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The Baltimore Orioles [2021 Season Preview]

The real, and only, reason to read this season preview is to know a little about a division foe and plan your trip down to the Charm City (I lived there for two years and have no idea why that’s the nickname) because just like the pizza in Baltimore, the Orioles are not good.

In truly shocking news, the Orioles actually finished ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East last season, finishing the season at 25-35 after getting off to a decent start. The 2020 Orioles not finishing in the AL East basement would qualify as a top 10 “WTF” moment in any other year because this team is going through a massive rebuild. Per Spotrac, their total team payroll is $46 million, nearly half of which is tied up in Chris Davis’ contract. Their entire 26-man roster this year will make less than Gerrit Cole.

The TL;DR is the Orioles will not be good this year, will almost certainly finish in last place in the AL East, and only our wonderful, nerdy, and devoted readers would consider reading the rest of this preview to hear the names of players who I first learned while researching for this article.

What’s on Second?

That sums it up right there. A week before opening day, the Orioles literally got rid of their starting second basemen. Personally, I take it as a tacit acknowledgement that they cannot field an actual second basemen out of respect and deference to their true owner Gleyber Torres after what he did to them in 2019. Take a listen:

Although not specifically connected to losing his sanity over why on earth the Orioles kept pitching to Gleyber, Gary Thorne will not be calling Orioles games this season which is honestly a huge loss for us all. You can hear how deflated he is right around the 1:00 minute mark in the video.

As a unit, the Orioles were actually 13th in wRC+ last year with a 104 mark. Although he is no longer with the team, José Iglesias paced them with a 162 wRC+ last season after slashing .373/.400/.556 in 39 games. The offense is built around Anthony Santander (currently dealing with an oblique injury) and Ryan Mountcastle who slashed .261/.315/.575 (132 wRC+) and .333/.386/.492 (141 wRC+), respectively. They also get a boost with the return of Trey Mancini who missed last season due to treatment for colon cancer. Mancini is easily the frontrunner for comeback player of the year which would be well deserved. Here’s how the rest of the lineup Brandon Hyde will pencil in shakes out with 2021 ZiPS projections:

  1. Cedric Mullins, CF – 85 OPS+
  2. Trey Mancini, 1B – 120 OPS+
  3. Ryan Mountcastle, LF – 114 OPS+
  4. Anthony Santander, RF – 112 OPS+
  5. D.J. Stewart, DH – 102 OPS+
  6. Maikel Franco, 3B – 97 OPS+
  7. Freddy Galvis, SS –  82 OPS+
  8. Pedro Severino, C – 87 OPS+
  9. Pat Valaika, 2B – 109 OPS+

Other position players likely to feature include Austin Hays (100 OPS+) in the outfield and at DH, Ramón Urías  (106 OPS+) as a utility infielder, Rio Ruiz (90 OPS+) as the 3B platoon with Franco, and Chance Sisco (97 OPS+) splitting time at catcher.

The real player to watch for the Orioles is top catching prospect Adley Rutschman who is likely to make his debut this season. We’ll discuss him further later on.

The Dark Knight Rises

Of the club’s top five leaders in innings pitched in 2020, only 2 are likely to open the 2021 season in the Orioles starting rotation. Last year, they finished 13th in WAR checking in just one spot behind the Yankees. I know I’m borderline trolling at this point, but in all seriousness the 2020 Orioles were actually far better than expected. Granted, it’s hard to take them too seriously when Asher Wojciechowski started 16% of their games last year.

According to FanGraphs, the Orioles are projected for the worst rotation in MLB this year:

The rotation is led by John Means who had a 4.53 ERA but a 4.45 xFIP and 3.93 SIERA which means he could improve this season. After him is the former Dark Knight of Gotham City, none other than Matt Harvey! Harvey did not pitch in the majors last season, and ZiPS is not kind to him, pegging him for a 6.08 ERA and a 5.96 FIP to match this season. Behind those two are Bruce Zimmermann, Dean Kremer, and Jorge Lopez. Here’s how the full rotation looks according to ZiPS:

  1. John Means – 136 IP, 1.7 fWAR
  2. Matt Harvey –  87.3 IP, 0.0 fWAR
  3. Bruce Zimmermann – 100 IP, 0.5 fWAR
  4. Dean Kremer – 97.3 IP, 0.2 fWAR
  5. Jorge López – 106.3 IP, 1.0 fWAR

Their bullpen includes luminaries such as Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Paul Fry, César Valdez, and Shawn Armstrong. Of that group, Scott is the only one projected for a FIP below 4 and a K/9 above 9 to give you a sense of what their bullpen is like. Pitching is clearly the weakness for this team right now, and we can look forward to many more Gleyber-days this season.

The Prospect who was Promised

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There is nothing that the good people of Baltimore overhype more than Old Bay seasoning (seriously, like it’s good and all but calm down) and catching prospects. Lest we never forget the legend of Matt Wieters Facts and we all know how that turned out. Hopefully Adley Rutschman lives up to the hype for O’s fans sake and for our viewing pleasure since we’re all going to watch every inning of the 19 Yankees-O’s games this year no matter what.

Drafted first overall in 2019, Rutschman is likely to make his MLB debut later this season. According to MLB Pipeline, Rutschman is the 2nd overall prospect in baseball behind only Wander Franco and has a 60 rating in all tools except for running. Here is part of the snippet from MLB Pipeline:

During his time with the Orioles in Bowie, Maryland, last summer, Rutschman had the chance to sharpen what was already a pretty full suite of plus tools. The switch-hitter has an incredibly advanced approach, walking more than he struck out in college. He can drive the ball from both sides of the plate, with a ton of over-the-fence pop, while never selling out for power and showing the ability to make rapid adjustments against a higher level of competition last summer.

His already-plus defense also got better in his first full year of pro ball as he acclimated well to working with high-level pitching talent. He knows how to call a game, works very well with pitchers and has soft hands and excellent agility behind the dish. He couples that with a very strong arm, which should help to control the running game and is already exhibiting the kind of leadership teams covet from a big league backstop, something he should be in the very near future.

Look for Rutschman to get called up sometime this season and he is the hopeful cornerstone for the next good Orioles team.

Quick projections

SystemW-LRuns ScoredRuns Allowed
PECOTA67.5 – 94.5729836
FanGraphs67 – 95758904

My Take

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There’s a reason the FanGraphs Playoff Odds has the Orioles pegged with a 0.0% chance of reaching the postseason. Much like local ice cream favorite The Charmery, the Orioles are not good (I am very much looking forward to angry replies from anyone who thinks The Charmery is good, Taharka Brothers all the way).

There are only three real reasons to pay attention to the Orioles this season:

  1. Camden Yards is beautiful and for all my food criticisms, you can find some amazing crab cakes near the stadium. The trip down there, your ticket, food, and beer will combined cost you less than it does to park at Yankee Stadium. If you’ve never attended a game at Camden Yards, I highly recommend making the trip once you’re vaccinated.
  2. Adley Rutschman. See above.
  3. You like watching the Yankees win. In 2019, the Yankees went 17-2 against Baltimore winning the final 16 matchups. They hit 61 home runs in those 19 games which set the record for most home runs against one opponent in a year.

And that’s a wrap on our AL East Season Previews! You now know more about the Baltimore Orioles than anyone outside the DMV region (D.C., Maryland, Virginia for anyone who only knows of the DMV as the motor vehicle agency you wish you never had to go to) needs to.

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7 Comments

  1. MikeD

    Strange the Orioles basically fired Thorne and almost their entire broadcast crew. Thorne has consistently been one of the best baseball broadcasters around. I’d love for the Yankees to hire him, but there appears to be no room at the inn. Some west coast team would be smart to offer him a contract.

    • dasit

      “ooooohhhh… hang on to the ROOF!!!”
      best home run call of my lifetime
      goosebumps every time

  2. Brian

    New Yorkers have trash pizza takes, even if the pizza in NYC is generally really good (though the best pizza is consistently picked as coming from New Haven). But for every good place like DiFaras or Prince Street you have a hundred garbage slice joints with the only redeeming quality being they are open when you are drunk.

    I’ve had some really good pizza in Baltimore! Though they don’t really have their own “style” you can get good pies there. Idk when you lived there but my sister had lived there for a while, and there is a lot of good food there! Don’t be a hater for haters sake.

    • So if I’m following, New Yorkers have bad pizza takes because bad pizza exists in New York?

      • Brian

        Nah, they have bad takes because they think they good pizza can only come from NYC, when there is good pizza in a lot of places, and the best pizza is actually from New Haven, AND there is a ton of garbage pizza in NYC.

    • chip56

      ban this person

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