Do O's need more homers? Coaches weigh in, plus other Caravan notes

When it comes to evaluating any major league offense, we could look at a variety of stats – advanced and otherwise – but runs scored is a pretty good place to start.

The 2023 O's produced just the eighth season scoring 800 or more runs in 70 seasons of Orioles baseball. The team scored 807 runs – seventh-most in club history – and ranked fourth in the American League and seventh in the majors with 4.98 runs per game.

The late-season offensive struggles pulled the final season average under 5.00 runs per game. Just six teams averaged 5.00 or more in 2023. 

But the O’s were not a real power-hitting team, ranking ninth in the AL with 1.13 homers per game.

During Birdland Caravan Thursday, I asked two of their hitting coaches about the home run ball and if the team needs more of it going forward?

“I don’t know if we are necessarily going to focus on hitting homers,” said Matt Borgschulte, co-hitting coach. “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.”

Added co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller: “Borgs said it well, it’s going to happen on its own. We have a lot of young players who are coming up and they are going to get more comfortable – Gunnar (Henderson), Adley (Rutschman) – these guys who are really talented. They are going to come into their own and hit more home runs.

“But we love hitting the ball hard on a line – those good trajectories if they turn into doubles, awesome, if they turn into home runs, that is great too. But, no overarching focus on we need to do more of this, just looking to score runs however they are presented.”

In two years with the new left-field dimensions at Camden Yards, the Orioles have hit fewer homers as was to be expected, but their ranking within the AL has actually improved a bit.

In the last four full seasons, they ranked 12th in the league in total homers hit in 2019 and 10th in 2021. With the deeper wall in 2022 they were eighth and last year No. 9 in the AL.

Grayson's take: After his strong finish to his rookie season, rotation right-hander Grayson Rodriguez knows teams will look to make adjustments against him and how he pitches.

“That is a game that is always going to be going – trying to outsmart the opponent," said Rodriguez, who had a 2.26 ERA his last 12 starts. "But really just keeping it simple. Taking it game-by-game, start-by-start, inning-by-inning. Just going out there and living in the pitch and focusing on that one pitch at a time."

And now the spring training countdown is on.

“This is the part of the offseason where you get the itch. You kind of think about spring training every day. Just ready to go and I’ve already started packing some bags. I’m ready.

“Obviously had good success (him and the team last year) but it left a sour taste in our mouth there at the end. I think everybody is just ready to make up for that, to attack the season. It’s a new year, try to go a bit further in the playoffs and hopefully we’re in the World Series this year," said Rodriguez, 24.

Over 23 starts, throwing 122 innings, Rodriguez picked up a lot of experience to take into the 2024 season.

"Learned a lot. I think there is a whole list of things. But really just how to navigate the big leagues. You know, some big stadiums, some big moments, a lot of big names that you face. Just kind of learning how to keep all that under control and go out there and still play nine innings," he said.

More from Hyde: Lefty John Means told reporters during Birdland Caravan he is very confident he can handle a full innings load next season, even though he threw just 45 1/3 innings, counting minor league games, last season.

The Birds are talking like they expect Means to be out there all year and that would be huge for the team.

“Yeah no doubt. Great seeing him today. He feels good," manager Brandon Hyde said Thursday at Oriole Park. "To be able to have a guy of that caliber – he’s done some good things in this league and made an All-Star game and we missed him. To have him back will be huge.”

Hyde was asked about how both exciting it will be and at times challenging to sort out some spring camp competitions and the battle for roster spots.

“Last year the second-half of the games were just as fun, seeing the young players. We’ll have more of that this year. Lot of prospects playing, lot of guys trying to make the team. We have a lot of decisions to make.

“We have a lot of depth. So, going to be kind of tough honestly, getting everyone starts. But everybody is going to get a lot of playing time and looking forward to evaluating these guys," Hyde said. 

Gunnar's speech: The AL Rookie of the Year, the Orioles' Gunnar Henderson and manager Brandon Hyde were in New York Saturday night to get BBWAA awards won in November. Click here to see Gunnar's acceptance speech, it was a good one.

Meanwhile, Birdland Caravan was pretty fun Thursday through Saturday and can really get you ready and excited for another baseball season. I had fun at several events, including happy hours with players, staff and fans Friday in Harford County and Saturday afternoon in Baltimore city. It was nice to talk with so many fans, so to those that said hello, thanks.

Some tweets from the Caravan are here, here, here, here and here





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