Top 5 debut seasons in Orioles history

February 1st, 2021

It’s difficult to make a better first impression than the one Frank Robinson made for the Orioles, who were looking for a difference-maker in the winter of 1965 to catapult their emerging team to the next level. What they got was an icon, a singular figure who would go on to change the entire trajectory of the franchise.

To this day, Robinson’s MVP campaign in 1966 remains on the short list of best debut seasons in Major League history. So, spoiler alert: It also tops the Orioles' franchise list in this regard. The more interesting arguments involve others who have made lesser -- though still substantial -- impacts immediately upon arriving in Baltimore, whether it be via promotion, trade or free agency.

1. , 1966
Key stats: .316/.410/.637, 122 runs, 182 hits, 49 HRs, 122 RBIs, 367 total bases, 198 OPS+, 7.7 WAR

Acquired from the Reds in the lopsided deal for right-hander Milt Pappas, Robinson wasted little time. He won the AL Triple Crown in 1966, pacing the league in runs, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases as well as hitting, homers and RBIs. He led the Orioles to their first World Series, earning MVP honors in their sweep over the Dodgers that October. He was also the unanimous selection for AL MVP.

Robinson went on to star for six seasons and reach three more World Series with Baltimore, eventually entering the Hall of Fame as an Oriole. But he never replicated that otherworldly 1966 campaign. Few have, especially in their debut season.

2. , 2004
Key stats: .311/.360/.534, 203 hits, 107 runs, 34 HRs, 150 RBIs, 349 total bases, 131 OPS+, 7.4 WAR

Two years removed from a MVP season with the A’s, Tejada was as advertised upon arriving in Baltimore on a club-record six-year, $72 million free-agent contract in 2004. His first summer with the Orioles produced video game numbers, a Home Run Derby title and a club-record 150 RBIs, a total eclipsed only by one big leaguer -- Alex Rodriguez in 2007 -- since. Tejada earned All-Star and Silver Slugger honors and placed fifth in MVP voting for his introductory campaign, easily the best debut season by an infielder in O’s history.

3. , 1969
Key stats: 23-11, 2.38 ERA, 149 ERA+, 1.005 WHIP, 182 SO, 79 BB in 290 2/3 IP, 4.4 WAR

An All-Star with the Astros a few years earlier, Cuellar was 32 and coming off a down year when the Orioles acquired the left-hander from Houston for Curt Blefary and Enzo Hernandez in December 1968. All Cuellar needed was a change of scenery. He enjoyed a career year once in Baltimore’s vaulted rotation, claiming a share of the AL Cy Young Award and helping the O’s get to within one game of a World Series championship. He was excellent in that postseason as well, posting a 1.50 ERA across three starts.

4. , 2014
Key stats: .277/.333/.525, 87 runs, 166 hits, 32 doubles, 40 HRs, 108 RBIs, 137 OPS+, 322 total bases, 4.5 WAR

A 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal cut into Cruz’s market value in the winter heading into the 2014 season, despite Cruz’s track record as a proven slugger for the Rangers. The Orioles took advantage, signing Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal in Spring Training, looking to solidify a lineup with playoff ambitions. Cruz ended up being the missing link. He flourished in the hitter-friendly environment of Camden Yards, leading the Majors in homers and setting career highs in several major offensive categories. With Cruz as their everyday DH, the O’s won their first division title in 17 years.

5. , 1977
Key stats: .283/.333/.470, 81 runs, 173 hits, 29 doubles, 27 HRs, 88 RBIs, 123 OPS+, 287 total bases, 3.2 WAR

Of the five AL Rookie of the Year winners in Orioles history, three -- Al Bumbry, Cal Ripken Jr. and Gregg Olson -- won their hardware the year after their MLB debuts, disqualifying them for this list. Murray is an exception in this regard, making the 1977 Orioles out of Spring Training at age 21 and appearing in 160 games for the 97-win club that season. The steady, middle-of-the-order production was a harbinger of things to come for the future Hall of Famer, and it was enough to edge out A’s outfielder Mitchell Page for AL Rookie of the Year honors.