Baltimore Orioles 2024 preview

From 2018-2021, the Baltimore Orioles won 178 games. Sure, there was a COVID-shortened 60-game season in there that saw the Orioles go 25-35, but they were on pace for 68 wins, so I’ll go ahead and include that in the point I’m making because the Orioles have won 184 games over the last two seasons.

What Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal have accomplished is incredible. They’ve hit on some impact prospects, but most of their work has been done by maximizing the skill sets of players that were already in the organization or bouncing around others when they took over. Optimizing a pitcher’s arsenal or changing a hitter’s swing path to create additional, and sometimes surplus, value is the way to thread the needle with a payroll that doesn’t mirror your counterparts and turn an organization around in a hurry.

 

The sky may ultimately be the limit for the O’s, who not only have a brilliant front office, sharp manager, and a good core group of players but will soon have a new ownership group as well. Peter Angelos, who sadly passed away on March 23, sold the team to an ownership group that includes The Carlyle Group founder Dan Rubenstein and former MLB ironman Cal Ripken Jr.

The most dangerous team in baseball is one with a large sandbox and smart people playing in it. The Orioles are not a fluke. More talent is coming, including Matt Holliday’s 20-year-old son, Jackson, who is the top prospect in baseball. And now, more money will be coming in the not-too-distant future.

2024 Baltimore Orioles Odds

(odds from DraftKings as of Feb. 29)

World Series: +1200

AL Pennant: +550

AL East: +205

Win Total: 90.5 (-110/-110)

Make Playoffs: Yes -220 / No +185

Baltimore Orioles Preview: Offense

My belief is that pitching is easier to fix than hitting. When analysts come in or a new front office is established, the changes on the pitching side are usually pretty immediate. You can adjust ways of attacking hitters, add velocity, teach new pitch mixes, and it is just easier to improve upon an area where the pitcher is going to be successful 75% of the time relative to the hitter.

The Orioles were a prime example. They allowed 956 runs in 2021 and 688 in 2022. The alterations to Oriole Park at Camden Yards absolutely played a role, but Baltimore built a dominant bullpen and cobbled together a patchwork rotation that found good results.

The next step was to build upon the offense and Baltimore has completed that step, too. The Orioles scored 133 more runs in 2023 than they did in 2022 (FWIW, the pitching staff allowed 10 fewer runs). That was the separator. The O’s went from an 83-79 win team with a -14 run differential to a 101-61 team with a +129 run differential. In terms of their slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG), the Orioles were +19/+16/+31 compared to the previous season. They struck out less and walked more. They had more doubles, triples, and homers.

And that might be just the beginning. Adley Rutschman actually had a worse season in some respects for his first full year compared to his half-season in ‘22, as offense around the league increased, but his numbers didn’t across the board. That being said, he did increase his BA by 21 points, largely due to a decreased strikeout rate. He’s one of the game’s elite young players at a premier position and a cornerstone for a very long time for this franchise.

He has plenty of help now. Gunnar Henderson was the AL Rookie of the Year and Holliday is the favorite (+250) to win that this year. Teammate Heston Kjerstad, who made his MLB debut last season, is +2200 and another debutant from last year, Colton Cowser, is +3500. 

Jordan Westburg isn’t eligible, but he slashed .260/.311/.404 for a 97 wRC+ in his first go-round as a big leaguer. He’s hit at every level in the minors and so has Holliday, who may very well be the Opening Day second baseman with 580 minor league plate appearances to his name.

While the youth movement is obviously a huge deal, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, and Ryan O’Hearn are all guys that showed tremendous contact authority last season with Hard Hit% marks ranging from 51.5% to 44.6% (league average is around 39%).

As the youngsters take over, the bench depth gets stronger, which allows for more platoon opportunities or ways to keep the kids fresh. Plus, you can take some pressure off of them if they struggle. I fully expect this team to continue to improve on offense in 2024.

Baltimore Orioles Preview: Pitching

The other thing a really deep prospect pool allows you to do is go out and get what you feel you need via trade. The Orioles are taking a one-year gamble on Corbin Burnes. Based on the Spring Training news we got about Kyle Bradish and some elbow ligament concerns, the Orioles were definitely fortunate to bring in the veteran right-hander, who is in a contract year as an impending free agent.

Burnes adds a little strikeout upside to a rotation that badly needed it. While I am in love with what the O’s have done to minimize hard contact and cut down on walks, the starting pitchers finished 16th in K% at 22.3%. In a post-shift world, limiting contact is more important than ever and especially in the AL East where there are a lot of power bats and good offensive venues.

Burnes pitched to a career-low 25.5% K% as a starter last season and that still would have led the Baltimore staff. Milwaukee has a very adept front office as well, so I’m sure they tried to get Burnes back to the 30% and up levels he was at from 2020-22, but the Orioles may very well find more success with that. Even with the decreased K%, Burnes had a 3.39 ERA with a 3.40 xERA and a 3.81 FIP. One area where the O’s have excelled is in cutting down walk rates and Burnes just turned in an 8.4% mark, a 2% increase from 2022 and a 3.2% increase from 2021.

Honestly, as a member of the Orioles, I think Burnes at +1000 for the Cy Young isn’t a bad investment. I can’t see this team being out of it at any point and trading him. The ballpark dimensions aren’t as helpful for a righty as they are for lefties, but right-handed batters did hurt Burnes dramatically better last season, so the park factor may truly help.

Rotation mate Grayson Rodriguez has a bigger price for Cy Young (+3000), but he should also be under consideration as well. G-Rod broke camp with the O’s and struggled badly out of the gate. From April 5 to May 26, he had a 7.35 ERA with a 5.90 FIP and allowed 13 homers in just 45.1 innings. Upon getting recalled for a July 17 start, he posted a 2.58 ERA with a 2.76 FIP and allowed three homers in 76.2 innings.

His strikeout rate dropped, but his control and command were infinitely better. That was one of many developmental wins for the O’s, who rode Tyler Wells to a stronger season with a 3.64 ERA and a 4.98 FIP, and got solid peripherals from Dean Kremer, who made 32 starts with a 4.12 ERA.

Bradish is a really important piece of the puzzle for the Birds, as he has a much higher upside than anybody outside of Burnes and Rodriguez. The rotation can get by without him, but may have a truly legitimate 1-2-3 punch that rivals any other team in the AL (and maybe the league) with Bradish, who had a 2.83 ERA with a 3.27 FIP over 30 starts last season.

Bullpen concerns do exist with Felix Bautista out for the season following Tommy John surgery and newly-minted closer Craig Kimbrel on the wrong side of 35. Since flaming out with the Cubs in 2019-20, Kimbrel has found a new lease on life with three straight excellent seasons and at least 63 appearances in each, but age is always a factor to me.

I’m also curious to see if there’s a hangover for Yennier Cano, who was brilliant with a 2.11 ERA in 72.2 innings, but he threw 75.2 total after throwing 58.1 innings and only 18 in the Majors in 2022. He seemed to run out of gas at times and only appeared in back-to-back games 19 times, so the O’s really tried to protect him.

This is mostly the same bullpen as last year, just minus Bautista and plus Kimbrel. Bautista is a tremendous loss, but this was the top bullpen by FIP (by 0.17 runs!) and fifth by ERA, so I’d still expect a strong group.

Baltimore Orioles Player to Watch

SP Tyler Wells

Wells deserves a few more words because he had a very hard-to-find stat line. He had a 3.64 ERA with a 4.98 FIP, as he allowed 25 homers in 118.2 innings of work, but had strong K/BB numbers, which are two of the components of FIP. Home runs, strikeouts, walks, and hit by pitches are the components of FIP, which are selected because they are things that a pitcher can “control”.

There have been 424 pitcher seasons since 2000 with at least 110 innings pitched and a FIP of 4.98 or higher. Only 15 of those seasons saw a pitcher finish with an ERA under 4.00 and only one (Ryan Franklin in 2003) had a lower ERA than 3.64. Regression is very much lurking and the degree could be really impactful for the O’s, especially with the Bradish injury.

Baltimore Season Win Total Odds & Prediction

With a line at 90.5, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on the O’s. The offense will be improved and Burnes is a great get. Bradish’s health will be a big key to the rotation with very limited starting pitching depth and Bautista’s injury does lower the ceiling of the bullpen. This is a very good team locked in a very good division with win totals of 93.5 (NYY), 86.5 (TOR), 84.5 (TB), and 79.5 (BOS). There aren’t any gimme games in AL East play, which accounts for over 32% of the schedule.

This was also a team that overachieved by seven games per Pythagorean Win-Loss and 12 (!!) games per BaseRuns. Going 30-16 in one-run games helps, as only the Marlins and Reds won more, though Cincinnati played 63 one-run games.

That said, the O’s, who had the second-most wins in all of baseball last season, were 69-41 outside the division, which is excellent. I think this one is lined pretty fairly, but I do think this team has a high ceiling with that offense, so I’d lean Over as opposed to Under.

Slight Lean: Over 90.5

Get all of our preseason coverage in the 2024 MLB Betting Guide.