Thursday, July 31, 2008

Prospect Report: Brad Bergesen

For my third installment I initially looked to profile a hitter, such as the young L.J. Hoes or near-ML-ready Nolan Reimold. However Brad Bergesen, as he has done with the entire Orioles organization, has forced people to take notice. He has been quietly dominant this season, currently holding a 13-3 record at AA Bowie with a 2.68 ERA following his early season promotion from High-A Frederick. Those thirteen wins incidentally, tie the Baysox club record for wins in a season. With the O's pitching woes (to put it lightly) in the majors he has been the subject of conversation regarding a possible promotion to the big club. He did nothing to quell those rumors this past Tuesday when he treated the home Bowie fans to a complete game shutout against visiting New Britain.

So, who is Brad Bergesen? Bradley Bergesen stands at 6'2" and 205 pounds, and was born in Concord CA. Brad was drafted straight out of high school in the 4th round of the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft and signed quickly that July. Through the early parts of Bergesen's progression through the Orioles minor league system, he went through a stiff adjustment period when moving up in level. After a strong finish at Aberdeen in 2005, Brad struggled at Delmarva in 2006, going 5-4 with a 4.58 ERA. His season ended early that year as he was diagnosed with mononucleosis in early August. Bergesen rebounded strongly in 2007 at Delmarva where he tore through A-ball hitters in 15 starts, posting a 2.19 ERA and .214 average. Later in the season he was promoted to High-A Frederick where he struggled again, as hitters batted well over .300 against the right hander. Brad, as in 2007, bolted out of the gate in 2008 and dominated High-A before coming up to Double-A Bowie. Unlike last promotions, however, Brad Bergesen has stepped up in a big way against superior competition and continues to hold down offenses and pitch deep into games.

Strengths: Without a doubt Bergesen's greatest strength is his command. In 117.1 innings this season at Bowie he has allowed only 20 walks, leading to a ratio of 1.5 walks per 9 innings pitched. Even in some of his struggles last season, Bergesen only walked 26 batters in 150.2 innings. He utilizes his command to keep the ball low, and has thus become an excellent groundball pitcher through his career, holding a 1.68 GO/AO ratio currently this season. There is no doubt that Brad's future is as a starter rather than in the bullpen as he has excellent control of four pitches; a two-seam fastball, four-seem fastball, slider, and changeup. Another encouraging sign this season is that Brad has improved his velocity, with his fastball ranging from 90-92 mph, occasionally hitting 93.

Weaknesses: Although Bergesen has full command of four pitches, the prevailing opinion is that none of his pitches are above average. Combined with the fact that Bergesen keeps the ball in the strike zone there is some concern over whether or not he will be able to handle major league hitting. Bergesen will most likely rely heavily on guile to get by in the major leagues. If he doesn't hit his spots and keep the ball down, he's liable to get hit around pretty hard.

Projection: While many are calling for Bradley to be in the rotation later this season, don't bet money on it. The Orioles organization knows that he often takes awhile to adjust to each level, so it is far better to let him work his way through AAA before trying to attack the major league level. In that spirit, expect him to get a callup to Norfolk before the end of this season instead (with Hayden Penn most likely moving to the majors, but that's for another report). Brad will get a shot at making an impression on the staff next year at Spring Training, but expect him to start 2009 in Norfolk and most likely stay there through the end of August barring a major need in the big club. He will be in the rotation in 2010 at the latest.

(Photo Credit: Bowie Baysox)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Star Treatment

Let me set the scene for you in case you didn’t get to see the game last night. It is the bottom of the 8th, and the Orioles lead the Yankees, 6-1. Daniel Cabrera is cruising through the game, and Bobby Abreu is at the plate. Abreu lines to right field, bouncing to Nick Markakis as he launches a rocket to Juan Castro covering second base. Castro tags Abreu out as he attempts to slide into seond, but is called safe. It was a close play, I will admit that much. However, the umpire was in perfect position to see the Orioles shortstop apply the tag to Abreu’s back. Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and await the next pitch, this time to Alex Rodriguez.

“Plunk.” Rodriguez is hit in the shoulder and takes a long walk around the backstop, milking his time for all it’s worth. At first I wondered whether it was retaliation, but for what? Either way I expected nothing more than a bench warning. I watch Daniel Cabrera suddenly stare open-mouthed at the umpire behind home plate- he has been tossed from the game. He raises his arms in genuine disbelief as Dave Trembley comes out on the obligatory argument.

Cabrera is known as one of the wildest pitchers in the major leagues. He regularly ranks among the top of the majors in walks and hit batters as Joe Angel indicated, and had made close to 100 pitches in the game by this point. If you don’t expect Cabrera to make a bad pitch, then you don’t know your pitchers. And clearly they must, as the strike zone seems to shrink when the umpire sees Cabrera step up to the mound. There was no warning, not hesitation, no angry rant before tossing Cabrera from the game. The moment A-Rod was plunked, Cabrera was gone.

And for what? Retaliation? So what if Rodriguez had fired a home run at this previous at bat? The Orioles were leading by 5 runs; there was no sense in making things interesting by adding another batter. Did the umpire think that Cabrera was trying to send the Yankees a message? Look, if A-Rod can put up with divorce, Madonna, and the crippling paralysis he endures every October, he can certainly handle a wild pitch. Moreover, this is not Trembley’s style. He wants to win- he would never risk a game by hitting batters. I have seen the O’s get banged up by wild or vindictive pitchers and managers, but I have never once seen Trembley go after them in response. He believes in the purity of the game. He would gladly take his bases and not give them back to the opposition.

It is no secret that the calls get fewer and farther between when you are playing the Yankees. It is what we in Maryland experience whenever the Terps travel to Cameron Indoor, or when the Patriots visit the Ravens (I still get chills from last year’s stolen win).

What followed this travesty in judgment? Jim Johnson was forced in early without having warmed up, and quickly loaded the bases and allowed two more runs to score, aided in no small part by Adam Jones’ fielding mistake. A bad call or a rash decision can have a tremendous impact on a baseball game. The down time allowed between plays allows tension and distraction to sink in; it is incredibly difficult to keep your focus through the long pauses between pitches. Sure enough, in the 9th inning Sherrill continued the team’s implosion, allowing a walk, single, and double, struck out A-Rod, allowed a two-run single before striking out the last two batters to end the game.

Not only was Cabrera forced to exit a game he could have completed, he was charged with two more runs to ruin one of his only strong performances of the last two months. The Orioles were compelled to use up their two best relievers in Johnson and George Sherrill in a game that should have been over at that point.

After Cabrera was ejected I sat down to start writing this post and I heard something on the radio behind me. “…and it doesn’t look like the Orioles will get the call.” Don’t hold your breath.

(AP Photo)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NBA Summer League Update: Maryland

For our first basketball post on ATH, I wanted to exclusively cover the tournament, but our non-existent budget doesn't cover a trip to Las Vegas. But, some former Terrapins looking to make it big and impress in the NBA summer league in Sin City. What are their chances of having an impact in on the big stage?

D.J. Strawberry (6'5'' guard, Maryland 2003-07, Phoenix Suns)
D.J. Strawberry was taken with the 59th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Suns. He got out of the Developmental League during the season and joined up with Phoenix to play in 33 games, averaging 2.2 points per contest.

--Summer stats: 30.4 minutes per game, 18.0 ppg (38 FG%), 3.0 apg
The Suns clearly want to see what Strawberry can do; he averages more minutes than anyone else on the Suns summer team. He's trying to adjust to the point as a possible backup to Steve Nash, but is getting more turnovers (3.4 tpg) than assists.

Strawberry is 6'5'', a good size for a guard. He plays solid defense and has good leadership abilities. Passing is also solid.
He isn't the offensive player you'd like him to be. Needs to work on scoring and free throw shooting.

--NBA possibilities?
Strawberry has the talent to be a solid bench player in the NBA, and is in the right place. Three of Phoenix's six guards are over the age of 31, so he has a chance to be an important player especially with a head coaching change this past season. However, when asked to be Maryland's point guard, he struggled, and didn't explode until going back to shooting guard. So, his future in the NBA will depend on his growth. Physically, he has the tools, but he needs to improve.

Nik Caner-Medley (6'8'' forward, Maryland 2002-06, LA Lakers summer squad)
Maine's favorite basketball player went undrafted in 2006, eventually getting cutdue to injury by the Detroit Pistons after signing him. After Caner-Medley spent some time in Spain and the NBA Development League, Caner-Medley continues to try to make it to the NBA floor, this time with the Lakers summer squad.

--Summer stats: 17.4 minutes per game, 8.8 ppg (43.8 FG%), 5.0 rpg
It is hard to scope how much interest the Lakers have in Caner-Medley; 14 players average double-digit minutes. But he has shown decent play, including getting 19 points in a close win against Minnesota. His only start wasn't that spectacular, going 3-9 against Toronto.

Always puts 100% on the court and wants the ball. Decent shooter from the field and the charity stripe.
Not a good height, has to play the 3 despite being used to the 4. Also will make costly decisions on the court.

--NBA possibilities?
Although Caner-Medley is talented, I don't see him on an NBA roster. His height restricts him to the three, and he has played power forward most of his career to this point, and isn't built to play small forward. The Lakers made the NBA Finals last season, so they don't need much help. But, if Caner-Medley can impress enough people, he may get a shot with someone else.

James Gist (6'9'' forward, Maryland 2004-08, San Antonio Spurs [unsigned])
James Gist was the 57th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Spurs, but hasn't signed with the team yet. Since his graduation from Maryland, he competed in some senior games and the dunk contest, and joins the Spurs squad in Las Vegas.

--Summer stats: 22.8 minutes per game, 10.8 ppg (62.1 FG%), 7.3 rpg
Gist has been solid on the court for San Antonio, good considering the Spurs are trying on a number of big men in their games. He's been trying to be more physical and so far it has paid off, leading the squad in points, rebounds and steals (1.0 spg).

Solid shooter down low and from the outside. Also plays good defensively due to his athleticism.
Often not physical enough to grab rebounds from under the basket. Also can be very inconsistent.

--NBA possibilities?
Gist is an athletic forward, which may restrict him to playing the three in the NBA. His athleticism gives him abilities to run up and down the court and play defense. With the aging of the Spurs, Gist is with the right squad to try to get playing time. However, in his senior year with the Terps, Gist came back because he wanted Maryland to be "his team," and he played much lower than expectations when Maryland needed a strong senior leader. Gist needs to be more consistent on the hardwood to get a solid chance with San Antonio.

Ekene Ibekwe (6'9'' forward, Maryland 2003-07, Phoenix Suns summer squad)
Ibekwe looks to impress the NBA scouts as he comes to the Suns summer squad after going undrafted and playing in Israel and France. He is also a former member of the Nigerian national team that finished 14th in the FIBA championship in 2006.

--Summer stats: 9.6 minutes per game, 3.2 ppg (54.5 FG%), 2.2 rpg
Ibekwe isn't seeing much time with the Suns, as most of his time comes from his last game, where he played 23 minutes. In that contest against the Wizards, Ibekew played mainly in the second and third quarters, scoring seven points and four rebounds.

Is a strong team player on the court. Very quick and can accelerate.
Weak shooter from the field and the free throw line. Also injury prone due to lack of muscle.

--NBA possibilities?
Though many at Maryland would like to see him do well, he likely won't become an NBA player. His small frame and very thin legs prevent him from being very physical, and his weak shooting ability won't make him a desirable player to mold into a system. He is good enough to play overseas, but the NBA is likely out of the question.

(Photo credits: NBA (D.J. Strawberry), AP (Nik Caner-Medley), Washington Post (James Gist, Ekene Ibekwe))

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Other Birds in Town

Contrary to what the theme of the blog has been of late, this is an all-Baltimore blog and not simply an O's blog. So! In that spirit we have to turn our attention to the other birds, the Baltimore Ravens.

Although the importance of following training camp has been debated (as previously on this blog), there is no denying that this year's training camp is truly a pivotal one for the Ravens, as I'm sure even the most casual fan knows. Sure it is too early to draw conclusions, but what are we as fans looking to learn from camp this year? Here are the top three questions going through training camp, ranked in order of significance:

1. Who's the starting quarterback on this team? John Harbaugh has said since the OTA's that this battle would be an open competition and he is certainly keeping to his word. The three quarterbacks have for the most part gotten equal snaps, though Harbaugh has generally switched between Boller and Smith for the first reps with the first team. Who is eventually chosen to start the season will not only affect this season, but could very well define the future of this franchise. Keep in mind, as Baltimore fans, we still look back and say 'what if' as to Boller starting his first year.

Certainly there is more faith this year on the part of the fans to the coaching staff than in past years; Harbaugh has taken a wise and mature approach, and has certainly given the impression that he will rely heavily on Cam Cameron's judgement. The popular consensus, and my personal opinion, is that the Ravens should and most likely will start Troy Smith to start the season. By all accounts he has taken a big leap from last year to this in terms of decision making and being comfortable, and has unique mobility among this group to make plays outside the pocket and compensate for an unsure offensive line. Most importantly, Troy Smith has the confidence of his teammates and they seem to be quick to rally around him. Flacco and Boller seem to be a toss-up as to the second most likely to win the job. Coaches have been effusive in their praise of Flacco and have been relatively mum on Boller, though conventional wisdom says to take Boller over Flacco for his experience.

The battle won't be won in one practice or preseason game, but I think it will become very clear near the end of training camp who's leading the pack.

2. How will the players react to John Harbaugh and his camp style? All the reports thus far have been positive to Harbaugh, but keep in mind that camp has just started. This new grind is different for most all of the veteran players, and how this wears on them both mentally and physically is a significant storyline to watch. Even more significant, however, might be the physical toll this takes on the team heading into the season. Certainly a tougher camp can lead to a team that isn't as tough out of the gate as many of Billick's teams, but there are significant risks involved. Already several players are going down with injuries, which is common, however if an unusual number of injuries pile up there will certainly be scrutiny on the style of camp and its effect on the players' bodies.

With such an intense training camp, this team can go in two directions: either they bind together as a battle tested team, or they splinter as a result of weariness and discontent. Count me as a man who's betting on the former, but we'll have to wait and see.

3. Will Gaither take hold of the LT spot vacated by Jonathan Ogden? With the retirement of Ogden, all eyes turned to Gaither as the man to take his spot. The former Terp carries nearly the same build as Ogden, with many of the same physical tools. While certainly noone expects him to be in the class of Jonathan Ogden, he has been eyed as the heir apparent to JO after the Ravens picked him up in last year's supplemental draft. Gaither played sparingly last season, but made a favorable impression on the coaching staff with his natural ability.

So, the question is whether or not Gaither can take that next step up, dedicating himself to improving his game and learning Cam's system thoroughly. That work ethic has always been the question for Jared since his days at UMD, and if he can turn around that reputation then all expectations are that he can seize the left tackle spot for this team.

Gaither has been recently sidelined with an ankle injury, however it is not meant to be serious. Assuming he recovers smoothly, Gaither should be considered the favorite for the job, but he's going to have to go out and seize it. By no means will Cam and John hand him this prized job.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Lesson of Adam Loewen

Last season, Adam Loewen was one of the few players the Orioles considered key parts of the Orioles future. He was walking a number of batters, but few could hit his stuff. He won two of his first four starts. The only problems he had were fixable: get him to pitch more than six innings a game.

Now, the Orioles are trying to salvage his career.

The Canadian sensation was the Orioles first pick in the 2002 MLB Draft (4th overall) and didn't take too long to reach the majors. But injuries took away a possible strong 2007 season and now his pitching career. Loewen suffered a stress fracture in his left arm, his pitching side, and surgery is estimated to have taken 18 months if he chose to take it. Really, it isn't worth it, 18 months is a long time and there is no guarantee that he'll return to form.

The injury of Loewen shows the importance of depth in pitching. The Orioles were hoping Loewen would be part of the Orioles future; not surprising when you draft him in the first round. The Birds have suffered many injuries at pitching, including Matt Albers for the year this season as well as Chris Ray and Danny Baez needing Tommy John surgery last year.

A team can't expect to run with just five starters and a six/seven member bullpen all season and win. Just ask the Yankees (not Hank, who would blame Girardi and A-Rod and everyone that isn't him). You need to have depth in triple-A to be able to replace players that get injured or go through slumps. The Orioles triple-A system isn't strong, hence why pitchers like Radhames Liz (4-2, 7.19 ERA) and Garrett Olsen (6-5, 6.11 ERA) have to stay here; the Orioles don't have anyone to replace them effectively.

As the rebuilding process continues, Loewen's injury shows how much work Andy MacPhail and the Orioles need to do before real results can get done. Depth in the farm system needs to continue growing and future stars (like Nick Markakis) need to be signed to long term deals. As Orioles fans have always been told, this will take a while.

(Photo credit: Major League Baseball)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prospect Report: David Hernandez

For the second prospect report I want to highlight a pitcher who has been something of a Jeremy Guthrie for Double-A Bowie. David Hernandez, a 23-year old right hander, has dominated the Eastern League this season with a 2.65 ERA but holds a mere 5-3 record in 20 starts. Hence the Jeremy Guthrie comparison. Over his past seven starts he is 1-2, allowing 7 runs in 41 total innings (1.54 ERA), striking out 42 while walking 23. David has surpassed what were already elevated expectations by the Orioles organization and is making his push as a premier prospect in the O's system.

So, who is David Hernandez? David Hernandez was drafted in the 16th round of the 2005 Amateur Draft by the Baltimore Orioles out of Consumnes River Community College (CA). David stands at a height of 6'3", and came out of junior college as an athletic player with potential for growth. So far he has grown somewhat better than anticipated this year, as he has improved in nearly every facet from last year at Advanced-A Frederick to this season at Double-A. David has seen his ERA lower from 4.95 to 2.65, Opp. AVG from .249 to .210, and has managed to increase his endurance in what is a significant step up in the quality of hitters. His finest career moment came in the Carolina League playoffs last year in which he struck out 18 batters in a single game.

Strengths: Hernandez's strength is in his two plus pitches, his fastball and slider. His fastball typically runs 90-93 mph, occasionally touching 95 mph. That fastball has excellent movement leading to high strikeout totals and the ability to miss bats while staying in the strike zone. Early in his minor league career David developed a slider which has arguably become his best pitch with excellent break. Hernandez's steady improvement throughout his minor league career is another significant plus, as he has consistently stepped up his game to superior competition.

Weaknesses: Hernandez's weaknesses are much of what you would expect from a young power pitcher, in that he is occasionally wild (K:BB ratio of 120:52) and is often the victim of the big inning. That strikeout-to-walk ratio is one of the few statistical categories in which he has not been able to improve from last season in which he held a 168:47 ratio. One of the factors that significantly contribute to these walk totals is the lack of development of his third pitch, his changeup. In order to be a successful starter in the Major Leagues David will need to establish that third pitch.

Projection: How and where David Hernandez projects hinges on his ability to establish his changeup as a legitimate pitch he can throw for strikes. If he fails to develop that pitch he can still have a successful career but he most likely would find his niche in the bullpen rather than the rotation. With his progression expect him to finish this season strong at Bowie, and start 2009 in Norfolk's rotation after an extended stay in Spring Training with the big league club, breaking the major league roster sometime between April and June.

(Photo Credit: Will Bentzel/

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Free Kicks

Forget the obligatory "Extra Points" title for a miscellaneous post, I am going soccer with this one. Or pulling a Doug Flutie, depending how you look at it. Enjoy.

"Offensive" Performance
The Orioles scored 8 runs and lost. I don’t think Fernando Cabrera should have been pulled in the 6th. Sure he had walked two, but he was fresh and had still gotten the first two guys out. I thought he would settle down and it would have been a better idea to let him work it out than send in Alberto Castillo with runners on first and second. If you have a fresh reliever like Cabrera, you should use him to the utmost. Instead, they sent out a pitcher who in his Orioles debut (discussed on ATH here) saw the very same situation against the very same team and imploded. What else did Dave Trembley expect to happen?

That said, there is simply no excuse for Garrett Olson’s performance. Trembley keeps saying Olson's problem is trying to pick at the corners of the strike zone rather than going right at batters. On one hand, if the problem is all in his head it seems easy enough so solve by telling him to attack batters more with his fastball. On the other hand, success for a pitcher is as much about mental makeup as it is about physical talent. He has been told throughout the season to start going after batters but has yet to do so consistently. Olson could have a promising future with the Orioles, but he first has to start playing with the confidence of a major leaguer. So much for an aberration…

ACC Tears its ACL
The Atlantic Coast Conference is now publishing injury reports for all of its football teams prior to each week’s games. Within the conference, this is a rather benign idea- everyone is playing with the same information. Of course this opens the door to Belichick-esque ambiguity and petty misdirection, but at least everyone can do it. But what does this say about non-conference games? When Maryland plays California on September 13th, the Bears will know the status of Maryland’s injured players while Maryland’s coaches are left in the dark to guess who they will have to account for on the field.

It isn’t that this is a bad idea, but it should not be handled at the conference level. If this is worth attending to, it should be attended to by the NCAA as a whole- and good luck to anyone who tries to get the NCAA to act on anything. The problem is not whether or not to have injury reports; personally I don’t mind which way it is handled. However it is handled should be the same for every team in Division I. Injury reports, as the NFL has shown us, have been a source of great subterfuge. Don’t subject ACC teams to stricter standards than their competition, no matter how small the disadvantage.

National Favre League
I know this is a Maryland sports blog, but every other media outlet is talking Favre so I just can’t help it (bring it on, Windsor and Falco). It is being reported by various sources that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken with ownership of the Green Bay Packers regarding Brett Favre. He is demanding that the Packers either accept him back onto the team (and it is implied that they start him) or trade him sooner rather than later. The Grand Commish has ostensibly stated that he will not have a league where Brett Favre is refused the right to play in the league because the Packers won’t let him play for them and won’t let him play elsewhere.

Goodell realizes that this is damaging the image of one of the NFL’s more recognizable players and forcing fans to choose between a football icon and one of the league’s most storied franchises. In that competition, football loses. The Commissioner wants the situation dealt with as fast as possible, as this story seems to have legs that will never get tired. Moreover, Goodell realizes that no player of Favre’s status should be locked out of the league if he wants to play. The NFL cannot afford to force Favre into permanent retirement under these circumstances or risk alienating a great ambassador of the game. I’m normally against league interference in teams, but this is another great move by Goodell on behalf of the game of football.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paying for the Future

Hope you enjoyed a large victory margin for the first time in a long time- all those runs we had scored in recent games were going to waste behind truly horrifying pitching performances. Luckily last night Radhames Liz hung on just long enough, and the bullpen played like it was April to give us the win. Tonight’s starter Garrett Olson has an ugly history in 2 starts against the Blue Jays. Let’s hope that’s an aberration. In the mean time, here is one issue that O's fans should keep an ear to...

The Sun is reporting that Nick Markakis and the Orioles were recently discussing a long-term deal but have for now cut off conversations on a new deal until after the season. Ownership needs to tangibly show a dedication not only to developing young players, but keeping them in Baltimore, even if it costs the $65-$70 million necessary to keep Markakis for another 5 years. As the Rays have done with Evan Longoria, the O’s should lock up their young players and save that payroll for the future. However, I am not too upset- I understand that the Orioles have years to resign Markakis and they need to be careful. What bothers me is that I still doubt whether Angelos will open up the purse in order to invest for the future.

He has allowed Andy MacPhail to make baseball decisions, but what about when it comes to his pocketbook? Angelos will very likely keep that "MASN money" we have been promised for years in his back pocket, and let the Orioles scuffle along trying to make due with his table scraps. The Twins and the Athletics are two teams that have a strong farm system and can make the playoffs most years but almost never win the World Series because they aren’t willing to pay their players when they need to. Teams can success on a miserly payroll- see Marlins and Rays. But when a player is as important on the field symbolicly important to the franchise as Nick Markakis is, you need to be able to "step up to the plate". Who is the face of the Rays? Evan Longoria, the young player they locked up for the future. Nick Markakis can be that face (and a more talented one) if the O's don't let him slip away.

It has yet to be seen whether Peter Angelos will sacrifice his own wealth to produce a winning product in the long run. So far, Angelos has been all about increasing his own wealth- he brought MacPhail on board only after fans stopped coming to the park and his own money was at risk. He hasn't cared about wins, only attendance and revenue. What reason do we have to think that when it comes time to pay all of these young players it will be any different? The players might be MacPhail's, but the money still belongs to the little man behind the curtain.
(Photo Credit: Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cal Ripken Sr. League All-Star Game: Local Players

On Tuesday, July 22nd, the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game will commence at Shirley Povich Field. This is a wooden bat league that brings college players from all around the country to play in southern Maryland/northern Virginia. I broadcast for one of their teams, the Bethesda Big Train, and I'm the league's main broadcaster in the All-Star Game and playoffs.

The manager of the Youse's Maryland Orioles, the first place team in the league, is Dean Albany, one of the Orioles most important scouts. Many collegiate players that have played on the Orioles in the league have gotten drafted, notably L.J. Hoes, the Orioles third round pick this season. Here are some local names in this league in the All-Star Game that may become future Orioles.
(Note: All stats are according to the Cal Ripken Sr. League, and most players have played around 30-35 games.

Gerard Hall, shortstop, Youse's Maryland Orioles
--Junior, Old Dominion, Washington D.C.
Hall is everything you'd like in a leadoff man, a pure contact switch hitter with blazing speed. With the first place Orioles, Hall is batting .341, is 27 out of 30 on stolen base attempts, and has 28 walks to only 16 strikeouts. His speed makes him very solid at the six defensively. Though he doesn't have much power, his athleticism could make him a solid prospect at shortstop.

Mike Celenza, third base/DH, College Park Bombers
--Junior, Salisbury, Gaithersburg, MD
Celenza is the best all-around hitter in the league. He's leading the league in batting average for the second straight year with .400 including five home runs and 12 doubles. He's a lefty who crowds the plate, making it very difficult to strike out (only 13 compared to 23 walks), but throws right to be able to play third. Though he's plays at the Division III level, his success with the wooden bat transition should translate to the pros.

Scott Swinson, starting pitcher, Youse's Maryland Orioles
--Junior, Maryland, Ellicott City, MD
The Terps ace has shown great success in the league, compiling a 5-1 record. His ERA is only 1.42 and has a 39-12 K-BB ratio in 44.1 innings pitched. Swinson has a strong fastball and curve, and has shown that he can handle throwing 110 pitches in an outing. He is a composed righty that can locate pitches well. Albany has said that Swinson could be a 8th-10th rounder, but that stock could increase. In Swinson's last game with Maryland, he threw a no-hitter against Delaware.

Oliver Drake, starting pitcher, Youse's Maryland Orioles
--Navy, Gardner, MA (signed with Baltimore Orioles)
Drake signed with the Baltimore Orioles after getting drafted in the 43rd round, and is no longer with the Youse's Orioles, but was still named an All-Star. In Drake's six appearances (five starts) with Youse's, the righty blanked squads with a dominating fastball, earning a 4-1 record with a 1.00 ERA and a 17-4 K-BB ratio. Drake's draft status was originally a national issue since Navy requires graduates to serve for five years, which would have meant he would have had to wait that time to play professionally, but his signing will probably put the issue to rest.

Kevin Brady, pitcher, Youse's Maryland Orioles
-Freshman, Clemson, Montgomery Village, MD
Brady was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 44th round, but as of right now hasn't been signed. Brady is a strikeout machine, fanning 42 and only walking four in 27.2 IP. He has a 3-0 record with a 2.28 ERA and batters are only .171 against him. He probably could be utilized better as a short reliever than a starter. If he doesn't sign with the Orioles, he'll have to spend three years with Clemson before being eligible to be drafted again.

If you'd like to listen to the game, Jeremy Moreland and I will be on the call live from Povich at 7:30 PM on Tuesday on WMUC:

(Photo credits: (Hall), College Park Bombers (Celenza), University of Maryland (Swinson), Naval Academy (Drake), Baltimore Examiner (Brady))

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Orioles Strategy: Trade Deadline

As the July 31st trade deadline approaches, the Orioles may be big players in the market for prospects. They have already made one deal, trading Mike McCoy for Juan Castro, a Triple-A shortstop. But, the Orioles are going for the long term. So, what are the Orioles needs, and will they move anyone to fill them?

Keep a few things in mind. The only teams that will trade for Major League roster players are teams that competing for a playoff run and not in the AL East division. This will limit options, but teams will still seek players to fill-in needs. Also, if the Orioles make too many moves, then big name free agents won't believe the Orioles will win in the near future; Mark Teixeira comes to mind. If the Orioles don't make any moves, then the value for current players may go down and the Orioles possible prospects would not be as talented. This happened with Miguel Tejada. It isn't an easy process for anyone to deal with.

Orioles primary needs- shortstop, first baseman
Secondary- third base, left field, starting pitching

(Note: All stats are as of July 18th and according to Yahoo Sports)

Will B-Rob stay in B-more?
Tale of the Tape: .292, 49 extra base hits (7 HR), 27/36 SB
Salary: $6.3 million
Brian Roberts is probably the most wanted player on the O's. A very consistent player the last few years, the 30-year-old second baseman is a solid leadoff hitter. History has shown that Peter Angelos is very protective of Roberts. The Cubs had shown interest before the beginning of the season, but there would have to be a big deal for the face of the franchise to be traded.

By George, is he leaving?
Tale of the Tape: 2-4, 3.98 ERA, 40.2 IP, 29 SV
Salary: $980,000
The 31-year-old George Sherrill has been quite the surprise for the O's. Southpaw relievers are prized since there a few of them in the majors. No contender would want Sherrill as a closer, so they won't trade talent equal to a closer's worth. Likely by this season's end, he'll have never pitched more innings in a season. The counter: there is no telling whether Chris Ray would be ready next year or if Baltimore could replace Sherrill with another lefty.

Will the O's huff, puff, get "blow your house" down deal?
Tale of the Tape: .289, 19 HR, 61 RBI
Salary: $8 million
Aubrey Huff has become the Orioles best power hitter. The 31-year-old is mainly a DH but can play third or first base. Though he's had two decent years with the Birds, he hasn't shown power like this the last few years; no telling if he'll be consistent. The Orioles probably wouldn't get much from a trade with Huff except a dump of salary, which isn't a huge deal to Angelos right now.

Will the submarine launch from the harbor?
Tale of the Tape: 3-3, 2.62 ERA, 34.1 IP, 11 K
Salary: $3,666,667
Chad Bradford is a solid short relief pitcher: a righty submariner who forces many ground balls. The 34-year-old has only given up a 4+ ERA one season since 2001. He normally can't go longer than an inning during an outing. Like Sherill, Bradford's value is limited due to the fact that he wouldn't be a closer to a contender, but his services could be useful to team with bullpen needs.

Is it Millar Time for someone?
Tale of the Tape: .239, 12 HR, 47 RBI
Salary: $3.8 million
Kevin Millar wouldn't get traded for his potential numbers or for the future (he's 36). But Millar is the undesputed leader of the clubhouse, and a few teams might want his presence to help morale of a team. He is in a contract year and isn't part of the Orioles future. But, the fact that the Birds wouldn't get much for him and that he's such a great teammate might keep him here.

I believe at least one of the above will be traded before the deadline, but Andy MacPhail will not make a deal unless he believes it is very helpful to the future of the franchise.

(Photo credits: Major League Baseball)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Prospect Report - Brandon Snyder

For our first prospect report I present to you Brandon Snyder, first baseman for the Frederick Keys who has far and away been the hottest hitter in the Carolina League over the past two weeks. He is currently riding a 17 game hitting streak and five straight multi-hit games. For the season the 21-year old right-hander is batting .310/.342/.482 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

So, who is Brandon Snyder? Brandon Snyder was the 13th overall pick out of high school in the 2005 draft, originally selected as a catcher. After a hot 2005, in 2006 Snyder struggled in low-A ball, ending the season with a torn labrum, ending his term as a catching prospect. From this injury Brandon had to move over to first base, and his stock as a prospect plummetted in the eyes of most fans and scouts. In 2007 Brandon fought back from the injury at Delmarva, gradually improving in what was an average season. His true entry back into the limelight came in the Hawaii Winter League in which he led the league with a .378 batting average. After a slow start this year at Advanced-A Frederick, Brandon has found his stroke and has been hitting the daylights out of the ball.

Strengths: Snyder has developed a very aggressive approach at the plate, but he is making it work for him. Brandon has the ability and the willingness to stroke the ball to all fields with developing power. There is some debate as to just how much power he can develop, but as a 21-year old he has hit 7 home runs on the year for Frederick and given his steady improvement in power (OPS has risen from .573 to .774 to .823 between 2006 and now), that shouldn't be a very large concern. Brandon has average defense at first, and many scouts feel he has a good enough arm and footwork to play third base. However, with Rowell at third base at Frederick Brandon Snyder has been limited to first.

Weaknesses: Strikeout to walk ratio is by far the biggest offensive concern for Brandon. In 284 at bats this year he has a 51:13 strikeout to walk ratio, very roughly a 5:1. While he has a good enough bat to afford the low walk totals for now, it is a concern moving forward. With quality coaching and experience the problem could be alleviated, however much of that aggression that makes him successful leads to the strikeouts. The other main weakness is his lack of speed on the basepaths, but that is acceptable for a corner infielder if the bat is sufficient.

Projection: Brandon Snyder is one of my personal favorite stories, because he came back against alot of negativity and early failings to make such huge strides as a player and a prospect. At 21 (22 in November) he is certainly young enough to warrant patience. Look for Brandon to move up to Bowie either late this year or at the start of next year, and possibly get time at third base. With a full year at Bowie, expect him to be in Baltimore in 2010.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Anyone Else up for Season Tickets?

For now at least I will leave the All-Star Marathon to my more excitable colleagues here, and turn my attention to something non-baseball for a bit. The Baltimore Sun ran a story last week about the possibility of courting a WNBA team to occupy whatever arena should replace the outdated 1st Mariner Arena that has been slated for destruction for what feels like decades. My only question is, "Why isn't anyone else so supportive?"

Am I the only Baltimorean who is excited at the thought of a WNBA team occupying whatever follows 1st Mariner Arena? No, I am not one of those homers who thinks the city can support at team in every sport (I love hockey but I’m not exactly clamoring for the Florida Panthers to move up here). Before you deride the league and its potential, bear with me a moment…

The average attendance for the WNBA this year has ranged between 9,500 and 6,500 this season- certainly nothing like the NBA or even college basketball, but respectable for a fledgling women’s professional sports league. Can you think of another women’s league that gets occasional national press like the WNBA? Opponents of a team in Baltimore (and the WNBA in general) deride the success of the league as it's popularity isn’t near the level of any major sport. However, in comparison to where it was in years past and where it is in comparison to other fledgling leagues, it is light-years ahead of the competition. With the rising popularity of college women’s basketball, and the arrival of those big-name stars in the WNBA, the future is bright for the league in general.

College basketball, moreover, is exactly what makes Baltimore the perfect location for a WNBA franchise. Most WNBA franchises are built around cities that already have an NBA team, with the rationale that the NBA fans will migrate at the end of the season to WNBA games. This logic is flawed in that fans are often burned out after an 82 game season and if their season has not ended well they are unlikely to shell out for another season with a new local team. Baltimore has no NBA franchise, but does have a strong basketball history. Baltimore is traditionally one of the top centers for young basketball talent in the country, and possesses quality college programs in the area. Moreover, these colleges draw a huge number of fans every week, even for women’s games. With the popularity of college women’s basketball in the region, Baltimore is the perfect untapped market.

The most ridiculous and uninformed (yet seemingly most popular) argument in criticism against the WNBA is the perceived “low quality” of the games themselves. It is odd that we hail the excellence of women’s college basketball, but suddenly when those women enter a professional league they are inexplicably “low quality”. The WNBA is men’s basketball with the jump shot, without knocking opponents to the ground on hard fouls and relying instead on finesse, talent and hard work. That isn’t to say that WNBA players aren’t tough or aggressive- they are. But it is not the helter-skelter wrestling match that is the modern NBA. You see athletes being athletes; taking and making the three-pointer is more than an anomaly; each player on the court is forced to be more versatile to fit the style of play. In some ways, the WNBA is how basketball was supposed to be played. I love watching the NBA, but the WNBA brings something unique to the table.

Some fans just aren’t interested in women’s sports- those fans I imagine had a girl wipe the floor with them on the court, the field, or the ice or maybe they just never took the time to see an athlete as an athlete rather than a male or female athlete. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all great sport. Goodbye 1st Mariner Arena; hello basketball.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Looking back: All-Star voting results

I love MLB's All-Star Game. It is the only game in the four major sports that really is a good game. The Pro Bowl is a joke with people withdrawing and no plays, the NBA All-Star Game has no plays and too much dunking, and the NHL game is the same lack of excitement with no plays. But baseball's game doesn't require those plays, so you can put nine players on the field and play.

That said, every year we look back on fan voting and see if it screws up what should be the roster. The highest vote-getter in each position earns the start in the game. Granted, because some of the voting is done in late May and June, a player who was hot early and cooled off could get the start, but, let's take a look back at the position players and see if the fans did well.(Note: All vote counts are according to ESPN, and I won't include outfield because it is complex with positions and will take forever to explain.)

The American League (36-40 in the All-Star Game, two ties)
--Manager: Terry Francona, Red Sox (two-time World Series champion manager, won 2005 All-Star Game)

1. Joe Mauer, Twins (2,885,246 votes, starting All-Star)
2. Jason Varitek, Red Sox (2,216,344, All-Star)
3. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers (1,483,425)
Other catchers in the All-Star Game: Dioner Navarro, Rays (not in top-5)

The fact is that really, nobody deserves to start at catcher for the AL. No full time AL catcher has double digit home runs. But, nonetheless, Mauer is the right choice with a .322 average. Red Sox nation got in Varitek despite a .217 average. .217! To compare, our own Ramon Hernandez has a .238 average right now. Red Sox nation strikes again, but this is what happens when there isn't a hands down starter. The players that have past fame will earn votes for his fame, like Varitek and Ivan (.288, 4 HR). At least Navarro (.310) was chosen to be on the roster by Francona.

First Base-
1. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox (2,858,130, starting All-Star)
2. Justin Morneau (2,801,307, All-Star)
3. Jason Giambi (1,668,126)

Our first close race, and well deserved it is (not that I give the fans credit). Youkilis with a .314, 15 HR, and 63 RBI and Morneau with .323, 14 HR, and 68 RBI. Flip a coin, both are deserving. Giambi wasn't chosen as a reserve from voting or the Final vote (despite ESPN's cheerleading for him with the stupid mustache coverage), so he'll home. 19 HR for him, but only a .253 average. But, no thought to Miguel Cabrera as a reserve? (Tigers, .284, 16 HR, 57 RBI)

Second Base-
1. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (2,492,698, starting All-Star)
2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers (2,458,455, All-Star)
3. Robinson Cano, Yankees (1,458,126)

This is where being in Boston or New York gets you votes. Ian Kinsler is hands down the best second baseman in the AL this season. .337 average, 15 HR, 58 RBI, and 23 SB. Compare to Pedroia: .314, 9 HR, 47 RBI. I will grant that Pedroia is the better defensive player (five errors to Kinsler's 16), but come on, Kinsler should be starting this game. That said, both players and no other second basemen from the AL should be in. Cano: .246, 6 HR, 38 RBI. Again, nice try. Brian Roberts was on the Final Vote list, but did not make the cut.

Third Base-
1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (3,934,518, starting All-Star, highest MLB vote-getter)
2. Mike Lowell, Red Sox (2,006,101)
3. Joe Crede, White Sox (1,175,229, All-Star)
Other third basemen in the All-Star Game: Carlos Guillen, Tigers (not in top-5), and Evan Longoria, Rays (Final Vote recipent, not in top-5)
The greatest ever shortstop according to the "Best Damn Sports Show Period" is the right choice for the hot corner: .312, 19 HR, 53 RBI is hard to argue with. Now, let's put aside Guillen, who with .284 and 8 HR is in because of the rule that every team must have a player (a rule that takes away a few more should-be All-Stars and should be removed). There are four other third basemen that could have a claim to an All-Star spot.
-Lowell (.297, 13 HR, 57 RBI)
-Crede (.253, 16 HR, 49 RBI)
-Longoria (.275, 16 HR, 53 RBI)
-Adrian Beltre, Mariners (.259, 16 HR, 46 RBI)
Of those four, Crede was chosen. I can't imagine this was an easy choice. The White Sox have another player, Carlos Quentin, so that wasn't the reason. Lowell didn't have great numbers down the stretch to the break, so his numbers were good. I'm puzzled he isn't an All-Star, but that's how it folded out. Longoria got in with the Final Vote.

1. Derek Jeter, Yankees (3,747,437, starting All-Star)
2. Michael Young, Rangers (2,317,403, All-Star)
3. Edgar Renteria, Tigers (987,147)

First thought, where is Johnny Peralta? The only decent power hitting shortstop in the AL and he's not on the roster (.261, 16 HR, 48 RBI). Not that any shortstop has been great, but the fact that Jeter (.284, 5 HR, 42 RBI) is having a mediocre season and still gets to start is just terrible. Young is doing better (.302, 7 HR, 52 RBI). And don't tell me that Yankee Stadium should have its starting shortstop in the last year. Frankly, Jeter has started enough All-Star Games, not all of which were deserved, and Young or Peralta should have gotten the go ahead.

Designated Hitter-
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox (3,554,209, withdrawn due to injury)
2. Hideki Matsui, Yankees (2,198,042)
3. Jim Thome, White Sox (1,417,796)
Other DHs in the All-Star Game: Milton Bradley, Rangers (not in top-5 voting)

Surprise, surprise, more Yankees and Red Sox up top. Ortiz has the power, but not the average, not counting the fact that he was injured all of June. Matsui has the average, not the power. Although Milton Bradley is a bad person (which I'm sure cost him votes) and wasn't the specified Rangers DH (Frank Catalanotto was), good choice with .316, 19 HR, and 57 RBI. You only need one DH, since anyone can be placed in the game as a DH.

Overall, the American League fan voting wasn't bad, but a lot of names should have been switched. The fact is the fan base of the Yankees and Red Sox strongly affects the voting, and it drives many hardcore sports fans nuts. Of the above six starting positions, I agree with three of them.

The National League (40-36 in the All-Star Game, two ties)
--Manager: Clint Hurdle, Rockies (2007 NL Champion, first All-Star Game)

1. Geovany Soto, Cubs (3,096,135, starting All-Star)
2. Jason Kendall, Brewers (2,503,376)
3. Brian McCann, Braves (1,749,707, All-Star)
Other catchers in the All-Star Game: Russell Martin (not in top-5)

I prefer McCann starting to Soto, but it isn't a big deal. Soto (.288, 16 HR, 56 RBI) to McCann (.302, 18 HR, 53 RBI). Martin (.294, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 10 SB) is on because on the Dodgers need a player, though he's having a decent year. But Jason Kendall?????? A guy hitting .258 with one home run. A guy who hasn't been relevent since 2004. One of the most overrated players of the era. How does he get 2.5 million votes? I'm just happy Chicago had a good catcher, it is very possible Kendall could have started if not for a strong year by Soto. Just be happy he's not in the game.

First base-
1. Lance Berkman, Astros (3,373,696, starting All-Star)
2. Prince Fielder, Brewers (2,596,217)
3. Derrek Lee, Cubs (2,374,916)
Other first basemen in the All-Star Game: Albert Pujols, Cardinals (4th), Adrian Gonzalez, Padres (not in top-5)

It is hard to blame any of the fans on this one. National League first basemen are incredibly deep right now. You have your choice of:
-Berkman (.347, 22 HR, 73 RBI, 15 SB)
-Pujols (.350, 18 HR, 50 RBI)
-Gonzalez (.276, 22 HR, 71 RBI)
-Fielder (.270, 18 HR, 52 RBI)
-Lee (.306, 15 HR, 56 RBI)
-Mark Teixeira, Braves (.271, 17 HR, 69 RBI)
-Ryan Howard, Phillies (.234, 28 HR, 84 RBI)
Take your pick. Overall, hard to complain. Berkman was hitting for the Triple Crown for a while, so that earned him well deserved votes, and Pujols might have lost votes due to his injury earlier in the season. But you could have put all of the above in the All-Star Game with their numbers.

Second Base-
1. Chase Utley, Phillies (3,889,602, starting All-Star, highest NL vote-getter)
2. Mark DeRosa, Cubs (2,039,576)
3. Rickie Weeks, Brewers (1,874,503)
Other second basemen in the All-Star Game: Dan Uggla, Marlins (4th)

Utley is the clear choice with .291, 25 HR, 69 RBI, and 10 SB. If Florida had more of a fan base, or actually have a decent attendance, they might have helped their second baseman out. Uggla deserves to go with similar numbers to Utley: .286, 23 HR, 59 RBI. DeRosa is too high, but Weeks is worse. Since when did we all overrate Milwaukee players? Weeks has a .217 average and eight dingers. But he still couldn't get more votes than Varitek despite doubling his home runs.

Third Base-
1. Chipper Jones, Braves (3,772,211, starting All-Star)
2. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs (2,432,700, All-Star)
3. David Wright, Mets (1,740,929, All-Star, replacing injured Matt Holliday)

It's good to see Chipper Jones back as the third base starter (.376, 18 HR, 51 RBI) after being replaced at third by Vinny Castilla in '02, going back two years later. Ramirez is deserving too, .285, 17 HR, 66 RBI. Wright only joined up when Holliday pulled out (he also lost the Final Vote), but all-around is very solid this season with double digit home runs and stolen bases. The best list of all.

1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (2,326,285, starting All-Star)
2. J.J. Hardy, Brewers (2,207,730)
3. Miguel Tejada, Astros (2,025,995, All-Star)
4. Ryan Theriot, Cubs (2,003,743)
Other shortstops in the All-Star Game: Christian Guzman, Nationals (not in top-5)

Talk about a close vote. The top four vote getters within 325,000 votes. Ramirez gets on with a .311, 23 HR, and 23 SB. Tejada (.275, 10 HR) has had a decent season and Guzman is on because the NL needs a National. Hardy (.283, 13 HR) has had a better season than Tejada, so for once the Brew Crew bias is helping, but it didn't land Hardy on the team.

I've never seen such a Brewers bias, and that along with Chicago fans are screwing up a lot of votes. But, the fact is the five starters are the correct starters.

So, all in all, not bad by the fans. But fan voting still has affected starters and if many had their way, we would never have the correct people in this game. How would you like it if you hit .325, 25 HR, and 75 RBI at the break and then got beat out by some Yankee or Red Sox player with much worse stats? Fan voting should be changed some how, it is not good for the game.

(Photo credit: Major League Baseball)

Off-Day Musings

With the O's (save for Georgie) taking a much-needed break, this gives an opportunity to settle on a couple topics.

Radhames and the Rotation -- Expatriate has already addressed this issue but I feel it warrants some additional consideration. As of right now it would not be feasible to send Liz down to the minors, because let's face it, who would replace him? Not Hayden Penn, who even when not on the DL has had inferior numbers at AAA. Certainly not one of our hot Double-A starting pitchers such as Brad Bergesen or David Hernandez; Bergesen started the year at Frederick and although he has torn through Double-A he hasn't proven it for nearly long enough, and David Hernandez is brilliant but raw just as Liz was/is last year/this year. By sending Liz to the minors and bringing up a Hernandez or a Bergesen we ask for the EXACT SAME problem to develop as it becomes evident that we've rushed yet another promising prospect. And the final option (other than Trachsel-esque FA pitcher or a trade) would be to use Jim Johnson, but that would make the now legendary Albers hole in the 'pen pale by comparison.

In the end, we need to let the young guy work it out. Stick him as the fifth starter, skip his spot occasionally to keep the other starters on normal rest, easing some pressure. Let Kranny work with Liz and get things figured out. Remember -- he has the arsenal of pitches to be very successful - Plus fastball in both movement and velocity, along with an improving slider and change-up. Radhames is the best option we have, and he deserves nothing less than the utmost patience, because he's giving it everything he has.

Keeping Perspective -- Just a short blurb here, guys. Everyone remember where this season began? What the expectations were? This has been a fantastic first half, especially considering the cards that this team has been dealt. Trembley has shown that he can handle a delicate balance of veterans and youth, and although he's had some managerial growing pains with handling starters deep in ballgames, the overall bullpen management has been far better than his predecessors. People know where they stand, know their role, and he sets the right tone. Hopefully the team can stay competetive in the second half-- if the team stays competitive down the stretch, a certain free agent (TEX TEX TEX) might be more inclined... Although now, I might be losing perspective.

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Flamethrower Liz Quickly Being Put Out

I know this was rough, but tonight’s 12-1 shellacking at the hands of the Boston Red Sox gives us a chance to reflect on tonight’s starter for Baltimore who looked to be aiming his fastball at the press box rather than home plate. I am going to look over the two predominant schools of thought on Radhames Liz, to figure out how to best utilize this pitcher who can seem so promising at times but falls completely flat all too often. So take a deep breath, forget what you saw tonight, and try to think about the future- at least until tomorrow.

Most analysts consider Radhames to be more of a long-relief candidate, someone whose endurance is a definite question that lead him to the bullpen. They note that Liz has yet to go beyond 6 1/3 innings in any of his appearances and tends to struggle the later he gets into games, even into the 4th or 5th inning of an otherwise solid appearance. On the other hand, they will point out that Liz has a fastball that clocks in the upper 90’s that can blow right by hitters. Combine this with a serviceable changeup and this would seem to indicate that down the road Liz could be ideal as a 6th or 7th inning candidate and hold onto leads after a starter goes shorter than expected.

There are a couple serious problems with this argument- it assumes both a problem that I don’t think Liz has, and assumes a strength that I don't think he has either. This season Liz has thrown 669 pitches over a total of 35.2 innings; an average of 18.76 pitches per inning! Liz does not have difficulty pitching a high number of pitches; he has a difficulty getting a high number of outs from those pitches. This isn’t surprising from anyone who has watched Radhames this season as he has walked 22 batters and appears to lose his cool with runners in scoring position.

Why then would anyone pencil-in Radhames as a relief pitcher down the road? No matter how his control improves, you won’t likely ever be able to rely on him not to give batters a free pass in key moments of a ballgame. If you add his lack of composure at key moments, I don’t conceive of how I could trust him to enter a ballgame after the starter puts runners on 1st and 2nd and hold a 2-run lead.

I tend to side with the second school of thought- like many fireballers with limited control, they are pulled into the majors long before they are ready by General Managers salivating over his fastball while it is still trying to find the plate. Liz was pulled up to the majors with disastrous results last year, and it seems to be happening again. The Orioles would rather not have another Daniel Cabrera on their hands and wait three or four years for him to get his fastball in for strikes when he could just as well go down to the minors for a year or two and come back. Remember O’s fans- Liz has starter potential, and a struggling starter does not equal a good reliever.

If the Orioles can find a replacement (which may be difficult given the lack of long relievers- you miss Matt Albers more every day, huh?), Liz should to be sent down to Norfolk soon, before his confidence and what’s left of his command is lost for good.

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson, AP)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Orioles come up short, continue to get disrespected

So the Orioles lose their first series against the return of Cito Gaston.

Remember Cito? The AL All-Star manager who wouldn't pitch Orioles ace Mike Mussina in the 1993 All-Star Game in Camden Yards? I have a feeling a lot of fans, including myself, will never forgive him for that. Granted, he didn't pitch his own ace Pat Hentgen, but the game is in Baltimore, let the hometown hero pitch. Can you imagine Mariano Rivera not pitching in this year's All-Star Game?

This series is hurting a number of fans in many ways. Two one-run losses, both of which could have been different had a few more plays or calls gone their way. But, the fact is they didn't, and the Orioles couldn't overcome it. The Orioles now have a losing record at 44-45 after losing four straight. We should at least be happy that Roy Halladay was scratched from tonight's game, and instead the Birds will take on former Oriole John Parrish. Parrish is pitching in his second start, and he'll go against Jeremy Guthrie, who's looking for his 6th win.

Last night, I was watching "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" on Comcast SportsNet, and they were running down the All-Time All-Star Team. For example, Johnny Bench at catcher, Lou Gehrig playing first base, Hank Aaron playing right field, etc. They had experts Harold Reynolds, Ken Rosenthal, and Rollie Fingers on, a solid crew to analyze this. Apparently, the team itself wasn't chosen by them. I'm not sure who chose the team, but I'm guessing it was by fans. The shortstop chosen: Alex Rodriguez.

So, apparently you can put a third baseman at shortstop. Rodriguez has spent 1/3 of his games at third base. He was a great shortstop, but he moved positions. One of two players should have been chosen: Cal Ripken (who all three analysts agreed it should be) or Ozzie Smith. It is bad enough that people and the media love to salivate over Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees in general, but this is ridiculous. Why was he even considered at shortstop? Completely passing over two Hall of Fame shortstops to put in a player who probably will spend more days at third base than at shortstop is absurd. For a stats argument, Cal Ripken has 19 All-Star Games to Rodriguez's 12 (five of them at third base). As a player, Rodriguez will go to the Hall of Fame, and will be one of the best ever players, but the fact is that at this point in time, you can't put him as the greatest shortstop ever when he isn't playing there. Let's put Mike Piazza at first base or Babe Ruth at pitcher while we are at it. Someday Rodriguez may get on this team, but for now, put someone on who is more deserving. I prefer Cal Ripken, but Ozzie Smith would have been fine too.

I'll have more All-Star Game grief later when the break comes.

(Photo credit: Mario Grech, Baseball World (Mussina), Tom Jones (Ripken))

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blue Jaywalking

I saw a characteristic O’s game last night. A pitcher had retired 6 straight and was cruising going into the 7th inning. The opposition had just padded their lead and the other team was burning through relievers and looked to be going under. Then suddenly, a single. Then a walk. Then the wheels completely came off as a thunderous comeback brought the game to a tie, to be finished off in the bottom of the 9th as yet another mistake was exploited for runs, ending the game 7-6. There was one problem with this vision, however.

The Orioles weren’t making the comeback, they were the ones giving up the win.

With 26 of 44 wins being come from behind, I am almost more nervous when the Orioles are ahead in the late innings than I am when they are behind. Recently however, the bullpen has been allowing more and more games to slip away after playing lights-out for the first two months of the season. Not that anyone can blame them or their exhausted arms- we have already focused heavily on relief pitching worries here on Around the Harbor, but last night’s loss was just not at all characteristic of this team. Against the Expos (they call themselves the Nationals, but we know they’re the Expos), the Royals, and the Rangers, the Orioles let go of games they should have won. This team cannot afford to do so and still finish with a respectable record.

There will be many questions about this game, in addition to understandable shock and outrage. I will do my best to answer them:

Should Daniel Cabrera have been left in the game in the 7th inning after allowing the first two base runners? While Cabrera had played well over the previous few innings, he had walked 4 batters already and had a pitch out of 101. I understand that when Cabrera is starting you know you can afford to pitch him a bit longer than you would a standard starter, but when he loses his control it is difficult to get it back. Dave Trembley was looking to stop the bleeding before a rally got started. Had Dennis Sarfate performed as he is expected to, it would have.

Is Alberto Castillo that bad? No. The moment he came in the game I knew it would not end well. He may be 33 years old, but he was making his first major league appearance, and unlike a young pitcher, he knows that if he blows this opportunity he might never pitch in the majors again. That much pressure, particularly as he entered the game with runners in scoring position with the task of keeping Toronto from tying or taking the lead, cannot lead to an accurate picture of whether he can be a solid relief pitcher while others get healthy.

How long until Alex Cintron comes back? I never thought I would long for Cintron’s defense until I watched Freddie Bynum play shortstop over the last week. Two critical errors over that stretch have caused two Orioles losses. His second stint in Baltimore is going even worse than his first, and it is unlikely we will ever see him in Baltimore again once Alex comes off the DL.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cool Your Jets (and any other team) on the Training Camp Hype

This time of year, as baseball season is finally starting to heat up, a shadow creeps across the sports landscape, engulfing anything in its path on the way to devouring the summer with the cold, hard expectations of Fall. That shadow is the football preview season, the 2 to 3 months prior to the beginning of any meaningful game that we all stop tuning into that 8th inning tie between division leaders to see what the latest news is from OTAs and training camp for our favorite NFL team.

I have spent season after season ingesting all the up-to-the-minute news of who is doing well at what position, what rookie free agent might become our third string safety, or which quarterback will get to start the season before disappointing miserably and being replaced. I have listened carefully to the new offense that is planned and how there is a “swagger” among the skill position players that this year is different. But as entertaining as it is, it isn’t worth much else.

When was the last time someone looked incredible in preseason or training camp and actually turned out to be a star when people didn’t already think he would be a star back in March? That random linebacker who suddenly looks good in camp might contribute some in the end, but the mass consumption of information we are forcefed by ESPN and local media is overkill and rarely accurate. So what if so-and-so looked great in practice today? Each year we have 50 or 60 names thrown at us about who will take a leap this year to greatness; perhaps one or two of them actually do so. Meanwhile some 6th round afterthought comes in and blows us away (see Derek Anderson).

I will pay attention to the Ravens training camp, and I eagerly await the beginning of the season. However, it is important to remember that what we get out of that news may not be all that significant or even accurate in terms of the impact on the field. Until they line up against the Bengals on September 7th, we have no idea what we are going to get. It’s safe to keep that 8th inning tie game on the TV for now; let’s let baseball keep the summer.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Looking at the Future

I'll go ahead and introduce myself, I'm windsor and one of the things I'll be doing is periodically reporting on the O's minor league teams and, in particular, their prospects. I'll forgo babbling about myself (I'm sure everyone is very disappointed) and get right to it.

Setting the stage for future posts I want to paint a general picture of the Orioles farm system, overviewing its strengths and weaknesses.

The strength of the Orioles farm system is by far it's pitching talent and depth. This isn't the farm system of your youth, boys and girls, it has improved by leaps and bounds from past years in the pitching department. There is a good deal of debate as to how the prospects stack up against one another within the system, but in my estimation there are six pitchers who can be considered "upper level" prospects. These include: Chris Tillman, David Hernandez, Chorye Spoone, Brandon Erbe, Brian Matusz (upon signing), Jake Arrieta, and possibly Bradley Bergesen who has emerged from relative obscurity (2.53 ERA and a 10-2 record through only 14 starts at Bowie this year). This list excludes other pitchers who could grow into major contributors (Tim Bascom, Luis Noel, Hayden Penn, among others). In short, pitching is in vogue.

Out of vogue (?) is hitting, unfortunately. The one blue chip position prospect is Matt Wieters, who has exploded in his first season both behind and at the plate. Other notable prospects include Nolan Reimold who has made a strong case for a callup to the majors, Brandon Snyder, Billy Rowell, and Luis Montanez (although he is 27 years old). There are a littany of mid-level prospects, and the organization is hoping that someone outside of Reimold and Wieters (particularly Snyder and Rowell) step up in a big way this season.

Moving forward I'll be giving periodic prospect profiles and players on the rise and the decline.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday continues to haunt the Orioles

Hello everyone, I'm Falco, and welcome to the Around the Harbor sports blog. I'm the most traditionialist of us three, given my fascination with sports history. I'm probably the biggest lacrosse fan of us three, given I freelance for Inside Lacrosse, but baseball is by far my favorite sport. But like most sports fans, I'm very opinionated.

The Sunday curse struck again for the Orioles, as they lost 11-10 to the Texas Rangers despite a valiant 5-run comeback attempt in the final two innings. The Orioles now have fallen to 1-13 on Sunday games, and 44-43 overall. Only thing I would question with the O's is the use of shortstop Freddie Bynum, who would go 0-3 and made a terrible throw to destroy a double play opportunity, which prolonged the 5-run Texas 8th inning. Kevin Millar had a solo shot and two doubles on the day.

So we fans couldn't take advantage of the "We Win, You Win" deal where if the Orioles won the game, fans could get a free ticket in the same section in a future non-prime game. I'm not sure which game I would want, but I've wanted to see the new Rays for a while. Do you remember anything like this from last season? The Orioles were bad on Sunday games then as well, but this offer never occured. There really does seem to be a sense of revival among the fans. Considering this was supposed to be a rebuilding year with many "experts" saying the Orioles would lose triple digit games, this season has been a huge success thus far with a winning season and improved attendance. It still is a rebuilding year and the Orioles won't make the playoffs, but a .500+ record at the break would be great.

The Orioles go on the road to Toronto and Boston before the All-Star Break. If Adam Loewen is hurt (he left the Sunday game with an arm injury), then the Orioles don't have a true long reliever for the road trip with Matt Albers out. This will put a lot of strain on the rotation, and they may need to go longer than normal. But if the Orioles can pull out three or more wins, they go into the break with over a .500 record.

(Photo credit: Gail Burton, AP)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Filling the Void

The loss of Matt Albers has left a void in the O's bullpen that's becoming more and more evident. With the young birds' rotation is still trying to find it's way, there needs to be an arm (or arms) capable of shutting down the sixth and/or seventh innings in order to get to JJ and The Sherriff at the back end. So with the recent shuffling of the bullpen, let's whittle down the candidates for his replacement. This is excluding the back end (JJ, Sherrill), pitchers in rehab or DL (Randor Bierd, Jamie Walker), and Ryan Bukvich (if he hasn't been DFA'd by the time this post is made).

-Dennis Sarfate - Next to Loewen and Jim Johnson, Sarfate has the best natural arm in this pen. Sarfate hits 95-98 mph with relative ease with his fastball and has an excellent hard slider. However, Sarfate has a history of wildness (34 walks in 37.2 ip) and thus can be susceptible to the big inning.
-Fernando Cabrera - We haven't seen much of Fernando, and there is most likely a reason. Certainly Trembley will look to give him more opportunities, as both of his appearances have been scoreless this season. However, his reputation of wildness preceeds him and its unlikely that he'll settle into the lockdown middle relief this team is seeking.
-Chad Bradford - Safest guy to lock down the seventh. Balls aren't going to leave the yard with Bradford, and he's not going to get psyched out like some of the younger pitchers. Bradford is a stabilizer, which is exactly what you want. However, he's too valuable situationally to have him etched in to a specific inning. Far better to save the submariner for when you need him -- be it in the sixth, seventh, or eighth.
-Adam Loewen - Certainly has all the tools, the competitiveness, and the ability to go multiple innings without tiring. However, Loewen has had a roller coaster season from injury to poor performance. He has the gifts and the competitiveness, but he's not eased in enough to be relied on here and now.
-Lance Cormier - Probably the most deserving pitcher to get the Albers role. Like Albers Cormier is a former starter who has found exponentially more success coming out of the pen. In his past nine appearances he has pitched 15.2 innings and only allowed 3 earned runs, two of which coming at Wrigley when he was thrust into replacing Albers in the first inning. Of those nine appearances, six were of at least two innings.

Right now smart money is on Lance Cormier, who's been one of the many pleasant suprises this year for the Orioles. And get well soon, Matt.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Saving the Closer

Closing out a game with a 1-run lead is a much more tasking inning on the body than holding a 6-run lead in the 7th, regardless of the situation. Those 3 outs can take much more out of a pitcher, mentally and physically, than any other role in baseball. Of the many afflictions the Orioles faced last year, relief pitching may have been the worst. Danys Baez was not worth the paper his contract was written on, and with Chris Ray’s struggles and eventual surgery, no lead could be considered safe. Having a quality closer to lock down that final inning is essential for any team’s success, particularly one that has relied on late-game comebacks like the Orioles have this year. The Orioles were fortunate in the Erik Bedard trade to get a pitcher in George Sherrill who could come in and immediately step in to the closer role, though some adjustment period was expected.

Much to our joy and surprise, for most of this season Sherrill has been lights out in the 9th. The “could-be closer” was drilling through lineups like he was pitching against Delmarva. Starting in the middle of May, Sherrill began walking more batters and allowing the occasional big hit, but usually with enough of a run cushion from the late-inning Orioles offense to survive with nothing but sighs of relief for another exciting win. Dating back to June 14th, Sherrill has allowed 6 earned runs through 7.2 innings, and blown 3 saves in 8 opportunities. To that point, Sherrill had only blown 2 saves in 24 opportunities.

In five years in the majors, George Sherrill has never pitched more than 45 innings in an entire season. This season, he is on pace for almost 80 innings, in a more taxing role than he had encountered before to this point in his career. The amount of stress being placed on his arm is likely something he has not felt since before his arrival in the majors in 2004. As such, his complaint of arm soreness (that he did not report to Manager Dave Trembley or the training staff) could be worse than he has been letting on, as he has been reticent to admit that he needs time off to rest. When a player, fails to report a potential injury, he often exacerbates it and causes his team to suffer in the process. Even if he is able to tough it out, he has an obligation to at least notify the team so they have accurate information going into every game. This season could be far more taxing on George than we as fans or even the coaching staff is possibly aware of.

Trembley has indicated his desire that another player look to take some of the closing duties from Sherrill, but who? Tuesday night he got the save, but not before allowing a base hit that scored 2 inherited runners from Dennis Sarfate. Sarfate wouldn’t have been taken out of the game had he not put the game into a save situation after taking over with a 7-3 lead. Sarfate had been the leading candidate to take some of the closing duties, but he has struggled as much as Sherrill recently, allowing 5 earned runs in his last 8 innings. With Matt Albers out for the season and Jamie Walker on the DL with an injury that might or might not effect him for the rest of the season, The O’s may be short on relievers at a time when we are looking for an extra one to rely on, despite Adam Loewen’s long-awaited return- and 3 run disaster last night. Jim Johnson is probably the most likely candidate, but the void left in his place might be almost as difficult to fill.

Sherrill may get some necessary rest over the All-Star break, unless he turns out to be the O’s obligatory representative and once again denies injury to pitch in the game. The impact of Sherrill’s tired arm and other injuries in the bullpen could make those trademark Orioles comebacks fewer and farther between if the pieces don’t continue to fall into place for this “charmed” Charm City team. It looks very shaky for relief pitchers that just a few weeks ago were carrying the O’s to win after win.