Projecting the 2014 Orioles: Pitching

Last week we looked at what the Zips projection system over at Fangraphs thought the Baltimore Orioles position players were capable of in the 2014 season.  Comparing those projections to the wins (fWAR) the team received at each of the offensive positions in 2013 resulted in the 2014 Baltimore offense to be worth 4.7 wins worse than the previous year’s team.  Today we’ll take a look at the pitching staff and see if we can bring that number back into the positive.

Starting Pitcher

2014 Zips Projection

2014 Zips Projection

In 2013, Baltimore starting pitchers as a whole were one of the weakest parts of the roster.  The starters combined for only 7.4 fWAR, which placed them 24th among all major league starting rotations.  Much of that production came from Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, and Miguel GonzalezScott Feldman and Bud Norris also added about 1 win each in a little less than half a seasons worth of work for the Orioles.  Other than that, 9 other pitchers produced anywhere in between 0.5 fWAR (Jason Hammel) and -0.8 fWAR (Freddy Garcia).  I looked at how the starting rotation fared in depth at ESPN Sweetspot Network Orioles blog Camden Depot earlier in the offseason, so if you would like a more detailed analysis, you can find it here.

Overall, Zips sees the Orioles starting pitchers producing 10.5 wins.  Ubaldo Jimenez is expected to produce the most out of the group, which seems about right. As for the rest of the expected members of the rotation, Zips expects Chen, Tillman, and Gonzalez to be slightly less effective than they were in 2013 (Chen is expected to produce the same number of wins, but also will need more than 30 additional innings pitched to do so).  What’s interesting about these projections is that Zips only expects Bud Norris to pitch 93 innings in the rotation.  I’m assuming that Zips sees his spot being taken over by Kevin Gausman later in the year. Out of these projections, I could see Tillman exceeding his projection, but the real wild card here is Gausman, who has a chance to blow his projection out of the water depending on when he’s actually put in the rotation.  As I’ve discussed before, Jimenez could exceed his projection as well, but he could also just as easily fall short of it.  At the other end of the list, I think that even 20 innings and 0.2 fWAR from both Dylan Bundy and Johan Santana may be a little generous.

2014 Projected Difference: +3.1 wins

Relief Pitcher

2014 Zips Projection

2014 Zips Projection

The Orioles had a pretty good bullpen in 2013, producing 4.2 wins, which was good for 12th best in all of baseball. There were 22 different relievers that helped contribute to that number, with Brian Matusz and Jim Johnson leading the way, producing 1.0 fWAR and 0.9 fWAR respectively.  Additionally, Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Kevin Gausman each produced over 0.5 wins.  Johnson is now gone (traded to Oakland for Jemile Weeks), and Tommy Hunter has been rumored (although it hasn’t been made official) to take over the closing roles in Baltimore.

Other than O’Day pretty much being the same guy he was in 2013, Zips sees some regression for Hunter, Matusz, and T.J. McFarland. Add in the loss of a 0.9 fWAR closer and moving Gausman to the rotation (which is a good thing), and you are left with a bullpen that does not look all that impressive compared to last years group.  In my opinion, the biggest chance to get increased production comes from Ryan Webb, and Suk-min Yoon. Webb is a groundball machine, very similar to Jim Johnson, who could thrive with Baltimore’s excellent infield defense behind him.  Additionally, Yoon is basically an unknown, but I think he will perform better than the 4.53 ERA and 4.37 FIP Zips is projecting for him.

2014 Projected Difference: -2.6 wins

OVERALL 2014 PROJECTED DIFFERENCE: -4.2 wins

Conclusion

Based on the Zips projections, the Baltimore Orioles are expected to be between 4 and 5 wins worse than the 2013 team. However, as I’ve said before, all projection systems are and educated guess based on past performance, player comparisons, and the probability of expected outcomes.  As 2012 has shown, projections are nice, but they don’t have any real bearing on the outcome of the actual games that are played. Furthermore, projections are a mid-point.  As Jon Shepherd explained in a recent post at Camden Depot, 75% of the time, a team will finish within 10 games of their pre-season projection.  In the case of the Zips projection for the 2014 Orioles, it’s likely that they will finish the year with anywhere between 68 and 88 wins. This may not make Orioles fans feel much better, but the Orioles do have a decent roster in 2014, and they are generally regarded as playoff contenders before the season begins. As I’ve outline above, I believe several players have a good chance to exceed their projections, including Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman. For more information on projection systems, click here.

And since I’ve asked everyone else to give a prediction this past week, I suppose I’ll give one of my own.  I think the Orioles will exceed their Zips projection and win 86 games, finishing 3rd in the AL East, but will ultimately miss the playoffs.  Enjoy the season!

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