17 December 2003

No Longer the Zer0rioles?

When I was in college, not so long ago, the Orioles didn’t suck.

At least not all the time. I was at Lehigh University from the autumn of 1993 to spring of 1997, and as you probably know if you’re a sufficiently intense baseball fan to be reading this website, the O’s made the playoffs a few times in that span. They were decent overall, finishing 2nd or 3rd every year from 1992 to 1996. They won a Wild Card in 1996, losing to the Yankees (and Jeffrey Maier) in the ALCS, and then they became one of the very few teams ever to lead its division wire-to-wire in 1997, though they lost the ALCS then as well, to the Indians this time.

And they haven’t had a winning season since. That 1997 season preceded an immediate and precipitous drop-off, due largely to the fact that so many of the regulars on that team were on the wrong side of 30 (Jimmy Key, Randy Myers, Scott Kameneicki, Cal Ripken, Harold Baines, Chris Hoiles, B.J. Surhoff, Eric Davis, etc.)

I recall, in the seasons and off-seasons prior to the O’s successful years, arguing about the relative merits of those Orioles and my Yankees with fans of the O’s on Lehigh’s Internet discussion boards, which was fun. For a certain fan, (we’ll call him “Mark Passwaters”) it seemed that no matter what the Orioles did in the off-season, they were going to win, and no matter what the Yankees did, they were going to lose, at least to the Orioles.

I recall one time in particular, in which Mark pointed out that Arthur Rhodes was AL Pitcher of the Month for August, 1994, as an indication that Rhodes was really going to make something of himself (as a starter, at the time). Indeed, Rhodes was undefeated in August that year, pitching two shutouts…in only two games, since the season ended on August 12th that year. This analysis, though accurate, ignored the fact that Rhodes had an ERA of 7.17 in his first eight games pitched that season.

I suppose I was guilty of the same thing though, as I recall being pretty excited about getting Jack “The Finger” McDowell in a trade just before my birthday in 1994. I used the fact that he had gone 2-7 in the first two months of the season with Chicago and 8-2 in the next two and a half months to explain why he would be great for the Yanks. (Alas, he was only good in 1995, but he was the best we had until David Cone came along in a late-season trade.

Anyway, the point of this tiresome, rambling introduction, is that Mark Passwaters (and other semi-delusional Orioles fans) have something about which they can be excited again. The Orioles are picking up big-name free agents like they’re barrels of hard pretzels and boxes of Fun-Dip at BJ’s Wholesale Club. Inappropriately-Voted 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada has signed with Baltimore for six years and $72 million, which is a lot of money, but a lot less than the $189 mil for ten years that Derek Jeter’s getting for comparable (if not lesser) performance.

Rumors Sunday and Monday had the Orioles signing Vladimir Guerrero and either Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez to catch (and presumably hit a little). I looked at the BP Prospectus' offensive WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) numbers for these three players and those they'd replace. I-Rod, who seems a much more probable signee than Javy at this point, would most likely replace most of Brooks Fordyce and Geronimo Gil's at-bats, though I suppose Gil would still be the back-up back-stop. Tejada replaces the dreadful Deivi Cruz. Guerrero does NOT replace Jay Gibbons, his 23 homers and 100 RBI, as ESPN has said. Rather he replaces either Jeff Conine or David Segui and BJ Surhoff. Gibbons is young, cheap, and still a good hitter, so they'll place him at first base or DH, keeping that bat in the lineup, and so Vlad effectively supplants some combination of the other three aging monsters.

Anyway, here's how those WARP numbers shake out. I took the averages of the players for 2001-2003 seasons, combining some where a platoon existed for whatever reason. Here's what I got:

Vlad 7.8 7.8
Rodriguez 7 Miggy 6.7 Conine 4.1
Brooks/Gil 2 Cruz 1.5 Segui/BJ 2.9
difference +5 diff +5 diff +3.7 +4.9

Holy cow.

This makes it look like the Orioles just bought themselves fifteen additional wins (about five more at each position). That's HUGE. Fifteen more wins still only gives them 86, a tie for third in last year's AL East, but that's an enormous improvement in one year.

Of course, they've still got to have somebody pitch those games, and having traded their best pitcher (albeit a LAIM one) in mid-season last year, there's not much of anybody to pick up the slack. Jason Johnson? Another LAIM guy. Rodrigo Lopez? Nah. Eric Dubose? I don't think so. They're gonna hafta go out and spend some more on the free agent market, and there just isn't enough pitching talent out there to buy to get them ten more wins (than the assumed 85 mentioned above), which is what it will take to even be a contender in the AL East in 2004. They'd probably have to sign both Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood, plus another LAIM with some upside just to have any kind of shot at 2004. I just don't see it.

But hey, Rome wasn't built in a day, and I'm sure they suffered through some 84-78 disappointing seasons before they built up that big empire.

**By the way, Mark Passwaters, if you should happen across this page, drop me a line. If you're nice to me, I may even give you Dave's email address so you can tell him what an idiot he is.

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