Advance Scout: Baltimore Orioles, September 9-11

Friday, September 09 2011 @ 12:45 PM EDT

Contributed by: Anders

This series is almost a mirror of a week and a half ago, with Guthrie versus Cecil leading things off, after which each team had made one change. Rick VandenHurk replaces Jo-Jo Reyes in the O's rotation and gets Henderson Alvarez. Meanwhile Tommy Hunter will face Dustin McGowan, who replaces Luis Perez, who if I understand things correctly will pick up McGowan after he goes his 5 innings/85 or so pitches. Reyes is being skipped by the O's not for innefficiency, shockingly, but because he just gave birth to his second child. Or I guess his wife did, and he went to be with her. McGowan is in because the team wants him to start so that he has less chance of aggravating his various ligaments and the like, or at least that is the official explanation.

Anyway, let's Advance Scout.

In all honesty, things this week are essentially no different than they were 10 days ago whence these teams, and pitchers, both last faced each other. So, read about that here if you want. The Curious Case of Dustin McGowan holds more interest, in as much as his comeback is somewhat remarkable and inspiring, and because he was once a very good pitcher and the Jays could use some of those. His relief appearance against the Red Sox wasn't anything special - he went 4 innings and faced 20 batters. Five of them hit, including one home run, three of them walked, and five of them struck out, and all this led to three runs. If one were to look for positives, it would be that McGowan was throwing as hard as he ever did three years ago, with a fastball running at 94 and a hard breaking ball at 88. Heck, even the 12 or so changeups he threw were around 87, which is harder than Brad Mills fastball. So, there are some tools there, and I think there's good reason to take comfort from that.

As for the grander question of what does this all mean, mostly for next year, well, who knows? Will McGowan ever be able to throw 100 pitches? Should be be a reliever exclusively, to try to judiciously squeeze out whatever is left of his arm bit by bit? Might he throw 200 innings? I don't know how much point there is in discussion beyond wishful speculation, because I'm sure no one, not McGowan himself nor his phalanx of doctors, really and truly knows how his arm will hold up. The man didn't pitch for three years after all. I think the club would love for him to be a starter next year, even if he's only going 5 and 6 innings, because most of the other prospects for the rotation are, well, prospects. At this juncture it seems like it's going to be Rickey Romero and Brandon Morrow, he who cannot figure it out. After that Henderson Alvarez is making a pretty strong case, but there is plenty of time left for that to go wrong. Carlos Villanueva had a nice run, and may deserve a shot, but I think that many of us in our heart of hearts know he's not really a the guy, just an a guy; Luis Perez similarly. I don't think there's any reason to give up on Kyle Drabek yet, but clearly there is still something to be figured out. Since I crowed about Brett Cecil figuring things out since his return from the minors he's given up 8 runs in 12 innings. Is a Romero-Morrow-Cecil-Alvarez-McGowan rotation good enough? I think that they have been good enough in the past to hope that they are again next year, but I don't think there's any reason to assume that they will be; crap happens after all.

Friday: Jeremy Guthrie v. Brett Cecil

Guthrie throws 92-93 with the heater, throwing a slider and change 10 MPH slower than that. He's also mixing in more low 70s benders, albeit without a ton of success. His fastball has historically been his best pitch, though he hasn't been doing much with it this year. He stoned the Jays two starts ago, allowing only five hits and a walk, and then got lit up by the Rays.

Saturday: Rick VandenHurk v. Henderson Alvarez

Rick VandenHurk is only 26, and threw some 155 fairly to very unsuccessful innings for the Marlins before coming over to the Junior Circuit. VandenHurk gets strikeouts, but poor command means he walks too many, and he's an extreme flyball and line drive pitcher, so he gives up his share of home runs and hits. He threw 154.1 innings in AAA for the Orioles with an ERA and FIP in the mid-4s, so I wouldn't expect too much. What VandenHurk is is big, 6'5 and 220 lbs. He throws pretty hard, around 93, with the whole array, slider, change, curve, the former two in the low 80s and the later in the low 70s. Lifetime Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are 1 for 5, Mark Teahan and Adam Lind are both 2 for 4, and Yunel is 4 for 12 and Kelly Johnson 1 for 13. As for Alvarez, I was optimistic when I wrote this up before the Orioles series, and since then he's thrown 14 scoreless innings allowing only 7 hits and a walk while striking out nine. Plus his GB/FB ratio was 26/7, which never hurts too much (and in the Boston game, a bunch of those flyballs were weak pop ups to CF, though at least one was tagged and caught.)  The TV crew was impressed by the development of his breaking ball; I don't know that it's really improved in season, but that is definitely the thing standing between him and some form of greatness. His fastball has such unbelievable movement, it's very pleasant to watch. Count me as a fan.

Sunday: Tommy Hunter v. Dustin McGowan

Tommy Hunter doesn't strike out anyone (under 5/9 innings for his career, and under 4/9 this year) and there's only so long one can pull that off. To his credit he doesn't really walk anyone, and doesn't give up many home runs. He has a career babip of .277 in some 300 innings, and if that's not a repeatable skill then he really is in trouble though, because when batters connect they connect, with a LD% of 22% this year and close to 20% for his career. He throws a lot of fastballs, a normal one around 92 and a cutter that's about 5 MPH slower. His cutter is good though his best pitch is probably his curveball, which he throws fairly often (15%), and he'll mix in the occasional change.  In his last two starts against the Jays and Yankees (since that first bit was written) Hunter gave up 11 runs, 9 earned, in 12.2 innings. Yunel was 4/5, and Brett Lawrie and Kelly Johnson both had three hits.

Otherwise, Jose Bautista has been decisively passed in the WAR war by Jacoby Ellsbury. Over the last 14 games Bautista is hitting below .200 with a .730 OPS - he's still walked and homered. But realistically to have a shot he has to be way better than everyone else, so he pretty much has to fugue if he wants to take home some hardware. The error bars on UZR are high enough that I think you could make a decent argument for Bautista as being the best player, in baseball, but at this point there is no reason to expect him to win the MVP award, or even finish second say. The momentum behind Verlander seems to be getting pretty huge, and Dustin Pedroia is 0 for this week (nicely coinciding with the BBFL playoffs; thanks Dustin) so it no longer appears likely that there will be a split in the Red Sox vote, assuming Adrian Gonzalez doesn't get a bunch of votes for some random reason.

Brett Lawrie is I believe basically leading baseball in a lot of things since his callup; his slash line now sits at .330/.403/.678, and his wRC is 202. Despite having 129 plate appearances he is fourth amongst rookie hitters in WAR, and the way things are going he could end up first pretty easily; he's at 2.4 and the leaders are at 3.0. I wonder what happens if he leads all rookies in just about everything but only ends up with 200 superlative plate appearances. I highly doubt he would get it, nor am I sure he would deserve it, but it is an interesting thought experiment. If he hadn't broken his hand... Also just for fun, if you sort of pro-rate Lawrie's season so far he ends up north of 10 WAR. He's probably not that good, because only Barry Bonds has been that good anytime lately, but it's 33 games and 129 PA so it's not like that's nothing. Oh, and he's 21, and it looks, at least to me, like he could stick at third. Yes please.

In other news, the Orioles will probably run out a lineup that looks something like this, if you care:

J. Hardy, SS
N. Markakis, RF
A. Jones, CF
V. Guerrero, DH
M. Wieters, C
M. Reynolds, 1B
N. Reimold, LF
C. Davis, 3B
R. Andino, 2B

Infirmary: Jake Arrieta and Luke Scott are dunzo, as is Brian Roberts in all likelihood (for the year, not forever.) Chris Davis, and Cesar Izturis may make it back at some point.

Credit: Stats from Fangraphs, BaseballReference and Yahoo.

Chart: No chart today; I'm on a train, plus it's essentially the same as from two series ago, and McGowan and VandenHurk don't have ML numbers anyway. So use your imagination!