In a frustrating 2019 campaign, the first year of a long rebuild that the Orioles are undergoing, it’s critical for fans to follow the exciting stories. They’re few and far between, that’s for sure, but it’s on us to enjoy them when we see them.
To that point, there’s no easier story to enjoy than the emergence of John Means, the Orioles’ new ace.
As the O’s All-Star representative, Means has quickly become a fan favorite and a household name in Baltimore. That’s impressive, especially given the fact that he’s a rookie on the league’s worst team.
But while we all know Means has been good this year, I don’t think enough people are talking about how good he’s been.
For as long as I can remember, Baltimore has been complaining about the genuine lack of top-of-the-rotation arms on the Orioles roster. This year, we’ve got that.
In realizing that, I took a look at how Means’ season stacks up against those of some past players, and my resulting take is steaming: John Means is having the best season on the mound since Erik Bedard’s 2007 campaign.
To this point, John Means has pitched to a 7-4 record and a 2.50 ERA, a number that would be 2nd in the American League had he pitched a few more innings. Twelve years ago in 2007, Bedard finished 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA, obviously an extremely strong season.
Of course, Means is technically on track to finish with a better ERA, but I’m holding the belief that his ERA may balloon a bit with one or two uncharacteristically poor outings down the road. If that happens, these two guys will end up with very similar seasons by those metrics.
Digging into some more analytical results, it’s noteworthy that Bedard sported a 3.88 K/BB ratio, finishing with an impressive 221 strikeouts in 182 innings pitched. This is where Bedard definitely has a statistical advantage over Means, who thus far has 69 punchouts in 82.2 innings. At the same time, these guys are two are pretty different pitchers, with Means pitching to contact more than not.
The last metric I’ll use to compare these two seasons is WHIP, because these results are uncanny. While Bedard finished 2007 with a clean 1.09 WHIP, John Means is sitting pretty with a 1.08 WHIP to this point.
For me, this statistic is extremely important, as it shows how dominant and consistent a pitcher is. In both of these seasons, the man on the mound was or is a model of consistency.
There are a few potential rebuttals to my take that I want to review, all of which were in that window of Orioles success that we miss so deeply today.
First, Chris Tillman posted a 2.93 ERA in 2012 while making 15 starts. This definitely is a strong year, especially considering his 1.04 WHIP, but Tillman only threw 86 innings, which is essentially where Means sits so far.
Unless Means blows up in his next start, he’ll have posted a better ERA in more innings, so his season should be compared to bigger and better ones than Tillman’s 2012 year.
Next, in the same 2012 year that saw the O’s return to relevance, Miguel Gonzalez provided yearlong stability while pitching to a 9-4 record in 18 games. While three of these appearances were out of the pen, Gonzalez finished with a 3.25 ERA in 105.1 innings.
Again, Gonzalez didn’t start for a full season, which is what Means will be hoping to do. On top of that, however, Means’ ERA and WHIP could be significantly better than those with which Gonzalez finished, so his year has been more impressive.
Third, moving forward to 2014 when the birds were a legitimate contender, Gonzalez doubled down on his 2012 performance and put up a 10-9 record with a 3.23 ERA in 26 starts, a full year’s work.
Even still, Means should be in a position to maintain a better ERA, and that alone may make his season better. Furthermore, however, Gonzalez’s WHIP in 2014 was 1.29, a number much higher than the one Means will post if he stays steady on the bump.
Finally, sticking with 2014, I think it’s worth looking at the man who was viewed as the Orioles’ ace: Wei-Yin Chen. In my opinion, this is actually the best case against John Means’ 2019 campaign being the strongest since that of 2007 Bedard, as Chen was consistently relied upon and would come through regularly.
Finishing 16-6, it felt like each time Chen took the mound, the Orioles were set for a win, and more times than not, that was the case. Chen was the stopper in his strongest year, and I’d say that’s what Means has been, if you can have a stopper on a downright awful team.
What makes Means’ year better comes down to sheer statistics, though, as his are far more impressive at a glance than those Chen posted. With a 3.54 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, Chen’s year doesn’t appear to have been nearly as good as the one Means is working toward nor the one Bedard completed.
At the same time, I think we’d all give up both Bedard’s and Means’ individual seasons combined to have a few more of the competitive team seasons like that 2012 campaign.
Here’s to seeing some that are similar in a few years, with John Means leading the way.