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MESS (Mighty Early Story of Success): Baltimore Orioles

One of my friends who reads this site and goes to school in the Baltimore area asked me to take a look at "a question of regional importance": Why are the Orioles doing so well?

There are a few reactions you can have before looking at anything specific:

  1. Brian Roberts.
  2. They're hitting the ball a lot.
  3. They're pitching better this year.
  4. The addition of Sammy Sosa (one theory).
  5. Luck?
I decided to break out the XR to do this little analysis. XR is my run-estimation method of choice because it's easy to calculate, it's linear, and it was one of the big things that got me into sabermetrics in general.

So, for old times' sake, where's the production coming from?

Brian Roberts - 33.34
Miguel Tejada - 25.20
Melvin Mora - 22.84
Javy Lopez - 20.28
Luis Matos - 15.40
Sammy Sosa - 14.17
Jay Gibbons - 13.77
Rafael Palmeiro - 7.74
Larry Bigbie - 7.42
Chris Gomez - 4.73
B.J. Surhoff - 3.61
Geronimo Gil - 2.30
David Newhan - 0.96
TOTAL - 171.78
Actual Runs - 167

The first thing (and the one that jumps out at me) is the source of the production. The top four producers do not play OF or 1B; they play the less typically productive positions. Second base is notably weak this year; anyone who is playing in a fantasy league with 12 or more owners knows this; a good second baseman is a luxury, and you want to kill the guy who drafted Brian Roberts out of need.

The law of averages says that Roberts has to slump at some point, but the graph below indicates that he hasn't stopped hitting (yet):

Roberts' production is mind-boggling. His VORP of 26.4 is second in the bigs, showing how much more he's adding than the typical replacement level player.

Bret Boone, another second baseman, has a VORP of .6 (close to replacement player), and an XR of 12.50. Replace Roberts with a guy like Boone, and you're losing almost 21 runs, already. Those 21 runs, in terms of Pythagoras, are worth at least 2 wins.

Roberts has been a mind-boggling sabermetric player. He's 12 of 13 in steal chances, he's walking, and his line is .361/.447/.664.

This can't last. Matt posted a good article last week about Roberts, but his early season production has been a major contributer to Oriole success. The big question is: where is his new norm? Is it where the old one was? Or is this season a breakout year, on some level?

Roberts isn't alone. Tejada is right on his tail for being the team's hottest hitter, and his XRR graph shows that he actually had a much slower start.

The Orioles are second in the bigs in runs scored, behind the Texas Rangers, beneficiaries of a major hitter's park. The Orioles are far and away leading the league in slugging percentage, with a .486. It's safe to say that Oriole hitting has carried them to a strong start.

If there's a positive to be gained from all of this that outweighs the others: their WEAK spots right now are in positions of league strength. Meaning that there's a good chance that they can upgrade at some point in the season. Adding a productive first baseman (maybe Walter Young from the minors or someone in a trade) would go a long way, as Palmeiro has been pretty awful to start out the year. Larry Bigbie has also been atrocious, and he's in left. These are both positions that, with an upgrade, could be improved with a deadline or June acquisition. This could compensate for the inevitable regression from Roberts.

Pitching-wise, they've been mediocre. They're helped a great deal by Bruce Chen and Erik Bedard's amazing starts. Both Chen and Bedard are pitching with great control, both averaging fewer than 2 BB/9. Chen has done his work against some of the league's toughest competition, as well, but his lack of strikeouts could catch up to him.

Rodrigo Lopez hasn't been good yet, but his history suggests that it will turn around.

Ponson has been atrocious so far. Cabrera has been similar.

Bedard remains the wild card. He has pitched like an ace so far, and if he continues to have a solid season, the Baltimore rotation will be good enough to keep them in the race. This is not a team that will get by on its pitching, but with that lineup, they won't have to.

Baltimore has given up 135 runs so far at a 4.18 ERA. If this keeps up, their pitching will have been good enough to get them to the playoffs. I would have to guess that it will take a few steps back, but even then, that could be enough. Bedard, Lopez, and one of Chen/Cabrera should be good enough, and they could probably stand to add another starter.

Sosa's addition, if it's been of any particular aid at all, has been psychological. The Orioles went out and added the big ticket guy, and this might be helping a lot. As far as production goes, Sosa has been OK. A .269/.325/.454 line isn't awful, but it's not what Sosa was in the past.

So, a brief summary, in 10 points:

  1. The Orioles have had a great season so far. If you had told me back in March that they'd be 9 games up on the Yankees at any point in the season, I would have laughed.
  2. Roberts has been the catalyst. He's the leadoff batter and he's the unexpected source of value and production.
  3. Lots of their production has come from unconventional hitting positions: middle infield and catcher, most notably.
  4. They could stand to add another bat. Perhaps Lyle Overbay will be available at the deadline. Or Todd Helton. And maybe Walter Young deserves some more playing time. He's a large man.
  5. Their pitching, if it remains average, will be good enough to keep them in the race. They could also stand to add another starter.
  6. If Sidney Ponson or Daniel Cabrera could turn their seasons around, it would go a long way.
  7. PECOTA pegs Sosa to have a better year than the one he's having so far. If Sosa gets hot, the offense is even better.
  8. The front of that bullpen, with Ryan and Julio, has been outstanding. They'll be good, but not this good, for the rest of the year.
  9. A small wager: If the divisions weren't so skewed, I'd bet that the Orioles will finish the year with a better record than the White Sox, even with the hot start for Chicago.
  10. The Orioles have emerged as the year's biggest surprise. I think they just might have a chance to keep it up, especially with one or two additions.
And a poll question: Will Baltimore make the playoffs?


Will Baltimore Make the Playoffs?

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  • 33%
    (4 votes)
  • 66%
    (8 votes)
12 votes total Vote Now