How the Baltimore Orioles can beat their over/under win projection
Last Tuesday night, Caesars Palace released their annual MLB over/under lines for 2019. Here’s how the Baltimore Orioles can beat their projected 59 wins
The Baltimore Orioles have the lowest projected win total in the major leagues heading into 2019. Caesars Palace released their annual over/under win totals on Tuesday night and the Orioles are projected to win just 59 games next year, easily the worst in the majors.
Unfortunately this isn’t a new thing in Baltimore. The Orioles were the worst team in MLB in 2018, finishing with a 47-115 record, and they aren’t expected to be significantly better than that next year.
We know that the Orioles are in the midst of a rebuild and won’t be competing for a playoff spot, at least for now.
And we know that during the Astros’ rebuild, from 2011-2013, they won 56, 55, and 51 games, respectively.
Fans in Birdland don’t want to see 50-win teams, but it might be the case for another year or two while Mike Elias re-tools the organization from the inside out.
How O’s fans handle the next couple years remains to be seen, and it’s something we’ve covered here at Birds Watcher recently. But it seems a common sentiment in Birdland is that fans don’t want to watch the Orioles tank.
Tanking isn’t necessarily a product of the players giving up, as much as it is the organization focusing on building a more stable minor league system and a more capable front office, rather than building the best possible major league roster. The players on the field aren’t trying to lose.
Brandon Hyde has spoken to this point several times now; the Orioles are going to try to compete, albeit with the talent they have on the roster. The idea is to build a winning culture in Baltimore, and that starts by creating the right mentality in the clubhouse.
But the Orioles don’t just need the right attitude to win with this 2019 squad. They need the players on the field to produce. Many of those players will be young and inexperienced.
If the Baltimore Orioles are going to beat their projected 59 wins, it has to start there: with the prospects (and the non-prospects)
Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart are the leading candidates to start for the Orioles in CF and RF, respectively. The two of them combined have 238 career major league plate appearances.
Mullins has plus-defense in center but he might as well have gone to the plate with a golf club against left-handed pitchers last year, as he slashed .156/.296/.156. If Mullins is going to be an every-day guy in 2019, that has to improve.
There’s a lot of love in Baltimore for DJ Stewart. He posted an .859 OPS in a full season at Bowie in 2017, and showed potential in his September call-up to Baltimore last year.
Stewart is an above-average corner outfielder with surprising quickness, given his build. If he gets 400+ plate appearances and plays to his projections, he could hit double-digit homers and steal 10 to 15 bases.
If Mullins and Stewart prove to be every-day guys and post 2+ WAR seasons, it’ll go a long way toward the Orioles getting over the 59 win threshold.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the young guys in the infield as well, but the biggest one there remains whether Chris Davis can come back from the dead.
The Orioles don’t need Chris Davis to return to his 2013 self. They just need him to not be one of the worst hitters in MLB history. Since 1900, just three hitters have posted an fWAR worse than Davis’ -3.1 last year.
Like it or not, Davis isn’t going anywhere with that contract. The Orioles need to work with him and try to correct whatever issues he’s dealing with. Steamer projects Davis for a .203/.297/.398 slash line, good for an 89 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR.
That’s generally a pretty bad player, but it would represent a significant improvement for Davis. A good, or even just not terrible, Chris Davis makes the Orioles a much better baseball team.
There needs to be improvement on the pitching side as well
There will be plenty of opportunity in the bullpen, and we can assume that the Baltimore Orioles will shuffle guys in and out all year, waiting for someone like Tanner Scott to step up and fill one of the open roles.
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There are currently two open spots in the rotation, and the Orioles will likely use a combination of guys to get the job done. If one of them hits, that’s great. But most of those pitchers have limited upside.
The one pitcher who can be an ace for the Orioles is Alex Cobb. If he pitches like he did in the second half last year, it’ll give the O’s a true top of the rotation guy.
Cobb finished 2018 with a 4.90 ERA, but he was much better after the all-star break than he was before it.
Cobb threw 59.2 innings in the second half of 2018 with a 2.56 ERA, despite a diminished strikeout rate. He dealt with blisters on his throwing hand in September that caused an early end to his season.
It’s been a long time since Cobb posted consecutive sub-3.00 ERA seasons in Tampa Bay, but if he can pitch like he did for the final three months last year, he could make a run at it in 2019.
If Cobb can provide the Orioles with steady, top of the rotation performance next year, they’ll have a good chance of getting over that win projection.
This Baltimore Orioles team could have everything go right and win 66 games next year. I’m not sure I’d bet the over, as I don’t want my financial happiness tied to this Orioles squad. But there is certainly a scenario where Brandon Hyde and his new coaching staff win 60+ games with this roster.