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Ex-Orioles: Let’s see how these former Birds are performing outside the nest

Jake Arrieta’s bubble may be bursting, but Mark Reynolds is having an All-Star start to his season.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Detroit Tigers
Ex-Oriole Jake Arrieta is struggling through his 2017 season.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps it’s a guilty pleasure but I admit to feeling some joy when some former Orioles underperform after leaving Baltimore. Often, it’s for no good reason other than they are no longer wearing the orange and black. Yet, I still have an affinity for others. Either way, it’s always fun to see how one-time Birds are doing after flying the coop.

The following stats are accurate through Wednesday, May 17:

Jake Arrieta

2017 Cubs:

4-3; 44.2 innings; 5.44 ERA; 1.455 WHIP; -0.6 WAR

Exit Details:

July 2, 2013: Traded with reliever Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for starter Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger.

We know this story all too well. Arrieta won the Cy Young in 2015 and last year helped lead the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908. Oriole fans had to suffer through constant reminders of the lopsided trade that sent him to the Cubs for veteran pitcher Scott Feldman in a failed attempt for a postseason run.

Feldman pitched poorly for the Orioles (5-6; 4.27 ERA), and the team didn’t sniff the playoffs that year. And after Arrieta struggled to transfer his skills to the mound for parts of four seasons in Baltimore, he finally harnessed his potential in Chicago.

And it didn’t take long. Arrieta went 4-2 in nine starts with the Cubs in 2013 with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.123 WHIP. Feeling more comfortable with his new pitching coaches, Arrieta continued his elite status, winning ten games with a 2.53 ERA in 2014 before earning the top pitcher award in 2015 with a 22-6 record and 1.77 ERA.

But after another solid season last year (18-8; 3.10 ERA), Arrieta has seemed to lose his mojo in 2017. Through eight starts his ERA is an unhealthy 5.44 and his WHIP is 1.455. He is still posting strong strikeout numbers – nearly 10 per nine innings – but it’s the home runs that are hurting him. The eight long-balls he has already allowed means that he is averaging more than 1.5 per nine innings, contributing to his three losses.

While his walk rate – 2.6 per nine – is acceptable, Arrieta has displayed a wild streak that may be adding to his issues. After leading the NL last year with 16 wild pitches, he has already thrown six this year.

And all this is happening during his free agent year when he is hoping to land a mega-contract at season’s end. Unless he completely falls apart, he should still receive a big payday based upon his recent years of success but certainly not to the degree that he hopes for if he continues this downward trend.

His problems in Baltimore were never blamed on his physical skills. He was evaluated as a pitcher that needed more focus to bring consistency to his game. Maybe the stress of becoming a free agent is making him press more than usual. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

But, either way, I am shedding no tears. After being teased by his potential as a young Oriole only to be disappointed time and time again, a slight smile is forming at the corner of my mouth.

Mark Reynolds

2017 Rockies:

139 AB; 12 HR; 33 RBI; .317/.389/.612/1.000; 0.8 WAR

Exit Details:

November 30, 2012: Granted free agency.

Mark Reynolds played for the Orioles when the team was first establishing their new identity under Manager Buck Showalter in 2011-12. Buck began his Oriole career in 2010 following then interim-manager Juan Samuel who replaced Dave Trembley earlier in the season. Showalter brought a brand new energy and a winning expectation to the club after 14 straight losing seasons. And Reynolds was part of that shift.

Acquired in December 2010 in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for pitchers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio, Reynolds quickly became a fan favorite for his hustle, power and surprisingly good defense at first base. He was the Birds’ primary third baseman in 2011, starting 111 games there, but often looked uncomfortable and committed 26 errors.

But when he became the team’s main first baseman at the close of the 2011 season and in 2012, he seemed to snag everything that came near him often in acrobatic ways. He made so many remarkable defensive gems that Brady Anderson said that he played first base as well as anyone he had ever seen.

At the plate he was living up to his Sheriff of Swattingham nickname by smacking 60 home runs in his two years with the Orioles. He got on-base more than 35 percent of the time, despite hitting just .221.

But the Orioles had traded for another power-hitting first sacker in 2011 – Chris Davis – and let Reynolds leave as a free agent after the 2012 season. Davis went on to slug 197 home runs for the Orioles, including league-leading round-trippers of 53 and 47 in 2013 and 2015, respectively. The team inked him to a seven-year, $161 million dollar deal in 2016, while Reynolds has played for five different teams since leaving Baltimore.

This is Reynolds’ second season with Colorado, signing one-year deals in each of the past two offseasons. He hit .282 with 14 dingers for the Rocks last year, posting his highest OPS since his 2011 year with the Orioles. Reynolds is helping the Rockies to a first-place standing in the NL West while serving as the team’s primary first baseman.

He leads Colorado in several offensive categories, including home runs with 12 (fifth in the NL), RBIs with 33, walks with 17, and a 1.000 OPS.

Sure, he’s playing in Denver’s thin air that assists all batters, but Reynolds has hit three bombs in 15 road starts while mantaining an .835 OPS. His overall OPS ranks ninth in the NL, and he is seventh in the league in slugging percentage. His current .317 batting average blows away his career .237 mark.

But while his inflated .344 BABIP (batting average of balls in play) is helping him maintain his average, he is showing an increase in other skills that support his results. His contact and hard-hit contact rates are at the highest levels of his career, and he his showing much more patience at the plate.

He has still whiffed 35 times already this year, but that’s a far cry from the pace he set earlier in his career when he led his league in strikeouts four straight seasons, including the 196 Ks he had with the Orioles in 2011.

I wish nothing but success for the 33-year-old Mark Reynolds. He will always be linked to the excitement he added for Oriole fans as the team made the playoffs in 2012 for the first time since 1997. And while Chris Davis is playing gold-glove caliber defense at first and hitting mammoth home runs, fans hope his expensive contract won’t limit resources to the point that the team won’t ante up what it will take to sign all-universe Manny Machado.