Reliving the 2017 Season: Baltimore Orioles Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: Baltimore Orioles Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT

For several years the Baltimore Orioles have overachieved in the face of mediocre, at best, expectations from pundits and projections, alike. Buck’s boys had become known for an offense-first approach that hoped for anything from the starter, but was perfectly fine letting a perennially devastating pen match up in crunch time. This season saw the offense fall well short of what this type of approach calls for. You can see that the first half of the season saw stagnant productivity from the offensive engine, though there was a time toward the end of the year where the team made a real run showing solid, sustained production, and even seeing actual results well eclipse the strong expectations. Then things cratered to end the year.

The strong stretch was nice to see, and it came about at the same time that the team was pitching as well as they would all year. Fans were probably pretty excited to see the team running so well, but the rest of the year happened, too. You can see how bad the pitchers were for the first half of the year. The gap between offense created and allowed during that first half proved to be too deep of a hole to claw back out of, though it is interesting to see the pitching start to sort itself out by the end of the year. While the Orioles had a good run, this looks like kind of a lost season due to just not quite having enough.

The first thing to notice is that the offense was essentially league average being around five runs worse. Not what you probably expect from a team packed with so many good hitters, but the park goes a long way in helping them look good. The next most interesting thing is the K-BB% contrast between their pitchers and hitters. The bats don’t mind striking out, and they don’t really care if they walk, either, while the pitchers were worse than average in both. It’s an enormous advantage for the opposition to have so many free baserunners getting moved around by productive outs and hits, alike. In fact, the team hit the ball as hard as they allowed it, in actuality, with expected production looking fairly similar both ways. This means that almost nearly all of the 72 run gap between offense provided and allowed is due to these non-ball in play events. That seems absolutely massive.

The Orioles boasted a fine collection of better than average hitters that also saw plenty of opportunity, but a handful of players cut into the good production considerably. Manny Machado remains one of the best hitters in the game providing loads of pop without having to carry a dramatic strikeout rate to get there. Seth Smith continues to serve as one of the better platoon bats in the game, and he was joined by ascendant rookie Trey Mancini this year, as well. Welington Castillo remains one of the better hitting catchers in the game, while Chris Davis was fine, but nowhere near the large presence he has been in past years. Jonathan Schoop and Tim Beckham combined to give the team one of the more productive middle infields in the game. However, outside of Machado, virtually all of these guys are average, at best, with the glove. It is good to build around offense, but you have to wonder how much going bat-first hurts the team in the aggregate.

Some of those glove-first guys like Joey Rickard or J.J. Hardy or Caleb Joseph can solve that issue, but their bats are very tough to carry. Trumbo was the worst of both worlds as a poor defender that also cost the team close to 14 runs at the plate compared to an average hitter. Baltimore has done well to isolate players that fill a role, but they could stand to have singular players capable of doing both rather than riding this glove-bat platoon that ensures a weakness at nearly all times.

With only one more year of team control the Orioles face an impossible decision of what to do with their All Star third baseman. You can see in the table above that he significantly underperformed expectations on his balls in play, while still boasting fine strikeout and walk rates. A lot of his shortfall came at the very early part of the season, but there is also residue throughout the year before another sizeable gap at the end. The early slump stands out as an outlier, and perhaps an indicator that he was playing at less than full strength. He was able to slowly and steadily dig out from the depths with his peak later in the year placing him amongst the very best hitters in the game. Doing that all year would ensure a massive contract once he reaches free agency, but it remains to be seen if he can hit at that type of level over the course of a long season.

Unlike Machado, Mancini showed a little bit of overperformance on his balls in play with the bulk of this discrepancy coming over the first third of the season. This coincides with his best actual production so I think it makes sense to deflate some of that great start to focus more on the expectations. He showed as an average or better hitter for nearly the entire year. Most rookies would be very happy to post this sort of line, but it will be interesting to see if there is another gear or if he settles in as a little better than average while approaching that with the glove in an outfield corner. This isn’t a sexy profile, but steady production is nice to see. I think there is the chance for price inflation here from folks that expect him to take another step forward, but I would price him more at this level.

Jonathan Schoop overperformed about as much as Machado went the other way. You can see that this was mostly an all year thing with elevated actual results compared to what should have been expected. The peaks are strong, especially so for a second baseman, and even during the slumps he approaches average, but I fear that we have now seen the best of Schoop. I would expect him to be around average going forward, but after what many will see as a breakout year I think the price will be more than I would be willing to pay. Power from this position is nice to see, and fantasy cares not for park factors, but I don’t see much opportunity for surplus value here.

To say Baltimore couldn’t pitch in 2017 contains some merit, but it also overlooks just how incredible their bullpen performed. Yes, the starters were nearly universally atrocious. Dylan Bundy provided the services of a nearly average starter, but after that you have some of the worst performances of the year. Chris Tillman battled injury to be the worst starter thus reviewed, while Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez turned a ton of opportunity into moans and groans for the home fans. Kevin Gausman shows up around 13 runs worse than average here, but you will see that it wasn’t all bad below.

Throughout his illustrious career Buck Showalter has shown a deft hand when it comes to amassing and utilizing a well-stocked bullpen. Many griped about the contract that was given to Darren O’Day coming into the season, but he was electric, and necessary considering the unknown contributions that would come from a hampered Zach Britton. Mychal Givens and Brad Brach were rode hard giving solid performances, while relative newcomer Richard Bleier, not Belzer of Homicide fame, gave them the stout lefty they needed. While the pen was solid, it is just so hard to cover for this bad of starting pitching that it is hard to see the Orioles not shoring up the weakness. Doing so, even a little, would help the team tremendously going forward.

As mentioned previously, Dylan Bundy was essentially a league average pitcher this year, but you can see just how lumpy his path was to get there. He showed massive overperformance out of the gate before observations and theory mostly walked hand in hand the rest of the way. That first half of the season was nothing to write home about as he was mostly worse than average, but the end of the season has to give hope to those that have followed this young man for what seems like ages. During that close to the season he was everything that you could hope for from a starter giving solid performance. Many folks like to deflate end of year performance, but with a pitcher like Bundy who has such a track record of shortened seasons it must bring some solace to see him not only cross the finish line, but to do so at a full sprint.

Similar to Bundy, Kevin Gausman had something of a tale of two seasons. He was unusable early in the season, but made some adjustments to become something like a fine mid-rotation starter over the second half. There were still some blips showing that he may have a tendency to get blown up, but focusing on the good shows us that there was quite a bit to enjoy. Also like Bundy, you can see the strong finish to the season, as well. Gausman’s potential has been quite lustful, but the results have been a total enigma. Building off of this type of second half could start to sate the thirst of those that have bought on him in the past, and while those folks may be turned off forever it could lead to a buying opportunity for those still willing to take on the risk.

While a bit unheralded, Mychal Givens just put up his second straight incredibly productive year. The team uses him a ton, and he mostly showed incredible performance outside of a bit of a slow start. You can see him worsening as the year went on, which has to be chalked up to his workload, but this is what a relief ace looks like. Building from the top down would help ease some of the concerns about using him so much, and could allow for Givens to be one of the best relievers in the game next year.

Leaderboards

There is now a third of the league on these leaderboards, which should be helpful in gaining context into what a good or bad performance looks like. Below you will find the top and bottom-20 hitters and pitchers, team aggregated lines, and team xwRAA totals.



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