StrategyFebruary 10, 2013

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

By R.J. White

Finishing no higher than third in the AL East from 1998 to 2011 and failing to top 70 wins in any of the previous five seasons, the Orioles enjoyed a banner year from their pitching in 2012, allowing just 705 runs (down from 860 the previous year), which, when combined with the offense scoring 712 runs, gave the team its first positive run differential since 2004. Their Pythagorean record suggested they played at the level of an 82-win team based on that plus-7 run differential.

But the Orioles actually won 93 games, buoyed by a 16-2 record in extra-innings game and a 29-9 record in one-run games. Credit great in-game management, the favor of the baseball gods, or whatever you’d like, but this was a team that got things done when it mattered during the regular season. After topping the Rangers in the first AL wild-card game, the Orioles went the distance with the Yankees before falling in the League Division Series. Was the over-performance a sign of things to come in Baltimore?

In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C Matt Wieters.249.329.4356723833593 
1B Chris Davis.270.326.5017533852562 
2B Brian Roberts.182.233.182205174 
SS J.J. Hardy.238.282.3898522680713 
3B Manny Machado.262.294.445247262202 
LF Nate McLouth.268.342.4353571812236 
CF Adam Jones.287.334.505103328216697 
RF Nick Markakis.298.363.4715913541471 
DH Wilson Betemit.300.387.440425318344 

Unsettled: Second base. Brian Roberts is penciled in as the starter at second, but relying on anything from Roberts at this point isn’t a recommended strategy for success. The Orioles’ backup plan is Alexi Casilla, who was claimed off waivers this offseason and could provide some quality SBs in AL-only leagues if/when Roberts is knocked out. But the intriguing name to watch is Jonathan Schoop, who held his own as a 20-year-old in Double-A last year, hitting .245/.324/.386 with 14 HRs in 555 plate appearances. ESPN’s Keith Law has noted in the past that he thinks Schoop will be an impact bat in the majors. With such slim pickings ahead of him on the depth chart, he may get the chance to fulfill that projection sooner rather than later.

Target: Nick Markakis. Last season looks like just another year for Markakis, except that he had far fewer steals than usual. But it’s important to note that he actually regained his power stroke, as his 13 home runs came in just 471 plate appearances due to separate thumb and hand injuries during the season that both required surgery. And that doesn’t count abdominal surgery in January. His missed time led to his first season in six years with less than 697 plate appearances. After posting his best slugging percentage and ISO rate since 2008, Markakis could be in for a return to 20-homer power. A continued quality batting eye should keep his average up. Overvalued in past fantasy drafts, Markakis should finally be at the point where he could deliver profit on his expected draft slot or auction price.
The Rotation

Jason Hammel (R)8-63.431.2411342118.0 
Wei-Yin Chen (L)12-114.021.2615457192.2 
Chris Tillman (R)9-32.931.05662486.0 
Miguel Gonzalez (R)9-43.251.217735105.1 
Jake Arrieta (R)3-96.201.3710935114.2 

Unsettled: The pitchers in the top four slots of the rotation are pretty secure, but the fifth spot is completely up in the air. The team agreed to a deal with Jair Jurrjens that’s being held up due to medical issues that arose during his physical. If he’s ultimately not brought on board, the fifth spot will come down to a competition between Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and maybe even 20-year-old Dylan Bundy, rated by some as the top prospect in baseball. The Orioles have also explored trade options to supplement the rotation this offseason, including Rick Porcello. The most exciting of this bunch is obviously Bundy, but don’t overlook Arrieta, who pitched fairly well despite his 6.20 ERA. Aside from leading all starters on the team with a 3.1 K/BB ratio, Arrieta posted a 4.05 FIP and 3.65 xFIP. He made a nice step forward in most phases of his game last season, something his ERA didn’t show.
Target: Dylan Bundy. Taken No. 4 overall in the 2011 draft, Bundy had a remarkable first season in the Orioles’ organization at the age of 19. He pitched 30 innings in Class-A, allowing just five hits and two walks (for a 0.23 WHIP) while striking out 40 batters. He threw 57 innings at Class-A Advanced, posting a 2.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 3.7 K/BB ratio while striking out 66 batters. Bundy also threw 16.2 solid innings at Double-A and even made a couple appearances with the Orioles, allowing one hit and one walk in 1.2 innings. He may be given a chance at a starting job in spring training, but he’ll more likely find himself at Double-A to start the year. Should he continue dominating, we may see him in the major-league rotation before too long. He’s an obvious buy in dynasty leagues, but re-drafters with bench spots will also want to consider picking him up in drafts and auctions, if the price is right.
The 8th and 9th Innings
Jim Johnson (R)512.491.02411568.2 
Darren O’Day (R)02.280.94691467.0 

Chasing Saves: Jim Johnson led the big leagues with 51 saves in 2012, a feat made more impressive when you consider Johnson’s relatively poor 5.4 K/9 ratio. Should his advantageous BABIP regress to the mean, it could lead to a mediocre performance that may have him yanked out of the closing role should the Orioles plan to contend. The best option to take over for Johnson would be side-armer Darren O’Day, who has posted outstanding seasons in three of the last four years. Pedro Strop, who picked up three saves last season but like Johnson has a low K rate, could also be in line for save opportunities.
Final Thoughts
The Orioles offer several solid offensive bats for fantasy leagues, led by star Adam Jones. Matt Wieters has the potential to be fantasy’s No. 1 catcher if everything comes together. Third baseman Manny Machado will be one to watch in his first full year in the majors. On the pitching side, the rotation is filled with solid arms that don’t have much upside. That could change if/when Dylan Bundy reaches The Show for more than a cup of coffee. In the bullpen, Jim Johnson may be one of the more shaky bets to remain at closer despite his 51 saves from a year ago.
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Boston Red Sox.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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