Posted on: May 15, 2011 12:09 pm
There's no getting around it: the Orioles bullpen has been terrible this year. Its 4.92 ERA is good for 26th in MLB, and at times it has seemed like every relief pitcher was struggling simultaneously. Only five clubs in MLB have allowed more walks from their bullpen. The .258 BAA is 24th in MLB. I do, however, see reasons for optimism in this area as the season progresses. It may never be turned to the strength many thought it might be, but it could and should be a serviceable unit over the long haul. Why do I feel this way? Well, it might get long and circle back on itself, but I think my reasoning is sound.
It really starts, though, with this: The Orioles bullpen is sixth in MLB in innings pitched. After watching years of this team feature a bullpen with decent arms that starts getting shelled at some point in the season, I have come to realize more and more that, for the most part, to find a good bullpen one should look where the starting pitching is best, and where that starting pitching is lasting the longest. Obviously it's not going to be a 1:1 tradeoff, but at a glance the trend does seem to more or less hold. Why is that? Because for the most part, pitchers are in a bullpen because, compared to other MLB pitchers, they are average to bad. There are, of course, exceptions - but almost all of those are closers or setup men. Middle relief is middle relief because those guys aren't very good. Given a small sample size (fewer innings) they are more likely to have better numbers than if they pitch more often.
After three straight nine-inning starts, the bullpen is going to be rested. I think we are already about to see a localized drop in their ERA and an improved performance. That won't hold up if our next three starters go 3, 5, and 2 1/3 or something, but the last couple of days have been huge for that unit.
On a second note, I think we, as fans, have overreacted to a couple of bad performances by these guys. If we look at them one at a time, I think we will all take comfort in what we see.
Kevin Gregg has blown two saves in nine tries. That's not ideal, but here is a list of pitchers other than Greggwho have blown two or more saves this year:
Ryan Franklin, Cardinals (4)
Brandon Lyon, Astros (4)
Matt Thornton, White Sox (4)
Fernando Rodney, Angels (3)
Sean Burnett, Nationals (3)
Brandon League, Mariners (3)
Nick Masset, Reds (3)
Tyler Clippard, Nationals (3)
Ryan Webb, Marlins (3)
Craig Kimbrel, Braves (3)
Mariano Rivera, Yankees (2)
Kerry Wood, Cubs (2)
Rafael Betancourt, Rockies (2)
Joe Nathan, Twins (2)
Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (2)
Brian Fuentes, Athletics (2)
Jeremy Affeldt, Giants (2)
Matt Belisle, Rockies (2)
Bobby Jenks, Red Sox (2)
Chris Ray, Mariners (2)
Chris Resop, Pirates (2)
Clay Hensley, Marlins (2)
Matt Capps, Twins (2)
Carlos Marmol, Cubs (2)
Jose Veras, Pirates (2)
Jeff Fulchino, Astros (2)
Joakim Soria, Royals (2)
David Robertson, Yankees (2)
Jordan Walden, Angels (2)
Mike Dunn, Marlins (2)
Luke Gregerson, Padres (2)
John Axford, Brewers (2)
Fernando Abad, Astros (2)
Vinnie Pestano, Indians (2)
That's a list of 35 guys, including Gregg, representing 23 teams. Only seven MLB teams lack a pitcher with two ore more saves, and of those the Rangers, Mets, Blue Jays, and Diamondbacks all have three or more pitchers with one blown save. Only the Rays, Phillies, and Dodgers are in such good shape that they have had two or fewer pitchers blow only one save. I think that should give us some perspecive on where Gregg really stands among his peers. He isn't lighting the world on fire, but he's not close to the bottom of the barrel, either. Of the 34 pitchers listed above, 27 of them have worse ERAs for the season than does Kevin Gregg. Most of the damage was done in one bad outing on April 18th against the Twins...since that outing Gregg has pitched ten times and surrendered just one ER. So, we probably owe him a break at this point. Oh, and another tidbit: Gregg does have the lowest ERA among Orioles pitchers.
Koji Uehara is next in the O's bullpen in ERA, with an even 3. I am not so worried about him, to be completely honest. He's still the guy in this bullpen that I have the most confidence in when we hand him the ball. Consider: despite some struggles in late April/early May, his WHIP on the season is 0.93. He has struck out 18 batters while walking only 4. He hasn't walked a batter in May, so he looks to be back to pitching like himself, and all of th damage this month came on one swing. Since that outing, his ERA for the year has dropped by nearly a full run.
Jim Johnson has also struggled at times, pitching to an ERA of 4.05 out of the bullpen. And yet, his WHIP is an even 1.00 and he has a BAA of just .205. He has shown that he can be extremely effective at times while wildl ineffective at others. Well, isn't that what a bullpen pitcher usually is? A guy who isn't consistent enough to start but who can bring it on a given night? He's got some pitches that are simply nasty, and is still a valuable asset out there. He's the kind of guy who will win you some ballgames if used effectively, and one can tell almost right away if he has it based on whether his best pitch is working. I think Showalter is a good enough manager to make that work for us.
Jeremy Accardo is well behind his career numbers for the year. His 4.32 ERA is 0.34 high and his (atrocious) 1.62 WHIP is up by about the same total. Not that a 3.98/1.36 line is what you want to see, but this is a guy who has already appeared in half as many games (13) as in any year since 2007. He's not a guy I can guarantee we'll see a great improvement from...he had two great years, one awful year, and one virtual non-year while with Toronto...and so far, his numbers point to a mediocre but not awful year in Baltimore. BUT I firmly believe that the less we have to use him, the better those numbers will be.
With Jason Berken comes the point at which my thoughts begin to circle back on themselves. I don't think Jason Berken is good. I have always felt this way, and have virtually zero confidence in his abilities. The reason, in this case, that I think the bullpen is going to strengthen soon is that his innings will begin to be shared, and shared with someone better than Josh Rupe. Brian Matusz is about to return, and that return will push either Brad Bergesen (a pitcher coming off of a complete game, four-hit shutout) or Chris Tillman. Tillman is looking more and more like his destiny lies in the 'pen, but I think that could be a decent future. He seems to more often be the victim of a bad inning than sustained suck, and good managing (plus a little luck) can turn that to advantage in a reliever.
Michael Gonzalez, simply put, is just not going to be this bad over a full season. The last time he had a terrible ERA for a year was his first in the majors (2003 with Pittsburgh) when he appeared in just 16 games. Pitchers just don't, after 7 years in the lague, pitch to an ERA more than five runs above their career numbers. I just don't even acknowledge that as something that can happen. In his worst full season, Gonzalez had an ERA of 4.28, and if the 7.94 he's sitting on right now were to hold up it would be more than three and a half runs worse than that year. We just need to give him some time...this is a situation where, yeah, maybe he's not that good any more. However, even so he IS better than the numbers he has at this point in the year, and that wil prove out over the course of 162 games.
Clay Rapada. Well, I don't have a lot of positive things to say here. BUT an ERA of 11.12 is another number that isn't likely to sustain itself at that height. I would expect to see Rapada to continue to struggle, but I also expect him to be phased out with a healthy Brian Matusz. Similarly, we won't be relying on the awfulness of Chris Jakubauskas or Josh Rupe.
All of this boils down to: Our starters beginning to go deeper into games as they get into midsummer form, the return of Brian Matusz, the cutting of the chaff, and a couple of guys pitching like the pitchers they have been for their careers should minimize the problem that the Orioles bullpen has become in the early part of the season. I don't expect greatness out of this group, but I also am growing increasingly confident that they will be "good enough" through the dog days. Now, if only the bats would wake up...
Posted on: July 6, 2009 7:34 am
Edited on: July 29, 2009 3:59 pm
And I don't get lazy and stop halfway though...Then I'm about to have some words of one kind or another for you. I'm gonna cite your key stats, tell you what I think you're doing right and wrong, and then say what your value to the organization is going forward. Be warned: I'm only pleased with a few of you. So, without further adeiu, and in order of innings pitched:
Jeremy Guthrie, you've pitched to a 5.20 ERA and a 1.4 WHIP, and that's not something I expected out of the guy who was second to Johan Santana in QS over the two prior seasons coming in. Your 19 HR allowed scare me. However, you still find the strike zone more often than not to the tune of a 2-1 K/BB ratio. You're trying too hard, something that's been thoroughly analyzed by fans at this site. You try to make every pitch the perfect pitch; consequently when you miss it's a meatball and it lands over the fence. Other than all the HR, you look like the ace I remember, so I think we need to keep you in the organization for at least a few more years. Your arm comes cheap compared to similar hurlers, and frankly you're our only veteran.
Brad Bergesen, you're one of four Orioles starters to win his MLB debut this season, and the only pitcher besides Guthrie to throw more than 90 innings so far. Your 3.53 ERA and 1.16 WHIP means you've been the team's best starter, and you do it without walking people too much. This organization needs pitchers who can find the strike zone and keep a good head on their shoulders. You're going deep in games and truly dealing. Your future is here and it's in the rotation.
Koji Uehara, your 4.05 ERA and 1.25 WHIP look OK on the surface, but the telling stat is when your numbers are split by time through the order. You're excellent the first time through, below average the second time through, and god-awful the third time through. They're figuring out your stuff and you're not adjusting. However, you are stirking out four times the batters you're walking, and those are great numbers to have for a team that has struggled mightily with walks for the better part of a decade. You belong as an Oriole, but your inability to adjust to hitters and to hold up with a high inning count means you need to be middle relief (when you get healthy). In that role you could be very effective for a contending team, and so I think the brass needs to recognize this and keep you around.
Mark Hendrickson, The 4.86 ERA you've posted looks pretty bad on the surface. However, as a reliever (3.20) it's better than 3 runs down from as a starter (6.32). Once you were moved to the bullpen, you became effective. Your stuff just isn't that great, but you have a career of moderate success and for a struggling organization that's valuable. I don't think you have long-term value to the Birds, but for this year and perhaps one or two more your veteran presence and ability to go out and throw multiple innings, including spot-starts if necessary, is nice to have around.
Brian Bass, we're just past the halfway point and you hae a 4.71 ERA and 1.59 WHIP...the fact that you still rank in top 5 on the team in innings (and the secondary fact that it's below 50) tells us something about the state of our pitching. You did have a couple of effective months, but like most mediocre relievers you are streaky. Your stuff isn't great, and frankly you're just taking up a roster spot since we have several guys who could pitch to those numbers in long relief. Unlike some of the other pitchers, you don't make up for your mediocre numbers by throwing strikes.
Rich J. Hill, you have a 7.43 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. You've walked 31 batters (most on the team) and only struck out 39. The raw ability we've heard about just doesn't seem to be there. You don't command any pitch but your fastball, and it doesn't have great life. You have a curve, but more than half the time you can't get it working. You're wild, and are really the only truly wild starter left on the roster. All of that combines to suggest that the Orioles should be done with you. Perhaps you can get your stuff figured out in another organization.
Danys Baez, despite your 4.5 ERA you have at times been the O's most effective reliever. After your surgery your fastball has newfound life, but like all pitchers who rely on one pitch you are sometimes vulnerable to good hitters sitting on that pitch. One of the great moments of the season was when you blew one fastball right by a sick Ryan Howard only to have him jack the next one. I don't blame you; it sure didn't look like he could catch up to your stuff. I'm unsure if you have more value to the Orioles via trade or kept on for several years as a mid-to-late reliever.
Adam Eaton, I have little to say. Your time has come and gone to the tune of an 8+ ERA and 1.83 WHIP. While you were acquiring these numbers you had all of one successful outing which came when you were saving your job...which only served to convince the organization to keep you one or two starts longer than it should have.
Jason Berken, you had a great first start, winning your debut like so many have for us this season. However, since your ERA has bloated up to 6.25. What I see from you is flat stuff that is good enough to foll hitters no more than once a game. I like the head you've got on your shoulders, because you've shown composure, but I don't think it's a good enough head for you to be crafty enough to get MLB hitters out consistently with what appears to be average stuff. I think the organization should be patient with you in case I'm wrong, but I doubt there'll be much value in keeping you with the parent club in 2010.
Jim R. Johnson, I don't think the 3.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP are indicative of how truly effective you have been for the most part...your numbers, like many short relievers, are highly inflated by your limited innings. Hitters are frequently simplay outmatched by your stuff, and frankly I think it's between you and Chris Ray for the best ability among Orioles relievers (and you've been harnessing it to greater effect). I, for one, would be most upset if the FO elected to part ways with you.
Matt Albers, while your ERA is close to 4 we're finally starting to see signs that you're the pitcher you were before your injury. Batters hit about .400 against you in April, while in June that number was down to .250. I still get the sense from watching you that you haven't pitched enough innings to be quite right again, but I think the O's should hang on to you because it wouldn't surprise me to see the hurler they had in early 2008 re-emerge for good.
I have again run out of time, at about the halfway point of this analysis. I will again return and complete my evaluation shortly.
EDIT: Way too late to update this and have the rest of the numbers make any sense. Oh well, there's half of the pitching staff.
Posted on: May 15, 2009 12:21 pm
Edited on: May 15, 2009 4:46 pm
This decade, most years the Orioles have been among the leaders in MLB in issuing the base on balls almost every year, it seems. They've also been below .500 for that whole span. I thought there was certainly a correlation there. That the free passes were a major contributor to high ERAs and thus losses. All of this seemed a natural thing to assume. It seemed like a walk was scoring and breaking the team's back every night...but th evidence of this year seems to point in the opposite direction. This year, the Orioles are issuing many fewer walks, and are in fact among the better staffs in that category. Yet they remain in last place, and in May are already quite a few games below .500. Do walks really not matter as much as I'd thought, or is there some other variable that I've yet to discover offsetting the improvement in walks? O's fans, let's investigate.
For one thing, the staff has allowed the second-most home runs in baseball (most in the AL)...but they were doing so last year while also issuing all those walks, so this wouldn't seem to be the variable we're looking for. They're also leading baseball in BAA, which may be the factor; after all, if the baserunners are getting on they're getting on, regardless of the method. Still, the Orioles were 28th of 30 teams in THAT category in 2008, and walks are down more than this BAA is up. It seems there isn't a simple answer. What is producing this maddening result? How can more control be leading to a higher team ERA? Breaking down each pitcher may be the only way to reach the truth of the matter.
Jeremy Guthrie: Guthrie has issued 16 walks in his 46.2 IP, good for about a 3 BB/9. Not great, to be sure...still, it's much better than the average Baltimore pitcher from last year, who issued 4.35 per 9. So why has Guthrie's ERA ballooned to 5.21? Well, Guthrie is among the league leaders in XBH allowed, and has allowed 98 total bases, second only to Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins. That certainly solves the mystery in his case. The ace of a pitching staff should not be sniffing the top of those categories.
Koji Uehara: He's walked but 7 batters all year, good for a 1.48/9 IP mark. Not too shabby. Only one guy with at least 40 innings (Kevin Slowey) has managed better. And yet, Koji is saddled with a 4.01 ERA and 2-3 record. So what's this guy doing wrong? Well, I know from watching that it seems every time he comes out of the game the 'pen lets his runners score. His run support isn't great, especially from a lineup averaging pretty good numbers. He has a pretty smart WHIP of 1.13. Uehara is the victim of a few homers (6), a bad bullpen, and unfortunate run support. Part 2 of mystery solved.
Mark Hendrickson: Here is the easiest of the starters to figure out. For one thing, He's walking 4.13 per 9, not all that far below the team average last year. For another, he's given up 42 hits and 7 HR in just 28.1 innings...bringing his WHIP to a staggering 1.94. Simply put, he isn't throwing like a major league starter. This is one fifth of the rotation that is no mystery at all.
Adam Eaton: Eaton actually has a similar problem to that of Hendrickson; up over 4 BB/9, and a higher ERA but lower WHIP. So actually, make that 2/5 of the rotation that aren't mysteries. It begins to come clearer what's going on.
Brad Bergesen: Bergesen is issuing a little more than two and a half free passes per nine. Pretty good. So what's HIS problem? Well, for one thing, he ranks 156th among pitchers with at least 20 innings in BAA, at .348. .348!! That's horrendous. He has an excuse because he's learning, and I'll take a rookie giving up hits and not walking people over the alternative, but one need look no further than that number to solve Beresen's part of the mystery.
Alfredo Simon: Simon only put together 2 starts before his injury, but he only lasted 6.1 innings total and walked 2 (works out to about 3 per game). He isn't really worth mentioning, but is here in the interest of completeness. His OPS against was 1.242...
After a look at the starters, a picture begins to emerge. 3 of the 5 starters are much better than the Orioles' staff was last year in this important category, but the other two are only marginally better. Still, it is worth noting that all 6 men who have started games for the Birds this season have walked fewer per nine than the O's did collectively last season. So one would expect improvement in the ERA, but instead we're seeing inflation (overall ERA from 5.13 to 5.44; starters' ERA from 5.51 to 5.62). When examined closer, though, Guthrie's extra-base hits, Uehara's hard luck, and Bergesen's hits begin to make sense of the mess.
Still, the starters so far are responsible for only 54% of the walks over 60% of the innings...which means both that the bullpen has been doing worse in this area and that the 'pen has been a significant contributor to the team's ERA and losses. Taking a look at the bullpen numbers, the ERA is up almost a run over last year, and they are walking about 3.8 per 9 in '09. That's fully 1 less walk per game than the number that unit posted in 2008. Is the problem here similar to that in the rotation?
Well, collectively the league is hitting .298 off of Baltimore relievers. That number is up 30 points...but is that alone enough to account for 1 fewer walk per game? Well, working out the math says that the increased batting average accounts for 11 extra baserunners over the 123.2 innings worked by the 'pen this year. Over the same span, the decrease in walks has prevented about 14 baserunners...and so the high BAA isn't the whole story. It seems that in this case, the number worth looking at is the OPS against...which in 2009 is a whopping .860, good for last in baseball. That number is up a whopping 97 points from last years', more than enough to account for it.
What has all this investigation told us? Well, perhaps the obvious. All things being equal, fewer walks means fewer runs means more wins. It also tells me, though, that I was wrong in assuming that simply coaxing more strikes out of the staff as a whole can cause a ripple effect. I had always thought "if they'd just stop walking people, the rest will average out." So far, that simply hasn't happened. The single largest factor, as evidenced by Guthrie and the bullpen, working against that lower walk total is the staggering number of extra-base hits allowed by the Orioles (151 through 35 games). As Jim Palmer would likely say "well, there's throwing strikes, and then there's throwing quality strikes." Despite the ERA evidence from the first month and a half, I think the move to the first half of that statement is one step forward. Now if they can get personnel who can execute the second part, the Birds will be in business.
Posted on: March 31, 2009 1:11 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2009 1:19 pm
My thoughts on the Calipari-to-Kentucky business:
Coach Cal is a great coach going to a great program, so in that sense it's a good fit. Calipari does, however, have a past with a few question marks (in terms of rules violations) and has a distinct personality that I'm not sure translates perfectly to UK. The thing is, when you're a premier program your list of acceptable hires is short to begin with, so if you can agree to terms with a guy like Calipari you have to get it done.
What does it mean for Kentucky?
Honestly, it's difficult to say. It should bring stability and a new approach, on and off the court. It probably brings in some players Kentucky hadn't counted on that could go a long way toward getting right back in the tournament and doing some damage. But part of all this depends on what it means for Memphis.
So, what does it mean for Memphis?
I have already seen comments about Memphis's likely descent back into the regular ranks of CUSA as early as next season. I don't see that happening, to be honest. I certainly think they will be hard-pressed to keep the conference win streak in tact with a new coach, but they are still an attractive destination for coaches and players. The new hire they bring in will not have the track record of Calipari, but they certainly have the clout to pull off a great hire. The real question is: how much of that fantastic recruiting class bolts? That will help answer what this means for Kentucky as well. If Memphis can manage to convince a significant part of that class to return, and get another CUSA title with some damage done in March, it's possible that they could come out if this while hardly mising a step. If the class exits, en masse, to follow the coach...along with a current roster member or two...then the program could be in serious trouble, for the short term at least.
So, the burning question for both schools is: which players were coach-loyal, which were program-loyal, and whose minds can be changed? For Memphis there's the additional caveat: what recruits might their new hire bring along?
Every year when this coaching caousel begins, I get bothered by programs' lack of loyalty to their coaches, and by what a departing coach can do to a program. I don't understand the win-or-be-fired mentality at the college level, because frankly while we're educating kids we should be teaching them about sportsmanship rather than giving them a "winning is everything" attitude. This whole SOP extends all the way to recreational leagues for eight-year-olds, and frankly is part of why this nation's economy did what it did. (I won't go into the details of why I feel this way, as this is a sports site and I would have to leave the realm of sports to adequately explain my reasoning.) Aside from that, it's a real shame that when a coach departs it has to come with a significant loss of players as well...leaving a program potentially in shambles. I understand that the decommitting rules are in place to protect the kids - a noble goal - but I think perhaps they should be revisited. Better minds than I could perhaps find a more equitable way to change coaches.
Posted on: March 20, 2009 7:40 am
Edited on: March 20, 2009 1:50 pm
This year's NCAA Tournament Field features only 4 at-large bids from non power conferences. It's created a bit of a stir, including some comparisons to football's BCS system. Dick Vitale and Michael Wilbon are two experts of note to cry foul. While I agree in general terms that the little guy gets snubbed, this year I don't think that many more than four "mid-majors" deserved an at-large selection...and honestly it was quite hard to find 65 worthy teams, period. One also must consider that in this format, they supposedly get the best team from every conference. While the field may not contain the 40th or 50th best team (see Creighton, St. Mary's, San Diego State) it will contain teams somewhere around the 250th best (see Morehead State, Alabama State) to compensate. Now, of course when there's a conference tournament upset, the field may wind up with the second-best, or even the eighth best or so, team from some leagues while missing out on the best...but that's a product of the automatic bid rules and not the Selection Committee. I'm one who advocates modifying, rather than discarding, the automatic bids but that's a tangential point. A second argument for the little guys is that Memphis deserved one of the one seeds for being the only team with 3 or fewer losses. As we'll see later, I think Memphis was seeded exactly correctly and if anything is less talented than the best of the 3 seeds.
Consider this year's field, and how we got to so few non-power teams. First, Southern California and Mississippi State snagged unexpected bids for the 'BCS' leagues. Some conference winners like Temple and Cleveland State snagged bids, probably from more deserving little guys. Once the bracket came out, the only team in that really surprised anyone was Arizona...and maybe Wisconsin. While I find Arizona's inclusion a minor travesty, I still think they will either beat Utah or give them a tough game, and that very belief begs the question: is it really so out of line? The thing people are missing is that Arizona wasn't included because they play in the Pac 10. They were included because they're ARIZONA. It's an equally bad reason, but the distinction is important. I'm not sure why the college basketball world is turning a one-team argument into a conference argument. Returning to the other "surprise," I'll discuss Wisconsin in relation to the 3 closest representatives of the little guy. San Diego State got their profile by scoring one truly good win and avoiding any horrible losses. They added a second good win in the league tournament, but apart from that they really just beat a lot of teams below RPI 50. Now, I believe they should have been in over Arizona, partly because of a 3-game sweep of UNLV (whose RPI WOULD have been top 50 if not for those 3 losses) but stacked next to Wisconsin a case can be made that the Badgers did more to impress despite their lower RPI. Then there's Creighton, who notched zero top 25 wins, 2 top 50 wins, and lost twice to teams outside the top 100. Oh, one of their top 50 wins was RPI 47 Illinois State...a team that BEAT them twice in three chances and went on to lose the conference tournament. I'm sorry, but that's just not an NCAA tournament resume. Then there's St. Mary's, and frankly I don't see their argument either despite the nice win over Utah State. They had almost as many losses outside the top 100 (2) as they did wins against the top 100 (3). 3-4 against the RPI top 100 just isn't getting it done, injured player or not. So, what that all means is that, basically, the only real snub here was San Diego State being discarded in favor of Arizona...and let me now reiterate that that isn't really a league versus league decision.
So, in the sports world, how do we prove an argument most effectively? With results. And after a day of NCAA tournament games and a week of NIT games, I think we already have a few that are telling. What's happened so far to help my argument? In the NCAA Tournament, LSU handled Butler. Yes, the final score was close but the game was controlled by the Tigers from the opening tip. Remember that LSU didn't even win the league tournament of inarguably this year's weakest power conference, while Butler was one of those four at-large bids. Texas A&M simply outclassed BYU. This game wasn't close, and it wasn't pretty for the Cougars. Remember that Texas A&M is approximately the sixth best from the Big 12 and that BYU was another of those 4 at-large bids. It was an 8-9 game, so BYU was in just as good a position to win. Purdue beat Northern Iowa without much trouble, and UCLA beat VCU, also without much trouble despite a 1-point final...and there went two of the nation's favorite upsets. Note: that's the Northern Iowa team that wound up winning Creighton's league. At the top of the NCAA field, Memphis and others made the case that the Tigers were not worthy of a one seed. While Memphis struggled with Cal State-Northridge, winning by 11 only because of a very late surge the following happened elsewhere: Connecticut won by 56 without its coach, North Carolina won by 43 without its best player, and Fellow 2 seeds Duke and Oklahoma won by 24 and 28, respectively.
Then down in the NIT, Notre Dame (10th-12th best in the Big East) has beaten UAB (third best from CUSA) and New Mexico (4th or 5th best in MWC). Penn State (8th best in the Big Ten) has beaten George Mason (second best in the Colonial) and Rhode Island (among the tops in the A-10). Of the four losers above, three of them are close to the top of three of the best non-power conferences. Extending the NIT angle a bit, Kentucky, Auburn, and Florida (about 4th-6th in the SEC, again the weakest power conference) have beaten UNLV, Tennessee-Martin, and Jacksonville. Virinia Tech beat A-10 runner-up Duquesne.
Is there a results-based counterargument? Of course, but it's weaker. Davidson beat South Carolina...but remember that Davidson was purportedly the best team from the Southern Conference while South Carolina was the seventh-best the SEC had to offer. New Mexico beat Nebraska, but this is another case of the top half of one league beating the bottom half of another...and the Lobos only split in two such games. St. Mary's beat Washington State, but here the same argument applies. St. Mary's is clearly the second-best the WCC had to ofer while Washington State was at best 6th in the Pac 10. Tulsa beat Northwestern...and are we noticing a trend? 2nd-best in CUSA versus 9th-best in the Big Ten. That leaves just one game for the little guy to hang its hat on so far, and that's Western Kentucky over an Illinois team playing without one of its team leaders. I suppose you could look at the lone BCS team to lose in the CBI or CIT (St. John's to Richmond) but this is an especially weak argument since other, better BCS teams (including Cincinnati from the Red Storm's own league, for example) refused bids to these tournaments. Oregon State is the only other such team in one of those tournaments. They beat Houston.
Now, I love the little guy and will be a staunch advocate for their inclusion in general. I get tired of them getting the shaft. But I still feel that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee gets it right for the most part. This year their decision to invite mostly power-conference teams is looking better and better, aside from the one very glaring snub. I don't make this case lightly, because at one point I thought the Mountain West was the first non-power conference ever to have a solid agument over the best power league...but as things have worked their way out I see that I was wrong on that score.
Posted on: March 8, 2009 12:13 am
Edited on: March 8, 2009 12:56 am
Well, I previewd the Big East season what seems both like eons ago and yesterday. So how did I do? Am I an idot, a genius, or something in between? In other words, should you take anything I say about the Big East tournament? Well, it's time to grade myself!
What I said:
Lovingly copied and pasted from my earlier entry. Overall, not too shabby.
What happened, and my grades:
Final Big East standings
1. Louisville 16-2 (correct) [A+] I think I nailed this one in every way. Picked them, and for the right reason. They were too good to not take advantage of a little more favorable schedule than the other frontrunners.
2. Pittsburgh 15-3 (plus one) [A-] I don't penalize myself much because I was a game away from getting 2 and 3 right...I had the right two teams, in the right order, and I think assuming a split in games between top 5 teams is perfectly reasonable.
3. Connecticut 15-3 (minus one) [A-] See above.
4. Villanova 13-5 (plus two) [B-] I was pretty close on Nova, but dead wrong on Notre Dame...and so the grade for THIS team is still reasonably high.
5. Marquette 12-6 (plus three) [D] I was wrong about what this team was capable of without any size. They would have a double bye if James hadn't been hurt (I think they go 2-2 or even 3-1 down the stretch without him) and I cannot take any extra credit for being right that they'd struggle at the end sine they probably wouldn't have healthy.
6. Syracuse 11-7 (minus two) [B] Well, I was basically at coin-flip status on whether Cuse or Nova would sneak into the top 4..and I picked the wrong one. But, Cuse did finish in the top third to make me look like less of an idiot.
7. West Virginia 10-8 (correct) [A+] I got another one right! this one I take credit for, because I was one of few people I saw willing to pick the Mountaineers higher than the 9th or so most folks said. They always exceed expectations, and this year they have more talent (though much of it is young) than most are aware.
8. Providence 10-8 (plus one) [A] I think I deserve a lot of credit for picking Providence to finish ninth, even though they in fact finished eighth, because ninth was better than most gave them, and the only reason I had them at 8 instead of nine was a very reasonable assumption that Notre Dame would finish in the top half of the league. I'm only penalizing myself for ND once.
9. Cincinnati 8-10 (plus two) [C] I didn't think cincinnati could finish this high after all those injuries, and they were a couple of "shouldv'e hads" here at the end from serious NCAA tournament contention. I give them a ton of credit, but me little credit since I thought their injuries were killer.
10. Notre Dame (minus five) [D-] I don't give myself an "F" because I DID have them out of the top 4 and I said "they are capable of losing to (St. John's) or beating (Louisville) anyone. I had no idea they'd wind up THIS bad with that much talent, though.
11. Seton Hall (correct) [A] I remember when some Pirates fans called me out for picking them to finish outside the top ten in the league and being the last team from the league into the NIT...
12. Georgetown (minus two) [A+] OK, I didn't get the spot exactly right, because Cincy surprised me a little, but man was I right about this team. I don't have to eat all that crow I was afraid I'd have to eat! Go me! (Really, I'm proud of this pick...I even called Gary Parrish out when he counted GTown as one of his favorites to win the National Title, saying "I'm not convinced they're even one of the top 8?[forget the number] teams in the Big East')
13. St. John's (plus one) [C+] I said the right things about them, but I'm mad at myself because I picked them to finish in this spot first but changed my mind before posting, instead giving the spot to Rutgers...
14. South Florida (plus two) [C] I was wrong, but not all that wrong. Gilchrist was a bigger shot in the arm than I thought, and they were WAY better than DePaul.
15. Rutgers (minus two) [C+] I'm surprised with this low a finish, because they had some pieces in place to be better than this. Still, I wasn't that far off on my pick.
16. DePaul (minus one) [B] I didn't pick them dead last like I should've, but that's as much due to my error in judging the Bulls. Why is a team with Koshwal and Tucker this bad?
That gives me a GPA of (with + and - counting for a third) of 2.95...so it's a "B" minus. Not great, but not too bad when predicting an 18-game leagu season with an unbalanced schedule. I feel pretty smart, but not ingenious. A genious would've broken the right way on Cincy, St. John's and been a little closer on Notre Dame.
Also, I picked: 9 teams NCAA, 2 teams NIT, and one team CBI. I think instead we will see 8 teams NCAA (I think Provy sneaks in, and if not there's room for BE tourney damage from the next three) and 4 teams NIT (how can the NIT NOT take the BE leftovers...espcially with Seton Hall's season-ending win over cincy?). So I had the right total (12) of postseason teams but drew the line in the wrong place. Now that that new retardo tournament for the basketball impaired has been announced, I think there's a good chance St. John's lands there...but I couldn't have known about that silliness when I picked.
The next set of predictions:
Big East Tournament Opening Round
10 Notre Dame defeats 15 Rutgers. Notre Dame is desperate to get through this thing and frankly better than Rutgers.
11 Seton Hall defeats 14 South Florida. The Pirates have more playmakers, and would probably like to play in the NIT over the CBI.
12. Georgetown defeats 13 St. John's. Another desperate team facing an opponent with less talent.
Big East Tournament Second Round
9 Cincinnati defeats 8 Providence. OK, I contradicted myself. I said PC would get into the dance, and they probably won't if they lose this one. Still, it's tough to beat a team thrice in a year.
10 Notre Dame defeats 7 West Virginia. I struggled with this pick, but ultimately I take the team in more dire need. ND is good when they play together.
6 Syracuse defeats 12 Seton Hall. Boeheim has his players getting the most of their abilities now, and as such they will be too much for the Pirates.
5 Marquette defeats 12 Georgetown. Even James-less The Eagles are pretty good.
Big East Tournament Quarterfinal Round
1 Louisville defeats 9 Cincinnati. Despite claims otherwise, they are worthy of the top seed...Pitt and UConn are perhaps better, perhaps not, but U of L is Final Four caliber and Cincy is not on that level.
2 Pittsburgh defeats 10 Notre Dame. I don't think the Irish have a win this big in them playing a rested Pitt team after playing two of their own. I pick Pitt over WVU here if that happens too...though as I said, three wins against one team is hard.
6 Syracuse defeats 3 Connecticut. I went against my better judgment on this one because Cuse does play well in the Garden.
4 Villanova defeats 5 Marquette. These teams were evenly matched when James was healthy, so now I think the 'Cats have a big edge.
Big East Tournament Semifinal Round
2 Pittsburgh defeats 6 Syracuse. Pitt is the only team who plays better here than the Orange, and they make it 8 of the last 9 championship games.
1 Louisville defeats 4 Villanova. As long as T-Will stays hot I think this is a safe pick.
Big East tournament Championship
2 Pittsburgh defeats 1 Louisville. Homer? Not really. I just think Pitt was left with a sour taste in its mouth after losing a tight one at Freedom Hall, and they always come to play in the BE tournament. And really, when was the last time Pitt didn't lose to U of L in the regular season only to avenge it in the conference tournament? This time, it's for the championship.
Posted on: February 18, 2009 12:24 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2009 12:27 pm
So, entering Spring training the Orioles have two sure answers for their opening day 5-man rotation and a wealth of solid options in the bullpen. What they have beyond that is an astounding number of question marks, and it's hard to see them being immediately competitive (or even climbing out of last place this season) because of that. However, it seems to me that Andy MacPhail and the rest of the front office are doing exactly what they need to to get better in the long run. They have solidified all of the positions on the field and spots in the lineup, right down to the bench and acquired a wealth of young (and not-so-young) arms to experiment with. Now the Orioles will have a year or two of evaluation, to hone things down to a solid starting staff of the future, and 2 or 3 years from now will be the time to supplement all this great young talent with a big Free Agent signing or three to get them over the hump. This is all, of course, provided they evaluate the talent they have properly and bring it through the organization at the right pace and with the right mindset. With some coaching staff adjustments and a trend toward more control, the O's are in a very good position to do that.
Now to the immediate problem: The Orioles have 27 pitchers on their Spring Training Roster, and 10 more as non-roster invitees. So how do you hone 37 guys down to a 13 man staff, and 5 starters, in a month? It is clear that the 13 guys they begin the season with will not be the same 13 they end the season with, as more younger guys will get a shot if they fare well in the minors, but who do they break camp with? This is my attempt to sort out the madness before any live competition takes place.
I'll start, just like the O's will, with the list of 37 players.
On the Roster
Wow. That's quite the list of names. For non-Orioles fans I'm sure few of them jump out as great options, but there is a TON of upside attached to a number of those names. But who's ready?
Step 1 - The Obvious Stuff
Now it's time to begin whittling down the list. Some of this process will be easy, but in a way it will make the next couple steps even more difficult.
1A. Locks for the rotation:
Koji Uehara (we didn't sign him to pitch in the minors)
1B. Locks for the bullpen:
Danys Baez (I know they've said they'll look at him for a starting role, but after the injury and a career as a reliever, with all the guys the O's have acquired, I'm just not Baeing it).
Jim Johnson (Some have tabbed him as a potential starter, but the way he pitched in his relief role last year tells me that would be a mistake. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)
Chris Ray (I can't wait to see if he's the pitcher he was before he got hurt.)
Dennis Sarfate (I suppose he COULD get upstaged by someone else, but his experience is invaluable)
George Sherrill (Who will be the closer? Personally, I like Ray in the ninth with Sherril and/or Johnson in the 8th)
Jamie Walker (I could see him being released or traded sometime this year, but with this much experience we'll break camp with him on the parent club)
1C. locks for the team:
Mark Hendrickson (he's a special case and will wind up in either a starting or long-relief role, depending on how the Spring goes. I'd put Albers here but he may need to rehabilitate in the minors first)
So, that leaves the Orioles with a shorter list of players competing for a short list of spots. Nine spots on the team seem guaranteed with 4 remaining...either 3 rotation slots and one reliever or two and two, depending on how Hendrickson's value is determined. It sounds less overwhelming put this way, until one realizes that there are 28 names vying for those 4 spots. Yikes!
Step 2 - Sorting out the relievers from the starters
Keep in mind that this is based primarily on what they've done so far in their careers...many of the "starters" could end up pitching in relief at some point or vice versa, but I think there's a good chance that a career starter won't break camp in the MLB bullpen or vice versa.
Brian Bass, Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Chorye Spoone, Chris Waters, Jake Arrieta, Andy Mitchell, Chris Tillman
Matt Albers (because of the injury - he could start later in the season), Jim Hoey, Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Wilfrido Perez, Alfredo Simon, Alberto Castillo, Scott Chiasson, Fredy Deza, Brad Hennessey, Ryan Keefer, John Parrish, Ross Wolf
So it looks like an even split with 14 guys competing for the last spots in each role. Time to thin the herd a bit.
Step 3 - Identifying the top candidates to start
3A. Who's (definitely) not ready:
Brian Matusz He should progress quickly but has virtually no professional innings under his belt. Not a guy to break camp with.
Troy Patton Love the kid's upside, but let's see how he pitches in AA or AAA before we promote him. Injuries like his need time to evaluate.
Chorye Spoone He's been highly touted within the organization, but he has put up mediocre numbers at the lower levels and we have far too many pitchers with more upside than him for Spoone to realistically have a shot.
Jake Arrieta Great numbers so far and great potential, but he's only pitched at A Frederick. Can't wait to see him, but the O's need to avoid rushing him.
3B. Who might not be ready:
Three guys had fantastic numbers at AA Bowie but have not yet pitched above that level. They are Bradley Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Chris Tillman. A fourth guy has had some success in a couple seasons at AAA Norfolk (Andy Mitchell) but is a non-roster invitee for a reason. I personally don't see any of these guys cracking the opening day roster unless they have dazzling Spring numbers.
3C. So, your contenders are:
Brian Bass, Rich Hill, Radhames Liz, David Pauley, Hayden Penn, and Chris Waters. None of them has great MLB numbers, but all have experience at the big show. As I've said, any of the four guys under 3B could surpass the field and get a spot, but I consider them long shots who may deserve a chance later in the season.
3D. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I think Rich Hill, Chris Waters, and Brian Bass deserve to make the cut...with Bass being the odd man out of Hendrickson is tabbed as a starter. I think Trembley will select Rich Hill, Hayden Penn, and Mark Hendrickson as his opening-day 5 (in unknown order) but personally I don't see Penn turning his career around in Baltimore and I think Hendrickson would be more valuable in the bullpen.
Step 4 - Identifying the top candidates for the 'pen
4A. Injuries to think of:
My heart tells me to put Matt Albers straght onto the MLB roster because he's a great kid with talent and success at this level. My brain tells me he needs to start the season in the minors and work his way back from that injury. Since he elected therapy instead of surgery, he needs to work back slowly.
Jim Hoey is also working his way back from injury, and his MLB numbers are terrible even before that. Kid needs seasoning and rehab.
4B. Need more time:
Scott Chiasson He simply hasn't performed well in the NL, and needs to pitch in the minors first.
Fredy Deza Promising numbers last year but only in 6 games.
Ross Wolf Same as Chiasson
4C. The other long shots:
As with the starters, the folks listed here would need excellent Springs to make the team. They are Wilfrido Perez (great at AA with no MLB experience), Alfredo Simon (mediocre and limited MLB numbers), and Ryan Keefer (his ERA wasn't very good in the minors as a reliever).
4D. So your contenders are:
Bob McCrory, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller, Alberto Castillo, Brad Hennessey, and John Parrish.
4E. My favorites and my prediction:
Personally, I like Brad Hennessey and Mark Hendrickson to take the last two bullpen slots out of camp. However, as I noted above, I think Trembley will tab Hendrickson as a starter, and probably select John PArrish as his last reliever (along with Hennessey). A final thought is that Bob McCrory and Kam Mickolio seem to be much better than their lofty ERAs at the MLB level indicate. Keep in mind that McCrory has had two bad outings, and started with a 108 ERA by allowing 4 runs to TB in .1 innings. Any time you shave 93 points off of your ERA you're moving in the right direction. Mickolio had a similar spike in ERA (at 27) but has consistently brought it down since.
Well, I hope you stayed with me through all that blab, O's fans, and I hope you have found them interesting and useful in making sense out of the Spring. Please comment with any thoughts you may have. What did I miss? Who do you like that I didn't tab? Who do I like that you thinkis terrible? Please, weigh in.
Tags: Alberto Castillo, Alfredo Simon, Andy Mitchell, Baltimore, Bob McCrory, Brad Hennessey, Bradley Bergesen, Brian Bass, Brian Matusz, bullpen, Chorye Spoone, Chris Ray, Chris Tillman, Chris Waters, Danys Baez, David Hernandez, David Pauley. Hayden Penn, Fredy Deza, George Sherrill, Jake Arrieta, Jamie Walker, Jeremy Guthrie, Jim Hoey, Jim Miller, John Parrish, Kam Mickolio, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, Matt Albers, Orioles, Radhames Liz, Rich Hill, Ross Wolf, Ryan Keefer, Scott Chiasson, Spring Training, starting rotation, Troy Patton, Wilfrido Perez
Posted on: February 16, 2009 11:07 am
What a game scheduled for tonight. Jerome Dyson's injury takes just a little bit off the luster of this game, but this is two teams deservedly in the top 5 full of players with superlatives going toe-to-toe for favorite status is one of the toughest leagues ever. The winner probably gets a stranglehold on a 1 seed in March, and heck, the loser stays in line for one provided they can split the two games these teams will play. So how will it turn out? It's so close that a lot of things need to be considered. Here's how the matchups work 1-5:
PG LeVance Fields versus AJ Price
I give the edge to Fields, because he leads the nation in Assist to Turnover ratio and is on an incredibly hot streak (56 assists to 6 TOs in the last 5 games) He has had 13 or more assists in three of those. Price is a little bit better scorer, though, so it's not a really huge edge.
SG Jermaine Dixon versus Kemba Walker/Craig Austrie
This one's a push for me. Dyson would've given a big edge to the Huskies, but without him Walker and Austire will need to step up. They are capable, but Dixon has come on in Big East play and found his shot...and he's a second weapon to really drive in to the basket.
SF Sam Young versus Jeff Adrien
The fact that these two guys aren't the key matchup of the game shows just how good these teams are. I give the edge to Young because both guys are averaging a double-double but Young has significantly more points, and he can get anyone to bite on that ball fake. Like the previous positions, though, it's close.
PF Tyrell Biggs versus Stanley Robinson
This one goes to Robinson. Biggs is a quality player, but inconsistent...so is Robinson, but his good is a little beter and his bad isn't as bad. The game may hinge more on the play of these two guys than most realize.
C DeJuan Blair versus Hasheem Thabeet
This is the matchup everyone's been looking for (outside of either of these guys vs. Blake Griffin, maybe). Both are the best in the nation at something (Blair at offensive rebounds, Thabeet at shot blocking). I think Blair is the better scorer with better touch, but Thabeet's presence will certainly neutralize at least some of that. Both kids are true athletes, and the matchup should be great to watch but is too close to call. IF the game is called tightly, the edge here goes to UConn because they work the whistle better than any team in the country and Blair has noted problems with ticky-tacky fouls. All else being equal, I'll give it to Thabeet.
So, among the starters 2 Pitt players and 2 Connecticut players have an edge in my opinion, but all 5 are very close battles...These teams are strong at the same positions but in different ways. It makes this almost the perfect basketball matchup.
Moving to the bench, though, there are still some interesting matchups. I'd have easily given the edge to the Huskies were Dyson still healthy, but now I'm not so sure. In fact, it seems to swing the other way for me because it emasn that either Walker or Austrie will not be the sixth man.
Pittsburgh's bench features Gilbert Brown, who hasn't lived up to his potential thus far but is a very talented athlete who finally started making an impact recently, Brad Wannamaker who's a bit of a surprise of late, Ashton Gibbs who has the best 3-pt. percentage in the Big East (though he barely qualifies), Gary McGhee who will get destroyed by Thabeet but can hold his own against the Husky bench, and Nasir Robinson who may get some minutes if McGhee has it rough.
Connecticut's bench, however, features Kemba Walker (unless it's Austrie) who may be the best freshman guard in the league, Gavin Edwards, who has played some quality minutes and is something like Wannamaker in potential, Scottie Haralson who hasn't really been scoring, and a bunch of role-players averaging less than a point per game. So the Dyson injury really hurts this team in terms of depth, and the bench edge now goes to Pitt.
Even though I have the starting 5 basically even and give the bench edge to Pitt, I can't pick my Panthers to win this tough road game. The reason is that I'm not sure Connecticut will NEED many minutes from their bench because their starters are almost never in foul trouble. Pitt, on the other hand, plays a very physical game that may land them in foul trouble, especially on the road against the team with the best FT differential in the league. If it goes down that way, several minutes will be Pitt's reserves against Connecticut's starters...and Pitt's bench, while strong, is not nearly as good as UConn's fantastic starting lineup. Final Pick: