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Orioles' DJ Stewart and Chance Sisco had unique offensive seasons. What does it say about their future?

Whenever Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was asked to explain his club’s offensive inconsistencies this year, he’d often note that his players didn’t walk much — which was true.

The Orioles' lack of on-base ability, save for a few players, made for a boom-or-bust offense that had the third-lowest walk rate in the majors in 2020. Down the stretch, the Orioles struggled to get rallies going when they did get on base.

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Two players, however, walked plenty. Outfielder DJ Stewart and Chance Sisco were far and away the Orioles’ most effective players at working a walk this season. But Stewart and Sisco also struck out plenty, making their seasons unique in several aspects.

The pair of post-prospects trying to solidify themselves as major leaguers were two of 20 players with at least 100 plate appearances this year with both a walk rate over 10% and a strikeout rate over 30%.

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Add those together, and it was Stewart’s 17.9% walk rate and 33.9% strikeout rate that made him the only player in that sample who either walked or struck out in over half of his plate appearances. With a 14% walk rate and 33.9% strikeout rate, Sisco wasn’t far behind, striking out or walking in 47.9% of his plate appearances.

What this means for their future isn’t easy to glean from who else is on the list.

Orioles catcher Chance Sisco struck out or walked in 47.9% of his plate appearances in 2020.
Orioles catcher Chance Sisco struck out or walked in 47.9% of his plate appearances in 2020. (Tommy Gilligan/AP)

The list features both regulars and part-time players, owing to the shortened season, so the company they keep on there is diverse. There are stars such as Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers and Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, veterans such as the Colorado Rockies' Matt Kemp and the Chicago Cubs' Jason Kipnis, and noted sluggers such as the Texas Rangers' Joey Gallo and the Oakland Athletics' Matt Olson.

The 2019 list is a similar size with incredibly productive offensive years from Gallo, the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge and the Minnesota Twins’ Miguel Sano all giving promise that this is a viable way forward for a young major leaguer.

The indicator, it seems, is what a player does with the contact he does make. This year, Sisco and Stewart each stood out in terms of production among this group. Stewart’s .809 OPS, driven by his seven home runs in nine mid-September games, was the highest of the group, while Sisco was seventh at .741.

Since everyone in this group will have a high on-base percentage because of the walks, measuring only slugging percentage still has Stewart at the top with a .455 slugging percentage, though Sisco lags to 14th with a .378 mark.

Stewart, who had one productive spurt in an otherwise uneven year, saw his quality of contact improve. Stewart’s average exit velocity was up year-over-year by 3.5 mph to 91.4 mph this year with a jump in launch angle that helps boost those power numbers.

Sisco went to an outside hitting instructor in the winter to help his swing do more damage and get the ball off the ground, but his slugging percentage actually went down, as did his average exit velocity, as his launch angle went up.

Sisco debuted with the Orioles in September 2017 as a top prospect, with Stewart joining a year later. This was the first year Sisco spent the entire season in the big leagues, though, and Stewart still hasn’t. They’re no longer rookies, but not yet established.

Their walk rates alone are worth keeping them around and seeing what can come of it. However, the fear when a player is too patient and thus strikes out too often is the fate of one of the other players on that 2019 list of high walk rate, high strikeout rate hitters who try to make up for it by hitting home runs: Chris Davis.

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