With the final month of the regular baseball season upon us, let’s take a look at how the Baltimore Orioles have fared in their first rebuilding year of the Mike Elias Era.
Hired away from the Houston Astros as Baltimore’s general manager, Elias’ first task was to sort through the players that survived last season’s roster purge . Holdovers, like Jonathan Villar, Renato Nunez, Trey Mancini, Chance Sisco, Chris Davis and Cedric Mullins, were given ample playing time to show whether Elias should keep around. Mancini, Nunez, and Villar have performed up to major league standards, while Sisco, Davis, and Mullins have been disappointments.
Of course, the Birds’ albatross has been Davis, who is tying up $21.1 million a year and 28 percent of the total salary money for the franchise. That’s a lot of young talent that can’t be purchased. The O’s are between a rock and a hard place. Clearly, Davis needs to go, but he will be getting paid for the next three years and beyond. Another $11 million (15 percent) of the payroll went to Mark Trumbo, who last week played in his first games of the season after recovering from a knee injury.
Mullins was going to be the center fielder of the future when the Orioles let fan favorite Adam Jones go to the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, Mullins couldn’t bat his weight and has spent most of the year at Double-A Bowie.
Sisco has been with the Birds most of the year and actually had a fairly productive first half at the plate before dropping to the low .200s. His poor performance in throwing out base runners (only four caught stealing out of 28) puts him 50th among active catchers. To be fair, part of the blame for that dubious honor belongs with the Baltimore pitchers. The Old Coach thinks that the reason for Sisco’s decline is a result of the first-round draft pick of catcher Adley Rutschman, who signed for an $8.1 million bonus earlier in the summer. The writing is on the dugout wall for Sisco.
Mancini has been rock-solid. He entered this weekend with 29 home runs, 86 runs scored, and 76 RBIs, all career bests. He hasn’t been a liability at first base, although his outfield play leaves a lot to be desired. The Birds’ most pleasant surprises have been infielder Hanser Alberto and outfielder Anthony Santander. Alberto currently has the third best batting average in the American League (.323). Santander, in his first extended time in the majors, is flirting with a .300 average with 17 homers and 48 RBIs in only 78 games.
Villar (second base/shortstop) has had a good year at the plate, batting around .280 with 20 home runs and 32 stolen bases. His infield play has been spotty at best, as he leads the team in errors. He also has as many base-running errors as he has stolen bases. Nunez had 25 home runs and led the team in RBIs before the All-Star break, but has since cooled off. The problem is there is no defensive position that he can competently play.
Baltimore’s .246 team batting average is just about in the middle of the AL, and they average about 4.5 runs a game. That would be good enough to win about half of their games in a normal year.
So what have Elias and O’s manager Brandon Hyde found out about this year’s team, after having gone through 22 different position players and 38 different pitchers?
It was projected that the O’s starting pitching would be the worst in the American League, maybe in all of baseball. It didn’t let the prognosticators down. The revolving-door rotation has been touched up for an unbelievable 6.95 runs per game and 191 of the major league-record 270 homers that Baltimore has allowed. The team is on pace to give up 300 dingers. Only two of 16 starters, Dylan Bundy and John Means, have started more than 17 games, with another five logging double-digit starts. The starters have gone 36-71, and the average number of wins per pitcher is 2.25.
So there’s no place to go but up.
Means has been one of the few bright spots. He had a phenomenal first half and was the team’s lone All-Star. He hasn’t been as sharp in the second half but still has pitched well enough to accumulate 10 wins. That is remarkable, considering one of the league’s worst defenses plays behind him.
There have been games where the Baltimore defense has been spectacular, with outfielders making diving catches and infielders getting to balls that normally would go for hits and turning them into outs. There have been too many games, however, when the fielders made boneheaded mistakes that you wouldn’t expect from a Little Leaguer. Routine flies dropping between two players. Double plays not turned. Missing cutoff men on throws from the outfield. A fly ball being misjudged on a diving attempt and hitting the outfielder in the forehead. Sometimes it was a comedy of errors.
Those snafus put an extra burden on an already challenged pitching staff.
Hopefully, Elias’ plan to keep potential young pitching talent in the minors to develop will pay off down the road. Several pitchers have had success at each of the minor league affiliates. The top prospects include: Grayson Rodriguez, a 19-year-old 2018 draftee who had a 10–4 record with a 2.68 ERA at low-A Delmarva; DL Hall with the Class A Keys; Zach Lowther, Alex Wells, and Michael Baumann at Bowie; and Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer at Triple-A Norfolk. All have shown progress.
The Old Coach is encouraged that under Elias and Hyde, the Birds are in the process of developing a contending team. Hyde’s coaching staff has brought about some improvement over the course of the season. Before the All-Star break, the Orioles had won only 29 percent of their games. Since then, they have won 40 percent (and that includes a two-week stretch of futility in August where they lost 13 of 14).
The good news is that the Orioles will be getting a top-three choice in the 2020 draft. They also are expanding their efforts to sign international players. Elias has cleaned house within the organization, and that needed to be done.
There might be a slight improvement in the Orioles’ record next season. But that won’t be as important as developing the kind of roster three years down the road that will be capable of challenging the best teams in the league.