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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Camden Chat

We compared notes with Chris Booze, who has the best baseball writer name in history.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After the Tigers took the series from the Yankees, their road trip continues with a four-game stint in Baltimore. The Orioles are having a rough season in a competitive division, something the Tigers can surely relate to, and the series is poised to be an interesting one, especially now that Michael Fulmer has been moved to the disabled list.

We chatted with Chris Booze (still his real name) from SB Nation’s Orioles blog Camden Chat about what the Tigers can expect from the O’s starting pitching, and if they might be willing to trade a certain manager to us.

BYB: What do you think kept the O’s from moving Britton at the deadline? Please know it is taking all my will power not to make a joke about “using him when he’s most needed.”

CB: It was probably a combination of a few things. First of all, Peter Angelos is 88 years old, so he understandably must be a little hesitant to commit to a rebuild. Considering that, the O’s would’ve had to have been blown away by an offer for Britton to pull the trigger on moving him. Combine that with some reports that the Astros made 5 or 6 of their top prospects “untouchable,” and that there were some medical concerns about a few teams’ prospects, and it’s easy to see why Britton is still wearing black and orange.

We’ll be seeing Chris Tillman tonight, who currently owns a 2.45 ERA against the Tigers but had a pretty rough start last time he was on the mound. Are you worried about him at all, or was his last start a fluke?

It wasn’t a fluke. Tillman has been unbelievably bad. He just hasn’t been the same pitcher since returning from the DL. His velocity is down and he’s throwing less strikes. He’s also not fooling anybody at all: he has MLB’s highest Z-swing% (how often hitters swing at his pitches in the strike zone) at 76%, but his O-swing% (how often hitters swing at pitches outside the zone) is one of the lowest in the game at 26.2%. That means, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs put it, the average hitter against Tillman has been about as discerning as Joey Votto.

Also, his average exit velocity allowed is among the highest in MLB despite his 90-92 MPH fastball – almost everyone above him on that list is a flamethrower like Joe Kelly. No matter what numbers you look at, Tillman has been scary bad. He’s clearly not OK, whether it’s injury, mechanics, or something else.

Speaking of pitchers, Kevin Gausman is pitching on Friday and his last three starts have been scary for opposing teams. Only one run in over twenty innings. Has he changed anything that’s made the more recent starts so good?

It seems like he’s starting to figure it out. He appears to have made an adjustment to his mechanics around the middle of June, which drastically changed his release point, and more importantly, his results. Over his last seven starts he’s also cut his curveball/slider usage in half and thrown a lot more splitters, which is good, because his splitter is absolutely filthy. As a result, his strikeout rate is through the roof. So far, this turnaround looks legit.

Which Orioles player do you think isn’t getting enough attention this season?

Caleb Joseph got plenty of attention last season for the wrong reasons. He was one of the worst hitters in the league, batting just .174/.216/.197, and set a record for the most plate appearances (141) without a single RBI. This year has been a different story. Despite the Orioles’ acquisition of Welington Castillo, Joseph has gotten nearly half of the playing time – first due to a DL stint by Castillo, but more recently due to his excellent play. Joseph is hitting .296/.330/.469, by far the best offensive season of his career, and he’s a much better defensive catcher than Castillo. If Castillo doesn’t exercise his player option for next season, the O’s will probably be just fine with Joseph as the Opening Day starter in 2018, with top prospect Chance Sisco behind him.

Would you like to trade managers? That Buck Showalter guy is pretty solid.

Nah, we’re good. Last year’s wild card game aside, Showalter has consistently shown he knows how to manage a bullpen, and that’s been extra important this year with the dumpster fire of a rotation that he’s been forced to deal with, not to mention the injury to some guy named Zach Britton. Dan Duquette has been shuffling relievers back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk almost on a daily basis; nineteen pitchers have made at least one appearance out of the pen for the O’s. It takes a manager who knows what he’s doing to make that work.

How are your trade deadline acquisitions panning out so far?

Great! The acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson really came out of nowhere and was a clear sign that the O’s weren’t giving up on the season. He finally got his first start last night, and he pitched seven scoreless innings last night in a win over Kansas City. Meanwhile, Tim Beckham is 4-8 with three extra base hits in two games with the O’s. The Beckham move was a shrewd one that should help the team out beyond this year. The O’s will need a shortstop for 2018 since J.J. Hardy looks like he’s pretty much done, and Beckham is under team control through 2020. The former #1 pick is having his best year so far in 2017, so even the current version of Beckham is useful, but if he keeps improving it could be a steal.

Which Tiger do you think will be the biggest problem for the O’s this weekend?

It’s hard to pick anyone other than Michael Fulmer [Ed. note, this Q&A was prepared before Fulmer went to the DL. RIP Fulmer’s arm.]. The dude is good, and he’s facing off against Wade Miley, who has a 7.18 ERA over his last fifteen starts after a strong month and a half to begin the season. I’ll be impressed if the O’s can steal that one.

What’s a Jimmy Yacabonis?

A reliever with a BB/9 (8.10) that’s exactly double his K/9 (4.05). That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Our thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find more of his writing at Camden Chat, or head over to Twitter and tell him how great his name is, @cbooze1017.