Subscribe to our newsletter
Close this search box.

Fact/Opinion: Should O’s Empty the Farm for Mason Miller?

Coby Mayo Jackson Holliday
photo: Tides
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Orioles are back home to start a series with the defending NL Champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks. They enter the series tied for the fewest losses in MLB, the best record in the AL, and in a tie for the second best win percentage in all of baseball.

Despite this, you would think the sky is falling in Birdland after what we saw in the Nats series.  The focus is on the bullpen but overall, there are a lot of topics to cover. So let’s bring back some fact/opinion.

Fact:  Orioles closer Craig Kimbrel is in the midst of a slump, that also happened to coincide with an upper back injury. For the moment, we have no idea if that injury is hindering him but we do know that he has been bad as of late, after dominating for most of April.

Kimbrel has been scored upon in four of his last five appearances. In those five outings, he has given up six runs and only pitched 2.1 innings. He has four strikeouts (with three coming in the outing he wasn’t scored on) and has walked seven. He has given up two homers and it has taken him 91 pitches to get through those seven outs.

Opinion: I believe there is some overreacting going on here. Don’t get me wrong: even though I was for the signing of Kimbrel, he was always a risk but he was only a one-year risk and that was important. If you go back just the last two seasons, you will see Kimbrel has gone through multiple stretches where he wasn’t very good but, for most of the season, he was largely a very good pitcher, like we saw in April. He is at an age where things can go south fast and maybe this is the beginning of the end but my guess is that Kimbrel has multiple years left (if he wants to keep playing) and will ultimately end the year with numbers you would expect from him. He just has to work through this and if he is still feeling any effects of the back injury, he needs to go on the IL.

Fact: Oakland closer Mason Miller is producing at a high level. His ERA is around 1, his K rate is over 18, his walk rate is barely over 2 and he has yet to allow a homer. He is routinely hitting triple digits on the radar gun and has given up just seven hits in 16.1 IP. He has a case for being the best reliever in the sport and has five more years of team control after 2024. His name has been thrown around as a trade candidate a lot.

Opinion:  The Orioles should not be in the Miller sweepstakes unless the asking price is far more reasonable than the early reports. Oakland’s long term plan is to make him a starter again, so they are going to want value that reflects that. Miller does not even have 100 pro innings yet. He missed four months last year due to a sprained UCL ligament but was able to avoid Tommy John surgery. With the rash of TJS and other arm injuries we have seen this year, we have seen many doctors, coaches, mechanics experts, etc..come out and talk about how these pitchers are throwing too hard and the arm can’t take the stress. Considering Miller already has had the elbow issue, he is a major risk, and while I don’t think you totally ignore the thought of trading for him, you sure as hell don’t trade Coby Mayo or Samuel Basallo.

I get it, we are starved for a title in Baltimore. We have a team that is capable of winning it all and even if Kimbrel bounces back, the Os need at least one other high-leverage bullpen arm. That said, Mayo and Basallo are arguably top five hitting prospects in the game. They hammer the baseball and will be Statcast darlings. Even if they are at “devalued” positions defensively (we will see if Basallo can catch 40-ish games a year, but we know he will play a lot of 1B), their bats alone could make them 4-5 WAR type guys. You don’t give that up for 60 innings of relief that carries a huge injury risk.

The bullpen is extremely important, but there is a line that should be drawn.

The Orioles have plenty to trade and enough high leverage relievers (perhaps Miller’s teammate, a guy I wanted in the offseason, Lucas Erceg) will be available to make a move or two that puts the O’s in better position to win.

Fact: Ramon Urias is off to a tough start, with an OPS+ of just 44, although he has an OPS over 700 since April 12. There have been calls for the Orioles to get rid of him and bring up Coby Mayo (or Jackson Holliday again).

Opinion:  If the Orioles can trade Urias, I am good with that. I wouldn’t trade him for nothing but I would be fine moving him and it’s something I felt they should have done in the offseason (maybe they tried, who knows?) That said, I am not DFA’ing or cutting him or anything else that risks losing him for nothing. Urias ended 2023 well, so it’s not like there were signs of some major drop-off and, like I said, he has hit better the last few weeks. On top of that, he doesn’t even have 60 PA yet. Lots of guys can look awful over the course of a few weeks and Urias isn’t playing every day, so he’s not getting into a rhythm. That said, he’s a good player. He has been worth 4 fWAR in his 1200ish MLB PA. He won a Gold Glove although he isn’t truly that level of defender. I don’t buy that he is below average, like OAA says, either though. I think he is an average to slightly above average defender but is held back some by a weak-ish arm.

As much as I want Mayo up here, I question where you play him. For right now, you could put him at third but Holliday isn’t going to be down in AAA for that long and once he is back up, there is no path for Mayo to play third. If I were the O’s, I would be playing him a lot more at first and would get him into games in RF (he has reportedly been shagging flyballs in the OF in practice, so they are preparing him for this).

I also don’t want Mayo to come up here and ride the bench, so for the role we need, Urias is fine and the thought that he sucks or the O’s need to drop him is completely over the top.

Fact:  In addition to Urias and Kimbrel, the other Orioles whipping boy has been Ryan McKenna. McKenna, a 4th/5th outfielder, has produced fairly well with the bat since the beginning of 2023 and while he is a good defensive player, he has mental lapses and poor instincts at times. When Austin Hays comes back, his roster spot could be in jeopardy.

Opinion: Hays has been something McKenna is not…an everyday player. However, Hays has been a bad player since July 1 of last year. He has been a below replacement level guy and has an OPS of just over 600 in that span (and that is with a 90 PA stretch of an OPS well over 900 from mid-August to about mid-September). So, for a little less than 1/3 of his at bats in this stretch, he was an elite guy, but the other 2/3+, he has been one of the worst hitters in baseball.

That said, Hays had a stomach virus in ST and lost 10lbs, so maybe that helps explain the slow start this year. He deserves the chance to get at bats but he is clearly not going to be an everyday player with the way Colton Cowser is playing.

McKenna is fine for the 5th OF role and I think Heston Kjerstad should be sent down, as opposed to DFA’ing McKenna again. Kjerstad isn’t playing enough and while I think they should find him more at bats and I question what else he has to prove in the minors, he is a guy that missed a lot of baseball for basically two years, so I would like to see him playing a lot more.

Fact: The Orioles starters are pitching at a high level right now and they currently have two members of the Opening Day rotation, Grayson Rodriguez and Tyler Wells, on the IL. It does not sound like either have an injury that is deemed to be serious and Rodriguez is even saying he may not need a rehab start.

Opinion: Obviously, GRod will go back in the rotation and I think it’s obvious Wells will end up in the pen, which was probably the original plan before the injuries to John Means and Kyle Bradish occurred.

That still leaves the Os with six starters. I am thinking Cole Irvin is the one who goes to the bullpen, so when you add in Irvin and Wells, the pen should be stronger. It is possible that Elias wants to see that before jumping to make a move for a reliever.

Of course, we likely will need Irvin or Wells to start games as the season goes on, so I think adding at least one more reliever is needed but I can see wanting to see how things play out first.

Fact: Jackson Holliday came to the majors and in a small sample size of 30 at bats, struggled mightily. During a broadcast, Ben McDonald mentioned that his high leg kick MAY (not definitely) be affecting him and that is perhaps an adjustment Jackson needs to make. Big Ben pointed to Alex Bregman, who had a similar leg kick as a rookie and came up and struggled like Holliday did. He came back to the majors with a less pronounced leg kick and the rest is history. Back in February, in an interview on Fangraphs with David Laurilla, Holliday had this to say about the leg kick:

Laurila: How have you evolved in terms of your setup and swing?

Holliday: “What I have now is kind of the baseline of the swing I had as a senior in high school. I wasn’t very consistent, or very good, so I had to make some adjustments. I did some subtle cleaning up of my load, getting back to my leg kick, making sure my hands were in a position that I want to fire from. In spring training last year, I worked on it a little bit more, and I’ve continued to work on it. I want to be as consistent as possible.

“The leg kick, and making sure that I’m on my backside, is important to me. If you come out of your backside, your front side is going to open; bad things tend to happen when the front side opens. So, it’s kind of thinking that I’m going to hit a home run over the batter’s eye. I know that’s pretty unlikely, but it gets me in a good position to hit with my lower body. Again, I’m trying to fire through the middle.”

We have also recently seen Baseball Prospectus talk about the quality of fastball Holliday saw at this level.

Earlier this week, The Athletic ran an article talking about the huge gap between AAA and the majors, specifically how the velocity and stuff in the majors is just far superior and may be the biggest gap we have ever seen. Mike Elias has said similar. Now, there is probably some level of hyperbole in there and how do you really measure that, but still, it’s pretty obvious some level of a difference exists.

Opinion:  Holliday cannot learn to hit MLB pitching playing in AAA. If you want to argue to send him down for service time reasons, Super 2 status and things like that, fine. If you want to say you want him to play more second base to refine that aspect of his game, fine but the leg kick (which he feels is important) isn’t likely going away and I am not sure what adjustments he is going to make in AAA to help him hit MLB fastballs. He just needs to see it, adjust to it and then he will be fine.

I suspect Holliday is up sometime in June and that will be the last time he sees the minors (unless he is on a rehab assignment).

One Response

  1. I agree with you 100% on Holliday. I think he was adjusting and was getting close but sending him back down is making him start the adjustment all over again. He wasn’t hurting the O’s defensively, let him fight thru.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Response

  1. I agree with you 100% on Holliday. I think he was adjusting and was getting close but sending him back down is making him start the adjustment all over again. He wasn’t hurting the O’s defensively, let him fight thru.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our newsletter and get 20% discount
Promotion nulla vitae elit libero a pharetra augue