The Orioles’ new co-hitting coaches, Matt Borgschulte and Ryan Fuller, face a formidable challenge. In 2021, the Orioles had a .304 on-base percentage, 12th among the American League’s 15 teams. Their 1,454 strikeouts were the were the fifth most, and the 451 walks were 13th.
Even throughout the Orioles’ playoff run last decade, Dan Duquette, their head of baseball operations, said it was his aim to increase the team’s on-base percentage. During their most successful season, 2014, when they won the American League East and reached the League Championship Series, the team had a .311 on-base percentage, which ranked ninth.
Duquette’s solution was to add sluggers Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo, who didn’t do anything to increase the on-base percentage but enabled the team to set a franchise record of 253 homers in 2016.
Last season, each of the 20 Orioles who played in at least 22 games struck out twice as often as he walked. The Oriole with the most strikeouts was Ryan Mountcastle, who had nearly four times as many strikeouts, 161, as walks, 41.
Trey Mancini, who shared first base and designatedhitter duties with Mountcastle, had the second-most strikeouts, 143, nearly three times the number of walks he drew, 51.
Centerfielder Cedric Mullins, who became the first Oriole with 30 homer and 30 steals in a season, was third on the team with 125 strikeouts, but his ratio wasn’t as bad. He struck out just over twice as often as he walked, 59.
Catcher Pedro Severino, 109 strikeouts, 34 walks; leftfielder Austin Hays, 108, 27; and rightfielder Anthony Santander, 101, 23, were the other players with more than 100 strikeouts.
The only semi-regular who came close to walking half as often as striking out was outfielder/DH DJ Stewart, who walked 44 times to his 89 strikeouts.
In recent years, strikeouts haven’t carried the stigma that they did in previous generations.
All-time great Oriole sluggers Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson each had multiple seasons with the team when they walked more often than they struck out. They didn’t face a parade of hard-throwing relievers, but even in today’s game, some of the best hitters are able to keep their strikeouts relatively low and walk often.
Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, who led the major leagues with a .465 on-base percentage, drew 145 walks and struck out only 93 times. Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper, who was second with a .429 on-base percentage, struck out 134 times and walked 100 times. The American League’s leader, Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had a .401 on-base percentage with 110 strikeouts and 86 walks.
There might be some improvement in 2022 when Adley Rutschman joins the team. Rutschman had a .397 on-base percentage at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, striking out 90 times and walking 79. With the Baysox, Rutschman struck out 57 times and walked 55 times.
Another catcher added: The Orioles signed catcher Anthony Bemboom to a minor league contract. The 31-year-old Bemboom is a left-handed hitter who played 54 games with Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels from 2019-2021. His lifetime average is .178 with four home runs and 11 RBIs.
Bemboom has thrown out 40 percent (14 of 35) baserunners attempting to steal.
He’s the second catcher with major league experience that the Orioles have signed to a minor league contract. On December 1st, they signed Jacob Nottingham, a 26-year-old right-handed hitter who played in 53 games from 2018-2021 with Milwaukee and Seattle.
The Orioles don’t have any catchers on the 40-man roster. Rutschman must be added to the 40-man when he joins the team.
Canada’s new vaccination rules: Beginning January 15th, unvaccinated professional athletes will be barred from entering Canada. For now, that will affect players facing the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the seven Canadian NHL teams.
This week, some Canadian teams have reinstated capacity limits in their arena because of a rise in Covid-19 cases. If the pandemic persists into the baseball season, there could be consequences for the four American League East teams facing the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles are scheduled to play 10 games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, but the first isn’t until June 13th.
In 2020, the Blue Jays played their home games in Buffalo. In 2021, they began their season in Dunedin, Florida before returning to Buffalo from June 1st-July 21st. They were able to play in Toronto beginning on July 30th.
The Orioles played their first series in Buffalo, and the final two in Toronto.
On May 12th, the Orioles became one of the first teams to reach the 85 percent rate of vaccination, allowing for freer movement and loosened restrictions. Non-vaccinated players have not been identified, but if the restriction stays in place for the season, we’ll find out who they are.
Health and safety protocols for next season must be negotiated between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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