On May 20, the Baltimore Orioles sat in fifth place in the AL East with a 16-24 (.400) record. It was pretty much what everyone around the sport expected from them in 2022.
The following day, Baltimore made the decision to call up top prospect Adley Rutschman. He started behind the dish in Camden Yards that very night. Since then, the Orioles have gone 53-37 (.589), good for the very best record in the East.
No one has played a bigger role in Baltimore’s surprise success than Rutschman. In 80 games, he is hitting .245/.353/.425 with eight home runs and a 125 wRC+. According to FanGraphs, he has been the most valuable hitter, baserunner, and defensive player on the team since his call-up.
Indeed, he already leads the team in every measurement of Wins Above Replacement for the entire season. Since May 21, he has easily been the most important player on the roster. The Orioles would not be where they are without him.
This is not to say Rutschman is solely responsible for his team’s incredible turnaround, but his breakout performance has been instrumental to Baltimore’s recent run of success.
If Rutschman hadn’t been hurt to start the season, the Orioles would almost certainly be in a postseason position right now. Anthony Bemboom and Robinson Chirinos, who split time behind the dish to start the year, hit a combined .130/.233/.214 over the season’s first 40 contests. Had those games gone to Rutschman instead, Baltimore could have easily won the two additional games they would need for the third Wild Card spot.
Rutschman has made up for lost time though, quickly cemented himself as one of the best two-way catchers in all of baseball.
Rutschman for Rookie of the Year?
The American League has no shortage of talented first-year players this season. Beyond Adley Rutschman, names like Julio Rodríguez, Jeremy Peña, Steven Kwan, and George Kirby have stood out among the rookie class.
While any of Peña, Kwan, and Kirby could have won in a different season, the 2022 contest currently looks like a two-man race.
Rodríguez looked like the frontrunner for most of the year, but he slowed down considerably in August, slashing just .240/.288/.413. He was worth 3.3 FanGraphs WAR over the first four months of the season, but just 0.5 fWAR since.
Rutschman, meanwhile, has only got better with time. He got off to a bad start, hitting .176 without a single home run over his first 20 games. Since then he has been unstoppable.
If J-Rod picks up the pace, it’s going to be a very close contest. Rutschman has been the better player since his call-up, but Rodríguez was gifted a 30+ game head start. In order for the backstop from Baltimore to take home the trophy, the Mariners’ center fielder must continue to slump.
If Rutschman does finish in the top-two in Rookie of the Year voting – and it certainly looks like he will – he’ll be awarded an extra year of MLB service time under the rules of the new CBA. That means he would become arbitration eligible ahead of the 2025 season instead of the 2026 season, and he would hit free agency after the 2027 season instead of the 2028 season.
In other words, not only might the Orioles miss out on the postseason, but they won’t even gain an extra year of team control for having done so.
One of the Best Backstops in Baseball
It does a player like Adley Rutschman a disservice to merely compare him to his Orioles teammates or the rest of the Rookie class. He is not just talented “for a rookie” or the best player on a mid-tier team. He is establishing himself as one of the very best players in all of baseball. Period.
His 125 wRC+ means he has performed about 25% better than the average big league hitter. That would be great for a player at any position, but at catcher it is especially impressive. Of the 39 catchers with at least 200 PA this year, only six have hit better than Rutschman. The average catcher this season has a wRC+ of just 89.
Among AL catchers, only Sean Murphy and Alejandro Kirk have out-hit Rutschman. In addition, the Orioles catcher has been a much more valuable baserunner than either of them. According to FanGraphs, he is the only AL catcher (min. 200 PA) to provide positive value on the bases.
So Rutschman has managed to be a great offensive performer, while also playing the most demanding defensive position on the field. Even more impressive, he doesn’t just play catcher – he plays it well.
Per Baseball Savant, Rutschman has been one of the best framing catchers in baseball this season – he ranks among the top ten percent. He also ranks among the top twenty percent of catchers in pop time to second base. His 13 Defensive Runs Saved at catcher (via FanGraphs) rank second-best in the American League.
With great numbers at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, Rutschman has firmly established himself as an all-around talent. He’s the kind of player MLB executives dream of building a team around. He is on the path to a long, successful, and lucrative big league career.
Rutschman is not just the best player on the Baltimore Orioles. He is not just the best rookie in the American League. He is not just a good hitter for a catcher.
At 24 years old, Adley Rutschman is already one of the best players in baseball. And he only has room to grow from here.