Last week, Matt took a look at how the flaws of the Baltimore rotation were already showing in the first week of the season. Issues that plagued the starting pitchers last year, such as low strikeout totals, high home run totals, and not pitching deep into games were prominently on display. This reinforces the fact that despite the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez, some of the core issues that limited the rotation’s effectiveness in 2013 had not necessarily been addressed. This week, we’ll turn our attention to the offense.
The Orioles offense was not short on power in 2013, however they had trouble consistently getting on base. This was evident in their 6.8% walk rate (tied for last in the AL) and their .313 OBP (10th in the AL). Just for reference, in the 2013 season, the average BB% and OBP in the American League was 8.1% and .320, respectively. While that may not seem like a lot, the difference between a 6.8% and 8.1% walk rate over the course of 6,184 plate appearances (the average number of plate appearances per AL team in 2013) is approximately 80 walks. Based on the results of linear weights calculations (which can be found here at Fangraphs), a walk in 2013 was worth 0.69 runs. This would mean that accumulating an extra 80 walks would result in a team scoring approximately 55 additional runs over the course of the season, which is not insignificant when you consider that 10 runs is approximately equal to one win. The bottom line is that over the course of a season, a team can realize great benefits by putting an extra fraction of a runner on base per game.
Looking at the first two weeks of the 2014 season, we see that not much has changed for the Orioles. Here is a graph showing the Orioles BB% compared to the rest of the league (click the figure to enlarge).
What you see in this graph really shouldn’t be all that surprising, especially considering the position players the Orioles added to the team during the offseason (minimum of 400 major league PA’s).
Nelson Cruz has the career best OBP, and is tied for the best walk rate of the group. This isn’t surprising as he was easily the highest profile offensive acquisition during the offseason. While he made the Orioles better overall, he gave them more of what they already had (power), while failing to significantly improve the team with a vital skill they currently lack (getting on base). The current average OBP for all of baseball is .317. So while Cruz is slightly better in that regard, he and Jemile Weeks (who probably won’t see much action in Baltimore this year) are the only ones who can make that claim.
It’s true that Baltimore hasn’t been at full strength yet, with Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy currently missing time. While there’s no doubt that each of them will make the Orioles a much better team when they return to the lineup, neither counts an above average walk rate as one of their many baseball skills (Hardy has a career walk rate of 7.0% while Machado’s is at 4.2%).
Admittedly, this analysis has been performed over a very small sample. However, that small sample size caveat applies to the individual players as well. For example, Nelson Cruz currently leads the team with a 13.5% walk rate. Based on what has occurred over his more than 3,000 career major league PA’s, that number will likely come down as the season progresses. On the other end of the spectrum, Nick Markakis’ walk rate is currently at 2.4% (career 9.3%), so you’d just as easily expect that to come back up. It’s definitely early in the season, so there is plenty of time for the Orioles to improve their overall walk rate and team OBP, but based on the 2013 roster carry over and the players added in the offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s walk rate (in relation to the rest of the league) doesn’t change much over the course of the year.
The fact that the Orioles don’t walk much as a team doesn’t necessarily mean they have a bad offense. It just means their offense isn’t nearly as good as it could be.