07 May 2014

A Premature Look at O's Batters and Home Run Rates

The Orioles have a collection of hitters that really like to swing the bat. (Jonathan Schoop, for instance.) As a group, O's hitters are second in the majors in overall swing percentage (49.6%); they also chase 33.7% of pitches outside the strike zone (also second). Because of that lack of patience, they have a major league low walk rate of 6%. Overall, they are a middle-of-the-pack team in offensive production so far. They're 18th in runs scored, 18th in on-base percentage (.314), 14th in slugging percentage (.393), and 17th in wOBA (.312).

As you'd expect from a team trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark so often, the O's are fly ball heavy. Their 37.7 FB% is fourth in the majors. That by itself is not a problem; the 2013 Orioles, who tied for fifth in runs scored, had a 36.4 FB%. But last year's offense also had a home run to fly ball rate of 12.9%, which was the best in the majors. Right now, only 7.3% of the O's fly balls are leaving the ballpark (t-26th). And that has been an issue for an offense that relies on power (not OBP).

The Orioles mostly have the same cast of characters in the lineup this year. Obviously Nelson Cruz is a new addition and is crushing the ball. But Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy are still here. They're all counted on to be regulars in the lineup. Machado only just returned from last season's serious knee injury last week; Hardy missed seven or eight games while battling a couple of nagging injuries; and Davis is currently on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Hardy and Machado have not hit well (obligatory small sample size reminder), and while Davis currently has a nice OBP (.372), he was not hitting for power before getting injured. But all of that can change very quickly with a few more fly balls turning into home runs instead of outs.

Here are the 2014 and career HR/FB rates for the main contributors to the O's lineup:

Adam Jones3.0%14.7%
Chris Davis10.0%22.0%
Nick Markakis4.8%9.0%
J.J. Hardy0.0%11.2%
Matt Wieters15.2%11.9%
Nelson Cruz25.7%17.0%

Only Wieters (by a little) and Cruz (by a lot) are above their career averages. Hardy has yet to hit a home run. I did not include Machado, who has only played a few games. For what it's worth, he has a HR/FB rate of 8.7%. Jonathan Schoop is in his rookie year and has a career HR/FB rate of 11.1% in 112 plate appearances. It also might be interesting to look at guys like Ryan Flaherty, David Lough, Delmon Young, and Steve Pearce down the road depending on their roles or if they're still with the team.

Again, it's too early to draw many conclusions from the team's lower-than-expected HR/FB rate. According to Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus (and his handy table), HR/FB rate does not begin to stabilize until around 50 fly balls per batter. And we're not quite there yet. But this topic will certainly be worth revisiting later in the season, especially if the Orioles are still not scoring a ton of runs.

Really, the biggest help would be to get Davis back in the lineup and for the Markakis-Machado-Davis-Jones-Wieters-Cruz-Hardy group to stay healthy. Those seven have not played in a game together yet this season. Davis seems to be ahead of schedule, but last night Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that Wieters is experiencing elbow soreness and will be examined by Dr. James Andrews sometime this morning. Passan threw out the possibility of Wieters needing Tommy John surgery, which would obviously be devastating for the Orioles. But, for now, that's just speculation.

Stats (via FanGraphs) as of May 6, 2014. Photo: Keith Allison.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thankfully it seems like Wieters will be alright and avoid the DL. When I saw he was visiting Dr. James Andrews, I had terrible thoughts go through my head as I'm sure many other Orioles fans did as well. With Davis already out, and the power issues everyone else is having, it could have been devastating to have Wieters and his hot bat out of the line up had it been serious. Especially TJ. Hopefully he can still DH while recovering like has been speculated. The O's dodged a bullet on this one.