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The Misfits of the AL East: the Baltimore Orioles

In a division that saw four teams win over 90 games in 2021, the Orioles crashed and burned with the best of ‘em, and have more of the same in store for 2022

Image: @Orioles/Twitter

Of any team in the big leagues, it is quite likely that the Orioles are the easiest to project, at least in terms of where they’ll finish in the standings. A fifth-place finish seems all but certain, as the other four teams in the division all won over 90 games last year, and none of them have gotten significantly worse. Since Buck Showalter left Zack Britton in the bullpen during the 2016 Wild Card game, the Orioles have finished last in the division in every full season, taking a brief trip to fourth place for the 2020 season.

The 2022 Orioles will largely consist of the same faces as 2021. If there was a bright spot to be found amongst those faces, it is most certainly Cedric Mullins, the breakout star of 2021. Mullins slashed .291/.360/.518 with 30 home runs and 30 steals, the first Oriole to post a 30/30 season. Coupled with playing a premium position in center, Mullins’ put together a season that earned him all-star recognition, a top 10 MVP finish, and a silver slugger.

Whether this was Mullins’ first great season in a great career or just a blip on the radar remains to be seen. His hard-hit rate (39th percentile) and walk rate (47th percentile) don’t particularly inspire much confidence, but his elite defense (96th percentile OAA), along with his well-above-average contact skills (77th percentile whiff rate, 69th percentile strikeout rate), and speed (86th percentile sprint speed) provide him a solid floor.

Along with Mullins, the Orioles bring back the trio of Ryan Mountcastle, Trey Mancini, and Anthony Santander. Mountcastle put together a nice season in 2021, earning some down-ballot Rookie of the Year support, but his OBP of .309 leaves much to be desired, particularly of a first baseman. In his first year back after battling cancer, even stepping on the field was a victory, but Mancini put together a respectable (albeit not eye-popping) season on top of it, with a 104 OPS+ and 21 homers.

Santander took a major step back from his breakout 2021, as his power disappeared, slugging just .433, after slugging .575 the year prior. The most notable winter addition to the offense is second baseman Rougned Odor. While there was a time when Odor was a productive hitter, it seems those days are behind him. The 28-year-old has not posted even a league-average OPS+ since his age 22 season (2016).

Presumably, top prospect Adley Rutschman will be in the big leagues at some point this season, potentially even opening day. The switch-hitting catcher from Oregon State has established himself as a premier offensive and defensive catching prospect. Whenever he arrives in Baltimore, he’ll become the most exciting part of the team.

Where the offense had a few notable names worth mentioning, the pitching is even bleaker, John Means aside. Means pitched well in 2021, he still has some room to grow if he wants to be a true frontline starter. His 4.4% walk rate is phenomenal (96th percentile), but he lags well behind league average in several categories, including barrel % (13th percentile), chase rate (38th), and xSLG (26th). Pounding the strike zone is generally great, but less so when those strikes are getting barreled. The Orioles’ depth chart lists just three starters behind Means, those being Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin, and Zac Lowther. Offseason addition Jordan Lyles also figures to spend some time in the rotation. Of these four pitchers, they collectively have just two seasons above a 100 ERA+, 0 such qualified seasons, and 0 seasons with an ERA+ above 106, regardless of workload. Needless to say, expect Baltimore to give up a lot of runs in 2022.

Win Projection: 57-105

Coming off a year that saw them go 52-110, tied for the worst record in the Majors (Arizona), this projection does forecast slight improvement, but this is more a result of anticipated regression to the mean than it is recognition of an improved ballclub. More simply, losing 110 games is hard. Baltimore has the unfortunate luck of playing more than 60 combined games against the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, and Blue Jays, all of whom won 90+ games last season and seem poised to do so again. It’ll be another long year in Baltimore. Even if everything breaks right for the Orioles, it is difficult to imagine them winning more than 65-70 games, even if they weren’t in the AL East. Unfortunately, buying a ticket to Camden Yards this season is buying a one-way ticket to the cellar, where the Orioles will be for now the 5th time in 6 years.

Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.