The Orioles Might Be Turning A Corner

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The Orioles celebrate after Manny Machado’s walk-off grand slam last night. (Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Don’t look now, but the Orioles are making some noise in a crowded AL Wild Card picture. Through July 28th, the Orioles were 48-54 and 6.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. Somehow, after a 12-8 stretch over their last 20 games, they sit 2.0 games out of the second Wild Card spot with no signs of slowing down. Led by a resurgent Manny Machado (.343/.373/.607 with 11 doubles, 8 HRs, and 34 RBI since the All-Star break), do the O’s have what it takes to withstand a tough AL Wild Card field? After all, eight teams are within three games of a Wild Card spot as of press time. What has been the reason behind the Orioles recent surge?

The aforementioned Manny Machado will likely lead the way. The three-time All-Star third baseman has been having the worst season of his career. Prior to the All-Star break, Machado was hitting a gruesome .230/.296/.445 with 18 HRs and 47 RBI through 83 games. In the 34 games since, he has nearly matched his season total in RBI (47/34) and raised his batting average 34 points (now slashing .264/.319/.494). This is still below his usual standards; In his first five seasons, Machado was a .284/.333/.477 hitter, averaging 28 HRs per year. His recent hot streak is certainly promising though as Baltimore goes forward (.438/.424/.1.063 through his current 7-game hitting streak).

Along with Machado are two breakout stars in their own rights. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was the lone Oriole in the All-Star game this year, and for good reason. The Curacao-born infielder has been on a tear all year, slashing .299/.349/.535 and an OPS+ of 134. Not to mention, he’s already achieved career highs in HRs and RBI (26/86). On the other hand, you have breakout left fielder Trey Mancini. If it weren’t for Aaron Judge, Mancini may be your AL Rookie of the Year. Among qualified AL Rookies (at least 150 AB), Mancini is fourth in batting average (.287), second in slugging percentage (.512), second in OPS (.849), third in doubles (19), third in home runs (21), and third in RBI (62). Mancini has been above and beyond what the Orioles have needed in the outfield, taking the starting left field job away from Hyun Soo Kim (now with the Phillies). With these two young stars (both are only 25), the Orioles future looks bright.

After a Trade Deadline deal with Tampa Bay, the Orioles seem to have found their franchise shortstop in Tim Beckham. Acquired for minor league reliever Tobias Myers, Beckham has been a godsend for the Birds. In 87 games with Tampa Bay this year, Beckham amassed a slash line of .259/.314/.407 with a WAR of 1.2. In 17 games with Baltimore this year, he has slashed .479/.500/.845 with a WAR of 1.7. That’s right, he has been worth more wins to Baltimore than he was to Tampa Bay in less than 20 percent of the games. Playing well above the production of J.J. Hardy (with an ugly slash line of .211/.248/.308 this season), the Orioles really lucked out with this under-the-radar acquisition.

Though they’ve got a lot of promise in the lineup, ranking second as a team in the AL in batting average (.264), second in slugging percentage (.446), and third in home runs (180), they’ve got a few under-performers as well. Mark Trumbo made waves last season, crushing a league leading 47 HRs along with 108 RBI. It would have been a lot to expect him to live up to those lofty totals, but they were probably hoping for better than 19 HRs and 53 RBI from the slugging DH this season. His totals this year, .240/.301/.716, may be closer to what you’re actually going to get from him. You see, those 47 HRs seem to have been awfully misleading. For example, he was only worth a WAR of 1.6 last season and only had an OPS of .850 last year, as well. How can you hit nearly 50 homers and not crack an OPS of .900? That’s pretty hard to do. If you take a look at the last ten players before Trumbo to hit at least 45 home runs, nine of them had an OPS above .900. I’ll break it down here:

  1. 2015 – Chris Davis: 47 HRs, .923 OPS
  2. 2013 – Chris Davis: 53 HRs, 1.004 OPS
  3. 2010 – Jose Bautista: 54 HRs, .995 OPS
  4. 2009 – Albert Pujols: 47 HRs, 1.101 OPS
  5. 2009 – Prince Fielder: 46 HRs, 1.014 OPS
  6. 2009 – Ryan Howard: 45 HRs, .931 OPS
  7. 2008 – Ryan Howard: 48 HRs, .881 OPS
  8. 2007 – Alex Rodriguez: 54 HRs, 1.067 OPS
  9. 2007 – Prince Fielder: 50 HRs, 1.013 OPS
  10. 2007 – Ryan Howard: 47 HRs, .976 OPS

Of the last ten players to hit 45 HRs in a season, only Ryan Howard had an OPS lower than .900, and at .881, his was still higher than Trumbo’s OPS of .850. If you want to look at OPS+ to compare, Howard’s 125 is also higher than Trumbo’s 123. That’s simply not very good.

Lefty slugger Chris Davis has also been…uh…well, bad. L.E. Miller over at Charm City Sports Network put out an article two weeks ago highlighting Davis’ struggles. Over the last two seasons, Davis has .221/.327/.447 in 1,041 plate appearances. As Miller notes, he has struck out in nearly 40 percent of his at-bats over the last two years. He does have 56 HRs over the last two years, but that can be misleading, as we’ve seen with Trumbo. Slugging just .426 this year, let’s compare that to the rest of the team. To be fair, we’ll look at Orioles with at least 200 ABs this season. By those guidelines, Davis is eighth in slugging percentage among eleven qualified Orioles hitters. Yet manager Buck Showalter refuses to take him out of the clean-up spot! Why? What has he shown that would justify keeping him that high in the order? As Miller notes again, he’s not turning a corner. Since June 1st, he is slashing .211/.304/.381. I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly the kind of production I look for from my four-hitter. Good lord.

The pitching isn’t much better. Aside from Beckham, the Orioles made one other deadline deal: Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson was pretty good for the Phillies last year, going 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA, an ERA+ of 113, 154 Ks in 189 innings, plus a 2.9 WAR. It would make a lot sense to acquire a pitcher like that, right, especially when your starting rotation has a combined ERA of 5.75?

No, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense, considering Hellickson has been having arguably the worst year of his career. This year, in 24 starts between Philadelphia and Baltimore, he has an ERA of 5.00, a 7-7 record, just 83 Ks in 135 innings. Not to mention, he’s already given up a career high 28 HRs and we still have more than a month to go in the season. His ERA+ is 86, 14 points below the league average. He also has a career low of 5.5 K/9IP. Why would they trade for him? Aren’t you trying to improve arguably the worst rotation in the league? I sincerely cannot wrap my head around that thinking.

You know I can’t mention bad pitching without bringing up Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez may be the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball. Since 2011, he has averaged a record of 11-14, accumulated an ERA of 4.78 with a WHIP of 1.467. This year alone, he has a 5-8 record, an ERA of 6.47 (how?!) and an ERA+ of 67. He makes $12.5M per year. The Orioles could pay me a fraction of that and I would give them that kind of production. I don’t mean to be crass, but how is he still employed? The Orioles don’t have a single pitching prospect who could step in and replace him in the rotation and even be a little better? He must have some kind of dirt on Orioles GM Dan Duquette. That’s the only explanation.

Hey, at least they didn’t trade closer Zach Britton at the deadline. Britton has saved 59 consecutive games, having not blown a save since September of 2015. Britton headlines a very good bullpen (O’s bullpen has an accumulative 2.86 ERA). Brad Brach did a nice job of relieving Britton, who missed nearly three months of the season with a forearm injury. Brach has a 2.70 ERA with 16 saves and 53 Ks through 50 innings this season. Likewise, Mychal Givens has been lights out this year, pitching to 2.28 ERA with 62 Ks through 59.1 innings.

Is this run sustainable? The short answer: Maybe. With Machado heating up at the perfect time, and breakout stars Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini, and Tim Beckham leading the way (plus veterans Adam JonesWelington Castillo, and Seth Smith enjoying fine seasons), also a really good bullpen, the Orioles may be able to stay in the AL Wild Card race. It would be a big help if manager Buck Showalter would come to his senses and move the lineup around (perhaps you drop Davis down to the six or seven spot in the lineup and move Schoop to cleanup). The catalyst is the rotation. If even one of these pitchers can grab the reins and settle into a groove in the last month of the season, then they may be onto something. But until that happens, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

(All stats as of 8/19/17 before gametime).

By: Chris Perkowski

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