The season is winding down. While the winner of AL Central remains in question, the ten teams making the playoffs appear to be set in stone. There is no better time to look back on the regular season and identify the contributors who helped deliver the O's their first division title since 1997. The usual suspects, such as Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy, are among the most significant contributors, but we have grown to expect that kind of performance from them. Those who have outperformed our expectations for them are the ones we are really interested in. Who is the Most Surprising Oriole of the Year?
Pearce has been so good with his bat and his glove that he has been worth 6.0 bWAR and 4.8 fWAR in just 370 PA. Among qualified position players (which Pearce is not a part of), only five players have outhit Pearce in terms of wRC+. This is a player who was designated for assignment in April. Pearce has hit more homeruns this season than he has in his first seven seasons combined. His strikeout rate and walk rate remained consistent with his career numbers, and his BABIP is only slightly above average at .329. Other than his power, nothing suggests that this has been a fluky season for Pearce. The defensive numbers are much more questionable. Both UZR and DRS have loved his defense at both LF and 1B. However, the eye test does not suggest to me that he is anything more than an average fielder at LF and 1B. Yes, he is a much better option at LF than Nelson Cruz or Delmon Young, but I don't buy the aggressive defensive metrics that make him one of the best players in baseball this season. Nonetheless, he has produced great value for the minimum salary the O's signed him to.
To a certain extent, this is not completely surprising. Cruz hit 27 homers in 456 PA last season, which would put him on pace for 39 homers in the 661 PA he has received this season. He has hit a league-leading 40 homers. Other than a slight bump in the power department, his slash line is almost a carbon copy of his performance with the Rangers. Of course, the run environment has dropped rapidly, and he has left one of the most hitter-friendly parks for a lesser one, so just maintaining the same level of performance amounts to an improvement. His performance last season was worth more than $8 million, and he has surpassed that significantly this season.
It was a realistic question before the season whether Britton would be released, given that he had no options left and there were no spots in the rotation for him. I was among those who believed that Britton was kept on the Opening Day roster just because of the fact that he had no options. Gradually, he pitched himself into more important situations thanks to his improved strikeout rate and extreme ability to keep the ball on the ground. Once Tommy Hunter was demoted from the closer role, Britton grabbed a hold of it and never let go. His ERA of 1.70 ranks seventh in the league among relievers with more than 60 innings pitched, just ahead of Darren O'Day. His 36 saves rank 11th in the league, even though he did not record his first save until mid-May. Few had high hopes for Britton before this season, and we were pleasantly surprised by his transformation in the bullpen.
There are plenty of other options, such as all five members of the current rotation. However, the aforementioned three are the Most Surprising Orioles for me. If I have to pick one, it would be Britton. I have expected Pearce to hit southpaws at the very least, but I had no clue about Britton's role with the O's coming into this season. To say that Britton has exceeded expectations this season would be a vast understatement.