At the risk of losing every baseball reader I’ve gained over the last year, I’m going to make a confession: I was a music major in college. I also had a second major and degree along with a master’s and doctorate in unrelated fields, so don’t go creeping out on me! I also played baseball in college – a deed for which the music department never forgave me!
A part of studying any classic musical work is to understand the themes woven into the masterpiece by the composer. These themes reflect elements of the composer’s background, education, personality, and style. Throughout a composition such as a symphony, those themes will rise over and over, being worked and reworked throughout the instrumentation of the orchestra.
If one were to look at Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette’s early composition of the Orioles, Opus 2012, what themes may be detected that are being woven into what we hope against hope is an eventual masterpiece?
Pitchers with a better strikeouts/walk ratio
There is no doubt that we have lived through far too many walks on this pitching staff in recent years. The Orioles ranked 13th in the AL this past season with a 1.95 ratio – meaning there were only less than 2 strikeouts per walk allowed. The league leaders – the White Sox – were at 2.78. The Birds were 12th in 2010, 13th in 2009, and 14th in 2008! Obviously, this is a problem that needs to be fixed.
Hammel was at 3.00 and 3.07 in 2009 and 2010. Lindstrom was at 2.57 last year. Luis Ayala is at 2.63 over his career, and Darren O’Day 3.04. (As a point of reference, Koji is 7.23 – which is why I like him!) Chen and Wada are also particularly known for control.
Hitters with a better on-base percentage
Many Orioles writers and bloggers have been commenting on this, as both Showalter and Duquette have made OBP a verbalized value. Here is the way Duquette said it at FanFest, “I like the everyday core of the line-up, yet I’m looking for some more on-base guys to set the table.” There is no doubt that this has been one of the many problems for the team, along with the difficulty of timely hitting.
Stockpiling in the areas of need
Duquette seems to have a pattern of evaluating the primary needs, and then going out and signing a list of potential answers. This creates competition, along with multiple possibilities and backup plans. It’s the old “throw enough paint on the wall …” strategy. We’ve seen it this winter in the stockpiling of pitchers, and to a large degree also with infielders – especially to address second base. Of the thin pitching last year, Showalter said, “Last year with the pitching, it was like who is the last man standing?”
If the Orioles were to make some sort of dramatic near-term turnaround, perhaps the unsung hero would be Brady Anderson. A surprising number of players have been working with him in the off-season, and he has them doing some unusual things – like, pitchers walking on their hands to build shoulder strength. Quite a number of comments by players and managers and coaches seem to indicate that 2011 was a “wake-up call” for a greater commitment to off-season training and fitness.
International players emphasis
From day one, Duquette has said that building an extensive international program was going to be a priority. It has to be in order for a team like the Orioles to compete in a division with the resources of Boston and New York. He certainly has been aggressive on this front – to the extent of needing to issue an apology to the folks in South Korea. Of course, the beauty of this approach is that it is a more inexpensive way to rebuild than through the normal draft procedures.
Summary – As I’ve said before, I think he is doing what he is able to do given the hand he was dealt. The Birds don’t have the money, the current talent, nor the farm talent to make large moves. Though I was less of a critic of McPhail than most (as I believe many of those he secured let him down by poor play), I am willing to be cautiously hopeful that a real corner has been turned.
Duquette said, “We’re going to build it from the ground up – like Dalton taught me in Milwaukee – and give you a good team on the way … I don’t have a lot of patience for rebuilding. The floor where you start is winning more than you lose. I am not here to perpetuate another losing season.”
I’ll add this for what it is worth (which is nothing!) that, having sat through the entire day at FanFest and heard every player and coach talk, every one of them seemed like someone I’d enjoy dinner with …….. except one > Duquette! I wasn’t feeling any warm fuzzies or a Chris Matthew’s Obama-induced tingle up my leg! He is very intense. But we don’t need him to be a kindly grandpa; we just want a winner … a beautiful composition, a masterpiece.