The other day I had a problem with my MLB.TV app, so I called up technical support. A friendly-sounding guy named Connor picked up, and asked me what my favorite team was. “Orioles,” I said. “Whoa,” said Connor.
Well, at least Connor wasn’t wrong that for the last two weeks or so, the O’s have been downright unwatchable. The pitching has been an eyesore all year, but solid defense and a stronger-than-expected offense partly made up for it. Through April 18, the O’s had a not-too-terrible 8-12 record, and still held onto third place in the AL East. This was even with a tough opening schedule against New York, Toronto, Oakland, Boston, and league-leading Tampa Bay.
Since April 18, the Orioles have been a much worse team. Call it the Midwest effect, but after four series against the Twins and the White Sox, their .400 win percentage has dwindled to .340, taking them from middle-of-the-pack to cellar dweller. A big reason for this is a stalling offense.
It’s not that the Orioles aren’t hitting: out of thirty MLB teams, they’re solidly middle-of-the-pack in hits per game, batting average, and total baserunners. They’re actually third in the AL in total hits, behind only Seattle and Houston, and their hits per game have also gone up in the last two weeks.
This makes sense. The O’s should be better at the plate now than in April, having got rid of offensive deadweight like Cedric Mullins and Jesús Sucre, now down in AAA, and having seen significant improvements out of Richie Martin, Chris Davis, Rio Ruiz, and Pedro Severino.
Yet over the last two weeks, the Orioles have slipped down league tables in terms of runs and RBIs per game. When total hits are increasing, but runs scored are going down, it means a lot of people are getting left on base. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening.
Here are the team numbers:
From April 7-18: .224 BA with 92 hits, 55 R, 50 RBIs, 85 LOB
Since April 18: .274 BA with 127 hits, 54 R, 50 RBIs, 103 LOB
As you can see, many more Orioles hits have not translated into many more runs scored.
This suggests a disappointing tail off in team situational hitting. That passes the eye test, at least. In Game 1 of the doubleheader at Chicago this week—a game the Orioles won—they went a lousy 3-for-17 with RISP.
Let’s break this down a bit. According to Baseball Reference, the O’s haven’t been hitting into a lot of double plays. They’re high in strikeouts as a team, but not sky-high like in years past. They also rank close to the bottom of the AL in walks, and consequently, their OBP is lower than you’d expect based on their hit totals. They’re also toward the bottom in slugging.
It’s in terms of scoring runners that you see strange things. The O’s are above the AL average in getting baserunners on, but third-worst in scoring those runners. They’ve been decent, actually, with 2 outs and RISP, but they’re second-worst at advancing runners when there are no outs. In short, the O’s are one of the AL’s worst teams at making productive outs.
What do these figures paint a picture of? A slap-hitting team that hits a lot of singles, but has long cold streaks in the lineup, swings wildly, and fails to play situational baseball.
Sounds about right.
The upshot of this is mixed. The O’s BABIP is .320 in the last two weeks, above their season average of .294 and the league average of .290. This suggests that some hot hitters are getting lucky when they make contact, and that a regression to the mean could be in order.
At the same time, BABIP doesn’t explain why those same players aren’t being driven in. In fact, BABIP by batting order is actually quite low for the guys at bottom of the lineup. This suggests that the O’s may be getting lucky at the top of the lineup and unlucky at the bottom.
Lineup tinkering would offer only a marginal bump, however. Hyde has already clustered his most productive hitters at the top—Mancini, Villar, DSJ, and Núnez—which is where the team hits and RBIs are bunched. But short of giving more plate appearances to Hanser Alberto, who’s been productive in limited at-bats, there’s no one to stash in the bottom of the lineup. Giving guys like Wilkerson and Santander a shot suggests this is already very clear to Hyde & Co.
It looks like Jim Palmer is right after all (of course Jim Palmer is right) that the O’s should play more small ball to smooth out productivity in the bottom of the lineup. The O’s also—no surprise here, either—need to be more patient and take more pitches.
The good news is, the Orioles offense is not a joke. A high LOB rate means guys are getting on base. And—it surprised me, too—the O’s are third in the AL in total hits, above powerhouses like Oakland, Tampa Bay, and New York. They’ve only been shutout once this season. None of this will matter much if the team gives up 9 runs a game, but at least it’s a place to start.