Thursday, July 21, 2011

Checking in with the Orioles: The Benefits of Reading

Yesterday, the Orioles wrapped up a three-game home series against Boston. Going into the series, I had modest hopes of just one win against the mighty Red Sox to help keep the season from falling completely off the rails. They got the win. Actually, I think there are some other positives to take from this series against an obviously superior team.

Photo via Krem's Sports

Monday, July 18th

Scoring 10 runs against Red Sox pitching is a good thing, even if your own staff gives up 15. Every player who came to bat for the Birds managed to reach base at least once, even pinch hitter Josh Bell. Four different players had extra base hits in the contest. Derrick Lee hit a triple. Thanks to Buck O'Neil, I watch triples with greater interest now. Buck described the triple as the most exciting play in baseball. They're rare and precious things, too. Jose Reyes (Mets) currently leads the Majors with 15. The leaders in homers and doubles have twice as many.

Moneyball continues to influence my baseball watching experience. I have a much greater appreciation for the Sox' Kevin Youkilis and for patient hitters in general. I do not envy any pitcher who has to face Pedroia, Gonzalez and Youkilis one after the other. Is there a more disciplined 2-3-4 combo in baseball these days?

I pay closer attention to pitch counts now, too. According to Moneyball, there is a huge statistical difference in the outcomes of at-bats that begin with a 2-1 count vs. those with a 1-2 count. Indeed, every plate appearance is a narrative all its own but clues to the end are planted early.

Tuesday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 20th

Obviously, these were very different games: the first a Baltimore win, the second a shutout loss. But the positive development I see applies to both. Not only did Jeremy Guthrie and Jake Arietta both turn in quality starts but both were allowed to pitch through the seventh inning, even though it meant pushing the pitch count above 100. Buck Showalter has been very conservative in managing his young rotation this year. While I can certainly understand why, an overextended bullpen is unavoidable and the Orioles' late-inning troubles can be directly attributed to that. Letting the starters pitch longer could have great long-term benefits in the second half of the season.

The 10 Things

It's been less than two weeks since my last check in so not a lot has changed in regards to Matt Trueblood's 10 things the Orioles must do to win the pennant. It is worth updating a few of them, though.

3. Nick Markakis elevates. Markakis's hot streak continues. His current averages are .290/.340/.392. He is still behind last year's figures - .297/.370/.436. His ground outs/air outs ratio has improved since the last check in, now at 1.07. He's getting closer to last year's 1.04.

6. Buck Showalter makes the team his own. There has been improvement here on the two metrics we're watching. Team slugging is now .405, up from last year's .386 - good for tenth best in the Majors. Team fielding percentage is up a tick to .983 vs. last year's .982. The winning percentage is .411, doing a tight rope walk above last year's .407

10. Adam Jones becomes Batman. Offense is up. The batting average is .287 compared to .284 last year. The slugging percentage has soared: .477 vs. .442. He did get caught stealing for the first time this year recently but an 86% steal percentage is still better than last year's 50%. Defense is down. The fielding percentage is better but still down: .980 vs. .984. The range factor is down: 2.62 and still short of last year's 2.91.

The Trade Deadline Approaches

The trade deadline is July 31st and in their current state, the Orioles will definitely be sellers rather than buyers. The Baltimore player who seems to have the most buzz around the Majors is Guthrie. I don't think he's the right guy for the team to be shopping. If the franchise is ready to bag the year, then sure let you're only reasonably reliable starter get away. But I think it's best to deal from strength for need. As I said in my last check in post, the one part of the team that has functioned well is the back end of the bullpen. Setup man Koji Uehara (pictured above) is 36 years old and is having a good year. His value to the team is unlikely to ever be any higher. If it were my call, Uehara would be the bait with prospects for the rotation as the catch. Until you have decent starters, a good bullpen is a meaningless luxury.

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