Fast Train: a Baltimore Orioles Preview

Gotta get those numbers down. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

A brief look at an opponent we play this week.

Offense: Nolan Reimold-LF, J.J. Hardy-SS, Nick Markakis-RF, Adam Jones-CF, Matt Wieters-C, Wilson Betemit-3B/DH, Mark Reynolds-DH/3B, Chris Davis-1B, Robert Andino-2B. Bench: Endy Chavez-OF, Ryan Flaherty-INF, Ronny Paulino-C.

Does it seem like the Orioles get off to a hot start every year to anyone else? Well stop thinking that. You're wrong. Since 2005, the Orioles have only been over .500 in April about half the time. Now you're just being silly. Nolan Reimold is batting leadoff? Really? Nolan Reimold is best known for being part of a pretty neat set of three connecting bobbleheads (fact may not be true). He's by no means bad, but he's not exactly your typical leadoff hitter. If he can stay healthy, he's got enough power to have a 20 homerun season, but his career high in games played is a woeful 104. He's quicker than you'd expect, especially now that his Achilles' tendon is no longer fraying (gross). He's below average in the field. J.J. Hardy is the same player the Twins laughably traded away for a handful of poop. One might say they got rain made. His OBP may be unseemly (career .320), but he provides impressive power from an unexpected source. Hardy went yard 30 times last season, tying him for the major league lead for shortstops with Troy Tulowitzki. Accounting for the fact that he's a great defender and only making $7MM per until 2014, the O's have a very attractive trade chit for when uber-prospect Manny Machado is ready to play in the bigs.

Nick Markakis depresses me more and more every year. Early in his career, he looked like he would become a perennial 25-15 threat who would hit .300 and play Gold Glove quality defense in right field. A new golden boy for the Camden faithful who so righteously deserve one. Something went wrong after his career 2008 season though. His power numbers abandoned him. Until last season, he seemingly stopped stealing bases.And his defense, if you're willing to trust three years of UZR data, went from stellar to sub-par. He's still a 2-3 WAR player, but that looks like what his ceiling has become. Adam Jones hasn't quite blossomed into the star he was expected to become, but the center fielder has averaged 2.5 WAR since becoming a starter. He has good power, hitting 19, 19, and 25 homeruns over the last three season respectively and already has three over nine games this year. His big flaw, which will likely prevent him from ever becoming a true star player, is his lackluster plate discipline. His 18-19% K% is palatable with the burgeoning power. The 4-5% BB% is never palatable. Defensive metrics seem to disagree on his glove, so I'll split the difference and call it slightly above-average. Hopefully he doesn't still have troubles at the border.

Matt Wieters finally showed the power he had displayed in the minors last year, hitting 22 homeruns. What's the next step for him? Getting his BB% back up over 10%. He strikes out at about the same rate he did in the minors, but is walking considerably less. If he can get his OBP back above .340, we're looking at Carlos Santana's competition for top catcher in the AL. He's off to a hot start thus far (2 homeruns, .930 OPS). Robin shouldn't be sending anyone to steal against him, as Wieters' arm is well above-average. Wilson Betemit! Holy crap! Wilson Betemit has a starting role! And Baltimore gave him a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third year? Huh? Wilson is still bad at baseball. He can be used sparingly as a bench player, but that doesn't seem to be the plan as he appears to be in some sort of quasi-platoon with Mark Reynolds. He still has some power and can draw a decent amount of walks, but he strikes out far too often and plays pretty bad defense.

Which makes him a perfect platoon partner for Mark Reynolds. Reynolds offers similar terrible production, but at an increased cost! It seems like after 2008, Reynolds lost his ability to hit the fastball, which was the main thing keeping him alive. Yes, he still has 30+ homerun power but he continually leads the league in strikeouts which will stop him from hitting any higher than .240. He draws enough walks to keep his OBP around league average. His abilities defensively can be summed up by this gif. Don't expect his option to be picked up this winter. Chris Davis is Mark Reynolds without the ability to draw a walk. Theoretically, first base should be the easiest position to fill. The O's are trying to disprove this theory. Davis has massive power, but strikes out in almost 1/3 of his plate appearances and only walks in 6-7% of them. He's also bad defensively. Honestly, they should cut him. Once he becomes arbitration eligible this winter, he should be non-tendered. Robert Andino is starting at second because Brian Roberts is once again on the DL. You may remember Andino from his late season heroics, as he hammered the final nail in Boston's coffin last fall with a walk-off single. Or from this picture. If he can keep getting on base at a league average rate, Andino has enough speed and a good enough glove to be worth giving a starting job.

Pitching:Jake Arrieta-RHP, Tommy Hunter-RHP, Jason Hammel-RHP, Wei-Yin Chen-LHP, Brian Matusz-LHP, Jim Johnson-CL.

Jake Arrieta is one of the young arms who was supposed to turn the Orioles' pitching weakness into a strength. This hasn't happened yet. Arrieta has yet to pitch a full season in the majors, though this is likely the year that changes. He won't get many strikeouts, but he won't need to if he keeps getting the ball down (43.6% career GB%). He really needs to trim down his walk rate though for that strategy to actually work (4.24 career BB/9). So far this season he's done just that (1.98 BB/9), but it's far too early to declare his issues fixed. He had trouble with the long ball last year, and Camden Yards is not a place you can get away with that. Jake throws a mid-90s four seamer, a sinker, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Tommy Hunter came over with Chris Davis in the Koji Uehara trade with the Rangers last July. Hunter had been decent rotational filler for Texas. He'll record even fewer strikeouts than Arrieta, but will also keep the ball on the ground (40.3% career GB%). Hunter also struggles with homeruns and I expect that trend to continue. Hunter throws a low-90s fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a curveball, and the occasional changeup. His cutter and his curve seem to be the better pitches.

Jason Hammel came over with Matt Lindstrom in a kind of confusing trade with the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie. He does fit the profile the O's seem to be going for though. Much like Cleveland, we're looking at a staff that are majority groundballers (Hammel has a 45.2% career GB%). He also adds a bit of veteran stability that the MSM seems to like saying young rotations need. If Hammel pitches more like he did in 2009 and 2010 than he did last year, the Orioles will be pretty happy with that production. He throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Wei-Yin Chen (can't wait to hear Bill Melton talk about him) is a new import from the NPB. The Taiwanese southpaw had Tommy John surgery when he was 21 (he's 26 now). He had a 1.54 ERA in 2009, which was the lowest in the NPB since 1968. He appears to have a low-90s four seamer, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Here's a link to his stats from across the pond. Best of luck with it.

Brian Matusz never seemed to get right after starting the 2011 season injured. The kid who was supposed to become an ace threw under 50 innings in the majors with an ERA over 10. I want to say there is no way he plays that poorly again, but who knows. The .382 BABIP and 56.4% LOB% have almost no chance of being repeated though. If he can relocate the strike zone, he should be okay. He throws a low-90s four seamer, a changeup, a sinker, a curveball, and a slider. Jim Johnson is the current closer in the Charm City and he's off to one hell of a start. Johnson is an atypical closer, as he doesn't seem to strike very many hitters out (5.79 career K/9). He's a groundball machine (56.9% career GB%) who does a decent job limiting walks and avoiding homeruns. He throws a mid-90s four seamer, a sinker, a changeup, and a curveball. He reaches arbitration this winter and it may be in the O's best interest to see what a contender would be willing to pay for him come July.

Outlook: Baltimore is once again likely to finish at the bottom of the AL East. They're currently riding a bit of a hot streak though, so I'm thinking we go 5-3 against them on the season. Go visit Camden Chat, one of my personal favorite other SBN baseball sites.


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