|Sportsbook||Win AL East||Win AL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 56.5 (BetOnline)|
The 2016 Wild Card Game feels like an eternity ago. More than 300 losses later, the Baltimore Orioles are in Year 3 of what is going to be an uncomfortably long rebuild. Over the last two seasons, the Orioles are 101-223. Last season they flirted with being the first team since the 1999 Colorado Rockies to allow 1,000 runs. As it is, the Orioles became the first team since the 2008 Texas Rangers to allow over 900 runs. The Rockies, Detroit Tigers, and Pittsburgh Pirates followed them with that dubious honor last season.
The Baltimore pitching staff set the single-season record for the most home runs allowed…on August 22! The previous record was 258. The Orioles topped it with 34 games to go and eventually gave up 305. For what it’s worth, three other teams – the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, and Seattle Mariners – also topped the old record.
The Orioles actually improved by seven games from 2018 to 2019 and scored 107 more runs. Of course, they also allowed 89 more runs and gave up a lot of souvenirs. The youth movement is in full swing, though. Baltimore’s average age per Baseball-Reference for batters was 26.5 years, nearly two full years younger than the 2018 team that set a franchise record in losses with 115.
Looking at the Orioles with the glass half-full is virtually impossible, but their actual record of 54-108 was six games worse than their record by Pythagorean Win-Loss and five games worse by BaseRuns. I’ll reference these records a lot in the intros, but Pyth W-L is a standings metric derived from run differential. BaseRuns is a standings metrics derived from a context-neutral environment of all hitting and pitching outcomes put into a run differential formula. By 3rd Order Win%, a standings metric at Baseball Prospectus, the Orioles were more like a 59-103 team.
Things did get mildly better for the O’s as the season went along. After going just 27-62 before the All-Star Break, Baltimore went 27-46 after the All-Star Break. The Orioles scored 4.85 runs per game after the Break compared to 4.2 runs per game before the Break. They still gave up over six runs per game in the second half, but they were clearly more competitive.
This will be another season focused on individual development, both at the MLB level and within the system. When the Orioles went from old-school skipper Buck Showalter to new-school manager Brandon Hyde, it was a decision made in concert with the changes taking place at the front office level. The Orioles plucked Mike Elias from the think tank of the Houston Astros and also grabbed Sig Mejdal to help the team into the 21st century and make up for nearly 20 years of lost ground.
It is a process to say the least and one that isn’t likely to generate positive results in the standings again this season.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-236 (4.49/5.95)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||58.8-103.2|
|Record in One-Run Games||11-22|
|Additions: Tommy Milone, Wade LeBlanc, Cesar Valdez, Bryan Holaday, Jose Iglesias, Kohl Stewart, Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich, Zach Peek, Easton Lucas, Andrew Velazquez, Ramon Urias, Travis Lakins, Richard Urena, Brandon Bailey, Michael Rucker, Sterling Sharp, Marcos Diplan, Cole Sulser, Pat Valaika|
|Losses: Aaron Brooks, Gabriel Ynoa, Mark Trumbo, Tayler Scott, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Villar|
For a team with a lack of MLB-caliber players, it sure seems like losing Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy is a bad idea, but the Orioles have no reason to say that any trade is off-limits. The Orioles sent Bundy to the Angels for Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich, and Zach Peek in early December. Bundy made some strides last season, but the fact is that he needs to be in a park that suppresses power and be outside of the AL East. He was of little use to the Orioles, so trading him for a package of youngsters made a lot of sense.
The Villar thing is a little bit different. Villar was coming off of a four-win season with 24 HR, 40 SB, and he was the second-best regular hitter for the O’s behind Trey Mancini, whose name will be popping up in a lot of trade talks as the season goes along. The Orioles got low-minors arm Easton Lucas for Villar and also opened up some playing time, but it is fair to say that the Orioles traded away two Major League players and signed maybe three in Tommy Milone, Wade LeBlanc, and Jose Iglesias.
If you thought last year’s Baltimore offense was bad, get a load of this one. As far as wRC+ goes, where 100 is considered league average, the Orioles had four hitters with an above average wRC+. Pitcher John Means, who drew a walk in one of his three plate appearances, Austin Hays, who had 75 impressive plate appearances late in the year, Trey Mancini, and Jonathan Villar.
Renato Nunez hit 31 home runs and absolutely pummeled left-handed pitching, but he doesn’t walk a lot and a major component of both wOBA and wRC+ is the ability to not make outs. Nunez hit 31 dingers, but he only batted .244 and had a .311 OBP. Anthony Santander hit 20 homers, but had a sub-.300 OBP and wound up with a 97 wRC+.
This is going to be a low-average, low-OBP lineup once again and more than likely worse than last year’s group. It is possible that guys like Hays, who turns 25 in July, can be a consistent hitter at the MLB level, but we’re also looking at a guy that batted .254/.304/.454 in Triple-A before his small-sample size aberration at the MLB level. Santander hit 20 homers in High-A for the Indians in 2016 with a .290/.368/.494 slash, so his offensive upside is certainly in there, but injury-plagued seasons in 2017 and 2018 took away some important development time. Santander’s 20-homer barrage last season came with an anemic walk rate and a rather low 15.6% HR/FB% for a pull hitter, so the chance is there that he can keep up this home run binge, but it is unlikely that he will contribute in other ways.
Even with some of the surprising power numbers from guys like Nunez and Santander, the Orioles still finished 23rd in home runs. They don’t walk a lot. They don’t have many guys that make quality contact, as they rated 25th in average exit velocity.
The ceiling of the Baltimore lineup may simply be tied to one player and that is Trey Mancini. The concern here is that the Orioles could trade Mancini this winter. He has two years left of contract control after going through the arbitration process for the first time this past winter. Teams would want to capitalize on that control and the Orioles may be wise to capitalize on his offense.
Mancini went from a .308 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ in 2018 to a .373 wOBA and a 132 wRC+ in 2019. There was nobody else to really fear in the Orioles lineup, so Mancini’s walk rate spiked from 6.9% to 9.3%. He did bang out a career-high 35 home runs, but his .326 BABIP looks like something I would expect to regress. He does make a lot of quality contact and has a career .320 BABIP, but you don’t normally see home run spikes and BABIP spikes within the same year. In fact, projection systems like Depth Charts and Steamer have Mancini down for BABIPs in the .313 range, which lowers his wRC+ from 132 to 113 and drops his wOBA just under 30 points.
The biggest problem for Baltimore on the offensive side is that help is not ready to come from below yet. What you see on the Major League roster is what you get, so guys like Hanser Alberto, Nunez, Santander, Mancini, and even a journeyman like Jose Iglesias will have to hold it down. Advanced college bat Adley Rutschman will be up sooner rather than later, but he has a lot of work to do on the catching side in order to handle a pitching staff.
Ryan Mountcastle will make his debut this season at some point after banging out 25 homers last season with a .367 wOBA in Triple-A, but he is another guy with a low walk rate dependent on BABIP and power to put up numbers. That isn’t the type of profile I like to rely on with the leap from the minors to the Majors.
If you think the Baltimore offense is bad, I would encourage you not to look at the Orioles pitching staff. Dylan Bundy was the second-best pitcher with a 2.5 fWAR and a 4.79 ERA, a 4.73 FIP, and a 4.58 xFIP. John Means turned in a fine season with 3.0 fWAR, but he is a primary candidate for regression with a 3.60/4.41/5.48 pitcher slash. Means is an extreme ground ball guy and his home run prevention skills are why he managed a 3.60 ERA with a 5.48 xFIP, but his .256 BABIP against is likely to increase one way or another.
As it is, the K% for Means did decrease in the second half as he got around the league a second and third time. Pitch-to-contact starters have such a minimal margin for error without elite command and Means saw a 4.96 FIP in the second half with a big home run spike and a 3.4% decrease in K%. He went from nine homers allowed in 82.2 first-half innings to 14 HR allowed in 72.1 innings. His SLG against spiked from .370 to .467. Even if the balls are different this year, Means could just be beaten in other ways. He was in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity, so at least that is something to build off of as the staff “ace” and a cause for some optimism about keeping that BABIP down.
The Orioles did not retain Andrew Cashner, who was third in fWAR for them last season. Right now, it looks like Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Kohl Stewart, and Brandon Bailey could round out the starting five in the rotation. Bailey was a Rule 5 Draft pick, so he’ll need to stay on the MLB roster all season or be offered back to the Astros. Wojciechowski had a brief moment of pitching clarity last season, but ultimately wound up with a 4.92 ERA, a 5.30 FIP, and a 5.61 xFIP after a dynamite month of July.
Cobb’s return could be a sight for sore eyes, but he could also be an eyesore. His days with the Rays feel like eons ago, even though he was a 2.2-win pitcher as recently as 2017. In two years with the Orioles, Cobb has been limited to 31 starts and has an ERA over 5.00 with a FIP in the same range. He allowed 16 runs in 12.1 innings in April last season before missing the rest of the year.
The Orioles were last in bullpen ERA, but maybe deserved a slightly better fate. Their FIP of 5.38 was still abominable, but a 4.58 SIERA and a 68.4% LOB% suggest that the group could have been a bit better. Even Mychal Givens was not exempt from whatever sickness plagued the bullpen, as he turned in a 4.57 ERA and a 4.50 FIP. His 3.62 xFIP suggests better fortunes this season following a year in which he posted a 22.8% HR/FB%. He could be a bright spot. Miguel Castro’s under-the-hood metrics, specifically his fastball velocity and the spin rate on his slider, suggest that he could be a hidden gem this season.
Positives & Negatives
The positives really are few and far between with the Orioles. Fortunately, expectations are extremely low, particularly with the Blue Jays having an active offseason and three pretty solid teams in the AL East in the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox.
I do think there is some more hope for the bullpen. The HR/FB% spike for Givens looks like an outlier to me. I love the raw stuff for Castro, but it would be nice to see him actually harness it. Former top prospect Hunter Harvey will get some relief reps. Baltimore has other intriguing relief arms that could see innings in the pen like Cody Carroll, Dillon Tate, and recently-acquired Isaac Mattson.
The negatives do far outweigh the positives, though. Mancini is something of a regression candidate in my mind. He’ll still stand out as the best offensive player on this team, but a repeat of last season would surprise me a little bit. The Orioles will hit for some power, but solo home runs don’t do a lot of good when you allow over six runs per game. This is a low-AVG, low-OBP offense and it is hard to see that changing with the current personnel and the lack of high-upside minor league talent.
Pick: Over 56.5
In these season win total write-ups, I make a pick on every team. Some are strong and some are weak. This one is definitely on the weak side. Rarely do I want to tangle with a team that I know will be really bad or really good because I don’t have a wide range of outcomes. I just have 100 losses or 105+ losses to pick from.
The Orioles did play a touch better than their actual record last season and this win total line splits the difference between what happened and what should have happened per the alternate standings metrics.
Baltimore got better in the second half and I’m a firm believer that the teams that go all-in on analytics can improve at the margins as time goes on. With teams that are more advanced on the personnel side, like the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers, the results appear a lot more impressive with playoff berths and division titles. The Orioles won’t get any of those, but I do think the organization should show some improvement this season.