Baltimore Orioles 2015: More to Blame than the Starters


Aug 5, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace (37) visits the mound to talk with starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (16) and catcher Caleb Joseph (36) during the fourth inning of the game against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The most prevalent diagnosis of what went wrong with the 81-81 Baltimore Orioles squad of 2015 is that the starting rotation is primarily to blame. And there is plenty of evidence for this. But I would like to submit that there is more fault to be distributed than simply with the O’s starters, and I am talking about the oft-anemic offense.

At first glance, the offense may seem to get off the hook, scoring a total of 713 runs as compared to 705 in 2014. And the overall team ERA of 4.05 this past season was well above the 3.43 of a year ago. Surely the pitching, especially the starters, are to blame for the 15-win difference from 96-66 to 81-81. And I am not saying that the lion’s share of fault does not fall on the rotation.

But it is not as simple as that.

Consider this scenario: Say that a team was in a best-of-seven playoffs and won the first game 12-1. Then that team was beaten in four straight by scores of 3-1, 2-1, 2-0, and 1-0. Who is to blame for the series loss? The team in question scored 14 runs while giving up only nine. But you would have to blame the offense for not scoring more than two runs in the final four games. So it is more complicated than simply the total runs scored versus runs allowed.

Again, the Baltimore Orioles scored 713 runs this year while allowing 593 (for a net +20), and they were 81-81.  By comparison, the 2012 O’s scored 712 and gave up 705 (for a net +7), and that team finished with a 93-69 record!

The overall Orioles ERA of 4.05 this year ranked #8 in the American League. This was the exact ERA of the New York Yankees who finished with 87 wins and made the playoffs. The average ERA in the AL was 4.01 … so the O’s were not terribly awful in this regard.

In terms of runs allowed per game, the O’s pitching staff yielded 4.28 — the 7th-most in the league. At the same time, the Yanks actually allowed just a bit more at 4.31

A problem for the Orioles that was as big as the rotation not having anywhere near the season they had in 2014 was that the O’s offense and pitching so often did not put it together in a way to win games (like they did in 2012). And even though the Yankees had similar pitching numbers in the categories mentioned just above, a difference can be seen in terms of what are called “tough losses” and “cheap wins.”

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TOUGH LOSSES — This is a loss in a game where the pitching staff threw a quality start. The Orioles had 16 such losses, ranking them fourth in the AL. The Yankees had four fewer with 12.

CHEAP WINS — This is a win where the pitching staff did not throw a quality start. The Orioles won 14 such games (good for 7th in the AL), but the Yankees registered 19 such wins.

If you take the two categories together, the Yankees — with an identical team ERA — were nine games better than the Orioles. So you see the difference, as New York finished only six games ahead of Baltimore.

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Again, this is not to say that the offense was to blame for the mediocre and disappointing season. But it is to say that it was more than just a weak rotation. Think back over the season: How many times were you frustrated that the Orioles’ bats simply seemed to be entirely asleep? It was a lot. There is plenty of blame to go around, and just getting a top of the line starter is not going to make all the difference in 2016.

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