The 2nd half starts tonight for about half of the teams (14, in case you were wondering), and Friday for the rest of them (including the Birds). So now is as good of a time as any to arbitrarily assign grades to the team. Unlike some other graders (like Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun and his grades), I am going to go by area other than individual player, then expand in the comments below. So, without further ado…
- Starting Pitching – C Plus
Overall it has been uneven, but leaving me on the side of cautious optimism. Kevin Millwood was the most recognized of the hard luck pitchers, but the entire staff suffered from a lack of run production, especially early on. The Young Guns are a work in progress, and anyone who expected them to be the reincarnation of the mid 90′s Braves rotation when all are essentially rookies (Tillman is not technically a rookie, but he isn’t exactly a 5 and 10 guy either) is a fool. Brian Matusz had a horrible May, but he has otherwise been more than solid, Chris Tillman has had some ups and downs, but he definitely has the stuff to be a solid #2 starter in the game, and Jake Arrieta has been impressive in limited action so far. Jeremy Guthrie has been better than last year, but really projects out to be a #3 or 4 guy in the rotation of any team that has serious aspirations of being a contender. Him being the #2 here just shows you that the team still has a ways to go before making any legitimate noise.
- Relief Pitching – C Minus
Much more uneven, lately much improved. If Juan Samuel has done nothing else, he has cleared up and settled the pitchers into more defined roles, making them all more efficient since this allows them to prepare mentally and physically. After the disaster that was Michael Gonzalez at the beginning of the season and the injury / implosion of Jim Johnson, the ship righted itself rather well. Jason Berken and David Hernandez have been thriving out of the ‘pen (another backhanded compliment to the Young Guns and the growth they have already accomplished – even with the amount of major league learning they still have to do – is that 2 guys that were being used as starters for an extended period last year are now in the bullpen, where they are more suited and apt to succeed), and with the exception of a couple of hiccups, the ‘pen has been decent.
- Infield (Defense) – D Plus
Losing Brian Roberts hurt more than just on offense. It threw a monkey wrench into the defense. As much as I have loved Ty Wigginton and his “Put me in, Coach” attitude (not to mention his production), he is no Brian Roberts when it comes to playing 2nd. Hell, he’s no Garrett Atkins at playing 1st, either. But for being a guy dropped into roles that he should not have been put in, he is holding his own. Cesar Izturis has been decent, but not spectacular (and when you hit like he does, you better be flashing some serious leather, which he ain’t doing). Miguel Tejada has improved over at 3rd, but he is still learning the position, and there are going to be more growing pains throughout the year. Matt Wieters has been playing a very solid defense. My only complaint with him is calling a game, and that comes with time. He doesn’t call a bad game right now, but as far as being behind the plate, that is where he has the most room to grow.
- Outfield (Defense) – B Minus
This one is tough to grade, especially since playing left field for the Orioles in 2010 has had about as much job security as being the drummer for Spinal Tap
So far we’ve seen Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, Lou Montanez, Corey Patterson, and Luke Scott (and probably one or two other guys I am blanking on right now). When you are using Luke Scott in the field, that third of the field gets an incomplete. Move on to Adam Jones. He’s still playing too shallow, and his “I’ll think about it” comments when the idea of him moving back came up show that he still has some learning to do on his part. It is a simple fact of logic that it is easier to run forward than it is to run backwards, and he is no Paul Blair.
Nick Markakis has been his usual, solid, above average defender. Players don’t like to challenge him that much anymore, so his assists are down. But don’t mistake that for him having anything less than another stellar year with the glove. If Gold Gloves didn’t all but default to 3 CF’s every year he would already have at least one. I think we need to start some kind of campaign, some viral marketing strategy to get him at least considered for the thing.
- Hitting – D Minus
The long term loss of the only 2 guys on the team who could realistically be called “leadoff” hitters (Roberts and Pie) put this team in a deep hitting funk pretty much right from the start, and it trickled down in a hurry. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Patterson coming in and taking over the role went along with Jones dramatically improving his at bats, which allowed Wieters to improve (Markakis has been good here, too. His power numbers are down, but he isn’t getting a pitch worth hitting all that far because there is no one behind him to make a pitcher think walking him is a bad idea. It is important to note that while I am still of the mind that Terry Crowley needs to go, the team has markedly improved since a semblance of stability and veteran leadership (it feels weird calling Corey Patterson a leader, but I think the moniker fits right now) has been introduced.
See any kind of pattern here? I do…
- Coaching – D Minus / C Plus Plus
Two grades for two coaches. Dave Trembley is a class act, and he did not deserve the beating he took from the other teams or from the fans. But it became abundantly clear that a change needed to be made, and Andy MacPhail finally took the poor fish off the hook. Samuel has come in and done a good job with what he has to work with, especially since he is an interim in the truest sense of the word (as much as he deserves serious consideration for the permanent position, there is no way MacPhail can dip into that well again after Trembley and Sam Perlozzo before him – even if Perlozzo was not MacPhail’s call), and the team has responded to him and improved their game. It is a testament to the respect that he has from the players (and his stabilizing both the bullpen and the batting order) that he has done as well as he has, and as Peter Schmuck noted in his article, Samuel has definitely earned another look as manager, if not here then somewhere else. I can’t give him higher than “slightly above average”, because this team still has twice as many losses as it does wins. But it is easy to speculate that if the change had not been made this team could be a good bit worse than that. Think about that for a second, but not for too long, or this could happen…
- Front Office – D
It hasn’t been easy to stick with “The Plan” in the face of such a horrid season, but MacPhail has done just that. And as much as it has hurt, it is still the right plan. It might not work, but it has a proven track record of working in the past. MacPhail big failure was not getting enough veterans to help the youngsters out. Tejada has been good, if for no other reason than he is popular with all the players who were here his first time around (i.e. Markakis). Millwood might not have had great stats, but having him as a sounding board has helped the Young Guns, and will be the kind of thing that keeps paying off long after he has moved on.
This is another instance where Roberts going down hurt in ways that aren’t obvious at first glance. His going on the DL not only forced young players into positions that they were not set up / ready for (remember Jones’ disastrous stint as the leadoff hitter?), but it made the young’uns feel like they had to do that much more, and they started pressing (which is why Patterson has been a leader and a calming influence. He has allowed others to return to roles they are better equipped for both physically AND mentally), and they regressed.
But he completely blew it with the Atkins signing. There is no defending that. And that along with the signing Gonzalez to a two year deal (and not getting on the coaching and training staff in spring training when his velocity was WAY down from his usual level, even if Gonzalez was saying he was fine, was almost enough to give him an F. But he has done the best he could to correct the ship, and if he gets the manager position correct (any time he wants to finalize the Buck Showalter deal would be just fine with me), along with his (again) solid draft and ACTUALLY signing a respected free agent Latin American player from the nascent Orioles academy down there, he will have salvaged this season, at least for me.
- Overall Grade – D
That might not add up from a G.P.A. standpoint, but I am taking points off for class participation, and for those horrible MASN commercials with the fans on the rooftop across from the stadium. Those alone are worth losing half a point. Now let’s see what happens in the 2nd half…
About the Author
Written by Ron Burr
Ron is a lifelong resident of Maryland and has been a passionate player and fan of sports for as long as he can remember. When he is not watching the games or explaining to his lovely wife why he is cursing at the television, he runs an improv/sketch comedy troupe, Drop Three. He can't hit a curveball or run a sub 4.5 40 yard dash, but he knows the games and loves talking about it with anyone. Differing opinions are welcome and encouraged!