Analyzing The Baltimore Orioles’ ALDS Roster


Lough’s astute baserunning, coupled with his superb defense, makes him the right choice. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Baltimore Orioles take on the Detroit Tigers, in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series. Chris Tillman will pitch for the O’s, which shouldn’t come as a surprise: His poor peripherals notwithstanding, he did post an ERA 14% better than league average in the regular season. But what about the other players whom the Orioles took with them to October? Did they deserve their spots? Let’s look at some of the decisions the team made, and rule on whether or not they were justified.

ON ROSTER: David Lough

OFF ROSTER: Quintin Berry

Both of these men have similar profiles. Neither has much experience at the major-league level, despite advanced age. With sub-100 wRC+s in their brief time in the show, they generally struggle at the plate. Each has made his living off one element of his game, which the Orioles desperately desire: speed. At first glance, Berry appears to have the edge in this regard, as his career Spd is 9.3 — a good deal above Lough’s nonetheless-exquisite mark of 6.3. This advantage translates to base stealing, in which Berry has yet to err (he’s 25 for 25 in the regular season, and 5 for 5 in the playoffs); compared to Lough, who has swiped only 14 bags in 21 attempts, he certainly seems preferable as a pinch runner. Why, then, would Baltimore choose Lough?

First, there’s the matter of baserunning. Different from base stealing, this area of baseball receives very little attention (although I’ve done my best to reverse that). Ultimate Baserunning, or UBR, does a phenomenal job of quantifying it, by covering every imaginable scenario that could occur on the base paths. It also sees Lough as superior to Berry: The former has 4.4 UBR in his major-league tenure, far better than the 2.3 of the latter. In a late-game situation, Berry probably has a better chance of copping second, but Lough will come around to score on a single at a much greater rate.

What if, however, this player doesn’t just come in as a pinch runner? What if he enters in the top of the ninth, and they still need to play a half-inning to win? Then, he’ll have to try his luck in the outfield — which is where Lough really separates from Berry. The former’s career UZR/150 sits at a formidable 28.0, a figure that DRS (22/year) mostly corroborates. By contrast, the latter has a meager -3.4 UZR/150, to go along with a -7 DRS/year. They don’t have a whole ton of time in the field at this level, so this should come with a grain of salt; with that said, that’s a pretty gaping gap.

In the pinch runner/defensive replacement department, the Orioles picked correctly. What about elsewhere — say, the bullpen?

ON ROSTER: Ubaldo Jimenez, Brad Brach (among others)

OFF ROSTER: Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland, Ryan Webb (among others)

Now the judgment becomes less clear. Of this group, Jimenez has the worst xFIP- (118) by a sizable margin, as well as the worst ERA- (123). Matusz and Brach also possess poor or subpar park-adjusted peripherals (107, 109, and 96 xFIP-s, respectively), although they’ve posted better results (89, 81, and 71 ERA-s, respectively). And Webb’s basic statistics align fairly closely with his advanced ones (98 ERA-, 93 xFIP-). Whom should the Orioles have carried?

Well, Jimenez is, as the aforementioned stats show, the worst hurler of the quintet. His placement here probably comes because of his experience as a starting pitcher; his durability allows him to stay in the game for a longer amount of time than most relief pitchers. Should a Baltimore starter leave the game early, Jimenez might put out the fire as a long reliever; in doing so, he could keep the Orioles in the game. The thing is, he isn’t the only erstwhile starter of this group — McFarland began games for most of his time in the minors, and his stats in the majors (34 of his 73 career relief appearances have been 2+ innings) reflect this. In addition, McFarland’s 2014 performance towers above Jimenez’s, by either simple or complex measures. Unless there’s something we don’t know, this move makes very little sense.

Brach’s case resembles Jimenez’s, which isn’t a good thing. With a similar line for the year, plus the ability to retire both righties and lefties, Brach certainly bests Matusz. But not only has Webb pitched much better in 2014, he has a much better background: Prior to 2014, he had a 96 xFIP- in 276.0 innings, whereas Brach’s numbers before joining the Orioles (104.2 innings, 108 xFIP-) don’t instill the same confidence. Furthermore, Brach — who outperformed his peripherals in the regular season — has little history of doing so, with a 103 ERA- in that span. On the flipside, Webb — who underperformed his peripherals in the regular season — actually has a history of luck, with an 86 ERA- preceding Baltimore. Add it all up, and you really can’t make much of a case for Brach over Webb.

Overall, the choice of fifth and sixth relievers probably won’t make too much of a difference. Then again, the 2011 Texas Rangers probably thought that when they took on the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. When Game 6 rolled along, and they needed some semblance of a bullpen to preserve a few late-inning leads…it didn’t end well for them. If it comes down to that for the Orioles against the Tigers, they could be in trouble.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.