The Baltimore Orioles have made a habit out of occupying the cellar in the American League East.
The O's are heading into 2012 with a string of four straight last-place finishes. They haven't won as many as 70 games since 2006.
So will things be any better this season? Are the O's on the cusp of a breakout?
Let's discuss the matter in depth. Read on for a full breakdown of how the Orioles are shaping up heading into the 2012 season.
2011 Record: 69-93
Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): C Taylor Teagarden (from Texas), LHP Dana Eveland (from Los Angeles Dodgers), 3B Ryan Flaherty (waivers), LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (FA from Japan), LHP Wei-Yin Chen (FA from Taiwan), OF Antoan Richardson (FA), OF Lee Cruz (FA), OF Endy Chavez (FA), OF Jai Miller (from Oakland), RHP Willie Eyre (FA), RHP Ross Wolf (FA), 3B Wilson Betemit (FA), C Ronny Paulino (FA), RHP Pat Neshek (FA), RHP Armando Galarraga (FA), RHP Jason Hammel (from Colorado), RHP Matt Lindstrom (from Colorado), DH Nick Johnson (FA), RHP Greg Burke (FA), RHP Luis Ayala (FA).
Key Departures: RHP Randy Henry (to Texas), SS Pedro Florimon, Jr. (waivers), LHP Jarret Martin (to LAD), OF Tyler Henson (to LAD), 1B Brandon Snyder (to Texas), RHP Jeremy Guthrie (to Colorado), DH Vladimir Guerrero (FA), OF Luke Scott (FA), SS Cesar Izturis (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- Jake Arrieta (10-8, 5.50 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)
- Tommy Hunter (4-4, 4.68, 1.36)
- Jason Hammel (7-13, 4.76, 1.43)
- Wei-Yin Chen (N/A)
- Zach Britton (11-11, 4.61, 1.45)
- Brian Matusz (1-9, 10.69, 2.11)
- Tsuyoshi Wada (N/A)
- Alfredo Simon (4-9, 4.90, 1.45)
- Dana Eveland (3-2, 3.03, 1.15)*
*Not listed as a starter on the team's official site.
C: Matt Wieters (.262/.328/.450)
1B: Chris Davis (.266/.305/.402)
2B: Brian Roberts (.221/.273/.331)*, Robert Andino (.263/.327/.344)
3B: Mark Reynolds (.221/.323/.583)
SS: J.J. Hardy (.269/.310/.491)
LF: Nolan Reimold (.247/.328/.453)
CF: Adam Jones (.280/.319/.466)
RF: Nick Markakis (.284/.351/.406)
DH: Wilson Betemit (.285/.343/.452)
*According to the Baltimore Sun, it's still unclear where Roberts is in his recovery from multiple concussions. It doesn't sound like he'll be ready for opening day.
Closer: Jim Johnson (R) (6-5, 9 SV, 18 HLD, 9 BLSV, 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP)
Kevin Gregg (R) (0-3, 22 SV, 7 BLSV, 4.37, 1.64)
Matt Lindstrom (R) (2-2, 2 SV, 15 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.00, 1.22)
Brad Bergesen (R) (2-7, 5.70, 1.50)
Jason Berken (R) (1-2, 4 HLD, 3 BLSV, 5.36, 1.79)
Darren O'Day (R) (0-1, 3 HLD, 5.40, 1.32)
Troy Patton (L) (2-1, 2 HLD, 3.00, 1.00)
Alfredo Simon (R) (see above)
Zach Phillips (L) (0-0, 1.13, 1.00)
Pedro Strop (2-1, 4 HLD, 2 BLSV, 2.05, 1.14)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
It boggles the mind how awful Baltimore's starting pitching was last season. The numbers tell the whole story.
All told, Orioles starters posted a 5.39 ERA, the highest in baseball. They posted a 1.52 WHIP, also highest in baseball. They had a 1.77 K/BB, lowest in baseball. They gave up 134 home runs, most in the American League.
The best word I can think of is disgusting. Or maybe wretched. One of the two.
In an effort to improve their starting rotation, the Orioles traded away the only pitcher to log 200 innings last season, Jeremy Guthrie. They also brought in two foreign imports in Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen, as well as Dana Eveland and Jason Hammel.
These are the kinds of names that are hard to get excited about.
Let it be noted that the rotation projected by the team's official website is probably not what Buck Showalter actually has in mind for this season. Truth be told, Showalter still has a lot of thinking to do when it comes to his rotation. It's his job to turn the Orioles' rabble of arms into a respectable rotation.
I'll be honest. I have no clue how he's going to do it.
There is no clear No. 1 in this group. Jake Arrieta is penciled into the No. 1 slot on the team's website, but he's not a No. 1. He walked nearly 4.5 guys every nine innings last season and he had a HR/FB rate of 15. That rate put him in the same company as Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett last season, which is not a compliment.
There's slightly more upside when you look at Tommy Hunter. He's not an established starting pitcher by any stretch of the imagination, but he's a guy who won't walk the ballpark. He at least has a decent season under his belt, going 13-4 in 22 starts with the Rangers in 2010.
But the long ball is a problem for Hunter. In limited action last season, his HR/FB rate was over 10, and it was over 12 in 2010.
The O's got Hammel in the Guthrie trade, but he's not an upgrade. The O's can rest comfortably knowing that Hammel at least has the ability to give them 30 starts, but we're talking about a guy who is very hittable. In the last three seasons, Hammel has posted BAAs of .290, .287 and .270. He's another guy who will flirt with a HR/FB rate of 10.
I'm slightly more intrigued by the two foreign imports, if for no other reason than they don't have a track record of being mediocre in the majors. Chen had a 2.48 ERA in 117 games pitching in Japan's Central League, and he has a solid fastball and a slurve that is supposed to be pretty good. Wada is just as intriguing, but the bad news is that he's already dealing with a sore elbow.
We'll see what the Orioles get out of those two guys. But for me, the true hope for this rotation rests with Baltimore's two young lefties: Zach Britton and Brian Matusz.
Britton was halfway decent in his rookie campaign last season. He broke down as the year went along, but nobody should forget that Britton had a respectable 5-3 record and 2.93 ERA at the end of May. It was pretty much all downhill from there, but Britton showed the O's that he has some upside.
Here's hoping that Britton doesn't go through what Matusz had to go through last year. A year after making 32 starts and posting so-so numbers, Matusz plummeted back to earth. He started walking the ballpark and giving up home runs at an absurd rate. By the end of the season, Matusz's HR/FB rate was an even 20, which is an absurdly high number.
The Orioles (and their fans) should look on the bright side. Matusz can only get better after a year like that. Better health will definitely help, and let's just say Matusz now knows what not to do when he's on the mound.
There's really not much more to say about this Orioles rotation. They have a lot of guys in the mix to make the rotation cut, but the overall ceiling for the group is pretty low.
Even if Baltimore's rotation isn't as bad as it was last year, it's looking like it will still be pretty bad.
Scouting the Bullpen
Orioles relievers weren't a whole lot better than the starters last season. Baltimore's bullpen posted a 4.18 ERA, the second-highest mark in the American League. The guys in the pen surrendered 76 home runs, easily the most in the AL.
Jim Johnson ended the 2011 season as Baltimore's closer, and he's a strong candidate to continue on in that capacity in 2012. He's not a prototypical closer in the sense that he doesn't come in and blow hitters away, but he excels at getting ground-ball outs. His ground-ball rate last season was 61.5 percent, one of the highest marks in baseball.
One thing we can probably take for granted is that Kevin Gregg will not be Baltimore's closer again. That ship sailed last season. Gregg blew a few too many saves, and he basically couldn't get hitters out without making things way too interesting. Gregg's BB/9 was over six last season, and he gave up 58 hits in 59.2 innings pitched. He's just not fit to close games, and he spent the entire 2011 season proving that point.
Johnson's main competition for the closer's role is Matt Lindstrom, who has experience closing games for the then-Florida Marlins and the Houston Astros. He didn't excel as a closer with either club, but he definitely has closer stuff. He gets his fastball in the upper 90s and the word from MLB.com is that Lindstrom is developing a new slider.
We've seen fastball-slider closers succeed in the past, and Lindstrom could very well be the next guy in line.
Johnson is solid and Lindstrom has some upside, but beyond them Baltimore's bullpen leaves a lot to be desired. It still has a lot of the same guys who struggled to get hitters out last season. That just doesn't bode well at all for the Orioles heading into the 2012 season.
Teams can look forward to facing Baltimore's starting pitching, and they need not fear facing Baltimore's bullpen.
Scouting the Hitting
The Orioles were halfway decent swinging the bats last season. They finished seventh in the American League with 708 runs scored, and they hit .257 and slugged .413 as a team. Only three teams in the AL hit more home runs.
The long ball will be Baltimore's primary offensive weapon once again this season. At first glance, they have roughly seven guys in their projected order who are capable of hitting double-digit home runs. All of them could have played for Earl Weaver.
Mark Reynolds led the team with 37 home runs last season, and my guess is that he will once again be the team leader in 2012. He's hit at least 32 home runs in three straight seasons, and his ISO (isolated power) over the last three seasons is an impressive .261.
Just as impressive, in an odd way, is Reynolds' strikeout rate. He's going to strike out in roughly 30 percent of his at-bats, and he's going to flirt with 200 strikeouts every season. The ball goes far when he makes contact, but making contact is an issue for Reynolds.
Beyond Reynolds, J.J. Hardy is a good bet to rack up home runs in 2012. He hit a career-high 30 of them in 2011, posting a career-best slugging percentage of .491. There's a train of thought out there that he's a regression candidate, but I view him as a perfect fit for Baltimore's home park. When he pulled the ball to left field in 2011, Hardy hit .424 with 26 of his 30 home runs.
Hardy's by no means an elite all-around hitter, but good things will happen when he pulls the ball, and that's what righty hitters want to do at Camden Yards.
Though he was billed as a potential superstar when he first broke into the majors, we probably saw the peak of Adam Jones' ability in 2011. He hasn't learned to take his walks, but he hit a career-best 25 home runs. Jones will be even better if he learns to be more selective at the plate, but the Orioles will gladly take a .280 batting average and 25 homers from Jones, even if those numbers come with a low on-base percentage.
The O's can rest comfortably knowing that Matt Wieters is trending in the right direction. He upped his contact percentage last season, and that paid off in increased power numbers. Wieters hit a career-best 22 home runs and slugged a career-best .450. If Wieters continues to make strides in 2012, I wouldn't rule out a batting average close to .300 and about 25-30 home runs.
The one rock in this lineup is Nick Markakis. He's not hitting for as much power as he used to, but he brings a steady bat that the Orioles should be glad to have. I'll have more on him in just a minute.
Before you ask, Vladimir Guerrero's presence will be missed. His best days are well in the past, but he was pretty solid for the Orioles last season, particularly after the All-Star break. Going from him to Wilson Betemit will probably prove to be a downgrade.
Still, the Orioles have enough home run hitters in their lineup to ensure that there will be at least some rooting interest when it comes to this team. And since they have to compensate for such weak pitching, it suffices to say the Orioles are going to need to hit as many homers as possible.
The Orioles don't have an ace. In fact, it's debatable whether any of their projected starters would be able to start on any other team.
But Zach Britton is the guy I like the most, if for no other reason than he hasn't been ruined yet. There is still hope for him.
As I mentioned above, Britton's major league career got off to a good start. We was 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA at the end of April, and he had an ERA of an even 3.00 in the month of May.
The only really bad months Britton had were July and September, in which he simply got knocked around. He clearly ran out of gas as the season wore along, which you can see reflected in the .298 BAA he posted after the All-Star break.
Britton will probably never be much of a strikeout pitcher, but he'll have plenty of success in his future as long as he keeps getting ground balls. His ground-ball rate was a solid 52.8 percent last season. If he can do that again while lowering his walk rate, Britton is a guy who could post an ERA in the low 4.00s over 180-200 innings.
The Orioles would like nothing more than to see that kind of production arrive this season. Goodness knows they could use it.
Let's talk about Nick Markakis.
Markakis obviously doesn't have as much pop in his bat as some of Baltimore's other hitters, but he's far more reliable than any of them when it comes to getting on base and making solid contact.
Markakis had one season in which he had an on-base percentage over .400, but his track record suggests that his OBP is more likely to rest in the .350-.370 range. That's not elite, but something in that area will probably be good enough to lead the Orioles this season.
Markakis will probably end up leading the O's in hits as well. He's recorded at least 180 hits in each of the last five seasons, and he's able to do that because he keeps his strikeouts down and makes good contact to all fields. For example, Markakis hit over .300 hitting the ball to left, center and right field last season.
My hunch is that Markakis will be even more productive in 2012 than he was in 2011. I don't think we'll see his power numbers take a significant jump, but his BABIP was a curiously low .300 last season. Markakis is typically good for a BABIP around .320 or .330, which is the difference between an average in the .290s and an average in the .280s.
No matter how he does it, Markakis will continue to be a rock in this lineup. The O's would be a lot worse without him.
Baltimore's rotation will get a huge, huge, huge lift if Brian Matusz can recapture his form from the 2010 season.
That year, Matusz had a respectable K/9 of 7.33 and a reasonable 3.23 BB/9. Despite the fact his fly-ball rate was an even 45, Matusz managed to keep his HR/FB rate pretty low at 7.9 percent. By all rights, he should have been giving up dingers left and right.
Matusz was giving up dingers left and right in 2011. That's thanks in large part to the fact he just wasn't throwing like himself after returning from a lengthy injury absence in June. His stuff was flat and it was up in the zone, and hitters teed off.
Better health should lead to better velocity and more crispness on his pitches this season, and that should in turn lead to a return to form. Matusz has a lot to prove in 2012, but we know from his 2010 season that he can at least be a serviceable starter when he's feeling right.
The Orioles need as many serviceable starters as they can get.
Prospect to Watch
If Orioles fans are looking for something to be hopeful about, they should be hopeful about Manny Machado. He's a stud, and it won't be long before he's in the majors.
If you ask ESPN's Keith Law, Machado is the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball. He's a shortstop with above-average athleticism, and Law loves where his bat is headed. Machado is still far from being a perfect hitter, but he's making adjustments that he needs to make.
Machado hasn't even reached the Double-A level yet, so it goes without saying that he's still a few years away. In the meantime, he'll continue to make adjustments at the plate, ideally becoming a smart hitter with plus power.
There's no hurry. Machado is still only 19 years old.
What the Orioles Will Do Well
Most of them will come courtesy of the long ball. The O's have more power hitters than most clubs, and a couple of them are progressing as overall hitters. In all likelihood, they're going to have four guys hit at least 20 home runs, and a few more will cross the double-digit mark.
So despite the fact a series against the O's isn't going to scare anybody, their hitters will leave plenty of marks on opposing pitchers.
What the Orioles Won’t Do Well
This team's pitching just isn't very good.
The Orioles have made a lot of changes to their pitching staff over the last calendar year, but none of them have upgraded the staff in a significant way. It remains to be seen how Showalter is going to arrange his rotation, but no mix he comes up with is going to inspire confidence. Certain pitchers have upside, but as a whole the Orioles are doomed to have one of the weaker starting rotations in baseball.
Things aren't going to be a whole lot better in the bullpen. I like Johnson and I like Lindstrom, but the rest of the rabble leaves a lot to be desired. This bullpen will have trouble protecting whatever leads it gets in 2011.
All things considered, 2012 should end up being more of the same for the Orioles. Obviously, that's not a good thing.
I'll admit that there is some hope in certain areas of this team, but there are no reasons to think the O's will be able to compete in the American League East. It's a top-heavy division, and the Toronto Blue Jays are leaps and bounds ahead of the Orioles in talent.
It's looking like another last-place finish.
Projected Record: 67-95, fifth in AL East.
National League Central
American League Central
National League West
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge man-crush on Derek Jeter and would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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