Chris Davis and the Orioles Hanging in Playoff Hunt

One week before the trading deadline, the Baltimore Orioles looked like a team that might sell, coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees and dropping the opening game of the series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Their record stood at 46-49 and, with 5.5 games and four teams standing in between them and the second wild-Card spot, moving pending free agents Chris Davis or Wei-Yin Chen for prospects looked like a real possibility. Perhaps lost in the frenzy of the Toronto Blue Jays’ moves, the Orioles won seven of eight games, attempted to shore up some of their outfield issues with a trade for Gerardo Parra, and continue (now) to hang around the playoff race even as they continue to fly under the radar.

Free-agent-to-be Chris Davis has had a well-timed run both for himself and his team in the second half, hitting 12 of his 31 home runs in the last 25 games. Davis’ .281 isolated slugging percentage ranks fifth in all of Major League Baseball behind only Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, and Mark Teixeira. He has improved as the season has gone on, and has done better at handling high-octane fastballs, per Mike Petriello at Davis has not been alone, either, as Manny Machado moves toward stardom with the fifth-highest WAR in MLB built on an excellent season at the plate that has risen to the level of his incredible defense. Adam Jones has also put up another very good season in center field. With those three players anchored within the first four slots of the lineup, the Orioles have scored a respectable 4.4 runs per game.

The Orioles starting pitching, lacking an ace and expected to be one of the bottom-five rotations in MLB, has slightly outperformed expectations thanks to a solid comeback season from Ubaldo Jimenez and Wei-Yin Chen outperforming his FIP by more than a run. Kevin Gausman has replaced Bud Norris in the rotation, but Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have underwhelmed. The Orioles’ bullpen, with closer Zach Britton, has made up for some of the rotation’s deficiencies, and since 2011, when Buck Showalter’s began his first full season in Baltimore, the Orioles have consistently had one of the best bullpens in baseball. Of relievers with at least 40 innings, Zach Britton’s 1.91 FIP sits only behind the marks produced by Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, while his 1.57 ERA trails only Wade Davis, Betances, and teammate Darren O’Day in the American League.

With a bottom of the lineup solid on defense, but lacking on offense and the less than stellar rotation, the Orioles find themselves near .500 and in the thick of a convoluted AL Wild Card race. With around 50 games to go, 13 of the 15 AL teams are within six games of a playoff spot.

Royals 68 45 DIV
Blue Jays 63 52 DIV
Astros 62 53 DIV
Yankees 61 51 +2.5
Angels 59 54
Rays 58 56 1.5
Orioles 57 56 2.0
Twins 57 56 2.0
Rangers 55 57 3.5
Tigers 55 59 4.5
White Sox 54 58 4.5
Indians 53 59 5.5
Mariners 54 61 6.0

At just two games back, the Orioles are in a good position to make a run for the wild card, although the FanGraphs Depth Charts Playoff Odds are not quite as optimistic.

Blue Jays 89 73 57.1% 35.2% 92.3%
Yankees 88 74 38.5% 46.2% 84.7%
Astros 87 75 66.3% 16.6% 82.9%
Angels 85 77 27.9% 29.0% 57.0%
Rays 82 80 2.2% 18.5% 20.7%
Orioles 81 81 2.1% 16.3% 18.4%

These projections give the division titles to the Blue Jays and Astros, put the Yankees comfortably in the wild card with the Angels securing the other wild card, four games clear of the Orioles. The projections have the Angels playing .517 ball the rest of the way, with the Orioles winning at a .488 clip. Those percentages add up to another two games’ worth of difference the rest of the way, leaving the Orioles four games out. Looking at projected WAR the rest of the way might be confusing, as the Orioles are slightly ahead of the Angels, but that leads to one of the caveats of solely looking at WAR and attempting to translate that number directly to wins.

This season, the Orioles have produced a better run differential than the Angels (+50 to +34), produced more WAR (+25.4 to +22.4), their Base Runs record is exactly the same (57-56), and their WAR projections the rest of the season are higher (10.9 to 10.6), yet the Angels are predicted to be better going forward. On a pure run-scoring, run-prevention analysis, the Orioles are projected to score roughly the same amount of runs while giving up considerably more runs than they have up to this point while the Angels are expected to score more and give up more runs, but not on the same level of the Orioles. The Season to Date mode for projections, which uses the statistics that the teams have accumulated thus far, has the Orioles winning three more games than the FanGraphs projections and nearly in line with the Angels.

The schedule likely makes up for some of the difference in projections between the Angels and Orioles. A cursory view at the schedule might lean towards favoring the Orioles over the Angels, who have to play 27 of their remaining 49 games on the road. The Orioles, who do have 26 of their 49 games at home, have a difficult schedule, featuring 20 games against the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Royals. The projected winning percentage of their remaining opponents is .516, compared to the Angels’ .500 projection of their opponents.

Ultimately, the Orioles’ record down the stretch will come down to their starting pitching. The team has a solid bullpen, decent offense, and a very good defense, but they are projected to give up 4.4 runs per game the rest of the way, in the bottom third of playoff teams and ahead of only the Minnesota Twins among teams that have a winning record. The FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections for the rotation looks like this:

Chris Tillman 57 6.9 3.0 1.2 4.12 4.35 0.6
Wei-Yin Chen 58 7.1 2.2 1.3 4.13 4.19 0.7
Miguel Gonzalez 52 6.7 2.8 1.4 4.43 4.77 0.2
Ubaldo Jimenez 51 8.2 3.8 1.1 4.14 4.18 0.6
Kevin Gausman 34 7.8 2.8 1.1 3.92 3.91 0.6
Mike Wright 22 6.0 2.7 1.2 4.66 4.63 0.2
Tyler Wilson 11 5.8 2.8 1.4 5.04 4.89 0.0
Total 284 7.1 2.9 1.2 4.24 4.35 2.9

Four of the five principal starters are projected for an ERA and FIP over four, with Gausman just barely under while also receiving the fewest innings among the starting five. The Orioles’ starters’ home-run rate is better than only the Philadelphia Phillies and tied with the Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds among the worst in baseball. That ERA and FIP are right in line with the preseason projections for the Orioles. That might be the good news for the Orioles — if they can beat their projections, they will have a really good shot at surprising (again) and making the playoffs.

Kevin Gausman has a ton of talent and over his last four starts he has averaged nearly seven innings per start, striking out 23 against five walks for a 3.62 ERA and 2.92 FIP. Jimenez was pitching very well through the end of June before going through a rough patch, but he was dominant against the Angels in his last start, tossing eight shutout innings. The projections are not great, but beating them is a real possibility given the talent they have on hand.

The Orioles, as they seem to do every year, have flown under the radar, but their decision to hold on to Chris Davis and give the playoffs a shot looks to be a solid decision. There are a lot of teams still in the mix and both the Rays and the Angels are currently ahead of the Orioles in the standings. A step forward for a couple guys in the rotation, a continued offensive presence from Davis, Jones, and Machado, and a bullpen that continued to lock down leads, and the Orioles could find themselves in a one-game playoff for a rematch against the Kansas City Royals in the divisional series. After getting swept in the American League Championship Series last season, the Orioles would no doubt welcome the opportunity to remove the crown from the reigning AL champs.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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6 years ago

I enjoyed the write-up.

I see the Red Sox are projected to have a better rest-of-season winning percentage than the Orioles. I guess that makes sense since they don’t have to play themselves.

6 years ago
Reply to  Rallyk

The Red Sox were projected to have a better RoS winning percentage than the Orioles through all of 2014 too.

It’s almost like the teams that are most into conventional statistical analysis produce rosters that perform well in statistical projections and may be blind to factors these projection systems can’t incorporate.