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After self-assessed ‘B-minus’ All-Star season, Orioles’ John Means out to improve on breakout year

The day after completing a first full major league season that concluded with a runner-up finish in American League Rookie of the Year voting, Orioles left-hander John Means sat back at Fenway Park and evaluated. A one-time substitute teacher in his native Kansas City area, Means decided to give himself a grade.

At last week’s Brews & O’s event in Canton, Means offered that appraisal publicly.

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"I'm never really that satisfied,” he said. “So probably around a B, B-minus, maybe."

In a five-year minor league career, Means was never viewed among the Orioles’ top prospects or received All-Star recognition. He spent the last day of spring training “kind of lingering around waiting for them to call me into the office to send me to minor league camp,” then broke with the major league team and eventually forced himself into Baltimore’s rotation by pitching effectively in relief. He entered the second half with a 2.50 ERA, second best among AL pitchers with at least 80 innings, and earned the Orioles’ All-Star nod. His 3.60 ERA at season’s end included a 2.74 mark at home, the second-best ERA for a first- or second-year Oriole in Camden Yards history.

The event’s audience questioned how Baltimore’s best pitcher in 2019 could be so hard on himself.

“Gotta be better,” he said with a smile and shrug.

He’s worked to do that this offseason, returning to P3 Premier Pitching & Performance in St. Louis to continue what he started last year. There, Means worked to better understand his body and mechanics to become a better pitcher. An improved changeup proved to be among the best in baseball, ranking as the seventh best thrown by pitchers with at least 150 innings per FanGraphs’ pitch valuation metrics. The changes positioned him to end up on that All-Star path.

Still, there were times when he struggled. His first five starts of the second half saw him post an 8.34 ERA. He dealt with high pitch counts at times but became more efficient as the season went on.

"I kind of go into this offseason doing the same thing, but now I know what I need to work on from last season,” Means said. “It wasn't perfect. Every outing wasn't exactly what I wanted. So I knew what I needed to work on, I knew what I needed to get better at, and I went into the offseason and worked on specifics."

He got a firsthand look at the importance of improvement at the All-Star Game in Cleveland. Inside the AL clubhouse, he watched as the game’s best players made their way around the room to ask for tips and insight from others.

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“Some of the best pitchers in the league were going around to guys at their lockers and asking them how they throw certain pitches,” Means said. “It's just like, ‘OK, these are students of the game. This is why they're here. This is why they're the best in the game because they're constantly learning.’ "

And Means wants to be in that group, too. He’ll take a B-minus on the report card if it helps him do it.

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