Rutschman was second for ROY but remains first in leading O's into the future

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He wasn’t named the American League Rookie of the Year last night. The Orioles' Adley Rutschman finished second to Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez. But there is no shame in that, and it doesn’t diminish from the strong rookie year he had or what is expected for his future.

And that is simply, greatness, so the expectations, as always for Rutschman, are high. He could be the face of this franchise for many years to come.

Rutschman did get one first-place vote and Rodriguez got 29 of 30 to easily win with 148 points to 68 for Rutschman and 44 for Cleveland’s Steven Kwan, once an Oregon State teammate of Adley.

Rutschman, over 113 games, batted .254/.362/.445/.807 with 70 runs, 35 doubles, one triple, 13 homers and 42 RBIs. After his call to the majors on May 21, the Orioles went 67-55. He produced 18 Defensive Runs Saved, which was second among MLB catchers and tied for eighth in the majors.

Among FanGraphs.com’s Wins Above Replacement, Rutschman produced 5.3 WAR and so did Rodriguez with Kwan at 4.4. In the baseball-reference WAR version, Rodriguez produced 6.2 with Kwan at 5.5 and Rutschman 5.2. But Rutschman’s projected WAR over 162 games was 7.5.

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Looking at a few O's potential free agent pitching targets

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The baseball free agent market is underway. And the Orioles' Mike Elias told my colleague Roch Kubatko that the market could move swiftly this winter. Maybe some things will even heat up before the Winter Meetings early next month.

The Orioles are targeting pitching and hitting via both free agency and possibly trade routes also.

"I think this is going to be a very competitive market for players,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of teams out there that are looking to get better. People feel good about the health of the industry and I expect this will be a pretty active and maybe fast free agent market,” said Elias.

So, without any knowledge of how much money or far the Orioles are willing to go after free agent pitchers, we’ll take a look at a few of them over the next few weeks in this space. Today we start with three right-handers, who all pitched in New York in 2022.

* RHP Taijuan Walker: He is ranked as the No. 11 free agent via ESPN and projected to get four years at $60 million. MLBTradeRumors.com lists him at No. 16 and predicts a four-year deal for $52 million.

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O's hope these two pitchers keep taking steps forward in 2023

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Sure, the Orioles will be looking for a top-end rotation pitcher this winter, and maybe they actually add that guy or guys through free agency or via a trade.

But their rotation hopes for 2023 also would include seeing two young pitchers that took steps forward last season building on that. Those pitchers are right-handers Dean Kremer, who went 8-7 with a 3.23 ERA, and Kyle Bradish, who was 4-7 with a 4.90 ERA.

While these young pitchers completed their development, or are doing so on the Orioles watch, they both came in trades. All teams want to draft and develop young pitching, but you are happy to get it anywhere you can.

These pitchers did some encouraging things, especially later in the year, in 2022. Like shutting down the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros on back-to-back nights at Camden Yards on Sept. 22-23.

They combined to throw 17 2/3 scoreless innings with two walks and 16 strikeouts combined. During that series, former Oriole Trey Mancini was among those impressed by the Baltimore right-handers, and he talked to me about the pitchers in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park.

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As MLB free agency begins, wondering where the Orioles will fit in?

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Baseball’s free agency period has begun. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, teams could pursue free agents that were not their own. The offers can now be made, the rumors will heat up and some signings should start to trickle in of players changing teams.

Will the Orioles be active? Quite possibly and according to ESPN, quite probably.

In Jeff Passan’s offseason preview story there was this excerpt:

Which teams are most likely to go really big this winter?

Certainly, this list could change, said Passan, depending on market dynamics and the whims of ownership, but the most active teams this winter, according to sources, are expected to be:

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O's notes on Lyles, Cameron and Asche

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Former high draft picks of the Houston Astros were coming and going from the Orioles roster on Wednesday. The club did not pick up the 2023 team option on pitcher Jordan Lyles, taken No. 38 overall in 2008. But later in the day they added via waivers outfielder Daz Cameron, taken No. 37 overall by Houston in the 2015 MLB Draft.

So, the Orioles, at least for now, are parting ways with Lyles, who becomes a free agent. That means he is free to sign with any team including the Orioles, who seem to have interest but at a lower price than $11 million for next season.

On the plus side, Lyles finished 14th in the American League in innings with 179 and he lowered his homer rate from 1.9 the previous year to 1.3. He was good in the expanded Oriole Park, going 5-3 with a 3.47 in home games and the Orioles went 17-15 in his 32 starts. He also led the club throwing 100 pitches or more 11 times, most by an O’s starter since 2018. He provided outstanding leadership for the young pitchers and enjoyed a role where he mentored that group. He led the club with 13 quality starts and the Orioles went 9-4 in those games.

He wanted to come back.

“I would love to be back here,” Lyles said during the season’s final days. “To see what we’ve done in the last calendar year as an organization, from what was expected of us coming into the season, and the transition to be where we are right now, it’s pretty special. I enjoy the guys. Hyder (Brandon Hyde) has been amazing. Definitely Manager of the Year in my eyes. A good clubhouse. Everything is positive here. I would love to come back.”

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Cody Asche talks about joining the Orioles' coaching staff

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At just 32, and five years removed from a five-season major league career, Cody Asche became the Orioles' 10th coach this week. On Tuesday when the staff for 2023 was officially announced, he was the only new addition, hired as offensive strategy coach.

Asche joined the Baltimore organization in 2022 as an upper-level hitting coordinator on the farm. He began his pro coaching career in 2021 as the hitting coach for the Clearwater Threshers, the Low-A affiliate of the Phillies. He played parts of five seasons with the Phillies (2013-16) and White Sox (2017).

He said his role for next season is still being completely defined.

“Right now the way I see it, I will be an asset to (co-hitting coaches Ryan) Fuller and Borgs (Matt Borgschulte), hopefully an asset to Brandon (Hyde) and Fredi (González) in-game-wise. Have contact with the front office and the analysts and just really kind of be hopefully a jack of all trades and just be there to support and help our hitters get better.

“I just feel really fortunate and am excited that the front office believes in me and trusts me to be around their major league assets. And they trust me to help our team get better.”

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Jim Callis: “I will be absolutely surprised if Jackson Holliday is not a superstar"

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For young Jackson Holliday, a lot was expected and a lot was delivered. The player the Orioles took No. 1 overall in the 2022 MLB Draft had a pretty solid 20-game pro debut.

It started with him tearing it up in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League for eight games and followed with 12 games at Single-A Delmarva where he certainly held his own.

Between the two levels at just age 18, Holliday showed a great batting eye and he walked 25 times with just 12 strikeouts. He ended the year ranked as the Orioles' No. 3 prospect behind Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez, and in national top 100s, he is rated No. 13 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 38 by Baseball America.

In his first season after being a high school drafted player in 2019, Henderson played in 29 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and batted .259/.331/.370 with a .701 OPS, 11 walks and 28 strikeouts. He had a 9.1 walk rate and 23.1 strikeout rate.

Holliday in eight FCL games batted .409/.576/.591 with a 1.167 OPS, 10 walks and two strikeouts. In the FCL, he had a 30.3 walk rate and 6.1 strikeout rate. Then in 12 games with the Shorebirds, he hit .238/.439/.333 with a .772 OPS, 15 walks to 10 strikeouts, producing a 26.3 walk rate and 17.5 strikeout rate.

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Random take Tuesday

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And now on with the real offseason.

The offseason for the Orioles began in a sense Oct. 6, the day after the last game, but now that the World Series is complete, the hot stove business of baseball is about to heat up. And for the Orioles, it could be a time where small moves are not their biggest activity of the offseason.

The obvious questions are these: Will the O’s add a big fish hitter, pitcher or both? Will that happen via trade or free agency, or both? Is now the first time Mike Elias will be trading young talent/prospects for major league-proven talent?

Elias has said he expects the payroll to go up and for the team to be active this winter. The 2023 Orioles' clear No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs. Playoffs or bust.

“I do continue to view this as an offseason where we are going to have the flexibility to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than I have done since I’ve been here,” Elias said at his season-ending press conference. “We feel like the time is right from a strategic standpoint.”

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A look at how an elite talent pipeline was built

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Today's blog entry has spent a few weeks in my laptop. This was written in early September and no, I don't work that far in advance. Hardly.

But that was when the Orioles asked me to write an article that would appear in the Major League Baseball playoffs program if they made the postseason.

They didn't but hey, someone should get to read this!

The topic was building that elite pipeline, how the Orioles did it in Baltimore and how the young talent was helping the big league club turn around their losing ways. Let's begin!

The night of Sept. 3 when the Orioles played the Athletics at home, was one of the latest examples that the Baltimore farm system and player development operation was a big reason for the Orioles' turnaround in the 2022 season.

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Long gone, but never forgotten: Baltimore's Memorial Stadium

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From 1954 to 1991, it was home for the Orioles. It was also home to the Baltimore Colts, the Canadian Football League’s Baltimore Stallions and for their first two seasons, the Baltimore Ravens. In 1993, it was even home for a season to the Bowie Baysox before Prince George’s Stadium was built.

For some of us of a certain age, it just felt like ... well, home.

It was Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street. 

Looking back, we can admit now it was an old rickety stadium that came up short in a few areas. But when I was kid the anticipation of just going to see a game there was amazing, topped only by actually entering the place itself. It was special and I thought it was the greatest place any kid could ever go.

The memories of so many great games with so many great friends blur a bit now, but that feeling never leaves you. You always remember that. When I was a kid, it was that excited feeling of walking up the ramp to see the green grass and then watch the Orioles take the field. They always seemed to be among the best teams in baseball.

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A look at O's pitch usage/mix from 2022

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We are getting into the weeds a bit here today, digging into some pitching numbers that might be interesting to look at and note. Maybe they actually tell us something about Orioles pitching as well.

First, in the simplest terms, O’s pitchers, as a staff, threw fewer fastballs and changeups in 2022 compared to 2021. They threw more sliders and cutters and a similar number of curveballs.

In 2021, the Orioles used fastballs (four- and two-seamers combined) 51.0 percent, and that dropped to 47.3 this year. Their average fastball velocity increased, however, from 93.0 mph in 2021, which ranked 22nd in the major leagues, to 93.8 mph this season, tying them for 12th in the bigs. Some of the flamethrowers in the bullpen, no doubt, helped increase that average.

In 2021, the Orioles led the majors in throwing changeups, doing so 15.7 percent of the time. This season that percentage dropped to 13.3, which was still sixth-highest in baseball. That means the O’s still really like changeups.

In watching the team this year, there were nights I said to myself, ‘Hey, self, the O’s love the cutter.’ They used that pitch 5.2 percent of the time in ’21 (to rank 20th in the majors) and increased that this year to 8.4 percent (10th in baseball).

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MLBPipeline's Jim Callis on Heston Kjerstad's play in the AFL

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On the first night of play in the Arizona Fall League, Orioles outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad crushed a homer to right-center and he’s been hitting ever since. Today it seems quite likely that he will be selected to play in the AFL’s Fall Stars game this Sunday. He is taking part in the AFL Home Run Derby on Saturday.

Through Wednesday in 19 AFL games, Kjerstad has hit .353/.385/.624 with a 1.009 OPS, eight doubles, five homers and 17 RBIs. He was tied for the AFL homer lead and ranks sixth in the league in OPS.

Jim Callis, senior writer for MLBPipeline.com, saw Kjerstad play in person earlier in the AFL season.

“On opening day, I saw him hit a massive home run at Scottsdale Stadium,” said Callis. “The good news for Orioles fans is he looks like the guy, the No. 2 pick in the draft from a few years ago. He looks like the guy I thought was the best left-handed college power hitter in that draft. I had seen him at the College World Series in the past and he’s got big left-handed power. It's power over hit (tool). He’s got about a 30 percent strikeout rate in the Fall League. He’s always had some strikeouts but still managed to hit for average if that makes sense.

“He looks like the type of guy that could hit .260 with maybe 30 homers. He’s not a blazing runner or anything, but he moves well enough. He’s got a strong arm. I haven’t talked to the Orioles since I’ve seen him, but I have to think they are quite pleased with how he’s looked.”

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The big man with a big arm had a big year for the Orioles

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These stats seem pretty good. And probably just about any pitcher would take such numbers.

* Top three percent of Major League Baseball in strikeout percentage.

* Top one percent in velocity.

* Top eight percent in whiff percentage and expected slugging against.

* Ranks 10th in the American League in ERA among pitchers throwing 60 or more innings.

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Modeling Houston and chasing a consistent playoff contender

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If the Orioles' rebuilding efforts were and are at least partially being modeled after the Astros, is there a way to compare where Baltimore is in the process in looking at Houston’s winning run?

Sure we can look at it and it provides an interesting exercise. But it is certainly not an apples to apples comparison.

The Orioles lost 100 or more games for three straight full seasons from 2018 through 2021. Houston did that from 2011-2013. The 2014 Astros then went 70-92 taking a step forward and breaking out of the 100-loss rut. The Orioles did that going 83-79 last season. The 2015 Houston team then won 86 and made the American League Division Series, so they were in the postseason in year two post 100-loss seasons and that timeframe would put Baltimore in the 2023 playoffs. The 2016 Astros though won just 84 and missed out on the playoffs.

But that all led to 2017, a tainted World Series win, but also the beginning of a run of four World Series appearances in six years. Which team wouldn’t take that run of success? The Orioles did that once of course in yesteryear, from 1966 to 1971, winning the WS twice in the greatest run of success in team history.

So Houston had the 100-loss years, then three seasons with one playoff appearance leading into six years of consistent winning and  World Series appearances. If the O’s followed that exactly, which is unlikely of course, they would be looking at one playoff appearance over the next two years with things really humming starting in 2025.

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Random take Tuesday

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He didn’t get anything going against the Orioles in a three-game series near the end of the year, but Aaron Judge has hammered Baltimore pitching so much over the years that if he leaves the Yankees, no one in Birdland will shed a tear.

Elation might be the prevailing emotion.

Before Birdland gets too excited about that prospect, for one, Judge might not leave. For two, the Nationals won the World Series the year after Bryce Harper left via free agency. The Astros, who once had George Springer, Carlos Correa and Gerrit Cole on their team, are in another World Series without that trio.

It’s still a team game. Stars are important, but good teams can win even as great players move on.

But seeing Judge, a free agent, sign with a National League team, would be welcoming news in Birdland. In the next-to-last series of the 2022 regular season, with Judge trying to hit his 62nd homer to set an AL record, the Orioles pitched Judge tough, and he went 1-for-7 with five walks and six strikeouts in the series. Amid much whining from New York fans and media that they dared to not throw him a meatball.

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There are plenty of defensive metrics, making sense of them is the problem

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There are some aspects of baseball not up for an argument or debate. It’s simple math and right there in front of our eyes on the stat sheets to see which players won batting titles in each league, or led the league in homers, doubles or saves for instance. It’s clear which team wins the World Series as they decide that on the field.

But some honors are very subjective and up for a vote. And a debate. Like MVP and Cy Young for instance and defensive awards, some of which came out this week.

At this point in baseball we probably have more defensive stats than ever but in my humble opinion, we still struggle as a sport to quantify defense and sometimes there is no consensus about defense. And that is even when intelligent eyes are doing the viewing. And voting.

The finalists were recently announced for Gold Gloves in the American League and the Orioles' Jorge Mateo was not among them at shortstop in the AL. The three finalists were Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, Minnesota’s Carlos Correa and Houston’s Jeremy Peña.

In one advanced metric, Defensive Runs Saved, Mateo ranked ahead of two of the three AL shortstop finalists. While Peña tied for the MLB lead with 15 DRS at short (tied with Miami’s Miguel Rojas), Mateo was next, third in MLB, with 14 DRS. Bogaerts with 4 DRS ranked 11th and Correa at 3 DRS was 12th in the majors.

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Revisting notes on Hyde, the bullpen and Lyles

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Today, I'm taking a look back at some recent stories and topics that appeared in this space while discussing some interesting potential O's developments. Such as ...

* What to do with right-hander Jordan Lyles and his 2023 team option for $11 million?

Most seem to be in favor of a return of Lyles, who pitched decently enough for the Orioles and was huge in the clubhouse.

Last season over 32 starts and 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 innings and fanned 7.2. His numbers were similar to 2021 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. Right-hander Tyler Wells discussed Lyles’ leadership abilities.

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A few past and present World Series/postseason notes

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With the start of the World Series last night, I found myself playing around with the Stathead feature on Baseball-Reference.com yesterday checking some vary random facts and notes.

Such as which Oriole played in the most postseason games wearing the Orange and Black only? The Oriole to play the most postseason games for Baltimore was Mark Belanger, who was in 43 such games. Brooks Robinson comes next at 39 and Paul Blair is third with 35 games.

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with nine, hit the most postseason homers for the Orioles. Brady Anderson, Eddie Murray and Boog Powell each hit six to tie for second. Don Buford and Brooks Robinson hit five each.

When I checked to see the OPS leaders for the O’s in the playoffs, if the standard was just 25 plate appearances at a minimum, here is the top of the list:

1.076 – Harold Baines
1.007 – Nelson Cruz
.955 – Brady Anderson
.949 – Geronimo Berroa
.939 – Todd Zeile

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Another look at a strong year on the Baltimore farm

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While the Orioles were the surprise team in the majors this year, gaining 31 wins from 2021 to 2022, the Baltimore farm also had a strong year. But there, the win-loss record is not the standard by which success is fully achieved.

Sure, you would like to win on the farm, but developing players and advancing them forward is the top goal. Helping them get better, moving them through the farm and onto the majors. That is the ultimate way to grade the farm – how many players make the majors and are good when they get there. The farm also produces so-called “prospect capital” that can be traded to bring more talent to the organization and improve overall depth while filling holes that might exist.

Only High-A Aberdeen (78-54) made the playoffs among the full-season clubs, losing in the South Atlantic League finals. But Triple-A Norfolk (74-76) and Double-A Bowie (68-70) were near .500. The Baysox lost out on a playoff spot for their second-half record on the final day of the season. Low Single-A Delmarva (49-81) had the poorest record, but it was a roster filled with international players on the rise, many playing full season ball for the first time and taking some lumps along the way.

In midseason farm system rankings, where outlets are grading your total talent in the organization which is not based on wins and losses, Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN all ranked Baltimore No. 1 out of 30 major league organizations.

The Orioles got to the top, and now we'll find out if they can stay there as the team no doubt will use the farm in some different ways with a major league team ready to win now. You can’t force development, so they won’t be rushing players. But some could join the major league roster faster now as needs arise. And for the first time under Mike Elias, we could see him trading from his surplus of minor league talent to help the major league roster this winter. Up to about now, the team was in the position to try and add prospects of all ages to bolster the farm. It was all about rebuilding.

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A look at the remarkable 2022 season for lefty Cionel Pérez

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At one time, great things seemed to be in the future for O’s lefty reliever Cionel Pérez. He signed for big dollars as an international amateur out of Cuba in late 2016. He was signed by a Houston staff that included current O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. One of his minor league pitching coaches was Chris Holt.

He would be reunited with that duo and others from Houston when the Orioles claimed him off waivers from Cincinnati on Nov. 24, 2021.

But no one could have predicted his time with the Orioles would go as well as it did. Or that he would even make the opening day roster out of spring training. But he did do that, and had an ERA of 0.00 through his first 11 O's games into early May. What would turn out to be a great year for him had gotten off to a great start.

We can’t know for sure what exactly allowed Pérez, on the Orioles' watch, to pitch so much better than he previously had, but he lived up to the signing bonus he once signed. Twice.

Houston signed Pérez for $5.15 million on Sept. 12, 2016. But after a medical review produced big concerns over his left elbow, that bonus was reduced to $2 million and Pérez signed again.

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