The Orioles nudged closer to a winning record last year and climbed out of the fourth place cellar. This year they should be able to conclude the long journey back to a winning season, but not by much.
Scored 842 runs, conceded 830.
Won 78 games, lost 84, finished third in the AL East
Pythagorean record - 82-80
Not-quite-so-slammin-as he-used-to-be Sammy Sosa
The Beatagan regime reminds me of the Jays under Gord Ash, it all seems a little too reactive and not proactive enough.
There is that sense of drifting along without too much of a grand plan, some good short term moves are made but the long term health of the franchise doesn't greatly improve. The present setup is long on good aging hitters
and young pitchers with varying degrees of promise. If the pitchers start to get good it should be just in time for the
hitters to start declining and/or retiring. Joe Sheehan made the point recently that for a team that has been rebuilding
for the last few years the Orioles have 'a paucity of young players' and the young position players they do have all
struggled last year. There were some good moves in the 2003-4 off season, the Tejada signing for instance and picking up
some useful players like Newhan. This year while the Birds failed to sign the front line starting pitchers they were
looking for, they at least avoided handing large contracts to mediocre starters when the top tier guys went elsewhere. The
only big name move was bringing in Sosa, who didn't cost them anything they needed and will be a good right-handed
hitter on a team that really needed one.
This team will be a little better this year, but, there is not much reason to be particularly optimistic about the the next few years.
The jury is still out on Mazzilli, given this was his first year, but the early indicators are not particular good. There were good signs, the team survived some pretty bad periods and finished the season very well and he showed a sure hand by sticking with Melvin Mora when he had a difficult early transition to third base. The bad signs though far outnumber the good. There was too much small ball (particularly early in the season) on a team that was not suited to it. Javy Lopez was overworked, because Mazzilli wouldn't play his backups. He was halfhearted at best in backing up his players in disputes with Umpires and his bullpen usage generated a lot of criticism.
Catcher - Javy Lopez
Javy Lopez had a great year last year. It was a drop-off from his incredible performance in 2003 of course, but he couldn't have been expected to repeat that kind of thing. The decline came mainly in his power numbers, his OBP held up well. He will be 34 this year and some decline from last years numbers should be expected. If he can put together a .300/.350/.500 type season the Orioles will be well set behind the plate.
Year AB BA OBP SLG 2003 457 .328 .378 .687 2004 579 .316 .370 .503
First Base - Jay Gibbons
Jay Gibbons will move from the outfield to first. Gibbons was starting to put a nice little career together in 2002 and 2003, then the injury bug really hit him last year. He just had an awful year, his OPS+ dropped 36 points to 74. If he can stay healthy he should rebound from that, it's hard to see how he couldn't, how significant that rebound will be though is open to question.
Second Base - Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts started out last year in a twos a crowd battle for his job with Jerry Hairston, and with Mike Fontenot breathing down his neck on the farm. No such worries this year, now both his rivals are gone to the Cubs and Roberts is slotted in as an everyday player and leadoff hitter. He led the AL in doubles last year and ran pretty well (29 steals at a 70% rate). He struggles against left handed pitching, but overall is one of the better second basemen in the league.
Shortstop - Miguel Tejada
Miguel Tejada Came to the team last year as a big-ticket free agent and played like one. I doubt there is anything I can mention about him you don't already know, Since A-Rod left the position he can now be seen as the Majors best shortstop. He is just 29 this year, and he could get even better, his power numbers exploded in the second half. Strangely his DP combination with Roberts seems, by all accounts, to be less than the sum of its parts.
Third Base - Melvin Mora
OBP machine Melvin Mora had another incredible season last year, he hit .340/.411/.562, even better than his breakout year in 2003. How he is doing this when he is supposed to be in his decline phase is beyond me. He started out badly at third, but had turned himself into a decent defender by the end of the year. Mora's importance to the Orioles showed when he missed some time with injury last year and the team went in the tank. An age related decline from last year could be expected, but no one seems to have told Mora that he's supposed to get worse as he gets older.
Left Field - Larry Bigbie
The least problematic outfield position for the team last year, not that that's saying much. Larry Bigbie didn't have a great season by any measure, but, he wasn't a complete loss. Going into last year there was a lot of expectation that Bigbie was heading for a breakout year, instead he struggled badly hitting .280/.342/.427, he is an extreme groundball hitter and lacks power for a corner outfielder.
Centre Field - Luis Matos
I'm not sure exactly what replacement level is for a centerfielder, but, I'm pretty sure Luis Matos was below it last year, when he had an OPS+ of 56. He did at least provide good defense and should again this year. Matos is just 26 so there is always hope for a rebound, frankly I wouldn't bet on it.
Right Field - Sammy Sosa
Sammy is not the guy who used to have 50 homer seasons, but he's still good enough to be a huge improvement to the Orioles outfield. Now well into his declining years, Sosa stopped walking a couple of years ago and his power numbers are slipping bit by bit. He had, of course, a very high peak from which to decline. He should be good for a .270/.340/.530 type of year, and that adds another significant bat to the lineup.
DH - Rafael Palmiero
Not having to play in the field might help to halt Rafael Palmiero's decline a little, he will see the majority of DH time this year. He is 40 now though, so it's not exactly fair to expect much of an improvement. Raffy is still a just above average hitter (103 OPS+) and has not forgotten how to take his walks, expect good on-base numbers without too much power.
Geronimo Gil, Chris Gomez or Enrique Wilson, B.J. Surhoff, David Newhan. This arrangement does not give Mazzilli much in the way of platoon advantage. Surhoff and Newhan are both lefties and so are three of the guys (Gibbons, Bigbie and Palmiero) you would want to pinch hit for. Enrique Wilson is having another great spring and is apparently pushing old friend Chris Gomez hard for the utility infielder spot, I can't see it happening somehow. Surhoff and Newhan were both real assets for the team last year. Surhoff's numbers were better than any of the young outfield starters. Newhan was an excellent pickup and has played five positions in his time.
The Orioles 2004 rotation was:
Sidney Ponson 33 starts 5.20 ERA Rodrigo Lopez 23 starts 3.59 ERA Daniel Cabrera 27 starts 5.00 ERA Erik Bedard 26 starts 4.59 ERA Eric DuBose 14 starts 6.39 ERA Matt Riley 13 starts 5.62 ERA
* fights - two * DUIs - one * court cases - one (with another pending) * days spent in jail - eleven * spring games missed due to visa problems - one * spring games missed due to a pitching hand injured fighting - one (potentially), * incidents of the club discussing voiding his contract - one.
The bullpen was a great strength for the Orioles last year. B.J. Ryan will be the closer this year, he took over the job at the end of last year. Ryan had an amazing season in 2004, and was one of the top relievers in the game, he should be again this year. The setup corps will be former closer Jorge Julio and Steve Reed from the right side and Steve Kline and John Parrish as the lefties. Jay Witasick, Eric DuBose, Todd Williams and Rick Bauer are in competition for the final spots. Steve Reed must be a happy man as he has escaped from Coors field, the addition of Reed and Kline make this one of the stronger looking pens in the league, especially from the left side.
850 runs scored, good pitching from Bedard, decent year for Ponson, great work from the bullpen and 85 wins.