Players for the Double-A Bowie Baysox this year can go hitless, yet still get praise from the coaching staff for their hitting. And not just because they may have made a productive out. It’s all about the swing decisions they make. They are graded both on the pitches they do swing at and those they do not.
The goal is to get a very hittable pitch and drive it. Let almost everything else go. Even borderline strikes are sometimes spit on while a hitter waits for a better pitch. Sometimes, even if they take a borderline strike three, the staff may believe they made a good decision.
The results say the drills and the work the players do with hitting coach Ryan Fuller and the other coaches is paying off. Bowie began last night with a record of 26-10. Beyond that, the Baysox are scoring 6.14 runs per game to lead the 12-team Double-A Northeast League.
They lead their league in on-base percentage (.354) and walks (176), drawing nearly five per game. They are indeed driving the ball, evidenced by a league-leading slugging percentage (.442) and OPS (.797). Bowie ranks second in the league in total bases and first in at-bats per every home run at 24.3.
Clearly, they are swinging at a lot of good pitches and doing damage when they do swing.
“Our hitting department has done a really good job of taking the focus from swinging at pitches we can hit to only swinging at pitches that we can drive,” manager Buck Britton explained this week at Prince George’s Stadium. “Even if that leads to (with) two strikes striking out looking, we’re all about swing decisions. Making sure we’re swinging at pitches that are over the middle of the plate. Because we know as we go up, the umpiring gets better, and if you continue to swing at pitches and get your A swing off on pitches that you can drive, that translates in the big leagues. We are really stressing that, and guys have bought in. You can see our BP, we kind of have a target back there that represents the middle of the strike zone. So, our guys are only swinging at those pitches that they see. That’s been huge.”
Some Baysox OBPs going into last night’s game included Adley Rutschman (.431), Terrin Vavra (.413), Doran Turchin (.390), Johnny Rizer (.386), J.C. Escarra (.385), Cadyn Grenier (.381), Patrick Dorrian (.376) and Zach Jarrett (.362).
Among the top eight O’s minor leaguers in walk rate, four play for Bowie, with Rutschman at 18.0, Dorrian 17.7, Vavra 16.8 and Escarra at 15.4.
How did the Baysox make such progress?
“Reps,” said Britton. “When you tell them only swing at pitches that are down the middle, they get instant feedback. We have cameras on them at all times. The TrackMan data that we get every game, night in and night out. They get swing-decision scores. So even if you are 0-for-4, you can still have a positive swing-decision day. It takes the mindset off of the result, whether I got a hit or got out, into a bigger focus of ‘Am I swinging at good pitches?’ Because we know in the end if you do that consistently, you’re going to find barrel and barrels are going to be hits.”
Said Rutschman: “It’s a big part of what we do. Because we want to give ourselves the best chance to hit and do damage. And controlling the strike zone is a big part of that and we take a lot of pride in that.”
Britton said Rutschman is as good as anyone on his club in making good swing decisions. And going into last night he had walked 30 times and struck out 29. Among all O’s players on the farm with enough at-bats to qualify for league leaders, he was the only one with more walks than strikeouts.
Britton said his staff and players are taking advantage of the technology available to help in their efforts.
“We are using a lot more tech than we did, but we are using it more in a baseball way, if you will,” he said. “It’s a swing-decision thing. I think that is the most important thing that gets overlooked in minor league baseball is guys’ ability to swing at pitches that are over the middle of the plate. Not just pitches that they can hit. Because you can have a guy that has really good bat-to-ball skill that hits .350 in A-ball but exit velocities are low and you are not getting a full grasp of what this player is. We have guys that might have a lower batting average, but it’s showing up OPS. They are driving the ball out of the ballpark, because their swing decisions are getting better.
“We’ve said we do not care if you strike out looking with two strikes, if it’s a borderline pitch. Because we know as you go up, that those are going to be called balls. I think with the tech being combined with the swing-decision stuff, I mean, if you swing at pitches you can drive you’re going to have a better chance. So, I think that is where the biggest jump is so far.”
Farm sweep: The O’s went 4-0 on the farm yesterday and last night.
Triple-A Norfolk beat Durham 10-6, getting homers from Ryan McKenna, Domingo Leyba and Tyler Nevin. Double-A Bowie beat Akron 4-3 as Cody Sedlock and Blaine Knight combined on a seven-hitter. High Single-A Aberdeen snapped a seven-game losing streak and beat Asheville 9-8 as Maverick Handley hit a three-run homer. And low Single-A Delmarva topped Salem 5-1 as Griffin McLarty and Jake Lyons combined on a four-hitter with 15 strikeouts.
In the big leagues: The Orioles made some swing decisions that didn’t pan out, as they got swept four in a row by Cleveland and their overall losing streak reached eight games and the road losing streak hit 19.
They fanned 13 times in Thursday’s 10-3 loss and struck out 47 times in the series. Of course, it should be pointed out that Cleveland ranks second in the American League in strikeouts per nine innings. They have a staff of swing-and-miss pitchers.
After yesterday’s game, I asked Trey Mancini if the players’ strong desire to be the guy that helps turn this around is getting in the way at this point.
“Yeah, that can happen,” he said during a postgame Zoom interview. “There is always a human element to it. You know you’ve got to try your best not to let your emotions creep up and get the better of you. But it’s easier said than done. In those situations, everybody wants to be that guy. Everybody wants to go up there and perform. But sometimes when you press, you know it usually doesn’t have good results.
“There is a lot of season left and I feel that we will start moving in the right direction,” he said.
The Orioles look forward to getting home tonight and beginning a six-game homestand against Toronto and Houston.
“We’re very frustrated,” Mancini said. “Nobody likes losing. I’m at the top of the list, I’d say. You know, we all are. We’re all super competitive. And it’s really tough. Going 0-7 on the road trip is really tough. But there is no room to wallow at this level. You have to get out there the next day and put it behind you and try to win the next game. What’s done is done.”