Can new hitting coaches help O’s lagging OBP stats?

The Orioles seemingly always rank near the bottom of the American League in on-base percentage. It’s an important stat and this year in the American League the average team OBP was .316. The Orioles ranked 12th among the 15 clubs in the AL at .304.

Since they won the AL East in 2014, the Orioles have ranked 12th or lower in the league in team OBP five times in eight seasons. Their best mark was when they were eighth in 2020.

When it comes to walk rate (the percentage of times a hitter walks among all his plate appearances) the AL average in 2021 was 8.5 percent. The Orioles were 13th at 7.5. In fact, the club has rated 13th or worse in the AL in walk rate seven of the past eight seasons.

So what does this mean for new co-hitting coaches Ryan Fuller, who coached at Double-A Bowie this season, and Matt Borgschulte, who joins the Orioles from the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A team in ‘21?

Thumbnail image for Mountcastle-Swings-White-Sidebar.jpgCan they make immediate improvements for the club in these on-base and walk rate stats?

Perhaps they can bring some combination of new data, analytics, methods, ideas and/or coaching techniques that will help. But it’s not like those coaches who came before them - most recently veteran hitting coach Don Long - didn’t see the same stats and push for the team to get better here as well.

The major league hitters may be somewhat set in their ways and unlikely to make big changes or improvements in their on-base skills moving forward, but the Orioles hope the players will be open to whatever the new coaches bring to the club in this regard.

Last year, Cedric Mullins (.360), Trey Mancini (.326) and some other Orioles were above league average in OBP, but more aggressive early-count hitters including Ryan Mountcastle (.309) and Austin Hays (.308) were not.

The O’s team AL rankings in OBP and walk rate since their division-winning 2014 season:

2021 - .304 (12) and 7.5 (13)
2020 - .321 (8) and 7.3 (14)
2019 - .312 (12) and 7.5 (13)
2018 - .298 (15) and 7.0 (14)
2017 - .312 (14) and 6.4 (15)
2016 - .317 (10) and 7.7 (10)
2015 - .307 (12) and 7.0 (13)
2014 - .311 (11) and 6.5 (14)

The club’s best hope to improve its overall on-base capabilities may mostly rest with some of the top hitters in the farm system. The Orioles have drafted some hitters with strong on-base skills, including 2019 top pick Adley Rutschman and 2021 top pick Colton Cowser. Last season before the draft at Sam Houston State, Cowser walked more than he struck out, and the same is true of his three-year career stats in college. With low Single-A Delmarva last year Cowser had a .476 OBP and a 17.7 walk rate.

Some of the O’s top farm hitters had outstanding walk rates last season, including Terrin Vavra (15.6), Rutschman (14.5), Patrick Dorrian (14.1), Kyle Stowers (13.8), Rylan Bannon (13.8), Coby Mayo (13.4), Shayne Fontana (13.4), Cadyn Grenier (12.3), Gunnar Henderson (12.1) and Jordan Westburg (12.1).

It is hard for any hitter at any level to record more walks than strikeouts, but Rutschman came close last year with an 0.88 walk-to-strikeout ratio that led the O’s farm hitters. Mayo rated second at 0.73.

This bodes well for the future of the Orioles offense.

DL Hall resumes throwing: It was late morning on Wednesday when O’s pitching prospect DL Hall tweeted, “Today is the day.” A few hours later it became clear what he was referring to. He resumed throwing. Hall was shut down early in the 2021 season with an elbow issue, but he continues on the road back.

He made seven starts in 2021 for Double-A Bowie, going 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA. Over 31 2/3 innings he allowed 16 hits with 16 walks to 56 strikeouts. His last start for the Baysox was June 12. Hall is ranked as the No. 43 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and is at No. 72 on the MLBPipeline.com top 100.

Yes, he threw a lot fewer innings last season than Grayson Rodriguez, but Hall had an edge in strikeouts per nine at 15.92 to 14.07. His K percentage was 43.8 to 40.5 for Rodriguez. In batting average against, Rodriguez was at .159 and Hall was at .145. Strong stuff.

Barring a bigger upset than the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III, Hall will be added today or tomorrow to the Orioles’ 40-man roster. He is Rule 5-eligible for the first time.

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