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Baltimore Orioles - 2007 Team Preview
Predicted Finish
73-89
4th Place
AL East

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 7, 2007

2006 Record - 70-92, 4th Place AL East, 27.0 behind the Yankees
2006 Runs Scored - 768
2006 Runs Allowed - 899
Pythagorean Projection - 69-93



Admit it, you were fooled.

You’d heard Leo Mazzone was going to become the Orioles pitching coach, and you thought that you’d soon see Bruce Chen, Rodrigo Lopez, Eric Bedard, and Daniel Cabrera turn into Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery.

Well, at least Bedard had a good year.

The 2006 Baltimore Orioles were a miserable mess of a team. They finished in the bottom half of the American League in runs scored per game, and only the Kansas City Royals finished worse in terms of runs allowed per game. The Orioles essentially return the same offensive team they fielded last year, with the lone significant additional of Aubrey Huff, while the pitching staff sheds Rodrigo Lopez and Bruce Chen in favor of Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel. The lack of A-caliber additions likely means that the Orioles will only improve upon last season’s 70 wins if Year Two with Leo Mazzone goes better than Year One did.

Catcher
2006 Starter - Ramon Hernandez
Projected 2007 Starter - Ramon Hernandez

Orioles fans thought the Orioles were crazy for acquiring another catcher last off-season. On August 4, 2006, when the Orioles ran the unproductive Javy Lopez out of town, the fans were happy to have Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez had a much better first half than second half, as he hit more homeruns, drove in more runs, and simply played more games. Hernandez is a very good offensive catcher, though how he handles pitchers can hardly be determined from last season’s performance.

First Base
2006 Starter - Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine
Projected 2007 Starter - Kevin Millar, Jay Gibbons

Kevin Millar did a lot of talking about how the Orioles had what it took to get to the World Series during Spring Training last year, which was spun by Baltimore radio personalities as an indication of the type of leadership the Orioles needed. Ironically, that Millar was the Orioles starting first baseman last year is sign number one that the Orioles were not a championship caliber team, because Millar is not a championship caliber first baseman. Despite the acquisition of Huff, Millar remains slated to start, which makes little sense because Huff is younger and more talented. Stay tuned.

Second Base
2006 Starter - Brian Roberts
Projected 2007 Starter - Brian Roberts

Roberts returned to earth big time in 2006 after a breakout 2005 season. Roberts hit as many homeruns all year (10) as he had by May 10th of 2005. His fielding slipped a bit in 2006, and he nearly doubled his career total in GIDP by hitting into 16 alone on the year. The biggest trouble sign for Roberts is that his games played have decreased for two straight years – if he can be healthy and consistent this year, he is a solid contributor.

Third Base
2006 Starter - Melvin Mora
Projected 2007 Starter - Melvin Mora

Before last season, Melvin Mora made a big stink about his contract not being extended, and demanding that the Orioles offering him a $10 million per year deal as a sign of respect for what he had done for the club. After much wrangling, Mora got his deal and promptly rewarded the Orioles with a .342 OBP and .391 slugging percentage as he endured his worst season since 2001. Mora will be 35 this season, and appears to no longer be an above average hitter or fielder. But he is making above average money.

Shortstop
2006 Starter - Miguel Tejada
Projected 2007 Starter - Miguel Tejada

Tejada has not missed a game since 2000, including three seasons with the Orioles. Last season, he set career highs with 214 hits, a .330 average, a .379 OBP, and (dubiously) 28 GIDP. As a sign of how far the Orioles offense has slipped in the last couple of years, two years ago Tejada hit 19 points lower but had 50 more RBIs. Of note, last season at the age of 30, Tejada got his 1500th hit, and has 200 hits in three of the last five years, and 199 hits in one of those other two seasons. Tejada remains one of the premier offensive shortstops in the majors, and the leader of the Baltimore Orioles. At least when he is not asking to be traded.

Outfield
2006 Starters - Nick Markakis, Corey Patterson, Jeff Conine, Jay Gibbons, David Newhan, Brandon Fahey
Projected 2007 Starter - Markakis, Patterson, Jay Payton, Jay Gibbons, Aubrey Huff

Orioles Fun Fact - Corey Patterson hit into zero double plays in 498 plate appearances last year.
Amazingly, Jay Payton continues to find work, this time as the Orioles starting leftfielder. If Kevin Millar starting at first base over Aubrey Huff makes no sense, Jay Payton starting anywhere over Aubrey Huff is simply absurd.

Corey Patterson was a pleasant surprise for the Orioles last year. An absolute disaster with the Chicago Cubs for the last five years, Patterson actually began to play within himself for the Orioles as he fought for his career as a professional baseball player. Patterson actually struck out 24 fewer times in nine more games in 2006 over 2005, and stole a career high 45 bases after spending his time in Chicago swinging for the fences instead of doing damage with his speed. If Patterson can add as much to his game in 2007 as he did in 2006, he may actually become an above average centerfielder, and a legitimate 20-50 threat. Still not a guy you want to even joke about batting leadoff, however.

Nick Markakis played a full season in his first ever action at the major league level, and he got considerably better as the season wore on. In the first half of the season, he hit 8 doubles and 2 homeruns, and batted .268 with a .683 OPS. In the second half, he hit 17 doubles and 14 homeruns, and batted .311 with an .896 OPS. If Markakis can do for a whole season what he did in the second half of 2006, 2007 will be a very good season for him.

Designated Hitter
2006 Starter - Jay Gibbons
Projected 2007 Starter - Jay Gibbons, Aubrey Huff

Gibbons has been on again off again for the last four years. The good news is that this is his on-again year – expect 22 homeruns, 75 RBI, and a .270 batting average. The bad news is, Aubrey Huff has to play somewhere, and Gibbons may be the odd man out. In the end, Huff and Gibbons will likely both see plenty of playing time and Millar and Payton will likely be bench riders by the All Star Break.

Starting Pitchers

2006 Starters - Erik Bedard, Kris Benson, Rodrigo Lopez, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen, Bruce Chen, Russ Ortiz, Hayden Penn
Projected 2007 Starters - Bedard, Cabrera, Jaret Wright, Loewen, Steve Trachsel, Penn

The Good - Erik Bedard was a stud last season, particularly in the second half when his ERA was over a point lower than in the first half. At 28, he should be an inning eating ace for the Orioles. Also, Kris Benson is out for the year.

The Bad - Daniel Cabrera had a rough start, but really looked like he was figuring things out in the second half. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for 104 walks in 148.0 innings. Even his 157 strikeouts can’t over shadow that many walks.

The Ugly - Everybody else. The best news for the Orioles is that they have cleaned house, and Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez are gone. Also gone is Russ Ortiz, who probably pitched no better than David Ortiz would have if sent to the mound every fifth day. In their place comes Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel. The Orioles are probably one of the few teams about whom it could be said that the addition of Wright and Trachsel will be a significant improvement over the pitchers they replace.

The key to the Orioles staff, maybe not this year, but in the future, will be Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn. Both are touted prospects, but both lit up last season. Loewen had his ups and his downs on the way to a 5.37 RTA in 112.3 innings, but Hayden Penn was literally laughably bad in 19.2 innings. I mean it, I actually laughed out loud at how ineffective he was. After his first game of the season, in which he got Turbo Tanked to the tune of eight earned runs in .2 innings, his ERA was 108.00. Out of six outings, he gave up seven or more earned runs four times. He gave up eight homeruns in 19.2 innings. That means that if he pitched 192 innings, he was on pace to give up 80 homeruns. He finished the season having given up 33 earned runs in 19.2 innings after giving up on 27 in 38.1 innings the year before. His season ERA was 15.10, for an ERA+ of 30. At the age of 21, he may not have been ready.

The Orioles will need more from Hayden Penn. Maybe not this year, but eventually, and soon.

Relief Pitchers
2006 Relievers - Chris Ray, Todd Williams, LaTroy Hawkins, Chris Britton, Sendy Rleal
Projected 2007 Relievers - Chris Ray, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, Scott Williamson, Danys Baez

The Orioles have made a legitimate, concerted effort to step up the caliber of their bullpen. One can only guess that the Orioles realize that their starters are generally only effective against teams one time through the lineup, and thus they need top notch arms for innings four through nine.

Outlook for the Season

Truth be told, the Orioles pitching staff was simply a mess last season, and we will probably not actually know what to expect from the Orioles pitchers until this season is well under way. The pitchers have talent, and Leo Mazzone knows what to do with talent. It may all be a moot point, however, as the Orioles are simply not better than the Red Sox, Yankees, or Blue Jays, and may not even be better than the Devil Rays.


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

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