The Orioles and pre-season projections haven’t always jibed together. During the most recent “glory years,” aka the first half of this decade, Baltimore consistently outperformed projections on their way to multiple playoff appearances.
Neil Paine examined the anomaly in an article for FiveThirtyEight after several years of the Orioles eclipsing their predicted totals. On May 17, 2017, which feels like a lifetime ago in Birdland, Paine offered an answer to the question many people in baseball were wondering. How were the Orioles pulling this off? His answer— Buck Showalter.
“From 2010 (when Showalter took over the Baltimore job midseason) to 2016, the O’s won an average of nearly six extra games per season over expectation,” Paine said.
Paine insisted that “few managers really make much of a dent in a team’s record,” but noted that “Showalter is one of the select few who’ve risen above the fray.” Showalter received praise for his handling of the bullpen and his ability to “squeeze every spare win out of a roster.”
Buck Showalter is no longer the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, and yet, few seem worried about the Orioles failing to eclipse their projected win total (which FanGraphs has at 62 games). Of course, after Showalter’s Birds lost 115 games in 2018, the days of overachieving feel like a distant memory.
The Showalter effect was real. Well, at least the win totals were real, but now Baltimore must find a new way to beat the odds. The chances of a playoff run are barely worth entertaining. The best case scenario for the Orioles is a resurrection and growth of talent.
First-time manager Brandon Hyde is essentially an unknown. He gained valuable experience during the Cubs rebuild, but there’s no way of knowing if he holds an “it” factor or magical powers to outperform projections.
The success of the Orioles season will not be measured by how well Hyde manages the bullpen, or when he decides to plug a guy in as the designated hitter. The type of strides the Orioles are aiming for come from the front office.
New executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has been met with an overwhelming amount of support this offseason. Elias brings a new school approach to the Orioles and will inject the Birds with a modern analytical approach. But will the new administration make a difference right a way, and if so, where should they start?
Dylan Bundy surrendered 41 home runs in 31 starts last season. That’s not good. In fact, it’s only “good” for the highest total among major league pitchers. The Orioles’ first round pick in 2011 has been anything but consistent during his Orioles tenure, but the guy allowed 15 more home runs than he did a year before.
Bundy’s total of 41 led James Shields by seven home runs. Only six pitchers allowed 30 or more homers last season, and Jacob deGrom allowed only 10 in 32 starts. Camden Yards may be a hitters park, but someone has to reel in Bundy’s long ball totals. Whether it’s Elias, Hyde, or new pitching coach Doug Brocail, someone in the new administration needs to steer Bundy in the right direction.
Chance Sisco should benefit from working with new catching instructor/field coordinator Tim Cossins. Cossins, along with Hyde, was well respected in the Cubs organization, and could offer sage advice to the 23-year-old backstop whether it’s at the plate or behind it. Reliable defense from Sisco and the other catchers would go a long way when it comes to the plethora of young arms that the Orioles will be rotating through this season.
Several questions at the Orioles FanFest focused on the Orioles’ highest paid player. Fans wondered aloud how the organization will handle Chris Davis and if he can bounce back to anything close to the power hitter of old. Tyler Young recently outlined what a reasonable recovery looks like for Davis, and you can check that out here. A productive year for Davis would likely draw high praise for Elias and his team of analytical experts.
Every year, players that struggled in the past find success with a new team. They’re often labeled “change of scenery” players. This year, Orioles players have a chance to be “change of administration” players. The combination of Elias and his analytics, paired with new instruction from new coaches, could be just what some of these players need. Brandon Hyde may not immediately distinguish himself as a game changer, but the new staff in Baltimore could make a great impact this season.