So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.
Next up is the Baltimore Orioles. Simply put, the Orioles were pretty bad last year. They could hit, sure, clocking in at 11th in MLB with 4.86 runs scored per game, but pitching was, like with the Tigers, a problem. They allowed a whopping 5.40 runs per game, ranking 28th out of the 30 teams in our national pastime. Basically, they were like Tigers-lite; they could score, but not as well as Detroit, and pitched even more poorly. Part of the problem was that they had exactly zero (0) capable shortstops last year. Alex Cintron got a hundred ABs at the position, but his defense and...well, the fact that Alex Cintron got a hundred ABs more or less speaks for itself.
Side note: it is the official KCSD belief that no matter how good or bad a team is, they are instantly made better by having a great shortstop. In our mind, it's the marquee position in the field. Had the Nats had, say, Jose Reyes manning the 6, they would be, if not actually much, much better, than at least better perceived. But we digress.
This year, former Cardinal (and Cub, and Blue Jay, and Dodger, and Pirate) Cesar Izturis will be flashing the leather at short for the O's - and the leather is about all he's good for. He has never posted an above-league average OPS+ (coming closest in '04 with an 88), mostly because he has all the power of a gerbil. Who suffered a tragic boating accident (don't ask) and lost his front paws. We shudder to remember. Anyway, at the very least , he can be a capable contributor, someone who will at least get a season's worth of at bats and be a defensive contributor - and that alone is a huge upgrade. Speaking of defense, the Orioles may boast the best defensive outfield in baseball, featuring the stellar gloves of Felix Pie in left, Adam Jones in center, and Nick Markakis in right. And it's a good thing, too, because their pitching is going to need all the help they can get.
Most of the excitement around the Orioles is centered around their boatloads of young talent. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Felix Pie, Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta...the list is impressive, and nearly all are almost ready (or already are) to be major league contributors. Wieters in particular has scouts and PECOTA alike drooling; a fairly common choice as the best prospect in baseball, PECOTA's weighted mean forecast for him this year calls for a .311/.395/.544 line - which would probably be the best of all catchers in 2009. And the kid hasn't even had an AB in the majors.
However, the hope for a mercurial rise to the top of the AL East is tempered by the fact that the pitching is not likely to make great strides, and the fact that it's the AL East. The Yankees and Red Sox have forever had a death grip on the division, and now the Rays have a claim as the best team of the elite group. The Blue Jays have been an underrated contender; their pitching and defense would make them favorites in most other divisions. In short, there's no easy path to success on the Eastern front, so the O's just have to wait and see and hope.
PECOTA projected record: 76-86, 4th in AL East
KCSD projected record: 78-84, 4th in AL East
We like the Orioles' bats a bit more than PECOTA, so our win projection is slightly more optimistic. But until they can get some real pitching, they're never going to be better than an also-ran.
Around the Horn
C Matt Wieters: .290/.368/.490, 22 HR. Obviously a star in the making, Wieters has a complete bat from both sides of the plate, and is a defensive asset to boot. We're not as optimistic as PECOTA, because he's still a rookie, but he's got all the talent and opportunity to prove himself - we don't see the Guillermo "who?" Quiroz or Gregg "gggg" Zaun taking away too many ABs from the kid.
1B Aubrey Huff: .275/.338/.457, 20 HR. Huff enjoyed an enormous power spike last year, posting near-career highs in HR (32) and SLG (.552). However, in his age-32 season, we don't like the power to keep up to such rates; we see him coming back to earth somewhat. Earns bonus points for his ability to make fans forget his rant on sports radio about Baltimore a couple years ago.
2B Brian Roberts: .285/.368/.440, 14 HR, 32 SB. After somehow remaining in Bawlmer despite an offseason rife with rumors of his departure, Roberts posted his usual excellent numbers, and signed a 4-year extension this past offseason. There's not much else to say about him; he makes great contact and has good pop and speed for a keystone guy. They can build with him.
3B Melvin Mora: .275/.331/.432, 14 HR. Somehow slugged .480 last year, despite being 36. We don't have much to say about Mora other than he seems certain to collapse at some point, especially if Carl Pavano finally gets his way. We loved the Dugout.
SS Cesar Izturis: .252/.308/.322, 0 HR, 20 SB. The man with the golden glove!
LF Felix Pie: .285/.329/.458, 15 HR, 13 SB. We love Pie, and think that his minor league track record is just too good not to bear itself out at the major league level. Our line may be a bit optimistic, but we think we're discounting him a little bit because of the AL East competition. The kid's only 24 and is finally getting full-time duty; we see big things coming.
CF Adam Jones: .289/.351/.479, 22 HR, 12 SB. We may have to call him Pacman just in case the other Adam fades from public consciousness, but he's more than just a cool name. Kid's great in the field and projects for great things at the plate, which is why he was the prize in the ill-fated (for the Mariners) Erik Bedard trade. After a solid rookie campaign, he should take steps forward this year.
RF Nick Markakis: .319/.416/.525, 30 HR, 11 SB. The Greek has a great bat and tops it off with good wheels, a better glove, and a shiny new 6-year contract to call his own. He's been getting better each year of his young career; at 25 he should really start to put it together.
DH Luke Scott/Ty Wigginton: .270/.360/.489, 24 HR. With Scott doing his thing from the left side and Wigginton from the right, these two make a pretty formidable DH combination. Also, both have been underappreciated Astros in the past. Irrelevent? You bet.
From the Bump: Starters
RHP Jeremy Guthrie: 180 IP, 4.37 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 108 K, 50 BB. The former top prospect finally broke out at age 30, posting a very solid season for the otherwise woeful O's. Expect some regression this year as scouting reports and his age make a repeat effort an uphill climb.
RHP Koji Uehara: 165 IP, 4.56 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 103 K, 32 BB. The control freak from Japan should fare with some success here, as long as he avoids falling behind in counts, at which point his hittable fastball could betray him. He's going to face some tough lineups, and he's fairly old, but a pitcher can do a lot with great control.
RHP Radhames Liz: 120 IP, 5.79 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 87 K, 58 BB. Aaaand here comes the steep decline. There's a veritable pu-pu platter of options to fill the remaining three rotation spots, and we'll spare you the poo-poo joke (sort of) by saying that none of them are very appetizing. At least Liz is only 26, we guess. Another thing about Liz: not a very good pitcher.
LHP Mark Hendrickson: 100 IP, 5.27 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 57 K, 33 BB. Another terrible pitcher! At least Hendrickson is tall! Of course, when that picture represents the height of your athletic accomplishments, and you're a pitcher, you're in trouble.
LHP Rich Hill: 110 IP, 4.77 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 79 K, 43 BB. We think Hill has a lot of promise still; like Pie, getting away from the Cubs' yo-yo treatment of their prospects can only help. He'll have to fight for innings, and he still hasn't proven that he has his control down yet, but at least he offers some upside. We hope he gets more innings than this, but we aren't counting on a firm rotation for the Orioles, so he gets the weak projection.
From the Bump: Relievers
Closer Chris Ray: 60 IP, 3.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 50 K, 18 BB, 21 SV. We're guessing that Ray gets the closer job that he claimed and succeeded in when the Jays signed away B.J. Ryan, but George Sherrill's skill at racking up the save count in Ray's surgery-induced absence last year makes that less of a certainty.
Setup man George Sherrill, 60 IP, 3.91 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 57 K, 24 BB, 12 SV. The southpaw with the funky hat, Sherrill was decent last year, but collapsed down the stretch, probably opening up the closer's role this year. We don't see a clear winner in the competition; we think Ray is the better pitcher, but both will, in all likelihood, get their fill of save chances.