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.
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.