In the past two seasons, I've used the All-Star break as an opportunity to pause and take account of the Orioles' first half in statistical terms. This year, I've browsed through most of the pertinent numbers, and there isn't much to report that isn't already obvious to a casual observer. Nevertheless, I'll recap a few first-half team statistics and then add a few notes on individual players.
- That 41–49 won-lost record ain't lyin': the O's truly have been one of the worst teams in the American League this year. Indeed, the only AL team that played significantly beneath the Orioles' pre-ASB level was the comically hapless K.C. Royals. According to the Adjusted Standings at baseballprospectus.com, Baltimore's performance actually has been a bit worse than its won-lost record, after accounting for factors such as run differential, league- and park-adjusted offensive and defensive stats, and quality of competition. Here, the statistical evidence supports the standings. There is a clear dividing line in the AL East this year: Boston, Toronto, and New York are in a legitimate fight for the division crown, while several rungs below them, Baltimore and Tampa Bay are trying to avoid the ignominious odor of the cellar.
- The bats have been mediocre. At the break, the Orioles' rate of 4.84 runs scored per game was a smidgen below the league average of 5.05. (Home park adjustments didn't make much of a difference in the rankings.) In every significant offensive statistic, the O's fell in the middle of the pack or worse. The only positions on the O's that hit markedly better than the league average for their position were shortstop (Miguel Tejada) and catcher (Ramón Hernández); most of the others were in the lower third of the rankings in OPS. And the saddest thing is that none of the members of the starting lineup figures to improve much in the second half, except perhaps Nick Markakis.
- The pitching, supposedly the organization's long suit, has been appalling, and both the starting rotation and bullpen have blame to claim. The team ERA of 5.29 and RA/G of 5.57 (source: The Hardball Times) were both next to last in the AL, ahead of just the Royals. The staff currently leads the league in free passes issued (3.9 BB/G as calculated by THT) and has struck out batters at a below-average rate (5.9 K/G according to THT, compared to a league rate of 6.3). Add in a high rate of home runs allowed (1.3 HR/G; league mean: 1.14) and you have a group of arms that has lived up (or down) to its low ranking in nearly every way.
- The defense has been suspect. The team defensive efficiency of .688 was third-worst in the AL at the All-Star break, and most of the other fielding stats I've seen also indicate that Oriole glovework has been subpar, though not to an extreme.
- Tejada has continued to produce at the plate (.315 BA/.362 OBP/.510 SLG) and has played in every game despite several apparently minor ailments that shunted him to DH for a few games.
- New catcher Hernández has wielded a potent bat and lethal throwing arm (49% of opponents caught stealing).
- Corey Patterson, acquired for a relative pittance over the winter, showed off his tools in center field and on the basepaths and held his own on offense.
- Erik Bedard stayed healthy and was the team's best starter overall. After a rough patch from late April to early June, he pitched well in seven straight starts (the last five of which he won) before the break.
- Kris Benson finessed his way to a 9-7 record, showing that he's more than just another guy married to a pretty face.
- In relief, Chris Ray inherited the closer's role with aplomb, and the unlikely duo of Chris Britton and Kurt Birkins proved effective in middle-inning situations.
- Bruce Chen (0–6, 6.78 ERA). Some slippage from his 2005 performance seemed likely, but Chen started the year by getting absolutely blasted in his first eleven starts, which resulted in 17 home runs allowed, a 7.71 ERA, and an 0–5 record. After being moved to the bullpen, he didn't show much improvement. He's as good as gone.
- Rodrigo López (5–10, 6.77) performed as poorly as Chen and ended up hurting the team more because he stayed in the rotation for the entire first half.
- Aside from Ray, Britton, and Birkins, the bullpen looked rickety. Jim Brower and John Halama looked overmatched from the get-go and were quickly booted off the roster. Setup relievers LaTroy Hawkins, Sendy Rleal, and Todd Williams posted mediocre ERA's and unexceptional strikeout rates. I expect Eddy Rodríguez or Julio Manón (both thriving at Triple-A Ottawa) to get another shot in the second half.
- Luis Matos. After losing the starting center-fielder's job to Patterson, he didn't produce off the bench (.207 BA/.278 OBP/.331 SLG) and was DFA'd just before the break. What eroded the club's opinion of him after his remarkable 2003 is a bit of a mystery. Did the fractured tibia he suffered in 2004 sap his foot speed and agility? Was he done in by poor work habits and a lousy attitude, as has been suggested by media reports? Luis Terrero might be a marginal improvement over Matos, but he doesn't look like a long-term solution to the lack of production from the Birds' outfield.
- Jay Gibbons lost his mother and hurt his knee in the same week in late May. He tried to return in early June but sprained his knee again. Although he was putting up decent power numbers before the injury, his health (both physical and emotional) looks iffy for the remainder of the year.
- For a team that always seems to struggle with depth, losing David Newhan, Chris Gómez, and Tim Byrdak to injury early in the season was difficult, though ultimately other players took over their roles.
Daniel Cabrera's breakout season likely won't happen this year, and if he can't corral his pitches consistently, it might never happen. He still has great stuff, as his high strikeout rates indicate, so he manages to survive despite his wildness (9.1 BB/G as computed by THT).
- Brandon Fahey (.285/.348/.382) has hit a bit better than expected in his big-league debut, and he's filled in at second and short capably. But he's also been overexposed by starting seventeen games at corner outfield positions. This isn't his fault, of course; it's the lack of outfield depth in the organization that is most responsible.
- Markakis struggled early, confirming the fears of those (myself included) who thought he should have started the season in the minors. But his hitting has improved with experience, as his monthly OPS's demonstrate: .558 in April, .667 in May, .803 in June, .757 so far in July. In the long run, he might be the rare Oriole offensive prospect who actually lives up to his billing.