24 September 2013

Do the Orioles Hitters Have a Home Run Problem?

Yesterday, Steve Melewski of MASN wrote about the Orioles recent problems on offense.  These problems aren’t all that recent though.  Since the beginning of September they’ve only averaged 3.7 runs per game while hitting .228/.286/.372 (AVG/OBP/SLG) as a team.  One of the problems that Melewski states is that the Orioles have been struggling on offense because they’re too one-dimensional.  The problem according to Melewski is that, “the Orioles are too reliant on the home run and they need more variety from their offense”.  

He’s not ENTIRELY wrong, but scoring runs via home runs should never be a problem.  Every year, you’ll hear about a team who hits too many home runs, and this year it’s the Orioles.  This isn’t the first time this has been said about the 2013 Orioles, but the rhetoric has picked up as the Orioles continued to fight for a playoff spot, while their offense has endured its worst month of the season.  

Melewski goes through some offensive statistics, comparing this year’s team with the playoff team from 2012, and as he shows, the 2013 offense is basically better than last year’s version in essentially every category, except for on-base percentage.  And that is the real issue.  What follows certainly isn’t groundbreaking analysis.  I’ve highlighted where the Orioles are specifically located on each graph, along with the Red Sox and Cardinals.

As you can tell (and probably already knew), a high OBP correlates better to scoring runs than hitting home runs, as evidenced by the corresponding R2 values (the closer to 1, the better the correlation).  The Orioles appear to be enough of an outlier in the second graph that they should consider themselves lucky to have scored the 5th most runs in the majors. If Baltimore’s runs scored correlated approximately with their OBP (according to this model), they should have scored right around 600 runs, which would give them a Pythagorean win-loss record of 69-86.  These correlations change slightly from year to year, but the underlying fact remains the same, as you can see from a sample of correlations from previous years.

The fact that Orioles hit a lot of home runs isn’t the reason that their offense has gone cold.  The reason is that they don’t consistently get on base (.311 OBP compared to a league average OBP of .318).  If more of Baltimore’s home runs had been hit with men on base, you could bet that relying too much on the home run would not be considered a problem.  

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