Zach Wilt: Do the Orioles rely too heavily on the longball?

The Orioles can thank the longball for Wednesday night’s win in St. Petersburg, Fla. All four runs were scored via the home run. Adam Jones hit a pair of solo shots and Jonathan Schoop delivered the two-run go-ahead blast in the top of the seventh that secured the O’s victory. Wednesday was Baltimore’s third game with three or more home runs (April 8 versus the Yankees and April 24 against the Blue Jays). Not surprisingly, the O’s are 3-0 in games in which they go deep three times or more.

Baltimore’s powerful offense relied heavily on home runs last season. The Orioles led the league with 212 of them, 24 more than the second-ranked Seattle Mariners. O’s sluggers were averaging a homer every 26.5 at-bats last season.

The 2014 season has been a bit of a different story. The Birds have hit just 26 homers in 2014, ranking 20th in Major League Baseball. As a team, they’re hitting a home run every 45.7 at-bats.

Of course, some of this can be attributed to Chris Davis, who hit 53 of the Orioles’ 212 homers (25 percent) last season, being on the disabled list with an oblique strain. However, Nelson Cruz has hit nine homers through his first 31 games, the same total as Davis a season ago. Cruz is on pace for 47 this season.

With his two homers on Wednesday, Adam Jones is just one behind his pace at this point last season. J.J. Hardy, who has played 23 games this season and is still looking for that first homer, had gone deep three times for the O’s at this point a year ago.

Just how much are the Orioles dependant on the longball? Here are their results this season and last season based on home runs per game:

* One home run - 2014: 8-5, 2013: 30-35
* Two home runs - 2014: 1-1, 2013: 17-20
* Three home runs or more - 2014: 3-0, 2013: 21-2

The Orioles won 38 of their 60 multi-home run games last season. It’s a critical part of their offensive game plan.

Many would like to see the Orioles break away from this all-or-nothing approach and show some more patience at the plate. The O’s rank last in the league in walks (72) after finishing in 28th last season (416). Eight of the top nine teams in on-base percentage rankings made the postseason last year. It’s my belief, though, that there’s only so much the team can do without completely changing their offensive philosophy. Sure, encouraging guys to swing less may result in more walks, but it will most certainly cut down on the Orioles’ home run totals. That’s something that I don’t think they can sacrifice. Additionally, not every home run hit is a ball in the strike zone; just check out Matt Wieters’ walkoff on May 1. That pitch was at his eyes.

The way this team is constructed, they are going to win games if they can get the ball out of the ballpark consistently. That data certainly underscores that generic hypothesis. In a lot of ways, the 2014 Orioles aren’t much unlike the teams Earl Weaver used to rave about, built around pitching, defense and the three-run homer.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus