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Caleb Joseph Should be O’s “Everyday” Catcher in 2018

Caleb Joseph swings the bat.

Every Orioles fan knows the road to success in 2018 depends on two things. First, the hitters hit. Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, Tim Beckham, Mark Trumbo. All of these guys have to approach or exceed their career norms and generate a lot of runs to overcome the fact that the pitching staff is…not great.

As to that pitching staff. The bullpen needs to meet their expectations and the starters need to exceed them. Part of that falls on Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner. But as we’ve grown to learn over the last decade, part of that falls on the man behind the plate.

Caleb Joseph is not a good major league hitter (I’m being kind). But when you look at point one above – the O’s need a really good offense – given the other pieces, what the catcher contributes just isn’t going to matter much . Welington Castillo went .282/.323/.490 last year with 20 HR and it was fun, but we know how that ended. The Orioles 2018 offense is going to live or die with a dozen guys and none of them are playing catcher. Anything the catcher provides is a bonus.

That brings us to the second point. Joseph makes the pitching staff better. Per Baseball Prospectus, he was 5th in MLB in Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) for catchers in 2017. (Note: Matt Wieters was #100) Go back to 2016. Joseph was 14th in FRAA. The bottom line is Caleb makes pitchers better than the average catcher would. A lot better.

So, there are two problems. The first is the notion of “pitch framing.” Yes, it exists. Anybody who watches baseball knows that pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes. It has become fashionable to give all that credit to the catcher.

BUT it’s not all up to him; part of it is also on the pitcher.

You can’t “frame” a ball a foot off the plate into a strike no matter how good you are, and it also helps if the pitch was close to where the catcher set up, not on the other side of the plate.

The umpire also matters. They are human and their ability to track the last 10 feet of a pitch is the same as the hitter’s, which is to say: it’s impossible. They lose track of it and then see the glove. That’s why pitch framing is a thing. There’s no doubt Joseph is good at it.

How consistent an ability it is, from pitcher to pitcher and from umpire to umpire, is open to debate, but there’s no doubt having him behind the plate helps the pitching staff.

Caleb Joseph in his cather's crouch.

GulfBird Photo/Craig Landefeld

The second problem is durability. This isn’t a question of injury. Other than a couple of HBP-related day-to-day injuries, Joseph’s only DL stint was the result of a foul ball that took an unfortunate hop. I was in the park that day and I knew what happened immediately. Not the severity obviously, but the actions of the trainer made it clear.

And yet, Joseph played the rest of the game with an injury that would later require “testicular surgery.” So let’s put aside any notions that Caleb “can’t play with pain,” and deal with the durability standards of the modern catcher.

Here’s the list of catchers who caught 990+ innings (110 games) last year:

Mike Zunino 994

Yasmani Grandal 999

Matt Wieters 1003

J.T. Realmuto 1095

Yadier Molina 1125

Martin Maldonado 1146

SIX! Six catchers make the list and two of those exceeded the 990+ inning standard by ONE game. THREE caught 120 games. Only eleven catchers caught 100 games.

This isn’t the 1970’s anymore. Every team (other than the Cardinals because Yadier is going to play every game whether they like it or not because that’s just who he is at this point) recognizes that it’s insane to have a catcher suit up for more than 100-110 games. The demands of the position are simply too much. Some AL teams can slot a guy in at DH for another 20 or so games. Some NL teams have a Buster Posey who can play first base (BTW, he caught 826 innings last year).

Joseph is plenty durable when compared to the standard to which today’s catchers are held.

Look: Chance Sisco is a better hitter than Joseph. But the difference isn’t enough to matter when the offense is going to live or die with the rest of the line-up. We’ve got multiple seasons that tell us Joseph is good at making a pitching staff perform better than they are and none that tell us Sisco can. If the Orioles are to contend in 2018 they need Joseph’s defense more than Sisco’s offense.

Joseph should be the everyday catcher for the Orioles. Their success depends on a lot of other people but he’s the best man, with the best specific skills, for this job.

With everything above in mind, my assertion is this: Caleb Joseph should start 110 games at catcher for the 2018 Orioles.

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The Rundown: Does Anybody Want the Fifth Starter Spot?

Nestor Cortes Jr. throws a pitch from the mound.

Opening Day is ten days away and the Orioles still have a few questions that need to be answered before the first pitch against the Minnesota Twins.

Who Wins The 5th Starter Spot?

Nestor Cortes Jr. and Miguel Castro will both take the mound on Tuesday night and whoever pitches the best will have the slight edge in winning the final spot in the rotation. We can never count out Mike Wright as it appears the organization really wants him to be the guy. It’s extremely frustrating that none of the above pitchers have run away with the competition.

Alex Cobb remains a free agent, but we know that won’t happen. This could be a rotating door all season.

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GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Will Chance Sisco Make the Team?

Full disclosure, I think Sisco should be the starting catcher and Caleb Joseph the back-up.

However, Joseph will enter the season as the starter which means Sisco would not be getting consistent at bats. I think it would be a mistake to stunt his growth by using him one or two days a week or not allowing him to face left-handed pitching. The best plan since Joseph will be the starter is to let Sisco catch everyday in Norfolk until it’s apparent he needs to be the starter in Baltimore.

This would give Andrew Susac the edge to make the team.

 

How Will the Outfield and Bench Shake Out?

I’m lumping this all together because the injuries to Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis can have a domino effect on how the roster looks. We know Trumbo will miss the start of the season due to a quadriceps injury, but will Chris Davis be able to start consistently at first base as he continues to recover from an elbow injury?

If he can’t, this obviously means Trey Mancini would start at first base which would leave a hole in left field. If he can, then the team just needs to rotate at designated hitter.

It looks like Colby Rasmus and Craig Gentry will platoon in right field which means Austin Hays will likely continue his development in Triple-A. As is the case with Sisco, if Hays isn’t going to play every day in MLB, he needs to do so in the minors.

This has the potential to really throw us some curveballs, especially with Danny Valencia dealing with a calf injury (we should note that it’s not considered a serious injury at the moment).

I think Pedro Alvarez has the chance to crack the big-league roster with the Trumbo injury which could set up a platoon at designated hitter with Valencia. The question now becomes, who gets the final bench spot?

Will it be a true utility infielder, or will the team keep another plus defender in the outfield?

The time to answer all of these questions draws near, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at your local weather forecast (assuming you’re around Baltimore).

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Monday’s O’s Links – Manny Goes Health Nut to Prepare for SS

Manny Machado playing shortstop.

It was a heck of a weekend for Baltimore sports fans, courtesy of the UMBC Retrievers. I’ve gushed about that elsewhere, so I’ll spare you here. On the baseball side of things, we’re now less than two work weeks from Opening Day…so of course it’s supposed to snow tomorrow. Get bent, weather.

To those links.

Oral History of Adam Jones’ WBC Catch

A year ago yesterday, my son Brooks joined the world. Also a year ago yesterday, Adam Jones robbed Manny Machado of a home run in the World Baseball Classic, and it was amazing. The players on the field that night talk about the latter event at the above link. As for the former, I look forward to giving him a hard time for making me miss the catch live. Little jerk.

Machado Finds Comfort at SS as he Prepares for his Next Big Move

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN has a long feature on Manny moving to short, changing his diet over the offseason, and…sigh…approaching free agency.

Why Didn’t the Orioles Spend this Offseason?

Camden Depot’s Jon Shepherd was on the Locked On Orioles podcast with Justin McGuire Friday. The two had an interesting conversation on Anthony Santander, the MASN deal, what the heck the O’s plan is, and most notably to me, ways in which the organization has been progressive in their thinking that we sometimes forget about because of all the weird org-structure weirdness.

How the Orioles Can Prove they Want to Contend in 2018

Bob Harkins of Baltimore Sports and Life lays out the latest plan we’ve seen on how the O’s could STILL contend this year, with just a couple more signings. I’m not holding my breath, but he ain’t wrong.

Ranking All 30 of MLB’s Ballparks First to Worst

This list is from Forbes, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards comes in at number two. Look, AT&T Park is GORGEOUS. Amazing place to take in a ball game. But for a few key reasons, it’s not the best ballpark I’ve ever been to, as I laid out a couple years back.

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Some Fans Scoff, But Flaherty Not Easy to Replace

Luis Sardinas plays third base in front of palm trees.

With just ten days left until Opening Day, the Orioles are still trying to answer a number of questions about their roster. In my last column, we talked about what I expect will happen with the 25-man roster regarding right field. Today, we’ll talk about the utility infield situation and who should–and probably will–head north with the ball club.

The utility infielder needs to play good defense above all else. He needs to be able to fill in at every infield position in a pinch, and for Buck Showalter, shortstop is key. For most of the last six seasons, that role has belonged to Ryan Flaherty. But Flaherty is in Philadelphia now, and unless he exercises his opt-out clause, that’s where he’ll stay. So who will replace him?

 

Utility Infielder

In 2017, due to a shoulder injury that limited Flaherty to career-low 23 games, the Orioles had to use a number of players for their ever-important bench role. Players like Paul Janish, Ruben Tejada, and Johnny Giavotella.

Janish has since retired, taking an assistant coach’s role for the Rice University baseball program. Tejada was back with the Orioles this spring, but has already been reassigned to minor league camp.  And Giavotella is now a member of the Miami Marlins organization.

Ideally, the Orioles would have liked to bring Flaherty back for 2018, but with the free agent freeze over the winter and his salary projected to rise well above $2MM (pocket-change for most major leaguers, but pricey for a utility man), the Orioles never made a formal offer.

According to Eduardo Encina in a February 24th article for The Baltimore Sun, Flaherty remained in contact with Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette, Buck Showalter, and VP of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson throughout the offseason, and even sat on his minor league offer from the Phillies for a few weeks before the team set an early February deadline for him to accept or decline the contract. With no offer from Baltimore, and no other offers pouring in, he agreed to a minor league deal that will pay him $1.9MM should he make the MLB roster.

As noted above, however, Flaherty does have an opt-out clause in his contract. If he has not made the major league roster by March 22nd, he can opt-out and become a free agent, making him eligible to be signed by any other team. Should that happen, chances are the Orioles will jump all over the opportunity.

Unfortunately for Baltimore, Flaherty has performed well this spring, batting .333 in 30 AB while playing every position except for pitcher, catcher, and centerfield. His chances of making the Opening Day roster in Philadelphia seem to be improving by the day.

The Orioles, in turn, must look elsewhere to fill the role. Tejada was brought back but has already been reassigned. Also invited to spring training were Engelb Vielma and Luis Sardinas, but both have left much to be desired defensively, leaving the Orioles in a bind. In steps Danny Valencia.

orioles player about to smack hands with dickerson while running by

Valencia was signed to a minor league deal back on March 3rd, a pact that will pay him $1.3MM if he makes the team and up to $3MM if he reaches certain incentives. The Orioles and Valencia are not operating under any false pretenses. Valencia has let the team know that if he does not make the team, he will not go to the minors, which means that if there is not a roster spot for him, he will become a free agent.

For those that don’t recall, Valencia played for Baltimore in 2013, batting .304 in 161 AB and was arguably the team’s most consistent hitter down the stretch. He has experience playing 1B, 2B, 3B, LF and RF at the major league level, and absolutely mashes left handed pitching, owning a career .313/.370/.493 slash line against southpaws.

The one glaring omission is shortstop. Valencia has never played the position in his professional career, and while the Orioles might be open to trying him there in the final week of spring training, it is unlikely that we will see him there at any point in the regular season. Still, the Orioles like his bat and overall versatility.

With the injury to Mark Trumbo (strained right quad), Valencia is basically guaranteed a spot on this roster, despite his inexperience at shortstop. The Orioles will simply have to be content moving Tim Beckham and Jonathan Schoop around should Manny Machado need a day off or suffer an injury.

Pedro Alvarez also has an excellent chance of making the team with Trumbo on the shelf, and while he has played both third and first base in his career, and even experimented in the outfield in 2017,  his playing time will most likely come as a designated hitter. The further he stays away from a glove, the better. In fact, the Orioles might even accidentally “lose” his gloves when the team travels north next weekend.

The bottom line is this: the Orioles probably expected Flaherty to re-sign with the ball club, and when he didn’t, they were caught with their pants down. Now, given the choice between below average offense and suspect defense from Vielma and Sardinas, or decent-to-solid offense and suspect defense from Valencia, the team is probably going to have to go with the lesser of two evils. Unless Flaherty opts out. In that case, forget most everything I’ve said here.

Next time, we’ll look at the starting rotation and discuss whether or not they have the artillery to get the Orioles out of last place and back into contention in the American League East.

 

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Friday’s O’s Links: Mark Trumbo Heads to DL

Mark Trumbo in his fielding stance.

As Opening Day crawls toward us, it seems that Ol’ Man Winter has no designs on releasing his grip on the Baltimore area any time soon. So for now, stay inside, get cozy, and check out these O’s links.

Trey Mancini – Role Player or Future Star?

Orioles Hangout’s Luke Siler takes a long and detailed look at Trey Mancini from the perspective of a scout wondering what the future holds for the Trey Train. It looks like Trey is set to be an average player, unless he can make a couple key adjustments to his swing, and improve his defense. Fortunately, as Siler points out, he has shown the ability to adjust in the past.

O’s Win, but Get Disappointing Injury News on Two Fronts

There will be no walk-off Trumbomb on Opening Day this year, as Mark is set to start the season on the DL, thanks to his strained quad. In addition, Ryan Mountcastle was hit on the hand by a pitch, and will also be on the shelf for 4-6 weeks. More bummed about the latter, to be honest.

By His Own Measurements, Gausman Pleased with Spring Performance

Kevin Gausman tossed five shutout frames against the Cardinals on Thursday. You’d have liked to see more than one strikeout, ideally, but he got a lot of soft contact, and that’s good enough for him, as The Sun’s Jon Meoli relays.

How the Orioles Win the AL East in 2018

Here’s a fun little exercise c/o Jon Shepherd of Camden Depot. It could happen!

Every MLB Team Should Be Copying the Orioles ASAP

Maybe someday, this headline will be written about the O’s front office…

 

Have a great weekend, Birdland. Less than two weeks until Opening Day.

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Thursday Thoughts: Big Fellas Ailing as Season Draws Near

Chris Davis swings his bat

his is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. As of last year, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. Some might tell you it’s best to start with the bad and end with the good. Who wants to end on bad? No one wants that taste in their mouth. But today, we are going to kick off the “Thoughts” with a good thing. It’s a very good thing, and something the Orioles deserve more praise than they are even getting for.

Monday’s announcement of “Kids Cheer Free” program is being met with a ton of adulation, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic idea that probably should be implemented by all MLB teams. I saw a ton of people being cynical when it comes to this announcement, saying that it’s no wonder the Orioles are doing this because they are sure to have plenty of empty seats this year. I’m not going to be that guy on this.

The O’s did something good and deserve the respect for it. I am not the type to say baseball has a big problem with fans, but this is at least a good way to attract a younger audience.

2. When it comes to the bad news involving the Orioles, they STILL have yet to do anything meaningful to help them on the field in the last few weeks. Lance Lynn isn’t coming to Baltimore to pitch after signing a one-year, $12-million deal with the Twins. The only real arm out there yet to sign a deal is Alex Cobb, and I wouldn’t bet your mortgage on him joining the O’s either.

Each day I wake up thinking how nice it would be to have Cobb slotted into the Orioles rotation, which still looks fairly abysmal. Then I realize it’s nice to keep having dreams, but it’s also nice to live in reality. Cobb would fit nicely in the mix with Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner and whatever mix of Chris Tillman and others that want to fill the final spot.

Remember that the Orioles still don’t have five proven starting pitchers. Cobb would only give them that, and nothing more.

Mark Trumbo catches a pop up.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3. We’re exactly two weeks out from Opening Day as of today, and there are a few bruised Birds to discuss. The main one is first baseman Chris Davis, who received a cortisone shot in his elbow over the weekend. He hasn’t played in a Grapefruit League game since March 2 and could be in doubt to start the year. Buck Showalter said yesterday that Davis isn’t a candidate yet for the DL, but at this point that has to be at least in the realm of possibility.

Mark Trumbo, who would likely play first base in Davis’ absence, returned to the lineup yesterday as the DH. Trumbo had not played since March 6 with a quad injury. He is another one to monitor as the season draws closer. Davis and Trumbo being injured would drastically change the complexion of the roster for Opening Day. For now, it seems like that could be avoided.

Zach Britton surely won’t be on the roster to start the season, but he seems to be ahead of schedule in his rehab for his Achilles injury. The bullpen won’t be in shambles in his absence, but he could provide a real nice mid-season boost to the relief staff.

4. We all know that Major League Baseball is doing everything it can to shorten games. This year, they’ve limited the number of mound visits in an effort to speed things up. It’s the latest effort in the “like my sport” charade that baseball is going through. Baseball, like soccer and hockey, wants you to watch. They will do anything they can to get you to tune in and they know that a game that is over three hours long isn’t going to keep your attention.

Except, baseball fans enjoy watching baseball. If the game is compelling, they will watch.

Now, Minor League Baseball is taking things even further. In addition to limiting mound visits and continuing with a pitch clock (now at 15 seconds with no runners on base), MiLB is going to start with a runner on 2nd base in extra innings. This is perhaps the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard of, and it actually (and irrationally) angers me.

MLB typically uses MiLB to test these things out before moving them to the bigs, but I can’t imagine this idea actually getting to the top level of the game.

his is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S. If it did, I could absolutely imagine the Orioles somehow squandering every chance they get with a runner at 2nd base and no outs.

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Could Right Field be a Strength in Baltimore Again?

Austin Hays follows through on his swing.

The Orioles are two weeks away from the start of the 2018 season, a season in which the ball club will attempt to climb out of last place and regain the competitiveness that saw them reach the playoffs three times from 2012-16.

While the answers are beginning to sort themselves out, the same questions linger. Who will play right field, who’s the utility infielder, who will fill the three bullpen openings, and who will fill the final rotation spot when the orange carpet rolls out on March 29th?

When full squad workouts began on February 19th, the Orioles had over 60 players in camp. While that number has dwindled down to 42 as of Wednesday afternoon, there is still much work to be done in the quest to mold a 25-man roster.

Today, we’ll look at the right field situation.

 

Right Field

Named a finalist for Minor League Player of the Year in 2017, top prospect Austin Hays made his Major League debut for the Orioles on September 7th. Though Hays hit just .217 in 20 games, it is widely assumed to be only a matter of time before he earns a permanent promotion to the big leagues. Some projected him to even start in right field on Opening Day for the club.

Of course, projections are just that, and Hays suffered a shoulder injury early in camp. Though he has recovered, he is all but ticketed for the minor leagues after falling behind the rest of the competition.

Colby Rasmus prepares to throw a baseball.

Colby Rasmus, signed to a minor league contract on February 21st, has performed well this spring, batting .333 in 21 at-bats while playing solid defense in right field. Rasmus has all the tools that Buck Showalter loves: defense, speed, power, and an ability to play all three outfield spots.

Being able to spell Adam Jones–who can only benefit from more days off at this point in his career–is a huge plus for Rasmus and the ball club. Rasmus has done nothing to hurt his chances this spring, meaning he’ll more than likely be starting in right field on Opening Day.

Anthony Santander playing the outfield.

Anthony Santander has been the highlight of the spring for the Orioles. His bat has been significant as Santander has posted a .349 average to go along with three homers and two doubles in a team-leading 43 at-bats. His 15 hits and 14 RBI are second only to Manny Machado on the team. Above all of that, Showalter has lauded Santander for the defense he has played this spring.

While the young switch-hitter was already all-but-guaranteed a roster spot due to his Rule V rollover from last season (the Orioles must keep him on the MLB roster for 44 days or risk losing him back to Cleveland), his performance has certainly made that spot earned rather than gifted. If his hot spring translates to the regular season, his stay will last significantly longer than 44 days.

Craig Gentry playing the outfield.

Craig Gentry figures to make the club out of spring training as another outfielder off the bench, assuming Rasmus and Santander platoon in right field. Buck loves Gentry’s defense and base-running ability, referring to him as the team’s “secret weapon.” Gentry figures to provide depth as a pinch runner and late-game defensive replacement while picking up the occasional spot-start.

Of course, first baseman Chris Davis could have a lot to do with the Orioles’ outfield situation. Davis has been out since March 2nd with a flexor mass strain in his right forearm. Relegated to DH duties, Davis was shut down for a bit after the soreness failed to subside, and received a cortisone injection last weekend.

Though Davis has been swinging a bat recently, the projection of his return this weekend looks less and less likely and there is a slight chance that he could begin the season on the disabled list.

The reason this impacts the outfield is because left fielder Trey Mancini has been playing first base in Davis’ absence, which has allowed the Orioles to play Santander in left and Rasmus in right in the same lineup. Should Davis begin the season on the DL, Santander and Rasmus could both conceivably be thrust into full-time roles, with Gentry gaining more playing time as a fourth outfielder. All of this could mean Danny Valencia makes the team out of spring training, but we’ll talk about him in a later post.

The Orioles’ outfield situation, particularly right field, was a huge question mark back in February. Now, with just two weeks remaining until Opening Day, the dust has begun to settle and the Orioles seem to have some exciting players at both the major and minor league levels.

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

Hays could be in Baltimore for good as early as this summer. Cedric Mullins, defensively, is clearly major league-ready and his base-running ability and overall instincts have caught the attention of anybody who’s been watching down in Sarasota. Once his bat catches up to the rest of his game–and it should˗-watch out.

D.J. Stewart positioned in the outfield.

D.J. Stewart had a solid spring for the Orioles after putting together his best and most consistent season in the minors last season. Drafted in the first round in 2015, Stewart’s on-base capabilities, developing power, and ability to swipe a bag or two have caught Buck’s attention. Of course, being a left-handed corner outfielder also helps Stewart’s cause.

Right field, and the outfield as a whole, could potentially become a strength for this ball club in 2018 and beyond, which is something we couldn’t say back in mid-February. Next time, we’ll take a look at the Orioles utility infielder situation and see if we can clear out some of the fog surrounding this less-than-flashy, but highly crucial role player for the club.

All photos: GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

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Wednesday’s O’s Links: Chris Tillman Threw Some Pitches

Chris Tillman winds up to pitch.

I’m really sick of winter, you guys (& gals). The Yard is calling my name. On the bright side, we’re pretty much just March Madness away from Opening Day. It can’t get here soon enough.

In the meantime…links!

Are the Orioles Done?

Trying to improve the roster, that is. Matt Kremnitzer of Camden Depot reflects on what’s been a frustrating and confusing offseason, now that it looks, for all intents and purposes, like the O’s are finished adding to the roster.

Free Tickets for Kids is a Great Start. Here are Some More Ideas!

KudO’s to the Birds on their new ticket policy, where kids under 9 can get a free upper deck seat. Great stuff. They still need to do more to get butts in seats though, and Stacey over at Camden Chat brainstormed with her friends to come up with some that I really love (craft beer night! smaller ticket packages!).

Should Orioles Ditch Traditional 5-Man Rotation?

Our own Steve Caimano’s piece on the O’s exploring a non-traditional rotation format earned him a spot on yesterday’s Locked on Orioles podcast with Justin McGuire. Listen in!

What Can the Orioles Do to Compete in 2018?

O’s fan Jonathan Bernhardt of FanRag Sports wonders if, at this late juncture, the Orioles can do anything to make themselves contenders. His answer is to sign not only Alex Cobb, but every remaining free agent pitcher. Throw a bunch of Oriole poo against the wall & see what sticks. I’ve heard worse plans.

Chris Tillman Walks 6 of 14 Batters in Debut

In a nice bit of cosmic poetry, both Chris Tillman and Lance Lynn made their Grapefruit League debuts yesterday, against one another. Lynn, of course, is a guy many O’s fans had their eye on, while Tillman is the lump of coal that we were absolutely sure was going to show up under our tree no matter how nice we were this year. In a result that was just a little too on the nose, UNIVERSE, Tilly walked six dudes in two innings of work, while Lynn allowed only a single baserunner (and no hits) over three innings, while striking out five. This is all fine.

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And Now for Something Completely Different…

Manny Machado follows the ball after a swing.

I made a vow to myself today – I was going to write a positive piece about the Orioles. I’m tired of being “Negative Nellie.”

For the first time in 25 years I probably won’t attend a game at Camden Yards in 2018 (due to retirement and moving away from the area). I’ll still be tuned into “Extra Innings” every night. Here are the reasons why:

 

Manny Machado

Manny Machado touches the brim of his helmet as he prepares to hit.

We’re watching one of the best players in the game. Yes, he needs a few more singles to fall in and maybe a few fewer TOOTBLANs would be nice (stay positive Steve) but think about this. Remember those highlights of him throwing guys out from the 3B dugout over the last few years? Now think about him ranging into shallow left from his new position at shortstop and just gunning a guy. Orioles twitter is going to explode with GIFs multiple times over the next six months and nearly every one of them will be a Manny play.

And if it’s not just him alone it’ll be…

 

 

Machado and Schoop

These two are going to be turning double plays all year and it’s going to be glorious. And while we’re at it…

 

Jonathan Schoop

At 25 he went .293/.338/.503 with 32 HR & 105 RBI. Yeah, I’d like to see him get on base a bit more but, again, he’s 25. But you know what I’ll enjoy the most this year? The joy that he and Manny bring to the park every day. They clearly enjoy playing together. And speaking of joy…

 

Adam Jones

I’m an analytics guy. Have been one since I picked up my first “Baseball Abstract” in 1982. Analytics would have me believe Adam Jones is a bit less than I’ve seen.

You know what. Screw that. He’s more.

Adam Jones shows up 150 times a year, give or take. Every time he takes the field my thought is “He’s having fun.” AND he’s pretty damn good at his job. Add in what he’s meant to Baltimore and Adam Jones is much more than the stats. I’ve watched his entire career, in the ballpark and on TV, and he’s what makes being a fan fun.

There’s a tough decision coming this off-season but I’m looking forward to every time he steps into the box this year and swings as hard as he possibly can.

And I hope he can help bring along a guy who showed promise last year…

 

Tim Beckham

That was something, wasn’t it? Can he build on it? Can he play 3B? Is it really true the environment made all the difference? I’m interested to find out. And while he’s a little old to be a true “prospect,” there’s another one I’m looking forward to watching and it’s…

 

Kevin Gausman

Kevin Gausman pitches in Sarasota.

His 2nd half last year was pretty, pretty good. Low ERA, a lot of K’s, not a lot of BB’s. Yes, a couple of bad outings but still. If he can make one more step up at 27 he can be a solid starting pitcher which, you know, the Orioles could use.

Finally, pretty, pretty good brings us to…

 

Dylan Bundy

He’s 24 years old. It’s hard to remember that. He pitched 169 innings last year when the Orioles weren’t even sure he could do it but had to keep him on the roster. He was solid. Not great but certainly far from bad. And he’s 24 years old. There’s a lot of time. I’m going to be watching to see if he can make the transition to, what, #2? #1?. Yeah, the Orioles haven’t had the best track record lately for helping pitchers make that transition but, again, I’m being positive.

So I’ll see you here in the coming months. Watching on MASN and sharing my thoughts on Twitter (@CTRSteve). Maybe, I’ll make a trip back to Camden Yards.

And I hope there are a few other stories to watch if I do.

all photos: GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

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Monday’s O’s Links: Lance Lynn Signs…Elsewhere

Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn delivers.

Over the weekend, O’s fans had our Lance Lynn dreams crushed, when it was reported that the righty had agreed to a one-year deal with the Minnesota Twins. A one-year deal…sounds like the kind of thing the O’s should have been able to offer a hefty amount for, in a win-or-die season, yes?

Sigh. To the links…

East Notes: Lynn, Orioles, etc.

Roch says that the O’s “appeared open to three guaranteed years, but preferred two with a vesting option” in their talks with Lynn’s representatives. I’m not sure Roch goes as far as to say the team ACTUALLY OFFERED Lynn that contract though…maybe careful wording on Roch’s part, maybe accidental. But later…

Make of it what you will. Bottom line, Alex Cobb is the only free agent pitcher of consequence remaining on the market (Jake Arrieta signed with Philly on Sunday).

Cashner Tosses Four Scoreless Innings in Debut

Andrew Cashner became the first O’s pitcher to go more than three innings this spring, and he did it in somewhat impressive fashion, pitching four innings and allowing just one hit, while striking out two and getting a bunch of groundouts. The only thing to nitpick was the three walks, but hey, it was his debut – let’s cut the guy some slack.

Q&A with Dan Duquette: ’18 Orioles, Pitching Staff, his Future

Dan Connolly does his best to try to get some straight answers from Dan Duquette, but as always, it’s like pulling teeth. Dan C. admits right at the start of the piece that DD dances around some questions. You have to appreciate Connolly’s efforts here, even if Dan continues being a master at the art of saying nothing. As for DD, I’ll give him this: he continues to be very willing and able to fall on grenades for Orioles ownership.

If ESPN’s Future Power Rankings are Right, Things are Bleak for the Orioles

Mark Brown of Camden Chat reviews ESPN’s “Future Power Rankings,” and it ain’t looking pretty here in Birdland. Here’s to those bozos being wrong!

Locked On Orioles: Dan Szymborski on Future Power Rankings

Want to Hear from one of those aforementioned bozos? Justin McGuire had Dan Szymborski of ESPN, a contributor to the Future Power Rankings, on Locked On Orioles for an interview Friday.

(Just kidding Dan…you’re not a bozo. I guess.)

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The Orioles Were MLB’s Slowest Team in 2017

Chris Davis trots around the bases.

Have you ever watched a bird try to fly against a strong headwind, pumping its little wings furiously in an effort to move forward, only to be slowly blown backwards, or at the very least, staying stationary, stuck in a sort of avian limbo?

I always feel bad for those birds when I see them.

It’s sort of the same feeling I get watching the Baltimore Orioles try to run.

You don’t hear much about speed when it comes to the Orioles, and when you do, it’s in the form of fans bemoaning the team’s lack of it. The Orioles are regularly at the bottom of the league in stolen bases. They have now finished dead last in the category in four consecutive seasons – in 2014 and 2015, they stole 44 bases each season, bottomed out at 19 in 2016 (with the next lowest team swiping 35 bags), and then “rebounded” back to 32 last season (every other team stole at least 53). Basically, since Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth departed (and Manny Machado had his one season where he stole some bases), the stolen base has not been a part of the Birds’ game.

(Paradoxically, Buck Showalter, while completely shunning the stolen base for his own team, puts a huge emphasis on slowing down the running game defensively, which some argue has hindered the development/performance of both pitchers and catchers in Baltimore. Alas, that’s a story for another day…)

It’s been a source of much frustration among O’s fans, as when the team goes into their lineup-wide slumps where they are corkscrewing themselves into the ground one after another, it seems that Buck has no interest – or ability – to change up the approach and try to manufacture some offense. Of course, it’s hard to argue too much with the results; in the years listed above (2014-2017), the O’s made the postseason in two of four seasons, and also won their only division title since 1997. Perhaps there was the potential to squeeze out another win or two during those seasons with some “small ball.” Perhaps not. Who can say, really?

The bottom line is that the Orioles, as a team, are SLOWWWWWW, and they don’t care. Today, I wanted to take a look at the “fastest” and slowest Orioles from 2017, as well as new guys joining the 2018 team. To do this, I’m using sprint speed from Baseball Savant (Statcast data). Some more info:

Sprint Speed is Statcast’s foot speed metric, defined as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.” The Major League average on a “max effort” play is 27 ft/sec, and the max effort range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A player must have at least 10 max effort runs to qualify for this leaderboard.

First, let’s talk about the team’s overall lack of speed. As noted above, the average Major League player gets up to a speed of 27 ft/sec during a “max effort” run. We can then look at each team and see how many players they have who fall on either side of this average.

Yup, there’s our O’s, with the fewest players above “average” MLB speed. (Note: Anybody else find it funny that the “Athletics” are the second-least athletic team in baseball?)

I’m not saying there is any correlation between having an average number of fast vs. slow guys. A quick glance sees that the LCS teams from 2017 (Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, and Cubs) all had between 50% and 64% of their guys clock in at above average. In fact, 23 of the 30 teams are between 46% and 67% of players sprinting at above average velocities. The outliers are the White Sox & Padres on the high end (67 and 71 wins, respectively), and the Orioles, Athletics, Brewers, Blue Jays, & Reds on the other end (three last-place teams, a fourth-place team, and then Milwaukee, who won 86 games and just missed the NL’s second wild card spot). The quick-and-dirty conclusion is that you probably want to be somewhere near the middle there.

Again, I’m not trying to make some overarching point about ideal roster construction when it comes to speed. I’m just presenting some figures that I found interesting. Draw your own conclusions (and let me know what they are!)

Moving on, let’s focus on which O’s were the tortoises and which were the few hares last season.

 

2017’s Fastest Orioles

Craig Gentry – 28.5 feet per second

Gentry, the Orioles’ (ugh) secret weapon, actually had the fifth fastest such time among all MLB right fielders. Despite being the third-oldest Oriole listed (behind J.J. Hardy & Seth Smith), Gentry still has his legs.

Joey Rickard & Tim Beckham – 27.5 ft/sec

Rickard, though he has a “speedy” reputation, came in a whole foot per second slower than Gentry, and just 31st among right fielders. Beckham was 32nd among shortstops, and would have been 16th among third basemen.

Adam Jones – 27.1 ft/sec

Jones’ sprint speed was 60th (!!) among MLB centerfielders, lending more ammo to those who hold the idea that it’s time for him to move to a corner outfield spot. Since we all know that’s not happening, this is a bit disturbing, and doesn’t bode well for the team’s OF defense in 2018.

However…

Colby Rasmus – 27.4 ft/sec

Alex Presley – 28.0 ft/sec

Rasmus would have been just ahead of Jones for third on the Orioles. He is considered a good defender, so having him to Jones’ left (in right field) will certainly have a positive peripheral effect on Jones. Presley, who probably has a decent shot of being on the 25-man at some point this season, would have been second on the team.

In addition, we don’t have data for either Austin Hays or Anthony Santander, two other guys who will likely spend time in the Birds’ outfield this season.

The league average, as noted above, is 27 ft/sec. Of the 14 Orioles clocked, all but the above four players come in right at or below that figure. So, who really pulled up the rear?

 

2017’s Slowest Orioles

Mark Trumbo – 26.3 ft/sec

This is not a result of too many home run trots bringing down his average. Zing.

J.J. Hardy – 26.2 ft/sec

I’d have guessed Hardy was the slowest non-catcher. The guy actually holding that title? Stay tuned…

Caleb Joseph & Welington Castillo – 25.8 & 25.1 ft/sec

Big deal, right? Catchers are supposed to be slow. O’s catchers, however, were slow even by backstop standards, coming in at 33rd and 48th, respectively.

 

Chris Davis – 25.0 ft/sec

The Big Fella has become more like “The Big Slow” lately. He was 45th of 48 first basemen clocked, finishing ahead of only Jesus Aguilar, Justin Smoak, and the corpse of Adrian Gonzalez.

(Of course, we can’t mention Davis and Gonzalez in the same sentence without….)

This is a new development for Davis though, right? We all remember being surprised by his athleticism for such a large dude a few years back. Unfortunately, we only have data going back to 2015, but even based on that, we can indeed see a big decline in Davis’ (already plodding) footspeed last year:

2015:  26.2 ft/sec (Only Joseph & Matt Wieters were slower)

2016: 26.2 ft/sec (Hyun-soo Kim, Hardy, Pedro Alvarez, Joseph, & Wieters were slower)

So Davis lost 1.2 ft/sec of sprint speed between 2016 and 2017, and that 25.0 number would have been the slowest on the team in both 2015, and 2016 (when he would have been tied with Wieters, who went from 25.1 in ’15 to 25.0 in ’16).

Not that you need something else about which to complain when it comes to Davis, but were you so inclined, feel free to pile on with “he’s as slow as damn molasses too!”

Manny Machado runs with palm trees in the background.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

Manny Machad-Slow?

One name conspicuously absent from the Orioles’ list of above-average sprinters is Manny Machado. It’s tough to say what’s going on with Manny. Earlier we mentioned that Gentry has kept his speed into his mid-30’s. Is Machado having an issue doing the same into his mid-20’s?

Here are Manny’s numbers for the past three seasons:

2015: 27.7 ft/sec

2016: 26.6 ft/sec

2017:  27.0 ft/sec

His last knee surgery came during the 2014-15 offseason, so if anything, you’d expect his speed to have been down in 2015, then to increase a bit as he continued to build up his leg strength. 2015 though, was the year he stole 20 bases and put up his fastest speeds for which we have data. Unfortunately, we don’t have data for prior years. It would be nice to see, for instance, Machado’s sprint speed from 2012, before his first major knee injury.

Either way, without a bounceback in speed, Manny is now just league average in that area. As far as shortstops go, he’d have been just 40th in MLB last year. Not that shortstops ever have time to work up to a full sprint in getting to batted balls. Again, I’m just throwing it out there.

None of this is “good” or “bad.” There are plenty of ways to win baseball games. The Baltimore Orioles, under Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter, have decided that they want a bunch of “big, hairy guys” – who just also happen to be quite slow – to mash balls out of the park. That’s certainly served them well more often than not over the past half-decade or so.

Still, while I knew how little they cared about stealing bases, even I was surprised to see just how slow they are, based on the Statcast data. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on in 2018, though I don’t expect much to change in respect to average team speed, nor to number of bags swiped.

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Friday’s O’s Links: That’s Our Secret Weapon? Seriously?

Richard Bleier throws from the mound.

Someone took our advice, but it wasn’t the O’s. Jon Jay…really? Richard Bleier was a nice surprise…can he do it again? And the Orioles “secret weapon” will depress you to no end.

To the links!

The Rays’ Unique Starting Rotation

Now this is annoying. Earlier this week, Steve Caimano wrote right on this site that the O’s should use a “3-man rotation,” splitting the fourth and fifth days among guys only expected to get through the lineup once. It seems the Tampa Bay Rays were listening – they’re doing just that, only with a 4-man rotation and the fifth day split up between long relievers.

Orioles Looking for More of the Same from Bleier

Richard Bleier was a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen last year, thanks to a second-in-MLB groundball rate. He was also second-to-last in strikeout rate though, so can he continue his success? Jon Meoli of The Sun talks with Richard & Buck Showalter about it.

Jon Jay is Not Your Huckleberry

Camden Depot’s Jon Shepherd doesn’t get why Dan Connolly was dying on the Jon Jay hill the other day.

Craig Gentry is Orioles’ “Secret Weapon”

Kill me.

When Winter Never Ends

Non-O’s Link Alert! This is a long read from ESPN on Ichiro. Well worth your time if you have an hour to kill at your desk this afternoon or weekend.

 

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Thursday Thoughts: O’s Go”Half-In” on a Bunch of Things

Alex Presley swings the bat.

1. Coming into spring training, just about everyone knew the Orioles would have some position battles. One of the more intriguing ones in my mind was in right field, which has become a common theme. In fact, both corner outfield spots have been in flux since Nick Markakis left after the 2014 season. In 2015, Alejandro De Aza started in left while Travis Snider was the team’s right fielder on Opening Day. In 2016, it was Joey Rickard in left with Mark Trumbo in right field. Last season, Hyun-Soon Kim got the nod in left and Seth Smith took the field in front of the out of town scoreboard for the team’s first game.

Trumbo and Rickard are the only two players that remain on the team from that group of six, and neither are likely to get the nod in either corner outfield spot this season. Trey Mancini is the team’s presumed left fielder after emerging last year, but right is still a mystery.

Rickard is joined in a battle with Colby Rasmus, Anthony Santander, Craig Gentry, Austin Hays, and Alex Presley. Notice, none of those players are named Jarrod Dyson or Jon Jay. That’s because both of those guys signed with other teams for very modest contracts. Both of those guys are also better options than anything the Orioles are throwing out there. Much of this goes back to what I wrote about last week, when the Orioles decided to settle for another position battle at utility man, rather than bring back Ryan Flaherty.

The O’s front office has pretty much agreed they’ve got one last shot at making a run at the postseason with this current collection of players, yet they aren’t doing everything they can to make themselves the best potential team they can be. Instead, they are going halfway on things. They brought in Rasmus instead of Dyson or Jay in the same way that they brought in Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman instead of signing Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the great Ron Swanson:

2. While we are talking pitching (and continuing to scratch our heads as to why the O’s haven’t gone out and addressed their entire rotation), I continue to wonder who is going to fill out the staff as the team’s fifth starter. For some reason, I feel like Mike Wright Jr. is going to get the first crack at it, and I also feel like that is going to go very poorly.

The Orioles could easily, with where they sit payroll wise, go out and get Cobb or Lynn to add to the rotation. They would then have five starters (if you include Tillman, which is debatable), to at least begin with. Then they could rely on Wright Jr., Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro or Nestor Cortes Jr. as a SIXTH option as a starter.

Spring training is already half over, and the O’s have been lucky enough to have not suffered an injury in the rotation. But that time will come. There’s no reason why the Orioles shouldn’t be adding another starting pitcher from the free agent crop, and there amazingly are still options out there.

3. There’s been a ton of speculation that one candidate to bolster the rotation could come from within in the form of Hunter Harvey. The 23-year-old has everyone all hot and bothered since returning to the mound last summer following Tommy John surgery.

I must preach patience, however, when it comes to Harvey. The Orioles and their fans can dream of a rotation that bolsters three homegrown talents in Harvey, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, but it’s something that can wait for at least a few months. It’s important to remember that Harvey hasn’t even thrown above Single-A Frederick yet. He’s logged fewer than 150 professional innings in four seasons.

There’s a decent chance Harvey is up in Baltimore by season’s end, but he’s sure to be on an innings limit as well.  Patience should not only be preached, it should be practiced by the O’s.

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Wednesday’s O’s Links – Riding the Trey Train into 2018

Trey Mancini watches the ball after making contact.

Right to it today…

No Excuses Hold Up in O’s Failure to Aggressively Pursue Jon Jay

Dan Connolly covered the O’s for The Baltimore Sun for many years. He was a victim of a round of layoffs/buyouts a few years back, and now he covers the team for his venture with Steve Cockey, Baltimore Baseball dot com. He’s been beating the Jon Jay drum all offseason, and last night, after Jay signed with KC for peanuts, Dan took the O’s brass to the woodshed over their lack of interest. Ownership, Dan, Buck, Brady – nobody emerged unscathed. It was a refreshing bit of WTF-ness from a beat writer. Now if only we could get some more of the same over things like the current payroll, the lack of extension talks with Manny over the years, the decision-making structure in general, the lack of international interest, etc. (And not just from Dan – some of the other beat guys should be shouldering some of the load here as well).

What’s Next for Trey Mancini?

Alright, enough about outfielders we don’t have; let’s talk about outfielders we DO have. Specifically, Trey Mancini. After his breakout 2017, what can we expect going forward? Camden Depot’s Matt Kremnitzer looks at how pitchers adjusted to Mancini over the course of the season and notes that Mancini said he tweaked his swing just a bit this winter (though it’s not glaringly different, for certain – probably a good thing.)

Trey Mancini Wants to Prove Rookie Season No Fluke

Need more Trey? Look no further. This is an AP Story (at Yahoo! cuz the internet is weird now) with quotes aplenty from the man himself, as well as his manager.

Bird’s Eye View Episode 227: The Other Dan

Jake & Scott are joined by Orioles-fan-on-hiatus Dan Szymborski of ESPN this week. This goes nicely with “the other Dan’s” article above, as Dan S. has put his fandom on pause because of the team’s lack of direction. “Like your favorite restaurant for 30 years started putting shards of glass in the food,” is how he puts it.

Projecting the Orioles’ Opening Day Roster

Bob Harkins of Baltimore Sports and Life takes a swing (heh) at the Birds’ first 25-man roster construction of 2018.

 

 

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Forget a 6-Man Rotation, O’s Should Use a “3-Man Rotation”

Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Dylan Bundy of the Orioles all pitching.

Ok, you’ve read the headline and either a) determined I’m insane and decided not to read; or b) determined I’m insane and decided to read just so you can leave an angry comment. For those of you who’ve chosen option “b”, before you leave your angry comment please hear me out.

The six-man rotation is the “flavor of the day.” in MLB. It gives your starters extra rest. If you use your off-days creatively, it’s really a five-man rotation with a swing man as the schedule requires. And with the nearly universal move to 13-man bullpens, and the use of the “AAA shuttle” to expand that bullpen even further, it seems to make sense.

What I propose is that teams should move in the exact opposite direction, and with their well-documented rotation woes, the Orioles are the perfect guinea pig for this experiment.

*Note: For the following example I am going to use the Orioles depth chart as it appears on MLB.com. I am not here to argue the relative merits of any of the pitchers. Also, I’m going to assume Britton is healthy. I’m just trying to illustrate how the “Three-Man Rotation” would work.

The critical number is 1460 IP. Some teams have more, some have less. The average is a little bit lower but, as with all of the assumptions here, let’s be conservative. How do we get to 1460?

Kevin Gausman delivers the pitch.

 

The 3 “Traditional Starters”

Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Chris Tillman

They go out there every fifth day and pitch until they’re ineffective. Just like normal.

They make 30 starts apiece (90 total) and average 5 IP per start (like I said, I’m being conservative). That’s 450 IP for the three of them.

Miguel Castro throws in Sarasota.

 

 

The 4 “Tandem Starters

Andrew Cashner, Nestor Cortes Jr., Gabriel Ynoa, & Miguel Castro

The tandem starters are also on an every fifth day schedule. Their job is to get through the line-up once or, if possible, through three innings. No need to save yourselves, or any secondary pitches, boys. Just get us to the 3rd (and then, for the second guy, to the 6th). AND, on these pitchers’ “throw days”, they would be available for an inning or two.

So let’s say the tandems each make 30 starts (60 total) at 5 IP per start. That’s 300 IP. AND let’s assume each of the four make 20 relief appearances of a single inning. That’s 80 more innings. So, 380 IP and our total, when added to the “traditional starters.” is up to 830 IP covered.

Orioles pitcher Donnie Hart in his windup.

 

The Six-Man Bullpen

Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Jimmy Yacabonis, Donnie Hart, Zach Britton (again, feel free to make substitutions here; I’m just using the MLB depth chart.)

The bullpen has to cover 630 innings. Divided by the seven guys out there it’s 90 innings apiece which is, well, pretty good.

 

So Why Wouldn’t This Work?

Injuries.

Well, yes, of course. Pitchers get hurt. No matter how you lay out your rotation and bullpen this is going to be an issue. I’d argue that one of the things this approach offers is four MLB pitchers who are already “stretched out” (the tandem starters) and ready to step in and give you a few “traditional” starts if you need them to.

Potential to burn out the bullpen.

Yes, if a tandem only gets through two innings one day you could have a problem. This is what modern roster management, which the Orioles have done very well over the last few years, is for. Teams don’t have 13-man staffs. Through the creative use of minor league options and the 10-day DL they have 16 or 17-man staffs.

It’s “different.”

Yes, yes it is. It would open management to a lot of criticism if it all fell apart. Some players might rebel against non-traditional roles like “tandem starter.” How is that any different than considering a six-man rotation?

This would be different. It would require a lot of astute juggling. But given the state of the Orioles staff – the questionable rotation, the quality back of the bullpen, and the interchangeable parts in the middle- why wouldn’t you at least consider it?

 

all photos: Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Photo

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Monday’s O’s Links: Kevin Gausman Sizzles in Latest Spring Start

Kevin Gausman pitches in Sarasota.

Just as we were starting to think warm thoughts, with Spring Training games in full swing and some unseasonably warm weather gracing us, Winter roared back into Baltimore over the weekend. Hopefully you have electricity, and there are no downed trees in your yard or neighborhood causing havoc. That wasn’t fun at all. For those O’s fans in the diaspora – be glad you weren’t close to home for our most recent “bomb cyclone.” ‘Tweren’t enjoyable.

Now, to the links!

Nine Up, Nine Down for Kevin Gausman

After suffering a scary accident that forced him out of his last start early, Kevin Gausman bounced back in a big way on Saturday, tearing through the Phillies regulars in Clearwater. He struck out five and didn’t allow any hard contact. Roch has more details, plus quotes from Gausman.

Tillman’s Simulated Game Puts Offseason Delivery Changes on Display

Chances are, you either forgot Chris Tillman was back, or you forgot that he was ever gone to begin with. He’s still working into pitching shape, while also continuing to try to get his old release point back. Eddie Encina of The Sun has the update.

Colby Rasmus is a Perfectly Average Baseball Player

Camden Depot’s Joe Wantz tells us why that’s not a bad thing.

MRI Reveals No Structural Damage to Davis’ Elbow

Davis is *only* expected to miss 3-5 days with flexor mass soreness. That would be ideal. The cynic in me is screaming “here we go with the injury excuses already!” I don’t want to be cynical. Not about the Orioles. I really don’t. Heal up, Crush.

Myriad O’s Thoughts: Valencia Signing, Davis’ Injury, Gausman’s Outing, Sammy Stewart’s Life

Dan Connolly on Danny Valencia, how Chris Davis’ injury underlines the need for depth, and Gausman’s aforementioned great start. Dan also has a story about Sammy Stewart, the former Orioles pitcher who sadly passed away this weekend. RIP, Sammy.

 

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An O’s Fan’s Guide to Spring Training

people standing by entrance to stadium with large potted plants

Spring Training means baseball is finally here. An additional perk? It gives us a fantastic reason to leave this bipolar Maryland weather & head down south for some sunshine & palm trees.

This was my second Spring Training trip, but my first time staying in Sarasota. If you’ve never been to Spring Training, I highly suggest making the trek! This is a vacation every baseball fan simply must take at some point in their life.

I attended the first three O’s Spring Training games of the Grapefruit League season. If you remember, they were not the best games to have attended, as the Birds took the L in each.

But hey, the best part is that the games don’t count! What does count? The fun you have and the memories you make. So, here’s my guide to Orioles Spring Training.

Megan in front of the Orioles Spring Training 2018 logo.

Ed Smith Stadium was voted the top spring training venue in the majors according to USA Today. I mean, it’s only fitting considering how amazing Camden Yards is – O’s fans are spoiled no matter which “home” park the team is playing in.

Just like at Camden Yards, parking is $10 at the stadium and you’re able to bring in your own food & (unopened) drinks. Here’s a quick tip: the Florida sun is hot so many people bring sunscreen. If you’re going to bring sunscreen, make sure it’s not the aerosol type, as that’s not allowed in. When I entered, there were probably eight aerosol cans on sunscreen left at the gate.

Moving on, gates open 2 hours prior to game time. In this time, you’ll be able to watch batting practice, watch the pitchers warm up in the bullpen & maybe even get up close & personal with some of the players along the first base side. Yes, the players do sign autographs but chances are if you’re taller than 4′ and/or older than about 15, you may as well just watch from a distance. Also, you have until about 30 minutes prior to game time to hope for an autograph. The ushers along the first base try to be strict & tell everyone who doesn’t have seats in that section to move away but as soon as one of the starters come up to the fans, everyone flocks back down anyway. Most of those ushers are just retirees who picked up pretty much the best job you can get once you become a snowbird, so they don’t get too worked up about it.

You know how I mentioned the Florida sun being hot? Yeah, keep that in mind when you buy your tickets! If it’s a day game (most are), I highly suggest sitting behind the Orioles’ dugout along the first base side unless you want a pretty sweet farmer’s tan. The “upper deck” seating also has a fair share of shade on both sides. If you’re not afraid of a little sun, the ballpark also has seating & tables out in left field.

Inside the concourse behind home plate is the Orioles Team Store. This store has a great selection of Spring Training apparel, but I would highly suggest visiting during the game. If you go prior to the game starting, I hope you have the patience to deal with people who appear to forget how to walk or move or basically acknowledge anything in their surroundings that isn’t for sale. Shop once the action on the field begins – trust me.

Now let’s get to one of the most important things to know about Ed Smith Stadium: where the good beer is located. With the concourse being a lot smaller than the one we are used to at Camden Yards, it makes it easy to get to the beer more quickly. Just a few steps away from the Orioles Team Store along the third base side, there is a craft beer stand that has a better selection than most bars. Most of their beers are in cans (so if you’re a beer drinking rookie, then don’t forget to bring a koozie) but they do have some great beers on draft. I opted for the SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale (one of my all time favorites) and then had one of the employees suggest an IPA for my next beer. He suggested the Elysian Space Dust IPA. Great suggestion!

A can of beer in an Old Bay koozie at Ed Smith Stadium.

I stayed on the beach in Lido Key, which worked out perfectly as we were within walking distance to St. Armand’s Circle. This area has a selection of shops & restaurants and is a great place to spend your evening. If you’re like me & are a fan of tacos and margaritas, I highly suggest Catrina’s Tacos and Tequila.

For drinks, our go to was Cha Cha Coconuts & the Daiquiri Deck, but if you’re going to be visiting during the week, be prepared to call it an early night because everywhere pretty much closes at midnight or earlier. Sarasota is a great area but if you’re staying along the beach, traffic can get a little downtown Baltimore rush hour-ish. So keep that in mind and give yourself plenty of time to get to the game.

If you’re not able to catch an Orioles Spring Training game this season, keep an eye out for the schedule next year. I also attended the Orioles/Red Sox game at JetBlue Stadium in Fort Myers, which has an awesome mini green monster & a stupid Big Papi lego statue. Unfortunately, Fort Myers isn’t a quick trip from Sarasota, but if you’re looking to visit multiple Spring Training venues, I would suggest catching a Pittsburgh Pirates game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, just a few minutes north of Sarasota.

Megan on the mini green monster at jet blue park.

24 more days until Opening Day, ya’ll.

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ESR Joins The Fanimal on 105.7

Colby Rasmus finishes his swing and watches the ball as he starts to run.

Did you know that 105.7 actually has SPORTS TALK on Saturday mornings now, as opposed to just financial advice snoozefests? At least for an hour, anyway. From 8-9 AM (for now – stay tuned), the Editor-in-Chief of this here site and of our sister site, Russell Street Report, Tony Lombardi, hosts “The Fanimal,” a jam-packed hour of sports talk geared solely towards those of us who root for the Orioles and Baltimore Ravens. Tony is joined by Miles Goodman and a local musician every episode.

This week, Tony was kind enough to have me on to talk about the O’s for a few minutes. We touched on the “improvements” the team has made (so far) this offseason, the uncertain futures of so many current Orioles, both on-field and off, and the fans’ frustration over any lack of long-term plan or vision.

Click here to head over to The Fanimal’s archive. On Saturday’s show (3/3/2018), I’m on during Segment 1. You can catch up on all the past episodes on that site as well. Like I said, if you love the local teams – or local music! (listen to see what I mean) – you’ll love The Fanimal.

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Orioles Are Just Pretending to Try to Contend

Mike Wright winds up to pitch.

The Orioles played their second MASN-televised game of the spring on Wednesday, a game started by Mike Wright, another less-than-thrilling name thrown into the mix for the fifth and final spot in the rotation.

On the broadcast, announcers Jim Hunter and Jim Palmer fawned over the big right-hander for retiring six of the seven batters that he faced. Never mind the fact that he continuously missed his spots, throwing just 16 of his 31 pitches for strikes while facing a travel roster of Cardinals minor leaguers.

On the radio side of things, Joe Angel and Brian Roberts could also be heard singing Wright’s praises on the airwaves, talking about the owner of a 5.86 ERA in 144.1 big league innings as though he was the second coming. Did I miss something here? Was I watching a different pitcher in a different game?

All I saw was a glaring weakness for a team looking to improve upon a starting rotation that posted a franchise-worst 5.70 ERA in 2017. Mike Wright is just the latest in a barrage of names that ownership, management, and the front office alike are trying to pass off as legitimate rotation contenders to the fan base. And why? Because he’s out of options? So is Gabriel Ynoa, another name thrust into the competition who has no business starting every fifth day in the American League East.

Fans have to sit back each day and check the box scores of games started by the likes of Wright and Ynoa, not to mention two Rule V picks and a journeyman reliever whom the team picked up for next to nothing last season because he was deemed “uncoachable” (Miguel Castro).

Meanwhile Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are getting lit up (I know spring stats don’t mean anything, but it would be nice to see some success after last season’s failures) and recent signees Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner have yet to throw a pitch in anger – between the two of them – this spring.

On the offensive side of things, fans get the privilege of watching the Orioles enter another season content with a platoon situation in right field. Here’s a news flash: John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke aren’t walking through those clubhouse doors anytime soon.

Nick Markakis has still yet to be replaced. Travis Snider was a complete waste of everybody’s time, and Seth Smith had the most misleading .258/.340/.443 slash line ever, as seemingly none of his hits came in critical situations after the beginning of May.

Enter Colby Rasmus, another hitter who–stop me if you’ve heard this one before–struggles to hit his weight, doesn’t get on base, and strikes out a ton. He should fit right in. Not to mention the fact that Rasmus up and decided to quit baseball last season for “personal reasons.”

Look, I get it, the man wanted to spend time with his family. But so does everybody else. Who’s to say he won’t have another change of heart midway through 2018? No worries, though.  He’s left-handed and Buck loves him (Ryan Flaherty anyone?), so he’s got a job. Personally, I’d rather they hand the job to Austin Hays and see if he sinks or swims, but who am I?

The bottom line is this: the Orioles payroll sits right around $125M for 2018, roughly $30M below last season’s payroll, and they’re putting together the missing pieces of a team that isn’t too far away from contention with sticks, mud, and duct tape.

Last I checked, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Jake Arrieta, Jon Jay, Carlos Gonzalez, and Melky Cabrera still don’t have jobs. But don’t fret, Baltimore, Scott Feldman is on their radar and Pedro Alvarez is back in the minors, just in case Mark Trumbo or Chris Davis gets injured.

Dan Duquette said all offseason that the Orioles are constructing a roster with the intention to compete and contend, yet the prized pieces they’ve acquired are Cashner (ERA of 4.34 and 5.25 prior to ‘17) and Tillman (7.84 ERA in ’17).

It’s time to you-know-what or get off the pot in Baltimore. This team believes it can contend as currently constructed, with a platoon in right field, four middling starters, and four Rule V players.

I’m not buying it, and neither should you.

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Thursday Thoughts: When It’s Not Just About Ryan Flaherty

Brady Anderson and Dan Duquette talk with a microphone.

This is a weekly column that usually dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. This week, I’m keeping things a bit more focused, as one issue in particular has drawn my ire. – A.S.

The Orioles continue to be one of the most dysfunctional organizations in baseball, perhaps in all of sports. This isn’t breaking news to anyone who has paid the least bit of attention. But revelations last week from The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina continued to paint a picture of ineptitude from within the franchise.

Look – the 2018 season is still four weeks away – I’m certainly not trying to throw dirt on a grave before the casket has been lowered. But the Orioles continue to dance around transparency and it makes fans question the direction of the organization. Encina’s blog reported that the Orioles couldn’t get “club-wide approval” to match a contract offer to retain Ryan Flaherty as the team’s utility infielder. This term “club-wide approval” caused my stomach to churn and my eyes to roll at the same time. It was quite a scene when I first read it. Then I realized it was something I shouldn’t be too surprised to read at all.

Ryan Flaherty stretches and watches.

GulfBird Photo/Craig Landefeld

No one really truly knows what “club-wide approval” means. That’s because no one really knows who’s calling the shots inside The Warehouse. There’s a widespread belief that Dan Duquette, the team’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, has built this team. There’s also an understanding that he’s done so with great help and input from the manager of the team, Buck Showalter.

Yet, everyone knows that the two don’t see eye to eye. There has always been an unspoken tension between the two, and it’s been widely reported, mostly in the national media. There’s also Brady Anderson, the team’s former outfielder who currently serves as Vice President of Baseball Operations. That’s a title that’s very similar to that of Duquette’s. Many believe Duquette is the team’s “general manager,” and in practical terms, that’s exactly what he is. But the O’s haven’t used that title to describe his position, and I merely point that out to highlight just how similar the title is to Anderson’s.

When Duquette explained earlier this winter the team’s reason for failing to make a presentation to now Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani by saying “because philosophically we don’t participate on the posting part of it,” it gave me a similar feeling as the “club-wide approval” line did. No one really knows what “philosophically we don’t participate” means. That’s because the organization isn’t transparent about its ideas, mindset or direction. It’s as if the team has used the “invisibility cloak” from the “Harry Potter” series to mask exactly what is going on.

At the top of the food chain within The Warehouse, of course, is the team’s owner Peter Angelos. The 88-year-old is coming up on 25 years having been the majority owner of the Orioles, and the public probably knows about as much about him and his mindset now as it did in 1993. Does “club-wide approval” mean Angelos wouldn’t sign-off on giving a utility infielder who had been with the team for six years a new deal to stick around for a couple million bucks? While ownership approval would be expected for a big contract, would it really be necessary in the case of a deal for Flaherty?

Is “philosophically we don’t participate” a mantra that comes from Angelos, or is that a Duquette musing? There’s been no shortage of vitriol hurled at ownership over the past two decades-plus, but no one really knows where the decisions are coming from. There is plenty of speculation to that end, but no clear cut answers.

I’m not sitting here trying to be the lone guy to go to bat for Ryan Flaherty. The Orioles will survive without the services of Flaherty. But wouldn’t you feel more comfortable with Flaherty having to play a few games than any of the guys currently vying for the spot vacated by the utility man?

In this strange triangle of leadership within the Orioles, there are also many other tentacles that have yet to be explained or revealed. There is an analytics department and scouting department that also have a say in which players are signed, retained and traded.

The lack of transparency is perhaps what frustrates the fanbase more than anything. If everyone knew who to point the finger toward, it would be easy. For now, that person has to be Duquette, being that he is at the top of the decision-making food chain.

Flaherty, frankly, is the least of the question marks when it comes to front office decisions. The others are well-publicized. Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Zach Britton are all in walk years. Jonathan Schoop still does not have a long-term deal. The Orioles are piecing together a rotation with silly string and chewing gum.

Not to mention, Duquette and Showalter are also sitting on expiring contracts. Some might say the Orioles have a big season ahead and need to make many decisions before August. Others, like myself, would say and even fear that it’s too late. This mess is already starting to boil over.

It’s ironic that a player as simultaneously minor and polarizing as Ryan Flaherty has been the one to bring these issues – and the emotions from fans that go along with them – to the surface once again.

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