One of the nice things about the Orioles’ 40th anniversary celebration of the 1970 World Series championship this weekend is that it puts the players who made this franchise so great back in the spotlight for at least a few days.
I sometimes wonder what goes through these players’ minds when they consider the current state of a team that was once a consistent winner.
Boog Powell offered his thoughts on both the past and the present during an interesting interview earlier this week with 105.7 The Fan.
Having a plan at the plate
“I’m seeing a lot of guys just taking way too many pitches with runners in scoring position. I mean pitches right down the middle. And they’re acting like, okay, I got you right where I want you right now. Actually the pitcher’s got you right where he wants you. That’s what it boils down to.” (5:54 mark)
“Sometimes, guys are going up there and it looks like they have no idea what they’re doing … You need guys in there who have a plan, who have a clue and who know how to execute that plan and get on base. We don’t need every guy in this lineup trying to hit home runs. We’re paid to get on base and figure out how to score and drive in runs.
It’s not just about taking pitches for the sake of it or solely to drive up a starter’s pitch count. Smart pitchers will punish you for doing so. Rather, it’s more about forcing the pitcher to either throw you a decent pitch or put you on base.
The next question guided Powell back to reminiscing about the 1970 Orioles. However, he returned to a discussion of the current team later in the interview in relation to his low career strikeout total.
“If you strike out and you’ve got a runner in scoring position you have no chance to drive him in. And I was very intent on not striking out, especially with runners in scoring position.”
“Some of the time I’d let it rip, I had a pretty big swing most of the time, but I would cut that swing down with two strikes just to keep from striking out because, you know, I couldn’t help the team by striking out.” (8:35 mark)
I checked the stats after listening to Powell’s interview and was surprised to find that the Orioles have the fourth least strikeouts in baseball with runners in scoring position.
Powell continued with the theme of having a plan at the plate, especially with runners on base.
“It took me a while to catch on to what pitchers were trying to do in those situations, where you had a runner on first and second or you had a runner on first base. You know they’re going to throw something down around your knees, and as a hitter you have to be disciplined enough to make them bring the ball up and know exactly what you want to hit, and that will keep you from hitting into so many double plays.” (9:33 mark)
Powell had somewhat jokingly suggested earlier in the interview that it would’ve been better for him to strike out if he was going to ground into a double play instead. The key issue, as he stated, is plate discipline. And the numbers indicate that the Orioles don’t have it.
More concerning than the fact that the Orioles aren’t producing with runners in scoring position is that they aren’t putting nearly enough runners into scoring position.
Baltimore has had the third least opportunities (668) of all teams to bat with runners in scoring position. The team’s total is higher than only Toronto and Houston.
The top six teams in the category are having themselves some pretty good seasons: Atlanta (first place), Yankees (first place), Rays (second place), Rangers (first place), Red Sox (third place), and Mets (second place).
The state of the franchise
Numbers aside, Powell addressed the emotional side of the argument in response to a question about how much it hurts to see the team struggling for so long.
“I feel for the people that come up there every night, especially when we’ve got big Boston crowds and the Yankee crowds and there’s more Yankee fans standing around, and it seems like the crowds are predominantly Yankee crowds and stuff like that. Baltimore has just a wonderful base, a wonderful fan base.
The same people year after year after year I see come out to say ‘What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do? Why don’t you come back?’ And I say well yeah I could come back. I says I can still hit, do you want to run for me. I’ll pick somebody. I say if I do it right you won’t have to run very hard. You know, I just kid around with people about it all the time.
You know, deep down inside, it’s kind of a pride thing, and I’m really hoping that we get this ship turned around. There’s some really good young ballplayers in the organization. I think it’s just a question of just shoring up some loose ends. You know playing the game, learning how the play the game a little bit. Hitting and running and bunting and defense, that’s part of the game, too, it’s not just offense.” (10:08 mark)
As fans we feel we deserve better than what we’re getting. More importantly, Orioles legends like Boog Powell deserve better.