Each night’s Orioles lineup features a majority of players who are still trying to show they can consistently hit enough to be a long-term major leaguer. Their relative experience means it can be a challenge to sustain that kind of high-level performance from night to night.
One aspect of finding that consistency and proving ones worth, Orioles hitting coach Don Long said, is how young hitters fare against the game’s top pitchers — and the Orioles have seen plenty of them this year.
“You’re looking at that as a measuring stick for yourself,” Long said. “You’re trying to establish yourself based on being successful against those guys. I think the challenge is to understand yourself as a hitter, understand what you do well, and try to stay within that framework regardless of who you’re facing.”
Entering Thursday, the Orioles have played 22 games in which the opposing team’s starter has received a Cy Young vote at some point in his career. It’s an imperfect measure, considering it doesn’t include someone such as Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow or Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi, who certainly pitch like Cy Young candidates against the Orioles, and does include some former top-level pitchers such as Anibal Sánchez and Tanner Roark, who are past their primes. But it’s an illuminating area to dig into — and there’s plenty of evidence.
The Orioles' 22 starts against pitchers who got Cy Young votes at one point in their careers came against Gerrit Cole (three times), Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, Blake Snell, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Roark (twice apiece) and Jake Arrieta, Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Rick Porcello, Charlie Morton and Sánchez (once).
The best and worst against this caliber of pitcher for the Orioles hitters this year depends on how it’s sliced.
The most consistent over the largest sample size, though, are predictably Anthony Santander and José Iglesias. Santander’s early-season power tear wasn’t against a bunch of scrubs; he took Scherzer deep twice, and Strasburg and Snell out once apiece. He hit .306 with a 1.074 OPS against Cy Young vote earners this year, and could have had more chances against them if not for an oblique injury.
On the other side of that coin, Iglesias doesn’t have much power against such arms but is batting .400 with a .975 OPS in 35 at-bats against them.
There’s also some promise in smaller sample sizes from those who either missed significant time from injury or were called up late in the season. DJ Stewart has just 20 at-bats against such pitchers this year, but his three home runs off Cole and Tanaka mean that his OPS of 1.141 is highest among Orioles with at least 20 at-bats against those standout pitchers.
Similarly, Ryan Mountcastle has 25 at-bats against that level of pitching in his first month in the majors. He hit a pair of home runs off Roark in Buffalo that gave him a 1.007 OPS off the top pitchers he has faced, though his average was high even without those. Austin Hays has a .944 OPS against them.
Among the actual regulars, it’s a mixed bag. Hanser Alberto batting a mostly-empty .286 with a .727 OPS in 56 at-bats against those top pitchers is fair. So, too, is Pedro Severino’s .302 average and respectable .783 OPS.
Only one of Renato Núñez’s 12 home runs came in such games, which changes the perspective some.
Cedric Mullins has all singles contributing to his .292 average against these high-quality arms in 24 at-bats, and Chance Sisco hasn’t done well.
The most striking performance, however, was Rio Ruiz’s. With 36 at-bats against these pitchers, he’s batting just .194 with a .570 OPS. Only Pat Valaika (.185 with a .513 OPS in 27 at-bats) is worse among regulars.
Setting the veteran Iglesias aside, the Orioles will be encouraged to see that Santander and Mountcastle are holding their own in such games, and that in smaller samples, so too are Hays and Stewart.
The struggles, though, are understood. Facing a pitcher who was worthy of Cy Young consideration once every three games for a shortened season isn’t an easy assignment.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
“It’s challenging, and it can be frustrating, but it’s all good stuff because every time that they face it and every time they have to figure it out and learn how to make it work, they’re one step closer to becoming that guy,” Long said. “And there’s no substitute for experience in that regard.”