11 April 2016

A Closer Look At The O's Win Streak And Other 5-0 Starts To Begin The Season

The Orioles are 5-0, and that's a very good thing. That matches the 1970 Orioles' franchise mark for the best start to a season, if you care about such things. That Orioles team went 108-54 and won the World Series. So that's cool.

But these Orioles are not those Orioles, and these Orioles are not going to win 108 games. That's not a knock against them; after all, they can certainly end up having a successful season. They're 5-0, and that's better than 1-4 or 0-5, or even 2-3. I mean, that's just math.

So why are the Orioles 5-0? To start with, they've only allowed 10 runs. Seven of those runs have been allowed by O's starters (in 23 2/3 innings). The bullpen has been even better, only giving up three runs in 21 1/3 innings pitched. Diving deep into the numbers wouldn't really be useful with so few games played, but O's pitchers are getting strikeouts, not allowing a ton of baserunners, and stranding those who get on.

You don't need me to tell you that the starting rotation won't keep this kind of performance up all season, but the O's could go a long way even if they just get serviceable production from their starters. And reliever wise, with a mix of veterans and youth and short and long relief options, the O's bullpen has been dominant so far and is built to be outstanding all season long.

Offensively, Manny Machado has been fantastic and is a clear MVP candidate. Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Joey Rickard (of course), and Chris Davis have all gotten off to solid starts as well. J.J. Hardy seems fine after battling some tightness in his calf, and although Adam Jones's rib-cage injury is concerning, he should return to action soon and seems to have avoided a serious injury.

So far, the Orioles have fielded well. And as long as Hardy's healthy, the infield defense should be one of the strongest parts of the team. Rickard helps with his versatility in the outfield, and he's shifted to center field a couple times with Jones out and been fine (though he hasn't really been tested). You also know what you're getting with Trumbo's range in right field, but he hasn't done anything harmful yet.

Another, lesser (but positive) sign is that the Orioles have been taking the extra base. Manny Machado's dash home on a wild pitch in the eighth inning is a pretty good example. The Orioles don't have many fast runners or stolen base threats, but speedsters aren't the only ones who can go from first to third on a single or get an effective secondary jump. When it comes to baserunning, little things can make a difference. Trumbo, who hasn't graded well as a baserunner but has made a couple of strong reads on the basepaths early in the season, talked about that very topic. It's easy to make too big a deal of something like this, especially with so many fans excited just to have baseball back in their lives. Fans also like hustle, grit, and toughness, even when it's difficult to tell exactly when and for whom these qualities apply. Moving up an extra base here and there won't transform a poor team into a good one, but it doesn't hurt.

Clearly, there are reasons to be excited about the Orioles. They have Machado and Davis, after all, and there are several other players who are talented and interesting to watch. But let's get back to that 5-0 start and dig a little more, using data from Baseball-Reference's Play Index.

In the Integration Era (since 1947), 54 teams started out the year 5-0 or better (not counting this season). The collective records of those teams are 4,720-3,818 -- a winning percentage of around 55%. Of those 54 teams, 10 of them won the World Series (with another five making it there). And 10 ended up under .500 (with one finishing with a record of exactly .500).

It's fun to focus on those 10 World Series victors. But just last year, three teams started the year 5-0: the Braves, Tigers, and Royals. The Royals won 95 games and the World Series. Hooray for Kansas City! But the Tigers only won 74 games. The Braves were even worse, winning just 67. Winning the first five games is encouraging, but obviously it's still possible for things to go south. There's still 97 percent of the season left to go.

Enjoy the Orioles' surprising win streak, because they are playing well and it's fun. Paint your face orange. Devour an Esskay hot dog. Shout "JO-EY! JO-EY!" from the rooftops, if it makes you happy. Winning is so much better than losing. There will be plenty of time to worry later anyway.


Roger said...

Oh ye cynics of the world. Just took a look at Fangraphs estimates for the Orioles and, all of a sudden, they are projected to be a winning team instead of a losing team and 3rd in the division, one game behind the WC Yankees. I like 83-79 much better than 79-83. I also think that a breakout by Schoop (and Rickard???) plus some solid work by either Wright or Wilson (my bet is on Wilson) and continued increase in velocity from Tillman will have this team looking very good by the All Star break. Both the Twins and the Rays looked very lost against the O's.

I am really anticipating how the first road trip will go and how well the O's can do against the Red Sox, the putative favorites.

Jon Shepherd said...

Eh, it is not all of a sudden. Teams were bunched close. Orioles won about 2.5 more games than expect and other teams did not. Therefore, games get pushed a little bit.

This is all within the realm of reasonable expectations.

Roger said...

Jon, it's true and I agree with you but a little gloating over a 5-0... er... no... 6-0 start is not such a bad thing. I know there's no way to know after one week, but I do think the expectations laid out in Fangraphs for Trumbo/Alvarez/Schoop were low. I am sure the pitching will regress (Gallardo today.... OY!!), but the last 79-83 prediction at Fangraphs was not right. The Orioles are not a last place team even with the SP we have. Not to mention doubling the playoff odds (according to FG) in the first week alone.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think maybe we should just enjoy the ride for now as Matt's article noted.

Unknown said...

although undefeated, MLB power rankings has the O's at #11. I guess it looks bad if you put the #23 ranked team in 1st after the first week!

Jon Shepherd said...

I think it has more to do with talent level as I think Matt's article notes.