Under Dan Duquette, the Orioles have seen two consecutive winning seasons by bucking, on an individual and group level, the projection systems which are used by the (better) writers to predict each season. Last season, the Orioles were kept in contention by two players who each achieved over 6 fWAR apiece - Chris Davis and Manny Machado. None of the various projection systems anticipated that.
That said, Orioles fans, particularly informed ones like us, were less surprised than the forcasting systems. We'd seen a preview of Machado's extraordinary defensive talents at third. We'd seen the ease with which Davis can sent a baseball over any fence. As much or more than anyone else, we saw the tools each had and their potential for a 6+ win season.
I thought it would be interesting to begin with the players who are projected to be starters for the first time in their careers as Orioles in 2014, beginning with Ryan Flaherty.
A Rule V pick in 2012, Flaherty spent all season in the majors, but only appeared in 77 games and had 167 plate appearances. He performed poorly on both offense and defense, and the O's did not benefit much from his place on the roster, as he was worth -0.5 fWAR on the year. While the Orioles were not obligated to keep Flaherty in the majors again in 2013, he made the roster on Opening Day but struggled badly offensively once again and was briefly demoted to the minors, playing in 14 games at three different levels. In the latter part of the season, Flaherty rebounded some offensively, but still managed just a .224/.293/.390 triple slash on the season. However, Flaherty moved from having been a liability defensively to an asset, which allowed him to accumulate 1.4 fWAR on the year, making him the Orioles 7th most valuable position player and a full half win more valuable than Brian Roberts.
At Fangraphs, two projection systems have forecasts for Flaherty so far: Steamer and Oliver. Neither projects Flaherty to experience significant offensive growth in 2014 - in fact, both Steamer and Oliver believe that Flaherty will post an even lower OBP. than his depressing .293 from this past season. Both project that Flaherty will continue to be an asset on defense, but both believe he will be a worse defender in 2014 than he was in 2013. Steamer projects Flaherty for a .232//289/.383 performance in 365 plate appearances with a +2.4 on the defensive side for a total of 0.7 fWAR. Oliver projects all players as if they would play a full season, and it projects Flaherty for a .231/.289/.399 performance in 600 plate appearances with a +7.9 on defense, for a total of 1.9 fWAR for the season.
While neither of these projects is particularly encouraging on the offensive side, it is a bit easy to see what has led the Orioles to not seek an upgrade from Flaherty: if his defense is close to what it was in 2013 he should provide the team with some value, and if he manages to beat his offensive projections by posting an OBP of just .310, he could be the main part of a second base platoon which produces two wins without costing any significant money. But the downside risk is also considerable: if Flaherty's strong defensive stats in 2013 are an aberration and on defense he's more like 2012 than 2013, or if he undershoots his offensive projections, he could be among the worst starters in baseball.
What do you think?