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What's Plaguing the Baltimore Orioles?
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 20, 2010

Can we possibly determine, through just 14 games, what's wrong with the Baltimore Orioles? Yes. Can we determine whether the Orioles will be able to recover? Maybe.

First things first, the Orioles have scored 44 runs and allowed 74 runs. Their 44 runs scored are the worst in the American League, and their 74 runs allowed are the second worst in the American League. Call it the Detroit Theory (named after the 2003 Tigers): if you are going to succeed in baseball, you have to be good in at least one of those categories. If you are amongst the leagueís worst in both categories, you are going to be one of the worst teams of all time.

Fortunately for the Orioles, they are not the 2003 Detroit Tigers. The Orioles have talented young pitching (the 2003 Tigers staff was merely young) and capable hitters. Nevertheless, the Orioles are getting absolutely killed for a couple of enormously obvious reasons.

It is important to note that injuries have played a role here, though they are not solely responsible for the Orioles faltering out of the gate. True, the Orioles have been bothered by injuries to significant players: Felix Pie, quite literally the only Oriole hitting thus far, is out for three months with an injury Iíve never heard of. Brian Roberts is out with a strained abdominal muscle and back issues. Miguel Tejada, who hasnít missed much time, has nevertheless has been bothered by a hip muscle.

If injuries were the only problem, this team would be fine. Of bigger concern is the fact that the guys who are healthy arenít currently hitting their weight (this is actually literally true for Nolan Reimold, Roberts, Luis Montanez, Julio Lugo, and Luke Scott). Orioles hitters have struck out 92 times in 14 games, which is the fifth worst total in the AL, while having drawn only 37 walks, the third fewest in the AL. Distressingly, 11 of those 37 walks have come from Nick Markakis; no other AL team has even close to such a high percentage of its walks coming from one player.

Consider also that five of the teamís 13 homeruns have come from Ty Wigginton, a part-time player Ė and this offense starts to look incredibly meager.

The good news for the Orioles hitters is that they have faced, thus far, some of the best pitching in the American League. The Oís have faced the Tampa Bay Rays (fourth fewest runs allowed per game) twice, plus an above-average staff for the Blue Jays and the Oakland Aís, who have the best staff in the AL thus far. Things donít get any easier in that respect; facing off against the Seattle Mariners this week the Orioles have gotten a hot Doug Fister, who almost threw a no-hitter against them on Monday, and will see Felix Hernandez in the final game of the series on Wednesday.



Brian Matusz
On the mound, one would have to believe that the Orioles have seen exactly what they expected to see when they broke camp with a pitching staff filled with largely untested youngsters. The Orioles staff has been solid in the early innings, but the wheels have come off the bus in the later innings Ė 3.86 ERA in innings 1-3, 4.07 ERA in innings 4-6, 5.40 ERA in innings 7-9. This seems to speak to experience as much as anything else.

The most concerning element of the Orioles season thus far, however, has not been pitching or hitting, but rather defense. After all, the same Orioles pitching staff which has given up the third most runs in the league happens to lead the league in strikeouts with 111. The Orioles also lead the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio, and they are right at league average in homeruns allowed per nine innings. These Orioles pitchers (confession: I adore them, and feel a paternal need to protect and defend them) are doing a fine job at controlling the things that they can control. Further, Matt Wieters has proven to be a dandy catcher Ė he has allowed zero passed balls and a league average five wild pitches. Plus, the Orioles are tied for the third fewest stolen bases allowed (5), and Wieters has thrown out half of the base-runners who have tried to steal against him.

(By the way, I donít know why the Red Sox are off to such a miserable start, but I know one reason. In 12 games, Victor Martinez has allowed 14 of 15 base-runners to steal against him, and Jason Varitek has allowed eight stolen bases in four games without throwing out a single base-runner. In the Raysí four game sweep of the Sox, they stole nine bases.)

Unfortunately, when it comes to the things that they cannot control, the Orioles pitching staff has been kind of screwed. Only the Royals have allowed more hits per nine innings in the American League, and the Orioles lead all of Major League Baseball in total hits allowed, with 136. The Orioles defense hasnít committed the most errors in baseball Ė far from it Ė but guess which team has the fewest assists in all of baseball. The Orioles. As far as fancy defensive metrics that I donít know much about (i.e. all that stuff they have at FanGraphs.com ), the Orioles defense ranks last or second to last in most of them.

As the Clinton political team might say, ďItís the defense, stupid.Ē

The irony, then, is that the Baltimore Orioles defenders are playing like they are awesome hitters, and the hitters are playing like they are awesome defenders. Thatís right Ė the Orioles are playing like a bunch of Yuniesky Betancourts. This is a tragedy, because the Orioles talent, right now, is in its pitching and catching, and all of that is going to go by the way-side for a bunch of unimpressive, and largely replaceable, position players. At the very least, if the Orioles arenít going to hit the ball, they could field their positions behind a young pitching staff, for many of whom 2010 could be a make-or-break season.

It was too early in the season to write off the Oriolesí defense altogether, especially with players like Cesar Izturis, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. Nevertheless, the defense Ė and not the hitting Ė is the number one thing that must improve in order for these Orioles to right the ship.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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