John Means was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Orioles in the first half of the season. A rookie left-handed starter who came out of nowhere to lead the Orioles rotation. In his first 18 appearances, including 14 starts, he had a 2.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.5 SO/9 and 3.14 SO/W.
The lefty even made the All-Star team in his first season, beating out teammate Trey Mancini as the lone representative for Baltimore.
Which brings us to the following blunt question: what has Means done for the O’s lately?
For starters, last night’s game did not end well for the left-hander. But the beginning was promising. Means struck out two batters in the first inning and three in the second. Then he took the loss after allowing four runs on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts in 3.2 innings. His ERA went up to 3.36.
In four starts since the All-Star break, the rookie is 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. Both his SO/9 and SO/W have decreased in that time span too, falling to 6.6 and 2.33, respectively. His home runs allowed have spiked recently as well. In his first 82.2 innings pitched this year, he allowed 9 home runs. But in his last 19 innings, he’s given up six.
More than once this year, Means has been forced to the injured list with some type of left arm injury. On June 17 it was a left shoulder strain that put him on the shelf for 11 days. Then more recently, on July 25, he landed on the IL for 13 days with a left biceps strain.
All of this brings up the question of possible overuse. Means may be 26 years old, but he’s in his first full major league season, so his innings are undoubtedly being monitored closely. Last year, between Bowie, Norfolk and 3.1 innings in Baltimore, Means threw 157.1 innings. The year prior, he threw 142.1 innings and the year before that, 138.
So far this year, the left-hander has thrown 98 total innings, not even that close to his averages the past couple of years. But with two different injuries to the throwing arm, it’s smart to limit Means’ usage like the O’s did last night. If he’s is still feeling the effects of one of the aforementioned injuries, that could explain the lefty’s recent struggles on the mound.
Moving from the mound to shortstop, Rule 5 pick Richie Martin is having the opposite type of season that Means is. Martin started off very slowly at the plate. In 198 plate appearances in the first half of the season, his triple slash line was .166/.226/.282. He had five doubles, two triples, four home runs, nine RBIs, 63 strikeouts and only 11 walks.
Bear in mind, just last year the 24-year-old shortstop was playing in Double-A ball, where he ended up hitting .300/.368/.439.
At the tail end of June, Andrea SK had a very good breakdown of Martin’s swing adjustments and his improved batting numbers. Now it looks like Martin is starting his hands even lower in his stance, and his stats since the All-Star break are trending even higher.
Last night Martin went 1-for-3, raising his batting average to .195. It was all the way down at .165 on July 12 and he’s raised it 30 points since then. In 49 plate appearances since the All-Star break, Martin is hitting .311/.367/.378 with three walks and nine strikeouts.
Martin came to Baltimore with a reputation as a strong defender as well, and he has made some highlight reel worthy plays in the field this season for sure. But he has also struggled at times with the more routine plays. Fangraphs has Martin rated with a -5.7 UZR in 622 innings at shortstop this year.
But he has elite speed that can change games too. There was his little league home run on July 20 against the Red Sox where he hustled out a triple and advanced home when J.D. Martinez bobbled the ball in right. Hands down one of the most exciting plays the Orioles have had this year.
And there was a play in the Yankees series where Martin advanced from first to second on a ball in the dirt that skipped away from the catcher —who did not even attempt a throw, because Martin is just that fast.
When searching for storylines to gravitate towards in this otherwise dismal season, Means and Martin are two such cases to watch. Hopefully the former can rediscover his form and the latter can keep improving.
All stats courtesy of MLB, Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.