For fans of the Baltimore Orioles, it has been a restless offseason. Most of it was spent wishing for something from the front office. With so little going on, there was a lot of dreaming about what could be. Then, when the Orioles traded for ace Corbin Burnes, the big move inspired even more dreaming on the team’s potential for 2024.
ZiPS projections help provide some insight into what Baltimore can hope to accomplish this coming season.
Fangraphs’ Dan Syzmborski has been putting his ZiPS projections out for some time now. The projections have been a great way to look forward to what the future holds for a team and individual players.
“At its core,” Szymborski writes, “[ZiPS is] still doing two primary tasks: estimating what the baseline expectation for a player is at the moment I hit the button, and then estimating where that player may be going using large cohorts of relatively similar players.”
While a projection system like ZiPS may feel like a very complicated concept, the glossary at MLB.com does a great job of simplifying it. Just keep in mind that for the majority of players, ZiPS uses data from their four previous seasons. Using those numbers, each player is compared to similar players to best predict that player’s performance moving forward. All in all, ZiPS is widely regarded as one of the most accurate projection systems on the internet.
With that, let us dive into the projections for the Orioles in 2024.
A Look Back at 2023
I want to start by looking back on the Orioles’ 2023 ZiPS projections. For reference, the 2023 Baltimore Orioles wildly outperformed expectations. Before looking at the numbers for the upcoming season, there is some important context to be learned from past projections.
While the projections were not off drastically, players such as Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Anthony Santander, and Austin Hays all outperformed their fWAR projections by at least 0.5 wins. That these players were sold short offensively was a large factor in the team’s unexpected success. The Orioles received significant offensive production from areas that they were not necessarily expecting to get it.
While the position players were sold short, the model really struggled to project the Orioles pitching staff. For one, Dean Kremer blew past his projected 136 innings but fell over a win short of his 2.8-fWAR projection. Kyle Gibson, on the other, hand blew past his 1.4-fWAR projection by 1.2 wins. That was thanks in large part to throwing 55 more innings than projected.
The system’s biggest whiff was on Kyle Bradish. He was projected for 1.0 fWAR and a 4.69 ERA in 117 innings. He would finish with 3.8 fWAR and a 2.83 ERA in 168.2 frames. ZiPS had his 80th percentile outcome at 2.0 fWAR and a 4.04 ERA. He blew past that.
I say all of this because as we look at the projections for 2024, it appears ZiPS may be changing its tune on the Orioles.
2024 Orioles ZiPS Projections
The ZiPS projected standings at FanGraphs have the Orioles winning the AL East for the second year in a row. With a 90-72 record, they are projected to edge out the Yankees and Blue Jays by two games.
If you really want proof that the Orioles are coming around when it comes to the projections, Szymborski mentions that in one simulation he ran, the Orioles lost both Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman to season-ending injuries before Opening Day. In that simulation, they still finished the season three games above .500.
A team with that kind of potential could prove very dangerous this season.
- ZiPS likes Cedric Mullins to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2023. Mullins never felt truly healthy in 2023, achieving just a 99 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR in 116 games. The center fielder is projected for 135 games in 2024 with 3.0 fWAR and a 105 wRC+. A three-win season from the former All-Star would be huge for Baltimore.
- Rookie of the Year candidate Jackson Holliday is projected for 3.2 fWAR and a 106 wRC+. Depending on the competition, that might not be quite enough to win him Rookie of the Year honors. However, ZiPS has his 80th percentile outcome at 4.1 fWAR and a 122 OPS+. That would put him in a great position to win the award. There is no telling if he will be on the Opening Day roster yet, but if he is, I expect him to be closer to his 80th percentile projections than his 50th.
- ZiPS isn’t so bullish on Ryan Mountcastle. He projects for only 1.5 fWAR and a 111 wRC+. I have long been a Mountcastle believer, and I simply do not buy the projections. I saw signs from Mountcastle last season that he is figuring something out. After dealing with vertigo most of the first half of the year, he returned, and in 54 games hit .322/.404/.489. That was good for a 150 wRC+. I believe Mountcastle will blow past his ZiPS projections.
- Heston Kjerstad is being sold short. After a cup of coffee in the big leagues last season, I see Kjerstad as someone who could have a Gunnar Henderson-type rookie season with regular playing time. He will DH and play a little bit of first base, so it is unlikely he accumulates a ton of WAR. However, he is capable of hitting .260 with 25 home runs.
- ZiPS remains confident in Dean Kremer. Kremer is likely to be the number 5 starter in the rotation, but he is projected for the third most WAR of the starting five. After posting a 4.12 ERA but a 4.96 xERA in 2023, ZiPS likes Kremer to have a 3.86 ERA in 154 innings this coming season. I like Kremer and think he will be a fine fifth starter, but this seems to be gassing him up a bit. Frankly, if Kremer can repeat a 4.12 ERA in over 170 innings, I will be very happy. A 3.86 ERA in 150-plus innings would be an incredible season.
- Four of the five projected starters are slated for at least 2.0 fWAR. Corbin Burnes (4.0), Kyle Bradish (2.3), Dean Kremer (2.2), Grayson Rodriguez (2.2), and John Means project as one of the best rotations in baseball. For the first time in a long time, it looks like the starting rotation could be a strength for the Orioles. I do believe that ZiPS is a little high on Kremer and a little low on Rodriguez, but regardless, the rotation looks to be very strong.
- The playing time projections for John Means are low. He is only projected for 85 innings, which seems low given that he threw four games last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He should enter the season fully healthy and ready to go, and 120 innings should be an attainable goal. I expect him to make between 22 and 28 starts.
- Tyler Wells is projected to make 20 starts this season. Barring injury, I see Wells being used strictly as a bullpen arm. He could potentially make a spot start here or there, but with Félix Bautista out for the season, the Orioles will need all the help they can get in the bullpen. A fully computerized system like ZiPS isn’t always great at understanding that kind of context. However, ZiPS DC (which uses manual playing time estimates) has Wells appearing in 61 games and making just 3 starts. That would make him the team’s second-most valuable reliever.
- Yennier Cano is projected to take a big step back. After posting a 2.11 ERA and 2.84 FIP last season, ZiPS has Cano slated for a 3.67 ERA and 4.00 FIP in 2024. If that is the case, it will be a massive blow for the Orioles. Without Bautista, Cano has to step up and perform at a similar level if the Orioles are expected to repeat their 2023 success.
- ZiPS does not like Craig Kimbrel at all. His projected 4.42 ERA could spell a serious problem. If neither Kimbrel nor Cano plays well this season, a bullpen that was one of the strongest in baseball last year could be in massive trouble.
The AL East is once again looking like the toughest division in baseball. ZiPS still has the Orioles as the favorites to come out on top.
Many of the projections bode well for the Orioles as individuals. However, if the bullpen as a unit looks the way ZiPS is projecting, it is hard to envision much postseason success for the club. If there is one projection that I truly hope the Orioles surpass, it is a 2.9 fWAR from the bullpen.
The Orioles seem poised to once again have some breakout seasons. Who those seasons will come from, only time will tell.