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Sizing up the Orioles competition for the top draft pick in 2022: June edition

The season is turning out like a disaster for the Orioles, opening the door for a possible #1 draft pick as a consolation prize.

Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles
An inspection confirms it: The Orioles stink.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The only thing good about being a fan of a very bad baseball team is that the team’s pick in the next year’s draft will be near the top, if not at the top, of the first round. That is what a full rebuilding/tanking effort is all about. Bottom out to maximize chances for future improvement.

Even this simple reality can be thwarted if the team decides to take its high pick and deploy an underslot signing strategy rather than taking the best player available. The immediate returns of the Orioles doing this in 2020 are not good. Draft prognosticators are already lining up to say that the Orioles might try this again in 2021. It would be difficult to have worse luck.

Whether the Orioles current poor play ends up setting them up for the best player available next year or just another Heston Kjerstad-like swerve is something we’ll find out next July. For now, the Orioles are once again looking like a headliner at Tankapalooza.

There are some other bad teams out there and things could change as time goes by. About five weeks ago, my update on the worst teams had no reason to mention the Diamondbacks. Arizona is now the worst team in all of baseball, holding an MLB-record 23 straight road loss streak. They were not even on the horizon in mid-May.

Bad teams at that time like the then-worst Rockies have improved enough to get themselves out of the top 5 in the 2022 draft. And then there are teams like the Orioles, who were already bad and have only gotten worse. Here’s how things stand at the bottom of the league as we head towards the halfway point of the season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

In recent years, you can make a pretty good guess at the tanking teams just on how they behaved during the prior season or the recent offseason. Then there are the out-of-nowhere tankers who stumble their way to the bottom when better things were expected. This is the difference between the 2018 and 2019 Orioles, after all. The preseason PECOTA projection for Arizona was one of mediocrity, a 79-83 record.

There’s a lot of failure to get from a 79-win expectation to a 45-win pace. One of the many things that’s left Arizona where they are right now is that they currently have eleven players on the injured list. Nine of those eleven are pitchers. If you scratch nine pitchers off of any team’s depth chart and make them call on players farther down the chart, that team is probably going to have some problems. Take away nine pitchers from an already-poor roster and, well, this is what you get.

Sure enough, D-backs starters have had a 5.45 ERA for the season, second-worst in MLB behind only the Orioles, and since they’re in the NL that’s probably worse in relative terms anyway. Add to that a 5.17 ERA for Arizona relievers, third-worst in the league, and it’s not much mystery this team is setting the bad kind of records. When you take out pitchers batting, their batters are comparable to Orioles batters. We all understand this is not a compliment.

What hope is there for the future? Well, Arizona does have four of MLB Pipeline’s top 63 prospects, though none of them are above Double-A. This team could easily be back in the tanking ranks next year.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record so far: 23-52
  • On pace for: 50-112
  • Fangraphs projected record: 60-102

If you are reading Camden Chat, you are already plenty familiar with the many ways that the Orioles have fallen to the place they have fallen. A couple of players who couldn’t hit have been replaced by a couple of players who also can’t hit. The same thing keeps playing out with pitchers as well, and then there’s John Means on the injured list until at least after the All-Star break.

Players who might have built trade value with strong 2021 seasons have been hurt, bad, or both. Anthony Santander in particular stands out. Had he followed up on his .890 OPS in 2020 with another good year, that would have been interesting. He is now sitting on a .642 OPS. Longer-range players who might have penciled themselves in for the next good Orioles roster have also struggled: Austin Hays hitting .224/.289/.394 is just so disappointing. Last night’s start by Dean Kremer was a depressing cherry on top of this doom sundae.

The Adley Rutschman-Grayson Rodriguez show at Double-A Bowie is building hope for around 18 months from now, but until then, it feels like Orioles fans have to play the “hope for a better draft pick” game with very little other than Cedric Mullins to excite them at the MLB level.

Texas Rangers

  • Record so far: 27-48
  • On pace for: 58-102
  • Fangraphs projected record: 65-97

Neither the poor-as-expected quality of baseball nor the hopefully waning days of a global pandemic have kept Rangers fans from coming to check out their team in their new stadium. Texas has drawn over a million fans, one of only two teams to do that so far in 2021.

As hard as this may be to believe, the Rangers actually have a worse road winning percentage than do the Orioles. Texas is .270 outside of Arlington. The biggest reason for this is the difference in their pitching at home and on the road. At home, they have allowed a .722 OPS and 4.06 ERA. On the road, that’s an .814 OPS and 5.38 ERA.

The use of a humidor may be a factor, though the Rangers offense is largely unaffected, with only one point of OPS difference in their home/road splits. Both of the splits are bad, which is one reason why this team is where it is. Large adult son Adolis García leads the Rangers with 20 home runs, ten each home and road. This guy is 28 and suddenly flourishing, at 80th percentile or better for Statcast measures of both average exit velocity and sprint speed.

Starting pitchers not named Kyle Gibson have been slightly less than Orioles-level bad, and hitters not named García or Joey Gallo have likewise been bad. That’s how you get on pace for triple digit losses. Mike Foltynewicz, Jordan Lyles, Kohei Arihara: Bad, bad, bad. The Rangers, like the Orioles, had a struggling Rule 5 pitcher who was just sent packing this week. Brett de Geus and his 8.44 ERA are headed back to the Dodgers organization.

Gibson is signed for about $7.5 million for next season, which probably makes him the biggest trade chip the Rangers have. If teams believe his improvement for this year is real, that’s worth something. Much like the O’s rotation without John Means, in his absence would be a mess. Rangers closer Ian Kennedy is looking good in 2021 after stinking last year, striking out 27 batters in 24.1 innings. That’s helped him to a 2.59 ERA.

The Rangers have only two top 100 prospects. They will probably be looking forward to picking second in the coming draft.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Record so far: 27-46
  • On pace for: 60-102
  • Fangraphs projected record: 64-98

This was the team that had the worst PECOTA projected record of anyone, checking in at a projected 61-101 record. They’re playing pretty close to that pace. You might say they are who we thought they were. It is a largely talentless roster that is largely playing poorly, with its few decent-or-better performers headed for the trade block. There are a bunch of 27-or-older placeholders who really stink. That’s a familiar story.

Perhaps at the front of the group of trade chips is 31-year-old Richard Rodriguez, the Pittsburgh closer. He has a 1.84 ERA and 0.716 WHIP so far this season. In four years as a Pirate, it’s a 2.83 ERA and 1.084 WHIP. That’s a pretty good track record. Did the Dan Duquette Orioles have Rodriguez in the system and then get rid of him after five games in 2017, after which time he went somewhere else and was good immediately? Yes!

Pirates GM Ben Cherington will probably also hope someone will be interested in his second baseman, Adam Frazier. The 29-year-old leads all of MLB in hits with 94, and he’s drawing a bunch of walks, too. Will these facts interest teams more than that he’s only hit four home runs in 72?

One thing the Pirates have on their roster that the Orioles do not is a top prospect living up to top prospect billing. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who was available when the Orioles drafted DJ Stewart in 2015, was a top 10-15 prospect in the game before this season. He hurt his wrist in the second game of the season, missed two months, and has an .836 OPS since his return.

Colorado Rockies

  • Record so far: 31-44
  • On pace for: 67-95
  • Fangraphs projected record: 67-95

The PECOTA projection for this team before the season was 60-102. If they overachieve that by seven wins, the sting of 95 losses probably won’t be eased too much by sticking it to the computers just a little bit. This is another team who everyone thought would have problems, and here they are, having problems.

Colorado has had the original stadium with a humidor going back more than a decade. This team’s home/road splits are similar to the Rangers on the pitching side, but much more severe on the hitting side. The team has a 4.43 ERA at home and 5.55 ERA on the road. Their hitters, however, collapse on the road. They’ve got an .814 OPS in Colorado and a .572 OPS everywhere else. Coming down from the altitude hurts these guys.

The best Rockies reliever to date, by ERA, is former Oriole Mychal Givens, although he’s currently on the injured list. They have yet to manage to purge some of their worst relievers, with Yency Almonte (10.72 ERA in 26 games), Jhoulys Chacin (6.29 ERA in 13 games), and Ben Bowden (7.16 ERA in 20 games) all kicking around out in the bullpen. Closer Daniel Bard has a 4.15 ERA and 1.582 WHIP. It’s just not what you want.

Like the Rangers, this team only has two top 100 prospects. They don’t pick until #8 in the coming draft, so their chance of adding an immediate impact guy is lower.


Which of these currently struggling teams will finish the 2021 season with the worst record?

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