The Camden Bard

Virtual Reality

Posted in orioles by audienceoftwo on March 26, 2009

I am now four games into my 162-game season in MLB 2K9 on XBox 360, and the virtual Orioles are 1-3 thus far.  The various maddening glitches, hitches, and twitches of this year’s edition of the game have been actively covered elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on them too much–but the thing I find most striking about the game is that despite the common occurrence of such wondrous events as a throw beating the runner to first base by ten steps and the runner being called safe, it actually sort of manages to emulate the viability of the real-life Orioles fairly well.

In the first game, Jeremy Guthrie kept the Orioles in the game for six innings, giving up four runs.  He then handed the ball off to Jim Hoey, who allowed six runs over two innings, putting the game out of reach.  The Orioles scratched out 4 runs on clutch hits from Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff.  In Game 2, Koji Uehara and his nonexistent off-speed repetoire were tagged for 11 runs in the first two innings, after which Dennis Sarfate pitched five scoreless frames, during which the offense again assembled four runs out of a patchwork of clutch hitting from Mora, Huff, and Wieters (who is listed as “Mark Weathers” in the game, because he is not yet a member of the players union.  Uehara also has an alias–something or other “Uto”).  In Game 3, Rich Hill (whose left arm will be sorely missed in the rotation as he begins the year on the DL) pitched a solid but wobbly seven innings, allowing five runs on fifteen hits, but the offense came alive with seven runs (two of them on a homer by Adam Jones, who is eight for his last ten–and who the buzz indicates may be poised for a breakout year), and Chris Ray surrendered a run in his first appearance since his surgery, but got the save.  In Game Four, Matt Albers (who will also admittedly not be a part of the 2009 rotation to start the season) held Tampa Bay to two runs through six innings, and then exploded in the seventh, allowing five runs without recording an out.  Jim Johnson entered and proceeded to surrender three more runs, but the Orioles rallied to close the gap to 10-9 with more clutch hitting from Mora, Jones (and, hilariously, Cesar Izturis) in the eighth.  They were unable to close the gap further, however, and ended up losing 11-9.

Roster-based inconsistencies aside, it’s hard to imagine the Birds first few games in real life going very differently than this (unfortunately).  A wobbly pitching staff will be enough to keep the opposing teams at bay temporarily, but no amount of run support from the undeniably potent Orioles lineup can make up for the lack of overall competence from the mound.  Replace Hill and Albers with any of the other contenders for the remaining three spots in the rotation–Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon, Hayden Penn–and the results are likely to be the same: flashes of quality but little hope of anything sustainable.

The question, of course, is does that mean it is actually fun to play MLB 2K9?  I suppose there’s a certain geeky glory in callibrating the progress of a make-believe cadre of animated sprites to match that of their human counterparts–but it would be cooler if at least one version of the Orioles had an .800 winning percentage, and it ain’t lookin’ like Team Trembley is going to fill the bill.

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Listen Up, Smarties

Posted in fantasy league by audienceoftwo on March 25, 2009

I have taken some flack from the peoples about the name of my fantasy team (The Taxibirds).  If it wasn’t clear enough that I was going for the same jovial vaguely portmanteau-ish sensibility that infuses the names of many obscure professional baseball leagues, behold the following REAL ACTUAL NAMES OF ACTUAL REAL TEAMS:

Jeremy Guthrie, You Poor Bastard…

Posted in orioles by audienceoftwo on March 24, 2009

The guy cannot catch a break.  Here he is, being asked to anchor the starting rotation on a dead-end team for $650,000 a year (a pay cut from last year, and some $4.35 million less than the number 2 man in the rotation, who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues), and now this:

Jeremy Guthrie walked out of Dodger Stadium on Sunday night just after Mark DeRosa connected for a two-run double, the eighth-inning hit cutting Team USA’s deficit against Japan to two runs and breathing life into its chances of making it to the final of the World Baseball Classic.

At the time, Guthrie, an analytical thinker if there ever was one, was torn. The last thing he wanted was to leave an experience in Los Angeles that he said “can’t be matched” one game short of his and his teammates’ ultimate goal. However, he also knew that the Orioles pitching staff that he left behind was in desperate straits and he had already been publicly called home by his pitching coach, who was concerned that the right-hander wasn’t getting enough game action to be ready for his expected Opening Day start in two weeks.

Weighing all those factors, Guthrie boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale not long after Team USA was beaten and eliminated by Japan.

“It was up in the air, it really was. It was going to be a tough decision [and] had we been ahead, it would have been real difficult,” Guthrie said. “But I couldn’t afford in my mind to lose that game and not catch the flight and only get two starts” for the Orioles.

Guthrie arrived in Florida at 6 a.m., went to his apartment to drop off luggage and then was on the Orioles’ team bus by 8 a.m. as it pulled away from Fort Lauderdale Stadium to make the two-plus-hour trip to the Minnesota Twinsspring training facility in FortMyers. At about 1:15 Monday afternoon, Guthrie was on the mound in a Grapefruit League game for just the second time this spring.

Guthrie lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits, three walks and striking out four. It wasn’t an impressive performance, unless you consider the circumstances.

That last bit is the key, of course–I can’t think of that many pitchers who can get off a red-eye after an experience as heady as the WBC must be, and then be lights-out against a major-league team (albeit a spring-training squad) a few hours later–even 2008 AL Cy Young-winner Cliff Lee is having a rough go of it under far less dire circumstances.

Look–I’m certainly not going to sit here when I’m supposed to be answering 174 customer support emails and argue that J-Guth is in line for a Cy Young award.  But I do think the guy gets a bad rap.  He is, by all accounts, a very smart, analytical pitcher (a Stanford grad, like the last truly great Oriole) with decent stuff who has, in two full seasons with the Orioles, thrown close to 400 innings and kept his ERA under four, all the while being derided as indicative of everything that’s wrong with the team.  The team seems to be waiting for something to justify a move for a true ace, when the reality is that the offense is there, as is the last half of the rotation in Guthrie, Uehara (I’m perfectly happy to gamble that what worked for the Yomiuri Giants will work for the O’s–I’d just prefer it were out of the 4-spot in the rotation), and Hendrickson or whoever.  It’s not Guthrie’s fault the team can’t contend with him leading the staff–it’s the team’s fault for expecting it.  MAKE A MOVE–spend the money to bring in a couple of studs so Guthrie can pitch to his abilities–200 innings and a sterling ERA from the 3-spot in the rotation.  That’s giving your team three legitimate chances out of five to win games.  You know, .600 baseball.  Remember that, Baltimore?

The Fog Is Lifting In My Crystal Baltimore

Posted in fantasy league, orioles by audienceoftwo on March 23, 2009

It appears that Rich Hill will not be ready for Opening Day, which leaves the Orioles’ rotation still unresolved with two weeks to go.

AWESOME.  This means that Mark Hendrickson (hooray!  Mark Hendrickson!  Who the hell is Mark Hendrickson?) will likely get the ball every fifth day simply by virtue of the fact that he is left-handed.  It’s looking like another year of potent offense and non-existent pitching for the O’s, about which I’d be more upset if it weren’t for the gathering concensus that the Birds may finally be just a few years away from putting it all together again.  With Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta a year of seasoning away from the bigs, and Angelos apparently finally prepared to make a big move, 2009 represents an opportunity to consolidate an offense and new team attitude that will lay the groundwork for the future.  It suddenly seems as if we may find ourselves cruising into 2010-2011 with Nick Markakis in his prime, Adam Jones playing at the top of his potential, Matt Wieters entrenched as the offensive core of the lineup, Brian Roberts providing veteran stability (albeit probably decreased productivity), Ty Wigginton and Luke Scott providing power deep in the lineup, three young horses anchoring the rotation, and Chris Ray in place as the bullpen stopper.  Add to this mix a move like Alomar or Palmeiro (you know, before we found out they were both horrible people), and suddenly it’s looking like 1997 again.

I also found it interesting to read that Koji Uehara has begun experimenting with a change-up.  In my season as the XBOX 360 version of the Orioles (in 2K Sports’ MLB 2K9), Uehara got hammered in his first start, largely due to his use of a two-seam fastball and a screwball as off-speed pitches, which the virtual Yankees tagged to the tune of 11 runs through three innings.  Real-life O’s manager Dave Trembley would probably have been a bit quicker with the hook, but it’s hard to see real-life Uehara having distinctly different results without developing a serviceable change.

In fantasy news, it appears Taxibirds’ bench outfielder Rick Ankiel is poised to nudge Ryan Ludwick out of the running for the cleanup spot in the Cardinals lineup behind Greatest Player In Baseball Albert Pujols–which means Ankiel will be seeing lots of delicious pitches.  There aren’t many players who can artificially lift other guys’ stats (we’ve seen David Ortiz for what he really is with ManRam’s departure) like Pujols, so I’m provisionally swapping Ankiel into the DH spot to start the season–especially since there’s been a dearth of good news about Jim Thome’s back.  I’m continuing to gamble that depth and no real drags on the lineup will be the key to my team’s success–but with some people now predicting Wieters’s arrival as late as July, I’m starting to get nervous that my offense doesn’t have enough pop.  So please, Ryan Ludwick, if you’re reading this: continue to underperform so that Rick Ankiel gets your job.

Wigginton Over Gomez Is A No-Brainer

Posted in orioles by audienceoftwo on March 21, 2009

The Baltimore Sun reports that 16-year veteran Chris Gomez may be cut in favor of Ty Wigginton and Ryan Freel. This strikes me as an obvious move-keeping Gomez with the big club for opening day will be a symbol that MacPhail’s New Deal Orioles are even farther off than we feared.

Morning Moves, 3/20/09

Posted in fantasy league, orioles, Uncategorized by audienceoftwo on March 20, 2009

Amidst gathering speculation that Matt Wieters will start the season at AAA, I found myself in need of an everyday catcher to start the fantasy season.  A proposed deal with EJ for Geovany Soto or Russell Martin (he has BOTH of them, plus Joe Mauer) was rejected, so I found myself scrambling.  I have Kelly Shoppach on my bench already, but he figures to start the season as Victor Martinez’s backup and it was starting to look like I would be heading into the season with a hole in my everyday lineup.  Fortunately, Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki went undrafted and was available as a free agent, so I signed him (and dropped Cesar Izturis like a bad habit) for the interim between Opening Day and Wieters eventual recall from Norfolk.

Having resolved that particular dilemma (for the moment), I next took a long hard look at my bench, upon which were seated Ty Wigginton (3B, OF), Rick Ankiel (OF), Jay Bruce (OF), and Kelly Shoppach (C).  It became clear that I am hosed if any of my infielders gets injured, since Wigginton will be a backup at best in Baltimore and primarily in the outfield.  I set about perusing the free agent listings for an ideal solution, and after a brief fliration with Marco Scutaro, settled upon Felipe Lopez, who is eligible at 2B, SS, 3B, and the outfield, and figures to play everyday in Arizona as their leadoff guy.  He’ll add hardly anything stastically (though he’ll likely hit around .280), but should be available to plug a hole should any of my regular infielders get hurt, and will have a better lineup behind him than Scutaro.

This, however, prompted a tough decision–should I drop Shoppach (who is now my third catcher) or Wigginton?  Wigginton is the sentimental choice to keep (being an Oriole), plus he’s got bench power and doesn’t strike out a lot.  My gut, however, knows there’s no room in the Orioles outfield for him to be reliably available for fantasy points, whereas the Indians are both nervous about Martinez’s elbow and looking for ways to get Shoppach into the lineup, hoping to capitalize on the 21 homers he cranked in only 350 at-bats last season.  Since either guy will be playing off the bench for the Taxibirds, I figured it makes more sense to go with the one who is more likely to be in the real-life lineup on the day I need him, so Wiggy got the boot.

Moments later, I cruised over to the Baltimore Sun’s Orioles page, to discover that Wieters was unexpectedly NOT included in today’s round of roster cuts from the major league squad.  This seems like a temporary situation, however, as there are overwhelming financial reasons that compel the front office to keep Wieters on the farm until May.  Speaking of financial matters, the only thing to dislike about Wieters is the fact that Scott Boras is his agent.

In other real-life Orioles news–why the hell are they handing Felix Pie (career BA: .223) the starting job in left field when they have organizational prospect Nolan Reimold (.321 with four homers this spring) and Ty Wigginton (23 HR in only 386 AB in 2008) as alternatives?  Shouldn’t you start Wigginton in left, put Pie on the bench, and tell him he’ll have to keep his job away from Reimold, who will theoretically be only a phone call away in Norfolk, with the gory remains of AAA pitching dangling from his maw?

Your 2009 Alexandria Taxibirds, cont.

Posted in fantasy league, orioles, Uncategorized by audienceoftwo on March 20, 2009

As promised, here are the hurlers who will string together pitch sequences with orchestral flourish for your 2009 Alexandria Taxibirds:

STARTING ROTATION

  1. Diamond Roy Oswalt (Houston Astros)
    Did you know that Diamond Roy Oswalt has earned a decision in over 80% of his career starts, and has thrown 200+ innings in each of the last five seasons?  Of course, the catch there is that every year a guy throws 200 innings, it makes it that much less likely he’ll do it again next year.  Something tells me Roz won’t let me down.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    16-11, 3.50 ERA
  2. Derek Lowe (Los Angeles Dodgers)
    Some would be concerned about the likelihood of Derek Lowe holding up for another full season at the top of the rotation given his age (36).  Bill James and I disagree.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    14-9, 3.60 ERA
  3. Javier Vasquez (Atlanta Braves)
    I’ll say it: I’m not completely thrilled about Javier Vasquez.  His ERA has always been high, and he gives up tons of hits, which is not ideal in a fantasy league where you get points for WHIP.  That said, he’s thrown 200 innings in eight of his eleven major league seasons (and threw 198 in another), and usually strikes out about as many.  Moving to Atlanta from the White Sox won’t be good for his win totals, but you could do a lot worse from the 3 spot in your rotation…I hope.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    13-11, 3.80 ERA
  4. Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels)
    J-Weave is a gangly mess of junkballs, but he’s consistent and he’s got one of the best teams in the game behind him.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    11-9, 3.63 ERA
  5. Jeremy Guthrie (Baltimore Orioles)
    J-Guth gets a bad rap because he’s being asked to lead the rotation for a team with no better options, but he quietly threw 190 innings and posted a 3.63 ERA for one of the worst teams in the league last year.  If he can do the same for me in 2009 as a fifth starter, I’ll be more than satisfied.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    11-11, 4.03 ERA

IN THE BULLPEN

  1. Joakim Soria (Kansas City Royals)
    Soria saved 42 games and posted a 1.60 ERA for the Royals last season, and fireballing closers his age don’t usually regress (they just burn out early–that’s what makes people like Billy Wagner and Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman so incredible).
    BILL JAMES STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    37 SV, 2.16 ERA
  2. George Sherrill (Baltimore Orioles)
    Drafting Cesar Izturis was embarrassing enough–I really did not intend to end up with Sherrill.  As a second closer, however, I wouldn’t mind something approximating his 2008 season (31 saves, 4.73 ERA).  Bill James’s prediction is out of line with what I’m reading, which suggests Sherrill will start the season as the go-to closer, with Chris Ray at the ready should Sherrill falter (or–more likely–become trade bait).
    BILL JAMES STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    3 SV, 3.42 ERA

On the whole, I’m pretty excited about my pitching staff–Diamond Roy is the only standout, but we’re solid top-to-bottom, and though I think Bill James is probably being a little bit optimistic in the ERA department (except with Soria), it would certainly be helpful to finish with only one guy above four earned runs per game.  I’m currently pondering a few trades, the results of which may allow me to tweak the pitching staff slightly, but I’d be more than happy to go with these guys for the full season.

As for the Taxibirds on the whole, a lot depends on Matt Wieters and Joey Votto having the seasons everyone seems to think they’re going to have.  Josh Hamilton is something of a gamble given his history, but every indication is that he’s even more focused this spring than he was last year, and he’s been hitting the cover off the ball in pre-season games.  Wieters will evidently start the season at Triple-A, which I wasn’t expecting, but he too has been mashing his heart out all spring and will surely arrive big when he finally arrives.  Jim Thome’s back is acting up once again, so Jay Bruce may have to do some unexpected DH’ing early on–but if he has the kind of year people are expecting (.296-35-94), I may not miss Thome so much.

Now, if I can just arrange for Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels to be imprisoned in a subterranean bunker for the duration of the season (reality show!), I might just beat Flav and Ben.

Here They Are, Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2009 Alexandria Taxibirds

Posted in fantasy league, orioles, Uncategorized by audienceoftwo on March 20, 2009

The draft is complete, and the first flurry of trading has subsided.  Now is as good a time as ever to introduce the team that will captivate your hearts from now until October, so let’s meet the starting offensive lineup that will hopefully wear out SEAL (Semi-Employed All-Stars League) pitching on the regular for the next few months:

  • CATCHER–Matt Wieters (Baltimore Orioles)
    The top prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, I’m predicting Rookie of the Year honors for the 22-year old backstop.  Some would argue he should start the season in the minors, but the front office has decided little Wieters needs to fly.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .311-24-85
  • FIRST BASE–Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)
    Votto actually put up slightly better numbers in his first full season (.297-24-84) than NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto (.285-23-86), and Bill James thinks he’s on tap for a breakout year.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .307-30-102
  • SECOND BASE–Brian Roberts (Baltimore Orioles)
    One of the most statistically consistent players in all of baseball, B-Rob is also the heart-and-soul of my Orioles, who just signed him to a four-year contract extension after years of trade rumors.  Together with Ellsbury, Roberts will form the speed component of my Peripheral Scoring Strategy for winning the league–the two of them ought to be good for close to 100 SB.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .283-10-58 (36 SB)
  • THIRD BASE–Kevin Kouzmanoff (San Diego Padres)
    Kouz was not, admittedly, my first choice at third base.  In a league that only gives points for offense, there’s only  a handful of first-tier options at the hot corner (A-Rod, David Wright, Chipper Jones), and the second-tier options were snapped up pretty quickly (Carlos Guillen, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman).  I had Kouz on my draft list, but the auto-draft skipped him somehow, so I had to nab him off of waivers.  I figure he’s a lock for solid across-the-board offense–although I would have much preferred Aramis Ramirez (my first choice).
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .283-25-94
  • SHORTSTOP–Yunel Escobar (Atlanta Braves)
    Already a lock to get a few guys with Kouz-style stats, I went for batting average at short, and feel pretty good about Escobar.  My hope is that his relatively moderate offensive production will be counter-balanced by the excellent pitching numbers I’ll get from the guys I ranked high instead of making a play for HanRam.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .300-9-78
  • OUTFIELD–Nick Markakis (Baltimore Orioles)
    The Pride of Baltimore, Markakis is a five-tool star in a town that never makes enough baseball news for the rest of the league to recognize his stardom–which, as an Orioles fan, is fine with me, since he’s probably worth far more than the $66 million the O’s just paid to keep him in Baltimore for the next six years.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .309-22-99
  • OUTFIELD–Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox)
    Another underrated guy (though for a much larger-market team), Ellsbury should contribute a high BA and about 50 SB to the Taxibird’s tally.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .302-9-53 (52 SB)
  • OUTFIELD–Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers)
    One of the most compelling stories in all of baseball comes to Alexandria as the anchor of the Taxibirds offense.  League Commissioner Ben Masten attempted to block my trade for Hamilton (in exchange for Astros closer Jose Valverde and Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour), but justice and America’s desire to see The Muskellunges (Masten’s squad) lose ultimately prevailed. Plus, I successfully prevented him from acquiring Brandon Webb for Aramis Ramirez as revenge.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    .310-36-126
  • DH–Jim Thome (Chicago White Sox)
    One of the all-time great sluggers is on the downhill slope of his Hall of Fame career, but he should be good for 30-some homers and close to 100 RBI, especially given the continued strength of Chicago’s lineup.  On an unrelated-to-fantasy-league note, there are fewer and fewer hitters of his generation free from the stain of steroid abuse, and it’s nice to see him getting the credit he’s always deserved.
    BILL JAMES 2009 STATISTICAL PREDICTION:
    none provided–there was some concern about Thome’s back being ready during the offseason, apparently enough for James to leave him out of this year’s book.  My personal guess is that he’ll be in the neighborhood of .250-35-95.
  • ON THE BENCH
    OF Rick Ankiel (St. Louis Cardinals), OF Jay Bruce (Cincinatti Reds), 1B/3B/OF Ty Wigginton (Baltimore Orioles), C Kelly Shoppach (Cleveland Indians), SS Cesar Izturis (Baltimore Orioles)

In comparing my offense to the others around the SEAL, I feel pretty confident, though I wish I had another masher or two in the lineup, especially since I ended up with the #2 overall draft pick (though there’s no way I could have known that ahead of time) and could easily have landed ManRam, Ryan Braun, or any number of other monster sluggers–hence the trade for Hamilton.  My priorities going into the draft were as follows:

  1. Get Nick Markakis
  2. Get Matt Wieters
  3. Get Brian Roberts (so as to have my teams fortunes rise and fall with those of my beloved real-life Orioles–do not laugh!  I suspect Dr. Flav of employing the same strategy–his first four draft picks were Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Brad Lidge)
  4. Find underrated hitters to fill power spots in the lineup and use my higher draft cards for pitching…

…which is how I landed Diamond Roy Oswalt, the ace of my pitching staff–but that’s a story for tomorrow.

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“Bard” Is Perhaps A Strong Word

Posted in fantasy league, orioles by audienceoftwo on March 20, 2009

Hello!  Thanks for stopping by The Camden Bard.  I’ll be writing about the beleaguered Baltimore Orioles, my favorite baseball team, and analyzing my progress with the Alexandria Taxibirds, my 2009 Yahoo!  Fantasy Baseball squad.  Comments and input are always welcome–thanks for reading!