The 2018 Orioles are a miserable failure of a baseball team. They are the product of several years worth of bad planning combined with some bad luck. The result is that they are the worst team in MLB by far, with poor hitting, pitching, and defense combining to make you wonder if they will be the worst Orioles team to ever play a season. Things are so bad it’s hard to have much hope for next year either.
The list of the problems facing the Orioles is long. It encompasses nearly every player on the team with the exception of Manny Machado, and depending on how you feel about Machado’s defense at shortstop and what he’s left in the wreckage replacing him at third base, you might even parcel out some blame to him, too.
One particular problem that the O’s face is that even if you want them to give up on next year, too, everyone who might have had trade value out of the 2019 free agents has been hurt, bad, or both. This is not fun.
There have been only two real attempted solutions to any of the problems facing the O’s this season. They finally, mercifully shuffled Chris Tillman onto the disabled list after he was again as awful as last season, and they keep shuffling around poor-hitting catchers. That’s it.
No one has been fired. There is no indication that there is even any consideration that anyone might be fired. No one is even getting released, although that will presumably change when Zach Britton is activated - at least, one must hope that either the Pedro Araujo experiment or the Mike Wright experiment will come to an end.
Are hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh or pitching coach Roger McDowell part of the problem? I don’t know. But they’re sure not part of the solution. As the losses continue to rack up, there is reason to wonder the same about Buck Showalter, as sad as that is to say. Not that it’s all his fault, either.
This is the roster that Showalter has been handed, although again depending on what you believe about front office dysfunction, it may be that some of the bad choices made about this roster, including Pedro Alvarez and Colby Rasmus making the team out of spring training, can be laid at his feet.
It has all left the Orioles up the creek without a paddle. When they are on pace to win just 48 games and their best player is basically the only player we can be sure won’t be back next season, it’s hard to see them finding the paddle then, either.
One reason that the Orioles are the worst team in MLB is that their defense is the worst in MLB at converting balls in play into outs. This is reflected in the BABIP number: Batting average on balls in play, which basically is batting average without home runs or strikeouts counted. When the ball is hit where a fielder might get it, how often is it a hit?
The Orioles entered Sunday with a .325 BABIP allowed. This is the worst in MLB by far, with the second-worst Royals at .310 and most AL teams below .290.
It’s gruesome in the outfield. Adam Jones stands out as having the worst sprint speed of all center fielders, according to Statcast. That’s baserunning sprint speed that it measures, and of course there’s more to outfield defense than running fast, but it says a lot. A fast runner can get to and catch more balls that are farther away than a slower runner. Consequently, the fact that he’s currently rated at a whopping -15 runs in Defensive Runs Saved is no surprise.
Trey Mancini also must be mentioned here. He’s not the slowest left fielder, though he’s below average, but he just doesn’t have an outfielder’s instincts. His -11 runs by DRS is also no surprise. Just yesterday, Mancini in left field cost the Orioles two runs when he was unable to make a diving catch on a play that Statcast rated as having a 5% hit probability. It’s not his fault the Orioles are absurd enough to keep playing him out there.
Line up the infield too, particularly Danny Valencia’s -7 runs at third base and Machado somehow measuring at -11 runs at shortstop. Geez.
How does this get better next year? Replacing Jones with the younger and faster Cedric Mullins, if Mullins’s Norfolk performance the rest of the year makes that feasible, could be an answer there. If you think prospect Ryan Mountcastle can be “less bad than Valencia” at third while holding his own against big league pitching for the first time, that’s another possible answer.
Left field is still a mess because of the Chris Davis/Mark Trumbo logjam that’s forced Mancini into left field to begin with. If the O’s are willing to act boldly about the sunk costs on their roster to allow Mancini to either play first base or be the designated hitter, prospect DJ Stewart, with his .271/.363/.451 batting line through 41 Triple-A games, may be an answer there.
That should add up to better than this year, if only because it’s hard to be worse than this year, but then, that’s what I kept saying about the starting rotation the last couple of seasons. It can always get worse.
It is no fun to point out how much the Orioles suck. That doesn’t stop the reality that they suck. They entered Sunday’s game with the fewest runs scored in the American League, and no surprise with their .228/.292/.379 batting line as a team, which is AL-worst for both OBP and SLG.
Chris Davis is such a bright shining star of disaster that his .153/.232/.233 performance blocks out all lesser failure, like Jonathan Schoop at a .623 OPS, Mancini at .690, and Trumbo at .696. Pedro Alvarez is batting .190. Jace Peterson somehow keeps getting inserted at leadoff with his batting line of .175/.304/.247. These guys suck, and except for Alvarez and Peterson, they’re coming back next year, too.
How does this get better? You just have to hope that some of them are better than this. We know Schoop is from what he did last year. Mancini, too, was much better last year, and neither of those two are old enough to where you’d think they are declining. Trumbo... well, Duquette signed a DH who is notably worse at hitting when he’s the DH after an aberrational career year. And hey, maybe some of the prospects can hit, or Machado will get traded for someone who can hit.
The raw numbers don’t lie. The Orioles once again have a horrible starting rotation by ERA, with a second-worst in the AL mark of 5.36 after Sunday’s Alex Cobb outing. A bullpen that’s been saddled with some not-ready-for-MLB talent in Pedro Araujo and underperforming returners like Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and Darren O’Day isn’t living up to its potential either, with a 4.39 ERA to date.
Maybe those raw numbers don’t tell the whole truth, though. Consider the defensive problems mentioned above. There are a lot of hits falling in against a sieve-like defense and it’s hard to know exactly how much of it is a pitcher struggling and how much is that he’s got the misfortune of having a bunch of out-of-position jabronis with gloves on the dirt, grass, and occasionally carpet behind him.
Here are some Orioles pitchers who are not pitching as well as we all would prefer this season. The first number is the BABIP this season. The second number is the pitcher’s career BABIP.
- Andrew Cashner - .346 / .295
- Alex Cobb - .374 / .293
- Kevin Gausman - .338 / .316
- Brad Brach - .361 / .278
- Mychal Givens - .342 / .289
Perhaps it is the case that some of these pitchers are just chucking hittable stuff up there. I didn’t include Chris Tillman because I have no reason to believe his high BABIP is either accident or bad luck.
Brach and Givens have other problems: They’re not throwing strikes. Cashner is also walking too many people, and Cobb isn’t striking enough out. The whole starting rotation has the problem that they’re giving up home runs like it’s going out of style, with Cashner managing an impressive 13 home runs already allowed when he gave up 15 all of last season. That’s not reflected in the BABIP number either, and it’s not exactly a sign that anyone’s pitching great.
Still, those are huge gaps. Cobb had a .288 BABIP just last season, his first one back after Tommy John surgery. His velocity is the same as last year, when he posted a 3.66 ERA.
How does this get better? Fix the defense! Or fire whoever in the front office said it was a good idea to sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo and trade for Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson, or fire whatever coaches were responsible for not getting the best of those players, and instead hire people whose judgment or teaching ability are better.
The high minors offers little hope for improvement on the horizon, unless you think Jimmy Yacabonis or Yefry Ramirez count for much. Hunter Harvey is out for six weeks and wasn’t pitching great before his shoulder got hurt. Maybe Keegan Akin, currently at Bowie, will force his way into the picture and displace Cashner or David Hess if either struggles. Anyone exciting below Bowie probably is ticketed for a late 2019 debut at the very earliest.
The Orioles will have something in the vicinity of $60 million in salary coming off the books at the end of this year at the latest. Arbitration raises will chew up some of this, but there will be room to add a couple of quality players, if the Orioles can actually correctly identify who is a quality player and pay them a fair price before some smarter team snaps them up earlier in the offseason. Hey, there’s a first time for everything.
Unlike the fire sale from the Syd Thrift days, they might actually manage to get some players in exchange for Machado or Zach Britton who can contribute to the next good Orioles team.
This too shall pass. Just, hopefully it doesn’t take another 12 years to get through the dark years, like the last time around. After watching too much of the 19-45 Orioles, it’s tough to get hopeful that they’ll figure things out to salvage much out of next season. They have surprised us before, and not too long ago. If we’re lucky, that will happen again.