Young stars account for a majority of the Orioles' projected success for 2023. How much is too much?
Grayson Rodriguez's proclamation that it's 'full speed ahead' for the MLB rotation this spring. He'd be joining a growing number of young players on whom the club's success relies.
A day after he was added to the Orioles’ roster, Grayson Rodriguez told reporters on a video call Wednesday that it’s “full speed ahead” in his pursuit to be in the Orioles’ rotation for Opening Day.
His delayed major league debut will be another in a series of celebrated occasions for the newly-competitive Orioles, the fruits of years of bad baseball and a focus on player development. Look no further than, well, all the other young players the Orioles will be counting on next year for examples. There a lot of them.
FanGraphs’ Depth Charts uses their projection models and doles out expected playing time to figure out a player’s wins above replacement (WAR) for the coming season, and has the Orioles’ batters accumulating 26.5 WAR and pitchers 9.4 WAR. Half of that comes from players with one year of service time or fewer, which is a tidy way to include Adley Rutschman and Félix Bautista but also a pretty reasonable representation of how much is riding on players who, while quite talented, have little or no track record in the majors.
In the lineup, most of that rests on Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, who double as the top-two Orioles batters in many projections. Depth Charts has Rutschman producing 5.5 WAR in 2023, with Henderson 4.2. That seems appropriate for both, though Henderson basically has a month and change in the majors and there’s a possibility he’ll be attacked differently based on 2022 results and he’ll have more of an adjustment period than anyone expected.
Beyond them are Jordan Westburg (1.1), Kyle Stowers (0.9), Terrin Vavra (0.5), Tyler Nevin (0.2), Joey Ortiz (0.2), Mark Kolozsvary (0.2) and Greg Cullen (0.1). Focusing on the top three makes sense from an analysis perspective. Westburg seems like more of a second-half addition at this point, but his positional versatility makes him valuable as does his bat—Camden Yards’ new dimensions be damned.
Stowers doesn’t really have an avenue to everyday plate appearances unless there’s some kind of platoon with Austin Hays in store, though moving Anthony Santander to the outfield on Rutschman’s DH days will mean there’s one fewer outfield spot available on those days. It seems a fair number, but I’m not sure I feel the same about Vavra — I think he can impact the Orioles’ lineup more than any of the other second base candidates, but displacing any of the alternatives is going to be challenging from a defensive standpoint.
Either way, nearly half of the Orioles’ projected WAR from hitters come from a group with one year of service time or less. It’s even more slanted that way on the pitching side.
Rodriguez, despite never having thrown a pitch in the majors, is projected at 1.7 WAR to lead all Orioles pitchers next season. Kyle Bradish, who had a 3.28 ERA after returning from injury in 2022, is projected at 1.4 WAR to come in second-highest.
Bautista (1.2), DL Hall (0.8), and Mike Baumann (.4) are other contributors, while Depth Charts has Logan Gillaspie and Easton Lucas at -0.1 apiece.
That’s 5.3 of the team’s expected 9.4 wins above replacement for its pitching staff coming from pitchers who have a year or less in the majors, with Rodriguez and Hall having none and little, respectively. This is obviously better than having players with no projection of success on the staff, which has been the case in past years. It’s just a little risky, especially on the pitching side where the two things the Orioles will rely on most — young starting pitching and relievers in general — can be volatile from year-to-year.
Again, though, it’s better to have young players who are expected to be good than no good players at all. The Orioles’ hitters were projected for 17.4 fWAR in 2022 and 6.8 from the pitchers. Rutschman and Henderson account for the difference in their group, and the rookies Rodriguez and Hall about do the same for the pitchers.
This lends some credibility to the idea that the Orioles should execute what Elias has alluded to in terms of adding established players to their lineup and a top-half starter along with that, allowing the team to have a bit more certainty given the experience level of those types of players and performance stability that can come with them.
Their total of 36 WAR puts the Orioles 11th in the American League, anyway, and last in their division. They’re in the top half of the league offensively, but third-worst pitching. As impressive as it is to have so much expected from your young, mostly homegrown core, there’s plenty of evidence out there that the Orioles are going to need more to compete at a higher level than 2022. This falls into that category.
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