Might this be the winter when the Orioles finally get in step with the most reviled baseball acronym their fans can think of — PECOTA?
Each year, the analysts at Baseball Prospectus release playing time and performance projections for the upcoming season based on player history and add those expected runs scored and allowed to create an expected record for each of the 30 major league teams.
This year, the Orioles — who until last year were always projected to struggle in such forecasts and outperformed them by a hefty margin — are predicted to go 70-92, the fourth-worst record in the majors this season.
The reasons behind that seem to be ones that the nonbelievers in the Orioles fan base will be hard-pressed to disagree with. Despite six hitters projected to hit over 20 home runs and two more in double digits, the Orioles are expected to struggle to win games unless their young pitching staff takes a major step forward (or they sign some veterans to take their place).
The Orioles staff is projected to allow 871 runs — the second most in the majors — and even if you correct some of the playing time assumptions made in creating that total, it's unclear where the improvement comes from.
For example, the PECOTA rotation behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy is made up of Alec Asher, Gabriel Ynoa and Mike Wright. While Ynoa and Wright are top candidates at this point, Asher's stock fell dramatically as last season went on and because he has a minor league option left, he might be the odd man out in spring solely based on that.
At this point, it seems the Orioles are also going to look hard at Miguel Castro and Nestor Cortes Jr. for rotation spots as well — though all that could change with a free-agent signing or two.
Either way, no one presently on the roster is a major strikeout threat besides Bundy and Gausman, and with the team's defense becoming an increasingly growing question in recent seasons, the contact-oriented pitchers the Orioles have stocked up on don't get the benefit of the doubt in such projections.
Offensively, perhaps the playing time distribution that has Austin Hays playing less than Joey Rickard (albeit performing much better) might change things a little. But considering the boom-or-bust nature of so many of the Orioles’ top bats, it's hard to project the on-base capabilities that go with scoring runs consistently.
Meanwhile, the FanGraphs projections have been out a while, with the Orioles expected to fare a little better at 72-90. They, too, project the pitching staff to struggle badly as presently constituted.
Because the PECOTA projections of 73 wins was close enough to the actual total of 75 last year, and the team's offseason inactivity has bred plenty of skepticism about its prospects, perhaps this will be the year where instead of challenging the sound methods that go into creating such forecasts and are right for a majority of the league every year, Orioles fans will just nod.