We've arrived at the fourth and final installment of our series about the most replaceable and irreplaceable Orioles of 2013. It's been a fascinating journey through the most forgettable Orioles, the 2013 busts and the solid contributors, but now we've reached the pinnacle of our rankings. It's time to focus on the 10 most irreplaceable Orioles of the 2013 season. Counting down from No. 10 to No. 1, these are the players whom the Orioles could least afford to lose in 2014.
THE STRONG SECOND-YEAR ORIOLES
No. 10: DARREN O'DAY: Throughout the last two years, O'Day has become an integral member of the Birds' bullpen. A right-handed submariner, he has posted ERAs of 2.28 and 2.18 during the past two years while pitching in a combined 137 games. The knock on O'Day in 2013 was his stark platoon splits; left-handed batters crushed him to the tune of a .922 OPS compared with a .443 OPS for right-handers. Still, that might have been something of an anomaly for O'Day, who generally hasn't been so ineffective against lefties during his career. If he can calm down his struggles against lefties in 2014, he'll remain a valuable bullpen asset.
No. 9: TOMMY HUNTER: Hunter in 2013 served much the same role as O'Day did the previous year, emerging as a rubber-armed setup man entrusted to hold late leads. For the first time during his six-year career, Hunter didn't start a single game, making all 68 of his appearances out of the bullpen -- where he thrived. Hunter pitched to a 2.81 ERA and was the only member of the pitching staff to allow an average of fewer than one base runner per inning. Hunter was prone to the home run ball (allowing 11 round-trippers) and, like O'Day, had severe platoon splits (.857 OPS for lefties, .344 for righties), but, all in all, was a welcome addition to the Birds' bullpen.
No. 8: WEI-YIN CHEN: During his two years pitching for the Birds after being signed out of Japan's Central League, the Taiwanese-born Chen has at times flashed top-of-the-rotation potential, carrying great stuff and command. The main question with Chen, though, is his stamina. Not only does he routinely hit a wall at the 100-pitch mark -- allowing a 1.224 career OPS at 100 pitches and beyond -- but he also has faded in September both years since coming to the United States. Still, Chen's late-season fatigue doesn't diminish the fact that he's been a steady force in the O's rotation.
No. 7: MIGUEL GONZALEZ: Chen's brother in arms the last two years has been Gonzalez, another inexpensive international signing -- Gonzalez a minor league pickup out of the Mexican League -- who has evolved into a solid mid-rotation hurler. Gonzalez proved that his impressive 2012 rookie season wasn't a fluke, making 28 starts in 2013 with a 3.78 ERA. At 29 years old, Gonzalez might have already reached his ceiling, but that ceiling has been plenty good enough for an Orioles team that's constantly in need of effective starting pitchers.
No. 6: MATT WIETERS: It may seem odd that I've ranked Wieters -- a player I named one of the most disappointing Orioles of 2013 -- as the Birds' sixth-most irreplaceable player. But even after a career-worst season, during which Wieters sputtered to a .287 OBP and .704 OPS, replacing him would be a tall order for the Orioles. Wieters was a workhorse behind the plate, leading the major leagues with 140 games caught. Coming off two straight Gold Gloves, Wieters had another stellar defensive season. He threw out 24 of 68 (.353) attempted base stealers, the best percentage in the American League. And even with his offensive struggles, he contributed 22 home runs, his third straight year with at least 20. Wieters probably won't ever be the superstar O's fans had once hoped he would be, but he's a legitimate piece of the team's core.
No. 5: J.J. HARDY: Let's credit former O's general manager Andy MacPhail for one of the steals of the century -- acquiring Hardy from the Twins on Dec. 9, 2010, for two minor league projects who didn't amount to anything. Power-hitting, Gold Glove shortstops don't grow on trees, so landing Hardy was quite a coup. Although Hardy isn't a perfect player -- he got on base at just a .306 clip in 2013 -- his home run proficiency and defensive wizardry more than make up for his shortcomings.
No. 4: CHRIS TILLMAN: The Orioles' recent history of developing pitching prospects has been abysmal to say the least, but Tillman is an exception, a legitimate success story amid a sea of failed young pitchers. Tillman emerged as the Birds' No. 1 starter during a breakout 2013 season. He was the only hurler to take every turn in the rotation and to pitch more than 200 innings (206.1), and he went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA while collecting 179 strikeouts. And he's only 25 years old.
No. 3: ADAM JONES: Speaking of excellent Orioles trades -- how about the Erik Bedard swap before the 2008 season, which landed the Orioles both Jones and Tillman, now two of their most valuable players? It's the gift that keeps giving. During the second season of a six-year extension he signed in 2012, Jones posted career highs in home runs (33) and RBIs (108), emerging as a productive middle-of-the-order hitter. Jones will sometimes frustrate fans with his aggressive plate approach and tendency to chase pitches in the dirt, but despite his free-swinging style, Jones remains a valuable player for the Birds.
No. 2: MANNY MACHADO: Machado is the player who inspired this series of articles, as the news of his offseason surgery got me wondering about which players the O's could least afford to lose in 2014. His promising offensive potential -- he raked a league-leading 51 doubles in 2013 -- would be impressive enough. But more importantly, Machado has been one of the most spectacular fielders in Orioles history during his brief big league career, flashing game-changing defense and a litany of highlight-worthy plays. Machado could be back by March or April following his recent knee surgery, but if he's out for a longer period, the Orioles could find themselves in a deep hole from the get-go. There's no replacing a player like Machado for an extended period.
No. 1: CHRIS DAVIS: The 2013 Most Valuable Oriole, Davis put up video-game type numbers. His Orioles-record 53 home runs fueled a season during which he batted .286/.370/.634/1.004, emerging as one of the game's greatest sluggers. Davis graded out as 6.8 Wins Above Replacement by FanGraphs and 6.3 by Baseball Reference (the two sites calculate WAR in different ways). In either case, Davis is a smart choice as the most irreplaceable Oriole of 2013. He will be hard-pressed to repeat his eye-popping performance next year, but the Orioles will be relying on him to be the anchor of their lineup once again. He's the player who'd be toughest to replace in 2014.