Baltimore Orioles: Top Ten Lowest Team-Leading WAR Totals
By Nick Stevens
Taking a look back at the top ten lowest season-ending WAR totals in Baltimore Orioles history.
Heading into the final series of the 2019 season, the Baltimore Orioles are 52-107 and find themselves 50.0 games back of the division-leading New York Yankees. Brandon Hyde and his staff have used 58 different position players and 38 different pitchers, both of which are team records for the number of players used in a single season as the organization filters through players to try and find some talent who can stick.
As of September 25th, starting pitcher John Means finds himself on top of the Orioles WAR leaderboard at 4.5, according to Baseball Reference. For comparison, Cody Bellinger currently has the highest WAR for a position player at 8.5 and Justin Verlander at 7.8 for pitchers.
This left me wondering, where does Means and his 4.4 bWAR rank among other team-leading marks in Baltimore Orioles franchise history? It has to be among one of the lowest totals, right? Despite being on a team which is on pace to post their second-lowest win total, Means doesn’t find his name on this particular top ten list, which is a bit surprising.
WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, isn’t a perfect statistic, but it is effective at helping us compare player performance across teams, leagues, and different seasons. One of the reasons why WAR isn’t the end-all-be-all stat to use is because depending on the website you reference, you will likely get a different number. However, it’s still reliable. But just for fun, let’s take a look at the ten lowest team-leading WAR totals in Baltimore Orioles franchise history (since 1954)
10) Bob Nieman– 4.0 bWAR in 1956
Playing for 12 seasons with six different teams, outfielder Bob Nieman accumulated a career WAR of 17.6, 4.0 of that coming in 1956 with the Baltimore Orioles. He didn’t spend the entire season with the Orioles, coming over in a trade from the Chicago White Sox in late-May.
He would go on to play in 114 games for the O’s, hitting .322 with a .442 on-base percentage, aided by his 86 walks to just 59 strikeouts. Nieman finished seventh in MVP voting, which went to New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle and his 52 home runs in 1956. Over his six seasons with the Orioles/St. Louis Browns, Nieman hit .301 with 82 home runs in 609 games.
9) Cal Abrams– 4.0 bWAR in 1954
The inaugural season for the Baltimore Orioles ended with 54 wins and 100 losses, but it wouldn’t take long before fans in Baltimore would get the opportunity to watch a winning team (.500 record by 1957, winning record by 1960). Third baseman Vern Stephens led the way with a whopping eight home runs and a 23-year-old Bob Turley led the pitching staff with a 14-15 record and 3.46 ERA in 247 innings. Unfortunately, he walked 181 hitters.
Outfielder Cal Abrams led the entire team in WAR after racking up 35 extra-base hits, more walks (72) than strikeouts (67), and leading the team in batting average (.293), on-base percentage (.400), and slugging percentage (.421). His 4.0 Wins Above Replacement accounted for nearly half of his 8.5 career-WAR across eight professional seasons. Abrams played for one more season with the Orioles (.243 AVG, 6 HR, .413 OBP) before being traded to the Chicago White Sox and playing in just four more games in the big leagues.
8) Eddie Murray- 3.9 bWAR in 1987
After bringing home the 1983 World Series trophy and winning 98 regular-season games, the Orioles saw their win total dip year after year over the next five years before completing a 33-game turnaround and winning 87 games in 1989. During that stretch,1987 was a tough season in Birdland with Cal Ripken Sr. at the helm, but that didn’t stop Eddie Murray from putting up big numbers in his age-31 season.
Leading the way with a 3.9 bWAR, Murray hit 31 home runs, hit a combined 31 doubles and triples, drove in 91 runs, and slashed .277/.352/.477 in his penultimate season with the Baltimore Orioles. His 1987 season ended a streak of six-straight years with an All-Star appearance, returning to mid-summer classic in 1991 with the Los Angles Dodgers.