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With a .500 Orioles first half in the books, how are you feeling about the team?

Even the optimists weren’t expecting the Orioles to play .500 baseball. They’ve done it anyway.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays
Adley Rutschman hugs and handshakes have become a staple in Birdland.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

If the Orioles aren’t the most surprising team over the first half of the season, they’re certainly among the top. Just about every expert who weighed in on the team before the 2022 campaign began expected 100+ losses again, and even fans who had some hopes of modest improvement didn’t expect things to be too much better than that. With the Orioles at 46-46 through their first 92 games, they’ve done a lot to reject those who refused to believe anything would be different about this year’s team.

It’s hard to fault anyone who didn’t expect much from this squad. They brought back a whole lot of the same faces from last year’s 52-110 losers. A few of these are pitchers who are now in different roles: Keegan Akin and Jorge López are looking like good bullpen converts rather than disastrous starting pitchers, and Tyler Wells’s transition to the rotation has left him as the best O’s starter by ERA among those with at least 10 starts for the team.

Other than this, it’s a lot of guys in the same places they were last year. It’s just better now. Even if you’d allowed yourself to imagine something good (or improved) about the 2022 team, a lot of that would have probably revolved around seeing some domination from John Means, Grayson Rodriguez, and D.L. Hall in the MLB rotation. Means suffered a season-ending injury after two starts. Rodriguez remains shelved with a lat injury. Hall is striking out a million guys while walking too many guys for Norfolk.

The only thing that seems to have gone right is that once Adley Rutschman finally was able to debut, he’s been about as good as advertised, especially defensively. Rutschman has already notched 1.3 bWAR in 46 games; our past switch-hitting “savior” catcher, Matt Wieters, finished with 1.4 bWAR in 94 games of his rookie season.

Still, the Orioles are where they are. It’s been fun. Even if the rest of the season ends up being less fun than the first half, the O’s have at least pierced the gloom. Better things feel like they are possible next season. Prospects like GUNNAR HENDERSON and Jordan Westburg, who play positions where the 2022 Orioles are weak, are performing well at high levels. More are coming. Some, perhaps, will be traded for better pitchers than Austin Voth and Spenser Watkins to be in future years Orioles rotations.

The best Orioles so far

There are five 2022 Orioles who have a 2.0 bWAR or higher. The list:

  • Austin Hays - 2.8 WAR
  • Ramón Urías - 2.5 WAR
  • Cedric Mullins - 2.5 WAR
  • Jorge Mateo - 2.0 WAR
  • Trey Mancini - 2.0 WAR

Mateo’s been able to do that despite hitting poorly. His defense just rates that good. Having watched him, it’s hard to argue with that! Mullins is also looking well in WAR even though he’s lost 135 points of slugging percentage since last year. Defense helps! An improved defense probably helps explain the largely unanticipated improvement to the pitching staff, too.

The five worst Orioles so far

These numbers are also using bWAR.

  • Kyle Bradish - -1.0 WAR
  • Bruce Zimmermann - -0.9 WAR
  • Chris Owings - -0.5 WAR
  • Travis Lakins Sr. - -0.4 WAR
  • Chris Ellis/Paul Fry/Kelvin Gutiérrez - -0.3 WAR

These guys have one thing in common. None of them are active on the team right now! Bradish, Ellis, and Lakins are on the IL right now. The rest of these guys were shuffled off when it was clear their performance was not up to snuff. That’s another big difference compared to last year, where guys who sucked seemed to stick around forever, even if they weren’t young or interesting enough to feel like they had any upside for a future good Orioles team.

Projections vs. reality

FanGraphs: 76-86 (preseason: 65-97)

PECOTA: 79-83 (preseason: 61-101)

FiveThirtyEight: 76-86 (preseason: 62-100)

This is quite a transformation in these projections relative to the preseason expectations. While none of them are convinced that the Orioles are going to be contenders the rest of the way, the fact that they’re all predicting the O’s to play at least at a 70-win full season pace from here on out is really something. PECOTA, in particular, hadn’t budged from its preseason 61-101 projection in mid-May when the Orioles were a better-than-expected 14-18.

One reason their projections are better now is wins are in the bank. That is, whatever happens to this team the rest of the way, they’ve already won 46 games. Another is a belated realization that this isn’t actually a sub-.400 winning percentage organization now.

Of course, Camden Chat writers weren’t much different from the models in not expecting much from the 2022 team. The only one of us who predicted more than 70 wins was Stacey, who thought the Orioles would win 72 games. At this point, it would feel disappointing if the Orioles “only” won 20 more games than they did last season.

Wild predictions

My wild prediction from right before the season has already come true: The Orioles broke the streak of non-winning months before it reached five full years old with their 14-12 record in June. Good job, self.

A couple of other Camden Chatters could see their wild predictions happen as well. Stacey’s prediction that the Orioles would finish in fourth place, ahead of the Red Sox, is plenty in play. The O’s are a mere 1.5 games behind Boston right now. Also relating to the Red Sox, Alex predicted the Orioles would play .500 or better against at least one AL East opponent. They’re 5-3 against the Red Sox so far.

I don’t think we should rule out Andrea’s preseason prediction that Kyle Stowers will be the right fielder by season’s end, either. All it would take is a trade of, or injury to, Anthony Santander for this one to come true.

Shout-out to a commenter whose wild prediction (well, half of it) has also already come true: fiat95 predicted the Orioles being in the hunt at the All-Star break. nikhil430’s first comment predicting no one being traded at the deadline also seems to be in play. Nice work!

The big questions

What do you think will happen at the MLB level for the Orioles with the second half of the season? Are they going to end up trading away (or for!) any players prior to this year’s August 2 deadline? Where do you expect their record to end up? Will we see any more prospect call-ups?