Let’s hop in the Delorean and take a trip; a trip to a far away place and time.
Picture it, March 12, 2020. The full effects of COVID-19 are not quite known. You’ve already been projected to have the worst record in baseball, again, by most sports writers.
Your team’s only known offensive commodity has just undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. To say that your offensive outlook is bleak would be an understatement.
Then the memes start. Pitchers are shown to be jubilant at the prospect of facing your flaccid lineup. Opposing teams refer to your club as a little league team.
Now let’s fast forward back to August 14, 2020. What in the name of Michael J. Fox is going on here?!
The Baltimore Orioles, that little league team, that flaccid lineup, are supposed to have about four wins right now and be settled into Major League Baseball’s dark, damp basement.
Instead, roughly one-third of the way through the season, the team is 10-7, a game and a half out of first and second in the Wild Card standings.
How in the Doc did this happen? The stats tell the story, Marty, the stats.
The Orioles are first in the American League with a .269 batting average. The team has four players batting over .300 and five over .275. As a team, they are batting .286 against left-handed pitching and are batting a whopping .316 in games that they win.
Looking for a regression? Maybe not. Players in their prime (ages 26-30) are batting .305 in 420 at-bats. This could just as likely be a case of a group of players hitting their prime and getting the right philosophy drilled into their game.
This team is aggressive at the right time, as well. The Orioles have a .360 OBP and .982 OPS when swinging at the first pitch and are batting an astounding .493 when swinging at the first pitch. By comparison, the vaunted Yankee offense has a .276 OBP and .733 OPS when swinging at the first pitch. Their batting average on the first pitch is .321.
Batting average and OBP only tell part of the story, however. The team is excelling at extra-base hits, ranking fourth in the A.L. in home runs, second in doubles and first in total bases.
They are also not hitting themselves out of innings. There are only four A.L. teams that have hit into fewer double plays. Consider that the Orioles have played 17 games and grounded into nine double plays. Wednesday evening, Rhys Hoskins grounded into three double plays himself in one game!
Of course, all of this offense can be credited with some of the team’s breakout offensive stars.
Hanser Alberto – Alberto’s penchant for getting on base should not come as a great surprise. The 27-year-old batted .305 with a .321 OBP last year. This year, he has taken a step forward and is currently batting .351 with a .381 OBP. His nine doubles this year comes as a bit of a surprise; however, a closer look shows that Alberto had 30 doubles in his last 630 minor league at-bats, so we certainly aren’t into fluke territory. Alberto leads the team in runs, hits, doubles and is tied for total bases.
Anthony Santander – Santander has hit four home runs already. That’s not crazy considering that he had 20 last year in only 400 at-bats. The 25-year-old’s slugging percentage has increased over 70 points from last year to sit at .548. Santander’s 19 RBI so far is outpacing last year’s total by almost 100%. This is a product of the players in front of him getting on base.
José Iglesias – Iglesias flirted with .400 for quite some time before coming back to Earth recently. The Orioles’ prize offseason free agent, however, is still batting .383 with a .953 OPS. Iglesias has a couple of seasons of a .300+ batting average under his belt, so this is not completely unexpected.
Rio Ruiz – The Orioles co-team leader in home runs with five, Ruiz is slugging .604. His .275 batting average is well above his career average of .223; however, Ruiz hit .269 in Triple-A in 541 at-bats in 2018. Since joining the Orioles in 2019, Ruiz has hit 17 Major League home runs in only 418 at-bats.
Renato Núñez – The 26-year-old is the team’s co-leader in home runs with five and total bases with 42. Núñez leads the team outright in slugging and OPS with a .636 and 1.036, respectively. He hit 31 home runs for the Birds last year, but his slugging and OPS were much lower. During his minor league career, Núñez enjoyed several years in which his OPS was over .800.
Pedro Severino – Severino could be the biggest surprise in the group with five home runs, a .407 OBP and a 1.032 OPS, all well above his career average with nothing in his minor league career suggesting that he could pull these numbers off. Could it be the pressure from back-up catcher, Chance Sisco? Sisco is batting .381 with two home runs in limited playing time this year.
Of course, critics, sportswriters and so-called experts are still predicting a dismal season for the Orioles and fiery crash back down to Earth. However, a closer look at the stats say that this young time may all be hitting their primes and strides at the same time. If that is the case, Major League Biffs better take notice.