Could he be successful in the majors?
Not only do I think Jim Hoey can be a successful major-league pitcher, I think he has the potential to be an above-average closer. Of all the pitchers I’ve seen pitch for Norfolk, Jim Hoey is the most potentially dominating. In 21 innings, over 18 games, he struck out 32 and allowed only 11 hits (and no home runs). Of course, his control was shaky, with 17 walks in those 21 innings.
Hoey’s going to be 28, and he’s been injury-prone. 2004 and 2005 were lost years (a total of 21 2/3 innings in the NY-Penn league). He was brilliant in 2007 at age 24 (0.79 ERA at AA and AAA) only to succumb to another injury; he missed all of 2008 and spent 2009 getting back to where he once was. He’s not young; he doesn’t have good control, but still … 11 hits and 32 strikeouts is awfully impressive.
There are four basic types of (successful) closers. First are the Dennis Eckersley-type closers, who don’t have outstanding stuff but just keep throwing strikes and challenging hitters. Then there are the Stu Miller/Dan Quisenberry type closers, who get batters out with changeups and sinkers. Then there are the Mariano Rivera/Bruce Sutter type closers, who get batters out with pitches that move. Finally, there are the Goose Gossage/Lee Smith type closers, who overpower batters with their fastballs.
Hoey, obviously, would be in the overpowering fastball class. He’s not going to be Goose Gossage or Lee Smith. But the thing about that class is that some — not all — but some of them have been successful for a time without great control. Mitch Williams, Dick Radatz, Ryne Duren and Mark Clear, for example. If I compare Hoey to the other closer options the Orioles have, I’d give him a full shot at the job.
Is he potentially a solution to the Orioles’ first-base problem?
At first blush, no. Hughes got off to a hot start at Norfolk in 2010, was called up to Baltimore, didn’t set the world on fire, was sent down, and faded — his final slash stats were .258/.314/.410. He’ll play 2011 at age 27.
On the other hand, Harbor Park obviously hurt Hughes, and Hughes had a much better 2009. His career AAA slash stats are .276/.332/.453; those numbers are probably pretty close to what he can do as a major leaguer. They don’t look good, but they’re a lot better than what the current Orioles first basemen did in 2010.
But that’s more of an indictment of the Orioles first basemen. Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, Paul Konerko, Miguel Cabrera, and Kendry Morales were all clearly better than that; and only Cleveland (Matt LaPorta), Seattle (Casey Kotchman), and Texas (Justin Smoak/Chris Davis/Mitch Moreland) were worse. The rest of the regular first basemen in the American League — Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay, Billy Butler, and Daric Barton — were about the same. Looking forward, I’d say that I’d take every first baseman except Seattle and Texas over Rhyne Hughes.
Hughes played a lot of time in the outfield (61 games) in Norfolk. Would he be a viable bench player?
You can forget about Hughes being an outfielder; he was the worst outfielder that I’ve ever seen on an extended basis (I suspect Greg Luzinski was worse, but I didn’t see him often enough to register.) Hughes had eight outfield errors; the rest of the Tides combined for eleven. He had one outfield assist in his 61 games.
As a left-handed hitting bat-on-the-bench and backup first baseman, Hughes would be adequate; I don’t know if he’d be the best player of that type.
Like Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson is an established major league pitcher who made a brief appearance with the 2010 Tides while rehabbing an injury. I don’t have anything to say about his future.
I do have an interesting note about his past, however. I’m sure all of you know that a pitcher gets credit for a complete game no matter how many innings he pitches, provided he is the only pitcher used. It’s not earth-shatteringly unusual for a pitcher to earn a five-inning complete game, for instance. In 2007, however, Jim Johnson earned one of the more fortuitous nine-inning complete games in history. On July 27, Johnson started the game against the Durham Bulls; that was the last game of the homestand (and, in fact, the last 2007 game the Tides were scheduled to play in Durham.) After three innings, the game was suspended by rain. On August 25, in Norfolk, the game was continued from where it left off. Coincidentally, Jim Johnson was fully rested on August 25 and re-took the mound. He pitched the remaining six innings, thus getting credit for a complete game — a complete game spread over two days nearly a month apart and two ballparks.
Who is he?
Steve Lerud is a left-handed hitting catcher, originally from the Pirates organization. He has some power and an increasing amount of patience at the plate, which helps make up for an anemic batting average. In fact, he may be too patient. I saw him play five games at Norfolk. He only played defense in one; in the other four, he saw 69 pitches and took 47 of them. In the last three games I saw, he saw 53 pitches, of which he swung at 9.
Of the four Tides’ catchers (okay, five if you count Philip Britton, who didn’t actually catch for the Tides) Lerud would be my second choice (behind Craig Tatum) as a major-league backup catcher. He hits lefthanded, he does SOMETHING at the plate, and he’s not a terrible defensive catcher. The problem is that because Matt Wieters is a switch-hitter, Lerud’s being a left-handed hitter is of less value; he’s of more value to many other teams than the Orioles.
Where did he come from? Where is he going?
Frank Mata is a Venezuelan pitcher out of the Twins organization, with a build similar to Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva. Other than 34 innings in the Florida State League, he was at best mediocre. For some reason, the Orioles signed him as a minor-league free agent and assigned him to Norfolk. When Norfolk needed a closer, for some reason the Tides gave him the job and he pitched well enough to be called up to Baltimore. I’ve riffed on his tenure with the Orioles in a previous blog entry.
From a different perspective, Frank Mata is proof that the Orioles organization doesn’t know what it’s doing. He’s done nothing to demonstrate that he’s a quality major-league pitcher; he pitches well in two months in the best pitchers’ park in AAA; and they immediately promote him to the big leagues. To echo Bill James, the Orioles promoted Mata to the big leagues when he was pitching well, hoping to get something out of him before he stopped. The “lightning-in-a-bottle” approach to building a pitching staff is a hallmark of a clueless organization.
As to where he’s going, I haven’t a clue, especially since he became a minor-league free agent again. I don’t expect him to be going to a major-league team.
Is he a major-league pitcher?
Meredith’s another extreme sidearmer. He’s had some good years and some bad years:
As a sidearmer, Meredith is always going to be vulnerable to base hits. Consequently, he should never come into a game with runners on base. I’d use him to start innings and try to have him pitch more than one inning at a time. He’s not someone who will have four consecutive 1-2-3 innings, then give up four straight hits in his next outing; he’ll average a hit an inning by giving up one hit in every inning. If you let him play to the percentages, and use him in situations where one base hit won’t kill you, I see no reason why he couldn’t be an effective pitcher.
What happened to him? Will he ever live up to his potential?
Kam Mickolio is a tall (6’9″) pitcher, with limited pitching experience (he was born in Montana and played college ball in Utah), and with a slightly odd pitching delivery. When his delivery gets out of sync, it takes him longer than most pitchers to get it back. He was hurt early in the season, lost his rhythm, and never really got it back. I’m sure he’s hoping that a full offseason and spring will get it back.
I expect Mickolio to have at least one very good year, but I also expect him to have some bad years. I can easily see him having a Kyle Farnsworth-like career, in which 1/4 of his seasons are great; 1/4 of his seasons are terrible, and half of his seasons are actually pretty decent but, because they weren’t a great season, are seen as kind of disappointing. If everything breaks really well for Mickolio, he might have a Mitch Williams-like career.
Why have the Orioles seemingly given up on him?
I have no idea — maybe it’s because he’s got an unmemorable name and at 6’1″, 200 lb., just sort of blends in. He started his career as an A-Ball closer, a role usually reserved for heady organizational non-prospects. After he spent a full year in AA, he was traded to the Orioles, who immediately sent him back to AA. After he was promoted to Norfolk in 2007, he pitched reasonably well and was rewarded by being sent back to AA to start 2008. Promoted back to Norfolk, he took over as the closer for the second half of 2008 and pitched okay in a late-season callup to Baltimore. He was Norfolk’s closer for the first half of 2009 — even making the AAA all-star game — and then demoted to set-up relief for the second half of 2009. In 2010, he struggled at the start, joined Andy Mitchell on the Aberdeen shuffle, before rebounding to pitch fairly well toward the end of the season.
Okay, so Miller doesn’t have dominating stuff. I still find it hard to believe that Armando Gabino, Frank Mata, and Alfredo Simon have done more to earn chances than Jim Miller. You’ve got a major-league pitching staff that’s struggling. Why shunt aside someone who’s pitched well in AAA?
Couldn’t he be just an AAAA pitcher?
There are a few pitchers who are AAAA pitchers — good enough to succeed in AAA but not good enough to succeed in the majors. There are fewer of those than most people think, but there are some. However, these are generally starting pitchers with less-than-average stuff, but who can compensate in the minors with pitching skill and knowledge. That’s not Miller; he has decent stuff. He didn’t pitch badly in his 8 (actually 7 2/3) major-league innings. He’s just a guy who has pitched well in AAA and hasn’t proven he can — or can’t — pitch in the majors.