Heath Bintliff: Addition by subtraction for Orioles offense?

Yesterday’s shutout included, the Orioles have scored more runs over the past seven games than they have over any seven-game stretch this season.

(OK, that’s not completely true. During interleague play, the O’s also scored 39 runs over the seven games from June 21-26. But four of those games came in National League parks with Vladimir Guerrero relegated to the bench.)

Sure, seven games seems like an arbitrary number and, yes, it is clearly can be described with the phrase “small sample size”.

But that is the number of games the Orioles have played without Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup. And it seems to agree with the offense.

If you subscribe to the theory that you cleanup hitter makes the offense go, Guerrero has been the worst candidate to do so. As a cleanup hitter, Guerrero has a .282/.319/.390 batting line. Occupying a position in the lineup reserved for power hitters, Guerrero’s slugging percentage for the season is a meager .385, the lowest among the Baltimore regulars (except, of course, the carousel of light-hitting second baseman the team has trotted out this season). Guerrero is also last among regulars in extra-base hits (even Derrek Lee has pulled ahead of him) and he has a paltry 31 RBIs.

In the offseason, it seemed like all I heard about was the run-producing talents of Guerrero, all those 100-RBI seasons under his belt and his status as a legitimate cleanup hitter. Can we finally agree that RBIs are far more a product of the lineup around you than some measurable skill a hitter possesses? It was as if Vlad was going to pull out magic RBIs from his bat bag when he arrived from Texas.

From the start of the season until July 10, the Orioles averaged 4.03 runs per game. Since Guerrero’s broken hand, they’ve averaged 5.57 runs per game. The team’s OPS is also 50 points higher than it was prior to his injury.

Adam Jones has put up a line of .375/.375/.750 in limited action as a cleanup hitter in Guerrero’s absence. Matt Wieters, hitting mainly fourth or fifth, has put up a .281/.361/.438 batting line for the month of July. It’s not like these guys are killing the ball but they are, at the very least, adequate cleanup hitters. Guerrero was not and was sapping the strength of the lineup.

All of this will be very interesting to watch over the next week or two. If the offense is still putting up a bunch of crooked numbers when Guerrero is healthy, will Buck Showalter allow him to regain his position in the lineup? Will he even be allowed off the bench? Let’s face it; for all of Lee’s offensive woes, at least he still plays a good first base. Putting it bluntly, Guerrero hasn’t contributed much at all to this team.

This team is going nowhere. A winning season is now far out of reach and Guerrero does not have a lot of trade value at this point. It’s not easy to look at that Hall of Fame resume, make the tough decision and reduce Guerrero’s role. But it’s a decision that Showalter needs to make.

Because for now, the offense seems to be doing just fine without him.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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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