Loriality

In case you get your breaking baseball news from this blog (in which case, hello curious traveler - your priorities confuse me), Jeffrey Loria really out Jeffrey Loria'd himself yesterday, firing Marlins manager Mike Redmond and replacing him with general manager Dan Jennings. Moving your top front-office official into the dugout despite his complete lack of on-field experience isn't exactly normal, but then again, neither is having eight managers in ten seasons, so Loria can sort of consider himself a trendsetter. 

The change got me thinking about our conversation with Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra from this week's episode, which touched on, among other things, baseball's deeply-ingrained corporate culture. In addition to the well-documented greed, deception, and general moral repugnance amongst team owners, who so reliably remind us that baseball is a capitalist oligarchy masquerading as a community cooperative, Craig's piece points out that breaking into the big leagues as a player is strikingly similar to climbing the corporate ladder at a large company. You start out at the lowest rung, toiling away for long hours at meager wages, and if you work hard, play by the rules, and don't complain, you'll eventually find yourself in the majors.

Loria's latest shake-up points at another facet of all this, though: the trend in modern business, particularly in the technology space, actually favors volatility and eccentricity amongst leadership. We love to read about the ice cream trucks at Zappos, Google's lack of hierarchy, and Bridgewater's policy of radical honesty. The environment at these and many other companies is fomented by zealous, ambitious CEO's who envision themselves as both corporate and cultural innovators. And it's hard to argue with them from a revenue standpoint - places like Zappos, Google, and Bridgewater have parlayed their branded weirdness into skyrocketing profits and scores of happy, productive employees.

The key to all of this, however, is that these attitudes are top-down. It's the head execs who set the tone for these oddball success stories - the Larry Pages, Ray Dalios, and Tony Hsiehs insure that the value of outside-the-box thinking is enshrined in their company's official corporate tenets, no matter how big they grow. It's hard to imagine a major league baseball team suddenly cultivating that kind of start-up mentality - baseball teams are all huge, multi-million dollar business already, and the idea of a shakeup from the roots would likely seem incredibly risky to fans and ownership group shareholders, not to mention MLB's corporate mothership, which is famously over-protective of its brand.

That's why Loria, who routinely sells off his team's best assets following successful seasons, fires managers and general managers with impunity, and fields his team in one of the strangest sports complexes on planet Earth, is generally viewed as a kook. It doesn't hurt that he also seems to be a somewhat clueless evaluator of talent, which is why the Marlins have mostly had their successes in spite of his eccentricities, not because of them. 

But doesn't it seem like there's an opportunity for some wayward club to decide that the old-fashioned way of running a baseball team clearly isn't working, and instead replace it with some of this new-fangled wackiness? Personally, I think it should be the Rockies, because they are a) an abysmal baseball team with no clear path to contention in the near future, and b) they play in one of the few states where it's, um, legal to think outside the box.

The Athletics and Astros have famously embraced the technological innovations of Silicon Valley and Wall Street to convert their franchises from foundering money pits into alternative approach success stories, but the culture of those teams and other SABR-minded clubs hasn't exactly evolved to match. Imagine a mind capable of comprehending the value of both Ben Zobrist and the Marlins home-run statue. What kinds of innovations might an unholy hybrid of Billy Beane and Jeff Loria bring to bear in a place like Colorado? 

Back in 2013, we called for the Orioles to move the left field fences in and raise the height of the wall to 500 feet. This move, we proposed, would resolve the team's lack of credible left-field defense (since the third baseman or shortstop could handle anything hit in the air on that side of the field), while also making our starting pitchers overwhelming propensity for throwing fly balls less of a clear and present danger.

Your move, Rockies owner Dick Monfort - we'll be waiting by the phone.

Manny Machado: Leadoff Hitter, Apparently

In this still-young post-Nick Markakis era in Birdland, it can be easy to forget how recently the leadoff spot in our batting order was a revolving door. Let us not forget the 282 plate appearances of J.J. Hardy and his .295 OBP from 2011, or the trials and tribulations of the Nate McLouth era. 

Markakis, of course, brought patience and a seemingly endless supply of singles to the top spot, and entering play in 2015 it was highly unclear how the O's would replace him. Alejandro de Aza came out of the gate hot, but has since been relegated to the part-time role for which he's better suited. For a while it seemed like no better in-house alternative existed, and that all would fall to cinders and ash...until Buck Showalter pulled what I can only imagine baseball people have started referring to as A Real Buck Showalter Move: he asked Manny Machado to do it.

Machado hardly profiles as a prototypical number one - he's a tall, gangly, not particularly speedy corner infielder. And yet, thus far, I'd argue that Manny the Leadoff Hitter is the second-most pleasant surprise of the 2015 season, with a decent shot of overtaking the Jimmy Paredes Hall of Fame Explosion once it inevitably subsides.

As Jim Hunter noted in last night's MASN broadcast, Manny is seeing more pitches per plate appearance this season than he has in previous years - 3.99 to be exact, up from 3.64 in 2014. That's not just a positive trend for Machado individually - it puts him in the top 40 overall among AL batters, and compares favorably to - you guessed it - Nick Markakis, who's seeing 4.40 Pit/PA for the Braves.

Not that seeing lots of pitches is necessarily an indicator of guaranteed success - the aforementioned top 40 in that category also includes the hideous work of Mike Napoli (.176/.286/.304), Mike Zunino (.159/.235/.295), and other ignominious performances by players not named Mike, like Shin-Soo Choo (.194/.298/.378). Remember when we were sad we didn't sign him?

But Manny is also garnishing his plate discipline with other hallmarks of leadoff-hitter excellence: driving the ball with authority to the opposite field, stealing bases (he's currently responsible for half of the Orioles swiped bags as a team), and drawing walks. Machado's walk percentage is up dramatically thus far: 10.5% versus 5.7% last year. He's also well on his way to a 20+ homer season, which doesn't hurt.

Perhaps the most exciting part of all this is what it suggests about Manny's attitude. It was roughly a year ago when Machado's apparent lack of maturity was front-page news in the sports world, and as we've noted repeatedly on the podcast, he's been known to grouse publicly about his contract and generally let his ego over-inflate. 

We know from Pat Jordan's incredible Sports on Earth profile of Buck Showalter that managing Machado has been trying at times, but there seems to be at least some indication that we're witnessing the maturation of our young star into more than just a defensive juggernaut with a rapidly-developing power stroke. He's taken the mantle of leadoff hitter from a franchise legend without complaint, and seems like he might be blossoming into the unquantifiable role that made Markakis so well-loved and so criminally under-valued: a true team player.

 

It's Time To Trade Chris Davis

Well, it’s fine with me if we never play the Mets again. 

Following our sweep in this week’s two-game set, our all-time record against the Poor Unfortunate Souls of Flushing stands at 9-21, our third-worst overall head-to-head mark. For those curious, we’re 457-549 against the Yankees, although we’re 33-26 since 2012. For those curious how I knew these numbers, I guessed off the top of my head, then checked Baseball Reference’s handy tool and found that my guesses were 100% accurate.

Listen friends - as we did on this week’s podcast, it’s time to have a difficult conversation about Chris Davis. Following last night’s three-punchout performance at Citi Field, he’s now K’d 40 times on the young season, putting him on pace to annihilate Mark Reynolds's single-season record of 226. Successfully doing so would enable Davis to claim the dubious honor of joining Reynolds, Adam Dunn, and Ryan Howard as the only players to appear more than once in the all-time top 10 for most strikeouts in a single season.

Worse, with 18 whiffs in his last 10 games, Davis’s rate of useless at-bats seems to be increasing. One might take comfort in his .273 batting average and seemingly-healthy .340 on-base percentage, but a likely unsustainable .409 BABIP suggests both of those figures are likely to fall. 

Three True Outcomes players are, as a general rule, pretty entertaining, both on the field and off. Adam Dunn garnished his elite power and punch-out legacy with an appearance in an Oscar-nominated film. Rob Deer, who was truly outcoming before we started calling ‘em True Outcomes, spent his offseasons working for his father’s construction firm. And I feel like there was…something noteworthy about that Bo Jackson guy. It seems clear that Davis is fit to join the group by virtue of his ability to lift trucks with his bare hands. But it’s also clear that membership in the hallowed halls of TTO is largely dubious - the only Hall of Famers on Baseball Reference’s list of all-time Truest Outcomers are Lefty Grove and Sandy Koufax, who had, er, other talents to recommend them. As this 2014 analysis from Beyond the Box Score shows, Chris Davis is well on his way to membership in this cadre of maddening misfits:

So what do we do? While it’s not yet clear that Davis’s presence in the lineup is actively hurting the 2015 Orioles, I’d argue that it is clear he could help the team most as part of a trade package. There are plenty of punchless lineups littering the middle-tier of baseball’s divisions, and if the Orioles wait until the offseason to address the Davis situation, they’ll have the unenviable task of convincing Scott Boras of the reality the rest of us are starting to grasp: Chris Davis isn’t an elite hitter. Flipping him now gets the Orioles something they can actually use for the future, and allows the team to focus its extension efforts on Matt Wieters, who I’d argue is more deserving…especially if we move him to first base once Davis departs. Whaaaaaaaaat?!

Stay with me now. If the removal of Wieters's defense from the catcher’s position was going to become a glaring issue, it certainly would’ve showed up last year, when were without him for the majority of the season and managed to win the division by twelve games. The main defensive skills that first base requires are certainly areas in which Wieters already excels: quick footwork and scooping balls in the dirt. We also know that Wieters’s 2014 injury didn’t affect his swing - it was the inability to reliably throw to second base from behind the plate that forced him to have Tommy John surgery. The move to first base would alleviate that concern handily. 

Offensively, while Wieters hasn’t been the elite slugger we hoped for, he’s certainly been a consistent source of power and run production when healthy, and I’d feel a lot more comfortable signing a hitter like that to an extension, as opposed to a relatively volatile commodity like Davis. Additionally, Boras (who also represents Wieters) loses a significant amount of negotiating leverage if the Orioles are looking to extend Wieters as a fledgling first-basemen rather than an All-Star catcher. 

Is any of this likely? Who knows - while Dan Duquette does appear regularly on our podcast, I don’t think he’s a regular reader of this blog. But what I’m proposing certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched, and it would answer a lot of pretty gnarly short and long-term questions for the Orioles. 

Moronic Musings (aka Our New Blog)

Helloooooo Baltimorons! How y'all doin'?

We’ve decided to start blogging in addition to our audio hi-jinks. We’re thinking Tuesdays and Thursdays to start, so calibrate your Drivel-Reader 5000’s accordingly.

Just checking: did we all stop to truly appreciate the moment in our American journey when Steve Pearce started consecutive games at second base for the Baltimore Orioles? We all noticed that happen, right? Frankly, the fact that more of us aren’t frantically packing for the apocalypse shocks me. 

Asked following Sunday night’s 4-2 comeback victory over Tampa Bay whether Pearce might continue to play second, Showalter replied

"If it's a necessity, sure…I’d rather not, but I would. It's still an option for us. It always has been…Stevie can play shortstop…The thing you like so much about Steve is he embraces it.” 

I’m as appreciative of Steve Pearce’s enthusiasm and indomitable nature as much as the next fellow, but for a team that relies as heavily on rally-killing double plays as ours, I’m not sure enthusiasm and a positive attitude are going to replace Jonathan’s Schoop’s arm strength or Mr. F’s range. 

Of course, it’s not like we need to go hunting for indicators that our boys are in the midst of yet another strategic high-wire act. Our DH duties, fulfilled so skillfully last season by Nelson “Babe Ruth Apparently” Cruz, appear to’ve been awarded to Jimmy Paredes, who until recently received more acclaim for his haircut than his .OPS, which suddenly stands at a Troutian 1.032. As the boys of Cespedes Family Barbecue recently noted, it's pretty likely he’s already peaked:

I know, I know - I shouldn’t be so quick to doubt Paredes. After all, no one thought Pearce’s offense was sustainable last season, and people keep predicting Chris Tillman will regress despite now-abundant evidence to the contrary, and everyone is convinced Zach Britton doesn’t get enough punch-outs to be an elite closer…and yet, here we sit, for the fourth consecutive year, right in the thick of the AL East after a month of play. But you’ve got to be at least a little bit concerned about a power-dependent offense being anchored by the likes of Jimmy Paredes, especially when the only imminent infusion of new life will be coming from J.J. Hardy, whose injured left shoulder doesn’t figure to help restore his wayward power stroke. 

On the other hand, it’s worth pausing to note that entering play tonight, the Orioles rank 3rd in the AL in on-base percentage. That's right folks - your hack-tastic Birds, who finished 10th and 11th in that category in 2013 and 2014 - would seem to be altering their approach ever-so-slightly here in the early going. This little trend combines nicely with our .317 team batting average with runners in scoring position. We've always worried holding out for the home run ball wasn't sustainable, and perhaps 2015’s more patient, line-drive-centric approach can keep keep us afloat until Matt Wieters successfully throws one back to the pitcher without experiencing pain. 

Just kidding! Matt Wieters is never going to play baseball again.

Who thinks Bud Norris can outpitch Bartolo Colon tonight? How is that a legitimate question in 2015?

  Image Credit:  comc.com

Image Credit: comc.com