Category Archives: Baltimore Orioles Store

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Hello, friends.

There are now 147 days remaining until Orioles Opening Day 2020. No more baseball games are left to divert our attention between now and spring training. The World Series ended last night and there will be no baseball that counts until the end of March. The Astros did not win a second title in three seasons.

It figures to be a quiet offseason for the Orioles. Things will probably be even less eventful than they were last year, when at least the team had to find a new general manager and then a new manager. They weren’t done doing those things until mid-December. The GM search, in particular, was important because of the signal it would send about how serious the team’s ownership would be about investing in the needed rebuild project.

We know, now, that they are on board, since the Orioles hired Mike Elias to do what needs to be done. That is a good thing in the long run. It didn’t mean a lot of winning at the MLB level in 2019, and it doesn’t look like 2020 is going to be all that great either. Coming off of a 108-loss season isn’t the time for big moves that will have an immediate, positive impact on the MLB standings.

There won’t be any big free agent signings. There may not even be any significant trades, because most of the players who you might have thought a year ago would be trade chips at this point did not play well in 2019 and don’t have much value. We’ll find out if they’re going to cash in on Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini.

If those players get dealt, that would mark a real shift compared to what Elias and company have done so far. While they have made a lot of choices to not chase what they felt would be meaningless short-term improvement, they have not yet done a lot that would actively make the Orioles worse. Even the trade of Andrew Cashner looked like a shrewd sell high decision with how he pitched for Boston after that deal.

What will be going on a lot through the offseason is random roster churn. The Orioles kicked that off on Wednesday by outrighting four pitchers from the 40-man roster: Luis Ortiz, Josh Rogers, Ryan Eades, Tayler (not Tanner) Scott.

Ortiz and Rogers are interesting names if only because they were part of the July 2018 fire sale trades; they’ve done nothing in the organization to consider this a loss to the 40-man. Eades and Scott also did not make a memorable positive impression with the playing time given to them.

Around the blogO’sphere
Orioles claim Valaika off waivers (School of Roch)
Along with the four guys who got outrighted, the O’s made one waiver claim, on infielder Pat Valaika. Roch runs down Valaika’s career to date.

Where will Rutschman play next year? (Orioles.com)
Joe Trezza hits the inbox to tackle questions about Adley Rutschman and comparable trades for Trey Mancini.

O’s minor league arrangement could be very different a year from now (Baltimore Baseball)
Rich Dubroff’s read on the Baseball America story about the potential elimination of minor league teams is that Delmarva might be the most likely team to be squeezed out.

A reunion with Jonathan Schoop seems unlikely for the Orioles (Steve Melewski)
It’s going to be a long offseason if it’s not even November and we’re reaching for stories like these.

Cal Ripken and Adam Jones’ former Baltimore County estate back on market (Baltimore Sun)
The people who bought the Cal Ripken house from Adam Jones did a bunch of renovations and then decided they didn’t actually want to move out of their current house to go live there, so it’s for sale again. No, really.

Birthdays and Orioles anniversaries
Today in 1979, Mike Flanagan was named the winner of the AL Cy Young Award. Flanagan pitched in 39 games, 38 of which were starts, posting a 3.08 ERA over 265.2 innings. Pitching for the fantastic ‘79 O’s helped him rack up a 23-9 record. He received 26 of 28 first place votes in beating out New York’s Tommy John. Flanagan never received a Cy Young vote again.

There are several former Orioles with Halloween birthdays. They are: 2013 eight-gamer Yamaico Navarro, 1997 reserve outfielder David Delucci, 2005-06 reliever Tim Byrdak, 2007-08 pitcher Steve Trachsel, 1995 catcher Matt Nokes, 1989-90 pitcher Mike Smith, and 1962-74 pitcher Dave McNally.

It’s also the birthday of former Orioles manager Dave Trembley.

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday and Halloween to you! Your spooky birthday buddies for this day include: poet John Keats (1795), Girl Scouts of America founder Juliette Gordon Low (1860), actor John Candy (1950), author Neal Stephenson (1959), filmmaker Peter Jackson (1961), rapper and home improvement enthusiast Vanilla Ice (1967), and actress Piper Perabo (1976).

On this day in history…
In 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg. The publication of the Theses are now generally recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, though historians say Luther the “nailing to the door” part may have happened in mid-November.

In 1917, during World War I, the British (heavily Australian) Army defeated a German-Ottoman force in the Battle of Beersheba in what is recognized as the last successful cavalry charge in military history. The victory led to the British capture of Jerusalem before Christmas.

In 1940, during World War II, the Battle of Britain came to an end, at least by British reckoning, as the threat of a Nazi invasion subsided. German accounts considered the battle as lasting until the end of the Blitz in the next year.

In 1941, work on Mount Rushmore was completed, and ever since we have been debating what is the “Mount Rushmore” of everything else.

**

And that’s the way it is in Birdland on Halloween – or at least, unless something happens later on this first full day of the offseason. Have a safe Thursday.

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The Orioles approach to major league roster construction in 2019 essentially boiled down to “throw it against the wall and see what sticks.” That was certainly the plan when it came to assembling a pitching staff. Unfortunately very few things stuck, but the Orioles front office did add a few arms to their 40-man roster that could at least play a role in bridging the gap from the current rebuild to the expected reemergence as competitors. Two of those pitchers are Asher Wojciechowski and Aaron Brooks.

Wojciechowski has moved between many organizations in his career. Originally, he was a first-round pick (41st overall) of the Blue Jays back in 2010. Then he was part of a massive trade between Toronto and the Houston Astros in 2012 and thus began a pattern of transactions that, to this point, has concluded with Wojciechowski as an Orioles players for the second time.

The 30-year-old Wojciechowski had thrown 78.2 innings of major league action before becoming an Oriole this year. He tossed 16.1 innings for Houston in 2015, and then 62.1 innings for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.

Brooks is a former ninth-round pick back in 2011 who has bounced around quite a bit as a professional. The Royals sent him to the Athletics in 2015. Then in 2016 the A’s traded him to the Brewers. He was claimed off waivers by the Cubs in 2017. The A’s bought him back in 2018. And then finally the Orioles claimed him off of waivers this past July.

Prior to joining the Birds, Brooks had 33 games of big league experience to his name, but it had not gone especially well. He compiled a 5.71 ERA in 29 games with the A’s between 2015 and 2019. And in four games as a Royal he allowed 16 runs across seven innings.

It was Wojciechowski that would get the first opportunity to impress the O’s brass, starting his first MLB game of the season on July 2 against the Rays. From there, he was a regular part of the rotation for the remainder of the year.

Was Wojciechowski any good? Well, sorta. He certainly had impressive moments. His July 21st start against the Red Sox was one of the highlights of the Orioles season. Over 7.1 innings, the righty shutout the Boston bats, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out 10. That performance earned a “Game Score” of 94, the best by an Orioles pitcher all year. And he followed that outing with another seven-inning effort against the Angels in his very next start.

But on the whole, Wojo was just about average. Over 17 games (16 starts), the South Carolina native tossed 82.1 innings, had a 4.92 ERA, 96 ERA+, 5.61 xFIP, 1.3 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR. However, average on the Orioles is different than average on some other team. These numbers make Wojciechowski perhaps the third-best starting pitcher on the team behind John Means and Dylan Bundy.

It was a different story for Brooks, who made his Orioles debut on July 13 and moved right into the rotation. His season lacked the highs that Wojociechowski enjoyed. Brooks finished the year with a 6.18 ERA and 77 ERA+ over 59.2 innings as an Oriole.

A common struggle for Brooks, as it was for many Orioles pitchers, was going deep into games. Of the 12 games he started, Brooks made it past the fifth inning just four times. His best outing came on September 20, when he came out of the bullpen to deliver seven innings, allowing just one run on one hit, a walk and four strikeouts against the Seattle Mariners.

Down the stretch, Brooks pitched quite well. Over his final eight games, he tossed 37.2 innings and allowed just a 4.30 ERA and a .257/.335/.382 batting line against. That performance sets him up to be a major league consideration heading into 2020.

Both Wojciechowski and Brooks do currently find themselves on the Orioles 40-man roster. But that place is far from secure for either one of them. The O’s have a number of young players that will need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. In order to do so, those young players will need to be placed on the 40-man, which means other players will be removed.

Between the two of them, Wojociechowski has the better chance of making it through the off-season and being a part of the Orioles Opening Day roster. He flashed an ability to compete at the highest level and provides more stability to a pitching staff in desperate need of just that.

Brooks was much more shaky, especially in a starter’s role. The Orioles are unlikely to enter 2020 with the plan to start him every fifth day. Instead, he could be an option as a swing-man out of the bullpen. But that role won’t be handed to him as the relief corps could be one of them most competitive units in the upcoming spring.

Neither of these two pitchers will be expected to play a prominent role on the Orioles team that returns the organization to the proverbial mountain top. But they both have the chance to be serviceable stopgaps until the cavalry of arms emerges in Baltimore.

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On the occasion of the Orioles’ visit to face the Arizona Diamondbacks and old friend Adam Jones, neither Jones’ performance in the desert nor the progress of the young players the Orioles looked to as his replacements have done much to change opinions on what was the most polarizing part of the Orioles’ offseason.

There were two pretty clear camps: one believed that no matter the cost, Jones’ time in Baltimore was finished, and a younger crop of players who had a chance to be part of the next generation of winning Orioles clubs should get a chance. The other saw the possibility of last year’s 100-plus-loss season repeating itself and viewed the idea of bringing Jones back as a sign of goodwill to the fans that decided to come to Camden Yards all the same.

Both had plenty of merit. And what’s happened since has done little to sway either side.

Analysis: Former Orioles OF Adam Jones’ lengthy free agency part of growing team-building trend »
That center field has been a massively disappointing position for the Orioles this season makes letting Jones leave in free agency and ultimately sign a one-year, $3 million contract with the Diamondbacks tough to swallow. When Cedric Mullins was summoned to Baltimore last August to play center field, shifting Jones to right field, he was seen as the center fielder of the future.

He started out hot but struggled the last few weeks of the season, and didn’t really get going in spring training, either. Mullins was the Opening Day center fielder nonetheless, and went 6-for-64 (.093) before being sent to Triple-A Norfolk. He was knocked down a level further to Double-A Bowie at the All-Star break.

From Adam Jones’ heir to Double-A Bowie, Cedric Mullins demoted again to ‘get some positive mojo working’ »
It’s been a nightmare season for Mullins, and in addition to putting Stevie Wilkerson and Anthony Santander in center field with no real experience there, the Orioles brought in Keon Broxton, who struggled at the plate before being cut loose Sunday. The Orioles’ center fielders entered the weekend batting .198 with a .598 OPS, even if all have played well defensively.

Adam Jones of the Arizona Diamondbacks is congratulated by manager Torey Lovullo after scoring during the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2019.
Adam Jones of the Arizona Diamondbacks is congratulated by manager Torey Lovullo after scoring during the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2019. (Jeff Curry/Getty)
But major league performance wasn’t really the reason not to bring Jones back. It was so the likes of Mullins, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, Santander and eventually Ryan McKenna and Yusniel Diaz could have a clear path to the majors when they’re ready. Ready, however, means something different than it did in the past. So the Orioles traded for Dwight Smith Jr. so he and Trey Mancini could occupy both corner outfield spots, and all of the young outfielders except Mullins started the year in the minors.

Stewart and Santander made it back to the majors eventually, with the former getting hurt shortly after arriving, while Hays has played well when healthy. McKenna and Diaz are still in Bowie, though they’ve played well of late.

Simply put, no one’s development would have been impacted in the slightest had the Orioles re-signed Jones. And yet, after a good first month or so, Jones has performed mostly at the levels he did in Baltimore in his first year with Arizona.

Entering Saturday’s games, he was hitting .271 with a .762 OPS and 13 home runs while rating better defensively in right field than he did toward the end of his time in center with the Orioles. From a baseball perspective, that would make him a tough fit in Baltimore, where Mancini has fit into the lineup in right field most often.

Jones might have been a steady bat in the lineup and helped the Orioles to a few more wins, and he certainly would be a player fans would be able to come to the ballpark and cheer for more so than the cast currently assembled.

But hardly anything this front office under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has done since being hired in November has been with winning this year in mind as much as building a talent pipeline for the future.

Elias’ detachment from Jones’ decade-plus with the Orioles, even as he frequently said in the offseason how much respect he had for Jones and what he accomplished in Baltimore, made it easy for him to make it a baseball decision.

Whether that was cover for resentment on high for Jones exercising his vested veto rights on a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies last year, or simply a baseball decision, it seems like the idea of Jones returning got far more play outside of the Orioles’ offices than inside them. He said he never heard from the team before choosing Arizona, and still has an affinity for the city.

When an Orioles team that will be almost wholly unrecognizable to Jones arrives at Chase Field on Monday, the most accomplished Oriole on the field will be in Diamondbacks colors. Whether that should be the case is largely subjective, and probably reveals a lot about where one falls on this whole “rebuilding” thing going on in Baltimore.

Pedro Severino, left, and Mychal Givens of the Baltimore Orioles celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 21, 2019.
Pedro Severino, left, and Mychal Givens of the Baltimore Orioles celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 21, 2019. (Will Newton/Getty)
What’s to come?
With three games in Arizona before a week in Southern California facing the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres, this is the big, back-breaking western swing that always seems to happen this time of year.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, it will be the week in which the Orioles are expected to accomplish a lot of their trading business ahead of the July 31 deadline. Dating to last year’s deadline, the mandate has been to cut payroll and get younger talent. Players who either are getting paid well or could be making more money soon — closer Mychal Givens, infielder Jonathan Villar, right-hander Dylan Bundy and outfielder Trey Mancini — could find their names popping up on the ticker before the deadline strikes.

It will make for an awkward dynamic on the road trip, but one most of the Orioles lived through before as last year’s deals shook up the clubhouse with the trades of Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Brad Brach, Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman.

The Orioles’ Rio Ruiz follows through on a three-run home run off Tampa Bay Bays reliever Austin Pruitt during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 3, 2019.
The Orioles’ Rio Ruiz follows through on a three-run home run off Tampa Bay Bays reliever Austin Pruitt during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 3, 2019. (Steve Nesius / AP)
What was good?
With all due respect to Mancini and the host of Orioles who broke out of slumps this week, here’s one that hasn’t been in a slump at all: third baseman Rio Ruiz. He ended the last trip out west batting .220, the lowest his average was since early April, but in 15 games since, he’s batting .349 with a .918 OPS.

He’s being protected from left-handed pitching and is essentially in a left-right platoon at third base with Hanser Alberto. But between what’s been standout defense that rates near the top of the American League in most advanced metrics and some good fortune at the plate, Ruiz is pulling himself out of his funk and getting himself into a good place as the second half grinds on and he presents his case to be a big leaguer beyond 2019 with the Orioles.

Pedro Severino of the Orioles hits a single during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during game one of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 13, 2019.
Pedro Severino of the Orioles hits a single during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during game one of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 13, 2019. (Will Newton/Getty)
What wasn’t?
Catcher Pedro Severino was riding high after his three-homer game in Texas on June 4, after which he corrected a reporter who teed up a question by mentioning how he wasn’t traditionally a power-hitter. The next day, he had to leave the game after taking a foul ball to the mask in the first inning, and though he was cleared of concussion symptoms, his production took a tumble after that.

Severino was feasting on left-handers and batting .288 with a .939 OPS after that big game; since, he’s hit .229 with a .577 OPS. This slide coincided with the arrival of Chance Sisco that week in Texas, with Severino’s regular playing time waning, especially as Sisco has swung a good bat himself.

It’s noteworthy, however, that that week in Texas featured a pair of players in Severino and Dwight Smith Jr. who suffered head injuries and haven’t really gotten back on track since.

Bowie Baysox pitcher Alex Wells
Bowie Baysox pitcher Alex Wells (Bert Hindman/HANDOUT)
On the farm
Left-hander Alex Wells, by virtue of his status as a soft-tossing left-hander, will have to prove he can be effective at every level of the minors before getting his major league shot. He’s proven his brand of deception and his 86-88 mph fastball can yield incredible success in his first crack at Double-A Bowie this year.

Wells allowed two runs on four hits in eight innings Monday and followed it up with six shutout innings Saturday against Akron, striking out four and walking none in each outing. His ERA dropped to 1.83 in 93 2/3 innings with 70 strikeouts and a 0.99 WHIP.

After finishing his first two professional seasons with identical 0.91 WHIPs and ERAs of 2.15 and 2.38, respectively, before a bit of a step back last year at High-A Frederick, Wells doing this at Bowie only goes to show that he very well could be for real.

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The Baltimore Orioles are reportedly set to hire former major leaguer Anthony Sanders as their first base coach.
Originally reported by MLB.com’s Jon Morosi as being close to a done deal and since confirmed by Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star, the Baltimore Orioles are set to hire Anthony Sanders to be their new first base coach.

The move has not yet been confirmed by the Orioles, but MLB.com’s Joe Trezza also has a source that confirms the move.

The hiring leaves two open positions on Brandon Hyde’s coaching staff, bullpen coach (held by John Wasdin in 2019) and assistant hitting coach (formerly held by Howie Clark).

A seventh-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays back in 1992, Sanders’ playing career spanned from 1993-2006 and included stints with the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, and multiple rounds with the Blue Jays. He spent his final season of pro ball in Mexico, logging 25 games with two different teams.

Despite the long playing career, Sanders appeared in just 13 games at the major league level, going 6-25 with three doubles and six RBI.

After his playing career, Sanders joined the Colorado Rockies where he would serve in multiple roles, including player development, outfield coordinator, baserunning coordinator, hitting coach, and head coach of the rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies.

Source: Anthony Sanders close to being named #Orioles first base coach. The highly respected Sanders has worked the last 14 seasons in the #Rockies farm system as a manager and coach. Most recently, he was on the @USABaseball coaching staff at the @WBSC @Premier12. @MLB

Sanders brings with him an impressive resume, including earning Pioneer League Manager of the Year honors in 2014 with the Grand Junction Rockies. He also had a bit of experience with Team USA baseball before joining the coaching staff this year as their first base coach. He won a Gold Medal as a member of the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney, Australia.

Sanders replaces Arnie Beyeler, who served as the first base coach of the Orioles for just one season. Beyeler had a tough job last season, coaching an outfield that consisted of Stevie Wilkerson and a revolving door of center fielders, along with an out of position Trey Mancini and struggling defenders like Dwight Smith Jr and DJ Stewart.

With a manager and general manager in place, unlike last offseason, and a full offseason to evaluate and hire coaches both on the farm and at the major league level, it’s no surprise that there has been major shakeups up and down the organization.

Not having been a follower of Colorado Rockies minor league baseball or coaching staff, first-hand knowledge of Anthony Sanders and his work has to come from outside reports, all of which speak very highly of the former major leaguer.

Time will tell if this hire will work out, but for now, welcome to Birdland, Anthony Sanders.

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Good morning, Camden Chatters.

This is where I normally would offer my thoughts about the latest Orioles news. Except there’s no Orioles news, given that teams are generally pretty quiet during the playoffs. So let’s talk about those playoffs.

They’ve been pretty exciting, haven’t they? Sometimes the playoffs are kind of a snoozefest with a lot of non-competitive games, but this time there have been some real barnburners, especially in the National League. The Cardinals and Braves are headed to a decisive Game 5 to settle a wild roller coaster of a series, in which three of the four games were decided in the ninth inning or later. I don’t particularly like either of those teams, but they’ve certainly played some thrilling baseball.

Meanwhile, the wild-card Nationals have held surprisingly tough against the heavily favored Dodgers, forcing a Game 5 of their own. Two winner-take-all contests on Wednesday? Yes, please, I’ll sign up for that. And in the AL, the Rays fended off a sweep from the Astros with a blowout win yesterday, adding at least a little bit of intrigue to that series, and assuring we’ll have more baseball to watch today.

Baseball can really be a beautiful game. Even if watching the Orioles the last few years has made us forget that sometimes.

Links
Orioles’ Dylan Bundy looks to Astros’ Zack Greinke as model for his ever-evolving pitch mix – Baltimore Sun
If you’re going to try to emulate a guy, Zack Greinke is a pretty good choice, his rough start in the ALDS yesterday notwithstanding. It may be the last time we see Dylan Bundy and Zack Greinke mentioned in the same sentence, though.

Inbox: Will Villar return to the O’s in 2020? – Orioles.com
Joe Trezza answers readers’ questions, and says Ryan Mountcastle won’t be on the 2020 Opening Day roster because the Orioles “want him to get more seasoning.” He misspelled “want to gain an extra year of team control.”

Digging into Orioles’ past – School of Roch
Roch Kubatko wonders why Andy Etchebarren isn’t in the Orioles Hall of Fame, and it’s a good question, considering his many years not just as a player but a coach in the organization. I can certainly think of less deserving candidates who have been inducted.

Wilkerson’s versatility is the key to a 2020 return with the Orioles; Remembering Andy Etchebarren – BaltimoreBaseball.com
Stevie Wilkerson may not actually be a good player, but danged if he isn’t a load of fun. Not mentioned: his delightful “Dr. Poo Poo” nickname.

Orioles birthdays and history
Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! You share your day with four Orioles, the most recent being former first round pick Keith Reed (41), who played just six major league games. On the other end of the spectrum are Enos Cabell (70) and Mike Morgan (60), who combined for 37 years in the majors, with Cabell playing for the O’s from 1972-74 and Morgan in 1988. Also born on this day was the late Bob Mabe (b. 1929, d. 2005).

Oct. 8 has been another successful day in Orioles postseason history, with the club going 4-1 on this date. Most notably, they iced the ALCS against the White Sox in 1983 with a 10-inning shutout in Game 4, scoring three runs in the top of the 10th while the Storm Davis/Tippy Martinez duo blanked the Sox.

Also on this date, the Orioles won Game 3 of the 1966 World Series, 1-0, behind Wally Bunker’s complete game shutout of the Dodgers. Paul Blair provided the game’s only run with a fifth-inning homer. In 1997, the O’s won Game 1 of the ALCS against the Indians with — what else? — a shutout, this one thrown by Scott Erickson and Randy Myers. Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar homered. And in 2012, the Birds beat the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS, 3-2. The only O’s loss on this date came in 1974, when the Athletics’ Vida Blue outpitched Jim Palmer in a 1-0 shutout in ALCS Game 3.

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HOUSTON — On Dave Martinez’s baseballreference.com page, his birthplace is listed — correctly — as New York, New York and his high school as Lake Howell in Winter Park, Florida.

But that is not a complete picture of Martinez’s youth. The second-year Nationals manager is the first to say he’s very much a product of Long Island.

“For me, it’s memories, childhood memories,” Martinez said in an interview with Newsday before Game 4 of the World Series at Nationals Park. “A lot of my best friends, very close friends, guys I’ve stayed in touch with, I’ve known them since I was 7, 8 years old, are from there.”

The Brooklyn-born Martinez — whose Nationals trail the Astros three games to two entering Game 6 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park — moved to Brentwood at the age of 4 and moved to Florida before what would have been his junior season at Brentwood High School.

In between, he developed the considerable skills that allowed him to play 16 years in the majors and establish relationships and memories that he still cherishes.

And those memories, which the 55-year-old Martinez recalled with a smile that never left his face, are many.

Trips to Jones Beach. Fishing expeditions that departed from Silly Lily in East Moriches that resulted in catching flounder. Roller skating or dodgeball on the weekends.

Many of those memories involve a group of teammates from that critical time in his life that remains central to his foundation. Some of those teammates he’s never lost contact with, some he has, but none has been forgotten.

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“When I think back, it’s just a combination of the upbringing, how we were all really close, every weekend we were together,” Martinez said. “Those are my friends. Those are guys that had my back. You got in a fight in school, it’s over. You’re fighting seven, eight guys.”

The ones Martinez played with — whether it was with the Brentwood Youth Association summer league travel team, on the West Junior High School team or the Brentwood Sonderling junior varsity squad — remember a long and lean teenager who was a standout outfielder and stud lefthanded pitcher with a late-moving fastball and devastating curveball. Even on teams that featured several future Division I college players, Martinez stood out.

“He was a skinny little kid, but his ball had a lot of movement on it. He had those long Pedro Martinez fingers,” said Eddie Lippert, a fellow pitcher.

As an outfielder?

“He had a cannon,” Lippert said of Martinez, known almost universally among his teammates as “Tippy,” nicknamed as such for longtime Yankees and Orioles lefthander Tippy Martinez.

Another teammate from that time, Doug Vigliotti, said that on a team of talented players, Martinez “definitely stood out,” though not because of self-promotion.

“He was quiet,” Vigliotti said. “Didn’t brag about it. Just went about his business. Played the game the right way. Ran out everything. He had an arm, hit for power, average, played defense. Just a great guy.”

Another former teammate, Steve Rocco — who remains close to Martinez and attended the Nationals’ wild-card victory over the Brewers and Games 4 and 5 of the World Series in Washington as a guest of Martinez — choked up over the phone while describing his friend’s success.

That success became crystallized on June 15, 1986, when Rocco received a call from another former teammate, Dan Brennan. A mutual friend that day happened to be making his major-league debut with the Cubs at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals.

“He said, ‘Turn on the TV. You’re not going to believe who’s at-bat,’ ” Rocco said of the call from Brennan. “I got chills on my body. For me, somebody [from our group] broke through to the majors, it was so gratifying. To see somebody make it touched me deeply. His graciousness to his friends has always been awesome.”

Martinez had a .276/.341/.389 slash line with 1,599 hits, including 91 home runs, and even made a couple of appearances on the mound in his MLB career.

Martinez, who played for nine different clubs in a career that spanned from 1986-2001, recalled his years in the American League when he played at the previous Yankee Stadium. Fans seated in rightfield in those years could be rough on opposing players, to put it nicely. But those fans, some of whom might well have been from Long Island, generally took it easy on him.

“What’s cool, as a player when I went to Yankee Stadium in those years, rightfield was brutal,” Martinez said with a smile. “I played rightfield a lot, and the fans were actually really good to me because they knew I was from. [They'd yell], ‘You’re one of us, Dave! You’re all right!’ ”

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This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

He didn’t swing a bat, throw a pitch or write out a lineup card, but Marvin Miller had a greater impact on major league baseball than just about any man who ever lived. In 1992, former Dodgers announcer Red Barber numbered him among the three most important figures in the game’s history, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. As executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to ’82, Miller revolutionized the game, overseeing its biggest change since integration through the dismantling of the reserve clause and the dawn of free agency, thus shifting a century-old balance of power from the owners to the players. Miller helped the union secure a whole host of other important rights as well, from collective bargaining to salary arbitration to the use of agents in negotiations. During his tenure, the average salary of a major league player rose from $19,000 to over $240,000, and the MLBPA became the strongest labor union in the country. Yet both in his lifetime and since his death at the age of 95 in 2012, petty politics has prevented him from receiving proper recognition via enshrinement in the Hall of Fame — so much so that Miller, still feisty well into his 90s, took the unprecedented step of asking voters not to consider him.

Miller’s omission is particularly glaring in light of the extent to which the 21st century small-committee processes have honored nonplayers — executives, managers, and umpires — to a much greater degree than players. To some degree that’s understandable, given that the former group has have no other route into Cooperstown, unlike the post-1936 players under the purview of the BBWAA. Nonetheless, the contrast stands out; setting aside the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, the count since 2001 is 15 execs, managers, and umps to seven players (four in the past two years). None of those people, from commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig and owner Walter O’Malley on down, put their stamp on baseball to a greater degree than Miller. Somewhere within this mess is the galling reality that even the Hall of Fame players who benefited from the changes he wrought, who make up the largest portion of the committee process — and particularly who formed the vast majority of the electorate via the enlarged Veterans Committees from 2003-09 — have utterly failed in their capacity to honor him. Reggie Jackson, one of the earliest beneficiaries of free agency, never struck out in more embarrassing fashion than when he told reporters in 2003, “I looked at those ballots, and there was no one to put in.”

For as much sense as Miller’s inclusion in the Hall makes, the waters have muddied since his death. The reality is that a vote for him in this format will go against the wishes of his family, which has said repeatedly that they would boycott his induction. What’s more, as the only non-player on a ballot with limited space, a vote for him could prevent a deserving player from getting his due. His candidacy’s supporters must grapple with such considerations.

Bronx-born in 1917, Miller was raised in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn (inevitably, he became a Dodgers fan). He first walked picket lines with his parents; his father Alexander was a clothing salesman, active in the International Garment Workers Union, while his mother, Gertrude, was a member of the New York City teachers union. He graduated New York University in 1938 with a degree in economics, resolved labor-management disputes for the National Labor Board during World War II, and worked for the International Association of Machinists and the United Auto Workers before joining the staff of the United Steelworkers Union in 1950 and becoming its chief economist and negotiator.

Before Miller’s involvement with baseball, the players were barely organized. While attempts to unionize in opposition to a salary cap and the restrictions of the reserve clause, which bound players to teams indefinitely, dated as far back as 1885, early efforts came and went. The owners established a pension plan for players in 1947, and players established an informal union in ’54, but it had no full-time employees, did not engage in collective bargaining, and had just $5,400 in the bank as of ’66, that at a time when the minimum major league salary was just $6,000, $1,000 more than it had been in ’47. When the players sought an increase in pension benefits — anticipating a rise in television revenue, they were concerned about getting their fair share — a four-man committee led by future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts went looking for a professional negotiator to bargain with the united, well-organized, and all-powerful owners.

Miller was recommended to the panel, which had its reservations about union leaders given the stereotypes of the day and initially favored other candidates, including Judge Robert B. Cannon, who was already serving as the union’s legal counsel. Cozy with the owners, Cannon had already mounted an unsuccessful bid to become commissioner of baseball in 1965, though the job went to Spike Eckert, who lasted just three years. Cannon campaigned for the executive director job, and while he conceded in his application that he was not an expert when it came to pensions, he balked when he discovered how much less his pension would be if he switched jobs. Ultimately, the union withdrew its offer.

The panel turned to Miller, but the rank and file players, relatively uneducated, inexperienced with unions, and easily cowed by the owners telling them they should be grateful to be playing a boys’ game for money, had reservations about him. In the spring of 1966, Miller toured training camps in California, Arizona, and Florida, speaking with players before they voted on whether to hire him. With owners and their representatives — and even an embittered Cannon — speaking out against him, and managers able to further intimidate the players by conducting the votes, Miller lost up-or-down votes in front of the first four teams, but with Roberts, Jim Bunning, and the team player representatives pushing the remaining 16 teams harder, he won over the remaining camps. As Jim Bouton — who would later benefit from Miller’s defense when commissioner Bowie Kuhn called upon the pitcher to recant the more shocking details of his 1970 book Ball Four — recalled in John Helyar’s book, Lords of the Realm, “We were all expecting to see someone with a cigar out of the corner of his mouth, a real knuckle-dragging ‘deze and doze’ guy.” Miller, a “quiet, mild, exceedingly understated man,” impressed the players, gained their confidence and was ratified as the executive director.

Miller educated the players about their rights and the importance of solidarity, and gradually began chalking up substantial victories. He implemented a dues structure and further beefed up the union’s finances by securing group licensing deals with Coca-Cola (1966) and Topps (’68), with the players flexing their collective muscle by refusing to sign renewal deals or pose for new photographs until they received higher fees and royalties. In the spring of 1967, Miller conducted an anonymous salary survey so that players could be armed with that information (at the time, the average was $22,000, the median was $17,000, and 6% made the minimum $7,000). In 1968, he and the union negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in all of sports, which secured a raise in the minimum salary to $10,000, standardized contracts, increased meal money, and put in place a formalized structure for grievances and new scheduling rules. In the 1970 CBA, the players gained the right to have grievances heard by an independent, impartial arbitrator, which paved the way for the landmark Messersmith-McNally decision that created free agency in 1975.

In the spring of 1972, with the first CBA expiring, Miller led the game’s first work stoppage, a 14-day strike that centered around the owners’ increase in pension contributions. The owners didn’t believe the players would stay united, but they did; 86 games were cancelled before the owners finally acquiesced. In the next CBA, which went into effect in 1973, the players gained a limited right to salary arbitration, and “10-and-5” rights allowing them to veto trades if they had at least 10 years in the majors and five with their current club, and a reduction in the amount of service time necessary to reject an assignment to the minors from eight years to five.

Just before the strike, the US Supreme Court took up former outfielder Curt Flood’s suit against Kuhn and the owners, a challenge to the Reserve Clause stemming from his 1969 refusal to accept a trade from the Cardinals to the Phillies. Flood argued that the reserve clause, which appeared to give teams the right to unilaterally renew player contracts on an annual basis, constituted indentured servitude, violating both the 13th Amendment and antitrust laws. In a 5-3 decision against Flood, the Court ruled that only an act of Congress could remove baseball’s antitrust exemption, and that while Flood should have the right to free agency, it needed to be obtained through collective bargaining.

In the wake of the Flood decision, Miller engineered another challenge to the reserve clause when Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith and Expos pitcher Dave McNally played the entire 1975 season without signing contracts (several players, including Modern Baseball candidate Ted Simmons, had gone deep into seasons before signing). After the season, they filed grievances, claiming the right to free agency, because there was no contract for the team to renew. In December, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled for the players, and after the owners’ appeals to overturn the ruling ran out, Miller negotiated a new CBA creating a framework for free agency once players reached six years of service time. In the winter of 1976-77, the first wave of free agents began striking it rich, with Jackson becoming the game’s highest-paid player via a five-year, $3 million deal with the Yankees. By November 1979, Nolan Ryan had become the game’s first player with an average salary above $1 million. From 1976 to ’80, the average salary nearly tripled, from $51,501 to $143,756.

After averting a strike in the spring of 1980 — centered around teams wanting compensation for having lost players to free agency — Miller led a seven-week strike in ’81, resulting in the cancellation of 713 games (38% of the schedule) and requiring the creation of a one-time split-season format with first- and second-half division leaders meeting in an extra tier of playoffs. The resulting CBA created a tiered free agent system whereby teams losing premium free agents would receive compensation.

The 65-year-old Miller retired as the executive director at the end of 1982, by which point the minimum salary had grown to $33,500 and the average was $241,497. He remained active as a consultant, member of the union’s negotiating team, and, briefly, interim director when his initial successor, Ken Moffett, was forced out due to the belief among players that he was too conciliatory towards the owners.

Miller firmly established that the talents of major league players did not exempt them from basic workplace protections, and ensured that they get their fair compensation as attendance and revenues ballooned, far outpacing the growth of the rest of the economy. But despite — or because — of his revolutionary work, he was shamefully bypassed even from consideration by the Veterans Committee until 2003, by which point the vote had been extended to every living Hall of Famer as well as the surviving Ford C. Frick Award and J.G Taylor Spink Award winners (the broadcasters and writers). Once he finally got a spot on a composite ballot alongside other executives, umpires, and managers, he received just 44% of the vote (35 out of 79). Jackson, whom Miller’s work turned into a millionaire several times over, shamed himself by sending in a blank ballot and making his “no one to put in” comment. Mike Schmidt, who became the game’s highest-paid player in the mid-1980s thanks to the leverage of free agency, similarly voted for nobody.

Jackson eventually realized the error of his ways, and his comments stirred awareness among the electorate. In Miller’s next appearance, on the 2007 ballot, his share of the vote rose to 63% (51 out of 84 votes). By that point, he was already braced for disappointment, saying, “When you’re my age, 89 going on 90, questions of mortality have a greater priority than a promised immortality.” Later that year, Bouton succinctly summarized Miller’s chances on the 2008 ballot, by which point the process had reverted to a 12-member panel. “Marvin Miller kicked their butts and took power away from the baseball establishment — do you really think those people are going to vote him in? It’s a joke.”

Indeed, that Miller received just three votes on a panel that elected Kuhn (who had received just 17.3% from the larger group the year before) was a sick and twisted joke given that the labor leader beat the commissioner like a rented mule at every turn, most notably when it came to the Seitz ruling. Said Bouton, “It’s like having a cartoon Hall of Fame which admitted Wile E. Coyote and kept out the Roadrunner.”

One look at the composition of the panel explained the result. Beyond the three writers on the committee, none of the three ex-players (Monte Irvin, Bobby Brown, and Harmon Killebrew) played a single major league game in the post-Reserve Clause era. What’s more, Irvin spent 17 years working for the commissioner’s office under Kuhn, while Brown was an executive with the Rangers and then AL president after Kuhn stepped down. Of the six other owners and executives on the committee, Bill DeWitt Jr. (Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies) ,and Andy MacPhail (Orioles) were legacies whose fathers (and the latter’s grandfather) were on the management side during the Reserve Clause era, while Giles, MacPhail and John Harrington (Red Sox) were part of management during baseball’s late-1980s collusion scandal,, the trial of which featured Miller as the lead witness.

So frustrated was the 91-year-old Miller that six months later, with his candidacy not set to be reviewed for another 18 months, he took the unprecedented step of asking the Hall not to include him on another ballot, saying in a letter to the BBWAA (whose Historical Overview Committee constructs the ballots):

“Paradoxically, I’m writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again. The anti-union bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining.

“As former executive director of the players’ union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91 I can do without a farce.”

Like any good labor leader, Miller knew how to count votes before an election was held, and he knew when he didn’t have them. When I interviewed him for Baseball Prospectus shortly after that release, I found him still sharp as a tack at his age. He reiterated his stance with regards to the Hall, vowing not to show up for induction if the the VC elected him, referencing both Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, who refused to run for president (“If elected I will not serve…”), and comedian Groucho Marx (“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”).

Against his wishes, Miller was included again on the 2010 VC ballot (58%) and the ’11 Expansion Era ballot. While he received 11 out of 16 votes in the latter, one short of election, the presence of MacPhail, Giles, Royals owner David Glass (an anti-union hardliner in the 1994 strike), and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (a collusion kingpin and strike hardliner) meant that Miller had to run the table among the other 12 voters to gain entry. That he came so close no doubt owed to the fact that of the six Hall of Fame players on the panel, five (Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, Carlton Fisk, Paul Molitor, and Phil Niekro) benefitted from free agency.

Before Miller passed away in 2012, his son Peter ruled out the family’s participation in any posthumous honor by the Hall: “No one in our family will attend or speak at any HOF ceremony regardless of the outcome of the HOF vote. It’s important for union members and the media to understand why, so that the story does not get misrepresented as ‘sour grapes,’ personal pique, or anything of the sort.”

When Miller was included on the 2014 Expansion Era ballot, his children repeated their stance, with daughter Susan calling the committee “cowards [for] doing it after he died.” In the ensuing vote, managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre were elected unanimously, while Miller and the other eight candidates were consigned to “six votes or fewer” territory. In 2018, he received seven of 16 votes while Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were elected, and Simmons fell one vote short.

As he’s on yet another ballot, voters (and Miller’s supporters) again face a paradox: is it more important to honor the man’s wishes or to rightfully recognize his place in baseball history, even in belated fashion? I’ve wrestled with this question for years, and I’m hardly alone. While I don’t begrudge the family its permanent boycott of the institution, I come down on the side of preferring that he’s elected. One can’t credibly tell the story of Major League Baseball without Marvin Miller, who revolutionized the game and its business practices. When he’s honored, both his accomplishments and the stain of the institution’s failure to honor him during his lifetime will be part of that story. His plaque will be the same size as all the others, but its presence will stand as a towering middle finger aimed at the small men who conspired against him during his lifetime and after, and who colluded against the players in efforts to break the union. The induction speech that Miller never got to give would have been epic, but even without it, his legacy will long outlive those of his foes.

With that, I’ve completed my review of the 10 candidates on the Modern Baseball ballot. I don’t have a vote, but if I did, three of my four spots would go Miller, Simmons, and Lou Whitaker, the two players whose cases are best supported by WAR, JAWS, and other considerations. That leaves me to choose between Thurman Munson and Dwight Evans for the fourth spot. I won’t rehash their cases here, but in the end, Munson’s above-standard peak, role in multiple championships, and numerous accolades give him the nod over Evans, who was so underappreciated in his day and who deserves better. I hope I get a chance to consider the latter again, but for now, I think this is an exceptional quartet, any of whom would improve the Hall’s rolls with his addition. We’ll find out who, if anyone, is elected on December 8.

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It’s a story that elicits strong reactions from baseball players around the Majors. The Houston Astros are being investigated by MLB for their sign-stealing techniques in 2017.

The Astros, according to stories from The Athletic, had a live video feed fixated on the catcher’s signs from center field. A person reportedly banged on a trash can to signal to the hitter in the batter’s box which pitch was coming. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers confirmed the method to The Athletic.

ESPN reported an Astros executive sent an email to scouts requesting that they point a camera from the stands to the opposing team’s dugout. The Astros won the World Series in 2017.

“This Astros thing is bad!!!” Reds reliever Kevin Gausman wrote on Twitter. “Guys lost jobs, got sent down, missed service time (because) of how they were hit in (Houston). Does anyone really think they only did this in ’17?”

This Astros thing is bad!!! Guys lost jobs, got sent down, missed service time bc of how they were hit in HOU. Does anyone really think they only did this in 17? #getreal

— Kevin Gausman (@KevinGausman) November 14, 2019
Gausman, then with the Baltimore Orioles, made one start at Houston’s Minute Maid Park in 2017, allowing two runs on eight hits in 6 ⅔ innings while striking out two. The Orioles lost 2-0.

During the 2018 American League Division Series, the Cleveland Indians filed a complaint with MLB against the Astros, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, after they saw an Astros employee filming video inside their dugout with a cellphone from the photographer’s pit.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) paces after striking out his 11th batter of the night in the seventh inning of the MLB National League game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The Padres won the series opener 3-2.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) paces after striking out his 11th batter of the night in the seventh inning of the MLB National League game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The Padres won the series opener 3-2. (Photo: Sam Greene)

The Astros swept the Indians in three games. Reds starter Trevor Bauer, then with the Indians, pitched out of the bullpen in all three games.

“Ooooohhhhhh, so you mean to tell me the guy videoing our dugout in 2018 ALDS wasn’t just doing that to ‘protect against the Indians stealing signs?’” Bauer wrote on Twitter. “Who would have ever guessed that he was up to no good. What a revelation … maybe MLB will do something about it this time.”

OOOOOHHHHHH SO YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THE GUY VIDEOING OUR DUGOUT IN 2018 ALDS WASN’T JUST DOING THAT TO “PrOtEcT aGaInSt ThE iNdIAnS sTeAlInG sIgNs”!? WHO WOULD HAVE EVER GUESSED THAT HE WAS UP TO NO GOOD. WHAT A REVELATION…maybe @Mlb will do something about it this time but ‍♂️ https://t.co/zuwDswDczr

— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) November 17, 2019
Sign stealing has always been a part of the sport but using technology to steal signs is prohibited. The Boston Red Sox were fined in 2017 for reportedly using Apple Watches to relay the catcher’s signs to the dugout.

“When technology changes, people are always going to find edges and maybe they convince themselves that somehow they are on the right side of the line when they’re not,” Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams told The Enquirer. “I don’t know what goes through their heads, but clearly there has been a lot of attention drawn to it and I think it’s the exceptions rather than the rule because we’re paying so much attention to when it’s discovered.

“The general managers don’t want any part of it. The players and coaches don’t want any part of it. The commissioner’s office is trying to get rid of it. I think they are going to have to continue to try to figure out ways to prevent it because teams are creative when it comes to gaining an edge. Nowadays, everybody in the ballpark has electronics and it’s pretty hard to police it.”

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Contributor Joe Chambers takes a look back at one of the top outfielders in Orioles history, Paul Blair.
Paul Blair was a talented outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, one of the best players to roam the outfield in an Orioles uniform in franchise history. He spent 13 of his 17 pro seasons with Baltimore and was one of the best outfielders in Major League Baseball during his playing career.

Blair was an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, winning seven straight from 1969 – 1975. Known for his great fielding ability, Blair owned a .988 fielding percentage over the course of his nearly two-decade-long career. Playing primarily in center field, Blair averaged less than five errors a season.

In three different seasons, Blair finished in the top five in outfield assists, logging 13 assists in 1967, 14 in 1969, and 14 in 1973. Blair had a great arm and was able to throw runners out at any base. He recorded 34 assists at second base, 28 at third base, and 24 at home plate in his career. For reference, Orioles center fielders combined for just three outfield assists in 2019.

Throughout his career, Blair was a decent hitter, owning a career slash line of .250/.302/.382 with 134 home runs, 1,513 total hits, and 171 stolen bases. Clearly, his defense was his carrying tool. Half of his career WAR (37.8) came from his defensive value.

Despite playing extremely shallow throughout his career, balls rarely found their way past Blair. In an interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly in 1997, Blair said, “”I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.”

Growing up, Paul Blair was one of my favorite players and a role model to look up to. Meeting him at an Alumni Monday on Eutaw Street was a life-changing experience. Living fairly close to me right before he passed away, it was always nice to say hello and chat for a little while at Oriole Park.

Paul Blair will forever go down as one of the greatest Orioles to ever play. He currently ranks eighth in career-WAR for position players (fifth in Defensive WAR), seventh in games played (1,700), and ninth in total outs made (4,526).

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The 2018 Orioles went 47-115, the worst finish in team history. The 2019 Orioles finished 54-108—hardly a giant leap for mankind, but a tiny kind of triumph for a team with no stars, no hype, and no expectations around it.

In other ways, these two teams looked very different. The 2018 team featured big (biggish) names—Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zack Britton, Brad Brach, Jonathan Schoop, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Tim Beckham, and Pedro Alvarez—who underperformed and got cut or traded through the season for parts.

The 2019 roster had a collection of names that would send nobody running out to buy a jersey (apologies to the Jose Rondon, Dan Straily, or Chandler Shepherd fans out there).

Few players actually stayed with the team the full two seasons: Trey Mancini, Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Dylan Bundy, Mark Trumbo, Alex Cobb, and Chris Davis round out the whole list.

Front Office
2018 turned out to be the last hurrah for the combo of GM Dan Duquette, Manager Buck Showalter, Farm Director Brian Graham, and Scouting Director Gary Rajsich. None of these four are currently employed in baseball, though Buck Showalter still gets airtime as a studio talking head, and entertained a few offers this season for managerial jobs.

Not everything that went wrong with this team can be pinned on these guys. (I still treasure my Buck Showalter gnome, and I bear Buck no ill will outside of the Ubaldo-for-Britton Wild Card flop.) But there’s no denying the fact that The Replacements—Mike Elias (GM/Executive VP), Brandon Hyde (Manager), Chris Holt (Director of Pitching), and Koby Perez (Scouting Director)—are the main reason Orioles fans have any reason for optimism right now.

“We’re going to be the next Astros,” goes the hopeful refrain, and, what with the overlaps in personnel, the new-look international scouting department, the straight-out-of-NASA analytics team, and the sabermetrics regime being applied to player mechanics, this is no fish tale.

New things that can already be credited to this regime include a bunch of international signings (long shots, but also low cost), dramatic improvement in the lower tiers of the farm system, and a new analytic approach, especially as to pitching. Two Orioles minor league teams, the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds and Double-A Bowie Baysox, made it to the playoffs this year, the Baysox leading the Eastern League in ERA. A few big-league guys, including John Means, Hunter Harvey, and Shawn Armstrong, credit some of their recent success to the new analytic regime.

Pitching
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. By far, the biggest thing the two teams had in common was disastrous pitching.

The 2018 starting rotation featured Dylan Bundy (8-16, 5.45 ERA), Andrew Cashner (4-15, 5.29), Alex Cobb (5-15, 4.90), Kevin Gausman (5-8, 4.43), David Hess (3-10, 4.88), and Yefry Ramirez (1-8, 5.92). (The biggest surprise for me: remembering that Cashner actually pitched worse than Cobb in 2018.) In 2019, the rotation, such as it was, featured Bundy (7-14, 4.79 ERA), John Means (12-11, 3.60), Cashner (9-3, 3.83), Asher Wojciechowski (4-8, 4.92), Hess (1-10, 7.09), and Aaron Brooks (4-5, 6.18).

There were no real bright spots in 2018 (to be expected when your best rotation arm has a 4.43 ERA), but the 2019 rotation still wins for being even more of the “scotch tape and a prayer” variety. Brooks is no longer in the MLB, Cashner was traded, it’s unclear what the team has in Wojo, and if Hess remains an Oriole at the end of 2020, I’ll be shocked.

Both of these Orioles teams finished last in the league in team ERA, but in 2019, their ERA was nearly half a run worse, at 5.59. That’s a significant difference. The bullpen was a big reason: starter ERA was pretty much equal both years, but the bullpen’s went from 4.78 in 2018 to 5.63 in 2019. It’s evidence that the team was forced to put guys out there who weren’t just uncompetitive, but way beyond the pale.

Hitting
Here’s how the offense profiled in 2019. The Orioles hit for a .246 average (12th in the AL), a .310 OBP (12th), and a .415 OPS (12th). They couldn’t score runs: 729 (12th best) and 213 dongs (12th best). But they were eighth-best in total hits—evidently, the singles came in bunches (thank you, Hanser Alberto).

Believe it or not, though, the Orioles were a worse-hitting team in 2018. A vestige of the homer-happy 2011-2016 era, they were middle-of-the-pack in homers (188 on the season—see the inflation there, by the way?), but finished last in average (.239), OBP (.298), runs (622) and second-to-last in OPS (.689). This was a feast-or-famine team.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred believes home runs gets fans into the stands, but the 2019 Orioles were marginally better small-ball practitioners, a skill that should help weather bad times ahead. As they start to plug holes in the lineup (read: find a CF and a SS who can hit) with better players, the ability to manufacture runs should improve.

Fielding
The Orioles were pretty much identically bad at fielding in both seasons. They finished last or next-to-last, according to FanGraphs, in defensive runs saved, UZR, and defensive runs above average.

Not much more to say about this one. Trade away a Tim Beckham, sub in a DJ Stewart. Seems like institutional culture matters a little less on the field than simply having good-fielding players.

Conclusions
For the casual fan (or the non-fan), the Orioles have been just plain terrible the last two seasons. For the rest of us, there’s a little more interest below the surface. Fielding remains a huge weakness, the product of a recent lack of minor league depth. Driving runners in has not been a specialty, but a new small-ball philosophy has been put in place which could help smooth things out in the next few seasons. The bullpen regressed dramatically in 2019, and holes in the starting rotation still haven’t been adequately filled. Team ERA will be the key stat to watch next season. That will help clue fans in as to whether the Orioles are trending in the right direction in this rebuild, or still drifting.