Analysis Archives

March 21, 2004

Patience is a virtue

I've heard of impatience, but this is ridiculous. Laura Vecsey -- who, in a town graced with bad sportswriters over the years, has to represent rock bottom -- is already clamoring for the Orioles to make a trade. The season hasn't even begun, and she has already decided not merely that the Orioles aren't going to win -- a position I would agree with -- but that the team needs to make a trade for a pitcher because none of our prospects can produce.

As is typical for Vecsey, unfortunately, she starts a column with a brief thought -- that the Orioles should make a trade (a common theme of hers) -- and provides a complete lack of follow-through. She thinks the team needs a starting pitcher and a designated hitter. (Her explanation for why the team needs a designated hitter is limited to the claim that David Segui, Jack Cust and B.J. Surhoff present "issues." The only "issue" I see there is, "Can the Orioles tell a good player from washed up ones"? ) But she can't manage to make a proposal as to who the Orioles should trade -- not surprisingly, since the Orioles don't have any trade bait -- or who they should trade for.

Well, that's not quite true. She does manage this confusing set of statements:

Ponson, Ainsworth and DuBose? Oh, no. The Orioles' good young arms of tomorrow are just that. Tomorrow. Talk to Adam Loewen now about how he feels about demanding a major league contract. There's a reason they call this the big leagues. Time to find a No. 2 or 3 starter to bolster this rotation. Kris Benson, Odalis Perez, Danny Haren, Jarrod Washburn.
Huh? Vecsey never seems to be particularly familiar with baseball, but these particular comments are more ignorant than usual. Benson hasn't had a good year since Bill Clinton was president. Perez has had one good year in his entire career. But it's Danny Haren that really takes the cake. Danny Haren? He's a 23 year old who has 72 bad major league innings to his credit. How exactly are any of these three guys less questionable than Rodrigo Lopez, Matt Riley, Josh Stephens, or Omar Daal?

The Orioles have gone out and spent a lot of money this offseason -- it's true. But this is not a team built for short term success, and one more pitcher isn't going to change that. Particularly not the sort of pitcher the Orioles are going to be able to pick up. Why not see what the guys the team has can do, before rushing out to make a trade?

Oh, and doesn't Vecsey have a fact checker?

Snag Vazquez from the Expos, who smartly took Nick Johnson and Miguel Cairo from the Andy Pettitte-less, Roger Clemens-less and David Wells-less Yankees.
Miguel Cairo? The 30 year old utility infielder? No. Juan Rivera. The 26 year old outfield prospect. Guess all those Latin players look the same to her. They are both from Venezuela. Close enough.

March 25, 2004

Cust on the cusp?

Jack Cust, the power-hitting prospect obtained in the Chris Richard trade last spring, has yet to break through in the major leagues, and he is out of minor-league options. An article by Joe Christensen in today's Baltimore Sun gives a positive assessment of Cust's chances of making the Orioles' roster:

Though Cust's numbers are down this spring and he is viewed as a one-dimensional player -- all bat, no glove, and ... please ... no base-running -- team officials privately say he's a lock to make the roster.

Continue reading "Cust on the cusp?" »

March 29, 2004

On Tejada: Money Matters

First in a series of articles about the Orioles' most prominent newcomer, Miguel Tejada

Shortly after Miguel Tejada signed with the Orioles last December for six years and $72 million, columnist Rob Neyer wrote in a column that the Orioles may have landed a bargain. Neyer contended that Tejada, of late, has been about as good as fellow shortstops Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra, and considering what Jeter and Garciaparra will make in upcoming years, Tejada might actually be underpaid. Neyer is probably the most widely read columnist in sabermetric circles, so his opinion carries considerable weight. But he made this comparison with a broad brush, using only Win Shares and salary estimates to illustrate his point. This article will take a closer look at that trio. Is Tejada really as good as Garciaparra and Jeter? How much bang are the Orioles and their fans getting for their 72 million bucks?

Continue reading "On Tejada: Money Matters" »

Setting the roster

With less than a week left before the regular season starts, the Orioles have most of their roster in place. By my count, 19 players are locks to make the Opening Day squad, which leaves six slots open to competition. (Three injured players—four, if Mark McLemore is added to the roster—will start the season on the disabled list.)

The starting lineup has been determined, and four-fifths of the pitching rotation is set. The fifth starter will be either Rodrigo López or Erik Bedard, according to today's Washington Post. Five relievers are assured places in the bullpen. Depending on how many position players Mazzilli wants on his bench, he may choose to keep eleven or twelve pitchers, leaving room for one or two relievers from among Bedard, López, and Rick Bauer.

That leaves four or five spots on the bench for position players. As reported last week, Jack Cust is likely to make the roster as a backup outfielder/DH. Another spot will be given to the backup catcher, who will be either Gerónimo Gil or Keith Osik. McLemore's injury allows either Clay Bellinger or Luis López to fill the backup infielder role for at least the initial part of the season, although Jim Beattie was quoted in the Post as having interest in Damian Jackson, recently released by the Rockies.

The final decision on the bench will likely be whether to keep untested Rule 5 draftee José Bautista or aging local favorite B.J. Surhoff. If the team goes with an eleven-man pitching staff, it may be able to keep both Bautista and Surhoff for the early part of the season. Carlos Méndez is a longshot to squeak onto the roster as an emergency catcher and pinch-hitter.

The latest camp depth chart appears below along with some of the likely starters at Triple-A Ottawa.

Continue reading "Setting the roster" »

April 2, 2004

Tejada's Offense: Applied Relativity

Second in a series of articles about the Orioles' most prominent newcomer, Miguel Tejada

The same week of his December 2003 column on Miguel Tejada, Rob Neyer was asked in an chat if Tejada, who hit a superficially unimpressive .278/.336/.472 (BA/OBP/SLG) in 2003, was really worth $12 million a year. Neyer responded succinctly, "Yes, I think [Tejada] is worth $12 million in this market. You're talking about a player who's every bit as good as Nomar Garciaparra."

Continue reading "Tejada's Offense: Applied Relativity" »

April 4, 2004

O-pening Day analysis

If you've been following the Orioles' Opening Day coverage in the mainstream news media and still find yourself unsatiated, Ben Jacobs of The Hardball Times has posted a hard-hitting analysis of the 2004 Orioles called "Five Questions: Baltimore Orioles." The questions he asks (and attempts to answer) are:

1) How much will Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmeiro help the Orioles?
2) Haven't we seen this before from the Orioles?
3) What does 2004 have in store for Melvin Mora?
4) How good is Baltimore's young outfield?
5) Is there any hope for Baltimore's starting rotation?

I think that Jacobs's assessment of the team is largely spot-on, although he doesn't really say anything groundbreaking. Most of the information in the article should be common knowledge to any Orioles fan worth his salt.

I will also add that the use of statistics in the article is on the heavy side, even for an inveterate stathead like me. Who really needs to know Erik Bedard's minor-league strikeout rates to two decimal places?

For those who are unfamiliar with the source, THT is an online publication of pro baseball analysis. It was begun not long ago as a collaboration of several fine writers from across the country, including distinguished bloggers Aaron Gleeman and Larry Mahnken.

April 7, 2004

Tejada's Offense, Part 2: A Splittin' Image

Third in a series of articles about the Orioles' most prominent newcomer, Miguel Tejada

The previous article in this series looked at various facets of Miguel Tejada's offensive game, including his home-road splits and hitting with runners on base. To further add to the picture of Tejada as a hitter, here are a few more cross-sectional slices of Tejada's hitting statistics.

Continue reading "Tejada's Offense, Part 2: A Splittin' Image" »

April 20, 2004

Hit the road (to Ottawa), Jack

After the Orioles designated Jack Cust for assignment on April 9 to make room on the big-league roster for Erik Bedard, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the Orioles' sabermetric community. I discussed Cust earlier—he is a flawed player, but he still has too much promise as a hitter to be surrendered for nothing.

However, I have yet to see a commensurate level of surprise at what happened after that: not a single major-league team claimed Cust off waivers. After ten days, the rights to Cust then reverted to the Orioles, who assigned him to Triple-A Ottawa.

I have to say that I was shocked. After all, one week earlier the Orioles had let go of John Stephens, another flawed prospect held in high esteem among performance analysts, and saw the Red Sox (who have the vanguard of the sabermetric movement on staff as an adviser) claim him and add him to their 40-man roster. I expected something similar to happen to Cust. Despite Cust's defensive deficiencies, I thought that surely an American League team with a weak farm system (Red Sox, Yankees) or a sabermetrically savvy front office (Athletics, Blue Jays) or a weak major-league roster (Devil Rays) could find a place for him. Perhaps an NL team needing bench depth (Giants) would find a role for him as a pinch-hitter and spot starter. But no one bit. And it's not like some teams fell asleep at the waiver wire, either, because the move drew extra attention when MLB found the Orioles guilty of calling up Bedard too early after the transaction was announced and reversed it, forcing the Orioles to place Cust back on their roster for a few more days. One reason for the other teams' hesitation was that (to quote beat writer Gary Washburn) "any team that claimed Cust would have had to place him on the 25-man roster." This was not true in Stephens's case.

But the total lack of interest from 29 big-league teams showed just how far Cust has fallen in the eyes of MLB talent evaluators. This is the same guy who made a lot of top-50 and top-100 prospect lists just a few years ago, who has an impressive .299 BA/.436 OBP/.551 SLG in his minor-league career, who was one of the Orioles' top hitting prospects when he was acquired from the Rockies in March of 2003, who has nearly three full AAA seasons under his belt, who posted an impressive .878 OPS in a limited role last year, and who is still just 25 years old. What happened? Are all those teams dunderheads for passing on him? Or were they right, and have the stat-heads overrated Cust and turned a blind eye to his flaws?

Continue reading "Hit the road (to Ottawa), Jack" »

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.

Continue reading "B.J. Ryan: relief ace?" »

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 (supplied by STATS, Inc.)

Continue reading "Mike DeJean: relief deuce?" »

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 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" »

June 3, 2004

Mora is better... no, make that the best

It's not often that an Oriole wins the American League Player of the Month award, as Melvin Mora has done for his scalding month of May at the plate. “Mora named AL Player of the Month” (Gary Washburn)

Baltimore Sun: “Mora adds Player of Month to All-Star bid” (Joe Christensen)

Mora's .402 batting average, .480 on-base percentage, and .701 slugging percentage last month all led the league. For the season, he's at .377/.459/.598. He ranks first in the league in batting average and runs scored, and he's second in OBP, fourth in slugging, and ninth in RBI.

Needless to say, those numbers represent a phenomenal level of production, comparable to what he accomplished in the first half of last year. Yet Mora is still not making much of an impact on the national radar. In the first month of All-Star voting, for example, he did not get enough votes to be listed among the top five AL third basemen, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Associated Press. As the reigning MVP, Alex Rodríguez should get the benefit of the doubt in the early voting, but Mora has out-hit all of his peers at the hot corner this year. Even after taking his fielding struggles into account, he is one of the top two or three third basemen in baseball right now. But a lot of people still view him as a flash in the pan, a guy playing above his head who will come back down sooner or later.

Continue reading "Mora is better... no, make that the best" »

June 6, 2004

Inside the Orioles' heads, part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Profiles in reflection

With the amateur draft scheduled to take place Monday and Tuesday, the Orioles no doubt have compiled their list of the top eligible players. As discussed earlier, the psychological ratings of their director of baseball information systems, Dave Ritterpusch, will have a significant influence on the selection process—greater, perhaps, than for any other team. The psychological profiles help winnow the field by eliminating those who are least mentally prepared to play baseball at an elite level. They also provide a tipping factor when deciding among prospects of similar ability.

There is a danger that the Orioles could go overboard with their perceived competitive advantage in psychological profiling. The mental side of the game is important, but prospects who are mentally strong and motivated still need the physical aptitude to succeed against first-rate competition, as Ritterpusch himself acknowledges. From what I've seen, I'm not terribly confident in the Orioles' ability to go beyond typical scouting metrics like the five tools and assess the more subtle assets that show up only on the field in live competition (and in certain statistics). Does the player have the ability to pick up the nuances of the game and to make the proper adjustments when necessary? How good is a hitter's command of the strike zone? How well does a pitcher create movement on his pitches and deception in his delivery? How quickly does an outfielder pick up the ball off the bat? Ritterpusch's confidence in his findings may cause the Orioles to overrate players who have strong psychological and physical profiles but lack the "baseball intelligence" that is necessary for success in the game.

There is also the possibility that the Orioles could miss out on some very good players by discounting psychologically suboptimal prospects from their consideration. Ritterpusch indicated that an "overwhelming majority" of star players score highly in certain key traits. But just how small is that underwhelming minority of stars who are deficient in one or more of the key traits? Ten percent? Twenty? Albert Belle was a seeming exception to the rule, a highly motivated player with All-Star talent who also exhibited antisocial behavior. His frequent outbursts directed at fans and the media (and, sometimes, inanimate objects) suggest that he may have rated low on emotional control. I guess the bottom-line question is: at what point is it appropriate to allow for exceptions to the key traits?

Ritterpusch did not mention by name any players who did poorly on their psychological tests, probably because of legal repercussions—aside from the possibility of a libel suit, there are probably privacy and confidentiality protections involved. But I'd still like to know how certain players profiled. Could the troubles of Steve Blass disease sufferers—among them Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblauch, and Rick Ankiel—have been predicted? What were the profiles of oddballs like Mark Fidrych, Jim Walewander, and Randy Myers? And a psychological contrast between Moneyballers Billy Beane and Lenny Dykstra would be interesting for its own sake. Although many players' personality traits become obvious in press reportage, it's still interesting to know what goes on inside the heads of the most unusual athletes.

What about profiles for managers and coaches? For them, leadership and responsibility would intuitively be important. The ASP, however, is not the ideal test to determine a managerial candidate's fitness for the job, since it is customized for athletes. A test designed to measure aptitude for business managers would probably be more appropriate.

And further tests for players may come if the trend continues and clubs are willing to contribute to some up-front costs. In addition to psychological questionnaires, high-profile players may need to take physicals before the draft and make them available to interested teams. Pitchers may be asked to have an MRI scan done on their pitching arm and submit pitch-count and injury histories. Technology advances are making the accumulation and dissemination of such data extremely convenient.

If all this testing sounds like overkill, it's not. It's becoming an increasingly common practice in industry. A recent AP story indicates that businesses such as the Pathmark supermarket chain are incorporating computerized screening tests (which include some personality-related questions) into their hiring processes. As long as the test methods and accuracy are sound, it makes a lot of sense. A résumé and interview can only tell so much about a person. The more relevant information that hiring managers have in hand, the better equipped they are to make decisions on the hiring and placement of personnel.

There will always be uncertainty in any process involving human beings. But as long as it exists, people will always be looking for economical ways to reduce it. And that is true in life as well as in baseball.

June 8, 2004

Draft day 1 recap

The Orioles made seventeen picks in the first eighteen rounds on the first day of the amateur draft. (Their second-round pick went to Oakland as compensation for Miguel Tejada.) Their first day's haul was a relatively even mix of eight pitchers and nine position players. There are no runts in this litter: every one of the picks is over six feet tall, and only one is listed at under 180 pounds.

For the third straight year, the Birds went with a heavy concentration of college players in the initial part of the draft. This year is their most college-loaded yet: so far they have selected fourteen university products and just three high-schoolers. All fourteen of their college draftees are from four-year institutions. The league has been trending towards college players in the last few drafts, but Baltimore has gone farther than most of their peers in that direction.

Baltimore's top pick, eighth overall, was right-hander Wade Townsend, one of the vaunted triumvirate who pitched Rice University to the NCAA championship last year. The other two, Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann, were selected third and fourth overall. Townsend is a stud both physically (6'4", 225 lbs.) and statistically (12-0, 1.80 ERA, 11.1 K/9 IP, 3.29 K/BB in 2004, his junior season). Because of his burdensome workload during the college season, which ended on Sunday, I would expect the Orioles to rest his arm for most of the remainder of this summer. But it's hard not to get excited about a talent like Townsend, and it will be interesting to see which pitcher of the Rice trio ends up with the best major-league career. This longitudinal study suggests that only one of every three first-round picks becomes a significant contributor in the majors, although the draft data used in the study are from fifteen years ago, so its conclusions may not be quite the same in today's draft.

A rundown of Oriole-related draft articles (in order of decreasing informativeness):

The Orioles' second pick, which came in the third round, was Jeff Fiorentino, a power-hitting outfielder from Florida Atlantic University. Baltimore selected him as a catcher, but he only recently started playing the position, so it may be a stretch to expect him to handle it at the professional level.

An updated list of the Orioles' picks, with scouting reports on several of them, is on the 2004 Baltimore draft page on

On the second day of the draft in recent years, the Orioles have veered toward a mix of mature college seniors to fill out the farm system and high-school and junior-college "reach" picks with draft-and-follow potential. Given that the quality of talent decreases rapidly after the first ten rounds or so, it's as good a strategy as any, and I would expect the Orioles to continue that tactic today.

June 16, 2004

Will the real, slimmer Sidney please stand up?

Head over to Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral starter rankings at the Baseball Prospectus site and at the top of the "Flakiest ML Starters" rankings, you will find a name familiar to Orioles fans:

Flakiest 10 ML Starters (ranked by variance of SNVA):
(7 starts minimum)

Pitcher       Team   APW  SNVA   SNVA Var.
Ponson,S       BAL  -2.1  -1.6    0.088
Hampton,M      ATL  -0.8  -0.4    0.081
Valdez,I       SDP  -0.5  -0.6    0.079
Estes,S        COL  -0.5  -0.4    0.079
Willis,D       FLA   0.6   0.8    0.077
Dickey,R       TEX  -1.1  -0.8    0.077
Pineiro,J      SEA  -0.4  -0.4    0.076
Ainsworth,K    BAL  -1.7  -1.2    0.075
Gobble,J       KCR  -0.5  -0.2    0.075
Lackey,J       ANA  -0.8  -0.4    0.074

(as of June 14, 2004)

Less mathematically versed readers may want to know what "variance of SNVA (Support-Neutral Value Added)" is. Essentially, a high SNVA variance means that a pitcher has had wide swings in the quality of his starts. And sure enough, a look at Sidney Ponson's game log indicates that among his fourteen starts this season, he has had four quality starts (at least six innings pitched with at most three earned runs allowed) but also seven starts in which he has allowed six earned runs or more.

Contrast that with last season, in which he had quality starts in 58% of his outings and not once allowed as many as six earned runs in a start. That kind of consistent quality attracted the interest of the San Francisco Giants going into the stretch run and made the Orioles feel confident enough in January to offer him $22.5 million in guaranteed money for 2004-2006.

A royal riddle

Ponson's 2004 failures have largely mystified him. After some of his poor starts this year, he has told the press essentially that he didn't think he pitched all that badly, but that opposing batters got hits on a lot of good pitches. This kind of remark can be interpreted in two ways. It could come across as a charitable act of sportsmanship that gives credit to a worthy opponent. Or it could look like a denial of personal responsibility that blames his lack of success on bad luck or even poor defense. As former Oriole Mike Mussina has learned in New York, fans and journalists will usually take the latter view and label the commenter a whiny complainer.

Either way, Ponson has refused to accept complete responsibility for his frequently gruesome results, and in particular he has never admitted that his weight (initially 265 pounds, now reportedly in the 250's) may have played a role in his struggles. This combination of unsatisfactory performance and a defensive posture with the press has irked everyone in the Orioles community, from the badgering media and demanding fans to Baltimore's coaches and management. The following articles indicate the scope of the unrest:

Ponson thinks that his command of his pitches has gone awry just enough to make him ineffective. As quoted on

“I am throwing the ball one or two inches the wrong way right now,” he said. “Sometimes in this game, that's all you have to be off is by a few inches. I feel good when I am pitching but I am not throwing the ball where I want to throw it.”

More than his command, Ponson's weight has provided a convenient target for his detractors. Jim Palmer, who at 58 years old is still trim enough to credibly pose in Jockey briefs, has been an especially shrill critic of Ponson's lack of fitness. In the Sheinin story, he delivered this scathing rebuke:

“Part of the responsibility of being a professional athlete is you show up in shape,” Palmer said. “The tragic irony of Steve Bechler's death is that the one guy came in overweight. The other guy came in overweight. One guy makes a minor league salary; the other makes $4 million. The one guy dies tragically, and the other guy keeps carrying around extra weight and gets a huge contract. That's irresponsible.”

Ponson's overweight is certainly a concern, but it is hardly a new phenomenon. He carried about 250 pounds last year, too, and it did not appear to hamper his pitching all that much. So there are probably other, less obvious factors that have led to his problems this season. What are these factors (if they exist)? Are they likely to change in the near future?

Continue reading "Will the real, slimmer Sidney please stand up?" »

June 18, 2004

Lefties leave O's out to pasture

Perusing the news reports of the Orioles' third straight loss to the Dodgers, I noticed this paragraph buried deep in Dave Sheinin's story in the Washington Post:

Los Angeles's Kaz Ishii was the second in a string of five straight left-handed starters the Orioles will face during this road trip, including three straight this weekend at Colorado -- a fact which bodes poorly for their chances, given the team's collective .236 average against lefties (last in the league) entering Thursday.

I hadn't really noticed that the Orioles were struggling so much against left-handers this year, and I would not have guessed that such would be the case before the season started. After all, only three regulars, Rafael Palmeiro, Jay Gibbons, and Larry Bigbie, are left-handed hitters, and all three had held their own against lefties prior to this year.

Continue reading "Lefties leave O's out to pasture" »

Newhan is O's new man

I caught this note in the Sun's Orioles notes this morning:

The Orioles signed Texas Rangers infield prospect David Newhan last night to give them another left-handed bat off the bench, and he'll be in uniform tonight when they begin a three-game series in Colorado.

Given the team's struggles against left-handed pitching, it hardly seems urgent to get another left-handed bat. Newhan is not a bad fellow to have on the bench, though. While not good enough of a hitter to be a regular, his minor-league record indicates that he has some on-base ability and enough power to occasionally turn on a pitch. And he can fill in at first, second, or third base. That makes him more attractive than current sub Luis López, who has never really hit well anywhere he's been.

Newhan, incidentally, is the son of esteemed L.A. Times baseball writer Ross Newhan. That family link should immediately put him in good stead with the local press.

June 22, 2004

D-Baut out, Grimsley in: a grisly trade?

Yesterday the Orioles traded Double-A pitcher Denny Bautista for reliever Jason Grimsley from the Kansas City Royals. Bautista, who flopped in a two-game stint with the major-league club last month, was one of two pitching prospects acquired from the Marlins in the Jeff Conine deal last August. (The other, Don Levinski, has been ineffective at Single-A Frederick due mostly to shoulder problems.) As part of the deal, Grimsley signed a one-year contract extension for 2005, apparently for $2 million.

Selected citations:

This swap looks like an attempt by the Orioles to save face and stabilize their pitching staff after last week's seven-game losing streak dropped Baltimore to last place in the division. The Birds need pitching help, having by far the worst ERA in the American League at 5.45 (KC is next at 4.96). The injuries of Rick Bauer, Eric DuBose, and Kurt Ainsworth have left the staff short on arms with no ready replacements at Triple-A Ottawa. (That is not entirely true. Bruce Chen and Aaron Rakers have put up respectable stats for the Lynx and merited a look-see. But neither is a great prospect, and since neither is on the 40-man roster, someone would have to be removed from the Orioles' roster for one of them to be called up.)

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July 7, 2004

When being right is oh, so wrong

The Orioles sent in their "White Flag" lineup last night to combat Tampa Bay's soft-tossing lefty Mark Hendrickson:

Orioles' starting lineup, July 6, 2004
Player Pos Bats 2004 OPS
v. LHP
Brian Roberts DH S .633
Jerry Hairston 2B R .975
Miguel Tejada SS R 1.084
Javy López C R .879
Rafael Palmeiro 1B L .508
Luis Matos CF R .485
Chad Mottola LF R 1.333
Luis López 3B S .774
Tim Raines Jr. RF S .750

(OPS figures were from before last night's game. By the end of the game, all of those numbers had dropped except the Lópezes'.)

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July 10, 2004

Birds' brains and Bauer: the bodies impolitic

Right-hander Rick Bauer fired several parting shots at Oriole management on his way back to the minors. His cross remarks came immediately after being informed of his demotion—and likely exclusion from the ballclub's future plans—by manager Lee Mazzilli, pitching coach Ray Miller, executive vice president Jim Beattie, and director of baseball administration Ed Kenney after Wednesday's game.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun (“Told he's unwanted, irked Bauer demoted, perhaps for last time”):

“I'm extremely surprised. The move probably shouldn't shock me with what's been going on this year. I probably shouldn't put it past them....

“They said I'm the 13th guy, I can't pitch for this team, they didn't think I could pitch here at all and they're trying to get rid of me—to be almost word for word. I like Baltimore, but I really don't have a choice. I don't get to make that decision.

“To flat-out hear I can't pitch here, that's kind of a joke because I've done it the past two or three years. Now all of a sudden, no? I had one horrible outing in Chicago. Minus that, and I'm probably one of the more effective guys on the team. But I guess that doesn't really count for anything.”

As transcribed by's Gary Washburn (“Hot Bauer sent down”):

“Deep down, yeah, I'm hurt. Because I busted my (tail) for this organization. So to hear that, especially getting kicked to the curb. You are washed up and you're 27. I am going to go put up zeroes [in the minors] like I always do, every time. And maybe somebody will pick me up, who knows? They said they were pretty much going to get rid of me. I have a bad ERA, that's it. I have no idea how to take that. Do I take it as a guy who (stinks)? Or as a guy who's looking for an opportunity.”

“I had one horrible outing in Chicago, besides that I am one of the more effective guys on this team,” he said. “But I guess that doesn't really count for anything. I am going to go deal in Triple-A as I always do for the past four years. Maybe somebody will give me a shot, I don't care if it's in the bullpen, anywhere. I just want to go back to the majors.”

Bauer's comments were unusually candid and undiplomatic. The opportunistic media, always looking for a fresh quote, lapped up his frustrations right after he had received the bad news—and, presumably, before he had taken the time to calm down and internalize the information. So while his words at the time were emotionally honest, if asked again today Bauer would probably put things differently, having had the benefit of some reflection. But let's parse his initial reaction and see if his thoughts were valid. (Apologies in advance to Linda Ronstadt.)

Continue reading "Birds' brains and Bauer: the bodies impolitic" »

July 14, 2004

Midseason analysis: a Birds-eye view

With the Orioles carrying a record of 37–48 at the All-Star break, discontent reigns in Birdland. Owner Peter Angelos has publicly expressed his disappointment with his team, and rumors have circulated that manager Lee Mazzilli's job status for next year is up in the air. It's true that the Birds have underachieved in their first half-season under Mazzilli. But their problems go far beyond the purview of a manager's influence. The main culprits so far have been wildly ineffective pitching and leaky defense. The offense, as expected, has been better than last year, but has also been impaired by lousy situational hitting, a suddenly punchless outfield, and weak production from the DH spot.

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July 15, 2004

O's skewered by the Post

The Washington Post's Orioles beat writer, Dave Sheinin, has penned a scathing report on the Orioles' underwhelming first half of the season. In the lengthy article, Sheinin shines a harsh spotlight on rookie manager Lee Mazzilli, turns the lens to Peter Angelos's renewed meddlesome ways, and recaps the many things that have gone wrong on the field for the Birds this year. The most disturbing revelations:

  • Mazzilli has “lost the clubhouse,” according to two anonymous veteran players.
  • Angelos used his veto powers in last month's draft to dictate that the Orioles' first-round pick be a college pitcher.
  • Angelos became so infuriated with Sidney Ponson's woes that he checked into the possibility of voiding the pitcher's contract because Ponson had failed to keep himself in first-class physical condition.
  • Mazzilli has not blended in with the returning contingent of Oriole coaches as seamlessly as hoped: “According to clubhouse sources, Mazzilli's relationship with his coaches is distant at best, cool at worst.”
  • In the season opener, Maz actually wanted to bring in left-hander Buddy Groom, not right-hander Rodrigo López, to face the left-handed hitter Johnny Damon, but a mix-up led to López entering the game. Mazzilli, as we know, was subsequently praised for going against convention while giving the demoted López an immediate chance to make an impact.
  • Maz made another blunder on June 17 when he went on the field to make a switch before López was ready to enter the game.

Continue reading "O's skewered by the Post" »

July 21, 2004

Orioles send message: Performance matters

Two developments of note from Monday:

DeJean gone, García is here-ah

Our long regional nightmare is over. The Birds traded pitcher Mike "I Give No Relief" DeJean to the New York Mets for journeyman outfielder Karim García. The Baltimore Sun speculates that other trades may be forthcoming.

The two teams essentially swapped one problem child for another. Opposing hitters blasted DeJean's ERA to the outer reaches of the solar system at the beginning of this season, and although he had been pitching better over the last month or so, he was not really an asset to the bullpen. Moreover, last month's acquisition of Jason Grimsley made DeJean redundant.

Continue reading "Orioles send message: Performance matters" »

July 23, 2004

O's open the door to closer Julio

According to today's Baltimore Sun, “the Orioles are giving serious thought to trading closer Jorge Julio before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, with multiple teams showing interest in acquiring him as a primary setup man.” Potential trading partners mentioned are the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

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August 1, 2004

J Hairston, CF?

My "coming-real-soon-now" research articles on the Orioles are in a perpetual state of construction, reconstruction, and redaction, so to keep this blog from sinking into total paralysis I'll add my thoughts on Jerry Hairston's move into center field yesterday.

This was a surprisingly bold and creative move for manager Lee Mazzilli and rest of the Oriole braintrust. It was spurred in part by the injury of Luis Matos, which led to Karim García, Larry Bigbie, Tim Raines Jr., and Darnell McDonald taking turns in center for the Birds over the last two weeks, with none showing the ability to handle the position both offensively and defensively.

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August 11, 2004

Orioles in the media: The Sun

Note: This is part one of a series on the coverage of the Orioles in the media.

Publication name: The Sun (aka The Baltimore Sun to avoid confusion with other papers with "Sun" in the name)

Beat writers: Roch Kubatko, Joe Christensen

Columnists: Peter Schmuck, Laura Vecsey, John Eisenberg

Average in-season coverage:

  • Daily:
    • if a game was played, one game recap about 24 column-inches (800-900 words) long
    • one team notes story 600 to 900 words in length
    • brief recaps of Oriole minor-league affiliates
  • Weekly:
    • "Orioles Focus" column on Sundays
    • minor-league notes column, usually on Mondays
    • Orioles-related opinion columns appear irregularly during the week
  • Other:
    • bite-size opponent scouting report appears before the first game of each series
    • feature-length articles in the "Orioles at 50" series have appeared infrequently this year

Print edition rates: newsstand $0.50 Mon-Sat, $1.66 Sun; subscriptions are cheaper, depending on the package

Print circulation area: Baltimore City plus counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard

Web page:

Link to Orioles coverage:

RSS feed of Orioles coverage:

Web site notes: Pre-final drafts of Orioles news stories appear on the web site the night before being published in the print edition. The final versions appear online at about 4:00 a.m. on the day of publication. Free registration is required to access most stories and some areas of the site. Stories are archived on the site for two weeks. A fairly active Orioles bulletin board is also linked to the site. Stats and box scores on the site come from The Sports Network, which supplies the basics but doesn't offer nearly enough detail to satisfy the statheads.

Archives: Articles since 1990 are archived electronically by the Newsbank and Proquest services. The Sun's web site offers paid access to the Newsbank database, but free access is usually available from Maryland public libraries. Articles prior to 1990 can be viewed on microfilm in libraries throughout Maryland as well as at the Library of Congress in D.C.

Corporate ownership: The Sun is owned by the Tribune media conglomerate, which counts among its assets the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday. An account on the Sun web site will also work on other Tribune news properties, and vice versa.


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August 15, 2004

Orioles in the media: The Washington Post

Note: This is part two of a series on the coverage of the Orioles in the media. I must admit to some potential for bias here. I am more familiar with the Post, which has been my main newspaper for years, than I am with other news sources. So it is not surprising that I have many things to say about it. However, I will try to be as objective as possible in my analysis. —tbw

Publication name: The Washington Post

Beat writer: Dave Sheinin (with occasional substitutes)

Columnists: occasionally Thomas Boswell, and more rarely George Solomon and William Gildea

Average in-season coverage:

  • Daily:
    • one story about 24 column-inches (~900 words) long containing a game recap (if a game was played) and team notes
    • brief recaps of area minor-league affiliates, including Bowie and Frederick
  • Other:
    • Orioles-related opinion columns and features appear infrequently

Print edition rates: $0.35 Mon-Sat, $1.50 Sun

Print circulation area: The District of Columbia, plus the following:
In Maryland—counties of Charles, Montgomery and Prince George's.
In Virginia—counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, plus the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.
Also available on newsstands in many major cities nationally.

Web page:

Link to Orioles coverage:

Link to local minor-league baseball:

RSS feed of Orioles coverage:

RSS feed of Boswell columns:

RSS feed of local minor-league baseball:

Web site notes: Free registration required to view current articles, which are archived for two weeks. Game recaps are posted within hours after the game ends, although stories may not be finalized until after that. Rudimentary stats and transaction information are provided by SportsTicker. A sparsely populated and difficult-to-navigate forum is also available.

Archives: As the Post is one of the nation's most prominent newspapers, its archive is accessible from nearly everywhere. The paper's web site offers a free search portal to its archives, although you will have to pay to view the articles. Those archives are managed by ProQuest (modern full-text archive since 1987; historical archive from 1877-1987). Less-comprehensive archives are also maintained by other services, many of which are subscribed to by businesses, universities, and public library systems. They include Lexis-Nexis Academic (articles since 1977), Newsbank (1977-), and Factiva (1984-). Microfilm versions are also widely available.

Corporate ownership: In addition to the Post, The Washington Post Company owns Newsweek magazine, El Tiempo Latino, the educational brand Kaplan, and a host of smaller media properties, including regional papers and television stations.


Continue reading "Orioles in the media: The Washington Post" »

August 18, 2004

Cust's last stand with the O's?

(Note: The media series will resume soon.)

Onetime hot prospect Jack Cust, a 25-year-old hitter for the Orioles' Triple-A Ottawa farm team, has had a hot and cold season at the plate: a huge and prolonged slump at the start, followed by a gradual recovery climaxing in a hot July, then lately another big falloff in production. As of Tuesday night's game his batting line was .240/.359/.449, not horrible but well below his career averages.

Now, a story in the Washington Post indicates that his stay with the Oriole organization will almost certainly end after this season, when he will become a free agent.

'It's Been the Worst Year for Me,' Says O's Farmhand Cust” (Washington Post)

Here are Cust's quotes from the story:

On the lack of attention being shown him this year by the organization:

“[The Orioles] have no type of concern for me.... I'm just playing for next year.”

“It's been the worst year ever for me.... It's the first year baseball hasn't been baseball for me. It's just coming to the field and getting a couple at-bats.”

On his decreased playing time in the field:

“I'm not getting any better. I'm getting worse. The whole rhythm of my game has been taken away just by not being able to do what I like to do. You can't always do what you want to do, but there can be a compromise.”

Referring to a visit to Ottawa by Oriole co-VP Jim Beattie in which Beattie never said a word to Cust:

“You [Beattie] could at least say, 'Hey, I know you've had a rough year.' Whatever. Say something. You're there for three days and you can't even show your face. . . . I don't care anymore.”

Continue reading "Cust's last stand with the O's?" »

August 25, 2004

Orioles in the media:

Note: This is part three of a series on the coverage of the Orioles in the media.

Publication name:; Baltimore Orioles' site may go by,, or, all of which point to the same site

Beat writer: Gary Washburn

Columnists: none who cover the Orioles regularly

Average in-season coverage:

  • Daily:
    • game recaps (about 800-900 words)
    • team notes (usually 800-900 words)
    • live game webcasts (Flash required); audio or video broadcasts require paid subscription
    • official box scores, statistics, roster transactions
    • audio and video broadcasts for subscribers
  • Other:
    • player features (usually 800-900 words)
    • team press releases provided by the Orioles' public relations office

Print edition: none

Web page:

Link to Baltimore Orioles front page:

Link to Orioles news coverage:

Link to Orioles press releases:

RSS feed of Orioles news:

RSS feed of MLB news:; feeds for other teams' news are also available on the site.

Web site notes: News stories are posted on the site within hours after games or other newsworthy events occur. Stories do not expire. Online features include a continuously updated scoreboard of all MLB games; current and historical statistics provided by Elias Sports Bureau, the official stat-keeper for MLB; schedule; team promotions; minor-league updates; team history; fan forum; community outreach; and a section for kids. Multimedia features are available, although game video and audio require a paid subscription. Other commerce-related areas are fantasy leagues, a memorabilia store, ticket sales, and ballpark information. And is the only place to find MLB's official rules on the Internet.

Archives: A searchable archive of articles goes back to 1999. Search options are limited, and the engine is faulty in that it seems to list two instances of every matching article.

Corporate ownership: Major League Baseball Advanced Media, L.P., is a spinoff company owned jointly by MLB's 30 teams. It was created in 2000 to concentrate on the distribution of so-called new media content related to MLB.


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August 26, 2004

A few August thoughts

I hate to keep interrupting my media criticism series like this, but I don't want to go too long without commenting on the state of the Orioles. So brace yourself for some semi-random thoughts and observations...

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August 27, 2004

Calvin Pickering, PCL—and now MLB—masher

To follow up on another favorite ex-Oriole of mine, Calvin Pickering was finally called up by the Royals on Sunday and hit three homers in his first two games subbing at DH for the injured Ken Harvey. Despite going homerless in the three games since, his batting line still reads .263 BA/.333 OBP/.842 SLG for a 1.175 OPS. This came after Pickering put on an awesome hitting display at Omaha of the Pacific Coast League:

2004 Omaha Royals Batting Statistics for Calvin Pickering
88 299 65 94 213 12 1 35 79 0 3 7 70 7 85 0 1 8 .314 .451 .712

Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli of the weblog Rob and Rany on the Royals express mixed feelings about Pickering's promotion. While they are glad that C. Pick is finally getting his chance on the big stage, they fear that it may be too late for him to make a lasting impact on the team. Years of watching the Royals' torturous mismanagement have imbued Rob and Rany with an instinctive pessimism, and they wonder if Allard Baird and the powers that be in K.C. truly recognize the value of Pickering's bat, given how long it took them to call him up and that it took the injury to Harvey (.747 career OPS) to force their hand.

There are quite a few similarities between Pickering, who got some pub here back in April, and Jack Cust, who has fallen out of favor with the O's this year. Both are powerful hitters with lousy defensive reputations who have gotten stuck at the Triple-A level. At 27 (he'll turn 28 in a month), Pickering is about two years older than Cust, but because Pickering missed a lot of games in the past due to injury, his minor-league statistics and Cust's through 2003 look like mirror images of each other. (Click the links above and you'll see what I mean; Cust walks a good deal more, but their rate stats and games played at each level are uncannily close.)

The two sluggers' fortunes have diverged in 2004, however, as Cust has struggled to find his swing for most of the year while Pickering has been locked in launch mode. Despite Cust's relative youth, I think that Pickering is the better bet to succeed in the majors, based on their recent performance. If the Royals let go of Pickering at year's end, he would not be a bad pickup for the Orioles—or any other team in need of a DH, for that matter.

September 8, 2004

Thoughts on September call-ups

I've been meaning to continue my series on the coverage of the Orioles in the media with reviews of the Washington Times and the York Daily Record. But the original Orioles-related content (i.e., non-wire stories) in those two publications has been so paltry that to dissect them would be akin to picking through scraps. So I've moved those articles toward the back burner for now and will begin a new series starting tomorrow. But first, a few comments on the team as it stands today.

September call-ups

Thanks to the September roster expansion, the Orioles are no longer short-handed these days; they now have a surplus of options at virtually every position. But are any of these extra guys good enough to be a major part of next year's team?

Continue reading "Thoughts on September call-ups" »

September 9, 2004

Greatest O's—for real this time

If you've been following the Orioles at all this season, you've no doubt been bombarded by reminders that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the modern Orioles in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun has run a year-long series of historical articles on the Orioles of the last 50 years; ad spots have run prominently featuring the Birds and the numbers 50 or 1954-2004; and during every O's broadcast we are exhorted to pick the 50 greatest Orioles by voting on the team's web site.

Considering that I am both a regular Internet user and a close follower of the Birds, it may seem surprising that I did not give much thought to submitting a ballot for the 50 greatest O's until recently, when I came across the voting page during my survey of I guess I don't care as much for "Top N" lists as other people do. So I procrastinated, figuring that I could always refer to the all-time Orioles lists in Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups (one is reproduced here at to help me fill out my ballot if I ever got around to it.

But what I discovered upon examining the ballot immediately drew my indignation. I was almost scared away by the amount of personal information required to vote. But far more exasperating was the ballot's flawed design. No, it's not what you think: there isn't a confusing, butterfly-style presentation, nor is there potential for hanging chads, and as far as I know, Diebold did not write the code to run this vote. But the inequitable way that the ballot allocates votes for various positions makes it highly likely that many deserving players will be left off the team of the 50 greatest Orioles. I'm not saying that the vote was intentionally rigged to favor certain players or groups of players, but the effect will be essentially the same.

Continue reading "Greatest O's—for real this time" »

September 15, 2004

Greatest O's: Introduction

Selection criteria

I've settled on an informal system for selecting the top 50 Orioles of the last 50 years (i.e., 1954-2003). The primary criterion for judging players will be their total contributions to the Orioles during their playing careers. Those contributions will be measured by two rating systems, Bill James's Win Shares and Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP-3). I don't really want to get into the details of each system here; however, information on both is widely available—Win Shares in book form, and WARP-3 on, where it is included on the Davenport Translations (DT) player cards. Neither system is perfect, but both make a reasonable effort at mathematically approximating a player's total worth, combining his efforts on offense, defense, and the pitcher's mound. In truth, the two systems have a lot in common, but they differ enough in some implementation details that I decided to use both statistics to get a more complete picture.

The Oriole career Win Shares and WARP-3 will be weighted far and above all other factors, but in some cases peak performance—that is, the value of the player in his greatest seasons—will also be considered. Peak contributions will come into play for stars that had brief Oriole stints, but shone brightly enough in their years with Baltimore to overshadow the longer but less spectacular careers of others. However, to eliminate one-year wonders, a player must have spent a minimum of three seasons in an Oriole uniform to make it to the final cut.

Other factors that may be used to settle close calls are, in order of decreasing importance: the player's extra-Oriole playing career; the player's postseason performance with the O's; and the player's contributions to the organization after his playing career.

Positional distribution

As I wrote in my last article, the official ballot for selecting the Top 50 team is seriously flawed and is bound to result in some deserving players being left off the team and some less worthy ones making it. I will correct somewhat for these potential injustices. Ideally, one would attempt to determine the 50 greatest Orioles of the last 50 years, regardless of where they played on the field. However, to maintain balance I will begin with modest positional quotas, distributed as I suggested in my amended ballot. The first 40 players chosen for my Top 50 will contain the top three players at each fielding position, including nine outfielders; there will also be one designated hitter and fifteen pitchers, at least one of which will be a reliever. That makes 8 * 3 + 1 + 15 = 40. The last ten spots will be given to the most deserving players, regardless of position, who have not yet been named.

Another problem that I failed to mention earlier is the lack of spots devoted to managers, not to mention coaches, scouts, executives, and other non-players. But restricting the nominees to players is a fair compromise in that it reduces the complexity of the process for the voting public. For the most part, fans are familiar with the achievements of the players, whose contributions come on the field in the presence of many witnesses. Other team personnel may have a large influence on the team's success, but most of their work happens behind the scenes. Also, the lack of objective measuring tools makes it hard to gauge the contributions of non-playing personnel. So while it may be interesting to name the top bullpen catchers in Orioles history, I'll save that debate for another day.

I will reveal my top Oriole selections position by position, starting at catcher. I'll name the players at each position that cracked the top 40, along with honorable mentions that merit consideration for the top 50. After those are done, I'll choose the final ten players to round out the top 50, and finally I'll wrap up the discussion by attempting to rank the top ten players of the Orioles' last fifty years.

Greatest O's: Catchers

Top three catchers in modern Orioles history:

  1. Rick Dempsey (1976-1986, 1992)
  2. Chris Hoiles (1989-1998)
  3. Gus Triandos (1955-1962)
Catcher, Win Shares, WARP-3;Rick Dempsey, 113, 51;Chris Hoiles, 113, 48;Gus Triandos, 107, 37;Andy Etchebarren, 61, 23;Ellie Hendricks, 55, 18;Mickey Tettleton, 45, 16

The battle for the top Oriole catcher is between two players with contrasting skill sets: Rick Dempsey, a defensive wizard with a mediocre bat, and Chris Hoiles, an offensive force with a mediocre throwing arm. The two virtually tied for the most career Win Shares among Oriole catchers with 113. Dempsey finished with a small advantage in WARP-3, 51 to 48.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Catchers" »

September 16, 2004

Townsend goes to class

Today's Baltimore Sun reported some rather startling news about the Orioles and their top 2004 draftee:

Three months after touting the selection of Rice pitcher Wade Townsend as their No. 1 pick in baseball's amateur draft, the Orioles are prepared to lose his rights. Townsend is attending classes for his senior year and has signed with agent Casey Close, a decision that eliminates his eligibility as a college player.

Major League Baseball is in the process of determining whether the Orioles still hold his rights, or if he'll re-enter the draft next June. It's believed that no player has retained an agent and also attended classes.

"As of this date it's our understanding that he's going back into next year's draft," said executive vice president Jim Beattie. "I understand they're trying to go down a new road. I talked to the commissioner's office recently and they said we can't negotiate with him. At this point, negotiations are dead. It's very disappointing, but you have to move forward."

This news, also reported in an article on, is unexpected and unsettling for the Orioles and their fans. However, Will Kimmey of Baseball America, writing about the story on Tuesday, painted a more complete picture that left some hope that the Orioles might still be able to sign Townsend:

Townsend had yet to reach an agreement with the Orioles, who selected him eighth overall, but wanted to maintain his ability to negotiate with Baltimore while simultaneously working toward his degree....

Townsend's maneuver seems to fly in the face of draft rule 4-H, which states: "A player who is selected at the Summer Meeting and returns to school in the fall without signing a contract shall be subject to selection at the next Summer Meeting at which the player is eligible."

Rule 4-K allows for MLB to interpret the rule as it sees fit, which is what Townsend is relying on. Close said the key lies in the semantics of how "player"--or more specifically a "college player"-- is defined....

Townsend is prepared for the consequences if MLB rules his return to class terminated the Orioles' rights to negotiate with him, which would put him in the 2005 draft pool. Without college eligibility, Townsend would work out at IMG's Florida facility beginning in January and look into the possibility of pitching for an independent league club prior to the '05 draft in June.

"If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out," Close said. "Wade did this to keep his options open to sign with the Orioles, but also to complete his degree by December. If it doesn't work, he'll still have his degree and will only miss minor league competition from April until June, so that's two months."

Continue reading "Townsend goes to class" »

September 19, 2004

Greatest O's: First Basemen

Top three first basemen in modern Orioles history:

  1. Eddie Murray (1977-1988, 1996)
  2. Boog Powell (1961-1974)
  3. Rafael Palmeiro (1994-1998)
Player, Win Shares, WARP-3;Eddie Murray, 307, 94;Boog Powell, 253, 57;Rafael Palmeiro, 110, 41;Jim Gentile, 93, 22;Randy Milligan, 62, 20;Jeff Conine, 67, 18

Can't find a better man than Eddie

The Orioles have had some fine first basemen in their history, but the greatest of them all was indisputably Eddie Murray. Murray's achievements were recapped extensively last year upon his induction into the Hall of Fame, but here's a numerical refresher.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: First Basemen" »

September 23, 2004

Greatest O's: Second Basemen

Top three second basemen in modern Orioles history:

  1. Bobby Grich (1970-1976)
  2. Davey Johnson (1965-1972)
  3. Roberto Alomar (1996-1998)
Player, Win Shares, WARP-3;Bobby Grich,147,48;Davey Johnson,124,40;Roberto Alomar,71,25;Rich Dauer,87,22;Jerry Adair,70,18;Bill Ripken,45,15

The competition for the top all-time Oriole second baseman was more heated than the battles at other positions. No second sacker in modern club history has combined performance and longevity the way that Brooks Robinson did at third base or Cal Ripken did at shortstop. Baltimore has had several noteworthy second basemen, including a couple whose overall careers are worthy of Cooperstown. But because none of them stayed in town longer than a decade, none was able to compile the kind of counting stats that would make him the indisputable king at the position.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Second Basemen" »

September 24, 2004

Greatest O's: Third Basemen

Top three third basemen in modern Orioles history:

  1. Brooks Robinson (1955-1977)
  2. Doug DeCinces (1973-1981)
  3. Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Brooks Robinson,356,122;Doug DeCinces,76,33;Cal Ripken,69,24;Leo Gomez,42,18;Tony Batista,35,14

Honorable mentions

Leo Gomez (1990-1995) and Tony Batista (2001-2003).

The contest for the top Oriole third baseman was no contest at all. Brooks Robinson finished so far ahead of the field in both Win Shares and WARP-3 that the only suspense was in the order of the runners-up.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Third Basemen" »

Greatest O's: Shortstops

Top three shortstops in modern Orioles history:

  1. Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)
  2. Mark Belanger (1965-1981)
  3. Mike Bordick (1997-2000, 2001-2002)
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Cal Ripken,358,138;Mark Belanger,161,52;Mike Bordick,68,29;Luis Aparicio,78,24;Ron Hansen,42,12

Honorable mentions

Luis Aparicio (1963-1967) and Ron Hansen (1958-1962).

Write-up to follow.

Greatest O's: Outfielders

Top nine outfielders in modern Orioles history:

  1. Ken Singleton (1975-1984)
  2. Brady Anderson (1988-2001)
  3. Frank Robinson (1966-1971)
  4. Paul Blair (1964-1976)
  5. Al Bumbry (1972-1984)
  6. Don Buford (1968-1972)
  7. B.J. Surhoff (1996-2000, 2003)
  8. Merv Rettenmund (1968-1973)
  9. Gary Roenicke (1978-1985)
Player, Win Shares, WARP-3;Ken Singleton,224,67;Frank Robinson,176,50;Brady Anderson,212,76;Paul Blair,178,61;Al Bumbry,169,53;Don Buford,110,30;B.J. Surhoff,86,34;Merv Rettenmund,80,25;Gary Roenicke,85,30

Honorable mentions

Write-up to follow.

Greatest O's: Designated Hitters

Top designated hitter in modern Orioles history:

Harold Baines (1993-1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)

Honorable mentions

Ken Singleton, Tommy Davis, and Lee May.

Write-up to follow.

September 25, 2004

Greatest O's: Pitchers

Top fifteen pitchers in modern Orioles history:

  1. Jim Palmer (1965-1984)
  2. Mike Mussina (1991-2000)
  3. Dave McNally (1962-1974)
  4. Mike Flanagan (1975-1987, 1991-1992)
  5. Scott McGregor (1976-1988)
  6. Mike Cuéllar (1969-1976)
  7. Milt Pappas (1957-1965)
  8. Mike Boddicker (1980-1988)
  9. Steve Barber (1960-1967)
  10. Tippy Martínez (1976-1986)
  11. Stu Miller (1963-1967)
  12. Dennis Martínez (1976-1986)
  13. Dick Hall (1961-1966, 1969-1971)
  14. Gregg Olson (1988-1993)
  15. Scott Erickson (1994-2002)
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Jim Palmer,312,94.6;Mike Mussina,161,76.9;Dave McNally,167,47.2;Mike Flanagan,136,43.9;Scott McGregor,121,40.9;Mike Cuellar,123,33.0;Milt Pappas,109,31.6
Player,Win Shares,WARP-3;Mike Boddicker,81,35.2;Steve Barber,91,29.9;Tippy Mart�nez,78,32.6;Dennis Mart�nez,86,27.5;Dick Hall,66,33.8;Stu Miller,71,31.3;Gregg Olson,66,31.5;Scott Erickson,64,29.8

Honorable mentions

Write-up to follow.

Greatest O's: Top 50

So far I've named my top 40 Orioles of all time by taking the top three players at each infield position and catcher, nine outfielders, one designated hitter, and fifteen pitchers. Perspicacious readers will have noticed, though, that Cal Ripken was selected to the top three at both shortstop and third base, so the resultant list of finalists actually had 39 unique members. No matter; this just means that I will have to select eleven more players, not ten, to fill out the top 50. So without further ado (without any ado at all, really), here are those top 39 hits as well as my eleven at-large selections (noted with asterisks) to round out the top 50:

Continue reading "Greatest O's: Top 50" »

September 28, 2004

Greatest O's: 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles

The 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles were revealed on Sunday before the game. Here's the roster, sorted first by position, then alphabetically by last name:

PITCHERS (15): Jeff Ballard, Steve Barber, Mike Boddicker, Mike Cuéllar, Scott Erickson, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martínez, Tippy Martínez, Scott McGregor, Dave McNally, Mike Mussina, Gregg Olson, Jesse Orosco, Jim Palmer, Hoyt Wilhelm.

CATCHERS (6): Rick Dempsey, Andy Etchebarren, Elrod Hendricks, Chris Hoiles, Mickey Tettleton, Gus Triandos.

FIRST BASEMEN (5): Jeff Conine, Jim Gentile, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Boog Powell.

SECOND BASEMEN (6): Jerry Adair, Roberto Alomar, Rich Dauer, Bobby Grich, Davey Johnson, Billy Ripken.

SHORTSTOPS (4): Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Mike Bordick, Cal Ripken.

THIRD BASEMEN (2): Doug DeCinces, Brooks Robinson.

OUTFIELDERS (10): Brady Anderson, Don Baylor, Paul Blair, Don Buford, Al Bumbry, Mike Devereaux, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, Ken Singleton, B.J. Surhoff.

DESIGNATED HITTERS (2): Harold Baines, Tommy Davis.

Continue reading "Greatest O's: 50 All-Time Favorite Orioles" »

October 5, 2004

DeMacio's time runs out

Since taking over in 2002, the Orioles' front office leadership of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan has been cleaning house. Last year the club said sayonara to manager Mike Hargrove, and this year it's arrivederci to scouting director Tony DeMacio and minor-league director Doc Rodgers, whose expiring contracts will not be renewed after the season. Today we'll look at DeMacio's termination and his legacy.

From the Sun: “Orioles fire their scouting director

DeMacio's canning comes as a mild surprise, but not a shock. He was the highest-ranking baseball executive in the organization remaining from the Frank Wren administration. DeMacio's reputation as a member of successful scouting regimes in Atlanta and Cleveland helped him outlast former bosses Wren and Syd Thrift, and Beattie and Flanagan thought enough of DeMacio to keep him on for two more seasons. But in the end, the results just were not there.

Continue reading "DeMacio's time runs out" »

October 7, 2004

Farm director reaches the end of his row

The two-year relationship between the Orioles and their director of minor-league operations, Darrell "Doc" Rodgers, is to end this month. Last week, the team announced that it had decided not to renew Rodgers's contract for next season. The reasons cited by Rodgers and Jim Beattie were differences of opinion on the future direction of the system, particularly regarding staff and personnel.

From the Sun: “Rodgers is second member of front office dismissed

From “Notes: 'Doc' Rodgers dismissed

The Rodgers regime had plenty of positives. Shortly after taking the job in January of 2003, Rodgers implemented a total overhaul of the Orioles' farm system, installing new managers and coaches at every level. Rodgers and his staff emphasized professionalism and discipline, qualities that had been lacking prior to his arrival. Players responded surprisingly well to Rodgers's strict rules, which defined the parameters of a player's sartorial appearance and enforced nightly curfews. A more uniform code of instruction and training also began to pervade the system from the top down. The importance of on-base percentage, among other things, was highlighted to all hitters. Young pitchers received more careful treatment under the Rodgers administration, particularly at the lower levels.

Far from being a distant overlord, Rodgers also improved the communication between management and farmhands by having one-on-one meetings with players to monitor their progress. Under Rodgers, players were promoted based on performance, not hype; a player had to succeed at his current level to earn advancement to the next one. To avoid promoting prospects prematurely, veterans were brought in to plug holes in the upper levels. Perhaps not coincidentally, the combined winning percentage of Baltimore's minor-league affiliates rose markedly from .433 in 2002 to .486 in 2003, Rodgers's first year. The organization's talent level had not changed markedly in one year, but the players' attitude and dedication to the game had improved noticeably.

It was not a perfect two years by any means, though. Pitchers continued to suffer arm injuries—Adam Loewen was the biggest name to fall, but Ryan Hannaman and Don Levinski also were struck down this year. Such injuries happen in every organization, but perhaps better communication and monitoring could have revealed the problems sooner. Another instance hinting at inadequate communication was onetime top prospect Jack Cust's complaint about being ignored by the organization. In 2004, several prospects fell short of expectations, including Cust, and the farm system's winning percentage dropped to .458.

Rodgers leaves Baltimore with his reputation intact and probably enhanced by his work with the Orioles. The Birds' farm system was ranked among the worst in the game by Baseball America for several years before Rodgers's arrival, but it moved up closer to the middle of the pack after his first year with the team. In many ways, 2003 was a 180-degree turn for the Orioles' player development system, and Rodgers deserves the lion's share of the credit for that turnaround. Although the organization's momentum stalled a bit in 2004, Rodgers made a net positive contribution to the Orioles' minor-league system. This came after he helped execute a similar improvement in the Reds' system during six years as their assistant general manager. He should have no shortage of offers for a high-ranking position elsewhere.

Note: I have not abandoned the Greatest O's series of articles; cranking them out is just taking longer than I expected because I have been working on more timely articles like this one. The Greatest O's positional write-ups should be finished by next week.

November 1, 2004

Postseason review

This hereby ends the postseason blog entry blackout for The Orioles Warehouse. Sorry for not being explicit about the hiatus, but it was not planned beforehand; it just unfolded that way because nothing really significant happened to the Orioles for three weeks after the end of the regular season, and so no commentary was warranted. But now baseball's offseason has begun, and so resumes our study of the anthropic version of Icterus galbula (translation: the Baltimore Orioles).

The red October surprise

But first, a few words on the thrilling postseason. The unquestionable highlight, in terms of sheer drama, was the Red Sox coming back against all odds in the ALCS to snatch the pennant from the Yankees' grasp. The unprecedented, storybook fashion in which the Yankees lost made it all the more satisfying to Oriole fans, whose hate for the Red Sox is exceeded only by their enmity for the Yankees. (If you totally missed the ALCS, here's a drive-by recap: the Yanks held the Sox at bay in Games 1 and 2 and blasted them to smithereens in Game 3 to take a seemingly invincible 3-0 lead in the series; but in Games 4 and 5, Boston eked out two extra-inning nail-biters in sudden death, then Curt Schilling and his patched ankle triumphed in Game 6, and in Game 7 long-locked Johnny Damon knocked two longballs to send the Sox to victory.)

It's tough for the Oriole community to have to watch a postseason with their favorite team on the sidelines. But from the perspective of a fan of the game of baseball, this one turned out well when the Red Sox shattered the Curse of the Bambino by sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series. It would have been nice if the Cards had been more competitive and stretched the series to six or seven games. But for once, Boston had everything go their way in the end. Ex-Oriole prez Larry Lucchino, now president and CEO of the Red Sox, is finally enjoying his just deserts. And native New Englanders across the country, a healthy portion of whom reside in the Baltimore-Washington region, are floating in the euphoria of their team's victory. Of course, they will henceforth have to shed their tiresome woe-is-me attitudes and assume the unfamiliar mantle of frontrunners from the Yankees. But let the Red Sox and their fans have their day in the sun. If anyone deserves it, they do.

Epstein leads with his head

The postseason confirmed that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is one of the game's sharpest decision-makers. Following last year's Grady Little/Pedro Martínez debacle, Epstein hired a field manager, Terry Francona, who handled the club like the seasoned professional that he is and made no dubious moves in the postseason (except perhaps his insertion of Pedro for a trivial relief inning in Game 7 of the ALCS). And although he could have stood pat after reaching the seventh game of the ALCS in 2003, Epstein identified his team's key weaknesses (lack of high-end pitching, suspect infield defense, and lack of team speed) and addressed them in the offseason and regular season by acquiring Schilling, Keith Foulke, Doug Mientkiewicz, Pokey Reese, Orlando Cabrera, and Dave Roberts. Of course, it helped enormously that his team had the second-highest payroll in the league ($125 million on Opening Day, far behind the Yanks' $183M but well ahead of third-place Anaheim's $101M), giving him the flexibility to acquire nearly anyone he wanted. And Boston's medical staff deserves a special award for their ad hoc repair of Schilling's ankle tendon for his final two starts of the postseason. But none of Epstein's big acquisitions backfired, and that includes his gutsy trade of his injury-impaired shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, for Cabrera and Mientkiewicz. The final product was a well-rounded, championship-caliber team that had every right to win it all, and it did.

For those who care about Oriole-related matters: Epstein got started in baseball as a public relations intern for the Orioles in 1992-1994. He then followed Lucchino to the San Diego Padres, where he rose to director of baseball operations while he earned a law degree at UCSD. In 2002 he migrated with Lucchino to Boston and subsequently became the game's youngest GM at age 28. If Peter Angelos had been able to retain Lucchino as president of the Orioles upon buying the team in 1993, could there have been a 2004 Orioles team with Epstein at the helm? Perhaps, although Epstein, who grew up in Brookline, Mass., has been a Red Sox fan since childhood and would have jumped at the chance to be their GM if the position became available.

Baseball's mind game steps forward

The success of the Red Sox should give another boost to the sabermetric community. In addition to Epstein, a sabermetrically aware GM, at least two other people of a sabermetric bent are part of the championship team's brain trust: longtime baseball analyst and writer Bill James, now Boston's senior baseball operations advisor; and Voros McCracken, famed for his defense-independent pitching analysis and a consultant for the organization since late 2002. If the Moneyball-documented success of the Oakland Athletics catalyzed a sabermetric movement in baseball, the recent éclat of the Red Sox should only increase the prevalence of statistically knowledgeable analysts and GM's in front offices around the league.

It's clear that the management and analysis of information is more important today than it ever has been to the sport (or to business in general—but that's another story). Technology has made it possible not only to access and store reams of performance-related data on players, but also to quantitatively measure and optimize aspects of player performance—think defense and pitching—that have long been riddled with guesstimation and uncertainty. The problem is knowing what to do with all that information, and that is why it is critical to have smart, analytical people in every area of an organization, including the front office, the scouting department, the coaches, and the field manager.

The Oriole angle

Will the Orioles be at the forefront of this activity, pouring money and manpower into information technology, quantitative analysis, and research and development? Or will they be content to rely on tried and tested (and arguably outdated and inefficient) methods in running their organization? Most of the evidence so far suggests the latter rather than the former, although it's hard to be certain because club executives have been tight-lipped about their internal evaluation processes. A recent reflection by former Orioles intern Josh Goodstein in the Yale Herald paints a dim view of the Orioles' management, at least on the non-baseball side.

However, the franchise has a chance to make a major step in the direction of data-driven decision-making when it chooses its next director(s) of scouting and player development. (News reports have indicated that the O's may hire one person to handle the former duties of Tony DeMacio and Doc Rodgers.) More on that in an upcoming article.

Other topics that will be covered soon: the re-signing of Rafael Palmeiro and other recent roster news; the D.C. baseball saga and its effect on the Orioles; a review of the Birds' 2004 season; a look at the Orioles' offseason needs; more perspectives on Miguel Tejada; and the continuation of the historical Orioles series (yes, really this time).

November 10, 2004

Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill

The Orioles appointed Dave Stockstill to be their new minor-league director last week. Stockstill, who served the farm system mostly as a roving hitting or fielding instructor for eleven years prior to his promotion, is a relative unknown outside of the Oriole community but is well regarded within it. Exec VP for Baseball Ops Jim Beattie especially liked Stockstill's experience and intimate knowledge of the team's minor-league system.

"David Stockstill brings valuable experience in minor league instruction to our front office," said Beattie. "His hiring will continue the improvement in player development." (from the Orioles' Nov. 3 press release)

"He had some very good ideas. You never know what will happen when you get a guy in a new environment, but when you have people from outside, they don't give you info about your own organization. He knows all the guys in our system, so we can just get started with our feet running." (Beattie again, from Gary Washburn's Nov. 3 story on

"We thought about going outside the organization. Given Dave's experience within the organization -- he knows the players, he knows the things that have gone well in the organization and instead of trying to change it all around again -- we decided that he was ready." (ibid.)

Continue reading "Birds make low-risk investment in Stockstill" »

November 26, 2004

More on Mora

Those of you who are regulars at the Baseball Primer may already know about this, but Rich Lederer has written a keen analysis of the 2004 performance of the Orioles' Melvin Mora on his blog, Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT.

Lederer expresses surprise at how overlooked Mora's season was in the AL MVP voting. Mora finished 18th in MVP points despite having offensive statistics comparable to the first- and third-place holders, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramírez—all while playing a tougher defensive position (albeit not outstandingly). Mora's point total of five (for one eight-place vote and one ninth-place vote) tied Texas Rangers Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira, and it trailed such luminaries as Paul Konerko (seven) and Mark Kotsay (eight). I'm going to guess that both of Mora's votes came from the Baltimore writers, who had a chance to view his brilliance over the entire season.

Mora and teammate Miguel Tejada (who finished fifth in the voting with 123 points) had fantastic offensive seasons that deserve mention among the best seasons ever at their respective positions. As Lederer points out, Mora's 2004 was just the 17th time since 1900 that a third baseman has compiled a batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average greater than 20 percent above the league average in the same season. (Including OPS in the criteria, as Lederer does, is redundant: if both OBP and SLG are at least 20 percent above the league average, then their sum will always be at least 20 percent above the league OPS. Just do the math.) Meanwhile, Tejada had the best season by a shortstop in the majors, although Carlos Guillén gave a stiff competition for that honor until getting hurt in September.

Continue reading "More on Mora" »

December 14, 2004

Mid-December thoughts, part 1

Some of you who have noticed the paucity of recent updates to this site may be wondering, "Has The Orioles Warehouse turned into an abandonblog, like Bambino's Curse and Redbird Nation?" The short answer is no: despite appearances, this is still an active site with plans for new content to be added on a semi-regular basis. On the other hand, it is the offseason, and last month, November, is typically one of the slowest months of the year as far as baseball news goes. (A quiescent period begins roughly after the end of the World Series in late October and ends just before the winter meetings in early December.)

Accordingly, the Warehouse has gone into a semi-hibernatory state for the offseason. I have used the downtime to catch up on other pursuits and conduct some research for future articles. I know I keep saying that such-and-such articles are in the pipeline, and I promise that you'll see most of them before the winter is out. But today's entry and the ones that immediately follow will comprise a quick-hitting, around-the-horn assessment of the past month or so in Birdland.

Continue reading "Mid-December thoughts, part 1" »

December 17, 2004

Mid-December thoughts, part 2

Baseball's hot stove chatter has crescendoed in the past week to a mezzo forte. The free-agent market is bustling, the air is thick with trade talk, and adding spice to the mix is the bewildering on-again, off-again relationship between Major League Baseball and our nation's capital. More on that last part later. This article will foray into the Orioles' offseason of thus-far-unfulfilled hopes, beginning with their pursuit of pitching.

Continue reading "Mid-December thoughts, part 2" »

December 21, 2004

December 20 transaction analysis

The Orioles made a series of minor transactions yesterday. First, they signed left-handed reliever Steve Kline to a two-year, $5.5 million contract and purchased back infielder Chris Gómez from the Philadelphia Phillies. Then they re-signed Jay Gibbons to a one-year, $2.6 million deal to avoid arbitration, brought back Bruce Chen for another season at $550,000, and tendered offers to their other arbitration-eligibles, Jerry Hairston, Jorge Julio, Rodrigo López, Luis Matos, John Parrish, and B.J. Ryan. Yesterday (Dec. 20) was the last day for teams to offer arbitration to their players with between three and six years of major-league service; otherwise those players become free agents.

Continue reading "December 20 transaction analysis" »

December 25, 2004

Goodbye, Johnny

Well, it's a bit of a blue Christmas in Birdland this year. For one thing, there are no glittering acquisitions to be found under the Orioles' tree, waiting to be unwrapped and used in 2005; all the big free-agent signings and trades so far have been made by other teams while the O's have stayed on the sidelines.

Johnny was good

But the really sad news is the death of Johnny Oates yesterday at age 58 from brain cancer. Oates, who played for the Orioles at the beginning of his itinerant career as a catcher and returned to manage the team some twenty years later, was one of baseball's good guys. His down-home demeanor and diligence to detail made him liked and respected by nearly everyone in the game, from fans and players to fellow managers. Everything he did was rooted in his strong Christian faith; although he had a workaholic streak, he acknowledged that God and family came before baseball in his life. This was never more evident than when he took time off in 1995 to be with his wife when she was suffering from depression. In a competitive sport such as baseball, decent men like Oates are a rare quantity. His passing is deeply felt in Baltimore and especially in Texas, where he had his greatest success.

It should not go unmentioned that in addition to those admirable personal qualities, Oates was a first-rate manager, one of the best of the '90s. He won Manager of the Year awards from the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1996 and from The Sporting News in '93 and '96. After replacing Frank Robinson at the helm of the Orioles in May 1991, Oates proceeded to post winning records with the inaugural Camden Yards teams of 1992-1994. He compiled an overall record of 291-270 for the O's.

But his run in Baltimore was undone by a new, demanding owner, Peter Angelos, who thought Oates's modesty—which masked a chronic insecurity that both tore away at him and drove him to work harder—was a detrimental trait in a team leader. After Baltimore's second-place, 63-49 finish in the strike-interrupted 1994 season, Angelos decided that the Orioles needed to upgrade and threw his skipper overboard with one year remaining on his contract. Oates resurfaced in Texas, where he won three division titles in the next five years. He ended up 506-476 in a little over six seasons there, and 797-746 overall, before resigning in the midst of a disappointing start in 2001. His immediate replacement in Baltimore, Phil Regan, stayed for just one season and led a team that badly underachieved in 1995, going 71-73. Angelos's decision to fire Oates foreshadowed a decade of tinkering and turnover that has exasperated Orioles fans to no end.

A hard worker with a light touch

Oates was a smart manager who was always well prepared. He seemed to get more out of his talent than most managers. Perhaps this was because he understood the worth of underrated, blue-collar players like Randy Milligan, Mark McLemore, and Rusty Greer, giving them ample playing time when not all managers would have. But he also managed MVP winners Cal Ripken Jr. (1991), Juan González (1996 and 1998), and Iván Rodríguez (1999), so he could maximize the return from his superstars as well. Groomed in the Oriole school headed by Cal Ripken Sr. and Earl Weaver and seasoned by ten years as a minor-league manager and first-base coach, he was rarely guilty of overmanaging. He knew that the most important thing a manager does is pick the right players to put in the lineup for each game. Consequently, he did not overuse one-run strategies such as the sacrifice bunt and the hit-and-run.

If Oates's managing record has a blemish, it is the lack of a world-beater team that went all the way to a league championship; his three division winners in Texas were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Yankees. Assigning blame is a tricky undertaking, but Oates's Ranger clubs were always short of pitching, and his Oriole squads usually lacked in the attack. Had he stayed in charge of the talent-rich Orioles from 1995 onward, he definitely would have known how to deploy that talent successfully, although just how successfully can never be known. The main question is how much he would have been bothered by the constant pressure from the owner and the weight of increased expectations.

Other takes on Oates

I did not know Oates personally or cover him regularly, but here's a sampling of the remembrances of his life from those who did. Unsurprisingly, the most extensive coverage comes from the Texas papers:

So long, Johnny. You will be missed.

January 7, 2005

A tale of two Carloses

Unlike last year, when the Orioles began the free-agent shopping season by treating themselves to Miguel Tejada and Javy López, no free-agent sluggers have landed in Baltimore this offseason. Fans of the orange and black, watching other teams make the big moves, are getting impatient and frustrated. The local media are no different; everyone following the Birds seems to be hoping that their team will buy, buy, buy like it did a year ago. But this year, high prices and a heavy dose of fiscal discipline have left the team empty-handed thus far, although the O's have been in competition for a few of the top names.

Coming into the offseason, most observers agreed that the Orioles needed to upgrade their pitching. But after being rebuffed by Carl Pavano, the Orioles apparently have decided to take a pass on this year's middling selection of free-agent starting pitchers. And after signing left-hander Steve Kline, the O's don't seem to have much interest in the market for relievers either. Co-VPs Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan have narrowed their focus to acquiring a new starter or two at first base or in the outfield. The team also could improve its bench depth, particularly at backup catcher.

This article and those that follow will assess how the market for hitters has evolved for the Orioles, beginning with the first basemen.

Continue reading "A tale of two Carloses" »

January 14, 2005

An NRI scan

The Orioles' bleak midwinter continues. This week's signings of pitcher James Baldwin and infielder Chris Stynes to minor-league contracts with spring-training invites only serve to remind fans of how little new talent the club has added this offseason. Baldwin, Stynes, and fellow non-roster invitee Brandon Marsters fall under the category of "depth" acquisitions who stay ready in case something unforeseen happens to a member of the major-league roster.

If Baldwin pitches in a game for Baltimore this season, it probably would be bad news because it would mean that something went wrong with some of the team's younger pitchers. A 33-year-old starter, Baldwin had some success with the White Sox early in his career. But despite being named to the American League All-Star team in 2000, he's never been much better than a league-average starter, and his last decent season was 2001—i.e., eons ago. Last year, he was exiled from the pitching staff of the fourth-place Mets and clunked around in Triple-A for the rest of the season. Nowadays, Baldwin's primary asset appears to be his control, as his curveball no longer has the bite it once had. Sifting through Baldwin's most comparable pitchers on, one name pops out that should be familiar to Oriole fans: Rick Helling. Yes, that same Rick Helling who posted a 5.71 ERA for the Orioles in 2003 and did not pitch in the majors last year. So to sum it up, don't "go tell it on the mountain" that Baldwin is coming to the Orioles' camp. (But if you have the time, go read some of the writings by his namesake, who was a prose pro and an insightful thinker about American social issues.)

Stynes is another player who ideally should not see much playing time with the Orioles in 2005. If he makes the big-league roster, it will probably be because he beat out Chris Gómez to become the backup infielder or (horror of horrors) because of an injury to one of the Orioles' infield starters. Stynes, who turns 32 next week, is two years younger than Gómez, but similar to the other Chris in that he's bounced around as a mostly part-time player in the past few years. He's posted a batting line of .275/.335/.399 in his career, putting him a notch ahead of Gómez as a hitter, particularly in the power department. However, Stynes has played virtually nil at shortstop in the majors, while Gómez has logged over 1,000 games there. Since Miguel Tejada plays almost every inning of every game in the field, the Orioles might be able to make do without a true shortstop on the bench and thus keep Stynes instead of Gómez. Stynes' skill set (he has played second, third, and a bit of outfield in his major-league career) makes him a fine right-handed complement to David Newhan.

Another spring-training invitation went to 29-year-old catcher Marsters, who hit .210 in 60 games for the Rochester Red Wings (now the Twins' Triple-A affiliate) in 2004. Marsters, a defensive wizard behind the plate, might assist the big-league squad by warming up some of the Orioles' pitchers in February and March, but his anemic offense destines him to be a minor-league backup at best.

Less than six weeks before pitchers and catchers are to report to Fort Lauderdale for workouts, all that Baltimore's front office has to show for its efforts is left-handed reliever Steve Kline, along with a bunch of nondescripts signed to minor-league contracts. Yawn.

January 30, 2005

Sosa? So-so

According to the latest reports (Baltimore Sun, Washington Post), Slammin' Sammy Sosa is about to bring his bat—and his baggage—to Baltimore. The Orioles have reached a tentative agreement with the Cubs that would send second baseman Jerry Hairston and two minor-leaguers, second baseman Mike Fontenot and right-hander Dave Crouthers, to Chicago in return for Sosa and $12 million, which would help cover the slugger's $17 million salary in 2005 and the $4.5 million buyout of his 2006 option (which would have been worth $18 million if activated). Sosa's unusual contract also has a $3.5 million severance award that the Cubs have agreed to pay. Sosa would waive his no-trade privilege and void the part of his contract that was to trigger his 2006 option in the event of a trade. In turn, his 2007 club option for $19 million also would become void. (Some sources suggested earlier in the week that relievers Jorge Julio and Kyle Farnsworth were in the mix as possible trade material, but the most recent reports did not include them in the deal.)

There are other hurdles to clear before the transaction becomes official, although none appears especially imposing. The cancellation of Sosa's 2006 and 2007 options would require the consent of the players association, and the commissioner's office would have to approve the deal because of the amount of money involved. And of course, all the traded players would have to pass physicals. So the deal cannot be finalized until sometime next week.

Continue reading "Sosa? So-so" »

March 4, 2005

Sosa, so far

Now that a month has passed since the Sammy Sosa trade, a few thoughts:

The Sammy Show: Baltimore

The January 30 article here discussing the trade has attracted by far the most comments of any article on this site since we converted to the weblog format last year. That response includes three comments from me and four from a trollish Chicago fan, but also several reactions from first-time posters, including a Dominican Sosa fan.

The wide-ranging response illustrates how much of a lightning rod for public opinion Sosa is, and not just for Chicagoans and Baltimoreans. He has the kind of outsize personality that inspires adoration when things are going well (e.g., 1998-2002) and ridicule when things go badly (e.g., after the corked-bat misstep of 2003). In Latin-American circles, Sosa remains a folk hero, his star tarnished only slightly by the events of the last two years. Even more than the Orioles' best player, Miguel Tejada, Sosa is an internationally recognized name and face. Sosa's arrival has people thinking and talking about the Orioles again, and that counts for something.

Sosa has enjoyed a honeymoon of sorts since joining Baltimore. Among Oriole fans, the response to the trade has been mostly positive, if guardedly so. The Orioles' 2005 ticket sales reportedly got a major boost the week the trade was announced. Local and national media stories about Sosa's change of address have been cropping up regularly over the past month.

Sosa has already held two press conferences since joining the Orioles: one on the day the trade was made official (February 3) and another on the day he reported to camp (February 23). (The audio and video for the press conferences can be streamed from the Orioles' official site, although the audio level for the second conference was set too low, making it largely unintelligible.) During those question-and-answer sessions, Sosa said all the right things: he sidestepped reporters' attempts to goad him into badmouthing his former team, and he expressed unmistakable excitement about joining the Orioles. He sounded willing to cede the spotlight (or part of it, anyway) to Tejada, who he acknowledged is the leader of the team. If early signs are an indicator of things to come, Sosa should give the Orioles an enhanced media presence in 2005, no matter what he does on the field.

The response hasn't been all positive. Many, if not most, Cubs fans thought it was time for Sosa to leave the Windy City after his act wore thin last year. According to an unscientific survey done on the Chicago Tribune's web site, 76% of respondents thought that the Cubs were a better team without him. But Chicagoans' individual reactions were fractured; some had hoped for a more amenable parting with their longtime icon, or at least a better return in trade, and instead criticized manager Dusty Baker or GM Jim Hendry. A few Chicago-area reporters said that Sosa's personality had long irritated them, but that it only became an issue when his performance dropped.

Despite wanting to start his Baltimore career with a clean slate, Sosa has not given up all of his old habits, and the dogged media won't allow him to forget his past. Notably, Sun columnist Peter Schmuck's mention of Sosa's request to have a limousine transport him from his hotel to his physical exam in Baltimore evoked derisive comments from Chicagoans about Sosa's diva-esque lifestyle. And toward the end of Sosa's first Oriole press conference (18:22), a reporter half-jokingly asked if someone in Chicago owed Sosa a boom box (his previous one was allegedly wrecked at the end of last season by an unnamed, Whitney Houston-hating teammate). Sosa's reply (“No, because I have a new one here”) brought on a new round of jeers—and fears. Fortunately, Oriole skipper Lee Mazzilli quelled any possibility that Sosa's musical tastes would become a distraction by re-affirming his policy of no clubhouse music before games. Looks like Sosa will have to get an iPod if he wants a pregame salsa fix. But Mazzilli has no problem with postgame music, particularly when the Orioles win, so expect lo-fi, bass-heavy Latin beats to be blasting in plenitude this year.

Continue reading "Sosa, so far" »

March 7, 2005

Young v. Palmeiro: a matter of bat

Baseball Musings blogger David Pinto, who writes one of the most popular and stimulating baseball-related blogs in existence, has posted a controversial argument in his entry “The $300,000 Solution.” In it, he advances the notion that instead of signing Rafael Palmeiro to a one-year, $4.5 million contract in January 2004, the Orioles should have given his job to prospect Walter Young, who hit .274/.343/.539 (BA/OBP/SLG) at Double-A Bowie last year. Pinto applied an early version of Bill James's major league equivalencies to Young's 2004 stats, compared them to Palmeiro's actual 2004 stats, and came to the following conclusion:

Young's OBA wouldn't be as good, but he makes up for it with his slugging percentage. If nothing else, it's pretty clear that Palmeiro wasn't worth 13 times the money. The cheap solution eluded the Orioles. And with Palmeiro back for another year, the mistake is repeated.

It's possible that Young could come close to matching Palmeiro's production in 2005 for markedly less expense, but is it really likely? Here is a counterpoint to Pinto's reasoning, based on information that Pinto may not have known or considered.

Continue reading "Young v. Palmeiro: a matter of bat" »

April 4, 2005

For openers

Ah, yes. Baltimore's favorite day of the year to play hooky has arrived. And what a splendiferous day it is. Nearly a century ago in his treacly timeless poem “Casey at the Bat” Ernest Thayer wrote, “Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,” and certainly there are no clouds to be found at Camden Yards this afternoon, where the Birds are opening their 2005 regular season against the Oakland Athletics. But a gusty wind is swirling, and Miguel Tejada had to dive to snare what should have been a routine popup by Nick Swisher. As I write this, Luis Matos has just put the O's up 2-0 with a home run off left-hander Barry Zito. Rodrigo López is making the start for the Orioles.

Update: The Orioles were victorious, 4-0, behind the splendid pitching of López and three relievers. Troublingly, Javy López left the game early with a sore back.

Continue reading "For openers" »

Whither the O's in 2005?

It's been a while since I looked at what others have been saying about the Orioles, so here are a few quick outside hits mixed in with my comments.

Virtually everyone is picking the Orioles to finish third in the American League East this year. That includes such widely read mainstream sources as The New York Times (write-up by Murray Chass) and The Washington Post. A few prognosticators have the O's pegged lower, and hardly anyone is willing to nudge them above Boston or New York.

While I'm not going to make any bold predictions, I will submit that the Orioles' chances of making the playoffs this year are better than they have been since the late '90s. Those chances are not high, mind you, just better. It would take a lot of good breaks and a regression by the Sox or Yanks for the Birds to make the leap to contention this year. Given the ascendancy of New York and Boston and the greater ability of those northeastern rivals to patch holes using their financial resources, it's hard to imagine the O's making the postseason in '05. But it's no stretch to say that the Orioles will be a competitive team in the context of the league, if not within their division.

Continue reading "Whither the O's in 2005?" »

May 5, 2005

O's on "The Move"

With the Orioles off to their best start since 1997, there have been plenty of wins to celebrate in this young season—eighteen, to be exact, against just nine losses. And the Birds' on-field leader, Miguel Tejada, has introduced a unique, intricate mode of celebrating those wins with his teammates. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about: immediately after each Oriole win, Tejada greets infield-mates Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora with a dizzying routine of hand- and back-slapping that ends in an embrace or a macho pose.

Gettin' Miggy wit it

Columnist Kevin Cowherd of the Baltimore Sun examines this phenomenon in a story today entitled "The Move." The headline comes from the name of the ritual employed by Tejada and Cowherd in the story. Actually, Cowherd takes Tejada's unimaginatively generic description and elevates it to quasi-official status:

That hand-slap, hug, gangsta-pose routine - you have a name for that? we asked.

"No, we don't have a name," says Tejada. "We just call it a move. The move. Sometimes maybe somebody hits a home run, and we say: 'Let's do the move.'"

OK, well that's a name, isn't it?

The Move?

Tejada nods and smiles. Sure, why not?

So now we have a name for it: the Move.

To me, "the Move" is not descriptive enough a name for such an elaborate practice. I have decided to call it "the Miggy," after Tejada, who authored the ritual. Again from Cowherd's article:

As for the back story, here it is: The Move is the artistic creation of Tejada, a native of the Dominican Republic, who first saw a version of it while playing winter ball in the Caribbean.

He started orchestrating it after O's wins last season, his first in Baltimore after arriving as a free agent and signing a zillion-dollar contract.

I'm not sure whether, in that last sentence, Cowherd is trying to make a causal link between Tejada's contract and the development of the ritual. Did Tejada want to give fans a little something extra for their money, as if his fine hitting and glovework weren't entertaining enough? Well, more likely Miguel's effervescent personality felt stifled by the muted way that baseball players usually celebrate wins: a handshake or a fist-bump here, a back-pat or a butt-slap there. And so he invented his own victory dance, giving us the Miggy.

Continue reading "O's on "The Move"" »

June 23, 2005

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, the Orioles were in last place in the American League East with a dismal record of 29–38. Then-pitching coach Mark Wiley was about to be fired because the club's pitching staff was an immense disappointment, having given up a league-high 5.88 runs per game. Although most of the pitching troubles could be traced to a young, injury-riddled rotation weighed down by walks and anti-ace Sidney Ponson's bloated performance, the bullpen was also shaky. Notably, veteran reliever Mike DeJean, signed the previous offseason, was getting lit up nightly like the sky on the Fourth of July, compelling the team to make a desperate, roundly criticized trade for journeyman Jason Grimsley. Behind the pitchers, Baltimore's defense was doing its best imitation of Swiss cheese: Melvin Mora was having a tough time adjusting to the hot corner, and the team's defensive efficiency ranked near the bottom of the league.

There were issues with the bats as well. The Birds' lineup was the league's worst against left-handed pitching, and their outfield had been decimated by a combination of injuries and poor performance. The club was in the unenviable position of trying to find playing time for two young second basemen, meaning that Jerry Hairston Jr. was often playing out of position at DH or in the outfield. Rafael Palmeiro and Brian Roberts had been slumping after hot starts, so three players—Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, and Javy López—were essentially carrying the Orioles' offense. And López would soon complain that his knees were going to "explode" from catching too frequently.

Beyond the playing field, many observers doubted new manager Lee Mazzilli's capacity to lead the O's out of mediocrity, and attempts by the front office to dress the team's wounds with players from within and without were mostly falling flat. (A recent pickup, then-unknown David Newhan, had not yet made his mark on the club.) Meanwhile, the club's top pick in the June draft, pitcher Wade Townsend of Rice University, was holding out for a bigger signing bonus and would later cut off negotiations when he returned to school in September to finish his degree. Organizational sources later told the press that Townsend was actually not the first choice of Tony DeMacio's scouting staff, which had favored a shortstop, but that owner Peter Angelos had overruled the scouts and asked for a college pitcher. Throughout the 2004 season, Angelos was trying his darndest to keep the Montreal Expos from moving to Washington, arguing that a team next door would do irreparable harm to the Orioles' revenues.

Continue reading "What a difference a year makes" »

June 30, 2005


And it's getting very hard to stay
And we're moving on to Allentown

(Apologies to Mr. Joel.)

The Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx, could move to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2008, according to an article in today's Morning Call (Allentown's local newspaper):

Allentown's minor league baseball stadium — all but certain to be approved today by the state Senate — would be home to a Class AAA team, one step below the major leagues.

Legislative sources have identified the team as the Ottawa Lynx, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. If all goes as planned, the team will start playing in an east Allentown stadium in 2008.

Continue reading "A-A-Allentown" »

July 13, 2005

2005 midseason analysis, part 1: the standings

At the All-Star break, the 47–40 Orioles find themselves at a pivotal stage in their drive for a playoff spot. Their tumble over the past three weeks dropped them two games below first-place Boston in the American League East and a game and a half behind Minnesota in the wild-card race. And the Orioles aren't the only team contending for that last playoff spot: Cleveland, New York, and Texas trail the Twins by two games.

Early in the season, the Orioles dominated opponents like a division leader should, winning nearly two out of every three games while their main rivals, the Red Sox and Yankees, battled injuries, slumps, and decline. Indeed, for the season's first two months, Baltimore appeared to be cruising toward a postseason berth, and as recently as a month ago, the O's still sat comfortably atop their division with a three-game lead over Boston. Housing in Jimmyville (the fictional municipality of optimistic Oriole fans) was booked solid.

But as usually happens, the breaks began to even out. Injuries took critical players out of the Orioles' lineup, and the reinforcements were not as good as the men they replaced. The pitching rotation regressed, the bullpen blew a few leads, and some hitters fell into slumps. Meanwhile, other teams caught up to or passed the Birds. Baltimore's current trajectory is uncertain: from here the team could remain in contention or sink further still.

How have the O's reached this precarious position, and where do the signposts point for the second half? A survey of the team's first-half statistics may help uncover the answer.

Continue reading "2005 midseason analysis, part 1: the standings" »

July 15, 2005

2005 midseason analysis, part 2: team stats

As the Orioles play the first game of the rest of their season in Seattle tonight, I present this sprint through Baltimore's pre-break statistics, most of which I gleaned from the bounty of baseball numbers available at Thanks also to the conscientious scorers at STATS, Inc., who supply the numbers to ESPN. Other data sources I used are the sites of the Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times.

Continue reading "2005 midseason analysis, part 2: team stats" »

July 16, 2005

Palmeiro hits 3,000

Congratulations to the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro for reaching the 3,000-hit mark. He did it with a double off of Seattle's Joel Pi�eiro in the fifth inning of Friday night's game at Safeco Field. It was a solidly struck liner to the opposite field that landed inside the foul line on the warning track in the left-field corner.

The placement of the hit was odd because Palmeiro has been an incorrigible pull hitter for most of his career, leading teams to load their defenders toward the right side of the diamond. However, this particular hit would have landed safely even if the defense had been conventionally aligned. Later in the game, he singled to clear one of those pesky zeroes from his career hit total.

From what I gather, the low-key Palmeiro hasn't exactly cherished the intense attention that followed him as he approached this milestone, so he must be relieved that it's over. Cheers, Raffy.

Continue reading "Palmeiro hits 3,000" »

July 19, 2005

2005 midseason analysis, part 3: injury accounting

“Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription is more cowbell!”

—fictional record producer Bruce Dickinson (as played by Christopher Walken) on a Saturday Night Live sketch that first aired April 8, 2000

With 70 games left in the regular season, Baltimore finds itself in the thick of the playoff race. But in the past month or so, the team has not been winning consistently the way it did early in the year. Injuries have thrown the Birds' formerly smooth-running outfit out of rhythm. Will the Orioles find their figurative cowbell in time to fuel their drive for the playoffs?

Continue reading "2005 midseason analysis, part 3: injury accounting" »

July 27, 2005

Judge to Comcast: Yer out!

Finally, some action! But not the kind of action most Orioles fans were hoping for:

This morning, the Comcast-MASN feud went to a courtroom to be heard by a judge for the first time. (For more of the backstory, read Eric Fisher's report in today's Washington Times.) The result? Montgomery County Circuit Judge Durke G. Thompson dismissed Comcast's lawsuit, ruling that the Orioles did not violate the matching-offer condition in their contract with Comcast by planning to move their telecasts to the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is jointly owned by the Orioles and Major League Baseball (the split is 90/10). The contract requires the Orioles to allow Comcast to match any third-party offer to broadcast the Orioles' games when the current agreement concludes after next season. According to the judge, MASN does not fit the definition of a third party.

The judge gave Comcast 30 days to respond, so the standoff is not over. But the end may be in sight. If today's ruling holds up, a resolution of the suit could occur before the end of the season, allowing Washington Nationals games to be shown on an MASN channel via Comcast.

This development brightens the outlook for Nationals fans who subscribe to Comcast cable. Those fans have been unable to view many of their team's games in this inaugural year because Comcast has refused to carry MASN on its network during the dispute. Meanwhile, Orioles games have continued to be shown on Comcast Sportsnet per their existing broadcast agreement with the network. But the ruling is certainly welcome news for all those in the Orioles' camp, as a healthy MASN would mean a more stable financial future for the team.

July 28, 2005

Sing a new song

For the past two weeks, trade rumors have been bouncing from treetop to treetop in Birdland. Local news services have been busy releasing updates on proposed deals, sports talk radio shows have been flush with callers, and online discussion forums have been packed to season-high levels. Many Orioles fans, invigorated by the thrill of the chase, have appealed to club management to make a bold move (or two or three) and push the team from its doldrums to the forefront of the crowded AL playoff race.

Of course, sports fans have a tendency to be short-sighted and impatient. But no less than Baltimore Sun senior columnist John Eisenberg, typically a level-headed opiner, has been one of the leaders of the chorus. Eisenberg argued pointedly in his July 1 column that the front office needed to add talent to the existing squad this year because another promising opportunity for a playoff run might not happen in upcoming years. Further muddling the situation, he wrote, is the uncertainty surrounding the return of club management—the contracts of front-office heads Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie are up for renewal at the end of this year, and manager Lee Mazzilli's contract option for 2006 has yet to be activated. Eisenberg wrote that the Orioles needed to make “a dramatic move intended to give [them] a better chance of winning—now.”

Don't think twice, it's all right

That was four weeks ago. But Eisenberg has kept up the pressure, writing in yesterday's column, "[The Orioles] have a realistic chance, and they should do all they can to improve themselves in the five shopping days left before the deadline."

Eisenberg's verbal prods represent a shift in the atmosphere of expectations surrounding Baltimore's baseball club. After a series of fourth-place finishes followed by a third-place finish last year, now visions of the playoffs dance in the heads of the Orioles' faithful. The possibilities of a brighter tomorrow have taken a back seat to the pressing realities of today.

And to keep up with the new reality, Eisenberg argues, a corresponding shift in responsibility is in order for the team's current regime: instead of being "sellers" of veterans at the trading deadline, they should now be "buyers" peddling young prospects for established major-league talent.

Continue reading "Sing a new song" »

July 30, 2005

O's make a splash by getting Byrnes

The Orioles finally made a trade, sending Larry Bigbie to the last-place Colorado Rockies for Eric Byrnes in an swap of outfielders. The transaction was announced in the middle of Friday night's game. Here's a link to the story from Saturday's Washington Post.

Byrnes, 29, is headed for his third team in 16 days, as he came to the Rockies from the Oakland Athletics on July 13. He's probably best known for the hustling, highlight-reel catches he made for Oakland over the past few years. Scouting reports and statistics rate him as an above-average corner outfielder defensively. He can also play center, where he is about average.

He's not a bad hitter either. This year he hit .266/.336/.474 (BA/OBP/SLG) for the Athletics, numbers roughly in line with his production in 2003 and 2004. (Keep in mind that Oakland's stadium deflates offense slightly.) A right-handed batter, he has slightly above-average power for a corner outfielder and knows how to use his speed to steal an occasional base (37 SB with an 86% success rate in his career).

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August 1, 2005

At first, a stunner

As David has recounted, the big news of the day is that first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended ten days by Major League Baseball for violating the league's drug policy. The league's press release announcing the suspension did not identify the banned substance turned up by Palmeiro's drug test, but early reports from other news sources indicate that it was a steroid.

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August 4, 2005

Maz be gone

In a decision that was not totally unexpected, the Orioles replaced manager Lee Mazzilli with bench coach Sam Perlozzo this afternoon. Perlozzo, a native Marylander who in the past has been a candidate for managing jobs with the Orioles and other big-league teams, takes over the club for the remainder of the season.

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August 26, 2005

Short tackling the tallest of orders

Here's a pleasant story from the ex-Oriole vein: Rick Short, who toiled in the Orioles' organization from 1994 to 2000 without reaching the majors, is having the season of his life for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Les Carpenter of the Washington Post wrote a feature-length article on Short entitled “Career Minor Leaguer Is Defying the Law of Averages” that appeared on the front page of the paper yesterday. It describes Short's exceptional year and his twelve-year odyssey through pro baseball, during which he has encountered great frustration and responded to it with equally great determination.

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October 11, 2005

Off with O's head (or half of it, anyway)

Before I get to the day's big news, the bumping of executive vice president Jim Beattie, indulge me for a few paragraphs as I ruminate on the Orioles' ruinous state.

Continue reading "Off with O's head (or half of it, anyway)" »

October 23, 2005

Orioles go "ZZ" tops by hiring Mazzone

Maybe we should call it "The Return of the Killer Z's." Barely one week after locking up manager (and Marylander) Sam Perlozzo for the next three seasons, yesterday the Orioles announced the signing of Perlozzo's longtime friend, Leo Mazzone, to a three-year contract to be their pitching coach.

Coming off a remarkably successful 27 years in the Atlanta Braves' organization, the last 15½ overseeing the Braves' pitchers, Mazzone returns to the state in which he grew up and where his parents and children still live. The New York Yankees also had been courting Mazzone, but the ties of friendship and kinship proved a stronger lure than Yankee money and pinstripes. (Apparently, the Orioles' "Confederate money" wasn't a deal-breaker in this case.)

Early coverage from the media:

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October 25, 2005

Profiler Ritterpusch sent packing

Dave Ritterpusch, who openly touted his use of psychological data to rate players as director of baseball information systems for the Orioles, is no longer with the team after being forced to resign (along with his assistant, Ed Coblentz) yesterday by executive vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan. The official reason given by Flanagan was that Ritterpusch's blabbiness to the media about the club's evaluation methods had become an “unnecessary distraction.... I think it really undermined his effectiveness.”

Let that be a lesson to loose-lipped leakers everywhere.

Press reports on Ritterpusch's dismissal:

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April 3, 2006

Thoughts off the top of an open mind

A few thoughts as the Orioles' regular season begins with today's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:

  • Most prognosticators (human and computer-assisted) have the Orioles pegged for yet another fourth-place finish this year. Given the nearly static nature of the AL East's order of finish in the last eight seasons, it is only sensible of them to expect more of the same. But it would be nice to see someone show a little creativity every once in a while. Virtually everyone has New York and Boston maintaining their lock on the top two positions in the division, though they disagree on which will finish first. Toronto usually ends up in a respectable third, while Baltimore and Tampa Bay (usually in that order) pull up the rear. Some links to preseason predictions:

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May 20, 2006

Notes on a friendly neighborhood baseball game

For Orioles fans, this was the instant, take-home message of Friday night's 5-1 win over the host Nationals:

"We may suck, but at least we suck less than you [the Nats]."

Honestly, though, it was a beautiful night in the neighborhood, and even more so if you were an O's fan. Although Nationals supporters clearly had the edge in numbers at RFK yesterday, a sizeable contingent cheered the Orioles as if Baltimore was the home team and not the visitors. (Nats fans now understand how it feels when throngs of Yankee and Red Sox followers invade Camden Yards every year.) These Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons, depending on your point of view) came to Washington with a chip on their shoulder, as if they wanted to prove that their loyalty to the Birds was not the Johnny-come-lately kind, that it was not a love "like a red, red rose / That's newly sprung in June," but a diehard devotion forged by season after season of ups and (more recently) downs. In other words, these faithful followers of the Orioles weren't the kind to change their feathers just because another baseball team set up camp in D.C. with a bigger bird as its mascot. (Have you seen the Nationals' mascot, Screech? Eech!) Proudly wearing their orange-and-black gear, Oriole fans made sure the "O" was accentuated in the last couplet of the national anthem. They filled the stadium with persistent cries of "Let's go, O's" throughout the game. They roared enthusiastically whenever the Orioles scored. They made sure they were seen as well as heard. Sometimes it seemed like they were trying a little too hard to be noticed, like a neglected middle child.

Meanwhile, the genteel Nats fans, seemingly unaccustomed to such an intrusion, failed to garner much of a response—their attempts at a "Let's go, Nats" riposte were generally overpowered by the visiting fans' cries. And the home team gave them little to cheer for on this evening, as the Orioles' Kris Benson quieted the Nats' bats in a complete-game five-hitter. Only a late upper-deck smash by Alfonso Soriano kept Washington from being blanked in the runs column.

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July 13, 2006

In the bleak midsummer

In the past two seasons, I've used the All-Star break as an opportunity to pause and take account of the Orioles' first half in statistical terms. This year, I've browsed through most of the pertinent numbers, and there isn't much to report that isn't already obvious to a casual observer. Nevertheless, I'll recap a few first-half team statistics and then add a few notes on individual players.

Stat recap

  • That 41–49 won-lost record ain't lyin': the O's truly have been one of the worst teams in the American League this year. Indeed, the only AL team that played significantly beneath the Orioles' pre-ASB level was the comically hapless K.C. Royals. According to the Adjusted Standings at, Baltimore's performance actually has been a bit worse than its won-lost record, after accounting for factors such as run differential, league- and park-adjusted offensive and defensive stats, and quality of competition. Here, the statistical evidence supports the standings. There is a clear dividing line in the AL East this year: Boston, Toronto, and New York are in a legitimate fight for the division crown, while several rungs below them, Baltimore and Tampa Bay are trying to avoid the ignominious odor of the cellar.
  • The bats have been mediocre. At the break, the Orioles' rate of 4.84 runs scored per game was a smidgen below the league average of 5.05. (Home park adjustments didn't make much of a difference in the rankings.) In every significant offensive statistic, the O's fell in the middle of the pack or worse. The only positions on the O's that hit markedly better than the league average for their position were shortstop (Miguel Tejada) and catcher (Ramón Hernández); most of the others were in the lower third of the rankings in OPS. And the saddest thing is that none of the members of the starting lineup figures to improve much in the second half, except perhaps Nick Markakis.
  • The pitching, supposedly the organization's long suit, has been appalling, and both the starting rotation and bullpen have blame to claim. The team ERA of 5.29 and RA/G of 5.57 (source: The Hardball Times) were both next to last in the AL, ahead of just the Royals. The staff currently leads the league in free passes issued (3.9 BB/G as calculated by THT) and has struck out batters at a below-average rate (5.9 K/G according to THT, compared to a league rate of 6.3). Add in a high rate of home runs allowed (1.3 HR/G; league mean: 1.14) and you have a group of arms that has lived up (or down) to its low ranking in nearly every way.
  • The defense has been suspect. The team defensive efficiency of .688 was third-worst in the AL at the All-Star break, and most of the other fielding stats I've seen also indicate that Oriole glovework has been subpar, though not to an extreme.

Continue reading "In the bleak midsummer" »

September 1, 2006

Rookie of the Year watch?

For obvious reasons, I've been tracking the progress of Nick Markakis this year. And with the new month, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at his season so far. At the end of July -- a month in which Markakis had hit a stellar .403 to lead the majors for the month -- I noted how much he had brought up his seasonal totals after a lousy start. Well, shockingly, he managed to improve on that month, and bring up his numbers even more. There's no way to slice the numbers such that he doesn't look great, but here are a few interesting tidbits:

  • His monthly OPS, April-August: 558, 667, 803, 999, 1140 (!)

  • Breaking down his numbers, makes it really clear how much he improved every month. This chart shows his performance in April, and then his performance since April, allowing us to salivate at the thought of what would happen if he hadn't started off so slowly:

    April 2006       - 182/270/288 (558 OPS)
    May 1  - Aug. 31 - 340/394/531 (925 OPS)
    June 1 - Aug. 31 - 366/414/588 (1002 OPS)
    July 1 - Aug. 31 - 376/418/659 (1077 OPS)
    Aug. 1 - Aug. 31 - 354/400/740 (1140 OPS)

    Add it all up, and his seasonal totals are: 312/372/488.

    (What does the above chart mean? Essentially, he had a miserable April, and a mediocre May, which bring down his early numbers. As the season went on, he got better and better. Of course, those months count, but they illustrate that since he became acclimated to the majors -- remember, he had never played above AA ball before April of this year -- he has been on a complete tear.)

  • Continue reading "Rookie of the Year watch?" »

    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:

    Continue reading "Mainely nonsense" »

    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." »

    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.

    Continue reading "Mr. Ripken goes to Cooperstown" »

    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.

    Continue reading "Turning the page" »

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