July 1st: Felix Pie gets caught trying to take second on a single June 28th: Aubrey Huff gets caught trying to take second on a single to end a comeback rally in the 8th (O’s lost) June 23th: Ty Wigginton gets caught trying to take second on a single with one out and a runner having gotten to third in extra innings (O’s lost) Given some of the stuff I’ve read recently – such as this article by Peter Schmuck – regarding the possible firing of manager Dave Trembley with the team’s baserunning as one of the main reasons, I would have expected those types of occurrences to be a little more common. I’m not saying that the Orioles baserunning miscues aren’t a problem (more on that shortly); I just want to say that firing a manager, who for all intents and purposes is doing an OK job*, because of something like baserunning over which he has very little (if any) direct control – and it’s mostly the veterans on the team who are making the mistakes – is absurd. I won’t go on for long about how the contributions of a manager are largely overrated and they can do a lot more harm than good, but if you’re going to fire a manager then you need to come up with a better reason than this.
* Yaye, my first Pozterisk! (Pozterisk (PAHZ-tur-isk), noun. An aside that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything but is thrown into the middle of the story because the author thinks it’s funny.)
So, I don’t agree with everything that Dave Trembley does – I’d order my line-up slightly differently and use my bullpen differently, for example – but I think he’s alright. He seems to be a good enough leader of the team and handles the intangible stuff well, and I can’t think of anything blatantly stupid that he’s done off the top of my head. Rule #1 of being a manager is first do no harm, and I think Trembley stick to that pretty well. In any case, this digression is more for that “do no harm” thing and how I have a greater appreciation for Trembley after reading about other managers. Like this, from (appropriately) Joe Posnanski about Royals manager Trey Hillmam (I was going to quote parts of it, but Joe does like to go on): On Tuesday, Hillman pinch-hit for Tony Pena Jr. (.100/.143/.125) with Luis (The Pelican!) Hernandez (.174/.208/.174), who was later himself pinch-hit for with Tug Hulett (.071/.071/.071). Of note, the combined SLG of those three guys is a pathetic .370. Then on Wednesday, the Royals started Gil Meche, who had been previously questionable for the start with a “dead arm” and who had some back problems. Meche did start though, and he threw 99 pitches through 5 OK innings. Then he came out for the 6th (“I [Joe] wanted to rub my eyes, you know, the way they do in the movies when they see a ghost or really beautiful woman. I looked back at my computer — yep, he’d thrown 99 pitches. I retraced my steps: Yes, Meche did say he had a dead arm, yes there was some stiff back issues, yes everyone said the Royals were going to be cautious, yes, check … and then I looked back on the screen and there was Meche, or at least some guy with Meche’s name on his jersey, on the mound.”) He gave up a double (and stayed in the game) – he got two outs and then gave up his sixth walk (and stayed in the game). With Joe Mauer coming up and 113 pitches thrown he stayed in the game. He gave up a single to Mauer, and with Justin Morneau coming up and 117 pitches thrown, Meche stayed in the game. He retired Morneau on his 121st pitch of the game. “We are in such la-la land here, there can be no logical questions … these are like “How would you wash a unicorn?” questions.” That is just absurdly awful decision making. There really is no way to justify that kind of stuff, and that’s only two examples of many. So yeah, I’m relatively happy with Trembley.
Anyway, back to the baserunning. Now, you don’t need to be fast to be a plus on the bases (though it helps). Some of the top guys this year according to BaseballProspectus’ baserunning stats (includes stolen bases and advancing on groundballs, flyballs, and hits) are Ryan Zimmerman, Justin Morneau, and Scott Rolen (along with Michael Bourn, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, and all those speedy guys you’d expect up there). This year, the Orioles two guys who have been above average on the bases. Nick Markakis is at +1 runs, mostly on the strength of his advancement on hits (though he was at -2.6 runs overall in 2008), and Robert Andino is at +0.8 runs (and was +1.5 in 2008). Oscar Salazar has been about average (+0.1) in his limited time – as has Ty Wigginton of all people (+0.0) – and everyone else has been a minus. Adam Jones (-0.2), Matt Wieters (-0.4), Cesar Izturis (-0.5), Chad Moeller (-0.6), Brian Roberts (-0.7), Nolan Reimold (-0.8), Gregg Zaun(-1.2), Luis Montanez (-1.4), Felix Pie(-1.7), Luke Scott(-1.7), Aubrey Huff (-3.6), and Melvin Mora (-5.9)*.
Melvin Mora, Out At Third By A Mile
[Juan Samuel’s thoughts: “He can make it, He Can Make It!]
* Yaye, a second Pozterisk! (I promise I won’t use them very often.) I love Melvin. He seems like a really good guy, despite appearing to be a little bit hard to deal with on occasion. When Miguel Tejada was having his problems about the team sucking and possibly requesting a trade, it was Melvin who acted as a go-between for the O’s with their star shortstop. When Elrod Henrdicks passed away, it was Melvin who was the only O’s player at the time to go to the funeral. He clearly loves the game and has a passion for playing it. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to say that Melvin Mora often irritates me to no end, and is sometimes a space-cadet on the field. I don’t know if he forgets where he is or just gets so excited that he doesn’t think about what he’s doing, but it seems like Mora makes some sort of boneheaded play about once a week all by himself. I could definitely do without the sacrifice bunting and the diving into first-base. He was a plus on the bases last year, but so far in ’09 he’s been pretty atrocious. He’s last in baseball, and a full 1.5 runs worse than the next to last guy, Carlos Lee. Aubrey Huff is 4th from the bottom, by the way.
The combined baserunning from the team – including the pitchers, who average out to about 0 with Jeremy Guthrie being a slight plus and everyone else being a very slight minus – is about -16.8 runs. That’s a win and a half in the standings. It’s also easily the worst mark in baseball, over a half win worse than the Atlanta Braves (-11.2 runs) and that’s with pitchers having more of a chance to drag them down. The difference between the Orioles and an average baserunning team, would be like replacing the innings pitched by Rich Hill and Jason Berken (combined) with a CC Sabathia or a Chad Billingsley. It’s been bad, and it’s been getting worse in recent years. In 2008 overall, the team was at -16.5 runs. In 2007 it was -2.4 runs, and in 2006 it was -0.4 runs. Huh. That’s not good, though it’s still really only a drop in the bucket compared to pitching, hitting, and defense. Certainly doesn’t help though. I still say Trembley is largely off the hook for this – at least until after the team gets rid of Juan Samuel. [Edit: Andrew in the comments asked for a further breakdown of the O’s woes, but they’ve been bad across the board. They’re -2.3 runs at advancing on groundballs (Runner on first only with less than two outs, ground ball or bunt is hit to an infielder where a hit or an error is not credited, Runner on second only with less than two outs, ground ball or bunt is hit to an infielder where a hit or an error is not credited, Runner on third only with less than two outs, ground ball or bunt is hit to an infielder where a hit or an error is not credited), -6.5 runs on stolen bases (38 for 60 – that’s 63%), -3.7 runs at advancing on balls in the air (Runner on first with second and third unoccupied, less than two outs, a line drive, pop-up, or fly ball is caught by an outfielder, Runner on second but not third, less than two outs, a line drive, pop-up, or fly ball is caught by an outfielder, Runner on third with other bases optionally occupied, less than two outs, a line drive, pop-up, or fly ball is caught by an outfielder), -5.2 runs at advancing on hits (that’s like the stretching a single into a double, except you don’t get there), and +1 runs at advancing on passed balls and the like. I’m not actually blaming Juan Samuel myself, I’m just saying that if someone is going to get fired for the baserunning it should be the guy who has a more direct hand in it instead of the manager. If I had to guess the reason for the poor baserunning this season, I’d say it’s normal fluctuation, aging of a large part of the roster (Roberts, Huff, Mora – the latter two making up -9.5 runs of the team’s total of -16.8), and not having the guys coming up being particularly good baserunners. I don’t think the team is a -3.5 wins worth of baserunning based on talent, but they have been bad thus far.]