Series Preview: Rays @ O’s 4/14 – 4/16

Overview

The O’s continue a rough early season schedule with yet another divisional matchup, this time with the Tampa Bay Ray. This will be the third of five conecutive series against division foes for the Orioles, and the end of a home stand as they travel to Boston for 4 games at Fenway later this week.

All five teams in the AL East are fairly close in terms of standings at this point, with no one team going on a hot streak (or cold streak) to start the season. As such, it will be important for the O’s to continue battling other AL East teams to keep themselves in good position in the division. After all, a win in April still counts in September, so the games are already mattering.

You can discuss this series on the BSL Board here.

Tampa Bay is getting it done in a familiar way this season. Their 7-5 record leads the AL East, and once again they are doing it with pitching. Of the Rays 13 games, only four have seen them score 4 or more runs. In those three games (on consecutive days) Tampa Bay scored 20 runs. Their other nine games have combined to yield just 11 runs. Over the past seven days the Rays have won games twice by a score of 1-0, and a third game 2-1. Their pitching keeps them in games much longer than their offense often deserves, and that gives them time to drive in a few key runs to win the game.

(September 12, 2012 - Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

(September 12, 2012 – Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

If the O’s want a series win, they’ll need to jump on the Rays pitching early.

That’s easier said than done though for an offense that hasn’t exactly performed to expectations early in 2014. The O’s are scoring just over 4 runs per game, but their feast or famine offensive trend seems to be making it difficult for the team to capitalize on good pitching when they get it. Case in point is Chris Tillman’s excellent 8 inning start ruined by to unearned runs. The O’s offense scored zero runs against Dustin McGowan who notched his first win since July 8th, 2008. For reference, George W. Bush was President of the United States the last time McGowan won a Major League Baseball game. On Friday, April 11th, he blanked the O’s offense for six and a third innings.

The O’s will face a mixture of young starters from Tampa Bay. They range from Chris Archer who threw about 2/3 of a season as a starter last year, to David Price who’s a perennial Cy Young candidate. Baltimore’s rotation will need to keep them in the game so the offense can grind out some runs against Tampa Bay’s solid pitching.

 

Matchup to Watch: O’s Sluggers vs. Price

Nelson Cruz has handled David Price exceptionally well over his career posting a triple slash of .360/.407/.760 against the left-handed ace. That’s the fifth best OPS among players with at least 20 at bats against Price.

Sixth best on that list is Oriole catcher Matt Wieters who has hit .368/.415/.605 against Tampa’s best starter. Typically the right side is where Wieters excels, so it’s great to see him have such success over a strong lefty like Price.

Adam Jones on the other hand has struggled against Price hitting just .220/.238/.293 in 42 plate appearances. He’s not the only Oriole that Price has owned. Chris Davis has yet to get an extra base hit against Price, posting a triple slash of just .267/.353/.267 against him.

 

Matchup to Watch: Ryan Flaherty vs. Tampa Bay

With Machado still on the shelf, the O’s will rely on Ryan Flaherty throughout this series. Unfortunately his overall stats against the Rays are a disappointing .077/.100/.103 in 41 plate appearances. Granted, Flaherty has performed better against Tampa Bay in Camden Yards than Tropicana Field (in 24 plate appearances he’s hit .043/.043/.087 against the Rays in their home ballpark), but it’s not much better here at home.

Flaherty will have to turn his early career woes against Tampa Bay around as the O’s figure to rely on the young infielder throughout this series, and this season.

 

Pitching Matchups

4/14 – Chris Archer vs. Wei-Yin Chen

Archer in 2013: 9-7, 128.2 IP, 7.06 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 1.05 HR/9, 3.22 ERA, 4.07 FIP

Chen in 2013: 7-7, 137 IP, 6.83 K/9, 2.56 BB/9, 1.12 HR/9, 4.07 ERA, 4.04 FIP

4/15 - Jake Odorizzi vs. Miguel Gonzalez

Odorizzi in 2013: 0-1, 29.2 IP, 6.67 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 3.94 ERA, 3.89 FIP

Gonzalez in 2013: 11-8, 171.1 IP, 6.30 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9, 3.78 ERA, 4.45 FIP

4/16 – David Price (LHP) vs. Chris Tillman

Price in 2013: 10-8, 186.2 IP, 7.28 K/9, 1.30 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9, 3.33 ERA, 3.03 FIP

Tillman in 2013: 16-7, 206.1 IP, 7.81 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 1.44 HR/9, 3.71 ERA, 4.42 FIP

 

The Opponent (wRC+ for 2013)

C- Ryan Hanigan, 53 WRC+
1B- James Loney, 118 wRC+
2B- Ben Zobrist, 115 wRC+
3B- Evan Longoria, 133 wRC+
SS- Yunel Escobar, 100 wRC+
LF- Matt Joyce, 112 wRC+
CF- Desmond Jennings, 112 wRC+
RF- Wil Myers, 131 wRC+
DH- David Dejesus, 103 wRC+

BENCH- Molina, Forsythe, Guyer, Rodriguez
ROTATION- Price (LHP), Cobb (DL), Archer, Odorizzi, Moore (DL), Bedard (LHP)
BULLPEN- McGee (LHP), Gomes, Ramos (LHP), Bell, Balfour, Lueke, Peralta, Beliveau (LHP)

 

2013 Ranks

Tampa Bay
Batting Average- 12th
Runs- 11th
Home Runs- 11th
wOBA- 7th
wRC+- 5th
K/9- 3rd
BB/9- 16th
HR/9- 12th
ERA- 12th
FIP- 8th

Baltimore
Batting Average- 10th
Runs- 5th
Home Runs- 1st
wOBA- 8th
wRC+- 10th
K/9- 26th
BB/9- 14th
HR/9- 30th
ERA- 23rd
FIP- 29th

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Project 2014: The Special Teams

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Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

After a rough 2012 season, the Maryland Terrapins’ specialists had a much better 2013. Brad Craddock (pictured above) led the way with an extremely good sophomore campaign, highlighted by his monster performance against West Virginia in Baltimore. Nathan Renfro improved in 2013 as well, but will still need some work to get himself where the coaches need their starting punter to be. But the highlight of the Terps’ special teams has long been in the return game. Names like Steve Suter, Torrey Smith, and Tony Logan are just a few of the recent dynamic returners who have graced the field in College Park. Randy Edsall’s teams have had Stefon Diggs, who has already made his mark as one of the better returners in all of college football.

2013 Kickoff Return Rank: 39th (22.84 yards/return)

2013 Punt Return Rank: 34th (10.74 yards/return)

2013 Kickoff Return Defense Rank: 39th (20.16 yards/return)

2013 Punt Return Defense Rank: 34th (5.68 yards/return)

2013 Net Punting Rank: 91st (35.84 net yards/punt)

(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)

Brad Craddock - Junior
2013 Statistics: 21/25 field goals made, 37/38 extra points made

One of the players who made the biggest improvement from 2012 to 2013 was Brad Craddock. His freshman season was full of mistakes, the biggest being the game-losing field goal miss against North Carolina State. But he worked with former Ravens kicker Matt Stover in the off-season and the difference was felt immediately. He worked on keeping his body more upright as he kicked, and you’ll now see him puff his chest out before every kick to accentuate that improved form. He also improved his leg strength, hitting 1/3 field goals from 50+ yards, and an excellent 4/5 from between 40 and 49 yards. His only missed extra point came in the season opening win over Florida International. Craddock has struggled in the Spring of 2014, and Randy Edsall has not been shy with his criticisms. He needs to improve his consistency over the summer if he wants to keep his hold on the starting kicker job. However, I do expect him to have that starting job when the season opens in August.

Nathan Renfro - Redshirt Junior
2013 Statistics: 75 punts, 3,063 yards (40.84 yards/punt)

Another player who Randy Edsall has not been impressed with during Spring practice has been Nathan Renfro. He has yet to find any sort of consistency in that starting punter job, and needs to find it before he loses his spot. In the Red-White Spring Game, his first two punts went sailing into the endzone for touchbacks, but his final two landed within the 10-yard line. In his two seasons as the Terps’ starting punter, he has shown glimpses of very good things, but hasn’t been able to grasp any consistency with his leg. He’ll need to find it soon, as Michael Tart is pushing him for the starting job. I still expect Renfro to be the Terps’ starting punter this season.

Adam Greene - Redshirt Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A

Brad Craddock’s backup this season will be Adam Greene, who was given preferred walk-on status last season. He is a very talented kicker, and will certainly push for the starting job due to Craddock’s inconsistency this Spring. He’s a very smart young man, and cited Maryland’s “academic opportunities” as a big reason as to why he came to College Park. But he also has a big leg, holding the Maryland high school state record for career field goals (27). I’d expect Greene to push Craddock for the starting kicker job, and Randy Edsall may be a little quicker with the hook if Craddock struggles with such a talented kicker behind him on the depth chart.

Michael Tart - Redshirt Senior
2013 Statistics: N/A

The Terps’ backup punter and starting holder, Michael Tart comes into his senior year with a chance to push for a starting job at punter. Nathan Renfro has struggled throughout Spring practice, opening a door for Tart to walk through. He was the #1 punter in North Carolina when he was recruited in 2010, and has been the team’s starting holder since his redshirt freshman season in 2011. He is a solid and consistent player who may just get his chance to punt for the Terps if Renfro continues to struggle.

Stefon Diggs - Junior
2013 Statistics: 12 kickoff returns, 281 yards (23.42 yards/return), 0 TDs; 2 punt returns, -1 yards (-0.50 yards/return), 0 TDs

Stefon Diggs, the Terps’ starting slot receiver and dynamic return man returns for his junior season in College Park. He didn’t make much of an impact in the return game last season, as he was taken out of that role after being banged up early in the season. But his 2012 numbers speak for themselves, and he will be looking to get back to that form in 2014. When he is healthy, he is undoubtedly one of the best returners in all of college football. Luckily, he has players like William Likely and DeAndre Lane beside him, who are nearly just as dynamic in the return game as he is. Look for Diggs to be the team’s primary returner again in 2014, while Likely gets a few looks when Diggs needs a breather.

William Likely - Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 28 kickoff returns, 729 yards (26.04 yards/return), 0 TDs; 16 punt returns, 205 yards (12.81 yards/return), 1 TD

Not only a breakout star on defense but as a returner as well, William Likely did it all in his true freshman season for the Terps. Serving as the team’s primary kickoff and punt returner when Stefon Diggs was injured early in the season, he proved to be almost just as dynamic as the sophomore wideout. His biggest highlight as a returner came in Blacksburg, when he ran a punt back for a touchdown against Virginia Tech. He’ll certainly get a chance to return kickoffs and punts in 2014, and may split the job with Diggs. Regardless of where you put him on the field, Likely is a very dynamic player whose speed and agility can’t be questioned. I’ll be interested to see if Randy Edsall sticks both Likely and Diggs deep on kickoffs, as I think that would obviously be a deadly combination, and would eliminate teams trying to kick away from one or the other of them.

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Chris Tillman’s Fantastic Start

Chris Tillman is the de facto ace of the Orioles’ pitching staff. He was the Opening Day starter for the O’s this season, and takes the #1 slot in the rotation for the club. While Tillman isn’t a top 15 starter in MLB, he is the top guy in the O’s rotation.

This season he has pitched like it so far. Over 3 starts he’s already produced 0.4 fWAR and $2 Million worth of value for the club. Over 21.1 innings he’s allowed just 2 earned runs, both on solo blasts. Tillman has always shown great stuff, but has had a few nagging issues that plagued him throughout his career. Tillman tends to give up a lot of home runs and walk a lot of batters.

Discuss this post and Tillman’s performances on the BSL Forum here.

This season we’ve seen Tillman address these issues to some degree, no doubt playing a role in his performance thus far. Tillman has walked less than 4% of the batters he’s faced this season. While it’s unrealistic to think that Tillman is going to walk half as many batters as his best season as a pro, some improvement in his walk rate will go a long way into him improving as a pitcher.

This season his strikeout rate is actually its lowest since 2010, but his K/BB ratio is nearly double what it was last season. It seems that Tillman is aiming for strikeouts less early in 2014, and trying to keep pitch counts manageable, while reducing free passes to hitters. The O’s have a very good defense behind him, so letting more batters put the bat on the ball isn’t going to hurt him too much.

The one problem for Tillman with letting opposing hitters put the bat on the ball more is that he’s always been prone to giving up home runs. This season he’s actually done a good job at limiting home runs, despite the fact that both runs against him came off of homers. Limiting baserunners (fewer walks!) means these home runs have just been solo shots as opposed to multi-run home runs.

This trend was clearly visible in his game against Toronto where he allowed just 4 base runners over 8 strong innings.

Still though, he needs to improve his approach so as to not give up quite so many home runs. Tillman has a long history of pitching up in the zone, and that hasn’t changed dramatically over the years.

In 2013 Tillman threw his fastball approximately 3 inches above the center of the zone from a vertical perspective. That is, Tillman generally threw his fastball up, and it averaged being about belt high. His changeup, curve, and cutter all average below the middle of the zone.

In 2014 not much has changed, though it’s worth noting that his fastball was down in his two most recent (and successful) starts, whereas it started the year up. The image below shows his vertical pitch location from 2013 to 2014:

Brooksbaseball-ChartIt will be important for Tillman to keep the ball down if he wants to be successful in 2014. His vertical pitch location in the past two games is a trend we’d like to see him continure moving forward.

We’ve seen already that leaving the ball up will hurt you. Tillman’s two home runs given up showcase that fact.

The pitch location for the home run that Sizemore hit was up and in, and Sizemore just pulled it out over the right field fence:

Sizemore HRThe home run that Tillman gave up to Torii Hunter wasn’t much different:

And the location of the pitch. This one is a little more difficult to see, but the pitch is once again clearly up in the zone:

Hunter HRKeeping the ball down will be important for Chris Tillman. If he can continue to improve his command and throw strikes, then his ability to keep the ball down and limit home runs will be all that keeps him from being a true ace.

 Tillman’s early 2014 results have been very promising for O’s fans. He’s made some progress over a solid 2013 campaign, and positioned himself as a reliable feature of the starting rotation. There’s still room for improvement, but with this being Tillman’s age 26 season, there’s still reason to believe that his ability to pitch can still improve.

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