Friday, June 4, 2010
Trembley the least of O's problems
By Matt Meyers, ESPN The Magazine
In a move that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, the Baltimore Orioles have fired manager Dave Trembley. Considering the O's are something like 8-109 since last year's All-Star break -- actually 39-88, which is still brutal -- it's hard to make a case that the guy deserves to stay. But as in most cases in which a manager is axed, this team's problems go far beyond the guy filling out the lineup card, and that's the case in Baltimore, where the O's current rebuilding project is already on the verge of going off the rails. And the crazy thing about their 15-39 record is that a lot of things have actually gone right for them.
For example, Ty Wigginton is hitting .282/.365/.548 with 13 homers, and Luke Scott is hitting .272/.344/.524. If you had told me on April 1 that those would be their lines on June 3, I'd have guessed the Orioles were in the midst of a promising year, with the likes of Wigginton and Scott fortifying the emergence of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Instead, the latter trio, the supposed building block of the franchise, hasn't held up its end of the bargain and is the reason Baltimore has scored the fewest runs in the AL. To wit:
Jones: .249/.271/.376, five walks, 45 strikeouts
Wieters: .240/.314/.347, nine extra-base hits
Obviously, one of these things is not like the other, and Markakis has actually been pretty good. But he's now 26 years old and his slugging has dropped in each of the past two seasons. He's dangerously close to being a singles-hitting right fielder. But he was supposed to be a superstar, and it's hard to say he hasn't been a little bit of a disappointment because of his lack of pop.
As for Jones, it's hard to know exactly what's happened to him since his fast start of a year ago, but he's simply been one of the worst players in baseball thus far. Last season, he swung at 35.2 percent of pitches outside the zone and 73.3 percent in it. This year, those numbers are 39 and 66.2, respectively. He's basically swinging at the same percentage of pitches, but more of them are outside the zone. And while he's increased his contact rate on balls out of the zone (57.3 to 64.9), that's not exactly a recipe for driving the ball.
Wieters' problem is that he can't seem to stop hitting the ball on the ground. He hit grounders 41.9 percent of the time last year, and this year he's hitting them 49.3 percent of the time, which is among the league leaders, most of whom are speedy top-of-order types. It's hard to be a power hitter, which is what Wieters is supposed to be, when you're hitting the ball on the ground. Those tend not to leave the park. There was no way Wieters was going to live up to the colossal expectations for him last year, and his .280/.344/.412 line was good, but not great. His failure to even approach those numbers this year is obviously concerning.
Is that Trembley's fault? It's hard to know for sure, but both Markakis (2008) and Jones (last year) had the best stretches of their career under Trembley, so it's hard to say it's all on him. The bottom line is that the guys who were supposed to be the cornerstones of the next great Orioles team simply aren't showing any signs of growth. Jones and Wieters are still just 24, so it's too early to give up on them, but if the next manager can't get these guys to live up to their potential, then the O's may have to start looking toward their next rebuilding project.
Matt Meyers is an associate editor for ESPN The Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here.