When we think of the Orioles, several things come to mind: good bullpen, bad starting pitching, and an offense that is good enough to make up for the latter sometimes, and to give the former a lead late often enough, usually through the use of a large amount of home runs.
That’s been the formula in Baltimore for as long as most of us remember, and for at least as long as Buck Showalter‘s Birds have made themselves relevant again in the American League East on a mostly annual basis.
Unfortunately, it isn’t completely accurate. The final piece of that equation has been sub-par more often than not for far too long, and it’s a lot more responsible for this team’s recent failures than most O’s fans likely realize.
Do the Orioles hit a lot of home runs? Yes; that part hasn’t changed. The O’s were second in MLB in home runs in 2012 with 214, first in 2013 with 212, first in 2014 with 211, third in 2015 with 217, first in 2016 with 253, and fifth in 2017 with 232 (that fifth place finish was their lowest since finishing 21st in 2010).
But as we all know, hitting home runs doesn’t necessarily correlate with scoring a lot of runs. The Birds’ OBP problems have been a source of much bellyaching for years, and have resulted in far too many of those aforementioned dongs being of the solo variety. Their final ranks in runs scored haven’t been nearly as impressive as those standings in the home run derbies.
2012: 15th (712)
2013: 5th (745)
2014: 8th (705)
2015: 9th (713)
2016: 12th (744)
2017: 16th (743)
So far in 2018, the offense has been abysmal. They’re not hitting home runs (20th in MLB with 14), not hitting with runners in scoring position (25th in MLB at .212), and not scoring runs as a result (23rd in MLB with 51, but it gets worse on a per-game basis):
The Orioles are 27th in MLB in runs/game at 3.19. Only Cincinnati (2.9), Kansas City (3.0), San Francisco (3.10) are worse. Alvarez (206), Manny (156), Trey (112), Sisco (106) only players w/wRC+ over 100. Next highest is Gentry (!) at 76 (!!!). Baltimre Riles #noO
— Eutaw Street Rep⚾rt (@EutawStReport) April 16, 2018
Anybody who’s been watching knows that the O’s offense has been non-existent this season. What I’m here to unfortunately point out though, is that while they’ve been uncharacteristically bad so far in 2018, they’ve been mostly bad going back several seasons.
Using wRC+ (read about it here if you’re unfamiliar), we can see that the Birds have had a below-average (that’s below 100 on the wRC+ scale, or the red horizontal line on the following graphs) offense in two of the last four half-seasons, and a significantly above-average offense only once – in the first half of 2016.
If we break it down by month, it looks even worse.
A quick count tells us that the O’s have had an above-average offense in five of the last thirteen months – April/June/August 2016, and July/August 2017 (thanks, Tim Beckham!). They’ve been below average in eight, and woefully below average in three of those – July 2016, September/October of last year, and this month.
In September/October of 2017, the Birds posted a team wRC+ of just 60. That’s 40% below average, and nearly twenty full points lower than the next lowest teams on the list (Pittsburgh and Boston were at 79). What’s more alarming is that such a bottoming out doesn’t, so far, look like just a blip on the radar, as they’ve barely rebounded to a 75 so far this year.
(One of the four teams lower than the Birds so far is next on the schedule – the Tigers at 73 – so maybe they can actually out-slug someone this week?)
Yes, it’s been cold. When the weather finally breaks for good, then starts to really heat up, the baseballs will again be flying out of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I fully expect the O’s to be right there atop the HR leaderboard come September.
Unfortunately, overall, this offense just doesn’t look good enough to carry the team like we all hope they will. If the last two months of swinging wet noodles just looked like an anomaly, I’d be less worried.
It’s just that, looking at the longer-term trends, it’s hard to be too optimistic about a quick about-face from the O’s bats.