The daily alleged news keeps breaking from Sarasota as the baseball season begins it's annual dry hump known as Spring Training. Yet, as the roster finalizes--pending a physical of course--Spring Training does mean that the season is right around the corner. The Orioles are trying to compete, trying to win the division, and trying to win a World Series. Although, they have largely brought back a roster that went 81-81 a year ago. You will hear and read many people talking about the need for lots of things to go right for the Orioles in 2016 to compete without many specifics. Well, if we turn the clocks back to 2014, the blueprint clears up.
Below is a table comparing team total statistics and their respective league rankings in 2014 and 2015. The rankings are for the entire major leagues.
|Year||wRC+||Runs||Starter ERA||Bullpen ERA||UZR|
In 2014, the Orioles posted a top 6 offense, a top 6 bullpen, and the second best defense. The rotation placed a respectable 12th in ERA, but did not drive the team. In 2015, while run output stayed similar, their wRC+ cratered to 21st indicating some possible good luck in the runs they did score. More importantly, the rotation plummeted to bottom five and surprisingly the defense fell off a great deal as well. A strong offense, defense, and bullpen brought the Orioles to the brink of the World Series in 2014, below is what it would take for a similar, if not hopefully better result, in 2016.
The 2014 rotation, by the time Ubaldo Jimenez went out to pasture, had five starters with an ERA+ above 100, meaning they all posted--at least meagerly--above average ERAs. Three out of the five starters from the end of that 2014 season are back in 2016. They all struggled in 2015. For example, Chris Tillman posted an 83 ERA+ in 2015 compared to a 118 in 2014. Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman tell a similar tale along with the dearly departed. Bud Norris.
In 2016. In order for the rotation to return to at the very least average numbers, Tillman and Gonzalez have to revert to at least pseudo-2014 form. Furthermore, and almost everyone will tell you this, Gausman has to take a step forward. He has the most potential and had some theoretically promising signs in 2015.
Among the returning Orioles that leaves Ubaldo Jimenez who could be great if his one fatal flaw--inconsistency--did not also represent his most pronounced flaw. Then, lastly, the fashionably late Yovani Gallardo who has been pretty good about posting an above average ERA even as his peripheral numbers shrink to frighteningly low numbers. The 2016 Orioles will need Gallardo to stave off declining results for at least one more season.
Some dark horse candidates for a potential boon to the rotation include Vance Worley and Dylan Bundy. Although, Bundy's chances are along the lines of Brian Matusz posting tangible production for the Orioles 2016 rotation.
Not much to say here. With Darren O'Day back in the fold alongside Zach Britton and Mychal Givens the Orioles have a potentially lethal back end of the bullpen. Not to mention Brad Brach (who, did you know, has thrown the second most innings out of any Orioles reliever the past two seasons, only two outs away from passing Zach Britton? I bet you did not know that. Well now you do. Great fact for the next party you're at where you don't want to talk to anyone).
The bullpen will have to be great again and depending on a bullpen to be great has proven a losing proposition in the past.
The 2014 lineup had career years from Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce that buoyed it. Cruz went on to Seattle to post a better career year and Pearce turned right back into a pumpkin. However, 2014 also only had half a season of Manny Machado, a month of Matt Wieters, and a highly ineffective yet still cheating Chris Davis. Davis and Macahdo more than made up for it in 2015, but the offense still struggled to maintain it's 2014 pace. The black holes in the outfield corners and at the DH spot contributed greatly.
The 2016 lineup will need Davis and Machado to do their best repeats of 2015 and have Matt Wieters put up something of a career year. Not too mention Hyun Soo Kim being an everyday player and it would help a lot if Mark Trumbo could pitch in with a nice season as well. Jonathan Schoop will need to post numbers at least similar to 2015, and hopefully improve. J.J. Hardy is nearing his last legs and while a vintage offensive season would be great, hoping for one represents a fool's errand.
The lineup has a few outsiders that could help. Nolan Reimold, Joey Rickard, and Dariel Alvarez have a shot to prove themselves in right field as of now. The potential acquisitions of Austin Jackson or Jay Bruce would also need to post some great bounce back years to provide anything of consequence to the offense.
The Defense also slipped in 2015. Some bad corner outfield play in addition to injuries at shortstop, second base, and center field caused a defensive backslide that the team cannot afford to happen again. In that way, the defense may be the most tenuous situation of all, because it depends on health to such a degree.
Also, the prospects of Mark Trumbo patrolling right field should send a shiver up every Orioles' fan spine. At this point, the corner outfield spots are still a question mark--Austin Jackson could at least quell some of these fears--but, health up the middle remains the most important.
The critical nature of a having a top flight defense cannot be understated. The defense buoys the rotation allowing the starters to post better results than they might otherwise. If the defense is merely average again, the Orioles run prevention will lose a great deal of effectiveness that the offense cannot make up for.
Overall, the Orioles have a good chance at accomplishing some of these things in 2016. The hope is that more than some of them come to fruition. Many outlets will try to determine a "smart team's" "smart plans." These so called "smart plans" are because these teams are so smart. You can look back through the record as analysts cull the stats to come up with some meaningful plan that the team must be executing.
If I had to guess, the Orioles are trying to mimic 2014. A top 5 offense, top 5 bullpen, top 5 defense, and an average rotation. Might not be the best plan or the easiest plan, but it was effective and could be again, but most everything will have to break right.