Monday, April 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Season

I was planning it out in my head.  I had pored through the stats and made my conclusions about whether or not Hammel's breakthrough was real or not.  I changed my mind though.

There will be time later to address Hammel's season and whether or not it's legitimate.  Other writers have addressed the Hammel issue recently so I would search out their pieces on the matter.

I'm just going to use this space to ramble about the start, the next 14 games and what we can expect going forward.  The O's offense has been, well alright thus far.  Lots of strikeouts and lots of home runs to this point.  Timely hitting hasn't exactly been a strength to this point, and the team has difficulty manufacturing runs.  So how has the team been successful?

The pitching has been ridiculous.  We addressed the bullpen a bit in a previous post, and talked about some of the under-performing pitchers as well.  We might look at a similar post for the starting rotation in the near future, but I'd like to have a start or two more per pitcher before making any judgments.  So from a rough impression standpoint there are a few things most O's fans have noticed.

Arrieta looks like a new pitcher, showing really good stuff and locating his pitches fairly well.  Fans seemed disheartened when he had a rough inning in Los Angeles, but those kind of stumbles are to be expected.  Arrieta is still a young pitcher and needs time to develop further.  It is however, interesting to see him pitch well in terms of stuff.

Hammel and Hunter are interesting cases as well.  Hammel I think, will regress a bit but it looks like he has made some fundamental changes to his approach.  Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs wrote up on Hammel's surging K and GB rates, both good signs for the rest of the season.  Hunter on the other hand is nowhere near this good, and will likely fall in his familiar 4 to 5 range in terms of ERA by the end of the year.  These two look like classic regression candidates, but I think one will fall while the other holds steady.

Just want to take a brief moment to mention Wei-Yin Chen's hot start.  We hear at Warehouse Worthy were high on him in the offseason, and he's making us look good by performing well.  Only time will tell how he'll do once the league adjusts to him.

Finally, the O's have a really tough schedule coming up the next 14 games.  The O's have won games they're supposed to win so far, and stealing some games against TEX, BOS and NYY will show that they are really going to compete this season.  Hopefully the next two weeks or so show us a team that can compete with the "big boys" just like how they competed tonight.

Editor's Note - I'll be travelling in China for the next 12 days, so Chad will be in charge of the site.  See you all in two weeks.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Worst to First: Bullpen Improvements

No, I'm not talking about the Orioles winning the AL East this season.  Nor am I literally saying that they are going from worst to first.  This post is really more about one area where the team has shown vast improvement over last season.

Last season the Orioles bullpen ERA was 4.18, good for 4th worst in MLB, and 2nd worst in the AL behind those pesky Minnesota Twins.  Not to mention that the FIP of 4.31 that group posted shows we could have been even worse.  Those were good times.  No lead was safe, and excitement at the end of games was common (especially for other teams).

This season however, things are looking up.  The bullpen has an ERA of 2.25, the 4th best mark in MLB this season and 2nd best in the AL behind that team from New York.  Granted, FIP calculations (the O's bullpen has a FIP of 3.78 this season) suggest that the 'pen is in for some regression.  Despite this, the bullpen has impressed, and here's how they've done it:

Kevin Gregg

Let's just move on... nothing to see here.

Troy Patton

Oh Buck.  Patton versus left-handed batters: 13 batters faced, 3 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks.  Patton versus right-handed hitters: 18 batters faced, 6 hits, 3 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 0 Ks.  If we would stop putting Patton in against right-handed hitters he might be able to bring that 4.91 ERA down.

Pedro Strop

Strop has been a pleasant surprise thus far as I imagined he'd have a few more growing pains than he has.  He's sporting a 2.25 ERA with a 2.45 FIP and 2.79 xFIP to prove it's not a fluke.  Good stuff.  He's also striking out a batter an inning and getting 78% groundballs.

Darren O'Day

O'Day is sporting a 1.29 ERA, mostly as a result of his phenomenal peripherals.  O'Day has K and BB rates of 9 and 2.57 batters per 9 innings respectively, and has stranded 100% of the runners on base against him.  I would also expect his 47% GB rate to come up a bit meaning he might be able to sustain some of this success.

Lindstrom, Ayala, Johnson

These three are currently posting a combined ERA of 0.00 over 21 IP.  Ironically, Johnson has pitched pretty poorly, with a low K rate and a high BB rate, but that hasn't caused him to slow down as he leads the AL in saves.  I obviously don't expect all 3 to finish the season with 0.00 ERAs, but thus far they've been impressive.

At this point a perennial weakness looks like it might be a strength for this team.  Honestly, I wasn't sure about the bullpen heading into the season, but 3 of the pickups made this offseason have turned out pretty well so far.  Worst to First, one part of the team at a time.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Worst Pitcher Is...

Tsuyoshi Wada should be coming off the DL soon, and the question is - does he go in the rotation or the bullpen.  Who does he replace on the roster when he comes back?  Well, the easiest way to determine this is to find out who the worst pitcher is so far.  So, let's get to it...

The Nominees

Brian Matusz

Brian has struggled to start the season  despite showing better stuff and an impressive spring, Matusz has struggled this season.  In his first 2 starts, Matusz has gone just 9.2 IP with walk and K rates of 7.45 and 4.66 respectively.  Matusz has been a bit unlucky (like having Kevin Gregg relieve him), exemplified by his BABIP against of .344 and an xFIP nearly 2 runs lower than his ERA.  Matusz has actually pitched better than his numbers indicate, the biggest issue being his lack of control.  If he can figure out why he can't locate his pitches, he could bounce back nicely.  Matusz's stats:

Troy Patton

Patton currently boasts a 7.71 ERA despite being one of the few relievers with a better K/9 ration than his BB/9 ratio.  xFIP is much more kind to Patton as it suggests his ERA should be somewhere 3.50, more than 4 runs lower than his current ERA.  Patton is a candidate for the worst pitcher on only a surface level.  Patton's stats:

Tommy Hunter

Hunter is the opposite of Patton, a pitcher who has pitched significantly worse than his surface level numbers would indicate.  Hunter currently sports a sparkling 2.77 ERA despite FIP and xFIP having him at 7.06 and 4.66 respectively.  Hunter has cost the Orioles .2 wins already this season according to Fangraphs.  The reasons for this?  A miniscule K rate of 3.46 batters per nine innings is an issue to look forward to for the rest of the season.  Similarly, a regression of his current BABIP against of .194 to the mean (currently .279) would likely result in a worse showing by Hunter going forward.  Hunter's stats:

Kevin Gregg

Where should I start?  Gregg walks .82 batters per inning.  That's 7.36 per 9 innings.  Meanwhile he strikes out only .55 batters per inning.  That's troubling.  His 12.27 ERA is slightly inflated (by a .462 BABIP) as FIP and xFIP have him at 9.45 and 8.17 respectively.  To be fair both of those would be absolutely terrible as well, but there's nothing that I've seen from Gregg that makes me believe that .462 BABIP is an aberration.  I think half the readers of this site could get a hit or walk against him right now.  Gregg's stats (sorry):

The Winner Is...
Kevin Gregg.  I REALLY wanted to pick Tommy Hunter who has looked pretty awful despite showing decent numbers (and by that I mean ERA).  I honestly think Matusz and Patton have legitimate reasons to stay where they are, but Hunter and Gregg have been pretty questionable overall.  In reality, I wouldn't be upset if Wada replaced Hunter in the rotation and Hunter moved to the bullpen, banishing Kevin Gregg off to a place where he only ever has to pitch the 9th inning (as that's the biggest cause of his woes thus far according to him).  What do you think?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Just A Few Notes

Chad and I are heading out to the game tonight, so hopefully a post will follow tomorrow.
Just a few things I'd like to share with you:

I have been invited to be an author on a prospect blog that Jonathan Mayo from is overseeing.  My first post, on Dylan Bundy went up this morning.  Check it out here: The Futurists.

Also, a scouting report from Fangraph's Mike Newman is up after Bundy's 3 inning outing for Delmarva.

Finally, I have become a big supporter and frequent commentor on Baltimore Sports & Life's baseball forums.  I highly suggest you join us over there.  The link is here: Baltimore Sports and Life.

Hope everyone enjoys watching the game from OPACY or home tonight.  Look for us in centerfield!

- Jeff

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Opening Day Magic

Friend of the blog Jonathan Foreman wrote up a nice piece about Opening Day at Camden Yards.  In my absence, Jon represented the blog at the game and passed along a few notes for fellow O's fans.  Enjoy!

At the Orioles opening day game (a true opening day, unlike those tricky home openers the last two seasons) on Friday a friend turned to me and said, “this is surreal.”  I agreed.

Maybe it was Rick Sutcliffe throwing a perfect strike for the opening pitch to Chris Hoiles, or the scoreboard error before the game that had Brian Roberts in the lineup, and J.J. Hardy playing DH, or new PA announcer Ryan Wagner (who for my money did a fantastic job), or the streaker on the field in the top of the forth inning wearing nothing but shorts and a cape, or the marriage proposal third base side in the stands. (Editor's note - I think we all know that streaking involves nudity).

There are a lot of maybes, but there is one definite: opening day is a packed house of Orioles fans.  It is something that reminds my generation of 1996 and 1997, and of the Cal Ripken years in general at Camden Yards.  We celebrate the twentieth year anniversary of Camden Yards this year, and opening day is the one moment that it feels like the first few years, not the last fourteen.

With that said here are some positive notes from the game:

  • Anyone who did not see the game will look at Jake Arrieta’s stat line, but his performance was even more impressive than his stats.  There were a few questionable calls on balls that should have been strikes that lead to his early walks.  He was throwing consistently in the mid-90s, and most of his pitches looked crisp.  What surprised me though was how good he looked defensively (including snagging a plastic bag that was floating past him and putting it in his back pocket).

  • The ball was flying off of J.J. Hardy’s bat today, but Nick Markakis looked like the best hitter on either team today.  He looks much stronger than last season, where in the first game he looked malnourished.  A homerun, triple, and walk is a good way to start the season for a guy who needs to recapture his power stroke (and just might have). (Editor's note - Markakis added a 2nd HR tonight as well.  This is good).

  • There are a lot of Chris Davis bashers out there, and he has to prove that he can hit major league pitching.  However, there is little question about his glove.  Davis made a diving catch while keeping the tip of his toe on the bag on a Mark Reynolds throw that would have been Reynold’s first error of the year, but instead was an out at first.   Also, an overzealous Adam Jones threw a cannon to first to try to catch a tagging up runner and Davis leapt in the air to make the catch on a ball that likely would have advanced the Twin’s runners (and hit Buck Showalter in the face). (Editor's Note - Not to be denied, Reynolds got that error back tonight by misplaying a ground ball).

  • The ballpark upgrades make Camden Yards look even better than it did twenty years ago.  Rather than spell all of them out, comment below on which upgrades you feel are the most welcome this year.

    - Jon Foreman

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

10 Reasons to Get Excited for 2012

Taking inspiration from David Schoenfield and this article over at ESPN, I've decided to give you ten reasons to be excited for Oriole Baseball in 2012.  Hope you enjoy it, and I'd love to hear your reasons for excitement in the comments section below.  Also, I will be heading up to Rochester this weekend, and as such we'll have Chad and a guest post or two covering the beginning of the season.  Enjoy!

10. Celebrate 20 Years of OPACY 
If you've somehow missed it - this is kind of a big deal.  I've been to a handful of OPACY clones including my second favorite MLB stadium AT&T Park in San Francisco.  However, nothing feels quite as magical as standing out on Eutaw Street in the shadow of the warehouse.  The smell of Boog's in the air and the sounds of batting practice are what dreams are made of.  Whether you like sitting up in the upper deck, behind the dugouts or out in centerfield, Camden Yards is a premier sports venue.  Yeah, #2 in the world according to ESPN, that's right.

9. Mark Reynolds and the Elusive HR
Mark Reynolds hit 37 Home Runs last year.  The last time an Oriole hit 37 Home Runs was Albert Belle in 1999.  It really has been a long time since Baltimore had a true power bat in its lineup.  Now I'm not suggesting that the strikeouts don't matter.  I'm just saying, when he takes that big swing and connects, the ball soaring towards the bullpens.  It's a sight to see.

8. What Will Chen & Wada Bring?
The Orioles dipped into Dan Duquette's extensive connections in Asia this offseason by signing both guys out of the NPB this offseason.  The O's hope that both can contribute to the club.  The question is whether that will be from the rotation or the bullpen or possibly both.  Personally, I'm really excited about Chen.  O's fans bashed the team for signing Uehara rather than Kawakami, and we all saw how that turned out.  Let's see if the Orioles found some hidden gems again.

7. The Old Bird
We discussed the history of the bird way back in November, and the cartoon bird has yet to make its presence known in regular season games.  It will be great to see the O's represent the city and the old Orioles teams with their uniforms this year.  I know it's not the biggest thing in the world, but it just never felt right to not have the cartoon bird.

6. Brian Matusz's(Hopeful)Resurgence
I'm not going to say I Told You So... but... Matusz has been looking good.  IF his luck regresses to the mean a bit, IF his fastball stays up in the lower to mid 90s as it has through spring Training, IF he continues to showcase solid control, then he might just return to the Matusz of old.  Matusz was drafted 4th overall and was a top prospect in baseball.  I'm betting he turns it around, and any O's fan should want to be there to see it.

5. @SimplyAJ10
Adam Jones is one of the more entertaining Oriole players, not to mention one of the best.  The O's starting CF might be around for years to come.  Then again, he might be gone by August.  Moral of the story - enjoy him and his bubble-blowing antics while you can.  Adam plays the game the way we all would if we could - like the little kid inside of all of us would.  Nobody makes the game of baseball look more fun than Adam Jones.

4. Playing Spoiler
Let's be honest.  I'm not counting down to: 1. Playoffs!.  Last year I went to the last game of the season, Orioles vs. Red Sox, wearing an O's hat, Longoria jersey, and O's shorts.  Was there some sort of tangible benefit to sending the Rays to the playoffs as opposed to the Red Sox.  Well, not that I know of yet (unless the Sox implode after this offseason).  You know what I did thoroughly enjoy though?  Playing the spoiler.  Seeing O's fans get pumped about kicking a rival out of the playoffs.  Seeing the look of Ortiz's face sitting in the dugout after Crawford bobbled the ball.  I'll never forget that night, even though it had literally no impact on the Orioles season.

3. Food at OPACY
I'll just leave these here (courtesy of Darren Rovell):

 That would be a "Crab Mac & Cheese Dog". 
This is a crabcake on top of a hamburger.

2. Matt Wieters Blossoming
I'm going to throw out some quick stats here:

A. .249/.319/.377 with 11 HRs
B. .262/.328/.450 with 22 HRs

A is Matt Wieters in 2010, while B is Wieters in 2011.  Note the improvement.  For real analysis on Wieters, read our analysis here.  I'll sum this up with this: Wieters is one heck of a catcher, the type of guy you build a franchise around.  He's fun to watch behind the plate.

1. Baltimore is a Baseball Town
If you read this article from CBS Baltimore, you would come away with the understanding that Baltimore is and forever will be a Raven's town.  You know something though?  Camden Yards finished second to the Skydome in Attendance from 1990 to 1999 with 27,321,449 fans.  The kicker?  Camden Yards was only open for 8 of those 10 years unlike many of the other stadiums (including the skydome).  When the Orioles made a run at things in the late 90s, Baltimore was the best baseball town in the country.  One day, we'll all get to see what it was like.  Today only the die-hard fans show that fervor, but a night at the yard is still one of the best things you can do in Baltimore.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Guest Post - Keeping Up With Your Oriole's News: Jim Johnson Looks Sharp vs. Pirates

Tonight we have a guest post from one Mr. Richard Broadway of Birdz Bullpen.  Richard does some really good work keeping O's fans updated on all the latest Orioles notes and his site is one any O's fan should check out.
- Jeff
As you are keeping up with your Oriole News:
Saturday afternoon, reliever Jim Johnson tossed a scoreless eighth inning and looked sharp in doing it. Saturday was the first time this spring that Johnson has thrown on consecutive days.
“I thought JJ had his best outing of the spring,” manager Buck Showalter said. “The biggest thing is the location. You can tell when he is locating the ball, he feels good about himself. I think that second day in a row did him well.”

Johnson was clocked at 94 mph during a 19- pitch inning, which he also picked up a strikeout, and then Showalter said that it was good to see Johnson back to his old self.
“There was some unknown. He went through a little bit of an offseason that he has never done before,” said Showalter. “Like I said before, I always feel like he is going to get there, it was just a matter of time. And that was real encouraging today. ”