Baltimore Orioles: Early Positive Trends Showing Up And Down System

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 09: Stephen Piscotty #25 of the Oakland Athletics is tagged out at second base in the first inning by Jonathan Villar #2 of the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 9, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 09: Stephen Piscotty #25 of the Oakland Athletics is tagged out at second base in the first inning by Jonathan Villar #2 of the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 9, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

Make sure you’re paying attention to how the Baltimore Orioles minor league affiliates are performing to get a better picture of the overall rebuilding process.

Fans of the Baltimore Orioles know what the 2019 season has in store for them. We get mad when the team suffers a loss, continue to express frustrations at the number of home runs and walks given up by our pitching staff, but at the end of the day, we know these things are going to happen.

After six home runs in his first 12 innings of work, fans asked if Dylan Bundy was studying the right analytics? Weren’t pitchers like Mike Wright and Miguel Castro supposed to better with all of this new access to information? Let’s pump the brakes for a second.

Results aren’t going to happen overnight. Dylan Bundy isn’t going to become a Cy Young contender this season just because Mike Elias is in charge and Doug Brocail is working with the pitching staff.

I’m going to say the word again, one you have heard over and over again, process. This process takes time, as well as the talent to actually put data into action on the field.

There are small signs of positive improvements, especially down in the minor leagues. Let’s start with defense.

The Baltimore Orioles defense is…interesting.

As of Tuesday morning, the Orioles sport a .987 fielding percentage, good for ninth best in the major leagues and fifth best in the American League. They finished last season with a .983 fielding percentage, only six teams in baseball finished with a lower mark.

Fielding percentage has limitations, obviously. Can’t make an error if you can’t get to the ball, right? So what do the more advanced defensive metrics tell us about the 2018 Baltimore Orioles?

They finished 28th in baseball with -94 Defensive Runs Saved and finished dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating with a -51.9. Only the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers and 2014 Cleveland Indians have finished with an UZR worse than -50.0 in the last five seasons, according to Fangraphs.

We’re too early into the 2019 season to take much out of the early advanced defensive metrics, but things are looking up for the Orioles. The very early numbers aren’t great, but they aren’t horrifying (see Seattle Mariners).

The Orioles do lead the league in one defensive category- double plays. Their 21 double plays are tops in the majors, three more than the Cardinals and Rangers, who are tied for second.

Baltimore has typically been among the league leaders in double plays, thanks to the services of Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, and a steady presence at both shortstop and second base over the years. However, it hasn’t been like that down on the farm.

Down in the International League (AAA), the Norfolk Tides are second in the IL with 34 double plays and lead the league with a .988 fielding percentage. They turned just 100 double plays last season. The Tides haven’t finished in the top half of the IL in DP’s since 2015 when they finished with 138.

In the Carolina League, the Frederick Keys are tied with the Carolina Mudcats for tops in the league with 32 double plays. They ranked last in 2018 with 91, which was sort of an anomaly for a team that typically leads the Carolina League in this metric.

Both Bowie (Eastern League) and Delmarva (South Atlantic League) are right in the middle of the pack, where these teams normally rank.

Is this a result of the pitching staffs producing more ground balls, better positioning on defense, or just a lot of baserunners getting on base? We see it at the major league level, Orioles players pulling their cheat sheets out between plays, something you have seen around the rest of the league, but not in Baltimore during recent seasons. It will be interesting to dive into this a bit more once we are further along into the season.

These Baltimore Orioles minor leaguers know how to strike guys out.

So. Many. Strikeouts. It’s not just the top prospects for the Baltimore Orioles, it’s pitchers of all talent levels and at every stop along the farm who is racking up the punchouts. Here’s the total number of strikeouts, strikeouts per game, and league rank for reach affiliate.

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  • Norfolk Tides: 99 strikeouts, 8.8/9 IP, 9th in IL
  • Bowie Baysox: 90 strikeouts, 8.4/9 IP, 11th in Eastern League (come on, Baysox)
  • Frederick Keys: 99 strikeouts, 9.5/9 IP, 4th in Carolina League
  • Delmarva Shorebirds: 132 strikeouts, 12.8 K/9 IP, 1st in SAL

Again, these are all very early numbers, but you see these minor leaguers put what the front office has been preaching into action. Some of the individual leaders in strikeouts- Grayson Rodriguez (16.4/9 IP), Ofelky Peralta (19.4/9 IP), Drew Rom (16.4/9 IP), Hunter Harvey (12.5/9 IP), and Keegan Akin (13.0 K/9IP).

In 2018, both the Bowie Baysox and Frederick Keys ranked dead last in their respective leagues in total strikeouts, while the Tides and Shorebirds both ranked near the bottom.

When you watch these minor league games, the broadcasts routinely point out the effectiveness of new pitches, like Cody Sedlock‘s four-seam fastball, you see arms like Keegan Akin work quickly and efficiently, attacking the strike zone, changing eye levels, and producing big swings and misses. Mistakes happen and not every outing is clean, but the early results have been positive. And when those mistakes do happen, often times, the double play has been there to help clean things up a bit.

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Watch these arms closely as the season progresses. How the farm system reacts to new organizational philosophies will tell us more than if Mike Wright can figure things out. Early returns are positive, now let’s hope this trend continues.