Watching the bottom of the Orioles' lineup, frequently manned by the second baseman and designated hitter of the night, there is the temptation to make sweeping proclamations about how bad they are. One might be tempted, for instance, to give in to the natural human tendency towards hyperbole and say that the Orioles designated hitters and second basemen are, collectively, the worst-hitting of either kind in the American League.
In general, it's hard to say whether this is even a bad thing, this tendency. In this particular situation, it's even harder to say so, because that hyperbole is the truth. The Orioles have the worst-hitting second basemen (measured by OPS) in all of MLB, and the-worst hitting DH in all of the American League. Through 40 games, two of the nine positions in the every day lineup are the worst of their kind. They are not merely bad. Compared to their competitors, they are literally the worst that there is.
The DH for the Orioles has been so bad that it is the second-worst of any unit for any team in the AL, bested, or perhaps worsted, by Seattle shortstops, who are mustering a measly .338 OPS. Good God. That almost makes the .488 OPS of Orioles DH look balmy in comparison, except, wait, no it doesn't. That's awful. I might have to go cry now.
Lest we dwell on nothing but the bad, here's how the Orioles are faring at each position against their peers. The alchemy of talent and good fortune have the Orioles standing above most or all of the rest in some positions even as their 2B and DH languish at the bottom.
|Position||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS Rank (AL)|
Four positions (1B, 3B, LF, CF) are better than most or all of their peers, with 1B, being mostly Chris Davis, as the best by more than 100 points of OPS over the closest competitor. This is the highest positional OPS in all of MLB. Two (C, RF) are about average, at least if we measure by OPS. One (SS) is below average, and the two mentioned in the introduction are the worst. All of this together adds up to a team slash line of .263/.325/.431, a .756 OPS that ranks fifth in the American League, with the only divisional opponent the Orioles trail being Boston.
The AL East teams rank 4th-8th in the AL in overall OPS, with Tampa Bay, New York, and Toronto following immediately after the Orioles. Toronto has a .725 OPS, which is the worst of the division. The best team OPS in the AL is Cleveland, with a .791 OPS through their 39 games.
Frustrating as it is to see those black holes in the lineup every night, the Orioles could be doing a lot worse than they are, and the rest of the lineup is generally doing enough to make up for those players who aren't performing. There should be concern if Davis, Manny Machado, and/or Nate McLouth fall back into the pack, which is a possibility, no matter how many "through X games" comparisons to Harper and Trout the local and national media want to make with Machado.
If those players stumble, then the bottom of the lineup will really drag down the team more than they already do.
Are there any solutions to the big problems here? Second base seems to be mostly stuck where it is. There could be some light at the end of the tunnel for DH, with Steve Pearce heating up - he's now out-OPSing the likes of Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters - and the struggling Nolan Reimold relegated to the bench. Anything Pearce can contribute above a .488 OPS is an improvement over what we've seen so far. Pearce's current .759 OPS would still only rank 11th among AL teams, but in absolute terms, would be a huge stride.
Even shortstop might get better, if you squint. J.J. Hardy is currently working on an 11-game hitting streak, with four home runs in that stretch. Even with that, he's still only batting the .227/.259/.396 you see above. He's not going to turn into one of the best hitters in the AL, but if he was slumping in April and is now warming up, he could pick up some slack offensively to go along with his already-excellent fielding.
They are good enough to get by, if the starting rotation settles into some kind of consistency that isn't consistently bad. But that is another subject for another day. For now, take comfort in this: for every Ryan Flaherty, there is a Davis; for every Reimold, there is a Machado. So far, that's enough for the Orioles to win.