Like any bitter old man with little to live for, I spend my days and nights searching for reasons the Baltimore Orioles are successful. Because they are, few can argue, very successful. They are amidst their most successful baseball season in nearly a generation and are the “talk of the town”, winning games and confounding the sceptics.
It is okay to be sceptical of the O’s success as it is so unexpected. The Orioles, as has been pointed out time and time again, have a talented core. Their bullpen is loaded and their starting rotation features promising young arms and veteran contributors. They also have Buck Showalter, the cagey veteran manager pushing all the right buttons in 2012.
The O’s are a fun story and every single one of their 76 wins are theirs and theirs alone. They cannot be taken from them, no matter how hard Blue Jays fans try. The Orioles stand poised to not only post their first winning season since 1997 but contend in a pennant race. It is fun. But how and why are the Orioles here? Roster management? That’s a clever way to gain an edge. It is luck? It can’t be luck. There is no such thing as luck. Not over 162 game season – never!
As Parkes pointed out this morning, the Orioles feature a 12-2 extra innings record and a 24-7 record in one-run games. Impressive, almost unbelievable numbers. Credit immediately goes to Showalter and his expert bullpen handling when these anomalies surface.
Without taking anything away from the Orioles, let’s use our noodles to remember things that happened before today. It is with this ability to recall previous events that we, as humans, shape our understanding and expectations for future.
Just last year, a ragtag group of upstarts blew away the projections and dashed to the front of the National League West. Their gruff manager was hailed a saviour, coaching up his charges and ushering the Snakes into the post season after two straight last place finishes. Gibson was named Manager of the Year after the D-Backs won a surprising 94 games. A great and surprising season in the desert.
The D-Backs of 2011 were powered by an impressive core, with Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Miguel Montero powering the offense while Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson lead the starters. The bullpen was also very strong in Arizona, ranking in the top 10 in fWAR as a staff. The Diamondbacks also showed a knack for the big hit in 2011, posting a .355 wOBA in high leverage situations as a team (compared to .321 overall.)
Look at their record in both one run games below:
Wow, that’s really good! 28-16 in one run games! Terrific! Gibby knows which strings to pull. He earned that MOY award, no doubt.
The expectations were very different for the Snakes coming into 2012. Now the defending champs, Arizona brought in free agent Jason Kubel and re-signed Aaron Hill to solidify their offense. Both players responded with near-career years. But things are not so rosy in the desert. The D-Backs languish in third place, under .500 and more than ten games behind the division-leading Giants.
Justin Upton has been awful and Chris Young never seemed to recover from an early injury but the offense is only slightly worse, posting a .319 wOBA in 2012 compared to the aforementioned .321. What happened to the Diamondbacks then?
How about their record in one-run games? The knack for hitting in the clutch, the ability to win one-run games, seems like it dried up in the hot desert air. The high leverage wOBA is down to .291, in the bottom third of the league. What hath Gibby wrought?
The bullpen actually improved on the balance over 2011, posting a lower FIP and higher WAR as a group. Yet one thing stands out: their inability to pitch in high leverage situations. The D-Backs relief corps features the worst “clutch” rating in the National League, sitting only above the Red Sox for lowest in baseball. They are not able to get outs when they matter most.
And how has this manifested itself? Take a look at their 2012 record in one-run games. Does that say 11-23? That is unsustainably, impossibly bad! EVERYTHING I BELIEVED IS A LIE:
Nobody can take away the excitement and experience the 2011 playoff run gave the Diamondbacks or their fans. No matter how many times somebody on the internet declares them frauds, the players will never give back their playoff shares. Just as the Orioles are providing excitement for a team and fanbase in desperate need. The magic, however, will come to an end at some point. The luck will run out, the proverbial clock will strike midnight. Having a good bullpen and astute manager is one thing, having things break your way is another. It happens.
It happens nearly every year to one team or another. If not the D-Backs in 2011, maybe you prefer the story of the Padres in 2010. Hell, the Giants in 2010 are pretty much the same story. Some people don’t want to accept “it happens” as an explanation but, occasionally, it is the best one anyone can muster.
For every bitter/desperate pundit looking to heap scorn on what they term “bad process” or “dumb luck”, there is an ideologically opposed Showalter Truther looking to ascribe greatness and/or credit to some one or some thing for harnessing all the good vibes and good luck. It just happens. And that is okay.
The Orioles are not an ongoing indictment into sabremetrics nor are they saviors for The Game And Playing It The Right Way. They are just a baseball team. A baseball team with a great bullpen and a smart manager. They’re winning lots of game, more than they have any right to expect based on their available talent. But they’re winning the games anyway.
Orioles fans and neutral observers can just enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. Bitter fans of divisional rivals can cluck their tongues about Baltimore’s Reckoning but Orioles fans Meaningful Baseball in September is on its way to Camden Yards – and the luck dragon is powerless to stop it.