While I’ve taken a look at the Yankees via seemingly every projection system known to man this winter, for a change of pace today I’m going to kick off a four-part series analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each of the Yankees’ AL East rivals.
We start out with Baltimore — arguably the most improved team in baseball, having added approximately seven projected wins since December 28, the last time SG published a set of 2011 simulated standings. Of course, as several RLYW commenters noted, adding seven wins to a projected 70-win team is quite a bit different than adding seven wins to a 90-win team, but it’s still admirable nonetheless. For what it’s worth, Keith Law apparently doesn’t think much of what the O’s have done this winter, but for as respected as his opinion is, I’m not so sure I agree with it.
When we last left the Orioles, they were in the midst of playing their most inspired baseball of the season under new skipper Buck Showalter, and prior to the sixth-and-final three-game set of the 2010 season, had recently taken two of three from the Yankees and actually came within two outs of completing the first visiting team sweep at Yankee Stadium all season, before Nick Swisher bailed the slumbering Yankee bats out.
The aforementioned final three-game set of the season featured its own set of dramatic moments, punctuated by another do-or-die home run in the ninth inning, this time off the bat of Alex Rodriguez (and once again surrendered by Koji Uehara) that proved to the game winner; a typical beast CC Sabathia performance that not only secured the first 20-win performance of Sabathia’s career, but also the Yankees’ first series victory (not to mention a game won by more than one run) in two weeks; and a rare Mariano Rivera 9th-inning meltdown that vultured the win in Andy Pettitte‘s return to the rotation and botched the series sweep.
Though the Orioles finished in last place for the third straight season (and fourth straight sub-70-win campaign), the team certainly looked revitalized after Showalter took the reins, and have had themselves quite a busy offseason. Baltimore has revamped 3/4 of its infield, bringing Derek Lee in to play first, J.J. Hardy at shortstop and the slugging Mark Reynolds to play third. They also recently gave Vladimir Guerrero $8 million to DH, moving Luke Scott back to left field. While Hardy hasn’t been overwhelmingly impressive of late, those are still four pretty serious bats, and Reynolds in particular seems like a pretty decent bet to crack the 40-homer plateau for the second time in his career playing 81 games in a stadium with a HR park factor of 126 for righthanded batters.
On the pitching side of the ledger, erstwhile ace Jeremy Guthrie may soon be deposed by ace-in-the-making Brian Matusz, who broke out last season with 2.7 FWAR over 175.2 innings, and appears to be cut from the same Yankee-killing cloth as fellow soft-tossing lefthanders Brett Cecil, Hisanori Takahashi and Dallas Braden. The Orioles also broke promising rookie Jake Arrieta in last season, and though he seemed to get roughed up by everyone else in the league he had no problem quieting the Yankee bats both times he faced New York. Fellow youngster Chris Tillman had a fairly rough go of it (-0.2 fWAR in 53.2 innings), as did Brad Bergesen (0.6 fWAR over 170 innings), but both players are highly thought of, and if everything comes together Baltimore could potentially have four homegrown rotation stalwarts.
Providing security in the likelihood that at least one of the kids will continue to need more seasoning is Justin Duchscherer, a player who many of us had hoped the Yankees would sign. If the Duke can stay healthy he could be a huge addition to this rotation, but that is likely a pretty big if, considering the Yankees eventually shied away from what seemed like a no-brainer.
The O’s, not complacent to upgrade their offense and rotation, also went out and got themselves several relievers who will be in the mix for bullpen slots, including former Blue Jay closer Kevin Gregg and his teammate Jeremy Accardo, as well as soft-throwing former Rangers’ lefthander Clay Rapada. I have no idea how Ron Washington‘s going to be able to deal with losing one of his beloved relievers.
Anyway, below are a couple of tables containing the 2011 CAIRO and PECOTA projections for the projected starting lineup, rotation, as well as the players who will be in the mix for spots on the bench and in the bullpen. I’ve selected CAIRO and PECOTA due to the fact that they are both park-adjusted, enabling a more apples-to-apples comparison, and I opted for two projection systems instead of one because relying on only one really doesn’t tell you anything.
I’d like to take a moment to thank Stacey Long from Camden Chat for helping me piece the together the contenders for the Orioles’ 25-man roster.
If we put the CAIRO projections into Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis, you get a startling lineup averaging 5.304 runs per game. That’s just 0.3 less runs per game than the Yankees’ CAIRO-projected starting lineup currently projects (5.627). Considering the O’s as a whole managed 3.8 runs per game in 2010, even with the bench presumably dragging that 5.3 number down somewhat that’s still a rather incredible improvement.
When you’re able to stack four straight .475-plus SLG hitters in a row — not to mention having every member of your lineup projected to SLG above .400 — that’ll certainly go a long way toward helping the offense out. Thus far from what I’ve read it seems like, despite the obvious improvements, a lot of people still aren’t expecting Baltimore to gain too much ground in 2011, but I would not be surprised if they wound up being a 2010 Blue Jays-esque thorn in the Yankees’ side this upcoming season. That’s a pretty potent lineup right there, especially if Matt Wieters ends up being your ninth hitter.
Of course, it’s likely the pitching end of the equation holding people back from bestowing more praise on the O’s, and admittedly those projections — particularly CAIRO’s — aren’t terribly promising (none of the non-Duchscherer starters projecting to have an ERA below 4.50 does not bode well). However, there’s still quite a bit of room for growth, and if Matusz continues to blossom and Arrieta starts pitching to the level many think he’s capable of pitching at, the Orioles could wind up with a fairly solid front-three starters. It may not quite be a postseason-worthy rotation just yet, but in another year or so we could be singing a different tune.
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