John Means was the biggest surprise on the 2019 Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

John Means was the biggest surprise on the 2019 Orioles

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

No one could have imagined John Means’ rookie season for the Orioles. It’s hard to measure just how good it was.

According to Baseballreference.com’s measure of WAR, Means had a 4.5, which was ninth among American League pitchers.

When the 2019 season started, it would have been difficult for anyone to think that Means, who was never a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, would be the ninth most effective American League pitcher.

Means didn’t finish in the top 10 in any other pitching category, but he was respectable in every statistical area.

He had an ERA of 3.60, but because of two brief stints on the 10-day injured list, Means only pitched 155 innings, seven innings short of the 162 needed to qualify. That 3.60 ERA would have been good enough for seventh place.

Means had a won/loss record of 12-11. It could have been better, much better, with some run support.

On April 14, Means allowed one run on four hits in five innings in a 4-0 loss to Boston. On September 5, he gave up two runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 3-1 loss to Texas. There were four other quality starts that resulted in no-decisions.

Means was the only Orioles pitcher to win more than 10 games in 2019. In the 115-loss 2018 season, no pitcher won more than eight.

Many are familiar with the Means’ story by now. He was an 11th-round draft choice in 2014 and methodically climbed through the minor league system.

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Never a minor league star, Means was only called up in the last week of the 2018 season because the team ran out of arms because of injuries to starters Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb.

Means doubted that he’d make the Orioles this season, and didn’t begin the season in the starting rotation. By July, he surprisingly supplanted Trey Mancini as the team’s All-Star Game representative.

He went more than a month (July 19-August 24) without a win, losing four straight.

The Orioles placed Means on the family medical emergency list, a day after he broke that four-game losing streak, but removed him on August 31 so that he could pitch at Kansas City, near his offseason home.

Means, who allowed just two runs on five hits in seven innings against the Royals, revealed after the game that he needed the time at home to spend with his father, who has pancreatic cancer.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic of all was that Means pitched far better at home than on the road.

Many free-agent pitchers have avoided Baltimore because of Camden Yards’ small dimensions.

Means had a 2.50 ERA in 18 games at home. On the road, it was 4.85.

Overall, Means allowed eight hits and walked just over two batters per nine innings.

Means’ changeup was the big difference this year, and he pitches to contact, striking out seven batters per nine innings. Seven was his season high in strikeouts.

Manager Brandon Hyde never allowed Means to pitch more than seven innings. He did that five times, and threw 100 pitches or more just nine times in 27 starts. In his game in Kansas City, Hyde removed him after just 74 pitches, just over 10 an inning.

Means’ strong year should earn some Rookie of the Year votes, although Houston’s Yordan Alvarez is considered the heavy favorite.

Means is set to begin the 2020 season in the rotation and has two more seasons before he is eligible for arbitration and five before free agency. Cobb and Dylan Bundy are likely to join Means in the rotation next season.

In the next few years, Means could be joined by Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, DL Hall, Zac Lowther, Grayson Rodriguez or Cody Sedlock, all of whom were chosen far earlier in the draft than he was.

There are countless stories about hot rookie pitchers failing to repeat success in their second seasons, but Means is extremely level-headed and not likely to be spoiled by a successful first season.

He was an unexpected surprise this past season and appears to be a pitcher the Orioles expect to remain in the starting rotation for years to come.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Fareastern89

    October 18, 2019 at 7:33 am

    So less-heralded O’s prospects Means and Mike Yastrzemski enjoyed surprising success this year, while more highly-touted players such as Chance Sisco and Cedric Mullins struggled mightily. I guess that’s a warning against putting too much faith in minor league statistics and scouting reports, or writing off anyone too soon. I’m glad it’s not my job to shape that 40-man roster.

  2. CalsPals

    October 18, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Wonder what could have been, if he wasn’t supposed to be there, they were willing to sacrifice him, wonder what would have happened with other achieving/underachieving players who never had that chance, too busy giving CD & Trumbo (great guys) at bats because they “earned” it…go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 18, 2019 at 10:18 am

      Mark Trumbo was not on the 40-man roster until September when he played 12 games. Whose at-bats was he taking away?

    • CalsPals

      October 18, 2019 at 11:09 am

      ANY younglings, he got paid, well, can’t have it both ways, one minute it’s ok for young Means to be up here, but no one else, there were other young players that’s minor stats didn’t get them up with the birds, that should have, all I’m saying is be consistent, I’m sure the “earned” it by doing the right things as much as Trumbo & they have a future here…go O’s…

    • ClayDal

      October 18, 2019 at 11:40 am

      According to Baseball Reference, of the 58 players the Orioles used this year, 22 were 25 years of age or younger. So the Orioles did give young players an opportunity. Next year will be more of the same.

    • CalsPals

      October 18, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      36 were over 25, that’s quite a few MORE younglings that could have played…just saying… go O’s…

    • ClayDal

      October 18, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      Checking the Norfolk and Bowie rosters, the only real decision was whether to add Mountcastle to the 40 man roster before he needs to be added this winter. Everybody else was already up here. Akin still needs work, and all the AA pitchers they don’t want to rush. Bannon and Diaz are only 22, and the organization will want them to get their feet wet at Norfolk before adding them. Getting back to the pitchers , Means is 26. A perfect example of not rushing someone to the majors before their time

    • CalsPals

      October 18, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      Again, he wasn’t rushed, they got lucky, nothing he did in the minors indicated he would pitch like this, especially his September call up last year, what I’m saying is who else could’ve had the same performance turn around as him & been a pleasant surprise, for all we know, they were throwing him to the wolves like most of their others & he stood out, great, bet there are others that could’ve as well, why would it of hurt to see who else might have been Means II… go O’s…

    • ClayDal

      October 18, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      The Orioles want to develop their prospects, especially pitchers , properly so that they can succeed at the major league level. No need to bring up a Grayson Rodriguez or a D.L. Hall too soon on a 108 loss team. The goal is that whether it takes 2, 3, or even 4 years that when they come up they are ready to produce and can contribute for a long time. As for Means, they never should have brought him up last September anyway. He had been sent home for the year and wasn’t in condition to pitch. Why Buck brought him up to pitch in Fenway was a head scratcher

      • Rich Dubroff

        October 18, 2019 at 1:55 pm

        John, the Orioles desperately needed another arm who could give them innings. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner were finished for the year. They also considered Dillon Tate, but he was hurt, and there was basically no other choice but Means.

        How bad was the pitching at that point? The Orioles were playing a doubleheader, and Ryan Meisinger started the first game, faced six batters and five scored. Donnie Hart was able to get five outs, but Means allowed five runs in 3 1/3. After Cody Carroll was roughed up, Jace Peterson actually pitched because there were no other arms.

    • ClayDal

      October 18, 2019 at 2:24 pm

      Good point Rich. Guess the bigger question is why wasn’t he called up in September in the first place. But you’re right, they were desperate at that point.

  3. deqalt

    October 18, 2019 at 8:29 am

    No question John Means was a nice story in 2019, but I can’t agree with the statement that he is expected to be apart of the rotation for years to come. He certainly earned one starting 2020, but to expect the moons to line up again can’t be expected. He’s not the future of this team. No doubt he is important for our 2020 rotation we need arms.

  4. Phil770

    October 18, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Means is a good example of the new approach to player development. He is under team co tro for a number of years, and left handers last much longer than righties (see Wade Miley).

  5. willmiranda

    October 18, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Nice tribute to Means. Quibble: he didn’t “supplant” Mancini as an All-Star since Mancini was not
    entrenched on the All-Star team or even selected for 1918. Perhaps he supplanted Machado, who is
    no longer an Oriole. Means’ story is great, but I find it hard to place it above Hanser Alberto’s, maybe because
    the latter became an everyday player after not rising through anybody’s ranks but being bounced out of a lot
    of them. I, too, hope Means avoids the sophomore jinx. I don’t think it’s always the result of being spoiled; sometimes the league just catches up and the.player runs out of answers.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 18, 2019 at 10:23 am

      Means was a better story than Alberto because he was in their organization all along, but never considered a top prospect.

      Alberto was the best surprise among position players, but his WAR of 3.1 trailed Means’ 4.6.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        October 18, 2019 at 2:09 pm

        Rich, with all due respect …

        Wins Above Replacement .. that’s what it stands for … correct? If it were simply an algorithm to compare numbers from players in the same position, I’d have no problem with it whatsoever. But to suggest that a team would actually win or lose 4 more games with or without a player being on the team over a course of a season vs. average Joe, is a bit of a stretch to me. A stretch, but I’ll give it some merit.

        But using that logic or algorithm to compare a position player vs. a pitcher is more than a bit of a stretch . I just can’t buy it at all.

        That being said, I know that these cats crunching the numbers and formulating the math are way smarter than I am. But frankly as they say, baseball ain’t rocket science. Apples=Apples … Oranges=Oranges.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        October 18, 2019 at 2:13 pm

        Sorry, but I’ll never buy the use a statistic/algorithm like WAR to compare a position player vs. a pitcher as the least bit credible.

        But I do agree that Means was a better story.

  6. Orial

    October 18, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Yes a very pleasant surprise in Means. What stood out about him,other than the obvious,is his crediting the minor league instructors,especially Root,for his success. Now THOSE are words that are magic to my ears–minor league instruction.

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