O’s/Rays Observations

Third night of the season and since more than half of the league was off, the decision came down to a pair of 7 P.M. starts: Either the Yankees and Red Sox or Rays and Orioles. No decision necessary. Here’s a few observations noted throughout the game.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are studs

One would wager that 99% of the reading populace is well aware of the existence and talents of Mr. Jones and Mr. Wieters. One is an uber toolsy centerfielder, capable of playing shallow without hesitation, with a great accelerator and iffy brakes on outside pitches. The other is a switch-hitting offensive-minded catcher. Both hit solo homers last night, and Jones added an infield single. Wieters received the Stephen Strasburg hype buggy treatment last season, but “disappointed.” Wieters had a .330 wOBA through 385 plate appearances as a rookie. He is a catcher. He is a catcher in the American League East. He was a rookie catcher in the American League East and he posted a league average wOBA. That is unnatural.

Take those two, add Nick Markakis, add Brian Roberts, and then think about adding Joshua Bell and, well, it’s not hard to fall in love with the potential of this team. It sounds defeatist or even mocking in nature to write something like, “They could compete for third place next year …” but that’s just the reality of the situation and it’s not a knock on the Orioles whatsoever.

Joe Maddon’s managing

I think Maddon is a smart individual, and relative to the other MLB managers, he’s probably above average, otherwise I doubt the Rays would continue to employ him. Some interesting developments that had me scurrying to the splits’ pages.

1) Randy Choate facing a right-handed batter

Choate entered to face Nick Markakis – a lefty – whom he retired on strikes. Miguel Tejada was then due up with another lefty – Luke Scott – on deck. Maddon only had Lance Cormier warming and, with one out and a runner on first, he elected to keep Choate in the game. I think this was the wrong decision despite the good result – Choate inducing a groundball that turned into a double play.

Choate is left-handed and rocks a side-armed release. That screams platoon split and, sure enough, Choate has a career 2.57 FIP versus lefties and 4.87 versus righties despite facing more righties throughout. Cormier became a full-time reliever in 2008 (with the Orioles, coincidentally) and, since then, has little in the way of a platoon split of which to speak. He’s posted FIP versus lefties of 4.02 and 4.28; and against righties, FIP of 4.06 and 4.08.

Scott was the key, since after Choate retired him in the next inning, Cormier entered to face the switch-hitting Wieters. It just seemed like two batters too late, even if no damage was done.

2) Carl Crawford facing a left-handed pitcher

This one is more trivial. The Rays have Gabe Kapler on the bench. He hits lefties quite well, and he’s a good defender, meaning replacing the superb Crawford in close situations with a lefty on the mound might not be as insane it sounds. Let’s say Kapler is projected to be a .350 wOBA hitter versus southpaws. Account for the pinch hitter penalty (10%) and you have him at .315. Crawford’s never been too good at hitting lefties, but his career .308 mark is a bit unfair and skewed from his first few seasons when he was absolutely miserable against them. Over the last three seasons he’s hit .313, .289, and .360 … which basically kills the idea that he should be replaced by Kapler in such spots.

But wait. In the ninth inning, Maddon shows understanding of this very situation once more, leaving Crawford in versus Mike Gonzalez. Crawford promptly drove home the game-tying and game-winning runs, and by pinch-hitting for Dioner Navarro with Kelly Shoppach.

Dave Trembley’s managing

In the seventh inning, he had to decide whether Will Ohman or Cla Meredith would face Ben Zobrist. I do not envy him.

This is running long, and that’s without mentioning Evan Longoria’s 470 foot homer, Rafael Soriano doing his best to invoke mass hysteria about his quality, Luke Scott’s free-flowing hair, Kevin Millwood’s missing hair, and Mike Gonzalez one-upping Soriano’s incompetence. Forget the payrolls and media attention; this was the game of the night.



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