On September 12, MLB.com published one of those listicle-type pieces on every team’s “most overlooked player.” Often for such pieces, what national media outlets dig up on the Orioles is disappointing: “10 future members of the 40-homer club” “The 12 best trade deadline acquisitions” “Every MLB team’s ‘likeliest’ Hall of Famer.” Yeah, right. Partly this is because the Orioles are a national afterthought. Partly it’s because these pieces are always to some degree trying to jam a square peg in a round hole. Partly it’s because our team just doesn’t have that many great players right now.
In this case, MLB.com’s writers lucked out and landed on a player who’s both good and actually lives up to the headline. Ramón Urías was an unexpectedly valuable contributor to this Orioles team, a guy with zero pedigree as a 2010 minor-league free agent signing with the Cardinals who played exactly zero MLB games before joining the O’s in 2020. And judging from things like press coverage, fans on social media, and postgame statements by Orioles brass, he’s still under the radar.
The Orioles did a lot of bargain-bin shopping this season—and most of what they turned up were not “finds.” Here are all the waiver-wire pickups who played for them this season:
Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika, Ramón Urías, Domingo Leyba, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Jorge López, Tyler Wells, Mac Sceroler, Mickey Jannis, Tom Eshelman, Shaun Anderson, Shawn Armstrong, Brandon Waddell, Dusten Knight, Conner Greene, Pedro Severino, Spenser Watkins, Marcos Diplán, Jorge Mateo, Konner Wade, Manny Barreda, Eric Hanhold, Zack Burdi, Fernando Abad, César Valdez, Brooks Kriske, Chris Ellis
Put it this way: take out the also-unexpected contributions of Chris Ellis and Tyler Wells, add up all the rest, and they’re worth -4.6 of WAR.
Ramón Urías has been worth 2.0 wins above replacement on his own. His main contribution this year was not a small one: stabilizing an Orioles infield full of holes, especially at second base. Early on, this infield was bad on all sides of the ball. After June 27, Urías replaced the injured Freddy Galvis at short so capably that the Birds decided they could part with Galvis in a mid-season trade, as they’d hoped to do all along. This freed them up to move on from folks like Rio Ruiz, Stevie Wilkerson, Domingo Leyba and Pat Valaika.
Let’s put this again in terms of WAR. The first half infield commonly looked like this: Valaika (-1.6 WAR), Galvis (1.0 WAR), and Maikel Franco (-1.6 WAR). The infield the Orioles trotted out for a good part of September: Ramón Urías (2.0 WAR), Jorge Mateo (0.4 WAR), Kélvin Gutiérrez (0.4 WAR). At least passes the eye test a little better, no?
Urías hit unexpectedly well over just 85 games. His OBP of .361 was second-best on the team behind only Mullins (.369), and not by much, evidently. If you took Urías’ base offensive totals and extrapolated over something like a full season, he’d have had 128 hits (tied for third best, with Ryan Mountcastle), 179 total bases (fifth), 49 walks (second), and 67 runs batted in (fourth).
It’s not just that these are nice numbers in themselves; it’s that Urías provided nice balance on an Orioles team that struggled to drive in runs, hit poorly with runners in scoring position, and also failed to take walks. Urías was the O’s singly most reliable hitter with RISP, with a .348 average and an .894 OPS. His walk rate of 9.5% is behind—you guessed it—only DJ Stewart (13.8%) and Ryan McKenna (12.3%)—OK, I definitely didn’t guess that. You can’t build a lineup entirely of Ryan Mountcastles (although I guess if you had nine Cedric Mullinses, start ‘em all), and Urías’ skill set brings important balance to this offense.
He did this while playing totally passable defense. Urías started 48 games at short, 32 at second, and 10 at third. Unsurprisingly, his worst position is the hardest: shortstop, where BRef has him at -3 defensive runs saved over a full year. He’s pretty much exactly average at second base: 0 runs saved. Surprisingly, he was great at third base, with a projected 32 defensive runs saved. Urías shouldn’t be the Orioles’ starting third baseman next season. But there is defensive value there, clearly.
Yes, he doesn’t have much pop, especially if you look at his RISP numbers, where his slugging is barely above his OBP: .444 and .449, respectively. At his current level of production, he’d have hit 12 homers over a full season. I think, though, from an infielder playing replacement-level defense who can drive in runs and get on base, you can live with that.
Amidst a long, gloomy season, the bright spots on this team have been the head-of-the-pack hitters: Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle, and Austin Hays. They deserve it. My point is that, statistically, Ramón is right behind them, and that’s no small feat. If Urías isn’t already in the conversation for the starting job at second base next season, he deserves to be. That’s all the more extraordinary given his total lack of pedigree. The Orioles have been plenty bad at unearthing diamonds in the rough this year. But they made have turned up one.