The End of Suffering

O, I have suffered

With those I saw suffer!

O, the cry did knock

Against my very heart!

- The Tempest, William Shakespeare

I believe I have had a blessed life. I have a wonderful family and friends, traveled extensively, been lucky in love and in cards, and have always found a home wherever I have gone. But there is something you should know about me. I am a fan of the Detroit Lions and the Baltimore Orioles. The Lions are my adopted team, from the Barry Sanders years coinciding with my time in the Midwest. But the Orioles are the team of my youth, being born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. At an early age I learned the difference between love and hate from sports. I loved the Orioles and I hated Mayflower trucks. But that was a simpler time.

I tell you this now, so that you know two things. One, I am no stranger to losing. I know the suffering of a season without a single win. I know the decades of disappointment. And two, for me the Orioles represent all that is good in the world, and all that is pure. Maryland is the best thing about me, and it always will be.

So that said, I believe that this is the year the Orioles finally turn it around win 90 games and make the playoffs. I'll give you a moment to catch your breath. I know there are plenty of reasons to believe that I am mad, that I am full of Kool-Aid and February, and to be honest, in many years in this season of wonder and speculation I have felt that maybe the Orioles could find a way to win, or maybe they would get lucky...but this year is different. This year I am not just hopeful that they can find a way. This year I believe they will. I do not expect to change anyone's mind, or convert anyone's heart, but I just want to explain my line of reasoning. For this year, because of reason, the once unreasonable hope has become belief.

Since the Orioles are in the AL and play the majority of their games there, I'm only going to focus on the AL. After all, all they have to do is be better than the 4 other teams in the AL East...

Starting Pitching

I have heard recently that to say our pitching was bad last year an insult to the term "bad". The worst ERA (by .31), gave up the most Home Runs (by 31), and runs (by 56), had the highest WHIP (by .016), 3rd worst BABIP (.305/ MIN and CHW worse, league average .293), fewest QS (by 11), fewest games with 100 pitches thrown (by 14), and the most losses saved meant that our starting pitching just wasn't getting it done. Too much pressure was put on the bullpen...blah blah blah, you have heard this all before. The 2010 Orioles pitching was bad, and it began with the starters. And the worst of them was Brian Matusz. Thankfully he only pitched 49 innings, but in that time he put up some unbelievably bad stats. His GB/FB ratio was .39 and 16.4% of those fly balls went for home runs. 13.9% of the time batters faced him they ended up with an extra base hit. He also walked another 9.8%. In 49 innings pitched, 65 times he had a runner on first with less than 2 outs. His BAA was .372. I may have been able to get a hit off him last year (or at least taken a walk).

Much has been said about Matusz lately, and I think the consensus is he is going to be better than he was last year, how much better is the big question. I think if we compare his 2010 stats with his 2011 stats we see some interesting things...























































MLB Averages
















































MLB Averages












Forget that his BAbip of .384 was almost 100 points higher than his 2010 numbers (which has to say at least some of this was just bad luck). Look at GB/FB ratio. We've already noted that was bad, but when he was a much better pitcher in 2010 it wasn't that much better. But the percentage of those fly balls turning into home runs rather than outs (HR/FB, GO/AO) was way worse last year. Something was obviously wrong. Of course he was injured, and much was made of his velocity decreasing, but as Vuff pointed out in his excellent fan post velocity wasn't the problem, it was location. Location is something that can be fixed. I fully expect Matusz to be a much better pitcher in 2012.

My point in bringing up Brian Matusz is not to pick on him or re-hash the past, but rather to show how the Orioles will be better this year than they were last year. First, barring a serious rash of injuries, we won't have a pitcher like 2011 Brian Matusz. The reason he got to pitch as much as he did was both that we didn't have a wealth of starting pitching and that Buck was trying to let him pitch through his problems because of the success he had the year before. I believe he will be on a much shorter leash this year (if he even wins a spot in the rotation) because there are enough starting pitchers. Yes, we added 400 pitchers that would probably be 3rd - 5th starters on other teams, and have no clear "ace". Still, there is no room for someone with a 10.69 ERA to start 12 games. The same goes for Tillman, who had a pretty horrible year too. Between the two of them, that is 25 starts that for the most part were pretty bad. But there is no reason to believe that either of these pitchers cannot post a 5.00 ERA in 2012 if not much better than that...

So who gets the starts? In Dempsey's Army blogpost that Stacey posted last Saturday he used ZiPS projections to assemble what he believed the rotation would be.


Wada 139 4.01

Guthrie 178 4.30

Britton 156 4.85

Chen 125 4.50

Hunter 136 4.96

Arrieta 132 5.13

Matusz 136 5.35

Total 1002 4.71

I'm going to take Wada's and Chen's projections at face value, since I really have no idea what we will get. Sure Guthrie was traded, and was projected to pitch fewer innings than he had in 4 years, but these are just projections, I get it. However, I have heard plenty of people argue that Hammel is as good as or even slightly better than Guthrie. I don't know about that, but I drink too much to redo my, I'm going to stick with my Guthrie projection for Hammel. Tommy Hunter's ERA seems pretty high here, but again, I'm letting all that go...

Britton and Arrieta are the key to the season. Arrieta actually had a better season last year than his rookie year, except for the fact he game up more Home Runs (which I don't think started until he had elbow problems). If he returns to his previous HR/9 ratio I would expect his ERA to go back down to the mid 4 range. That said he's never pitched a full season and he is coming off surgery. Still a wild card, but could easily return to his 2010 ERA (4.66). I've read Britton may start the season in AAA, but assuming he doesn't I don't see much of a regression with him, and we can comfortably say that he could pitch an extra 10 innings or so.

So, Keeping Wada and Chen the same, improving on Guthrie's Hammel's innings total to his Guthrie's 4 year average, keeping Tommy Hunter the same so as not to piss off Steve, lowering Arrieta's ERA to 2010 numbers, giving Britton 10 more innings and averaging between this projection and last years ERA , and cutting down on the IP between a tandem of Matusz and Tillman, it would look more like this:


Wada 139 4.01

Hammel 201 4.30

Britton 166 4.73

Chen 125 4.50

Hunter 136 4.96

Arrieta 132 4.66

Mat/Til 125 5.00

Total 1024 4.57

I know. Not exactly the Rays. But at the same time I think this is a very possible projection. Yes, Arrieta can improve on his 2010 numbers, Tommy Hunter can become a workhorse and give us 180+ innings at a 3.73 ERA (his 2010 ERA), Chen or Wada can shock us with a sub 4 ERA, Britton can improve on his 2011 numbers instead of regressing, and the if any or all those things happen the Orioles can put together a good season from their starting pitchers. Maybe none of those will happen. Maybe we'll just be stuck with a SP team ERA of 4.57 and 1024 IP. But if that happens there are 2 things of note here. One, the Orioles will pitch deeper into games, giving relief to the relievers. And two, they will me much better than they were last year, keeping them in more games.

Relief Pitching

I'm going to keep this one shorter. Yes the Orioles relief pitching was pretty bad last year. But much of that was due to overuse. As we have seen, if the starters give us 1024 innings, or 1002 innings, or even 950 innings, it would be a huge improvement over the 881 they threw last year. Plus, if the rotation above remains for the most part the Oriole starters, that means Alfredo Simon can go back into bullpen, and would also mean we would have more options for a closer, or the ability of having a closer by committee. I'll be honest, I never liked the idea of a closer, I always felt just bring in the best pitcher when you need him. But I'm not a manager, so what do I know. What I do know, is that the Orioles will be better if their relievers throw 100 less innings.

How much better, anything I say would be pure speculation. But as of now we have lots of options in the bullpen. I would think it is very reasonable to assume our relievers could lower the team ERA to around 4.42 (that would mean the bullpen would have around a 4.00 ERA).

The Lineup

Our lineup is why we are going to win games. We are flat out going to outscore other teams. First, the Orioles will lead the league in Home Runs. Probably by a lot (like 5 or 6, possibly more, see below). And second, our OBP will improve enough so that occasionally someone will be on base when we hit one of those Home Runs. In the end, the Orioles will score more runs than almost all the other teams in the AL next year, and if you do that, you should win 90 games.

First off, the Orioles were 4th in the league in Home Runs last year, but still 31 behind the Yankees. Then again, the Yankees probably hit those 31 off our pitchers. Second, our OBP was .316, well below Boston's .349 or the Yankees .343. Again, they were facing our 2010 pitchers. So theirs should come down, even just a little. The Orioles OBP only looks to improve as they got rid of 2 of the 3 worst OBPs on the team last year (Vlad and Lee). The Orioles' runs scored were 7th in the AL, and that's a number that I think will undoubtedly improve.

Why would I be making these crazy projections? Was it all the Jameson I drank while looking up all those damn pitching stats? No. It's because of fantasy.

I no longer play fantasy baseball because it was taking away from my enjoyment of the game. I was tired of hoping that when my hitter was facing one of my pitchers that he would get on base by a pass ball, then steal 2nd, 3rd, and Home. But when I did play, in a complicated AL-only-12-team-auction-keeper league (where you had to keep 10 players) with a minor league draft, I did pretty well for myself. And one of my tricks was the power of 28. I would put a star next to any offensive player that was 28 years old. I know, not scientific at all, but it worked. Breakout year after breakout year was reaped by my star system. I've heard other people talk about it too. It's a bit of mysticism mixed with a bit of legend with just a dash of bull shit. But bull shit aside, the point is, when players are between the ages of 26 and 30 they get better, sometimes much, much, much better. However, when players are 36 (Vlad) or 35 (Lee), they are not getting better, they are generally getting worse. This season, addition by subtraction means out with 2 of the 3 worst OBP's on the team (the other being our lead-off hitter, let's not dwell on that). Also we lost Luke Scott, and even though I always liked the guy, he's going to be 34, and in 64 games (granted a small sample) his OBP was .301. I hope he rebounds and recovers from his injury, but he is 34. Out with the old! Currently the oldest projected starter in the lineup is Betemit at 31 (and who knows if he'll be the starting DH or anything else out of spring). Other than Betemit, every one of the starters on this team is between the ages of 25-29.

"Okay," you are saying. "I get they are young, but there's Chris Davis. He strikes out at least once a game. His career OBP is just .301. Just being young doesn't make someone good." Yes, I get that. But look at his numbers in the minors. I don't know what numbers translate to the majors, but his 1.232 OPS in AAA last year seems pretty impressive. Still, he struck out at least once a game. Again, he is only 26 (or will be in March) and should be improving. How high his ceiling is, I can't say. They were once huge on this guy in Texas and then gave up on him after a bad 2009. When he was 23. Know who we gave up on when he was 23 because we thought he sucked. Jose Bautista.

The odds are he will improve. If you look at the career of all MLB players (using Linear Weights) it looks like a bell curve with 27-29 years old being the top. It doesn't mean that every player gets better between 26 and 30, it just means on average, they do. These are their best years. These are their glory days. Michael Lichtman wrote a great article on this. I use his graphs too.

The tricky thing with understanding the aging curve is how to deal with players that don't get a lot of playing time. Really messes up the stats. But that's why I like this for the Orioles. Barring injury I see most of their starters playing 10 years and getting 5,000 PA. So they would fall into the bottom graph and red line. But even if they don't, they would at least fall into the bottom graph, green line...




And suddenly I think I start to get it. I think I realize what the other Dan is thinking. Here is a team of men in their prime. These are their best years. No more Vlad or Lee. No Manny (please, seriously, please no Manny.) This team is just a bunch of young guys with bats that are playing for their legacy, their careers.

Baseball is a team game. We focus and pour over individual stats forever, but in the end, teams win games, not players. Last year we were 4th in the majors in Home Runs but 14th in runs scored (7th in the AL). Guys didn’t get on base, and when they did they were stranded. But not this year. Odds are with the entire team this year. Odds are they will all be better. Odds are, with increased OBP you get increased runs. And yet no one seems to see this.

For instance, take a look at the ZiPS projections for some orioles in 2012:

Player            B    PO  Age     BA  OBP  SLG   G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR
Nick Markakis     L    RF   28   .282 .350 .416 156 620  80 175  37   2  14 
Adam Jones        R    CF   26   .278 .322 .447 156 597  83 166  27   4  22 
Matt Wieters      B    C    26   .268 .334 .429 148 527  67 141  26   1  19 
J.J. Hardy        R    SS   29   .268 .316 .446 129 493  66 132  24   2  20 
Mark Reynolds     R    3B   28   .218 .320 .461 151 532  85 116  22   1  35 
Nolan Reimold     R    LF   28   .246 .325 .416 133 459  61 113  20   2  18 
Chris Davis       L    3B   26   .250 .299 .440 146 536  61 134  29   2  23
Robert Andino     R    2B   28   .249 .301 .358 126 433  57 108  21   1   8 

Basically all these guys are projected to have a worse year in 2012 than they had in 2011. But odds are they won't. Some might, of course, but overall, they should be following the typical age curve. Odds are that like the majority of all MLB players the core 2012 Orioles will have a better 2012 than 2011 because the majority of MLB players have a better 28 year old year than a 27 year old year. So, in theory, of these listed 8 players the majority should have a career year because their carrer should be on an upswing. Now, assuming Hardy's career year was last year, with the 7 remaining players, at least 4 should have a career year (I'll pick 4 at random Markakis, Jones, Weiters, Davis) so the projections should look something like this:

Player            B    PO  Age     BA  OBP  SLG   G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR
Nick Markakis     L    RF   28   .310 .406 .524 156 620 107 192  48   2  27 
Adam Jones        R    CF   26   .290 .340 .512 156 597  92 179  29   4  30 
Matt Wieters      B    C    26   .290 .350 .506 148 547  78 159  32   1  28 
J.J. Hardy        R    SS   29   .268 .316 .446 129 493  66 132  24   2  20 
Mark Reynolds     R    3B   28   .218 .320 .461 151 532  85 116  22   1  35 
Nolan Reimold     R    LF   28   .246 .325 .416 133 459  61 113  20   2  18 
Chris Davis       L    3B   26   .285 .331 .492 146 536  61 153  29   2  26
Robert Andino     R    2B   28   .249 .301 .358 126 433  57 108  21   1   8 

None of these numbers seem unreasonable, nor are they outside any of these players skill level. It's not as if I'm projecting any giant leaps, or projecting any of these players to be superstars. I'm just projecting them to fit within the typical age progression of the average Major League Baseball players.

The question then becomes, will this be enough? What this doesn't represent is the 9th hitter of course, and about another 1400-1500 at bats. Not to say it will breakdown exactly this way, but to just give an estimate of the remaining AB, I'll just grab a couple of players and use the zips projections. Giving Betemit around 300 of those we get 37 runs and 10 HR. So with 1100-1200 at bats left, and to keep it easy, let's give Bell 500 AB, 61 runs, 17 HR, Antonelli 300 AB, 36 Runs, 6 HR, Teagarden 200 AB, 20 runs, 6 HR, and hell, why not, Roberts 200 AB, 32 runs, 5 HR. By my count that's 236 Home Runs, or 14 more than the Yankees lead the league with last year. It's only 793 Runs, which would put us in 4th between Texas and Detroit last year. Still, a big improvement over the 708 Runs from last year.

Now I know what you are going to say. You are going to say I'm just a no-good-crack-smoking-drunk-asshole who manipulated the data to try and paint an unrealistic rosy picture of what should actually be our impending doom. But you would be wrong, as I do not smoke crack. Or you will scream, "Small sample size!" In that case you would be 100% correct. This is way too small a sample size. But, at the same time, I assume with all your fancy stats and numbers, the only stat that can with any accuracy predict when a batter will have a career year is their birthday. No, it doesn't guarantee anything, but no stats do. Or you might say, "But this requires 4 guys out of seven to have a career year!" Well, yes it does. But everyone has to have a career year sometime, and odds are they will have it between 26-30. Dude, we're you listening?


To put this all together, better starting pitching, better relief pitching, and better hitting will lead to more wins. Obviously. How much more is the question. Based on Runs alone, if we give up 100 less runs (team ERA around 4.42, cut down a little on unearned runs) that could be assumed we would win another 10 games. Then factor in an extra 85 runs from the offense, and that's another 8 wins. That would put us at 87 wins. Enough for pizza but not a car. And that's all with reasonable projections.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Orioles will just get lucky 3 times. I know, not very scientific, but obviously if you have read this far you know by now that not only do I not understand anything about statistics but in any battle for my soul between faith and science, faith will always prove the victor. In my mind, as polluted as it may be, if they can win 87, then they can win 90. Maybe it's because of the way they came together last year at the end of the year. Maybe it's because I believe this team will never give up.

That said; this whole thing assumes no major injuries. I sure would like another young bat as some kind of insurance against injury. Another spark that could maybe put us over the elusive 87 win mark. Cespedes anyone?

To say I am more excited about this year than I have been in a while would be an understatement. I cannot wait for the season to begin. I live in NYC and my work is 3 times busier in the summer than it is in the winter, so I have not been down to Maryland in the summer in over ten years. It has been 15 years since I've been to an Orioles game at Camden Yards (I try and catch a game a year when they are play the Yankees, but it has even been a few years since I've done that). Even though I will be as busy this year as I have been in the last ten, I want to make it a priority to get down to Baltimore this year. I want to be there in person, to see this team that will turn it all around, that will change the fortune of a franchise, and will finally end the suffering that we have endured for too long.

I have suffered with those I saw suffer. I look on with pity at the faces of the children who don't understand payrolls and prospects, who just can't understand why their team always loses. I see their tears, and hear their sobs. And yes, their cries knock against my very heart. But it will all end this year. Redemption is at hand.

Perhaps I am mad. Perhaps I am a fool. I have been called much worse, and am sure I will be again (probably very soon, see below). But maybe, just maybe, I speak the truth. Maybe this year everything changes. Maybe this year we care more about the players than about prospects and payroll. This is the year the Yard will fill again with laughter and smiles. This is the year the specter of a proud past will be shaken free and the echoes of bygone glory will be drowned in the living cheers of present victory. This is the year that the suffering will end.

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