A look at the O's early-season power surge

The Orioles are mashing some home runs to start the 2024 season. Through Wednesday’s games, they ranked as the most homer-happy team in all of Major League Baseball.

They led the majors in homers and homers per game and actually, and yes, it’s very early, they are a record pace for Orioles homers.

The most any O’s team ever hit was the 1996 Birds with 257. At their current pace, if maintained, this team would hit 270.

And sure, maybe that pace won’t be maintained. But last year the O’s scored a lot of runs thanks in large measure to outstanding runners in scoring position hitting stats. 

By the way, this O’s group is faring well there too, third in the AL as of yesterday with a team average of .293 with RISP.

But while the Orioles averaged 4.98 runs per game in 2023 to rank fourth-best in the AL and seventh in the majors, they began yesterday ranking second in the majors in scoring at 5.78 runs per game. Atlanta is the MLB leader at 6.35.

The early-season power surge is also notable because last year the Orioles were not much of a power-hitting team, and they were not close to the top of the league in hitting the longball. They averaged 1.13 homers per game to rank ninth in the AL. Now they top every team.

As of yesterday, here were the MLB team leaders in homers per game:

1.67 – Baltimore
1.41 – Milwaukee
1.26 – Boston
1.24 – Los Angeles Dodgers
1.21 – Kansas City

It should also be noted the Orioles play in a pitcher-friendly park yet have hit 22 homers in 12 games at Oriole Park. Their average is 1.83 homers per home game, exceeding their overall season average.

In 2023 the Orioles as a team produced the eighth year in 70 seasons of baseball in Birdland scoring 800 runs or more. This team has the same potential.

But maybe they do it in a different way from the ’23 Birds - this time with more power.

And while they are driving balls out of ballparks right now, there was no spring training or offseason focus on the team trying to hit more home runs.

I asked co-hitting coach Matt Borgschulte about that at Birdland Caravan in late January. Would the team look to upgrade its homer output from 2023?

“I don’t know if we are necessarily going to focus on hitting (more) homers,” said Borgschulte. “The goal of our offense is to score runs and we did a good job of that last year in where we stacked up. OPS-wise we were kind of middle of the pack but top third of the league in scoring runs.

“That’s going to continue to be the focus, scoring runs. And however we are able to do that, that is what we will continue to focus on. Whether it’s some guys need to drive the ball a little more or some guys need to make more contact, we are going to focus on an individual basis to how we can best maximize that for our lineup.”

And while some might have concerns about individual players struggling at bat right now – to include Ausitn Hays and Jackson Holliday – the O’s are proving that as a club, they have a good and deep lineup.

And yes, we are judging an 18-game sample and it’s all we have right now. But it looks like this is a good lineup that can withstand having a few slumping players from time to time. No team will ever really have nine hitters all rolling at once.

But this club has now hit three homers in each of the last five games. It’s the first time since 1996 the Orioles have five straight games of at least three or more homers. The team record is six in a row, set May 8-13, 1987 and the Orioles can tie that mark tonight. But Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium is not the most homer-friendly place. That team mark of six games in row hitting three or more is also the longest streak in MLB since 1900.

Still these O’s have been impressive so far. As of Thursday morning, there were 23 AL players with four or more homers and six were Orioles. Only one other team had more than two and that is Houston with three such players.

With six homers, Gunnar Henderson was tied for third in the AL and Cedric Mullins with five was tied for fifth while Colton Cowser, Ryan O’Hearn, Anthony Santander and Jordan Westburg hit four each.

A player with four homers through the season’s first 18 games is on a 36-homer pace.

The Orioles are a team with a lot of weapons right now in their lineup. They rank second to Atlanta in MLB in hard-hit percentage at 43.7. This is the percentage of balls put in play at 95 mph or more.

Also their average team exit velocity of 90.4 mph is just behind Atlanta at 90.5 for the MLB team lead. 

If we could sum up the O's hitting philosophy from Baltimore through the lower minors in a few words, we might say "get a very hittable pitch to offer at and then put your best swing on it."

Through the small sample size of 11 percent of this season, the 2024 Orioles are doing that very, very well.  





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