Baltimore Orioles: Trying to Explain a .500 Season So Far


Aug 10, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) stands on the field during the national anthem before a game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Baltimore defeated Seattle, 3-2/ Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Orioles enter today into a four-game set at home against the Oakland A’s. The Western road trip with a 4-5 record leaves the Orioles at 57-56 on the season, facing a final 49 games. The O’s could still put a big close on the season and get into the playoffs, etc., etc. But the fact is that right now in the middle of August they are essentially a .500 team.

This is not what we thought we were going to see in 2015. Remember the offense taken by O’s fans and writers when so many “experts” out there in the broader baseball world predicted the Birds to be a .500 sort of team and finish in the middle of the pack? How could they say this about a team that had the entire starting rotation returning from a 96-win season?

It pretty much comes down to two trains of thought to explain this mediocrity. It is either the failure of the ownership/management to build a sufficient winning roster, or the players on the roster are significantly underperforming relative to expectations.

The Insufficient Roster Theory

This of course relates to three players in particular who were not re-signed after strong 2014 results: Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. Each of the three have had fine seasons again this year, although Cruz and Markakis are on teams in far worse condition than the Orioles relative to playoff aspirations.

More from Baltimore Orioles

Though the Orioles bullpen (or any bullpen) would be better with Andrew Miller, the relievers have had a very effective season again for the O’s (after a bad start in April). It is the corner outfield and DH spots in the lineup that have not been replaced sufficiently.

Without doubt, no player given a chance to take a regular corner outfield or DH position has risen to “take” it. The cast of characters has been immense, and to name a few: Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Chris Parmelee, Delmon Young, Nolan Reimold, David Lough, Jimmy Paredes; and even the highly-touted Gerardo Parra is only .196 since joining the Birds. Chris Davis has more recently been sent to the outfield to attempt to address the problem.

How bad are the numbers?  For left field it is particularly dismal, as the Orioles are only getting a .198 average from that position, which is the worst in the league. Right field is much better, perhaps surprisingly so, as a .281 average is third in the league. For DH, the situation is more in the middle of the pack. The Orioles rank ninth in the league with a .252 average, whereas the league average is .261.

I believe it was a reasonable expectation that one from the list of players above would have stepped up enough to have a strong season. But none have. They were not going to replicate a 2014 Nelson Cruz power year, but surely they should have done better than what has happened.

The Underperforming Players Theory

Not every last player on any team is going to have a top 10% production career-year at the same time. But a winning outfit needs a sizeable number of players to do just that in order to carry the team to the top of the standings.

Without doubt, there have been some poor performances in 2015. It is great that Chris Davis has heated up considerably to be among the home run and RBI leaders in the league. But he was pretty absent early in the year. J.J. Hardy is simply not having a great offensive year by any measure other than clutch hits, and that seems to be diminishing as well. Matt Wieters has not come back strong enough to give consistent contributions. Steve Pearce is not the same person as a year ago. And Ryan Flaherty is … well, you know … I’ve jumped on him enough; but he has sadly again proven my point.

Relative to pitchers, it is great to have Ubaldo Jimenez living up to expectations, but Bud Norris was a total disaster, while Chris Tillman hasn’t been a top-drawer starter other than for a very short and recent window of time. Chen is improved, but Miguel Gonzalez is getting hit harder of late and has been inconsistent.

The Combination Theory

It is a combination of both elements. I am no Duquette defender, but I do lay the greater blame on the lack of performance from those who reasonably had a solid enough career resume to have played much better.

Looking back, the Orioles needed at least one corner outfielder who could have performed above the league average.  There is no doubt now that having Markakis or Cruz would had made the Orioles a better 2015 team with a better record. However, the issue of evaluating whether the four-year contracts were wise to be rejected has to play out over a longer time. I don’t think the four years are going to prove to be worth the money given to either player. One of these players might have pushed the O’s high enough to have made the Wild Card Playoffs, but then the team might have been one and out, and the Orioles would be stuck with a long-term, bad contract.

I still lay the greater percentage of the blame on the players not performing, maybe about 75 to 25% versus the roster not being re-built. This roster should be well better than 57-56, that is for sure.

More from The Baltimore Wire