Reasons For and Against 2022 Being A Fluke For The O’s

The Baltimore Orioles were one of the few teams who exceeded expectations in 2022. As a team that consistently finished last in the American League East, they ended the 2022 season a few games out of a wild card spot. They finished 7th in the American League doing better than contenders like the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Boston Red Sox. With their first finish above .500 in six years, fans are uncertain about what to expect in 2023. Fans could argue whether the 2023 Baltimore Orioles are building the next contender or headed back to the AL East basement. Here are the reasons for and against 2022 being a fluke for the O’s.

Reasons For and Against 2022 Being A Fluke For the O’s

Yes, it was a fluke

The Baltimore Orioles will face the same problems in 2023 as in most seasons. They are a small market team with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball. Currently, the Orioles are 29th in payroll spending $51 million on this year’s roster. About $82 million less than the league average. They are also 23rd in attendance, making it hard for revenue to expand. Although their spending is comparable with the Tampa Bay Rays, there are still heavy spenders in the division such as the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. As a result, it is difficult for the Orioles to sign big-name free agents that can drastically improve the lineup.

The new element surrounding the team is the controversy around Camden Yards. For 31 years, the ballpark has been a staple of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. However, discussions around the lease’s renewal have been less than ideal. Recently, the Baltimore Orioles rejected a five-year extension to stay at Camden Yards hoping for a lease with a longer term. Ownership has changed hands as Peter Angelos (93 years old), has left the day-to-day operations to his sons. There have even been talks about relocation out of Baltimore. The noise around the ball club could be bad for business.

Statistics of Concern

Looking at the 2022 Orioles’ team statistics, some factors could factor the past season as a fluke. Offensively the Orioles hit .236 collectively, 11th in the American League. They managed 1281 hits, which was also 11th in the American League. In addition, they produced 674 runs, good enough for 10th in the American League. Not to mention a run differential of -8 for 2022. Last season saw the Orioles have losing records against every team in the American League East. Consequently, 47 games were determined by one run (24-23) and nine walk-off wins. The Orioles had a record of 42-47 against teams above 500.

No, it’s not a fluke

Farm System

On the other hand, many reasons show why the 2022 Baltimore Orioles were not just an outlier. Granted last year was the team’s first winning season since 2016. However, since 2016, the Orioles have been building a contender through the farm system. The biggest asset in the Orioles’ rebuild had been the drafting of catcher Adley Rutschman. The first catcher to be taken first overall since Joe Mauer. After being taken by Baltimore in 2019, he became the star of the Orioles’ farm system and was consistently seen as the best prospect in baseball. He made his debut on May 21, 2022, to the excitement of Baltimore fans. In 113 games, he hit .254/.362/.445 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI. Ending his rookie season twelfth in the American League MVP voting. Now heading into his second season, he can only improve from there.

Grayson and Gunnar

However, one great prospect doesn’t usually earn a team the best farm system in baseball. In addition to Rutschman, the Orioles have another top prospect, Grayson Rodriguez. After being taken out of high school in 2018, Rodriguez has excelled in the minors. In 2022 he pitched 75 2/3 innings with an ERA of 2.62 and a WHIP of 0.991. Rodriguez aspired to make his Major League debut in 2022, but a season-ending injury prevented him from appearing in Baltimore. Now that he is healthy, the Texas native is a lock for the Orioles rotation in 2023.

A final blue-chip prospect in the farm system is Gunnar Henderson. The 21-year-old from Alabama is the top prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Major League Baseball. The dynamic shortstop came up late in Baltimore’s season but helped ignite their chance at a playoff spot. Now that he will be with Baltimore throughout the 2023 season, he remains the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year. Heading into 2023, Baltimore has the best farm system in baseball. With a few prospects set to make their impact, it could be the start of a good core for years to come.

Roster Configuration

Most major league teams have significant turnover from season to season. However, since the Orioles are a team loaded with prospects, the roster is virtually the same as in 2022. There have been three improvements to Baltimore’s starting nine in 2023. Baseball’s top prospect Gunnar Henderson replaces Jorge Mateo. Adam Fraizer, a free agent from the Seattle Mariners, replaces Rougned Odor. James McCann from the New York Mets replaces catcher Robinson Chirinos. As for the rotation, Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin will make up the top end of it. Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish remain, and Grayson Rodriguez has a great chance of getting a spot in the rotation.

Small ball and the Pitch Clock

In 2023, there have been a few rule changes that affect the game as a whole. One rule change coming in 2023 is expanding the bases by three square inches. The goal is to incentivize more base stealing. In 2022, the Baltimore Orioles stole 95 bases, 5th best in the American League. Cedric Mullins and Jorge Mateo stole two-thirds of Baltimore’s bases in 2022. With the new bases, both can steal up to 50 bases each in 2023. This benefits the Orioles, who are six points better with Runners in Scoring Position.

A second reason would be the addition of the pitch clock. Its goal is to speed up the pace of play, penalizing starting pitchers with a slower delivery. According to Baseball Savant, four of the Orioles’ starting pitchers take less than 20 seconds to throw. One of the new additions to the team Cole Irvin has the 4th fastest delivery in the majors taking 14.1 seconds between pitches. As most of these pitchers are young and the pitch clock has been in the minors, they have been used to this tempo. It will be an easier adjustment for them compared to veteran pitchers.

Schedule Changes

The most significant advantage to the 2023 Orioles will be the schedule. Starting in 2023, Major League teams will play everyone going from 20 interleague games to 45. Baltimore will be the biggest benefactor of this change as the American League East has numerous contenders. With fewer division games the Orioles will play a more balanced schedule, which should improve their record. In 2022, the Orioles had a better record against National League teams than their overall record. More interleague games would benefit their performance. 

Main photo credits:

Thomas Bender – Herald-Tribune – USA Today Network

Players mentioned:

Adley Rutschman, Joe Mauer, Grayson Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Rougned Odor, James McCann, Robinson Chirinos, Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, Cedric Mullins