Orioles measure their success in different ways
Chemistry and leadership prove to be as valuable as cold statistics
ANAHEIM -- The numbers crunchers study the Orioles and can't see it all adding up again. The 2012 Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings, with a Major League-high 14 walk-off wins. Magic like that, the computer guys maintain, is not sustainable.
Through the season's first month, the Orioles argue otherwise with numbers of their own: 17-13, their record following Friday night's 4-0 loss to the Angels. Here's another number: 32. That's the age of the oldest active Oriole, newly arrived backup catcher Chris Snyder. Nate McLouth, a factor in Baltimore's late run to the postseason last summer, is an elder statesmen at 31 -- and not at all interested in hearing forecasts of doom from web sites.
"I think we prefer to look at the win-loss column and what we do on the field, rather than listen to a nerd at a computer," McLouth said. "The sabermetrics projections ... it's ridiculous."
The Orioles' .567 winning percentage is right in line with the .574 they posted last year in winning 93 games, two fewer than the American League East champion Yankees. Those two games proved vital for home-field advantage in the AL Division Series. After taking out the Rangers in the first-ever Wild Card survival game, Baltimore fell to CC Sabathia and Co. in five games.
Under the firm hand of manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles are using the same formula that shocked all the critics last season: timely hitting, power, defense, adequate starting pitching and tremendous relief work.
There's also that great intangible that simply defies quantification: chemistry.
"I don't know if team chemistry, the way people get along in the clubhouse, is part of the sabermetrics equation," McLouth said. "But I think it means something. I was watching Oakland late in the season, and I remember seeing a lot of similarities with us."
The Athletics, like the Orioles, are doing a nice job of proving last year was no fluke.
The Orioles are full of youthful energy, built to last. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, the club's recognized stars, are 27, just entering their prime years. The potential superstars -- third baseman Manny Machado and not-quite-ready starter Dylan Bundy -- are 20. First baseman Chris Davis, a disappointment in Texas, has emerged as one of the game's most dangerous sluggers at 27. Hustling down the line, he was forced out of Friday night's game when he landed awkwardly on his right knee running across first base. There was no immediate report on the severity of the injury.
Chris Tillman, who pitched brilliantly in Thursday night's Orioles victory on his home turf of Orange County, turned 25 last month. Jason Hammel, 30, is the oldest of the starters. Closer Jim Johnson is 29, and setup artists Pedro Strop (27) and Darren O'Day (30) are premium quality. O'Day, one of the game's most consistent relievers, and Miguel Gonzalez, the Orioles' starter on Friday night, were raised in the Angels' organization.
Jones, the Gold Glove center fielder who combines power, speed and daring, is a protege of Torii Hunter. The Angels' former star, now a Tiger, is a big-brother figure to dozens of players.
"A man is who he is," Jones said when asked about Hunter. "He's a big-time family man with a heart of gold. He's always been there for me. We frequently text. He's always told me, `Hey, you get one shot. Make the best of it and live with the results. You'll always have people saying this and that. You're the one doing it. It's easy to play anything from your couch. Show up every day, do what you've gotta do and be thankful you're in such a great situation for yourself, the fans, your community.'
"That's Torii's message, and I've taken it to heart. I don't care what anybody says about our team unless, it's someone on this team who says it. There's a lot of negativity in the world. People want to put down others, and I don't know why. If they put that energy into striving to be successful, everyone would be a lot better off."
Jones and Wieters are different types of leaders. Wieters is a total professional behind the plate, running the show. Jones makes spectacular plays and delivers big hits and keeps everybody loose. Right fielder Nick Markakis is the "silent assassin," according to Jones.
Jones demonstrates leadership with his toughness. After fouling a ball off his shins on Thursday night, Jones got back in the batter's box, in visible pain, and singled, scoring from first on Davis' double.
"Adam Jones is one tough hombre," Showalter said.
The Orioles could showcase two Gold Glovers on the left side of the infield. Machado is miles ahead of the curve in every phase of the game, and J.J. Hardy is about as good as it gets at shortstop.
"If there's a word beyond advanced, that's Manny," McLouth said. "It's not just his skills. He doesn't think he has it all figured out. He absorbs things. He works at it. He has a real mature approach. You can't teach that."
Machado came into Friday night's game hitting .419 with runners in scoring position, seventh in the AL. His 16 extra-base hits had him tied for third.
"Machado is respected in the clubhouse, due to the fact he shows up ready to play," Jones said. "Physicality is God-given. The mental part is something you have to work at. He's 20 years old, but he's a smart player.
"We have only a few guys with multi-year deals. We've got a lot of guys who have hunger. You don't hear any complaints in here. There's a selfless attitude here. Guys can go 0-for-4 with a W and be genuinely happy."
Even if it doesn't compute, the Orioles are still flying high.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.