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Don’t Tell the Orioles Offense is Down Around the League

Gunnar Henderson swings during a road game for the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles have one of the most powerful units in baseball despite the fact that the run environment is lower than last season.

The Baltimore Orioles open a tough six-game stretch tonight against NL East opponents. They are hosting the Atlanta Braves and league-leading Philadelphia Phillies in consecutive series. To take down this fearsome June competition, the O’s will need to score against some formidable pitching staffs. Fortunately, that has not been a problem for the Birds this season.

Entering play Tuesday, the Orioles lead the Majors in runs per game at 5.17. Only two other teams are averaging over five runs per game, while the league average is only 4.33. In a similar vein, Baltimore is third in team OPS at .763 behind only the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. The league average OPS is only .699. Because the O’s play in more of a pitcher’s park than the Yankees or Dodgers do, the Birds have the highest OPS+ in MLB at 121, meaning they are 21% better than average.

The Orioles have been pounding the baseball all season long, as they also lead the Majors in home runs at 104. They are the only team so far to reach triple digits. Production is coming up and down the lineup, as Baltimore’s balanced attack leads to no easy outs, and the deep bench makes for a matchup nightmare. Homers might be disappearing elsewhere, but the Splash Zone has had plenty to cheer for in 2024.

Fighting the Current Environment

If scoring and offense seem to be down this season, that’s because they are. In 2023, teams scored 4.62 runs per game, while the league-wide OPS sat at .734. This year’s trends are more in line with the 2022 season, which saw a sharp drop in offense compared to the previous five years. Scoring was even lower in 2022 at 4.28 runs per game, but slash lines were slightly higher then, with a league OPS of .706.

No one knows for sure why offense is down, but there are murmurings that the ball is deader this season. Regardless of the reason, less offense comes as a surprise one year after the introduction of game-changing rules. With limits on the shift and an increase in stolen bases, offense increased last season. Despite having the same rules in place for 2024, most teams are having more trouble scoring.

But the Orioles are not one of those teams. Even though they play in a pitcher’s park in the toughest division in baseball, the O’s still lead the Majors in runs at 336. Not every single hitter on the roster is contributing, but some players have dramatically improved their offensive output.

Standout Performances

SS Gunnar Henderson is coming off a Rookie of the Year season, but he is playing even better. He was a good hitter last year, but now he is in the MVP conversation. His numbers are up across the board, but the increase in power is the real difference maker. Henderson already has 21 home runs, which is second in the league. After swatting 28 bombs last season, he is on pace to reach 50 homers in 2024. His slugging percentage is up over 100 points, leading to an OPS of .974. Oh, he is also hitting leadoff and battling for a Gold Glove at a premium position.

Catching in baseball is the toughest position in sports, and the daily grind means few behind the plate are also dangerous at the plate. That is why C Adley Rutschman is such a valuable player. Rutschman already has a Silver Slugger to his name, but he has also taken a step forward this season, and it is easy to see why. Known for his plate discipline, Rutschman has been much more aggressive in the box, and it is paying off. His walk rate is way down, which sounds like a bad thing, but he is swinging at juicy pitches instead of letting them go by and is getting hits as a result. Rutschman is hitting over .300 this season, and his slugging percentage is up 55 points.

Henderson and Rutschman are in indeed playing better, but everyone already knew they are stars.  That was not the case with 3B Jordan Westburg. The versatile infielder debuted in 2023 and held his own as a solid regular over 68 games. Now, he has turned into one of the top third basemen in the league. Just like Gunnar, Westburg has improved in many facets, but the power gains make a meaningful difference. His slugging percentage is up 98 points due to a spike in long balls. He has more than tripled his home run rate, as his 10 homers dwarf the three from last season in a similar amount of playing time.

Roster Moves of Note

The Orioles also made a couple of roster moves this afternoon. 2B Connor Norby debuted last week and hit his first home run, but he is now headed back to AAA for a good reason. 2B Jorge Mateo is back off the injured list followed an unfortunate head injury. On the flip side, RP Danny Coulombe is headed to the 15-day IL, so RP Bryan Baker is joining the big-league club for the first time this season.

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