Last year, I wrote the season preview for the Baltimore Orioles. This year I am at it again, albeit with far less enthusiasm and optimism. Whelp, it’s 2016 and I am two months from 30. You know who else is almost 30? Yovani Gallardo. The same Yovani who the Orioles are on the verge of losing their first round pick, number 14 overall, for [Or maybe Dexter Fowler? — Ed.]. Sigh. Alas, this is not about who the O’s may sign, this is about what happened last year, and what the team looks like right now. So, without further ado, your 2016 Baltimore Orioles!

Bal Record wRC+ SP ERA- RP ERA- DRS UZR BsR Pay – $M
2013  .525 (15) 101 (10) 90 (3) 112 (8) 17 (11)  40 (3) 14 (4)  91 (15)
2014  .593 (3) 104 (6) 90 (5) 92 (5) 49 (3) 55 (2)  -6 (23)  107 (15)
2015 .500 (16) 96 (21) 110 (23) 78 (4) -7 (20) 9 (12)  -5 (25)  110 (17)

 

How does the team score runs? Is the lineup predicated on depth, or on a huge production from a few stars?

The 2015 edition of the Orioles looked very different than the team in 2014. Did they come back from winning the AL East and beat everyone again? Nope. They played .500 ball, which for a team that couldn’t get to that point for 14 years, isn’t that bad. However, for a team in 2014 that surprised everyone but themselves and won 96 games and had a +112 run differential with a team ERA of 3.43, 2015 was a disappointment.

Last season saw just about every stat go in the wrong direction for the Orioles. They gave up 646 runs, good for a 4.05 ERA. If not for the leftover box of Dunkin Donut holes at third base for the Red Sox, and whoever it was that played left field and first base, Baltimore may have been a first to worst team.

So what went wrong for the Orioles? Did they lose the ability to hit the long ball? No, the team hit a bunch of those – 217 to be exact, 6 more than in 2014. So, home runs were not the problem. The team as a whole slugged .421, good for a second place tie with the Yankees, behind those crazy Canadians. So, that wasn’t the problem either. How about getting on base in general? Certainly a team that hits so many homers also gets on base at a pretty high clip, right? Isn’t that what normally happens with a team that relies on the home run? They hit home runs, they walk and the strike out? Well, I am glad you asked. The answer my good reader, is that they were tied for suck in the OBP department.

As David Schoenfield at ESPN pointed out, Chris Davis and Manny Machado were the only Orioles that had over 27 bases on balls. Only three teams in the 162-game era have had only two players walk at least 30 times, and all of those teams played over the past two seasons: the 2015 Orioles, the 2015 Phillies, and the 2014 Diamondbacks. Ouch. That is not good company to keep.

So, it seems that things really did not change much for the Orioles from 2014 to 2015. At least not in the hitting department. Machado was godlike, played sexy defense and turned that doubles power into home run power. Chris Davis bounced back from a very poor offensive season and produced 5.2 offensive WAR. Adam Jones, who had his worst WAR season since 2011, had fewer than 600 plate appearances for the first time since 2009, when he played in only 119 games. Those three players were the only guys to get into more than 114 games, and more than 500 PA’s. That is not the sign of a good team.

By having only three players amass 500+ PA your team obviously has a lot of other guys that get less than that. The Orioles had 16 players with at least 100 PA, and another seven with at least 10 PA (not including the aforementioned Davis, Machado and Jones). I guess you could call that depth. They had guys that could fill positions. Jimmy Paredes rode a ridiculous BABIP for a month, played every day and then was benched pretty much full time once he came back down to earth. Then there was David Lough, Ray Navarro, Ryan Flaherty and Steve Clevenger. That sums up the bench.

All of that is not to say that there are not exciting players to watch. Machado’s high five bff Jonathan Schoop really stepped it up in the second half, and ended the season with a much more respectable line than the previous year, where he hit .206/.244/.354. Schoop and Machado form a very nice under-24 duo that should continue to excite fans for years to come. I kind of have a crush on him. Nbd, he does have that sexy swing. Sure, he will never walk much, but damn just listen to the sound of the ball off of that bat. There are some red flags here to consider. Schoop swings at an incredibly high rate. His swing rate was second-highest at 61%, again second highest in swings in the zone at 84%, and first in swings in the zone at 18%. He does have legit power, but if he does not bring down his swings and misses, than his raw power might not play up in game.

This brings us to Machado. Ah Machado. I wrote last year that “Machado should have the green light to go full speed ahead in Spring Training.” I am going to claim that what I meant was “green light” to steal a bunch of bases, not “green light” to actually move around on two surgically fixed knees. I Nostradamused that beast, and you read it here first, at Banished to the Pen! Good for me. Machado should continue to advance as a hitter. Machado logged career-bests in walk, strikeout, and hard contact rates, which aided a boost in ISO of 49%. With his already elite defense, he should have no problem of becoming the top third baseman in baseball. And with JJ Hardy’s decline, it would not be totally surprising to see Machado make a move back to shortstop.

Now, Chris Davis. Remember that time Davis stopped crushing and hit .196/.300/.404 with a pedestrian (for him) .209 isolated slugging percentage? His 2015 season was what some thought his 2014 would be. He came back from an awful .242 BABIP, way down from his career .320 mark, with a .319 BABIP. He also had his best walk rate of his career, at 12.5%, up from his career 9.2% rate. Long story short, forget that awful 2014 performance, Cash Davis is here to stay! I’d be shocked to see another 30% home run per fly ball rate again, but he should remain in the top tier of first basemen. Davis could easily be the Orioles’ most intriguing player, but only because he signed the largest deal ever for an Oriole. You can read more about that on other sites. Just use the Bing or Dogpile or whatever you kids are using nowadays.

I am going to bring a new section to this year’s Team in a Box profile. Key additions!

The major (really only) additions as of February 16 are left fielder Hyun-soo Kim, and DH Mark Trumbo. That’s it. Sure they signed some minor bench guys or AAAA guys, but Kim and Trumbo are it. Hyun-soo Kim hit very well in Korea. ESPN’s Eric Longenhagen wrote this about Kim:

“He can spray line drives to all fields despite the hips and feet of a pull-only hitter. That skill is the product of Kim’s natural swing path and his willingness to let pitches travel deep into the hitting zone before making contact. Because of Kim’s natural inclination to stride down the first-base line and open his hips early, scouts are concerned he may be vulnerable on the outer half of the strike zone and to off-speed stuff running away from him.”

Over at Fangraphs, the ever enjoyable Jeff Sullivan wrote about why Kim might look familiar to Orioles fans. Kim has good walk rates, strikeout rates, and pretty good power. He walked 38 more times than he struck out, and hit 28 dingers. Not bad. How will this translate to the majors? I will tell you exactly how it translated in about 8 months.

The projections* however, for the most part, look like this for Kim:

PA AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ BB% K% HR SB BsR Def WAR
567.5 .273 .332 .412 .147 .327 104 8.2% 13% 14.5 7.5 -0.1 -4.5 1.5

*Projections are the average of PECOTA and Steamer. Also, I wanted to put a box in this article. So there you go, a box with projected stats in it. Do with it what you want.

Those projections look similar to Nick Markakis, albeit with some more power. Markakis patrolled right field for the Orioles for 9 seasons. At his best, Markakis was worth 6 WAR. Kim will not be that, but he could easily be the Markakis the Orioles were used to for four seasons, when he ranged from 1.4 to 2.4 WAR. If Kim is that player, then $7mil for two years is not bad.

Trumbo had a couple of subpar seasons with the Dbacks and Mariners, and is now a 30-year-old low average, no walk slugger. Exactly the kind of player the Orioles like. In Camden Yards, he should hit 30 homers and hit about .255 with a .300 or a tick below OBP. Yawn.

What is the manager’s approach to in-game strategy?

Buck Showalter is typically thought of as a meddler, someone with his hands in every aspect of an organization. Showalter has an obsessive attention to detail. This is seen best in the way he handles the bullpen. The Orioles finished with the 11th most innings, however they also had the fewest games on 0 days’ rest. This is due to the Orioles ranking second in the majors in multi-inning relief stints. This included the closer, Zach Britton, who was not the normal 9th inning, 3 outs, hit the showers reliever: Britton tied for the most saves of five+ outs, and had the eighth most multi-inning relief appearances among closers with at least 30 saves. Showalter tends to stay away from the offense, allowing his coaches and players to handle it on their own. Fun fact, Showalter piped in crowd noise during spring training drills to help the younger guys get used to loud noise. One of the more wild things Showalter tried last year was putting Steve Pearce at second base. So Showalter tries the bizarre (Pearce at second), does anything to gain any perceived advantage (piping in crowd noise), and the unconventional (multi-inning relief appearances).

How will they prevent runs?

This picture says it all.manny

I don’t always field ground balls at third base, but when I do…no, wait, I do always field ground balls at third base. Also, ladies, I am single.

 

Okay, there is more to run prevention than Machado. Kevin Gausman also will have something to do with it. Why? Because Gausman is going to be an ace, nay an Ace with a capital “A”. Gausman was drafted in 2012, number 4 overall, and debuted less than a year later. Obviously he dominated and was basically Jose Fernandez, and we all lived happily ever….No, wait, no he did not dominate. He was pretty bad. Gausman finished the year with an ERA of 5.66 and started the next year in the minors. He has been yanked around since then, moved from starter to reliever back to starter and back to reliever again, all while being shuttled between Baltimore and Norfolk.

So Gausman didn’t necessarily dominate through all of that. He did throw very hard, got swings and misses, and induced weak contact. His average fastball velocity, according to PITCHf/s, was the 8th hardest among pitchers with 110 innings or more. That tied with spme hot names like Carlos Martinez and Matt Harvey. So Gausman throws very hard, has a good split fingered changup, has a swinging strike rate of 10.9% and zone contact rate of 83.8% (tied for 10th best among pitchers with 110 innings or more). What does that all mean? Well…it means he will be a pitcher that falls somewhere in between Max Scherzer and Rubby de la Rosa. One of these names is not like the other. I’ll leave it for you to decide which pitcher he will be. Cause that covers a lot of them.

The other pitchers are not that interesting. Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jiminez, Miguel Gonzalez and someone else. Yawn.

That bullpen though. Brad Brach, Brian Matusz, Chaz Roe, Mychal Givens, some-dude-that-had-Tommy-John-and-is-out-of-minor-league-options, Darren MF O’Day and Zach Britton. Whew. While none of those names are household yet, they should be. Mychal Givens is a hard throwing version of Darren MF O’Day. Zach Britton has the best pitch in baseball. It is this bullpen, and Showalter’s willingness to allow guys to throw to more than three batters, that allows the mediocre starters to go 6 innings. With a full year of Givens, the Orioles have a new weapon that should excite fans on the beltway.

It is upsetting thought that they no longer have Ryan Webb waiting for the call to the bullpen when his team is up by 3 or less runs.

What’s it all mean?

The Orioles were a .500 team last year. They lost a lot. This being the main thing gone. But seriously, the team is going to miss Wei-Yin Chen. He was a fan favorite. He was easily the team’s best pitcher. They gained so much more though! They have Odrisamer Despaigne! And Vance Worley! I know it’s super exciting! They get a full year of Mychal Givens, Matt Wieters, and, hopefully, Gausman. This should help out some, but it is still a team in the much improved AL East. PECOTA, per usual, is low on the Orioles. Unfortunately, I agree this year that they are a bad team. Last year I said they would be behind the Blue Jays. That was not an incorrect statement (no need to point out that I also said it would be between the Jays and Red Sox for first place…). PECOTA says a 72-90 record. I say this has the looks of another .500 team. It all depends on the pitching coming together. Maybe Dylan Bundy is crazy good out of the bullpen, stretches out and gives the team 15 starts with an ERA of 1.45 and 156 strikeouts in 120 innings? A man can dream.

 

Check out Effectively Wild‘s season previews and the schedule of our own companion previews.

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