Monday, September 9, 2013

Birdland Bulletin: Homer Happy

Chicks dig the long ball, and if that is actually true, then the Birds must be cleaning up in Fed Hill!

However, if the O’s want to meet a real classy broad, you know like someone they can bring home to their Oriole Mothers, then they better find a girl who gets turned on by two out knocks and SAC fly’s.

The Orioles lead the league in home runs with 193, which wouldn’t feel so hollow if the Birds could actually drive in runners from third with less than two outs; or getting a base hit with two outs and a runner on second.The Orioles look like a lineup full of Mark Reynolds clones with the amount of strikeouts or pop outs when there is a runner on third with less than two outs, cut to a sheepish Nick Marpopup Markakis.

Dan “The Duke” Duquette has done a tremendous job over the last two years of adding to a nucleus hand crafted by the much maligned Andy McPhail.The lineup is full of pop with four hitters who have at least 20 home runs (Davis, Jones, Hardy, and Wieters), one of which has 30 (Jones), and another one who has had 50 in his sights for quite some time (Davis). The Orioles lineup has more free swingers than a "Key-In-The-Bowl" party, if you smell what I'm stepping in...
It’s fun to watch a lineup that can bop home runs out of any spot in the order, but at same time, I speak for much of Birdland when I say, I’d rather see a SAC fly than watch someone take three straight hell hacks at sliders out of the zone and strand the runner.

We can pour over the putrid RISP numbers or shrinking OBP’s, or mention that out of the Orioles last 34 runs, 25 have come via the long ball. However, I’m an old school kind of guy and I’d rather take a gander at approach and discipline.

Top to bottom this lineup is full of aggressive hitters, which when you have as much talent as professional baseball players, is not a bad trait.  However, patiently aggressive is the most successful approach. To most this sounds like more of an oxymoron than a “classy Yankees fan”. Patiently aggressive means, swinging early in the count but making sure it’s the pitch you are looking for, or you can handle. It’s not swinging at a first pitch slider low and away or a fastball below your knees; both pitches usually lead to rolling over into ground outs. So again, there’s nothing wrong with swinging early in the count, but making sure it’s a pitch that can be handled is what separates good from great.

The lack of discipline in the Orioles lineup is borderline alarming. I love Adam Jones and Chris Davis, no seriously, like “Man Crush City”, but their plate discipline is like watching someone get paper cuts in slow motion. The book is out on these two; throw them off speed low, early and often. Like Lamar Odom at Charlie Sheen’s house, they just can’t help themselves but indulge. Too soon?

Matt Wieters is the same kind of hitter. He likes to get his hacks in early in the count (which again there is NOTHING wrong with), however more times than not, when Matty swings at 98 in on his hands he either pops it straight up or waves through it.

Eventually when I get a hang of GIF’s and screen shots, we can have a more in-depth conversation about the hitches in the swings of say Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Nick Markakis.  If I can see these hitches from the comfort of my arm chair, then hopefully Jim Pressley can see them from the dugout AND the video room. But that’s for another time.

The Orioles are a lineup full of supremely talented and extremely proud ball players. We all know that they are not intentionally stranding runner after runner after runner after runner after runner after ru… We all know that they are not sitting around and waiting for someone else to hit a home run. As Buck Showalter said in his postgame press conference after the first White Sox game when talking about his pitchers (but we know it clearly relates to the whole team),

“They have their ups and downs, but their hearts are always in the right place and that's why I have so much confidence in them. It's about, 'I need to deliver this expectation of me so the team can win.' ”

Buck is around these players 24/7, he is so tapped into that clubhouse and he knows how all of his players tick. I just sit in my arm-chair and make snap judgments, advantage Buck. You know Buck and his staff have had these same conversations with this team about driving in the runs when they are out there, but it is still hard to stop the fanbase's frustrations from piling up.

There is still just enough time left in the Hunt for Another Orange October, but if the Birds have any hope of another champagne shower, they will need to shorten up their swings in certain situations and simplify the at bats.  Minor adjustments and razor sharp focus can go a long way in getting to October.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

O's Before Hoes

Go ahead folks, make your jokes. Get them all out now because they won’t be topical tomorrow. Get all of your “Hoes in different area codes” jokes out of the way.  Use up all your “Hoes-for-Bud” punchlines.  Make all of your “Stros Got Hoes” quips before they dry up quicker than Ludacris’s rapping career.

In case you missed it, the Baltimore Orioles just acquired right handed starting pitcher Bud Norris from the Houston Astros for OF prospect L.J. Hoes, LHP Josh Hader, and a Comp B. Pick in 2014.

In the limited amount of the time that this trade became official there has been some serious backlash from Birdland.  Needless to say, I am a bit perplexed by the backlash.  This is a good deal for the Birds for the simple fact that anytime you can pick up a Big League Starting Pitcher for a 4th Outfielder, you do it. Period.

Before getting into premature reactulation, lets look at what the Birds got and what they gave up.  First and foremost lets meet the dude they call Bud.

Bud Norris is 28 and will be under the Orioles control until 2016.  The RHP is 6-9 this year on a historically bad Houston Astros ball club with a 3.93 ERA.  While some of you may scoff at that ERA, just know that Jason Hammel (the man Norris is effectively replacing) would give anything for an ERA under 5.  Norris is a serviceable arm who hopefully will see his W-L get a nice boost once he joins a winning ball club.  Bud Norris allegedly has a very respectable xFIP (some sabremetric stat).  The sabremetricians also created a stat called WAR (Wins Above Replacement), and Norris has a WAR of 1.9. But if he’s replacing someone like Jason Hammel than his WAR could potentially be 745.  I could be wrong on these numbers and the exact meaning of WAR, but just like most sabremetrics, frankly I don’t give a BUCK.

Norris will hopefully stabilize the back end of the Orioles pitching rotation and help eat some innings down the stretch.  Scott Feldman and his 5.15 ERA has not exactly been what The Duke thought he was trading for, so even though Bud Norris isn’t the biggest name pitcher, he can only help.

The main piece that the Orioles gave up was OF L.J. Hoes.  There is a soft spot in the fanbase for L.J. because he is from the DMV and was raised in the O’s farm system. Last year’s organizational Minor League Player of the Year, L.J. Hoes put up a slash of .304/.406/.403 with seven stolen bases in 99 games this season in Triple-A Norfolk.  However, he was realistically projected as a 4th outfielder for the Orioles in the future.  His impact was never considered to be on the everyday level.  His major asset to the ball club was in his role today, a viable trade chip.

The Orioles also gave up former 19th round pick Josh Hader, a LHP project from Old Mill.  Hader has seen his velocity JUMP over the last year but his shaky command, medical issues, and raw feel for a breaking ball made him a major project.  However, his projectable build, big frame, power arm, and his system leading 2.65 ERA this summer with Delmarva, have him labeled with high upside.  My argument is that upside will not help the 2013 Orioles win, but Bud Norris can.

Whether or not this trade was a good one for the Orioles will not be known for quite sometime, but in the meantime the negative reaction is borderline unnecessary.  Acquiring a pitcher like Bud Norris may not make your balls twinkle like say, Cliff Lee, but maybe Bud Norris is the guy to score the O’s a few extra wins and leapfrog them into another October run.  And regardless, it is still nice to be buyers instead of sellers this time of year.  The Duke has made three moves this July and will look to add more in August.  So Birdland, this Bud’s for you.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Birdland Bulletin: Panic Button...Schmanic Button.

After starting off the second half of the season winning 5 in a row, the Orioles have since dropped five of seven to the Royals and Red Sox.  Doing what the 2013 Orioles are not accustomed to, losing both series.

Chris Davis is scuffling at the plate, starting the fabricated “Post Home Run Derby” excuses. The back end of the rotation (Feldman and Hammel) are floundering and atrocious, respectively.  Not to mention the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays lose as often as Jennifer Aniston keeps a guy around.

But with all of this said, we need to listen to the wise words of Will Ferrell. This team is too talented, and there are too many reasons to continue to believe in the 2013 Baltimore Orioles to go and press the panic button now.

The O’s find themselves at 58-48, 5 games back of the Red Sox in 1st Place, and 4.5 back of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2nd place. It is never too early to start looking at the Wild Card Race, in which the Orioles are one game ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the final Wild Card Spot. Going on the road for a one game playoff is A position the O’s are very familiar with. 

At the 106 game mark a year ago, the Orioles were 55-51 before closing out the season on a 38-18 clip, finishing at 93-69.  There is still PLENTY of time for the Birds to get right and get this train back on track.

While it’s no secret Crush Davis is enduring a strikeout heavy slump, he will breakout of it and prove to the naysayers that the 1st half was not a fluke.  We all know what we are getting from the rest of the Orioles lineup, which oozes more unappreciated talent than the cast of Freak & Geeks.  Wieters is coming around, Jones is showing a slightly more disciplined approach, and Hardy, Markakis, McClouth, and Manny Mucho just continue to plug away on fantastic seasons.  The offensive will be a catalyst for the Orioles down the stretch, but the big burden falls upon the strength of the pitching staff.

While Hammel has been ineffective most of the season, and many of us are still scratching our heads over the acquisition of Scott Feldman, the rest of the rotation has been excellent.
Miguel Gonzalez is the king of the quiet quality start.  Without fanfare or much attention, Miggy Gonzo’s workman like style continues to rack up quality start after quality start.   Before his recent rough outing vs. the Royals, Gonzo had tallied 8 quality starts in a row and now has a 8-4 record with a 3.69 ERA.  Since his call up last year, Gonzo is 17-8 with a 3.47 ERA and 24 quality starts (in 33 games started!).  Consistency doesn’t even begin to describe Gonzo’s contribution to the ballclub.

Wei-Yin Chen continues to be effective as well, as he navigates his way through 6-7 innings every time out.  He tends to run out of gas in or after the 7th, but he puts the team in position to win, more times than not.  He too has become a stabilizing force in the rotation.

Now if you don’t mind, it’s time for me to gush over Chris Tillman. For the nine of you who listened to our Season Preview Podcast back in March, you will remember that I predicted 18 wins out of Chris Tillman. I was laughed at by all nine of you, but with a sparkling 13-3 record, Tilly is emerging as a potential ace.  Tillman is able to pitch consistently in the low to mid 90’s with his power curveball that leaves batters off balance.  His ability to consistently pound the lower quadrant of the strike zone leaves hitters frustrated and backwards at the plate. 

His two major problems when he was coming up through the ranks were diminished velocity and a lack of command of his pitches.  The velo appears to be back where it needs to, and Tillman’s strikeout to walk ratio is a cool 104:47.  Sabrematricians will tell you that wins are an erroneous stat to a starting pitcher; sabremetricians will also tell you that a woman’s breast feels like a bag of sand.

Receiving a win is not all about the starting pitcher of course, the team needs to produce enough runs, and the bullpen needs to preserve the win as well. But a pitcher must be effective and must pitch well enough to allow his team to win, cut to a confused looking Jason Hammel. 

Tillman, Gonzalez, and Chen are consistent and will continue to keep the O’s in the race, and truthfully I still think Feldman will be an effective option, he’s just not that fun to watch.  He works slow, and his stuff is very vanilla, leaving you ready for the big inning the 2nd time through the opponent’s lineup.  However, if he can just give the O’s 6 solid innings keeping them in the game, then he has done his job. 

The Orioles have already made two trades this month, first acquiring Scott Feldman, and then picking up Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez last week. Can I get a quick sidebar on K-Rod? Please and thank you…

SIDEBAR:  I LOVE THIS MOVE. Not just for the important role the future Hall of Fame Closer will play for the overtaxed bullpen, but what this trade signifies to the locker room and to the fan base.  Trading the organizations number 4 overall prospect (Nick Delmonico, 3B) for a rental relief pitcher shows everyone that Dan “The Duke” Duquette is serious about this squad.  This is a “win-now” trade and lets the fan base know that this team has World Series aspirations, and the front office will do whatever it takes to get there. Of course it doesn't hurt that K-Rod has 304 career saves in cluding a 10/10 statline this year and a stingy, almost penny-pinching ERA of 1.04.  Again, I FREAKING LOVE THIS MOVE.

But back to what I was saying about the Orioles making trades.  Even though the amount of trade chips in the Orioles farm system is as stocked as a mormon’s liquor cabinet, the Orioles are still listed as major players for the likes of Jake Peavy, Carlos Quentin, and Michael Young. While I would welcome every single one of these players with open arms, I do not want to see the name Kevin Gausman involved in the trade talks.  The bottom line is, the Orioles will be players in the July Trade Deadline, and you can expect them to remain active in August with the waiver trades.  This team is strong, but it can only be added to and The Duke will continue to look to add to the talented roster.

There is no denying this team is in a funk right now. Yet there is also no denying that they have got the talent, the leadership, and the winning attitude to get through this and reel off the necessary wins.  If you don’t believe in the Birds, the exit for the bandwagon is on your left.  Buck Showalter will be there to push you off swiftly with his orange fungo bat.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Debut Article on MLB REPORTS!!!

Ben has written an article about Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones for

This is hopefully the first of many articles Ben will be tackling as the Orioles Correspondent for MLBReports.

Check it out HERE!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Natstown Newsletter: More Curly W's and Less Inverted W's

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Stephen Strasburg is a special pitcher.  I know that’s not exactly earth-shattering news like a professional basketball player coming out of the closet (BIG KUDOS TO YOU JASON COLLINS!), but it’s a fact. 

For the better part of the month of April, Stephen Strasburg has not looked right, nor has he put up the numbers we in Natstown are used to.  It has been obvious to anyone who has watched him pitch this season that he has struggled commanding his fastball. Unfortunately this goes a little further than his inability to command his fastball, and it has to do with his faulty mechanics.

Stephen Strasburg is doing what those in the baseball world call “flying open.”  This does not mean that he forgot to zip up his jeans, but rather he is letting his front side open up towards the first base side. 

Lets sift through this jargon so we are all on the same page.  When a right handed pitcher throws to the plate he wants his left shoulder and left elbow to stay facing the third base side and aimed directly at home plate until his left foot (lead foot) lands and plants.  Once he plants then his torso and right side of his body can rotate through.

Strasburg, however has let his left shoulder fly open causing his whole left side to fall off towards the first base side of the mound, hence why he has been throwing a lot of fastballs into the left hand batter’s box.  It only seems like he is doing this mechanically when he throws fastballs, which may mean he is trying to overthrow his fastball or throw it harder than he is capable of.  Which if that’s the case, is just absurd because he still throws 96-97! Trust me, hombre, that is plenty fast enough.  

Our concern with Strasburg’s off-kilter mechanics is the fear of injury.  Poor mechanics (scap-loading, the inverted “W”, and a leading right elbow) have already led to Tommy John Surgery.  Flying open can lead to unnecessary torque on the throwing shoulder, as it has to work harder to get across the body as it all falls off towards the first base side.  It’s almost like he’s pulling his right shoulder across his body. That can cause some strain on the old bazooka, cut to Strasburg’s rotator cuff nodding in agreement.

But what makes Strasburg so special, is the fact that despite this obvious mechanical flaws, he is still able to cut outs and turn in good starts for the Nationals.  He has been dominating at times, but not as consistently as someone with his talent should be.  He is the best pitcher in a talent-laden rotation, despite his 1-4 record.  

Hopefully a little McCatitude can get Strasburger’s mechanics ironed out and he can get back to the dominating right-hander that he is.  Until then he will just have to navigate through lack of command, high pitch counts, and the never-ending threat of injury. However, if there was ever a pitcher who could cut Major League Batters up while working through poor mechanics, it’s the special and talented Stephen Strasburg.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Birdland Bulletin: The ABC's to Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta was optioned to AAA Norfolk today. Typing that sentence hurt worse than wearing one of Jake’s 96 MPH fastballs in the kneecap. Those of you who have read my previous Birdland Bulletins know my gushing feelings for Jake Arrieta and his transcendent stuff on the mound. 

While consistency has always eluded Arrieta, I refuse to give up on him because he has the stuff to be a top end pitcher.  While his arm maybe worth millions of dollars, his worst enemy has always been between his ears.  The hope is that another stay down on the farm in Norfolk will get Jake right, and help him iron out his mental mechanics.  Hopefully Tides’ pitching coach Mike Griffin and Orioles Pitching Coordinator Rick Peterson can get Jake back on the fast track to dominating Major League hitters.

In order to do this, Arrieta may need to get back to basics while getting his mind right.  Basics so elementary in fact, that we have banged out an ABC’s of list what Jake Arrieta may want to do in order to get back to the Big Leagues.  Some of these are general observations and others are helpful tips.

You gotta attack the strike zone with strikes early and often.

Avoid throwing ball one on the first pitch like Ryan Flaherty avoids making contact.

Arrieta’s lack of control has been his biggest weakness.  He fails to command all of his pitches and thus finds himself in many 3-ball counts.
Arrieta will have innings where he will throw 12-13 pitches and be lights out.  Then he will promptly follow that up with a 35 pitch walkfest the next inning.  He must be consistent and piece together quality innings.

By all reports, this is not a problem for Arrieta.  He was spotted in the video room today, even after receiving word that he was headed to Norfolk. His commitment and dedication is there, which leads me to believe he CAN GET RIGHT!

Execute your pitches! Know the count, know what pitch you want to throw and where you want to throw it.

Get back to having fun out there on the mound.  Get back to playing the way you did when you were a kid. Pitch with that carefree dominance that you had as a Horned Frog at TCU.  Block out all those negative thoughts in your head and let it fly!

Set attainable goals while you’re down in Norfolk. Once you reach these goals set new ones. Set ‘em, reach ‘em, and then get back to Birdland!

Arrieta’s heater can be his best weapon, and his biggest enemy.  When he can’t throw it for strikes or leaves it up in the zone he gets pounded. Command the heater and pitch off of that.

Become a “pitcher” and not a “thrower.”

As in, the jury is still out on Arrieta.  Is he a big league pitcher who can harness his overpowering stuff, or is he just another hard throwing flame-out who couldn’t command his pitches?

K- K’S
When he’s on, Arrieta racks up K’s like Antonio Cromartie racks up alimony bills. (That’s still funny right? RIGHT?!?)

If you haven’t already seen this Kevin Costner classic it’s worth the watch. But seriously, just like with FUN, Jake’s got to get back to his love of the game and why he plays.

Arrieta’s gun-slinging bravado that he takes to the rubber every game is what makes me believe he can iron out these mental struggles.  He needs to maintain this moxie while he is down in AAA and come back to the Bigs with more swagger than John Wayne’s nutsack.

Block out the negativity whether it is internal or external.  Mind over matter…if you don’t mind then it don’t matter!

Collect them like the number of Tom Selleck fans at a Mustache convention.  It’s easier to get outs when the count is 1-2 or 0-2.

Keep your poise even if you start to feel your control leaking.  Maintain your focus and your confidence. Be the calmest person in the ballpark.

Better command leads to lower pitch counts and lower pitch counts lead to going deeper in games.  Arrieta has been getting pulled in or after the 5th inning lately because he has already thrown 100-120 pitches.

Be relentless in your pursuit back to the Big Leagues.  Be relentless in the way you attack hitters. Be relentless in your pursuit of greatness.

YOUR BEST FRIEND.  Get ahead and stay ahead. 0-1 is a much better count than 1-0.

­Your mental toughness is what will get you back to the Big Leagues.  It will also be your best friend when dealing with failure and frustrations.

There will be plenty of these. Do not let them derail you and force you to lose focus.  Control what you can control!

Visualize yourself throwing strikes and commanding all of your pitches. Visualize yourself getting groundball double plays.  Visualize success.

Pitch like one. Act like one.

Arrieta’s off speed pitches are his X-Factor.  Every professional hitter can handle 96 MPH, but when a pitcher couples that with knee buckling breaking balls and string-pulling change ups, he can be unhittable.

That is the only person preventing you from being an effective big league pitcher. Believe in yourself because there are still plenty of us in Birdland who still do!


Get right down on the farm, Jake. There are still plenty of us in Birdland who still know you can be an integral part of the Orioles rotation this year and for years to come.