The Baltimore Orioles have the best record in the American League, and youthful talent is a big reason why. Gunnar Henderson is the odds-on favorite to capture Rookie-of-the-Year honors, while Adley Rutschman has already reached star status in just his second MLB season. The dynamic duo are the first-place team’s co-leaders in WAR.
They aren’t the only players making an impact. The well-balanced Mike Elias-constructed club has also received meaningful contributions from the likes of Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, and Austin Hays. On the pitching side, a mix of veterans and less-established arms have more than held their own, in some cases outperforming expectations. From the better-known to the lesser-known, a multitude of players have played important roles in the 90-wins-and-counting success.
With that in mind, who has been the most-underrated player on the 2023 Orioles? I asked that question to four people who see the squad on an everyday basis — two broadcasters and a pair of beat writers — prior to yesterday’s game at Fenway Park.
Nathan Ruiz, who covers the team for the Baltimore Sun, chose Danny Coulombe.
“A lot was made of the All-Star combo of Yennier Cano and Felix Bautista, but Coulombe has come in and kind of been that main left-handed reliever all season,” said Ruiz. “He’s been really good with inherited runners, which is something they have generally struggled with. Cionel Pérez was really good for them last year, but they felt they needed another lefty so they acquired him [from the Minnesota Twins] for cash around the cusp of the season and he became a solid piece for them right away. He’s been dependable at the back end of the bullpen.”
Melanie Newman went with Kyle Bradish.
“He’s got an ERA that’s sitting there with Gerrit Cole right now,” the Orioles broadcaster opined. “We all talk about Yennier Cano and Felix Bautista, and our back end — what they’ve been able to do so far — but Kyle has been consistent. For whatever reason, when we’re on the road in a big spot, those are his best moments. That’s what you want out of a guy, and you forget that he’s only in his second year. His breaking pitches are disgusting. I don’t think he gets enough credit.”
Danielle Allentuck opted for Ryan O’Hearn.
“He has kind of been the guy who, whenever they need the big hit — he’s either coming off the bench or already in the lineup — has been providing it,” the Baltimore Banner reporter told me. “He’s been that kind of spark for them. He’s turning his career around here. We’re talking underrated, and I don’t think a lot of people know about him. He’s not the big name. He wasn’t a big superstar, but he’s come here and turned things around for himself, and the team.”
Geoff Arnold agreed with Allentuck.
“The most underrated Oriole for me would be Ryan O’Hearn,” the Baltimore broadcaster said. “The Orioles got him from Kansas City, and our hitting coaches have done a really good job with him, tweaking a couple of things in his swing. He’s a guy that has always hit the ball hard, but this year he’s hitting it in the right spot; he’s hitting it in the air more. I’ve also been impressed with how he’s played first base defensively. He’s handled himself really well around the bag. I think you actually have to put him in there as a candidate for most valuable Oriole this year.”
O’Hearn is slashing .305/.388/.509 with 12 home runs and 129 wRC+ in 293 plate appearances. Bradish is 11-6 with a 3.03 ERA over 26 starts. Coulombe is 5-1 with two saves and a 2.42 ERA over 53 relief appearances.
My July 9 Sunday Notes column included the recounting of a play that occurred two weeks prior, one in which O’Hearn reached second base on what would have been defensive indifference, only to turn around and begin jogging back to first base. Realizing what had actually happened — Adam Frazier swung and missed — he quickly reversed course and was safe at second only because Cincinnati closer Alexis Díaz, who’d been tossed the ball by the catcher, made an errant throw. Had the toss been on target, O’Hearn would have been out by a wide margin, ending the game.
I asked the veteran first baseman about the play on Friday.
”I thought Fraze fouled the ball off,” explained O’Hearn. “I turned around and asked the umpire ‘Hey, foul ball?’ and saw him nod his head yes. He didn’t say anything, nor did he look at me, but I thought he meant the ball was foul, so I started jogging back.”
The official scorer charged Díaz with a throwing error and gave O’Hearn a caught-stealing. Had he awarded a stolen base, it would have been the first of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound slugger’s six-year big-league career.
O’Hearn has subsequently summoned his inner Rickey Henderson and now has four steals to his credit. He also has a caught-stealing on a play where he was safe.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The Twins have faced every MLB team this season with the exception of the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, and New York Mets. Which of them has Rocco Baldelli been most impressed with? I asked that question to the Minnesota manager earlier this week.
“Well, I’ll say this,” Baldelli replied. “The Atlanta Braves made an impression when we played them. No manager likes to sit around and talk out loud about other clubs, but when you’re complimenting another club and don’t really have any hesitation doing it, you can let it fly. The Atlanta Braves set a tone in the series, the style we saw them out there playing… I mean, what they were doing at that moment in time, and really throughout the whole season, is pretty special. There is no denying what their lineup is doing on a daily basis. We got a chance to see it firsthand. I don’t think what we saw was a mirage.”
The Braves swept the three-game home series against the Twins in late June, leaving the yard eight times while outscoring Baldelli’s team 13-3. Along with boasting baseball’s best record at 92-49, Atlanta has bashed 273 home runs, by far the most in the majors.
“You get three games against these teams — the teams you’re only to catch once in awhile — so it’s not going to give you a full Encyclopedia Britannica of everything they have to offer,” said Baldelli. “But you do get a snapshot. There are many good clubs out there, and we have no idea who is going to take home a trophy this year — it could be any number of clubs — but of all the ones we’ve played this year, the one that has stuck out is the Braves.”
While Baldelli didn’t enjoy what he saw on the field, he did enjoy the snapshot itself. Getting to see every team on a yearly basis is to his liking.
“You get a good idea of what’s out there with the new schedule,” said Baldelli. “I feel like the new baseball schedule is more of a real baseball schedule. You don’t run into the same teams over and over again, and not see certain players for half a decade.”
Max Scherzer has been credited with 140 wins since the start of the 2014 season. Which pitcher has been tagged with the most losses over that span?
The answer can be found below.
SABR announced the five finalists for the 2023 Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors individuals who have made important contributions promoting the participation of women in baseball. More information can be found here.
The Atlanta Braves officially retired Andruw Jones’s No.25 prior to last night’s game. A native of Curaça, Jones played with the Braves from 1996-2007 in a 17-year career that saw capture 10 Gold Gloves and crush 434 home runs while logging a 111 wRC+ and 67 WAR.
Jerry Turner, an outfielder who played for three teams — primarily the San Diego Padres — from 1974-1983, died late last month at age 69 (per Baseball Player Passings). He batted .257/.319/.387 with 45 home runs in 1931 plate appearances.
The answer to the quiz is Patrick Corbin with 100 losses.
David Fry made news on Monday when he became the first true position player to throw as many as four innings in a game since José Oquendo did so for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986. Oquendo’s outing came in a contest that took 19 innings to complete, whereas Fry’s effort came in a nine-inning affair that saw the Cleveland Guardians get thumped 20-6 by the Minnesota Twins. A utility player who had taken the mound once previously, Fry allowed seven runs in his four save-the-bullpen frames.
It wasn’t the longest position player mound appearance in Cleveland franchise history. That distinction belongs to Milt Galatzer, a left-handed throwing outfielder who worked six innings in a 14-1 loss to the Washington Senators on August 26, 1936. Galatzer played 15 professional seasons, including five in the big leagues, and took the mound just that one time. He allowed three runs.
Cleveland’s 20-6 loss on Monday was followed by another defeat on Tuesday, leaving the Guardians seven games behind their AL Central rivals with just 23 left to play. At 66-73, the defending divisional champions were, and still are, facing long odds to return to the postseason. Chris Antonetti pinch-hit for manager Terry Francona in Wednesday’s pregame media session, and I asked the President of Baseball Operations if he could assess the club’s season to date. He demurred. Antonetti said that the subject can be addressed once the campaign has been completed.
Longtime Cleveland beat writer Paul Hoynes proceeded to ask Antonetti about the team’s lack of power. More to the point, he asked how the problem could be corrected.
“The problem isn’t power,” Antonetti replied. “The problem is that we need to score more runs. Last year, without hitting for enough power, we did a good enough job scoring runs; we were more in the middle of the pack. This year we haven’t scored enough runs. And there are different ways to do that. It’s not always power. I do think you can just throw a blanket on things and say, ‘This is what’s happening.’ We try to look at it more on an individual level. There are different ways more guys can contribute and help us score runs.”
The Guardians went into that afternoon’s game with 106 home runs as a team, the fewest in either league. Their 566 runs scored were the third fewest.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto threw his second career no-hitter this week and is now 14-5 with a 1.26 ERA on the year. The 25-year-old Orix Buffaloes right-hander is 47-15 with a 1.46 ERA against NPB competition since the start of the 2021 season.
Roki Sasaki was on the mound last night for the first time in seven weeks following an oblique injury. The 21-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines righty reportedly topped out at 100 mph while allowing one run and fanning two over three innings.
Katsuki Azuma is 13-2 with a 2.11 ERA for NPB’s Yokohama DeNa BayStars. The 27-year-old left-hander has wins in each of his last 10 decisions.
Shoki Murakami is 10-5 with a 1.76 ERA for NPB’s Hanshin Tigers. The 25-year-old right-hander has 131 strikeouts and 82 hits allowed in 133 innings.
Tanner Tully is 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA in 30-and—third innings with the NC Dinos. The 28-year-old left-hander signed with the KBO club after being released by the New York Yankees in early August. Tulley made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Guardians last year and appeared in three games.
Which of Zac Gallen, Justin Steele, Spencer Strider, and Zack Wheeler is most deserving of this year’s Cy Young award? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week and, somewhat surprisingly, the pitcher with MLB’s highest WAR finished dead last.
The results were: Strider 46.3%, Steele 31.9%, Gallen 13.4%, Wheeler 8.3%.
Strider is 16-5 with a 3.83 ERA, a 2.89 FIP, a 13.89 K/9, and 4.7 WAR.
Steele is 16-3 with a 2.55 ERA, a 2.98 FIP, a 9.06 K/9, and 4.3 WAR.
Gallen is 14-7 with a 3.48 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, a 9.37 K/9, and 4.3 WAR.
Wheeler is 11-6 with a 3.49 ERA, a 2.93 FIP, a 10.16 K/9. and 5.7 WAR.
This year’s voting promises to be interesting. How the four perform in their final starts — and they aren’t necessarily the only Cy contenders — will likely go a long way in determining the winner.
Zack Greinke has 66.0 WAR, and his bona fides include 2,962 strikeouts, six Gold Gloves, six All-Star berths, and a Cy Young award. There is a good chance that he will one day be elected to the Hall of Fame. If it happens, will he have had the worst-ever season for a pitcher enshrined in Cooperstown? With his 2023 campaign winding down, the Kansas City Royals right-hander is 1-14 with a 5.34 ERA and 84 ERA+ over 123 innings.
According to esteemed colleague Jay Jaffe, it depends on the parameters. If you’re just going on winning percentage, Greinke’s current .067 would be the worst when going with a 10-decision minimum. Robin Roberts went 1-10 (.091) in 1961.
If you go by ERA, Grienke’s season is nowhere close to the worst. Jay pointed out that there are 47 seasons by Hall of Famers with an 84 ERA+or worse in 120 innings or more,
Chandler Simpson has 94 stolen bases in 109 attempts, the most in the minors for each category. The 22-year-old outfielder in the Tampa Bay Rays organization is slashing .294.372/.346 with a 107 wRC+ between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. He has yet to go deep.
Hogan Windish has a Northwest League-best 22 home runs. The 24-year-old infielder in the Seattle Mariners system is slashing .270/.371/.509 with a 136 wRC+ for the High-A Everett AquaSox.
Tyler Black is slashing .267/.404/.486 with a 135 wRC+ between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville. The 23-year-old infielder in the Milwaukee Brewers system has 21 doubles, 10 triples, 16 home runs, and 53 stolen bases.
Termarr Johnson has 84 hits and 100 walks. The 19-year-old infielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization is slashing .243/.421/.442 with 18 home runs and a 142 wRC+ between Low-A Bradenton and High-A Greensboro.
Drew Thorpe has 182 strikeouts, the most in the minors. The 22-year-old right-hander in the New York Yankees system is 14-2 with a 2.52 ERA and a 3.05 FIP in 139-and-a-third innings between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset.
Zach Agnos has 26 saves, the most in the minors. The 23-year-old right-hander in the Colorado Rockies system has a 2.10 ERA, a 3.51 FIP, and 66 strikeouts in 51-and-a-third innings for Low-A Fresno.
Freddie Freeman is putting up big numbers this season — what else is new? — and they include an MLB-best doubles total. One year after topping the senior circuit with 47, and with three weeks left in the current campaign, the Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman has banged out 53 two-baggers. That is a franchise record, the long-forgotten Johnny Frederick having hit 52 in his 1929 rookie season.
“It’s amazing,” LA manager Dave Roberts said of Freeman’s production at the end of August. “And it’s not easy. You don’t just pencil it in to the back of the baseball card. It takes a lot of work. His preparation. His mindset. He’s relentless. I know the [single-season] record is 67 [by Earl Webb in 1931]. He’s putting together one of his best seasons ever.”
Freeman, who boasts a .335/.413/.573 slash line and a 165 wRC+ on the season, has 468 career doubles. None of the 90 players in front of him on the all-time list has fewer plate appearances.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
As cable TV dies, fans struggle to follow their favorite teams. Bill Shaikin addressed the issue at The Los Angeles Times.
The Athletic’s Stephen J. Nesbitt and Cody Stavenhagen teamed up to write about the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went a woeful 43-119. (Subscription required).
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Notable in yesterday’s 13-12 Orioles win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park is that it was the first time since June 3, 1930 that a team had won a nine-inning game while allowing 23 or more hits (per @SLangsOnSports). The nearly-a-century-ago contest was an 11-10 St. Louis Cardinals win over the Philadelphia Phillies in which two Cardinals hurlers combined to allow 23 hits. The winning pitcher, Syl Johnson, surrendered 20 of them over eight-and-a-third innings.
Jordan Lawlar slashed .423/.506/.761 against lefties in the minors this year. The 21-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks infielder got his first big-league call-up on Wednesday. (Per D-Backs beat writer Jesse Friedman.)
The Chicago White Sox swept a Sunday doubleheader from the Detroit Tigers on today’s date in 1967, winning by scores of 6-0 and 4-0. Joe Horlen, who finished the season 19-7 with a league-best 2.06 ERA, threw a no-hitter in the opener. Cisco Carlos recorded the first of his 11 career wins in the nightcap.
On today’s date in 1988, Ruben Sierra hit a walk-off double in the 17th inning to give the Texas Rangers a 3-2 win over the California Angels. The Rangers had earlier been down to their last out when Jim Sundberg knotted the game at 2-2 with a ninth inning home run.
Players born on today’s date include Mike Saipe, whose big-league career totaled two pitching appearances comprising 10 innings with the Colorado Rockies in 1998. The right-hander surrendered five home runs, including two to David Segui and one each to Hall of Famers Craig Biggio, Ken Griffey Jr, and Edgar Martinez.
Also born on today’s date was Randy Wiles, a southpaw whose career record includes both a win and a loss despite his having thrown just two-and-two-thirds innings over five appearances with the Chicago White Sox in 1977. Wiles got a win when Lamar Johnson hit a walk-off home run against the Mariners, and a loss when he surrendered a walk-off gopher to the Yankees’ Chris Chambliss.