No matter what happens* during the rest of this season, the 2022 Orioles season will be best remembered as the season when Adley Rutschman made his major league debut. In the Orioles’ come-from-behind, walk-off victory Monday vs. the Rangers, Rutschman delivered his latest episode of heroics. His ninth-inning double off the right-field wall drove in the game-tying run, setting up for the walk-off in the tenth. On America’s Independence Day, the rookie lived up to his Captain America nickname.
Monday also marked another milestone for Adley and the Birds. When the Orioles called him up for his debut on May 21st, they had played 40 games. Monday was the 41st game with Rutschman on the roster. Barring something unpredictable, this season will officially have more games with Adley than without him.
The Orioles will undoubtedly continue to grow around their franchise backstop. Yet, now seems like a great time to ask (and answer) the question of “how much of a difference has Adley Rutschman made on this Orioles’ team already?”
In the simplest terms, the Orioles have already shown clear signs of improvement since Adley’s arrival. At the time of Rutschman’s call-up, Baltimore was 16-24. In the 41 games since the call-up, the Orioles are 21-20. While a one-game-above .500 record doesn’t exactly seem like a victory—given what this fan base has suffered through the last four-plus years—this undoubtedly represents a beacon of hope.
Those improvements have shown up on both offense and defense for this Orioles squad. Prior to Rutschman’s arrival, the Birds had a -32 run differential and were averaging 3.5 runs per game. Since Adley joined the team, those numbers have jumped to a +7 run differential and 4.6 runs per game.
That 1.1 runs per game improvement since Rutschman’s arrival may not totally do justice to the improvement of the Orioles’ offense. In many ways, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2019 draft has been unlucky in the big leagues. Adley’s .215 average is 48 points lower than his expected batting average, based on the quality of contact he’s made so far in the big leagues. The same is true for his slugging percentage, as his .392 slugging% is 58 points lower than his expected output. So, even as Rutschman already soars past the offensive production from backup Robinson Chirinos, the numbers suggest he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his true offensive potential.
Defensively, the Orioles pitching staff as a whole has benefitted from having Rutschman behind the plate. The staff’s ERA with Rutschman behind the plate is 4.07, compared to 4.19 for Chirinos. However, where the improvement has been most notable is with the Orioles’ starters.
Since Rutschman’s debut, Jordan Lyles has had the most even split between Rutschman and Chirinos. In 27.2 innings with Chirinos, Lyles is sporting a 5.53 ERA. With Adley behind the dish, that number drops down to 4.91 over 18.1 innings.
The splits are even more impressive for Tyler Wells. Overall, since Rutschman’s debut, Wells’ ERA has dropped from 4.41 to 3.09. During that time, in 21 innings with Chirinos, the closer-turned-starter has a 2.57 ERA. With Adley calling things, that drops all the way to 1.63—over 22 innings. Rutschman recently guided Wells to the best start of his career against the Twins— tying a career high with six innings pitched, only allowing one run, and setting a new career high with seven strikeouts.
Dean Kremer and Spenser Watkins have also benefited from Rutschman’s presence. In Watkin’s first-ever start with Rutschman behind the dish, he delivered the best start of his young career as well—six innings of one-run ball and five strikeouts. Meanwhile, Kremer has transformed his career with Rutschman as his de facto personal catcher. In 72.1 career innings before 2022, Kremer had an ERA of 6.48. In 32.2 innings with Adley this year, Kremer is sporting a 2.48 ERA and just put together a streak of 23 scoreless innings.
Much of Rutschman’s contribution to the transformation of this pitching staff comes from his prowess as a pitch framer. The rookie ranks 11th in the MLB with a 49.1% strike rate—on par with Gold-Glove-winning catchers like Roberto Perez and Yadier Molina. Despite debuting 40 games into the season, Rutschman is also already 19th out of 59 catchers in terms of Catcher Framing Runs—that is the runs a catcher saves through his ability to frame pitches. Chirinos is #59.
A final note of praise for Adley’s work behind the plate: some might look at his caught stealing numbers and suggest that’s one area he hasn’t brought improvement to the Orioles. However, they would be misguided. Adley’s average pop time of 1.92 seconds is 12 tenths-of-a-second faster than Chirinos and already ranks among the top 10 catchers in all of baseball. So while Rutschman’s 20% success rate in throwing out base stealers may not look impressive, all the important metrics say that is bound to change.
Perhaps the biggest change that Adley has brought to Baltimore is the one that isn’t quantifiable. Every game-tying double or towering home run from Baltimore’s face of the present and future reminds Orioles fans it’s okay to be optimistic about this ballclub. In the span of 41 games, Adley hasn’t come out with a .300+ average or a 1.000 OPS. What he has provided, though, is plenty of evidence that every day he’s getting better, and the team is getting better right along with him. In a quarter of a season, Baltimore’s very own Captain America has brought all the excitement we as fans could have asked for. Now we get to sit back, watch and marvel at the heroics he’s sure to bring in the second half of 2022 and beyond.
*If the Orioles somehow overcome their current +100,000 odds to make the World Series, I will concede I was wrong. If they overcome their current 0.2% chance to make the playoffs, I’ll call it a push.