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O’s Observations: Handing Out Some First-Month(ish) Superlatives

Gunnar Henderson Colton Cowser line
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April was a fun month for the Orioles. They ended April 19-10 in the lead in the AL East. If anyone had any worries about potential regression for these Birds, they are sorely mistaken. This team has that truly special potential, the kind that only four or so teams have in the league. This is a World Series-caliber roster, and yes, it is time for us not to be afraid to say that.

They did a lot of things well in the first month. However, some things will need to improve if they want to reach the top of the food chain in the MLB.

So today, we are breaking down the offense, the starting pitching, and the bullpen.

We will also give superlatives for these categories.


Overall Grade/Outlook: B+

If you hear that in the distance, it is the sound of a billion Orioles fans grabbing their pitchforks and torches and coming to get me because of this grade. This doesn’t make sense in many ways, but I have my reasons.

If you go off Fangraphs, the Orioles have the third-best offense in the league overall. They rank near the top of every offensive category, but the main thing they do well is hit the ball hard. They led MLB through April in HR, ISO, and Slugging. They also graded out well in WRC+. Where 100 is the league average, they had 118, ranking them third highest.

Fancy Stats for Dummies: What the Heck are wRC & wRC+?

So what is the issue then? Well, here is what I found: a consistency problem. The Orioles have had 14 games this year when they score four runs or less. So that means that 14 of the 34 games played have been what I consider underwhelming performances. This offense should be scoring runs consistently. Now, they have 12 games that are regarded as blowouts (winning by five runs or more), so some may say that it evens it out, but there needs to be more consistency. The Orioles offense has this thing where they either score five or more runs or do little to no scoring. I just wish we could find a middle ground here.

An issue I found somewhat surprising is that their on-base percentage is low. At .310, it’s middle of the pack, and their walk rate is meager, ranking 29th in Baseball. Only the dreadful Marlins have a worse walk rate. By OPS, they’re fourth in MLB, but that is with some of the best power numbers in the league.

Another issue is this offense’s Clutch factor: they ranked 16th in Clutch on FanGraphs. Again, not terrible, but with this talent, you expect them to be higher on the list. This is a good offense, no doubt, but I think many of the numbers are being skewed by those blowout wins especially over the Angels, Twins, and the series in Boston.

Overall, there is plenty to be excited about with the bats. Let’s hope for more consistency and some positive regression in the walk category (which we may have started to see this weekend – they walked 11 times in the three-game set.)

Best Performer: Gunnar Henderson

Early on, I predicted Gunnar Henderson would be the best player on the Orioles roster, and that prediction looks spot on through a month. Gunnar was on a heater early this year. He has annihilated righties, but there is also a new development: he hits lefties now as well. In fact, he’s actually hit lefties better so far. He also has played good defense at shortstop.

The most underrated aspect of his game is his baserunning. He doesn’t have the stolen base numbers, but his base running value is top of the league. He takes extra bases a ton when running and is in the 90th percentile in sprint speed. Gunnar wrapped up April by winning AL Player of the Month and becoming one of the youngest players to hit ten home runs in the first month of the Season.

He has easily been the best performer on offense.

Most Surprising: Colton Cowser

Repeat after me, ladies and gentlemen: never doubt a player after their first thirty games. Colton Cowser has played like the player he was in the minors this year after taking over for Austin Hays in left field during the Boston series. He has beaten the ever-living life out of the baseball and managed a .928 OPS. He also had six home runs and is barreling up nearly everything he hits.

While he slowed down as the month progressed, and he does strike out and whiff a ton, there wasn’t a better player for this category. While Jordan Westburg does deserve a shoutout, his numbers were not quite as surprising based on what we saw in 2023.

Most disappointing: Cedric Mullins

This one was hard to choose from. I could have selected Jackson Holliday here, but he only played ten games. Ramon Urias was also a good choice, but he doesn’t even start every day. Ditto Austin Hays, who got hurt/benched.

So I wanted to choose an everyday player, and it came down to two: Cedric Mullins or Anthony Santander. Mullins had the weaker numbers offensively, so here he is.

What is the value of Cedric Mullins right now, Orioles fans? Yes, he plays great defense and runs the bases, but right now, he looks like a number nine hitter in a great lineup. He has a .665 OPS, isn’t getting on base, and isn’t hitting the ball hard at all. Remember, he had a hot streak mixed in with these numbers, so they could look even worse. He has a 92 WRC+, and watching him try to hit is painful. He is also nearly unplayable against lefties. Mullins’s issue is that when he slumps, he does nothing offensively. This isn’t the time nor place to ask what the future holds for him with the organization because they like him enough not to bench him completely. It has been three years since the 30/30 season, and ever since, he has been underwhelming offensively.

He might just be a number nine hitter who plays defense and can get hot, but clearly, we should lower our expectations.

Starting Pitching

Overall Grade/Outlook: A-

This might seem high to some, but let me explain. The starting pitching has been much better when you consider the circumstances of losing Kyle Bradish, a Cy Young contender, and John Means, a former ace, early on. They have a top-five ERA and a top-six FIP. It is encouraging that they have the sixth-best xFIP in the league, according to FanGraphs, so they are better than the basic stats, and the under-the-hood numbers tell the same story. They have the fourth-lowest runs allowed and the seventh-highest strikeouts in the league.

The problem is that they give up a lot of home runs (third highest in the league). However, let’s look at SIERA, a more advanced version of FIP, and a really good stat to judge a rotation. These numbers try to eliminate the unluckiness inherent in pitching and the rotation ranks 6th best in baseball (and that was before their amazing weekend in Cincy).

With Bradish and Means back and pitching like they did in their respective first outings, it’s fine to be optimistic here. All things considered, the rotation has answered the call.

Best Performer: Corbin Burnes

I wanted to be take-y and put Grayson Rodriguez here, but I just can’t. Corbin Burnes might win his second Cy Young this year. That’s how good he has been. He does have an issue with home runs, but that is really the only thing negative to say. He has a low ERA and high strikeout percentage and has consistently limited the damage. Sure, he can have a bad inning, but he usually rebounds from it to put together a great start. That is the essence of an Ace. Burnes was acquired to give this team a stopper, a guy to hang your hat on, and he has been just that.

Most Surprising: Albert Suarez

This might be the most surprising player on the list today. Albert Suarez has been a gift for the Orioles in relief of Tyler Wells. He has one big issue in that when he gets contact, it is hard contact, which does point to regression, but a 2.04 ERA is still really good, especially when he has no expectations on him. He also has a high Whiff Percentage, and his change-up is one of the better off-speed pitches in the league.

I don’t care what you say, you take that any day of the week. The Orioles are moving him to the bullpen, so let’s see what value he can add to the team now that the rotation is mostly healthy again.

Most Disappointing: Tyler Wells

I feel a little bad considering he is hurt now, but this was the only clear answer in a good rotation. If we learned anything, it’s that Tyler Wells isn’t a starter for this team anymore. His best value when he comes back will be in the bullpen. It seems like his high FIP has caught up to Wells and the regression monster shows no mercy. Baseball is a tough sport, but it seems clear that Wells needs to be a full-time reliever. He just can’t limit the hard contact on his pitches and his control wasn’t that good either.

Wells seems destined for the bullpen. He’s performed out there in the past, and they could use his help.

Which leads us to…


Overall Outlook/Grade: D

This is harsh, but it is a justified grade. The bullpen got off to a great start until it collapsed in Kansas City and the Oakland Series. I have counted at least seven games in which they made a game out of reach close or completely pooped their pants and caused a loss. That is way too many for this early in the season.

While they are hot right now,  and the health of the rotation will have a positive impact on the bullpen, and they are getting Cionel Perez back as well. But those series are just too much to ignore. Craig Kimbrel’s usage has also hurt the team this year; while I think he has been good outside of the Oakland and Angels series, he can’t go multiple innings like Felix Bautista could. That is the essence of the issue right now: the team is still managed like Bautista is the closer, which leads to these issues. Kimbrel can’t be used for multiple innings, so a new pitcher has to be used for the 10th, which has caused a bad extra-innings record. He also seems to have trouble pitching two nights in a row. Unfortunately, Felix isn’t walking out of that bullpen anytime soon, and it has been a ride to see how the team has navigated his injury. It hasn’t been smooth.

Maybe that was a given; it would never be easy to replace Felix, but that doesn’t mean bad performances by the bullpen are excusable.

Best Performer: Keegan Akin/Danny Coulombe

That was a lot of negativity, so let’s turn it around. I couldn’t choose a clear favorite here, so I gave it to both Keegan Akin and Danny Coulombe. These guys have been nails for the most part. Yes, even the bullpen struggles seep into the good performances. Akin had a huge blowup inning in that KC series and Coloumbe has given up a few too many home runs for my liking, but these guys have been good so far.

Most Surprising: Jacob Webb

Jacob Webb is on here for that Yankee series he had, where he looked like Felix. His ERA and FIP are low, and he has kept his hard-hit rate low. He has only allowed one home run this year and is seemingly getting better. I understand he might not be trustworthy yet, but the results say he should see more high-leverage work.

Most Disappointing: Mike Baumann/Dillon Tate

I could have put so many players in this section, but I chose the two who disappointed me the most. If you want to put Kimbrel here, that is fine, but he has been good outside three games. Mike Baumann terrifies me, and not like in a “he is a scary guy” kind of way. In a way that I cringe every time Brandon Hyde calls his name, and he comes running out of the bullpen. This guy is not good, and no numbers will convince me otherwise. He is the most untrustworthy pitcher on the team right now, no contest. His ERA and FIP are over four, and I don’t care if his expected stats are slightly better. The biggest problem is that he allows some of the hardest contact in the league, and he can be out of control, like in that game in Pittsburgh, or yesterday in an 11-0 game in Cincy. His curveball and fastball get annihilated, and the only reason he is still here is because he is out of options. His fastball somehow has good movement profiles that will make him look good if he hits waivers, meaning that the Orioles risk losing him for nothing.

At least he is still with the team right now. Talking about Dillon Tate makes me sad. He was a horse for the Orioles in 2022, but since then, he has done little to nothing. I understand sending him down was a bit of roster manipulation, but his advanced metrics are the worst among qualified relievers in the bullpen. While everyone has a share of blame for the way they have struggled, these two are the leading candidates for being the most untrustworthy.

This breakdown probably wasn’t what you were expecting, and that is fine. I know people will complain that I was too hard on the offense while I cut the starting pitch too much slack.

This team can win the World Series, but to do that, they will have to become more consistent on offense and figure out a way to better manage the back end of the bullpen.

One Response

  1. “Managed like Felix Bautista is still the closer.” Perfect. I’ve struggled to find the right way to describe Hyde’s bullpen struggles (other than he acts like he’s blind sometimes. If you’re just going to follow metrics, we can just use a computer to manage.) But you described it perfectly. BTW, I’m an ’83 Towson Mass Comm Grad. (Few years earlier than you.)

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One Response

  1. “Managed like Felix Bautista is still the closer.” Perfect. I’ve struggled to find the right way to describe Hyde’s bullpen struggles (other than he acts like he’s blind sometimes. If you’re just going to follow metrics, we can just use a computer to manage.) But you described it perfectly. BTW, I’m an ’83 Towson Mass Comm Grad. (Few years earlier than you.)

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