On the 15th and 30th of each month, Orioles Hangout will be posting Q&A’s conducted with blogs and sites representing Boston, New York, Tampa, and Toronto.
The purpose of these Q&A’s will be to regularly check in and get an understanding of what is currently going on with the O’s divisional foes.
Those contributing are:
Boston Red Sox
Site: Fire Brand of the American League (http://firebrandal.com/)
Site Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/search/firebrandal
Writer: Troy Patterson
Writer Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/TroyPatterson
Orioles Hangout: “Jed Lowrie has been extremely productive, and taken over as the starting SS position from Marco Scutaro. Who is perceived as the better defensive player?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “Defense is graded differently according to who you ask or where you look. It seems the common knowledge is that Scutaro is the better defensive player. I think that is a lot on his history though with a great defensive season in 2008 according to UZR.
In my opinion Scutaro is a better player defensively now and makes a solid option in games with a left handed starter. This gives Francona the chance to slide in at third base or first base and sit David Ortiz.”
Orioles Hangout: “When we last spoke a couple of weeks ago, we talked about how you were not a huge fan of Saltalamacchia, and that Varitek could be on the verge of increased playing time. You also mentioned Ryan Lavarnway (currently .634 OPS at AA Portland) as a potential future alternative. Since that point Varitek has become the regular catcher for Beckett, Matuszaka, and Buchholz. If Varitek’s bat does not come around quickly, do you expect Epstein to pursue external help in the near term?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “Well even if Varitek’s bat comes around it’s still going to be a dreadful sight. I think the team has to make some choice soon as this can’t continue to be a distraction. I think Michael McKenry who was acquired this spring is also an option as he has good plate discipline and is recognized for being a good defender also.”
Orioles Hangout: “Matsuzaka has thrown up 15 scoreless innings his last two outings, allowing just 2 hits, 4 bb’s, with 12 k’s. What was he doing most effectively in those starts?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “The strikeouts are largely a factor of facing impatient lineups. This is really what we see every year from Matsuzaka. He excels against lineups that swing a lot, but as soon as he faces a patient lineup he loses control of the game and can’t make it past the fifth inning.”
Orioles Hangout: “For whatever reasons, JD Drew has never received a lot of national acclaim. Hard to understand considering he has a career .885 OPS over nearly 5,000 ab’s. There was some talk prior to the beginning of the year that 2011 would be his last. Do you think that is just talk, or do you expect this season will be it for Drew?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “If anyone could walk away from the game right now I think Drew could be one of them. He is very family oriented and he has made plenty of money. He also has a World Series ring, so I could see him walking away. The Red Sox appear to have cheaper options on the way so he also might prefer to avoid moving again. I’ll believe it when I see it, but I think he is serious in thinking about it.”
Orioles Hangout: “Jacoby Ellsbury has already played more games in ‘11 than he did last year. He is flashing some pop (4 homers in his first 77 ab’s) but already has 21 k’s and an on-base % under .300. Ellsbury turns 28 in September. What type of year does Ellsbury have to put together to go into the offseason with his place in the everyday lineup secure?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “It looks like maybe the power is getting to his head. He is striking out far and away more than any previous season or even any previous month in his major league career. He needs to start making contact or he might not even finish this year as the Red Sox center fielder.
His career OBP stands at .343 and that’s just not the number they need for a leadoff hitter. Based on how the Red Sox lock up their young players, but have not done so with Ellsbury and Jonathan Paplebon it’s pretty clear they don’t have long term plans for Ellsbury on the team.”
Orioles Hangout: “The Yankees are sending Phil Hughes to a specialist in St. Louis to have him tested for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a nerve and circulatory condition. On behalf of all Orioles fans, I can say I hope those tests come back negative. I’d rather attempt to beat Hughes on the field than see Hughes have to deal with that. If the tests come back as positive, I have to imagine this will only intensify the Yankees desire to obtain another starter. Who is on your radar as a realistic possible addition via trade for NY?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “Even if Hughes comes back okay, they still need another starter. We've kicked around more potential trade targets than I care to list, but our primary focus has been guys coming up on free agency on teams that might not contend. Chris Carpenter was a popular name, but the Cardinals are in first place. Some of the White Sox guys as well, Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle, maybe even Gavin Floyd since he was apparently on the block this winter. Joel Piniero was another one. I have a feeling that once they do make a trade, it'll be for none of the above. It'll be a surprise, someone we don't expect.”
Orioles Hangout: “If New York does not have to make an immediate move for a starter, it is partly due to what the Yankees have received so far from Bartolo Colon. Colon has been outstanding in his 26 innings of work, including two recent starts. After throwing 99.1 innings in 2007, he threw 39 in ‘08, 62.1 in ‘09, and was out of baseball last year. How many innings do you think he can provide in ‘11?
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “I have no idea; I think the Yankees are already playing with house money when it comes to Colon. Anything they get from here on out is a bonus. I’m hopeful that he’ll hold up for another ten, maybe 15 starts. That would be amazing given how strong he’s looked.”
Orioles Hangout: “Rafael Soriano had just 14 walks in 62.1 ip with Tampa last year, but has walked 8 in 10.1 ip with NY to begin 2011 (including walks in 5 of his last 6 outings). Is he dealing with mechanical issues?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “Yeah, though I don’t think it’s just mechanical. I think there’s some trouble adjusting to the cold in New York (compared to the dome in Tampa), and although I usually don’t put much stock into this kind of stuff, he says he’s struggling with the adjustment to the setup role instead of closing. I’m not sure I buy that, but I don’t have any other answers.”
Orioles Hangout: “Curtis Granderson has been on fire, with a .635 Slugging % in his first 74 ab’s. He’s also seeing a career high 4.32 pitches per plate appearance. Do you see him ending ‘11 with numbers that more closely resemble his ‘07 (.913 OPS), and ‘08 (.859 OPS) production with Detroit?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “I don’t know if he’ll ever be 2007 good again, but I’d be more than happy with 2008 production. Anything north of a power-heavy .850 OPS would be great in my book.”
Orioles Hangout: “Brett Gardner added a lot to the Yankees lineup last year with his .383 on-base % and 47 steals. He has been pretty brutal to start ‘11 with 20 k’s and an on-base % under .200 in his first 62 ab’s. Is he in any danger of losing playing time?”
Yankees / Rive Avenue Blues: “Yes, I think so. He’s been a little better of late, but he’s the one guy in the lineup they don’t have millions of dollars committed to, and there are a few guys playing well in Triple-A (Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson in particular) that could step in and replace him. That doesn’t mean it would happen anytime soon, but if he’s still hitting this way in late-May or early-June, he’ll be replaced.”
Orioles Hangout: “Jeff Niemann entered ‘11 having pitched 355 innings over the past two years and winning 25 combined games. So far in ‘11, he is 0-3 with a 7.08 era. In his 20.1 innings of work, he has allowed 28 hits, 4 hr’s, 6 bb’s, with 15 k’s. His OPS against is over .900, and he is getting less grounders. What do you see as causing his current struggles?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “He has had two good starts against a depleted Twins lineup while getting cuffed around by every other team. The pitch plot data from his last start shows a lot of mistakes, but the Twins lacked the talent in the lineup to take advantage of those mistakes. He compounds his problems by being slow to the plate so baserunners are quite comfortable turning singles into doubles and those runners score at a higher rate, as well well know from Tango’s Run Expectancy Chart.”
Orioles Hangout: “Has Casey Kotchman replaced Dan Johnson as the starting 1st baseman?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “No, but he is enjoying a nice run of luck-inflated success. His .361 BABIP is the 6th highest for all first baseman with a minimum of 40 plate appearances and 11 of his 14 hits have been singles. His groundball rate is still over 50% which makes him the same hitter he has always been and his 22% line drive rate, although in a small sample size, is well above his 18% career rate. His glove work the better of the two, but Johnson has been battling a sore wrist which has not helped his offensive struggles. The two first basemen, Felipe Lopez, and Elliot Johnson is likely where the next roster cut comes from once J.P. Howell returns in mid-May.”
Orioles Hangout: “James Shields has had an impressive start to the year, and helped Tampa into 2nd place in the American League East. As long as the Rays within striking distance of the division and the wild card, will Shields be unavailable via trade this season?”
Tampa / DraysBay: “Anyone is available, but nobody will be given away. Shields is pitching some of the best baseball of his career and is costing the club just $4.25M. He has two more club-controlled options for a total of $16M or the club can buy them both out for $3.5M. That still makes him a very affordable pitcher. That said, Alex Cobb and Alex Torres are in AAA and need a spot in the rotation and Shields could bring a very strong return if the Rays are to fall out of contention. That is a tough call to make right now considering they’ve gone 15-9 without Evan Longoria’s services.”
Orioles Hangout: “Bud Selig recently announced his belief that baseball will have a second wild card in each league for the 2012 season. Tampa has shown over the past three years you can win in the American League East, even with far less resources, if the organization is run correctly. Still, it seems to me that a second wild card probably benefits Tampa, Toronto, and Baltimore more than anyone else in baseball. Currently to make the playoffs out of the East, you basically have to be one of the two best teams in all of baseball. With the second wild card, you can be the 3rd best team in the division, and just have to be better than the second place teams in the Central and West. Do you sense support for this second wild card among Rays fans?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “Yes, I sense it is there but there is little agreement on how to implement it. Personally, I’d rather see a play-in game between the wild card teams rather than a series because it potentially puts the wild card team at a double disadvantage of having to burn their staff ace just to make the next round and then open on the road with their second best pitcher.”
Orioles Hangout: “I expected Jose Bautista to remain productive this year, but expected regression from his 2010 extremes. It looks like I had that wrong, as he already has 8 homers and 25 bb’s in his first 22 games. Did you have any reservations when he signed his 5 year $65M extension in February?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “Yeah, I really wanted to like the signing, but at the time, I thought the deal was two years too long. Now, mind you: My apprehensions were based on a lack of evidence that Bautista is this sort of an outstanding hitter, and what those who objected to the deal have noted early on is that JoBau’s had “one good season plus one good month”. And now, I think we can say: “one good season and TWO good months.” As months get added to that equation, the two extra years at the end become more palatable.”
Orioles Hangout: “Many believed this would be the year that 23-year-old Travis Snider really emerged. While it still might, it has been a difficult beginning of the year for him (through 87 ab’s, 1 homer, 23 k’s, .540 OPS). What is the game plan you see from opposing pitchers against Snider?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “Snider (who was somewhat surprisingly demoted yesterday) has been a mess so far this year. I’m a big fan, and I really want to see him succeed, but he’s looked completely off-balance this year (both literally and figuratively). He’s making late adjustments to off-speed and breaking pitches, opening up and swinging at them with one wrist. Meanwhile, good fastballs are getting blown by him. I’m not sure I like the demotion, but if teeing off in the PCL can help him get his swing fixed, so be it.”
Orioles Hangout: “During the 17th through 27th, Adam Lind hit in 8 of the 10 Jays games, with mult-hit games 4 times. When we spoke in February, you mentioned the need for Lind to be more aggressive against lefties. He’s only had 28 ab’s vs. LHP so far in ‘11, but has had an 1.007 OPS in those opportunities. Are you seeing what you need to out of him to believe he will end this year with numbers between the 2009 (high) and 2010 (low) extremes?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “It’s still really early, but there have been a number of at bats against lefties where Lind has hit the pitch away from him to the opposite field, which he did in ’09 but did not do last year. So far, so good. The brighter spot for Lind this year has been his defense, which has been quite good at first so far. He doesn’t have great footwork nor range, but he has saved a lot of throws and has shown pretty stellar hands. Moreover, we just like seeing him in the field on a regular basis, rather than stewing on the bench waiting for his next at bat.”
Orioles Hangout: “In 2008, Jesse Litsch was 13-9 with a 3.58 era over 176 innings. He battled injuries in ‘09 and ‘10, only being able to pitch a combined 55.2 innings. What have you seen so far this year out of him? (2-1, 3.86 era, 23.1 ip, 25 hits, 1 hr, 9 bb’s, 17 k’s, .710 OPS against, 0.85 G/F.)
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “Litsch has been pretty good so far, though we wish he would get further into games. He has pitched himself into jams and deep into counts which has meant early exits. (Nothing beyond 6.1 innings, and that was his first start of the season.) Still, for a guy who was on the cusp of not making the rotation this year, he has pitched well enough to provide above average value for a fourth or fifth starter.
One more thing: If you ever get the chance to listen to the Toronto TV feed when Litsch pitches, check out how many permutations of the “he’s athletic for a fat guy” comments get made about him. No one wants to say mean things about his weight, but Pat Tabler is constantly overpraising every fielding play he makes. To Tabby, Litsch is nimble like a ginger kitty.”
Orioles Hangout: “Brandon Morrow has come off the DL (forearm strain) and struck out 16 in his first 11.1 innings of work after 178 k’s in 146.1 innings in 2010. He was your choice as breakout candidate within the division. What are you expecting from him this year?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “I expect this year to look somewhat like the last 16 starts from last season (arbitrary end point alert ): 3.36 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning (113 in 96.1 over that span last year), and a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio (34 walks in second part of 2010). In his first two starts, he’s looked pretty nasty, and we’re really looking forward to seeing a healthy Morrow and Ricky Romero pitch on back-to-back nights for the next little while.”
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Lifelong. Down by the river.
Lifelong. Down by the river.