Several Orioles have made offensive strides this season, especially guys like Jorge Mateo and Ryan McKenna whose hitting went from “red flag to “OK, we’ll see some more.” Mateo, in particular, has given credit to Orioles co-hitting coaches Matt Borgschulte and Ryan Fuller for making the changes happen.
One area we know O’s coaches have worked on with the players is pitch selectivity: in batting practice, in the cage, in the offseason. But seeing isn’t exactly believing. The 2022 Orioles have excelled in many areas, but thus far, plate discipline is one area where there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Across MLB, walks are down this year, for complicated reasons. But any way you slice it, the Orioles are still a swing-happy team. Pre All-Star Break, the team ranked 26th in walk rate (7.4%). One month later, they’re 22nd (7.6%). This isn’t much of a leap, and it seems most of the difference can explained by the addition of several players who are getting good at getting on base (see: Rutschman, Adley; Vavra, Terrin).
Moreover, several players are trending in the wrong direction. Anthony Santander was making leaps and bounds in plate discipline in the first half of the season, with a 9.7% walk rate that was almost twice his career rate of 5.1%. But that’s sunk to 4.8% in the second half (although his power numbers are up, way up).
Here are Orioles hitters ranked in what works out approximately to the best batting eye to the worst. For each player, I compared their walk rate in terms of plate appearances (BB%), strikeout rate (K%), OBP minus AVG (or how often they get on base without a hit), pitches seen per at-bat (PPA) and their chase rate (O-swing%, or how often they swing at pitches outside the zone).
The method (eyeballing it) isn’t perfect but helpfully, a lot of these same metrics correlated. Are you surprised to find Adley Rutschman at the top? Me neither. Here are the findings:
O’s Hitters and Plate Discipline
Some big takeaways: whereas the MLB average walk rate is something like 8.3%, this team has only five regulars (and that’s pushing it) above or around that mark: Rutschman, Vavra, Nevin, Santander and Chirinos. With that being said, Adley has an incredible eye—duh—and Terrin Vavra is showing a lot of intriguing potential at the plate.
On the other hand, several players are down from higher totals they posted last year, which could be explained by the league-wide downturn (about 6%, according to Baseball Reference).
Ryan Mountcastle actually walked a nearly average 7.0% in 2021. With his monster chase rate, Mountcastle’s walk rate should probably be worse, but he’s lucky to have that tremendous bat speed which allows him to foul off balls and see a lot more pitches than you’d expect from how often he swings at bad ones.
Ryan McKenna is making much more contact this season, but his walk rate is actually way down from a nice 12.2% in 2021. Both he and Jorge Mateo are young enough in baseball years that we shouldn’t trust the sample size, and we can’t be totally sure what either can become at the plate. Mateo, for his part, posted a 6.0% walk rate in 2021, but a 5.1% one in 2022 is still double what he managed back in 2021 for San Diego, when he walked just two times in 93 plate appearances (2.2%).
Offensive slumps also seem to be taking their toll on a few players, namely Cedric Mullins, Tyler Nevin and Ramón Urías. Mullins’ walk rate is down from 8.7% in 2021, a career year. Urías’ walk rate is down almost 50% in the second half of the season, as he’s been struggling generally. Tyler Nevin clearly has a nice eye (it helps to be the son of an MLB coach, I imagine), but his OBP would look nicer with last year’s .286 average in 18 plate appearances, as opposed to the .196 he’s batting now. Normalcy, for Nevin, probably looks similar in terms of walks but much higher in average. (Can he reach it with the Orioles?)
A few others, however, are sort of incorrigible. Austin Hays, coming in at the low end of the chart with a 5.8% walk rate, is, for better or worse, performing at career level (5.7%). No one figures to make Rougned Odor (career 5.9% walk rate) into something he isn’t at this point. Same for Robinson Chirinos, who is patient, but is also striking out at prodigious rates.
The 2022 Orioles are doing many things unexpectedly well but so far, walking isn’t one of them. Some hitters on this list are probably at their ceilings, but as a fan, the optimistic take on the situation is to hope for significant improvement from the rest.