Fantastic season just concluded. Expectations were far exceeded with 93 regular season wins and a playoff birth, and baseball was reborn in Charm City. The atmosphere at Camden Yards was rockin’ and reminiscent of the great years in the 1970s and 80s. The only thing missing was Wild Bill Hagy.
After a frustrating ADLS series loss to the Yankees in five games, the temptation is to focus on the team’s weaknesses but analysis of playoff performance needs to be tempered in the context of the small number of games that were played. The O’s won three of six post season games and won/lost every other day, which is very similar to any six-game stretch during the regular season. The major difference in playoff ball is that you are always facing the other team’s 1-2-3 starters. Even though the Yankees petered out in the ALCS vs Detroit, they had the luxury of resetting their rotation against the O’s with C.C. Sabathia going to the hill twice. No shame there as Sabathia beats most teams he faces. In the later half of the regular season, the O’s were fortunate to have played multiple games against the punch-less Blue Jays and hapless Red Sox, and feasted on the weak pitching of both squads but couldn’t close the deal in Tampa going against the AL’s best starting staff and winning only one of three to finish up.
The biggest off-season need will be to restock with more table setters and improve team speed. When going against opponent’s 1-2-3 starters in the playoffs, you cannot rely on the long ball as much as the O’s did in the regular season. You must play small ball by advancing the runners, stealing bases, hitting and running, sacrificing, and manufacturing runs. Where can they get better?
Position analysis by prospective opening day line-up for 2013:
1) LF, Nate McLouth. Late season acquisition and arguably the most productive hitter in the post season. Brings badly needed speed to the lineup with occasional power. Can handle the bat well. Has good defensive skills when he leverages his speed to get to balls but has a weak throwing arm. Should be a capable leadoff hitter. Will battle Nolan Reimold and L.J. Hoes for the starting spot.
2) RF, Nick Markakis. Unfortunate injury riddled season was somewhat tempered by the addition of McLouth. Nick was hitting leadoff after the all star break and was tearing up AL pitching until the thumb injury ended his season. A little slow to be considered a full time leadoff hitter, but was flourishing in the position. Great glove in the outfield and I still like him batting second.
3) CF, Adam Jones. Gets a little better every year and 2012 was his best. With a little more plate discipline and a few more runners on ahead of him, he has the potential to hit .300, 40 homers and 100 RBIs. Got better at laying off the two-strike slider low and away but still chases too often. I’d like to see him bunt a little more when the team really needs to move a runner up. Has the skills to bunt and shouldn’t feel wedded into trying to drive every pitch. Needs to approach every at bat according to the game situation. Gold glove-caliber center fielder and is the team’s MVP.
4) DH, Chris Davis. Reminds me of Dave Kingman. Amazing power but very little discipline at the plate. His grooved swing is beautiful but the bat seems to travel in the same path every time. Look out if the ball happens to get in the way! Chases way too many pitches down and out of the zone and strikes out too much, but has the knack for delivering in the clutch. Hits some awe inspiring home runs and is fun to watch when he’s on a hot streak but the strikeouts come in bunches and are frustrating. Needs to take more pitches and get into more hitters counts. Plays a decent right or left field and can fill in at first base but won’t win any gold gloves.
5) C, Matt Wieters. Huge presence behind the plate and possibly the best defensive catcher in the game. Totally controls the running game and handles pitchers with a touch well in advance of his years. Switch hitter belted 23 homers and 83 RBI s which is excellent production for a catcher. Very slow afoot and I’d like to see him hit 10-15 points higher, especially with runners in scoring position. One of the cornerstones of the organization for years to come.
6) SS, J.J. Hardy. I’d like the O’s to drop him from second in the line-up in hopes that the lower spot will take a bit of pressure off him. The 20+ homers were nice, but the team needs a higher batting average and on base percentage from the number two hitter. Great reliable defensive shortstop who is not flashy but makes all the plays.
7) 1B, Mark Reynolds. Was all but gone in 2013 until he made the career resurrecting move to 1st base. Played outstanding defense and his hitting gradually climbed over the Mendoza line to match his career numbers. Mark has a good eye for the strike zone but has too many mechanical flaws in his swing. His forward stride lowers his head and changing your eye level while trying to hit major league stuff is difficult. He should shorten his stride and his swing and try not to jack everything to left field. I’d take .250-.260 from him and some better at bats in place of the gobs of strikeouts and streaky home run power. He did murder Red Sox pitching this year, which was tremendous fun. I think the club will exercise it’s $11 million option and keep him.
8) 3B, Manny Machado. The rookie had some great games and continues to learn the strike zone. Coming straight to the O’s from double A, he certainly proved he could hit the fastball, but once pitchers figured that out, he struggled a bit. He’s got a great combination of speed, power, and defensive skills that make him special. Ultimately he’ll end up at shortstop when J.J. Hardy’s stay is finished. The O’s are lucky to have him.
9) 2B, Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty can play a lot of positions and has shown surprising power at the plate. Worked in a platoon role with Robert Andino and Omar Quintanilla but ultimately I see the O’s trading some bullpen arms for an established second baseman or looking at a free agent.
The O’s worked with a patched together starting staff during the pennant race and playoffs and manager Buck Showalter should be proud of the productivity this rag tag bunch provided. Several starting candidates emerged and 2013 looks promising. My best guess at a rotation is:
1) Jason Hammel. Best pitcher on the staff but one leg injury away from another disaster.
2) Michael Gonzalez. Mentally tough as nails and pitched some great games down the stretch. Short track record but very promising.
3) Wei Yin Chen. Most starts of any O’s pitcher and went through a rough patch in mid-summer until the team put him on an extra day’s rest between starts. Immediately regained his early season effectiveness. Stamina is a question.
4) Chris Tillman. Got control of his mechanics down in triple-A and leveraged them into some very effective late season starts. 12 to 6 breaking ball is devastating when he controls it. Great potential but can he sustain mentally?
5) Dylan Bundy. Huge upside potential and got some good experience at three levels in the minor leagues. Bit of a risk bringing him right in without any triple-A experience. Mike Griffin, pitching coach at triple-A Norfolk has done a wonderful job with Chris Tillman, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz and it might make sense to give Bundy a full season of learning at Norfolk under his watchful eye, but his skills may be good enough for a spot on the big club. If not, Steve Johnson and Zach Britton are waiting in the wings for another chance.
Only two things are certain, Jim Johnson is the closer and Darren O’Day will be retained for probably the setup role. O’Day was fabulous late in the season and in the playoffs and just doesn’t get beat. Johnson throws a lot of strikes and pitches to contact, which is why he gives up hits and the occasional home run, which did the O’s in twice in the series against the Yanks. Johnson is very mentally tough and his 51-save effort this year is about the best you are going to see from him. Pedro Strop was very effective as the setup guy early in the season but faltered down the stretch with fits of wildness and loss of mental sharpness. He has so much talent and great stuff it’s hard to see them letting him go. Maybe he just needs to keep his cap on straight. . .
They have a glut of guys who can go long including Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrietta, and Brian Matusz, so I expect to see one or two of them traded, perhaps for a second baseman. They will need to keep either Matusz or Chris Patton as their left handed match-up guy but I’d expect to see some turnover with the best parts retained.
2013 looks to be an awesome season and the team has tremendous potential and several young stars that should blossom into the nucleus of some great Oriole teams for years to come. The future is looking bright. Let’s Go O’s!