Jordan Westburg has been nothing short of a stud since arriving in Baltimore back on June 26th. He has hit for both average and power, played solid defense at multiple positions, and been an asset on the base paths in what has been a seamless transition to major league baseball.  

In some ways it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Westburg adjusted to the major league level  far quicker than any other Oriole, including Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman. He did play 158 games with Triple-A Norfolk, after all, giving him plenty of time to develop a bat and glove which many thought were already among the most major-league-ready tools of any player coming out of the 2020 MLB Draft.  

What has been surprising, however, is that despite playing at an elite level over the past few months, Westburg has yet to get a hold on a position and is still being treated as part of an infield rotation. As of September 17, Westburg had started just 46 of the 74 games that have taken place since he was called up to the major leagues. For reference, Adam Frazier and Ramon Urias, his primary competitors for playing time, have started 43 and 45 games respectively over that span. 

Brandon Hyde’s continued rotation of all three players is frustrating given the disparity between Westburg’s .270/.320/.422 slash line and the .249/.305/.412 and .266/.332/.377 lines posted by Frazier and Urias. It is even more so given the underlying metrics behind his play and that of his counterparts.  

Of the three, Westburg ranks first in average exit velocity (90.5), maximum exit velocity (111.4), hard hit rate (44.8), and expected slugging percentage (.402). In other words, Westburg is making significantly more loud contact than Frazier and Urias. While high exit velocities don’t always yield better batted ball results, they are often an indication of a player’s potential at the plate as well as their ability to change a game with one swing of the bat. 

That’s not to say Frazier’s ability to put the ball in play, evidenced by his 13.8% strikeout rate, or Urias’ affinity for hitting low line drives and hard ground balls, represented by his 7.7 degree launch angle, don’t have a use in today’s game. However, Westburg gives the Orioles a better chance to drive a ball into the gap and pick up extra bases, while only slightly decreasing their odds of getting a single or a walk, in every at bat he takes. That’s a trade off I’d take any day of the week.  

Furthermore, Westburg’s splits suggest that he is capable of facing off against any pitcher, regardless of which arm they throw with. His .290/.355/.449 slash line against southpaws blows away his competition, but his .259/.299/.405 line against right-handers is nothing to scoff at either. Based on Hyde’s lineup decisions, one would anticipate a large disparity between Westburg’s ability to face right-handers and that of Frazier and Urias. The stats, however, tell a different story as Frazier’s .258/.309/.426 line and Urias’ .278/.340/.396 line are eerily similar to what Westburg has recorded.  

It’s also noteworthy that once he gets on base, Westburg is a bigger threat to swipe a bag or advance an extra base on a single than Urias and Frazier. His sprint speed of 28.9 feet per second, which ranks in the 88th percentile of all major league players, has already helped him to tally four stolen bases in limited opportunities. Frazier’s mark of 26.5 feet per second and Urias’ mark of 26.7 feet per second are significantly less impressive (32nd and 35th percentile respectively).  

Even on defense, which Hyde has frequently used to justify Frazier and Urias’ playing time, Westburg has been far and away the best option. The rookie ranks second on the Orioles roster and in the 83rd percentile of all MLB players in outs above average (OAA) with four. Meanwhile, Frazier and Urias have both been displayed well below-average range, posting -14 OAA and -8 OAA respectively.  

Outs above average isn’t the only metric that illustrates Westburg’s defensive prowess as according to Fangraphs’ defensive runs saved (DRS), Westburg and Urias have had a similar impact (4 DRS), while Frazier has been less impactful (2 DRS). The rookie has also recorded just one error in 179 opportunities, a much lower rate than Frazier and Urias who average an error every 91 and 58 opportunities respectively. 

Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the inconsistency surrounding his defensive positioning has hindered Westburg’s performance at the plate. In 36 games at second base, Westburg is slashing an impressive .313/.360/.496. Alternatively, in 24 games at third base, he is slashing just .207/.250/.293. 

While these trends stem from a relatively small sample size, it’s hard to deny such a stark statistical contrast. Furthermore, I found similar data that suggested Gunnar Henderson’s constant positional movement was causing problems in his approach at the plate when I examined his slow start back in April. Since he has become the regular starting shortstop Henderson’s bat has improved exponentially, so who’s to say giving Westburg primary responsibility over second base won’t yield similar results. 

With so little time left in the season, it’s unlikely that Hyde’s usage of Westburg, Frazier, and Urias will change much in the coming weeks. Furthermore, the Orioles skipper seems to be pulling all the right strings right now so switching up his approach would make little sense. Heading into next season, however, I anticipate that Westburg will take on a much bigger role in Baltimore and finally earn sole responsibility as the team’s starting second baseman. 

He has displayed above average skills at the plate, on the bases, and in the field and he should only get better in the coming months and years. While he may always be overshadowed by the Rutschmans, Hendersons, and Hollidays of the world, Westburg already is and will continue to be a key piece of this Orioles roster for years to come.  

Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke

Luke Rollfinke is a student at Vanderbilt where he is pursuing a career in sports journalism. A recent graduate from the Friends School of Baltimore, Luke has spent his entire childhood in Charm City and is a devoted Orioles fan. In the past, he has written for SB Nation and has worked closely with Ravens columnist John Eisenberg. From nights at Camden Yards to Sunday afternoons watching NFL Redzone, Luke eats, sleeps, and breathes sports. He is excited to bring his perspective to BSL.