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Wave goodbye to the free-swinging Orioles

The 2016 Orioles lead the sport in offense. Their newfound patience at the plate is a big reason why.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

My uncle loves the Orioles. A few weeks ago, we had this exchange on Facebook:

facebook

For the past few years, the Orioles have been a free-swinging team. Everyone cheers for Adam Jones, but he walks about as often as Donald Trump compliments Ted Cruz. And while Chris Davis crushes baseballs 400 feet, fans frequently facepalm when he whiffs on a curveball in the dirt. When Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez joined the team, the fanbase groaned and complained it was more of the same.

They were wrong. Through Saturday's game this year, the Orioles' relative swing rate is down nearly 5%:

orioles-swing-rate

Players are chasing fewer pitches out of the zone:

orioles-o-swing-2016

Pedro Alvarez leads the way. Compared to Jimmy Paredes and Steve Clevenger in 2015, this year's DH is chasing bad pitches 37% less often. J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis are chasing 22% fewer pitches out of the zone. Contrary to what fans thought before the season, adding Mark Trumbo to the team has improved its discipline relative to the 2015 versions right fielders. Even Adam Jones is flashing a double-digit walk rate.

Their patience is counteracting increased aggressiveness from other players:

orioles-players-oswing-

* = compared to primary players at their position in 2015

Hardy's improvement excites me the most. His walk and strikeout rates are back where they were in his heyday from 2010-2013. He may not hit double-digit home runs ever again, but if he maintains a .300 OBP he'll be just fine.

Joey Rickard's high O-Swing% concerns me because he showed good strike zone judgement in the minors. But as his 2.7% walk rate and 23.3% strikeout rate indicate, major-league pitchers are fooling him. With little power to speak of, he's getting by entirely on his .396 BABIP. His speed helps him; he ran a .385 mark in the minors last year. But as pitchers throw him more junk, he'll need to adapt.

Matt Wieters is another concern. His walk rate is up a bit from last year, but his strikeout rate is way up, almost 7 percentage points. He also hasn't shown much power, with an ISO of just .119. He's a catcher so he doesn't need to provide much offense, but he seems to be going backwards from last year.

Chris Davis credits hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, hired before the 2015 season, with the team's increased patience. "It's something the guys have bought into and it's been a positive for us", he told Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun after a 9-7 win over the Red Sox. Coolbaugh's tutelage has increased the team's relative OBP by 12%:

orioles-obp-increase

The OBP increase is a big part of why the team leads the entire sport in wRC+ with 137. Compare that to last year, when the team finished with a wRC+ of 96, and you can see the benefits of the team's newly patient approach. The five runs per game they're scoring, and their place in the AL East, complete the story.

All data from FanGraphs.