Three months ago, the Orioles second basemen and designated hitters were very bad. Night after night, they seemed to be completely awful. "These must be some of the worst hitters in the American League," I thought, and looked to see if what I thought was true. It was. In June, this was still the case: the second basemen were the worst-hitting second base unit and the designated hitters were the worst-hitting DH unit. There was some slight improvement in July.
It is one month and two days since the last edition of this article. What has happened in the last month? The time has come to revisit the positional rankings and see how the Orioles measure up with another 27 games played. In the July edition, the Orioles were in third place in the American League East, 4.5 games behind the division leader. With Boston falling on Sunday night, the Orioles are in third place in the division, 4.5 games back.
They have lost no ground in the division, but they have not gained any either. They sit three games back in the wild card race. They will need to charge ahead in the last month and a half. As has been the case all season, if they don't make it, it's probably not the fault of the hitters. A season-long troubled rotation and a recently-shaky bullpen are the biggest culprits. That they are where they are is the offense carrying them a long way to get here.
The chart below contains the hitting numbers for each position by the Orioles and includes their rank in the American League by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). They are rankings by position, not by player, but most of the Orioles positions are nearly-entirely a single player. First base is Chris Davis. Shortstop is J.J. Hardy. Left field is mostly Nate McLouth, 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 as a team ranked third in OPS, with five positions where they ranked fifth or better, two where they ranked second or first, and two where they ranked twelfth or worse.
The chart does not reflect any movement that may have occurred from Sunday's games.
|Position||AVG||OBP||SLG||+/- OPS||OPS Rank (AL)|
The good news is that the Orioles, for a second straight month, do not have the worst unit in the American League at any position. The bad news is that for another month, their options at designated hitter have proven to be poor.
Most of the positions have leveled off. This is who they are. Jones, who can be a very frustrating player at the plate, is the second-best center fielder, by OPS, in the AL. Hardy is another player who can be frustrating with that sub-.300 on-base percentage, but Orioles shortstops (led by Hardy) have hit ten more home runs than any other team's shortstops.
Three positions experienced significant declines. First base is fine even with Davis coming slightly closer to the level of mere mortals. He is one of the best players in the league, and so far above his peers at that position offensively this season that there is not even a close second. While we might feel better if Machado had continued his torrid start, he is still just 21, average at his position offensively, while being the best at his position defensively. There is a gap of .113 between seventh and eighth among third basemen, so Machado is clearly on the tier he is.
Right field is worrisome, falling from fifth to eleventh in the span of a month. Nick Markakis has not had a hit for extra bases in a calendar month and he has just two since June 25. He brings average defensive value at best while having almost entirely eroded as a useful player on offense.
The Orioles, collectively, remain as the third-best OPS in the league. They rank 10th in on-base percentage but remain first in slugging percentage - though their lead in slugging is the slimmest of margins over Boston and Detroit, with .002 points separating the three teams in slugging. The O's have 14 more home runs than any other team, and they rank third in doubles, but last in triples. They are averaging 4.79 runs scored per game. Last year, they averaged 4.4 runs per game.
At this point, they are what they are. There are no significant reinforcements to be seen.
Brian Roberts might boost second base a little bit as he returns to as much of his classic form as his 35-year old body will allow. Maybe Wilson Betemit will come back and take his turn as the designated hitter for a little while. Maybe he will outperform the likes of Danny Valencia and Henry Urrutia against right-handed pitchers. Maybe Matt Wieters will hit better towards the end of the season, as he has done most of the rest of his career.
None of these are sure things. This is the team. These are the guys. Individually, some disappoint us, but as a group, they are great. If some or all of them can get hot over the last month and a half, that will help the push for the playoffs a lot, but it's going to have to be the pitching staff that gets them most of the rest of the way there.