With the Baltimore Orioles most valuable Oriole (MVO) award on the verge of being decided, I thought it would be interesting to debate over which Orioles player was the biggest surprise this season. Ok, it’s not a real award but we will call it the biggest surprise Oriole (BSO) award. Let’s face it, there have been plenty of surprises this season for the Orioles.
Where do we begin? In the starting rotation you have Jason Hammel, previously thought to be a back of the rotation starter. Hammel has pitched more like a number two or three starter and has acted the part of staff ace for most of the season. How about Wei-Yi Chen? I’m sure fans hoped he would pitch this well, but did anyone really expect Chen to become the Orioles most consistent starter this season? Don’t forget Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman. They haven’t pitched the entire season, but they have been the team’s best starters since being called up. Gonzalez was passed on by the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox before finding himself pitching in Mexico. Tillman was a highly rated pitching prospect, but I have to admit I had given up on him. He struggled his previous stints in the major leagues and he looked like a lost cause. Who is the bigger surprise?
The bullpen has a few surprises as well. Did anyone think Jim Johnson would be the best closer in baseball? We all knew he was a great set up man, but it’s a whole different story as a closer. Johnson pitched well as a closer towards the end of last season, but before that he struggled in his previous stints as closer. The Orioles were considering moving Johnson into the rotation. He always had the stuff, but I think it’s fair to say his performance this year was a pleasant surprise. 30 saves maybe, but 48 saves and counting!? Yes, I think Johnson has been a surprise.
While we are talking about the bullpen don’t forget Darren O’Day. Orioles fans got a brief glimpse of what Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, and Luis Ayala could do last season. O’Day was signed by the Orioles in the offseason after a bad year with the Texas Rangers. He had pitched well in previous seasons, but he has been a huge part of the bullpen’s success this season. Johnson has all the saves, but you can underestimate the job O’Day, Patton, Ayala, and Strop have done in middle relief.
Who are the surprises among the Orioles regulars? Adam Jones and Matt Wieters will both get plenty of votes for MVO, but they both had great seasons last year. I think it’s safe to say no one thought Nate McLouth would be the Orioles starting left fielder and lead-off hitter with six games left to play. McLouth’s defense in left field was a big part of the Orioles surge in late August, early September. He also has been huge for the Orioles in the lead-off spot after Markakis went down with an injury.
Other players who should get consideration for BSO of the season are Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Mark Reynolds. Davis always had the potential to be a 30 homer, 100 RBI player. The key word being “potential”. Davis has never gotten the at-bats to prove he can become a middle of the lineup hitter, but this season he finally was given the opportunity. Just because Davis had the potential doesn’t mean it isn’t a surprise to see him finally realize his potential.
I put Reynolds on this list for potential BSO winner is because of his defense at first base. His overall offensive numbers are nothing out of the ordinary, but his defense at first base has been sensational. You can’t underestimate the importance of defense and Reynolds performance at first base has been a big part of the Orioles late season success.
Machado will end up playing in only about 50 games with the Orioles this seaon, but he may be the team’s biggest surprise. I don’t think anyone expected the 20-year-old to play at the big league level this season. It’s the stability that Machado brought to the Orioles at third base that makes him an even bigger surprise. Thought to be the Orioles shortstop of the future, Machado came up and immediately stepped in and solidified the Orioles infield defense at third base. Again, you can’t undervalue the importance of defense in baseball.
If I had to choose who has been the Orioles biggest surprise this season I would have to say Machado. I never thought Machado would even play with the big league club this season, let alone contribute as much as he has. Machado has provided a spark for the Orioles on offense and defense. Play after play in the field, Machado has helped the Orioles become a legitimate playoff contender again. I never thought Machado would help the Orioles this season and I defenitely didn’t think it would happen at third base.
Who do you think has been the biggest surprise Oriole this season?