The Orioles once again finished out of the playoff hunt, 25 games out of the Wild Card and 27 games out of the division thanks to a 70-92 record. This year, there was no Rafael Palmeiro scandal to blame for the poor performance; instead, there was a lineup short on bats and a pitching staff shoron arms.
Baltimore scored 768 runs (4.74 Runs Per Game) and allowed 899 runs (5.55 RPG), and this is with an offense that includes Miguel Tejada (.294 EqA with 66.4 Value Over Replacement Player) and a pitching staff that featured Erik Bedard (5.4 Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Over Replacement). These were not the only useful players on the team either; Brian Roberts followed up his MVP-caliber 2005 season with a strong 2006, and first-year closer Chris Ray was worth 4.255 WXRL for the season, the second highest wins above replacement total for the entire pitching staff behind Bedard. That was about it for help out of the bullpen though; LaTroy Hawkins, acquired over the offseason, was worth 1.824 XWRL with a leverage of 1.17, but no other reliever was very far over half-a-win over replacement. Todd Williams had a higher leverage than everyone in the pen excepting Ray, and his WXRL was a very poor -0.429 in 57 innings. Brian Burres was worth a full win higher than that in just 11 appearances and 8 innings pitched out of the pen. The pen was mismanaged, but it was the least of the O's problems in 2006.
The rotation was essentially made up of Erik Bedard -- who struggled mightily for much of the first half before settling into the role of #1 starter in more than a nominal sense -- as well as Kris Benson, who was worth a pedestrian 3.6 SNLVAR in his first year as an Oriole. Rodrigo Lopez made 29 starts, but was awful; he wasn't even worth 2 wins above replacement to the team as a pitcher, struggling both in his time as a reliever and his 29 starts. Daniel Cabrera was third on the team in SNLVAR by default.
He was brilliant at various points throughout the season, but these starts almost never came back-to-back, and he was one of the worst pitchers in the league more often than not. He struck out almost 10 batters per nine for a K/9 of 9.55, but his K% was only 24 percent thanks to his generous walk totals. Bedard struck out almost two batters fewer per nine innings than did Cabrera, yet his K% was over 20 percent. Walking 16 percent of all the batters you face is not a direct route to success, especially when your groundball tendencies suffer a 12 percent drop. Cabrera induced 20 double plays as opposed to 2005's total of 10, most likely due to the number of runners he was putting on base.
Adam Loewen walked almost five batters per nine innings pitched, but the rest of his peripherals -- including only 0.64 HR/9 -- looked good. If he can harness his control, he should be a useful starter for the O's. The Hayden Penn experiment should probably be shelved for a year or two, as he was destroyed again. John Maine, who was dealt for the incredibly pedestrian Benson, had only 1.2 less SNLVAR than Benson in only 90 innings pitched. He was aided by a .225 BABIP, but the O's seemingly gave up on him much too quickly in exchange for mediocrity.
As for the lineup, Miguel Tejada was his regular self, finishing with one of the top seasons at short in the league. Brian Roberts followed up his excellent 2005 season with a .266 EqA, but his defense remained very good, roughly +7 runs above average at second. Melvin Mora had his worst season since 2002, only batting .274/.342/.391 (.256 EqA) while playing poor defense at third (-7.82 runs above average defensively). The O's rewarded him for his lack of production with a three-year extension (3/$25 million) that includes a no-trade clause. Smooth.
Kevin Millar was much more productive than his 2005 season in Boston, but he was still below what was necessary, only posting a .272/.374/.458 line. Jeff Conine was even worse before he was dealt to the Phillies, with a .265/.325/.401 year. Javy Lopez was a drag on the team offensively, posting a .244 EqA before his trade to Boston, where he tanked even further. The O's picked up a useful fourth outfielder type in Adam Stern, and it wasn't like Lopez was going to make or break their season, so I guess in the long run that was worth it. Sort of. Jay Gibbons took a step back, posting an EqA below the positional average while playing poor defense yet again.
Ramon Hernandez was one of the few offseason acquisitions that went well for the Orioles, as he hit .275/.343/.479 with league average defense. The Orioles had to be encouraged by his 43 walks after a lackluster patience year in 2005 for the Padres. The real bright spot in the lineup and in the field for the Orioles was young Nicholas Markakis, who at age 22 hit .291/.351/.448 as a centerfielder. His splits tell the story better though, as Markakis hit a very poor .219/.301/.314 for the first two months of the season, and .319/.370/.500 from there on out.
This offseason, the Orioles need to avoid spending a great deal of money on the free agent class. Bargain players and useful parts might be the way to go, as there are no real franchise type players available who can help the O's in the long run. There have been rumblings of Angelos' interest in Alfonso Soriano, which would be even more of a mistake for the O's than the Nats, since they would also give up draft picks in order to acquire him. They already have young pitching talent in their minor league system, and the same can be said about a few offensive players. The main problem with the Orioles roster is that they carry around too many mediocre, aging players on their roster at the same time they act as a shelter for the dredge of the league. Whoever decided the Russ Ortiz experiment was a good idea needs to have his or her head examined, and then you might want to fire them just to be safe for the future. The Orioles would be better off testing their younger talent and dealing with the mediocre players if they didn't have so many others dragging down their overall production. Re-signing Melvin Mora to a three-year extension -- in May, when you didn't need to -- for too many years as well as money as well as a no-trade clause tells me that this organization does not get that. If they blow their offseason spending on an Alfonso Soriano or inflated starting pitcher contracts, than it may be time to stage larger rallies than the one organized earlier this year.