A west coast trip for the Nationals, and a car accident: What are the reasons this article is up a day late. Now that I have a rental car (almost) and my brain is slowly starting to re-fire after a good night’s sleep, let’s stare at the Scarlett Johansson picture for a few seconds and then dig in.
Preorder your World Series tickets:
My benchmark for the home stand was 4-2, and the O’s went ahead and upped it to 5-1. Now the real test starts with the brutal schedule I alluded to last week. For the next 6 games, the Orioles will be sampling the various chowders of the Northeast. They then return home to face Texas (currently at their Chuck Norris best), and the Rays (currently atop the division unbeknownst to the people of Tampa).
In numbers you already knew without me telling you, those are the top 4 teams in RBI’s in the American League. I’m not saying temper your expectations, because the Orioles are playing well and you should ride the wave until it flattens out. What I AM saying is, be realistic. There are going to nights that starting pitchers get lambasted because the margin for error will be miniscule and the degree of difficulty will be gigantic. Texas and Boston don’t DO pitching duels just like Earnie Shavers didn’t DO decisions.
So what the staff (and the team in general) needs to do is clean up the mistakes. Keep the walks nicely trimmed (I’m looking at you Brian Matusz, AND your 5.66 BB/9. Tommy Hunter is also in the corner of my eye) and take out the errors where necessary (Days since Mark Reynolds has played 3rd: 3. This number needs to keep getting higher).
Although I leaned on the fantasy quality start stat last week, what the Orioles need now are real world quality starts. The one’s measured by the question “did you give your team a chance to win the game?” Arrieta’s against the Yankees was definitely one, and Hammel definitely got the ball rolling last night. Let’s break down the pitching staff by how well I think they’ll be able to navigate this tough stretch.
Might as well have a GPS:
Does anybody else secretly watch Chopped like me? Good, this will make more sense. I see Wei-Yin Chen and Brian Matusz as two Chopped contestants. They have the same ingredients and materials (good changeup, 89-91 mph fastball, sweeping curve, sea urchin, fruit loops, and a full kitchen) but for whatever reason, Chen consistently produces a superior finished product. He’s more efficient with his time (16.6 pitches per IP, Matusz 19.1), keeps everything simple and clean (2.96 BB/9 as opposed to Matusz’s bloated 5.66), and he always seems to have a little something extra at the end to blow the judges away (7.03 K/9, Matusz 6.10).
Chen doesn’t waste many pitches (you may think no pitcher wastes pitches, but just wait), has a knack for keeping hitters on ice skates, and hides the ball better than anyone on the staff. He doesn’t have Jamie Moyer’s full book of tricks, but he has definitely read the Taiwanese Cliff Notes. Chen may not deliver gems during this stretch, but he’s not combustible, and he’ll have a heaping helping of innings, both very valuable things.
I’ve seen this guy before. Jason Hammel IS Mike Pelfrey in 2010. I could recognize that bowling ball sinker and buzzsaw two-seamer anywhere. I watched Pelfrey seemingly figure it all out for 3 months that year only for everything to completely fall apart in July, and he hasn’t been the same since. I hope Hammel doesn’t suffer a similar fate, because he looks outstanding right now.
I took an extended shot at Rick Adair’s coaching last week, so it’s only fair to give credit where credit is due. I don’t know what Adair did, but Jason Hammel is now the 2nd best groundball pitcher in the American League (an absurd 70.3 GB%). I’d throw more stats out, but my unfortunately my thunder has gone missing (I think it’s sitting somewhere in Ross Gore’s house).
Suffice to say, Hammel passes the eye test. The slider command is still flickering, but his command of the 4-seamer is effortless, and his 2-seam fastball can slap handcuffs on the best hitters. Just look at the pitch he rung up the red hot Edwin Encarnacion on. How does the ball end up that far inside, and how does he make a good hitter look so bad? Put it this way, Jason Hammel was the answer to “they traded Jeremy Guthrie for WHO?” Now, he’s the one pitcher who has proven he can pull the plug on a high-powered lineup on the road. I’d say the WHO has turned out pretty good so far.
Asking for Directions
Dammit Jake, why can’t I quit you? The last highlight featuring Jake Arrieta on MLB.com is April 6th. Although I think his start against the Yankees was damn impressive, very little about his past 3 starts have been (0-2, 5.94 ERA). His FIP of 4.43 during that span would suggest that lady luck has been unkind to him recently, but the fact remains that the even though the stuff is there, the results really haven’t been.
Maybe it’s that he’s predictable (Opp BA of .163 1st time through the lineup, .286 3rd time through the lineup), maybe he’s tipping his pitches, maybe I’m just giving him way too much credit. But for a guy with the best quality pitches on the staff, Arrieta should be better.
Here’s a shocker: Arrieta struggles against the monsters he’ll be facing in the coming weeks (5.51 ERA vs. Boston and Texas, 4.25 vs. New York). If there’s one thing I would say to watch with him, it’s whether he’s hitting the glove or not. He gave up a HR to a 3rd baseman in glasses last start, where Wieters called for a changeup down and away and Arrieta missed middle in. Against a lefty, that’s like missing the runway and hitting a mountain. Instead of counting the walks, count the mistake pitches and that’ll tell you whether Arrieta is unlucky or just not executing.
Get a Compass
I know, I know. “Just look at his last start!!!” I did. I watched the whole thing, rewound it, and watched it again. The numbers look better than the pitching was. There are definitely GLIMPSES of a good pitcher. His curveball has the potential to be a legitimate out pitch, and I love when he starts batters out with it because he commands it so well.
But his bread and butter (I guess that would make the curveball the olive oil?) of the fastball and changeup are worrisome. At times, his fastball gets completely off its leash, in particular against righties. I’m talking all the way into the left-handed batters box wild. Those pitches have no purpose, and he’s clearly not throwing them there on purpose. That tells me that his control still has a long way to go.
For every great changeup that he pinpoints or buries, there’s one that hangs tantalizingly high in the strike zone. My biggest takeaway about his start vs. Toronto was the Blue Jays proclivity towards chasing pitches early in the count. What makes the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers lineups so good isn’t just firepower, it’s their patience. The Yankees in particular just do not chase pitches, so Matusz will need to be sharper than I’ve ever seen him in order to succeed.
Matusz had plenty of near misses against Toronto (Encarnacion hammered plenty of pitches just foul in particular). If he uses the Blue Jays start as a springboard, then he could be useful. But just know that the start he had against the Blue Jays would not have looked nearly as pretty against a better lineup.
Hunter is a tougher call to make than Matusz. His traditional numbers are a little bit lower, and three of his starts this season have been legitimately good. But, I’ll defer to the advanced metrics and tell you that Tommy Hunter’s FIP is 6.27. What that says is Hunter is benefitting from some good defense, and a very lower BABIP (.245). The fact that Hunter doesn’t strike a lot of guys out (5.12 K/9) only speaks to this more.
Maybe it won’t be this trip (I think it will be), but Hunter is going to come back down to earth unless something changes. Unlike Matusz, Hunter does hit the glove, but he’s a pitch to contact guy. Not a lot of those pitchers have had success against the big boy lineups this year.
I’ve been very pitching biased when talking about the O’s, but the headlines are really the same elsewhere. Matt Wieters is the best all-around catcher in the American League and getting better. I think Adam Jones will start in the All-Star game and finish with better overall numbers than Curtis Granderson. Mark Reynolds is down to 8th in the lineup and couldn’t buy a hit if he was at a one-man auction.
The way I see it, the sun’s going to rise in the east and – more often than not – the Orioles are going to hit. Their lineup has talent top to bottom (including Chris Davis, who I’m VERY interested to watch these next few weeks), with most players having a track record of producing. They were a powerful lineup last year, and it didn’t get them anywhere. What WILL get them somewhere is a drastic improvement in their starting rotation, and only bending to great lineups instead of getting blown to bits (see the Boston – Texas road trip last year). It seems like the Orioles fan base is starting to wake up, these next two weeks will determine whether or not they hit the snooze button.
Although I like watching it, I do agree it’s impossible to judge a draft until 3 years after it happens. The Ravens didn’t get Konz or Hightower, and Konz must’ve landed on a chute because he slid a good deal down the board. I like the Upshaw pick essentially because I saw how absurdly dominant the Alabama defense was last year, and he was a big cog in that machine. He explodes off the tape reel, and seems like he can legitimately go sideline to sideline.
Guard is the least difficult position to fill on the O-line, and the Ravens added depth at the very least with Osemele and Gradkowski. If one of them sticks, then that will provide a band-aid for the Ben Grubbs wound. I watched Bernard Pierce do everything but shove an apple in the mouth of the Maryland defense last year, so I may have a skewed perception of him, but I like the pick. Could it be leverage in the upcoming Rice contract talks? Hopefully not, the Ravens can’t possibly be considering cutting bait with the very foundation of their offense in favor of a one note back in Pierce.
All in all, the Ravens draft was filled with quality, but bereft of fireworks. It was smart, and something they could afford to do. With an AFC Championship game appearance last year, there aren’t any glaring holes that needed addressing (besides a Matt Birk apprentice, but the pool of center prospects was noticeably shallow). My team on the other hand reached for the headlines with two physical freaks – Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill – with major questions (Hill didn’t run sophisticated routes in the triple option, and Coples essentially half-assed a whole year). I’m hopeful because of the undeniable talent both possess, but I’d be much more comfortable if Coples started every press conference by burning a Vernon Gholston jersey.
Maybe next week. If I type more about the NBA I’m liable to break one of my fingers (via keyboard mashing or fire extinguisher punching).
Three things to watch
1) The Avengers. Really good reviews, really tight black leather on Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson really has two eyes. What am I missing and what are you waiting for?
2) Two great NBA series: Mavericks v. Thunder, Clippers v. Grizzlies. I agree that some regular season basketball games are mailed in. But not in the playoffs when the best players on the planet are out for blood.
3) Jimmy Kimmel’s speech at the White House correspondence dinner. The Chris Christie jokes were hilarious, and the pile on Kim Kardashian just got bigger by one person.
Am I an idiot (about sports)? Let me know in the comments.