On Thursday, SBN unveiled the results of the blogger awards for the 2013 season. The Orioles were one of two teams to have two players in the top ten, with Chris Davis (fourth) and Manny Machado (eighth) both placing high in the voting. Max Scherzer, voted the Best Pitcher, was seventh, leaving seven non-Orioles position players in the top ten of the rankings.
How did the Orioles pitching staff fare against these hitters? Did they tend to do better against the Orioles than they did in general, or were there players who fared worse against the O's than they did against the league at large?
Note that these seven players are not necessarily the seven best non-Orioles hitters. In considering who was the best player, I suspect my SBN counterparts are more likely than mainstream writers to give greater weight to factors such as defense, baserunning, and positional scarcity. They're seven great players who had great seasons.
Also, these are small sample sizes at best, but that doesn't make them entirely meaningless.
Trout, the best player on the planet, was held by the O's to the lowest batting average of any team he faced more than 20 times. They also only walked him twice in 31 plate appearances, where on the season he walked nearly one in six plate appearances.
Unfortunately for the O's, Trout hit four home runs against them, which is why his slugging percentage is so high. Those were the only extra-base hits he recorded against the O's. On the other hand, a .136 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) may mean it was more a factor of luck than any well-executed plans against Trout.
Not surprisingly, Cabrera, a phenomenal hitter, had great success against the O's, who do not have many good pitchers. He didn't have the most success against the O's out of all teams he faced, but the O's were among his favorite teams to face. He hit three home runs and only struck out three times.
The only two teams in the American League who managed to hold down Cabrera to more pedestrian levels were the Athletics (.705 OPS in 29 PA) and, strangely, the Twins (.723 OPS in 84 PA). Might there be anything to be gleaned in how these two teams pitched to Cabrera? On the other hand, it could have been "play against Cabrera while he's hurt."
If you think this looks bad, you're right. Donaldson hit the best (by OPS) against the Orioles out of any team he faced in the American League. He is good, but not as good as O's pitchers made him look. As with Trout, perhaps luck came into play, with Donaldson having a .421 BABIP in his games against the O's. He was also happy to work a walk, something we might wish more Orioles hitters would learn.
All three of the above players are not ones the Orioles see often, since they reside out of the AL East. Several more familiar divisional foes are among the rest, and there may be more meaningful information to be gleaned from sample sizes of up to 19 games.
The O's had some modest success in holding down Longoria. Out of the other teams in the AL East, they were the best at this in the 2013 season, with Longoria teeing off on Blue Jays (1.155 OPS) and Yankees (1.122 OPS) and hitting about his average pace against the Red Sox (.868 OPS). Where a player like Trout slugged heavily against the O's, they kept Longoria's power in check somewhat.
This is nothing to sneeze at. If the O's are able to turn Longoria into just another bat in the lineup when they face him, that gives them an advantage against the Rays. They'll need it, since amazing Rays pitching is not going to stop being a factor in those match-ups. Whether they can keep succeeding against Longoria from year-to-year is not a sure thing, either, but there is some recent success to give hope.
Cano had a career-high walk percentage in 2013, which may have been in part because a team like the O's will pitch around him when the situation calls for it, especially in a year like this, where he was the only damaging hitter in the lineup for much of the year. Still, even for that, Cano managed to touch up the O's just about in tune with his numbers for the whole season.
Three of the walks by the O's were intentional.
The Orioles are probably hoping Cano signs in the National League so that they hardly have to see him any more. If they do keep facing him, they might find better success if there was more than one lefty in the rotation. Cano had a .969 OPS against right-handed pitchers, but only a .788 OPS against left-handers.
Beltre faced 20 different clubs in 2013 and the only team that did not strike him out even one time was the Orioles. He beat up the Orioles even more than he did the Astros, although he beat up the Red Sox even more than he did the Orioles. Good hitter knocks the stuffing out of the Orioles - that's not exactly a strange refrain over the last 15 years for O's fans.
Within the East, the Yankees and Rays were both successful at stopping Beltre this season, though no one held him lower than the Twins (.439 OPS). As with Cabrera, the answer could be that they played Beltre when he was hurt.
The speedy Ellsbury was nothing special against the Orioles at the plate, but that's mostly because of a lack of walks. Was Ellsbury aggressive against Orioles pitchers, or did they have his number somewhat at the plate this season?
Ellsbury stole six bases against the Orioles, more than once for every four times he reached base against them. He is another player where the solution might just be to hope that he signs somewhere that they don't see him as much.
The Rays (.641 OPS) and Twins (.434 OPS) were the thorns in Ellsbury's side. Why do so many of these guys suck against the Twins?
That's how the Orioles did against seven great players this season. What do you think? Is there anything they might be able to do to improve against the top-flight hitters in the league? Other than sign better players, of course. Perhaps they can even repeat success against the players they've done well against.