Here we are at the All Star break and the Orioles are pretty much where I expected them to be at 40-48 and in last place in the AL East. On the upside we are light years ahead of where I imagined we’d be in terms of our youth movement and player progression.
There is no better story in Baltimore right now then rookie starting pitcher Brad Bergesen. His teammates have begun to call him ROY as in Rookie of the Year…and rightfully so. In 16 starts this season Bergesen is 6-3 with a 3.54ERA and a WHIP of 1.20 in 104.1 innings. Perhaps as impressive as Bergesen’s numbers is how deep he is going in games at such an early stage of his career, he is averaging 6.1 innings per outing and hasn’t pitched less then six innings since May 24th when he pitched 5.2 innings against the Nats. It looks like the Orioles have found the first piece to their future starting rotation with Bergesen and at 23 he seems to be improving with each outing.
The youth movement doesn’t stop with Bergesen as Nolan Reimold has shown some serious pop at the dish. Reimold has nine big flies and 23 RBIs in 51 games this season; spread those numbers across a full 162 games and he would be on pace for 29 homers and 73 RBIs. Reimold has cooled off a bit of late but I think he has the plate discipline and strike zone recognition to heat back up after the All Star break.
With Reimold locking down left field the Orioles have created one of the most talented and diverse young outfields in baseball. Adam Jones is going to make his first All Star appearance Tuesday and has shown improvement in every facet of his game in 2009. Jones has raised his OPS by .127 in his second full season and is on pace for around 24 home runs and 94 RBIs. While Jones has been impressive at the plate he has been even more impressive in the field covering more ground than any centerfielder not named Torii Hunter and making home run robbing catches at the wall look almost routine.
Rounding out the Orioles impressive outfield is 25 year old right fielder Nick Markakis. Markakis started the season on an absolute tear with an obscene OPS of 1.020 and driving in 22 runs in April. Nick’s May was just as impressive as his power numbers spiked with five bombs to go with his 18 RBIs which gave him 40 RBIs going into June. Nick’s power numbers have fallen off quite a bit as he hasn’t had a home run since June 16th against the Mets; his homer-less drought is at 25 games going into the break. I think Nick is showing us the kind of hitter he is destined to be throughout his career; I see him as a guy who will hit around 20 homers with 95-105 RBIs and an OPS of around .870.
When Matt Wieters made his major league debut on May 29th against the Tigers, Baltimore baseball became more relevant than it has been in over a decade. Regrettably, Wieters struggled at the plate as he attempted to reach the completely unrealistic expectations placed on him. On the positive side Wieters has begun to show a lot of improvement as he gets his feet under him at the major league level; all of his offensive numbers have improved as he continues to figure out major league pitching. Behind the plate Wieters has looked fairly good making some heady plays but he has also struggled throwing out just one of the 21 players who have attempted to steal on him this season. While none of Wieters numbers are really attention grabbing, I have been impressed with his maturity and work ethic which fill me with confidence that when the light does in fact go on, the Orioles will have one hell of a special player behind the plate.
Luke Scott has been the most productive Oriole offensively, by far. While playing a majority of his games as a DH Scott has18 bombs, 51 RBI, and an eye popping .976OPS; in fact Scott is on a pace for the first 30 home run, 100 RBI season of his career. At 31 and with a very manageable contract, Scott is a viable, intriguing piece to the Orioles puzzle.
Another solid veteran contributor has been closer George Sherrill. After a rocky start to the season Sherrill has come on strong and driven his stock about as high as it can possibly go. In his last 27.2 innings Sherrill has only allowed five earned runs and converted 16 of 18 saves. Sherrill could potentially be a very valuable trading chip around the trading deadline as he has become not only a proven closer but a proven left handed closer.
Some unlikely players have also made great contributions throughout the first half of the season. Robert Andino did a great job filling in for Cesar Izturis. Andino isn’t going to be mistaken for Hanley Ramirez at the dish but he played an outstanding defensive shortstop.
Over the last few games Oscar Salazar has been a revelation at the plate with an OPS of 1.067 and two bombs in his first 31 at bats this season. With Melvin Mora struggling at the dish and in the last year of his deal it may be an interesting idea to deal Mora and grant Salazar an opportunity to play everyday. At 31 Salazar probably isn’t the long term solution at the hot corner but he has shown enough ability at the plate to give him a shot.
Unfortunately not everything has been coming up aces for the Orioles; they are still eight games under .500 for a reason.
Jeremy Guthrie is the only pitcher remaining from the opening day starting rotation. Experiments such as Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson were monumental flops, although Hendrickson has become a reliable left hander out of the pen. As for Guthrie, he has not been “right” all season; his fastball has little to no movement and he has shown a below average ability to place his breaking pitches. It seems like a majority of Guthrie’s sliders are up in the zone with little break, essentially making them below average fastballs. Guthrie is also allowing home runs at an alarming rate, in 101.1 innings Guthrie has allowed 20 homers. I am not sure if this is due to Guthrie’s participation in the WBC or the fact that opposing hitters have figured out Guthrie but it is an alarming statistic for sure.
As for the pitchers who have filled the starting rotation, other than Bergesen they have all been less than impressive to put it nicely. Rich Hill is wildly inconsistent and hasn’t shown me anything in terms of intangibles that lead me to believe he is anything more than a below average major league starter. Jason Berken has battled on the mound and showed a lot of grit but his numbers tell a story of a pitcher that may need more grooming down on the farm.
As for Felix Pie I don’t think there is much that I haven’t already said. Pie has played better of late and he is playing on the cheap so we could do worse than Pie as a fourth outfielder.
The most frustrating part of the first half of the season hasn’t been any one player but the mental lapses that the players seem to routinely make. The Orioles have been atrocious on the basepaths and have run themselves out of more innings then I can count. Melvin Mora looks clueless running the bases and is good for two or three boneheaded plays a week. I would implore Dave Trembley to sit Mora down and explain that he is 37 and doesn’t have the wheels to swipe bases anymore.
Overall it has been an exciting season for the Orioles, there have been some amazing comebacks and the team seems to battle for all 27 outs. The days of Kevin Millar and Jay Payton blocking the promotions of our young talent seems to be in the rearview and many of the young players are making the most of their opportunities and producing. On top of the many positives I haven’t even mentioned Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz who were both named top ten prospects in all of baseball. While the second half may be a roller coaster, we are building the tracks for one hell of a fun ride.