I’ve always found the cliché of “the panic button” to be useless, especially the debate over when to press said button. When a team is in seemingly dire straits, the plastic lid is hastily lifted off the button and a hand hovers over it until things get dark enough to qualify for a tap or twelve. But I’ve seen movies and TV shows just like everyone else. What good has ever come from a well-timed and imprudent slap of the panic button?
When that little red button is finally pressed (almost always shortly after someone delivers the line ‘we’ve run out of time’ in some grim intonation), the preceding events inevitably gain strength and breadth and elevate to a Category 5 shit storm. So why press it in the first place when no good has ever come from the panic button, or panicking in general. Just once I would like to see the panic button pressed, all of the problems magically dissipate, and Will Smith light up his umpteenth victory cigar.
Buck doesn’t seem like a man with a use for a panic button, mainly because his temperament is usually rests at “cooler than Freddie Jackson sippin a milkshake in a snowstorm” (get back together OutKast, for all of us). And he shouldn’t be worried…yet. That should happen when the solution to the O’s win-loss record becomes a negative number. Because for all of the issues of the past two weeks, Baltimore banked enough early season wins to withstand this downturn in fortunes.
Right now, it’s obvious this team is struggling, but it’s also very important to note that it’s still a team 6 games over .500 with the 4th best record in the American League. There are problem spots, some that will fix themselves (Markakis and Roberts are big pieces that should get healthy soon) and some that require more creative thinking. With a 5 game cushion and a forgiving home stand on the horizon (the offensively challenged Phillies, and the Dutchman-fueled Pirates), the forecast of doom and gloom is highly overblown. So, instead of panicking, time to look at two major issues that need to be addressed.
What do you do about Jake Arrieta?:
Before the season started, I said I really liked Jake Arrieta, and that he had far and away the best stuff on the Orioles staff. Both of those statements still hold true, but man, the fan club meetings have been dwindling in attendance recently (is it the dues? I’ll lower the dues). Right now, Arrieta is beginning to border on what I know as the Oliver Perez Zone. A place where literally everything is in play for a starting pitcher, and even the slightest shift in the wind can change a seemingly dominating start into a Three Mile Island-esque meltdown. In a word, Arrieta is a volatile compound right now, he can provide great benefits (I still can’t get over that damn Yankees start), but the side effects overwhelm any positives.
However the Orioles go about it, Arrieta is the piece most in need of maintenance right now. I’m not a pitching expert, but I’m going to be for a minute (let me just slide some Red Man in and get ornery when talking about the inside corner. THAT’S MY PLATE!) See (insert analyst name) I learned from Mel Stottlemyre that you’ve got to be able to repeat your delivery. Jake’s motion is a veritable Rube Goldberg machine of moving parts and twisting limbs, making it similarly difficult to successfully repeat 90-100 times. If I were to look at a culprit for Jake’s inability to control his pitches, his unstable motion would be that sly bastard Colonel Mustard.
Professor Plum (a much less malignant fellow, and therefore an easier fix) would be that he’s simply overthrowing. I’ve always marveled at his ability to light up a radar gun, but not everyone is meant to. Every person with an arm can tell you that it’s difficult to pinpoint a throw when you’re hurtling it at 110%. A 95-97 mph fastball will draw glowing reviews from the scouts, but not from hitters especially when it’s not properly located. Jake has always had an issue with walks (even in 2010 with Norfolk, his K/BB was under 2), and maybe it’s because he’s trying too hard to overpower hitters without enough emphasis on placement. There have been plenty of pitchers who have carved out a living with their fastball resting comfortably at 91-93. Maybe Jake should start looking for real estate there.
Ultimately, how do you solve the problem? I say give it one more start (scheduled for Friday against Philly), and if he can’t find the plate again, have him try to find it in Norfolk. I know it seems rash, but you can’t keep slapping a band-aid on the Arrieta issue and expect him to have an “a-ha” moment two years in the making. He needs some serious work, and I can’t imagine that he’ll be able to try new things or tweak his delivery at the major league level without encountering more failure. Better that he continues his search for consistency against less imposing competition than the merciless lineups of the American League. I would hope that Chris Tillman doubles up on his last stellar start, and slide him in to the rotation if Arrieta can’t keep the Orioles in the game against the Phillies.
From the Top Down
When the whole team is healthy, the Orioles undoubtedly have a potent middle of the lineup with Hardy, Markakis, Jones, and Wieters, but the leadoff hitter is becoming a major issue. Since a hot start, Robert Andino has been in free fall for several weeks. In his last 13 games, Andino has 2 multi-hit games compared to 12 multi-strikeout games. Since the beginning of May, he has the 2nd lowest batting average in the American League (.177), and the 2nd most strikeouts. These two factors alone should make it obvious that Andino cannot be the leadoff hitter for this team right now.
I wish I could actually look up the number, but I guarantee the lack of production out of the leadoff hitter has been a big factor in short-circuiting the Orioles offense. Because the options to replace Andino at second base are currently slim and the delicious sounding Flaherty/Tolleson combo, he’ll have to be kept in the lineup but moved down. Endy Chavez is a nice defensive outfielder, and there’s a reason he’s constantly referred to as that (it’s because he’s batting .120 this year). All in all, the three conventional options that the Orioles have for a leadoff hitter – Andino, Chavez, and Flaherty – are hitting .196, .115, and .154 in that spot respectively. The top of the lineup requires a legitimate facelift worthy of shifting around the Orioles best hitters.
My choice to lead off right now is an obvious one. JJ Hardy flourished in that role for the O’s in 2011, and he’s a great candidate to do it again in 2012. Although the choice to bat him leadoff will limit his RBI opportunities, the presence he provides at the top of the lineup (he hit 18 HR’s from the leadoff spot last year) could yield an immediate spark for what is a completely dormant spot right now. In my opinion, his previous experience and success at the position make him an obvious choice at leadoff.
The toughest position to fill is the one Hardy has to vacate, because at first glance, the Orioles don’t have anything that resembles a 2nd hitter. The lineup is chock full of power hitters who swing a lot, miss a lot, and don’t take many walks. To me, the choice comes down to Wilson Betemit and Chris Davis, and I’ll go with Betemit because of his propensity – over his career – to take more walks and strikeout less. He’s definitely struggling this season (.220 AVG, his career AVG is .265), but at age 30, he’s still in what should be his prime and has been a more than reliable hitter the past few years. If the strategy is to get people on for the big bats, Betemit’s resume looks most catered to doing just that.
After those two switches, it’s just really a matter of shifting everyone up a little bit. My card would read out Jones, Davis, Wieters, Reynolds, Andino, Chavez, dealer’s choice. Move Andino down to hide his slumping bat, and move Betemit up to increase the OBP at the top of the lineup. If Betemit can produce a modicum of what he’s been the past two seasons (.290 AVG, .359 OBP in 674 PA), he could be the key to reigniting the top of the Orioles lineup which should lead to plenty more runs.
After all, analysts always say the easiest time to get to a pitcher is early on, when he’s still determining what looks fresh and rotten on his menu of pitches. When Markakis gets back, he makes the most sense to me as the long-term leadoff solution because of his discerning eye and ability to put the ball in play
Around the League:
Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history. I ran around my living room screaming. And suddenly, despite a slew of numbers pointing to the contrary, the Mets are a contending baseball team. They still have a negative run differential, and they still play in one of the most talented divisions in baseball. But David Wright looks like what everyone thought he could be (instead of what he’s been the past three years), Lucas Duda is turning into the preseason sleeper plenty of people dreamt of (4 HR’s in his last 5 games), and the Mets have a top two who I would take over 95% of the league (Dickey has 30 K’s and 1 BB in his last three starts to go along with a barely noticeable 0.39 ERA). If my happiness didn’t correlate directly with the Wilpons being happy, this would be perfect.
The only team sitting in front of the Mets in the How Did We Get Here rankings (open for sponsoring, Jack Daniels) are the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets -7 run differential pales in comparison to the Pirates -26. The Pirates offense ranks in the bottom 3 in the majors in (deep breath…) Runs, Average, RBI, Hits, On-base percentage, and Slugging Percentage. I would make a joke about half of their lineup coming to plate without bats, but if that were the case they wouldn’t also be last in the league in walks. The pitching has been good (2nd best team ERA in baseball), but if Andrew McCutchen slumps, I have literally no idea how this lineup will produce runs short of threatening the scoreboard crew or strong iterations of black magic.
As a Mets fan, I hate the Braves. I hate that they won every division title while I was growing up, I hate that Tom Glavine was responsible for New York’s demise as a member of the Braves and the Mets, and I hate that Chipper named his son Shea because of how he tortured the Mets for a decade. But as a baseball fan, I’m pulling for Jason Heyward to figure this out. Heyward was touted as a once in a generation talent, and in his rookie year, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I’d have a new person in the Braves lineup to hate for all the right reasons. But these past two seasons have gone about as wrong as they could for The J-Hey Kid (I even like his nickname…dammit), and there are whispers everywhere of the Braves possibly demoting him to Gwinnett. I like watching the Braves lose, but more than anything, I want to be the one hating Heyward instead of Braves fans.
Three Things to watch:
1) Can we talk about the mail, I’ve been dying to talk to you about the mail all day? (Come back to me It’s Always Sunny)
2) I don’t know what this is, but I like it
3) If Albert Pujols doesn’t pull his shit together, I’m going to be a lady tomorrow on the BSR Videocast. If he does, somebody else will be. Either way, it’s going to look hilarious.