When the big three get going, so will O’s offense

It’s no secret the Orioles offense has gotten off to a slow start. You noticed, right?

Through Sunday’s games they have a team batting average of .221, which is ninth in the American League. They rank last in team OBP (.278), 13th in slugging (.365) and 13th in OPS (.643).

They have already scored three runs or fewer eight times and been shut out twice. They are 1-7 in those eight games. When they score four or more, they are 6-2. We’ve detailed some of the recent pitching success here, but will the offense join in soon?

Soon? Maybe not, we’ll see. But surely the O’s offense is headed at some point for better days and an upward trend.

Mountcastle-Swings-White-Sidebar.jpgI base that not solely on one aspect, but it’s an important aspect. Their big three hitters of Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander are going to start hitting better. And the good news is that not one of them but all three should be expected for an upturn.

Right now each of them is hitting much worse than in his previous season, and worse than his career numbers. Here is a look at each player, with batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS listed. The first line for each is their most recent year, 2020 for Santander and Mountcastle and 2019 for Mancini. The second set of numbers is career stats pre-2021, and the third line is this year’s stats. There are just two lines for Mountcastle, since his 2020 numbers were also his career numbers before this season.

Mancini
.291/.364/.535/.899
.276/.335/.485/.820
.186/.246/.390/.636

Mancini has been hitting the ball hard, sometimes with not much luck. His hard-hit percentage of 46.3 is actually better than in 2019 (42.7) and ranks in the top 32 percent in baseball. His batting average on balls in play of .211 is about 100 points below his career number. Some of these hard-hit balls will start finding the gaps or going over fences.

All three of these players need to cut down on chasing pitches and their strikeouts. Mancini’s K rate this year is 29.2, and it was 21.1 in the 2019 season. He’s also hitting the ball on the ground too much right now with a groundball rate of 58.5, which would be a career high if maintained. His groundball rate was 46.3 two years ago.

Mountcastle
.333/.386/.492/.878
.180/.203/.295/.498

Mountcastle keeps showing signs of coming out of it. He drove that ball to the wall for a sac fly on Saturday night in Texas and got robbed of extra bases on a liner in the gap on Sunday in the 10th inning. His average exit velocity is up from 87.4 last year to 89.8 now. Now he just needs to put more balls in play. His strikeout rate is up from 21.4, which was under league average in 2020, to 32.8.

The Orioles did great work with this kid at the alternate site last summer with his plate discipline, and he seldom expanded the zone during his time with the Orioles. That has changed, and certainly he can work on getting that back and should. It’s easy to say and hard to do in terms of helping the pitchers get you out. They are trained to do that. And when you are a young player like Mountcastle, one’s confidence can be volatile. But he has simply produced too well for too long on offense over his pro career to expect a .498 OPS to stay in that range. His OPS plus was 139 last year and now it’s 41. No way that continues.

Santander
.261/.315/.575/.890
.252/.292/.467/.759
.182/.217/.309/.526

So Santander’s OPS plus is 101 for his career, was 137 last year and is 49 now. This was a player leading the AL in extra-base hits when he got hurt early last September. The double he hit in the first inning on Sunday at 113 mph looked a lot more like what we saw from Santander in the 2020 season.

His strikeout rate was outstanding last year at 15.2 percent (strong for a power bat), and is 27.9 percent now. And Santander ranks in the top 15 percent in the majors in chase rate.

But then there is this: He ranks 19th in the majors right now with an average exit velocity of 93.2, and has a hard-hit rate of 48.8. So once he starts making more consistent contact, the extra-base hits should follow.

The Orioles are 7-9 without the big three putting up consistent offense yet. That could bode well if they continue to get some improved pitching.

The Orioles are averaging 4.00 runs per game through Sunday to rank 11th in the AL. The leaders are the Red Sox (5.59) and Dodgers (5.46), while the Yankees (3.67) and Tigers (3.44) are at the bottom.

Even if none of these three players reach the offensive success of their most recent seasons - and all three may well do so, eventually - some big improvement is coming based on their 2021 numbers through 16 games.

The outlook for the Baltimore offense is hopeful.

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