In the aftermath of success or failure, explanations skitter around until conventional wisdom settles on a final narrative. That narrative may be accurate, indulged, or utterly wrong. An astute observer understands this and does their best to challenge these ideas in order to bring oneself closer to whatever the truth is likely to be.
As I understand the conventional wisdom of the 2016 Orioles, I have heard these primary conclusions:
1. Starting Pitching was a train wreck.
2. Chris Davis failed in his first year on a major contract.
3. Jonathan Schoop broke out.
4. Trumbo's magnificent bat in right field saved club.
5. The Relief Corps was the heart of the club.
Out of those conclusions, some are likely to be true and others not so much.
One way we often look at value by position is to use Wins Above Average. One way to calculate that is Baseball Reference's version, which takes into account, roughly, what actually happens on the field in comparison to FanGraphs', which, again roughly, tries to figure out the underlying value of the events on the field as opposed to what actually occurred. Anyway, various perspectives look at both and have ideas about how they each handle uncertainty, but for the purposes here we are simply going to go with Baseball Reference to look through the conclusions above.
Below is a graph of Orioles Wins Above Average for American League clubs. The whiskers illustrate the entire range of performance among AL teams. This sort of illustrations does better to show actual range of performance than a metric like WAR, which assumes a certain base level of play. Year-to-year, base levels of play vary and it may be better to describe what happened last year by actually assessing what happened.
1. Starting Pitching was a Train Wreck Last Year
Well, if you remember the Zach Britton discussion about the Cy Young award, then you might remember how lackluster starting pitching was in the American League. The graph above suggests that maybe the feeling that the starting pitching was a train wreck was true in comparison to league wide performance in year's past, but not this year. The Orioles actually enjoyed the fifth best rotation in the AL, according to bWAA.
2. Chris Davis Fell Flat on his Face
First base was also a position in the AL where nothing much seemed to happen. In fact, the Chris Davis led Orioles first base situation was found to be the third best outfit in the American League.
3. Jonathan Schoop Broke Out
Schoop actually was worth a win less per average American League second baseman. His banner holding second base performance put the Orioles as having the 10th best second base crew in the American League. Out of 15 teams, that is nothing much to write home about.
4. Trumbo's Magnificent Bat
The two positions Trumbo touched most, right field and designated hitter, were pretty awful with the Orioles ranked 12th and 9th in the AL, respectively. In fact, if you combine the entire outfield performance then the Orioles ranked dead last in all of the AL. Perhaps, what is missing is just how dreadful the outfield was last year and how the club could really improve themselves by shoring themselves up there.
5. Bullpen was the Heart of the Club
Of the five main talking points emerging from the season, this is the one that actually holds water quite well. The club was pretty remarkable with bullpen performance.
Yeah, but how does overall team WAA compare to the actual club record?
The Orioles went 89-73 last year. WAA expected them to go 86-76. Considering Britton's fortune in the closer role, WAA did a decent job explaining the Orioles success.
Perhaps the actual talking points coming out of the season are that the starting pitching was average, Davis was one of the better first basemen in the league, Schoop is still full of unfulfilled promise, Trumbo's home runs hid a lot of rotten wood, and the bullpen really was quite precious.