2014 Finish: 96-66 (First Place)
Projected Batting Order
LF Alejandro de Aza
SS J.J. Hardy
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
DH Steve Pearce
C Matt Wieters
3B Manny Machado
RF Travis Snider
2B Jonathan Schoop
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Chris Tillman
LHP Wei Yen Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Ubaldo Jiminez
CLOSER Zach Britton
The Orioles have turned things around. After missing the playoffs for 14 straight seasons, the Orioles made it to October baseball in back-to-back seasons and won the division last year for the first time in 17 years. They have a core group of very good players and are now dealing with expectations to perform. But this team lost two very valuable pieces in Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz this offseason. They didn’t add anyone of consequence and will have to try to keep pace with the powerful Blue Jays and re-tooled Red Sox in what now looks to be a three team division race.
The Orioles are a slugging offense. They hit 256 HR as a team, 1st in the league. They did most of their damage with the longball ranking first in HRs but only 6th in runs. They are a team that swings for the fences come hell or high water. But losing Nelson Cruz really and Nick Markakis will certainly hurt this offense. And what makes Baltimore fans frustrated is the fact that owner Peter Angelos chose to not replace either with a marquee free agent or make any trades to improve the team. The whispers of his skinflint nature returned after falling quiet for two years. And Baltimore fans are remembering why they never liked their owner in the first place.
Center fielder Adam Jones is the Orioles’ best hitter and a greatly underrated player, even this far into his career. One of the most durable players in the game, Jones played in 159 games last year hitting 281 with 29 HR, 96 RBI and 88 R. Despite his speed, he’s never stolen more than 16 bags in a season with only 7 last year. But he’s still a 5-tool player who can hit for AVG and power. A lot of people don’t like his low OBP numbers, but that is truly nitpicking with a player this great. He’s a career 279 hitter with a great track record for staying healthy and performing. I’m thinking 285 with 25 HR, 95 RBI and 80 R with maybe 10 SB.
If the Orioles are going to have another strong year, then they will need first baseman Chris Davis to have a bounce back season. After his 2013 career year where he hit 286 with 53 HR and 138 RBI, he fell back to earth with a 196 AVG, 26 HR and 72 RBI. The HR and RBI totals aren’t bad, especially when you figure that he only played in 127 games due to a suspension for taking Adderall without a special dispensation from the league. Baltimore is hoping that being able to take his medicine again will help him return to his 2013 levels. But that’s the only time he’s ever played nearly that well. However, he was so good in 2013 that it seems unlikely that that year could be an outlier. We’ll see. I bet he splits the difference. I see him hitting around 250 (career 253) with 25-30 HRs and 85+ RBI. Those are great numbers, but not close to his 2013 production.
Steve Pearce emerged last year to have a Davis-like season out of nowhere in 2014. In 8 seasons, he never hit more than 4 HRs. Then he slugged 21 last year while hitting 293. I don’t know what they put in the water there but apparently it turns average players with around 10 years of experience into offensive powerhouses. I truly don’t know what to expect from him this season. He may hit 280, he may hit 220. He could hit 25 HR or 8. I think he’s all or nothing. The Orioles think he’ll hit 20+ HR again and plan for him to hit 5th. I think he’ll hit 12-15 HRs with maybe a 240 AVG.
Last season, Alejandro de Aza was a fourth outfielder that played good baseball for the Orioles in the playoffs. This year, he will be the starting left fielder and leadoff man. Such is baseball in Baltimore. De Aza isn’t a bad player, but he hasn’t proven that he can be a starting caliber player in the majors over his career. He’s had some good years (281 in 131 games for the White Sox in 2012) but has had his best years playing a part-time role, similar to last year when he hit 293 off the bench for the Orioles as opposed to only 243 starting for the White Sox. He’s got speed (back-to-back 20 steal seasons in 2012 and 2013) and some pop (17 HR in 2013). I don’t think he’ll be a bust and think he’s young enough that he can develop that last little bit to be a solid starter. But they are asking a lot and he may struggle initially. I see him as a 265 hitter with 20+ SB and 80+ R if fully healthy.
I put shortstop J.J. Hardy in the number 2 hole. A lot of managers like guys with pop hitting second because the theory is that player will see a lot of fastballs with the leadoff man on base. Power hitters can turn fastballs into home runs. Other managers like to put good AVG guys in the 2 hole because they can give you good ABs, move runners over or act like a leadoff man if the number 1 hitter fails to get on base. At different times in his career, J.J. Hardy has been both of those guys. After hitting 20+ HRs for three straight years, Hardy only hit 9 in 2014. However he spent a large chunk of last season hitting around 280, about 20 points higher than his career norm. Injury and a late season swoon dropped him down to 268, but the question is, what will Hardy be this year? I think he returns to what he has been over his career: a 260 hitter with 20-25 HR power. He’s started the year on the DL, but assuming he comes back on time he could still hit 20 HR and drive in 70.
Another player starting the year on the DL is catcher Matt Wieters. He’s never become the star the Orioles hoped he’d be when they drafted him first overall, but he’s become a very good catcher. He only played in 28 games last year before needing Tommy John surgery and missing the rest of the season. The year before he hit 22 HR, but that came with a 235 AVG. Over his career he’s a 257 hitter who averages around 20 HR a year. That’s not bad for a catcher. When you add in his great defense, you have a very valuable player. He may not be back until mid-May, which will affect his numbers. Put him down for 245 with 15 HR and 65 RBI in limited duty.
Highly touted Manny Machado will man third base this year, but has to find a way to stay healthy. The Orioles can’t afford many more injuries and Machado has been injury prone his whole career. I have him hitting 7th, which seems like a safe place until he can prove he can stay healthy and hit to his potential. I like Machado, but think he is way overrated. While he’s flashed some power, some good contact ability and a ton of great defense, he hasn’t stayed healthy and had that huge season. He hit 283 in 2013 with 14 HR and 71 RBI. He played in 156 games that year. The year before was only 51 and last year was only 82, though he was very good in his half a season hitting 278 with 12 HR. It’s a risk to assume he can stay healthy and that his numbers will stay at that level over a full year. He could hit 20 HR. Or he could hit 12. He hasn’t had the rigors of a full season which include not only a lot of games, but pitchers getting film on you and forcing you to make in-season adjustments. He hasn’t proved to me he can do that yet. I think he will play 130-145 games this year with a 270 AVG and 16 HR. If he does it early and moves up the in the lineup he could drive in 75, but 65 is a better estimate for me.
With their outfield lacking depth, the Orioles signed Travis Snider to play right. Snider never lived up to his potential with Toronto and was a platoon player in Pittsburgh. While Baltimore is a better place to hit than Pittsburgh, it’s not as good as Toronto. Perhaps his familiarity with the pitchers plus his experience will give him a leg up, but I think he won’t breakout and ever be the player we thought he could be. He hit 13 HR in 140 games last year. I think he can hit more in Camden Yards, though his AVG may drop. Think 250 with 16 HR.
The last spot in the lineup will go to Jonathan Schoop. Schoop’s been around Baltimore a while in a platoon role, never having a starting job to himself. Last year, he hit 16 HR in 137 games and did enough to become the starter, relegating Ryan Flaherty to a backup role. He only hit 209, but the 16 HR in Baltimore is the focus as this team likes to swing for the fences. I think he could hit 15-18 starting a full slate of games, but that will come with another sub 220 AVG.
The backups on this team are actually really interesting. I mentioned Ryan Flaherty who is a serviceable player backing up second base. But the Orioles also have Delmon Young on their bench to take some DH ABs and fill in for the corner outfielders in a pinch (has to be a big pinch…he’s terrible in the field). Young hit 302 in 83 games last year with 7 HR. The Orioles also took a chance on Everth Cabrera who is trying to latch on with another team after the PED suspension and his struggles in San Diego where he hit 232 in 90 games last year. If not for his great speed (18 SB in that shortened time) and the fact that he plays short, he wouldn’t be worth the risk. But with Hardy on the DL, Cabrera will get some solid playing time to start the year and maybe get into a groove. If the second base platoon falters or Machado gets hurt again, having a guy with 50+ SB potential on the bench is a luxury. As it is, he’s the best pinch runner in the game. And he provides another leadoff option. And both of the catchers the Orioles carry in addition to Wieters (Caleb Joseph, the current starter and Ryan Lavarnaway) are more than capable backups. The Orioles do boast some offensive depth.
This offense has an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. They have a ton of power, but only a few hitters who can hit for solid AVG (Jones, Machado, de Aza). While this approach has worked for them in the past, it is risky and prone to be streaky. Add to that the strength of today’s pitching, and you can see this team struggling to score runs. I love the power. I like the depth. I love Adam Jones. But I just think they will go through some very pronounced dry spells, which will hurt them over a long season.
The defense on this team should be pretty solid. The outfield looks especially stout with Adam Jones, possibly the best defensive center fielder in the game, Alejandro de Aza, a former center fielder playing left and Snider, a solid defender in right. They will miss Markakis and his Gold Glove in right, but Snider isn’t bad. Pearce is expected to play some right, which isn’t good and Young may get some time there too if his bat is hot, which is even worse from a defensive standpoint. J.J. Hardy is a Gold Glover at short and Manny Machado is just as good at third. The second base platoon is pretty average and Chris Davis is pretty decent at first, if perhaps too aggressive due to his relatively recent switch from third. Matt Wieters is excellent behind the plate, Joseph has a great arm and Lavarnaway is above average. Everth Cabrera is good at short and could be great at third or second. This defense isn’t the best, but it’s well above average. It could potentially be good.
As a pitching staff, the Orioles are the exact opposite of their offense. They don’t have any stars and don’t rely on the strikeout, which is kind of the pitching equivalent of the home run. Instead, they have a number of quality players and hope their depth produces solid results. It did last year as they had the third best ERA in the league at 3.43 and were in the top half of most of the other categories, minus BBs and Ks. They only led the league in one category and that was Saves. They have their primary closer back this year, but will have to deal with the loss of a great lefty in Andrew Miller who bolted for the Yankees in free agency.
The Orioles really don’t have a bona fide ace. Chris Tillman is their number 1 starter and he is very good, but not great. Last year he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA. He tossed 207 IP and kept runners off base with a 238 BAA and 1.23 WHIP, both solid, but not really strong numbers. Tillman isn’t a strikeout guy. But with back-to-back 200 IP seasons of sub 4 ERA baseball, he is a very solid pitcher and the man the Orioles trust the most on the hill. If healthy, I like him to get his third straight 200 IP season with a winning record, 12-14 Wins and an ERA around 3.50.
Japanese lefty Wei Yen Chen returns for his fourth season in Baltimore. Over his first two seasons, he was dependable, giving the Orioles good innings and an ERA around 4. But he had his best season last year going 16-6 with a career best 3.54 ERA. I don’t know what his new mindset was, but where I saw the most improvement was in his BB totals. He pounds the strike zone and will give up a fair number of hits. But last year, he didn’t compound that by walking guys as well. His 1.23 WHIP was fairly average, but an improvement for him. He’s not a big strikeout guy and depends on good defense to help him strand runners. That being said, I think he will regress a bit because you can’t consistently strand that many men. Being on a good team will get you some extra wins, but I think he’s a 12 Win pitcher with a 3.75 ERA this year.
The rest of the starting rotation is made up of Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Ubaldo Jiminez. Gonzalez is a solid middle of the rotation guy with a possibility to be more than that if he can learn to make better use of his good stuff. But as a 30-year old he hasn’t figured it out yet. In 26 starts last year, he was 10-9 with a 3.23 ERA. But the Orioles are only cautiously optimistic as his peripheral numbers (1.30 WHIP, 255 BAA) are subpar and there is concern he will regress a bit. I’d put his ceiling at 10 Wins with an ERA around 4.
Bud Norris is a solid veteran, well suited for his number 4 starter role. He went 15-8 last year with a 3.65 ERA. He is an above average pitcher who limits base runners and eats innings. The goal is 200 IP from him with a sub 4 ERA. I think he can meet those expectations and turn in another 12 Wins with an ERA around 3.75.
Ubaldo Jiminez is the question mark. He’s been great in his career. He’s also been awful. Last year he went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 22 starts and 3 relief appearances. That’s not good, but what makes it worse is that it happened in the first season of his new 5-year, $50 million deal. He was worse in the second half of last year with an ERA just under 6. The Orioles made him fight for his job in Spring Training, but he edged out Kevin Gausman for the final starting spot. I have no idea what to expect from him. While he was solid in Cleveland in 2013, he has been bad more often than he’s been good. I think he’ll produce another losing record with an ERA between 4 and 5. I have no idea where though. If he’s bad enough, expect young Kevin Gausman, who is rapidly improving, to take over his starting spot.
Until he does, he will be the long reliever and provide some depth in a bullpen that still looks strong, despite the loss of Andrew Miller. Zach Britton has really embraced his role as closer and went 37 for 41 in Save opportunities last year. That came with an excellent 1.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 178 BAA. I think in a full year he could have 40-50 Saves with an ERA around 2.
Britton is a failed starter that has remade himself has a reliever. That is a theme to Baltimore’s bullpen. Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter are also guys who couldn’t cut it as starters but are playing well as relievers. Gausman will be a starter at some point, but is playing well right now as a long reliever and spot starter. Darren O’Day is a very good setup man in his own right and the Orioles feel like they have a very strong bullpen. I agree
This pitching staff won’t scare anyone. But I like what they have to offer. They have a number of quality starters and some depth in the bullpen. While they may not have an ace to carry the load, they have at least 3 pitchers with the ability to throw 200+ competitive innings and then a deep bullpen to help keep the O’s in games beyond that. They won’t win any awards on the mound, but they should help the Orioles nab some wins, which is really what it’s all about.
I like the Orioles this year. I liked them last year too. The problem is, they aren’t as good this year as they were last year. Losing Markakis, Cruz and Miller is a lot. Having to also deal with injuries to Hardy and Wieters compounds those losses. While the Orioles should still be good, I think the moves the Jays and Sox have made make them just as good, if not better.
Many see the AL East as a place where 4 teams could possibly win. If you leave the tri-state area, most others see this as a three-team race (don’t kid yourself NY). While I like the Orioles and think they will be in the race, I just think having that streaky all-or-nothing offense will come back to bite them. I’m giving them 89 Wins and see them finishing third in a tight division. However that won’t be enough to secure the O’s a spot in the playoffs.