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2016 Season in Review: Paulo Orlando

Can the Brazilian succeed without drawing walks?

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images

Paulo Orlando was a feel-good story in 2015, a kid who picked up baseball in Brazil almost by accident, and was a late-bloomer who debuted in the big leagues at age 29. He got off to a hot start in his rookie season, with an exciting walk-off grand slam in July, but a summer swoon and a lack of walks left him with one of the worst on-base percentages in the league that year. It seemed as though he might be a lucky flash-in-the-pan that we probably would not hear much from again.

But we did. Orlando returned in 2016 and had a ridiculously hot stretch where he hit .374/.403/.504 from May 14 to June 26. He ended the year hitting over .300, and was around a 2 Wins Above Replacement player (WAR) due to his speed and defense.

Paulo seemed like he might have some promising power potential in 2015, when he had a .195 ISO, but that fell to just .103 in 2016, while he posted fewer home runs in almost twice the plate appearances as he did last year. He did show a lot more speed, swiping 14 bases in 17 attempts, although he did have some miscues and had just 0.8 Baserunning Runs.

PA HR RBI BA OBA SLG wRC fWAR rWAR
Paulo Orlando 484 5 43 .302 .329 .405 95 1.6 2.3

One thing Paulo Orlando does NOT do is draw walks. Since 2015, Paulo Orlando has the lowest walk rate in baseball for all hitters with at least 700 plate appearances. He also has had the 19th-highest batting average on balls in play, suggesting perhaps he has been a bit lucky.

Can a player continue to succeed with a poor walk rate and modest power but a high batting average? I took a look at players since 1994 who had a season with at least 300 plate appearances, while hitting .300 with ten or fewer home runs, and a walk rate of less than 4% in a season.

Player Tm Year BA OBP SLG PA HR BB SO BB rate K rate
Alex Sanchez DET 2004 .322 .335 .386 352 2 7 50 2.0% 14.2%
Ben Revere PHI 2014 .306 .325 .361 626 2 13 49 2.1% 7.8%
Deivi Cruz DET 2000 .302 .318 .449 615 10 13 43 2.1% 7.0%
Mike Caruso CHW 1998 .306 .331 .390 555 5 14 38 2.5% 6.8%
Felix Fermin SEA 1994 .317 .338 .380 411 1 11 22 2.7% 5.4%
Paulo Orlando KCR 2016 .302 .329 .405 484 5 13 105 2.7% 21.7%
A.J. Pierzynski MIN 2002 .300 .334 .439 469 6 13 61 2.8% 13.0%
Aaron Ledesma TBD 1998 .324 .344 .398 315 0 9 51 2.9% 16.2%
Howie Kendrick LAA 2008 .306 .333 .421 361 3 12 58 3.3% 16.1%
Willie Bloomquist ARI 2012 .302 .325 .398 338 0 12 55 3.6% 16.3%
Juan Uribe LAD 2014 .311 .337 .440 404 9 15 77 3.7% 19.1%
Adam Kennedy ANA 2002 .312 .345 .449 509 7 19 80 3.7% 15.7%
Mark Grudzielanek MON 1996 .306 .340 .397 696 6 26 83 3.7% 11.9%
Cristian Guzman WSN 2008 .316 .345 .440 612 9 23 57 3.8% 9.3%

There a few flash-in-the-pans like Aaron Ledesma, Alex Sanchez, and Mike Caruso, but many of these players had decent careers, sticking around as useful players. One major red flag, however, is Paulo Orlando's high strikeout rate compared to the other players on this list. While it is true that Orlando is playing in a high-strikeout era, it would seem that to succeed without drawing many walks would require a hitter to put the ball in play quite a bit, which Orlando struggled at last year.

Orlando still seems like a bit of a raw player, but at age 31, he may find his speed beginning to decline. Orlando has put up 3.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference, in just 214 career big league games, so it is becoming clear he is a useful outfielder, although it may be as more of a reserve role than as an everyday starter. Producing cheap, above-replacement level players from the farm system is essential for a smaller market club like the Royals, so Royals fans should welcome Orlando's contributions, even if he has trouble drawing a free pass.