Against The Grain – Orioles Edition

On the ‘Dan Patrick Show‘ one of the regular segments by contributor Andrew ‘McLovin’ Perloff is ‘Against The Grain.’ The premise being that Perloff takes a stand against perceived conventional wisdom.

With respect to Perloff, I am presenting my version of ‘Against The Grain,’ where I dispute several opinions which I think are currently popular in Birdland.

Popular Opinion 1) Jim Johnson should be traded.

Against The Grain 1) We acknowledge there is merit to the idea of trading Johnson. Generally relievers can be volatile year-to-year, and Closers as a whole are fairly replaceable. We understand that Johnson’s limited K/9 ratio (5.37 in ’12, 5.71 for his career) does not inspire confidence from some that Johnson can sustain the success he has shown the past two seasons. We understand that with Strop, O’Day, Arrieta, Hunter, and Matusz; the O’s have a number of in-house options that could be successful Closers.

While I generally like the idea of moving average ish Closers, I would not trade Johnson, because I feel he is closer to being ‘elite’ vs. being average. I also would not trade Johnson now, because the O’s are attempting to again contend in ’13. They just had their first winning season since ’97. A large reason of their 2012 success was the bullpen, and Johnson was obviously one of the primary reasons that group was so outstanding.

Johnson had a 1.70 G/F in ’11. In ’12 that improved to 1.82. I see zero reason to think that is not sustainable. I would argue it is likely to continue, and with a GB ratio that high, I just don’t see the lack of k’s as a concern. The OPS against dropped from .628 in ’11, to .556 in ’12. I think part of that drop can be attributed to having far less multiple inning outings, making it more likely in my eyes you don’t see him give a lot more XBH’s if utilized in the same capacity next year.

Ideally would you want Johnson to miss more bats, as opposed to seeing the relatively large amount of balls in play? Sure, I guess. (I say I guess, because while there is no damage on balls that are not in play at-all, Johnson’s pitch count would likely be elevated if he had more k’s, and less grounders).

If I thought Johnson was a run-of-the-mill Closer, or if I thought the O’s could not contend in ’13; I would want him to be traded. Closers are replaceable. Replacing an elite Closer is different. If the O’s have a poor first half, you can look to move him at the non-waiver deadline.

Popular Opinion 2) Hardy should be traded, with Machado taking over SS.

Against The Grain 2) There are a couple of reasons why the above popular opinion exists. First, it is no secret that the O’s want to improve their on-base % in 2013, and that Hardy had just a .282 on-base % over 663 ab’s in 2012. So, part of the idea of getting Hardy out of the lineup, and moving Machado to SS, is the idea of finding a bat that gets on-base at a higher clip at 3rd. Second, there is the thought that Machado playing regularly at 3rd, will stagnate Machado’s growth as a SS (the position most see him being at long-term, and where he would have the most value.)

I don’t necessarily disagree with either of those two points, but I still would not be looking to trade Hardy.

Coming into 2012, Hardy had 3 previous years with at-least 527 ab’s. In each of those seasons, he had an OPS of at-least .786. In ’12, his OPS was .671. For his career (3,605 ab’s), his OPS .740.

Should he stay healthy enough to again get 500+ ab’s, I would expect an OPS closer to his career average at the minimum.

If the past two years represent extremes, take them both and split the difference.

His OPS in ’11 was .801. His OPS in ’12 was .671.
.801 + .671 = 1,472 / 2 = .736

.736 pretty much matches his career numbers, and should probably be the expectation.

So, I expect an up-tick in Hardy’s offensive production, and his defense is still exceptional. In a case where the defensive metrics matched what the eyes were seeing, Hardy had a UZR/150 of 10.1 in 2012. That is a full win above replacement level on defense alone.

I think it is reasonable to say that Machado playing everyday at 3rd, is not going to make him a better SS (though Cal Ripken argued the opposite on TBS and MASN late in the year).

If the O’s were looking like a 70 win team, I would be in total agreement that moving Hardy, and inserting Machado in his likely long-term position with the O’s made perfect sense. However, the O’s are coming off a 93 win season, and are trying to contend. The Orioles took off last Summer when Machado ascended to the Majors and played fantastic defense at the hot-corner.

Like with Johnson, if the O’s struggle in the 1st half, you can look to move Hardy at the non-waiver deadline.

Popular Opinion 3) Substantial additions are needed for the O’s to again contend.

Against The Grain 3) The O’s went into 2012 with the consensus of most being that the O’s would win less than 70 games for the 6th consecutive year, and ended with Orioles reaching the Playoffs. That disparity in expectations versus results, leads to an understandable train of thought that says ‘prove it again.’

Asking the O’s to prove it again on the field, is different to me than saying that the O’s need major talent infusions to again contend.

Basically people have looked at the Orioles record in 1 run, and Extra-inning games, along with the Run Differential numbers and do not believe what the O’s did in 2012 sustainable. Part of that view point is understandable to me. It is true that in the 1st half of 2012, the O’s probably won with a bit of smoke and mirrors.

That was not true in the 2nd half, and down the stretch though. You can look back to August 1st (and even as late as August 23rd), and see a tremendous difference in the run-differential numbers.

Do I think if the 2013 O’s play 18 Extra-inning games, the Orange & Black will again win 89% of those games? No, of course not.

Do I think there will be no regression from the bullpen as a whole? No, of course not.

What I do think is that not everything went right for the O’s in 2012, and that while the true talent of the Birds might be something like 85 wins, not a ton has to go right for the Orioles to again contend. A ton does not have to go right to jump from 85 wins to 90 wins.

Of course not everything is going to go according to plan. The Yankees did not anticipate missing Rivera most of 2012, and being without Pineda. The Rays did not anticipate playing months without Longoria. Boston did not plan for Lester to have an era approaching 5, or Ellsbury to be limited to 70+ games, etc. etc. The Blue Jays did not expect Romero to have an era approaching 6, or Jose Bautista to be limited to 90 games.

Injuries and under-performance will happen.

It happened for the Orioles this year. The O’s lost their starting LF (Reimold) after 16 games. Markakis played in just 104 games. Hammel had just 20 starts. Hardy under-peformed, Reynolds was below his career averages. At one point in ’12, the O’s had to send 3/5′s of their rotation to the Minors within a week.

When I look at the seasons the O’s had as individual players in 2012, I don’t see seasons which I don’t believe can be replicated in ’13.

If anything, I see more players as a whole I expect to be better.

The O’s finished 2012:

15th Runs
20th Batting average
23rd On-base %
11th Slugging %
14th ERA
21st Quality Starts
16th WHIP
16th Batting average against
9th Defensive Efficiency

The O’s power is legitimate (2nd in homers). The ability to get on-base will remain a concern. I think the production in ’13 at 2nd and LF figures to be better as a whole, than it was in ’12.

If McLouth is back in LF, and Machado / Hardy continue to man the left side of the infield; I think the defense will be better for the year. Casilla at 2nd should also help in that regard, as should a healthier Markakis.

I think any drop from the bullpen, will be off-set by increases in the rotation.

Even if the O’s do not add any thing externally, I believe they will go into Spring ’13 with a team that can again contend. That does not mean they will. Maybe everything will again go wrong, and they will finish with 75 wins. I just don’t think a miracle occurred in ’12, or will need to occur ‘again’ in ’13 for the O’s to again contend.

Note: Discussion of this post can be found here.

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About the author


Chris Stoner   

Operations Manager

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, ESPN 1300, FOX 1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.


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