|Bricks from the Warehouse|
"This lineup can hit." "We know we have talent." "We're going to start hitting soon." "Too much talent not to score runs." "We just need to get on track." And other variations on the theme. (Our personal favorite: "The Hideo Nomo no-hitter wrecked the team's confidence.")
You know what? It's not true. None of it.
Will the team occasionally have good games? Yes, of course. But it's not a sign of breaking out of a slump; it's just an occasional good game. This team's problem isn't a lack of confidence. It's not a fluke. It's not facing good pitchers. It's not psychological. It's not a slump. It's not a question of playing up to their potential. They're not going to start hitting. It's a lack of talent. The team doesn't have offensive talent. What the team has is a bunch of bad players who are either washed-up or never-wases, most of whom play the same positions. Look at the roster:
(Of course, several of the players listed are "versatile," meaning they play several positions badly instead of just the one listed above.)
Now, we ask you: does that really look like a talented offense? Is there anybody there who could be expected to hit for power? Anybody who would scare opposing pitchers? Is there anybody there who would be expected to be an All-Star, even if he had a good year? Anybody who would likely start for the Yankees, or Red Sox?
Answers: No. No. No. No. No, and no. Respectively. And we're not talking about their current lack of hitting; we're talking about their established level of poor play. Even if they "come out of their slumps."
How many of these players hit 20 home runs last year? One -- Bordick, who hit exactly 20. When's the last time any of them hit 30 HRs? Anderson, back in nineteen-ninety-six. How many have ever hit 30 HRs? Anderson, and Ripken (back in 1991). How many of them have ever hit 25 home runs? Anderson (Once: 1996), Ripken (last in 1996), Conine (last in 1996). That's it. Now, we don't mean to imply that homers are the sum total of offense, but the inability to put together a lineup that hits with power -- in an era where everyone hits for power -- is telling. And it's not as if they do other things to make up for their lack of power. There are no .350 hitters here. No 100-walk players.
So go down the lineup, position by position. Make an honest assessment of each player:
Brook Fordyce is 31 years old, and has only 800 career MLB ABs -- with good reason. Nobody ever thought he was qualified to be anything more than a part time player, except Syd Thrift. Last year, the White Sox were in first place with him, he was having a good year, and they still dumped him. But the Orioles had been looking for an excuse to get rid of Charles Johnson, because Peter Angelos hates his agent, Scott Boras. So having used Fordyce as an excuse to dump Johnson, the team needed to sign Fordyce to a big deal to make it look like it wasn't a stupid deal.
David Segui's career high in home runs is 21... four years ago. He's 34 now. Last year was a pretty good year for him -- while playing in the best hitter's parks in the American League, he hit like an average AL first baseman. In his career best season. He has never slugged .500. Ever. Or had a .400 OBP. Ever.
Jerry Hairston is a young player with some promise. Well, sort of. Actually, he's already 25 -- the same age as Miguel Tejada, only a year younger than Alex Rodriguez. Now, we don't mean to imply that one has to be as good as A-Rod to be valuable -- but it just goes to show how skewed the Orioles' notion of "young player" really is. And what can the team really expect from Hairston? Power? No. Hitting for average? No. Basically a mid-level second baseman. Better than paying Delino DeShields millions to do the same job, but it's not as if we're talking about a future star.
Mike Bordick is 35 years old. Full disclosure: his last few years were better than we predicted they would be. But they weren't very good, even so. And last year, a white-hot April disguised the fact that he didn't hit much the rest of the year, and was so disappointing for the Mets in the stretch run and in the playoffs that they didn't want him back at all, at any price.
Cal Ripken is "only" 40, though he looks and plays like he's 78. He doesn't walk. He doesn't hit for average. His power is gone. (And to top it off, though we're focusing on offense, he can't field, either.)
That's the infield, and it should suffice to show you what we mean. We could go on. In fact, we will, because this deserves full treatment.
Look at the outfield: Brady Anderson has performed well in the past. But he's 37, he slipped last year, and he has slipped further this year. He no longer has power. Not exactly what you're looking for from your right fielder. Meanwhile, they invented the word "journeyman" specifically to describe the 29-year old Melvin Mora. Mora languished in the Astrosí system for years, never getting -- and never earning -- a shot. His career best was a 352/426 in A ball in 1994. Finally, he went to Taiwan -- and didnít do anything there. He came back to the U.S., got hot long enough to earn a job for the Mets, and then proceeded to lose the job as soon as he was given regular playing time. Not exactly starting OF caliber. Delino DeShields can be expected to hit pretty much the way you'd expect a solid second baseman to hit. Unfortunately, the Orioles have him stashed in left field, where good hitters are supposed to play.
The other outfielder is Chris Richard. Richard is a 27 year old near-rookie. That alone should tell you what you need to know. He'll show some power, but little plate discipline. That makes him okay, nothing more. And sadly, he might be the team's best hitter.
And what about the bench? Well, it contains first basemen and catchers, which doesn't exactly leave a lot of flexibility in pinch hitting. Greg Myers is a career backup catcher, who, despite being a LHB, has been untradeable. There's a reason why nobody wants to give the Orioles any value for him. We donít want to exaggerate our case; heís an acceptable backup catcher. But so what? That's not an offensive threat, despite a hot streak to start the year. And Fernando Lunar is the slow Manny Alexander. He has no skills related to baseball, but the Orioles refuse to demote him, on the "fear" that someone would claim him off waivers. That's laughable, but more important, so what if someone did? Mike Kinkade and Jay Gibbons have both hit in the minors -- but both are buried on the Orioles bench. Finally, there's utilityman Jeff Conine, who can play any of the corner positions, sort of. He was once a good hitter. But that was years ago. He's not even good enough to start for Florida or Kansas City any more.
See what we mean? If you were the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or Toronto, would you take any of these guys to start for your team? No. This team stinks. The only real question that remains is whether management knows that they stink, and are just blowing smoke for public consumption, or whether management actually is clueless enough to believe that these players are good. Based on the available evidence, we suggest that the answer, unfortunately, is the latter. Syd Thrift is out of touch. His moves show it. His public statements show it. And comments from other general managers show it. He really evaluates players not by talent, not by performance, but by the fact that he remembers in his senile mind that these guys were good five years ago, and he canít grasp the fact that players age. Things will get better, because they canít get worse Ė but theyíre unlikely to get much better until Syd Thrift is gone, and someone who is competent has Angelosís ear.