Will the Orioles regress next season?


Will the Orioles improve upon their breakout 2012 season, or will they resume their rightful place at the bottom of the AL East standings?

Ha ha! Just kidding, Baltimore fans! Whether your team wins the World Series or dies in a fiery train collision is of little concern to me. No, what I'm interested in is, can we predict how the Orioles, or any team, might perform next season, based on their record this season?

In one of the old Baseball Abstracts, Bill James proposed a series of indicators that, when taken together, might reasonably tell us whether a team is likely to improve or decline the following season. How do the Orioles fare by such an accounting?

1. Pythagorean Record - A team that scores 712 runs and surrenders 705, like the 2012 Orioles, can usually expect to win about 82 games. The Orioles won 93. According to Baseball Prospectus' 2nd Order Winning Percentage, which substitutes a Runs Created-type calculation for actual runs, the Orioles were a 78-win team. THAT'S BAD!

2. The Plexiglass Principle - Teams that dramatically improve in one season tend to decline in the next, and vice versa. The Orioles lost between 93 and 98 games every year from 2007 to 2011. THAT'S BAD!

3. The Law of Competitive Balance - Bill James:

There develop over time separate and unequal strategies adopted by winners and losers; the balance of those strategies favors the losers, and thus serves constantly to narrow the difference between the two.

Stated another way, the vagaries of human perception conspire to pull teams inexorably toward .500 -- except the Yankees, who get to spend way more money than all the other teams for some asinine reason probably lost to history. Regardless, for a 93-win team, THAT'S BAD!

4. Late-season Performance - Given two teams with equal won-lost records, the one that plays better in the second half is more likely to outperform the other in the following season. The Orioles were much better in the second half:

Split            W-L    RS    RA    Pct.
First half 45-40 351 387 .529
Second half 48-29 361 318 .623

Verdict: THAT'S GOOD!

5. Triple-A Record - In an age when teams use their Triple-A squad as a de facto extension of the major-league roster, depth in the upper minors is more important than ever. Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, went 74-70 last summer. THAT'S PRETTY GOOD I GUESS!

6. Age - From one of the great movies of my youth:

Remo Williams: How old are you, Chiun? I mean, really, you must be pretty old, right?

Chiun: For an apricot, yes. For a head of lettuce, even more so. For a mountain, I have not even begun. For a man, just right.

Ha ha ha! Classic Chiun. By the way, if you're still mad at the producers of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins for failing to honor the terms of the contract implied by the title to make more Remo Williams movies, please join my class action lawsuit.

Anywhoozles, young teams tend to improve while old teams tend to decline. By Baseball-Reference.com's measures of team age (which are weighted by playing time), the Orioles were a little younger than the league average in 2012. If late-season addition Manny Machado, who won't turn 20 21 until next July, breaks camp with the team in April, the Orioles' average age might actually decrease in 2013. THAT'S GOOD!

Conclusion: So we have three good indicators and three bad ones. I tend to think Baltimore's Pythagorean record tells us more than Norfolk's .514 season, but reasonable people can disagree. The only conclusion I'd draw is that the Orioles' 2013 season, like the long-awaited sequel to Remo Williams, has not yet been written, and a series of good or bad maneuvers by GM Dan Duquette this winter will make all the difference.

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