Fact & Opinion: Orioles Version

With the usual apologies to former Baltimore Sun columnist and current baltimoreravens.com contributor John Eisenberg, here is my initial attempt at my version of “Fact & Opinion”, in regards to the Baltimore Orioles.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board  here.)

Fact: Andrew Miller had a tremendous 2014 season with the Red Sox and the Orioles. His K rate was just under 15, his BB rate was under 2.5 and he had a low HR rate. His ERA was 2.02 but his FIP and xFIP was actually in the 1.50 area. He missed a ton of bats and was able to dominate both sides of the plate, which is rather unusual nowadays. Reports indicate that he has already been offered 3 years and will likely end up with a 4th. Its also assumed he will eclipse 6M per season.

Opinion: Miller still remains the FA I most want to keep but I do have limits. Something in the 3/24-4/32 area would be good for me. That’s a lot to pay for a reliever but I do think he will continue to be one of the better relievers in baseball. That being said, this was basically his third year as a reliever and while he has been solid the previous 2 years (3.35 ERA and 2.64 ERA), he hasn’t quite been at the dominant level he was in 2014. The Ks have been there but the walks have been much higher the previous 2 seasons and the HR Rate has also been higher. So, I do think you have to question whether or not he will be able to sustain a sub 3 BB rate, after having a BB rate in the 4.5-5 ranges in the previous 2 seasons. If they miss out on him (and they probably will), that will be upsetting but it could also end up being something we end up being happy about because that is a lot of money to pay for a reliever who could revert back to prior form and have control issues. And again, he was still good with those issues but not 6-8M a year good.

Fact: The Orioles are currently negotiating with Nick Markakis to keep him in Baltimore. Reports indicate that a 4-year offer is on the table for him. The Orioles chose not to offer Nick a QO.

Opinion: 4 years is at least 1 year too many for Markakis. I hope he is back but I don’t want to see the Orioles get too emotional here. He is a good player but he isn’t much more than that and to tie up 9-12M a year for 3-4 years is a lot. I can get behind for 3 years even if I wouldn’t be excited for a 3-year deal at 10+ million. The fact that this isn’t done yet and that Nick has talked to other teams makes the Orioles not offering a QO a very poor move.

Fact: The Braves have already traded Heyward and reportedly looking to move Upton. The reports are saying they want more for Upton than Heyward. In return for Heyward, the Braves got Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins wasn’t looked at as a top 10-20 prospect in the Cards organization in 2014 but some believe he was a top 10 prospect for 2015, including the scoutingbook.com

Opinion: As Cameron wrote for FanGraphs, I don’t see the Braves getting as much for Upton as they did Heyward, although Seattle could go nuts and give up one of their good young arms. Makes more sense for Seattle to give money to Cruz though. For one year of Heyward, Miller was a nice get for Atlanta. Miller took a step back in 2014 but the upside is there and he is still just 24. Atlanta also has him under team control for several more years. If Atlanta wants to continue to add to their staff (and perhaps they should, given all the arm injuries their pitchers have battled), Miguel Gonzalez could be a target for them. Much like Miller, Gonzalez is under team control for several more years. He is a solid vet pitcher and would likely be better in the NL. He is a good arm for the Braves to have, as they are relying on a lot of young arms. He gives them that vet presence with a bulldog mentality that can help with the younger arms. What else the Orioles would need to add is unclear and while I would like to keep Sisco (in terms of just talking prospects here), I would be open to adding almost anyone else we have in the system not named Bundy or Harvey. Miller has more upside than Gonzalez but I am not sure he is really a better bet to be a more productive pitcher than Gonzalez and I am just not sure anyone will give up a better pitcher than Gonzalez for Upton, given the 14.5M he is still owed and the fact he is only signed for one more year.  If Atlanta is able to get a younger player with a lot of service time left, good for them.  Seattle may do just that but I am not sure anyone else will, although the talk is that right handed power has a huge market right now.

Fact: The Orioles were 6th in the AL in runs scored in 2014. They led the league in homers but they were 11th in OBP.

Opinion: I would like to see at least one more batter added (maybe multiple players if you lose Cruz and/or Markakis) that can give us a 350+ OBP. Adding a little more balance to the lineup would be nice. Combine that with the returning Machado and Wieters and the offense should be better next year and that is before even mentioning Chris Davis.

Fact: The Orioles currently have 6 starters on their team.

Opinion: One of them needs to be dealt. We can’t tie up that resource and that money when we have other areas of need. Now, I hope we sign some guys that can be 6th and 7th starters (like we did when we sign Gonzalez, for example) but trading one of these guys is necessary, assuming you get good value of course. I believe that one of these guys, at least, would fetch enough talent back to move them. We have heard that a Swisher/Ubaldo deal may have been discussed and I am glad the Orioles said no thanks to that one. We have also heard Norris could be moved. Norris makes the most sense because of salary and timing of how well he pitched last year, especially towards the end of the season. That being said, if a guy like Gonzalez, due to salary and service time fetches you more and can get a player like Upton, as I outlined above, so be it. Whoever you deal, move one of them and get back something that can help you win in 2015 and beyond. (Upton could qualify for that if you re-sign him or get a comp pick and that player helps you)

Fact: The Dodgers are currently shopping their OFers to help alleviate the logjam and find a spot for Pederson sooner rather than later.

Opinion: There are too many years and too much money tied into these OFers for me to want the Orioles to go after them unless other things, such as good prospects, are also coming back to the team.

Fact: Hunter Harvey has been cleared to have a normal offseason.

Opinion: If he is able to avoid surgery, that is huge for the organization. As MASN’s Steve Melewski said this week on Sports Tonight with Rob and Mike, we won’t really have a good idea on Harvey until he starts pitching again but the fact that they haven’t automatically put him under the knife is positive. Whether it’s his future as a Baltimore Oriole or whether or not you use him as trade bait, Harvey being healthy and avoiding surgery is the best thing we have heard since the off-season began. It gives the team options now and going forward.

Fact: The Reds are reportedly putting Jay Bruce on the trading block. He had a terrible year in 2014.

Opinion: Bruce had a fWAR of 4 in 2013 and has been a good player in the past. His defense isn’t all that good but he is signed for a few more years at reasonable money and he could be worth the gamble if the O’s can acquire him for 60-70 cents on the dollar. It’s worth making the phone call about for sure.

Fact: Gausman showed improvement in 2014 and is no longer going to be on an innings limit.

Opinion: Gausman is going to be the O’s best starter in 2015. I want to see the K rate continue to rise but I am expecting a 3.50 ERA at worst in 2015, to go along with 190-210 innings. It is time for him to take that next step and that starts with him spending time this off-season refining his third pitch.

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Improving the Ravens Red Zone Offense

For the 2014 season, the Ravens are ranked 11th in the league in terms of Red Zone TD scores per game. Over the last three games, the Ravens have dropped to 15th. For this post, we will take a look at the Ravens Red Zone offense over the previous 4 games. We will also look at ways the offense can adjust to improve the TDs in the Red Zone.   

(Thoughts? Send me your comments on the BSL board here.)

Pass / Run Ratio in the Red Zone

Over the previous 4 games the Ravens ran a total of 28 plays in the Red Zone. On the surface, the play calling was very balanced. Fourteen plays were called for the Pass and 14 Plays were called for the Run. Looking at the personnel on the field and the play called will show a completely different result. The Ravens Red Zone offense is predictable based on the personnel on the field.

Ravens Redzone Offense (1)

When the Ravens Offense has a Fullback and Running Back on the field, they are going to run 90% of the time. If there is only one Running Back on the field, Coach Kubiak will calling a passing play over 75% of the time.

Take What the Defense Gives

Since the Ravens are more likely to pass when there is a single RB in the backfield, teams are putting more defenders in deep coverage to protect from the deep throw for a touchdown. This leaves more underneath routes available for the Ravens offense. Unfortunately, Kubiak will call for a passing play that targets the strength of the Defense’s coverage.

An example of this play call can be seen against the Bengals. On a 3rd and 8 on the 19 yard line, the Ravens run a play where the slot receiver is designated to run a seam route drawing the Free Safety’s attention. This leaves the WR running a curl route under the Slot Receiver open. On defense, the Bengals are lined up in a cover 3 formation. In a cover 3 formation, the field is covered by 3 defenders in deep coverage and 4 defenders in intermediate coverage. A cover 3 defense allows for short / underneath routes – Drive, Hitch, Stick, Flat.

Campanaro pre-snap

The Ravens can’t take advantage of what the defense gives them because all three routes run by the receivers are into the coverage zones of the defenders. The result of this play is a coverage sack.

Campanaro post-snap

On other similar plays, Flacco will try to force the ball into a receiver, throw out of bounds or scramble for a couple of yards. There are only 4 defenders rushing the Quarterback, so Forsett can become the check down receiver.

Even when the Ravens have an open receiver underneath, Flacco will still try to throw deep instead of taking what the defense gives. On this 1st down against the Falcons, the Ravens try to isolate Forsett using WR routes to draw away the defenders.

Forsett Pre-snap

A defender doesn’t bite on the play and starts to cover Forsett. Instead of passing the ball to Forsett and allowing him to make a play, Flacco holds onto the ball looking to throw to Smith Sr in the end zone.

Forsett post snap 1

By the time Flacco throws the ball to Forsett, it is too late. The defender is able to contest the ball.

Forsett post snap 2

Kubiak can also call for more running plays when there is a single Running Back on the field. Over the last four games, Justin Forsett averages 4.5 yards per carry. Mixing in more runs will allow the offense to take advantage of the defense playing in deep coverage.

Exploiting Coverage Alignments

An example of an excellent adjustment to a coverage scheme was against the Titans. The Ravens were lined up for a running play. Flacco recognized that the defense was lined up to stop the run and that the DB covering Smith Sr had a 5 yard cushion.

Smith Sr Pre-snap

After the ball is snapped, Flacco immediately throws the ball to Smith Sr who is running a slant route. The result was a 5 yard gain. Two plays later Forsett ran into the end zone for a Touchdown.

Smith Sr Post-snap

Throw to Juszczyk

Coach Kubiak has gotten away from taking advantage of Juszczyk’s pass catching abilities in the Red Zone. Against the Browns, Kubiak designed this play that isolated Juszczyk and allowed him to get an easy Touchdown.

Juszczyk pre-snap

With 90% of plays being called for a run when Juszczyk is on the field, a pass play would to Juszczyk would allow the Offense to take advantage of a Defense that has not prepared for this type of play call.

Juszczyk post-snap

Let’s see if Coach Kubiak introduces some new wrinkles in the Ravens Red Zone offense over the remaining 6 weeks to make it less predictable.

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The Real Problem With Maryland’s Offense

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Image Credit: The Diamondback

The Maryland Terrapins’ offense has been extremely inconsistent all season long, and last week’s game against Michigan State was simply another example of that. This has led to many fans calling for a change at the quarterback position, and even head coach Randy Edsall suggesting that the team may look in a different direction soon. However, C.J. Brown is not the problem with Maryland’s offense. Neither is Brandon Ross, Stefon Diggs, or Deon Long. The problem with Maryland’s offense this season is the offensive line.

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

C.J. Brown

Since many fans seem to believe that the main problem with Maryland’s offense is its starting quarterback, let’s start with C.J. Brown. His statistics certainly aren’t what they were last season, but there are some obvious reasons for that. His completion percentage is down from last season, and it currently stands at about 53%. He has already thrown more interceptions than he had all of last season. His rushing numbers are down, and he is not scoring nearly as many touchdowns on the ground as he did last season. However, he has thrown for more yards than he had at this point last season, and is on pace to throw for more touchdowns than he had last season. 

The telling statistic for C.J. Brown is the 27 sacks that he has taken so far this season. That already surpasses his total number from last season by 6, and the Terps still have three games yet to play. He has also gotten very little help from his rushing game, as Maryland has failed to run for over 50 yards in a game in over a month. That’s where the offensive line comes in.

C.J. Brown is not the type of quarterback who can have success without a running game. He is not playing in the type of offense that can win games while consistently throwing the ball over 40 times. In addition, very few quarterbacks can have success throwing the ball when their offensive line fails to pick up basic defensive rushes. Not only does Brown get pressure off the edge, he is unable to step up into the pocket because he is simultaneously getting pressure up the middle. He is seemingly on the run from the moment he takes the snap, giving him no time to scan the defense and get the ball out in time to his receivers. On the few occasions that he has been given time and a pocket to throw out of, he has made some very nice throws.

The Running Backs

Some significant blame for Maryland’s offensive woes has fallen on the team’s running backs. Brandon Ross and Wes Brown are nearly tied for second on the team in rushing with 261 and 260 yards, respectively. Ross is averaging 4.0 yards per carry, Brown is averaging 3.4. Brown has run for 4 touchdowns, Ross has run for 2. They combined for 10 rushing yards on 10 carries against Michigan State on Saturday night.

It wasn’t that Mike Locksley wasn’t trying to run the ball, but you are forced into a lot more passing situations when you average 0.4 yards per carry as a team. This team has failed to run the ball for 50 yards or more in over a month, which is something that absolutely cannot happen for a Mike Locksley offense. This offense is based around the running game. In order to have success, they must be running the ball for at least 125-150 yards per game. This takes pressure off of the offensive line in pass protection, and makes play-action effective.

When the Terps were at their best last season, they were running the ball effectively and C.J. Brown was using play-action to hurt teams over the middle of the field. A running game allows this offense to get into a rhythm and sustain drives, and it allows a quarterback like C.J. Brown to play to his strengths. Like many college offenses, this one will struggle mightily if they end up behind the chains consistently. 3rd-and-long is not a strength of this offense, and it shouldn’t have to be. Mike Locksley should be able to use his running game, his screen game, his option game, and his play-action passing game to get his team into 3rd-and-managable distances more times than not. But when your offensive line plays as poorly as Maryland’s has this season, your offense is going to struggle.

The Offensive Line

Let’s get into the heart of the problem. Last season’s starting offensive line was a bit of a concern for most fans, especially the right side. However, they were able to put together a very nice season, and were effective enough to give C.J. Brown a chance to win games with both his arm and his legs. Throughout their impressive 2013 campaign, they had to deal with three different starting left tackles, and countless shifts of personnel on the right side of the line.

The 2014 offensive line lost two starters from the previous season, both on the left side of the line (LT Mike Madaras, LG De’Onte Arnett). Madaras left in the middle of last season, so counting him as a departure may not be accurate. Either way, there would be continuity along the line heading into the Big Ten. The team certainly misses OT Larry Mazyck, a junior college transfer from Iowa Western Community College who was ruled academically ineligible before the season began. He would have made an immediate impact on the line, taking pressure off of LT Michael Dunn, who seems overwhelmed in his new spot.

Dunn was a great story last season, a former walk-on who was awarded scholarship as a redshirt freshman and became the team’s starting right guard. He moved to right tackle after Mike Madaras’ departure. He won the starting left tackle spot this season, but didn’t have much competition. While he was impressive last season on the right side of the line, he doesn’t have the pass-blocking skills necessary to be a starting left tackle in the Big Ten Conference.

Similarly, Ryan Doyle is in his second season as the team’s starting right tackle. He moved to left tackle after Mike Madaras’ departure, but is back on the right side in 2014 after beating out Derwin Gray for the job. While his performance last season was certainly good, he has regressed mightily this season. Like Dunn, he seems overwhelmed with the pass-rushers that he is seeing this year, and has left his quarterback on an island on many occasions.

The tackle positions are the biggest problems within the offensive line, but the unit as a whole has been very disappointing this season. One would think that a unit that has stayed completely healthy all season long would at least improve week to week, but they have regressed over the past month. This is not an offense that can succeed when your offensive line plays the way that this group has so far this season.

Looking ahead to next season, the good news is that the offensive line should get better. Damian Prince and Derwin Gray will likely take over the two starting tackle spots, allowing Dunn to move back inside where he is more comfortable and Doyle to serve as a backup. The Terps are also in pursuit of two very talented local linemen, Quarvez Boulware and Isaiah Prince. They would likely not be ready to start immediately, but would bolster the future of the offensive line in a big way.

For now, this offensive line has to play better if the Terps are going to win any more games this season. It seems like the team has been piecing together wins despite poor play by the offensive line, which won’t continue to happen. Running the ball has to be a priority for Mike Locksley, but his offensive line has to execute when he calls running plays.

The problem with Maryland’s offense is not C.J. Brown. It’s the offensive line.

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