The Baltimore Borioles are no more. This team was predicted to be the worst in the league but not only did they end up over .500, they were a genuine contender for a wild card spot. They changed their stadium and brought up their top prospects and look at what happened. Incredible.
Record: 83-73 (4th AL East)
Preseason Projected Wins: PECOTA 61.3 & Fangraphs 64.2
Playoffs: N/A – 3 GB Wild Card Spot
Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?
Every time I look at the standings I have to do a double check. Baltimore had won less than a third of their games across the last four seasons going 178-368 and despite that, we all knew there was a silver cloud on the horizon for their fans due to their prospects. I didn’t expect it to appear so soon.
It was led by Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, being everything people thought and maybe a bit more. Adley’s first game was on 21 May, before that game the Orioles were 16-24 and after that game, they went 67-55.
Rutschman had a 5.3 fWAR season from just 470 plate appearances across 113 games, which, when it came to catchers in 2022, was second only to J.T. Realmuto. He was great across the board. His team-leading 133 wRC+ came in part from an amazing 13.8% walk rate which was only bettered by 11 players across the league (min. 400 PA).
His defensive stats are fantastic for someone who is only 24. He’s a great framer with his strength looking to be on the inside pitches to righties and he’s got an above-average pop time (1.94s) on throwing to second, which is partially enabled by his cannon of an arm (86.3 mph).
He was backed up on the hitting side by another good season from Cedric Mullins. Mullins didn’t quite live up to his 30/30 (HR/SB) season of 2021 with him being one of many players whose power dropped in 2022. But he was still a just-above-average hitter and plus defender in centre field.
The other supporting players were also just-above-average with the bat with Ramon Urias, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays & Trey Mancini all hitting between 104 and 120 wRC+.
Jorge Mateo wasn’t a positive with the bat but his defence at shortstop, which was fourth or fifth best in the league, more than made up for it. Mateo was given a single spot to play in after spending the two previous seasons playing five different positions across the infield and outfield, and boy did he take to it. Shortstop is the position Mateo had spent most of his youth and early professional career playing, and it looked like he was a natural for the spot.
The lowlights when it came to the bat and field were Robinson Chirinos, Chris Owings and Tyler Nevin. These three were various levels of very bad with the bat and very bad in the field. It’s good for the Orioles that only Nevin will be back next season.
One thing to note about this good hitting is that Camden Yards went from being a hitter’s park to a pitcher’s park in 2022. Statcast had Camden Yards as the fourth best park for hitting over 2019-2021 but in 2022 it was 24th.
They moved the fence back in left field and it looks like it has made a noticeable difference to the profile of the park. So much so that the Yankees were complaining about it being too deep.
With the stadium becoming friendlier to the pitchers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Baltimore saw its best pitching season since 2016. After they lost John Means to TJ a couple of weeks into the season, you would have been really worried about this Baltimore starting unit. But with Dean Kremer and Austin Voth performing at a level that no one expected, they managed to get through the year.
On the reliever side, they looked really good. Jorge Lopez was having a phenomenal season before he was traded to the Twins, Cionel Perez and Felix Bautista also had seasons that we weren’t expecting.
But before we look to 2023, we need to talk about what could have been in 2022. This team could, and maybe should, have made the playoffs, and only didn’t because the front office or ownership would prefer this team to be a bit better in a few years’ time.
Firstly, Rutschman should have been up from the start of the season. The skills that he showed told us he was more than capable of playing that level and didn’t need the time in the minors at the start of the season. Holding him back until the third week of May achieved nothing as their service time manipulation was negated by Rutschman finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
That meant he was awarded a full year’s service and effectively Baltimore got to be a poorer team for the first six weeks for nothing. Baltimore’s record with Rutschman would have been good for an 89-win season. So, it’s not even far-fetched to suggest that this decision alone cost them a playoff spot.
Secondly, they chose to trade away at the deadline instead of going for it. They ended up just three games back and I would assert they could have won three or more games if they kept Mancini and López, and made a trade or two. I understand that the postseason is a crapshoot and they would have had to trade some decent prospects to get players back, but the odds of them making the postseason three or four years from now is lower than it was this season. We all saw what happened with the Phillies; anyone can make it far in the playoffs.
Estimated 2022 Payroll: $63M
Estimated 2023 Payroll: $41M
Before we talk about anything else, I have to remind you that in 2018 the Orioles had an estimated payroll of $135M and if there is a time for the team to go back to that it is now. My model has the Orioles in the Tier four teams (17-23). They have some good hitting options but an obvious gap at shortstop and a real need for starters.
It doesn’t think Mateo’s defensive numbers will stay at the levels of this season and still has him as a below-average hitter. This makes a play for one of the big shortstop free agents a move we should expect. If this doesn’t happen, then I would expect it’s because they have confidence in Mateo’s defensive numbers.
If they don’t go after one of the top shortstops they should look to add an extra bat who can probably play in the outfield just to shore up that lineup. Someone maybe with some experience who could help the young guys as well might be a great addition, Mitch Haniger or Andrew Benintendi fit the bill for me.
Where the Orioles should throw their money is in the starter market. They now potentially have a pitcher’s ballpark so should be looking to splurge big here. Can they convince any of the top free agents to come to Baltimore knowing that they are going to have to face the hitting lineups of the AL East? Personally, I would love to see Jacob deGrom or Carlos Rodón going up against Aaron Judge regularly.
If not, they should get some innings-eaters because I don’t think they’ve even got a league-average pitcher to put out there. Andrew Heaney, Chris Bassitt & Corey Kluber would be great fits.
Bad offseason: No major FA signing
Ok offseason: Andrew Benintendi & Corey Kluber
Good offseason: Xander Bogaerts
Best offseason: Carlos Rodón, Chris Bassitt & Xander Bogaerts
Featured image photo of Adley Rutschman by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images.
This is part of a series of articles by Russell Eassom. Make sure you check out the others. Russell is Bat Flips and Nerds’ resident analytical genius, and arguably Europe’s finest sabermetrician. If you’re not following Russell on Twitter @REassom then you’re doing baseball wrong.
Maybe dig in a little deeper into the O’s prospects. Henderson is ready and brings a big bat, temporarily at short (likely a long term 3rd baseman). Jackson Holliday, while young, has amazing talent and will shoot up quickly. Colton Howser and Jordan Westburg will add even more electricity to their lineup. Now, let’s not forget their pitching prospects that are ready to prove themselves at the Major League level: #1 MLB prospect – Greyson Rodriguez and DL Hall will have a big impact in the rotation but their relievers are all coming back and are fortified with Michael Givens.
Their future is now.