26 April 2014

The Tides Are Low

The Norfolk Tides have not gotten off to a good start. They've won six of their first twenty-one games, including only two of seven against the Charlotte Knights, who have the second-worst record in the International League.

To start, the Tides have scored 75 runs in their 21 games - 3.57 per game - and have allowed 101 runs - 4.81 per game. (The Tides have yet to play any seven-inning doubleheader games, which removes one complicating factor.) Applying the pythagorean formula to their runs totals, we see that the Tides have scored and allowed runs more in line with a team with a winning percentage of .355 - or seven and a half wins. However, this total is skewed by one truly terrible loss, a 15-0 defeat at Gwinnett on April 15. If we ignore that one game, the Tides expected winning percentage would be .431. And, in the less-regular world of the minor leagues, extreme outlying games are less relevant than in the majors, and so we can safely conclude that the Tides aren't as bad as their record.

Despite the rather high total of runs allowed, the Tides really haven't lost their games on the pitching-and-defense side. The Tides have allowed four or fewer runs in twelve games. The problem has been with scoring runs, as they've scored three or fewer runs in eleven games. So, while they've held their opponents to few enough runs to win games, they haven't been scoring enough runs to win games themselves.

The team offensive numbers are .228/.309/.337, good for a .646 OPS. Some of this is caused by players playing really badly. Henry Urrutia is hitting .230/.244/.297; he's failed to maintain his previous batting average while not increasing his walks or his power. Brett Wallace is hitting an astonishing .167/.197/.208; he has an OPS equal to Ted Williams' batting average when he became the last major leaguer to hit .400 in a full season. While the Orioles have an investment in Urrutia and are likely to give him more time, it's probable that if Wallace doesn't start to hit he'll be released soon.

But another problem with the Tides offense is that they have four players in the regular lineup who shouldn't be expected to do much. The double-play combination of Alexi Casilla and Jemile Weeks, and outfielders Quintin Berry and Julio Borbon, are useful spare parts but not for their offense. Weeks is playing amazingly well, hitting .296/.451/.481 (with sixteen walks in 72 plate appearances so far), but the other three are contributing little but their speed.

The final problem with the Tides offense is that they've grounded into 26 double plays, nine more than any other team in the league. And that reflects another problem with the Tides' offense. In addition to the four speedsters, they have three regular players - Wallace, Chris Marrero, and the catchers Caleb Joseph and Johnny Monell - who are slow. Real slow. The other regulars - Urrutia, David Adams, and Cord Phelps - are more-or-less average runners but who hit the ball hard. If you were to design a lineup to ground into double plays, you'd design the 2014 Tides - four speedsters who don't have extra-base power and other guys who hit the ball hard and who don't have great speed.

So, at this point, the Orioles probably aren't going to get much in the way of offensive help from Norfolk. The Tides' offense is bound to improve, but we'd better hope that the Orioles' offense won't need help in the short term.

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