Nobody saw the Orioles coming this year. Picked to finish in the AL East cellar, they instead managed a winning record and hung around in the playoff hunt until October. The main drivers of their overachieving 2022: pitching and defense. Of all the important statistics the team put up this season, none were more important than these two:
3.97 – the team ERA, almost two full runs less than their 5.84 mark in 2021, and
38 – the total number of defensive runs they saved as a team, a 68-run improvement on 2021, which they spent in the red.
How the team turned around the ship on pitching is an epic for another day. How did they do it on defense? Well, simple, really:
One, just promote incredibly talented early-round draft picks. Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers –- they make any manager look smart.
Two, stop playing people out of position. If you look at the ‘21 team, you find unsightly defensive lineups with things like Ryan Mountcastle in the outfield, Pedro Severino providing negative value over a whole season at catcher, and Ramón Urías second only to veteran Freddie Galvis in games started at shortstop.
Urías is a solid infielder (more on this stingy bit of understatement later), but he’s not a shortstop. In 48 games at the position in 2021, he managed -3 Rdrs/yr (i.e., he cost the team 3 runs). In retrospect, playing him there was always a stopgap measure. Fortunately, when Jorge Mateo arrived with a bang in August, Urías could slide back to a position he felt more comfortable…
Except that wasn’t third base: Urías has played mostly second base and shortstop in his career. But the Orioles, eager to add experience and a lefty bat to the lineup, had signed infielder Rougned Odor in the offseason, and Odor definitely did not want to play the hot corner. (And, TBH, we probably didn’t want to see him try...) This meant Ramón Urías was now the O’s starting third baseman in 2022, with all of 10 games’ experience.
Here, in two minutes and thirty-six seconds, is how that experiment went:
This reel of defensive highlights is honestly more impressive than I remembered, and trust me, I watch a lot of Orioles games.
Perhaps this oversight isn’t surprising: Ramón Urías has a solid case for being the Most Overlooked Player on MLB’s Most Overlooked Team. Not even O’s fans saw Ramón Urías locking up the team’s first Gold Glove since Manny Machado took one home in 2015. It actually took the rest of the league (to be specific, the other 29 teams’ managers and coaching staffs who vote on the Gold Glove Award) to clue Baltimore fans in to how good Urías is, defensively. When it comes to Orioles players getting national attention, that arrow usually points the other way, so this is saying something.
(In our defense, everyone was too dazzled by Jorge Mateo’s dazzling athleticism, Cedric Mullins’ range in center, Gunnar Henderson’s torpedo of an arm, and Adley Rutschman’s maturity in pitch framing. But instead it was Urías who took home the hardware.)
Maybe it’s because he’s not a physically impressive specimen (6’0”, 190 lbs). Or because he’s a polite, humble type, calling his younger brother Luís, 24, an infielder for the Brewers, the better ballplayer. Or because Mexico is still not the gold mine for baseball talent that the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have turned into. Either way, Urías has always been overlooked.
He was passed up multiple times as a professional ballplayer before finding a home with the Orioles. Cut from the Rangers’ DSL team in 2013, he was still playing for Los Cañeros de los Mochis in Sinaloa, Mexico in 2017, and the Orioles picked him up off waivers (St. Louis) in the winter of 2020.
Urías played only 10 games for the O’s in the pandemic-shortened 2020, but they were a massive ten games: he hit .360, slugged .560, and OPS’d .967. Intrigued, the Orioles made him a utility infielder in 2021, but his steady hands and no-joke output at the plate (a .348 average with runners in scoring position and team-best .361 OBP) convinced the front office to part with the veteran Freddy Galvis in mid-summer, clearing the way for Urías to get regular playing time.
Urías’ offense dropped off somewhat in 2022, especially in average and OBP, which sank thirty and sixty points to .248 and .305, respectively. From a 112 OPS+ in 2021, Urías managed a just-above-average 103 in 2022.
What gives—um, gave? Urías struggled to hit fastballs in 2022, his average against the heater down a full 50 points. Part of me suspects the league-wide drop in offense (and month-over-month increase in pitchers’ spin rates) has something to do with it. Interestingly, his power didn’t tail off, though, as he kept his slugging percentage intact with 16 home runs in just 118 games.
Either way, exactly-average offense wasn’t terrible from a guy who gave the team some of the best infield defense in the whole league. There may be flashier players out there (I mean, obviously: Birdland remembers one of them very well) but you couldn’t argue with the results, and happily, the Gold Glove voters didn’t: 14 defensive runs saved, his next closest competition being Josh Donaldson, who saved just 8 in almost 200 more innings.
Here’s another ridiculous fact about Urías’ taking home the hardware: no non-rookie has ever won a Gold Glove with fewer previous games at his position.
Ramón Urías had 10 career games at 3B entering 2022— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) November 1, 2022
That is the fewest entering that season at a Gold Glove-winning position for any non-rookie (excluding pitchers, and considering all OF as 1 position due to award history)
Could a player really win the Gold Glove one year and not be the starter at his position the next? It’s funny to think that Urías’ Gold Glove could put the team in a bind, with super-prospect Gunnar Henderson, who had a ringing debut in just 34 games, expected to take the job at third. Urías could move back to second base, though, and I’d be happy with that. (I’m glad it’s not my job to resolve these mysteries of existence.)
Either way, the postseason hardware was a nice recognition of the low-key brilliance Ramón Urías has delivered for this team in two years. Safe to say, he won’t be flying under the radar anymore.
Previous 2022 Orioles player reviews: Bruce Zimmermann, Robinson Chirinos, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Nick Vespi/Logan Gillaspie, Spenser Watkins, Rougned Odor, Ryan McKenna, Kyle Bradish, Austin Hays, Keegan Akin, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Jordan Lyles, Bryan Baker, Tyler Wells, Austin Voth, Jorge Mateo, Dean Kremer, Cionel Pérez, Cedric Mullins
Tomorrow: Dillon Tate