The Baltimore Orioles are the surprise team of the early part of the 2012 season. Tampa Bay, Texas, Los Angeles and Washington all lost yesterday, and the Orioles completed a sweep of Boston over the weekend. As a result, the morning standings show Baltimore with the best record in all of baseball more than a month into the season.
We’ll get to whether they will sustain it, but at least we can say this: Baltimore currently ranks second in the AL in run differential. The offense has gotten contribution across the board from several young guys entering their prime, and they are 2nd in the AL in home runs. Five different players have at least five home runs so far, most notably catcher Matt Wieters and center fielder Adam Jones. Wieters appears to be having a breakout season to fulfill his promise, after coming on with a good season last year.
The bullpen has been spectacular early in the year, only giving up 15 earned runs in 95.2 innings so far. The starting pitching has gotten an unexpected performance from 29 year old Jason Hammel, who pitched in Colorado the last three years and put up ERA’s in the mid to upper 4’s. Wei-Yin Chin, the Taiwanese native signed from the Japanese League this offseason, has also pitched well.
When we look at the Orioles, the pitching is likely to regress. The bullpen can be good and still see the numbers decline for the rest of the season, as a 1.42 ERA is unsustainable. The starters will likely do the same as a group. The Orioles got bad news with the other Japanese league signing, Tsuyoshi Wada, when it was determined he needs elbow reconstruction surgery. Dylan Bundy is easily the organization’s best pitching prospect, and he’s dominating in A-ball, but the 19-year old will not be seeing a mound in Baltimore in 2012 no matter how well he continues to do. Any more injuries, and help this year will likely have to come in the form of a trade if the Orioles are in contention in July.
The hitting has a better chance of maintaining. They probably won’t end up 2nd in the league in home runs, but have a chance to finish as an above average group. Nick Markakis isn’t off to a great start and can improve. Most of the hitters are between age 26-29, so even if some natural regression from a hot start is expected, they could also be emerging. Most importantly, Wieters gives them an offensive element at a defensive position that most teams cannot match.
So how have teams that have the best record on May 7th done? Well, as you might imagine, it depends on who the team is. Including all ties for best record, and going back to the first full season after the player’s strike (1996), 14 of the 19 teams with the best record made the post-season. However, only two of those nineteen had a losing record the year before, and neither made it to the postseason. You might remember that Cleveland was tied for the best record last year on this same date, and went on to finish 80-82.
Expanding it out, 28 teams since 1996 had a losing record the year before, and started the season by winning 60% or more of their games by May 7th. Ten of them made the playoffs (35.7%). However, since 2001, that number is only 3 of 20.
The average winning percentage for the rest of the year, for our hot starters/previous year losers, is .486 since 2001. That would be an improvement over where the Orioles were last year, and if the Orioles can match that average, they would finish with a winning record at 84-78. To make the playoffs, they still need to have a winning record in their remaining games to have a chance at the postseason, even with the extra wildcard. To get to 90 wins (which would have tied for a fifth playoff spot in 2011), Baltimore needs to win 53% of the remaining games. Only five of the previous twenty “losing record/fast start” teams since 2001 did that after May 7th.
[photo via US Presswire]