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2010 Baltimore Orioles: Yeah, maybe in the AL Central.

BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 23, 2010


The last decade was the first full decade of the Peter Angelos Era in Baltimore. The Angelos Era has been a roundly derided one by Baltimore media and fans alike, and it has not been a era of success for the Baltimore Orioles franchise. Indeed, one begins to get the impression that the franchise has officially changed its name to “The Once-Proud Baltimore Orioles.” The Orioles won fewer than 70 games five times during the previous decade, and haven’t had a winning season since 1997.

2009 Standings - AL East
East W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
New York Yankees 103 59 .636 0 54-24 46-35 915 753 .588 67-41 36-18
Boston Red Sox 95 67 .586 8 56-25 39-42 872 736 .577 65-42 30-25
Tampa Bay Rays 84 78 .519 19 52-29 32-49 803 754 .529 54-48 30-30
Toronto Blue Jays 75 87 .463 28 44-37 31-50 798 771 .516 53-59 22-28
Baltimore Orioles 64 98 .395 39 39-42 25-56 741 876 .424 40-61 24-37

Will the new decade be any kinder to the Orioles? There are reasons to suspect that they will. Primarily, for the first time in the Angelos Era the Orioles seem content to build their team largely around farm-raised talent, rather than by signing high-priced free agents past their prime. At the dawn of a new decade, the Orioles have abundant talent ready to hit the big leagues. Whether it will be enough to summit the mighty AL East mount is another question altogether.
Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Miguel Tejada 3B
Garrett Atkins 1B
Kevin Millwood SP
Mike Gonzalez RP
a
Departed Pos.
Aubrey Huff 1B
Melvin Mora 3B
Rich Hill SP


Things to Know About the Baltimore Orioles in 2010

1. The Outfield

The Orioles have major league talent in all three outfield spots, and may sport the best overall outfield in the American League. It all starts with Adam Jones, who is the elite defensive centerfielder in baseball right now. Jones showed surprising pop in 2009, hitting 19 homeruns in 119 games before being felled by an ankle injury. At the age of 24, Jones could be a 30 homerun threat and a Gold Glover for years to come.

Nick Markakis is the type of hitter most baseball fans expect to see playing for the Boston Red Sox. He is a talented hitter with doubles power who can hit for average and also get on base. In 2009, he led the AL in games played and hit 45 doubles with 101 RBI and 94 runs scored, and it was a step backwards from his previous season. A rebound year from Markakis at the age of 26 could be spectacular.

Nolan Reimold begins the year in left field for the Orioles after starting in Triple-A last season. Reimold was a .900 OPS in the minors, and he has the power to hit 25-30 homeruns along with the ability to get on base in the .375-.400 range. This will be his chance to prove that he is an everyday leftfielder, which shouldn’t be too hard considering his main competition out there comes from Felix Pie.

2. Starting Rotation.

At the beginning of last season, I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to go to some Orioles minor league games so I could check out their Fab Five minor league starters. I never got the chance; by the end of August, all five of the pitchers were in the majors. Obviously, it would be absurd to expect a major league baseball team to be able to promote an entire rotation from the minor leagues all at once; nevertheless, having five potentially major league caliber starters does greatly increase the likelihood that at least a couple of them will stick, which is good because the Orioles finished dead last in baseball in runs allowed per game last year.


Brian Matusz

Perhaps the most talented of these guys is Brian Matusz, which is ironic since he is the most recently drafted of the five. The Orioles selected Matusz with the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, and all he did in his one season of minor league ball was go 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 113.0 innings pitched; he dominated A+ ball and then pitched even better in Double-A. He’s having a rocking spring, recently holding the Phillies lineup without a hit over five and a third innings.

Brad Bergesen joins Matusz as the two guys from this group likely guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Bergesen started 19 games for the O’s in 2009 and finished with a 3.43 ERA. He will simply have to improve his peripherals if he wants to succeed long term, as he gave up over a hit per inning and struck out about 4.7 batters per nine innings. He is a finesse guy, as he never overpowered anybody in the minors, but the Orioles think that he has what it takes to succeed as a finesse guy.

Baltimore Orioles Team Capsule

3/24/2010 - What Flavor Pie Is It Today? – Early in Felix Pie's professional career, many scouts compared him to Vladamir Guerrero. This act probably did more to discredit old school scouting than did Michael Lewis' Moneyball. After Pie stole 32 bases in 110 games in 2004, however, it seemed as though Pie could at least become an effective leadoff hitter type. Then, after managing only a .284 on-base percentage with the Cubs between 2007 and 2008, Pie's future seemed to be a fifth outfielder who came in to pinch run a lot.

Pie then went to Baltimore, which is ultimately where all Cub prospect busts wind up. Surprisingly, he became a league-average offensive player, as evidenced by his .763 OPS and 99 OPS+. Amazingly, however, in 101 games, Pie only managed to steal one base while being caught three times.

Will Pie change his offensive identity yet again in 2010? Stay tuned. --KG


Chris Tillman is a six-foot-five righthander who had a pretty poor showing with the O’s last season, but who has pitched beautifully in the minor leagues the last couple of seasons. He is a power guy who strikes out plenty of batters, but can get into trouble with both the homerun and the bases on balls. He really fell apart at the end of last season; he had a 4.24 ERA as late as September 1st before watching it balloon up to 5.40 over his final five starts.

David Fernandez and Jason Berken will likely be featured in the bullpen or in Triple-A in 2010. Fernandez had a classic “that stuff you get minor leaguers out with won’t fly in the majors” season in 2009. After averaging over ten strikeouts per nine innings during his minor league career, Fernandez struck out only 68 guys in 101.1 innings pitched and walked almost as many. Meanwhile, Berken saw only occasional success in the majors.

The young upstarts will be joined, for now anyway, in the rotation by Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie was terrible in 2009 (10-17, 5.04 ERA, 35 homeruns allowed), and is having a miserable spring, while Millwood had his first good season in four years (13-10, 3.67 ERA, 127 ERA+) for the Rangers last year, but recently “lowered” his spring ERA to 12.96. These veterans better be good clubhouse leaders, because they aren’t going to do much on the field this year.

3. Matt Wieters


Matt Wieters

Is it time to get Joe Mauer Excited about Matt Wieters? No, it is not. Is it time to get excited nevertheless? Yes. Wieters is a six-foot-five switch hitting catcher, for goodness sake. Wieters had an incredibly impressive, if brief, minor league career, and did some positive things in his 96 games with the O’s in 2009. Wieters improved as the season progressed, enjoying his best hitting in September (though, to be fair, that came on top of his worst month in August). Wieters will be the O’s opening day catcher, and his potential may be limitless.

4. The Return of Miguel Tejada

I have five points to make regarding Miguel Tejada:

5. Miguel Tejada may be the Chuck Klein of the steroid era. Obviously, Chuck Klein was a far better hitter during his peak than Tejada, but you can watch the arc of the steroid era by looking at Tejada’s career numbers the same way you can watch the arc of the wildly offense-inflated late 20’s-early 30’s era by looking at Chuck Klein’s numbers.

4. Note to major league baseball players playing in the AL East: as Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and now Miguel Tejada have proven, if you like playing ball in the northeastern United States, you will not like playing ball in Houston. Tejada becomes the latest AL East star to return to his former team after a stint in Houston, intent upon pretending that nothing happened.

3. Tejada will play third base for the Orioles this season, which brings about the question: with his career as a shortstop over, is Miguel Tejada a Hall of Famer? Both sides of the argument are tempting. At the end of the day, I think he could still make it on the strength of his eventually career numbers, right now I think three factors make him a definite “No”: 1) he was busted for performance enhancing drugs; 2) he is a power-hitter with underwhelming AVG/OBP/SLG numbers, and he has led the league in double plays five of the last six years; and 3) what he did as a shortstop was just too easy to come by during the era in which he played; he was probably the fifth best shortstop in the league during his career, at best.


Miguel Tejada 2.0

2. Last season, Miguel Tejada became the second player in baseball history to finish a season with exactly 199 hits twice. The other was Duke Snider. Only 23 players have ever done it even once. Imagine how much Tejada’s Hall of Fame credentials would be improved if he could say he’d had five 200-hit seasons instead of three.

1. Miguel Tejada will likely be an asset to the Orioles in 2010 because he won’t be playing shortstop, and Melvin Mora won’t be playing third base. Both of these are good things.

5. The Arrival of Mike Gonzalez

How long has it been since the Orioles had a credible closer? Well, to be fair, the question should be “How long has it been since the Orioles had a credible closer for two years in a row?” The Orioles have had lots of closers in the last decade – Jorge Julio, B.J. Ryan, Chris Ray, George Sherrill – but not since Julio has an Orioles closer lasted two full seasons. Enter Mike Gonzalez, who missed almost all of 2007 and half of 2008 with an elbow injury, but returned to the Braves full time in 2009 and struck out 90 batters in 74.1 innings and posted a 2.42 ERA. Gonzalez has been wicked throughout his seven seasons with the Braves and Pirates, and will be the best pitcher to occupy the closer role for the Orioles since Gregg Olson.

6. Cesar Izturis

Quick – how old is Cesar Izturis? Now that you have taken a guess, go to baseball-reference.com and find out. I’ll wait. . . . . I know! Isn’t that amazing?!?! How can Cesar Izturis only be 30 years old this year? Izturis will be 30 years old and playing in his tenth major league season in 2010. His journey through baseball has been epic – Toronto, LA for four years, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and then Baltimore; it’s not so much that he has been around for a long time as it is that he’s been around for a lot of teams.

Anyway, here is the problem with Cesar Izturis: when a team is playing in the AL East and competing with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who have good-to-great hitters at every position, having a Cesar Izturis play everyday really turns your lineup into an NL lineup. Izturis is probably one of the worst offensive players in the American League, and as great as his defense is, the Orioles really can’t afford his offense.

That was weird for me to say.

Other Notes and Comments Regarding the Baltimore Orioles

- Garrett Atkins is currently slated to start for the Orioles at first base. To me, this seems like a simply shocking lack of homework on the part of the Orioles. Atkins played five full seasons at third base in Colorado, during which time he went from what appeared to be one of the best players in the National League (2006) to one of the worst everyday players in all of baseball (2009). His career home/road splits are simply awful (.327/.892 vs. .252/.735), and he has suffered through injuries and inconsistency the last year or so. It is unfathomable that Atkins has a starting job in major league baseball this season.

- Meanwhile, the Orioles have Ty Wigginton listed on the depth chart as their backup third baseman. That’s who should be starting at first base (I mean, if it has to be one of them). Wigginton, while not great last year, outperformed Atkins significantly.

- Brian Roberts has missed most of the spring with a herniated disk in his back. 32 year old second baseman misses time due to a herniated disk? Not a good sign of things to come.

- Boy did Aubrey Huff ever rise and fall fast with the Orioles. In 2007 he had 15 homeruns and a 103 OPS+. Then he exploded for 32 homeruns, 108 RBI, and a 137 OPS+. Then, in 2009, he had 13 homeruns and a 90 OPS+ when he was traded to the Tigers. Yikes. Shockingly, he is only 33 years old this year, when he will have a miserable season for the San Francisco Giants.

Outlook for the Season

The Baltimore Orioles have a lot of good young talent and they haven’t gone out and blown a lot of money on gaudy free agents. That alone is a victory for this club, but playing in the best division in baseball behind two of the game’s big spenders (New York and Boston) and one of the game’s deepest rosters (Tampa) demands much more. The Orioles are building for the future, and if their starting pitchers and young catcher can develop well, they could suddenly find themselves dominating in a few years. But that is a big “if.”


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