John Means
Do the Orioles have a future ace in the form of John Means. You probably have never heard of Means but it’s time that you start paying attention. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images) (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Do The Orioles Have An Ace In John Means?

John Means is a starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. That automatically means 99 percent of even die-hard baseball fans have never heard of him. However, if you’re paying attention John Means is quietly becoming one of the most underrated starters in the big leagues. Dare I even say ace?

As the Orioles start to build towards relevancy again (they still have a long way to go) it’s clear that Means is a building block moving forward. The former 11th round draft pick out of West Virginia in 2014 has gone from a no-name prospect to the headliner of a pitching staff.

On 2021 MLB Opening Day against the Red Sox, Means blanked Boston allowing just one hit over seven brilliant innings. If it weren’t the first start of the year, Means was well on his way to throwing a shut out. The question is, why didn’t we see this coming sooner. It might be just one start, but the stuff Means brings to the table is becoming hard to ignore.

Means, 27, was named to the All-Star team in 2019. Sure, maybe that can be chalked up to a fluke. Someone from the 108 loss Orioles had to be named. Means was the best pick on that dreadful squad. A 3.60 ERA in 2019 was followed up by a 4.53 mark in 2020. It was easy to write Means off as a no-namer. Of course, ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. Especially in the short sample size that was 2020.

The left-handed Means got off to a rough start in 2020 which mostly can be chalked to injuries. Means missed his Opening Day start in 2020 and then proceeded to get lit up by the Yankees. His father also passed away weeks later. Means had a rough August posting an ERA of 8.59 ERA never making it out of the 5th inning. When you look bad at it, it’s a miracle he got the ERA down to where it ended in 2020.

As the season progressed, we started to see the guy we knew from 2019. His final four starts to end the year were brilliant.

  • 9/8 @ Mets — 1 ER in 6 IP (5/1 K/BB)
  • 9/13 @ Yankees — 1 ER in 6 IP (4/1 K/BB)
  • 9/20 vs. Rays — 1 ER in 5.2 IP (12/0 K/BB)
  • 9/26 @ Blue Jays — 1 ER in 6 IP (9/1 K/BB)

The O’s starter also had TERRIBLE home run luck a year ago. Sure, Camden Yards is very hitter-friendly. Playing in the AL East doesn’t do him any favors having to make starts in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium. Add in Fenway Park which is the oldest park in the big leagues. Pitchers gave up dinky home runs all the time. Nevertheless, Means really got cheesed.

Statcast has a leaderboard that examines home run luck. When a hitter hits a homer, they track just how many ballparks would have kept the ball from leaving the yard. Long story short, my guy really got cheesed.

Largest gap between HR allowed and “expected” HR
+3.8 HR (Means, 12 HR vs. 8.2 xHR) <—
+3.1 HR (Trevor Gott, 7 HR vs. 3.9 xHR)
+2.9 HR (J.A. Happ, 10 HR vs. 7.1 xHR)
+2.9 HR (Christian Javier, 12 HR vs. 9.1 xHR)

Heading into 2021, John Means could be the perfect under the radar breakout candidate that baseball seems to provide us every year. Means at the Red Sox for lunch on Opening Day. It’s hard to chalk it up as a pure fluke given the pitch arsenal he has.

The fastball only sits at about 91-94 MPH but he’s deceptive out of the left side. More so than anything, the heater looks like it has extra hair on it because of how devastating the changeup is. That puppy comes out slow out of his and seemingly never gets to the plate as hitters swing right over the top of it.

Again, the fastball doesn’t look so devastating. When you’re gearing up for that dangerous change, the heater is a problem.

Means also has a curveball and slider in the back pocket but they aren’t featured as often. When you have the one-two punch on the left side that Means does, you don’t have to get too cute (or Mean in this case?). Not to mention, Means also had a walk rate of 4% in 2020 which was a top 5 mark in the league. He’s not someone that’s giving up free base runners which is half the battle.

If the Orioles ever get back in the mix in the AL East, it starts with internal improvements from players like John Means. If his first start in 2021 was any indication of what the future holds, the Orioles have themselves an ace of a staff to build around.