Replacing Buck Showalter

My last post invoked quite a mixed reaction from the Orioles fanbase, but one of the things I saw come up in the comments the most was:

Who is going to replace Buck Showalter if you fire him?

This is a fair question, and one that needs it’s own post to explore potential candidates.

First let’s look back at the managers that replaced him in each setting where he was fired:

New York Yankees – Joe Torre

Joe Torre was picked as Buck’s replacement after the 1995 season and it will go down as one of the most successful manager changes in baseball history.  Not only did the Yankees win the 1996 World Series, but they went on to win the 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series and appeared and lost in 2001 and 2003 under Torre’s management.

Torre had just been fired as the Cardinals manager in 1995 part way through the season and he had managed the Cardinals since 1990,  and the  Braves (1982-1984) and Mets (1977-1981) before that.  Between managing jobs with the Braves and Cardinals, Torre worked as a color commentator for NBC and the California Angels.

Torre played for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets in his MLB career and was a 9-time All-Star winning the NL MVP in 1971.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Bob Brenly

The D’Backs chose Bob Brenly to replace Showalter in Arizona. Brenly of course guided the Diamondbacks to an improbable win over the Yankees for a championship as Showalter’s two former teams met in in the 2001 World Series.

Brenly had never managed before and had last coached with the Giants in 1995 before becoming a broadcaster with Fox, where he remained until hired by Arizona after the 2000 season.

Brenly was a catcher for the Giants and Jays during his MLB career finishing his career with the Giants in 1989.

Texas Rangers – Ron Washington

The Rangers picked Ron Washington to replace Buck Showalter after the 2006 season.  Like Brenly, Washington had never managed before but had served as a third base coach with the Oakland A’s helping to develop young stars like Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez.

Unlike Brenly and Torre, Washington didn’t have immediate success until 2010 when he managed his team to back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, both losses.

Washington was a former journeyman MLB shortstop that played with the Dodgers, Twins, Orioles, Indians and Astros.

So all three teams chose managers with a variety of backgrounds. The Yankees chose to go with an experienced manager that had to see any real success, while the Diamondbacks and Rangers chose to go with former coaches that had never managed.

Who is the best fit for the Orioles?  I’ll go over a few candidates that the Orioles could pursue:

Jason Varitek

Varitek is my number one choice to be the Orioles’ next manager.  He really doesn’t need much of an introduction for Orioles fans because he tormented the Orioles for his playing career, including catching two of the four no-hitters he caught in his career against the Birds.

Varitek knows pitchers, as he has caught some of the best in the modern era – so there’s no doubt to me that he could help fix this weakness that the club currently has.

Coming from the Red Sox organization, he also has an appreciation for hitters that get on base, instead of the free-swingers that Buck Showalter continues to advocate to acquire and put in his lineup night after night.  He would be a much better fit for Dan Duquette in that regard as the two would see more eye-to-eye on the need to increase the Orioles’ on-base capability.

Speaking of Duquette, there already is a connection there as Dan Duquette brought Jason Varitek to the Red Sox  originally in a 1997 trade with the Mariners.  Needless to say that move set up the Red Sox success over the next decade as Varitek became the team captain and was the symbol of their success.

It would be great to see Duquette bring Varitek to the Orioles to start another era of championships and success.

Currently Varitek is serving as a special assistant to Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowksi, and actually turned down an offer from the Mariners to manage after interviewing for the position in 2015.

Varitek has said he wants to manage a team in the future so why not the Orioles if the opportunity came up?

There are thoughts that he may be waiting for the Red Sox managerial post as Farrell’s contract is up after 2018 so he may only accept that role, but it’s certainly worth pursuing him.

Jim Thome

Thome briefly played for the Orioles in 2012 under Buck Showalter after he was acquired by Dan Duquette at the deadline, so there is already a tie to the organization.  Unlike Varitek, Thome’s ideal managing spot in Cleveland is likely going to be tied up for the near future with the success of Terry Francona, so he would be more likely to take the job in my opinion.

Thome would be ideal to work with this ballclub because of his success as a hitter, with his approach and on-base ability something he could pass on to the Orioles’ hitters.  Just like Varitek, he’d be a better match for Duquette because of that approach being important.  He’s well liked enough throughout baseball that he could likely put together a good coaching staff as well.

Here’s what his former teammate Paul Konerko had to say in 2014 about Thome possibly managing:

“Jim is probably the most positive guy I’ve been around,” Konerko said. “Whether it’s a person in baseball or on the street, he handles people right. That’s more of the bulk of the work now because you have a lot of people helping you make decisions.”

I doubt you’d see a situation like Hyun Soo Kim’s with Thome in the dugout.

Thome is currently working for the White Sox as a special assistant and as an analyst for MLB Network.

Billy Ripken

I honestly hadn’t thought of Billy Ripken as a manager until somebody asked me about it on Twitter.

After giving it some thought, the other Ripken would be a good managing candidate as he grew up with “The Oriole Way” with his father and brother and has deep ties throughout MLB with his job as an analyst at MLB Network.   His most recent coaching experience came as a coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic United States team.

He would be a longshot though, as he’s said that managing doesn’t currently interest him in an interview with Thom Loverro earlier this year, but if the Orioles came calling?

If you want to restore “The Oriole Way” hiring a Ripken would be a good start and I think Billy actually would do better than his more famous brother.

Chris Hoiles

Chris “Tractor Man” Hoiles is arguably the franchise’s best overall catcher, backstopping the Orioles during their mid-90s playoff runs and former Orioles ace Mike Mussina always wanted him behind the plate when he was on the mound.

Hoiles managed the Atlantic League’s York Revolution for three seasons before stepping down for personal reasons in 2009 and is now a roving catching instructor in the Orioles’ minor leagues and owns and is a hitting instructor with Gold Glove Sports Academy.

Here’s what he had to say in 2012 before re-joining the organization:

“The job I’d really enjoy is working in-game with pitchers and catchers, and with the pitching coaches, and having a plan before the games like we used to do. Go over the opposition and have a game plan, and then work with them in-game, talk to them,” Hoiles said. “I could help with their hitting, too. I think I have a lot to offer with that.

A manager does all of these things, and while he hasn’t any major league experience, neither have many managers lately before they’ve been given a shot.

Hoiles would definitely be an outside-the-box choice, but perhaps that may be all it would take to flip the switch into the Orioles being a World Series contender.

Brady Anderson

Anderson is viewed as an heir to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette when Duquette’s contract expires, but he has a much more personal relationship with the players than any front office executive would normally have.

He’s not high on my list at all, but he has the trust and support of Peter Angelos already, so one would think he’d be high on the list of candidates if he wanted it so that’s why his name has to be put out there.

Frankly, Anderson as manager might be the best move for the Orioles moving forward if he stays with the the organization as the last two contracts he’s been involved with (Darren O’Day and Mark Trumbo) seem to already be albatrosses.

So those are a few candidates that I can see realistically replacing Buck Showalter.

Any candidate the Orioles pick needs to improve on the weaknesses that have shown up under Showalter’s tenure – an inability to get consistent starting pitching and a lineup that is poorly constructed and favors free-swingers with power over professional hitters with on-base ability and solid plate approaches.

Now you can say Dan Duquette acquires the players, but Showalter has a big say and decides playing time so the next manager must have a better relationship and kindred thought process on how to build the roster.  Right now that’s a big missing link in Baltimore and it has shown up over the past few seasons.

Fix that missing link, and the Orioles will be one step closer to the World Series.

Top images:  CC Images courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

Bucked: Why the Orioles need to fire Buck Showalter

Yes I said it, and it shouldn’t be a shock for those that have been following me on Twitter and reading my articles at Eutaw Street Report.

Seriously, it’s past time fellow Orioles fans.  There are reasons that teams fire Buck Showalter, and those reasons have been showing up far too often, especially this season and last.

I wrote for Eutaw Street Report last year about how Showalter heavily influenced the Orioles’ collapse at the end of the 2016 season culminating in their loss to the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card game, and it seems Buck still hasn’t learned from that and is doubling down on the same type of managing.

There’s plenty of evidence to show exactly that and I’ll go into depth on each one:

1.  Hyun Soo Kim is still a benchwarmer.

If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read my “The Hitter vs. Slugger II” article over at Eutaw Street Report.  I would hope you would also agree there is no way that Hyun Soo Kim should have only 15 starts at this point in the season when the team is struggling to produce runs.   He’s being benched against RHPs as well as LHPs and the team is now 14-16 when he doesn’t start and 11-4 when he does.   Kim’s been on base in almost every game he’s started as well and his defense has also been superior than his competition so that can’t even be used as an excuse.

It is just asinine the way Buck Showalter has treated Hyun Soo Kim since Spring Training 2016 and I really hope Kim’s next team makes Buck look like the petty, stubborn and idiotic person that he has been in this situation.  Perhaps it might serve as a wake-up call for him and for others in terms of his supposed superior talent evaluation skills.

Kim’s treatment alone should get Showalter fired, but if you don’t think so there is more evidence to go through…

2.  The lineup construction is still poor

Adam Jones went from being the leadoff hitter in 2016 to the #2 hitter in 2017 instead of lower in the lineup.   Jones has been abysmal against LHP (47 wRC+)  as well and yet he’s still hitting 2nd when facing them.   Also as mentioned, the 18th best OBP in MLB in 2016 has been benched for a free-swinging RH hitter against RHP and when he does play, he’s batting in the bottom of the lineup.    Why Welington Castillo isn’t batting much higher vs. LHP is also a mystery as he’s been very good against them for his career (126 wRC+) and is again this season (120 wRC+).

It really doesn’t take a ton of effort to put a good lineup together and yet Buck makes the worst lineup decisions night after night and sticks with them no matter the result.  He also never tries to adjust with PHers until very late in the game if at all.  It really is maddening and it’s likely costing the Orioles precious wins early in the season.

3.  Buck is still leaving his starters in too long.

Everybody probably remembers the Wade Miley incident in Game 2 of the final series against the Yankees on October 1, 2016.  If you don’t, you are probably better off, but let’s recap those events anyway:

Buck leaves Miley in with a lead in spite of having been hit well in the 6th inning before and Miley having a pitch count of 108.  The best description to use is that Miley survived that inning so why bring him back out for the 7th when you have an expanded bullpen?   That decision lead to the bullpen ultimately imploding with the final nail in the coffin a 2-run double by Brett Gardner off of Oliver Drake and the Orioles lost a game they should have won.

The Jays also won that day, so that ended the Orioles chance to clinch the 1st Wild Card spot and home field advantage at OPACY where the Jays could have never hit a walk-off HR and where the Orioles had had more success against them instead of the Rogers Centre.

The Orioles have already experienced at least two games with a similar scenario in 2017.  One which I will go through below ended up in a horrific loss, but the other the Orioles managed to win in extra innings.

Anyway, it’s time to re-live the horror that was April 28th against (of course) the Yankees.

Kevin Gausman had made it through 6 innings against the Yankees. He had just gotten touched up  for 3 runs in the 6th inning and 1 in the 5th after pitching 4 shutout innings.  The Orioles got 2 more runs in the top of the 7th and still had a commanding 11-4 lead though and could have easily won.

Buck Showalter brought Gausman out for the 7th inning though and that’s when everything unraveled just like it did months before.

Gausman gave up an infield single to Austin Romine, and that seemed harmless, but then Buck decided to bring in Vidal Nuno instead of one of his other trusted bullpen arms like Givens, O’Day or Hart.

Buck also could have brought Nuno in with nobody on to start the inning and that one baserunner who seemed harmless could have been an out and then the Orioles would have only given up 3 runs instead of 4 when Ellsbury hit his HR, or perhaps Nuno would have been able to pitch a shutout inning without having to worry about any baserunners to start.   Anyway you look at it, Gausman should have never started that inning just like Miley never should have started the 7th inning of Game 2.  But he did, and Nuno had to pitch with a runner on and it didn’t go well.

Nuno got the first out, but then gave up a double to Chase Headley and walked Matt Holliday and then Jacoby Ellsbury with one swing made it an 11-8 game.

Givens came in and was able to get the Orioles out of the inning but the damage had been done as the Yankees had new life with Ellsbury’s grand slam.

Showalter summoned Brad Brach in the bottom of the 9th to close the game out, but Brach had just pitched 2 innings a couple of days ago, so he wasn’t exactly fresh.  Brach walked the first batter and then gave up a single to Matt Holliday to bring the tying run up in Ellsbury.  Luckily for the Orioles, Ellsbury grounded to SS but a run scored and now one swing could tie the game.  Wouldn’t you know it but the very next batter did – with Starlin Castro hitting a 2-run HR.  The game was tied but Brach was able to get the final two outs and avoid a walk-off for that inning.  In the 10th inning however, Buck turned to Jason Aquino who walked the first two batters, struck out the second and finally gave up the walk-off 3-run HR to Matt Holliday. The epic collapse was complete, and you can argue the team hasn’t been the same since.

A Wild Card berth and home-field advantage wasn’t on the line this time but the script and result was all too familiar.

4.  The regression of Manny Machado

The regression of Manny Machado has certainly been frustrating to watch.  In 2015 it seemed he’d finally turned a corner, and then in 2016 and especially 2017 he’s swinging for the fences and now making too many mental mistakes in the field.

At least he’s not swinging his fists, but whatever motivation he had from the Boston series that fueled him is gone now.  Now he looks disinterested at times and is acting like a player who already has the $400 million contract.  At least A-Rod showed up most nights.  Why has Buck allowed this to continue?  Sure he benched him one game with a “finger” issue, but why not send a clearer message?

Manny is supposed to be a leader, but the only place he is leading the Orioles is straight to mediocrity or worse.

5.  Not managing the bullpen to win every game.

Buck has shelved relievers for days on end and instead tried to win games with the likes of AAAA pitchers like Tyler Wilson and Vidal Nuno,   At some point, you can’t keep going to the AAA well and expecting the next guy up to shut out the opposition.  That’s a ton of pressure on those guys and the Orioles’ bullpen has folded under it.   Now some of it has been due to injuries, but if guys aren’t healthy, then Buck should take advantage of the 10-day  DL and get Dan Duquette to find more depth instead of trying to pitch with only 3 or 4 relievers for multiple days.

6.  Using only 3 players from an expanded 5 player bench

This is probably the most damaging offense so far because in theory this was a great idea to start the season to take advantage of the lack of a need of a 5th starter.   Buck could match up hitters with pitchers in the later innings and have some speed off the bench.  The only problem was that the only hitters he used as replacements were Rickard and Gentry during a game and most of the time it was to pinch run or act as a defensive replacement while Hyun Soo Kim and Ryan Flaherty rotted on the bench most nights.  Rickard and Gentry were also hardly ever pinch hit for when they faced tough RH relievers at the end of a game.

The worst part about this arrangement carrying further into the season though, is Buck weakened his bullpen by only carrying 6 relievers, yet he still didn’t take the advantage of having that ability to match up hitting late to end tie games for example, so he didn’t have to use them in extra innings.   Instead, while Kim and others rotted on the bench, Buck burned out his best relievers night after night in extra innings and used the Norfolk to Baltimore option shuttle to rotate in the freshest AAA pitcher to try to eat innings which hasn’t worked out well at all.  Now the Orioles are stuck with a bunch of burned out relievers when their starters can’t go the distance instead of the more fresher bunch they had in 2016.

That’s very reminiscent of the managing style of Dave Trembley who had 3 no-hit shortstops rotating on his bench and 13 pitchers for months and only used 12 of the 13.  I think we all know that Trembley’s managing is not an example to emulate.

7.  He’s more Hargrove than Weaver.

Buck also gets a lot of Earl Weaver comparisons, but he has nowhere near the emotion that Weaver showed in games.  Weaver got ejected 98 times in his career, an American League record and was never afraid to show up an umpire when he felt the team was getting screwed over.  Buck has only been ejected 14 times in his Orioles tenure.   Sure he’ll have animated conversations, but he is a little too respectful of the umpires that make terrible calls against his team, and there have been many as of late since the MASN dispute.

Mike Hargrove had a similar temperament but he got ejected 13 times in his 4 seasons with the Orioles so Buck is actually cooler tempered than Grover which is hard to imagine.

An ejection doesn’t seem like it does much, but it shows the players that you have their back and in spite of all the terrible calls and player ejections, Buck only had one ejection himself in 2016.

So that’s 7 current reasons to fire him.  Let’s look at a few more that transcend only the Orioles:

8.  Lack of postseason success

Showalter has a career 9-14 managerial record in the postseason. The 2014 ALCS was the furthest he’d taken any team and in the roughly 7.5  seasons that Showalter has managed,  the Orioles still don’t have a World Series appearance and don’t look to have one anytime soon.  Competitive baseball should no longer be the bar for a team that’s reached the postseason 3 times in that tenure, and that’s all Buck can seem to deliver.

On the other hand, teams that have fired him have almost immediately tasted success after with the Yankees and Diamondbacks winning their championships the season following his firing.  With the right moves, the Orioles could easily follow the same script IMO.

9.  Mancrushes and doghouses

Buck’s mancrushes are well known, and he seems to have an undying loyalty to those he has that mancrush on.  Buck has gone to bat for both players and coaches in his career, and it’s gotten him fired everywhere but in Baltimore.

He was first fired after a second place finish with the Yankees in 1995 in part when he refused to fire two of his coaches, Rick Down and Brian Butterfield.

David Lough, Delmon Young, Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry are a few players that stick out as being Showalter favorites as players in spite of their performance as regulars.  One should note that Buck usually comes to his senses as these players eventually became role players, but not until a few months into the season when wins have likely been sacrificed.

Buck’s doghouses though are another tale, and  many players have found their way into them over the years.   Also once they do, it is almost impossible to get out.

Alex Rodriguez is probably the most famous case as Buck wanted him gone so the Rangers dumped him for Alfonso Soriano who Buck also clashed with as he moved Soriano from his customary leadoff spot and then when that failed, he was traded to the Nationals for a package with Brad Wilkerson as the main return.   Kevin Mench is  another Rangers player who was there in 2006 and also eventually was traded to the Brewers in a blockbuster deal for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.    Steve Pearce was in there early in 2014 until an injury to Chris Davis forced Buck to play Pearce at 1B but only after he was DFA’d, waived and re-signed with the team.

Henry Urrutia, who was just released by the Orioles, only got a short cup of coffee in 2013 in spite of hitting well at stops in Bowie and Norfolk .   Buck started him for about two weeks at the end of July before relegating him to PH duty only in the beginning of August and then sending him back to Norfolk and only getting him in 3 games after calling him back up in September.  He was originally a find of longtime scout Fred Ferreira, who had previously found talent like Vlad Guerrero and Bernie Williams so there was some excitement about Urrutia’s potential.   However,  Buck didn’t seem to like his defense nor the fact that he only seemed to hit opposite field singles instead of showing the power that was touted when he was signed.   Urrutia was sent to the minors again in 2014, was injured and only got one more call up in 2015 before being banished for good until his release this year.

Now of course the most recent case is Hyun Soo Kim, and who knows what his situation will be?  Will he get traded or released as well before the season ends?

Unless there is an injury, it’s a good bet seeing as Buck has been able to get rid of just about every player he hasn’t liked.  Considering Kim is one of the best professional hitters on the team, that would be a huge mistake.

10.  Teams “outgrow” him

This was the take when he was fired by the Rangers and Diamondbacks before that.  Well the Orioles are certainly a veteran team and Buck’s message doesn’t seem to be resonating any more given the sloppy play and mental mistakes.

Buck was the perfect fit for the Diamondbacks’ as the manager of an expansion team, and went from having one of the worst records in baseball (65-97) in 1998 to one of the best (100-62) in 1999.  However, that record slipped to 85-77 in 2000 as Showalter now was overseeing a team of veterans like Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Randy Johnson instead of 20-somethings.  Buck was fired after 2000 and the Diamondbacks went on to win the World Series in 2001.

Buck took over the Rangers in 2003 with young talent like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Mench and Hank Blalock.  He took the team from 71-91 in 2003 to 89-73 in 2004 after famously shipping Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias, but the Rangers regressed to below .500 in the last two years of his tenure before Buck was fired after the 2006 season.  It took longer than the Yankees or Diamondbacks,  but the Rangers eventually returned to the playoffs and had back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

And with the Orioles, Showalter had an immediate impact on a young team when he took over from interim manager Juan Samuel finishing 34-23 to end 2010.  The next season the Orioles regressed back to 69-93 but at the very last game of the season they played spoiler and knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs in a come from behind thriller.  That was a turning point as the 2012 Orioles built on that momentum and came out of nowhere to win an AL Wild Card spot with a 93-69 record, the reverse of 2011, and advance to the ALDS before losing to the Yankees.  The Orioles regressed back to an 85-77 record in 2013 before having their best record since 1997 going 96-66 and winning the AL East title and ALDS before being swept by the Royals in the ALCS.

Since then the Orioles finished a disappointing 81-81 in 2015, rebounded to a 89-73 record in 2016, but fell out of the division title down the stretch after leading the AL East for most of the season and barely claimed the 2nd AL Wild Card spot before being eliminated by Toronto in the biggest blunder of Buck Showalter’s managing career.

Seeing how this season is going with injuries and disappointing performances, the Orioles have likely already hit their high point with Buck Showalter.   They may sneak into the playoffs again, but there is no domination like there was in 2014 or magic like there was in 2012.    The bullpen is already burned out and veterans young and old seem unfocused and sloppy at the plate and on the field.

There’s simply no point in seeing what he can do the rest of the season because if we’ve seen the very best we are now are  seeing the regression just like the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers did.  The only difference is that Peter Angelos and most of the fans that support Buck seem content with just playing competitive baseball again instead of doing whatever it takes to take the team to the next level and end the 34-year World Series drought.

Now with that said that doesn’t take away any credit from Showalter from turning this team around after 14 losing seasons.  He had a major role in building this team’s confidence back up again so that they were no longer a doormat.  Managers don’t usually last as long as Buck has though, especially in the Angelos era, and as much as continuity is important, continuity for continuity’s sake is not a good enough reason to keep Showalter as the manager.

The goal needs to be to appear in and win the World Series.  The window is slamming shut (if it hasn’t already) after 2018 and Buck has never been able to get it done and likely won’t after looking at all the evidence against him.  So it’s time to do what all of Showalter’s other previous teams have done and move on to someone that can.

Orioles fans have waited far too long and don’t deserve to see their team get Bucked again.

Top image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

The Orioles should have kept Aneury Tavarez

 

It’s Opening Night, and while I’m happy to have Orioles baseball back tomorrow, there is a cloud that is hovering over the whole thing that I want to address first.

The Orioles decided to return Aneury Tavarez to the AL East rival Boston Red Sox, even after Tavarez stole 8 bases and hit .325 with an .850 OPS against right-handed pitching.

Dan Duquette said they also tried to work out a trade with the Red Sox, but the Red Sox wanted to keep Tavarez unless the Orioles paid a hefty price.

Shocker.

The worst part is the spin that is coming from the Warehouse:

Sure Cedric Mullins hit .290 against right-handed pitching but he only had a .333 OBP and that was at low A ball, not AA like Tavarez.

Sure he also came on in Spring Training, but he’s not going to do anything for the Orioles until September at the earliest, and by then the Orioles may already be out of contention.  Not to mention, they have to add him to the 40-man roster as well.

Tavarez is somebody that could have helped the Orioles as soon as Opening Day.  He’s the guy that could have come off the bench as a pinch hitter, pinch runner and a defensive replacement all against right-handed pitching.

Instead, the Orioles will go with 3 right-handed outfield bats:  Joey Rickard, who couldn’t hit right-handed pitching last season, and Craig Gentry who has never hit right-handed pitching well, as well as Trey Mancini, who has never played the outfield professionally and who only had a .767 OPS against right-handed pitching in AAA.

And who is the only left-handed hitter the Orioles will have on their bench?  Ryan Flaherty.

Needless to say, the Orioles’ right-handed heaviness will hurt them in the later innings when Showalter turns to his bench for defensive replacements and those replacements will face the hard throwing right-handed pitchers out of the opposing team’s bullpen when they come to bat.  These are things that don’t seem to matter now, but will suddenly come to light in the coming days as the season progresses and the Orioles could lose games because of that roster construction.

Sure the Orioles have options for a left-handed bat when they need one. Pedro Alvarez is in the minors – but his transition to the outfield has been pretty rocky this spring and he will most certainly opt-out of his deal at the end of April if he does show major improvement defensively.   Alvarez is also no stolen base threat like Tavarez. Michael Bourn could always be called up as well, but he’s 34 and coming off an injury.   Anthony Santander, the Orioles’ other Rule 5 pick, is a switch-hitter so he can help as well when he’s finally at full strength, but his contribution is going to be more power instead of speed like Tavarez.

Tavarez was healthy and on the roster and could have easily fit in a number of ways.   Mancini and Rickard both had options and one of them could have been sent down to keep Tavarez in Baltimore.  Mancini could have worked on his defense in Norfolk instead of Baltimore like Alvarez is, and Rickard could have tried to hone his defensive skills as well.

Instead both will be limited to platoon at-bats to start and will likely eventually be over-exposed to right-handed pitching if you look at the history of how Buck Showalter has used platoon players not named Hyun Soo Kim.

Speaking of Kim, as I wrote earlier, letting him hit left-handed pitching was the easiest way the Orioles could have kept Tavarez as only one of Rickard or Gentry would have been needed to platoon with Seth Smith.  Kim did his part going 4-9 in Spring Training against left-handed pitching (counting his plate appearance against the Dominican Republic).  Showalter limited him from the start though, not letting Kim see any appearances against left-handed starters so it was pretty clear Kim would be platooned no matter what he did.

The Orioles make it seem like Tavarez just didn’t fit and that they did everything they could to keep him in the organization.  The truth is they could have easily kept him, and given the team the balance it needed on the bench and an offensive weapon that wouldn’t be a liability in the outfield either.  Instead they opted to carry multiple right-handed bats and continued to try to fit square pegs in round holes.

Now we’ll just have to see what Tavarez does in a Red Sox uniform and hope he doesn’t come back to burn the Orioles when it matters the most.

 

With a lefty on the mound, Kim was nowhere to be found

The Orioles faced off against their AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox today at home in Sarasota, and LHP Henry Owens was who the Sox were starting.  This was the lineup that Buck Showalter happened to put out there:

See anyone missing?

Buck Showalter had said earlier in the offseason he wanted to see Hyun Soo Kim get more time against LHP this season, so of course for the very first game against a lefty in Spring Training, you would think Kim’s name would be in the lineup, maybe batting lower in the order, but still in there right?

Nope, Kim was on the bench, and he wasn’t really on the bench as he wasn’t even listed as an available reserve.

I checked in with MASN’s Roch Kubatko to see if he was somehow injured:

Nope.

Now it’s just one game, but you have to remember Kim skipped playing for his country, South Korea, in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in order to show loyalty to the team that signed him, likely so he could also get some time against LHP in return.  That’s a big deal because of the pressure he had to honor his country back home.

Buck also had this to say about Kim facing LHP after the first Spring Training game:

“This time of the year, it’s so hard to predict guys you’re going to see.”

And yet he knew Owens, a lefty was starting today.  It was a lock.

So the first game Kim’s got an opportunity to show something against a LHP he’s benched?  At a home game as well?

That’s a bush league move.

Now Kim did badly misplay a fly ball that wound up being a triple against the Yankees a few games ago, but the run didn’t score.  Buck hates blunders on defense though so Kim found his way into Buck’s doghouse once again it seems and missed an opportunity against a LHP because of it.

I think at this point though Kim would have actually seen more left-handed pitching in the WBC  because his manager would actually play him against lefties instead of minimizing his potential.

It’s not like the Orioles have anything to lose by having Kim face LHP seeing as he did have some success in the KBO against them.  If he can hit them, it allows the Orioles to be able to play him in LF full time instead of having to carry two platoons and hurting the roster flexibility.  Buck Showalter has everything to gain by hitting Kim against every LHP he can face, and the best part is the games don’t count.

Spring Training is a chance for teams to not only make sure their players get prepared for the season, but to experiment.  For Buck Showalter it seems, it’s time to once again try to prove a point that Kim is the least wanted player he has on his roster.

Let’s all hope Kim finds his way out of Buck’s doghouse sooner than last Spring Training.

Top image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

The Trumbo Effect

The Orioles have signed Mark Trumbo to a 3 year/$37.5 million deal pending the outcome of a physical according to numerous media sources.  We’ll find out the particulars on the deal today as it could contain deferred money – an Orioles’ staple in deals lately.

So what does this mean for the rest of the roster?

Well just like the Orioles, my thought process has evolved on this as the offseason has progressed and transactions have influenced the construction of the 2017 Orioles.  Here’s how it is shaping up right now:

The Orioles needed at least one another right handed outfielder to platoon with Seth Smith or a left-handed outfielder that could hit both left handed pitching and right handed pitching pushing Smith to DH .   Instead they get a right-handed 1B/DH that knows how to play the outfield.   The good news is that Trumbo,  who played the OF quite a bit against RHP last season to get Pedro Alvarez’s left handed bat into the lineup,  can go back to being primarily a DH against RHP –  something he was fairly successful at last season with a 146 wRC+.  Seth Smith will likely play RF while Trumbo is the DH against RHP.

It isn’t good news however for Trey Mancini who is now likely squeezed out of a roster spot with the Orioles needing to carry two oufielders. The Orioles will likely carry Rule 5 pick Aneury Tavarez because of Trumbo and Hyun Soo Kim’s  defense in the later innings when Joey Rickard is already playing in one of the corner OF spots against LHP.

Kim will also get more playing time out of the arrangement as the Orioles will either have to let him hit vs. LHP or wind up DHing one of their right-handed bats and giving playing time to Tavarez.  He’s proven he can hit LHP before in his last two seasons in the KBO, so hopefully he would be able to show he had similar ability.

Trumbo should be the final positional roster move for the Orioles so let’s take a look at a couple of lineups that Buck could put out there with him in the fold:

Lineup vs. RHP
LF Kim
RF Smith
3B Machado
1B Davis
DH Trumbo
CF Jones
2B Schoop
C Castillo
SS Hardy

Bench:  UT Flaherty, OF Rickard, OF Tavarez, C Joseph

Lineup vs. LHP
RF Rickard
C Castillo
3B Machado
DH Trumbo
1B Davis
CF Jones
2B Schoop
SS Hardy
LF Kim

Bench:  UT Flaherty, OF Smith, OF Tavarez, C Joseph

The Orioles’ lineup against LHP should be better than last season, with the addition of Castillo and a full season of Joey Rickard, but Trumbo is going to have to get back to his career wRC+ of 113 instead of the 56 wRC+ he had last season in order for there to be a dramatic improvement.  Castillo batting second may seem a bit odd, but after Manny Machado (144 wRC+) and Joey Rickard (131 wRC+), Castillo had the best performance against LHP last season (124 wRC+).

As for their lineup against RHP, with Kim and Smith at the top of the lineup and a 3-6 of Machado, Davis, Trumbo and Jones, the Orioles should be a very dangerous club.   Kim and Smith will hopefully give the Orioles more runners on the basepaths for the middle of the lineup to cause maximum damage when they hit the ball over the fence.

Trumbo certainly was a consistently dangerous bat in the first half of the season, and if he can get back to that the Orioles will benefit from his presence in the lineup as long as they keep him at DH. However, his history has shown that Trumbo is more of a first half player, so the other bats will need to step up to avoid the inconsistency we have seen from the Birds in the summer months.

Top image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

Looking at the Smith-Gallardo trade and the rest of the offseason

Happy New Year, Orioles fans!  Dan Duquette and the Orioles just made 2017 a little brighter with the trade yesterday of Yovani Gallardo and cash to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Seth Smith.

It seems the Mariners are the new Cubs for the Orioles in terms of frequent trade partners.  Unlike when the Orioles have traded with the Cubs however, they’ve come out pretty good trading with Seattle and this recent trade seems like another deal that will turn out in the Orioles’ favor.

Gallardo was a disaster in Baltimore.  He was a typical Dan Duquette  late offseason signing, but only when the Orioles had misjudged the market for pitchers and lost out on better options like Scott Kazmir and were spurned by others.  Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and velocity continued to get worse in Baltimore and the shoulder injury concerns that caused his original deal to be shortened, were valid as he spent time on the DL for shoulder problems.  To make the deal worse, the Orioles had to surrender their first round pick – the 14th overall –  in the 2016 draft to sign him.   Thankfully the new CBA will make a situation like the one with signing Gallardo to have less consequences in terms of draft pick compensation.

Duquette deserves some credit though for finding this match.   He shopped around at the Winter Meetings for an outfielder, only to have those with outfield depth like the Mets and Rockies talk about Brad Brach or Kevin Gausman as compensation.  I don’t think anybody thought he’d be able to get anything of value for Gallardo, much less find that outfielder the Orioles needed.  Seth Smith was available however as the Mariners wanted more speed and better defense, and needed rotation depth so the trade was made.

So now for that 14th pick and an undetermined amount of cash, the Orioles get at least 1 year of their left-handed hitting outfielder in Seth Smith.

Smith is actually an outfielder as well, not a DH or first baseman forced to play the outfield.  His defense however, while an upgrade over Trumbo, is only average at best with a +4 DRS in RF over the past three seasons.   Average though is an improvement for the Orioles.

Offensively, Smith gives the Orioles another patient bat at the top of the Orioles’ lineup.   Smith’s offensive skill set is similar to Hyun Soo Kim’s as he has a career O-Swing of only 26.4% (including a career low 22.7% last season) and he has a career 10.6% BB%.

He is a strict platoon player with a career wRC+ of 121 and wOBA of .357 against RHP and only 60 and .268 vs. LHP, but he’ll see the majority of the playing time facing only RHP.

Smith seems to be in that line of acquistions like Wilson Betemit and Pedro Alvarez – players that Duquette has acquired to have good platoon numbers against RHP – and should have a good year as the Orioles’ RFer against RHP, and will probably see some time as a DH as well.

So with Smith now in the fold what is next for the Orioles to complete their roster before Opening Day?

Position Players

Duquette has mentioned the Orioles still could use outfield depth, so that tells me that they still aren’t sold on Joey Rickard coming back from his injury.  A right-handed outfielder makes the most sense given the platoon need for Smith and potentially for Kim.

As I mentioned in my plan for the Orioles offseason at Eutaw Street Report, Desmond Jennings could fill this role because he’s relatively cheap, can hit LHP pretty well, knows the AL East pitchers, and can play all three outfield positions with solid defense.

With Smith, though, that still only gives the Orioles three left-handed bats in their lineup to face RHP so they need one more left-handed hitter.

Bringing back Pedro Alvarez makes the most sense here.  He was excellent down the stretch when Buck Showalter played him and he fits in well with the rest of the team in the locker room.  Sure you tie up the DH spot, but the Orioles could get a lot of value from that spot with Alvarez against RHP full time – more than they did last season with Trumbo and Alvarez sharing the role.

The Orioles should also carry a Rule 5 pick, just because  the two players they selected seem to have a pretty good skill set for excellent value.  I believe Aneury Tavarez will be the one carried simply because Anthony Santander is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, so he’s almost a lock for the 60 day DL, if the Orioles choose to carry him at all.

With Alvarez at DH,  Jennings as the 4th outfielder,  keeping Tavarez and the bench only having so many spots, that would make Mancini the odd man out.  He  has crushed LHP in the minors, but the Orioles simply can’t carry a platoon DH against LHP only.    I imagine he’ll find his way into the Baltimore lineup somehow if he’s not traded, but just not on Opening Day.

So how do the Orioles fill that  DH slot against LHP and not take up an additional  roster spot?  My solution would be to have them platoon Alvarez with catcher Welington Castillo.  Castillo has hit LHP quite well in his career, including last season and his bat is better than his glove.   By platooning Castillo, you keep his bat in the lineup to give you that extra value instead of just having him catch.   The Orioles haven’t done this under Buck Showalter as Matt Wieters never really displayed a advantageous platoon split more than other players batting right-handed on the roster, but Castillo does with a career wRC+ of 124 against LHP which is better than Wieters’ 114 and leads the Orioles.  Castillo would also likely adapt to the part time DH role better because as a catcher he would be used to not playing a position everyday.

As for concerns about Joseph being injured with Castillo batting, the Orioles at worst would lose their DH and have the pitcher hit for a few ABs which they could also pinch hit for, and then if Castillo were to be hurt in the same game – something extremely unlikely – then Flaherty can be the emergency third catcher.  The point is it is one game of risk versus a full season of added production and being able to keep a Rule 5 pick instead of carrying Mancini.

Let’s take a look at the Orioles’ new lineups with all these moves:

Lineup vs. RHP
LF Kim
RF Smith
3B Machado
1B Davis
CF Jones
DH Alvarez
2B Schoop
C Castillo
SS Hardy

Bench:  OF Jennings, C Joseph, UT Flaherty, OF Tavarez

Lineup vs. LHP:
LF Kim
RF Jennings
3B Machado
DH Castillo
1B Davis
CF Jones
2B Schoop
C Joseph
SS Hardy

Bench: OF Smith, DH Alvarez, UT Flaherty, OF Tavarez,

Pitching Staff

With Gallardo gone, the Orioles’ rotation is set with Tillman, Gausman, Bundy, Jimenez and Miley.  For my last entry, I said Bundy is better off in the bullpen, and this still holds true, but he’s going to be there on Opening Day.

The Orioles still need pitching depth, and lefty reliever Boone Logan would be a good signing to add some quality depth to the bullpen.  I originally thought that he’d sign a 3 year/$18 million contract, but this late in the offseason and with other relievers out there, the Orioles could probably get him on a 2 year/$12 million contract.

Let’s not forget about all those starting pitchers that are left unsigned as well.  There are plenty of pitchers that will not be getting major league deals, and Duquette has been not shy about stashing some depth in AAA with June opt-outs if they don’t make the Orioles’ roster.  I’d expect the Orioles to sign at least one free agent starter, possibly two with minor league deals and Spring Training invites, to serve as depth.

C.J. Wilson is somebody that would fit this category as would his former Angels’ teammate, Jered Weaver.  Some other names to consider:  Colby Lewis, Mat Latos and Kris Medlen

With those moves let’s take a look at the Orioles’ projected pitching staff on Opening Day:

Rotation:
SP Tillman
SP Gausman
SP Bundy
SP Jimenez
SP Miley

Bullpen:
LR Wilson/McFarland/Wright
MR Verrett
MR Givens
MR Logan
SU O’Day
SU Brach
CL Britton

If Bundy’s arm and shoulder, hold up (a big if) that rotation is pretty average with some upside considering how Miley and Jimenez pitched in September.

There’s no doubt the Orioles would have one of the best bullpens in baseball and it’s likely going to be heavily used against next season as well, as all teams are getting fewer and fewer innings from their starting pitchers.

Final Thoughts

The Orioles surprised me and a lot of other fans with the Gallardo for Smith trade, but they filled an immediate need on the roster without sacrificing any strength they had.  By presumably keeping all of their bullpen talent, they can now  take advantage of a frozen free agent market to make a few more depth additions with good value and definitely have a better and deeper team than they did last season.

Top image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

Why Dylan Bundy is better off in the Orioles’ bullpen

I’ve received a few comments regarding my “Plan for the 2017 Orioles” over at Eutaw Street Report.   The move that fans have questioned the most is my plan to put Dylan Bundy in the bullpen, where he started 2016, instead of in the rotation where he finished the season.

After all the hype Bundy has received over his career, I can see why fans would be quite surprised to see him listed in the bullpen.  After all, when he was drafted in 2011, the expectation was that he would be a dominant top-of-the-rotation starter and likely the Orioles’ ace.  After years of injuries and making the Orioles’ roster in the bullpen simply because he was out of options, Bundy was finally able to crack the rotation after the All-Star break in July.

So why move him back into the bullpen?

The answer is pretty simple – his health.

The reason Bundy had to have Tommy John surgery in 2013 in the first place is because of his mechanics and as Chris O’Leary has pointed out, if he’s placed in the rotation, he will likely suffer another serious injury.

O’Leary, currently a MLB, minor league and college swing coach, and the hitting and pitching coordinator for Harris-Stowe State University, has devoted part of his career to analyzing and identifying the root causes of pitching injuries that are becoming more rampant at all levels of baseball.

He makes this following disclaimer on his website:

I am not a doctor or healthcare professional and have no formal medical training. However, I have spent the past four years immersing myself in the physiology and kinesiology of pitching. In that time I have read literally every medical journal article that I can get my hands on (amounting to hundreds of articles). I have also done extensive research into the physiology of other overhead throwing sports like cricket, water polo, javelin, and handball.

Even though he’s not a doctor or a healthcare professional, he’s been pretty accurate when it comes to predictions of pitching injuries in MLB.

You can take a look at his correct predictions titled “The List.”

O’Leary has pointed out mechanical flaws in numerous pitchers looking at still images of their deliveries, so it’s safe to say with his track record, if a guy is on his radar it’s not good news.

Read what he had to say about  Dylan Bundy below:

In the picture above of Dylan Bundy, notice how his front foot is down, and his shoulders are starting to turn, but his pitching arm isn’t UP.

Instead, it’s FLAT.

That is overloading his arm, which likely gave him a velocity boost. However, it’s the equivalent of running a car engine past the red line for an extended period of time.

It works.

For a while.

Flat Arm Syndrome is what got Dylan Bundy’s elbow and it will get his shoulder next.

Bundy is essentially a ticking time bomb with Flat Arm Syndrome.  To ask and expect Bundy to completely re-work his delivery and keep the same effectiveness however is unrealistic.  Therefore the Orioles need to minimize the chances for an injury to occur by not having him pitch as much and for as long and the bullpen is where he can do just that.

Every time he throws 5 to 6 innings instead of 1 to 2, his risk of injury rises.  Intensity, frequency and duration – those are the factors in any repetitive stress injury.

While we would all like Dylan Bundy to be the Orioles’ future ace, I think we would rather see him have a long, effective career in an Orioles’ uniform.  That’s simply less likely to happen if the Orioles put him in the rotation.

Bundy isn’t the only Orioles’ pitching prospect to be concerned about.  Hunter Harvey, who also recently had Tommy John surgery also has a mechanical defect pointed by O’Leary:

Harvey’s problem of premature pronation is discussed by O’Leary here.

Like Bundy, Harvey’s best bet is probably the bullpen in order to stay healthy.

I also asked O’Leary on Twitter what he thought of the Orioles’ 2016 1st round draft pick Cody Sedlock:

TOS stands for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome which was Matt Harvey’s injury.

That’s not good, so there’s another likely bullpen arm.

So why do the Orioles keep drafting these pitchers with flawed and dangerous mechanics?   Well the question to ask is –  why do these pitchers keep getting drafted by any MLB team?  And better yet, why are these pitchers continuing to use these unhealthy mechanics in spite of their success with them if they continue to cause injuries?

The answer is that this is how players are coached starting when they are young because respected institutes like the Mayo Clinic are advocating for the very same mechanics that are causing the problems.

O’Leary has done a great job pointing this out, and I highly recommend that you read “The Epidemic” on his website and follow him on Twitter @thepainguy for more.

In the meantime, all we can do is hope baseball and the Orioles especially wise up to the root cause of all the pitching injuries that Chris O’Leary has pointed out, and minimize the chances for them to occur.  That means new mechanics for some pitchers, and reducing innings for others.

For the Orioles, that starts by putting Dylan Bundy in the bullpen in 2017.

Top image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

The Chris Davis Contract – 1 Year Later

While we are awaiting the unthawing of the Orioles’ offseason from the annual holiday deep freeze, I thought I’d look back at last offseason’s major headline – The Orioles sign Chris Davis to a 7 year/$161 million contract.

I keep seeing fans lamenting this deal over and over again, but I think the Orioles still have a solid deal with Davis.  Let’s go over some of the common topics of conversation.

1. They are paying Davis $161 million total/$23 million a season.

Dan Duquette and the Orioles may have signed Chris Davis to a 7 year/$161 million contract, but that contract included deferred money.  Let’s take a look at the breakdown via Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus:

7 years/$161M (2016-22)

  • re-signed by Baltimore as a free agent 1/21/16
  • 16-22: salaries of $23M annually, with $17M paid as earned and $6M deferred without interest
  • the $42M in deferred money is to be paid in 10 installments of $3.5M annually each July 1, 2023-32, and five installments of $1.4M each July 1, 2033-37
  • MLB calculates present-day value to $147,831,478 with deferrals, while the MLBPA’s present-day value calculation is $147,737,635
  • limited no-trade protection

The bolded section is key – Davis is only a $17 million hit to the payroll over the next 6 years, not a $23 million hit.  $42 million of his contract is deferred until 2023 with installments to be paid until 2037.

That deferred money may sound like it will hurt future payroll flexibility, but consider the Orioles have paid this much money to players that they have cut from their bench and/or have delivered negative value.  It’s a minimal impact to any MLB club, especially when we are talking about the 2020s and 2030s.

2.  The Orioles bid against themselves and should have let Davis walk.

When Davis was signed I mentioned that some would say this. It might be true to a certain extent – however as we’ve seen Scott Boras can usually find a market for his star clients.   Mike Ilitch, the owner for the Detroit Tigers and a man infamous for huge contracts with Verlander and Cabrera to name a few, reportedly wanted to spend $200 million on Davis, but spent on Justin Upton instead after his GM talked him out of it.  Sure he wouldn’t have spent $200 million, but had the Orioles dragged out negotiations further, I have no doubt a team like the Tigers would have come in, with an opt-out and stolen Davis away from the Orioles.

Would anybody really have loved to see Mark Trumbo at 1B all season with Joey Rickard in right field?  Remember Peter Angelos had only earmarked the money for Davis, not Upton or anybody else they were rumored to be pursuing.  Had Davis gone elsewhere, so would have the 2016 Wild Card berth that the Orioles almost (and could have) won.

At the end of the day the Orioles increased their original offer of 7 years/$150 million by $11 million but deferred that $42 million of the total.   That $119 million that will be paid directly was also similar to what the Cardinals agreed to pay for another Boras client, Matt Holliday when he was a free agent in the 2009-2010 offseason.  I talked about how both free agent situations were similar last offseason.

Holliday produced 19.8 fWAR over his 7 year deal  for a total of $170.2 million worth of value according to Fangraphs so he easily was worth his contract and had over $50 million in surplus value.

We’ll see what Davis produced below in the next section.

3.  Davis had a bad season last year

Looking at Davis’ batting line, the .221 batting average stands out, but this is 2016 and we should be looking at more than just that to determine how a player performed.

Davis had a career best 13.2% BB% last season with 88 BBs, both leading the Orioles by far and good enough for 13th and 11th respectively in MLB for each stat.  Davis also saw 4.14 P/PA in 2016 a mark which also led the Orioles and was 24th in MLB.

His O-Swing%, which had declined since 2013, was also a career best 28.2%.

For years the Orioles have needed a hitter in the middle of the lineup that was willing to take pitches and work the count if the pitcher wasn’t going to give them something they could hit.  Now they have one in Chris Davis who had his best performance of understanding the strike zone in his career.   He may have not put up a career season overall, but Davis matured as a hitter while the majority of the Orioles were swinging for the fences.

Defensively Chris Davis was at his best too as he matched his career high with +8 DRS at 1B.   He made Manny Machado look even better at 3B with numerous saves of errant throws.

Looking at his $17 million cost, Davis was worth 2.7 fWAR  in 2016 for a value of $21.9 million.  So while it’s not a huge surplus in value, there was still a surplus just like there was with Holliday’s contract.

4.  Davis will only get worse just like all of the other contracts signed for premium first basemen.

You know the names and the contracts – Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira.  Most long-term, big money 1B contracts have not worked out well for their signing teams.

Chris Davis will be 31 on Opening Day next year, so he’s still in his prime years, albeit on the down side.

However all you need to do is look at his  home and away splits while he’s been an Oriole to see a major outlier for 2016.

Home:

Season G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+
2012 69 272 0.288 0.342 0.588 0.930 0.392 146
2013 80 326 0.307 0.390 0.668 1.057 0.442 180
2014 61 234 0.187 0.300 0.419 0.720 0.313 95
2015 79 330 0.283 0.376 0.636 1.012 0.422 168
2016 80 328 0.196 0.326 0.415 0.741 0.322 96

Away:

Season G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+
2012 70 290 0.253 0.310 0.419 0.729 0.314 97
2013 80 347 0.266 0.352 0.602 0.954 0.400 156
2014 66 291 0.202 0.299 0.393 0.692 0.305 94
2015 80 340 0.241 0.347 0.490 0.837 0.358 128
2016 77 337 0.244 0.338 0.502 0.840 0.357 125

As you can see, Davis has always performed better at Oriole Park at Camden Yards than he has on the road.   Even during his worst year in 2014, he still had better numbers at home than on the road.   To see him do so poorly at his home park compared to his road splits, seems like it’s not a trend that is going to continue as the Orioles didn’t do anything different between 2015 and 2016 to the park dimensions or any other major alterations that would cause his numbers to decline so much.

My bet is Davis will bounce back because  1) his hand injury should be healed,  2) because his away splits were the same as they were in 2015 and 3) because 2017 is an odd year and odd years are when Davis has been a monster at the plate.

You also never hear about him being out of shape as the man is a gym rat, just like Holliday so health wise, he should age better than either Howard or Fielder, two players known for weight issues. While the hand injury is concerning, he still managed to have a decent season in spite of it and should return to full health with an offseason of rest.

5.  The Orioles could have used the money they are extending Davis to extend Manny Machado.

First of all, the Orioles aren’t likely to  extend Machado.  That was clear when they attempted to do so, and you heard $400 million floated as speculation as what Manny would earn as a free agent.  No way would he extend for anything less than $30 million per season and the Orioles aren’t going there, nor should they.

Second, had the Orioles let Davis walk, there would be no way Machado would ever want to extend with the team.  Signing Davis is a commitment to winning.  Players see that, not just fans.  So the only way to show Machado you were serious about winning was to keep the players that helped the Orioles win.   I’m pretty sure Manny knows what Davis means to him at 1B and protecting him in the lineup.   Trumbo just isn’t the same player in spite of the fact he can also hit HRs.

And the $17 million per season cost to the payroll also helps the Orioles with flexibility, just in case they do somehow manage to extend Machado or definitely to be able to extend players like Chris Tillman.  I’m pretty sure Davis knew that if he took up a huge chunk of the Orioles’ payroll similar to A-Rod in Texas, then the team would have a harder time maintaining the ability to stay competitive.

An interesting fact also – Chris Davis may be the Orioles’ highest paid player in 2017 as he was in 2016, but barring any other extensions, in 2018 Adam Jones is set to take that title with a payroll cost of $17.3 million.

Chris Davis may have signed the largest contract in Orioles history, and while he did have a poor season offensively last year compared to 2015, it was largely due to his hand injury, and he still managed a 111 wRC+ and .340 wOBA and should have won the Gold Glove.

If that’s a poor season for Davis, I can’t wait to see what his bounce back season is in 2017.

Image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

The Orioles’ On Base Machine Continues to Serve Up a Large Plate of Crow to Birdland

You’ll recall from my previous articles here, at Eutaw Street Report and my tweets on Twitter,  that I’ve been a Hyun Soo Kim fan since the Orioles signed him back in December, while the majority of Birdland had pretty much written him off by the end of Spring Training.

 

These were some the articles that first came out in the media and blogs when Hyun Soo Kim had refused his minor league assignment back in Spring Training and during the month of April when he rode the bench:

Baltimore Sun:  Still at crossroads with Hyun Soo Kim, Orioles likely forced to carry him

Baltimore Baseball: My official statement on Kim and the O’s: ‘What a mess’

Baseball Essential:  How Long Can the Orioles Stick with Hyun Soo Kim?

From that last article, this paragraph is my favorite:

The Orioles cannot afford to waste a roster spot for an entire year, and must capitalize on this hot start. The Orioles will not make any friends in Korea by releasing Kim, but the move needs to be made. The move could come this month; it could come next month, but it’s hard to envision Hyun Soo Kim finishing the year as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.

Boy, doesn’t that look silly now?

Kim, after his fourth 3 hit game for the Orioles in 2016, now has a line of .391/.466/.500/.966 with a wOBA of .423 and wRC+ of 169 in his first 21 games and has moved into the number 2 spot in the Orioles’ lineup vs. RHP.  Kim is also tied with Chris Davis for the third most valuable player on the team with 0.8 fWAR in less than half of the games played as Davis.

It would be hard now not to envision Hyun Soo Kim finishing the year as a member of the Orioles, with him also being a candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year.

However, Kim was left off the All-Star Game ballot by the Orioles, so the hot-hitting rookie will have to be a write-in from the fans or a selected as a reserve.   Meanwhile Joey Rickard is in 14th place because he was included on the ballot instead.

(Note:  I would suggest to all Orioles fans to #VoteKim via write-in to fix the Orioles’ mistake and the Orioles should too.  He likely won’t have a chance because he was left off the ballot, but it’s the right thing to do.)

To the media’s credit, they still are asking Showalter about Kim, and Buck is sticking to his story about Kim’s success resulting from him being benched in April and most of May:

“That’s why I thought early on it might have helped him, kind of sitting back and watching a lot of things and saying, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

Buck still isn’t praising Kim as he has other players, but supposedly in Korea, that coldness and lack of acknowledgement is common from KBO managers, so maybe he’s providing exactly what Kim needs.

When Kim has been asked about the benching helping him, you can tell by his body language and the way he talks about the situation, that he felt it was unnecessary, and yet he chooses his words carefully.   Clearly he got whatever message Showalter was sending, as well as the fans who stupidly booed him on Opening Day, and he’s used it as motivation.

Kim has been quite motivated over the past regular 9 starts that he has been given judging from his stats and these articles that now are popping up all over the place:

Baltimore Sun: Confident Hyun Soo Kim emerging for Orioles as regular role grows

ESPN: Hyun Soo Kim becoming a difference-maker for Orioles

Fox Sports: South Korean OF Hyun Soo Kim finally excels for Orioles

Orioles.com:  Kim serving as piston for charged-up offense

Much like Steve Pearce before him, Kim has saved the Orioles from making a terrible mistake by exercising his contractual right to be on the 25 man roster.  You’ll recall Pearce was released by the Orioles right before Chris Davis went on the DL in 2014 and they had to sweat out him having to choose to come back to them as a free agent or sign with another team.  Pearce chose to re-sign with the Orioles and went on to have a career year and helped lead the Orioles to their first AL East title in 17 years.

Had the Orioles released Kim or sent him back to  South Korea or assigned him to the offensive black hole that is Norfolk, they likely  again would not be in first place in the AL East.   Like Pearce, Kim could also be with another team, at the top of their lineup, as his skillset is one that would be in demand.

Instead he’s still playing for the Orioles and finally getting the playing time he needs to see as many pitchers as possible to fully adjust.  Kim is also ahead of his former KBO counterparts in this adjustment.

As I showed earlier in a previous article, Kim has also proven he can hit LHP in the KBO and he got his first plate appearances against LHP in the Red Sox series where he was 0-1 with a walk.  I’d expect him to see more LHP as the season progresses.

There are some that still think Kim is going to come back down to earth as League will adjust.  Kim proved over 10 seasons in the KBO that he can adjust back and continue to be an on-base machine, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t be able to do the same in MLB.

For now, Hyun Soo Kim is serving up a big, fat plate of crow to his detractors and skeptics in Birdland and for many, it’s never tasted so good.

The Orioles’ on-base machine still gets no respect in Baltimore

 

When I wrote the article for Eutaw Street Report about being in Hyun Soo Kim’s corner back in the beginning of April, I realistically expected Kim wouldn’t be a starter right away.  It took a while for Jung Ho Kang to get regular starts with the Pirates after all.  Also Joey Rickard was the next big thing coming out of Orioles camp and his bat was red-hot, so it made sense to put him in the lineup to see what he had.   With Rickard starting, it wouldn’t be easy to get Kim in the lineup, but he’d get in as a pinch-hitter and make a couple starts a week perhaps.

Let’s take a look at total games played at any position before today’s doubleheader by those eligible to play left field to see how that played out:

Rickard: 27

Reimold: 17

Kim: 7

Trumbo: 25

Seven games for Kim?  That’s it?  Okay, well perhaps Rickard is still on his hot streak and Kim just didn’t make the most of his opportunities.  Let’s see what their stats are against right-handed pitchers according to Fangraphs:

Rickard: .243/.275/.311/.586, .258 wOBA, 58 wRC+

Reimold:  .333/.333/.800/1.133, .477 wOBA, 218 wRC+

Kim: .556/.619/.611/1.230, .537 wOBA, 262 wRC+

Reimold has more than justified his playing time, but Rickard?  Those stats are Brandon Fahey-esque.

Actually, Brandon Fahey was a better hitter in his rookie season as he had a .244/.313./.355/.638 line against righties with a .288 wOBA and 68 wRC+.

Yes, I’ll say it again, Rickard has been worse than Brandon Fahey.   Let that sink in.

Meanwhile Kim literally has been the best hitter the Orioles have had against right-handed pitching when he has played – not Machado, not Davis, not Trumbo and not even Reimold, but Hyun Soo Kim, the guy the Orioles have gathering splinters on the bench while they struggle to generate runs.

Perhaps then Rickard is just the superior defender to Kim? After all, Buck Showalter loves great defense and will look past offensive shortcomings if you can make the plays in the field.  Let’s take a look at their Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in left field:

Rickard: -5 DRS

Reimold: 0 DRS

Kim: 0 DRS

Once again, Reimold can justify his playing time but Rickard really can’t.

(By the way, Brandon Fahey had 3 DRS in left field his rookie season.)

Now against left-handed pitching, Buck has also benched Kim but it’s because Kim hits left-handed and lefties don’t usually hit left-handed pitching.  Kim must fall into this category, right?

Let’s look at his splits from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2015:

PITCHER AVG AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB HBP SO GIDP
vs LHP 0.333 162 54 7 0 7 32 27 1 16 3
vs RHP 0.330 291 96 16 0 17 74 60 3 42 6

Those look like pretty even splits to me.  So why hasn’t he had any at bats against left-handed pitching at all?  Shouldn’t he be in the lineup every day if he was able to get on base against both in the KBO?  His on-base skills against right-handers have translated so I would think his skills would remain the same against lefties.  For somebody that is supposed to have attention to detail, surely Buck has seen these stats, right?

Why does Kim also not at least see the lion’s share of playing time in left field against righties over Rickard if he’s the better hitter and fielder and has a pretty decent reputation of making plays even though they may not be “pretty”?

I think the answer to all these questions is that Buck Showalter simply does not appreciate Hyun Soo Kim, no matter what he’s said about him and he’s not alone as I’ve seen more things written about Nolan Reimold specifically but nothing really acknowledging just how good Kim is performing – until now of course.

Buck and others made judgements about Kim after his early struggles in Spring Training and wrote him off, but Kim is showing to be every bit of what Dan Duquette and the Orioles scouts saw in Korea, in spite of being benched game after game.

Buck also hasn’t acknowledged what Kim has done to help the Orioles win on the field.  Let’s take that final game of the series against the Yankees for instance.  In the bottom of the 10th, Kim hits an infield single just like he’s done before.  Schoop comes up next and singles to centerfield, and Kim astutely runs to third base to set up the winning run in scoring position with no outs because he had read scouting reports on Ellsbury not having a good arm.   The Yankees have Andrew Miller warming up and Alvarez is due to bat next.  So what does Buck do?  Instead of letting Kim potentially score the winning run that he set up after being benched for multiple games, he removes him for Nolan Reimold and lets Alvarez hit against the lefty Miller.  Granted all he needed was a fly ball out, but Alvarez could have grounded out to the infield quite easily given his struggles against left-handers, where Reimold would have had a better chance to cash in the run given his success against lefties.  It just made no sense to make that move to remove Kim and instead use Reimold as a pinch runner.

To me this was a pretty deliberate move by Showalter, denying Kim the right to score the winning run and get the spotlight for doing so.  He’d just seen him run out an infield single and move from first to third on another single, so he’s got to know Kim can score on a fly ball.  I think Buck wanted to put Kim in his place, again.

Why do I think so?

After the game, when the talk went to that 10th inning and Kim’s setup of the winning run by running from first base to 3rd base on Schoop’s single, what did Buck talk about?  Well take a look at what he said to Roch Kubatko and other media:

“’The ball took the center field a little bit away from the target, and being left-handed, too, he had to turn and throw. Not going to get into (Jacoby) Ellsbury’s arm or what have you. Jon’s a good bunter, but just missed a breaking ball they hung him 0-1. But that was a big hit by Jon.’”

There’s nothing there about Kim at all.  He didn’t acknowledge that Kim’s reading of the scouting report and execution of his baserunning contributed to the win, just that Schoop had a “big hit.”

That didn’t look petty there at all, Buck.

How about MLB.com Orioles beat writer Brittany Ghiroli who I have also noticed hasn’t exactly been a Kim supporter but has fallen in the pro-Rickard camp?  What does her write up of the game say about that situation?

The inning started with Hyun Soo Kim beating out a dribbler for an infield single off Yankees reliever Johnny BarbatoJonathan Schoop then lined a single into center field to put the potential winning run, pinch-runner Nolan Reimold, 90 feet away.

So again, there’s nothing about Kim going from first to third on that single or him reading the scouting report on Ellsbury.  Also saying that Reimold was the winning run, not even mentioning that Kim was on third, would lead anybody reading that to think that Reimold was the runner that somehow made it to third.   The truth is the only reason Reimold, and not Kim was in that position was Buck Showalter.   Kim once again gets no credit for setting up that situation.  Calling Kim’s hit a “dribbler” instead of just “infield single” also makes him sound weak and reinforces that image of him being a weak hitter that doesn’t belong in MLB, something that simply isn’t true.

To me with examples like that, the bias against Kim still looms very large in the world of Orioles baseball.  While some have come around to what Kim can provide, other fans, members of the Orioles media and Buck Showalter himself in my opinion, still don’t see what the Orioles have in Kim and are instead hoping either Rickard can get back to what he was in Spring Training and the first week of the season or that Nolan Reimold will become a regular, all so Kim once again becomes irrelevant.

He sure isn’t irrelevant in South Korea.

Let’s throw out a scenario to compare how this treatment of Kim is being received there using somebody that was extremely popular in Baltimore as Kim was in Korea:

Imagine if you will, the Orioles somehow let a 27 year old Cal Ripken Jr. go to the Doosan Bears in the KBO after playing multiple seasons in MLB and developing a reputation for being one of the best shortstops in the game and an All-Star.  The Doosan Bears then proceed to bench Ripken and only let him play in a handful of games because they think it’s “good for him to watch and adapt to the Korean baseball culture.”  How would Ripken feel?  How would Orioles fans feel that would like to see Ripken play in Korea?

All you have to do is look at Twitter to see how Korean fans feel about the Orioles’ treatment of Kim and it’s not warm and fuzzy.  The Orioles continue to damage their reputation with Korean fans and players the more Kim does well and the continued lack of playing time he receives.

So why does Kim get all that respect and admiration in South Korea but not nearly as much in Baltimore?

Kim, in essence is the anti-Oriole, and I think that’s why Buck and others just don’t appreciate him or respect his skill set.   He has a plan at the plate, is a student of the game and he’s an intelligent baserunner.   Sure he doesn’t hit for power but he gets on base and he’s consistent in getting on base, and the Orioles haven’t had that combination of skills in a player for a long time.  Buck and others are used to and want to see aggressive hitters that hit for power and go up there hacking away so they don’t miss a good pitch that they can deposit into the stands.  That’s not Hyun Soo Kim, and that’s a good thing.

No matter how little he is appreciated by fans, the media or Buck Showalter, if the Orioles want to win it all this season, they must respect and #PlayKim.