That's the Batting Average / On-Base Percentage / Slugging Percentage of the Orioles' 2013 Designated Hitters. The OPS is .708.
That's the Batting Average / On-Base Percentage / Slugging Percentage of the American League. The OPS is .724.
That's right. The Orioles got worse performance out of their designated hitters - a position with zero defensive requirements, a position at which the only responsibility is offense - than the entire American League. They did get a little bit more power than the League, but were substantially lower in on-base percentage.
But wait. It gets worse, from a generic baseball fan perspective, or better, from the Orioles fan perspective. The Orioles .708 OPS from their designated hitters ranked eighth in the American League.
The production of American League teams' designated hitters can be put into five groups. Far and away the best was the Boston Red Sox (mostly David Ortiz), at .957. Here's the breakdown, with teams in the groupings ranked from highest to lowest:
.957 - 1 team (Boston)
.754 - .797 - 6 teams (Kansas City, Toronto, Detroit, Seattle, Cleveland, Los Angeles)
.660 - .708 - 5 teams (Baltimore, Texas, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Chicago)
.615 - .632 - 2 teams (Minnesota, Houston)
.567 - 1 team (New York)
I need to get this on the record. The 2013 New York Yankees at .184/.270/.297, got worse production from their designated hitters, relative to the league, than the 1971 San Diego Padres got from Enzo Hernandez when he notoriously drove in 12 runs in 618 plate appearances.
However, to get back to the Orioles. It's difficult to get a handle on all the statistical measurements out there, but it seems that David Ortiz and the Red Sox designated hitters was worth about four wins. It's even harder to estimate the contribution of the Orioles' designated hitters to their success, but I don't think you can claim that it was worth more than one win. So, given that the 2013 Orioles needed to improve by seven games to make the postseason, perhaps half that could have been made up if the Orioles actually had a good hitter be their designated hitter as opposed to the below-average troupe they used.
Before we look at how the Orioles could improve their 2014 designated hitters, we need to look at the individuals who served in 2013. The Orioles had 576 plate appearances from their designated hitters (which is lowest in the American League by 30. That, at least, reveals that the Orioles knew they had bad designated hitters; they batted their DHs lower in the order than every other team.) 143 came from players who normally played a defensive position but were designated hitting on a partial day off - Chris Davis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, Nate McLouth, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. If we subtract those players' contributions, we get a different view:
Quasi-Regular DH's: .231/.277/.395
Most of the DH productivity came from Chris Davis' 21 plate appearances; he hit .471/.571/1.235. Just removing Davis' 21 appearances leaves the rest of the DHs - both the starters having a day off and the "regular" DHs - at .228/.286/.390.
Historically, some teams have not used a regular DH, instead using the DH position to give regulars partial days off. There are two reasons why that was not a good option for the 2013 Orioles. First, most of the regulars didn't hit well as a DH. Second, if you do give the regular a break from defensive responsibilities, then you're playing a bench player. And, as we'll see when we look at the bench, the Orioles didn't have a good bench. It's doubtful that the benefits of giving players more defense-free days outweigh the losses from their lack of production as a DH and from playing a bench player.
Danny Valencia leaving the batter's box in Norfolk's Harbor Park. (Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides)
So, I believe that if the Orioles are to improve their DH production, they'll need to find a good hitter or hitters to be their DH. Fortunately, one of the 2013 Orioles did hit very well as a DH. Danny Valencia had 145 plate appearances as a DH, and produced at a .307/.342/.912 clip. It seems likely that Valencia did most of his damage against left-handed pitchers; overall (both as a DH and as a non-DH) Valencia hit .371/.392/.639 against lefthanders but .203/.250/.422 against right-handed pitchers. During his major-league career, Valencia has hit .329/.367/.513 for an .880 OPS in 431 plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers, which includes his disappointing 2012. Valencia's career production versus left-handed pitchers would be better the production from all but one team's DHs.
So that's the right-handed half of a DH platoon. And the Orioles potentially have the left-handed half already in their organization in Henry Urrutia. Urrutia, of course, is a Cuban defector who played his first season in the U.S. in 2013. He played at AA, AAA, and in the Majors in 2013, and hit right-handers at least fairly well at all three levels - .374/.446/.585 at AA, .338/.376/.500 at AAA, and .294/.294/.333 in the Majors. While it's premature to project Urrutia to be as good against right-handers as Valencia is against left-handers, he has demonstrated the potential to hit .300 against right-handers with line-drive power. He's earned a full chance in the major leagues. A platoon of Urrutia and Valencia has the chance to be one of the most productive DHs in the League.
Henry Urrutia hitting from the left side. (Elaina Ellis/Norfolk Tides)
One of the problems in using a DH platoon is that it takes up two roster spots to fill one position. If a team carries twelve pitchers, and there are eight players in the starting lineup, that leaves five spots for reserve non-pitchers. There must be a backup catcher, a backup infielder, and a backup outfielder. So if you plan to use a DH platoon, you have no more available roster spots.
If the Orioles intend to compete with the financial resources of the Red Sox and Yankees and the seemingly endless parade of prospects of the Rays, they're going to need to think outside the box. And it's my belief that there is absolutely no need to carry twelve pitchers; that the Orioles will gain more from a DH platoon than from a twelfth pitcher.
It's always hard to determine who the twelfth pitcher on a staff is, much less a team like the Orioles which shuttles pitchers up, down, and around frequently. At any given time, though, there are five pitchers in the starting rotation, whoever they may be. The first six members of the bullpen were Jim Johnson, Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, and T.J. McFarland. Pitchers occupying the seventh spot in the bullpen were Pedro Strop, Francisco Rodriguez, Jairo Ascensio, Kevin Gausman, etc. etc. None of these guys were notably effective; some were completely ineffective.
And, as best as I can determine, the pitchers in the seventh bullpen spot combined to pitch 72 2/3 innings before August 31, after which rosters expand and roster spots are plentiful. A baseball season lasts almost exactly six months, or 26 weeks; there are 22 weeks when the roster is limited to 25 men. So, the seventh spot in the bullpen pitched about 3 1/3 innings per week. Surely those six other relief pitchers can absorb an extra inning per week.every two weeks.
So, one of the easiest and cheapest moves the Orioles can make toward becoming a champion in 2014 is to drop the twelfth pitcher and platoon Henry Urrutia and Danny Valencia at DH.