The Baltimore Orioles roster has the potential to produce three All-Star players this season
With more than a month of the season completed and the 2021 MLB All-Star Game just a little over two months away, the Baltimore Orioles have primed themselves to see some serious representation when the festivities take place in Colorado this summer. With John Means pitching at one of the highest levels in baseball, Cedric Mullins well within the early race for AL hits leader, and Cesar Valdez doing magnificent things with his “dead fish” changeup out of the closer role, it serves to wonder if Baltimore may have more than just the obligatory solo All-Star this season.
John Means’ Case
Through his first 7 starts of the season, John Means holds a 1.37 ERA with a perfect 4-0 record. Means has been successful in getting batters to swing through his pitches and limiting hard hits when contact is made, ranking within the top 10% of Major League Baseball in average exit velocity allowed and the top 18% in whiff rate. His 7 starts include 5 quality starts and a no-hitter, the first for the Orioles since 1991 and the first by a single Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1969.
By game score, Means’ no-hitter ranks as the 17th-best 9-inning start of all time, trailing Kerry Wood‘s 20-strikeout game by just 6 points for the top spot. The 99-point game score issued to Means is the best by an Orioles pitcher in the history of the franchise. Barring major unforeseen circumstances, John Means will be on the American League roster for the All-Star Game.
Cedric Mullins’ Case
The turnaround Cedric Mullins has exhibited since going from a switch-hitter into a full-time left-handed hitter has been remarkable. Prior to play on Friday, Mullins ranks third in Major League Baseball in hits, raking in 39 hits over 31 games. Mullins’ newfound consistency at the plate allowed him to extend a hitting streak to 15 games, dating back to the final games of the 2020 season.
Across the board, Mullins is slashing .320/.378/.525 with 135 plate appearances so far this season, hitting 54% better than league average according to his wRC+. While his road to the All-Star Game pits him against the rest of the American League’s outfielders, which is a notably tough crowd, Mullins currently ranks third among AL outfielders in fWAR, trailing just Mike Trout and Byron Buxton.
Cesar Valdez’s Case
After a surprisingly great 2020 campaign for the veteran reliever, Cesar Valdez has continued to be dominant as the Orioles’ closer in 2021. Valdez has converted 7 of his 9 save opportunities so far this season, which ties him for the second-most saves in the American League, behind only Ian Kennedy.
What makes Valdez’s success so interesting is the approach he takes to pitching. For the most part, Valdez is a changeup-only pitcher, throwing the pitch 80.3% of the time. The unique movement of the “dead fish” has allowed him to get opposing batters to chase pitches more than a vast majority of other pitchers in the league. Valdez currently ranks within the top 7% of baseball in chase rate, and with it, has yet to have a pitch barreled up this season.