AL EastAnalysis

Has the Orioles Rebuild Timeline been Accelerated?

The Baltimore Orioles are .500 halfway through the season. 

Let me say that again. 

The Baltimore Orioles are .500 halfway through the season. 

Did I expect this? No. Did you expect this? Probably not. Did anyone expect this? No. But the Orioles didn’t care.

Team Success

If you haven’t read the book Astroball by Ben Reiter, I highly recommend it, especially for Orioles fans. It details how fascinating Sig Mejdal and Mike Elias’ journeys from NASA rocket scientist and regional scout to the role they each played in Houston’s rise to dominance are. Anyway, in the book, a common theme in the early chapters and early years of the Astros’ rebuild was eliminating expensive veterans’ salaries from the payroll and finding cheap diamond-in-the-rough type of players. Elias has done the same with his new club.

League leaders in 2020 payroll and team record

  1. New York Yankees (16-8) – $110M
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (18-8) – $106M
  3. Boston Red Sox (7-18) – $83M
  4. Houston Astros (14-10) – $82M
  5. New York Mets (12-14) – $75M

30. Baltimore Orioles (12-12) – $24M

How the top nine players on the team in plate appearances were acquired

  1. Waiver claim
  2. Rule-5 Draft
  3. Waiver claim
  4. 3rd round draft pick
  5. Waiver claim
  6. Waiver claim
  7. Traded for international slot money
  8. 1 year, $2.5 million free agent deal
  9. Waiver claim

In a season like no other, there was bound to be some team projected to finish near the bottom of the standings that would shock us. The Orioles were probably the team you would least expect. Coming off a 54 win season, they were set to exclusively play arguably the best two divisions in baseball after losing two of their top players: Trey Mancini to colon cancer and Jonathan Villar via a cost-cutting trade. 

But the Orioles didn’t care. 

Nearly at the halfway mark, the team’s playoff chances have jumped up to 44.8%, according to Baseball Reference. Want some more fun facts? The Orioles have scored at least five runs in 16 of their games, they’ve swept the Rays, Nationals, and Phillies, and have either scored five runs or won in games started by stars Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Glasnow, Patrick Corbin, Zach Wheeler, and top prospect Nate Pearson. Here’s how they’re doing it. 

As a team, the Birds rank in the top five among AL teams in runs, hits, doubles, average, on-base, slugging, and OPS+ after finishing last season in the top five of zero of these categories. Furthermore, the team’s increase in win percentage and slugging is tops in the MLB, and a jump in team average, runs per game, and decrease in opponent runs per game are all top five improvements in baseball. 

The Orioles lineup features individual league leaders in runs, hits, bases, doubles, and RBI, and players top five in WAR, average, slugging, and home runs. 

With all of this being said, wins and loses right now do not equate to future success. We’re already starting to see the team get cold, losing 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6. They’ve been playing at their ceiling offensively and, with a pitching staff making it tough for even the hottest offense to keep up, regression is due. What is more indicative of future success than the win and loss column in 2020 is not the wins themselves, but the individual performances that are leading to them.

Individual Success

Anthony Santander

Anthony Santander, or Slamtander as I like to call him, and his 14-game hit streak are leading the way offensively. His 1.035 OPS leads the team, he leads the AL in RBI and extra base hits, is tied for second in homers behind Mike Trout, and is second among AL position players in WAR with 1.4. He also boasts career highs in average, on-base, and slugging. Digging deeper into the 25-year old’s breakout season, Slamtander is barreling pitches up at a phenomenal rate, 11%, and 4 points higher than last season. Furthermore, he’s posting career highs in exit velocity (90.5) and hard hit rate (42.7%), leading to a 6 and 10 point above league average line drive and fly ball rate respectively. 

Hanser Alberto

After a career 2019 season, O’s fans were left to wonder if Hanser Alberto was serious or a fluke. It appears to be no fluke, as Alberto has kept the hitting going into 2020. One thing he lacked last season and has improved this season is the power to match the contact skills. This season, Alberto leads the league in doubles and has improved his ISO by .057 points. The constant from last season to this season is his dominance against left-handers, as he is hitting .438 with a 1.162 OPS facing southpaws in 23 games. 

Other Offensive Leaders

Other Orioles off to hot starts are Renato Nunez and Pedro Severino. Through 22 games, Nunez has a career high .301 average, .927 OPS, and already has a higher WAR than he did in a 154 game 2019 campaign. Severino leads all catchers in WAR while slashing .338/.400/.618. 

Tanner Scott

While the pitching staff has been the weak spot of the team and the reason the offensive firepower hasn’t led to more wins, there is one bright spot worth highlighting: Tanner Scott. Coming into this season, Scott’s slider earned praise from second year manager Brandon Hyde, who said the development of the pitch has been “fantastic”. In 9 games this season, Scott has given up one hit, zero runs, and has an unheard of 92.3% ground ball rate. His lethal slider has produced 11 of his 13 strikeouts and a 29% swinging strike rate, nearly 20 points above league average.

What does this mean for the rebuild?

Now, what does this mean for the Orioles rebuild? Does the newfound success of some guys currently on the big league roster show that they may be capable of sticking around when the organization is contending again, and does it speed up the timeline for contention? As I’ve said before, this team is playing at their ceiling and it isn’t sustainable, however, they aren’t at full strength either. Mancini is on track to be ready for next season, Austin Hays is dealing with broken ribs, and John Means has dealt with minor injuries and the unfortunate passing of his father, which landed him on the bereavement list. Furthermore, young and exciting bats Adley Rutschman, Heston Kjerstad, and Ryan Mountastle will soon be added to an already talented lineup.

If the winning is over for this season, it was fun while it lasted. And I can’t wait for when it comes back for good. Whether or not the success during this season speeds up the rebuild process won’t be seen for a number of years, but I’m willing to bet it does.

Featured image: @Orioles on Twitter

Taylor Lyons

Taylor is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan and freshman at LSU, where he is studying mass communications and sports journalism. Twitter: @taylorjlyons

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