A Big 0 for the O’s in 2018

The Orioles have played above themselves the last few years, not finishing below .500 since 2012. Most baseball experts picked them for last or next to last in the AL East in those years and they would surprise everyone by making the playoffs or hanging on until September. Except for this year. It is almost as if the baseball gods got even with them for all their surprise winning seasons and piled all the losses they should have had in previous years onto the 2018 season. At their current pace this will be a record season for the Orioles from a loss perspective (at 106 with their record at 107 in 1988).

So what went wrong with the Orioles in 2018? They signed two free agent starting pitchers to give them a solid five in the rotation. They had all their sluggers coming back. They had their closer returning. Or thought so. And of course Manny Machado was still on the team. What went wrong?

1) Defense. This was a franchise that always prided itself on defense. Not this year. The 2018 season saw one of the worst defensive teams take the field. Moving Manny Machado to short hurt the defense at two positions, short and third. Adam Jones lost a couple steps to turn into a below average centerfielder and having corners Mark Trumbo and Trey Mancini was a disaster in shagging down line drive hits. Singles turned to doubles and outs turned to singles. Baseball Reference ranked the Orioles defensive efficiency as last in the major leagues. Even when they got to the ball they made errors above league average. This lack of range did not help the pitching staff, which also found itself last in the league in ERA. The starting pitching and relief staff also gave up the most runs per nine innings than any of the other 29 major league teams.

2) The big bombers disappeared. Last year when the pitching was weak the Orioles bombed balls out of the park, their 232 homers fifth in the major leagues. This year, with the Chris Davis and Jonathan Scoop brown outs the homerun balls were less frequent. Even big bopper Mark Trumbo slowed down, though he was injured for much of the start of the year. The only consistent bopper was Manny Machado, but they traded him mid-season.

3) The Orioles signed two free agent pitchers in Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb to fill into their rotation with Dylan Bundy, Kevin Guasman and Chris Tillman. Chris Tillman had an awful 2017 but the O’s were hoping for a return to his 2016 performance. It did not happen. In baseball you need more than five starters because of injuries. When Tillman did not work out (10.46 ERA in 7 starts) there was no pitcher to fill in behind him. Cobb also pitched poorly at the start of the season having no spring training. The two number one picks Bundy and Guasman have faltered to mid rotation starters, with Dylan Bundy giving the O’s one bad outing for every good outing. The pitchers they tried to fit in the fifth spot in the rotation after Tillman was released all had ERAs above 5. It was an ugly year for starting pitching.

4) Zack Britton missed the start of the season. That put a lot of pressure on the bullpen. When your starting pitchers are giving up runs in bunches there are not a lot of save opportunities, but Brad Brach and Mychal Givens struggled in the role when given the shot, each with an ERA north of 4. No relief staff has given up more runs per nine innings than the Orioles. It was also an ugly year for relief pitching.

5) The Orioles were hoping Austin Hays would take over the right field spot, putting Trumbo at the DH spot. Both Hays and Trumbo got injured and the Orioles started the season with no real DH or right fielder. Pedro Alvarez failed as a DH and a convention of players were tried in right field with little success. Hays never got past AA and Trumbo with his iron glove had to eventually see a lot of time in right field.

6) The farm system is still weak. While it brought the Orioles Tanner Scott and a number of other ineffective starters and relievers it did not provide any position players. The holes were filled by other teams minor league free agents or waived players. Cedric Mullins has shown some promise in centerfield, but long term success is not a certainty. The major leagues is filled with the names of September superstars who were never heard from the next year, i.e. Austin Hays. While the farm system is better it is still at the bottom of the league and lacks depth. Having the worst record in baseball will give the Orioles the first pick in the draft next year, but they may have to do a search next year for a new GM to lead the strategy for that draft. Both Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have expiring contracts and will likely not be part of the Orioles in 2019.

So the news is not good for Orioles fans. Last in defense, starting pitching, relief pitching and the American League. At one time they used to say that about the Senators. Now the bumbling play has moved north.

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