Now 14-16 at the 30-game mark, the Orioles have been tough to figure out. Just when you think they’re going to keep losing, they’ve cruised past the Rays, Nationals and Phillies. And when you think they might actually be good, they’ve been swept by the Marlins and Blue Jays.
And now, they’re in a stretch in which they’ve dropped eight of their last 10 games. Most likely, they are no better than an average or below-average team. But even that is a massive improvement over the 2019 Orioles, who lost 108 games and then returned much of the same roster. If you anticipated the O’s being just two games below .500 after 30 games, you must have a crystal ball.
Whether you view the O’s unexpected first half as a positive depends on your viewpoint of the ongoing rebuild. There are many fans who want the Orioles to lose as many games as possible in order to secure a high draft pick to aid in the rebuilding effort. And there are other fans who understand what the rebuild means but also enjoy the fun of the O’s being competitive and not embarrassing. It’s worth noting that, at the moment, it’s still unclear how the order in next year’s MLB Draft will be determined.
Regardless of the type of fan you are, there have been a number of interesting developments through the O’s first 30 games. Here are a handful of them:
The Rise Of Anthony Santander
Heading into the season, the O’s outfielder I was most excited to see was Austin Hays. While Hays struggled and is now on the injured list with a non-displaced rib fracture, Santander has been fantastic after testing positive for COVID-19 this summer. His 148 wRC+ is in the top 30 among qualified hitters, while his isolated power (.352) is tied for third and his slugging percentage (.631) ranks ninth. He’s also mashed 10 home runs, two behind the league leaders.
In addition to slashing his strikeout rate so far, Santander is doing a better job of barreling the ball. He’s already amassed 11 Barrels in 2020; he had 23 all of last season. He’s hitting the ball with about the same average exit velocity (around 90 mph), but he’s getting it in the air more (launch angle better than 24 degrees; 15 last season). After finishing with an identical wOBA and xwOBA (expected wOBA) of .321 last season, those figures have jumped to .385 and .382, respectively.
There’s always the concern that Santander won’t walk enough to inflate his on-base percentage, but if this power is close to for real, the O’s have a strong-hitting, decent-fielding corner outfielder on their hands. Not bad for a former Rule 5 pick.
Tanner Scott, Relief Weapon
It’s a toss-up trying to decide who’s been the O’s best reliever. Mychal Givens (1.38 ERA, 2.62 FIP), Shawn Armstrong (2.19 ERA, 3.24 FIP) and Paul Fry (2.31 ERA, 2.73 FIP) have all been very good. But perhaps no story has been more exciting than Tanner Scott’s emergence.
With a 2.31 ERA and 4.19 FIP, Scott fits in with the performances above. But none have the repertoire or youth of Scott (he’s 25). In terms of O’s current bullpen options, only Miguel Castro rivals Scott in those departments (he’s also 25), but he just hasn’t been as good this season.
Showcasing a blazing four-seam fastball and devastating slider, Scott seems to be hitting his stride. He’s throwing those two pitches at about the same rate as before, but he’s doing so while inducing weaker contact and avoiding barrels, cutting walks, and getting more whiffs. Interestingly enough, he hasn’t been throwing more first-pitch strikes, but he is pitching in the zone more often and seeing less contact on those in-zone pitches. When Scott does get ahead in the count, both right- and left-handed batters have to look out for his filthy slider. It’s unfair when he’s throwing it like this:
Hunter Harvey was supposed to be one of the youngsters to track this season and was a good bet to be the O’s best reliever. But things don’t always go according to plan, and Scott’s ongoing development is starting to bear fruit and has been a pleasant surprise.
Catchers Getting The Job Done
No catcher in the Orioles organization gets more attention than Adley Rutschman, the team’s consensus top prospect and one of the most promising young talents in the minor leagues. But he won’t make his way to Baltimore for another year or two, meaning there’s still time for the O’s current catchers to shine. And so far in 2020, Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco are taking advantage.
By FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, Severino (0.9) is just ahead of Santander (0.8). Right behind them are Hanser Alberto and José Iglesias at 0.7 and Sisco at 0.6. While Severino and Sisco have their issues behind the plate — Severino with blocking pitches, Sisco with throwing and both with pitch framing — they’ve somehow been the team’s most efficient weapons with the bat.
Sisco has a 163 wRC+ and a .422 on-base percentage, while Severino is right behind him with a wRC+ of 166. With improved strikeout and walk numbers, Severino’s hot start may be a bit more for real; Sisco, meanwhile, has a BABIP near .400 and an unimpressive launch angle near 13 degrees, though he is barreling the ball a little more. Almost certainly, neither will continue to be this good, but it’s still fun to see the O’s catchers of all positions being so productive.
Who Isn’t A Trade Chip?
As GM Mike Elias has demonstrated, he isn’t afraid to make a trade or two. But he’s also been hesitant to make a slew of trades just to make them. A majority of his deals have come with one main focus: building for the future.
With that in mind, and with the caveat that some teams may not be willing to add payroll in this truncated season or give up many pieces because of an expanded playoff field, don’t be surprised if the O’s (and other teams) do very little at the trade deadline. But the Orioles do also possess some useful players who could help contending teams get marginally better.
Really, anyone but a select few could be considered trade options. Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, John Means, Tanner Scott and Keegan Akin surely won’t be moved. But it also wouldn’t be shocking to see any of the following dealt: Alex Cobb, Mychal Givens, Tommy Milone, Pedro Severino, Hanser Alberto, José Iglesias, Miguel Castro and Renato Núñez. There are others, of course, and none of them are huge chips. But almost anyone could be on the move if Elias is able to pry something interesting and of potential future value.
The Unending Chris Davis Saga
Any hope for a miraculous rebound for Davis has been extinguished. You know the spring training story well by now: he bulked up during the offseason and did things primarily his way, and it led to an intriguing but brief string of positive results during the spring. The regular season result, though, is a different version of Davis that somehow has been even less effective than recent years. Davis’s plan seems to be to swing more in an effort to make more contact — he’s done both of those things — but he’s walking less than ever and isn’t hitting the ball hard or lifting it.
Consider this: In by far his worst season (2018), Davis posted a slash line of .168/.243/.296 (44 wRC+) and an fWAR of -3.2 in 522 plate appearances. In 52 plate appearances in 2020, Davis has put up a hard-to-imagine line of .122/.173/.184 (-7 wRC+) and already has an fWAR of -0.8. Pitchers aren’t hitting in 2020 thanks to the universal DH, but for reference, pitchers as a group in 2019 had a batting line of .128/.160/.162 (-18 wRC+).
Currently on the 10-day injured list with left patella tightness, Davis may not return for a little while. This time off could be spun as another reset of sorts for him, which has happened numerous times throughout these last few years. What’s more interesting is what happens with Davis after this season now that Mountcastle has been promoted and the O’s have other interesting options at first base (Núñez and potentially Sisco). And that’s without factoring in the hopeful return of Trey Mancini, who’s the most likely option to start at first base on Opening Day as long as he’s healthy.
There’s nothing else that can be learned from playing Davis. It doesn’t seem fun for him, and it certainly isn’t fun for fans. Most importantly, the team is worse when he’s on the field, and the O’s have reached the point of promoting prospects who can play the same position. Davis shouldn’t be blocking anyone moving forward, and it’ll surely be a storyline yet again to see if he’s still around after this season.
All stats are entering play Aug. 27.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox