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Sizing up the Orioles competition for the top of the 2020 draft: September edition

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Hard as it may be to believe if you watch all of their games, the Orioles aren’t the worst team in MLB any more.

Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

For a lot of this season, it has felt like there would be no question that when the dust settled on 2019, the Orioles would be the worst of the worst once again and on their way to a second consecutive #1 pick. This is an opinion that will only be reinforced for anyone who regularly watches the O’s nightly bumbling around a baseball diamond. You seldom have to wait long for the moment that makes you recoil with disgust.

Over the last month, it has become clear that the Orioles are not, despite being the team that seems to generate the most mocking articles and tweets from certain corners of the Internet, the worst or most incompetent MLB team in 2019. A challenger emerged during the O’s 12-12 July, seized the crown, and kept it. That team is the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers are not at the bottom by accident. They are really, really bad. Their team batting line of .239/.294/.389 leaves them last in the American League in on-base and slugging percentage, and 14th of 15 teams for batting average. They have scored the fewest runs and hit the fewest home runs of any AL team, struck out more than all but one other AL team, and drawn fewer walks than all but one AL team.

On the pitching side, they’re not much less of a disaster, with a team ERA of 5.20 that also ranks 14th in the AL. The lowest ERA for any one of their starting pitchers is 4.45, and after their closer Shane Greene was traded in July, they don’t have any reliever with more than 30 innings pitched who has an ERA below 4. They are so, so, so bad. The Orioles are probably not going to pick #1 in next year’s draft.

This is not a bad thing. It’s good that the Orioles are not Tigers-level bad. There is no game where I tune in and think, “I really hope the O’s lose tonight for the draft pick.” It’s just that sometimes, when I think about all the mind-boggling, stupid things that players on this team can do, with missed cutoff men, throwing to the wrong base, failing to execute the most basic plays, and with all of the home runs, I feel like if I have to watch all of this, I want them to just go ahead and be the worst.

Not only are the Orioles headed towards not being the worst, they might not even end up being the second-worst. If the O’s have a modestly successful final 23 games and the Marlins, who are 3.5 games “ahead” of the O’s, really tank, the O’s could end up picking third next year.

Detroit Tigers

  • Record: 40-97 (On pace for: 47-115)
  • Pythagorean record: 43-94 (Expectation based on runs scored/allowed)
  • Fangraphs projected record: 50-112

What’s good

Detroit is playing a lot of young and young-ish players this season. Their problem is that only one of these players has done any good, with 24-year-old Victor Reyes batting .315/.349/.429 in 47 games. Every other hitter currently on the team is below a 100 OPS+, meaning they’re all below league-average hitters in 2019. That’s how you get such a putrid team batting line.

Even Reyes’s success is almost certainly unsustainable. He has a .401 BABIP. The rest of 2019 may not be enough for his luck to reverse, but nobody posts a number that high over a full season.

What’s not

Even some of the things that have been good this season have regressed lately. Strikeout wizard/starting pitcher Matthew Boyd didn’t get traded at the deadline, then had a 7.16 ERA in six August starts. He’s still struck out 219 batters in 165 innings this year, which gives me envy as I survey the O’s staff. 26-year-old Spencer Turnbull also sagged in August, allowing a 6.55 ERA in five starts, and his one September start so far was very bad.

I don’t know what the team itself was expecting from guys who are in their age 25 or younger seasons like Dawel Lugo, Jeimer Candelario, and Christin Stewart, but what they’ve gotten is a .609, .626, and .715 OPS, respectively. To me, it seems like the answer to, “Who on the current team could be part of the next good Tigers team?” is no one.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record: 46-93 (On pace for: 54-108)
  • Pythagorean record: 49-90
  • Fangraphs projected record: 55-107

The Orioles have called up a whole bunch of guys for September callups and they were, for the most part, a bunch of pitchers who’ve already been here and failed this season. That wasn’t very exciting.

What’s good

When I wrote this article last month, Anthony Santander’s performance was a pleasant surprise that I had no expectation would continue. Shows what I know, because he’s now got 17 home runs in 78 games and looks to be heading for a strong finish. He is now the 2019 team’s leader in slugging percentage among all players with more than five at-bats.

The peculiar success story of Hanser Alberto hasn’t yet come to an end either. He’s improbably in the hunt for the AL batting title. It probably won’t happen, and we all know batting average only means so much, but it’s still cool that any Oriole is eight points off the lead. He’s hitting .418/.436/.571 against lefties! I have no expectation that this will continue into 2019. It’s a fun story for this team anyway.

The long-awaited arrival of Hunter Harvey has seen him strike out 10 of the first 23 big league batters that he has faced. After a season of failure from most of the bullpen, we might just get out of 2019 with positive feelings about at least one reliever.

What’s not

The Orioles are still well on their way to giving up 300 home runs for the season, and team home run leader David Hess is back with the September callups. August didn’t go much better than July for first-half standout John Means.

Trey Mancini hasn’t homered since August 12 and he’s OPSing .678 in that time. His season numbers overall still look fine, but that’s a tough stretch.

Chance Sisco isn’t really hitting and he’s only thrown out four out of 28 runners.

Miami Marlins

  • Record: 49-89 (On pace for: 58-104)
  • Pythagorean record: 51-87
  • Fangraphs projected record: 58-104

What’s good

The Marlins have seven players ranked among the top 108 prospects in MLB according to the most recent Fangraphs ranking. They have acquired six of those seven players in trades in the past 18 months. I wish the Orioles had been able to collect that kind of haul in their fire sale. Of course, they weren’t trading Christian Yelich.

You can squint at some of the MLB results and see where a better Marlins team might emerge with some modest improvement from its younger players. Sandy Alcantara (4.26 ERA, 4.75 FIP) and Pablo Lopez (4.89 ERA, 4.20 FIP) are both in their age 23 seasons. They’re not in any Cy Young discussions. They’re also not lost causes like so many Orioles pitchers seem to be.

26-year-old Brian Anderson may have just had a breakout 2019 campaign before it was ended by a fractured finger. Outfielder Harold Ramirez and catcher Jorge Alfaro also look like pieces for the future under a “Just like that, but a little better” lens. Hope for the near future is the best a 100+ loss team can offer.

What’s not

One of those top 100 prospects, Isan Diaz, has not had an auspicious MLB debut, going .143/.262/.231 over his first 26 MLB games. Another player who was a part of that Yelich trade, Lewis Brinson, has busted again in 2019, with just a .467 OPS in 55 games. Brinson was a top 20 prospect in the game by some rankings heading into 2018. Sometimes the hyped guys bust.

**

The Orioles have the second-easiest remaining strength of schedule among all MLB teams, according to Fangraphs. Their opponents from here on out have just a .473 winning percentage. They’ve finished playing the in-division titans, the Yankees and Rays. Hopefully that means they aren’t going to totally limp to the finish line.

Poll

Where will the Orioles top pick in the 2020 draft be?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    #1 overall
    (9 votes)
  • 79%
    #2 overall
    (375 votes)
  • 17%
    #3 overall
    (85 votes)
  • 0%
    #4 or lower
    (4 votes)
473 votes total Vote Now