Last Five Years:
2009: 63 – 98 (5th AL East)
2008: 68 – 93
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 70 – 92
2005: 74 – 88
The Baltimore Orioles have had a worse record each year since winning 78 games in 2004 and haven’t posted a winning season since 1997, when they won 98 games. What in the name of Earl Weaver is going on here???
Runs Scored: 741 (11th, AL)
Runs Allowed: 876 (Last, AL)
Another year of rebuilding, another year of trying out prospects, and another year of being battered in road games, where the Orioles were 25 – 56. Ouch.
Despite this, the Orioles are starting to show signs that they are accumulating the type of talent that will make them competitive – which would be good enough in the AL Central, but not in the AL East.
Just looking at the monthly splits, the team batted pretty well all year but had power surges in May and August. What really happened was that the team slugged enough to help the pitchers in the beginning of the season, but the pitching really left them after the all-star break. The team ERA was a tolerable 4.55 in July when the Orioles were off – winning just 9 of 25 decisions. Then it went to 5.30 in August as Baltimore lost 20 of 30 games, and finished at 6.22 (!) in September when the team lost 20 of 26 decisions. Were it not for a four game winning streak in October, the Orioles would have lost 100 games.
So – looking ahead quickly, the Orioles need to figure out how to make up for a 135 run gap between offense and defense that would allow them to get to .500.
Jeremy Guthrie, who would look good on most teams, got to 200 innings in his 33 starts and wasn’t horrible despite his 10 – 17 record. He’s not a league average pitcher in part because he doesn’t strike out enough batters – just 110 on the season.
The rest of the rotation struggled. Rich Hill, brought in as sort of a reclamation project, gave the Orioles 13 awful starts (7.80 ERA), David Hernandez was called up for 19 starts that were a bit better, but he was whacked around to a 4 – 10 record. Koji Uehara started off okay, but went down to a shoulder injury. Prospect Jason Berken didn’t look ready – 24 starts and a 6.54 ERA. Adam Eaton was added to the rotation and was predictably awful (2 – 5, 8.56). Mark Hendrickson was allowed to start 11 times but was better in relief.
However, Brad Bergesen came up and won 7 of 12 decisions, and saved his team 16 runs over 123.1 innings. Brian Matusz was given 8 starts and was league average, winning five of seven decisions. Chris Tillman wasn’t awful.
The bullpen had George Sherrill‘s 20 saves and a solid 2.40 ERA, but shipped him to Los Angeles, putting Jim Johnson in the closer position where he was barely tolerable – not necessarily helping down the stretch. Danys Baez gave the Orioles 72 decent innings. Brian Bass was asked to work a lot of long relief.
Working against those four were Matt Albers (5.51 ERA), former closer Chris Ray (7.27 ERA) and a few other small time tryouts.
Looking ahead to 2010, the Orioles have to start by finding 400 better innings of pitching. Kevin Millwood was acquired from Texas – Millwood was solid for five months and if he can keep his ERA under 4.50, would represent a 40 run improvement over 2009. Guthrie gets the second spot, and Bergesen and Matusz will get more starts. If they stay healthy and make 30 starts, that’s another 40 runs better. Chris Tillman is expected to be a prize – and certainly will be better than eight Adam Eaton starts.
So, a realist sees the potential to make up at least 60 runs on last year, and an optimist might see 100 runs of improvement.
The bullpen adds former Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez to the closer spot. Gonzalez CAN be a good closer, and he CAN be a bit inconsistent. Still, adding the healthy arm to the mix will be a step up. Former Padre Cla Meredith will also help out, taking on the Baez innings. Will Ohman comes over from the NL – and I would rather see him than, say, Matt Albers, who is still around and on the active roster as of 4/1.
I don’t see the bullpen being that much better than last year – and certainly nowhere near as deep as the top three teams in the division.
Matt Wieters is here – the cover of Sports Illustrated in March – and could EXPLODE on the scene and make the all-star team. Wieters didn’t disappoint as a rookie, showing a little power and hitting .288. He represents a step up over Chad Moeller and Greg Zaun, and has far more upside. The new back up is Craig Tatum. Wieters does need to improve is caught stealing rate (barely league average) but is more mobile and made fewer mistakes per game than the two veterans in 2009.
Last year, Aubrey Huff was merely ordinary and not producing at the rate the Orioles had hoped – just 13 – 72 – .253. First baseman are supposed to create 100 runs of offense, and Huff was responsible for just 55. Michael Aubrey and Garrett Atkins are around now. Aubrey is an oft-injured Indian farm hand who was stuck behind Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez (among others), but could be a surprise performer. Atkins has been in decline for a few years and when asked to backup Todd Helton at first looked awkward. I’d rather play Aubrey and keep Atkins on the bench.
Brian Roberts remains a remarkably productive offensive force at the top of the lineup, but his bad back is affecting his already below average range. The Orioles don’t really have another choice (Robert Andino could field it, but not hit), so they have to hope that Roberts can keep his back loose and mobile.
At short, Cesar Izturis provided a great glove with no bat in the mold of Mark Belanger – hitting .253 with no power and, even worse, drawing just 18 walks in 114 games. At least he keeps the pitchers happy.
Melvin Mora looked very old last year – only eight homers, and barely generating 50 runs of offense. In his place, the Orioles are returning former Oriole Miguel Tejada (who is older than Mora) to play third. Tejada had a solid season at short for Houston last year, but agreed to the move here. Mora is usually pretty solid defensively, but Tejada could be his match and will certainly provide a bit more offense.
Looking at this pragmatically, and assuming Michael Aubrey gets the first shot at first base, there could be 30 more runs here (35 more at third, 15 more at first, offset by a potential decline at second base). If Atkins plays, it’s probably only 15 runs better than last year, and that’s offset by Atkins bungling the position defensively, too.
With Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold, the Orioles have a pretty productive group here.
Markakis is a dependable source of hits and runs, though his range isn’t enough to make up for his rocket arm. I do believe, however, that this will be his breakout offensive season. Jones needs to play 150 games, and if he does, will make a run at 20 – 20, if not 30 – 30. Pie can field any of the three positions and isn’t a problem with the bat, though he’s not a well rounded hitter. However, Nolan Reimold showed power and patience and if given 500 at bats, might hit 25 homers. Fifth outfielder Luke Scott gets to be the DH – a power source from the left side of the plate, though he needs a platoon partner.
Looking ahead, I see no reason that this group can’t find 50 more runs of offense by (a) staying in the lineup, and (b) continuing to show progress.
Robert Andino and Garrett Atkins in the infield and Felix Pie in the outfield are joined by super sub Ty Wiggington, who could also be a regular first baseman and help the club. Luis Montanez gets to be an extra outfielder when needed.
The best guy not already listed above that played at AAA Norfolk might be second baseman Justin Turner. Turner hit .300 with a .362 OBP and has tolerable speed. He’s NOT as good as Brian Roberts, but if he is forced to play, I think he will outhit Andino and might surprise you with how good a fielder he is. He’s certainly better with the glove than Roberts at this stage. Turner is a Cal State Fullerton grad, and a former Reds draft pick (7th Round, 2006).
The best pitchers in Norfolk were Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, who had solid runs and shots with the parent club last year. Another option is reliever Kam Mickolio. They all have the tools, they just need to put things together, which isn’t as easy as it looks – especially in the AL East.
A couple of Bowie Baysox (AA) pitchers to look for will be Brandon Erbe (44 hits allowed in 73 innings, but control issues) and Jacob Arrieta (70 Ks in 59 innings across 11 starts). Give them a year or two and they might round out the Orioles rotation. Another young reliever, Steven Johnson, might start the year at AAA. The best hitter going through AA was Brandon Snyder, who pounded pitchers to a .343 batting average with 10 homers in 201 at bats, but appeared a bit overmatched at AAA. A former catcher (and 2005 #1 pick), Snyder is getting time at first base now and if both Aubrey and Atkins aren’t producing in June, Snyder is just a hot start away from making the roster.
Richie Hebner managed former Wofford College slugger Brandon Waring and the Frederick Keys in 2009. Waring is a third baseman who hits the ball a LONG way, and seems to be making progress in reducing his strikeout numbers. Another former Reds prospect, Waring is still a couple of years away and should be ready for a look when Tejada hits 40. Former FAU grad Robert Widlansky hit .340 for Frederick, but this was the first time he had played this well.
Among the pitchers, Brian Matusz already made it from Frederick to the bigs, and 22-year-old Zach Britton looks ready to try on AA after a year with 131 Ks in 140 innings. Reliever Pat Egan still showed great control, but may not have enough gas to make it to the bigs.
You have to like Baltimore’s chances of moving the wins needle back in the right direction. The potential to shave 60 – 80 runs defensively is there, and if Tejada doesn’t turn out to be 45 at third base, the offense could improve by 75 to 90 runs. What is working against the Orioles is the top of the division – three teams all worthy of 90 wins. I think the Orioles are extremely capable of winning more games than they lose – but might not just because they are in the AL East where good isn’t good enough. So, even though the system says 83 – 79 I think 79 – 83 might be more in line with the final record and I am going to go against what the system says.