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John Means has rounded back into form

After an up-and-down 2021 season, John Means is back to being an ace for the O’s.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles
Orioles left-hander John Means shares a laugh with umpire Doug Eddings between innings in a game against the Rays at Camden Yards on August 28, 2021.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an up-and-down year for Orioles ace John Means. He was on fire for the first couple months of the season, putting up a 2.28 ERA with a .182 BAA in his first 12 games started. Yet, there was a 4.19 FIP hiding behind his sub-three ERA. We’ll get back to that later.

But who can forget his no-hitter against the Mariners on May 5, when he struck out 12 batters and needed 113 pitches to toss a complete game. Crazy how long ago that seems. It was a true high point of an otherwise lowly baseball year in Baltimore.

A low part of the season for Means came when he succumbed to a left-shoulder injury. He wound up missing a little over six weeks, from early June until late July, and it took some time after he was activated to get back to back to his old self on the mound.

But the patience has paid off, because Means has been on point in his last six starts. His recent run of success was punctuated by last Monday’s start. On the road against the Phillies, Means tossed 6.2 scoreless innings. He allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six.

In six games started (36.2 innings), from August 22 to September 20, Means has a 2.70 ERA and 3.68 FIP with nine walks versus 30 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .191 against the lefty and averaging 1.0 HR/9 over that span.

Means’ recent success is well-earned, considering how he had to work his way back from injury. In fact, there’s has been a pattern of shoulder problems for Means that have been well documented over the past couple years, which is a bit concerning.

Last year, he spent about a week on the injured list with left should fatigue around midseason. In 2019 he had two stints on the IL, including a week for a left shoulder strain and almost two weeks for a left-bicep strain.

In early July of this year, Means began a minor league rehab assignment that included three stops at three different affiliates. It must’ve been a case of getting his work in and making sure he felt healthy since the results were underwhelming.

On July 4 he tossed two innings and allowed one run for the Aberdeen Ironbirds. Starting for the Bowie Baysox on July 9, he allowed four runs (two earned) in three innings. He finished up his rehab with a two-run, three inning affair with the Norfolk Tides.

The Orioles activated Means on July 20, post All-Star break. In his first six starts of the second half he put up 6.10 ERA and 6.00 FIP in 31 innings pitched, with 4 BB, 25 SO, 9 HR, and a .301 BAA. That’s not the John Means we’re used to seeing, so it’s good to see that he’s turned the corner since.

With the Orioles up over 100 losses at this point, John Means’ recent success has been easy to forget. Hopefully, he can extend it a little bit further before the season ends. The left-hander is scheduled to start this Saturday against the Rangers, and the O’s have seven more games after that for him to appear.

The long term future for John Means in Baltimore is a bit more cloudy though. There’s even a chance that GM Mike Elias and company decide that he has more value in a trade, either this offseason, next midseason, or further down the line.

According to Baseball-Reference, Means will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2022 and isn’t scheduled to hit free agency until 2025. If the O’s don’t trade him sometime before then, might Elias consider offering a contract extension? Seems risky, especially considering the lefty’s injury history.

Taking 2021 into the context of Means’ career, what can we expect from him during the 2022 season? In 61 MLB games to date, the left-hander has a 3.67 ERA and a 4.46 FIP. During his best stretches of this current season, Means’ FIP has been almost an entire run higher than his ERA. So he’s benefitted from some luck.

Next year and further down the road, we shouldn’t expect an ERA approaching 2.00 for Means. But something in the mid-to-high threes is more likely, which would fall in between his career ERA and career FIP.

But for now we can just sit back and tune in to Means’ last couple starts of the season. With him on the mound, those should be fun games to watch.