Zach Wilt: Pitching staff has been hurt by O’s reliance on longball

Through 67 games this season, the Orioles pitching staff has totaled 32 quality starts. They rank seventh in the major leagues in that category. If you had told me back in February that the O’s rotation would rank in the top third of the league in quality starts in 2018 after finishing 27th a season ago, I would have predicted a playoff team with a serious chance of winning the American League East. Who saw this coming?

Instead, the Orioles have a winning percentage below .300. They are 27 1/2 games out of first place in the division and 24 back of a wild card spot. The Birds are 2-8 in their last 10 games, 9-27 on the road, and are still looking for win No. 20 halfway through June. Even if the pitching staff remained one of the AL’s weakest, I wouldn’t have predicted this outcome. I guess you never know what to expect.

For years, the O’s relied on power from their offense and one of the league’s best bullpens to keep them competitive in a difficult division. This season, the offense has dropped off dramatically and the result has been a collapse that even their biggest skeptics couldn’t have seen coming. Despite their 75-87 record, the Orioles still hit 232 home runs last season and ranked fifth in the majors in that category. Their .260 team batting average ranked eighth in the majors, their .435 slugging percentage ranked 10th and they had a 33.6 hard hit percentage, which ranked seventh.

Here on June 15, the Orioles have hit just 74 home runs and rank 17th in the majors. They are on pace for just 176 homers this season, their lowest total since 133 in 2010. They won 66 games that year. Baltimore’s team batting average of .226 is the second-lowest in baseball. They rank 28th in slugging (.372), and are have a 30.5 hard hit percentage, 28th in the league. Talk about a steep decline.

The Orioles currently have just three players hitting at or above .260 this season (Danny Valencia, Adam Jones, and, of course, Manny Machado) in at least 110 plate appearances. Things were quite a bit different a year ago. On June 15, 2017, they had eight players hitting at or above .260 with at least 110 plate appearances.

We all know how important the home run has been to Baltimore’s success at the plate. When the Orioles broke out in 2012 and made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, they did so by scoring 47.33 percent of their runs for the longball. That was the second-highest percentage in baseball that season. In 2014, when they won the AL East with 96 wins, 47.8 percent of their runs came from homers (the highest percentage in the league). Between 2012 and 2016, the Orioles have ranked in the top two in that category. Last year, they fell to seventh and currently sit at ninth in 2018 (42.74). The trouble is, they aren’t hitting home runs at the pace they were between 2012 and 2016. The Birds offense was in the top three in baseball in home runs over that stretch.

When you’re so dependent on the home run to score, but you aren’t hitting home runs, what do you get? Well, you get the 2018 Orioles offense. A team that ranks in the lower third in the league in numerous offensive categories and has lowest winning percentage in baseball.

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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