30 in 30: Baltimore Orioles

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Where do I start with a team this bad? The Orioles were the worst team in the league last year, and for good reason. They only had three hitters play enough to qualify, and one of them had perhaps the worst offensive season ever. Manny Machado is a Padre. Jonathan Schoop is a Twin. Kevin Gausman is a Brave. Zack Britton is a Yankee. Adam Jones is a free agent. This team isn’t better than it was last year.

The Orioles lost a somewhat unimaginable 115 games in 2018, headlined by both awful hitting and pitching. Their only player above two fWAR was Machado, who was traded to the Dodgers in the middle of the season. Their highest returning fWAR player is Mychal Givens. A relief pitcher. Yep, Baltimore’s most valuable player is their closer.

The one good thing Baltimore has going for them is that Chris Davis, a guy who is still going to be in the middle of the order for Baltimore, can’t get any worse. Last season, Davis was good for a -3.1 fWAR accompanying a 46 wRC+. Just five years removed from a season where he hit 53 home runs, Chris Davis slugged .296 for the Orioles last season. Perhaps the main argument against big free agent contracts, Davis is due $17 million per year until 2022, $42 million spread out over the next 15 years after that, and has a limited no-trade clause.

Davis is the biggest anchor of a contract we have ever seen in the major leagues. If Davis even breaks even on fWAR this year, the Orioles will be in relatively good shape to win more than 47 games. However, he’s going to need the rest of the roster to step up, and that’s not anything close to a guarantee.

The Orioles fired Buck Showalter and brought in former Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde to run the club. It’s yet to see if Hyde will pitch his best reliever in a win-or-go-home game, but the Orioles are years away from that as is. Hyde has been with Joe Maddon ever since Maddon arrived in Wrigley, winning a championship with the club in 2016.

Hyde brought with him some experienced coaches in Don Long and Doug Brocail. Long, his hitting coach, left after spending four years in that role with the Cincinnati Reds. He obviously coached up Joey Votto pretty well, but it is his success working with Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett which makes him good for this job.

Much like Gennett, Jonathan Villar is a guy with isolated offensive success in Milwaukee moving to an even better hitters park. Villar, acquired in the Jonathan Schoop trade last season, already had a meteoric rise after the trade to Baltimore last year, so it isn’t unfathomable to picture him as a legitimately good player for the O’s this year.

Doug Brocail comes to Baltimore from Texas, where he had spent the previous three seasons. Brocail doesn’t quite have the success stories that Long did, but he did get some success out of both guys like Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, and Keone Kela, helping the Rangers to land good prospects when they dealt all three.

The only big name the Orioles acquired this offseason, at least in terms of players, was former Royals SS Alcides Escobar. Even though this was a minor league deal, Escobar brings with him plenty of veteran and leadership experience to the Spring Training roster and could provide a valuable glove at shortstop if he makes the team.

Other than that, however, this team is a bunch of young guys looking to prove themselves. There are a few bright spots, such as Cedric Mullins II, that are worth talking about. Mullins didn’t make a fantastic first impression in a limited stint last year, but he has raked in the minor leagues. He’s not going to hit his way into superstardom, but Mullins is probably the closest thing Baltimore has to a five-tool player to start the season.

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Trey Mancini isn’t exactly unproven anymore, but he is absolutely an uncertainty. Mancini followed up a good 2017 campaign with a bit of a decline, a “decline” which still constitutes one of Baltimore’s best hitters. Mancini has bricks on both his hands and feet though, so almost all of his value has to come via the bat. Should he learn to elevate the batt a bit more, and decrease his horrid 54.6% ground ball rate, he could be the heart of Baltimore’s lineup in 2018.

Baltimore has a couple hitters on the cusp of breaking into the league, but none excite me like Austin Hays. Hays actually had a 20-game audition in 2017 with the big league club, one in which he looked completely lost. However, he was rushed up from AA and never had time to adjust to major league pitching.

Hays hurt his ankle last spring, so his limited numbers in 2018 leave a lot to be desired. However, MASN’s Roch Kubatko has reported Hays “doesn’t expect to face any limitations” this spring. Hays’s power-speed combo is better than that of his teammate Mullins, and should he prove to be completely healthy, I’m guessing he is an impact player at Camden Yards soon.

Baltimore’s actually relatively rich in hitting prospects, with MLB Pipeline estimating both Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle to make their big-league debuts in 2019. I’d expect Diaz, who made himself known at the Futures Game last year, to stay down for a majority of the season due to the outfield logjam, though Mountcastle could see some big league time.

While their lineup doesn’t look good on paper, it does have quite a bit of promise. I can’t see them being the worst offense in baseball by any means, and some of their younger guys should be quite fun to watch. “Promising” and “fun to watch” aren’t things I can say about their abomination of a pitching staff, though.

It’s tough enough for good pitchers to pitch at Camden Yards, but it’s even tougher for bad pitchers to do so. That’s going to be Baltimore’s challenge for 81 games this summer. This staff is awful.

Even if the best case scenario happens, and both Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb get it together, this staff still rivals for worst in the league. Andrew Cashner, now reunited with Doug Brocial, is someone to watch, however. Cashner had a 3.40 ERA with Brocail in 2017, though metrics do indicate that was extremely lucky. Baltimore’s defense doesn’t look to be awful however, so as long as he can keep the ball in the yard, which he did under Brocail, he could have a good year.

Mychal Givens is the one thing Baltimore has going for them. Givens was quietly one of baseball’s best relievers when he was setting up Zack Britton, and it’s now his turn to run the show. Who will set him up? Who knows! But it also probably won’t matter, because your team needs to be winning to have a save opportunity.

And unless Doug Brocail is Harry Houdini, Baltimore isn’t going to be doing a whole lot of winning.

Team Prediction: 60-102

Team MVP: Jonathan Villar

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