Baltimore Orioles 2023 Season Preview
It was only a matter of time before the analytics dream team of Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal turned what they were building with the Baltimore Orioles into wins at the MLB level. Baltimore had the largest turnaround in baseball last season, going from a 52-110 record in 2021 to an 89-73 mark in 2022. The Orioles ultimately fell just three games shy of the Tampa Bay Rays for the final Wild Card spot in the American League.
For a team that shaved 268 runs off on the pitching side, hopes are high that 2022 wasn’t just an aberration and will be more of the norm for a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2014 and resides in one of the most grueling divisions in baseball. Because the Orioles overachieved by four games from a Pythagorean Win-Loss standpoint, five games per BaseRuns and 4.3 games per 3rd Order Win%, some bettors and analysts may downplay the strides that they made.
I’m here to tell you that I believe that was just the beginning for the Orioles.
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 Baltimore Orioles Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 6, click for updates)
World Series: +7000
AL Pennant: +3000
AL East: +2200
Win Total: 76.5 (-120/100)
Make Playoffs: Yes +350 / No -450
Baltimore Orioles Offense
The first thing to note about the Orioles is that they were 60-47 in games started by wunderkind backstop Adley Rutschman. The 25-year-old former first overall pick out of Oregon State slashed .254/.362/.445 in his first MLB season over nearly 470 plate appearances and racked up 5.3 fWAR. On a team that didn’t walk much, Rutschman carried a 13.8% BB% and a 133 wRC+, meaning he was 33% above league average offensively.
Rutschman being a star was not a surprise, but what we saw from Gunnar Henderson and some of the young pitchers is why I have a lot of optimism going forward for the O’s. Henderson only played 34 games and had 132 plate appearances, but he posted a 126 wRC+ at just 21 years of age. Henderson heads into the season as Baltimore’s top prospect per FanGraphs, but he’ll lose that prospect designation early on when he’s an Opening Day starter on the left side of the infield.
Rutschman and Henderson are cornerstone pieces in the top half of a lineup that also features Cedric Mullins II, who couldn’t replicate his incredible 30/30 season in 2021, but still stole 34 bags and hit 16 homers. Mullins did see decreases in average exit velocity, Hard Hit% and Barrel%, so the 30-homer season might have been a mirage, but he’s likely to remain an above average hitter with terrific speed and solid defense in center field.
We also got to see what Anthony Santander can do when staying healthy for a full season and he cranked 33 homers with good numbers from both sides of the plate. Given the ballpark alterations that helped the pitchers tremendously, the fact that Santander was still productive from the right side of the dish was impressive. It was also good to see because he helped the team overcome a power drop-off from Ryan Mountcastle, who went from 33 bombs in 2021 to 22 round-trippers in 2022.
However, there is a ton of room for Mountcastle to improve, as he posted career-bests in Hard Hit%, Barrel% and exit velocity. A lack of potency on the road hurt Mountcastle, but he finished with a strong September and his contact quality metrics suggest a boost in performance.
Austin Hays posted a 122 wRC+ in the first half before completely falling apart in the second half with a 78 wRC+. If he can split the difference at the bottom of the order and get on base more frequently for bat-to-ball second baseman Adam Frazier and corner outfield power threat Kyle Stowers, this lineup will be deeper than we’ve seen in quite some time.
Trey Mancini is gone, but many promising profiles remain from a team that raised its average exit velocity from 88.3 mph to 88.7 mph and its xwOBA from .305 to .310, which is not easy to do over a large sample size.
Baltimore Orioles Pitching
This is where you start to get excited about the ceiling that the Orioles have. Last season’s lineup posted a 99 wRC+, though it will take more than one season of data to understand the impact that moving the fences back in left field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards had on the league-wide and adjusted offensive numbers. But, we cannot argue with the benefits it had on the pitching side.
The 2021 Orioles posted a 6.00 ERA at home and allowed a league-high 155 home runs. They allowed a .358 wOBA, which was 23 points higher than any other team. The 2022 Orioles finished 15th in ERA at 3.73 and allowed just 74 home runs, which ranked eighth, along with a .312 wOBA against at home.
The park factor adjustments led to a lot of unders, but also a lot of Orioles wins, as they were 45-36 at home compared to 38-43 on the road. However, they also made strides on the road, finishing 18th in ERA and 21st in wOBA against after finishing 30th and 27th in those categories, respectively, in 2021. So, it wasn’t all about the adjustments to Oriole Park.
Not only is the talent level improving, but the Orioles are making adjustments to individual pitchers that have made them much more effective. From 2021 to 2022, Baltimore pitchers shaved 1.1 mph off of their average exit velocity against and 30 points of xwOBA. This is absolutely not a starting rotation that racks up swings and misses, but they’ve got a group of pitchers with low walk rates and have tinkered with the pitch arsenals to produce better contact management.
Take Dean Kremer, who led Orioles pitchers in fWAR with 1.8. Kremer added some velocity and located better overall, but increased cutter and changeup usage led to a huge improvement in his contact metrics. He went from a 45.3% Hard Hit% in 2021 to a 38.9% HH% in 2022. He nearly cut his Barrel% in half and dropped his average exit velocity from 93.1 mph to 88.4 mph. He allowed 17 homers in 53.2 innings in 2021, but only 11 dingers in 125.1 innings in 2022.
Kremer is just one of many Orioles that got better last season. In a division of payroll giants and prolific power hitters, Baltimore had to make pitching improvements at the margins, by adding new pitches, making tweaks and forcing guys to put the ball in play. The end result was a pitching staff that posted a 3.97 ERA and improved in virtually every statistical category.
The bullpen was the star of the show, finishing ninth in ERA and 11th in FIP. What the Orioles did to turn failed starter Jorge Lopez into a quality closer and highly-touted trade piece was just one of many success stories. Felix Bautista was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, while Dillon Tate, Bryan Baker and Cionel Perez also shined. Even Keegan Akin found a home in the pen.
What makes the Orioles so special for this season and beyond is that they’ve put together a fine pitching staff by maximizing the talent of a lot of run-of-the-mill guys. A massive infusion of talent is coming and coming quickly. Grayson Rodriguez is a consensus top-10 prospect and DL Hall is another consensus top-50 guy. Rodriguez would have made his debut last season but he was limited to 17 starts. Hall did make his debut with one start and 10 relief outings. He struck out 19 in 13.2 innings. Both guys have huge strikeout upside, something the rotation currently lacks, but the O’s have already said that Rodriguez will be on an innings limit. Hall may open the season in the MLB bullpen, but should start at some point.
The front office also added some proven reinforcements in Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin. Irvin is a fly-ball left-hander who goes from the best pitcher’s park in Oakland to a pretty good pitcher’s park in Baltimore. Gibson I’m far less excited about, but any time a smart team adds a player, I’m intrigued. Early in his career, Gibson had a pretty effective changeup, but hasn’t thrown it a whole lot the last two seasons. I’m assuming the Orioles see a cutter/changeup combo being effective here.
The Orioles really held their own against AL East competition with a 34-42 record. However, what that means is that they were 12 games over .500 when playing outside of the division. The new schedule will see teams play division rivals 13 times each instead of 19, so the Orioles get to shave off six games each against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays. That could be huge for them.
Baltimore started 7-14 last season and had another losing month in May before going 47-31 over June, July and August. A lot of young arms got tired by September, but being on the fringes of the playoff race and getting the rookie and second-year position players a lot of reps will only help moving forward.
Player to Watch
SP Cole Irvin: You would think that a pitch-to-contact, fly ball left-hander would be a horrible fit in the AL East with lots of right-handed power bats, but the Orioles are dramatically leaning into the ballpark adjustments they made prior to the 2022 season. Right-handed batters hit .252/.316/.388 at Oriole Park after the left field fence was raised almost six feet and moved back 26.5 feet. Compare that with the .265/.328/.466 slash of 2021. Right-handed batters hit just 92 homers at Oriole Park last season compared to 186 the previous season.
So, the Orioles are going to pitch-to-contact at home and let the ballpark do its job to suppress right-handed power. In Irvin, they’ve got a guy who issues virtually no walks (92 in 404.2 career innings) and a guy with a good changeup that will induce a lot of harmless contact. I’m curious to see how he’ll be priced in his starts, especially against the AL’s elite offenses.
Baltimore Orioles Season Win Total Pick
Smart teams find ways to make things work. I think it also helps tremendously that the Orioles get to shave off 24 games against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox. A lot of teams around the league improved, but this is the best division in baseball and Baltimore is a benefactor of the new schedule rules, especially when you take into account what the Orioles did outside of AL East play last season (49-37).
This version of the Orioles is better than last year’s and that team had a winning record for the first time since 2016. I think this is a solid ballclub that has the chance to get even better as the season goes along thanks to youngsters like Rutschman, Henderson and Rodriguez. I’m providing a pick for every team, but not every pick is a bet. Because the depth is a little light for the Orioles, I’m not betting over 76.5, but I do pick them to go over.
Lean: Over 76.5