26 May 2016

You Don't Have To Like The Orioles Striking Out So Much, But You Knew It Was Going To Happen

I hope you're sitting down when you read this: The Orioles assembled a team of power hitters, and they are striking out a lot. Sometimes, they are going to have games where they impress with powerful home run displays. They've done that. Other times, they are going to frustrate and run off stretches when they're not scoring a bunch of runs and look lost at the plate. They're in the middle of one of those brutal stretches right now, and Tuesday night's 19-strikeout, extra-inning loss was a prime, tough-to-watch example. They even managed to follow that up by striking out 18 times in nine innings on Wednesday.

Apparently Tuesday's struggles frustrated some more than others. Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun singled out Adam Jones's quote in this Jon Meoli story about strikeouts being "part of [the Orioles'] DNA as a team." As usual, Jones had other interesting things to say, but it's not all that surprising that someone focused on the DNA comment and wrote something negative about it.

No one likes to see his or her favorite team's hitters constantly flail away at the plate, especially in crucial situations. It's maddening. As of last night, the O's were 10th in the majors in strikeout percentage, so surely fans of the teams above them feel similarly at times just as often, if not more.

Maybe Schmuck's angle is that O's batters shouldn't accept their whiffing ways, or that saying they're going to strike out means they aren't doing anything to prevent it. Or maybe the larger point is about wanting games to be more aesthetically pleasing (more balls in play, etc.) instead of swing and miss after swing and miss. The former seems ridiculous, but perhaps the latter is a discussion worth having. I don't really share that opinion, but many do.

Anyway, unless you really think Jones's comments mean the O's aren't trying or aren't striving to get better, then nothing about what the Orioles have done at the plate should be surprising. They rank 10th in runs per game in the majors, and the goal is still to score as many runs as possible. Maybe they should even be striking out more, considering the various free-swinging sluggers in their lineup.

In a March post for FanGraphs -- titled "Are the Orioles Going to Strike Out Too Much?" because everyone knew the Orioles put together a lineup full of windmills -- Dave Cameron noted that "team strikeout rate doesn’t really have a negative impact on the number of runs a team scores relative to expectations" before moving on to an analysis of extreme strikeout teams underperforming their BaseRuns projections.

Along those lines, it's reasonable to worry about the team's level of production in clutch situations as the season goes along, because high-strikeout teams might not be as good in that department. But it is silly for Schmuck to assert that "opposing advance scouts just [discovered] how vulnerable the Orioles are to a steady diet of offspeed stuff that breaks under and around the strike zone." The O's are a collection of mostly veteran players that have been heavily scouted, so give both them, the pitchers they are facing, and advanced scouts more credit than that. You don't think teams in the American League East know several O's hitters are vulnerable to pitches out of the strike zone? If not, then they need new scouts.

The Orioles haven't looked good at the plate lately. Some of that is the result of a long season, with normal ebbs and flows. Some of that is because this is what the O's lineup will occasionally look like. And some of that is because of certain players getting more playing time than they probably should, or batting in non-optimal spots in the lineup. The O's roster has holes that Buck Showalter can't hide.

In both 2014 and 2015, the O's were in the top 10 of highest strikeout percentage teams, and they still finished with top 10 offenses. In 2013, the O's were much lower in strikeouts (23rd) but placed fifth in runs scored. None of those teams won the World Series, because the number of strikeouts isn't the sole determinant of who prevails and who doesn't.

If you want to criticize anything, then rail against how this team was put together. But considering that the O's are still eight games above .500, that would be strange timing.


Roger said...

The only comment I have is that neither side (yours or Schmuck's) should be taken as black or white. There is no reason why - in certain situations - a batter can't change his DNA. Most of the time the O's approach is just fine and they do a great job even with the frustration of Ks. However, if there is a man on 3rd and less than 2 outs anyone should be trying to make contact. Shorten up a bit and don't try to hit it into next year, just make contact. This is what really makes everyone mad - not making adjustments to pitchers or situations. The only guy that seems to be adjusting is Wieters.

OK, I do have another remark. Buck did something last night that was good. If the HR-hitting, K-making guys are not getting the job done, put in whatever contact guys you have. Kim showed something he hadn't before last night; the ability to hit or walk when no one else around him was doing so. Rickard and Reimold can possibly fit this mold too. And moving Schoop up to second turned into a pretty good idea. A game winning idea if either Jones or Davis or Trumbo could have gotten him in from 3rd. Last night it looked like Kim should be batting 3rd.

Jon Shepherd said...

Effectively, an individual cannot change their DNA. That is a generational change.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Maybe, but you make it sound so easy. Adjust your approach. Shorten up a bit. That's a similar mind-set to those who wonder why highly shifted batters just don't bunt every time until it stops happening. These are things that are really hard to do.

The O's were scoring more runs earlier in the year, but they were still striking out. It wasn't this bad, but this is the collection of batters the O's assembled. Why would you bring aboard Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, or even re-sign Chris Davis and then wonder why he's striking out so much? Would you trade for a terrible pitcher and expect him to start excelling?

Jonathan Schoop batting second is a bad idea. You need someone in that spot who gets on base. Also, wasn't Manny Machado walked twice intentionally last night to get to Schoop? That's a problem. Maybe that still happens if Adam Jones is batting behind him (especially with how Jones is hitting), but what about Davis? I doubt it.

Kim is past due for at least a few weeks playing regularly.

GRob78 said...

Hopefully its just a bad stretch that resolves itself in the comfort of Camden, or while in Cleveland. The Orioles aren't getting beat by the Astros right now, but are beating themselves. Nearly 40 Ks in two games is crazy. Duquette has set up a team that is high power and lives and dies by the long ball. So K's are going to be a reality. Now the hope is to work at getting back in the groove and moving the funk out of the clubhouse. They aren't playing as loose as they were in April but it is a long season.

Roger said...

Matt, baseball is a game of adjustments. That's just a basic truth. Teams are going keep throwing these foshballers at them until they start to hit breaking balls and changeups. These are pitchers with ERAs over 5 that the O's can't hit cuz they're waiting for a 94 MPH fastball. These are not "normal" swings and misses. Watch them - especially Jones and Machado and Alvarez (and more recently Trumbo). Their swings are just wild and weak, not patient and confident. Schoop and Davis don't look too bad (hence why Schoop was hitting #2) and Wieters is swinging well. Machado is the most interesting. A few games ago, just before the road trip began, Machado all of a sudden started looking totally lost at the plate. Add to it his errors last night and I think SS is getting to him.

I have no problem with Ks. I like to composition of the O's. I just think they need to make more adjustments both in the greater sense and a situational sense. That's what coaches are for. I was hoping that the addition of Trumbo and Kim and maybe even Alvarez would somehow make them immune to complete team slumps, change the dynamic, the biorhythm, but that does not seem to be the case.

And, yes, especially after last night, I think Kim has earned some regular time in the lineup.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Plate discipline and the ability to hit breaking balls or offspeed pitches are not new topics for this group. Sometimes they'll look terrible. Sometimes they'll look great. The season is long. I'm not saying there aren't some things to be concerned about, but the sudden concern about strikeouts is funny to me.

vilnius b. said...

There are some other things to add: I've heard some Orioles fans (friends mainly) complain that everybody knows the Orioles can't hit curveballs.
Problem with that reasoning: sure the other team can try throwing a steady diet of curveballs but there just aren't that many starters in baseball who can master throwing a good curveball and throw it for strikes.
What is the major league average for percentage of CBs thrown for strikes? Last time I looked, it was roughly 57%. That would be considered unacceptable for any other commonly thrown pitch.
The fastballs are still there. We saw them in this Astros series, but they mixed their other pitches in well enough that our hitters had to play a guessing game and during this series they guessed wrong. We also had a little bit of bad luck or should I stay bad timing in play: the Astros bullpen had been dreadful in April, with Feliz and Giles struggling mightily.
But their bullpen---esp. Giles and Feliz---has been lights out in the month of May. They will regress back to the mean eventually, but we had the misfortune of playing them when the bullpen was performing as well as they possibly can.
And it isn't as though all of the hitters aren't shortening their strokes with runners on or two strikes. It appears to me that Wieters is doing that and of course so is Kim. And wasn't Hardy doing the same when he was playing?
The sky isn't falling when it comes to scoring. We should worry more about starting pitching than home runs vs. strikeouts. Gausman looked good for most of this start but again he wasn't pitch efficient and he made three mistakes (though one appeared to be a pretty good pitch to Springer). We need Tillman and Gausman to pitch at a high level so that our great bullpen will be fresh enough to come in early when Ubaldo, Wright and Wilson fail to get more than 15-18 outs. Which unhappily looks as though will happen a lot.
Maybe as a recent FanGraphs article speculated, we will be buyers if pitchers like Shields become available at the trade deadline. We won't have prospects to give, but the money we saved by giving up Matusz and his salary for a draft pick (and non-prospects) means we may be able to afford taking on his or some other starter's salary.