Baltimore is blessed with a bunch of talented sports bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. I often link up to these local writers in my morning Coffee Companion posts, but instead of just exchanging anti-social links with them, I have decided to be slightly less anti-social by exchanging emails with them in a somewhat regular feature called Blogger on Blogger.
With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming up fast and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline looming on the horizon, I decided to make the call to the bullpen for Heath Bintliff of the fine Baltimore Orioles blog Dempsey’s Army for this installment of Blogger on Blogger. Thanks to Heath for his answers.
MV: Nearly halfway way through the season, what are we to make of the Orioles and their inconsistencies?
HB: The inconsistencies with the pitching staff are normal and to be expected. For the first time in years, the O's rotation is almost nearly composed of homegrown talent and most of the talent is light on major league experience. These guys will have their growing pains and some will flame out completely. But it's good that they are getting a chance to show what they can (or can't) do.
Bullpens are volatile by nature so I am not overly surprised that those guys have been up and down.
What is shocking is the offensive inconsistencies. There are a lot of established veterans in this lineup, including some brought in on pretty sizable free agent deals. Nick Markakis' slump is pretty troubling and Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero have not delivered as expected. Mark Reynolds' game is going to be inconsistent by its nature. The Orioles need better hitting performances and they need them badly.
MV: What has been the biggest surprise so far, whether it's a pleasant surprise or a not-so-pleasant one?
HB: Guerrero's performance is a mild surprise as is Adam Jones' relative breakout but I kind of predicted those things. Matt Wieters' defense? When he was coming up, there were questions [about whether] he could stick at catcher. But while his bat has been slower to come around, he might be the best defensive catcher in the American League and I don't think anyone saw that coming.
MV: What are your thoughts on how the veteran free agents -- players such as Derrick Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and Kevin Gregg -- have fared? I know you weren't fond of the Guerrero signing at first.
HB: When you sign aging veteran hitters, you always run a greater risk that they will get injured or just have their performance fall off of a cliff. So I had no problem with the Orioles signing Derrek Lee or Vladimir Guerrero -- but not both. So my objection to the Vlad signing was that Baltimore had already signed Lee (and Lee could actually play a position still) so signing Guerrero compounded the risk by having two aging hitters on the roster. Vlad would limit lineup flexibility since he is exclusively a [designated hitter] and I still thought Nolan Reimold could hit and Vlad's signing sent him straight to AAA.
Lee has not been completely healthy but there's really no defense for his performance thus far. There's no power, his walk rates are down, his bat looks slow and he's been injured. He has played a very well defensively when healthy and that's the only thing keeping his signing from being a total disaster at this point. As for Guerrero, his .290 batting average masks an incredibly poor season so far. He has morphed into a singles hitter and his power is almost completely gone. Couple the power outage with his normal lack of plate discipline and you have one of the worst cleanup hitters in the league. All the expectations of Vlad providing lineup protection for Nick Markakis or transforming the lineup with his mere “presence" have not come to fruition. People thought we were getting the 2004 version of Guerrero, refusing to see that over the last three seasons, he and Luke Scott were basically the same player. But even I didn't think he would hit this poorly.
The whole Kevin Gregg thing, you would have thought that Andy MacPhail would have learned with the Mike Gonzalez signing last offseason that signing veteran relievers to multi-year deals is extremely risky. Gregg was not an elite closer and giving him $10 million over two seasons was going to be walking a tightrope given that he is kind of a fly ball pitcher coming to Camden Yards and that he has always struggled with his control. ... The good news is his walk rates should come down (he has had below average control over his career but not this bad) and perhaps he will soon turn a corner.
MV: What are we to make of this rotation, which is the key to their success now and in the future?