Earlier this week FanGraphs released its 2019 Orioles ZiPS projections, courtesy of Dan Szymborski. And unfortunately the outlook is modest, to say the least. No one on the team is predicted to have a WAR above 1.9.
For comparison, the defending AL East champion Red Sox, who won 108 games last season, boast a starting lineup projected to have five players with a WAR of 3 or better. Their two best hitters — Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez — are forecast to put up 4.4 and 6.8 WAR, respectively. Their ace, Chris Sale, is expected to be around 6.6.
But still, one of the most interesting parts of the article regarding the Orioles’ 2019 projections is the player comparisons.
Right now, minor league outfielder Yusniel Diaz is not expected to make the O’s 25-man opening day roster, with players like Joey Rickard and D.J. Stewart ahead of him on the depth chart currently. But stranger things have happened.
Diaz’s comp for this upcoming year is Milton Bradley, who enjoyed a 12-year playing career with eight different teams. Bradley had a career .271/.364/.440 batting line, usually hovering around the teens in the home run department with a maximum output of 22 round-trippers in 2008 with the Texas Rangers.
Bradley took a couple years to establish himself in the majors, putting up batting averages of .221 and .223 in his first two years (392 AB combined). He was never a big stolen base threat, but Bradley swiped 17 bags in 2003 and 15 in 2004. Arguably his best year came in 2008 when he hit .321/.436/.563 with 22 home runs and 77 RBI.
But it’s important to note that Szymborski offers the following disclaimer in his article:
“Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2019. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example.”
In his three-year minor league career, Diaz has a .282/.359/.433 batting line, compared to .239/.329/.403 in 38 games with Double-A Bowie last year. In 2019, ZiPS projects Diaz to put up a batting line of .255/.331/.381 with 10 home runs, 40 RBI and 10 steals, along with a 94 OPS+.
Another young outfielder on the Orioles roster, Cedric Mullins, got a cup of coffee at the tail end of last season. In 45 games after being promoted from Triple-A, Mullins hit .235/.312/.359 with four home runs, 11 RBI and two steals for the O’s. In his minor league career, Mullins is a .274/.330/.450 hitter.
Mullins is compared to Vernon Wells in the 2019 projections article. Wells enjoyed a career batting line of .270/.319/.459 over his 15 years in the majors, the vast majority of which was spent with the Toronto Blue Jays. Wells had one of his finest seasons at the young age of 24, when he hit .317/.359/.550 with 33 home runs and 117 RBI.
Based off everything we’ve seen and heard about Mullins, I’m not sure that Wells’ run-producer profile fits well here. Mullins is expected to be more of a top of the order guy with a bit less pop and a bit more speed. Wells topped out at 17 steals in 2006 and 2009, but besides those two years he was mostly in the single digits in that category.
In 2019, Mullins is projected for a .247/.300/.400 batting line with 16 home runs, 62 RBI and 18 steals with an 89 OPS+.
Last season, Mychal Givens had an up and down year in the Orioles bullpen. He finished 2018 with a 3.99 ERA, 9 saves and a 1.18 WHIP. He was basically the last man standing after the O’s traded Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day. For his career, Givens has a 3.12 ERA over 260 innings pitched, along with a 1.13 WHIP.
In 2019, Givens is expected to put up a 1.6 WAR, with his closest player comparable being Billy Koch. In his six year career, Koch racked up 163 saves (about 27 per year) with a 3.89 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. Koch’s lowest ERA (2.63) came at age 25 while pitching for the Blue Jays, and his highest save total (44) came at age 27 with Oakland.
Koch was a skilled strikeout artist, averaging 7.9 SO/9 over the course of his career. But he also struggled with walks, allowing 4.2 BB/9 over six seasons. Givens has been superior in those categories over his first four years, averaging 3.4 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9.
ZiPS has Givens projected at 5-3 with a 3.19 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73.3 innings in 2019.
If the Orioles hope to crawl out of the cellar in the AL East this year, a lot of players will have to outperform their projections.