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August 5, 2011

Orioles pitching cavalry has been in full retreat

The Orioles' starting pitching woes – and the seeming regression of every one of their young starters who has pitched in the big leagues this season – reminded me recently of an article that I wrote for The Baltimore Sun during spring training before the 2009 season.

The topic was “The Cavalry,” the nickname former Orioles manager Dave Trembley gave to the organization’s highly touted group of pitching prospects. You can read that here.

Trembley was hardly the only one singing the praises of the Orioles’ young arms. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had this to say:

"If you want to be a huge dreamer, you start thinking about those early '70s [Orioles] rotations. Obviously, that's hyperbole, but there's definitely a lot of talent. If everything breaks right, you are talking about a 2011 Orioles rotation that could be pretty sick.

"Their pitching ranks with anyone in the business. There's no doubt about it. [Chris] Tillman and [Brian] Matusz are two guys that I have among the top 25 prospects in baseball. [Jake] Arrieta is in the top 50. [Brandon] Erbe makes it in the top 100, and there are these guys after them that may not be studs, but they project as back-of-the-rotation inning eaters. And those guys are valuable. They just have a ton of pitching."

I bring this up not an attempt to make Goldstein look bad. His opinion is well-respected around the game, and he is very good at what he does. At the time, other pundits, including Baseball America’s Jim Callis, who was quoted in the article, were saying similar things.

No, my point is to further exhibit how far and how fast the Orioles’ pitching has fallen. With about seven weeks left in the 2011 season, I don’t know that the Orioles can pencil a single guy into their 2012 rotation. The situation has become such a disaster that the Orioles are again left scouring the waiver wire, searching for the latest reincarnation of Victor Santos and Victor Zambrano just to finish out the season.

Jeremy Guthrie, whom I didn’t even include in the projected 2011 rotation at the bottom of the above-mentioned article, an omission that he playfully reminds me of on a regular basis, is a candidate to be traded this offseason.

You’d like to think that young lefties Matusz and Zach Britton will rebound from some tough times this year to become rotation mainstays, but they’d have to string together a bunch of strong starts to feel better about that potential.

Arrieta has a plus-5.00 ERA and is awaiting season-ending elbow surgery. Brad Bergesen and Tillman have done nothing over the last year or so to prove that they are reliable big league starters, and Jason Berken has been unable to solidify his spot in either the rotation or bullpen. Troy Patton, meanwhile, could factor in next year’s bullpen, but not in the rotation.

And that’s pretty much where things stand with “The Cavalry.” It is indeed not a pretty picture, and the group's regression is the biggest reason that it's hard to foresee the Orioles breaking from their losing ways in the near future.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 6:30 AM | | Comments (49)
        

Comments

Cavalry migh have been better if 1) injuries did not occur and 2) pitching coaches keep changing.

In hindsight, Rick Kranitz should have stayed.

But no matter what the cause is, it is a damn disaster.

Do you mean "cavalry", rather than "calvary"?

Jeff, it seems an awful lot like the movie "Groundhogs Day." We are told every 2-4 years that "THIS" is the group of young arms that will lead us out of baseball hell. Sidney Ponson; Jason Johnson; Josh Towers; Daniel Cabrera; Matt Riley; Garret Olsen; Hayden Penn; Adam Loewen; The list goes on and on. I don't expect you to throw the organization under the bus, but don't you think it's clear something is systemically wrong? Is it conditioning, coaching, or both? It can't just be bad luck...

but WHY the regression??? WHY WHY WHY???? What is the O's organization doing to these guys - ALL of them?? Why doesn't the Sun investigate this and ask these questions of the O's management?

I knew the "calvary" was in serious trouble when we went into Cleveland's Little Big Horn in April and got scalped by the Indians.

As Showalter mentioned the other day, if you have 6-7 pitching prospects you are very lucky if 2-3 pan out due to injury, ineffectiveness etc. And I don't think the O's are in horrible shape long term. Britton has pitched better than his numbers suggest (3.93 X FIP, 4.66 ERA with a 55% GB rate). Matusz and Tillman aren't dead yet due to their age and I was very encouraged by Tillman's velocity in the NY start plus a few minor league pitchers have stepped up a little (Drake, Bobby Bundy, Ballard). Arrieta needs to throw strikes but has the stuff to be a middle of the rotation starter assuming the injury isn't serious long term. And they drafted the best pitcher in the draft and will likely have the #2 pick next year.

I'm not sure that this year wasn't the best thing to happen to the O's long term. Last year's final two months were a mirage and led to Vlad, Lee, Gregg and a thought the team could actually be .500. I hate to see Matusz hurt if that is the case but the higher the draft pick the better and this forces the team to step back like with the Davis trade and get younger. Most disheartening thing for me other than possibly Matusz is Wieters and Markakis. Team will not be good anytime soon unless both of them are plus offensive players. Wieters is not getting any better offensively at all and Markakis is getting worse the older he gets. Sign Dylan Bundy, get Matusz right in 2012 and keep Tillman's velocity up and all is not lost however.

'The Calvary'? Let's hope the pitching has a resurrection.

Ummmmm EXACTLY......

Terrific find Jeff. But please hold onto to the article as you'll be able to use it again in 2013.

WHY doesn't anyone see this? WHY isn't anyone accountable during the AM era, EVER?

The PLAN is OVER. It didn't work, it doesn't work, it won't work...... AM has lost more game than any other exec in the game over the last 20 years for a reason. You folks don't see that now?

Do you think PA and his sons watched the series loss to the KC Royals? You really do? Seriously? Wow....

Trust me..... they didn't... THEY DON'T CARE.

Next time PA and AM talk about the dreaded AL Folks, think about losing to the ROYALS.... Then think about losing to the NATS.... Then think about losing to the PIRATES.

Read the article Jeff posted people.... Then think about how you've been COMPLETELY HOSED by this organization AGAIN....

I'll continue to echo what Eric and many others keep saying, with no reply from folks who regularly cover the Os. Is there a systemic problem in the organization that takes quality prospects --- by ALL accounts --- and creates a weak MLB product. Can anyone name ONE "can't miss" prospect over the last 10 years, who came up through the ranks to a successful MLB run? If that's the case, what is the problem? How come all the injuries? How come no stamina?


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Jeff Z's reply: Bobby, this topic will obviously be addressed more and more in the coming days, but it's not like we haven't discussed it many times in the past. The Orioles have done a poor job over the years scouting and developing, along with evaluating their own talent (Pedro Beato should have never been alllowed to leave in Rule 5 to give one example). That was one of Andy MacPhail's chief objectives coming in, and things just haven't changed enough in his tenure. When you couple scouting and development issues with injuries, the competition in the AL East, a poor defensive club behind them and a flawed offensive one that gives very little run support, a revolving door of pitching coaches and a losing culture in Baltimore, you get what you are seeing. It's a combination of factors that has its roots in scouting and player development obviously. Again, this is something that will be discussed and written about plenty over the next couple of months.

The "Plan" is fundamentally flawed. Consistent winning teams do not rely upon a "cavalry" of prospects for success. They acquire proven major league talent using their prospects as trade leverage. You might catch lightening in a bottle with a once in a generation batch of young players, but calling that a plan is like buying lottery tickets as a retirement strategy. What the plan is... is cheap. I'm a lifer, but suffer from no delusions that this will be a successful franchise while employing this strategy. It is a low-rent philosophy with low-rent results. Think about our last successful team. Where did the players come from? Ripken of course, but what about Alomar, Palmeiro, Baines, Bonilla, Surhoff, and Zeile? There was Mussina, but what about Wells, Brown, Erickson? Those were competitive teams that were assembled with major league talent. The occasional Tejada signing is not enough. You're either all in, or you get what you see on the field now. Just sad.

Yes, the pitching has collapsed beyond reasonable limits but the big failure with the Orioles is in player development. There isn't a lot to hope for down the road. Oh, and the defense... From watching it appeared to me that a lot of ground balls were getting through the infield. Then I read the MASN article that showed that my impressions were correct; the Orioles defense is lousy. It's not just the errors, it's the immobility. Maybe they oughta dampen the infield, soften it up to slow down some of those ground balls. It's legal. KC appears to have hardened theirs (have you ever seen so many high hoppers?) and built a lineup to take advantage of that.
Hmm... can you tailor the infield to help with strikeouts?

Jeff,

I realize that you, Dan, Jeff, Pete and Steve have a lot of respect for Andy Macphail, mainly due to the rich heritage and history of the baseball family.

That being said, Andy Macphail is now inexorably linked to the continued failure of the franchise. He has accomplished little, if any tangible results. With the schedule ahead, the Orioles are an even bet to lose 100 games in his fourth full year. Your headline tells it all about the pitching, and the farm system is still in bad shape save for a few prospects in the low minors.

I don't think Andy will be back at all. I think he will retire in humility faced with the terrible results he has achieved here. Why would he want to stay in any capacity other than for a paycheck, and he certainly does not need one.

Can you recall how you felt when Andy was hired and how you feel now about the job he has done? You must be somewhat disappointed as to what a minimalist he has been. Has his performance somewhat changed your opinion of him since you have seen it close up?

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Jeff Z's reply: Gil, I've answered a variation of those questions you've asked on MacPhail a million times. You know how I feel about the situation, and his job performance. I'm not going to repeat myself over and over again in answering the same type of question. As for being disappointed in him, he didn't let me down. If the fans are disappointed, so be it, but that's not an emotion that I'd use in expressing my thoughts on the guy.

The difference between the 2011 "Baby Birds" and the 1959-60 Baby Birds? Paul Richards and Harry The Cat. The O's taught fundamentals ALL THROUGH the system and we had ONE pitching coach and a pitching philosophy that ran thru the system. This group and recover. Arrieta was pitching sub-par (IMO) B/C of injury all year. Matsuz was injured in ST and still hasn't recovered. Britton was rushed. Tillman has been rushed. IMO Berkin is the Jack Fisher of this group and Britton the Steve Barber. What they lack is someone to step up and be the Chuck Estrada and Milt Pappas.

Jeff,
Wasn't trying to take a cheap shot at you. I think you and Roch do more detailed coverage than just about everyone else combined. But every time I read lots of details about another poor performance, and someone being quoted with the "these young guys need to step it up" or "they're not performing like they should", I look for reasons other than the guy isn't delivering. Other clubs get the same (and many times poorer) quality prospects and they turn into low-ERA gents.

I concur with the lack of run production and all the other reasons you listed accurately (although other AL East clubs have injuries to key players and seem to roll onward), but the player development side of things is maybe worse than the horrible early 2000s.

I have been a fan for 50 years, and still have my ticket stub to game 4 of the '66 series. I watch regularly every game I can, but I gotta tell ya, last night I turned it off at an 4-3 Os lead to watch "The Mentalist", only flipping back at commercials. That approach kept my sanity in tact and my BP down. I think I'll continue to do so.

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Jeff Z's reply: No worries. I didn't take it as a cheapshot.

Will the Brian Matusz Bobblehead doll become a collector's item as a give-away for a player who wasn't on the team?

The O's need a higher quanitity of draft picks. They always lag behind other AL East in this department. NY, BOS, and TB always have type A free agents leaving, so they get multiple compensatory draft picks. We don't, so it has become a vicious cylce. It needs to stop.

While competent leadership at many other teams has provided what it takes to make them rebound from down years, the Orioles are condemned to perpetual last place by the systematic, year-after-year neglect, incompetence, bungling and arrogance of their owner. Their record is a fitting monument to Peter the Terrible.

You and the other writers do a good job of covering a hapless team. Has the paper ever considered taking the gloves off and exposing the O's organization for what it really is?

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Jeff Z's reply: I understand we live in a "What have you done for me lately" society and I hope I don't come across here as being too sensitive because I'm really not. But we've written plenty about how flawed this organization is over the years. Sure, we may not have written the 2011 installment, but I know I've written about their failures of developing players, their poor drafting, their awful spring facilities (up until recently) their lack of interest and attention in international scouting, poor roster management, failure to land big-time free agents, etc., etc., etc. I'm sure we'll continue to write more about those issues in the next couple of months, but I do take issue with the suggestion that those things have never been addressed. It's a fundamentally flawed organization in all aspects, and many of those aspects have filled plenty of column inches.

Jeff, I completely understand where all the concern is coming from. My biggest complaint would be that I think these guys were rushed to the majors. But can't we take into consideration that Brad Bergensen is the oldest at 26?? Most of these guys have made less than 30 starts. You are right, these guys have shown nothing that makes you think they can get big league hitters out consistently. But look at Hochevar the other night, a former #1 pick, he's 27 and in his 4th season and just starting to figure it out.

As for McPhail I think he gets a bad rap. With all the losing, he is an easy target. He took over a team 4 years ago with a barren farm system, and several high-paid, no-talent veterans. Look at the trades he's made. He's brought in Jones, Tillman(who was a top 25 prospect at the time.), and Hardy. The Sherill and Koji trades were decent. Signed Wieters, Matusz and Machado. Talked Buck into coming here. You can't sign free agents that don't want to come here. And sure there's been bad moves too. But he didn't overpay for certain guys. (Can you imagine what this blog would be like if we had another 3 yrs/$36 mil of Adam Dunn) The rebuilding has to come from within. Are there scouting and development problems? Absolutly. Is he too deliberate sometimes and not creative enough? Absolutely.

I know I'm in the minority here but I would like to see Andy brought back to see this thing through.

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Jeff Z's reply: Thanks for the thoughts, KD. I certainly agree with some of the stuff you said and don't put this all on MacPhail. I've said this many times, I think he inherited a near impossible situation and he's done some good things, like failing to bog the organization down with ridiculous long-term commitments, and making a couple of key trades that have added some talent into the organization. But Andy has said it himself, ultimately you have to look at wins and losses, and this team appears every bit on its way to 100 losses. It's an organizational-wide problem, and obviously Peter and Andy head the organization. As for Hochevar, if I recall correctly, he had a plus 5.00 ERA heading into that start against the O's. Obviously, he's shown some signs, but I think it's hard to conclude that he's figuring it out. And I'd be much easier on the Orioles starters because of their age and inexperience if I saw some signs of progress, and I just don't. Guys like Bergesen and Tillman have gotten so many chances, and they haven't made improvements. In fact, they've pretty much regressed.

The really difficult part is going to be the offseason. At least for the past couple of winters, we've been hanging on, waiting for the young pitchers to arrive in the major leagues. We waited another winter for them to "mature". Now what? This offseason is going to be spent wondering what went wrong. Sure these guys are young and can bounce back and have great careers. But it's tough for the fans to hang their hopes on anything right now.

while this year has exhibited murphy's law, i do have some hope for bounceback in 2012 and beyond:

matusz- looked under-weight, it sounds like he has realized he needs to bulk up a little. improved leg strength may get him back to where he was velocity-wise. we might see some flashes of his old self in the big leagues by season's end.

britton- something is up with his sinker, you can see in pitchFX data that it has lost vertical drop since the beginning of the season. if he can regain that sink he should be effective again.

tillman- no idea here, he's still very young and there's a chance he could pan out. his velocity was up in his last start, which was encouraging, but the past two seasons haven't looked very good.

arrieta- just a rough guess, i'll say a 50/50 shot the surgery helps and he comes back a solid mid-rotation guy. he's got the stuff to get strikeouts. but, there's good reason to worry that he won't ever achieve that potential.

bundys- i don't know how bobby bundy projects, but he seems to be the most promising starting pitching prospect that we haven't seen yet in baltimore. and if we sign dylan then he will take that crown.

I'm sorry, but Andy MacPhail gets a large portion of the blame regarding the past four years. Sure, the organization was in disarray before he arrived, but how long does he get a free pass because of prior ineptitude?

The reality is that there are only two -- count 'em, two! -- major-league ready players that are producing on this roster, for which Andy is responsible: Jones and Hardy.

And that's it.

RF Markakis was already here.
CF Jones, an Andy atta-boy
LF ?? We have no LF
1B ?? Jury's out on Davis
2B ?? Don't have one, and the guy who was there is not an Andy guy.
SS Hardy, Andy atta-boy
3B Reynolds, a hitting and fielding albatross that will weigh down any team trying to turn the corner
C Not an Andy guy

Pitchers?

Guts, once again leading the league in losses, but at least serviceable on the right team. However, not an Andy guy.
Tillman -- flop, until proven otherwise
Matusz -- giant question mark
Britton -- broken by classic Oriole mismanagement and mis-handling, may have a future, but is not producing effectively at the MLB level right now. There's simply no disputing that.
Arrieta -- okay pitcher who should have had elbow surgery prior to *this* year, but should be okay in the long run.

Bullpen? No comment.

So there you have it. Four years later, and the O's STILL have one of the worst farm systems in the league, and two, maybe three, players producing at the major league level who were directly attributable to Andy MacPhail. Oh, unless you want to count Kevin Greg.

There you go! Four! Andy has given O's fans *almost* four quality major league players in four years.

Woo-hoo, let's print playoff tickets.

They were "supposed" to turn it around LAST SEASON according to Andy's time line, but here we are again with another disastrous season, and this team could wind up with a WORSE record than last year's! Yet Andy is still deflecting blame to the regime from five years ago?

Four years to watch a team that can't keep up with the bottom-dwellers of the other divisions?

Four years and a sparkling .400 winning percentage? Maybe Andy has confused winning percentage with batting average?

Oh, well at least they aren't "tied down with long term contracts", allowing them to sign the next round of great 34-year old has-beens.

BB, I was doing the same thing with the Mentalist...does that mean we're mental cases???? As for Hochevar, I was in New England last week and was forced to watch NESN. He was pitching and was doing well until a really good hitting team jumped all over him by the 5th inning. I really thought we would do the same because he can be had...BUT...our hitters as usual weren't patient and swung themselves out of chance after chance so a so-so guy beats us again. I too am baffled by so many constant inefficiencies in so many aspects of the game. I thought Buck would bring some tangible results on the field and I find myself asking time and again...what's he waiting for? I'm beginning to feel that this entire organization is inept and wonder if its because PA is at the helm. I know that bad leadership can paralyze from the top down and stifle creativity and the like with fear and a majority of "yes men"...is that the O's??? I've had a Sunday plan for over 10 years and all through the bad teams of that short time I always had hope and now I find that feeling harder and harder to come by. The gist of the article is about failed pitching, hope or hype...take your pick, but you can say that about a lot of organizations...remember the Mets infamous SI cover of years back...but that gets into player development and nuturing these guys properly and it seems that is what we lack...so is that the owner??? I always look for PA in his box on Sundays and I barely see him at all this season...unless he just doesn't want to sit outside and be seen. I'm probably going to watch Sox-Yanks tonight and tomorrow and see real baseball...unless Blue Bloods has a better rerun.

Thanks for the insightful blog, Jeff, and for taking the time to read and respond to serious comments and questions (ignore the flamers). Do you have any idea what specific plans, if any, the O's have to address what everyone sees are serious deficiencies in scouting and player development. They seem to continue to insist that the franchise is in better shape than the win/loss record indicates and that it is just a matter of a few bad breaks along the way. Scouting is not a crap shoot though it has a high element of uncertainty. Scouting and player development favor those with talent to spot talent, a system with financial and human resources to fully develop talent, and a vision to be planning for 3-5 years ahead while working to maintain a competitive roster in the present. Other mid-market teams do it and we have not for a full 15 years.


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Jeff Z's reply: Tough to answer now because I think there will be significant front office changes this offseason. With those changes will come alterations in the scouting and player development departments, I'm sure.

Jeff,

I understand where you are coming from. Your penance in this world is covering this rotten mess of a baseball organization. Answering rhetorical questions like the one I just asked over and over from people every day must get old. .Just reading your responses to other posters reveals how you feel about the situation. I didn't mean to aggravate you with my questions about Andy. Sorry.

Have you heard any rumblings at all about some changes in the scouting department after the season ends?


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Jeff Z's reply: No problem. I think the scouting changes will come with the changes in the front office. Both the Orioles Director of Amateur Scouting (Jordan) and Professional Scouting (Lee MacPhail) are in the last years of their contracts.

I've said it MANY times.

Yes, Andy inherited a mess. THATS WHY HE GOT THE JOB. But he too failed and the next gm to take over will inherit a MESS.

Andys four years plus have been a complete failure.

Hey Jeff:
Earlier you wrote:
"The Orioles have done a poor job over the years scouting and developing, along with evaluating their own talent (Pedro Beato should have never been alllowed to leave in Rule 5 to give one example). That was one of Andy MacPhail's chief objectives coming in, and things just haven't changed enough in his tenure. When you couple scouting and development issues with injuries, the competition in the AL East, a poor defensive club behind them and a flawed offensive one that gives very little run support, a revolving door of pitching coaches and a losing culture in Baltimore, you get what you are seeing. It's a combination of factors that has its roots in scouting and player development obviously. Again, this is something that will be discussed and written about plenty over the next couple of months. "
How would YOU clean up this mess??? Thanks and Happy Friday!!!

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Jeff Z's reply: It would take me days to truly and fairly answer that question Steve. I'll say this: I think the Orioles have to break out their wallets and spent a ton of money on more and better scouts, talent evaluators and instructors. That's not to say that they don't have good ones. But they need more, many more. And that is how I would start.

Hi Jeff,
I think you Pete and Dan do a good job of covering the O's. But I think the fans are frustrated that Angelo isn't publicly being held accountable for this disaster. Every article written has some little jabs followed by some BS about how we need to be patient blah blah blah, but you guys never deliver the knockout punch, just tell it like it is. Angelos need to be called out in front of the people of Baltimore and the MLB world for letting this franchise fall so far. Its obvious to the fans and everyone around baseball that players do not want to play here and the owner is the biggest problem. And don't say he doesn't have the money either, we're not that stupid.


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Jeff Z's reply: Again, I'm not hiding behind this, but it is the reality. I'm not a columnist so if you're looking for somebody to call for Angelos to sell the team or to encourage MacPhail's ouster, I simply cannot do that. I saw an interesting comment retweeted by SF Giants beat reporter Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News. It said: "Reporters ask questions and report the answers. They don't advocate. It's not cable news.There are plenty of things I'd love to advocate for, but that's not part of my position.

Let's say for arguments sake that AM had his one giant chance to exorcise the scouting and development demons in the organization by tossing everyone out during his first year in office. But who knows why he didn't. Why would you allow yourself to be affected by a combination of a group of people who showed so little results before you took over? Maybe he had a hard time figuring out who the real culprit was- scouting or development- and decided it was neither, maybe he decided that opting for some consistency in the organization would help right the ship.I guess you'd have to ask him.

I would pay full price to be in a room while the scouts and development people have a little chat after this whole thing is over. They so depend on one another to make their careers. To see so much dysfunction and lack of results for such a long period of time might lead one to believe that there are a bunch of people simply collecting paychecks, or there have been some serious battles already had that noone will ever know about.

Whatever, the next guy has got to do what AM refused or restrained from doing.

AM has not done a good job in my view, but we should be careful to blame him only for what he has actually done. He presided over the 2008-2011 drafts, and as such is not responsible for many of the failed prospects for which he is blamed. His 2008-2010 drafts have produced the following prospects:

Matusz, Hoes, Avery, Townsend, B. Bundy, Klein, Machado, Schoop (actually an int'l free agent), Bridwell, Schrader, and a bunch of more marginal guys.

That does not look like a great (or even good) record---which is what the Orioles need to compete---but to be fair, the high school players from his first draft are just now hitting AA (Avery, Bundy, Hoes) at the age of 21 (which is young for AA). So it isn't great, but it is a bit early to be sure---and let's be honest about the fact that picks before 2008 aren't his fault.

Some positives: the GCL Orioles, led by three international players, are in first place; Frederick (A+) is in first place; Bowie (AA) is in or close to first place. Some negatives: Delmarva (A) stinks in the second half; Aberdeen (A-) is awful. The abject stiffness of Norfolk is on the previous GM.

On trades that were actually made, AM has done some good work. Hardy and Jones are easily the best two players on the Orioles, and I think Reynolds is okay. However, he has failed to make a bunch of trades---Scott and Guthrie, for example---when he had players at the peak of their value who had no role going forward.

Free agents have been poor.

So AM's record hasn't been good enough overall and I'd replace him if I were in charge. But given the state of the system when he was hired, whether he did a good job or not will be determined mostly by the performances of players who are still in the low minors.

Now Peter Angelos, that is a different story...

Jeff, I thoroughly enjoy your thoughts and blog participation. You are working in a target rich environment and I am looking forward to your performance report card on the front office.

Comparing this current rushed-to-the-majors bunch to the 1960 Kiddie Korp crop of pitchers actually makes plenty of sense. The big difference is the 1960 gang had a better bunch of hitters and fielders behind them, and they themselves performed well for an entire year. The eventual demise is rather striking.

Milt Pappas -- the most successful of the bunch was 22 in '60. His 15-11 year was actually a slight downgrade from '59. Although he had a down year in '62, he missed pitching 200 innings only once before being the center piece in the Frank Robinson trade. Pappas was my favorite pitcher but I learned at the age of ten you sometimes have to trade quality to receive quality. Frank became my favorite Oriole for years.

Steve Barber -- Barber as a 22-year old rookie in '60 went 10-7 while leading the league in WP and BB. He went on to have up and down years for the Orioles after that. He went 18-12 in '61 before pitching 100 fewer innings in '62. He bacame the modern day Orioles first 20-game winner in '63 while leading the league in abtters faced. His innings dipped by 100 again while his ERA jumped my more than a run in '64. 1965 would be his last hurrah, and that was enough for him to be the only pitcher of the bunch to be with the Orioles when they won it all in '66. After losing nine games for both the Orioles and the Yankees in '67, he became more of a relief specialist after starting 16 games for the expansion Seattle Pilots in '69. He even saved a career high of four games in 50 appearances in '73 for the California Angels.

Chuck Estrada -- The sky seemed to be the limit when the 22-year old went 18-11 in '60. He managed to go 15-9 in '61 despite leading the league in walks but things went south in '62 when he finished with a 9-17 record. He never pitched 55 innings in a season after that, and was out of baseball before turning 30.

Jerry Walker -- Somehow in 29 games -- 18 of which were starts -- he managed only a 3-4 record in '60 at the age of 21. This was after going 11-10 the year before. He was quickly traded to the Kansas City A's for the '61 season. His ERA was never below 4.50 after that and was done in baseball at the age of 25.

Jack Fisher -- He was 12-11 while splitting 40 games evenly between starting and relieving in '60 at the age of 21. Although he had 25 starts in both '61 and '62, he would never have a winning record again. He was done by the age of 30 but not before leading the National League twice in losses and thrice in earned runs.

The Orioles actually did grow the arms back then. Speeding them to the majors did a lot of damage. Wally Bunker became a casualty after being a World Series hero. Jim Palmer came frighteningly close. Dave McNally, too, had a scary 1967.

Palmer and McNally would bounce back but the entire pitching landscape was enhanced by the additions of Mike Cuellar and Tom Phoebus. Cuellar was a reported 32 years of age in '69 when he was acquired from the Astros. Phoebus was actually older than McNally and Palmer but spent three years at AAA Rochester.

The Orioles would eventually acquire Pat Dobson. That allowed the team to let Doyle Alexander pitch in relief in 1972 as a 21-year old. When Alexander was starting, Wayne Garland was a reliever behind Alexander and Ross Grimsley two years before becoming a 20-game winner for the Orioles.

Mike Flanagan made 10 starts in 20 appearances the year before he started 33 games for the Orioles as a 25-year old. The Orioles acquired Rudy May to start in '77 so Dennis Martinez and Scott MacGregor could combine for 53 relief appearances. The next year, Martinez and MacGregor combined for 70 starts.

This kind of scouting, trading, and developing is totally foreign to the present-day organization. We can only hope a few of these pitchers can emerge from the rubble that is 2010 and 2011 because unlike the teams of 50 years ago, there isn't a pipeline of more pitchers to hurry to the majors.

And this is just pitching. Sheesh.

Last night I went out and saw Rodrigo Lopez pitch for the Cubs against the Pirates. It just reminded me that he was once the young face of the Orioles' pitching future. That was a few years after Ben McDonald. In a woeful franchise there are always "bright spots" for the future, but the problem is that the team is still operated with the same organizational process and mindset which caused it to become woeful in the first place.

On a positive note. Frederick continues to play well inheriting some players from Delmarva, which is feeling the sting of losing Machado, Schoop, Schutz,,,

,Maybe the Os will be smart and take a kid like Avery, who is a really gifted athlete still learning the game, and leave him at AA until he is not only successful
but accomplished. Hoes can just flat out hit. He is talented and under-age for his league. Leave him alone-keep him the hell away from that lost cause called the Norfolk Tides. Everyone on that squad needs to go. They're 30 games under 500!

Maybe they have learned a lesson here.

And that's why "prospect" is spelled differently from "proven".

It's said that the most beloved player in many cities is the back-up QB, the guy carrying the clipboard. He's a blank sheet that fans can project their beliefs upon UNTIL he actually plays...

Fans of bad teams (& the O's surely are one) love prospects because they're like spring or hope - something to look forward to.

They overlook his deficiencies believing that they will fall by the wayside & that the prospect will correct them.

Thanks waspman,

Your points are right on the mark, especially about Jerry Walker. He and Pappas were already in the major leagues pitching as teenagers. I always felt that the two extra inning games that Walker pitched in 1959 started his demise.

He pitched a 16 inning complete game shutout against the White Sox, and also a 17 inning complete game loss. I don't think anyone was in the dugout counting pitches as long as he was getting people out.

Jeff,
I think of it this way. With prospects, the ultimate answer comes with time. That isn't particularly satisfying, so we get into this realm of speculation. I think what you describe are the high and low ranges of a larger fluctuation. What we really need to know is where the baseline is at. They've been touted extremely highly, but I don't think Britton or Matusz are as bad as they've been this year. The conservative bet has them settling in eventually somewhere in between. Obviously the path to that will be meanderings rather than a straight line.

Jeff,
Do you know approximately how many players in the first 10 rounds the Orioles have signed this year (and the past few years) at an over-slot pay? The Pirates are very big on this strategy (see article below) http://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/pirates_go_over_slot_to_sign_two_draft_picks/5949268
which just amounts to relative increase in money spent on salaries as opposed to millions overspent on over-the-hill free agents. That is, one would think this is a smarter use of money than paying millions for past-their-prime players such as Atikins, Lee, Guerrero, etc. that the Orioles do year in and year out.


...............................................................................................
Jeff Z's reply: Unfortunately Alan, I don't have that information. Orioles really don't disclose how much they pay especially for the later round picks.

Through all these years of misery, GMs have come and gone, managers have come and gone, coaches have come and gone, but one thing remains constant: the owner. This ownership will simply never do all of the things required to win.

I have the feeling that Buck, sold a bill of goods by the asbestos/tobacco king, will be more than happy to walk away when his contract runs out. So will Andy.

Buck would be nuts to take the GM job. There will be no meaningful change without an ownership change. All future Angelos employees will have their hands tied, just as these fellows have.

No - the Sun has not repeated written repeatedly about Os failures in scouting and player development. Sure - failing results have been acknowledged. But no one has analyzed: 1) why; or 2) what has been done to fix the situation.

Nor has the Sun analyzed Os finances: 1) how much is being invested in scouting; 2) how much is being invested in coaching system wide; 3) how the Os compare with other organizations.

Everyone knows the Os have performed horridly for 15 years. But a thorough analysis of why and where the Os revenues are going (including MASN) do not happen. If it does kindly post the links to all of the alleged many articles. I read daily and have never seen a single one.

...............................................................................................
Jeff Z's reply: I've written an article every other spring training about the absence of legit prospects, specifically position ones. And they've certainly included some reasons for that - poor talent evaluation, drafting, injuries, questionable development. I know Connolly wrote a big piece on their lack of international scouts and their disinterest in spending money internationally. This is really quiet obvious: they are outnumbered in scouts and they don't pay a lot of money for the ones they do have. As for what has been done, obviously not enough. They've made front office changes after front office changes after a decade-plus of losing and nothing has really improved too much. I'd sure like to chronicle all these changes that they've made for the better, but frankly, I don't feel they exists. Sure, we've asked plenty of times. They tell us about the new video scouting system that the minor leaguers now have access to, and the better faciliities, and the 4th coach that each affiliate has added.
As for the finances, if you don't think that hasn't been looked into a 100 times over the past decade, you'd be wrong. Those numbers have been inquired about, but the team is not going to provide them. And even if they wanted to, Major LEague Baseball would have a fit. If you have any suggestions on how to obtain those other than relying on randon anonymous sources that we wouldn't be allowed to use in a story as sensitive as this, or breaking into the warehouse, please let me know. Because that task has eluded me and many other Sun writers before me. ,

Does anyone remember the old TV series "F Troop?"

Overreacting during hard times is why we had the stimulus bill and tarp one. Stability is what this organization needs. Hopefully Andy and Buck will stay together another 3 years at least. Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. The minors have some very good things going on at A and AA. those drafts of Joe jordan are looking good right now in 2006-2008. It takes awhile to see how it pans out.
Better times are ahead hopefully next year.
It would be dumb just to bring someone else as GMin right now in my opinion.

smitty, I rarely make direct comments to people who post. Usually the most I will do is allude to something that was stated. I believe you have noticed my posting over the years enough not to take what I am about to say as attack or anything else bad like that.

The Orioles do indeed need stability. But that is precisely the reason the Orioles need a new GM. (The obvious caveat here is the assumption a GM is allowed to do the job he was hired to do, and that job is to build the Orioles back into an annual contender with genuine aspirations of being champions.)

It is easy to say MacPhail has failed in his four years just by comparing the team in its current state versus the one of four years ago. The 2007 Orioles were 69-93 (.426). That is better than any subsequent year including this year's 43-65 (.398). The 2007 Tides were 69-74. The 2011 Tides would need to go 29-3 to equal that mark. Yes, the Baysox are doing well but the '07 version was over .500 as well. And, worse, attendance was 2.16 million then but is generously projected to being 1.78 million by year's end.

As you probably know, I did not subscribe to the myopic view of just growing the arms. It was (and is) my view that all avenues need to be addressed. Indeed, I could live with placeholders being signed if the main goal was to bottleneck the prospects into the minors where they could develop properly. That was part of the Tampa Bay equation that allowed them to seemingly come out of nowhere after ten years of futility.

Nevertheless, I gave MacPhail an honest chance. In micro-analyzing his moves, I gave praise when it was deserved and the benefit of the doubt when doubt existed. As recently as three months ago, I was still giving MacPhail a C-minus as an overall grade while pointing out my grading of him was fluid.

I was hoping the grade I would give would improve. I predicted 81 wins and stuck with it through thick and thin until the Orioles finally went ten games under. The unfortunate truth is in the daily standings.

But even all that isn't going to be the foundation of my point that MacPhail must go.

The worst part is MacPhail didn't even adhere to his own plan. Prospects that were praised for their acquisition were rushed "to see what they could do" in an environment of almost guaranteed failure. That's not "growing" the arms. That's breeding psychosis.

MacPhail signed Gonzalez. Not only did he live down to his very questionable credentials, he cost the Orioles a second round pick to boot. The team rarely has supplemental picks because they no longer venture into quality players, so they don't lose quality players, so they don't get extra picks. Then they waste a pick on a guy like Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, Zach Britton is the latest exhibit of not growing the arms. Not only was he foolishly rushed to the majors because the cupboard was so empty, and not only does the team lose a year of control over his contract status, he will join the laundry list of updates of who is doing what on their offseason rehab assignments.

In summary, MacPhail himself hasn't been stable. Therefore, keeping him around would be the same as keeping instability around.

The organization is in such a mess, the next GM will need four years minimum to make a notable difference. That will be your built-in stability.

Given how little this organization does well, starting to do things right trumps stability anyway.

Since ownership is not going anywhere, club would be best served to get rid of everyone on current roster. Burn the house down. Start from scratch. Do whatever it takes to get quality young talent from other organization's farm systems. Become the Oakland A's of the A L East and for godsakes, let's stop whining about being in the A L East. It is what it is and only losers complain about this. If you're going to lose 100 games, I'd rather it be done with kids who are busting their butts than this current mix of has beens, miscreants, and wannabees who can't past the freakin' word - frustrated. Losers will continue to say that word. Winners will say ... " I'm angry and I'm going to make this change NOW. "

I find myself somewhere between Smitty and Waspman. The Orioles' problem is not the present GM, but a longterm neglect of the farm system since the 1980s. Such a problem can not be fixed in 3 or 4 years, but the course of growing talent from below must be continued. Short term fixes that include purchasing huge contracts of bats or arms and losing draft picks will not work. That is what created the present situation. Those who naively believe that firing the GM will solve the problem are sadly mistaken. I believe that AM will not return, but the Orioles are not going to become a competitive team longterm unless they build on what AM started, which is a focus on growing the talent, not buying it. I still think that growing arms is the best place to start, because everything starts with pitching and you can never have enough it. I fault AM for not convincing Angelos that more resources had to be focused on scouting, but AM is the first GM the Orioles have had since the 70s or early 80s that sincerely placed a priority on the growing the talent. I am convinced that the O's will benefit from what AM has restarted, but only if the new GM doesn't shift priorities.

@Da Skipster | August 5, 2011 9:43 AM

You're right. It's not like the NFL & the draft. Successful MLB franchises use a farm system to keep being successful by developing a pipeline & trading that overrated, over-hyped minor league talent for proven players.

But getting past the losing hump & more than a decade of incompetence initially with prospects that's another matter...

The first thing the O's need to do is switch Guthrie to CLOSER. THose youngsters will feel good passing the ball to the GMan. Guthrie finally gets the succes he deserves and the younger guys improve/we get better. It seems to make sense. guthrie for one inning at a time is scary good to me. Eck?

The Orioles have stubbornly refused to use modern analysis in assembling their teams. They have continually found players with a complete inability to work the walk. Right now, the Os are 12th in walks. Last year, 14th. 2009, 11th. Meanwhile, the Os pitchers give up the most homeruns in the league every single year. A combination that leads to no good results at all.

Well, I broke my general policy of direct responding so I guess I should continue on this thread -- especially with responses being well thought out and cordial.

Dr. G (I just had a good friend, Dr. G, move to the west coast recently; it would be funny if you and he were one and the same), I think we agree more in principle and disagree more in details and perspective.

You are right (as opinions go) in that the demise of the farm system started under Hank Peters. I would say late '70s with the evidence showing up in the '80s, but whatever. However, I would disagree that a farm system couldn't be brought up to a productively high standard in four years.

Farm systems are different now with minor league free agency, fewer minor league levels of play, and the amount of major league expansion over the past 35 years. The situation is much more fluid by its very own redefinition.

You say growing talent from below must be continued. Here is where we have a difference in perspective. Compare 2007 to now. Norfolk is woefully bare unless you count the Orioles who have been demoted and the Tides would almost have to win out their last 30 games to have an equal record. Bowie's record and prospects are fairly similar, but we have been hearing prospects are just two years away since The Purge in the late '90s.

Frederick is doing better but closer inspection shows that may be fool's gold. Brian Matusz made one appearance there. Only eight of the other 24 pitchers there are younger than Matusz. And that's A-ball. The hitters there are younger but the team is batting only .248 at the hitters are 0.6 years older than the league average.

Not mentioned by either of us is international scouting and recruiting. By any measure, the Orioles have failed and are continuing to fail.

By the way, Berken, Bergesen, and Hernandez (no longer with the O's) were on the '07 Bowie team so it is hard to attach too much to MacPhail on them. So was Erbe should he ever make it to The Show.

These are the responsibilities of MacPhail. I don't want to fire MacPhail just to fire him or have a scapegoat. I want someone to fix what is broken. Some players drafted fairly high was not in the Prospectus Top 200. The Top 200 may be flawed in its order when evaluating it years later, but going outside Top 200 in early rounds has so few exceptions that there may not even be any (unless you want to count the proverbial cup of coffee).

Other players who seem to be genuinely good picks don't seem to develop or, worse, they seem to be prone to injuries. Chalk it up to bad luck if you like, but when patterns exist, they should be respected. All of this falls under the heading of President of Baseball Operations or whatever MacPhail's fancy title is.

As far as signing players are concerned, you are right in that when you sign a significant free agent, you lose a draft pick. But if you sign the right free agent, you can start removing the culture of losing that psychologically causes the Orioles to always go into some sort of free fall. Does it happen late like with Mazzilli, Hargrove and Showalter, or from the get-go like Trembley and Perlozzo? Does it matter?

The other thing about signing significant free agents is you may lose a draft pick, but it gains you a draft pick later or that player can be traded for something more than a draft pick. MacPhail blew this time and again. Gonzalez cost the Orioles a pick. He's done very little. He has no trade value. He will not afford us a supplementary pick when he's off to free agent land.

If the Orioles sign the right free agent, he will contribute while providing a bottleneck so minor leaguers aren't rushed to the majors. That's a worthy trade-off even if he leaves later via free agency when the Orioles will be gaining a draft pick or two.

Now, this is philosophy and details. If you disagree with it, fine. If MacPhail disagrees with it, fine. But nothing has improved under MacPhail's watch. Getting Jones in the Bedard deal is still his high water mark. Other personnel moves that have looked good at the time have withered on the vine.

The only thing MacPhail can hang his hat on is the spring training site has finally been resolved, the streamlining of the farm system (which can be good if the Orioles select the right players to focus upon and improve development), and few other non-roster esoteric stuff.

There needs to be more resources in scouting, I agree. However, there needs to be accountability for what scouting has been done. MacPhail has not addressed that, so he needs to be addressed.

And you can substitute development for scouting in the above paragraph as well.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.


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