The Baltimore Orioles have always been competitive under Buck Showalter – ALWAYS. I don’t need to tell this to most fans, but what the heck. Showalter took over in August of 2010, the Birds finished the season strong, and again struggled in 2011. However they still finished the season strong in the end. The made the playoffs for the first time since 1997 in 2012, had a winning record in ’13, won the division in ’14, finished at .500 in ’15 (with a very strong September), and went to the playoffs again in ’16.
Throughout that time, the Birds have had a very similar core in terms of players, basically centered around Adam Jones. That’s especially true from 2012 to the present. And the O’s are returning virtually the same team in 2017. Yet, Baseball Prospectus is insisting that the Birds will take a huge step backwards in 2017.
They have the Orioles finishing at 73-89, and in last place in the AL East. Mind you, teams such as Toronto lost major pieces, yet they feel they’ll finish ahead of the Orioles. Then you have Tampa, who wasn’t even remotely near the map last year in terms of the post season – and supposedly they’re going to finish in second place with 84 wins.
With all of this said, some people are going to argue that last year’s results bear no relevance to anything to do with this year. And honestly I disagree – in this case. Again, the Birds are bringing the same basic team back, albeit with a couple of changes. However are those changes enough to take them from being a playoff team to the basement? And again, you have good teams from last year (Toronto) who lost big parts; yet they’re ahead of the Orioles. Not to mention bad teams (Tampa) who gained nothing – yet they’re ahead of the Orioles.
Obviously this is about the Orioles’ starting pitching, and that’s certainly a fair criticism. But what these potential standings are saying is that Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman are definitely taking big steps backwards this year. According to Baseball Prospectus, there’s absolutely no doubt about it. It also means that Ubaldo Jimenez has no shot of improving year-over-year. Now Jimenez has struggled over time without a doubt. However he has had flashes where he’s looked good (such as last September). And Baseball Prospectus is saying that won’t happen this year.
It also means that Dylan Bundy without any doubt won’t be having any success in 2017. And here’s the thing; all of that could happen. But again using Tampa as an example, Baseball Prospectus is saying that everything Tampa’s putting together is going to magically work out. And the exact opposite with the Orioles.
To take that a step further, they have Oriole bats finishing the season at .256 with a .318 OPB. Now I’ll grant you that on-base percentage isn’t this group’s forte. However power most definitely is. And they think that the likes of Jones, Trumbo, Machado, Davis, et al are only going to hit at a .256 clip? Regardless of what people might think of the pitching, that’s not even a stretch. It’s borderline impossible.
But it all goes back to Buck Showalter. What of his record (both in Baltimore and before) would make anyone think that he’d allow this team to finish like that? In effect, what Baseball Prospectus is saying is that the Orioles got lucky from 2012-2016. Again mind you, the Orioles are bringing the same team back for the most part. Toronto is not, yet they’re picked ahead of the O’s. Tampa is bringing the same team back, but they didn’t get the job done last year. Yet they’re picked ahead of the O’s. Does that really make sense other than going under the assumption that the O’s just got lucky for five years or so?
Mind you however, all of this is plausible. Maybe Tampa’s the group that’s going to start getting lucky. Maybe Bautista and his hatred for Baltimore, the Orioles, the Orioles fans, etc. is going to be enough to give his team a better record than the Birds. Maybe instead of majestic homers and big games, Oriole bats will only produce strikeouts this year. And maybe the bright spots in Oriole pitching that does exist will simply go away, along with the success of the bullpen.
That’s called living on a prayer, or perhaps the opposite thereof in this case. Baseball Prospectus is just assuming that everything Buck Showalter puts his hand on this year is going to turn to dust; the opposite being true of every other manager in the division. Basically, they’re saying that to this point the Fighting Showalters have simply gotten lucky.