07 October 2016

Who Were The Five Biggest Surprises For The Orioles In 2016?

For the most part, the Orioles did what you expected this past season. The lineup hit a ton of home runs. The starting rotation wasn't good, but it did enough to enable the Orioles to make the playoffs. And the bullpen was excellent. But every season has its share of surprises, and these were the five biggest ones for the 2016 season.

Mark Trumbo

The Orioles didn't bring Trumbo aboard to steal a bunch of bases or transform into a useful defensive outfielder. He was added because of his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And he did that -- 47 times, to be exact. That was four more times than the next closest player (Nelson Cruz, of course). Trumbo continued the run of O's players leading the majors in home runs. The last time that didn't happen was in 2012, when Miguel Cabrera finished with 44 taters.

The Orioles essentially picked Trumbo up in a salary dump, and he rewarded them by matching his best offensive season in 2012 (123 wRC+ this year, and a 124 wRC+ in 2012). Not bad. He also excelled primarily versus right-handed pitching, which was particularly odd, but definitely welcome.

Hyun Soo Kim

We've been over this, but a quick recap: Buck Showalter didn't want Kim on the major league roster to start the year. The Orioles explored getting rid of him before the season even started.  He was booed on opening day. Kim barely played in March and April. But whenever Kim played, he hit, forcing his way onto the lineup card. His .382 on-base percentage was the best among O's regulars by nearly 40 points. His 119 wRC+ was second best on the team behind Manny Machado and Trumbo.

His wins above replacement numbers (0.9 on FanGraphs and 0.6 on Baseball-Reference) don't look great, mostly held down by his ugly advanced defensive metrics in left field. I wouldn't try to tell you that Kim is a good outfielder, but I don't think he's 13 runs below average (according to Defensive Runs Saved data). Even still, Kim is under contract for one more year at around $4 million, and that deal is easily one of the best Dan Duquette has ever made.

Brad Brach

Did you see Brach's season coming? I didn't. There were signs that Brach was going to be good; his 2015 was certainly more than many fans anticipated. And yet, he took another step forward this season. After posting a 2.72 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 2015, Brach improved with a 2.05 ERA and 2.92 FIP this year. He saw a slight uptick in strikeouts while also cutting his walks by about 1.5 per nine innings.

Did Brach wear down in the second half? Maybe. A .211 BABIP in the first half of the season, followed by a .346, might do a better job of explaining some of his second-half struggles, especially since his strikeout and walk numbers were about the same. Still, Brach stepped up in a major way while Darren O'Day missed a chunk of the year battling injuries, and he even made the all-star team. It's hard to ask for much more than that from someone who was acquired for then-minor leaguer Devin Jones.

Dylan Bundy

Any rational O's fan only wanted to see one thing from Bundy in 2016: him escape the season without injury. But not only did Bundy do that, but he started 14 games in the second half and finished the year with almost 110 innings pitched. Before the year, Showalter said the O's wanted to get between 60-75 innings out of Bundy. Mission accomplished, and then some.

As a starter, Bundy posted a 4.52 ERA and sometimes struggled to get through the fifth inning. Nothing about that is surprising, though, and those are actually encouraging numbers for someone many weren't sure would ever throw a meaningful pitch in the majors again. You can't be too sure how long Bundy is ever going to stay healthy, but for now he's fine, and it's at least moderately exciting that he's exploring adding the cutter back to his pitch arsenal.

Caleb Joseph

There are a few other players you could easily include here, but I went with Joseph, who was maybe the O's worst player even when factoring in his limited playing time. Joseph finished the year with a fWAR of -0.9, edging out Joey Rickard (-0.7) for worst on the team. He didn't hit at all, ending the year with a wRC+ of 6 and without a driving in a run in 141 plate appearances.

I don't think anyone expected Joseph to be any kind of force with the bat, and anything around his earlier numbers from 2014 or 2015 would certainly have been accepted. Now, with the strong possibility of Matt Wieters leaving via free agency, Joseph, even with his framing skills and strong arm, is no longer the sure thing to receive a majority of the work behind the plate. The O's could bite the bullet and bring Wieters back on a multi-year deal, or they could look outside the organization for another catcher (Jon has been talking about the possible fit of Jason Castro for much of the season). But the sunny outlook for Joseph is mostly gone.

Honorable mentions: Joey Rickard, Donnie Hart, Trey Mancini, Michael Bourn


Pip said...

Doesn't Joseph's defense compensate for his awful bat? He still had 2.4 Dwar( or something close) and catcher is a defense-first position anyway. Bringing back Hundley, as some have suggested, would be hugely foolish.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yes, it's defense first, but having an absolute zero at catcher matters. I don't think there's any way Joseph is THAT bad again, but even something close is worth worrying about. He's a good pitch framer, but not one of the very best in the game. He'll surely break camp with the team, but I'm not sure we an pencil him in for regular work.

Roger said...

Surprises, huh? I'm not sure you picked the biggest ones. Based upon discussions here at the Depot, I'd have to rank Chris Tillman as a big surprise. He was even on the edge of Cy discussion before his injury. We expected Trumbo to hit HRs just maybe not that many.
The biggest surprise with Trumbo was how many line drives he hit to RF in the 1st half. Wish it had continued in the 2nd half. Brach, too, was expected to do well just not that well. Bundy and Kim fall more into the category of "blessed relief". We all thought we knew they could perform as they did and hoped they would but had no confidence. I see Caleb as the biggest surprise. He may have had some regression coming from losing playing time but nobody expected that poor a hitting performance. His injury must still be affecting him - has to be. Gallardo had to be a surprise, too, in that there was nothing in his record pointing to as bad a performance as he had for the season. We didn't expect too much performance but we certainly got less. Also, Hart should be higher on the list. Granted he was only a LOOGY but he sure was a good one. I wonder how many more games the O's would have won if you subtracted Matusz at the beginning of the season and had Hart from April. And, even as much as his minor league record gave us hope, no one expected Mancini to respond so well during his "tryout". O'Day's injury was a big surprise too. Seems to me like Tillman, Gallardo, Joseph, Bundy, and Kim would be my biggest surprises. Followed by O'Day, Trumbo, Hart, Bourn, Mancini.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think you're nitpicking, but that's fine. Tillman had shown before he had this kind of performance in him, but it was about putting it all together. No one thought Trumbo would lead the American League in home runs. Relief or not, Bundy and Kim were certainly surprises. Brach being an all-star was definitely a surprise. Gallardo being THAT bad? OK, fair enough. Also, that's fair about Hart; he would have been No. 6.

Pip said...

Roger, Gallardo's Stats gave every indication he would be as bad as he indeed was. They were all declining, and didn't stop.
And the medical issue that led to a 2 instead of a three-year deal made his acquisition all the more inexcusable.

Roger said...

Matt K, true I did realize I was nitpicking but you didn't mention Tillman. Considering it was starting pitching that was the only reason the O's were picked last in the AL East and Tillman was not expected to be much better than last year even though he had shown it before. I was watching one around mid-August when Tillman was 15-4 and they said the O's were like 20-4 in his starts and I looked up and they were 16 games over .500 in the standings. That made me realize just how much better Tillman was doing than expected. It rated a big surprise for me. For every other pitcher except second half Bundy and Gausman, they were completely dependent upon the O's offense for wins (of the 8-7 variety).

Pip, yes, Gallardo's statistics were declining and something like 10-12 with a 4.50 ERA could be expected. However a 5.50 ERA and time on the DL this year (not in the third year of his contract) were completely unexpected developments. And, yes, the contract was inexcusable.