Photo via birdswatcher
The 2020 season for the Baltimore Orioles was a tedious, yet significant one.
The tediousness does not need to be explained too much. After all, the team played sub-.500 baseball and missed the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. Finishing fourth in the American League East Standings is not something to necessarily brag out, either.
The significance of the season, however, did not come from division titles or championship trophies, but from the continued emphasis on the full-on rebuild the team is undertaking.
Rebuilding, to some, might be seen as simply losing. In Baltimore’s eyes, however, the rebuild has brought the opportunity to rekindle the long-term magic the team possessed when they were a constant and consistent postseason threat.
Before looking into the 2020 rebuild year specifics, let’s take a step back and look at the basic team performance over the course of the campaign. Collectively, the Orioles went 25-35 over the shortened season and finished with the fourth-worst record in the American League (Boston, Detroit and Texas finished with a worse record). On the batting side of the roster, the team scored 274 runs over the course of the season, which was tied for 16th among all MLB teams. Additionally, the team’s on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .750 ranked 14th. While both areas were relatively mediocre, the results were leaps and bounds better than their 2019 totals; over the course of the 2019 season (162 games), the Orioles ranked 22nd in runs scored (729) and 25th in OPS (.725).
The same story could be said in regard to the pitching improvement when looking at the 2019 and 2020 totals. After ranking dead last in terms of collective starter and reliever ERA during the 2019 season (5.67), Baltimore’s pitching unit improved by an entire run and ranked 16th in all of MLB during the 2020 season (4.51). The biggest improvement came from the bullpen, as the unit improved from a league-worst 5.79 ERA in 2019 to a 3.90 ERA in 2020, which ranked ninth in all of MLB.
When looking at the marked improvements, it comes to no surprise the Orioles, shortened season or not, picked up more wins than anticipated. In terms of winning percentage, Baltimore’s .417 winning percentage was a stark uptick in comparison to their lackadaisical .333 winning percentage in 2019. If Baltimore played a full 162-game season in 2020, the team would have won 68 games if the .417 winning percentage held steady. This would have been a 14-game upswing in comparison to Baltimore’s 54 wins in 2019.
Enough about team statistics and hypothetical record projections. What about the individual performances that truly showed the development of Baltimore’s next roster crop?
In terms of offense, free-agent pickup Jose Iglesias turned out to be a bargain, as the 30-year-old slashed .373/.400/.556 in 39 games played during the 2020 season. Although injuries got in the way of playing the full 60-game slate, Iglesias led all MLB position players with a minimum of 150 plate appearances in terms of batting average. The contact barrage did not end with Iglesias, however, as Hanser Alberto (who slashed .283/.306/.393 in 54 games played) ranked 10th among all qualified MLB position players in terms of strikeout percentage (13.0%). The future of the offense, however, started with 23-year-old Ryan Mountcastle, who slashed .333/.386/.492 in 35 games played.
The pitching side of the ball also saw contributors perform. Although John Means was unable to replicate his 2019 success (12-11 with a 3.60 ERA), he was still able to grind out 10 starts to the tune of a 4.53 ERA. The relief side of the ball, meanwhile, saw a breakout performance from the flame-throwing southpaw Tanner Scott, who pitched to a 1.31 ERA in 20.2 innings of work, despite walking over four batters per nine innings.
Players on the roster, in addition to a growing farm system, begins to show long-term signs of optimism for manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. While the roster will need to develop and continue their budding production, the seeds are starting to grow.
While the 2020 season was a tedious one in terms of wins and losses, the long-term goal for the Orioles is slowly but surely being reached. Should the rebuild continue at the pace it is going, Baltimore will only get closer to reacquiring the Charm City magic once more.