After a resurgence late in 2010 after Buck Showalter took over as manager, the Baltimore Orioles are no longer a laughing stock in the AL East. Will they be able to take their performance to the next level and actually compete for the division crown?
Matt Wieters was supposed to be the next great catcher. What happened? Wieters, who will turn 24 in May, hit just .249 in '10 with 22 doubles, 11 homers, 55 RBI, and a .319 OBP in 130 games. He did miss 12 games with a hamstring strain in July, but that obviously was not the root of all of his problems. Why didn't he live up to expectations? This is a player who hit .343 in the minors! How did he hit just .249? The simple answer is that he had a .287 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) in '10 compared to .370 in the minors. (The MLB average was .297 in 2010.) But since there's not much 'batted ball' information for minor league stats, I can't give a better answer. But we can use Wieter's 96-game debut in '09 as a means of comparison. In '09, Wieters hit .288 with 15 doubles, 9 homers, 43 RBI, and a .340 OBP. Obviously, Wieter's BA (that's the abbreviation I use for batting average) and OBP were much higher in 2009 than in 2011. Why? First of all, Wieters had a .356 BAbip in 2009 that was much more similar to his BAbip in the minors. But why was that? Unless a player is incredibly lucky, his BAbip is going to have a lot to due with how many line drives he hits. In 2009, Wieters had a 20% LD% (line drive percentage among balls in play) compared to the MLB average of 19%. In 2010, his LD% free-fell to just 14% (so he was very lucky in terms of BAbip in 2010). Meanwhile, his GB% (ground ball percentage) went up from 42% to 46%. The craziest part of this is that according to Fangraphs' batted ball data, Wieters hit just 5 more line drives in 130 games in '10 than in 96 games in '09. He clearly wasn't making as much solid contact. So what can we expect from Wieters this season? You have to expect a rebound. Wieters had an off-year, but he's a great player. He should live up to expectations in 2011. But how do we know that?
The proof is a little bit deeper into the same data we looked out before. Why did Wieters hit so many fewer line drives? When he was getting behind in the count, rather than fouling pitches off until he got a pitch to hit, he was content with just putting the ball in play at all or just taking pitches in order to have a chance to reach base (on a hit or a walk). There are multiple sources for this reasoning. There are no stats like F/Str, S/Str, and L/Str (percentage of strikes fouled off, percentage of strikes from swings-and-misses, and percentage of strikes looking) for specific situations (in this case, it would be two strike situations) that are available to the public, but on the season, Wieters' F/Str fell from the 29% it was in '09 to 27% (27% is the MLB average). (That's a big difference because he fouled off 331 strikes compared to the 355 he would have if fouled off if he was at 29%.) Meanwhile, his S/Str shot down from 18% to 13% and his L/Str jumped up from 25% to 31%. Wieters' I/Str (percentage of strikes put into play) went up from 28% to 29%, but his AS/Str (percentage of strikes swung at) went down significantly from 75% to 69%. All this adds up to 29% of Wieters' strikeouts in 2010 coming via the backwards K (if you're not in the know, when you're scoring a baseball game, a backwards K connotes a strikeout looking). He wasn't anywhere as aggressive with 2 strikes. But, you could argue back that the data isn't specific enough to prove anything. However, there is some amount of 2-strike data available to prove this point. In 2010, Wieters had just a 50% IP% (in-play percentage; league average 69%) compared to the 69% IP% he had overall on the season. In 2010, his 2-strike IP% was 52%. He did strike out in 38% of his 2-strike at-bats and walk 10% of the time in '10 compared to 41% and 6% respectively in 2009. (The 2010 stats don't add up to 100% because Wieters was also hit-by-pitches 1% of the time and because of rounding error.) While those trends seem fine overall, there's still one more key stat to mention: BAbip. In 2009, Wieters had a .333 BAbip with 2 strikes. In 2010, his BAbip dropped to just .266. Using the fact that MLB players had a .297 BAbip in '10 with an 18.8% LD%, you can estimate that Wieters had approximately a 21% LD% (among balls in play) with 2 strikes in '10. Using that same estimating tool, Wieters had aprroximately a 17% LD% with 2 strikes in '10. (Those percentages might be off because if you used this estimating tool to estimate Wieters' LD% for the entire season, it would be 18%. But, if nothing else, Wieters had the equivlent of a 17% LD% in terms of luck [he had the equivlent of an 18% LD% overall in '10 in terms of luck].) Even without knowing exactly what his LD% was with 2 strikes, it's clear that Wieters was able to hit a higher percentage of line drives in 2-strike situations in '09 than in '10. Considering that 51% of Wieters' plate appearances in his career entering 2011 were 2-strike plate appearances, those line drive percentages had a lot to do with Wieter's LD% and BAbip on the year. If Wieters can be more aggressive overall in 2011, and find a happy medium of aggressiveness with 2 strikes, he'll have a much better season. Wieters is a great hitter, and there's no reason to think that he won't get his LD% back to 20% in 2011.
And somehow I've written two enormous paragraphs about Wieters' LD%, and I haven't even mentioned his power. Wieters hit 27 homers in 2008 between High-A and Double-A in 530 plate appearances, but he has hit just 20 homers in 884 major league plate appearances entering 2011. What's going on with that? Well, Wieters has posted just a 6.3% HR/FB (percent of fly balls to the outfield that go for homers; league average) in both of his major league seasons compared to the league average of 7.7%. I think that he still has the power, but he just hasn't been completely comfortable in the big leagues yet. Once he's hitting .280, he can worry a bit more about hitting homers. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he hits 20 homers in 2011. Defensively, Wieters was outstanding in 2010, posting a .994 Fld% compared to the AL average of .990, and a 31% CS%. Maybe focusing on his defense cost him a few line drives with the bat. Wieters is hitting .241 entering Thursday with a homer, 4 RBI, and a .333 OBP thus far in 2011. Matt Wieter struggled through an awful sophomore slump in 2010, but expect him to finally become the great catcher we all expected him to be in 2011.
Wieters will be backed up by Jake Fox. Even though I saw him 18 times last year in the AL East, I actually had no idea that Fox was a natural catcher. Fox has become a great utility player for the Orioles, considering he can catch and play all four corner positions (he's average defensively at catcher and awful at the other four positions). Fox also has decent power, considering he has hit 18 homers in 467 major league appearances. He hit .217 in '10 with 10 doubles, 7 homers, 22 RBI, and just a .261 OBP (his real problem) in 77 games between the A's (who obviously traded him because of his low OBP) and the Orioles. Fox is 0 for 7 so far in 2011. Jake Fox is a pretty good backup for the O's because of his versatility.
Derrek Lee, signed by the Orioles this offseason to a 1 year, 7.25 million dollar contract, has seemingly been around forever. Really, he's only been around since '97. Lee, 35, had somewhat of an off-year in '10 between the Cubs and Braves, hitting .260 with 35 doubles, 19 homers, 80 RBI, 80 runs, and a .347 OBP in 148 games. Did Lee really have an 'off-year', or is he beginning to decline? Maybe it could be the former. Lee had a .309 BAbip in '10 even though he had a 22% LD% and just a 6% IF/FB (percentage of fly balls that are popups on the infield). He had the luck of a player with a 20% LD%. If his luck improves, he could certainly get back to his .282 career BA. Also, in terms of hitting homers, Lee had just an 8.1% HR/FB compared to his 11.5% career HR/FB. He also had 64% IP% that was exactly the league average. He just got unlucky in terms of his fly balls going out. Or was he? Lee had a 37.6 FB% (fly ball percentage among balls in play), which was a bit lower than his 38.8%. But, how could that affect his HR/FB? If he hit less fly balls, it shouldn't make too much of a difference for his HR/FB. So what's going on here? Well, as I've keep running into in these posts, there's a discrepency in the stats between the two sites I've been using for these stats, baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com. (The links are to Lee's pages for hitting stats on the two websites. You'll have to scroll down to 'Ratio Stats' on baseball-reference.com, but the Fangraphs link should go straight to 'batted ball'.) Baseball-Reference counts line drives as fly balls, while Fangraphs counts them separately. Baseball-Reference defines HR/FB as percentage of fly balls to the outfield including line drives that go for home runs. Fangraphs defines HR/FB as 'home run to fly ball ratio'. Looking at the actual recorded numbers of hit type (Lee hit 157 fly balls and 94 line drives in '10), that means that Fangraphs does not count line drives. According to Fangraphs' version of HR/FB, Lee had a 12.1% HR/FB compared to the league average of 10% and his career average of 16.5%. So now we're all confused (I'm going to use Baseball-Reference's HR/FB going forward), and what did we prove here? Well, we did actually learn something, even if you didn't realize initially because you were so confused. It was good that Lee hit more line drives, but Fangraphs' HR/FB shows us that Lee's increase in line drives led to a decrease in home runs. Lee was trying to hit the ball hard every single swing, but most of those times he lined a single, a double, or even lined into an out. He didn't lift the ball very well even when he got a pitch to hit. He hit most of his fly balls when he missed a pitch, and although a decent amount of them went out, he was worrying about being a hitter first and a homer hitter second. That reminds of a stat I made up almost exactly a year ago, HR/H% (percentage of hits that went for homers. It's a spin-off of X/H%, percentage of hits for extra bases, but the purpose of HR/H% is to determine whether a hitter is pure hitter or a decent hitter with some power (as explained further in that post if you want to click the link). I defined that if less than a fifth of a player's hits are homers, he's not a power hitter. If anywhere from 20% to 30% of his hits are homers, that player is a decent hitter who also happens to have great power. Over 30% is a pure power hitter. Lee's HR/H% has greatly varied in his career. Lee's career HR/H% is 17%, so he isn't really a power hitter. But, the line graph of Lee's HR/H% is pretty crazy.
From 1997 to 2002, Lee wasn't a power hitter at all, posting a 16% HR/H% and 15% if you take out a fluke 2000 season in which he had a 21% HR/H% due to a 17.3% HR/FB. But from 2003 to 2005, he had a 21% HR/H%, including 23% in his 46-homer 2005. What happened is that Lee's HR/FB went up from 11.3% from '97 to '02 to 14.4% from '03 to '05. '03 to '05 were Lee's age 27, 28, and 29 seasons, so it makes sense that he became more of a power hitter. But from 2006 to 2008, his HR/H% shot down to just 12% (keep in mind that he played in just 50 games in '06 to do a radius-ulna fracture in his right forearm). His HR/FB shot down to just 8.5%. Then all of a sudden, Lee showed some power again in 2009, posting a 21% HR/H%. He had a 14.1% HR/H% that mirrored his '03 to '05 HR/FB. But then in '10, Lee's HR/H% went back down to 13%, just like '06 to '08. Clearly, 2009 was a fluke and Lee won't really be a power hitter at all the rest of his career according to these trends. (Lee did have a 25% HR/H% in 2011 entering 4/8/11 when I did this graph, but that was 1 homer among 4 hits.) Lee should be a decent offensive player for the Orioles in '10, probably hitting .280, but don't expect him to hit 30 homers or even close to that. Defensively, Lee is still a decent defender, considering he posted a .993 Fld% in '10 that was exactly the league average with a 2.1 UZR. Lee is hitting .194 with a homer, 2 RBI, and a .293 OBP to this point in 2011. Lee will be backed up by starting left fielder Luke Scott, starting third baseman Mark Reynolds, and Jake Fox. Derrek Lee should be a good player for the Orioles in '10, but don't expect very many homers.
When healthy, 33 year old career Oriole Brian Roberts is an outstanding player. In 2009, Roberts hit .283 with a league-leading 56 doubles, 16 homers, 79 RBI, 110 runs, 179 hits, 30 stolen bases (7 CS), and a .356 OBP in 159 games. But in 2010, he appeared in just 59 games because of an abdomen strain, although he did play pretty well when he did get into games, hitting .278 with 14 doubles, 4 homers, 15 RBI, 12 stolen bases, and a .354 OBP in 59 games. How will Roberts do if he stays healthy in 2011? From '08 to '10, Roberts posted a 22% LD% each season. Yet, his BA went down from .296 to .283 to .270. What happened? Well first of all, Roberts' BAbip went down from .341 in '08 to .318 and .319 respectively in 2009 and 2010. If it wasn't LD%, what made Roberts' BAbip go down that much? Well, hitters had a .235 BAbip on groundballs in '10 compared to just .137 on fly balls. Roberts' GB% went down from 40% in '08 to 36% and '09 to 34% in '10 while his FB% went up from 36% to 42% to 45%. Roberts has become a bit more of a fly ball hitter. That caused his HR/FB to go up from 3.2% to 5.4%, but he was very unlucky in 2010, as his HR/FB went back down to 3.4%. These are not a good trend for Roberts, and unless he changes them, he will continue to decline. Maybe those trends won't change. Thus far in 2011 Roberts had posted a 55% FB%, although he does have a crazy 30% LD% so far. Even though those stats mean nothing because it's only been 6 games, it's not a good sign for Roberts. Roberts is still a good offensive player, but appears that he'll experience another decline in 2011. It might be relatively slight , but there will be a decline. (My best guess would be a .275 BA, 35 doubles,10 homers, 60 RBI, 80 runs, 25 stolen bases, and a .340 OBP- sort of similar to ZiPs' projection.) Defensively, Roberts' Fld% at second base has gone from .989 in '08 to .984 in '09 to .987 in '10 (.987 is the average of the league averages in those 3 seasons), so he's been at least decent defensively, and his UZR has gone from -0.8 to -2.9 to positive 1.8. This is from a player who posted a 30.1 UZR from '03 to '06. Sort of sad, but that's what happens. Roberts is hitting .214 with 3 homers, 10 RBI, and a .233 OBP in his first 10 games in 2011. Brian Roberts is a still a pretty good player, but he's beginning to decline.
Roberts will be backed up by Cesar Iztruis and Robert Andino. Iztruris, 31, managed a -0.5 WAR (wins above replacement) as the Orioles' starting shortstop in '10, hitting .230 with 13 doubles, 1 homer, 28 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and just a .277 OBP in 150 games. Iztruis did post an outstanding .985 Fld% defensively (league average .973), and a 5.1 UZR. He's a great defender, but he can't hit. He owns a .989 Fld% and a 0.9 UZR at second base, but he hasn't played their since '06. Izturis is hitting .167 with an RBI, and a .375 OBP (2 walks) in 4 games in 2011. Because of his great defense, he should be a good backup.
Andino, who will turn 27 on April 25th, couldn't even hit well at Triple-A, hitting just .264 with 30 doubles, 13 homers, 76 RBI, 72 runs, 16 stolen bases, and just a .302 OBP in 132 games. He posted just a .975 Fld% with below-averange range at second base, and just a. 946 Fld% with below-average range at short. He did hit .295 in the majors- in 16 games, but he still managed just a .950 Fld% in 7 games at shortstop (1 error), although he was perfect in 14 combined games at second base at third base. He had a 0.7 UZR at third, 0.6 at second, and 0.0 at short. He's a bad player, but he'll be fine as the Orioles' second utility infielder. Andino is 0 for 11 with a walk in 3 games in 2011. The Orioles have decent depth behind Roberts, but he better not get hurt again.
Mark Reynolds is a strikeout machine. Good thing he has so much power. On his career, Reynolds has a reasonable 25% HR/H%. But, that was because of just a 19% HR/H% his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008. But, his HR/H% shot up to 29% in 2009, and then 32% in 2010, when he hit 32 homers compared to just 99 hits. Overall in 2010, Reynolds, now 27, hit just just .198 with 17 doubles, 32 homers, 85 RBI, 2 triples, 79 runs, 7 stolen bases, and a .320 OBP in 145 games. Reynolds nearly managed more extra-base hits than singles (51 compared to 48). He had an incredible 52% X/H% (percentage of hits for extra bases) compared to the league average of 34%, but his 8.6% XBH% (percentage of plate appearances that ended in an extra-base hit) wasn't so far above the league average of 7.8%. Reynolds had just a .257 BAbip because of a 13% LD%. He had just a 44% IP%, and we all know why. He led the majors in strikeouts for the third consecutive year with 211. That was OK when he hit 44 homers in 2009, but much less so in 2010. Reynolds' HR/FB was a bit down from '09 to '10, from 21.3% to 19.6%, but he just didn't put the play in play enough (his IP% went down from 47% to 44%) to take advantage of high high HR/FB either way. His FB% (among balls in play) actually went up from 47% to 55%. Will Reynolds have some sort of rebound in 2011? Well, there's one area where Reynolds has realistic room for improvement- LD%. Reynolds had a .343 BAbip from '07 to '09 with a 19% LD%. He hit .257 over that time period. When Reynolds posted just a 13% LD% in '10, he posted just a .257 BAbip and accordingly, just a .198 BA. If Reynolds can hit more line drives when he doesn't hit the ball out, he should be able to hit at least .220, and that will help his self-esteem. Marcel has him hitting .233 and ZiPs has him hitting .222, and Reynolds should hit around there. He has hit .241 thus far in 2011, thanks to a 35% LD%. Strangely, he's posted just a 6.7% HR/FB. Defensively, Reynolds made huge strides in 2011, posting a league-average .951 Fld% and a 2.2 UZR, the first positive UZR of his career. He'll be backed up by Jake Fox. Reynolds is what he is. Reynolds is hitting .273 so far in '10 with 5 doubles, 1 homer, 8 RBI, and a .351 OBP through 10 games. He's a pure power hitter who strikes out a ton, but will become a fan favorite if he can keep his average above .200 while hitting his 35+ homers and making some dazzling plays defensively.
J.J. Hardy, acquired by the O's this offseason for a couple of minor league pitchers. Well, Hardy's better than Izturis, but not by as much as you would think. Firstly, Hardy is an injury risk. He missed nearly all of May and June in '10 with a wrist injury. When he was on the field, Hardy didn't play well anyway, hitting .268 with 19 doubles, 6 homers, 38 RBI, and a .320 OBP in 101 games. He only had 375 plate appearances, but even if he made 500 plate appearances, he was on just an 8-homer pace. This is from a player who not once, but twice, hit 24 or more homers in a season, as recently as 2007 and 2008. What happened? Well, Hardy's HR/FB's in his 24 homer seasons were 10.4% and 11.9% respectively. Hardy had just a 4.7% HR/FB. And it's not like Hardy was unlucky. Hardy was already in decline in 2009, posting just a 7.1% HR/FB. What happened was that Hardy started hitting more ground balls and less fly balls. Hardy's FB% went from 36% in '08 to 40% in '09 to just 34% in '10 while his GB% went from 48% to 46% to 49%. Maybe he got frustrated after his awful '09 (.229 BA, 11 homers). Hardy has never hit a lot of line drives (16% career LD%), and when the fly balls stopped going out, he became an average offensive player at best. There's no real reason to think that Hardy will ever hit 20 homers again even though he's entering his prime at age 28. Even if he hits 15 homers (as ZiPs predicts), he can't hit for average offensively and he has no speed. Hardy is still a great defender in terms of range (8.1 UZR), but even so, he managed just a .976 Fld%. His defense does not offset his offense. Making matters worse, he will miss at least 3 weeks with an oblique strain, setting up a temporary starting job for Andino. Hardy was hitting .200 with 3 doubles, 2 RBI, and a .294 OBP when he got hurt. Hardy will be backed up by Andino and Izturis once he comes back. J.J. Hardy will be just a decent player for the Orioles in '11 even if he does get healthy.
Luke Scott finally broke out in 2010 at age 32. Scott didn't have his rookie season in the majors until he was age 28 in 2006, when he hit .336 with the Astros with 19 doubles, 10 homers, 37 RBI, and a .426 OBP in 65 games. But from '07 to '09, Scott was a disappointment, averaging a .257 BA, 28 doubles, 22 homers, 69 RBI, and a .342 OBP per season. He was OK, but certainly nothing special. While Scott didn't all of a sudden become a superstar in 2010, he took a big step forward, hitting .284 with 29 doubles, 27 homers (a career-high), 72 RBI, and .368 OBP in 131 games. Was there any reason for Scott's sudden improvement? Well, from '07 to '08, Scott had a .286 BAbip and in 2010, his BAbip was .304. From '07 to '09, Scott had a 17% LD%. In 2010, his LD% was 19%. He also set a career-high with a 14.8% HR/FB, obviously leading to his career-high in homers. Can he keep those trends up? Well, it's troubling that the last time he had a jump in LD% (23% in 2006), he went down to just 17% in 2007. But, he played in just 65 games in '06, and because of the small sample size, he couldn't have been depended on to repeat such a performance. The LD% might not be such a problem. But, his 14.8% HR/FB was compared to his 12.7% career HR/FB and his 13.8% HR/FB with the Orioles (entering 2011). He should have a worse year because he should hit a few less homers. Defensively, Scott owns a .992 career Fld% in left field, but with a 7.5 UZR, but he has a combined -2.2 UZR the past two seasons. Scott is currently being bothered by a groin strain, but he has not gone on the DL, although he has struggled to begin 2011, hitting .188 with a double and a .350 OBP (3 walks) in 5 games. Luke Scott should be a pretty good player for the O's in 2011, but he won't be as good as he was in 2010.
Scott will be backed up by Felix Pie, 26. Pie hit .274 as a backup for the Orioles in '10 with 15 doubles, 5 homers, 31 RBI, 5 triples, 5 stolen bases, and a .305 OBP in 82 games. He was a bit lucky to post a .316 BAbip despite an 18% LD%. He posted an outstanding .994 Fld% in 70 games in left field, but he actually posted a -3.6 UZR, so that's a problem. Pie posted a combined 1.000 Fld% in 11 combined games between centerfield and right field, posting a combined 1.7 UZR. Pie has hit .357 in 9 games filling in for Scott, but he has no walks and all of his hits have been singles. Felix Pie is a fine backup, but a below-average player overall.
Adam Jones had another good offensive season for the Orioles in 2010. Jones, a 25 year old outfielder who was acquired back in 2008 in the Erik Bedard trade, hit .284 in '10 with 25 doubles, 19 homers, 69 RBI, 5 triples, 7 stolen bases, and a .325 OBP in 149 games. Jones had a .328 BAbip compared to his .319 career BAbip, but he actually had a 17% LD% compared to his 18% career LD%. Maybe he was a bit lucky in 2011, so you would think that maybe his BA will go down towards hit .272 career BAbip. But, he did improve his IP% to 72% compared to his 70% career IP% so he was able to take advantage of his above-average BAbip more so than he has in the past so his BA should stay about the same. Jones is a good offensive player. However, Jones was awful in centerfield, posting a below-average .984 Fld% with a -5.0 UZR. That's a bit of a problem. Even so, Jones is a pretty good player overall. Jones is hitting .189 through 9 games in 2011, but with 2 homers, 5 RBI, 2 stolen bases, but just a .205 OBP. Jones will be backed up by Pie. Adam Jones is a pretty good player for the Orioles.
Nick Markakis has been a star even since he came to the majors at age 22 in 2006. In 2010, Markakis, now 27, hit .297 with 45 doubles, 187 hits, 7 stolen bases, and a .370 OBP in 160 games. But Markakis, who has twice hit 20 homers and driven in over 100 runs, hit just 12 homers and drove in just 60. He also scored just 79 runs after scoring 94 or more each of the past 3 seasons. In '06 to '09, Markakis had a .470 slugging percentage. But in 2010, he slugged just .436. What has happened to Markakis? Markakis' .331 BAbip in '10 was right around his career BAbip of .328, but his LD% was at 18% compared to his 19% career LD%. Markakis did have a 75% IP% compared to his 72% career IP%. But, Markakis posted just a 4.5% HR/FB compared to the 7.3% HR/FB he has posted thus far in his major league career. His 36% FB% in '10 was exactly his career average. Is there any hope for Markakis to hit 20 homers and by extension drove in 100 runs again? The truth is that Markakis isn't really a power hitter at all. Markakis owns just a 10% career HR/H%, and even when he hit a career-high 23 homers in '07, he still had a 12% HR/H%. His HR/H% was just 6% in '10, but he still had a good year overall. Markakis has averaged 18 homers and 84 RBI per season. How has he driven in so many runs without so many homers? A career .303 BA with runners in scoring position. Markakis' BA with RISP was actually .338 in '10. He simply didn't have enough opporunities to drive in runs in '10 (despite being the Orioles' number 3 hitter in the lineup). Also, among Markakis' 12 homers, just 3 of them (25%) came with runners on base. In his career, 46% of his homers have come with runners on base. When that evens out, Markakis should certainly be able to drive in at least 75 runs in 2011, assuming that he receives enough opportunities with runners in scoring position. But, Markakis has gotten into some kind of funk defensively. Markakis, who posted a 12 UZR in right field in 2008, Markakis has posted a -11.2 UZR the past 2 seasons. Markakis' .991 Fld% in '10 was actually above his .990 career average, but he posted just 7 outfield assists. Markakis posted 13 outfield assists in '07, 17 in '08, and 13 again in '09. The Orioles have to hope that Markakis rebounds defensively, and after seeing the early going this season (a great catch at the wall to save a game against the Orioles), he should be fine. Markakis is hitting .222 with 1 double, 1 homer, 3 RBI, and a .310 OBP in 10 games in '11. He'll be backed up by Felix Pie. Expect Nick Markakis to drive in more runs and rebound defensively in 2011.
Coming into 2010, Vladimir Guhttp://www.fannation.com/blogs/create_post?blog_id=988095-11-or-nothingerrero was a question mark. He had played in just 100 games in 2009 with the Angels because of calf and pectoral strains. He signed with the Rangers in the offseason on a 1-year deal worth "just" 5.5 million dollars. But Guerrero, now 36, stayed healthy and came through in 2010, hitting .300 with 27 doubles, 29 homers, 115 RBI, 83 runs, 178 hits, and a .345 OBP in 152 games. Even after he hit just .220 in the playoffs, Vlad had completely reestablished his value and he was able to sign a 1-year, 8 million dollar contract with the Orioles. Can the Orioles expect a similar performance in 2011, or was 2010 Guerrero's last hurrah? Well, Guerrero could all of a sudden fall of a cliff because of age, but statistically, Guerrero wasn't lucky in 2010. He posted a .292 BAbip because of a 19% LD%. His 79% IP% was his highest since 1997. Vlad didn't hit 30 or more homers because he was unlucky in terms of HR/FB. His HR/FB was 11.4% compared to his 13.9% career HR/FB. Vlad should be able to have another solid season in 2011 as long as he stays healthy. Vlad is hitting .268 with 1 double, 1 homers, 3 RBI, and a .268 OBP (0 walks) in 10 games to begin 2011. Vladimir Guerrero appears to still have another year or two of solid performance left in the tank, and he should prove to be a good signing for the Orioles.
Jeremy Guthrie has been a solid pitcher for the Orioles the past 4 seasons. Guthrie, who turned 32 on April 8th, posted a 4.06 ERA from '07 to '10 from the Orioles. Will he be able to step up and be better than that as the Orioles fight to stay in contention? After his nice 2010, you want to say yes. Guthrie went just 11-14 in '10, but with a 3.83 ERA, 119 K's, and 50 walks in 32 starts and 209.1 IP. He allowed 193 hits, an 8.3 H/9, and 25 homers, a 1.1 HR/9. His 4.44 FIP (fielding-independent equivalent of ERA) was the second best of his career behind 2007, and his 74.1% LOB% (left-on base percentage, also known as strand rate; league average 72.0%) was right around his career 74.0% LOB%. But, was Guthrie lucky in another way? Well, Guthrie allowed a .255 BAbip compared to the .269 career BAbip against him. But, he allowed a 16% LD% compared to his 18% career LD% against him. Guthrie allowed a pretty good 42.3% GB% in 2011 as well. He did allow a high 76% IP% compared to his career average of 74%. Guthrie wasn't lucky in terms of hits allowed- he just pitched pretty well. He also allowed a 7.4% HR/FB that was right around the league average. But, it was significantly below his career average of 8.4%. Guthrie will experience some sort of digression in 2011, but he still should be a pretty good pitcher, probably posting an ERA in the low-4.00's. Guthrie is 1-1 with a 0.64 ERA after two starts in 2011. Jeremy Guthrie is a true ace by any means, but he should be a pretty good pitcher for the Orioles in 2011.
The Orioles might have a problem with stud left-hander Brian Matusz currently out with a strained left intercostal muscle. The 24 year old southpaw was a 10-game winner in '10, going 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA, 143 K's, and 63 walks in 32 starts and 175.2 IP. He allowed 173 hits, an 8.9 H/9, and 19 homers, a 1.0 HR/9. And if Matusz gets back on track when he comes back, expect him to be as good as ever. Matusz allowed a .295 BAbip in '10 despite allowing a 17% LD%. Matusz is a fly ball pitcher, and accordingly he allowed just a 36% GB% against him, 17% of the fly balls against him were popups, and he had a 6.8 HR/FB. Matusz did allow his homers (1.0 HR/9), but it shouldn't be too much of a problem for him long-term. Matusz also had a 71.6% LOB% in '10, so that shouldn't be a problem either. A good fly-ball pitcher can manage a better BAbip against than a groundball pitcher because groundballs are more likely to drop in for base hits. Batters hit .235 in '10 on ground balls compared to .137 on fly balls. Matusz is a good fly ball pitcher. If Matusz can get his H/9 closer to 8.0 while maintaining everything else, he should certainly be able to get his ERA under the low-4.00's or high-3.00's. We'll have to see how things play out, but Matusz has a chance to be a great pitcher for the O's for a long while. Brian Matusz's statistical trends look good, but we'll have to wait until he comes back from an injury to see if he will be as good as the stats say he will.
Jake Arrieta, who turned 25 in March, broke in to the majors with the Orioles in 2010, going 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA, 52 K's, and 48 walks in 18 starts and 100.1 IP. He allowed 106 hits, a 9.5 H/9, and 9 homers, a 0.8 HR/9. Arrieta allowed a .292 BAbip because of a 19% LD% and a decent 42% GB%. He was unlucky in terms of stranding runners, posting a 69.5% LOB%, but he was very fortunate to have a 5.3% HR/FB. Arrieta was somewhat lucky in 2010, yet he still had a bad year. Arrieta is just a bad pitcher. But can his minor league stats provide any insight? Arrieta posted a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts and a relief appearance at Triple-A in '10. Does that mean anything? No, because he had a .237 BAbip and an 82.7% LOB%. Accordingly, Arrieta has an 8.68 ERA after two starts in '10. Jake Arrieta is a decent pitcher at best for the Orioles.
Another lefty, Zach Britton, took the place of Matusz, and he's certainly opened up eyes, going 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in his first 2 major league starts. Britton, 23, went 10-7 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in '10 with 124 K's and 51 walks in 26 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 153.1 IP. He allowed 139 hits, an 8.2 H/9, and just 7 homers, a 0.4 HR/9. And he did all this while allowing a .289 BAbip and a 70.5% LOB%. Britton also posted a 3.23 FIP. Britton was awfully good in the minors in '10, and while he won't post an ERA under 1.00 all year, he certainly has a chance to post an ERA in the high-2.00's or low-3.00's and contend with Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays for AL Rookie of the Year. Rookie Zach Britton might end up being the best pitcher in this Orioles rotation in 2011 and beyond.
Chris Tillman, who turns 23 on Friday, was one another one of the players that the Orioles acquired in the Erik Bedard trade. Tillman split 2010 between the majos and minors for the second consecutive year. In the majors, Tillman went 2-5 with a 5.87 ERA, 31 K's, and 31 walks in 11 starts and 53.2 IP (less than 5 innings per start). He allowed 51 hits, an 8.6 H/9, and 9 home runs, a 1.5 HR/9. Tillman was actually lucky in terms of hits allowed, giving up just a .253 BAbip. Check that- he's the luckiest player in baseball because he allowed a .253 BAbip while allowing a 23% LD%. He did allow a 43% GB%. Tillman was unlucky in terms of strand rate, stranding just 65.3%, so that canceled out with his BAbip. He wasn't really lucky or unlucky in terms of hits allowed, but he was unlucky in terms of homers allowed, as opposing batters posted a 10.0% HR/FB against him. Overall, Tillman was pretty unlucky, but even so, how did he manage to be as awful as he was? I can't answer that. At Triple-A, Tillman pitched a lot better, going 11-7 with a 3.34 ERA, 94 K's, and 30 walks in 21 stats and 121.1 IP. He allowed 120 hits, an 8.9 H/9, and 10 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. Tillman allowed a .301 BAbip, but he had a 73.9% LOB%. Strand rate is the key stat for Tillman in '11. Tillman could have at least managed an ERA in the 4.00's if his LOB% was much closer to the 72.0% league average. We'll have to see how that plays out. But even when he had a 76.8% LOB% in the majors in 2009, he posted a 5.40 ERA, so go figure. ZiPs has him posting a 5.28 ERA, and I'll believe ZiPs until Tillman proves me wrong. After allowing 6 runs in 1.2 IP against the Yankees on Wednesday night, Tillman has a 7.30 ERA through 3 starts. We'll have to see what happens, but based on what has happened so far in his career, things aren't looking good for Chris Tillman in 2011.
Chris Jakubauskas, 32, has worked exclusively out of the bullpen so far in 2011, but with Matusz hurt, he's probably going to have to make a start. Jakubauskas made 1 start for the Pirates in 2010, posting a 27.00 ERA. He pitched 0.2 innings before a liner by Lance Berkman hit him in the head and put him on the DL with a concussion. He didn't appear in another major league game all year, and he posted just a 5.09 ERA in 8 minor league starts and 3 relief appearances. In Jakubauskas' ony full major league season, in 2009, he went 6-7 with the Mariners with a 5.32 ERA, 47 K's, 27 walks, and 3 holds in 27 relief appearances, 8 starts and 93 IP. He allowed 91 hits, an 8.8 H/9, and 115 homers, a 1.5 HR/9. In 2009 Jakubauskas allowed just a .254 BAbip because of just a 15% LD%, but he had just a 60.6% strand rate and a 10.3% HR/FB. If Jakubauskas could allow a 15% LD% while his strand rate and HR/FB return to neutral, he could be a pretty good reliever for the O's. But by no stretch of the imagination is he a sure thing. Jakubauskas has an 8.53 ERA in 2 relief appearances so far in '11. Chris Jakubauskas could be a decent pitcher for the Orioles in 2011, but a limited major league sample size and the fact that he's coming back from an injury make him a complete wild card.
Koji Uehara, 36, went through an injury-riddled season in '10, missing time because of a hamstring strain and a flexor pronator strain in his elbow. But he was healthy, he was outstanding, going 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 55 K's, just 5 walks, 6 holds, and 13 saves in 43 relief appearances and 44 IP. He allowed 37 hits, a 7.6 H/9, and 5 homers, a 1.0 HR/9 that was his only fault. Will Uehara be as good if not better as the Orioles' setup man in 2011? Uehara actually allowed a .296 BAbip despite a 17% LD%, but Uehara, a fly ball pitcher, did allow just a 24% GB%, so his BAbip did make sense. He also posted a 77.1% LOB% and allowed just a 6.8% HR/FB. Marcel has Uehara posted a 3.86 ERA, and that certainly makes sense. He's standing on precarious ground considering that he was lucky in LOB% and HR/FB in '10. But, Uehara did have a 2.40 FIP in '10, so how bad can he be? Uehara does have a 0.00 ERA through 3 relief appearances, so maybe he can manage to hold everything together. It was also his first year as a full-time reliever, and he appeared in high pressure situations for the first time in his career (he posted a 1.2 aLI [average leverage index- average amount of pressure a player is under per appearance; 1.0 average]). There's certainly room for Uehara to improve in other aspects, and if he does that, his stats should remain relatively similar. Maybe Uehara won't be as incredible for the Orioles in 2011 as he was in 2010, but he should be a pretty good pitcher at the very least and certainly be an important part of the bullpen as long as he can stay healthy.
Before the 2010 season, the Orioles signed lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez, then 31, to a 2-year, 12 million dollar contract to be their closer. At the beginning of 2010, Gonzalez made 3 relief appearances, on April 6th, April 8th, and April 9th, saving 1 game and blowing 2 while posted a horrible 18.00 ERA. After the April 9th appearance, Gonzalez had an MRI on his shoulder, and the Orioles found out what was going on- Gonzalez had suffered both a torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum in his left pitching shoulder. Gonzalez quickly went on the 60-day DL and missed until late-June. After Gonzalez came back, he relinquished the closer role, but he was effective as a setup man, going 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA, 28 K's, 10 walks, and 10 holds in 26 relief appearances and 22.1 IP. Gonzalez allowed 13 hits over that span, a 5.2 H/9, and just 1 homer, just a .4 HR/9. He also did that while posting a 1.5 aLI (he actually had a 4.5 aLI before the injury, but he owns a 1.5 career aLI) Gonzalez allowed just a .240 BAbip after coming back, primarily due to just a 12% LD% against him. (I calculated 12%, but Baseball-Reference said 13%. Either way, it was outstanding.) But, he allowed a ton of fly balls (55% of all balls in play), and was lucky that just 1 of them went out for a homer. (He had a 3.0% Baseball-Reference HR/FB on the year, but that includes the no homers he allowed in his first 3 appearances before getting hurt. I can't determine how many of the line drives he allowed went to the outfield. Depending on how many of the 5 line drives he allowed went to the outfield, Gonzalez's HR/FB was somewhere between 3.6% and 4.0%.) Gonzalez was certainly very lucky in terms of homers allowed, even if he wasn't in terms of hits allowed. Gonzalez did have a reasonable 74.1% LOB%. Gonzalez has a 6.75 ERA and 1 hold after 3 relief appearances in 2011. You have to expect somewhat of regression from Mike Gonzalez from his numbers after he left the closer role, but he should still be a good reliever for the O's.
Hard-throwing right-hander Jim Johnson also dealt with injury problems in 2010. Johnson, who will turn 28 on June 27th, missed from early-May to late-August with a UCL sprain in his right throwing elbow. When he was healthy, he did OK, going 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA, 22 K's, 5 walks, 11 holds, and 1 save in 26 relief appearances and 26.1 IP. He allowed 32 hits, a 10.9 H/9, and 2 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. Johnson allowed a .357 BAbip, primarily because he allowed a 25% LD%, but he did allow a good 51% GB%. He posted a 77% strand rate, and he also allowed a 4.8% HR/FB. It would seem that Johnson got pretty lucky in 2010, but really those numbers aren't too far off from his career averages. Johnson owns a career 5.6% HR/FB against him and a 75.5% LOB%. Johnson also had a 3.08 FIP in '10, which is great. He's not a great reliever, but he's certainly a solid one. Maybe Johnson's ERA will jump back up to his 3.71 career ERA, but probably no higher. The worst case scenario for Johnson (other than injury) would probably be the 4.11 ERA he posted in '09. Johnson is 1-0 with a 5.79 ERA and 1 hold in 4 relief appearances so far in 2011. Jim Johnson is a good reliever for the Orioles, but he has to stay healthy.
In 2007 at age 25, Jeremy Accardo was a dominant closer for the Blue Jays, going 4-4 with a 2.14 ERA, 57 K's, 24 walks, and 30 saves in 64 relief appearances. But just 3 seasons later, at age 28 in 2010, Accardo spent nearly all of the season at Triple-A. After posting an 8.10 ERA in 5 relief appearances for the Blue Jays in April, Accardo never saw major league action the rest of the year and ended up making 42 appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas, going 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA, 26 K's, 15 walks, and 24 saves in 42 relief appearances and 44 IP. He allowed 52 hits, a 10.6 H/9, and just 1 homer, a 0.2 HR/9. He was lucky in terms of homers allowed, but he did allow a .336 BAbip and post just a 68.7% LOB%. It was a good year, but nothing compared to his outstanding '07 in the majors. The Orioles signed Accardo for a 1-year deal with just 1.08 million dollars, and they could get a steal if he shows any flashes of his previous form. Accardo hasn't been the same since missing nearly all of '08 with a right forearm strain. But, Accardo has shown flashes, including a 2.55 ERA, 4 holds, and 1 save in 26 relief appearances in '09. He's looked good so far in 2011, posting a 2.45 ERA in his first 3 relief appearances of the season. Jeremy Accardo is a huge uncertainty in the Orioles' bullpen. But if he pans out, he could be a very important part of the Orioles bullpen.
Jason Berken was an awful starter for the Orioles in 2009, posting a 6.54 ERA in 24 starts. But, the 27 year old came back in 2010 as a reliever, and the results were much better. Berken went 3-3 with a 3.03 ERA, 45 K's, 19 walks, and 7 holds in 41 relief appearances and 62.1 IP. He did blow all 4 save opportunities that he received. Berken allowed 64 hits, a 9.2 H/9, and 5 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. Berken actually allowed a .314 BAbip even though he allowed just a 13% LD% and a 47% GB%. But, that was evened out by a 77.6% LOB%. But, Berken did allow a 5.6% HR/FB. Berken is also coming off a shoulder injury that ended his season in mid-August. Even though Berken was good, he had just a .9 aLI, so he may never be more than a long reliever. Berken has a 0.00 ERA in 3 relief appearances so far in '11, recording 1 hold. If healthy, Jason Berken should continue to be an effective long reliever for the Orioles in 2011, but if he's forced into a larger role, he will likely struggle.
With Brian Matusz hurt, 28 year old righty Josh Rupe is on the Orioles' 25-man roster. Rupe spent most of '10 at the Royals' Triple-A Omaha, going 2-4 with a 2.92 ERA, 49 K's, 23 walks, and 10 saves in 40 relief appearances and 52.1 IP. He allowed 49 hits, an 8.4 H/9, and 5 homers, a 0.9 HR/9. But while Rupe did allow a .297 BAbip, he had a 82.9% strand rate. Rupe started the season in the Royals' bullpen, posting a 5.59 ERA. But, he was actually used in pressure situations, recording 5 holds and ending up with a 1.7 aLI. The Orioles are using Rupe as a long reliever for the time being, and under less pressure (just a .3 aLI), he's done well, posting a 2.70 ERA. Maybe that could be a good role for him. Rupe is competing with Jakubauskas for the 25th spot on the roster with the loser of the competition being designated for assignment or sent down to the minors. Josh Rupe may not be that great of a pitcher, but he could be an important mop-up man in the Orioles' bullpen.
New O's closer Kevin Gregg has four 20-save seasons under his belt, but he's never really been dominant. Gregg, signed to 2-year, 10 million dollar contract this offseason, has saved 121 games the past 4 seasons but has posted just a 3.79 ERA. In 2010, Gregg, who will turn 33 on June 20th, set a career high with 37 saves, but his numbers weren't really so great, considering he went 2-6 with 3.51 ERA, 58 K's, and 30 walks in 63 relief appearances and 59 IP. He allowed 52 hits, a 7.9 H/9, and just 4 homers, a 0.6 HR/9. His problem was walks- he walked 4.6 batters per 9 innings. Gregg allowed a .300 BAbip because of a 20% LD%. He wasn't lucky in that regard. But, he posted a 76.2% LOB% and just a 5.1% HR/FB. He was lucky to put up the numbers he did. Gregg is a questionable closer. He'll normally get his saves, but he could just implode like he did in 2009 (4.72 ERA). Entering Thursday, Gregg had a 0.00 ERA and 1 save in 3 relief appearances, but he blew the save on Thursday against the Yankees on a solo homer by Jorge Posada. Kevin Gregg should save 30 games for the Orioles in 2010, but he's certainly no sure thing at the back of the bullpen.
The Orioles have a pretty good offense, but it pales in comparison to the offenses of the Yankees and Red Sox. Their defense is solid, but questionable in left field and centerfield. Their rotation is filled with potential, but a combination of the injury to Matusz and inexperience will hold them back for at least one more season. The Orioles also have a good bullpen, but they lack an overpowering closer to shut the door. The Orioles were just 66-96 in 2010. They'll be an improved team, but they're not quite ready to be serious contenders in the AL East.