When the season started, it was expected that Paulo Orlando would be splitting time in right field with Jarrod Dyson, with Dyson probably seeing the bulk of the playing time. In 2015, Orlando proved that he was a worthy backup outfielder, posting a line of .249/.269/.444 in 251 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 89 and 1.0 fWAR. Orlando supplied above average defense with a bat that wasn’t spectacular but could place a timely hit from time to time with a bit of pop. Orlando had toiled in the minors for 9 seasons before 2015 and in some ways it was easy to see why. He had put together a couple of above average offensive seasons in the minors, but nothing that would really grab a scout looking for a gem in the minors. The Royals liked Orlando’s defense and speed, two pillars of Kansas City’s success these last few years. As much as most of us liked Paulo, we also figured with his past track record that he was a solid backup at best, whose flaws would be more glaring the more playing time he would receive. Instead, Paulo followed a sparse April(30 plate appearances in 9 games) with a spectacular May where he hit .429/.456/.603 and hasn’t looked back. So is Paulo for real?
My first instinct with Orlando’s hot hitting was that as much as it appeared as if he had improved offensively, that at some point he would regress. The highest he has hit average wise at any level was .305, which he did in 2010 for the Royals AA team. Orlando has only two above average offensive seasons throughout his minor league career(2010 and 2014) and one of those seasons was just barely above league average(101 wRC+ in 2014 for Omaha, the Royals AAA team). In June, he still put up solid numbers, but they slipped a bit, down to .292/.323/.371 in 26 more plate appearances. Paulo went from platooning with Dyson to seeing the majority of the time in right field and in all honesty he had earned it. Orlando would follow that with a bigger dip in July, hitting .273/.291/.351 , which were still respectable numbers but it did appear as if he was finally coming down to earth. But early into August he is hitting .500/.519/.692 with a sOPS+ of 227. So what is he doing differently in 2016 to see such a big increase in production?
It appears the biggest part of his success is coming from watching video. Back in June, Orlando discussed his use of video to scout out the opposing pitchers and would use what he learned when it came time take batting practice that day:
“It can slow down the game and help you a lot. Before every game, before I go practice, I watch. If a pitcher throws a lot of breaking balls, you go to BP and try to work on that.”
It’s also been obvious that playing every day has also helped his approach at the plate:
“When you play more games, you have your timing every day. Some guys throw hard — 95 to 97 mph — some guys throw 90 to 92. So when you play every day, you have more confidence in yourself.”
At the plate Paulo has improved his hitting, but a number of his stats point to him being in some ways the same player he was in 2015. His strike out percentage is about the same as last year (20.1% to 21.1%) while his walk percentage is still almost non-existent(2.0% to 2.3% last year). Orlando has continued to put the ball in play at a high rate(77.9 % this year, 79.1% in 2015) but his placement of where he is hitting the ball is a bit different this year. Last year, Paulo was pulling the ball at a 36% clip, while this year he is hitting the ball to center field 39.7% of the time. In fact, he is even hitting the ball to right field more this year (30.6%) than he is to left (29.7%). It’s obvious that his approach at the plate this year has been more focused on putting the ball in play and going with the pitch than trying to pull the ball and use his power. The power, is the one part of his game that has been sacrificed so far in 2016.
One of the positives for Orlando last year was the fact that he showed some power from the right side of the plate, something the Royals didn’t have a plethora of in 2015. Last year Orlando slugged at a .432 clip with 27 extra base hits and an ISO of .195. So far in 2016(and as of August 11 he has played in exactly the same amount of games as last year, with 60 more plate appearances), Paulo is slugging at a .432 rate with 22 extra base hits and an ISO of .105. It’s obvious with his approach this year he has sacrificed some of his power this year for an increase in his on-base percentage(which is up by .082 this year). This also means his hard hit rate is down(26.5%, down from 31.4% in 2015), but his soft hit rate is down as well(17.6% from 19.9% last year). How you feel about this is determined on whether or not you believe the Royals would be better off with someone with more power or someone getting on base. To me, as much as Kansas City needs a bit more power in their lineup, even more in need is someone who can get on base consistently. Orlando is doing just that so this could probably be filed under the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it’ category.
In what has become a very frustrating season for Kansas City, Orlando’s production has been a bright light and while some of us(myself included) have been thinking he will start to regress, time is proving us wrong. Within the last week Orlando has been moved to the leadoff spot for the Royals, a spot that has been lacking this year. Kansas City’s leadoff batters are hitting .243/.277/.314, all either in last or next to last in the American League this year. The Royals also have just 23 extra base hits from leadoff this year, the lowest in the league. I’m not sold that Orlando is the answer at the top(he does have only 12 career walks during his two years in the major leagues), but it was also obvious that mainstay Alcides Escobar wasn’t the answer either. The Royals have no immediate answer at the top of the order, which is why manager Ned Yost is giving it a try:
“(We’re) just giving him a shot,” Yost said in the dugout before Tuesday’s game. “We’ve been thinking about it for a while. Paulo’s been swinging the bat good.”
In two games, he is 2 for 11 at the top, not exactly proving Yost right but it is the smallest of small sample sizes. At this point, it is worth a try to see if he can still get on base at a good clip. No matter whether at the top or farther down the lineup, Paulo Orlando has earned his playing time this year. Like Lorenzo Cain, he didn’t start playing baseball until his teenage years in Brazil, so his development is not quite the same as the normal player. Orlando has proven himself a quick learner and could be seeing more improvement before a regression sets in. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even make his major league debut until the age of 29.