How The Opposition Views The Orioles – Rays

The FanBall network is full of good bloggers, and one of the interesting things we thought we could do is have each blogger of one of the teams in the AL East answer a few questions about each other team. So I sent out my list of 9 queries about the Orioles, and I’ll be posting the various responses in a five part series (with the thoughts of another O’s fan at the end).

Today we have Jason Collette, who covers the Tampa Bay Rays at Dock of the Rays.

(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 owns a Toyota Prius and doesn’t have a problem with his brakes. When he tells his car to stop, it stops.

Comment: Topical humor. Nice.

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

The sky is the limit for his talent. I would hope the club moves him to 1B by the time he hits his statistical prime age range so they can maximize with his production. He is such a special talent I would hate so see him lose time to the eventual injuries that catch up with all catchers that were not on stuff in the past years (Pudge, cough cough). I would like to see him walk a bit more and cut down on his strikeouts, and I expect that to come as he gains more major league experience. In an ideal world, he would have had more time in AAA last year but I thought he handled his own rather well despite the limited time in the minors.

(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?

Until he figures out how to do better against lefties, he is what he is. In 2009, his slash line was .262/.305/.376 compared to a .314/.376/.507 line against righties. That is a rather extreme split for someone with his reputation. He is .278/.333/.419 against lefties for his career so 2009 is a bit of an aberration but I’m more concerned about his speed. His speed score has dropped from the 5.0 to 3.7 across the last three seasons and if it stays in the 3’s, he’s not going to steal 10+ bags any time soon.

Comment: Interesting observation on the speed score there. Might that affect his range in the outfield as well?

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

Adam Jones. I see a lot of Torii Hunter in him and he has improved each of his last three seasons in the majors. He managed to hit 19 homers last year despite a GB/FB rate of nearly 2.0 which is next to impossible to pull off. An 18% HR/FB rate allowed him to pull that off but it is highly doubtful he can have that type of fortune in 2010. He will need to get some more loft in the ball if he wants to eclipse even the 15 homer plateau in 2010. I love how his strikeout rate has gone from 32% to 23% to 20% over the last three seasons; that’s a sign of a young hitter making necessary adjustments which gives me confidence he will stop drilling so many balls into the ground in the coming seasons.

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

I am a big Brian Matusz fan. When I see him pitch, I feel like I am watching a 32 year old pitch instead of a 22 year old pitch. I love his mix of pitches and how he commands the strike zone on both sides of the plate. My only concern are his flyball tendencies which could be problematic for him in Yankee Stadium, Fenway, and even his own home park. Albeit in only 113 innings, Matusz had a 48% groundball rate in the minors so he can improve on his flyball issues from last season.

(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?

Millwood was a great move since the Rangers are paying most of the salary and I like Tejada at what he signed for. The Atkins contract was rather unnecessary as there were better placeholders for Josh Bell than a guy with a sub .700 OPS away from Coors Field. Gonzalez is a talented pitcher, but the O’s chances of contending in 2010 are slim and none and slim has one foot out the door. I would have rather seen the club use that money elsewhere and give someone like Kam Mickolio a chance at closing or bring in Kevin Gregg at a much cheaper rate. I would also rather have seen them ink Russell Branyan over Atkins who I think would be a terrific fit at 1B in a platoon with Wigginton.

Comment: This mirrors my opinions pretty closely, though I’m not as high on the Millwood move given that my understanding it that the Rangers are only paying ~$3M of his salary and not most of it. Even given that point, Jason still liked the deal given that the Orioles needed a veteran workhorse to provide some leadership to the young staff.

(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 give the Orioles a 100% of finishing at least 4th and I give them a 70% chance of finishing .500 or better. I really like what they’ve been doing over the last couple of seasons to amass the talent they have and the club reminds me a lot of what the Rays were in 2007 – but with better defense and a bullpen than what that Rays club had.

Comment: Wow, that’s quite a bit more optimistic than I expected. And more optimistic than I am. A 70% chance of finishing .500 or better implies an expected record of about 85-77. Sounds good to me. I asked Jason about that, and he said he was thinking 81-81 plus/minus a game.

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

Hell, they scare me now. The Rays went 15-3 or 15-4 against Baltimore in 2008 but I believe the 2 clubs split the season series or the Rays were only one up last season. The O’s are ready to compete now and are going to be a headache for the Big 3 in 2010 and make their case to join that party in 2011 if they can have a better off-season than they’ve had this year.

(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?

Yes, something needs to be done just from a competitive standpoint. I think there will be 3 90 win teams in this division and that will be more than either the Central or West divisional winner. It could be said our division has 3 of the 5 best teams in baseball right now and one of those teams will have to stay home and watch the playoffs just as you and I will be doing. I would love to see the Rays and Orioles traded to the NL for the Nationals and Marlins. Then again, I am also a proponent of making the DH mandatory in both leagues. I don’t want to see hitters pitch and I damn sure don’t want to see pitchers hit.

Comment: Here here!

Thanks very much to Jason for participating, and for coming up with this idea. I hope he didn’t say all these nice things just because I was complementary of the Rays in his Q&A.