The 2018 Orioles season has only three games down and 159 still to play. It’s early and their 1-2 record at this moment means nothing at all. On a rational level, all fans know this, that panicking over a small sample size is not a reasonable thing to do, that the team should be better than this, that there needs to be a lot more bad baseball played by the O’s to really worry about them.
Being a fan of any sports team is not always about thinking the rational thing. Three games may be a small sample size, but also, in the 2018 season, it’s the only sample size. There is nothing else to talk about. If they had a series like this one against the Twins in June, it would be discouraging but not the end of the world. When this is all there is, though, it feels like it’s all there ever will be. A little panic is understandable.
Are you feeling any differently about the 2018 Orioles season? I know some of you may be too enlightened to admit that your feelings have been swayed by three games. That’s OK. I’ll be the idiot for you. I know better than to get worked up about three games, and also, I’m worked up about what happened in three games.
My main sources of mild Orioles anxiety after three games:
The offense looking like the worst case scenario
Collectively, the Orioles are batting .114/.224/.234 on the season. That is last in the American League in every triple slash category, and unsurprisingly, they’re also last in runs scored.
Of the six players who’ve batted at least ten times this season, only one of them is batting above .200 or has an on-base percentage above .300. This fact will change eventually. Even Orioles about whom you may not feel good overall, like Chris Davis, hitless in his three games as the leadoff batter, will do something eventually.
Kevin Gausman’s velocity
Gausman was bad in his first start of the season. There is little disputing that, nor is there any disputing that it was only one start. However, as The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli noticed, Gausman was not working with good velocity in his first start:
According to MLB’s Statcast data, Gausman’s fastball averaged 92.3 mph Sunday. Last year, his lowest game average was 94.2 mph Sept. 26 against the Tampa Bay Rays, according to FanGraphs. His softest fastballs were measured at 89.3 mph — the slowest fastball he’s ever thrown, according to the Baseball-Savant.com.
A small sample size is one thing, but when the small sample size is literally the worst that has ever been seen in his whole big league career, spanning 643.2 innings and 2,742 batters that’s the kind of thing that could prove to be a continuing concern in subsequent starts.
Hopes for the Orioles to do better this season included a Gausman resurgence. If he is instead having his performance go in the other direction, either due to some physical issue causing the velocity drop or just due to the great cosmic mystery that is baseball, that’s a real problem for keeping hopes up about the 2018 Orioles.
The starting rotation is proving to be a worry and I haven’t even seen Chris Tillman or Mike Wright Jr. throw a pitch against the Astros yet. After two more games, it may be that I am even more worried about these guys.
The Orioles can’t afford to start slow
It could be that the Orioles just have the misfortune to be slumping as a team as the season starts. It happens. Outcomes over the whole season are not evenly distributed. Even a team that is performing well, say with a .333 team OBP, is not going to have one out of every three batters reach base for the whole season. Sometimes there will be big innings and big games. Sometimes there will be slumps.
The problem for the Orioles is that if they are starting out slow, again due to the great cosmic mystery that is baseball, they’re going to be in a big hole over the first month of the season. They have to play 18 of their first 24 games against last year’s playoff teams. That includes four games each against the Yankees and Red Sox, the prime division competition. They also play the Rays and Blue Jays in April.
If the Orioles finish 6-12 against the playoff teams and play .500 ball against everyone else, they will be looking at a 12-18 record at the end of April. It’s not an end of the world record. Win six games in a row and they’re back to .500, right? Except then they have to go on and play even better baseball to stay above .500 and in the eventual playoff chase.
The problem is not so much the small sample size as it is the fact that what the Orioles have done over their opening series has been a lot of reinforcing the problems that existed at the end of last season.
Perhaps the Orioles will surprise us with some brilliant baseball over the next week against the Astros and Yankees, and then the pendulum will swing from anxiety over a small sample size of three games to exuberance over a still-small sample size of ten games. That would be fun! But until the Orioles really show us something better, some anxiety is understandable, even if we’re all too wise to worry about three games.