|Orioles Season was All About Clutch||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on October 15, 2012
Tell that to the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles. Neither team on paper looked good enough to have made the playoffs.
For the A’s we can understand the success. It’s easy to see that they have one of the best young pitching staffs in the game today and that, if the pitching holds together, that they could be a contending force for years to come. The offense however is just this side of abysmal, yet they seemed to hit enough when it counts to rally, just as they did in game four of the ALDS when they mounted a three-run, ninth-inning rally when facing elimination.
Some folks would have called that clutch.
But while the A’s had pitching going for them and timely hitting, what exactly did the Orioles have? How the heck could a team who finished just above the median in pitching and toward the back of the pack in offense and who possess a team OBP of just .247 have managed to win just two fewer games than the Yankees? (three if we count the playoffs)
Photo by Keith Allison used under creative commons license.
Part of it perhaps is statistical anomaly. They were lucky about when their big hits came, and they had great timing when their pitchers threw gems. Or was that luck?
Many people dismissed the O’s based on their recent history but if you’ve watched the O’s this season, you certainly didn’t watch the historical punching bag of the AL East. The Orioles played quality baseball, sometimes even great baseball. The pitching showed flashes of brilliance, with Wei-yin Chen, Jason Hammel and Chris Tillman all at times being totally dominating and giving the team a strong base. And as good as their starters were the bullpen was even better.
The offense, while not exactly a batting average or run-producing monster has achieved success via the long ball, ranking second behind the Yankees during the regular season. Power was the name of their game, as much as striking at opportune times.
Statistically they shouldn’t have enjoyed as much success as they had, bettering last season’s record by 24 wins, yet finishing only ninth of the 14 teams in the AL in terms of runs scored, sixth in terms of staff ERAs and 10th in terms of defense based on number of errors.
Basically they failed to excel at anything.
Yet for the O’s this was a season of dreams. Somehow they put it together, found that overused term, and caught lightning in a bottle to make the 2012 season a spectacular ride both for themselves and for the long suffering fans who waited 16 years for the O’s to have a better than .500 season (which was also the last time they had a postseason berth).
The Orioles have been the team that handles pressure well. They almost seem to thrive on it, putting in their best work when facing a deadline or high voltage situation. They’ve won 53 games by two or fewer runs and haven’t been intimidated by teams like the Yankees, Rangers, Angels or Tigers who were supposed to be dominating.
For so many years the Orioles have been a punching bag, especially in the East, but this year the O’s turned it all around going 42-29 against eastern division foes. How they won -- and lost -- over the whole season tells us a lot about this team. They made a living winning the close games, and not spent too much time sweating the 22 games they got blown out (losing by five or more runs).
That certainly explains the team’s offensive run differential, which at a +7 was by far the lowest among teams who reached the playoffs.
Maybe the statisticians are right clutch doesn’t exist over the long haul and that 162 games isn’t a large enough of a sample to determine that a trend exists. But for 166 games thus far in 2012, the Orioles were in the mix, despite mediocre offensive and pitching numbers.
The Yankees scored 136 more runs than their opposition over an entire season and hit 245 home runs. The Orioles scored just seven more runs than their opposition and only hit 214 home runs, yet the Orioles forced a game five in the ALDS by beating the Yankees twice by being opportunistic in one run games
That’s pretty much the definition of clutch.