Against all, or at least most,odds the Baltimore Orioles flew on into the playoffs in 2012. It defied logic really. I mean on paper they had no business being there. They were not picked by, I would go ahead and say anyone, to even finish higher than fifth in the A.L. East, let alone make the playoffs. They even managed to take the New York Yankees to five games in the League Division Series before their season ended. It was unexplainable to say the least, but it has to now have hopes a bit higher in Baltimore for 2013. Or does it? If anything the 2012 Orioles showed the world , or at the least the part of it that pays attention to baseball, that in baseball just about anything can happen over a 162 game season. As much I may still wonder how exactly the Orioles really got it done in 2012, I am scratching my head at how they are going to get it done in 2013.
The Orioles have had a very subdued offseason which, to me at least, says that the front office does not see the 2012 season as a fluke. Be that as it may, it can’t hurt to try and improve, especially whilst playing in arguably the toughest overall division in baseball. The other surprise American League playoff team from 2012, the Oakland Athletics, has not made too many eye-popping moves, but they have filled some major holes and look to build on last season. Let’s face it if you were compare the Oriole and Athletic organizations I think you would say Oakland was already in better shape. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with not making a big splash in the offseason. It seems, like I said, that the Os front office is thinking they have the pieces pretty much in place to make another playoff run. While it is good to show confidence in your team and all, being realistic can be useful as well. The possible addition of Jair Jurrjens in your rotation is hardly causing league opponents to shake in their cleats
Jurrjens could, if he stays healthy be the newest piece in the Orioles rotation. Wow. Is that supposed to excite Orioles fans? Are they already printing Jurrjens tees, jersey and other knickknacks and tchotchkes? Is a Jurrjens bobblehead already in the works? Okay, okay, I know, I know, there’s no reason to bad mouth Jurrjens. In fact, I do like Jair, but in the same inexplicable way I like Chris Volstad. I don’t necessarily think he is underrated or necessarily good, I just like him. Unfortunately my like does not a good pitcher make. It could be considered low risk high reward, or could it? In the last two seasons he had a K/9 below six and his career high in the majors is 6.65. While his career ERA is a respectable 3.62, his FIP is 3.99 and his xFIP is 4.31. His best xFIP season, which is what I am guessing the Os are hoping for, came in 2008 when he posted a 3.92. Oh, that is also the only season in which he posted a sub four xFIP. Now of course all xFIP does is give us an idea of around where a picther’s true ERA should be not where it will be, so really Baltimore is looking for that incredibly lucky 2.96 ERA Jair posted in 2011. Jurrjens posted that ERA with a 3.99 FIP, but was helped by a .269 BABIP and an 81% LOB, by far his career high. Hey, if he is able to reproduce that kind of luck he will be a great deal. But I am guessing in the A.L. East he will be like me in high school and rarely, if ever, be getting lucky. We may be getting off track a bit here, I mean Jair just needs to be mediocre to be a worthwhile pickup for Baltimore. Jurrjens does not need to be an ace of the staff that’s why they have ummm, uhhh, errr…well, I have no dang idea? Who will anchor the 2013 Orioles rotation, exactly, Wei-Yin Chen?
While he is no Bruce Chen, Wei-Yin did prove serviceable in 2012, but what we can expect from Chen and the rest of the Baltimore rotation in 2013? First off they have eight pitchers, aside from Jurrjens who could start in ’13. Let us take a quick look at those potential SPs and some 2012 numbers.
Brian Matusz – 6-10, 4.87 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 4.38 SIERA, 4.95 xFIP, 7.44 K/9
Tommy Hunter- 7-8, 5.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.34 SIERA, 4.37 xFIP, 5.18 K/9
Jason Hammel- 8-6, 3.43 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.53 SIERA, 3.46 FIP, 8.62 K/9
Wei-Yin Chen- 12-11, 4.02 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 4.14 SIERA, 4.34 xFIP, 7.19 K/9
Zach Britton- 5-3, 5.07 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 4.11 SIERA, 4.05 xFIP, 7.91 K/9
Jake Arrieta- 3-9, 6.20 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.59 SIERA, 3.65 xFIP, 8.56 K/9
Chris Tillman- 9-3, 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 4.17 SIERA, 4.34 xFIP, 6.91 K/9
Miguel Gonzalez- 9-4, 3.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 4.40 SIERA, 4.63 xFIP, 6.58 K/9
Wow, take your pick, anyone of them could be your ace, right? Sheesh, only two starters with sub-four xFIPs? On the bright side, other than Tillman and Hammel, everyone else should have better numbers in the future. I mean not much better, but better. Now, you could argue that there was no pitcher really out there that they could go after, although Kyle Lohse is still hanging around. I think Lohse is overrated and not worth whatever he is asking, but he could easily step in and be the ace of this staff. Heck, Ryan Dempster could be the ace of this staff! Well, clearly it was not really the starting pitchers that got the Orioles to the playoffs in 2012 and why should it be what gets them there in 2013? Their bullpen was what worked for them, right?
Their pen was anchored by Jim Johnson who is a bit overrated because of the 50 plus saves, but rather than get into that now, you can read this. The Os basically used four other relievers in front of JJ and used them a lot! Five relievers threw over 55 innings and four of them threw over 66 innings. Not one of those pitchers had an xFIP under 3.38 and only one of them had a K/9 over eight. Which is fine for starters, but as a high to highish leverage reliever, you should be striking guys out. Wait a minute! Time out! Why am I even harping on their pitching? This a slugging team that will outscore other teams, so the pitching does not have to do much to keep them in games.
The Orioles were sixth in the American League in runs scored in 2012, so they had no trouble getting people across the plate. This was in large part due to the long ball, as they were number two in the league in that category. But is this run scoring sustainable? They do have some promise in their lineup, but can you expect them to duplicate 2012? Take Chris Davis for example. Davis crushed the ball in 2012, socking 33 home runs. This was a career high sure, but totally unforeseen? Well, not entirely, since many people have been waiting awhile for this Chris Davis to make an appearance. So maybe Davis can do this again. I mean he is only there to slug after all. The amazing thing is Davis did not drive in 100 runs. Not one Oriole did in 2012. It was a balanced attack. Plus they will hopefully get a full season of Manny Machado who is still developing, so they appear to be in good shape with the bats. Their offense should be as good, if not very close to as good as it was in 2012, but is it enough to get back to the playoffs? I would lean towards no. No, it is not enough.
At the very least the Orioles will have to beat out two teams in their own division to dip their toes in the 2013 playoff waters and that in itself is a tall order. Looking at the A.L. East going into 2013, every team in the division should be able to put up runs. Well maybe not the Rays, but they pretty much have the best pitching in the division, maybe the American League, and that will compensate plenty. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, and even the “in-danger” aging Yankees should be able to hit with the Orioles and I would argue that they all have better pitching than Baltimore. At least two teams in the A.L. East are not making the playoffs and I have a feeling the Orioles will be one of those teams. Sorry Baltimore fans, but enjoy Jair Jurrjens bobblehead day!