Thursday, February 18, 2010

One thing is for certain...and that is nothing is certain

Nick Markakis is one of a few Orioles players who fans can be confident about in 2010.

On the eve of spring training, I sit at my computer, eager to write something positive about the 2010 Orioles. And it's not that hard to do. The O's have a good blend of young players and veterans. And for once, the younger players are the better group of players.

But projecting this team in 2010 is very difficult. And that usually is the case when you've got a team full of promising young players. Some players are going to do well, some are going to do OK, and some are going to struggle. You just don't know which players will do what.

Right now, Nick Markakis is the Orioles most reliable player. You can pencil him down for an OPS above .800 in 2010, and have realistic hope that it'll be closer to .900. But beyond Markakis, it gets dicey. Here's why.

Kevin Millwood had ERA's above 5 in 2007 and 2008 before finishing the 2009 season with a 3.67 ERA. I expect Millwood to regress from '09, I'm just not sure how much. Jeremy Guthrie is the opposite of Millwood. He had ERA's under 4 in '07 and '08 before struggling in 2009 with a 5.04 ERA. I do believe he'll improve, but there are no guarantees. Guthrie was throwing batting practice in 2009, allowing the most home runs (35) of any AL pitcher.

Brad Bergesen was a rock in 2009, but his K rate and injuries are cause for concern. He could regress in 2009, but I don't expect him to have an ERA above 4.50. Brian Matusz could end up being the ace of the Orioles at year's end and I will be surprised if he finishes the season with an ERA high above 4. Of all the young players on the Orioles roster, he's the one I am most confident about. Then there's Chris Tillman, who struggled last year. He could be as good as Matusz or he could continue to throw a 100+ pitches in 5 IP.

The bullpen is far from solid. There are some good candidates for success in there, but nothing to be very confident about. Matt Albers and Koji Uehara both have a bad injury history. Jim Johnson was very hittable last year. Mark Hendrickson performed well out of the bullpen in '09 but his magic could be running out. Mike Gonzalez should fill George Sherrill's shoes just fine, but his walk rate is high. Kam Mickolio is promising as a late-innings guy, and throws serious heat but has control problems.

That said, the success of the bullpen is going to largely come from the starting pitching and their ability to pitch deeper into games.

The hitters, on the other hand, are a little more solid.

I already touched on Markakis. Brian Roberts lead the league in doubles last year (56), and should be counted on for an OPS at or slightly above .800. Nolan Reimold looked polished at the plate as a rookie, showing good discipline. He should only get better. Matt Wieters started off slow but finished the season on a tear (.882 OPS in September) and is one of the best hitting prospects in the game. Like Matusz, you can be confident in the youngster.

And here's where the question marks start to creep in. Adam Jones had a hot first two months to '09, but then he started trying to hit more home runs which lead to a lower average and OBP. Then he missed all of September. Can he play a whole season? Miguel Tejada can still hit doubles, he lead the NL last year, but he's also lead the league in double plays 5 out of the last 6 years. Garrett Atkins' performance declined for the last 4 years before bottoming out in '09 and losing his job. It'll be a miracle if he keeps it through 2010. Cesar Izturis has never been a factor at the plate. Ty Wigginton has pretty bad last year after being a decent utility player, so nothing would surprise me from him. Felix Pie played well with increased playing time, but he doesn't look to get many chances to play in '09 unless there are injuries. And Luke Scott is consistently inconsistent, one of the most streakiest players in the game.

So there you have it. A lot could go right, a lot could go wrong. At least we have enough promising young players on the roster that things should go right more than they go wrong.

I think the 2010 Orioles can win 80 games and be poised for a playoff run in 2011, but as with the general tone of this article, nothing is certain. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Orioles limping to the finish line with 70 wins.

We'll just have to wait and see how the season plays out. At least it's finally getting close.

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