Baltimore Orioles: Look out .500

Pitcher Steve Barber

Pitcher Steve Barber was 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA for 1966 World Series-winning Orioles. Career record of 121-106 -- won 95 for Orioles, including 20 in 1963 and 18 in 1961, when he had AL-best 8 shutouts.


Time goes by like pouring rain: Pitcher Chris Tillman will only be 23 on his next birthday next month, so it’s too soon for ultimatums. But so far he’s given the Orioles nothing but frustration. The reason is twofold: he can’t throw enough strikes, and when he does they leave the yard. As a minor leaguer Tillman has allowed a home run every 13 innings (42 in 520) and walked a batter every two-and-a-half innings (202 in 520); as a major leaguer those ratios plummet to 1 in 5 (24 in 118.2) and 1 in 2 (55 in 118.2). It can’t all be adjustment disorder — Tillman was worse in his second call-up (5.87 ERA vs. 5.40) than his first. Tillman has made 23 starts over two seasons for the Orioles and just eight have been judged as quality ones. Even for the Orioles, that’s a bad ratio.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Zach Britton is one of the Orioles’ five best starters (heck, Daniel Klein might be one of their five best, and he’s had only six-plus short-season innings of pro experience), but Britton won’t start the season in Baltimore. Waiting three weeks now will buy the Orioles a year in 2017 by deferring free agency. Britton will soon displace Brad Bergesen or Tillman; he’s 23, left-handed and has improved every season in the minors. His ERA the last two years has been 2.70 and his strikeout rate is decent and his home run rate even better. And he’s not to be confused with an Oriole reliever of the same name a half decade earlier. Zach is no relation to Chris, either by blood or performance.

 What is this man doing here?  Somehow Cesar Izturis has accumulated 10 years of major league service despite an offensive record that would make Mark Belanger wince (OK, Izturis’ lifetime OPS is 39 points higher than Belanger’s, but he has the advantage of playing in an offensive era). Izturis has been the everyday shortstop for 925 excruciating plate appearances for Baltimore over the last two years, and no amount of defense can make up for the .622 and .545 OPS Izturis, uh, produced. This Cesar’s motto is: I came, I fielded, I fanned. The Orioles paid Izturis $5 million over the last two years — they might as well have thrown the money into the stands like souvenirs for all the winning it didn’t spur. The Orioles now have J.J. Hardy, even if they’re overpaying him; there’s no reason their poor fans have to suffer through any more of Izturis. 

Outlook: The Orioles are the Pirates or Royals of the AL East — only they’ve spent more to be just as bad. Baltimore now has 13 losing season in a row, and six straight and 10 of 11 with less than 75 wins. That’s bad.

The Orioles will be better in 2011 in a .500 sort of way. They were 27th in runs scored last year, and they won’t be again. With Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, and hopefully more of Brian Roberts, they’ll score more runs. And the low-risk, high- reward signing of oft-injured pitcher Justin Duchscherer could pay off.

Problem is, being incrementally better due to middle-aged upgrades doesn’t bode well for the longer-term future of the team. Josh Bell is 25 and returning to AAA; he doesn’t seem so much like the third baseman of the future anymore but the third base prospect of the past. Tillman’s troubles have been covered and Jake Arrieta’s first stint in the majors was little more impressive.

Even the younger Orioles who are regulars haven’t played as hoped. Catcher Matt Wieters will be 25 in May and so far has only a .721 career OPS; centerfielder Adam Jones does a lot of nice things, but undoes many of them with a horrific lack of control of the strike zone (88 walks/363 strikeouts).

Improving is nice, and certainly welcome to one of baseball’s long-suffering fan bases. But it would be more meaningful if it was because of their young players, not in spite of them.

Remember when:  The 1966 Orioles are one of three world champions for the franchise, if perhaps their least-known. Part of that is because their dominance made the World Series, a four-game sweep of the Dodgers, so forgettable. The Orioles — Moe Drawbosky, Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker and Dave McNally — shut out the Dodgers for the final 33.1 innings of the Series, outscored them 13-1 and won two 1-0 games.

The Orioles were managed by Hank Bauer — Earl Weaver may dominate Orioles history, but Bauer and Joe Altobelli managed just as many Series winners. Davey Johnson and Andy Etchebarren were rookie starters, and Palmer, age 20, won 15 and Bunker, age 21, won 10.

The ’66 Orioles had four Hall of Fame players: Frank and Brooks Robinson, Palmer and shortstop Luis Aparicio.





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