Where does Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher John Means rank among American League rookies?
On Monday evening at 6 pm EST, Major Leauge Baseball will announce the finalist for the American and National League Rookie of the Year Awards. The winner won’t be announced until November 11th. Baltimore Orioles lefty John Means made a strong case for the ROTY Award in 2019 and should receive serious consideration.
No Orioles were among the nominees for a Gold Glove Award and it’s safe to say that none are being considered for the Cy Young, MVP, Comeback Player, Edgar Martinez Outstanding DH, or Manager of the Year awards. But when it comes to American League Rookie of the Year honors, John Means should find his name among the list of finalists.
Entering 2019, Means wasn’t considered to be an option for the starting rotation. The former 11th-round pick out of West Virginia was coming off a 2018 season which saw him split time between Double-A Bowie and Triple- Norfolk. He went 7-9 with a 3.72 ERA, 130 strikeouts in 157 innings, a .268 average against and a 1.26 WHIP.
The numbers were that of just another minor league pitcher. When you watched his starts in both Bowie and Norfolk, nothing really jumped out as being amazingly good or noticeably terrible, just a hard-earned outing from decent minor leaguer chasing a dream.
That “decent minor leaguer” is now a major league All-Star and the early favorite to take the ball on Opening Day 2020 against the New York Yankees.
Making 27 starts (31 total appearances), Means went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, striking out 121 and walking just 38 in 155 innings. He was worth 3.0 fWAR, leading all Orioles pitchers in 2019 (Dylan Bundy finished second at 2.5 fWAR). Among rookies, only Atlanta Braves stud Mike Soroka (4.0) was more valuable this season.
Among all rookie pitchers in baseball, Means had by far the lowest groundball rate at 30.9%, but he was the only one among 15 rookies with at least 100 innings pitched to record a HR/FB rate lower than 10%.
There’s no doubt that Means was the top rookie pitcher in the American League, but it may not be enough to take home ROTY honors.
An injury to Fernando Tatis Jr.quickly ended any debate about who the NL ROTY is. With a .260/.358/.583 slash, 53 home runs, 103 RBI, and a wRC+ of 143, Pete Alonso is a no-brainer in the National League. In the American League, the award is very likely to go to another slugger in Houston Astros rookie Yordan Alvarez.
Orioles fans are well aware of Alvarez after his rude introduction to Birdland faithful. You may have blocked it out of your memory, but it was that 23-2 drubbing at the hands of the Astros back on August which saw Alvarez hit three home runs off Orioles pitching.
He may have played in only 87 games, but Alvarez hit .313 with an absurd .412 on-base percentage and 178 wRC+. He also put up 27 home runs, 58 RBI, and was worth 3.8 fWAR, the highest mark for an American League rookie.
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Tampa Bay Rays infielder Brandon Lowe and Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez also made their case for ROTY. Lowe put up a .270/.336/.514 slash, 17 home runs, 125 wRC+ and was worth 2.6 fWAR, but an injury to the former Bennetts Creek Little League star back in Suffolk, VA (have to rep my hometown here) limited him to 82 games.
Jimenez appeared in 122 games, smashing 31 home runs and hitting .267 with a .315 OBP. He ranked fifth in fWAR among AL rookies at 1.9.
John Means won’t win the award, but he certainly earned to be in the conversation this year. Heading into the 2020 season, his continued growth and development will be one of the more intriguing storylines.