Earlier in the season, as Orioles second basemen and designated hitters flailed away with such near-total failure, I wondered whether they were the worst hitters in the American League. It felt like they must have been. Two months ago, they were, and a month ago, second basemen still were. Literally, for the first 71 games of the season, Orioles second basemen were the worst in the American League at hitting. On the other hand, Orioles first basemen (Chris Davis) were the best in the majors.
With the All-Star Break arriving, it's time to revisit the positional OPS rankings and see how the Orioles measure up with another 25 games played. When the last edition of this article was published, the Orioles were in second place in the American League East, two games back. They are now in third place, 4.5 games back.
The chart below contains the hitting numbers for each position by the O's and includes their rank in the American League by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). They are rankings by position, not by individual player. Center field is mostly, but not completely, Adam Jones. First base is mostly Chris Davis, catcher is mostly Matt Wieters, and so on.
Also included are the current batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage at each position, as well as for the whole team, with the change between this time last month and now reflecting how the numbers have heated up or cooled off. A month ago, the Orioles were second overall, with six positions where they ranked fifth or better, four where they ranked third or better, and three where they ranked twelfth or worse.
|Position||AVG||OBP||SLG||+/- OPS||OPS Rank (AL)|
Modest declines from most every position that was performing strongly have not been offset by increases from most of the positions that were under-performing. The good news is that second basemen have finally raised themselves up from the worst in the American League. The bad news is that catcher and designated hitter seem to have mostly lined up with where they are going to remain. They are not going to carry the team if hot first halves don't turn into hot second halves.
Is there cause for panic because of some drops? Probably not. This is still a top offense in the American League, and one month's slump in most of the positions may not continue. They lead the AL in home runs and in slugging percentage. They do not particularly get on base. They do not like to walk. They are what they are, and some individual players frustrate us a lot in some of their at-bats - take Jones, who trails only Mike Trout among AL center fielders - but they are, collectively, very good at what they do this year.
Can we dream about continued improvement at second base? That position has been so absurdly bad it almost can't possibly remain that way. Even the .232/.279/.393 from Brian Roberts (who has played some DH as well) is an improvement in both positions. DH has been so bad that it is possible the Orioles could pull off some marginal trade to improve it - the next Jim Thome, without the long-running internet joke of HEY GUYS THIS IS JI
JIM THOME to sustain us. Perhaps they will give up on Nolan Reimold and give a shot to Henry Urrutia, who has been raking at Bowie and then Norfolk. It's unlikely he could provide the same kind of spark that Nate McLouth and Manny Machado did last year, but he could be one piece of that puzzle. Perhaps Reimold will improve, but it doesn't feel likely at this point.
Last year's O's offense made it work with a .247/.311/.417 batting line that was 7th-best in the AL in OPS. Of course, the strength of last year's team was the bullpen, which is not the case this year.
This illustrates that Orioles offense is not the problem, and even if it stumbles, it is not the reason why the Orioles might fall out of the race. There are trouble spots in the lineup, but every team has trouble spots. The bigger trouble spot is the starting rotation with its 4.79 ERA. Saying the offense needs to be fixed is assuming that sub-par rotation is an intractable problem, which it may be, but if averaging 4.81 being scored per game isn't enough, that is not on the hitters.