March 23, 2012

Season Preview: Orioles


Photo by Steve Nesius/Reuters


I don't think anyone will be surprised that the Orioles are projected to come in 5th place in the AL East this season by my method or by anyone else's method of projecting team records this season.  The AL East has 3 of the best teams in baseball in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays and another in the Blue Jays that is quickly taking the steps to get to their level.  Unfortunately, that leaves the Orioles in last place for the foreseeable future.  With a terribly tough division, the Orioles just don't have enough talent to seriously compete.  But let's see what they project to bring to the table this year.  The fielding component is from the Fangraphs fan projections, so it has the least amount of reliability of all the projections.  The hitting projections are from Dan Szymborski's ZIPS system.  To see how I compiled these projections and analysis, see my introduction to the series here.

Catcher

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPS BAZIPS OBPZIPS SLGFieldingWAR
StarterMatt WietersS6000.2680.3340.42954.5
ReserveTaylor TeagardenR1000.1970.2640.34500

Wieters is projected to have a very strong season at catcher for the Orioles this year with 4.5 WAR, which is actually a little bit lower than last season's 5.0 WAR.  The hitting projections are similar to his season last year, while the defense projects him to be closer to human after being other worldly last year.  I think this projection could actually underrate Wieters for the upcoming season as he could easily improve further in what will be his age 26 season.  The power really started to emerge towards the end of 2011, as he hit 12 home runs in August and September combined. If he carries his power surge over into 2012, Wieters could actually come close to all of the crazy expectations he had when he was coming up through the minors. 

As long as Teagarden's back injury doesn't sideline him too long, he should see about 100 pretty dull plate appearances.  If he misses time, odds are Ronny Paulino will fill in as Matt Wieters' caddy and provide similar nondescript performance.  This is the only position where the Orioles are projected to get the most WAR in the division. 

First Base

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPs BAZIPs OBPZIPs SLGFieldingWAR
StarterChris DavisL4500.2500.2990.44000.5
3B ReliefMark ReynoldsR2200.2180.3200.36100.5
C ReliefMatt WietersB100.2680.3340.42900
DepthNick JohnsonL200.2230.3500.31800
ProspectJoe MahoneyL200.2540.2990.38000

The team is only projected to get 1.0 WAR out of first base this season.  Largely, that is the result of a poor season being projected for Chris Davis.  ZIPS does project him to hit 23 home runs with 72 RBI's so the projection isn't all terrible.  However, he'll really have to bring his thunder stick to the plate if he wants to make up for his projected .299 OBP.  The playing time projections imply that Davis loses his job at some point to Mark Reynolds, likely in August or so.  The only way that happens is if the O's find someone else to play 3B.  Maybe they could move Betemit to 3B and find someone else to DH, whether that's Reimold, Davis himself or maybe even Nick Johnson.  That is providing that Johnson makes it to August in one piece; realizing with his history that's pretty unlikely.

Second Base

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPS BAZIPS OBPZIPS SLGFieldingWAR
StarterRobert AndinoR5000.2490.3010.35831.5
ReserveBrian RobertsS1500.2650.3320.411-10.5
ProspectRyan AdamsR500.2600.3070.381-10

Brian Roberts is still recovering from his concussion problems, though he recently began taking batting practice and fielding ground balls. Still, there isn't a time frame for him to return to action so 150 plate appearances is all we can reasonably project at this point and even that is just a guess. The projected starter at the position, Robert Andino is projected to be slightly below average and accumulate 1.5 WAR. As the Orioles second baseman, his triple slash is projected to be .249/.301/.358 with a positive fielding number. The 28 year old is more than adequate as a back up infielder at 3 positions, but he's stretched a little bit in a full time role. Though his game winning hit to end the season against the Red Sox last season was a sublime moment for Orioles fans.


Shortstop

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPs BAZIPs OBPZIPs SLGFieldingWAR
StarterJ.J. HardyR5500.2680.3160.446104
ReserveRobert AndinoR1000.2490.3010.35830
ProspectRyan FlahertyL500.2380.2890.376N/A0

The Orioles #5 ranking at the shortstop position was actually their highest ranking in the entire Fangraphs series.  ZIPS projects Hardy to lose almost .050 points from his slugging percentage from last season.  He's also projected to have a phenomenal season on defense, which is pretty standard for him.  If you combine his far above average power for the position with good to very good defense, you're left with a valuable player.  As we previously talked about, the Orioles made some positive changes to Hardy's approach last year.  The results of him re-focusing on pulling the ball were strong so there's a good chance he'll maintain that approach into the 2012 season.  In the offseason, he was signed to a 3 year $22.25m contract extension.

In addition to J.J. Hardy, the Orioles have one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball in Manny Machado.  The #3 pick in the 2010 draft, he was recently named the 11th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.  Machado had a solid season in A ball last season as an 18 year old, and it's expected that he'll be sent back to High A Frederick to start this year and potentially see some time in AA as well.

Third Base

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPs BAZIPs OBPZIPs SLGFieldingWAR
StarterMark ReynoldsR5250.2180.3200.461-102
ReserveChris DavisL250.2500.2990.440-80
DefenseRobert AndinoR250.2490.3010.35830
UtilityWilson BetemitB1000.2520.3160.430-70
ProspectJosh BellB500.2320.2860.38300

After moving to first base late last season, Mark Reynolds is projected to be the Orioles third baseman again this year.  After an unbelievably bad season in the field last year, I expect that he'll get somewhat better.  It'd be hard to be that bad again in the field and keep his job at third.  If he's that bad again, I fully expect him to get moved to 1B or DH.  His strikeout rate last year of 31.6% was actually his lowest rate since his rookie year of 2007.  If he can continue to make progress in that area, perhaps his average and OBP can creep up a little and he can be more than just an average third baseman for the O's.  If his defense doesn't get better, expect to see either Wilson Betemit or Chris Davis take over for him.

Left Field

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPs BAZIPS OBPZIPS SLGFieldingWAR
StarterNolan ReimoldR3500.2460.3250.416-11
ReserveEndy ChavezL1750.2700.3010.36130.5
ReserveJai MillerR250.2210.2880.42600

Left field is one of the weaker positions on the Orioles team this year.  Nolan Reimold is expected to get the bulk of the playing time and only accrue 1 WAR.  Reimold's career has been up and down so far, and it will be interesting to see what he can do in a full season of at bats.  One of his best qualities is his willingness to take a walk shown in his career BB% of 10.3%.  The 28 year old has also shown some power in his time in the majors so he's got a chance to be a solid player for the Orioles.  Endy Chavez should steal some at bats from him against tough right handed pitchers as well as serve as a late game defensive replacement.  His defensive skills are excellent.

Center Field

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPS BAZIPS OBPZIPS SLGFieldingWAR
StarterAdam JonesR6000.2780.3220.447-53
ReserveEndy ChavezL1000.2700.3010.36130.5

Despite the constant trade rumors swirling around Adam Jones this offseason, he remains an Oriole for the upcoming season.  That's a good thing for Orioles fans as he remains one of the team's best players.  26 years old until August, he should be right in the prime of his career.  The one area he needs to focus on is his complete allergy to taking a walk.  His BB% last year was only 4.7% and for his career he's only walked 4.8% of the time.  Needless to say he's not getting any better.  The culprit of his poor walk rates is his inability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone.  He's had an outside the zone (O-Swing %) swing rate of around 40% for his entire career.  The league average is only 29% or so.  If he could learn to not swing at pitches outside the zone, his walk rate would move to a much more palatable level.

Right Field

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPS BAZIPS OBPZIPS SLGFieldingWAR
StarterNick MarkakisL6000.2820.3500.416-52.5
ReserveEndy ChavezL500.2700.3010.36130.5
ReserveJai MillerL500.2210.2880.42600

Nick Markakis is the Orioles right fielder for the 7th straight season though he's still only 28.  His power never developed as the team hoped though he has turned into a slightly above average regular.  He's been consistently worth 2-2.5 WAR over the last 3 seasons.  Recovering from abdominal surgery during spring training, he's only recently began taking part in spring games.  Nick will derive his value through getting on base and slapping balls into the corners for doubles.  He didn't turn out to be the superstar the team hoped, but he is a valuable player for the O's.

Designated Hitter

RolePlayerBatsPAZIPS BAZIPS OBPZIPS SLGWAR
StarterWilson BetemitS4000.2520.3160.4300
ReserveNolan ReimoldR1500.2460.3250.4160
ReserveMark ReynoldsR750.2180.3200.4610
ReserveChris DavisL750.2500.2990.4400

One of the very few Orioles additions over the offseason, Wilson Betemit signed a 2 year $3.25 million contract to serve as the team's DH.  Betemit was very successful in his 40 game stint with the Detroit Tigers at the end of last season compiling a .373 wOBA.  ZIPS apparently doesn't believe in small sample sizes as it projects him to post just a .322 wOBA this season.  His success this season could hinge on how he's used by Orioles manager Buck Showalter.  Last year, Betemit crushed righties to the tune of a .365 wOBA and hit like a back up shortstop against lefties with a .270 wOBA.  If Showalter can hide him against lefties, Betemit could be a solid addition for the O's.

Starting Pitcher

PlayerHandIPZiPS K/9ZiPS BB/9ZiPS HR/9WAR
Jason HammelR1805.92.81.12
Zach BrittonL1805.63.50.92
Tsuyoshi WadaL1507.62.61.41.5
Wei-Yin ChenL1505.82.11.61
Tommy HunterR10052.31.31
Brian MatuszL1006.63.51.40.5
Brad BergesenR505.12.81.30.5
Jake ArrietaR506.44.41.30

The latest depth chart on the official Orioles team website goes Arrieta, Hunter, Hammel, Chen, Britton, Matusz, Wada.  With Britton out at least 6 weeks after a trip to Dr. Andrews, we're probably looking at Matusz in the rotation.  After his terrible season last year, he's been great this spring and has shown much better velocity.  He's been sitting 90-91 and touched 94.  If he maintains that velocity into the season, he is going to be much improved from last year and his 10.69 ERA.  Jason Hammel came over in the Guthrie trade from the Rockies.  He had a down year last season, but has been fairly good prior to that.  He should be league average or so.  Chen and Wada are big question marks coming over from Japan.  Each has had some success over there but we don't know how it's going to translate to the major leagues and especially the AL East, no easy place to pitch. 

Tommy Hunter came over from Texas with Chris Davis in the Koji Uehara trade.  He'll need to start striking out more batters than his 2011 rate of 4.78 K/9 if he wants to have success.  His walk rate was excellent last year at 1.59 BB/9.  We'll see if he can maintain that.  Hunter should eat innings for the O's at the very least.  I don't expect Bergesen to be in the rotation much at all this year.  Jake Arrieta needs to get his walks under control to be successful.  To date in the majors, he has walked over 4 BB/9 in each one of his seasons.  Tillman has flashed 95 mph velocity this spring, which would be great if he could maintain it to the regular season.

Relief Pitcher

RolePitcherHandIPZiPS K/9ZiPS BB/9ZiPS HR/9WAR
CloserJim JohnsonR64.26.12.40.81
SetupMatt LindstromR51.26.331.10.5
SetupKevin GreggR568.24.81.10
MiddlePedro StropR637.94.70.70.5

Jim Johnson is projected to take over the closer's role from Kevin Gregg this season.  There was some talk of moving Johnson to the rotation this year but once spring training hit, that plan was quickly scrapped.  Johnson doesn't have the usual repertoire of a closer, but he instead succeeds by throwing a heavy sinker and getting gobs of groundballs.  Last year, he had a groundball rate of 61.5% which was the 9th best rate in the entire league.  Gregg is a replacement level reliever even though he has the always valuable tag of "proven closer."  He has no business pitching important innings for the Orioles.

Summary

The projected Orioles Wins Above Replacement (WAR) comes to a total of 32.  If we add that to our baseline of 48, we get a total of 80.  However, I found all of the team totals to be about 10% high so I'm going to discount them all 10%.  That leaves the Orioles with a projected record of 72-90.  I think that's about right.  Obviously, the Orioles have a lot of team building left to do.  On the bright side, they do have two of the top 10 minor league prospects (Bundy and Machado) according to the various prospect experts and they also have the 4th overall pick in the upcoming June draft.  If the team can pick a good player in the draft, and Bundy and Machado turn into stars, they could be on the path to competing in the toughest division in baseball.

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