Tonight, the Orioles start the biggest series they have had since at least the 2016 season (some would say longer) as they welcome the Tampa Rays into OPACY for a crucial four-game series that could go a long way in determining who wins the division. In what has been a magical season for the O’s, and finishing second in the division would be pretty heartbreaking knowing that means a tough matchup in the first round and not having that bye to set your rotation.
In any individual series, any number of players can step up and do big things, so it’s kind of cliché and really wrong to say this player or that player HAS to step up for your team to win. That said, it feels like this series is a moment where we really need Adley Rutschman is step up in a big way.
Something I have noticed on social media this year is the hesitance from O’s fans to speak negatively about Adley. Anyone who does is quickly shouted down. The bottom line is, while Adley is the most important player on this team, he is having a disappointing season.
Now, let’s understand what that word means. When I say that, people take it to mean I don’t think he’s having a good year. That is not what I am saying. He is having a good year, but the bottom line is, most people felt he was going to be an MVP candidate this season.
Last year, he was second in the Rookie of the Year voting and 12th in MVP voting. He was worth, according to Fangraphs (who has the best WAR), 5.4 WAR, while missing 30% of the season. He busted onto the scene as one of the best, if not the best, defensive catchers in baseball and while he didn’t hit a lot of homers, he did hit 35 doubles and averaged an extra base hit once every 9.6 PA. Over the course of a full season, that puts him in the area of 65 extra base hits, which is what my expectation is for him (i.e., 65+ extra base hits a year).
Like last year, he is walking a lot and doing an excellent job of getting on base, which is of course the most important offensive skill. Still, the power has to be there.
This year, he has gone from an extra base hit once every 9.6 PA to one every 14.5 PA. That is a huge dropoff, and he may be lucky to get to 50 extra base hits this year. Since the All-Star break, he has just six homers in over 200 at bats and he only has two doubles over his last ~80 PA.
Combine that power dropoff with his defensive decline. Last year, he was the best catcher in baseball in blocks above average with 18. This year, he’s still good, but the number is down to five and was much lower than that for most of the season. Last year, he was in the 85th percentile in Caught Stealing above average. This year he is in the 56th percentile. Last year, he was in the 82nd percentile in framing, this year it’s only down slightly to 79.
Again, he is still really good, but he is “only” 6th in fWAR compared to other catchers with at least 300 PA. Now, he is currently at 3.8 and the best is at 4.4, so there isn’t a wide gap. In fact, he is closer to fierst than he is to seventh. That said, Adley isn’t a player that should just be judged against other catchers. This is the #1 pick in the draft. The guy you decided to take over Bobby Witt Jr. The guy you decided was going to be the face of your rebuild. He was a legit MVP candidate as a rookie and for me, he should be judged against the best in the game, regardless of position.
He is 39th in WAR amongst players with at least 300 PA. Compare that to last year, where he was 21st and was 0.2 away from being in the top 20.
So, the dropoff is obvious and its fine to be disappointed by that. It doesn’t mean you don’t think he has had a good year or isn’t the best catcher or won’t have a bright future. It’s just that you expected more.
Now, the question is, why did the dropoff occur? Is it the sophomore slump? Is it Brandon Hyde playing him entirely too much? Is it the fact that he is second in baseball in called strikes that were out of the strike zone? It’s probably all of those and for me, Hyde running him into the ground is the #1 issue. (And no, I don’t consider having him DH being adequate rest.)
My next question is, should he be hitting leadoff?
I remember Nick Markakis talking about how where he got placed in the lineup impacted how he approached an at bat. If he hit higher in the lineup, he focused more on walking and getting on base. If they dropped him down some, he focused more on driving the ball. I am not sure if Adley is someone whose approach changes in that way, but Markakis isn’t the only player I have heard talk about that. I wonder if they batted him down in the lineup a little if he would look to drive the ball more? Obviously we want him (and any other player) to get on base as much as possible, but it’s also obvious that there is a happy medium there and you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
I would like to see Cedric Mullins back in the leadoff spot and Adley batting second against righties and fourth against lefties. See if there is any mindset change there for him and if not, there should be no harm done anyway.
Adley could probably win MVO every year that he is here because he is that important to the team. He does so much off the field and there are countless little nuances he does on, it but we need more. We need him to show more power.
Here’s hoping it starts this weekend and we effectively wrap up the division by Sunday late afternoon.
Go O’s and let’s pack the yard this weekend!