NEW YORK—In many years, the Most Valuable Oriole is an obvious choice. This is not one of those years.
With 18 games remaining in this 60-game season, there isn’t a clear frontrunner for the award, which is voted on by the local media.
There seemed to be a leader until rightfielder Anthony Santander suffered an oblique injury on September 4th, ending his season. Santander, who played in the Orioles’ first 37 games, still leads the team with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs despite missing the last five games.
He had the Orioles’ longest hitting streak in more than six years, an 18-game run from August 5-23.
When the streak concluded, Santander was hitting .287, and his average has dropped to .261.
Santander’s OPS is .890, and he’s played an excellent right field with four assists.
Although it might not be conventional to choose a Most Valuable Oriole who will miss more than a third of the season, it wouldn’t be the wildest thing that happens in 2020.
Santander’s principal competition comes from second baseman Hanser Alberto and shortstop José Iglesias.
Alberto is the club’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given for excellence on the field and charitable works. Last year, Alberto was a surprise contender for the American League batting title when he hit .305, including .398 against left-handers, So far this year, he’s proven his first full big league season was not a fluke.
Alberto is hitting .311 with two home runs and 15 RBIs. In 28 at-bats against left-handers, he’s hitting .429.
Last season, Alberto drew only 16 walks in 550 plate appearances. This season, he has only five walks in 170 plate appearances.
Iglesias, who signed a one-year contract with an option for 2021 in January, has some terrific numbers.
In just 26 games, Iglesias has hit .376. Iglesias missed 10 games last month when he was placed on the 10-day injured list because of left quadriceps muscle injury, which continues to hamper him.
On Sunday, manager Brandon Hyde acknowledged that he’d have to manage Iglesias’ injury as he raved about his shortstop’s grit and said the team was clearly better with him in the lineup.
When Iglesias starts at shortstop, the Orioles are 9-6 but when he’s the designated hitter they’re just 2-6.
Thirteen of Iglesias’ 38 hits are doubles, but he doesn’t have a home run. Like Alberto, he neither strikes out much (13 times in 106 plate appearances) and hardly walks. Iglesias has just two walks.
Iglesias has a .901 OPS, Alberto’s is .756.
Pedro Severino might also get some votes. In 35 games, Severino is hitting .322 with five home runs and 21 RBIs. His .913 OPS is higher than Iglesias’ and Santander’s.
The Orioles’ record is 12-10 when Severino is the starting catcher. It’s 5-10 when Chance Sisco starts. In games started by third-string catcher Bryan Holaday, the Orioles are 3-2.
If you’re thinking that Ryan Mountcastle might get some votes, well, that’s possible.
In his first 17 games, Mountcastle’s OPS is an eye-popping 1.075, and if he plays in each of the remaining 18 games, the rookie leftfielder will have played in 35, just two fewer than Santander.
Just as a vote of Santander might be unconventional, so might a ballot for Mountcastle, but if he keeps up his pace, the choice could be defensible, especially if the team plays well.
There’s no obvious candidate from the starting rotation, but if you think any pitcher deserves some attention, take a look at Tanner Scott.
Scott has a 1.53 ERA with a save. In 17 2/3 innings, Scott has allowed just nine hits and struck out 19. Walks continue to be his weakness. He’s averaging 4.1 per nine innings.
In such a short season, a good or bad week can easily sway opinion. My vote is clearly up for grabs. Whoever wins the award can be proud of being part of the most surprising and surprisingly watchable Oriole team in many years.