Last year, one of baseball’s biggest surprise teams, the Cincinnati Reds, were able to lead the league in nearly every offensive category. Not only that, but they led all of baseball in team oWAR (33.4). The Reds of last year actually compare a bit to the potential that you may or may not see in this year’s Orioles.
This off-season, the Orioles spent a favorable amount of dollars on players such as Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and Kevin Gregg. They also traded a few young pitchers for guys like Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy. Keep in mind as well, the expected progression in Adam Jones along with the fact that Nick Markakis might return to his ’08 form have given the O’s confidence that this team may not only be much improved, but give the AL East’s teams a run for their money.
Following a not so disappointing but not “Nick Markakis like” 2010 showing, in which he was worth 2.8 wins, Markakis’ defensive value dropped as well as his ability to hit for power or drive runners in. Despite having more doubles than anyone in baseball since 2008, Markakis has regressed significantly since then. Bill James is much more optimistic for the coming season than Marcel is, but say Markakis does prove to be worth more to the Orioles. With a stronger lineup, and the possibility of hitting in front AND behind someone with 20-30 home run power (a threat), Markakis will not only get more pitches to hit, but probably off a weaker group of AL East pitchers. The other guy is someone who ZiPS, Marcel, and James (three of baseball’s biggest prognosticators) have plenty of faith in — Adam Jones. As he keeps improving, the real question is consistency. In 2010, he was worth almost a whole win more than he was in 2009. Keep in mind, that was AFTER he woke up come mid-June. A potential 3.0 WAR along with his excellent defense in CF is extremely valuable. Despite Jones’ negative UZR over the past two years, he has a plus arm and covers more ground than most center fielders in baseball.
The ever-so-fragile former top prospect also known as Matt Weiters is another guy who the Orioles are still banking on. One thing that most people didn’t know; he dealt with plenty of bad luck in 2010. His BABIP dropped almost 80 points and actually, he was worth 0.8 more wins in 2010 than during his rookie season in 2009. He’s still regarded as a potential star, but due to many noticeable problems at the plate, his road to success has had more bumps in the road than expected — thus he’s still a project. However, improvement on last season isn’t out of the cards. ZiPS, Marcel, and James, the aforementioned trio, still expect him to be an all-around better hitter. He’s expected to create more runs as well as improving his wOBA tremendously — all resulting in a potential 4.0+ WAR catcher. Now that’s what the Orioles were expecting!
One of the reasons the O’s were a 9.6 oWAR team in 2010 was due to their massive struggles at 1B. Rhyne Hughes did much of nothing & Ty Wiggington was below average. So they go out and purchase Derrek Lee for $8MM out of the free agent pool. Do I like giving up a combined $16MM for Guerrero and Derrek Lee? No, but Lee has plenty of upside to like. Coming off a season in which he struggled a ton prior to his trade to the Braves, Lee was worth almost 3 fewer wins in 2010 than he was in 2009. But hey, Adrian Beltre had a similar season in his final year in Seattle. After that, he signed a 1-year deal similar to Lee’s and played amazing baseball in a hitters ballpark before signing a long term deal a few months later. The one thing about Lee is that he’s already 35 years old. However, he’s certainly an upgrade over the O’s other options. Even if he hits for more power and provides as a somewhat productive middle of the order hitter, it can go a long way to helping the Orioles succeed in 2010.
Talk about bad luck, the luck that Matt Weiters dealt with, our good friend Mark Reynolds dealt with much of the same. Here’s something you need to know readers: When a guy who strikes out a ton has a BABIP less than 50 points higher than his batting average, bad luck was a big factor. Mark Reynolds posted a BABIP of .257 (AVG. of .197) along with a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .328 — not good at all but with all of the K’s, it doesn’t mean he was as bad as the strikeouts may suggest. However, with all of this said, a fantastic grouping of AL East ballparks and a bounty of left handed pitchers in the AL East along with about 30-50 hurlers he’s never seen may go along way to not only bringing the O’s back to the Glory Land (well, kind of), but getting back to his 2009 form.
All in all, the Orioles can bank on success from former stars who have regressed a ton. Improving their team WAR by a significant amount is not out of the question. With returns of Mike Gonzalez and newly signed Kevin Gregg, that potentially makes what was a horrible 2010 bullpen much better. With Brian Matusz continued progression and the debut of Zach Britton, the Buck Showalter and co. can now feel even more confident in the O’s future. And not to forget, the mixed and differentiated Orioles offense and potential top-tier lineup has a lot more than most teams have, even the 2010 Reds may not have been as good on paper at the start of Spring Training as your 2011 Baltimore Orioles are now.