These players surprised us in the 2023 season

On their way to 101 wins, an American League East championship and the club's first playoff berth since 2016, the Orioles featured several players who had strong seasons ranging from good to great. Some were expected, some came as surprises. Some were big surprises.

Yennier Cano: No one, I mean no one, could have predicted that Cano, who was not even on the Opening Day roster, would begin his season with 17 consecutive scoreless appearances. 

They were not just scoreless, impressive in itself. They were completely dominant.

He was almost unhittable from his April 14 season debut through May 19. Over 21 2/3 scoreless, Cano allowed just four hits with no walks and 25 strikeouts. He allowed an .061 batting average and .150 OPS against.

Cano tied the club record set by Fred Holdsworth in 1976 by setting down the first 24 batters he faced to start the season in order. He set the O’s record with 32 hitless at-bats to begin a season, the most by a major league pitcher since Milwaukee's Josh Hader (35) to begin 2020. His streak of 20 straight games without a walk to start the season was the second-longest in O’s history, behind a 22-game streak by Jamie Walker to open the 2009 campaign.

Sure, his second half produced some challenges, but he ended the year with a 2.11 ERA, 1.005 WHIP, eight saves and a 1.6 walk rate. He made the All-Star team, another huge surprise.

Some pitching metrics loved his 2023 season, even if it came without a big strikeout rate. As we publish today, Cano will be a key late-inning reliever again for the 2024 Birds.

Ryan O'Hearn: From 2019-2022, O'Hearn had an OPS of .633 while playing parts of those seasons with Kansas City. So no one could have expected him to bat .289/.322/.480/.801 for Baltimore. After an OPS+ of 70 in that four-year run with the Royals, it was 122 for the Orioles.

Another player that didn't make the Opening Day roster, but a player who became a key middle-of-the-order bat for the Orioles as the season went on. He got big hits, played first base and the outfield, and became a key cog in the clubhouse as well. 

His spot on next year's team should be secure.

Kyle Bradish: After he pitched to a 4.90 ERA in 23 starts in 2022, the Orioles saw a lot to like about Bradish. But could they have expected him to end the year as the team ace and as a pitcher with one of the best ERAs in the sport?

Not likely, but he did just that.

Bradish went 12-7 with a 2.83 ERA, which was third-best in the AL and fourth in the majors. He ranked second in the league in average and OPS against and third in groundball percentage.

He showed quality stuff and his swing-and-miss percentage of 26.1 was even better than Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray at 26.0.

Bradish is another pitcher who had a strong finish, going 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA his last 10 starts as he threw 16 scoreless innings over his last three starts.

We had a right to expect him to improve off his '22 year, but not this much. Today he is the odds-on favorite to start Opening Day 2024.

In future entries in this space, we'll talk about other players that surprised us this year and how they went about doing that. 

Three more Orioles surprises in 2023
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