October 5, 2012

Moving On To BSL

I'd like to thank everyone that took the time to read my blog here at Eutaw Street Blues.  But the time has come for me to move the blog to a bigger and better site with more resources and talent than I could ever hope to have here on my own.  I will be collaborating with some great Orioles writers so I hope you'll follow me to baltimoresportsandlife.com where you'll be able to read a lot more great Orioles analysis, in addition to my own. 

Baltimore Sports and Life is more than just a blog.  It's also a great place to discuss the Orioles, Ravens and Terps on the sites' forums.  There are a lot of Baltimore sports fans just like yourself that discuss their favorite teams every day.  That's how I was first introduced to the site myself.

This is not the end for me, this is truly just the beginning.  I'm very excited for what the future has in store and I can't wait to share it with all of you.  This is a very exciting time for Orioles baseball with our first playoff birth in 15 years.  The Orioles truly have a great chance to make a deep playoff run, and let's all cheer them on the best we can.  Let's Go O's!

July 27, 2012

The Orioles Should Not Be Buyers

“Our future is now,” Dan Duquette told Fox Sports on Wednesday of last week.  This is one of many articles linking the Orioles to acquiring players at the trade deadline in order to make a run at a playoff spot this year.  On Orioles fan sites, there are running commentaries on who the Orioles should trade for this month.  The Orioles have been mentioned in numerous trade rumors by national news outlets because the fans aren't the only ones who think the Orioles should be buyers at the trade deadline.  The GM does too.

“We’re going to try to do everything we can to get into the playoffs this year,” Duquette said. “I just think it’s important to the fans that they know we’re trying to put a good team on the field and have a good season.”  The Orioles have been linked to Chase Headley, Jason Vargas, and Juan Pierre in this article.  They've been linked to Clayton Richard in this one. 

Is the Orioles trading prospects for veterans to try to win now the right strategy for the organization to take?  I would definitely say no.

The Orioles record at the moment is 52-47.  The team is in second place in the AL East 7.5 games behind the Yankees.  They're also 1.5 games out of the second wild card spot with 3 teams ahead of them in the wild card standings.  There are 4 other teams within 3 games of them in the wild card standings.  At best, the Orioles have a small chance at a wild card spot and would have to fight off 7 other teams in order to win one.  Baseball Prospectus gives the Orioles just a 3.7% chance of making the playoffs.

There are many reasons to believe that the Orioles have gotten lucky in order to achieve their 52-47 record.  One of them is their staggeringly bad run differential.  The Orioles have been outscored by a total of 53 runs this season, which is the 3rd worst run differential in the American League.  While it can't be used as definitive because there are other factors that go into a team's won-loss record, their pythagorean record is just 44-55.  8 games worse than their actual record.  Some have pointed to the Orioles record in 1 run games (19-6) as a measure of the strength of the team's bullpen.  General sabermetric wisdom would say that there was a lot of luck involved in compiling that record, and the team is bound to regress and start losing more of these 1 run games going forward.  Thanks to some great work by Andrew on Camden Chat, we can see that the Orioles bullpen really didn't do anything special in all those 1 run games.  They were good about the same number of total times that they were ok or bad, but the O's won games when the bullpen pitched well and when it didn't.  That could mean that regression in those games is coming.

Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation just wrote a great article, which generally stated that the Orioles aren't that good of a team but they're in a wild card chase so they should make small upgrades to try to win a playoff spot.  In the post, he states:

The Orioles have had the second-worst team offense in the American League, between the A's and the Mariners.

By defense-independent statistics, the Orioles have had the fifth- or sixth-worst starting rotation in the American League. Their 4.41 FIP ranks between the Indians and the Red Sox. They've also had a lower-half bullpen, with a 4.00 FIP that's better than the Angels but worse than the Indians.

The Orioles presently have the American League's worst UZR, which is a measure of team defense. They're also the worst in the American League in Defensive Runs Saved.

That pretty much covers the three phases of the game: hitting, pitching and defense.  The Orioles are close to the bottom of the American League in all three.  Now after going through all that, I'm not sure how he gets to the conclusion that the Orioles should be buyers at the deadline, but he does. 

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was put in place during this past off season added a second wild card to the playoffs in each league.  These two wild cards will now meet in a "play-in" game to determine which wild card team gets the right to advance to the division series.  Dave Cameron of Fangraphs recently examined how the new wild card format should affect team's trading deadline decisions.  It's definitely worth a read.  If the Orioles do somehow manage to win one of the two wild card spots, in all likelihood, they will face a much more talented Angels ball club that will probably have the chance to line up Jered Weaver to start the game.  It's doubtful that the Orioles would have the opportunity to line up their rotation as they will be in a dog fight just to win the wild card, so the Orioles would have to pitch whoever's turn is up in the rotation.  The Orioles would be huge underdogs in that one game playoff, which at best would be a 50/50 proposition.  Should the Orioles be trading prospects that have a chance to help the ball club in the future for the chance to play in this game?

It would be extremely misguided for the Orioles front office to even consider trading Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy, so we should all be thankful that neither of them is on the table.  However, I have to believe that guys like Jonathan Schoop, Xavier Avery, Nicky Delmonico and others would be on the table.  The team has also been rumored to be thinking about trading from the group of young pitchers that have struggled on the major league team this season such as Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman.  If they traded one of them at this point, the value they would receive would be much less than the upside each of them possess. 

The Orioles should be focusing on the the next few seasons when they will still have their current core in place, but will also have Bundy, Machado and Schoop on the team to supplement the current talent.  At that point, the team will hopefully be ready to compete for the division title which is much more valuable under the new playoff format.  They shouldn't be trading anyone away that has a chance to help them when they are truly ready to compete.  The team is just not at the point yet where they are a real contender.

The Orioles have been a great story so far and it's exciting for the fans to get to watch the team in a playoff race, but that doesn't mean the Orioles should trade pieces that could help them in the future to try to win this year.  Do they owe it to the fans to try to compete after 14 straight losing seasons?  I'd say they owe it to the fans to try to be competitive over the long term, not just this season.  Their best pitcher so far this season, Jason Hammel is out until at least mid-August and we don't know how he's going to pitch when he comes back.  That's not going to make winning down the stretch any easier.  While this season has been fun to watch and I'd love to see them fighting for a wild card spot in September, the team shouldn't mortgage the future in order to do it.  If I was running the team, I'd actually be in favor of trying to sell a few pieces in order to load up for the next few seasons.  I'll be fine if the Orioles stand pat at the deadline to take a shot at the 50/50 wild card spot.  Just don't sell the farm, please.

July 10, 2012

The Thome Trade

I realize this post is not the most timely as the trade for Jim Thome actually transpired over a week ago.  But as more and more rumors of the Orioles being active players in the trade market continue to pop up, I can't stop thinking about what the Thome trade means for the direction the Orioles organization is going to take at the trade deadline.  If the Orioles were willing to deal two prospects for a 41 year old DH that most likely will not be with the team after this season, they certainly must consider themselves buyers at the trade deadline and contenders for a playoff spot.  The Orioles front office will most likely be looking to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline at the cost of either young major league players or prospects.  I don't think that is the right strategy to take at this point for the Orioles.

First, let's look at the Thome trade.  The Orioles traded Kyle Simon (RHP) and Gabriel Lino (C) for Thome.  Kyle Simon was a 4th round draft pick of the Orioles in the 2011 draft out of the University of Arizona.  Simon was pitching in High A Frederick and had accumulated a 2-8 record with a 3.96 ERA and a 4.44 FIP. The reason he was expendable was that he doesn't miss enough bats and only had a 6.07 K/9 rate with the Keys.  He kept his walks under control with a 2.60 BB/9 rate in 72.2 innings but according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, his best asset is an upper 80's sinker that generates a lot of groundballs.  Without any plus secondary pitches, his profile seems to fit best in middle relief which is where the Phillies have already moved him. 

Gabriel Lino signed with the Orioles in 2009 out of Venezuela at 16 years old.  His numbers this season in Low A Delmarva aren't terribly inspiring with a line of .218/.282/.340 and only 4 home runs.  However, as a 19 year old playing his first season in full season ball, the scouting reports are very important for him at this stage of his career.  You can read a great scouting report from Mike Newman of FanGraphs here.  From the scouting reports I've seen, Lino has good raw power potential and the athletic ability to become an average to plus defensive catcher.  The bat is still a work in progress, but he's still very young so it has time to develop.  The range of outcomes here is wide, but he could have a career as a regular or a defensive minded backup if the bat doesn't develop.

So how much value is Thome going to bring to the club this year in order to offset the value of these two youngsters?  ZiPS projects Thome to hit for a line of .243/.339/.486 in 124 plate appearances which would provide 0.6 WAR to the team.  It looks like ZiPS still expects Thome to play in the National League and doesn't forecast the uptick in playing time available with the Orioles by playing DH.  So let's add another 100 plate appearances or so.  That makes Thome worth about 1.0 WAR from now until the end of the season.  This is a little simplistic, but let's say for the sake of argument that the combination of Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, and Nick Johnson would have produced 0.5 WAR at DH.  That makes the addition of Thome worth about 0.5 WAR to the Orioles this year on the field.

This is the 3rd time Thome has been traded in the past 4 seasons, so we should be able to gauge his market value from the other times he was moved during the season.  Here are the recent trades he has been involved in:

August 31, 2009: Traded by the Chicago White Sox with cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Justin Fuller

August 25, 2011: Traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named or cash.  In September, the Indians sent the Twins $20,000.

June 30, 2012: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Baltimore Orioles for Gabriel Lino and Kyle Simon.

If you're like me, you had to look up Justin Fuller just to see who he was.  The best I can tell, he's no longer playing professional baseball.  Last year, Thome was traded for $20,000 and 2 years prior he was traded for a non-prospect who is now out of professional baseball.  But this year for the Orioles to get him from the Phillies (who had Ryan Howard coming back, no DH spot and no place to play him), they had to give up a decent catcher prospect and a future middle reliever?  Something doesn't smell right here.  Why would Dan Duquette agree to give up 2 prospects when the going rate was either one non-prospect or cash?  Now both of the prior deals were August waiver deals after the trade deadline but that shouldn't change Thome's value to this extent. 

This deal seems like an overpay.  In the end, it may not matter much if the two prospects the Orioles traded don't amount to much.  But we have to question the process that the Orioles front office took in consummating this trade.  The Orioles improved a very small amount on the field, while giving up a decent prospect in Lino and a not so great prospect in Simon.  Based on the prior deals that Thome has been involved in, Duquette should have been able to consummate the deal by only including Simon.  That deal would have been justifiable to take a shot at the second wild card, which the Orioles currently hold if the season were to end today.  As it is, it looks like Duquette misjudged the market price for Thome in a hurry to add a piece to the roster. 

Since the Orioles have a plethora of left handed DH types, this deal doesn't make any sense to me.  The Orioles real need is starting pitching, not a left handed DH.  I wouldn't be surprised if that's what the Orioles focus on next.

This started out as a post about what the Thome trade meant to the Orioles direction at the trade deadline.  It turned out to be a more in depth review of the Thome trade.  I guess I had more to say about it than I thought.  Next time, I'll outline my position on what the Orioles should do at the deadline and also what they're likely to do.  Somehow, I have a feeling that the two won't match up.

June 12, 2012

Kevin Gausman: Orioles Top Draft Pick

Kevin Gausman (Crystal Logiudice, US PRESSWIRE )
Last Monday, the Orioles took Kevin Gausman with the number four overall pick in the MLB Draft.  A 21 year old RHP out of LSU, he was a draft eligible sophomore after being drafted in the 6th round by the Dodgers in 2010.  He was offered over $1 million out of high school but turned it down in favor of attending college at LSU.  That currently looks like a good decision considering the slot money at the number four overall pick is a cool $4,200,000.  The way the Orioles draft shaped up, it is likely that the team offers an around slot contract to Gausman.  They don't need to free any money up for any compensatory picks like a team like the Astros just did in signing top pick Carlos Correa to an under slot contract.  If you're curious about the Orioles recommended draft slots, here's the link to the Baseball America web page that has them.

The scouting reports on Gausman are glowing with a fastball ranging anywhere from 93-97 mph.  His slender frame still has a lot of projectability and as he fills out, there is the possibility that he adds even more velocity.  Here's Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus:
"Make no mistake, when the Orioles passed on the falling Appel, they did it because Gausman was genuinely ahead of Appel on their board. His fastball and changeup are already plus pitches, but the difference between him ending up good or ending up great will depend on his ability to find a consistent breaking ball."
Gausman is mainly a fastball / changeup pitcher right now.  He also has a slider that he throws from time to time and he started throwing a curveball during his sophomore season with LSU.  However, he is extremely inconsistent with the two breaking balls leading him to either miss with them badly out of the strike zone or hang them in the middle of the plate.  He understands that he needs to work on his third pitch in order to keep hitters off balance.  See this quote from his introductory conference call with Orioles Scouting Director Gary Rajsich:
"I think I definitely have it in there. I really just started throwing a true curveball this season. So, I haven't had much time to develop it," he said. "My slider has been a good pitch for me lately. That is another breaking pitch I have in my arsenal. Some days I really feel comfortable with it and other days I have to work to find it.
"I think my development as a pitcher and going forward is going to kind of depend on that. I'll be a fastball-changeup guy my entire career, but what is going to make the biggest difference is which breaking pitch I will decide to throw and which will be my bread and butter, and which one I may do away with."
The third pitch will be extremely important for his development as a starting pitcher.  If he doesn't develop a third pitch, his future may lie in the bullpen.  That is not the result that anyone attached to the organization wants at this point, so I'm sure that will be a point of emphasis in his instruction once he hits the minor leagues.

The Orioles wanted a college pitcher that will be able to help the team fairly quickly.  Depending on the development track that Rick Peterson sets for him, Gausman should be able to do just that.  Typically, college pitchers start in full season ball and don't need more than a couple of years in the minors.  It appears that Rajsich and Dan Duquette targeted a draft pick that would arrive in the majors at a similar time to Machado and Bundy.  That certainly makes a lot of sense for the team.

Over the weekend, Kevin's college team LSU faced Stony Brook in the Super Regionals for the right to go to the College World Series in Omaha.  The best of three series had games scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  However, with the first game tied in the 12th inning the skies opened in Baton Rouge and the game had to be postponed until Saturday morning.  Needing a win in the first game of the series, LSU turned to its ace and that day's starter Kevin Gausman to pitch the 12th inning.  Gausman only threw 12 pitches while not allowing a base runner in his inning of work and the LSU Tigers won the game in the bottom of the 12th on a game winning base hit from CF Mason Katz.  And because this is college and not the minor or major leagues where young arms are protected at all costs, LSU ran Gausman back out there after a 45 minute delay between games.

Gausman ended up throwing another 7 innings and 98 pitches in the second game, while giving up 3 runs.  He struck out six, walked one, and gave up 6 hits.  It also rained fairly heavily on and off throughout the game, so it's certainly possible that he wasn't at his best on this day.  BUT, in my eyes he just didn't have it on Saturday.  His fastball was 86-88 mph for most of the game (according to the televised radar gun).  In the first inning, he ran it up to 93 but it was considerably less than that for the rest of the game.  During his 7th and final inning, he reached back for a little extra and got it up to 91 but severely lost his command while doing so.  On the positive side, his changeup was absolutely a plus pitch.  It was typically around 80 mph and had that bugs bunny changeup feel to it, where it just came in so slow that the hitters couldn't adjust to it.  It reminds me of the fantastic changeup that Tyler Clippard of the Nationals throws.  Go check out the video of Clippard on mlb.com if you want to get an idea of what Gausman's changeup looks like.

During his outing, he mixed in a few sliders and curveballs but couldn't get either one of them over for a strike.  The Stony Brook hitters weren't swinging at pitches out of the strike zone so he was forced to rely on his fastball and changeup.  If this is Gausman on a normal day, there is no way that the Orioles take him number four overall.  The stuff just wasn't good enough.  That leads me to believe that Gausman wasn't nearly at his best in this game.  He was forced to come back and pitch after throwing an inning in the first game, which may have been difficult for him.  Also, his arm may be tired after throwing 123 innings for LSU this season.  Remember, he's only 21 and his previous high in innings was only 89 the year before.  I have a suspicion that the innings caught up to him a little bit.

In the end, this is only 1 game at the end of a long season and doesn't have an impact on his future.  LSU ended up losing the series to Stony Brook and the small school from Long Island is off to the College World Series instead of traditional baseball powerhouse LSU.  For the sake of Kevin Gausman's Orioles career, I'd say that's a good thing.  He wouldn't have been doing himself any favors by throwing more innings in the College World Series.  The Orioles haven't decided whether they're going to let Gausman pitch any further this season.  If they were watching his start on Saturday, I'm sure Rick Peterson and the rest of the front office are going to use extreme caution and give him some time to rest.  I think the next time we see him on a mound will be at spring training next year, after which he will most likely be sent to Single A Frederick.  Enjoy the time off Kevin.  You've earned it.

Update: It has come to my attention that the radar gun readings being shown on ESPN were somewhere in the range of 4 mph slow, so take all of the velocity readings in this article with a huge grain of salt.

May 22, 2012

Dylan Bundy: A Sunday in Hagerstown

On Sunday I had the opportunity to witness Dylan Bundy's latest start for the Delmarva Shorebirds in Hagerstown against the Suns.  I sat in the third row right behind the plate so I had a really good view of the action.  Directly behind me were an Orioles scout (I didn't get his name), Parker Bridwell and Tim Berry who were charting the Shorebirds pitchers.  Bridwell and Berry are also starting pitchers for the Shorebirds, Bridwell even made some Orioles top prospect lists.  Since I'm not anything close to a scout and don't own a radar gun, all of my velocity readings came from the gun that Parker was holding.  It was certainly an interesting perspective to watch a game.  There was also a gaggle of scouts standing behind our section who I'm sure were all there to see Bundy.  Here's Bundy from my viewpoint.

From the opening pitch, Bundy didn't disappoint.  He started the game throwing only his fastball, which ranged from 95-98 mph.  The first batter flew out softly to center, so he started the 2nd batter Cutter Dykstra (yes, he's Lenny Dykstra's son) with a steady stream of fastballs as well.  Cutter fouled a couple off and worked a full count.  After throwing only fastballs to this point, he dropped a 75 mph curveball over the inner half that completely fooled the right handed Dykstra who couldn't take the bat off of his shoulder.  Strikeout looking on a very impressive front door curveball that looked like it broke over a foot down and away from him.  He threw a couple more fastballs to the next hitter, who lined out to center.  First inning completed, and the only curveball of the day.

The first hitter of the 2nd inning was the Suns most dangerous hitter, Matthew Skole.  Again, Bundy threw mostly fastballs but he mixed in a 87 mph changeup which had late downward movement.  Bundy struck him out swinging on a 97 mph fastball with a little cut action.  2 strikeouts through 4 batters.  The next batter saw all fastballs in the 96 mph range and flew out to center.  A couple of these fastballs also had cutting action.  J.P. Ramirez was up next, and Bundy started him with two 97 mph fastballs before going to the changeup.  The change came in at 88, but Ramirez was either ready for it or his bat speed was perfect for a 88 mph change instead of a 97 mph fastball (that's what the scout said anyway.)  Ramirez timed it up perfectly and hit a deep fly to right field.  Shorebirds right fielder Brenden Webb had to make a jumping catch at the top of the wall in right to prevent extra bases or possibly a home run.  Sadly, this was the last offspeed pitch Bundy would throw all afternoon.  2 innings completed, no base runners.

In the third inning, Bundy faced the bottom third of the Suns lineup and overpowered them solely with his fastball.  He threw an inside fastball to the first hitter, who broke his bat and hit a soft one hopper to shortstop for the out.  He struck out the second batter, Cole Leonida swinging on all fastballs.  The 9th batter in the order, Billy Burns, was completely overmatched in his at bat.  He swung through the first two fastballs before hitting a high chopper over the mound.  Bundy made a nice athletic play going behind the mound on the one hopper for the out.  Third inning completed, still no base runners.

The top of the lineup was due up in the fourth as Bundy had still faced the minimum number of batters.  I'm not sure why but Bundy must have decided that he only needed his fastball at this point, as that's all he threw.  The leadoff batter Brian Goodwin hit a long fly ball to the warning track in left center that left fielder Kyle Hoppy tracked down.  Dykstra was up next and he grounded the first pitch he saw to second base for the out.  The inning ended when Martinson hit a soft liner that right fielder Brenden Webb fielded easily.  All fastballs this inning, still no base runners.

Everyone knew going into the game that Bundy was only going to throw 5 innings, so this was his last inning no matter what happened.  The best looking hitter in the game to me was the Suns cleanup man Matthew Skole, who happened to be up to lead off the 5th.  Skole was the Nationals 5th round pick in the 2011 draft out of Georgia Tech.  He took a 95 mph fastball from Bundy and lined it over the right fielder's head for a double.  This would be the only hit that Bundy would give up on the afternoon, and was the first base runner he allowed.  Even though the Suns were down 3-0 at this point, they decided to have their number 5 hitter bunt Skole over to third.  Again, Bundy looked very athletic coming over toward the third base line to field the bunt and throwing the batter out at first.  I guess we shouldn't be surprised but Bundy looks like a very good fielder.  Since J.P. Ramirez had taken Bundy to the wall in right his last at bat, Bundy wanted to back him off the plate in this at bat.  Unfortunately, he missed off the plate inside and hit him.  First and third, one out. 

This was the first time all day that Bundy was in trouble, so maybe he'd use his devastating curveball and still work in progress changeup to get out of it, right?  Bundy must not think that he needs those pitches to get out of trouble because he threw all fastballs to the next hitter.  I guess if I had a fastball as great as Bundy's, I would too.  He threw 96 and 97 mph fastballs to the next hitter.  A couple showed some nice arm side run, and all of of them had late life.  Brett Newsome couldn't catch up to them and struck out swinging on a high fastball.  The catcher Leonida was up next with two down and runners still on first and third.  Bundy knew this was the end of his outing, and reached back for a little more on the 0-2 count firing his fastest pitch of the day to get the hitter to ground weakly to short.  His last pitch of the day registered 99 mph on the gun, and is reminiscent of what Justin Verlander does often towards the end of his outings.  It was pretty impressive to see that Bundy had even more in the tank to turn to when he was in trouble and wanted to get out of the inning.  The soft groundball ended the inning and also Bundy's day on the mound.

On the day, Bundy threw 5 innings with 0 runs, 1 hit, 1 HBP, 4 strikeouts, and 0 walks.  He didn't allow a base runner until the 5th inning when he allowed a double and hit a batter.  His fastball command was very good, and he could clearly dominate the Low A Hagerstown hitters solely with the fastball mostly 95-98 mph.  The disappointing part of his outing from a development standpoint was the fact that he only threw 1 curveball and 2 changeups.  The one curveball that he threw was an absolutely devastating wipeout pitch that he threw for a strike.  I would have loved to see him bury a few in the dirt to see if the Suns hitters would swing over the top of it.  Rick Peterson, the Orioles director of pitching development has been encouraging Bundy to use more of his secondary pitches so it's hard to say why he didn't use them.  Peterson seems to think that he doesn't use them because he doesn't need them to get hitters out.  That may be the case, but he needs to work on his secondary pitches in order to pitch in the majors.  If he doesn't feel the need to use them in Low A ball, move him to Frederick where he may need them more.

Even though Bundy has only thrown his fastball, curveball, and changeup this year, he apparently also has a slider.  He certainly hasn't needed it thus far, but it's exciting that he was even more weapons at his disposal when he does need them.  He only threw two changeups, one of which was foul tipped while the other was taken to the wall in right.  The pitch definitely has the potential to be a plus pitch for him with similar arm action to his fastball and late downward life.  In order to refine it, he just needs to throw it more often.

There is some talk of Bundy being moved up to Frederick to continue his season either now or after one more start.  I certainly feel that he's ready to be moved up after he's dominated Low A ball with a 0.00 ERA and 40 strikeouts to 2 walks in 30 innings.  He's only let up 5 hits in those 30 innings.  Just to further illuminate his dominance, he's struck out 40% of the hitters to face him this season.  That's 2 out of every 5 batters!  He'd have even more strikeouts this season if he didn't get everyone out.  If he actually let up a few hits, he'd have a chance to get more k's. 

More than his success though, I think it's the fact that he needs to be forced to use his secondary pitches that necessitates the promotion.  He knows that he has an electric fastball that would be effective against major league hitters right now.  However, a starting pitcher can't succeed in the majors with one pitch.  He needs to work on his changeup, curveball, and even his slider.  The development of his secondary offerings is really all that's standing in the way of him being a phenomenal pitcher.

All in all, Bundy definitely lived up to the hype.  His fastball is absolutely electric and he's almost certainly ready for the next challenge in his career.  If you have the chance to go see him pitch, it's definitely worth the price of admission.  I certainly will go see him again if I have the chance.  Maybe I'll see you there.

May 7, 2012

Do the O's Have the Best Bullpen in Baseball?

Going into Monday night's game against the Rangers, the Orioles surprisingly have the best record in baseball at 19-9.  They've gotten a great performance from the starting rotation as well as from many of the position players like Wieters, Davis and Reimold, which has led to the great start.  I'm not going to talk about any of that today though.  What I want to talk about is the great performance the Orioles have received from the bullpen so far this year.  For years, the Orioles bullpen has been terrible causing the team to lose games in the late innings that they should have won.  That hasn't been the case this year.

For starters, the team bullpen ERA is an unbelievable 1.41.  I can't really believe I'm typing this, but the Orioles are first in the league in bullpen ERA by far.  Just for comparison's sake, last year the team had a bullpen ERA of 4.18 which ranked 27th out of 30.  Now, there is no way that the Orioles are going to finish the season with a bullpen ERA under 2; it's just not going to happen.  So while it's great and we should enjoy it for now, the bullpen has gotten its fair share of luck so far.  The bullpen as a whole has a 3.03 FIP and a 3.59 xFIP.  The two ERA estimators scream that the regression is coming.  So while we know that this performance won't last the whole season, lets take a look at how we got here.

Jim Johnson has been the Orioles closer this year except for the few games he missed with food poisoning.  Johnson hasn't given up a run yet this year and is a perfect 7 for 7 in save opportunities.  It seems that he's adjusted to the closer's role quite nicely, and may add more credence to the sabermetric argument that any good pitcher can close.  With an outstanding 72.7% ground ball rate, Johnson's approach is more groundball centric than most closers.  Closers typically get many of their outs via the strikeout, but Johnson has success getting guys to beat the ball into the ground.  To get these groundballs, he's using his 2 seam fastball 75% of the time.  It seems to be working.  Johnson has a FIP/xFIP/SIERA of 2.64/3.17/2.33.

Pedro Strop has emerged this season and claimed the role of the Orioles set up man.  He even got a couple of saves when Johnson was in the hospital.  The Orioles acquired Strop towards the end of 2011 as the player to be named later in the Mike Gonzalez trade with the Rangers.  He has been coming at hitters primarily with a 2 seam fastball that he throws 55% of the time, with about 20% 4 seamers and 20% sliders mixed in.  The 2 seamer has been an extremely impressive and effective pitch for him.  He averages 96.7 mph with the pitch and has been getting a lot of swinging strikes it.  Overall, his swinging strike rate is an excellent 11%.  The only concern with Strop is keeping his walks under control; he's carrying a 3.71 BB/9.  For his career, he's at 5.08 BB/9.  If he can keep the walks under control with his dynamic stuff, he'll continue to be effective.  His FIP/xFIP/SIERA is 3.19/3.14/3.07.

Matt Lindstrom is one of 3 Orioles relievers yet to give up an earned run this season.  Throwing his 95 mph heat most of the time, he has legitimately been excellent.  Following the Orioles bullpen theme, he's been throwing tons of sinkers, about 50% of the time.  Along with Darren O'Day, he's one of the two Oriole relievers to average over a strikeout per inning.  To support his 9.69 K/9 rate, he's also getting 10.9% swinging strikes, which is far above average.  Coming to the Orioles along with Jason Hammel in the offseason trade for Jeremy Guthrie, he has been more effective than even the most loyal O's fans would have believed.  His FIP/xFIP/SIERA is 1.72/2.66/2.26.

Of the 3 Orioles relievers yet to give up an earned run, Luis Ayala has been doing it the most with smoke and mirrors.  Ayala has now pitched 15.2 innings without giving up an earned run.  However, his strike out rate of 5.17 K/9 doesn't support this kind of performance.  His walk rate is solid at 2.30 BB/9, but he hasn't been getting tons of groundballs either with a GB% of 49%.  That's above average but not spectacular.  So how's he been having this kind of success, you ask?  Well, the luck dragons have been awfully kind so far.  Ayala has a tiny .208 BABIP, a 93% LOB%, and a 0.0% HR/FB%.  Those marks just can't last throughout the season.  He also only has a 5.3% swinging strike rate.  Look out for some regression for Ayala in the near future.  His FIP/xFIP/SIERA is 2.76/4.24/3.87.  His FIP looks good because he hasn't given up any homeruns yet.  The other two ERA estimators approximate the number of homeruns he should have given up based on his fly ball percentage, and show the chinks in the armor.

Darren O'Day has been under the radar this year, but he's been excellent.  Coming at hitters with a side-arm release point, he's been striking out 9.64 K/9 this year with a strong walk rate of only 2.57 BB/9.  His walk and strike out rates are almost exactly where they were last year, so there is some precedence for his success.  Like many of the Orioles relievers, he's a fastball, sinker, slider pitcher.  The difference with O'Day is that it's coming side-arm and his fastball is only 84 mph.  Nevertheless, he's had a lot of success so far.  He's getting 10.8% swinging strikes, and batters are swinging at 37.4% of his pitches out of the strike zone.  Look for his ERA to come up a little bit but he's been very good so far.  His FIP/xFIP/SIERA is 2.81/3.05/2.59.

The lone lefty in the pen so far has been Troy Patton.  Even though he's been the only lefty in the pen, he hasn't been used to face only lefties.  He's faced 25 left handed hitters and 27 right handed hitters, so Buck is certainly not saving him for the difficult lefties late in the game.  Patton has only struck out 4 of the 52 hitters he's faced for a dismal 2.84 K/9.  He's only walked 2 batters so he's not giving up the free pass either.  Currently, he's only getting 7.5% swinging strikes so he's got some work to do on missing bats.  Troy hasn't distinguished himself yet and has some work to do if he wants to be a long term option in the pen.  He's got some leash because he's the only lefty but if he doesn't miss more bats he's going to be in trouble.  His FIP/xFIP/SIERA is 3.82/4.19/4.25.

The last member of the pen is every Oriole fans favorite pitcher, Kevin Gregg.  Though he had a good series against the Red Sox, he has been dismal for the rest of the season.  Buck has pretty clearly decided that Gregg was the last man on the totem pole in the bullpen giving him only 8.2 innings while everyone else in the bullpen has pitched over 12.  The problem with Gregg's way of pitching is that he doesn't have faith in his stuff and he nibbles around the strike zone instead of attacking hitters in the strike zone.  That is still the case this year, and he's amassed an ugly 5.19 BB/9.  He does have 8 strike outs in his 8.2 innings so he is missing bats.  It's hard to believe that a year ago, Gregg was the Orioles closer.  There is no way he should ever get close to the role again.  Gregg has clearly defined himself as a below average reliever.  If he's making a small salary as the last man in the pen, that's fine.  When he's making $5.8 million to provide below average work, he's hurting the team.  We'll save the debate over what the Orioles should do with him for a different day.  His FIP/xFIP/SIERA is 5.03/5.41/4.16. 

As you can see, the Orioles have received some legitimately great performances out of their bullpen so far allowing them lead the league in bullpen ERA.  A large part of taking 5 out of 6 from the Yankees and Red Sox was due to the stellar work of the bullpen.  However, while the Orioles have gotten great performances from Strop, Lindstrom, O'Day, and Johnson, there is regression coming from guys like Ayala and Patton.  The Orioles enter play Monday night at 19-9 and with the best record in baseball, thanks to a great bullpen so far.  However, don't be shocked if the bullpen starts to give up some runs in the next few series.  They have 3 really tough opponents coming up in the Rangers, Rays, and Yankees.  As a whole, they're just not ready to be the best in baseball yet.  But enjoy it while you can O's fans.

May 1, 2012

MUST READ: Orioles Interview with ZiPS Creator Dan Szymborski

I don't normally post links to other people's work, but I really enjoyed Chris Stoner from Baltimore Sports and Life's interview with ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski.  They touch on many of the topics all Orioles fans are thinking about, including whether the team should re-sign or trade Adam Jones and if the Orioles should lock up Matt Wieters, and how much that would cost.

I'd urge you all to check it out.  Dan Szymborski is one of the brighter baseball minds out there, and Baltimore Sports and Life is a great place to talk about Maryland Sports and the Orioles.  You can read the interview here.