The Orioles held on to win one tonight, 5-3 over the A’s, getting out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the top of the 8th, so maybe for once I’m emotionally able to take a look at this loss of a season.
Baltimore was not supposed to be great this year. But they weren’t supposed to be terrible, either. The Orioles thought they had an outside chance at a wild card in Machado’s walk year and signed free-agent pitchers Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner. Before the season, Fangraphs projected them to win 75 games or so and battle with the Rays for fourth place in the AL East.
They’re now 42-104 and en route to the worst record in the team history.
How was everyone so wrong?
Here’s my take. Nobody was wrong. The projections were the right projections to make. Sometimes you get unlucky and everything goes to shit at the same time.
First: the Orioles are not as bad as that record; they’ve been unlucky. Their Pythagorean record is 50-96. That’s not good. But it’s not historically bad.
Second: let’s look at the players who contributed at least 2 WAR to the 2017 Orioles.
- Jonathan Schoop
- Manny Machado
- Adam Jones
- Trey Mancini
- Wellington Castillo
- Tim Beckham (in just 50 games!)
- Dylan Bundy
- Mychal Givens
- Kevin Gausman
Let’s throw in Cobb and Cashner too, since they delivered that much WAR to their 2017 teams. This is a pretty long list of players from whom the Orioles were counting on some production (except Castillo, who was cut loose.)
Of these, Cobb, Schoop, Beckham, Bundy, and Givens each had the worst season of their career. So did Mancini, though his career’s only two years long. Cashner was back to his 2016 level of bad after a good 2017. Gausman and Machado played about as well as you might expect. (Machado’s hitting improved a lot, but the move to shortstop made him less defensively valuable.) Jones hit as usual but baseball-reference rates his defense as having degraded enough to essentially eliminate his value. And Chris Davis, of course, who was just sort of OK in 2017 but delivered a lot of value in 2015 and 2016, is turning in one of the worst seasons in major league history; his average currently sits at .174. Or Chris Tillman, a very good pitcher as recently as 2016, who stunk in 2017 and unfathomably stunk even more this year until finally being taken out back and released. (I saw what may end up being his last major league win.)
So you’re basically taking this entire list of players, who together might have been expected to constitute the core of an respectably mediocre ballclub, and saying that not one of them will play better than you expect, and more than half of them will play worse than you could have reasonably imagined.
I think the Orioles just got snakebit.
But what happens now? The Orioles haven’t been bad for very long, so they don’t have recent high draft picks. Machado, Schoop, and Gausman are gone, along with half the bullpen. Jones might go. I think in 2019 we are just going to watch Jonathan Villar and Cedric Mullins cavort in front of almost nobody.
I’ll watch that. And I’ll enjoy it, because I always do. The losses don’t mean much to me. Every win makes me proud.