Tag Archives: oscar salazar

Baseball is Back….Thank God!

Norfolk’s Harbor Park

Night baseball isn’t an aberration. What’s an aberration is a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They tend to think of themselves as a little Williamsburg, a cute little replica of a major league franchise. Give me the Oakland A’s, thank you very much. People who do it right.” George Will on the Chicago Cubs

Baseball is back and I am very happy as spring returns and winter fades away as I can again watch baseball again live or tape delay.  Sure it is pre-season and the teams are still sorting out rosters but Spring Training is something that I look forward to every year.  I was actually hoping to get to Florida this year to take in a bit of the Orioles camp in Sarasota but thanks to a nasty Kidney stone I was pretty much knocked out of it.  Work will be too busy and Holy Week is coming so I will have to wait until opening day at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Joey Gathright bunts for a hit against Atlanta’s Gwinnett Braves in 2009

There is something about Spring Training as you watch the teams, study the roster reports and look at potential line ups pitching rotations and relief pitching staffs.  It is also the time that we begin to see how the personnel changes, signings, departures and prospects look up close.  It is a time when teams and players get to know each other again. I follow the Giants, Orioles and A’s very closely as well as looking most of the other teams as I look trough team sites, ESPN, Yahoo Baseball and sports blogs.

The statement of George Will the political columnist and avid Cubs fan speaks a lot of truth. The Cubs for years have either been penny pinchers or spent money like a drunken sailor with little to show for it. Since Jesus will come when they win the World’s Series next I think it likely that they will continue to be just what Will said they are “a cute little replica of a major league franchise.  Some teams spend their money be it large amounts or small wisely and know how to win.  Others spend money with no return throwing good money after bad on horrible deals every season and reaming losers.

What really interests me in baseball is not just the Major League teams but their Minor League affiliates.  Of course I have a close up view of the Orioles AAA International League affiliate the Norfolk Tides from my pew in Section 102, Row B Seat 1 and 2 a Harbor Park.  One of the things that I follow closely are the prospects as well as former Major League players as they move between the Majors and Minors as well as how they figure in trades.

A lot of people simply follow the big name players on contending teams and I admit that there is nothing wrong with that.  However, my view is that you have to take a look at a team’s farm system in relationship to the Major League team that it supports and feeds.  The depth and talent found in a teams’ Minor League system is vitally important to a team’s success or failure. Let me follow this with a few examples.

Mariano Rivera- Raised in the Yankee System

Let’s begin with the New York Yankees.  They are often portrayed as a team filled with “hired gun” type free agents who the pay an ungodly amount of money to obtain. Yes the Yankees are committed to winning and they will pay top dollar to get the best in baseball. Teams that want to win make the commitment to doing it.  Those that are content to be in the middle of the pack or lower don’t.  It is that simple. Like him or not George Steinbrenner knew what he was doing. However this is only part of their formula for success.  They also have also chosen to invest a lot in an excellent farm system.  Many of their top players came out of that system including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.  Their current middle relief staff, which had for many years been a weakness, is now stocked with solid pitchers who came out of the Yankee system.  The depth of their system also allows them to use it to sweeten up trade deals with other teams.  If you want to win consistently you have to have the depth in the Minor League system in case you need it.

David Wright: One of the Few Bright Spots for the Mets

So now we go to the other end of the spectrum.  The New York Mets also spent a huge amount of money on big name free agents.  However, because the Mets invest almost nothing in their Minor League system it has been consistently the worst in baseball for years.  Likewise the mid to end of season implosions show just how bad the Mets system is.  For example the Mets treated their farms teams so badly since the arrival of Omar Minaya that their flagship affiliate, the Norfolk Tides ended their relationship with the Mets at the end of the 2006 season to become part of the Baltimore Orioles system.  The Mets system has few prospects and at the upper levels is stocked with older Minor Leaguers and worn out Major leaguers looking for one last year in the sun.  The Mets initially had to move the team to New Orleans for two years and then were able to market themselves to Buffalo when Cleveland moved their AAA affiliate to Columbus Ohio.  The team was the worst in the International League last year and Buffalo fans that for years enjoyed high caliber ball players and young prospects became angry.  Little good is being said about the Mets in Buffalo even now and since the Mets have depleted what they can spend, and few Minor League prospects they have little bargaining power to reach out and deal for the top tier free agents.

Brian McCann, one of the  18 “Baby Braves” who took the Braves to the 2005 NLCS

We move to another team that does things right with regard to this is the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves have been consistently good for many years winning 14 Division titles and a World Series. In that amazing run where they won more than 90 and sometimes over 100 games a season almost every year they often dominated to National League.  The team is stocked with home grown talent.  I have seen the Braves minor league teams at the AAA and AA level and am well acquainted with their system.  They too are usually really good, very good. That minor league system has produced great players including Chipper Jones.  Do not forget 2005 when the Braves beset by injuries called up a large number of Minor league players from Richmond and Mississippi including All Star catcher Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Ande Marte, Kelly Johnson and 14 other rookies and the “Baby Braves” as they were known helped take the Braves to the playoffs.  The system had to recover from that and it has now because the Braves invest in it and those players are beginning to make an impact in the Majors.

Billy Beane the GM of the Oakland Athletics

Another team that knows how to use a farm system is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s after being very competitive using very little money for years fell on hard times last year, but one of the keys to their success was their reliance on top prospects in their Minor League System.  Over the years that system has produced some great players and more than likely will do so again.  The A’s system is built on the principle of Saber metrics which looks at numbers crunched by statistics geeks and has for the most part served them well.  The A’s General Manager Billy Beane has revolutionized the game for small market teams that want quality on a limited budget. Many former A’s cut loose when they would become too expensive now star on other Major League teams. The system is discussed in the book Moneyball.

The new “Baby Birds” Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold along with Luke Scott great Oscar Salazar after a Home Run

A few years back the Orioles realizing that they could not compete dollar for dollar against ht Red Sox and Yankees began at the single A level to build a premier farm system.  Each year the best have moved up into the system to AA and AAA levels.  Last year the Norfolk Tides started out on fire and when the Orioles ran into major injury problems they called up a lot of minor league players including Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergeson and Chris Tillman.   The Orioles have built their system in stages and that building process went through the 2009 season.  Many of those called up were not quite ready for the majors but many are looked upon as future All Stars, especially their deep well of pitching talent that most teams could only dream about having.

Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard who I have seen play as a Reading Philly and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons before he went to the Majors

When I look at teams I always look at their minor league system and their prospects because that system and those prospects are the future of the team.  Teams that are consistently bad typically have bad minor league systems.  I have been watching minor league ball in person regularly for almost ten years.  As such I have seen many of today’s biggest stars including players like Ryan Howard, Felix Hernandez, Jason Verlander, Heath Bell, Grady Sizmore, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jhonny Peralta, Brian McCann, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Jonathan Papelbon, many of the current Baltimore Orioles as well as countless others.

The relationship of the Major League team to its farm system is of paramount importance. If a team does not invest in their minor league affiliates and make good draft choices and trades they will seldom do well even if they have a decent team at the beginning of the season. Without quality prospects in the minor league system they will not have personnel readily available for call up on short notice in case of injury, not will they have depth to trade for quality players if the need them.

This is one of the things that make the game of baseball so different than other sports with the possible exception of NHL Hockey and its farm system.  The relationship and the development of players at the minor league level have a direct impact on the Major League club.  This is part of why I am so passionate about this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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Analyzing the End of Season Collapse of a Baseball Team

Note: I cover baseball and the Norfolk Tides with a Blog on the Virginia Pilot Online entitled Padre Steve’s View from 102. The link to that site and those blogs is here:  http://hamptonroads.com/blogs/padre-steve039s-view-102 Those articles are not re-posted here.

out at homeGathright Out at Home

Baseball is replete with end of season collapses of teams that had started hot and were in first place. The collapses often take place due to injuries to key players, trades gone bad or slumps that never end.  These collapses are even more troubling when there are not injuries or other circumstances that readily explain them.  The 1964 Phillies and the 2007 Mets had meltdowns of epic proportions in the last month of a major league season.  At the Minor League level there are other factors to consider especially with the added dimension of call ups by the Major League team and trades made by the Major League affiliate which impact the Minor League club’s roster.

strike outThe Melt Down Continues Strike Out

This year the Baltimore Orioles AAA International League Norfolk Tides who were playing nearly .700 ball through June experienced a collapse like I have not seen up close and personal.  Early in the season they were nearly unbeatable. Consistent and clutch hitting combines with excellent pitching allowed them to dominate the league taking series after series and recording a number of series sweeps against good teams. The for a variety of reasons the wheels came off.  At first is was merely inconsistent play and basically playing .500 ball. Then came the collapse and the Tides are only mathematically in the post season chase.

Fiorentino HR against ColonBright Spot: Jeff Fiorentino Should be Tides 2009 MVP

As the season draws to a close with the Tides obviously out of the playoff race even with the mathematical possibility of coming back it will be time for some ruthless evaluation of how the club has been managed since the All-Star break.  It is hard to believe that with as much talent as the Tides still have that they are losing this consistently and this badly.  The Orioles can be blamed for pulling players up and depriving the Tides of talent, however they needed to draw upon the Tides because of the weaknesses at Baltimore.  Certainly the call up of players like Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar has had an effect on the Tides. Likewise  the number of significant injuries to productive position players such as Justin Christian, Jolbert Cabrera, Scott Moore and Donnie Murphy had a large impact.  The loss of these 7 players deprieved the Tides of most of thier offensive power as did the recent call up of Michael Aubrey.

gathriright buntingAnother Bright Spot: Joey Gathright Bunting for a Hit

But even with all of these losses the Tides are tied for the best team batting average in the International League at .274.  So we cannot simply blame the crash on the loss of these position players and loss of power hitters.  We then come to pitching, Despite the collapse the pitching staff ERA is still only 3.94 and not at the bottom of the league, however the relief pithcers including guys who had been almost automatic in being able to close out innings and games has become very incosistent and in the past 10 games have blown 3 9th inning leads.  Convert those to wins and the Tides are still in the hunt.  Rececnt pitching additions from other clubs with the exception of Jeff George have not panned out. So we can say that pitching is a factor.   Fielding and defense is another matter.  Unfortunately Tides infielders have committed 71 errors.  Three players, Melvin Dorta, Justin Turner and Blake Davis have committed 51 of these and former Tides infielder Carlos Rojas another 9. Though the statistic is not found on the MiLB or Tides Websites, Tides pitchers have committed their share of errors at critical points in games.   On the other hand Tides outfielders Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino have only two errors eachand lead the Tides in batting average, on base percentage and are near the top in slugging percentage among the current roster.

046Is it the Manager?

The Orioles organization will certainly address these on the field concerns.  This is something that thye have been working on and I expect that next years team will be more solid in these areas and  hopefully the Orioles with the addition of so many Tides who now have Major League expereince will not need to dip down so often and give the Tides, Baysox and Keys time to develop tallent.  However the Orioles management may need to take a look at the dynamics of what is happening in the dugout with the field staff including Manager Gary Allenson.  We really have to see if the problem is bigger than just a Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events or an organizational problem.  There are many regulars who question Allenson’s choices as a 3rd base coach as well as his inability to pull a pitcher before they get the team in deep trouble.  Yes giving pitchers the experience of trying to pitch out of jams is important, but it should not be done all the time.  Frequently it seems that Allenson has left pitchers in for one out or one inning too long, often with no-one warming up in the bullpen.  The final thing to ask is how Allenson rotates his infielders to different positions on an almost daily basis. I have to wonder if the constant changes in where the infielders are being played is effecting the number of errors being committed by the club especially in light of the fact that the three biggest error producers are the middle infielders. While the Organization may be at fault for some player personnel issues ultimately it is the Manager who makes the day to day calls on the field that determine whether a team wins or loses.

135Injuries: Jolbert Cabrera Being Carried Off teh Field after Breaking Bones in his Foot

The Tides are 10 and 25 since July 20th oin what has been a collapse nearing epic proportions and since the 18th of August have been outscored 65-40.  When one looks at talent, save the inability of the infield to play error free ball;  one has to begin asking questions and getting answers.

The Tides face the Charlotte Knights tonight, with Jake Arrieta facing Jake Peavy.  I will be there in Section 102, Row B Seat 2.

Though the players are here to develop and learn, there is little substitute for winning when building a young team. As Charlie Brown said “Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything.”

Peace, Steve+

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A Tale of Two Organizations: How Major League Performance Impacts Minor League Systems

“We’re so bad right now that for us back-to-back home runs means one today and another one tomorrow.”  Earl Weaver

165Russ Ortiz Bearing Down on a Tides Batter

This is a hard blog to write and while things are not as nearly as bad for the Norfolk Tides as they were for Earl Weaver’s Orioles things are not going well at the present time.  The Tides are not nearly the quality of team that they were in the first half of the season.   On the positive side they are still doing better than any time in the past 4 years and still have a shot at making the International League playoffs as either the Southern Division champion or wild card. At the same time they have fallen off their torrid pace of winning in April May and early June where they were almost playing .700 ball and up anywhere from 6-10 games over their competitors.

People are wondering what has happened and the answer is all too obvious.  While the Orioles have remarkably improved every level of their farm system they have no real depth at the Major League level.  They have some potentially great players, but a lot are still relatively young and inexperienced.  The Orioles began the year as a marginal Major League franchise with a great farm system. Unfortunately the big team was so bad early that the Orioles elected to raid their minor league system of their best players, both pitchers and hitters.  The Tides lost pitchers Jim Johnson, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Matt Albers, Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken.  Unfortunately I think some were called up before their time, however this is certainly not the case with starters David Hernandez, Brad Bergeson who need just a bit more seasoning and relievers Jim Johnson and Matt Albers. As for hitting the Tides lost the center of their order to the big club, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar.  Salazar was traded to the Padres while hitting well over .400 of the bench and providing solid hitting and fielding percentages.  The Orioles also brought pitcher Brain Matusz up from AA Bowie without bringing him up to the AAA team.

170Another Strike for Ortiz

Do not get me wrong, all of these players are good, but they are all still very young.  While they will get better and are getting valuable Major League experience it is not contributing to the current success of the Orioles nor helping the minor league system. An example of what happens when a Major League team raids its farm system is the 2005 Atlanta Braves, the year of the “Baby Braves” where Atlanta almost made it to the World Series based on incredible performances by their rookies.  Unfortunately the call up of all of these players decimated the minor league system and it has only been in the last couple of years that the Braves minor league system, which is consistently one of the best in baseball to restock and rebuild.  Now the Orioles are fortunate to have a deep farm system, however the risk in doing what they have done is to potentially sacrifice the future for the present.

As I said the Tides are not the same team they were a month or two ago.  They seem to  have lost the edge, the swagger and self confidence is gone, frustration shows on many players faces. They do not look relaxed or like they are having fun anymore.  Tonight they dropped their second game in a row to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who won the International League last year and who they New York Yankees have built into a formidable AAA franchise.  The Yankees, despite all the criticism they have received for “being the best team money can buy” with huge contracts for free agents and a massive payroll nonetheless invest a considerable amount in their farm system.  They are deep both in prospects as well as talented former Major Leaguers such as Shelly Duncan and recently acquired Russ Ortiz.  The Yankees have also used their minor league system to raise their own middle relievers Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, David Robertson and a reliever converted to a starter Joba Chamberlain.  Say what you will that is home grown quality.

Last night the Tides lost 6-1 and were thoroughly out classed by the Yankees.  Tonight was even worse as Russ Ortiz pitched 7 innings of 1 hit ball in 90 degree weather making the Tides, even their .300 plus hitters Justin Turner, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino look bad.  The Tides lost the game 9-0 getting their second hit with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.  If I wasn’t a big fan of Russ Ortiz tonight would have absolutely no redeeming value except to have worshiped in the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  In two starts for the Yankees Ortiz is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA.  Ortiz has a career Major League Record of 113 wins and 88 losses.

188Joey Gathright is Victimized by Ortiz in the 6th in which he struck out the side

I was talking with Elliott the Usher as well as Barry the Scorekeeper about what was happening and we all agreed.  The difference between the teams is that the Major League Yankees have held together with only minor bumps in the road due to injury.  Their pitching staff aided by the home grown middle relievers has done a masterful job in shutting down opponents as their hitters have been on fire.  By doing this they have allowed their minor league clubs to become very good, in particular the Scranton Wilkes-Barre team.  They have talent and depth and players at the minor league level who are proven major leaguers.  The Tides on the other hand have been hampered by the Orioles descent and the resultant decimation of the minor league rosters to fill the gaping holes on the Major League team.  What would have been a very even match up a month and a half ago now was not even close.  The Tides were out-classed and out played by the Yankees. Ortiz in particular made the Tides hitters look bad putting on a major league performance that hopefully will help get him up to the Yankees as they make their pennant run.  I still think that Dusty Baker blew the 2002 World Series by taking Russ out with 1 out in the 7th and a 5-0 lead against the Angels.  If Ortiz gets back up and the Yankees win the World Series I will be happy for him.

On a positive note the Orioles led by former Tides pitcher David Hernandez beat the Oakland A’s 3-2, their first win against the A’s since 2008.  Hernandez improved his record to 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA.

So tomorrow is another day.  The Tides are only 3 ½ behind the Gwinnett Braves and 2 ½ behind the Durham Bulls in the International League South.  They still have a lot of talent and have a shot at getting in the playoffs, but need to come up big tomorrow to reverse this slide and keep in the playoff race.  I will be back in section 102 row B seat 2 tomorrow come what may.  Hopefully the Deity Herself will help us get through this stretch.

Peace, Steve+

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Breaking Slumps and Losing Streaks

Fiorentino HR against ColonJeff Fiorentino, seen here Hitting a Home Run off Bartolo Colon has Come up Big for the Norfolk Tides in 2009

The Norfolk Tides came home Tuesday after their worst road trip of the season in which they fell behind both the Durham Bulls and Gwinett Braves.  When things are not going well for a team, organization or individual it seems that events almost conspire against them.  It was that way for the Tides, errors and bad decisions at the plate, on the base paths and the field plagued them over the road trip.  The problems continued on Tuesday where the Tides lost their 9th of the last 10 games.  Now it was not that the team was bad, they made some great comebacks but fell short each time sometimes in heartbreaking ways.

Tonight after getting out to an early lead the Tides were behind 5-2 in the bottom of the 7th.  Elliott the Usher and I as well as Barry the Scorekeeper wondered what was happening.  It seemed that there was no energy on the team.  Unfortunately when a team, organization, military unit or individual gets on a losing streak it is hard to get motivated, especially when you come close but come up short. I remember being told in my Pastoral Care Residency that I had to stop believing that things were going to be difficult or that I would always come up short.  My supervisor told me that I had the power to actually envision a positive future and make things happen to see it come into being.  Now I have always been a fighter and even a survivor, but being a survivor doesn’t necessarily make you a winner.

The Tides picked up 2 in the 7th as Robby Hammock led off with a hit and Tides hitters Blake Davis, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino brought the runs across with key hits.  Brandon Snyder singled to drive in Victor Diaz and tie the game the game in the 8th.  Tides reliever Alberto Castillo came in at the top of the 9th and shut down the Indians after getting into a jam after giving up a hit and an error by 3rd Baseman Brandon Snyder.

Sometimes the key to breaking a losing streak is in how one player can raise help lift the team.  Following the promotion of Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Oscar Salazar to the Orioles and the loss of Scott Moore, Jolbert Cabrerra to season ending injuries and temporary absences to injury of Justin Turner and Joey Gathright, it was Jeff Fiorentino that stepped up.  He now stands near the top of the International League in hitting with a .315 batting average and has been a clutch player offensively and defensively.  Tonight Jeff went four for four with a walk, drove in a run in the 7th.  Hecame to bat with one out in the 9th to single to drive Justin Turner in for the winning run.   It broke the losing streak and hopefully will begin a rebound for the Tides.  Since the Tides have played well the bulk of the season even allowing for significant numbers of call ups and injuries it is well possible that they will turn things around.  It was significant that other Tides were involved in the comeback and that instead of giving in to going through the motions they came together to win.  The team still has a lot of heart and character and still can only continue to get better.

May we all do the same, with a little help from the Deity Herself.

On a side note, Tides pitcher Chris Tillman had his first Major League start in Baltimore against Kansas City.  He had a no decision but the Orioles won the game 7-3.  Former Tides relievers Matt Albers came in in the 5th to hold the Royals and Jim Johnson got the save.  Baltimore continues to get great performance out of the pitchers called up from Norfolk this year.

Peace, Steve+

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Roster Moves: No Game, Series or Season in Baseball or Life Goes Without Them

046Norfolk Tides Manager Gary Allenson making a Slight Adjustment to the Outfield with 1 Out in the 9th Inning

Larry: Who’s this? Who are you?
Crash Davis: I’m the player to be named later.

From Bull Durham

Sometimes I feel like the player to be named later.  I am amazed at the changes on a baseball team’s roster during the course of a season.  At the same time being in the military for almost 28 years I have some understanding of them in daily life.  This season with the Norfolk Tides and my place of work at a Major Naval Medical Center has been a perfect example of how no roster survives intact.

Now this is nothing new, as long as there have been baseball teams and militaries there have been personnel changes.  In baseball as in the military there is constant moves of personnel as people are transferred, promoted, demoted, are injured or retire from either the service or the game.  Sometimes roster moves are part of a natural process as an organization decides how it wants to chart its future. Other times they are dictated by a need that occurs that has not been anticipated such as injuries, trades, transfers, retirements or personnel or budget constraints, either expected or unexpected.

In the Minor Leagues the Minor League affiliates exist to supply their Major League organization with young talent, player development, rehabilitation and depth to meet the demands of a long season.  It is similar in the military where support and training organizations exist to meet the needs of the operating forces.  This is true regardless of military branch of service.   When the Major League Team or the operating forces are stretched, experience losses or suffer setbacks it is common for them to draw upon the support and training organizations to fill the holes and meet the needs of the larger organization.

I have watched this close up in two worlds this year both where I work and where I watch the Tides play ball.  At work this has occurred where due to retirements and transfers our department has lost a lot of people who have not yet been replaced, creating a lot of pressure on those who remain, likewise we are tasked with more missions to support the operating forces.  The same is true of the rest of the Medical Center where many physicians, nurses, corpsmen and other sailors have been deployed to meet the demands of the expanding war in Afghanistan while still supporting other worldwide commitments and our own home town mission.  While this is going on other needs have come up in caring for returning warriors, wounded warriors and their families as well as the rest of the military community that depends on us for their primary and specialized medical care.  I have seen more colleagues and friends than I can count be deployed from what is supposedly a pretty safe “non-deploying” shore billet to support the operating forces, Navy, Marines and Joint or NATO.  I have watched the organization adapt to the call ups by moving people around as well as finding people to fill the void, even if they are only on contract.

Our Norfolk Tides began the season with a very solid roster and within two months the big club, the Baltimore Orioles had called up several pitchers as well as the heart of the batting order, Outfielder Nolan Reimold, Catcher Matt Wieters and Infielder Oscar Salazar.  Meanwhile the Tides lost several players to injuries which forced Manager Gary Allenson and the Orioles organization to fins personnel both within and outside of the organization to fill the gaps created by call ups to the big team and injuries.  To do this they brought up players from AA Bowie, moved players down from Baltimore and found and traded for players outside of the Orioles system.  At first the adjustment was difficult but now the new players and those who were left are coming together to keep the team, at least for now in first place in the International League South.   Yet with every move the organization has to decide how to best utilize the players that it has.  In the case of the Tides this comes down to Manager Gary Allenson and his coaches working together with the rest of the Orioles organization.

Even in the midst of a game there are roster changes, sometimes for pitchers, sometimes hitter and sometimes even for running or defense.  Some of the changes are for injuries, or situational based on statistics of what you have empirical evidence to show that one course of action is better than another.  Thus you have relief pitchers and pinch hitters or runners.  No at bat or even pitch is the same, which is like life, nothing remains the same so you must make the adjustments on every play.

At the personal level changes affects everyone in the organization even if their job in the organization does not change.  At the minimum the changes affect the dynamics of the work environment, the chemistry between teams and the concern for friends who have left the organization with whom we have invested significant amounts of time and emotional energy.  Thus when Oscar Salazar was called up by Baltimore it left a huge hole in the team because Salazar was not only a leading contributor on the field but his tremendously positive attitude off the field in energizing the team and working with younger players.  Individual losses while seemingly statistically insignificant can be magnified by the intangibles of what a person brings to the team.  Some who seem to have all the right stuff may not be missed, while others who maybe don’t have the same talent level as others might be more sorely missed.  Since a team depends on the efforts of everyone, especially in baseball where the game is both immensely individual and absolutely interdependent personnel changes must be weighed carefully in the overall mission of the team or organization.  The Tides are fortunate to be with Baltimore as the organization is not only scouting talent for the O’s but their Minor League affiliates.  I met a Baltimore Scout at a Tides game over the weekend who said they were out seeking hitters for Norfolk due to call ups to the O’s and injuries to members of the Tides.  The larger organization, though a work in progress recognizes that its future lies in its Minor League system.  Thus over the past couple of weeks they have picked up Michael Aubrey from the Cleveland organization and Victor Diaz, a former Tides Outfielder when they were in the Mets organization and who later played in New York, Texas and the Houston organization before playing with the Hanwha Eagles in South Korea before being signed by the Orioles and assisted to the Tides.  A good organization not only looks to the situation they are currently facing u to the future.  A bad organization does not plan for the future but only concentrates on the present.  In the case of the Tides we are prospering under Baltimore but suffered for almost 20 years under the Mets, who have continued to neglect and abuse their farm system, especially their AAA affiliates.  The fans in Buffalo despise the relationship.

On the personal level this also means that individuals can be moved around to meet the needs of the organization.  This does not always make players happy be they ball players or military personnel.  There have been times in my career that I did not like what was happening to me in the organization, not so in the Navy but definitely in hte first part of my Army career. Such unhappiness when left unchecked can lead to blow ups.  The movie Bull Durham has a great example where Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner complains about his reassignment from an AAA team back to a single A team.

Crash Davis: You don’t want a ballplayer; you want a stable pony.
Skip: Nah.
Crash Davis: Well, my triple-A contract gets bought out so I can hold some flavor-of-the-month’s dick in the bus leagues, is that it? Well, f— this f—ing game!
[pause]
Crash Davis: I quit, all right? I f—ing quit.
[Crash exits the office and stands in the clubhouse for a minute before sticking his head back through the door]
Crash Davis: Who we play tomorrow?
Skip: Winston-Salem. Batting practice at 11:30.

I cannot say that in my Navy career I have ever felt like Crash Davis,  in fact I have even when doing a lot of “relief” work and been moved around sometimes faster than I wanted to be because I was needed to put out a fire. At the same time I have  always been dealt with well.  I have not been sent back down in the organization, but have been moved up or laterally to do different jobs, like I said often on short notice like the time when two different chaplains were fired and I went from one job to the next and ended up nine or ten weeks at 29 Palms prior to a 7 month deployment in two different battalions. Those were stressful, but not bad and the organization treated me well.  Some people don’t have that experience however and roster moves on short notice can be a source of consternation, anger and discord if not handled well by the team manager or the command.

However I did come into the Navy at a lower rank than I left the Army in 1999 just to get back in the show that was the cost of getting back in the game full time, something I am amazed that I got the chance to do and every grateful to the Navy, my Bishop and the Deity Herself.   In my current billet I love what I do and who I do it with, but the organization will be making some changes as we graduate our current residents, gain new residents, gain and lose other personnel and adjust to meet an ever changing and increasing mission.  While we do this we seek to set the standard of professional competency not only in the Navy but the civilian world.  For me this will involve changes, changes that on one level I resist, but on another level completely understand and agree with as the way to help the organization move forward.  Come September those changes will be made.  I can say that I don’t feel like Crash because this involves things that I have always wanted to do but unless I am adaptable will not be able to do, unless the Deity Herself creates a couple extra days to the week and makes every day a 32 hour day.  Thus I will adjust as will the rest of the organization as we collectively work together to ensure that we are taking care of those that God has given us.

So far as the story goes tonight, the one constant in the season is change, teamwork and adjustment to change. As Sparky Anderson once said “If a team is in a positive frame of mind, it will have a good attitude. If it has a good attitude, it will make a commitment to playing the game right. If it plays the game right, it will win—unless, of course, it doesn’t have enough talent to win, and no manager can make goose-liver pate out of goose feathers, so why worry?”  Thankfully, our leadership seems to be rising to the task and and we have the talent, so why worry?

Peace, Steve+

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