Gary Armida ( http://fullcountpitch.com/about-fcp/about-gary-armida/) is the Senior Writer, and Executive Editor of FullCountPitch Magazine. (http://fullcountpitch.com/)
You can find Armida on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/GaryArmidaFCP
Orioles Hangout thanks Mr. Armida for taking the time to answer a few questions:
Orioles Hangout: “The O’s offense and bullpen has underachieved. Baltimore has played the entire year without Matusz, and played 27 games without Hardy. Yet, heading into Monday Night, the Baltimore Orioles are one game under. 500, with nearly 25% of the season passed. With a return of expected production from several members of the lineup, plus the return of Matusz; can the O’s exceed the .500 level expectations they entered the year with?”
Gary Armida: “There’s a lot to like about the Orioles right now; I felt that way at the beginning of the year too. I think they are a .500 team with the chance to win 85 games if things break right for them. The return of Brian Matusz is their biggest positive. Essentially, he returns without any innings restrictions and if he can build off of last season, he becomes a leader on the staff. I do think the bullpen has been exposed more than underachieved. They are third in the American League with 129 bullpen innings pitched. Really, the honus is on the rotation to go deeper into games. The A’s and Rays have two of the best bullpens in the league. One of the reasons is that they don’t use them all that often.
If Matusz can come in and pitch deep into games, while getting good results from Arrieta, Guthrie, and Britton, the bullpen can be limited a bit. The only issue I see that prevents 85 wins is that at some point, Britton and Arrieta are going to have to ease up on the innings. The offense should improve a bit, especially with Markakis and Hardy’s return, but I would caution against the offense being that much better. Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, and Vladimir Guerrero are what they are at this point. 81 to 85 wins is a tremendous accomplishment and a positive step forward. The year is a success with the rotation getting some great experience.”
Orioles Hangout: “As far as long-term potential, who is the better trio? Markakis/Jones/Wieters or Matusz/Arrieta/Britton?”
Gary Armida: “I always go with the pitchers. Those three have the chance to be the next “Big 3” ala the Oakland A’s or even the San Francisco Giants. The hitters are solid: Markakis is still an underrated player and Jones has shown much improvement this year. I like what Wieters is building into. But, none of them are really going to be the elite hitters in the game. The three pitchers could be elite in the next year or two.”
Orioles Hangout: “The most significant additions the O’s made this off-season were the acquisitions of Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy because they have the potential of being longer-term options. Reynolds is signed through ‘12, with a team option for ‘13, while Hardy is signed just through ‘11.
Hardy would play in just 6 regular-season games before suffering an oblique injury that forced him to the DL for 27 games. This DL trip comes after playing just 115 games in 2009, and 101 games in 2010. Despite any perceived injury risks with Hardy, would it be a mistake for the O’s to wait until after the season to initiate contract extension talks?”
Gary Armida: “I don’t think it would be a mistake by any means. Hardy is a talented player who put up big power seasons in 2007 and 2008. But, the days of using the word “potential” are over. He’ll be entering his age 29 season next year with three consecutive seasons of injuries. He’s an above average defensive shortstop by most metrics, but shortstops don’t age well in that regard. With injuries a constant, I wouldn’t project for a very long prime. I’d wait out the season, see where he ends up, and make an offer accordingly. He’s a significant injury risk and if I am going to dump long term money into a player, I want at least some sort of good injury history. The Orioles will be challenged with payroll with their young pitchers so I’d wait to see where Hardy’s market is before initiating anything.”
Orioles Hangout: “For his career, Reynolds has a Swinging Strike % of 17.2%. So far in ‘11, that has been reduced to 14.5%. If it is too early to determine if there is a correlation with the 4 HR’s he has in his first 126 ab’s, would you agree that a change of approach that would reduce his k’s to the detriment of his power would be a mistake?”
Gary Armida: “Reynolds needs some more time to adjust to how the American League is pitching him. He’s seeing a lot more in the way of changeups (according to Pitch F/X). He’s been better at not swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. That is a positive. His line drive rate is actually up a bit, along with his ground ball rate. To me that gives a little bit of bad luck mixed with not seeing as many fastballs in the AL.
On the positive side, I would think that he would improve against lefthanded pitchers as the season moves along. Given the southpaws in the division, that certainly helps. Also, in 14 May games, he’s walked 10 times. That plate discipline tells me he is starting to understand how he’s being attacked.
Reynolds has always been a flawed hitter. High strikeout guys and free swingers are prone to extremes. Reynolds had a positive extreme in 2009. 44 homeruns and 30 doubles combined with a 38.6 percent strikeout rate is extreme. Last season’s 32 homeruns and 17 doubles combined with a 42.6 percent strikeout rate is also extreme. I’d expect a hot streak soon. I also like that Showalter moved him down to ninth. Let him build back up.
That was a long winded answer to say that I don’t think he should change his approach. He’s a high strikeout, power hitter. Some years, he’ll hit .250, other years he’ll hit .220. As long as he hits 20-30 doubles and 30+ homeruns and plays solid defense, he has value. With some improved discipline, he should be on his way to providing that homerun power.”
Orioles Hangout: “Chris Tillman told MASN’s Steve Melewski that he is purposely pitching with lowered velocity, to gain further control and movement. Pitch F/X is not showing much increase in movement. So far this year he has had four competitive starts, and three poor starts.
His K/9 ratio has increased from 5.20 last year, to 6.42.
His BB/9 has decreased from 5.20 last year, to 3.21 this year.
His HR/9 has decreased from 1.51 to 0.53.
His line-drive rate has decreased from 21.6% to 15%.
His tERA is 3.13. What are your present thoughts on the young-righty? When Matusz returns many believe Tillman will head back to Norfolk, with Bergesen staying in the rotation. Agree or disagree with that? You recently wrote a story (http://fullcountpitch.com/2011/05/13/6-man-rotation-works-for-sox-not-others/) about The White Sox temporarily moving to a 6 man rotation. Is this something the O’s should consider?”
Gary Armida: “I like Tillman a lot, even if his total season doesn’t illustrate his talent. As you said, his strikeouts are improving and his control is following. That quote tells me that Tillman is learning how to be a pitcher. Pitchers make that next leap when they learn how to mix speeds. He can be 90 MPH most of the game and then dial it up to 93-94 when he needs to. I'd like to see him get a few more groundballs (0.86 GB/FB), but you can also point to a .331 BABIP, which is a bit unlucky. His last two starts have been impressive. He's pitched 11 innings, allowed 8 hits, 1 run, 6 walks, and struck out 7. He's also had 16 swing and miss strikes. He's only 23 years old. He's learning. They need to be patient. He could be their fourth ace.
No, I don't think he should be removed at all from the rotation. He's 23 years old and has a legimitate shot of being a number two, possibly a number one starter in the future. Even if he falls short of that, he'll be an excellent number three. This year is all about development and experience for the Orioles. They can't stunt his growth.
As for the six man rotation, I’m surprised more young teams don’t do it. It works for the White Sox because they really don’t have that one ace who should get the ball more than the others. The Phillies have Roy Halladay. Obviously, you want him on the mound every fifth day. For the Orioles, especially the 2011 version, I like it at least temporarily. It’s a good way to monitor innings and keep everyone learning at the Major League level in a starter’s role. But, someone like Brad Bergesen could help the tired bullpen in a swing role too. It’s something to consider, but the Orioles’ primary goals have to be to get their young pitchers to their innings, get them experience, and have them mostly free of restrictions next year. If a six man rotation can do that, they should use it.”
Orioles Hangout: “Fast forwarding to the non-waiver deadline, if the O’s are improved but outside of contention; do you foresee them actively shopping players outside of their younger core (Guthrie, Scott, Lee, Guerrero, Uehara, Gonzalez, Gregg) to augment the system?”
Gary Armida: "I can see them shopping around, but not doing much. Guthrie would have the most value (and he's the most expendable) in a pennant race so if they can get a prospect or two, that would be great. But, the Orioles are in need of establishing a winning culture. Selling off the team for prospects just won’t cut it anymore. They need to show progress at the Major League level. So, stripping the bullpen or selling most of the veterans is counterproductive to that. I can see Guthrie and maybe one of the offensive veterans going, but it would be a mistake to strip it down. 81+ wins is important after the extended period of losing. Also, there is only so much value that a guy like Lee could command. If they did decide to sell, their bullpen guys would have the most value. Luke Scott shocked everyone at the Winter Meetings with his comments and hasn't stopped. That doesn't play well in the trade market. Lee has almost zero trade value. Few teams need a DH so all signs should point to the Orioles trying to win as much as possible."
Orioles Hangout: “After a strong weekend in Tampa, Markakis has a .657 OPS (.822 OPS for his career.) True or False, he ends ‘11 meeting or exceeding his .803 OPS average of the last two years?”
Gary Armida: “True. Markakis has strong second half numbers. He is a .305/.369/.490 second half hitter, outslugging his first half performance by nearly 70 points. He'll get hot again.”
Orioles Hangout: “Adam Jones is arbitration eligible in 2012, and 2013 before becoming a Free Agent for the 2014 season. The O’s CF turns 26 in August, and has a career .327 wOBA. Despite a Gold Glove, and a reputation for his defense, his play in CF the past two years has been mediocre at best. So far in 2011, the defense seems improved (Partly due to improved positioning). His positive effort has also been noticeable. Even if his plate-discipline never improves, he can still help a roster. My question is do you think the O’s should be investing in Jones with a long-term extension now?”
Gary Armida: “With Jones, I would consider it. But, he's not a guy I build around either. His skillset is being an elite defender and a solid contributor on offense. As you said, his defense hasn't been too good in recent years. If he takes a club friendly deal that takes him through his arbitration years and maybe his first year of free agency, it is worth it. Like I said with Hardy, the priority will be to lock up the pitchers. Jones isn't a franchise builder. He's a valuable part, but not a centerpiece. If the Orioles can't get him to sign their offer, they should just ride out the arbitration process.”
Orioles Hangout: “While he has cooled off in May (.648 OPS) Wieters had a .826 OPS in April, and was hitting the ball with authority with greater regularity than we had seen previously. He looks more comfortable against LHP, and has had some early success with Runners in Scoring Position. Many Baltimore fans were asking if it made sense to move him up in the lineup. The next time he gets hot, do you move him up, or keep him batting in the lower 1/3?”
Gary Armida: “Catching is such a difficult position. Think about what Wieters has to do with such a young staff. Not only is he learning the league, but he is guiding the staff through as well. I don't have doubts that he'll be an above average offensive catcher soon. It always makes sense to get your best hitters more at bats, but I don't think Showalter will be in a rush to move Wieters up. He'd rather have him concentrate on defense and then hitting. Moving him up may hinder that development, at least in Showalter's eyes. I can see Wieters hitting fifth or so. Once he gets hot, why not?”
Orioles Hangout: “Jeremy Guthrie has a career BABIP rate of .270. With the O’s, he has consistently outperformed the league average of .290 to .300. Why do think this is? Pitch selection? Location? Movement? Other?”
Gary Armida: “BABIP is a skill, not really luck like most think it is. It is especially for the batter. But, some pitchers are just so good with eliciting poor contact. With Guthrie it is all of the above: pitch selection, location, movement. Guys like him are fun to watch. He's not overpowering and doesn't have one real elite pitch. But, he gets guys out by using the arsenal. He's been miscast as an ace, but he's put together a nice four year run heading into this year. His attack keeps hitters off balance, which produces that weak contact, thus the low BABIP.”
Orioles Hangout: “Do you like the idea of MLB expanding the playoffs to a 5th team in each league?”
Gary Armida: “My attitude is that I certainly don't want the playoffs to be watered down, but if they decided to do it—which looks like it's a go—I'd be the first one to be watching and excited about watching. Any time you can create more interest in more markets, it is always good for the sport. The traditionalists cried about the current system, but now they are defending this one. There is a tipping point of adding too many teams to the tournament, but one more isn't that tipping point.”
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