Over the past few years, Oriole fans haven't exactly gotten along with the various statistical projection models that are out there. First there was the 2012 season that nobody, including the computers behind the projections, saw coming. Next was the 2014 season, when after two straight winning years the projections had the O's pegged as a middling team at best - obviously that was off the mark. We also have 2015, when two teams every Baltimore fan loves - the Red Sox and Nationals - were picked as the best teams in their respective leagues. So, yes, projections are far from perfect. O's fans know this better than most. But they can still be useful to look at, and although they'll whiff on some teams every year they tend to be right more often than they're wrong.
Fangraphs has published the results of the ZiPS projection system for 2016, which along with Steamer makes up the pair of projection systems you'll probably see referenced most often. The page for the Orioles is available here. For an outsider's view of the projections for the O's, check out Pinstripe Alley's excellent write-up here. From an Baltimore fan's point of view, the projections aren't pretty.
Last season, the Orioles were projected by ZiPS to combine for about 34 WAR. Adding that to 47.7 wins, which is the projected win total for a team comprised entirely of replacement-level players, and you get about 81 wins (the 2015 O's went 81-81). How about this year? The recently-published 2016 projections have current "Orioles" projected for around 35 WAR. Hey, that's a win better than last year! Now for the reason I had "Orioles" in quotes: that number includes Chris Davis (3.8 WAR), Wei-Yin Chen (2.4 WAR), Steve Pearce (1.2 WAR), and Gerardo Parra (0.8 WAR). Subtracting those guys from the mix gives us a much uglier picture. The current depth chart gives the O's credit for about 27 WAR, meaning the best guess ZiPS has for the Orioles on January 7th is that they would go 74-88.
Obviously the team as it stands right now is incomplete. Right now L.J. Hoes (-0.6 WAR) is penciled in as the starting right fielder, as well as a platoon of Jimmy Paredes and Nolan Reimold (-1.0 WAR total) at DH. Both of these things coming to fruition would not bode well for the Orioles' chances in 2016. The bigger point here is that the Orioles have a LOT of ground to cover. If the O's sign Chris Davis you can probably move Mark Trumbo to DH on the depth chart, resulting in a 4-5 WAR increase overall - still not back to where we started. In fact, if the team signed Davis AND Justin Upton, they'd end up projected similarly to last year, maybe a win or two better. Be sure to call me when that happens.
This isn't to say the Orioles have no shot next year. Projections are VERY imperfect. Players outperform their projections all the time; look at any playoff team and there's a good chance you'll see more players who overperformed their projections than underperformed. That's just part of the good fortune that almost any team needs to make the playoffs. Maybe Hyun-Soo Kim, projected for about 1 WAR, breaks out in a similar fashion to his countryman Jung-Ho Kang last year (sorry for being about the millionth person to make that comparison). Maybe Kevin Gausman will finally take the next step and pitch at an All-Star level. Jonathan Schoop could do the same at the plate. Matt Wieters could finally play up to his potential in an attempt to earn a big payday next winter. A buy-low starting pitcher like Mat Latos or Doug Fister could end up in Baltimore and have a bounce-back season. Whoever the O's end up signing to play right field could have an absolute monster year on the cheap, a la Nelson Cruz.
These are the types of things the Orioles need to go their way in order to make a playoff run in 2016. Even if you're not a fan of projection systems such as ZiPS, it's pretty clear that the O's are not just a player or two away from being a great team. They're two or three players and/or a lot of good fortune away from being a great team. Luckily, they've been in that position before, and in two out of the last four years it worked out.
The projections tell us that the Baltimore Orioles, on January 7th, are not all that good. The same was true in January 2012 and 2014. This team is going to need some shrewd moves and a lot of Orioles Magic to make the playoffs. The good news is, it's happened before.