s not enough to go around. That’s an age-old problem. But it was very acute this winter.”

Even if the Orioles are to pluck one of the aforementioned options from the market, none would be a guarantee to settle into the top half of the rotation, much less headline the group. Depth will remain a concern with the likes of Vance Worley, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, T.J. McFarland, or a stretched-out Brian Matusz waiting in the wings.

The need for Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to return to pre-2015 form and for Kevin Gausman to take a a major step forward has been discussed ad nauseam, but injuries — at least minor ailments — are inevitable over the course of a 162-game schedule and Baltimore appears ill-equipped to endure that reality. Duquette’s statements about the pitching market on Thursday may have contained truth, but the Orioles annually lament a free-agent market that’s more expensive than they anticipated.

That won’t make fans feel any better about the state of the rotation.

“We should have a good defensive team,” Duquette said. “We’ve got a lot of the core back. We should be strong up the middle. We have Buck’s leadership and the bullpen, and I think those are all strengths of the team that we can build on. We’re going to have to get some good performance from the pitchers that we have and then continue to add to that.”

The Orioles still have a lot going for them, and there is some reasonable upside to help fill the void left by Chen. Doubts entering the season certainly existed prior to 2012 when the club unexpectedly returned to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and before 2014 when the Orioles endured season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters to win their first AL East title since 1997.

It’s a reality in which the Orioles have thrived, according to Davis.

“That’s kind of been our MO the last few years,” Davis said. “We’ve never been the sexy team, so to speak — the easy pick to win the AL East. I think we kind of like that role.”

Hopefully, the starting rotation will feel the same way.

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Former Oriole Pearce set to join Tampa Bay

Posted on 21 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The last of the Orioles’ free agents has finally found a home.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, veteran outfielder and first baseman Steve Pearce has agreed to a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. The deal is pending a physical.

Though a favorite of manager Buck Showalter, the 32-year-old Pearce was not expected to return as the Orioles hadn’t made any real effort to re-sign him after a disappointing followup to his career year in 2014. With the acquisition of Mark Trumbo early in the offseason and the re-signing of Nolan Reimold, Pearce became expendable with the Orioles having a number of right-handed bats to fill a similar role.

In 325 plate appearances in 2015, Pearce hit just .218 with 15 home runs, 40 runs batted in, and a .711 on-base plus slugging percentage. He received starts at first base, second base, left field, right field, and designated hitter in 2015.

The journeyman was a major reason why the Orioles were able to endure the losses of Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis on their way to finishing 96-66 and winning their first American League East title in 17 years two seasons ago. Playing a career-high 102 games, Pearce hit .293 with 21 homers, 49 RBIs, and a club-leading .930 OPS. Despite receiving only 383 plate appearances, he led the Orioles with 5.9 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

The Lakeland, Fla. native would appear to be a perfect fit with Tampa Bay, especially when you consider his career numbers at Tropicana Field. Pearce has seven homers and a 1.039 OPS in 86 career plate appearances playing at the Rays’ home ballpark.

Beginning the offseason with six free agents, the Orioles ultimately kept three as catcher Matt Wieters accepted a $15.8 million qualifying offer, relief pitcher Darren O’Day signed a four-year, $31 million contract, and first baseman Chris Davis agreed to a seven-year, $161 million deal last weekend. Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (Miami) and outfielder Gerardo Parra (Colorado) joined Pearce as free-agent departures.

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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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