With the midway point of a frustrating offensive season approaching, the Orioles' prowess in hitting with runners in scoring position is matched only by their inability to create those situations.
By some measures this season, they're the American League's best offense when runners get to second base. But no team in the major leagues has created fewer chances with runners in scoring position than their 559 entering Wednesday night. Nothing better illustrates the potential of an offense with some of the game's most prolific power bats, and how far the Orioles have been at times from fulfilling that.
The Orioles have found that level well this season. As a club, they entered Wednesday batting .307 (150-for-488) with an .894 OPS in such situations, best in the AL and second best in the majors behind the Colorado Rockies. That's buoyed by some superlative individual seasons on that front.
Center fielder Adam Jones' .404 average in such situations was fourth best in baseball entering Wednesday and topped the AL. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop wasn't far behind, batting .380 with a scoring opportunity. Rookie Trey Mancini doesn't have enough at-bats in those situations to qualify as a leader, but would with his .474 average and 1.544 OPS when there's someone in scoring position. So would catcher Welington Castillo (.404 with a 1.133 OPS).
"A couple of guys, it's just remarkable numbers," Showalter said. "I knew they were good at it, just eyeballing it, but I didn't realize statistically how good they were compared to everybody else."
Showalter said the difference in approach was evident with Jones' go-ahead double to right field off Bryan Shaw with third baseman Manny Machado on second base in the seventh inning Tuesday night.
"Adam, you see it some. The plan Adam had against one of the better relief pitchers this year last night, you could tell he was trying to shoot a ball right where he shot it. As you get older, you get experience. I've sensed some more of that with Jonathan than in the past, and Trey seems to have grasped that, too. They actually get a little shorter, not as big, when they get in that situation."
The problem, as ever for the Orioles, is they don't get into that situation often enough. As a team, their on-base percentage of .310 was 25th in baseball and 13th in the American League. With the bases empty, that dropped to an AL-worst .301 (all stats according to FanGraphs.)
By weighted runs created plus (WRC+, which measures runs produced compared with league average of 100 based on expected run value for each plate appearance), they're 10 percent below average at 90 as a club with no one on.
Once someone reaches base, they're in the middle of the league with 99 wRC+. That skyrockets when there's a runner in scoring position, with their 131 wRC+ far and away the game's best.
What goes into that is more than just the proverbial ribeye steak Showalter mentioned out there. Pitchers are generally less comfortable with men on base, pitching from the stretch instead of the more favorable windup. They're also more cautious about walking hitters when someone is already on, creating more pitches in the strike zone.
But the Orioles are also more patient as a club once they do get men on. They walk 6.6 percent of the time with the bases empty, 7.1 percent of the time with someone on base and 8.6 percent with someone in scoring position.
The approach varies from batter to batter and game to game, but it's clear the Orioles aren't wasting the chances they're getting. But considering who is hitting and how they're getting on, it has created a lineup-construction conundrum for Showalter.
The problem is exacerbated by the loss of first baseman Chris Davis, as for most of the season, the premium three bats in the Orioles lineup — Machado, designated hitter Mark Trumbo and Davis — have scuffled and the better hitters have been spread out later in the lineup.
Now, there's potential for more run-scoring clusters with Mancini, Schoop and Castillo behind Trumbo in the middle of the lineup, and Jones dropped to third to split up Machado and Trumbo. But Showalter is found trying to balance many masters when filling out the lineup, all in search of creating more opportunities like the ones the Orioles succeed so well in.
"Someone said, "Why don't you hit those guys back-to-back?' " Showalter said. "You'd like to kind of spread them out, because otherwise, you've got all that grouped in one area. That's one part of the batting order you try to do."