Baltimore Orioles: Thoughts After 30 Games
Thirty games into the 2017 season, the Baltimore Orioles are 20-10.
Here are some thoughts on what we’ve seen so far, and what we will be looking for going forward.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
1) Entering play Sunday the O’s were a half-game behind the Yankees in the AL East. Baltimore sat 3.5 games ahead of Boston, 4.5 ahead of Tampa Bay, and 9.5 ahead of Toronto. The Orioles are 15-9 vs. the Division. New York has played well, but I still don’t see them as any better than the 3rd best team in the East. One huge advantage they have over the O’s though, is they are better positioned to add to their existing roster this year if need be. The Red Sox’s offensive numbers are way down. Their offense will improve as well, but the lack of Ortiz in their lineup does give them a different look. Boston is 2nd overall in Quality Starts, and that’s with David Price yet to have made a start. It currently looks like he might be able to return before May ends. The Rays are improved over ’16, but don’t have the look of a post-season contender to me. The ’17 season to-date has been a disaster for the Blue Jays. They are 10 games under .500, and while they are ‘just 6 games’ out of the 2nd Wild Card; they are looking up at the entire league.
As an aside, what is your current hierarchy of AL East hatred?
2) The Orioles offense has underachieved so far. As of Sunday morning the O’s were tied for 16th overall in runs scored, 23rd in on-base %, and 19th in slugging %. The on-base % is going to remain a deficiency, but the slugging % is artificially low. As that increases, the runs scored will increase.
3) Baltimore is on-pace to win 108 games. It’s a great start, but that’s not who this team is. They are good, not a powerhouse. I had them finishing 90-72, 2nd in the East, and a Wild Card. I’ll stick with that. 90 wins over a season is a .555 winning %. Currently it’s a .666 winning %. Don’t be shocked when we see some regression over the next 30 games. That should be expected. When that occurs, that won’t mean the O’s aren’t good.
4) It’s been a pretty horrible stretch for JJ Hardy. Entering Sunday, he has a sub .500 OPS, and the defensive metrics have him significantly below average. It would be easy to write Hardy off, and say Father Time has come calling. I’m not there yet, but admittedly I’m concerned. I believe the glove will get back to his normal excellent levels. Baseball is mental. Based on his recent comments, I think the recent defensive lapses were him taking his hitting issues into the field. He’s human, it happens. He’s also a pro, and I don’t expect that to last. He’s still plenty capable with the glove (see the throw home in the O’s extra-winning at New York April 30th). Even if you are bullish on the glove rebounding like I am, it’s fair to be bearish about his bat.
His bat was a mess in 2015, and you only had to look at him to understand why. He was compromised physically, with no ability to pull the ball. He could only attempt to go to right as a slap hitter. He had a .564 OPS in 411 ab’s that year. Despite that, I expected to see him rebound offensively last Spring. He met my expectations, posting an OPS (.716) exactly at his career levels.
Based on what I’m seeing right now, he looks healthy, just off. He’s never had an ability to get on-base. His offensive value has always been predicated by his ability to turn and burn, and find left-field seats. Right now the few balls we’re seeing him square, are being caught in-front of the warning track. If he can’t slug at a .400 level, his offense is going to look horrific. Overall he was a .269 /.309 / .407 guy last year. Going into today he’s at .200 / .231 / .260.
The guess here is that everything improves with Hardy over the next 30 games.
It better, or the O’s hands are going to be forced. The O’s could get past his bat being done, but Hardy no-longer being a strong, reliable defender would be a huge blow for the roster.
He rebounds over the next Month, attention on how to improve the roster can be focused elsewhere. If that doesn’t happen, the O’s might be forced to use their limited resources to also address SS.
5) Davis’ power comes in bunches. Wouldn’t be surprising if his homer Friday night off Miguel Gonzalez is followed by 5 or more bombs over the next 10 games or so. His current .420 slugging % will go up. (His ISO is .170 this year, career it’s .247.) What I’d like to see from Crush is an improved approach overall. He is guessing at the plate, and often frozen. He has power to all fields. Just take what is given, and use the entire park. He’s hitting .250 this year (entering Sunday), and he’s a .250 career hitter after nearly 3,800 career ab’s. Realistically I shouldn’t be expecting him to be a better hitter. So, that’s probably a flaw on my part asking him to be different vs. what he has been. Still, I believe more (in-terms of average) exists. I believe he’d be a better player, and the O’s would be better off overall if he focused a bit on average.
6) My colleague Bob Harkins gave an extended look at Gausman’s struggles earlier this week. Gausman will be better, there is little doubt of that in my opinion. I’m comfortable with betting on him being a reliable rotation piece here on out. The question I now have is wondering if he ever reaches his ceiling, and becomes the legitimate front-end starter the O’s need him to be?
7) When you see Gausman and Bundy pitch back-to-back it’s pretty striking. It’s remarkable how poised and polished Bundy is considering that he effectively lost 3 successive seasons to injury. I went into this ’17 season believing that the duo represented the greatest potential variance on the roster. That if they pitched towards their potential, the O’s could go from ‘good’ to ‘very good.’ Bundy has certainly upheld has part of the equation. Interestingly his k’s are down (so are his walks) from his ’16 levels. Bundy’s GB % and Swinging Strike % are also lower than we saw in ’16. Most concerning to some is that his average fastball velocity is down 2 miles-per-hour from this past year. Viewing these peripherals, you can expect things to even out for Dylan a bit vs. the current gaudy record and ERA. On the other-hand, I also anticipate his metrics improving. Current velocity readings be damned, his stuff looks good.
8) It’s May 7th, and the O’s have already received positive contributions from Asher, Aquino, Wilson, and Ynoa. Some decent usable depth there as spot / swing starters. Baltimore continues to do a fantastic job with extending their roster. It’s a great utilization of options.
9) Was comforting seeing Tillman back in an O’s uniform today. The performance was a bonus. Him regularly taking the ball every 5th day here on out, and having success is paramount for this roster.
10) I’m not worried about Britton getting back. I’m a bit miffed that it seems like this second trip to the DL could have been avoided. Could have just mandated another week of rest, instead it appears it will be several weeks until he’s back with the Birds.
Having Britton around is not a luxury with this a roster, it’s a necessity*. You have him locking down the 9th, it moves everyone else back an inning. You can overcome his absence for a few weeks, but over time you would be exposed.
*While I’d still like to see Britton be extended, I’m not totally opposed to trading him after this ’17 season. There are clear variables there. What else are you doing with the roster? Just how much would it take to extend him? What would a possible return look like? You could move him, get a significant return, and the roster might be better off long-term (having obtained years of cheap salary and control). That’s all fine, but as the O’s are constructed here in ’17, Baltimore needs Britton in an O’s uniform and performing.
11) Miley’s walks are an issue. His performance to-date doesn’t figure to be sustained. What the O’s need from Miley is a guy that regularly gives the O’s a chance every 5 days. Don’t ask him to be the reason you win, ask him to keep you in games. He’s showing enough upside to believe that he can handle that, and that’s encouraging. Scott McGregor apparently deserves credit for suggesting Miley slow himself down mechanically.
12) On the other end of the spectrum is Jimenez. Ubaldo was outstanding in 7.2 innings at Cincinnati, but practically unusable in his other 4 starts. In just 26 innings, he’s allowed 6 homers, with 18 walks. You don’t expect your 4th and 5th starters to be ‘good.’ You just don’t want to be buried immediately. It’s a short leash for Jimenez going forward. He either builds off of his useful 3 innings of relief in Boston his last time out, or he has to be off the roster. You can’t just keep handing him the ball and hoping.
13) You would have preferred a 1 year deal with Chris Carter vs. the 3 year deal the O’s gave Mark Trumbo? Okay, I can respect that. Trumbo is here though, so I won’t fixate on any other what-if. I’ll just focus on the present. Right now (entering Sunday) he had a .593 OPS, which includes a .316 Slugging %. Anyone think he’s going to stay at that level? Maybe he doesn’t again approach his career marks of last year (.849 OPS), but I’ll pretty surprised if he doesn’t end ’17 with overall numbers at his career averages (.770 OPS). These 120 ab’s of below average production, will just be averaged out with a hot stretch at some point.
14) With 7 hits in his last 16 ab’s, Smith has jumped his average from .222 to .298. A good indication of just how early in the year it remains. He’s a nice useful addition to the roster.
15) I’m a Hyun Soo Kim fan. I like what he brings this roster in-terms of the ab’s he has. I’m in the extreme minority where I believe there is more power vs. what has been shown so far in his ML career. I see a guy that last year had to just adjust culturally. Also facing better competition. A longer season. Relief specialists. These are major adjustments. He arrived last Spring apparently unable to hit a ML fastball. By year-end, he was one of the O’s best fastball hitters. The league is giving him more junk. Now he has to adjust to that. He’s never going to be anything beyond adequate in the OF. Hustle to balls, and find the cut-off. So, when you are below average defensively, you better hit. Right now he’s not hitting enough. I’m not talking about his .227 average. When you are looking at a sample size of 44 ab’s, who cares about batting average? I’m talking about him having just 2 XBH’s. That has to change. At times we see a guy that is too focused on some contact, who is forgoing an approach which would yield additional power. He has to be cognizant of looking for opportunities to drive the ball. With Rickard back, what we are seeing from Mancini, and Smith; it’s difficult right now for Showalter to find Kim the regular ab’s he is going to need to get going. That means Kim is going to have to take advantage of the limited opportunities he gets.
16) Can we slow the hype on Mancini? Based on what he’s doing right now (.379 wOBA, on-pace for 32 homers in just 346 ab’s), I get it the love. I share it. He’s doing everything you could ask from him, and he’s even showing to be adequate as an OF (a better arm than I anticipated). I’m just saying let’s remember that this was a guy that had a .775 OPS at AAA Norfolk last year in 483 ab’s. Even accounting for the Tides park being beneficial to pitchers, I think that’s a better indication of who he is as a player vs. what we’ve seen from him so far in the Majors. I went into ’17 believing / hoping he had the offensive ceiling of Steve Pearce. If you don’t expect him to maintain this ridiculous start, you won’t be disappointed. He’s certainly showing he can be a useful part of this roster at a minimal cost for some time. That’s exciting enough.
17) This is Adam Jones’ 10th year in an O’s uniform. How time flies. Here in ’17, Jones has a BB% of 6.3. It’s his highest level since the ’09 season. Interestingly his defensive adjustment of playing deeper seems to be confounding the metrics. By Defensive Runs Saved, he’s +4 (which is very solid… for comparison, Tampa Bay’s Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier is at +7). However, by UZR/150, Jones is at -7.5. By the eye test, he looks better. He’s taking away would be extra-base hits, even if more falls in-front.
Here’s something to watch. In ’16, Jones had his lowest slugging % (.436) since his first year with the Birds in 2008. This year, his slugging is down to .403. After another 30 games, do we see his slugging back to career norms?
18) Castillo is expected to get off the DL this week in Washington. When he was signed, I noted that he had never played more than 113 games in a season. Does his playing time have to be watched? He’s sporting a sweet looking .314 batting average, but there’s nothing about his history to suggest anything remotely like that will be maintained. He won’t be a black hole though, even when the average does step-back.
19) I feel excellent about the quartet of Brach, Givens, O’Day, and Hart. If you want to pick a bit, there are peripheral questions you can point to about Givens and O’Day; but if you look at these guys in comparison to what the majority of other teams have available to them in relief – they should be appreciated. As we said above, if you get Britton back to locking down the 9th, there will be a further positive cumulative effect with everyone else out of the pen.
That all said, I think when we start looking at who the O’s might target in-terms of trade acquisitions, I think it might be further bullpen help. Similar to the Andrew Miller trade in ’14, where the O’s look to maximize an existing strength.
20) After an extended stretch of being in the lineup everyday, Schoop has missed the last two days with a swollen wrist. His BB% is up. His K% is down. He’s sporting a .360 wOBA. His defensive numbers are slightly below average. As we’ve said previously, we believe he has average ish range, is excellent around the bag, and that his arm regularly makes a positive difference. If it ever gets to the point that he can’t stay at 2nd, one option would be moving to 3rd, and Manny taking over SS. Not my preference, but a possibility. (I don’t think Machado should be looked at as anything but a 3rd baseman at this point, but if he had a Winter / Spring to prepare for SS, I imagine he’d be at-least above average there as well.)
21) Speaking of Machado, after his recent tear vs. Boston, Machado is on-pace for 43 bombs, and 113 rbi. Pretty fun projections considering he’s mostly been off so far this year. Look for him to just dominate the rest of the year, and to make a legitimate run at the American League MVP.
22) The Orioles entered Sunday 4th in Defensive Efficiency. They do a great job of converting balls in play into outs. The infield defense remains strong (regardless of the current metrics for Hardy and Schoop). The outfield defense is fine, and improves in close and late situations when Rickard and Gentry can enter the game.
What have you seen over these initial 30 games? What are you looking for going forward?
Where have your expectations changed from when the season began?