On-base percentage: Money for the Orioles


By Olivia Witherite (@oliviawitherite)

True or false? There’s nothing better than seeing the longball.

Lately, I’ve been reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis after originally seeing the movie a few months back. Is it affecting how I feel about the Orioles’ power bats? Maybe just a little.

For the Orioles, home runs have been commonplace, as they reached Nos. 59 and 60 on the season after Wilson Betemit and Adam Jones’ solo shots last night versus the Royals.

However, for the O’s, there will be times when home runs should take the back burner when situational hitting and small ball are necessary. Maybe it’s just my Moneyball mentality speaking, but there has to be something said for on-base percentage and clutch hitting. Home runs are great, obviously, but sometimes all the Orioles need is to bring the man in from second with a solid hit up the middle.

To break it down by numbers, the Orioles have hit 60 home runs, the most in the American League, and 161 RBIs on the season, fifth in the league.

While these numbers are very strong, one of the Orioles’ biggest offensive concerns should be the team’s on-base percentage. Although the team is in the top five for RBIs, it ranks below league average in on-base percentage. Going into Kansas City, the team is at .314, over 30 points behind the league-leading Rangers.

Whether through walks or hits, the Orioles need threats on the basepaths. No men on base equals less runs, less players on first to distract the pitchers, no players on second  who can score on a sac fly, etc.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with power hitting, hitting for power can be more sporadic. With the Orioles set to face some of the best pitchers in the league this weekend versus the Nationals in D.C., their lack of ability to get on base will be noticed if it is not corrected in this short amount of time. Beyond facing strong pitchers, the Orioles will also need situational hitting when playing in pitchers’ parks.

So, maybe the answer isn’t black and white, true or false. Bottom line: home runs are great, but they’re not exclusively great. Thrilling? Yes. But it’s time to add some other types of runs to the mix.

After I wrote the initial blog, I read some more of the book by Michael Lewis and found some crucial text. In the book, when describing on-base percentage, one point was:

“Every batter should also possess the power to hit home runs, in part because home run power forced opposing pitchers to pitch more cautiously, and led to walks, and high on-base percentages.”

So, the O’s home runs lead to pitchers feeling threatened. I can change my answer to true: the longball is great. But, the reason why it is great for the Birds is that it can indirectly increase the O’s on-base percentage. It’s now time for the Birds to capitalize and use the threat of hitting a home run to simply get on base.

And that’s money.