Inspired by the Royals Authority, I decided to take at look at what the Orioles can expect in 2011, in terms of WAR. According to FanGraphs, the 2010 Orioles have posted a mere 10.8 WAR, 29th in baseball (ahead of only Pittsburgh). At the other end of the spectrum, the Twins (43.3), Red Sox (40.0), Rays (37.2), Yankees (35.7), Giants (35.6), Braves (35.4), Padres (35.0), and Rangers (34.2) show what it takes to be a contender.*
*On the other hand, the Blue Jays (34.0) show just how hard it is to compete in the AL East. They'd be fighting neck-and-neck in nearly any other division in baseball.
In 2009, both the Yankees (58.4) and Red Sox (52.5) topped 50 wins, while the Red Sox (59.5) and Cubs (51.4) turned the trick in 2008; in 2007, the Red Sox posted 55.9 WAR with Yankees second at 49.7. (Full results available here; you have to add pitcher and hitter results). Thus, since the Orioles must build a team capable of being the best in baseball in order to challenge within its own division, the O's need to build a 45 to 50 WAR team in order to compete for a playoff spot out of the American League East. Can they do that in the near future? Let's go position by position.
Pos: Projected 2011 Player (2010 WAR, 2009 WAR)
CA: Matt Wieters (1.7, 1.6) Wieters is a key for the club going forward. His scouting pedigree and minor league track record suggests a future MVP candidate. His current Major League production is solid average. 2011 Projection: 2.5 WAR
1B: Nolan Reimold (-0.3, 1.3) After a very solid offensive debut in 2009, Reimold fell off a cliff in 2010. I'm inclined to chalk it up to his Achilles injury, and he has been hitting better at Norfolk of late, but September will be a crucial audition for Reimold. 2011 Projection: 1.5 WAR
2B: Brian Roberts (0.3, 3.9) From 2003 to 2009, Roberts posted win totals of 2.5, 2.4, 6.7, 3.2, 4.7, 4.8 and 3.9. Then, he suffered a back injury while working out this past off-season and has been slow to return to his former self. Most ominously, his range in the field looks severely diminished. Will an off-season lead to further recovery and a return of the B-Rob of old, or is he destined to make laughable his contract extension? 2011 Projection: 2.0 WAR
SS: I have no idea (Cesar Izturis: -0.5, 1.1) Thanks to a replacement level bat and a good glove, Cesar Izturis posted a postive WAR season in 2009. His glove has slipped in 2010, making him sub-replacement level. Given the scarcity of shortstop options likely to be available this off-season, it's tough to project anything more than replacement level for next season. 2011 Projection: 0.0 WAR
3B: Josh Bell (Bell and Miguel Tejada: -0.1, Melvin Mora: 1.2) Bell clearly has some talent, but he's also looked over-matched in his initial Major League at-bats. 2011 Projection: 1.0 WAR
LF: Felix Pie (-0.2, 1.2) I'm a big fan of Pie, but I'm unfortunately not sure if its warranted. He may be just a 4th outfielder, capable of producing in the right spot, but not good enough to merit an every day job. 2011 Projection: 1.0 WAR
CF: Adam Jones (1.6, 1.8) Another super athletic outfielder with an incredible ability to both amaze and confound. Sometimes he makes baseball look easy, and then he'll chase three straight down and away sliders and let a double fly over his head in center field. The whole package is still good, but he always leaves us expecting greatness that I'm not sure will ever be there over the course of entire season. 2011 Projection: 2.0 WAR
RF: Nick Markakis (1.8, 2.2) Is Nick the guy with the 7% walk rate from 2009 and the second half of 2010, or the 14% walk rate from 2008 and the first half of 2010? Is his defense above or below average? Will he ever hit 20 home runs again? He'll probably never again be the 6.3 WAR player he was in 2008, but can he be a 4.0 win guy over the life of his contract? For the Orioles to contend, he needs to be. 2011 Aggressive Projection: 4.0 WAR
DH: Luke Scott (2.7, 1.5) With a career .240 ISO, it's clear the man can hit for power. He's not a great defender, but he's not a bad one either, grading out just about average in left over the course of his career. Why the O's refused to let him play first base and instead signed Garrett Atkins I have no idea. 2011 Projection: 2.5 WAR
That's a total of 16.5 WAR from the regular offense. On to the pitching!
Jeremy Guthrie (1.5, 1.1) 2011 Projection: 1.5 WAR
Brian Matusz (1.8, 0.8) 2011 Projection: 2.0 WAR
Jake Arrieta (0.2) 2011 Projection: 0.5 WAR
Zach Britton (n/a) 2011 Projection: 0.0 WAR
Chris Tillman (0.0, -0.1) 2011 Projection: 0.0 WAR
Brad Bergesen (0.0, 2.3) 2011 Projection: 0.0 WAR
Do you have any better suggestions for how to project the pitching for next year? Clearly, these individuals are going to have an extremely large variance surrounding their projected outcome. I think that 2010 Guthrie is about what we can expect from him, while I'm hoping we see more of pound-the-strike-zone Brian Matusz going forward. As for the others? Well, maybe Tillman will finally put it all together, and maybe he won't. Britton could be a left-handed Brandon Webb, or he could be a left-handed Brad Bergesen. And Brad Bergesen? Well, I haven't a clue. Starting pitcher total: 4.0 WAR
It's pretty useless to project a bullpen this far in advance, but with David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Alfredo Simon, and a quite a few other live arms in the organization, Andy MacPhail should be able to piece together a serviceable bullpen. What's a serviceable bullpen worth? Well, great relievers are worth 2.0-3.0 WAR, while about 100 individuals have accumulated a positive WAR value. As a team, the Orioles 2010 team has posted 1.1 WAR. On the other hand, a great bullpen properly leveraged can be worth 8.0 wins or more. Let's give them 3.0 WAR for 2011.
Add it all up and the Orioles project for about 23.5 WAR in 2011. While clearly far short of our 45 to 50 goal, how many wins is that? About 70. Yikes.
So, how can the Orioles break out of this path that they're on? Clearly, the easiest way is for the starting pitching to develop. Teams with great pitching pitching staffs can easily earn 15 or more wins from their starters and this group of young pitchers clearly has impressive upside potential. In our dream world, everyone develops at the same time; let's say there are an additional 10.0 potential WAR (2.0 from Matusz, 2.0 from Arrieta, 3.0 from Britton, and 3.0 from Tillman) on the starting pitching front. Next, we'll make Buck Showalter a bullpen match-up genius. Rather than the 3.0 WAR a mere mortal would achieve from the O's bullpen, we'll double that total and make the 'pen worth another 3.0 potential WAR. Now we're up to 36.5 and the O's are above .500! Where can we find another wins?
1) Acquire a quality shortstop. This won't come cheap, nor will it be easy, but this is the Orioles most glaring hole. Finding 3.0 WAR at the shortstop position is necessary for our rebuilding program to be a success. If not, the absolute best glove available should be sought and "for the best" should be hoped.
2) Find the Matt Wieters that left no survivors after batting practice. Can Wieters be the MVP candidate everyone thought he would become? He'd add another 2.0 WAR (or more) if he did.
3) Proper use of bench and platoon players. With Felix Pie, Nolan Reimold and Luke Scott, the Orioles have surprising flexibility to play match-ups and rest regulars. Add another 1.0 WAR for bench players.
4) This still leaves the O's about 6.0 wins short of being a contender and lacking a stud bat in the middle of the lineup. Can Adam Jones add a few WAR to his total? What about Josh Bell; should the O's make a move to acquire a third baseman or first baseman? Can Brian Roberts bounce back?
While a realistic projection again foretells a losing season for the O's in 2011, the orange-tinted glasses look reveals enough upside on the pitching staff to push the club close to .500. A further clicking of the ruby orange slippers shows that enough development out of the young hitters could move the club into range to compete with the Blue Jays. If the team really wants to compete, though, it's going to have to do more than hope everything goes right (hint: it won't) with the existing roster. There are no stars on this team, and the lack of true top tier talents means that a reasonable ceiling for this club is probably the .500 mark, even if all goes well. To compete in the AL East, this team needs top shelf talent. Unfortunately, I don't have many suggestions for Mr. MacPhail when it comes to acquiring that talent.