The last Oriole to win an MVP Award was Cal Ripken Jr. in 1991. For Rookie of the Year, it’s been since Gregg Olson won in 1989. A Cy Young drought goes back to Steve Stone’s 1980 triumph. It’s even been seven years since the last Orioles Gold Glove winner, which was Manny Machado in 2015. Breaking the MVP and Cy Young droughts doesn’t feel very likely this year.
As the calendar creeps towards August, the Orioles do, at least, feel like they could have a contender for Rookie of the Year - maybe even two - and potential for a Gold Glover, too.
Award Case #1: Jorge Mateo for AL Gold Glove at SS
The Orioles’ last Gold Glove winner was Manny Machado, who took home the third base honors in 2015. Only a year prior, the Orioles had their last shortstop Gold Glove winner, when J.J. Hardy took home the last of his three consecutive Gold Gloves.
There is little doubt that Mateo’s play at short this year is award-worthy. The speedster has consistently used his elite athleticism to get to balls other shortstops couldn’t even dream of reaching. Additionally, his arm from short has been almost as impressive as his abundant speed—allowing him not only to reach more balls but also finish the play with an out.
In terms of hard numbers, Mateo leads all AL shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved and putouts. Mateo easily passes both the eye test and the numbers game when it comes to compiling his case for the award.
The problem with the Gold Glove, however, is there never seems to be a clear statistical correlation with who wins the award. Advanced metrics have certainly given better indicators as to who the best defenders are outside of just errors and fielding percentage. Still, the Gold Glove often seems like it comes down to perception rather than the actual, stats-backed performance.
This is where Mateo’s case may take a hit. The Orioles’ not being on the radar of the national media to start the season may mean he’s fighting an uphill battle to become relevant in the mind of many voters. Additionally, stats like total errors (Mateo has 11) may convince some that he isn’t worthy of the award. Those who have watched the Orioles all season know otherwise, but who knows how many voters have actually been paying attention to Mateo’s performance.
Award Case #2: Adley Rutschman OR Felix Bautista for Rookie of the Year
There is little doubt that Rutschman and Bautista have been some of baseball's most impactful rookies. The former has come into the bigs and completely transformed the complexion of the Orioles’ lineup and pitching staff, as well as boosted the level of hope that surrounds this ball club. The latter has arrived in MLB and immediately summited the Mountainous pile of American League relievers to put his name right at the top. In a typical year, either of these guys would have an interesting case in the ROY race.
2022, however, is no ordinary class of rookies. For hitters, the group is led by outfielder Julio Rodriguez of the Mariners. In addition to being on track for a potential 30/30 season as a rookie, Rodriguez has come into the majors and immediately become the focal point of Seattle’s lineup. The M’s wouldn’t have gone on a 14-game winning streak or found themselves firmly in the driver's seat for a Wild Card berth without the 21-year-old Dominican stud. He leads Seattle with 3.6 bWAR; Rutschman who only debuted in mid-May, is at 1.8, with Bautista at 1.7.
For pitchers, the pack is led by Minnesota starter Joe Ryan. After coming over from Tampa in the Nelson Cruz trade—and making a brief cameo at the end of 2021—Ryan has assumed the role of ace for the first-place Twins in 2022. Michael Fulmer was the last starting pitcher to win AL Rookie of the Year, doing so with a 3.06 ERA in 2016. Ryan’s ERA currently sits at 2.89.
Really, the downfall of Rutschman and Bautista will be an issue of opportunity. For Adley, he’s fighting to distinguish himself against players like Rodriguez and Bobby Witt Jr., both of whom broke spring training with their big league clubs. For Bautista, he is fighting the battle of not having a starter’s innings nor a closer’s prestige when interpreting his resume. Both deserve to be mentioned in the ROY conversation, but will almost surely come up short at the end of the season.
Bonus Award Case: Jorge Lopez for AL Reliever of the Year
Two different Orioles won this one over the past decade, with Zack Britton’s win in 2016 and Jim Johnson taking home the award in 2012. The main differences between those two relievers and Lopez in 2022 as that they A) played on playoff teams and B) led the league in saves. While it’s certainly possible for Lopez to do both, as it currently stands, it’s unlikely.
That being said, the Orioles’ surprise All-Star is still very much in the running for the hardware, even if he’s not the front-runner. Currently, Lopez sits in a tie for fifth in the AL with 18 saves, three behind leader Jordan Romano from the Blue Jays. While Romano may have the saves lead, Lopez’s biggest competition—both in terms of name recognition and late-inning nastiness—are Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase and Yankees closer Clay Holmes. Holmes and Clase were also All-Stars this year and, along with Lopez, are head and shoulders above the rest of the AL relievers when it comes to ERA+.
Currently, Clase and his 100-mph cutter of doom sit at an ERA+ of 285, where 100 is league average. While it certainly falls short of Britton’s gold standard 803 ERA+ in 2016 (just take a moment to appreciate how insane that number is), Clase’s performance this season is still ridiculously good. Lopez lags slightly behind at 255, but that is still 100+ points clear of fellow AL All-Stars Gregory Soto and Liam Hendriks.
Then there’s Holmes, who despite lagging a bit behind in saves, is the pack leader with a 308 ERA+. While it would certainly sting even more to think that an Orioles player lost out to the Yankees for an award, there’s still the possibility that Lopez’s edge in innings pitched and strikeouts are enough to sway some voters in his favor. That, and the fact that the Orioles are much more likely than the Yankees to play in close games down the stretch, means Lopez may have more opportunities to improve his candidacy than Holmes.
Of course, all of this gets rendered moot if Lopez is traded before Sunday’s deadline, but for now, Birdland has license to hope and dream that their All-Star finishes the season with some hardware.
The fact that awards and accolades are even a thought at this time of the season is plenty of reason to celebrate in and of itself. Yet, the hardware count at the end of the season may also provide a good indication of just how successful the Orioles are in this second half. Do the Orioles do enough to keep Mateo in the spotlight? Will Lopez stick around long enough to chase down the relievers in front of him? Can Adley and Bautista continue to elevate their games in order to strengthen their reputation among baseball’s rising class of stars?
No matter how the Orioles end up answering those questions, one thing is clear. These players and this team should no longer be ok with “just being in consideration.” From here on out the Orioles should always be here to win any competition they’re a part of.
Which Oriole do you think is most likely to take home post-season hardware?
This poll is closed
Other (leave in the comments)