Playing Pepper 2017: Baltimore Orioles

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Baltimore Orioles
89-73, tied for second in AL East, lost in Wild Card Game
Last year’s Pepper

As Cardinal fans, we’re kinda used to seeing a managerial decision we disagree with.  Mike Matheny does them all the time and we sometimes wish for a more experienced, more cerebral guy to be at the helm.  Then you see what Buck Showalter–one of the smartest, most experienced guys in the game–did last year in the Wild Card Game and you realize that no manager is perfect.

Shaking off not using Zach Britton in a tie game has to be difficult for Orioles fans, but they seem to have a squad that can again be in the playoff picture.  To talk about the American League orange and black, we’ve got some veterans of the Pepper series (plus a rookie in Tony Pente) to give us all the info we need.

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Domenic Vadala The Orange Crush DomenicVadala
Derek Arnold Eutaw Street Report BMoreBirdsNest
Tony Pente Orioles Hangout OriolesHangout
Jon Shepherd Camden Depot CamdenDepot

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

OC: It matters who you ask. I think they’ve done what they needed to do from an offensive perspective, although they could afford to run a higher OBP. What they need is more starting pitching. They’ll go as far as that will take them in 2017. Some people think that they should have traded power for OBP; I disagree. Winning in the AL East is all about power, and that’s where they compete.

ESR: I won’t say it was a good or bad offseason, but I’ll say that it was a very typical Dan Duquette offseason. Their big move was obviously re-signing Mark Trumbo. He comes at a fair price. Paying a guy after he has a career year is always risky, but I don’t feel they OVERpaid him, so I consider that a win. They traded Yovani Gallardo for Seth Smith, another move that I like but that doesn’t move the needle significantly. That move also looks a little more suspect now that we’re hearing about Chris Tillman‘s shoulder issues. For it to have been a “good” offseason in the eyes of many fans, it would have had to include a Manny Machado extension, which didn’t happen and seems unlikely to before he hits free agency – I very much wish they’d gotten that done. 

OH: The Orioles offseasons are rarely sexy and they usually come out of them looking a lot like the team before. Considering they have been in the playoffs three out of the last five years that might not be the worst thing. Dan Duquette’s goal was to improve the offense by adding more OBP into the lineup and improving the outfield defense. The acquisition of Seth Smith will help a little in both categories, at least against right-handers, but he doesn’t move the needle all that much. The Orioles resigned Mark Trumbo and will play him mainly at DH and signed Welington Castillo to replace Matt Wieters, which comes out to about a wash.

There was a rumor of the Orioles trading Brad Brach for Curtis Granderson. With the strength of the team in their bullpen, I would have made that trade as Granderson would have been a needed upgrade in both OBP and outfield defense. As good as Brach is, Mychal Givens is ready to take his spot and Oliver Drake and Jesus Liranzo (AA) are waiting in the wings.

CD: Dan Duquette and the Orioles get a passing grade this offseason. Nothing they did was remarkable, but they did not do anything all that catastrophic. The only real poor move they made was in choosing Welington Castillo as catcher. He is a decent hitter, but his defense is wretched. He is able to get low and frame two seamers, but clumsily stabs at pitches on the sides. Jason Castro would have made only a couple million more and would be worth perhaps two or three wins more with Caleb Joseph paired up with him. But, eh, that did not happen and, to me, that was the greatest missed opportunity.

C70: How does Zach Britton follow last season?

OC: By continuing to win, of course! Winning 47 in a row is a tough act to follow for sure – but that’s what he’ll be tasked with doing!

ESR: I think Britton will remain one of the most dominant closers in the game. He obviously won’t be perfect again, but I expect that when AC/DC starts blaring at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, O’s fans will again be able to rest easy. 

OH: When you don’t blow a save it’s hard top that season. Britton was about as good as any relief pitcher can be last season. His high 90s sinking fastball was just about unhittable and left many batters just shaking their heads as they went back into the dugouts. He’s one of the best in the business who can dominate with one pitch like Mariano Rivera did.

CD: Worse. How can it truly go any better?  He is a top five relief pitcher.  He succeeds largely by getting a great deal of movement out of his pitches.  This lets him throw only about 40% of his pitches in the strike zone as batters will swing at most any low offering.  If the club stumbles, he seems like a prime piece for the club to deal.  However, this club probably won’t stumble all that much.  I imagine any fire sale would happen after the season.

C70: What’s the general feeling about Buck Showalter?

OC: He’s taken them further than anyone else in a long time. He’s beloved in Baltimore.

ESR: Buck completely changed the culture in Baltimore, and for that, O’s fans are forever grateful. We would of course love for him to put that cherry on top of his career in Baltimore with a World Series ring, as much for him as for the team and for us fans – he deserves a championship on his resume. A small minority of fans will point to his decision to not use Britton in the Wild Card game as evidence of the “he can’t win the big one” theory. I don’t buy it. Even great managers make bad decisions. Buck is a great manager who made a bad decision. I hope he hangs around in Baltimore for the foreseeable future, and I think 90% of fans agree. 

OH: Buck is a very good manager who is great at keeping his bullpen fresh throughout the season. He’s a veteran player’s manager who sometimes rides his regulars too much and they tend to wear down by the end of the year. Last year he made one of the all-time worse managerial blunders when he did not pitch Zach Britton in the one game extra innings playoff game against the Blue Jays. Sometimes he’s a little too concerned over getting starters one more inning then they should and is a strict believer in the save rule. Saying all that, he’s an above average manager who is well liked by his team and has a deep affinity for the city of Baltimore and Baltimore Orioles history. He’s very popular among the fans.

CD: Everyone loves Showalter. Well, that is the case in the stands. I think within the organization there are more nuanced opinions of him. Showalter is a traditionalist, but has a great deal of common sense. The front office is more numbers based, but that dedication to data science appears often more as alchemy than any adherence to the scientific method. That introduces some conflict to the pairing as Buck is known to go his own way and openly defy the front office. Baltimore has a unique situation where he and Duquette have a slight power sharing relationship with both reporting to ownership.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

OC: Welington Castillo, the Orioles’ new starting catcher. He replaces longtime starter Matt Wieters, and it’ll be interesting to see how the pitching staff reacts.

ESR: Nobody immediately comes to mind, and that’s likely a problem. World Series teams have those types of guys. The Orioles have highly-paid stars, arbitration-years players who are either expected to live up to high expectations or who are already known commodities, but very few players who I am optimistic could pleasantly surprise. If I had to pick one, I’d say that Hyun-Soo Kim could have a very productive year if given a larger role. 

OH: Outfielder Joey Rickard was a rule five pick who not only made the team out of spring training last year, he was the starting left fielder for the first six weeks of the season. He ended up losing his every day job to a platoon with Hyun Soo Kim, but he slashed .313/.387/.494/.861 against lefties last year so with Kim and Smith needing to be platooned, he should get a lot of opportunities against southpaws.

CD: I would have to say it is a tossup between Caleb Joseph and Wade Miley. Joseph is a plus plus pitch framer and has a bat that should play much better than it did last year. His 0 RBI performance in 2016 led many a fan to write him off. Wade Miley is someone who peripheral metrics like a lot more than what we saw in person. Much of his poor performance seemed to be due to a momentary loss of mechanics and batters jumping successfully on those mistake pitches. Miley has the ability to be a two slot pitcher, but also has the ability to be a fringe waivers name.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

OC: I never make a prediction until just before Opening Day when the final roster is set. But they’ll be in the hunt for the postseason until the end.

ESR: Boston will win the AL East, I’m afraid. The Orioles will again be competing for a Wild Card spot though, and I think they finish second behind the Red Sox at 88-74. 

OH: All the pundits always pick the Orioles to finish 4th or last, but I see this team in the thick of it once again, especially if their two young starters in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy take another step forward. Right now I see them as an 87-90 win team and that should put them into the wild card race in the AL East. Boston remains the favorite though on paper.

CD: My 50th percentile projection probably will be around 84 or 85 wins, which would put them in a narrow pack but in second place. The Red Sox are likely five or six games ahead.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Oriole and why?

OC: I’m a child of the 1980’s, so it’s Cal Ripken Jr. Enough said!

ESR: Eddie Murray. I have great memories from the childhood years when I first fell in love with baseball of Memorial Stadium being filled with chants of EDD-IE EDD-IE. He was the one who made me challenge myself to learn how to switch hit, and every time the team needed a big hit, he came through (at least in my memory he did – don’t fact check me, nerds.) 

OH: Simple, Brooks Robinson. Not only was Brooks a life long Oriole who won two World Series, but he’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He’s the kind of guy who after five minute you feel like you’ve known him all your life and he acts like you are the most important person at the table. Add in being a Hall of Famer and Brooks is my favorite Oriole of all-time and it’s not really close.

CD: Let’s consider Orioles without their statue at the Yard. Chris Hoiles. He is probably the most underrated Oriole player in history. Hoiles was a plus defensive catcher, which was primarily due to his pitch framing. However, no one at the time seemed to realize that. Combine that with a bat that looks like an early 20s Manny Machado. Hoiles was quite remarkable. He became a regular at 26 and chronic injuries forced him out at 33. His greatest season was in 1993, when over the course of 503 PA he slashed 310/416/585 with a WAR of about 8 when you consider his framing skills. He usually sat between 370-420 PA, but brought in WARs of about 3-4. Few people knew that then and even fewer know that now. That sort of excellence toiling in obscurity makes him one of my most favorite Orioles of all time.

My thanks to everyone for letting us know what’s going on with a different type of bird.  Look forward to seeing how they tackle that tough AL East!

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Last updated: 10/06/2022