Thursday, April 07, 2011

One Troubling Statistic for the Orioles

After yesterday's post about not getting all excited about early results for teams and batters, this post is going to seem a bit contradictory. So let's just call this a trend to watch for and not something to get excited about. Fair? Okay. One statistic that is troubling for the fast start of the Baltimore Orioles is the team's total lack of patience at the plate. The team is off to a fast start in large part because of their pitching and run prevention. As a team, they are only batting .217. But you don't worry about that because the team will hit. Heck, the Red Sox are batting .190 as a team. You can't get all hysterical over that. But the Orioles walk rate is troubling to say the least.

As a team, the Orioles have only walked eight times in 170 plate appearances. That works out to a 4.7 percent walk rate overall. That's like having Bengie Molina playing every position. The figure is nearly half of the 8.4 percent league average. They have the fewest walks in the majors so far. The league average was 8.5 last year. A team's batting is still a small sample size at the moment and there are all kinds of factors involved in the results. But walks are a more controllable issue and the low walk total, even in such a small sample size, shows an approach trend that doesn't favor the Orioles' long term success.

What makes it even more troubling is that the Orioles have had this problem for a while. Last year, only the Astros walked fewer times than the Orioles (the Astros are still weak in the area and have one more team walk than the Orioles). And while the Orioles have some new players in the line up this year with Mark Reynolds, J. J. Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero, nothing has really changed from a year ago.

If anything, those players should have helped the situation, but that's not how it's working so far. Mark Reynolds, who is well known for his strikeouts, also walks a lot. He hasn't taken a single walk yet this year. Vladimir Guerrero at times in his career looked like a more patient hitter, but those numbers are deceiving because he was walked intentionally so much in his younger career. Guerrero only walked 35 times last year. He hasn't taken a walk yet this year either. J. J. Hardy has a walk rate over 12 percent currently, so you can't blame him.

The Orioles have only used ten different batters so far this year. Of those ten, five of them have yet to take a walk: Felix Pie, Reynolds, Adam Jones, Vlad and Luke Scott. Pie has never been known for his patience and has a .305 lifetime on base percentage. Adam Jones walked only 23 times last year in 621 plate appearances. So history isn't on the side of him improving in that area. Luke Scott usually walks about ten percent of the time but he has been hurt and has only been to the plate seven times.

Much has been made about the Orioles having the kind of hitting that can compete in the American League East this season. But that assessment has been mistaken. The Bay Rays, Yankees and Red Sox will all walk somewhere in the area of nine percent of the time. The Orioles will fall far short of that by not only their current trend but by the history of their players.

The bottom line here, at least for this observer is that the Orioles might pitch like the big boys, perhaps even hit with the big boys, but if they can't walk like the big boys, they won't stay with the big boys.

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