Were the Orioles the most improved team in baseball?

No!  Despite my generally positive outlook when I posted this question back in February, and despite the wholly satisfactory last three weeks of the season, the Orioles did not win 77 games, as the CAIRO system projected, let alone go .500, as some of the more optimistic projections had it.  They won 69, just three more than last year.  What happened to a team that looked much better on paper than the 2010 squad?

It’s pretty simple, actually.  The 2011 Orioles were a bad team, but they were bad in a really different way than the 2010 Orioles.  I thought the changes in the lineup looked really promising; and I was right!  This year’s Orioles scored almost 100 more runs, in a low-offense year.  Last year they scored the second-fewest runs in the league; this year they were in the middle of the pack.

What went south, of course, was the pitching.  The 2010 Orioles didn’t have good pitching; they allowed the second-most runs in the league.  This year’s team allowed 80 runs more than that, worst in the AL by a large margin.  Why didn’t I see this coming?  I suppose because the Orioles got a ton of innings last year pitched by guys 25 or younger.  Not great innings — in many case slightly below-average innings — but adequate, major-league-level innings.  Young pitchers at that level usually get a little better year by year.  But ours got worse.  Bergesen got worse.  Arrieta got worse.  Matusz, the most highly rated of them all, got a lot worse.  In fact, Matusz and Tillman were bad enough to be sent down, which meant that we were giving starts to guys like Jo-Jo Reyes, another young pitcher who was mediocre before, and got worse.  I don’t know if it’s bad luck or if there’s something terribly wrong with the development process for pitchers.

Tom Scocca suggest that crappy defense is to blame when every single pitcher seems to get a little worse.  That fits with the sense I got from listening to the games, but it’s hard to know how big the effect was.  The Orioles’ BABiP against was .305; pretty high, but not enough, I think, to explain by itself why we allowed a half-run more per game.



2 thoughts on “Were the Orioles the most improved team in baseball?

  1. Jeff says:

    ESPN’s Keith Law joked earlier this year that any pitcher that put on an Orioles uniform instantly lost 3 MPH from his fastball.

  2. JSE says:

    But then again, this: “If you’re the Orioles, you have to just accept that you’re going to lose 100-plus games this year,” said Law, a former member of the Blue Jays organization who now writes for ESPN’s Scouts Inc. “You’re probably going to lose 100-plus games next year.”

    Which was very wrong re this year and seems very wrong re next year.

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