The Orioles' Historically Awful Walk Rate

Patrick Smith

When will the Orioles ever learn to take the walk?

It might seem that there was nowhere to go but up in terms of walking to get on base for the Orioles after 2013. After all, they were second to last in the league in terms of walk rate for position players in 2013 at 6.8%, ahead of only the Chicago White Sox, who also had a walk rate of 6.8% but tenths of a percentage point lower. We were wrong. The Orioles currently own a walk rate of 5.9% after Wednesday's game with Pirates, the lowest in the league. That does not even tell the whole story. The Orioles' atrocious walk rate is truly historic. The 2014 Orioles' position players have the lowest walk rate of any team since World War II. The last team to post a lower walk rate over a full season was the Cincinnati Reds back in 1934. How has the Orioles' walk rate managed to decline to the point of downright historic?

Among the nine Orioles position players who accumulated more than 200 PA in 2013, two of the top three in walk rate, Nate McLouth and Brian Roberts, departed in free agency. The third, Chris Davis, missed two weeks of games due to a left oblique strain. The newcomers who have received the most PA include Nelson Cruz (8.0% walk rate), Jonathan Schoop (2.9%), David Lough (5.7%), Steve Lombardozzi (0%) and Delmon Young (3.0%). Of them, only Cruz has a walk rate higher than the team overall walk rate.

Among the returning players, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado were already in the top 30 in the league in lowest walk rate among qualified players last season. Yet Jones and Hardy managed to lower their walk rate even more this season to the point where they are now third and fourth respectively in the league this season. Schoop is not far behind the duo at seventh on the list. Matt Wieters has also suffered a sharp decline in his walk rate over the last two seasons, though he hit better overall before his elbow injury. Machado, Chris Davis and Nick Markakis are the only returning Orioles who have improved on their walk rates, and Markakis's walk rate is still below his career level.

Hopefully we can count on regression to the mean to pull the Orioles back from historical awfulness. Jones, Hardy and Schoop should be expected to walk at least a tiny hair more than they have. The return of Wieters, despite his diminished walk rate this season, would also provide a lift for the O's in terms of walk rate. It is very frustrating to watch a team that refuses to take walks, and it certainly has not helped the O's to win.

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