2011 Orioles Retrospective

Yesterday the 2011 regular season came to an end – certainly in extremely exciting fashion, as the Orioles came back in the bottom of the 9th inning against Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox to win game 162 and knock Boston out of the play-offs* (in conjunction with the Rays erasing a 7-0 deficit to the Yankees, having pinch-hitter Dan Johnson tie the game in the bottom of the 9th with two outs (and two strikes) on a home run before winning on an Evan Longoria walk-off homer (his second of the game) a few innings later – and just after the O’s beat the Sox). It was, perhaps, the most amazing day of baseball ever. And it was a great way to cap off what was surely a disappointing season in Baltimore.

* I actually wrote about the O’s playing spoiler a week ago at the Outside Corner.

Given the way the 2010 season ended – and the off-season acquisitions – there were some raised expectations going into 2011. Vlad Guerrero’s a Hall of Famer! Buck Showalter’s a proven manager! A winning season is coming at last! I wasn’t quite so sanguine, but did think the O’s could improve on the previous year and at least have an outside chance at getting to .500. After a strong start (6-1), the Orioles lost 8 in a row to fall below par. They hung around for a while – getting to 3rd place in the AL East on May 12th, staying in 4th as late as May 27th – but May 26th (at 24-24) was the last time the O’s didn’t have more losses than wins.

A 69-93 season is indeed an improvement over 2010’s 66-96, but it’s the 5th straight season the Birds have failed to crack 70 – an amazing run of futility (easily the longest going in baseball, with the Pirates having won 72 games). This O’s team was, indeed, very bad – like many O’s teams before them.

Offensively, the additions (mostly of JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds) did make things better. They hung around league average most of the season, and ended up just below with a 97 wRC+ and a .257/.316/.413 batting line. The O’s hit for power – their 191 home runs were 4th in baseball – but not much else. Few walks (7.3% BB rate) and a slightly below average BABIP kept their batting average and on-base percentage down, which contributed to the relatively mediocre overall offensive production given all the pop. Beyond having fewer baserunners than many teams, the O’s erased to many of them on double plays (154, 2nd most in the majors). The did steal bases at the most efficient rate in the AL though (76.4%), even if they only nabbed 81 total. That, at least, was a positive development.

I had the team projected to hit .265/.333/.426. Some of the “underperforming” is that offense was down overall. They also didn’t walk as much. The total production ended up being pretty close to expected though – they were supposed to be around an average offensive team, and they were.

While the position players did a non-terrible job at the plate, in the field things were a different story. The O’s turned balls in play into outs less than 70% of the time – the 3rd worst rate in baseball. Their UZR of -53 runs was 2nd worst, as was their -54 run Total Zone rating. Defensive Runs Saved of -45, dead last. Pretty much any way to slice it, the O’s defense did an awful job helping out their pitchers.

I had the team projected to be about average defensively, do being off by ~50 runs is a full 5 wins in the standings.

On the pitching side, well, it was same-old same-old. The Orioles had – by far – the worst ERA in the majors at 4.92 (though some of that was obviously on the defense, of course). Their FIP was – by far – the worst in the majors at 4.67. The 4.29 xFIP was amazingly not worst (they were just ahead of Minnesota), which is where SIERA had them as well. The pitching was bad, is what I’m saying. Having Brian Matusz go down early and then never really come back as himself hurt. Jake Arrieta made progress, but got hurt. Chris Tillman showed some flashes, but mostly was ineffective. All the O’s really had was the usually steady Jeremy Guthrie and a surprisingly solid rookie season from Zach Britton. The bullpen, thanks to a couple of very good arms (Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson), actually ended up OK overall. Giving starts to the Chris Jakubauskases and Jo-Jo Reyeses of the world means the rotation has some serious issues though, and it surely did.

O’s pitcher just didn’t miss bats – their 6.5 K/9 was 4th lowest in baseball – while their control was only mediocre. Oh, and they gave up a ton of homers – Alberto Pujols could have taken Houston pitching deep 21 times yesterday, and the O’s still would have ended up allowing more longballs than the Astros.

I had the team projected for a 4.53 ERA (well, FIP – defense wasn’t factored in). That they came in worse than that isn’t good, and that they came in worse than that in what turned out to be a lower scoring environment really isn’t good.

So the Orioles were outscored by a 152 runs – implying a record of 67-95. And that’s about how well they played. I had pegged them for 76 wins (which was actually one of the lower estimates around at the time). A summer of bad baseball and disappointment in Baltimore – what else is new?

This commences the 2011 Orioles Retrospective series. An even 50 players appeared in an O’s uniform this year, and I’m going to take an individual look at each of them. You know, because who doesn’t want to hear about Josh Rupe?

As far as the off-season and the bigger picture for the franchise goes, my guesses are (1) that Andy MacPhail leaves and the new GM will be a push at best (Buck Showalter taking over seems like going backwards – if the O’s want to compete in the AL East, they need the next Andrew Friedman or Alex Anthopoulos), (2) that no really major moves are made (either trades or free agent acquisitions), and (3) that we go into 2012 once again cautiously optimistic that improvement from the young(er) players leads to a .500 season. More on all that later, and as things develop.