Baltimore’s Pieced Together Offense

The Orioles are projected to have the seventh-best offense this season, and they had the seventh-best offense last season. Yet looking at the offenses projected to be better and slightly worse than the Orioles reveals something interesting about Baltimore, and how you can take it one of two ways. We’ll get to that part later.

First, let’s go through and examine just how many players on each team are projected to have a positive and negative batting runs above average.

Projected Positive Á Negative Offensive Contributors by Bat
Rank Team Positive Negative
1 BOS 10 7
2 LAD 9 9
3 STL 8 7
4 WAS 9 7
5 LAA 7 10
6 TOR 7 11
7 BAL 7 11
8 DET 7 12
9 PIT 7 10
10 OAK 7 8

As you can see, the O’s are on the low end in terms of positive hitters, and the high end in terms of negative hitters. There’s a lot of dead wood there, particularly in the middle infield. What’s worse is that among the negative players, you wouldn’t look for most of them to beat their projection. Christian Walker certainly could if he gets enough playing time, and perhaps the BABIP gods will smile upon Jimmy Paredes and/or Delmon Young again. And maybe the 2013 version of Everth Cabrera will show up. Aside from that, eh. Tony already covered J.J. Hardy’s drop-off at the plate, and while Marc Hulet is still optimistic about the still inexperienced Jonathan Schoop, he has a long way to go just to be average.

The track records for the Orioles’ good hitters aren’t exactly voluminous either. Let’s break out another table to demonstrate:

# Seasons with 110+ wRC (min. 500 PA)
Rank Team 0 1 2 3 4 5+
1 BOS 3 1 1 2 0 3
2 LAD 4 1 0 1 0 3
3 STL 0 1 3 2 1 1
4 WAS 3 2 2 0 1 1
5 LAA 1 3 0 1 1 1
6 TOR 1 1 2 1 2 0
7 BAL 4 1 1 1 0 0
8 DET 2 2 1 0 0 2
9 PIT 1 1 2 1 1 1
10 OAK 3 0 2 0 0 2

What we see here is that the Orioles’ hitters that are projected to be positive contributors offensively have limited track records. Only Adam Jones has compiled three full seasons where he was more than 10 percent better than league average. Perhaps I’m not being fair though. Let’s lower the threshold from 500 to 300 plate appearances and see how it looks:

# Seasons with 110+ wRC (min. 300 PA)
Rank Team 0 1 2 3 4 5+
1 BOS 3 1 1 0 0 5
2 LAD 2 2 1 1 0 3
3 STL 0 0 2 1 3 2
4 WAS 1 2 2 2 0 2
5 LAA 0 1 1 2 1 2
6 TOR 1 1 1 1 1 2
7 BAL 1 4 0 2 0 0
8 DET 1 3 0 1 0 2
9 PIT 1 1 1 1 2 1
10 OAK 2 1 1 1 0 2

We see more positive contributions for those Orioles’ hitters, but they’re still lacking in the household names. In this table, the Orioles are the only team without a hitter who has hit the threshold at least four times. Now, this obviously isn’t a fool proof analysis. After all, you’d rather have Adam Jones than Andre Ethier, who counts as one of the five’s for the Dodgers. But it is emblematic of who the Orioles are, and perhaps offers a window as to why the team is consistently overlooked.

You’d be hard pressed to find a player who had a bigger drop in either wRC+ or wOBA than Chris Davis had last season. On the one hand, it’s difficult to be 76 percent worse than you were in the previous year, because that essentially assumes that you were good enough in the year before to be given the opportunity to be 76 percent worse the following year. Still, when you hit into the shift as often as does Davis, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. He should rebound this season, but his 2014 season gives you pause.

Speaking of giving pause, Manny Machado has to show that he can arrest the decline in his strikeout rate. When he was striking out 15.9 percent of the time, it was easy to consider the notion of Machado as a contact hitter, but last season he struck out 19.2 percent of the time, and hit more grounders when he did put the ball into play. He didn’t play a full season, but he certainly wasn’t on the 50 doubles pace to match his 2013 season. One thing is for sure — pitchers weren’t afraid to challenge Machado. Only 22 of the 263 hitters with at least 300 PA last season saw strike one more frequently than did Machado.

Like Machado, Matt Wieters missed a good chunk of the season due to injury. But while Machado is raring to go this spring, Wieters is hurt again. He seems to have avoided catastrophe for the moment, but it certainly isn’t a good sign that Wieters already has elbow tendinitis. Wieters still isn’t a year removed from his Tommy John surgery, and while the recovery timetable is different for hitters than it is pitchers, this is not encouraging news. The most unfortunate thing is that he was having a career year last year. Can he regain that stroke? It was so out of character for him that you wonder.

Alejandro De Aza probably is who he is at this point, which is an average player, but fellow left-handed-hitting outfielder Travis Snider could be more. Mike touched on Snider back in January when the O’s landed him in trade. The hope is that he will be the next one to go all Steve Pearce on the league. It’s a slim hope to be sure, but that hope remains.

Ah, Pearce. He that could never stay healthy himself. He landed on the 60-day disabled list in 2010 and 2011, and missed more than 50 games on the DL in 2013. He was mostly injury-free last season, but did have problems crop up in September. It wasn’t a secret he could hit. His career line in the minors is .294/.371/.522, and he posted a 116 wRC+ in limited action in 2013. The question is whether or not he can stay healthy. In the last five years, his total PA output (majors and minors) per season is 383, 151, 415, 149 and 204. That’s not a great track record, and Pearce will be 32 this season, so he isn’t some young prospect.

There are two ways to look at all of this. If you choose to look at it negatively, you would say the O’s have a much wider band around their potential performances than the other top competition, and that there is so much downside risk that you just can’t take them seriously. If you choose to look at it positively, you trust the track record of Dan Duquette, who has been uncovering gems for a very long time. Steve Pearce was simply the new and improved version of Troy O’Leary. While most in the game walk aimlessly looking for offense, Duquette finds it under every rock he looks, and manages to scratch together a good offense for his ballclub every season. If it’s not the guys he has assembled here, he’ll find some others who will get the job done. I am open to both viewpoints, and will be watching the Orioles intently to see which one bears out.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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7 years ago

Machado’s numbers from last season are really dragged down by his first few weeks back. If you take out even just the first two weeks, he was on pace for over 60 extra base hits.

7 years ago
Reply to  tjk

Everyone’s numbers are dragged down by their bad stretches.

7 years ago
Reply to  arc

Does it make sense that if you’re predicting a player’s 2015 performance, and he is not injured in 2015, the part of the sample from the previous year in which he was also not injured may be more indicative of his true level of talent than the part of the previous year in which he was effected by an injury.

7 years ago
Reply to  mtsw

the part of the sample from the previous year in which he was also not injured may be more indicative of his true level of talent than the part of the previous year in which he was effected by an injury.

Sure. But you’d have to be able to objectively quantify “effected by injury”, list the precise dates on which he was and then ceased to be such, and explain how you could possibly know this for certain. No one really can.

Injuries are not off/on switches. Using “injury” to build narratives is rarely useful because it’s largely made-up retrospective observations as above.

“He hit really well here, which is kind of close to where he would have been recovering from that injury.”

“Wasn’t he announced to be recovered like a month before then?”

“Well yeah, but he was still feeling lingering effects/warming up/some other nonsense. We just need to discard that month. *These* good results are his true talent level for sure.”

7 years ago
Reply to  mtsw

After watching many years of baseball, I find it hard to swallow that we don’t assume an injury will happen in projection systems- it sure does happen all of the time in the real games.

7 years ago
Reply to  arc

But, in this case, it is fair to mention this as he was just returning from a serious injury. Maybe the approach is unfair, but it’s certainly worth pointing out. Had the cold stretch taken place later in the season, it would have been less noteworthy.