The Baltimore Orioles have played, for the most part, good baseball in the early part of the 2016 season. Considering how many question marks there were in the offseason, the team's performance has been rather surprising. The rotation is actually good. Mark Trumbo has been a revelation at the plate. And many of the expected positives, like a strong bullpen and tons of dongs, have come through. That said, don't kid yourself. Some Birds have been bad. Like, really, really bad. But who has been the worst?
Don't get this wrong, Chris Davis has been a bright spot for the Orioles. He leads the team in walks, has hit eight home runs; each one more majestic than the last, and, even though advanced metrics paint him as an average defender at first base, his ability to pick throws out of the dirt has proved invaluable to his fellow infielders.
But he signed a seven-year, $161 million with the expectation that he would still be one of the best power hitters in baseball for the next two seasons, at least. So far, he's not doing that. His .436 slugging percentage is sixth on the team behind guys like Jonathan Schoop and Nolan Reimold. And, while Davis is not expected to compete for batting titles, hitting .200 won't cut it. My gut tells me he will turn it around, but early signs have him looking more like 2014 Crush rather than the 2015 version.
DFA him already
There has to be another LOOGY on the free agent market that is better than Brian Matusz. Even lefties are hitting .250 against him and they are getting on base at a .625 clip. Righties are slashing .455/.462/.727 with a home run over 13 plate appearances.
This comes a season after he was, arguably, at his best. In 2015, he turned in an ERA of 2.94, a career low, and an ERA+ of 140, a career high. Something must be wrong now, right? He was even worse with Bowie in rehab outings in April before returning to the bigs a few weeks ago. Based on the fact that Norfolk currently has six southpaws on their roster, Matusz needs to pick it up immediately, or he will be out of a job.
The mid-March signing of Pedro Alvarez left some scratching their heads. Sure, the Orioles could have used another left-handed bat, but they needed that same guy to be able to play right field. Alvarez can barely hold it down at first base let alone track a fly ball. BUT HE HITS DONGS!
Yeah, except he hasn't done much of that. As the team's primary designated hitter, the slugger is slashing .206/.320/.381 with two home runs, five doubles and seven RBI. However, his 11 walks are the second-most on the team. He is taking ball four 14.7 percent of the time, the best mark of his career. And he is striking out just 20 percent of the time, the lowest rate of his career. Plus, he is notoriously bad in March and April, hitting .197 in those months as a major leaguer. There is hope for him still.
Qualifying offer craziness
What can $15.8 million buy you? Apparently, not a very good catcher. That is Matt Wieters' salary this season, and it looks as though it may be a huge waste of money. Over 20 games, he is slashing .211/.282/.282 with one home run, two doubles, eight RBI, seven walks and 22 strike outs. And he has caught on back-to-back days only twice so far.
In the field, he is throwing out 50 percent of base stealers (3-for-6) and his catcher's ERA (whatever that's worth) is a nice 3.35. Meanwhile, his back-up, Caleb Joseph has had equal struggles with the bat (.205/.295/.231), has only tossed out 4 of 17 would-be base stealers, and has a CERA of 4.13. So, there is no real pressure for Wieters to not be the first choice behind the plate.
But Joseph also makes just north of $500,000 per year, not $15.8 million. So, the two should not have similar-looking batting lines. Especially when manager Buck Showalter insists on batting Wieters fifth or sixth, a fringe RBI spot. His 28.2 percent strikeout rate is ridiculously high for a guy with one round-tripper. Move down the lineup, Wiety.
Worth a draft pick?
All the buzz words were there. "Veteran arm". "Reliable veteran". "Steady production". They never mentioned the mid-80s fastball when Yovani Gallardo signed on for two years and $22 million at the end of February. After four starts, the right-hander found himself on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, a 7.00 ERA and a .319 opponent's batting average.
The 30-year-old's strikeout rate continued its downward trend. At the time of his injury, he was getting strike three just 4.50 times per nine innings pitched. This is a guy that, at the height of his career, was sitting nearly 10 guys down in that same time frame. According to Fangraphs, his fastball was averaging 87.2 mph before he got hurt. 87 MPH? For a right-hander? In his age 30 season? What the what?
To his credit, opposing hitters have a .333 batting average on balls in play. That will drop. And his current 3.8 percent fly ball is incredibly low, so that means he wouldn't give up too many long balls. But the Orioles knocked a year off the original deal between the player and the club because of something their doctors saw. And now, Gallardo is out with a problem that he admitted he had never felt before. That sounds ominous. The former all-star will begin throwing on Saturday and, even though the rotation has done a nice job so far, an upgrade over Mike Wright would be a boost.
Maybe his "rib area" is still bothering him
If he's not hurt, then Adam Jones is just really awful this year. But let's get real, Jones is still probably dealing with a problem in his rib area, which goes back to the season's first week. It's commendable how dedicated he is to his craft and that he feels as though he does need to earn his paycheck, but the center fielder is becoming a burden to have in the lineup every single day.
He has a slash line of .200/.269/.274 with one home run, four doubles and nine RBI and is still being allowed to hit in the middle of the order. This has him perfectly positioned to be a rally killer. The eight double plays he has hit into are tied for the most in baseball. He can't even hit against pitchers that aren't pitchers.
Fangraphs gives him a WAR of -0.5. Baseball Reference is even harsher with a -1.0 WAR. Both values are the worst on the Orioles. Even fielding has been a struggle. Jones has just one assist so far. And his current UZR/150 of -9.0 would be his worst value since 2007, when he was a 21-year-old with the Mariners. For all of those reasons, Jonesy has been the most disappointing Oriole of 2016, but I have faith that he can turn it around...eventually.