The narrative you’re going to hear from Simpleton Summer Camp (the YES Network) today is that Baltimore got it together, got their offense going, they can score runs, they’re only two games out of a wild card spot, yada-yada.
Yes. They’ve played 10 games over .500 since July 16th. Yes, they’re 2nd in the American League in Home Runs and Slugging Percentage. Yes, they play much better at home (An important point to which I’ll return…)
Don’t buy it. The Orioles are a below average baseball team.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: They can’t pitch and they can’t catch the ball.
They’re 12th in the AL in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating, which ranks the ability of a team’s fielders to get to the ball and catch it) and they’re 13th in the AL in their pitchers’ strikeout to walk percentage. These numbers, among other departures from normative run prevention behavior, lands them at 12th in the AL in runs allowed per game.
Back to the powerhouse offense: Fun fact – it isn’t.
Despite the HR and SLG, the O’s are 6th in the AL in runs scored. This can be attributed in large part to the fact they swing and miss a lot, they don’t draw walks, and they don’t run the bases well when they do.
In the AL the O’s are dead last in walk percentage and BsR (base running runs above average), 4th in swing percentage but 11th in contact percentage (i.e., they swing and miss A LOT). This adds up to 9th in the AL in On Base Percentage.
The Orioles score runs in one manner: They hit the ball in the air in a ballpark that’s the size of a little league field. And despite being inferior in literally every other aspect of baseball, this one skill keeps them around.
This is where the Orioles as an organization deserve some credit – Dan Duqutte, Buck Showalter, whoever – they know their home park is a band box and they got players who hit it in the air. This is precisely why they are 15 games over .500 at home. (Seriously, I’ve sat 2/3 the way down the left field line at Camden Yards. I could hit a ball over the left center field wall – 364’ may ass…)
The reality is the O’s are a below average team. The fact they are only two games out of a wild card spot is attributable to the system, not their performance. Thank you again Bud Selig, for bringing the gift of mediocrity to the National Pastime.
According to run differential and Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean rating the O’s are more like a 66-71 team than their actual 70-67 record.
I agree. They are closer to the team that played 18 games under .500 for two months in May through July than the team that’s on a hot streak now.
One of the reasons the O’s team performance hasn’t been what Duquette and Showalter expected has been below average seasons from some key players:
Manny Machado: If you think Manny is struggling, don’t buy it. He has a career low in Batting Average on Balls In Play and is still going to end up as a 5 win player this season. Basically, he’s having shitty luck and is still having a season that makes him one of the best at his position.
Adam Jones: Jones has always been overrated, but this season he’s become a barely above average player if you give him every benefit of the doubt. His Weighted Runs Created Plus, OPS+, and WAR place him closer to a good Triple A player than a Major League All Star. With a BABIP around his career average, it isn’t bad luck – it’s decline. Look for him to have a bounce back season in 2018 when he’ll be a free agent at season’s end. (Insert sarcasm, but not really…)
Chris Davis is a below average major leaguer at this point. His OPS+, wRC+, WAR are all league average or below. His strikeout percentage has risen, if that were even possible, and his BABIP is close to his career average, so it isn’t bad luck. He’s either not 100% healthy or he’s not the player Baltimore thought he was when they agreed to pay him $161 million through 2022.
But, on the upside for the O’s…
Welington Castillo, unbeknownst to me, has become a very good player. .339 OBP, .512 SLG, 124 wRC+ as a catcher is very impressive. Also a plus defender at the most difficult position, this makes him about a 3 win player despite missing some time earlier this season.
Tim Beckham has been great, but… he was never a good minor league player. So despite the past 32 games where he’s looked like someone who would’ve put Cal Ripken on the bench, I would watch for a regression. It’s certainly possible he’s a late bloomer (we’ve been seeing a lot of those lately in MLB with Smoak, Hicks, Alonso among others) as he was a first overall pick, but I’m more inclined to see him revert than continue to be monster he’s been the last 32 games.
I told you last season that Jonathan Schoop is a better player than Starlin Castro.
As always, thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for the numbers.