It’s amazing how long the Orioles’ front office has been unable to build a competent offense in terms of on-base percentage. As of this morning, the Birds .299 OBP ranks fourth-worst in the majors. It’s important to note the lowly .235 batting average contributing to that OBP, but at the same time, they are tied with Boston for the fewest walks in all of baseball (199).
Of course, people will say that as one of the worst teams in MLB, on-base percentage isn’t the Orioles’ only problem. But it’s one of them, and it’s a glaring issue that has been going on for many years, across multiple front office regimes.
The Orioles lineup is never going to be consistent, let alone an upper-tier offense, until they start showing patience as a group. In the past decade — not counting last year’s 60-game season — the Orioles’ highest year-end OBP was .317, which occurred in 2016. That was the same year the O’s smashed 253 homers, and they could’ve had a lot more two and three-run home runs if guys had exhibited the discipline to take a few more pitches.
You have to look all the way back to 2009 for the last time Baltimore’s team OBP was over .330, and 2000 was the last time their OBP was over .340.
So why have the O’s had such bad on-base percentages for so long? Well, it’s not just one thing.
Team philosophy is one potential culprit. As fans, we’ll obviously never be in the room for a meeting between the hitters and the coaching staff, but sometimes you hear about and then see a particular strategy unfolding on the field, such as jumping on fastballs early in the count against certain pitchers, or a lineup that swings for the fences all the time considering their sheer number of power hitters.
Now consider hitting philosophy turnover. Between 2021 and 2011, the Birds have had four different hitting coaches, including Don Long, Scott Coolbaugh, Einar Diaz, and Jim Presley. To expect each to have the same coaching strategy and talking points is unrealistic, although three of those four worked under the same manager, Buck Showalter. Besides, if the team sees the need to replace a hitting coach every couple of years, then they probably don’t have the best offense over that time span anyway.
But despite a myriad of managers between 2010 and 1999, Terry Crowley was the team’s hitting coach that entire length of time. And during that time, the club managed a .331 OBP. Crowley was doing something right, and his steady hand is sorely missed.
Another obvious piece to the OBP puzzle is personnel, plain and simple. If you don’t have the players with the ability — or willingness — to take a walk, then your team’s number in that department will suffer. But it’s so crucial for an offense to work the opposing pitcher and make him throw as many pitches as possible.
If a team can do that, their lineup gets turned over more frequently and the sooner a pitcher has to face hitters a second and third time. Because of the advanced metrics omnipresent in today’s game, we know that offensive numbers tend to jump the second time through and especially the third time through the batting order.
If you look at the Orioles 2021 roster, the only regular position players with respectable on-base percentages are Cedric Mullins (.379) and Trey Mancini (.343). Here are the more underwhelming OBPs: Ryan Mountcastle, .286; Freddy Galvis, .307; Anthony Santander, .274; Maikel Franco, .254; Pedro Severino, .308; and Austin Hays, .290.
It’s nearly impossible to have plus-plus OBPs up and down the lineup, especially when you’ve got guys like Mountcastle that have shown a track record of hitting for a high average in the minors but also for very few walks.
That’s why it’s disappointing to see the current regime bring in position players this offseason with poor career OBP numbers (see Galvis, .292; and Franco, .299) who were supposed to bring stability to the offense, but also bring a suboptimal example for young players like Mountcastle and Hays, who are expected to be around for the next good Orioles team.
Yes, it’s probably too much to ask young players like them to completely change the approach that has yielded success throughout their professional careers. But at the same time, every little bit counts, and if those walk numbers can improve just slightly, whether by hitting coach philosophy, or free agent veteran influence, it would go a long way to boosting the team’s overall offensive profile.