Inside Pitch: Baltimore Orioles

ITW's Inside Pitch takes a look at a problem common to both the Orioles' offense and pitching, notes and quotes from the past week, and some impending decisions about which Orioles will return next season.

One of the most important things Orioles management has to be thinking about going into the offseason is home runs. The batters hit too few of them. The pitchers give up too many of them.

In other words, the Orioles need some big bats that can hit the ball out of the stadium a lot more often than those the team has been paying in recent years, and they need some pitchers who will be much stingier with allowing home runs than those who have been wearing Baltimore uniforms.

The 2006 Orioles pitchers surrendered more home runs than any other pitching staff in the American League. They were tagged for a total of 216 home runs, with Kris Benson, Rodrigo Lopez allowing 33 and 32, respectively. And Bruce Chen, who spent most of the season in the bullpen, gave up another 28 round-trippers.

That trio of pitchers all finished in the American League's top-10 list of home runs allowed. Benson was fourth, Lopez sixth and Chen 10th on the list headed by Minnesota's Carlos Silva, who gave up 38 homers. Then there's Russ Ortiz, who was at No. 56 on the list of 315 pitchers who saw action in 2006. He allowed 15 homers while pitching only 40 1/3 innings.

Baltimore batters powered only 164 balls over the fences. Only three teams hit fewer home runs last season. In this era of 30 or more home runs being just average for those players who get a "power hitter" label, the Orioles had only two hitters with as many as 20 homers: Miguel Tejada hit 24, while Ramon Hernandez established a career high with 23. Nobody else had more than 16.

Needless to say, the Orioles' two leaders were not among the league leaders. Tejada's 24 home runs put him in a five-way tie for the 25th-most homers, while Hernandez's 23 left him in a three-way tie for the 30th-most homers.

Nick Markakis, Melvin Mora and Corey Patterson each hit 16 homers.

There's good reason for Mike Flanagan, the executive vice president for baseball operations, and Jim Duquette, the second in command in the personnel department, to be looking at home run totals when they're looking for pitchers as well as hitters they would like to have in an Orioles uniform in 2007.

NOTES, QUOTES

--UT Brandon Fahey could end up at Triple-A Norfolk after hitting .168 after the All-Star break. That followed his promising start that saw him hit .285 before the break. Only his solid defense in the outfield and infield could keep him in Baltimore in 2007.

--SS Miguel Tejada is proud of his consecutive games played streak of 1,080, the seventh-longest streak in baseball history. However, in order to catch record holder Cal Ripken, he'd need to play in every game for the next 9 1/2 years.

--RHP Daniel Cabrera spent 15 days on the disabled list and a month in the minor leagues during 2006 but still managed to lead the AL in bases on balls with 104. He was the only pitcher in the league to top the 100 mark.

--C Ramon Hernandez led the Orioles' everyday players with a .307 average with runners in scoring position, going 45-for-150 with 10 doubles and seven homers, helping him to 70 of his RBIs.

--LHP Adam Loewen led Orioles pitchers in wins after the All-Star break with six en route to a 6-4 record, achieved in 14 starts. LHP Erik Bedard and RHP Daniel Cabrera each had five wins after the break.

BY THE NUMBERS:

616 -- The number of hits Miguel Tejada has in his three seasons with Baltimore, the most any Oriole has had in a three-year period.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"Now's the time to start setting our sights for next year and getting excited about the chances we may have over the winter." -- Manager Sam Perlozzo as the Orioles went into the offseason.

ROSTER REPORT

The Orioles are optimistic as they leave the 2006 season behind and are looking hopefully toward 2007. The unexpected development of a handful of youngsters, including starting pitchers, provides the positive attitude, and while there are a few question marks, the team's needs at first base and in the bullpen have been defined.

BIGGEST NEEDS:

The bullpen in front of closer Chris Ray was horrendous. LaTroy Hawkins, who came in as a free agent, was not nearly as effective as the team hoped he would be. Todd Williams, a plus in 2005, had a significant dropoff this year.

Several former starters -- Eric DuBose, John Halama, Bruce Chen, Russ Ortiz and Rodrigo Lopez -- were tried but were erratic at best. DuBose and Halama were released, Chen and Ortiz are likely to be let go, and Lopez isn't happy and is on the trading block.

Youngsters Chris Britton, Sendy Rleal, Winston Abreu, Kurt Birkins and James Hoey will get their shot at returning, but a couple of veterans are needed for stability.

FREE AGENTS:

INF Chris Gomez, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, 1B/LF/DH Kevin Millar, INF Fernando Tatis, C Chris Widger.

There's a great deal of indecision about the potential free agents. Gomez and Millar are the most likely to be re-signed because of their versatility. Hawkins' numbers were less than impressive, but he might be worth something in a trade. Tatis and Widger are among the many over-the-hill players hoping for one more contract.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE:

2B Brian Roberts, CF Corey Patterson, OF David Newhan, LHP Erik Bedard, RHP Daniel Cabrera, RHP Rodrigo Lopez, RHP Todd Williams, LHP John Parrish.

The Orioles have to be prepared to go through the process with Roberts, Patterson, Bedard and Cabrera, while Lopez, Newhan, Williams and Parrish are question marks. Parrish might get another chance after being on the DL the past two years. Lopez has to be on the trading block, though his value has plummeted, while Newhan is a journeyman at best and didn't do enough after coming off the DL to make him essential.

IN LIMBO:

Tough decisions have to be made on 1B/LF/DH Kevin Millar, CF Corey Patterson and backups OF David Newhan, INF Chris Gomez, C Chris Widger and INF Fernando Tatis. The same is true of RHP Rodrigo Lopez, who has two years left on his contract but is coming off a 9-18 season, and RHP Kris Benson, who has a year left but has an option to look elsewhere.

PROSPECT WATCH:

RF Nick Markakis leaped this year from prospect to Rookie of the Year candidate by hitting .291 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. LHP Adam Loewen made his way into the rotation and UTIL Brandon Fahey became a viable backup. The Orioles still have high hopes for RHP Hayden Penn, who had a rough time in 2006, OF Jeff Fiorentino and LHP Brian Burres and RHP James Hoey in the problem-plagued bullpen.

MEDICAL WATCH:

OF/DH Jay Gibbons was unable to play defense during the second half of the 2006 season because of a knee injury that did not need surgery.

2B Brian Roberts plans to work to strengthen his left arm, which was weakened by surgery nearly a year ago. He believes it affected his hitting.

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