When spring training began for the 2019 Orioles, left-hander John Means appeared to be a pitcher who would get a brief look before heading to minor league camp to prepare for a Triple-A season.
That never happened. He showed a velocity increase along with an outstanding changeup. He made the opening day roster. By April 9 he was in the rotation. In July he was headed to the All-Star Game, and with a strong finish he ended the year as the Orioles’ best starter and a rotation fixture.
He’ll begin 2020 as a key member of the rotation and a candidate to start opening day. It seemed to all happen fast for the 26-year-old from Olathe, Kansas. But while Means got almost no prospect love on his way up to the majors, we should not forget all the solid seasoning he did get over years.
Drafted in round 11 in 2014 from West Virginia, Means made 114 starts and pitched more than 600 innings on the O’s farm. He made 49 starts at Double-A Bowie and 19 at Triple-A Norfolk. So maybe when his chance came under the Florida sun he was ready to grasp the opportunity.
It sure looked like it.
In 31 games (27 starts), he went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA that was the lowest by a Baltimore starter since Wei-Yin Chen posted a 3.34 mark in 2015. That ERA would have ranked seventh in the American League if Means had thrown seven more innings to qualify for league leaders. Over 155 innings, Means walked 38 with 121 strikeouts. He posted a 1.135 WHIP, allowing 8.0 hits per nine innings with 1.3 homers, 2.2 walks and 7.0 strikeouts.
Means was named to the 2019 American League All-Star team, making him the first homegrown Orioles starter to make the All-Star team since Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, who made five All-Star Game appearances with the Orioles, the last in 1999. Means is the fifth rookie in O’s history and first since 1966 to be named to the All-Star team. He joins Chuck Estrada (1960), Jim Gentile (1960), Ron Hansen (1960) and Andy Etchebarren (1966) as O’s rookie All-Stars.
Before the break, Means went 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA and 1.077 WHIP. The ERA was the best ever by an Orioles rookie (with a minimum of 80 innings pitched). His 2.50 ERA ranked as the ninth-lowest for an American League rookie since 1954 (min. 80.0 IP) and was tied for the 16th-lowest among all pitchers in Orioles history.
When Means struggled coming out of the All-Star break there had to be concern that the league might have figured him out. In his first five second-half starts he was 1-4 with an 8.34 ERA, .970 OPS against and 2.78 homer rate per nine. But in his last eight starts, he was 4-3 with a 3.26 ERA, .641 OPS against and 1.26 homer rate.
Among AL pitchers throwing 150 or more innings, Means rated fifth in walks/nine, sixth in WHIP, eighth in ERA, 12th in strikeout/walk ratio and 15th in Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 3.0.
Means finished the home season with a 2.74 ERA, the best by a first- or second-year Orioles pitcher since Mussina in 1992 (2.65 ERA), the team’s first season in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In 16 games versus the AL East, he was 7-4 with a 3.97 ERA.
He was good early and late in the season, and he was solid within the AL East. So much for never being ranked among the club’s top 30 prospects by Baseball America.
He’s not being overlooked by anyone anymore.
The playoffs begin: The Oakland Athletics host the Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow night in the American League wild card game. The playoffs start tonight when Washington (93-69) hosts Milwaukee (89-73) in the National League wild card game.
The Nationals became the first team since the 1914 Boston Braves to go from 12 games under .500 in a season and then finish 24 over .500. They were 19-31 after 50 games, but then went 74-38 the rest of the way. Despite the strong four-month finish, the Nats had a losing record versus the other four NL playoff clubs. They went 8-11 against Atlanta, 3-4 versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-5 against St. Louis and 2-4 versus Milwaukee for a combined 15-24 (.385).
Here are the odds to win the World Series from BetOnline.ag:
Houston Astros - 9/4
Los Angeles Dodgers - 3/1
New York Yankees - 4/1
Atlanta Braves - 10/1
St. Louis Cardinals - 10/1
Washington Nationals - 14/1
Minnesota Twins - 16/1
Oakland Athletics - 16/1
Milwaukee Brewers - 20/1
Tampa Bay Rays - 25/1