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The Orioles aren't the same team as last year - and so far, that's a good thing

The Orioles are 11-6 in the still young 2016 season and have been playing some pretty good baseball. So what is different from the 2015 campaign and will it last?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Listeners of the Effectively Wild Podcast--and if you aren't one you should be--know that Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller take a look at league wide trends in mid-April and talk about whether or not those trends are merely flukes of an early season or something more symptomatic of how the game is changing. Well, I decided to do something somewhat similar for the Orioles. They have played 17 games, a little over 10% of the schedule, and are 11-6. So I wanted to see what trends I could spot in their performance. Now, to the numbers.

A note, these numbers do not include Sunday's game. So it's only 16 games as far as these numbers are concerned.

The Starting Pitching

Well, so far it's been not that great. The Orioles starters have posted a 5.18 ERA thus far in 2016. But, the table below has some more stories to tell.

ERA FIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9 BABIP LOB%
2015 4.53 4.47 1.26 7.03 2.86 .298 73.2%
2016 5.18 3.94 0.90 7.31 3.15 .326 64.0%

These numbers are the Orioles starting pitchers only in 2015 and 2016. As you can see, the ERA has been worse in 2016 by about 0.7 runs. The starting pitching was the biggest concern going into the 2016 season and the early returns have done little to alleviate that concern.

However, interestingly, the Orioles starters' FIP is about a half a run lower than in 2015. This is most likely due to the fact that while their walk and strikeout rates are similar, they have been able to keep the ball in the ball park thus far in 2016. Also, their collective BABIP is quite high. Lastly, they have been terrible at stranding runners in 2016 with a 64 percent left on base rate.

I am actually more encouraged by those numbers than I would have thought. The BABIP number should come down on it's own as time goes on. Also, the LOB% should come up. I looked into quality of contact rates as well to see if the staff was giving up better contact and they are largely similar year over year. So, both of those numbers should normalize soon enough and bring that ERA down.

Lastly, the slightly higher strike out rate is encouraging and tells me that a few more bats are being missed, which is definitely a positive sign.

The area of concern for me is the home run rate. It is still April and the colder weather definitely suppresses home runs, so that number probably will go up as time goes on. That will quickly raise that FIP number.

Overall, I'd say that the Orioles starting pitching will probably be better moving forward. With Kevin Gausman coming back and the rest of the rotation shaking out to find the five best.

The higher strikeout rate combined with a higher BABIP and lower LOB% indicate to me that some of the poor performance has been due to bad luck rather than solely bad pitching. I worry about the home runs creeping up, but again overall I'd say those are some decent signs for the Orioles starting staff.

The Hitters

The offense on the other hand has been very good posting a league leading 137 wRC+ to date. That kind of production is not sustainable over an entire season, but some of things the Orioles hitters have done thus far are intriguing. Below is table comparing some 2015 numbers to some 2016 numbers.

BB% K% P/PA HR/PA BABIP ISO OF WAR
2015 5.8% 20.4% 3.81(16th) 3.61% .278 .154 2.0
2016 8.8% 22.4% 3.98(7th) 4.47% .329 .211 0.9

The first thing that jumps out is that the walk rate is 3 percent higher in 2016, a massive jump for an Orioles team that has long struggled to get on base. That backed up by an increase in pitches plate appearance (side note, the numbers in the parenthesis are their position in regards to the rest of baseball). The Orioles offense has definitively been more patient to date in 2016.

As everyone suspected before the season, the Orioles were going to have a lot of power this season and April has certainly bore that hypothesis out. Running a .211 ISO all season long would be crazy, but if that number can be only ten or fifteen points higher than last season, that is a lot more power for the team overall. I also looked at their home runs per plate appearances.

This season, they have been homering in about 4.47 percent of all plate appearances, last season it was 3.61%. Being that it is April, that is very impressive. The Texas series certainly inflated that number, but right now on a per plate appearance basis they are mashing some serious taters.

The bad note is that their BABIP is very high. This should not surprise anyone. They have been hitting like crazy especially with runners in scoring position which is going to come down, regardless of what certain MASN commentators tell you. This has fueled their hot start. An Orioles fan would hope that the number comes down softly rather than with a thud.

Also, something that popped out to me was that in 2015 the Orioles outfield combined for 2.0 WAR. Thus far, in only 16 games, the Orioles outfield has produced 0.9 WAR or nearly half of what they produced in 2015 and that is with a hampered Adam Jones. It appears that one area of need has gotten some serious healing.

As far as it all continuing, I expect the power numbers to stay up. They have legitimate high end power up and down the order and as the air warms up the balls should keep flying. As for the plate discipline, walk rate tends to stabilize early on and the increase in pitches per plate appearance would indicate that this is a more patient team overall.

From the eye test, they do seem to be more willing to take pitches as a group. I mean, my God, Adam Jones walked three times in a single game. That's unfathomable.

The Defense and Bullpen

It is too early in the season, even from a team standpoint, to make any proclamations on defense. The bullpen continues to be excellent as they were last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

***

Early season trends are easy to pick up on, but harder to determine what they mean overall. The Orioles have been playing very well and winning most of their games. The 7-0 start certainly helps all that. Some of their numbers will come back down to earth.

Some will stay where they are now. I expect the offense to be less productive moving forward, but their new found patience is very promising. Also, I expect the starting pitching to get some better results as the season presses on with some help in the form of Kevin Gausman. Either way, enjoy the ride and if you have found any trends post them in the comments so we can all talk about them.