Originally written on Oriole Post  |  Last updated 11/19/14
  The reports of the Oriole’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes there are the stat-sheets and theorems and analyses that say the Orioles will not stand a chance. Baseball Prospectus pegs the Orioles as a 74-win team next year.   SEVENTY-FOUR.   “Hogwash,” I say. “Humbug,” I cry! “Bullfeathers,” I add. The Orioles unlikely rise to the postseason in 2012 completely flipped the narrative on this team in a shockingly abrupt  manner. And what a narrative it was. The Orioles are not supposed to be good. They haven’t been good for more than a decade. They were supposed to make slow-steady baby steps toward contention. They were supposed to trade Adam Jones and consider trading JJ Hardy and Matt Wieters to build a young, hungry Tampa Bay Rays-like team. They weren’t supposed to come out of nowhere, do something that hasn’t been done since the Roosevelt administration (the Teddy Roosevelt administration), and make the postseason. It did not makes sense, it flew in the face of modern baseball analysis and therefore it must be a complete fluke. All of that is true. 100% true. The Orioles won an exorbitant amount of one-run games. They won way too many extra-inning games. And those wins, which are essentially coin-flips, the Orioles would not have made the playoffs. After all they beat the Pythagorean Win-percentage by more than 10 games, that is an unheard of amount of luck that is extremely unlikely to be replicated. But that is not why the Orioles of 2012 will resemble the Orioles of 2013. I contend that people are getting too lost in the surface of the numbers. If you scratch the surface a little deeper you see a different narrative. Yes Virginia, the Orioles can compete next year and can go back to the playoffs.   The Essence of Random The first thing that every 2013-denier points to is the Orioles’ remarkable run of one-run wins. Yes, 29-9 is unlikely to be sustainable and everyone points to that as luck and therefore the team was not as skilled as the win-total showed. It is impossible to argue that, but honestly I think it is a cop-out.  First off, if we are calling the nature of the run lucky devoid of any skill so therefor it was random. But honestly this is what happens in randomized series all the time. If you flip a coin 100 times in five sets and totaled the data you would see shocking runs of “all heads” and “all tails” runs that seem to defy logic because we need to put order to the world. The reality is that the individual coin flip has zero bearing on the next flip. Of course in baseball the previous game does have some impact on the next. Players are used, different pitchers are faced, bullpens are taxed/ over taxed. But that would imply the Orioles had some sort of control over those wins and, therefore, some sort of skill and that nullifies that random argument. Because if the Orioles did somehow manage their bullpen properly to put themselves in positions to win those games that means that the record could somehow be a semi-repeatable skill and in the current narrative that is impossible. But to further bust that bubble let me add this. If you comb through the Orioles’ multitude of one-run wins you see many instances where the games were not all that impressive. When you hear the phrase “one-run win” the image that is conjured is a nail-biter down to the last at bat, or a late-inning come-from-behind victory. Many of them just aren’t that. I guess my overall point here is that the fluke of that run last years wasn’t that an untalented team won that many games, but the fact that they ended up that way at all. The team’s lack of talent was not the fluke, the final scores were the fluke. Put another way, if the Orioles had scored just 10 more runs over the course of those 38 games their record in one-run games would have been 19-9. Still impressive but something that could easily be explained away by a great bullpen and good managing.  So 10 runs in the right situations and the Orioles are no longer on a magical unsustainable run of luck.   The Pythagorean Record Fallacy. Much has been made of the Orioles’ run differential last season and their astonishing 11-win drubbing of their Pythagorean Record. There is no way they will be able to do that, and the fact they beat it by that much proves they were unbelievably lucky. But consider this. According to Bill James’ research teams that significantly beat their PR in one year are not automatically destined o come crashing back in the next year. IN fact the opposite is true. Looking at the division era:   Year Team Finish 1 Year Later 2 Years Later 3 Years Later 4 Years Later 1970 Reds 1st 4th 1st, Lost WS 1st, Lost NLCS 2nd 1972 Mets 2nd 1st, Lost WS 5th 3rd 3rd 1984 Mets 2nd 2nd 1st, Won WS 2nd 1st, lost NLCS 1997 Giants 1st 2nd 2nd 1st, Lost NLDS 2nd 2004 Yankees 1st 1st, Lost ALDS 1st, Lost ALDS 2nd, Lost ALDS 3rd 2007 D'Backs 1st 2nd 5th 5th 1st, Lost NLCS 2008 Angels 1st 1st, Lost ALCS 3rd 2nd 3rd 2009 Mariners 3rd 4th 4th 4th n/a Each of the above teams above beat their PR by at least 10 games and the columns illustrate where they finished the subsequent years after the team’s “luck year.” Only the 1970 Reds saw a significant drop the following year, but bounced right back.  All teams, save the Mariners, made the playoffs at least once the following four years.  In fact, all of the non-Mariner teams continued a period of competitive, playoff race baseball for the years that followed. The simple fact that the Orioles significantly beat their pythagorean record means only that – they beat their pythagorean record. As seen above that fact alone is not a significant measure of their future success. Multiple teams were able to build on that success. The 1972 Mets for example. They beat their PR by 11 games and had a rather high win percentage in one-run games as well. They were 33-15 in those games, good enough for a .688 win percentage. The following year they won the NL. If you don’t like that comparison, due to the presence of a Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw, then pick another team. The fact remains that only two teams in the divisional era that beat their PR by at least 10 games saw a significant drop in their record the next year. And as far as the Mariners are were concerned they were in the middle of a storm of terrible management and personnel decisions.     They Are That Talented The Orioles really turned it on in the second half, and especially in the last two months of the season. And they weren’t half bad to start the season either. The Orioles fell into a tailspin in the 30 days surrounding the All-Star Break. It was a bleak time and it appeared that the Orioles would not come out of it. However , a couple things happened; Nick Markakis returned to the lineup and Manny Machado would ascend to the majors. In the final three months of the regular season the Orioles went 38-20 with a run differential of +58, a vast improvement over their opening season run and their dead zone around the All Star Break.  They got better as the year went on. When Machado came up it he solidified the infield defense pushing Mark Reynolds into a much easier first base position. Reynolds handled first admirably, at least he was much less a liability than he was at third. Nate McLouth was able to handle left field effectively and his bat proved not to be too shabby either. McLouth made his Orioles debut at the beginning of August, once there he batted to a solid .777 OPS. Other key “additions” came to the Orioles’ rotation. Miguel Gonzalez became a remarkably effective stabilizing force for the rotation when he came up in the middle of the year. Chris Tillman seemed to turn the proverbial corner with flashes of the pitcher that he was supposed to be and the bullpen continued to play simply remarkable ball. It is a commonly held belief that teams which finish the year stronger than when they start tend to improve the following year and the Orioles definitely finished much stronger than they started. There are more reasons why the Orioles have a better than even chance to be in the playoff hunt again next year. No player had any unsustainable career-defining year. In fact quite a few players, like JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds, had down years offensively. The AL East is a much different creature this year with the Yankees looking extremely vulnerable all of the sudden; The Rays took significant hits to the ML roster, and  the Jays were as active in rebuilding their roster as the Red Sox were a couple seasons ago. The ecosystem of the AL East has been stable for more than a decade: The Yanks and Sox on top, the Rays pecking at their heels, The Jays stuck in neutral and the Orioles were the doormat. That all changed in 2012, to me it seems that far too many seem anxious to return to that narrative. The Orioles may have had some fluky things happen to them in 2012, but those fluky things were just that - flukes. It is my belief that those flukes were not the reason for the Orioles’ success but just the random occurances. The pythagorean theorem has been beaten before, it will be beaten again. And this team proved it had the talent to carry it where it did. The Orioles could easily finish in last place, anything can happen, but sitting here on March 29th I don’t see any real reason why this team doesn’t have a legitimate shot to be competitive again, to make the playoffs again. Little can be done to convince me of the opposite. 
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