5 Bold Predictions for the Baltimore Orioles in 2014
With the start of spring training competition and Opening Day steadily approaching, fans and teams are setting predictions and goals for their players to accomplish in the 2014 season.
Starters, role players and bench players alike will come up with their own realistic goals for themselves, giving them something to aim for while navigating through the strenuous campaign of a 162-game season.
While the team as a whole is being projected as middle-of-the-pack or below in the AL East division, several O's players should be able to put up above-average numbers for their respective positions. Team leaders such as Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy are expected to either reproduce or improve upon their 2013 stats.
The optimism surrounding the acquisitions of new players such as Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and David Lough is also a factor in the bold predictions that fans and experts are making regarding the Oriole ballclub.
With that being said, here are five bold predictions for the Baltimore Orioles in 2014.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and fangraphs.com or obtained through writer's own research and calculations.
Nick Markakis: 25-Plus Homers and 105-Plus Runs
Nick Markakis needs to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup for the O's if they hope to win their first AL East division title since 1997.
Batting leadoff last season for the Orioles, Markakis had an OBP of .352, which was nearly identical to premier outfielder and high-profile offseason signee, Jacoby Ellsbury's OBP of .355. The difference between the two was their OPS numbers. Ellsbury held an above-average OPS for leadoff hitters with .781 in a time where the league average was the highest it has been in 26 years, according to ESPN.com's David Schoenfield. Meanwhile, Markakis fell well short of league average for leadoff hitters with a .720 OPS.
The difference between the 2013 version of Markakis and this year's? Markakis will (hopefully) be entering the season at 100-percent this time around.
After being diagnosed last year with a small disc herniation in his neck during spring training, Markakis seemed to certainly be affected by lingering pain throughout the season.
Going into the 2014 season fully healthy should allow for Markakis' power numbers and extra-base hits to return. With an improved offense due to the addition of Nelson Cruz, Markakis will produce new career highs in both home runs and runs scored.
Ubaldo Jimenez: 18-Plus Wins, a Sub-3.50 ERA and 200-Plus Strikeouts
Baltimore's signing of new front-of-the-rotation starter Ubaldo Jimenez brought both the hopefuls and the critics out in masses.
Jimenez's recent years have shown no hint of consistency, as the wild-throwing righty has seen his ERA plateau at 5.40 in 2012 and dip as low as 2.88 in 2010—a year in which he came close to winning a Cy Young Award. 2010 was the epitome of Jimenez's career so far, as he went into the All-Star break with 15 wins and a 2.20 ERA, but fell off in the second half with only four wins and a 3.80 ERA.
The optimism that most Orioles fans are feeling after the signing of Jimenez certainly stems from Jimenez's second half in 2013. After the All-Star break, Jimenez pitched to an ERA of 1.82 and a SO/9 of 10.7. If we projected that ratio over a 200-inning season, Jimenez would end up with about 238 strikeouts in a year.
Jimenez will have plenty of run support as well.
Joining a high-powered offense that placed fifth in scoring in 2013 with 745 runs and added another power bat in outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz, Jimenez should be the first Oriole pitcher to reach the 18-win mark since Mike Mussina last did it in 1999.
David Lough: 15-Plus Homers and 25-Plus Stolen Bases
David Lough, who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, will bring a lot of speed and some power to the table for the Baltimore Orioles.
The lefty speedster will be the club favorite to land the starting left field gig come Opening Day and is already making a strong push for the job. Through six spring training games played so far, Lough is hitting for an impressive batting average of .353. He has stolen two bases and has already legged out a pair of triples.
In an interview with MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko, Lough laid out his goals stolen-base wise and gave reason to his low total in 2013:
I feel like I'm a 30-bag capable guy," Lough said. "There's no excuse for it. I think last year was just getting comfortable up there. At times it seemed like I was afraid to make a mistake with Kansas City, being first called up and winning the right field job. I didn't want to make that mistake and get thrown out and do those things that would look bad upon me.
With the change in home ballparks, Lough will now have the benefit of a significantly shorter distance to the right-field wall. Kaufman Stadium's distance to the right-field wall is 330 ft., while Camden Yards sports a distance of just 318 ft., albeit with a higher wall instead.
If Lough can utilize this and his ability as a speedster to his advantage, we will see a 15/25 season from him in 2014.
Closer: Tommy Hunter/Brian Matusz Platoon
Closer seems to be the only position that the Orioles hadn't addressed during the offseason, but they had certainly tried to fill the spot with an established veteran in right-handed reliever Grant Balfour before plans fell through.
The club, instead, will be using their own personnel to fill a position that is considered to be one of the most crucial in the game.
After meandering between the rotation and the bullpen for the past few years, Tommy Hunter has firmly established himself as a late-inning reliever for the O's.
Last season, Hunter had a career year, recording a sub-3.00 ERA (2.81) and a sub-1.00 WHIP (0.985). He was a righty specialist who held opposing right-handed hitters to just a .141 average, but surrendered a .294 average to lefties.
Brian Matusz is a mirror image of Hunter, yet opposite.
A former starter turned reliever himself; Matusz has been a phenomenal lefty specialist for the Birds. Last season, he held left-handed batters to a .168 average, but had similar troubles with the opposite side, like Hunter. Right-handed hitters destroyed Matusz, as they hit to an average of .305 against him, while getting on base at a .375 clip.
Depending on what the situation calls for, manager Buck Showalter can go to either reliever and feel confident that the game is all but over.
Oriole Outfielders: Gold Glove Sweep
This is perhaps the boldest prediction on this list considering that the Oriole outfielders need to not only perform up to their potential as defenders, but compete directly with other stellar defenders in the AL such as Mike Trout, Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp.
After manning right field for nearly a decade with the Orioles, Nick Markakis is simply a phenomenal defender that goes unnoticed by the baseball public in general. Much like Oriole shortstop J.J. Hardy, Markakis does all the right things without the flair. Over the past three seasons, Markakis has a near-perfect fielding percentage of .996 while committing just two errors.
Center fielder Adam Jones is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner and has won each time in the past two years. A fielder who can be relied upon to cover a lot of ground with his long strides, Jones has never had a season-fielding percentage of less than .980 during his career with the Orioles. Last season, Jones committed only two of Baltimore's league-leading 54 errors.
The new left fielder at the start of the season should be David Lough if all goes accordingly to plan. The hard-hustling speedster had a .989 fielding percentage in his rookie season in 2013, while committing just two errors. Having had time to adjust and become comfortable in the major leagues, Lough should be more than capable of replacing free-agent casualty Nate McLouth's defensive prowess.