Projecting the Orioles in 2012 (Part II)

Last year, I said that it would be fair to expect the Oriole offense to be significantly better than they were in 2010, by something like 100 runs or so. And that basically happened, as the '11 Orioles scored 95 runs more than their previous iteration. In fact, no other team in the sport improved their offense as much as the Orioles from 2010 to 2011. So much for all of the frustration caused by soul-killing strikeouts and Vladimir Guerrero's poor cleanup hitting, huh?

I've already taken a look at the 2012 bench and made an estimation of it collectively scoring 80 to 100 runs, for a relatively large improvement over the poor bench performance in 2011. Today our focus moves to the starting lineup. This is the performance breakdown of last year's starters:

Position Player(s) PA wOBA Runs Created (wRC)
DH Vladimir Guerrero 590 .318 67
C Matt Wieters 551 .339 72
1B Derrek Lee/Chris Davis 493 .309 53
2B Brian Roberts/Robert Andino 689 .297 67
3B Mark Reynolds 620 .348 85
SS J.J. Hardy 567 .343 76
LF Luke Scott/Nolan Reimold 541 .326 65
CF Adam Jones 618 .339 81
RF Nick Markakis 716 .334 91

*As I normally do, I refer to weighted on base average (wOBA), the all-encompassing offensive statistic of choice. Runs Created is derived from it and plate appearances. All data can be found on fangraphs.com.

While Reynolds actually spent time at first and Davis at third, but from an offensive point of view, their position is meaningless. Davis replaced Lee in the lineup. All other players, besides pitchers (who, led by Zach Britton, created 5 runs of their own), figured into the bench part of this project. As a group, the starters totaled 657 runs in 5385 plate appearances.

Our first task is determining playing time for the 2012 batch of starters:

Player Projected PA
Wilson Betemit
400
Matt Wieters
550
Chris Davis
550
Mark Reynolds 650
Robert Andino 500
J.J. Hardy 550
Nolan Reimold 550
Adam Jones 615
Nick Markakis
700

A few thoughts on how I arrived here. Most of these players had roughly this many PA last season, which provides a sturdy baseline to project off of. Andino I'm projecting for fewer PA than the second basemen received in 2011, because I expect the Orioles will try and find more time for Matt Antonelli or Ryan Adams or perhaps Ryan Flaherty, at least to begin the year. If you remember from part one, I think the bench will receive more time at the plate than they did last year. That should cut into Andino's playing time, since Andino is the weakest link on the offense.

If you're playing along at home, you've noticed I'm missing about 200 PA to get to a full year. The issue is Wilson Betemit, who has never gotten more than 412 PA in any season (and that high water mark came back in 2006). Additionally, the Orioles have indicated a desire to use him for his ability to crush right handed pitching. But who serves as the other half of the DH platoon? That is a question that is yet to answered. But let's not forget about those last 200 PA.

Armed now with playing time projections that make sense to me, let's establish a basic expectation. If every single 2012 starter hit at the same rate as he did in 2011, but in the plate appearances I have projected, how many runs would the Orioles score?

Player Projected Runs Created
Wilson Betemit 52
Matt Wieters 72
Chris Davis 58
Robert Andino 52
Mark Reynolds 89
J.J. Hardy 74
Nolan Reimold 72
Adam Jones 81
Nick Markakis 89

It's not a surprise that the projected total, 639, is not far from the total runs the starters created in 2011, 657. After all, the only new starter is WIlson Betemit, who looks like a certain upgrade at DH. With the extra 200 PA still in our back pocket, it's easy to suggest that the starters, even with reduced playing time, could equal the total production of the 2011 lineup. The big question to tackle at this point is who will hit better, and who will hit worse than they did in 2011?

I can easily break the lineup into three groups:

Bounce-Back Candidates

Nick Markakis is a perennial bounce-back candidate. His stat line just seems to keep going down. Last year, to top it off, he suffered from an abdominal injury. Here's reason for optimism: From June 1st onwards, Markakis hit for a .813 OPS, before that it was an ice cold .640. If an .813 OPS is close to the true Nick Markakis, then a return to his 2009-2010 offensive production levels is absolutely within reason. That's a potential boost of about 10 runs in Nick's bat. You do have to wonder about the abdominal injury though, and honestly I'm not sure how to project that out. I will say that giving Nick an extra 5 runs seems fair, if somewhat conservative.

Matt Wieters turns 26 in May, he still has his traditional prime years ahead of him. He should get better with the bat, and he's already trending upwards as it is. Let's give him an extra 5 runs, too.

Regression Candidates

"Regression" doesn't necessarily imply downwards trending, but it has a certain negative ring to it, so I'm going to use it for its negative connotations here. The top regression candidate is easily J.J. Hardy, who had a career year in the power department while doing very little getting on base. A return to form for Hardy could see him drop 10 of the runs he created in 2011.

Everyone Else

Gun to my head, I see everyone else in the starting lineup pretty much being who they have been. Certainly there is upside with Chris Davis, but Davis has over a thousand plate appearances in his career and has been pretty much who we saw at the end of last season. Adam Jones is a terrific player, but he's sat around 80 runs created the past two seasons with relatively stable underlying stats.

There is potential for greatness, but to expect that it to be realized would be foolish. As this is a project to develop a reasonable expectation in 2012, I'm inclined to leave everyone else more or less where they were in 2011.

Coincidentally, between our improved outlook for Markakis and Wieters and our grayish outlook for Hardy, the starters nearly break even with where they were in 2011.Our total runs created expectation, including the bench, now sits at about 720 runs, which is a modest improvement over the 708 runs scored in 2011. Sabrmetrically, we can expect the Orioles' bats to win an extra game over the 2011 squad. It's not much, but it's something.

But wait! The question remains of who receives the missing 200 PA. Manny Ramirez? Wilson Betemit? Nick Johnson? Jai Miller? Once that answer becomes clearer, we can revisit this topic. In the meantime, consider that the average 2011 Oriole, if given 200 PA, would create 23 runs. That's two more wins generated by the offense. Hopefully, whoever the Orioles settle on to share DH duties with Betemit can do even better than that.

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