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What’s behind the struggling Orioles offense?

Bad luck, bad players, and bad dimensions. It’s all adding up to suppressed run scoring for Baltimore.

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New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

If there was one aspect of this Orioles team that you could have been excited about coming into the 2022 season, it was the offense. The returning core of Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander, and Austin Hays was solid. Mullins was coming off of a career year, and many expected breakouts from Mountcastle and Hays. Plus, it seemed that the role players around them—namely those at second base and catcher—had improved slightly. At the very least, this unit was going to be competitive and keep the woeful pitching staff in games.

As we know, it has not played out that way through the season’s first month. The 71 runs they have scored ranks 26th in MLB, a rating that is slightly inflated due to a nine-run outbreak on Sunday and the fact that several teams below them have played fewer games. On average, the Orioles score 3.23 runs per game. Last year, with a lineup that routinely featured Pat Valaika and Maikel Franco, they averaged 4.07 runs per game.

So, what’s behind the slide? In addition to some shenanigans with the baseball (again), some people online have pointed at Statcast to prove the Orioles have simply been unlucky.

Mountcastle’s expected batting average is .327 while his actual batting average is only .250. He is hitting balls harder than ever—an average exit velocity of 91 miles per hour.

It’s a similar story for Mancini, who has an expected batting average of .322, well below the actual .224 batting average he has produced. His 53.4% hard hit rate is in the top 10% of all hitters.

That “bad luck” even carries over to someone like Ramón Urías, who has become an everyday player for Brandon Hyde. His .200/.253/.243 slash line looks like a guy playing above his level, but his hard hit rate (43.4%) is third on the team, and his .291 expected batting average would raise all of his numbers to a respectable level.

There are others performing slightly under what their data suggests they should, but it’s not as if these differences are taking a well-below average player up to an all-star level. At a few positions, the Orioles just have bad players.

The team’s catchers, Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom, have combined for a .203 slugging percentage. Even at an offensively-depressed position, that is abysmal. Kelvin Gutiérrez has a career 65 OPS+ in the big leagues. That has dipped to 30 this year. Neither number is good, particularly at third base. And then there is Rougned Odor, who came billed as a steady veteran presence, but has instead been fairly similar to the guy that had an 81 OPS+ in New York last year (78 OPS+ this year).

It’s not as if the Orioles front office is unaware that these holes exist. To a certain degree, it is intentional. Adley Rutschman is going to be this team’s starting catcher in a matter of weeks. Tyler Nevin may already be getting his chance to replace Gutiérrez, and if he doesn’t work out they will turn to Rylan Bannon or Terrin Vavra before the season is out. And Odor was always a place-holder, who could be given the boot at any moment for a slew of players currently working in Norfolk.

What is really holding the Orioles back is a combination of two things: elevated strikeout numbers and a worrying lack of power.

When the team puts the ball in play, there aren’t any real issues. They have a .291 batting average on balls in play. That’s 12th in the league. So for all the bad luck arguments you can make it isn’t playing out that way in the grand scheme. Instead, it’s all of the balls not put in play that are killing them.

The Orioles are striking out 25.7% of the time, the second-worst mark in MLB behind the Athletics (26.1%). The largest offenders on the team have been Chris Owings (57.1%), Ryan McKenna (41.7%), and Jorge Mateo (32%).

That wouldn’t be a huge problem if it came paired with home runs, but that hasn’t happened either. The team’s 11 home runs are the second-fewest in the sport, ahead of only the Tigers (10). Everyday players Mateo, Urías, Gutiérrez, and the catching pair have yet to leave the yard once. Naturally, people are starting to question the movement of the left field wall at Camden Yards.

The outfield has gotten much more spacious this year, and we saw it rear its head on Sunday when what would have been a grand slam from Santander a year ago turned into a can of corn fly out this year.

The Orioles have hit four home runs at Camden Yards across nine games while they have hit seven on the road across 13 games. That is not a massive difference on a per game basis. Related: the team also has a winning 5-4 record at home while they have struggled to a 3-10 mark on the road.

Of course a certain portion of the suppressed offense can be attributed to the walls. It’s harder to hit home runs. But it’s not the only culprit. Some members of the team have been unlucky, and others probably shouldn’t be on a big league roster. As the season progresses, small sample sizes will disappear and the hits will start to fall. At the same time, fringy players will be replaced by up-and-comers. No one is going to mistake these Orioles for one of the sport’s great offenses, but we should see marked improvement in the months to come.