Over the past few seasons, the Orioles have lived and died by the long ball. The O’s finished the 2014 regular season with an MLB leading 211 homers, 25 more than the second place Colorado Rockies. They also have the major league leader, Nelson Cruz, who blasted 40 home runs on his own. This season, 47.80 percent of their total runs scored have come from home runs, the most of any MLB club.
As we look toward the postseason, we remember a familiar narrative about homer-dependent clubs: home runs do not come as easily in October. Whether it be added pressure, colder weather, or just better pitching talent in October, the ball just doesn’t fly out of the park at the rate it does during the regular season.
As Ben Lindberg of Grantland points out, teams that are more reliant on the home run, teams who have an average Guillen Number (a stat that measures the percentage of a team’s runs scored via the home run) of 40.1, have their runs per game drop from 5.12 in the regular season to 3.97 in the postseason. That 22.4% decrease is obviously significant and in many cases could be the difference between a win or a loss in a critical October game.
Lindberg’s research goes on to show that teams that are less dependent on the long ball, with an average Guillen Number of 33, have their runs per game drop from 4.93 runs in the regular season to 3.62 in the postseason, a 26.5% decrease, which is surprisingly a significantly bigger drop than the homer dependent teams.
The myth that small ball is more successful in playoffs is just that: a myth. But with less runs being scored overall, manufacturing runs will still be an important facet of the game for the Orioles in October.
The O’s may come out and blast homer after homer like they have all season, but they will certainly also need to manufacture runs because they are in much fewer supply in October. The Birds proved the ability to hit with runners in scoring position, at a .268 clip this season, ranking fifth in MLB. Their ALDS opponent, the Detroit Tigers, have fared slightly better, hitting .282, but Miguel Cabera’s .336 average with RISP is a large part of the team’s overall success.
Despite their success with the long ball, we have seen a few examples of the Orioles manufacturing runs throughout the season. On Wednesday afternoon against the Yankees, the O’s pushed nine runs across the board without hitting a single ball out of the ballpark. Adam Jones executed a safety squeeze in the fourth, in the eighth Caleb Joseph laid down a sacrifice bunt to set up a sac fly from David Lough. Expect to see some similar play from the O’s offense in postseason.
Players like Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop, and David Lough must be prepared to drop a bunt late in a one run game either to help push across an insurance run or tie a game. Lough could be the one prepared the best to manufacture a run. He greatly improved in the second half of the season (.351/.387/.544 in 64 plate appearances), can drop a bunt, and steal a base.
Lough’s speed, or Alejandro De Aza‘s, may also be utilized in some high leverage situations against Detroit. Speed has shown to be important throughout postseason history. Remember Dave Roberts steal of second in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, in the Red Sox famed World Series run?
The Orioles have shown an ability to play fundamental baseball, but haven’t relied on it during the regular season because of the team’s overall power. Postseason play is a different beast and I believe this team can play that kind of ball.
Image Credit: Keith Allison