The Joe Maddon connection still paying off for Brandon Hyde

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The upcoming announcements of the winners for the major awards in Major League Baseball for the 2022 season could provide both some excitement and some frustrations for Orioles fans.

There could be excitement next Monday Nov. 7 when the finalists for the Baseball Writers' Association of America awards are announced. The O's, it seems likely, will have finalists for the AL Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards in Adley Rutschman and Brandon Hyde.

The frustration could come if both come close to, but do not win, those awards. 

Seattle's Julio Rodriguez seems to be the favorite for the ROY award and there is some sentiment that Cleveland's Terry Francona will be named top manager.

The BBWAA awards announcements begin on Nov. 14 with the rookies in each league and the AL and NL manager winners will be announced Nov. 15. 

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Random take Tuesday

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There will be some rules changes coming to Major League Baseball in 2023 and among them is essentially the elimination of infield shifts. Starting next year, two infielders must be on each side of second base and they have to be no deeper than the back-edge of the infield which touches the outfield. Also, teams cannot switch defenders and for instance move a shortstop to the second base spot on the right side against a pull lefty batter.

This change should add some offense and some defense to the game.

The shift takes hits away from batters that are pull happy with groundballs and mostly unable to hit against the shift. Had they been able to do that, they would see fewer shifts. But we know how that turns out.

I went back and looked at the MLB number for Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP) every year since 2010. For most of the seasons between 2010 and 2019, the final BABIP was between .297 and .300. But teams kept shifting more and more and that number dropped to .292 in the shortened 2020 season and in 2021. The BABIP was .290 last season.

Now that lefty batters won’t face a seeming picket fence on defense on the right side moving forward, some hits will be added to their up-to-now sinking batting averages. That could create more scoring in the game in general and more scoring chances. More runners can mean more pressure on pitchers, who then make more mistakes in some of those spots and more runs are scored.

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After he munched on innings and did more, O's have decision to make on Lyles

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Right-hander Jordan Lyles, who was the 2022 Orioles team leader in wins and innings, could return to the Orioles for the 2023 season. The decision will solely be made by the front office as the O’s hold a team option on Lyles for next year.

Should they decide to allow him to leave via free agency, Lyles will get a $1M buyout. Should they pickup that option they will add $10 million to that for a total outlay of $11 million. They are going to owe him $11 million to stay and $1 million to go.

This past season, in 32 starts over 179 innings, Lyles went 12-11 with a 4.42 ERA. He allowed 26 homers with 52 walks and 144 strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.385 and he walked 2.6 per nine and fanned 7.2. His numbers were similar to last year in many respects, except his ERA went down from 5.15 and his homer rate of 1.3 fell from 1.9.

It is well documented that Lyles was a real leader for the pitching staff and he embraced and enjoyed the role. For this article late in the year, Tyler Wells discussed Lyles’ leadership abilities.

“He is invaluable in so many ways,” the right-hander said. “You can’t really put a price on what he has done for us as a starting staff, as a team, and as a mentor for a lot of us. He really teaches us what it’s like to be a starter and how he has made a 10-year career into what he has. All based on certain principles – like going deep into games and giving your team a chance to win every single time.

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A few more questions for O's fans

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We’re back. Yes, already. A few more questions today for our readers and O’s fans among us.

Hope most of you are both – readers and O’s fans.

Enough with the small talk.

On to today’s questions:

What will be the season-ending OPS next year for both Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson?

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Can O's make something good even better in 2023?

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On the MLB transactions wire last November, the Orioles registered two small blips. Small blips that later made big impact during the 2022 season. On Nov. 8, they claimed right-hander Bryan Baker on waivers from Toronto. On Nov. 24, they added lefty Cionel Pérez via waivers from Cincinnati.

They were part of a Baltimore bullpen filled with waiver claims that was among baseball’s best for most of the year. In fact on Aug. 16, the O’s ‘pen had an ERA of 3.05, which was among the lowest in all of the majors. That would not hold up and there was some leakage and falloff late in the year.

The final ‘pen ERA of 3.49 was still seventh-best in the American League and ninth-best in the majors. The Orioles ranked last in bullpen ERA in 2021 at 5.70, so this over two-run improvement was massive and a huge difference between 110 losses and 79.

The two AL teams still playing in postseason, Houston (2.80) and New York (2.97), ranked 1-2 in the league in bullpen ERA. But in a stat via Baseball-Reference.com called Wins Above Average, the Orioles ‘pen ranked first at 4.1 followed by Houston 2.7 and New York 1.9.

But here is a big difference between these three clubs: While the Houston bullpen threw the fewest innings in the AL and New York’s pitched the fourth-fewest, the Orioles ‘pen accumulated 631 innings, which was fourth-most in the league.

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John Means' return in '23 will be big, but when exactly is uncertain

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When Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow took the mound on Oct. 8 in the American League Wild Card Series against the Guardians, no doubt one Orioles pitcher was watching closely. We don’t know that for certain but can assume that Baltimore lefty John Means watched with great interest.

Glasnow has gotten to where Means wants to go - to the end of the rehab process and back to a big league mound after Tommy John surgery. And he did it rather quickly.

In that game versus Cleveland, Glasnow threw five scoreless innings on two hits and 63 pitches. That was a nice success story for his comeback. No doubt the Rays may have handled him differently if his surgery had not taken place on Aug. 4, 2021. That meant if he could come back in around 13 months, he might help the Rays before this year was out. And Glasnow hit that deadline.

He pitched in four Triple-A games, starting out with a one-inning outing for Durham on Sept. 7, returning to a pro mound at about exactly 13 months out. He pitched seven innings in four games for Durham and then joined Tampa Bay for two late-season starts that led to that playoff outing. He threw three innings on 50 pitches Sept. 28 for the Rays and threw 3 2/3 on 64 pitches on Oct. 3. Then he made a successful playoff start 14 months and four days after his procedure.

If Means could be back throwing well in a big league game 14 months after his procedure – which took place April 27, 2022 – he would be back with the Orioles in late June next year. The team would probably be delighted with such a timeline especially if Means could quickly get his usual stuff back. It would be like making a mid-year trade for a top starting pitcher.

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Why the Orioles may have to part with a player the fan base really likes

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With some of the top pitchers in the majors pulling in some of the biggest salaries, short of signing a pitcher for $25-30 million or more, how do the Orioles get a frontline pitcher?

Well, potentially via trade.

But to get something good you have to be prepared to give up something good. Fans for years have suggested trades where their team gives up six mediocre players to get one good one. But teams don’t look to add mediocre players, so acquiring several of them at once is no incentive. What they want is players who have two or three years (or more) of team control left and are good players now. If they are in the prime years of their careers, all the better. If their salary is reasonable, even better yet.

The Orioles have at least one such player. And when it is suggested the team consider trading Anthony Santander to get something they like in return, it makes some in Birdland nervous. They get worried when there is talk of trading productive players. But if the team wants to acquire a pitcher they can slot at or near the top of their rotation, one with some track record of success in the majors and not a prospect who hasn’t done it yet, they need to give up something.

This is where Santander or someone similar could come in. Not because the Orioles want to “get rid of him” or they want to “move him,” but when you talk about “trade chips” that have some significance and could get another club's attention, well, he could.

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The case for the defense

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Of the many aspects of baseball for which we can produce statistics, for me, defense is the hardest to quantify and hardest to find reliable stats. There may be some numbers – advanced or otherwise – that some fans swear by, but I have often struggled to find any to really suit myself.

Many defensive metrics are hard to understand and which one (s) should we rely on? That is not easy to determine either.

But one defensive stat that seems more in the norm now or one used more often now is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Maybe O’s fans will like this stat even more when they realize that while their team ranked among the worst in baseball in that stat in the most three recent full seasons, this year Baltimore ranked tied for ninth in team DRS in MLB.

Here are the top 10 teams in DRS from 2022:

129 – New York Yankees
84 – Los Angeles Dodgers
77 – Cleveland Guardians
70 – St. Louis Cardinals
67 – Houston Astros
55 – Arizona Diamondbacks
51 – Milwaukee Brewers
43 – Toronto Blue Jays
38 – Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners

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Random take Tuesday

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It’s a random-take Tuesday around here. A few thoughts, yes on baseball, for your reading interest. 

Will this become a regular thing here? Even I don't know that answer, but random-take Tuesday has a nice ring to it. Of course, we don't need a special day to express opinions around here. But I digress. 

The playoff format is fine: Just because the Los Angeles Dodgers got upset in the MLB playoffs doesn’t mean we need to make any changes to the playoff format.

Play better. Win more.

The Dodgers had to wait five days to play San Diego as the wild-card round was being played out. They then won just one of four games. Was the layoff an issue for the LAD? Well, the Houston Astros, who won five fewer games than the Dodgers this year, had the same layoff and then went out and went 3-0 against Seattle. No problems for them with the layoff.

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A look at Ryan Mountcastle's 2022 season

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In evaluating Ryan Mountcastle’s 2022 season, it is easy to note that his homer total dropped from 33 in 2021 – a new O’s rookie record – to 22 last season. His OPS dropped from .796, which was 14 percent above league average to .729, which was five percent above the league.

In 145 games Mountcastle, who will turn 26 in February, hit .250/.305/.423/.729 with 28 doubles, one triple, 22 homers and 85 RBIs. His homer percentage – the percentage of balls he hit out – dropped from 5.6 in 2021 to 3.6 last season.

Mountcastle’s offense really fell off in the second half when his OPS dropped from .786 to .656. It was .541 in July and .630 in August, and he hit a total of five home runs in those two months.

With the glove Mountcastle, via the eye test, got better. Via the data he got a lot better, going from the the bottom two percent in Outs Above Average (and he did make 18 starts in left field then) to the top 20 percent. Mountcastle tied for first in the AL and tied for third among MLB first basemen with his three outs above average.

“Defensively, I feel like I made some huge strides over there at first base and want to keep improving on that. Hitting, I hit the ball hard all year. It didn’t fall as much as I hoped. It is what it is. Got to keep learning, it’s a tough game and I will try to get better this offseason,” said Mountcastle, during the final series.

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A few questions for O's fans

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Sometimes our fine readers ask me questions in the comments section, and I enjoy trying to answer most of them or form an opinion to pass along. Today is one of those days I ask the questions and seek answers and opinions from the readers.

Welcome to our first offseason edition of “A few questions for O’s fans.”

Feel free to answer all the questions and provide feedback and comments on the opinions of other readers as well.

On to today’s questions:

Is O’s biggest need a frontline pitcher or hitter? Give reasons for your answer.

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O's offense came up a bit short in the 2022 season

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The cold and hard math from the 2022 season tells us this: The Orioles had a below-average offense this year. But not by a large amount. Still, it was enough to have Birdland’s concern meter on the rise as the year ended. The O’s offense stumbled badly at the end, and for some, that is the lasting memory of how they did with the bats this year.

Wins is the stat that matters above them all, but for offense, the number of runs tells the most complete story. The Orioles averaged 4.16 runs per game this year to rank 10th in the American League, behind the league average of 4.22 per game.

For much of the year the club was at right about league average. They were at 4.20 runs per game at the All-Star break and scoring 4.24 through August. Had they maintained that, they would have finished just above league average. But the Orioles scored just 3.97 runs per game in the final month, and their season-long average decreased.

The highest-scoring teams in the league were the Yankees (4.98 rpg), the Blue Jays (4.78 rpg) and the Astros (4.55 rpg).

In 2021, when American League teams produced more offense, the O’s scored 4.07 runs per game to rank 14th in the league, well behind last year's average of 4.60 per game. So they went from 14th in 2021 to 10th in runs per game in 2022.

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For Cedric Mullins, that brilliant '21 season was a tough act to follow

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For Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins, a follow-up act was always going to be a challenge. How does a player produce the first 30-30 season in Orioles history and then repeat that?

Since 1954, the club’s first year in Baltimore, no player had ever hit 30 or more homers and stole 30 or more bases in the same season. It was not done by anyone else in the majors in 2021 and had not happened in the American League since 2018.

It probably would have been more of a surprise if Mullins had in fact repeated the feat, but he fell 14 homers short. In one sense, was the great achievement of 30-30 a bit of a burden for him this season? Maybe somewhat.

“Yeah, but in terms of pressure I wasn’t feeling pressure to repeat that, but I had that as a goal. But I think at the end of the day I just wanted to put together a strong season like I feel I have,” said Mullins.

It was a year where his OPS was four percent above league average, but not 37 percent as it was when he was the unanimous Most Valuable Oriole. In ’21 he batted .291/.360/.518/.878 with 37 doubles, five triples, 30 homers and 59 RBIs. He stole 30 of 38.

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Jorge Mateo's future with club: It's complicated

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When it comes to Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo, there is a lot to like. He led the American League in stolen bases, he plays very solid, sometimes outstanding defense, and that top-of-the-scale speed never goes into a slump.

The defense and speed are plenty good enough for a first-division team, but is his offense? At a time when there are so many good-hitting shortstops in the American League, the O’s have a player that comes up short in that area.

When we consider Mateo’s future with the club, there are two elephants in the room: One, will that offense improve sufficiently or can we overlook it with that speed-defense combo? Two, will one or more of the O’s numerous and talented infield prospects be coming to take his job?

First, kudos and props for Mateo. In Orioles history, only Luis Aparicio and Brian Roberts have ever led the AL or been tied for first in steals. Mateo’s 35 topped the circuit by one over teammate Cedric Mullins, and by three over Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena.

Mateo’s dWAR, per baseball-reference.com, of 2.8 was tied for eighth-best in the major leagues. His 11 Outs Above Average (OAA), per Statcast, led AL shortstops, and his 14 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranked third among big league shortstops and second in the AL to Houston’s Jeremy Peña.

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After solid end to year, Heston Kjerstad gets more work in AFL

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After going – and this is accurate – a full 27 months between his last college game at the University of Arkansas in March 2020 and his first pro game earlier this season for low Single-A Delmarva, outfielder Heston Kjerstad continues to make up for lost time.

And he lost a lot of time.

The bout with myocarditis that is now in his rear-view mirror and the hamstring injured that sidelined him early this year. His long-awaited pro debut came on June 10 this summer for Delmarva. On July 13 he moved to high Single-A Aberdeen and ended the minor league year in the playoffs with the IronBirds. And now he’s doing well in the Arizona Fall League with the Scottsdale Scorpions.

In a late-season interview at Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium, Kjerstad said just being back on the field, playing in games and being healthy again, made this a special year for him.

“It’s been a great season,” he said before an IronBirds playoff game. “After going through my struggles, it’s even more fun (just playing) than I remember it being. And just being able to be out here everyday with the guys, working and getting better. Now let’s go home with some wins.”

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The MLB playoffs: Drama, surprises and the LDS up next

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We sure can’t say the 2022 Major League Baseball playoffs have lacked in surprises or drama. We saw three road teams advance, a 15-innings thriller, a six-run ninth inning rally, an ear inspection and a team trailing 8-1 in the fifth inning rally to win.

So yeah, a lot going on in just three days of ball.

The madness resumes today with four Division Series matchups, three of which are interdivision matchups. Should be fun and no doubt we will see more surprises and more drama.

I did not expect to see the Toronto Blue Jays go two and (barbe) que. One of baseball’s best offenses got shutout in Game 1 and Seattle rallied from seven runs down to win Game 2. Wowser. Maybe this series provided the latest example that how a team ends its season matters little in the postseason. Toronto went 22-11 in September and the Orioles saw it first-hand when they played them three times and lost all three series. But even at loud and crazy Rogers Centre, which was rocking at times again in October, they lost.

Tampa Bay was also two and done versus Cleveland. I was a bit surprised that some O’s fans took pleasure in the Jays and Rays getting eliminated. For me, I kind of like the talk of how strong the AL East is and was again this year, but teams losing in the opening round takes some shine off that. I can see not rooting for Boston and New York, but it seems some O’s fans want all four to destruct in October.

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From Bowie to Baltimore: Gunnar Henderson had one special season

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The Orioles Gunnar Henderson was not in the major leagues that long – for 34 games – but long enough to experience both hot and cold streaks at-bat. And long enough to have some big moments and hits, long enough to show he belongs and that his considerable talents play at the level at the age of 21.

Unlike with fellow top prospect Adley Rutschman, he was hitting well almost from the start, although he did have some struggles late in the year when he said he was getting a heavy dose of breaking balls.

Henderson’s first go-round in MLB produced these numbers over 132 plate appearances: .259/.348/.440/.788 for an OPS+ of 123 with seven doubles, a triple, four homers and 18 RBIs.

He remains rookie eligible, falling short of thresholds of 130 at-bats (he had 116) or 45 days on the roster to lose rookie status. He could win the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year.

He did win the 2022 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award. Over 121 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, he batted .297/.416/.531/.947 with 101 runs, 19 homers and 76 RBIs.

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Checking on some O's minor league stats leaders for the 2022 season

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While just one of the four O's full-season minor league affiliates - high Single-A Aberdeen - made the playoffs this year, it was a banner season for the organization in player development. They had two players ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport and both Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson made the majors and did well when they got there.

The Orioles prospects list was noted for both the quality and depth it showed this season. That was seen by the Orioles being ranked as the No. 1 farm at midseason by Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN.

Today let's take a look at a few stat categories for both hitters and pitchers and see which players were among the top five O's this year for those stats. Later we'll take a look at more stat categories.

OPS (min, 250 PAs)

.946 - Gunnar Henderson
.886 - Connor Norby
.884 - Kyle Stowers
.874 - Colton Cowser
.852 - Jordan Westburg

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A look at one aspect where improving might be tough for '23 O's

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There is one area where it might be tough for the 2023 Orioles to match the 2022 version. It’s an area that we won’t be able to compare on a stat sheet. It’s team chemistry and camaraderie.

For the 83-win Orioles this year, it was exceptional.

Players cited it throughout the year and as the season went on, it was hard not to notice how close-knit this team was. And the closeness developed and showed itself both before games and even outside of the ballparks and then showed up many nights at 7 o’clock. There was no stat for it – advanced or otherwise, but this chemistry was vital to this team this year.

As the Orioles look to take the winning to the next level, outfielder Austin Hays said the togetherness is important. Players genuinely enjoyed seeing teammates suceed, not because they should do that, but because it came naturally.

“I think we turned the culture here into a winning environment,” said Hays. “Where, we are celebrating wins in the clubhouse as a team. We’re going and having team dinners together. We had a win belt this year for player of the game and guys had to give speeches after that. All those things that come with the wins, just the team growing together and growing with one another, it was a culture we didn’t have here for the last three years.

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Austin Hays takes a look at his 2022 season

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When I asked Orioles outfielder Austin Hays to analyze his own season before Wednesday’s doubleheader, the first point he made was an important one and I could tell it really mattered to him.

He stayed on the field this year.

There were a few bumps and bruises along the way, but he played in a career-high 145 games taking a career-high 535 at-bats. His team could depend on him to be there this year even if he wasn’t always playing at 100 percent. That is important to any player and gains him respect in the clubhouse.

“Personally I think it was a big win for me to stay healthy from the start to the end of the year,” Hays said. “I had a really, really solid first half. The second half I was very inconsistent and had a couple of bad stretches where I went down (in the stats). But overall I learned a lot this year and am happy with how my personal year went.”

He had 53 more plate appearances this year than he did in 2021 and produced nine more doubles with six fewer homers and 11 fewer RBIs.

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