Series Preview: @ Baltimore 8/31-9/2

Hitting:

Team wOBA: .329. 14th in MLB, 9th in the AL.

The Orioles have a roughly league average offense. Unfortunately for them, that puts them fifth in the American League East. The Birds lineup is littered with interesting names, from up and comers like Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones to stars like Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis. Complimenting them are players like Luke Scott (team leading .362 wOBA and twenty homers) and Melvin Mora. This is a lineup that could become very dangerous as soon as next year, and can burst out against any one pitcher, as CC Sabathia discovered on opening day. For now, they have good power throughout the order without relying on any one player. After Scott, Jones has nineteen home runs, followed by Markakis with sixteen, Roberts with fourteen, and Reimold with twelve. The Orioles are tenth in the league in steals, with Roberts (twenty-seven out of thirty-three) being a legitimate threat to run. Cesar Izturis (eleven steals) and Jones (ten) are the only other real threats to run.

Fielding:

Team UZR: -18.1. 18th in MLB, 8th in the AL.

The Orioles were praised over the off-season for deciding to go with a speedy outfield. With Felix Pie coming over from Chicago to join Markakis and Jones in the outfield, the Birds were expected to join Seattle and Tampa Bay as having one of the best defensive outfields in the game. However, Jones and Markakis have both posted UZR’s below average in the outfield this season. This isn’t to say that those two are bad outfielders: UZR has loved Markakis in the past and one season of UZR data is a fairly small sample size. But for whatever reason, UZR isn’t buying the defensive reputations of Baltimore’s outfield. Defensively, they’ve been a little better around the horn. Cesar Izturis leads the team with an 8.8 UZR mark. Ty Wigginton has been playing a lot first since Aubrey Huff was traded, and he’s an asset at first base. Ditto for Melvin Mora at third. Brian Roberts is a little below average at second base.

Pitching:

Team FIP: 4.86. 29th in MLB, last in the AL.

Only Milwaukee has sent a sadder collection of arms to the hill this season than Baltimore. Jeremy Guthrie had been a solid pitcher the last two seasons. Despite middling stuff, low strike out rates, a tendency to give up the fly, and playing in the AL East, he’d posted earned run averages in the threes in 2007 and 2008, supported by decent fielding independent pitching ratios as well. He was always a pitcher living on the edge, and the wheels have really fallen off this year. His FIP is up nearly a full point in 2009, sitting at an ugly 5.44. He’s allowed twenty-nine home runs in 154 innings, while posting a career low in K/9 (5.08) and a career high in BB/9 (2.75.) Ew. David Hernandez is even worse. He’s just a rookie, so he deserves a bit of slack, but he’s been riding a little luck to mask a bad performance. His home run rate and his walk rate are worse than Guthrie’s, yet his ERA is 4.24. Credit a very high strand rate (83.7%) and a BABIP (.287) on the low side. He’s just as bad as Guthrie, and ripe for regression. Same story for Jason Berken, another righty without much on the ball getting ripped by the opposition. Opposing hitters are batting .315 with thirteen big flies against Berken over ninety-one innings. Those ninety-one innings have come in eighteen starts, meaning Berken is averaging just over five innings an outing. New York should get into the Baltimore bull pen fairly quickly in all three games.

The Baltimore relievers aren’t much more inspiring than their starters. Mark Hendrickson is the primary left hander. He’s a journeyman all the way, but he has done a nice job against lefties this year, holding them to .260 average with only a pair of home runs. He had a pretty good finish to the month of August, allowing only one run over his last twelve appearances. Kam Mickolio, one of the arms aquired in the Bedard deal has made an impressive debut, striking out thirteen in his first twelve innings. Chris Ray has struggled with control in his return from Tommy John surgery. With George Sherrill in Los Angeles, Jim Johnson has taken over the closing duties. He’s a pretty generic ground balling right, currently putting up a 51% ground ball rate. He’s a good little righty, but he’s miscast as a closer.

Conclusion:

Following an impressive series against Chicago, New York has a great opportunity to get on a real winning streak when they come to Baltimore. The Orioles pitching is anemic, and the Yankees have the best hitting in baseball. Furthermore, the Bombers throw their best three arms, including two lefties to stifle Markakis and Scott. Baltimore may soon be a legitimate threat in the AL East, but they won’t show it this week. This could be a rough three days for the O’s.