The Orioles have been AL mashers for the last few seasons. After 14 dumpster fire seasons from 1998 to 2011, the Orioles have managed to put together four winning seasons in the past five years.
The Orioles are an interesting team to me. If I had to compare them to a super villain they would be Two Face. Without a doubt they possess many power hitters, but their starting pitching is ugly to semi-good looking at best.
The Orioles possess one of the most potent hitting line ups in baseball. Featuring the likes of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, the Orioles are never truly out of any game as the long ball is one swing away. The Orioles by far hit the most home runs in baseball in 2016 with 253. Next closest teams were the Cardinals, Mariners and Blue Jays with 225, 223, and 221 each.
The left side of the Orioles infield is phenomenal. Manny Machado is the best hitting and fielding third basemen in baseball. Machado should really be a full time short stop but the Orioles still feature the likes of JJ Hardy whose bat isn’t what it used to be but he can still field a mean short stop. On the right side of the infield the Orioles will trot out Jonathon Schoop at second base and Chris Davis at first.
Schoop, has been steadily improving and managed to quietly hit 25 home runs last season but he won’t take a walk as evidenced by his career 3% walk rate. His glove plays well at second base and he could be a sneaky break out player in 2017 if he could just manage to take a few more pitches or kick his average up a notch.
Chris Davis on the other hand has been a bit of an enigma since his breakout party in 2013. The man can crush a baseball but his strike out rates are a concern. Davis struck out at a 32.9% rate last year while slugging his way to 38 home runs. He’s a prototypical slugger but a true boom or bust middle of the order bat. Davis’ defense at first base also leaves something to be desired as he has been below average in each of last few seasons.
Behind the plate, the Orioles brought in free agent Welington Castillo to start in front of Caleb Joseph. The Orioles had let their former all-star catcher, Matt Wieters walk as a free agent after several injury filled seasons and since Joseph brings virtually nothing to the O’s with his bat and is a league average catcher defensively at best, Castillo should see a fair amount of playing time. The former Arizona Diamondback is a below average catcher and average with the stick. He has a bit of pop and will likely hit bottom of the order and hit 13-15 home runs. What’s slightly concerning is Castillo will be leaving Orioles camp to play for the Dominican in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. As a defensively deficient catcher with a new team he will have an entirely new staff to work with. Considering he was a National League catcher, coming over to the American league will be a lot of work getting up to speed with both his own staff and a whole new league of potent hitters.
In the outfield the Orioles continue to rely upon Adam Jones in Centre field. The multiple time all-star is beginning to some signs of age. He posted a down season defensively and struggled at times at the plate. His counting stats (run’s and RBI’s) were down and the amount of extra base hits were also down. Was this an anomaly in what has been a very steady career or is it the beginning of a down turn? Similarly to a few other Orioles, Adam Jones doesn’t like to walk and is a very odd choice for the team’s lead off hitter. I do expect Jones to slightly improve upon last year’s production but his all-star days may be behind him.
In 2016, Mark Trumbo finally broke out with 47 home runs. It seemed for years he was a break out candidate but he could never string together a decent run. Trumbo remains a liability in right field but will be relied upon at DH and RF to bring his power to an already loaded power line up. Interestingly, Trumbo took awhile to be re-signed this winter. Similar to other home run sluggers, the market for this type of one dimensional player was almost non-existent this winter. Players like Jose Bautista and Chris Carter took awhile to find homes as well. Trumbo was hamstrung by draft pick compensation in free agency and is now returning to the Orioles on a three year/40 million dollar contract. He will be an every day player but his defense in right field could be costly at times. To bank on another 47 home runs would be foolish but he should easily top 30-35 dingers with regular playing time.
Lastly in left field, major league sophomore Hyun Soo Kim will likely see more playing time in 2017. Now that Steve Pearce and Michael Bourne are gone it’s Kim’s job. The former Korean all-star had a decent first season with the Orioles but it was in limited playing time as Kim appeared in only 95 games for the Orioles. Kim was sheltered and only faced lefty pitchers in 18 plate appearances where he failed to get a hit. Otherwise, Kim adjusted very well to Major League pitching in his first season and hit over 0.300 for the year. In a line up full of boom or bust sluggers this is a much needed aspect the Orioles could use and Kim should in theory be a candidate for a lead off spot that currently and wrongfully belongs to Adam Jones. The man showed great plate discipline and limited his walks to only 14%. The Orioles have publicly mentioned letting Kim hit against lefties and I think he can do it but he will continue to do his damage against rightys. Overall, I expect good things from Kim in his second year with the Orioles.
Staff anchor, Chris Tillman put together a very solid year in 2016. In his age 30 season, Tillman bounced back from a dreadful 2015 campaign and posted the best season of his career with positive 2.5 WAR. The bad news though is Tillman missed two weeks late in the 2016 season with shoulder issues and received some injections for his shoulder issues back in December. As of mid February it was noted he is likely to miss the start of the 2017 season. Tillman had been relatively healthy for most of his career but shoulder injuries, and especially lingering ones are always frightful for a pitcher. As Tillman’s 2016 season went on his fastball velocity dropped month over month. Not good news… so we will see when Tillman can make a return to the Orioles.
Kevin Gausman finally showed the world some prolonged flashes of his potential and was actually the Orioles most valuable pitcher in 2016. Gausman is likely to be the Orioles opening day pitcher and is set to become the staff anchor. Gausman threw a career high 179 innings in 2016 and looks to crack the 200 inning mark for the first time in his career. Gausman has had some issues with command and also struggled with his number three and four pitches. He possesses a plus fastball that can hit 95 MPH and has decent command of his split finger. However, outside of those pitchers his slider and change up actually regressed in effectiveness in 2016. Will Gausman be able to continue to take steps forward to improve his secondary offerings and limit his free passes? I expect him to be able to do so but it won’t be by leaps and bounds.
Now outside of those two the bottom drops off fast. Ubaldo Jimenez has been a disaster since being signed as a free agent, and thank you very much Buck Showalter for putting Ubaldo in to face the heart of the Jays order in the 11th inning of the wild card play in game last playoffs! Enough said about that bum.
Is Dylan Bundy and a full season of inning eating Wade Miley the answer to the Orioles mediocre starting pitching? Hardly…
The problem that I see with the Orioles starting pitching is that outside of Gausman there is little to no ceiling in their staff. What’s even worse is the floor for the other four players is fairly low. With Tillman already on the shelf to start the season, pitching depth is going to get tested early. All five projected starters are also prone to walk issues at times. If these hurlers aren’t on their game they are prone to giving up free passes to patient batters, and any time players get free bags, bad things generally happen.
The Orioles do possess one of the better AL bullpens, but lest we forget bullpens tend to have major performance fluctuations year to year. Zach Britton had ice in his veins in 2016. The man allowed only four earned runs all season in his 67 innings of relief. That’s insane and likely unrepeatable. Britton has been a very solid and reliable reliever in his five MLB seasons but some regression is likely; however, I think he will still be a force to deal with. Once again thank you Buck Showalter for not putting Britton into the Wild Card playoff game to face the heart of the Jays order during the 11th inning.
After Britton, the Orioles trot out right handers Brad Barch, Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day as their set up men. The soft tossing O’Day has long been a reliable reliever for the Orioles but injuries limited him to only 31 innings last season. Are his hamstring and shoulder issues behind him? At age 34 I’m going to bet on no and expect him to end up on the DL or begin to lose effectiveness on what’s likely to be the downside of his career.
The only other notable lefty out of the Orioles bullpen besides Zach Britton, is 26 year old Donnie Hart. The young lefty was effective in his 18 innings of relief in 2016, but given the small sample size regression is absolutely due. His reliance on an above average slider is essential because he will not blow the ball by any hitters as his fastball and sinker top out around 87 Mph.
Buck Showalter clearly showed that he values his best pitcher, Zach Britton as a saves only closer as evidenced by his terrible bullpen management in the 2016 Wild card game. This is a terrible way to use your best weapons but Buck the Shit Weasl can do whatever he pleases. So can we expect to see a relatively unproven Donnie freaking Hart to face tough lefties in all non-save situations in 2017?
In a tough American League East the Orioles are bound to regress in 2017. Their pitching is going to be problematic and any additional injuries to their already fragile depth will be devastating. The prospect pipeline is not full of any major league ready pitching talent, thus journeyman and replacement level players are bound to eat up key innings at some point in the season.
The Orioles are by no means an old team but their core of sluggers besides Manny Machado have likely peaked. Jonothon Schoop, Machado and Hyun Soo Kim likely have some additional upside but I think this upside will be eaten by regression elsewhere.
I predict the Orioles will finish last in the AL East. I know they won 89 games in 2016, but they faded hard down the stretch and the pitching depth issues are one key injury away from disaster. I predict a 73 win season from the Orioles as Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo fail to reach last year’s home run totals as well. On the bright side I expect Zach Britton and Manny Machado to be viable fantasy studs who are at or near the top of their respective positions.
Manny Machado – the kid can do it all and we probably haven’t seen his best production yet. Hitting in the heart of a mashing line up he will put up a great average and some great RBI and run numbers. 35 Home runs, 100 RBI’s and the potential for some steals makes Machado an easy first round draft choice. Given that he will have SS eligibility is even more gravy on top.
Zach Britton – Last year’s save totals will not be replicated but the low ERA and WHIP plus great strike out totals are probably sustainable. I’m never one to reach on a closer but he’s pretty safe to provide you with ratio help and K’s.
Adam Jones – If you play in an OBP (On Base Percentage) league then Jones’ 5% walk rate will not help you much. He provides almost nothing for steals, his counting stats are unlikely to return to their heyday, and the power is likely on a slight decline. Given his draft day price there are many better outfield options at his price.
Jonathon Schoop – the power has arrived and will likely sustain. Any improvement to his walk and/or batting average will help increase his counting stats. Could be a great value at second base but don’t reach.