'Adam Jones' photo (c) 2009, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Baltimore Orioles 2013 Season Preview

When we starting the Know Thy Enemy series, I specifically requested to cover the Orioles. There was a specific reason for that – I wanted to write about what I think will be the biggest fall-to-earth team in baseball.

I understand the Orioles were a decently fun team to watch last season, but I just don’t see much of anything about that 2012 run that is truly sustainable. The extraordinary extra-innings record was completely absurd and will almost assuredly never happen again. The batters relied on the long ball, struck out like it was their job, and posted sub-par on-base percentages almost across the board.

The pitching staff had one pitcher approach 200 innings. Just one. Their starters and most of their bullpen (minus Hammel and O’Day, primarily) posted FIPs that indicate they were the beneficiaries of some good luck on the mound last year.

In short, what you’re going to see in this preview is that I think the Orioles are due for a Titanic-level collapse. All the statistical factors are in place. Last season was fun for them, but I’m predicting a return to the cellar come 2013.

And frankly, as a Sox fan, I’m going to love it. Screw Buck Showalter.

Projected 2013 Lineup:

Catcher: Matt Wieters (2012 Season – .249/.329/.435/fWAR: 4.1)

Wieters’ bat made him an incredibly popular prospect at the top of the Orioles’ system, but it’s his defense that has turned him into a premium starting catcher. Since 2010, Wieters has not posted a fielding rating (per Fangraphs) of less than 8.5. His bat is slowly catching up (no pun intended), as well, as he’s developed 20 homer power and is steadily improving his plate discipline (career-high 10.1% BB% in 2012). When Wieters’ bat
reaches the point I think he may be capable of, he could be one of the best backstops in the game, but for now, the Orioles will settle with him simply being “very good.”

First Base: Chris Davis (2012 – .270/.326/.501/fWAR: 2.1)

Chris Davis was pretty much emblematic of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles: power to spare and not a single ounce of plate discipline. He slugged 33 homers in 2012, and he has the raw power to do it again. He struck out 30.1% of the time, however, and he wasn’t exactly a walk machine either, so his overall offensive value is limited. Don’t expect much
more than that from Davis in 2013.

Second Base: Brian Roberts (2012 – .182/.233/.182/fWAR: -1.1)

Oh, Brian Roberts. The perpetually injured two-time All-Star seems to be everybody’s favorite “If he were healthy…” candidate, and 2013 is no exception. Now 34 years old, Roberts hasn’t played a complete season since 2009, and in his limited time since then, he’s been remarkably ineffective. IF Roberts can stay healthy this season and IF he can return to his previous form, he could be a valuable player, but his injury history combined with his age has stacked the odds against him.

Third Base: Manny Machado (2012 – .262/.294/.445/fWAR: 1.3)

Machado is one of the Orioles’ two super-prospects (Dylan Bundy being the other), and he was surprisingly called up in August from double-A to become the club’s starting third baseman. He performed well, and will be replacing Mark Reynolds as the club’s starting
3B in 2013. Only 20 years old, it’s probably too soon to expect huge production from Machado, but reasonable progression from 2012 would be a positive for the Orioles lineup.

Shortstop: JJ Hardy (2012 – .238/.282/.389/fWAR: 2.8)

To be frank, Hardy is one of my least favorite players in baseball. He brings solid power and good fielding to the shortstop position for the O’s, but those are essentially his only two skills. His plate discipline is poor (5.3% BB% in 2012) which leads to a low on-base percentage (.282), and he provides nothing on the basepaths. He won’t strike out on the level of a Chris Davis, but he won’t work any miracles at the plate. His 2.8 fWAR from last season is roughly what I would expect from him again in 2013 – helpful, but not altogether remarkable.

Left Field: Nate McLouth (2012 – .241/.314/.380/fWAR: 0.8)

McLouth is a solid player in the Orioles outfield, but he doesn’t provide anything special in any category. Most of his 2012 performance came from a .268/.342/.435 line with the Orioles, and if he can maintain that in 2013, he can be a useful player on this roster. Just not much more than that. Moving on.

Centerfield: Adam Jones (2012 – .287/.334/.505/fWAR: 4.6)

Jones is the centerpiece of the Orioles lineup. After years of being a “future star” kind of player, he finally broke out in 2012, finishing 6th in the AL MVP race. He’ll undoubtedly bat third for the O’s in 2013, and while I expect some regression, as his plate approach remains poor (4.9% BB% in 2012), but he’ll likely rank in the top ten in the MVP race again this year. Also of note: he hasn’t posted a positive fielding rating since 2008.

Right Field: Nick Markakis (2012 – .298/.363/.471/fWAR: 1.7)

'Matt Wieters' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Perhaps the Orioles most consistent hitter, Markakis seems to be the easiest player to project in the Orioles lineup this season. He never quite developed into the star he was supposed to be, but he has a solid approach at the plate and a ceiling of around 20-homer power. Like many Orioles, he’s been a below-average fielder for a few years now, but his bat will make him worth somewhere around 3 fWAR, same as always.

Designated Hitter: Wilson Betemit (2012 – .261/.322/.422/fWAR: 0.7)

The numbers may not quite reflect it, but from what I saw of Wilson Betemit in 2012, he was a disaster. He was poor with runners in scoring position, and not particularly valuable in any offensive way, with an astronomical strikeout rate, mediocre on-base percentage, and lacking power. This is the kind of player teams stick at DH only when they have no other choice. Ouch.

Projected 2013 Pitching Staff:

Starting Pitcher #1: Jason Hammel (2012 – 8-6, 3.43, 1.24, fWAR: 2.9)

The Orioles have a weird pitching staff, to be kind. It’s a patchwork group of younger guys and veterans, and only one of them – the next on our list – pitched a full season in 2012. Joe Saunders was their wild-card starter, and as much as I love a Virginia Tech graduate, that’s not really a good thing.

Hammel was one of the few bright spots in the Orioles starting rotation last season, although he did it in only 118 innings. The problem is that he’s 30 years old, and I’m not so sure his ceiling is much higher than what he did in 2012. Hammel is a #2 or #3 starter parading as a #1, and that’s not ideal for a team trying to stay in contention like the Orioles.

Starting Pitcher #2: Wei-Yin Chen (2012 – 12-11, 4.02, 1.26, fWAR: 2.2)

There he is! The only Oriole to pitch a full season in 2012!

I actually really like Chen, the Taiwanese import who pitched his first MLB season in 2012. He provided solid strikeout and walk rates (7.19 and 2.66, respectively) and was worth 2.2 fWAR in only his age-26 season. It’s obviously not clear what his upside is, given the one year sample size, but in my opinion, he’s the best present option for the Orioles this year. I’m all up on the Wei-Yin Chen bandwagon, you guys. Well, in an “as long as he sucks against the Red Sox” kind of way.

Starting Pitcher #3: Chris Tillman (2012 – 9-3, 2.93, 1.05, fWAR: 1.2)

Prior to 2012, Tillman had shown little-to-nothing in the major leagues for the Orioles. In his 15 starts last year, though, he was excellent. The other shoe, though, is that his FIP was a lofty 4.25 – substantially higher than his 2.93 ERA. Regression alert! He’s only 24 years old, so there’s plenty of room for development for Tillman, but for right now, the Orioles have to be hoping he pitches closer to 2012 than his previous performances. ZiPS projects him as a 4.29 ERA/4.44 FIP pitcher in 2013, which I have no doubt the Orioles would be happy to see.

Starting Pitcher #4: Miguel Gonzalez (2012 – 9-4, 3.25, 1.21, fWAR: 1.1)

I’m going to be honest: I don’t really know who Miguel Gonzalez is. This should serve as an important lesson about the back-end of the rotation: it’s ugly.

His numbers are similar to Tillman’s – a 4.38 FIP suggests he could be due to regress this year, and his strikeout rate leaves something to be desired. I don’t see much to suggest he’s anything more than organizational filler at this point in time, but who knows.

Starting Pitcher #5: Zach Britton (2012 – 5-3, 5.07, 1.54, fWAR: 0.7)

This spot is pretty much a crapshoot. The Orioles have a plethora of (maybe not altogether attractive) pitching options for the fifth rotation spot. It looks as if Britton, formerly one of the team’s better pitching prospects, has the inside track for the job at the moment. However, the Orioles also signed veteran Jair Jurrjens (2012 – 3-4, 6.89,
1.86, fWAR: -0.3), and 25-year-old Steve Johnson (2012 – 4-0, 2.11, 1.07, fWAR: 0.6), who looked not-terrible in limited time last season, is said to be a dark horse, as well.

Frankly, I wouldn’t expect any of those guys are much more than a placeholder for super-prospect Dylan Bundy’s inevitable midseason call up.

Setup: Pedro Strop (2012 – 24 HLD, 2.44, 1.34), Darren O’Day (2012 – 15 HLD, 2.28,
0.94), Brian Matusz (2012 – 4 HLD, 4.87, 1.56)

Closer: Jim Johnson (2012 – 51 SV, 2.49, 1.02)

Save numbers, you guys! We love those, right?

Johnson had a very good season as the Orioles closer last year, but I think it was at least partially an illusion. He outperformed his FIP by a full point and had a less-than-ideal strikeout rate of below 5.7 K/9. I think he’ll likely be a solid option this year, but he won’t save 50 games and he won’t be among the game’s best 9th-inning men. It wouldn’t completely surprise me if he were to lose his job during the season, although more than likely that would only happen in the event of an injury.

As for the rest of their ‘pen, Strop is your typical high-strikeout pitcher who will struggle with control. O’Day is one of my favorite bullpen pitchers and I would expect him to continue to be dominant – as well as overlooked – this season. Matusz had a decent mini-run in the bullpen in the final month of the season after failing to deliver on his potential as a top starting prospect from just a few years ago. He could start to see more high-leverage innings out of the bullpen should he continue to impress in a bullpen role.


This system is all about Dylan Bundy, who lit the minor leagues on fire last season before a late-September playoff call-up. As I mentioned above, Bundy will almost assuredly see the major leagues at some point this year – in my opinion, sooner rather than later. With Machado graduated from the system and Bundy soon to follow suit, the Orioles’ minors are mostly depleted for the time being, with the only other player to crack Baseball America’s top 100 rankings being RHP Kevin Gausman, the #4 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Right now, this system is Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, and Dylan. Because he spits hot fire. (Someone please get this reference.)

Baseball America Rankings:

#2 – Dylan Bundy, RHP

#26 – Kevin Gausman, RHP

Projected 2013 Record: 74-88, 5th in AL East

(Now watch as they pull some more witchcraft out of nowhere and BS their way into the playoffs again. This column would be awkward.)