Tag Archive | "Orioles"

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Despite strong spring, Orioles prospect Hays optioned to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Luke Jones

No player in Orioles major league camp was having a better spring than Austin Hays, but that didn’t stop the 23-year-old outfielder from being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday.

The decision was met with some surprise after Hays batted .351 with five home runs and a 1.277 on-base plus slugging percentage in 40 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League, but the 2016 third-round pick’s only professional experience above the Double-A level to this point in his career is 63 plate appearance with Baltimore in the final month of 2017. Entering spring training, most didn’t consider Hays a strong bet to make the major league club after his injury-riddled 2018 season that ended with him undergoing ankle surgery in September, but he used the spring to reestablish himself as one of Baltimore’s best prospects and eased concerns about his ankle by showing off good speed and strong defense. His nine extra-base hits led the club.

Baseball America named Hays its No. 21 overall prospect entering 2018, but the first 2016 draftee to make the major leagues struggled at Double-A Bowie, batting just .242 with 12 homers and a .703 OPS in 288 plate appearances while missing significant time with his ankle injury. With Hays struggling, the Orioles promoted the likes of Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart after the trade deadline last year.

Mullins is expected to be the Opening Day center fielder for Baltimore, but Hays has impressed with his defense in center and appears likely to play that position for the Tides. Questions about Mullins’ throwing arm could eventually push him to a corner outfield spot, especially if Hays plays the position effectively at Norfolk.

Hays wasn’t the only young outfielder to be optioned to Norfolk on Sunday as former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander was cut from major league camp. The 24-year-old also made a favorable impression this spring with the new Orioles regime by batting .333 with eight extra-base hits and a 1.086 OPS in 36 plate appearances.

With Hays and Santander demoted, Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, Dwight Smith Jr., Eric Young Jr., and Drew Jackson remain in the outfield picture to varying degrees.

General manager Mike Elias also optioned infielder Stevie Wilkerson and right-handed pitchers Cody Carroll, Branden Kline, and Yefry Ramirez to the Tides. Ramirez was vying for a spot in the Orioles’ starting rotation after making 12 starts in the majors last year, but he posted a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.

Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa and infielder Christopher Bostick were also reassigned to minor-league camp, leaving 39 players in major league camp with the start of the season less than two weeks away.

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Stewart, Diaz headline second wave of Orioles’ spring cuts

Posted on 10 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Former first-round pick and outfielder DJ Stewart headlined the Orioles’ second round of spring cuts with the start of the 2019 season just 2 1/2 weeks away.

Despite making his major league debut and performing well enough last September to put himself in the conversation for a starting job entering spring training, Stewart was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk Sunday while other young outfielders such as Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Joey Rickard, and the recently-acquired Dwight Smith Jr. remain in major league camp. The 25-year-old Stewart batted .250 with three home runs and an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage in 47 plate appearances for Baltimore last season, but his .267 average and .767 OPS in 33 plate appearances this spring didn’t distinguish him from the candidates vying for major league jobs. There are also concerns about Stewart’s throwing arm in right as he’s spent most of his professional career as a left fielder.

Stewart wasn’t the only outfielder cut on Sunday as top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz was reassigned to minor-league camp. Despite an impressive .333 average and .839 OPS in his first spring training with Baltimore, the 22-year-old Diaz was always expected to begin the 2019 season in the minors and was in camp as a non-roster invitee. The centerpiece acquisition of last July’s Manny Machado trade could make his major league debut at some point later this season, but Diaz has yet to play above the Double-A level and a rebuilding organization was in no rush to begin his service clock this quickly.

The Orioles also reassigned top infield prospect Ryan Mountcastle to minor-league camp. The 22-year-old saw extensive time at first base this spring after beginning his professional career as a shortstop and moving to third base two years ago. Mountcastle batted .286 with a homer and a .784 OPS in 31 Grapefruit League plate appearances.

Right-handed pitcher Dillon Tate was optioned to Double-A Bowie while right-hander Luis Ortiz was optioned to Norfolk on Sunday. Tate was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Zack Britton trade while Ortiz came from Milwaukee in the Jonathan Schoop trade.

Catcher Martin Cervenka, left-hander Sean Gilmartin, and right-hander Bo Schultz were also reassigned to minor-league camp.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts in first full week of March

Posted on 04 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the start of the 2019 regular season just over three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We all know not to draw conclusions from a handful of spring games, but it’s impossible to ignore Chris Davis striking out seven times and registering only one hit — a homer — in his first 14 plate appearances. If he’s not going to show improvement in the Grapefruit League, then what?

2. Hopes of the new regime fixing Davis have been discussed plenty, but Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde have no prior ties to feel obligated to be patient. If he’s simply “finished” as a player, how long do you keep him in the lineup or even in the organization?

3. Trey Mancini playing left field a little longer probably isn’t hindering anyone’s development drastically, but Ryan Mountcastle taking to first base and tearing up Triple A would put Baltimore in position to improve by cutting Davis later this year if he shows no improvement. The money’s already been spent, folks.

4. Chance Sisco already has four home runs and four walks in 14 plate appearances. If nothing else, that should really help his confidence level, something that took a major hit in the midst of his difficult 2018 campaign.

5. Nate Karns being set to return to game action after experiencing arm soreness is good news, but it’s a reminder why he received only an $800,000 contract. Pitchers have returned from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, but it’s not a high-percentage outcome for someone with his injury history.

6. Kudos to the new regime for not wasting time in reassigning Hunter Harvey to minor-league camp. He’s pitched just 63 2/3 professional innings since being shut down the first time in July 2014. Leave the 24-year-old alone this year to — hopefully — stay healthy and log innings in the minors.

7. Reviews for Richie Martin at shortstop have been positive, and he’s gone 7-for-17 with two doubles and two walks. He isn’t the first Rule 5 pick with spring success, of course, but Alcides Escobar registered a combined 0.4 wins above replacement from 2015-18. The bar needn’t be very high

8. The acquisition of right-hander Xavier Moore from Minnesota marked the Orioles’ second spring trade of international signing bonus slots. I’ve said it before, but Kevin Gausman would have been a great piece for Mike Elias to trade instead of being included in a salary dump for unused slots.

9. Austin Hays is off to a strong start with two homers and a triple in his first 15 plate appearances, but it’s been interesting to note that four of his five starts have come in center field. He’s much healthier and moving better now after last fall’s ankle surgery.

10. Joey Rickard is easily forgotten with the collection of outfield prospects moving up the ladder, but he’s started spring games at all three outfield spots. He’ll be 28 in May, so this is probably his last chance to establish himself as more than a fringe reserve in Baltimore.

11. Jimmy Yacabonis has five strikeouts in four innings of one-hit ball so far. He remains one of my interesting names to watch knowing what Houston has done for pitchers possessing plus sliders.

12. Preston Palmeiro and Ryan Ripken each received a look as minor-league replacements in games this past week, which had to be pretty cool for their families. The 24-year-old Palmeiro remains a sleeper type to monitor.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts with Grapefruit League action underway

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Grapefruit League action beginning over the weekend, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The early reviews of the culture being created by Brandon Hyde have been very positive. That probably won’t mean much in the standings this season, but it will matter for players continuing to buy into the process and to play hard as losses likely mount.

2. Top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz is unlikely to break camp with the Orioles, but his two-run home run in the first spring game was a glimpse of the power the organization believes is still ascending. General manager Mike Elias offered a glowing review on Saturday.

3. It’s no secret the Houston Astros emphasized slider usage with much success, a philosophy that figures to be applied in Baltimore. Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, and Jimmy Yacabonis are a few pitchers to watch in this regard.

4. Alcides Escobar has been Baltimore’s most notable signing — even on a minor-league deal — despite registering a .593 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.7 wins above replacement last season. Rule 5 pick Richie Martin is still preferable if he at least proves he can play quality major league defense.

5. I’m excited to watch Cedric Mullins in his first full major league season, but he’s produced no better than a .662 OPS against left-handed pitching at any level of his professional career. That did come at Triple-A Norfolk last year, so you hope the development of his right-handed swing continues.

6. Branden Kline struck out the side to earn Sunday’s save. The Frederick native missed two full seasons due to elbow surgeries, but he posted a 1.80 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Bowie last year and features a mid-90s fastball and plus slider. Keep an eye on him.

7. Aside from Diaz, it’s been a rough start to the spring for two others acquired in the Manny Machado trade as starting pitching prospect Dean Kremer recovers from an oblique injury and hard-throwing reliever Zach Pop showed substantially diminished velocity on Saturday, which is always concerning.

8. Chris Davis striking out in his first two spring at-bats wouldn’t be noteworthy if he weren’t coming off one of the worst seasons in major league history from an everyday player. As it stands, every trip to the plate will be under a microscope. I’m curious to see his adjustments.

9. I’ll miss the retiring Joe Angel, but more Ben McDonald on Orioles broadcasts would be a great development. He has an engaging personality and was very enlightening discussing spin rate and other pitching-related topics during Saturday’s broadcast.

10. MASN is televising seven Orioles spring games. NESN shows 18 Boston games, YES has 12 Yankees games, and the Rays are televised 11 times. Rogers is televising two Toronto games from Florida and carrying the opponent’s feed for eight others. The Pirates are televised 10 times and the Phillies 16.

11. Machado going to the National League West was probably the best-case scenario for the Orioles, but anyone mocking him for signing with San Diego — I would too for $300 million — is overlooking a loaded farm system. The Padres could be very interesting in the not-too-distant future.

12. One of the more vivid memories of my early childhood was chanting “Edd-ie! Edd-ie!” at Memorial Stadium. Orioles legend and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray turned 63 on Sunday. Where have the years gone?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering 2019 spring training

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Tuesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What would mark an acceptable — relatively and realistically speaking — major league season? I think Mike Elias would gladly take Cedric Mullins and a couple others looking like legitimate pieces for the future and a few veterans performing well enough to be traded. Avoiding 100 losses wouldn’t hurt.

2. Describing an $800,000 contract as even a “low-risk” signing sounds silly, but I liked the addition of Nate Karns to see if his arm injuries are finally behind him. His 9.3 career strikeouts per nine innings and above-average curveball fit nicely with what Elias and Sig Mejdal valued in Houston.

3. I’ll be curious to see which Baltimore pitchers start throwing their breaking pitches more frequently. The talent level is different, but veterans like Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole featured their breaking stuff more prominently upon joining the Astros. Spin rate is huge in Houston.

4. We’ve now heard Chris Davis talk about making adjustments to bounce back in three consecutive winters. Perhaps the new brain trust will find some magic fix to salvage some value from the remaining four years of his contract, but it’s all eyewash until April.

5. It could be now or never for Chance Sisco to show whether he’s a starting-caliber catcher or just a fringe backup type. The starting job is sitting there for the former second-round pick who will turn 24 later this month. Austin Wynns, 28, substantially outplaying him last year wasn’t encouraging.

6. After hitting well in limited duty last September, DJ Stewart will have his best chance this spring to prove he’s deserving of a starting corner outfield job, especially as Austin Hays needs to reestablish himself after an injury-plagued 2018 season.

7. If I had to predict the starting shortstop and third baseman, I’d pick Rule 5 pick Richie Martin and Renato Nunez. The latter played well late last year, but that’s easily the most depressing left side of the infield on paper since Cesar Izturis and a washed-up Miguel Tejada.

8. Martin and fellow Rule 5 pick Drew Jackson may not be up to the task at shortstop, but I’d prefer keeping Jonathan Villar at second base where he’s at his best defensively. Villar was worth seven defensive runs saved at second and minus-three in 18 starts at shortstop last season.

9. Coming off a 5.55 ERA last season, Mike Wright is now 29 and unlikely to stick on the roster simply because he’s out of options again, especially with the new regime. The same likely goes for the 28-year-old Donnie Hart, who posted a 5.59 ERA while struggling with control.

10. Dean Kremer is the non-roster invitee I’m most looking forward to monitoring. The 23-year-old led the minors in strikeouts last year and possesses a good curve that will appeal to the new front office. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pitching for the Orioles at some point this season.

11. This can be said about a number of unsigned veterans, but it’s difficult to believe Adam Jones hasn’t found a job as camps open this week. He may not be the player he was a few years ago, but he can still fill a meaningful role for a contender.

12. As much as I loved the Elias hire and have liked what I’ve seen from Brandon Hyde so far, where are the marketing efforts and ticket promotions for a team that has very little to sell from a competitive standpoint? There needs to be much greater urgency in this area.

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Orioles sign right-handed pitcher Nate Karns to one-year deal

Posted on 07 February 2019 by Luke Jones

Just days before the start of spring training, Orioles general manager Mike Elias has made his first major league signing of the offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal with right-handed pitcher Nate Karns.

The 31-year-old did not pitch in the majors last season due to elbow soreness and appeared in only nine games in 2017 before undergoing season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Karns has pitched for four major league teams, going 16-11 with a 4.37 ERA in 310 2/3 innings over parts of five seasons. He’s averaged an impressive 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his career, but injuries and trades have prevented him from establishing himself as a major league starter.

A 12th-round pick of Washington in 2009, Karns made his major league debut with the Nationals against the Orioles in 2013 and showed his greatest promise two years later when he went 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 147 innings with Tampa Bay. However, he’s logged just 139 2/3 major league innings split between Seattle and Kansas City since that promising 2015 season with the Rays.

If healthy, Karns figures to have a good chance to win a spot in Baltimore’s rotation behind veteran starters Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy. Karns will be competing with younger options such as David Hess, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Yefry Ramirez.

According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the deal is worth $800,000 and includes an additional $200,000 in incentives.

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Three Orioles prospects named to Baseball America’s top 100 list

Posted on 24 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles remain in the early stages of what’s expected to be a long rebuild, but the farm system isn’t completely bare for new general manager Mike Elias.

Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, left-handed pitcher DL Hall, and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle were named to Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list released Wednesday. It was the second straight year in which three Baltimore prospects were included in the publication’s preseason list.

Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade last July, Diaz ranked 37th on the list after batting .285 with 11 home runs, 15 doubles, 45 runs batted in, and 12 stolen bases in 416 plate appearances at the Double-A level last season. The 22-year-old Cuban outfielder also posted a .392 on-base percentage and .449 slugging percentage.

Diaz homered twice in the MLB All-Star Futures Game just days before being traded to the Orioles, but he struggled with his new organization, hitting just .239 with a .732 on-base plus slugging percentage in 152 plate appearances for Bowie. His speed and arm give him the ability to play all three outfield spots, and the organization hopes his uptick in power during his age-21 season will continue into 2019.

Ranked 54th in Baseball America’s top 100, the 20-year-old Hall was Baltimore’s first-round pick in the 2017 draft and thrived in his first full professional season, posting a 2.10 ERA in 94 1/3 innings at low Single-A Delmarva. The lefty averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings and allowed only 1.17 walks and hits per nine innings. His mid-to-low 90s fastball and curveball are considered plus pitches while Hall continues to refine his changeup, giving him a high ceiling in an organization long criticized for its inability to produce quality starting pitching.

Mountcastle is on the preseason list for the second straight year, dropping from No. 71 in 2018 to 90th this year. That drop is no reflection of what the 21-year-old did at the plate for Double-A Bowie, batting .297 with 13 homers, 19 doubles, 59 RBIs, and an .806 OPS in 428 plate appearances. Few doubt the 2015 first-round pick’s ability to hit at any level, but questions remains about where he’ll fit defensively after he was already moved from shortstop to third base in 2017. An organization source predicted last fall that Mountcastle would end up at first base, but Elias and the new regime will have the chance to make their own assessments.

The trio also appeared on the Baseball Prospectus top 101 prospect list released earlier this week with Diaz at No. 44, Mountcastle ranking 51st, and Hall coming in at No. 92

Despite ranking 21st on last January’s Baseball America top 100 list, outfielder Austin Hays was left off after an injury-plagued season that limited him to just 327 plate appearances. The 23-year-old batted only .242 with 12 home runs and a .703 OPS in 288 plate appearances at Bowie before undergoing ankle surgery in September.

Catcher Chance Sisco was on Baseball America’s list in each of the previous two years before a frustrating 2018 campaign in which he bounced between the Orioles and Triple-A Norfolk. Questions have persisted about his defense behind the plate, but Sisco, 23, also struggled mightily at the plate in 2018, batting just .181 with 66 strikeouts in 184 plate appearances for Baltimore and even posting an unimpressive .696 OPS in 151 plate appearances with Norfolk.

Below are the Orioles who have appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list since 2008:

2019: OF Yusniel Diaz (37th), LHP DL Hall (54th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (90th)
2018: OF Austin Hays (21st), C Chance Sisco (68th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (71st)
2017: C Chance Sisco (57th)
2016: none
2015: RHP Dylan Bundy (48th), RHP Hunter Harvey (68th)
2014: RHP Dylan Bundy (15th), RHP Kevin Gausman (20th), LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (65th)
2013: RHP Dylan Bundy (2nd), RHP Kevin Gausman (26th)
2012: RHP Dylan Bundy (10th), SS Manny Machado (11th), 2B Jonathan Schoop (82nd)
2011: SS Manny Machado (14th), LHP Zach Britton (28th)
2010: LHP Brian Matusz (5th), 3B Josh Bell (37th), LHP Zach Britton (63rd), RHP Jake Arrieta (99th)
2009: C Matt Wieters (1st), RHP Chris Tillman (22nd), LHP Brian Matusz (25th), RHP Jake Arrieta (67th)
2008: C Matt Wieters (12th), RHP Chris Tillman (67th), RHP Radhames Liz (69th), LHP Troy Patton (78th), OF Nolan Reimold (91st)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Mussina’s Hall of Fame election

Posted on 23 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With former Orioles great Mike Mussina finally being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. My only memory of Jim Palmer’s career was his short-lived comeback attempt in 1991, but nights when Mussina pitched inspired as much confidence about winning as you could have. Since Mussina’s 47.8 wins above replacement accumulated in Baltimore, the best Orioles pitcher WAR has been Jeremy Guthrie at 16.2.

2. I remember Mussina’s debut like it was yesterday as he lost 1-0 to the White Sox despite allowing only one run in 7 2/3 innings. That came on a homer by Frank Thomas, who wore out the right-hander throughout his career. You could tell Mussina was going to be good.

3. I rushed home from my own baseball game to watch the final innings of his near-perfect game against Cleveland in 1997 before Sandy Alomar singled with one out in the ninth. Four years later, thoughts were more conflicted as he was a strike away from perfection before falling short again.

4. Anyone who followed Mussina’s final few years in Baltimore couldn’t objectively fault him for leaving after being low-balled by Peter Angelos, but that didn’t make it any easier watching him pitch for the hated Yankees in the following years. To still hold a grudge, however, seems silly to me.

5. The debate over which cap Mussina should wear on his plaque makes for spirited discussion, but it shouldn’t impact how the Orioles honor him. That would be as weird as the tradition of there never being a unanimous Hall of Fame selection until Mariano Rivera on Tuesday.

6. Had Mussina won a World Series with the Yankees, it would have been tough not to compare his career path to that of Frank Robinson, who spent 10 seasons with Cincinnati before winning two championships and two other pennants with the Orioles. I’ll predict a blank cap for Mussina’s plaque.

7. Deciding how to honor Mussina is tricky since he never returned like Eddie Murray and didn’t win a World Series here. My preference would be the Orioles retiring his No. 35 while saving statues for Hall of Famers who also won a championship. It’s awkward, but still a distinct honor.

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8. In addition to his pitching excellence, Mussina won seven Gold Gloves, which is tied for fifth most among pitchers. He was also very good controlling the running game as 39 percent of base stealers were gunned down compared to the league average of 31 percent during his career.

9. It’s pretty remarkable that Mussina will be inducted in the same year as three former teammates: Rivera, Lee Smith, and Harold Baines. I can’t imagine that’s happened too often over the years.

10. I honestly wasn’t as sure about Mussina deserving to be in Cooperstown until I began embracing analytics and context-based statistics several years ago. As others have said, his election is a win for sabermetrics after he hovered below 25 percent of the vote in his first two years of eligibility.

11. Growing up, I spent countless afternoons in the backyard trying to throw Mussina’s knuckle-curve and imitate the pronounced way he’d bend at the waist from the stretch. Needless to say, I wasn’t very successful, but he was a treat to watch for a long time.

12. If the Baseball Hall of Fame had a sense of humor, Cito Gaston would be asked to introduce Mussina and would instead announce Duane Ward. Still too soon? No matter the circumstances, Mussina not pitching in the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards was just wrong.

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Mussina finally moves out of shadows and into Cooperstown

Posted on 22 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Mike Mussina pitched in the shadows throughout his brilliant career.

As great as he was in Baltimore for a decade, he wasn’t Jim Palmer and naturally played second fiddle to legendary teammate Cal Ripken. Mussina thrived in the Bronx while Roger Clemens and the homegrown Andy Pettitte received more praise and adoration. Arguably three of the 10 best pitchers of all time — Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux — along with a top 20-caliber hurler in Pedro Martinez dominated the era in which Mussina pitched.

He was never the best pitcher in the game and lacked the pinnacle achievements typically associated with Cooperstown, but perseverance and statistical enlightenment have helped the former Orioles great finally take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It was an outcome that appeared unlikely even a few years ago when Mussina received just 20.3 percent of the required 75 percent of Hall of Fame votes in 2014, his first year of eligibility. His 270 career wins appeared to satisfy a traditional standard — only three post-1900 pitchers with more victories have failed to be elected — and his 2,813 strikeouts rank 20th all time, but the lack of a Cy Young Award or a World Series championship as well as only one 20-win season left Mussina lacking in the minds of many traditional voters. A deeper look at the context of his career and the growing acceptance of sabermetrics, however, have brought greater appreciation for the five-time All-Star selection and seven-time Gold Glove winner.

It was a fitting progression for a pitching intellect rarely appreciated as much as he should have been over the course of his career.

His 82.9 career wins above replacement rank 23rd on the all-time list for pitchers with Clemens being the only one with a greater total not to be elected. Mussina ranked among the league’s top five pitchers in WAR seven times — leading that category in 2001 — and was in the top 10 an additional four times in his career, illustrating the longevity of his excellence despite not having an overwhelming career peak.

Mussina’s 3.68 career earned run average doesn’t scream “Cooperstown” at first glance — though Hall of Famers Jack Morris and Red Ruffing have higher marks — but what about accounting for the lucrative run-scoring environment of the steroid era as well as pitching his entire career in the American League East with its hitter-friendly ballparks? Mussina’s adjusted ERA (ERA+) of 123 meant his ERA was 23 percent better than the major league average during his career when adjusting for ballpark and opponent. In comparison, Palmer’s career 125 ERA+ meant his 2.86 career ERA was 25 percent better than the league average as he pitched in a much stingier run-scoring environment from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Mussina’s adjusted ERA is tied for 30th among starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

We’ve always known — or should have, anyway — context matters when trying to compare players of different eras, and advanced statistics are giving us the means to do that more accurately, allowing us to see more clearly that Mussina belonged in the Hall of Fame.

Even after leaving the Orioles for the New York Yankees in 2001, Mussina never did win a World Series ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 playoff innings reflects a pitcher usually at his best when the games mattered most. Who could forget his 1997 postseason in which he registered a 1.24 ERA and a whopping 41 strikeouts in 29 innings? It wasn’t his fault the Orioles scored a total of one run in his two brilliants starts against Cleveland in that heartbreaking AL Championship Series. According to FanGraphs’ Jay Jaffe, Mussina received just 3.1 runs per game in his 23 career postseason appearances with Baltimore and New York.

So much of Mussina’s career will be remembered for how excruciatingly close he came to reaching historic feats. He never pitched a no-hitter, but he was two outs away from a perfect game against the Indians in 1997 before Sandy Alomar singled to left field, leaving Mussina with a one-hit shutout. Four years later pitching for the Yankees at Fenway Park, he experienced an even crueler fate being one strike away from perfection before pinch hitter Carl Everett’s single into left.

A 39-year-old Mussina finally won 20 games in his last season in 2008, but he’d won 16 and 19 games, respectively, in the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. He missed out on his 20th victory in the penultimate game of the 1996 season when Armando Benitez gave up the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Toronto. Those near-misses should count for something when evaluating a pitcher who performed at such a high level for a long period of time against someone else with a shorter period of excellence.

As we move further away from the days when 300-win careers and complete games were benchmarks of greatness, Mussina’s body of work will look better and better. Though often criticized during his career for not finishing contests as observers reminisced about Palmer’s remarkable 211 complete games, Mussina still averaged four complete games over his 162-game average, twice as many as the major league leader in 2018. He finished second in Cy Young voting only once, but eight other top-six finishes speak to how long he was an elite pitcher in the AL while some of the best of the all-time best in Clemens, Johnson, and Martinez dominated the headlines.

Beyond the numbers, Mussina possessed the rare combination of power and intellect, using his low-90s fastball to overpower hitters and making them look silly with his trademark knuckle-curve and superb changeup. For the generation of Orioles fans who never got to see Palmer pitch, Mussina offered the chance to see something special every time he was taking the hill.

The deep regret was seeing him depart for New York, but that was a much greater byproduct of the deterioration of the Orioles under owner Peter Angelos than any disrespect on his part. That divorce left a complicated relationship between Mussina and Baltimore that’s thawed in recent years, but it should take nothing away from what he accomplished with the club that drafted him out of Stanford in 1990.

From the moment he made his major league debut at new Comiskey Park on Aug. 4, 1991 (a 1-0 loss on a Frank Thomas home run) to the final signature performance of his Orioles career (a 15-strikeout, one-hit shutout against Minnesota on Aug. 1, 2000), Mussina more than proved his worth as the second-best pitcher in club history. He’ll never be adored in the same way as Palmer or the Orioles’ five other core Hall of Famers after his eight years pitching in pinstripes, but that’s OK.

Even as Mussina now joins the most prestigious group baseball has to offer, he’s used to being in the shadows.

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 11) – Letting The Moose Loose in pinstripes

Posted on 22 January 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

(Author note: This is Chapter 11 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend.)

 

 

11. Letting The Moose loose in pinstripes

 

“We’re not in the business of making arrangements with baseball players that border on economic insanity. We are in the business of putting a first-rate team on the field which is composed of athletes who are generously compensated. But when the demands of any one player or more than one player exceed what we believe to be reasonable, we are prepared to go in another direction. If we’re not able to do that, then we become the prisoners of the respective ballplayers. We aren’t going to do that. We don’t operate that way. We play fair. We pay generously. We pay what is generous and proper. I think $72 million to Mussina is plenty of money to Mussina.”

Peter G. Angelos

WBAL Radio

October 2000

 

 

 

 

THE PETER G. ANGELOS OBSESSION WITH INJURIES and medical reports was in full swing every offseason following the Xavier Hernandez incident in December 1998, when the journeyman pitcher walked away with $1.75 million of orange and black money without ever having to pull a jersey over his head. Angelos wasn’t just outraged and angry. He felt the Orioles had been fleeced and was once again feeling just how powerful the Major League Baseball Players Association was in the sport. In many ways, they employed even dirtier legal tactics then the word salad filth he was accustomed to with tobacco companies and asbestos cases in building his wealth.

The Orioles needed pitching heading into the 2000 season and big right-hander Aaron Sele was on the marketplace as a free agent. Thift and the Angelos boys, who were clumsily heading up the baseball evaluation for the Orioles, both liked his solid makeup and track record with the Boston Red Sox and then the Texas Rangers. He had won 37 games the past two years in Arlington and, at 29, was hitting the peak of his career. He finished strong at 10-3 for the Rangers and helped lead them – along with former Orioles manager Johnny Oates and GM Doug Melvin – to the American League West title in 1999. This was his first big chance to cash in on free agency and the Orioles were considered a prime suitor. Other starting pitchers Andy Benes, Omar Olivares and Darren Oliver were also on the market, but Sele would be a perfect fit for the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Mike Mussina, who was entering his final year under contract to the Orioles, and Scott Erickson, who struggled in 1999.

On Jan. 7, 2000, Roch Kubatko of The Sun reported that Orioles had agreed with Sele on a four-year deal worth $29 million, with the veteran turning down a four-year deal for $28 million to remain in Texas. Thrift, who was only negotiating a portion of the club’s deals because Angelos always had his hands on the phone as well, told the newspaper, “There’s always the possibility of something not happening.”

Thirft’s words were prescient.

After agreeing verbally to the deal with the Orioles, Sele was administered a physical that the team said raised questions regarding the strength of his arm. Angelos demanded that two years be taken off of the deal. Angelos said that Orioles doctors believed that Sele only had 400 innings left in his right arm.

One of Sele’s agents, Tom Reich, told The Associated Press there was a difference on interpretation with the Orioles on medical tests. Sele had never undergone arm surgery, but missed most of 1995 with an arm injury. But that was five years earlier.

“The dealings with Baltimore were very cordial from beginning to end and it just didn’t work out,” Reich said. “To me, Peter Angelos is a good guy.” This was after his client lost $14 million in guaranteed money and was branded in MLB circles as “damaged goods.”

Two days later, Sele signed a two-year, $14.5 millon deal to pitch for his childhood hometown team, the Seattle Mariners. Once again, a former Angelos employee was involved.

“This thing is like a star falling out of the sky,” said new Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, who felt he got a bargain. “We’re satisfied Sele is as healthy as he was when he finished the season with the Rangers. He underwent a physical on behalf of us with another physician, and our physician talked with that doctor and is satisfied. There is going to be normal wear and tear. You really have to rely on your medical people. They know which bumps along the road you have to watch for and which you can work through.”

Of course, Gillick got in a nice shot on Angelos to the media at the Sele press conference 3,000 miles from Baltimore.

“I’m not aware of exactly the concerns were with Baltimore,” Gillick said. “I think there were some differences of opinion there. I think this is a business where timing is very important. You only have a very small window. You have to react very quickly. Those who hesitate, as they say, are lost.”

By now, the complaints about Angelos were long and varied from any of the long list of qualified baseball

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