The Jays head to Baltimore off a four game sweep of the Royals. Baltimore meanwhile is only a game behind Toronto for the division lead, despite dropping two of three to the Angels over the weekend. I spent the last Advance Scout going on about how the Jays always kill the Orioles, and the Jays were subsequently lucky to escape with one W, so perhaps some hubris is in order this time.
In any case, I'll do some brief housekeeping before going out strong on some word play. You may have noticed that we aren't doing This Day in Baseball or Game Recaps - the Advance Scout has sort of taken the place of each of these things, so please do feel free to discuss all the games in a series, or other random baseball related events, in these Advance Scout threads, even if they are up to four days old. We basically decided to put more effort into one thread once every three days rather than less effort into three daily threads. Everyone seems to have picked up on this, so, great! And now to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before: The Advance Scout!
So uh it turns out the Orioles are using the exact same pitchers as they did a ten days ago when they faced the Jays. So lets mix things up a bit and look at who the Jays are throwing out there.
Tuesday - Henderson Alvarez vs. Tommy Hunter
After allowing 21 home runs in 379.2 minor league innings Henderson Alvarez has now surrendered 12 gopher balls in 83 big league frames. So, that's a pretty big difference. The thing is, Alvarez isn't getting any fewer ground balls now - his major league mark is 55.1%, which would have been one of the ten best in the majors in each of the last two seasons (and basically identical to Ricky Romero). 17.1% of the fly balls he's given up have left the yard, as opposed to the standard 11% (and a much more miniscule rate when he was in the minors). I don't really see any reason why this wouldn't eventually stabilize. Home runs aside, Alvarez hasn't been especially sharp to start the season. Though he's retained his pinpoint control, walking only four batters in 19.1 innings (though he's hit three), Hendy has only whiffed 8. This number isn't quite as bad as it first appears, since Alvarez allows fewer baserunners than the average pitcher (and thus has fewer opportunities to strike guys out), but it's still only 10% of the batters he faces, when something closer to 20% would be a better number.
Still, there aren't physical reasons for concern. Alvarez is still dialing it up to 97, and his average four-seam fastball velocity in his last start was 94 MPH, although that velocity starts to taper off pretty quickly as Alvarez progresses through the order. From this untrained eye it seems Alvarez relies heavily on his hard sinking fastball, which isn't a swing and miss pitch, and he can't punch anyone out with his slider. He does possess a good change up at least, but at a certain point he is going to need to strike out more guys.
Wednesday - Kyle Drabek vs. Jason Hammel
Drabek has been the pleasant surprise of the Jays staff this year, going at least five innings in every start while allowing 2 or fewer runs. In his start against the Royals he lost his release point and ended up walking six batters, but whereas last year he would have fallen apart, this year he battled through (albeit with a lot of help from his defense - that triple play helped). Sample size caveats apply, but so far Drabek has managed to keep the ball on the ground (25/14 GB/FB ratio) more than 2012 (52% vs. 44%) while also allowing fewer line drives. He's also striking out more batters (20.6% vs. 14%) and walking fewer (13.7% v. 15.1%). Drabek has always had the stuff - he's still hitting 94-95 consistently, - but it seems as if, at least so far, he's been able to better harness it.
Also, apropos of, well, this, the Jays are really assembling a staff of hard throwers. Drabek, Alvarez and Morrow all rank in the top-25 of average fastball variety, while Ricky Romero is hardly a slouch, especially as a lefty. Hutchison isn't in that league (at least I thought so - see below), but McGowan obviously threw hard, and Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard are both noted for their velocity.
Thursday - Drew Hutchison v. Brian Matusz
Despite whatever Mike Wilner says, Drew Hutchison did not acquit himself particularly well in his major league debut, especially facing a lineup that had Yuniesky Betancourt leading off. He allowed 12 baserunners in 5.1 innings, had trouble keeping the ball down in the zone, and subsequently gave up two well hit home runs. He was also fortunate that the Jays turned two double plays behind him, especially after the first four batters in the fifth reached (the sixth homered). He also had a significant amount of trouble locating his fastball, throwing only 55% of his four-seamers and 48% of his two-seamers for strikes (40 out of 77 overall). The Jays also sent Hutchison back out for the 6th somewhat inexplicably; he retired the first batter he faced before allowing the next two to reach before giving way to Darren Oliver.
Anyway, this is not to say things were all bad. Hutchison's fastball ran up to 94 on occasion, according to Brooks, and averaged around 92. Given that he supposedly normally works around 90, that his fastball played up isn't a bad thing (although this could certainly be related to the vagaries of one radar gun). When one adds the caveat that this was Hutchison's first major league start, at 21, after 6 starts above A+, it does take on a certain level of impressiveness. Unless Hutchison is able to command and locate his fastball he's going to be back in New Hampshire before too long though.
The Orioles will probably still roll thusly - Mark Reynolds seems to have been dropped a spot in the order, perhaps because he is 6/48.
Nolan Reimold/Endy Chavez LF
JJ Hardy SS
Nick Markakis RF
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Wilson Betemit/Nick Johnson DH
Mark Reynolds 3B
Chris Davis 1B
Robert Andino 2B
Dontrelle Willis walked out on the Orioles AAA affiliate because he didn't like being used in relief. The Orioles don't want to release him though, and still want him. I am not sure who to make fun of here, I'll be honest, but it feels like it could be everyone involved... Nolan Reimold has 1 walk and 11 strikeouts in 47 PA. The other 35 at bats have resulted in 17 hits, 5 of which have gone over the fence. Pretty good!... This article seems to be very high on Chris Davis for hitting .294 with no walks, little power, lots of strikeouts and a .400 BABIP. Would that it were so easy... The Orioles are in the middle of the pack in terms of DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (ultimate zone rating). Despite this they have allowed 12 unearned runs, most in the majors. The Jays do okay in UZR but actually lead the league by about a country mile in DRS (well, they rate twice as well as the fourth best team in any case). Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar do the heavy lifting and rate very well in both metrics; Colby Rasmus also comes out well. Eric Thames and to a much lesser extent Adam Lind are the only players that really grade out below average so far (although Jose Bautista really isn't a great right fielder). To me this makes perfect sense, as the Jays infield defense has been (subjectively) spectacular, while anything hit to the corners is often an adventure. I will also mention at this point that Thames still looks like a butcher out there, and that I don't think Rajai Davis grades out that well in left; people challenge him at second and he is basically incapable of doing anything about it with his rather popgun arm, prodigious speed notwithstanding... The Orioles bullpen, with the exception of, you guessed it, Kevin Gregg, has been extremely good, surrendering 13 earned runs in 51.2 innings (5 of those were Gregg's, in 4.2 innings). Also, if you didn't know, Matt Wieters is real good.
Infirmary: Zach Britton, SP (shoulder), Brian Roberts, 2B (Concussion), Taylor Teagarden, C (lower back), and Tsuyoshi Wada, SP (left elbow) are all still on the 15-day DL. Teagarden could be back by the end of the month, but things seem to have taken a turn for the worse for Wada; he's out indefinitely. Roberts hasn't played since May of last year, but a minor league rehab assignment seems in the offing, hopefully soon. Britton might be back in May.
Song to Advance Scout By: Superstition would seem to dictate that I stick with MSTRKRFT since they were last Scout's song and the Jays swept the Royals. So, please listen to Heartbreaker, which I believe also samples a John Legend song. That is two songs for the price of... well, free. It is very smooth, like a nice scotch.
Chart: Everyone's 2012 except for Hutch; those are his AA numbers. All data from Fangraphs.