14 June 2017

What if the Orioles are Actually Terrible?

The 2017 Baltimore Orioles, after a hot start that saw them leading the division through April, have faltered. Since the beginning of May, the Orioles have gone 16-23 and fallen to third in the competitive AL East. The last month and a half of play has included separate stretches of  4 losses, 7 losses, and the active stream of 5 losses. To say that the late spring has not been kind to the Orioles is an understatement; during this stretch the team lost Manny Machado to a hand/wrist injury for a handful of games, Chris Davis was just put on the DL for an oblique strain (he missed time in 2014 for the same injury), Britton and O'Day are both on the DL, Castillo spent time on the DL nursing a groin injury, and starting pitchers not named Dylan Bundy have been downright atrocious.

All teams suffer injuries and setbacks, but the play of the Orioles has not inspired confidence in their ability to compete in spite of them. For one thing, even if the batters are healthy, it's hard to win when giving up 5 or more runs a night as the Orioles have in each of the last 9 games, matching their season average for runs against. As some have noted on Twitter (sorry if you're one of them, I can't find the tweets), the abundance of "not since before 2012" stats is a little frightening - not since before 2012 have the Orioles been a miserable, moribund franchise with so little going for it at the Major League or minor league levels.

We're deep enough into the season that we can start to look at historical performance of similar teams and see where they ended up after 162 games. To keep this apples-to-apples, and to effectively gauge how the Orioles should approach the deadline, I looked exclusively at seasons after 2012, when the second wild card was introduced. In theory, teams hovering around .500 at the deadline after 2012 would be more inclined to consider themselves in the playoff hunt and could improve through acquisitions that make them true playoff contenders (though not all do) thanks to the second wild card. With that in mind, we can come up with a reasonable expectation of the Orioles' end-of-season record regardless of deadline acquisitions.

First, I examined teams within two wins of the Orioles through 62 games from the last five years. That would create a five-game range of 29 to 33 wins; basically, teams that were .500 through a third of the season. The following chart shows the number of teams ending the season with any given number of wins:
Probably not surprisingly, teams that played .500 ball through 62 games were likely to continue to do so and end the season with a record around .500. About as many teams drastically underperformed the 81-win mark as outperformed it. This is fairly promising, considering that 87 wins were enough to punch a playoff ticket in both 2015 and 2016. Not many teams reached 87 wins after playing .500 ball through the first third of the season, but some did and that is enough to inspire hope and maybe a shopping spree before the trade deadline (or as close to a shopping spree as the Orioles get).

However, the Orioles are not an ordinary .500 team right now. As unfortunate as they have been with injuries, the Orioles have also been very fortunate in terms of outperforming their run differential. The 31-31 Baltimore Orioles have given up 43 more runs than they've scored for a Pythagorean win-loss record of 27-35. For all of their warts since 2012, this franchise has never been outscored over the course of a season. This run differential is not the mark of a good team, and the past performance of teams with similar Pythagorean records through 62 games proves it. Consider the per-game win total of teams from 2012-2016 within 2 Pythagorean wins, after 62 games have been played, of the 2017 Orioles:
You may notice immediately that the orange line representing the Orioles is substantially higher than the grey lines of teams with similar 62-game Pythagorean records. This is because the Orioles have pretty substantially outperformed their actual ability so far this season. Pythagorean record also changes by game as more runs are scored for and against. It's plausible that the active 5-game skid is weighting the Orioles' Pythagorean record down, and that they performed closer to their run differential earlier in the season.

You will also notice that very few of teams with similar Pythagorean profiles reached 80 wins to end the season. This is not surprising! Teams that consistently give up more runs than they score are, on the whole, losing teams. If the Orioles continue to play the way they are, they will be a losing team. The end-of-season win totals of teams with similar Pythagorean records inspires much less confidence:
Very few teams with similar Pythagorean profiles reached even 81 wins, and only two have topped the 87 wins that have represented the cheapest ticket to the playoffs since 2012.

If the sad state of the Orioles is to be accepted as reality for the foreseeable future - and really, why wouldn't it? - the team should accept that its window has closed on 2017 and perhaps moving forward. I run the risk of sounding like a doomsday prepper when I recommend the Orioles blow up their current roster and follow the lead of the now-successful Astros and Cubs by playing poorly enough to build through the draft, develop players in low-risk environments, and then reemerge as contenders when the pieces fall into place. In my opinion, it's far more difficult to build a .500 team into a contender due to salaries on the books, fewer positions open for new players, and middling draft positions. .500 is too good to get the best young players in the draft, but too bad to consistently make a run in the postseason.

Free agency will slowly tear this team down over the course of the next three seasons, and there's little to suggest that it's worth keeping together. Why not take the next few months to work out trades that stock the farm system and start the rebuild now while the team can? Why not put ourselves in position to build a solid contender from the ground up (if you believe that the organization can actually do that)? If the Orioles aren't going to compete in 2017, and will slowly lose the pieces they have banked on carrying them to the postseason over the next few seasons, the only reason to hold on to the most valuable pieces of the team is either sentiment or untradeable contracts. Neither have helped any team reach the World Series.


Boss61 said...

Well done and well presented. The truth sucks, which makes it no less true.

Unknown said...

Agreed. Time to start trading for the future. Who though can they trade away when the entire team is playing poorly? Seems we would be selling low.

Lincoln Steele said...

Great article. I couldn't agree more. For the first couple of losing streaks I kept optimistic about their season. Now that we have dipped below .500 it's time to be realistic. I'm not sure how they could remove Davis, but it seams there are several trading pieces (biggest of which is Machado) to beef up the farm system.

To address Corey's question - it seems like we have until the trade deadline (and even this winter) to wait for better performance from some of the players that would have gotten huge returns this past offseason (Machado, Britton, Brach). Some of the players that are under team control for a while even could make sense (like Bundy) if the return was good.

I've been a fan since the mid-90's and I don't want to do 1998-2012 again but we can do this!

Boss61 said...

My time span is a lot longer than the mid 90s but the points in the article are made with sufficient eloquence. I became a fan in the mid '60s. The first Dark Ages (roughly 1985-95) was a consequence of then-ownership getting drunk on the 1983 success of a then-aging team and trying to catch lightning in a bottle for one more run, by signing aging and overpriced free agents as opposed to rebuilding with prospects.

The Fred Lynn, Lee Lacy and Don Aase signings of that era equate to Ubaldo, Trumbo, Smith et. al. now. Adequate players generally, but on the downhill side of their careers. Not how champions are built.

Any Oriole age 30 or more, and anyone with two years or less until free agency, should be traded for the best available return even if its not more than a "bag of balls." This is precisely the successful tack of Andy MacPhail when he took over as GM and built the foundation of 2012-2016 successes.

We need an Andy approach again.

Unknown said...

I concur. Trade Manny, too, and as a precondition the other team needs to take Crush and entire salary. Trade everyone. This team stinks. Manny is not worth heir to Brooks and Cal.

Unknown said...

Don't wait another year. I see shit when I see it. Trade everybody. But most pressing of all, fire Dumpster Dan. His shenanigans are an embarrassment. Buck's shchitck is also getting old. We need a fresh approach and new blood.

Boss61 said...

Richard, you are sounding shrill. Yes, the team is flawed and this blog makes a compelling case for rebuilding time. That said, Dan and Buck have made the very most of what they have had in terms of players and resources. The failing is not management, but the law of averages. The guys have over-performed for 5 years; Buck and Dan get at least some of the credit for that (not blame). Don't blame ownership either. The law of averages has caught up to them, is all.

Unknown said...

I think Buck has made the most of what he has, but Dan is in charge of getting those players. Buck has been the McGyver of MLB managers, foiling the opposition using chewing gum, half-eaten chicken wings, and an old shoe. It may be true that DD is working under severe resource constraints, but we can't know that for sure. All we know is that his drafts have been bad, the farm system is abysmal, and DD seems no less inclined to spend his time diving in dumpsters and expecting to find caviar.

tony2302 said...

i believe most people are missing the elephant in the room so to speak trading the players to restock the farm system is a good idea, getting high draft picks is good also, BUT the scouting department and minor league development staffs need to go. look at the young pitchers who develop arm problems in this system. why? because they change the delivery and where they stand on the rubber. and i know they don't have all that great talent in the big league pitching department but can anyone truly say that Gausman could have benefited by learning to "pitch" in the minors instead of the majors?

Unknown said...

The first time I ever watched baseball was during the 1983 World Series. I would be a Phillies fan today had their uniforms been orange and black. I started at the highest peak, and it's been just pure frustration since then. I'm in my early 40's and I don't know if I'll ever get back to where I started with this franchise.

vilnius b. said...

Daren Sweeney: I thought I'd add my own comments about what a mess the organization has become under Duquette, but you expressed my sentiments exactly, so I'll button it this time.
I've said this before, but one good thing has come to pass: Rick Peterson is no longer with the Orioles organization. He's the guy who believed all pitchers should have the same mechanics and in the process he ruined the development of guys like Arrieta.
Imagine if Sale, Cueto or even Kershaw (with his unusual hitch in his delivery) had been drafted by the Orioles while he was still around.