The Baseball Writers’ Association of America doesn’t begin casting votes for major awards in April and early May. No season is truncated to such a length that it happens.
John Means isn’t clearing space on a shelf for his Cy Young Award. He’s entering a premature discussion without clicking on any links.
The talk surrounds him. It’s building. And he’s doing his best to ignore it.
I guess Means has no one to blame but himself. That’ll teach him to go 3-0 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.838 WHIP and .163 opponent batting average in six starts. To allow two runs or fewer in five of those outings and to strike out 38 batters in 37 innings.
Means’ 1.70 ERA is the lowest for an Orioles starter in his first six starts of a season since Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (1.13) in 1977. It’s the 10th time in club history that an Orioles starter has posted a 1.70 ERA or lower in his first six starts.
Means and Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow are the only pitchers in the majors with two scoreless appearances of seven innings or more. His 60 in-zone swing and misses lead the American League and are second in the majors behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom (65), according to Statcast.
American League Pitcher of the Month is within his reach, but his arm isn’t extended unless he’s on the mound.
“It feels pretty good, but I don’t want to sit back and look at it,” he said Friday night in Oakland. “I’d like to just keep focusing on game to game and start to start. I’ve got the Mariners next and that’s really all I’m worrying about.”
The last Orioles Cy Young Award winner was Steve Stone back in 1980, when he unexpectedly won a club-record 25 games - so long ago that win totals mattered - and registered a 3.23 ERA and 1.297 WHIP in 250 2/3 innings. He averaged 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
The bullpen didn’t blow a save for him until his last start. He threw three perfect innings in the All-Star Game.
Stone lasted one more season in the majors, making 12 starts among 15 appearances and going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA and 1.436 WHIP in 62 2/3 innings. Shoulder tendinitis led to his retirement, and the devil said, “Hey, we had a deal, so ...”
I kid. But Stone winning a Cy Young Award, and being the last to do it with the Orioles, was a real stunner.
Oakland’s Mike Norris finished second after going 22-9 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.048 WHIP, 24 complete games that eventually would make his arm fall off, and 6.8 hits and 0.6 home runs per nine innings in 33 starts. And he remains bitter.
Stone and Norris received 13 first-place votes. Stone grabbed 10 second-place votes, compared to seven for Norris. Three voters omitted Norris from their ballots and still have some explaining to do.
The Orioles’ Dennis Martinez finished fifth in 1981, Jim Palmer was second in 1982, Scott McGregor was sixth in 1983, Mike Boddicker was fourth in 1984, Jeff Ballard was sixth and Gregg Olson eighth in 1989, Mike Mussina was fourth in 1992, 1994 and 1995, fifth in 1996, sixth in 1997, second in 1999 and seventh in 2000, Lee Smith was fifth in 1994, Randy Myers was fourth in 1997, Erik Bedard was fifth in 2007, Jim Johnson was seventh in 2012 and Zack Britton was fourth in 2016.
Means has made six starts, in the first month of the season. But he also allowed only one run in each of his last four starts in 2020, walking three batters and striking out 30. He was an All-Star in 2019 and placed second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
A staff ace evolving, along with his pitch mix, into a legitimate major league ace. No team designation required.
“I just think he’s completely matured as a major league pitcher and he’s still continuing to get better,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s got one full year in and last year was a shortened year. He doesn’t have a whole lot of major league experience and he’s just improving. He’s improving.
“You see a pitcher developing at the big league level every time out. Last year, he was overthrowing, made the adjustment. This year, he’s really executing pitching. And when he needs to elevate, he elevates. When he needs to dump in a breaking ball, he can dump in a breaking ball. He’s still got a changeup. He’s turning into a complete pitcher.”