How The A Supporter Views The Orioles

In the final part of the series where different teams’ bloggers answer a few questions about the Orioles for me, I thought I’d bring in a fellow Oriole fan – my friend Matt Kremintzer, from Krem’s Sports Blog – to give his perspective.

(I’ve included any additional comments I may have had in italics.)

(1) How good is Matt Wieters? (Can you put it in the form of a Matt Wieters Fact?)

Matt Wieters is so good that Joe Morgan was forced to use a word other than “consistent” to describe him.

Comment: A FireJoeMorgan themed MattWietersFact? Win.

(2) How good you you think Matt Wieters will really be?

Wieters possesses an enormous amount of potential, and I think he’s going to be very good. He excelled at every level in the minor leagues, and after a slow start with the Orioles, he dominated in September and put up more-than-respectable overall numbers (.288/.340/.412) for a rookie dealing with a lot of pressure to produce right away to justify the hype (see above question). I’m intrigued to see how he’ll fare in a full season behind the plate, especially since more than a few people believe that he’ll eventually move to first base because of his size (though not for several seasons). It’ll also be fun to watch the chemistry develop between Wieters and the young pitchers.

(3) After a somewhat down 2009, how well do you think Nick Markakis will bounce back and at what level do you think he’ll produce in the coming years?

This is a great question — and an important one for the Orioles. Markakis’s first few seasons set high expectations, so it’s tough to be too hard on him for having one down year. His numbers weren’t that bad, but he did regress in a few areas. He walked less, which led to a lower OBP (.347) than in any previous season, and he hit fewer doubles and home runs despite having almost 50 more at bats than in 2008. He also hit fewer line drives (16.6 percent) and more fly balls (40.6 percent), which may have contributed to his lowest BABIP (.323) since 2006. He did, however, cut down on his strikeouts, but that didn’t help his numbers.

This is just a guess, but I think Markakis felt some pressure to drive in more runs last season. For the first time in his career, Markakis hit in the cleanup spot for an extended period of time (180 at bats), and his numbers weren’t that good there (.272/.316/.417). Markakis is probably best suited to hit second because of his ability to work the count and spray line drives around the field. To me, he looked more comfortable hitting second or third.

Case in point: Markakis primarily hit third last year (404 at bats), and his numbers there pretty much mirror his overall 2009 stats — it’s already been established that he had a down year. But it’s interesting to note that in 60 at bats in the second slot, Markakis walked seven times and had a .391 OBP. Yet when hitting fourth, he walked only six more times despite having three times as many at bats (and had a .316 OBP). Of course, it’s a small sample size, and maybe Markakis just didn’t hit well when he was the cleanup hitter last season, but it is worth noting that his best numbers have come when he’s batted second.

Maybe Markakis changes his approach depending on where he’s hitting in the lineup, or maybe he doesn’t. Still, the cleanup spot may not be the best place for him, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, I think Markakis will bounce back next season and beyond — he’s too talented not to. But he needs to embrace his strengths, and trying to hit for a ton of power may not be one of them. There’s nothing wrong with drawing walks and hitting line drives. (By the way, I didn’t mention Markakis’s down year defensively, but I think he’ll perform better in that area as well.)

(4) Which young Orioles position player do you like most? (If Wieters/Markakis, who’s #2?)

Adam Jones.

(5) Which young Orioles starter do you like most?

Brian Matusz.

(6) What are your thoughts on the Orioles’ off-season, including their acquisitions (Millwood, Atkins, Tejada, Gonzalez) and any moves they should have made but didn’t?

Kevin Millwood: The deal for Millwood made sense. The Orioles wanted another veteran starter besides Jeremy Guthrie to eat up innings to ease some of the young starters into the rotation for an entire season. Millwood isn’t a particularly great pitcher at this point in his career, and he may find pitching in the AL East to be rather difficult, but he should be able to pitch every fifth day and give the O’s what they’re looking for. Also, the rest of his contract ($12 million) comes off the books after the season, which may allow the O’s to sign a younger, and better, veteran starter in the upcoming offseason.

Garrett Atkins: I thought the O’s would make a move like this, and I was fine with it, especially since Atkins will only be in Baltimore for one season (there’s no way the O’s exercise Atkins’s $8.5 million club option in 2011). Still, $4.5 million seems like a little much, considering that he’ll probably play first base a lot because of the Tejada signing.

Miguel Tejada: This move caught me by surprise. The one-year, $6 million deal is fine, but I didn’t see Tejada returning to Baltimore. Why didn’t the Orioles just sign Tejada instead of Atkins? Is Atkins a good enough first baseman to be manning the position for an entire season? In the long term, the Atkins and Tejada deals don’t mean much, but in the short term, they’re very confusing.

Mike Gonzalez: I didn’t think a move like this was coming either. Giving Gonzalez $12 million over two seasons seems a little expensive, but as long as he stays healthy he should produce — not to mention that if he’s dominant, the O’s may be able to flip him to a contender for a young player or two. But honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of paying big money to closers, especially for a team that isn’t ready to contend yet.

As for other moves, there may have been a few small ones, like possibly bringing back Erik Bedard or going about the corner infield situation differently, but I’m not sure there was a whole lot the O’s could have really done.

Comment: “Why didn’t the Orioles just sign Tejada instead of Atkins?” indeed.

(7) Are the Orioles going to get out of the cellar this year, and how good of a chance do they have of breaking their streak of losing seasons?

I think the Orioles will finish fourth in the division in front of the Blue Jays. As for ending the season with a winning record, I think the Orioles will fall a few games shy of the .500 mark — which would still be a significant improvement.

(8) Do the Orioles scare you for 2011? 2012?

I know this question isn’t really for me, but as an Orioles fan, my team always scares me — especially when guys like Adam Eaton or Jamie Walker take the mound.

Comment: When Jamie Walker came in to face a lefty the last couple years, my base expectation was “well, here comes a home run.”

(9) More generally; does something need to be done with division restructuring, given that (for example) there’s a fair chance that the 3rd best team in baseball will miss the playoffs in 2010?

Tough question — I’d love to see the Orioles in a different division, but I doubt it’ll happen. In a perfect baseball world, the Orioles, or almost any other team, wouldn’t be forced to compete in the same division with both the Yankees and Red Sox, but that’s just the way things are — hate it or love it.

Thanks very much to Krem for participating. He’s a smart guy, and does good work on a variety of sports at his site. Check it out!