Orioles Magic: A Season in Review

Kirby Sauble, Staff Writer

Last year the Baltimore Orioles went out with a winning season and a mighty stand in post season. With the ‘high’ of being a winning team, this season started out right where it left off. The boys were back from spring training and ready to show Birdland what they could do. Unfortunately, the Birds fell short of a second postseason appearance.

Being an Orioles fanatic, I am highly disappointed to be tuning into this week’s wild card games and not seeing the presence of the Baltimore orange and black. The Orioles secured a winning season with a final record of 85 wins and 77 loses. The season is a wrap,the players are home enjoying family, and the stadium is cleaned and desolate; but the season never ends without the final grade and evaluation of players by position. Below are this super fan’s grades and an evaluation of the attributes of the 2013 Baltimore Orioles starting line-up.

 1. CATCHERS

Matt Wieters- Being the top offensive and defensive players in both the National and American Leagues, Matt Wieters played in a total of 148 games this season. I pass very little judgment on the Baltimore catcher except to say that he still has not fully showcased his potential. Wieters led all major league catchers in home runs securing 22 and tied for third most RBI’s of any catcher in the majors with 79.

GRADE: A

Taylor Teagarden- When Wieters sat to catch a breath, Showalter put Teagarden in to relieve our starter. This season, Teagarden barely produced offensively and mishandled the pitching staff, leading to a poor defensive performance. Toward the end of the season, managers and position leaders dropped the use of Teagarden and took a look at Steve Clevenger. Teagarden was a fill-in at most and not too much more.

GRADE: D

 2. INFIELD

Chris Davis- Baltimore’s first baseman had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the Orioles franchise along with such a strong stand at his position that general manager Buck Showalter openly campaigned in support of Davis receiving a Golden Glove Award at the conclusion of the season. Davis led the major leagues in home runs and RBI’s with 53 home runs and 138 RBI’s. Davis was referred to often as the ‘clutch’ player this season and definitely went out with a bang. On the last play of the last regular season game , Davis got injured, narrowly avoiding his 200th strikeout of the season. Well wishes for a speedy recovery and what a season– keep up the good work.

GRADE: A+

JJ Hardy- He’s a notorious slow starter at the plate, but when the curtain comes down, he’s usually right there among the most productive middle infielders in the game — and this year was no exception. If that was the only thing that made him one of the best shortstops in the game, it would be enough, but what makes him even more important to the Orioles is his terrific performance with the glove. He was the captain of an infield that led the club to all-time single-season records for fewest errors, highest fielding percentage, and most errorless games.

GRADE: A

Manny Machado- The third baseman gave everybody a big scare when he suffered an ugly knee injury last week, but he should be ready for the start of spring training in February. The real challenge will be living up to the outsized expectations he created during his first full season in the major leagues. Not many 21-year-olds lead the American League in doubles and make a run at 200 hits (he finished with 189), and a lot fewer play third base like the second coming of Brooks Robinson. I personally can’t wait to be back in Mannyland cheering on one of the best!

GRADE: A

Ryan Flaherty- The Orioles kept Flaherty on the roster all season in 2012 after taking him in the Rule 5 draft. He was up and down this year, but he  remains a work in progress and could get significant playing time in 2014 if the club doesn’t re-sign Brian Roberts. Flaherty played all four infield positions and showed some pop (10 home runs), but he wasn’t a great on-base threat (.224 batting average, .293 on-base percentage).

GRADE:C+

Brian Roberts- He’s not  my favorite; in fact, he’s  my least-liked Oriole in the franchise. I was highly unimpressed with Roberts’ performance this season. When he came back to play regularly at midseason, Roberts showed that he can still play a solid second base, and he can still squeeze a pitcher with a long at-bat even though the famed second baseman could be seen not putting in the full 100% . Whether that translates into a new Orioles contract this winter remains to be seen, but he definitely isn’t finished playing.

GRADE: C

Alexi Casilla- The veteran proved to be a valuable late-inning guy whose base-stealing came in handy, but he didn’t respond well to appearing in the lowest amount of games (62) since 2007. Casilla batted just .214 with a .268 on-base percentage in 125 plate appearances.

GRADE: D

 3.OUTFIELD

Adam Jones- Once again, Jones raised the bar in his climb toward superstar status, setting career highs in home runs (33) and RBIs (108) while maintaining his reputation as one of the game’s top center fielders. If he has a weakness, it might be that he’s just too aggressive at the plate for his own good at times. When it came down to crunch time, less might actually have been more, but it was still a terrific season.

GRADE: B+

Nick Markakis- It was a disappointing year for Markakis, who came back from an injury-prone 2012 season with high hopes for a big offensive year and perhaps his first opportunity to play in the postseason. Instead, he set career lows in several offensive categories and never really looked like the guy who has long been a key offensive cog on this team since coming to the major leagues in 2006.

GRADE: C

Nate McLouth- McLouth re-established himself as an everyday player in 2013, playing in 146 games and injecting a lot of speed in the lineup early in the season. He finished the year tied for eighth in the American League with 30 stolen bases, but was not as much of an impact on the bases down the stretch, stealing just two bases in the final six weeks of the season. McLouth’s performance at the plate also declined sharply as he batted just .205 from the All Star break until the end of the season.

GRADE: B-

 Chris Dickerson- After batting .313 in May and hitting two home runs in a game against the New York Yankees that month, his numbers and playing time declined in the summer, and he was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk in July. To be fair, in the 22 games he played at least nine innings, he batted a solid .284. Called back in September, he had only three plate appearances down the stretch. From July until the end of the year, he appeared in just 17 major league games and was hitless in 14 at-bats.

GRADE: C

 Steve Pearce- The Orioles missed Pearce when he was forced out of action at midseason with tendinitis in both wrists and lost him again at the end of August for three weeks to the same problem. When he was healthy, he was a helpful bench guy who batted .261 with a solid .362 on-base percentage.

GRADE: C-

 4. PITCHERS

Chris Tillman- Finally, somebody stepped up to fill the No. 1 slot in the starting rotation, and Tillman would have come close to 20 victories with some better luck down the stretch. He had four starts in August and September in which he pitched an average of seven innings and gave up a total of five earned runs (1.25 per start in question) and had a no-decision in each of them

GRADE: A

 Miguel Gonzalez- Gonzalez consistently held opponents to three earned runs or less and didn’t get enough run support, but he did finish with 11 wins and only Tillman started more games. If there is room for criticism, it is that Gonzalez sometimes hit the wall as he neared 100 pitches.

GRADE: B

Jason Hammel- Hammel would look like the guy who got off to such an impressive start in 2012, but he again had trouble staying healthy and his numbers slipped back to the statistical range he had in the Colorado Rockies rotation from 2009 to 2011. That’s too bad for the Orioles because a healthy and productive Hammel might have been preparing for a postseason start right now.

GRADE: C-

 Wei-Yin Chen- Chen has been the most consistent starting pitcher on the staff over that period, but he missed about a third of this season with an oblique strain. Chen gave up more than three earned runs in a game only four times in 23 starts, but his 7-7 record was reflective of soft offensive support.

GRADE: B-

Scott Feldman- Dan Duquette moved quickly to solidify the starting rotation in early July, dealing Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for Feldman. Though the numbers don’t point to the deal paying huge dividends, Feldman did pretty much what the Orioles brought him here to do. He averaged just more than six innings per start and gave the Orioles a very good chance to win in 11 of his 15 outings.

GRADE: A-

5. RELIEF PITCHERS

Jim Johnson- Johnson led the majors in blown save opportunities with nine. Maybe he just raised the bar too high with his outstanding performance in 2012, but nine blown saves was just too many in a division in which four teams were still alive for a postseason berth until the final 10 days of the season.

GRADE: D

Tommy Hunter- The Orioles acquired Hunter in 2011 to be a starter, even though the Texas Rangers had successfully converted him into a reliever during that season. The Orioles finally wised up this year and used him exclusively out of the bullpen to take advantage of his upper-90s velocity, and he responded with a solid season in setup relief. He remains vulnerable to the long ball, but pitched to a 2.81 ERA and even saved four games.

GRADE: B-

Darren O’Day- Not many Orioles relievers were able to match the numbers they put up during the bullpen’s terrific 2012 season, but O’Day was the exception. His statistics in 2013 were remarkably similar to last year — closely mirroring his ERA, innings pitched, appearances and WHIP. He’s simply one of the best setup guys in the game.

GRADE: A+

Brian Matusz- No doubt, the Orioles’ left-handed specialist still harbors hope of returning to the starting rotation, but he thrived in his first full season in the bullpen. He appeared in 65 games and delivered solid hit-inning and strikeout-walk ratios on the way to a 2-1 record, 3.53 ERA and career-low 1.157 WHIP.

GRADE: B+

Pedro Strop- Being crowned with the name Pedro Choke, Strop was the butt of many Orioles fan jokes this season, delivering a personally unsatisfying performance.  Strop delivered a classic jerky performance over the course of the season. He bounced back from his 0-3 record and 7.25 ERA with the Orioles to re-establish himself as a solid setup guy with the Cubs. He went 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 37 appearances in Chicago and could be a candidate to close next season.

GRADE: D

 Kevin Gausman- There ain’t no mountain high enough for the Orioles top pitching prospect, but he did have his share of ups and downs in his first professional season. He struggled in three of his five starts and allowed nine earned runs in 23 innings (3.52 ERA) out of the bullpen. But it was never hard to see that he has unlimited potential, and Orioles fans can’t wait to see what he does next year.

GRADE: C