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Team Reviews: Baltimore Orioles

The second team review posted by Beyond the Box Score. The first one was the Toronto Blue Jays, so check that out if you have not seen it. Player comments for the Orioles should be posted either Saturday or Sunday (I'm shooting for Saturday).

This graph best emphasizes what happened to the Baltimore Orioles in a general sense in 2005. The O's looked unstoppable at the beginning, scoring runs in bunches and keeping other teams from doing the same. The positions had more than reversed by July though, as the Orioles were held under 100 runs for the month while giving up 135. Sadly, this was not the lowest point in the season for a Baltimore Orioles team that was forced to deal with disappointment after disappointment. The problems in actuality started in the offseason, as Baltimore's tag team of General Managers (no longer together as of this writing due to Jim Beattie's removal from his post, with Mike Flanagan taking over altogether) failing to sign any of the premier free agents. In their defense, losing out on Carl Pavano did not turn out to be such a loss, as he pitched well below his salary results-wise for the New York Yankees. He was also injured a good deal of time in 2005, which is the last thing Baltimore needed in their rotation, especially with their best pitcher Erik Bedard missing time already. Carlos Delgado would have been a wonderful addition to the team though, as his Net Runs Above Average score of 25.31 attests to. That would have placed him second on the team, behind Brian Roberts. The addition the O's did make was to trade Jerry Hairston Jr. to the Chicago Cubs for rightfielder Sammy Sosa. This one backfired - horribly I might add - as Sosa performed at a below average level. Jerry Hairston Jr. was not much better, but he was much, much cheaper: $1.8 million for Hairston compared to Sosa's $17 million. Not to mention the $4.5 million buyout clause to avoid picking up the 2006 option for $18 million. Sosa is the reason you do not backload contracts to players who will be on the downside of their career 5-6 years later.

Of course even with the problems of the offseason, Baltimore had some bright spots from the beginning. Sophomore starter Erik Bedard started the year excellent, posting an ERA of 2.08 to go with an excellent K/BB ratio before injuring himself. Daniel Cabrera actually had better peripherals in the second half than in the first, excepting his homerun per nine innings pitched rate, which climbed .104 in the second half, but his first half was a great improvement over a 2004 season where he posted a K/BB ratio of .854. The good news for Baltimore pitchers is that Leo Mazzone has been signed on as the pitching coach, which if what we know of Mazzone is true, should mean the O's staff will turn around in the future. Jay Gibbons did the opposite of the rest of Baltimore, starting out slow and ending up as a solid hitter after an awful 2004. He could stand to take another walk or two, but it is tough to argue with a .516 slugging percentage.

The greatest surprise for Baltimore came in the form of second basemen Brian Roberts. Here is his production via Net Runs Above Average for 2003 through 2005:

As you can see, Robert's improved greatly. Yes he hit 50 doubles in 2004, which should have been a sign of developing some level of power in the future, but 2005 saw Robert's surpass his previous season's homerun total after only 11 games. After slowing down from the non-human clip he was at early in the season, Roberts settled down to simply great, which is still the best Baltimore has to offer. He finished 7th in the American League in NRAA. Of course this production really only replaced Javy Lopez's 2004 line, which had it's own drastic decrease for 2005 (11.02 NRAA down to -5.19) as well as make up for some of Miguel Tejada's lost value. Javy Lopez had problems this year due to fatigue, and when he was injured Sal Fasano and Geronimo Gil caught in his stead. The situation was desperate enough that Baltimore traded for the services of Eli Marrero, holder of a .159/.222/.341 line in 32 games for Kansas City. Needless to say, catcher production was well down from 2004. This was actually an alarming trend for Baltimore. Here is the production by Net Runs Above Average per Games Played for 2004 and 2005:

That is a significant drop in production at 5 positions, with a slight drop off at a 6th position as well. The three improvements are all significant, but are completely bogged down by the enormity of the failures in 2005. If anything, 2004 was the year that Baltimore simply needed some pitching in order to win. 2005 needed a new first basemen and two corner outfielders and some pitching, and the same things will need to be fixed in 2006 if Baltimore plans on competing in an exceedingly difficult division and league.

Steroid suspension aside, Rafael Palmeiro really has no business playing in Baltimore any longer. His numbers were not poor, but they were not top of the line for his position either. With Walter Young on the way up (24.68 NRAA in 14 games; a small sample size most likely overstated by his defensive ratings) they should have a first basemen without a spending a dime on the free agent market. When you include the suspension along with his post-suspension behavior, and the bizarre act of throwing one of the most popular players in the country in Miguel Tejada under the proverbial bus (with the backing of exactly zero teammates or front office types or fans or fuzzy orange kittens), it is more than definitely time to hitch a ride out of town.

Eric Byrnes will most likely have a better 2006 than he had a 2005. His Established Performance Level shows him to be a player capable of a 1.71 NRAA per 100 games. If Crash Test Dummy is not up to the challenge, and looks to be continuing his poor 2005 play, than Jeff Fiorentino may be ready to give the majors another try in his stead. He was overmatched with the bat but superb with the glove in short stint in the majors, so there is value in his play.

The best way to solve some of the issues surrounding the lineup and defense may be for Baltimore to move the exhausted and oft injured Javy Lopez to Designated Hitter permanently. This would make Jay Gibbons the everyday right fielder, but he is above average defensively in his career at that position anyways. With Matos, Gibbons and either Byrnes or Fiorentino in left, the outfield would feature possibly three above average players, assuming Luis Matos' 2005 campaign was not a fluke. If Tejada can play better defensively his 2006 season will regain some of its lost value, and Melvin Mora is still an above average third basemen despite his serious drop in production. That would make it so Baltimore really only needed to find a brand new catcher or a first basemen. If Gibbons moves to first rather than right, a catcher and a rightfielder. Considering the Orioles will have $21.5 million extra to spend just by losing Sosa and Palmeiro (minus the $4.5 million idiot tax at the end of Sosa's deal) for 2006, the odds are good that they will have the resources to find these pieces. Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina look like two of the only viable catching candidates in this year's free agent crop. There is nothing very special about either of them (in fact, Jose, not Bengie is the best Molina by far according to NRAA, entirely thanks to his defense) but they are both better than Fasano and Gil on their respective worst and best days. Outfield and first base are a little easier to find replacements for. Paul Konerko, Mark Sweeney, and Roberto Petagine are three options at first, Konerko being the only expensive (and overrated) one, while right field houses the always underrated Brian Giles (most likely for the low price of $8-10 million per year, whereas Sosa received $17 million to waste 300 outs in 05') and Matt Lawton. [Note: Konerko and Giles have recently signed on with other teams, and Matt Lawton was caught with steroids, something I think Baltimore wants less to do with in 2006.] There is pitching-a-plenty available as well, despite reports that A.J. Burnett is your team's one and only shot at salvation and victory. Kevin Millwood, Paul Byrd, Kenny Rogers, Glendon Rusch, and possibly Jarrod Washburn will all come cheaper and most likely more effective than Burnett, and all are free agents this winter. If Baltimore plays the hand they have been dealt correctly, they can enter the battle for the American League East for real in 2006. The main problem? It will not be a 2-3 team battle for long, as there are five talented, soon to be playoff worthy teams in one division. Baltimore has to act now if they want to come away victorious, and making a splash (that makes sense) this offseason is the best way to get it. The moves Boston and Toronto are making this offseason won't make it any easier in 2006.