My version of fantasy baseball – part 1, the introduction

I sort of warned you about this back when I inducted the Class of 2018 into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. Membership in that body has reached the magic number of forty, and given the facts that the Hot Stove League is well underway and people always like to speculate about how they would build a team… well, now I have a team, of sorts.

Of course, there are a fair share of guys in my Hall of Fame who aren’t involved as players anymore, but the beauty of the intersection of fantasy baseball with sabermetrics is that people are able to compare performances over time. I’m not going to get too fussy with this exercise, for its goal is to speculate how a team made up of SotWHoF players would do in a regular season and (in my opinion) the best way to do this is to compile the player’s WAR (wins above replacement) statistics. Every player in the SotWHoF has these, although those who are still active maintain a fluid WAR rating that will change as their career progresses.

Wins above replacement is a complex formula that determines how much impact a player has on his team’s fortunes. A MVP-type player would have a seasonal WAR of 8 to 10, meaning his presence on the team assures the squad eight to ten more wins than the average replacement. Take two extreme examples of 2018 teams: in the left column are the world champion Boston Red Sox (108-54 during the regular season) and on the right are the woeful Orioles (47-115).

2018 WARBostonPos.Baltimore2018 WAR
-0.5S. LeonCC. Joseph0.3
0.9M. Moreland1BC. Davis-2.8
-1.1E. Nunez2BJ. Schoop1.3*
3.8X. BogaertsSSM. Machado2.9*
0R. Devers3BR. Nunez1.2*
3.9BenintendiLFT. Mancini-0.1
2.1J. BradleyCFA. Jones0.2
10.9M. BettsRFJ. Rickard0.4
6.4J.D. MartinezDHM. Trumbo0.3
3.3R. PorcelloSPD. Bundy0.1
4.4D. PriceSPA. Cashner0.6
6.9C. SaleSPA. Cobb1.1
3E. RodriguezSPK. Gausman2.2*
0.8*N. EovaldiSPD. Hess0.7
2.3C. KimbrelCLB. Brach0*
1.7H. VelazquezRPM. Castro1.3
0.5J. KellyRPM. Wright-0.1
1.1M. BarnesRPM. Givens1
0.5H. HembreeRPT. Scott-0.1
50.9Total WARPos.Total WAR10.5

(*) Totals with Boston or Baltimore only.

As you can see, while a few individual players held the Red Sox back in terms of not being better than a theoretical player replacing him from the minor leagues, there were also several who put up All-Star and MVP-caliber seasons (with 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts leading the way.) On the flip side, the Orioles had a batch of players who were hardly better than minor league players and one much worse – Chris Davis, we’re looking at you. And once the key players for Baltimore were traded away, their replacements couldn’t even achieve the passable numbers put up by those who were traded – bear in mind that there are perhaps 25-35 players not listed who were bench players, minor league callups, and so forth. Some would accrue more wins above their replacements and others would lose ground – those listed above are just the primary starters and most-used bullpen pieces. Adding in the other 25 Red Sox players increases their WAR total by 6.1 wins above replacement for a team total of 57, while adding in the other 37 (!) Oriole players gains them o.8 WAR for a total of 11.3.

So now you have an idea of the parameters I’m going to use for this exercise. Next week I’m going to re-introduce you to this 40-man roster and speculate on how it would work if put together in fantasy life.

A better minor-league town

This definitely goes in a unique “stack of stuff” but to me it’s also a springboard to a relevant point. Plus it’s a dead week between Christmas and New Year’s so it’s not a political week.

If you go back to post number 2 – number one being the “soft opening” URL placeholder – in this long-running saga of my political thoughts and life in general, you will find it’s related to my hometown baseball team. So it is with this post, as Toledo was named the nation’s top minor league town.

The hometown rag had a good time with this, but if you read the piece you’ll see why Toledo was selected. And it’s worth mentioning something the writer of the original assessment said in the Blade story:

“They took a big risk coming back to downtown when they did, and deserve a lot of credit for the excitement in downtown revitalization,” said Birdwell-Branson, who recently moved to Toledo. “Essentially, it came down to this: Toledo is not Toledo without its Mud Hens or its Walleye.”

“Toledo ranked No. 1 among minor league sports towns”, Mark Monroe, Toledo Blade, December 12, 2018.

Just for context’s sake, Toledo, with its metro area of about 600,000 hardy folk, has two major professional sports teams. Most not under a rock have heard of the Mud Hens baseball team, in large part thanks to a guy best known as Max Klinger, the dress-wearing corporal in the TV series M*A*S*H. (Far fewer know him as Jamie Farr and only real trivia buffs – or Toledo natives – know him as Jameel Farrah, but that’s his real name.) While 507,965 made it out this season, it was a down year for attendance: the Mud Hens’ worst since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002 and despite winning their first IL West title since 2007. (Perhaps eight losing seasons in a row prior to 2018 dampened enthusiasm.)

It could also be that some of their thunder was stolen by the Walleye, as the hockey team set new attendance records in the 2017-18 season and finished second in attendance in the 27-team ECHL, a league analogous to the AA level in baseball. Had their Huntington Center been larger, it’s likely they would have led the league in attendance as the Walleye averaged 102% of capacity. In 2018 the Walleye season didn’t end until early May when they lost in their division finals – they have won their ECHL division in the regular season four straight seasons – so there was an overlap between the two teams that may have cut the Mud Hens’ attendance.

In the minds of ownership, however, it doesn’t matter if the fans flock to Fifth Third Field or the Huntington Center because both are owned by the same entity: Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc. (The Walleye are owned by the subsidiary Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. They purchased the former Toledo Storm ECHL hockey franchise in 2007 and put the team on ice, as it were, until the Huntington Center was finished in 2009.) It’s a business entity with an interesting background:

The unusual ownership structure was inaugurated in 1965 when Lucas County formed a nonprofit corporation to buy and manage a team. A volunteer board of directors appointed by the county board of commissioners owns and operates the team, with the county as the ultimate financial benefactor.

“Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye reorganize top management”, Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2015.

In Toledo, then, Lucas County (Toledo is county seat) owns both the teams and the venues, which are conveniently within blocks of one another in downtown Toledo. Spurred on by government money, the county has also invested in Hensville, a renovation project taking existing adjacent building stock and creating an entertainment center with the ready-made prospect of 7,000 or more fans at an adjacent venue on about 100 nights a year, mainly on weekends in the winter and spring and any night during the summer. (Note this doesn’t count concerts and shows held several nights a year at Huntington.)

Now let’s compare our scenario: the recent (2015) addition of Sussex County, Delaware and Worcester County, Maryland to the existing Salisbury metro area gives it a population of about 390,000, about 2/3 of Toledo’s but spread over a much wider geographic area. This difference, as well as the disparity in levels as the Delmarva Shorebirds are three steps below the Mud Hens, more than likely explains why attendance for the Shorebirds is less than half that of the Mud Hens, barely eclipsing the 200,000 mark in 2018 as an all-time low. Moreover, even if Salisbury had a hockey team, as has been rumored for the past few years, it would probably be at the commensurate level to the Shorebirds, and at least one step below the ECHL.

On that note, the two most likely possibilities for pro hockey in Salisbury are the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a 10-team league as currently comprised, and the Federal Hockey League (FHL), which has six teams at present. The SPHL is the more stable of the two, and has better-attended games: league average attendance for the SPHL is 2,870 so far this season compared to a puny 1,409 between the six FHL squads – but only two Federal League teams are solidly in a four-figure average; a third is at 1,010 per game.

Unfortunately, the travel scenario for a Salisbury-based SPHL team would be dicey: the league’s closest franchises are in Roanoke, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and both are just under six-hour trips; moreover, six of the ten teams lie in the Central Time Zone. The most likely way Salisbury could be added to the SPHL would be in a pairing with another expansion team along the East Coast and a switch to a format with two six-team (or three four-team) divisions. On the other hand, while the FHL is somewhat spread out over a geographic area ranging from upstate New York to North Carolina to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Salisbury is within the footprint and the league only schedules games on weekends, with one team generally playing two consecutive nights against the same opponent. Placing an eighth team in the Midwest would allow the league to have two four-team divisions (and possibly even adding a weeknight game within the four-team blocks, expanding the FHL’s current 56-game schedule. The schedule is similar in the SPHL; by comparison the ECHL plays a 72-game season.)

While the lack of a hockey team is a major stumbling block, the bigger issue is a lack of synergy between the two venues because they are several miles apart. And since a downtown location is out of the question for these facilities, the next best scenario to me would be to eventually replace one of the two facilities and move it adjacent to the other. Of course, having just spent millions of dollars of state and county money to repair both facilities as part of renovations requested in part by the Orioles (for Perdue) and a county study (for the WYCC), that’s not happening anytime soon, either.

So we have to make do with what we have. While it won’t necessarily be pedestrian-friendly, there is available land adjacent to both venues that could be developed into further entertainment options. In all honesty, there are pros and cons to development at both locations: the Hobbs Road site has great highway access and open land with infrastructure in place as it’s already annexed to the city. Would it be out of character with the area to have an urban-style development close by Perdue Stadium? Perhaps, plus there’s also the aspect of certain city leaders who seem to want all the entertainment options to be downtown and not develop the outskirts as a competitor.

On the other hand, redevelopment of the Old Mall site would be a welcome lift to that part of Salisbury but it’s not going to happen without a steady stream of events at the Civic Center, and minor league hockey seems to have the same level of fickleness as independent league baseball.

Every town is different, but I think Salisbury is missing out on some opportunities. I’m truly hoping that renovations in progress at Perdue Stadium bring out some of that entertainment district element and the WYCC gets that hockey team tenant to help fill the venue another 30 or so nights a year. It’s probably the best we can do for the immediate future.

Presenting: The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018

This past season the Baltimore Orioles finished third in the majors in one interesting category: number of players making their major league debut for the team during the season. Their 15 rookie players during the campaign placed them one behind the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres, who both debuted 16 players.

So it logically follows that, for the first time in four years, all my inductees made their debuts as Oriole players. That run of 2012-14 inductees (a total of eight players who all stayed homegrown, with five of the eight coming in the first Dan Duquette season of 2012, two in 2013, and one in 2014) was memorable in that it brought us three Oriole icons of the last few years in Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Dylan Bundy. Making what turned out to be a full circle, the farm system Dan Duquette built was responsible for this year’s group of five inductees – guys who played with Delmarva in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The optimism of an Opening Day win was quick to fade as losses and injuries mounted, so perhaps the best way to introduce this class would entail more than the date of their debut but also the team’s record at the time. We begin 59 games in with catcher Austin Wynns, who opened the class on June 5 after it became painfully apparent that a terrible 17-41 start and issues with starting catcher Caleb Joseph weren’t going away anytime soon. Wynns eventually backed up Joseph, getting into 42 Oriole games after initially spelling Joseph (82 games) and 2017 SotWHoF member Chance Sisco (63 games) through a tough 2018 season for both.

Fifteen days later, with the Orioles now 21-50, June 20 was the time for Steve Wilkerson to take his turn as the latest attempt for the Orioles to find the utility player to replace the departed Ryan Flaherty. But Wilkerson was barely in the flow of things, having had to serve a 50-game suspension to open the season, and it turned out he would only make it into 16 Oriole games and 43 all told as injuries took their toll, too. Steve even grabbed some AB’s in the Arizona Fall League, which added another 20 games to his total for 2018.

At 23-57 a little over a week later, June 29 marked the MLB debut of two Oriole pitchers, including onetime SotW Ryan Meisinger. Ryan ended up making 18 of his 50 appearances over the season with the Orioles, as the other 32 were split 21 with Norfolk and 11 with Bowie, where he began the season. His one ill-fated start would come into play for this Hall of Fame, as you’ll shortly see.

On August 10, the Orioles were 35-80 and had made their fire sale, shipping off three members of this Hall of Fame (Machado, Schoop, and Zach Britton) as well as three other veteran pitchers to acquire 15 (mostly) minor league players. One player who wasn’t sent away thanks to his 10-and-5 rights was Adam Jones, but he graciously stepped aside a few dozen yards to his left to allow for the big league debut of Cedric Mullins as he took over as everyday center fielder. Cedric got the most playing time out of this five-member class, appearing in 45 of the Orioles’ last 47 games.

Finally, on September 26 the 46-111 Orioles needed a starting pitcher to face Boston for the first game of a day-night doubleheader. They chose Ryan Meisinger, but his failure to complete even one inning left the door open for John Means to make his debut in that contest, his only appearance with the Orioles after logging a full season between Bowie and Norfolk. Means also became the first player not actually selected as a Shorebird of the Week to make this Hall of Fame – he was picked Shorebird of the Year in 2015 thanks to special accomplishments and a great body of work, similar to how Brenan Hanifee won this season despite not having a good enough single month to be selected as a Pitcher of the Month.

That, then, is the five-man Class of 2018 for the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. So what do I think 2019 will look like?

We are now getting to the point where the well is running dry on the seasons where I had weekly winners. Certainly there are a few from the most recent such seasons in 2014-16 who still have a good chance to make the grade, with the oft-injured Hunter Harvey leading the 2014 crop. Others from that team who played in AAA last season include Drew Dosch, Mike Yastrzemski, Luis Gonzalez, and Dylan Rheault in the Giants’ organization. Mitch Horacek, who is now Colorado Rockies property, has reinvented himself in the bullpen at the AA level and continued his season in the Arizona Fall League. Except for Harvey, though, none of these players are on a 40-man roster.

My 2015 group is now pretty much tapped out, with only Matthew Grimes having reached AAA among active players. Still toiling in AA are dueling center fielders Ademar Rifaela and Jay Gonzalez, who is now in the Diamondbacks’ organization. Similarly, the most prominent prospects in the 2016 class are Ryan Mountcastle and Jesus Liranzo, who now pitches for the Pirates’ AAA club after two teams tried to sneak him through waivers.

Out of the rest, Ryan McKenna (who could be my first Shorebird of the Month to make the Show) isn’t one to sleep on, either, nor is pitcher Brendan Kline from way back in 2013. And there are still a handful of other graybeards kicking around the higher end of the minors like Adrian Marin (2013, and a minor league free agent), Wynston Sawyer (2012, a member of the Twins’ chain last season), Jarrett Martin (2011, now with the Oakland organization), and the unsinkable Garabez Rosa, my second-to-last active player from 2010 (the other being SotWHoF member Ty Kelly.)

If I were to select the top 5 most likely out of that group, I would say Ryan Mountcastle is the most likely bet although he would probably not be first up. I could see a team like the Pirates take a chance on Jesus Liranzo (as he is on their 40-man roster) before Mountcastle makes his debut, but most of these guys seem like the September callup types, particularly Brendan Kline or Ryan McKenna. And there’s almost always a surprise in the bunch like a Scott Copeland, Michael Ohlman or Nicky Delmonico, guys whose star had fallen for a time and who ended up debuting with other organizations. My sleeper pick in that regard is Dylan Rheault.

That doesn’t mean we’ll have five in the Class of 2019, but I can see anywhere from 3 to 7 depending on how much new GM Mike Elias likes the players in his newly adopted organization. I keep saying this but at some point it will be true: we are running out of potential for large classes of six or more. I think that window shuts after 2019 if it’s not already closed, since the best team we had for prospects (2014) has little left on the shelf.

So simultaneous to this post coming online, the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame is again open for business.

Perhaps I will stoke up the hot stove in January with a thought experiment: since it now has 40 players, how would a SotWHoF roster do in a full season? Stay tuned.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2018 edition

On August 30, the Delmarva Shorebirds were in a precarious position. But thanks to the prospect of free stuff through a Fan Appreciation Night raffle and a rare Thursday night fireworks show, a crowd of over 6,000 gathered to send the team off to its final road trip to Lakewood. Thus, by a margin of 1,330 fans the Shorebirds avoided their first-ever season where fewer than 200,000 attended the games.

One could blame the locally subpar spring and summer weather – a chilly April turned into a rainy summer that always seemed to time precipitation for the weekends – for the drop-off from last season’s attendance of 207,131. But you can’t do anything about the weather and we still managed 65 openings, 2 more than the league average. The 3,097 per-game average was the second-lowest in franchise history, besting only the 3,072 in 2011.

Honestly, though, I don’t believe weather was the deciding factor.

If you ask me – and by reading this it’s assumed you want my opinion as a renewed half-season ticket holder – the problem lies with the onfield product.

Over the weekend, with a little downtime from spending it with my grandson and his side of my family, I did a little catching up on the SAL to find that Lexington pulled a bit of an upset to win the SAL flag in four games over Lakewood. It was the end of a decade-plus drought for the Legends and it put Delmarva in yet another unique but dubious position: thanks to Lexington’s winning the second half SAL South title it meant that since 2013 every other franchise in the SAL has been in the playoffs at least once. And if you toss out Augusta (last appearance in 2013) the other twelve have made at least once it in just the last four seasons. Toss darts at a dartboard and you should get that sort of probability given two teams from each seven-team division qualify each year, so we must have a special kind of bad karma to miss the playoffs thirteen seasons in a row, and counting.

So I think it’s safe to say that the on-field product provided by the Orioles is lacking, especially since not a single one of their seven minor-league affiliates made the post-season this year. And it’s not just recent history: our “feeder” team in Aberdeen has made the NY-Penn League postseason exactly once in 17 seasons, only to be bounced out in the opening round. (That 2013 Ironbird team had six future SotW Hall of Fame players on the regular roster, as it comprised the base of our 2014 Shorebird team that has the most members of the SotWHoF.) Of course, we’re not going to scrap the Oriole affiliation any time soon so we have to hope that a renewed focus on Baltimore’s international scouting and player development bears fruit 2-3 years from now when these young players reach the full-season A-ball level.

But I also believe their development program is wrong. There are some franchises that develop players as individuals, and some that seem to emphasize winning more. Unfortunately, the “Oriole Way” hasn’t been a winning way since the halcyon days of a half-century ago.

I sat down with one of my favorite websites (Baseball-Reference.com) and did some research on how Oriole affiliates fared in the era when the Orioles were regularly successful – basically from the early 1960’s to the early 1980’s. As they went, oftentimes so did their affiliates:

Their lowest-level team in Bluefield had the Appalachian League’s best record or won its division 6 times in 14 seasons from 1963-76.

At the time, their A ball team was in Miami (before MLB expansion gave that city the latter-day edition of the Miami Marlins) and the Marlins/Orioles won their Florida State League division 8 times in 11 seasons from 1968-78.

At the AA level, the affiliation moved several times during that era: from Elmira, New York, then of the Eastern League (1963-68), to Dallas-Fort Worth of the Texas League/Dixie Association (1969-71, until the Washington Senators relocated to that metroplex and became the Texas Rangers), then on to Asheville of the reformed Southern League (1972-75) before the franchise moved to Charlotte for the 1976 season, remaining in the Southern League. But in 14 seasons their AA affiliate was 1st or 2nd in their division 11 times.

Finally, at the AAA level Rochester made the International League playoffs (top 4 qualify) 10 times in 11 seasons from 1966-76.

Obviously at that time the “Oriole Way” was as much about winning games and division/league titles as it was player development. Now they seem to be happy with winning a random league title now and then, and it seems like random doesn’t come our way: we get good players for a few weeks and they are gone to Frederick.

I believe winning comes from a culture where you are expected to win: look at the Patriots or Steelers in the NFL or, closer to home, Salisbury University’s lacrosse program. They don’t seem to accept anything less than a winning effort. The Orioles seem to be fine with developing a player like Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, or Trey Mancini every year or two (or guys that they trade away for a rare playoff push like Josh Hader, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Zach Davies) but maybe at the expense of the organization players who make up good teams.

So a sea change in attitude at the top is first on the wish list. Now I want to focus a little more locally.

As a half-season ticket holder, I have to say I’m very satisfied with the flexibility I have. Sometimes Kim wants to go to a game so the exchange policy is great – I don’t mind taking a vacation from my spot sometimes. The staff will generally bend over backwards for me, too. And aside from keeping some of the lame video promotions, I do like what they are doing with the interactive aspect of the now two-year-old videoboard. The “Shore Report” is a neat feature made possible by the investment in video equipment, so we can all “turn and watch it go!”

But I have to say that my other big complaint is the food, which has been a pan of mine for at least the last couple years. I don’t often eat at the ballpark, but on those occasions when I did I was too often disappointed with the quality and freshness of what I was served. For example, a hot dog would come with a stale bun, or the fries were too salty.

Adding to the frustration was the lack of availability of some products. A slice of the specialty pizza sounded good – but it wasn’t available that night. I wanted a lid for my souvenir cup, but they were out.

And then I heard horror stories about the wait time on some nights, particularly the scrapple night. Kim got a scrapple sandwich that she had to take back. I think it literally took her 2 1/2 to 3 innings to get back to her seat for a sandwich she still wasn’t really satisfied with. Granted, it was a special night and newly-created menu but that seems to me an issue with management not preparing staff properly.

A bad experience like that, along with a mediocre team that faded not once, but twice, after great starts, isn’t the best way to put casual fans in the seats. Granted, I don’t mind it so much when it’s just the diehards like me but if it comes down to having just them we eventually have an empty stadium because there are fewer and fewer rabid fans each season. Go and count the empty seats in Baltimore for one of their games of late to see what I mean – two straight losing seasons (as well as 14 of the previous 19) and the prospect of rebuilding from just about scratch thanks to a barren minor league system have taken their toll on attendance and interest. A humdrum, bottom-feeding team that plays at a stadium that doesn’t seem to have a great deal to offer in either food or amenities isn’t going to draw well, either. How many of those kids and families who get the “Hit the Books” free tickets in April and May come back over the summer?

However, with the promised construction of the 360-degree concourse on the horizon this off-season, we now have new opportunities for food and entertainment. And maybe it’s time to re-imagine things on an even broader scale.

If the new concourse is designed properly, not only does it open up the possibility of new and different vendors in those locations (imagine covered areas with local vendors, similar in style to a food truck) but even a venue for post-game concerts and entertainment. I know I’ve spoken to Chris Bitters about this as it related to another topic, but maybe it doesn’t necessarily have to be the full-blown shows of years past – maybe a diet of local solo performers can be the impetus to bigger and better things down the road.

And down the road is what I’m thinking of for the broader scale. What if that location were the linchpin of a new entertainment venue?

Once upon a time, I was part of a big dream: the idea of creating a hotel and office park along Hobbs Road, straddling the exit ramp from U.S. 13. Because of the work I helped to do, there’s infrastructure in place to develop the site, even though the collapse of the building market prevented further development a decade ago. They are discussing the site for usage as a new Sheriff’s office, but I must say to waste the opportunity for developing this site as an eating and entertainment venue to complement Perdue Stadium would be criminal.

One reason downtown stadiums are favored is this very opportunity to develop an year-round entertainment district in an area that has the infrastructure in place. My hometown has something along that line: just down the way from Fifth Third Field (home of the Mud Hens) is the Huntington Center, where the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye play. The two were built about seven years apart, but they function as a way to stretch the season for entrepreneurs who want to serve the half-million-plus Mud Hen fans in the summer and over a quarter-million Walleye hockey “finatics” in the fall and winter. (This doesn’t count the other events the Huntington Center hosts, such as concerts.)

But because Perdue Stadium isn’t close to downtown and plans to replace the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center at the stadium site have been shelved, the synergy has to come from something else. It’s obviously a more modest goal, but why couldn’t the LLC that owns the Shorebirds buy those nearby parcels (there are two, owned by the same LLC) and use their connections to bring in two to three attractions that can feed off having the stadium there? (This is where I would have loved to have a fall league team like the onetime Maryland Fall League that featured the Delmarva Rockfish, to give an extra 20 dates a year for the stadium.) Even some places that a family can go to in the afternoon before the game or a couple can go to afterward would be nice.

Another possibility: the new concourse becomes the passage between the stadium and a new building along the right field line. [Granted, this is a homage to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field (pictured below), although our version need only be tall enough to have the seating and deck overlooking the field.]

If the Orioles can have fireworks in downtown Baltimore, I’m sure something can be worked out in that event.

Certainly I’m glad the Shorebirds are finally going to get the 360-degree concourse they’ve been talking about for the last half-decade. But that should be just the beginning of rebuilding the team both on and off the field to bring back those days where a Shorebird ticket was a hot commodity.

Shorebird of the Year – a 2018 season wrapup

If you can say anything about the Delmarva Shorebirds of 2018, you could say: what a tease.

The team began the season by sweeping its initial seven-game homestand over Asheville and Hickory, being the second-to-last team in minor league baseball to lose its initial game of the season. (Thanks to a couple early weather-related cancellations, the Midwest League’s Cedar Rapids Kernels made it two more days, but were only 6-0 to start.)

But as the season progressed, they reverted to mean in both halves after quick starts – they began the second half 16-9, which was an even longer tease. The Shorebird nine, however, managed to finish with their third winning season in the last four with a 68-66 final record. It left them 17 games in arrears to division champion Lakewood, who won both halves and is currently playing Lexington for the league title.

So how did they stack up this year? As usual, I’ll go through the numbers first:

  • A .250 team batting average put them smack in the middle of the league. Bear in mind it was closer to .260 at the halfway point, though.
  • 587 runs was good for sixth position, as was the 1,120 hits.
  • We were a little more challenged on power: 214 doubles finished tenth in the loop, and they were eighth with 31 triples – exactly the same as 2017. (However, Mason McCoy tied for the league lead with 10 three-baggers.)
  • 81 home runs left the Shorebirds eleventh in the league.
  • Scoring seemed to be up through the league: the Shorebirds were 8th with 523 runs batted in.
  • Eighth was enough for total bases with 1,639.
  • We drew 365 walks, which ranked 9th in the SAL.
  • Unlike last year’s whiff-happy team, Delmarva had the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the league with 1,066.
  • As has often been the case, we don’t steal a lot: the team was 12th overall with 77 stolen bases in 107 attempts. But 30 times caught was the fewest in the league. And imagine the placement if we didn’t have the loop’s top base thief in Kirvin Moesquit, who had 49 of the 77.
  • Our .313 on-base percentage was eleventh but the .365 slugging percentage was ninth. With those numbers our OPS of .679 split the difference for tenth place.

Our pitching was the team’s strength: we finished third in the league in team ERA with a 3.39 mark.

Some other pitching numbers:

  • Our 10 shutouts tied for seventh in the loop.
  • We tied for 11th in saves with 30.
  • 1161 1/3 innings pitched was 11th.
  • We only allowed 992 hits, which was second-fewest to Lakewood’s 979 – remarkable since they played four more games. We were third-fewest in runs allowed with 527 runs but somehow 437 earned runs we gave up was fourth-fewest.
  • Trailing only Lakewood again, we allowed just 68 home runs (vs. 63 for the BlueClaws.)
  • While we only had 68 hit batters (good for fourth-fewest) we were way down in eleventh with 401 walks allowed.
  • Once again our staff had a nice, round number of strikeouts with 1,100 – this season it was 11th in the league.
  • Finally, our WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) of 1.20 was third best. An average number of walks may have won the league.

With 120 errors (third-fewest) and a .976 aggregate fielding percentage our defense was the bronze-medal winning one.

Unfortunately, the Orioles were one of only a handful of teams who had no playoff qualifiers in their minor league system, although Delmarva, Aberdeen, and Norfolk were contenders. However, Norfolk faded to a 69-71 mark by losing 8 of its last 10, while Aberdeen finished two games out of the money (and last in its division) despite a 38-37 mark. Other teams in the Orioles chain: Bowie slipped to a 67-71 record, Frederick was only 65-72, and the GCL Orioles were a grisly 13-42, losing their last 10 in a row to secure the league’s worst mark. Across the water, the Orioles’ DSL team was the best out of the bunch with a 38-34 record; however, many of their players were DSL veterans or retreads signed after stints with other teams and not likely to be coming stateside. 2019 may be a better year on that front as the Orioles have vowed to rebuild their moribund international scouting and signing process.

Now it’s time for a review of my Shorebird Position Players and Pitchers of the Month.

April player – Zach Jarrett

If I did a Shorebird of the Year based on half a season, Jarrett would have been the odds-on favorite to win in June – at the time he was slashing .313/10/38/.883 OPS. Hold those numbers for the second half and you have a guy who is top 5 in the league in all four categories.

Unfortunately, Zach’s great April faded severely in the second half, and although he still made the league’s top 10 in average, he showed where his weaknesses were – striking out a team-leading 136 times. The one piece of good news in that aspect was that he fanned fewer times in more ABs in the second half, although 65 in 258 at-bats is still pretty high. For the season Zach ended up with a .277 batting average, 14 home runs, 72 RBI, and a .779 OPS. It was good enough to win the team’s Triple Crown, although he shared the RBI title with Trevor Craport.

While Zach’s fielding numbers were fairly average, he did have the versatility to play on a somewhat regular basis in all three outfield spots and led the Shorebird outfielders with eight assists. But his leadership in the league (in or around the top 20 in most categories) seemed to come from repetition rather than ability. He’s not going to leap too far onto a prospect list given the type of season he had combined with his being in his age-23 season and a late-round draft pick in the 28th round last season. However, he improved greatly on a lackluster rookie campaign with Aberdeen so there could be more potential there.

Zach has the same sort of profile as the April 2017 Position Player of the Month, Jake Ring. But he will have to do better than Jake did at Frederick this season – Ring hit just .196 in 74 games with the Keys in an injury- and ineffectiveness-plagued 2018 season – to escape the “organization player” tag. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star, SAL Post-Season All-Star, Shorebirds Fan Club Player of the Half)

April pitcher – Zac Lowther

Not only did I select a similar April Position Player of the Month to the 2017 version, the Pitcher of the Month was nearly a lookalike, too – both bespectacled left-handers. But unlike Alex Wells in 2017, the Orioles didn’t keep Lowther here all season – before May was out Zac was promoted to Frederick on the strength of six starts where he went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and 0.68 WHIP, holding hapless opposing hitters to a .115 average while posting a 51-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

While the Frederick numbers were not quite as dominant, Lowther – who played in his age-22 season this year – still set himself up for a start at Bowie next spring by going 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 92 2/3 innings. He allowed only 74 hits and walked 26 while striking out an even 100 batters. That number was just one fewer than Wells and 19 fewer than team leader Christian Alvarado – but both threw 30 or more innings more than Lowther did. (Add his Delmarva numbers in and he’s the top strikeout pitcher in the Orioles’ minor league system.)

Naturally this sort of dominance would be expected from a top-round pick, and Lowther didn’t disappoint. Three of his six Delmarva starts were shutouts, and his first one at home against Hickory was a masterpiece: six no-hit innings with just one walk and thirteen (!) strikeouts. Hickory was his opponent for two of the shutouts, although they also touched him for two runs in his “worst” start of the six (allowing the 2 runs and 4 hits in six innings.) Over 18 innings he fanned 31 Crawdads, so I’m sure they were happy to see him promoted. Zac also victimized Hagerstown (the other shutout), Columbia, and Lakewood – although the BlueClaws beat him in a 2-1 game where he allowed the first run.

Lowther really has nothing to prove at the A-ball level, and since he played pretty much a full season with 123 2/3 innings he could easily handle a standard minor league workload of 140-150 innings plus perhaps a start or two in Baltimore if he has a worthy season in Bowie. (SAL Pitcher of the Week 4-22-18, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April)

May player – Trevor Craport

May was actually the first of two times Trevor was selected, and his season was defined by how his months went: the two months where he was Shorebird of the Month he set the world on fire, while the other three months were barely pedestrian. Take away the high and low scores and you find Trevor had a reasonable 2018 campaign, slashing .256/11/72/.736 OPS overall and gaining experience at three different positions: in the first half you could find Craport at third base, but he moved over more and more to first base when Seamus Curran was injured and once Curran returned Trevor found his spot was taken by Jean Carlos Encarnacion. So he backpedaled a few dozen steps and spent most of August as the Shorebirds’ left fielder. (When Zach Jarrett wasn’t there, the position was sort of a revolving door thanks to injuries, demotions, and callups.)

While Trevor had two very good months in his age-21 year (he turned 22 in August) there has to be a little bit of concern about the falloff in production from his initial season at Aberdeen, where Trevor slashed ,302/3/30/.857 OPS in 52 games. It goes without saying that consistency would be his measuring stick for next season, whether it begins back here or up in Frederick. Craport’s numbers are most likely good enough for advancement, and as third basemen in the SAL go Trevor was average to a little bit above as far as fielding goes. He wasn’t flashy but he got the job done.

Obviously there are two paths that Craport can take – if he can keep a .260 or so average and move around the diamond, there’s always a place for a super-utility player. Or, if he stays at one position and brings his offensive numbers back up closer to his Aberdeen numbers, there’s the potential for quickly moving up. Honestly, if he had an average where Jarrett’s is, Trevor could make a strong case for Shorebird of the Year because he shows a little bit of pop and has a much better eye at the plate than Zach does – contact in those situations is what got him even with Jarrett in RBI despite a lower average and OPS. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star)

May pitcher – Matthias Dietz

This was the season Dietz had to shake off his reputation as an early-round bust. Repeating at Delmarva this season, Matthias turned around a 3-10, 4.93 ERA campaign in 2017 in 13 Delmarva starts. Before being promoted at the end of June, Matthias was 6-2 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.40 WHIP for the Shorebirds. A lot of his good numbers came from two consecutive and dominant starts in May where he shut down both Hagerstown and Lakewood over 13 innings, allowing no runs on a total of six hits. More importantly, in the game against Lakewood he walked no one – if there’s been a complaint about Dietz over his career, it’s that propensity to lose the feel for throwing strikes and walking a couple runners on. But in those thirteen starts, Matthias finally got his hits allowed under the total innings pitched and – for the most part – he had kept walks to a reasonable rate.

Upon his promotion to Frederick, though, Matthias struggled once again. The walks returned with a vengeance, so much so that by season’s end Dietz had allowed more walks than innings pitched for the Keys (39 walks in 38 1/3 innings.) Add in 40 hits and you receive a 1-6 record and a 7.98 ERA, with a WHIP over 2 – 2.06 to be exact. By season’s end Dietz was out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen as a long reliever, although it didn’t help his cause any with the exception of securing his lone Frederick win.

Perhaps repeating Frederick the way he repeated Delmarva will improve his numbers the second time around. And it’s not like there’s a great deal of need to rush Dietz through the system as he just pitched his age-22 season. Yet I suspect that if Matthias can’t find a good way to repeat his delivery and be more consistent, he may never make it past Frederick in the Orioles’ system. Walks will nick you up at this level and lay on a few good-sized dents at advanced-A, but they will start to really kill you at AA. Next season is definitely sink or swim time for Dietz. (SAL Mid-Season All-Star, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May)

June player – Branden Becker

Back when I wrote my profile of Becker in early July I noted:

(W)hile he seems like a veteran, Becker is still only 21 so he has time to keep developing and hopefully repeat the kind of month June was for him. Keeping that average where it is now (it was .270 at the time) as he pretty much doubles his current total of plate appearances the rest of the way (since he was a bench player to start, he’s only played in 54 of the Shorebirds’ 80 games so far and they have 57 remaining on the schedule) is the key – he’s really not behind on the development clock.

While Becker only played in 93 games for the season, he indeed managed to hold his average at the .270 mark, finishing the season on a 19-for-53 tear his last 13 games to slash a solid .273/4/41/.680 OPS. But his bread and butter was his versatility around the infield, playing 39 games at second base, 30 games at third base, and seven at short. He even served as the DH 18 times. Even more importantly, after a lost 2017 season Branden managed to stay healthy for most of the season.

Unlike a lot of other players who fall into being the utility guy when their career is well underway, Branden has played the role for most of his pro career. Granted, you lose a little bit of fielding prowess with Becker compared to a starter, but the falloff isn’t that steep – that’s what makes a utility player valuable and keeps him around.

As a lower-round draft pick that eschewed a college offer to try his luck playing pro ball, nothing is going to be handed to Becker. But with the season he had coming off an injury, Branden certainly deserves the chance to move to the next level.

June pitcher – Timothy Naughton

Naughton had a month of June that was good enough to take the monthly honors, but afterward he plummeted back to earth by giving up 12 ER in his last 18 1/3 innings from July on. That 5.89 ERA from July 1st made his seasonal numbers one of the worst sets on the team – while he had a 3-4 record and picked up five saves, the 4.45 ERA and 1.79 WHIP aren’t numbers you want to see from your closer. It’s a long way from being the closer for the GCL Orioles last season to this level and Tim continued to have occasional control issues. His K/BB ratio of 21-to-12 in just 17 2/3 innings last season wasn’t great, so a 33-to-22 ratio in 32 1/3 innings isn’t something to write home about, either.

And while Naughton didn’t give up an earned run in nine consecutive appearances spanning the month of June (the streak began in late May with his second appearance on the team) that streak became a three-game string of allowing earned runs beginning in July. All told, Tim gave up runs in eight of his last 14 appearances. It gave me the sense that they were using Tim as the pitcher of last resort.

To me, Tim is like Matthias Dietz in that he’s beginning to look like a career minor leaguer because they can’t maintain their command of pitches. The big difference, though, is that Dietz is playing with a whole lot more house money as a early-round selection than Naughton has being chosen in the 34th round – most players picked there are either high school players with college offers that a team takes a chance on signing, or players with one or two really good tools that the selecting club hopes they can develop to a high enough level to make up for deficiencies. (The last 34th round pick to make the Show is Astros pitcher Josh James, a 2014 selection who debuted this month. That tells you the odds against such a late-rounder.)

Next season, though, is Tim’s age-23 season so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Orioles give him one more shot here. He has some good stuff, but needs to flash it on a more regular and dependable basis.

July player – Mason McCoy

Mason was another player on the move during the season, shifting over from shortstop to second base with the arrival of Cadyn Grenier straight off the Oregon State campus. But while Grenier was highly touted for his defensive skills, it was McCoy who outshined the new kid in both fielding percentage and range factor, finishing as one of the top defensive shortstops in the SAL. Both players committed 10 errors at short, but it took McCoy 89 games to make them compared to Grenier’s 39.

So when you add the stellar defense to a good, if not overly spectacular, season at the dish you have a Shorebird of the Month and perhaps a dark-horse contender for Shorebird of the Year. Sure, the slash line of .266/4/47/.701 OPS is pretty plain-Jane but it turned out to be third among the qualifiers in average. McCoy even turned out to be a nice secondary threat on the basepaths with 13 stolen bases – not a Kirvin Moesquit, but enough to be a pesky threat opposing pitchers can’t summarily dismiss.

However, McCoy is another player who failed to put up the sort of offensive season he did the previous season at Aberdeen, dropping from a .301 average and .791 OPS to .266 and .701, respectively. Seeing that 2018 was Mason’s age-23 season, he probably should be advanced but the question will almost certainly be whether the offensive numbers slide further at the higher level. There’s also the question of whether he will return to short at the next level since the Orioles may be willing to push Grenier despite a subpar batting mark in his first pro season. The honest shake should go to McCoy.

July pitcher – DL Hall

As you may recall, this kid was on fire in July. Somehow we managed to hold on to him through our abortive playoff chase (not that Frederick was going anywhere, either) and Hall pitched an August that was nearly as good. DL was a victim of the old five-inning rule on a few occasions and the casualty of an occasionally stagnant Shorebird offense at others – that’s why a 2-7 win-loss mark looks so bad. There’s an intriguing statistic at play here: Delmarva was just 8-14 in Hall’s starts, including a 10-loss streak that was finally snapped when DL got his elusive first pro win on July 11. (This was the game after his start in the no-no that wasn’t on July 5 – nine hitless innings, six by Hall and three by Alex Katz, were lost in the 10th against Hagerstown on a sacrifice bunt-turned single that led to a run scoring on a wild pitch.)

Hall showed a moxie beyond his 19 years (the youngest Shorebird of the… honoree in quite some time) in being so effective. And despite the fact he only threw 94 1/3 innings, the fact that his last 12 appearances came with an ERA of 0.94 and WHIP of almost 1 even would suggest he’s just about done with the level. DL turned out to be the only Shorebird this season to fan 100 batters, although it’s likely that Lowther or Michael Baumann would probably have also struck out that many with a full season.

Yet even with the great last two months DL had, his preceding two were a little more average. Then again, that’s an average that would be a solid season for most pitchers. And because he is so young, there is a sense that the sky ls the limit for Hall: to see him next season it may be time to begin following the Carolina League. However, even though the Orioles are historically bad there no reason to rush the player I’m selecting as my Prospect of the Year. (I know, such a stretch there, right?) Hall is another possible SotY contender. (SAL Pitcher of the Week 7-8-2018 and 7-15-2018, Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July)

August/September player – Trevor Craport

There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said already about my lone two-time winner this season.

August/September pitcher – Max Knutson

The nice thing about my August winners is that they are already finished with their season, so the stats I cite are their final ones. Yet it is fun to write once again the following season stats for Knutson: 39 innings pitched, 16 hits allowed, opposing batter average was a .122 mark. Even “Crush” Davis wasn’t doing that poorly in his mid-season funk. Yes, 18 walks are a little worrisome in the overall presentation and he was pitching in his age-23 season after repeating Aberdeen in 2016 and 2017, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the weak contact.

Seeing that Max had more two- and three-inning appearances this season, it has to be wondered if they are grooming him to be a starter or just giving him an opportunity to work on more secondary pitches. I think really the only thing that holds Max back next season is if Frederick’s staff becomes loaded with prospects. One final piece of his puzzle is pitching in cold weather, but as I noted in my SotM segment he should be somewhat used to it.

I think the best way to evaluate Knutson is to let him pitch a full season someplace, since that seems to be the only hurdle he needs to overcome. After that he can either be progressed through the later innings in the quest to find a reliable closer or, if he develops really good secondary pitches, the shot at being in the rotation.

*********

Here is a list of my Shorebirds of the Year, going back to the award’s inception in 2006:

  • 2006 – Ryan Finan
  • 2007 – Danny Figueroa
  • 2008 – Sean Gleason
  • 2009 – Ron Welty
  • 2010 – Brian Conley
  • 2011 – David Walters
  • 2012 – Brenden Webb
  • 2013 – Lucas Herbst
  • 2014 – Chance Sisco
  • 2015 – John Means
  • 2016 – Yermin Mercedes
  • 2017 – Alex Wells

It seems like this was one of the years where a few obvious choices fell away, mainly because they were promoted. Had TJ Nichting, Michael Baumann, or Zac Lowther stayed here and continued putting up great numbers, one of them would have been a runaway winner. Nor can you sleep on Cameron Bishop or Brenan Hanifee, neither of whom had a month overwhelming enough to become a Shorebird of the Month, but who each  put up bodies of work that can’t be denied. Bishop was 9-7, 2.94 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 125 2/3 innings, while Hanifee was right behind with 8-6, 2.86 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in a team-leading 132 innings. While DL Hall was the show horse of the staff, Bishop and Hanifee were the work horses.  And don’t forget Nick Vespi, who thrived in his relief role: 6-6, 2.09 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in a team-leading 40 appearances. Vespi was a close runner-up for Shorebird of the Month honors several times.

On the other hand, there were really very few contenders among the position players that I overlooked. You already read about Trevor Craport and Zach Jarrett, but perhaps the best non-SotM winner – one who deserves consideration for Shorebird of the Year, too – is Kirvin Moesquit. His offensive numbers weren’t as dominant as the others, but he added an element missing in the Orioles’ system that they are rediscovering at the major league level thanks to the acquisition of Jonathan Villar – speed. Kirvin’s fleet feet allowed him to steal a league-leading 49 bases, so he merits consideration for that, too.

The problem with solely basing a Shorebird of the Year on those who are Shorebirds of the Month is that long-term consistency isn’t rewarded. Moreover, there is the (very accidental) precedent of going “off the board” as I did in 2015 with John Means – honestly, he was the best player and I thought I had picked him for a weekly slot. For example, with two of the five pitchers who were Shorebirds of the Month promoted quickly after their selection, one being relatively new to the team, and one putting up subpar numbers for the season, that didn’t leave me with much to choose from.

It really came down to four players for me: Cameron Bishop, Brenan Hanifee, Zach Jarrett, and Kirvin Moesquit. After a lot of pondering, I figured out who was the most consistent performer: our 4th round selection in 2016 out of Tucker Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Virginia.

The 2018 Shorebird of the Year: Brenan Hanifee. Just call him Mr. Consistency.

So it’s a member of the Shorebirds’ battery for the fifth season in a row. A lot of deserving players, but I think I picked the best one – even if he flew under the radar a little bit, overshadowed by teammates who were slightly higher draft picks or more precocious (even though this was Hanifee’s age-20 season.)

Next week is the return of picks and pans, and that will close out the books on the 2018 campaign until I induct my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018 in early December.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: August 2018

With one repeat performer and one new guy, it’s time to close out this year’s edition of Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month. Lumping the three September games in with August did change things up slightly among the contenders, but both of these players are deserving of their accolades.

While it wasn’t as torrid of a month at the plate as he had in May, I once again found Trevor Craport had the most solid month. (On day 2 of the month, he hit this home run that I caught the aftermath of for the photo.) It was not the flashiest of months for the 2017 11th round pick out of Georgia Tech, who celebrated his 22nd birthday during August – had they reversed the roadtrip they were on at the time, he could have celebrated at the SAL venue closest to his home (Rome, which isn’t a long trip from Norcross, Georgia.) But he had a significant enough lead in one key category that it tipped the scales his way over April winner Zach Jarrett.

As the season began, Trevor was pegged as the regular third baseman, but thanks to circumstances over the second half of the season he’s been a nomad. First Trevor took over Seamus Curran’s first base platoon role as Curran was injured and then briefly demoted to Aberdeen. But when August began, Curran was back and there was a new presence at third base as Jean Carlos Encarnacion joined the squad from the Rome Braves as part of the Kevin Gausman trade. Craport’s debut in left field came on the 5th of August, and he played all but 2 of the remaining 21 contests he participated in out in left field.

Perhaps settling in at a position he could reclaim as his own inspired Trevor’s bat, as he broke a two-month hex at the plate with a .280/1/11/.761 OPS mark from August 1 onward. In fact, he was the only Shorebird regular with an OPS over .700 for that period as the squad endured a serious batting funk during the second half of the season.

With the season now complete and two SotM honors under his belt, Trevor is definitely in the running for Shorebird of the Year. On a longer term, it’s pretty likely he will be somewhere in the Frederick lineup come 2019.

On the other hand, one solid month may not quite be enough to push Max Knutson on to the next level. It’s not that he pitched badly – even though August wasn’t his best month statistically, Knutson’s 3 wins and allowing just 3 earned runs over 22 2/3 innings after August 1 was enough to prevail this time around. (It turned out the three shutout innings in his September appearance along with a blowup from fellow reliever Diogenes Almengo pushed Knutson to the honor.)

But sometimes the Orioles don’t think a half-season at a particular level is enough, particularly as Knutson (a 12th round selection in 2016) toiled in Aberdeen for two straight seasons and came here after extended spring – he didn’t break camp with Delmarva, only arriving in early June. (Alas, it was a little too late for him to contend for Shorebird of the Year, which requires roster availability for 2/3 of the season.)

So what was so special about August for the 23-year-old Knutson? It began with his first win of the season when he pitched three near-perfect innings against Charleston on the 3rd to secure the comeback win – his only blemish was a walk. Six of his nine August/September outings were scoreless, but in the other three where he was touched up for runs, he limited damage to a single tally. The month also concluded a campaign where Max set a career high for innings pitched but continued to improve on his ERA and WHIP: the 1.15 of his ERA would be a pretty good WHIP number, but Max put up an outstanding 0.87 WHIP, aided by the fact he allowed a nearly absurd 16 hits in 39 innings. That’s the sort of territory you would find onetime Shorebird and current Milwaukee Brewer All-Star reliever Josh Hader in. All told, batters hit a puny .122 off Knutson this season – and August was his worst month, as batters somehow found an extra hit or two to sneak the mark up to .132 for the month.

If there is one complaint about Max to hold him back, it would be his walk numbers. They’re not terrible by any means, but 18 walks in 39 innings at this level becomes half again as many when batters are more selective at higher levels. Add in the fact that he hasn’t made it through the grind of a complete regular season yet, and this is why Max may repeat the level here like he did at Aberdeen, at least for the first month or two. You haven’t really pitched until you’ve endured a low-40’s game with 200 in the stands at Delmarva. (Then again, as you may guess by the surname, Max is a Minnesota native who only went as far south as the University of Nebraska to pitch at the collegiate level. So cold weather may not be a drawback.)

It will be intriguing to see what they do with Knutson, since he was stretched out a career-high tying three innings on several occasions this season. Admittedly, I only saw him a couple times this season so I don’t know if his stuff would play as a starter. But there is a role for long relief on a team, and the Orioles actually don’t have a guy to consistently fill it right now.

So that is a wrap on Shorebird of the Month for 2018. Next week I will review the seasons for these nine players selected (five pitchers, four position players) as well as recap the Delmarva squad in general before selecting a Shorebird of the Year for 2018. The following week it’s my annual picks and pans, followed in early December with the installation of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2018 – currently it’s a four-person class but there’s a decent chance it may get to five for this year.

And then we wait for April 4, 2019 when it all starts over again in Lexington.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: July 2018

At first glance (which was actually Monday when I first compiled the splits to see who had the best month) it seemed like both of these awards would be a slam dunk. But the last couple days allowed a little bit of competition, meaning my honorees had some company by month’s end.

If you saw my social media comments around the first of the month, I noted the arrival of first-rounder Cadyn Grenier should have allowed the guy he replaced at shortstop to move up to Frederick as I thought he had earned the shot. Instead, the Orioles brass decided to move Mason McCoy over to second base. While his fielding hasn’t suffered much, McCoy is struggling at the plate when he plays second, hitting at just a .231 clip on 12-for-52. But since Mason’s back at shortstop for the time being while Grenier recovers from a freak injury (hit in the face by his own foul ball) he’s continued to make his case for a promotion. Mason’s .296/3/11/.785 OPS slash line was the best among all the Shorebird hitters this month as the team’s gone into an offensive funk over the last several weeks.

While Grenier came as a top-40 selection out of this year’s draft, McCoy is no slouch either. Selected last year in the sixth round, the Iowa Hawkeye (by way of the small town of Washington, Illinois) went to Aberdeen and turned heads by putting up a .301 average in 53 games and finished among the leaders in most offensive categories for the IronBirds. So it was pretty well expected that McCoy would be ticketed for Delmarva this spring, but a 4-for-30 start has forced Mason to play catch-up for most of the season. As of Tuesday night, Mason’s solid July had pushed him up to a .255/4/37/.706 OPS for the season. However, given another 100 at-bats (very doable in the remaining number of games) Mason could add another 10 to 12 points to the average and come out looking rather good. At the time Grenier was assigned to Delmarva, Mason was among the top two league shortstops in both fielding percentage and range factor, so there’s no question McCoy sports a pretty good glove, too.

Obviously the question going forward is one of whether McCoy will be pushed aside by the guy with the fat signing bonus. Mason is already 23, and will be 24 by the time the 2019 season begins. He certainly has the glove and probably the bat to play at Frederick, and perhaps more time at second base will allow him to relax and hit better given the slow start he’s had in games he’s played there.

On the other hand, it’s not a question of if DL Hall will be promoted, but whether he will be in Frederick for a start or two in August. Basically the newly-selected Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month – joining previous Pitcher of the Month selections Zac Lowther and Matthias Dietz as Delmarva pitchers being so distinguished by the Baltimore management this season – has nothing else to prove at this level. In 26 2/3 July innings, Hall allowed but 10 hits and only two earned runs, fanning 39 while walking only 10. The month also brought his first two professional wins: while he has pitched well throughout most of his career, baseball’s scoring rule that a starting pitcher needs to complete five innings to be eligible for a win combined with the go-slow approach the Orioles had with last year’s top pick (and 21st overall) being fresh out of high school in Valdosta, Georgia meant that wins were going to wait. Until May of this year, Hall hadn’t even pitched the requisite five innings in a game as he was limited to 10 2/3 innings in five GCL starts last season. (And the numbers were rather pedestrian: a 6.97 ERA and 1.94 WHIP as he walked 10 while striking out 12. Most of the damage came in his last start, though.)

So it was a bit of a surprise that DL (it stands for Dayton Lane, but I’m sure only his mom calls him that when she’s mad) skipped over Aberdeen to full-season ball at the age of 19, although he was likely among the oldest in his graduating class as a September baby. It’s not a common jump, and for a short time it appeared the naysayers could be correct: through his first 10 games Hall was 0-4 with a 4.28 ERA. His peripheral numbers were pretty good at that point: a 1.43 WHIP came from the somewhat high rate of walks (18 in 33 2/3 innings) but given his struggles in late May and early June it would have been no surprise to see Hall reassigned to Aberdeen when their season began. But DL stayed and now has taken the SAL by storm in his last several starts – in the season’s second half Hall has pitched no fewer than 4 innings in a start but allowed 3 or fewer hits each time. The highlights of that run: 5 2/3 no-hit innings against Hagerstown July 5 (a game where the Shorebirds threw 9 no-hit innings yet managed to lose in the 10th) and a six-inning, 10 strikeout performance at West Virginia two starts later. That game snapped a three-start scoreless streak for Hall, however.

In watching Hall’s last start of the month on Tuesday night, it was apparent that not all of his pitches were working. But against a reasonably well-hitting Lakewood team, DL showed that he could pitch effectively enough without his best stuff: no clean innings out of the four, but no runs either. When needed he came up with the pitches to get out of the jam, and that’s the sign of a pitcher ready to move up.

I noted up top that this month was not the slam dunk I thought it would be in picking players. Making late surges for position player of the month were outfielder Will Robertson and June winner Branden Becker, while on the mound newcomer Max Knutson was being just about as dominant as Hall, but in a relief role. Knutson was unscored upon in his first nine July innings before yielding a run to Lakewood on the 30th.

With the Shorebirds slipping out of the divisional race thanks to an ill-timed Perdue sweep at the hands of the league-leading BlueClaws, there may be a plethora of player moves as the season winds down. It could be a wide-open field for the final Shorebirds of the Month and eventual Shorebird of the Year.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: June 2018

A player who had a career month and a relative newcomer are my selections for the June Shorebird honorees. While the team settled into a middling position to close the first half and has remained in the same mode to start this run, these two players avoided a June swoon.

Hitting .208 at the start of the month and being the backup to several players probably wasn’t what Branden Becker was planning for his 2018 campaign. But as his versatility became more and more apparent and playing time increased (in some part due to an injury to regular second baseman Kirvin Moesquit), the bat has responded – for the month of June Becker slashed a solid .337/3/16/.878 OPS, increasing his average to a point where he entered yesterday’s contest with an overall mark of .270 – by miles his best career performance. This resurgence has allowed manager Buck Britton to spell Moesquit on occasion, experiment with putting 3B Trevor Craport across the diamond at first, and move Max Hogan, who played 2B for most of last season in the GCL, into the outfield more or less full-time. So far Branden has played 21 games at second base, 17 games at third base, and seven at shortstop. He’s even served as the DH nine times, which gave the first base/DH combo of Seamus Curran and Ryan Ripken a break. (Curran is now out with an injury.)

Becker has been in the Orioles system for three years now – drafted down in the 17th round back in 2015, the southern California native passed on a commitment to the University of Oregon to sign with the Orioles out of high school. In looking at his stats prior to this year, they were rather unimpressive: in two GCL seasons (2015-16) he never hit over .226 or put up an OPS more than .536, without a home run. But coming out of extended spring last season he was assigned to Frederick temporarily (two games) before the probably appropriate reassignment to Aberdeen. There he got off to a solid start (.292 with three of his seven hits for extra bases, including a home run) before dislocating his shoulder diving for a ball and missing the remainder of 2017 thanks to the surgery. But while he seems like a veteran, Becker is still only 21 so he has time to keep developing and hopefully repeat the kind of month June was for him. Keeping that average where it is now as he pretty much doubles his current total of plate appearances the rest of the way (since he was a bench player to start, he’s only played in 54 of the Shorebirds’ 80 games so far and they have 57 remaining on the schedule) is the key – he’s really not behind on the development clock.

Branden had some stiff competition for the June honor: Zach Jarrett had another great month (in fact, it was statistically superior) and Will Robertson also had a breakout month like Becker’s that was almost as successful. I opted to go with Becker because he came from the lowest point to have his season in the sun.

So far statistics are all I have to go by for my June Pitcher of the Month – the Shorebirds must check to see if I’m in my seat and they only pitch Timothy Naughton when I’m not in it. (The photo came a couple weeks after the selection.)

Naughton came up from extended spring in May when three members of the Shorebirds staff were simultaneously promoted to Frederick and ran into trouble in his very first appearance, giving up 4 runs in 1 1/3 innings against Hagerstown. After that, though, Tim settled in and did not allow an earned run (all three who scored on him were unearned) for the next nine appearances, seven of which were in June. For the month Naughton threw 10 1/3 innings, yielding just seven hits and one walk for a WHIP of 0.77. That tempered an overall line which otherwise would look very pedestrian: for the season Tim is 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA and WHIP of 1.64.

That inconsistency is what Naughton needs to address going forward. Going back to last season, which was mainly spent in the GCL after Tim was a 34th round Oriole pick out of North Carolina State, Naughton was 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings spaced among a like number of outings. And he’s relatively green at baseball’s highest levels: a native of Goldsboro, North Carolina, Naughton was a walk-on who made the Wolfpack as a reliever and pitched just 15 innings in college before being drafted basically on raw talent and the hope he’s a diamond in the rough. (Timothy also shares the same alma mater – Charles B. Aycock High School – as onetime SotW Connor Narron, who played here in 2012-13.)

While this observer suggests he has a 98 MPH fastball and a tight mid-80s slider, the question is whether he can control them. In 17 2/3 innings last season Tim allowed 12 bases on balls; so far in 2018 it’s been 8 in 14 innings. Granted, 4 of those 8 came in his first game and 2 more came in his most recent: Tim started July on a rough note, giving up the winning run against Lakewood by allowing an inherited run to score as well as one of his own, walking the bases full and allowing a 2-run walkoff single. That’s the trend he needs to avoid going forward, particularly with the strikes against him of being a later-round selection and already 22 years old.

Based on his June performances, where he allowed just one walk in 10 1/3 innings, it is obvious he can harness his stuff at times. But Naughton’s ceiling will be determined by how well he can command and adapt at each level as batters get more selective. Having two good pitches is often enough for a late-inning reliever to succeed, and it seems like he has those tools to make it.

Like the competition for the Player of the Month, Pitcher of the Month had strong contenders, too: Cameron Bishop and Brenan Hanifee were leaders among the starters, while late-inning reliever Nick Vespi also had consideration.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2018

After getting off to a flying start in April, the wheels seemed to come off for the Shorebirds in May, particularly after an unscheduled three-day break in the action mid-month thanks to Mother Nature. But this month’s Player and Pitcher of the Month weren’t reasons for the team’s lack of success as both had breakout months.

I’ll begin with third baseman Trevor Craport, who swatted seven home runs during May to ably fill his stat sheet in that regard. A player who previously had just three round-trippers to show for his pro career caught fire during the last month and also began bringing his batting average closer to the mark he established in 52 games with Aberdeen last season (.302/3/30/.857 OPS). In 26 games Trevor led the team with a .323 average, hitting those seven home runs and knocking in 19. with a solid .956 OPS based on a .383 on-base percentage and .573 slugging percentage thanks to those home runs.

Craport came to the Orioles in the 2017 draft, where he was the eleventh round pick out of Georgia Tech. As noted, the Georgia native had a good season with Aberdeen last year and, after a bit of a slow start, seems well on his way to duplicating those efforts here. On Tuesday it was announced that he would be one of three Shorebird position players selected for the SAL All-Star Game later this month – April SotM Zach Jarrett is also on the squad, as is first baseman Seamus Curran, who was also in the running for May honors along with Kirvin Moesquit. However, one extra RBI out of Curran was all that denied Craport the month’s triple crown. so he was a deserving honoree.

In fact, it would not surprise me to see the 21-year-old prospect (he turns 22 in August) promoted at mid-season. Third base is not a position that’s very strong in the Orioles’ system and those playing immediately up the ladder aren’t having distinctively great seasons by any stretch of the imagination. (A couple up the line have been, honestly. rather disappointing.) So given the Oriole brass propensity to yank good players away from Delmarva every chance they get, this time next month Trevor could be sporting a Keys uniform.

Speaking of disappointing, there were a number of observers whispering that last season about my Pitcher of the Month, Matthias Dietz. A second round pick back in 2016, Dietz was expected to be one of the top prospects gracing the Delmarva roster last season but struggled to a 3-10 record and 4.93 ERA with the Shorebirds. Add that to a nondescript season with Aberdeen in his pro debut (in seven starts, none intentionally longer than three innings, Matthias was touched for at least one run in six of them) and the talk about being a highly-paid bust was more than a rumor.

So when Dietz was touched up for 8 runs in 14 1/3 innings early on this season, including an outing where he walked seven batters, the question probably became whether he was more suited for the bullpen or more work at extended spring. Maybe it was just the weather, though, because a different pitcher emerged in May – four starts covering 23 innings where Dietz allowed only 3 runs on 15 hits, including a pair of shutout starts to close the month May 20 against Hagerstown and May 25 against Lakewood. (Overall, the shutout streak in May was the last 17 innings, and it was extended briefly in June to 19 2/3 innings before Dietz allowed a run June 1.) It was a good enough performance to grant the Illinois native and attendee of John Logan Community College there the top honor from the Orioles as their Minor League Pitcher of the Month, and I concur.

The whole key to how far Matthias will get in his career is throwing strikes. That may seem too simplistic, but he’s been prone to starts where he will average a walk or more an inning, and eventually those runners score. Over his career Dietz has averaged about 4 walks per 9 innings, and that needs to come down by at least one to have a chance at success. Oddly enough, even with his success so far this year (cutting a 4.93 ERA to 2.91 and a 1.5 WHIP down to a league average 1.3) his base on balls average is slightly higher than it was last season thanks to two poor outings where he walked 12 in a combined seven innings – neither of which occurred in May.

While Dietz is in his second tour of duty with the Shorebirds, I don’t see him as being promoted to Frederick very soon. Having said that, though, if he maintains consistency he’s a good candidate to be here until August then allowed a couple starts with the Keys to get his feet wet to start out there next season.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2018

The more things change, the more they stay the same. After I awarded the inaugural Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month awards last season to a late-round, hot-hitting outfielder and a stylish lefty pitcher who was dominating the league early on, you would think a new year would change things up. But instead, it’s worked out to be players in a similar mold to outfielder Jake Ring and pitcher Alex Wells, who have both moved on to Frederick with longtime Shorebird skipper Ryan Minor.

Considering that Zach Jarrett hit just .201 in 45 Aberdeen games last season and struck out in nearly 40% of his plate appearances, it’s a bit of a surprise (or a testament to a lack of depth at some positions within the organization) that Jarrett was promoted to a full-season club as a 28th-round selection from last year. But instead of being the answer to the trivia question of having a famous father and grandfather (the Jarrett family is legendary in NASCAR), Zach has taken advantage of the opportunity. At month’s end Jarrett was pacing the SAL with his 7 home runs, but added 14 RBI and hit .338 with a tremendous 1.063 OPS. (An “average” player has an OPS of about .700, basically about a .330 on-base percentage and a .370 slugging percentage. Jarrett was at .400 and .663, respectively.)

As noted, we got Jarrett in the 28th round out of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, so he didn’t stray too far from his roots in that respect. (When the Shorebirds play at Hickory, Jarrett can visit his high school there; on the other hand, since NASCAR is in Dover this weekend maybe the family will stop in for a game?)

So far this season Zach has made a key adjustment in simply putting the ball in play. He has cut the strikeout rate significantly, with just 26 in 90 April plate appearances, and that is a large factor in his success. Whether the league can adjust to him or he can stay one step ahead of the pitchers is something to watch. So far, though, he has fared a little worse against experienced pitchers this season and we will see as the season goes on how much that will affect his stat line. It’s not likely he can keep up April’s frenetic pace, but keeping an average in the .280 to .300 range is a doable goal, along with a shot at 20-25 home runs. That would put him on the prospect map despite being about a year older than his peer group – Jarrett is already 23.

Zac Lowther, however, was already on the prospect map for the Orioles. Drafted in the second round out of Xavier University in Ohio, the Brooklyn Heights (a suburb of Cleveland) native was expected to do well here after pitching to a 1.66 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and striking out 75 batters in 54 1/3 innings for Aberdeen. But not all pitchers can succeed in full-season.

Maybe it’s being used to the cold as an Ohio native, but Zac picked up where he left off to such a degree that he was named a SAL Pitcher of the Week in April. Perhaps the Orioles’ brass believed Lowther could thrive in the chill, but he certainly froze the Hickory Crawdads’ bats in his first start, striking out 13 in six hitless innings on April 9. Nineteen days later, on the return visit to Hickory, Lowther made his “worst” start by giving up two runs on four hits in six innings, getting a no-decision. But Zac has amassed a eye-popping 39 strikeouts in just 22 innings, meaning he’s struck out exactly half of the 78 batters he faced over the month. Only 9 got to Lowther for a hit and just three for walks, meaning his WHIP was a microscopic 0.55. (For a more conventional measure by comparison, his ERA is just 1.23.) Batters are only hitting .120 against Zac, which basically means no one is going to make their career off him at this level. (One chink in his armor: 2 of those 9 hits were home runs, both at Hickory.)

Based on his last start being the worst, going forward the observation will be whether Lowther (who just turned 22 Monday) reverts closer to league average after dominating or continues to pile up strikeouts. To do the former may mean Zac stays here all season, but to do the latter would probably merit a mid-season (or sooner) promotion to Frederick. At this point the Shorebirds are blessed with the makings of a dominant pitching staff the likes we haven’t seen in awhile, which is why they concluded April in first place in their division after a all-time best 7-0 start. And with Frederick’s pitching staff needing a little help (early on their team ERA is ninth in the ten-team Carolina League) the Shorebirds may lose a couple of theirs. As a long-suffering Shorebirds fan, here’s hoping the Keys staff comes around because I want to keep the team we have and end the 12-season playoff drought!

Big campaigns from my initial Players of the Month will go a long way to making that a reality.

The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2017

This is the ninth consecutive year I have added players to the SotWHoF, but this year’s crop was one of the more diverse in its history.

Last year I pleaded the case that:

I think 2017 may be a somewhat barren year. Sure, you could have the feelgood stories of longtime prospects like Garabez Rosa, Michael Ohlman, or Tim Berry finally breaking through, but if you look at the guys from 2012 and 2013 who are still hanging on no one jumps out at you.

It turned out that I was pleasantly surprised with another class of six for the Hall this year, which includes the aforementioned Michael Ohlman. I got my first player from the 2015 Shorebirds right away with Stefan Crichton, went back-to-back days for the first time with Josh Hader and Jimmy Yacabonis, circled back to one of those guys from 2012 hanging on in Nicky Delmonico, and wrapped up with the guy I was most expecting to see – my first Shorebird of the Year to make it, Chance Sisco. Two players came from the 2012 Shorebirds (Ohlman and Delmonico), two from 2014 (Yacabonis and Sisco), and one apiece from 2013 (Hader) and 2015 (Crichton.)

Of this group of six, it’s telling that only half debuted with Baltimore. Michael Ohlman was shipped off to the St. Louis organization in a cash deal in 2015 and spent two seasons there before signing with the Blue Jays this year. Josh Hader was part of the Bud Norris trade with Houston in 2013, as he was plucked out of the Shorebirds’ starting rotation in that deal, and moved on to the Milwaukee organization in another trading-deadline trade in 2015. Nicky Delmonico was also part of the Brewers at one time, but the prospect we gave up for “K-Rod” Francisco Rodriguez in 2013 didn’t stay long due to some personal issues and the White Sox signed him off the street in 2015.

While the guys who debuted for the Orioles were mainly up-and-down (although Sisco showed promise in his limited duty) and Ohlman really didn’t stick long enough to make an impact, both Hader and Delmonico put up solid numbers and stayed in the bigs once they were brought up. Hader is being discussed as a potential starter for the Brewers and certainly Delmonico should be considered as a piece of a rebuilding White Sox franchise that recently got another Oriole refugee in catcher Wellington Castillo – a move that ironically will clear the way for Chance Sisco if the Orioles don’t pick up a veteran receiver in the offseason.

As for next year’s crop, I’m again bearish on the prospect of five or six in the class, but you just never know. A lot depends on how the Orioles do in the first half of the season with a number of key expiring contracts at season’s end: if they start out well and keep the team intact, some of the guys thought to have a chance to move up may stay in the minors until 2019. On the other hand, a cold start that puts them in the position of being sellers at the trading deadline may be the impetus to move some guys up who were heretofore blocked like Ryan Mountcastle or give young pitchers such as Hunter Harvey, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Meisinger, or Jesus Liranzo a shot. Any of them, along with outfield prospects like Cedric Mullins, Ademar Rifaela, or non-SotW players Austin Hays and DJ Stewart, among many others, could also be the trade bait to pick up that last piece for a playoff run, too, meaning they may debut with a rebuilding team and not the Orioles.

But in the meantime it’s time to congratulate my six newest members of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, and with the posting of this article I will restore the SotWHoF page to public view.

Odds and ends number 84

After resurrecting one long-dormant series over the weekend, today we make it two. It hasn’t quite been a year since I did an ‘odds and ends” and there’s not a year’s worth of stuff, but the creative juices are flowing anyway.

Let’s begin with some good news from our national pastime. If you recall, back in July the Shorebirds made headlines for playing the longest game in their 21-season history, spreading out the drama against the Lexington Legends over two days thanks to a storm that broke over the stadium after 20 innings were in the books. It took just one inning the next evening to settle Delmarva’s 7-6 defeat, but the contest was the Fans’ Choice for a MiLBY Award. It had (ironically enough) 21% of the vote among 10 contenders. (Alas, the actual MiLBY went to some other game.)

The other sad part about that story, besides the folks at the Minor League Baseball site misidentifying us as Frederick: it turned out that one inning of baseball would be all that was played that evening as another heavy storm blew through just at scheduled game time. (I remember it well because I was at work.)

The Shorebirds were also a MiLBY bridesmaid in the blooper department with their September “goose delay.

And while Astros-Dodgers didn’t have the same cachet as the Cubs finally breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat last season, the 28 million viewers of Game 7 completed a World Series where it again kicked the NFL’s ass (as it should, since football season doesn’t start until the World Series is over anyway.) And with the erosion of the NFL’s appeal thanks to the anthem protests and – frankly – rather boring games where fundamentals are ignored, the window of NFL dominance may be closing.

Speaking of things that are dominant, a few weeks back I detailed the effort to bring the sanity of right-to-work to Sussex County, Delaware. An update from the Daily Signal detailed some of Big Labor’s reaction when it came up again. And again I respond – having the choice to join the union is better than not having the job at all.

Delaware was also the subject of one of a series of pieces that ran over the summer and fall from my friends at Energy Tomorrow. They cleverly chose a theme for each of the 50 states and the First State’s July piece was on “the beach life in Delaware.” Now what I found most interesting was just how little energy they produce compared to how much they consume, given they have no coal mines and little prospect of fracking or offshore drilling. And I was surprised how little tourism contributes to their state economy given the beach traffic in the summer.

Maryland’s, which came out last month, is quite different, as it has a companion piece about prosthetics. It obviously made sense with Johns Hopkins in the state, but what struck me was the quote included from Governor Larry Hogan. He’s the guy who betrayed the energy industry by needlessly banning fracking in the state. Unfortunately, Larry seems to suffer from the perception that energy companies are solely interested in profit when the industry knows they have to be good neighbors and environmentally responsible, too.

That’s quite all right: he doesn’t need those 22,729 votes in Allegany and Garrett counties when he can have a million liberals around the state say, “oh, Hogan banned fracking” and vote for Ben Jealous or Rushern Baker anyway.

Regularly I receive updates from the good folks at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, which tends to look at state politics in a conservative manner. But I can’t say this particular case is totally conservative or for limited government:

If Maryland lawmakers want to get serious about combating climate change and reducing pollution, they can simply tax the emission of carbon and other pollutants, thereby encouraging lower emissions and greater efficiency. No one likes a new tax, but it is a much cheaper and more effective way to cut pollution and fight climate change than a byzantine policy like the renewables mandate. Besides, revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce other taxes and fund other environmental initiatives. Problem is, though a carbon tax would be good for the environment and human health, it wouldn’t funnel money to politicians’ friends in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street.

Maryland’s renewables standard isn’t about the environment and human health; it’s about money.

The last two sentences are the absolute truth, but the remainder of the excerpt is a case of “be careful what you wish for.” If the state indeed enacted a carbon tax, businesses and residents would waste no time fleeing the state for greener (pun intended) pastures. You can bet your bottom dollar that a carbon tax would be enacted on top of, not in place of, all the other taxes and fees we have.

Now it’s time for a pop quiz. Can you guess who said this?

Soon, our states will be redrawing their Congressional and state legislative district lines. It’s called redistricting, and it will take place in 2021, after the next Census takes place. That may seem far off, but the time to get started on this issue is now.

This is our best chance to eliminate the partisan gerrymandering that has blocked progress on so many of the issues we all care about. Simply put, redistricting has the potential to be a major turning point for our democracy. But we need to be prepared.

Maybe if I give you the next line you’ll have the answer.

That’s where the National Democratic Redistricting Committee comes in. Led by Eric Holder, my former Attorney General, they’re the strategic hub for Democratic activity leading up to redistricting. In partnership with groups like OFA, the NDRC is building the infrastructure Democrats need to ensure a fair outcome.

Our former President is now involved in this fight for a “fair” outcome – “fair” being defined as gerrymandered like Maryland is, I suppose.

To be honest, we won’t ever have truly fair districts until the concept of “majority-minority” districts is eliminated and districts are drawn by a computer program that strictly pays attention to population and boundaries such as county, city, or township lines or even major highways. With the GIS mapping we have now it’s possible to peg population exactly by address.

And if you figure that most people with common interests tend to gather together anyway – particularly in an economic sense – simply paying attention to geography and creating “compact and contiguous” districts should ensure fair representation. To me it’s just as wrong to have an Ohio Ninth Congressional District (where I used to live) that runs like a shoestring along the southern shore of Lake Erie and was created so as to put incumbent Democratic Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur in the same district – Kaptur won that primary – as it is to have a Maryland Third Congressional District that looks like a pterodactyl. When I was growing up, the Ninth basically covered the city of Toledo and its suburbs where we then lived but as the city lost population they had to take territory from the Fifth District that surrounded it at the time. After the 1980 census they decided to follow us and take the eastern half of Fulton County, west of Toledo – much to my chagrin, since my first election was the one Kaptur beat a one-term Republican. (She’s been there that long.) Since then, the Ninth has been pulled dramatically eastward along the lakeshore to the outskirts of Cleveland, connected at one point by a bridge.

Finally, I guess I can go to what one might call the “light-hearted stack of stuff.” Again from MPPI, when it came to the Washington Metro and how to pay for it, this was a tax proposal I could really get behind. I’m just shocked that it would make $200 million a year.

On that scary note we’ll see how long it takes before I get to the next rendition of odds and ends.