Can the Orioles do it again?

Updated: January 26, 2017

It doesn’t feel right, even when I type it here and know that it is true, but over the past five seasons the Baltimore Orioles are the best team in baseball. Each year they have been nominally in the playoff race and have made the playoffs in three of those five years. Of course, we all remember last year’s Zach Britton debacle in the AL Wild Card game, but it was just 2014 when they made the ALCS and were swept by the Royals for a spot in the World Series.

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The thing about these Orioles teams hasn’t been how good they’ve been, but how good they’ve been in spite of the projections saying they wouldn’t be good. This was true last year when they had one of the worst starting pitching staffs in all of baseball, but hit so many homeruns and had such a great bullpen that it didn’t matter. It was true in 2014 when they were projected for 79 wins and they when to the World Series. Heck, it was true in 2012. They just seem to beat the projections every year and be a really good team in spite of their roster. So, the question today is: Can they do it again?

Fangraphs Projected Standings currently have the Orioles at 79-83 for the season which puts them far behind the Red Sox and currently projected for fourth behind the Blue Jays and Yankees. Based on recent history, this seems unlikely. However, this team looks to have many of the same issues as last year’s team and it seems unlikely that they will outdo the projections once again. They led the league in homeruns last year, hitting 28 more than the next closest team and that seems unlikely to repeat.

The obvious name here is Mark Trumbo who they just re-signed to a three-year deal. His power is undeniable, but a repeat of last year’s performance seems unlikely. Last year he posted career highs in homeruns (47), on-base percentage (.316) and slugging (.533). The big number is that paltry .316 OBP which, if that is your career best, is pretty bad. His value comes 100% from his ability to hit homeruns and even a small step back makes him an average player at best. Despite that huge homerun total last year he had just 1.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference thanks to his terrible defense, low OBP and negative value as a baserunner.

You could say similar things about Chris Davis who hit 38 bombs last year, but only had a .792 OPS. These are simply high variance players who are overly reliant on power. These two combined for 85 homeruns last year and 75 combined this year simply won’t be enough.

Of course, they still have Manny Machado who should be an MVP candidate once again and Jonathan Schoop has made positive leaps. All this said, even with some stepbacks this team will still score some runs. The question, as always is the pitching.

You pretty much know what you are getting from Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman at this point, solid and unspectacular work. The real worrying points are Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez who have shown signs of regression over the past couple of seasons. The Orioles can’t necessarily afford another step back from either of them. The only real possible sign of upside is Dylan Bundy. He is a former top prospect who showed a few signs of being a good starter in 2016. Him moving to the top of the rotation for this team would be huge, but it is not necessarily a great bet.

The bullpen led by Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and Brad Brach should be very good once again, but it’s hard to see them overcoming that pitching staff. Buck Showalter has shown us the past couple of seasons that he can make things happen with smart managing, but I just don’t see it with this year’s team. Trumbo won’t be that again, the offense won’t be that again, the rotation feels like it could implode and I’m just not sure what can be done.

I’m going to say that they come a lot closer to their projection than they have in the past this season, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they outdo it again. It’s just the Oriole Way.

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