Orioles continuing efforts to improve OBP

How important is it for the Orioles to improve their on-base percentage?

Enough so that players talk about it, how wins would come more easily with a more versatile lineup.

They manage fine without one, of course. This team has made the playoffs three of the past five seasons while posting the following on-base percentages:

2012: .311
2013: .313
2014: .311
2015: .307
2016: .317

The Red Sox won the American League East this year and they led the majors with a .348 OBP. The Cubs placed second at .343 and they won the World Series. The Rockies were third at .336 and they finished 12 games below .500.

Not helping my argument here.

The Orioles haven’t won the World Series since 1983 and their OBP was .340, second only to the Braves (.341). They also led the majors with 168 home runs, one more than the Blue Jays.

It’s possible to do both. You can field a lineup with guys capable of getting on base and also rounding them.

(I’ll take this moment to make sure everyone fully appreciates Ken Singleton, who posted a .393 OBP in 1983 while also belting 18 home runs in his penultimate season in the majors. He retired with a career .388 OBP in 15 seasons and hit 20 or more home runs in five of them, topping out at 35 to go with 111 RBIs and a .405 OBP in 1979.)

hyun-soo-kim-orioles-white-bat.pngExecutive vice president Dan Duquette has spent the last few winters trying to improve the Orioles’ OBP. He signed Hyun Soo Kim out of the Korean Baseball Organization on Dec. 16, 2015 and the outfielder led the team with a .382 OBP, but in only 95 games. The same emphasis carries over into the current offseason, the preference being a right fielder capable of getting on base and offering speed and plus defense.

Angel Pagan, one of the outfielders on the club’s radar, has a career .330 on-base percentage, but he turns 36 in July. Michael Saunders has a .309 OBP and questions about his long-term durability. Michael Bourn, who turns 34 on Tuesday, owns a .329 OBP. Rajai Davis, who attracts the Orioles’ interest every winter, has a .314 OBP - it’s .306 in each of the past two seasons - and he turned 36 a few months ago. Colby Rasmus owns a .311 OBP and it’s dropped to .289 in 2012, .287 in 2014 and .286 in 2016.

The Orioles led the majors this season with 253 home runs and Mark Trumbo topped everyone with 47. They’ve had the major league leader in four consecutive years, including Chris Davis in 2013 and 2015 and Nelson Cruz in 2014. Trumbo is a free agent and the Orioles want to re-sign him, though talks stalled and a new offer would need to be placed on the table.

While appearing last week on the “Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan, Davis admitted that the club’s dependence on the long ball can bring frustration. The ability to manufacture runs always seems to increase in importance during the postseason.

“I think the attitude of we live and die by the home run is something that it’s really more talked about than it is accepted in our clubhouse,” Davis said. “We understand that each and every night you’re not going to be able to just bang out six or seven home runs, and that we’re going to have to find ways to win games by driving in a run, getting a runner over, and we do put emphasis on that. We just have the ability to hit the home run, so it tends to overshadow it at times.

“For us to take the next step and be a competitive team that has a chance to win the World Series, we have to start getting better at the little things and take advantage of those opportunities.”

Like laying down more bunts against the shift?

Teams abandon the left side of the infield whenever Davis comes to the plate. He could bunt for a triple, though it may require a hook slide.

“I have laid down bunts in the past, some really good ones and some really bad ones, and they don’t care,” Davis said. “I’ve talked to a number of guys on several teams asking, ‘What is your goal whenever you shift me?’ And they say, ‘We’d rather have you go 4-for-4 with four bunt singles than go 1-for-4 and hit a three-run homer.’ They’re like, ‘You lay one down, you’re playing into our hands. We want you to do that.’ That’s why these shifts are so dramatic.

“Believe me, it’s frustrating to go home after you’ve hit three balls or four balls on the screws and the third baseman is catching it 10 feet in front of the right fielder.”

Davis is more than capable of driving the ball the other way, keeping the outfielders honest in the process. You know that Davis is seeing the ball and comfortable in the box when he’s taking aim at left and left-center field.

“Left-center is always the area of the outfield that, when I’m hitting the ball and driving the ball to left-center, that’s when I’m swinging the bat well,” he said, offering confirmation to everything I just wrote in the above paragraph. “But the reason that teams shift is because most of the time when I pull the ball on the ground, it’s on the right side.

“If I can get the ball in the air on the right side, I like my chances, but if I can utilize left-center and really drive the ball that way, I think it’s probably best for me.”

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