The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Daniel Moroz, who blogs about the Orioles for his blog, Camden Crazies.
MV: Why hasn't Jake Arrieta developed into the pitcher the Orioles hoped he would become, and at this point, is there anything more they can do as an organization to help him get the most out of his talent?
DM: When Arrieta is on, he looks so good (the 70 percent of his innings that aren't train wrecks are mighty fun to watch). The stuff is there -- and his increasing strikeout rate is testament to that (it's gone from 4.7 K/9 to 7.0 to 8.6 to 9.5 so far this season). The command and control can sometimes leave him though, and that can result in not only walks but sometimes pitches left out over the plate. I thought maybe he had gotten somewhat of a handle on that issue last year when his walk rate dropped from over four BB/9 to under three, but this year it's up over seven. You can't be successful in the majors doing that, no matter how good a fastball or breaking-ball you have. I'm unclear based on what the team has said whether they think it's mechanical or emotional or both or what.
Interestingly, FanGraphs says Jake is actually throwing a career-high (and better than league average) proportion of his pitches in the strike zone this year, but batters are just not swinging as often (especially at pitches out of the zone). The walks have sometimes come in bunches -- he has walked three in an inning twice and two twice as well, accounting for 10 of the 16 free passes he's handed out -- so maybe it does get in his head when things start to snowball or maybe he just loses him arm slot more often. Or it may be a small-sample-size thing and he's just bad at it (career four BB/9) instead of atrocious. Hopefully the team figures it out.
I (still) think a quality major league starter is in there somewhere, and hopefully the trip to Triple-A will help Jake discover him. Given that he's always been more effective against righties than lefties, maybe moving him to the bullpen turns him into Pedro Strop (not a dissimilar pitcher). If he can't right the ship this season, I think that's what'll be coming.
MV: What has been the difference with Chris Davis this season?
DM: Davis has cut down on chasing pitches out of the strike zone and upped his contact rate, which is a pretty good combo when you're so ridiculously strong (it's to the point where now I expect all balls that look like cans of corn off the bat to end up five rows deep). Even ignoring the three intentional walks he's already received, he's posting an above-average walk rate while also cutting his strikeouts down from really high to league average. The more often he gets to make solid contact with the ball, the more often the ball is going to be seen leaving his bat with great force (which ups not only his homer total, but keeps the batting average solid despite the strikeouts).
He's certainly not going to hit .391/.474/.828 the whole season, but if his plate discipline holds, then him hitting .285/.365/.570 from here on out is not completely impossible (that would make his overall 2013 numbers about .300/.380/.600 which, you know, is still pretty good). Have to give Davis a ton of credit for really making the most of the opportunity the O's gave him. I didn't think he'd even do what he did last year, but he made me a believer (to an extent). I also want to mention that he's gone from maybe the worst first baseman I've ever seen at scooping throws to not the worst, which helps too.
On a perhaps humorous note, the Deputy might have surpassed the Sheriff, but the latter is still batting .283/.371/.700 for Cleveland. Mark Reynolds leaves town and mashes, and no one in Baltimore seems to even care with what Davis is doing.
On a "that can't have been real life" note, Chris Davis' current batting line (his wOBA to be exact) would have only been the fourth-best season of Barry Bonds' career.
MV: The O's finally got some production out of the designated hitter spot over the weekend. Should the lack of production simply be disregarded as a small sample size or is there reason for concern?
DM: Small sample size that it's coming from the "DH spot" certainly, since that isn't really a thing -- it's the players we care about. Nolan Reimold's contact rate has fallen off a cliff, but he's still showing flashes of power and patience. If he starts putting the bat on the ball more often he should be OK (as in average-ish as a hitter, which is actually not that good for a DH). Steve Pearce can maybe hit lefties some, but even being platooned his numbers wouldn't be great for a guy whose only job is to hit. But hey, Barry Bonds carried some otherwise lackluster offenses so maybe Chris Davis can continue picking up the relative slack there.
MV: The Orioles have committed just seven errors this year, tied for the league's fifth-lowest total, and they are seventh with a .989 fielding percentage. Why have they been so much better defensively?
DM: Replacing Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit (designated hitters) with Manny Machado (a shortstop) is a huge upgrade. Plus the outfield only has one error so far after 22 last year, and the second basemen thus far have zero (Robert Andino had 13 last season). Errors are not a great way to judge defense, though. It's way, way too early to take advanced defensive stats seriously, but even by the simplest measure of converting balls in play into outs the O's are third-best in the majors so far. I'm going to guess they'll end up around average -- the outfield defense is actually not good (Markakis has very clearly lost multiple steps and his arm might now be below average, and Jones doesn't always get good jumps or take good routes to balls), but the infield picks them up (especially Matt Wieters, Machado and J.J. Hardy).
MV: Nineteen games down with 143 left to go after Monday night's game, what is one early-season Orioles trend that isn't built to last and what is one that might be an indication of things to come?
DM: The starting rotation being not very good. It can certainly stay that way and it was my main concern heading into the season. On the flip side, the offense will probably cool off some once Davis (and Adam Jones to a lesser extent) slow down, if they don't get improved performance up and down the rest of the lineup. I guess that's my way of saying I don't think the team will win 93 or 94 games (as they are currently on pace for), but are more likely to play .500 or so ball.
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