Room for improvements

The Orioles led the majors with 212 home runs and set records for errorless games (119), fewest errors (54) in a 162-game season and highest fielding percentage (.991).

Power and defense weren’t in short supply.

What needs to get better?

I came up with a quick list. Feel free to make your own contributions.

* The Orioles ranked 19th in the majors with a .313 on-base percentage. The Red Sox ranked first at .349. They won the World Series by defeating the Cardinals, who ranked third at .332.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette keeps stressing the importance of OBP, often citing it while commenting on an acquisition. Unfortunately, it’s often tied to a player’s minor league stats and don’t translate to the majors.

The Orioles would benefit from the ability to manufacture more runs and rely less on depositing the ball in the seats.

* Former closer Jim Johnson had nine blown saves. Captain Obvious says that his replacement needs to reduce that total, even if he doesn’t reach or exceed 50 saves, as Johnson did the past two seasons.

That said, let’s not take for granted how often Johnson held onto a one-run lead on the road against a division opponent. How often he retired the side in order in hostile environments.

* The bullpen splits need improving, and that’s especially true for Tommy Hunter if he’s chosen as the closer.

Left-handers hit .294 against Hunter, compared to .141 by right-handers. Right-handers hit .302 against Brian Matusz, compared to .168 by left-handers. Left-handers hit .309 against Darren O’Day, compared to .154 by right-handers.

Part of newcomer Ryan Webb’s appeal is how right-handers and left-handers hit .244 against him.

* The rotation posted a 4.57 ERA that ranked 27th in the majors.

Chris Tillman was 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 33 starts and 206 1/3 innings. Miguel Gonzalez was 11-8 with a 3.78 ERA in 30 games (28 starts) and 171 1/3 innings. Wei-Yin Chen was 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 23 starts and 137 innings. But here’s where the team ERA is jacked up:

Bud Norris - 4.69 ERA in nine starts.
Jason Hammel - 5.14 ERA in 23 starts.
Zach Britton - 5.45 ERA in seven starts.
Freddy Garcia - 5.88 ERA in 10 starts.
Jake Arrieta - 7.23 ERA in five starts.
Kevin Gausman - 7.66 ERA in five starts.
Jair Jurrjens - 7.20 ERA in one start.
Josh Stinson - 7.94 ERA in one start.
T.J. McFarland - 10.12 ERA in one start.
Steve Johnson - 13.50 ERA in one start.

Chen missed two months with a strained oblique and underwent knee surgery following the season. The Orioles need more innings and better health from him.

* The Orioles were 20-31 in one-run games after going 29-9 in 2012. Captain Obvious says they need to do a better job of winning the close games.

It’s not fair to expect a repeat of their 2012 success , but 2013 was too big of a dropoff.

* Matt Wieters will do the bulk of the catching again, but it would be nice if the Orioles could get more offensive production from the backup. Maybe it would entice manager Buck Showalter to provide more rest for his starter.

Taylor Teagarden and Chris Snyder were a combined 12-for-80 with six RBIs. No amount of catching-and-throwing is going to balance out that level of offensive ineptitude.

I’d never suggest that the Orioles should sacrifice defense and game-calling behind the plate, but there’s got to be a better balance.

* As long as I’m talking about Wieters, the .235 average and .287 on-base percentage were eye-sores.

Wieters can impact a game with his arm and mitt. He gives the Orioles 20-plus home runs a season. He’s valuable in ways that extend beyond the above stats, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to inflate them.

Wieters isn’t alone in the low-OBP department, which explains the Orioles’ ranking. Ryan Flaherty (.293), J.J. Hardy (.306), Manny Machado (.314) and Adam Jones (.318) have room for improvement. Lots of room.

* Nick Markakis seems to be the favorite to lead off next season, at least as we approach spring training. The roster isn’t complete. But no matter where he hits, he needs to rediscover his power.

Markakis produced only 24 doubles, 10 homers and a .685 OPS. He’s healthy in the winter for the first time in three years, allowing him to work out properly. Maybe that’s all he needs.

* The Orioles ranked 19th in stolen bases with 79. Nate McLouth (30), Alexi Casilla (nine), Chris Dickerson (five) and Brian Roberts (three) are gone.

You do the math.

New left fielder David Lough says he can nab 30 bags a season. A healthy Nolan Reimold could swipe his share. His speed is vastly underrated.

Jones had 14 steals this year. I understand that it takes more than speed to steal, but it seems like he should be more of a threat on the basepaths. Maybe he can incorporate it into his game next season.

* The Orioles were 69-31 when scoring four runs or more, and 16-46 when scoring fewer than four runs. Captain Obvious says they need to win more low-scoring games.

* The Orioles were outscored 102-72 in the sixth inning.

I have no idea how to improve upon this stat, beyond having their starters pitch deeper and more effectively in games. Or petition Major League Baseball to skip that inning and go directly to the seventh, where the Orioles scored and surrendered 90 runs.

And finally, I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.

Please be safe if you’re going out tonight. As my daughter once told me as I was leaving the house with a friend, “Make smart choices.”

She was in elementary school at the time. Bright kid.

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