5 Players Who Must Improve for the Baltimore Orioles to Contend in 2013
Since the Baltimore Orioles put together a very impressive and unexpected 2012 season, now they must work even harder to improve for 2013 to prove that this past year was not a fluke and they deserve to be atop the American League East.
Their overall pitching statistics were much better than the previous couple of years. As a team, they ranked 14th in the majors with a 93-69 record and a 3.90 ERA. In 1,483 innings, they allowed 1,433 base hits, surrendered 642 earned runs, served up 184 home runs, issued 481 walks, a 1.29 WHIP and a .252 opponent average.
So, their overall numbers were strong as a whole, but their starting pitching is what needs to be improved upon.
Their starters ranked 21st in the majors with a 61-58 record and a 4.42 ERA. In 937.2 innings pitched, they allowed 946 base hits, 460 earned runs, 136 home runs, 307 walks, 1.34 WHIP and a .261 opponent average. Hits surrendered needs to be lowered and the opponent batting average is a bit too high.
As for their relievers, they were one of the best bullpens around the majors. They ranked fifth in the majors and third in the AL with a 32-11 and a 3.00 ERA. In 545.1 innings, they served up 182 earned runs on 482 base hits, including just 48 home runs, 174 walks, 1.21 WHIP and a very impressive 2.38 opponent average.
Offensively, the Orioles ranked 20th in the majors with a .247 collective batting average and they compiled just a .311 on base percentage. Both of those statistics are low and need improvement. If the Orioles want to be contenders in 2013, they need to get on base at a higher rate so they have more chances to score runs.
Over 5,560 at-bats, the Birds collected 1,375 base hits, they scored 712 runs, smashed 214 home runs, which was the second most in the majors to the Yankees 245, and they struck out 1,315 times.
I’ve compiled a list of the five Orioles, two offensively and three pitchers, who must improve in order for them to be contenders in 2013.
1. Mark Reynolds
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As I’m sure most of you have heard, the Birds’ front office announced they would not tender Reynolds’ contract for next season, meaning that he is now considered a free agent; he has the ability to look around the league and analyze his options. Of course, Reynolds can also return to the Orioles if they come to a mutual agreement.
But, if he does end up staying with the team, he is one of the offensive players who really needs to turn his season around. His average is the lowest on the team of any everyday player (.221) and he is prone to the strikeout.
The right-handed slugging first baseman smashed 23 home runs last season and drove in 69 RBI, which are strong numbers, but not for a slugger of his capacity. Those are some of his lowest career power numbers.
With the Diamondbacks from 2008 to 2010, he crushed 104 home runs, which is an average of 35 bombs per season, including a career-high 44 in ’09. In his first season with the Birds in 2011, he jolted 37 home runs and drove in 86 RBI, although he did play in 20 fewer games in 2012.
Regardless, his power numbers dropped substantially, and the Orioles went out to get him because they wanted power at the corners.
However, he did cut down on his strikeouts: he finished with 159, compared to over 200 per season from 2008-10 and 196 in 2011, his first year with the Birds.
Reynolds originally broke into the majors as a third baseman, but struggled mightily at the beginning of last year defensively. The Black and Orange were in need of a first baseman, and he filled that role very well; he is versatile and still definitely a power threat.
The Orioles are searching for a more consistent slugger, one who hits home runs but does not swing and miss as much as the former Diamondback. They need a bat in the middle of the order that can drive in a hundred runs and deliver 30-plus home runs while hitting above .250.
2. Chris Davis
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Although the 26-year-old Chris Davis led the Birds with 33 home runs last year and 85 RBI while batting .270, he struggled for consistency throughout most of the season. If the Orioles are going to make a run for it next year, they need a designated hitter that can provide power over the entire course of the season, not just the final month of the year.
The left-hander really turned his season around in the second half of the summer. Davis sat with 14 home runs heading into the All-Star break and finished the year with 33. Now that might not seem like much of a stretch, but he really turned on the jets in September.
Over the last month of the season, he played in 28 games and delivered 10 bombs, helping the Orioles go down to the wire with the Yanks. If not for that last month, he most likely would not have finished the season with the Birds’ lead in home runs and RBI (it would have gone to center fielder Adam Jones).
There's potential and ability there and that’s what the Orioles saw when they acquired him, but consistency is a problem.
He posted career-highs in both home runs and RBI this past season (his previous highs were 21 and 59 respectively). However, consistency is the problem with Davis.
Yes, he posted strong power numbers, but he needs to be more reliable throughout the entire season. He was on fire down the stretch and definitely helped jolt the Orioles into the playoffs. But, if he was able to hit as well as he did throughout the first half of the year, who knows how the season would have shaped up.
There’s no doubt Davis will be back with the Birds, but the question is in what capacity. He might be the first baseman, but a more likely scenario is he will fill the designated hitter role.
3. Jake Arrieta
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In 2011, the 26-year-old right-hander out of Missouri was one of the most consistent starters for the Birds. Jake Arrieta finished with a 10-8 record and a 5.05 ERA. Now, you might be thinking that is a rather inflated ERA, but there were a couple of games that really got out of hand.
Otherwise, he pitched very well. He finished the year with 119.1 innings, and allowed only 115 base hits. He surrendered 67 earned runs and held opponents to a .253 batting average. After his ’11 performance, he was named the Orioles opening day starter in 2012.
Although he beat the Twins 4-2 at Camden Yards and got the Birds off to a strong start, the rest of the season was a struggle.
He finished the 2012 season with a very high 6.20 ERA and a 3-9 record. He spent time in the rotation until July 5 after he allowed six earned runs over just 3.2 innings to the Angels. He was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and returned to the bullpen in early September.
Over six outings (13.1 innings in relief), the RHP surrendered 10 earned runs on 10 base hits.
In his three-year career, he sports a 19-23 record with a 5.33 ERA in 64 games. Over his 334.1 innings pitched, he has allowed 198 earned runs on 344 base hits and opponents are hitting .265 off of him.
It’s not clear whether he will start the season in the bullpen or as a member of the rotation. He is still very young and is developing. Hopefully, this winter he has worked out his mechanical issues and he comes to Spring Training as an improved pitcher.
There were glimpses of a dominate starter at times in his short career, but last year was his worst year by far and he must step up his game and the Orioles need him to if they want to be contenders next season.
4. Tommy Hunter
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Right-hander Tommy Hunter is another Orioles starter who must improve in order for the birds to make a run for the AL east next season.
Although he came along towards the end of the year out of the bullpen, he really struggled at points throughout the season. The 26-year-old finished with a 7-8 record and a 5.45 ERA, but that does not tell the entire story.
He started the year out of the rotation and pitched well throughout the first month of the season. He sported a 2-1 record with a respectable 4.26 ERA over his first five starts of the year.
And, then the calendar pages turned to May.
In the second month of the season, he went 0-2 with a 7.18 ERA as he tossed 26.1 innings and allowed 21 earned runs that month. June was even worse. He tossed just 23 innings and surrendered 19 earned runs (1-1 with a 7.43 ERA).
He bounced back in July and went 1-2 with a 4.12 (lowest of any month thus far) in three outings. That month, he tossed 19.2 innings and gave up just nine earned runs.
However, August was another tough month for the young right-hander. In five games (four starts), he posted an 0-2 record with a 7.08 ERA. He allowed 16 earned runs over just 20.1 innings pitched. This is the third month out of five that his ERA rose to above seven runs per game.
After spending some time in the minor leagues, he made his way back to the majors and turned his entire season around.
In September, Hunter went 3-0 in 10 relief appearances and posted a very impressive 0.71 ERA. In 12.2 innings pitched, he allowed only one earned run.
Maybe he is better suited to pitch out of the bullpen, but that decision is up to Buck Showalter. Hunter must pitch like he did in September next year for the Orioles to be contenders in 2013.
5. Brian Matusz
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The 25-year-old Brian Matusz is another young, up and coming starting pitcher who really struggled at the beginning of the 2012 season. He, along with Hunter and Arrieta, were supposed to be the core of the Orioles starting rotation for years to come.
In four outings in April, he posted an 0-3 record with a 5.66 ERA. He allowed 13 earned runs over 20.2 innings pitched and really struggled with the walks. The southpaw issued 13 bases on balls and struck out just 14.
He turned his season around for the time being in May. He posted a 4-2 record with a 4.33 ERA as he surrendered 17 earned runs over 35.1 innings in his six outings. He walked only nine opponents and struck out 29 in the second month of the season.
Then, his season took a turn for the worst.
In June, he posted a 6.20 ERA after going 1-4 in five starts and allowing 17 earned runs in 24.2 innings pitched. Again, he issued 13 walks and only struck out 17 that month. There seems to be a correlation between high walk percentages and an inflated ERA and loss record.
Showalter only allowed the southpaw one start in July, and he tossed four innings and surrendered four earned runs. He was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk for more than a month.
When he returned, like Hunter, he was a new pitcher.
In August, he made three relief appearances and allowed just one earned run on two base hits over 3.2 innings pitched (2.70 ERA) without allowing a walk and striking out five. In September, he was even more impressive. In 14 outings, he pitched 9.1 innings and surrendered just one earned run on three base hits. He issued only three free passes and racked up 14 strikeouts over that stretch.
The Orioles had confidence that Matusz could pitch the way he did out of the bullpen; he just needed work in the minor leagues to regain his own confidence. Like Hunter and Arrieta, it’s not clear where he will start the 2013 season. That will be decided in Spring Training.
But, he must continue improving his game if the Orioles are going to be contenders in 2013. He is one of the key young pitchers in the organization and needs to get on track.
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