Throughout the Orioles Blog-o-sphere there has been discussion about the lack of walks taken by the team. As of Monday April 25th, the team is among the bottom three in MLB in walk rate. Here, we’ll take a deeper look at what is going with the Orioles approach at the plate.
One key element to a walk is taking pitches. Currently, the Orioles are the worst team (highest swing rate) at taking pitches, swinging a whopping 50.1% pitches! For comparison, the Orioles take 6-7 less pitches (5.5%) per game than the next most swing-happy team in the American League (Chicago WhiteSox). However, the pitches the Orioles are choosing to swing at not “bad” pitches. The Orioles are average at not chasing pitches outside of the strike zone (not swinging at 71.0% of pitches outside of the strike zone). More alarmingly, they make the least contact of any team in MLB at pitches in the strike zone (85.3%), despite swinging at pitches in the zone more than any other team (70.1%). Furthermore, for all pitches, regardless of location, they swing and miss at higher rate (10.3%) than any other team. To put that number in context, if we created a pitcher named, Only Vs. Orioles, he would be eighth best pitcher in the American League in terms of swing and miss rate ahead of names like Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
Given these statistics there is no reason to expect the Orioles ability to take walks to improve. Pitchers will become aware (if they are not already) that the hitters have difficulty making contact with pitches in the strike zone and will be reluctant to throw balls. Without balls, there will be no walks. Since we only have three weeks of data we need to be mindful that these statistics have not yet stabilized and a larger sample size will paint a somewhat rosier picture. However, these stats are recorded for each pitch, in each game, for the entire team so they are significantly more stable than player batting average or on-base percentage. Cough, Cough, Robert Andino (.310 AVG/.375 OBP) I am looking at you.