A week later, it’s still not completely sunk in for me that the Orioles really made a trade for Corbin Burnes. This is so outside of the realm of typical experience as an O’s fan, because whether the cost comes in dollars or prospects what we are accustomed to is the team being either unable or unwilling to pay it. That they accomplished this when the biggest offseason goal was to add a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher makes it even more incredible.
There was already plenty to be excited about when looking ahead to the 2024 Orioles. Winning 101 games in the previous season goes a long way towards building up excitement for the next one. The fact that not a single key contributor from 2023 left as a free agent after last season certainly helps. The same core that authored last season’s greatness is back. The only exception is Félix Bautista, whose Tommy John surgery rehab will keep him out all season.
Add Burnes on top of that and it’s something unparalleled for fans of this team since the Gregorian calendar year started with 20. Or at least, that’s what we’re all hoping, with varying amounts of restraint on a largely optimistic view. How much has the Burnes acquisition changed your own feelings about the 2024 Orioles and what they might accomplish?
For myself, the Burnes acquisition is so perfect that it takes effort to not get completely carried away. Not only does Burnes shore up the one area the Orioles seemed to be lacking for the regular season, he’s also a guy who should give a big boost to their chances of advancing in the postseason, assuming they make it that far.
This is strange territory for me, a natural pessimist, so much so that I am suspicious, looking around for some other shoe to drop, a surprise negative development that nobody was anticipating. Going into a season thinking, “Yes, the Orioles should definitely make the playoffs unless things go horribly wrong.”
Like, what do I even do with that? Even in the few successful years of the Dan Duquette era, this was not a feeling that was present. And for good reason, because the years after the playoff years were not as good. Dropoffs of 8, 15, and 14 wins followed in that order the postseason berths of 2012, 2014, and 2016. It is pretty close to inevitable that there will be a dropoff from last year because repeating 100+ wins is so unlikely. When you start out at 101 wins, a drop down to 93 is still a pretty darn good team.
Minding that the run differential suggested that the true talent level of last year’s Orioles was closer to a 94-win team, factoring in the absence of Bautista over the full season, and my own vague feeling that we’re assuming that some players are going to keep playing as well as last year when in fact they’re going to get hurt or do worse, this time last week I was feeling like 87 or 88 wins was my expected outcome for the 2024 Orioles.
The addition of Burnes puts him at the top of the “on paper” rotation, and shuffles everyone else down a spot such that Tyler Wells is bumped into the bullpen. This is something like a 2-4 win shift, depending on your optimism about Burnes and your existing feelings about Wells. Pessimist though I am, that looks like a three-win bump to me - let’s say 90 wins, assuming roughly average luck over the course of the season.
To my great surprise, I’m not even the biggest pessimist out there. Two of the big projection models, PECOTA at Baseball Prospectus and the system at FanGraphs, released their projected records for the season this week. FG’s plethora of simulations came out with the Orioles at a mean win total of about 85 wins. 85! I think all but the most unassailable O’s optimists can recognize that a number of things could go wrong for the 2024 team to end up there, but as an average outcome across however many simulations they run, that number floored me.
BP’s PECOTA is only a couple of wins higher on the 2024 team, coming in around 87 wins right now. This one released before the FanGraphs model did and it also left me shocked. Like, “Wait a minute, did they just somehow forget to add the Burnes trade into this projection?” And in the meantime, PECOTA comes away with the New York Yankees mean at 94 wins! That’s crazy to me.
The FG playoff odds model puts the Yankees at 88, less separated from the mid-80s melee that both systems see the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rays in. That much, at least, seems more in touch with reality, or my best current understanding of reality.
There are other systems in use at FanGraphs, such as Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS. This system, whose AL results were released just this morning, is more of a believer in the quality of the Orioles for the coming season, bringing a 90-72 record and a repeat as AL East champions for the O’s. If you’re really believing in this team, even that 90 number might seem shockingly low to you. That’s where ZiPS ended up over its run of one million season simulations.
The multi-billion dollar betting industry also does projections of a sort in the form of its over/under lines for regular season win totals. They are not in the business of losing money. If their numbers are out of whack compared to the probability of what might happen, they could be exposed to some losses in the short term, at least until people lose that money back on other bets.
A particular sportsbook that pays our corporate parent for advertising space on this website currently has the Orioles o/u at 90.5. World Series odds have come down from +1700 (that is, a $100 bet pays out $1700 profit) to +1200. Another that frequently airs commercials during Orioles games is at 91.5 on the o/u win total right now. These each shifted by at least three wins after the Burnes trade was made.
For me, this is the real contrast to those PECOTA/FG projections. If a sportsbook was at 84.5 wins for the Orioles right now, and stayed there until the season started, people would be easily hammering that over and the book would be hosed on that action barring all but a complete disaster season. Having to decide whether they might win 90/91 or 91/92 is a much tougher choice for most people, including for me.
Honestly, I kind of hate myself for even daring to type out a public thought that the Orioles win total might start with a 9 and I’m going to have to exert some willpower to even let this whole article see the light of day, lest I risk placing a jinx upon the team. Jinx or not, 90 feels right for an average outcome. I hope that the 2024 season plays out in such a way that we can spend its duration mocking the simulations and publications who thought this team would end up winning only 85 games.
What do you think about the Orioles right now? How nervous are you about the things you’re allowing yourself to think?