Don’t run around telling a lot of people in Baltimore this, but… The 2014 Baltimore Orioles aren’t good at some things. That’s right, they’re not the best team at anything, anything at all. Did I just hurt your feelings? Are you already preparing a response about how wrong I am? If you are, you might want to kill yourself…. or just read ahead a bit. The truth is, the Orioles have a few secrets that are being ignored by overzealous writers and TV analysts everywhere.
Secret #1: The Orioles’ offense isn’t that great. The Orioles were a league average offense in 2013. That’s right, I said it. Did they score the 4th most runs in the league? Yes, they absolutely did. They were not the 4th best offense in the league. The Orioles play half of their games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. A stadium which inflates run scoring and significantly inflates home runs hit. Is it any wonder that not only did the Orioles hit the most home runs, but also gave up the most home runs? Home ballpark factors matter, but for more casual fans they only apparently matter when you compare players. How does that make sense? I hear home parks being brought up all the time when comparing players and deciding where free agents fit etc. Doesn’t it make sense that it matters when comparing teams too? Obviously it does, and that’s why comparing offenses just by the raw amount of runs they scored isn’t fair.
When using a weighted metric which adjusts for ballpark factors (wRC+, Joey Votto’s favorite stat <3), the Orioles came it at 100, which is exactly league average. What does this tell you? Well, it tells you that while the Orioles are good at hitting home runs, they wouldn’t be as good at it in a different park, and their total lack of on base skills hurts them as an offense. Still, analysts, fans, and writers will still rave about the Orioles offense last year even though it actually wasn’t that great. By comparison, the Rays offense managed a 108 wRC+ last year, meaning that adjusted for their very pitcher friendly home ballpark, they were a better team offensively than the Orioles were last year. Yet, whenever you hear people describe the Rays, it’s always that their pitching and defense have to overcome a mediocre offense. It simply isn’t the case. The Rays were an above average offensive club last year, they simply play in a ballpark that suppresses run scoring more than Camden Yards. The reality is that the Orioles signing of Nelson Cruz doesn’t now make them the best offense in the AL. That is being debated all over the Baltimore area anyway, although unless you think he adds an extra 15 points in wRC+ (hint: he doesn’t) that conversation shouldn’t be happening. They are likely slightly above average. That’s why I laugh whenever I hear and read people saying the Orioles will overcome a mediocre pitching staff by slugging teams to death. To me, I’m thinking “Our pitchers might not be very good but we’re gonna outscore everyone with our…slightly above average offense”. It just doesn’t make much sense. The Orioles will not have a great offense this year, or any year, until they get players who are better at not getting out.
Secret #2: The Orioles do not have the best defense in baseball
Saying this is blasphemy in Baltimore. It’s been pounded into our ears and eyes by every media outlet that not only were the Orioles the best defense in baseball last year, but the best defensive team in Major League history. Spoiler alert: They weren’t. The best defense in baseball last year belonged to the Kansas City Royals. I understand that the Orioles made the least errors in the game and the least errors in baseball history, but the fact is that errors don’t tell you a whole lot. As Derek Jeter can tell you plainly, you can’t make an error on a ball you can’t get to. The Royals put up a UZR/150 of 14.3 as a team last year, with the Orioles coming in a distant second at 7.4. By DRS (a more complete metric, in my opinion), the Royals saved an absurd 93 runs, the Orioles came in 4th, behind the Rangers and Yankees, at 17. As much as the baseball media tries to shove it down everyone’s throats, the Orioles were a very good defense last year, but they weren’t the best in baseball. In 2013, the Orioles had an exceptional defender at third base, a good defender at shortstop, a good defender at second base, and not much else after that. Matt Wieters certainly had a down year, of varying degrees depending on who you talk to (UZR isn’t applicable, and while DRS hated him, their methods of evaluating catchers are questionable), and Chris Davis is a negative defender with very limited range.
The big secret (within a secret) that held that held them back is this: The Orioles outfield defense isn’t very good. Though often praised in 2013 for his defense, Nate McLouth was a league average defender in left field. That isn’t what will shake the world of the casual Orioles fan. The shocking revelation is this: Despite the Gold Gloves, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are both negative defenders.
I’m talking crazy right? They’re both in the Gold Glove conversation pretty much every year. Well, UZR/150 and DRS hate both of them. Both have posted negative numbers in those two statistics since 2009. I will concede that Adam Jones makes catches look good sometimes and Nick Markakis generally catches the things he can reach. The numbers tell us that neither of them gets to enough balls. Adam Jones is fast for a baseball player, he is not fast for a centerfielder. He also often takes poor routes, gets poor jumps on balls, and makes mental errors more than occasionally. He makes up for some of this with a phenomenal arm. However, the highlight reel catches he makes seem to stick out above all of that among the managers who vote for the GG. Markakis on the other side of him, is just downright slow. He seems to make the right decisions and the fundamentals are outstanding, but his lack of range just doesn’t show on TV. He just doesn’t get to much because he doesn’t move around that well anymore. His arm, which used to be fantastic, has also seemed to decline over the last few years. Both of them are not good defenders, certainly not as good as their reputations suggest. This doesn’t show up in fielding percentage because neither of them make many errors (outfielders generally don’t). So, what does this mean for 2014?
It means people can stop making the above statements. The Orioles are a good, not great defensive team with strength in the infield. They don’t take advantage of that infield strength by employing a staff of largely flyball pitchers. The addition of David Lough would help, but I have suspicions he isn’t going to play as much as people think. I keep having nightmares about all the flyballs falling in with an outfield of Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. Their offense has more upside, but is likely no better than slightly above league average, despite the number of home runs they will likely hit. Nelson Cruz will hit some home runs, he also won’t get on base enough. If he plays defense as often as I suspect he will, he will be bad at it. He may not help the team as much as people are expecting. In short, everyone should just lower their expectations across the board because…
The 2014 Orioles aren’t that good.