With two weeks to go until Opening Day for the abbreviated 2020 season, we now know who will be making the start for the Orioles. The news will not be a surprise to anyone who watched the team’s starting pitchers in 2020. The Opening Day starter is John Means.
The fact that choosing Means was pretty much the only choice the Orioles could make, given that they traded away Dylan Bundy and haven’t experienced a healthy/good version of Alex Cobb, should not take away from what he accomplished to be given the ball on Opening Day.
Means built himself from a guy who was an eleventh round pick who was never on the prospect radar, especially a year and a half ago heading into the spring training where he won a role in the rotation. From the opportunity he earned last spring, he made himself into an All-Star, a runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year, and now into the team’s #1 starter. That’s a great story.
Seeing Means continue his 2019 performance into 2020 is one of the things I will be rooting for the most as this season goes along. Means started 27 games last year and pitched to a 3.60 ERA. That doesn’t win you any Cy Youngs in this era of baseball, but even teams that won 100+ games last season could have found room for a mid-3 ERA pitcher.
Means will still have to silence the doubters, since he had a much more pedestrian 4.41 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). That’s acceptable, if not exciting, performance. The Orioles as a team had a 5.59 ERA and 5.56 FIP. If they had shaved a full run off of both of those numbers, the 2019 season would not have been nearly so miserable.
In order to get lined up for the Opening Day start, Means will also be starting the Orioles exhibition game on July 19. He’ll get his first career Opening Day start in the same place where he made his MLB debut, at Fenway Park in Boston.
Means will probably be a bit more prepared to pitch in Fenway this time around; in an interview last year, he said he got a call in September 2018 asking if he had stayed in pitching shape after the minor league season, and he said yes even though he hadn’t because you don’t say no to the chance to pitching in the big leagues.
Fortunately for O’s fans, the new O’s regime didn’t write off Means for giving up five runs in 3.1 innings in one game in the waning Dan Duquette days.