Across the AL: Baltimore Orioles Unlikely to Repeat 2012 Success

jair jurrjensThe Baltimore Orioles shocked many baseball fans in 2012, when they not only won 93 games and nearly won the AL East, but also managed to secure a spot in the postseason.  After all, it had been 15 years since the Orioles last had a winning season or made the playoffs.    Despite eventually losing in five games to the Yankees in the ALDS, the 2012 season was obviously a success for Buck Showalter’s Orioles.  Just as he promised he would when he joined Baltimore in 2010, Showalter has successfully given the team a new attitude and outlook.  Though, many wonder if the O’s in 2013 can replicate their extraordinary 2012 season.

In terms of major transactions, the Orioles were relatively quiet over the offseason.  The projected 2013 team looks amazingly similar to the team of last year, except for a few, subtle differences.  Looking forward, those subtle differences – to the offense, at least – should stand to help rather than harm the Orioles.

At first glance, losing a 29-year-old that hit 60 home runs and 155 RBI in his two seasons with Baltimore does not seem to help the team all that much.  However, when that player is Mark Reynolds, not re-signing him is a great move by the O’s.  Yes, they are saying goodbye to his impressive power numbers – through six big-league seasons, he has hit 181 homers and over 500 RBI.  But, more importantly, the Orioles are also ridding themselves of Reynolds’ unbelievably low batting average and staggering strikeout totals.

In case you forgot, Reynolds became the first player in history to record more strikeouts than batting average points (technically, because batting average is a percentage, he was the first player with a strikeout total 1,000 times his average, but you get the idea), when he finished the 2010 season with 211 strikeouts and a .198 average.  Reynolds batted .221 in each of his two seasons in Baltimore, striking out a total of 355 times.

Following this “addition by subtraction” theme, the Orioles also got rid of second baseman Robert Andino.  Although not as bad, strikeout-wise, as Reynolds, Andino still batted .211 with 100 strikeouts last year.  Andino was dealt to the Mariners in November for switch-hitting outfielder Trayvon Robinson, who will likely start 2013 in the minors but could give the Orioles some outfield depth as the season progresses.

To add some depth to their infield, the Orioles signed infielder Alexi Casilla.  Casilla is a solid defender who can play both second base and shortstop.  He stole 21 bases in 106 games for the Twins last year and should be able to help out on the basepaths for an Orioles team that finished last in all of baseball last year with 58 stolen bases.

With Alexi Casilla being the biggest offensive name of the Orioles’ minor, non-flashy acquisitions, one can only wonder just how, exactly, they plan to compensate for the immense power that Mark Reynolds took with him to Cleveland.  The answer lies in players that the Orioles already have on the team.

In addition to playing great defense at third base, Manny Machado served as somewhat of a sparkplug for the Orioles lineup after he was called up in August 2012.  Playing only 51 games with the Orioles, Machado’s 2012 numbers are from a very small sample size, but he managed to hit seven homers and 26 RBI during that time.  Prorate that over the course of a season, and you are left with about 21 home runs and 78 RBI.  Even if you are a little more modest and give Machado 15-18 homers for the season, that is still a very good start to matching the power numbers of Mark Reynolds, who hit 23 home runs in 2012.

Whether you are more comfortable giving Machado 15 or 21 home runs, adding 13 more from another player will bring the combined total of home runs between he and Machado to 28 or 34, respectively – which not only surpasses Reynolds’ total from last year, but also inches closer toward (or ties) Reynolds’ career average of 34 homers per season.  If you were wondering, 13 home runs is what second baseman Brian Roberts averaged from 2005 to 2009, when he was a healthy, consistent contributor to the Orioles.

Staying healthy has been difficult for Roberts over the last few years, as is evident by the total of 115 games he has played since 2010.  Unfortunately, several injuries – most notably, a pair of concussions – have prevented Roberts from staying on the field.  When he is healthy, Roberts is one of the top second basemen in Major League Baseball.  The good news for the O’s is that Roberts has fully recovered from his most recent concussion and looks really good in Spring Training – through 20 at-bats, he is hitting .400 with a home run, an RBI, and five runs scored.  At 35 years old, Roberts has aged a little since he was consistently putting up great numbers, but if he remains healthy for a full season, he can surely still produce.

Add the Machado-Roberts combination to notable Orioles that put up solid offensive numbers last year – Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy – and Baltimore’s offense looks as strong as ever, if not stronger.  However, as seems to be the (unintentional) theme of “Across the AL,” the rotation presents several uncertainties that cannot be ignored.  Unlike the slight changes to the offense, the offseason changes (or lack thereof) to the starting rotation will hurt rather than help the team’s chances in 2013.

There are three pitchers that are guaranteed a spot in the Orioles rotation this year: Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman.  Doesn’t sound like an intimidating trio, does it?

Hammel was pretty effective last year, going 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA over 20 starts.  However, 2012 was the only season in his career which he finished with an ERA under 4.33.  Also, he missed almost two months because of a lingering right knee injury and subsequent surgery.

Chen started 32 games for the O’s last year, going 12-11 with 17 quality starts and an ERA of 4.02.  His 2012 campaign was very good, but it was his first and only season in Major League Baseball, so it is difficult to determine the true effectiveness of the 27-year-old lefty.

Tillman, 24, was called up in July and produced amazing numbers.  In 15 starts, he went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA.  However, he only has 51 games of major league experience, has never started more than 15 games in a season, and, other than 2012, has never finished a season with an ERA under 5.40.

Fighting for a fourth and fifth rotation spot are a slew of questionable starters.  Being considered are Miguel Gonzalez (who was discovered while playing Mexican winter ball in 2011 and has only started 15 major league games, all of which coming last year), Brian Matusz (career ERA of 5.36), Jake Arrieta (career ERA of 5.33), Zach Britton (history of injuries; career ERA of 4.74), and Jair Jurrjens (who has battled injuries and ineffectiveness for over a year prior to the Orioles signing him to a minor league contract over the offseason).

While not expected to make the big league roster out of spring, two highly-touted prospects within the Orioles organization have a real chance of being called up in 2013 and making a meaningful impact on the rotation.

20-year-old Dylan Bundy has only 1 2/3 relief innings pitched at the major league level, but in 23 minor league starts in 2012, he went a combined 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA and a 10.3 K/9.  MLB.com has Bundy, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2011, ranked as the second-best prospect in all of Major League Baseball, as does Baseball America.

22-year-old Kevin Gausman, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2012, has no major league experience and has only started a total of five minor league games.  The right-hander is ranked at No. 37 overall by MLB.com and No. 26 by Baseball America.

At this point, Bundy is obviously more developed than Gausman.  If at all, Gausman will probably appear very late and in a limited role, but both starters have a legitimate shot at joining the big league club at some point this season.  Still, for either of these two prospects to get called up, the rotation would have to be somewhat effective for a considerable portion of the season, which does not seem very likely.  While Bundy and Gausman represent the promising future of the Orioles, the present rotation issues have the potential to cause serious trouble for the team in coming months.

It is safe to say that the Baltimore rotation collectively overachieved last year, producing numbers that, given the known history of an inexperienced staff, are going to be extremely difficult to reproduce in 2013.  The Orioles lack a legitimate ace, a proven, stable anchor to solidify their group of young and unseasoned starters.  Considering the weakness of the starting rotation, it is exceedingly difficult to envision a successful, 2012-like season for the Baltimore Orioles.

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14 Responses to Across the AL: Baltimore Orioles Unlikely to Repeat 2012 Success

  1. Mark Panuthos says:

    I agree with your formula – teams that overachieve one year tend toward statistical regressions the following year, but I don't agree that Baltimore overachieved. They began the season in seemingly awful fashion – and at the end of the season, their peformance in several categories is at or just above or below league average. That stated, they had an amazing second half of the season and their pitching really matured. They were neck-and-neck with the Yankees until the second-to-last game of the season, and took the Yankees to five games, and to extra innings in two games.

    Plus, even before they hit their stride in the second half, they had a greater run-differential than every other team the American league, except Texas. To some extent, that four-homerun schellacking at the hands of Josh Hamilton and Texas sort of made people think that Baltimore was flukeish, but by any measure, th eir playoff appearance was a success. They also led the major leagues in home runs and were at worst league-average in just about every other category.

    I think they'll battle the Rays for the AL East title. The Jays, Sox and Yankees will be battling for third place.

    • Eric Favaloro says:

      The Orioles did indeed have a great season and certainly gave the Yankees a run for their money at the end of the season and in the playoffs – I agree with that, and mentioned it in the post.

      But, looking at the starters' numbers from last year, it is hard not to believe that they didn't overachieve. Considering the career numbers of the guys from last year that actually have a major league history, they have not been very good, historically. Part of the problem is that many of the guys don't have much (if any) major league experience, so it's hard to determine what they are really like. I just can't see this ragtag group of starters pitching well in 2013.

      The O's didn't lead the majors in homers; they were second, behind the Yankees. Also, they were below league average in every offensive category except slugging and total bases. But I still think that they had a very good offense. I think the offense will be just as good (if not better) than it was last year.

      As far as standings, I think the O's will be battling the Red Sox for last place.
      My prediction:
      1. Jays
      2. Yanks
      3. Rays
      4. Sox/O's
      5. O's/Sox

      • Mark Panuthos says:

        The Jays win the division? Mark Beurhle is league-average at best, Jose Reyes is made out of glass, and RA Dickey is 38 years old and will not repeat last year's feats. If Joey Bats has an extended absence this season, they'll finish in last place. I like their managerial pick, but they picked a weak free agent class in which to spend like the Yankees.

        I'm not sure why your prediction for the Yankees is so rosy, our power hitters are out until at least May and pichers 3-5 are questionable at best. When we had great hitting, and Granderson's 40+ homeruns, we could get away with crappy defense. The only carry-over from last year will be the crappy defense part.

        How in the wold will the Rays, with arguably the best pitching in baseball finish third? The only team in our division that they won't finish AT LEAST .500 with is Baltimore. They've dominated Boston since 2007 and last year, New York won ONCE at Tropicana Field.

        O's in last place? based on what?

  2. The problem is that the Orioles didn't really improve much during the offseason. Considering that and their unbelievable record in 1-run and extra-inning games and it's hard to see them winning more than 90 games this year.

  3. Joey Baseball says:

    Look at Dickey's numbers the past 3 years. There is a trend. A trend that is repeatable. And don't give me the AL East "he will fail" argument. The last time the East has seen a knuckleball was Wakefield…and Dickey isn't a typical knuckled. You can only argue that the Jays are going to be bad because of a. Multiple Injuries or b. Chemistry. Any other reasoning is poppycock.

    • Mark Panuthos says:

      I like Dickey, I didn't make the "AL East is a beast argument", and anything is possible. On the other hand, he is 38.

  4. Eric Favaloro says:

    Once again, I think the O's will perform poorly, and finish in fourth or fifth place, based on their rotation. Jason Hammel is their ace….let's try caps lock for accentuation: JASON HAMMEL IS THEIR ACE. Considering that the ace of a staff is usually the team's best, most proven pitcher, I think it is safe to say that the rotation is HIGHLY questionable. How anyone could possibly argue that that makeshift rotation won't affect their play this year is beyond me.

    You should actually look at Buehrle’s career numbers, because he is far from “league-average at best." The guy is an absolute model of consistency. In addition to starting 30+ games for each of the last 12 seasons, he managed to win at least 13 games every season in the past five years (all with some pretty bad White Sox teams – and a bad Marlins teams). Since you are so fond of averages, let's take a look at Buehrle's average season. 14-11 record with a 3.82 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 21 quality starts. Pretty laughable to partially pin the demise of the 2013 Blue Jays on Buehrle.

    As far as the rest of the rotation is concerned, no, Dickey will most likely not repeat the feats of last year. Most pitchers don't win back-to-back Cy Youngs – but does that mean that he still can't have a great season, as he has done three years in a row?

    Jose "Glass" Reyes played 160 games last year and led the NL in plate appearances. Even when he played 126 games in 2011, he not only stole 39 bases and led the majors in triples, but led the NL with a .337 average. If he does miss 20-35 games this year (which, by any means, isn't guaranteed), he will still be a HUGE addition to the team.

    I agree with "Joey Baseball" when he says that chemistry or injuries can cause the Jays to fizzle, but don't try to argue that the players they got will not make an enormous impact on the team. And, don't just focus on the big-name players that created stirs over the offseason; the Jays added a bunch of other guys that don't necessarily garner tons of attention but add other elements, notably depth and experience. Guys like Mark DeRosa, Josh Thole, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis. Barring any unforeseen incidents or extreme lack of chemistry, the Blue Jays will indeed be dangerous, and the argument that all of this new talent will fail to help them has been stale since December.

    • Mark Panuthos says:

      Jose Reyes is 28 – not old, but his injuries have been to his most valued bodily commodity – his legs. No doubt, if he remains healthy, he is arguably the best shortstop in the league. But, last year was an anomoly. He missed 30 games or more in 2010 and 11 and missed the entire 2009 season.

      Mark Buehrle is league average at best. His ERAs of 3.74, 3.84, 4.28. 3.59 and 3.78 since 2008 are right around league average, give or take a few points. Not to make the AL East is a beast argument, but I think you see where I'm going with this. And, he's 33 years old.

      RA Dickey – no one is suggesting he'd have to win the Cy Young again to be effective. But you can't make the statistical regression argument for the entire Orioles team and not make it for a 38 year old knuckleballer who's never pitched in the AL East.

      But let's assume that you are correct about the Jays – you may very well be. I'm not familiar with the lesser-known players that you alluded to and perhaps the stars will align for the Jays this year as you predict. But please explain to me how you have the Yankees finishing second? the Rays – with the best rotation in baseball finishing third?

      I ask this because I see an Orioles team repeating their playoff bid not simply because I think they are so strong (especially not on paper) but because I see the rest of the rest of the AL East as being relatively weak.

      • Mark Panuthos says:

        oh, one more thing about Beurhle: he's 33, it took him 3061 pitches to get 125 strike outs, and he finished 10th among all pitchers in pitches per inning – not a good stat in the American League East where plate discipline is a hall mark.

  5. Lackey's Mole says:

    Hey Mark: B-U-E-H-R-L-E. Ok, thanks. BTW – You keep talking about how Buehrle is "league average" – listing mostly sub-4 ERA's. I don't even have to look it up – but the league always has an average ERA above 4. I think Buehrle being average is hardly a decent argument to go against the Jays. When your #4, possibly #5 starter is "league average", you have to be happy with that. Especially with someone who is as consistent and AL-Tested as Buehrle. Anyway, I doubt a teams #4/#5 starter being average will be a detriment to them.

    You also want to argue that Dickey is 38…and thats what you want to argue. Do you mean he is more prone to injuries? Do you mean his knuckler will lose speed? I don't really think that matters. He can pitch until 45 and will still have the same knuckleball. If you want to argue that since he's 38 he might be more prone to injuries..Ok. But if you want to nitpick "if's" and "maybe's" we can be here all day.

    • Mark Panuthos says:

      Mole-man: your point about the 4.0 and the spelling of Buehrle's name are correct. Congrats, you've made a distinction without making a point. The Jays are not better for having acquired him. We agree.

      Regarding RA Dickey – he had a great year, he's kind of a novelty, the Yankees had difficulty hitting Wakefield, who pitched until he was 500 years old, hence your argument that his age doesn't matter. But, he is 38, never pitched in the AL East, due for regression.

  6. Tanned tom says:

    I found it surprising the Orioles weren't more active this off season. Their rotation bites. No way they repeat their record in close games, they are simply primed for a 5-7 game regression.The Jays certainly improved, although they stil seem like a 89 win team to me. The Red Sox' moves were pointless. $39mm for Victorino, what are they smoking up there? The Rays made a move that will help in the future, but who knows about this year. They're gonna keep Myers in AAA at first to extend their control, and they traded 2 SPs, hard to make the case they've improved.

  7. Tanned Tom says:

    Against all this the Yankees did very little. A good rotation, a good bullpen that lost Soriano but gains Rivera, Aardsma, and Chamberlain. OF defense is better with Gardner back. Having A-Fraud gone is a mixed bag. Their losses were all minor: Martin was terrible offensively, Swisher will be missed (but Suzuki will be better in the field and on the basepaths, and probably in October), Jones was terrible, the Ibanez signing was a joke to begin with and he had a terrible year (couple of good at bats in the playoffs though). So I don't think they lost too much from last year. I think both Jeter and Rivera will return to form.
    What will really test is losing Teixeira and Granderson for 2 months. If they can stay near the lead through Labor day they should be fine the rest of the way. But this is clearly a transition year for NY. If they fall out of it, I wouldn't be shocked for them to trade Granderson, Hughes and Chamberlain.

  8. mcmastro says:

    Ichiro
    Jeter
    Tex
    Cano
    Granderson
    Youk
    Hafner
    Cervelli
    Gardner

    that order is JUST AS GOOD as the blue jays, and the Yankees pitching is less of a question mark and more of a strength than the Jays. Please understand that the flashy moves from a team that performed poorly last season will equal success.