After a great morale boosting 18-7 drubbing of the Boston Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, the Orioles have scored a league-leading 104 runs on the season. The Orioles have been doing it in their typical way, by leading the league in home runs and ranking second in both isolated power and slugging percentage. However, in addition to the power the Orioles have also been able to draw some some walks this year as well.
While walks are not the end all be all that some make them out to be, they are important. It is difficult to walk in runs, but walks provide more base runners for the slugging based Orioles offense, which only gives the team more ways to score. Furthermore, I always considered walks to be a good proxy for a hitter who is patient enough to swing at pitches he knows he can hit. The Orioles of the past four seasons have been a free swinging bunch, but so far this year some of that has changed.
Much like I discussed in the article on Adam Jones' early season strike out rate, walks are another statistic that stabilizes early in a season. A hitter's walk rate stabilizes around 100 plate appearances, meaning that as a player reaches that threshold only about 50% regression to the mean is expected. The team walk rate is at 7.6 percent compared to 6.4 percent last season. That may not seem like a ton, but over the course of 6000 or more plate appearances, a single percentage point can mean a lot more men on base.
This increase in walk rate has been led by a few of the lineup cornerstones. In the below table three hitters, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and Caleb Joseph have their walk rates for 2015, 2014, and their career.
As you can see, all of them to date have had career years in walk rate. It is still early, even for walk rate because none of these hitters are over 80 plate appearances, but these are certainly trends to watch.
Adam Jones has been off to a great start limiting strike outs, working counts, and hitting the ball hard on pitches he knows he can hit. To date, he has posted a .403/.450/.708 batting. His walk rate is still paltry, but any improvement forward for him is a good sign especially as a middle of the order bat. Interestingly, Jones has a career low in pitches per plate appearances which goes to show you that seeing lots of pitches is not the end all be all.
Manny Machado struggled to start the seasons running into a bit of bad luck evident in his current batting line of .224/.304/.403, but he has turned it on recently hitting .345/.400/.621 for the last week. Impressively, even when his batting line looked bad, Macahdo did not press and become overly aggressive at the plate.
Caleb Joseph is another guy off to a hot start at the plate. His 16.4 percent walk rate leads the team. Joseph has shown a great ability to not swing at pitches he cannot hit while posting a .311/.436/.467 line. In fact, Joseph has lowered his swing rate on pitches outside of the zone from 36.1 percent to 19.0 percent, a 17 point drop. His batting average is likely to come down over the coming weeks, but Joseph has shown that he can be a good hitter with a solid eye at the plate. Which, coming from a starting or backup catcher is a great thing to have.
The 2015 season is still young as April comes to a close. The Orioles offense has been good thus far due in part to increased ability to take walks while still providing the power Orioles fans have gotten used to and grown to love. These are early trends, and little more at this point, but they provide something to keep an eye out for moving forward.