Great cheeseburgers are f***ing awesome. When everything fits together perfectly in holy cheeseburger matrimony, it’s pure bliss and tastes like ‘Merica (Abbey Burger does it every time, I’d deep fry my I-phone for some smoked angus and Guinness cheese). Right now, the Orioles pitching rotation is an inconsistent burger.
Hammel and Chen at the top means the meat and cheese are almost always good, which is a must. But from there down, it’s a toss up. Brian Matusz (the bun) is perfectly toasted just enough times to give you hope, but more often than not, it’s soggy. Tommy Hunter (the tomato) is always available but only good at oddly specific times of the year. Jake Arrieta is awesome barbecue sauce that’s only in house once a month: the other three weeks is mandatory Miracle Whip. If I’m Dan Duquette, I’d eat steak and lobster every night anyways. But I’d make 100% sure to upgrade the ingredients before this trading deadline.
What’s going to dictate the name that the O’s go after is what they’re willing to give up, and what Duquette is willing to gamble. The safe bet would be a middle of the rotation starter that would add depth to an already solid 1,2 of Hammel and Chen. The Orioles wouldn’t be risking too much in terms of minor league talent to acquire Dempster, Marcum, or Rodriguez. All three of those pitchers are on the back end of their careers, so a long-term deal (and hence long-term risk) would probably not be in the cards.
I think the recently injured Dempster is a cut above the rest. His career ERA says 4.33, but since he returned to a starting role in 2008 it’s comfortably between 3.6 and 3.7. Although the 2.11 he has this year is not be sustainable, a 3.65 ERA would slot nicely into the 2 or 3 role depending on Chen’s success the rest of the way. The leftovers have very noticeable warts: Wandy Rodriguez’s K/9 has dipped by nearly 1.5 this year, Matt Garza has an ERA over 4 in the NL Central, Joe Saunders H/9 is almost identical to Brian Matusz, and Shaun Marcum’s resume is filled with games against subpar offenses. Gun to my head I go Dempster, Marcum, Garza and then pass.
But there is another option. Duquette hasn’t even been on the job for a year yet, so I’m not sure if he would want to go all-in on so early. It’s not too often that an opportunity to acquire a definite #1 starter presents itself. The rumor mills on Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke have been churning for weeks now, and they both fit that billing. Hamels is one of 8 pitchers since 2010 to have started 75 games with a total ERA under 3.00. Greinke is pitching like the Cy Young Award winner he was in 2009. Of course, to procure either Duquette would need to be willing to up the ante from the minors.
Just a friendly reminder that the Red Sox dealt an explosively talented young shortstop for a top of the line starter and ended up winning a World Series because of it. Hanley Ramirez has been one of the better players in baseball, and the trade is still considered a win for Boston. Manny Machado is an exemplary young player with the upside to be the next great shortstop in baseball. But truly elite starters are the ace in the deck, and it’s incredibly difficult to name a great team in baseball history that hasn’t had at least one. That is why if the opportunity is there at the deadline for the Orioles to get one – and not just for a one-year rental – The O’s should sacrifice everything short of their own pitching prodigy to procure a horse for the front of the rotation.
Whatever the case, a major improvement is needed in this rotation. Despite the recent win streak, the O’s SHOULD only be winning 2 of every 5 games. Chen has been good and Hammel has been great, but the other three spots in the rotation have been a complete grab bag week to week. That’s not the mark of a winning team, and at some point this season the lack of pitching depth will coincide with offensive inconsistency, and that could put this team at risk of a serious losing slide.
Is there anybody rooting against R.A. Dickey?
If you are, you’d be the lone anti-Dickey voice that I’ve heard in these last few weeks. I usually keep my Mets comments to a minimum, but after the first back-to-back one hitter’s since 1988 on Monday, Dickey now qualifies as a general baseball phenomenon: “the Rookie” dragged out to the edge of plausibility. No questionable supplements. No drug trenches or steroid peaks deserving of congressional inquiries. No “great player, not so great guy” or “dumb jock with a gift” angle. Just an admittedly nerdy, bookish 37-year old dad with a firm belief in “the Force” staging on one amazing show after another off Broadway in Queens.
It takes one baseball in your hand and two between your legs to stand 60 feet away from the best hitters on the planet and serve up batting practice with a very definitive twist. Gary Thorne said on Monday that the first time he opened with the knuckleball against a live audience, Dickey flopped to the tune of a major league record 6 home runs allowed. A beating like that would convince a lot of pitchers to shelve the material permanently, let alone a journeyman whose big league claims to fame were a conspicuously absent Tommy John muscle and a pitch named after the campy horror movie “the Thing”.
But R.A. Dickey just did what he’s done his whole career: he persisted, taking the knuckler to the lab in Minnesota and Seattle with varying results, and just enough success for the Mets to put some stock in a 35-year old with a dinged up 5.43 ERA. The famed Big Apple pressure that has stifled so many more promising careers had no effect on Dickey, his pitches floating effortlessly below the radar through the thick Flushing smog. Since getting to New York in 2010, Dickey has been shockingly effective. He has the 6th best ERA in baseball, and as many complete games (6) as cross town ace CC Sabathia.
In a way, he’s distilled pitching down to its simplest form. Discarding his one other pitch, a simple fastball with just enough heat to warrant sunscreen, there’s little to complicate his thought process during a start. No internal questions of what’s working well or mental recall of individual scouting reports. Just like a prison cafeteria, everyone is served the same slop day after day and most of them can’t identify what it is. One pitch aimed “two or three balls above the catchers mask” that barely breaks traffic laws as it meanders towards (or away from) Josh Thole’s glove.
Dickey’s on the mound demeanor is as relaxed as his appearance. He doesn’t cuss himself out after mistakes, or put the water cooler in ICU after a particularly bad inning (maybe he does, but at the rate he’s going we’ll never know anyways). Because he works faster between pitches than the ball moves during them, opposing players are as off balance at the plate as they are away from it (0 stolen bases allowed in 2012).
And Dickey is the type of guy you’d want to grab a beer with. Not just to run through his Disney script career or to glean just an ounce of his pitching wisdom. But whether he feels that the vivid imagery from Life of Pi (which is in his locker) could ever be made into a worthy movie. Or maybe his favorite work by Hemingway (the inspiration for his Kilimanjaro climb and quite possibly his disheveled tumbleweed of a beard).
For all of these reasons, Dickey is rare. With no UCL and a pitch that puts little stress on his arm, he ages in tortoise years, entering his prime when many other pitchers would be exiting theirs. Plenty of people will ask in the next few weeks why more major leaguers don’t throw knuckleballs and the answer is simple. It’s one thing to walk the tight rope, and it’s another thing entirely to know that you can. Dickey has a once in a generation mix of brains and balls which is helping him defy definition and pin down pitching’s elusive golden snitch. All that’s left to test now is how the ball moves amongst the falling leaves of autumn.
4 quick things about the All-Star game:
1) I hope Bryce Harper made fast friends with Matt Kemp during his LA debut, because it would be damn exciting to see Harper show off his raw power in the home run derby. A lot of players treat the derby like the Madden curse these days, too afraid to change their swings for one night of long ball chasing. Bryce unabashedly admits that he occasionally swings out of his shoes in games, and the one time I’ve seen that swing really connect it gave Blackberry its best advertisement in years. My top four for the derby would be Kemp (team captain), Votto, Stanton, and Upton. Considering Upton is just awakening from a season long slump while Stanton has fallen into one, I’m sure there will be room for the freakishly talented rookie.
2) As good as Harper has been, there’s no room for him in an extremely crowded National League outfield. Meanwhile, the American League definitely has room for Harper’s doppelganger, and possibly even more impressive talent Mike Trout. Since the beginning of May, Trout has the AL’s best batting average (.352). He has the most stolen bases of any player in the American League (19). And he has the best UZR of any outfielder in baseball for the entire season. Jones, Hamilton, and Granderson have definitely earned their spots as starters, but past that there’s not one player who should get on the field in front of Trout.
3) Considering Bud Selig went a little nuts that the players don’t care about the All-Star game anymore and made the stakes ludicrously high (baseball’s home field advantage is the only one where the size of the field actually changes), having a lock down closer is a big priority. Unsurprisingly, the two best closers in baseball come from two pitching rich teams: Ernesto Frieri of the Angels has a 0.00 ERA since the start of May, and Tyler Clippard of the Nationals has a comparably embarrassing 0.47 in the same time frame. Ideally Clippard will be out there to give the Mets one more game at Citi in October.
4) I’ve already said my piece on All-Star game voting when it comes to the Orioles. Right now, Adam Jones is the best all-around outfielder in the American League and possibly all of baseball. Although his defense occasionally gets knocked, his UZR shows that it’s definitively better than his counterparts lined up to start in the American and National League outfields. His offensive numbers are widely known to be staggeringly good, better than both Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista in just about every meaningful category besides home runs. I think Brian Cashman and Alex Anthopolous would deal either of their two star outfielders for Jones in a heartbeat, while I think Duquette would hang up on either of those calls. B.J. Upton is right, it’s criminal that Adam Jones might not start in this year’s All-Star Game.
3 Things to Watch