Opinion

It’s time to appreciate Paulo Orlando’s weird season

Kansas City Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando.
Kansas City Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando. jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

Paulo Orlando is a leadoff hitter, and that’s not a statement I would have expected to write at the beginning of the season.

The numbers, though, justify him being there. Orlando’s .351 on-base percentage is tops on the current roster, and I don’t have to tell you that’s a good thing to have with the player getting the most at-bats.

How Orlando has gotten to that number, though, is truly fascinating.

Let’s start with this: The 30-year-old’s offensive profile is one you don’t see often. He draws almost no walks, as his 2.7-percent walk rate is second worst in the majors among 207 players with at least 300 plate appearances. He also doesn’t have much power, as his ISO is 28th-worst among those same 207 guys.

So how has Orlando been able to become a valuable offensive player — one who’s 11 percent better than league average according to the all-encompassing stat Weighted Runs Created Plus?

He simply keeps singling, a trend that has been valuable even if it might not be completely repeatable.

BABIP (batting average on balls in play) shows us just how remarkable Orlando’s season has been. League average BABIP this year is .299, and so far this season, Orlando’s BABIP is … .404.

Yeah, that’s high. In fact, it’s on pace to be the highest BABIP in Royals history.

 

Royals BABIP leaders, single season

PlayerYearBABIP
Paulo Orlando2016.404
Esteban German2006.388
Willie Wilson1982.380
Lorenzo Cain2015.380
Geroge Brett1984.368
* — Out of 435 qualified, min. 300 PAs

Back when BABIP first became popular, many believed there was little a player could do to change his luck on balls in play. We now know that players do, in fact, have some control on their BABIP based on their offensive profile.

Orlando — much like teammate Lorenzo Cain — has a few qualities that should lead to higher BABIPs. He’s a fast player, is a right-handed hitter that pulls a lot of groundballs (those are often tough plays for shortstops to make), hits to all fields and also has the ability to bunt for a base hit.

  

A quick look at his spray chart shows that Orlando seems to have found that sweet spot on hits above the infielders and in front of the outfielders. His willingness to go the opposite way has served him well, as has an ability to cover all areas of the strike zone, as this batting average heatmap shows.

  

There are still some red flags here. Orlando has a high pop-up percentage, and those balls in play are almost always outs. His average exit velocity of 90.1 miles per hour also is solid but not spectacular.

So what should we expect Orlando’s BABIP to be? For help with that, I consulted Fangraphs’ Alex Chamberlain, who has done previous research on expected BABIPs. Using his calculator, and plugging in Orlando’s batted-ball data, resulted in an expected BABIP of .318.

Chamberlain admits one flaw of trying to figure out expected BABIPs is that the formula is kept simple on purpose and also doesn’t distinguish among specific hitting types. It’s possible that the equation isn’t fully appreciating Orlando’s unique skill-set.

This still appears to be an extreme outlier. Chamberlain noted that a .374 BABIP would rank in the 98th percentile of the last 20 years by all hitters who qualified for the batting title. The names that produced that type of BABIP include some of the best hitters of their generation, including Derek Jeter, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Matt Holliday, Larry Walker, Carlos Gonzalez, Magglio Ordoñez, Chipper Jones and Joe Mauer.

“To assume Orlando sustains his current BABIP, then, would be akin to thrusting him among the greatest pure hitters in recent memory,” Chamberlain said. “He’s probably not that. But a BABIP in .330s, .340s? I wouldn’t discount it.”

This still would be quite a drop from his recent production. A .340 BABIP as opposed to .404 would knock his average from .326 to .264, which also would give him a sub-.300 OBP because of his lack of walks.

For now, Orlando continues to succeed while relying on singles as the main source of his offense. The Royals deserve credit for giving him an extended chance. And he deserves credit for producing, however unconventional it might be.

Let’s take a look at this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .263/.312/.397

Last 7 days — .257/.306/.416

KC had a power spike this week, helped by Wednesday’s four-homer game against Detroit. Even with that, the Royals rank 27th in the majors — and last in the AL — with 102 home runs.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .265/.323/.388

According to wRC+, the Royals are 22nd in this particular “clutch” situation while hitting 14 percent worse than league average.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.67, 20.5, 8.4

Last 7 days — 2.63, 19.0, 4.2

Ian Kennedy remains a bit of an enigma. His recent results have been great — he’s allowed two runs in his last three starts, a span of 19 innings — but underlying numbers remain skeptical about his 3.78 ERA. This season, Kennedy’s strikeouts are down, his walks are up, his homers are up and his strand rate — the rate he leaves runners on base without scoring — is at a career high and also No. 1 in the majors. It’s all a long way of saying that Kennedy is unlikely to keep his season ERA below 4 unless he improves the categories like strikeouts, walks and homers that he has the most control over.

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 3.43, 23.1, 8.2

Last 7 days — 0.47, 26.1, 5.8

In its last 19 innings, the Royals bullpen allowed one run on 11 hits with four walks and 18 strikeouts. Though KC’s starting pitching has been good lately, the Wade Davis-less bullpen had the better week.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 29 defensive runs saved (.244 per game, 6th in MLB)

Orlando ranks well in Baseball Info Solutions’ defensive runs saved stat, posting a positive-12 DRS. That’s second on the team behind Jarrod Dyson (plus-13).

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Duffy 3.0, Perez 2.0, Cain 1.9, Herrera 1.6, Dyson 1.6

Salvador Perez continues to fall down this list following an awful offensive month. He’s hit .172/.181/.270 over his the last 30 games while putting up offense that is 87-percent worse than league average, according to wRC+. As a result, he’s been worth negative-0.5 WAR over these last 30 days.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Young -1.3, Escobar -0.5, Gee -0.4, Pounders -0.3, Hosmer -0.2

Like Perez, Eric Hosmer also hasn’t hit well recently with a .183/.231/.284 slash line over the last 30 days. That production is 66 percent worse than league average and even more costly because it comes from first base, where there’s a much higher offensive expectation.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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