2013 MLB Team Previews: Baltimore Orioles

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles

2013 in Review

In 2013, the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up their second consecutive winning season, their first since 1996-1997. Despite doing so, they failed to reach the postseason after doing so the year prior. With large expectations, the Orioles starting lineup continued to mash home run’s at an elite clip, led by Chris Davis‘s 53 round trippers.

However, home run’s couldn’t save the Orioles from their starting rotation. As an outfit, the rotation fared terribly. Together they posted a 4.57 earned run average (ERA), good for fourth worst in Major League Baseball. The starting rotation also allowed 13.4 percent of all flyballs to go for home runs, the highest percentage in the majors.

Despite scrapping together a respectable season, Baltimore looked more like the Toronto Blue Jays than the Boston Red Sox. The O’s would mash on offense but the pitching would do them in. Skipper Buck Showalter understands this. From 2008 through 2011, the Orioles finished last in the American League East. Over the last two seasons they have averaged 89 wins. While 2013 may have been disappointing to the Orioles’ organization, it was far from it. They still have some great things to take away as they head into 2014.

2014 Preview

Key Departures: 2B Brian Roberts, OF Nate McLouth, RHP Jim Johnson, RHP Jason Hammel

Key Additions: DH/OF Nelson Cruz, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP Suk-min Yoon, 2B Jemile Weeks, OF/DH Delmon Young, OF David Lough

Offense

No major league club hit more home runs than Baltimore last season. Their team total of 212 HR was 24 dingers greater than the next best. With a projected lineup more mightier than last year’s, more of the same should be expected out of Charm City.

Last year, the Orioles had four sluggers post 20 or more homers: Chris Davis (53), Adam Jones (33), J.J. Hardy (25) and Matt Wieters (22). Hitting 20-plus won’t be a problem for recently acquired designated hitter Nelson Cruz either. With a substantial advantage capacity-wise, the O’s power will be on display again in 2014.

Right fielder Nick Markakis and third baseman Manny Machado provide the glue for the lineup as both hitters plate the ball at respectable rates. They both have comparable and respectable on-base percentages as well. David Lough is expected to win the left field job. He should provide adequate production with a respectable batting average. The power isn’t there for Lough though.

Should Machado begin the year on the disabled list, Ryan Flaherty will man third base. Newly acquired but light hitting Jemile Weeks will likely win out as the primary second baseman in Baltimore.

Catcher Steve Clevenger, first baseman Steve Pearce and infield utilityman Alexi Casilla are locks to fill in as reserves. Outfielders Nolan Reimold and Delmon Young will duke it out for a bench spot. Both lack defensive dexterity but provided polished power with their bats.

Defense

Third baseman Manny Machado is the epitome of defensive aptitude. He graded out as the best defensive player in MLB last season. With an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 31.2, Machado helped ease the deficiencies the starting rotation presented every time they threw a pitch.

Alongside Machado, shortstop J.J. Hardy was rather good too. With a 6.0 UZR, the 31-year-old middle infielder showed why he was good enough to win his second consecutive Gold Glove Award. Hardy continues to prove he provides the organization with more than a heavy bat by limiting the potential damage done by a wayward pitching staff.

Chris Davis, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones leave a lot to be desired defensively. Recently acquired Nelson Cruz is awful in the field but luckily for Baltimore, he will be utilized as the DH.

Rotation and Bullpen

There isn’t much to get excited about for the Orioles staff in 2014. Not early on at least. Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman will compete to earn the honor of Opening Day starter but both have their fair share of issues.

For the Cleveland Indians, Jimenez excelled late last season to earn him a $48 million pay day with the Orioles. The track record isn’t quite there for the righty though. Despite showing some overpowering stuff earlier in his career, Jimenez took a turn for the worse. He bounced back last year but skeptics doubt as to whether or not he turned a corner. After all, his successful run last season was primarily against weak hitting offenses. If Jimenez has actually found a stride, matters will bode well for Baltimore. 

On the surface, Tillman had a spectacular 2013 when considering the circumstances. On the other hand, he was more lucky than good. With a Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) of 4.42, his 3.71 ERA loses luster. Tillman should come back to earth in 2014. This means he will have tougher outings this season.

Wei-Yen Chen and Miguel Gonzalez will round out the rotation. Both are mediocre starters with the potential to be average workhorses. As they have shown in the past, don’t expect lights out pitching from either.

Bud Norris should be considered as a starter, but so should the young Kevin Gausman and recently signed Suk-min Yoon. If projected closer Tommy Hunter struggles in his role, Norris could be shifted to the ninth inning.

Top prospect Dylan Bundy is recovering well from Tommy John surgery. He could be finished with his rehab assignment as soon as early June. If so, he will provide a much needed presence in the Orioles beleaguered starting rotation.

Questions arise in the bullpen. Aside from the aforementioned uncertainty surrounding the closer role, Brad Brach and Edgmer Escalona round out the weak section of the relievers. Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz and Ryan Webb are formidable arms. While none of the latter will carry superb expectations, they are adequate for the Orioles.

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. RF Nick Markakis
  2. 3B Ryan Flaherty*
  3. 1B Chris Davis
  4. CF Adam Jones
  5. DH Nelson Cruz
  6. C Matt Wieters
  7. SS J.J. Hardy
  8. LF David Lough
  9. 2B Jemile Weeks*

*When Manny Machado returns, Flaherty could shift to second base. Weeks is then a candidate for Triple-A. Until then, Weeks and Alexi Cassilla could platoon at second base.

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. Ubaldo Jimenez
  2. Chris Tillman
  3. Wei-Yen Chen
  4. Miguel Gonzalez
  5. Bud Norris

Prospect to Watch

Much has been ballyhooed about pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. While both are elite prospects, one name to consider though is second baseman Jonathan Schoop. With a great bat, Schoop projects intense gap power on a level similar to Manny Machado. He won’t hit for 20-plus HR power like J.J. Hardy though. Schoop is gifted with a good range defensively too. He isn’t quite Machado in this regard but he is adequate. With question marks in the infield, especially at second base, it shouldn’t be long until Schoop hears his name called to Baltimore. Until then, he will open the season at Triple-A and continue to develop into an everyday big league starter.

Best Case Scenario

Like the Blue Jays, the best case scenario for Baltimore involves superb front-end pitching. In other words, the starting rotation must not succumb to the rigors of the AL East. More likely than not, they will have to severely overachieve until prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are ready to tag out the least productive starters. After all, we already know the hitting will suffice. Chris Davis is unlikely to reach 53 HR again but 40 is still likely. Securing the back end of the bullpen will be crucial too. It doesn’t matter if its Tommy Hunter or Bud Norris, just as long as someone has the juice to do it. Regardless of the pitching, a winning season is in reach. If the pitching is more than breathtaking, they will win their first AL East crown since 1997.

Worst Case Scenario

For the Orioles to witness a worst case scenario, the starting pitching has to show up in the same form it did last year. For a team with the lineup to compete, the pitching cannot be one of the worst four in MLB. If Ubaldo Jimenez reverts back to what he was in 2011 and 2012, watch out. An even more crushing blow would be if Chris Tillman’s numbers normalize and he falls through the floor. With those two scenarios, coupled with a setback for Dylan Bundy, any postseason aspirations for Baltimore will fade to black. They could top the 81 wins mark but it will be too difficult to do much better.

Prediction

86-76 (4th in AL East)

Topics: Philadelphia Phillies

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