2022 was a year to remember for the Orioles, with their rebuild at last producing results at the major league level.
It will be hard for them to manage another 31-game improvement in 2023, but even modest gains could be enough to push Baltimore into the playoffs a year after finishing as the American League’s best team to miss out. The Orioles have made some additions to their roster this offseason, but steps forward from players who were already in the organization could also be a solution. Franchise leadership should also head into the year with clear goals.
In the final days of 2022, here are New Year’s resolutions for Orioles players and executives to take into 2023.
Adley Rutschman, Cedric Mullins and Gunnar Henderson: Improve against left-handed pitching
Perhaps the only qualms about Rutschman and Henderson’s first major league stints were their performances against left-handed pitchers. A switch-hitter, Rutschman slashed .280/.386/.503 hitting left-handed but managed a line of only .174/.287/.265 from the right side. Henderson’s splits came in more limited chances, but he posted an .872 OPS with the platoon advantage and a .448 mark in left-on-left matchups.
Mullins, meanwhile, performed exceptionally well against lefties in his All-Star 2021 season, his first after abandoning switch-hitting. But he struggled in 2022 to the point of being either dropped in or kept out of lineups against a lefty starter, with his OPS against left-handers more than 200 points below 2021′s figure.
Austin Hays and Kyle Bradish: Avoid dramatic half splits
By the all-encompassing offensive metric weighted runs created plus, Hays was tied as the Orioles’ most productive hitter in the season’s first half. By FanGraph’s version of wins above replacement, Bradish was tied as their best pitcher in the second half. Stretching those performances across a full year would bode well for them and Baltimore.
Hays’ June 22 cycle left him with a .287 batting average and .829 OPS. He hit .219 the rest of the reason, struggling to rediscover the balance in the box that led to the early success. Bradish had the opposite experience, recording a 7.38 ERA in his first 13 major league starts before landing on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. Shortly after his return, he made an adjustment to his starting position on the mound and took off from there, with a 2.76 ERA over eight starts to close the year, including two in which he pitched at least eight scoreless innings against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.
Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and John Means: Do the best you can with what you have
Baltimore’s three most talented starters all figure to be on innings restrictions this year, and each figures to be handled a different way.
The game’s top pitching prospect, Rodriguez seems likely to open the year in the Orioles’ rotation, but the right lat muscle strain he suffered in June caused him to throw only 75 2/3 innings in 2022, so he’ll likely be limited in 2023.
After missing time in 2021 with an elbow injury, Hall ended 2022 as a reliever to manage his workload. He pitched 98 innings between the majors and minors and has never reached the 100-inning mark in his career. He might again split time between the bullpen and the rotation, if he pitches out of the latter at all.
Baltimore’s opening day starter, Means threw only eight innings before his season ended because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He’s expected to miss at least the first two months of the season.
The trio might not combine for 300 innings in 2023, but whatever they can offer will likely be vital to the Orioles’ playoff hopes.
Ryan Mountcastle and Jorge Mateo: Chase less
In 2022, no Orioles regular hit the ball harder, on average, than Mountcastle, and none of them hit it softer than Mateo. But both players also ranked among the worst 10% of qualified MLB hitters in chasing pitches out of the strike zone, according to Baseball Savant.
Even though Mountcastle’s quality of contact didn’t always produce results in 2022, few hitters in the game did better at hitting the ball hard with regularity. Of the 126 majors leaguers who put at least 350 balls in play, only five had them more frequently result in a “barrel” — contact that has historically produced a .500 average and 1.500 slugging percentage — than Mountcastle: Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Schwarber, Shohei Ohtani and Austin Riley. Laying off pitches out of the zone would allow Mountcastle to tap into that natural power more frequently.
Mateo’s offensive game is built around speed, and staying in the strike zone could allow for increases in contact and his walk rate. Either would allow him to take better advantage of his running ability, especially with the larger bases being introduced in 2023 expected to lead to an increase in steals across the league.
Dean Kremer and Anthony Santander: Double up
Both players went into 2021 with significant roles but ended the year with less certain standing because of performance (Kremer) and injury (Santander). But they bounced back significantly in 2022 and will look to show that level of play more truly aligns with their abilities.
Kremer had a 7.55 ERA in 2021 after making Baltimore’s opening day rotation and was set to begin 2022 in a bulk relief role before suffering an oblique injury warming up for his first outing. Once healthy, he was inserted into the rotation and was one of the Orioles’ top starters from then on, with a 3.23 ERA over 22 appearances. His 125 1/3 innings lead Baltimore’s incumbent starting candidates.
A sprained left ankle hampered Santander throughout 2021, but with that issue behind him in 2022, he led all switch-hitters with 33 home runs and also paced the Orioles in RBIs, total bases and slugging percentage.
Repeat performances, with a full season’s worth of starts from Kremer, would be welcome.
Brandon Hyde: Let the kids play
In Hyde’s fourth season as Baltimore’s manager, the fruits of the Orioles’ rebuild at last were at his disposal. There figure to be even more in 2023.
But the presence of top prospects won’t necessarily mean much if they go days between seeing the field as struggling veterans get everyday playing time. Rutschman and Henderson were promoted into regular roles, understandably given that each was the game’s top prospect at the time they were called up. But Terrin Vavra and Kyle Stowers played infrequently despite appearing to offer upgrades, at least offensively, over Rougned Odor and Jesús Aguilar.
Hyde has been adamant that each lineup he puts out is with the intent of giving the Orioles their best chance of winning that day’s game, and he put a high priority on defense in making those decisions. But if, say, Adam Frazier’s 2022 struggles carry into 2023, Hyde shouldn’t hesitate to explore what a prospect can do with the role.
Mike Elias: Add another starter
Making this a yearlong resolution offers some flexibility. The Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager missed out on the opportunity to add a top starter via this year’s free agent class, so Baltimore’s path to one likely will have to come at another time, from another method or a combination of the two.
The Orioles could make a trade this winter or approaching the 2023 deadline, taking advantage of their stockpile of prospects. With most starters of significance having signed elsewhere this year, Baltimore could instead strike next offseason, when Ohtani, Julio Urías and Aaron Nola headline the starters expected to be available.
Perhaps, the addition comes naturally through the development pipeline Elias has helped create, with Rodriguez seemingly the most likely of Baltimore’s current pitchers to develop into a true ace. Regardless, Elias has said he wants another starter. The time to get one in 2022 is almost gone.
John Angelos: Commit
It’s been more than three years since the Orioles’ CEO and chairman declared the team will play in Baltimore “as long as Fort McHenry is standing watch over the Inner Harbor.” The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority still have yet to agree to a long-term lease keeping the team at Camden Yards.
In that time, Angelos has reiterated the commitment to the city in words but much less in action, with the only official progress in that time being a two-year extension that stretched the lease to the end of 2023. The Orioles can exercise a five-year extension by Feb. 1, but the lease is otherwise set to expire on New Year’s Eve 2023.
Of course, Angelos will also enter 2023 amid a legal dispute with his brother, which involves claims of Angelos’ desire to move or sell the team. Those would certainly be hushed with a new long-term lease in place.