In most years, it’s an easy call. There’s an obvious choice, or maybe two, for the Most Valuable Oriole award, which will be voted on later this month by the local media covering the team.
Last year, catcher Adley Rutschman was the runaway choice, though there were some first-place votes for outfielder Anthony Santander, who won the award in 2020.
Two years ago, centerfielder Cedric Mullins was the unanimous winner.
This year, a case could be made for at least five players.
Sadly, Mullins isn’t one of them. Mullins has played in only 92 games after missing just three games in his 2021 MVO year, when he became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.
Last year, Mullins played in all but six games and while his stats weren’t as good as they were in 2021, he still stole 34 bases, second in the American League to teammate Jorge Mateo, and he played solid defense, not making an error and registering nine outfield assists.
This season, two stints on the injured list for strains in his adductor/groin have robbed him of the possibility of another strong statistical season, though he has 13 home runs and 61 RBIs. not far from last year’s 16 homers and 64 RBIs, but he’s hitting only .247. Mullins has stolen 16 of 19 bases and played a strong center field. His game-saving catch in Seattle last month vies with Gunnar Henderson’s terrific run, catch and throw from last Friday night as the team’s best play of the year.
Despite missing so much time, Mullins still has a more than respectable 2.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
Outfielder Austin Hays earned his first selection to the American League All-Star team as an outfield reserve and was hitting .314 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs at the break. Hays’ numbers since then haven’t been strong, and there was no MVO first-half balloting.
Closer Félix Bautista will probably still get some votes even though he may not pitch again in 2023. But in his 56 games, Bautista was dominant with an 8-2 record, a 1.48 earned-run average, 33 saves and, most impressively, he struck out nearly half the batters he faced (110 of 237).
Manager Brandon Hyde repeatedly cited Bautista as the biggest reason why the Orioles registered such rapid improvement this season.
No reliever has won the MVO since Randy Myers in 1997. Myers had a 1.51 ERA and an American League leading 45 saves on a team that won 98 games and came within two games of the World Series.
That ’97 team, like this one, had other worthy candidates: Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson, Scott Erickson, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmerio, Cal Ripken Jr. and B.J. Surhoff.
The Oriole reliever with the best season of all, Zack Britton, who converted all 47 of his save opportunities and allowed just four earned runs with an ERA of 0.54 in 2016, lost out to Manny Machado. In 2016, Machado hit 37 home runs, drove in 97 runs and hit .294 with an .876 OPS. Machado played an outstanding third base and had a 7.3 WAR.
Santander is the team leader with 26 home runs and 79 RBIs and isn’t far away from his career highs of 33 homers and 89 RBIs. His defensive metrics in right field aren’t great (-.3 WAR) and, unlike the other candidates, he doesn’t play a premium position.
In recent weeks, there’s been chatter about starting pitcher Kyle Bradish becoming a Cy Young Award candidate. Bradish is 10-6 with a 3.03 ERA, that’s third in the American League behind New York’s Gerrit Cole and Minnesota’s Sonny Gray. He’s won his last three games, allowing four runs on 12 hits in 18 innings. Bradish is averaging nearly a strikeout an inning (136 in 139 2/3 innings) and walks just 2.5 batters per nine innings.
No Oriole starter has won the award since Rodrigo Lopez in 2002.
Rutschman’s numbers this season have been solid (17 homers, 67 RBIs and a .275 average), and his WAR is 3.3. Last year, he had a 5.2 WAR, but his year he’s thrown out just 19 percent of runners attempting to steal (50 of 62). Last year, it was 31 percent. Rutschman has deservedly received praise for the improvement in the pitching staff, and there’s a good argument for him, too.
While Hays’ first-half candidacy looked strong, Gunnar Henderson’s did not. The 22-year-old rookie was hitting just .170 on May 12th, but over the last four months has been a solid hitter and spectacular defender at short and third. He has a 4.8 WAR.
With more than three weeks left to play, it’s possible that Bradish, Henderson, Rutschman or Santander will separate themselves, but for now, the Most Valuable Oriole balloting is too close to call.
Notes: Right-handed reliever Austin Voth cleared outright waivers and has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. … Norfolk infielder Joey Ortiz was scratched with left oblique tightness. … In his first game at Triple-A, Jackson Holliday had a double in four at-bats but made two errors at shortstop.