The Orioles made their triumphant return to the postseason in 2012.
The odds of them getting back there in 2013, if you trust Baseball Prospectus’ projection, are less than 5 percent.
It’s one of those preseason predictions that had Adam Jones saying last month that “Sometimes I wish the media would just shut the hell up."
It’s not that the numbers crunchers at Baseball Prospectus hate the Orioles. It’s just that much of what the O’s did last year either isn’t quantifiable (like deftly shuttling players up and down from the minors) or isn’t easy to repeat (bullpen success, dominance in one-run games).
At least that’s the explanation from Baseball Prospectus Editor in Chief Ben Lindbergh, who was kind enough to sit down for a phone interview.
Here’s our Q&A, which touches on the Orioles, predictions for the AL East and the state of sabermetrics in 2013:
There’s been a lot of numerical negativity surrounding the Orioles this spring, what’s the main takeaway that you see when you look at them?
I was as guilty as anyone else [last year saying that] the Orioles weren’t going to last, and that they didn’t have the run differential that would go with their record, that their record in one-run games would regress. And they managed to sustain that the entire season and made a lot of us look wrong.
A lot of people say this about the sabermetric sort of people, that we’re a little too negative about the Orioles. And I think maybe there’s something to that. … Clearly [the Orioles] made some big strides, but I guess the numerical negativity this winter is just that they had that best record ever in one-run games, which is not something that teams have shown any ability to sustain from season to season. Even if it is partially a result of a good bullpen and not just good luck, it seems that bullpen performance is one of the least stable aspects of a team from season to season.
A good hitting team can often be a good hitting team the next season, and a team with good starting pitching often can be able to sustain that. But bullpen performance fluctuates a lot from year to year, so there’s just some concern that they were fortunate in their one-run record last year and that they won’t be as much this year. And they had a quiet offseason while a lot of their division rivals were busy, so there’s not a lot of improvement, at least on paper, to overcome that regression that would be expected.
When you look at the projections that you had for a lot of the Orioles’ key players, their numbers are going down. Is there anyone in particular on the Orioles whose numbers could go up significantly this year?
Of course there’s Machado, and if you look at his projections, they’re not particularly encouraging. Our projections tend to be pretty conservative with guys that young, but with guys that talented, of course there’s the possibility that they will exceed that and put things together very quickly. The risk with him is just that he skipped Triple-A, he hasn’t really had a lot of higher-level experience and I think we’ve kind of gotten spoiled by seeing guys such as [Mike] Trout and [Bryce] Harper succeed at such young ages, which really isn’t he norm – even for talented players.
I guess based on his talent and his age, [Machado] is kind of the biggest breakout candidate. And it wasn’t like the Orioles’ success [in 2012] was based on a lot of guys having flukey seasons, I don’t think. It’s not that a lot of their guys had seasons that were completely out of line with their previous history and that we’d expect them to decline by a lot. It was really just when they scored their runs as opposed to how many they scored.
So, I don’t think there are a ton of guys that are in for a huge step back this year. I don’t think there were too many guys who were just kind of mirages. It just seems like they probably won’t be quite as fortunate in when they score their runs this season.
As a club it seems like the Orioles are embracing sabermetrics more and more now under [executive vice president Dan] Duquette. How do they rank, looking it them against the other teams, in terms of how well they use the advanced numbers.
It’s hard to say, because we don’t really know what goes on in front offices. They’re not one of the more vocal teams when it comes to embracing stats. They don’t have people in their front office who used to be [Baseball Prospectus] writers or guys who were writing about sabermetrics on the internet, like a lot of teams do.
They don’t have a very vocal, public stats presense, so I don’t know. But there really isn’t a team in baseball without someone working on stats all the time. I know there was someone from the Orioles down at the [SABR Analytics Conference earlier this month in Phoenix], so certainly they have people doing that and looking at that. I would think that just based on the fact that historically they haven’t been a huge proponent of sabermetrics leads me to think that maybe they’re still playing catch-up in that area and maybe aren’t ahead of the pack. But it’s hard to say from outside. It’s possible that they’re really advanced about those things and just like to keep quiet about it, which certainly makes sense.
One of the things you wrote this spring was about how there probably isn’t going to be a “next” Orioles or A’s this season. Can you talk a little bit about your thinking there?
Yeah, I mean it just seems like every year we try to find that breakout team or that team that’s going to surprise everyone. And it’s kind of a fun exercise, but it’s one that usually doesn’t lead to anything. If we could pick surprise teams consistently, then they wouldn’t really be surprise teams.