April 1, 2011

Resumption notice

As the Orioles prepare to open the 2011 season against the Rays tonight in Tampa, I've decided to resume blogging here after a few years of inactivity.

Yes, I'm still an Orioles fan after all these years. I still follow the outcome of every O's game, if not with the same obsessiveness that I did before, and I still hope (against my better judgment) that this will be the year they finally turn it around and return to contention.

I plan to get some commentary and analysis here on a more or less weekly basis.

March 31, 2008

Turning the page

For most people the year begins in January, but for me there's nothing like the sense of renewal that baseball's Opening Day brings. The combination of the early signs of spring—flowers blooming, birds chirping—and the return of baseball fills me with optimism and the expectation of better days to come. For me, as for Thomas Boswell and baseball devotees everywhere, time begins on Opening Day.

However, in the last few years my optimism began to fade as I realized that the Orioles were not getting better. Names and faces changed, but the team had become the epitome of baseball mediocrity, and I saw no signs of marked improvement on the horizon. My interest in the O's began to erode, and baseball fell behind in the competition for my attention. Damaging matters further were the revelations about steroid and human growth hormone use that disproportionately implicated current and former Orioles.

Bottoms up

This year, however, is different. True, on the field will be another losing team. Most rational observers think that the Orioles are going to be worse than last year, or even the last seven, with the betting market placing the over/under on the Orioles' 2008 win count at 65.5, the lowest of any MLB team.

What's changed is that there's actually some reason for optimism with the new regime led by Andy MacPhail. Having hit rock bottom after a decade of losing, the Orioles have given up trying to field even a mediocre squad this year at the big-league level. With MacPhail in charge, they have aggressively begun to prune the roster to a core of talented youngsters from which to build an eventual contender.

MacPhail has finally committed the club to all-out rebuilding, something his predecessor, Mike Flanagan, could not do in the last two years because doing so would have essentially confirmed that his work (with and without Jim Beattie) since 2003 had fallen short of the mark.

MacPhail's first offseason was telling. Instead of signing mediocre free agents to plug gaps, MacPhail traded two of the team's best players, Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada, receiving bundles of legitimate prospects and youngish spare parts in return. He also took steps toward improving the club's international scouting efforts, long an organizational weakness. Brian Roberts, arguably the team's best and most popular remaining player, reportedly is next in line to be shipped from the Warehouse if a suitable package of prospects comes along.

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January 10, 2007

Mr. Ripken goes to Cooperstown

He's in.

The announcement was so long expected that it came as no surprise, but yesterday, the word came that Cal Ripken Jr. was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. The kudos are coming in from all over, so why not from here, too? Congratulations, Cal. You deserve it.

In the headlines

Close to home, the Baltimore Sun has given its local boy made good the special-edition treatment in its newspaper and on its web site. The Washington Post has a story by Dave Sheinin, who covered the late years of Ripken's career. And of course, with the annual Hall election results being a major national event, there are articles all over the Internet on the topic, but I'll leave you (and your search engine of choice) to find the ones that suit you.

According to the voting results posted on the Hall's official site, Ripken was named on 537 of the 545 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). His total was five more than the 532 earned by the other enshrinee in this year's class, Tony Gwynn, and Ripken's vote percentage of 98.53% was the third highest in the history of the voting, narrowly trailing Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan's near-unanimous totals in 1992 and 1999, respectively. Ripken put up lots of impressive numbers in his playing career, and the Orioles' #8 is still putting them up even in retirement.

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October 11, 2006

Hey, it was fifty-fifty

Happened to see that the Texas Rangers designated ex-O Jerry Hairston Jr. for assignment today to make room on their forty-man roster.

The Orioles' long recent stretch of futility has made it seem as if every personnel decision they have made has been wrong; whether it be a prospect or veteran, when they keep him he falls apart, when they let him go he blossoms. That's of course an exaggeration born of pessimism, but it's not far off. It's hard to be a losing team for nine straight seasons without making a lot of bad decisions.

But Hairston? He's one of the few symbols of good (or lucky) decisionmaking by the Orioles. Hairston, of course, was one-half of the two second base prospects the Orioles had a few years ago, Brian Roberts being the other one. Hairston got a cup of coffee in 1998, played part time through the Delino DeShields "era," and became a regular in 2001, the same year Roberts appeared on the scene.

And for four years, the Orioles couldn't make a decision. Finally they did last year, and they chose Roberts. And a good decision it was: Hairston was a part time player for the Cubs last year, was dumped early this year on the Rangers, and has now been shown the door after batting .206 for the season; his career is in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, Roberts was an all-star and MVP candidate in 2005, and recovered from a horrific season-ending injury in 2005 to have a solid 2006. (Plus, he's bluish! (No relation to recently-acquired Adam Stern, who's Jewish.))

(The Orioles being the Orioles, and me being me, I can't let the above moment of praise pass without noting the caveat that if the Orioles had made a decision a year or two sooner on Hairston, they wouldn't have had to play this second baseman in the outfield and they might have been able to get more for him than the washed-up remains of Sammy Sosa's career. But that's water under the bridge; the important point is that they did make the right choice in keeping Brian Roberts.)

September 26, 2006

O's are Norfolkin': Good.

The tide finally came in for the Orioles in their search for a new Triple-A affiliate. Or rather, the Tides came in, as in the Norfolk Tides of the International League. Yesterday, the Orioles agreed to a four-year player development contract with the Tides, who replace the Ottawa Lynx atop Baltimore's farm system. The Lynx, as reported earlier, will switch their parent to the Philadelphia Phillies for next season before moving to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2008. Meanwhile, the Orioles' most advanced minor-leaguers will reside at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay from 2007 until at least 2010.

Continue reading "O's are Norfolkin': Good." »

September 14, 2006

Play it again, Sam

So, aside from Erik Bedard pitching yet another stellar game on Wednesday, the big news for the Orioles is that manager Sam Perlozzo is officially coming back in 2007, according to assistant general manager Jim Duquette. (Well, it's relatively big news. How much can you expect to get out of a team that's 20 games under .500 and 25 games out of first?)

I guess it's hard to blame Perlozzo too much for the team's poor performance this year; it's not as if this roster was projected (at least not by me) to be any better than this. And I guess there's something to be said for stability and continuity; shuffling managers every year is just a recipe for chaos and confusion, and without fixing the roster, what's the point? Still, a day after the Orioles clinched their ninth straight losing season, extending the worst streak since the St. Louis Browns moved east, it's not exactly a decision designed to fire up the fan base, now is it? And no matter what his excuses are, so far Perlozzo is hardly distinguishing himself in the annals of Orioles managerdom:

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September 5, 2006

Mainely nonsense

On January 21, the Orioles traded Jorge Julio and John Maine to the Mets for veteran pitcher and Jim Duquette pet Kris Benson. I disliked the trade at the time, feeling that it was yet another example of the Orioles knee-jerkedly seeking guaranteed mediocrity rather than taking a chance on actually developing talent, and I've been following the various players in the trade ever since Maine was called up by the Mets in mid-season. I had intended to blog on this point anyway, but this Question and Answer session in the Baltimore Sun today prompted me to do so now:

Karl, Georgetown, Del.: Now that John Maine is a starting pitcher with the Mets, and considering his recent scoreless inning streak, do the O's have any second thoughts about having traded him away?

Jeff Zrebiec: I don't think so Karl. I certainly haven't heard anybody from the organization express second thoughts.

If I were the sort of person who were snarky, I'd note that having second thoughts require that a team have first thoughts, but since I'm not snarky, I won't say that.
Kris Benson, who they got for Maine and Jorge Julio, has had his moments, and everybody from Leo Mazzone to Sam Perlozzo to Jim Duquette feel like the Orioles starter should probably have about 14 or 15 wins by now if not for some bad luck and bullpen mishaps. They also give him some of the credit for helping out with Erik Bedard.
That's the sort of spin I expect from the front office; it's also the sort of lack of analytical thinking I expect from the local media, which so often uncritically parrots what the team tells it. Before I break that quotedown, though, I want to continue quoting, the part that really raised my blood pressure:
Team officials projected Maine as a No.5 starter No.4 at best. He's obviously improved dramatically. I haven't seen that much of him, but he seems to have improved his velocity and is getting more movement on his fastball. I watched him in his starts with the club last year and he was extremely hittable. Obviously, you have to give him a lot of credit, but I can't imagine that he would have the same numbers if he were pitching in the American League, specifically in the A.L. East.
Yes, and that's the whole point of having young players. They "improve dramatically." Not always, of course. But when you've got a 25-year old (Maine), he's a lot more likely to do so than a 31-year old (Benson). The Orioles never seem to realize that point, and what's worse, they never seem to care.

Anyway, on to the numbers. First, let's just directly compare the players involved:

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