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O’s Should Look to San Diego for Rebuilding Blueprint

You could argue that the Orioles are at a bit of a crossroads right now. By that I mean, they need to decide when to bring young prospects up, when do they make key trades, key FA signings, etc.…Do they start this year?  Do they wait another year?  Can they allow 2022 to be another poor year because of a dwindling and disgruntled fan base?

Orioles GM Mike Elias came from Houston and everyone likes to point to Houston as some kind of proof that losing 100+ games for several years is some kind of guarantee of success later on. The reality is that isn’t true but it does seem to be a model that Elias is hanging onto at the moment. 

But what about the San Diego Padres? Let’s look at them, for both the good and the bad. They are a very interesting team to study because they did the “go for it” thing twice in a short period of time. In the offseason of 2014, the Padres were coming off a 3rd place finish and 77-win season. Their Pythagorean record called for 75 wins, so it wasn’t really fluky record.  They weren’t a good offensive team but they played good defense and had good pitching. Their farm system was ranked around #10, give or take, depending on what site you looked at. In that offseason, the team decided to go for it.  They signed James Shields to what was, at the time, the largest contract in franchise history, and made several trades. They moved one of their best offensive players in 2014, Seth Smith, for Brandon Maurer, a player that at the time was looked at a high upside reliever. They added Justin Upton in a trade where they dealt four players to Atlanta, led by Max Fried and Mallex Smith. They made a three-team trade where they dealt Trea Turner and others for Wil Myers and others. They also dealt Yasmani Grandal and others to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp. In the end, basically all of these decisions backfired on them. While attendance did see a rise of over 300K fans, the team’s record actually got worse, several of the guys they traded turned out to be really good and the guys they got weren’t anything special. They also compounded this mistake by giving Myers a contract that they definitely regret. Of course, the one great thing that came out of it was signing Shields and eventually trading him for Fernando Tatis Jr. (more on that later).

This is an example of what you don’t want to have happen and is certainly a cautionary tale for the Orioles and other rebuilding teams. San Diego traded several top 10 prospects for what they felt were good players that could put them over the top and instead, it ended up setting them back even more.  They decided that the offense needed help and they went out and added some bigger bats and traded “maybes” to get them.  I get the thought process and it’s not like they were dealing for guys well past their primes or something like that.  They just didn’t work out and that is always the risk, for any trade.

The Padres decided to start unloading from those mistakes in 2016. They decided that they needed to trade some players and attempt some kind of a reboot. They traded Kemp, Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, Upton, Fernando Rodney and Shields prior to the trade deadline. The only player they acquired that would turn out to be a contributor was Fernando Tatis Jr, who is arguably the best player in the NL and has a case for being the second best player in the sport, to Mike Trout.

The Padres had a payroll entering that 2015 season of over $108M. By the start of the 2017 season, they lowered it under $70M. As they got through the 2017 season, the Padres saw their farm system vault into the top five.  They were building towards something. They had some good young talent at the MLB level in guys like Myers, Manuel Margot and Dinelson Lamet.  Their farm system was close to producing a lot of talent and they decided that they needed a vet player who had a championship pedigree to help lead and augment their core, so they signed Eric Hosmer. They did it prior to the 2018 season, a season they didn’t believe they would contend in.  They thought it would help send a message to the fans, players and the league that they were ready to contend soon. It reminded me of the thought process a few years earlier when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth.

During that 2018 season, the Padres saw the MiLBers get better but the team still only won 66 games. They made a trade sending Brad Hand to Cleveland for Francisco Mejia, a player who was highly regarded at the time and was eventually used in the Blake Snell trade, this past offseason. The other major move they made was signing, of course, Manny Machado. In the span of two offseasons, they signed two players to two enormous deals and they still hadn’t started to sniff contention yet. However, they decided that these guys would be integral pieces to their rebuild and considering they had so many cheap, talented players about to come up, they decided to take advantage of those cheap deals (a la an NFL team with a very good QB on his rookie contract). In 2019, a year they weren’t contending, they brought up 20-year-old Tatis. He never played in AAA. Tatis amassed roughly 1500 at bats in the minors before coming up, however only 400 of those were in the upper minors. As a kid who played his first season in the minors at age 17 (and was traded during the season), he had a lot of at bats in the lower minors, as you would expect from a Int’l FA. At the time of the call up, he was regarded as one of, if not the best, prospect in baseball. 

Do you think SD made the wrong decision with respect to Tatis?

The Orioles find themselves in a similar situation. They have one of the best prospects in baseball and have to figure out (or let us fans know anyway) when to call him up. When does he start to get experience?  Adley Rutschman may not have the at bats Tatis has in the minors but he also is three years older, played at a high level of college and did have the camp last year, for whatever you think that is worth. 

What happened to the Padres and all of these decisions? 2020’s shortened season saw them make the playoffs and they are headed in a good direction this year as well. Now, they did trade some of their youth for Mike Cleavinger, who got hurt shortly after, and Snell is off to a rocky start so far but overall, things are progressing well for them. They also added Yu Darvish, who is off to a very good start, as is Joe Musgrove. They are viewed as one of the better teams in the NL, but they do have some injury issues.

You can look back and question if they made the right decisions with guys like Hosmer and Machado. Hosmer isn’t going to be worth his deal and I greatly question if Manny will be either. 

But does that mean it failed? Does that mean they made a mistake by signing them? 

Will the Orioles follow the type of things that SD did?  Will they sign/trade for FA’s before they are fully ready to contend? Will they bring up Rutschman before they are ready to contend? Will they follow the 2015 Padres and make mistakes? Or will they follow the current ones and win? 

I think the 2015 Padres didn’t have enough of a young, supporting cast, mainly because they traded so much of it away. This version of the Padres doesn’t have the same issue and I think the Orioles are closer to this version of the Padres than the 2015 version. How Elias handles things over the next month or so and this coming offseason will tell us a lot about where the team feels they are.

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Fact/Opinion: Get Adley Up Here Now

Adley Rutschman swings in the batter's box

When I was growing up, back when we still read newspapers, one of my favorite columns to read was John Eisenberg’s Fact and Opinion column. So, with apologies/thanks to the former Sun writer and current Ravens.com writer, as well as author of multiple books, I present my version of facts and opinions on the Orioles

Fact: On May 5, John Means threw a no hitter and the Orioles record at that time was 15-16. They were in 5th place in the division but only three games out of first. They had a road record of 11-6. At that time, they had the most road wins of any team in MLB and only two teams had a better win percentage on the road. Since that game, the Orioles have 7-30 and they are currently on a 19-game road losing streak.

Opinion: You are never as good as you look in a winning streak and never as bad as you look in a losing streak. The Orioles are suffering/have suffered from injuries, bad luck and just outright poor play. Still, I don’t feel this streak of 7-30 accurately reflects where the organization is and is going. The Orioles could finish with 55 wins this year and I still will have faith that they are heading in the right direction. The problem I will have is if they do win only 55 games, what does that say for the development of the young players who will have played in the majors in 2021?

Fact: Since becoming the manager of the Orioles, Brandon Hyde has seen his team put up a record of 101-189. That is a winning percentage of about 35%, which is tied for the worst ever by a full time O’s manager since the team moved here in 1954 (Jimmy Dykes, the manager the first year the Orioles moved to Baltimore also had a winning % of 35% albeit in a smaller sample size than Hyde). Orioles GM, Mike Elias, has openly talked about how this is a process and winning games isn’t a priority right now, so this is the situation Hyde signed up for.

Opinion: I like Brandon Hyde and I hope they keep him around. The team plays hard for him, they seem to respect him and the clubhouse, by all accounts, is still loose. The manager for an MLB team isn’t that important when the game is being played. Most have similar thoughts and strategies. Where the difference is made is outside the lines. Buck Showalter was brilliant outside the lines and he brought in a culture that was needed. I believe Hyde is also good outside the lines but you can tell the losses are getting to him during his post-game press conferences. In some ways, this is a great first gig – you have no pressure to win by your bosses. On the other hand, you also wonder if they keep you around once you start bringing up your young, elite talent and actually start to move forward with winning. For me, I hope they give him at least through 2022. Let him manage with guys like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, et al on the team. See if those guys progress under him. If they don’t, you move on… but he deserves the chance.

Fact: MLB has decided to crack down on sticky substances used by pitchers. They feel the spin rates are getting out of control and making it harder for the batters to hit the ball. As a result, any pitcher caught with a substance will be suspended (with pay) for 10 games. It sounds like most pitchers are using something and one guy who has been mentioned a lot and there is some video circulating on twitter about is John Means. Means has yet to be affected by this because he has been on the DL since the news broke.

Opinion:Means has been one of the best pitchers in baseball and it will be interesting to see if this affects him. Tyler Glasgow blamed his injury on how he now has to grip the ball and you wonder if this will affect Means’ shoulder at all. Also, how will Means be viewed by the other teams if the Orioles decide to shop him? If the Orioles do indeed intend to shop him, getting him back for 3-5 starts before the deadline is going to be important.

Fact: In the 2020 MLB draft, the Orioles selected Heston Kjerstad. Kjerstad signed an under slot deal. He has yet to play in a game because of a bout of myocarditis. He had been working himself back and he just recently had a setback and now he has to rest again and wait for his heart issue to subside.

Opinion: Kjerstad has become a source of contention for O’s fans. He is being called a bust and a wasted pick. To me, those saying that couldn’t be saying anything more uneducated. First of all, the kid hasn’t played yet and unless this condition forces an early retirement or something like that, we should see him back on the field. Until that happens, we can’t label him as anything, including a bust. Secondly, the idea that the O’s wasted the pick is absurd.

A lot of people point to the idea the O’s went under slot and picked a lesser talent.While it is true that they went under slot, I don’t think it’s fair to say they took a lesser talent. If you buy into the theory that the Orioles were never going to take a pitcher, that means they were likely down to Austin Martin, Nick Gonzalez, Zach Veen and Kjerstad.

For me, I would have taken Veen because I felt he represented the highest upside; however, the player most people thought they should take was Martin. While I can’t say I would have been upset by the Martin pick, there were some issues with him. There were some scouts who had questions that he could stick at SS and there are questions about him developing enough power. There is basically total agreement that Martin has a good hit tool and will be a good on base guy but if he doesn’t hit for power, the major leaguers will challenge him more and that could affect his walk rate and his hit tool some.

So far, in the small sample size of this year, he is hitting for a good average and getting on base well. However, the slugging% is barely over 400. That can, of course, change very quickly but the early questions about his power are at least showing that there could be some validity there. Kjerstad was said to have the second best power in the draft, after #1 pick Spencer Torkelson. The Orioles seemed to believe that if they played all year in 2020 that Kjerstad would have been higher on people’s boards. As it is, he was ranked anywhere in the 7-10 range but again, some pitchers were in there and the O’s apparently were not going to take one of them.

We will see how this pick works out. The Astros, a team everyone likes to point to as a “correct rebuilding”, missed on two high picks (although one of them involved not getting Brady Aiken signed and that turned into Alex Bregman). If this heart condition essentially ends his career, that will be a shame. If he does come back and just isn’t as good as Martin, Elias will be held accountable. However, I think his reasoning for passing on Martin was sound and justified and we have to remember that the draft is an inexact science and sometimes you will get things wrong.

Fact: In 2019, Adley Rutschman, an advanced college bat out of college baseball powerhouse Oregon State, was the #1 pick in the draft. He played sparingly in 2019 and obviously there was no minor league season in 2020. This year, the Orioles started him with the Bowie Baysox, their AA affiliate. He is currently recognized by most people as the #2 prospect in the sport. He currently has a slash line of 287/421/544. He has 10 homers and one of the highest BB rates in the minors.

Opinion: Rustchman should be an Oriole by the AS break.

Some fans are absolutely opposed to this idea because “why bring him up and waste his service time in a year where the team sucks?” I get that and there is validity to that point. Let’s remember a few things though. First of all, I have seen some people say to bring him up in September. Well, why wait? His year is gained for this season. Whether you bring him up tonight or on Sept 1, that doesn’t change the service time in terms of how long you get to keep him here.

Secondly, I believe that you can develop in the majors. This idea that you have to make every minor league stop and that you have to check off every single box is crazy to me. He is regarded as arguably the best college prospect in a decade. He is playing at a high level, is 23 years old and played for a major college program and yes, playing and developing in college does matter.

At some point, this team has to start to win games and get fans interested. Also, you have to start to show potential trade targets and free agents why they should sign here. Showing them MiLB stats and organizational rankings are one thing but actually getting the players here to show everyone what they can do is important as well.

I believe that 2022 should be a year where the Orioles are a 500-ish team. I think to do that, you will obviously need outside help but you will also need help from your young talent and I would like to see some of these kids, led by Rutschman, start to get their feet wet this year. He is going to need a time for adjusting to the league. I would bet on him being a top 10 MLB catcher immediately, so his talent and his performance will dictate him being here.

The only reason anyone wants to hold him back really comes down to gaming a service time rule that is archaic in many ways. If you bring him up now, you have him through his age 29 season, assuming you don’t sign him to an early extension. If you wait another year, you have him through his age 30 season. The rationale from most fans is that it is far more likely we are contender in his age 30 season than right now. Obviously, that is true BUT we also don’t how good he will be by then, if we want to have him on the team at that age or if the team will be contending. For me, it’s a lot of what ifs either way and I would personally rather see him start his MLB career now as opposed to waiting until late April/early May of 2022.

Fact: The trade deadline this year has been moved up one day, to July 30th.

Fact: Matt Harvey, since his first start against the Mets, has been struggling in a big way. His ERA currently over 7. Jorge Lopez, who had a solid month of May ERA wise, has struggled this month and overall, hasn’t been a good starter in the majors throughout his career.

Opinion: There will likely be a lot of teams in the race still, so it will be a seller’s market in many ways. The Orioles have some intriguing pieces that they could shop. You have AS caliber players in Cedric Mullins, John Means and Trey Mancini. You also have some potential solid role players like Tanner Scott, Anthony Santander, Freddy Galvis and Paul Fry. All of these guys represent potential targets for other teams, with the returns obviously varying greatly.

As I mentioned before, Elias has been very consistent on the idea that the focus isn’t on winning and it’s about building a pipeline of talent. However, if you believe in what Mullins and Means are doing, they represent long term pieces that could be major contributors to a contender. Scott and Santander could also be solid contributors but to a lesser extent. Mancini is a tough case. A fan favorite and clubhouse leader who just went through cancer is a tough guy to trade. OTOH, he is a FA after next year and he doesn’t really have a skill set that screams “extension” as he gets into his 30s. People will argue that it’s wrong to trade a guy who just went through cancer. I would argue it’s wrong to make him stay on the Titanic. I can see the argument either way. For me, I trade any of these guys if the return is there. None of them are guys that I have to be completely blown away to trade. In other words, I don’t need multiple top 50 prospects to deal Mullins, for example. I am not sure any of these guys are truly elite guys that are must keeps, so I would be shopping all of them but obviously, if the returns aren’t there, especially for Mullins and Means, I am not trading them.

Opinion: It’s time to get them out of the rotation. I feel Lopez could be a good reliever and perhaps he could even be a good high leverage reliever. I would like to see him get his chance in the pen now. I want to see him in those situations and see if he is someone we can go into the offseason with as a guy we feel relatively comfortable with as one of the better BP arms on the team. I think there is an argument for letting Harvey get a chance out of the pen too. Maybe his stuff can play up for an inning or two. On the other hand, spots start to become limited out in the pen and if there is no room for him, so be it. Just release him. I would like to see Zac Lowther or Kyle Bradish brought up and the rotation, once Means comes back, have it be Means, Zimmerman, Akin, Kremer, Lowther/Bradish.

Give these kids a shot. They are all experienced enough, old enough and mature enough to get the chance.

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Throwing Gas & Banging Gas Cans

Bowie gas cans

If anyone ever asks me what it’s like to be an Orioles fan in 2021, I’ll tell them about the June 15, 2021 Bowie Baysox game, a 3-2 loss to the Akron Rubber Ducks.

A one-run loss in a Double-A game seems pretty inconsequential. But this was no ordinary Double-A game – it was the first home start for Orioles’ vaunted pitching prospect and 2018 11th overall pick Grayson Rodriguez since he was promoted to this level. What began as a normal home debut turned into a gas can-banging affair, in a truly awesome microcosm of the Orioles baseball experience.

It all started at the end of May, when Orioles’ GM Mike Elias announced that Rodriguez, the club’s top pitching prospect, would be promoted to Double-A Bowie after terrorizing High-A East with 40 strikeouts, a 0.686 WHIP and a 1.54 ERA in 23.1 innings over five starts. After an impressive first start at Hartford for the Baysox, Baseball America anointed GrayRod as the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball. He followed that up with another impressive performance at Binghamton, totaling 14 strikeouts, six hits, four walks, and just one earned run in 10 innings of work over two road starts.

That set the stage for his first home start against the Akron Rubber Ducks, announced by the Baysox on June 11 for the following Tuesday, June 15. Given Rodriguez’s ability to hit triple-digits with his fastball, he’s long been known for ‘throwing gas,’ so much so that a prominent Orioles fan account on Twitter asked the Baysox if he could bring a gas can into the stadium. Two hours later, the Baysox released their official gas can policy, a first for any professional sports team.

The gas can idea quickly spread across social media before the Baysox poured gasoline on the fire by announcing a contest for best-decorated gas can at the game on Tuesday, the winner of which would win a $50 gas card.

So, I got my tickets for Grayson’s first start, stopped at my local Ace Hardware store to grab my new, unused gas can (five-gallons, of course. Go big or go home!) and headed to Bowie. Going into the stadium, I did not see a ton of other gas cans, but the usher who took my ticket clearly had, as she asked me to open the can, shake it and turn it upside down to make sure there was nothing in it. I got a lot of nods and smiles while I was walking to my seat toting a comically-large gas can, even bumping cans with a few fans on the way.

The excitement had built to a fever pitch by the time the Baysox took the field, and GrayRod did not disappoint. When he struck out the Rubber Ducks’ third batter to end the first inning, the crowd leapt up and banged their gas cans in approval. Though Rodriguez did not look as lights-out as his first two starts, giving up two earned runs, four hits and a walk in 4.2 innings, he still struck out six and hit triple digits on the stadium radar gun several times, even touching 103 on one of his Ks. Rodriguez left the game to a standing ovation from the adoring crowd, but the fun wasn’t over. The same account that inspired the gas can craze invited all of the fans who brought gas cans to meet up for a picture with Louie, the Baysox mascot.

It was truly incredible to see almost 50 Orioles fans armed with gas cans gather for a photo. We compared gas can sizes and decorations, all the while laughing about the absurdity of this event and bonding over the common hardship that is being an Orioles fan.

This is a fanbase that, as of late, is accustomed to losing. We made the playoffs three times between 2012 and 2016, with winning records in all five seasons, since then, this team has lost a lot of games. Since 2017, the Orioles have a .328 winning percentage, losing two out of every three games. At least the Orioles have been losing the right way, trading away assets in a fire sale and building the second-best farm system in the league.

Fans know that baseball is all about the long game, so we take our lumps and get our brief moments of joy when we can. And despite the second-fewest wins in the MLB, this season has had a surprising number of those moments. John Means threw a no-hitter, Trey Mancini beat cancer, and Cedric Mullins’ broke out with great hitting, consistent web gems and an unreal series against the Cleveland Indians. And the excitement has come from the minors too, with some great starts from DL Hall and ten home runs from Adley Rutschman in Bowie, and Jahmai Jones absolutely raking in Norfolk. Throw in GrayRod’s ascension, and it’s easy to see why Orioles fans are legitimately excited for this decade of baseball in Baltimore. All of that losing might finally be paying some dividends.

Fittingly, of course, the Baysox lost last night’s game, 3-2, unable to get their offense off the ground other than a 5th inning bomb from Doran Turchin.

And if that doesn’t sum up being an Orioles fan, I don’t know what will. A fun start from an exciting young pitcher, with awesome fan engagement in the form of banging gas cans, ending with an anticlimactic loss.

Best loss I’ve ever been to.

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In Hyde’s Shoes: Who Should Start in LF?

Austin Hays takes a spring training AB

In my last article, the key question was: “What have you done for me lately?” That prompted my analysis of how DJ Stewart has been on an offensive tear recently, due to his new-found ability to hit high-velocity heaters. Still, the Orioles are in a rebuild, so the focus should be far-sighted.

So, the new key question should be: “Is it better for the Orioles in the long-term to start Austin Hays or Stewart in LF?”

Looking at Hays’s whole career, his best year was definitely 2019, which was the season when he only played during September. According to Baseball Savant, he had an OPS of .947 against all pitchers, but an even higher 1.293 mark against righties. However, his OPS was only .345 against lefties. Afterwards, his splits completely reversed as his OPS was .729/.720 against lefties/righties in 2020, and are now .865/.640 in 2021. Similarly to how Austin’s performance has declined against righties over that timeframe, his run values against curveballs and four-seam fastballs have both decreased by at least four runs from 2019 to 2021. Although I am not intimately familiar with his hitting technique, I suspect that these issues could be related to him becoming more of a pull-hitter when batting for power, as opposed to hitting bombs all over the field.

My hypothesis makes sense in theory, because it is very difficult to hit fastballs far when you are unable to hit to the opposite field and let the ball travel. This is especially true when heaters are thrown at above-average velocities, which jump on right-handed hitters more quickly against right-handed pitchers. Also, pull-hitters can have issues with hitting curveballs, because it is much more probable that they would be ahead of those pitches. Often, they will hit foul balls, roll over grounders, or just whiff entirely against them, since breaking balls are the slowest pitch type. When I checked Hays’s spray charts, it became clear to me that in the past two years, he has only been able to hit for power when he pulls the ball to left field. During his one month of 2019, he had five extra base hits (XBHs) to the right half of the field. Since then, in almost four times the amount of plate appearances, he only has four opposite field XBHs.

Still, if Hays can manage to stay healthy for a long period of time and find a way to hit the ball for power to the opposite field like Trey Mancini did in 2019, then he can become an offensive force for his whole career, instead of just having that one outburst in 2019. He is already a defensive force, with nine career defensive runs saved (DRS), according to Fangraphs. In the outfield grass, there is really no way to argue that Stewart can compete with Hays, as his career DRS is negative six, which is 15 DRS lower than Hays’s.

That is why I believe that it would actually be better for the rebuild if Hays started in LF more often than Stewart. As an Orioles fan who grew up watching pitching prospects like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, and more fail to be long-term starting pitchers for the O’s, I do not want to see that happen with our current crop of young arms when they come up from the farm. They will have a much greater chance of being successful if they pitch in front of an above average defensive outfield, which Austin Hays can certainly help create. As much as I love seeing offense and feel encouraged by Stewart’s ability to hit high-velocity pitches recently, I don’t think that he should be a regular starter at a position where he may hurt the Orioles’ young pitchers.

Unfortunately, the only situation that I foresee where Stewart should get a lot of playing time without risking the progress of O’s pitching prospects is if a trade is made for Trey Mancini, as that would allow Ryan Mountcastle to play first base full-time and open up the DH spot for DJ. Trading Mancini would be absolutely heart-breaking, because of his impact on the community and his remarkable comeback story. Nevertheless, baseball is a business and our front office is run by businessmen.

Until anything changes, Brandon Hyde will have to make the decisions while being more than a businessman. He connects emotionally with his players and knows all of them more deeply than we ever will.

If you were in his shoes, who would you start regularly in LF? Would you have a platoon set up for lefty/righty matchups?

Let us know on Facebook and Twitter in the comments of the post about this article!

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Give that Fan a Podcast Ep 15 – Rebuilding & Mike Elias

Give that Fan a Podcast

This one’s pretty simple. I’m tired of explaining to people what this rebuild is all about, so I made a podcast about it. I touch on the player personnel moves Elias has made since 2018, everything going on in the Minor Leagues, player development, analytics, the importance of the international market, and so on. Unedited, raw, and passionate. I hope you enjoy it.


Thanks for listening!

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Will Crackdown Put Means in a Sticky Situation?

John Means pitches.

Major League Baseball’s newest memo outlines a 10-game (with pay) suspension policy for any players caught using foreign substances or grip enhancement. The policy is in response to the growing concern around the league surrounding the use of different substances by pitchers to obtain a better grip on the baseball, resulting in better overall pitching performances and an even deeper disadvantage for hitters.

The virtually toothless measure is likely just the first step in MLB taking a stand against pitchers using substances. In the league’s rightful push to create more batted ball events, allowing pitchers to maintain an even further advantage over hitters seems counterproductive.   

Along with the game’s natural evolution, a collision has been imminent ever since Trevor Bauer (a longtime opponent of foreign substances) decided to humiliate the league’s indifferent approach to substances by using a shortened season and jar of Spider Tack to secure himself a Cy Young Award, not to mention a $102 million contract, in the process foot-stomping his long held point that substances turn good pitchers into great ones. 

But not all grip enhancements are created equal, nor are they used by pitchers in the same way. Various blends of rosin, sunscreen, pine-tar, boiled Coca-Cola, and even dirt are used by a majority of pitchers to get a better feel on the baseball. A better mating of leather and skin results in more confidence in control, and less Kevin Pillar-style facemask requirements.

Other substances like Spider Tack practically adhere the ball to your hand. They produce a much bigger advantage and can often be identified by a sudden spike in a pitcher’s spin-rate. Typically a three to four hundred RPM increase is a tell-tale sign that a pitcher is using serious tack.

As the league elevates its penalties and enforcement, it may take some time to tell how much, if any, substance has been involved in the development of Baltimore’s young arms. Where we could see some effects sooner, is with the Orioles’ ace, John Means.

At times this season Means has been less than discrete about going to the glove in games. But there’s absolutely nothing in the numbers to suggest that it’s been anything more than to simply get a better feel on his pitches. His spin rates across all pitch types have been fairly consistent since 2019. Even the minor increases seen in 2020 were more consistent with confidence, development and mechanical tweaks than the drastic spikes typically seen when a pitcher starts using serious tack.

Nevertheless, like a lot of pitchers across the league Means may have grown accustomed to the current environment. How much MLB’s crackdown will affect these pitchers remains to be seen. While there is a physical component here, I can’t help but feel that the biggest advantage guys like John Means get from a better grip is mental. Having confidence in your pitches directly correlates to their long term success. You start having guys second guess that or who aren’t able to get a good feel on the baseball and you’ll see new problems arise.

The goal should always be fair, quality play. Yes, it’s absolutely going to take managing the hitter’s disadvantage and getting more baseballs into play to grow the game. No, that shouldn’t come at the complete cost of quality/safe pitching. There’s a balance between both worlds here, but like most changes in baseball we’ll likely have to suffer through a few really stupid rules, while we hammer out what works and make it stick.  

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Stewart & Hays – Closer Than We Think?

On May 26, I was very concerned for DJ Stewart’s sake that he would be sent down to the minor leagues and would possibly never be seen again in the orange and black, after reading this article. That was until the tables turned later that day when Austin Hays went to the Injured List (IL). 

Although I have a soft spot for both players, Stewart has always been the underdog in his competition with Hays for the LF starting spot. And no, I don’t consider Ryan Mountcastle to be a legitimate candidate, due to his negative four defensive runs (DRS) saved in LF during 2021 and some defensive plays that he has executed poorly. While Hays and Stewart were both in the minor leagues, MLB scouts determined Austin’s future value to be 45+, while DJ’s was only 40, according to Fangraphs. Hays has a 1.6 career WAR, while Stewart’s only sums to 1.1. Hays was the stronger prospect, has the more obvious athleticism, and is more well-known within the Orioles’ fanbase. Even this year, Hays has been more valuable than Stewart, because of his fantastic defensive ability. 

Still, the key question in major league baseball always seems to be: “What have you done for me lately?”

Brandon Hyde started Hays in all three games against the Rays after he came off the IL, but Austin did not register a hit the entire series. Meanwhile, Stewart has a .907 OPS in June, according to Baseball Savant, and managed to register a hit in his only start against the Rays on Sunday. So now, both players have an identical OPS of .722 this year, according to MLB.com, but Stewart’s career OPS is now .751, which is .015 higher than Hays’s mark of .736. 

Although it is somewhat unlikely that DJ will stay as hot offensively in the long-term as he has been this month, he has improved vastly in one offensive area: Hitting against average to above-average velocity fastballs. According to Baseball Savant, before 2021, Stewart had a .226 wOBA, an average exit velocity (EV) of 84.4 MPH, and a 40.3 K% against pitches thrown 94+ MPH. On the other hand, in 2021, DJ has a wOBA of .350, an EV of 87.3 MPH, and a 33.3 K% against the same set of pitch velocities. This is an enormous achievement for Stewart, and it has empowered him to become an overall average MLB hitter this year. If he can continue this overall trend, then his great eye at the plate and ability to hit heaters could allow him to grow into a very valuable batter for the O’s throughout his prime performance ages, until he becomes a free agent in 2026 as a 32-year-old. 

Still, if Stewart does not continue to hit the high-velocity fastball well and goes into any sort of slump compared to his June OPS of .907, then he will need to watch out for Hays. Austin is certainly right there with DJ and has started quite often in his O’s career. So stay tuned for my next article, where I will determine whether Hays should start over Stewart, in order to help the long-term rebuild.

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Mullins Should be an All-Star Starter

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins has been one of the lone bright spots in a terrible season for the team. Mullins boasts what could be considered to be the best start of anyone in the MLB this season, hitting .459 with a .512 on-base percentage along with a .676 slugging percentage through April 11. What’s even more of a feat is the fact that the 26-year-old had very little help around him.

Mullins didn’t have as good a month in the one to follow, with his form at the plate heading downward as he hit just .255/.336/.396 to take his batting average down by 42 points from where it was in April. Of course, the numbers were still great but, by recent standards, not as bright.

Come June, the player is back to his brilliant best. He’s 12-for-20 in his first five games this month, boasting a double, a triple, and a trio of home runs. Add those to four RBI, seven runs, and no strikeouts and we have quite the impressive All-Star candidate – especially if May’s final two games are taken into consideration.

Mullins has achieved all of this in the wake of switching his swing to the left side only during the offseason. Formerly a switch hitter, the North Carolina native had glaring issues hitting southpaws early in his career. This season, though, he’s got a batting average of and .833 OPS against left-handed pitching.

The centerfiedler had itself quite the weekend last week. Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Indians saw him impress on both sides of the ball and he neared the Orioles’ record for hits in consecutive at-bats. He reached base in 11 straight plate appearances and hit safely in nine consecutive at-bats going back to Friday night. He would go 3-for-4 with two walks as the 18-5 win was put to bed, having gone 5-for-5 on Saturday.

The player has revealed he was unaware of the streak.

“Not a single person told me anything [about the streak], probably for good reason,” he was quoted as saying. “I think it’ll hit me a little later. Right now I’m still in celebration mode with the team winning.”

“What he’s doing right now, I don’t have words for it,” manager Brandon Hyde added. “He’s doing a little bit of absolutely everything right now. When you have days like this, you relish in the moment.”

The entire team could use some of what Mullins is having right now and he has no issue sharing his confidence with his colleagues.

“There is a lot of confidence involved with being on the tear I am right now,” the center remarked. “I want to continue to spread that confidence to the rest of the team as much as I can.”

Ty Wigginton made Orioles history when he became an All-Star in 2010. He was the team’s only player in the game although he recorded an unimpressive .768 OPS at the halfway mark. A long-standing edict from MLB requires that every team send a player to the Midseason Classic. While Hyde’s Orioles might not finish with a record better than the 66-96 the Orioles posted in 2010, the team will have very little trouble deciding who to send to the All-Star Game next month. Odds on Baltimore going over or under 64.5 this season are both 5/6, with bookmakers such as Pointsbet also offering great MLB odds the rest of the term.

That isn’t to say that Mullins is the only option this season but he certainly stands head and shoulders above his peers, especially with ace John Means taking at least a few starts off to rest an achy shoulder.

As well as he’s been on the plate, Mullins has been formidable in defense as well, with his first step, pace, and instincts all impressing on a nightly basis. Mullins ranks in the 98th percentile when it comes to outs above the average and the six outs above average he’s posted in 2021 are tied for second place among all MLB outfielders, behind only Tampa Bay Rays stars Manuel Margot‘s and Brett Phillips’ nine.

Mullins’ nine stolen bases leave him tied at ninth in the league, though he only has a 69 percent success rate where it pertains to trying to steal bases as he’s been thrown out four times.

Mullins isn’t simply the best player on a bad team; what he is doing right now would be amazing for any player, especially one who was drafted in the 13th round – from Campbell University at that. The numbers he has been putting up have him in rare company and, not only is he deserving of an All-Star selection, there’s every chance he could be the American League’s starting centerfielder this year.

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Perspective Matters in Birdland

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

The perspective from which we view a situation can directly impact our assessment of it. In baseball, our opinions on gameplay could be influenced just by where were sitting.  Bang-bang plays, sweep tags, and the like; that blatantly missed third strike from the first base side could appear juuust-a-bit outside from behind home plate.

Depending on the seat, things can look different.

Orioles fans are pretty spread out these days, even with the recent return to full capacity at the Yard. Some prefer the nose bleeds, others the field level. The same can be said of their overall perspective. There’s coverage from all angles and the opinions reflect it. As the Birds rebound to open June coming off an utterly embarrassing back half of May, many fans on social media have begun to seriously debate how the team is being ran; with specific focus on the performance of Oriole’s current GM, Mike Elias.

In general, the overall attitude towards Elias and his moves since taking the job in 2018 have been fairly optimistic. When it comes to player transactions and organizational moves nothing will ever be universal within a fan base, but the “in Elias we trust” mantra has so far drowned out most criticisms.

But certain critiques are beginning to surge harder towards the surface, and they’re not exactly unfair. At what point does optimism turn into naiveté? Doesn’t the Major League product still matter, even during a prospect-based rebuild? Wouldn’t maximizing revenue (especially a year after no fans) be just as important as maintaining a high draft pick?

There’s a wide range of outcomes between World Series and laughingstock. It’s a fundamental responsibility of a team’s general manager, every year, to take actions that increase his or her team’s probability of landing up the desirable end of that range. There’s plenty of nuance to factor in here but honestly any real signs of full blown tanking, neglect, apathy, or let’s say a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs, should generally never be acceptable from a front office.

It’s also fair to say that it is far too early in the process to truly judge the outcome of anything Elias has done. But most fans armed with this defense aren’t really living by it. It’s the overly optimistic hero-worship Elias has received in some circles that’s actually most deserving of criticism. You can’t claim it’s too early to judge Elias’ work when you have a million tweets crowning him the GOAT and condemning any questioning of the rookie GM as heresy. 

Most fans guilty of this hypocrisy are most likely just dramatically hopeful, and others are simply playing the numbers. If you align yourself with every move the guy makes, you can then reference your loyalty (not to mention your genius) when he hits. It’s a mostly harmless yet widespread condition among sports fans.

As misused as the phrase is, it remains completely true that it’s unfair to judge any future success of this franchise by the current state of on-field talent at the Major League level. The O’s farm system and international programs have both taken tremendous leaps of progress and are recognized league wide as beyond promising, both much to the credit of Elias.

It’s also equally true that prioritizing the future doesn’t demand you crap on the present. Those that would hold Elias accountable for any half-ass strategies such as his approach to 2021’s starting rotation have plenty of runway here. A rebuild environment can never operate as vindication for sloppiness. It’s okay to have standards.   

I’ve heard the sentiment that nothing really matters because it’s the Orioles more this season than ever before. I hate that. I hate it for the players and the staff but especially for the fan base. There’s barely even a baseline of pride anymore and certainly no sign of dignity. The task of reinstatement ultimately starts and stops at the desk of one man.

Whether or not you think he’s executing that task effectively could depend entirely on where you’re sitting.

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Elias Just Cleaning Up Dan & Buck’s Mess

buck showalter standing by fence talking to dan duquette

It’s been REAL spicy out in these Orioles Twitter streets the last few days.  The John Means no-hitter honeymoon is officially over.

It’s easy to see why.  The team is fresh off of a fourteen game losing streak with a myriad of poor at-bats, defensive miscues, and bullpen breakdowns.  Our major league product has been uncompetitive for five seasons.  Certain players who showed promise during the COVID-shortened 2020 season have regressed.  There’s a lot of Orioles games that have been objectively tough watches, and any frustration is justified.  When things go wrong, we instinctively look to diagnose the issue and assign blame to the responsible party, and this time it seems that EVP/GM Mike Elias has been the chosen target; I find this to be misguided, but before I get into Elias’ tenure, we must first remind ourselves of the situation he inherited.

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter left behind a team whose infrastructure was derelict and in need of a total gutting.  The major league team was largely devoid of talent due to a fire sale that happened a year late.  The minor league system was barren as a result of myopic trades to continue papering over cracks in the major league roster and a “one size fits all” approach, endorsed by Showalter, that resulted in an environment that made it nigh impossible for players to be the best versions of themselves.  The gross mismanagement started during the botched 2014-15 offseason that will forever live in Birdland infamy, specifically the decisions to not re-sign Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.  The Markakis decision was particularly impactful because it was exacerbated by two mistakes:  trading two prospects (including reliever Steven Brault) to Pittsburgh for Travis Snider, and replacing the underperforming Snider by trading Zach Davies to the Brewers for Gerardo Parra, a player who was clearly outperforming his peripheral batting numbers and predictably came back to earth after the trade.  Not trading Bud Norris at peak value, while not as consequential, is exemplary of the plethora of missed opportunities to reallocate payroll and/or inject the system with younger cost-controlled players.  Nothing more needs to be said about the 2015-16 offseason than “Chris Davis,” but to be fair to Duquette, the Mark Trumbo-for-Steve Clevenger trade was a shrewd one and helped the O’s reach the Wild Card game that year.

The 2017 season in particular was unforgivable, bordering on dereliction of duty.  It was evident early on that the team was not going to be a legitimate playoff threat; the starting rotation was in a constant state of disrepair and several hitters had declined.  This would’ve been an appropriate time to hit the eject button and rebuild, but they doubled down and traded for Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham (and were rightly panned for it)!  This futile, desperate attempt to salvage that season potentially set the franchise back years.  Jonathan Schoop was at peak value.  Mychal Givens was a young, unique reliever with years of team control left.  Manny Machado was Manny Machado, but with an extra year of team control that wasn’t there when they finally did pull the trigger.  Would trading those names a year earlier have put the O’s into a situation to compete in 2021?  Probably not, but it certainly could have given them a larger talent pool to work with and made it easier for the front office that succeeded them. 

That brings us to Mike Elias.  I wholeheartedly understand fans being frustrated with what will be the fifth consecutive losing season, and third 100-loss season in four years.  Watching a losing baseball team isn’t the most cathartic experience in the world, to put it lightly – however, I feel like any ire directed at Elias is based off of unreasonable expectations.

Given the state of the team he took over as a result of what I discussed above, I just can’t see another executive, even if they were an AI designed in a lab to have every good baseball executive trait, being able to revamp the entire organization AND have a competitive major league ballclub in the same amount of time.  The state of Baltimore’s minor leagues and player development wasn’t just bad, it was obsolete. Their international scouting infrastructure wasn’t just dated, it was almost entirely ignored. The analytics department wasn’t just behind industry standards, it was ostensibly non-existent.  Just one of those issues wouldn’t be a small fix, but to have to essentially build all of these departments from the ground up AND make sure they don’t fall further behind the rest of baseball?  Imagine if the MLB team and baseball operations were children; sure the MLB team has had a three-week stretch where they failed a test and got a D on a few others, but Birdland baseball operations were sneaking out at night and stealing cars.  He’s taken the problem child and turned it into a top-10 system with a healthy analytics department and a brand new, state-of-the-art complex under construction in the Dominican Republic which is something I never thought I would see the Orioles put resources into.

Instead of being frustrated with the current state of the Orioles, try injecting a few positive affirmations into your routine.  The minor league teams are playing well.  There’s a non-zero chance that Adley Rutschman and DL Hall, among others, make Camden Yards cameos later this summer.  Mike Elias has stayed true to his word and done what he’s said he’s going to do, and it’s on the cusp of being realized. 

Sit back and enjoy.

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Counterpoint: No Need to Rush, Rebuild is on Track

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

This is a counterpoint article to my colleague Rob Shileds’ piece earlier today, Let the Kids Play.

It was former Oriole World Champion General Manager and Baltimorean Frank Cashen who said, “We in management are united by our problems and divided by our solutions.” One of the architects of the original Oriole Way was just as correct decades ago as he is today. Modern Orioles Nation can agree that the losing that defines our recent history is horrible. But O’s fans feel rather divided about the progress of the rebuild and how to grade it primarily because there’s never been an undertaking like this before.

Like Cashen said so many seasons ago, it’s a matter of which way you choose.

A few seasons ago the Orioles dealt away homegrown superstar Manny Machado thus initiating a multi-season rebuild that has yet to influence the club’s winning percentage. However, the progress beneath the surface has been consistent and monumental.

Orange & black supporters are lining up in mostly two camps, either seeing the 2021 season as a blessing with drastically improved minor leagues and player development or simply wanting those MLB results in some form or fashion as soon as possible. The second group grew appropriately feistier during a recent 14-game losing streak.

There’s nobody who feels like having a feeder system for bigger spending teams and developing talent only to see it bloom on other rosters is a path towards winning. Refusing to back up your own players with free agents and specialists from around the league is another gripe of this ‘I want to see wins now’ crowd and although I’m not in it, I see their point.

However, I’d wonder if this year’s crop of short-term deals really stands in the way of anyone in particular. Maybe Mason McCoy is improving to the point where he’s better than Pat Valaika or Freddy Galvis at certain aspects of infield play. I don’t see it, but would listen to a case being made. Either way, is that a 5th-to-1st place type of move? That’s the type of difference we get in 2021, not too impactful. Plus, moves like that are likely to happen weeks from now after July’s trade deadline. Think less Maikel Franco and more Rylan Bannon. A run to the pennant is not coming between then and now. Sure, the Orioles outfield group has shown their holes with a lack of health and performance, aside from future All-Star Cedric Mullins.

But does that mean that Yusniel Diaz has earned a big league job? Those two things may be somewhat related, but not directly, and Diaz has not ‘mastered his level’ like the O’s front office would prefer. At this point in his career, I’d prefer to see him stay active for a handful of series in a row so he can help his team. If he was playing well and showing any semblance of health, I’m confident the team would challenge him in an attempt to bring out his skills at the plate and in the field. Until then, it looks like quick-fix fans are simply trying to justify a long ago trade made by a different management group. His job is to stay in baseball shape and he can’t do that job very well as of yet. Not a criticism, just a realistic observation.

Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann are all on track to be better pitchers now and going forward than Matt Harvey and Jorge Lopez are. One group represents the future and one a band-aid. It’s easy to tell that come 2022 and beyond the lumps that these guys are taking today will be of immense benefit as they learn from mistakes. Developing their catalogs on hitters and situations is exactly what I want to see this year, whether it’s Norfolk and AAA or battling the Rays and the Yanks at Camden Yards. Besting Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan and the rest of Durham’s prospect loaded lineup was big for Kyle Bradish this past Sunday.

The thought that these young arms could carry a team at the big league level is laughable. Having them get their feet wet is one thing, but eschewing any veteran at all and having this new kiddie corps of pitchers get their ass handed to them every night is not a proven way of learning anything. There has to be some peaks to go with the valleys for guys like Kremer or they’ll get passed by the likes of Michael Baumann or Bradish. Or maybe the revolutionary no. 1 in waiting Grayson Rodriguez. Or electric DL Hall. Or the improving Blaine Knight. Or the spin rate specialist Conner Gillespie with the wonderful stats. Or the talented strikeout artist Kyle Brnovich. Or bounceback candidate Alexander Wells. You get the point.

I like to think I know the process a bit, but I want there to be some variation of majors and minors on all of these players’ respective resumés and I do trust the new regime to know when the time is right to promote. If I’m wrong, which is highly often, it’s ok because there are teams that are better than the Orioles today and no wave of young talent is changing that for a while. The club getting to that level is dependent on failing today and learning from it. How can any logical fan want to trade what looks like a productive future for a handful of wins in a worthless 2021? We each measure progress differently.

Everybody sees a player doing well in the minors and the call is to promote them or wonder why they’re so low or when they’ll be in the bigs. Hall and Oates’ ‘Can’t Go For That’ comes to mind. I just don’t see it that way. The time and the reps are so vital. Development and maximizing players’ skills is simply not something that Orioles fans are used to and doing it a new and different way is understandably requiring some adjustments for certain fans. It’s almost like losing is all they see (or expect) because that’s how it’s been. Long-term solutions require non-traditional measures to break familiar patterns. If you want to put all your hopes for the entire future in the current 40-man and be mad that it isn’t leading a team to first place you have that right. If you want to trade Tanner Scott and grumble that the O’s don’t have an official closer do it. But that doesn’t mean winning divisions year after year. What does in today’s MLB? Projectable and controllable maximized talent. Who knows what’ll happen when it’s time to spend money and buy players, but the Orioles are filling holes, not competing in that tier of market. Why criticize Mike Elias today for something he hasn’t done yet because the team doesn’t require it? Who is the free agent difference maker that the Orioles are without? That’s not rebuilding.

As usual, I’d tell you to check the box scores on the farm and support the guys who are absolutely forcing their way upwards like Joey Ortiz or Jordan Westburg. The level of instruction is so much better and effective than it has been. Results ARE coming fast. Slumps are short, performances are markedly high. Mistakes are identified and eliminated.

Look at the last two drafts and how those players have started their careers. I’d say it’s thrilling on its own, but then look at some of the Dan Duquette drafts and the new way is like night and day different than the old. The quality of player in the new Orioles minor leagues is of a standard that’s much higher than the past. Enjoy those crucial aspects of success before that late season Red Sox sweep that we all want so bad, because one doesn’t happen without the other.

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Let the Kids Play!

Keegan Akin throws a pitch

The Orioles just completed one of the worst months in franchise history and are currently in the race for the first pick to get Elijah Green in next year’s draft. We will see if that sustains (hey, they’ve won two series to start June!) as this season goes on. 

For me, this season was always going to be about development, and we are seeing a lot of great things happen in the minors so far.  On the MLB side of things, the development has been inconsistent at best.  The young pitchers have taken a step back, Ryan Mountcastle started off terribly and outside of Cedric Mullins, none of the other younger OFers have been able to stay healthy and perform at the levels at which they should be capable.

What this all spells out is that this season has been a bust so far.  Yes, we knew this year was never going to bring us a title, or even 75 wins, but there was some promise that this team would be a lot more competitive and show a lot for the long term.  This has yet to happen but obviously, there is still a lot of time left to right that ship.

Part of righting that ship falls on the shoulders of Orioles GM Mike Elias.  I have to say, I am very puzzled by the way Elias is handling the roster this year.  I was unhappy in the offseason that he made no effort to make the team better through trades or FA, outside of cheap deals for Freddy Galvis, Matt Harvey and Michael Franco.  I know his hands are tied by ownership, so there is only so much blame I have for him there. 

That being said, the way they are handling the young players, specifically the pitchers, is terrible to me.  Take a guy like Zac Lowther for example.  Zac was just called up the other day, didn’t appear in a game and was sent down.  He has been up and down multiple times this year and has been on the taxi squad as well.  All in all, Lowther has pitched less than 15 total innings all year and has only appeared in one game since May 19.  How is this developing him?  How is he learning and getting better? 

Guys like Keegan Akin, Bruce Zimmerman and Dean Kremer have also been yo-yoed up and down.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I get that some of these guys have struggled up here but so what, so has everyone else.  You have told your fans you do not care about winning games in 2021 and you acknowledge that the continued development of these guys is vital, so why aren’t we developing them? 

The Orioles have told us how great Chris Holt is.  People talk about him as being one of the best.  If that is true, why aren’t these guys up here working with him (Yes, I know he was gone for a few weeks but still)?  Guys like Akin, Kremer, Zimmerman and Lowther are old enough, mature enough and have accomplished enough in the minors to justify being here.

The current rotation has Harvey and Jorge Lopez in it.  The clock has struck midnight on Harvey and despite Lopez having a solid month of May, we all know he isn’t a ML starter in all likelihood.  So, why are we delaying things with these guys?  Let these young pitchers get a chance to play at this level for an extended period of time.  Akin and Zimmerman are in the rotation now and hopefully it stays that way. Get Kremer and Lowther up here too.

On offense, when he is healthy, get Yusniel Diaz up here.  Second base is a black hole and Tarrin Vavra is playing great in Bowie.  He is old enough and has to be added to the 40 man this offseason anyway, so let’s take a look for half a season.   And, of course, get Adley Rutschman up here.  The current talk is Adley will not play in the majors this year (a point made by Roch Kubatko and Brett Hollander on the latest Inside the Yard podcast).   To me, this makes zero sense.  At some point, I assume we want to start to win games.  You aren’t just going to bring all of these guys up at once and say ok, go win.  They need experience.  Give it to them in a year where you are terrible and aren’t trying to win.

The Orioles do not have many tough decisions to make with the 40-man roster this coming offseason.  They could cut/not re-sign as many 15 players rather easily and you could potentially add a few more to that list, not to mention guys who could be traded.  You don’t have to add that many guys this offseason.  The must adds are DL Hall, Kyle Bradish, Vavra and Kevin Smith.  There are probably about another half a dozen guys who could force their way on the roster and you also have Rutschman, who will be on the roster in 2022, if not before.  You also likely see Grayson Rodriguez, who is arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball, on the 40-man in early 2022, if not before.


The reason I mention this is because the next wave of players will be coming soon and a lot of these young arms that are ready now could easily be passed by.  That may not be a bad thing but it could also mean you have wasted them and you don’t get anything out of the resources you have. 

Not all of these guys are here to be part of the next good team.  Some of them will be but many will spend their careers elsewhere.  The O’s need to start weeding these guys and not risk losing them the way they lost Zach Pop. 

Elias loves to talk up the talent of the farm system and how we have a lot of good young arms.  Let’s stop talking about it and show them to us. 

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Stock Report: May was Rough, but Mancini Mashed

Freddy Galvis fields at shortstop

Stock Up

Trey Mancini

Following up a good month of April, Trey Mancini took it to another level in May.

To give his recent month some perspective, Mancini led all qualified designated hitters in May in average (.320), on-base percentage (.405), OPS (.993), wRC+ (176) and fWAR (1.1). Removing the positional filter, his May OPS and wRC+ both ranked in the top five in the American League. He raised his season slash line from .237/.299/.443 after April to .278/.353/.515 after May.

Simply put: he’s been among the league’s best hitters over the last month. His Baseball Savant page is also fun to look at.

Anthony Santander

Anthony Santander came off the injured list on May 21 and immediately went back to 2020 form. In his first eight games back, he went 13 for 33 with eight extra base hits and three RBI. His seven doubles over that span led MLB.

Santander’s month-long absence was felt hard in both the major league lineup and in the organization’s overall outfield depth. His injury prompted the promotion of Ryan McKenna, a .198 hitter in 28 games. With Austin Hays also having missed significant time this season, both corner outfield positions have been rotating doors with McKenna, Ryan Mountcastle and DJ Stewart splitting time. All three do some things well, but none are the complete player Santander is.

With the reigning Most Valuable Oriole back in right field, the outfield becomes more stable defensively, it relegates Stewart and McKenna to their depth roles, and it allows Mountcastle to move back to first base/DH. Santander’s bat situated behind Mancini and Cedric Mullins gives the lineup more depth and makes it more closely resemble that of an actual major-league club.

Freddy Galvis

Freddy Galvis has sneakily been one of MLB’s best shortstops this season.

Through 51 games, Galvis ranks sixth among MLB shortstops in slugging (.471), ninth in OPS (.785), sixth in wRC+ (118) and ninth in fWAR (1.4). He also ranks in the top 15 in both walk and strikeout rate as well as hard hit rate. At 31 years old, his walk rate, slugging, OPS and wRC+ are all career highs.

For a club with no long-term options at shortstop knocking on the door at the upper levels of the minor leagues, Galvis has solidified the spot for the time being, much like Jonathan Villar in 2019 and Jose Iglesias in 2020. He’s only making $1.5 million this season with no club option for next season, making him a prime trade candidate should he continue to produce among the league’s best at the position.

Stock Down

Cesar Valdez

Cesar Valdez’s nice story as a 36-year-old who tops out at 85 miles per hour and throws a change-up 79 percent of the time becoming one of baseball’s best closers has unfortunately come to an end. After sitting near the league lead in saves while allowing just two earned runs in 12.2 innings in April, Valdez’s ERA ballooned to 5.31 thanks to nine earned runs in seven May innings.

As a result, but also thanks to Paul Fry and other relievers stepping up, Valdez has been moved from the closer role and into a 7th or 8th inning guy in an effort to get him opportunities in lower leverage spots. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had much luck there either.

To sum up the Valdez experience, he should have never been good in the first place. A 36-year-old who throws one pitch and couldn’t dream of touching 90 miles per hour should never be a top closer. Yet, for a month, he was.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey became a somewhat reliable number two starter behind John Means through the first month of the season, but May was not as kind to the 32-year-old.

Looking at the monthly splits, Harvey’s walk rate increased, strikeout rate decreased, his hard hit rate doubled and he gave up over twice as many home runs in May than in April.

What was beginning to look like a career rejuvenation early on has now become more of the same since leaving New York for Harvey.

Catchers

Both Pedro Severino’s and Chance Sisco’s struggles are well documented. Offensively, both strike out more than 20 percent of the time and walk less than 10 percent, both have negative WAR totals, and neither have an OPS+ that tops 80. Neither Severino nor Sisco grade out well defensively, either. Sisco has a Runs Extra Strikes, Statcast’s catcher framing metric, of -3 and Severino a -4. Those marks rank 56th and 58th in baseball, respectively.

That’s worst and third worst in MLB, sandwiching 57th ranked Salvador Perez of Kansas City.

Severino has also allowed four passed balls this season, the fourth most in MLB. Sisco sits just behind him with three. Severino also ranks fourth league wide in wild pitches with 22, a stat that isn’t entirely on the catcher, but something the backstop should share at least some of the blame for.

So far this season, Severino and Sisco have failed to call good games behind the plate, and it doesn’t help an Orioles’ young pitching staff full of guys trying to prove they belong in the big leagues, as well as some with command issues.

Unfortunately for Sisco, his struggles were met with a demotion to Norfolk. Austin Wynns, who hit .333 with a 1.011 OPS in 15 games with the Tides this season, replaced him.

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The 5 Worst O’s Things of the Week

Trey Mancini hit by pitch

Currently, part of being an Orioles fan is accepting the reality that during this rebuild, watching the team lose games is part of the deal. It seems that many people do understand this, but plenty of people do not. One way to process something difficult is to maintain a good sense of humor about it. In that spirit, this is a new weekly feature on ESR where we talk about the five worst moments of the previous week as fans of this team. Please do not mistake this as negativity or piling on. I would also like proper recognition for the heroic undertaking of narrowing it down to only five things each week.

Lesser men would crumble under such a heavy burden, but I take my duty to Birdland very seriously.

Since this is the first installment of The Five Worst Things, here is how it will work: I present five god awful Orioles moments from the previous week in blog form, then I will tweet out a poll to vote on which moment was truly the worst. If you’re not following already, make sure to do that so you can vote in the poll and also make suggestions for worst moments in future weeks. Eventually – hopefully – this can transition to The Five Best Things, but that is entirely up to the team to force that change.

Without further ado, here are The Five Worst Moments Last Week.

Billy Hamilton Homers Off John Means

Billy Hamilton is a very fast man. That’s basically his scouting report. He steals a lot of bases and covers acres of ground in centerfield because he runs at a high rate of speed. What he does not do, generally speaking, is hit the baseball well. He has 24 home runs in his entire nine-year career as a major leaguer. His career barrel % on 1,820 batted balls is 0.5% and his average exit velocity is 81.8 mph.

On Saturday, he hit a John Means fastball 364 feet for a home run to break a 0-0 tie. This was probably the last thing anyone saw coming with Means on the mound and Hamilton at the plate.

Was it the worst moment of the week? You tell me.

Orioles Lose Literally Every Game

Did you know the O’s didn’t win last week? Pretty crazy stuff. From Monday 5/24 through Monday 5/31, the Orioles played eight games and did not emerge victorious in any of them. To make matters worse, half of those games were played against the Twins, who started the week with the same record as the Orioles.

I have very low expectations for this team in terms of their win-loss record, but failing to win a single game in a calendar week (and more) is just not going to be something with which I will ever be comfortable. Over the eight games they lost last week, two were one-run games, two were two-run games, two were three-run games, and one of each of the four and five-run loss variety. That is to say, there were definitely opportunities for victories. That is either encouraging or depressing, depending on who you ask.

I am guessing that this will be the runaway favorite for the Worst Thing Last Week.

These Hats

New Era released what they were calling the “Local Market” collection. The hats looked like a cross between a poorly-decorated Christmas Tree and a refrigerator full of magnets that had been arranged by a toddler. Clipart images of what someone decidedly not from Baltimore imagined would inspire people actually from Baltimore to shell out $40 adorned the cap randomly around the entire crown. I can confidently say that not one single person saw the hat and reacted positively to it. The feedback was so bad (by fans of every team, not just ours) that the entire line of hats were pulled from the store within a few hours of getting mercilessly roasted on Twitter.

I wish they had kept them up so that we could see one in the wild at some point, but it seems we will sadly never get this opportunity.

Mancini & Mountcastle Dinged Up

Trey Mancini took a nasty pitch off his right elbow on Thursday night, and the very last thing anyone wants to see is Trey getting hurt.

As we all well know, he spent the entirety of last year not playing baseball, but fighting cancer. He fought his ass off to get back to playing, and not only is that inconceivably impressive in and of itself, but he is playing at the same All-Star level he was at before the missed season. He doesn’t deserve this sort of thing from the universe. LEAVE TREY ALONE!!!

Additionally, Ryan Mountcastle took a 93 mph Jose Berrios pitch off the left hand on Tuesday’s game against the Twins.

You always hope when a guy gets HBP it isn’t the hand. So many tiny bones in there, way too much of a chance that something ends up broken and forces the guy to miss time. In this case, it seems like a bullet was dodged. Mountcastle did miss some time, but was back in the lineup – albeit as DH – over the weekend.

How about we just chill out with the bean balls this week? Sound good? Cool cool cool.

Black Jerseys on Not Friday

What exactly is going on with the uniform choices this year? Black jerseys are for Friday nights. That is not debatable. Who is trotting out our guys for Sunday afternoon games in the black jerseys and when will they be fired? Aside from the fact that we just do not do this, what sense does it make to wear black in the middle of the afternoon with the sun high in the sky broiling these guys to kingdom come? I know there is an affinity for black uniforms, especially here in Baltimore (for the O’s and the Ravens), but I never understand when either team wears them for a day game. Am I wrong here? I don’t have a feel for how everyone else feels about this outside of some close friends, but I am going to assume most O’s fans are on the same page with me here. Let me know how you feel about it in the poll!

So there you have it, the first ever Worst Things Last Week is in the books. Head over to the poll in the tweet above and let me know what you think was the actual worst thing.

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Patience Required in Birdland

empty baseball field with sun rising

The more I hear about Oriole fans jumping ship the less I understand about what exactly it is that they expected in 2021. A roster with less professional experience than the abbreviated 2020 group seems like it would lose at a higher rate, and the team is quite obviously committed to a complete rebuild. If these fans flipped on an Aberdeen Ironbirds game they’d be pleasantly surprised. The talent acquired since Mike Elias took over has the farm system ranks in the top handful of clubs overall. They should be even higher next year.

We here at Eutaw Street Report have penned pieces on what is happening in the minors. It’s overwhelmingly positive for long-suffering supporters, but still there is a contingent of fans who basically exist to complain and unfortunately the improving Orioles are their target. People who have access to an opinion, a keyboard, or both have every right to express how they feel. Whether it’s about a losing streak, an underperforming player or a prospect who lost their shine seasons ago, there’s nothing wrong with airing it out.

But at some point you have to look at the forest and see that your issues with the team begin with your expectations and how unreasonable they are. This season should sting. Looking at the Orioles roster for 2021, they had lost pros who contributed and some who stood out statistically. Renato Nunez and Hanser Alberto were not franchise cornerstones, but you could depend on them on some level so fans started to trust them. This year, on another rebuilding club, the Tigers, half of Nunez’ hits have cleared the fence, but he’s four-for-27 with eight strikeouts. Alberto, on KC, is contributing more on a slightly better team and he’s batting .258 in 85 ABs but with no home runs or walks. I miss Jose Iglesias’ defense a great deal and enjoyed watching him work on that serious major league skill day in and day out. Replacing him with Freddy Galvis didn’t seem an even exchange, and we have the rest of the season to measure that – if we care (have to be honest: I don’t).

Adding in Maikel Franco to any situation in 2021 baseball doesn’t seem like a solution no matter the cost or rationale behind acquiring him. Watching that play out is less than pleasing, nobody will deny that.

Anyone who is paying attention should have started the season thinking “this is going to be the worst MLB year for the rebuild,” and I’m having trouble seeing how anyone at all sees it differently.

There are better storylines to follow in the Delmarva dugout and that’s where my focus lies. The thinking behind that is pretty much that, although the big club is learning on the fly against the best players in the world (Dean Kremer comes immediately to mind), the best players in my colors happen to be playing on the Eastern shore or in Bowie.

I absolutely shudder to think about who would be leading these efforts had Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter not exited when they did. Do complaining fans really want it like it was back then? Because the O’s developed nobody, couldn’t retain any semblance of talent even in situations like Manny Machado‘s, and laid the groundwork to succeed for short windows at a time if at all. If that was the case today like some are pining for, well then the team would be in last, among the worst in the sport and there would be nobody behind them at all from AAA down.

Sure, 2017 was bad after the little 2012-2016 lift, but the drafts were empty, the players not developed and the international market avoided entirely! If you want it that way, then complain away and prove that you simply can’t focus on the good. Because it’s improving each and every day, like you’d want in a rebuild.

The Orioles’ catchers are a topic of consistent complaint. Understood. I’m happy to remind you that Adley Rutschman exists. The bridge to him might be paved with an offensively advanced Brett Cumberland too. Behind them, Maverick Handley, Jordan Cannon, and Chris Burgess. Maybe they’ll draft one this year as well. There’s a great hitter at Louisville, Henry Davis. He may be there at pick #5. Be excited over that instead of griping over Chance Sisco. Does anyone with any semblance of logic think that because Sisco is playing on a last place team in May of 2021 that he’ll be there in 2022 or beyond? Or do they think that calling up Austin Wynns from Norfolk puts the Orioles on the same level as the league’s championship contenders?

Winning trades and acquisitions for the most part since he entered his role as chief rebuilder, Elias has focused on regional scouting and the recent draft looks to be an absolute and convincing victory. Hudson Haskin hustles his butt off, Jordan Westburg is a mature and experienced OPS machine in the box, and Anthony Servideo has refined plate and glove skills that shine through nightly. The stats portend future contributors…but there’s more. Intelligence, good decisions, hustle and lots of defense happen all up and down the lineup at Perdue Stadium. Watch them and be very happy about their soon to come ascension.

The team also drafted Coby Mayo, a defensive lineman-dsized teenager who plays corner and will be hitting in a prime spot on a championship defending Rookie level affiliate. More big positives. Sure, the only pitcher they drafted, Carter Baumler, had his development sidetracked by Tommy John surgery, but Baumler is young and will have the benefits of a healthier and repaired elbow going forward.

Also, the minor league pitching doesn’t exactly need Baumler today, as lots of guys are showing that the year off from games did not take away from their skills. Notably, Grayson Rodriguez has been bumped up to Bowie from Aberdeen and has been discussed as the top prospect arm in the entire sport after carving up high-A hitters for a handful of starts.

Please focus some of your baseball attention to that elite Baysox team! The nucleus of Grayson, elite lefty DL Hall, Rutschman mixed with righty Mike Baumann is as thrilling a group as you can watch play night in and night out. Why wouldn’t you, because you want to watch the O’s?Well guess what. You ARE watching the O’s, they’re just a few years away!

And as the season goes on, even that is changing. Zac Lowther, Bruce Zimmermann, Ryan McKenna, and others have all made their debuts in 2021. More are coming. The contributors whose skills are shining through like John Means, Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini in addition to Austin Hays (when healthy) are all products of the Orioles player development system. Realize this. There are success stories being written. They are not adding up to first place, or even fourth. This is getting to be a theme with me, but this year was coming and the fact that it’s happening and hurts today shouldn’t change anyone’s focus. The future is going to include a lot of winning baseball, the exact way that you and I want it.

Complaining about Dean Kremer is your right. Zach Pop is in the Marlins pen, not the Birds’. Firing Brandon Hyde is something you can ponder if you want.

Not me. I’m turning on the Tides game and you can too. In fact I recommend it.

Something I Noticed And Had To Include

Living in Florida and loving baseball, I go to lots of minor league games. This past week a foul ball was hit and landed at my feet where I was seated at the front of my section. I picked it up and turned around to find a kid to give it to and couldn’t find one. Turned over the other shoulder and again, nobody under 35-40. Eventually one found me and I happily handed over the freebie.

Please, please take your kids to lots of games. The minors costs you about 15-20 dollars per child or less and the experience is worth so much more than money. It really bothered me that nobody young was there watching the home runs, strikeouts and diving catches that I was. Zimmermann was one of those kids. You could be shaping the beginning of the next Orioles superstar or fan so start the journey young and do it often. They’re not all going to remember that Greg Leg knocked in Gary Trembley at that Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons game they saw at age 11 on a camp trip in the Poconos but they might turn out to be a fan on a normal, socially acceptable level and that’s a wonderful quality in any person.

If you’re even considering a trip to a minor league game stop thinking and go. The music, the food, the mascots and the environment will make a great memory for your future baseball lover even if the score is ‘unfamiliar’. I watched an 18-11 game with my dog Scooter sleeping at my side front row center as the future of the Cardinals lost to a few of the Pirates top prospects a few nights ago. If baseball is going to stay great, young fans loving the game will make that happen. I encourage you to play your part. Get those kids to the games!

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Grayson Rodriguez Headed to Bowie

Grayson Rodriguez

As the major league sqaud continues to be an embarrassment, losing ten straight and 17 of 19 since John Means‘ no-hitter back on May 5, Birdland is forced to look to the minors for some optimism. Fortunately, for the first time in a very, very long time, there is plenty of that to go around down on the farm.

The AA Bowie Baysox are 15-5. The high-A Aberdeen Ironbirds are 14-7. The low-A Delmarva Shorebirds are 15-6. The O’s have the fifth-ranked farm system in baseball, per MLB.com, and are right around there in every publication you will find. Things are indeed looking up, if you know where to focus your attention.

While the COVID-19 pandemic screwed up life all over the planet for pretty much everybody, here on a baseball blog we will focus on how it affected well, baseball players. These young prospects lost a year of development, and guys like Adley Rutschman and others are finding themselves starting the 2021 campaign at a lower level than perhaps they would have expected to be this season back when they were drafted.

As a result, Orioles GM Mike Elias has maybe been a bit more lenient with his promotions than in the past. We’ve already seen Kyle Bradish, acquired from the Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade, promoted to AAA Norfolk after three scoreless starts (13.2 IP, 26 K) in Bowie. At 24, Bradish would have absolutely started this season in Norfolk during normal times.

Now it seems that it’s Grayson Rodriguez‘s turn to get an early promotion. G-Rod, the Birds’ first-round pick in 2018, turned 21 in November, and has been making batters look silly for years. He has a career 2.30 ERA over 136.2 minor-league innings, and has looked as good as ever in 2021. In five starts for Aberdeen, he’s 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 40 strikeouts to five walks over 23.1 innings.

This morning on 105.7 the Fan, Elias said that Grayson will make his next start for the Bowie Baysox.

The big righty is taking his talents to PG County, and we’re all excited to see how he does against better competition. With stuff like this, we should all be quite confident.

As for other prospects, there is plenty to watch. Gunnar Henderson, 2019 second-round shortstop , is hitting .320 with six homers and a 1.028 OPS for the Shorebirds. DL Hall has 31 strikeouts in 16 innings for Bowie. Second baseman Terrin Vavra, a third-rounder of the Rockies in 2018 who was acquired in the Mychal Givens trade, has a .954 OPS for the Baysox. Of course there is Adley, who has a .905 OPS and four homers, one of which went off his own face.

So head on out to one of the O’s minor league affiliates and take in a game or two. You’ll feel a lot better about the Baltimore baseball organization as a whole.

And congratulations to Grayson Rodriguez on a well-deserved promotion. Here’s to the next one!

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Streaker at the Gnats Game

DC Streaker

During last night’s rain delay in Washington, D.C., a brave streaker took the field and one-upped O’s legend Rick Dempsey. Not only did he use the tarp as a slip ‘n slide, he did so while naked, then hid in the tarp.

A couple views of the action:

More entertaining than most anything the O’s have put on the diamond lately.

The O’s try to avoid losing their tenth straight today as they begin a four-game set with the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox.

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More Barrels on Fewer Swings for New & Improved Mullins

Throughout his minor and major league career, Cedric Mullins was your typical singles-hitting, glove-first, speedster center fielder. The defensive prowess was always obvious, whereas the well-roundedness at the plate that he is now showing was not.

The changes Mullins has gone through in recent months are well known. After an offseason spent with private hitting coach Rick Strickland in 2019, Mullins came into the 2020 season with some adjustments to his swing that he’s stuck with into 2021. His decision to abandon switch hitting is also widely known as he’s gone exclusively left handed, his natural side and the one at which he’s always been most comfortable and effective.

Mullins career as left vs. right: .264/.323/.422, 10 HR, 104 wRC+

Mullins career as right vs. left: .147/.250/.189, 1 HR, 26 wRC+

With the help of the two aforementioned adjustments, Mullins, still the elite defender, has expanded his game to become that more complete hitter this season.

First, the power numbers have risen. His slugging percentage of .476 entering Thursday is 69 points higher than his previous career high. He has twice as many home runs as last season in the same number of games played, and his 20 extra base hits shatter his previous career high of 13 in 2018.

For Mullins, the rise in power is simply a result of putting the barrel to the ball more frequently. His barrel rate of 4.8 percent, although still below league average, still far exceeds his mark of 2.8 last season and his sweet spot rate of 34.9 percent is over 10 points higher than last season.

His ability to hit for power even against secondary pitches has also improved dramatically. He’s slugged .464 against breaking balls and .615 on off-speeds, up from .233 and .318, respectively, a season ago. It’s led to him being able to drive those secondary pitches, often out of the strike zone, that he previously struggled facing. These are breakdowns of Mullins’ swings per hard hit by zone. On the left is 2021, the right is 2020.

To complement the uptick in power, Mullins has also significantly improved upon his plate discipline.

Mullins has walked 21 times this season in 211 plate appearances, a career high 9.7 percent rate. It may not seem like a lot, and that’s because it isn’t. That rate ranks in the 57th percentile league wide, so just a tick above average. What jumps out, however, is the fact that he walked at just a 5.2 percent rate in 2020, finishing in the bottom 12th percent in the league.

As you scroll further down his Baseball Savant page, the plate discipline metrics for Mullins this season are fascinating.

What stands out initially is the decrease in first pitch swing rate, down to just over 24 percent from 34 percent last season. Also down are the percent of pitches he swings at in the zone, as well as the number of pitches he chases.

Not only has Mullins become more patient at the plate, but also more selective, swinging at fewer pitches both outside and inside the zone. That change has allowed him to work deeper into counts and see more pitches before finding one to put the bat on. The ability to lay off the first pitch, not chase after balls and be willing to take walks was missing from Mullins’ approach. He’s not only improved, but gone from one of the league’s worst at those things to above average at them this season.

The common theme in both the power and discipline numbers from Mullins are that neither are elite, but they don’t need to be. To date, the extra base hits and walks have never been a part of Mullins’ skillset. As I’ve noted previously, he ranked near the bottom of the league in most power and plate discipline metrics. He’ll never be a 30 home run hitter that walks more than he strikes out, but going from near the bottom to just slightly above average in those areas is enough of an improvement to turn Mullins into the well-rounded, more complete player he’s been in 2021.

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Trey Mancini Catching Fire

Trey Mancini swinging his bat.

A couple nights ago, Trey Mancini had a phenomenal game, going 4-for-5 with two home runs, a bases loaded double, and a single. Thursday, Mancini was responsible for the lone run of the game with a home run in the 4th as the Orioles were blown out 10-1. His six RBI over two days was unfortunately not enough to prevent two losses, but still earned some great publicity and praise for Trey’s hot bat. On Friday night in DC, he added two more doubles, accounting for half of the Orioles’ four hits in another loss. His last few games only solidified an incredible month of May. In his past 17 games, Mancini is hitting .328, has 22 RBI, 22 hits in 67 at bats, and five home runs. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he leads MLB in RBI with a season total of 39. Out of the 18 total games he’s played in May, there are only five games where he didn’t have at least one RBI.

This is such a great thing to see out of Trey because he got out to a bit of a slow start this year. He was getting a lot of well-deserved attention for beating colon cancer, but he seemed frustrated with his play at the plate. When April concluded, he was hitting .237 and had 17 RBIs. Don’t get me wrong, 17 RBI is solid, but he already has more than that 2/3s into May. Meaning he has five more RBI in 30 fewer at bats when comparing May to April. His average has also steadily increased in May, where he now sits at .281 for the season. And now he’s in the news for how great he is at baseball, which is something you love to see. The european football championship 2020 predictions could come to fruition, but likely won’t have any stories as inspiring as Trey’s.

Recently, it’s been easy to forget how much Trey went through last year just because he doesn’t show any signs of anything wrong in his play. He’s been very confident and poised at the plate and in the field. When asked about his solid performance and how far he’s come from last year he said, “I do reflect a lot on last year as much as I’ve tried to move on, it’s hard not to look back and say, ‘a year ago today I was going in for this cycle of treatments.’ I’m definitely much happier to be here in 2021 playing baseball and it’s something I definitely don’t take for granted.”

Finally hitting double-digit homers on the year this week against the Rays, Mancini looks to keep his bat hot and get the O’s back into the win column. Now if only he could get some help…

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The Trey Mancini Dilemma

After what was certainly the hardest year of his life, Trey Mancini has come back to the Orioles and looks like the guy we saw in 2019.  During that season, Trey was one of the best 30 or so offensive players in the sport by nearly every metric.  The idea that he could even play in 2021 was far from everyone’s mind this time last year.  We were hoping that he would survive and continue to live his life, much less if he could continue to play the game.

Instead, not only did he kick cancer’s ass, he has come back and is currently leading the majors in RBIs.  He is top 30 in wRC+ and top 50 in many main offensive categories and considering his slow start, its impressive how quickly he has risen up the rankings.  He is currently on pace to be a similar offensive player in 2021 as he was in 2019. 

The question is, will he be an Oriole for the entire 2021 season?  And if he is, will he be one for 2022?  This is going to be a very tough call for Orioles GM Mike Elias to make.  Elias has shown himself to be pretty cold blooded, which is a trait I think you have to have to be a successful GM.  Trey has an amazing story but is it one that will matter to Elias at the end of the day?

Trey is set to become a free agent after the 2022 season.  He figures to make somewhere in the $8-10 million range in his final year of arbitration in 2022.  That is a number that shouldn’t scare off the Orioles, but we have certainly seen them trade away guys making less money.  Elias continues to talk about adding inventory and trading Mancini could help with that.

You also have the added aspect of where Mancini plays.  He is a DH/1st base guy and the team has those types of players in reserve.  Despite his slow start, Ryan Mountcastle (whose ceiling is probably what Mancini already is but he’s younger, cheaper and has more speed on the bases) looks like the guy they will lean on to be the first baseman for a while.  The team has plenty of options at DH and the corner outfield positions as well.  Of course, none of those guys are as good as Mancini now and the team figures to want to start being a contender soon, so keeping Mancini could obviously help with that.

Next up, the questions of how much Trey would be worth to other teams and whether or not he is worth more to the Orioles than they can get back. The latter is a very real question to ask.  I think it’s very possible that the deals are not good enough to move Mancini at the upcoming trade deadline.  Teams could definitely want to see Mancini play more, to make sure the treatments from last year (and the lost season) don’t catch up to him in the second half.  They also perhaps want to give things more time to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back.  It should go without saying that it’s terrible to think that way but the cold reality here is that it is a business and teams could definitely be wary of trading too much with that potential hanging over their heads.

Elias has traded a lot of players since he came here but none of them have been the fan favorite Mancini is.  None of them have his story.  That makes this decision tougher for Elias.  And, you also have the decision of, if you don’t trade him, what do you do then? 

The Orioles don’t figure to be contenders in 2022 but I do believe they can be a .500-ish team (with or w/o Trey) and they can contend for a WC (or more) in 2023.  It is fair to say that they are in better position to do that with Trey because so many of the other alternatives are unknowns, especially because of their injury histories.  Of course, you can also say that about Mancini.  A team trading for him takes the risk that the cancer doesn’t come back, but the Birds also take the same risk if they decide to keep him. 

It is also fair to say that the team can contend without Mancini and that perhaps what they get in return ends up being more valuable than Trey himself.   Plus, for him to be here after 2022, they’d have to extend him. Putting aside the cancer issue, do you really want to extend him?  He turns 30 before next season starts.  He doesn’t provide a lot of value on the bases or in the field.  How much is that player worth?  Do you want to get into a multi-year deal with a player who will start that deal on the wrong side of 30 and doesn’t provide a lot of value outside of what he does at the plate?  In 2019, that value was worth an fWAR of just under 4, so in that case, the answer to that question is “yes.”

But will he have another year like that and if he does, how frequent will it be as he gets into his early 30s?

Elias is likely staring at his two most difficult decisions as a GM in a few months: does he trade Mancini and/or John Means?  In the past, the answer to those questions was a yes.  He has not hesitated to do what he feels is best for the long term future of the club.  But now that the contending window is about to open (hopefully), those questions become harder to answer. 

Couple that with how Trey is viewed by the fans and what he has gone through and this is a call that will be incredibly tough to make. The natives are already getting a bit restless as the team flounders here in late May. Despite plenty of positive signs down on the farm, Birdland is ready to see the rebuild start to show at least a few returns at the MLB level. With that not being the case here so far in 2021, trading away a fan favorite like Mancini could lead to even further fan revolt.

As with anything, it will depend on what Elias can get back in trade but you almost wonder if there is a trade out there that is enough for him to pull the trigger.

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