It's not really surprising that the Orioles are in first place in the AL East right now. I mean, sure, it was the least likely outcome, but the Orioles have played 13 games. That's 8% of the season. It's like thinking that the Rams will win the NFC West if they start 1-0 and everyone else starts 0-1. (If you don't follow NFL, the Rams are bad.)
It's like flipping a coin four times and seeing it land on head's every time. It's not as probable as having variation but it's not surprising. It happens. The O's are 8-5 right now and they've hit 21 home runs, the second most in baseball behind the Texas Rangers. It's neat because odd things happen in small sample sizes in baseball. Sadly for Baltimore, I think I would be more shocked if they don't end up in last place with 95 losses than I am by this 8-5 start.
For fantasy purposes, the O's have had a few contributors. I just want to take a closer look at a few of them and try to find out what's to like and what's not. Will they hold up over 162 or is this mirage about ready to fade? Let's look:
Adam Jones, OF - .321/.357/.679, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 3 SB, 10 R
As a Mariners fan, I'm very familiar with Jones and he has turned into a much better player than I had ever expected. Still, his hot start is way hotter than he's ever displayed before including when he was an All-Star. Jones had a career year at the plate last season, with 25 HR, 83 RBI, 26 2B, 12 SB, all career-highs.
He is only 26-years-old, so there is reason to believe that Jones could still elevate his game to another level as he comes closer to those "prime years" between 27 and 30. Will he and is this the beginning?
Well, there is cause for concern.
Jones has always had certain issues in his career regarding plate discipline and he has not improved them this season yet: 1.8% walks and 19.6% strikeouts. Last season he had 4.7% walks and 18.3% strikeouts. Neither of those numbers are good but you could at least live with the strikeouts if he he walked more. Jones isn't hitting for an abnormally high BABIP but that's because he's hit 5 HR out of the park and posted an ISO of .358, while his career-high in ISO is a below-average .185.
What you'd actually like to see from Jones is better plate discipline, more doubles, and more stolen bases. That's what would make him a complete player. His three stolen bases is actually a good start, an early sign that he might steal 15+ and he could definitely hit 25 HR again, but I'd be concerned that much of it would be empty because he couldn't draw a walk if you gave him a pen and paper.
You don't want to downplay a 25/15 player, but he should be at the bottom of that "25/15" level of player until he shows better decision-making at the plate.
Matt Wieters, C - .308/.413/.641, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 5 R, 7 BB/8 K
I've been pumping up Wieters for some time now and grabbed him in all of my leagues (besides the keeper leagues where he was kept) because I felt the top prospect had shown enough positive signs that he was ready for a true breakthrough.
He smashed 22 home runs last year but still "only" hit .262/.328/.450 with a little less than twice as many strikeouts as walks. From the catcher position, I would definitely take a repeat of that season, but I expected more. Early season signs are great from Wieters.
In the early going, he has doubled his walk percentage from 8.7% to 15.2% while raising strikeouts only a little from 16.2% to 17.4%. He's posted a .333 ISO and a .296 BABIP. I expect the ISO to come down to the .200-.250 range but Wieters is talented enough to have that one "Joe Mauer" season.
He was a 5 WAR player last season under the radar but I could see him posting 7-8 WAR this season with 30 HR and 100 RBI. He's spraying line drives at twice the rate he did last season and chasing fewer pitches outside of the zone. I believe Wieters is ready.
Nolan Reimold, OF - .341/.357/.707, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 3 2B, 1 BB/10 K
I always have a hard time remembering the "I before E" rule because of Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold.
Reimold has always been an interesting case as a player that maybe could be better than he was. He'd show flashes of great power but never put it all together and had too many holes in his game to be considered an everyday play. He's started off hitting the ball extremely well this year though and has hit 4 HR in 41 at-bats. Is he ready?
Given everything I've said about plate discipline so far, do you think I'd recommend a guy that has drawn one walk?
Reimold has a .370 BABIP, strikes out too much and can't walk. He might have more raw power than Wieters and Jones but he has no idea how to do the rest of hitting. You may want to ride him for a few more home runs but he's not an everyday major leaguer in my eyes. Of course, this is the Orioles we're talking about, and as you'll see, plate discipline is the least of their concerns...
Chris Davis, 1B - .341/.357/.512, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB/11 K
Mark Reynolds, 3B - .154/.267/.256, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 6 BB/17 K
Pairing Davis and Reynolds together in the same infield is like some kind of cosmic joke.
When he's hitting 35 HR, Reynolds can be kind of useful, but so far he's homerless in 2012 which just makes him useless. If he continues to get at-bats, Reynolds power should return but he's posted a .103 ISO so far. He's making contact at 58.9% of balls in the zone, which is almost 12% lower than what he did last year. Players like Reynolds DO fall off cliffs, so this might not be a mirage.
Meanwhile Davis, who hasn't posted a positive WAR since 2008, has hit .341 but on a .448 BABIP and only a single walk in 42 plate appearances. He walked only 5.2% of the time in 2011, which is right in line with his career numbers. Eventually, unless he magically improves, Davis will settle back into hitting ..250 or worse when his BABIP falls.
Robert Andino, 2B - .319/.347/.489, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 3 2B, 2 BB/15 K
Hey, look! Davis and Reynolds have a new buddy!
Andino is posting a Reynold/Davis like 30.6% K and 4.1% walk rate! The Orioles infield is striking out 24.7% of the time and that includes Wieters and JJ Hardy. Andino/Davis/Reynolds are striking out 31.6% of the time on their own.
In his first full season in 2011, Andino hit .263/.327/.344 with 5 HR and 13 SB in 511 PAs. He walked twice as much and struck out half as often as he has so far in 2012. He's posted a .452 BABIP on his way to that .319 average but unless he starts stealing bases and drawing walks, he won't have much value.
He's not a prospect, he's just a role player, so I don't think he'll last much longer at this rate. (Of course, when Brian Roberts returns, that will easily spell the end for Andino the starter. A Roberts rehab assignment should hopefully come soon and he's been traveling with the team all year.)
J.J. Hardy, SS - .188/.286/.375, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 8 R, 6 BB/8 K
Uncharacteristic of an O's infielder, Hardy has shown good plate discipline. In 2011, he had the season we've been waiting for since 2008 by hitting 30 HR as a SS, but only walked 5.5% of the time. That was a career-low though, so it's safe to assume he could settle into the 8% range with 15% strikeouts and 25 home runs.
His .158 BABIP will rise and Hardy should hit something like .270/.320/.480. Not shabby for a SS when you count HR, R, and RBI.
Nick Markakis, OF - .200/.293/.400, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 8 R, 6 BB/10 K
Oh, the long-forgotten Nick Markakis. In 2008, he posted 6.3 WAR. In the last three years combined, he's posted 7.1 WAR and has only missed five games. Power has dropped in every year and he'll never steal 18 bases again like he did in 2007. So what can we expect? Is this the end?
His power has improved early in the year and he only has a .205 BABIP, so we can expect his average to improve. How much? Enough to probably bring him back to what he is: .270/.350/.430, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 80 R, 5 SB. What's that worth to you?
To wrap this up...
Jason Hammel is pitching more like he did in 2009-2010 when he was a 4-win pitcher for the Rockies. He'll regress, but should have value in most leagues as a 3.80-4.00 ERA guy with decent strikeouts and decent control. Nothing special, nothing terrible.
Is Jake Arrieta actually going to be the gem from the Tillman/Matusz/Britton pile? He was once fourth behind those guys but he has dramatically reduced walks this year and it's paying off. His FIP is 3.41 and xFIP at 3.63, meaning that he could settle his ERA right around the 3.60 range and be a decent mixed-league option.
Rookie Wei-Yin Chen has been very good in two starts. His xFIP (4.38) is considerably higher than his ERA (3.27) but it's not bad and he's posted a great K/BB ratio.
Jim Johnson has been a pretty terrible closer considering that he's got an ERA of 0.00 but a FIP of 4.17 because he doesn't strike out many and he walks almost as many as he strikes out (6.75 K/9 and 5.40 BB/9).
Tommy Hunter has given up an incredible 6 HR in 18.2 innings with a 5.79 ERA/7.20 FIP. In his last start, he said "I didn't have a fastball." Well, that seems pretty essential to most pitchers! I'm more concerned about Matusz than Hunter, but Hunter needs to get better.
That's it for the O's Report!
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