The Orioles are approaching the halfway mark of the 2021 season on pace to win just 51 games and can thank the Arizona Diamondbacks for saving them from holding the title of worst team in baseball.
There’s no shortage of disappointing developments, of course, but there are some individual achievements also worth recognizing, including production from an unlikely source.
Below are some numbers to like and dislike as we reach the end of June:
THREE NUMBERS TO LIKE:
94 – Hits for Cedric Mullins
You can’t say enough about the outstanding season the 26-year-old is having after abandoning switch-hitting in the offseason and entering spring training competing with Austin Hays for the Opening Day center fielder job. Mullins entered Tuesday tied for the AL lead in hits and seventh in the majors in position player wins above replacement using both the Baseball Reference and Fangraphs versions. Even if he experiences some regression in the second half of the season, improved walk and strikeout rates as well as superb defense leave a high floor for someone who deserves to go to the All-Star Game as baseball’s best center fielder so far in 2021. Mullins continues to be a blast to watch on a last-place club really lacking that quality.
1.26 – June ERA for Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells
The worst pitching staff in baseball has been downright painful to watch, but the 26-year-old rookie has emerged in a bullpen where more established options have faltered. Having never pitched above the Double-A level prior to 2021, Wells predictably appeared in over his head with a 6.52 ERA in April and still wasn’t instilling much confidence with a 4.63 mark in May. However, he’s struck out 18 and walked none in his 14 1/3 innings this month, earning trust for some higher-leverage situations. That was evident Monday when Wells struck out the final two batters of the seventh inning to bail out his walk-happy teammates and keep the score tied in an eventual win. We’ll see what the future holds for Wells, but he’s been a pleasant surprise.
.971 – OPS for Ryan Mountcastle since May 5
May 5 served as the season’s ceremonial high-water mark with John Means tossing the club’s first individual no-hitter in 52 years and the Orioles having gone an awful 10-38 since that day in Seattle. But it also served as a turning point for Mountcastle, who was batting just .202 with seven extra-base hits and a .517 OPS over his first 116 plate appearances of the season. Not only has the 24-year-old rookie clubbed 20 extra-base hits over his last 176 plate appearances, but he’s drawn seven walks over his last 22 plate appearances after drawing only eight over his first 266 trips to the plate, illustrating how well he’s seeing the ball in June. Mountcastle’s defense and plate discipline remain long-term questions, but the bat is definitely playing after a rough start.
THREE NUMBERS TO DISLIKE:
7.19 – Combined ERA for Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin
Two rookies in their mid-20s struggling in their first full season in the majors is hardly surprising, but the pair failing to complete five innings in 11 of their combined 18 starts is well below the bar for pitchers who’ve ranked in the organization’s top 10 prospects list in recent years. Kremer has less Triple-A experience than Akin, but both have logged over 350 innings in the minors and need to be much better to factor into the future even in a relief role. It isn’t unreasonable to ask talented arms with that much professional experience to get through five or six innings and post at least a sub-5.00 ERA to keep you competitive in games. Fellow rookie Bruce Zimmermann was doing that before going to the injured list earlier this month.
8.1 – Walk rate per nine innings for Tanner Scott
Control has always been the biggest concern with the hard-throwing lefty, but the 26-year-old seemingly blossomed into the high-leverage bullpen weapon many believed he could be last season with a 1.31 ERA and just 10 walks in 20 2/3 innings. But 2021 has brought a career-worst walk rate that’s made it difficult to trust Scott in big situations despite a solid 3.10 ERA in his 29 innings. He’s allowed only two home runs over his 49 2/3 innings dating back to the start of last year, but walking nearly a batter an inning just won’t work in tight contests as we saw Monday when Scott walked three straight batters to allow Houston to tie the game in the seventh.
.537 – OPS for Orioles second basemen
Remember how the Orioles didn’t tender popular second baseman Hanser Alberto because a projected $2.6 million salary in arbitration was deemed too expensive for a club with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball? His projected replacement, Yolmer Sanchez, didn’t even make it out of spring training before being released, and the Orioles have cycled through a motley crew of non-prospects, castoffs, and utility guys with no business playing every day. Even in a lengthy rebuilding situation, there’s no excuse to not even try to field a representative option at the position, which is something they at least did at catcher and third base in spite of the poor production at those spots. Orioles second basemen have been poor defensively and rank last in the majors in OPS and wins above replacement (minus-0.8) by a substantial margin, according to Baseball Reference. That’s on general manager Mike Elias and ownership.