Know Thy Enemy 2009: Baltimore Orioles

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Know Thy Enemy 2009: Baltimore Orioles
It's time for Fire Brand's annual Know Thy Enemy series, one where we reveal our division standing predictions over the course of the week by taking you into each division rival and examining what we will have to deal with.
In most seasons, the predictions of all writers are similar. This year, we had a bunch of different predictions, so I will append the predictions for each writer for the place in question.

Predictions: Joe, Tim, Shawn, Pat and writer emeritus Zach picked the O's while I went out on a limb and said Toronto.

Today, we talk fifth place; the consensus by Fire Brand to host that spot are the Baltimore Orioles. Let's take it away.

C MATT WIETERS | GREGG ZAUN

Wieters was sent down to the minor leagues, but that's only because they want to avoid Wieters becoming a Super Two player. Facts are facts, and that's that Wieters will be behind the dish most of the year. And he's basically going to be flat out awesome. He's so hyped up that he's not a sleeper anymore in fantasy drafts (darn).

The consensus of the statistical projections have Wieters hitting for a near .300 batting average in the majors and hitting about 20 home runs. Now that's impressive. The Hardball Times sees him at .286/.369/.491 which is just scary, period. He's already polished now and looks to have at least a decade ahead of him as an All-Star catcher.

Zaun will hold the fort down until Wieters is ready. Zaun has been pretty good over the course of his career but has never gotten a full, extended shot at starting behind the plate; he recently got part of that shot with the Toronto Blue Jays where he did well. Overall, his numbers are impressive, and the O's will definitely have one of the best catching duos in the league.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: I'm green with envy over the O's catching situation. If only we were so fortunate.

1B AUBREY HUFF | TY WIGGINTON

This is Huff's third year in Baltimore, and he'll be the full-time first baseman. He's also seen time in the outfield, third and of course, DH. Last year was the second best year for him, posting a .912 OPS and hitting 32 home runs. He has a rather disparate left/right split, so Ty Wigginton will play against some lefties.

Wiggy, who also plays the same positions as Huff does, murders lefties but is pedestrian against right-handers. As a platoon player, you can't do much worse than Wiggy. Their production out of first base will be stellar.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: I'm calling a push; Huff and Wigginton will combine to do some serious damage at first. Youk will provide less O, but makes up for it on D.

2B BRIAN ROBERTS

You might think a 31-year old who wants to compete would be crazy for staying in Baltimore on a four-year deal. Roberts thinks that the Orioles have a chance to contend before the deal is up, but he's probably right. He'll have a painful two years ahead of him, though, and most of the starters on this preview will probably be gone. He's one of the best second basemen in the game; we all know that. 40-50 steals, barely double-digit home runs, an average in the .290s... what team wouldn't like him?

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Going push here. Roberts' speed helps makes up for his deficiency in batting average.

SS CESAR IZTURIS | CHRIS GOMEZ

Izturis can't hit worth a lick, but he can field and that's all the Orioles care about at the moment. Their offense is so potent elsewhere that they can sacrifice Izturis' bat to get the benefit in the field. Gomez is a journeyman.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Sox have a no-hit, no-field SS. O's have a no-hit, good-field SS. Izturis has the edge over Lugo, but Lowrie is so far ahead of Gomez the Sox win out.

3B MELVIN MORA

Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't been traded yet. The best time was after 2004, and it didn't take hindsight for me to say that. After slipping almost 100 OPS points to 2005 (it's a mark of how good he was in 2004 that he was still very good in 2005) he slumped under the .800 OPS barrier for two years before recovering this past year. He dinged 23 home runs and just might be over his power-sapping 2006-7 years. At 37, though, he's a risk. The club holds an option of an unspecified amount for 2010.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Two aging stars struggling to stay relevant. At least Lowell has the D. Sox win.

LF FELIX PIE

Pie will finally get some significant playing time in 2009. He'll shuttle between left and the bench, but mostly left. Luke Scott will see some time in the outfield with Ty Wigginton chipping in now and then. The 24-year old has dominated the minors but was never able to impress the Chicago Cubs in his short time in the majors. The Hardball Times projects him out to .277/.330/.442 with 22 doubles, 12 home runs and 11 steals. It sounds pretty commensurate with his talent, but he's one to keep an eye on, as he could exponentially grow. Interestingly enough, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA likes THT's 2009 projections but doesn't see Pie improving on them as he matures. (But then again, I think PECOTA's future projections are a bunch of hogwash, so take that information how you will.)

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Not particularly close here in the Sox's favor. 

CF ADAM JONES | RYAN FREEL

Jones (and soon, Chris Tillman) was the prize of the Erik Bedard trade and hit .270/.311/.400 with nine home runs and 10 steals. You may not be impressed, but Jones is very raw and is one of the rare five-tool players who could blossom into one. Think Carlos Beltran; that's the upside Jones has and it will be hard for him not to reach it.

Freel came over in the Ramon Hernandez trade and should bring grittiness to this team. And unlike most small, white, gritty players, he's actually pretty good. He has a career line of .272/.357/.376 and used to be able to swipe bags with aplomb until his constant crashing into walls took a toll on him. He can play virtually anywhere and has years ahead of him as a utilityman.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Jacoby and Rocco are a great tandem. Jones is a future All-Star, but not now.

RF NICK MARKAKIS

Markakis signed a long-term contract extension this winter, putting him right along Roberts as the face of the franchise. Turning 25, Markakis already has two 20-homer seasons under his belt and topped the .400 OBP mark last year. Folks, this kid is scary. Scary good. I'd kill to have him manning right field for the Red Sox this season. Between him, Jones and Pie, the Orioles could have the most athletic, five-tool outfield for years to come. It's kind of not fair.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Guess.

DH LUKE SCOTT

"Luuuuuke" never really received a long-term shot with the Houston Astros despite hitting and hitting in 2006 and 2007. He had a fairly significant platoon disparity in 2008 (albeit not so significant over his career) but he's another who will lose playing time to Ty Wigginton. Scott was able to crank 23 home runs but suffered through two horrendous slumps lasting all of July and September. His scorching June (eight home runs, .333 batting average) was enough to vault me into the playoff hunt at the moment, but his August took me right out. Thanks, Luke.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Big Papi... for now.

SP JEREMY GUTHRIE | KOJI UEHARA | HAYDEN PENN | ADAM EATON | RICH HILL

For The Hardball Times, I penned the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox spring previews. The Orioles one has yet to run, so I can't provide a link, but I talk extensively about the Orioles' chances for pitching. The following are excerpts from my preview:

Guthrie is a fine pitcher who would serve as a No. 2 on most other teams. He's thrust into the mantle of "ace" for the Orioles, however. He's been lucky over the last two years as his xFIPs in both years were 4.41 and 4.64 respectively as opposed to ERAs of 3.70 and 3.63. Does that mean he's in line for a regression? Not quite. The Orioles' defense is much improved with Cesar Izturis at short and Felix Pie in left field. More concerning than possible regression is his performance in spring training. After getting batted about like a pinball in the World Baseball Classic, his struggles have continued in spring training. 11.1 innings, 7.94 ERA, 14 hits, six walks, nine strikeouts. Walks were his downfall in Cleveland; if he doesn't turn it around and pronto, we could see a very ugly season for Guthrie. ...

No one quite knows what to expect from Koji Uehara, the Japanese import. He has solid strikeout numbers and impeccable control, which would seem to translate well. ... Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projects Uehara to land around a 4.72 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 27 walks in 135 innings to go along with 85 whiffs and 22 home runs. Sounds reasonable. I'd take the under on the ERA, but not much. As long as he doesn't embarrass himself and soaks up innings, the Orioles will gladly take it.

...There's really nothing from the past three years to suggest that Eaton can be a competent starting pitcher, but that only shows you the issues in Baltimore these days. Help is on the way, but not yet, so the Orioles will give Eaton every shot possible to give them innings.

The fifth spot projects to be a rotation all year with fringe prospects looking to establish themselves. Hayden Penn, Brian Bass, Radhames Liz... they are all just keeping the seats warm for the bevy of prospects (top two: Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz) that will hit Baltimore in the next couple of years. Of course, Rich Hill will take his shot in this spot once he returns from injury. A former hotly-touted left-handed pitcher, Hill developed Steve Blass Disease suddenly last year and was moved for a player to be named later just a year after it would have taken some serious players to pry him loose. In 2007, Hill turned heads by posting a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts, walking 63 and whiffing 183 in 195.0 innings. Can he recapture his magic? It's anyone's guess, but recovering from this disease is tough; just ask Rick Ankiel or for you prospect-lovers, Jason Neighborgall.
WHO HAS THE EDGE: Come on now.

RP JIM JOHNSON | CHRIS RAY | DENNIS SARFATE | JAMIE WALKER (L) | MATT ALBERS | MARK HENDRICKSON (L)

The bullpen is actually not the issue. They have some nice live arms that they can evaluate for long-term relevancy. They all have their own question marks and Walker is one of the two ill-advised big-money signings the Orioles made a couple years ago when they brought him and Danys Baez in. Hendrickson is a journeyman that we are familiar with from Toronto and Tampa Bay. Ray is recovering from Tommy John surgery, while Johnson looks to be a future relief ace. Sarfate can throw gas, but can he harness it? This bullpen will probably shake out to be average.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: The O's have potential, the Red Sox have certainty.

CL GEORGE SHERRILL

Sherrill came over in the Erik Bedard trade and posted 31 saves, quickly becoming a fan favorite. He didn't live up to his 2.36 ERA in 45.2 innings for the Mariners in 2007, but that wasn't a surprise. He checked in at 4.73 this past year and took one for the league last year, throwing three innings in the All-Star game. Pre-All Star: 4.08 ERA, 39.2 IP. Post: 13.2 IP, 6.59 ERA. Coincidence? You decide. Either way, he's good, not great.

WHO HAS THE EDGE: Papelbon's great.

CONCLUSION

So let's see... out of eight position player spots, there are four certain players with 20+ home run power: Wieters, Huff, Markakis, Mora with Jones joining them eventually. Their one true liability on offense is also the only one who is clearly below average and even Izturis hits for a solid average (and nothing else). Their offense, like it was last year, will be among the best in the league.

The pitching... the pitching is so bad that it might cause my computer to crash if I talk about it any longer. Oh heck, I'll try anywa
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