Gunnar Henderson’s season began with a miserable 0-for-8 in the Orioles’ opening series in Boston. It ended with a 6-for-12 in the American League Division Series against the soon-to-be world champion Texas Rangers in his first taste of playoff baseball.

In his breakout 2023 season, Henderson hit .255 with 28 home runs and an .814 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2023. On Nov. 13, he became the seventh player in Orioles history to win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

But how does the 22-year-old’s season stack up against the O’s previous winners? Let’s dig into the stats.

Ron Hansen (1960) - 3.9 wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference)

The Baltimore Orioles were a fledgling club in 1960, having moved from St. Louis just six years prior. Hansen had already logged big league playing time during the 1958 and ’59 seasons, appearing in 14 games before his rookie of the year campaign. Like Henderson, Hansen hit .255 in 1960, but he hit six fewer homers and his OPS was a shade lower at .781. The Nebraska native’s All-Star nod that year would be his only one, but Hansen had a solid, 15-year career with the O’s, White Sox, Senators, Yankees and Royals.

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Better than Gunnar? Hansen’s numbers were impressive, but Henderson has the advantage in several important statistical categories.

Curt Blefary (1965): 3.6 bWAR

In 1965, Blefary joined a 94-win club that was one year away from claiming the franchise’s first World Series title. The 21-year-old was a major contributor, leading the team with 22 home runs, 88 walks and an .851 OPS. Within a month of his debut, Blefary was batting third in a lineup that included Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson. The right fielder’s numbers dipped significantly after the 1967 season, and he was out of the big leagues by age 29. Still, his rookie season was one to remember.

Better than Gunnar? Blefary has Henderson beat in OPS, but his defensive position – widely regarded as one of the easiest in the game – limited his impact.

Al Bumbry (1973): 4.0 bWAR

Bumbry needed just 110 games to cement himself as the AL’s best rookie in 1973. The 26-year-old hit .337 with seven home runs, 23 stolen bases, an .898 OPS and a league-leading 11 triples. Playing the majority of his games in left field that season, Bumbry joined Paul Blair and Don Baylor to form one of the league’s most formidable outfields. Though he never hit more than nine homers in a season, Bumbry played 11 more productive seasons in Baltimore and collected nearly 1,500 hits and over 250 stolen bases.

Better than Gunnar? It’s difficult to compare two players of vastly different playing styles. Henderson provides much more power than Bumbry did, but he’ll likely never match the Bee’s base-stealing abilities. Gunnar’s larger sample – 150 games played – puts him over the top.

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Eddie Murray (1977): 3.2 bWAR

Murray’s rookie statistics look no different from those of any other year of his Hall of Fame career, with one exception. It was the only season in which he struck out more than 100 times. The switch-hitter mashed 29 doubles – the same total as Henderson – and 27 home runs while hitting .283 in 160 games. The 1977 Orioles were a 97-win juggernaut, and Murray was the steady five-hole hitter in manager Earl Weaver’s lineup. The California kid served as the designated hitter most games while Lee May manned first base, but the pair flipped spots the following season, paving the way for the first of Murray’s eight All-Star appearances.

Better than Gunnar? If Henderson’s career offensive numbers come anywhere close to Murray’s, he’ll have a plaque in Cooperstown. But, as the O’s everyday DH, Eddie didn’t bring nearly the same defensive value Gunnar did in his rookie season.

Cal Ripken Jr. (1982): 4.7 bWAR

Five years after Murray burst onto the scene, another future Hall of Famer followed in his footsteps, crushing 28 home runs and driving in 93 runs in his age-21 season. Ripken, like Henderson, made his debut the season prior to winning the award, logging just five hits in 23 big league games in 1981. Seven months later, he collected a pair of hits as the Orioles’ Opening Day third baseman. He never took his foot off the brakes. Ripken’s 1982 season pales in comparison to his ’83 and ’91 Most Valuable Player seasons, but his .792 OPS was nonetheless superb.

Better than Gunnar? Ripken hit the same number of homers and put up a higher batting average, but his OPS was lower than Henderson’s and his defense wasn’t yet Gold Glove caliber. Henderson has the edge.

Gregg Olson (1989): 3.3 bWAR

The only O’s pitcher to win rookie of the year, Olson registered a minuscule 1.69 ERA in 85 innings while serving as one of the league’s most dominant closers. As a 22-year-old, Olson went 27-for-33 in save opportunities and struck out 90 batters. His breakout season was one of numerous surprise performances on the 1989 “Why Not?” Orioles, who came within three wins of earning the AL East title. Olson made his first and only All-Star appearance the following season and finished his career with a 3.46 ERA across 14 seasons.

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Better than Gunnar? It would be far easier to compare Olson’s numbers to those of Félix Bautista in 2022 (Olson was just a tick better). Olson brought significant value to his team as a lights-out closer, but Henderson’s steady presence in the O’s infield slightly outweighs that of a back-end reliever.

Honorable Mention: Manny Machado (2013): 5.9 bWAR; Adley Rutschman (2022): 5.2 bWAR

Though both fell short of earning rookie of the year honors, Machado and Rutschman are deserving of mentions for their eye-opening introductions. Machado was just 20 when he hit .283 with 14 home runs and a .742 OPS in 2013, earning his first All-Star nod and Gold Glove. Rutschman lived up to the hype by batting .254 to go with 13 long balls and an .806 OPS while establishing himself as a premiere defensive catcher.

Better than Gunnar? All three players were – and are – phenomenal hitters with otherworldly defensive skills, but Henderson’s rookie numbers top Machado’s and Rutschman’s.

Gunnar Henderson (2023): 6.2 bWAR

Orioles fans got a taste of the impact Henderson could have in his 34-game appetizer in 2022. But Gunnar’s 2023 season was an all-you-can-eat buffet. The 2019 second-round pick showed just how many ways he can impact the game. At the plate, Henderson led the 101-win Orioles in OPS and tied with Anthony Santander for the team lead in homers. He routinely made highlight-worthy plays at shortstop and third base. And, though he swiped just 10 bags, Henderson was in the 100th percentile in baserunning run value, according to Statcast. So long as he stays healthy, Gunnar figures to be a perennial All-Star.

Best ever? Thanks to his all-around impact, Henderson provided more WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) than any Orioles rookie before him. Regardless of whether he was the franchise’s best rookie or not, Henderson’s debut put him in the company of Baltimore royalty.

paul.mancano@thebaltimorebanner.com

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