Sabtu, 18 Februari 2012

SEason Preview, Part 4: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles
2011 Record: 69-93
Pythag Record: 67-95
Games out of first: 28 games

2011 Recap:

The 2011 season for the Baltimore Orioles can be summed up in one word, pitching. For the team with the third worst record in baseball, their offense did surprisingly well. They finished the season with a 97 wRC+ (12th in baseball) and 708 runs scored (14th in baseball), both above average rates compared to the rest of the league. Hitters like JJ Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Matt Weiters, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis all performed quite well in the above average Orioles lineup. It was the other side of the diamond that haunted the Orioles. To say that the Orioles pitching was abysmal would be the understatement of the year. Not only was the 860 runs allowed by Baltimore the worst in baseball, it was worse than the 2nd worst amount by a whopping 54 runs. Their ERA (4.92) was the worst in baseball as well, again by quite a large amount. This catastrophic failure was due in part to simple incompetence, in part to injuries and finally in part for being in the juggernaut AL East. There was no bright spot to the Orioles’ starting pitching in 2011. All five of the starters who compiled 100+ innings (Zach Britton, Alfredo Simon, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta) had below average ERA, FIP, xFIP and tERA. In short, they all pitched dreadfully……really dreadfully.

Top Performers by WAR (fWAR for pitcher, bWAR for hitters)

1. JJ Hardy, 4.1
2. Matt Wieters, 4.0
3. Robert Andino, 2.0
4. Nick Markakis, 1.9
5. Adam Jones, 1.8

Offseason Overview:

The biggest splash that the Orioles made this offseason was in the international market. On December 14th, the Orioles signed 30 year old Japanese left hander Tsuyoshi Wada to a 2 year, $8.15M deal. Wada pitched well in Japan, pitching to a 3.13 ERA with 1329 strikeouts in 207 starts over 9 seasons. His veteran leadership should also be a big help for the very young pitchers on the Orioles team. Next, on January 9th, the Orioles dipped into the Taiwan market, signing 26 year old Taiwanese Wei-Yin Chen to a 3 year deal worth $11.3M. Chen is thought to be more talented than Wada. Scouts say he has “exceptional command” as well as a hard breaking ball (his out pitch) and he can throw relatively hard with a fastball speed between 92-94 MPH. They also tried to sign Koreon prospect Seong-Min Kim from Korea but due to a procedural mistake, Major League Baseball recently voided the deal.
Aside from their international moves, the Orioles did not make a big splash this offseason. Probably their biggest move was trading struggling pitcher Jeremy Guthrie for the slightly younger struggling pitcher Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. They also acquired depth players such as starting pitcher Dana Evelend, catcher Taylor Teagarden, infielders Ryan Flaherty, Wilson Betemit and Matt Antonelli and lastly outfielder Endy Chavez. These acquisitions were all minor depth moves as the Orioles were very quiet in free agency this year.

Notable Additions:

SP Tsuyoshi Wada
SP Wei-Yin Chen
SP Jason Hammel
SP Dana Eveland
OF Endy Chavez
INF Wilson Betemit

Notable Subtractions:

SP Jeremy Guthrie
1B Derrek Lee
DH Vladimir Guerrero
LHP Mike Gonzalez

Projected Lineup:

2B Brian Roberts
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
SS JJ Hardy
C Matt Wieters
3B Mark Reynolds
DH Nolan Reimold
1B Chris Davis
LF Endy Chavez

This is actually a very solid and very deep lineup. There are basically no glaring holes as all of these players have offensive upside. Even Endy Chavez put up a .749 OPS last year with the Rangers, which is fine offensive production from the #9 hole. For me, the key to this lineup is the progression of the young kids Wieters and Jones. Wieters broke out a bit in 2011, with a .778 OPS but a lot of people expect much more out of this talented kid. The same applies to Jones who could very well improve on his .785 OPS from 2011. If both of these kids can improve in 2011 to support the vets in the lineup in Hardy, Roberts, Markakis and Reynolds, this lineup could do a lot of damage in 2012.

Projected Rotation:

SP Wei-Yin Chen
SP Zach Britton*
SP Jake Arrieta
SP Jason Hammel
SP Tsuyoshi Wada

The addition of the international free agents makes rotation look a lot more formidable then it was last year. They are the key for me. If Chen and Wada can pitch even decently in the AL East and Britton and Arrieta progress the way they should, this rotation could go from the worst in baseball to semi-formidable. Realistically, it will probably still be in the bottom half in baseball, but with the offense that Baltimore has, the rotation doesn’t have to be great to win games. Baltimore also has a good bit of starting pitching depth in case one of their starters goes down. Their #2 starter from Opening Day last year, Brian Matusz is currently out of the rotation due to a 2011 full of injury and horrible performance, but if he can return to form, it will be a big shot in the arm for the O’s staff. Chris Tillman, Alfredo Simon and Tommy Hunter are also in the mix for Baltimore.

*Zach Britton still has a lingering shoulder problem from the end of last season. Chances are he’ll break the rotation out of camp, but if not, the Orioles will replace him with one of Matusz, Tillman, Simon and Hunter.

Significant Relievers/Bench Players:

RP Jim Johnson
RP Kevin Gregg
RP Matt Lindstrom
INF Wilson Betemit
C Taylor Teagarden

Roster Strength:

Offense: The Baltimore Orioles offense was the only part of their team that was above average in 2011 and it should only get better in 2012. Brian Roberts missed almost all of last season with an injury and he should be back in 2012 and the young players, Wieters, Jones and Reimold, should all see improvements in 2012. If all goes right, the O’s could have a top 10 lineup in 2012.

Roster Weakness:

Pitching: Even with the additions to the staff, Baltmore’s pitching will still be its weakness in 2012. The two international FA could very well struggle coming over to America for the first time, Hammel had a very bad season in 2011 and Britton and Arrieta are both young kids who are far from guaranteed. If everything goes right, the Orioles could have a good rotation, but, with this many question marks, chances are there will be struggles for the starting pitching in Baltimore in 2012.

2012 Outlook:

The Orioles will almost certainly be much better in 2012 than they were in 2011. All of their veterans are returning, all of their young talent should get better with an extra year of experience, they acquired some talented international free agents and they will have some key players returning from injuries, most noticeably Brian Roberts. Unfortunately they’ll probably still finish in last due to the juggernaut state of the AL East. Even an improved Baltimore team will get beat around by New York, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto, but it should be a lot closer than the end result of 2011.

Potential Breakout Player:
Wei-Yin Chen: I’m not particularly sure that it counts as a “breakout” after the player has had 4 successful seasons in Japan, but seeing as this is his first season in Major League Baseball, I figure it’s good enough. Scouts rave about Chen’s stuff, he’s got solid velocity, great control and a very good breaking pitch and had a career ERA of 2.84 in Japan. While it is almost certain that he will not have an ERA below 3.00 in the majors, if he can have a good season at all, it’ll be a big boost for the Orioles pitching staff.

Potential Bust:

Jason Hammel: Hammel had a very bad year in 2011, throwing up a 4.76 ERA, 4.65 xFIP and a completely horrendous 5.98 tERA. Considering the fact that he’s moving from the NL West to the AL East, I do not expect those numbers to get any better. If anything, he could very well be worse in 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually lost his rotation spot in 2012, consider the amount of depth that the Orioles have with their starting pitching.

Prospects with potential to help in 2012:

Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams already has major league experience, playing in 29 games in 2011. He struggled a bit, but being a rookie, that’s probably to be expected. He’s said to have a decent bat with some pop and a solid glove. Depending on what happens with the injury prone Brian Roberts, Adams could be important for the Orioles in 2012.

Cole McCurry: McCurry pitched well in three levels in 2011, including almost 40 innings in AAA. He’s just a reliever and won’t have a big impact but he’s likely ot see the Orioles bullpen in 2012, probably as a lefty specialist.


Projected Record: 76-86
Projected Finish: 5th Place
Projected MVP: Matt Wieters (5 WAR)

Final Thoughts:

The Orioles on paper are a good team in a very tough division. They have a very solid offense and if the starting rotation plays to its potential, it could be effective as well. The bullpen has some solid relievers and good depth, both on their bench and in the minor leagues. In any other division, I would not be surprised if the Orioles finished at or above .500, with anywhere between 80-85 wins. However, with the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays in their division, I doubt the Orioles touch 80 wins. They should still do much better than they did in 2011 and will most likely be the best last place team in baseball.

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