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Sizing up the Orioles competition for a top 5 draft pick in 2022

There are a few very bad baseball teams out there. So far, the Orioles are a little bit better than that.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

The 2021 Orioles are not a very good baseball team. This is not a surprising announcement to anyone. Last year’s O’s team overachieved a little bit in the shortened season and the team took that roster, shed a few semi-productive players, then charged back into the part of the rebuild process where winning at the major league level is not strategically relevant.

The one silver lining to your favorite baseball team being bad is that at least they will pick high in the next year’s draft and have the best chance to add a great prospect to the system. The O’s seem to have been broadly following the rebuilding path set by the Astros, where GM Mike Elias was an assistant.

Houston infamously collected three straight #1 picks and pulled off their rebuild even though one of those #1 picks was a bust and they did not sign another. This did not deter them from building towards their 2017 World Series win. That’s good news for the Orioles trying to follow in the Astros footsteps (minus, we hope, the whole trash can banging business), since as it’s turned out, they weren’t bad enough in 2019 to get a #1 pick in 2020, and they were only bad enough in 2020 to get the #5 pick this year.

If everything stays the same from now until the end of the season, the Orioles will once again be in line for “only” a #5 pick in the 2022 draft. Everything will probably not stay the same. Two years ago, I did one of these posts and cheekily included the Nationals, who after one month in 2019 had the fourth-worst record in MLB. They eventually won the championship, much to my chagrin.

Here’s how the Orioles stack up, or fall down, against the competition to be worst of the worst.

Colorado Rockies

  • Record so far: 15-28
  • On pace for: 57-105
  • Fangraphs projected record: 64-98

The Rockies general manager did not even make it out of April without losing his job. What kind of a dysfunctional baseball organization do you have to have where the GM gets pushed out before May? The kind where this past offseason, they “had to” trade away their star player, Nolan Arenado, and the trade involved them sending $51 million to the Cardinals while getting a pathetic trade return.

That’s got to sting even more than where the Orioles were three years ago. And how is the eight time Gold Glover Arenado doing for the Cardinals? He’s hitting .307/.362/.583, with ten home runs already.

This team will be kicking off the rebuild that is likely in its future with a whopping one top 100 prospect. They have 2020 #9 pick Zac Veen, and that’s it. Veen is #43 on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 and lower on other lists. Maybe they will be able to add to that with rental trades of pending free agents Trevor Story and Jon Gray, but as Orioles fans know from Dan Duquette’s sad 2018 trade returns, rentals ain’t worth what they used to be. Even moreso when a probable lame duck interim GM is making the trades. Former Oriole Mychal Givens is also a pending free agent.

Could things get better within 2021? Sure, maybe! The Rockies are one of the three teams with a worse reliever ERA than the Twins. Everyone is bad. The best ERA among the five relievers with the most innings is Givens, who is at 4.02. Maybe they can bring up some minor league guys and replace these scrubs. Or maybe the minor league guys will be worse and their relievers will keep lighting games on fire.

One thing that will surely help the Rockies stay towards the top of the 2022 draft - they’ve just barely pulled into the #1 spot - is that they’re in a division with what’s looking like three good-to-great teams in the Dodgers, Padres, and surprising Giants. They are probably due to lose more, though they, like the Twins, could also be due to reverse some run differential luck. The Rockies Pythagorean expected W-L is 18-25. That’s not a good team, but it’s not “picking top 2 in the 2022 draft” either.

Minnesota Twins

Perhaps no team has suffered more under the peculiar to 2020-2021 rules (we hope) of seven-inning doubleheaders and extra innings ghost baserunners than these Twins. They are 0-4 in doubleheader games so far this season, with a combined three runs scored, and 0-7 in contests that go to extra innings. Every one of those games ended in ten innings. Minnesota did not score in six of those seven extra frames.

Add to this an expected W-L record based on run differential of 17-23 and the Twins have really had some bad luck. On the other hand, even if they were 17-23, they’d still have one of the five worst records in baseball. Sometimes a plan just doesn’t work out.

What’s kind of incredible about this awful Twins record is that they’ve done this with an offense that’s pretty good. Among the nine Twins who have batted the most, the worst OPS+ is 99, so essentially their whole lineup has been league average or better. They’ve had standout hitting from Byron Buxton (out for a month) as well as Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz.

The Achilles heel is the pitching. They have the fourth-worst bullpen ERA in MLB, at 5.13. No team has had more losses charged to its relievers than the Twins. They have lost 13 games just in the bullpen. The best Twins reliever to date is Taylor Rogers, who has a 2.81 ERA. That is not an impressive reliever ERA in 2021. Five pitchers who’ve appeared in at least ten games have an ERA of 4 or higher.

That’s not to say the rotation is great either. They’ve got two pitchers who’ve done well and three who’ve done badly. It all adds up to a team ERA of 4.91, second-worst in the AL. That’ll get you near the top of the sweepstakes for whoever ends up being the best player in the 2022 draft class.

Detroit Tigers

  • Record so far: 16-26
  • On pace for: 62-100
  • Fangraphs projected record: 68-94

Ah, the Tigers. They came along in 2019 and out-failed the Orioles, carried that over into 2020, are doing the same so far in 2021. It’s gotten much closer recently. The Tigers were 9-24 twelve days ago and have gone 7-2 since. The Orioles have gone 2-7 in that same span.

This is a team with real problems. They are 14th in the American League in OPS and 15th in runs scored. Their pitchers have the third-worst ERA in the AL, and have recorded the fewest strikeouts of any team.

It’s not like everyone is bad, either! Detroit has four starting pitchers with an ERA of 4.22 or better. Among that number is Spencer Turnbull, who threw a no-hitter just last night. There’s a lot of that going around. Turnbull, too, no-hit the Mariners. Both Turnbull and fellow rotation-mate Matthew Boyd have an ERA under 3 and a WHIP under 1.

That seems like a recipe for a decent staff, except Tigers relievers are literally the worst unit in MLB, with a 6.13 ERA. A few strugglers have since been shuffled off, but five relievers with an ERA of 4.50 or worse remain. Tough to win when you can’t trust anybody.

Not that the Tigers offense has given their bullpen many leads to blow. Their relievers only have been charged with five losses. Two hitters in their lineup are above average by OPS+. Most of the people who a Tigers fan might have hoped would get flipped for prospect(s) are doing poorly. That includes former Oriole Jonathan Schoop, hitting just .221/.253/.317. The Miguel Cabrera march to 3000 hits/500 home runs has slowed down to where it seems like it may never happens, so there’s not even that consolation prize.

Perhaps better times are coming. They have three of MLB Pipeline’s top 20 prospects on their team, and that’s not even counting 2018 #1 overall pick Casey Mize, who’s already exhausted prospect status with the MLB club. They have a #3 overall pick coming to them in this year’s draft.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Record so far: 17-24
  • On pace for: 67-95
  • Fangraphs projected record: 67-95

Here is another team that combines worst-in-its-league hitting with some poor pitching to end up in a bad place. Every bad team is bad in its own way. The Pirates manage to still have the #15 OPS in the National League even though four of their eight regular players entered Tuesday with an OPS of .815 or better. That takes a lot of failure to send the team’s numbers down that low.

The Pirates hitters are up for that challenge. They have hit just 26 home runs. How is it even possible to have so few home runs through 40 games? This is only the first full season where GM Ben Cherington can work some magic. He’s going to have his work cut out for him. He does, at least, start out with four of Pipeline’s top 52 prospects, with a #1 overall pick coming in July.

In the meantime, there are probably only going to be more trades to try to collect more prospects. What fun that is for a fan. Third year outfielder Bryan Reynolds, who’s hit the best of any Pirate to date, may be the test of the duration of the rebuild. If they think good times are three years away, he might be the best candidate to net prospects.

Since the Pirates had a worse record than the Orioles in 2020, they will have a tiebreaker over the O’s for 2022 draft order, if these teams finish with the same record. Through 41 games, each team is 17-24.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record so far: 17-24
  • On pace for: 67-95
  • Fangraphs projected record: 67-95

It’s shocking to think of all of the bad baseball we have seen so far from the 2021 Orioles and realize that they are only in line for the #5 pick next year. Maybe they would be truly the worst team if not for John Means, but I don’t mind the O’s falling down the draft board if the reward for that is I get to keep watching Means do what he’s done through eight starts this year. I saw an Orioles complete game no-hitter for the first time in my life, you know? That was fun.

O’s fans are well acquainted with the team’s problems. Few are likely to be solved in the near future. Replacing Rio Ruiz with Stevie Wilkerson is not going to change much. Maybe a wave of prospects will arrive in August. Until then, we can only hope that Ryan Mountcastle starts hitting much better, that Anthony Santander returns and hits much better, that every player who is playing well keeps doing so, and that the Orioles can maybe have two more starting pitchers aside from Means carry an ERA under 4.50.

A bullpen that excelled early on is turning the other direction recently. It is always going to be tough to maintain a good bullpen when starting pitchers are averaging about 4.2 innings per start. There are still five relief pitchers with an ERA under 3, which is still pretty good. On the other hand, one of them is Tanner Scott, who’s walked 16 batters in 16.2 innings. He’s going to start getting wrecked if he doesn’t find some command.


Which of these mid-May bad teams will finish with the worst 2021 record?

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