The Baltimore Orioles 29-9 record in one run games probably won’t be repeated in 2013. Their 16-2 record in extra-inning games probably won’t be either. It should come as no surprise that every expert in the game is making the same statements here in late February. But to compare the 2012 Orioles to their 2013 brethren is a mistake. The Orioles won’t follow their 2012 formula to 93 wins, they’ll have their own plan for this season.
The Orioles used 12 starting pitchers in 2012 and Wei-Yin Chen led the O’s arms in innings with 192 2/3. This season they enter Spring Training with a greater understanding of their rotation talent. After Tommy Hunter‘s bullpen success (3.71 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 4.00 K/BB compared to 5.71 ERA, 4.7 K/9, 2.65 K/BB as a starter), the O’s likely won’t be tasking him with a job in the starting rotation. A full season in the pen should only help solidify one of the games top tier bullpens.
Similarly, the Orioles called on Chris Tillman on July 4 after his tear through Triple-A. Tillman started in 15 games, totaled a 2.93 ERA and earned 9 quality starts in those outings. FanGraph’s ZiP projections predict 165 2/3 innings this season, he threw just 86 with Baltimore in 2012. Assuming he’s healthy, Tillman makes the rotation an even stronger force than it was this time last year.
A healthy Jason Hammel could completely change the Orioles rotation as well. Hammel has assured reporters that is knee feels great and seems ready to rock in 2013. The Birds number one starter had a career year with a 3.43 ERA over 118 innings pitched (his fewest since 2008). Getting him close to 200 innings would be huge for Buck Showalter’s team.
Having a full season of Nate McLouth will be big for the O’s lineup as well. McLouth only played in 55 games for the Orioles and was second on the team in stolen bases with 12. Expect to see a few more of those this season. He didn’t join the Orioles until August 4 and hit .268/.342/.435 with 7 home runs and 18 RBI with Baltimore. As a full-time left fielder, the Orioles lineup becomes more solidified than it did when they were plugging Nolan Reimold, Xavier Avery or Bill Hall in that spot the first half of 2012.
Most importantly, let’s not forget about defense. Before Manny Machado was called up to play third base (August 9), the Orioles were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds couldn’t cut it on the left side of the infield, but Machado’s glove and instincts completely changed their play. The O’s went 33-18 in their games with Machado manning the bag down.
To look at the Orioles 2012 season as a whole and make a summation of it would be a big mistake. April through July the Orioles went 55-49 with a -51 run differential. August through October (regular season) the O’s went 38-20 with a +58 run differential. The August through October team had McLouth and Machado, Tommy Hunter in the bullpen, Chris Tillman in the rotation and, later on, Dylan Bundy on the staff as well. This year they’ll have all that, plus a healthy Nick Markakis, Jason Hammel and even Nolan Reimold.
Any experts that want to compare the 2013 to 2012 teams because they have similar rosters are doing a disservice to themselves for not noting the dramatic changes Buck Showalter‘s team underwent to propel them to 93 wins last year. I see the 2013 Orioles as the August-October Orioles. They’re playing in a tougher division this go around with improvements in Toronto and Boston, but their current roster made them a contender last year.
I don’t expect the O’s narrative this season to be about close wins or run differentials because a closer look will reveal that story really wasn’t a part of narrative for this current crop of guys.