I love a Cinderella story. Give me a dozen skinny 19 year-olds running through the pack in March Madness, knocking off guys they shouldn’t be knocking off, and I’m hooked. In baseball, I like it when a good and smart team outshines a good and wealthy team.
I hate the Baltimore Orioles. They’re not outsmarting anyone, they’re succeeding despite their front office and ownership’s ineptitude. There’s not much worth pulling for here, even as an underdog story.
Talk about having the deck stacked in your favor. In 1992 Camden Yards opened and the Orioles had an influx of cash from their new home. In the first nine years of Camden, the Orioles were never lower than 2nd in the American League in attendance. They won 89 and 85 games in the first two years of Camden and were 14 over .500 when the 1994 strike ended the season. When baseball rebooted, Cal Ripken, the positive Face Of The Game, was an Oriole. They continued to have great attendance. They won 88 games in 1996 and then 98 games in 1997.
Then they went 14 years without a winning season.
They went from being either 1st or 2nd in the AL in attendance, to 4th, 3rd, 5th, 5th, 5th in consecutive years. For the last seven years they have not finished in the top half in the AL in attendance. The turnstiles slowed.
The money from earlier years was wasted on both big and small deals. 3 years/$19 million for Danys Baez. 3 years/$25 million for Melvin Mora. Lousy deals like this, that didn’t do anything to turn Baltimore into anything other than an also-ran–which they were without wasting money on Baez and Mora.
They traded for Sammy Sosa and paid him $17 million for a .221/.295/.376 bust-out year. They gave Rafael Palmeiro $7 million to take 1000 league-average plate appearances at ages 39 and 40. They paid Albert Belle $37 million for three years (2001-2003) in which he did not play.
The Orioles were horrible and got high draft picks. They consistently blew it with those picks.
2001 #7 overall pick Chris Smith never made it to MLB.
2002 #4 overall pick Adam Loewen took 34 at-bats in MLB.
2003 #7 overall pick Nick Markakis we know has been productive.
2004 #8 overall pick Wade Townsend never made it to MLB.
2005 #13 overall pick Brandon Snider took 98 at-bats in MLB.
2006 #9 overall pick Billy Rowell did not make it to MLB.
2007 #5 overall pick Matt Wieters we know has been productive.
2008 #4 overall pick Brian Matusz looks like a bust who won’t reach his potential and is now a lefty reliever.
2009 #5 overall pick Matthew Hobgood has not made it to MLB, has not been impressive in the minors, and had rotator cuff surgery that kept him from playing in 2012.
Nine years of picking between #13 and #4. Zero stars. None. Markakis is league average. Wieters a little better. The rest are washouts. From 2001-2009 the Rays drafted BJ Upton, Delmon Young, Jeff Niemann, Evan Longoria and David Price, with just marginally better draft opportunity. The Pirates drafted Paul Maholm, Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez in that time span with about the same draft opportunity as Baltimore. Same time span the Royals drafted Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow.
Those other three teams had a far lower bust rate, and each got at least one star (Longoria/Price, McCutchen, Greinke) out of all that draft opportunity. The Orioles got a couple ok dudes and a bunch of bustos.
Baltimore took a nose dive, simply stated. New stadium, huge gate and advertising receipts. A very good late-90s team. Wasted free agent money, wasted high draft picks when things soured. There is nothing to point to that is good about the way that organization has been run.
As I type this, the Rays lead Baltimore 4-1 on Monday, October 1, 2012. If the Rays win this game by the score as it now stands, Baltimore will have outscored their opponents by 8 runs this season. Eight. The Rays will have outscored their opponents by 119 runs, or the Orioles 8 runs plus then another 111 runs.
The Orioles won 14 straight extra-inning games, defying their talent level and leaning heavily on lady luck.
Do the Orioles hit well? No. Their team wOBA is .317. That is 12th in baseball–and worse than 5 National League teams who send pitchers to the plate.
Do the Orioles pitch well? No. Their team FIP is 4.20, good for 20th-best in baseball, and the middle of the pack in the AL.
Do the Orioles field well? I mean….I guess. Their PADE (Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, or how well they turn balls in play into outs, with park adjustments) is 10th. Being the 10th-best defensive team certainly looks better than being the 12th-best hitting team an the 20th-best pitching team. But it’s not great or anything.
Surely the Orioles must have a dominant bullpen to help them win all those games close and late, right? Sure. If you think the 8th-best bullpen in baseball (by FIP) is quote-unquote dominant.
It’s a great story, Baltimore. A franchise with a history of futility that is going into the playoffs this year, perhaps winning the toughest division in pro sports. I’m happy for players on the team like Adam Jones and Markakis and Wieters, that they’ll get to experience a one-game playoff at the minimum. But I can’t cheer for the Orioles, as a franchise built on bad management that has simply lucked it’s way ass-backward into a playoff berth. I’d prefer a better team (the Rays come to mind) were cruising into a playoff spot.