Baltimore Orioles: Where Will We See The Most Improvement In 2020?
By Nick Stevens
Where should we expect to see the most improvements in 2020? It better come from the outfield.
For the Baltimore Orioles, there’s really nowhere to go but up. Their 47 wins in 2018 marked the fewest number of wins in a single season, breaking the franchise record by seven (54 wins in 1954 and 1988 set the previous record for fewest wins). Much of the roster was shipped away, new leadership was brought in, and fans are now hoping their patience through a complete rebuild pays off with a World Series, sooner rather than later.
We saw a number of improvements in 2019, but what can we expect to see in 2020? More specifically, which position group will make the biggest improvement from 2019 to 2020? It could end up being in the outfield, where the Orioles struggled to replace Adam Jones after his 11-year career in Birdland and saw some of the worst defense in the major leagues from the left field spot.
Let’s take a look at where each positional group ranked this season and see why we’re most excited about the potential improvements in the outfield above all other positions.
A look at the Baltimore Orioles infield in 2019.
Using data from Fangraphs, Orioles catchers ranked 24th in combined fWAR at -0.2 and ranked 21st in wRC+ at 82. Pedro Severino surprised with his offensive production, but struggled with his highly-touted defense for much of the season. Unless Chance Sisco can flip a switch, not much will change behind the plate in 2020, but that’s ok with Adley Rutschman coming soon.
First base could end up featuring a rotating group of players that include Trey Mancini, Renato Nunez, Ryan Mountcastle, and Chris Davis (if he survives spring training). Mancini had a big year at the plate, a performance that will be difficult to top. It would be great if Nunez could maintain his power output and develop a little more consistency at the plate, but a .244/.311/.460 with 31 HR and 90 RBI Nunez may be peak Nunez.
I don’t think even the optimistic Orioles fan has any hope Davis can turn things around and how much can we really expect from Mountcastle in his debut season? He’s only 22, owns an extremely low walk rate, and routinely falls behind in counts, which can’t continue against major league pitching. He’s going to need some to settle in and adjust. Looking squarely at 2020, there could be improvements, but the ceiling isn’t as high as it is in the outfield.
Jonathan Villar had a career-year this season and it will be hard for him to top it, should he remain with the Orioles, and we largely know what to expect from fellow projected infield starters Hanser Alberto and Rio Ruiz.
Fangraphs classifies Mancini as a first baseman, pushing the Orioles up to 15th in combined fWAR at 2.2. They rank among the upper half of the league at second base (5.9 fWAR) and shortstop (3.0 fWAR), but in the bottom-third of the league at third base (2.1 fWAR). Unless Richie Martin or Ruiz has an elite breakout season in 2020, we’re likely to see much of the same production totals by the end of next season.
Will the Baltimore Orioles see big improvements from their outfield?
It’s going to be in the outfield where we see the real improvements next year. There’s no other choice but to improve.
With Trey Mancini playing out of position in right field, Stevie Wilkerson logging the highest number of innings in center despite never having played the position, and one of the worst defensive outfielders in Dwight Smith Jr.seeing significant time in left field, the Orioles ranked 24th in combined fWAR at 2.4.
Baltimore ranked 29th in left and center field production, two specific positions where things look much brighter in 2020.
Cedric Mullins, Stevie Wilkerson, Mason Williams, Joey Rickard, and Keon Broxton were all significantly below league-average at the plate, and all but Broxton were worth below-replacement level in center field.
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Enter Austin Hays. Hays appeared in just 21 games, making 75 plate appearances, but he did record a 146 wRC+ and was worth 0.9 fWAR in his extremely small sample size. Only Alberto, Mancini, and Villar were worth more in 2019.
Of course, health is a major concern when it comes to Hays. But after witnessing a full season of a healthy Hunter Harvey and nowhere to go but up in Birdland, it’s hard not to be optimistic. What do we have if we don’t have hope?
A healthy Hays in center and Mancini in right field means no need for Wilkerson or Smith in the starting lineup. It also allows Anthony Santander to slide in as the everyday left fielder.
Santander wasn’t great in left field, but his -1 Defensive Runs Saved and -1.6 Defensive Rating in 287 innings are extreme improvements over Smith’s -12 DRS and -11.7 Defensive Rating in 695 innings. Maybe working primarily at one position and entering next season with a bit more job security leads to bigger defensive improvements for Santander. No pressure, but the International Anthony Santander Fan Club will be watching.
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