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Double Play: Are The Baltimore Orioles For Real?

It’s Monday, so you know what that means! Double Play time between Mark Hock and Bryan Lutz. Today we will debate whether the Baltimore Orioles are one of the best teams in the American League, if the bullpen is key to a team’s success, and the player most likely to rebound after a slow start.

Are the Baltimore Orioles for real?

MH: Early in the season teams tend to perform better than expected. Last season the Pittsburgh Pirates looked like they had a shot at the playoffs, and they ended the season 24 games out of first. So the Baltimore Orioles wouldn’t be the first team to do better than expected.

But something about this Baltimore Orioles team is different. Maybe it’s that they finally have some pitching, in Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.09 ERA) and Jake Arrieta (2-3, 4.23 ERA). Or maybe it’s that the bullpen isn’t filled with older pitchers with no upside, as they’ve been replaced by Pedro Strop (3-1, 1.35 ERA) and Matt Lindstrom (1.29 ERA).

Either way, there’s something different about this Baltimore Orioles squad, and it leads me to believe that they won’t just regress when June rolls around.

BL: The Baltimore Orioles are definitely the most surprising team so far in 2012. With the record of 22-13, a full game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for first place, it’s time to start asking ourselves are they for real? Considering how bad the Orioles have been the past decade, it’s easy to dismiss them without even looking at them in-depth, but it’s only fair to break them down efficiently.

The reason why the Baltimore Orioles are winning games is because their bullpen is overachieving to the max. The Orioles have five relievers with an ERA under 2, plus they have overachievers in the starting rotation as well. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have been carrying that rotation so far. Needless to say, when you think of pitchers who can anchor a staff, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen aren’t names you would use.

 How important is a bullpen?

MH: I’m sure Bryan will try and convince you that relievers are key to a team’s success. But let’s take a look at the impact of one of the greatest relievers of all time, Mariano Rivera. Because if having him didn’t drastically change the New York Yankees fortunes, then how could any other reliever?

Using a team’s run differential, we can predict their expected win and loss total. If a team overachieved, it would likely be based on their bullpen. So how did the New York Yankees do over the last few years, compared to their run differential?

2011 = -4 (and 4th in bullpen ERA)

2010 = -2 (and 7th in bullpen ERA)

2009 = +8 (and 13th in bullpen ERA)

2008 = +2 (and 7th in bullpen ERA)

2007 = -3 (and 22nd in bullpen ERA)

The bottom line, is that despite having the greatest reliever ever to play the game, the Yankees have fluctuated quite randomly between over and under achieving. There’s no link between the success of the bullpen and the quality of the ballclub, leading me to believe that relievers are not more important than we think.

BL: The value of a bullpen is one thing I don’t necessarily think with a sabermetric mindset. I believe a team’s bullpen means a lot more than what some SABR stats say – i.e. the Orioles. As I just said, the Orioles are overachieving because they have five relievers with an ERA under 2, ergo, they are winning games because they are holding onto leads. As a whole, relievers have bad WARs because the amount of innings they pitch, but those innings are the difference in actual game results.

Good/bad pythag records happen because of bullpens. And if you look back at the past World Series champions, you will find a great bullpen behind all those champions.

Which struggling player bounces back?

MH: I believe that Jose Reyes will rebound very soon. He’s posting one of the best walk rates of his career, and limiting the strikeouts, showing that he has a strong understanding of the strike zone. He’s killing the pitches he does swing at, driving them with authority (22.4% line drive rate).

It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out. He’s not doing anything different than he was last year, when he hit 337/384/493. Maybe Jose Reyes won’t hit 337 this year, but once he rebounds he should start hitting for a much better average and driving the ball with authority. It’s only a matter of time before Jose Reyes becomes the dangerous hitter the Miami Marlins expected him to be.

BL: As I recently wrote, there are ten players who shouldn’t panic about their slow start. While you could pick one from the litter, I think Brian McCann is the one player who is most likely to rebound the quickest.

McCann has been the most consistent catcher in the past five years, and right now he’s been really unlucky. His line drive percentage is at a career high while his BABIP is at a career low. Sooner rather than later, that will even out and McCann will get his hits.

Follow Mark Hock on Twitter at @Mark_Hock

Follow Bryan Lutz on Twitter at @Lutzifer35