On Saturday, the Baltimore Orioles announced that Gunnar Henderson was named the Louis M. Hatter Most Valuable Oriole for the 2023 season. The award is voted on by members of the local media that cover the Orioles. This is the second consecutive season that a rookie has won the award and the fourth time in Orioles history, dating back to 1954.
The O's finished the regular season 101-61, the best record in the American League, and will receive a well deserved by in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. They were a well balanced team and really did not have a superstar player standout more than others over the course of the season. Many players stepped up and took turns carrying the team during hot streaks, but only one player could be chosen for the award. Henderson beat out Ryan O'Hearn, Felix Bautista, Kyle Bradish, Anthony Santander and last year's winner Adley Rutschman, who all received votes.
Gunnar Henderson wins 2023 Most Valuable Oriole award
While Henderson is the fourth rookie to be named MVO, he is the first to do so on a team that made the playoffs. Does that make Henderson's MVO rookie season the best one? Two of the previous winners were pitchers (one starter and one closer) so in a way it was comparing apples to oranges, but I gave it my best shot.
#4: Rodrigo Lopez (2002)
In 2002, the Orioles were in a tailspin. They finished the season 67-95, their fifth consecutive season with a losing record. There was not much to cheer about in Baltimore that season, but Lopez gave them hope for the future. Lopez began his rookie season in the bullpen but was quickly added to the starting rotation after showing the ability to shut down opposing offenses for extended innings.
The decision by manager Mike Hargrove to move Rodrigo into the rotation proved to be a good one when Lopez earned wins in his first four starts. Lopez exploded in the month of July going 6-0 in six starts with a 2.57 ERA and 35 strikeouts. He was awarded the Rookie of the Month for his efforts.
Lopez finished the season with a 15-9 record, almost twice as many wins as Travis Driskill, who was second on the team with eight. Unfortunately, Lopez was never able to repeat the success that he had that rookie season, but that season is something that can never be taken away from him.
#3: Gregg Olson
Gregg Olson had a rookie year to remember in 1989 and walked away not only with the MVO, but the AL Rookie of the Year award as well. After a rough first outing, Olson settled in and became a reliable reliever in the middle of the bullpen. Then in mid-May, O's Manager Frank Robinson moved Olson to closer, and the rest is history. Olson went on to record a perfect 27 saves in 27 save opportunities with a sparkling 1.69 ERA and a 90 / 10 K/BB ratio. He finished the season 5-2 in 64 appearances and helped the Orioles to second place finish, two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.
Olson stayed in Baltimore for another four seasons with continued success. He was an all-star in 1990 and had a career best 1.60 ERA for the O's in '93 before leaving Baltimore. Olson pitched eight more seasons in the majors for eight more teams but was never able to recapture his rookie magic.
#2: Adley Rutschman
The Birds have completed one of baseball's biggest turnarounds, going form 52-110 in 2021 to 101-61 just two seasons later and it is not a coincidence that the turnaround directly correlates with the debut of Adley Rutschman. Rutschman has been even better than advertised when he was the Orioles number one overall draft pick in 2019. He was Mike Elias' first pick as the Orioles GM and was supposed to bring good fortunes with him.
Rutschman has done exactly that. After getting off to a slow start, Adley was able to make the adjustment and post very respectable numbers offensively, including a team rookie record 35 doubles. But it was his work behind the plate that really made him stand out. He earned the trust of the pitching staff and was instrumental in the growth of young pitchers like Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer.
Adley was voted the Rookie of the Year runner up, finishing behind Julio Rodriguez, who needed a historic season to hold off Rutschman. Having just completed his second season in the bigs, Rutschman continued to show why he is a special player. He has put himself on a trajectory that should end in Cooperstown is he can continue to stay healthy. Possibly the only thing keeping him from being number one on this list is the late start that he got to his rookie season due to an injury.
#1: Gunnar Henderson
Going into the 2023 season, Gunnar Henderson was a heavy favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year. Birds fans had visions of Henderson becoming the first Oriole to win the award since Olson in 1989. Unfortunately, Gunnar got off to a very slow start and batted just .197 in April and .213 in May while platooning at third base facing right-handed pitchers almost exclusively. Then, the Gunn Show came to town and Henderson exploded to slash .320/.354/.640 with a .994 OPS in June.
Henderson was so hot that he stayed in the lineup against lefties, and he continued to hit. From that point on he was a near everyday player. He joined Cal Ripken Jr and Eddie Murray as the only Oriole rookies with 25 doubles and homers, tied for the team lead in homers (28), was second in RBI's (82), set an Oriole rookie record with a team leading 100 runs scored and was second in the AL with a team leading nine triples.
Defensively Henderson was just as impressive. He appeared in 83 games at third base and 82 games at shortstop, obviously playing both positions in the same game on numerous occasions and should be considered one of the front runners to win the second AL utility position gold glove.
Machine Gunnar was an offensive leader the American League's top team, an absolute weapon on defensively on the left side of the infield and the potential to be a terror on the base path. He turned things around and seems to again be considered the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. I would say the sky is the limit for Henderson, but even that seems low for a kid who only recently turned 22 years old.
The Orioles have a ton of young talent, much of which we got to see in Baltimore this season. With plenty more on the way, I can't wait to see them battle it out for MVO while chasing World Series titles for years to come.