We're just over a month into the season, and the five teams of the American League East are tightly packed in the standings. There are less games between first and last place in the A.L. East than between first and second place in the A.L. Central. Going into this year it was thought by many that the one of the strengths of the Orioles would be its offense, with the pitching staff being much more suspect. So after 30+ games for all of the teams, how does the Orioles offense stack up to the rest of the division? (Note: All numbers are through May 7th and do not include the games played last night)
First things first, let's look at results. Namely, runs scored. Runs scored don't necessarily speak to the talent level of a team, but ultimately they're the most important thing. Since not all teams have played the same number of games, I'll also show runs/game.
The Orioles have played a few less games than the other teams in the East, so their total number looks a little paltry, but with runs/game they are second to only the Jays. Really the Jays are the only team that stands out from the pack, scoring 1/2 run per game more than the Orioles. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays also top the division in offensive WAR, at 6.2. The Rays (5.4) are behind them, followed by the Yankees (4.9) and Red Sox (3.5). The Orioles and their free-swinging ways come in last at a paltry 2.8.
Speaking of free swinging, how about plate discipline? As you all know, the Orioles aren't really known for getting on base. They rank last in the AL East with their team mark of .314. Tops is the Red Sox at .340, followed by Tampa Bay (.332), Toronto (.329), and New York (.325). The O's are also the only team in the A.L. East whose mark comes in below the average for the entire American League, .323. Here are some additional plate-discipline numbers that will make you sad for the Orioles.
(This table is sortable, so click a column header if you like)
Pitches per plate appearances is self explanatory, but let me explain the other stats, taken from FanGraphs, in case you're not familiar. O-Swing% is the percentage of pitches swing out outside the strike zone, Z-Swing% is the percentage of pitches swung at inside the zone. O and Z contact % are the % of contact made outside and inside the zone, respectively.
So for pitches outside the strike zone, the Orioles swing 33.5% of the time, almost 8% more than the next closest team. It's only about 30 games of data, but that is not impressive. We've all seen it, and it isn't very fun to watch. And while they swing at the most pitches outside the zone, they certainly aren't making contact on the most. In case you're curious, the Oriole who swings the most outside the zone is young Jonathan Schoop, at 40.5%. And he only makes contact 50% of the time, which is pretty bad.
The Red Sox are the best team in the East when it comes to plate discipline, but power is where the Orioles excel, right? Maybe not, with Chris Davis on the DL and J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones having power outages. To the numbers!
Again, keep in mind that the Orioles have played 2-3 less games than the other teams, though their overall numbers aren't really that impressive anyway. Their .397 SLG is third best in the East but is still under .400 so that disappoints me. And really, the four non-Canadian teams are pretty closely lumped together in both SLG% and ISO. If you're not familiar with ISO, it's a stat that measures how good a player (or in this case, team) is at hitting for extra bases. The MLB average so far this season for ISO is .140, meaning that the non-Blue Jays teams are hovering around average.
As we all know, it's still early, but it stands to reason that the Orioles will improve in this area. With Davis hopefully close to returning, Jones looking over the last few games like he has a clue at the plate, and the fact that Hardy has to start hitting a few home runs eventually (doesn't he?). Currently the only guys doing much power-wise are Matt Wieters and Nelson Cruz.
There is one more stat I care to look at, and that's wOBA. wOBA is a catch-all stat whose job it is to measure overall offensive value by a player.
The MLB average for wOBA so far this year is .314, so hooray, the Orioles are average! These numbers will of course change as the season goes on and I presume so will the rankings. For now it seems that, while the Orioles have been a little disappointing offensively, they are certainly holding their own in the division.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the number of wins the team gets, and it's easier to win when you score more runs. In that sense, the Orioles have been successful relative to the rest of the A.L. East so far this year. Despite several easy to recall failures over this past series, their OPS with runners in scoring position is better than both the Yankees and Red Sox, and when you look at clutch stats, the Orioles as a team hit better when the game is tied or when it is "late and close" (7th inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run on deck) than every A.L. East team other than the Blue Jays. When there is only one run difference in the score, they still come in better than the Red Sox or Rays.
If the Orioles want to spend the entire year scoring more runs per game than the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees, then I don't care how they do it. All it's gotten them so far is first place. If they want to hit better when the game is close (although let's face it, most of the O's games are close), and that leads to more runs, I'm all for it. But I think it's fair to say that those things will continue to come easier throughout the year if they can, as a team, improve both their on-base and power numbers. Because right now, those numbers aren't looking too hot.