Despite their recent offensive woes (yesterday not included), the Orioles have still managed to remain in the middle of the playoff picture. They’ve done that with practically zero help from Matt Wieters, who has been a disaster at the plate since the halfway point.
It’s impressive that the team has been able to hang on despite one of their All-Stars disappearing at the plate, and part of the reason they’ve done so is the improved play of J.J. Hardy and Pedro Alvarez. While Wieters has scuffled, Hardy has begun to look like the J.J. Hardy of old, and Alvarez has become the power hitter the O’s thought they were getting all along.
Let’s start with Wieters, who’s had a strange year. In April, the Orioles’ seventeen million dollar man was horrible, and it looked like the team’s decision to give him the qualifying offer was backfiring spectacularly. He hit .214/.290/.304 (60 wRC+) that month, and he struck out in a ridiculous 31% of his plate appearances. Nearly every Wieters at-bat was a depressing chore to watch.
Then, the switch flipped on. In May and June, Wieters cut his strikeouts in half and started to hit for power. The result was a .298/.344/.518 line (127 wRC+), propelling him to his fourth All-Star Game. The old Matt Wieters was back!
Well, maybe not. If you’ve eaten recently, you might not want to read the following stat - since July 1st Wieters has hit .187/.241/.262. That comes out to a 28 wRC+. A .503 OPS, fifty points worse than David Lough had last year. Five extra base hits in 116 trips to the plate. However you slice it, it’s been a rough time for the Orioles’ catcher.
On the bright side, Wieters might be playing his way down to an affordable contract in the offseason. On the less bright side, well, he’s basically a poor man’s Travis Snider right now. Fortunately, a few of his teammates have stepped up their game around the same time.
J.J. Hardy was pretty much typical Hardy in April (.247/.286/.416), but he had only two plate appearances in May because of a foot fracture. He struggled after his return, and on July 1st his slash line had sunk to .233/.268/.349. Since then, though, he’s been terrific.
After his 2-homer, Most Birdland Player performance last night, Hardy is now sporting an .840 OPS since the start of July. He’s averaging more than one extra base hit for every ten at-bats, and he’s doing it while still playing his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense. We’ll have more on Hardy later today, but suffice it to say that J.J. Hardy is back.
Meanwhile, Pedro Alvarez has been chipping in, too. Some hot take artists were calling for Alvarez to be cut after a slow start to the season, but over the past couple months he’s done everything he could to prove those folks wrong.
Alvarez is now up to eighteen home runs on the season after starting the year with just three through the first two months. After stumbling to a .644 OPS through the end of May, that number has jumped to .974(!!!) since then. Miguel Cabrera had a .974 OPS last year.
At this point, those Alvarez doubters have either changed their minds or just haven’t been paying attention. His .319 OBP, .521 slugging, .841 OPS, and 119 wRC+ would all be the best of his career if the season ended today. His strikeout rate is the lowest it’s ever been. This is exactly the player that the Orioles hoped they were getting when they added Alvarez to the roster in March.
Any baseball season has ebbs and flows, and every team will have players go through hot and cold streaks throughout the year. That said, you don’t often see an All-Star have a seven-week span quite as cold as Matt Wieters has had. Fortunately, a pair of teammates have helped to carry him until he can figure it out.
J.J. Hardy and Pedro Alvarez aren’t exactly the biggest names in the Orioles lineup, but if the O’s hang onto a playoff spot, their improved play will be a big reason why.