Over the last few years, the massive rebuild that the Baltimore Orioles took part in brought on a lot of changes. One of the main changes O’s GM Mike Elias and his new system insisted on making was an emphasis on players’ patience at the plate.
As soon as Elias took over, we started seeing a plethora of players getting drafted who exhibited high walk rates and mature plate discipline. We also saw an entire organizational re-haul that implemented these principles of patience throughout the minor league affiliates and the major league club.
You really don’t have to look deep into Baltimore’s farm system evolution into patient-hitting ball clubs. Players like Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and even Ryan Mountcastle benefited from these principles put in place by the Elias regime.
Now, finally, we are seeing those same principles reach the major league ball club via those players. Seeing a lot of pitches, making adjustments and punishing a staff with patience is the Orioles’ offensive identity.
So far in 2023, the O’s offense has been an absolute delight to watch. They show the promise of a 90-win ball club with their run-scoring abilities. Unfortunately, we have seen the pitching hasn’t quite matched the offense thus far.
In the small sample size that is the 2023 season, the Orioles are among the league lead in many categories that showcase their patience at the plate. In fact, the Birds are currently first in walks (87), second in team OPS (.776) and fourth in runs (99) in the American League.
Currently, the Orioles lead the league in pitches per plate appearance at 4.11, with the league average at 3.92. What this means is that the Oriole lineup is getting more chances for good pitches to hit or drawing walks in each at-bat while working up pitch counts.
Another great example of this plate discipline and the benefit of seeing a lot of pitches is the team’s numbers when seeing a starter the second time around. The offense collectively has a slash line of .322/.409/.645 and an OPS of 1.053 the second time around. Also, 10 of their 23 home runs have come in this situation.
The reason for this collective success is multiple players exhibiting these patience qualities. Here’s a breakdown of how a couple of the major league and minor league Orioles have showcased Elias’ philosophy.
Rutschman is the crown jewel of the Elias regime, and it’s clear why. He exhibits all of the skills necessary to execute the philosophy.
So far in 2023, Rutschman has walked 17 times in 18 games. He has an OBP of .447 and an OPS of .962. Along with his incredible hitting ability from both sides, Rutschman is poised to be the prototype hitter in this style of offense.
According to Baseball Savant, Rutschman is in the 95 percentile for whiff rate and in the 88th for chase rate; a good recipe for success.
Henderson may be a curious choice to a lot of you, but hear me out. The rookie hasn’t hit the ball too well so far this year. However, all of his other on-base and production numbers are quite impressive.
Henderson already has 15 walks this year and has an OBP of .373. Even without hitting the ball, he is still on base well over the league average.
The kid is in the 99th percentile for walk rate in the league, and he is doing that at 21 years old. Once Henderson’s bat comes around in terms of average and slugging, this kid will be an absolute menace to every opposing pitcher he faces.
Mateo is an incredibly satisfying player to include. Being the former No. 1 overall prospect in multiple organizations, Mateo has finally found his stride in the majors.
When he was claimed off waivers in late 2021, Mateo was a depth piece and potential project for the Orioles. Since then, he has proved that he is beyond a project, but rather, a centerpiece of this Orioles lineup.
Outside of developing good contact skills and sneaky power, Mateo uses his newfound patience to get on base in many ways. He has walked 20 times since July of last year, with five of them collected this season alone. The speedster has also recorded just nine strikeouts thus far.
Mateo is getting himself into a lot of deeper and more advantageous counts, which have led to a .372 average to start this season. As a player who is developing such a good bat, adding in great discipline to that bat is what will make him the player he was expected to be.
Two names who highlight this philosophy on the farm are Colton Cowser and Joey Ortiz, both of whom are currently knocking on the Orioles’ door on the Triple-A Norfolk squad.
Cowser was drafted as maybe the most patient hitter in college baseball, and it has carried over very well. In his minor league career, Cowser has 130 walks in just 848 plate appearances, with an on-base mark of .420.
Ortiz was a glove-first shortstop drafted in the fourth round back in 2019. He was never really expected to be an overpowering threat with the bat, but he has become just that, as his prospect level has skyrocketed to an MLB-ready difference maker.
In his time in the organization, Ortiz has notched a .351 OBP to go along with a .278 average and .781 OPS. In just over a thousand plate appearances, Ortiz has 97 walks to just 178 strikeouts. That’s 36 less strikeouts than Cowser in 188 more plate appearances while maintaining a near 10% walk rate.
The Orioles truly have become an offensive ball club that defies what has become the norm in MLB. There will still be plenty of home runs and big innings from this squad, but now it will be accompanied by fewer strikeouts and a greater presence on the base paths.
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