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Orioles midseason awards: The good and the bad

A stunning team output at the halfway mark doesn’t happen without individual brilliance.

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Minnesota Twins Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We are now 89 games into the 2023 MLB season. We have been thoroughly entertained. The Orioles have again outperformed the national media’s lowly expectations for them. They’re hanging tough in a difficult AL East, just two games back of the slumping Rays, and would be leading every other division but the NL East.

You don’t deliver a stunning team performance like this without some stellar individual efforts. The Orioles just sent four players to the All-Star Game: Adley Rutschman, Austin Hays, Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista. Some of these star performances were expected, some came out of nowhere. That applies to the team as a whole: a group of rookies, reclamation projects, and also-rans whose collective salary amounts to the 29th lowest of all 30 MLB teams.

Nobody predicted this, not even the fans, and plenty of Orioles players deserve kudos for their work thus far this season. So now for some superlatives!

Most Surprising – Yennier Cano. Has to be. Over the last decade, most Orioles “breakouts” stay safely within the four corners of the Baltimore beat press. But Cano’s breakout has been so scintillating (and his prior reputation so obscure) that the national media has taken notice. The Athletic dubbed him one of the biggest surprises of 2023 and MLB wrote: “It is dominance in a way that cannot be faked or lucked into.”

You’ve read his stat line already, but here we are again: a 1.48 ERA, 0.891 WHIP, 2.2 WAR in half a season, and expected ERA, slugging, walks all in the top 3% of the league. Cano was so stingy out of the gate that of the first 64 batters he faced, five reached, one of the lowest totals in baseball history.

Cano got more hittable as the season went on, but he’s still got sick stuff. Look at the stunning similarity of his heater and his breaking ball out of the hand. Good luck to hitters facing him in the second half.

Most Overrated – James McCann. This is a tricky category on a team that’s next-to-last in payroll and third-best in record. We don’t really have any expensive salary-munchers (active ones, anyway: the team is still paying deferred salaries to Chris Davis ($9 mil), Alex Cobb ($4.5 mil), Darren O’Day ($1 mil) and—lol—Bobby Bonilla ($500K)).

But while guys like Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle or Cionel Pérez have disappointed, they are costing no more than between $531,000 and $738,400 in salary. McCann is pulling in $12 million — most of it paid by the Mets — with 0.0 offensive WAR: he’s hitting .184/.220/.320 in 35 games and OPS’ing .541.

His defense has been solid: several publications rank him the second-best fielder on the team behind Jorge Mateo, with 4 runs saved and 10 runners caught stealing (tied with Adley Rutschman but in a third as many games).

It’s just really hard to hide the offense: he’s been a worse hitter than last year’s veteran backstop Robinson Chirinos, and way more expensive.

Most Underrated – Anthony Santander. “His defense sucks.” “He’s streaky.” Well, let me tell you: Santander leads the team in home runs (16), RBIs (50), doubles (24), total bases (163) and slugging (.498). And in the other important categories he’s second or third: hits, OBP, OPS, games played this season. Santa is also seeing 4.17 pitches per plate appearance in 2023. That number is important because: a) it’s a career high, and b) on the Orioles, only Adley “Walk Machine” Rutschman sees more (Rutschman is second in the AL in walks).

In other words, Tony Taters has impressive power, a great batting eye, and is delivering consistently at the plate. This team relies on him.

Cy Yuk (borrowed from The Athletic) – Grayson Rodriguez. Sorry.

The rookie has the lowest WAR of any pitcher on the team, at -1.0. Of course, this is also because he pitched more innings than struggling bullpen folks like Keegan Akin, Cionel Pérez, Mychal Givens and Austin Voth (all on the IL right now—suspiciously?). On a team like the O’s in “win now” mode, you have to be in a particular spot to get so much rope when you’re struggling, but it did make sense to give Rodriguez that much rope.

And it also made sense to send him down to Triple A after 10 starts where he posted a 7.35 ERA, a 1.743 WHIP, walked over four batters per game, and got hit harder than any pitcher in the game. There was one thing he did well—whiff hitters (11.1 a game)—but otherwise, a mess. According to BRef, Rodriguez allowed 11 more runs in his starts than an average pitcher would have, and a team averaging five such starters would finish with a .363-win percentage. Not what the O’s need right now.

Will he back on the team soon? Stuff is not his problem; it’s control. G-Rod is a fastball pitcher, and when his control goes, he heaves hittable things in the middle. Since his demotion to Triple-A, he’s 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA. The problem is he’s still walking 4 hitters a game. You can bet the O’s bigwigs are keeping a close eye on the free passes.

Cy Young – Tyler Wells. There’s been a lot of debate this year about whether Tyler Wells can be considered an “ace.” What we can say with certainty is that Wells has defined consistency, with a highly impressive run of eight consecutive starts allowing two or fewer runs. In 15 of his 18 appearances, he’s allowed three runs or fewer.

He’s providing length, averaging 5.78 innings a start, a great help for this bullpen. He’s leading all qualified pitchers with a 0.927 WHIP—that is, he averages fewer than one hit/walk per inning. And he’s struck out a batter an inning (103 K’s in 104.2 IP), a career high for him.

So what do you call a guy who doesn’t allow baserunners, pitches deep into games, never collapses on the mound, and gives his team a better-than-average-chance to win every time he gets the game ball?

Call him an ace.

Least Valuable Oriole – Ryan Mountcastle. Sorry to say, but it’s been a bad year. He’s hitting .230 and OPS’ing .691. His OBP is a measly 37 points above his average. His chase rate is up, and so his groundball rate, a sign of weak contact. Even his defense is down, usually a strength of his (-3 runs above average).

You can’t entirely blame Mounty, though: he’s had that weird bout with vertigo. And he continues to be an unlucky hitter. When bat meets ball, it’s some of the highest quality of contact in the league. His barrel rate is in the 92% of hitters, xSLG 94%, average exit velocity 81% and expected batting average 70%.

I hope he gets more time to stabilize at the plate this year.

Most Valuable Oriole – Austin Hays. Although Adley, Gunnar, Félix and Wells all have strong cases, give this one to the most unsung of the 2023 All-Stars and one of the most unsung players on this team.

Austin Hays leads all Orioles, position and pitching, with 2.3 WAR at the halfway point, and in this, his first full healthy season, he’s really doing everything well. He’s one of the team’s best defenders, with 4 runs saved and one of the strongest arms in the game. And don’t forget: he’s doing this in a reworked Oriole Park left field that’s larger than some center fields.

He’s hitting, with the fourth-highest average in the AL, and a team-leading 90 hits, .498 slugging, and a 137 OPS+. Basically, Hays is a centerfielder playing left field while providing well-above-average offense. Quietly, he’s helped power this team to the success it’s had.


It was a crowded field for a lot of these categories. Do you agree/disagree with the choices? Don’t hesitate to sound off in the comments!