Monday, October 5, 2009

2009 in review

Thankfully, the 2009 season is over for the Baltimore Orioles. Despite winning their final 4 games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1988, the Orioles were a largely a disappointment from start to finish.

The highlights were few and far between.

* There was the epic comeback against the Red Sox, you know the one where they came back down 10-1 in the 8th and 9th inning? You know, the one where they blew their own 4 run lead in the 9th the next day?

* There was a great Nolan Reimold walk-off HR against Toronto in May, capping off a sweep of the Blue Jays. But then the Orioles went 4-10 in their next 14 games.

* And there was the sweep of the defending World Series champion Phillies, in Philadelphia no less. But then the O's were swept by the Florida Marlins.

Although GM Andy MacPhail all but punted the season before Opening Day (how else can you explain starting 2009 with untalented placeholders like Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, and Alfredo Simon in the rotation?), one would've been correct in thinking that the Orioles would have improved as the season went on and the Orioles added quality prospects to their MLB roster. Guys like Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz.

But no matter how you slice it, the Orioles played sub-.400 baseball regardless of who was on the roster. In fact, the one positive to take away from 2009 is the fact that the Orioles gave 1,077 at bats to Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie and got 452 IP from Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, all of them rookies.

Reimold, Wieters, Pie and Bergesen impressed in extended looks, while Tillman and Matusz gave us enticing coming attractions. But Berken and Hernandez both struggled at times. So goes a rebuilding process.

But what made 2009 perhaps the most disappointing was a letdown from some veteran players.

Nick Markakis needed a final 2-week surge to get his OPS above .800 (.801). He was not himself for the better part of three months.

Adam Jones got off to a blistering hot start in April and May (11 HR, 36 RBI), but cooled off to the point of freezing in June and August before getting hurt.

Aubrey Huff, coming off a great comeback 2008 season in which he posted 32 HR and a .912 OPS, struggled to the tune of a .725 OPS with just 13 HR before being traded in August.

Melvin Mora, who came on strong in the second half of 2008 (1.073 OPS), petered out with a .679 OPS in 2009, what should be his final year as an Oriole.

Ty Wigginton, signed as a slugging utility man with a career OPS above .800, slumped for most of the season and finished with a .714 OPS.

Rich Hill was a reclamation project after a great 2007 and a bad 2008, so there was no guarantees with him, but after he started off reasonably well (O's were 4-0 in his first 4 starts), the wheels fell off and Hill became the 2009 version of Daniel Cabrera and was yanked from the rotation after 13 starts.

Finally, Jeremy Guthrie, who'd turned in back-to-back seasons with an ERA less than 4.00 in 2007 and 2008, watched his ERA soar above 5.00 on the season. Some have blamed his poor performance on participating in the World Baseball Championship in March, but others have said that Guthrie's peripherals have been somewhat lucky in '07 and '08 and the 5.04 ERA Guthrie could be the real Guthrie we're seeing now.

The only veteran on the Orioles to play to their average was Brian Roberts. Roberts set an Oriole record for most doubles in a season, 56, and finished his 3rd consecutive season with 50 or more doubles and an OPS above .800.

As for the bullpen, don't get me started. They repeatedly blew...leads, that is. And once closer George Sherrill was traded in July, the wheels fell off. Jim Johnson was moved to closer and struggled. Chris Ray came back from Tommy John surgery and posted a 7.27 ERA. Matt Albers, a solid reliever in 2008, had an ERA of 5.51 in 2009. Ironically, Mark Hendrickson fared well in the bullpen (3.44 ERA) after failing in the rotation (5.40 ERA). And while Danys Baez seemed to give up the long ball at the worst time possible, he actually performed decently in the bullpen (4.02 ERA) for someone who was about to be released before opening day.

Overall, the pitching was horrible. The Orioles allowed a league leading 218 home runs and were last in the league in many statistical categories. They did improve on walks, moving up to 9th in the AL from 14th a year ago. Yippee.

It should get better in 2010, as the rotation will consist of Bergesen, Guthrie, Matusz and Tillman, but the O's pitching is still a work in progress -- a work that will largely determine whether or not the Orioles see the postseason in the new decade.

And Andy MacPhail won't make any blockbuster moves this offseason, but he should find a veteran starting pitcher who can eat innings, and a stop gap 1B and 3B who can keep the seat warm for corner infield prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell. He also needs to overhaul the bullpen.

That leaves us with Dave Trembley. Trembley's option was picked up just days before the season ended, so he will be back in 2010. It was probably the right move, as Trembley was playing with a short deck talent-wise for most of the season. However Trembley oversaw a 2009 team that continuously made outs on the basepaths and failed to do little things like sacrifice bunt or play fundamentally sound defense. If the Orioles start off slow in 2010, I doubt Trembley makes it through to the end of the season, which makes it curious why is was invited back for 2010.

So could 2009 be another 1988? A season where the Orioles took their lumps as they waited for the future to arrive? We'll see. There are a lot of talented players on the major league roster and in the minors who could be part of an Orioles renaissance in the next few years.

But as we've continuously seen over and over again, the Orioles usually take 1 step forward and 2 steps back, and I expect something similar to happen in 2010.

Expect the unexpected.

This isn't called the Bad Oriole for nothing.

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