Pressing Questions: The Baltimore Orioles

Kevin Gausman's strong second half is baked into his 2017 ADP.
Kevin Gausman's strong second half is baked into his 2017 ADP.

While some ballparks couldn’t hack it into a third decade — looking at you, Turner Field — Oriole Park at Camden Yards remains one of the jewels of the American League. Baltimore’s downtown park stands as a lovely place to grab a ballgame, enjoy a bite and a drink, and maybe even catch a home run ball.

If you wanted a free souvenir, the Orioles were your ticket last year. With Mark Trumbo leading the way, Baltimore clubbed 253 homers — 28 more than the second-place Cardinals — and led everyone in home and road home runs. Alas, swinging for the seats can come at a price — the Orioles lagged in on-base percentage (21st in the majors) and were a mere 12th in runs scored. (They were also dead last in stolen bases, if that matters to you. Manager Buck Showalter probably doesn’t care.)

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Given a modest plus-29 in run differential, Baltimore was lucky to sneak into the playoffs. The Orioles outperformed their pythagorean projection by five wins, a tribute to Baltimore’s manager and bullpen (third in ERA). The Orioles have made three October trips in the six-year Showalter era.

Baltimore is counting on last year’s core to fuel another contending season. The Orioles didn’t add a major free agent (though Seth Smith should provide an OBP boost against right-handed pitching), and their biggest news item was letting Matt Wieters sign with their Beltway rivals in Washington.

Pour yourself a Natty Boh and let’s mind our Baltimore Ps and Qs . . .

Q: Will SP Kevin Gausman take another step forward this year?

Gausman is going to need that step forward to justify his current ADP. He’s being priced as a Top 40 starting pitcher in both Yahoo and NFBC leagues. He wasn’t quite at that level last year (3.61 ERA, 1.28 WHIP), though he was one of the AL’s best pitchers in the second half (3.10 ERA). Overall, it was a notable growth season for Gausman, in his age-25 year — he struck out almost a batter per inning, and his walk rate remained excellent (2.4/9).

If the arrow is going to keep pointing up, Gausman needs to get a better handle on the gopher ball. He gave up 28 taters last year (15.4 percent HR/FB), and was also homer-prone in 2015. Given the realities of Camden Yards — it’s been a 10-percent power float the last three years, per the Bill James Handbook — I view Gausman’s current ADP with a skeptical light.

Maybe the AL East doesn’t have quite the offensive teeth as it used to — though Boston led the majors in runs last year — but in a mixed league, it’s still safer to pitcher-shop in the National League. I’m not dismissing Gausman out of hand, but I’m not going to outjump the entire room for him, either. A lot of smart fantasy players still remember Gausman’s prospect status a earlier this decade, and I suspect that latent optimism is behind the current price.

Q: Will Manny Machado steal bases this year? And do we care?

I don’t think anyone has a solid answer on the first question (and yes, it was strange to see zero stolen bases last year after 20 the previous season). But I can hammer the gavel on the second query — I don’t care if Machado runs in 2017. Just stay healthy, big guy, and keep crushing it in the other categories. Maybe the extra wear and tear isn’t worth it. Fear the turtle.

Machado’s basepath freeze-out cost him a few valuation dollars last year, but otherwise he was a behemoth in his age-23 season. He set new personal bests in all the other 5×5 fantasy categories, offsetting a mild drag in his walk and strikeout rates. And rejoice, Yahoo players — Machado played enough shortstop to carry that tag into the fresh fantasy year. You can use him at short or at third all year, it’s up to you.

I wouldn’t take Machado first or second overall in a mixer, but any slot after that is at least worth considering. His ADP lands around 7-8 in the early Yahoo and NFBC returns.

Q: Which average-risk slugger is more interesting, Mark Trumbo or Chris Davis?

Much of this answer will depend on where you’re playing, of course. Davis is about 22 picks more expensive in Yahoo ADP, while Trumbo is 12 slots pricier in NFBC trading.

If we view them without the ADP prism, Davis is the player I’m more likely to roster. A nagging thumb problem dragged Davis down to a .221 average last year, but 38 homers is pretty damn good for an off year. Trumbo’s 47 taters obviously flash the regression sign, and although he had 34 batting average points on Davis last year, they’re just about even in that category for their careers (.250 Davis, .251 Trumbo).

Everyone crushes Davis for the years he’s collapsed in average, but he’s also posted .262, .270 and .286 years during his Baltimore career. In some rooms, I suspect the downside of Davis’s average will be priced in, but none of the upside will be considered. And heck, if he can merely approach his career average, the rest of his line should produce a profit.

Projected Lineup

CF Adam Jones

RF Seth Smith

3B Manny Machado

1B Chris Davis

DH Mark Trumbo

2B Jonathan Schoop

C Welington Castillo

SS J.J. Hardy

LF Hyun Soo Kim

Projected Rotation

SP Chris Tillman

SP Dylan Bundy

SP Kevin Gausman

SP Wade Miley

SP Ubaldo Jimenez

CL Zach Britton

RP Brad Brach

RP Darren O’Day

Projected lineup courtesy of Roster Resource