Tag Archive | "john means"

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering late August

Posted on 20 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles entering the final days of August and approaching 40-man roster call-ups, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you’re reading this, Baltimore may have already set a new major league record for home runs allowed in a season, demolishing the mark of 258 by the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. Four other clubs are on pace to surpass that record. Do chicks still dig the long ball that much?

2. Baltimore going 16-15 from June 28 through Aug. 4 was a nice diversion, but the 1-12 stretch against the New York Yankees, Houston, and Boston reminded how long the road back to even respectability remains. My 58-104 prediction isn’t looking good, but just 15 games remain against teams over .500.

3. Adley Rutschman being promoted to Delmarva felt inevitable after his bat had warmed at Aberdeen with a .462 average over his last 10 games and his first homer in a 5-for-5 performance for the IronBirds Monday. The first overall pick playing in the postseason with the Shorebirds should be fun.

4. Hunter Harvey making his debut at Fenway Park was one of the better moments of 2019, but Brandon Hyde noting he would have likely pitched the right-hander if the Orioles had taken a lead in the seventh inning Monday was very interesting. Despite the many injuries, Harvey is just 24.

5. After not starting Chris Davis on consecutive nights against right-handers, Hyde said the first baseman is healthy and the decision is about wanting to play Trey Mancini at first. With September bringing call-ups and a potential Mark Trumbo activation, Davis could be buried deeper on the bench.

6. After pitching five no-hit innings Monday, John Means was harmed by his defense and then couldn’t retire a batter in the sixth before being pulled. The outing was a step in the right direction, but the All-Star pitcher owns a 7.48 ERA since the break.

7. Hanser Alberto continues to amaze with a .319 average and .407 mark against lefties. The lack of power and shortage of walks limit his value, but he’s provided pretty solid defense, easily making him someone you’d like to keep around. What a fun story.

8. His performance for Delmarva this season speaks for itself, but Grayson Rodriguez looks more like a post-college pitcher than a 19-year-old in appearance and how he handles himself. The 2018 first-round pick is pleased with his changeup development and has hit 99 mph in recent starts. He’s an exciting talent.

9. Ryan Mountcastle drawing 20 walks in 494 plate appearances at Norfolk is concerning, but a .311 average, 53 extra-base hits, and an .868 OPS make him a clear candidate for a September promotion since he’ll go on the 40-man roster this offseason anyway. Where he’ll play remains a question.

10. A lat strain will keep DL Hall out for the rest of Single-A Frederick’s season, but the 20-year-old posted a 2.25 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks in his last 32 innings. His 6.0 walk rate per nine must improve, but he showed better control in the second half.

11. This season will be remembered for historically terrible pitching, but the Orioles are last in the majors in defensive runs saved and last in the AL in DRS for the second straight season. Improving the defense is a major priority before the arrival of their talented pitchers in the minors.

12. The Orioles remain an easy target for the tanking outrage crowd, but they’re really an example of the dangers of keeping a core together too long. Explain again what Mike Elias should have done differently to any meaningful degree after inheriting a 115-loss team that entered 2018 hoping to contend.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Andrew Cashner trade

Posted on 14 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles trading veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox for 17-year-old Venezuelan position prospects Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. No one knows whether these academy-level prospects will even sniff the majors one day, but it was refreshing seeing Mike Elias target long-term upside over moderate-floor, low-ceiling talent only guaranteed to clog up the 40-man roster. There was way too much of that in the past.

2. This trade was a reminder how difficult it is prying away prospects today, something we saw last year with even an elite rental piece like Manny Machado. You’re not getting much value above the lowest minor-league levels for 2 1/2 months of a career league-average starter making some real money.

3. Credit Cashner for reinventing himself by pitching up in the zone more and doubling his changeup usage from 2018. That’s become his best pitch, evident by FanGraphs’ pitch value metric ranking it the second-best changeup in the majors among qualified hurlers. The new regime’s fingerprints are all over those tweaks.

4. Elias cited the strong numbers from Prado in the Dominican Summer League, complimenting the center fielder’s pop and speed while adding Orioles scouts have liked what they’ve seen from him in his first professional season. He received an $85,000 signing bonus last July, per SoxProspects.com.

5. Romero has more modest numbers and has mostly played third base, but the Orioles like the contact he’s been making and believe he has a chance to develop as a shortstop. Boston gave him a $275,000 last July, per SoxProspects.com.

6. Elias said no other deals were imminent, but Mychal Givens will be an attractive chip if he strings together a few more outings like Saturday’s two-inning save. His 4.50 ERA is mediocre, but he’s striking out a career-high 12.8 batters per nine innings and is under club control through 2021.

7. The Orioles entered Sunday with a record just 2 1/2 games worse than Detroit, who sported a minus-163 run differential for the season and a 6-27 record since June 1. Thoughts of the 2020 first overall pick had to cross Elias’ mind when dealing Cashner.

8. Dylan Bundy isn’t expected to be out long with right knee tendinitis, but the current starting rotation behind surprising All-Star lefty John Means consists of three pitchers who weren’t even in the organization at the start of June. That’s astonishing.

9. Cashner’s Sunday replacement, the soft-tossing Tom Eshelman, didn’t have a good final line after giving up a two-run homer in the sixth, but he was competitive and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings with five coming on his curveball. There’s plenty of opportunity for minor-league “misfits” in Baltimore now.

10. Cashner signed with Baltimore 17 months ago thinking he was joining a club with at least a chance of competing for a wild-card spot in 2018. The Orioles went 75-178 over his time here.

11. I’m not saying a division rival would be your top choice as a trade partner, but any “old-school” belief that the Orioles shouldn’t deal with AL East rivals is as foolish as marginalizing the international market for years. End of discussion.

12. Asked to comment on the Cashner trade after Saturday night’s 12-4 loss, Brandon Hyde said the Orioles are “a million miles away from being where we’re going to be here sometime soon.” I couldn’t help but think the Baltimore manager needed a hug after the veteran starter was dealt.

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Orioles’ Means doesn’t pitch in AL’s 4-3 win in All-Star Game

Posted on 09 July 2019 by Luke Jones

One of the final players to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster less than four months ago, All-Star pitcher John Means enjoyed one of baseball’s biggest stages as an observer Tuesday in Cleveland.

Unquestionably the greatest surprise in a difficult season for last-place Baltimore, Means did not pitch in the American League’s 4-3 victory over the National League. When AL manager Alex Cora began using his All-Star relievers in the sixth inning, it became apparent Means would not pitch unless the exhibition had gone to extra innings. The 26-year-old matched a season high with seven strong innings in his last start on July 3, which left him rested for a potential appearance in the All-Star Game.

Cleveland pitcher Shane Bieber was named the game’s Most Valuable Player with three strikeouts in a perfect fifth inning. The AL won its seventh straight All-Star Game and 25th of the last 32 against the Senior Circuit.

Means was one of three active AL pitchers who didn’t appear in the All-Star Game, joining Houston hurlers Gerrit Cole and Ryan Pressly. Four injury replacements named to the AL roster — Bieber, Minnesota’s Jose Berriors, Oakland’s Liam Hendriks, and New York’s Masahiro Tanaka — all pitched in the game.

Reaction to Means’ selection to the 90th Midsummer Classic was unfortunately accompanied by much disappointment over slugger Trey Mancini being left off the AL roster, but the rookie lefty leads all Orioles in wins above replacement, according to both Baseball Reference (3.5) and FanGraphs (1.9). His 2.50 ERA is sixth in the majors among pitchers completing at least 80 innings while FanGraphs ranks Means eighth in its changeup pitch value metric, an indication of how effective his best pitch has been.

In 14 starts and four relief appearances spanning 82 2/3 innings, Means is 7-4 with a 1.077 WHIP, 7.5 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings, and nine home runs allowed.

Wells, McCoy receive June minor league honors

The Orioles announced left-handed pitcher Alex Wells and shortstop Mason McCoy — both of Double-A Bowie — as their minor league players of the month for June.

Wells, 22, was 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 32 innings over five starts. The Australian southpaw struck out 21 and walked seven while allowing 27 hits and just one home run. The organization’s pitcher of the year in 2017 and ranked as the Orioles’ 25th-best prospect by MLB.com, Wells is 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 18 walks in 79 2/3 innings this season and will represent the Baysox in the Eastern League All-Star Game. Though not as highly regarded as a prospect because of underwhelming fastball velocity, Wells possesses an above-average changeup and good control to keep hitters off balance.

A 2017 sixth-round pick out of the University of Iowa, McCoy has enjoyed a breakout season that started with Single-A Frederick and has continued with the Baysox. The 24-year-old batted .313 with seven extra-base hits, 11 walks, and a .763 on-base plus slugging percentage in June. After posting an impressive .925 OPS in 27 games for the Keys, McCoy has continued to thrive at Bowie with a .319 average, 15 extra-base hits, 16 runs batted in, 25 walks, and an .808 OPS in 56 games. He was also named to Wednesday’s Eastern League All-Star Game and is the organization’s No. 30 prospect, according to MLB.com.

Brooks added to 25-man roster

After being selected off waivers from Oakland last weekend, right-handed pitcher Aaron Brooks was placed on the 25-man roster Tuesday afternoon.

The 29-year-old pitched to a 5.01 ERA while allowing 12 home runs, striking out 43, and walking 14 in 50 1/3 innings for the Athletics in the first half of the season. Brooks sports a career 6.65 ERA in 111 innings over parts of four major league seasons.

The Orioles also announced right-hander Josh Lucas cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. Right-hander David Hess was optioned to the Tides following Sunday’s loss at Toronto to make room on the 25-man roster for Brooks.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at 2019 All-Star break

Posted on 08 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles playing better recently before hitting the All-Star break, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Means may not continue pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA, but going from an organizational afterthought to the first Baltimore rookie since 1966 to be named to the All-Star team in three months is extraordinary, regardless of the club’s record or any disappointment over someone else not making it.

2. I couldn’t help but think Trey Mancini would have made the Midsummer Classic if he were an everyday first baseman. He tries his best in right and has arguably improved going off the eyeball test, but the defensive metrics really dent his overall value in terms of wins above replacement.

3. After going nearly eight weeks without back-to-back wins and over two months without a series win, the Orioles had two sets of consecutive victories — including a three-win stretch — and won two series in 10 days. Even when you’re the worst team in the majors, baseball remains weird.

4. That recent prosperity has quieted chatter of making history and surpassing the infamous 1962 New York Mets — for now. With a 5-4 stretch going into the break, the Orioles are on pace to go 49-113, which would be a two-game improvement from last year. Yay?

5. Andrew Cashner has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his last five starts to shrink his ERA to 3.83. The 32-year-old could be an attractive rental, but don’t completely dismiss his value as a rotation anchor and veteran presence if you’re only fetching spare parts in return.

6. DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez each tossed a scoreless inning in the MLB Futures Game in Cleveland. The pitching at the major-league level couldn’t be worse right now, but Sunday offered a reminder of the talented arms in the minor-league system, especially at the lower levels.

7. Renato Nunez joined Boog Powell and Manny Machado as the only Orioles under age 26 to homer 20 or more times before the break. His raw power and streakiness remind me of a less patient Mark Reynolds, but Nunez has drawn 13 walks over his last 110 plate appearances.

8. Though Chris Davis has nudged his average up to .189, Brandon Hyde should continue to be very selective with playing time. The 33-year-old has been better against right-handers with a .213 average and .699 OPS this season, but he’s batting .100 with a .243 OPS against lefties.

9. On waivers four times last offseason, Hanser Alberto ranking sixth in the AL in average is a good story. He’s been useful, but it’s an example why batting average offers a limited picture of ability. The free-and-light-swinging infielder owns a .718 OPS, well below the league average.

10. A few months ago, center field appeared to be a position with an encouraging future with the presence of Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. Instead, Mullins was demoted after a 6-for-64 start and is batting just .205 at Triple-A Norfolk while injuries continue to stunt Hays’ development. Very disappointing.

11. It will take more time for Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez to start landing the higher-profile signings in the international market, but the mere sight of the Orioles section not being barren in Baseball America’s signing tracker on July 2 was refreshing.

12. Putting aside my dislike for the mostly ugly holiday uniforms we’ve seen across baseball in recent years or the comparisons made to Boston’s hat, I wouldn’t mind seeing an alternate “B” cap. The script style used for the road jersey would be a better choice than the block letter, however.

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Baltimore Orioles' David Hess, right, reacts as New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres, left, runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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All bets off on Orioles’ potential path toward infamy

Posted on 24 June 2019 by Luke Jones

We knew this season would be bad for the Orioles.

When the most optimistic of forecasts suggest a club might find a way to avoid 100 losses, you know you’re nowhere close to being in a good place. But general manager Mike Elias and the new Orioles regime made no false promises after a 115-loss season, easily the worst campaign in club history.

There were never going to be shortsighted moves made in the name of a quick fix, nor should there have been. The goal is to build a championship-caliber organization in the years to come — not to exhaust enough resources to lose 92 games instead of the number with which the Orioles will ultimately finish. Signing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper wouldn’t have transformed this year’s team into anything close to being a contender, let alone spending money on lesser players to try to grab a few extra wins that no one would have cared about in the big picture.

In other words, no one should be surprised Baltimore owns the worst record in baseball as the season nears its midpoint. But that hasn’t made it any easier to watch on a nightly basis — if you still have the stomach for it in late June. Those suggesting it couldn’t get worse or citing historical examples as a reason to anticipate some slight improvement in the win-loss department were clearly wrong.

After a 1-6 road trip that included three losses to a Seattle team that had gone 19-44 since a 13-2 start to begin the season, the Orioles are now on pace to lose more games than they did last year. Brandon Hyde’s club has gone 9-34 since last winning back-to-back games to improve to 13-22 on May 6. Over that seven-week stretch without consecutive victories, the Orioles went a combined 4-9 against the Mariners, Detroit, San Francisco, and Toronto, four of the seven worst teams in the majors right now.

Baltimore hasn’t won a series since April 24, the day before the start of the NFL draft. A month from Tuesday, the Ravens will hold their first full-squad training camp practice, and there’s little confidence the Orioles will have won a series by then either.

The other phases of the game have been bad, of course, but the pitching has been the biggest culprit as the Orioles entered Monday with the worst ERA (5.85) in the majors, a half-run worse than the 29th-place Mariners. They’re on pace to obliterate the 2016 Reds’ major league record for home runs allowed by 66, but it’s at least fair to note three other clubs are on pace to break Cincinnati’s mark in this homer-crazy 2019. The Orioles rank last in starter ERA (5.59) and next to last in bullpen ERA (6.16) with only Washington to thank for being slightly worse in relief.

The hope was the Orioles would find another pitcher or two in a mold somewhat similar to John Means, who’s been the most pleasant surprise of the season with his 2.67 ERA. You’d like to see more young hurlers take advantage of these generous opportunities to at least perform at a semi-respectable level, but that hasn’t happened beyond a fleeting week or two for any given name, a frustrating reality becoming more audible in Hyde’s post-game comments. He knew what he was getting into taking this job last December, but it can’t be easy managing this on a nightly basis.

Evident by the “Norfolk Shuttle” working overtime in recent weeks, this club just doesn’t have the pitching to even approach being competitive on too many nights. In games in which Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, or Means have started, the Orioles are 17-25, which is still bad but far from historically poor. But they’re an unthinkable 5-31 when anyone else starts, which is 1899 Cleveland Spiders kind of terrible. Alex Cobb making only three starts before undergoing season-ending hip surgery doomed a rotation that was already far too thin.

What happens if Cashner, Bundy, or both are traded by next month’s deadline? What if Means’ shoulder issue becomes a bigger problem than anticipated? Other than prospect Keegan Akin, we’ve already seen most of what Triple-A Norfolk has to offer in the pitching department, and the answer isn’t pretty.

Nearly halfway through a season from which many fans have already tuned out, it’s time to ask if the 2019 Orioles could be the worst team we’ve seen in the major leagues since at least World War II. Yes, that includes the 1962 New York Mets, who went 40-120 in their inaugural season and are viewed as the Unholy Grail of modern baseball ineptitude.

Currently on pace to finish 45-117, the Orioles own a minus-181 run differential through 78 games. Only six teams over the last decade have finished an entire season with a run differential of minus-200 or worse. The last major league team to finish with a minus-300 run differential was the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 and scored 337 fewer runs than they allowed.

The Orioles’ current run differential translates to just short of minus-376 for an entire season, which is dramatically worse than last year’s club (minus-270) and the 1988 team (minus-239). The 1962 Mets finished at minus-331, so that tells you what kind of pace the Orioles are keeping as they sport just four June wins entering the final week of the month.

If you buy into the value of run differential to predict future wins and losses, you might want to take a trip or two to Camden Yards to witness history before the season’s over. The Orioles have played like a 128-loss team over their last 43 games, more than a quarter of the season. And the numbers say they haven’t been particularly unlucky either.

This could be the worst major league team of the modern era. All bets are off trying to argue otherwise at this point.

It’s worse than most of us even thought it would be.

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Orioles designate Straily for assignment, place Means on injured list

Posted on 20 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a roster move that felt inevitable and another that came as a surprise prior to the start of their four-game set in Seattle.

Struggling right-hander Dan Straily was designated for assignment Thursday while lefty starter John Means was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain. The Orioles activated outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. from the IL and recalled right-handed reliever Evan Phillips to take their spots on the 25-man roster.

Means last pitched Sunday and told reporters in Seattle he’d felt some tightness in his shoulder at the end of the outing against Boston, but he downplayed the severity and didn’t undergo an MRI, describing it as a muscular issue. The rookie expects to come off the IL when eligible next Thursday, the day before the start of a three-game series against Cleveland. Means has easily been the most pleasant surprise in a very difficult season for the last-place Orioles, pitching to a 6-4 record and a 2.67 ERA in 70 2/3 innings.

With Means originally scheduled to start Friday, the Orioles will now conduct a bullpen game against the Mariners.

Straily was signed in early April to provide a veteran presence in the starting rotation, but the 30-year-old never found any semblance of footing with Baltimore and had allowed an incredible 22 home runs in just 47 2/3 innings. His intense struggles led to a demotion to the bullpen in late May, but Straily had allowed 13 earned runs and seven homers in his last two appearances covering only 3 2/3 innings to elevate his season ERA to 9.82, leading to his removal from the 40-man roster.

Manager Brandon Hyde expressed hope that Straily would remain with the organization and try to get himself straightened out in the minor leagues. Entering 2019 with a career 4.23 ERA in seven major league seasons, Straily signed a one-year, $575,000 deal that included a $250,000 bonus if he were to be traded. He was released by Miami at the end of spring training and posted a 4.12 ERA with the Marlins last season.

Right fielder and first baseman Trey Mancini was not in Thursday’s lineup after being hit by a pitch on the left elbow in the first inning of Wednesday’s loss in Oakland, but he is only dealing with a contusion and could return to action in the next day or two.

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Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mychal Givens and catcher Austin Wynns celebrate their 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in a baseball game, Saturday, May 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts approaching mid-May

Posted on 10 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rapidly approaching the quarter mark of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dan Straily failed to complete five innings for the third consecutive start, elevating his ERA to 8.23. Some patience was warranted after his spring was disrupted, but the Orioles hoped he’d at least eat innings and just maybe pitch well enough to become a small trade chip. He’s done neither.

2. The pitching staff has only two 100-pitch outings and seven starts of six innings or more almost 40 games in. I do believe the Orioles are trying to be proactive with health and effectiveness the third time through the order, but starters simply haven’t pitched well enough to go deeper.

3. Baltimore entered Friday — which wasn’t pretty — still ranking last in the majors with a 5.52 ERA, but starters held a 3.65 mark and relievers a 3.14 ERA through the first seven games of May. Baby steps, especially after giving up an obscene 73 homers in the opening 30 games.

4. I was surprised to realize Trey Mancini ended a month-long home run drought Friday, but 11 doubles gave him a solid .437 slugging percentage over those 22 games. Not only has his bat been outstanding, but his right-field defense passes the eyeball test more than how he looked in left.

5. The Orioles are throwing the most changeups in the majors after ranking seventh last year, but they’re ninth in FanGraph’s changeup value after finishing 28th in 2018. It isn’t only John Means as Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy are throwing them more frequently and effectively. Other pitches are another story.

6. Since improving his batting average to .301 on April 24, Renato Nunez has only four hits in his last 48 at-bats. He’s still among the club leaders in average exit velocity, but he’s really been struggling after a good start.

7. Mychal Givens has recorded more than three outs in eight of his first 13 appearances of 2019. That should look much more appealing to potential trade partners than if he were being used as a conventional ninth-inning closer on a club with few save chances.

8. With recent first-round Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall striking out a combined 16 over 9 2/3 innings for their affiliates Thursday and 2018 third-round pick Blaine Knight being promoted to Single-A Frederick Friday, there’s some pitching light at the end of the tunnel if you peer patiently.

9. If you believe the many draft pundits, I’ve yet to hear an overly compelling argument for general manager Mike Elias taking someone other than Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman first overall next month. If he’s indeed the best prospect, don’t overthink it.

10. The extended absence of Nate Karns (forearm tightness) was the reason why the Orioles gave the talented, but oft-injured pitcher only an $800,000 contract. Alex Cobb (lower back) making just three starts while earning $14 million this season is a different story.

11. I admire Brandon Hyde’s positivity managing a club constructed with no designs of winning, but the Orioles striking out a club-record 22 times Wednesday probably warranted a little more criticism from him in his post-game press conference, no matter how good Chris Sale is.

12. Jackie Bradley Jr.’s game-saving catch on Trey Mancini’s 11th-inning drive Wednesday goes down as one of the best catches in Camden Yards history when you consider the game situation, but I’ve yet to see one better than Mike Devereaux robbing Joe Carter in the inaugural 1992 season.

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Means offering unexpected intrigue for rebuilding Orioles

Posted on 07 May 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There was no “aha” moment for Orioles manager Brandon Hyde watching John Means pitch during spring training.

Hyde liked the 26-year-old lefty’s changeup and how his four-seam fastball played up in the strike zone, but an underwhelming 5.40 ERA in 13 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League wasn’t a harbinger of Means leading Baltimore in both ERA (2.48) and wins above replacement (1.1) through the first six weeks of the 2019 season. In fact, he was the next-to-last relief pitcher on the Opening Day roster to appear in a game with the only one waiting longer being former Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo, who would be designated for assignment a few days later.

Entering 2019, there was little reason to view Means as more than left-handed organizational depth with an ordinary fastball-slider combination and a respectable but ordinary 3.83 ERA over five minor-league seasons. His season debut against the New York Yankees in the Bronx changed that perception, however, as Means allowed only one run and struck out five over 3 1/3 innings to earn his first major league win.

The outing included an eye-opening 17 swinging strikes, 14 coming on the changeup Orioles infielder and teammate Jonathan Villar has since labeled “unbelievable” to watch. You don’t get that many swings and misses with pure luck as Means entered Tuesday ranked seventh in the majors in FanGraphs’ pitch value metric for changeups, further reinforcing it being no fluke.

Means began elevating his fastball more effectively last season — a trend seen around baseball in recent years — and sought help inside and outside the organization to both improve his velocity and develop his changeup this offseason, but he still offered no profound explanation for his early success after pitching a career-high seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball against defending champion Boston Monday night.

“I don’t know. I just feel comfortable up here,” said Means, who abruptly made his major league debut at Fenway Park last September in the midst of the Orioles’ embarrassing pitching shortage. “I feel like these games really matter. I was never a prospect, so I feel like my back’s against the wall every time I go out there and I feel like I pitch better that way.”

An 11th-round pick out of West Virginia in the 2014 draft, Means is hardly the first relative unknown to find success in a small sample of innings as critics wait for a return to reality when opponents face him multiple times, but Monday’s career-best outing brought evidence of adjustments in his second start against the Red Sox. After relying almost exclusively on his fastball-changeup combination and throwing only two sliders out of 82 total pitches at Fenway on April 14, Means threw his slider 21 times to keep Red Sox hitters off balance this time around.

The breaking pitch resulted in two swinging strikes, four called strikes, and a sixth-inning strikeout of Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley. Means said the increase in slider usage was out of necessity, perhaps in response to his lower strikeout rate since becoming a starter. The next possible step could be mixing in a few more curveballs after he threw only four out of his 96 total pitches in the 4-1 victory.

“I’m going to need that as I go forward,” Means said. “The first month, the changeup kind of surprised everybody. As I move forward [and] as I establish myself, I’m going to need the breaker and the slider more.”

Of course, time will tell whether this version of Means is for real as opponents and scouts become more familiar with his repertoire and tendencies. After striking out an impressive 13 batters in 7 2/3 innings in relief, the southpaw has struck out only 5.8 batters per nine innings in five starts covering 25 frames, a rate suggesting his ultimate place may still be in the bullpen. His opponents’ .244 batting average on balls in play also indicates Means has benefited from some good fortune with the league average right around .295.

But good fastball and changeup command, only 1.93 walks per nine innings, and a willingness to evolve make Means more intriguing to watch as the sample size grows with each start. It’s a pleasant surprise for an organization lacking enticing prospects at the major-league level.

“He’s still developing, which is cool and impressive,” Hyde said. “What we’re looking for from our younger players is to not only have results, but to improve over the course of the year. Those two breaking balls are just getting better and better, and he’s getting some confidence with it.”

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Nine notable Orioles numbers at end of April

Posted on 01 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 Orioles now entering May, below is a look at nine notable numbers from the opening month of the season:

1.023 — Trey Mancini’s on-base plus slugging percentage

Let’s start with the big positive as Mancini entered Wednesday ranked eighth among qualified major league hitters in OPS and batted .355 with 17 extra-base hits in March and April. His .413 batting average on balls in play isn’t sustainable, but Mancini is striking out less (20.7 percent compared to 24.1 percent of plate appearances in 2018) and hitting fewer grounders (37.2 percent of balls in play compared to 54.6 percent last year). Those numbers lead you to believe marked improvement is real even if some regression toward the mean is inevitable. In a rebuilding year in which you wondered which player might represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game and if anyone would be remotely deserving of the honor, Mancini would be a legitimate choice from any team so far.

.333 — winning percentage

The 4-2 road trip to begin the season was a pleasant surprise, but a 10-20 start — two games better than last year — couldn’t have surprised anyone with realistic expectations at the start of a lengthy rebuild for general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde. To the latter’s credit, a team clearly lacking the major league talent to compete on a nightly basis has played hard with few moments in which you’d question the effort, something you couldn’t say about last year’s 115-loss outfit. Dwight Smith Jr., Renato Nunez, and John Means have been early surprises in addition to Mancini’s blistering start, but the struggles and subsequent demotions of prospects Cedric Mullins and Tanner Scott are reminders that not everything will go to plan on the road back to respectability.

73 — home runs allowed

You may have heard by now the Orioles have a slight propensity for giving up the long ball as the pitching staff has allowed 20 more than any other team in baseball and more than twice as many as 14 others clubs. Baltimore is on pace to surrender 394 homers this season, which would obliterate the 2016 Cincinnati Reds’ major league record by 136 trips around the bases. The Orioles won’t like hearing it, but this probably hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves, especially considering the weather hasn’t even warmed up. Yes, homers are up around baseball with many convinced the ball is juiced, but what the Orioles have allowed goes so far beyond that or the cozy confines of Camden Yards. Those many gopher balls have left the Orioles with the worst ERA in the majors (6.05) by more than a half-run.

7.56 — strikeouts per nine innings

We’ve seen bits and pieces of Elias’ Houston effect with pitchers throwing more sliders and elevated fastballs, but the Orioles rank last in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, which is quite a contrast from the Astros ranking in the top five in that department over the last three years. It’s hardly a novel concept around the game, of course, but Elias values pitchers who will miss bats with the major league average hovering around 9.0 strikeouts per nine frames so far this season. Baltimore has only three pitchers on the current 25-man roster (minimum five innings) hitting that threshold. Prospects such as Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Blaine Knight are piling up strikeouts in the low minors, but such gifted arms are still at least a couple years away and many more are needed in this system.

6.67 — Dylan Bundy’s ERA

Bundy isn’t the only Baltimore pitcher struggling, but the 26-year-old is supposed to be one of the most valuable commodities on the current club, either as a trade chip or someone around which to build in the next few years. Bundy’s strikeout rate (10.8 per nine) is up, but his average fastball velocity has dipped once again to 91.0 miles per hour and he’s allowing homers even more frequently than last year when he led the majors with 41. Given his strikeout rate and how opponents have batted just .167 against Bundy his first time through the order, you wonder if a move to a relief role would be best and might improve his velocity. That doesn’t figure to happen anytime soon with Alex Cobb on the injured list and few apparent alternatives, but the current version of Bundy is neither fetching anything in a trade nor providing the Orioles with a building block.

.343 — Chris Davis’ average since his record-breaking hitless streak

Yes, Davis is batting only .176 for the season, but that sounds more palatable after his record-breaking hitless streak to begin the season. Since going 0-for-33 — and 0-for-54 dating back to last September — Davis has a 1.064 OPS with three home runs, three doubles, and 11 runs batted in over 37 plate appearances. Of course, that’s a small sample mostly avoiding left-handed starters and should not be interpreted as him being “back” after his historically poor 2018, but his average exit velocity of 90.7 miles per hour is his best since 2016 and is second on the club behind Nunez. According to Statcast, Davis is in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage this season. His strikeout and walk rates haven’t improved from last season, but the 33-year-old has calmed some of the discussion about his immediate future — for now.

Minus-15 — defensive runs saved

It would be way too kind to suggest the Orioles have played good defense so far in 2019, but they have improved from 29th to 25th in DRS and own only one more error than the league average. The outfield defense has had some issues that have been more pronounced since Mullins’ demotion, but the Orioles have typically made the plays they’re supposed to make and the “Bad News Bears” moments have been less frequent than we saw last year. Third baseman Rio Ruiz and catcher Pedro Severino have stood out defensively, but even Mancini has looked more comfortable in right field than he did in left. The defense definitely hurt the pitching last year, but this year’s group would probably help more if the pitching staff could keep the opposition from hitting the ball over the fence.

14 — stolen bases

There was much discussion this spring about Baltimore stealing more bases and putting pressure on the opposition — something we saw last year from deadline acquisition Jonathan Villar — but their 14 swipes are tied for ninth in the American League. In other words, the improved speed hasn’t exactly moved the meter. Then again, the 2016 Orioles stole just 19 bases for the entire season, so we’re talking about a very low bar set during the plodder years under Buck Showalter.

1 — intentional walks issued 

A hat tip to Jayson Stark of The Athletic for pointing this out, but the Orioles are one of several teams — including the Astros — to all but abandon the intentional walk, which analytics have exposed as an overrated strategy. Baltimore issued 29 free passes last season, so just one over 30 games is a striking contrast. In addition to that, the Orioles have only three sacrifice bunts and have usually stacked their best hitters at the top of the order rather than too often trying to shoehorn a Craig Gentry type at the top or putting Davis in the heart of the order because of the hitter he used to be. The strategy has been sound, even if the execution and talent are lacking.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts after first 20 games of 2019 season

Posted on 19 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles off to an 8-12 start after their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles entered Friday with the majors’ third-worst run differential — defending World Series champion Boston was shockingly second worst — but a 3-4 trip left them a respectable 7-6 road record. The 2018 club had 19 away wins all season. A roster overmatched on paper nightly has played with good energy.

2. Credit Baltimore for getting off the mat to win in extra innings Thursday, but that doesn’t wipe away the bullpen squandering a 5-2 lead with five outs to go. Orioles relievers have allowed seven more homers than any other team in baseball. Who can you really trust out there?

3. The top answer could be John Means if he doesn’t settle into the rotation. The lefty will fill a hybrid role for the time being with Alex Cobb returning, but a 1.72 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings have made him fun to watch in whatever capacity he’s pitched.

4. I’m glad to no longer be tracking a historic hitless streak for Chris Davis, but we’re a long way from suggesting he’s made meaningful improvement. I will note his average exit velocity (91.1 mph) is the best it’s been since 2015, but we’re talking about a very small sample size.

5. An 0-for-5 Thursday dropped Cedric Mullins to an .089 batting average. Patience is warranted and he’s defended well in center, but you wonder how hard a healthy Austin Hays — who’s just beginning a hitting progression after recovering from the thumb injury — might have been knocking at the door.

6. The Orioles own only two starts of six innings or more so far this season. It’s fair mentioning the handful of times they’ve used someone who wasn’t fully stretched out as a starter, but that still doesn’t say much for veterans like Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy.

7. Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino have combined to hit barely above the Mendoza line, but the catchers have thrown out eight of 13 runners attempting to steal this season. I would like to see Severino receive a few more opportunities since he’s five years younger.

8. Trey Mancini has been far and away Baltimore’s best hitter, but Dwight Smith Jr. has been the biggest surprise so far as he’s shown some power with a .474 slugging percentage and gone 9-for-24 with four extra-base hits against lefties. He has a nice swing.

9. After a slow start at Triple-A Norfolk, Ryan Mountcastle has homered in three of his last four games and has received all but two of his starts in the field at first base. His development is the most relevant baseball-related factor in the Davis saga at this point.

10. In his first three starts for Single-A Delmarva, 19-year-old Grayson Rodriguez has pitched to a 0.54 ERA and struck out 28 batters in 16 2/3 innings. I suppose that’s not too shabby for the 2018 first-round pick.

11. Brian Roberts has been impressive as a color analyst on MASN, especially considering his limited experience in the role. He clearly does his homework and presents those insights in an entertaining way. I’d like to hear more of him on broadcasts.

12. This FanGraphs article offered a look at Brandon Hyde, his daily routine, and how he interacts with Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It’s also a reminder the infrastructure of baseball operations is far from complete as the manager notes the current size of the front office and analytics department.

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