Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The (Wh)O's?

I know, it's early, but almost everything else I predicted has begun to show it's face making me seem like some sort of super predicting genius! You can send your checks to 'Predictor Guy', Niagara Falls, Canada. Obviously Canada Post has put money down on all my predictions, so they'll know where to send your letters with that information.

That aside, what the heck is going on in Baltimore? I know they haven't had the most difficult schedule to date, but seriously, this team was supposed to be the American Leagues San Francisco Giants. Nobody expected the Orioles to even compete this year. In fact, Camden Chat didn't even do a season preview, detailing how low the expectations for the club were.

Currently sitting in first place in no only the American League East but all of baseball, the Orioles have faced off against two teams whom I predicted to win their respective divisions as well as the Rangers. While this has been far from a difficult schedule in the eyes of most, the Orioles have simply taken what has been given to them.

David Pinto over at Baseball Musings projected the Orioles to have the 10th best offensive team in the American League for 2008 citing that each of the regulars own an above average on base percentage.

However, the Orioles are currently 4th in the majors (second in the American League) in runs scored per game. While it is doubtful that the Orioles rank in the top 10 in team ERA, the question remains to which degree the hitters can continue to perform.

The current batting order is as follows:
Brian Roberts
Melvin Mora
Nick Markakis
Kevin Millar
Aubrey Huff
Luke Scott
Ramon Hernandez
Adam Jones
Luis Hernandez

Pinto was spot on when he suggested the team will have no problem getting on base. And while part of the clubs league leading OBP is a result of a high batting average of balls in play it should not see an extraordinarily big drop off. This is due to the club having a great deal of line drive hitters, who typically out pace their projected BABIP.

I wonder if their low projected slugging percentage is a myth. While the team does not have any obvious 40+ home run hitters, they do have nice power in all but the number nine spot in the batting order.

Let's take a look at a couple players who should help the Orioles maintain strong offensive numbers, while going under the radar.

Ramon Hernandez. While Hernandez has had issues staying healthy throughout his career. There is no denying that he has the ability to be a top 10 offensive catcher. He has the ability to hit 20 home runs this season, which is a very nice total for a catcher.

Nick Markakis. Everyone is getting to know this kid's name and for good reason. He is one of the league's best young hitters and with a little luck could be an annual threat for 35 home runs. The average and on base percentage are legit, and remember, he did most of his damage in the second half of last season, where he had a line of .325/.389/.550.

Aubrey Huff was a great disappointment in 2007, however much of the disappointment revolved around poor luck. If his home run per fly ball rate returns to career norms, there is little reason to believe Huff can't challenge for 30 home runs in 2008.

Luke Scott, is a player I will write about in tomorrow's Take a Chance on Me. Here is a player who should easily hit 25 home runs for the Orioles this season and be a dynamic trading chip down the road.

Lastly, Adam Jones. To this point in his major league career, the toolsy outfielder has underperformed. His BABIP has been low this season, but his strikeout rate has been the discouraging sign. Jones, however, has always been prone to the strikeout, so this is nothing new. His power and speed are legit though and he should begin to put up numbers as he becomes more comfortable with an everyday role in the bigs.

The Orioles are not going to win the division. The Orioles are not going to continue to play such good ball. However, the Orioles are going to surprise a lot of people with the offensive player they have put on the field this year. The club has some strong trading chips, which they should not hesitate to use no matter how things are going this season.

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