As the All Star break comes to a close, it seems an appropriate time to do something of a first-half wrap up. Camden Chat second-in-command, Mark Brown, has taken a look at the offense and the starting rotation in comparison to the rest of the league, and in this piece some of the other writers are offering up their thoughts. Participating are: Steve, AKA punkrawka, Alex/Vuff, Matthew/twistedlogic, and Ryan/um..RyanP.
I asked the four writers eight questions about the Orioles and given the length of their excellent responses, I'm breaking their responses up into two parts. Look for part 2 tomorrow, and in the meantime, if you'd like I invite you to answer these same questions in the comments.
What has been your favorite Orioles moment so far this season?
Steve: I believed all along that the Orioles would build on their 2012 success instead of regressing. But that really became real for me during the Orioles-Nationals split series. The two games in Nats Park looked like the fanbase was split about 50-50, which isn't entirely unexpected. But when the last two games came back to Camden Yards, the split looked around 80-20 (and I think 20% might be generous), with the Orioles fans getting rowdy and rooting the good guys to a two-game sweep. I was at the first game, where the Orioles came back late and overcame three Ryan Zimmerman home runs, and the atmosphere was the best I've experienced since Cal Ripken day or the ALDS last year.
Alex: This is pretty tough; it's been a good enough run so far that nothing really jumps out at me. I think I have to go all the way back to the Orioles' home opener, when Chris Davis hit an opposite-field grand slam, making it four games in a row in which he'd hit a home run. Nate McLouth's reaction in this video, at 0:49, is utterly priceless - and pretty much my own at the time.
Matthew: Seems lame, but the four consecutive Davis homers to start the season. Not many in the baseball world seemed to think of the O's 2012 as anything other than a fluke, but Davis came out mashing with his lackadaisical half swings and quieted the masses. Now he leads the majors in homers and all the "experts" can do is argue over what the legit single-season record is. It's wonderful.
Ryan: Adam Jones's go-ahead home run against Mo! That was pretty freaking sweet.
What has been the most disappointing thing about the first half?
Steve: Jim Johnson's performance, bar none. I know that relief pitcher performance is a fickle mistress, but Johnson has been consistently very good for a long time now. He got a big raise for it this year, and something just isn't right. If Johnson had converted four of his six blown saves, the Orioles would be 57-39, 0.5 games out of first going into the All-Star Break. That's huge. Jason Hammel and Matt Wieters were also major considerations in answering this question, just for the record.
Alex: I think I have go with Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters here, who are posting wRC+ of 97 and 84, respectively. (wRC+ is like OPS+, just weighted differently to account for the fact that OBP is more valuable than SLG.) Markakis posted his best slash line since 2008 last year, despite multiple injuries, and ended the year at .298/.363/.471 (good for a 125 wRC+). I'd gotten my hopes up that maybe his power was back to pre-2010 levels, but this year, his OBP (.333) and SLG (.394) are both in line to be career worsts. Wieters, on the other hand, may be a victim of poor luck on balls in play (.246 BABIP), but to the eye, he's looked bad rather than unlucky. He's seemed shakier defensively, too, at framing pitches and blocking balls in the dirt.
Matthew: Matt Wieters. We all know that you shouldn't run on him, but apparently you can do pretty much anything else. He's one of my favorite O's, but it's getting hard to watch him on a daily basis. It doesn't appear he has made any strides or adjustments to his extremely loopy swing, nor does he seem to really help out his staff when he's receiving pitches. I'd have to imagine that the coaches have noticed at least the swing part of this equation and are making some effort to help him adjust.
Ryan: The rotation's aversion to strikeouts (13th in the AL in K%) and propensity for walks (11th in BB%) and dingers (15th in HR/FB%). I was going to ding them for high pitch counts, but the O's rotation is only 9th in the AL in pitches thrown. That's not too bad.
Which player, other than Chris Davis, has been your biggest surprise and why?
Steve: I have a surprisingly long list of negative surprises, given how well the team is doing, but given the Davis mention, I'll go positive here and say Miguel Gonzalez, who I truly feared would regress this year. Instead, he's giving basically #2 starter production for an MLB-minimum salary. bWAR says he's been our most valuable pitcher. Given the other pain points in the rotation right now, not needing to worry about MiGo every fifth day is nice.
Matthew: Manny Machado. I expect this is going to a popular answer, but I can't help but be completely amazed by what he's doing at the hot corner. He has plenty to work on, most notably his approach at the plate, but his defense has been incredible and he's a DOUBLES MACHINE. I really want to see him build some patience at the plate, as I think that an over-agressive approach can be exploited, but he's 20 and I'm not about to complain.
Ryan: It's a negative surprise, but Matt Wieters has been terrible at the plate. I expect him to do better in the second half, though; his BABIP is 30 points under his career average and his rate statistics are fine, so it seems like a case of bad luck more than anything else.
Who has been the Orioles least valuable player and why?
Steve: bWAR says it's Nolan Reimold at -1.0, and I'm not inclined to disagree. I truly believed that Reimold had two modes: productive and hurt. It's obvious that he also has a suck mode, and given that he's out of options and this team is right on the fringes of contention, I'm not sure how much longer they can keep up this experiment. I'm pretty close to wanting him cut, because I have to assume he's not going to garner much interest in a trade right now.
Alex: To go strictly by WAR, this is either Nolan Reimold or Freddy Garcia (or Pedro Strop, but he's a Cub now). I was tempted to insert a rant about Jason Hammel or Jim Johnson here, but the prior two have clearly been a lot worse. I'm not sure how much there is to say about either: Reimold had that 2009 season in which he looked like Pat Burrell lite and has taunted us since, and none of us had any real hopes for Garcia.
Matthew: Jason Hammel (I'm eliminating Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts from this discussion due to injury). He's not the worst on the team as far as WAR is concerned, but the O's were counting on him to lead out a young and inexperienced rotation. He hasn't done that, plus he's basically rolled back any strides he made last season. I'm not even sure I'd consider him for the rotation in the second half, although the options are not plentiful.
Ryan: Nick Markakis has only 0.5 fWAR through the first half. I had to check twice to make sure my computer monitor wasn't broken. This is despite a BABIP that is not that far under his career levels and good contact at the plate. FanGraphs really doesn't like his defense or baserunning, and his hitting has not been good at all considering he plays half his games at OPACY. Indeed, he places last among RFs in the AL; even Josh Hamilton is above him (although of course this doesn't take salary into account).