Category Archives: orioles

The other Cal

Calvin Pickering was a big strong guy who came up with the Orioles and hit the ball really, really hard whenever he hit it, which unfortunately was not often enough for him to hold down a steady job in the major leagues.  CJ and I saw him a few years ago in Tucson, where he was playing for the visiting Calgary team from an unaffiliated league I think no longer exists.  Here’s an e-mail interview with Pickering, featuring this great reminiscence:

Who was the toughest pitcher that you ever faced?: PEDRO MARTINEZ MOST DEFINITELY. I remember when we was playing them in Boston and they told me that I was in the lineup and Pedro was pitching. I was like cool so the first AB I think I walk then the second AB I hit a home run off him but the funny part about that AB is that he threw all fastball and I hit a home run so the 3 AB he threw me all CHANGEUPS and I flew out so when I was heading back to the dugout he told he pick you showed me that you can hit my fastball so I wanted to see if you could of hit my change up… I just started laughing on the way back in … ever since that day we been cool.

Pickering is the kind of player who’d probably get a longer look in 2013 than he did when he played.  Terrible batting average, but walked so much that his OBP was a hundred points higher, and he had the power.


RIP Drungo Larue Hazewood

The bearer of the greatest name in sports history is dead of cancer at 53.  He played in the Orioles’ minor league system in the early 80s alongside Cal Ripken, John Shelby, and Floyd Rayford, and made it to the bigs at the age of 20; but his major league career lasted just six games, during which he never got a hit (though he did score a run, pinch-running for Ken Singleton.)

The linked obit, from the Sacramento Bee, is truly moving:

“He wasn’t bitter about baseball. He wasn’t angry that it didn’t work out. He had a dream to play major-league baseball, and he got his chance. He did his best. He was disappointed, yes, but he was very happy becoming a husband, a father and then a grandfather.”

Lagette paused to compose herself and continued, “Family was his life, and there were grandkids crawling all over him the evening before he died, holding his hand, saying, ‘Papa, look at this.’ He was a man of very simple wants and needs, and he died with a smile, and at peace with who he is.”

It also answers the question of how Hazewood got his name:

After giving birth to the second-youngest of 10 children, Catherine Hazewood left it up to the baby’s siblings to name him. The winner of a foot race to the hospital would get to name the baby.  Aubrey won, naming his baby brother after a friend’s last name.



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7 Apr 2013: Twins 4, Orioles 3

I took CJ to this game, his first at OPACY.  Great day out, perfect weather, but a terrible game, which both teams seemed to be trying their best to lose.  Joe Mauer dropped a foul popup.  Alexi Casilla made the last out for the Orioles on a weak grounder — but the pitcher bobbled it, and Casilla probably would have made first on the play if he hadn’t jogged half-heartedly out of the batter’s box.  And of course there was Adam Jones, who pulled up on a fly that was his to catch and let it drop three feet in front of him for a two-run double — yes, it was ruled a double, in an act of generosity so extravagant that the official scorer could have legally taken it off his taxes.  A week later, Jones would drop a fly ball against the Yankees to allow three runs to score in a 5-2 New York victory.  Jones looks like a really good center fielder, but the defensive metrics hate him, and I have to say the defensive metrics have the better of it at the moment.

Jason Hammel, in theory our ace, looked a lot worse than his line suggests; behind in the count all day, never seeming to find much of a rhythm.

So the Orioles, on the strength of this game, didn’t look like a good ballclub — but for the season as a whole, they’re holding their own against the powers of the AL East, and one can’t ask for much more than that.

After the game, CJ and I walked around the Inner Harbor, which has not changed at all since I was a kid, and seems to be just as crowded as popular and kid-pleasing as it ever has been.  OK, one change:  the Power Plant, which used to be a metal-oriented rock club, is now a Barnes and Noble.  Sort of strange, since metal is more popular and than it was when I was a kid, and books less so.  But Baltimore marches to its own beat.

Final note to self:  remember that, even in Baltimore, a crabcake is not the kind of food that’s likely to be good at the ballpark.

Orioles pre-mortem 2013

And here we go!  The 2013 Orioles — now thickly coated with playoff experience — enter the 2013 season, as usual, picked by everyone to finish last.  What’s not usual is that they’re not predicted to be terrible; there are no bad teams in the AL East, and it’s not out of the question that all five teams could finish with winning records.

The most popular Monte Carlo season simulators (CAIRO, Marcel, ZiPS, etc.) tend to have Baltimore winning around 79 games, and everybody else over .500.  They give the Orioles an 8-10% chance of winning the division.

Is that right?  The Orioles, of course, won 93 games last year and finished just two games behind New York, eventually winning the AL wildcard after a play-in game against the Rangers.  Much has been made of the Orioles’s insanely (and unsustainably) good record of 29-9 in one-run games.  The Orioles only scored a few more runs than they allowed last year; on the merits, they looked more like a .500 team than a contender.

On the other hand, the second-half team was very different from the team that opened the 2012 season.  That team, with Manny Machado, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman playing key roles, outscored its opponents 361-318.  And that team, more or less, is the one that’s taking the field Tuesday against the Rays.

I think it’s fair to say that the 2013 Orioles have at least as much talent as the winning team that played the second half of 2012.

But here are some reasons for pessimism.

  • Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez all pitched better than they were supposed to last season.  If all three regress, the starting pitching gets notably worse.
  • Hammel and Markakis both missed some time with injury, but the Orioles’ other main contributors (Jones, Wieters, Davis, Chen, Hardy if you believe in b-refs defensive WAR) played just about full seasons.  There’s no reason to expect the front-of-the-line players to be this healthy again, and the Orioles bench (especially without Betemit) is catastrophically weak.  Anything goes wrong, anything, and Ryan Flaherty is going to get serious at-bats.  I like Ryan Flaherty and his big narrow Nomar face but if you’re counting on his bat in a big spot you know things have gone floppy.
  • Biggest reason:  the Red Sox and the Blue Jays got better.  A lot better.  The projection systems have each team improving 10-15 games, i.e. winning 10-20% more games than last year.  The Orioles play 36 games against those two teams — so if they win 10-20% more of the games they play against us, that gives Baltimore 5 or so fewer wins, even if the team’s talent level is exactly the same.  This is the biggest reason I think the Orioles will struggle to make it to .500 this year.

But let’s finish with optimism.  The main contributors for Baltimore are all entering what ought to be their prime, and there’s every reason to think that most of them will get better.  The Orioles may still be in the playoff chase in September when Bundy and/or Gausman show up, and they may not, but I take it to be almost certain that the 2013 Orioles will be a highly enjoyable team to watch and root for.  Especially if Adam Jones keeps hitting people in the face with pies.  I never get tired of the pies.

(Previously:  Orioles pre-mortem 2012.  Orioles pre-mortem 2011.  Orioles pre-mortem 2010.  I had forgotten that the projection systems kept picking the Orioles to be sort of OK and win 77 games, until finally in 2012 they gave up and decided the Orioles really were a terrible 68-win team, at which point they won like crazy.)




“They’ve been there before”

Remember yesterday, when I was talking about the inglorious end of the Orioles 1997 season, when I reflected that sometimes the best team in the league faces a win-or-go-home playoff game, and they’ve got a legitimate ace on the mound who pitches a brilliant game, and yet … they lose?

Well, it happened to the Rangers last night.  I’ve never watched Yu Darvish before, but jeez.  A couple of times I was pretty sure I actually heard the baseball utter the word “Psych!” as it jerked away from an Oriole’s helpless swing.

Anyway:  the Orioles move on to the ALDS against the Yankees.  New York’s “playoff experience” will no doubt be made much of.  Here’s the number of career playoff games, prior to last night, for the O’s postseason lineup:

Nate McLouth 3

J.J. Hardy 7

Chris Davis 0

Adam Jones 0

Matt Wieters 0

Jim Thome 67

Mark Reynolds 7

Ryan Flaherty 0

Manny Machado 0

They haven’t been there before.  Will it hurt them?  It didn’t keep the Orioles from beating Darvish, and I don’t think it’ll keep them from beating the Yankees, either.





The last Orioles postseason game

I don’t know if it’s much remembered outside Baltimore, but it was a brutal heartbreaker.  Mike Mussina was brilliant, pitching 8 shutout innings and allowing only a single hit; but the Orioles hitters couldn’t come through when it counted, stranding 14 runners over the course of the game.  Tony Fernandez finally won it for the Indians, 1-0, with a homer off Armando Benitez in the 11th, only the third Cleveland hit of the game.

Jim Thome, tonight’s DH for the Orioles, started in that game too, on the other side.  Since then, Thome’s played in 39 playoff games, while the Orioles have played in none.

The Rangers are the best team in the American League, playing at home, with a legitimate ace starting the game.

But so were the Orioles, in 1997, and the Indians beat them.

Go O’s.



Tea, 4-2!

(This post by explicit request of a senior arithmetic geometer who wanted more Orioles material.)

Orioles backup catcher Taylor Teagarden is hitting .152.  Taylor Teagarden has recorded only seven base hits this season.  And three of Taylor Teagarden’s seven base hits have been extra-inning game-winning RBIs.  Others call them extra innings — we call them tea time.

Last night — sorry, I mean early this morning — might have been Teagarden’s most important gwerbie yet.  The Orioles, absolutely baffled by rookie starter Erasmo Ramirez, were down 2-0 in the ninth, their chance of winning per Fangraphs down to 5.8%.  To keep up our comparison of baseball odds and political odds, that’s the same chance Nate Silver is giving Mitt Romney to win Minnesota.  In other words, slim.

But the unnervingly good rookie gave way to the regular closer, Chris Davis singled in two runs, and the Orioles sent it to extras.  A lot of extras.  Teagarden’s RBI single came in the top of the 18th, a little before 3 in the morning Wisconsin time.  Reynolds knocked in an insurance run and the Orioles end up winning 4-2 to move percentage points behind the NYY for the divisional lead.  It was the longest game the Orioles have played this year, and their 14th straight extra-inning win, the second-longest such streak in the history of baseball.  (The otherwise unheralded 1949 Cleveland Indians hold the record.)

  • I have always been told that it’s good luck when a bird craps on your head, and perhaps this is so, because eventual winner Tommy Hunter pitched his whole outing with an avian dollop on his cap last night.
  • Steve Johnson pitched 3 scoreless innings with 1 hit and 4 K.  His ERA stands at 2.13. What does a guy have to do to get a spot start on this team?
  • And it just got yet more crowded; thanks to the depleted bullpen from last night’s game, the Orioles have called up 19-year-old superprospect Dylan Bundy.  Sounds like he’ll be used in relief, maybe even as early as today — in which case, happy Bundyday!
  • Dave Cameron claims that, for some teams, the best strategy in a one-game playoff is to skip the starter, instead deploying your best relievers for two or three innings each.  He’s writing about the Braves, but could this be a good move for the Orioles?  Two innings each from Steve Johnson, Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, and Luis Ayala, with Jim Johnson closing it out, sounds like a pretty good starter to me.


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Why not again?

Twenty-three years ago, coming off a last-place, 100-loss season, the Orioles made an improbable run for the AL East.  Their season ended with a three-game series against the division-leading Blue Jays in Toronto; they went in 1 game down, which means they needed to win 2 games to force a playoff or sweep to win the division.  But they lost 2 of 3 and went home.

I’ll just say this.  The Angels are 1 1/2 games out of the wild card right now, but I think they have the strongest team of anyone still in the chase, and they’re likely to take one of the spots.  That leaves one wild card.  At the moment, Baltimore and Tampa Bay are the top two contenders.  The Orioles finish the season with a three-game set against the Rays on the road.  It could easily be the case that they start that series a game behind TB for the second wild card.

If so, let’s hope it goes better this time.

More arguments about the Orioles and regression

David Schoenfield in ESPN:

However (you knew this was coming), only four teams have ever made the playoffs while getting outscored. Of course, the extra wild card changes that dimension a bit, as the necessary win total to make the postseason goes down. Here’s what I did. I looked at three of those four playoff teams and every team since 1969 that won 85 games while being outscored (leaving out the 2005 Padres, who won 82 games while getting outscored by 42 runs, but aren’t really germane to the Orioles since 82 isn’t getting them into the playoffs).

It doesn’t happen often, which is why us number crunchers constantly refer to run differential as a general sign of team strength and indicator of future results.

First of all — it’s we number crunchers.

More importantly:  yes, it’s rare for teams that get outscored to win 85 games.  But so what?  The Orioles are 9 games over .500 with 2/3 of the season already in the books.  Conditional on that, the chance of the Orioles winning 85 is not bad at all.

And it’s rare for 85-win teams that get outscored to make the playoffs.  But that’s because it’s rare for 85-win teams to make the playoffs!  If the Orioles end up with 85 wins, they probably won’t play in the postseason; but that has zilch to do with them allowing more runs than they score.

To his credit, Schoenfield ends up getting this right at the end of his piece:

Let’s say it will take 88 wins to make the playoffs; I think it will take a couple more than that, but, hey, maybe the Angels and Tigers aren’t as good as most people think and never get on a big roll. To win 88 games, the Orioles have to go 29-23 over the final 52 games. Can they go 31-21 to win 90? My argument is they can’t; Orioles fans will suggest that Miguel Gonzalez (3.80 ERA in 47 innings) and Chris Tillman (5-1, 2.38 ERA in six starts) help make the rotation respectable. Maybe so. Regardless, the Orioles will have to play better then they have; you can’t keep relying on extra-inning miracles.

You can usually count on FanGraphs for a more quantitatively savvy take, and Dave Cameron comes through:

But the odds are already stacked against the Orioles anyway. They are 60-51 despite being outscored by 47 runs, and everyone keeps expecting them to fall out of the race any day now. Instead, they just keep winning. Yes, they’ve built their record on unsustainable performances, racking up 12 straight extra inning wins and going 22-6 in one run games. The way the Orioles have put themselves in contention suggests that they’re not as good as their record suggests, and that of all the teams fighting for the wild card, they’re the one least likely to continue winning games at this pace.

But none of that should matter to the Orioles. The reality is that those 111 games are in the books, and no one is going to be stripping wins from them simply because they won more close games than we would have expected. Baltimore is tied with Oakland and Detroit for the lead in the wild card race with 51 games to go, and in that kind of small sample, the variation in expected record around a team’s true talent level is pretty large. Even if we accept that the Orioles are playing over their heads, that does not preclude them from continuing to play over their heads for the rest of the season.

It might not be the most likely outcome, but the Orioles shouldn’t give up on a playoff run simply because the results aren’t likely to turn out in their favor. Even if we thought the Orioles were a true talent .460 team, we’d still expect there to be a wide range of possible outcomes given their current situation. In general, standard deviations around a team’s true talent level are believed to be about eight to 10 wins per full season, so it’s completely normal for a 75 win team to win 65 or 85 games just due to normal variation. In smaller samples, the variations are even larger, so even if we analyze the Orioles as a true talent .460 winning percentage team, that just means that they’ll probably win between something like 39%-53% of their games in August and September. In other words, they could be good, they could be bad, or they could be anything in between. Their underlying stats suggest that the mean is shifted towards the losing side of the curve, but that doesn’t mean that the winning side doesn’t exist simply because they’ve already “gotten lucky” in terms of wins and losses. They are not more likely to underperform now simply because they’ve already overperformed in the first four months.

Lucky wins count!

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Lucky wins count

Bad SI article by Jay Jaffe about the overachieving Orioles, who won another crazy game tonight on a bases-loaded Adam Jones single in the bottom of the 14th.  Jaffe is right, of course, that the Orioles are unlikely to stay competitive with Oakland, Detroit, LA, and Chicago for a wild-card spot.  But the reasoning is bad, e.g.:

So how seriously should we take the Orioles? The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, which are driven by remaining schedule and run differentials, adjusted for the quality of opposition, gives Baltimore just a 5.7 percent chance at making the playoffs. Even the Red Sox, who at 54-55 are 3 1/2 games below them in the standings, have a 10.2 percent shot. Those odds aren’t simply theoretical, as history suggests the deck is strongly stacked against them. Few teams wind up exceeding their Pythagorean records by nine wins, and even fewer teams with negative run differentials reach the playoffs.

Few teams exceed their Pythagorean records by nine wins — but among teams which are already nine wins ahead of their Pythagorean record, it should be about half.  (And the Orioles are actually 10 over after tonight’s 1-run win.)  Similarly, few teams with negative run differentials make the playoffs; but few teams with negative run differentials win 85 games, which the Orioles easily could.  (I’m standing by my original prediction of 83.)

The Orioles are unlikely to win the wildcard, but they’re likely to finish with a winning record, and they’re likely to finish with more runs allowed than scored.  They’ve registered a lot of lucky wins, but so what?  Lucky wins count.


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