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What Happened? An analysis of the Norfolk Tides in 2009

Pirates Orioles BaseballOscar Salazar

I have posted a couple of other articles analyzing the performance of the Norfolk Tides in 2009.  Now that the season is over with the Tides winning their final game by a score of 4-3 at Durham in 10 innings to finish at .500 for the season I am really going to get into the weeds.  First I am going to look at the team’s record each month of the season and note losses of key players during those months.

The Tides began well in April they were 11 and 8 with a  .578  winning percentage.  On April 21st Pitcher Brad Bergeson (1-1 2.45 ERA) was promoted to the Orioles.

In May the Tides were almost untouchable winning 23 and losing only 7 driving their record to 34-15 with a .693 winning percentage.  On May 13th Nolan Reimold (.394  9 HRs 27 RBI) was recalled to the Orioles.  May 14th Scott Moore (.252, 7 HRs, 21 RBIs) was injured, on May 29th Catcher Matt Wieters (.305 5 HRs 30 RBI’s) was called to the Orioles.  Pitcher Lance Berken (2-0  1.05 ERA) was promoted on May 26th.

three run homer by fiorentinoJeff Fiorentino 3 Run Home Run

The Tides crashed back to earth in June winning just 9 while losing 19.  They still were in first place and had a overall record of  43 wins and 34 losses with a .558 winning percentage.   Oscar Salazar (.372, 10 HRs and 43 RBIs) was called up by the Orioles on June 7th.  On June 28th pitcher David Hernandez (3-2 3.30 ERA) was promoted to Baltimore.  It is important to note that after June 7th the Tides were 8 and 15 with a .347 winning percentage. This is the date that Oscar Salazar was called up and it marks a watershed.

085Gary Allenson

July started off better than August but between 14th and 31st they went 5 and 13 with a .384 winning percentage.  For the month they were 14 and 15 with an overall record of 57-49 and a .537 winning percentage and had fallen into 2nd place.  On July 17th Justin Christian (.270 3 HRs and 25 RBIs) was injured followed by Jolbert Cabrera on July 17th (.298, 7 HRs, 50 RBIs) was injured breaking his foot going into home when sent by Gary Allenson on a play that he had little chance of scoring on. On the 29th Chris Tillman (8-6  2.70 ERA)  and reliever Kam Mickolio (3-3 3.50 ERA) were called up by the Orioles.

In August the woes continued as the Tides won 10 and lost 18 giving them a 67-67 and .500 on the year.  Once again the Tides had a meltdown, between the 20th and the 31st they only won 2 and lost 9 a pathetic .181 winning percentage during that stretch.  Even more disheartening three of these games were blown with the Tides leading in the 9th inning. On August 29th Joey Gathright (.329 24 Stolen bases) was traded while Michael Aubrey who had come to the Tides from the Cleveland system was promoted to the Orioles on the 18th.

130Injuries: Jolbert Cabrera

The Tides finished the year going 2 and 2 in September and maintain their .500 record to finish the year at 71 and 71.  September call ups included Jeff Fiorentino who hit .312 with 12 HRs and  67 RBIs.

The Tides finished 2009 with the 7th best record in the International League.  They had the 2nd highest team batting average of .272 behind Columbus.  Yet they were last in home runs with 79.  If one remember that 31 of these were produced by Salazar, Reimold,  Moore and Wieters before June 7thth in runs scored with 603 of which 239 (39.6%) were produced by the sextet of Salazar, Reimold, Wieters, Moore, Cabrera and Fiorentino.  The Tides were 5th in total hits with 1283,  6th in On Base Percentage at.330 and 10th in Slugging percentage at .389.

007Jeff George was a late season addition to the pitching staff

The Tides had the 7th best team pitching in the league with a team  3.87 ERA.  The ranked  7th in runs surrendered to opponents with 607 of which  527 were earned runs (80 unearned runs. Tides pitchers  gave up the 2nd most home runs (113) led the league in hit batsmen (77). They were  9th in walks with 409, 4th in strikeouts with 998.  Only one complete game was recorded by a Tides pitcher that by David Pauley in a game that he lost as the hitting never came through.  They had 9 shutouts on the year.

gathriright buntingJoey Gathright bunting for a hit

Hitting seems to be the key, after the Tides lost Reimold, Wieters, Salazar and Moore they were 36-56 for a .391 winning percentage.  Between those 4 players they hit 31 home runs before they left the team.  Salazar 10 in 50 games with 43 RBIs.  Reimold with 9 in 31 games with 27 RBIs, Moore, 7 in 32 games with 21 RBIs and Wieters with 5 in 39 games with 30 RBIs.  Prior to this they were 35-19 with a .648 winning percentage.  However the big drop occurred after Salazar was called up.  After Salazar left on June 7th the Tides had a   36 and 56 record for a .391 winning percentage during that time.

088Brandon Snyder Goes Down Swinging

In the field the Tides had 130 errors.  If one looks at fielding percentage by position played one can see my instincts about various players were correct.  Justin Turner had a .963 fielding percentage at 2nd base in 80 games committing 13 errors.  In only 14 games at short he had 4 errors and a .930 fielding percentage, while at 3rd he had 4 errors in 15 games and a .893 fielding percentage.  The farther Turner got from 2nd the less effective he was.  Other fielders had similar dynamics causing me to wonder about constantly moving infielders around in order to produce utility players when in fact it may be better to focus players on the positions that they play the best and only occasionally move them to other positions for additional experience.  I do understand the need for utility players, however you do not produce utility players at AAA.  If the player and the team has not yet figured out where the player plays the best and fits the best in the organization then it has probably missed the boat.  At AAA it is my opinion that unless a player has been recently converted to a new position, that strengths should be built upon with the goal of having potential starters, All-Stars and Golden Glove players at as many positions as possible.  This goes against the utility player mindset that the Tides-Orioles seem to have adopted where the only logical thing they appear to be doing is producing a glut of utility infielders most of who will have little chance of making the majors and little utility outside the minor league system.  Winning teams are built on excellence and not utility.  Utility players are important to plug holes and give starters a break.  You do not win pennants with teams loaded with utility players.  The Orioles know what they need at various positions.  Melvin Mora is getting old and Brian Roberts has been repeatedly mentioned in trade possibilities.  Ty Wigginton is not the best Third Baseman and there is the potential that Luke Scott may not return at first base.  Potentially they will have to replace one or more players in their infield next year.  Justin Christian could go to second and Brandon Snyder to 1st.  Brandon Pinckney is the only infielder who could be considered a true and reliable utility infielder being pretty solid in every position that he has played including a one inning relief pitcher outing and being a dependable hitter with a .291 batting average.

045July 3rd a Win Before the Bottom dropped out

Looking at trends for the Tides:

2009: 71-71  .500  3rd place

2008: 64-78  .451 2nd place

2007: 69-74 .483 3rd place

Last 3 Year  204-223    .478

The Tides last winning season with the O’s is 2005 when they were the Ottawa Lynx skippered by Dave Trembley.   Allenson managed the Ottawa in 2003 to a 79-65 record and .549 winning percentage.

Looking at the numbers the Tides early success was based on the incredible hitting and run production on about 6 players, only one that played most of the season with the team, Jeff Fiorentino.  The key date to mark is June 7th when Oscar Salazar was called up by the Orioles.  This was not simply do to the numbers, but to “X” factor that he was on the team.  Observing the team close up from section 102, row B, seat 2 I saw the impact that he had on the bench and on deck.  He provided a a sense of relaxed determination and confidence that had an impact on the players around him.  He Salazar not been called up, which I am glad that he was because he deserved to be, I doubt the Tides would have suffered the meltdown that they experienced.  When adversity struck it seemed that Gary Allenson checked out emotionally, he exuded little energy and that obviously carried over to the team.  Watching the Tides through most of August was painful as the team seemed lifeless as if they had already given up.  Scuttlebutt heard around the park indicated that quite a few players were unhappy with the organization.  A hint of this was provided by Jim Miller who when finally brought back as a closer indicated how being moved around hurt his game.

090Last Home Win Against Gwinnett September 3rd

With Allenson seemingly ineffective during this second half meltdown the organization needs to look at the previous years as well.  They need to look at who manages the Tides in relationship to the Orioles and in relation to whoever is manages at Baltimore as there is widespread speculation that Dave Trembley will not be back.  The Baltimore organization has no lack of talent at all levels as far as players are concerned, the key now is the field management team at Baltimore and Norfolk.  I would think that Baltimore would be wise to get in the hunt for Bobby Valentine who has proven that he can work with and motivate young players and who has signaled that he is ready to return from the land of the Rising Sun.  Since the Mets have elected to continue down the path of self-immolation by keeping their losing management team of Minaya and Manuel.  The Mets would have been the natural place for Valentine to go so with them out of the picture it would be wise for the Orioles to try to get him.

That is all for tonight.

Peace, Steve+

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September Comes to Harbor Park: A New Month and a New Team

batter upBatter Up: September Comes to Harbor Park

Fans of Triple “A” Baseball teams in the International League and Pacific Coast League understand that the on the 1st of September the Major League Team will expand their roster.  With the roster expansion at the Major League level there is a ripple effect and sometimes even a “sucking sound” as the Triple “A” affiliates have some of their most promising players taken up to the big leagues.

On some teams this process may be a season long process, especially if the Major League team is lacking depth, talent or is suffering from injuries to key players.  However it is the roster expansion in September that changes the Triple “A” team significantly and all at once.  A couple of things happen during this time.  First and the most obvious is that key players are taken up to the Major League franchise.  For some players this may be a repeat trip having been called up for a brief amount of time earlier in the season.  For others it is their introduction to the big leagues and intended to give them Major League experience before going back down to the minors to continue working on their game the following year. For all it will be the opportunity for the Major League club to see them on the field, in the clubhouse and evaluate them to see where or if they have a place on the big club.  The move up does not always mean that the organization will even keep the player; some might be traded or given their outright release.

chris georgeChris George in His Win

Simultaneous to the Major League call up the Triple “A” roster is reinforced by players from Double “A” and occasionally even single “A” farm teams.  Again this is a similar process where players are given the chance to play at a higher level and be evaluated by the staff.  The same dynamics apply as with the Major League team, except that for some players this is their last hurrah, they are being called up to fill a roster position and will be off the team or out of baseball the following year.   In lower levels of Minor League ball the end of the season frequently sees those of marginal ability weeded out to make room for draft picks, college players and other prospects to have a place in the organization.

From my view from Section 102, Row B, Seat 2 at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish the September 1st call-up is the culmination of a season of call-ups and trades which began early and continued right up to the end of August.   The Norfolk Tides inhabit the Parish Church with me and my friends, Elliott the Usher, Barry the Scorekeeper, Chip the Usher, Terri the Usher, Marty the Card Dealer, Kenny the Pretzel Guy aka “Crabmeat,” as well as Ray and Charlie and their crew from the Vietnam Veterans of Virginia who man the Beer stand on the concourse behind home plate and several thousand others depending on which night the services are held.  The Tides are the Triple “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

034Robby Hammock Doubles against Charlotte

The past few years the Orioles have been engaged in a rebuilding process which for many has been long and painful and is not yet complete.  They began in the lower “A” level and progressively worked their way up so that their minor league organization is one of the best in baseball at least as far as talent and prospects are concerned.  Some of that talent had filtered up to Baltimore by the beginning of the year but the Orioles were still a very weak team as they entered the season.  By May the team was calling up members of the Tides, Outfielder Nolan Reimold and Catcher Matt Wieters were among the first to go along with pitchers Brad Bergeson, Lance Berken.  Others would follow throughout the year so that even before the call up at least a dozen former members of this year’s Tides team including pitchers David Hernandez, Chris Tillman and Kam Mickalio were up with Baltimore, or who like Oscar Salazar made the Orioles and were traded and are still in the big leagues.  There were others who were traded at the very end of August including Joey Gathright who went to the Red Sox and Freddy Guzman who went to the Yankees.  There were a number of players who had season ending injuries that might have been called up including Justin Christian, Scott Moore and Jolbert Cabrera.  Cabrera’s injury may be a career ender as he turns 37 in December.

scoreSafe!

The players called up on September 1st were pitchers Dennis Safrate, Matt Albers and Alberto Castillo. Outfielder Jeff Fiorentino who is arguably the MVP for the Tides this year was also called up. Unfortunately for Fiorentino the Orioles have a stocked outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold so it unlikely that he will stay up beyond the regular season.  It is expected that the O’s will call up several more players on September 8th following the end of the International League season. There is talk of a couple of pitchers, perhaps Chris Waters and Jim Miller as well a catcher and Second Baseman Justin Turner.

For us in the Church of baseball it meant that we had a season that was very good and really bad. The Tides were probably the best team in Triple “A” at the beginning of the season. By early June they had a large division lead and had close to .700 winning percentage.  With hitting which included power and speed the Tides have had one of the top batting averages in the league all year, even at the end of the season.  Currently they are batting .274 as a team only .001 behind Columbus which is at .275.  The pitching staff was solid but after call ups and injuries mid-season became less effective about the same time the Tides lost most of their power hitters.  This resulted in a All-Star break the team began slump in which the Tides ended up dropping back to 3rd place and a winning percentage of just above .500.

The Tides have 5 games to finish out the season.  The new players are beginning to show some life and the Orioles and Tides management will beginning planning for the 2010 campaign.  Of particular interest to me are catcher Guillermo Rodriguez an excellent defensive catcher with a better bat than we have seen at that position sin a long time with the exception of Matt Wieters and outfielder Jonathan Tucker just up from AA Bowie where he was on the Eastern League All-Star team this year.  He is much like Joey Gathright, a speedy contact hitter with excellent range in the outfield and I expect that Jonathan will be patrolling the outfield for the Tides in 2010.  Recently acquired Rhyne Hughes has added punch to the lineup at First Base hitting home runs in his last two games and I would not be surprised to see the Orioles keep him around.

moon over harbor parkMoon over Harbor Park

September has started better for the Tides and for the first time since August 6th. The win streak has improved the Tides record to 70-68 moving them back to a .507 winning percentage, currently in 3rd place in the IL South. In the three games the Tides have outscored their opponents 21-3 defeating Charlotte 10-0, Gwinnett 8-1 and 3-2.  Andy Mitchell, Chris George and Chris Lambert got the wins in strong performances.  Tides relievers were excellent allowing no runs.  Jim Miller rang up his 17th save tonight having reclaimed his rightful place as the Tides closer.  The two wins over Gwinnett have dropped that former rival from Richmond to 2 games back of Durham for the I South Title with 4 games left to play.

Friday night the Tides will play their last home game of the season at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish at 7:15 against these same Braves hoping to put another nail in the Braves Title hopes.

Peace,

Steve+

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