Dillon Atkinson: After changes to lineup, three veteran Orioles have stepped up offensively

When you think about the production in the Orioles lineup, who comes to your mind? My guess would be Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado, Trey Mancini, Tim Beckham or maybe even the catching duo of Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph. Aside from Machado coming back to a superstar level in the second half and Beckham not coming over to the Birds until August, all of these players have produced at the plate fairly consistently all season long, so they’re the obvious choices that would come to mind. But, sometimes, there are players within the lineup who are performing less than they are capable of doing, and a manager needs to make a change.

Throughout a long 162-game season, a manager changes some small things around, such as a lineup order, to attempt to get some guys rolling at the plate. Buck Showalter has done this many times in the past. At times, he has had huge success, as well as times his altering of the lineup has failed. But moving down in the lineup has lit a spark in these three veteran hitters over the past month to month and a half: Seth Smith, Adam Jones and Chris Davis.

Smith was the primary leadoff hitter for the Orioles in the first half of the season, especially when facing right-handed pitching. In that time as the leadoff hitter, Smith didn’t do poorly, slashing .259/.329/.440 with a 102 wRC+. Since returning from the All-Star break, Smith has been batting from the bottom third of the lineup. He has been red hot at the plate in that span, posting a .295/.421/.500 slash line with a 149 wRC+ over his last 95 plate appearances.

Prior to being moved to the cleanup spot on Aug. 10, Jones was slashing .268/.308/.444 with a 97 wRC+, continuing to trend in the wrong direction in his career. Since moving him to fourth, Jones has not only stepped up his production at the plate, but has become one of the better threats in the lineup, batting .362/.389/.667 with a 179 wRC+ over 72 plate appearances.

Prior to Aug. 11, Davis batted no lower than fifth in the Orioles lineup. In that time, he batted .212/.311/.427 with a 94 wRC+, looking to be one of his worst offensive seasons in Baltimore. On Aug. 11, Buck Showalter moved Davis down to seventh in the order, and has since batted in either that spot or sixth. Since the switch, he has a .298/.369/.509 slash line with a 132 wRC+ in 65 plate appearances. His approach at the plate has definitely changed. Since being moved down in the lineup, Davis has swung the bat much more, with his zone-swing rate jumping from 57.2 to 69.1 percent. His zone-contact rate has gone from 79.6 to 86.6 percent, and his overall contact rate has gone from 66.8 to 71.2 percent. Good things are bound to happen if you swing at more pitches inside the strike zone and put the ball in play more often.

For a player like Davis, everything he can do to make his numbers increase are strictly for the better of the team. He’s signed in Baltimore through 2022, so there’s no personal stock that he needs to raise at this moment. For Smith and Jones though, who reach free agency after 2017 and 2018, respectively, they need to increase their stock as much as possible before hitting the open market. Smith is helping his case to earn a decent deal in the offseason as a corner outfield platoon hitter, and Jones needs to prove that he hasn’t been on a gradual offensive decline over the past few years. Staying hot throughout the remainder of the year and having a solid 2018 campaign could be big for Jones to earn a couple extra bucks, or even years, in a contract in the 2018-19 offseason.

It’s too soon to tell whether a batting order has been the reason for these three to heat up at the plate. But for the moment, it’s making Showalter look like a genius for doing so. Unless they prove that this is just a fluke, I see no reason to take Smith out of the nine hole, Jones out of cleanup or Davis out of sixth or seventh anytime soon. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Dillon Atkinson blogs about the Orioles for Orioles Uncensored. Follow him on Twitter: @DAtkinsonOU. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.

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