There were quite a few things that went right and/or showed some promise during the 2020 season for the Orioles. They provide areas to build on as the club rebuilds and tries to work its way up in the American League East standings.
Today, I list three things that worked or showed promise and I rank them in importance.
1) The bullpen was quite solid: This was an area of marked improvement for the 2020 Orioles. They traded three key ‘pen members during the year and still got better. So that bullpen provided both good performance on the field and prospects for the future. For those two reasons, I put the bullpen improvement No. 1 on this list of three.
The ‘pen ERA of 3.90 ranked seventh in the American League and was much better than the 5.79 ERA of 2019, which was last in the AL. The 2019 bullpen led the AL in homers allowed, but the 2020 group allowed 0.93 homers per nine innings, third-best in the league. The 2019 batting average against of .271 was 14th in the league; this year, that number was .222, third-best in the AL behind only Oakland (.205) and Cleveland (.221).
The bullpen WHIP improved from 1.51, 14th in the league to 1.27, tied for sixth. To go along with that solid homer rate, the bullpen produced a groundball rate of 45.0 to rank third in the league. In FanGraphs.com’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for 2020 AL bullpens, the O’s were tied for fourth at 3.0.
Yep, pretty good year for the bullpen pitchers, and more young talent for the ‘pen is on the way.
2) Mountcastle arrives: After hearing for years about this prospect with a bat that might produce at the big league level, we finally saw Ryan Mountcastle arrive this year. His first game was Aug. 21 and he surprised a few people by drawing two walks. In his eighth game he hit two homers. He never stopped hitting during a rookie season that will be repeated in a sense. Mountcastle is still rookie-eligible when 2021 begins.
Over 35 games and 140 plate appearances, Mountcastle batted .333/.386/.492 with five doubles, five homers, 23 RBIs and an OPS of .878. His OPS+ of 140 was 40 percent better than league average. Last year, when he was named the International League MVP, he posted a line of .312/.344/.527 with an .871 OPS.
At Triple-A Norfolk in 2019, Mountcastle’s walk rate was 4.3, and it was 7.9 this year, just below the AL average of 8.3. Last season, his strikeout rate was 23.5 on the farm; with the Orioles, it was 21.4 while the league average was 21.8.
He hit, looked comfortable in left field and showed sprint speed better than advertised. He showed poise, got clutch hits and seemed to fit in very well on the team. He arrived and he delivered. It was a big development for the 2020 Orioles.
3) The rotation improved: This was big too, but here is why I ranked this development third on this list. We simply need to see more. Not from John Means, who had a strong finish to remind us that he is this club’s ace, but from others. Alex Cobb finished well but had rough patches before that. And while Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer debuted and looked real good, they did combine for just 10 starts. So let’s see more. But their performance was very encouraging. And not just in that they showed some real talent, but maybe they also showed the O’s current pitching development program is strong and will benefit other pitchers still to come.
The O’s rotation ERA was 4.75 late in the year, but it finished 11th in the AL at 5.09. A couple of late outings where Jorge López gave up eight runs and Kremer gave up seven, raised it again over 5.00. But that was still the best rotation ERA by Baltimore since the 2016 team that won 89 games and made the playoffs, posting a mark of 4.72.
This season the O’s rotation got both younger and better, and that has to be exciting when Birdland considers the future.
So these are some things that went right or got better, showing promise in 2020 and how I rank the three. How do you rank them and what do you also list among things that went right this year?