Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oriole Season Recap: Are We Still on Track to Contend?

So I was flipping through the channels the other day and lo and behold, the baseball playoffs had started. Which is funny because you know what I haven't done since 1997?........Watch my team play postseason baseball..........The start of the postseason signals the end of the season for the O's and Nats, so it is high time we wrote our season recaps.

I have gone back and forth about the O's this year. As hard as it sounds, you have to look past the 98 losses and only examine the core young players who will be with the team in a few years. All that matters from this season is not the epic ineptitude of Jason Berken, but rather the individual performances of players such as Baseball Jesus, Nick Markickass, and Chris Tillman. For quite some time, the realistic expectation for this team has been to reach the playoffs come 2011. In order to avoid wasting time with the Melvin Mora's, I will go player-by-player amongst the guys we think might be a part of the next great Orioles team.


Brian Roberts - Here is the best Oriole from 2009. He pretty much lapped the field in Baseball Prospectus' VORP, which is his value, in runs, over a replacement level player at the same position. He finished as the 5th best 2B in baseball, but VORP only accounts for hitting, and Roberts' fielding fell off a cliff last year. This leads me to the biggger point: Roberts is clearly a good player, but he will be 32 at the start of next season. That means he will be 33 at the start of our hopeful Oriole revival season. So...can we count on him? His trade value diminishes by the minute, but that does not mean trading him is the wrong move. He suffered his first drop in OPS since his post age-27 season (his career year, and career year for most baseball players), and could be headed straight for mediocrity next season. His Baseball Prospectus (BP) projections next season will be interesting, but I am skeptical that he will help the team much in 2 years.

Nick Markickass - We may have to remove the "kickass" from his name soon enough. This is a guy who has taken dramatic leaps forward in production each of the past 2 years, and was another dramatic leap from literally being an MVP candidate, according to BP before this season. Well, about that leap......this year he lept backward. He was not a bad player by any stretch, but was the 14th best RF by VORP, which is the definition of mediocore. This was a time when he was supposed to be improving, so it was particularly hard to stomach. His struggles were not limited to the plate either; after being one of the better RFers in the league, he dropped to slightly below average. Nick the Greek will still only be 26 at the start of next season, and presumably in his peak year in 2011, so there is still a lot of room for growth, and he should be a 'good' player on the O's for many years. The question has now become whether this year is an aberration, or has his ceiling dropped a bit to the point that he will only be a part of the next great O's team as apposed its centerpiece?

Adam Jones - His phenomenal start to the season led many to think he was having his breakout year, but that lasted about as long as I do in bed. Jones' performance declined by month and he ultimately finished the season on the DL. His fielding has remained a huge plus, and should get better with age. The final result was a solid year, but one that did not live up to the expectations he created with that hot start. That said, the performance is not bad, and he is still on track to be a great player. He is only one year younger than Markickass, and this past season has raised the same question about whether he will be very good, or great. In the meantime, I have been trying to figure out a nickname for him that is not "Pacman". My so-bad-it's-funny idea is "The Carpenter"...because he has all the tools...

Baseball Jesus (Matt Wieters) - We covered his season pretty thoroughly recently, so I will keep this as brief as I can. His slow start caused me a lot of sleepless nights, but he heated up and finished as one of the top catchers in baseball. He is only 23, so what does the future hold? He is clearly on track to be fixture in the midsummer classic, but what about the absurd ceiling that last year's minor league performance created? For those of you who (unlike me) don't think about Matt Wieters during your most intimate moments, he had the best season of any pro baseball player in the last 40 years, at any level. While his first major league season was very good, his ceiling has dropped a bit from the once-in-a-generation talent that impatiently homers from the on-deck circle. Nevertheless, he is still a special player and will be a leader on the 2011 team, so feel free to purchase a Wieters jersey and ponder whether his granite balls chafe, or are sanded to a glossy finish so that they swish gently across his knees.

Nolan Reimold - Aha, finally a guy who exceeded expectations. Reimold looked like a future solid LFer before this season, but had a huge season and now looks to be much better than just solid. This year he was already in the top-half of MLB LFers, with the only downside being that he is already 26, so his growth potential is not as great as the others. He is also not a good fielder, but can at least be spotted by Felix Pie in late innings.

Josh Bell - If watching George Sherril move on to more successful pastures made you upset, take heart in that we got a very good prospect in return who looks very much like our 3B of the future.

Brandon Snyder - After dominating double-A ball he had some struggles in triple-A, but still looks like a major leaguer in the near future. He lacks superstar potential, but the O's will be more than happy if he can hold down the regular 1B job.

Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz - We covered these guys througout the season and while it is hard to judge young pitchers, Matusz appeared to live up to the hype as Tillman seemed a bit shaky. Both of these guys are still on track to be front-line starters, however, so let's just hope for a little more Justin Verlander and a little less Phil Hughes.

Jake Arrieta - He had a somewhat dissapointing season, lagging behind Matusz and Tillman, but his upside has merely dropped from a number 2 to number 3 starter, so no big concerns here.

Brad Bergeson - I had to include him after having the biggest breakout season on the team this year. He is 23 and was probably the best rookie pitcher in baseball after J.A. Happ, Tommy Hanson, and Andrew Bailey until injury shortened his season. He may not be a future star but is an example of the ability of the Oriole army of pitching prospects to fill out a very good and very cheap rotation in the very near future.

Zach Britton - This guy was not even listed in BP's 2009 book, but has arguably become the best non-MLB prospect in the organization. He still has a ways to go but looks to be a future MLB starter.


Here is how the 2011 (and beyond) Orioles are shaping up:

C - Matt Wieters

1B - Brandon Snyder

2B - Brian Roberts?

3B - Josh Bell

SS - ?

LF - Nolan Reimold

CF - Adam Jones

RF - Nick Markickass

Utility - Felix Pie

DH - ?

SP1 - Brian Matusz

SP2 - Chris Tillman

SP3 - Zach Britton

SP5 - Brad Bergeson

RP - Brandon Erbe


As you can see, we have almost an entire cheap team in place, which leaves a lot of money to fill only a few holes. There is almost no doubt that this will be a solid team, with a potentially elite pitching staff and Wieters, Markickass, and Jones the offensive centerpieces. The question is whether this team will be solid or perhaps great enough to compete with the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox? From where I stand I see a lot of good players, but when the Yank's roll out A-Rod, Jeter, Texeira, etc. you need more than just good. Wieters is on the cusp of superstardom, but he appears to be the only potential elite hitter in this lineup, meaning the team may have to be carried by its pitching staff.

The biggest hurdle for the O's may be that they have to play the Yankees and Red Sox 18 times each per season. Their record against those teams last year was 7-29! If they had played those two teams as well as they did the rest of the league, they would have had another seven wins. Those seven extra wins would have only pushed 'em to 71 wins last season. A team needs about 85 wins to get into the playoffs, so having 71 last year, and conservatively projecting a six win per year improvement over the next two seasons puts the O's at 83 wins in 2011 - and right in the playoff race.

Unfortunately, the Yankees and Red Sox have shown no signs of falling back to earth, and we only won 64 games, not the 71 we would have won in this theoretical world where my life as a baseball fan does not suck. After years of endless 'rebuilding', even a solid team would be a joy to watch. But I still hold out hope that this team could reach much greater heights.

[Image courtesy of]

1 comment:

  1. I think 2011 seems pretty realistic only because of pitching. Those guys are gonna need at least one full year where they get shelacked in the big leagues before they are ready to produce consistently.

    And now I wait for Your Conscience to chime in...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.