If you looked at the overall team stats for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles and compared them to the rest of the league, without looking at the final standings, you would never have guessed that they were a playoff team. Nor would you have guessed that they would have been just a few outs away from making it to the ALCS after pushing the New York Yankees to the brink of elimination in a game five matchup in the ALDS. But that’s the problem with statistics sometimes, they don’t always tell the whole story.
The Orioles got off to a fast start to the season by going 14-9 in April and outscoring their opponents 96-84. Then they fell back down to earth and the defense became more ineffective, especially at the corners, the offense flattened out – partly as a result of injury, and the starting rotation at the time was a complete disaster. Again though, writing that doesn’t even begin to explain it because the offense as a whole produced just 4.8 WAR during the first half, which was the worst mark in all of baseball, the defense was even worse than that, and even though the pitching staff as a whole was about middle of the pack – it was really the bullpen that carried the team during this rough stretch.
How they even pulled off a winning record during the first half of the season would likely require a soothsayer to properly explain, but they did and that’s all that matters.
The pitching remained in the middle of the pack, but the starting rotation drastically improved in the second half, the offense jumped all the way up to 10.7 WAR of total production during this second half run of theirs, and the defense wound up being a decent spot for the team as well.
It’s always difficult to predict how things will turn out in a baseball season, whether you’re trying to predict individual player performance or overall team performance but that’s part of the fun about this game. We can make predictions and even though we are almost always wrong in some form or fashion, it’s still fun to do because of the time and thought that goes into a proper prediction. So which Orioles team are we going to get heading into 2013?
The one that was roughly a .500 team during the first half with shoddy defense, a middling offense, and a highly suspect starting rotation – or will we get the team that had a .623 winning percentage, scored over four and a half runs a game and gave up barely four each time out?
It’s easy to sit here and say “oh, I imagine we’ll get something in the middle of the two performance wise” because that’s the lazy way of making a prediction for a team. Take two pieces of data and then find out where the middle or middle-ish is. You figure, if they do worse than predicted they won’t do much worse than 78 or 79 wins and you were actually pretty close. If they win more than you can say they outperformed what was predicted of them and it can be another feel-good story. I’m not having any of that though.
There are several factors that will play into how the 2013 season will go for the Orioles and barring any major injuries, the likes of which the team dealt with last season with Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis, the future looks bright. A full season of a healthy Markakis and Reimold, a full season of Manny Machado at third base and a full season of at-bats from Chris Davis could go a long way towards solidifying the team as having a top 10 offense.
Markakis maintained a .390 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot when he returned from injury during the second half. 54 games and 246 plate appearances isn’t exactly bordering on being a small sample size, not when the player in question has seven years of experience under his belt and a career OBP of .365. It’s clear that the best two spots in the lineup for Markakis are either at leadoff or in the two-hole, where he owns a career .313/.385/.489 batting line and let’s hope it’s in one of those two spots manager Buck Showalter puts him.
Of all the players that helped the Orioles get off to a fast start in April it was Reimold who helped the most with his bat. He had a.313/.333/.627 batting line with five homeruns and six doubles, but there are two things that stand out the most to me about that stat line:
1) He was walking just 2.9% of the time while striking out 20.3% of the time.
2) His batting line could have been aided by an inflated BABIP which stood at .333, a career high.
I don’t doubt the power potential that Reimold brings to the lineup when healthy, but I’m not sure if the average is something he’ll recreate and he’ll certainly need to walk at a higher rate than he did in the time he had on the field. Small sample size I know, but let’s remember that Reimold did show us what he could do with substantial playing time in his rookie year (2009) when he batted .279/.365/466 with 15 homeruns in just 104 games.
Even though the Orioles were hanging tough in the wild-card chase through the first half of the season they didn’t really take off and blossom into a true contender until they shored up their defense at third base. That didn’t actually take place until August 9 when they called up top position player prospect Manny Machado and inserted him into the lineup and at third – a position he had never previously played and only began taking ground balls there about a week before his promotion to the majors.
All the Orioles did with Machado manning the hot corner, while providing whatever he could offensively from the number eight spot in the lineup, was go an impressive 33-18 (.647%) and pushed the New York Yankees to the final few days of the season for that American League East crown. Machado had a batting line of .262/.294/.445 with seven homeruns over those 51 games and you have to imagine he would be able to at least match that batting line, if not improve it, over the course of a full season in 2013.
The only area of his game that will need some serious improvement in the majors is his ability to recognize the strikezone and take more walks. He maintained a 10.5% walk rate in Double-A but was at just 4.5% in the majors last year. Obviously that’s something that will improve as he gains more experience but it’s still worth mentioning as not all players are able to develop that keen eye at the plate.
When you think of Chris Davis many Orioles fans probably have visions of a left handed version of Mark Reynolds. The reality is that Davis is better than Reynolds, much better. Davis will never walk at the rate that Reynolds does, or can rather, and even though he will still strike out nearly as often his bat is worth far more than what Reynolds’ bat is.
Davis is capable of hitting for a respectable batting average, he hits the ball so hard that his career BABIP is .335, and he managed to hit 33 homeruns in just 139 games. Now that he goes into the 2013 season penciled in as the everyday first baseman he will have his first legitimate shot at playing regularly throughout an entire season. As long as he is able to stay out of any long funks then he should provide a constant power threat around the middle of the lineup that we had hoped to get from Reynolds. Don’t be surprised if Davis puts up a batting line around .280/.340/.530 batting line with 40 or more homeruns. That’s how legit his bat is and that’s what he should be capable of with regular playing time.
It’s these four players that will have the biggest impact on the 2013 season as they will each get the opportunity to have their presences felt throughout an entire season barring any major injuries. The offense will finally be able to perform at the level it could have last season and should be able to build on the successes they had without each of them. With that said, this appears to be – barring any major injuries of course – a team headed for an 87 win season with a little room to get up to 90 if things play out in a neutral or slightly favorable way.