The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Daniel Moroz, who writes about the Orioles for his blog, Camden Crazies.
MV: The O's entered spring training with several new faces, but none have marquee names. Looking back at their offseason, which signing did you like best and what was one move they should have made but didn’t?
DM: Best move was maybe picking up Alexi Casilla? It was a very quiet offseason for the Orioles. Given the relative weakness in the other AL East teams going into 2013, the O's were in a position to potentially make some moves be competitive again (assuming that their crazy good fortune in one-run games evens out, they're probably starting from a base of around 80 wins, as opposed to 90-plus). That's what the Toronto Blue Jays did, clearly. There's no one real move that would have done that I think -- one in particular I was looking at going into the offseason was signing Melky Cabrera to upgrade left field without having to commit too much (he ended up getting signed by Toronto) -- but it seems the O's did not want to be aggressive at all, and were content to bring basically the same club back from 2012. Perhaps it was a missed opportunity, but at least they didn't do anything stupid.
MV: The Orioles were in the bottom half of the major leagues in most offensive categories last season, with home runs being a very notable exception. Is scoring runs and winning games that way sustainable again this season?
DM: If your team has a bunch of power hitters, then they'll probably hit a lot of home runs. And homers are pretty good at putting runs on the board. It would be good if they could get a few more guys on base for those longballs, though, either by walking more (they were middle of the pack in that area) or hitting for a better average (or hopefully both). As a one-trick pony offense they'd probably remain a touch below average at scoring runs (they scored eight fewer than the average AL team). Getting anything at all from the second-base spot will help, but I'd expect the O's to once again be merely OK offensively -- maybe with not quite as many home runs, but perhaps a little extra in other areas.
MV: Is it reasonable to expect similar results from the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, this season?
DM: Is it reasonable to expect a bullpen that was historically successful at keeping close games close and finishing off wins to repeat that, despite not even having the best ERA (or peripheral stats) for a pen in their own division in 2012? No, no it isn't. Bullpens can sometimes be fickle -- perhaps even more so when they lack relievers that miss bats (and the O's pen had the 3rd worst strike-out rate in the majors last year) -- so the O's crew might be as likely to see their ERA rise to four as to hit three again. It's still probably the strength of the pitching staff though.
MV: Which player do you think will take the biggest leap in terms of production from last season to 2013?
DM: If he's given the chance to start, I think Jake Arrieta can greatly improve on his 6.20 ERA from 2012. He upped his strikeout rate last year while also cutting down on his walks, but a lot of balls fell in for hits and he had trouble stranding runners. If those last two things were predominantly bad luck -- and that's certainly possible (even if not 100 percent) -- then Arrieta could be one of the team's better starters in 2013. If Nolan Reimold stays healthy and gets a chance to play often, he could provide some nice production as well. Of the guys we "know" we'll be seeing a lot of, I'm not sure anyone is going to take a huge step forward. Matt Wieters is definitely capable of putting up a monster season, but he's already one of the best catchers in baseball so that might not be considered that much of a leap.
MV: Spring training just started and there are plenty of major decisions still to be made, but looking at what the Orioles and their AL East rivals did this winter, what are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the O's?
DM: Best-case is what happened last year, but with the other top teams not being quite as good (allowing 93 wins to take the division). Worst-case is the rotation implodes (not a new phenomenon in Baltimore recently), the bullpen takes a 180, and there are injuries to the O's top position players (Wieters and Adam Jones) while the backups play more like 2012 Endy Chavez than 2012 Nate McLouth. That would be ... bad. But it is still close enough to the realm of possibility that people shouldn't ignore the downside risks to the team heading into next year. If the O's are coming in as an 80-win team, then winning 90-plus games again is probably about as likely as only winning 70 or fewer (give or take some midseason moves).
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