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Dean Kremer’s first full, healthy season ended in an unfortunate way

The right-hander was a steady presence in the O’s rotation all season until throwing a dud in the club’s elimination game.

Major League Baseball: OCT 10 Baltimore at Texas
Dean Kremer pitches in Game 3 of the ALDS. Spoiler: it didn’t end well.
Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Oct. 10, Dean Kremer started his first career postseason game. It was, unfortunately, the 2023 Orioles’ last.

The Birds, facing elimination in Texas, turned to their 27-year-old right-hander to keep them afloat in the best-of-three Division Series. It went haywire for Kremer from the get-go, with three hits in the first inning — including a Corey Seager homer — and a four-hit, five-run outburst in the second that was capped by Adolis García’s game-breaking, three-run dinger. Kremer trotted off the mound after recording just five outs, and the Orioles’ season was all but over, which the Rangers made official seven innings later.

Maybe Kremer just didn’t have his best stuff that night. Maybe the recent terrorist attacks in Israel, where Kremer lives for much of the year, weighed heavily on his mind. Nobody could possibly blame him. In any case, it’s unfortunate that Kremer’s postseason dud was the last memory of his 2023 season, because he otherwise performed well if unexceptionally throughout the year, solidifying himself as a league-average MLB starter and a potential member of the O’s rotation for the foreseeable future.

Kremer’s 2023 campaign started about as poorly as it ended — with an ugly April in which he gave up four or more runs in in five of his six starts — but he stabilized after that, posting a 3.59 ERA for the remainder of the regular season. The Orioles went 21-5 in games Kremer started from May onward, and while he’d mix in a five- or six-run clunker every once in a while, he more often than not put the the team in position to win. He was durable, too, setting career highs in starts (32) and innings pitched (172.2), never missing a turn in the O’s rotation all year long. Only Kyle Gibson pitched more innings for the Orioles.

Kremer’s 2023 performance, while perfectly fine overall, did represent a step back from his impressive 2022 season, when he led O’s starters with a 3.23 ERA and 121 ERA+ despite missing the first two months with a left oblique strain. While some O’s fans hoped he had turned the corner into a future ace, most were skeptical he’d be quite that good again. In Camden Chat’s preseason player poll, 57% of voters (correctly) predicted Kremer to finish with an ERA higher than his projected 3.51 mark.

Indeed, Kremer’s rate stats weren’t as good in 2023. His ERA rose to 4.12, his FIP from 3.80 to 4.51, and his WHIP, H/9, and BB/9 rates all increased a tick over last year. Most concerning was Kremer’s HR/9 rate, which rose sharply from 0.8 to 1.4 as he surrendered 27 dingers. Of the Orioles’ qualified pitchers, Kremer was the most long ball prone of anyone but Tyler Wells, so it was perhaps unsurprising that two prodigious Rangers homers wrecked him in that Division Series start.

The good news is that Kremer’s strikeout rate also increased dramatically from 6.2 K/9 last year to 8.2 this season, demonstrating more swing-and-miss ability from the hurler who led the minor leagues in strikeouts (178) in 2018, when the O’s acquired him from the Dodgers as part of the five-player Manny Machado trade return. (Kremer is the only one of those five who remains in the organization; the other four combined for just 17 games in an O’s uniform.)

Kremer changed his pitch selection a bit from last year, with mixed results. The most intriguing addition to his repertoire was a sweeper, on which he held batters to a .227 expected batting average and .299 weighted on-base average, the best results of any of his six pitches. He used it sparingly, though, throwing it only 3.3% of the time, perhaps because he didn’t have a great feel for it or didn’t want to overexpose it. Kremer also started using his four-seam fastball more and cutter less than last season, throwing his four-seamer 37.1% of the time in 2023 (up from 32.7% in 2022) and his cutter 23.9% (down from 30.9%). The idea was sound; after all, the four-seamer had been Kremer’s most effective pitch last year, stymieing hitters for a .215 AVG and .341 SLG. But it was less effective in larger doses this time around, with batters hitting .252/.409 against it.

Kremer is nobody’s ace, and he likely won’t approach his 2022 numbers again, but he’s a hurler you can plug into the fourth or fifth spot of a rotation fairly comfortably. Kremer won’t be arbitration eligible until after 2024 and is under team control for four more years, so he should be around for a while. And he’s single-handedly preventing the Machado trade from being a complete failure for the Orioles.

Will he be on the 2024 Orioles? Yes. As of now Kremer seems to have a 2024 starting spot locked up behind Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, and John Means. He may continue to run hot and cold, excelling for weeks at a time while also struggling for stretches, but the O’s would certainly accept another overall season performance from Kremer like this year’s. And should the O’s be fortunate enough to play in October again, Kremer would surely like another shot at postseason redemption.

2023 player reviews: Ryan McKenna, Jacob Webb, Austin Voth/Keegan Akin, Adam Frazier, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Aaron Hicks, Bryan Baker, Jorge Mateo, Kyle Gibson, John Means, DL Hall, Jordan Westburg, James McCann, Ryan O’Hearn, Mike Baumann, Ramón Urías, Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle, Danny Coulombe, Tyler Wells, Cionel Pérez, Austin Hays, Yennier Cano

Monday: Cedric Mullins