In his 1907 work, Chapters from My Autobiography, Mark Twain popularized the now familiar quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Of course, in 1907 baseball statistics were likely kept by using a stick to mark numbers in the dirt, and if it started to rain, well, you may not get credit for the last six innings of your 17-inning complete game. The Baltimore Orioles’ 2020 season was a fun ride and one full of lies, damn lies, and a lot of statistics.
While the team finished in fourth place in the AL East, 15 games behind the division-winning Tampa Bay Rays, there were many numbers and stats that painted the picture of a team on the rise, a team improving in most areas, and a team with young players ready to become a contender sooner rather than later. That is, of course, unless all or most of the following statistics are lies. Let’s dive in!
While 2020 was shortened to 60 games, the Orioles finished with a .417 winning percentage, which marked the third straight year of improvement. Following an awful .290 win percentage in 2018 and a .333 in 2019, .417 was a number few thought they would reach.
Over the course of a full season, the Orioles were on pace to win 68 games, over 20 more than they won during the abysmal 2018 season. They were one of the big stories in baseball through the first third of the season.
The team was 12-8, in second place in the AL East, and only two games behind the Yankees. The Birds were sporting the fourth best record in the American League at the time. While the young Birds limped to a 13-27 record over their last 40 games, there were plenty of reasons for optimism all over the field.
Throughout the course of the 60-game season, the Orioles used nine different pitchers to start games. For fans, it was interesting to watch the evolution of the staff over the course of the season. Three players that started the season in the starting rotation ended the season somewhere other than Baltimore.
Thirty-six-year-old Wade LeBlanc was lost for the season after making six starts due to a stress reaction in his left elbow. Tommy Milone was traded to the Braves, where he posted a less than impressive 14.90 ERA in nine innings. And, Asher Wojciechowski was designated for assignment after just seven starts.
Those three pitchers combined to start 19 games, posting a 5.53 ERA and an anemic 1.25 strikeout to walk rate during their starts. The loss of these pitchers from the rotation allowed the Orioles to usher in a new, young calvary of pitchers that give fans a glimpse into the future of the Orioles’ pitching staff.
By the end of the 2020 season, three young pitchers, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, and Bruce Zimmermann had all made their major league debuts. The trio went on to start 11 games, posting a 5.11 ERA and a much more respectable 2.63 strikeout to walk ratio.
In all, pitchers on the Orioles’ staff under the age of 25 went 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA in 11 starts and 68 relief appearances. The young breed of Oriole pitchers outperformed the league average for players under 25, which came in at a 4.39 ERA.
Overall, the Orioles pitching staff took huge steps forward in 2020. In 2019, Orioles starting pitching posted a .271 batting average against and a .845 OPS against, both near the bottom of the league. These numbers improved in 2020 to a .264 and .795, respectively, against starting pitching.
O’s starters in 2019 pitched to a 5.57 ERA and 1.413 WHIP, while the 2020 starting staff posted a 5.09 ERA and a 1.352 WHIP. Also improved in 2020 was the starting pitchers’ strikeout rate, as the staff improved their strikeout per nine rate by a full run to 8.1.
The Orioles bullpen improved by an even greater margin in 2020. In 2019, the Orioles bullpen posted an abysmal 5.79 ERA. The 2020 pen improved that number to 3.90, which was a full half-run better than league average for relief pitchers. The team’s top three relievers Paul Fry (age 28), Travis Lakins Sr. (age 26), and Tanner Scott (age 26) made a total of 91 appearances, posting a combined ERA of 2.23 and striking out 10.44 per nine innings. Going in to 2021, the Orioles will begin to look at their bullpen as a strength as opposed to the liability it was in 2019.
While Oriole pitching was much improved in 2020, it was the Orioles’ bats that got attention around the league in the early going.
Overall, the team improved their batting average by 12 points over 2019 and their OPS by 25 points. The team had a core group of hitters, all age 26 or younger, that broke out or contributed significantly in 2020.
Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Rio Ruiz, Chance Sisco, and DJ Stewart combined to make 650 at-bats, hitting .248 with 36 home runs and 114 RBI. Their average age was 25, and Mountcastle, maybe the best of the group, was just 23. With the eventual return of Trey Mancini, the Orioles lineup is young, powerful, and far from reaching their peak.
The Orioles entered 2020 projected to be near the bottom of the league in most batting categories, particularly after the loss of Mancini. However, the team threw the projections out the window and put up a strong performance at the plate.
The team ranked third in the American League in hits and batting average, fourth in total bases, and fifth in doubles. The Orioles’ 4.57 runs per game was their most since 2017 and fourth most runs scored per game in the last 12 years. The mark shows marked improvement over the 3.84 runs scored per game in 2018. The team’s overall batting average of .258 is the third most in the last 10 years.
It is important to note that the O’s offense posted these improvements all while having the second youngest average batters’ age in baseball at 26.3 years. The Orioles’ batters are less than half a year older than the Blue Jays. This marks the fourth straight year that the Orioles’ average batters’ age has gotten younger, starting with a high of 28.6 average age in 2017.
The 2020 Orioles also posted the lowest estimated payroll in baseball at just under $24 million. That means the Orioles paid roughly $956,740 per victory through the year. For comparison, the entire AL East breakdown is below:
- Rays – $718,380 per victory
- Orioles – $956,740 per victory
- Blue Jays – $1,593,411 per victory
- Yankees – $3,359,178 per victory
- Red Sox – $3,519,934 per victory
Optimism abounds for the Orioles in 2021 and beyond and for good reason. If the numbers and data and stats are being truthful, the future is bright for Mike Elias, Brandon Hyde, and Orioles fans. To, again, channel Mark Twain, it is better to be an optimist who is sometimes wrong than a pessimist who is always right.
What do you think of these numbers? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Twitter and Facebook!