Orioles' Guerrero Is No Candidate For The Stroll
By Jim Henneman
My guess is that if he were hitting .325 with a half-dozen home runs and a couple dozen RBIs, nobody would notice that Vladimir Guerrero's on-base percentage was the same as his batting average after the first 20 games of the season. But in this OPS era that sometimes sells patience over productivity, the O's cleanup hitter is a marked man.
Having already hacked and slashed his way through 83 at-bats, Guerrerro is perilously close to going through the first month of the season without drawing a walk -- one reason why the Orioles rank at the bottom of the American League in that department. Of course they also rank next to last in runs scored and are third from the bottom with a .230 batting average, which is the real reason why O's hitters don't draw many walks.
Teams that don't hit are rarely rewarded with free access to the base paths, and that probably isn't going to change because the Orioles aren't likely to hit as much as everyone had hoped. Although the addition of Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy was expected to jump-start the offense, the truth of the matter is that any offensive improvement is more likely to come from the people who were already here -- Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and possibly Luke Scott, although the last mentioned had what many considered to be a career year in 2010, leaving marginal room for improvement.
When the Orioles signed Guerrero, they had no illusions they were bringing in the poster boy for patience. They knew exactly what they were getting -- baseball's "swing hard in case you hit it" version of golf's Arnold Palmer. He wasn't brought here to fuel any potential rallies with an occasional base on balls.
It's not because Vladdy hasn't seen enough pitches outside the strike zone, because that's where opposing pitchers live when facing him -- and it's also where he does his most damage, or so it seems. So far it hasn't been a good combination, and unless it changes drastically during the next 25-30 games, the optimism carried over from last year's finish going into this season will be a distant memory. With Scott, he of the vaunted .900 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage, for the uninitiated), hitting .213, two points higher than Lee, the middle of the order is a disaster area.
Of the three, Lee has shown the best plate discipline, as his nine walks suggest, and he is swinging aggressively, but with minimal results to date. The Orioles were basing offensive improvement on a trickle-down effect that would be provided by the newcomers, but that hasn't happened, and in fact a reverse impact is the worst fear.
The Orioles' fortunes are not going to hinge on Guerrero's drawing a few walks, but will be determined by how much movement the 3-4-5 hitters create. So far it has been non-existent and sooner or later manager Buck Showalter will be forced to tinkle with the arrangement.
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It's nice to know that Tom Hicks, former owner of the defending American League champion Texas Rangers, hasn't lost his touch. He managed to maneuver the Rangers into bankruptcy before selling out a year ago -- and he's now 2-for-2 in that department.
The NHL's Dallas Stars, also under Hicks' guidance, are headed for the same arrangement.
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The NFL's lockout might be (temporarily) over, but the war has just begun. Just in time for one more mock draft before the real thing.
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When baseball goes to a 10-team playoff format (which the numbers themselves tell you can only be a forerunner to 12 teams), how long will it take before three teams from the same division qualify?
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Teams bitch about schedules every year, but the Orioles' having 16 home games scheduled in April (two postponements, one still to be made up) and 30 of their first 51 at Camden Yards wasn't a favor. They have only 10 home games in July, and the same number in September after playing 17 (counting a make-up against the Yankees) in August.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Posted April 26, 2011