Showalter: We're trying to stay up with the best teams
You’re awake now. I assume you stayed up until at least midnight even if I didn’t. Maybe you made some resolutions. Maybe you didn’t.
If you’re an Orioles fan, here are some resolutions you might like to see the team keep in the new year.
1) Increase the on-base percentage
This is the Orioles’ version of “eat less, exercise more.”
Every year, you make that resolution, and it’s hard to keep. The Orioles had a .316 on-base percentage in both 2010 and 2011. Dan Duquette aimed to boost it for 2012. It actually fell to .311, but it was a great year for the team.
Last year, the OBP improved marginally to .313, which was 10th in the American League and they’d like to substantially move it up. In 2009, the team had a .332 on-base percentage, which was eighth in the AL.
The Orioles lost 98 games that year.
If the Orioles are to get a higher percentage of their runners on base, they’ll have to draw more walks. In 2013, they ranked next to last in the American League in walks.
Adam Jones (25) and Manny Machado (29) were the primary culprits.
2) Continue to cut down on strikeouts
In 2012, the Orioles were third in the AL in strikeouts. Seven players struck out 100 or more times. Two of them, Robert Andino and Mark Reynolds were jettisoned after the season, and a third, Wilson Betemit barely played in 2013.
J.J. Hardy (from 106 to 73) and Matt Wieters (112 to 104) did the best job of reducing strikeouts. Jones (126 to 136) and Chris Davis (169 to 199) struck out more.
Davis’s strikeouts weren’t an issue. Not only did he have a great year offensively, but he nearly doubled his walks (from 37 to 72).
Machado struck out 113 times, nearly four times as often as he walked. The Orioles expect him to be a bit more selective.
3) Keep that fielding clean
In the last two months of 2012, the Orioles became a substantially better fielding team. For the first four months of the season, defense had been a liability.
In 2013, it was such a strength that the team set records for fewest errors (54), highest fielding percentage (.991) and most errorless games (119).
Only Machado (13) and Hardy (12) had more than six errors. In his first full season at first base, Davis had six errors.
Machado, Hardy and Jones all won Gold Gloves. Davis and Wieters were finalists.
There’s no reason to think that team defense is going to fall off. With a full year’s experience at third, Machado may not be as spectacular, but will probably be more reliable.
Ryan Flaherty, who is nominally the second baseman, had just two errors in 65 games there in 2013.
4) Cut down on runs allowed
The starting pitching is going to have to be better, a lot better. In 2013, they had an ERA of 4.20, which was 10th in the league.
Of their starters, only Chris Tillman (.371) and Miguel Gonzalez (.378) were under four runs per game.
Wei-Yin Chen, who allowed more than a hit per inning, had a 4.07 ERA. He’s going to have to be better. So is Bud Norris, who gave up 61 hits in 50 2/3 innings in his two months with the team.
The betting here is that they’ll add another starter in the six weeks before training camp starts.
While some of the starters struggled, the bullpen’s ERAs were lower. Only T.J. McFarland (4.22), who’s expected to start the season at Norfolk, had an ERA north of four.
Darren O’Day (2.18) and Tommy Hunter (2.81) return. So does Brian Matusz (3.53), but Troy Patton, whose stats worsened last year, begins the year on the suspended list.
5) Listen to Dave Wallace
If the ERAs are to lower, Orioles pitchers must listen to their new pitching coach. Wallace has a tremendous resume, working with winning staffs with the Dodgers, Mets and Red Sox over the past two decades.
In 2000, the Mets won the NL pennant with a starting staff of Mike Hampton, Al Leiter, Glendon Rusch, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones. All won at least 11 games.
The Orioles staff compares favorably with that one. His closer that year? Armando Benitez with 41 saves.
And, most important, a happy and healthy New Year to the readers. Perhaps there’ll be a free agent or two to talk about in the next few weeks.