Jorge Mateo Fan Club approved
Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Orioles here.
Image: Scott Taetsch / USA TODAY Sports
2022 Record: 83-79 (.512 win%, 4th in Division)
2022 Payroll: $43,804,118 (30th)
1. CF Cedric Mullins, .258 AVG/.318 OBP/.403 SLG, 3.4 fWAR
2. C Adley Rutschman, .254 AVG/.362 OBP/.445 SLG , 5.3 fWAR
3. 1B Ryan Mountcastle, .250 AVG/ .305 OBP/.423 SLG, 1.6 fWAR
4. RF Anthony Santander, .240 AVG/.318 OBP/ .455 SLG, 2.5 fWAR
5. DH Trey Mancini, .268 AVG/.347 OBP/.404 SLG, 1.6 fWAR
6. 3B Gunnar Henderson, .259 AVG/.348 OBP/.440 SLG, 0.8 fWAR
7. 2B Ramón Urías, .248 AVG/.305 OBP/.414 SLG, 2.6 fWAR
8. LF Austin Hays, .250 AVG/.306 OBP/.413 SLG, 1.5 fWAR
9. SS Jorge Mateo, .221 AVG/.267 OBP/ .379 SLG, 2.8 fWAR
10. UTL Rougned Odor, .207 AVG/.275 OBP/.357 SLG, 0.4 fWAR
1. Jordan Lyles, 179.0 IP/4.42 ERA/1.385 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR
2. Dean Kremer, 125.1 IP/3.23 ERA/1.253 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR
3. Tyler Wells, 103.2 IP/4.25 ERA/1.138 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
4. Kyle Bradish, 117.2 IP/4.90 ERA/1.402 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR
5. Austin Voth, 101.2 IP/4.34 ERA/1.397 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
2022 Top 4 Relievers:
1. CL Jorge Lopez, 48.1 IP/1.68 ERA/0.972 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
2. Félix Bautista, 65.2 IP/2.19 ERA/0.929 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR
3. Cionel Pérez, 57.2 IP/1.40 ERA/1.162 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
4. Dillon Tate, 73.2 IP/3.05 ERA/0.991 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
Regular Season Recap:
At the beginning of the 2022 season, it seemed as if Orioles fans would be forced to suffer through yet another year of poor play, wasted talent, and mismanagement. The team had just capped off a year in which they won just 52 games, and ownership’s response was to extend an outfield wall and add Texas Rangers throwaways Jordan Lyles, Robinson Chirinos, and Rougned Odor. The front office was criticized, and rightly so, but, fortunately, there was something about the 2021 Orioles that nobody noticed. Hiding just beneath the surface of the historically awful 2021 squad, there was a good baseball team.
Somewhat surprisingly, the O’s improved very little at the plate when compared to 2021. Just one player with over a hundred plate appearances had an OPS over .800, leading to just fifteen more runs than they scored in 2021. While much of this can be attributed to Camden Field’s left field wall being pushed back twenty-six and a half feet, a lot of it also has to do with mediocre hitting years from many of the O’s batters.
Cedric Mullins, despite having a very solid season and solidifying himself as the Orioles center fielder of the future, failed to replicate his excellent 2021, and Ryan Mountcastle regressed significantly at the plate compared to the two years prior. Maybe most vitally, offseason addition Rougned Odor struggled immensely in most of his 438 plate appearances, though he was significantly more effective in high leverage situations.
However, the bright spots of the position player group vastly outweighed the negatives. Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo, 2020 and 2021 waiver claims by the Orioles, respectively, put up years that will likely solidify themselves in the future plans of the organization. If you haven’t seen an Orioles game in which these two are manning shortstop and third, tune in, because they put up stunning defensive performances on the daily. While they are by no means star hitters, don’t be surprised if they become mainstays of this Orioles team for years to come.
Specifically, Mateo may become a prized free agent when his contract expires. As one of the fastest players in baseball as well as a freakishly instinctual defender, teams may very well begin viewing him as a top shortstop in the MLB. Third baseman Gunnar Henderson, ranked as the second best prospect in the country by MLB.com, played very well in the limited appearances he made at the end of the year and showed great promise as the O’s future at third base.
I’m sure you’ve noticed it by now, I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room. Perhaps the best rookie in baseball, yes, including Julio Rodriguez and Spencer Strider, and the main reason this team won as many games as they did. As soon as he joined the locker room, it was clear that something had changed. People began to take notice. In a modern era wherein catchers aren’t expected to hit for contact or power, he put up the highest OPS on the team while also being a top five defensive catcher in baseball. Adley Rutschman is a star, and there’s nothing but time and hard work stopping him from becoming one of the best players in baseball.
While the position player group clearly played better than 2021, their improvements were only part of the reason why the O’s were playoff contenders in 2022. The 2021 Orioles staff sported a 5.84 ERA during the regular season, comfortably dead last in MLB, while the 2022 squad had just a 3.97 ERA, improving by almost two whole runs per game. When you consider that many of the teams in their division had very strong offenses, this value shines a very positive light on the Orioles rotation.
Despite their ace, John Means, having a season ending Tommy John surgery early in the season, the O’s found a way to put together a consistent pitching rotation that kept them in games. The way they did so wasn’t particularly pretty, with their end of the year rotation consisting of almost entirely historically poor veterans (Jordan Lyles and Austin Voth) and no-name prospects that were thrust into the role as a result of a lack of depth (Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells).
The one exception to this is Dean Kremer, who was the seventh ranked prospect in the Orioles organization in 2020 before struggling as a Major League starter in 2021. However, Kremer showed flashes of great potential in 2022, posting a 3.23 ERA in 21 starts and often overpowering opposing hitters with his four seam/cutter combo. His lack of control with the changeup and curveball got him into trouble, but there is clear potential for the now almost twenty-seven year old starter to be a future staple of the organization. It’s unlikely he’s ever a Cy Young candidate, but there is a good chance he breaks out into an important role for the Orioles during the 2023 season and onward.
In addition to the starters that were the mainstays at the end of the season, it’s worth noting that Grayson Rodriguez, the fourth ranked prospect in America according to MLB.com, had a very strong season in AAA and likely would have been on the Major League roster to end the season if not for an injury. Add him on top of the staff the O’s already have, and it may be a sneakily good group that can win games for the team next year.
The starting rotation certainly made some steps in the right direction, and was far better than the 2021 group, but where the O’s made the biggest strides as a team was in the bullpen. When our Season Previews launched, the Orioles’ top two bullpen arms were projected to be Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser. Neither were on the Opening Day roster, having been traded to the Marlins for two young prospects just before the season began.
However, the Orioles now exit 2022 with what is likely a top half bullpen in the MLB, despite trading away their star closer at the Trade Deadline. This can largely be attributed to breakout years from some of the most unlikely of players. Even though the aforementioned Jorge Lopez was traded to the Twins near the end of the season, this did little to shake the tenacity of the relief staff.
Félix Bautista, a twenty-seven year old rookie, took over the closing role and dominated using his one hundred mile per hour four seamer and a deadly splitter. In addition to him, 2021 waiver claim Cionel Pérez and longtime Orioles prospect Dillon Tate held down a bullpen that finished the year as one of the best in the league. Director of Pitching Chris Holt deserves an immense amount of praise in the work he’s done to revitalize this entire staff in 2022, and despite only having been in his role for two seasons, should be viewed as one of the top pitching coaches in the majors.
The Orioles improved on all levels in 2022, with a much improved position group, and a pitching staff that can finally be considered a threat to opposing teams. They were over .500 for the first time since 2016, and in a stacked AL East at that. Some may say that this team was just lucky, that they vastly outplayed their talent, that next year is just going to be another disappointment.
They may point to the 2021 Detroit Tigers, who went 77-85 just a year out from having the number one pick, and then won only 63 games in 2022. They will say that there is no chance the O’s compete for a playoff spot in 2023. They are incorrect. The 2022 Orioles were not a fluke, they were not a one hit wonder. The 2022 Orioles were a sign of the future, the building blocks of a future World Series contender and the foundation of a great team for years to come.
M-SABR Predicted Record (63-99) vs. Actual (83-79):
Nobody in their right mind would have predicted the Orioles winning more than half of their games. If, at the beginning of the season, you told me the Orioles were going to have 83 wins in 2022, I would have laughed straight in your face and called you crazy. In fact, at the beginning of the season, I received criticism that 63 games was far too many for an Orioles team that had done little to nothing to improve over the offseason.
In general, there weren’t really any signs to tell this kind of breakout was coming, and even now, I can’t exactly wrap my head around it. It was mostly the same core that was around in 2021, minus John Means and plus some players that were in AA and AAA last season, most notably Adley Rutschman, but the main factor in the improved record was just better play. They figured something out, and that something was huge. Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías went from replacement players to studs.
The pitching staff, despite the loss of John Means and the struggles of Bruce Zimmerman, was consistent enough to keep them into games, something that definitely was not the case in 2021, and the bullpen, which seemed to be in shambles entering the year, suddenly emerged as one of the best in baseball with a mix of unexpected homegrown talent and shockingly beneficial waiver additions.
Most of what I argued in the season preview still holds true, but the Orioles found a way to make their mishmash starting rotation and cobbled-together bullpen work in a way that won them games, and they should be commended for it.
Surprise of the Season: SS Jorge Mateo
That’s right, Jorge Mateo was so good I had to devote two sections of this article to talking about him. As a former Top 100 Prospect, there have never been questions about Mateo’s speed, with him consistently among the top 1% of MLB players in top speed since his debut, but the hitting has always been viewed as a major red flag. With the Padres, he struggled to establish himself as both a hitter and in the field with limited time, and was quickly pushed out of the lineup by the likes of Jake Cronenworth.
Thus, in a questionable move at the time and an even more questionable move now, they waived him, and the last place Orioles were quick to snatch him up. Since being claimed by the Orioles in August of 2021, Mateo has been very solid with the bat, hitting .280 with a 103 OPS+ in 116 plate appearances during 2021 before hitting .221 with thirteen home runs and a 81 OPS+ in 2022. What’s even more impressive, however, is how Mateo has developed his glove since his departure from the Padres. In 2022, he ranked in the top 4% of players in outs above average and accumulated 2.3 defensive WAR, good enough for top ten in the entire MLB.
Through his athleticism and refined glovework, he quickly made himself a contender for the Gold Glove at shortstop in the 2022 season, and likely a contender for the award for years to come. While Mateo largely flew under the radar in 2022, it’s very likely that he continues to be a mainstay at the shortstop position for the O’s, and perhaps even earns himself a qualifying offer after his arbitration period ends in the 2026 offseason.
Players We Watched
Before the season I named three Orioles to keep an eye on during the 2022 season. In this section, I’ll reflect on these player’s seasons and determine if “we watched” or “we botched”.
Player #1: SP John Means
After a strong but injury plagued 2021, in which he had perhaps the best year of his career and threw a no-hitter, fans were excited to finally see him fully healthy again to begin 2022. However, a left elbow strain he suffered during his second start of the season led him to season ending Tommy John surgery, which was successful and should hopefully have him pitching at some point in 2023.
It’s obviously concerning, especially with the long list of injuries that Means has suffered over the course of his short career, but fans are hoping and praying that he can return to the field and bounce back in a big way. Of course, this means that Means was scarcely on the mound in 2022, and it’s clear that this pick was botched.
Player #2: CF Cedric Mullins
Mullins had a near MVP-winning year in 2021, so it felt impossible to leave him off of the “Players to Watch” list going into the season. An electric fielder with a solid to good bat, Mullins was looking to replicate his 2021 in 2022, but couldn’t help but come up a little bit short. Concerningly, Mullins’ bat regressed significantly in 2022, with a .258/.318/.403 split compared to a .291/.360/.518 split in 2021. Most worrying about his year, however, was a major power drop off, hitting just about half the number of home runs he did during 2021. This is at least partially an effect of the outfield wall being moved back, though there were absolutely some personal struggles with the bat for Mullins in 2022.
Specifically against lefties, Mullins had just a .579 OPS this season, compared to a .788 OPS in 2021. Overall, it is likely that the version of Mullins we saw in 2022 is more consistent in line with what he is capable of on a year-to-year basis, but it would be rash to rule out a return to his 2021 form. Either way, it is inarguable that Mullins is a fun player, and certainly had a good season by the average MLBer’s standard, finishing second on the team with 3.8 bWAR and in the top 5% of fielders in OOA. With his athleticism, elite fielding, and solid hitting tools, Mullins has solidified himself as the Orioles center fielder of the future and someone that will be looking for a payday going into 2026.
Player #3: C Adley Rutschman
In my season preview, I wrote that Rutschman “has everything one would want in a player: spectacular defense, a cannon of an arm, power to hit forty homers a year, and consistent contact”. I will also admit something: I underestimated how good he would be year one. Rutschman showcased all four of these attributes in his first year in the league, finishing in the top 20% of catchers in terms of framing numbers according to Savant and having the second most catcher DRS in the MLB, behind only Jose Trevino. Additionally, he slashed a .254/.362/.445 line, putting him in the group of JT Realmuto, Sean Murphy, Will Smith, and Willson Contreras as a top five offensive catcher. What might be most notable, however, is his impact on the team itself.
The Orioles started the year 16-24 with Rutschman on the Injured List, and went 67-55 after he joined the roster. It could also be argued that Rutschman held a significant role in the improvement of the pitching staff, with his framing numbers and pitch calls being vital in each of the 84 games he started behind the plate. Going back in the history books, it’s hard to find rookies, especially rookie catchers, that impressed as much as he did in 2022. He had more WAR than 2008 and 2010 Rookie of the Year winners Geovany Soto and Buster Posey. Statistically, Rutschman had the best rookie year by a catcher since Mike Piazza in 1993, and like the Orioles this year, it wasn’t a fluke. Look for him to put up even better numbers in 2023, and to establish himself as a true superstar that will influence the future of the MLB in a big way.
With the impressive season the Orioles had, it is vital that they hit in free agency this offseason. The main concern of fans will be the willingness of the Angelos family to spend on big names, but general manager Mike Elias is well respected and, given the reins to hand out big contracts, should be trusted to make the right decision.
The Orioles are unlikely to renovate the infield with the years that Gunnar Henderson, Ramón Urías, and Jorge Mateo had. Out of all the starting infielders, young first baseman Ryan Mountcastle is likely under the most heat going into the offseason, but being on a very team friendly contract, it is unlikely that they decide to replace him. In addition, with Rougned Odor leaving for free agency, speedy bench bat Terrin Vavra is likely to serve as the O’s utilityman in 2023, and prospect Jordan Westburg will probably see some time in the infield at some point in the season.
The outfield could serve unchanged, with established Orioles Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and Anthony Santander being an option to man each position again in 2023. However, it is possible, maybe even probable, that Santander transitions to DH due to his subpar defense. The Orioles have a possible future star waiting for a corner outfield spot, with top prospect Colton Cowser looking for a role in the starting lineup next season. Either way, the Orioles will need a new name to man the DH spot with the late season trade of team staple Trey Mancini. Veterans Robinson Chirinos and Jesus Aguilar largely filled the spot late in the year, but with their expiring contracts and lackluster performance, it is almost assured that O’s fans see someone new there in 2023.
Overall, it is fairly unlikely that the O’s invest heavily in any offensive talent, but if they do it will be in adding a sure handed first baseman or a fill-in designated hitter. One name to look at for the O’s is versatile Padres infielder Brandon Drury, who can fill in at almost any position in the field. Another option is team icon Trey Mancini, though, considering their late season split, a reunion seems relatively unlikely. The most probable answer, however, is that the Orioles limit their offensive signings to a backup catcher and move into 2023 with the group they have in house.
The main moves the O’s will make in free agency will almost certainly be on the mound. After a year of progress with the rotation, it’s time for the team to establish a starting rotation that they can be confident sending out for the first five games of the season. With the year he had in 2022 and his reputation in the clubhouse, it is probable that Jordan Lyles is back on the team in 2023 with an $11 million club option, and Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez, barring injury, are also locks for the first official rotation, but the other two spots are up for grabs.
In the most likely situation, the Orioles sign one solid starter in free agency and move on with Tyler Wells in the fifth spot of the rotation, but it may serve them well to spend big on an ace going into 2023. Looking through the list of potential free agents, if Elias gets the green light he may look towards the likes of Carlos Rodón, Taijuan Walker, and Tyler Anderson. If not, he’s likely to look to lower tier options with high upside, namely Sean Manaea and Drew Smyly.
The bullpen is another need, despite its success in 2022. With a lack of depth and proven talent, the Orioles will likely go back to their breadbasket and sign a myriad of established veteran relievers to cheap contracts, hoping a couple of them stick as Major League options to begin the season. Another option would be to spend a fair amount on a proven setup man, but that seems rather unlikely, at least during this offseason wherein competition is secondary to development.
If I were Mike Elias, I would spend all possible resources to draw an ace to the team. With Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson hopefully filling the role as the stars of the offense in the future of the organization, and Grayson Rodriguez as the up and coming future of the rotation, all that the team is missing is an established ace to win them big games.
For my money, if it was my money, empty the bank for Carlos Rodón. With him exiting a one year stint with the Giants and seemingly looking for a new team, he will be seeking a $20 million plus multi-year contract. However, it’s not often that one of the best pitchers in the MLB gets to free agency at thirty, and when you’re manning a team like the Orioles, on the upswing and fighting for the playoffs, adding that type of player would work as both a short term investment, giving them the firepower to make the playoffs next season, and a long term investment, with his prime likely extending for the next three to five seasons. The big knock on Rodón is the injury history, and it’s both lengthy and worrying, but after two fairly healthy seasons of elite play, it’s absolutely worth the risk for a young competing team.
Something to Watch:
The 2025 World Series. Is it presumptuous? Absolutely. Is it probably incorrect, more absolutely. That being said, in every possible way, this team is set up for success, especially in 2025. They have a pool of talent including players that either just came up to the majors or are going to play a major role for the team in 2023 (Adley, Gunnar, Grayson Rodriguez, Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser, DL Hall), in addition to a group of accumulated talent that is set to have their last year of arbitration in 2025 (Cedric Mullins, Jorge Mateo, Austin Hays). Add last year’s first overall pick Jackson Holiday to the mix, and the future certainly looks bright for the O’s. The one factor that could hold them back is the lack of pitching talent and depth, but one or two good free agent signings could make that irrelevant. So, get used to the squad in orange and white winning big games, perhaps even on the biggest stage in baseball.