HomeTeamsOriolesGunnar Henderson’s Historic Season Continues, But Can He Keep It Up?

Gunnar Henderson’s Historic Season Continues, But Can He Keep It Up?

The Baltimore Orioles have been hitting the ball better than any other team thus far in the 2024 season. As of May 21st, the Orioles lead all of baseball in slugging percentage (.441) and home runs (69), lead the American League with 4.98 runs scored per game, and are third in the AL with 112 wRC+. The Orioles as a whole are clearly an offensive powerhouse, but it’s 22 year-old shortstop Gunnar Henderson who has been leading the charge up to this point.

After a 3-run home run in the 6th inning against the Cardinals, Henderson took sole possession of MLB home run leader, making history in the process. With his 16th home run of the season, Gunnar Henderson joined Alex Rodriguez, Harmon Killebrew, Bryce Harper, and Eddie Mathews as the only players to hit 16 or more home runs in their team’s first 45 games at age 22 or younger (from Sarah Langs on Twitter). He also became the first Orioles player to homer in four consecutive games since DJ Stewart did so from September 5th-9th, 2020. Henderson is also on pace to hit 58 home runs, which would break the Orioles single-season home run record of 53, set by Chris Davis in 2013.

Coming into this season, many expected Henderson to take a step forward after a very good rookie campaign in 2023. He has done exactly that and far more.

2023 (150 games)4.728.255.325.48912352.0%
2024 (45 games)2.916.271.351.61016958.0%

If he were to continue his current trajectory, Henderson would put up 10.4 fWAR, a number that would rival the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr.’s 1991 season where he had a 10.6 fWAR.

Henderson’s numbers are a huge jump from where they were in 2023, but he has absolutely been playing at an MVP-caliber level to this point. The question is whether or not his performance to this point can be matched for the duration of the season, and there are signs in Henderson’s underlying numbers that his performance is, to some extent, sustainable.

Since 2023, his O-Swing% has decreased by nearly 3% and his Z-Swing% has increased by almost 2%. This, along with an increase in overall contact rate, indicates a more selective approach at the plate, but also an increased willingness to swing at pitches in the zone, allowing him to do more damage. His chase rate has gone from the 64th percentile in 2023 to the 79th percentile in 2024, another indication that his performance is no fluke. Henderson is also pulling the ball at a much higher rate than he was in 2023, going from a 39.9% pull rate to a 45.8% pull rate, and ranks in the 98th percentile in HardHit%. To the surprise of nobody, these changes have correlated with a massive increase in wRC+ and overall production.

All the numbers show that Henderson’s 2024 performance is no fluke. He is leading the best offense in baseball while putting up numbers that rival those of Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr., all at the age of just 22 years old. The AL MVP race is tight right now, with Kyle Tucker, Juan Soto, Bobby Witt, Jr., and Aaron Judge all alongside Henderson as frontrunners, but Henderson is sure to be among the favorites throughout the season. But the MVP won’t be known for months, so for now, let’s just sit back and enjoy the Gunnar show.


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