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:
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.