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May 2004 Archives

May 1, 2004

B.J. Ryan: relief ace?

B.J. Ryan is off to an outstanding start, making him the subject of a profile by Dan Connolly in Friday's York Daily Record.

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May 3, 2004

On the internationalization of baseball

Baseball is and always will be a quintessentially American sport, but there's no denying that other countries have increasingly contributed talent to the game at the major-league level. The Orioles typify this trend: by my count, eight players on their 25-man active roster (32%) were born outside of the United States. Here they are, listed next to their nation of origin:

Continue reading "On the internationalization of baseball" »

May 4, 2004

Mike DeJean: relief deuce?

While the Orioles' bullpen has been sharp overall this year, Mike DeJean (pronounced day-zhahn) has been so dismal that I'm wondering why manager Lee Mazzilli has sent him out there in six of the last nine games, three of which have resulted in DeJean taking the loss. If DeJean had not come to the Orioles with such a sturdy backing from the front office, he would be a top candidate to be released. His pitching line speaks an ugly truth:

Mike DeJean's 2004 standard statistics
10 9 2/3 18 11 9 13 9 0 3 0 8.38 6 5

IR: inherited runners; IS: inherited runners scored

Mike DeJean's 2004 rate statistics
8.38 12.10 0.69 3.21 2.57 .419 .525 .500 1.025

Stats from ESPN.com (supplied by STATS, Inc.)

Continue reading "Mike DeJean: relief deuce?" »

May 6, 2004

Conine's travels

A bit of trivia: Jeff Conine, an Oriole from 1999-2003 who was traded to the Florida Marlins last August, is the second-most traveled player in the majors, having visited 38 different stadiums in his career. By my count, that total should reach 43 this year as he plays his first games in the new parks in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Arizona, and San Diego. Only Robin Ventura has played in more ballparks (he's expected to reach 44 this year). Gary Graves of USA Today caught up with Conine recently for a brief, light-hearted chat about his journeys, recounted in "38 parks down, 4 more on tap for vet Conine." A snippet:

Q: What does playing in 38 ballparks say about your career?

A: It means I'm old. Obviously I came into the big leagues at a time of aging stadiums and now I get to see the advent of all the new ones.

Conine is a wise old head who knows what he's talking about. Since breaking in with the Royals in the early 1990s, he has spent an almost equal amount of time in each league, during which he has witnessed the ripple of neoclassical (so to speak) ballpark construction that started with Baltimore's Camden Yards in 1992. Although he is not quite ancient enough to have played in Memorial Stadium (put to rest in 1991) or the old Comiskey Park in Chicago (1990), he was around to play in Cleveland Stadium and Arlington Stadium before they were retired, as well as Mile High in Denver, which the Rockies called home before Coors Field opened.

Q: Your favorite park?

A: Camden Yards (in Baltimore, where he played five seasons for the Orioles).

They may call him Mr. Marlin, but the man has not lost his sense of taste.

May 7, 2004

Rodrigo the meanest bull in the pen

Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post has a story today on Rodrigo López, the savior of the Orioles' pitching staff so far this season. López has quietly contributed several exceptional performances in long relief, often bailing out aborted outings by the team's struggling young starters. He's held batters to a .138 average and a .348 OPS, allowing just 17 baserunners in 23 2/3 innings. Only three out of his eleven inherited runners have scored, and his ERA is an infinitesimal 0.38.

Continue reading "Rodrigo the meanest bull in the pen" »

May 10, 2004

The case for bullpen generalists

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell's latest column discusses the Orioles' attempt to break with the modern orthodoxy of bullpen usage. Instead of going for lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups that typically last one or two batters, manager Lee Mazzilli has often gone with "the next best pitcher" regardless of handedness.

No single person is credited with the strategy, but if the quotes from the story are any indication, team co-VP Mike Flanagan is a key proponent.

"We finally got sick of seeing our games being lost by our 11th or 12th best pitcher in some matchup situation," said co-general manager Mike Flanagan. "Too often, we never even got the game into the hands of our closer because we'd lost somewhere along the way with one of our worst pitchers. Now, we usually only warm up one reliever, then we bring him in -- our Next Best Pitcher -- regardless of who is hitting."

Flanagan also broached this philosophy in a Peter Gammons story on ESPN.com in February.

The O's bullpen should be deep, but Flanagan says, "we want to get away from the lefty-righty thing. We could have from three to five left-handers out there, but John Parrish gets right-handers out better than left-handers, and the rest are equally good against either side. That knee-jerk matchup thing is something we're trying to get away from."

Continue reading "The case for bullpen generalists" »

May 11, 2004

What's on second? (Or is that who?)

The story in town today is the return of Jerry Hairston to the Orioles' active roster, and the debate over how the Orioles should play him now that Brian Roberts has staked a claim for the second-base job.

From the Sun: “Emerging Roberts second to none with Orioles” (Joe Christensen)

From the Washington Post: “For O's, an Unusual Position” (Dave Sheinin)

The Hairston-Roberts dilemma has been hashed and rehashed and mashed to microscopic little fragments, including on this blog, but it looks like decision time is coming up for the O's. For the near term, Roberts will stay at second and Hairston will DH and bat ninth. Writes Sheinin:

"I don't know that the prototypical DH [has to be] a [number] 3, 4 or 5 hitter, that power-type guy," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "With our lineup and the way I like to run our guys, [Hairston at DH] fits in with our style of play."

That sounds all well and good, but it would be foolish for the Orioles to play Hairston at designated hitter every day unless he significantly outhits his .691 career OPS. Moreover, his slick defensive skills, which are the strongest part of his game, would be completely wasted at DH. On the surface, making Hairston the DH doesn't make sense in the long term.

Continue reading "What's on second? (Or is that who?)" »

May 23, 2004

A new look at some old developments

Here's an update on some subjects that have been discussed earlier on this blog.

The Hairston/Roberts quandary: Jerry Hairston has returned to the lineup as a more-or-less everyday player, with two starts at second, seven at DH, and one in left field. So far, he's looked extremely rusty, batting .250/.242/.344. This could have been expected, as Hairston missed most of spring training and served a brief one-week rehab stint, but he's going to have to pick up the pace soon if he wants to stay in the lineup. Unfortunately, Brian Roberts has slumped offensively of late—his OPS has fallen by 93 points since Hairston came off the DL—making for two black holes in the Orioles' lineup. (Some of you may be wondering how Hairston's OBP could be lower than his batting average. The reason is that sacrifice flies count in the denominator for OBP but not for BA, and Hairston has one sacrifice fly and no walks or HBP.)

Rodrigo López: After watching their starters get bombed for most of the last month while Rodrigo (R-Lo? Rod-L? Rod-Lo?) put the clamps on the opposition, the Orioles did the logical thing and reassigned him to the rotation essentially to take the place of demoted Kurt Ainsworth. In his first start on Thursday, Rodrigo looked initially like the ace reliever that he had been, holding the Mariners scoreless for the first four innings. But then he hit a wall and got torched for six runs in the fifth. Although his ability to pitch deep in games is iffy, at this point, he's better used as a starter until the young arms get themselves on track.

Mike DeJean: The sad story continues. DeJean has continued to get rocked nearly every time he's been out there. Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools Report currently ranks DeJean as the worst major-league reliever in Adjusted Runs Prevented. DeJean managed to notch his first hold of the season last Wednesday against Seattle, but was hardly impressive in doing so. Inheriting a 4-1 lead in the seventh with runners on first and third and two outs, he gave up a run-scoring hit and a bases-loading walk before receiving a merciful strike call on a borderline full-count pitch to Édgar Martínez. On Friday against the Angels, he took a 3-1 eighth-inning lead and gave up three straight hits without recording an out. Recent callup Darwin Cubillán relieved DeJean and promptly coughed up the lead, resulting in an agonizing 5-3 loss.

B.J. Ryan: In that Friday game, Lee Mazzilli went to DeJean in the eighth because Ryan had pitched on Tuesday and Wednesday and had told Mazzilli that he was not feeling well that week. That might have given Mazzilli plausible justification for not using Ryan. But DeJean? And in a two-run game against the Angels, who have scored the second-most runs in the league? Ryan, who currently ranks 16th in ARP, eventually entered that game in relief of Cubillán and put out the fire—too late to save that game, unfortunately. Ryan continues to pitch well: left-handed batters are still hitless off him, while righties have managed just a .734 OPS. But the lack of decent bullpen options beyond him and Jorge Julio is hurting the Orioles. It's turning the search for the next-best pitcher into a coin flip.

Calvin Pickering ("He Can't Pick It, But He Sure Can Hit It") has cooled down a little since his scorching start, but he's still hitting an impressive .320/.465/.820 at Omaha. Why isn't this guy DHing for someone?

Speaking of DH's, Jack Cust has not ravaged Triple-A pitching like I thought he would. This year, he's posted a feeble .233/.353/.384 at Ottawa, with just three taters and 32 K's in 118 PA's. That puts him just slightly ahead of shortstop Eddy Garabito (.311/.344/.378) as a hitter. Maybe there was a real regression in Cust's hitting approach this spring that justified the Orioles' decision to take him off the roster. Meanwhile, Cust's Lynx teammates José León (.342/.405/.711) and Pedro Swann (.328/.396/.613) are hitting like there's no tomorrow, and Robert Machado (.319/.372/.487) isn't doing too badly for himself either. Too bad none of them is young enough to be considered a prospect. Anyway, it's nice to have viable options in Triple-A in case of an injury on the big-league club. On the pitching side of the Lynx, recently promoted starter John Maine is struggling for the first time as a professional, with a 6.20 ERA and an 11/8 K/BB ratio in four starts. Looks like he's finally being challenged; let's see how he responds.

Earlier I commented that Miguel Tejada has been a slow starter in his career. Well, this year he had a relatively strong start (for him), with a .326/.374/.453 hitting line in April for an OPS of .827. This bodes well for his season overall, if he heats up during the summer like he normally does.

May 28, 2004

A look inside the Orioles' heads, part 1

Anyone who has read Michael Lewis's bestselling book Moneyball knows the story of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane as a player. Extraordinarily gifted in virtually every physical tool a baseball player could want, Beane was one of the top prospects in the nation coming out of high school. He even had a football scholarship waiting for him at Stanford despite the fact that he had not played football for two years.

Selected in the first round of the 1980 draft by the New York Mets, Beane signed with the team and eventually made it to the majors, yet he never lived up to his athletic promise as a professional because he lacked the right mental traits to succeed. Part of his problems could be traced to a lack of motivation, confidence, and emotional control. His most visible shortcoming was that he did not handle failure well. Whenever Beane struck out, his teammates made sure to keep their distance to avoid suffering collateral damage from his vicious outbursts. His reputation for destructiveness grew to mythical levels, so even his opponents would watch his tantrums for their entertainment value.

Beane's foil in the book is Lenny Dykstra, Beane's teammate coming up through the Mets' system. While Beane carried his mistakes with him everywhere he went, Dykstra never let a little failure bother him. Dykstra was unflappable; he quickly put bad experiences behind him and was able to move on to the next inning, the next at-bat, or the next game. To Beane, Dykstra had the ideal temperament to play baseball, and that conclusion influenced him when it came to making decisions on players as a general manager.

While this little psychological study is a fascinating subplot in the book, the overarching story of Moneyball is the Athletics' ability to find undervalued players by weighting statistically meaningful measures of baseball performance over traditional, overrated metrics. Psychological traits were just one of many pieces of information that went into Oakland's decision-making.

The Baltimore shop

The Orioles' current administration bridges the old and new schools of baseball management. Their top prospect is a high-risk player touted by traditional, tools-based scouting analysis, but team officials have also publicly acknowledged the importance of on-base percentage and have entertained an unorthodox philosophy regarding bullpen usage. But while the Orioles may not be at the forefront of the sabermetric movement, they do appear to have made significant gains in the area of psychological profiling of prospects.

This past Sunday, the television program "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" featured an interview of Dave Ritterpusch, the Orioles' director of baseball information systems. On the program, Ritterpusch described the psychological profiling method that he developed to evaluate players for the Orioles, and how it figures into the Orioles' personnel decisions. This topic was previously covered in an article by John Eisenberg that appeared in the Sun on February 22. On Sunday Ritterpusch expanded on his method, although he stopped short of revealing the most critical details.

For those who are unaware of the show, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is a weekly half-hour program that airs on local television station WNUV 54 (Baltimore's WB affiliate) on Sunday mornings during the baseball season. It is essentially the equivalent of "Meet the Press" for the world of Orioles baseball. Like NBC's Tim Russert, local sports reporter Tom Davis conducts studio interviews of high-profile guests, but instead of grilling policymakers and heads of state, Davis talks one-on-one with Orioles players, coaches, and decision-makers present and past. The tone of the show is informal, but the long format of the program makes it possible for guests to expound in ways that are rarely seen in the mainstream, sound-bite-oriented news media. For Orioles fans seeking coverage of the team in more depth and from a different angle than is available from most news outlets—and if you're reading this, you probably are one of those people—"TMOB" is a unique and valuable resource.

Next: A look into the Ritterpusch interview.

May 29, 2004

Inside the Orioles' heads, part 2

Part One

Welcome back

First off, a little background on Dave Ritterpusch (digested from John Eisenberg's February 22 article in the Sun and a 1996 story by the venerable John Steadman): after graduating from college, serving in the military, and becoming a bank executive at Equitable Trust Co., Ritterpusch was recommended to the Orioles' management by then-minority owner Zanvyl Krieger. Ritterpusch soon became scouting director, a title he carried from 1973 to 1975 in the front office led by General Manager Frank Cashen. Back then, Ritterpusch was one of the first to adopt psychological testing for athletes. His greatest find was Eddie Murray in the third round of the 1973 draft, and that year he also selected Mike Flanagan in the seventh round. Another fruitful pick was Rich Dauer in the '74 draft.

But Ritterpusch was jettisoned when the Orioles' front office turned over in the mid-'70s, and after a failed attempt to latch onto another team, he returned to non-sports jobs. Still, he remained in touch with people in baseball and in the psychological testing community. In the 1990s, he helped Flanagan, then the Orioles' pitching coach, to review pitcher Arthur Rhodes's psychological profile and decide that the best role for Rhodes was in middle relief. When Flanagan and Jim Beattie were selected to lead the Orioles' baseball operations in late 2002, one of their first signees was Ritterpusch as director of baseball information systems.

Ritterpusch, now in his early sixties, has spent most of his life working outside of baseball. His educational record includes a finance degree from Lehigh (1963) and a master's in business administration from Penn State. His work record includes several military positions, including paratrooper and military intelligence officer; he retired from the service with the rank of colonel in 1991. He then served as an assistant secretary of labor in the first Bush administration and has also worked in the private sector for consulting and contracting firms serving the defense industry.

First impressions

Judging from his appearance on Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Ritterpusch looks like he never quite left the '70s—or the military—behind him. On the program, his dark brown, slicked hair was tautly combed and parted to the side. He had on a black suit and a powder-blue, buttoned-collar dress shirt. The knot of his splotchy necktie often disappeared beneath his jowly jawline. It was not hard to imagine that Ritterpusch once worked in military intelligence. Large, brown-tinted aviator sunglasses with gold rims obscured his eyes throughout the interview, making it tough to read his facial expressions. Often pausing to consider his thoughts before answering a question, Ritterpusch spoke in a steady tone of voice that was low-key yet confident, in a manner akin to Dick Cheney. His every utterance sounded carefully measured and vetted to demonstrate the soundness of his knowledge while providing no more detail than necessary.

Ritterpusch began by describing the Orioles' reports on Flanagan and Murray from when they were being scouted as potential draftees. He immediately gravitated to his specialty and emphasized the mental aspect of each player. Flanagan, he said, "had terrific makeup, terrific mental toughness, terrific composure." Ritterpusch added that he had checked with Baltimore doctors about a prior arm injury of Flanagan's and was reassured that it would not be a problem.

Murray is clearly the crown jewel in Ritterpusch's prospecting history, and on the 2003 Hall of Fame inductee he said: "Any of us who have seen Eddie and know Eddie well know that he is an extremely composed individual.... We had used our psychological profiles and knew he had very high drive, and we knew it was masked by something called emotional control. Now, we really didn't realize how important emotional control would be in Eddie's career, but of course that's one of the things that enabled him to be a selective hitter and hit over .400 with the bases loaded." Ritterpusch also noted with some satisfaction that while the psychological profile attracted the Orioles to Murray, other clubs did not even have Murray on their draft lists.

Continue reading "Inside the Orioles' heads, part 2" »

May 30, 2004

Taking swings at the Orioles' pitching staff

I'll briefly interrupt the psycho-profiling series to address a recent chorus of criticism in the print media about the Orioles' pitching woes. No fewer than four columns have addressed the issue in the last four days:

The outcry came in the wake of the Orioles' six-game losing slide of the past week, particularly the three taterrific Yankee games in which the Orioles allowed 41 runs to the Bronx Bombers. The pitching slump eased during a three-game sweep of the Tigers this weekend, but with a game tomorrow in Boston immediately followed by a three-game set in New York, it looks like it may be another long week ahead.

Of the four writers, Loverro was by far the most scathing. He took several shots at the Orioles' brain trust for going with such an inexperienced starting rotation, leading to a pitching situation that is "in chaos." Loverro compares the 2004 O's to the 2003 Texas Rangers, a team that was undone by its league-worst pitching. He includes this bon mot as a word of advice to manager Lee Mazzilli: “It might be a good idea to have a few choices words [sic] for your team, and particularly Sir Sidney Ponson, who clearly misunderstands the role of being the No. 1 guy on the staff. It doesn't mean the guy with the highest ERA on the staff.”

Boswell did not dwell as much on the Orioles' pitching problems in his column; he saw the losing string as the first big test for Mazzilli in his first season as a big-league manager. Boswell tried to avoid convenient second-guessing, but he did make one concrete recommendation about the pitching staff. He wrote, “Mazzilli should reverse one decision quickly: Send Rodrigo Lopez back to the bullpen, where he was becoming a star. That's probably the only significant mistake Mazzilli has made.”

Connolly, in his Friday column, turned up the pressure on the Orioles to deal one of their second basemen to fill holes on the team, particularly in the starting rotation: “A trade seems essential if the club is serious about playing competitive baseball this season. Heck, a trade is essential if the club wants its relievers to last through July.”

Schmuck, in his Sunday Orioles Focus column, agreed with Boswell's point about López and echoed Connolly's suggestion to deal a second baseman:

[López] certainly earned the chance to start again when Matt Riley came up sore and Kurt Ainsworth came unglued. It just wasn't the best thing for the team, and now it should be obvious to all that he needs to go back to the bullpen as soon as possible.

.... The first step toward addressing the pitching crisis and restoring the continuity of the batting order is pretty obvious. The Orioles need to make a deal. They need to trade Hairston as quickly as possible for a veteran starting pitcher who can get into the sixth inning and allow Lopez to return to the middle relief role he filled so well.

That might also require the club to give up a quality pitching prospect, something Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan don't want to do, but something dynamic has to be done before this turns into a seventh straight lost season.

The sky is falling! Give me the head of ___! Don't just stand there—do something!

In evaluating the Orioles' stumbles, Schmuck's central assertion is that "the 2004 season started to unravel when the club began fixing all the things that weren't broken." But in the Orioles' defense, there was and is no easy solution for the second-base logjam. Although playing Hairston at DH hampers the club in the short term, he needs at-bats to get his swing back and convince other teams that he has fully recovered from his injuries of the last two years. The Orioles have also been able to spot him a couple of starts in the outfield to increase his utility while they examine possible trade avenues. Hairston's weak start and Roberts's slump have especially smarted during a time in which the Orioles have faced several challenging opponents, but there is no concrete evidence that their offensive struggles have been caused by the uncertainty of their situation. While the Orioles have not turned lemons into lemonade, they have not mishandled the situation either.

Likewise, López's move into the rotation was not an easy decision; it was warranted because of the struggles and injuries of Riley and Ainsworth. After two starts, it's too soon to conclude that the best place for López is in the bullpen—even good pitchers can have two bad starts in a row. But Riley is apparently healthy enough to return after his four perfect innings for Ottawa on Saturday, and he clearly did not adapt well to relieving earlier this month. So the best move for the team may be to send López back to his long relief role.

Continue reading "Taking swings at the Orioles' pitching staff" »

About May 2004

This page contains all entries posted to The Orioles Warehouse in May 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2004 is the previous archive.

June 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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