Is Orioles executive vice president of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette channeling Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane?
With the O's reluctant to invest in big-money free agents this offseason, it appears Duquette is taking more of a micro approach to improving the Birds
Much like Beane, Duquette is crunching the numbers, and one he didn't like from 2011 was the Birds' .316 on-base percentage. He told my MASNsports.com colleague Roch Kubatko: "We're putting emphasis on improving our on-base percentage. If you look at some of the players we've acquired and signed, like Matt Antonelli and Ryan Flaherty, they all have good on-base capabilities. That's something we've made a conscious effort to address and continue to address."
The O's recent signing of infielder Wilson Betemit supports that effort. Duquette said the Orioles like 30-year-old veteran from the left side of the plate where his 2011 OBP was .365.
I like Duquette's approach. The O's aren't going to outspend the American League East mammoths and don't have enough valuable talent in the farm system right now to pull off a mega-trade for a star player. So if you can't go over it, and you can't go under it, then ...
Duquette has to find another way to compete. Focusing on improving on-base percentage is smart, not just because you want to get more runners on base, but because the O's have a good amount of power. In 2011 the O's 191 homers were fourth in the American League, but too many of those were solo shots. It seemed every time an Oriole went deep, there was nobody on base to drive in.
If the O's can improve that OBP, we'll see the number of RBIs increase and - here's the obvious - RBIs are more runs scored, which increases your chances of having a higher number on the scoreboard than the other guy at the end of the game.
If Duquette is picking key stats to improve, I'm throwing in my two cents. Can the O's please do something about the number of stolen bases next year? Their 81 stolen bases in 2011 ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the league. Without Brian Roberts, the O's were a station-to-station team.
I'm not saying the Birds need to change their identity and become the Rays who led the league in stolen bases last year, but at least try and keep opposing pitchers honest. If that small threat is there, opposing pitchers can't get comfortable and the batter at the plate will get better pitches to hit.
In 2011, there were games where pitchers were so convinced the Birds weren't a threat on the basepaths they didn't even throw over to first base when O's baserunners had big leads.
Players like Robert Andino, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis all have the potential to be base stealers, but Andino seems to be the only one we see attempt to steal on a regular basis.
On the flip side, another area that should be a focus for Buck Showalter and the O's in 2012 is pitchers' times to the plate. I know Showalter was frustrated with his young pitchers' inability to get the ball to the plate in under 1.4 seconds last year.
It's a huge issue because slow deliveries mean giving up stolen bases. According to Showalter, awareness of times to the plate should be automatic and learned in the farm system. He told me there's no excuse for a player to get to the big leagues and have a slow time to the plate with runners on base.
Something tells me Showalter is going to send that message down the line to his minor league pitching coaches this year.
As for Duquette, it's nice to see he's trying to be creative and meticulous when it comes to figuring out how to improve the O's, even if he's clearly working within some difficult parameters.