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American League Two-a-Days: Baltimore Orioles

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Baltimore Orioles

2013 record: 85-77
2013 runs scored: 745
2013 runs against: 709
2013 pythag. record: 85-77

Baltimore blew through pessimistic preseason projections last season driven mostly by being one of the top slugging teams in the AL.  They improved across the board, reaching the 85 win plateau.  They did not repeat their playoff season from 2012, although the improved competition in the AL was as much a factor in the Orioles getting trapped under teams like Kansas City, Texas, and Tampa.

The offseason push came very late for Baltimore, who will forfeit their first and second round draft picks after signing RHP Ubaldo Jimenez and DH Nelson Cruz.

Who is having a good spring?

SS JJ Hardy might be the best player on a team with many good ones.  He’s hitting .400/.455/.600 this spring.  OFs Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz are crushing the ball.  ‘Crushing’ is a relative term though, at least when Chris Davis hits .474/.545/.895.  On the pitching side, Baltimore has gotten quality innings from right hander Bud Norris and left hander Wei-Yin Chen.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Orioles

Baltimore has a fighting chance with an improved rotation.  They didn’t have either Norris or Jimenez on opening day last year.  The Oriole rotation is actually pretty good, although some serious regression is expected from Chris Tillman.  However: Jimenez, Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Chen, Norris is a pretty decent rotation.  Right-handed prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy give the Orioles some rotation depth.

Baltimore is a very good, if a bit overrated, defensive unit.  They acquired one of the AL’s better defensive outfielders, David Lough in a trade with Kansas City this offseason.

Baltimore’s productive lineup was pretty young last season, averaging just 27.7 years of age.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Orioles

The young lineup for Baltimore produced a ton of extra base hits, but had a major weakness in getting on base.  Most of the right handed power in the lineup is swing-happy.  The acquisitions, Lough and Cruz, will not change that.  As is, Baltimore’s going to have a real issue with getting on base in 2014.  Possibly more serious is the full lineup power regression that the projection systems are predicting.  Fangraphs projects the Orioles to slug .427 as a team this season.  Last year they slugged .432.

When you factor in some defensive regression, the Orioles starting 9 slips to below average in 2014.  It’s still pretty talented overall.  But Manny Machado (coming off knee surgery) hasn’t played yet in live competition, and is not expected to be ready for the start of the season.  That will eat into a lot of the expectations for the O’s offense.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Orioles is 35.5, 11th in the American League.  Their 21.9 Batters WAR projection is 10th in the AL. Their 13.7 Pitchers WAR projection is 11th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Orioles to win 79 games, a 6 win decline over last season.  Chris Davis is the Oriole with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 3.6.  Ubaldo Jimenez is the pitcher with the best average projection at 3.0 WAR.

The Orioles vs the rest of the AL East

The AL East is baseball’s strongest division in 2014.  The Rays and Red Sox are top seven teams, in the elite class of baseball teams, and the Yankees and Blue Jays are anticipated to be top-half teams.  The Orioles are probably the best team expected to finish in fifth this season.  The Blue Jays are a longshot contender, but the Red Sox and the Rays are the class of the AL East this year.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are not a bad team, but they will play the toughest schedule in major league baseball, and will have an uphill climb to finish above .500.  Baltimore should come in right around 80-82 after adjusting for the schedule.  It’s certainly not the worst in the AL, and in the right division in the NL, it could be a division contender.  In the AL East, this roster contending is pretty unrealistic.

This lineup will not be young forever, and Baltimore is going to have to make some tough decisions after the year.  In the mean time, fans should be able to enjoy another competitive team, although one that is probably too flawed and lacking in star power to make any serious noise in the American League.

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