On a Monthly basis Orioles Hangout will be checking in with Dan Szymborski, the Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Think Factory (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/) and a contributing writer for ESPN.
You can also find Szymborski on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/DSzymborski
Below is our third installment in this series.
Orioles Hangout: “Bill Parcells often stated, “You are what your record says you are.”Heading into play 6/13, the O’s are 3 games under .500 at 30-33. Over the last 140 games (+/-) the Orioles are essentially a .500 team. With two months of play in the books, it is probably time for me to say the O’s offense is no longer ‘underachieving’ but is poor. (19th overall in runs scored, 18th overall in slugging.) While I like the current rotation, overall the O’s rotation is 24th in ERA, and 26th in Quality Starts. How do you see the O’s? As the the .500ish team we expected when the season began, and what their record currently indicates? As a team that has over achieved record wise when you look deeper at the numbers? As a team that has under achieved when you look at the number of players below their expected level of production?”
Dan Szymborski: "I’d still say the offense is underachieving a bit, even 2+ months into the season. The team’s received replacement-level performance from Markakis, Roberts, and Lee, and even believing as I do that expectations for these three was too high, there certainly was and remains a reasonable belief that they would play better than this. Now, the offense isn’t likely to improve to the degree that it would get the O’s into serious contention, but I still feel it will be better."
Orioles Hangout: “With Matusz’s return, the O’s are going to temporarily use a 4 man rotation, with both Bergesen and Tillman demoted to AAA Norfolk. Tillman had allowed 1 er or less in his last 4 starts, but had pitched just 48 innings in his 10 starts. How does Tillman’s ‘11 production (2-3, 4.69 era, 48 ip, 57 hits, 2 hr’s, 20 bb’s, 32 k’s, .763 OPS against, 0.68 G/F, .337 BABIP, xFIP 4.81) compare to 5th starters around the league?”
Dan Szymborski: "Historically, the average 5th starters tend to have an ERA+ down around 80, or essentially allowing 20% more runs than league average. Tillman’s at an ERA+ of 87, so he’s been perfectly acceptable for a team’s 5th starter. The team does expect him to do better (I do, too) and while they still cherish a .500 run, they’re going to be very cautious about letting players work out things in the majors."
Orioles Hangout: “One of the results of signing Guerrero was that there was less flexibility with the roster. Scott was moved to LF, with Pie to the bench, and Reimold to AAA. Scott is dealing with a labrum injury which makes it difficult and painful to throw from the OF. In an interview with MASN’s Steve Melewski, Scott stated the labrum was impacting him at the plate as well. Scott has taken a cortisone shot, and was able to play LF Tuesday night and contributed offensively with two HR's during the week. With Lee off the DL (and coming off the bereavement list Tuesday), the O’s are currently forced to continue to play Scott in LF.
Of course, the O’s would also like to continue to find some playing time for Reimold and Pie. Unlike Scott, Lee and Guerrero are not under contract with the O’s for next year. Due to that, should the O’s be making plans to trade (or release) one of two, so that they can avoid playing Scott in LF?”
Dan Szymborski: "It’s actually a bit unfortunate that it’s not Lee that’s simply mediocre instead of replacement-level as it simplifies things due to Vlad’s lack of real positional flexibility (sure, he can theoretically still play the outfield, but that’s on the same level as me theoretically dating Marisa Miller). I don’t think Scott continuing to get some time at 1B is a bad thing as it can make him more useful to the team. Even as a bench player, you probably don’t need to release Lee at this point – the O’s don’t have a very good bench and there’s practically no chance that anyone’s going to bail the team out of the rest of Lee’s contract."
Orioles Hangout: “Discussion of the backup Catcher on a .500 level team is pretty pointless in the overall scheme of things, but the O’s made the decision this past week to DFA Jake Fox, and keep Craig Tatum. Fox is a poor defensive catcher, and can’t hit lefties. While he did not hit in his initial 50 ab’s this year, Fox has power. Tatum is seen as a good receiver, but had trouble throwing out runners last year, and can not hit. Fox can also be ‘serviceable’ at 1st, 3rd, and LF. Small decision or not, I disliked the move. Agree, disagree?”
Dan Szymborski: "I would’ve kept Fox as well, because he’s still more likely to hit than Tatum is and the latter hasn’t played a single professional game at any position other than catcher, so Fox is also the more flexible of the two. Tatum seems pretty average defensively to me and appears to be the beneficiary of the old axiom referred to as Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense, named after early 90s sabermetrician Sherri Nichols. Essentially, a catcher’s defensive reputation will tend to be inversely proportional to his offensive reputation, as most personified by Mickey Tettleton, who was actually considered a glove man coming up and he wasn’t hitting."
Orioles Hangout: “After a .566 OPS in April, Reynolds rebounded in May with a .778 OPS for the Month, and has 5 homers in his first 31 ab’s of June. While Reynolds’ offense is improving towards his career averages, his defense has been closer to the ‘brutal’ that Keith Law described, vs. the ‘excellent’ that Cal Ripken anticipated. Signed through ‘12, with an option for ‘13 - do you think Reynolds ends this year as part of the solution?”
Dan Szymborski: "In the past, he’s been below-average, but probably short of brutal. This year, he’s been brutal, but people shouldn’t take short-term defensive numbers too seriously – Reynolds will probably end up 10-15 runs below-average defensively rather than the 20-30 below-average he’s on pace to hit. At about a win worse than expected, he’s no longer a realistic solution long-term, but I still think he’s a good stopgap until the O’s have something better."
Orioles Hangout: “Scott’s injury and lowered performance makes it hard to believe he will be trade-bait at the non-waiver deadline. Like Scott, Guthrie is under contract for ‘12. I do not think Guthrie has to definitively be traded, but I do think he needs to be shopped. If Guthrie is traded, what type of value do the O’s need back? What value do you think he has? Is it realistic to believe the O’s could obtain Yonder Alonso (or a prospect of that caliber) for Guthrie?”
Dan Szymborski: "The O’s would like a top prospect in return for Guthrie, but they won’t get it. They’ll get a grade B prospect and maybe a couple throw-ins, but not much more than that."
Orioles Hangout: “Hall of Famer Jim Palmer regularly provides outstanding analysis on MASN. One area where I have consistently disagreed with him (http://www.orioleshangout.com/blog/chris-corner/258/palmer-still-pushing-johnson-as-a-starter), is his advocacy for Jim Johnson to return to the rotation. Your thoughts here? Is there something I am failing to consider?”
Dan Szymborski: "I don’t think the idea should be dismissed. Realistically, the O’s aren’t really in contending mode and while that’s no fun in a lot of ways, one thing it gives the O’s the ability to do is experiment. If it doesn’t work out, they still have Johnson for 3 more seasons after this one as a perfectly good reliever, but if it does, they have a more valuable asset in a place that they really need it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Orioles Hangout: “The O’s have tried multiple approaches with their bullpen, all with limited success. They have had expensive additions, they have gone with mostly youth. What type of moves would you make to address the O’s pen heading into ‘12?”
Dan Szymborski: "The bullpen is the least efficient place to spend money and that lesson seems lost on the O’s. The Rays keep swapping out entire bullpens – they lost 1.5 Cliff Lees of 2010 performance from the pen this offseason and with their usual array of reclamation projections and scrap-heap signings, have a 3.46 bullpen ERA this year. Tampa Bay’s not alone, as the Padres, A’s, Marlins, this year the Indians, and the Angels of the early aughts were all excellent at building cheap, deep bullpens. Yes, the Yankees can afford to sign name relievers, but most other teams have better places to spend limited funds and the O’s are no exception."
Orioles Hangout: “The June Amateur Draft was held this past week. Potentially this was the last Draft without hard slotting. Due to that, and their lack of compensatory picks; I had argued the O’s needed to aggressively go over-slot throughout the Draft. It appears the O’s did go over-slot occasionally, but not consistently. Do you consider it a poor allocation of resources for the Orioles, if they did not dramatically increase their draft spend this year? (For the record, the O’s spent $8.8M on the Draft in ‘09, and a similar amount in ‘10.) Commissioner Selig is on the record as stating he wants the hard slotting, and an International Draft. Do you expect both to be in-place by next year?”
Dan Szymborski: "That’s a really hard question, I don’t think nobody knows for sure what the next CBA will look like. While the players don’t have a great incentive to protect players not in the union at the expense of other things they want more, the MLBPA is rightfully suspicious of the owners. I’d expect that free agent compensation goes away or is modified, but with labor peace and both sides generally happy, neither group has all that much itch for a fight, especially with all the negative press the NFL has received for their labor turmoil.
The O’s didn’t really take any inferior players due to signability issues (unless I’m forgetting someone) and even took a few players that will need above-slot money to not go to college, so there’s not really much to complain about."
Orioles Hangout: “Prince Fielder turned 27 on May 9th and has a .928 OPS for his career. The O’s offered Teixeira 7 years $145M two winters ago. Due to Fielder’s weight concerns, I can not see the O’s being willing to offer him the 7 years they offered Teixeira. If Baltimore offers the same annual $ per over 5 or 6 years, will that be in the ballpark of the contract you anticipate Fielder signing? Despite the questions that exist about how Fielder will age, do you think this is a signing the O’s need to pursue?”
Dan Szymborski: "I expect Fielder to sign something in the neighborhood of 6 years, $140 million. 6 at $120 seems to me unlikely to land Fielder and I don’t think the Orioles are at a place yet where they should. When you sign a big-name free agent, you essentially take the quality of the front years as the counterweight to the risk of the back years and I do not think the O’s are in a place yet where that front-year quality will do more than make them an 83-84 win team. There are just too many holes on the roster."
Orioles Hangout: “If the O’s determine they have the ability to target either Fielder or Yu Darvish this coming Winter, (Hypothetically, let’s say to obtain Darvish it would take a $35M posting fee, and a 5 year, $50M contract) which player makes more sense for the Birds?”
Dan Szymborski: "At a de facto 5-year, $85 million contract for Darvish, I wouldn’t advise the O’s to do either at this point."
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