Monday, October 3, 2011

Orioles 2011: 14 Losing Seasons and Counting

Adam Janet Presents: The View From Baltimore

Adam Janet is a Northwestern grad from Baltimore, Maryland. He is currently studying at UMD School of Law. An avid sports fan, Adam cheers for the Ravens, Orioles, Wizards, Northwestern, and University of Maryland. His cynical sports attitude comes from years of witnessing futility, especially watching his teams blow leads. Look for Adam's posts every Sunday.

The Orioles have now completed their 14th season in which they failed to make the playoffs. The season started off so well, starting the season 6-1 after sweeping the Rays, taking two out of three from the Tigers, and winning the first game of a doubleheader in a series against the Rangers. Articles were popping up everywhere about how Baltimore Orioles fans could have hope that this season would be unlike every other season of the past decade. Our young pitchers were pitching excellently, giving up one run in each of the first four games. Zach Britton threw a shutout to put the Orioles at 6-1. An 8 game losing streak later, things were back to normal, and we would never break .500 again. We would finish with a record of 69-93, although there would be some fireworks at the end, but we’ll get to that later. What happened, and why did we suck so much?

It wasn’t the offense that failed us. We were 7th in the AL in runs, 14th in the league overall. We finished 11th in average, 19th in on base percentage, and 9th in slugging percentage. We finished 4th in home runs, 8th in total bases, 12th in OPS. We were 23rd in walks, which is certainly below average but not terrible. We were 12th in extra base hits. In fact, there were only two things that we were very poor at. We finished last in triples, but I don’t really think that is any indication of team success, and we finished with the second most double plays, which are certainly rally killers but I also don’t think that there is any correlation between double plays and team success, seeing as how 6 out of the top 7 teams in double plays were vying for playoff spots in the last week of the season.

Individually, there were a few bright spots. Mark Reynolds’ 37 home runs led the team and J.J. Hardy added 30 more. Adam Jones showed a nice blend of speed and power with 25 home runs and 12 steals.  Matt Wieters finally starting hitting the ball, especially late in the season, and hopefully he can continue to develop and improve as a player. Our offensive production would be much better if we improved our collective OBP. Nick Markakis led the team only with a .351 OBP, and the next highest was Matt Wieters was .328. Pushing a team OBP up from .316 to around .325 would pay major dividends.

I said last year that this lineup could compete with other teams. Having a healthy Brian Roberts would make all the difference in the world, but I don’t know if we can really expect him to play anymore. He’s missed the vast majority of the past two seasons, but he remains an important part of this team. Let’s not forget that Buck’s great record in the last month and a half of last year coincided with Brian Roberts’ return to be the starting second baseman. Coincidence? I think not. We need to find somebody to replace his production and be that top-of-the-order guy who can get on base, hit for a little power, and steal bases.

Needless to say, our pitching was dreadful and was the reason we finished with one of the worst records in the league. Our ERA was dead last at 4.89; the second highest ERA was 4.58. Our pitching staff had 60 quality starts (pitching at least 6 innings while giving up 3 runs or less); the next lowest was 71. We gave up 56 more runs than the next worst pitching staff. Our pitching line in terms of OBP/SLG/OPS was .341/.460/.801, all worst in the majors. We gave up 22 more home runs and 182 more total bases than the next worst team.

Jeremy Guthrie led the team with a 4.33 ERA and was the only pitcher who eclipsed the 200 innings mark…I guess that technically makes him the “ace” of our staff, but he finished with a terrible 9-17 record. He would be a serviceable back end of the rotation player on a playoff team. Zach Britton was next in line with a 4.61 ERA in 154.1 innings. He showed promise in the beginning but just fell apart as the season went on. Nobody else is even worth mentioning.

We finished in last place in the AL East, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. The last time we made a big splash in free agency, we signed Miguel Tejada for 72 million over 6 years. Yeah, I’m sure signing an Albert Pujols or a Prince Fielder or a Jose Reyes would do wonders for our team, but let’s be realistic here; we still have Peter Angelos as the owner, and he’s not creating enough revenue to pay for those kinds of players. Unfortunately it’s a never-ending circle. In order to have revenue, fans need to fill the seats; in order to fill the seats, there needs to be some excitement about the team which can only be attained by signing some big players and giving hope to the fans.

But as I showed earlier, the lineup isn’t the issue, it’s the pitching. Even if we wanted to make a splash in free agency, the best pitchers who are going to be available this offseason are C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle…and I’m fairly certain they’re not going to put us over the top. Not to mention I’m sure some other team with a boatload of cash will overpay for them, putting us out of the running.

The only hope for Orioles fans is for the young players to develop. It seemed like our young pitchers took a step back this year, especially Brian Matusz. In order to have any success, they need to right the ship and hope that Arrieta, Matusz, Britton, Tillman, Hunter can take us there.

There are so many things that prevent the Orioles from having a chance in a given season. Having to play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox doesn’t help, as they can buy pretty much any player they want. In order to combat this fact, we need to look to the Rays’ model for success in drafting and developing great young players. The most frustrating thing of all is that there is little to no hope on the horizon, which should not be the case considering how bad we have been and therefore how many high draft picks we have had. The only two minor leaguers that show tremendous promise are Manny Machado, who is still a few years away from the big leagues, and Dylan Bundy, our first round draft pick from this year. If I were in charge of the Orioles, our drafting strategy would be the first thing I would change. How can the Royals and Rays develop such a good farm system but we can’t? Drafting well is the only possible way to overcome the big market teams; with our terrible drafts, it’s no wonder that we are so terrible and have such little hope.

HOWEVER, having said ALL of that…the entire season was worth it just for that last game of the season. Coming back in the 9th inning against Papelbon to eventually knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs was probably the greatest team moment in the past 14 years. The Orioles took 5 of the last 7 games against the Red Sox, so I can’t help but feel that they are considerably responsible for the Red Sox’s collapse. After Robert Andino hit the game winner, the Orioles players celebrated as if they had just won the World Series. I don’t blame them. There has been little to cheer for in the past 14 years, so preventing a hated rival from going to the postseason in dramatic fashion has to rank at the top of the list of greatest Orioles moments since 1997.

E-mail Adam at or follow him on twitter @apjanet.

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