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The middle of the Orioles lineup needs an overhaul

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Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo continue to bat back to back in the heart of the O’s lineup, going against all advanced statistics and common sense.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

These days, sabermetrics are part of baseball more than ever and being implemented more and more by the decision makers of the MLB. With this movement, statistics are now out there for anything and everything related to professional baseball.

Unsurprisingly, these statistics include the realm of lineup optimization. While it may differ from the old-school consensus, there are common trends when it comes to the research involved with getting the most out of lineups in 2017.

I won’t go into too much detail but it’s fairly straight forward for the first few selections. Your priorities are the 1, 2, 4, and 5 spots. While it may sound odd, the third spot is actually not as important despite old-school logic. Hitters batting third in the lineup see much fewer runners on base than those in the four or five spots. It makes sense when you think about how frequently third hitters come up with two outs and no one on base.

Your leadoff hitter should be an OBP king, your second hitter should be the best overall hitter on the team, your cleanup should be your best hitter with power, and then the five spot is generally the next best hitter after the first, second, and fourth spots have been filled.

Against right-handers, Seth Smith has done well in the leadoff role with his impressive OBP of .356. With Smith and his OBP out of the way, the Orioles second, fourth, and fifth spots in the lineup should generally consist of guys from a pool of players such as Machado, Schoop, Mancini, and Adam Jones. Maybe even Caleb Joseph or Wellington Castillo.

The Orioles have some quality bats in the lineup and shouldn’t have any issues getting solid hitters into the lineup’s most crucial spots. Unfortunately, they have trotted out two below league average hitters in nearly every game this season to bat fourth and fifth- Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo.

The stats aren’t pretty

Following yesterday’s loss to the Angels, Davis is slashing .215/.315/.433 and Trumbo is right there with him with a batting line of .238/.300/.405. In what can only be referred to as a giant mistake, the two have only hit outside of the fourth or fifth spots in the lineup a grand total of two times out of nearly 200 combined starts. Davis started in the two spot one game, and Trumbo started as the three hitter one game. That’s it, and it’s a problem.

Buck loves going by players’ track records, but at some point you need to look at their track records this season. Davis and Trumbo had solid years in 2016, but this year their OPS+’s are sitting at 99 and 88, respectively. They are both below league average hitters but still hitting in spots that should be reserved for some of the best hitters on the Orioles.

Here’s a list of Orioles players that have been more productive at the plate this year than Davis and Trumbo based off of OPS+ and wRC+: Schoop, Smith, Mancini, Machado, Castillo, Jones, Joseph, Beckham. It’s a majority of the offensive roster. To add insult to injury, neither Davis or Trumbo are among the top three power hitters on the O’s. Going by slugging percentage, they’re not even in the top-8.

Considering their prominent spots in the lineup, let’s take a look at Davis and Trumbo’s stats when they’re given a chance to drive in runs. With men on base, Davis has had a batting line of .181/.300/.386. Trumbo has been even worse at .221/.269/.376. Davis has performed particularly well with RISP when opposing teams can’t deploy the shift, but they have both performed terribly with runners on first base. And it kills rallies.

Going off of their strikeout rates and general probability, at least one of Davis and Trumbo is more likely to strikeout than neither of them striking out. Opposing pitchers have a greater than 10% chance to strike them both out in a row. We’ve all witnessed the countless opportunities in which the pair has failed to advance runners on base.

Something needs to be done

Ignoring all sabermetrics and baseball statistics regarding batting orders, some of it comes down to common sense. Batting two of the most strikeout prone batters in the entire league back to back is a horrible idea. And it continues with no sign of an end.

Against righties, the lineup should probably look something like this:

  1. Smith
  2. Schoop
  3. Jones
  4. Machado
  5. Mancini
  6. Beckham
  7. Castillo/Joseph
  8. Davis
  9. Trumbo

And against lefties, it shouldn’t be much different

  1. Schoop
  2. Machado
  3. Beckham
  4. Jones
  5. Mancini
  6. Castillo/Joseph
  7. Davis
  8. Trumbo
  9. Rickard

Now right away, it’s noticeable that these lineups ignore Buck’s tendencies to alternate righties and lefties. And that’s fine, Buck is the manager and certainly knows more about baseball than the fans online. But, it’s fair at this point to say Buck loves his guys to a fault.

Even without modern lineup optimization, he has to see that Davis and Trumbo are not heart of the order hitters. When going by performance, Davis and Trumbo have been some of the worst hitters in the lineup every single night.

It’s true that lineup changes make a rather minimal impact over the course of the season, but this is a pretty glaring problem. They’re not only below average hitters league-wide, but below average hitters on the Orioles roster.

Together they may be making over $34 million this year, but that’s a sunk cost. Buck needs to start setting the lineup based off of performance this year. Even if he doesn’t want to go by modern “Moneyball” tactics, conventional wisdom still doesn’t support putting below average hitters in the heart of your lineup. Who knows, maybe sliding them down the order could wake their bats up.