2011 Orioles Fan Fest Recap

The Orioles had their annual Fan Fest today at the Convention Center, and the team was kind enough to invite me down for the Bloggers Forum. That wasn’t until the end of the day though, so I spent the first 6 hours wandering around the building just enjoying being around baseball (saw a couple guys in Matt Wieters Facts shirts, which was really cool), talking with a couple of other bloggers, and hanging out behind the stage (eavesdropping on the media interviewing the players). I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the players and whoever doing their Q&As; maybe I’ll start once a player answers the question “are you ready/excited for the season” with something other than a yes.

A few notes:

* Brian Matusz was the first guy I talked to. He was feeling pretty under the weather, but seemed like a heck of a nice guy. Snap judgment after seeing most of the 25 man roster filter through during the day is that Matusz would be my favorite player on the team in a personal capacity. Small sample size though.

Anyway, I didn’t want to bother him long so I just asked about his repertoire; he throws both a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball; a curve and a slider; and of course, the change-up. With the Pitch F/X, sometimes it’s hard to tell if one is looking at distinct pitches or just one offering with a wide range of movement. At least for one pitcher, now I know (more or less). I was hoping to ask Chris Tillman about his cutter and Brad Bergesen about his switch from SINKER/fastball to FASTBALL/sinker, but didn’t get the chance. Bergesen might be slotted in right behind Matusz on the personal favorite player list (not that that means anything).

* I was at Fan Fest in 2009 when it was last held outdoors. I got an autograph from Jeremy Guthrie there, and tried to ask him a question:

“When in line to get Jeremy Guthrie’s autograph, I took the opportunity to ask a very poorly phrased question to try to gain some insight into why how he has success despite just OK peripherals. While not an exact quote, it was basically “You throw pretty hard, but you don’t strike out that many guys – does that have something to do with your pitching style?” I think that may have caught him off-guard a little, and I admit that I shouldn’t have been so blunt about it (I rushed the question because I didn’t want to hold up the line). His response was something like “I have no idea why that is,” followed by “they just hit it.” I was a bit disappointed, as I was expecting to hear that he pitches to contact or tries to get the batter to put the ball in play weakly or something along those lines, but it seems like he never really considered that he should strike out more guys (or at least try to, if it wouldn’t result in other bad things happening).”

So seeing Guthrie again today, I asked him if I could have a quick word. I told him he probably wouldn’t remember the incident (“I remember everything”), and described it to him before apologizing for the potentially insulting wording of the question. I legitimately still felt bad about that, so it was nice to have it resolved. Guthrie seemed cool with the whole thing – I imagine it seemed a bit weird from his perspective. I really would like to talk to Guthrie about his pitching and numbers, given that in 812.1 career innings pitched he has a .270 BABIP and an ERA more than a half-run better than his FIP/xFIP.

* I saw Buck Showalter as he was attempting to make a quick exit from the event, and just got in a quick word.

“Have you read The Book?”

” I’ve heard of it… flipped through it in a book store.” (Not what I was hoping for.)

I told him I had a copy of it for him but he declined, saying he appreciated it (which I don’t buy). Obviously that wasn’t the smoothest conversation, but it was worth a shot to potentially improve the team by a couple runs (at $5 M per win on the free agent market, each run is $500k – I was just giving them some runs for free). I had a whole sales pitch prepared, but the time constraint kind of messed that up. If you see Buck make a reference to The Book at some point in the near future though (which would be fantastic), by all means give me credit for imparting the idea.

* Nick Markakis was there sans beard. One of my theories regarding Nick’s drop in walk rate from 2008 (and also his drop in power) related to his desire to cut down on his strike-outs and to put the ball in play more. So I asked him if that was something he was trying to do. His paraphrased response; “I couldn’t care less about strike-outs… a strike-out or a groundout is still an out. I’m not working on making more contact; I’m just hitting the ball where it’s pitched.”

Pitchers really are working him down and away more; it’s not a perfect display of that, but here are the called strikes against Nick from 2008 to 2009 to 2010 courtesy of TexasLeaguers:

So if pitchers keep up that gameplan, we probably should be expecting 25 home runs from Nick any time soon. Hearing “I don’t care about strike-outs” was pretty nice though.

* I asked Josh Bell if he was sad to see Cliff Lee go back to the NL, which elicited a big grin. (He was 3-3 with two home runs – and just missed a third – against Lee last season.)

* Coming up on 5:30 the various bloggers* started congregating around Steve Melewksi, getting ready to go on stage. That’s when the nerves hit me, big-time (knowing my irrational fear of public speaking is irrational sadly doesn’t make it go away). Once we got up there, said a couple words about our sites (everyone else seemed to say something about discussion and community and whatnot – I went with “more advanced analysis from a statistical perspective”), and got down to answering audience questions, things settled down.

* Chris Stoner from Batimore Sports and Life, Stacey Long from Camden Chat, Jeff Pilsner from Baltimore Sports Report, Neal Shaffer from The Loss Column, James Baker from Orioles Post, and Pete Kerzel from MASN Sports.

Some of the queries:

* An older gentlemen said he had recently read a book about Bob Gibson (or some other such player) which mentioned the idea of line-up protection, and he wanted to know a couple of the panelists’ ideas on that. They said their pieces, and I raised my hand so I could summarize this study on the matter (affects walks and strike-outs, but doesn’t make the hitter better when he puts the bat on the ball). The older gentlemen seemed to appreciate the answer, which was nice. Things are easy when someone smart has already done the research for you.

* A question was asked about the Orioles’ off-season moves and how they improved the team (keeping in mind how well they played for Buck down the stretch). A couple people gave somewhat optimistic answers and then I cut in, offering the others a chance to give their optimistic opinions before I brought everyone down (the manager doesn’t really do much – the players have to play… the team did get better, but they started out in such a hole that they’re still probably the 5th best team in the division – hopefully they can battle for 4th place with Toronto*).

* People seem to be underrating the non-Boston AL East competition. Yes, the Yankees have question marks at the back end of their rotation. The O’s have Arrieta and Tillman, who aren’t question marks since we “know” that they aren’t that good yet. New York still has CC Sabathia. And Phil Hughes. And a good offense. The Rays lost some players and might not have a great pen, but they’re very smart, and still have a very good defense and a solid rotation. The Blue Jays losing Marcum and Wells isn’t going to hurt them much, and even if Jose Buatista’s home run production gets cut in half they still have enough hitter and position players to put a decent team together. Some luck can get the O’s to 4th place. A lot of luck can get them to 3rd. I think that’s about it. And I wouldn’t want to make a bet that I have to be really lucky to win.

* A question was asked – directed at me (kind of a weird feeling)  – about Mark Reynolds (all those K’s) and JJ Hardy. I said that Reynolds will strike-out 200+ times if he plays all year, but that if he continues walking a lot and hits 30-35 home runs then he should still be a valuable hitter. And I loved the Hardy deal, as I’ve said repeatedly before.

* Steve Melewksi asked us if we thought Vlad Guerrero would be an Oriole at the start of the season (yes/no). Neal went first with “I don’t like it, but yes” so I went “I don’t like it, but [and] no”. Everyone else followed directions and just went yes/no. We were split pretty evenly, as was the audience (by a show of hands)

* We went down the line with our win total predictions. I said 75, explaining that expecting 75 wins meant anywhere from 65 to 85 (more or less), and that was the lowest anyone went (Stacey said 75 +/- 10 as well, and threw a nice compliment my way while she was at it – thanks Stacey).

The Q&A went by so fast – I think I could have spent half the day answering questions. Had a great time – thanks to the O’s for inviting me – and I’m looking forward to some actual baseball being played in the not-to-distant future.