Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Baltimore Orioles 2021 Season Preview



       You can make fun of the Orioles all you want, but they exceeded expectations in 2020. Sure, a 25-35 record is far from good, but they were only four games behind the Astros and Brewers, who made the playoffs at a 29-31 record. They also did not finish last in the AL East, just nudging out the Red Sox. I'm not going to act like the team got better in the offseason, or even have a fighting chance to make the playoffs, but progress is progress. 

Offseason additions: IF Freddy Galvis, IF Yolmer Sanchez, RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Matt Harvey.

Offseason subtractions: SS Jose Iglesias, 1B Renato Nunez, IF Hanser Alberto, RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, IF Andrew Velazquez, C Bryan Holaday. 


2020 Trade Deadline summary

Acquired: LHP Kevin Smith, IF Tyler Nevin, IF Terrin Vavra.

Traded: RHP Mychal Givens, LHP Tommy Milone, RHP Miguel Castro.

2020 record: 25-35

2020 placement: 4th 

2020 WAR leader (batters): Anthony Santander

2020 WAR leader (pitchers): Tanner Scott


Starting Pitchers

How John Means' 2020 went depends on your point of view on stats. His ERA rose from 3.60 in 2019 to 4.53, with 42 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. However, he had a 4.0 BB% with a .194 xBA and a 3.09 xERA. The small sample size of 10 starts probably contributed to his divided advanced stats and standard stats. 2016 2nd round pick Keegan Akin had a 4.56 ERA in 25.2 innings, but he struck out 35 batters with a 3.27 FIP. However, Akin also had an average exit velocity allowed of 91.4 mph. Dean Kremer, the team's 10th best prospect (per MLB Pipeline) who was acquired in the Manny Machado trade, debuted in 2020. He had a 1.69 ERA through three starts, succeeding against the Yankees twice and the Rays once, before he got bombed by the Red Sox, allowing seven runs in 2.2 innings. That inflated his season ERA to 4.82. Overall, Kremer struck out 22 batters in 18.2 innings. Former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez is on a minor league deal after opting-out of the 2020 season. Hernandez was awful in 2019, but he could have pitched for the Braves last year. He had a 6.40 ERA with a 91.9 mph exit velocity. Jorge Lopez came over from Kansas City midseason, but he really didn't produce afterwards. Lopez had a 6.34 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 38.1 innings. His curveball was productive, with a .183 xBA. Veteran Wade LeBlanc is back on a minor league deal. In six starts, LeBlanc had an 8.06 ERA, but he was able to limit batters to an 86.1 mph average exit velocity. Also in camp is Matt Harvey, who had allowed 15 runs in 11.2 innings for the Royals last year. He probably won't make the team, but it's fun to dream, right?

Relief Pitchers

The Orioles bullpen is probably the most underrated aspect of the team. The club may have found some diamonds in the rough last year, and it led to them being able to trade away mainstays Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. One of those standouts was Cesar Valdez, a 35 year old who debuted back in 2010, but since then only played in the MLB in 2017 and 2020. Spending time in the AAA since then, Valdez became a predominantly change-up pitcher in 2020, throwing the 77.9 mph pitch 83.2% of the time. It worked, as Valdez had a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings with 12 strikeouts. The change-up had an average against of .140 with a 31.6% whiff rate. He finished with three saves, second on the team behind Cole Sulser's five. Sulser actually had one of the higher ERAs among O's relievers despite his high role in the back of the bullpen. The 30 year old rookie had a 5.56 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, and it was his 17% BB rate that killed him. A first round pick way back in 2013, 2020 looked like the year of Hunter Harvey after he succeeded in a short stint in 2019. Harvey was instead limited to 8.2 innings, where he allowed four earned runs. Harvey throws a high-90s fastball with a good curveball. Travis Lakins Sr. had pretty good standard stats, with a 2.81 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. But, having a mostly blue Baseball Savant page is not great. Lakins had an xERA of 5.32, plus a high 11.2% BB rate. Paul Fry had a pretty nice season, increasing his K% to 29.6% (29 Ks in 22 innings). Fry also had a 2.45 ERA with a .184 xBA. Fry was actually not the best lefty reliever on the roster; that was strikeout man Tanner Scott, who K'd 23 in 20.2 innings, and has a 12.2 K/9 in his career. Both Scott's fastball and slider can strikeout batters with a high spin rate. Scott's 1.31 ERA was a big improvement on his 4.78 2019 mark. Another reliever who saw a big improvement on his 2019 numbers is Shawn Armstrong. Armstrong had a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings. His fastball had a .095 average against with a 2479 rpm. The 4th overall pick in 2015, the Orioles acquired Dillon Tate from the Yankees in 2018 for Zack Britton. Now 26, Tate had a 3.24 ERA  in 2020. In his two year MLB career he has a 57.8% ground ball rate. Fringe starter Thomas Eshelman had a 3.89 ERA in 34.2 innings last year, but he only struck out 16 batters with a .298 xBA and a 6.11 xERA. 

Catchers

The Orioles have two catchers who hit around league average and hit on opposite sides of the plate. If that doesn't smell platoon to you, then I don't know what doesn't. Well, catchers don't platoon as often as say, first basemen, but the Orioles have the option to. Pedro Severino will likely get most of the load, despite being the righty. Severino hit five home runs with a 95 OPS+ in 2020. Behind the plate, he has a strong arm and is very active before and after pitches. Chance Sisco, who is about a year and a half younger than Severino, is not a hit-for-average guy, with a career high .214 average in 2020. He does walk a lot, and that was able to get him to a .741 OPS and a 105 OPS+. 

Infielders

The best player from the 2019 Orioles, Trey Mancini, is back after missing 2020 with cancer treatments. The O's will hope that Mancini picks up where he left off; he hit 35 home runs with an .899 OPS. The Orioles then stashed Mancini in right field, where he is not a great fielder, instead of first base, which was occupied by Chris Davis. Davis is still on the team, but unless the team designates him for assignment, he will be a walking contract taking up a roster spot. Davis went 6-for-52 with 17 strikeouts in 2020. The Orioles are taking a flier on Yolmer Sanchez, who went 5-for-16 for the White Sox last year. In 2019, he was Chicago's starting baseman, and won the AL Gold Glove there. The offensive returns weren't as good, as Sanchez had a .323 xSLG. The Orioles sold high on surprise standout Jose Iglesias, and signed Freddy Galvis to replace him at shortstop. Galvis has power; he hit 23 home runs in 2019, and seven in 2020. The rest isn't too great, as Galvis had a 27.9% hard hit percentage with an 86 OPS+. He is a smooth defender at  shortstop although he had -3 outs above average there last year. Lefty bat Rio Ruiz hit nine home runs in 54 games, which is a 150 game pace of 25. The Orioles will definitely take that, but Ruiz also had a .216 xBA and a .267 xwOBA. Pat Valaika was a solid find for 2020, but we'll see if he can hold up success afterwards. Valaika hit eight home runs with a .791 OPS and a 114 OPS+. He also played all four infield positions and left field. 

Outfielders

There was some trade chatter in the offseason after Anthony Santander had a great 37 game regular season. The switch hitting outfielder mashed 11 home runs, for an unsustainable 150 game pace of 45, plus he had an .890 OPS. Santander also had an above average xBA of .286. 2015 1st rounder Ryan Mountcastle is a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year after a strong 35 game stint. The 5th best prospect in the Baltimore system, Mountcastle hit .333 with an .878 OPS. He also has good speed for a first baseman/left fielder, at 28.0 ft/s. Center field is a battle between Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, who are both 26 years old. Mullins hit .271 with an xBA of just .209, but he is a great defender, with five outs above average, plus a 28.7 ft/s sprint speed. Hays is also fast and a good defender, but not on Mullins' level. After mashing at the end of 2019, Hays only had a .722 OPS in 2020. Another 2015 1st round pick, DJ Stewart, only hit .193, but a 17.9 BB% raised his OBP to .355, and an .809 OPS. However, if he wants to stay in the lineup he'll need to reduce his 33.9 K%.

Projected Rotation
John Means (L)
Dean Kremer (R)
Keegan Akin (L)
Felix Hernandez (R)
Jorge Lopez (R)

Projected Bullpen
Cesar Valdez (R)
Cole Sulser (R)
Hunter Harvey (R)
Tanner Scott (L)
Paul Fry (L)
Travis Lakins Sr. (R)
Shawn Armstrong (R)
Dillon Tate (R)

Projected Lineup
CF Austin Hays (R)
RF Anthony Santander (S)
1B Trey Mancini (R)
LF Ryan Mountcastle (R)
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
DH DJ Stewart (L)
C Pedro Severino (R)
3B Rio Ruiz (L)
2B Yolmer Sanchez (S)

Projected Bench
C Chance Sisco (L)
IF Pat Valaika (R)
1B Chris Davis (L)
OF Cedric Mullins (S)


Projection

Well, here we are. The playoff section regarding the Baltimore Orioles. No, they aren't making it. You could tell that, and O's fans aren't predicting them to. However, the team is better than you think. They have some solid players, and GM Mike Elias has done a nice job finding players out of nothing. He is definitely the guy going forward for the Orioles. 

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