Anyone who’s watched a Baltimore Orioles game this season would quickly be able to identify the hallmarks of starting shortstop Jorge Mateo’s game: holy wow that dude is freakishly fast, and man can he play defense! Mateo has utilized these traits to become the third most valuable player (according to FanGraphs WAR) on an O’s team that’s pushing for their first playoff berth in six years.
Mateo’s contributions with his bat are generally few and far between, but still provides immense value with his elite defensive (8th among shortstops in outs above average) and baserunning (AL-leading 27 SB) skills.
Until the middle of July, that is.
Baltimore Orioles SS Jorge Mateo has been a different hitter in the second half
Entering the Orioles July 10th game against the Angels, Jorge Mateo had a .565 OPS and a batting average below the Mendoza Line. Since that day, there hasn’t been a better hitter in the Orioles lineup; he leads all Orioles hitters with a .337 average and also tops the charts in SLG, wOBA, wRC+, and WAR in these past five weeks. There haven’t been many better hitters on other teams either, with just seven Major League batters producing a higher wOBA than that of Mateo since July 10th.
There hasn’t been an overhaul to Jorge Mateo’s mechanics or plate approach, but the 27 year old’s increased production has coincided with an improved quality of contact. Hit the ball harder and your chances of making something good happen improves, how clever!
The clearest example of the shift appears when examining his numbers against four-seam fastballs. Jorge Mateo was hitting .179 against heaters entering the month of July with little hope in the peripherals. In July? A .462 (!) batting average with a Jon Dowdian .658 wOBA. The average exit velocity of fastballs thrown Mateo’s way jumped nearly ten miles per hour from June to the time of writing in mid-August. Mateo’s exit velos against off-speed and breaking pitches have improved as well, but the majority of his bread is being toasted by the fastball.
There is an element of good fortune that’s partially responsible for Mateo’s offensive breakout, though. His .400 BABIP in August cannot be supported by his (or any other hitter’s) batted ball profile, for instance. His .378 average in August dwarfs his .296 expected batting average. There’s still plenty of encouraging data, but we likely haven’t seen an overnight renaissance.
Even prior to July, I’ve contested that Jorge Mateo could be a prized asset on the next iteration of contending Orioles teams. Elite defense and baserunning will play anywhere (shout-out to Rajai Davis) and any team trying to win a World Series would benefit from his skillset, certainly during the playoffs when games are divided into a bevy of nerve-wrenching micro decisions.
If Mateo fully regresses back to the hitter he was before mid-July, he is still stuffed to the brim with value and his floor is that of an elite bench player on a winning team. If he can continue to improve his batted ball quality and establish his current 92 wRC+ as a baseline? That’s an above average starting shortstop who could potentially convince Mike Elias and the Orioles front office to use a few of the organization’s coveted middle infield prospects as trade pieces to improve other facets of the squad.
Either way, Jorge Mateo is under team control until 2025, and my money would be on him having impactful postseason performances for the Baltimore Orioles in the future.