Friday, March 27, 2009

Batter up: Baltimore Orioles

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a team which you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things about each team. At bat: The Baltimore Orioles.
  1. On the right, that's Matt Wieters. As overlord, all will kneel trembling before him and obey his brutal commands.

    The Orioles are having the switch-hitting catcher start the season in Triple-A, waiting as long as possible before the clock starts on his major-league service time (the Rays did the exact same thing with David Price, their phenom).

    The Beep projected Wieters to be the most valuable catcher in the majors this season and the fifth-best player overall. Still, there's a method to the madness of putting him in the minors for a couple weeks. He probably needs to have some artificial obstacles laid down in front of him.
  2. It is apropos to start with the Orioles' future, since the past and present is not much to write home about. They're a mortal lock to finish the first decade of the new millennium without ever finishing above .500, but the upshot is it should get better. FanGraphs gives them an A- for their minor-league talent. As long as GM Andy MacPhail is free to run the team as he see fits, there's hope for improvement.
  3. The Erik Bedard trade, a year later, is a clear W for the O's. Some day, it might seem like a steal that they got centrefielder Adam Jones or righty starter Chris Tillman straight up from Seattle for Bedard in early 2008, let alone got both of them and three other players.
  4. The Orioles will likely have The Cavalry of Tillman, right-hander Jake Arrieta and lefty Brian Matusz spread across three minor-league levels at the start of the season. Baseball Prospectus 2009 considers them the "the most impressive set of starting pitching prospects in the game."
  5. Manager Dave Trembley not only skipped the Ottawa Lynx, but way back when, the Carthage, N.Y., native played amateur baseball in Kingston, just across the Canada-U.S. border. There's a reason to have a soft spot for the Baltimores.
  6. Yours truly didn't follow baseball too closely for a few years in the early 2000s, so it's kick to discover, six years late, that the O's $66-million-dollar man, rightfielder Nick Markakis, was also scouted as a left-handed pitcher.

    Markakis has upped his on-base and slugging percentages two years in a row and scored 106 runs last season. Re-sort some of his 69 extra-base hits into the home-run column (48 doubles, 20 homers last season), and everyone will know his name.
  7. Orioles attendance dipped below 2 million last season, for the first time since they have played at Camden Yards. The team has tried to turn this to its advantage by introducing their own stimulus package. Children 10 and under get in free to Thursday home games.
  8. Former Jay Gregg Zaun gets to play every day, for a couple weeks until Wieters comes up.

  9. Left unsaid by No. 4 is that the current Orioles rotation is undefined. Righty Jeremy Guthrie is the only holdover who was better than a league-average starter last season. He's not a big strikeout guy (5.66/9 innings last season) and he benefited from a low batting average on balls in play (.261) and good fielding support last season.
  10. Trading leadoff man Brian Roberts would be the ultimate sell-high. He's a 31-year-old second baseman whose game is built being a gap hitter who can run; that doesn't scream longevity.
  11. Keep an eye on Jones' walk and strikeout rates. He drew only 23 bases on balls and whiffed 108 times in his first full season; that's usually a tell as to what kind of career is in store for someone.
  12. The Orioles picked ahead of the Blue Jays in 2006, when Travis Snider, God's gift of sunshine, was drafted. If Baltimore should ever miss the playoffs by one game in some future season, their fans will rue that day.
  13. Righty Hayden Penn is not who they thought he was. He was supposed to be the next big thing three years ago; it turns out that thing was "bust." He got jocked in his last spring training start. He's also out of options, so the Orioles can't send him to the minors.
  14. DH Aubrey Huff's 2008 season, .304 average, 32 homers, 108 RBI, .552 slugging percentage, 48 doubles, was near-identical to his 2003 season with the then-Devil Rays: .311 average, 34 homers, 107 ribbies, .555 slugging, 47 doubles.
  15. Huff and third baseman Melvin Mora are each in their contract years. The obvious question is how badly the Orioles want to keep two veterans who spent a lot of time in a losing culture.
  16. The Blue Jays losing to the Orioles will be a little more tolerable now that Kevin Millar no longer plays for Baltimore. There's just something about his face, plus he played for Boston. Naturally, the Jays picked him up to back up Lyle Overbay at first base.
  17. Closer George Sherrill's story arc, from pitching in indy ball with the Winnipeg Goldeyes to pitching in the All-Star Game last summer, resonates. There's a little George Sherrill in everyone who has despaired at being the bush leagues of a certain field, though few would wear a cap the way he does.
  18. Former Jays backup catcher Alberto Castillo, 39 years old, is in the Orioles' camp. It might as well be a major-league rule that anyone who's caught for Toronto must end up in Baltimore at some point. Zaun is now with the Orioles, while his former backup in T-dot, Guillermo Quiroz, was just released.
  19. Quiroz could be the catcher on the Can I Try My Career Over? all-decade team.
  20. The shuttle goes both ways, though. The Jays picked up left-hander Brian Burres and utility infielder Brandon Fahey, who get to be Triple-A veterans in Las Vegas instead of Norfolk, Virginia.
  21. Minor-league outfielder Nolan Reimold hit 25 homers and slugged .501 in Double-A last summer, no mean feat in the Eastern League. He's blocked by Markakis, so someone should give him a first-base glove.
  22. The greatest Oriole (not including those who played for the legendary minor-league team), Cal Ripken Jr., OPS-plused 144 in 1983, when he won his first MVP award and the Orioles won their last World Series title.

    The following season, he was basically the same player, OPS-plusing 145. For that, Ripken and finished 27th in the balloting, probably since the Orioles fell from 98 to 85 wins and ended up a distant fourth in the AL East.
  23. Former catcher Chris Hoiles' 1993 season, when he on-based .416 and slugged .585, still seems mystifying a decade and a half later. Hoiles was a solid hitter, but what prompted him to break out like that for one season, then never again?
  24. The Orioles, come 2010 or '11, will probably be where the Jays were in 2007-08, a contending team in any division except the AL East.

  25. No look at the Orioles is complete without some classic Earl Weaver. Would that all of us could deliver a riposte like umpire Tom Haller: "In the Hall of Fame for what? For fucking up the World Series?"



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Guthrie not a hard thrower? Did you know he was in the Top 10 in MLB last year in highest average fastball among starting pitchers?

sager said...

Arrrgh, I meant not a big strikeout guy, 120 in 190 2/3 innings last season, that's less than 6 per 9 innings. Good catch, I'll amend that.

[/digging own grave]

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