Don’t get the headline of this post wrong; the Orioles have been tough to watch at times this season. And there have been elements of the game (cough pitching cough) where they have been noticeably worse. But in general, this has been a successful step forward in the rebuilding process that just might have had the desired effect of discovering a few diamond-in-the-rough types of players.
That’s what the 2019 MLB season was meant to be for the Orioles. This organization did not have any misconceptions about competing for a playoff spot or winning the pennant. They needed to advance time by a year, allow the minor leaguers a bit more time to develop and take a look at a some interesting, possibly undervalued, players in Baltimore. It’s fair to say that they have accomplished all of those things and seen better results in the bigs to boot.
This is one of those categories where the bar needs to be lowered in order to provide perspective, but that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been improvement.
As a team, the 2018 Orioles posted a -49.9 defensive rating, according to FanGraphs. So far in 2019, they have a -36.1 defensive rating with not enough time remaining to see that number slip much further unless something truly calamitous happens.
These Orioles are not “good” in the field, but they are less bad, and that’s something. Newcomers Hanser Alberto (3.8 Def at second base) and Rio Ruiz (3.3 at third base) have been major contributors. Both of them have higher defensive ratings than the best player on the 2018 team (Caleb Joseph, 3.0).
All of this is with the inclusion of what has mostly been a makeshift outfield and a rookie shortstop that was making a big jump from Double-A to the majors while battling with his offensive struggles. The team’s trajectory in this department is certainly going up.
It was evident from that first game that Villar played for the Orioles in 2018 that he was a different kind of player, one unique to the organization. He has been even more impressive in 2019.
The middle infielder leads the league with a 9.5 BsR. He has swiped 35 bases and has a success rate of 81.3% on stolen base attempts. He does seem to be prone to the occasional TOOTBLAN, but those miscues are worth the added value he brings on the base paths.
On top of that, he has been on fire at the plate in the season’s second half. In 60 games, he is hitting .300/.366/.496 with 11 home runs and 10 doubles. Unfortunately, Villar is at a stage in his career where he is unlikely to play a key role on the next competitive Orioles team, but he has certainly put himself into a position to be a valuable trade chip this winter.
Everyone in baseball is scoring more runs this season, and the Orioles are not immune. Over all 162 games in 2018, they scored 622 runs (3.84 runs per game). Through 149 games in 2018, they have already scored 655 runs (4.40 runs per game). That is a marked improvement, and an encouraging sign nonetheless.
Trey Mancini has had a big bounce-back season (126 OPS+). Chris Davis has been slightly better than in 2018 (49 vs. 52 OPS+). And the catcher position has been less of a black hole of offensive ineptitude thanks to Pedro Severino and his 104 OPS+ over 91 games behind the plate.
This is a bit of an unfair comparison considering what the goals are of each team. The 2018 version was trying to hold on and make one more run at the playoffs with a veteran crew. The 2019 club was wiping the slate clean with a younger roster.
However, it remains notable that relative unknowns like Ruiz and Alberto have contributed. But the biggest takeaway from this season may very well be Anthony Santander. The former Rule 5 pick is establishing himself as a virtual lock for the Opening Day roster in 2020 with an offensive outburst that belongs in a major league lineup.
Laying a base
It has been far from a perfect season in Baltimore, but there is a glimmer of a successful team starting to show. Santander could be a corner outfielder or designated hitter for the foreseeable in Baltimore. If he can stay healthy, Hunter Harvey looks ready to become a lock-down reliever in the big leagues for many years to come.
Not to mention, the team’s minor league depth seems to be improving on an almost daily basis. Double-A Bowie is filled to the brim with intriguing prospects. No longer does it feel as if all of the club’s young players are forever away in Delmarva and Frederick.
There is plenty to look forward to in Birdland. Even though their win-loss record may not indicate it, the organization has taken significant steps forward this season at both the major and minor league levels. It will still be quite some time before we see that pay off in the form of a playoff berth, but the O’s are trending up.