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Scouting the AL East: Baltimore Orioles ZiPS Projections

In the perenially stacked AL East, can the Orioles rebound from a last place finish to return to the playoffs again?

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Even with what seems like half the league left unsigned, the 2018 season really is starting to draw close. It’s projection season in earnest, with the PECOTA projections having been released and with all of Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections also available to the public. We’ve gone over the projections of the Yankeesother three division rivals, leaving only the Orioles.

The Orioles made the playoffs three times from 2012 to 2016 but fell to last place in the AL East last year at 75-87 in 2017. With superstar third baseman Manny Machado on the precipice of free agency, the Orioles very well may have one last chance with their current core. That being said, the team has been awfully quiet all offseason.

Will they be able to mount one last run, or has Baltimore’s window officially closed? Let’s take a look at what ZiPS has to say:

On paper, the Orioles’ position player core looks fine. That’s mostly due to one player, though. Machado is the belle of the ball here, elevating an otherwise middling supporting cast. Machado is coming off the worst year of his career after logging under 3 WAR, but ZiPS projects him to bounce right back to a 115 wRC+ and about 5 WAR.

The O’s have a few interesting post-breakout hitters to keep an eye on in Trey Mancini, Tim Beckham, and Jonathan Schoop. Each recorded a career high wRC+ figure in 2017, with Mancini at 121, Beckham at 109, and Schoop at 121.

ZiPS mostly expects that group to split the difference in 2018, projecting each to give back some of their gains from last year. Mancini (107 wRC+) and Schoop (104) both still project as above average hitters, but ZiPS views Beckham (93) as the biggest regression candidate. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as Beckham transformed into a totally different player after being traded midseason, shaking off years of injuries and ineffectiveness in the minors and majors to post his best year.

The highest profile members of the core of Baltimore’s playoff teams, outside of Machado, were Adam Jones and Chris Davis. Jones, also in his walk year, would appear to still have some value, though his 98 wRC+ and roughly 2-WAR projection are somewhat underwhelming. Davis is just two years into a seven-year contract that guaranteed him over $160 million, and his value his clearly waning. ZiPS forecasts a 102 wRC+, a poor figure for a first baseman, especially one with a solid pedigree like Davis.

While Baltimore’s offense looks like it can pull its weight, the starting rotation looks downright hideous. At the front, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy at least have evident talents. Gausman regressed last year after a strong 2016, but ZiPS forecasts a decent bounce back to a 101 ERA+ and 2.6 WAR. Bundy receives a nearly identical projection of a 104 ERA+ and 2.5 WAR.

Bundy and Gausman would fit nicely as mid-rotation starters with upside in a good rotation. Unfortunately for the Orioles, they are easily the best starters on the team. Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro, and Alec Asher, the three pitchers currently slated to fill the back three spots of Baltimore’s rotation, combine to project for a paltry 0.3 WAR.

The best projections that ZiPS tenders to 2017 Orioles starters are for Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez, none of whom are currently members of the Orioles, and none of whom project for greater than 1.0 WAR. Even if the Orioles made the necessary outlay, far from a certainty, to get the band back together from last year, their rotation in all likelihood would still profile as among the league’s worst.

The bullpen at least looks strong. Baltimore’s relief corps has been one of the most important aspects of their recent run of success, and if they are to succeed this year, they will need their relievers to cover for the weakness of their starters. Zach Britton is the star of the group, but he will miss a chunk of the season with an achilles injury. Nonetheless, he projects for a stellar 148 ERA+.

Darren O’Day (137 ERA+), Mychal Givens (132), and Brad Brach (129) all look more than capable of picking up the slack if Britton misses extended time. Donnie Hart (108) also appears able enough to provide serviceable innings out of the bullpen. Without Britton, the Orioles should still have a fine bullpen. With him, it profiles as their one true strength.

Without a semblance of a competent rotation, it remains to be seen just how many leads that potentially formidable bullpen will have to protect. The Orioles still have talent on the position player side, but the team will be in dire straits if Machado suffers another down year on his way out. There’s still a path to success for the Orioles here, if Machado bounces back and if they can unearth another starter or two to complement Bundy, Gausman, and the bullpen. In an AL East that features the Yankees and Red Sox at the top, though, the Orioles’ one last ride with Machado, Britton and Co. may be a short one.