2018 Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

75-87

71-91

70-92

743

841

The Orioles watched 2017 break all sorts of league-wide dinger records with a mild disinterest – in terms of total home runs (hit and allowed) they own two of the top five team seasons ever, with last season’s mark of 474 ranking second all-time behind the 2000 Astros. Over the last ten seasons, they’ve combined to hit and give up 3,929 bombs, first in MLB.

Unfortunately, the long ball doesn’t dig them, as this incredible performance is mostly due to leading the league in home runs allowed over that timespan, a trend that was most pronounced in 2017 with 242 opponent big flies, third-most all-time. Whatever the Orioles were and will be, you can bet there will be homers galore.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Andrew Cashner, Engelb Vielma!

The big piece here is Vielma, who’s been moved from the Twins to the Giants to the Phillies to the Pirates to the Giants again and may now stick in Baltimore. Vielma is an excellent defender at SS who can’t hit at all, but the fact that he’s been acquired five times in the last six months has to mean something, right? Also, Cashner somehow managed 1.9 WAR and a 3.40 ERA despite the second-lowest K% and lowest swinging strike rate among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year. That might have an impact on the previously-mentioned home runs allowed record.

Key Losses – J.J. Hardy, Welington Castillo, Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson

Hardy fell off the wagon in a bad way last year, in what might be the capstone to a solid thirteen-year career. Formerly a premier defender, the glove has eroded enough to expose Hardy’s now suspect bat, and if he gets an opportunity it will be of the minor-league variety. Castillo’s moved on again as the O’s think Chance Sisco is the future with Caleb Joseph filling in as a solid backup option. Starters Miley and Hellickson were repeatedly asked to pitch for Baltimore in what is either a true-life comedy or ripped-from-the-headlines horror film; likely the latter considering the acquisition of Cashner feels a lot like a low-budget sequel where the monster is resurrected, only this time more powerful.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 75-87

75-87

70-92

Pick your poison here, as the Orioles are either the team they were or the team they looked like, neither of which are especially likely to win many baseball games this year.

Key Players:

Somehow we’ve reached this point without mentioning the main reason to care about the Orioles in 2017: star (now) shortstop Manny Machado. If offseason rumblings are any indication of the future, though, that won’t be true for long, as Machado is likely headed somewhere else before August. If they’re going to deal their franchise player, one has to imagine relief ace Zach Britton (or co-aces Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens) is next in line – an ankle injury and mediocre 2017 have caused his value to crater, but he’s a season removed from that hilarious 0.54 ERA. No matter what, ghastly starting pitching depth means much will be required of twin question marks Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy; Gausman seems to have gotten over the injury bug with back-to-back 30-start seasons, but probably isn’t very good, and Bundy may end up with the same epitaph. Bundy is still young, and the return of his best pitch – a nasty cutter that was scrapped due to injury concerns – may help him live up to some of his pre Tommy John hype.Woe betide those who fall to the Curse of Bedard – no Orioles pitcher has exceeded 3.0 WAR since Bedard’s 5.0 WAR 2007.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Matt Wieters was supposed to be the cure for everything that ailed the Orioles, and now they’re sort of hoping Chance Sisco can do more with less. At this time last year Austin Hays was a third rounder coming off a promising short-season debut; now he’s in the mix for the starting right field job and little stands in the way of an extended look in the majors. Healthy starters are going to be at a premium and Gabriel Ynoa has thrown at least 130 innings in each of the last five seasons, making him an asset as long as he can take the ball every fifth day.

Future Outlook:

More than most other teams, the Orioles are downright weird. General manager Dan Duquette is a quietly effective steward, building the frame of the 2004 curse-breaking Red Sox and turning the 93-loss Orioles into the 93-win Orioles in his first season at the helm. Then you hear about incredibly stringent physicals and a refusal to let pitchers throw cutters and it’s fair to wonder how this team has made the postseason three of the last six years. At this point, though, the lack of talent up and down the roster is readily apparent, with little to no help on the horizon. With the Yankees and Red Sox looking like their former selves and a maybe-contender in Toronto, Baltimore looks headed down rather than up.

Which means they’ll win 91 games and a wild card before dropping the ALDS 3-1.

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