This is as good a time as any to examine the curious case of the Orioles offense, which has improved significantly since the team traded this year’s most valuable player, Manny Machado, and last year’s actual Most Valuable Oriole, Jonathan Schoop.
It doesn’t seem to make any sense, unless you embrace the notion that the Orioles are hitting better now than at any time during the first half of the season because it would have been almost impossible to do any worse.
The offensive futility was unprecedented, so maybe there was nowhere to go but up, but it’s still hard to explain why they averaged 3.56 runs per game before the All-Star break and have averaged 5.31 per game since.
If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s about a 50 percent increase in run production since Machado departed during the break. Schoop stuck around for nine more games before being moved at the nonwaiver trade deadline and did impact the upturn with several big performances before heading to the Milwaukee Brewers — and immediately falling into a deep slump.
It’s fair to point out that the Orioles’ scoring average represented in the post-All-Star split was heavily impacted by a three-game stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays at the end of July, during which the offense suddenly woke up to score 37 total runs.
Still, that the Orioles entered this weekend’s series against the Cleveland Indians sporting the best team batting average in the major leagues (.280) since the break begs for some kind of logical explanation.
Adam Jones pondered a question about the obvious improvement in offensive chemistry after Tuesday night’s victory over the New York Mets and chalked it up to the professionalism of a bunch of guys who have nothing left to play for but next year’s contract.
“We understand what the year has been and we're just still trying to make the best of it,” Jones said. “We owe it to ourselves to go out and play hard and not just lay down for somebody to just beat us up. We have an obligation to ourselves, to our team, to the city, to the fans, so we're going to come play hard. Sometimes the result is not what you want and hasn't been a lot this year, but that's not going to stop the effort that we're going to bring.”
That’s a nice thought — and it might be partially true — but if it were that simple, why wouldn’t that attitude have been impactful earlier? For all practical purposes, this season was over well before the All-Star break.
It seems more plausible that the whole team breathed a collective sigh of relief after the Machado trade, which had been hanging over their heads for about a month before it actually became a reality. Then the Schoop deal further altered the personality of the lineup.
Don’t jump to the conclusion that the team is somehow better off without its two most dynamic young players. It certainly is not. What it might be, however, is in a better mindset now that the future of the team has become easier to discern.
The younger players and new arrivals such as Jonathan Villar and Renato Núñez know exactly what they are playing for now, which has been reflected in ways both real and intangible. Remaining veterans Jones and Mark Trumbo have both been producing more consistently, which might have something to do with the passing of the trade deadline.
The statistics don’t provide much in the way of explanation. The strikeout-walk ratio is better, but not enough to account for such a marked overall improvement. Home run frequency, which figured to go down with the departures of Machado and Schoop, has risen dramatically since the break. But Schoop’s seven-homer flurry right before he was traded accounted for about half of that increase.
The rebuilding Orioles also feature more team speed with the arrival of Villar and the recent promotion of rookie center fielder Cedric Mullins, which has pumped more energy into the offensive presentation.
It would be nice if that was better represented in the Orioles’ winning percentage since the break, but the improvement there has been modest. The Orioles are 9-17 with a .346 winning percentage since the break. The club’s winning percentage up to that point was .289.