It’s mid-August, and once again the Baltimore Orioles find themselves right in the thick of a playoff hunt. While they don’t really have a realistic shot at the AL East title – barring an unforeseen dominant run coupled with collapses by both Boston and New York – they are within spitting distance of both wild card spots. As play started on Tuesday, they sat 2.0 games back of the second spot, and just four games back of the first.
Thanks to a nice little run of 17-11, they’ve recovered from their season low of seven games under .500, and have a chance to get back to even again tonight.
And they’ve had the offense to thank, for the most part.
While the pitching has indeed been better – their 4.37 ERA in the second half is good for seventh in the AL, a far cry from the 5.07 they put up in the first half, worst in the league – the offense has been nothing short of remarkable.
Here in the 2017 second half, Baltimore’s offense has the best wRC+ in MLB at 120. For a quick wRC+ primer, click here. If you don’t feel like getting into all that, here’s the gist – 120 means that the O’s offense has been 20% better than the average MLB offense in the second half.
Here’s where they rank in some more traditional measures (again, all in the second half):
Runs – 1st (176)
Home runs – 2nd (50)
Batting average – T1st (.289)
On-Base Percentage – 4th (.343)
Slugging percentage – 1st (.497)
And for the more Sabermetrically-minded among us:
wOBA – 1st (.355)
fWAR – T2nd (6.3)
ISO – 4th (.208)
In short, Birdland Power Company is back in action!
During the first half, for comparison’s sake, the O’s were 22nd in MLB in wRC+ (92), 22nd in runs, 11th in home runs, 17th in batting average (.254), 26th in OBP (.308), 14th in slugging (.425), 22nd in wOBA (.313), and 24th in fWAR.
In table form:
So, who have been the main contributors in the turnaround?
Of course, Tim Beckham leads the way with a ridiculous wRC+ of 278 over his 60 plate appearances since coming to Baltimore. Others who are raking have been Seth Smith (175 in 66 PA), Welington Castillo (157 in 68 PA), Manny Machado (142 in 139 PA), Jonathan Schoop (139 in 139 PA), Adam Jones (126 in 141 PA), Caleb Joseph (114 in 59 PA), and Trey Mancini (111 in 122 PA).
Again, a table:
This stands in stark contrast to 2016, when their bats went to sleep after the first half, dooming them from any dreams of a division title, dooming them to playing the AL wild card game on the road, and ultimately dooming them to a loss in said wild card game, in which they managed just two runs, and one baserunner over the game’s final five innings.
Last year, the offense started off hot, and then fell off the table. This year, it started cold, but has steadily heated up along with the summer temperatures.
Naturally, this comes with all the usual caveats – the “second half” has so far consisted of just over a month of baseball; there are still six-plus weeks of baseball to go, and we’ve certainly seen the Birds’ bats cool off as the leaves begin to fall before.
Still, let’s dream a bit, shall we?
Certainly Beckham won’t keep up this Best-Player-in-MLB pace (though matching his career 108 would be just fine!)…but what if Chris Davis were to rebound and put up a second half similar to the one he posted in 2015, with a wRC+ of 188? What if Mark Trumbo can even sniff his 2016 first-half wRC+ of 143?
There is no reason to think that this offense can’t carry the Birds to the postseason. As quiet as the bats were heading into last October, it would certainly be nice to enter the tournament riding a scorching hot attack for a change.
And if nothing else, it’s nice to see this team mashing again. To see them winning games they way they are built to win games.
It had been a long calendar year of anemic offense in Baltimore, and the drought, my friends, is finally over.
(stats via FanGraphs. “1st half” & “2nd half” is pre & post All-Star Break, per their definitions.)