Previewing the Orioles | The Process Report

Previewing the Orioles

Despite having the most difficult start to a season that I can remember the Rays currently sit at an even .500 record of 10-10. They have played the most games in the league owing mostly to a meager two days off thus far. They’ll get another after this series before embarking on another looooong stretch this time 20 straight games without an offday. By the end of that trip they will have played 42 games in 44 days and 43 in 45 total. It will get easier with reinforcements arriving in waves I just hope the team still has something to play for by the end of this stretch.

Enough longview, let’s focus on today. The team goes back on the road for a weekday series in Baltimore. The Orioles lead the division, and have the second best record in the game. They’ve got the best manager, a fearsome lineup that can really pick it in the field, and enough good bullpen arms to make life difficult on the competition. All of those things allow them to over-perform in leverage as they’re 5-1 in one-run games. In fact, their pythagorean record is a mere 9-8, while the Rays go the other way to a lesser extent at 11-9. Let’s start with those pitchers:

As a team, the Orioles rank in the middle of the pack with better contact management than strikeout-to-walk prowess. The Rays walk a few more and strikeout a few less on a rate basis, but their contact management hasn’t been much worse than Baltimore. Still, in the aggregate I’ve got the Orioles being around eight runs better so far.

Focusing on the contact management you can see the O’s being a little unfortunate on balls in play, but it’s pretty close to expectations. Brad Brach has stepped up for the injured Zach Britton to provide a lockdown option in high leverage, though he also has been incredibly fortunate so far. I see four starters getting regular work and then a mass of everyone else between 15 and 20 balls in play. Must be nice to have three full extra days off to this point, which has allowed the team to cobble together a fifth starter that allows all of the other fifth starters to stay a little more rested. Facing Ubaldo, Miley and Bundy will test the team’s ability to be patient. All three have managed contact well, and two of the three are also running good strikeout-to-walk ratios. The other guy is Ubaldo, and you know all about him.

You can see how that floats their lines once we include non-balls in play. Bundy goes from nullifying hard contact to the 13th best pitcher in the game once we include his marvelous 5:1 ratio. As much as he is the enemy it is good to see someone that has been touted for so long, and has had such a difficult climb start to dominate at the highest level. Miley, too, has been a top-50 pitcher with oodles of strikeouts to offset a highish walk rate. You can also see just how filthy Brach has been, though some of the other mainstays are doing a bit worse than you would think. Britton has been hurt, O’Day hasn’t been himself, Givens has been hit hard. Several of these guys profile as swingmen meaning someone like Vidal Nuno or Alec Asher could see bridgework in the bullpen where they should profile as pretty tough.

Switching over to the hitters you can see that the Rays are still pretty close to the bottom. They hit the ball hard, as hard as the Orioles, in fact, but they just strikeout so damn much that a lot of the ball in play success never gets a chance to shine. The walks help, but walks ain’t hits. The Orioles have had similar expected success on balls in play, but they’re also putting more in play due to their 6.5% walk rate (8.8% for Rays) and 22.8% strikeout rate (26.9% for league lagging Rays). If two teams run the same success rate on balls in play, but one has drastically more balls in play, relatively, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when the team with more opportunities is having more success.

Starting with just those events you can see that Trey Maninci is a masher of baseballs. He is joined atop the leaderboard by Chris Davis. He’s basically Chris Davis, is what I’m saying. That’s bad for other teams. Both guys have seen actual results nearly identical to expectations, too. Oh and they still have Manny Machado, who hasdramatically under-performed to this point. They’ve got some holes in Caleb Joseph, Hyun Soo Kim, Craig Gentry and J.J. Hardy, but all of those guys provide value with their gloves and/or can be easily platooned to hide weaknesses.

Bringing in the non-balls in play side you can see just how tough this lineup can be. Their worst hitter still presumably brings a well above average glove at the most infield position, though the same can’t be said of Mark Trumbo. Their best hitter does everything well including spiking midgets. Their lineup is fraught with perils, though the glove-first holes used to also be able to hit a little. They also feature some balance as Davis, Smith and Kim are very good against righties, while struggling with lefties. Something the Rays don’t have any of after Blake Snell, though I’ve pounded for months now that Danny Farquhar is only a righty on the baseball card. This is a lineup that will need to be handled carefully. I get the sense that they’re being aggressive early in the count so it might make some sense to pitch these guys backward first time through before establishing the fastball in the middle innings. They’re not going to walk you to death, and they’re not going to run you to death if they get on, so it might be acceptable to nibble a little bit more than normal, too.

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