In another tough year at the big league level, the Orioles had very few bright spots to point to. When a team loses 108 games, there aren’t many options.
One silver lining to the 2019 season was the out-of-nowhere breakout of starting pitcher John Means.
The O’s newest ace was never considered an upper-echelon prospect, but his lack of pedigree didn’t prevent him from impressing the organization all season long with a 3.60 ERA and 12 wins.
Not only was the 26-year old named to his first All-Star Game in July, but he has now been listed as a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
The AL's top rookies. pic.twitter.com/xCj5LNSTv6— MLB (@MLB) November 5, 2019
There are a few things working against Means in this race. Most importantly is the play of Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez, who came up halfway through the season and proceeded to utterly dominate opposing pitchers.
By some context-adjusted metrics, Alvarez was actually the second-best hitter in all of baseball from the moment he came up, behind only some guy named Mike Trout.
His was a historic rookie campaign, and the only possible argument against his candidacy is a lack of playing time. But by the end of the season, he had done more than enough and will likely finish as the unanimous winner.
Secondly is the historical bias against pitchers in rookie of the year races. Only two full-time pitchers — a necessary distinction thanks to Shohei Ohtani — have won the award in the American League this decade, and both Michael Fulmer (2016) and Jeremy Hellickson (2011) came in particularly weak seasons.
The National League has been no better, with only two starting pitcher winners as well, though came from true aces in Jacob deGrom (2014) and Jose Fernandez (2013).
Means likes won’t end up winning the award this year, but that shouldn’t take away from his terrific season. Finding unexpected surprises like him is one of the few fun parts of a full-scale rebuild and his success story should give Orioles fans hope that maybe, just maybe, the franchise is finally more capable of developing starting pitching.
There’s a long way to go in both Means’ career and the Orioles rebuild, but for now, feel free to enjoy one of the lone bright spots from an otherwise dark season.
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