Where the Orioles are Beating the Projections

Seems to me the most fun you can have as a sports fan is when your team exceeds expectations. It’s fun when a known good team plays like a good team, too, but then you don’t get the same kind of magic of surprise. You’re already planning ahead for the playoffs, and you’re more likely to be disappointed by anything short of a title. It’s always the best to pull for someone people didn’t see coming, and a team most people didn’t see coming this year was the Orioles. Orioles fans, then, ought to be enjoying this, yet it seems an awful lot of them are spending their time ripping on FanGraphs. See, FanGraphs projected the Orioles for last place. Ergo, we’re maroons! Fans apparently don’t love it when you ascribe surprising success to random variation. I guess that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

So let’s consider what we have here. The Orioles are in the running to finish with baseball’s best record. They were projected to be something like a .500 team on true talent. Obviously, then, they’re exceeding the preseason projections. The roster hasn’t really changed all that much. So where are the Orioles beating the forecasts? We already know they’re doing better than they were expected to do. Why is that, in 2014?

Let’s not get hung up on individual players. We’re going to look more at the team level, made possible by our preseason Positional Power Rankings. And before we get any further, I’ll note that this year’s Orioles, as a team, have been clutch, and that’s impossible to project because it’s not really been identified as a sustainable skill. Clutch performance basically explains the difference between the Orioles’ record and the Orioles’ BaseRuns record, but the Orioles’ BaseRuns record is still quite good, and that’s the focus of this investigation.

Let’s go quickly! In the bullpen, the Orioles have done much better than expected. A big part of this has been the emergence of Zach Britton, the groundballing dynamo. However, the starting rotation has done a little worse than expected, so, overall, the pitching staff has been just 1 WAR better than it was projected for through this point. That’s not nothing, but that’s not worth our time.

Meanwhile, overall, the position players have been nearly 5 WAR better than they were projected for through this point. That feels a hell of a lot more significant, but we can break this down. Swinging the bat, the Orioles were projected to be almost exactly league average, and right now they’re better than that by about 11 runs. So, that mirrors the pitching staff’s performance. Running the bases, there’s no difference. Then we get to the defense. Putting everything together, the Orioles were projected for about +12 fielding runs by now. They’re actually at +46. The Orioles, as a team, lead baseball in UZR, and they’re the runners-up in DRS.

There’s our key. You’ve got about a win with the pitchers, and about a win with the bats, but better than three wins with the gloves. Or at least, what we’re calling the gloves. Manny Machado‘s played just 82 games, but still the Orioles have been this good. Matt Wieters has been lost for a while, but still the Orioles have been this good. Nelson Cruz has spent 500 innings in the outfield, but still the Orioles have been this good. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it, but I know the numbers that I’m looking at. The numbers think the Orioles’ defense is awesome.

And that’s why the Orioles’ team ERA is a half-run lower than their team FIP. Defensively, the Orioles have been better than the projections at almost every position, and no matter what you want to call that, that’s the statistical truth. Say, the numbers haven’t loved Nick Markakis in a while. Here’s Nick Markakis!

Markakis1

Markakis2

What follows now is a table, broken down by batted-ball type allowed. Within the table, for 2013 and 2014, you’ll see the Orioles’ ranks in the American League in BABIP.

BIP Allowed 2013 BABIP AL Rank 2014 BABIP AL Rank
GB 1 2
FB 13 9
LD 10 4

They’ve still been great at covering groundballs. They’ve been better with fly balls, and they’ve been better with line drives. We know that the Orioles are particularly aggressive with their shifting, but then the numbers don’t really know what to do with shifting, so. The ultimate point is this: balls in play haven’t hurt so bad. The Orioles have had to spend chunks of the year without one of the premier defensive players in the majors, but turning balls in play into outs is still helping to drive their success.

Is it about defense, or is it about the pitchers allowing a lesser average quality of contact? We’re not quite equipped to answer that, but we can do what we can. The Orioles have allowed a basically average line-drive rate. They’ve allowed a basically average groundball rate, and while they’re in the upper four in infield flies generated, the Rangers lead in that department, and their BABIP allowed is terrible. The Orioles have allowed a basically average amount of fly balls to leave the yard. It doesn’t seem like this is a special pitching staff. It seems like just a regular pitching staff, that’s been blessed by good glovework.

Left unanswered is, why has the outfield been so effective? Last year’s Orioles outfield rated below-average, defensively. This year they’re fifth in UZR, and the most innings have still gone to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Nate McLouth has turned into David Lough and Nelson Cruz. I don’t know what to say about this. Maybe the Orioles have just been presented with unusually easy opportunities. Maybe ordinary batted balls have just been hit unusually close to to outfielders. Maybe the outfielders have collectively gotten better, or maybe there’s been a change in how they’re all positioned at-bat to at-bat. The best I can do is give you some information. To fill in the inevitable gaps, I leave you to wonder and speculate.

This year’s Orioles, without question, have beaten what was expected of them. Part of that is unprojectable clutch performance. Part of that is the division struggling around them. And a big part of that is the team defense playing like one of the very best in the league. The pitching so far has been a little bit better. The bats so far have been a little bit better. The gloves have been outstanding, and while I can’t sit here and explain to you why, thankfully I’m under no obligation to do so. That would probably really stress me out.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


135 Responses to “Where the Orioles are Beating the Projections”

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  1. Marco says:

    That the Orioles have done this despite Chris Davis’ replacement level production is sort of mind boggling.

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    • Bonzi says:

      They’ve done it with nothing from Davis, Wieters out for the year, Machado out for half the year and Jimenez being a disaster. JJ Hardy’s ISO is cut nearly in half. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that all of those things would be true, I’d have put the Orioles at about 65 wins. Obviously they’ve had other variable break the right direction, but that’s what makes baseball fun. As much as we all love numbers, if we could just plug in the projections and know the outcomes, it wouldn’t be a very interesting game.

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  2. tjk says:

    The difference is almost entirely accounted for by their wOM+. For those of you who are unaware, that’s weighted Orioles Magic taking park factors into account. It was first defined by Wild Bill Hagy in the ’70s.

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  3. Hieronymous says:

    One of the keys to the Orioles defensive success is that they don’t just rely on limiting hits, but also making outs on baserunners or preventing baserunner advancement. Their defense is one of the best in turning double plays (as noted in the article about J.J. Hardy last week), outfielders preventing runners from advancing, and catcher defense. Once you add all of that to the merely above average hit prevention rates, you have a pretty elite defense.

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  4. RandomDigits says:

    It’s simple.

    In 2012 all we heard was how lucky the O’s were. Run differential, one run games, extra inning games.

    Then in 2013 they were unlucky in some of those same situations, and still won 85 games in the AL East.

    Now it is 2014 and we are hearing luck again, while at the same time the Yankees are over .500 with a horrid run differential and no one is calling them lucky.

    Defense and power are cheaper then OBP and Strikeouts, so Dan built around them.

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    • curious george says:

      Power is probably one of the tools teams pay the most premium for bud.

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      • Nick says:

        Power/OBP combo but not Power/Strikeout combo. Hello Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, etc. Those players are usually cheap.

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        • Wobatus says:

          Nelson Cruz was not all that expensive.

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        • utley4ever says:

          They are usually cheap because they are not that good, cruz and reynolds might have a lot of power, but they’re not actually that valuable because of the underpreforming in the other aspcts of baseball. No one knows this better than Phillies fans (Ryan Howard, unfortunately hes not cheap. Damn you Ruben Amaro ).

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        • Wobatus says:

          Cruz was paid less than he was worth. He averaged 2 WAR per 150 last year, 1.5 last 3 years, but got paid more like a 1.2 guy. He’s on pace for 3 per 150, and given that if you include 2010 and this year, he’s averaged 2.7 WAR per 150 over the last 5 years but had not stayed healthy all the time and had a PED bust. Lucky he’s been surprisingly good, but the odds were in their favor that it was a good gamble. But the signing got more a meh, at least no one was stupid to overpay him.

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        • thebamoor says:

          Or power and low OBP? Poster child: Adam Jones.

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        • GnomeWerth says:

          Cruz was paid less than he was worth statistically at least in part because of his PED suspension.

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      • Jeff Ermann says:

        Sweet basement posting consists of tools paying for premium, bud.

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      • RandomDigits says:

        Which is why Choo got the contract he did based off his HBP inflated OBP?

        O’s got Hardy for a song, O’s got Davis by agreeing to pay part of Koji’s salary. O’s got Cruz for 8 million.

        OBP deficient power is affordable in today’s game.

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      • More derp says:

        Nelson Cruz is a great example

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    • emdash says:

      Everyone thinks the Yankees have been lucky. It just hasn’t come up as much because no one’s talking about them, because they’re not winning enough to be interesting.

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    • A. Lane says:

      The Orioles 2nd highest position player by WAR, was someone the team released in April of this season, not sure how one can describe as anything but lucky.

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      • Joe says:

        That’s a technicality though, because Pearce had previously (before being DFA’d) agreed to re-sign with the Orioles ~3 days later when a roster spot was projected to open. Not that it changes your point all that much, but it does show that the Orioles had a plan for him.

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      • AlbionHero says:

        And their highest WAR player last year is a replacement level player this year. You can nit pick and find ways to see that they are both lucky and unlucky.

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  5. hookstrapped says:

    “Orioles fans, then, ought to be enjoying this, yet it seems an awful lot of them are spending their time ripping on FanGraphs.”

    No contradiction here. Ripping on FanGraphs is one aspect to enjoying this.

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    • Section 34 says:

      Absolutely true. FanGraphs can’t make up with one article for 2 1/2 years of saying the Orioles are worse than their record.

      But it goes years further back than that. Peter Angelos’ worst period of interference ended when he hired Andy MacPhail, but lazy sportswriters (not just FanGraphs by any means) took a long time to notice. Some still haven’t. When the Orioles were mediocre, they were still written about like they were a laughingstock.

      Then in 2012 they were suddenly good, and we got a full season of being told they weren’t. Last year they were pretty good, 85-77. Was that how they were covered? This year they are, as Sullivan has finally noticed, fairly close to having the best record in baseball. Has anyone, yet, considered them as among the best teams in baseball?

      Kudos to Jonah Keri, who keeps putting them in the elite for Grantland. Also to ESPN’s David Schoenfeld, who was annoying in 2012 with his harping on run differential, but was the first national writer I saw this year to predict them to win the division, way back when Toronto was still in first place.

      FanGraphs has told us for three years in a row of the Orioles being good that the win-loss record lies. Which is it FanGraphs: You either believe numbers tell a story, or you’re Murray Chass.

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    • Section 34 says:

      BTW I want to add that nobody minds (or should mind) when the Orioles are better than you predicted. Nobody can predict the future.

      What’s really annoying is when FanGraphs continues to say they’re not as good as they actually are. You ought to be able to report the present.

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      • utley4ever says:

        The Fangraphs writers arent saying the Orioles have not been good, they have been undeniably, what they are trying t do is understand why they have been playing better then they were projected to. Is it because they are actualy more talented than was originally assumed, or are they being lucky? Saying that they have had a very good win- loss record over the past three years (much better than fangraphs projected them to have) doesnt help answer the question. We know the Orioes have been better than expected the queston is, why? Dave and Jeff say that its largely luck because in which area of baseball talent (not luck but actual talent) have they actualy improved in to this extent.

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        • vonstott says:

          Don’t feed the troll.

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        • Matt says:

          Not actually true. They’ve been saying for three years that the orioles are going to regress anytime now. And that they haven’t been as good as their record indicates. If the question would’ve been “why are the Orioles better than we thought?” there would not be such animosity amongst the fans. I really don’t care. But to say all that’s been written has been to find out why they’ve outperformed their projections is entirely untrue. Nearly none of it has, it’s been article after article of how the other shoe is going to drop and their good fortune would turn the other way.

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  6. burpees says:

    Jeff- Are you Maroons? Or morons?

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  7. GaryThorne says:

    Off day in Chicago? bodyshots on me!!!!!! barghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

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  8. SimonSays says:

    “Ergo, we’re maroons!” As a UChicago student I take offense to that.

    It’s possible that players don’t exist in a vacuum, and that sequencing and players around you make a difference. A team full of above average fielders might be better for your team than one great defensive player and roughly average everybody else. Balls aren’t just going to find that great defensive player, so the distribution of those skills matters. Similarly, an evenly distributed lineup might be better at coming up “clutch” since the chance of stringing together hits is higher. An individual’s performance matters, but a team may not just be the sum of all its parts.

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    • Nick says:

      That is very interesting and not recognized by the way FG projects records. If you have 5 – 2 win players will you score more then 2 – 5 win players and 3 replacement players? That may be called “sequencing” but reality is there is a skill to roster construction which makes not all WAR equal.

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      • haishan says:

        People who have [looked into this](http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/whats-the-best-way-to-build-a-major-league-baseball-team/) have concluded that you can’t get meaningfully more wins based on distribution of WAR on your roster. It may, however, be cheaper to get 5 2-win players than 2 5-win players and 3 replacement level players, or it may be less risky, or something else like that.

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        • haishan says:

          Meh, I thought I was on Reddit. Clearly I need a vacation.

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        • hookstrapped says:

          That article makes that conclusion but it also found “Here again we find that at the extremes, roster composition does seem to matter. The eight most balanced teams in our sample all finished at .500 or better, averaging 94 wins a season.”

          Extreme balance correlated with an average of 94 wins seems worth pursuing — not to emulate in building a real team but in understanding the relationship.

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      • Stuck in a slump says:

        If you have five 2 WAR players, the floors may be lower than having two 5 WAR players, but the chance for variation is higher. So with five 2 WAR players you could have one turn in a season at -1 WAR, two right around 3 WAR, another could turn in a 4 WAR seaon and the last one could be replacement level. But, with two 5 WAR players you could have a guy with a 3 WAR season and the other get hurt and only accumulate 2 WAR. There’s a greater risk of putting all of your eggs into one basket, so having your WAR distributed more evenly might be the safest way to go.

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  9. VeveJones007 says:

    It’s hard to do this type of analysis in-season because the Orioles have basically been two different teams. In the first 81 games, the O’s were 42-39, +4 run differential. The reason for their current status near the top of baseball is based on a smaller sample size (32-13 in last 45 games, +61 run differential).

    Which is this team? The average bunch from the first 81 games, or the one that’s been tearing the league a new one for the past 45? I don’t know. We’ll just have to sit back and find out.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Yup. Since June 1, a totally arbitrary cutoff, and probably capricious as well, but at least longer than just the second half, here are AL teams WARs, position players and pitchers:

      25.2 Rays
      24.4 O’s
      22.7 Royals
      21.4 Angels
      20.1 M’s
      19.1 Tigers
      15.9 A’s
      15.9 Indians
      14.9 Twins
      13.8 Red Sox
      13.1 Jays
      12.4 Yanks
      11.2 White Sox
      9.3 Astros
      8.2 Rangers

      The Rays dug such a deep hole. They were 10 games below .500 on May 31. And were -17 games under as late as June 24. So their bad luck continued even though they’ve played quite well, but they’ve been 12 games over for about the last 2 months.

      But aside from that story, the Orioles and Royals have been the best teams for nearly the last 3 months. And yeah, fielding has been a huge advantage. And the Orioles pitching has been pretty good the last 2 months or so, but a lot of AL clubs have been pitching well. The M’s have pitched extremely well.

      The A’s started so well, and of course looking at the full body of work they’ve been great. But the start kind of masks that they’ve been downright mediocre since the beginning of June.

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    • Chito Martinez says:

      Granted they have played well since Manny’s most recent injury, the O’s really started looking like a different–much better–team once he returned to full strength.

      O’s fans got miffed by the Dave Cameron article because it focused on the luck and somehow that equaled “disrespect.” This is a good team with a good bit of luck. Their out-performance of the preseason projections that this post discussed is a bigger part of the story than the luck factor. Perhaps an investigation of the under-estimation of their defense is in order.

      This has been the most fun Orioles team to watch probably since ’89. We should just stop whining and enjoy it.

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      • Bill says:

        O’s fans got miffed at DC because he flat out stated the Orioles “are an okay team with an inflated record.”

        If ewe’re going to discuss the concerns of O’s fans, let’s at least have on the record the statement that is in contention.

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        • The Ancient Mariner says:

          They were. Now they’re playing over it. The latter doesn’t change the former, it just makes things more interesting.

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  10. GiveEmTheBird says:

    Jan 2012 Baltimore Sun: “In addition to the “six-pack” injury, Markakis said the abductor muscle on his right side “was kind of hanging off” and previous scar tissue was also discovered during surgery, indicating that he might have had similar, undetected ailments in the past.”

    Could Nick be returning to true form after a disappointing career relative to initial expectations? Probably not but one can dream…

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    • Nick says:

      Also the hammate (sp?) bone takes 2 years to redevelop power. So Cakes having 2 years of sub career ISO is coming back to what we would expect offensively – 2 years after being hit by CC Fatbathia.

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    • dave gb says:

      What’s the difference between Markakis now and what he was doing ’09-’12? He was recovering from an injuries last year, you can’t just take 1 bad season and call it a “disappointing career”.

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      • GiveEmTheBird says:

        “disappointing career” is out of context from the “relative to initial expectations” part that comes right after it in the sentence. I think it is consensus (or maybe it is just me) that the Orioles overpaid for the production they have gotten out of Nick. Meaning something like: he’s been 2 WAR good, but we paid for 3 WAR…

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  11. Bill says:

    The vitriol from Orioles fans comes not from the projections, but the response by those who make the projections when they pontificate on the reasons for the Orioles’ success.

    They COULD say, “The Orioles were projected for many fewer wins, and they are an outlier that falls within a statistically normal distribution of outliers. They are a good team, but we didn’t project them to be. Math says they should begin to regress, but they may continue to be an outlier.” Nobody would get upset with that.

    But, no. That’s not what FG writers or others in the stats community do. They deny the success the Orioles have already had. They dismiss wins in games that have already been played. We get phrases like “an okay team with an inflated record” after they go 17-7 in 24 games games against playoff contenders. We get “they’re not a great team” or they’re “lucky”. And they use these pejorative and dismissive terms, refusing to even acknowledge the Orioles as a “good” team, even as the team is 20 games over .500 and 2 games away from the best record in MLB. We’re entering Keith Law territory with FG – it seems there’s literally nothing the Orioles can do to prove they’re a good team.

    Is it possible to be an outlier and still be a good team? Many Orioles fans (and other baseball fans) would say yes. You can be a good team, even if projection systems would suggest you shouldn’t be winning as much as you are.

    But I guess there’s no room in math for that, huh?

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    • Wobatus says:

      Well, I don’t hear anybody actually denying wins in the bank. And it this stage, even by baseruns they are a pretty good team. Here Jeff is trying to see why the projections even got the baseruns record wrong, I guess, much less the actual record.

      And since this all started, the regressing has been that the Orioles have started to play much better and the baserun record is coming closer to the actual record.

      So, enjoy! I think that’s more what the FG writers are suggesting.

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      • Bill says:

        Dave Cameron just last week on an FG chat: The Orioles “are an okay team with an inflated record.”

        Inflated how? By winning 17 of 24 against playoff contenders after the ASG? So, where’s the inflation?

        That’s trying to re-write the history books to me.

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        • Chito Martinez says:

          I think you’re putting too much emphasis on that one line. I bet if you asked Dave, point blank, he would say the Orioles are “good” team. They ARE a *good* team with an inflated record. So were the Cardinals last year and they made it to the World Series. I don’t remember reading Cardinals fans complaining about everyone pointing out that they were ridiculous in clutch hitting last year.

          Let’s talk about the beauty of Darren O’Day’s 2 Ks with the tying run on 2b last night or that Nelson Cruz(!) catch the other night or how awesome Hardy & Schoop are up the middle instead of worrying about this crap.

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        • Wobatus says:

          They were an ok team and they’ve played extremely well since Dave’s comment. They were pretty good and lucky, and now playing very well. They’ve gone 14-6 in baseruns record their last 20 games.

          I agree Dave my not have noticed that they were picking it up.

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        • AK7007 says:

          Bill, since when does a 17 for 24 hot streak scream “true talent?”

          It’s exactly situations like that that lead to an inflated record. It’s not re-writing, it’s an acknowledgement that the past performance is unlikely to predict similar future results.

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    • dave gb says:

      It’s already been said on fangraphs that the Orioles are a good team, just not a “very good” or “great” team. And I agree with that.

      As an Oriole fan, I have no problem acknowledging their flaws, but as I said in my post below, the Orioles have managed to find wins in area’s I never would’ve expected. That’s what good teams do. Going into the playoffs, I’ll take “good” any year because we all know it’s a crap shoot at that point.

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    • Rob says:

      Oh man, are you another one that thinks Law hates the Orioles?

      Law is my favorite writer, read everything he writes, and I never ever got the impression he hated the Orioles. If I can hazard a guess, does it have to do with 2012 and MASN?

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    • thebamoor says:

      And the fact the O’s have been at this for 3 years in a row. I suppose it’s not out of question that they had been lucky for 3 years, albeit in different ways (2012: clutch pitching by relievers, 2013: Chris Davis, 2014: defense). But I wonder if the constant behind all of those teams, Buck Showlater, was also behind the O’s overperformance? How would sabermetrics reveal brilliant management?

      Whatever, all I know is that I’m enjoying the season the way I should!

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  12. GiveEmTheBird says:

    Jeff,
    I may have missed it, but did you say how much the BaseRuns record is above the projected .500 record? And then how much the actual record is above the BaseRuns record? I know we O’s fans are touchy about the random variation thing but it would be interesting to see what BaseRuns tells about how much has been luck (sequencing, etc.) versus unexpected good performance. Thanks!

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    • GiveEmTheBird says:

      Would it be as easy as to say 1 WAR for pitching + 5 WAR for position players = 6 full season wins, they were projected at league average (.500 or 81 wins) and their record today would be 95 wins for a whole season (.584×162), so of the 14 unexpected wins (95-81) 6 of them are unexpected better performance and 8 are unexpected sequencing (said differently they’d be 1 game ahead in the ALE instead of 9 if luck was perfectly average)?

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  13. dave gb says:

    Been an O’s fan for 33 years and I read fangraphs regularly, although I rarely post.

    When I saw the preseason projections, I’ll admit I thought it undervalued the ’14 Orioles, but not by much. Going into the season with Jimenez projected as the #1 starter (now a $14 million pitcher cast out as a mop-up reliever), I knew the Orioles would have to have an awesome bullpen and pretty much thrive with the homerun. Well, add great defense to the mix and that puts them where they are today, 20 games over .500. I wouldn’t have predicted that in April and I still can’t believe it.

    The Orioles have also found offensive production in areas where I never would have expected. Both Steve Pearce and Delmon Young has have been exceptional role players,Celeb Joseph’s defense alone has been a pleasant surprise and his bat has started to come around too…..Outside the power numbers, I almost don’t miss Matt Wieters. It’s funny, When fans are upset that Delmon Young is out of the lineup, the world must be upside down. The Oriole’s bench depth has played out a major factor and roster management by Showalter has played a huge in the teams success.

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  14. MiggyGonzo says:

    My strand rate is sustainable. F WAR, what is it really good for?

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  15. AlbionHero says:

    The Orioles lead the league in TWTW stat.

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  16. John Thacker says:

    Here’s a bizarre Orioles stat. Take the pitchers in the AL currently in the top 10 in season ERA. The Orioles are 10-5 in games where the opposing pitcher is one of those starters.
    1-0 vs King Felix, 2-0 vs Sale, etc. That’s just strange and certainly beating any sort of projection.

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    • GiveEmTheBird says:

      I’ve heard it posited (I wish I thought of it myself because its just crazy enough to consider) that the Orioles swing at anything and are good at hitting the fastball – very good ERA pitchers probably hit the strike zone often with good command and have very good fastballs – so the O’s get a better chance to succeed. Pitchers that have junk and trouble hitting the strike zone make the O’s swing anyway and the give up a lot of outs they shouldn’t. I don’t think that can be true, but it fits the O’s swinging style and the fact they seem to be allergic to soft tossing higher ERA pitchers.

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      • thebamoor says:

        Interesting: I heard the same theory when it came to the ~2005-2010 Angels, a free-swinging team that consistently outperformed their Base Runs estimation (to be precise, Baseball Prospectus’ version of it). Almost all great pitchers have low BB rates so the opponents might as well as be great at making most of balls in play (BIP plus home runs).

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  17. Johnston says:

    Wouldn’t you rather be lucky than good any day?

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  18. Orsulakfan says:

    Orioles fans may be snippy at Fangraphs, but Fangraphs writers sure are defensive as hell when it comes to the Orioles.

    I would say that a large amount of unpredictability (not going to call it luck) factors in the success of most teams. Most winning teams have guys who explode and have career years, go on a hot streak, happen to perform well in clutch situations, etc. I wonder what the comparison between outlier teams and predictably ‘good’ teams as champions would show. Numbers give us probabilities, but the improbables add up to more than the more-probables most of the time, if you know what I am saying.

    And then we’re just back to watching baseball.

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    • thebamoor says:

      Yeah. They should chill. One team doesn’t really disprove anything. In fact, if it consistently outperforms projections, studying it might improve future projections. It’s only when several teams exceed their confidence intervals every year that sabermetricians should become worried.

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    • B N says:

      The big thing that makes me grumpy is when Fangraphs writers apply a normal distribution, then declare: “See, it’s within normal bounds, nothing to see here!” as if that is somehow: A) It makes any sense to assume normality when we flat-out know it’s not true and B) We should do so before exploring the possible predictive factors that could explain the outliers.

      In that regard, while it wasn’t super effective, this article at least did a good job on the second one. I think most of the grumpitude here is just blowback from the Cameron article on the O’s where, to be frank, he really should just know better. I mean, I can apply a normal distribution to people’s heights. It doesn’t mean I can take a guy who is 7’2 and be like, “Well, that kind of outlier is expected, given the distribution…” At least this article makes a good faith attempt to explain why the Orioles record is “tall for it’s age.”

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  19. Brett Myers says:

    Well, at least they have something to beat.

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  20. Shorebird Bob says:

    Thank you for this article. I have zero problems with FG saying the Orioles are outperforming their projections. I do have a problem when people just chalk it up to “luck” and make the assumption that the Orioles are not a good team just because their projections disagree. Projections aren’t infallible.

    Also, the article really could’ve done without the condescending opening paragraph. Perhaps one of the reason Oriole fans, or whatever fans are upset at that point in time, get upset is because it seems writers have to always find a way to include snark and condescension in their writing.

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    • Jason B says:

      “it seems writers have to always find a way to include snark and condescension in their writing.”

      When directed at the other 29 teams: hilarious!

      When directed at our own favorite team: HEY KNOCK IT OFF!

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      • hookstrapped says:

        True! Bonus laughs when directed at the Yankees or Red Sox.

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        • B N says:

          As a Red Sox fan, I say they can bring it. Sticks and 86 years of no championships may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. But they better bring their A-game stats. Boston has quite a stable of good Statistics departments, after all, and they say to never bring a normal assumption to a Monte Carlo fight.

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  21. Joe says:

    The problem that many O’s fans have with FanGraphs is that many people feel numbers take the humanness of improvement out of the game. For example, Zach Britton suddenly throwing 96 MPH sinkers-that’s not going to be predicted by numbers, and so the numbers may call it luck. This doesn’t mean it’s luck by variation (although FG did write that it was); it could also mean that the Orioles as an organization got “lucky” that Britton improved. This is not taking away from Britton putting in the work and intelligence to improve, but it does mean that the numbers would say that outcome wasn’t that likely.

    I believe people make the mistake of assuming that the “luck” predicted by numbers is not caused whatsoever by effort and other human qualities. I believe the Orioles have been lucky by the numbers, but not in a bad way. I think they’ve been lucky partly due to variation, but also a lot because of seeing what others don’t and increased effort from fringe players. Not sure if people agree or not but that’s my take.

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    • Cliff says:

      If their players had actually improved that would be apparent and it would be what the articles were about.

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      • Wobatus says:

        They have undeniably improved. The question is the sustainability of the improvement. Pearce has been better than he’s ever been. Markakis has played better than in several years. Britton has been very good. Norris and Chen have been good. Sure, Davis has slipped, Jimenez bombed out, but collectively they have outperformed expectations and base runs doesn’t suggest it’s lucky sequencing altogether. And if, say, Pearce has just luckily run into a few extra homers and hits, and will regress some, Davis is as likely to pick it up and get a visit from the babip fairy.

        I think folks have gotten stuck in the narrative of outperformance the last few years and the fact there’s no identifiable ace and haven’t noticed that even by WAR the Orioles have been much better than the A’s and Tigers, for example, for almost the last 3 months. Which doesn’t wipe out what happened before or say the Orioles are necessarily as good. But it’s closer than people thought back in late May. He’ll it’s a lot closer than it was back in late May.

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  22. Sam Fuld says:

    Put me in coach.

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  23. Michael Sweeney says:

    Two things:

    1) O’s fan venting: Part of the reason Orioles fans like myself get annoyed is that it’s clear a lot of people writing about the team haven’t been watching actual Orioles games. I know “don’t believe your lying eyes” is SABR dogma but when presented with an outlier like the Orioles, actually observing the team might help understand why they’ve been outperforming expectations, instead of just looking at the boxscore and saying “must just be sequencing!”

    This was especially egregious in the lead up to the trade deadline when the conventional wisdom was that the O’s needed to upgrade at 2B and C, whereas pretty much every Orioles fan understood that Schoop is an elite defender with a lot of untapped potential at the plate and that Caleb Joseph’s promotion coincided pretty exactly with our rotation’s sudden improvement (and that Joseph has the potential to be a good hitter as well). Yes, the boxscore tells you a lot, but it doesn’t give you the full story on every player.

    2) Analysis: Anyway, the things I’d add to the actual discussion:

    The pitching staff got dramatically better around the time Wieters was lost to injury. For all of Wieters’ reputation as a great game-caller and elite defender, it may be that the Joseph/Hundley combination improves the pitching staff over Wieters to a surprisingly large degree.

    It makes intuitive sense that elite defensive contributions might combine non-additively and the Orioles have elite fielders at every spots besides the corner outfield (and even the corner outfielders at least have good arms, and Markakis’s deficiencies are probably somewhat covered by the ease of playing RF in Camden Yards). The addition of Schoop has been really key, as he’s been a stellar defender. I feel like his contribution is sometimes overlooked because his elite infield positioning means he often makes difficult plays look routine.

    It also makes sense that you can get even more value out of your defenders by pitching to contact and preventing walks which is why Chen and Norris have improved so much this season (and Ubaldo has been so lousy). Norris is having the best season of his career despite a low strikeout rate because he’s also adjusted to allow fewer walks. More balls in play means more opportunities for the defense to save runs, as reflected in the Orioles’ great UZRs.

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    • Fred says:

      Your point about the pitching staff’s improvement with Joseph is something that I’ve been thinking about recently as well. Small sample, but he rates well according to pitch framing metrics and Wieters does not. For what its worth, I think those numbers pass the eye test as well. I often got frustrated watching Wieters receive pitches – it almost looked like he would give up on them. Anywho, as an Orioles fan, I feel a little bit dirty for saying this, but I think it might be true.

      For that matter Caleb Joseph (maybe inflated power) 95 wRC+ this year. Wieters career 98 wRC+ (much higher this year before he was hurt, but we’ve seen that in small stretches before as well).

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      • hookstrapped says:

        I’ve often puzzled at Showalter’s repeated comments the past couple years on Wieters’ importance to the pitching staff, considering how mediocre they’ve been. You don’t hear him talk about that lately.

        Though Joseph isn’t young, despite being a rookie, I think it makes sense for the Orioles to try to trade Wieters. It will be selling low but probably better that than to let him walk as a FA. The Orioles have some decent catcher prospects in the system. And when you’re considering where to invest money over the next few years, Hardy, Markakis, and Cruz (though unlikely) provide more value than Wieters, especially considering his apparent negative value in regard to the pitching.

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        • EddieMurrayStockSale says:

          I’ve often wondered that too. People always say “Matt calls a good game” but the evidence has never been there. I wonder if it would be worth transitioning him to first base.

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    • Mark says:

      “It makes intuitive sense that elite defensive contributions might combine non-additively and the Orioles have elite fielders at every spots besides the corner outfield (and even the corner outfielders at least have good arms, and Markakis’s deficiencies are probably somewhat covered by the ease of playing RF in Camden Yards).”

      I’ll buy the elite D up the middle and when Machado is in the lineup for the IF. You mention that most spots are elite but the corner OF, but I’d add that Jones has been below average most of his career in CF. So it’s not like the O’s are running elite D at every spot, or even at every premium D spot. But even Jones is having a strong season, and the O’s are a fantastic fielding team this year.

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  24. Johnston says:

    I watch a lot of O’s games lately. It strikes me that they are just like the Cardinals and Red Sox of recent memory, a team that seems to get great sequencing and one that catches almost every break. So, yes, I think that they’re playing over their head and are lucky and that the balloon will burst before long.

    But I’ve been wrong about teams before (cough Royals cough) so who knows? Let’s watch and see what happens.

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  25. Anthony says:

    Mr. Sullivan, I have a question on the projection methods, in lower run scoring environments home runs become comparatively more valuable. The orioles have gone 2-1-1 in league home run ranking over the last 3 years. At what point does having a much higher home run total than anyone else mess with the Baseruns formula or the projected standings?

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  26. BigCheese says:

    It’s a shame that people from Baltimore just can’t enjoy the season the Orioles are having….rather than getting caught up in their classic inferiority complex!

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    • Far from home says:

      It’s not a classic attitude – this was developed over 17 years. Growing up, I never heard anything but positives about the Oriole Way and Oriole baseball. This sea change was due to a strong national sentiment towards bashing anything Baltimore promoted by ESPN and some of its affiliates and incited by the general hate for both the Ravens and Angelos as sports icons.
      I have experience this personally across the country, where I was treated as if I were a special needs kid because I am a fan of both teams.
      Now, the O’s have the smartest manager in baseball and one of the best run football franchises, and many national sportswriters still queue up to take shots whenever possible. It’s childish and shows a lack of decorum and morality.

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      • Johnston says:

        It’s all because Earl Weaver retired. :)

        You actually do have a really good point: unless you’re a local it’s really hard to like a team with a totally unlikeable owner.

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      • emdash says:

        You’re responding to a comment saying Orioles fans have too much of an inferiority complex…by complaining that ESPN is biased against Baltimore for some reason? Amazing.

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        • Derp says:

          He actually didn’t say that, though

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        • emdash says:

          I quote: “This sea change was due to a strong national sentiment towards bashing anything Baltimore promoted by ESPN and some of its affiliates…”

          He’s claiming ESPN is promoting at attitude bashing Baltimore for some unstated reason. What’s the alternate meaning for that that I’m missing?

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  27. Far from home says:

    What does this all mean? To me, it means that Buck and his team are so smart that they have the ability to beat current statistical measures on a consistent basis.
    Buck joined the team, they went something like .600 over the last couple of months.
    The following year with a horrible team, they finished strong again.
    2012, they won 93 games with a hitting philosophy that preached hard-hit balls and pitch to contact – both anti SABR practices.
    In 2013, they played the same way which didn’t work so well due to JJ’s regression in save percentage, which was literally a 6 game swing in WP% – otherwise they would have won over 90 again. The revolving door pitching coaches had a lot to do with that.
    In 2014, they’ve fixed the closer issue and are now winning again in the same way.
    To me, this is mentality and approach-based management and shows a superior capability by Buck to get the most out of his players. That is something that may be evident in statistics, but that you can’t measure with any specific metric outside of wins.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Just like Mike Scioscia got the most out of his players in LA, until he didn’t. eye roll.

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      • B N says:

        Shouldn’t you, though? Baseball is, after all, a game. Game theory applies. Sometimes, you can do the same trick a hundred times… until you can’t. Because either you no longer have the tools for the trick (see: guys with worse knees/backs), or people got wise enough to steal/beat the trick (see: teams like the Rangers one-up you on taking extra bases), or there’s just plain fundamental shifts in the playing context (see: huge decrease in offense overall).

        And that doesn’t even consider the fact that projections completely ignore some things that teams can control, like batter order (small influence, but still significant up to 5-15 runs in a season), matchups, and rosters built for late-game WPA-grubbing. Being good at projections doesn’t necessarily mean a better team, since underperforming higher projections might actually be better than overperforming on lower ones. However, it’s not at all unreasonable to think that you could consistently over/under-perform a projection, if you are using a significantly different set of strategies.

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  28. CMAC says:

    Is there a way to measure average MPH of balls hit? Couldn’t that explain some of the FIP and ERA difference? All contact isn’t the same. Britton for example gets lots of weak contact. Tillman has been getting weak contact of late. I’d rather have a guy throw 2 pitches to a batter and get a weak ground out than throw 5 to get a K.

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  29. gaius marius says:

    has anyone yet written an article about the great lucky outlier teams of the last XX years? i have to imagine this year’s Orioles are one of them, and i dearly loved the 1998 Cubs, but who are the others?

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  30. BigCheese says:

    Actually Baltimore started feeling inferior when Rozelle awarded expansion franchises to Charlotte and Jacksonville and deemed the city worthy only to build museums. Btw, I live in Bmore!

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    • telejeff says:

      NFL was mad that Baltimore tried to exercise eminent domain to keep the Colts. That’s why the Colts had to run to Indiana in the middle of the night on Mayflower moving vans.

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  31. Jose says:

    Fangraphs’ comments section is making me root against the Orioles and Royals as of late.

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  32. Wobatus says:

    The infield fielding has been great, and that didn’t seem unlikely. And of course the outfield fielding is a small sample, given how long it takes for UZR to really be telling us something. That said, the meme was that Cruz is an awful fielder, when actually he’s only been a little worse than average as an rf, so it isn’t surprising he can fluke into a litle above scratch in left for a bit. Pearce actually seems like a decent fielder at first and in left. Lough is clearly a good fielder by the numbers.

    If you look over the last 5 years, from 201, Markakais and Cruz were below average, but it ain’t like they were like, say Duda, Morse, Kubel or Quentin out in right. They were acceptable major league fielders. And Jones was a sub-par fielder, but again, not Choo or Kemp bad in center. He’s been about as good as Angel Pagan.

    It’s a little fluky but no one should have looked at the outfield coming into the year and thought nightmare. Markakis is finally healthy. None of them are having huge outlier years overall. Cruz is a little better than expected but he’s had better years than this. He’s on pace for 3 WAR per 150, last year it was 2 per 150. It ain’t 2010 all over again but a nice easily within the realm of the non-shocking.

    Markakais is on pace for 2.6 WAR per 150, 2 years ago it was 2.2/150. He’s not back to his great younger days but this can hardly seem like shocking production either.

    And Jones has had 4.2 and 4.4 years 2 years running and hey, he’s kicked it up a notch to 5+ per 150.

    Moderate but definite improvement from all 3 I suppose makes it 3 coin flips come up heads, but it isn’t like finding one dollar bills turn out to be hundreds. And just makes up for massive Chris Davis fail instead of the more moderate regression expected.

    And yeah, maybe a lot of the pitching improvement in season is Caleb Joseph. Sure, the staff is helped by the great fielding, but also 1st half k-bb per 9 was 6.8-3.16, 2nd half 7.82-2.51. They’ve gone from 27th in first half staff WAR to 6th in the second half, and gone from 27th in k-bb% in the first half to 8th in the 2nd half. But they also improved their pitching a lot and in the same metrics in the 2nd half last year. So it may be fluky, but Joseph gets good framing marks.

    When you get small, believable areas of improvement in a lot of areas and already have strengths (power, infield fielding), you end up with a good team.

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  33. worstfan_NA says:

    yes, I wish the O’s fans would just hook work early, drink some suds and watch the game.

    are the O’s probably chronically overlooked? yeah. is Baltimore chronically overlooked as a pit stop to bigger and better cities? yeah.

    but ffs, don’t let it penetrate and infect your psyche. be amused by the slight, not offended.

    I say that as Americas worst fan

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    • Derp says:

      I agree with what you’re saying, but it’s equally amusing to see the amount of over the top generalizations being made about O’s fans (in this case) because a handful of them are acting up. What happened to sample sizes people? (To be clear, not accusing you of doing that, just seemed like a good place to vent my frustration)

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      • worstfan_NA says:

        stereotypes wouldn’t be funny if they weren’t at least partly true though.

        Orioles fans are horrible at internet humor.

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  34. Wobatus says:

    By the way, the best crabs are at the unfortunately named Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic, DELAWARE!

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  35. stevenam says:

    The roster composition of the O’s and that of the A’s is similar; few if any stars, but solid or better players across the board. Lineups full of 2 WAR players, with no real holes, win. On the other side of the ledger, look at the Rockies. Mega-stars surrounded by dreck. It shows up in the standings… and the Rockies didn’t just suck since the stars got hurt; they were in the basement with their full roster.

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  36. telejeff says:

    The better statistical models, including the ones used on this site , are doing a good job of describing on-field performance and predicting how that translates into wins. We are not seeing, and have not seen, any major weaknesses this year, or over the past few years taken together.

    Where Orioles fans have a point is that pre-season predictions, including the ones on this site, have done a poor job of describing what the team’s on-field performance will look like, and how it will translate into wins.

    Each of the past three years, the Orioles were consistently projected to finish last in the AL East and be among the bottom 5-10 teams in all of baseball. After 90% of the games have been played (two full seasons, and two-thirds of the third one), the Orioles have wildly out-performed those projections. The Orioles have the 5th most wins in all of baseball since the start of 2012.

    Oakland = 264
    Washington = 257
    Atlanta = 257
    St Louis = 254
    Baltimore = 251
    LA Dodgers = 250
    Detroit = 249
    Cincinnati = 248
    NY Yankees = 244
    LA Angels = 243

    Clearly, Baltimore has not been one of the worst teams in baseball. And, over the course of 450 games, it seems highly unlikely that this performance has been the result of random variation or “luck”.

    The consistent discrepancy between pre-season predictions and the Orioles actual win totals, however, does not appear to have anything to do with flaws in the models. They have, and continue, to do a pretty good job of predicting players’ performance, and team results.

    Perhaps, instead, the problem may be related to flaws in preseason predictions of what team will be on the field, or how a team will deal with adversity and opportunity. This is not something models are designed to do; nor can they do it.

    No model can predict with any degree of accuracy which players will get hurt; which ones will improve significantly or decline precipitously; which manager and front office choices will work; or many other real world factors that strongly affect teams’ performance and, consequently win totals. We are still left with the human beings using the models and their best guesses as to what players will be on the field and how teams will deal with adversity and opportunity.

    Maybe the Orioles management—Buck Showalter, GM Dan Duquette, and the rest of the coaching staff, scouting team, etc.—have been doing a really good job. There are many aspects of lineup construction and field management that having little to do with models, such as finding the right response to a player injury, or quickly recognizing and reacting appropriately to player improvement or decline.

    The Orioles have been very active in roster moves the past three years, and they have been getting pretty solid production out of replacement players when others get hurt or don’t perform. So, I submit that the Orioles have been doing better than nearly everybody has been expecting because of good management. Not flawed models; but not random variation either. Just being good at another part of the game; one that does not lend itself to statistical modeling.

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    • hookstrapped says:

      Conforms to both my observations and biases (and biased observations). It’s nice to find thoughtful creative comments here. On the one hand, I understand FanGraphs writers defending their models but it’s probably helpful to shift the terms of the discussion away from the models to get an idea of what else might be going on here.

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      • hookstrapped says:

        And that gets to my sense that what the models fail to account for is by definition ascribed to luck, which takes a good bit of hubris. It basically asserts that what I can’t explain through my statistical model is unexplainable. And I know the people here and elsewhere spend a lot of time and brain power improving and refining models and the measures that go into them. That ongoing effort acknowledges that the current best model still may be leaving some processes not fully accounted for or understood. It might be nice to hear that acknowledgment in the context of these kinds of discussions, as well.

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    • PackBob says:

      If “… it seems highly unlikely that this performance has been the result of random variation or “luck”.” that means there is still the possibility that it could be random variation or “luck”.

      It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it (eventually).

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  37. Stan Belinda says:

    Who knew that indignant O’s fans were far more annoying that the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball?

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  38. piratesbreak500 says:

    To answer the question of if the Orioles’ outfield has been the benefit of more balls closer to them, could you look at the distribution of easy/medium/near impossible, etc, balls that were hit into the outfield, and their locations?

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  39. Rawson says:

    I really enjoyed reading these comments – it’s good to know that Dave Cameron hates someone else’s favorite team, too.

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  40. Seth says:

    I think one of the main problems is that everybody thinks of “luck” as a negative thing, something to be embarrassed about. Every team that has ever won a championship in any sport has done it largely because of luck. Every player has a variance of ability that they will display throughout their career and winning championships requires that most or all of them perform at their peak level all at once (see the 2001 Mariners as an example [yes, I know they didn’t win the WS but the point still stands]). I don’t know why people are so offended by the fact that their team is performing better than perhaps they actually are: that’s where the romance of sport is!

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  41. DonM says:

    I didn’t expect the Orioles to do this well (and I’m one of them), especially in light of a FanGraphs piece from last March which indicated the Orioles face the toughest schedule.

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  42. BigCheese says:

    Oriole fans are a disgrace! To their annoying and lack of respect for our national anthem and their love of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy”. It is one thing if they choose to be ignorant in their own stadium, but to continually go “O” at other parks is disrespectful! I guess thats what they call the “Oriole Way” …lol
    Being from B’more I am offended by this as it only represents the tank town that Baltimore really always will be.

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    • dave gb says:

      You know a team has reached new heights when other fans complain about its fanbase.

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      • BigCheese says:

        The funny thing is that I am a fan….just don’t respect the way others act in a disrespectful manner. I am a season ticket holder at Camden Yards and can’t tell you the amount of times I have apologized for the rowdy behavior of intoxicated fans throwing objects and verbally abusing fans from other cities. One word for Baltimore…. a low class, blue collar fan base that people hate to recognize nationally!

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        • dave gb says:

          Have you ever walked into Fenway park or Jacobs Field (or whatever its called now) with an Orioles hat? I have, and they have the same amount of ignorant fans as Baltimore. Just because the see a few idiots acting up doesn’t mean its the majority.

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