And here we go! The 2013 Orioles — now thickly coated with playoff experience — enter the 2013 season, as usual, picked by everyone to finish last. What’s not usual is that they’re not predicted to be terrible; there are no bad teams in the AL East, and it’s not out of the question that all five teams could finish with winning records.
The most popular Monte Carlo season simulators (CAIRO, Marcel, ZiPS, etc.) tend to have Baltimore winning around 79 games, and everybody else over .500. They give the Orioles an 8-10% chance of winning the division.
Is that right? The Orioles, of course, won 93 games last year and finished just two games behind New York, eventually winning the AL wildcard after a play-in game against the Rangers. Much has been made of the Orioles’s insanely (and unsustainably) good record of 29-9 in one-run games. The Orioles only scored a few more runs than they allowed last year; on the merits, they looked more like a .500 team than a contender.
On the other hand, the second-half team was very different from the team that opened the 2012 season. That team, with Manny Machado, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman playing key roles, outscored its opponents 361-318. And that team, more or less, is the one that’s taking the field Tuesday against the Rays.
I think it’s fair to say that the 2013 Orioles have at least as much talent as the winning team that played the second half of 2012.
But here are some reasons for pessimism.
- Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez all pitched better than they were supposed to last season. If all three regress, the starting pitching gets notably worse.
- Hammel and Markakis both missed some time with injury, but the Orioles’ other main contributors (Jones, Wieters, Davis, Chen, Hardy if you believe in b-refs defensive WAR) played just about full seasons. There’s no reason to expect the front-of-the-line players to be this healthy again, and the Orioles bench (especially without Betemit) is catastrophically weak. Anything goes wrong, anything, and Ryan Flaherty is going to get serious at-bats. I like Ryan Flaherty and his big narrow Nomar face but if you’re counting on his bat in a big spot you know things have gone floppy.
- Biggest reason: the Red Sox and the Blue Jays got better. A lot better. The projection systems have each team improving 10-15 games, i.e. winning 10-20% more games than last year. The Orioles play 36 games against those two teams — so if they win 10-20% more of the games they play against us, that gives Baltimore 5 or so fewer wins, even if the team’s talent level is exactly the same. This is the biggest reason I think the Orioles will struggle to make it to .500 this year.
But let’s finish with optimism. The main contributors for Baltimore are all entering what ought to be their prime, and there’s every reason to think that most of them will get better. The Orioles may still be in the playoff chase in September when Bundy and/or Gausman show up, and they may not, but I take it to be almost certain that the 2013 Orioles will be a highly enjoyable team to watch and root for. Especially if Adam Jones keeps hitting people in the face with pies. I never get tired of the pies.
(Previously: Orioles pre-mortem 2012. Orioles pre-mortem 2011. Orioles pre-mortem 2010. I had forgotten that the projection systems kept picking the Orioles to be sort of OK and win 77 games, until finally in 2012 they gave up and decided the Orioles really were a terrible 68-win team, at which point they won like crazy.)