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Gary Armida's Blog
Despite Statistics, Orioles Go All InPosted on August 21, 2012 at 11:02 AM.
The impact of statistical analysis in Major League Baseball has been tremendous. The strides made by the sabermetric community have opened new doorways to better understanding the game. There is, however, a downside. The negative can be that we can look at statistics and make quick judgements that donít take into account all of the factors.
Baseball is a game of numbers; but, those numbers are compiled by humans. Sometimes, the numbers can lie. Sometimes, the numbers have to be ignored.
The Baltimore Orioles are proving the latter.
As each week passes, it seems the death knell on the Baltimore Orioles is just getting ready to finally ring. Looking at their division, their poor rotation, and the lack of an elite offensive player, it is easy to label them as overachievers. Yet, the Orioles keep hanging around. They are holding on to the second Wild Card position with their 66-55 record. Only seven other teams in all of Baseball have a better winning percentage.
Many, however, will point to the Orioles run differential of minus-43 as an indicator that their season is a mirage or that failure is just around the corner. Run differential is a critical statistic. Bill James devised his pythagorean win-loss record based on run differential. The wider the difference between runs scored and runs allowed, the better the record. The Oriolesí pythagorean win-loss record is 56-65. That, supposedly, means that the Orioles have been quite lucky this season and are living on borrowed time in terms of being a legitimate playoff contender.
Run differential is a tremendous tool. It is a valuable statistic to gage how a team is performing. But, the Orioles seem to be defying the statistic. They seem to be the anomaly in that they are outperforming the numbers. And, in their case, run differential may be a bit misleading.
Since June 27th, the Orioles have a record of 24-23. In those games, there are four terrible losses. On June 27th, the Orioles lost to the Angels 13-1. Only July 16th, they lost 19-7 to Tigers. Nine days later, they lost to the Rays 10-1. The Yankees bludgeoned them 12-3 on August 1st. In just those four games, the Orioles were outscored 42-9. Couple those four games along with the beatings they took on consecutive nights from the Rangers on May 7th and 8th for a combined 27-6, it is easy to see why the Oriolesí run differential can be a bit skewed.
The picture gets a bit foggier as the Orioles are 23-6 in one run games. And, they are 12-2 in extra inning games. That type of success is generally unsustainable, but Orioles have been able to compensate for the blowout loss with their penchant for winning close games. The Orioles arenít an elite team, but they are better than their pythagorean win total comes out to be.
All of that masks the Oriolesí issues. They are just 11th in the American League in runs scored. They rank 12th in on base percentage and 8th in slugging percentage. Their only top-5 offensive ranking is their 149 home runs. Their defense doesnít help them either. They rank last according to both UZR and defensive runs saved. They also lead the league in errors. And, their rotation isnít much better. The starters have allowed 1.34 HR/9, second worst in the American League. In addition to the lack of innings--third least in the league--their 4.67 ERA is just 9th in the league. Among the playoff contenders, they have the worst starter ERA by a good margin as the Angels rank eighth in the league with a 4.29 ERA. The starters canít even blame the defense as their FIP is just 4.57, which indicates that the poor defense hasnít hurt the staff.
So, how is a team with the worst defense in the league, one of the worst rotations in the league, and one of the worst offenses in the league continue to stay in the pennant race?
Some can call it an anomaly; some can call it luck. Whatever it is, the Orioles continue to stay in the pennant race. They seem like a virtual lock for the first winning season since 1997. That cannot be understated enough. Even if the Orioles do not get into the playoffs, they have to win just 15 more games to get to 81 wins. That is step one for any franchise.
But, they continue to win. They continue to hold a playoff spot as the calendar inches towards September. Despite the poor performances and rosters, the Orioles are contending because of their stellar bullpen and great management.
Those late game and one-run wins have to be an indication that the bullpen is performing quite well. The pen has certainly been used quite often. Heading into Mondayís game, Oriolesí relievers had pitched 404 innings, third most in the American League. Only the Twins and Royals have used their relievers more. They are the only team with a winning record that has used their bullpen for more than 375 innings. But, the bullpen isnít the classic flame throwing bullpen. Their 6.91 K/9 is second worst in the AL. Aside from the lack of strikeouts, the bullpen led by Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, and Darren OíDay has been the reason why the Orioles are in contention.
The bullpen has an excellent 2.79 BB/9 ratio, second best in the league. Their 0.80 HR/9 is third best in the league. Their 49.9% ground ball rate is the best in the league. If a group of pitchers isnít going to strike many batters out, the second most important factor is eliciting ground balls. The unspectacular group is second in the league in bullpen wins and has allowed the Orioles to remain close in tight games.
But, defining the Oriolesí success is even more difficult. The numbers donít add up. It can be part luck, but it also has to do with the Management team. General Manager Dan Duquette engineered a few moves that have made a tremendous impact on the team. He signed Wei-Yin Chen and traded fan favorite Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel. Both Chen and Hammel have been the only anchors of a rotation that has seen the other members return to the Minor Leagues. Duquette and Manager Buck Showalter didnít show the patience that most rebuilding clubs show. Instead, they were results driven. Down went Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta, and Brian Matusz; up came Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton.
Duquette also made the smart hire of Rick Peterson to be the clubís pitching coordinator. It was Peterson who suggested to try Gonzalez as a starter when the rest of the organization thought him to be a reliever. Petersonís work in the Minors gives the organization a great foundation.
But, Buck Showalter deserves much praise for keeping the least talented team in the American League East in contention this late. Showalter has masterfully used his bullpen to mask his rotationís inadequacies. Showalter has constantly juggled the lineup in order to ride the hot hand and then quickly find someone else. His move to put Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot has not only sparked Markakis, but it has helped the club score more runs. He is wringing out every last bit of talent.
Thatís Showalter. Heís done that his entire managerial career. The Orioles are just the latest example of his stellar work.
The Orioles took some mild criticism for calling up their top offensive prospect, Manny Machado, to play out of position and for having him skip the triple-A level. Machado is just 19 years old and likely not ready. But, heís already shown some great power and has adjusted well to third base. The Orioles need offensive talent so why not try their best prospect? The organization has shown that winning is a priority with this move. Machado likely needs more development time, but he has the tools to help right now.
Duquette and Showalter are correct for going all in this season. Winning is priority. The once proud franchise needs to restore that. Making quick moves, using the best talent in the organization, and continuing to compete are why the Orioles are holding a Wild Card position. If they continue to play well, they should call up uber-prospect Dylan Bundy who will be able to pitch without restriction in September because of Petersonís developmental plan.
Why not? Should they say that their run differential is poor so they shouldnít try?
BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 206 days ago)
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