2011 Baltimore Orioles: The sad-sack story of the AL East

2010 Record: 66-96, 5th AL East
2010 Prediction: 73-89, 4th AL East
Diff: 7
2011 Prediction: 5th AL East

Impact Player: RF Nick Markakis
Impact Pitcher: LHP Brian Matusz
Best Reliever: RHP Koji Uehara
Top Prospect: SS Manny Machado

General Manager: Andy MacPhail/Mike Flanagan
Manager: Buck Showalter (34-23, .596)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Kevin Gregg, 1B Derrek Lee, 3B Mark Reynolds, SS J.J. Hardy, RHP Jeremy Accardo, RHP Justin Duchscherer, DH Vladimir Guerrero

Significant Losses:
INF Ty Wigginton, OF Corey Patterson, INF Julio Lugo, RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Mark Hendrickson, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Cla Meredith

Thirteen and counting.  The last winning season for the Orioles came in 1997; I was 12-going-on-13.  Literally half of my life has seen the Orioles lose.  Things don’t look to be improving much this year either.  In the AL, only the historically dismal offense of the Mariners scored less runs and only the pitching-challenged Royals gave up more in 2010.  The addition of several quality hitters to their lineup should improve things a lot offensively, but their pitching will still be among the worst unless several of their young pitchers have simultaneous break-out years.  In the brutally tough AL East, the Orioles are still a couple years from cracking the .500-mark.  Being that the O’s could crack the $93-million-mark in payroll this season fans should expect more.

Three different managers tried to guide the Orioles last season; both Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel were fired, but after Buck Showalter was hired, the team went 34-23.  That kind of success sustained over a whole season, however, will be difficult.

Pitching Rotation
Only two spots are really nailed down with 32-year-old de-facto “ace” Jeremy Guthrie and future star Brian Matusz occupying them.  Matusz was the team’s best starter last year, which wasn’t hard, but he showed serious promise with solid peripherals for a rookie pitcher.  He wore down as the season went on which should change as he adjusts to pitching a full Major League season.

Guthrie on the other hand posted a solid ERA at 3.83 and was the only O’s pitcher to break 200 innings, but posted a 4.44 FIP and in fact has never posted a FIP below 4.40 in his entire over-hyped career.  Things can only get worse for him.

The remainder of this sad rotation will be filled out by some combination of Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman, or prospect Zach Britton.  Injury-plagued Justin Duchscherer signed a Major League contract last week and figures to have a significant shot at starting if he can stay healthy.  A number of other young pitchers may also be in the mix including bullpen hopefuls Jason Berken and Rick VandenHurk.

Bullpen
The O’s signed former Jays closer Kevin Gregg to a two-year deal after posting 37 saves in 2010.  He had a solid year, but walks too many to be considered dominant.  The man signed to be Baltimore’s closer last year, Mike Gonzalez, enters the year as an insurance policy and viable left-handed setup man.

Koji Uehara came out of the bullpen last season after starting in 2009 and was absolutely dominant until an injury struck.  He posted an 11.03 K/BB ratio and a 2.40 FIP to go along with 13 saves and a 2.81 ERA.  He is this team’s best reliever and may end up getting some save opportunities if Gregg or Gonzalez struggle.

The rest of the ‘pen will be made up of Alfredo Simon (unless he’s in jail) who saved 17 games in 2010 despite terrible peripherals, Jim Johnson who’s a solid middle-reliever when healthy and Berken who was very good in 62.1 bullpen innings in 2010.  VandenHurk, Rule 5 draft pick Adrian Rosario and a few others will battle for the final spot.  A second left-handed option could be former Red Pedro Viola.

Catchers
Matt Wieters struggled in his first full year as the everyday catcher, but was still solid defensively and accumulated a 2.3 WAR rating.  At 25, he’s still one of the best young catchers in baseball.  Craig Tatum should be the primary backup and corners utility-man Jake Fox can also catch when needed if he makes the team.

Infielders
The Orioles worked hard to revamp their infield in the offseason.  They signed veteran first baseman Derrek Lee, who had a .811 OPS between the Cubs and Braves last season, to a $7.25-million deal.  At 35 he’s still a solid offensive threat who had a positive defensive rating in 2010.

The team also traded four relief pitchers in their organization to grab third baseman Mark Reynolds from the Diamondbacks and shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Twins.  Reynolds needs to improve on his disastrous .198 average from a year ago, but still managed a .320 OBP and .433 SLG while accumulating 32 home runs.  If he can bring his average back up to even .230, he’ll be an extremely valuable asset.

Hardy, on the other hand, is a terrific defensive player who contributes more than enough offensively to be considered an above-average shortstop.  He may never put up the numbers he did in Milwaukee in 2007/2008, but he doesn’t need to.  Both Hardy and Reynolds managed a 2.4 WAR last season.

The only holdover is franchise stalwart Brian Roberts who returns at second.  He missed most of last season with an injury but still accumulated a 1.5 WAR in only 59 games.

On the bench, the Orioles will have their 2010 starting shortstop Cesar Izturis whose most redeeming quality is his glove.  A utility infield role should increase his value to the O’s.  Fox can also sort of play the corner spots; although you probably wouldn’t want him to often.

Outfielders
Nick Markakis
was once thought of as a sure-fire future elite outfielder, but the lack of development in many parts of his game appears to have limited his once lofty potential.  He’s still a solid player, maybe the best on this team, but his .806 OPS, 12 home runs and negative fielding rating make him anything but elite.  He’ll still trot out to rightfield every day.

Somehow Adam Jones has been perceived as an elite defensive centerfielder, but his negative fielding ratings beg to differ.  He’s still a solid, if not spectacular, offensive player and at only 25 has plenty of time to get better.

Leftfield is a bit dicier.  The recent signing of Vladimir Guerrero means that either him or current DH Luke Scott will be occupying the position.  Neither is good defensively; Guerrero is downright disastrous, but the two could be the best two hitters on the team so they will both find their way into the lineup on a daily basis.  How Showalter juggles this will be interesting.  My guess is that Scott will see most of the time in the field while Guerrero DHs. The signing of Guerrero to an $8-million deal also makes little sense considering Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez will make a combined $5-million in 2011; it makes even less sense when you consider how far the Orioles appear to be from contending.

Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold will battle for the fourth outfielder spot, although with the addition of Guerrero, Fox may find himself on the outside looking in, making room for both.  Both Scott and Reimold are able to play first base as well which really makes Fox’s inclusion on the team doubtful.

To view the Orioles depth chart and lineup for the 2011 season, click here.

Overview
A lack of Major League-ready pitching depth and a lot of failed or failing promise in the system has left the Orioles gasping for air.  Stop-gap players such as Reynolds, Hardy, Lee, and Guerrero are nice additions and will certainly make this team better at scoring runs, but they make little sense as they are expensive additions and the team has no chance of contending in 2011.  Without miraculous breakout years from several pitchers, the Orioles will be floundering in last place once again.
Final Prediction: 72-90, 5th AL East

For an archive of the previews so far and some information on them in general, visit the ‘2011 Team Previews’ page.

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5 responses to “2011 Baltimore Orioles: The sad-sack story of the AL East

  1. An entire post about the Baltimore Orioles, and not one “OrioLOLes.”

    Well done, Travis. You’re a better man than I.

  2. It almost seems like the orioles have been built by 2 GM’s with specific and separate expectations of what the team is. The offense is built like a team trying to take that last step to division supremacy while the starting pitching is built like a team content on taking a step back to see what they’ve got.

  3. 13 and counting? Try being a Pirates fan at 18 and counting. I was young and virile the last time they had a winning record, now I’m old and decrepit and a winning season is nowhere in sight. But at least they’re profitable and cheap.

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