Who's deserving of Most Valuable Oriole?

The Orioles will close out the regular season, and perhaps play their last games in 2022, with a home series against the Blue Jays on Oct. 3-5.

The math that’s done today suggests that those games could determine whether the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time in 2016. It’s still on the table.

If it crashes to the floor, the only drama left will be the big reveal of Most Valuable Oriole. The successor to 2021 winner Cedric Mullins.

Mullins was a slam dunk as the first 30/30 player in club history. He followed Anthony Santander, who followed Trey Mancini.

Whose hand will I shake during this year’s on-field ceremony?

It could be:

Catcher Adley Rutschman
The Orioles vaulted into contention after Rutschman unpacked his bags at Camden Yards, and that’s no coincidence.

Rutschman has been a rock behind the plate. The way he runs a game and guides a pitching staff, contradicting his lack of experience in the majors. The confidence he instills in the pitchers to throw anything at any time, because the ball won’t get past him.

A defensive weapon with an energy level that could operate the light towers.

Rutschman has a .363 on-base percentage, 29 doubles and 51 walks in 90 games. He was tied for first among American League rookies last night and for third among major league rookies with 4.1 fWAR per FanGraphs.com. His 4.5 bWAR per Baseball-Reference.com is the best by a rookie catcher in franchise history and second-best by a rookie at any position. Cal Ripken Jr. had a 4.7 bWAR in 1982. 

The award includes the word “valuable,” and it’s hard to find anyone who fits that description more than Rutschman.  

Reliever Félix Bautista
Bautista made the club out of spring training as a 26-year-old rookie with a walk rate in the minors of 5.1 per nine innings. History shows that it only gets worse in the majors, but Bautista is a unicorn.

A really big unicorn.

He’s cut his walk rate in half with the Orioles, and has registered a 1.62 ERA and 0.820 WHIP and notched 12 saves in 60 appearances. He was a dominant set-up man who’s become a dominant closer with Jorge López traded to the Twins on Aug. 2.

There’s more to Bautista than his imposing size, blazing fastball and spectacular entrances. He’s one of the best relievers in baseball. Operating at the highest level as a high-leverage bullpen arm.

Bautista was the sturdiest bridge to López. The only downside to moving him into the closer’s role is losing him as a setup man.  

Rutschman is a candidate for American League Rookie of the Year. Bautista is expected to appear on some ballots. And I refuse to believe that anyone saw it coming.

Outfielder Anthony Santander
Quick, who leads the Orioles in home runs (27), RBIs (79), on-base percentage (.332) and slugging percentage (.463)?

And how does anyone ranking first in those categories fail to be named MVO?

It could happen in 2022, but maybe that’s a mistake.

Maybe it would be a more obvious choice if the award was “most outstanding.” But there’s obvious value with Santander.

The Orioles found out what Santander could do when he is able to stay healthy. Not to jinx him, but he’s avoided a late-season shutdown.

He’s also developed on-base skills that eluded him in the past. His 48 walks rank second and crush his previous high of 23 in 2021. His on-base percentage looks tremendous compared to last year at .286.

Better at-bats, better production. And he’s one of the most popular teammates on the club. Great for clubhouse chemistry, which took a hit after Trey Mancini was traded to the Astros.

Starter Jordan Lyles
Don’t judge Lyles only by his 4.25 ERA and 1.444 WHIP. He leads the club with 27 starts and 152 1/3 innings. Tyler Wells is second in innings with 96 2/3.

Lyles has turned in 11 quality starts, the most recent 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Cleveland. He’s completed seven innings in five games and six innings in 12.

He wants the ball. He demands the ball. And he doesn’t want to hand it over and burden the bullpen.

The rotation could have collapsed after John Means made two starts and underwent Tommy John surgery. Grayson Rodriguez hasn’t debuted after straining his lat. Wells was lost for more than a month with an oblique injury. Bruce Zimmermann was optioned. Spenser Watkins was injured and later optioned.

Lyles misses a start with a stomach virus and it makes headlines. He’s just that important to the staff and the club, especially when the Blue Jays came to town.

The younger pitchers love the guy. He’s their leader, a father figure. Lyles joked about it after Wells returned from the injured list to start Wednesday night.

Where would the Orioles be without Lyles? Never mind, you don’t want to know.

Again, the award honors the “most valuable” Oriole.  

Mullins also is worthy of consideration on the three-man ballot, and I would have argued it before August. He won’t repeat his 30/30 season, and expecting it was unreasonable, but he’s swiped 30 bags again, slashed .296/.358/.469 last month, and covered a ridiculous amount of ground in center field.

Jorge Mateo has seven triples, 30 stolen bases and a case for winning a Gold Glove.  You’d have to forgive his .226 average and .669 OPS.

Cionel Pérez is one of the relievers discarded by another organization who’s flourishing with the Orioles. A major contributor in the late innings. Leads the bullpen with seven wins, but more telling are the 1.48 ERA, two home runs surrendered in 48 2/3 innings and the reduction in walks per nine innings from 7.5 last season with the Reds to 3.4 before last night.

Give me your ballot, and you can’t include anyone who’s no longer in the organization. López was a popular choice until the trade.

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