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The 2016 Orioles will feature a low-contact, high-power offense

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The Orioles carry six hitters who make less-than-average contact but who can drive the ball.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Contact and power are the two primary ways of evaluating hitters. In fact they are two of the so-called five tools that a player is evaluated on by scouts. Most players are decently skilled at both but generally they tend towards one extreme or the other. Only the elite players are above-average at both; these players are the superstars of baseball and wreak havoc on the diamond.

The 2016 Orioles have only a few of these kinds of players on their roster. Mostly though they offer low-contact, swing-and-miss power that makes fans ooh and ahh at dingers but also grind their teeth at strikeouts. Most notably, this philosophy is evident in the presence of Chris Davis for the next seven seasons. But the team’s trade for Mark Trumbo provides another clue, as does the development of players like Nolan Reimold, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and Ryan Flaherty. Each of these players makes contact at a below-average rate but, to one degree or another, displays above-average power.

To show this construction, I gathered Contact% and Isolated Power (ISO) data for all non-pitchers with at least 250 total PA in the years 2012-2015. I chose this threshold to minimize survivor bias; if I only showed qualified players, the Contact and ISO numbers would be artificially boosted, since only players good at one skill or the other stick around to qualify for the batting title.

I then compared each metric to its average to create a "+" score where 100 is average, every point below 100 is 1% worse than average, and every point above 100 is 1% better than average. For example, Adam Jones makes contact 75.4% of the time and has an ISO of .205. The major-league averages for these metrics are 79.3% and .140. Therefore, Jones’ Contact+ score is 95, meaning he makes contact about 5% less often than the average hitter. His ISO+ score is 146, meaning he generates 46% more power than the average hitter.

The following scatterplot shows how the 2016 roster plays out. Contact+ is on the x-axis and ISO+ is on the y-axis. Remember that 100 is average for each:

2016-orioles-power-contact

You see what I mean about swing-and-miss power. Most of the team’s hitters are in the upper-left quadrant, with Davis far and away leading the team in this respect. I was surprised to see that Jones and Flaherty make contact at about the same rate. The difference between the two, and most of the difference in their value to the team, is that Jones’ ISO is nearly 40% better than Flaherty’s.

Moving to the left, we see that newcomer Mark Trumbo has power similar to Jones but makes contact far less often. Therein lies the reason why Trumbo has played for three teams since 2013 while Jones got paid well to remain with one team.

In the lower-left quadrant, we find the possible platoon/DFA candidate Jimmy Paredes and actual DFA Jerome O’Bryan "L.J." Hoes. Remember this dataset covers 2012-2015, which matters particularly for Paredes; he was dreadful for the Houston Astros during those years. Unfortunately he didn’t do much in 2015 to dissuade fans from having this mindset about him. As for Hoes, maybe this graph helps you understand why he was cut.

In the lower-right quadrant we find only J.J. Hardy with good contact but below-average power. It seems for whatever reason, Dan Duquette prefers to not roster (or is not able to roster) the slap-and-run type of players. Were he on the 2016 team, Nick Markakis would be here too; his Contact+ of 114 and ISO+ of 76 is even more extreme than Hardy’s.

In the upper-right quadrant we have the team’s most well-rounded hitters, those with average or better scores for both contact and power. I was surprised to find Caleb Joseph here. He makes contact at a league-average rate (Contact+ of 100) and has a bit of pop (ISO+ of 110). I didn’t realize he was that good with the stick.

His compatriot Matt Wieters is notably better, making contact 1% more often while hitting for 16% more power. Fans should be happy that both are on the team for 2016. Finally we have Manny Machado, who during this timeframe has hit similarly to Wieters (Contact+ of 103, ISO+ of 126). Of course Machado has yet to enter his prime, whereas Wieters may have finished his already as he heads into his age-30 season.

Looking at the entire league provides some context:

2016-mlb-contact-power

In the upper-left quadrant you can see how similar Chris Davis is to Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton. I would never have put these two names together but they are extremely similar hitters. Of course Stanton is four years younger and has a more consistent track record; that’s why his contract extension was $325 million compared to Davis’ $161 million.

From the graph you can see two things about the relationship between contact and power. First, the downward slope is clear. The more contact you make, the less power you likely have -- and vice versa. Second, the x-axis is much narrower in range than the y-axis. This shows that the spread of talent in contact is much narrower than the spread of talent in power. Therefore, your ISO can drop 50 points and you can still be a big-league hitter if you make enough contact. But if your contact drops 20 points, you may find yourself riding the bench or out of the game altogether.

It’s hard to see all the names in the graph, so I made a single list by multiplaying ISO+ by Contact rate to give a rough idea of a "power on contact" metric that I’ve named Damage (DMG). I then compared each player to the league average of this new stat, forming a single list of DMG+.

For example, Chris Davis gets a value of 173. This is his 197.397 ISO+ multiplied by his 68.5% contact rate, then compared to the league average DMG of 78.32. The result implies that Davis does 73% more damage per contact than the average major-leaguer.

The top ten hitters by this metric are:

  1. Edwin Encarnacion - 204
  2. David Ortiz - 198
  3. Jose Bautista - 194
  4. Mike Trout - 191
  5. Miguel Cabrera - 180
  6. Giancarlo Stanton - 176
  7. Chris Davis - 173
  8. Carlos Correa - 172
  9. Franklin Gutierrez - 170
  10. Mark Teixeira - 169
Davis’ DMG+ of 173 ranks him in the 99th percentile; you can see the hitters that keep him company. Here’s how the other Orioles rank, along with their comparable hitters:

Name DMG+ Percentile Rank Players at Same Rank
Adam Jones 141 90.9 Lucas Duda / Josh Willingham / Jay Bruce / Ryan Zimmerman / Curtis Granderson
Mark Trumbo 134 87.4 Travis Hafner / Preston Tucker / Roguned Odor
Manny Machado 131 83.8 Jonathan Lucroy / Trevor Plouffe / Matt Wieters
Matt Wieters 131 83.8 (same as Machado)
Nolan Reimold 118 71 Michael Saunders / A.J. Pierzynski / Oswaldo Arcia / Rick Ankiel / Ian Kinsler / John Jaso / Domonic Brown / Jason Kubel
Jonathan Schoop 112 64.4 Ryan Doumit
Caleb Joseph 111 63.7 Torii Hunter / Clint Robinson / Starling Marte
J.J. Hardy 104 56 Chris Parmalee / Carlos Ruiz
Ryan Flaherty 103 55.6 Dustin Pedroia / Demond Jennings / Carl Crawford / Will Myers / Jorge Soler / Josh Harrison / Vernon Wells / Marcus Semien / Kelly Shoppach
Jimmy Paredes 70 18.7 Cesar Izturis / Jason Bourgeois
L.J. Hoes 64 14.5 Jonathan Herrera / Clete Thomas / Brayan Holoday / Elliot Johnson / Adeiny Hechavarria / Greg Dobbs / Don Kelly

Some observations:

  • The Orioles have four hitters who rank better than 83% of other MLB players. That seems good; however, I'd have to do some team-by-team analysis to determine whether it is unusual.

  • That Manny Machado is a darned good hitter. Lucroy is a good comp, as are Plouffe and Wieters.

  • Nolan Reimold’s list of comps looks exactly like he feels: there are some hit-or-miss players in there, such as Ankiel and Brown, as well as potential upside like Kinsler and Pierzynski. Of course those two players defend up-the-middle positions. Is it too late to move Reimold to second base?

  • Having a backup catcher who hits like an old Torii Hunter and a young Starling Marte is a very good thing.

  • Having a shortstop who hits like a DFA’d outfielder and an aging catcher is not.

  • Ryan Flaherty hits like … Dustin Pedroia?!?! Well you could’ve knocked me over easily after seeing that comp. Flaherty is a utility infielder while Pedroia is a $100+ million star. Digging in further, Flaherty does have the ISO advantage, .150 to .145, but Pedroia has the defensive advantage as well as a much higher walk rate (9.2% to 6.6%) that boosts his OBP.

  • Jimmy Paredes and L.J. Hoes … yikes.

I hope this article gave you some insight as to how Dan Duquette has constructed the 2016 Orioles roster. He seems to be okay with more strikeouts than average as long as some power comes along with it. Perhaps these kinds of players fall out of favor with other teams and so are available on Duquette’s budget, or perhaps there is something about Orioles Park at Camden Yards that Duquette feels power hitters are uniquely suited to take advantage of. Perhaps this kind of player is just the norm in the game now. Whatever the case, fans should get ready for a whiff-tastic 2016 season that also features the long ball.