Quick Recap of 2012

The Orioles had a surprisingly successful 2012, not only finishing above .500 for the first time since 1997, but also making the playoffs, defeating the Texas Rangers in the wild card game, and taking the Yankees to the brink of elimination before losing Game 5 of the Division Series.

How did the Orioles succeed in 2012?  They maneuvered their 40-man roster incredibly well and had a ton of luck.  Luck is something that I will refer to a lot on this website, as it can play an important part in baseball.  Luck (good or bad) will eventually even out with more games played, but over a small sample of games, it can play a big difference.  This is a reason why, over a 162 game season, you generally see the best teams qualify the post-season, while the playoffs are much more unpredictable.  Extended streaks of good or bad luck are rare, but they can happen.  Before we look at how lucky the Orioles may have been in 2012, let’s take a look at some of their team statistics from 2012, and compare them to the rest of the American League and MLB.

2012 Batting

Statistic

Value

Rank in AL

Rank in MLB

Runs Scored

712

9

15

Batting Average

.247

10

20

OBP

.311

11

23

SLG

.417

6

11

wOBA

.317

6

11

UBR

-4.4

11

25

Offensive WAR (as per Fangraphs)

0.54

7

12

The Orioles were average or below average in all of the above offensive categories.  While they hit 214 home runs (2nd behind the Yankees), they struggled to get on base and were terrible at baserunning.  Increasing the team’s OBP would help the offense greatly, specifically by turning those home runs into more of the 2 and 3 run variety.   From an on-base standpoint, the main culprits contributing to these below average numbers were located at 2B, 3B, SS, and LF positions, which posted OBP’s of .273, .302, .282, and .300, respectively (all of which ranked 25th or worse in MLB).  Significantly upgrading 4 positions can be difficult.  However, a bounce back year at the plate for J.J. Hardy, (never a high OBP guy, but much better power and glove tools than the average SS) and a full year of Manny Machado at the hot corner essentially reduces the number of upgrades to essentially two positions.

OFFSEASON UPGRADE:  2B and LF

2012 Pitching

Statistic

Value

Rank in AL

Rank in MLB

Runs Against

705

8

17

Starters IP

937.2

9

20

ERA

3.90

6

13

FIP

4.20

8

21

K/9

7.14

10

25

BB/9

2.92

8

13

WAR (as per Fangraphs)

16.6

7

15

Notice anything similar to the rank of pitching statistics to the offensive ones?  They’re basically all average to below average as well.  The bullpen itself produced 6.4 WAR (ranking 5th in all of baseball), while pitching in less than 37% of all innings.  This effective relieving unit is basically returning for 2013 intact, so the main area for improvement would be among starting rotation.  In 2012, the Orioles lacked a true #1 starter, despite very strong performances from Jason Hammel (2.9 WAR in 118 IP) and Wei-Yin Chen (2.2 WAR in 192.2 IP).  Looking at the table, the two statistics they needed to improve most were strikeouts and innings pitched by starting pitchers.  Doing this would decrease the fielding opportunities for the below average defense (see below) and prevent the very effective bullpen from wearing down over the course of the long season.

OFFSEASON UPGRADE:  Starting Pitcher(s)

Fielding

Statistic

Value

Rank in AL

Rank in MLB

Fielding %

0.983

10

17

UZR/150

-4.3

12

26

Defense was another issue for the Orioles in 2012 as both traditional defensive statistics and advanced statistics saw them as a well below average defensive team.  In addition to ranking 10th in the AL in fielding percentage, every position except for C and SS posted a UZR/150 below average.  The healthy return of Nick Markakis in RF (league average defender over his career, according to UZR) and a full season of Manny Machado at 3B (13.2 UZR/150 in 2012…although in an EXTREMELY small sample) will improve the defense at positions that were mainly occupied in 2012 by below average defenders in RF and Mark Reynolds (who may be legally blind) at 3B.  In a conveniently symmetric way, the biggest areas of improvement can be found at 2B (-6.6 UZR/150 in 2012) and LF (-3.9 UZR/150) in 2012.*

OFFSEASON UPGRADE:  2B and LF

*Orioles centerfielders (mainly Adam Jones) actually had a slightly worse UZR/150 than LF, but Mr. Jones not only won the AL Gold Glove for CF, but is also signed for the next 6 years, so he’s not going anywhere.

If the Orioles were this bad at every aspect of the game, compared to the rest of the league, how did they end up finishing 93-69 and making the playoffs?  As mentioned above, it was effective roster manipulation and luck.  The way the team manipulated its active roster in 2012 was nothing short of brilliant, with the names on the major league team changing (and contributing) almost daily.  Though instead of analyzing this further, I will just give the front office a hypothetical pat on the back on move on (may be a good topic for a future post).

As for luck, there are 3 factors that their impressive 2012 may have been a mirage.

1)     Orioles Pythagorean Expectation

This theory demonstrates that a team’s record should loosely correspond with the number of runs they score compared to the number of runs they allow, which if you think about it, makes sense.  The good teams will score more than they give up, while the bad teams will do the opposite.  Based on the fact that the Orioles scored 712 runs and gave up 705 runs, they were expected to have a record of 82-80.  This indicates the Orioles true talent was closer to a .500 team rather than the 93-69 team that made the playoffs.

2)     Orioles Record in 1-Run Games

The Orioles went an insane 29-9 (.763 winning percentage) in one-run games, which was the best winning percentage in one-run games since the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms.  Don’t be embarrassed, I don’t know who they are either.  While some of the team’s success in one-run games is due to their stellar bullpen, luck, which is believed to play a large role in the outcome of one-run games, is likely the reason for their near-historic winning percentage.  Think about it, if they had gone 19-19 in one-run games, they would have finished with an 83-79 record, much closer to their Pythagorean Expectation.

3)     Orioles Record in Extra-Inning Games

The Orioles went an equally insane 16-2 in games decided by extra innings, including 16 wins in a row.  Similar to one-run games, winning extra-inning games is generally perceived as a function of luck, and the Orioles definitely seemed to have an abundance of it in 2012.

Obviously, there is more to the Orioles 2012 season than the contents of this post, however, 2012 is in the rear-view mirror and we must move on.  Next, we’ll use this information to help look at what the Orioles did this offseason (or more accurately, what they didn’t do) and why that may have been a good thing.

One Response to “Quick Recap of 2012”

  1. […] the playoffs, the 2013 team was arguably more talented than the 2012 team, due to reasons that we’ve discussed before. This offseason was relatively quiet until around the start of spring training when the team made […]

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