Baltimore Orioles 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 89-73, 3rd in the AL East. Lost in Wild Card game to Toronto. The 2016 Baltimore Orioles slugged their way to their third playoff appearance in the last five seasons. With the help of one of the best bullpens in the majors and a solid defense, the Orioles continue to win games in the tough AL East despite mediocre at best starting pitching. The Birds season ended in brutal fashion with an extra inning loss to division rival Toronto with maybe their worst pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound, while their best pitcher Zach Britton sat in the bullpen. It was a dark October night in Charm City. The Orioles brightened things up for their fans however with the resigning of Mark Trumbo that puts them in a two year window to really compete before homegrown superstar Manny Machado hits free agency. As an Orioles fan, I’m just pretending as if the winter of 2018 is never going to happen and Manny will stay in orange and black forever. The Orioles were lucky enough to get Seattle to take Yovani Gallardo (5.42 ERA in 2016) off their hands one year after signing him in free agency and giving up another compensation pick despite having an already weak farm system for an average at best starter like they did with Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014. I could write an entire blog entry on all the young pitchers and draft assets Baltimore has given up on only to acquire veteran pitchers who weren’t any good to begin with, but that’s enough negativity for now. This is the Orioles time to shine.

Offseason Moves:

Significant additions: OF Seth Smith, C Welington Castillo

Significant subtractions: C Matt Wieters, RHP Yovani Gallardo (or addition by subtraction)

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. LF Hyun soo Kim
  2. CF Adam Jones
  3. 3B Manny Machado
  4. 1B Chris Davis
  5. DH Mark Trumbo
  6. RF Seth Smith
  7. 2B Jonathan Schoop
  8. C Welington Castillo
  9. SS JJ Hardy

The Orioles will continue to have one of the better lineups in the American League led by superstar Manny Machado, who has improved his OPS every season he’s been in the big leagues and at age 24, there is reason to believe that trend will continue. Chris Davis is one of the more maddening players in all of baseball with his inconsistent year to year production as well as his epicly bad hitting slumps. Despite the up and down career, Davis still has the sixth best hard contact rate (40%) in the majors since the start of 2013, giving belief that he could still have another monster season in him. Adam Jones continues to be one of the more consistent year to year producers in the big leagues and is still the heart and soul of this Orioles team. Jones has hit 25 or more homers in six straight seasons and in 2016, Jones showed the most patience at the plate in his career with a walk rate of 5.8% up 3% over his laughably low 2014 rate of 2.8%. The addition of Seth Smith gives the Orioles lineup real depth against right handed pitching as Smith brings a career .827 OPS against right handed pitching. Smith will have to be platooned, but the Orioles will gladly take 400+ plate appearances of Smith against righties. Second basemen Jonathan Schoop had a breakout season in 2016 fitting perfectly with Orioles swing for the fence mentality. Schoop did strikeout 21% of the time in 2016, but his 25 home runs and great defense make him one of the more underrated contributors on the team.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • RHP Kevin Gausman
  • RHP Dylan Bundy
  • LHP Wade Miley
  • RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
  • RHP Chris Tillman (injured)

Bullpen –

  • LHP Zach Britton – Closer
  • RHP Brad Brach
  • RHP Darren O’Day
  • RHP Mychal Givens
  • LHP Donnie Hart

Remember when I said I was done with being negative about the Orioles? Well yeah I lied. With Chris Tillman currently dealing with a shoulder injury that could affect his performance going forward, the Orioles starting pitching may be the thinnest it’s ever been during the Buck Showalter era. There is real legitimate excitement however around the two young right handers at the top with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Gausman has the looks of someone ready to breakout big time in 2017 building off a strikeout rate of 8.7 per 9 innings and getting opposing hitters to chase on pitches out off the zone 35% of the time Gausman and his deadly split finger could give the Orioles their first real frontline starter since Mike Mussina. Former top prospect Dylan Bundy has dealt with injuries throughout his career but was finally able to contribute 109 solid innings to the big club in 2016 showing flashes that once made him the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. Bundy is also finally allowed to throw the cutter that once made scouts drool over him. The Orioles are for once letting a pitcher throw his best pitch, what a novel idea. Real ground breaking stuff from the organization. There is really nothing else on the Orioles 40 man that even resembles a competent big league starter. Wade Miley has been really bad the last few seasons with four different teams including Baltimore. The Orioles face some potent lineups in the AL East and you could argue the 10 best opposing hitters in the division are all either right handed or a switch hitter. That is a potential recipe for disaster with Orioles in a situation where they will need Miley as a starter all season. At least the Orioles have a really good bullpen because they are going to need it again this season. Zach Britton has turned himself into one of if not the best reliever in all of baseball as he allowed just 4 earned runs in 67 innings last season relying on his turbo sinker which was the best pitch in baseball again last season. The trio of Brach, O’Day, and Givens would all be the best reliever on some other teams in baseball and that gives Buck Showalter a lot of freedom in what he can do in close games.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud: 3B/SS Manny Machado. If Manny gets back to stealing bases like he did in 2015, you could argue he is the best fantasy player not named Mike Trout. Even if Manny doesn’t (which is unlikely since the Orioles attempt the least amount of steals in baseball by a wide margin), he is still well worthy of a first round pick and with eligibility at both shortstop and third base he gives your team flexibility right off the bat. As I wrote earlier, we have probably not even seen the best from Manny as he is only 24 and has shown improvement every year he’s been in the big leagues.

Sleeper: SP Dylan Bundy. The Orioles usually aren’t a good place to get starting pitching for your fantasy team, but that has a chance to change this year with both Gausman and Bundy. If given the choice I would take Bundy this year mainly because his draft price is still dirt cheap. Bundy is currently going as the 72nd starting pitcher in drafts, so basically he’s going for free and even though he may have his innings limited somewhat in 2017 there is still a chance for 170 really quality innings with one of your last picks.

Bust: OF Mark Trumbo. Always be cautious of the players who has his career year at age 30. Trumbo’s power is undeniable and has the perfect home park for his skill set, but it’s just hard to predict anyone to hit 47 home runs in any season especially when that number is 11 homers higher than his previous career high. Trumbo will still be near the league lead in bombs and I’m not exactly shying away from him, but I am tempering my expectations just a bit.

2017 Record Prediction: The Orioles are the team that no one even their fans can quite figure out. A team with starting pitching this bad and a team that strikes out as much as they do should not be this good for this long. However my friends, you can never underestimate a little thing called Orioles Magic. The Orioles will continue to defy the analytics community and their projections on their way to another playoff berth in 2017. Take that PECOTA. 90-72. Second in the AL East. Wild Card 2/2.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/27

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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