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Orioles likely to take a significant step back in 2015

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The Orioles did little to upgrade their team from 2014, and lost key pieces they did not replace. Consequently, they may regress in 2015.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the wintry weather rocking a good portion of the country, pitchers and catchers report to spring training soon, and games will be underway in just about a month. The end of winter generally brings great optimism for most fans, as it is a time for renewal and a fresh start. For the Baltimore Orioles, however, the projections suggest fans may want to dream of the summer and fall of 2014 rather than the upcoming season.

In recent years, it seems every offseason the Orioles come under fire for overachievement, obtaining more wins than their true talent deserves, yet after a long period of frustration, futility and failure, the O's have seemingly been on the right track. Since 2012, they have won at least 85 games each season, and last year, they made it to the American League Championship Series — a feat they had not accomplished since 1997. Despite winning 96 games and running away with the American League East last season, Baltimore does not project as a team with any upside due to their lack of pitching, the holes in their outfield, and their inability to lock up solid relief pitching.

2014 was the perfect setup for the Orioles to take the AL East; the Yankees were mediocre and oft-injured, the Blue Jays were more decimated by injuries than New York, and the Red Sox and Rays were uncharacteristically sellers at the deadline, as both teams were seemingly out of the divisional race by the first day of summer (on June 21 Baltimore had a 7.5-game lead over the Red Sox and a 12.5-game lead over the Rays).

The situation in the American League East created an opportunity for the Orioles where they had the division in hand early (they were 9.5 games ahead of the second-place Yankees at the end of August), and were even in a situation where they could make modest upgrades trading with divisional opponents, which is how they ended up with their best relief pitcher, Andrew Miller.

With the significant additions Boston made acquiring Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, and Toronto's trading of Brett Lawrie for All Star Josh Donaldson, it does not appear the stars are aligning for Baltimore to make another run at the East in 2015.

Last season, Baltimore's starters amassed only 9.7 Wins Above Replacement, 14th in the American League, only ahead of the downtrodden Rangers. Orioles' starters mostly overachieved, and yet still were next to last in the American League in starting pitcher value.

2015 starting pitcher projections do not bode well for the O's, as their starters' value is projected to be nearly cut in half.

Starter 2014 fWAR 2015 Projected fWAR Delta
Chris Tillman 2.4 0.9 -1.5
Wei-Yin Chen 2.6 1.5 -1.1
Bud Norris 1.5 1 -0.5
Miguel Gonzalez 0.6 0.4 -0.2
Ubaldo Jimenez 0.5 0.6 0.1
Kevin Gausman 2.1 1.4 -0.7
Total fWAR 9.7 5.8 -3.9

Clearly, the starting pitching was not the element that propelled the O's to the ALCS, as they were near the bottom of the league in that regard. Anchored by Adam Jones, Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz, Baltimore was second in the American League in batting fWAR, behind only the Angels.

Much like their starting pitching, Baltimore's offense is projected to take a step backwards as well, particularly in the outfield and at the designated hitter position. Although it is difficult to envision Nelson Cruz having a similar year to last year, the Orioles let him walk without an equivalent replacement. Additionally, they are unlikely to get the value they got last year out of their outfielders.

Position 2014 fWAR 2015 Projected fWAR Delta
C 2.3 3.8 1.5
1B 2.3 3 0.7
2B 0.9 1 0.1
3B 2.1 5.1 3
SS 3.7 3.1 -0.6
LF 6 2 -4
CF 5.7 3.7 -2
RF 3.7 2.5 -1.2
DH 1.8 1.1 -0.7
Total 28.5 25.3 -3.2

The Orioles received 4.6 fWAR from their bullpen in 2014, but did not resign their greatest asset: Andrew Miller. Last summer, Miller was traded to Baltimore from Boston in exchange for Baltimore prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. Miller amassed 2.4 fWAR last season, .9 of which was created in Baltimore. Heading into 2015, no Orioles' relief pitcher is projected to amass even one Win Above Replacement. A bullpen led by Zach Britton, Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter is unlikely to be good enough to make up for a weak rotation; in fact, all three relievers combined are projected for fewer than two wins.

The Orioles did not do enough to improve their rotation or lineup going into 2015, and they once again face better competition from their AL East opponents. Baltimore's pitching has been a significant detriment in recent years, and their outfield will likely take a full step back from the value it amassed in 2015. Baltimore let Nelson Cruz go to the Mariners, which in and of itself is probably fine, but they did nothing to replace the value he created for them last season. The O's did not resign the best relief pitcher on their roster, and consequently look primed to fade away into mediocrity once again. With two wild cards, there is the possibility Baltimore can contend for a playoff spot, but even with a healthy Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, this team looks likely to take a significant step back in 2015, and highly unlikely to win the division.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.