Despite what has been a relatively lean period for the Yankees, New York has won the second-most games in the American League over the past five seasons. They rank behind only the division rival Baltimore Orioles. Typically, the Orioles have been forecasted to regress back towards the bottom of the AL East, only to continue to surprise, as they have earned three playoff appearances and won 444 games since 2012.
So, will the Orioles have to beat those pessimistic projections again? Or will the forecasts finally warm up to them? Let’s take a look at the Orioles’ ZiPS projections, courtesy of Dan Szymborski and FanGraphs:
Last season, the Orioles mashed their way to a Wild Card spot. They easily led the majors in home runs, a power output that masked the on-base deficiencies of many of their players. After re-signing slugger Mark Trumbo this week, the Orioles look poised to trot out a similar offense again in 2017.
Trumbo is unlikely to match his 47 homers from last year, but still is projected for a solid total of 32. Manny Machado and Chris Davis both are also projected to exceed 30 dingers, while Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop project to exceed 20. Baseball as a whole has seen a major increase in power lately, and that is embodied in Baltimore as well as anywhere.
Where the team struggles, seemingly, is in most other facets of the game. In spite of his enviable power, Trumbo was essentially only an average player by WAR last season, due to his deficiencies in the field, on the basepaths, and in the on-base department. Likewise, he projects for just 1.4 WAR per ZiPS. Similarly, Jones, Davis, and Schoop all project for modest WAR totals between 2 and 3. Jones and Schoop both project for OBPs near .300, while Davis provides both power and patience, but is tempered by his limited defensive value at first base.
The only Oriole that can combine an all-around offensive approach with quality defense is Machado. Machado is on a Hall of Fame track, and earns a top comp of probable future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. He projects as far above average both on offense and defense, leading to a near six-win projection.
Baltimore’s 2016 playoff appearance was a surprise in large part because it was difficult to see any team succeeding with such a poor rotation. The Orioles’ starters ran a 4.72 ERA and a 4.54 FIP last year, and glancing at their projections, it’s hard to envision those figures getting much better in 2017.
Yankee-killer Kevin Gausman leads the rotation, and he projects well, for nearly 3 WAR and a 104 ERA+. The rotation falls off from there, as Dylan Bundy is the only other potential starter to project for a better than average ERA, and Bundy’s health and role are major question marks. Chris Tillman projects for a useful 2 WAR, but Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez round out the staff with below average projections.
The saving grace of the Baltimore pitching staff looks like the bullpen. ZiPS doesn’t project super-closer Zach Britton to give up only four earned runs again, but he does project for a 2.25 ERA and nearly two wins as a reliever. Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day all also project for ERAs much better than average. If the Orioles can find their way to the postseason again, their bullpen would seem to be a formidable weapon (should manager Buck Showalter find it in himself to use it).
Top to bottom, the Orioles look like a fairly middling team with a transcendent third baseman and an uber-closer. If they can mash the way they did in 2016, the Orioles might have enough talent on hand to sneak into the playoffs yet again. The starting rotation still looks shaky, but Baltimore just proved last year that they can overcome holes in the starting staff. Regardless, the Orioles seem to have a chance to keep open the window of contention they’ve enjoyed for the past five years, and rank as another solid team with which the Yankees will have to compete next season.