“This is the jungle, man,” Ryan Fuller told me, and even the most imposing pitcher in that jungle might cower at the sight of this Orioles offense.

The lineup that Fuller, the Orioles’ co-hitting coach, helps guide is one of the most powerful and dynamic in all of baseball, with a set of ascendant young stars leading the way.

Yet the abrupt end in the 2023 playoffs showed this group that there’s another level to reach. Internally, its success is being viewed in part through what needs to improve. To have followed the Orioles in the last few years means the phrase “swing decisions” is a familiar one, with the idea that swinging at pitches one can drive and taking the rest is the foundation for the most productive at-bats possible.

Through nearly two months, the Orioles are slugging but not really walking, and the quality of the results is at times overshadowing the lacking quality of the at-bats.

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“We need to get better at it, and that’s what we’re doing now,” Fuller said. “We have a winning record and we’ve been doing a pretty good job as an offense, but there’s a huge next step that we can take. If we walk and control the zone a little bit more to balance out that slug, it’s going to be a lethal combination.”

This year’s Orioles entered Tuesday with a league-leading 69 home runs and are fourth in the league with 5.02 runs per game. But the team’s walk rate is down from 8.4% to 6.9% year over year, and the chase rate has gone from 29.9% to 30.5%. Their strikeout rate, though, is down from 22.4% to 21.6%.

That the team isn’t striking out as often and is only modestly chasing more suggests the plate appearances that used to be walks aren’t all ending poorly. The Orioles’ aggression is productive, too. No team’s slugging percentage on pitches in the zone is higher.

Even so, Fuller said the coaches want the lineup to walk more. “We definitely want to walk at a higher clip,” Fuller said. “Slugging isn’t going to be sustainable at the high levels it is right now. … These guys have the ability to not have to pick one or the other. It’s not an OBP [on-base percentage] or a slug profile. These guys can push them together and be really high OPSers, OBP-wise and slug, so making sure we’re not leaving anything on the table and focusing on one side too much.”

[Jon Meoli, one of Baltimore’s preeminent sports writers, offers insights and stats on what it’ll take for the Orioles to win it all. This is an exclusive newsletter for Banner subscribers. Sign-Up.]

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As prospects, Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson became the two standout examples following what Fuller and a new group of hitting instructors asked for: good swing decisions, and consistent hard contact in the air. They both walked at extremely high rates in addition to hitting for power on the way to being the game’s top prospect.

Now, they’re emblems of something else: a team hitting incredibly well without necessarily making the best swing decisions. In 2023, Rutschman was in the 91st percentile with a 13.4% walk rate; 90th percentile with a 14.7% strikeout rate; and 81st percentile with a 23.4% chase rate. This year, he’s walking just 4.8% of the time (12th percentile) with an 18% strikeout rate (70th percentile) and a 31.3% chase rate (29th percentile).

It’s been basically a year since Henderson binned his own selective approach at the plate. He demonstrated elite plate discipline and swing decisions that brought him to the majors at age 21 for the first two months of 2023, with a 14.8% walk rate, but his selective approach kept putting him in bad counts. He got aggressive and it worked; he was the Rookie of the Year, and is an early MVP candidate this year. Since last June 1, he has an .884 OPS and 38 home runs — fifth-most in baseball in that span — and is doing so while walking 6.9% of the time and swinging at 28.9% of pitches outside the zone.

All the Orioles’ homegrown players have been trained on their swing decisions for years, and they can still watch each at-bat with their swing decision scores attached, breaking down not only whether they swung at strikes but receiving data on how often they typically see strikes in certain counts versus how often they swing in them.

And those swing decisions are being emphasized even on the days when the team thumps their way to wins, Fuller said. “We have a really good sample to look at now,” he said. “We can say, here’s what’s going well, here’s what needs to be addressed on a long scale, and we can see things like swing decisions, hard contact —those things are going to play out over the course of the year. We know at the end of the year the skills that scale.”

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Ballpark Chatter

I had a similar reaction upon seeing that the Orioles had removed Baumann from the roster to add Grayson Rodriguez from the injured list: what a bummer. It’s been a long time since those two shared organizational pitcher of the year honors in 2019, a year when Baumann threw a no-hitter at Double-A Bowie and looked like one of the best arms in the organization. An elbow injury at the alternate site in 2020 knocked him off that perch for a while, but he still ended up being a valuable reliever for the Orioles over the last year-plus. In a bullpen full of pitchers who ended up having either specialized skill sets or roles, Baumann’s fatal flaw seemed to be that he had neither, so he pitched a lot, in a lot of different spots, and games seemed to swing for better or worse around those moments. His removal from the roster comes when he was pitching well and, more notably, the quality of contact off him was significantly worse than last year. The Orioles are in a roster crunch, and it’s not a knock on Baumann — who I like a lot — to say that his particular stuff and role is one a team like the Orioles should be able to replace internally many times over. But when you’re good, which the Orioles are, there are no easy roster decisions, and you have to live with making some you may end up regretting.

The Talent Pipeline

There’s never a good time to fracture one’s ribs — I understand it is incredibly painful — so maybe it’s not really worth noting that Coby Mayo did so as he was setting the International League ablaze. The 22-year-old had cooled a bit in May but still had a .964 OPS and 13 home runs in 42 games at the time of his injury. At that rate, he was going to push his way to Baltimore this season, even if there’s no apparent role for him on the Orioles. It’s just too impactful a skill set at the plate to let languish for too long in the minors. When he arrives in the majors is less clear now, but the injury doesn’t diminish his star potential.

By the Numbers


Ryan O’Hearn, analytics nerd? I’m not sure we’ll ever get to that point, but I bet he’d like what he saw if he went onto his Baseball Savant page. Namely, his expected stats. No one could have even a single gripe with O’Hearn’s actual production: six home runs and an .864 OPS in 121 plate appearances. But thanks to some warning track line drives and ballpark quirks, reality is short-changing O’Hearn’s power production. His expected slugging percentage is .630, which is in the 98th percentile of the league. The four players who are better in that category through Monday speak to O’Hearn’s power: Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, Marcell Ozuna and Juan Soto.

For Further Reading

Is Mullins bouncing back? Cedric Mullins is a pivotal piece of the Orioles’ lineup when he’s doing well, but based on Hyde’s comments this week, it didn’t seem like the team was going to wait for him to find his swing. Andy Kostka broke down how he might have done so. (The Baltimore Banner)

An ode to the sports beat: I really enjoyed this blow-by-blow on FanGraphs on what it’s like to be a beat writer, with Davy Andrews going through a day in the life of Washington Post reporter Andrew Golden. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, nor would I return to them for anything, though I did stay at an incredibly nice hotel in Paris with the Marriott points earned in that phase of my life. (FanGraphs)

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Ex-Oriole raising eyebrows: Jack Flaherty’s time with the Orioles will probably not be recalled fondly by the pitcher or the team, but the beginning of his one-year, $14 million deal with the Detroit Tigers is giving a hint of what could have been here. In his first nine starts, he’s struck out 72 with a 1.06 WHIP and a 3.79 ERA in 54 2/3 innings, with even better underlying stats. This MLB.com breakdown goes into what’s made him so effective with his new club. (MLB.com)