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Maybe the projections finally got it right about the Orioles this time

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The Orioles have been beating PECOTA projections since 2012, but a bullpen full of injuries and disappointment has put them right on track in 2017.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles under Buck Showalter have long been making preseason PECOTA projections look as clueless as the Orioles lineup against a rookie junk pitcher. PECOTA has been off by more than 10 wins when predicting the Orioles’ final record in four out of the last five years.

In three of those years, they’ve underestimated the Fightin’ Bucks by at least 15 games. PECOTA may not hate the O’s specifically, but their algorithm certainly doesn’t do the team any favors.

This year, the PECOTA projections once again pegged the Orioles as a last place team, predicting them for 73 wins. While the Orioles are currently on pace to win around 80 games, they’ve certainly been at a worse pace ever since their 22-10 start to the season. Maybe this year the projections actually had the Orioles roster sized up pretty well.

Where have the projections gone wrong?

ESPN published this article back in February describing the Orioles’ ability to continually trump PECOTA’s predicted win totals. As it turns out, PECOTA has done a decent job projecting the Orioles’ offense year to year and they’ve also been on the ball when it comes to the team’s rotation. The main area where the Orioles have continued to stump the projections, has been the bullpen.

Boiled down, the article suggests that in years past, the Orioles have been a .500 club through the sixth inning. From the seventh through the ninth, the Orioles have been an 88-win club, and in extra innings they have pretty much been the greatest team to ever take the field.

When combined over a full season, you get three playoff appearances in five years. The bullpen has been carrying a team led by a free-swinging lineup and a sub-optimal starting staff.

Bye bye bullpen

It’s no coincidence that Zach Britton’s DL stints have lined up with the Orioles’ struggles in the win-loss column. O’Day’s early rough patch and his own DL stint haven’t helped matters either. When the Orioles had the ability to close out games with the deadly combination of Givens, O’Day, Brach, and Britton, they were able to mitigate their rotation’s shortcomings and significantly outperform their lowly projections.

When you dig into why Showalter’s Orioles have been able to outperform preseason projections year in, year out, it’s clear why they haven’t had the same magic on their side in 2017. By all means, the rotation somehow doing even worse than the most pessimistic of fans could have imagined does not help; but the rotation was never supposed to be a strength.

Before the season began, the idea of Givens, Brach, O’Day and Britton in combination with career ERA 0.49 Donnie Hart had the makings of another dominant bullpen. Add in one or two of Dan Duquette’s cash consideration finds in long relief and the team would have been sitting pretty in the later innings. As we all know, it hasn’t worked out that way.

O’Day looks to return for the weekend series in Tampa, but with Britton out until early July and no one having stepped up in either of their absences, one has to wonder if the Orioles will have another run in them in the near future. The Birds may wind up needing to sell before seeing if their equation for beating the projections could wind up working yet again.