The Orioles have gotten off to a good 16-11 start, and they've done it behind an offense that's been mostly as good as expected: the Orioles have scored the 4th most runs per game in the American League, and are just two behind the pace of league-leading Seattle in home runs.
The Birds even have the second best on-base percentage in the AL, which is a welcome surprise for a team that's often struggled to work a walk even when they've been hitting at their best.
Perhaps the most surprising development thus far is that the offense has played this well despite getting almost zero production from Adam Jones. Jones has been battling an oblique injury (although no one will officially call it that) since the first series of the year, and when he's been in the lineup the results haven't been pretty. In 91 plate appearances, Jones is hitting .207/.286/.293 with one home run.
Before this season, Jones had been very consistent at the plate from year to year. In every season since 2009, Jones has had an average between .269 and .287, and OBP between .308 and .335, and a slugging percentage between .442 and .505.
We knew basically the exact player we were getting year-in and year-out, and while Jones is a flawed hitter he's still a pretty damn good one. While a free-swinging hitter like Jones will always be prone to slumps, a month is a long time to call a "slump," especially when there's a known injury involved.
On one hand, there are some signs that this might not be as bad as it looks. Jones' hard contact percentage is actually up from last year (32.3% vs. 30.6%). His HR/FB seems unsustainably low at 4.8% - he's never been below 11% in a full season and his career average is 15.3%.
Jones' BABIP is .250 after never being below .300 before last season's .286. It sure looks like Jones has been unlucky - maybe if a couple more fly balls left the park last month and a few more hard-hit balls fell in, we wouldn't even be talking about this.
Beyond that, his plate discipline actually looks better than it ever has before - he's swinging at around the same number of pitches within the zone (79% vs. 80%) but is swinging at far less pitches outside the zone (32% vs. 46% in 2015) than he ever has before.
This obviously looks like a good thing, but it makes you wonder - why? Has Jones suddenly "figured it out" and dramatically changed his approach at age 30 after 7+ years of being the same free-swinger? Or is he holding back because he knows he can't get to as many borderline pitches due to his injury?
One worrying sign is that even though he's swinging at better pitches, he's making contact with less of them. His contact percentage is lower than last year (74% vs 78%) and his contact percentage on pitches in the zone is the lowest it's ever been at 82%.
Jones is also hitting the ball on the ground a lot more (1.76 GB/FB vs. 1.26 last year) and hitting to opposite field a lot less (13% vs. 22%). Sure, he's still hitting it hard, but there's a big difference between a hard grounder and a hard fly ball.
I'm not a hitting coach, so I'm not going to post videos of his swing and try to figure out what's different. I'm honestly not sure what all these numbers tell us other than the fact that something has changed. He has an oblique injury, which has been known to dramatically affect a player's swing (see 2014 Chris Davis), and his batted ball profile is very different from before in more ways than one. It makes sense that those might be related.
One week from now, Jones could be coming off a couple of big series and this entire point could be moot. He only has 91 plate appearances after all, so it's early enough that all the changes in the numbers above could just be statistical noise. If it keeps up, though, the O's have a tough decision to make.
We've seen what can happen when an oblique injury isn't given time to heal. Jones is a competitor and will try to play through an injury as long as he can swing a bat, but if it's a continuing issue the team needs to make the difficult call and place him on the DL. A partial season from the Adam Jones we know and love is better than a full season of what we've gotten so far.