It is late August, and the Baltimore Orioles are contending for a place in the 2012 MLB Playoffs. Baltimore Sports and Life has reached out to several Analysts across the game for their thoughts.   (Note: This was first posted to the BSL Message Board 8/23)

Those questioned were:

Gary Armida, The Baseball Report / Operation Sports

Matt Klaassen, FanGraphs / Getting Blanked!/devil_fingers

Danny Knobler, CBS Sports!/DKnobler

Jonathan Mitchell, MLB Dirt!/FigureFilbert

DJ Short, NBC Sports!/djshort

Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory / ESPN!/DSzymborski

Baltimore Sports and Life thanks each of the above for taking the time to contribute.

Baltimore Sports and Life: “As of 8/23, the Baltimore Orioles have a negative run differential of -54, which I think is somewhat explainable. One can point to the minimal accumulated fWAR of the roster, and use that as an encompassing argument. To me, the primary reason for the current run differential is that the O’s are only 27th overall in Quality Starts. I know discussing Quality Starts makes the sabermetrics crowd cringe, but it is fairly telling in it’s overall simplicity. Several times a week, they are typically blown out. Due to that, the run differential blows up. With a quarter of the season left to go, what is a better predictor of future results – the run differential, or the record achieved over the first 120+ games?”

Armida: “That’s a great question. I do believe in run differential and what it can tell. But, I also truly believe that teams can, at times, defy the statistics. The 2012 Orioles are that team. They play lousy defense, their rotation, at least statistically, is poor and their offense isn’t special. They have a good bullpen and a management team that can make key, quick decisions. That has led them to outperform their run differential. Sometimes teams can do that.”

Klaassen: “This is a complicated one to answer. Bill Petti, my colleague at FanGraphs, recently did research [] showing that historically, the further along in a season one gets, the less predictive that Pythag is relative to actual record.. That is just for that season, and, as Bill mentions (although I would have emphasized more) there is some “bias” here in that teams that are “in it” later in the year despite outperforming their Pythag are more likely to make moves to make their team better and/or not go into fire sale mode. This is supported actual record being more predictive than Pythag for teams outperforming their expectation than those under-peforming it.

In general, as has been written before (by myself, for example []), Pythag is a bit overused as a predictive tool. Year-to-year, at least, it is historically more “predictive” than observed record, but neither is as good as estimating the true talent and playing time for the individual players for all the teams involved and then doing match-ups, etc. Of course, that is brutally time-consuming work, as I can tell you from experience, so people understandably use short cuts.

I was going to keep this short, so I’ll cut it off there. One needs to look at the true talent the Orioles have on the roster. I will say this (without saying that you are using this as a defense of the Orioles, Chris), — pointing out that a team gets “typically blown out” a several times a week would be a weird way of arguing that they are better than their Pythag.”

Knobler: “I don’t think either one predicts future results. Both tell part of the story of the Orioles. You’re right. The starting pitching has been inconsistent, and the offense isn’t good enough to play catchup when the starting pitching really falters. But the bullpen has been so good that when they are ahead, they almost always win. Can that continue over 40 or so more games? Sure, why not? But that doesn’t mean that it will. Record in close games is definitely affected by luck. But that’s not the entire picture, and even with luck involved, there’s no way to say it would change over the remaining few games.”

Mitchell: “One’s record over 120 games is a solid sample size, but I have to lean towards a negative run differential when it is that far in the red. It would be one thing if this were a team that had a negative run differential due to a lot of close games, either high-scoring, or low-scoring, but that is not the case as they are 11th in the AL in runs and 10th in fewest runs against in the AL as I write this. They are 23-6 in 1 run games, and 12-2 in extra innings. Both are, by far, the best in the AL. I cannot see that lasting.”

Short: “I would side with the run differential catching up to them. As you mentioned, when you look at the starting rotation, the deficit is easily explained. Of course, we have been waiting for about five months for the Orioles to play closer to their pythagorean record and it just hasn’t happened. The Orioles will get Jason Hammel back in September, so there is some reason for hope for the starting rotation. I certainly wouldn’t rule them out, but the math isn’t on their side. It never has been.”

Szymborski: “I actually did a lot of work with Pythag (essentially run differential) for a recent article, so I have a lot of data on-hand for this question at the moment. Through 125 games (O’s have played 124, but I did 5-game intervals) using factor analysis, I came up with about 68% Pythag, 32% Actual for the best predictor from this point for the rest of the season. Quality starts aren’t great on a team-to-team basis, simply because it’s not park or league factor neutral. The O’s play in what has been a hitters’ park in the league with the higher ERA, so they already start with a built-in deficit given that the quality start qualifications are etched in stone.

Generally speaking, teams that outperform their run differential have been on the losing side of blowouts a disproportionate number of times. The bad news is that record in 1-run games is less predictive than record in 2-run games which is less predictive than record in 3-run games, so on and so forth. Contrary to conventional wisdom, good teams don’t win the close ones; good teams win the laughers. Nothing in this theory states that the O’s are suddenly going to fold and play terribly, but it is something to keep in the back of the mind.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “In the games where the O’s keep it close, their formula for wins is matching-up with the pen. Baltimore has won 12 straight 1 run games (23-6 overall), and 12 straight extra-inning games (12-2 overall). Do you consider the O’s record in such games to be a fluke?”

Armida: “Many do see this as a fluke and I guess it can be viewed that way considering all of the flaws I mentioned before. But, they’ve won those games and won’t give them back. And, heading into the final quarter of the season, there is something to be said for believing you can win those games. With a solid bullpen, the Orioles are quite equipped to win those games. For 2012, it’s no fluke. Can they be that team in 2013? The historical statistics say no. But, that doesn’t matter for this season.”

Klaassen: “Terms like “fluke” tend to get people all worked up — too worked up. Without going back and looking at each individual game, though, I will say that I doubt it is because of any particular skill. It isn’t any more of an indication of overall team quality than getting blown out in a particular game.”

Knobler: “As I said above, luck is involved, but it’s not a fluke. The bullpen has been outstanding, and to say it’s a fluke is to unfairly take credit away from those relievers.”

Mitchell: “I would not call it so much a fluke, since they do have a very good bullpen, but I would say they are playing a bit over their heads and those records should come back to Earth a little bit. Like I said in the answer above, these records are far and away the best in the AL, and it is not very close.”

Short: ” “Fluke” is such a loaded word that I really don’t want to go there. They won those games, so it doesn’t really matter. Orioles relievers are sixth in the majors with a 3.06 ERA, so looking through that prism, it’s easier to understand why they have enjoyed so much success in one-run and extra-inning games. The dangerous thing here is to give it any real predictive value. As Rob Neyer wrote earlier this week, the Orioles are winning close games (by one or two runs) at a historical rate while maintaining that negative run differential. That’s pretty tough to do. I’m not saying they can’t hang in the playoff race, but it’s just difficult to expect them to continue winning games the same way.”

Szymborski: “Not purely a fluke — I try to stay away from “fluke” or “luck” given how loaded with negative connotation those words are — but winning 1-run games and extra innings hasn’t proved to really be a sustainable thing, even for teams with good bullpens. Those wins sure are fun, though.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Strop and Johnson do not get a lot of k’s, but their stuff is filthy, and they have some of the best G/F ratios in the game. Where do you rate them as a duo? Looking ahead to next year, do you find the success they have had this year to be sustainable?”

Armida: “Relief pitchers are maddening. They are so unpredictable because they are essentially flawed pitchers who weren’t good enough to start. I look for two things when evaluating pitchers: can they generate swings and misses? Can they induce groundballs? Strop and Johnson are borderline adequate when it comes to strikeouts. But, they, as you said, are tremendous with getting groundballs. The surprising this is that the entire bullpen is successful given the Orioles’ poor defense–at least according to UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. For 2012, the duo is great. As for the next season, who knows? There are so many relievers who have tremendous seasons only to be mediocre the following year. I like the duo, but like most relievers, we’ll just have to hope they can duplicate their success in 2013.”

Klaassen: “Actually, Strop does get a good number of Ks, his problem is that he walks a lot of batters. Johnson is a good control guy. They both have impressive ground ball rates. I do think their ERAs are better than their true talent, especially Strop. They are both unlikely to be this good going forward, but I do think they will be good relievers.”

Knobler: “They’ve been great, probably the best 8th/9th combo in the game this year. But bullpens are historically inconsistent from year to year. The Brewers won last year in part because they were great at the end of games. They assumed the same would be true from the same relievers this year, and it wasn’t.”

Mitchell: “I do not know exactly where I would place them as a duo, but they are legit. I’ve always liked Johnson, and believe he can repeat his success with surety but Strop misses the zone a lot, although I would not be surprised to see him come close to his 2012 success but I do see some regression there. The threesome of Johnson, Strop, O’Day (highest fWAR in the O’s pen) is very good.”

Short: “They’ve been fantastic. And we can’t ignore Darren O’Day, either. Strop is actually averaging 7.44 K/9, so he still gets his share of strikeouts. But you’re right, they are somewhat unique for a late-inning duo in that they aren’t coming in and just blowing dudes away. Pitchers who rely on contact and getting ground balls can see pretty wild fluctuations in BABIP from year-to-year, so I could see some regression coming in the future. Probably more for Strop, since he has trouble throwing strikes sometimes.”

Szymborski: “They’re both good pitchers, but in all likelihood, their ERAs will come up a bit. Johnson’s two-seamer is excellent and he’s really not that far below where his ERA “should” be. Strop’s looks even nastier, but it’s damn hard to maintain an ERA below 2 for pretty much any pitcher over a long period. He still has occasional command lapses and while avoiding HRs has helped him avoid the consequences of that, but he can’t help but avoiding more in the future given his very low HR/FB% at the moment, even with a high ground-ball percentage (for example if you look at the 20 biggest groundballers of the last decade, it’s generally just the submariners that have kept their rates below 10%).”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “With the incorporation of a high percentage of defensive shifts, the O’s have spent most of the 2012 season in the upper 1/2 (currently 16th) of the defensive efficiency numbers. However, for anyone that watched the O’s on a daily basis; it would be hard to argue the defense was ‘good.’ That has recently been improved with Machado taking over 3rd, Quintanilla at 2nd, McLouth at LF, and Reynolds improving the play at 1st (even if the defensive metrics don’t love him). Is it fair to say that if the defense is still not a strength, the weakness has been addressed?”

Armida: “They are trying and continuing to attempt to be innovative. The Orioles’ defense is most certainly a weakness. Dan Duquette has done a nice job of bringing different people in this season. Machado is an improvement defensively. Quintanilla was a nice addition too. They have definitely improved as much as they could without taking away any resources from the organization. Duquette improved the defense as much as he could for 2012.”

Klaassen: “I’m tempted to simply say “When Omar Quintanilla is the answer, we need to re-think the question,” but that isn’t fair. I’m not sure that the situation has been “fixed,” but I would guess that the defense has been improved.”

Knobler: “Publicly available defensive metrics are hugely flawed, and not terribly useful in assessing players or teams. Yes, the weakness has been addressed.”

Mitchell: “I would say most of the weaknesses have been addressed. I simply do not like Reynolds anywhere on the infield dirt, and Markakis is having his fourth straight year with at-least a -4.7 UZR and is at a career worst -8.3 right now. I’m not sure if a move to LF will help address that but it sure does not help the team when Reynolds is at 1st and Adam Jones is posting a -5.0 UZR in CF. The right side needs some addressing.”

Short: “I think given what Duquette and Showalter have to work with, they have at least arranged things in a way where they are more efficient. Still not great, but improved. Getting Betemit and Reynolds off third base was key.”

Szymborski: “3B was the biggest problem – I stand by a statement I made recently (that I got a lot of nasty e-mail for) that Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit play defense at third worse than a hula hoop. Jones isn’t really great out there, but the defense is probably a little above-average overall with a better 3B.”

Baltimore Sports and Life:ESPN recently named Buck Showalter as their leader for the AL Manager of the Year. Would you agree? How important do you think a Manager is? Should Dan Duquette be in the running for the Executive of the Year?”

Armida: “I definitely agree that Buck Showalter is the Manager of the Year. The importance of a Manager is always going to be debated, especially in the sabermetric crowd. Can Managers get in their own way? Sure. Sometimes, it is best to just let a team play. But, a Manager is important in so many ways. He has to keep his club distraction free, keep them focused, and manage egos. He also has to create a culture that allows his team to win. Showalter does that. He always has and continues to show that this season. He has the least talented roster in the AL East and yet the Orioles are holding on to a Wild Card and heading to a winning season. As we’ve discussed, the Orioles are outperforming their statistics. Showalter has to get credit for that. He’s managed the bullpen superbly, has made so many lineup changes, and has kept the Orioles loose enough with playoff attention now around them. His decision to move Nick Markakis to the leadoff spot was brilliant. There isn’t another Manager in the game this season who has had more of an impact on his team that Showalter.

Dan Duquette certainly gets consideration for Executive of the Year. Signing Chen and acquiring Jason Hammel were two season defining moves. Putting together one of the best bullpens in the league is also his credit. And, being bold enough to call up his best prospect now is also one that merits attention. Duquette has always been a brilliant, bold executive. His absence from the game, thankfully, didn’t change that. I put him, Brian Cashman, Andrew Friedman, and Mike Rizzo as the four top executives this season.”

Klaassen: “Those are big questions! Managers are important — one wouldn’t want to go without one. On the other hand, I am not sure what a difference it makes. Until I hear exactly how Buck’s brilliant “Strawberry, hit a home run” speech to Adam Jones went (what a great idea, Buck! Why did they not think of that earlier?) , it’s impossible for me to judge. But sure, why not give it to them both. These things are hard to judge, and those choices make as much sense as any. They can’t give it to Friedman and Maddon every year. Duquette seems sorta like this year’s AL version of 2011 Kevin Towers… take that for what it’s worth.”

Knobler: “A manager is very important, and Buck has a chance of being manager of the year, particularly if the Orioles make the playoffs. But there is strong competition from Robin Ventura, Bob Melvin and others. There is no clear-cut favorite right now.”

Mitchell: “I think Bob Melvin, Robin Ventura, and Joe Maddon all have the same chance to win the award as Showalter does. They have all done fantastic jobs this season and deserve some recognition for it. Duquette should also get some recognition for adding some key pieces to this team that is contending when know one thought it would.”

Short: “Showalter has done an excellent job and certainly deserves to be one of the top candidates, if not the favorite. I think he’ll have a little competition from Robin Ventura and Bob Melvin, though. Managers are important, but I think they get too much credit when teams and too much blame when they lose. As for Executive of the Year, I suspect Billy Beane may get some love if the A’s are able to stay in things. He has hit on pretty much every move he has made. Yes, even Bartolo Colon before things went south this week.”

Szymborski: “I’d probably give Showalter the award as he’s done an excellent job this season. Duquette is certainly in the running, along with Beane. I don’t reflexively choose Beane and this is probably the first time in years I’d consider him.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “As mentioned above, the O’s recently promoted Machado. Did you agree with the promotion? You can only take so much from 13 games, but Machado has looked excellent at 3rd so far. Great footwork, outstanding reactions, and a plus arm. However, the O’s still believe in his long-term abilities at SS. Of course the O’s current SS is JJ Hardy, who is one of the most dependable and under-rated defensive SS’s in the game. It was understandable that the O’s did not move the veteran off of SS in the middle of the season. When next Spring comes (and if Hardy remains on the roster), would you flip Hardy to 3rd, and Machado back to SS?”

Armida: “I completely agree with the promotion. The Orioles have to seize the opportunity of a magical season. Allowing Showalter to handle Machado and to improve the everyday club was the only move. As for next season, if Machado makes the team, he should make the team as a shortstop if that’s where the organization views him longterm. If they change the plan and believe he’s a longterm third baseman, that’s fine too. The move to third base was the best choice for the 2012 Orioles and won’t hurt Machado at all. But, after this season, Machado’s needs become paramount.”

Klaassen: “I think I’ve said before that I’m a big Manny Machado fan, so, if I didn’t, let me re-iterate: I’m a big Manny Macahdo fan (of course, I was also a pretty big Eric Hosmer fan when the year started. Sorry, Os fans, I guess you’re screwed…). I’m no scout, but I think I tend to hold this position (which is not unique to me): no, he probably isn’t ready, and yes, this will probably cost the Orioles money down the road, but, yes, it’s good for them they called him up. Whether it is because they’ve been lucky or not, they are in this thing and they needed a better player at third base. why not try your study prospect if your scouts say he can handle it?

As the readers might or might not also know, I am also a fan of J. J. Hardy. However, my feeling is this: if the Orioles think that Machado can handle shortstop (and I will leave that alone), and he is going to be in the big leagues to start next year, he needs to be their shortstop. Having him at third for a stretch run is one thing, moving him off for a couple of years and then moving him back doesn’t make sense. Don’t mess with The Franchise.

The problem is that Hardy still has time on his contract and is having a career-worst year with the bat. He’s an excellent defender, and I do think that he would fit well well at third defensively, given that his arm is his strongest asset in the field. However, despite the success of this season, the Orioles’ still aren’t in a position to hold on to vets for dubious runs at contention. Moving Hardy to third could hurt his trade value, something they still have to consider. He’s better than he has looked in 2012 with the bat, but he’s a below-average hitters. Fairly or not, moving him to third could make teams start to look at him like a Rich Man’s Brandon Inge rather than a good shortstop value.

I realize that trading away a valuable player like Hardy is not something that fans want to hear after a year of surprise contention. It will be tough given how poorly he’s hit. But that is sort of the position the Orioles are in, I think.”

Knobler: “I have no problem with them pushing Machado. From all reports, he’s not only talented, but also tough mentally. It’s far too early to say if he’s ready for this, but he can help (and already has), and if he proves that he needs more development time, he’s more likely to be helped than hurt by the time in the big leagues.”

Mitchell: “I was very excited to see Machado get the call but I prayed it would not hurt his development at short, where I believe his long term position is. I completely understood why they needed to make the move (Betemit’s -5.8 UZR and barely league average bat). I would have a hard time moving Hardy off of short when he is still playing at such a high level (he leads the Majors at +8.4 UZR at SS) and his bat simply will not play well at third. I do think, though, that Machado should be at short so I would think the Orioles may look into trading Hardy in the offseason and that may not be a bad idea in the right deal.”

Short: “I had only watched Machado play a couple of times and read boxscores and his page on Baseball Reference and before he was called up from the minors, so I was hardly an expert on his development. I was certainly surprised to see him get called up, which seemed to be a common theme with most fans and analysts. But you’re right, he has acquitted himself well at third base, despite limited experience at the position before his call-up. He’s obviously an upgrade defensively over Betemit and Reynolds, but that’s not saying much. It’s fine for now, but I think if the Orioles are committed to Machado being their long-term shortstop, they should have him there next season. Yes, Hardy is under contract, but this might be time to see if he’s willing to move to second base or third. Ideally he would play second and the team would pursue a third baseman via free agency or trade. We heard Chase Headley being bandied about before the trade deadline. He’d be a nice fit.”

Szymborski: “I think the O’s need to let Machado play SS next year and keep him at SS until he clearly proves that he can’t hack it out there (I think he’ll be fine). I have little confidence in the O’s other 2B possibilities and would be happy to see Hardy there, with someone not in the organization playing 3rd.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Jason Hammel is on the verge of a rehab start, and should be able to rejoin the O’s in early September. For the year, he is 8-6, with a 3.54 era, 3.48 xFIP. In his 109.1 ip, he has allowed 97 hits, 8 hr’s, 39 bb’s, with 106 k’s. His OPS against is .640, and his G/F ratio is 1.19. Hammel is a Free Agent after ’13. Should the O’s offer a 1-2 year extension this Winter?”

Armida: “As long as they are not giving Hammel a ridiculous annual salary, they can commit to him for a couple more seasons. After being set free from Colorado, Hammel has matured into a different pitcher. He’s using his slider more and is generating a ton of groundballs and swings and misses on pitches thrown into strike zone. He shouldn’t get a long term deal because his walk rate is still the same, and he hasn’t had this success for long, but a market value one or two year deal is more than fair. Ideally, he would be the Orioles number four starter.”

Klaassen: “Hammel is having a really nice season, obviously, and has really shown himself to be a good pitcher, even if he isn’t _this_good. However, he also has never pitched 180 or more innings in a season. Still, he could have value — if the Orioles can get him on a reasonable contract for 2013 and 2014, it could really pay off for them on the field and/or the trade market. They shouldn’t over do it. It depends on how much security Hammel wants and thinks he deserves. On one hand, he is going to be a free agent after 2013, so he may not want to put off what might be his only shot at a “big” payday. On the other hand, more injuries and regression next year might make anything like a big payday unlikely.”

Knobler: “I’d be cautious.”

Mitchell: “They definitely should be offering him an extension unless they see something in the medicals that makes them not want to go beyond this year. If he is fully healthy I see no reason why they cannot get him at a reasonable rate but it may take a three year deal to get it done since he is currently arbitration eligible for the fourth time (one of the rare ones). I believe they have to try and extend him and try and keep it reasonable.”

Short: “Assuming the contract isn’t outrageous, sure. He has made some improvements and is a different pitcher than the one we saw in Tampa Bay and Colorado. Many of the young pitchers haven’t panned out, but I think he could be a solid mid-rotation type for a while.”

Szymborski: “They should. I think Hammel’s clearly demonstrated that he’s a solid 2/3 pitcher at this point. Nothing for giant wads of cash, though.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “After his start Sunday, Wei-Yin Chen is 12-7, with a 3.87 era, 4.34 xFIP. In his 151 ip, he has allowed 143 hits, 20 hr’s, 48 bb’s, with 122 k’s. His OPS against is .722, and his G/F ratio is 0.67. Was his 3 year $11.3M deal, one of the shrewder moves of this past Winter?”

Armida: “Absolutely. Chen has proved to be a good Major League pitcher. This season makes his contract one of the best bargains in the sport. But, I do think that this is his ceiling as a Major Leaguer. If he can replicate this season for the remaining years on his contract, he is still a bargain. I just don’t want him miscast as a number one or two. He, like Hammel, is a very good middle of the rotation pitcher.”

Klaassen: “Yes.”

Knobler: “Yes, without doubt.”

Mitchell: “Definitely. He has performed very well, especially in the AL East, and way beyond what I expected out of him from the reports I read on him. It’s looking like a great deal, so far.”

Short: “No question. There’s always that unknown quantity factor with pitchers coming over from Japan, so I really didn’t know what to expect from him, but he has proven to be a great value thus far. Softens the blow after Wada’s Tommy John surgery, for sure.”

Szymborski: “Definitely. As I said at the time, I think that teams are still underrating Japan when it comes to the players over there that aren’t quite elite. I liked the Wada signing as well, even if that hasn’t yet workd out.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Orioles fans have been ecstatic about the insertion of Markakis at the top of the lineup (he has been on fire, with a .910 OPS since returning from the DL to begin the 2nd half) and remain puzzled as to why Hardy (.273 on-base%) continues to bat 2nd. Counting Betemit (who should return shortly), and not counting Thome (whose return remains to be determined), what would be your optimal O’s lineup vs. RHP?”

Armida: “Markakis, Betemit, Jones, Wieters, Reynolds, Davis (LF), Machado, Hardy, Quintanilla.”

Klaassen: “I don’t have anything special to say here. Not running a simulation or Markov today, sorry! Off the top of my head, and knowing I’ll screw something up… something like: Markakis, Betemit, Jones, Wieters, Reynolds, Davis, Machado, McLouth, Quintanilla.”

Knobler: “I’m nowhere near qualified to make out a lineup, and I’d say Buck is much more qualified to do it than any fans who simply look at OBP and criticize him.”

Mitchell: “Markakis (RF) Betemit (1B/DH) Jones (CF) Wieters (C) Machado (3B) Davis (LF/DH) Reynolds (1B/DH) Quintanilla (2B) Hardy (SS).”

Short: “I don’t want to get crazy about lineup composition because I think it can be overrated at times. My general philosophy is to give as many at-bats to your best hitters as possible. Assuming Betemit comes back healthy from his wrist injury, I’d slot Betemit into the No. 2 spot and drop Hardy into lower-third of the order. Granted, Betemit doesn’t fit the mold of the contact No. 2 hitter, but his career splits against RHP can’t be ignored.”

Szymborski: “Lineup order is generally overrated. Really, as long as a manager puts the best hitters on the team at the top of the lineup and the worst hitters at the bottom, little shifts within that group are pretty much irrelevant and I’d just go with what players are comfortable with, given those parameters. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, as lots of managers seem to have this bizarre policy, for example, that the #2 hitter has be a mediocre contact-hitting middle infielder, something that hasn’t been justified in 100 years. I’d really just be happy with the group of Markakis/Wieters/Machado/Jones/Davis/Thome that are in a particular game being the top part of the lineup with the others falling somewhere below.”

Baltimore Sports and Life:
“The O’s are currently 10 games over .500 (at 67-57), and a 1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card in the American League. has the O’s with a 16.7% chance at the Playoffs. Baseball Prospectus gives the O’s a 9.8% chance. What odds do you give the O’s? Where do you see their record ending?”

Armida: “I’m not a great person with odds, but I’d say about 20 percent. 85 wins jumps out at me, but this team continues to defy all of the statistics so who knows. But, let’s not lose sight of the significance of a winning season. The 2012 Orioles are going to be a winning team. That’s huge.”

Klaassen: “I don’t think I can do better than BP or Cool Standings in this respect.”

Knobler: “I do predictions at the beginning of seasons only because my editors demand it. I try to avoid predictions from then on, because I don’t find them terribly useful. The Orioles have a reasonable chance, but there are basically five teams for two spots.”

Mitchell: “I would put their chances at the playoffs at below 5%, and here is why: With 41 games left to play (as I write this) Seattle, Toronto, and Boston are the only teams below .500 and we know how good Boston’s offense and Seattle’s pitching can be and of those three teams only Toronto has a negative run-differential worse than -2. The cumulative run differential of their remaining opponents is an astounding +363. Three games at Texas, four against Chicago, and three at Oakland and Seattle are their non-divisional games. Ouch! Plus six games left against Tampa Bay and seven against New York. Baltimore still has a chance at making the playoffs but I find the road ahead to be a very tough one and that is why I decreased their odds.”

Short: “Those guys are much better at crunching the numbers than me, so they lay the situation out pretty clearly. I’d give the O’s a 20 percent chance and 84 wins. Not enough to get a playoff spot, but good enough for their first winning record since 1997.”

Szymborski: “ZiPS has them at 18% right now and finishing at 85-77, I’d probably put them about 1-in-4 and finishing at 86 or 87 wins. It’s a tough crowd to best.”

Baltimore Sports and Life: “Baltimore is 19th in runs scored, 26th in on-base %, and 19th in ERA. It is hard to project out exactly what the O’s will (or can do) in the off-season without knowing where they are willing to take the payroll. The 2012 salary is $80M. I can see that increasing, but I doubt they join the other 9 teams that currently have a salary over $110M. Assuming the O’s 2013 salary will be around $90M, I don’t see Baltimore making attempts at any FA headliners like Greinke or Hamilton. I could see Baltimore having interest in BJ Upton, Swisher, Victorino, A. Sanchez, and Bourn though. I could also see the O’s pursuing trades (with Headley being the first priority).

Prior to any added external parts, I picture the O’s roster – based on existing internal options only – looking like the following by next June:

Markakis RF
Reynolds 1st
Jones CF
Wieters C
Hardy SS/3rd
Davis DH
Machado 3rd/SS
Schoop 2nd
Hoes LF

Bench: Teagarden, Reimold, Andino, Betemit (Quantanilla, Avery, Flaherty, Roberts, McLouth, Ford)
Rotation: Hammel, Chen, Britton, Bundy (Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta)
Bullpen: Johnson, Strop, Lindstrom, O’Day, Patton (Hunter, S. Johnson, Pomeranz, Wada, Gonzalez, Schrader)

What jumps out to me the most is the rotation, and the need for another dependable starter. Another middle of the lineup force would be ideal.

Hoes has his supporters, with many believing his obp skills are directly what the ML roster needs. I’d still rather have more of a sure thing in LF though. I’d list Reimold, but he has prove his health first.

I like Davis being part of the roster. I like him even more now that he has shown the ability to be serviceable in the OF. I’d still prefer him at 1st or DH. Ideally, he would be a bench option that would find some regular 400+ ab’s.

If you were Duquette, and you had roughly $90M to spend on the ’13 roster, where would you be primarily looking to improve?”

Armida: “The 2013 Orioles need another rotation member and a key bat that could supply power, but also infuse some patience into the lineup. Nick Swisher fits that profile well. The switch hitter would be an ideal fit for the Orioles, but I can see his value becoming too high considering he’ll be 32 next season. The thing you have to remember about Dan Duquette is that he is known to make the dramatic trade for a superstar. That can’t be ruled out, nor can a deal for someone like Chase Headley, who would be a perfect addition. I don’t see the Orioles competing on the free agent market for Greinke, but don’t rule out a big run for Hamilton. I don’t see them landing him, but they’ll be rumored for sure. To improve the pitching, Duquette will need to make a deal.”

Klaassen: “There is not obvious or short answer here. Briefly: they obvious could use a stud pitcher, but I still do not think the team is in a position to go for broke on one. Greinke is the only ace projected to be a free agent, and he is going to get way more money than the team should spend. Honestly, the team needs to approach the coming off-season like they did the last one — cautiously shopping for bargains anywhere they can find them, and still looking at a window for contention a few years down the road. The Fired GM Graveyard is full of execs who saw surprising early success, went for it too fast, and ended up where they started.”

Mitchell: “They really need help in the rotation and they, in my opinion, need at least three good bats. I would love to see, if they could make it happen, a lineup a little like this:

Markakis (LF)
Headley (3B)
Jones (CF)
Swisher (RF) +19.1 UZR career in RF and +10.3 since 2011
Wieters (C)
Machado (SS)
Davis/Reimold (1B)
Betemit/Reimold (DH)
Keppinger/Quintanilla (2B)

The Orioles only have $53.4M committed in 2013 and, sadly, Brian Roberts makes $10M of that. They should look into trading Hardy and his $7.4M contract and trading for Headley. They could add Swisher who
is a good defender in RF and can play 1B/LF as well and a guy like Keppinger who makes a lot of contact and can play 3B/2B/1B and should be in the $2M range.

I would decline Reynolds’ option and non-tender him, since he is arbitration eligible, unless I can find a trade partner who wants him. The Orioles do have a handful of arbitration raises that will bring the committed salary up (Wieters, Hammel, Johnson, O’Day) but they should have funds to play with here. If they feel like spending then by all means add a Zack Greinke type but spend wisely and integrate the pieces you already have control of. I think Baltimore could be a real contender next year if they can make a few smart moves like the ones I mentioned.”

Short: “I think the Orioles should continue to focus on getting players who will be long-term assets, not necessarily win-now players. Looking at the team’s success this season, a lot of it has been built on something that might not be there next season (winning an incredible amount of one-run and extra-inning games). Going all in while counting on that to continue could be dangerous. So winning in 2013 shouldn’t be the goal as much as continuing to lay the groundwork for 2014, 2015, etc. As I said above, I think Headley would be an excellent fit for the Orioles and he would likely benefit leaving PETCO Park for the cozier ballparks of the American League East. Adding another starting pitcher or two should also be a priority. I doubt they’ll be able to afford Greinke, but there could be some decent bargains out there. Scott Baker could be an interesting gamble if the Twins decline his $9.25 million option for 2013. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery and might not be ready until next May, but he has enjoyed some under-the-radar success when healthy. Of course, he would be attractive for a lot of teams on a “prove it” contract.”

Szymborski: “Headley is my favorite option and I think he could really thrive at Camden Yards, a fun place for a right-handed hitter with power, something that Petco Park is decidedly not. The big problem here will be the Padres price tag. You can’t give up Bundy or Machado for Headley, but there’s also a large dropoff after those two and you would probably need a lot more than Schoop to land Headley. But they should at least try.

I’m not a fan of a starting job for Betemit given that he’s below-average offensively at any position he can handle defensively. Good season aside, the O’s are still a team that’s in the middle of a rebuilding cycle, not a team that’s completed one and as such, risk is their friend, not their enemy. Proven mediocre performance is mostly valuable for teams that are already one of the best in baseball – all the O’s moves need to be about upside primarily and Betemit’s upside is extremely limited at this point in his career.

I’d rather see Jones in leftfield given that his bat justifies it and I think you can sell him on a move if you bring in someone like Michael Bourn, who is an excellent defensive centerfielder and someone who really fits a need and improves the outfield significantly. Greinke’s price tag is going to be very high, even with a rather lackluster stint in Anaheim, but the O’s should at least do their due diligence and see what kind of dollars they could bring him in on. The team might be best served by picking up an inning-eater, look at someone with risk and upside that you may get at a bargain, like Shaun Marcum due to his arm troubles, and save the big signing for a year or two down the road.”

Chris Stoner
Chris Stoner


Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.