The opening weeks of the 2014 season are offering Orioles fans a contrast in team hitting styles that will continue into this weekend’s series with Toronto. Orioles batters do not see a lot of pitches; their opponents do.
One approach is not inherently better than the other despite assumptions to that effect. I’m therefore working to accept this team as the largely free-swinging bunch that it is even if its lack of patience at the plate occasionally tests my patience.
The 3.68 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) average posted thus far by Orioles batters ranks them ahead of only two major league teams: Milwaukee (3.64) and Colorado (3.58). Meanwhile, the four teams the O’s have faced out of the gate see the most pitches per plate appearance: Detroit (4.10), New York (4.09), Toronto (4.08) and Boston (4.03).
The season is young, and the samples are small, but it’s fair to assume that a team like Boston will continue to see a lot of pitches while the O’s will not. Consider the advice that Jonathan Schoop says he received from Adam Jones, whose free-swinging tendencies Zach Wilt addressed in his MASN guest post on Thursday.
“He told me to stay aggressive because I’m not a defensive hitter. I’m an aggressive hitter,” Schoop said. “I’m adjusting, trying to find a way to lay off some sliders, but still make my adjustments and stay aggressive. I was struggling a little bit in the beginning, and he told me, ‘Hey, stay aggressive. You’ll find a way to find your pitch to hit.’ “
Jones practices what he preaches; he is an aggressive hitter. However, he currently sees the most pitches per plate appearance (4.27) of any Orioles batter. Jones ranks 20th in the American League and 34th in major league baseball in the category. Matt Wieters (3.85), who has looked fresh at the plate early on, is seeing the second-most pitches per plate appearance of any Oriole.
(It’s worth noting a related point about first-pitch swings. J.J. Hardy, who has been absent from the lineup recently, has one of the lowest first-pitch swing rates of all batters since 1988. Meanwhile, Delmon Young has one of the highest first-pitch swing rates of the past decade.)
It can be maddening at times to see a disciplined outfit such as the Red Sox take pitches and foul off offerings to run up starters’ pitch counts as they did during the season-opening series in Baltimore. It makes you want to yell at the O’s players on your television screen: “Do that.” However, as Beyond the Box Score has noted on multiple occasions (1,2), the benefit of taking pitches is not as absolute as it may seem.
The hometown nine likes to take its hacks. When those hacks are missing, as they often were until Tuesday’s breakout game in New York, it’s tempting to conclude that the O’s simply need to take more pitches. But like a loving spouse, I’m working to accept Orioles batters for who they are rather than try to change them.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.