Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Britton wins AL Reliever of the year for 2016

Prior to last night’s World Series Game Four at Wrigley Field, Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles was presented with the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the year award. Britton of course was virtually unbeatable in 2016, with a sub-1.00 ERA, and 47 saves. And in saying 47 saves, I mean of course 47 in a row. Britton didn’t blow a save in 2016.

This is a high honor for any reliever, however it was all but a given that Britton would get the honor. There are a lot of great bullpen guys out there (including Cleveland’s Miller), but nary any of them have ever come close to not blowing a save over the course of a season. But putting it like that unfairly removes it from a bit of important context; Britton didn’t blow a save while having 40+ chances.

When asked about the award, Britton was incredibly humble and credited his teammates around him for helping him win it (quote courtesy of Mark Newman, mlb.com):

I think it’s a credit to the teammates around me. Obviously you’re only as good as the guys behind you on the field. Me relying on ground balls, obviously we have a great defense back there. So a lot of the credit goes to the teammates and putting me in situations to be successful, too. The coaching staff, everyone really went out of their way to make sure — or put me in situations to be successful. That’s really what it comes down to at the end of the day. You’re only as good as the guys around you.

That speaks volumes about Britton, but also to what the Orioles are all about. There are very few individual achievemetns on this team. Everyone else’s success comes as a result of the team around them. And that’s how it should be on a team.

In 69 appearances, Britton also had a record of 2-1. He only gave up 38 hits and one homer. Britton is also thought of as someone who should be in the running for the Cy Young award, but that’s another story for another day. Whether or not relief pitchers should be eligible for that award is a matter of opinion. But needless to say Britton was THE BEST guy coming out of the bullpen for any team in baseball in 2016. You don’t win 47 games in a row and chalk it up to simply good luck. This award was well-deserved without any doubt.

Baltimore Orioles: Do ballparks need all the bells and whistles?

The Baltimore Orioles play in the best ballpark in baseball – perhaps in sports. Oriole Park at Camden Yards of course is known as The Ballpark that Forever Changed Baseball. And that’s a fact, as the Orioles literally trademarked that phrase. However are the Orioles and perhaps numerous other franchises doing things (or perhaps NOT doing things) which are hurting their attendance numbers?

In listening to sports talk radio this week, I heard a segment whereby the hosts were saying that perhaps one of the reasons that fans leave Maryland football games early is due to the fact that some of the bells and whistles of modern technology aren’t found in the stadium. Specifically, this of course speaks to millenials, as that conversation surrounded college students. Anyone that knows me knows that I work my “twitter machine” during Orioles games – but that’s due to the fact that I’m live-tweeting game highlights.

A lot of younger fans simply must have access to their social media accounts at all times. And I’m not saying that in a derogatory manner, I’m saying it as a matter of fact. Heck, I’ve even had people tell me that I’m living a lie based on something I may have said on Facebook or Twitter, and what reality truly is. Because if it’s posted on social media it must be true – right?

Oriole Park at Camden Yards doesn’t have wifi, nor does it have features such as device-charging stations or social media lounges. It’s a ballpark; with the exception of a few attractions such as the Orioles’ Hall of Fame, Dempsey’s Brew Pub, and some interactive aspects such as a jungle-gym for kids, what you see is what you get. And I would submit that’s how it should be.

But I come from a different generation than do the young adults of today. Many of them can’t find it within them to show up for a game – and just for a game. They need wifi to check their fantasy stats, post on Instagram, and check their Facebook feeds. Furthermore they need to be able to post on Snapchat so as to let the world know that they’re at the game.

And the fact is that people’s attention spans are very short now. Fans don’t go to the game trying to strategize and figure out what the team’s going to do next. Perhaps some do that for a bit, but as soon as a new Instagram post from a friend pops up they’re sidetracked.

Whether or not the Orioles should upgrade some aspects of the gameday experience remains to be seen. I would submit that if you make it easier for fans to surf the internet during games, you’ll start seeing more and more people getting hit with foul balls. There’s already wifi in the pressbox – having it in the seating bowl also might not be the worst idea ever. After all, Millenials don’t like to be told NO!

Baltimore Orioles: MLB needs to take notice of the NFL’s drop in ratings

The Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball need to take note of what’s happening in the National Football League. First off, keep in mind that the NFL and MLB don’t necessarily compete against each other. They overlap a bit, but baseball is a summer sport. Football is an autumn/winter sport.

That aside, the NFL is seeing a bit of a dip in their ratings. Not a huge dip mind you, but a slight one. However that would have been unheard of even a few years ago. And there may be numerous reasons why that is, including perhaps people watching non-stop election coverage. However my own theory is actually fairly simplistic: too much regulation.

Perhaps more so than in any other sport, we’ve seen a lot more rules in football of late, many of which are legitimately designed to protect players. However I’ve previously touched on how rules can at times contradict one another, such as the player who thought he wasn’t in violation when he pretended the football was a basketball and shot a fadeaway over the goalpost after a touchdown. However he was flagged for “using the ball as a prop.”

But we’re also seeing more and more defensive players being flagged for unnecessary roughness when in fact they’re making legal hits. They legislated helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game, however now defensive players are starting to be flagged even when they’re leading with their shoulders. Now apparently the line has moved from helmet-to-helmet to if it’s a hard and cracking hit, it’s a penalty.

The point is that in my opinion these regulations are getting excessive. Furthermore some contradict each other, and that dilutes the product the league is looking to put out. And here’s another point; there are too many prime time games. It used to be Sunday and Monday nights, but now they also do a Thursday night game. So two teams are playing on extremely short rest each week. Again, that makes the product itself worse than it needs to be.

So this is where MLB needs to take notice; perhaps let players play the games, and not umpires. A common hashtag I see league-wide is #umpshow. Fans use it when umpires seemingly get out of control and appear to aim to be “the show” (as opposed to the players). When you heap all of these regulations on umpires, they have to figure out which ones to enforce and how to do so. That’s what’s going on in the NFL right now – refs are confused. And it’s affecting the ratings.

Furthermore, and I’ve said this previously, replay reviews are out of control. In both the NFL and MLB, officials can review the play for as long as they want. And then they have to split hairs over what’s considered irrefutable evidence. In my view you should get two minutes to physically look at the play; if you don’t know after that amount of time, it’s inconclusive.

I recognize that officials in all sports are trying to do their best. No umpire or referee wants to get the call wrong. But in heaping so many rules, angles, regulations, etc. onto them, the lines between fair and foul are often being blurred. And if the NFL is any indication, it’s affecting viewership.

Baltimore Orioles: Is there a need for more weekday matinee’s?

Baltimore Orioles fans are probably asking themselves, “…Domenic, what in the name of pearl are you writing?!” And I get it folks – I really do! I’m the first one to tell you that it’s sometimes called fluff. You know, a column for the sake of writing a column. But when you’re marketing a new column such as I’m doing with The Orange Crush, you do what you have to do.

In looking at the Orioles’ 2017 schedule at this point, we see no times for the most part listed on the games. Those haven’t been decided as of yet, although I presume that the Orioles will for the most part stick to what they’ve done in the recent past. Monday-Friday home games at 7 PM, Saturdays at 4 or 7 PM, and Sundays at 1:30 PM. But should they consider a change?

And by a change, I don’t mean anything overly drastic. However weekday matinee’s seem to be a rarity in Baltimore. The Orioles occasionally will play an afternoon game during the week, but generally on the road. They’re almost always on a Wednesday or Thursday, and usually during the 1 PM (local time) hour.

I’m kind of a throwback to previous generations in that I have so much love and respect for the fact that the roots of the game are in afternoon games. However I recognize why the majority of games can’t be matinee’s any longer – not unless teams want attendance to dip so far that the sport itself becomes obscure. However an afternoon game on a weekday is really a special treat for fans, and if you sprinkle a few throughout the schedule over the course of 81 home games you probably won’t see a huge attendance dip.

Most teams schedule matinee’s on getaway days, which of course are the final games of a series. One or in many cases both teams are on the move immediately following the game. Often times the home team will schedule an afternoon game so that they and/or their opponent can get out of the city and onto their next destination early. In fact, the rare occasions that the Orioles do schedule afternoon games during the week are generally when they’re headed out west immediately following the game.

But speaking for myself, I think it’s something they should consider. It gives fans the opportunity to perhaps take a vacation day mid-week and head out to see a ballgame. It gives them the impression that they’re playing hooky or getting away with something. But that aside it’s a simple change from the status quo. And while players are creatures of habit, sometimes a change in the status quo is needed in the monotony of a 162-game season.

I see little chance of this happening, but one can hope. Presumably the Orioles have done studies and thus have come to the conclusion that they get better gate revenues for night games. And that probably goes without saying. But here and there, it probably wouldn’t hurt. Incidentally, I think that the weekend game times should stay right where they are. Saturday night games are perfect for a community like Baltimore, and obviously most Sunday games will be in the afternoon anyways. I could see moving Sunday games back to 1 PM, but now we’re splitting hairs!

Baltimore Orioles release Spring Training schedule for 2017

Amid the excitement for last night’s World Series game one, the Baltimore Orioles released their Spring Training schedule for 2017 earlier this week. What exactly does that mean for the here and now? Well, nothing much, although you can view the schedule by clicking here.

If you’re one of the thousands of fans who makes an annual pilgrimage to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota to see the Orioles during Spring Training, you can now start making your plans. The Birds actually start playing games in February next year, which seems earlier than normal. However they’ll begin on February 24th with two consecutive road games, against Detroit in Lakeland and then the next day against Pittsburgh in Bradenton.

The home opener at Ed Smith Stadium is on Sunday February 26th against Pittsburgh once again. As is usually the case, most of the games are at 1 PM. However the Orioles will play four evening games at Ed Smith Stadium next year. And I’ve always thought that was a smart thing to do, especially towards the end of Grapefruit League play. It gets players acclimated to playing night games as they generally do during the regular season.

Ironically, the Orioles will only host the NY Yankees once during Spring Training, on February 27th. They’ll host Boston, Tampa, and Toronto twice.  Philadelphia will make three appearances at Ed Smith Stadium, as will Detroit.

Keep in mind that it’s always challenging for the Birds to get their Grapefruit League schedule finalized. Teams literally line up to come and play the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium due to the great facility that the Birds have created there. Whereas when they trained in Fort Lauderdale teams wouldn’t want to come play them, in Sarasota they have to beat them away with a stick!

This year’s slate also includes a game against the Dominican Republic on March 7th as they prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Presumably this would not in theory count towards the Grapefruit League standings, which in reality count only in a kangaroo court-type setting. But it’s on the schedule, needless to say.

The Birds finish up on Thursday, March 30th in Sarasota against Detroit, but don’t open the regular season until the following Monday at home against Toronto. In the past they’ve scheduled some additional exhibition games, either against local Sarasota-area colleges, or in some cases against the Norfolk Tides. If anything like that is in the works, it hasn’t been announced as of yet. So there you have it Birds’ fans…get your reservations set for spring!

Baltimore Orioles: Jake Arrieta isn’t a conviction on the Birds’ coaching or methodology

As was covered here previously, two former Baltimore Orioles will be in the World Series for Chicago tonight: Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. For this purposes of this article, I’m going to focus more on Arrieta, mainly because he’s a starting pitcher. However also keep in mind that the Orioles drafted him, brought him through their system, and he began his big league career with the Birds.

Arrieta of course was traded in 2013 to Chicago for veteran Scott Feldman, who of course finished out the year with the Birds and then moved on. Arrieta since then has seen his career take off – and big time at that. Not only has he thrown two no-hitters since then, however he’s just been plain outstanding on the north side of Chicago. A lot of fans point to this as a reason to say that the Orioles have a poor organizational direction, among other things.

But is this fair? Arrieta had basically accomplished everything that he was going to accomplish in Baltimore. In fact, his departure was widely applauded by a great many Orioles fans. In effect, he’s what you call a classic change of air type of guy.

Many folks try to argue that Arrieta wasn’t allowed to pitch the way he truly wanted to pitch in Baltimore. However that’s incorrect; why would the Orioles truly be opposed to him using his most effective pitches? In reality, Arrieta’s issues began well before the current regime was in Baltimore. He rode the “Norfolk shuttle” far too often, and would get sent down and called back up almost weekly for a time. That seemingly continued even when the likes of Showalter arrived, however with the urgency to win today that couldn’t be helped.

So I suspect that when he went to Chicago, he got the same message(s), but delivered in a different manner and by different people. However again, many people will point to the fact that Arrieta is on a World Series team and say that obviously the Orioles are doing something wrong. Unfortunately folks, that’s just how the game works sometimes – for better or for worse.

I throw in that line, for better or for worse, for a reason. Do you think that Texas would have traded Chris Davis had they known what he would turn into? Could you imagine Davis playing in a bandbox like Texas 81 games a year? Sometimes these trades work out, and sometimes they don’t. Yet do people complain that Texas’ philosophy had to have thus been flawed?

The same is true with Mark Trumbo. What was Seattle thinking when they basically gave him to the Orioles? (In return for what amounted to a triple-A catcher…who later ended up getting suspended for twitter comments.) Point here is that you really have to have a narrow view of things if you’re going to say that the Orioles have a poor organization squarely because of the Arrieta trade. Sometimes these things work out, and sometimes they don’t.

Baltimore Orioles: What should the Birds do about Matt Wieters?

One of the bigger issues facing the Baltimore Orioles this off season is what to do about catcher, Matt Wieters. As we all know, Wieters was a free agent last season, but he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer and returned to the team for the 2016 season. However the rumors are that if the Orioles even make Wieters a qualifying offer (which they may not), he might not accept it.

There are a lot of factors to consider here. First off, should the Orioles bring Wieters back at all? And I suspect that for most fans the answer to that is going to be yes. Wieters has a career .992 fielding percentage, is a career .256 hitter (which is good for a catcher), and above all of that he’s a team leader and a positive force in the clubhouse. So should the Orioles bring him back? I say yes to that question – but there are also other things to consider.

The qualifying offer this year is going to be in the $17 million range. That means that if any given player accepts that qualifying offer, he’s signing with you for that amount for one year. Is Wieters worth $17 million for one season? If you feel that he’s a missing piece you might need to put you over the top to win a world series, then yes he is. But in the Orioles’ case he’s in essence the status quo. They wouldn’t be gaining anything, although they’d be gaining by not losing something.

It’s tight line to toe for sure. While Caleb Joseph had a down year at the plate, most fans also know what he’s capable of doing. Would he not be a viable candidate to be a starting catcher on many teams – contenders at that? I suspect that he would. And I suspect that he’d be far from the bottom in terms of being a starting catcher.

The Orioles are fairly deep at the catcher position organizationally, which is in their favor. Make no mistake about the fact that Matt Wieters is an asset to any team on which he would play. The Orioles would be better with him throwing runners out at second base trying to steal, or blocking the plate (once the ball arrives of course) as a runner tries to score…

…the point is whether or not the position is “leveragable.” That aside, there should be no question that the Orioles will offer Wieters a contract. The question is whether or not Wieters and his agent, Scott Boras, will be willing to sign for what the Orioles offer. I suspect that what will happen is that the Orioles will make Wieters a competitive offer. And by that, I mean a very legitimate offer. However someone else will step up and in essence overpay for him.

That would of course leave the Orioles with Caleb Joseph as their starting catcher. Is he Matt Wieters? No. But Matt Wieters isn’t Caleb Joseph either. Having him as your starting catcher isn’t a horrible place in which to be.

I can’t stress enough that the Birds are a better team with Wieters than they are without. So if they can get a deal done, they need to do that. However it might also pay to save that money so that the likes of Machado, Schoop, and even Tillman can be re-signed. All of those things are factors.

Baltimore Orioles: Should Jose Bautista be on the free agent radar?

Jose Bautista is only the most recent opponent that Baltimore Orioles’ fans love to hate. And I would submit that’s with good reason – we all know who Bautista is, and what he’s done. Let’s start with who he is; he’s one of the best power hitters in baseball and he plays for the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, what has he done?…

…he’s hit the Orioles hard over the years. However more relevantly he’s done everything in his power to rub their noses in his success at every step of the way. Granted his most famous show-boating moment came last year in the ALDS against Texas, however that aside he seems to relish playing the villain to the Orioles’ general all-around “good guy.” He knows that sticks in the heads of guys like Adam Jones, and he uses that to his advantage.

And of course his running feud with reliever Darren O’Day is well documented. The Orioles and their fans see Bautista as a “heel,” in every sense of the term. In turn, Bautista sees the Orioles (and guys like Jones) as unnecessarily being the enforcers of unwritten codes that he sees as unheralded and outdated. And he’s used that hatred to his advantage over the years, although the Birds held him in check in his injury-riddled 2016 campaign.

Bautista is a free agent this off season. So with the Orioles presumably losing the services of a guy like Trumbo, the question begs to be asked: should the O’s go after Jose Bautista? It would be a total about-face in terms of the type of player the O’s usually target. They tend to like signing or trading for guys like Trumbo who are going to fit into their clubhouse. I’m not sure that Bautista would fit that mold. In fact I know he wouldn’t.

But the question at hand is whether or not the Orioles need to reconsider where they stand on things like this. Bautista’s a showboater without any question. So are the Orioles prepared to totally shut out consideration of adding his bat to the lineup? I would hope not – for their sake.

Don’t read too much into what I just said – I’m the master of misdirection! I’m not saying that the Orioles should go out and get him. I’m saying that they shouldn’t totally close the door without considering it for a period of time. Could the Orioles not use a career .255 hitter with a career OBP of .368, who’s capable of hitting everything that’s thrown at him a long way?

The answer is yes, they could. So it is something that should be considered, and given the fact that he’s coming off of a down year he might come cheaper than we think. However that right there is why the O’s need to exercise caution. Bautista only played in 116 games this season, hitting 22 home runs. Plus at 36, he’s certainly on the downside of his career. So he wouldn’t come without risks.

With that said, there’s also the bit about his attitude. Bautista WOULD NOT under any circumstance fit in the Orioles’ clubhouse. Some people want to totally disregard that type of thing and argue that the Orioles should sign someone who could impact them regardless of how that person conducts himself. I think that’s naïve. In some instances, yes you have to find a way to get along with others. However I’m not sure how fair it is to the current Orioles to expect them to embrace someone that was previously public enemy number one now as their own.

The last thing the Orioles need is for one of Bautista’s acts to wear thin on another team who starts plunking Orioles. Furthermore, Bautista’s an excuse maker. All week we heard about how the Cleveland Indians were getting favorable calls in the ALCS with regard to balls and strikes. I don’t buy into that type of mentality, and neither do the Orioles. You don’t make excuses when you fail; you use it as a learning experience and try to be better going forward.

This is not to say that “former enemies” can’t become friends. However in Bautista’s case I do think that the cons outweigh the potential pros. Furthermore there’s the statistical matter of the fact that he’s getting older. So whether you think they should or could put their differences aside or not, that’s only a matter of fact.

Baltimore Orioles: What is conventional wisdom and should it go out the door?

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Baltimore Orioles’ loss in the MLB playoffs earlier this month, much of it to do with manager Buck Showalter. First off let’s be clear; Showalter is the best manager this franchise has had not named Earl Weaver. In fact, the Orioles might very well be puttering along in the 60-70 win range if not for him.

I throw that bit in because in the aftermath of that wild card game there were fans who actually said that Showalter should be fired – for not using Zach Britton. That’s ludicrous, and there can be no denying that. What, do people think that Dave Trembley or Sam Perlozzo should be back in that dugout?

All of that aside, last week we saw Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts do exactly what Showalter was unwilling to do. He brought his closer in much earlier than he otherwise would have in an elimination game in DC. Los Angeles went onto win the game and the series of course, and Roberts’ managerial moves were hailed as brilliant. How true that is might well be another story, however needless to say the move worked.

So did Roberts possibly see Showalter’s perceived mistake and do the opposite? Perhaps. However both incidents have left fans clamoring for managers to change their thinking on closers. With that said, I do firmly agree that you have to manager games differently in the post-season than you do in the regular season. However I’ve maintained both privately and publicly that it behooved Showalter to leave Britton until the end. What if he’s used too early and someone else blows a would-be lead?

Part of that has to do with playing at home and on the road. However keep in mind that at the end of the day anyone on the pitching staff should be able to come in and record outs. But again, the question isn’t so much about Showalter as it is about the game in general. Do teams need to change their thinking and maneuvering moving forward?

I use the phrase conventional wisdom says this or that quite often – both in the context of baseball and outside. I love the term common sense, but more and more people are saying that if it was common sense it would work. And yes, to me common sense is that you use your closer in the end of the game (barring an emergency) – so in that sense I agreed with what Showalter did.

But common sense, savoir faire, or intelligence is now judged by success or failure. And I do feel that’s sad. Dave Roberts obviously made the inverse decision that Showalter did – and it worked. However had it backfired, then where would that leave us? What would be considered common sense in this realm?

Baseball’s situational across the board. You don’t manage any run-of-the-mill regular season game in the first or second inning the way you do in the eighth or ninth. And yes, you don’t manager a post-season game in the same manner you do a regular season game. Granted that doesn’t mean that nothing is absolute, but things have to be done differently.

And coaching/strategizing at any level involves rolling the dice at times. You’re a genius if it works and a goat if it doesn’t. In Buck Showalter’s case, most of the buttons he pushes in games work out brilliantly. What Dave Wallace did in that moment did as well – but play that scenario back again and perhaps next time things are different.

.

Baltimore Orioles: Did New York’s rally end the Birds’ season?

My personal opinion is that the Baltimore Orioles had a season of which to be proud in 2016. They went to the post-season, and played Toronto to an effective draw until extra innings in the American League Wild Card game. Yet due to the abrupt manner in which it ended, many fans were unsatisfied.

However people should keep in mind that this Orioles’ team was picked by many to finish last in their division. Yeah you read that right – dead last. As much as Tampa (who did finish in the cellar) struggled and as far behind everyone else as they were, many of the so-called experts picked them to finish ahead of the Orioles. Makes no sense at the end of the day, right?

So regardless of how it ended, put into that context the season as a whole comes off as a success. Heck, last year they finished exactly at .500. So whether they went to the post-season or not, the Orioles had a much better season year-over-year. But the fact is that they did go to the post-season, regardless of how one looks at it.

However here’s an interesting point; did the Birds’ season end before the post-season even began? If you remember, the Birds at one point had the lead for the first wild card spot over the course of the final weekend of the regular season. That would have meant that they would have played host to the AL Wild Card game at Camden Yards. This of course as opposed to having to travel to Toronto and play it as the visitor at Rogers Centre.

The Orioles had a 3-0 lead on New York on the second-to-last day of the regular season. Had they gone onto win that day, all things being the same they would have ended up one game ahead of Toronto in the standings. The phrase that pays is all things being the same. That’s always a tough argument to make because it’s basically saying what if? But work with me here…

…because you all see where I’m going with this I’m sure. Instead, a four-run eighth inning by New York turned that into a loss for the O’s. Of course they later clinched a playoff spot the next day with a win, however they slid in as the second wild card team as opposed to the first.

If that game is played at Camden Yards, it’s throngs of screaming Orioles fans making it an obscene place to play for Toronto – instead of the reverse. (Not to mention that we probably aren’t having the conversation about someone throwing beer at Hyun-Soo Kim.) Furthermore, the Orioles have their last at-bat. Perhaps the game would have played out strikingly similarly to how it did in real life in this “alternate reality.” But at the very least the O’s would have had another shot at bat as opposed to being walked off.

My impression was that the Birds felt that New York was defeated in that game in the Bronx. They didn’t see them coming back, and they went into cruise control. Instead they clawed their way back into the game, and ended up winning it. That’s to their credit. It also may have indirectly ended the Orioles’ season.

This is all a tough argument to make given the nature of the whole all things being the same argument. But whereas in football or basketball home field advantage means something in terms of fans getting into the heads of opponents, in baseball it means something for teams having their last at-bat. And ultimately, that luxury being afforded to the home team is part of the game.