The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season as they head into the All Star break with a record of 54-35. Their fantastic record places them just 2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in a loaded A.L East. Let's give out some grades for the O's offense, defense, pitching, and for manager Brandon Hyde after the first half of the season.
Midseason report card for the Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles offense may not be on the same level as other teams like the Rays, Rangers, and Braves, but they've turned into a very solid offense that has continually kept the O's in many games. They rank in the top 10 in runs scored, slugging percentage, and team OPS and score the 6th most runs per game at 4.97. But the O's are the best road offense in baseball, averaging 5.58 runs per game away from Camden Yards.
The main reason for the offensive success by the Orioles this season can be attributed to their team depth, forming a more well-rounded offense then in years past. As expected, guys like Adley Rutschman, Anthony Santander, Gunnar Henderson, and Cedric Mullins have been very productive offensively. But they've also gotten fantastic contributions from players like Austin Hays, Ryan O'Hearn, and Aaron Hicks who have helped take this offense to a different level.
Hays had shown offensive potential in the past, but you can make an argument for him being the Orioles MVP to this point. He has the fourth highest batting average in the A.L and leads the O's in average, hits, OPS, and is tied with Santander for the highest slugging percentage. O'Hearn is proving to be one of Mike Elias's best bargain pickups in recent years, featuring a slash line of .302/.349/.518. And finally, Aaron Hicks has made a huge impact ever since his departure from the Yankees. He filled in nicely for Cedric Mullins during his injury and he currently has an OPS of .868 ever since joining the O's.
Other depth players like Ramon Urias and Adam Frazier have also had a multitude of timely hits throughout the season, and top prospects like Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg continue to bring an offensive boost to the team.
The Orioles defense is an interesting one when you take a deeper look. On the surface, they look like a really strong unit. They have the third least amount of errors in the league and the third highest fielding percentage. But, according to FanGraphs, they grade out as the 23rd best defense in baseball when combining stats like outs above average, defensive runs saved, outfield arm runs, etc.
The O's continue to get great defense from several key players like Mullins, Jorge Mateo, and Rutschman, but they have also had multiple players struggle individually on defense. Adam Frazier has been one of the worst defenders in baseball, falling in the bottom 1% of the league in outs above average according to Baseball Savant. Ramon Urias has also taken a substantial step back from his Gold Glove play last season, with -4 outs above average this season.
I had the most trouble grading this aspect of the team for multiple reasons. For starters, they truly have done a great job of reducing errors and have made the routine plays. But they haven't lived up to the standards set by the 2022 defense that was a top-5 unit in baseball. I'm giving the defense a B because they've also had injuries to key defenders like Mullins, Urias, and Ryan Mountcastle so I'm banking on them to improve when the second half rolls around.
Although the Orioles pitching has been on a great run the last few games before the All Star break, they still look like a very middle-of-the-road staff. They land in the middle or worse in major categories like team ERA, hits and homeruns allowed, opponent batting average, and WHIP.
The main weakness for the O's is their starting pitching. The rotation has an ERA of 4.49 and has struggled to keep opposing offenses down on a consistent basis. A big issue has been the 5th spot in the rotation which hasn't featured a consistent starter all season. Cole Irvin has taken that spot and been better recently, but he still features and ERA over 5. One of the O's top prospects, Grayson Rodriguez, also filled that role earlier in the season but struggled with consistency. He showed flashes of brilliance, but ultimately was sent back to Triple-A after starting the season with an ERA of 7.35 in 45 innings. Dean Kremer and Kyle Gibson have also had their fair share of struggles, but they've shown enough to stay in the rotation for now.
The starting rotation has been carried by the likes of Tyler Wells and Kyle Bradish. Wells looks like a legitimate front line starter and has been fantastic for the Orioles this season. He boasts an ERA of 3.18 and he has heavily upped his strikeout numbers compared to last season. Last season he struck out just 18% of opposing hitters, but that number has jumped to 25% this season. If Wells can bring down the home runs, he'll be one of the best starting pitchers in the A.L. Bradish on the other hand has continued to build off of his strong second half from 2022 with a great first half of 2023. He has an ERA of 3.32 in 84 innings for the Orioles and continues to feature solid control while having good swing and miss ability.
The bullpen has been far better then the starting rotation and has single handedly won the O's many games this season. Although the Orioles are in need of some middle-relief arms, the back end is the best in all of baseball. It features the dynamic duo of Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano, who both made their first All Star games this season. Their contributions have led to a 3.68 bullpen ERA, good for 6th best in the majors. To go along with that, they have struck out the third most batters, led by Bautista's 84 strikeouts in just 42 innings.
The pitching may be the only knock on a very impressive Orioles team. Don't be surprised if this staff changes quite a bit with some trade deadline acquisitions over the next month.
I think this is a no-brainer. Coming into the season, Brandon Hyde was given a roster that featured the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball. The team was expected to make big, splashy moves in free agency but they didn't. The highlights of the offseason were signing two veterans in Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier, who are career league-average players. Did any of this matter though? Not at all. The team has the third best record in all of baseball and always plays hard with a gritty mindset. This stems directly from the character of their manager.
Now to be fair, I'm not claiming the team is devoid of talent. Mike Elias and company have done a fantastic job building this team up from the ground floor. They have a surplus of young, elite talent but they still are very inexperienced (outside of a few vets). Regardless, it is very clear that Brandon Hyde is getting the absolute most out of his guys and he is at the forefront of this winning culture that has been created over the last two seasons.
I'd also like to point out some of Hyde's criticisms from years past. Many fans complained about his bullpen maneuvers, in game adjustments, and questionable lineups. Now all managers are going to make mistakes and we still see the occasional "punt" lineup, but I think he's pushed all of the right buttons this season. He quickly moved Yennier Cano to the set up role after his early success, he slotted Ryan O'Hearn into the cleanup spot thanks to his offensive production, and he recently moved Gunnar Henderson to the lead-off spot, where he has thrived.
Hyde may have finished second in Manager of the Year voting last season, but don't be surprised if he takes it home this year with how his club is playing.
Hopefully the Orioles can play another great half of baseball after the All Star break and continue to build on the great season they are having.