An Essay On Insanity (Or: Albert Einstein’s Thoughts On The 2018 Baltimore Orioles)

In the middle of the 2011-2012 season, the Washington Capitals, who were suffering from a mid-season collapse among a string of successful seasons ended by post-season failures, made the ultimate decision to fire their head coach, Bruce Boudreau. Despite coaching the team to three straight Southeast Division titles and a Presidents Trophy in 2010-11 for having the most points in the entire NHL, the Caps front office recognized a situation in which the players and coaches were no longer working on the same page. Boudreau, who had created an expectation in Washington that the franchise was expected to do nothing less than win dominantly, found himself on the outside looking in while the Capitals made a conscious move to not settle for “good enough”.

In Baltimore, the 2018 Orioles are facing a collapse of their own. Since 2011, when Buck Showalter was hired and took over the team in August, O’s fans have found a resurgence in their love for baseball. The Baltimore Ravens had long been the only competitive major sports franchise in the city, but after fourteen years of dark ages, baseball had returned. In 2014, Buck led a team of young, hungry players who finished the regular season atop a division that includes both perennial powerhouses, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, an always dangerous Tampa Bay Rays franchise, and a “don’t count me out” attitude team, the Toronto Blue Jays. But, just as the Caps had done in the first years of their stretch of dominance, the Orioles failed in the playoffs, running into a hot Kansas City Royals team and losing in four games in the American League Championship Series. Another try in 2016 saw Buck’s guys fall in the Wild Card playoff game against Toronto.

The Orioles are now two months into 2018 and have the worst record, not just in the major leagues, but of all teams encompassing the major and minor leagues that start their schedules at the beginning of April. They are 150th of 150 in winning percentage. Their pitching staff has a 4.93 ERA, good for 26th best of the thirty major league teams. Opponents are hitting .349 off of them, and only four other teams have allowed more homeruns and given up more total runs than Baltimore. The offense isn’t any better; O’s hitters are batting a meager .231, are last in the league in getting on base (.293), and average a strikeout every 3.7 at bats.

But what is more frustrating than the poor play on the field is the extremely questionable decision-making by the coaching staff. Continuously, Chris Davis is not just in the lineup but is a mainstay in the cleanup spot or five-hole. In fact, Buck Showalter doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how to build a batting order; He could just as easily be drawing names out of a hat to create his lineups. Chance Sisco, the young catching prospect, finds himself riding the bench more often than not, despite this being the perfect opportunity to get him playing time. And what’s with Manny’s demand of moving to shortstop being granted?

In short, there is a very obvious problem. Jim Palmer put it bluntly two weeks ago when, while on-air, made the point that guys don’t seem to care. While that is usually a comment left for those who don’t understand that despite the big contracts that athletes get, passion doesn’t just get left behind in a cloud of greed, there is a level to which players get behind the mantra of a team. As for the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, “I Like Our Guys” was a phrase that generated so much excitement over the last several years but now seems kind of sickening and messed up. Our guys aren’t cutting it but Buck won’t do anything about it. The daily grind of Baltimore Orioles baseball has become a disappointing version of Groundhog’s Day as we see the same stale, underperforming lineup continuously trotted out there.

This team is overdue for new blood. It was in the off-season, but that idea was suppressed when, in true Dan Duquette and Peter Angelos fashion, the franchise waited until the season was upon us to sign a few starting pitchers to fill out the rotation. Unfortunately for O’s fans, the failures of this team by its veterans and the overhanging knowledge that Manny Machado is on his way out the door isn’t made any better when you look at the farm system. However, with that being the case, there are a few bright spots that, for whatever reason, are still trudging it out in the minors. Guys like Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and even Ryan Mountcastle should be considered as call-ups now that this team is so far out of contention that there is no chance to catch up. But we continue to see their stat lines for Norfolk and Bowie while Showalter, Duquette, and Angelos sit on their hands and hope for the best with what they’ve got.

Frustrating as it all may seem, the silver lining seems to be that both Showalter’s and Duquette’s contracts expire at the end of this season. Bleak as the future may be, there is a chance that Peter Angelos and his sons will make the decision to hire a GM that will see the methods by which teams like Houston and Philadelphia and Atlanta have found their recent success. But then you remember, it’s Angelos who, for two decades, has displayed his lack of seeing the bigger picture. He is the same owner who has already publicly stated that the manager position is available to Showalter next year if he wants it. He is the same owner who has refused to allow the trade of valuable players during down years in exchange for future top prospects. He is the same owner who can’t seem to grasp the concept that this team is lucky if it draws 13,000 people a night and that during games against New York and Boston, opposing fans outnumber hometown ones so significantly, there is more cheering for the opponent’s success.

So where do you start? That’s a question that has been buried so far under all of the poor decision and lack of planning that it’s difficult to answer. As a fan, it’s tough to find positives anymore. We will probably watch Machado walk in free agency. We get to watch Chris Davis stare at strike three for another four years. There is a football jersey in Cleveland that, over the last many years, has had added the name of the new starting QBs for the Browns, and the list now drags to the floor; One could probably consider that the same concept would work with an Orioles jersey and the names of low average, defensively liable, power hitting firstbasemen that have found their way into the Orioles’ organization over the last five or six years. This is not a winning franchise anymore. There is no return to 2014 with the current personnel. And the most frustrating, aggravating part of that? Nobody in the front office has a say because ownership doesn’t seem to care.

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Am I The Only One Who…

It’s been a long, long time. But here we go with the new season and what seems to be the same old stories.

Am I the only one who…

Thinks the old slogan “I Like Our Guys” isn’t really a compliment to the fans anymore? As positive as you want to be, it’s hard to jump on the I Like Our Guys train when a few of our guys are really stinking it up? It’s hard to imagine that there is any other reason besides the massive contract he’s under to think as the reason for Chris Davis still being in the lineup everyday. It’s not his talent, for sure. The guy is getting paid a ton of money to do the same thing the fans do- watch pitches. He just has a much better seat.

Believes Adam Jones will stay in Baltimore when his contract is up at the end of the year? The guy is a proven team leader and spokesperson, and has recently stated that he wants to play for a team that is trying to win. He noted that the focus on the starting rotation by adding Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb was a positive thing. Jones has made a home in Baltimore during the baseball season. He’s a fan favorite who puts just as much effort giving back to the community as he does playing the game he loves. He’s not afraid to be critical of the front office, but I don’t think that plays against him. I also don’t believe he’ll have a lot of interest on the free agency market.

Also believes Adam Jones should be moved to right field? If the Orioles’ front office and Buck Showalter had the wherewithal to remove Davis from the everyday lineup, it leaves the team open to bringing up Austin Hays and placing him firmly in center field. Jones, who is no longer the speedster he once was, can fill the gap in right field and Trey Mancini can make a move to first base. What is more baseball-esque than watching young players like Hays, Sisco, and Mancini all not just play at the big league level but contribute to a team that, when firing on all cylinders, could be a sleeper for a Wild Card spot?

Thinks hot dogs are just a vessel for sauerkraut? A friend of mine (he’s a Blue Jays fan but don’t hold it over him) made this reference and I liked it. Also, it’s true.

Thinks Tim Beckham’s arm looks weak at 3rd base? He’s got a lollipop throw when he’s got to go the full length across the diamond. It has more arch than St. Louis. Manny’s real defensive value shines through when you watch Beckham make plays a little less gracefully than Machado used to. Does it really increase Machado’s potential value on the market by him playing shortstop? I’m not buying it.

Thinks Mancini is having some real bad luck in the early going? Of all the games I’ve gotten to see, it seems like the night wouldn’t be complete if Mancini wasn’t robbed of a basehit or even a homerun. It’s a good sign though; That kind of bad juju won’t last all year.

Smash It Like Beckham

The trade for Tim Beckham at the deadline went under the radar, for sure. As a former No. 1 overall pick, Beckham barely performed up to the expected standards with Tampa Bay. 

Enter the Baltimore Orioles.

Unexpectedly, Dan Duquette recognized the underwhelming performance by J.J. Hardy by addressing the need for a better overall peforming shortstop and acquiring Beckham for next to nothing. Being a quiet move, and following the outcry for the team to sell, many either didn’t understand or didn’t care about the move. 

Fourteen days and 58 at bats later, Beckham is hitting an unreal .500 with four dingers and thirteen extra base hits in his stint in an O’s uniform. While he hasn’t been solid defensively, he hasn’t fallen short of Hardy’s 2017 standards.

And it’s easy to see the appeal of the trade. Blinded by the hoopla of the trade deadline, many people overlooked the fact that Beckham is under contract until 2020. Long term control is almost unheard of in today’s age of trade deadline moves, as teams settle for a “live and die by the sword” mentality when making improvements for a post season run (see: Gerardo Parra. See: Andrew Miller).

Seeing as how Beckham will only be 30 when his deal runs out, it’s hard to argue that maybe all he needs is a change of scenery. With an organization like Tampa Bay, where the mentality is to survive based on how you perform as a young player, Beckham was beginning to find himself overshadowed and pushed aside. It isn’t any wonder that the Rays were looking to move him; his numbers were less than adequate of a number one pick. However, in a world of suspect moves made by Duquette, it could be argued that if Beckham continues to be a successful acquisition, this could be one of his better trades. 

The Mystery Of Chris Tillman’s Struggles

Even before Thursday night’s terrible showing by Chris Tillman against Detroit, the Orioles starter had an ERA of 7.65 in 14 games. Bad starts have become the Achilles heel for the 29 year old pitcher, the struggle a difficult pill to swallow as it has become consistent for the man who has been considered the ace of the staff. With his record sitting at a dismal 1-6 (with a 3.53 run support per game), Tillman has struggled finding the strike zone and has a real knack for giving up the long ball.

This hasn’t always been the case, as Orioles’ fans are well aware. Just last year, Tillman had a 3.77 ERA in 30 games and struck out 140 in a 172 innings pitched (0.81 K’s an inning). Last year he gave up only 19 home runs all season, less than one for every nine innings. Compare that to this year where he has given up 14 homeruns in 64 innings, an average of one in every 4 1/2 innings. The numbers are straight forward but not pretty.

That’s a lot of statistics, which, in baseball, tell the tale but don’t necessarily get you the full story. How do you explain the sudden drop off in success? In Spring Training, Tillman quickly found himself on the DL after hurting his shoulder. The injury led to him missing more time than first expected and he didn’t start a game in 2017 until May 7th against the White Sox. After his struggles began, many speculated that he wasn’t ready to come off the DL but he had convinced the team that he was ready to go. Could it be that he is still pitching injured? One would like to think that, given the Orioles reputation around the league for being sticklers on physicals, and the fact that they are a professional major league sports team that employs some of the industry’s best sports medicine doctors, Tillman didn’t finagle his way back and risk endangering his health by pitching while not at 100%.

More realistically, his injury has had an indirect relation to the failures that he has faced this season. According to Fangraphs, Tillman’s strike zone stats are dismal. Of his pitches that he throws in the strike zone, opposing hitters are swinging 71% of the time. Of his pitches not in the strike zone, he is getting hitters to swing only 24% of the time. Considering those stats when you are also aware that batters are hitting .352 off of you and not biting at anything you throw out of the zone, all of a sudden you have a recipe for disaster.

(Here is a link directly to the FanGraph article breaking these numbers down.)

Needless to say, Tillman’s injury has set him back, even if it’s not necessarily the conspiracy theory that he’s signing his parents name on his permission slip. It was a concern even before he got hurt when scouts noticed a drop in the velocity of his fastball, which peculiarly only got worse as he worked his way back from shoulder problems. That lack of confidence, combined with the utmost failure to find the dominance he displayed in years past has got to be a gargantuan weight on his mentality.

The Orioles organization, who made the trade for Jeremy Hellickson before the trade deadline, would be well off to look into options that would allow them to remove Tillman from the rotation and shut him down for the season. Buck Showalter stated that the team will move forward with a six man rotation to give the rotation more rest time between starts. However, if Tillman continues to give up the offensive numbers we have seen him dole out over the last three months, the coaching staff needs to come to the realization that he is hurting both himself and the team whose front office was confident could be real contenders as they drive towards the push for the playoffs.

 

It Seems To Me…

“It Seems To Me” is a reoccurring blog discussing current topics taking place in the world of Baltimore Orioles baseball.

It seems to me…

…That the fact that Dan Duquette has flip-flopped between buying and selling at the deadline means that neither he nor Peter Angelos have a real game plan. And that is a frightening thing as a fan. You expect the owner and GM to be confident in which direction they want to take by assessing, realistically, how good the team is this year and whether they want to make moves to improve the chances of current success or build for the future. As of right now, just mere hours from the deadline, nobody is sure what the team is going to do.

…That the acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson was not a sure sign that the Orioles are in buying mode going into the deadline. There have been talks circulating regarding how many more innings the team will allow Dylan Bundy to pitch this season, we have seen the struggles continue for Chris Tillman, and Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are far from cutting as permanent fixtures in the starting rotation. Getting Hellickson, who led the Phillies in innings pitched last season, may have been strictly as an insurance policy of sorts, giving the Orioles the option of removing one or more of their starters from the rotation for the rest of the season.

…that, despite your thoughts on the motive to acquire Hellickson, the Orioles overpaid. Dan Duquette traded a left handed pitching prospect, Hyun-Soo Kim, and international money to Philadelphia for a mediocre two month rental. If you’re upset over trading Kim, the picture is blurry; The value of pitching prospects has been more than exposed this season, especially left handed ones, and Duqette’s unfathomable refusal to utilize the international market on prospects is beyond reason. For those who are avid Dan Duqette haters, this trade has summarized exactly how he has ridden the coattails of Andy MacPhail and taken a decent farm system and run it into the ground, all while keeping this team ill-prepared for future success.

…if the Orioles are not able to trade Britton by the deadline this year, it isn’t the end of the world. Britton and Brach are both under team control for another season; While this extra year adds value to both players, it is Britton who could still be worth just as much in the off-season or next year if he continues to dominate hitters. On the other hand, Brach has shown signs of being a little overvalued, and so the value added to him by having a full year of team control still on his contract leaves almost no question that the Orioles should try to get the biggest haul they can for him now and not later.

… that Major League Baseball’s addition of a second Wild Card team several years ago is proving to be the wrong decision. Currently, even a team like Detroit, who is sitting nine games under .500, could argue that they will be buyers at the deadline because there is a chance for them to make the playoffs. As a fan of the game, the four team format not only made a more symmetrical playoff picture, but it allowed for teams to honestly assess their position and make moves accordingly. Watching the Orioles truly believe that they still have a chance, when most people know full well that even if they were to make the second wild card and win the play-in game, a series matchup against Boston or Houston would end terribly, is frustrating. It could very well cost the team a chance to compete for years to come if Duqette and Angelos do not jump on the opportunity to obtain top prospects in a down year. However, I guess some could take a survival of the fittest mentality and argue that Baltimore doesn’t deserve it if they can’t see the writing on the wall.

…Pedro Alvarez does not deserve a spot on the 25 man roster until the rosters are expanded on September 1st. There has been a decent outcry on social media to bring Alvarez up and play him at 3rd with Manny at SS while Hardy and Flaherty are on the DL. To this I ask, have you seen Alvarez’s defensive statistics? The man should not be allowed to sit near a glove in the dugout, much less put one on and play a defensive position for a major league ballclub. The Orioles will not solve any problems by calling Alvarez up from Norfolk.

…that to call this trade deadline successful would be to see Britton, Brach, Castillo, and Smith all dealt, but only for the right packages. Based on what baseball has seen middle relievers go for so far in July, Britton and Brach should bring in nothing short of a major package each. With Joseph playing well this year and the O’s season on the brink, Castillo, who has an option on his deal, and Smith, who is on a one year deal, could be contributors to a contending team.

…that I was adamantly for trading Manny Machado at this year’s deadline for several reasons. The Orioles will be stuck in a catch-22 with Machado; Signing him will put them on the hook for upwards over $300 million dollars, handcuffing them when it comes time to sign other pieces of the puzzle or giving players like Jonathon Schoop the new deal he will eventually require. Not signing him will mean that fans will see him walk off into the sunset, clutching his new deal from some other ballclub, while the Orioles are left with nothing but a compensatory pick. Trading him now, while he still has a year left of team control, would be ideal. The package that Machado could draw would be unbelievable. Despite his low numbers this season, he not only has his reputation of being a great ball player, but he has also heated up in July. The front office should be weary not to at least put the bait out there and see what comes back; As the O’s have proven by being on the wrong side over the last few years, the trade deadline causes organizations to greatly overpay for rental pieces.

It Seems To Me

It Seems To Me (formerly known as “Am I The Only One?”) is a continuing look at some interesting happenings in Baltimore Orioles baseball.

It seems to me… 

  • Adam Jones is the epitome of what a role model should be. Beyond his abilities on-the-field, Jones has displayed a level of perspicacity that is rare among pro athletes. Since the incident in Boston where he felt the direct onslaught of racial slurs yelled adam jones smileyat him from the outfield stands and from behind the dugout, he has taken the extreme high road. Last week, while the Orioles were in Kansas City, Jones donated $20k to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a motion that gives a positive return on what could have been a disparaging blemish to Major League Baseball. In a move that will hopefully generate more publicity than the incident in Boston, Jones has become a proponent of equality in sports and continues to do so in a way that brings awareness to an issue that extends beyond the body of professional sports.

 

  • Buck Showalter has been struggling with his handling of the bullpen since Zach Britton went to the DL for the next 45-60 days. Last night we saw him remove Alec Asher, a starting pitcher in a relief role who threw over 100 pitches in his last start, after only 42 pitches. Not only was the pitch count well within reason, the decision to bring in a sixth relief pitcher for the game could easily leave the bullpen taxed for the rest of the series against Detroit. With Ubaldo Jimenez slated to start tonight, the odds increase that the pen will be needed again, putting Showalter’s decision to use almost every arm in question.

 

  • That Chris Davis is living up to his $164 million dollar potential thus far. I’ve Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Oriolesdiscussed this earlier in the season, but seeing as we are more than halfway through May and he continues to post a .384 obp and has batted almost .500 in his last seven games, it deserves recognition. Last night, Davis single-handedly won the game for the Orioles by becoming only the second player in franchise history to hit two homeruns in extra innings in the same game. Both dingers put the Orioles ahead. Maybe the “C” that stands for “Crush” should also stand for “Clutch”.

 

  • That the Orioles should have looked more into trading Britton during the off-season. It wouldn’t have been a popular move, especially right now as the bullpen struggles to find itself and not having Britton as the reason is an idea that seems to be gaining momentum. Four straight loses by one run before last night’s extra inning marathon victory tells a different story. A 3-2 loss and a 4-3 loss on consecutive nights in Kansas City wasn’t necessarily the bullpen’s fault (although they gave up the runs); An offense like the Orioles should be able to generate enough runs to win low scoring, close games. A trade of Britton would have brought in a plethora of young talent and also would have allowed the organization to demand a major league ready arm to either replace him in the pen or put another reliable starter in the rotation. As it goes, Britton is now hurt and his value has dropped faster than Jose Bautista after a Rougned Odor right. Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20.

 

  • Everyone should have a friend like Wayne Kirby. Recently, there was an article posted about him on Pressbox and it was a wonderful read. I’ll leave the link here for whoever wants to enjoy it and also learn a little more about the Orioles’ loved first base coach.