As the Orioles play the first game of the rest of their season in Seattle tonight, I present this sprint through Baltimore's pre-break statistics, most of which I gleaned from the bounty of baseball numbers available at ESPN.com. Thanks also to the conscientious scorers at STATS, Inc., who supply the numbers to ESPN. Other data sources I used are the sites of the Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times.
Before continuing, you may want to read Jon Wilt's May 18 analysis at the Orioles Hangout entitled "Strange Things Lurk Below the Surface." Although the numbers have changed a bit in the past two months, Wilt's characterizations of Baltimore's offensive and defensive tendencies are still largely true today. Namely:
- The Orioles' fourth-place offense is being propped up mainly by batting average and home runs. Currently the team ranks second in the league in both categories at .278 and 121.
- The hitters are not walking much (.072 BB/PA, 10th in the AL), but they're not striking out much either (.141 K/PA, 3rd least).
The pitching is a few notches better than it was last year at this time, in part because of
- better defensive efficiency (.6937, 9th in the AL, up from 13th a year ago);
- a high strikeout rate (6.81 K/9, 2nd);
- a significantly reduced rate of walks allowed (3.43 BB/9, 11th; in contrast, last year this was 4.50, 14th); and
- a high ground/fly ratio (1.49, 1st), leading to a fairly low rate of home runs allowed (1.01 HR/9, 7th). Their home run rate, though, has regressed since its third-place standing in May.
Observations on the offense
- Although the Orioles' team OPS of .802 is fourth in the AL, that figure is actually closer to the first-place team than it is to the fifth-place team. So despite some slippage, Baltimore's offense is still in range of the league's elite.
- Because of their low walk rate, Oriole hitters have an unremarkable team on-base percentage of .334 (5th) despite their high batting average.
- But thanks to their home runs and doubles (168, 3rd), the Birds' isolated power (.191) and slugging percentage (.469) are second best in the league behind Ameriquest-aided Texas.
- Oriole hitters have also come through with runners in scoring position. Their .839 OPS in those situations is best in the league, and their .278 batting average is fifth. Both of those figures are far better than they were a year ago.
- In a break from the past, this year's orange-and-black attack has been able to hit left-handed pitching. Baltimore's .794 OPS against southpaws is fifth-best in the AL; its .806 OPS against righties is third.
- Bring on the heat: Baltimore ranks #1 in the league in OPS against what STATS classifies as "power" pitchers at .817. Against finesse pitchers they have put up an .820 mark, but that is only good for sixth place in the league.
For over a year sportswriters have anointed Miguel Tejada as the heart and soul of the Orioles, lauding how his ebullience and competitiveness have spread throughout the clubhouse. Tejada's influence may go even deeper than that—his batting tendencies seem to have spread to the team as well. Remember that Tejada is an excellent contact hitter who rarely walks or strikes out, hits lots of doubles and homers, and raises his performance with runners on base and runners in scoring position. Right now Tejada is the quintessential Oriole in more ways than one.
A breakdown of Baltimore's batting production by batting order slot and position:
|BA||OBP||SLG||Key Players (% of slot's plate appearances)|
|#2||.656||12||.232||.289||.367||Mora (50%), Newhan (20%), Matos (10%)|
|#3||.952||2||.320||.366||.586||Tejada (60%), Mora (40%)|
|#4||.856||2||.281||.330||.526||Sosa (45%), Tejada (40%), Palmeiro (15%)|
|#5||.740||11||.250||.333||.406||Palmeiro (50%), Sosa (35%)|
|#6||.755||8||.266||.306||.449||J. López (35%), Gibbons (15%), Surhoff (15%), Palmeiro (15%)|
|#7||.778||2||.275||.328||.450||Gibbons (35%), Surhoff (20%), Matos (15%), Gómez (10%)|
|#8||.791||5*||.283||.338||.453||Fasano (20%), Matos (20%), Gibbons (15%), Bigbie (15%), Gómez (15%)|
|#9||.704||5||.244||.304||.400||Bigbie (25%), Gil (20%), Fasano (10%)|
*Slot #8's fifth-place rank in OPS is a bit deceiving because Baltimore's .791 OPS from that slot is closer to the best team's .797 OPS than the sixth-place team's .784 OPS.
There have been only two major holes in the lineup relative to the rest of the league: the #2 hole and the #5 spot. Melvin Mora has been fairly effective when batting second (.807 OPS there), but the others have flat-out stunk there. And for some reason Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa have been better when batting cleanup than when batting fifth.
|c||.701||5||.245||.282||.419||Gil, Fasano, J. López|
|1b||.894||2||.310||.374||.520||Palmeiro, Gibbons, Gómez|
|cf||.661||13||.254||.318||.343||Matos, Newhan, Fiorentino|
|dh||.643||14||.216||.283||.360||Gibbons, Palmeiro, Sosa, J. López|
Notes: DH production comprises about 40% plate appearances by Jay Gibbons; 15% each of Palmeiro, Sosa, and Javy López; and the remaining 15% a mix of Chris Gómez, B.J. Surhoff, David Newhan, and Sal Fasano.
Brian Roberts and Tejada have seriously outclassed the competition at their respective positions. First base production has been relatively strong, although this is a down period for AL first basemen. Catcher output should receive a boost with the return of Javy López, and if Mora stays healthy in the second half, the third-base ranking will improve.
On the down side, center field has been an offensive disaster apart from Luis Matos, who has put up a decent OBP when in the lineup. Unfortunately for the team, he was sidelined for about 40% of the first half. Sosa's plate struggles have dragged down the right field position despite the best efforts of Jay Gibbons. And for whatever reason, Oriole hitters have continued to be allergic to the designated hitter slot. The team's DH production has not improved at all over last year.
One more offensive split:
The chronological slippage in production is traceable in part to injuries and slumps by several key hitters. Also, Roberts returned from deep space to a nearer orbit.
Though ninth in runs allowed at 4.81 per nine innings, the Orioles are seventh in OPS allowed at .735. It's a minor distinction; either way, Oriole pitching is entrenched in the middle of the AL pack.
The starters and relievers are ranked equally at #7 in opponents' OPS, so neither unit is dragging down the other.
One reason the Orioles' RA rank is two places worse than their OPS allowed rank: with runners in scoring position, the Orioles have allowed a .793 OPS, which is tenth in the league.
Then there are a couple of astonishing pitching splits. First is the left-right differential:
OPS allowed to RHB: .659 (3rd in AL)
OPS allowed to LHB: .829 (14th)
The good news is that Oriole arms have been extremely tough on right-handed hitters: their .659 OPS allowed to righties is just three points below the top spot. The bad news: someone forgot to tell Steve Kline (.977 OPS allowed by LHB) and Bruce Chen (1.116) that they're supposed to neutralize left-handers. And lefty swingers have been eating Daniel Cabrera (.927), Sidney Ponson (.937), and the just-deposed Steve Reed (.940) for lunch as well. The Orioles' hitters have finally begun to solve left-handed pitching, yet their hurlers have been going backwards against left-handed hitting.
OPS allowed at home: .672 (1st)
OPS allowed on the road: .810 (12th)
The direction of this difference is not confounding—Oriole Park has been a mild pitcher's park for years—but the magnitude is. Key culprits: Ponson and Chen (.894 road OPS allowed), Rodrigo López (.853), and the banished Hayden Penn (.939) and John Parrish (.989). Meanwhile, Oriole hitters have shown a much smaller discrepancy in their performance, posting a road OPS of .825 compared to a home OPS of .781. The pitching home-road differential is worrisome because the Orioles have 41 road games in their remaining schedule compared to just 34 home games.
And although the effect of baserunning in today's game is marginal, Oriole catchers have caught just 24% of opponents' would-be basestealers. That is the fourth-worst rate in the league, and opponents have taken advantage by swiping 58 bases, the fourth-most allowed by an AL team.
Diagnosis: bats strong, arms ailing
The Orioles' offense has few weaknesses. The designated hitter spot remains a sore one, and the outfield could use some more fortification, but the other problems broached here are curable from within. It wouldn't hurt if the lineup drew a few more walks, though there's no reason to think it's in their nature to do so (with the exception of Mora).
The run-prevention side has not been as strong, as both the rotation and the bullpen have been mediocre. The number of walks surrendered by the staff is down compared to last year, but it could go down still more. Several pitchers need to improve their performance against left-handed hitters—it's not just Kline who's been struggling in that regard. Also, whatever dark force has plagued the pitchers (but not the hitters) in road games needs to be vanquished.
Improving the pitching staff should be a priority for the second half. However, the staff's weaknesses are so widespread that tweaking the usage of one or two personnel may not be enough. The healthy return of Erik Bedard and Jason Grimsley should help, but other pitchers will need to step up their games to keep the O's in contention.
Next, I'll explore solutions to the Orioles' problems in more detail.