Are the Orioles really this bad?
A 2-14 start is pretty miserable. This is especially so since before the season started many were very optimistic about the team's chances to finally finish above .500, and about the plethora of young talent on the team and the new bats and arms that were supposed to turn this team around. A start like this completely deflates that optimism that was swirling around this team. People are looking for reasons why. I see on this site and others the suggestion that the players lack motivation. That Trembley is doing a terrible job both off the field and on, and should be fired. The players shoulder the blame themselves, fans have turned on some of them and booed them off the field.
But let me suggest an alternative theory, because I don't believe for a second that an entire major league team isn't motivated to win, or that a manager has that much of an effect on the performance of his ballclub, or that even the talented group of players the O's have assembled have suddenly turned into ham-handed wimps.
The real culprit? Bad luck.
edit - whoa! serial lurker to front page, cool :)
The abysmal 2-14 record the orioles have so far is the result of multiple layers of bad luck so far, sort of like a cursed lasagna: layer of bad luck in the standings, layer of noodle. Layer of bad luck for the hitters, layer of cheese! Layer of bad luck for the pitchers, then more noodle on top with some sauce. I don't mean to suggest that the Orioles' true talent level is that of a first-place team, but it is certainly far far better than a 2-14 one. The calls for Trembley's head on a platter are premature and unfair - he's been far from perfect, but he isn't responsible for the poor start. Just eyeballing the talent shows that the O's are a much better team than their record shows, and they will undoubtedly start playing like one soon.
Bad luck in the standings:
I'm sure many of you are familiar with baseball's pythagorean theorem, which predicts a team's win-loss record based on runs scored and runs allowed. The orioles have scored 46 runs and allowed 81, which gives us a difference of -35 and an expected W-L record of 4-12. Through bad luck based on the timing of runs scored, the O's have lost two more games than expected. For comparison, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been outscored by 37 runs, and yet are even in the standings at 7-7. They have the same expected W-L as the Orioles. The Orioles have lost many close games, something which is generally attributable to luck and not talent.
edit: wow, I just noticed the Pirates lost 20-0 today. They're now -57 runs and yet would still be 6.5 games ahead of the O's in the standings. Life is unfair :(
Bad luck with the bats:
Still, 4-12 is pretty bad. But the Orioles have been victims of bad luck in both scoring and preventing runs, so while the pythag theorem suggests that their record should be 4-12, it's based on runs scored and runs allowed data that has itself been the result of bad luck.
The following is a list of BA/BIP (Batting Average per Balls in Play) values for O's hitters with more than 30 ABs so far this season, comparing BABIP so far this year and for the player's career value. For hitters, BABIP doesn't reflect luck perfectly, but when a hitter's BABIP is significantly different than his career BABIP, it's very likely to be luck. League average BABIP is around .290
BABIP: current/career (difference):
Adam Jones .245/.313 (-.068)
Luke Scott .182/.295 (-.113)
Nolan Reimold .194/.303 (-.121)
Ty Wiggington .200/.296 (-.096)
Miguel Tejada .220/.297 (-.057)
Cesar Izturis .263/.282 (-.019)
Garrett Atkins .302/.307 (-.005)
Nick Markakis .333/.328 (+.005)
Matt Wieters .340/.354 (-.14)
As you can see, the only hitter with over 30 AB who's BABIP is outperforming their career BABIP is Markakis, who is barely doing so. All the rest are underperforming it, and in some cases significantly so. Though these numbers might reflect nagging injuries or mechanical issues, a much more likely conclusion is that the O's hitters have been extremely unlucky so far. The Orioles as a team had a .300 BABIP last year, which was in the middle of the pack league wide. This year, the Orioles have the third worst BABIP at .256, which is nearly a full .100 under the league leader so far (dodgers, at .350 BABIP). Because of bad luck, the hits just aren't falling in for our hitters. This will likely not continue.
Bad luck with the Pitches:
The orioles pitchers have had a one-two punch of bad luck going their way - a very high BABIP (and for pitchers, BABIP is nearly completely luck-based) and a very low LOB% (Left on Base %, also luck-based). The orioles' pitchers have the highest BABIP in the league at .335 (.080 higher than the lowest team, the Rays at .255) and the 5th lowest LOB% at 66.5%. This means that O's pitchers have suffered through hits falling in at the highest clip, and the other teams being extremely efficient in scoring when they get runners on. Neither of these things is based on the talents of our pitchers, and are not likely to continue.
None of this is to suggest that the O's will suddenly go on a 14-2 run and end up at .500 in two weeks; luck doesn't work that way. But there's no real reason to believe that the orioles will continue plodding through the season as they have been, getting shut down by poor pitchers and continuously blowing saves.
"Nature creates ability; luck provides it with opportunity."
There's hope yet!