With just under a third of the season complete, the O’s have been an interesting team to follow. Yes, they are in last place in the AL East but no one really expected otherwise. The O’s come into today’s game with a record of 22-32, 5 wins above their 17-37 record through 54 games in 2021, despite losing their best pitcher in John Means after only 2 starts.
When looking back at the Orioles’ season up to this point, the one thing that stands out most has to be the pitching, particularly the bullpen.
Let’s just remind ourselves of how bad the Orioles’ pitching staff was in 2021. The O’s finished last season with a league-worst 5.85 ERA that was 0.73 runs/game higher than the second-worst Diamondbacks. Similarly, the Orioles 5.71 bullpen ERA was 0.63 runs/game higher than the second-worst Nationals.
Jumping to this season, the Orioles 3.19 bullpen ERA ranks 7th best in the MLB thanks to the likes of Jorge Lopez, Cionel Perez, Keegan Akin, Dillon Tate, and Felix Bautista.
While the bullpen has been great, the O’s offense has been rather mediocre. Similar to my pre-season lineup projection article here, let’s go through the current lineup and take a closer look at some interesting (or at least I think interesting) stats.
- Cedric Mullins (CF)
Cedric hasn’t gotten off to the hot start that O’s fans were hoping for after coming off an incredible offensive season where he slashed .291/.360/.518. This year, Mullins is currently hitting .245/.306/.382 with an OPS+ of 99 – he has essentially been a league average hitter. Baseball Savant’s ‘Sweet Spot %’, a measure showing how often a player hits the ball within the ‘optimal’ range of launch angles, does a good job of highlighting Cedric’s early-season struggles. Mullins’ decrease of 7% puts him in the Top 20 in biggest drop-off from last season across the entire MLB. I personally am not worried about Mullins, he leads the team in XBH and is tied with Austin Hays for most total bases. While Mullins likely won’t repeat last season’s success, I suspect his end of year numbers to be much more in line than they are now.
- Trey Mancini (DH)
After a slow start where it felt like Mancini couldn’t stop hitting the ball right into fielders’ gloves despite making solid contact, Mancini had an awesome May, where his .363 average was 6th-best in the MLB. Mancini now leads the team with a .305 batting average. Similar to Mullins, Mancini’s Sweet Spot % is very telling (this is the last time I’ll use this metric in this article I promise). Mancini’s increase of 11.4% and his score of 47.4% both rank second in the majors – only JD Martinez is higher at 50.4%.
- Anthony Santander (RF)
Santander is leading the O’s in homeruns (9) and RBIs (29). Santander’s .231 average is a little lower than his career .245, but I would say he is producing pretty much in line with expectations. Something to note for Santander is his BB% is up 6.2% while his Swing% is down 7.2% from last year. In fact, Santander already has more walks this year in 218 plate appearances than he did last year in 438 plate appearances. As a result, his OBP is up from .286 to .335. Another interesting stat comes from Baseball Savant’s ‘Expected Home Runs by Park’ measure. While the differences aren’t massive here, I find it particularly interesting that Camden Yards’ 8 expected homeruns for Santander is the single lowest amongst all MLB stadiums. If Santander had played all of his games in OPACY this season, he’d have 1 fewer home run than his current 9, but if all Santander’s games were played in Great American Ballpark he’d have 13 HR. Like I said, this difference is rather small right now, but is something I’m curious about by the time the season comes to an end.
Credit: Baseball Savant
- Austin Hays (LF)
Hays has had a great season for the O’s so far, slashing .302/.373/.453. Hays is leading the Orioles in WAR (1.3), SLG (.453), wOBA (.365) and wRC+ (141) per FanGraphs while also playing a great left field; I still can’t get over this throw:
Video Credit: FOX Sports MLB
When looking into Hays’ stats a bit deeper, a clear pattern emerges, namely that Hays is much more aggressive this year than last year. Hays’ First Pitch Swing% is up 7.7%, Out of the Zone Swing % is up 5.7%, and Swing % is up 4.1% from 2021. I find it interesting that Hays has been able to increase his hard hit % while also swinging at more pitches out of the zone, but there’s no doubt he’s simply seeing the ball better this season than he ever has.
- Adley Rutschman (C)
Honestly I’m just happy that I can type this name here. I didn’t feel great about trying to project Jacob Nottingham’s or Robinson Chirinos’ stats in the off-season, that’s for sure. Of course, it would have been nice if Adley came up and immediately started off hot, but it’s been a bit of a struggle in his first few weeks. Adley is currently slashing .149/.245/.213, but I don’t care. Adley is going to get the offense going soon, and the energy he brings to the team has already made a massive impact. In his very limited time in the majors, he has already shown how great of a pitch-receiver he is. In fact, among all catchers who have received at least 100 pitches (a very small sample, I know) Rutschman ranks first in ‘Strike Rate’ which shows the cumulative total of all near-strike zones. Each zone in this metric comes from areas outside of the middle of the plate that are on the border of being called a strike/ball – this is where pitch framing is most important.
Credit: Baseball Savant
- Ryan Mountcastle (1B)
Mountcastle got off to a bit of a slow start this season but turned it up in May, bringing his season slashline to .259/.303/.416. Similar to Hays, Mountcastle’s Hard Hit % and First Pitch Swing % have both ticked up quite a bit since last year (up 7.5% and 6.3% respectively). Mountcastle’s Exit Velocity and Barrel % also increased in comparison to 2021, in fact, he’s a bit of a Statcast darling so far this season:
Credit: Baseball Savant
All of the first 5 metrics above show various Statcast-projected outcomes based on the launch angle and exit velocity of the ball. As we can see, Mountcastle ranks in the 80th percentile or above in all of these, with his xBA all the way up at 97th percentile. This tells us Mountcastle is hitting the ball hard and at the ideal angle for success, but has hit into some bad luck so far. If Mountcastle can keep doing what he’s doing, I expect his numbers to continue to improve as the season goes on.
- Rougned Odor (2B)
Like most of the Orioles, Odor started off really cold, batting .180 in Mar/Apr and then improved his production in May, batting .242. There isn’t a ton to say about Odor, his stats are much like his recent seasons – a fairly low batting average with some pop for a 2B. The reality is he’s a placeholder while we wait for the likes of Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Terrin Vavra and company to get the call.
- Ramon Urias (3B)
After going through each of these players, I can’t help but notice the same thing over and over – virtually every hitter on the O’s has drastically increased their First Pitch Swing %. Urias’ 14% increase in this metric is the third largest in the majors since 2021. While this isn’t necessarily a good thing on its own, it’s also accompanied by an increase in Hard Hit %. Despite this, Urias’ .233 average is well under his .279 from last year. This could be the result of a bit of bad luck, as Urias’ BABIP has dropped almost 100 points from .369 last year to .280 so far this season. Not all subpar performance can be attributed to bad luck, however, so I’m hoping Urias can at least get his average up closer to .250 while continuing to play great in the field. Speaking of fielding, Urias is tied for 8th in the majors in Defensive WAR, not to mention his versatility in the infield is a great thing for the O’s to have.
- Jorge Mateo (SS)
Speaking of great fielding, here’s Jorge Mateo. Let’s get it out of the way, no, Jorge Mateo isn’t batting .300, hitting many home runs, or driving in many runners, but that wasn’t the expectation. I will say, the .214/.266/.356 slashline is pretty lackluster especially since Mateo was able to maintain a .280 average in the games he played for the O’s in 2021. I think the real Jorge Mateo is probably somewhere in between the two, somewhere in the .230-.240 range, which I think the O’s would certainly take for now. Mateo’s contribution really comes from his defense and his speed. Despite his 8 errors, Mateo ranks first overall in the majors in Defensive WAR (and it’s not particularly close). While he has some room to grow in the field from a consistency perspective, his quickness is basically unmatched. As a result, Mateo is able to make plays on balls that most shortstops wouldn’t get anywhere near – and those certainly add up. Mateo is also 4th in the majors in stolen bases with 13 and has only been caught stealing once. Mateo’s 30.2 ft/s sprint speed also ranks only behind Bobby Witt Jr.’s 30.4 ft/s as the fastest in the MLB.
Overall, the O’s are certainly still a ways away from truly competing, but there have certainly been some flashes of brilliance from most of the starting lineup. As we continue to wait for the next wave of players to come up following Rutschman’s recent promotion, the rest of this season should prove interesting as we continue to get a better idea of who will be a fundamental part of the long-term plan. I personally am beginning to feel an excitement that I haven’t felt for years with this team, and while it should remain tempered for this season, it’s starting to feel like better are truly ahead.
As a Baltimore native, Zach is an avid Orioles and Ravens fan. After interning for the Baltimore Orioles, he currently works as a Senior Quantitative Risk Analyst for OneMain Financial and is a part-time graduate student studying Data Science at the University of Michigan.