Just one day after clinching their first playoff berth since 2016, maintaining their two-game lead for first place in the best division in baseball, and entering the penultimate week of the regular season with the league's second-best record, Fangraphs still does not believe the Orioles have shown enough to earn a spot in MLB's top tiers of teams.
On September 18, 2023, FanGraphs released its weekly power rankings, grouping Major League Baseball's 30 teams into six tiers, with the first tier being the best. Guess which grouping FanGraphs placed the 93-57 Orioles in?
The first tier, entitled "The Best of the Best?" Seems reasonable, as the Orioles have the second-best record in baseball. Nope. Okay fine, the second tier, entitled "On the Cusp of Greatness", because while the Orioles have had an historic regular season, they have not accomplished anything in the playoffs yet? Again, nope.
FanGraphs dropped the Orioles into the third tier of its power rankings, titled "Solid Contenders", joined by the likes of the 78-72 Chicago Cubs and 79-71 Minnesota Twins. Now, the Orioles are no strangers to being overlooked by national media outlets. FanGraphs is a well-respected baseball site that relies on advanced quantitative data in its analysis that may show the Orioles have had some "luck" (their +122 run differential is third in the American League behind Tampa Bay, Texas, and Houston).
But the numbers that matter at this time of the season, including the Orioles win/loss record, position in first place since July, and head-to-head matchups (which decide tiebreakers) against certain "first and second tier" teams makes FanGraphs' power rankings a real head scratcher.
Latest FanGraphs power rankings a disrespect to the Orioles
1. Tier 1: Braves and Rays
FanGraph's "Tier 1" contains only two teams: the 96-53 Atlanta Braves and the 92-59 Rays. The Braves have been the best team in baseball all season, and are the only team with a record better than the Orioles. Head to head, they took two out of three games from the Orioles this year. Without question, the Braves belong in this tier.
But as good as the Rays are - and they are really good - the Orioles have been better this season. The Orioles caught them in July and have, at worst, been tied with the Rays for first place since. They have led the East by as many as four games since then. Perhaps most importantly, the Orioles went 8-5 against Tampa Bay this year, winning the tiebreaker and demonstrating, in a reasonable sample size, that they are the better team this year. The Rays could absolutely overtake the Orioles for first place in the final two weeks of the season. But at this moment, ranking Tampa Bay six spots and two tiers ahead of the Orioles is wrong.
2. Tier 2: Dodgers, Rangers, Blue Jays, Mariners
According to FanGraphs, the Dodgers, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Mariners are Tier 2 teams. The Orioles were not invited.
Despite the Orioles having a better record than LA, I have no qualms with them being ranked higher than the Orioles. But Texas, Toronto, and Seattle? Three teams that are fighting tooth and nail to simply make the playoffs should not rank above the Orioles the day after the Orioles clinched. The win/loss records tell the story.
The Orioles are 10 games ahead of the Blue Jays, 11 games ahead of the Rangers, and 12 games ahead of Seattle. None of these teams has been a threat to the Orioles' playoff positioning in months. The Orioles dominated Toronto this year, going 10-3 against the Jays, including 6-1 in Toronto. The numbers speak for themselves.
While the Orioles split the season series against the Rangers this year at 3-3, Texas is only two games over .500 since the All-Star break, and endured stretches of 0-8 and 1-7 since August 1. While their run differential is better than the Orioles, teams make the playoffs and secure seeding based on their win/loss record. The Orioles are 11 games better than Texas. It's not even close.
After being swept at home against the Dodgers this past weekend, the Mariners have now lost 11 of their last 16 games and are currently on the outside looking in for the junior circuit playoff picture. The Orioles went 4-2 against Seattle this year, including an incredible series win in Seattle that stopped Seattle's 8-game winning streak in its tracks. The Orioles' run differential of +122 is 30 runs greater than Seattle's at +92. But you do you, FanGraphs. The incredible disrespect continues.
3. Tier 3: Astros, Orioles, Brewers, Cubs, Twins, Phillies
The Orioles check in behind the 84-66 Houston Astros as the second best "Tier 3" team and eighth best team overall, according to FanGraphs. Now Houston may have a better chance of reaching the World Series than the Orioles due to their experience and championship grit, but the numbers don't lie, the Orioles are 9.5 games better than them.
With that said, Houston took two out of three in Baltimore and host the Orioles this week for three games. Ultimately, while I would put the Orioles ahead of Houston, ranking the Orioles behind the Astros is not the worst thing in the world.
But putting the Orioles in the same tier as Milwaukee, Chicago, Minnesota, and Philadelphia is pretty egregious. The Orioles are 9 games better than Milwaukee, 12 games better than Philadelphia,14.5 games better than the Twins, and 15.5 games better than the Cubs.
While the Orioles do have a losing record against all of these teams except Minnesota, they have nine more wins than the teams closest to them: Houston and Milwaukee. Certainly, the Orioles could be exactly what FanGraphs groups them as: "Solid Contenders." But with the second-best record in baseball and as much as a 15.5 game lead on another team in their Tier, this ranking is pretty absurd.
4. Tiers 4-6
Tiers 4 through 6 contain "The Melee," (Giants, Yankees, etc.) the "Spoiler Alert," (Mets, Red Sox, Reds, etc.) and "Hope Deferred" (Athletics, Rockies, etc.) Fortunately, FanGraphs agrees that the second-best record in baseball does not fall into any of these categories. However, FanGraphs blatant underrating of the Orioles is eye-catching. To be sure, other well-respected publications have ranked the Orioles more appropriately.
While ultimately, Power Rankings matter little in the grand scheme of things, the Orioles are still not getting the respect they deserve from at least one well-respected media outlet in FanGraphs. Perhaps they need a little more convincing from these Orioles. Some hopeful success in the playoffs would, most likely, make FanGraphs realize that the 2023 Baltimore Orioles are not just a "Tier 3" team.