In this morning's Bird Droppings post, I asked the community what is the one barometer of success for the Orioles next year. What one thing can you say, "If X happens in 2011, it will have been a successful season." There were a lot of good responses, definitely check out the comments section to see them. As I was driving home today I began thinking about the fact that I didn't answer my own question and thought about what I might say. I finally came to a decision and began typing a comment in Bird Droppings, but when it started to get kind of long I remembered, "Hey, this is my blog. I'll just write an entire post about it."
So my answer is, "If the Orioles have a positive run differential in 2011, it will have been a successful season." There are obviously a number of things that could lead to that and still leave me feeling cold when the season is over, but it's the one result I can think of that probably means a number of things are going in the right direction. Good defense, good pitching, and good hitting will all contribute to this one measurable statistic.
During the Orioles current thirteen season losing streak, they have had a positive run differential three times. In 1998 and 1999, back when we all thought it was just a rough patch, the Orioles scored 32 and 36 more runs than they allowed respectively. And in 2004, the year of Raffy and Miggi and Javy, they scored 12 more than they allowed.
Since 2004, the Orioles have had a negative run differential every year, ranging from -71 all the way to a whopping -172. In case you think the team is getting better, that -172 was their differential in 2010. Ouch. For comparison's sake, in 2010 the Rays were +153, the Yankees +166, the Red Sox +74, and the Blue Jays +27. That's pretty brutal.
The good news for the 2010 Orioles (yes, there is good news) is that the 785 runs they allowed was the fewest since 2004 and just the third time they'd allowed less than 800 runs in a season since the losing started in 1998. The team ERA actually dropped from 5.15 to 4.59 from 2009 to 2010. The pitching has gotten better, and I fully anticipate that with the further development of Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and the other young pitchers, it will continue to do so.
So the Orioles allowed less runs than they did in 2009 (although still way too many) and yet they had their largest negative run differential since 1988, which leads us to the bad news. The offense. We all know the O's offense was putrid in 2010. We watched enough games to know how miserable they were. They scored just 613 runs, 128 less than they did in 2009 and 246 less than the Yankees did in 2010.
The Orioles defense, infield especially, wasn't good in 2010. For much of the season they had a washed up shortstop playing third base, a mediocre third baseman playing second base, and Garrett Atkins playing first base. It was a mess, and it surely led to more runs allowed than should have been, but it's very hard to gauge just how many. And I think given the drop in runs scored over the past few years from bad to vomit worthy shows that the offense needs to be the main focus this off-season if any progress is going to be made.
It's not an easy task, not even close. For me personally, the season ended on such a high note that my mind glosses over the fact that this team, especially in comparison to the other AL East teams, is so far behind that it's almost incomprehensible. But all it takes is a look at the Runs Created by the 2010 Orioles to be reminded of just how brutally bad this team really is.
This team needs Matt Wieters to start hitting. It needs Adam Jones to be consistent. It needs Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold to prove they are major leaguers. It needs Luke Scott to keep on keeping on and it needs Nick Markakis to never play one bit worse than he did in 2010. It needs Brian Roberts to stay healthy and it needs a first baseman, a shortstop, and a third baseman who aren't completely useless in the field and at the plate. It needs two, probably three of its young pitchers to continue improving and work out long term.
This team also needs a general manager (and owner, I suppose) who is willing to throw down the cash to get the right players in here, and who is willing to part with some of our goods to get the right players traded to the Orioles. It doesn't need a guy who signs Garrett Atkins the first day possible and acts like bringing back Miguel Tejada is some kind of coup.
That's a lot of needs, for sure. I don't envy Andy MacPhail, because I don't know how to begin doing all of that. We've heard it a million times: grow the arms, buy the bats. The O's allowed less runs in 2010 than they have in years. It's time to start buying.