Sports Outside the Beltway

3 points of light (for the Orioles)

The first half of the Orioles’ season has been, as it has been since 1998, dismal.

To take a look at how the individual player have done check out beat writer Jef Zrbiec’s Report Card. Or The Hardball Times Win Share chart for the team. (Win Shares measure the contribution a player makes to his teams wins based on a calculation developed by Bill James.) By either measure there are only three players who stand out above the rest: All Star Second baseman Brian Roberts and starting pitchers Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie.

Before the season there were rumors that the Orioles were exploring trade talks with Atlanta that involved Brian Roberts and pitcher Hayden Penn for Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche. In the end Peter Angelos nixed the deal, which, looks pretty wise.
Marcus Giles SDG .242 .313 .338 .651
Adam LaRoche PIT .239 .324 .439 .763

Brian Roberts BAL .322 .405 .443 .848

The problem was that he didn’t nix the deal for baseball reasons but because Brian Roberts is one of his favorites. At the time I criticized the interference.I had thought that Roberts’ decline last year a greater concern than Giles’ decline. It appears that the opposite was true. Roberts currently has the second highest OPS for AL second basemen behind Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox.

I’m glad that Angelos nixed the deal, but appalled that, once again, he did it for the wrong reason.

Erik Bedard has been a pretty solid pitcher for most of his career. But this year he’s moved his performance up another notch. Currently he leads the AL in strikeouts and has a sterling 4 to 1 K:BB ratio. And he’s coming off a 15 strikeout complete game shutout of the Texas Rangers that garnered a game score of 98, the highest in baseball this year.

Brian Roberts has settled in as a very good second baseman and Erik Bedard has reached the level of an elite pitcher. Jeremy Guthrie, though, has come out of nowhere to have an excellent season (except for last night) after being a disappointment in Cleveland. Here’s what he’d done as of June 26:

Since the Orioles inserted him into their rotation on May 8, Guthrie has made nine starts and has been arguably the American League’s best starting pitcher. He leads the league in ERA (1.63), base runners allowed per nine innings (6.92) and innings pitched (66 1/3 , tied with C.C. Sabathia) since becoming a regular starter.

Guthrie has pitched at least seven innings in eight straight starts, never once allowing more than three runs. He hasn’t lost since becoming a starter, throwing well enough to become a potential all-star as a 28-year-old rookie.

The article also portrays Guthrie as a real prince.

At a recent game, Guthrie wanted to sign autographs and chat with a church group that was seated in the upper deck at Camden Yards. Guthrie asked a team official how to find them from the clubhouse.

“Why don’t you wait, we’ll send someone up there for you,” came the response.

“No, that’s fine,” Guthrie said. “I’ll find them myself.”

Guthrie got directions, found the group and signed autographs. “You don’t find many ballplayers walking by themselves to the upper deck,” Duquette said.

While the Post article notes that Guthrie’s doing well, it doesn’t exactly explain how he is doing so well. John Sickels recently did a prospect retro on Jeremy Guthrie. Sickels writes

Guthrie opened 2003 in Double-A and did well, going 6-2, 1.44 in 62.2 innings. However, his K/BB ratio was just 35/14…a very low strikeout rate. Promoted to Triple-A, he was blasted for Buffalo, going 4-9, 6.52 in 18 starts. I saw him pitch late in the season. . .it was very strange. He was hitting 93-94 MPH, and his breaking stuff had a lot of movement, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. It was hard to understand how a pitcher with such good stuff could look so poor, especially since he threw strikes. Command wasn’t the problem. I gave him a Grade C+ in the ’04 book.

If there was no obvious reason Guthrie wasn’t succeeding with Cleveland, Sickels attempts to answer that mystery and suggests that Guthrie may have found himself in Baltimore.

His stuff was back up into the low-to-mid-90s and his breaking stuff had more bite again. But he was now 27 years old, and kept getting hit hard in the majors, with a 6.98 mark in 19 innings last year. I wrote that a change of scenery and a switch to relief would be the only things that would save his career.

Guthrie got the change of scenery and so far he’s been quite a revelation for the Orioles: 2.42 ERA in 81.2 innings with a 56/14 K/BB. He’s been a bit hit-lucky I think, giving up just 59 hits, but he’s pitching genuinely well and is now living up to the expectations generated back in his Stanford days. He’s pitching the best ball of his career right now. What’s the explanation? He’s always had the stuff. I think it was a matter of confidence and location, and clearing his mental and emotional palate after his struggles in Cleveland. If he continues to throw quality strikes, I think it’s sustainable.

I’d like to know how often someone with Guthrie’s minor league record succeeds in the majors, but no one’s looking at that now. Right they’re (rightly) marveling that he’s turned his career around. I guess, if nothing else we’re witnessing the Mazzone effect. If so, the Orioles better do all they can to make sure that Mazzone stays in Baltimore.

There little hope for this year. And no real hope for the immediate future. Hopefully the front office under McPhail can build from these three and progress towards respectability in 3 to 4 years. It won’t be sooner than that.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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