O’s Q&A with Bob Harkins, NBC Sports
To help take a look at what we have seen so far from the O’s, and to look ahead; Baltimore Sports and Life has reached out to Bob Harkins for his thoughts.
You can find Harkins’ work with NBC’s Hardball Talk at:
You can find him on Twitter at:
Baltimore Sports and Life thanks Mr. Harkins for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “In recent interviews with David Szymborski ( Baseball Think Factory / ESPN ), and Scott Miller (CBS Sports) we discussed potential contract extensions for Wieters (A Free Agent after ’15). Szymborski suggested offering Wieters 6yrs $50M, and seeing if that would be sufficient. Miller thought 5 yrs $25M would be a reasonable contract for both sides. If the O’s were to pursue an extension in the immediate, what contractual terms would you suggest as realistic for both sides? The discussion last season was that he had arrived as one of the best Catchers’ in baseball. Should the discussion now be that he has arrived as one of the elite players regardless of position?”
Harkins: “Given Wieters’ skills behind and at the plate, I agree that he is among the best catchers in baseball. I think six years, $50 million is closer to the range it would take to get him signed to a long-term extension. With the catcher being under team control for four more years, I have a hard time seeing him getting more that. As far as including Wieters among the elite players regardless of position, let’s give it a little more time before making that judgment. He’s started the season well, sporting an OPS over .950, but let’s see him do it for at least an entire season before mentioning him in the same breath as guys like Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Adam Jones is a Free Agent after 2013. What makes more sense to you from the perspective of the O’s – A 5 year $60M extension, or trading Jones for 2-3 well regarded, cost-controlled prospects? This year, his Line Drive, and Fly Ball %’s are up. His Swinging Strike % is down. He plays everyday, and plays hard. He has better ab’s, and appears to have improved plate-discipline; but he still does not draw walks. In a Baseball America poll (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/majors/best-tools/2011/2612213.html) of Major League Managers, Adam Jones was ranked as the 2nd best defensive CF in the American League. On the other-side you have the most advanced defensive metrics which state Jones has been a below average CF. How do you evaluate him as a player?”
Harkins: “When you have differing opinions on something, the truth usually lies somewhere in between. Managers like Adam Jones’ defense, while the stats show him as below average. I see him as a gifted athlete who is capable of making the spectacular play in center field, but on a day-to-day basis plays the position fine. He’s not great and he’s not awful. Like Wieters, Jones is also off to a fast start with the bat this season, but his plate discipline numbers still fall within his career norms. He’s swinging at 37 percent of pitches outside the strike zone – his career numbers range from 32-44 percent — and his contact numbers are also about the same as they’ve been in the past. The difference is he’s hitting the ball harder. For these reasons, his power numbers should rise as he ages, but I don’t see anything to suggest he’s ever going to develop the eye at the plate to become a truly elite hitter. If you can get multiple well-regarded prospects for him, I would do that and spend my money elsewhere.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “After 6 starts, Arrieta is: 2-2, with a 3.52 era (3.39 FIP). In his 38.1 ip, he has allowed 29 hits, 4 hr’s, 9 bb’s, with 33 k’s. His OPS against is .584, and his G/F is 0.84. James projected Arrieta’s 2012 FIP as 4.74, ZiPS projected it as 5.10, and Marcel projected 4.65.
Last Month, Camden Depot took a look (http://camdendepot.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-good-is-al-ace-mean-performance-of.html) at the 2011 FIP performances for American League starters by slot.
An AL Pitcher in Slot 1, had a Median FIP of 3.26
An AL Pitcher in Slot 2, had a Median FIP of 3.71
An AL Pitcher in Slot 3, had a Median FIP of 4.06
An AL Pitcher in Slot 4, had a Median FIP of 4.36
An AL Pitcher in Slot 5, had a Median FIP of 4.90
Where do you currently think Arrieta will slot in, to end 2012?”
Harkins: “It all comes down to control with Arrieta. If he continues to walk two batters per nine innings as he has so far this season, then he will be in the No. 1 or 2 slot. If he returns to his career norm of 4+ walks per nine innings, then he’ll be a 4 or 5. Let’s guess that he’ll regress a bit as the season goes on, but still show improvement and end up a No. 3.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “If Jim Johnson approximates his 2011 season production (while racking up saves) is there something you believe would prevent him from commanding a package at the non-waiver deadline which value wise is similar to what Texas sent to San Diego last year for Mike Adams?”
Harkins: “It’s possible. Adams has a slightly better track record (eight years with a 2.12 ERA and 0.997 WHIP) compared to Johnson (seven years, 3.15 ERA, 1.257 WHIP), but Johnson is five years younger, so yes I think Johnson could bring some potential trade value later this season. Of course, if the Orioles continue to play well, they might want to hang onto him.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Working with Rick Peterson, Chris Tillman had a solid Spring Training. He showed an ability to repeat his mechanics, with improved velocity and movement. The 24 yr old has not translated that into AAA success so far to begin 2012. If it becomes clear that his Major League future in in the bullpen, how long would you keep him starting this year at AAA?”
Harkins: “Tillman has walked a dreadful 5.8 batters per nine innings in his major league career. In the minors so far this season, he’s walking 4.5 per nine, which is still unacceptable. Even worse, he’s allowing nearly 11 hits per nine innings. So not only is he wild, he’s proving to be quite hittable even when he does throw strikes. He’s been in the minors for seven seasons and has regressed since his first run at AAA in 2009. I’d give him another half season as a starter. If he doesn’t improve, give the bullpen a try.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Last Summer, JJ Hardy signed a 3 year $22.5M extension. In the 3 years he has played 129+ games (’07, ’08, and ’11) his slugging has been above .463 in each of those seasons. He is also a quality defensive SS. Prized prospect Manny Machado is already at AA Bowie. If Machado ends 2012 appearing to be ready to join the show to start ’13, would you trade Hardy, or move him to 3rd?”
Harkins: “I thought the Hardy signing was a very smart move at a reasonable cost by the Orioles. Keep in mind that Machado is still only 19 and there is no reason for the Orioles to rush him, especially when they already have a quality option at the position. I think it is highly unlikely Machado will be big-league ready for the start of 2013, but if by chance he is, then I think you decide what to do based on whether you think the Orioles are going to be contenders. If you think they will be, hang onto Hardy and work Machado in. If you think they won’t be ready to contend, then look to deal Hardy and give the spot to Machado.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “In ’11, Reynolds was amazingly bad at 3rd (-30.3 UZR/150). If left alone at 3rd, would you expect his defense to rebound closer to his ’09 (-7.4 UZR/150), and ’10 (2.5 UZR/150) levels? the Orioles hold a $11M option for Reynolds in ’13. In ’09, FanGraphs valued him as 3.5 WAR player equating to $15.7M in production. In ’10, FanGraphs valued him as 2.3 WAR player equating to $9.2M. A good weekend with the bat in Boston raised his current offensive numbers from horrible, to below average (.693 OPS, 77 ab’s, 33 k’s). His bat obviously figures to continue to come around (.806 career OPS, nearly 2,600 ab’s). If he was primarily a DH, do you think Reynolds would be a 3 WAR player next year? Should the O’s be willing to pick-up that option?”
Harkins: “Mark Reynolds is what he is – lots of homers, lots of strikeouts and a solid number of walks. Because his best position is DH, he’s going to have to hit very well to merit $11 million. I’m not saying he has to approach his .892 OPS of 2009, but he should at least over .800. He’s capable of that, in which case I think the Orioles should pick up the option.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Nolan Reimold has a game built on power, plate discipline, athleticism, and constant hustle. He is an easy player to like. The primary knock on him is that he turned 28 in October, and entered ’12 with just 741 previous ML ab’s.What do you see from him, what do you think his ceiling is?”
Harkins: “If his age is the big knock on him, then Nolan Reimold is in a pretty good spot. I like Reimold for the reasons you describe. He should be a solid big league regular for years to come and perhaps even an occasional All-Star. There’s nothing wrong with that. For a ceiling, let’s say 25 home runs, 85 RBIs, and an .830 OPS.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Markakis signed a large extension after an absolute monster 2008 season. During that year, Markakis had a .897 OPS, with 69 xbh’s, and superior defense. During ’11 Markakis had a .756 OPS, with 47 xbh’s. While I think he is as good defensively as any RF in the American League, the metrics say he is slightly below average. Markakis deserves credit for rebounding from a very poor start last year (.561 OPS in April, .708 OPS in May) with a .806 OPS after the All-Star break. I think there is more there, but at this point you have to consider him a ancillary piece as opposed to a star. If he is not going to be a run producer, should he be utilized as the lead-off hitter to best take advantage of the skills he continues to provide?”
Harkins: “Markakis has a good eye and solid contact rates, so I could see him as a lead-off hitter. I’m not one who believes a leadoff hitter must possess speed, but that he get on base a lot. With a career OBP of. 364, Markakis would be solid in the leadoff spot.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Heading into 2012, the favorites for the AL Rookie of the Year were Yu Darvish, Matt Moore, and Yoenis Cespedes. You could also find supporters for Jesus Montero, and Mike Trout. Based on what we have seen, I don’t know if Chen Wei-yen can elevate his way into that conversation, but I think it is entirely plausible he ends the year as a league average 3rd starter. Through 5 starts, Chen is 2-0, with a 2.76 era. In his 29.1 ip, he has allowed 29 hits, 9 er, 2 hr, 11 bb’s, with 23 k’s. His OPS against is .686, and his G/F ratio is 0.58. Your thoughts on him?”
Harkins: “With a WHIP of 1.364, I’m not sure the low ERA is sustainable. You also have to wonder if teams will get a better read on him the more they see him pitch. That being said, you have to like the results so far, and it appears he’d be a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm on most teams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Like Reimold, Chris Davis has gotten off to a good start. Unlike Reimold, Davis’ on-base % will remain a concern. I asked people prior to the season if they would take the over/under on Davis finishing ’12 with a .750 OPS and 20 homers. Your thoughts? If both players (Reimold and Davis) reach that level, how much better do you feel about the O’s positional core?”
Harkins: “Chris Davis is looking to be a little bit like Mark Reynolds, only with less power. His walk rate this season is not good (6.7 percent), but he’s shown potential for a good eye on the minor league level, so I think a .750 OPS is perfectly realistic. I really like the Orioles’ positional core, with Wieters, Hardy, Jones, Reimold and Davis leading the way. Depth is an issue, but the core is good.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Jason Hammel is now 4-1, with 2.09 era. His FIP is 2.52. In his 38.2 ip, he has allowed 27 hits, 9 er, 2 hr, 11 bb’s, with 38 k’s. He has induced 61 grounders. His OPS against is .545, and his G/F is 1.56. He is apparently utilizing his 2 seam FB more than he ever has before. Due to that, would you buy into the idea that he could exceed the performance which was expected of him going into the year?”
Harkins: “Hammel is indeed utilizing his two-seamer to great effectiveness. He has also simplified things a lot, greatly reducing the use of his curveball and changeup and becoming primarily a fastball/slider pitcher. This has led to a remarkable turnaround, as his groundball rate of 61 percent is much higher than his career best (46.9 percent). It sounds a little like what Brandon McCarthy of the Oakland A’s did last season, and if the Orioles get similar results, they’re going to be very happy.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “I’m buying into the growing hype with Pedro Strop. His stuff is absolutely electric. If Johnson is not traded, do you think Strop and Johnson will end ’12 as one of the better 8th/9th combinations in the AL?”
Harkins: “Relievers are so difficult to predict as their fortunes tend to rise and fall from year to year. That being said, Strop does seem to be coming into his own this year as a soon-to-be 27-year-old. I think that pairing could rank in the top half of the AL, helped by the fact that a number of teams are struggling to find solid late-innings options, in addition to there being a rash of injuries (Mariano Rivera, Andrew Bailey, Joakim Soria, Sergio Santos, etc).”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Zach Britton could return to the O’s in late May / early June. Injuries and performance will dictate who he replaces in the Baltimore rotation. Hypothetically though, if Britton is physically ready to return, and Matusz and Hunter are both healthy and providing relatively equal performance; I see Britton replacing Hunter, with Hunter replacing Gregg. Out of Britton, Matusz, and Arrieta; which do you see as having the highest upside?”
Harkins: “Tommy Hunter was sent down to the minors on Monday and replaced with Jason Berken. So I imagine that Berken is the placeholder for Britton unless Hunter turns things around in a hurry. As far as the highest upside among those three, I like Arrieta, particularly if he can continue to keep his walk rate low.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “During the series in NY, it was reported that Yankees Manager Joe Girardi was suggesting radical realignment for Baseball beginning next year. (For example, he suggested a division of the O’s, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Miami.) Do you see any real possibility of this?
If not, the tweaks I would like to see with the schedule when Houston comes to the AL next year are:
A) 12 games against all of your division rivals for 48 games.
B) One 3 game series vs. every team in the other league, plus one additional series vs. each team’s designated rival. For the Orioles, that would be the Nationals. This provides for another 48 games.
C) That leaves 66 games to play against the other 10 teams in your league. You play six of those teams 7 times, and the other four teams 6 times. Those teams can be rotated year to year.
D) Preferably the Wild Card winners play a best of 3 series which makes the Wild Card teams use their two best starters to advance, and gives the Division winners a further advantage.
What would you like to see with realignment and scheduling? What do you think will happen?”
Harkins: “I don’t think we’re going to see any radical realignment (the Astros notwithstanding) in the near future. There will have to be some scheduling tweaks with the Astros joining the AL, as there will always have to be an interleague series going. So that’s radical enough for now. As far as my personal thoughts, I would like to see the divisions done away with altogether. Just have the 15 AL teams and 15 NL teams play a balanced schedule, and have the top five teams in each league make the playoffs. That would level the playing field and give everyone an even chance of making the postseason. I don’t expect this to happen, though. Certainly not in the near future.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Going into ’11, we polled 19 writers and analysts on their projected record for the O’s. The average pick was 78 wins. The O’s failed to reach those expectations, winning just 69 games. Baltimore has not reached the 70 win plateau since ’06, nor been at or above .500 since ’97. Going into 2012, most prognosticators had the O’s finishing this year with around 70 wins. To generalize, it seemed that most believed that it would take nearly everything going right, for a .500 season to occur. With the sweep in Boston, the Orioles moved to 10 games over .500 at 19-9.
Plenty has gone right – Jones and Wieters are playing out of their minds, Hammel has been excellent, Reimold, and Davis have been strong, the bullpen has been fantastic – but not everything has gone right. Despite the past 3 games, Reynolds has really struggled. Hardy is just starting to get going, Reimold has been in and out of the lineup. The defense has been poor overall. Betemit and Markakis can be expected to be better.
Is it unfair to say that the O’s had a league average offense last year, and have upgraded at 1st, LF, and DH? Is it unfair to say that if the starting pitching remains competitive, the O’s will exceed the expectations they began the year with? After the O’s complete their next 9 games (Texas, Tampa Bay, NY), do you believe the sample size will be large enough to determine how plausible a .500 (or greater) season could be? When 2012 ends, how many wins will the Orioles have?”
Harkins: “You have to be pleased with the start, but it’s a long season. Players will get hurt and get healthy, go on hot streaks and cold streaks. And the Orioles will run into hot teams along the way that will test their mettle. As you point out, this next stretch of games will be a good barometer and should reveal some hints as to the Orioles’ long-term ability to compete. I like the improvement I’m seeing from the Orioles, but I don’t think they’re going to continue to play at a .650 clip the rest of the way. I think they’ll play at closer to a .450 pace. That would put them at 78 wins on the season, and I think you’d have to be happy with a nine-win improvement on last season.”