17 October 2014

It Wasn't Bad Luck That Ended the Orioles' Season

One team’s magical season had to end, and unfortunately for the Baltimore Orioles, it was theirs.  After sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series, they ran into the buzz saw that is the Kansas City Royals, who became the first playoff team ever to win their first 8 games in a postseason.  It’s a particularly difficult series loss, considering that each game was decided by 2 runs or fewer, with Games 1 and 2 tied at the start of the 9th inning or later.  One break here, or another break there, and this series (at the very least) is still being played.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.

You could spend a lot of time talking about how the Royals were lucky and the Orioles were not.  In a series where the final outcome was lopsided but each game was close, a luck-based argument could reasonably be assumed, even if you only saw the box scores.  And luck arguably did play a factor in the outcome.  It was reflected in not only each team’s BABIP (Royals with .324 compared to the Orioles at .259), but also in the way the Royals scored some of their runs (for example, Alex Gordon’s bases loaded broken bat double in Game 1 or scoring 2 runs without hitting the ball out of the infield in Game 4).  However, it’s difficult to claim that the Royals were that much luckier than Baltimore. Kansas City certainly had missed opportunities of their own.  So while they did score 2 more runs with 2 outs than the Orioles, they actually left 2 more men on base (31 to 29) and hit only .182 with runners in scoring position (for the sake of comparison, the Orioles hit .346 with RISP during the ALCS).

No, luck wasn’t the deciding factor in the outcome of this series.  The Orioles did plenty on their own to seal their fate.  The vaunted Baltimore offense, which finished the regular season as the 6th best in all of baseball (according to wOBA and wRC+) went quiet, hitting just .217/.283/.297, with only 2 home runs.  On the other hand, the Royals (arguably the worst offensive team to make the playoffs) soundly outhit the Orioles, with a .280/.362/.417 triple slash line.  The potency of the Baltimore offense was their power, and with a team slugging percentage of .297, that power was noticeably absent in the ALCS.  You can probably attribute some of that to luck, but it can also be the result of pitching and defense.

Speaking of defense, you have to give credit where credit is due.  The defense of the Kansas City Royals during this series was phenomenal.  It was some of the best defense I think I’ve ever seen over an entire 4 game stretch.  Whether it was the Gordon/Lorenzo Cain/Nori Aoki/Jarrod Dyson outfield combination (that seemingly didn’t let a fly ball or line drive hit the ground all series), the dramatic catches of Mike Moustakas, the difficult plays made to look routine by Alcides Escobar, or the pitch framing of Salvador Perez behind the plate, the Royals defense dominated the series, and helped make the Kansas City pitching staff look much better than they were.

Not that the pitching was necessarily bad.  Prior to the ALCS, the pitching generally was considered to be evenly matched, with Kansas City potentially holding a slight edge. Although some of the individual performances were somewhat surprising, as a unit, each starting pitching staff performed about as well as expected.  Since the score of each game was tied or within one run when the starters left, the bullpens played an integral role throughout the series.  Here’s how each bullpen performed.

While the Orioles bullpen pitched well, it’s clear that the Royals bullpen pitched better.  Luck isn’t to blame for the Gordon and Moustakas home runs in Game 1.  It’s also not the entire reason Kansas City took the lead late in Game 2.  In the end, the Baltimore hitters weren’t able to muster up any offense against the Kansas City bullpen.  There’s no reason to feel bad about this.  The Royals had the best bullpen in baseball, so essentially every team struggled to score runs against them, unless they managed got some help.

Luck may have played a small role in the outcome of the ALCS, but it wasn’t the reason Baltimore lost.  The bottom line is the Orioles were outplayed in every aspect of the game.  Granted, they weren’t outplayed by much, but in a game where one inch can make a big difference, sometimes that’s all you need.  The pitching, hitting, baserunning, and defense of the Kansas City Royals were just a little bit better than that of the Baltimore Orioles, and that’s ok.  It happens sometimes.  As Matt pointed out yesterday, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of positives to take away from the 2014 season.  You can be disappointed that the Orioles lost the ALCS, but you can’t say that 2014 was a disappointing season.


claudecat said...

Nice work! Couldn't agree more. So tired of reading things like "those punks were lucky" or "the better team didn't win". The Royals earned the AL Championship, plain and simple. What is it about Baltimore sports fans, or maybe it's sports fans as a whole, that causes this lack of respect? It's just as annoying and unsportsmanlike as any of the perceived "arrogance" on KC's part. We had a great great year, better than anyone expected. Savor that, and deal with losing in a classy way. This O's fan will be rooting hard for the Royals in the Series.

Anonymous said...

Buck got his ass kicked by Yost - they got outmanaged! That should have also been a focal point in this story too.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

How did Showalter get outmanaged?

Nate Delong said...

I'm not so sure that Showalter was outmanaged. He may have made some questionable (but not necessrily wrong) moves (or non-moves), but so did Yost.

Manager decisions (I'm mostly referring to bad ones by Yost) didn't decide this series, mainly because the Orioles didn't do enough to disrupt KC's preferred script to winning, which was to get a lead and let bullpen do the rest. Yost didnt have too many difficult decisions to make.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Royals had better relief pitching and more timely hitting. The O's, for the better part of the last 3 months, really did not have much offense. The reason they were about 30 games over 0.500 since the all star break was because the starting pitching was phenomenal, which was rather surprising (along with the expected strong relief pitching that we had most of the year). The runs scored were never that high this year and really were low against the Royals the last 2 games, and the starting pitching and relief pitching were not good the first 2 games. Nonetheless, I see the Orioles going in the right direction and ahead of schedule. They really need a leadoff hitter (maybe a 2nd baseman) who can steal and put pressure on the pitchers and defense (like the Royals showed they effectively could).

Philip said...

I'd like to know how Buck was "outmanaged"?
He actually did everything right except that he shouldnt have played Hundley at all(unless Tillman just insisted on him) and he should have made some pitching changes a batter sooner than he did.
but those are minor.
God knows he effectively dealt with the base stealers, despite Hundley's weak arm.
Ned Yost is such a bad manager, the Royals fans coined a verb,"Yosted" to refer to a really dumb decision that has bad consequences.
Folks may question a move by Buck here and there, but no one ever refers to the Orioles being "Bucked" when we lose.
The Royals won, and they deserved to, but not because of Ned Yost.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20... but if one really wants to nit-pick, here are a few adjustments that Buck could have done in the ALCS:

1. Starting Gonzalez (who was the best pitcher on the team after the All-Star Game) and Gausman for Games 1 and 2 would have helped immensely. In fact, this change alone might be enough to flip the first two games in the Orioles' favor.

2. As Philip has said, starting Hundley was probably a bad idea when the starter isn't Tillman.

3. Jones and Pearce were on a mini-cold streak once the postseason started. Surely benching either in Game 3 or pinch-hitting for them later in the game couldn't hurt?

4. O'Day was on a cold streak near the end of the regular season and probably should have been kept out of the high-leverage situations in Games 1 & 2.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Those are pretty minor gripes.

Nate Delong said...

Anon - also think those are minor gripes. plus benching or pinch hitting for Jones or Pearce would not be a good idea. If you're going to lose, you want to lose with your best players playing. The Dodgers benched Puig in their final game and I didn't know anyone who thought that was a good idea.

Anonymous said...

The better team won. No problem with that.

These are some brief observations. Should Nick Markasis have been sent on N Cruz single in the eighth from second? Why didnt Markasis get better secondary leads. KC would have tried. This is one of Nick's limitations and we should think long on this before trying to resign.

Buck didnt show quite the imagination I would have liked with A Miller pitching low pitch count innings. Send him out for another inning. This is where Yost showed imagination by using Herrara and Davis in multiple innings, no doubt helped by the rain delay. This didnt change the series but showed you can change the formula.

Pierce was exposed in the series. Just a fact, nothing could have been done about it.

The O's will need to look for bullpen adds. Miller would be great but the Dodgers will sign him to some ridiculous contract. Matusz could be non tendered as he looked a lot like Troy Patton and that isnt a complement.

If Chris Davis felt he needed an edge you have to wonder if he can really help this club next year. Quite frankly, I would let him go. If I got a fair offer for Wieters I would trade him. Boras will not let them sign so why not move on since we already did to some degree. That is assuming the O's can put the funds to good use else where (Adam Laroche?). Pierce and Laroche could make for a very effective combination 1B/DH.

Enough for now.

Vil Blekaitis said...


Team defense isn't bad luck. Neither is having the best bullpen in the game.

The Orioles won all year because of team defense and having a good bullpen which protected our starters--it kept their ours starters arms fresh and gave us the luxury of not asking the SPs to go through the lineup 3 or more times very often.

The Royals are even better at team defense--#1 in baseball--and their bullpen does exactly the same thing for their starters, only better.

We did hit more HRs than they did during the regular season, but when you subtract the HR totals of Davis, Machado and Wieters, you're talking about approximately 20% of those HRs being absent in the playoffs.
That makes the accomplishments of the team even more remarkable.

Lost Rat said...

What I took away from this season was that I got to watch my team, which was picked to finish dead last in the east and given only a 16% chance to make the postseason in any form, win its division by 12 games and get all the way the the ALCS.

Awesome year, exciting postseason. Asking for more would be folly.

And no.. not outmanaged. Calling it luck would be dismissive to the Royals, I'd ring it up to excellent bullpen work, great defense and timely hitting.

All that said.. frankly I'm rooting for the Giants in the series. Just because I don't think the Royals got "lucky" doesn't mean I have to like them.