Baltimore Orioles


Position Battles: Orioles Closer

Over the next several weeks, I'll be taking a closer look at some of the more intriguing position battles that are likely to take place in Spring Training. I have identified over 50 position battles over at MLBDepthCharts.com with a short analysis on each. You'll get an extended breakdown of the competitions here at RotoAuthority, beginning with the battle for the closer's gig in Baltimore.

Koji Uehara vs Kevin Gregg vs Mike Gonzalez

Tale of the Tape

Uehara: 35 years old, $3MM salary in 2011 2010 stats: 2.86 ERA, 44 IP, 37 H, 5 BB, 55 K, 13 Sv in 15 chances, 6 holds 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Gregg

Even with Gregg agreeing to a two-year, $10MM deal last week, Uehara’s 2010 performance gives him just as good of a shot at the closer’s job in 2011. He did blow two saves in September but was nearly flawless otherwise. Most spectacular was the 11.25 K/9 and 1.02 BB/9 that he posted over his 43 relief appearances. After the All-Star break, the right-hander walked only one batter while striking out 45. Amazing numbers considering his fastball averaged just 88.1 MPH, according to FanGraphs. It’s his repertoire of pitches, mainly a change up and splitter, that kept hitters off balance. He’s endured multiple injuries (two hamstring injuries, two elbow injuries) and four DL trips over his two seasons since arriving in the big leagues from Japan so durability is a concern.

Gregg: 32 years old, est. $4-5MM salary 2010 stats: 2-6, 3.51 ERA, 59 IP, 52 H, 30 BB, 58 K, 37 Sv in 43 chances 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Uehara

Unlike Uehara, staying healthy hasn’t been a problem for Gregg. He’s averaged 70 relief appearances over the past four seasons with 121 saves over that span. The right-hander also has an array of pitches that he utilizes (92 MPH fastball, cutter, slider, splitter) to get batters out. While his reputation is that of a fearless workhorse, his overall numbers aren’t as impressive as the top relievers in the game. He puts a lot of batters on base (52 H, 30 BB in 58 IP) and has blown 22 saves over the past three seasons. His durability and experience, however, might give him a slight edge. 

Gonzalez: 32 years old, $6MM salary 2010 stats: 1-3, 4.01 ERA, 24.2 IP, 18 H, 14 BB, 31 K, 10 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog. More likely for 7th-8th inning setup duty

The lefty is behind Uehara and Gregg in the race but don’t forget that he signed a $12MM deal before the 2010 season to become the team’s closer for the next two seasons. An early-season shoulder injury robbed Gonzalez of his effectiveness and eventually landed him on the DL after two blown saves in three appearances. He did return to form when he was activated in late July, posting a 2.78 ERA with 28 Ks and 10 holds in his last 26 relief appearances. If healthy, don’t completely rule him out for save chances throughout the year. His fastball-slider combination can be nasty as evidenced by the career .209 BA opponents have managed against him throughout his career.

Final Word

The biggest question might be, "How many opportunities is the Orioles’ closer going to get this season playing in an always tough AL East"? The offense should be better with the addition of veterans Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds and the group of middle relievers (Jim Johnson, Jason Berken, Jeremy Accardo) and setup men (two of Uehara, Gregg, and Gonzalez) appear to be improved. If the starting rotation can offer its share of quality starts, I can see a big year from whichever pitcher ends up getting the majority of saves for this team.  To follow every development, follow @closernews on Twitter.  Voice your opinion on the best fantasy pick out of the Orioles bullpen by taking the poll below.



Players To Watch: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles players we'll be keeping an eye on for mixed leagues in 2011...

  • Nick Markakis, OF.  Drafted in the fifth round on average before the 2010 season, Markakis should slip several rounds in 2011 after his power continued to fade.  He batted third 64% of the time but drove in only 60 runs.  He might be able to bounce back to his 20 home run, 100 RBI ways.
  • Adam Jones, OF.  He's seemingly settled into the 20 home run, 10 steal range, less than was expected of him.  He did have eight home runs in June.  Only 25, Jones' breakout could still be in the offing.
  • Luke Scott, DH.  Scott played 19 games at first base and 14 in the outfield, so he may only qualify at DH if your league requires 20 games.  His power has risen for three straight seasons and he slugged over .600 in three separate months this year.  Maybe he takes one more jump up to 30 home runs.
  • Matt Wieters, C.  Wieters' sophomore season did not bring improvement.  An eighth rounder before the season, he'll be later than the tenth this time.  I'm reaching here, but it's mildly interesting that Wieters slugged .416 over the season's final three months.  Hmm...actually, that's not interesting.  Nick Hundley can do that.  I still like Wieters if he becomes unpopular enough in drafts.
  • Brian Roberts, 2B.  He won't go in the fourth round this time, as he was plagued by back pain all season.  He's 33 now and these things usually don't just go away, but if he slips to the ninth or tenth consider him.
  • Jeremy Guthrie, SP.  His 3.83 ERA and 1.16 WHIP screams fluke.  In the unlikely event he's traded to an NL club, he might get on my radar.
  • Brian Matusz, SP.  He should be a popular sleeper again after posting a 4.30 ERA and matching SIERA.  Over the last two months: 2.18 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9 in 62 innings.
  • Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, SP.  Highly regarded, but disappointing in the bigs this year.  Both had promising Triple A numbers, especially Tillman, but I'd probably avoid them.
  • David Hernandez, RP.  As a reliever this year: 3.16 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9 in 37 innings.  Maybe Buck Showalter won't designate a closer right away, but Hernandez should be in the mix.  I certainly like him more than Alfredo Simon.  If Koji Uehara doesn't return and the O's don't sign a veteran, speculate on Hernandez.
  • Mike Gonzalez, RP.  He may get first dibs at closing due to his salary, though maybe Showalter won't stand for that.  He tossed 22.6 innings from July forward, posting a 2.78 ERA, 11.1 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9.  He missed a bunch of time earlier with shoulder problems.
  • Zach Britton, SP.  Well-regarded prospect could help the Orioles, but probably not your fantasy team as a rookie.



Closer Report: Orioles

Closers such as Ryan Franklin, David Aardsma, Fernando Rodney, and Andrew Bailey could've been had for nothing in 2009 fantasy drafts.  In hopes of finding similar gems, let's embark on a series looking at each team's closer situation.  We'll start with the Orioles.

Given that the O's committed two years and $12MM and gave up a draft pick for Mike Gonzalez, it's safe to assume he'll enter 2010 as their closer.  He's always been a huge strikeout, low-hit, shaky control guy, and that formula will probably work well enough.  Currently a 17th-round pick, he could be a better choice than earlier picks David Aardsma, Ryan Franklin, and Bobby Jenks.

Gonzalez logged a career-high 74.3 innings in '09 despite back stiffness and elbow tendinitis.  He had Tommy John surgery on that elbow in June of '07.  If he hits the DL, the Orioles could turn back to Jim Johnson (he of the 5.5 career K/9).  Koji Uehara, on the hook for $5MM, is another possibility.  He's got great command and his 6.5 K/9 would presumably play up with a return to the pen.  However, his season ended in June with an elbow strain.

Kam Mickolio, who averages about 95 on his fastball, could be the pen's sleeper.  He whiffed 66 in 57.3 innings between Triple A and the bigs last year.  He did deal with biceps inflammation, however.



Everybody Loves Wieters

You'll be hard-pressed to find a baseball analyst who doesn't love Baltimore catching prospect Matt Wieters.  Statheads talk about his historically awesome 2008, while scouts rave as well.

Orioles beat writer Jeff Zrebiec talked to Eric Stashin about Wieters' likely call-up date:

It’s hard to say when he’ll be recalled and that probably depends on how he’s performing against Triple-A pitching. If he’s dominating it like he did in Single and Double-A, I think you’ll probably see him make his big league debut in mid to late May.

If Wieters debuts in mid-May, I'd put him around 375 big league ABs for the season, maybe a bit less since Gregg Zaun is pretty solid.  In 375 ABs Wieters should be good for .296-17-63-58-2, a $12.84 value.

To account for this, drafters are taking Wieters in the 11th round, a bit after Ryan Doumit.  The good thing is that you'll have some kind of warm body taking ABs at catcher for the first 45 days of the season if Wieters is in the minors.  Let's say this guy is Rod Barajas, who is about replacement level in a 12-team, two catcher mixed league.  Adding in 100 ABs of Barajas I get this composite:

.285-21-76-70-2 in 475 ABs, worth $17.11.  Wieters/Barajas is the fourth-ranked catcher, behind only the big three of McCann, Martin, and Mauer.  But, you only have to use a 10th or 11th round pick to get this value.



Zrebiec Answers Orioles Questions On RotoProfessor

Eric at RotoProfessor is doing a nice job hitting up beat writers for useful fantasy info.  He recently talked to Baltimore Sun writer Jeff Zrebiec, who is one of the best in the business.  The biggest points for me:

  • Look for a Matt Wieters debut around mid-May unless he has a scorching spring.
  • George Sherrill is the "clear leader" to close but is also a trade candidate if he has success.
  • Zrebiec agrees with many touts that Adam Jones may be primed for a breakout year.



Felix Pie Traded To Orioles

The Cubs traded Felix Pie to the Orioles on Saturday for Garrett Olson and a minor league pitcher.  The move may have fantasy impact.

The Orioles seem intent on giving Pie a good chunk of playing time as their left fielder, much as they handed a job to Adam Jones in 2008.  Like Jones, Pie is a power/speed threat for fantasy baseball.  If Pie gets 500 ABs, he could hit .270 with more than 10 HR and possibly 20 SBs.  You can grab him at the end of most mixed league drafts.

Olson is mildly intriguing, as he's moving to the NL.  The southpaw could be decent given a rotation spot.  Best case, he winds up in San Diego as part of a Jake Peavy deal.



Ramon Hernandez Trade Examined

On Tuesday, the Orioles sent Ramon Hernandez and cash to the Reds for Ryan Freel and two minor leaguers.  Let's take a look at the fantasy fallout.

Hernandez is a classic "change of scenery" guy.  It doesn't hurt that 2009 is a contract year for him, too.  He posted a .257-15-65-49-0 line for the Orioles in '08, not too bad for a catcher but also not the 20 HR, 80 RBI form we've seen him flash.    I'd like to blame his early-season sore wrist, but the monthly trends don't fully support it.  He's 33 in May; will it ever come back?  Don't look for the ballpark to inflate his stats; both Camden Yards and Great American Ballpark boost right-handed HRs by at least 20%.  But the move back to the NL and the aforementioned factors make him a solid buy.  I can see him sneaking into the top ten for catchers, his strong contact rate boosting his AVG back past .270.

Freel says he's healthy now, but his hard-charging ways make him a constant injury risk.  He's not slated for full-time duty currently, but an injury or a Brian Roberts trade could change that.  This year he's only outfield-eligible until he racks up some games in the infield.  Freel is a guy who's going to attempt a steal 25-30% of the time he reaches first base, and that's his value.  He's a waiver wire pickup you can spot in for cheap thievery.

The Orioles made the trade to dump salary, but also to pave the way for Matt Wieters.  With Geovany Soto's top five catcher ROY performance, Wieters should get respect in drafts.  Soto received plenty of Cubs-related and projection system hype heading into the '08 season, and was drafted in the 14th round on average.  He was obviously well worth it.

Taking Wieters in that spot could be a risky move in 2009 for a couple of reasons.  First, the Orioles are mulling backup catcher options that might push for, say, 30% of the playing time (guys like Gregg Zaun or Michael Barrett).   Wieters is getting huuuuuge respect from the always-optimistic Bill James projections this year following his monster showing at Double A - they call for a .311-24-85-68-2 line if he is to reach 470 ABs.  The fantasy issue is mainly playing time, as Wieters might get a few months of Triple A seasoning.  In a 12-team mixed league with normal-sized rosters it will be tough to get nothing out of a bench spot for several months (trust me, I tried it with Roger Clemens a few years ago).  Wieters' potential call-up is a situation to be monitored closely.  But in the 14th round or so you're looking at some very solid starters and closers who do not have playing time issues (in '08 guys like Chad Billingsley, Joakim Soria, Brad Lidge, and Derek Lowe).



Is Daniel Cabrera For Real?

It's easy to write off Daniel Cabrera as a fluke, because he's burned us so many times in the past.  How many years has this guy been a breakout candidate?  Has he finally arrived?  To the numbers...

67.1 innings (3rd in AL)
10 starts (T-3rd in AL)
6.73 IP/start (8th in AL)
3.48 ERA (18th in AL)
3.44 component ERA (18th in AL)
1.17 WHIP (11th in AL)
5 wins
4.6 expected wins
5.48 K/9 (28th in AL)
3.21 BB/9 (29th in AL)
1.71 K/BB (31st in AL)
7.35 H/9 (6th in AL)
.234 BABIP (3rd in AL) vs. .270 team BABIP (best in MLB; .286 was best in '07, .282 in '06)
1.20 HR/9 (36th in AL)
15.0% HR/flyball (44th in AL)
57.5% groundball rate (3rd in AL)

Cabrera has been successful so far for two reasons: groundballs and a low rate of hits allowed.  He has typically been a groundball pitcher, though never to this extent.  The low H/9 and BABIP cannot last; furthermore, the Orioles defense is highly unlikely to maintain their team BABIP.  Cabrera, Jeremy Guthrie, and much of the bullpen have benefitted from this.  It won't last.

Cabrera has changed his profile from a high strikeout/walk pitcher to that of a low strikeout groundball pitcher.  He really improved his command in May, posting a 6.66 K/BB in four starts.  The new Cabrera is better than the old, no doubt.  He's going deep into games now.  Also to his credit, his HR rate is due to decrease.

Cabrera remains a sell-high candidate, because his ERA and WHIP will get worse as more hits drop in.  I wouldn't say he's "arrived," but he's transformed himself into a useful back-end fantasy pitcher.



A Few Thoughts On Bruce Chen

I noticed this comment by ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft today in a chat:

"I can't believe no one is talking more about Bruce Chen, especially with Mazzone now in Baltimore. Everyone seems to focus on Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard as the breakout candidates, but Chen has pitched pretty well for the Orioles of late. I think he's a lot better candidate to repeat his 2005 totals than people think; it's not like he lacks the talent to be a successful pitcher. Plus, he hasn't been picked in a single one of my mixed drafts to this point. I'd take a flier on him."

Interesting case, Bruce Chen.  He surprised many with a career high 13 wins in 2005.  It was his age 28 season, and he also posted a 3.83 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.  His strikeout rate was league average, and 197 innings was a career high.

Chen gives up a lot of home runs, but he's a solid back of the rotation type.  I project him at 11 wins with a 4.08 ERA and 1.26 WHIP this year.  PECOTA calls for 4.24 and 1.32.  This ain't bad, but Chen is waiver wire material in mixed leagues.  I project his value at $1.58.  Still, I'd take him over guys like Jarrod Washburn and Mike Mussina.

Bedard doesn't project a whole lot better, but he's gotten a lot more press.  I have Cabrera valued over $7, however.  He could rack up 175 Ks and an ERA around 3.50.

Still, if you're searching for boring back-rotation guys, why not take the safe money?  I think Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, and Jon Lieber will be better than any of the previously mentioned starters and have better health/performance track records.  Control pitchers don't get your blood pumping, but you should take these guys over Cabrera.

Liebs especially could surprise some folks.  220 innings from him means 150 Ks, and his WHIP is always near 1.20.  He could win 15-16 games in 2006.  He posted a 3.28 ERA after the break in '05, and with just a couple less HRs could post a 3.75 ERA in '06.  Underrated fantasy starter. 





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