Sunday, September 15, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 49: Who will be hurling the ball for the Birds next season?

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 49: 8-2 over the Detroit Tigers

2018 Bowman Prospects Hunter Harvey Sky Blue Parallel #214/499

The dream of 60 wins is starting to fade. Without a dramatic push to end the season it's unlikely the O's are going to hit the magic number of 60 wins (or even 59) which would allow me to cash a ticket in Las Vegas. That's sad. So sad. The good news is that every win puts them one better than last year which should be seen as an improvement. Some of the wins are coming with players who are going to be a part of the next year's continuing rebuild.

It's fun seeing an outfield of Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, and D.J. Stewart knowing that next year that trio could spend most of the season together. The infield is still a question mark, Jonathan Villar. Did he have a solid enough of a year to generate some interest on the trade market during the off-season? Are the O's going to sell high on Hanser Alberto or Renato Nunez? Is Rio Ruiz an everyday player?  So much fun!

The biggest question marks, and the biggest obstacle to the rebuild, is going to be the pitching staff. The Orioles need to find five or six pitchers to start games next year and another seven or eight to fill out the bullpen. There should be plenty of competition for those spots.

The first three spots in the rotation should be:

John Means
Dylan Bundy
Alex Cobb

Means has had a breakout rookie season and gives the Orioles an actual left-handed starter that can win games. Bundy may have been usurped by Means as the ace of the staff, but he does seem to be adjusting to life without a 96MPH heater. Cobb has made 31 starts in the first two years of his four year contract with the Orioles. That's not great. They need him to average that many over the final two to even come close to making that deal tolerable. (I'm kidding, even if he wins the Cy Young that contract will remain brutal).

So who fills in the other two spots? Unfortunately for the fans, it's unlikely to be any of the top prospects. Keegan Aiken and Dean Kramer may get a chance with a strong spring training, but the O's don't seem to be in a hurry to rush anyone along. They may join the kids in Bowie (Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann, and Alex Wells) as mid-season call-ups. Grayson Rodriguez is a September call-up at best, well unless he treats AA and AAA batters with the same disdain as he has everyone else he's faced so far in his pro career.

It'll be interesting to see if they keep any of their waiver claims/international money trades starters that they picked up along the way this season. Asher Wojciechowski and Aaron Brooks have had moments this summer. They haven't had the consistency that I'm sure manager Brandon Hyde would like to see, but they've pitched well enough to at least have a shot next season at making the rotation.

As for the bullpen, their collective performance this season wasn't good enough. That might not be a bad thing. If Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens had continued their progression they might have been with the team after the trade deadline. They have a chance to rebuild their value next season and fill out some late inning roles.

The man pictured above (pre-glorious mullet) has injected a little fun into the bullpen late in the season. Flashing a 100 mph heater and some top-shelf breaking pitches, Harvey has shown the stuff of a future closer. Eleven strikeouts in 6.1 innings is a fun stat. The big question mark will be if his arm can hold up to an entire season's worth of pitches. So far the answer is no (87.2 innings is the most he's thrown in a season and that was way back in 2014).

He's only been a reliever for a short time, so it is possible that the move to the bullpen may keep him healthy. Harvey did go 10 days between appearances recently as the team was cautious with some forearm discomfort he was feeling. No need to risk a major injury in a lost season, but it would be nice to see him finish the season strongly.

It will be interesting to see which of the lefty relievers make the squad next year. Paul Fry has struggled recently and Richard Blier has had a blah kind of season. Tanner Scott is young and throws really hard, but he doesn't always know where it's going. He's walking 7.2 hitters per nine innings. That's not great when you're coming in for high-pressure situations.

As for the righties? Who the hell knows? The Orioles have a lot of prospects that need to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being exposed in the Rule V draft. Some of those spots will most likely come from the Chandler Stephenson's and David Hess' of the roster. Mike Elias will have a busy winter and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster he puts together in 2020.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 48: More than last year.

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 48: 6-2 over the Detroit Tigers

1985 Topps Eddie Murray All Star

Another day and I run out of time to post. Will have something after the next win.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 47: They beat the Dodgers!

Baltimore Oriole Victory Number 47:7-3 over the Los Angeles Dodgers

1981 Topps Al Bumbry

Yeah, wow. So the day kind of got away from me and I wasn't able to get a post written in time. Oh well, here's an Al Bumbry card for ya.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 46: A Hall of Fame Last Name

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 46: 2-1 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2003 Bowman Dustin Yount

After three series, the O's record stands at 3-5 just like I predicted! Granted they took a slightly different route, but the main thing is that they are still on pace for 60 wins. With an unexpected day off they head back to Baltimore to take on the Rangers. To some fans disappointment, the roster isn't loaded with prospects named Mountcastle, Aiken and Hays. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's been a long, and mostly successful summer for a lot of the kids in the organization, why end it with the possibility of struggling in the majors?

Speaking of prospects, the O's have a pretty good track record of having sons of major league players wind through their system. Dwight Smith Jr. is currently on the big league roster, his pop played for the O's back in 1994. Currently Preston Palmeiro and Ryan Ripken, two family names Baltimore fans should be readily familiar with, are getting ready to hit the playoffs for Bowie along with Jesmuel Valentin, son of former major league infielder Jose Valentin.

Not all offspring succeed. The Orioles drafted the offspring of one of the greatest hitters ever, Pete Rose, only to see Jr. flounder in their minors before they dealt him to the White Sox. Pete, Jr. eventually had a brief cup of coffee in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds where he picked up two hits in fourteen at-bats during the 1997 season.

One son of a hall of famer that I forgot the Orioles drafted was Dustin Yount. In fact I spent most of the summer thinking this was a Larry Bigbie card.  The son of lifelong Brewer Robin, Dustin was born in October of 1982 less than a month after his dad had gone 3-for-4 with home run and two runs batted in on the last day of the season to hold off the Orioles for the AL East pennant.

The Orioles drafted Dustin in the ninth round of the 2001 draft. He banged around the minors for a few years, getting as high as AA Bowie in 2006. He struggled in 2007 and played the next few years in independent ball before getting another shot with the Dodgers organization. Again he struggled to find his consistency and topped out in AA. He was done playing after 2010 and moved into a role with the Dodgers as an area scout.

In 2012 he scouted he a lanky first baseman from Arizona who made great contact but showed little power. That player - Cody Bellinger. Not a bad signing for an area scout on the job less than two years. He's also the scout that brought Alex Verdugo and Willie Calhoun (part of the Yu Darvish trade with the Rangers) into the Dodgers' organization. That's pretty good work.

Bellinger is an interesting case. Is he the type of player who may not get drafted as more and more clubs rely heavier on analytics as opposed to in-the-field scouting. The Orioles are the latest to gut their scouting staff (something that has happened in previous teams Mike Elias has been part of). Would a 6'4", 170lb first baseman who hit all of one home run in high school show up on a team's radar (even if he's the son of a major leaguer)?

Old-fashioned scouting seems to be passe these days.As the information age continues to spread to college and high-school players more and more teams are relying on analysts to decide their drafts instead of scouts in the field. One of the more memorable clips of the movie Moneyball was the pre-draft scene where Brad Pitt's Billy Beane looks increasingly frustrated as his scouts (including one guy with a hearing aid and another with bifocals) discuss various players with gems such as:

"An ugly girlfriend means no self-confidence"
"Clean cut, good face"

It's a visual and verbal scene showing that the old ways are out of touch.In order to be competitive, teams (especially low-budget teams) have to look at players in a different way. The main point in that scene and others is that teams didn't understand what went into winning games and therefore spent money on players (Johnny Damon in this case) that didn't necessarily contribute as much as people thought to wins.

As "Peter Brand" (a stand in for Paul DePodesta) states later in the movie,

"There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what's really happening. And it leads people who run major league teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams. They're still asking the wrong questions."

Teams shouldn't be buying players, they should be buying wins. That kicked off an analytics revolution that spent the better part of the next decade trying to determine how to find players that can contribute to more wins. What leads a team to wins? Is it on-base percentage or launch angles? Range factors or WAR? It's a process that's still evolving, but it's involving a lot of things that don't appeal to some folks who have been around the game a long time. Some think the "computer boys" are ruining the way the game is played.

Yet, a player like Bellinger could be an argument that there is still value for physical scouts out in the field.An argument that an experienced scout or ex-player can see something in his 17-year-old swing and how he moves on the field that allows him to project how he will develop as as a 21-year-old? Something that an algorithm won't detect.

The answer, as it usually does for such arguments, lies in some happy middle place. Yes, the information that is out there is valuable and should be used by clubs to scout out their prospects, but there is still room for the people that drive from backwater town to backwater town and watch the games.

People seem to think it has to be one or the other and that's just not true. A team that relies solely on the old way of doing things is going to struggle just as much as a team that only relies on analytics to determine who will play for them.  The most successful clubs are able to blend the two together and pick out the players that not only look good to the eye, but also produce in a way that satisfies the analytics and allows teams to project out their future to a reasonable degree.

A team that trains it's scouts to look for more than radar gun readings and home run totals is going to find the diamonds in the rough as well as the players that stand out via the eye test and the analytics readings.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 45: A Look at Topps Living Set

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 45: 14-2 over the Kansas City Royals

2019 Topps Living Set John Means (print run 2477)

The latest Baltimore Orioles entry into Topps grand experiment picked up the win Friday night in Kansas City. After falling behind early due to a Jorge Solar home run Means sat back and watched his offense take over. By the time he exited the game after seven innings of work he had a nifty 10-2 lead. The O's added four more over the next two innings to finish off one of their more lopsided wins of the season.

It's Mean's second win in a row and the second game in a row that he's worked seven innings. It appears that he has put aside whatever was troubling him on the mound after the All Star Break. He becomes the eighth Orioles in franchise history to win ten games as a rookie and the second Oriole rookie to be featured in Topps open-ended Living Set series.

For those not familiar with the concept, last season Topps decided to start an online-only set that would feature every player to ever suit up for a major league team. The cards are released three at a time every week. Once the week is up they no longer make any more of the cards, which results in fairly limited print runs. The weekly release usually features a current veteran player, a rookie, and a retired player. So far, over the two years, seven Orioles have been featured over all. They are, in order and with their print runs:

Manny Machado (6516)
Joey Rickard (5791)
Cal Ripken, Jr. (6423)
Trey Mancini (3490)
Cedric Mullins (3190)
Jim Palmer (3252)
John Means (2477)

Two rookies, three current veterans, and two retired players is a pretty even mix and leaves plenty of more options for future releases. Having seven players already featured puts the O's pretty much in the middle of the pack when it comes to team representation.

One of the little quirks of the series is that Topps plans on releasing only one card of each player. So, for instance, Nick Markakis has a card as an Atlanta Brave. That means Topps will not release a version of him in an Orioles uniform. The one exception is if a current player is traded. That's how Manny Machado ended up in an Orioles uniform and a Dodgers uniform.

Now that's it's almost two years in, I'm torn on the set. I really like the idea of a never ending set that will continue long after I'm dead. I'm also intrigued by the fact that at some point in 2034 Topps is going to have to release an Orioles Rocky Coppinger card.

Overall it appears that interest is leveling out from collectors. It seems the average print run is between 2,500 and 3,000 this season when last year it was closer to 3,500-4,000. Even the peak cards aren't peaking quite as high. Last year Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto were the big rookies and they sold 46,809 and 28,572 respectively. This year Vlad, Jr. peaked out at 27,749 and Fernando Tatis only sold 10,099.

Don't feel too bad for Topps. Even if everyone who bought a Means card, one of the lowest print runs they've had, spent the bare minimum ($4.99 as part of the three card bundle at $14.99, if you buy them one at a time they're $7.99) they still raked in about $12,000 just for that card. Even with some of the profit skimmed out due to free shipping, they're still making money.  So much so they expanded the idea to Star Wars and Champions League cards.

Initially I was buying the three card bundle with the hopes of selling off the two non-Oriole cards and at least breaking even. That hasn't exactly been the way it's worked out. The non-star cards aren't really moving that well in the secondary market, at least at higher prices. I'm at the point where I'm ready to post them at .99 cents in auction and take whatever comes.

Now I just pick up one Oriole card when they're released and ignore the others. I may pick up a couple of Adley cards once they come out in 2022 (he may be the one Orioles to crack the 10,000 mark if he continues to progress), and probably two Eddie Murray cards when they're released, but other than that I'll keep trudging along. And yes I will be personally offended if they release Murray in a Dodgers or Indians uniform.

I imagine there are some people out there trying to collect the entire set (currently up to 231 cards) but that is a rather expensive endeavor. I imagine that the bulk of the buyers are team collectors like myself that are just buying when their favorite team has a player represented. That's boosted by the flippers and prospectors that swoop in when a big name rookie is featured.

It'll be interesting how the set moves forward (will Topps start printing variations to drum up business) or will they keep trucking along? Who will be featured in their 00 cards (300, 400, 500, etc)? So far Babe Ruth was 100 (14,976) and Mike Trout was 200 (22,017).

What are your thoughts on Topps Living Set? Do you collect?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 44: Ahead of the pace already

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 44: 2-0 over the Washington Nationals

2001 Cal Ripken, Jr. Topps Noteworthy

Whelp. That didn't take long. Less than 10 hours after I published the road map to success, the Orioles threw it out of whack.  They did it in the best possible way, by shutting down, and shutting out the Washington Nationals, 2-0 on Tuesday night.

After guessing that they would get swept by one of the hottest teams in the major leagues, the Orioles guaranteed at least a split of the season series by pitching one of their best games of the season. Aaron Brooks started things off by going six innings and striking out six Nationals. He lived on the outside corner, painting it like Monet painted fuzzy lily ponds. Brooks, who is fighting for a spot on next year's roster, has strung together two strong outings (1 run allowed and 10 strikeouts over 11 innings).

The bullpen continued its recent run of success by shutting Washington out over the last three innings, highlighted by Hunter Harvey striking out Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth inning with the bases loader. Harvey has yet to allow a run in his four innings of major league work this season. With a 99+ MPH fastball and a healthy arm (finally) he may be in line for a closer role next year.

Current closer Mychal Givens closed the game out for his 11 save of the season (it doesn't sound like a lot, but he's closed out 1/4 of all the Orioles victories so that's something).

They're down to needing three wins to match last year and sixteen to beat Vegas.  Good times!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 43: The Road to Victory (at least a victory in Vegas)

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 43: 8-3 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2002 Topps Chris Singleton

The Orioles smacked Jaleen Beeks around on Sunday en route to an 8-3 victory over the Rays. Anthony Santander became the second Oriole in two weeks to collect five hits in a game (Renato Nunez did it against the Yankees) and Dylan Bundy pitched an effective, if not overwhelming, five innings to pick up his sixth win of the season.

With the victory the Orioles moved within four wins of matching last year's total and within seventeen wins of covering the 59.5 wins over/under bet I placed earlier this year in Vegas. I did not put a lot of money on this bet, and I stand to win even less it seems, but still, cashing the ticket would be fun because it means that they outperformed what the sharps in Vegas thought they would.

They head into Washington with a 43-88 record. Not great, but light years ahead of where they were last year. With 31 games to go, they need to go 17-14 in order to get to that magic 60 win mark. There aren't many stretches this season where the Orioles have had an above average record, but in looking over the next month, there is, as the political pundits like to say, a path to victory.

The Washington Nationals (73-57 record, 8-2 in their last 10 games, season series tied 1-1)

One of the hottest teams in the league, the Nationals are 8-2 in the field and 1-0 in the courtroom. With their recent winning ways they've vaulted into a 4 game lead for the first wild card spot in the National League and have an outside chance of catching the Braves for the NL East title. The two teams split their previous series in Baltimore with the Nationals winning the first game 8-1 and the Orioles bouncing back to win 9-2 in the second matchup.

The O's will have to beat their two aces as Patrick Corbin goes in game one and Max Scherzer goes in game two. I don't like those odds.  Orioles get swept.

Prediction Record (0-2)

The Kansas City Royals (46-85, 3-7 in their last 10 games, O's lead season series 2-1)

Last week the Orioles righted their ship a bit by taking two of three against the Royals. It's hard to imagine, but just four years ago these two teams met in the ALCS. Depending on how the two clubs do prior to their match-up, the Orioles have a chance of leap frogging them in the standings. While it would hurt their chances for the first over all pick, they still should get a pretty quality player even if they're drafting third or fourth overall.

It's a three game series on Kansas City's turf, and Dylan Bundy will be starting their for the first time since his May 8th debacle last season that saw him surrender 7 earned runs on 4 home runs without recording an out. He would most definitely like to go back and extract a little revenge on them with a strong outing. I think the O's take two out of three.

Prediction Record (2-3)

The Tampa Bay Rays (76-56, 5-5 in their last 10 games, Rays lead season series 10-6)

Despite having a losing record against the Rays, the Orioles have been a bit of a thorn in their side. As one of the few teams left down the stretch with something to fight for, the Rays will need every win they can muster and if the O's can play spoiler (as they did this weekend) panic may set in down in the Sunshine State.

The good news for the Orioles is that the Rays may not be getting some of their arms back in time for the series. As of right now rookie sensation Tyler Glasnow is throwing bullpen sessions but isn't scheduled to return until the second week of September. Reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell is also on the shelf until at least mid-September. Still, the Rays find ways to win and will take two out of three in this series.

Prediction Record (3-5)

The Texas Rangers (64-68, 4-6 in their last 10 games, Rangers lead season series 2-1)

When the two teams met back in early June, Texas was still well within the hunt or the wild card. Since then they've fallen off (12 games back as of publication) and unlikely to make a run with Boston and Oakland in front of them for the final spot in the playoffs. In that June series the two teams played three close games with the O's hanging on to win game one 12-11, then Texas winning game two 2-1 in twelve innings, and game three 4-3.

This series should be a bit of a toss up, and it will be interesting to see how many young Orioles will be making their Camden Yards debut (it'll be the first home series after the minor league regular seasons wrap up). It doesn't sound like the O's are in a rush to bring up a lot of their prospects, even the ones that need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season. I fully expect them to give their pitching prospects a bit of a break before possibly sending them to the Arizona fall league or shutting them down for the season for good. There really isn't much positive that can be achieved by having them pitch in Baltimore at the end of this season.

O's take three of four in a home-run filled series. Nomar Mazara provides some excitement as he comes within 2 feet of hitting an Asher Wojciechowski pitch off of the warehouse.

Prediction Record (6-6)

The Los Angeles Dodgers (86-46, 5-5 in their last 10 games, first meeting of the series)

I'm not going to lie. If the Orioles score more than six runs in this series I'll be surprised. Dodgers, despite not having anything to play for should sweep the series.

Prediction Record (6-9)

The Detroit Tigers (39-89, 3-7 in their last 10 games, Detroit leads series 2-1)

The Orioles head back out on the road for a quick four games series against the only team with a worse record than they have. Most likely this will be a battle between two teams trying to avoid being the first team to lose 100 games in the season. Frustrated by a lack of power against the Dodgers the O's bats should have a better chance against the Tigers.

This is the stretch of games where the O's will make a run to beat the record. If all breaks according to my predictions they will still need 11 wins in their final sixteen games. They will get three of them here as they spray the ball all over the vast outfield of Comerica park. Trey Mancini hits four doubles in the series as he punishes the right-center gap.

Prediction Record (9-10)

The Toronto Blue Jays (53-80, 2-8 in their last 10 games, Baltimore leads series 7-6)

Toronto is the only team the Orioles face twice in their final month of the season and it should hopefully be preview of two teams on the rise over the next few years. With their call-ups this season the Jays are probably two years ahead of the Orioles in their rebuild and could provide a nice road map of the future. Their pitching is a bit shaky, but the offense is going to be a blast. Vlad Guerrero, Jr. may be the most exciting player to watch that's not named Mike Trout while Bo Bichette is an extra-base machine ( he has 40 hits on the season with 14 doubles and 8 home runs).

Still, the O's are playing with confidence and they take advantage of the Toronto pitching staff to take two of three.

Prediction Record (11-10)

The Seattle Mariners (56-76, 7-3 in their last 10 games, Seattle leads series 3-1)

It was a rough trip to Seattle earlier in the year that had the Orioles losing three out of four while giving up 32 runs in the four game series. Things will be a little better when they face off against their fellow cellar dwellers. The O's conclude the home portion of their schedule by taking three of four from the Mariners.

Prediction Record (14-11)

The Toronto Blue Jays (53-80, 2-8 in their last 10 games, Baltimore leads series 7-6)

The final road trip of the season starts in Toronto where the locals are more worried about Mitch Marner's lack of a contract than an early week three-game series with the Orioles. Still, Toronto takes two of three against the Birds.

Prediction Record (15-13)

The Boston Red Sox (70-62, 7-3 in their last 10 games, Boston leads series 10-5)

As well as the Orioles are (hypothetically) playing down the stretch, it's nothing compared to the Red Sox. They've finally found their groove and are making a mad dash for the playoffs having made up their six game deficit in the Wild Card race. With the Rays just barely clinging on and facing a frisky upstart in Toronto to end their season, the Red Sox are looking for a sweep.

Things go well in game one as Eduardo Rodriguez twirls a 7-inning gem against his former team and the Red Sox bats pound Aaron Brooks in his final start in an O's uniform. The 9-1 final coupled with a Rays loss to Toronto puts the Red Sox in a virtual tie for the second wild card spot.

Game two features a rejuvenated Chris Sale on the mound against Dylan Bundy. A pitcher's duel plays out with the O's finally taking the lead on Renato Nunez's 30th home run of the year. Hunter Harvey closes out the ninth and Baltimore wins 4-3. Tampa also loses so Boston heads into the final game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win.

In game 3 David Price is mowing down O's left and right. He racks up 12 strikeouts in the first six innings. However, Dillon Tate, making his first start of the year matches him with six strikeouts of his own. The game is tied 1-1 heading into the top of the ninth when Hanser Alberto doubles into the left field gap off of   Darwinzon Hernandez (Alberto finishes with a .417 average against lefties). D.J. Stewart then drives him in with a two-run shot off of old friend Andrew Cashner that hooks around Pesky's pole. Harvey strikes out three in the bottom of the ninth while in Toronto the Rays win on an inside the park home run by Eric Sogard. Tampa is in and the Red Sox are out.

I jump in my car and drive to Vegas to cash my ticket.

(Final Prediction 17-14)