About a month ago, amidst the frustrating futility of the Orioles' second basemen and designated hitters, I did some research to confirm whether what I believed was the case: that O's 2B and DH were the worst in the AL. They were. Out of 15 teams, they were literally the worst. There were also some bright spots, like O's first basemen, powered by Chris Davis, being the best in the American League.
A month and a day later, it's time to revisit the positional rankings and see whether anything has gotten better or worse. One thing has stayed the same: the Orioles were in second place in the AL East, two games back, when I published the last article. Following last night's loss, they are in second place in the AL East, two games back.
A bit of explanation about the chart to follow. These are the rankings by position, not by individual player. Third base is exclusively Manny Machado, because he's played every inning the Orioles have played. First base is mostly Davis, but not exclusively, since he missed a small number of games due to an injury. Right field is mostly Nick Markakis, and so on. Each position is compared against the other teams in the AL at that position, ranked by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). Statistics and rankings do not reflect any changes that may have occurred due to Monday's games.
The current batting average, OBP, and SLG at each position for the Orioles are also included. Just for fun, I've thrown in the +/- change for each position's OPS compared to a month ago. Whole team is N/A for +/- because I didn't think to include it a month ago. I haven't started the chart yet as I type this paragraph. I hope it doesn't turn out to be depressing.
|Position||AVG||OBP||SLG||+/- OPS||OPS Rank (AL)|
In all, the O's have the second-best OPS in the AL, with six of the nine positions being above average, four of which are third or better. There is a lot of balance, with the whole offense not merely being carried by one position - though first base, led by Davis, is nearly 200 OPS points ahead of the nearest competitor. That wasn't so depressing after all, though the bad parts are evident.
Think for a second about how ridiculous Davis was hitting in April and the first half of May, and consider that he has improved on his OPS in the last month.
DH is most improved, but they were so bad before that the significant improvement still leaves them 13th in the AL. On the other hand, the next-most improved position is shortstop, with J.J. Hardy fueling a significant rise. SS was tenth-best a month ago, and Hardy now has the second-best bat by OPS among his AL peers. That is a fantastic improvement from a player I had more or less written off offensively. Right field also improved in OPS and in the peer ranking, going from seventh a month ago to fifth. Just don't tell the people voting for Markakis in the All-Star Game that there's so many better-hitting outfielders out there.
Among the positions where the OPS declined, third base and left field are not problematic, because the numbers are still respectable and relative to the peers they did not drop much. Third base was third-best a month ago, and left field was second-best. The decline for catcher is frustrating, because that is now one of the worst bats at that position in the AL, whereas before it was average, at seventh. While Hardy brought up the shortstops, it doesn't seem like Matt Wieters is ever going to do so for the catchers.
There's also second base to consider. They are the worst of all AL second basemen, and the unit has the third-worst OPS of all positions in the league, with only Seattle and New York shortstops ranking below O's second basemen. There is no reason to believe there is any hope in sight for this spot, unless you're a close relative of Ryan Flaherty.
Could DH keep improving? It is difficult to be as bad as they were. If the conglomeration of Steve Pearce, Chris Dickerson, and Danny Valencia - plus whatever player hits DH to get a rest in the field on a given day - could drag the unit up to a .700 OPS, that would still be pathetic, only 12th-best, but we might feel a little better about it.
71 games into this season, it may be time to confront this frightening realization: the Orioles have a good offense. This is a scary thing to think because you can only lose things that you have. When the Orioles were bad, they were just bad. There was nothing disappointing about it. We didn't get our hopes up. Now we have hopes, in the team, in individual players, and hopes can be crushed. Yet sometimes our wildest dreams are exceeded. The Orioles were good last year, and this year they are still good. Different things make them good, but they are still good, so far.
Now, if the starting rotation and half of the bullpen could only get their acts together...