Adam Jones doesn’t like predictions. And really, if you were coming off a playoff berth, you wouldn’t like being told by someone that you’d finish last, either.
The fact the Orioles don’t believe what those on the outside think isn’t a shock. Closer Jim Johnson put into words what every team thinks come spring training: “We had high expectations in the first place [last year], and we still do. We talked about as a team ‘remember how it felt,’ and I think we’re better prepared for it.”
Two weeks ago on MLB Network Radio an Orioles fan called to ask if we thought the Orioles could win 96 games. Think about that for a second. On paper, coming off a 93-win season, with six lineup regulars 30 or younger, a closer coming off a 51-save season, a durable and heralded bullpen, three potential rotation options who were once Top 100 prospects, two more of the best pitchers close to the majors, and an elite manager. Without even delving into the numbers, it seems reasonable that a team like that could improve from 93 wins right?
This same team made 178 roster moves over the 183-day season last year, employing 26 different position players, and 27 different pitchers (if you count 1B/DH/OF Chris Davis’ win in Boston). The Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games, won 16 straight extra-innings affairs, and finished the season outscoring their opponents by just seven runs. Add that to it, and PECOTA’s projection of 74 wins doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
Now, I don’t think the Orioles are a 96-win team, anymore than I believe they’re a 74-win team. Their +7 run differential is troubling, but, from the moment they added Manny Machado to the lineup, they outscored their opponents by 54 runs in 51 games. How do you marry that with the rest of the data?
In scouting, comps are used for projection. If a player looks like, or has the same arm action, or swing path as someone else, it reasons that it gives the scout a rough idea of how a player can develop. But there are always outliers. While PECOTA is modest in its assessment of Machado, it’s tough to find many 19-year-olds to compare his numbers to at the big-league level. The same could be said for any number of players on the Orioles roster. Was last year’s Chris Tillman with improved velocity and command a turning point? Or was it a fluke given his career numbers? Or was last year’s 30-homer season for Chris Davis the forebear of things to come, or just a fluky coincidence for a player with big power and contact issues? Trying to assess what this team is going to do is trickier than most. Guys develop at different rates, and with so many players holding a checkered major league history, but still entering their primes, it can be easy to convince yourself that either point is possible.
Projection is one of the things GM Dan Duquette is banking on. “I thought Chris Davis had a breakout year. Adam Jones, obviously has had some good years but had a really good year last year, Matt Wieters continues to improve and obviously we like what we saw from [Machado]. These guys are determined ballplayers. They want to be consistent major league ballplayers. I think they’ve developed a lot of really good habits that will help them, repeat and in some cases improve their production, and they’re serious about being good this year.”
We’re getting ready, likely a month from today, to do our own predictions. The AL East, and particularly the Orioles, are what I’m least looking forward to guessing on. To paraphrase Adam Jones, there’s a good chance I’ll end up looking like a fool, no matter which way I go.
All quotes courtesy of SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio Spring Tour.