Baltimore Orioles: Who Will Carry the O’s in 2015?


Oct 10, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis (21) is congratulated by designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) after Markakis scored in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals in game one of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Before actually answering the question as to who will carry the Baltimore Orioles in 2015, it is appropriate to ask a more fundamental question: Does any one player carry a major league baseball team?

To the second question, I think the answer is “no,” though it could be stated that an outstanding season by an individual player will indeed help an otherwise well-rounded team to have a high level of success. The key is to have a handful of players producing seasons near the top of their career stats, while also having the remainder of the roster performing adequately in their roles.

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An inverse question may actually be truer: Can any one player be the cause of collapse for a major league baseball team? I would submit that, again, it is not as simple as that. However, given the role assignment of a “closer” out of the bullpen, I believe there is more truth that one player can drop a team out of a playoff role than carry a team into the postseason. An example of this is the 2013 Baltimore Orioles with Jim Johnson. And I don’t want to rehearse that even as much as you don’t want to have to read it!

Stimulating these thoughts is a recent comment on the blog about a reader’s worry regarding the need to replace Nelson Cruz’s offense. This is a common sentiment expressed by many. In that article, while talking about not placing too much stock in short-term statistics (such as spring training), I illustrated this by picking out a section of Cruz’s 2014 season – a 16-game stretch in July where he hit .103 with one home run with one RBI. What I did not even notice until going back later is that the Orioles were 10-6 over those games.

So again, the notion that Nelson Cruz carried the 2014 Orioles is overblown. Consider the following chart that tracks him month by month …

June28107  9231514  923.215
Aug2710213226614  727.216
Sept2610613378 519  622.349

For the summer months of June, July, and August, Cruz had a batting average of .214; but in April, May, and September combined it was .327.  The team record for the Baltimore Orioles in the three summer months when Cruz was NOT hitting well was 52-29, and in the first two months and in September when Cruz WAS allegedly “carrying the Orioles,” the team record was a total of 44-37.

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These numbers are a bit startling. In the one-half of the season when the Orioles were winning on a pace for 104 victories, Nelson Cruz hit .214 with 15 home runs and 37 RBIs. However, what would have happened to the Orioles in the 81 other games before and after the three summer months if Cruz did not hit .335 with 25 home runs and 71 RBIs in them? They certainly would not have been 44-37.

So, did Nelson Cruz carry the Orioles? Not when they were winning most of their games; but he did sufficiently carry them through some down times to avert a total disaster. In April and May he prevented them from getting buried too deeply in a hole they could never get out of, positioning the O’s to have the three great summer months that helped them pull away from the AL East.

So what about 2015?

It will go a long way if Chris Davis can have a bounce-back year. But then again, a player cannot have a much better season than he did in 2013, and it did not “carry” the Birds beyond 85 wins and watching the playoffs rather than participating.

It will also help a great deal if the Orioles can get a good bit more offensive production from the catcher and second base positions, whoever or whatever combination ends up at each. And a full season from Manny Machado will go a long way as well.

I feel quite confident in the bullpen, especially Zach Britton, to put up another very fine season. Yes, I would have spent the money to retain Andrew Miller, even though there is the hesitation to do so for relievers who, categorically speaking, are alleged to be wildly inconsistent year to year.

The Orioles were 16-7 in the games in which Miller appeared for them. Of course, that number is skewed by the fact that his role is to come into games and preserve leads. So he is going to always appear more often in wins than losses. Before Miller joined the Orioles, the O’s were 60-47, whereas their record after that was 36-19. That’s why I would have paid him over the other two that got away.

But here is the key to this coming season and to carrying the team. It is no secret to anyone or any baseball observer. How well will the starting rotation perform as compared to 2014? When the starters settled down from June through the end of the season, the entire team fell into place. This is the bigger issue than stressing over how the offensive production of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz will be replaced. A great rotation cannot win any sort of championship if a team has a horrible offense, which may be the challenge facing the Rays, for example. But there is no offensive replacement that covers for an inconsistent rotation and bullpen.

Next: Spring surprises for the Orioles