Early Look At The 2011 Orioles

Chris recently wrote a post over at Baltimore Sports and Life about the Orioles contending in 2011, and he subsequently emailed me for my thoughts on it. You should check out the whole thing, but my response was as follows:

I’m just going to jump right in (I’m sure you’ll understand that I’m not attacking you or anything but just giving a contrasting opinion).

If you think the range is 75-90 then 82-83 is the expected, more or less. I think the range is more 70-82, and so the ~76 is more expected. I don’t think you’re being realistic. You said: “For the O’s to contend in ’11, I picture the following:” and I can picture it, but that doesn’t make it the likeliest outcome.

“1) Markakis, Wieters, Jones, Reimold, Matusz, Arrieta, and Bergesen have to improve. Looking at each player individually, that seems realistic. Looking at them collectively, that is a lot to ask.”

You yourself admit that having them all to improve is a lot to ask, and it is. I’d be OK assuming these guys improve by 3 wins collectively, but much more than that and you’re being too optimistic about their upsides without acknowledging the downsides.

“2) Roberts, Scott, and Guthrie have to avoid significant regression. Reynolds, and Hardy need to provide league average production at a minimum.”

Expecting three guys on the wrong side of 30 to all avoid regression isn’t realistic (and then you need to take into account that Luke isn’t really as good as he was last year – that was probably a career year, so he’d regress anyway even if he was in his prime). You’re probably looking at a loss of 1-2 wins from the group. Asking Reynolds and Hardy to be league average at a minimum isn’t fair, since league average between the two is about their expected level of performance. They could be better, but they could also very easily be worse. League average is perfectly reasonable. That’s still an upgrade for the team, in the neighborhood of 4-5 wins.

“3) Trade Tillman, Johnson, and Pie for Quentin and Floyd.”

That would upgrade the 2011 team, but I’m not sure it makes the 2013 team better. And I doubt the trade happens anyway, so not much to add.

“4) The O’s sign Lee or LaRoche.”

Upgrade of 2-3 wins is reasonable I think. I’d also be OK signing Thome and moving Luke to first, but if Lee is cheap enough I think it could be an upside play.

5) & 6) Bullpen help

Maybe a win better. Maybe. But then, they lost a bunch of other relievers. Can’t expect Koji to be as good as he was last year, but JJ coming back is nice.

So that’s 66 (and they really were a 66 win team last year – they were bad) + 3 + 5 – 2 + 3 + 1 = 76 wins.

On to your thoughts:

“1) That lineup is 9 deep. If you can project a lineup with Wieters batting 7th, and Jones batting 8th you are in good shape.”

The line-up is deep only in the sense that a lot of the guys hit about equally well up and down the order. Markakis is the team’s best hitter in all likelihood, and he’s not one of the 15-20 best hitters in the league. The team’s offense was pretty bad last year, and I think expecting them to be close to league average next year is relatively reasonable. Expecting them to be really good is pushing it.

“2) Just how good Matusz is in ’11 would go a long ways to determining the O’s chances. That is a capable rotation 1-5.”

It really doesn’t. The difference between Matusz being awesome and him flaming out is maybe 4-5 wins. That’s significant, but the rotation is still mediocre at best (which is an improvement over last year, when they were one of the very worst in baseball). Matusz and maybe Guthrie are the team’s only above average starters, and the 3, 4 and 5 guys could very easily post ERAs above 5.

“4) I like that team to win 90 games, even in the AL East. Would be very surprised if they were not .500 at the absolute minimum.”

I’ve got the team at 75-76 wins right now, with a 16% chance of breaking .500 and a 1% chance of getting to 90 wins. If you thought the team would battle for 4th place, I’d buy that. Saying that they’re the 2nd or 3rd best team in the AL East is (to me) crazy. It’s possible, but unlikely. New York has better pitching and a better offense. Boston has better pitching and a better offense. Tampa Bay has better pitching and a comparable offense (but better defense). Running neck and neck with Toronto still seems unlikely in both areas as well.

Sorry to be a bubble burster. The team going .500 over (easily) their best stretch of the season last year implying that the team will play at a .500 level over the entirety of the 2011 season at a minimum really doesn’t compute for me.

Look at it this way; the team scored 606 runs last year while the average AL team scored 713. Even if they improve by your 100 runs, that’s still 706. They gave up 785 runs. So they’d need to drop their ERA by over half a run just to get the runs allowed to average. And that – 100 more runs of offense and cutting a half run off the team’s ERA – only get’s them to .500. If the offense improves by 125 runs, then the pitching staff would need to go from having the 2nd worst ERA in the league to the 2nd best to get to 90 wins.

If everything goes right, then you’ll be right (I sure hope so). How often over the last 13 years has even half the stuff gone right though?
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Much more on my projections for the team later this off-season. I got burned by being optimistic last year though, so if I actually had to bet on the team’s win total right now it I think I’d go conservative and pick the under on the 76 I have them at currently.