Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Baltimore Orioles. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Orioles players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Baltimore Orioles started the 2011 season 6-1 (all 7 of those games were against eventual playoff teams) and even got to spend a few days in first place because of their hot start. A mere week into the season, pundits were singing Buck Showalter's praises and wondering aloud if the mighty AL East might be due for a shakeup. Then, in the second half of a doubleheader on April 9, the Rangers smacked the O's around for a 13-1 victory, and just like that, Baltimore's season was over. The game started an 8-game losing streak, and though the team would hover around .500 for little while, Baltimore never fully recovered. They ended up finishing 69-93, which was good enough for their 4th basement finish in a row. It was also the 14th consecutive sub-.500 year (and they were the only ones in the division that finished below even). The main culprit was the pitching (staff ERA+: 84), but below league average numbers in almost every hitting category didn't help either. In the end, the Orioles made their greatest contribution to the league by playing hard down the stretch and factoring into the playoff race. They went 5-2 against the Red Sox during the last 10 days of the season, and their 9th inning comeback on the final day was part of one of the most memorable regular season moments in recent history.
Many people contend that the Orioles will never recover their past glory until meddlesome owner Peter Angelos is out, and as a casual observer, I'm inclined to agree. Here's a scary thought: There are Orioles fans that will vote in this year's election that have been subject to Angelos' tyrannical reign their entire lives. I mention this only because the biggest storyline over the offseason concerning this team was the search for a General Manager, a job almost nobody wanted, thanks to Angelos' influence. Dan Duquette, known for taking teams from zero to hero, eventually took the job. Fans expecting a Expos or Red Sox type turnaround will need to be patient, however. Dan had the benefit of heading up Montreal's farm system for the 4 years prior to his tenure, and in Boston he had plenty of pieces to build around. This team is in a tougher spot, and it's not like he's been free to make any impact moves since signing on - trading Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom is maybe his most significant transaction so far. Of course, he also went an signed Japanese pitchers Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-yin Chen, then sparked an international incident when he tried to sign Korean high schooler Seong-Min Kim without getting permission from the KBO first. Turns out the rules have changed a bit since the last he was in a front office. Ultimately, it seems the most pertinent question for this team concerns whether or not they can top .500 for the first time since 1997.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards has actually played close to neutral in recent years, but in actuality, it is a home run hitter's park. Left handed pull hitters especially benefit from the short dimensions (318 in the corner), but hitters of all handedness should get a bump when they visit Baltimore. Don't forget, the visitors also have the benefit of facing a staff that gave up 860 runs last year.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Buck Showalter could probably fairly be described as an old-school taskmaster, though there are reports that he has softened a bit. Fiery personality or not, he's a good manager to have around a green team like the Orioles. One maddening thing about Showalter is his apparent willingness to give free passes. These pitchers have a hard enough time preventing runs, so it makes little sense to put more obstacles in their way. Still, it's a nitpick. As long as Buck is in town, the Fighting Showalters will hustle and give every play 110%. That's what I've been told, anyway.
Expected Position Battles
The Orioles have a lot of starting pitchers. That statement should in no way be construed to mean that they have what might be considered "depth." Here are the candidates for the rotation, listed by how likely they are to make the team, in my own estimation.
Jason Hammel - New acquisition, home run numbers should come down a bit
Zach Britton - Recovering from shoulder inflammation, but he looks to be on track for Opening Day
Wei-yin Chen - Last year in Japan was his worst; apparently he blames it on the small ball
Jake Arrieta - Will probably make the rotation by default
Tsuyoshi Wada - Another Japanese import; he's suffering from elbow inflammation in camp
Brian Matusz - Looking for a bounceback - if you want to gamble on it, go ahead
Dana Eveland - Even his AAA numbers in 2011 were uninspiring
Chris Tillman - Youth is on his side, but not much else
Brad Bergesen - Career FIP: 5.27
Summary: Yes, there will be a competition for rotation spots in camp, but unless you're in a ridiculously deep AL-only league, focus your energy elsewhere.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Brian Roberts - 2B
J.J. Hardy - SS
Adam Jones - CF
Nick Markakis - RF
Matt Wieters - C
Mark Reynolds - 3B
Chris Davis - 1B
Wilson Betemit - DH
Endy Chavez/Nolan Reimold - LF
This lineup assumes a healthy Brian Roberts, not a safe assumption at all. Robert Andino would play in his stead and probably hit 9th, with Hardy taking over leadoff duties. Chavez and Reimold look to platoon in left.
Hammel | Britton | Chen | Arrieta | Wada
Worst rotation in the bigs, top to bottom?
Jim Johnson is a fine closer, if a little light in the strikeout department. However, don't forget that as a general rule, closers on bad teams get less save opportunities than their counterparts on good teams. As far as setup guys go, I'm a huge fan of Pedro Strop. He was fine after being traded from Texas, and I like him to continue his development and turn himself into a reliable 8th inning guy (Kevin Gregg is sooo not keeping that job) who can bring the heat.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
I'll be completely honest with you - I looked all over this roster and didn't find anybody that I wanted to recommend in this space. All of the guys I like are being drafted about where I think they should be. I'm sorry if this seems like a cop-out, but I'd rather not pretend to recommend somebody I don't really believe in.
Spring Storylines to Watch
It's early, but Brian Roberts has yet to make an appearance in Spring Training action as he attempts to recover from a concussion suffered last May. If he doesn't show up soon, just go ahead and write off his season. This feels a lot like Justin Morneau a year later, and Roberts was never as valuable as Morneau.
Follow the Team
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.