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Sizing up the Orioles competition for the #1 pick in the 2020 draft: June edition

The Orioles are still very, very bad. There are other teams just like them.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Orioles have a great many little problems that all add up to one crucial one: They are not a good baseball team. They show this nearly on a nightly basis, sometimes even in games where they end up winning. This is by design. No one thought it would be any different. The success of the MLB team is on hold while a new talent pipeline is being assembled.

Seldom is as hopeless collection of MLB players assembled. Or so it feels sometimes, if you watch too much Orioles baseball. However, that’s not entirely true. Unlike when O’s GM Mike Elias was part of the Astros organization that went through a tanking period before finding success, there are other teams drinking from the trough of purposeful failure now.

Five teams sit below a .400 winning percentage as teams have about 100 games left to play. The Orioles entered play on Wednesday merely tied with the Royals for the worst record in MLB, with the Blue Jays lurking three games behind.

One of these bad teams could still separate from the pack by continuing to lose as others eventually find some improvement of either luck or skill. That’s what happened to the 2018 Orioles, who appeared to be in a duel with the Royals for the worst record last season before they ultimately showed their true lack of quality and finished 11 wins behind their next-worst competition, the Royals.

A lot can change over the rest of the season. The trade deadline will come and go. There may be prospect call-ups to help change a bad team’s fortunes slightly, if they have anyone worth calling up. For now, these are the worst of the worst.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Current record: 19-42 (On pace for: 50-112)
  • Pythagorean record: 20-41 (Expected record based on runs scored and runs allowed)
  • Fangraphs projected record: 58-104

What’s good

It’s not hard to get sucked into all of the bad things about the Orioles and lose sight of the good ones. There are some solidly performing players. With Trey Mancini batting .298/.353/.539 so far, the O’s using him as the center/only piece of their All-Star voting campaign is not a joke. Pedro Severino’s recent three-homer game propelled him up to an OPS of .929. That’s a small sample size, but also, it’s June, so it’s not that small.

Team home run leader Renato Nunez, Dwight Smith Jr., Jonathan Villar, and Hanser Alberto have all been fun to watch at times. And through 14 games and 10 starts, the success of John Means has been a pleasant meadow in the middle of the dark forest that is this season.

What’s not

After several weeks of genuinely revived performance, Chris Davis is back in the dump with a .479 OPS over his last 28 days. Mark Trumbo’s being on a rehab assignment feels more like a threat than something to be hopeful for. At a 5.59 ERA, the Orioles rotation is the worst in the American League. The same is true for the bullpen and its 5.86 ERA. The only surprise is that they aren’t the worst in all of MLB - the Nationals relievers, incredibly, have a 6.68 ERA right now.

In reference to the particular struggles of David Hess in the rotation, manager Brandon Hyde remarked, “There’s no one else.” The Triple-A candidates have struggled mightily. It’s true for the relievers as well. This is what the Orioles have, so they have to do the best they can with that, and that’s just not very good.

Hope for the rest of the season

The team is, if not better, at least more interesting now that Chance Sisco and DJ Stewart have joined the party. It may end up that neither of these guys are meant to be regular MLBers for long, but at least they should get a chance to show it based on their strong minor league numbers. Other than that, the reality is that hope for Orioles fans is going to have to be aimed more towards 2021 or later.

Kansas City Royals

  • Current record: 19-42 (On pace for: 50-112)
  • Pythagorean record: 24-37
  • Fangraphs projected record: 63-99

What’s good

The Royals have five players in their batting order with an OPS+ of 100 or better. Two league average hitters and three above-average hitters isn’t so bad, especially when the best of them, perpetual “want him to be better than he is” guy Hunter Dozier is finally breaking out with a fantastic .987 OPS at age 27.

Two pitchers in their starting rotation have an ERA+ of 100 or better, indicating that Royals fans have a presently non-horrible starting pitcher in 40% of their games. That’s not a recipe for a good baseball team, of course, but it’s less miserable than it could be, as Orioles fans know.

What’s not

Among relievers with at least ten games, the best ERA is Glenn Sparkman and his 3.77. While they don’t have as many disaster-level guys as the Orioles, it’s not good for a team when their five most frequently used relievers are at a 4+ ERA. A month ago, converted closer/disappointing starter Ian Kennedy looked like he might be trade bait, but those hopes have been dashed with his results over the last month.

The Royals hitters who are bad have been really bad. Chris Owings and his awful .415 OPS have been released, but still around daily are Billy Hamilton (.574 OPS), Martin Maldonado (.575) and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn (.642).

As of this writing, Dozier is on the disabled list with “tightness in the right side of his thorax.”

Hope for the rest of the season

Maybe it feels different for a Royals fan, but I just don’t see where there’s any hope for this year. They have zero prospects among the top 132 players ranked by Fangraphs, and only one of their top ten prospects is above Double-A: 24-year-old Nicky Lopez, who’s batted .203/.259/.266 in 19 games since being called up to MLB. I guess they can hope that 26-year-olds Jakob Junis and Jorge Lopez start pitching better. Junis combined for a 4.35 ERA in 2017 and 2018 but is currently at 5.63 for the 2019 season.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Current record: 23-38 (On pace for: 61-101)
  • Pythagorean record: 24-37
  • Fangraphs projected record: 69-93

What’s good

Maybe you’ve heard about the son of Vladimir Guerrero smashing his way to the big leagues even though he just turned 20 in March. They also have the Fangraphs #47 prospect in MLB on the team now, catcher Danny Jansen, though Guerrero is performing well and Jansen is not.

First baseman Justin Smoak and second baseman Eric Sogard are also hitting well. Unlike the Orioles and Royals, most of the Jays batters who aren’t doing great are at least not at atrocious levels of performance; Freddy Galvis and his .705 OPS get a hearty “meh” but won’t make anyone run to puke in the trash can.

They have one starter, Marcus Stroman, getting very good results with a 2.84 ERA, Aaron Sanchez doing fine at a 3.95 ERA, and Trent Thorton at “it could be worse” levels with his 4.73 ERA. That’s non-horrible starters in 60% of their games. Closer Ken Giles has whiffed 42 batters in 25 innings and has a 1.08 ERA. Trade bait!

What’s not

After injuries to Matt Shoemaker (pitching well) and Clay Buchholz (not pitching well), the Jays have had to keep turning to retreads. Edwin Jackson has been bombed in four starts, while 35-year-old Clayton Richard is OK so far. Three relievers have ERAs over 6. This is an ordinary bad baseball team, not a legendarily bad one.

Hope for the rest of the season

Every game is going to be interesting with Guerrero involved. Fangraphs #9 prospect Bo Bichette, son of Dante, is at Triple-A and he’s only 21, although he’s not yet hitting at “MUST PROMOTE HIM NOW” levels. I think most of the hope for this year will have to be that they can trade people and get prospects, though. At least their trade bait is playing well.

Miami Marlins

  • Current record: 23-36 (On pace for: 63-99)
  • Pythagorean record: 24-35
  • Fangraphs projected record: 65-97

What’s good

I wouldn’t make any Satanic bargains to have the Marlins rotation, where the oldest pitcher is 27 and the highest ERA is 4.52, but it would sure be tempting. Even the best of them, Caleb Smith, probably isn’t heading towards the Cy Young conversation, but still, imagine how much better it has to feel if every game you could think, “Tonight’s starting pitcher is pretty good.”

The Marlins dealt catcher J.T. Realmuto over the offseason, with part of the trade return being his replacement, 26-year-old Jorge Alfaro. The new catcher has nine homers over 46 games and is throwing out 36% of runners. Struggling outfielder Lewis Brinson has been replaced by 24-year-old Harold Ramirez, who was OPSing .999 in Triple-A and now .834 in 20 big league games.

What’s not

The bullpen sucks. The worst of the bunch is former Oriole Wei-Yin Chen, demoted to relief and with an 8.18 ERA, not exactly pitching his way out of exile. They are all walking way too many batters, though at least for some like Nick Anderson that comes with a gaudy 16.4 K/9. Despite a few good hitters, they’ve got the worst OPS among NL teams because some starters like Curtis Granderson (.658 OPS) and and Miguel Rojas (.652) are hitting poorly, as are their bench players.

Hope for the rest of the season

The Derek Jeter-fronted ownership group creates a lot of drama, and the Marlins have understandably been criticized for trading away so many of their best players, including Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. I think the hope for the rest of the year is easy to see with this rotation.

It’s just a question of when they can get the rest of the team playing better. Infielder Isan Diaz is the Fangraphs #104 prospect; he’s batting .279/.364/.510 for the Marlins Triple-A New Orleans team, with 12 homers. Monte Harrison, the #122 prospect, is hitting .288/.386/.472 for the Baby Cakes. The team’s got a bad record, but they might have the quickest path to improvement to less painful baseball out of these four teams.


Who will end up with the #1 pick in the 2010 draft?

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  • 6%
    (46 votes)
  • 88%
    (639 votes)
  • 0%
    Blue Jays
    (7 votes)
  • 3%
    (27 votes)
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    Someone else
    (6 votes)
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