Zach Wilt: Could O’s offensive downturn have been predicted?

The Orioles’ offensive struggles in 2018 are well documented. We all know that this club has had a tough time scoring runs. That’s putting it lightly. The Birds rank 29th in runs this season. Their team batting average also ranks 29th and they are the only offense in baseball with a negative Wins Above Replacement.

These rankings seems like a dramatic fall from where the club was just a few seasons ago. The 2014 AL East champion O’s offense ranked fifth in baseball in WAR (26.7) and led baseball with 211 home runs. That powerful offense propelled Buck Showalter’s club to 96 wins and their second playoff berth in three seasons. It seemed as though if you could depend on the Orioles for one thing, it was most certainly their offense. The homer-dependent club always ranked among the top of the leaderboards in offensive categories, even during their down years.

So what happened over the last four seasons? Where did this huge dropoff take place? Looking at their trends, it probably shouldn’t have caught us all off guard like it has this year.

The Birds have seen their team WAR fall drastically since 2014. The following season, it fell nearly nine points to 17.8, and they went 81-81 that season. It jumped back up to 20.1 in 2016, the last time they made the playoffs, and fell to 12.0 last season. Looking at overall data from the club’s recent success, 2012 appears to be the anomaly. The Orioles posted a 13.8 WAR on their way to 93 wins and a 29-9 record in one-runs games. Perhaps they thought they could repeat that success with the same recipe this season.

Not surprisingly, the Orioles’ success from 2014 until now can closely be linked to their ranking in the league’s home run leaderboards. Last season, they hit 232 home runs and ranked fifth in the majors in that category. They finished the season with their first losing record since 2011. In 2016, they hit 253 homers, leading all of the major leagues in that category and winning 89 games. The Birds hit just 217 home runs in 2015, ranking fifth and finishing outside of playoff contention. The previous year, 211 home runs led all of baseball and pushed the Orioles to 96 wins.

Between 2014 and 2016, the Orioles had a 40-home run hitter on their roster. Last season, Manny Machado led the club with 33. Chris Davis had his breakout league-leading seasons in 2013 and 2015, oddly enough during seasons when the Orioles didn’t make the playoffs, but the Birds were picked up by Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo in 2014 and 2016. Cruz, of course is no longer in Baltimore, while Trumbo followed his 47 homer season in 2016 with just 23 in 2017. His previous career high was 34 in 2013 with the Angels.

As the Orioles roster has increased in age, their power production has decreased. That’s just the way baseball goes. Well, except for maybe in the ’90s, but that’s another topic for a different day. The O’s have depended too much on Davis and Trumbo to get them back to their home run totals of 2014 and 2015. The problem is, their track record isn’t long enough to prove the kind of consistency the offense needs. When both go cold or are injured, the rest of the offense just isn’t dependable enough to score the runs they need to win.

While 2018’s struggles might have caught everyone by surprise, the writing was on the wall after last season. It was unrealistic to think that the Orioles could get back to leading baseball in home runs again while their power bats aged and faded from the leaderboards. The team was too centered around its powerful offense to survive and compete this season.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’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 MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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