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

September 13, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

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 Knudsen

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 Knudsen: 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 Knudsen 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

September 6, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

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

August 2, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on 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

July 5, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on 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.

The first piece of advice

July 3, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on The first piece of advice 

If you haven’t figured this out in the 12 years, 7 months, and a bit of change since I began this here website, I have an agenda I want to share with you, and sometimes that intrudes onto other parts of my life. I also have gained in my 53-plus years on this planet a little bit of institutional memory and sometimes that dictates my actions.

One case in point occurred a few weeks back and it was because I knew several things would be true and coincide with things I was already planning to do anyway.

  • First of all (and again, in case you didn’t notice over the last 13 seasons) I am a regular devotee of Delmarva Shorebirds games. One season (before I met my wife) I think I made it to about 60 home games out of 70 scheduled. Since I’ve been married I’ve toned it down somewhat, but I will be somewhere in the high 20s this year I believe. Anyway, my favorite days to attend are Sundays and Thursdays, so I got my half-season package in order for me to attend most of those games. Thus, I knew I would be there for the game on Sunday, June 10.
  • Secondly, I had found out a few weeks earlier that Larry Hogan would be in attendance for a game against the Hagerstown Suns, with the reason being that of inaugurating an annual competition between the two called the Governor’s Cup. It turns out we are the only two pro teams in a major sport that are Maryland-based and play each other annually in the regular season in the same league. The date: June 10.
  • Now this is something I didn’t plan for many years ago when I secured the seat, but it so happens that most of those who participate in on-field ceremonies walk up the aisle right by me. So I have had the pleasure of meeting many of those who sing the National Anthem, throw out the first pitch, and so on.
  • Knowing all that, I decided it was time to do a little promotion for a cause I held dear, and create a message at the same time. And thank goodness I lent my cell phone out because the “official” photo from the staff photographer was nowhere near this good.

The big guy on the left is big because he runs a state. The big guy on the right is at least losing a few pounds.

So what message do I want to impart to the reader? First of all, if you’re looking for a good Christian school in the Salisbury area you should consider Faith Baptist School, which is the educational ministry of my church.

But it also gives me an “in” to talk about an issue that I think needs to be brought into the gubernatorial race. Why do you think I picked that shirt?

Back in April, the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) endorsed the primary campaign of eventual Democrat nominee Ben Jealous. Echoing the teacher’s union, Jealous has this as a priority for his campaign:

Before Governor Hogan took office, Maryland’s public schools were ranked first in the country for five years running. Now, under his leadership, we’ve slipped to sixth. As governor, I will reverse this trend by making sure we raise teacher pay by 29%, fund full-day universal Pre-K by legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use, and force Annapolis to finally keep its promise to use all of the casino and lottery revenue to increase education spending, not replace money they’ve shifted to other priorities.

In addition, Ben has this plan in mind: “Jealous proposes implementing recommendations from the Kirwan Commission and expanding vocational training in Maryland’s high schools so that every child graduates career and college ready.”

While I don’t mind some additional love to vocational education, here’s the rub: his agenda won’t significantly increase our ranking, which is based on a number of factors as defined by Education Week. That publication, in turn, has its own sponsors and trustees who cheerlead for public education. But Maryland being in sixth place is really as meaningless as Maryland in first place if Johnny can’t read and Suzie can’t do simple math or point out Maryland on a map.

So let’s first talk about the Kirwan Commission: if there ever was a group who was ready and willing to raid the pockets of taxpayers, this would be it. This one was doomed from the word go just based on who appointed people to it. (The sad thing was that not one Delegate or Senator objected to its creation.)

And it’s interesting to me that, when you look at the numbers, the Jealous plan can’t even support the teacher raises, let alone the rest of the wish list:

The first four years can be paid for with the phase-in of the Fix the Fund Act that ensures $125 million in FY2020, $250 million in FY2021, $375 million in FY2022, and $500 million in FY2023 will be added to school funding through casino gaming revenues. The fifth year can be covered by $500 million from the Fix the Fund Act and revenue generated by requiring combined reporting for Maryland taxable income. (Emphasis mine.)

Welcome to tax increase number 1, slamming multistate employers who do business in Maryland. (I’m not even counting the pot tax because that’s simply a new tax that’s going to hit the poor hardest – just like the casino tax will, come to think of it. How many rich people go to casinos?)

And the funny thing is: we spend more on education than ever before – just not as much as the teacher’s union wants. (Aside to teachers out there: do you really want sin taxes to fund your schools – more importantly, do you really want your dues supporting this agenda? Now you can take advantage of Janus rights and I encourage it.)

But I don’t want to get into the weeds of taxes because it goes without saying a Democrat will raise them: it’s what they do.

I believe there is a solution that obviates the need for tax increases and produces better results for all Maryland children and parents: school choice. (Or as I like to call it, money follows the child.) Democrats HATE this issue because it’s broadly supported by one of their key constituency groups (inner-city minority voters) yet feared and despised by one of their main financial contributors (unions in general, teachers’ unions in particular.) And who’s winning? Follow the money.

If Larry Hogan wants to drive a wedge into a core constituency of his opponent and peel off a few voters in Baltimore City, he could travel into some downtrodden neighborhood to find a rare success of a school, then make the following statement:

My opponent wants you to gamble more and smoke marijuana just to raise the money to plug into the schools you know aren’t doing the job. I believe we can do better by giving you the power to send your children to whichever school will take them – public, charter, private, it does not matter. If you wanted to send your child to this school (points back at said successful school) we could give you the opportunity. You can decide which option is best for your child.

So let’s talk about private school – in my case, Faith Baptist School.

Right off the top of my head I don’t have the number for tuition for next year but it’s certainly nowhere near the $12,249 a year the local, state, and federal government spends per pupil for our public schools. I’ll bet it’s not more than half of that, but let’s say the state adopts such a program.

First of all, this could allow FBS to increase tuition and better compensate their teachers and staff. Just picking a number, we’ll say tuition and fees come in at $8,000 a year, which would certainly be enough to provide raises and hire more teachers for the need – perhaps from the ranks of former public school teachers fed up with the eradication of God from the public school classroom. (FBS has one such refugee on staff.)

But Michael, you say, that wouldn’t be a benefit to us because you are encouraging these non-market forces to artificially raise the school’s tuition. Again, please read the Jealous plan and his goal to raise teacher (and staff) salaries significantly, and ask yourself: which teachers would you rather reward? And it’s not like I didn’t think about this aspect.

The kicker would be that, for parents who choose to send their child to a school that costs less than the state-allotted sum for the county (the $12,249 a year) the program would allow a portion of the savings to be passed on to the parents. Now I’m not saying they stroke a check directly to the parents, but instead a share of the savings (perhaps 20%) would be given to an account for the child created within the existing 529 program the state has to encourage college savings. They could maintain the same stipulations on use that already exist.

So here are the benefits:

  • Parents are free to send their child to any school which would accept them. This is key because it makes parents accountable for a child’s behavior – perhaps they will encourage good, respectful behavior from the children so as not to be expelled from a school that promotes good teaching.
  • Those parents would accrue money toward their child’s higher education – using my difference of $4,249 as an example, a 20% credit to their 529 plan would be almost $850, simply for shopping for a good deal and having a child accepted.
  • It would also create an incentive for public schools to both cut their costs (to help negate the advantage private schools have on cost) and improve themselves to be more attractive because, remember, having the child in the public school does not add to the college fund. But not all private schools have vocational programs, extracurricular activities, or athletics at a high level. For example, the large public schools locally are able to have robotics clubs that competes regionally and nationally whereas a small school like FBS just can’t.

And don’t think I forgot homeschoolers, who in theory cost the state nothing. They could be eligible for a small stipend from the state – perhaps $1,000 for an academic year and the 529 benefits the other parents get based on the larger savings – it would be over $2,000 a year added to that account.

And because these 529 funds are generally only allowed to be used at Maryland schools, it would create a boost to enrollment for those institutions as well as incentive to broaden their offerings.

The big loser in all this: a moribund public school system that’s been resistant to grassroots change and local control. They would remain as the backstop provider of education as they always have been. Yes, they will have the problem children but remember these children are problems because they weren’t brought up to behave properly and in a manner conducive for learning for those around them. Yet there could be a private school created to give these children the support they need, whether it’s just encouragement for slow learners or tough love for those who refuse to behave.

So this is some free advice I can give to a governor who has let me down in myriad ways since taking office: ignore the naysayers who tell you school choice is a bad thing. I’m not going to tell you the writer makes all invalid points, but I believe the bad seeds would be weeded out in short order because the public schools would be the first to tattle. After all, school choice is a winning issue because people get it.

Those who fret about school choice bringing on “the destruction of public schools” obviously sell themselves short. Sometimes we all need a kick in the behind to motivate us and two things are clear: the status quo isn’t working and simply throwing money at it isn’t changing that fact.

Given this will appear just before Independence Day, maybe it’s time to free those parents that care from the shackles of poor-performing public schools.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2018

June 7, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

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

May 3, 2018 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on 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

December 7, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on 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.

A look at the trade, revisited 2017

November 16, 2017 · Posted in Sports · Comments Off on A look at the trade, revisited 2017 

Last year I did a five-part series that studied the legacy of Orioles general manager Dan Duquette. You have likely figured out I’m a baseball fan, and although my big league team of choice is my home region’s Detroit Tigers I follow the Orioles as well because that’s where a lot of my Delmarva Shorebirds end up – if Duquette doesn’t trade them away. At the end of last season fans were bitterly frustrated that the Orioles couldn’t get past the wild card game, and this season they really fumed as players they dealt away for guys who never panned out or simply dismissed in cash deals succeeded for other teams.

So I decided to go ahead after this season’s debacle and follow up on this series, which uses the statistic of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as a way to compare player worth. (Of course, cash has no player worth.) But I have also added a new wrinkle in that I went through the Baseball America archives to find all the minor league deals Duquette completed as well, creating a spreadsheet of all the deals and who’s still involved – players involved in trades can make deals live on if they are traded again by the new team, and this has happened a few times.

But thanks to catcher Gabriel Lino signing a minor league pact with the Cardinals last offseason, I could close the book on the entire 2012 Duquette season. Lino was the last remaining piece the Phillies received when they sent us Jim Thome for the playoff push, and in four subsequent seasons Lino bounced around the Phillies’ system without making the big club.

2012 was, as you may expect, a winning year for Dan, but not overwhelmingly so: his nine deals netted a total of 5.1 WAR while the players he gave up realized a cumulative (-1.3) WAR for their teams. Oddly enough, in strictly WAR terms Duquette’s worst trade was his very first as he acquired backup catcher Taylor Teagarden for two minor leaguers, Randy Henry and Greg Miclat. Neither Henry nor Miclat ever made the Show, but Teagarden had a (-0.6) WAR in two sparsely-used Oriole seasons before leaving as a free agent after the 2013 season.

The best deal he made paid dividends for awhile: acquiring pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom from the Rockies for “ace” Jeremy Guthrie. Hammel provided 3 Wins Above Replacement in two seasons before leaving, while Lindstrom (0.7 WAR) was the bait to later bring in Arizona pitcher Joe Saunders (0.8 WAR as a 2012 rental.) That total of 4.5 WAR was most of Dan’s seasonal success; meanwhile, not only did the Rockies strike out with Guthrie’s (-0.7) WAR as a member of the Rockies, they flipped him to the Royals for Jonathan Sanchez and another (-0.5) WAR. That accounted for most of the overall failure among all teams. (Guthrie was far more successful with Kansas City, so the Rockies were really burned.)

I can’t close the book quite yet on 2013, although a significant part of the Duquette nightmare may soon stop haunting him. If, as most experts expect, Jake Arrieta decides to move on from the Cubs as a prized free agent, that meter of 21.3 WAR he’s accrued with them will stop running. While that’s by far the worst offense of the 29.3 WAR that Duquette gave up (compared to receiving just 2.4 WAR in a staggering 21 deals, mostly on a minor league level) there are still a number of players who are working both for and against him as a result.

The Arrieta deal also included relief pitcher Pedro Strop, who has put up 5.4 WAR of his own and remains Cubs property. Also working against Duquette is a player he could not have known about, but one who will be sporting a World Series ring. As part of the trade with Houston that brought pitcher Bud Norris, the Orioles sent the Astros their “Competitive Balance” draft pick, and the Astros used it in the 2014 Draft to select outfielder Derek Fisher and his 0.4 WAR as a raw rookie this season. Also adding 0.7 WAR to that total against Duquette is Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who was originally the property of the Milwaukee Brewers but came to Houston with another since-released player in a trade where the Brewers received (among others) then-minor league pitcher Josh Hader, who was also part of the Norris deal. (1)

So if you assume all these players except Arrieta stay put, this will leave the Cubs’ Strop and the Astros’ Fiers and Fisher as active remnants of 2013 trades against Duquette. But Dan has three on his side as well.

In the Arrieta trade, Dan picked up the Pride of Pigtown, Steve Clevenger. While Steve only had a 0.3 WAR with Baltimore, his best asset was being part of the trade with Seattle to bring Mark Trumbo. Barring a trade, they will have two more seasons of Mark to add value to the 1.1 WAR he’s already brought on. (The best way to do so: play him strictly as a DH because his defensive WAR is horribly negative.)

A much lesser known trade is the other wildcard. In early 2013 the Orioles unloaded veteran pitcher Luis Ayala to Atlanta and got a minor league pitcher back in Chris Jones. There was a little talk about Jones as a prospect, but three fruitless seasons later he was shipped to the Angels for two minor leaguers, outfielder Natanael Delgado and infielder Erick Salcedo. Delgado was a fringe prospect who last played with Delmarva and missed all of 2017 with an injury, but Salcedo has moved up the system to Bowie. (2)

When your most successful trade in terms of net WAR comes because the player you got never left Norfolk (Trayvon Robinson) but the guy you gave up was brutal – Robert Andino and a (-0.3) WAR in a few months with Seattle – that’s a year worth forgetting.

Analyzing the 2014 season is much simpler: just 11 trades, which Duquette has won by so far a count of 8.4 WAR to 2.6 WAR.

Perhaps the best trade of the Duquette era was the one that brought Brad Brach (6.4 WAR and counting) from San Diego for a minor league pitcher who returned here a season later to retire, Devin Jones. Devin never got past AA, but Brach piles on the WAR.

The only player remaining against Duquette from his deals that season is from the second-most reviled deal behind Arrieta – the trade with Boston where rental pitcher Andrew Miller came in exchange for Eduardo Rodriguez (4.7 WAR). Unless Rodriguez has a long Boston career, though, 2014 looks like it may be Duquette’s best showing as these trades were his best and worst, respectively.

2015 was another step backward for Duquette. It seems sometimes that the more trades he makes, the bigger hole he digs, and this was the case here. In the case of the 2015 season, 11 of the 16 deals were cash transactions one way or the other, including a new and unique transaction where pitcher Chris Lee was acquired from Houston for two international bonus slots, assigned piles of money granted by Major League Baseball for teams to use to sign international talent (or deal away, as the Orioles did.) Lee is still in the Orioles organization so this is a trade which could pan out (there’s really no way of knowing who Houston acquired with their money), but by and large most of these trades were made to bolster the minor leagues. Six of the eleven cash deals closed out with no WAR acquired as the player never made the big leagues.

As the time period is more recent, several of these deals are still open and the Orioles have a combined 0.3 WAR on their side against 10.0 WAR for their opponents. The bad news is that the prospects for improvement on Baltimore’s side are relatively slim, and could decline further as three players in question – catchers Chris O’Brien and Audry Perez (neither of whom have played for the Orioles) and pitcher Richard Rodriguez [lit up for a (-0.3) WAR this season] are all minor league free agents. (3) Besides the aforementioned Lee, the only player who could add value to Baltimore is pitcher Daniel Rodriguez, who has been loaned to the Mexican League for the last three seasons.

On the other hand, the list of players Duquette parted with (and were acquired in subsequent trades by the new teams) may give fans even more heartburn in coming seasons. In order of their departure, they include Stephen Tarpley, a pitcher who the Pirates later flipped to the Yankees for pitcher Ivan Nova (3.5 WAR) and pitcher Steven Brault and his (-0.3) WAR for Pittsburgh. Tarpley and Brault were the price for the Travis Snider (1 WAR) outfield experiment that lasted less than a season.

Another player who has a chance to hurt the Orioles someday is a minor league pitcher for the Dodgers named Josh Sborz – yet another “Competitive Balance” draft pick Duquette dealt away for 2015 (in this case for Chris O’Brien and another departed player.)

When once again the best trade you make is offloading a player [in this case, infielder Steve Lombardozzi and (-0.3) WAR to the Pirates for cash] you know it’s a bad year. The worst trade from 2015 could get a whole lot more bad before it’s finished as the long-departed rental outfielder from Milwaukee Gerardo Parra [(-1.1) WAR] cost the Orioles promising pitcher Zach Davies (6 WAR and counting – he’s under team control until 2022.) It could be another Arrieta in the making.

A more subdued Duquette limited the damage in 2016, making only 13 trades and just 4 for cash. He also picked up pitcher Edgar Olmos from the Cubs for nothing – originally this was for a player to be named later, but no one was ever named. Olmos filled a minor league slot for a season before leaving.

Surprisingly few players are still active from the 2016 deals. I told you earlier about Mark Trumbo, who is adding to the 2016 composite WAR of 0.3, as well as Natanael Delgado and Erick Salcedo. The other player who could have added to the Orioles meager total is minor league pitcher Brandon Barker, who the Orioles received as part of a salary (pitcher Brian Matusz) and 2016 “Competitive Balance” draft choice (minor league catcher Brett Cumberland, who is still active) dump deal with the Braves. (4) Cumberland could add to the 2.0 WAR so far compiled by opponents, but it’s more likely short-term that pitcher Ariel Miranda [1.8 WAR, sent to Seattle for pitcher Wade Miley and his (-0.6) WAR] will stockpile Wins Above Replacement. Others who could haunt the Orioles are farmhand pitcher Jean Cosme [sent to San Diego for pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne (-0.2) WAR before being waived at the tail end of 2016] and a rental of utility man and repeat Oriole Steve Pearce (0.1 WAR) that netted Tampa Bay minor league catcher Jonah Heim. (5)

So going forward it’s Trumbo, Delgado, Salcedo, and Barker against Cumberland, Miranda, Cosme, and Heim. Only two of them are currently in the bigs, so the totals may not move much in future seasons.

Adding up the first five seasons of Duquette’s legacy, he’s accrued a total WAR of 16.5, or about 3.3 per season. However, opponents have collectively gained a total of 42.6 WAR – roughly 8.5 per season.

This brings us to 2017, which was an extremely busy season for Duquette because he had a new weapon at his disposal.

Where teams could previously only trade international bonus slots, changes to the rules eliminated the slots and created a free pool of money teams could parcel out as they wished – and Duquette really wished! Eight different minor league players were acquired with the international bonus pool cash, and eight others were standard cash deals. I’ll pick up where I left off last season.

  • Trade 42 (November 30, 2016) – Orioles purchase the contract of P Logan Verrett from New York Mets.

The Orioles tried to get Verrett before as a Rule 5 pick in 2014 but ended up waiving him, losing him to the Texas Rangers before they returned him to the Mets a month into the season. When the Mets signed Yoenis Cespedes as a free agent, it made Verrett available and Baltimore jumped at the chance. But Verrett only made four appearances for the Orioles, compiling no WAR before being outrighted in September and allowed to become a free agent at season’s end and signed with the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization.

  • Trade 43 (January 6, 2017) – Orioles trade P Yovani Gallardo and cash to Seattle Mariners for OF Seth Smith.

In an effort to shore up their outfield, the Orioles traded from what they thought was their strength as Gallardo was a sixth member of what was figured to be a five-man rotation of Tillman, Gausman, Bundy, Miley, and Jimenez. Instead, Smith (0.3 WAR) became a fourth outfielder with the ascension of Trey Mancini and figures to leave as a free agent. Gallardo, though, was even worse for Seattle as he put up a (-0.1) WAR and then signed as free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers.

  • Trade 44 (February 9, 2017) – Orioles trade minor league P Ryan Moseley to Los Angeles Dodgers for P Vidal Nuno.

Moseley spent the season in the low reaches of the Dodgers’ system, while Nuno made 12 relatively brutal appearances for the Orioles for a (-0.5) WAR. Outrighted in August, Nuno elected free agency at season’s end and was one of the first to sign elsewhere, inking a deal with the Rays.

  • Trade 45 (February 10, 2017) – Orioles purchase the contract of P Gabriel Ynoa from New York Mets.

A solid acquisition so far as Ynoa gave the Orioles a WAR of 0.5 in nine appearances and is under team control for several seasons to come. He’s being discussed as a rotation candidate for 2018.

  • Trade 46 (February 21, 2017) – Orioles trade cash or a player to be named later to New York Yankees for P Richard Bleier.

This turned out to be one of the best trades Duquette made in terms of net WAR as Bleier put up a 1.3 WAR for the season for cash. Again, Duquette snagged a controllable piece of his bullpen for very little cost after the Yankees designated him for assignment a few days earlier.

  • Trade 47 (March 28, 2017) – Orioles trade cash or a player to be named later to Philadelphia Phillies for P Alec Asher.

Asher fits the profile of the other pitchers acquired in this time period – controllable with a lot of potential and coming at little risk. He wasn’t as successful as the others since he put up a 0.0 WAR in 24 appearances for the Orioles.

  • Trade 48 (April 6, 2017) – Orioles purchase the contract of P Andrew Faulkner from Texas Rangers.

Faulkner, who spent parts of the previous two seasons with Texas, didn’t make it to the Orioles and was outrighted to the minors at season’s end, becoming a free agent shortly afterward. However, he opted to stay within the Orioles’ fold.

  • Trade 49 (April 7, 2017) – Orioles acquire P Miguel Castro from Colorado Rockies for player to be named later. Minor league P Jon Keller was sent to Rockies to complete the trade on September 7.

Another refugee of being designated for assignment by his former team, Castro was a prized member of the Orioles bullpen during the season, making 39 appearances and compiling a 0.9 WAR. He has five seasons of team control left. Keller was once a prospect mentioned frequently by Orioles’ brass but he’s had back-to-back poor seasons and may have needed a change of scenery.

  • Trade 50 (April 10, 2017) – Orioles trade minor league P Joe Gunkel to Los Angeles Dodgers for cash.

This trade is noteworthy because it closed the book on a trade from 2015 (Trade 29) that sent Alejandro De Aza to Boston. Gunkel, who had been designated for assignment three days earlier, once was thought to have a chance to make the Orioles’ staff, but he never grabbed the brass ring. So that trade went down as a loss. As for the Dodgers, they tried to sneak Gunkel through waivers 2 1/2 weeks later but lost him to Miami, where he finished the season with a demotion to AA Jacksonville.

  • Trade 51 (April 13, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to Milwaukee Brewers for P Damian Magnifico.

The first of several trades involving the Orioles’ bonus pool, Magnifico (another DFA) didn’t stay long in the Orioles’ minor league system as you’ll see.

  • Trade 52 (April 14, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to Seattle Mariners for minor league P Paul Fry.

Fry managed to spend two days in April on the Orioles’ active roster but still awaits his major league debut. If you haven’t noticed a pattern, Fry was also a DFA by the Mariners. Dan Duquette was becoming adept at scouring the waiver wire.

  • Trade 53 (April 14, 2017) – Orioles trade P Oliver Drake to Milwaukee Brewers for cash.

Having designated Drake for assignment the day before, the Orioles got what they could for the longtime farmhand who worked his way up the system. Drake turned out to be a nice pickup for Milwaukee as he chipped in 0.2 WAR for them as a setup man.

  • Trade 54 (April 17, 2017) – Orioles trade P Parker Bridwell to Los Angeles Angels for cash.

Another player Dan Duquette had to DFA, shipping Bridwell off turned out to be the worst trade Duquette made as Bridwell came up with a WAR of 2.0 in part of a season.

  • Trade 55 (May 4, 2017) – Orioles purchase the contract of minor league C Armando Araiza from Atlanta Braves.

After making 13 trades in a row involving pitching, Dan worked on the other side of the battery in this minor league deal. Araiza spent most of his season with Frederick but also stopped with Bowie and Norfolk.

  • Trade 56 (May 6, 2017) – Orioles trade P Damian Magnifico to Los Angeles Angels for minor league P Jordan Kipper.

It turned out that Magnifico made one appearance for the Angels and put no WAR up, while Kipper started out with Norfolk and was demoted to Bowie.

  • Trade 57 (May 20, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to Chicago White Sox for minor league P Alex Katz.

Katz spent the remaining season in Frederick, which was a promotion from where the White Sox had him – but the results were pedestrian at best.

  • Trade 58 (June 4, 2017) – Orioles purchase the contract of IF Ruben Tejada from the New York Yankees.

Looking for a backup infielder with experience, the acquisition came in handy for a time when J.J. Hardy broke his wrist a couple weeks later. But Tejada wasn’t the answer, putting up a WAR of 0.0 and eventually being outrighted in August. He was granted free agency in October but also opted to stay put.

  • Trade 59 (July 2, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to New York Yankees for minor league P Matt Wotherspoon.

Matt simply switched International League franchises in the deal and put up reasonably good numbers for Norfolk. With another couple seasons to go before he hits minor league free agency, he has an outside chance of making it to the Orioles’ bullpen in the next season or two as a late bloomer.

  • Trade 60 (July 2, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to Los Angeles Dodgers for P Jason Wheeler.

For Wheeler this was his second cash deal in less than a month as the Dodgers had similarly acquired him from the Twins, for whom he had debuted and made 2 appearances in May. The Dodgers had already outrighted Jason to AAA, so the Orioles made a modest enough offer to them to take Wheeler off their hands. For the Orioles he never left Norfolk and was granted free agency in October, signing with the KBO Hanwha Eagles.

  • Trade 61 (July 5, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to New York Mets for minor league IF Milton Ramos.

Local fans are quite familiar with this deal because Ramos went from the SAL’s Columbia Fireflies (who had played here in May) to the Shorebirds. While Milton was a top-30 prospect with the Mets his stock had fallen off in the previous year, making him expendable and perhaps in need of a scenery change. If this ever accrues to the Orioles’ side of the ledger it won’t likely be before the start of the next decade.

  • Trade 62 (July 7, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to Milwaukee Brewers for minor league P Aaron Myers.

Another trade to help the Shorebirds, Myers was effective here albeit in limited time due to injuries. Like Ramos, it’s at least two to three seasons before Myers would even be considered big league help so this was another trade to bolster a weak area of the organization.

  • Trade 63 (July 29, 2017) – Orioles trade OF Hyun-Soo Kim, minor league P Garrett Cleavinger, and international bonus pool cash to Philadelphia Phillies for P Jeremy Hellickson and cash.

This was a trade that attempted to send a message that the Orioles weren’t sellers. Because Trey Mancini had taken so well to the outfield and Kim was never proven against left-handed pitching, the Korean import was glued to the bench. Moving to Philadelphia wasn’t a favor to Kim in that regard as he had a (-0.9) WAR and became a free agent, having completed his initial two-year pact coming over from Korea. (In December he signed a deal to return there.) Cleavinger moved laterally at the AA level but wasn’t very good; however, he has a decent track record to build from and will likely be the last piece standing from this deal. Hellickson bombed with the Orioles as he also put up a (-0.9) WAR and is also a free agent.

  • Trade 64 (July 31, 2017) – Orioles purchase the contract of minor league P Yefry Ramirez from New York Yankees.

Originally an infielder in the Diamondbacks’ system, a position conversion and different organization saw Ramirez rocket from rookie league at the end of 2015 to AA to begin 2017. There are some who believe he may be a possible September callup in 2018, if not sooner, as their successful pilfering of the Yankee treasure trove of minor league pitching continues.

  • Trade 65 (July 31, 2017) – Orioles trade minor league P Tobias Myers to Tampa Bay Rays for IF Tim Beckham.

It will be awhile before we know the impact of Myers, who was traded off the short-season Aberdeen roster, but Beckham was an immediate hit after hit for the Orioles and compiled a WAR of 2.0 in just 2 months, making it the best trade Duquette has made to date for 2017. With the departure of J.J. Hardy the shortstop position is now Beckham’s.

  • Trade 66 (August 5, 2017) – Orioles trade international bonus pool cash to Texas Rangers for minor league IF Brallan Perez.

Another trade to boost the low minors, Perez moved laterally as he spent most of his season in the Carolina League with either the Rangers’ Down East Wood Ducks affiliate or the Frederick Keys. He had great numbers with Frederick so maybe the change did Perez good.

  • Trade 67 (August 9, 2017) – Orioles trade P Steve Johnson to Chicago White Sox for cash.

Johnson, who many fondly remember from his first go-round in the organization – he pitched for the Orioles from 2012-13 and again in 2015 – came back after spending time in the Texas and Seattle organizations but did not escape AAA this season. Once again he will be a free agent this winter – an anti-climactic trade to finish the trading season for Duquette, who so far is winning the WAR war 3.6 to 1.2 thanks to all those cash deals.

And Dan may have hit upon a winning strategy when it comes to his international bonus pool money because the Orioles’ Dominican program is terrible. Why spend thousands of dollars trying to develop two teams’ worth of players who rarely make it past the low minors and haven’t sent a player to the big leagues since 2010? Eduardo Rodriguez is the last DSL Oriole player to make the big leagues and that’s when he pitched there. This season they cut it down to one team and perhaps spent the money saved in selectively acquiring guys who already have a track record or could fill a need. Because the 2015 and 2016 draft classes seem weak in depth (meaning Delmarva and Frederick weren’t very good) Dan shored the teams up with a handful of players from other clubs. They may never make the major leagues but they stand a little better chance than a typical overseas player.

Time will tell whether these trades will pan out, but I think this will turn out to be Duquette’s best year because he doesn’t really have any scary good players out against him (except perhaps the mercurial Parker Bridwell.) Yet if a couple of these sleeper picks turn out to be good or if Beckham is a long-term solution at short, he will have some winners this time to brighten up an otherwise subpar season.

__________________

In rereading this piece as part of my year in review I can provide some updates, as of 12/24/17.

  1. Mike Fiers signed as a free agent with the Tigers, thus closing out the successor deal to the Bud Norris trade that sent Josh Hader to the Brewers.
  2. Erick Salcedo was also a minor league free agent, but he resigned with the Orioles.
  3. Richard Rodriguez has since signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  4. Brandon Barker was selected away from the Orioles in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft by the Miami Marlins.
  5. Jonah Heim was traded to the Oakland Athletics to complete an earlier deal for infielder Joey Wendle.

 

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.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2017 edition

September 21, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Personal stuff, Sports · 1 Comment 

If you remember last year, the big buzz around Perdue Stadium was the replacement of all the seats with brand new seats, which permitted an upgrade of the old bleachers to regular seats (and frankly made the ballpark look better.) While I was worried about the size of the seats, for the most part my fears went unrealized. I’m not sure about the “cushy” seats that make up the front rows and all the 300 “luxury” level, though. Maybe it’s the cupholders, but those seem slightly smaller.

But these new upper seats are priced at a reasonable $9 and the vantage point is good…considering you are maybe 12 feet farther and perhaps 4 to 5 feet higher at the closest point above the action for $4 less, that’s not a bad deal. (Not to mention a $2 Monday, where the difference is $11.) If you prefer shade or a high perspective, these seats are available for that, too, and they are way more comfortable than the bleachers were.

They also finally put in the new videoboard, as promised. It’s a great addition, and they were smart to place it where they did because more people sit on the third base side (so it’s straight in front of them.) It’s a good-sized board, and as the season went on they began to utilize it a little better. But it would be nice to have a couple more pieces of information like pitch count and more specific info on the batters (i.e. singled and scored in first, grounded out in third, flied out in fifth, etc.) Honestly, I don’t need to see for the tenth time that one player likes lobster or one of the other players was a black belt. I think as the video operators get more experience, we may see things like replays and more in-game highlights, too.

And please tell Pohanka to invest a little more in making their cheesy car race more interesting. (You know, it’s intriguing how much the local auto dealers spend on promoting themselves at Shorebirds games.) Same goes for Perdue, because the chicken needs to do something else.

So that was two of the three things I thought they had on the “to-do” list last offseason, but as it turned out the 360-degree concourse was pushed back to happen this off-season. One thing I found out about it was that it won’t be as high as I thought it would be because they will use the outfield fence as a railing. Now this could be good but it may be problematic because the better solution would be to have a fence where people can be seated and still see the game. Since the Shorebirds employ opaque sponsor advertising signs that idea goes away.

I’m also hearing that it will be a narrow concourse, more or less the width of the aisles which go around the space between the lower and upper reserved seats, which is maybe about 10 feet. That doesn’t seem like enough to employ the hot dog or dippin’ dots stands I suggested last season, let alone a beer seller. Hopefully I misunderstood the intent and the concourse will be more like 14 to 16 feet wide, at least in some spots.

Overall, though, I had my share of picks for the season. I suppose the one major pan that I have is in the food, which doesn’t seem to be all that great in either selection or quality. There needs to be a little more creativity, but then I’ve noticed that some of the stands that used to be there aren’t operated anymore. (For example, wasn’t there an angus stand along the first base side for about three seasons? Don’t recall that being there this year. Come to think of it, I believe they sold some other exotic thing there – nuts maybe? – for a couple seasons before that.)

Maybe it’s Delmarva and we just don’t have the sophisticated palate, but I think the reason some things don’t sell is that people don’t want to spend $8-10 on something they’re not sure they will like. Hot dogs, chicken, and pizza are reasonably safe choices. But why couldn’t we borrow an idea from other parts of the food service business and have homestand specials on the less mainstream items? For example, maybe instead of selling an Angus burger for $8, for one homestand they could make it a $5 deal. They do this with $2 hot dogs and Pepsi on Mondays, but why limit it there?

And now that they have the video people watching the games, it’s time to bring the feed into the restrooms so people can keep up with the action. At one time they had the audio feed of the broadcast in there but that’s gone by the wayside, too. You may try to go between innings, but sometimes nature calls when there’s only one out.

Out of an attendance of 207,131 – slightly less than last year, but based on one fewer opening so their average increased by 19 folks a game to 3,236 – my share is about 16 or 18. But having done this for so long I think I have a pretty decent idea of crowdthink, just like I have a reasonably good idea of the strike zone from my seat’s vantage point because I’ve sat there for so long.

There’s something that keeps the Shorebirds in an extremely narrow band of attendance year after year. (Since 2014, the range of average attendance has been within the 19-person difference from this year to last. Since 2010 it’s been in the 3,200 to 3,300 range in all but one year, 2011.) While we had a tiny bit of Tebow effect this season (for two games, with him only appearing in one) and benefited from the first rehab stints in three seasons, especially Chris Davis in July, that seemed to be offset by some less-attended fireworks nights and iffy weather all summer. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since we’ve had a consistently competitive team that it’s sort of an unknown how that would affect us. (Our last playoff appearance was in 2005, which is the longest losing streak in the SAL – in the meantime Augusta, Asheville, and the former Savannah Sand Gnats have made five trips, while Hickory, Greensboro, Lakewood, West Virginia, and Hagerstown have punched a playoff ticket four times. Lexington has a drought one season shorter than ours, but everyone else still in the league has participated at least twice.)

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the Shorebirds are going anywhere, as their attendance runs about the middle of the pack in the SAL despite being one of the small-market teams. But on a per-game basis, it’s actually the lowest among Oriole affiliates. I think we can do better, and maybe my suggestions will help a little.

So ends my Shorebirds coverage for the season. I’ve also updated my Shorebird of the Week tracker so that’s good until the Arizona Fall League season gets underway in the next few weeks. The next time you’ll see coverage unless something major breaks is when I induct my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2017 in December. As of right now that class consists of Stefan Crichton, Michael Ohlman, Josh Hader, Jimmy Yacabonis, Nicky Delmonico, and Chance Sisco.

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