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Sizing up the Orioles competition for the #1 pick in the 2020 draft: All-Star break edition

The Orioles remain a not very good baseball team. A couple of other teams are nearly as bad as they are.

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays
Same, Hanser.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no getting around it. The 2019 season isn’t much fun for Orioles fans, or at least not for anything that’s going on in the field at the MLB level. Even the one real consolation prize available to fans of an awful baseball team, that the team should be able to get the #1 pick in next year’s draft, is no guarantee to O’s fans right now because some other teams are nearly as bad as the Orioles are and could prove to be worse as the rest of the baseball season unfolds.

As we sit here during the All-Star break, there are five teams who are below a .400 winning percentage in MLB. They are the same five teams who were below a .400 winning percentage when I last updated the chase for the #1 pick about a month ago.

With their “no series wins for more than two months” and “no consecutive wins for almost two months” record-setting futility, the Orioles have managed to get a little bit of separation from the rest of the pack. They are currently two games clear of the Royals for the worst record in MLB, with the Tigers lurking another game “back” of that.

Unlike when the Astros of 2011-13 stood alone with three straight 100-loss seasons, the 2019 Orioles have some competition here. If the Orioles start seeing improvement from some of their struggling players, or if they manage to unearth better players in the minors, or even if they just get a little luckier, while these other teams trade away some of their good players or start getting unluckier, the O’s could find themselves with the #3 pick or lower.

I don’t even really want the Orioles to be the worst team in MLB again. Watching them be so bad stinks. It’s just, much like last year, I feel like if I have to watch an Orioles team this bad, where every reliever is horrible almost every night, where there are regular fundamental mistakes in the field, and where a lot of the offense is pretty bad, too, I might as well get to say, “At least the Orioles are going to get the #1 pick next year.”

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record: 27-62 (On pace for: 49-113)
  • Pythagorean record: 30-59 (expected W-L based on runs scored, runs allowed)
  • Fangraphs projected record: 55-107

Eight wins better than last year and still in line for next year’s #1 pick would make me feel a little bit better about this whole mess.

What’s good

One reason the Orioles are where they are is that not much is good. Trey Mancini’s bounce-back performance with a .868 OPS is one of the better stories on the team. Renato Nunez has 20 homers. Pedro Severino has thrown out 36% of runners and is OPSing .818 besides, and fellow catcher Chance Sisco has six homers in 71 plate appearances. That’s a solid response to the O’s drafting hopeful catcher of the future Adley Rutschman.

You can also enjoy Hanser Alberto having a .309 batting average, even if his lack of walks and power still mean he’s a below-league average hitter overall. And the John Means All-Star story is as great as his 2.50 ERA.

What’s not

The Sun’s Jon Meoli noted earlier this week that the O’s are 5-36 in games not started by Means, Dylan Bundy, and Andrew Cashner. Yowza. Means is the only pitcher who’s thrown at least 10 innings with an ERA under 3. Means and Cashner are the only ones with an ERA under 4. No reliever even managing to have an ERA under 4 is unbelievably bad. Also bad: Richie Martin’s hitting (.507 OPS), and Chris Davis’s (.605), Rio Ruiz’s (.635), and Stevie Wilkerson’s (.645).

Who’s getting traded?

It might be nobody. Mychal Givens has been bad. Alex Cobb got hurt. Cashner’s modest success comes with a lucky-looking .256 BABIP (career .290) and he might retire if he gets traded. Mancini’s not playing so well that his value to another team might exceed his value to the O’s. Jonathan Villar could be doing just enough to have a team in need of an infielder looking the O’s way. Bundy has a 3.73 ERA since the start of May, but is that enough to inspire a trade?

Kansas City Royals

  • Record: 30-61 (Pace: 53-109)
  • Pythagorean record: 37-54
  • Fangraphs projected record: 60-102

The Royals are “unlucky” by seven wins from the Pythagorean expected record, which is a lot, but even if they were 37-54 they’d still have one of the five worst records in MLB.

What’s good

There are four above-league average hitters in the Royals lineup, led by Hunter Dozier, who’s finally enjoying a breakout season with his .899 OPS - though he’s slumping over the last two weeks. Their five-man starting rotation, with no ERA below 4.28 or above 5.33, isn’t exactly “good” but it’s not awful either, at least not to this Orioles fan who’s spent chunks of the season watching David Hess and Dan Straily.

What’s not

“It’s a little better than the Orioles” isn’t a good thing to say about a pitching staff. Rookie Nicky Lopez isn’t hitting at all (.575 OPS) and neither is not-rookie Billy Hamilton (.555). Lucas Duda is still kicking around despite a .537 OPS, and in the absence of out-for-the-year Salvador Perez, their catchers are hitting poorly also. The only top 100 prospect in the Royals system is just-drafted Bobby Witt Jr., so hope for the immediate future seems to be in short supply.

Who’s getting traded?

After three years where he struggled, Alex Gordon is batting .275/.352/.447, so the 35-year-old might have worth to some contender that needs a veteran and a corner outfielder. He has 10/5 rights like Adam Jones had last year, so would have to waive those for any trade. The versatile Whit Merrifield is due about $14.5 million over the next three seasons. Somebody could want a guy like that who’s OPSing .850 this year and .794 over four big league years.

Converted starter and current closer Ian Kennedy and his 2.32 FIP might interest a team, depending on how much the Royals are willing to pick up a tab of the rest of this year’s and next year’s $16.5 million salaries.

Detroit Tigers

  • Record: 28-58 (Pace: 53-109)
  • Pythagorean record: 27-59
  • Fangraphs projected record: 59-103

The Tigers are in a strange zone where they’re below the Royals in winning percentage (.329 vs. .330) but are one game closer to the division leader. With 86 games played at the break, they’ve played the fewest number of games of any team so far.

What’s good

It must be fun to get to watch Matthew Boyd pitch. The 28-year-old lefty has struck out 142 batters and walked just 20 in 107 innings. Closer Shane Greene has allowed just a 0.879 WHIP in 33 innings pitched and has converted saves in an impressive 22 of the Tigers unimpressive 28 wins.

What’s bad

As a team, the Tigers are batting .233/.293/.382, which makes them 14th in the AL in batting average and 15th in OBP and SLG. Only two players who’ve batted for them this season have an OPS+ above 100, and one of these is Miguel Cabrera, who with five homers in 80 games is a shell of his former self, and still owed $124 million after this season. Their starting pitcher with the best ERA, 26-year-old Spencer Turnbull, is now on the IL with shoulder fatigue. The Orioles are really going to be hard-pressed to keep being worse than these guys.

Who’s getting traded?

Boyd has three more seasons of team control after this, so if contending teams are buying his breakout performance, he’ll be shuffled elsewhere before the deadline. Greene is a pending free agent, has never pitched this well before, and has a 3.72 FIP to go with his 1.09 ERA, probably due to a .183 BABIP. Regression is coming, but a bad team can’t keep their soon-to-be free agent closer at the trade deadline. They just might get less than they’d hope.

Right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, a free agent at the end of the season, is batting .282/.342/.468 and looks like the kind of player a team on the periphery of the chase who doesn’t want to sell and doesn’t want to buy too much might end up acquiring.


Who will end up with the #1 pick in the 2020 draft?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    (527 votes)
  • 3%
    (24 votes)
  • 12%
    (79 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else
    (6 votes)
636 votes total Vote Now