It’s risky business - and I’m not talking about a Tom Cruise movie. Lana won’t be knocking at the door. No, we’re talking about trying to predict a big league team’s win-loss record.
But’s it’s OK, even fun to predict and take a shot. If we’re wrong, so what? Who will even remember?
Sure, that is all true. I read preseason predictions, but seldom make any. I just don’t think there is much of a formula to provide insight and I’ve watched the Pecota system miss by so much over the years with the Orioles. That kind of cemented it for me.
One aspect of predicting and projecting where I think we all make mistakes is looking at one player. Recently, the narrative was the Orioles traded Jonathan Villar, thus the team got worse. That seems reasonable to say after Villar had such a strong 2019.
But my belief has always been this is about so much more than one player and we can’t simply know a team is better or worse because they gained or lost a player.
An extreme example of this is looking at the players that signed the huge contracts before last season. Philadelphia added Bryce Harper, he produced about as expected and the Phillies went from 80 to 81 wins. They actually dropped from third to fourth place in the standings. San Diego added Manny Machado and he produced probably a bit less than expected. The team won more - but just four more games - going from 66 to 70 wins.
If Harper and Machado don’t move the needle that much, who does? The answer is: This is a team sport. As good as those players are and as good as Villar was for the 2019 Orioles, 25 other players will be on the roster every night this coming season. And probably another 20 to 30 will play during the season.
The story for the year will be written by all of those players and not just one.
So it’s not about adding or losing one player, but about how 40 or 50 will play. It’s about injuries. It’s about team chemistry. It’s about surprises and disappointments. It’s an everyday reality show and we don’t know how it will play out.
This is one of many things that is great about baseball and all sports really. We don’t know how it will play out and the surprises make it fun.
In the case of the Orioles, last year Alex Cobb started just three games. Austin Hays played in 21 games. Hunter Harvey threw 6 1/3 innings and Dillon Tate 21. Anthony Santander took steps forward and played in 93 games. What if all on this list play more in 2020 and do well? What if most of them do? How does that impact the win-loss record and offset losing Villar and Dylan Bundy as well, for that matter?
Ryan Mountcastle played zero games in the bigs last season and it’s not going to be zero this year. Some of the young pitchers could make their debuts and begin to make an impact at the major league level.
The Orioles won 54 games last year. The bar is not set very high to start, so improvement - with or without Villar, for instance - is possible. But this is not about one player and how that player improved the team. It is about the team.
Last season, not many would have put down John Means for 155 innings and a 3.60 ERA. The 2019 Baltimore bullpen was among the worst in the game. But can Richard Bleier (5.37 ERA), Mychal Givens (4.57 ERA) and Brandon Kline (5.93 ERA) improve on their stats? Will others? Some will not do as well and that is part of all of this.
Maybe Brandon Hyde learned something in his first year as manager that will make an impact. Something that can’t be quantified by a printout or stat sheet, but will result in more wins.
Predictions can be fun to make but hard to get right. We can pat ourselves on the back when we do well, but gloss over the (likely) many times we don’t.
Did the Orioles get worse when they traded Villar? Who knows, because it was so much more than about one player on the night of that trade and that remains true today.
And it will come opening day and beyond.
No arbitration hearings: The Orioles did a good job on the final day to reach contract agreements with arbitration-eligible players before salaries are exchanged. They signed Trey Mancini, Givens and Hanser Alberto to 2020 deals. Earlier they came to terms with pitchers Miguel Castro and Bleier, avoiding arbitration.
So the Orioles will not be involved in any possibly contentious arbitration hearings with any players. Clubs can still reach agreements with players, but no doubt some will go to hearings.
According to ESPN, these are the possible number of hearings for each club:
4 - Los Angeles Dodgers.
2 - Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Houston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
1 - Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta, Miami and Minnesota.