• May

    An April recap has O's looking forward to May

    With one month in the books and the Orioles sitting in 4th place with a 9-13 record, I thought it was a good time to reflect over the Orioles start.


    Realistically, the 9-13 record is about right especially considering the fact the Orioles went into the season with a rotation that included one bona fide, proven major league starter in Jeremy Guthrie, a Japanese import, a guy who has never really had success above Single-A, and two guys who haven’t had success as a starter in the major leagues in over two seasons. 


    Not surprisingly the Orioles go into May with one starter with an ERA under 5.20 (Koji Uehara – 4.50), one out with a season ending injury (Alfredo Simon), and three starters who batters are hitting over .300 off of (Mark Hendrickson - .317, Adam Eaton - .319, and Brad Bergesen - .326). Only the Indians starting rotation (5.82) has worse ERA than the Orioles’ (5.72) and no team average less innings per start than the Orioles’ five and a third innings per start.


    One of the bigger disappointments so far this year has been Guthrie, one of the few guys the Orioles were counting on this season. Guthrie had a horrible spring, but seemed to rebound in his first two starts allowing just three runs in his first 12 innings (3.33 ERA). Since then though, Guthrie has allowed 15 runs (12 earned) in his last three starts over 15.2 innings (6.89 ERA). This includes a game in which he was staked a 7-0 lead against the Red Sox only to allow eight runs before mercifully being pulled in the 5th inning. Batters are hitting .298 off Guthrie and his 5.20 K/9 and 3.58 BB/9 are his lowest and highest ratios of his career.


    Sadly, Guthrie’s 5.20 ERA is second best on the staff although it’s unfair to be too tough on newly recalled Bergesen since he’s only made two starts, one a stellar performance and the other not so much.


    In news that should be titled “Things no one is really surprised about” Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton have shown why no other teams were willing to give them a shot at a rotation spot. Hendrickson has allowed 19 runs in 18.1 innings pitched (11 earned) and has averaged less than five innings a start.


    As for Eaton, it’s pretty obvious why the Phillies were willing to pay him $9 million this year not to pitch for them. He’s allowed 17 earned runs in 21.1 innings over his four starts and has a nifty 7.17 ERA. He did manage to throw one quality start against the White Sox on April 23rd, but outside of that effort he’s pitched to a 9.64 ERA in his other three starts, all of which he lost.


    If that wasn’t enough bad news, the Orioles bullpen has been inconsistent at best. They have combined for a 6.16 ERA and the 80.2 innings they have thrown this season is second only to the 81.1 innings the Blue Jays relievers have thrown and they’ve played two more games than the Orioles.. 


    The Orioles only have three relievers with ERAs under 4.66 and of those, batters are hitting .438 off of left-hander Jamie Walker (2.25) including a .444 clip by left-handers. Jim Johnson (3.00) has been effective most of the season but his .278 BAVG and 1.44 WHIP are up significantly from last year. The best reliever so far by far has been Danys Baez (3.00). Batters are hitting just .143 off him this year and he has 11 strikeouts in 12 innings over seven appearances. Baez has been scored upon in only two of his seven appearances and has tossed two and three inning perfect outings already.


    Closer George Sherrill has saved four out of five chances, but in typical Sherrill fashion, he’s allowed a 1.55 WHIP and has allowed at least one base runner in nine of his ten outings. The problem with Sherrill this year has been his inability to get right-handers out as they are hitting .444 off him compared to .083 by lefties. Some scouts and observers have been saying all along that Sherrill is overexposed as a closer and should be used in more of a LOOGY role where he would excel. However, his supporters will point out that he’s saved four out of five (80%) this year and 31 of 37 (83.7%) last year. In my opinion, the sooner they start to use Sherrill in a LOOGY/setup role the batter the team will be.


    The rest of the bullpen has been hit or miss all year with Chris Ray (6.44, .344 BAVG), Dennis Sarfate (5.73) and recently demoted Matt Albers (7.74, .400 BAVG) being particularly disappointing so far. All three were coming off injuries and none have regained their previous forms. Sarfate is particularly concerning since his fastball velocity has fallen from an average of 94.3 MPH last year to 91.4 MPH. The drop in velocity would be ok if he were getting more movement on his fastball but his movement has actually decreased according to PitchFX data and his 83.5% contact percentage on all swings is a career worse. Basically, batters are seeing him and hitting him well right now. The good news is his walks are down but an increased home run rate has off set that plus.


    Ray’s numbers are a little deceiving after he was crushed in his two outings against the Yankees to start the year. Since then, he’s allowed just one run in his last seven outings covering six innings while striking out nine and walking three. Brian Bass has also been effective after a disastrous start that saw him allow 14 runs (12 earned) in seven and a third innings in his first three appearances. Since then he’s tossed nine and two-third shutout innings including a sparkling three and two-third shutout effort that allowed the Orioles to almost come back and beat the Rangers after falling behind 6-1.


    Offensively, the top part of the Orioles lineup has been other worldly with Brian Roberts (.356/.426/.511), Adam Jones (.359/.433/.628) and Nick Markakis (.381/.460/.560) helping the Orioles average 5.27 runs per game. Aubrey Huff (.273./.343/.443) and Luke Scott (.260/.365/.452) have also been solid. Melvin Mora (.364/.440/.500) has also been excellent with the bat, but he’s missed all but seven games with a hamstring injury that could be traced back to the ridiculously-named and timed World Baseball Classic.


    As good as the top of the order has been the bottom of the order has been an absolute black hole of production. Traditionally a slow starter, Ty Wigginton (.205/.244/.256) has done little to help out after taking over as the full-time third baseman in Mora’s absence. Not to be outdone, catcher Greg Zaun collected just six hits in April and his triple slash line of .111/.238/.423 would make Mario Mendoza feel good about himself, and they named the line of hitting futility after him. Shortstop Cesar Itzuris was signed for his glove so his .242/.286/.333 mark is not too far out of what was expected.


    The biggest disappointment so far has been left fielder Felix Pie (.157/.246/.216). The Orioles knew they were taking on a project with no minor league options when they acquired him this offseason, but his one extra base hit and 14 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances has shown he’s not ready for prime time. Manager Dave Trembley has even shielded him against left-handers in the early going (0-for-6, 3Ks), but Pie has yet to show anything that would indicate he’s future everyday outfielder and with Nolan Reimold knocking the cover off the ball in Norfolk, the Orioles may want to reconsider their Pie experiment very soon.


    But this team was built around defense though, right? Unfortunately, over the first month the Orioles are dead last in UZR ratings (-11.3), RngR (-13.5), UZR/150 (-14.9) and their 15 errors are tied for next to last with four other teams in the American League. With all those runners on board that the Orioles pitching keep allowing they should be leading the league in double plays, but the Orioles have turned just 30 of them with only the White Sox (22) turning less.


    Itzuris was supposed to make us much better defensively at shortstop and the only reason we can say he’s done that is because the Orioles shortstop defense was so horrific last season. Orioles shortstops had a -22.8 UZR and -19.3 UZR/150 ratings last year and while Itzuris and Andino have improved those ratings to -1.1 UZR and -9.4 UZR/150, they still are 10th in the American League for defense. The Orioles are even worse at third base where Wigginton and Mora have combined for a league worse -3.5 UZR and -31.1 UZR/150. Huff also brings up the rear in the American League with a -3.5 UZR and -33.5 UZR/150. Roberts is just ninth in the league at -0.7 UZR and -3.7 UZR/150. All three outfielders are middle to lower end middle of the pack in UZR and UZR/150 but I’m a bit skeptical of those ratings for outfielders.


    So there you have it folks, the pitching has been among the worse in the league, the bottom of the lineup hasn’t hit, and the Orioles are the worse fielding team in the American League. It just might be a miracle that the team is just four games below five hundred.


    So why should May bring some hope? Well, first off the weather will be warmer so that’s always refreshing. Seriously though, the Orioles can improve this team by making some moves from within.


    Matt Wieters has been slowed by a hamstring strain and a bit of a slow start at the plate. However, it’s hard to imagine that a motivated Wieters won’t improve the lineup, especially when it means Greg “automatic out” Zaun will go back to being the back up where he belongs. As soon as the Orioles deem him healthy enough to catch five times a week he should be up here in the lineup. Don’t give me that Super-2 stuff, Orioles fans want to see Wieters and he deserves a chance to make a run at rookie of the year. Leaving him down until June 1st will significantly hurt his chances at making a rookie of the year run and although it might save some money down the road, it’s time for the Orioles to start showing they are willing to give the future a chance now.


    Wieters would plug one hole, but the other one that needs to be plugged is left field. I’m going to say it, and although it might not be the popular opinion, the Pie experiment needs to end. I’m not just saying that as a fan who doesn’t like seeing a guy be an absolute zero at the plate and an adventure in the field, I’m saying that as a guy who has scouted hundreds of minor league players over the last 14 years. To me, Pie’s swing is too long and has too much upper cut for a guy with his skills and honestly, if he hasn’t been able to make the adjustment by now, I’m not sure he’s going to. The only thing that leaves me pause is that his line drive percentage is a respectable 22.9% but his high fly ball rate still suggests he’s got too much upper cut.


    If we didn’t have Jones, Pie would have more value, and perhaps he still does have value as a fourth outfielder/back up center fielder, but I don’t see him having an everyday left fielders bat and that’s based off his minor league numbers as well as major league performance up to this point. Reimold on the other hand is tearing it up at Triple-A and at 25-years old, he’s not a young guy that the Orioles don’t want to overexpose too early.


    I know some of you are now asking, what about Lou Montanez? Perhaps the best way to do this is to give Montanez the everyday job in left field for May and make Pie the fourth outfielder. This will give Montanez the opportunity to claim his stake as an everyday guy. If he fails to produce, Reimold can then be given the opportunity in June and Montanez can be optioned or if Pie is still struggling, he can be designated for assignment with the hopes he makes it through waivers. If not, the only thing we lost is a good defensive center field back up option because I don’t think anyone believes Montanez/Reimold can’t do more with the bat.


    Ok, so now we have two holes plugged and now onto the pitching. First guy we have to talk about is rehabbing Rich Hill. All indications are that his stuff is looking pretty good so far and the hopes are he’ll be able to take Hendrickson or Eaton’s spot by mid-May.


    Although pitching at Double-A, all indications are that Troy Patton (1.21 ERA, 1.75 BAVG) has his arm strength back and could be ready to be given that shot in the Orioles rotation. Does anyone really think that he can’t outperform Hendrickson? Besides, with Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz on the way, it might be a good idea to start trying out guys like Patton, Bergesen, and maybe even David Hernandez (although I still see him in the bullpen) this season and see what they can do.


    In the bullpen, Kam Mickolio (although he just had a bad appearance last night), left-hander Alberto Castillo, Bob McCrory, and even Jim Miller could be options if Sarfate doesn’t come around and don’t forget about Bowie’s Wilfredo Perez. He’s been just about unhittable in Double-A and continues to rack up the K’s.


    We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again, but the cavalry is coming, but even before the official cavalry shows up, adding Wieters and Reimold to the lineup and Hill and Patton to the rotation could start to turn around a season that is starting to look very bleak and could spark fan’s interest along with the warmer weather.

    Visit the Orioles Hangout Message Board

Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.