On March 31st, I outlined my thoughts as the O’s headed into April:
With 25 games in the books, let’s review the comments I made and what we saw on the field.
Comment Made 3/31: Optimism abounds throughout Birdland. Expectations have been raised with the fanbase. You get the sense with the players that their confidence in their abilities has also increased. You want to build on that, and show right away the capability to play with your divisional foes. In 2010, Baltimore was 9-9 against Boston, 5-13 against New York, 7-11 vs. Tampa, and 3-15 against Toronto. There are 12 Division games in April (6 at home). Finishing April with 6 divisional wins would be a nice statement for the opening month.
April Review: The O’s had two games rained out against the Yankees, so there were only 10 Division games during the month. Baltimore did manage a 5-5 record against the East, sweeping Tampa, taking 2 of 3 from Boston, but losing all 4 to New York. Overall, it was a good start against the division.
Comment Made 3/31: If the 2011 Baltimore Orioles can stay relatively healthy, this offense should score plenty of runs. One of the things I have said repeatedly this off-season is that if you can field a lineup with Wieters and Jones batting in the lower third, you obviously have a capable group. That will remain true even if the progression of Matt Wieters and Adam Jones is somewhat limited. What I will be looking for in April from them is any signs of improved plate discipline. We sure did not see it during the spring, as Wieters had 2 walks in 60 at-bats, and Jones had just 1 in 69. If the production of these two players jumps, the lineup will change from very solid to menacing.
April Review: While I do expect the O’s offense to greatly improve, the results were not there in April. The O’s end the month 24th overall in runs, and 30th overall in on-base %. Wieters ended the month with 7 walks in 81 plate appearances. His BB% of 8.6% is lower than the 9.4% he had in 2010. Jones has 7 walks in 96 plate appearances. His BB% of 6.3% is higher than the 3.7% he had in ‘10.
Comment Made 3/31: In his short major league career, Wieters has just a .622 OPS (256 at-bats) against LHP. In 2010 he was just 25 for 119 (.210 batting average) from the right side. That simply has to improve this year.
April Review: Wieters ends the month 4 for 20 (.200 batting average) from the right side, but has a .854 OPS from that side. I feel even when he has been making outs, he has been hitting the ball with more authority vs. lefties than we have previously seen.
Comments Made 3/31: Wrote about Tillman and Bergesen
April Review: Recently wrote about these two here: http://www.orioleshangout.com/blog/chris-corner/215/matusz-clock-ticking-for-bergesen-and-tillman-
Comment Made 3/31: Zach Britton will be in the O’s rotation shortly. His earliest arrival is probably April 21st once the Orioles have retained that additional year of service time. The only way his arrival comes later (end of May) is if the starters ahead of him are all going well, and Duke shows he is ready to join the team. In that (unlikely) scenario, the O’s may decide to keep Britton down even longer to potentially avoid him obtaining Super 2 status.
April Review: Like everyone else, we knew Britton’s arrival was coming shortly. Didn’t forecast Matusz’s injury obviously. We’ve discussed the O’s losing the extra year of team control plenty, but specifically for ‘11, his April is very encouraging. Baltimore is not going into May thinking of breaking Britton into the rotation, they are thinking of how good the rotation can be when Matusz gets off the DL.
Comment Made 3/31: Over the course of the 2011 season, I expect you will see consistently good production from Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz at the top of the O’s rotation. To me, the key to the rotation is what the O’s get out of Jake Arrieta. I have projected Arrieta to post the following 2011 numbers: 13-10, 3.99 era, 185 innings, 180 hits, 82 er, 18 homers, 82 walks, 120 k’s.
It might be a bit overly optimistic, but I believe it is within reason. I would not get fixed on the era, as that is basically irrelevant. If he gives those same 185 ip I projected and allows 95 er (4.62 era) he will still be effective. What the O’s need most out of Arrieta is for him to start every 5th day and provide consistent innings ... As I stated above, in April I will be looking to see if Wieters and Jones show improved plate discipline. With Arrieta, I want him to trust his stuff and challenge hitters with his fastball. Arrieta walked 48 batters in 100.1 major league innings last year. His improvement in that area (just 2 in his last 17.1 innings) is something he has to build on.
April Review: Arrieta made 6 starts, and in 4 of those starts provided 6 innings of work while allowing 3 er or less. His First Strike % has increased to 61.9% vs. 54.1% last year. When Matusz gets back, Arrieta is the 4th starter. I think you have to be encouraged by that.
Comment Made 3/31: There have been plenty of comments throughout baseball about the O’s ‘old man brigade’ of Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee specifically. They are as fresh as they are going to be all year, so seeing them get off to a good start would help erase any lingering fears that either/both are going to pick 2011 to collapse.
April Review: Guerrero ended April with a .673 OPS, and had 104 ab’s without a walk. He did have 4 homers. Lee has played an excellent 1st base, and contributed with 11 walks. Still, he ends April with his OPS at just .614, and has only homered once.
Comment Made 3/31: After averaging 157 games during 2007-09, Brian Roberts was limited to just 59 in 2010. The 33-year-old second baseman is signed through 2013. Keeping him healthy cannot be just about 2011. Roberts is not going to want to come out of the lineup if he can play. It will be up to Buck Showalter to judiciously pick times to give Roberts extra rest to help allow him to finish his contract as strongly as possible. While the O’s have 3 off days during the month, I’d like to see the O’s end April having benched Roberts for 2-3 games. If you are going to carry both Cesar Izturis and Robert Andino on the bench, you should use them.
April Review: The O’s played 25 games, and Roberts played in each of them. Perhaps if Hardy had not been injured, he would have received an extra day off or so. You could argue the two rain-outs provided the rest I hoped Roberts would receive.
Comment Made 3/31: Speaking of the bench, everyone wants to know how the O’s are going to use Grapefruit League MVP Jake Fox. My opinion is that as prodigious a spring as he had, his role should not change much. I do think he should play enough to keep Wieters from being overworked. Wieters looked drained early on last year, burdened from the responsibility of playing everyday. Fox should get more than the occasional Sunday start, but Wieters of course has to get everyday at-bats. I talked above about Wieters’ struggles against LHP. It should be noted that in Fox’s 176 at-bats against LHP, he has a .598 OPS.
April Review: Fox got into 9 games during the month, and had 3 hits in his 25 ab’s. Wieters has caught 22 of the 25 games.
Comment Made 3/31: Showalter, Roberts, and Brady Anderson recently ran a baserunning clinic for Orioles minor leaguers. I hope additional time was spent this spring working with Felix Pie. As the 4th OF on this team with Markakis, Jones, and Scott ahead of him, finding at-bats will be a bit of a challenge. He figures to regularly be used as a pinch runner, and it would be nice if he could use his speed as a threat on the basepaths. Markakis will basically play everyday, but Pie should get some starts in left and center field.
April Review: Pie has helped this team several times as a PR. While he has appeared in 20 games, Pie has accumulated just 20 ab’s. Frankly, with as much as Markakis has struggled, there should have been an opportunity to give Pie a start or two in RF.
Comment Made 3/31: By the time of the 2010 home opener, Mike Gonzalez was getting booed by the home crowd. For some reason, fans had decided that a couple of poor innings (with a fastball 8 miles below career norms) was a better indication of the player he was, vs. the production he had showed for his entire career (mediocre/poor control, exceptional K/9, hits per 9 rates). Casual fans have been told all winter to understand that Mark Reynolds’ power and plate discipline mean more than the amount of strikeouts he piles up. I hope that if Reynolds starts slow, Baltimore will not bury him in a mountain of hyperbole.
April Review: Reynolds is tied for the team-lead in doubles (6) but has just 2 homers. His .566 OPS looks horrible, but figures to jump. He has 8 walks vs. 25 k’s. The number that does concern me is that Reynolds’ Swinging Strike % is lower than his career average. I’ll be watching to see if that changes in May. My concern is wondering if his approach has been altered to lower his k’s, at possible detriment to his power.
Comment Made 3/31: New hitting coach Jim Presley took an early look at J.J. Hardy this spring and told the SS he wanted to see the hitter he remembered with Milwaukee. Hardy acknowledged he had changed his approach to be the player he thought Minnesota wanted him to be. Want to see him start off strong and turn the lineup over consistently.
April Review: Hardy was limited to just 6 games before being forced to the DL. Hardy played in 115 games in 2009, and just 101 games in 2010. When he gets back, it will be important for him to show he can stay in the lineup on a regular basis.
Comment Made 3/31: It was good to see Jason Berken get through the spring healthy and ready to perform. With him, Jim Johnson (who had a very strong spring), Kevin Gregg, Gonzalez, Jeremy Accardo, and Koji Uehara, the O’s have a multitude of positive options available to them. The negative side is the relatively high injury risks they each seem to be. I’d like to see Uehara get the first crack at nailing down the closer role.
April Review: Not the best month for the bullpen, but I feel pretty good about this group overall. My main cause of optimism for the bullpen is the rotation. I think the starters will regularly provide competitive outings, which will limit some of the wear and tear with the pen. Was good to see Gregg have good outings in that Boston series. Despite letting up the HR to Youkilis, and the HR last night in Chicago, Uehara remains the O’s reliever I’d like to see with the ball in a tight game.
Comment Made 3/31: Sabermetricans have rather conclusively proven that lineup protection is overrated. While I believe the statistical evidence, I do think there is something to be said about the psychological aspect. Hitters talk all the time about the difference they feel and approach they take depending on their place in the lineup. With Markakis in the 2 hole with Lee and Guerrero immediately behind him, I think things set up well for him to approximate his 2008 numbers. Markakis is 27 and in the prime of his career. 2011 will be huge in helping determine if he is going to be the type of player that can have his number in statue form in front of the ticket window, or ultimately be considered just another ‘very good’ player that has passed through Baltimore.
April Review: Markakis ended the month hitting just .204, with 2 homers in his 98 ab’s. His OPS is under .600. I’m confident Markakis will end the year with overall numbers similar to what he produced the past two years. I’m disappointed the year has not started stronger for him. Things seem to even out in baseball, so maybe he’ll have a month later this year with absurd production.
Comment Made 3/31: Looking past Baltimore, I’ll be interested to see how April goes for Nolan Reimold and Josh Bell in Norfolk. With Reimold healthy and focused, it would be surprising if he did not tear up the International League. Bell had 23 walks and 78 k’s for Norfolk in 2010 over 316 at-bats. In the majors he was further exposed with just 2 walks vs. 53 k’s. After working with Anderson this off-season, he showed improvement this spring. Does that continue?
April Review: I’ve said over and over that Reimold is probably my favorite positional player with the O’s (on the ML roster, or system in general). I really respect how he plays the game, and do believe he is closer to the player we saw in ‘09 vs. last year. That said, he has to produce at Norfolk to get back to Baltimore. In 79 ab’s with the Tides, he has a .718 OPS. That will not cut it. His 13 walks are a positive, but the 25 k’s is a crazy amount for him to have accumulated.
Bell has a .749 OPS overall (.873 OPS over the last 10 games). While he has 9 xbh’s, the only really important numbers to note are the 2 bb’s, vs. 27 k’s. Really a pathetic ratio for a player of his talent. Apparently nobody got through to Bell over the offseason the importance of plate discipline.
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