For a team to have a successful season – one that includes a serious playoff push, and important games well into August and September – unexpected performances must emerge. Think Steve Pearce in 2014 – 4.5 fWAR in 102 games! Mark Trumbo in 2016 – we expected some power, sure, but 47 home runs worth? Hardly.
Whether or not such a player emerges here in 2018 remains to be seen. However, isn’t it also nice when the players a team expects to shoulder the bulk of the load step up and do just that? When your best players perform as such.
That’s what we’ve seen so far this season, as the Birds’ somewhat disappointing 5-8 start could be even worse, were it not for their arguably two most talented players playing as advertised.
Here are the O’s current leaders in WAR, according to FanGraphs:
Dylan Bundy 0.9
Manny Machado 0.8
Chance Sisco 0.3
And according to Baseball Reference:
Dylan Bundy 0.8
Manny Machado 0.7
Richard Bleier 0.5
Machado’s 0.8 fWAR is tied for fourth in Major League Baseball, and second behind just Didi Gregorius‘s stupid-hot start among shortstops.
Bundy, of course, has been the victim of some bad luck (the bullpen blowing his first two starts) and terrible run support, and thus hasn’t racked up a single “win,” to date, despite a 1.35 ERA and 1.95 FIP.
Manny, on the other hand, may be benefiting from some good luck, but doesn’t he deserve a nice .368 BABIP to start the year, to balance out the terrible fortune he had in the same department to start 2017? His 14.5% walk rate is also great to see, more than double both his number from last year (7.2) and his career average (6.9).
The Other Side of the Coin
So if Manny & Bundy are absolutely holding up their ends of the bargain, which players are dragging the Birds down?
Looking at WAR again, but the bottom end of the spectrum this time around:
Chris Davis -0.3
Nestor Cortes -0.3
Colby Rasmus -0.2
Caleb Joseph -0.2
Jonathan Schoop -0.1
Adam Jones -0.5
Chris Davis -0.4
Mike Wright -0.4
We know all about Davis’ struggles, and there’s no need to rehash them here. Nestor Cortes has already been designated for assignment. Colby Rasmus already found Ubaldo Jimenez‘s pothole in the parking lot and landed on the disabled list.
But Adam Jones? Are we all just still drunk from his Opening Day walk-off, and subsequent Adam Bombs in Houston that we aren’t realizing how bad he’s been? (For what it’s worth, FanGraphs has him at 0.0, and Baseball Prospectus at -0.39, better than just Davis & Rasmus.)
Jones is currently slashing just .228/.254/.404, good for an 82 wRC+ (he was at 107 last season). He is striking out at an absurd 28.8% clip, well above his career level of 18.9%. This despite being more selective than we are used to seeing: he has swung at just 37.7% of pitches outside the strike zone (career 41.5). The problem is that he is making contact with such pitches less as well – on 51.1% of his swings, down from 62.4% for his career. His overall contact percentage on all swings is down early as well, to 72% (career: 75.6%, 2017: 77.7%).
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
Baseball-Reference is also dinging him for his defense, with a -5 Rfield, by far the worst on the team (Machado is second-worst at -1). Baseball Prospectus agrees, tagging him with -2.8 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), tied for worst in MLB among centerfielders. Of course, you always want to take defensive metrics with a grain of salt, especially for such a small sample size, but this is something to keep an eye on going forward, for sure. Hopefully, if nothing else, his bat turns around here soon to at least partially make up for it.
Schoop has been frustrating to watch, for sure, and it was great to see him get a couple hits and knock in some runs in Wednesday’s night’s victory over Toronto, before which he had been mired in a 1-for-25 slump. He looks disturbingly like Machado did at this time last year, seemingly trying to hit every ball to the moon. He’s walked in just 1.6% of his AB, well down from his 5.2% figure from 2017, and even down from his still-very-bad 3.6% career mark. His infield fly-ball percentage (pop-ups to you and me) is a hideous 28.6% (15.5% career). There’s plenty of reason to hope for Schoop to be dope again soon – here’s to last night being the start of something good.
As for the pitchers, nobody expects Mike Wright to do anything more than what we’ve seen so far. If you have orange glasses as thick as the spectacles ol’ Harry Caray used to wear, perhaps you’re still banking on Chris Tillman to return to form. Alex Cobb will nudge one of those two out of the rotation here very shortly, and that’s about all the good news we can reasonably hope for on that front, I’m afraid.
Gausman showed some signs of life last night. He’s given up just one home run in two starts after allowing three in his 2018 debut, and his K/9 is up a bit – 9.0 so far (career 8.4, 2017 8.6), though so are the BB/9 (3.6, up from 3.4 a year ago and 2.8 career). Here’s to his slow start lasting just a month or so, as opposed to for the entire first half, as we’ve grown accustomed to over the past couple seasons.
So that’s it – your good and bad Orioles so far. If they’re going to truly get out of this early-season funk and back to .500 (and beyond…baby steps for now though), we’ll need far more “good” Orioles to talk about, and soon.