Springtime Storylines: Do the Orioles have enough pitching?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  We’re out of the playoff contenders in the AL East and into the also-rans. First up is the faster of the also-rans, the Baltimore Orioles.

The big question: Do the Orioles have enough pitching?

Well, sure, on some level the answer to this question is “no” because, as the old saying goes, you can never be too thin, too rich or have enough pitching.  So I guess the real question is whether the Orioles will have enough pitching to keep them competitive enough so that people don’t get totally discouraged that the O’s are hitting the cover off the ball with nothing to really show for it (that’s too long for the headline, however).

And it was bad last year. Indeed, the Orioles gave up more runs than any team in baseball. And their opponents came by those runs honestly, inasmuch as the O’s also led the league in earned runs and didn’t walk a ton of people (they were actually in the good half of the league in walks allowed).  They just got hit hard, being the only team that allowed over 10 hits a game while leading the league in dingers.

The addition of Kevin Millwood helps matters, as he’ll presumably eat a lot of those innings the Orioles starters upchucked last season.  He’ll be joined by last season’s “ace” Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and probably Chris Tillman. I say “probably” because, contrary to expectations, Dave Trembley has not simply named Tillman the fifth starter yet, saying there’s an open competition.  I suppose fifth starter competitions are all the rage this year, so why not?

Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman represent the future, however, and a pretty bright one at that.  How quickly they develop will determine how quickly the Orioles go from bad to frisky to genuine contenders.  But they’ll certainly be better this year.

So what else is going on?

  • Pitching is a source of alternating concern and hope, but the Baltimore offense is shaping up to be something special indeed. A middle-of-the-pack group in 2009, sure, but the lineup is chock full of rising stars like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott. There’s reason to worry in the form of Brian Roberts’ lingering injury, but this Orioles team should (a) score a lot of runs this year; and (b) be a lot of fun to watch;
  • Of more concern are the additions of Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada. Tejada has never played third base in the majors. While one would assume the transition to third would work out OK, it’s not a lock that he’ll take to the position quickly or, even if he does, that he’ll be good at it.  Atkins may be a bigger question mark. After a nice run in Colorado he hit the wall last year. There’s not a ton of risk given that he’s in town on a one-year deal, but if he hits like he did last year there’s a big hole in the lineup;
  • The general optimism surrounding this club could actually work against manager Dave Trembley, who I was surprised the Orioles brought back for another year.  Young pitching takes a while to develop, and if it doesn’t develop fast enough to turn that optimism into wins Trembley could find himself out of a job;
  • The Orioles invested $12 million in closer Mike Gonzalez. The same thing I said about Rafael Soriano in the Rays’ preview applies here: he split the closer’s job in Atlanta last year, his first full season after Tommy John surgery, but threw in A LOT of games.  He still struck out over 10 per nine innings, however, so he should be OK if he stays healthy;

So
how are they gonna do?

I like this Orioles team. No, not to actually contend for the playoffs — the three teams ahead of them are just too loaded — but they have a bunch of players I like (and one player’s mother I kind of get a kick out of).  I’m a big fan of Adam Jones in particular and Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman are all guys I’ll make a point of watching on MLB.tv or Extra Innings or whatever watch-every-game solution I settle on in the next couple of days. Can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for young pitching.

Still, we must remember that this was a 98-loss team last year, and even dramatic improvement puts them only in the .500 range.  Feel free to exhibit some optimism, Bawlmer, but just temper it accordingly.  Your time will come.

Prediction: Fourth place, because that’s all The Man will allow in the AL East these days.

Joe West explains the fan interference call he clearly blew

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One of the biggest plays in a game full of big plays in last night’s Red Sox-Astros game was the call of fan interference that took a home run away from Jose Altuve.

Well, actually, it didn’t technically take a home run away, because right field umpire Joe West never called it a home run to begin with. He called it, sorta, tentatively, fan interference and it was thrown in the lap of replay officials.

For my part — and, it seems to me, for the part of most folks watching the game — West blew the call. The fan in question did not reach out onto the field of play — Mookie Betts‘ glove entered the stands — and the rules clearly state that no interference is called if a spectator comes in contact with a batted or thrown ball without reaching onto the field of play. It’s only if he or she reaches out onto the field. If the ball is in the stands, all’s fair in love and souvenir-snagging.

After the game, West was interviewed about the call. Here is how he explained it.

 

Q. What did you see that prompted the initial call of fan interference?
JOE WEST: Well, when he jumped up to reach for the ball, the spectator reached out of the stands and hit him over the playing field and closed his glove.

Q. So the ball had not yet crossed the railing?
JOE WEST: No.

Q. And Betts’ glove had not yet crossed the railing, do you believe?
JOE WEST: No.

Q. Okay. Did the fan —
JOE WEST: Here’s the whole play, here’s the whole play. He hit the ball to right field. He jumped up to try to make a catch. The fan interfered with him over the playing field. That’s why I called spectator interference.

Q. So it’s a clear call in your mind?
JOE WEST: Yes.

Q. Were there already — was there a single call that you saw, that the replay officials saw on replay that confirmed —
JOE WEST: I don’t know what he saw. He just — the replay official said I was right.

Q. Okay.
JOE WEST: That’s all. He said I have nothing that can change it.

That last bit is not entirely true, by the way. They didn’t say, specifically, that West was right. Rather, they could not find sufficient evidence to overturn West, so the call stood. Which is an important distinction: if the ruling was that West was definitively correct, the ruling would’ve been that West’s call was “confirmed.” That is not what they said. They said the call “stands,” which meant that they didn’t have enough evidence to overturn West.

That’s a different issue in its entirety, by the way: the deference given to the field umpires and the high burden replay officials have to overturn them. Here, I suspect it was a matter of them not having sufficient camera angles establishing that the fan had not reached onto the field. I think that’s nuts given what even the primary view and some basic common sense showed — Betts did not run to the wall and then jump straight up, failing to break the plane into the stands — but the current replay system places a high burden on replay guys overruling the field umpires.

That whole setup is dumb. This is not the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and guys like Joe West should not be treated like District Court judges to whom deference should always be granted. Replay officials have better views almost every single time and they should be able to simply substitute their judgment rather than meet some high burden aimed, I suspect, at making field umpires feel like they’re not losing power now that baseball takes a 21st century approach to officiating rather than a 19th century approach.

Unfortunately for the Astros, that is not how the replay rule works. Unfortunately for the Astros, Joe West’s judgment was to be deferred to. Unfortunately for the Astros, West blew that call and, unfortunately for the Astros, it cost them a two-run homer that could’ve changed the outcome of this game.