Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guthrie Leading A Motley Crew

The last post on outfield defense devolved into a discussion of the O's pitching staff construction, so maybe a more direct look at that is warranted.

I don't think anyone is under the illusion that the Orioles are going to have a very good pitching staff - 2009 is a transition year before the Big Three (who still need a better nickname) and the other assorted minor-league starters begin to make their mark on the big club.

I've been trying to project the pitchers for the coming season, but the level of uncertainty is pretty staggering - question-marks abound.

Guthrie: Clearly the team's best starter, but can he keep putting up good ERAs despite merely OK peripherals? Other pitchers have managed it, but will Guts?

Uehara: Even though other teams didn't even see him as a starter, he's the O's #2. How well will he transition to the US, and especially the AL East?

Hill: Health? Control?

A whole host of other guys, including Hayden Penn (not much success since his call-up to the majors at a young age), Chris Waters (#5 starter, maybe), Radhames Liz (who's already been demoted to the pen), David Pauley (knocked around in Spring Training), Danys Baez (bad last time he was in the majors, as a reliever), Matt Albers (recovering from labrum injury), Troy Patton (recovering from labrum injury, and maybe not major league ready), Matt Hendrickson (not very good - better role is swing-man), Adam Eaton (not particularly good in recent years), Brad Bergesen (hasn't pitched at AAA and doesn't have the best stuff), Brian Bass (can't go deep in games).

I'm not even really asking about the quality of the innings - I'm just curious who's going to provide them.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Orioles' Outfield Defense...The Best In Baseball?

This week, I'll pick up the banner for defense...

The Baltimore Orioles will possibly field one of the best outfield defenses in baseball in 2009. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis already have good track records as superior defenders and Felix Pie, a centerfielder in Chicago, should be a superior fielder in left. On a team that is likely to lose more than is wins for the 12th straight season, watching those three run down flies and gun down runners at the plate should be one of the bright spots of 2009.

How good will they be? I figured I'd look at some of the best defensive trios of the last few years and see where they stack up. I used UZR/150 ratings from FanGraphs.com so I oculd only look at the last 8 seasons. I had two requirements for selecting the trios; 1) Each fielder has to play at least 800 innings in the field and 2) Each fielder had to have a positive UZR/150. I didn't want to have outfields composed of two superior fielders and one plodding slugger. Not the aim of this post.

I included the top 6, for reasons that will become obvious...

6. 2008 Baltimore Orioles

N. Markakis 9.3
A. Jones 12.2
L. Scott 6.6
Total 28.1

That's right, even with the much-maligned glove of Luke Scott in left, the 2008 version of the Orioles outfiled is one of the top 6 in baseball in the last few years. Scott may not look pretty in left but he gets the job done. Markakis adds a superior arm and Jones' arm is well above average too.

5. 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

C. Crawford 22.1
J. Cruz, Jr. 6.9
R. Baldelli 3.6
Total 32.6

Most of this score is provided by Crawford and his amazing range but Cruz was no slouch in center and Baldelli's arm provided good value in right.

4. 2006 Atlanta Braves

R. Langerhans 15.4
And. Jones 14.6
J. Francouer 5.8
Total 35.8

All very well-rounded fielders but only Francouer displaied a plus arm. All are now clinging to the major leaque carrers nearly three years later. I saw this outfield in person several times that season and they were pretty impressive and a lot of fun to watch.

3. 2003 Philadelphia Phillies

P. Burrell 6.5
M. Byrd 13.5
B. Abreu 16.1
Total 36.1

Yes, only five years ago, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu were plus defenders. Burrell was not too rangy but did not embarrass himself. Byrd and Abreu were both good all-around fielders.

2. 2006 Toronto Blue Jays

R. Johnson 23.9
A. Rios 12.8
V. Wells 7.2
Total 43.9

Thus trio was the only one to appear multiple times, each posting above-average UZR/150's from 2004-2006. The best defensive outfield of the new century so far.

1. 2004 Chicago Cubs

C. Patterson 33.8
S. Sosa 11.1
M. Alou 4.6
Total 49.5

A young, rangy Corey Patterson, Sammy Sosa in his prime and an aging Moises Alou made for an unlikely candidate for the top of this list. But here they are, buoyed by Patterson's amazing range in center and the surprising range of Sosa and Alou.

Can this year's trio of Markakis, Pie and Jones rank among the great outfields of this decade? A lot will depend on Pie's learning curve in left and Jones' health in center. If Pie masters left and Jones stays healthy, they could certainly do so.