If you ever shook out your couch cushions thinking to collect some pocket change and what you found instead was a $100 bill, that would be an exciting day for you. When Mike Elias took over as general manager of the Orioles, he shook the upper minors for prospects and instead of finding pocket change, he also found a $100 bill: John Means.
Means, who turns 28 in April, is hardly the most important player to be considered in the Orioles rebuilding project. He is one of the more interesting ones though, for the simple reason that he was not on anyone’s radar. This time two years ago, if you were going to imagine some future good Orioles rotation, you probably imagined the first rounders Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall as headliners, supplemented by the most successful of the lower tiers of prospects.
The name of Means was not one of the ones you would have thought of unless you were being very thorough and very optimistic. From there, Means came almost out of nowhere to pitch a 3.60 ERA in his rookie season, finishing with a 12-11 record on a 54-108 team, with an All-Star berth and a runner-up finish in the Rookie of the Year award voting that, if you go by bWAR, he should have won.
With that success under his belt, you didn’t have to have too much of an orange tint in your shades to think that maybe the first piece of the next good rotation had already fallen into place.
This is not an opinion that is shared by two of the bigger public projection systems out there. Here’s what three systems see for Means in 2021:
- ZiPS: 4.90 ERA, 4.96 FIP across 136 IP
- Steamer: 4.87 ERA, 5.13 FIP across across 157 IP (both on Fangraphs)
- Marcel: 4.12 ERA across 131 IP (found on Baseball Reference)
A nearly 5 ERA would be disappointing even for a back-end starting pitcher in some imagined good rotation, at least as far as I am concerned. As far as why ZiPS and Steamer have made that projection after Means’s 3.60 ERA in his rookie year and 4.53 ERA last season, that’s probably because of FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), an ERA-like metric that tries to look at only what a pitcher can control.
For Means, the FIP on his 2019 rookie campaign was 4.41, much higher than his ERA of 3.60. Last year, when Means had the 4.53 ERA, he had a 5.60 FIP. My guess is that these models think that Means is more likely to have his ERA regress to that higher FIP level rather than continue to outperform it.
This is not some destined truth of pitching. Some guys are able to avoid having their ERA and FIP line up over multi-year stretches. The Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter era of the Orioles saw two such pitchers. Chris Tillman’s four successful seasons in Baltimore saw him have his ERA beat his FIP by an average of about 0.8 per season. Miguel Gonzalez’s three successful Orioles campaigns were similar, including two of three seasons where his ERA beat his FIP by more than 1.0.
Is Means going to turn out to be one of those guys? That will be one of the questions that could be answered by 2021 performance.
The case for the over
If you believe that Means’s 2019 was more of a Cinderella kind of show and he’s since seen his carriage turn back into a pumpkin, his footmen into mice, and so on, then you would probably want to take the over on even a high 4s ERA. Means was an 11th round pick for a reason, after all. If anyone could have looked at him and seen a future ROY runner-up, he’d have been picked a lot sooner. Maybe he got lucky and his luck has already run out.
The case for the under
You need only look at how Means has pitched in the big leagues so far to think that he can beat a 4.90 ERA. His 2020 campaign was a bit of a setback in that he went from a mid-3 ERA to a mid-4 ERA, and even that was heavily influenced by a handful of bad starts when he was dealing with his father passing away on top of an injury that saw him pushed back from a planned Opening Day start.
The final six Means starts, after those things were more in the rear view mirror, saw him post a 2.73 ERA while holding batters to a .655 OPS. The “real” Means talent level is probably not “competes for a Cy Young,” but these starts did offer him some positive momentum to head into the offseason, and hopefully he can pick that up when spring training and then the regular season get under way.
Make your pick
If you want to know “Why ZiPS?” take a look at my post from Tuesday that launched this series. So far, 61% of voters believe Trey Mancini will go over his projected .823 OPS. I’m curious if things will go differently for Means.
The only polls I’ll revisit at season’s end are the ones where a hitter takes at least 200 plate appearances, a reliever throws at least 25 innings, or a starter throws at least 60 innings as Orioles. That’s about a third of a season. If someone gets hurt or gets traded before they can play that much, it won’t be very interesting to see if they beat their projected performance or not.
In the event of a push, where Means has exactly a 4.90 ERA, the tie goes to the over.
What are your hopes for Means on the diamond this year? Let us know in the comments below.
Will John Means go over or under his ZiPS projected 4.90 ERA in 2021?
This poll is closed