The last time the Baltimore Orioles were an above .500 team was in 2016. They went 89-73 then and made the Wild Card in the playoffs. Again, last season, BAL was predicted to win a few games and finish last in the AL East. Keep in mind; that this is a team with 100+ losses in 3 of the past five seasons; in one of them, they only played 60 games, so it was 3 of the past four seasons! Amazingly, they won 83 games last season and finished 4th ahead of BOS in the AL East. This is a very young team with emerging talent, so they should be exciting and fun to watch. Unfortunately for them, both the Pythagorean model and the Base Runs models show they were lucky to win as many games as they did in 2022. BAL benefited by either 4 or 5 wins depending on which model you look at, yet that would not have prevented them from a 4th place finish (albeit a much closer finish). This means we need to start with BAL as a just under .500 team with a wins number of 78-80 games. As we dive into their players, we will see if we should expect another greater than .500 season, a playoff run, or a fade.
The offense ranked 20th in runs scored and 18th in OFF-WAR. It has 99 wRC+, or 1% below an average offense. Their issues are in getting batters on base., They ranked 22nd in OBP. This low rank stems from a batting average of only .236 and below the league average. Their BABIP ranked 22nd, so when they put balls in play, they were worse than the league average at getting on base. BAL was 20 in BB/K, which means free passes were not as plentiful as strikeouts. This is common for a young team learning the strike zone. Another sign of this is they ranked 4th worst at O-Swing% (swing and misses at balls outside the strike zone). They were an average offense in the power departments. They hit 171 HRs, ranking them 16th, and their ISO rank was 14th. As the offense was average in most areas, the starting pitching left a lot to be desired. It ranked 25th in WAR with a 7.2. They threw only 802.1 innings, ranking 23rd and burdening the bullpen with a heavy workload. The starters won 41 games which ranked 21st. By comparison, OAK starters won 40 games. They ranked 22ns in FIP. The key to this was their inability to get strikeouts. They ranked 27th in K/9 under 7.00 at 6.95. There were only five teams that could say that. They also were terrible at allowing HRs, ranking 21st. Due to these factors, teams were able to hit for a high average against them. Opponents batted .265, giving BAL a ranking of 27th! Another way to gauge the performance is to look at ERA- and FIP-. These are based on a 100 scale, and BAL produced 112 in each. It means they were 12% worse than the average staff. The bullpen was how they maintained winning. They ranked 10th in WAR and won 42 games! So, the bullpen won more games than their starters. They threw 631 innings, or 8th most. It ranked 11th in FIP, not so much because of its ability to get strikeouts (22nd ranked) but because they were great at BB/9 (4th) and HR/9 (9th). Hey had only a few free passes and gave up limited HRs! They were top 10 in GB%, leading to the few HRs. It is not that they were unhittable; the opponents batted .238 against them (ranking 20th); moreover, they didn’t put guys on nor allow the ball to be hit out of the park.
Number one prospect Adley Rutschman made his debut on May 21st. BAL was 16-25 on that date after losing to TB 6-1. Since that date, BAL went 67-54, which was 13 games over .500. He led their offense with an OFF-WAR of 22.5. He produced a WAR of 5.3 which is All-Star caliber. He finished behind league leader JT Realmuto who had a WAR of 6.5. He played in 113 games. He was 3rd in runs scored with 70. He led their team with a BB% of 13.8% and batted .254. He led them with a wRC+ of 133, or 33% better than average. He led their team with 35 doubles, plus he hit 13 HRs. He hit his first HR one month after his debut, so he kept improving as he saw more pitches. He makes contact too. He only struck out 18.3% of the time. Anything under 20% is excellent. He will be 25 years old and looks like the real deal. Anthony Santander led in RBIs (89) and HRs (33). He produced a wRC+ of 120. His OFF-WAR was 15.0 and 2nd on the team. It was the best season of his career. He is only 28 years old, so he should build from this. No other BAL batter had an OFF-WAR in double-digits. Cedric Mullins effectively led the team with a .258 batting average (Mancini had .268 but had 270 fewer at-bats). Mullins also stole 34 bases which was second to Jorge Mateo, who had 35. All three of these hitters have a K% of less than 20%! Ryan Mountcastle was the only other batter over 20 HRs with 22. He also produced 85 RBIs. However, he led the team in strikeouts with 154. Below are the Oriole batters from 2022 and their ZIPS projections for 2023.
Whoa! We see someone new atop this list! Gunnar Henderson is this year’s #1 prospect! He is of the ripe old age of 21 years old! His projections are sweet! A 24.8 OFF-WAR and 5.0 WAR lead the team. Look at the RBI 90 and runs 100 projected! He has power, too, with 24 bombs! He plays 3rd base which will supplant the playing time of Jorge Mateo; however, the productivity should be much better! ZIPS has the most aggressive projections for Henderson. Steamer projects a 17.1 OFF_WAR and a 4.1 WAR. Rutschman has a 23.1 OFF-WAR projection, so now they have two bonified offensive performers! Roster Resource suggests that their lineup should be Mullins to leadoff, Rutschman, and Henderson. Add to this the nearly 30 HRs of Santander and Mountcastle, we have the makings of a potent offense. BAL added veteran Adam Frazier to play 2b. He is a well-rounded player who should help with defense and offense. Overall, if things break right, they could be much fun to watch, and their productivity could be much improved. However, things could be more along the lines of learning curves too.
As we looked at prior, the starting pitchers need some help. Dean Kremer led the staff with a 1.7 WAR. He started 21 games and threw 120 innings. He was great at not allowing HRs or BBs but was not a strikeout pitcher. Unfortunately, this team has no true ace. John Means would be the most qualified for that role, but he was injured last season, only throwing eight innings. He had Tommy John surgery in April of 2022 and is likely to pitch later this season. Journeyman Jordan Lyles made 32 starts and threw 179 innings to lead the team. He also led them in wins with 12. Kyle Bradish is their best K/9 starter with an 8.49. Unfortunately, he also is the worst BB/9 and 2nd worst HR/9! Kremer, at 120 innings, was 2nd most, so innings limits will be a concern in the future. Below are the starting pitcher results for 2022 and the ZIPS projections for 2023.
Here we see more significant changes with new names! Cole Irvin from OAK and Kyle Gibson from PHI are newly acquired pitchers. Next, we see John Means with 20 starts and 100+ innings. These are much better options than having Jordan Lyles be your leader. Again, these are not ace-type starters but better than serviceable performers. Now we get to be excited again. We will see Grayson Rodriguez, who is the #7 prospect. He was injured last season, or his debut would have been then. He is only 23 years old. He went 6-1 in 69.2 AAA innings last year. He had an outstanding 12.53 K/9 (97Ks) in those games! His average fastball is 96-98mph hitting 100+ on occasion. He has a big sweeping slider and a hard-breaking curveball. He has the stuff of aces! Roster Resource suggests Gibson will be the number one, then Irvin. Bradish and Kremer stay in the rotation, followed by Rodriguez. Due to the number of innings thrown last year by the starters, they will need to go deeper, using more pitchers than this group. They do have options there. The bullpen had three pitchers with a WAR of 1.0 or more and another who just missed with a 0.9. Felix Bautista led the team with 1.4. He also had a 12.06 K/9 rate! All four of their best relievers did have an issue with BB/9, as they were all over 3.15. Bautista took over the closer role in July and earned 15 saves. He only allowed 38 hits in 65.2 innings.
Bryan Baker produced a 1.2 WAR in 66 innings, and Cionel Perez a 1.0 WAR in 57.2 innings. Neither one will be the primary setup guys for 2023 as Roster Resource suggests Dillon Tate throw the 8th and re-acquired Mychal Givens to pitch the 7th. This bullpen’s depth is excellent by having Baker and Perez slide back. ZIPS projections are high on Bautista but not Givens. Givens is a high K/9 guy, and Tate is not, so their usage could vary, pending on the situation. This bullpen is as good as last season, but it is not better.
I started by having BAL enter this season at 78-80 wins. Their offense was average, and their starting pitching was below average. They have improved in both areas. Much depends on Henderson and the continued development of their young players. It is often not a pure surge to success but a steady growth. Although improved, they do not match up with NYY, TOR, or TB regarding the pitchers. They cannot overtake any of those teams, but they could compete with TB if the offense comes together rather well. The AL East does get the benefit of a balanced schedule as well. Eighty-two wins (.500) is a reasonable target, and if things break right, maybe the upper 80s in terms of wins.