The Orioles are in last place in the AL East. They are also last in the American League in on base percentage. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
It’s no secret that the Orioles have not placed a great deal of emphasis on OBP. Historically, the Orioles have been a swing for the fences kind of team. And at times, that’s been okay. Chicks dig the long ball, and an Earl Weaver special can win a game any night of the week.
But sitting over 15 games out of the division before Memorial Day should generate some self reflection. The Orioles need to make some changes if they want to be successful in the future. With a potential rebuild and roster overhaul rapidly approaching, the club may want to take a longer look at OBP.
From 2012-2016, no team in the American League won as many games as the Orioles. In that time frame, the Birds put about as much stock in OBP as the pre-season projections that counted them out each year. In fact, at no point in that time frame did the Orioles on base percentage fall into the top half of the league. So why should Baltimore start to value OBP now?
Let’s take a look at the top five OBP teams this year. Number one? The New York Yankees. The same Yankees lineup that features four players with double-digit homers, also leads the bigs in on base percentage. As it turns out, home runs are even more valuable when there are other hitters on base. The combination of power and production at the plate have allowed the Yankees to keep pace with the Red Sox atop the AL East.
Atlanta and Pittsburgh, numbers three and five respectfully, have both exceeded expectations in 2018. Atlanta leads the NL East after losing 90 games last year. The Pirates, reeling from trades that sent away their best starter and a former MVP, are well within striking distance in the loaded NL Central. Tampa Bay checks in at number four on the list. And while the Rays may not compete for a title this year, they’ve been able to hang around .500 with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
Entering Tuesday, Baltimore’s team on base percentage was a mere .296. That’s good for 28th in the league. The Orioles also fall right around 28th in wins on the season.
The Orioles are seeking young pitching in any trade they may make this season. But if, and when, the Orioles deal Manny Machado and company, they should also do their homework on position prospects who can get on base. When the Orioles eventually lose Machado, they’ll also lose their team leader in OBP.
Chris Davis has looked lost at the plate all year. While the power hitter can draw a walk from time to time, his OBP sits only at .235 this season. Davis isn’t going anywhere, and even if his stats improve, it’s doubtful he’ll ever get on base at an above average clip. Mark Trumbo has played well after a delayed start to 2018 due to injury. However, his OBP (.282) sits less than 10 points above his batting average.
Entering the season, an offense with Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Trey Mancini did not appear to be the team’s biggest concern. Adam Jones has never been one to work a walk, but the former All Star has been a force at the plate for years. Davis and Trumbo would supply the power, and Chance Sisco would provide a spark from behind the plate. The Orioles have sustained their fair share of injuries, but even at full strength, the offense has not cut it.
Last offseason further demonstrated the paradigm shift regarding power hitters in baseball. Several sluggers were forced to settle for far less than they would have commanded a few years ago. Jose Bautista signed a minor league deal. Chris Carter, who led the National League in home runs with 41 in 2016, had to as well.
The Orioles can not do anything about the large contracts they gave to Davis and Trumbo, but they can learn from them. Power will be much more affordable than Davis’s $161 million deal that will haunt the Birds for years to come.
The Orioles will always want power hitters in the friendly confides of Camden Yards, but they should be able to fill that desire with lower contracts for players like Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez, who has homered eight times in 33 games, somehow ranks sixth on the Orioles in OBP. While the .303 number is a testament towards Alvarez’s improvement, it still would be below average on 25 MLB teams.
Chris Davis’s mega deal may eventually make Ryan Howard’s five year, $125 million contract look like a bargain for Philadelphia. While the Orioles are stuck with that one, they cannot make a mistake like that again. A team can win plenty of games with the long ball, the Orioles did it Monday night, but Baltimore must start valuing on base percentage.