The Orioles Should be Looking for Players Who Know How to Walk
In recent blogs, I’ve discussed how the Orioles should focus on adding positional depth. As the Orioles look to bolster their roster what type of player should they be looking for? The Orioles should look for players who like to walk (not run) to first base. And no, I’m not talking about Robinson Cano and his sometimes lackluster attempts to run down the first baseline. What I am talking about is signing hitters who not only know how to hit, but also know how to take a walk.
In 2013, the Orioles ranked 19th in on base percentage. This stat is cause for concern on its own but feels a whole lot worse when you consider the O’s were ranked a respectable 10th in team batting average. As I’m sure my astute reader has surmised this significant ranking incongruity finds its cause in the Orioles inability to consistently earn base on balls. Last year, the Orioles ranked 28th (out of 30) in all of baseball for getting the free pass to first base. Walking may not be exciting, but it’s important.
The benefits of walking seemingly never end; they force pitchers to throw more pitches, they put more pressure on pitchers as they then have to pitch with men on base, a hard hit ball still has a good chance of getting caught whereas no one has ever not gotten to first base after walking, walking forces pitchers to throw strikes which in turn allows hitters to get better pitches to hit, according to the American Medical Journal walking lowers your risk of obesity, etc.
Everyone loves the three run homer, but to have a three run homer you first must have two runners get on base. The top 6 walking teams in baseball all made the playoffs, including the Boston Red Sox (ranked 3rd) which is just further evidence that walking though unsexy (at least for most ballplayers… though I must confess that Brian Roberts has a pretty nice strut) is valuable to winning baseball.
Okay, the Orioles suck at walking that’s the bad news, but the worse news is, as of now, the guy who had the third most walks on the team, Nate McLouth, is no longer on the Orioles roster. If he is not resigned, and if the Orioles do not address it by bringing in high OBP players, this inability to get walks will become a glaring issue for the 2014 season. I hate to speculate on who the Orioles may bring in. I’ve spent enough of my life looking up random baseball statistics, and I refuse to look up every statistic for every free agent that Ken Rosenthal links with the Orioles. However, we can look at a couple of players the Orioles will most likely be counting on for 2014. Steve Pearce I think is a great option against lefties (career OBP of .354 vs. lefties); he can be a high on base percentage player as long as he is not overused (and by ‘overused’ I mean he should not be allowed to hit against righties). A Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth platoon could be a viable option, both players excel in limited roles. If you’re looking for players who can walk the Orioles should walk right past Henry Urrutia. I looked up his stats and then had to take a triple take and then look it up on another source before I could believe what I saw. In 24 games and 58 plate appearances Urrutia had ZERO walks. I would scold O’ Henry for zero walks but I’m actually kinda impressed that you can go up to the plate that many times and not get a walk. Impressive, but not impressive enough for him to be our starting DH come next season.
The Baltimore Orioles are in the position to be an offensive powerhouse. They have players throughout their lineup who can hit dongs. The problem is too many of these dongs are solo dongs (okay, I got it out of my system; I’m done using the word ‘dong’). What the Orioles need are players who can complement the power of Davis, Jones, Wieters, Hardy, and Machado by just getting on base by any means necessary. The Orioles have an impressive core of power hitters (and they got the Silver Sluggers to prove it). The 212 home runs last year was by far the most home runs hit by any team. Yet, despite all these home runs, the Red Sox, the Tigers, the Cardinals and the Athletics all scored more runs than the Orioles. Like the batting average vs. on base percentage, home runs vs. runs scored can be directly linked to the Orioles lack of walking. The Orioles offense is good and uniquely powerful, but if the Orioles can bring in the right guys the Orioles offense has a chance to be special.
Update: I wrote this article yesterday evening before the Jim Johnson trade went down. As it relates to my article, the Orioles acquired Jemile Weeks for our erstwhile closer. In 2011, Jemile Weeks rookie year, and his most successful year, he batted .303 with an OBP of .340. Even in 2012, during his abysmal sophomore slump where is average dipped to .221 he still managed to have an OBP of over .300. This tells me he fits the mold of a guy who can get on base in other ways than just getting base hits. I’m not sure if he will make the opening day major league roster, but I do think he’s a good addition to the Orioles roster.