September 5, 2012
The Postmodern Orioles
The Tides have tied the [International League] record for most players used in a season (74) and most starting pitchers used (20).—Norfolk Tides Media Notes, August 24, 2012
The above detail caught my eye in the press box before the Tides took on the Durham Bulls a couple of weeks ago. I appreciated the record numbers for their sheer size, but it’s easy, down here in the isolation of the minor leagues, to lose sight of what they really mean in the only context that counts.
It’s been widely observed that the Baltimore Orioles have the fourth-best record in the American League even though they have the fifth-worst run differential, outperforming their Pythagorean winning percentage by about 11 games. There have to be multiple factors that account for a team playing so far above its head, and although it would be fun if the new organizational ban on cut fastballs was one of them, it probably isn’t.
A staggering 24-7 record in one-run games is a good place to start in getting to the bottom of the Orioles’ overachievement to date, but the Norfolk Tides’ busy transaction sheet is also a helpful place to look. Not that it has escaped notice, even in the mainstream press, where Ken Rosenthal was recently all over how new sheriff Dan Duquette is “manipulating his 25-man roster aggressively.”
According to Bradley Ankrom—whose Transaction Browser for BP is immensely useful and addictively entertaining—the Orioles have made 324 transactions since Opening Day, which is second-most in baseball behind San Diego. A fair amount of this business has been injury-related, but not quite as much as I would have guessed. The Orioles have made 36 transactions involving the disabled list (placement on and activation from) this season, an 11 per cent clip that isn’t out of line with the going rate, which hovers in the 6-10 percent range. One of those moves, of course, was the obligatory “[your team here] placed Nick Johnson on the 60-day disabled list.”
(Someday, archaeologists may discover that, more than fried-chicken-and-beer and “anonymous” texting and funny-Valentine headlines, the Red Sox’ collapse this year really owes to their injury rate: 22 percent of Boston’s transactions this season have involved the disabled list, more than double the average.)