With the 2017 MLB season already a month old, how were the Orioles able to set the pace in the AL East?
We’re only 20 games into the season, but so far the Orioles are looking to once again outperform their pre-season PECOTA rankings. It makes sense, though – they’ve only done just that for the past four seasons. Every year, industry pundits make projections based off of sound statistical models, and every year the Orioles find a way to prove them wrong.
Their 13 wins to start the season is good for fourth best in the Majors, and only Houston and Washington have better winning percentages so far. They’re 5-1 in one-run games, one of only two AL teams to be above .500 in both home and away games, and basically unbeatable after 6pm, going 10-2 in night games per ESPN.
If you take a deeper look at Baltimore's team stats, the one thing that jumps off the screen is their pitching numbers. Currently, the Orioles have the fourth-best pitching WAR per Fangraphs. They are limiting hitters to a league-best 0.79 HR/9, while stranding 79.5% of all runners that reach base – good for third in the majors.
Many were concerned that the loss of Zach Britton would significantly lessen their bullpen’s ability to close out games, but collectively they’ve proven their 2016 success was more than just one man. Brad Brach and Donnie Hart have surrendered zero runs and have allowed a combined six hits through 16.1 IP. Alec Asher was strong in a recent spot start against Toronto, and is a valuable piece in long relief, and Mychal Givens is tied with Dylan Bundy for the team lead in wins.
Speaking of Dylan Bundy, he’s proving why he was a highly-touted prospect coming out of AAA, with a 3-1 record, a 1.37 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He isn’t striking out a lot of batters, registering only 20 in 26.1 IP, but he’s allowed as many walks as he has earned runs (4), and has registered a quality start in each outing so far this season. Fellow starters Kevin Gausman and Wade Miley have been around league average through five starts, but the hope is that Chris Tillman’s return will help bolster a rotation that was expected to be amongst the league’s worst.
The Orioles are the dictionary definition of what it means to be “boom or bust”. Since 2015, Baltimore has been amongst the best power hitting teams in the league – 1st in homeruns, 4th in slugging, and second in ISO. They are also amongst the league worst in strikeout percentage (22%), walk percentage (7.3%), and BABIP (.290). Basically, it's “hit a homerun or die trying” for the O’s. Their 2017 has been a perfect snapshot of their three-year trend: towards the top of the league in most power categories, and towards the bottom in the ones that often lag when you’re the best at hitting homeruns.
The slow starts of Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Davis haven't had too detrimental an effect on their offensive production due to promising numbers from Adam Jones, and newcomer Wellington Castillo. Castillo, an underrated offseason acquisition for Baltimore, has brought consistent offensive production at a position that had long been a net negative for the Orioles. Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini have also had good starts to the season, providing power where their stars have been unable to do so.
As the calendar turns to May, the Orioles look to keep their winning ways going. There will be challenges, and regression, to come. Until then, their 11-5 record against the AL East has them sitting atop their division, with enough of a cushion to keep them there for some time to come.