So with 89, 92, and 102 wins, we have quite a bit of difference from my early season projection of 68 wins. To be clear...there is no way I can see this team as anything much less than 75 wins. I think the two big keys this year the rest of the way are that the peripherals look decent for many of the players and the upper minors are not completely devoid of talent. Mind you, the upper minors do not have great talent, but it is talent that you can use in a pinch. That really has not been the case for the Orioles for a long while. It is good to have a guy like Chris Tillman as a 6th, 7th, or 8th option in your rotation as opposed to being your third or fourth guy. It is also good to have someone like Brad Bergesen as DFA fodder as opposed to being in your starting rotation. We can certainly disagree with some of these moves, but I think we have to recognize that there is a higher and broader base level of talent sitting at Norfolk buffering real star talent lower in Bowie and Delmarva.
That said, I am also a great believer in regression to the mean. I have yet to feel comfortable with a reassessment of my season projection, so my current projections are simply the current record with a projected .420 winning percentage on the rest of the season. That brings my projection to 77 wins. Honestly, that is a pretty exciting season in and of itself. Sometime Camden Depot writer Daniel Moroz tried to address where this season will be heading on his own site, Camden Crazies. Looking at how performance has related to underlying statistics, he came up with a rough estimate that the Orioles are about 6 games over their heads at the moment. That would lead to an expectation of something like 86, 89 or 99 final wins roughly when you prorate that.
Again, the assumption here is that there is a set talent level associated with runs or wins and that this talent level remains continuous (e.g., injuries do not drastically affect performance, strength of schedule).
This makes me wonder about 2005. It was a season where the Orioles geared up by trading for Sammy Sosa to shore up right field and banking on further production and growth from their existing roster. Javy Lopez had a great first season with the Orioles in 2004. Rafael Palmeiro produced slightly below league average. Tejada and Mora could be argued as the best SS and 3B combo in baseball. David Newhan broke out big in 95 games as a super utility guy slashing 311/361/453. Rodrigo Lopez was very good and the trio of Ponson, Cabrera, and Bedard flashed plus pitching from time to time. Jorge Julio, BJ Ryan, and John Parrish also made for a formidable bullpen. Additionally, the Orioles had John Maine and Hayden Penn mulling around in the minors, waiting for their chance. Now, the expectations were not incredibly high, but there was a good deal of hope for this team.
How did the team look at the end of May? In terms of pythagorean, fWAR, and win marks...the expectation could have been for final season win tally projections of 95, 106, and 98 wins, respectively. At the end of May, the Orioles sat with an offensive fWAR of 10.7 and a pitching fWAR of 7.5. Those would be on pace for finals of 34 and 23.8, respectively.
These nine players were the primary starting nine. If you believe in the performance to date for these guys, it would seem quite natural that this 2005 team would make the playoffs. You have Brian Roberts on pace to produce one of the greatest seasons ever. Tejada and Mora provide two additional star quality players. Lopez, Gibbons, and Matos contribute as solid average performers. Bigbie is a guy you can rotate out or trade for a better piece. Raffy and Sosa are detriments to the team whose experience and contracts prevent replacement. Roberts' performance will easily cover them. If the pace would have held out, with all of these guys players, and replacement players contributing 0 fWAR, this would be a 30.9 fWAR offense. That would have put them second in the AL behind the Indians and in front of the Red Sox.
Instead, the team wound up with 20.3 fWAR from this group. Roberts could not sustain hitting one out of every four fly balls out of the yard and suffered an injury toward the end of the season. That cut 6 wins off the pace. Simply looking at BABIP, Roberts (.392), Tejada (.358), and Mora (.347) ranging about .046 to .081 over their career average BABIP. That should have looked ripe for a regression. Everyone else was within .030 of their career rates. The offense should have simply looked like it was subsisting on three guys who may be a little lucky. Introduce, regression, injuries, and positive drug tests . . . the team collapses to an average offense over the course of the season and a poor one after May. After putting up 10.7 fWAR in the first two months of the season, the Orioles accrued 9.3 over the final four months. The meme is that what killed the Orioles that year was the pitching falling apart, but the change in fortune (i.e., lost wins) was about 60/40 on the shoulders of the offense.
In part 2, I will take a look at the 2012 Orioles offense, which will probably be rather redundant with Daniel's analysis...who knows?