Chris Tillman - Balimore Orioles SP

Since shocking the baseball world in 2012, countless pieces about the Orioles looming regression have been published around the interwebs. That year, run differential and success in one-run games was used to categorize the O’s playoff run as luck. Last season, the O’s took a step back, but still managed to win 85 games with a +36 run differential and 20-31 record in games decided by one-run.

This year, the Birds find themselves atop the American League East and are currently nine games above .500. Sure, the East is down, but given the injuries the O’s have faced in 2014, their first half has been impressive.

Over on FanGraphs.com, Mike Petriello credited the Orioles for continuing to outperform projections and expectations, but warned about the slide that is sure to come.

It’s the pitching that’s a concern, as you can see above; without a single elite starter, and with the worst (non-Rockies division) pitching FIP in baseball, we’re actually seeing them be outscored over the remainder of the division. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only two teams have a larger negative discrepancy between their ERA and FIP, and it looks like regression is coming.

Orioles pitching staff:
2014: 4.32 FIP, 3.84 ERA
2013: 4.33 FIP, 4.20 ERA
2012: 4.20 FIP, 3.90 ERA

So yeah, the Orioles staff has outperformed their FIP over the past three seasons. Does that mean they’re finally due to fall back to earth or is 2 1/2 seasons of data enough to suggest that this is less of an anomaly and more of a trend?

I’m gonna do something crazy here — stay with me. Here’s a quote from a commenter (I know, I know) on Petriello’s piece.

Why do we assume ERA regression is coming? The ERA and FIP discrepancy is really just a measure of the impact the defense has on runs allowed, isn’t it? So unless some of the plus defenders on the team go down to injury, we can expect the same level of defense and a continuation of that discrepancy.

Omitted from my stats above was BABIP for the O’s staff over the past three seasons.

2014: .289
2013: .291
2012: .285

Another commenter points out that the O’s line drive percentage indicates that these BABIP totals aren’t completely dependent on the Orioles defense.

2014: 19.7%
2013: 21.9%
2012: 20.2%

While I certainly agree with the notion that the Orioles rotation is the team’s biggest weakness, I can’t get on board with the idea that they’ll be worse after the All-Star break than they’ve been the first 3 1/2 months of the season (or last two years for that matter).

Image Credit: Au Kirk