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May 15, 2012

Fantasy Beat

Orange Crush(ers)

by Jason Collette

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Your computer is not broken. The Baltimore Orioles do indeed lead all of baseball in home runs this season with 56. They were quietly the fourth-best team last year with 191 home runs, trailing only the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers.  Last season, the Orioles hit 1.18 home runs per game, but in 2012, that pace has spiked to 1.6 per contest… with essentially the same personnel as last year, no less. Nick Johnson—who anointed Joel Peralta his favorite pitcher this weekend when he took him deep twice—is the lone addition to the lineup.

When we see this kind of spike from a team with nearly identical personnel, we have to carefully scrutinize whether the pace they are on is sustainable or just a bunch of players getting hot at the same time. The table below shows the current Baltimore Orioles and their HR/FB ratios in 2011 and 2012 compared to their career rates:

HITTER

2011 HR/FB%

2012 HR/FB%

CAREER HR/FB%

Nolan Reimold

15%

31%

15%

Wilson Betemit

10%

23%

14%

Adam Jones

17%

23%

14%

Chris Davis

7%

22%

17%

Matt Wieters

14%

19%

11%

Nick Markakis

8%

19%

10%

J.J. Hardy

16%

15%

12%

Robert Andino

4%

9%

6%

Mark Reynolds

23%

8%

21%

Across the board, Baltimore’s players are outperforming both their career norms and 2011 seasons, with just two exceptions: Reynolds and Hardy. Reynolds has struggled mightily and is now on the DL, while Hardy is actually just continuing what he did last season and is offsetting what the one year in Target Field did to his career numbers.

While HR/FB rates concentrate on the power portion of a players game, we can use wOBAcon (weighted on base average on contact) to show what is happening when hitters are putting balls into play. The exact formula for wOBAcon is:

((0.89*1B)+(1.26*2B)+(1.59*3B)+(2.04*HR))/BIP

Let’s take a look at how the Orange Birds are fairing in this regard compared to 2011:

HITTER

2011 wOBAcon

2012 wOBAcon

DIFFERENCE

Nolan Reimold

.373

.494

.121

Wilson Betemit

.465

.410

-.055

Adam Jones

.395

.427

.032

Chris Davis

.419

.455

.036

Matt Wieters

.362

.424

.062

Nick Markakis

.337

.370

.033

J.J. Hardy

.387

.333

-.054

Robert Andino

.323

.397

.074

Mark Reynolds

.458

.373

-.085

Despite the similar home run rates for Hardy in 2011 and 2012, the difference in his wOBAcon is the second-largest behind only the injured Reynolds. Reimold, before his injuries, was showing dramatic improvement, and Jones, Davis, Weiters, Markakis, and even Andino are on the uptick as well.

The Orioles proved they could hit the long-ball last season and are doing it again so far in 2012. That said, the home-run-to-fly-ball rates in this lineup scream unsustainability. With nearly every hitter exceeding career norms, it simply can’t be expected to continue at this rate. Still, while Baltimore’s power performance will worsen, the Orioles should still boast plenty of productive hitters capable of mashing doubles and driving in runs.

If the foundation of your fantasy team’s success in the home run categories is built upon the likes of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Nick Markakis, you should consider investing in other options and marketing these hitters’ skills while they are exceeding expectations.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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